Saturday, December 18, 2010

Employment – Or The Lack Thereof

It’s been a year and a half since I have had gainful employment (what is “ungainful” employment?). And it is true what the experts say: it definitely does a  job on your self-esteem, your relationships, not to mention your finances. Unemployment only goes so far.

No, I haven’t been lazy. I have applied for I don’t know how many jobs with a total of one interview (which obviously did not go well, although I wish I knew why). I continue to apply for positions. But I am starting to doubt the things I have been told all my life.

My father, as well as a few of my other family members, encouraged me to get as much education as I could. A number of my other family members thought I was trying to be “better” than them. So, it wasn’t like family support was – what should I say? Okay, I just won’t say.

I have followed that educational ideal all my life, until I failed [twice] to complete a doctorate. I do, however, have a degree in psychology, as well as a Master’s in developmental psychology AND a Master’s in Library and Information Science. Although I did not complete my doctoral program, I did indeed complete my exams the second time around. My major fault, as I see it, was being unable to develop a supportive doctoral committee – and that was my fault. Of course, I’m sure my “mentors” don’t see it that way. [I must admit: I still have nightmares about what I consider a major failure.]

Nonetheless, I do have double Masters in areas which complement each other. I would really like to work in an academic setting; whether it is online teaching, research or as an academic librarian. And I have pursued positions in these areas for the last year and a half. But as I have said; to no avail.

I would simply like to know what I’m doing wrong or whether something beyond me is responsible. I have been spoiled in my life having never applied for positions prior to this time where I did not at least get an interview. Now I cannot beg, borrow or steal an interview. I have even applied to Walmart and didn’t get a reply.

Want to know what is worse? My partner applied for a job and got it in a week. My spouse applied for a job and got it in 4 days [they weren’t working over the weekend]. I can’t help but wonder what the hell is wrong with me. If either of them were young and spry [yeah, that was kind of rude to say] I might consider it to be an age thing. But one is younger by 2 years and the other is older by 5 years. Both have high school diplomas and have no advanced degrees! Talk about feeling like I’ve gone down the wrong path!!

Well, I’ll be their house-spouse – cooking, cleaning, laundry, a lending ear when they are frustrated. And I will continue to write.

But I do feel misled. I am working to repair the blow to my self-esteem. But, I must admit --- it’s not easy.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Luv-er-lee June - Or June Bug Heaven

Each month, and nearly every day, of the calendar has particular cultural meanings and associations. Most of us associate June with weddings, ending of the school year, beginning of summer, honoring our fathers, honoring our flag, planning vacation time and, in the U.S., more sunshine, heat, and anticipated beach time. But for us info-maniacs, finding out all the other celebrations is just fun!

Wikipedia explains some of the U.S. associations with June; for example, June is named after Juno (Hera), the goddess of marriage. June’s birth flower is the rose; you know, red roses indicate love, yellow indicates friendship? But the other flower for June is the Honeysuckle. I remember the honeysuckle bush of my childhood home, picking the flowers, pulling the inside stamen and tasting the sweetness – in June.

June in the Northern Hemisphere is equivalent to December in the Southern Hemisphere. June 25th is known as LEON Day [Noel spelled backwards], but that still does not explain the shopping networks Christmas in July shows.

Food-wise, June is also known as Dairy Month, National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, National Iced Tea Month, and Turkey Lovers Month. On the first, heat up the fryer for Donut Day or make a garbage can cake to celebrate Oscar the Grouch’s birthday. Don’t forget Donald’s (the Duck, that is) birthday, June 9, 1934, or Superman’s birthday on June 30th, or more generally celebrate the song “Happy Birthday” written June 27, 1859 [not to mention daily singing while you wash your hands insures cleanliness). Bring out the candy thermometer for National Fudge Day on the 16th, or head for the nearest body of water with a basket full of goodies for International Picnic Day on the 18th.

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery as announced by the Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. However, the day did not become a recognized Texas holiday for 115 years. Now, many ethnicities and communities find ways to celebrate this day of freedom. While my daughter in Azerbaijan chose to make jambalaya, others celebrate with Red Velvet cake and Strawberry Lemonade.

Did you know the radio was patented in June 2nd, 1896? Or that the first drive-in movie in New Jersey arrived on June 6, 1933? National Yo-Yo day is the 10th, just two days before the anniversary of the creation of the baseball in 1839. Where would we be without sandpaper, invented June 14th, 1834, or the typewriter, patented on June 23, 1868, or even more importantly, June 26th, 1498 when the toothbrush was invented?

What else can you celebrate in June? National Adopt-A-Cat; National Drive Safe with National Safety Month (might be time to consider taking Oprah’s pledge to NOT text or use your cell phone while driving), National Tennis Month (what a great way to maintain your January exercise resolutions), Great Outdoors Month (let’s clean up the camping gear) that connects with National Fishing Week and National Camping Week.

For those more interested in personal development, enjoy Power of a Smile Day on June 15th, National Forgiveness Day on the 24th, and Let It Go Day – whatever has been bothering your psyche – on the 28th.

So, my last question is how do you plan to celebrate Potty Training Awareness Month next year?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dear Daddy

It’s another Father’s Day without you. Fifty years have passed since you died. Can you believe it? Now I am even older than you were on that last June day.

So much has happened, Daddy, since that day in 1969. The world has changed in ways you could never have foreseen. Remember the beautiful gardens you created? The beautiful roses you cultivated along the end of the peninsula of our hometown, when you worked for that family? They are all gone, Daddy. The area is filled with condos and concrete. But I did manage to finally find the rose you hybrid – in Oregon of all places. I still remember how you and I used to plant my favorite flower, tulips, along the front fence of our yard.

I loved riding in your taxi cab with you, Daddy. That big square yellow box with the jump seats in the rear was one of the few places I had you to myself. Even though your skin was blue-black, you would always hang your left elbow out the window and it would get even darker. You had a regular group of people you would take to and pick up from the train station. They don’t do that anymore, Daddy. Cab drivers rarely offer personal service anymore. You used to tell me I could always rely on a cab driver to get me home. I no longer trust cab drivers, Daddy. It has made life a bit scarier.

After dinner and homework, you would take those of the six of us still living at home with you to clean buildings. I was in charge of dusting the rows and rows of desks where all the women sat in the daytime. When I got older, I had to clean the ladies bathroom – that taught me women could be icky.  But I still remember the wonderful pictures of those ladies celebrating my birth, all because they liked you.

You always tried to keep our house a home. Not just for us, but every family member. How many of our relatives lived in the upstairs apartment when they had no other place to go? How many breakfasts, lunches and dinners became family gatherings? How many times did you make modifications on the house to preserve a home for all of us? We even had wakes, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases, Easters, and yes, Father’s Days in that fourteen room home.

I have so much more to say, Daddy, but there will never be enough space. Since you left, I finished college in Connecticut; completed my Master’s in Pennsylvania; married that guy you never liked and moved to Nome, Alaska; left that guy you never liked and moved to Kodiak where I married a guy you just might have liked,; moved to Juneau; went to Oregon when my husband retired; completed another Master’s degree; tried to complete a doctorate in Washington state; I came out of the closet; worked for Rutgers University in New Jersey; and now live with my partner in Miami. My husband and I are still married and about to celebrate our 22nd anniversary and life is about to change again.

In the midst of all these changes, Daddy, I still hear your voice telling me you will always love me. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you too.

Friday, June 11, 2010

That Overwhelming Feeling

There is not one human on earth (I’m willing to bet) who has not felt that overwhelming feeling. You know it: “I just don’t know what to do”; “How am I supposed to deal with all of this?”; “I’m so tired. Which way do I go?”; “How do I salvage this situation?”

I’m sure there are a number of us trying hard to deal with this feeling. If you are faced with losing house; dealing with a child whose school/college tuition is due; loss of a job/house/spouse or any other thing you are used to having in your life; and, my personal favorite, being the one who is designated as “the one”. You know, you have always dealt with a number of issues. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed since I’m the one who has “always” taken care of the finances, is responsible for locating new housing, dealt with medical issues, need a job, figuring out how to move, designed our healthy meals, and any other little item you can think of.

In marches the number of self-help books, life coaches, and everyday people who are examples of how you too can deal with the issues facing your existence. Go into a bookstore and check out the self-help section. Turn on the morning shows on any day and there will be a guru/book-selling individual who can guide you through the overwhelming process. Just the other day, a woman who had lost her job as an editor of a major magazine was on promoting her new book. Of course, this woman had sold her house, moved to the country, communed with nature so she could find herself again, AND then used her editorial connections to establish herself as an independent writer of articles. Right!

Some of us deal with that overwhelming feeling with negative behaviors: drinking too much, smoking too much, eating too much, exercising too much, sleeping too much – just pick something. And we do this even when we know the key is daily exercise; using your professional networks; making deals with credit card companies, banks, mortgage companies; reassuring and including your family members about the current situation since they might have ideas you haven’t even thought of; and asking family and friends if they know of potential solutions.

I don’t know what might really help you: the book, family, and/or friends. I do know that worrying definitely won’t help. Try coping with your own worry. I’m not sure what will work for each individual. But attacking the worry issue will at least give you a place to start.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Moving? Get ready for the stress!

Given the economic state of our union, I am sure the number of people who have to move has been high. Whether you are moving from your house, condo, or apartment to a house (yours or your parents), condo, apartment, the process causes pain in the most uncomfortable places; like your arms, knees, neck, back, and a few others.

Of course, there are a number of sources and industries designed to help you move. Moving yourself? There are realtors who will help you find your new digs (if you are not just moving home); online packing lists; places to rent packing goods (the boxes for packing your glassware really are great) and trucks that can even tow your car; moving companies who will pack, load and deliver your possessions, relieving you of the stress of the move.

So why is moving still so stressful, no matter what sources/services you use? If you have children, you already know why! Yet, even if you are moving yourself, or you and a partner, the stress can be unbelievable. First there is the task of DECIDING where you are going, if that is not already determined. Then the next DECISION is what kind of place you are looking for. Okay, let’s say that’s done. You have to look at your budget and DECIDE how you are going to move – packing and traveling on your own or using a company. What if you have to DECIDE whether or not you need help moving? (The use of friends has been known to ruin any and all friendships.) The next DECISION is what you can/want/don’t want to pack – a decision that can be complicated by DECIDING to downgrade. Inevitably this leads to DECIDING how you want to pack your possessions. (I’ll always remember how I had not made provisions for my plants and my aloe vera ended up in the corner of our open truck – right where the wind would tear it apart.) Let’s not forget the unpacking process, especially if you are going long distance and those friends are no longer available to you.

No doubt you can see where I’m going with this. You might have already realized I am in the middle of moving. I have not even mentioned the DECISIONS about notifying your apartment agency, cutting off your electric/water/cable/telephone, sending in your change of address notices, contacting various agencies (medical, magazines, employment or unemployment, book clubs, credit cards who you better let know before they freeze your account because there are charges coming from places you have never been before), when to empty your refrigerator and how, what to do with your canned goods, what to bring on your trip like your computers and, uh, weapons, bringing goods to charitable organizations, not to mention notifying other family members. I’m sure I have missed a few more DECISIONS you have to make.

The stress comes from the sheer number of decisions you must make. And I have no solutions for you, except to try to make these decisions as soon as possible. If you are like me, I set up my own spreadsheet, establish completions dates and how to number boxes, and then realize that nothing goes according to my timetable. I hope you have better luck than me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

To the Women of My Family

To My Sister, My Daughters, my Nieces, my Grand-Nieces and Cousins and all of my other female relatives:

I have tried to figure out to say something to you. I have never known how to say it. The fact that I did not know how to say it was complicated by the fact that it took me so long to realize what I wanted to say to all of you. It has to do with pride and learning to feel and have pride, like Dorothy Dandrige. Her pride and self-esteem were threatened when she tried to achieve her goal. So much so that she had to leave her country of origin.  But I believe she had pride and self-esteem because she grew up with it, despite the times and the resulting tribulations for women of color.

Unfortunately, Mother never made me proud: of who I was, who I am, and who I would become. She didn’t have the ability to understand that her strength would eventually become the strength of her daughters. She really was a power house, but always minimized what a black woman could do. Ah, but she could dress! I have such fine memories of her when she really decked herself out: her hair done up like no not one, black dress that hugged her curves, Chanel No. 5 wharfing around her; a necklace drawing attention to her ample bosom, and heels making her taller than Daddy – but he never minded.

But the idea of education as the way to make your way in the world, as told by my father, resulted in trials and tribulations he could never have even fathomed. He always saw us as the most beautiful women in the world. He didn’t seem to understand that we were not the best, the most beautiful, the absolute epitome of womanhood! We all must admit that Daddy had his lapses and dalliances, but he saw all of his sisters, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and all of the women in his family as the best.

Today, I watched a show that would never had been possible when I was a teen. It was called “My Black is Beautiful”, shown on BET. It was all about black women realizing that no matter their size, their features, their dress, they were all beautiful. It was only a half hour and I wanted more! I can’t tell you how this made me feel. As I get older, I have continued to have a real need to feel lovely, beautiful and desirable. So I went to their Web site and found a elegant manifesto. To my family of women, whoever and wherever you are, I hope you will find something in this.

 From the color of my skin, to the texture of my hair, to the length of my strands, 
to the breadth of my smile
To the stride of my gait, to the span of my arms, to the depth of my bosom, to the curve
of my hips, to the glow of my skin...
 My Black is Beautiful.
It cannot be denied. It will not be contained. And only I will define it.
For when I look in my mirror, my very soul cries out,
My Black is Beautiful.
And so today, I speak it out loud, unabashedly, I declare it anew.
My Black is Beautiful.
Whether celebrated, imitated, exploited or denigrated. Whether natural from inside
or skillfully applied.
My Black is Beautiful.
To my daughters, my sisters, my nieces, my cousins, my colleagues and my friends,
I speak for us all when I say again,
My Black is Beautiful

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Oh, Lena!

The recent death of Lena Horne hits me hard. My uncle was an acoustic bass man and played behind “Miss Horne” several times. It was still the time when black musicians who got gigs in white clubs had to enter through the back door. People loved the performances but the musicians were still discriminated against by club owners and managers. I’m watching a re-cap of her interview with Ed Bradley on CBS “Sunday Morning” and feeling so sad about her life. Being put in movies where they wanted her to appear more colored; keeping her marriage to a white Jew secret for three years, although the marriage lasted 24 years; finally being able to sing the songs she was famous for only after she became old enough to perform independent, cabaret-style performances of her choosing.

My mother and father used to attend the after-hours musical extravagances of black musicians; those times after they had finished at the white clubs and just got together to play the music they like to play. My Uncle Peter would tell them where the action was. I was still a child and they would take me with them. As each singer would get up, I would be transferred from lap to lap. I remember Carmen McCrae and Pearl Bailey. And I remember how bony the lap and breasts of Lena Horne were.

But I also remember that rich, full voice. The sultry movements (okay, I didn’t know they were sultry then, but it only takes a quick look at her movies and performances to know the truth) and the passion so evident in her voice.

I’m gonna miss you, Lena. You are part of my past. A remembrance of the love of my mother, father and Uncle Peter. And the true meaning of being a black woman when that wasn’t cool.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What Happens When You Ban Books?

Before my daughter went to Azerbaijan, she came to visit me. As soon as she saw me, she pinned a button on my coat that she was sporting on her own: “I Read Banned Books”. Then she said, “Mom, I recently looked at the list of banned books and realized I had read them all because of you. Thanks.”
 As a librarian and a dedicated believer in the First Amendment, I was happy and pleased. And then, I began to think about what it meant to have my children read books that others thought were damaging. What if I was wrong? What if reading those books had damaged them in some way?

A review of the list of banned books created by the American Library Association and cataloged by Wikipedia ( relieved me of my worries. How could have deprived them of reading Hemingway, Orwell, Twain, Blume, Angelou, Faulkner, Morrison, Golding, Lawrence, Baldwin, Walker, Cormier, Steinbeck, and Mitchell? A favorite book for the girls was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – they bought copies for all of their friends as Christmas presents.

If I had not insured they read these books, we would not have had discussions about utopias and dystopias, child abuse, superiority, self-esteem, survival, anti-Semitism, religion, spiritually, and of course sex. At the age of nine, I bought the girls What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madras, only to discover it had been banned from a high school library in Alaska! That was our first discussion about banned books.

In high school, I took entire advanced placement questions on Hemingway and Faulkner. I found Walker’s and Baldwin’s books giving me a taste of the black society I did not know. Maya Angelou and Richard Wright brought me to tears, letting me develop my feeling of empathy.

I worked for a public library in central Oregon at one point. The Harry Potter books were published while I was there and I sent them to my grandson. My [step] daughter called me, excited because her son was finally reading. The county I lived in, however, had the first lawsuit asking for Harry Potter to be banned from the public schools. Meanwhile, the seniors asked me to organize a discussion group where they could discuss why such a book would be banned.

One day, while I was working circulation, a woman with a son about nine years old, asked if she could attend the discussion group. I urged her to please come. She told me that she might not be wanted because it was her husband who had filed the lawsuit for banning. What I remember most was the frown on her face and the light in her son’s eyes. She did not attend the meeting.

For me, when you do not let your children read banned books, you lose opportunities to help them grow. You engage in an unconstitutional practice. You act out of fear. And those are something of which I could not have deprived my children – or myself.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Raising Children: Times I Wish They Were Klingons!

Trekkies will completely understand what I am trying to say here. There are times, as your children grow and develop, that you can’t help but wish you could have some of the traits of a Star Trek character: Whorf, the Klingon; James Kirk and Captain Picard; Data; Ensign Troy, the Betazoid; Gordy, the Engineer; and last, but not least, the original and greatest engineer – “Please, beam them somewhere else”, Scotty!

I was bullied as a child; until junior high school (what they call middle school now), when, on the very first day I entered seventh grade, I walked to the corner, was threatened, and told them I just didn’t care anymore! How I wish that would make a difference. But I can’t even explain how I felt when I heard that my two daughters were being called names and downright threatened. This is when I wish they had a bit of Whorf’s fierce pride and ability to growl. Not to mention his fighting skills.

Under stress, do you and/or your children become tongue-tied? That is when I think of James Kirk and Captain Picard. There is an elegance and grace to being able to being able to verbally elucidate and enunciate under pressure. These Shakespearean-trained actors can deliver regardless of the circumstances. Of course, I hope children will refrain from the sexual prowess of Kirk.

Data can spout any fact, any numerical calculation, and remark honestly and objectively on any behavior. Who wouldn’t want those traits?

Ensign Troy, the betazoid, who can pick on all emotional activity, even with alien races, like boys/girls who have ulterior motives for being friends with your child. Maybe then I wouldn’t have had to deal with the “best friend” who slept with my daughter’s boyfriend, or the tattooed, black-dressed, spike-haired, with multiple piercings who greets you at the door with, “Hey, is she here?”

Ah, Gordy! The one, who in this world would have been seriously labeled, overcame a handicap, was thankful, and knew he was not only equal to anyone, but was a valuable member of the crew. Even in the episodes where someone took his visor, he still proved himself capable and creative. What more could you wish for your children to possess?

And then there are times when every parent needs Scotty. Please, just beam them up somewhere for awhile, Scotty.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Honey Man

Liana, my younger daughter, attended theatre performances during the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon while on a Spring field trip when she was a middle school student in LaPine, Oregon. When she returned, she was ecstatic. “Mom, the kids there are all kinds of colors. It is so mixed. You have to go see it. Please, Mom, go check it out.” It was obvious she wanted us to move.

My husband and I had made multiple trips to Oregon, when he decided he wanted to retire from the Alaska State Troopers. While we were not certain we wanted to leave Alaska, the economic issues were unavoidable – we could not afford to stay. We had traveled all over his home state for an appropriate place to live. We explored Salem (where he was born and raised on a farm), Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, the coast and finally looked at the central part of the state. On our way back from the southern part of the state, we happened on LaPine, just thirty miles south of Bend, which I liked. Then I did something really weird – I sent him to find a house – ALONE.  But, this is really about The Honey Man.

We had lived in LaPine for three years when Gary and I had to make a trip to Astoria for a series of meetings. We decided to travel down the coast and cross over to Ashland located on the I-5 corridor (almost literally). Needless to say, I found Ashland absolutely awesome. I felt so comfortable. The only problem was the high cost of living.

Ashland had a regular Farmers Market, next to a rather strange church/spiritual center that Liana and I loved to attend. There we made the acquaintance of The Honey Man. Liana loved honey stiks and we made a point of always stopping by his stall to not only get her some, but for me to get the various honeys, etc. that I needed. We asked The Honey Man about his honey: he owned bees; did all the work during the seasons during the Oregon summer, but also owned bees in California so he could continue his finished product work during the off season.

Liana has torn her ACL (ligament in the knee) and could not attend the market with me for several weeks. Although I did not think she should be out walking (with her brace) at the market, she begged me hard enough, I consented. We walked and walked, buying items here and there, eventually reaching The Honey Man. Liana asked me to take a rest, assuring me that was all she needed, and told me to continue shopping. I went merrily off to buy some seafood and veggies, only to return to find my daughter in a complete state of disarray. The Honey Man had sat her down on his only chair, given her water, and taken care of her. He arranged for me to bring my car down right into the market to pick her up.

I have never forgotten The Honey Man. I wish I could tell him Liana is now running marathons and training for a triathlon; and that she still loves honey stiks. Thank you Honey Man.

[Sorry for the reference to the beehive hairdo!]

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Childhood Easters

When I was a child, before my father died, Easter meant a new outfit, complete with shiny patent letter shoes (eventually with heels, when became a teenager), purse, and hat; not just for me, but for my mother and all six of us children. The Saturday before was spent pressing and curling hair, ironing, cooking, cleaning, and anything else in preparation for celebrating the rising of Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins. My family was not into sunrise services, but they were into southern Baptist stay-at-church-nearly-all-day-long type Easters. So, there was food at church and food at home.

My uncle Arthur Eato, who was career Air Force and lived in Texas, would only visit us at Easter time. He never brought his family (the rumors about his wife ran wild), but would just come to see his brother’s family. One Easter, I woke up early and wanted to dye Easter eggs (when I was very little, the eggs would be hidden around our property and we would have our very own Easter Egg hunt). Uncle Arthur came down the stairs in his dress uniform. Just the two of us spent a quiet (which was rare in my family’s house) morning dyeing eggs. It breaks my heart that my uncle died alone, homeless and destitute in his car; but my image is of a black man, more than six foot tall, who was happy dyeing eggs with his little niece.

Norman Eato, my father, was a gardener and every Easter gave my mother a beautiful white lily plant. Daddy died just before my senior year of high school, but I just knew he would want to make sure my mother continued to get her lily. I saved my money and made sure it would be the first thing she saw on Easter morning. I was so proud when my mother came into the dining room and saw the lily in the middle of the table. “Where did that come from?” she yelled. Her face was twisted and nasty. She started screaming the same question, over and over. It got worse when I said the unforgiveable words, “It’s from Daddy.” The screaming and yelling got worse, the lily was thrown out, and I was never forgiven. Who knew you could commit an unforgiveable sin on the day the Lord had risen?

I never liked chocolate (don’t get Freudian on me here), so Daddy always made sure I had a white chocolate bunny in my Easter basket. I always wanted one that was solid, but I’m sure back then they were just too expensive. And I loved the flowery, sappy Hallmark cards that circulated around the house. Now, I settle for Cadbury eggs.

There is a picture in my one surviving sister’s house of me and my sisters dressed in our Easter finery. I love that picture. It was taken by Daddy whose avocation was photography. It was probably taken about fifty years ago. That’s about all that is left for me about Easter.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Depression and Reading, Writing, etc.

When you are doing reading, writing and numbers (academic work), what happens when you encounter depression? Probably best known are the writings of Sylvia Plath. But since then, there is artwork, music, and a multiple of other media forms that express the depression of their creators.

Read some young adult books and you will find entire genres surrounding the issues of depression: teenage angst; coming of age; coming out; and, naturally, issues of sexuality. Regarding adolescence, we can find suicidal, homicidal, and family deaths related to depression. Is that not how we accounted for the shooting of parents and family, Columbine, and other school shootings?

There have been studies that point to the decline in health of graduate students as they go through their programs, whatever department they may be in. There is evidence of post-partum depression; numerous cases touted by the media when a mother does harm to her children, or a father thinks that death will save his children. And, of course, a look at most cases of domestic violence, we can see some evidence of depression. The fact that you are most likely to be killed by someone you know seems to make an argument for depression gone to the next level.

But that is not all there is. There are millions of people who try to function day to day, feeling serious, clinical depression. Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard how many American women are on some kind of anti-depressant medication. So, you meet someone like that and think it is simply a matter of making them happy. But in true depression, it is not. Furthermore, it may not be something handled by Prozac, or Xanac, or any other “happy” pill.

Have you ever experienced being alone? Have you ever felt like you were unloved? Have you tried to find the solution in a bottle of alcohol, a bottle of pills, a snort of cocaine, some ecstasy, sex? Have you ever been 10 years of age and trying to fight those feelings? 15 years of age? 20 years of age? 50 years of age? 60 years of age?

The key I wonder about is no matter what age: have you been in the space where you cannot believe the people who claim to love you?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Music of My Life – Part 3

This third part about the music of my life encompasses primarily four years while I was at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. For me, that was 1970 to 1974, and a bit of time to 1976, while I worked at Connecticut Valley Hospital in the children’s psychiatric unit, before I left to get my Master’s in Developmental Psychology. Wesleyan, at that time, was a unique experience for me. I had never been around other black Americans who were as smart or smarter than me [my high school graduating class of more than 600 had four black people: me, a black guy named Billy, my former best friend, and Billy’s girlfriend, named Carrie, and my cousin Christine]. I had never been around rich black people [my first roommate decided her recently purchased wardrobe wasn’t good enough for Wesleyan and had her doctor father send $500 so she could get new clothes!]. I had been raised in a predominantly white, Jewish and Catholic community, despite the black community in the “Projects” that was one block from where I lived.

If I had to characterize my college years in terms of music, there are only three words: jazz and blues! It was marvelous! There was one student, a white boy who had deferred his admission so he could travel through the south to learn true blues piano! He was awesome. Then there a black student, who refused to wear shoes until graduation (yes, I mean even in winter) who played the most awesome acoustic bass. We had players of all instruments who would gather together to jam in the chapel.

Wesleyan also had its own radio station and that was my public entry. Taught by the one person who had the smoothest voice we all knew on radio, Charlie D [Charles Deramus], I became “Lady Lee” and played smooth jazz in the late night hours. This is in the age of vinyl and cassette. I learned all about the ladies I knew from my childhood and beyond: Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughn, Miriam Mekeba, Chaka Khan, Dinah Washington, and more than anyone else, Billie Holiday.

At parties, it was Earth Wind, and Fire; Chicago; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Carole King; Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes; Led Zeppelin; Steely Dan; David Bowie; The Eagles; and so many others. Plus, Wesleyan developed a degree in Ethnomusicology, so we attended concerts by Indian drummers; Pakistani groups; and a number of African groups since we had an exchange program with Tanzania.

I remember attending a concert with Isaac Hayes where Grace Jones performed. Also, a concert at Yale, where Miles Davis played two songs and walked off the stage, throwing his instrument on the floor. But I must admit to crushes on Freddy Hubbard and Ron Carter (who is the featured picture).

But my most memorable experience occurred during my last years in college. I was 21 and my baby brother was having his 16th birthday. I bought him tickets to Shea Stadium (he was into baseball and Shea was brand new). I went home to bring him the tickets and told him to take his best friend with him. He said, “Well, when are we going?” It was then I learned how he had abandoned heavy metal and gotten seriously into jazz. Plus, it was the best baseball game in the world. Oh, yeah, the Mets lost, but I had eight hot dogs with my brother!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jack-Dog-Dog, Hot Dogs and Reindeer

As a lover of language, I find that despite my attention to how and what I say, some things may get lost in translation. For example, while raising my first daughter, I would keep her away from knives by saying, “No, Honey” and pointing at the knife I would say “Sharp”. Sure enough, as her language developed she always referred to knives as “sharps”. Furthermore, in Nome, Alaska, some common things referred to in the Lower 48, where most of the non-Native adults were raised, we often lapsed into terminologies we expect to be understood.

This came home to me when my best friend and I decided to take her dog, which the girls referred to as “Jack-Dog-Dog”, and the girls out to her cabin near the river for a nice outing. Spring was on its way and, while a bit cool, the day was sunny and bright. Shelley and I gathered up some lunch items, put everyone in the truck, and headed out to her wonderfully homey cabin off the Nome River.

At the cabin, we proceeded to do some preparation for the coming of “cabin” [aka summer] weather: shoveling the walkway, unloading pellets for the stove, dusting and cleaning. Jack, her black Labrador, was happy to be in the wild and just ran around, letting the girls chase him, checking out every little hole in the tundra, and generally feeling good. Somewhere around noon, we called everyone in and asked what we should have for lunch. Shelley said, “Well, why don’t have some hot dogs?” I chimed in and said, “Yeah, hot dogs would be good, don’t you think girls?”

My daughters, then perhaps 4 years and 2 years, suddenly looked stricken. “Hot dogs?” Shelly and I happily said yes. The girls looked at each other and said, “Hot dogs? Jack-Dog-Dog? No, Momma, no! We don’t want to eat Jack-Dog-Dog!”

Amidst a few tears and a great deal of explanation, we explained the difference and had a lovely lunch, feeding Jack-Dog-Dog some of the hot dogs.

The worst part of this is that was also the day we lost Jack. We think he must have gone off chasing some of the reindeer that were being domesticated as a food source for Nome. The reindeer herder had already warned that if he found dogs chasing his reindeer, he would shoot them. We went home that night, after having our hot dogs, with no Jack-Dog-Dog.

Jack, we still remember the joy your brought to our lives.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Music of My Life: Part 2

Being born in the early 50’s, my teen years were dominated by The British Invasion. I remember vividly watching The Beatles debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (and teen debates about if you could spell “antidisestablishmentarianism”). My personal favorite was The Dave Clark Five. Of course, there were The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark. There was also the California movement epitomized by convertibles and surfing, which we did not do on the beaches of Long Island: Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, and one of the most memorable drum solos by The Surfaris (Ahhhh, Wipeout!). And I cannot forget “My Boyfriend’s Back”, “Soldier Boy”, “Leader of the Pack”, and everything recorded by The Supremes.

I became aware of the Viet Nam War. I discovered boys. I discovered poverty. I took weekly accordion lessons. I found the library was the best place to be other than home. I played these songs as I sewed all my own clothes and learned to knit and crochet. I figured out I would never look like Twiggy. Alone, I would go to the movies for the Saturday matinee featuring my television idols, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, Sandra Dee, Connie Francis, Haylee Mills, and admittedly, Shirley Temple (would I ever look like these girls? I don’t think so.).

In my house there was also “The Mitch Miller Show”, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Leslie Uggams, Sam and Dave, Frank Sinatra, Otis Redding, the annual Christmas specials by any number of songsters. At school, there were The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Simon and Garfunkel, Bobby Vinton, Mamas and the Papas, Dylan, Baez, and many more. I discovered music that seemed to accurately reflect my sadness, my adolescent angst, and could also make me dance with joy. I started dealing with death, bullying, and feeling like an outsider. But I also had “All in the Family” and more shows involving people who looked like me. It was definitely a time of interest.

I also had a “baby” brother who had to deal with not only our father’s death, but the deaths of many of our closest relatives, and a mother who had her own issues. Once, my mother made me take my brother to my regular Saturday matinee trips. I took him to see “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte”. He hasn’t forgiven me to this day.

I’m sorry, Brother Mine. But it is said I have “Bette Davis Eyes”.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Science, Religion, Belief and Fantasy: Who Knew?

I was taken aback reading Nation by Terry Pratchett. This amazing novel, written for the Young Adult market, sent me, a mature adult, into a spin about my beliefs, spirituality, what Oprah has referred to as “the authentic self”, and organized religion.

Mau, an island boy, has just completed his rite of passage to adulthood by being sent to a separate island for his final test of endurance. As he is taking his canoe back to his home, anticipating the wonderful ceremony which will greet him as a man, a tsunami occurs. Daphne, a proper English girl of similar age, is on her way to meet her father when the ship on which she sails is also caught in this natural phenomenon. When the two meet on Mau’s home island, they must find ways to communicate cooperate and collaborate in order to survive. They are soon joined by refugees from other islands, as well as from the British ships. Each must cope with not only the problems of building a functioning community, but their individual cultural, moral, spiritual, and societal systems and beliefs.

My recommendation for this work of art has multiple facets. For parents, who either want to introduce issues related to science, culture, social structures, and belief systems, or whose children may be entertaining such questions, reading Nation and then recommending it to your children could open communication doors. This book does illustrate how true believers can question their values; that questioning will lead to a period of discomfort and doubt; how such a process is not “weird” and is fairly common for people, especially when individuals are confronted with contradictions. Most importantly, the book clearly illustrates that such periods of questioning and discomfort are not everlasting. There are interesting issues of intergenerational relations, respect, cooperation and collaboration, tolerance, leadership, bravery and courage, and what it means to believe in one’s self.

Thank you, Terry Pratchett, for this wonderful piece of writing.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Music of My Life - Part 1

The value of the spoken word to me in no way diminishes the meaning of music in my life. My three sisters and brother were teenagers by the time I was born, so I find myself singing and loving music that others have said I was far too young to know. Norma, Loretta, Brenda, and Norman (who I called Brother), and all of their friends, played every popular song of the fifties for me, taught me to do the Slide, the Twist, and the Mashed Potatoes. (I only learned about slow dancing watching their Friday or Saturday night parties.) The coolest thing? I got to teach my daughters those same songs and dances.

Of course, the girls were all “courting” as I went through childhood. Silhouettes on the Shade reminds me of Brenda; anything by Harry Belafonte and Johnny Mathis reminds me of Loretta; and all doo wop brings memories of Brother on our front porch with his buddies harmonizing away. I remember my sisters’ crush on Frankie Lymon (picture is from Wikipedia) and their devastation when he died.

My mother and father loved blues, R&B, jazz, and the classic torch songs. From them, and my uncle Peter who was an acoustic bass player, I have not only audio but some physical memories of Pearl Bailey (her chest was the most comfortable place for a young child’s head), Eartha Kitt, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McCrae (her voice still gives me chills), and Lena Horne (her chest was way too, uh, bony. My mother’s family gave me spiritual hymns and my father’s family gave me the cha-cha and the meringue.

Once the older kids were basically out of the picture, my father gave me the big bands, the fox-trot, lindy, waltz, the two-step, and what is now called “the quick step”. Thanks Daddy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What Good is a Podcast Now?

So, what’s on your iPod (if you are the kind of person who carries one)? I was given a classic iPod as a gift and, being what Everett termed a “late adopter”, it only took me a year or two to really realize what a great gadget it is.

Of course, any iPod’er realizes immediately the benefit of having all of their music at their beck and call – as well as the ability to forego music stores in search of CDs (and putting up with the really loud music that now seems to be the accepted ambiance of such environments). A major benefit of the classic iPod is not just its 30 gig storage lies its ability to be adaptable to the other iPod changes, such as accommodating video media. But for me the beauty of the iPod lies in its downloading Podcasts and audio books.

I have always loved radio. To me, there is nothing like listening to the spoken word, and even more specifically the reading of the written word. I am old enough to remember evenings with my family, especially my grandmother, listening to the radio. I remember how excited I was, when visiting my sister in France, in 1966, that the radio carried the old time radio shows like Superman and The Green Hornet. And then there were all those nights my sisters read me to sleep.

In this age of technology, the human voice has a special place. I find it in the amazing Podcasts put on the Internet, as well as the electronic books I can download for a price or from my local library. Of course, nothing can take the place of talking to my sister, brothers, my daughters, my partners, and my friends. They are always better than radio.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Going Towards Movement

Miami is a place of sunshine, heat and pools. Just the entire atmosphere encourages not moving around. But the fact is, to keep any healthy body, one has to move. So I have been trying to “entice” myself away from the computer and poolside, and more towards movement.

My daughters, Liana Rose and Löki Gale, have realized that regardless of what Mom said, it was not about what I did, but what I said; and so they are true movers. Liana has just run a marathon and Löki has found ways to run even in a country that is primarily Muslim and does not condone women in exercise clothes.

The best part is given my current doctors’ advice (yes, we are talking multiple doctors), these two girls have been helpful in getting their mother excited about moving. The lucky part, Liana’s undergraduate degree was in preparation for her continued work as a physical therapist; plus she is a certified masseuse; and is working towards becoming a personal trainer. The best advice she gave me is to have a goal and find a workout buddy. It is a joy to have someone to provide and give support while we work through accommodating our particular life situations to insuring we take time to be healthy.

My goal is to complete the three-mile Walk to Empower to be held in Miami on Mother’s Day, May 9, 2010. My workout buddy is my cousin, Ghana Imani, who lives in New Jersey, writes to me regularly and is working for her own personal goal. The process of working towards our individual goals involve regular walking and exercise, while we maintain contact and support each other every day to make sure we complete our daily exercise and emotional needs.

My monetary goal for the walk is $100.00. If you are interested in supporting Team BPP go to where you can become a virtual walker or donate online directly to my team. If you do so, be sure that you have my everlasting thanks.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Being Truthful With One's Self

Have you ever tested how truthful you can be with yourself? While the question may immediately strike you as silly, in only a moment you will realize what is being asked. If you have ever decided to change a habit, face an unpleasant reality, or been caught red-handed but decided a bluff was at least worth a try, then you know that “to thine own self be true” is often a tough test to pass. As we approach the new year (regardless of culturally determined date issues), the idea of “resolutions” will rear its (ugly/beautiful) head: just overhearing words like “resolution”, “goal”, “objective” or any variations or related terms demand attention. The problem is the attention demanded is directed at us.

December 15th was my cigarette quit date, and so far, so, well, so, so. I had already started to develop an exercise regiment with Pedro Cruz Rios, my personal trainer here in Miami. My logic was based on my [youthful] vision of my past when exercise meant I would not smoke. Here is where we get to the truthful part. Today is only five days since my quit date, and I’m finding the being true a bit tough.

Why did I pick a date before the holidays, when I know I’m inclined to feel down? Was I deliberately setting myself up for failure? One cigarette isn’t really cheating, is it? If I walk an extra fifteen minutes, will that make up for it? Oh, and I also decided to keep a food diary. If you think you are truly honest with yourself, try keeping a food diary.

At this time of year we need to remember no one is perfect. Okay, I need to remember no one is perfect; in fact, I need to remember that none of us can reach perfection; and striving for perfection can have dire consequences. In fact, the drive for perfection can, well, to be honest, drive you crazy.

Well, then, in the interest of being truthful with myself, maybe I can delay my quit date just a couple more weeks. Honest. Cross my heart and hope . . . well, you know.
[Image from: ]

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Wild Things Young Adult Reading Challenge Is Underway

I have the honor and privilege of being the moderator for the Wild Things Young Adult Reading Challenge #3 on GoodReads Our group reads juvenile and your adult literature as adults interested in young adult literature. It is not only great fun, but a true education.

The Challenge involves five sets of tasks; each task having five elements. Some elements only require reading one book while others require reading up to three. Each task is really a task; for example, one of them involves reading a young adult book where the reader must add up the letters of their first and last name and read a book written by an author whose name contains the same number of letters.

Currently, I am reading Here Lies The Librarian by Richard Peck, an award-winning author in the field. I'm only at the beginning of the book, but already there are graveyards, up-rooted bodies and an auto garage involved. I'm smitten -- okay, I'm involved.

Try reading something you have not read before. It's amazing what you might find.