Friday, May 25, 2012

On My Mind

In my training as a mother, I developed a 20-minute attention span. It was a natural evolution. You know—kids. Something’s liable to happen every 20 minutes.
            The problem was they grew up and eventually flew the nest while I was left behind still locked in my 20-minute attention span. And now I was back in college, trying to read heavy books—not only weighty in girth, but deep in intellectual stuff. I was nearly paralyzed trying to figure out what Heidegger was really saying, when my mind would be seduced by a random thought, leaving me wandering about the hinterland of nothingness. It was awful. I had to do something, but what?
            And then I remembered raising kids. (There were advantages besides the pure joy of it all.) Politeness, taking turns, and waiting did not come with the package at birth. Those attributes had to be learned which meant that someone was training them. Somehow, my kids had all turned out to be polite, respectful, and willing to wait their turn. Was it possible to train my mind like I had the children? It was worth investigating.
So I began to do what my mentor Fernando Flores had recommended. I started observing. Something in my mind was turning off at 20-minute intervals. If when the thought arose, I stopped working on the important task and followed the thought, I’d be completely off purpose and the task I needed to do would be ignored. That wouldn’t work. I had to find another way. 
It seemed that my subconscious mind was doing its thing to catch my attention. Just like the children. They had done the same thing. Often, while I was on the phone or at some important task, they’d come up, grab my sleeve, and say, “Mom. Mom. Mom!”
            All I had to do was turn to them and look them in the eye. “In a minute, I’d say.” And they’d quiet down and wait. Just acknowledging them seemed to satisfy them. Then the moment I was finished with whatever I was doing, it was their turn. Would this work with my mind? Somehow I had to find a way to acknowledge the random thought (crazy as it might be) and go back to my task. I tried several things, unsuccessfully. And then I did the “on my mind” thing on a piece of paper. It’s simple. I put a blank piece of paper on the desk and when a thought arose, I wrote it down and went right back to my reading or writing. When done with the important task, I could either do the "crazy thought thing" or cross it off the list. Took a while for my mind to catch on, but it did. I can now go much longer without being interrupted by my “thinking.” I’ve been on task here for over an hour!
            As an educational therapist, I used this technique in my learning center. The reception never varied. When I’d introduce the idea, the kids always said, “But what if I’m hungry—want a cookie.”
            “Write down, ‘want a cookie.’”
            “Yeah, but what if I have to go to the bathroom.”
            I was undaunted. “Write down, ‘go to bathroom.’ Then go back to the task for at least a minute. You’ve got to train your mind just like you would a bratty kid.”
            They always got it. And it worked.
            To my amazement, I read an article in WIRED 19.07 magazine about feedback loops. Made me feel great. It’s nice to be supported by the smart guys.

Friday, May 18, 2012


When making a quilt, there are always little leftovers, scraps of fabric too small to do anything with, but too colorful to throw away. True also when I’m writing my blog. Here are a few scraps.

I needed a quick centerpiece for my table one day, so I cut some English ivy from my deck and stuck it in a pretty bowl of water.  Added a lovely touch to my setting.
            Several days later, I went to throw it out and noticed roots, tiny delicate white threads already drawing nurture from the water.  I planted it and put it in a sunny window.
            I’ve kept it as an object lesson, a daily reminder to keep putting out roots to draw sustenance from my surroundings whatever they are, to keep living and flourishing like the garden ivy.

His name was Oscar, and he’d come to prepare the yard for grass.  He was from “Salvador” and his English was “small.”  I shrugged my shoulders and told him my Spanish was “pocito.”  He laughed.
            He worked hard for two days, until the soil which hadn’t been tilled for 20 years, was as fine as powder, the seed was sown, and a topping in place.
            When he left, he told me he’d worked hard and traveled long to come to this country, that he had a Green Card, and was going to night school in order to become a citizen.  He pointed to his head.  “America was here since I was small boy.  In here, I can always see America.”
            I wasn’t surprised.  When my granddaughter Chelsea was four, she told me that in New York City she had seen a big, big lady who held a magic light in her hand.  “You can see it all over the world,” she said.  Oscar saw it in El Salvador.


A friend gave me an herb garden and I killed it.  I didn’t mean to, but it died just the same.  I tossed the last plant out today.
            Seems I killed them with kindness—over-watered and over-fed them.  There’s a lesson in there, I just know it, but I’m not going to pursue it today.  There’s a package of butter toffee in the kitchen.  Waste not—want not.


P.S. Kirkus Review has given my book Suicide: Living With the Question a good review. Here’s the link:

Friday, May 11, 2012

This New World

When I was a girl, I regularly looked at my father’s magazines. He was a reader. My favorites were: Liberty, Saturday Evening Post, and Popular Mechanics.  The last was of particular fascination for it showed what we could expect in the future. I vividly remember seeing a picture of cement roadways crossing over one another. It was like something out of Buck Rogers (whom I adored). I wondered if ever I would see such a magical thing.
            One only has to go to any major city today, and there they are, layer upon layer of highway intersecting, crossing, and dividing the city.
            I wish I could go back and see what they predicted for communication. Could they have foreseen cellular phones, Skype, the Internet? When I see the changes in just my lifetime, it boggles my mind to think what is possible for the future.
            It’s a whole new world for me and although I haven’t been in the foremost ship sailing onto these strange new waters, I’ve not been on the shore observing. I sometimes feel like I’m being swept away, and it takes all my energy and smarts to just keep my head above water. I’ve had some concerns about drowning in all this new lingo. But step by step, and with a lot of help from my computer guru and friends, I’m moving right along. (And my Angels in Disguise have been there all along, doing their magic.)
            A friend said I should make a book trailer for my book Suicide: Living With the Question. “But it’s not a movie,” I said. And then I discovered not only movies have trailers for marketing, books do as well. So I did a little research and emailed my family and some friends for ideas. They came through. (Lord love ‘em, they always do.) My grandson Spencer had composed some music he thought would work, so he zipped it to me. My friend Mark had videos I could look at, so I drove to his apartment one Sunday afternoon. And voila! Two hours later I had a book trailer. Magic.
            I want to share it with you. Would love your feedback. I also request that you share it with your networks. I want to market this book as from the responses I get, it seems to bring comfort and valuable information to the reader.
            Here’s the link:
Thanks for being a part of my network. I’m grateful for all you do in the world and I value our relationship.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Call It By Its Name

Small wonder I have trouble calling things by their right name. The definitions keep changing. There’s no consistency. And I’m having difficulty keeping up. When my children were teenagers, they spoke a foreign language that I never caught on to. And now their children and their children’s children speak in tongues that are foreign to me. Will I ever catch up?
I took a bus to the library the other day. (I always feel virtuous when I do that.) As I caught the bus to go home, the driver said to sit way up in the front. “School’s out,” he said. And sure enough, at the next stop, the high school kids boarded, in fact, filled the bus. They were adorable. I doubt they’d appreciate my calling them that, for they were all so grown-up and sophisticated, phones clutched in their hands, ears filed with little earplugs, laughing and chattering away in a language that I couldn’t follow.
I remember when grandson Alec was just two. We had driven to visit my parents, Alec’s great grandparents. He danced for them and sang, “I’m bad, I’m bad.” My mother turned to me and said, “Oh, he’s not bad. He’s sweet.” Laura (Alec’s mom) had to translate.
            It’s always been like that for me. I always have to play catchup. When we lived in Atlanta, my children played in a little stream in the nearby woods. They called it White Pebble Creek. My neighbor called it a crick. When we were transferred to New York, we chose to live in a lovely village in northern New Jersey (called by the Dutch Tenafly). A lovely stream cut through our lot, no longer a creek, or even a crick. Here it was a brook. And then in Mount Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh, in the woods at the back of our lot it wasn’t a creek, a crick, or even a brook. Now it was a run. As I said, there’s no consistency.
            And then there’s the matter of technology. In the early 1950s, my husband brought home our first stereo. It took all of a Saturday to install it, to find exactly the right place for the speakers and for all of us to don a headset and listen to the demo tape. The children were fascinated, their little heads turned from side to side as they listened to a train coming and going.
            “What a wonderful invention,” I cried, as we listened to Poulenc’s Concerto Pour Orgue. The rich sounds filled the house and made me tingle with joy. “How does it do it?”
            My husband patiently took me to the large speaker. “Simple. This is the tweeter and that’s the woofer.”
            I threw my arms about his neck and cooed, “And him’s the sweetest wovewy smart hubby.” So much for technology.
            And lets not even get started with the computer age. Who gets to decide how they name things? Certainly not anyone in my generation. (Although I must confess I love the names these young entrepreneurs come up with. Miso. Fluid. Aglocal. Georgia Chopsticks. So creative.)
            While we lived in Tenafly, our friend “Colie” invited us to his mother’s cottage in the Pocono Mountains for the weekend. There would be four couples. We were delighted. I made arrangements for the baby sitter, packed our bags and we piled into the car. Dick handed me a long piece of paper covered with hand-printed directions. He would drive. I would navigate.
            The instructions were precise. The highway part was easy. And then the instructions said, “TURN RIGHT ON MACADAM ROAD.” I began to look for street signs.
Dick drove the car onto a two-lane tarred road.
“Wait,” I cried. “There’s no street sign. Are you sure this is it?”
Dick nodded. “It’s the only tarred road. They used to call them macadam…”
“Tar!” I interrupted. “Why didn’t he say so?”
            “We’re now in Pennsylvania,” Dick said. “They talk different here.”
            Indeed they did. The instructions continued. “CHEVIE STATION TO RIGHT. 1/4th MILE OLD BARN ON LEFT.”
            “Isn’t this just like a corporate lawyer,” I said. “Every dot and title covered. And here it says GOUNDERSTONE BRIDGE. What on earth is a gounderstone?”
            Dick shrugged. I sputtered and complained. The road turned ahead in a broad sweeping curve and there ahead of us was the stone bridge. We drove under it. “Looks like ordinary stone to me,” I said.
“Maybe it’s native to this part of the country.”
We soon arrived at the cottage. Now I’ve seen cottages, lots of them. They’re small little ramshackle buildings that have been in the family for years, where all the furniture they no longer want ends up, and none of the dishes match. This was no cottage. It was a huge home, had two dishwashers, a walk-in refrigerator, and gleaming bathrooms everywhere. Another new definition for me.
            We all gathered around the large dining room table for dinner. “By the way,” I said. “Where do the grounderstones come from?”
            Colie laughed. “Gounderstones? Where’s you get that?”
I got out the directions and showed him. “See,” I pointed. “GOUNDERSTONE BRIDGE.”
            Carefully, he pointed out his words. “GO UNDER STONE BRIDGE.”
            It was a great joke. Colie must have told everybody for an article appeared in the little local paper telling about the “city lady’s” error. They actually began to call it the Gounderstone Bridge. So much for being the butt of the joke.
When we were transferred from the San Francisco area to Los Angeles, we began another round of house hunting. The street names were lovely. El Sereno, Santa Anita, Hermocita.  All those beautiful Spanish names.  Suddenly we passed a sign:  LA ZOO.
            “La Zoo!” I said. “You’d think they’d call it El Zoo.”
            “Darling,” my husband replied patiently.  “That’s L.A. Zoo.”
            So much for foreign languages.