Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Beginning Point. The Jumping Off Point.

A few weeks ago I did a writing exercise based on a writing challenge from another blog that I found intriguing called The Prose of an Electrate Mind written by a woman named Meredith. Meredith, a student of the humanities, is no longer blogging for her own reasons, but I found her photography compelling and her writing interesting. So, tonight, I'll check out another of the writing exercise from that 2016 writing challenge:
Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from.
Vernon Howard

  • My questions would be what has give you freedom?
  • Was it from letting go of something, or from jumping into something new?

Of course, this one is perfect for me right now because I am embarking on a terrifying, exciting new journey. One that will take the very best of me. And while doing this, I'm also doing other new things, new to me anyway, and just kind of reinventing myself. (I'll say more about this in a moment.) But what's weird, if you had asked me two months ago what, if anything, was I planning on changing in my life, I would have had no idea. Weird to think of it that way.
I had no plan.

So what has given me this freedom at the age of 55?
I have, of course. My husband is always, eternally encouraging. The kids have done a fair amount of encouraging... But I think, one day, after being passed over for a fairly menial job, I got bummed, then angry, then determined. I decided that it was time to take my future into my own hands and to make a huge gesture. I decided to make it happen: I made the decision to do whatever it took to get my professional license back.

I had let the license lapse back in 2004, somewhere in the midst of children, homeschooling, carpooling, creating lessons, living a very different life from today. Somewhere in there, silently, without a second of notoriety or choice, I allowed my professional license to lapse: A GRAVE ERROR. This license takes a prohibitive amount of work to reinstate at this stage of the game. In fact, I'm not at all sure that anyone else has gone back to this profession so many years later...seemed to me that the licensing board was kind of playing it by ear a bit.  

It took me several months, several hundred dollars, about two dozen leaps of faith into unknown air, and so so so much researching to get that thing back. 

I, then, set out to find a job with a new license and absolutely nothing to show on my resume. I have been out of the field for over eighteen years. EVERY SINGLE TOP REFERENCE no longer exists, some people have died, agencies have disappeared from the surface of the earth, and I've even forgotten some people's names.
I felt pretty screwed. 

I've now jumped in.
I'm now employed and working hard HARD to get myself current and prepared to work with clients.
GRRRRL, I'm stressed. I'm in a total hurricane of new information, skills, procedures, insurance apps, organizational stuff, orienting, so so much.
Who in the world saw this coming?!!!

But that's not all!
I also started volunteering for my local public radio station, our local station of NPR. It has been a freaking delight and I absolutely look forward to more chances to do this work. If you can swing it and if you like meeting people, I highly recommend it!

And, even more!
My dear friend Anna-Marie has been kind enough to take me on as a student of her hobby: stained glass! I've been working on a project that should be finished quite soon. I'm pretty terrible at it at this point, but that's not the point. I'm doing these new things!

Not only am I freaking myself out, I'm also making myself feel something I haven't felt in a long time: Personal Pride.

Personal Pride. It's exactly why I feel freedom right now.
It's the beginning point and the jumping off point.

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My Emotions of Change

With Sincere Gratitude: Through the Blue
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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Love and Pride for Elizabeth and John

Know what?

I'm freaking EXPLODING with joy and pride right now. 

My daughter is studying media and has several "on the radio" spots that she does in various places around town. Today she took her brother, my son, to one of the radio stations to record her spot. While there the station admin asked my daughter to record a few other spots while she was there.

She gestured to her brother and said "My brother is doing some voice acting; wanna give him a try?" (Because he has been looking into voice acting opportunities online and has LANDED some cool voice roles!)

So, at this very moment, my son is recording some spots for the station.

Not only did my daughter generously offer this time and opportunity to her brother, she, herself, is beaming with pride for him.

I'm freaking overwhelmed with love and pride at this moment.

ADDITIONALLY, my daughter has made some very complicated arrangements to get herself to SEOUL SOUTH KOREA this summer for an opportunity of international studies. YES, she has checked in to it, completed all requirements, and has found ways to fund nearly all of it...herself.

I'm beside myself with pride for this kid!
And for the other kid!

What are you proud of today?


Friday, May 10, 2019

My Emotions of Change

Last week I got a job.
Not just any job, but a cherry job.
And I got this job after being out of my field for over eighteen years!

So, after you congratulate me and feel happy for me, let me tell you how completely life-changing it has already been to be hired by this agency.

The first moment after getting the call offering me the job, I fell backwards onto my bed and danced around and felt overwhelmed in my head, like my brain was nothing but white light. A moment later I heard my husband get my message to him about it because he (working down stairs) swiped his door aside and climbed the stairs and ran down the hallway to me, finding me on my back on the bed kicking my feet in the air and laughing!  lol  ๐Ÿ˜†

A few days later I nervously, and weirdly dreamlike, drove the twenty minutes down the highway to the office and attended a few group activities with clients (I'm a clinical social worker). I fell into the groups naturally and felt right at home with the interactions with clients around the table. I had a few initial moments of disbelief and white light in the head again, then a happy abandon at being a clinician in a nice agency.

I don't usually post
pics of myself,
but this is me
my first moments
at work.
Today, a bit over a week later, after reading and researching and accessing about two hundred pages of information and training and watching clinical videos, I'm sitting here at my desk in happy tears.

I'm genuinely grateful for this job. It has already changed me. I feel like this job is an opportunity for human growth and professional growth that I've never actually experienced before and that I hadn't expected at this point in my life. I see this agency and its practice framework as a truly effective and healing and coping framework for people who have had little hope before. And, the more I learn about it, the more thrilled I am that the owner of the agency saw something in me, something that made him want to offer me this job in spite of my many shortfalls.

I'll be learning a framework for practice called DBT*; DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. It's a treatment approach that has been around in the counseling and mental health world for about twenty-five years. In fact, I was there, initially, when it came out and when the mental health agency that I worked for was first introduced to the concepts of DBT back in the 1993. 

We were shown Marcia Linehan's red and black book entitled Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. I remember the reception that these new concepts from Linehan's book received in that agency at that time. I remember the resistance in some of the clinicians in learning DBT and I recall a few of the clinicians sounding hopeful about learning DBT to help some of the most difficult-to-treat clients. My first observations of the agency that I worked for at that time and their response to the new DBT ideas as skeptical and kind of laughing at it.

Today, I'm sitting here learning so much about DBT and feeling so very comfortable and hopeful with it. Being the parent of a child with very strong emotions, I discover that, over the years, I have been practicing some aspects of DBT just by instinct, and some by practice. 

Mostly, I want to celebrate this moment in my life.
I feel that I'm embarking on an amazing journey.

I want to remember this moment.
At this moment I am exquisitely aware of the steep, steep learning curve that I am facing with this new job. From learning the framework, to getting registered on the insurance panels for clients, to learning all of the internal parts of the agency, to figuring out exactly how to wear make up on this way-older face, I'm actually nervous af about some of this. But I know that I can manage some of these hurdles**, and get to the good part.
I have already learned so. Darn. Much. And that's just the start.

* I will explain DBT in a different post and I will link that post here but there are tons of pages to check out online if you are curious or interested.  ☺️

** Like finding the right lipstick shade...


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MJ and My Shame

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Occupy Space!

This month I've been noticing something extremely common. People apologizing for just being. Sorry my purse is on the table. Sorry I brushed you when I passed you. Sorry for taking a moment of your time. Sorry for making a sound. Sorry for bothering you. Sorry I am a burden. Sorry for drawing our attention somehow. Sorry for disagreeing. Sorry for liking something different from you. Sorry, you probably are too busy to talk to me. Sorry, you probably don't want to really be my friend. Sorry for apologizing. Sorry for asking for the things that I want or need. Sorry for sitting here. Sorry for standing in your way. Sorry for forgetting. Sorry for remembering. Sorry for occupying this space. Sorry.

Some men apologize often. And women? Wow, we apologize ALOT. We apologize for our very presence sometimes.

I'm here to tell you to PLEASE TAKE UP SPACE.
Be there.
Open your mirror and put on your lipstick.

Chew your gum.
Ask for a refill.
Send back a cold meal.
Tell me about the new thing you learned.
Request better seats.
Leave all bad relationships behind.

Step forward.
Explore your world.

Know your rights.
Discover new interests.
Ask for the type of love and affection you desire.
Toss your coat onto the couch.
Stand up to drink your coffee.
Sit at the head of the table.
Get the sex you love.
Put your purse on the table and rummage through it.
Extend your arms to put your coat on.
Stick your legs out a bit when you sit.
Sneeze louder.
Stand anyplace you like.
Speak up.
Change your mind.
Express your values.
Tell your truth.
And just BE.

I want you there.
I want to hear you.
I want to see you.

You are totally worthy.

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What do YOU think?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Every Artist was First an Amateur: Ordinary Things

Several years ago found a cool blog activity, a 30-day writing challenge associated with others who love the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I'm one of those people who love Emerson's writing. In fact, the quote on the masthead of my blog (now covered with a fake Post It®️ note) is by Emerson and reads: Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
Yeah, I still love that.

Anyway, I'm going to spend some time here on my blog doing some writing exercises from that blog that I found those years ago. The blog itself is called The Prose of an Electrate Mind and it was written by a young woman named Meredith who was a student of the humanities. I enjoyed her writing explorations and her photo explorations. She has, since, discontinued blogging, but I think I'm going to return to that writing challenge a bit. I can't promise you will be entertained by it, or even excessively diverted, but I want to do some writing myself and decent and compelling writing prompts are few and far between.

I'm beginning with a very simple one that I did a bunch of years ago and I'm going to do it again...just to get started:

Every artist was first an amateur.

To be an artist one has to find beauty in ordinary things. 
Find 10 things of great beauty in the landscape that surrounds you. 
For example, crumple sheets on your bed in the morning, 
the smell of coffee making its way around a busy office.

Ordinary Things by Karen
  1. The gentlest rain falling on new, green spring leaves.
  2. Holding hands.
  3. Children dancing.
  4. One person brushing another person's hair.
  5. The contents of the basket on a bike.
  6. Learning the definition of unknown words.
  7. Tree roots.
  8. Those little spreading circles made by a drop of water.
  9. Discovering a notebook on a shelf that has other papers and things stuffed into the pages.
  10. People in their own little world as they read a book.

Your Thoughts?
Your list of ordinary things?

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Friday, May 3, 2019

Atheist and Secular Therapy

Have you ever gone to see a counselor or therapist and found that you could not stomach the religion or religious-slant of the therapy and that the therapist couldn't keep their religion to themselves? And how about the clinicians that, somehow, manage to inject their New Age woo into a session... 
It's happened to me, for sure.

For many years, and still today, it is not safe or business-wise for secular or atheist professionals to out themselves as atheists because many people who refer clients are in religious-based social or community organizations and these people are highly unlikely to refer a client to a Humanist or an atheist professional. So, sadly, people looking for religion-free help are on their own. And it is a real crap shoot.

Well, MANY THANKS to Dr. Darryl Ray for starting up the Secular Therapy Project! As the founder and project leader of Secular Therapy Project, Dr. Ray went live with the Secular Therapy Project in 2012, a project designed to help clients and therapists find each other and, hopefully, to help these clients to engage in productive, life-enhancing work.
Now doesn't that sound nice?

You can support this project in three important ways:
  1. Tell any secular therapist to register with us.
  2. Tell people in the secular groups you attend about the Secular Therapy Project, blog about it or write on Facebook or Twitter about it so that people in need of these services will know where to go.
  3. Donate any amount to help them maintain and grow.

Anybody who frequents the atheist conventions have seen Dr. Ray or have even heard him speak. I, myself, have spent some quality time with him at conventions in the past. I promised myself that when I was finally able to get back into the practicing field I would promote this project as much as I could. Now that I'm employed and practicing again, this is just my first mention!  

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor: Proof of Unusual Daring

I've discovered a favorite story frame.
I love that thing where action is going on in the past while people in the present are researching or investigating or uncovering that story from the past. And we, too, are having that past revealed to us slowly as the people in the present are being drawn in or effected in some way.
Ya know?

Not unlike how coolly Dan Brown did The DaVinci Code. That was excellently written.

Jillian Cantor pulls off this story frame beautifully in The Lost Letter.

Set in both the present in California, 1989, and the past, 1933 in Austria as the Nazis are moving into the countryside of Austria and spreading their antisemitic violence, The Lost Letter  tells of a young man named Kristoff who has come to apprentice with an Austrian master stamp maker named Frederick Faber. Kristoff, a young man who, as a baby, was orphaned, has come to the Faber household to learn the trade of making stamps, postage stamps, using the engraving tools of his mentor Frederick Faber. All the while, Kristoff is amazed with his supreme good fortune to experience the warmth of the Faber family, the kindness and goodness of Frederick, and the comforting family-focused rituals of the Faber's Jewish traditions carried out each week. The weekly traditions display the family bond in a way that Kristoff has never experienced or imagined before.

A non-Jew, Kristoff sees the violence wrought by the Germans while standing on a hill overlooking Vienna on the night known as Kristallnacht, the night that Vienna was destroyed by the Nazis leaving glass strewn across the streets and buildings destroyed by fire. On that night, Frederick had traveled to Vienna and is now missing. The Faber family panics and grieves, all while the Nazis begin to terrorize the small bergs in the Austrian country side. Seeing the utter devastation of Kristallnacht, Kristoff muses, It is called Kristallnacht but it should be called Night of Tears rather than Night of Glass.

As a result of Krystallnacht and the encroaching Nazis, Kristoff becomes aware that the Faber's elder daughter Elena has been involved in a resistance movement with small efforts to thwart the Nazis and to defend her beloved Austria. This story line is inspired by real resistance workers during World War II Austria and shows us the strength and great determination of Elena. She is quite an admirable young woman.

In 1989, we have a devastated young woman, Katie Nelson, still fragile and wounded from her husband Daniel leaving her because he can't tolerate the time she is spending with her father, an elderly philatelist who has developed Alzheimer's.* Katie's father Ted has recently entered into a nursing home because his Alzheimer's has made it necessary for him to have continuous care and Katie spends a great deal of time with him. Her mother died years ago and Katie has had a wonderfully loving relationship with her father for all of these years.

In Katie's first scene, we see her taking her father's letter and stamp collection to a philatelist, hoping to find something of value in order to help with her father's care. Carrying her crumbling pile of stamps and things into the stamp store, Katie meets the store's manager and master appraiser Benjamin who promises to review the collection and call her if he discovers anything interesting among Katie's father's stamp and letter collection. A gem. That's what Katie is hoping to discover in the collection: a gem.

I'm not completely certain why Katie brings that dusty pile of papers to the stamp guy, Benjamin, when she does. She is in a place of utter devastation. Her husband has abandoned her in a moment of need. She is losing her beloved father to the ravages of Alzheimers, slowly, surely losing him one day at at time. Perhaps she is seeking something meaningful in his strewn life detritus? Perhaps she is seeking memories in this place where her father is losing his...

The book is called The Lost Letter because Benjamin, the stamp appraiser guy, discovers an unopened letter in the pile of stamps and whatnot with an enigmatic stamp, a stamp known to have been carved and circulated during the Nazi occupation of Austria, however this stamp seems to have a faint, hidden (?) outline of the Austrian flower blossom edelweiss. Furthermore, the stamp is placed upside down on the envelope, symbolically suggesting that the letter is a love letter from one to another. Katie and Benjamin are both intrigued and, after some further research, set off on a bit of a journey to discover more about the stamp, the stamp maker, and, ultimately, the letter itself.

We begin to understand that Kristoff and Elena, the eldest daughter of Ted Faber, are, in 1933, in a silent and growing romance in spite of the horror in which they are living. And we begin to understand that the letter we are holding, with the upside down stamp, the fading ink, and the crumbling paper, might contain a heartbreaking love letter between two separated lovers, never to see one another again in the devastating world of Nazi-occupied Austria. 

Furthermore, we begin to understand that a delicate alliance is forming between the gentle Katie and the wounded Benjamin, somehow allowing a whisper of healing and love. Can this lost letter bring something found? 

While I have not read anything else by Jillian Cantor, I imagine I'll be adding more of her books to my growing pile of Must Read books. In The Lost Letter, I thoroughly enjoy her historical flair, her incredibly emotive writing, the tender and the pragmatic, the horror and the beauty, the pain and the promise. It's a must read. 

I'm giving this book a rating of seven of ten stars.

Will you read it?
If so, I promise you'll discover the contents of the captivating letter.  ๐Ÿ˜Š

*  Yeah, Daniel never really improves in this book...

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

I'm Still Offended...

If you read my blog post from a few weeks ago called I'm Offended, maybe you were left with a bad taste in your mouth, as I was. It's easy to point out the rudeness, the cognitive dissonance, or the weird irony of people who tend to make fun of someone saying I'm Offended by What You Are Saying. That's the easy part.

There can be more to this relationship with the person who tends to speak/post/act with the thought that they are being assertive rather than aggressive. It's possible to extend this relationship with this person who tends to think everyone is thinking it, I have the balls to say it. The relationship might be salvageable.*

Yes, pointing out the rudeness is easy; what might be harder is to take a moment and listen to the person who is annoyed with someone someone else's sensitivity. (The language here is a bit cumbersome and I'm trying to be clear. Stick with me.) For the sake of clarity and simplicity, I'm going to call the offended person Person A and I'm going to call the person making the brash, offending statements Person B.

I'm convinced that most people* mean to do the right thing. Their intentions are their saving point. Though, some People Bs simply have no interest in the emotions or thoughts of those that they choose to bully or abuse verbally and these relationships are the ones that may be best to limit or terminate completely. But some people, those whose friendships are salvageable, are unaware that the way they speak carries a sting. For these people, I offer these few simplified suggestions.

  • Some people may not be aware of their general negativity. For these people, it is possible that they are sitting on top of some unprocessed anger, pain, grief, fear, or other emotion. 
  • Almost all negativity comes from an underlying belief that the world is not a good place to live and that people are mostly bad. Imagine living like that.
  • Most judging, pessimistic, and negative people think that the things outside of them cause their negative feelings.
  • So, in some ways, their negativity is a cry for help, a cry for hope, a cry for a reminder of the good things in life.*
    Simply know this.
  • We are all responsible for our own happiness. 
  • In all things, Person A, seek your own happiness. Beyond all natural consequences of living a life, manifest as much positivity in your life as you can. You cannot and will not "heal" Person B's negativity.
  • Therefore, avoid Person B and/or Person B's behavior any time you can. Be your positive, happy self, Person A. Hope that Person B learn from you. And simply live your life, thrive in your life, with as much joy as possible.

Always, and overall, it is our relationships that make life worth living that that give life meaning. If one or more of your relationships offer this type of negativity, I suggest you read more about bullying, healthy relationships, and getting yourself free. ☺️

*  If you have ended a relationship with someone who is abusive, do not return to it!
*  This reference does not refer to abusive, narcissistic people.
*  I DO NOT recommend that you shower negative people with your goodness; this WILL backfire.

What Do You Think?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula Le Guin

Ursula K. LeGuin was doing her thing in the 1970's, the years of the hippies and the exploration of Eastern philosophies. The daughter of an anthropologist father and a mother studying psychology, Ursula was coming of age in a family rife with speculative study, cultural observation, academics, feminism, and Jungian philosophy.
I'm jealous.

I have to admit right here and now that I had to go online to figure out what, exactly, I'd just been reading...  
Turns out it's about Taoism and Utilitarianism.
No, seriously. 

The Lathe of Heaven opens up with a dream sequence, a dream of a jellyfish floating in a vast sea. I'm sharing that dream sequence here because the writing grabbed me immediately and I know you will love it:
Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moondriven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will.
(Bold text is mine.)

I'm starting with this quote from the very first page of The Lathe of Heaven because jellyfish seems to be a theme of the book because the main character, George Orr, is frequently compared to a jellyfish. A man moving through life, letting ebbs and flows carry him along, never quite making a plan or a choice. Yet, somehow, he becomes the hero; the strength of the whole ocean is behind him, afterall. 
Stay tuned.

Ursula Le Guin
At the opening of the book, our main character, George Orr, is waking up from a strange dream (stick around, dreams play heavy in this book) and he is immediately confronted with medical first responders, and confusion. It turns out that George is being busted for overdosing on medication, medication designed to keep him awake at all costs. We soon learn that, in this strange dystopian age, George's medications are being monitored by the state and he is known to be using his medications incorrectly.

Because of this culturally gross abuse of medications, George is directed to see a therapist in order to avoid stronger punishment. While meeting with his new therapist, Dr. William Haber, a sleep and dream specialist, we learn that George's misuse of the pep pills is almost understandable. It turns out that George is taking the medications to avoid sleeping, not because he is afraid of nightmares or sleepwalking, but because sometimes when George dreams, his dreams come true. His dreams change reality.

At first glance, this sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it? 
Who doesn't want to have their dreams become reality?
For example, just last night, and this is true, I was dreaming of Benedict Cumberbatch. Just as I asked him to come back to my hotel room and he said yes, my cell phone alarm went off. 

Long story short, I need a new phone...

The problem, though, even with this sweet problem, George keeps finding himself making terrible things happen through his dreaming, even when he has the best of intentions. Thus, he tries to stay awake indefinitely.
Sadly, upon entering into the care of Dr. Haber, George does not realize that he, George, has come under the thumb of a power-hungry man who attempts to bring George's dream powers into his own control.

Image by  Eleanor Wood
Dr. Haber seeks, first, to control George's dreams by planting suggestions into the dreams. For example, each time George goes to sleep in the doctor's office, he wakes up to grander and grander office spaces occupied by Dr. Haber because Dr. Haber is using the dreaming as a way to improve his own life, in addition to trying to make improvements in the wide world. 

Unfortunately George's dreaming, in spite of Dr. Haber's direction and control, leads to greater and greater problems in the wide world, beginning with the town in which this book is set, Portland Oregon, which begins experiencing terrible volcanic activity from the formerly-dormant Mount Hood. The problems from the dreaming become more and more awful, including huge losses of the population, alien invasion, even the end of the world.
Did they even THINK of a dream catcher?

In his disgust with George being jellyfish-like, Dr. Haber works out some high-falutin' scientific device and plans to move the Trumped-Up dreaming from George's head to his own head, megalomaniac style. I'm going to leave the cute technologies to the reader to find out. Suffice it to say that this book was written in 1971 and computers were in their, what comes before infancy, zygote-hood. Dr. Haber's device is a bit hilarious, but deviously so. Lucky for us, George figures out the plan and saves us all from a fate worse than death...he rescues us from the end of All That Is.

Weirdly, even though George is quite depressed and sad, although he is quite wishy-washy, and although he is really quite dull, it is his propensity for mediocrity and the Middle Way that saves us all. He is quite exceptional for his mediocrity. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the book is when George is getting results back from the personality test administered by Doctor Haber. Here's a part of the test results, a short excerpt that actually made me laugh:
I believe it's time for you to know that, within the frame of reference of those standardized but extremely subtle and useful tests, you are so sane as to be an anomaly. Of course, I'm using the lay word 'sane,' which has no precise objective meaning; in quantifiable terms, you're median. Your extroversion/introversion score, for instance, was 49.1. That is, you're more introverted than extroverted by .9 of a degree. That's not unusual; what is, is the emergence of the same damn pattern everywhere, right across the board. If you put them all onto the same graph you sit smack in the middle at 50. 

Furthermore, the doctor, in his case notes describes George as Unaggressive, placid, milquetoast, repressed, conventional.  
How Dr. Haber despises George's boring weakness, his jellyfishness.

Now what was that about Taoism and Utilitarianism?
Consider when Le Guin was writing. 1971. She was living during a time when, culturally, the US was deep into the hippies (think counterculture and the sexual revolution), the Vietnam War (think of the war on TV each night and those fighting the war), Civil Rights (think MLK and his I Have a Dream speech), Women's Lib (think Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique), Space Exploration (think Apollos 1 and 11), Race Relations (think segregation and the protests to segregation), threats of nuclear war (think the Cuban Missile Crisis), protests in the streets (think
Che Guevara, among others), and the Beatles.

As a result of these and many other influences, Eastern mysticism became hip and cool and trendy about this time. I remember it. So Le Guin explores her own Taoism journey right here in the pages of this book.

So what is Taoism?

According to about fifty websites, Taoism or Daoism, is a philosophy centered on the belief that life is normally happy, but should be lived with balance and virtue. Taoism is also known as The Middle Way or The Path.

Cool. So what is Utilitarianism? 

Utilitarianism is a theory in philosophy about right and wrong actions. It says that the morally best action is the one that makes the most overall happiness or "utility" (usefulness). The greatest good for the greatest number of people.

And how do these two concepts interact in this book?

Easy, surprisingly.

George is a walking, talking Taoism symbol, almost like Yoda (not). And, it turns out, the doctor represents utilitarianism, though a slightly messed up version of it. Although the doctor and George experiment with dreams about creating a happier, better world for us all, Utilitarianism, none of these dreams actually come to fruition without serious complications. It isn't until George insists on walking the Tao way, the center, the simple way, do we see some semblance of joy and peace. 

Is this simplified?

I'm no philosophy major.

But I'll keep trying:

The yin-yang symbol fits here. In every good is an equal bit of bad...just like the stuff resulting from the good-intentions of the dream.
SEE, I'm getting it!

The greatest good for the greatest number of people—we can all get on board with that one, can't we? Utilitarianism seeks to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. While the principles of utilitarianism might seem pretty reasonable, in The Lathe of Heaven we see how things can go horribly, horribly wrong, even with the best of intentions. And even more horribly wrong in the hands of the ego-maniacal Dr. Haber.

Anytime these man seek to alter the reality of things, they unbalance things, move things from the center, and create chaos. It is only in the middle where we are safe, happy, productive.

Le Guin, in this tiny little novel, also explores subjects of race, love, power, good vs. evil, ...even freedom is explored right here in this tiny little book. And far better than this choppy blog post.
I'd say go and read it!

I'm giving this book a total of seven stars for the number of times I had to go online and remind myself about the various bits of philosophy that hid in the text. SO worth it.

Do you think you'll go and read it?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Fifth Doll by Charlie N. Holmberg

I started wondering why I'm writing these blog posts about the books that I read. The internet is populated by so many wonderful and useful book sites. Goodreads, Literary Hub, Bookbub (recommended by my mother-in-law, Sharon), LibraryThing, and so many more book review sites exist, not even to mention, that it would seem that a teeny tiny little blog like this would be kind of ridiculous. But I have to be honest.

I don't write these book blog posts for you.
I write them for me.

I read so much that I actually forget my books, and quickly too.
These blog posts about books are almost entirely so that I can look back and think DANG, That was a great book; I'd forgotten!


And I do do that! I've already forgotten about half of the books that I've reviewed already.  lol  I'll look back at a book and think, HEY, I forgot about that one!  Ridiculous and embarrassing to admit, but there you are.

So you, the reader, are the very fortunate beneficiaries of my terrible memory.

Before I look again at The Lathe of Heaven  by Ursula Le Guin I'm going to give you a quick taste of a quick little book I picked up from the library: The Fifth Doll  by Charlie N. Holmberg. Holmberg is fairly well known for her The Paper Magician series of fantasy books. I haven't read them at all and knew nothing about this author before this. If you've read The Paper Magician, I'd love to hear from you about it!

Instead, at my library, I was browsing and picked up The Fifth Doll, a small little book with the cover above with the colorful little matroyshka dolls. The description was so compelling I slapped it onto the pile of books I was bringing home to read...and it waited there on my living room table for about a week before I picked it up.

The Fifth Doll is fantasy or sci-fi, kind of a mixture. But even more, it reads like a Russian story of folklore or like a fable, which is cool. I've not always been a reader of sci-fi, and I certainly have not been a reader of fantasy. But as I get older, I enjoy the mind-stretching, the thought experiment of it all. In the case of this book, I read a couple of pages and thought, Nah, this isn't my cup of tea, and I started to put it down.

But I then thought, Wait a minute. What if it's a hidden gem?  Well, just a few pages later - I was hooked and could not wait to explore what was going on. Let me bring you in on a quick taste of the book.

Matrona is a very satisfied young woman living on the outskirts of a small, peaceful village with her parents. She and her parents had recently arranged a marriage with a young man from a good family in the village (Feodor) and Matrona was busy helping her parents with the milking of the cows and the churning of the butter and she was supporting her best friend who was about to give birth. A very simple and lovely life.

One day Matrona stumbles upon a paint brush on the street and she goes to return it to an elderly, rather isolating man in the village, Slava. Upon knocking on the door she hears sounds within the odd little house, though Slava does not answer her knocking, which cause her to be concerned for his safety. She enters Slava's house, going deeper into the house, as she hears sounds and fears that he is injured and in need of help.

What she finds, instead, is a bird making sounds. But also a peculiar little room with tables and shelves, all covered with wooden matroyshka dolls. Upon further inspection, she notices that each of the dolls is painted to resemble people in her little village. Matrona picks up a doll resembling her father and, accidentally, turns the two pieces that make up the doll...ever so slightly.

When she returns home, her father is behaving oddly, clumsily falling about, some confusion... After a bit, Matrona begins to wonder if the doll in his image has anything to do with her father's behavior.

Naturally she has to go back and open her own expect some magic, some dark magic, some secrets, and expect the whole down to blow wide open!

I'd love to give you another author to compare this writing style to but the only thing I can come up with is ร†sop's fables. The deceptively simple writing, the pastoral setting, the magical surprises... The writing might also seem like a children's book at times, but maybe that is one style of fantasy writing...I don't know.

What I do know is that I was right. This book is a hidden gem!
I enjoyed it tremendously and recommend it! Plan on being surprised, plan on thinking you're figuring it out (you'll be wrong), and plan on finding it to be deceptively simple, but deliciously complicated too. Plan on enjoying a forbidden and surprising romance. Plan on having the entire village turned upside down. And plan on staying up too late to read just to figure out WHAT is going on!

For the simpleness of writing, for the surprises and the magic, and for the cool mystery, I give this book a rating of six stars. 

And that ain't bad, ะดั€ัƒะณ, Friend.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven

Well, I'll be darned, I found another one!

This book has been a total mind fuck in the absolutely best sense and I have to admit right here and now that I had to go online to figure out what, exactly, I'd just been reading...  ๐Ÿ˜‚


But let's look at the author first and I'll write about the book/story/etc tomorrow.

Ursula K. LeGuin was doing her thing in the 1970's, the years of the hippies, the war, the economy, rebellion of authority, overpopulation, nostalgia for a simpler time, and the exploration of Eastern philosophies. The daughter of an anthropologist father and a mother studying psychology, Ursula was coming of age in a family rife with speculative study, cultural observation, academics, moralism, feminism, and Jungian philosophy.
I'm jealous.

Having earned a master's degree in French, Le Guin began doctoral studies, but abandoned these after her marriage in 1953 to historian Charles Le Guin. She began writing full-time in the 1950s, and achieved major critical and commercial success with with her sci-fi writing, namely A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), two books that are now on my list. Ursula went on to win several writing awards, including the Hugo Award and Nebula award; she was the first woman to do that.

Her novels often explored themes of feminism, race, Taoism, and gender identity, making her, in my opinion, pretty cool in the 1970's. These themes do rear their provocative heads in The Lathe of Heaven.  And, get this one, The U.S. Library of Congress named her a Living Legend in 2000. (A Library of Congress Living Legend is someone recognized by the Library of Congress for his or her creative contributions to American life.) Is that cool, or what? With that honor, she joined the ranks with other Living Legends like Sally Ride, Yo-Yo Ma, I.M. Pei, and Fred Rogers, to name a few.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies.
We will need writers who can remember freedom.
Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.
- Ursula K. Le Guin

A young Le Guin
I know that I will be reading more Le Guin at some point because I've requested about six of her books, including one that is her memoir, from my library. I've been pulled in by her writing, some of which was simply gorgeous. And I'm interested in her 1970's exploration of themes, some of which we are still exploring today. I love the little time capsule of books, giving the reader the chance to see, not only what is being written as the story or content, but also to be able to see the time and culture in which the book was written. In this book, The Lathe of Heaven, the decade of the 1970's was as much of a shady character in the book as any walking, talking turtle. It was quite fascinating to see the play of topics in her book.

And, interestingly enough, at least to me, this is the exact same reason I'm enjoying the old TV series "Room 222" right now.

Anyway, give me a few days to process the book a bit and I'll be back with some thoughts!

Have you read anything by Le Guin?
What do you recommend?
What do you think of her writing?

Friday, April 5, 2019

Jesus, the Teen Years

The printed Christian Bible doesn't say much about Jesus for the majority of his life. The years from 12-29, seventeen of his thirty-three years, are not mentioned in the Christian New Testament with the exception of some minor bits about "is this not the carpenter's son", suggesting that he worked as a carpenter for those years, or that bit in Luke saying that Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and Men...kind of vague, that. These are known in Christian circles as The Unknown Years.

Some scholars suggest that the age of thirteen being the age of bar mitzvah and the age of thirty being the age of readiness for the priesthood suggest that those years are of little significance. Assuming Jesus worked as a carpenter, or tekton in Greek. (ALL OF THIS conjecture is based on the idea that Jesus was a real person, a paradigm that I actually do not ascribe to...) Some scholars argue that Jesus was busy in these Unknown Years ministering and studying with the Essenes, a Jewish sect spread out throughout Roman Judaea, a sect dedicated to poverty and asceticism. Some writings that are not Christian canon do offer some glimpses as to what may have been going on during these Lost Years, but the materials are not counted among accepted doctrine.

While I see this huge gap as a bit of an issue with the plausibility of the entire New Testament (Many Christians say: We don't really believe in the OLD Testament!), I do think it is possible to recreate some credible days of the teenage Jesus. 

Here are some possible scenarios:
  • In the calendar year of young Jesus’s thirteenth birthday, on or around May the 7th, Jesus had become a fair yoke maker and worked well with both leather as well as with wood. Apprenticing with Joseph, he was also developing carpentry and cabinetmaking skills. In that thirteenth summer he made frequent trips to the top of the hill to the northwest of Nazareth for prayer, meditation, and emotional/spiritual release. Once release was accomplished, he would meditate on the more- and more-revealed nature of his ordained place on earth.

    Jesus would brood on that hilltop of his parents, who would attempt to dictate the course of his thinking or to establish good work ethic on earth. Jesus, though, knew that he was above these earthly pursuits and meditated on the need to get to his father in Heaven's business.

    First, though, the need to release emotionally/spiritually again, as he was alone and within sight of no one and he had spied LaShonda, his teenage neighbor, earlier that morning.

    Back at home, his mother Mary was puzzled but Joseph comforted her in explaining that boys of this age need private time. Mary, though set to work with energy to mold her son’s thoughts to familial duty. Even Jesus’s uncle could not prepare Mary’s understanding for the needs of thirteen year old Jesus and she set to the task for creating a schedule for Jesus’s days so he would not disappear onto the mount or into the shower for hours.
  •  Early one morning, the first Monday of April, Jesus and his mates decided to skip out on their fathers' apprenticeships and decided to go out and explore the countryside outside of Nazareth, namely the far grape orchards. The boys walked a long time on the dusty road while Jesus's mind, as usual, was occupied with deep sorrow and confusion about the upcoming trials of his life. He and his friends sat in the shadow of the vines and began discussing the great events of their lives.

    Aaron, not that one, told of many days of toiling in the kitchen for his mother when, really, he wanted to study with the great stone builders of the land. But his mother didn't understand.

    Then Rafiq told of the conflict with his siblings and how his parents never believed him when he said he didn't start these conflicts with unflattering comments about his siblings' wit and wisdom.
    His parents didn't believe him or understand.

    John Michael retold an old story, heavy on his mind, of his father working him in the dusty fields from dawn until dusk when all John Michael really wanted w
    as to spend a few minutes with his beloved, Sarah, not that one. No one seemed to understand.

    Jesus sighed deeply and began telling his tales of the upcoming trials and tribulations he would be expected to carry out for his father in Heaven. His mates, having heard these disquieting fortunes to come many times, masqueraded sleep as Jesus went on and on about what was expected of him. As the hottest part of the day came upon them, Jesus's mates, fatigued with the much-told stories of Jesus, allowed Jesus to fall into a deep sleep.

    As he slept, his mates grabbed some grapes and headed back to Nazareth to hang out in the village square with the young women gathering water in their jugs.

  • One day during Jesus’s fourteenth year, it was late in June, he and his mates sat in the temple listening and learning at all that was said by the preachers and teachers of the day. All the day through, those who listened marveled at these questions, and none was more astonished than Aaron. For more than an hour Aaron youth plied these Jewish teachers with thought-provoking, confounding, and heart-searching questions. By the deft and subtle phrasing of a question he would at one and the same time challenge their teaching and, with tiresome jocosity, suggest his own.

    In the manner of his asking a question there was an appealing combination of buffoonery and wit which endeared him even to those who more or less resented his youthfulness. On this eventful afternoon in the temple, Aaron exhibited that same farcical face to these morose ministers, two of whom swept he and his mates from the temple as the boys enjoyed the mirth of the moment.

    When their day in temple was over, Aaron, Jesus, and their mates, wended their way back to Nazareth. For most of the distance the boys engaged in clownish antics. Jesus paused on the brow of the mount. As he viewed the city spread before him and its temple, he did not weep; he only bowed his head in silent devotion. Again his mates left him on the mount and went to town to talk to the maidens at the well.
  • Jesus had a feeling that all of this slaughtering did not please his father in Heaven, and, as the years passed, his father became more and more desirous of a bloodless Passover. During Jesus's fifteenth year, as the Passover celebration in Nazareth, he began to take himself off to himself, profoundly thinking about the Passover custom of the sacrificial lamb. In his confusion, Jesus's parents were concerned over their son's troubled mind and spirit. They attempted to raise his spirits with witty conversation, through consumption of the fruits of the vine, and through the cunning use of puns. All to no avail; Jesus continued acting strangely throughout the Passover celebration. They were delighted when Passover, er, passed and they made the long, tiring trip back to their home in Nazareth. Mary sighed much during this travel.

    Day by day, Jesus continued to think through the complexities of his problem, of the cultural norms, and how resistant most of the host of people are to change. He frequently reminded his earthly mother that she was interfering with his father's business. Mary was deeply pained by his words and Joseph, again, supported her and reminded her that boys of this age need space, for, lo, they are not fit for human contact.

    Eventually, after having wine, bread, and cheese with his uncles, Jesus realized that most people are quite satisfied with foods of this sort and an idea began to ferment in his mind...
  • In early January of Jesus's 22nd year, as he was considered a robust and foremost young man in Nazareth, the young women highly regarded him, though his family was lower in social standing due to their poverty and unskilled labor. Jesus's spiritual leadership was often ignored by the young women because they highly esteemed his intellect and carpenter's biceps.

    Thus, it was not surprising when a wealthy merchant, Mechel, discovered his daughter Talia confiding her affection for Jesus to her sister Ilana. Mechel forbade Talia from going to the wells around Nazareth without being accompanied by her sister Ilana or her brother Uriel.

    When Mary heard of the rumors of Talia's crush, Mary was overheard to expound Would troubles never cease?!

    To this point, Jesus had not made a preferential move to choose between close relationships with men and women; his mind was far too occupied with brooding about his father in Heaven's plans for him to make much distinction between the genders. Though, upon learning of Talia's constant stalking and talking, Jesus knew he must explain to her that he was not free to enter into a dedicated relationship at that point in his life.

    By February the talk was all over town that Jesus had spurned the wealthy Mechel's daughter. Jesus was abashed and managed to take tea with Talia in the town square while her brothers accompanied them. Carrying sticks.

    Before long Talia tired of Jesus's brooding and constant talk of a higher purpose and became more interested in Jesus's brother James.
    Day by day his youthful mind was still swarming with perplexities and beset by a host of unanswered questions and unsolved problems.

Just goofing around...
I thought my son John was going to write me some bits like this
but he never did and the idea was funny to me.
I know he would have made you laugh.  ๐Ÿ˜‰

* The kernel of some ideas come from here.

I probably shouldn't have posted this one. 

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