House Shopping III

I’m supposed to put out positive energy into the universe in order to attract positive things to me. Heaven knows I try. I’m programming myself to believe that I will sell my current home, sending little pretty fireflies, fireworks, bubbles, giggles, out into the universe. I am a positive person – beam those success rays right at me. I am “imaging” me in my new house, working in my new kitchen, lighting a fire in my new fireplace, reading in my new “library”. All the little positive ions around me are vibrating at the same wavelengths as happy music and great conversation or a sunny day. Am I positive enough yet? Oh, you say my energy doesn’t quite ring true. You don’t think a suspicious, paranoid worrier like me can project positivity over a prolonged period of time.

Well I am the “little engine that could.” I am a positive person. In spite of all the insane things that happen every day and in spite of Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road I still want to know what will happen next. But am I positive enough? I’m not a go-on-cruises, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”, rock-wall-climbing, party-all-night type. I just don’t have the habit of being a really sunny positive person. Maybe you could send some positive energy out into the universe on my behalf. As you can see, I could use a little help. Thank you in advance for your efforts.

An Anywhere But New York State of Mind

New York State is such a mess that I am embarrassed to say I am a New Yorker. In a tough economy no one wants to make the tough call. Gridlock reigns. I don’t think it’s all the fault of our elected officials. The lobbying is fierce. No one wants cuts to important services. We want schools left untouched, we need our colleges to be strong, we need Medicaid for the health of all of us. We believe that there is so much waste and greed in government that if we just get rid of the waste and root out the greed we will not have to cut the services we have come to expect. Is this the case? We pay taxes so that our government will take care of us. Now they say there is not enough money to do that. Can we sit on our debt awhile until our economy improves or will we have to pay down this debt before our economy can improve?

Will clearing the chambers of all incumbents and refilling the legislative seats with all new people have the effect we think it will? Our government has been corrupt for years and everyone knows it. New York has lost whatever cachet it had for a while. We have such a power discrepancy between the NYC area and regions west of Albany that we almost need separate budgets and congressional bodies. Would term limits help? Maybe, but it would still leave the seesaw tilted towards “downstate.” We know we can’t have “perfect” right now. Just finish the budget to the best of your abilities and start preparing us for what needs to happen next year. Actually, I guess by not passing a budget you get to make cuts while spreading out the blame to everyone.

Order and Beauty

I guess the imminent demise of the universe as we know it has me thinking about the things I love about our planet, both man-made and natural. Maybe you do this same exercise from time to time. It lifted my spirits. Here are some of the things I love, in no particular order:

graph paper
the periodic table of elements
the systems of the human body, especially the endocrine system (on and off switches)
cells (all that osmosis, meiosis, mitosis, mitochondria stuff)
atoms
that there are wild horses in the Cam argue in France, on Chincoteague, on Assateaque, on Ocracoke, in deep canyons in the American west, and perhaps still in the Arabian desert
electrical circuits
fairy light (even more when spelled “faery” lights)
Linnaeus’s System of Classification
knot gardens
department stores with each type of merchandise in its own unique setting
sedimentary rocks (with beautiful layers)
metamorphic rock (with crisp sharp petrified layers)
igneous rocks (all the gems and crystals)
cities laid out on a grid
river walks (canal walks, lake walks, even pond walks)
seashores
birds
migrating birds
ballerinas
toddlers who are just learning language
the succession of the English Kings and Queens
the idea of Oxford and Cambridge
seashells
MUSIC
the Impressionist room at the Clark Museum
the miniature rooms at the Art Institute in Chicago
The Art Institute in Chicago, the Met, MOMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim or any wonderful museum – the National Gallery (pink marble – oh my!)
the Glass Museum in Corning, NY
roses, lilacs, peonies and hydrangeas
dahlias
china patterns
my family
pianos
croissants and coffee
reading anything!
a blank crossword puzzle
CNN (love, hate)
my butterscotch yellow cat washing her ballerina legs in a beam of sunlight
hardwood floors
rugs on hardwood floors
caramel corn
the pictures from the Hubble telescope

I have to stop now. Make a list. It’s therapeutic.

Oil Spill 3

There are so many things that I can watch but cannot change. I am experiencing such grief over this oil spill. I watch the oil moving towards the gorgeous marsh lands and the barrier islands and I want to be omnipotent. I want arms that will reach out and hold the oil away, I want a giant vacuum cleaner that will suck the oil off the water. I was so hopeful that at least one of the bizarre ideas suggested by BP Petroleum would work and this disaster would not happen, just because it’s too awful to believe that it will happen. It’s pretty clear now that there will not be a miracle solution. We can see for sure that there are people who are willing to put our planet at risk without any knowledge of how they will mitigate possible damage.

I suppose everyone can argue that we need the oil and that it was all done, not for greed, but out of patriotism, to end our dependence on foreign oil. After all I am guilty too, the queen of central heating. I have not offered to give up my personal comfort. However, apparently we are playing with technologies we are not in control of. Will a nuclear accident be next? How many birds will die? How long will it take for the beaches and marshes to be free of oil. How long will it take before the oil enters the gulf stream and travels out into the Atlantic and even over to Europe. How long before the sea recovers and the fish and the shell fish? Will it ever recover? I thought the planet would be ruined at some distant time in the future. We have all been watching the destruction in slo-mo, but it wasn’t like this. All day whatever I do in the back of my mind I am following the progress of the oil, wishing this would be the moment the oil stopped flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, and each day when the day is through the potential for carnage is worse.

Books

When I read these books by Indian authors (from India) I enjoy them so much. The take me away to a land of fierce sunshine, monsoon rains, aromatic food stalls, brilliant fabrics, Bollywood, and families, religions and traditions. If you like audio books these authors sound wonderful too – they sound like their exotic country. Here is a list of some books by Indian authors (some live outside of India, some still live at least part-time in India):

Vikram Seth – A Suitable Boy, An Unequal Music, Sacred Games

Kiran Desai – The Inheritance of Loss

Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things

Roopa Farooki – Bitter Sweets, Corner Shop

Amitav Ghosh – The Hungry Tide

Vikas Swarup – Q and A (Slumdog Millionaire is based on this book)

Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance, Family Matter

Gregory David Roberts – Shantaram (not an Indian author, but he wrote a definitive book about India’s slums)

Manil Suri – The Death of Vishnu

Farahad Zuma – The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

Thrity Umrigar – The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us

Salman Rushdie – is very literary and his books are more difficult, not always sequential or realistic. These book probably get deeper if you know the Muslim faith well

Most accessible – The Ground Beneath Her Feet, The Moor’s Last Sigh

Also by Rushdie and also great – The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children, The Enchantress of Florence

There are many more wonderful Indian books. Most of these authors have pages dedicated to them on Amazon (in fact, probably they all have). Another time I will list some more titles which sound good, but which I haven’t yet read.

I think India may be America’s “soul mate.”

Mom

My mom is 92. She was born in 1917 and will soon be 93. She lived through the Great Depression and her stories about those times are harrowing to us. She, though, remembers the times fondly due to loving parents, especially her dad, and in spite of her family’s rather extreme poverty. I guess “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, because mom is doing very well.

My mother had 8 children (with my father of course, who we still miss very much). These 8 children were not as prolific but managed 13 offspring. Now there are 25 great grandchildren so now our clan numbers 48 and, with the 16 spouses, numbers 64. All from a little 92 pound woman.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

Schools

We are so awful to teachers in this culture. Everyone thinks teachers hardly ever work and that they enjoy totally undeserved job security. Stop blaming teachers for the problems with our schools. Most teachers are excellent educators. They work hard planning lessons; collecting materials; considering the presentation of lessons; helping students master those materials; checking students’ grasp of materials through homework, projects, tests; marking said projects, homework and tests; and often leading an extracurricular activity or two. Many teachers spend their own money when school resources fall short.

There are teachers who have tenure who shouldn’t but a good peer review system can help with this problem. It is possible to end the contract of someone with tenure, but careful documentation is required. Tenure protects academic freedom, it always has. Otherwise school administrators could fire teachers when they didn’t like the ideas expressed or when a parent expressed displeasure, or on a whim. You have the years before tenure to appraise a teacher’s effectiveness. Life does happen,however, and teachers may need help adjusting after certain personal and professional traumas. Whenever money gets tight we go after teachers and teacher’s unions. This is a terrible trend. It allows parents and students to pin all the evils of school failure on teachers.

Public school for everyone is incredibly important to the health of a society but perhaps we all start to take the availability for granted. School starts to seem like less of a privilege. I’m not saying we should make school attendance more competitive but I’m saying we need to keep the idea of school fresh, and exciting somehow. Students who have free access to school tend to experience the school-as-prison syndrome and often act out accordingly. There is an awful lot of psychology involved in education, but not a lot of psychologists. Schools have children from the age of 4 until the age of 18. The strongest value of having a psychological partnership with schools would be during puberty. Creative idea like schools that are more like camps or schools that are more like laboratories or seminars or community internships might be worth exploring.

In other words, I think we have gotten blase about our schools because we are spoiled by our bounty.

If an area of our country is really losing population how can we expect to keep all the same services? Are we sure some cuts aren’t appropriate? Have the numbers of students really fallen or haven’t they.

Global Freedom

Freedom sounds as easy as breathing, but it’s not. Freedom is decisions made over and over again. Global freedom is another issue entirely. We’re not talking about our own freedom here. When we use force to set other people free, when we ask other nations with other beliefs to accept our notions of freedom – ethnic freedom, religious freedom, freedom for women and children – are we actually interfering with that culture’s freedom to choose. We are, perhaps, doing this for selfish reasons, to protect our own freedoms which are threatened by and our apparently threatening to other cultures. Can you use force to make people free? Can you use force to set people free? Is it a matter of semantics, in other words, beliefs and intentions? If you really intend to free rather than subjugate is it OK to use force? Do we just respond when our own liberties are threatened by other groups or do we take the offensive either diplomatically or militarily – make preemptive strikes against those who like to suck away freedom from others? I can’t believe that I sound like I’m talking myself into being a hawk? I am not a hawk. I am someone who likes things to be “fair”.

If I had to wear a burka I would hate it. But I hear Muslim women who say it is part of their religion and they don’t mind. Of course, I hear other Muslim women who sound like they hate the burka and actually feel like prisoners inside of the traditional clothing and the traditional rules for Muslim women. Some educated Muslim women who experienced life free from these restraints apparently became suicidal when they once again had to follow traditional Muslim rules for women. Do we just say to ourselves “stay out of it, it’s none of our business” or would we then be like one of those people who looks the other way if they see a crime or abuse? Freedom is certainly hard.

Let Freedom Ring!

Eric Fromm wrote a book called Escape From Freedom. Ironically he published his book in 1941. I guess he only had to catch Hitler’s act for a little while to figure out what he was up to. This book was required hippie reading in the 1970’s and it has stayed with me all this while. In this book Fromm’s premise was that freedom is so scary to people that as soon as people win their freedom they start to give it up. He has lots of evidence to back up his argument.

In America we believe in freedom, we write songs about it. We have made a cult of the “individual” which is also about freedom. We may have achieved more personal freedom than any other culture. But we are piece by piece, giving our freedom back in exchange for things like health care, safety, security? At what point does my individual freedom curtail yours. After all, as long as there is one other person nearby there is no such thing as absolute freedom, and freedom is a meaningless concept if you are alone.

Is freedom really free, or is freedom really a responsibility? We have the freedom to go to school or not after age 16, but we have the responsibility to take care of ourselves as adults, to earn enough money to house ourselves and feed ourselves, don’t we? So although we are free to leave school, as a consequence we may experience less freedom in our adult life because our choices may be more limited.

Are we free to be evil? I’m pretty sure we all agree that the freedoms of good people are a higher priority than the freedoms of bad people, although this is not always practically possible, or in reality doable.

We are free to travel almost wherever we want, to sleep on the beach, to party all night, but bad people are free to mess with us when we do these things, they are free to “play” with our safety and security, to terrorize us.

Perhaps the freedoms we treasure most of all are the freedoms of the mind, the freedom to think as we wish and to speak and write as we wish. Even here we have to accept limitations.

Freedom is a touchy thing, a squishy concept. It is a goal that perhaps cannot ever be reached. We will always have to accept relative freedom as opposed to absolute freedom. How will we know when we have let too much freedom slip through our fingers? People have different “freedom thresholds.” I guess we have to be vigilant that the limits of freedom are not set so low that we wake up one day to find ourselves oppressed or dead. Although in America we have given up some of our “freedoms”, so far we have not given up our “Freedom.”

One of our greatest fears as a result of our national debt is that we have sold our freedom, we just don’t know it yet. We are afraid that we have sold our freedom to China, or our children’s freedom to our largest creditor. This would be one of the saddest ways to lose our freedom. We hope we still have time to buy our way back to solid ground.

We have to remember that the immigration issue is really about freedom in almost the same way that the civil rights issue is about freedom and the gay rights issue is about freedom, terrorism, and on and on. It may be uncomfortable to live in a country that allows a wide range of diversity, but it does taste like freedom. We are constantly threading our way through a maze of decisions to either keep a freedom or give one away or find a balance that allows us to feel free enough. The fact that we make these decisions every day and still seem to come down on the side of relative freedom is America’s most wonderful and admirable trait. We must continue to chose as much freedom as a situation will allow. It is our national “angst.” We are a nation that constantly examines the nature of freedom.

Books

Search Amazon.com for candance bushnellSearch Amazon.com for janet evanovichSearch Amazon.com for sophie kinsellaI’m talking about the guilty pleasures of “Chick Lit”. I have had so much fun reading “Chick Lit”. It is light and hip and very refreshing, remarkable like the Chiclet gum.

If you haven’t read Sophie Kinsella’s books and you fell like popping a bon-bon, read the Shoppaholic books, Twenties Girl is also fun. I just finished The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews, also enjoyable.

A few other titles:

Mercury in Retrograde by Paula Froelich

The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell

Or just type Chick Lit into the Amazon “go” line, tell it you want books you’ll get a great reading list

The Bridget Jones books were probably among the first “chick lit”

Anything by Janet Evanovitch while technically not chick lit, still definitely bon-bons. She had written 14 plus books full of silliness, hot men, furneral parlors, perps, and hand guns.

In this case you can tell a book by its cover, because chick lit covers are very easy to pick out once you get used to the way they look.