Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why Do We Do the Things We Do? Basic Assumptions: A Paradigm to Use and Share.

I was reminded lately of a model, a simple paradigm, which has been helpful at times in thinking through things.

What got me going was an exchange between a man and a woman, fortunately they weren’t married to each other, about typically hot topics all having to do with control: sex, choice, population, babies, birth.

They came at each other from diametrically opposed viewpoints. It wasn’t the content of their attempts to influence each other’s stance that triggered my thinking; I was only privy to a description of it by one party, but rather an image that formed in my mind of two people with their feet definitively planted trying to change each other’s posture by whipping each other’s heads around, or suggesting a different tilt of the hips.
                             ( I am resisting popping in pictures of Indian wrestling here. How about just a small picture of attitude from an Engelbeit birthday card?)

Although I have shared this framework, this paradigm with others, it was always shared in person and I could draw charts and crisscross them with arrows and ask questions to employ examples to make sure the applicability of the connectedness was getting through. It will be a good challenge for me to simply write about it but don’t be surprised if I wind up sticking pictures in here and there.

Here’s the rough framework: Basically, out of underlying assumptions we develop values, which are in turn directly tied to more specific concepts and beliefs. Beliefs shape our methods and methods, ideally, are focused on achieving particular goals which would themselves be in sync with our basic assumptions.


You can approach this paradigm from either end. In some ways it makes most sense to me to explain it from the ground up. It’s the way one builds a house and the concreteness of that image makes it memorable for many.

So that’s how I will explain it from the bottom up.

However, I’m typing at a word processor and we read top to bottom and one could as easily make the argument that before you lay the foundation to build a house you first need a vision and a plan. As soon as you ask what the structure is for, you are at the top of the chart with goal and purpose. Both goals and primal assumptions have operative and transforming power directly over each other.

How you wring any value out of the line up might depend on your own style of learning, but in as much as I have conceded that the approach is arbitrary, perhaps you’ll suspend whatever your preferences might be and look at the bottom of the list above.

Basic Assumptions:
?? Is it a created universe, is there a creator or is it just a material world? How we answer primal questions about reality, time and space and what we think of human nature, it is out of such basic or underlying assumptions, even if our assumptions are sometimes fuzzy or obscure, that values develop.

Of course we have assumptions about smaller questions in life as well. I was taught about this way of exploring things in the early eighties in a university class focused on designing effective lesson plans. Bernice Goldmark emphasized offering students alternative ways to learn. She hypothesized two teachers where one assumed that all people can learn the same way and the other who assumed that there are variations in how people learn. It is relatively easy to anticipate the different values, core concepts, and teaching methods likely to emerge from such different basic assumptions, even if both teachers’ goals were ostensibly the same.

I don’t remember if Professor Goldmark attributed the basic assumptions paradigm to anyone in particular, but as I wrote this post I found online the work of MIT professor Edgar H. Schein whose work on cultural awareness and organizational behavior explores these concepts at depth.   Not that these ideas belong to anyone in particular, they are laced throughout the lives and writings of  many.  Studying  the life of  President Lincoln  to elucidate executive strategies for current times,  Donald T. Phillips, in his book, Lincoln on Leadership,  encounters these same concepts. Phillips wrote that Lincoln's understanding of decision making was backed by solid visions, " not simply a string of individual orders.  Rather...a continuous, uninterrupted process that is similar to the beating of a heart that sends blood throughout a body."( p 97)
In the concluding chapter of his book, Phillips writes of Lincoln, "He lifted people out of their everyday selves and into higher level of performance, achievement and awareness." (p 173)

I suppose one reason I think the paradigm  I am sharing is helpful in making one more conscious in  thinking and relating in our complex world, is that of the many things over the years I have studied, I remembered it and found myself, in various settings, putting it to use.

As with many houses, the foundation of why we say and do the things we do isn’t always visible but  a foundation determines the footprint and bearing capacity of the structure built upon it.

Values often reflect what we think should happen, how we think things ought to be. Whether or not we articulate them, what we have learned and chosen to value under girds and shapes our more specific concepts and beliefs in life.

I know I'm not always fully tuned into what  I actually value.  For example, I can say I value fitness, and that I believe that it would be good for me to walk as much as possible everyday, but I didn’t walk today. In reality, in my free time, I valued the other things I wanted to do more and now it is way too dark and cold and … well you get the point. While my espoused value was fitness, my behavior valued comfort or productivity in another realm. I didn’t value fitness in a way that was expressed in a solid actionable concept such as “I will walk whether I am inclined to or not.” Maybe I really believe that I can get away without taking care of myself? That belief could certainly shape my daily choices, my daily method. Actual values and specific concepts and beliefs can become visible in scrutinizing one’s methods or way of life.

I ask myself, why am I writing this essay?  I am sitting down to do it, I could be out taking a walk with my cat.

Generally speaking I find myself thinking in terms of this paradigm, and as with all tools, it has proper uses and limits, to help myself read carefully. When people argue and I am trying to make heads or tails of what is going on, it helps me to pull back and try to find a path into what either person’s priorities might be, and ask myself if I can begin to understand how life looks for them and out of what assumptions  they might be operating.

Well…it’s all up to you in the comment section now…

What say you? Let me know if this gestates any new ideas…or awareness about your wiring or helps you decode an encounter, a book or even if you got to the finish line here!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rainy Weather Predicted Didn't Arrive: Here's the Bluest Bright Day We've Had!

All these photographs were taken on Thursday, October 28th.  It was just one of those days.  I'm feeling somewhat better, but still not suppose to be bending I took my camera with me to walk the garden so I wouldn't be tempted to start plucking up weeds.

The Pacific Ocean is peeking through the cypress trees and the air  was fine.

 Click on the pictures if you want to see a larger version.

Today is cloudy...and the water appears less blue than yesterday.   It was fun to download yesterday's pictures and realize I wasn't making up the sensation of color I remembered of yesterday.

I wonder how many rocks there are in the world named
Bird Rock?   Well there's one of them...

I know, I know, this is my essay and  writing blog...but I just had to share the green grass, the waters  so blue, the rocks, the clouds,  the sky...  Thanks for visiting and come back soon...I'm working on a few things.

Here's a little story written by shell fossiled in stone...
maybe it will prompt more writing from someone, perhaps from you?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

You've Got Rocks in Your Head - Dizziness and Vertigo -What Gives?

Putting it down as it falls... I'm only talking about typing right into this post box without quite knowing what it is I am going to share, but it is an apt image for what walking around feels like for me right now.

It's Sunday morning, almost noon now.  I am moving slowly. I've had to learn a little lately about vestibular disorders.  If you ever need proof that we are, as Psalm 139 proclaims, fearfully and wonderfully made,  make a cursory study of the inner ear and the astounding mechanisms of balance.  To have a disruption of one's orientation on this spinning planet is demanding.

As with many troubles,  the cause is often hard to pin down with any certainty.  One of the disturbing things I have learned this week, when I mentioned in as unwhiny a manner as possible to several folks that I was  experiencing and being treated for Benign Positional Vertigo, is that many people experience BPV and are not offered the brief and  non- intrusive treatment that is available for this merry-go-round.  

So, in case you ever are in is a website that has tremendous information:  Vestibular Disorders Association and in addition to learning about the trouble and the treatment, there are links, pick your country, pick your state, to trained practitioners in a variety of medical services.  There is also information for  practitioners of healing who want to become competent in more modalities as well as some self- help guidance for patients. The other helpful site I found is Dizziness and Balance written by Timothy C. Hain, M.D. of Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of many of the circulars used by the VDA and is clearly a leader in this field.

In my geographical area both the local hospital and a physical  therapy office have people trained in the various movement vertigo treatments such as the Epley and Semont that have roughly an 80% cure rate. Both maneuvers are named after their inventors and are intended to move "ear rocks" out of the sensitive part of the ear to a less sensitive location. Both maneuvers take about 15 minutes to accomplish.

Yesterday I was talking to one of my  relatives who is in her eighties who says she has suffered light headedness and vertigo  for years and while her doctors have ruled out serious causes she has never heard of or been offered the simple maneuver treatments.  I jumped onto  the Vestibular Disorders website in her behalf and  found out that in her California town there is a practitioner who is associated with a geriatric health service that does home visits to help people with vertigo and dizziness.  If you need and do not find  someone near you through this  network, you could still learn enough of the terms to better quiz your local health services about possibly unadvertised treatment options in your area.

I feel as if I have turned my blog for today into a public service announcement, but that is sometimes the purpose of  writing; nothing fancy, just a sharing of information that might be the word in need  for another person. I hope my readers never need any of these specifics... but if any of you do, now you've got them.
And about being fearfully and wonderfully made, it's one of the reasons that I am trusting I will get better, healing is one of the wonders of inherent possibilities.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Tincture of the Truth: A book review of OLD SCHOOL by Tobias Wollf

Old School, a 2004 novel by Tobias Wolff is an American tale, set in the 1960’s in a boy’s college prep school that has a tradition and the ability to host distinguished authors such as Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway. The students who are aspiring writers get caught up in competitions to win a private audience with the renowned visitors. Or as the unnamed student who is the narrative voice says, “We contended for this honor…”

Tobias, who teaches English and creative writing at Stanford University has written well about writing, self-consciousness, identity, social distinctions, making mistakes and outliving them and accepting fault and flaw in life; it’s a story that believes one can learn about self, others and life from story.

“How did they command such deference, English teachers? Compared to the men who taught physics or biology, what did they really know of the world? It seemed to me, and not only to me, that they knew exactly what was most worth knowing. Unlike our math and science teachers, who modestly stuck to their subjects, they tended to be polymaths. Adept as they were at dissection, they would never leave a poem or novel strewn around in pieces like some butchered frog reeking of formaldehyde. They’d stitch it back together with history and psychology, philosophy, religion, and even on occasion, science. Without pandering to your presumed desire to identitfy with the hero of the story, they made you feel that what mattered to the writer had consequence for you too.”(Page 5)
After reading the novel I read a number of on-line reviews of Old School and was surprised it was not more universally well received. I noticed a bit of a pattern; people who said they didn’t like the book were hankering after more action and plot complexities. It’s a fast paced world for the young, and if there isn’t a kinky plot on one campus, there is some serpentine cruel and tragic tale brewing in some other university.

Large plot lines can show all manner of actions and consequences, but it’s important not to underestimate the loss we risk when we give what’s going on around us too much power, and when we long for social status and measure ourselves in external realms. I liked the interior quality of Tobias Wolff’s novel.

“Say you’ve just read Faulkner’s “Barn Burning.” Like the son in the story, you’ve sensed the faults in your father’s character. Thinking about them makes you uncomfortable; left alone, you’d probably close the book and move on to other thoughts. But instead you are taken in hand by a tall, brooding man with a distinguished limp who involves you and a roomful of other boys in the consideration of what it means to be a son. The loyalty that is your duty and your worth and your problem. The goodness of loyalty and its difficulties and snares, how loyalty might also become betrayal-of the self and the world outside the circle of blood.

You’ve never had this conversation before, not with anyone…” (Page 5)
Page 5 and the narrator is already confessing to us, already owning up to his own self doubt, emotional frailty and incomplete honesty. The character knows he is deficient and he tells his misdeeds in a matter of fact tone.

While the book is about a young man who becomes a writer, later, much later, the narrator tells us that the story he has told isn’t really about how he became a writer because:

“The life that produces writing can’t be written about. It is a life carried on without the knowledge even of the writer, below the mind’s business and noise, in deep unlit shafts where phantom messengers struggle toward us, killing one another along the way; and when a few survivors break through to our attention there are received as blandly as waiters bringing more coffee.
No true account can be given of how or why you became a writer, nor is there any moment of which you can say: this is when I became a writer. It all gets cobbled together later, more or less sincerely, and after the stories have been repeated they put on the badge of memory and block all other routes of exploration. There’s something to be said for this. It’s efficient, and may even provide a homeopathic tincture of the truth.” (Pages 156-157)

 The headmaster’s struggle is also a significant element in the story and it will help you to read Wolff if you know to pay attention to the character and his details early on.
“…had he learned nothing from all those years of teaching Hawthorne? Through story after story he’d led his boys to consider the folly of obsession with purity- it’s roots sunk deep in pride, flowering in condemnation and violence against others and oneself. For years Arch had traced this vision of the evil done through intolerance of the flawed and ambiguous, but he had not taken the lesson to heart. He had given up the good in his life because a fault ran through it.” (Page 193)
Well, I don’t want to spoil the book for you. If you come across Old School it is a good read and in some ways it's a bit of an antidote to the brass and bully news stories, such as the one I wrote about in a recent post, coming out of schools across the country of late.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Waiting for the cat to come on home.

It's night. She likes to prowl around. Or perhaps she just likes to curl under a bush and sleep.  Whatever the case, I am waiting for the cat to come home.  I'd be happy for her to be free to come and go, but she can't have her own door or other creatures would wander in and it can be dangerous at night, other animals, wild cats, roam the cliffs.

Sometimes, after staying out all night, she wants to sleep all day, on my bed.  Seeds tangled in her fur, she curls up and wraps a paw over her eyes.  Don't bother me, I'll groom later.

Sometimes if I wait, she will come and whisk her face against the window, or press her outstretched front legs on the door latch while she stands two legs on the back of a stuffed chair at the entrance.   When I can wait up no longer, I get ready for bed, her whereabouts unknown.  After I've brushed my teeth and am ready to shut the lights, I check one more time at the front window.  I step out in the night and call her. I am grateful she has drug me into the night, whether the sky be cloaked in fog or full of stars, I feel the night, the balm of air.  I call to her again.  I hear the waves crashing on the rocks below. This is the night she stays out in.

It is fortunate that we have no neighbors to hear my plaintive meow.  Later, as I am falling asleep, I  may hear  meowing  and see her silhouette through the skylight.  That doesn't mean if I go out into the night that she will climb down off the Spanish tiles of the roof  or come inside.  But we play that game too, me  barefoot in my nightie, pleading to a cat on the roof. 

Like tonight, she  came to the door and  it was opened for her and she ran off into the forest.  What a tease.  I am waiting for the cat to come home, but I think I'll go brush my teeth and then check one more time...later.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Civility: treating others with dignity, compassion and respect can save lives

On September 22, 2010 at Rutgers University, a young man who had apparently been pitilessly spied upon, videotaped and broadcast on the World Wide Web ( later reporting did not confirm this) in private dorm room moments, left a one-sentence suicide intention note on his Facebook page and subsequently jumped to his death.

Whatever glorious potentials his life may have held for him are now ended and his parents and others near and dear must weather his loss the rest of their days.

Who are all the actors in this forlorn story? Transitions in general and developmental leaps in particular are times when many of us need help. Various aspects of coming of age, such as leaving home for the first time, living amongst strangers, intense exposure to new people with different backgrounds and values, becoming sexually aware or active, loss of a first love, school or other performance pressures, unwieldy group dynamics or being singled out for differences, can put a strain on the most well adjusted young person.

Who can calculate the added complexities or intensities of one's privacy being shared on social networks?

The danger that is created in such circumstances of vulnerability should never be underestimated. People sometimes enact in one moment of despair an irreversible end even if every other moment of their lives and the instincts of their being would stand against the threat they, in their pain, suddenly pose to themselves. For reasons perhaps forever beyond knowing, Tyler Clementi did jump from the George Washington Bridge to his death in the Hudson River. Tyler Clementi was eighteen years old.

The alleged tormentor, Dharun Ravi, is eighteen years old. As he faces his capacity for hard heartedness toward his roommate, what other depths of feeling will he reel through? He’s out of school now, but likely learning about how fast things can spin out of control and how unintended consequences can leap in a single bound from the shadows of our deeds.
Was Ravi’s alleged partner an active participant or did she just witness the travesty and do nothing? If she did just stand by, Molly Wei, may be realizing how dangerous it can be to be complacent about other’s bad ideas, and what it can cost to be passive or afraid to stand up for what is right.

And what of those individuals who tuned in and watched and wrote about the invasion of Tyler Clementi’s privacy without concern for him or the principles, ethic and laws violated? We err in commission, but there are also errors of omission.
Mr. Clementi’s family statement has been quoted in several news stories I have read:

"We understand that our family's personal tragedy presents important legal issues for the country as well as for us," said a statement from the family.

"Regardless of legal outcomes, our hope is that our family's personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity," the statement said.
We are already a land of many laws. Even if it weren’t illegal to invade another’s privacy, to do so is gross disrespect of others; and ultimately we cannot disrespect the lives of others without diminishing our own. What we need to enact is heart for others, not just for people like us, or for people we understand, but for everyone....for  we are the  people, that hold  such truths "to be self-evident, "  that is to say, to be part of natural law.  Person by person, will our social institutions affirm that development of character evidenced by respect for others is of primal importance and the foundation of any real education?   I hope so.

Life is fragile and civility, treating others with dignity, compassion and respect, can save lives.

I want to believe that the Clementi’s are not asking for the impossible.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Morning Glory

that's it... well...maybe one more...not as focused as I had hoped but
the wind lifted up off the waters and the blossom was quivering... 
If I had a skirt so soft and gently hued I'd twirl in it for sure....round and round.

Glory...Morning Glory...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tangled up in Time : Memory, Loss and Hope Make History -dedicated to 9/11/2001

A Memory offered in Memorium of the Lives Lost and Changed by September 11, 2001

I stopped in the town of Benicia the other day. Popping in there once in a while helps remind me of the child I was before I took my first hard blow.  I never lived in Benicia, but my younger brothers and I were, without our older brothers or parents, once left to stay a few nights with family friends. 

Benicia, California

 Until I was five years old, I had lived in the city, San Francisco,where I couldn't go anywhere without escort. Then I lived in a wonderful valley where I became well versed in the creek that marked the back of our property, the blackberry patches and apple trees in the empty lots, the uppermost climbable limbs of the buckeye trees that grew strongest at the west edge of the valley, the rocky bluffs and caves of the grassy hills between us and Muir Beach on the Pacific Ocean.  I was happy in Tamalpias Valley to roam around on my own.  As often as not I had a book with me.  What more could a kid want?

Visiting the town of Benicia in 1962 I found  no lack of nature to explore and the parents temporarily  in charge of us were content to let us wander about freely.  School had been out for ten days and  I had just finished seventh grade.  The little town was, back in the early 1960s, poor and small, already diminished from what it had been, but for me the small scale of the streets and houses made everything feel accessible. Life felt so available. I ran here and there, a miniature tourist, content to wander from the muddy flats and back up the streets of the town that hadn't yet had its hundredth birthday.

The history of Benicia is one of  greatness passing through and as quickly moving on. Benicia was   established by three men. The year was 1874.  Dr. Robert Semple, who was a newsman from Kentucky, a Bear Flag revolter and a politician and Thomas Larkin, the first United States Consul to California, a traveler, storekeeper, a trader and man of Monterey renown.  Together these two bought land from Comandante General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo who asked that the town be called Francisca after his wife, Francisca Benicia Carillo de Vallejo.  But Yerba Buena had just become San Francisco and claimed the name. Francisca could not be used.  The lady's middle name would have to suffice.  

After the cities of Vallejo and San Jose,  Benicia was chosen to be the third capitol of California and reigned as such for 379 days, from February 11, 1853 to February 25, 1854.  Around that time the founders had a falling out and went their separate ways leaving the town to create its own destiny. 

Inland waterways are an opportunity for confluence. It was at Benicia in the 1860's  that Pony Express Riders who had missed their connection on the Sacramento River Delta steamers could  ferry across the waters blocking their trail. In the 1870's  a leg of the transcontinental Central Pacific Railroad established a major railroad ferry across the Carquinez Strait from Benicia to Port Costa.  Benicia became home to the largest ferries in the world, transporting entire trains across the inland waters of the San Francisco Bay.

It was in Benicia  in 1901, where the world's first long-distance power line was stretched across the Carquinez Straits.  When wheat was the big crop, it was stored in Benicia, but when railroad bridges replaced ferries and the early 1900 wheat crops declined, Benicia declined too, mouldering without economic purpose on the back waters of the bay.

 Not until World War II,  did the little town grow again when it served as a military arsenal. The war boom economy doubled  the population quickly to 7,000 residents.  The arsenal closed in the 1960s.  Later in that decade, oil refineries were built northeast of the town's residences. Eventually, as more bridges were built connecting the bay area's various ports and towns by roads, the little town of no longer as important trains and ferries became what all towns near big cities are destined to become, a  bedroom for 28,000 locals and commuters and a weekend diversion destination for city dwellers. 

But that is not the town that was back in those few days of my summer vacation.  Then it was just a  small modest town with no great current boons, but the confluence of its waterways and flying birds, its child  friendly streets, cushioned me with hospitality while hope and longing opened in me in the first bright days of the summer of my thirteenth year.
And then on the third afternoon of our visit, my father and older brothers returned unexpectedly. I blindly ran to the murky waters that day in disbelief, wanting to shake off as dream or lie what we'd 
been told. Our mother had died.

Here I am tangling my history up with the early history of this little town. I don't often tell my story. I know for everyone its often a  struggle to keep clear angles of perspective in this life. I make an effort to pay attention to current events and history.  So I've reminded myself, with a little history lesson of a few of the events that have come and gone and shaped this town, of some perspective, and yet it's true that even at my age, as I briefly walked about the edges of Benicia the other day, what I can see best is what had once  happened there to me. I can't even hear the name of the town and not remember, palpably receiving that first wrenching.

How true might this be for those who lost family and friends in New York, Pennsylvania, the Pentagon. Today is September 11, 2010, the anniversary of a great tragedy of terror and the loss of many lives.  So many people heard that day or the next,  how they would have to go on in  their world carrying love lost; heard that they had entered a forever- changed- reality.  At some level, we all did, didn't we?

I offer this tangled memory of mine in  memoriam with my personal acknowledgement of how deeply the loss of loved ones is, how enduring our losses are.

I was also reminded at the water's edge the other day by these lovely little mallards sunning on a log amongst relics of Benicia's past, that there is One who does have all his little ducks in a row. 
We need not grieve as ones without hope. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Springs Pour Forth...the Trees are Well Watered

A Sunday walk in redwoods on a creek brought deep remembrances of childhood terrain...pilgrims, xenoi though we be....there are some places that are more deeply kindred than others and speak of home.

Children's stories often tell the the tale of babes lost in the woods...but for some of us we ~find~in the woods, learn to listen,where water sings on rocks and carves wood and stone ...

The quiet collects in shady pools...may it cling to us, follow us, back into people realms where we lay our hands to work of many kinds.  I recently heard a musican suggest that music is a chance to sit quietly, to be able, under the guise of enjoyment, to think on important things in life.  An artist spoke to me recently of people needing art to see things that speak inner realities, the known but unknown, the hidden but accessible if...
we want to see, listen,seek, find, be found.

He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains. 
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches. 
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
Psalm 104:10-13 NIV

A joyous Monday to you.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Infrastructure ~ Preparedness ~ Lessons from Haiti

July 11, 2010   For the past 6 months I've been reading the blog of a young woman in her twenties, Rhyan, who was working with orphaned and needy babies in Haiti before the January 12, 2010  7.0 earthquake hit 10 miles outside Port au Prince.

Rhyan asks:
"What does it even mean to be an American? To someone born into this world maybe not much. I’m sure we have moments of breakthrough where we really see how blessed we are but for the most part we don’t recognize the honor that it is. To you and to someone who hasn’t always known this life it means so much more."

She's right.  I look around.
I have beans
that  I soaked overnight in refrigeration
while I was sleeping in a bed.
The beans are cooking on a gas stove. 
I am sitting in a chair.
My shod feet are on a flat wooden floor. 
There are strawberries ripening in the garden and chard bolting.
I have pets...
I have electricity and access to multiple communication technologies.
My car sits out front
and there is gasoline in it
and the road, busy with travelers looking for summer fun,
 is smooth and safe
and even when there is trouble help comes rather quickly. 

Rhyan writes:
"I have had situations when I walk down the streets in Haiti and a woman tries to give me her child. “Are you American?” She asks and when I respond she thrusts her infant into my arms. She begs me to take him to this place she has heard of, this place that had so much to offer. "

This is a young American writing...she's "out there."

July 17,2010   The news stories that came out on the six month mark of the earthquake seemed to indicate that NGO's, non governmental organizations, have been able to do the most in  Haiti, especially those that were already on the ground.  But the needs that exist have hardly been touched.  The news pictures of the tents lined in the median strip of a road really got me.  Unimaginable.

What can I do? PICK a group that is doing something in Haiti that I feel I can trust and support it as able. If you know someone involved consider supporting them.  Maybe you know an active church group, a specific orphanage or you might prefer a widely known group like Doctors with Borders, World Vision, World Relief or Red Cross.

We remember extra blankets in our cupboards that we are willing to send out when cold hits, but there is often no way to get them to those in need once the blizzard blows. Giving works best if it is in place before the great needs hit. The folks who gave to Shelter Box before the earthquake hit on January 12th are the ones who sent those wonderful supplies into that fray.   In January, touched by the needs of Haiti, I gave to Shelter Box.  I wanted to send the tents and shovels and emergency supplies right into that mess we were all watching televised.   On  the 2nd of  July I received a letter stating that "my shelter box" will soon be deployed and I can go on line and via the assigned box number  track where the box goes. Maybe the disaster this box will go to hasn't happened yet. 

Many of the on-going troubles in Haiti exist because life was "hard" before the earthquake and now loss, need, and complications to survival are greatly multiplied.

It's all about  infrastructure...the basics that allow things to happen: roads to get where you need to go, safe water supply, sewer systems, power supply, communication grids, emergency response.  These are the   basic physical and organizational structures that allow us to get on with our days in a organized society.
But we best not take all these wonders for granted...

So be prepared yourself  ...and give now.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fine Art in Carmel and a dabbler too with Solzhenitsyn quote

There is an artist in town... 

I know that Blagojce had a show in Los Angeles and Chicago this year, and last December he opened a Fine Art Gallery for a time in Sun Valley, Ketchum, Idaho....but he is most often in Carmel, California where he currently has some of his work on display and his easel up.

 It is wonderful to stop by and see a painting progessing
and wonder how many hours into the night did he paint?

Warning: my homage, but ~not art ~ about to appear below...but I had fun playing with the paint program on my computer to frame a quote from Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
 "It is the artist who realizes there is a supreme force above him and works gladly away as a small apprentice under God's heaven." 

You can visit Blago and see more of his art on line at this link: Blagojce 
It's a wonderful web page.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In Search of a Bottom Line Ethic of "Good Fences"

In search of that really bottom line almost everyone could see and agree upon as an ethic of boundaries…I woke thinking of the conflicts that abound on our round spinning world.

In the quiet time, newspapers still on the ground outside the gate, computers still dark for the night, I scribbled thoughts not only of physical boundaries, heated political boundaries - the Middle East, the boundary between the United States and Mexico - but also boundaries in nature, species boundaries, genetic boundaries. I recently saw videos of experiments now common in research fields, the extraction of the genetic material of a cell or an egg of one species being replaced or combined with genetic information from another.

I thought of seeds I encounter everyday, the sesame seeds on the crust of my morning toast and the kale seeds I just planted in my garden. Seeds are astounding blueprints. Is it wise to alter the very nature of things wild? Will altered seeds, their altered plant forms alter all their neighbors? Will originals be lost?

Nation to nation neighborliness has grown so complicated, but then so can garden variety neighbor relations. If your neighbor lets tall strong thistles grow along his border, you too will have thistles and you will either have to entertain them or labor to weed and scour them out. If you poison the thistles, your poison will drift into the air and the water and the soil, yours and your neighbor’s.
At times we resort, rather than working out these dilemmas where unique boundaries and communicative cooperation are needed, to dishonoring our neighbors and spreading complaints abroad.

“Look at that neighbor, he doesn’t even clean his land of thistles,” says one man.
“Look at my neighbor, he denudes the land of all that is wild with poisons,” says another.

Of course the most important place we usually need to look is at ourselves.

An old saying is often summarized as “good fences make good neighbors…”

Exploring the origin of the phrase in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs I found the first noted reference to be from a 1640 letter written by an E. Rodgers in the “Winthrop Papers.” “…a good fence helpeth to keep peace between neighbors; but let us take heed that we make not a high stone wall, to keep us from meeting.” So while the fence is seen as vehicle to help keep peace, once clarity of boundary is defined, there is an emphasis on meeting across the fence on positive terms.

In Modern Chivalry, 1815, H.H. Brackenridge is quoted: “ I was always with him (Jefferson) in his apprehension of John Bull…Good fences restrain fence breaking beasts, and …preserve good neighborhoods.”

This version emphasizes the dangers that good fences can protect us from and that the need for boundaries and clarity is very real in this world where beasts of many species do indeed roam.

Robert Frost wrote “Mending Walls” in 1914. In this famous poem, he describes how hunters have dismantled the fences and how he and his neighbor walk the boundaries of their adjoining land together in the springtime mending stonewall fences to contain their respective cows and protect their crops and gardens. Frost knows he needs fences but as he lifts and rebalances the stones he also longs for openness, earth without a boundary. Perhaps the fence does not need to be continuous: “My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines.” Not meeting the same opinion in his neighbor, as Frost watches his neighbor lift another stone in place Frost imagines him as “an old-stone savage armed.” Frost too has armed himself. He is armed with words; judging his neighbor for fencing all his land, as less sophisticated and thinking than he is. As the neighbor continues the line of the fence he repeats what Frost now calls “his Father’s” saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Our father’s sayings might be a way to reference traditions, culture; even the laws that represent what G. K. Chesterton called “ the democracy of the dead.”
"Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead." Chesterton goes on to say: "Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father." Orthodoxy, Chapt4 "The Ethics of Elfland."Page 48 Doubleday Image
Frost apparently didn’t fight with his neighbor about the fence; he went home and wrote a poem about it. In his poem, he reveals an internal dilemma. He knows that he himself, a self he perhaps imagines as having little in common with the stone-age, a self unarmed and perhaps even a self free of his and other fathers’ precepts, this self still needs some fences, some boundaries. It is a dilemma.
A dilemma, by nature presents competing needs, horned alternatives, which are perhaps best met when there are two clauses in answer. Often times people breathe both clauses but join them with a “but.”

If one says, “We need to communicate but we need to maintain strong boundaries.” is it not different from saying, “We need to communicate and we need to maintain strong boundaries.”?

We do need strong fences and neighborly kindness.

Boundaries exist; they are part of a hierarchy found in the most primal realms of life. As a family therapist, my model for boundaries in relationships came to me from the biology classes of my youth and university days.

A living cell is a working model of boundaries. A cell wall is defined as a semi-permeable discerning membrane. A healthy cell wall can let what is needed in and release that which is no longer viable. Families are healthy when they flexibly both shelter and expose vulnerable members to experience. Dynamic tensions, such as the balance between rights and responsibilities are paramount in development of competence and integrity.

Discernment in a cell is a process of maintaining equilibrium. Stable laws govern the passage of molecules through the cell barrier and the concentration of solvents in the cell interior, unless damaged by trauma, physical or chemical.

Every house has a door, and every good fence a gate; every land has laws as to how people may come and go and what rights and responsibilities we bear to each other.
As it is written in Psalm 85:10: Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed [each other].
Some realities cannot be separated, and some realities should not be teased apart. Boundaries in the ideal bear these merged qualities. “…a good fence helpeth to keep peace between neighbors; but let us take heed that we make not a high stone wall, to keep us from meeting.”

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One Hundred Years of Solitude ~ Part Two: The Butterflies for Anonymous

In response to my review of One Hundred Years of Solitude on May 16, 2010 Anonymous said...
I could not disagree more.
Cien AƱos de Soledad is a beautiful, magical work, a mosaic of good and evil of humanity and life. In tropical rain season, yes there will be mud, but also beautiful plant life. Living in the tropics is a different life experience, and a different culture with its own beauties. Why not comment on the young man who is followed by a flock of butterflies wherever he goes?

I have not read Gabo's work in English translation, but I fear he has been much misunderstood here.
Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for responding with concern for a book, an author, and a sense of culture that is important to you.

You suggest that I write about the man who had butterflies follow him. That is actually a very good idea. He is very important to the story as a whole.  As that man, Mauricio Babilonia, is sneaking through the Buendia family garden where he has nightly been lifting up wall tiles to gain entrance into a scorpion-ridden bathroom where he trysts with a young girl of the family, he is shot.
"A bullet lodged in his spinal column reduced him to his bed for the rest of his life. He died of old age in solitude, without a moan, without a protest, without a single moment of betrayal, tormented by memories and by the yellow butterflies, who did not give him a moment's peace, and ostracized as a chicken thief. " p. 297

In fact, it was the butterflies that alerted Fernanda, Meme's mother, as to why her daughter was bathing every night.
"Fernanda went into her bedroom by chance and there were so many butterflies that she could scarcely breath."
So she takes action and gets a guard stationed in the garden and tells him to watch for a chicken thief...knowing that it is Meme’s lover who will be shot. In this context, butterflies are not a symbol of hope, of metamorphosis; of transformation...they are in fact described as suffocating.

I suppose the one character that I liked was Ursula. It was Ursula that drug me through the book...the mother who took her money from making candy and enlarged her house to be sure there was room for all the family. Sadly though, in those rooms, the sisters cursed each other, the father abandoned his faith and went crazy pondering pseudoscience and all manner of incest and torment ensued.

The butterflies do figure prominently to the very end...for it is the man who was born of the couple in the bathroom who is the last member of the family.

As he did not know who he was, who his parents were, he unknowingly beds his sister who then dies in childbirth. He is distraught and winds up in a prostitute's bed that night, leaving his baby unattended. When he returns he sees his child is
“a dry bloated bag of skin that all the ants in the world were dragging toward their holes along the stone path of the garden..."
The last page of the book is devoted to him learning about his family from the gypsy's parchments. He recognizes his own story
"…he found the instant of his own conception among the scorpions and the yellow butterflies in a sunset bathroom where a mechanic satisfied his lust on a woman who was giving herself out of rebellion.”
He starts skipping ahead in the parchemnts, looking for the predictions of his death.
“Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room…”
Then but for a few more sentences, that’s the end of the book, end of the family, end of the village…. and hence my response to this tale…four hundred pages to argue life is meaningless.

It is with that that I disagree.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review : One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

Last year I was sent the BBC list of 100 famous books and asked how many of them I had read. BBC estimates that the majority of people will not have read more than 6 of them. While I had read 64 of them, I’d never read either of the Marquez’s titles so I put them on my list of books to read.

A blurb on the back of the Harper Perennial paperback edition quotes William Kennedy’s New York Times Book Review “…this novel is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” With that stratospheric launching of expectations I began to read.

By the time a grandmother was introduced on page 54 as she pimped a granddaughter for 20 cents, I was already thinking about not finishing the book. I know horrors happen but what will the author do with them? Why I wondered, is this book so lauded? I pressed on, searching for significance. I set Marquez down and went on to other books. I was never tempted to take this book to comfortable reading nooks. I never read it propped up in bed. I left it in the bathroom and that is how I read the entire book, in starts and fits. Deep mixed feelings stayed with me all the way to the end.

It is true that lovely language drew me in but it was I who supplied the hope that somehow this tale would turn, that some character would wake or escape from the world of insomniacs and lost memory of Marquez’s Macondo, the village where to remember the actual “demanded so much vigilance and moral strength that many succumbed to the spell of an imaginary reality, one invented by themselves, which was less practical for them but more comforting.” (Page 49)

I read hoping for some catalytic cascade of events that would be transformational and address the nagging need I was feeling, the need to purge myself of the experience of the book. But in the end, despite Marquez’s stunning language, inside the spider web of reiterations, story within story, ultimately all that happens, the plot if you will, is that this terrible incestuous gorging snake of a family, ever growing in lust and lunacy devours its own as the last man learns they were all condemned in a mystical circularity to do. There is no path in or out of Macondo. It is not a simple tale, yet is simply a tale where incest, waste, and cruelty dominate

It isn't enough to use glorious language, or ably describe despair. Without vision, without dimension for one human being to grow, for despair to be vanquished even occasionally… if it is all insanity,mud,dust and cruelty, then there is no point in even having a shelf on which to keep this book let alone suggest it as required reading or compare it to Genesis where man is indeed driven out of the Garden of Paradise to encounter thorns and mud and dust and death, but even Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, is told that while sin crouches at the door he may overcome it. In one hundred years in Macondo, it is never so.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Tee Shirt Vendor Hero in New York

Truly he is a a good model...for how often do people see things and figure it isn't their business to attend to or rationalize that someone else will take care of it, or maybe it isn't really a big deal anyway.  Just walk on by...

I hope New York finds a way to thank the man who the news reports that I have read currently only identify as a Viet Nam Vet who is a Tee Shirt Vendor in Times Square.  

I'd be glad to buy a tee shirt from this man. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Doing what had to be done...

There is no other way than to just plunge in, past the mundane clutter and the meaningless chatter of it all and press forward feeling the seemingly blank walls for the longed for egress and proclaim the time of the eclipse to be over.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Where Do You Put Punctuation, Inside or Outside Quotation Marks?

I try to know and use the rules of language as consistently as the firing of my neural synapse patterns will allow during the prime wakeful hours of any day, but I am easily led astray.

In my years of professional listening I knew that unless I internally corrected some of what I heard, I might absorb it unconsciously.

“But me and her had been planning to get married,” said a man, explaining that his intended had left town with a man she met had at a pizza parlor. (This is a fictitious example. All actual men I have known either had different problems or their losses involved no pizza parlor Romeos.)

Grammar is clearly not an appropriate focus for such an hour of difficulty, but I try to set apart no more than the mental wattage requirements of a small night-light to translate in my own mind the “hims” and “hers” into the proper personal pronouns. If I don’t, what guarantee do I have that I won’t soon forget their proper use myself?

I find I have the same problem with reading unedited material. How many creatively punctuated essays or short stories can I read without becoming uncertain as to the standard use of those helpful little marks?

Reading otherwise engaging self-published material on the Internet does expose us to many problems of English grammar and usage. I once encountered an announcement that looked something like this:

"Don’t Worry, Be Happy",  is the title of my new …

That lost and lonely comma lit a flame and inspired a question in me.

THE QUESTION: In American usage, where does punctuation go, inside quotation marks or outside of them?

THE ANSWER: I knew the answer would not be completely straightforward, didn’t you? The answer is, it depends.

INSIDE: Generally speaking, periods and commas go inside the quotation marks.

“I worry I will never be happy,” the jilted man said.

I have a great recipe I’ll share with you called “Mash-Mush.”

OUTSIDE: Semicolons and colons generally go outside quotation marks.

Her favorite writing manual is “The Elements of Style”; she refers to it often.

There are two reasons she hated being called “Sweet Pea”: it is diminutive and it is cloying.

INSIDE or OUTSIDE: The question mark is of course willing to bring up extra questions. In most cases, a question mark should be inside the quotation marks.

“What do you worry about?” he asked.
However, if the question mark is not part of the actual quotation then it must go outside the quotation marks.

Have you read “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”?

No, but I did read “What Me Worry?”

This general rule also holds for exclamation points. If the exclamation mark is part of the quote, include it within the quotation marks. As it has been suggested that any author probably needs to use no more than one or two exclamation marks per lifetime, if the exclamation point is not part of a direct quote you could always solve your doubt or indecision by omitting the exclamation point altogether and then you can follow the more straightforward rule for periods and drop that little baby right inside the quotations marks.

In addition to Strunk and White's classic The Elements of Style, one easy reference for questions such as this is Patricia T. O'Conner's book, Woe Is I  The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English. I hope my review will help me keep these particulars straight. And if perchance it has helped you that will help me too, because chances are that I have been reading something you have written and as I said earlier, I am easily led astray.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The mere edges...whispers....who can understand?

As the sun begins its daily descent  where it will sink
behind the horizon of

my eye's perspective,
the golden red rays light up the California wild lilac on the path to the edge of the cliff above the waters. 

I have been reading "The Book of Job," slowly, and not for the first time, but it always feels like the first time.  Sunsets feel that way too.  I see them...then I see them. 
 When reading "Job"  it is important to keep track of who is speaking...his counselors really weren't helpful.
The book of Job is such poetry...majestically written. 

In Chapter 26 Job is answering his friends and speaking of  the Creator:

26:7  He stretches out the north over empty space;
         He hangs the earth on nothing.
     8  He binds up the water in His thick clouds,
         Yet the clouds are not broken under it.
     9  He covers the face of His throne,
         And spreads His cloud over it.
  10   He drew a circular horizon on the
         face of the waters.
         At the boundary of light and darkness.
 11 The pillars of heaven tremble,
      And are astonished at His rebuke.
 12 He stirs up the sea with His power,
      And by His understanding He breaks up the storm.
13  By His Spirit He adorned the
      His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.

14 Indeed these are the mere edges of
    His ways;
    and how small a whisper we hear
    of Him!
    But the thunder of His power
   who can understand?

( NIV translation)

Dedicated to the grieving... Haiti's unhoused are about to meet the rainy season.
... May we  remember to give what we can to active aid agencies ...

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Endless Potential of What Was, Is and Will Be

The word that comes to mind in the town of Moss Landing is mouldering. To crumble into small particles; to turn to dust by natural decay; to lose form, or waste away, by a gradual separation of the component particles, to crumble away. But mouldering is a form of art in this coastal village....the ribs of the once seaworthy boat and the fishing nets still speak.

Yes,  the horse is on the second is all second story in this town...the story of what was lays about and attracts people to wander out of their city abodes and think of slower, perhaps simpler life styles that are fast fading.  Or maybe it makes  our lives look  neat and new after wandering around the town's strategically placed relics. Some relics of the past have more to give the future than others.

A work horse of the past...

"Tradition,"  said G. K Chesteron  back in 1908 , "means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead."  He goes on to say:
Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.
(From  Orthodoxy The Romance of Faith   Chapt 4 The Ethics of Elfland p.48 Doubleday Image)

The Real Estate flyer for this crumbling shack and rain sodden roadside field  made me laugh, and yet it is true...there is endless potential...

And this sign made me think of my grandmother, who often referred to God the Creator as "The Man Upstairs." 

But we all know that not everything passes away slowly.  We are witnesses to catcalysmic upheavel and destruction of life and property...before we can comprehend the devastation in Haiti,  Chile is also struck with earthquakes, and tsunami waves.  Destruction can come upon us in a flash,  not just the slow mouldering that we see in old barns and aging docks. 
And doubts surface, as if such events were new to earth's history, what  does the Man Upstair have in mind? Is he even home? some ask, and if he is, does he care?  C.S. Lewis penned this age old question succinctly  in The Problem of Pain:
"If God were good. He would wish to make His creatures happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wishes.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both."

That is the question Lewis is addressing, not his conclusion. Lewis reminds us how careful we must be using terms like "good" and "almighty" without keeping all the intrinsics of creation in mind.   Nature is relentless.  Man cannot  permanently persuade, move, or entreat "nature."  It is "Nature" that  is inexorable.
The inexorable "laws of Nature" which operate in defiance of human suffering or desert, which are not turned aside by prayer, seem at first sight to furnish a strong argument against the goodness and power of God.  I am going to submit that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and "inexorable: Nature. (chapter 2 Divine Omnipotence)

Well, it is a huge subject, and not one I can pretend to explore in depth.  I must get back to work. But it is on my heart and I ponder it.  One of my friends who survived Nargis in Burma shared some of her struggles of faith in the face of tremendous loss, but her heart is strong and as she has continued to dedicate herself to helping others, her doubts have waned.
 We aren't all given to traveling to physically help on location of distant disasters, we can't all travel to where the eye of the storm has just passed, but we can reach out with what we have and give help through goods and services and the hands of those who are deployed.  I noticed that two of the first active on site relief agencies mentioned in the Chilean quake news stories were the tried and true Red Cross and World Vision
Another organization that is proactively ready to help is known as Shelter Box.  They create ready- to- deliver boxes with large tents and  new survival items customized for the terrain and type of needs likely to be faced by homeless survivors.
 I know there are many viable organizations and individuals and I thank those who are reaching out to strengthen what remains, living in faith and celebrating the endless potential...
much of which is hidden from plain view.