Sunday, November 29, 2015

Yet, There Is No Such Thing As Paradise

Paloma gets hit the worst!

My sister and I meet up in the lobby and compare legs. I thought I was hit pretty hard until I see her's.  She looks like she's got leg-chicken pox, or measles or a bad case of leg acne. I can now show-off that I have very few bites.

We laugh and tell a friend, that our last tropical trip, we went everyday to the store to buy some kind of protection, remedy, or ointment for the no-seeum attacks. We even bought electric insect zappers. We even vowed to never go back to locales infested with no-seeums.

No see-ums: mini midges, a fraction of the size of mosquitoes, members of the Ceratopogonidae family with over 4000 known species--found in sub tropic and tropical areas of the world--mostly the Caribbean, but can be found anywhere in the world-I've encountered them in Fiji, Bahamas and now Mexico.The females need human blood to up the protein For their offspring eggs. It's awful knowing the bites I endure also perpetuate the species.

The only thing that is supposed to repel the pests is DEET, a known poison, dangerous if used consistently. But even used consistently, my family and I find it doesn't really help. One must resign oneself to no-see-um bites.

Yet, here we are again, in the tropics, in beautiful Puerto Vallarta with no-seeums. And after the wedding, my children, son-in-laws and grandchildren head north to a small beach town in Chacala, a remote place with raccoons that will enter the villa and open the fridge if we don't shut the doors at night; with hundreds of delightful hermit crabs; geckos running up the walls and hiding behind the art work; centipedes, moths, and the dreaded, life-altering, ubiquitous, no-seeums.

Yet, our rented home is an enclave by the sea, chosen from photos that promised the most amazing set-up, so amazing, I've been wondering if it can really exist.

 It does.

 The accommodations are incredible: a main house for eating and gathering and little casitas so everyone has their quiet and privacy. The cooks are skilled and prepare our meals with fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh catch from the sea. A fifty pound bag of oranges awaits in the pantry to be squeezed into delicious juice. The ocean is warm, the waves just right and the sand is soft. Snorkeling is superb. We have sand volleyball, a pool, a hot tub, and the pickleball court is a five minute walk away.

Yet, here I am in paradise scratching away and I'm not alone. Yesterday I was up at 4:30 a.m., awakened by intense itching.

We are in paradise, but there is no true, complete, absolute, paradise. Only glimpses of paradise, amidst the bites, the scratching, the poisonous Deet. It's a life paradox. Glimpses of the sublime, glimpses of pain--a rose surrounded by thorns.

If there is an ultimate paradise, a heaven, a place we are supposed to work towards, and sacrifice for, this earth could never be all we want it to be. It can only give us hope and a vision of what it might be like. We witness those moments of pure beauty, pure charity and love, but always, in an incomplete paradise, around the corner, we will find the opposite.

This is my view this morning--gorgeous. The sound is gentle surf and soft birds chirping in the jungle distance; my stomach rumbles for breakfast that someone else will cook and clean up after.


And then I bend over to scratch, not one, but several, bright red, irritated bumps on my arms, legs, and back (if I can reach).

If Only...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rules Over Reason

My sister calls the day before we leave for her daughter's wedding.

"What? That doesn't make sense. How did it happen?"

She doesn't know how IT happened. "All I know is she was hysterical."

She is the mother of a five month old infant and while checking in for her flight to the wedding, there was a glitch because of the child. It couldn't be resolved and the mom and child missed the flight. Her family went on without her and she was left alone with her baby to fight the airline.

Little could I have imagined that her snafu could be our snafu the very next day.

A few days before our flight, my daughter calls to check on her flights. Even though I made these reservations eight months ago, the airline has no record of her almost two-year-old.  He flies free because he is under two, but there still needs to be a record. She resolves the situation, but since he is turning two, two days before the return flight, the airline might charge for a full fare. Fair enough. I call to double check and Tasha assures me all is well. No need to worry.

When I reach the check-in counter after parking two different cars in long term parking, I find my family, all 11, still there, still not completely checked in. There is a problem with the almost-two-year old. We must pay an international infant tax. No problem.

But...but... they still can't clear us because the little guy doesn't have a return flight on the way home, since they decided he's not free on the return. The airline representative is on the phone trying to get clearance. I arrived at the counter at 9:30 and she is still on the phone at 10:20. Our flight boards in ten minutes and we still must pass security.

We are emphatic, "We're going to miss our flight."

I have an idea and ask, "What if we pay for the return ticket now? You get him on the return flight, and let us board so we make the wedding."

The rep and the supervisor agree to take our credit card.

We rush to catch the flight...but when we arrive, the gate attendant isn't satisfied. She tells us that all of us are fine to board, except the two year old.

Ummm,...."Who's going to watch him?"

Everyone boards but the parents of the two-year-old, and Tony and me. The gate will close in six minutes.

"What if we just buy him another one way ticket now, so we can get on the plane?"

Again, money talks, even though he's supposed to fly free. With no time to spare, a ticket agent runs his boarding pass to the gate.

 I've never been so relieved. The whole family is on board when the plane takes off.

After a few days of wedding celebrations, we receive an email to let us know, the problem has been solved. The entire family's flights will return on Sunday afternoon, except for Sebastian, the-two-year-old, whose return ticket is on Monday. All by himself.

Stay tuned.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Psychology of Travel

This was written previously to  A Non-traditional Thanksgiving.

My email, text and twitter messages, by some genius stroke of technology, have started poking their heads into my computer screen.

"It's time to check-in!" the latest message slides in and slides out, as if it's a flag I'm supposed to capture.

Usually, I would be excited by the Time to check-in, but today, it puts me on edge, and I cannot pinpoint the reason.

Tony claims it's because I haven't packed yet. I continue walking upstairs; he continues talking but, I can't make out any of his words because they sound the same as the adults in Charlie Brown movies. Wa, wa, wa.

I know I should pack, but I just can't do it, and it's 7:10 p.m and we leave for the airport at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Excuse me, I have to go pack.............................

And.........two hours later, I've finished. I'm at peace; I can write again.

In the midst of my complaining, procrastination, it hit me that I just needed to get up and do it.

A few days earlier at the onset of cold cold weather, it took me three hours to get out of the house for a mountainside walk. When I finally made it, I was invigorated and enjoyed myself. I'd wasted three hours of putting off that which made me happiest.  For days I'd put off packing and the weight kept building until it felt like an overweight suitcase.

Just do it!--may be the best advice we've ever received. So: just do it.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Non Traditional Thanksgiving

I arise earlier than the rest of the tribe. The babies go to bed early but my children, their spouses, and Tony, tend to stay up later. Later than me. I am tempted sometimes, but I remember that I have the morning all to myself when I go to be early and rise early.

Today, I am under the umbrella, on a padded lounge chair, a soft rain hitting my exposed shoulders. My favorite sound, the surf breaking on the shore, is near. It's Thanksgiving day and I couldn't be more grateful. Foremost for family. For Tony. His little ways of being, his quirks, his jovial-ness, the way he laughs so well at himself, have meant more to me in the last few days than our entire marriage.

Time and patience=growth=love.

I'm over-the-top thankful that today's Thanksgiving menu is tortilla soup, mango, papaya and pineapple for lunch;  4:00 appetizers are coconut shrimp and pina coladas. Mahi mahi for dinner.

Turkey is fine, but turkey grows old.

As does the cold November weather and the smell of Thanksgiving leftovers accidentally left uncovered in the fridge.

As the trite and trivial of Thanksgiving grow old, the sweet and the gentle grow more dear:

Sweet potatoes doctored to taste like Haagen Dazs ice cream.

Heartfelt prayers of gratitude.

The anticipation of family's safe arrival.

Those who jump in and help with the clean-up.

But today, I'll have none of that.

Instead, I'll spend a lot of time observing and enjoying. Observing the family that brings joy. Little Teddy so happy and content, who smiles a crooked smile like my dad. Sebi who is soooo curious and ecstatic in the water--almost as if he were really meant to be a fish who ended up in a little boy body. Ezra, who slowly navigates this family he is so not used to--his slow acceptance of us strange people who love him so. My Annika, the strong girl among boys, who looks forward to growing in courage and becoming more kind. Max, usually stoic and reserved who cut lose in his theatrics while playing Catch Phrase. London, so joyfully himself, his wife, my daughter, her seriousness so embracing of his playfulness. Jillian who is so well matched to T that it seems she was never ours. Mandi and her Si who work so well together and may not even be aware. And our oldest daughter and husband mellowed by the demands of their little ones. And Tony.

The only Thanksgiving tradition I will practice today will be that of gratitude, and that's only because all the worries, the preparation, the food, the pressure of travel and accommodating everyone's needs is absent. Without focusing on all the fringe, I can focus more on the core reason for Thanksgiving: gratitude. It almost makes me want to skip all the traditions of Christmas, so I can celebrate the one and single most important reason for the holiday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


That I was able to catch this photo at this moment of time, is a mini miracle. The perfect moment of concision. We all wondered how it could have happened (the accident), and after studying the photo, I think I know.

These are my two number one fans which sounds sort of silly, but I married one and I gave birth to the other. Pretty strong connections. When I demanded their attention, they gave it and they lost their focus. It's made me think a bit about what we demand of others, the reasons, the purposes, and if those demands are justified.

I used to demand Tony's attention before football games. Enough said.

A phrase I heard years ago: One can never be happy when he or she depends on someone else for their happiness.

When one does--collision is guaranteed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marriage Through the Years, In Tandem

When Tony started biking obsessively, a ton, somehow it dawned on us that with the right bike we could enjoy the sport together. And so the well worn tandem bike rests against the ladder, against the wall in our garage, and it has for years and hopefully for years to come.

We also both loved kayaking, and when we realized that we too could enjoy this sport together, my maestro-internet-shopper, found the best rated, double, inflatable kayak. We can't take it everywhere, but it has seen its share of shores. With luggage limits, we share a suitcase and use the other allotment for the kayak.

Recently, while overseas, we failed to reserve a double kayak and we were both left in our own kayaks; Tony was fine, but I had trouble going against the current of the Rhone River. It was a mini disaster and I'll leave it at that.

There are the all-too-obvious metaphors for marriage that arise from the tandem bike and the tandem kayak. I'll leave those too, to ponder or to write-about for another day.

While sorting through all the jpegs in my photo files last night, these on-the-kayak selfies seemed to stand out, seemed to reinforce the happiness, the cohesion we feel when working together, but in spite of sharing the same house, same children, same bedroom, our lives are really different and separate. A eulogy would read mostly of our different passions, of our different occupations. When I told Tony about a student who ran out of class because she was embarrassed, he just shook his head trying to imagine that event in his graduate courses. Even though we both teach, our experiences are spectrums apart.

We live in a world of crazy differences, and crazy intolerances of those differences. My friend who hails from the island of Mauritius is most proud of the island's diversity and its ability to get along, support and thrive amongst each other. It's proof that it can be done. 

We have to find the commonalities among the differences, then  nurture those commonalities for success, cohesion, and peace. For Tony and I, that commonality is found in part, on a bike, in a kayak-- together.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Eat and Walk

My favorite place to be in winter is New York City (if it can't be a warm tropical beach), and my favorite activity is bundling up and going out to eat; because, there is no alternative when hunger strikes.

The best part is the brisk walk to the restaurant or market, maybe with a light falling snow, all the while wrapped in a down coat, topped with a warm hat and a scarf made of soft fake fur. Don't forget the requisite gloves! The Ugg boots if it's not raining.  Unlike my tourist self, the people belong to the NY city streets like penguins belong to Antarctica.

If you're lucky enough to be there in December, the streets glitter, the crowds are optimistic and everyone shares the enchantment of the season. The light show on Saks Fifth Avenue and the lighted trees at Rockefeller Center all add to the magic.

When winter hits at home, and it has, Tony and I tend to bundle up and stay where our feet are fuzzy warm and where we can wear thick and ridiculous winter attire without drawing attention. We hunker down and like bears would be happy to emerge only in spring. We are content to stay home and eat soup or make waffles.

So when someone says, "Meet us for dinner," I feel joy at the prospect of going out after dark, and staying out of my pajamas until bedtime. It feels festive putting on a pair of jeans and a sweater. The effort it takes to go into the cold enhances the dinner. But I still have the urge to walk as if I'm in NY city embracing and defying the cold. I want to fast walk to the little Italian place around the corner, shiver on my way to the Korean barbecue two blocks over, or smile at strangers thinking about the best kosher pizza on Broadway.

Oh the convenience of good New York food within steps of one's hotel, and the possibility of different encounters on the way. One night, I was out foraging medicine and food for my sisters, when I met a man who asked me to dinner. Not exactly as it sounds, he was hungry and hoped I would buy him a meal. I did, and the few minutes spent with him were a delight.

Somewhat close to home, Tony and I can enjoy Chinese, Israeli, Thai or Texan barbecue. The food is NY good, but the experience is missing the exhilarating short walk and the company of strangers on the street. Food just can't taste the same when we drive to the restaurant and drive home.

Wait until Tony finds out that the next meal at a restaurant will also include a walk in the chilly winter night.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Sting of Memory

It's time to help Nikki with her hives. It's mid November, a warm day for November, but the insects are still going to hate the intrusion.

As I sit beside Nikki, as we plan to meet at 2:30, my skin, as if it were a voice, starts to shout. Little prickles in my skin, as if a child were sitting under my chair with a pin, defy reality. I'm actually feeling the pain of a bee sting!

The time before last, when we opened Nikki's hive, we couldn't have prepared ourselves well enough for their anger. As Nikki moved the boxes, bees were getting crushed, sending out the "We're getting attacked" pheromone; they were threatened and their vengeful rampage began. I was well covered, but not well enough. I took a few stings to my legs and hands.

The next time we opened Nikki's hives, I was dressed for war. I was so thickly protected, I could calmly watch as the bees tried repeatedly and repeatedly to sting.

When a bee stings, the stinger ejects from its abdomen. It's certain death, and a strangely sad thing to watch such a tiny insect give up its life as it repeatedly tries to destroy me.

This time, as I double layer dressed, I thought my thick jacket would be enough. I ignored the slits at the wrists and forgot to put on my thicker gloves. I knew better and ended up getting stung twice--one to each hand.

The day after, as I stood still watching student presentations, I would imagine a bee sting to my back, to my leg, or to my arm. I knew it wasn't real, but my nerve memory, my fear memory, my psychosomatic self couldn't differentiate.

A few years ago, I was stung by a friend. It wasn't physical, but it was emotional. A short while later, I saw her from a distance and stayed far away. But it's a small town, and when I saw her recently, I felt the sting and wanted to avoid her the same way I want to avoid angry bees. But grocery aisles are thin and avoidance wasn't going to happen.  I headed straight for the hive--but I protected myself and felt nothing but the love of friendship past. Our encounter was kind, pleasant, and it was easy to remember why I liked her so much and why the sting had felt so sharp and why I had felt it over and over again.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Someone left an anonymous comment on the class blog. It was possible that a student was playing a joke. I told the students what had happened. I told them the context of the joke and it sort of creeped them out too. Then I asked, "Did any of you make the comment?" I tried to treat it lightly. No one confessed, so it was time to teach about the power and destruction of anonymity. The positive and negative effects of the un-named deed.

I shared Edwin Romond's poem, "To My Female Student Who Left a Note Stating, 'I Hope Your Baby's Born Dead.'"

What was it, a lav pass
I wouldn't give you?
A quiz grade I wouldn't change?
Had I made you stop chewing gum?
Where does a teenage girl,
who is blessed with a womb
and the chance for children,
find the emptiness inside her
to write a death wish for a baby?

But, my anonymous student,
you didn't hate hard enough,
for my son's eyes light with a life
more beautiful than yours
will ever be and his tiny fingers
touch my lips with a softness
your heart could never hold.
See his red hair, bright as joy.

Listen to his voice cooing love from his crib.
And, when I kiss him, watch my face
almost erase the ache you caused me.
You, courageous scholar,
who waited until I was out sick
to leave your curse in ball point black,
look at Liam, our living son.
Just don't ask to hold him.

The students were appalled. The poem was based on this man's real-life experiences as a teacher.

"What happens when an act of cruelty-- a note, a threat-- is done anonymously?"

"Everyone is a suspect."

Yes, they got it.

"And it makes the world a better place or a worse place?"

The answer was clear without having to answer.

"What happens when an act of kindness is anonymous? When someone leaves a plate of brownies on your doorstep or a kind note is slipped through the vents in your locker?"

"Everyone is a suspect. We suspect that everyone likes us, cares for us."

"Does it make the place a better place?"

The sweet students nodded their heads in agreement.

I asked them to make a personal vow to never pollute the world with negative anonymous acts.

The next day when I asked students to anonymously evaluate one of our teaching practices for an upcoming conference presentation, the students were positive--even in their suggestions for improvement. And one student even made me suspect that everyone in the class thought I was special. The student wrote his evaluation and then penciled in the words, You are the best.

I'd taught them well.

Unfortunately, I didn't handle the anonymous situation as well as I should have. The student whom I adore, who happened to have made the joke, was late on the morning when I asked "Who did it?" That brave girl had to confess amidst the "big deal" I'd made of something that should have been very trivial.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Fleeting and Unappreciated Deep Thoughts of Youth

 January 7, 2016, I'll be accompanying more students than imaginable, will be in the company of great teachers, will be accompanying a few great parents on a trip to Greece and Italy. In just 12 days. Hardly long enough to see the world of classic literature, civilization, and art, but long enough to be bus-traveling with 100 people.

I'll be in charge of student writing for 12 days---since we are technically still in school...ahhhh if all schools could include trips to Rome!

The first time I went to Rome and Greece was with student organization American Institute for Foreign Studies. Barely 16, impressionable, curious,--it was a life changing experience. I came home different. Enlightened. Sophisticated (remember I was only 16).

When I was first asked to be a chaperone/traveling writing instructor, I remembered that first experience. I was thankful these students were as blessed as I had been. I thought of the mini diary I had kept of that distant adventure. Oh how I hoped I could find it. I tend to be a white tornado and have more than once tossed memorable relics and pined for them later.

I found it in a torn-sided box on a shelf in a basement back closet. Sat right down and started reading.

A few laughs, smiles, but more wishes I'd done a better job of recording deep thoughts. I remember the deep thoughts--but they are missing like valuable coins that sifted through an un-sewn hole in a neglected pocket--because I was too busy being a teenager in Rome, in Paris, in Vienna. The trip was fleeting, almost as fleeting as those five short years in some of the most important growing years of one's life.

If only I could hold on to those years, of those thoughts, of those impressions, of whom I was becoming in the moments of 1970's European splendor; if I only could hold on to them by the little diary in my hands.  I couldn't have guessed I would be returning again, not as the student, but as the teacher, trying to help create a meaningful experience for those as careless as I once was.

For me at least, this time will be different. I understand the passage of time. I understand and can convey in words the deep thoughts that will traverse my mind. I will understand that I will never pass this way again--except through the handwritten pages of my journal.  And maybe that is what makes experience so meaningful--that we cannot comprehend that it is--until it has passed.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Not All Liberties Are Without Impunity

This past week, the Attorney General came to our school to talk about the insidious problem of human trafficking. He has a passion for fighting the perpetrators, the degraders of human life and liberty. He's chased them, prosecuted them and brought freedom to the oppressed. Yet, he surprised us all because he didn't begin his speech with the human trafficking problem, he began with the problem of pornography.

Let me back up.

Years ago, one of my friend's graduate students was dismissed from the university because he was caught using porn on campus--a practice strictly prohibited. My friend thought the ban and her student's consequences were ridiculous. She criticized the university; I sat still and listened because I didn't yet know how deep the vein of porn consequences ran.

The attorney general had found that all human trafficking criminals, were rooted in pornography. It seemed to be the beginning foray into the dark. And...human trafficking, the slave trade, came about in part because of pornography. The need to produce and the lack of unwilling participants. The core of slavery--any kind of slavery: when the demand for human labor, no matter the type, exceeds the number of people willing to do the work. Consequently, human trafficking has everything to do with pornography.

My friend who criticized the university's anti porn stance didn't stop to consider who was making the porn at what cost and under what circumstances. She only saw her student's right to act according to his desires.

Every decent citizen is against human trafficking and sexual slavery, but is every decent citizen willing to stand up and say no more pornography? We'll hear the same excuse: everyone has a right to   read and look at what they want, or it's a first amendment privilege. Just remember those rights come at a cost and it may be the cost of a child's life. The cost of a teenage girl's innocence-stolen, drugged and forced to be a human slave in the 21st century.

Stop pornography now.

Campaigns against porn: Porn the new drug; Porn kills love.

I'm so proud of one of my students who is planning a cross country bike ride to raise awareness.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It Begins With An Idea

Recently, I made some kind of connection to Haiti. I don't know where it started, or how it started, but when I felt this connection, I sent out a few emails, asked a few questions, and dared to imagine.

Today, I booked flights to Haiti. We will only be there for four days, but my hopes are to visit a school and make an investment--an investment of love and care.

We had to be in Columbia South Carolina at the end of the year, and since we were going to be on the east coast anyways, why not hop a little farther south to Haiti?

After I made the reservations, I'd never felt so peaceful, so calmly happy about a travel decision. And Tony? I usually get a little flack for my peripatetic leanings, a request to sleep on it, or admonishment to make the reservations later and not be so impulsive,  or he'll ask, "Did you check a different airline for a better flight?" and "Maybe it will be cheaper next week."  But today he didn't hesitate while standing at the end of the diving board. He jumped right in. When I sent him his itinerary after only a 20 minute start-to-finish foreign travel plan, he came into the study and we hugged and kissed.

He felt it too.

And I promised to start practicing French seriously.

While writing about the beginning of this adventure just now, I remembered vaguely that I had written about it before. I searched the previous posts and this is what I found written on March 16 2015.

Dear Universe,
I have a dream. It involves Haiti, of which I know very little about.
I do know it is a poor country. Devastated by earthquake.
From talking to Ernst, a man who left Haiti because he was politically ostracized, I've learned it can be a dangerous place. I've learned that most young women don't go to school because of money. I've learned it's a country in difficult shape.
Can I make a difference?
It seems ignorant to think that I can and ignorant to think that I cannot.
I have a friend who left Haiti when she was a teenager. She speaks of its political corruption, of its bled-out infrastructure. I've sent her a message asking to talk.
Here's what I imagine, my dream. Going to Haiti. Making an assessment. Taking my PHD in school psychology daughter, taking my public-health-degree-daughter, taking my daughter with abundant compassion. Taking my husband for his wisdom. Inviting friends. All of us who are so blessed with abundance, access to education, resources, full bellies, making a journey to Haiti to see if we can make a difference.
It's a difficult thing throwing dreams to the universe. It's a risk, but with risk comes possible solutions, answers and ideas.
If you're part of the dream, let me know.

My dear universe letter had been answered.

The adventure begins.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


When just a little girl in my parents' home, my mother ordered an Art Linkletter course in Positive Thinking and Behavior. The course consisted of records, yes records! LPs, and I loved the covers and the booklets filled with anecdotes and antidotes to combatting weak human behavior. Even that of a ten year old. I loved the illustrations and the diagrams, the pithy words paired with musical jingles that sounded similar to the catchy radio advertisements of the day:  Dentyne gum, Crest toothpaste and "You'll look better in a sweater washed in Woolite!"

I was set for life and I didn't even know it.

The psychology of success changed over the years--it got more serious, the M Scott Pecks and the Oprah guests didn't always sound like the cheery Art Linkletter. No longer did jingles and snappy tunes work for creating good moods and guaranteed success. The study of success became a college major and shot the Stephen R Covey's to the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Success had a formula based in science and empirical evidence.

But..., I'm still a sucker for the simplicity of one liners and 1960's tutorials on enthusiasm. If I find a book on a shelf and it's written by Norman Vincent Peale, I'll pick it up.

Most recently, a woman who obviously grew up in the same era and probably had the same mother who ordered the same Art Linkletter records, taped the board with quotes on enthusiasm. Beloved one liners, I copied almost every one of you, and in the meantime missed all the science on how to become more enthusiastic!

Enthusiasm: A Greek word that means having god within us.

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Entusiasm releases the drive to carry you over obstacles and adds significance to all you do. Norman Vincent Peale

Protect your enthusiasm from the negativity and fear of others. Never decide to do nothing just because you can only do a little, do what you can. You would be surprised at what "little" acts have done for our world. Steve Maraboli

Enthusiasm is as powerful as dynamite and as contagious as the measles. Spread some around.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Ralph Waldo emerson.

Years wrinkle the skin but the lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

Monday, November 16, 2015


I am standing over the kitchen counter peeling, cracking, and releasing pomegranate seeds. Tony is upstairs and I am alone in the room. I feel a hand at my mid back that moves my dress. I turn around to see who it is, but of course, no one is near.


There is no explanation, so only slightly spooked, I continue my work.

Less than five minutes later, Tony walks into the kitchen. He is leaving for a meeting, so I only have a  minute. I hadn't expected to share the encounter, because I wouldn't know how to explain it and didn't really want to be teased.

I tell him anyways, and wait for the humorous comment about my sanity; but it doesn't come.

He makes an interesting expression as he stretches an arm into a coat sleeve.

"That happened to me too. Earlier today. I felt a touch to my back, so I turned around, but no one was there."

He adds that that kind of thing has never happened to him before.

"Who was it?" I ask. "Who's trying to get our attention?"

We just stare at each other because there are no answers to the questions.

My mind flashes to a scene from the old Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg move: Ghost.

Swayze, once a living man, now a spirit without the ability to be seen or heard (except by Goldberg), desperately wants to learn how to move objects, or to have his touch felt by living people. After meeting a crazy ghost in the subway who teaches him how, he practices until he has some kinetic abilities.

If I didn't know better, I'd think there was meaning in Tony and me both having such a unique experience. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was a spirit trying to communicate with both of us. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was a child spirit, who was reaching up to get our attention.

Funny thing is---I'm not absolutely sure that I don't know better.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

They "Turned to Their Affairs"

Stunned with the rest of the world, I tried to make sense of the Paris attacks.

But one cannot make sense of such senseless-ness, though it is counter intuitive to our brain and our hearts when we can't understand; this lack leaves our minds and hearts in a jumble.

 We want to solve the problem, search for answers and package it all into a neat bundle, stamp it with a MAKES SENSE label and send it down the conveyor belt of our mind.

I tried to make sense of it by lying on the couch and turning on CNN. It was even more confusing watching Anderson Cooper trying to stamp it with the MAKES SENSE label too.

I fell asleep.  At 7:00 p.m.

When I awoke, an hour later, little more information had been added. I walked into the kitchen and had a bowl of cereal, but not even Honey Bunches of Oats could bring comfort.

The night of the attacks, it was still daytime in America, and I was learning from poets and teachers. Deb and I were presenting our ideas and successes in teaching writing in a conference breakout session. When we finished, we were giddy, happy and felt like we'd made a contribution to education. We took some selfies, made some jokes, and I almost tweeted our trivial experiences. But something held me back.

Imagine how relieved that I hadn't acted in the midst of our ignorance. We'd been inside all day focused on teaching and learning.

And so I am somewhat paralyzed. I don't want to move on. I was surprised when the twitter feed consisted of happy news and other concerns besides the Paris attacks. How long is long enough to suspend life for the loss of life and a short reign of terror? It is never long enough, but life strangely does go on.

Robert Frost explores the bewilderment of life without brakes in his poem "Out Out." A young boy is working a buzz saw, is distracted, and cuts off his hand. The surgeon is called, but in spite of his efforts the boy dies.

The last stanza of the poem reads:

And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it. 
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

And they...
 turned to their affairs is a chilling yet strangely comforting line. Those affairs are what pull us back into life, help us to go on, help us overcome the despair we experience when we witness evil.

The theatre will reopen. The restaurants will once again serve food. Children will go to school, the Eiffel tower will open for tourists. Just like New York City rebuilt one of the World Trade Center towers, just like we fly without fear. All the time. And we boldly stand in New York skyscrapers never thinking about an airplane attack. 

Resilience is a good thing. A sad thing. A necessity to life.