Category Archives: Musings

Cognitive dissonance

From the idyllic

Sitting in the garden, watching the green leaves flutter overhead, matching the birdsong to the red cardinal in the apple tree, listening to the rustle of the pines in the gentle breeze, I marvel at the absence of the sounds of city traffic, ambulance, police and fire engine sirens. I am in a world far removed from “real life.” The contrast between the microcosm to the macrocosm could not be greater. Though now the occasional plane is resuming its drone overhead, the only real disturbance is the roaring of the motorized lawn mowers.

To the gruesome 

Hundreds of thousands dead and dying from a relentless disease, millions of lonely people suffocating in their sickbeds, and the as yet uninfected constrained to wear masks and keep others at a distance. Many millions more out of work, unable to return to their jobs which no longer exist… Institutions that were the heartbeat of the city: theaters, restaurants, music, museums and movie theaters, street artists, exhibitions of human creativity, schools and great universities — gone: some never to return, some irretrievably altered, only a few managing to hold on— for now.

To the unthinkable

The earth is dying and there is no collective will to save it. The air we breathe and the water we drink become more toxic every day. The oceans are rising, reclaiming the land that was home to about 40 percent of the world’s population, exiling them and forcing their migration into the territory of people inland. The seas are warming, increasing the frequency and intensity of death-dealing storms and dispersing previously tropical diseases into the temperate zones. Deserts are expanding and the supply of fresh water and arable land is shrinking. The over 400 million tons of plastic produced annually are choking the oceans and killing marine life. Every human being alive today has plastic in his or her body.

To the signs of hope and change

Black Lives Matter. At last, white people are struggling to understand and begin to acknowledge the legacy of slavery, the systematic racism that pollutes every aspect of American life. Peaceful protests and the eradication of icons of the Confederacy are symbolic actions, but it will take much more to atone for the sins of 400 years and to build a society that fulfills the premise that all men [and women] are created equal and that each has the absolute right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Why Valentine’s Day?

It’s not just a Hallmark holiday: it commemorates a bishop of the 3rd century named Valentine. Hearts and flowers came later.

According to one story, Valentine was under house arrest in the home of a Roman judge. The judge challenged the Christian to prove the validity of his faith, bringing out his blind daughter, Julia. Valentine laid his hands on her and implored God to save the girl (and him). When he removed his hands, Julia’s vision was restored. Amazed by the miracle, the judge and all his household converted to Christianity. He broke all his idols and freed all the Christians in jail. 

Another account relates that Valentine continued to evangelize. He married Christian couples, which allowed the men to avoid conscription in the imperial army. To remind these men of their vows, Saint Valentine is said to have given them hearts he cut from parchment, which may explain the hearts of Valentine’s Day. 

Valentine supposedly wore a purple amethyst ring, as did other Christian bishops. He had an image of Cupid, a pagan god, engraved on it. Romans recognized the god of love and would ask him to marry them. (Probably because of the association of amethysts with Saint Valentine, the gem has become the birthstone of February, and is thought to attract love.)

Claudius, the emperor, was not pleased. He had Valentine brought to Rome, but he took a liking to the bishop, at least until Valentine tried to convert him. Claudius refused and condemned Valentine to death. On February 14, 269, he was stoned (or beaten with clubs) and then beheaded when the torture didn’t kill him. More than two centuries later, Pope Gelasius declared a feast day on that date. But sadly, it was downhill from there. Since 1969, inclusion in local liturgical calendars became optional.

Before his execution, some say Valentine wrote a note to Julia, the judge’s daughter, and signed it “from your Valentine,” a possible origin of Valentine notes and cards. Oh, and if you’d like to see what’s left of his head, his alleged skull is crowned with flowers and exhibited in a Roman basilica. Other relics are scattered throughout Europe.

Some say that Geoffrey Chaucer was responsible for the association of romance and St. Valentine. Chaucer wrote the Parlement of Foules on the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. The poem contains the lines, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” But the royal engagement was on May 3, also the day another Valentine (of Genoa) died. So who knows? It’s impossible to know how much is fantasy and what part of the legend reflects historical fact. Indeed, there were actually as many as 12 St. Valentines.

By the 18th century in England, the 14th of February had evolved into an occasion when partners expressed their love for each other with flowers, chocolate, and other gifts. And in the 19th century, the sending of Valentine’s cards had become so popular that they began to be mass produced, especially in America and Europe.

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Lilacs in the snow

Look closely and you’ll see the lilac buds. Lilacs are early bloomers, and their buds are already beginning to swell. The indomitable buds point straight up in defiance of the snow. It may have triumphed today, but the snow’s victory is ephemeral. Already it is weakening, its icy grip melting in the sun.

But what about America? Winter is coming. Trump’s grip is tightening. He is beefing up the army, fortifying the police and expanding the reach of the ICE. The power of all three is growing. Trump is adding soldiers, police, agents, jails and judges to enforce his decrees. Does this sound like the beginning of a police state? Does Trump want a Wall to keep his enemies out or will he have to keep Americans in?

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A cat, some ducklings and World Peace

This story about the love between implacable enemies suggests to me that if individual Israelis and Palestinians were to try to see each other clearly, they would learn that they have many of the same fears and needs. With greater and more subtle knowledge of each other, they would begin to cultivate mutual respect, then friendship and eventually, even affection. Then they could be well on their way toward healing and overcoming the mutual hatred that is eroding both societies.

This is of course applicable to all relationships based on fear and ignorance, the parents of hatred.

If this seems like pie in the sky fit only for Pollyannas, please watch the video. I guarantee you will be amazed.

HT: Wafa Faith Hallam

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Hire great writers

“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.

“That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.”

I found this on LinkedIn. It was posted by Tim Perez, who honestly said he stole it. I assume it’s been circulating for some time. It is also an  excellent justification of a liberal arts education. The humanities are losing ground rapidly, and with them go the creativity and critical thinking needed to analyze problems and communicate results clearly.


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Dreaming of Cuba

1955 Chevy on El Malecón in Havana, Cuba, with El Morro Castle

1955 Chevy on El Malecón in Havana, Cuba, with El Morro Castle

When I was growing up, I spent a part of every year in Cuba with my Cuban family. I almost remember — I heard the stories so many times — standing at the railing of my grandmother’s balcony when I was two years old. Pushcarts teeming with fruit and vegetables, others with knives and cutlery, yet others piled high with many-hued fabrics, each vendor hawking his wares with a distinctive cry, kept me pressed against the railing, fascinated by the colors and the sounds. When my grandmother saw something she needed, she’d lower a basket on a rope so that the vendor could fill it with mangoes and papaya or bacalao (salted codfish) or sacks of black beans and rice. Then she would hoist the basket back up, remove the groceries, count out the pesos she owed and send the basket with the money back down to the peddler waiting below.

I remember a Havana that was noisy and garish, rhythmic and musical. At dinnertime it was redolent with the smells of ropa vieja, picadillo, arroz con pollo, tostones, frijoles negros and the like. Bananas grew in the backyard. At 11 in the morning, we had a break at school and ate pastelitos de guayaba, flaky pastries filled with guava paste that I still savor and crave today. I remember the incomparable beaches and the people who loved me.

That was before Fidel’s triumph. During the long decades that followed, my memories persisted, even as the distance between them and harsh reality continued to grow. Today I’m reading Havana Nocturne, T.J. English’s account of the seamy, violent and thoroughly corrupted underbelly of the beautiful city in those halcyon days. Cuba is very much on my mind as it is for many in the wake of the rapprochement between Pres. Obama and Raúl Castro. In the weeks to come I will be reconciling nostalgia and history as this new era unfolds.

Photo by James Seith Photography

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Do you love Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, et al.?

AnythingGoesLast night I went to a wonderful show — classical music from Broadway, by which I mean Rodgers & Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Lerner & Loewe, Irving Berlin … There are many more, but what’s the use of naming them? Only audiences “of a certain age” not only recognize but love the music created by those names. (I and a few of my friends know all the lyrics and can sing them all.) I often wonder MyFairLady2when I look around me at the audience at the opera or chamber music or even pop standards like those I heard last night, and see only grey and balding heads: What will happen to this music when the greyheads are gone?

Guys&Dolls2Peter Gelb is doing a masterful job of revamping the opera, things like ripping “Rigoletto” from its 16th-century palace setting and plopping it down in a casino in 1950s Las Vegas. I think that is a brilliant move, since the power plays of the debauched nobility differ little from the depravity of 20th-century gangsters. Jealousy, pride and a father’s love aren’t bound to time or place. With novel staging in new productions and free outdoor showings, Gelb may well succeed in enticing new audiences. SouthPacificGreat theater deals with the human condition, and since that doesn’t change from one age to another, the costumes worn by the players in no way alter the themes of love lost and won, jealousy, treachery, death, cleverness, stupidity and so on.

I suspect the musical theater is different. OklahomaThe “younger set” no longer swings to the music of Glenn Miller or Harry James — they don’t need to cling to each other on the dance floor when they can hook up in bed with no effort. Cole Porter’s marvelously witty lyrics no longer resonate.

Every age, of course, has its own passions, styles and crazes. And each age thinks theirs are the best. As they should.

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The Raven’s many colors

Once upon an evening dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over bunches of notes and notebooks and pages from studies of yore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a banging,
As of something sharply whomping, well outside my chamber door.
“’Tis some blasting there,” I muttered, “blowing up my chamber door—
    Must be that and nothing more.”
So I gazed outside my chamber, and this is what I saw:
Eagerly I kept on watching, watching from my chamber door.
Only that and nothing more.
And the fireworks kept coming, exploding by my chamber door.






“What could they be?” I wondered as I looked and looked some more.

Finally I went to Google, asking and inquiring wherefore.



“For the Chinese New Year,” came the answer.

Only that and nothing more.



Apologies to Edgar Allen Poe

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Obama, the Crusades and American values

Monks bless Louis IX as he sets off on 7th Crusade

Monks bless Louis IX as he sets off on 7th Crusade

President Obama tripped in a snare at last week’s annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Essentially warning the pot not to call the kettle black, the President reminded the members of Congress and leaders of many faiths that no one is sinless, and that vicious atrocities have been committed in the name of religion by many peoples throughout history, including Christians and Americans. The spark that kindled a roaring flame was this:

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

No one likes to be reminded of his own transgressions. Many deny them, expecting others to join them in denial. One of these is former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R):

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime.

He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

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The Internet has a selective memory

cloudIt’s ironic that, while we are finding out that inconsequential, even unconscious, revelations we have made online, whether in Facebook or LinkedIn or email, to name just a few places, never die— they live to haunt us forever, but the stuff that we want to remain dissolves in the digital ether.

I’ve recently discovered that the many articles I wrote for Chelsea Now are no longer accessible online. As if they never existed, as if I never wrote them. The links I created for articles elsewhere are now dead. The first article I wrote out of J-School, a long piece about Betty Friedan for which I interviewed many interesting and famous people, is nowhere to be found.

Photographs fade, and even CDs and DVDs live only so long on the shelf. Hard drives fail, paper disintegrates — is there any permanence?

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Writers in exile

Detail from the cover of Noir Nation No. 1

Detail from cover of Noir Nation No. 1

I’ve been interviewing Naïri Nahapétian for NoirNation No. 5. She’s an Iranian exile living in Paris, in the tradition of so many literary expats. Naïri writes crime fiction set in Iran, her native home. She writes to pull back the veil from the Islamic Republic and strip away the mythology that mystifies Westerners.

Writers in exile interest me for personal reasons. I was in effect exiled from Cuba and separated from my family when I was 15. I didn’t see my grandmother, my cousins, my aunts and uncle until many years later and in some cases never again. A forcible separation like that leaves a vacuum that can’t ever be filled, a nostalgia for places that can never be recovered. As for Naïri, fifteen years passed before she returned to the home she’d last seen when she was 10 years old. Overwhelmed by what she saw, she began writing and then publishing her impressions.
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Sunday in the Park


Central Park

The decision announced by Pres. Obama last Wednesday to unleash the dogs of war is very disturbing. American servicemen and women are to return to Iraq, to those sands that have already soaked up rivers of American blood.

I was writing about my fears and misgivings, but kept being interrupted. This morning the news that another Westerner has been beheaded forced me to recalibrate. My own head began to spin.


The lake in Central Park

I decided to grant myself a reprieve and walked to Central Park. It was another warm and beautiful day, like so many in this unusual summer. Once I passed through the gates and into the green oasis, the sounds of the city faded away and my thoughts of war and death began to dissipate.

On a mild and sunny Sunday, there were strollers like me, also bikers, skaters, rollerbladers, runners, boaters, people riding pedicabs and others making music. There were lovers and tourists, babies and grandparents. I watched a mother teach her daughter to skip. A couple visiting from Indiana asked me to take their picture. In the manner of people who live in a small town, passersby smiled and greeted at each other. Continue reading

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September 11, remembered

The ghostly columns are officially called the Tribute in Light. I can see them now from my window. They rise four miles into the sky and are visible 60 miles away. They go up at sunset on Sept. 11 and gradually disappear when dawn brings another day.

The first few years after 2001 I used to watch the memorial service at Ground Zero. Though I had a tenuous connection to two of the victims, I knew none of them personally. Still, my tears welled up as fathers and sisters, uncles and daughters and friends read the names of their loved ones who were vaporized in the 9/11 holocaust. In more recent years (since an old high-school friend discovered me on Facebook), I read the poem he wrote on the first anniversary of the attacks. The image of rose petals fluttering from the heights to the ground is especially poignant.

Two years ago I wrote my impressions of the National September 11 Memorial. I had been invited to a tour guided by the architect who won the competition for its design. The seemingly impossible challenge that Michael Arad set himself was to represent absence, the emptiness left in the spirit and on the ground after the incineration of the people and the towers. How do you render what isn’t there? How do you depict nothingness? Arad’s solution is moving and brilliant.  Continue reading

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September 11

Two beams of light represent the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center during the 2004 memorial of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Two beams of light represent the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center during the 2004 memorial of the September 11 2001 attacks.

On this day each year I am overcome by nostalgia and memory. Thirteen years ago I was celebrating a milestone anniversary with friends. We were sailing in the Aegean Sea, living a dream I’d had since studying ancient Greece in the ninth grade.

On September 10 we were in Mykonos. We had a wonderful dinner, dancing — even on the tables — and laughing. The next day we went to a convenience store for some small thing and the TV was on. I was waiting outside when my husband rushed out and told me about the first plane. I was incredulous.  I almost didn’t believe him. The store owner tuned to CNN in English for us. We were watching as the second plane hit. Then we knew it was no accident — an act of war, I said at the time.

In the evening we decided to go back to the same place for dinner. A difference of night and day. As we walked in, the owners offered their condolences. There was no music and the mood was somber. We ate quietly and the entire restaurant observed a few minutes of silence. Some of us had children who worked near the WTC, so the next few days we were all wracked with anxiety until we knew they were all right.

Time heals, but the scar remains.

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The sun rises Tuesday morning on Manhattan’s Upper Westside:

IMG_1427IMG_1432The picture on the left was taken at 7:16 a.m. Across the river in New Jersey just a very few buildings are light on top and the landscape behind them is still dark. The second shot is a mere two minutes later, yet the shadows cast by the taller buildings to the east are lower and much of the land across the Hudson is now bathed in light.

At 7:16, the buildings are still in shadow in Manhattan and across the river. A minute later,

IMG_1429 there’s a notable difference in the amount of light reaching the buildings.

and even more before the minute is up.

But in no time the clouds take over. The sun disappears. Light snow starts to fall within the hour. Another two hours and the snow whirls about in earnest.IMG_1435

Mid-afternoon and the blue sky is a distant memory. IMG_1443
The golden buildings are barely discernible in the blizzard.

The first serious snow of the new year, appropriately named Janus.

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CorsoVittEmNapI’ve never been a great fan of Naples for various and complicated reasons. Ours has been an on-again, off-again (mostly off) relationship for many, many years. Neapolitans are convinced that theirs is the most beautiful of all cities, that everyone’s goal is to see Naples and then die. In truth, I’ve also heard many stranieri (people not blessed to be born there) sing the praises of this once grande dame, now tarted up behind a crumbling façade in a vain effort to conceal the ravages of the unkind passage of time.

For me, Naples is chaos— complete anarchy. Continue reading

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Sunday: night is nigh

Sunday’s post is late. It’s not that the dog ate it— What do clever kids say these days when a paper is late? The cat walked over the keyboard and stepped on “Delete”?

FlamingEuonymusShall I write about the trees? They are still holding on to most of their leaves, though the garden is already littered with the beginnings of their annual undressing. The euonymus in its blazing scarlet glory? The figs wrapped in their burlap winter blankets, looking like mummies, non-living reminders marking the place where they once were? The apples? Most of their fruit is gone. What’s left are a few sorry snacks for the birds and the bugs. The majestic zelkova? Its smaller branches are whipping in the wind while the great tree sways and grips the ground with its thick, tenacious roots.

There is still a hardy rose here and there, some zinnias, a tomato or two. Continue reading

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Blogging for ideas

Medical Practitioner WritingWriters know the value of writing frequently and consistently, and anybody who thinks knows that social contact, brainstorming, discussion, and now blogging can refine ideas as well as generate them.

We managed before there was blogging, of course.

In grad school my time on campus was limited, and I was constantly tantalized by the many talks and events that I had to miss. But when I had the opportunity to attend a lecture that sounded interesting, even— mostly— talks on subjects that had nothing to do with my field, I couldn’t resist. And it happened that more than once, a speaker said something serendipitous, something completely irrelevant to my work that nevertheless lit a fire in me. It sparked an idea, a new way of thinking about the chapter I was writing at the time.

Today The Dish, one of my favorite blogs, showcases two bloggers who credit blogging as an excellent process to develop and refine new ideas. Continue reading

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A blank page is a formidable foe

Medical Practitioner WritingA good writer should be able to write about something—anything—even nothing, as the writers for Jerry Seinfeld did so successfully for years. How did they do that?

Well, here I am, facing a blank page on a Thursday night and committed to post something on the blog. (Since yesterday’s post went up after midnight, I could cop a plea on the basis that I’ve filled my quota for today. But that wouldn’t wash, because then yesterday’s slot would be left empty-handed.)

This afternoon I was writing about how first the Patriot Act and then the monster it spawned, the pervasive NSA, chill my blood; why their power and secrecy awaken dormant terrors leftover from childhood. But that’s a longer story for another day.

How many times have I read that you have to force yourself to face down the blank page and enter some words— free association, a grocery list— anything to get the juices rolling.

I could write about the sudden flood I unknowingly waded into this afternoon.  Continue reading

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We once walked on the moon . . .

I rarely read Tom Friedman any more, but he’s got this right:

Whenever you’d visit China or Singapore, it was always the people there who used to be on the defensive when discussing democracy. Now, as an American, you’re the one who wants to steer away from that subject. After all, how much should we be bragging about a system where it takes $20 million to be elected to the Senate; or where a majority of our members of Congress choose their voters through gerrymandering rather than voters choosing them; or where voting rights laws are being weakened; or where lawmakers spend most of their free time raising money, not studying issues; or where our Congress has become a forum for legalized bribery; or where we just had a minority of a minority threaten to undermine America’s credit rating if we didn’t overturn an enacted law on health care; or where we can’t pass even the most common sense gun law banning assault weapons after the mass murder of schoolchildren?

All societies rise, peak and decay, usually over a period of centuries. They accomplish great things, then stumble and begin to fade.  Continue reading

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N.S.A., “electronic omnivore”

Hezbollah eavesdropping and recording station 2006

Hezbollah eavesdropping and recording station 2006

It’s surprising to me how little outrage there’s been on the part of Americans regarding the revelations in the data dump Edward Snowden released. I’ve been thinking about the death of privacy, how it’s happening, and why Americans, especially younger ones, don’t seem to mind.

Scott Shane’s report for the New York  Times on the reach and breadth of the N.S.A. is shocking in its particulars, despite how much we already knew. The N.S.A. is the biggest snoop, but certainly not the only one. Think about the ubiquity of surveillance cameras. I’ve written about the extent of Google’s data trove and its immortality.

What are the implications for the general public, for individuals like you and me? Even if you believe you have nothing to hide, do you really want the contents of your personal email and web searches, every charge on your credit card, every phone conversation  permanently warehoused and available for perusal by strangers or government agencies without your knowledge or consent?

Those of you who aren’t bothered by the blanket surveillance, would you please write and tell me why?


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Multi-tasking. Life used to be simpler

My daughter’s getting married. I’m wildly happy, so I’m not complaining, but it ain’t as simple as it sounds. The wedding and my daughter are on the other side of the continent; she’s making all the decisions and we never before texted and spoke so much. It’s wonderful, and we’re closer than ever, but … so much to do …

There are plane tickets to book and coordinate for four different people with four different itineraries that must overlap on one of the multi-city legs, but the travel dates and times are dependent on events that are still being planned. Resolve issues with the wedding website and RSVPs; rummage through the virtual attic for the items my daughter’s requested that she may want to borrow and have them ready for our scheduled Skype call tomorrow.

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Ending of a late summer day


Pier 1 Cafe in Waterfront Park

We meandered down from the street along the ramp with strollers and bicycles to the river bank below. The breeze picked up as we neared the river and the setting sun flirted with the Jersey horizon.

Under the incessant roar of the cars on the highway above, couples and families and parties of young adults laughed and chattered and enjoyed the lingering light of the fast-fading afternoon.
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A special day

Lincoln Center: the reflecting pool at dusk

Lincoln Center: the reflecting pool at dusk

The morning dawned a dreary, misty grey. But as we opened our eyes, we smiled and wished each other a happy anniversary. The cats woke up with us — they stretched, kissed us and jumped off the bed as we came to life. No time to dawdle. We had to pack up, close the house and begin the trek back to the city.

The weather became increasingly ominous. Thunder and lightening flashed and rumbled together, warning that a tempest was fast approaching. By the time we had packed almost everything in the car, the rain was pelting the house. Torrents surged down the roof and cascaded over the overflowing gutters. The lights went out while we searched for the cats in their hiding places.

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Fighting writer’s block

A Woman Writing by Suzuki Harunobu (Brooklyn Museum)

A Woman Writing by Suzuki Harunobu (Brooklyn Museum)

Ask any writer: when you develop the habit of writing every day, writing becomes part of you, a need you must satisfy.

But when there’s an interruption, the longer the hiatus between writing bouts, the more difficult it becomes to pick up the metaphorical pen. In fact — and this certainly dates me — when I’m really stuck or when I’m at odds with myself over what to say, or especially when I’m at a total loss over what to say, I pick up pen and paper. The paper’s on a clipboard so that I can take it anywhere and still have a good, firm surface to write on.

Putting pen to paper is a measure born of desperation. If in that barren condition I try to write with my laptop, I can barely complete a paragraph because of all the revisions, cutting and pasting and deletions. Translated to paper, the results look like a map drawn by a disturbed, manic, peripatetic, lost and confused cartographer. Crosshatches indicate an unfruitful turn, and asterisks, numbers and arrows direct the reader now forward and then back.

In the meantime, the scrawl is illegible and the abbreviations undecipherable even by the author.

But you have to do what it takes. So I’ve begun.

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Donut philosophy

The Mayflower doctrine— Cool Culinaria

The Mayflower doctrine

I was recently reminded of the tedium of shopping with my mother. I looked forward to the end of the day, when she would treat me to a Mayflower donut. I never tired of pondering the card propped on every table:

As you ramble on through life, brother,

Whatever be your goal,

Keep your eye upon the doughnut

And not upon the hole.

Simpler times. Yes, that’s the way we used to spell “donut”!

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What’s it like to be a woman?

Dustin Hoffman becoming Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie (1985) []

Dustin Hoffman is profoundly moved as he remembers and tells what he learned when he played the lead role in “Tootsie.” The video, recently surfaced and now gone viral, reveals how little men understood what it meant to be a woman 30 years ago. Playing a woman was of course challenging to Hoffman as an actor, but the experience also challenged his assumptions and attitudes that he had never questioned.

Playing Dorothy Michaels, Hoffman had an epiphany when he realized that his character wasn’t beautiful, and there was nothing he and his makeup artists could do about it. He would never have given Dorothy, his character, a second look, because he would have judged her exclusively by her looks. Hoffman is moved to tears when he thinks of how many fascinating women he never met or learned from or laughed with, because he was “brainwashed.” Watch the video after the break:  Continue reading

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WHAT? A snoop in the bathroom?

IMG_0486A guest in a traditional Southern home, now a comfortable inn, I was sitting and musing — not to put too fine a point on it — on the toilet. The bathroom wasn’t private, but only in the sense that it was in a public area and any guest could use it. At the time, though, it was mine, at least until I unlocked the door.

Without warning, a startling “click!” interrupted my reverie and disrupted my composure. Spooked, I looked toward the sound and spotted a sinister device that was almost hidden from view across from me in the narrow space between the sink and the wall. It appeared to have an eye or a lens, and in far less time than it takes to write this, I thought of the ineluctable surveillance cameras that dog us everywhere, recording every move, taking note of height, clothing, headgear, companions — everything. In fact, I had just taken part in a discussion about the complete loss of any remaining shred of privacy in the 21st century.    Continue reading

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Darkness overcome by light

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“When we heard, we all came in”


Pres. Obama to the American people:

We also know this — the American people refuse to be terrorized.  Because what the world saw yesterday in the aftermath of the explosions were stories of heroism and kindness, and generosity and love:  Exhausted runners who kept running to the nearest hospital to give blood, and those who stayed to tend to the wounded, some tearing off their own clothes to make tourniquets.  The first responders who ran into the chaos to save lives.  The men and women who are still treating the wounded at some of the best hospitals in the world, and the medical students who hurried to help, saying ‘When we heard, we all came in.’ The priests who opened their churches and ministered to the hurt and the fearful.  And the good people of Boston who opened their homes to the victims of this attack and those shaken by it.

So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it.  Selflessly.  Compassionately.  Unafraid.

The outpouring of love and caring, giving of oneself and one’s things — this is what we have to take away and hold on to — this is who we are.

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