January 28, 2017

Between the World and Me: Recommended

A little late to the party, I know. I can't recommend this book enough. It IS a classic. What Coates delivers in 150 short pages is, literally, breathtaking. Written as a letter to his (real life) son, he imparts history, his own youth, family, a must-read examination of the "Dream" world (the one I was born into and keep thinking everyone else experiences), foreign travel, grief, humor. His terrific talent as a writer: my eyes kept racing forward through the words, even though I wanted to savor the delivery and needed more time to digest the message. I hope you favorite this link and read it yourself. Know a young person? Get them a copy. If only this existed when I was younger...

More at goodreads:

January 17, 2017

Don’t wait till your dying words to say what’s most important: PBS NewsHour's In My Humble Opinion

Hospice Chaplain Kerry Egan: "Here’s the thing. When people ask me about dying words, what they’re really asking is, what is so important in this life that it should be the very last thing we talk about? So, instead of asking, what do other people talk about, ask yourself, what do I really want to talk about now? And that’s a really good question. That’s a really good thing to ponder."

December 3, 2016

Blue Lives and Black Lives: What's in a Slogan?

Over Thanksgiving, my daughter came home from college. While driving through our neighborhood, she noticed a "Blue Lives Matter" flag and said she'd like to talk to the homeowner, or perhaps drop off a letter, about why it is a harmful symbol. I asked her if she'd be interested in putting a message together because I, too, would like to read it.

My daughter brings a foundation to this subject, which includes: A research assistant internship with the Metropolitan Planning Council (emphasis on housing segregation issues), and a double major at DePaul University (Public Policy Studies and History of Art and Architecture). In addition, she has personally observed the Cook County Circuit Bond Court, volunteers with prison support groups, writes to people who are incarcerated for political and non-political crimes, has participated in several anti-discrimination protests, and strives to reach people with differing views on police funding/abolition without alienating them. Here is her letter:

Dear Neighbor,

I noticed the "Blue Lives Matter" flag in front of your house and hoped I could talk to you about it. It is probably safe to assume that you feel strongly on this topic because someone you love is a police officer, or because you value the services the police provide to your family and community. It makes sense, therefore, why you feel it's important to stand up for police in what appears to be a hostile climate of anti-police sentiment. I want to mention some things that I hope will explain this climate, and why I think your flag is harmful.

"Black Lives Matter" began as a slogan, a hashtag, on the internet, created by black activists in response to the police shootings of unarmed black men and women. It is simple and to the point: In this country, black people face certain challenges and obstacles based on the color of their skin that non-black people do not face.

Background: Black people were brought to this country as slaves. Even after slavery ended 150 years ago, they were denied certain legal rights solely because they were black. It goes beyond laws forcing the use of separate bathrooms: Black people were denied mortgages, lines of credit to open businesses, access to quality schools, and more because of the color of their skin.* Generations past the time of slavery, as recently as the civil rights acts of the 1960s only 50 years ago, black people were legally barred from the same kind of economic and social development as non-blacks.

Result: Imagine if no one you knew or were related to ever owned their home. Or had enough money to get a college degree, or had good enough credit to get a loan. Not because of something they did wrong, but because of their race! This is why "Black Lives Matter."

What Black Lives Matter does NOT mean:
The only lives that matter are black ones.
Black lives are more important than the lives of police officers.

Why the slogan Blue Lives Matter misses the salient point:
Criticism that police receive for the bad behavior of some officers is not equal to centuries of legal and social repression of black people based solely on skin color. 
There is, really, no such thing as a "blue life." Police officers decided to put on a uniform. They can also take it off.
Police officers do not face economic repression, segregation, and violence for something that they have no control over.
Police are generously funded by, and have the full support of, the government. They are not disenfranchised. And as employees of the public, they are not beyond criticism by the public.
To say "Blue Lives Matter" is to speak over and dismiss the voices of black Americans who are working for a more just future for their communities. If we cannot say openly and proudly that black lives do matter in America, then we are saying that they do not matter.

I am sure the person you love who is a police officer does his or her job admirably, with a desire to serve the public. Important: You can support this person and the community of police who are responsible and honest public servants without undermining and fighting back against racial justice. To do otherwise is to place yourself on the wrong side of history, with the segregationists and all others who fought against repairing the wrongs that have been done by our country to black people.

* Recommended reading: American Apartheid, Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, by Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton;

Kristen French

September 21, 2016

Short film: The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano

via The New York Times: "Phillip Toledano was terrified of growing old. So he decided to do it as many times as possible." A lot here to chew on. Many images and comments may resonate. One line hit me like a brick. And he's a wonderful artist.

May 6, 2016

Duck, Death and the Tulip: An Uncommonly Tender Illustrated Meditation on the Cycle of Life

Review by Maria Papova.

Wolf Erlbruch: Duck, Death and the Tulip
Credit: Wolf Erlbruch's Duck, Death and the Tulip
"The German children’s book author and illustrator Wolf Erlbruch offers a wonderfully warm and assuring answer in Duck, Death and the Tulip — a marvelous addition to the handful of intelligent and imaginative children’s books about death and loss."

Read Papova's insightful article, with lovely illustrations, via Brain Pickings.

May 1, 2016

My Sobriety Thing

Spring in Chicago on the 606
A friend recently asked, “Do you do anything to transition from work to relaxation without alcohol? If you feel comfortable sharing it in writing, that is. What you have pointed out in the past is very true for me. Daily life is hard and I need something to look forward to at the end of the day. Alcohol becomes the habitual something.”

My answer: Sort of. The area of habit and behavior regulation is well-trod and people are vocal in their support of, or opposition to, various methods. This post isn’t an exhaustive essay or instruction manual. I'm speaking for myself only; answering a question posed by a friend.

My Sobriety Thing

It is 10 months for me. I've figured out how to make the transition from work-work-work to relax/take the edge off at 6 pm-ish. Mentally, this ability is essential so I can sleep and wake up and do it all over again. Otherwise, I'd drive until I ran out of gasoline somewhere in Iowa.

In no particular order:

January 27, 2016

Pom Poms

We huddled on the floor in her room as Beth whispered, words tumbling out. Her eyes locked on mine, she tried all at once to impress and ask for approval. I knew little about the subject, it could have been car brakes instead of arousal and sex. At 13, I was still a runt, still wore an undershirt.

She told me how Adam, one of the most popular boys in our class, led her downstairs to his bedroom. After making out for a long time, he began trying to open her bra. Finally unhooking the back strap, he slid his hand around, cupping it on her breast. With his other hand, he pulled at her jeans. It was awkward. She didn’t want to seem easy by helping. Finally, he pushed his hand inside her underwear and fingered her. Paralyzed hearing such talk, I wanted to look away but couldn’t. He started asking if she wanted to do it. “DO it.”

Head bowed, Beth was practically looking at me through her eyebrows. “And he’s feeling me up, you know? And we’re, like, doing it, and I’m like...but it’s good, you know?” We both assumed she lost her virginity, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what happened. “What do you think?” she asked.

January 19, 2016

The Vow of Endurance

(Names have been changed. Rest in peace, sisters.)
I’ve always been impressed with people who can name their grade school teachers. I can’t. My father can name teachers he had 80 years ago. He sees them in his mind’s eye and recounts when they hollered and smacked kids. And when they gently buttoned little coats or taught history and ignited his imagination.

I do remember names of teachers I didn’t get. Sister Mary Katherine, an Irish, spinstery nun that kids feared. Sister Mary Ellen, a tomboy-plus-spitfire nun. For the life of me, I cannot remember the names of my Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade teachers. And I really liked Kindergarten! I know that my 1st grade teacher, a new and young nun, left our school and the Dominican order when that year ended. My 4th and 5th grade lay teachers moved out of state and onto other vocations. My 6th grade teacher, a very popular nun, left the order when I was in high school. Huh.

Mostly, school was a series of autumn-winter-springs, in plaid uniforms with neat desks that went from “I’m going to be a model student,” to so messy I couldn’t close the lid all the way.

A few teacher memories remain tattooed inside my head. Permanent marks on a kid who didn’t understand what she was seeing. They stay intact because something happened.

For many years, I wondered, “Why were they allowed to teach children?”

December 21, 2015

O Christmas Tree!

(Throwback Version)

Connie needed money after the divorce. Still in her 30s, she figured selling wallets at the mall was a good start. To nudge sales, she wore clingy wrap dresses, platform sandals, and a thin gold chain around one ankle. On slow afternoons, Mike, the young guy in appliances chatted her up. Dressed in the latest polyester suits and stacked heels from men’s apparel (20% employee discount), he’d also smoke weed to withstand eight hour shifts demonstrating vacuum cleaners.

Late one December night, they both ended up at his apartment door after a hard charging company Christmas party. Connie leaned on the wall while he fumbled keys. Blinking to reset her vision each time she started seeing double, she finally asked, “Hey, you got it?” After all, Mike just drove her clear across town from the banquet hall. Using both hands to aim each key toward the lock, he reassured, “Hold on juu-Uussss a sec.”

November 1, 2015

Farley on Halloween

Used to be, Farley would run full speed every time the doorbell rang. It'd take every ounce of training strength she had to “Sit” and “Stay” while we opened the door for guests, sales people, or trick or treaters.

Being a herder, she could easily work several children at once, keeping everyone grouped. God forbid one of our kids' playmates broke into a run during a ball game (invariably, she’d be sent inside to observe from a window).

I once watched her block a much longer-legged, 120 pound Weimaraner from entering our yard. He finally gave up and sat down on the sidewalk until she said OK. (He used to sneak out of his yard and bark at our front door for her to come outside. They loved each other.)