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NO MORE WORRIES A DAY–BUT WHERE AND HOW TO FIND ME May 15, 2013

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I tried to write this blog for a while, but it never quite felt natural. Instead what I really do with some regularity, is to post thoughts, quotes, updates, events, photos and videos on Facebook– along with my weekly letter to President Obama. If you are a reader of my work, you are welcome to Friend me, –include a note to let me know who you are– and if I run out of the ability to add friends, I’ll create a new Facebook page for fans– there is a name for this kind of Facebook page but I forget what it is! And you are always welcome without going through all that bother to read anything I post for the World to read, which is most of what I post anyway.

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FINDING THE NEEDLE THREADER IN A HAYSTACK February 14, 2012

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Today I set myself a very few goals. Winter does this sometimes. I feel as if I am trying to walk through water– so I take it slowly, one step at a time. One goal was to fix a pair of green cordoroy pants. (I know, inherently unfixable you say.) But first I needed to thread the needle. And, having medium-poor eyesight even with reading glasses, I needed my needle threader which was somewhere– somewhere, I kept assuring myself– in the large sewing basket that used to sit in my mother’s front entry and now sits in mine. Why there, I’ll never know. It’s not as if either of us rush up to our guests and begin sewing on buttons or hemming coats.  I use it less than most things. But there it sits.

First I had to lift out about 17 spools of thread, all of them intermarried and tangled. 50 or 60 buttons, none of them matching. Patches, embroidery skeins, measuring tape too old and stretched out to accurately measure anything. Sharp scissors. Ouch. Those I found. Packets of needles. Snaps. But no needle threader– which, if you have never used one, is one of the handiest things on the face of the earth. I had seen two of them floating around in the sewing basket not long ago. I was sure they were there. I dumped everything out on the sofa and kept rummaging, telling myself, take it easy, they’re in here. I’m easily flustered in winter when snow is fluttering steadily from a white sky.

Then I remembered the old phrase: Faith is belief in things not seen. And that made me laugh, applied to the needle threader. But it also made me relax because I realized that was exactly what was going on here– I had faith in something unseen. I did. It lightened everything. I didn’t have faith that the pants would fix themselves or that my eyes would magically improve. I had faith that I would find the tool I needed. To do the work myself. And in about a calm minute and a half, I did.  Am wearing the green cordoroy pants to prove it.

A WORRY A DAY: The growing gap between the stupids and the brilliants June 13, 2011

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I know there’s been a lot in the news lately about the growing gap between the very wealthy and the very poor. It amazes me that anyone would try to defend that gap as being “good for business,” as I heard reported this morning.

 

What’s bad for humanity is bad for business.

But that remark only highlights, for me, the almost equally disturbing and ever-widening gap between the stupids and the brilliants. Is it just me, or do the smart people seem to be getting exponentially smarter, while the dopes are growing amazingly dopier? I see it in my own classrooms, where one student writes a publishable paper while another dismisses Shakespeare  as “disgraceful” and “unacceptable.”  (Or, as another pompous ass once told me, “I find Shakespeare quite the boor.”) On the one hand you have Francine Prose passionately disputing the notion that women can’t write. On the other hand you have Nobel prize winner V S Naipul, arguably the dullest man who ever lived, contending that all women writers are all “unequal” to him ; critiquing their “sentimentality” and “narrow view of the world”, and slamming Jane Austen for her “sentimental ambitions.”  You have Al Gore and the Prince of Wales trying to save the universe, and Congressman Weiner trying to save his– well, never mind.

This gap occurs in unlikely as well as likely places. I’ve lately encountered brilliant taxi drivers and dim-witted academics; genius eight year olds and computer “geeks” at my local computer store who can’t read the side of a box. It doesn’t matter so much at the micro level, but we see it on the macro level as well, which means that even the people who run the world are evidencing this new and troubling gap.

Where does it start? I don’t know. Possibly we’re putting something in the water. Maybe it’s like the last days of Rome and there’s more lead in our pipes, more poison in our food, more chemicals in our atmosphere. I’d like to see it end. My son, as a child, used to look around him in NYC, the beggars shaking coffee cups full of change in the faces of the Guccied and 18 karat gilded customers. He used to tell me, I want to be just–middle. Not too rich, –but no shaking of the cup, either.

The world will always present us with a few bona fide geniuses, people who seem to have landed from another planet, like Einstein and Mozart and Jane Austen and the “disgraceful” Mr. Shakespeare. A few will be born with genuine intellectual limitations. But I’d like to think that the rest of us can close the gap a little. We might of course start by testing less and teaching more; watching less tv and reading more; talking less and listening more.

 

AN OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR CUOMO March 23, 2011

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  • AN OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR CUOMO: (since I can’t find a way to post it on his Facebook page!)Your cuts to education, and your blaming of teachers for deep-seated societal problems are horrifyingly short sighted. I can agree that superintendent salaries should be lower than yours, since you hold the highest office in the state. I do not agree that we should end the last-hired first-fired system. It is not infallible, of course, but no system ever is. The alternative–  to measure teacher’s BY THE SUCCESS OF STUDENTS ON FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED TESTS– is wrong-headed

  • Come spend a week in a classroom here in New York. My husband is a public middle school teacher– a great and inspiring one. You will see 13 and l4 year olds who can’t afford to buy glasses, who are the family’s designated babysitter, translator, caretaker and cook. You’ll see kids whose only nutritious meals are the ones they get at school. Kids for whom school is a safe place in a dangerous world. But unless we address that dangerous home world, don’t expect the schools to undo all the damage done.

  • The tests you value and in which you place so much stock are fundamentally flawed. For one thing, not every child does well in a  test situation. Humans are individuals, not standard. Worse still, and far more damaging across the board, the ground is leveled for “standardized” testing as it never is in life. Special needs kids, disabled, developmentally delayed kids with IEPs, who gets aids and special accommodations all year long find all of that taken away on test day. How can you be surprised at  high failure rates? The constant barrage of testing sets those kids up for failure. It  strangles the schools trying to help these kids succeed. And then, to add insult to injury,  the schools and teachers are measured by these same tests. It’s NOT No Child Left Behind. It’s No Child Left Untested.

  • Teacher creativity is stifled by these endless  tests– even in second grade!  They must teach to the tests or risk having their competence questioned, risk a “bad report card” in the newspaper, risk all kinds of ramifications. Teachers know so much about education and how to make it work, but too little of that knowledge is ever tapped. Instead you turn– again and again— to standardized tests. There are better ways to measure education. Better ways to foster genuine education. It takes creativity. It takes individuation. It takes smaller classes. It takes resources, and care and it takes time.

  • The educational system is broken, not the teachers. Do you want to understand how public education really works and what it needs? Talk to the teachers. Talk to the kids. Educate yourself, for heaven’s sakes!

  • We keep our daughter in public school because we believe in public education.  I teach at a public university for the same reason, and my husband teaches at a public middle school. We’ve both have had offers to teach at private schools, but we believe in the idea of public education. A great public educational system is the best resource any community can have. Parents understand this. Children and educators do. In Florida, the citizens proved  it by voting in sane and humane laws that every governor since has tried to evade.

  • For the same reason you feel yours should be the highest salary in the state, I’d hope that your belief in NY public education is at least as great as ours. Very sincerely, Liz Rosenberg

 

WORRY A DAY: DAYLIGHT SAVINGS November 6, 2009

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One of my favorite poems is by Steven Bauer, called Daylight Savings, where he talks about having the illusion of time in his pocket as a kid, thinking, “I’ll save it.” But there is no saving it. Instead what we do is twist it like a pretzel.

 

I vaguely remember when Nixon came up with a plan that would make sure little farm kids didn’t stand around at bus stops at five in the morning, in the pitch dark. No one wanted that to happen. Wasn’t that the beginning of this daylight savings plan? Well, first of all, let me admit it’s hard for me to trust anything Nixon did. Second, maybe we shouldn’t be sending our kids to school so early that they are standing in the  dark. Every study shows that children need more sleep than we give them. Teenagers especially, but all kids. Remember when school ran from nine to three? That seemed sort of reasonable. Now I really do know kids who have to be in school by seven, seven thirty. It’s not human. It’s not good for them. And they don’t like it. So if you want to stop kids from standing around in the dark, stop sending them to school before dawn.

Meanwhile, no one I know gets this mythical extra hour of sleep. We go to bed the same time as usual, which means an hour later according to the clock. Then the next day of course we wake up at the usual time, an hour early according to the clock. It takes a week or two to get used to the clock. Meanwhile, darkness drops down like an old crow, earlier and faster than before, like darkness on speed. Who is this good for? It’s bad enough that winter brings shorter days and longer nights. At least let us adjust to it gradually. There’s something vaguely natural in that. I don’t want to fall back. I don’t want to spring forward. I just want to let things alone for awhile. Maybe daylight savings can be one less thing we all need to worry about.

Worry a Day: What’s in a name? We need a new name for cluster headaches September 30, 2009

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Trigeminal cluster headaches are hideous. Ask anyone who’s ever had one. Go to a site like Clustrbusters, just google the words. It’s pretty terrifying.

Since last October I’ve been suffering from these — whatever they are. I’ve been to at least twelve doctors and two hospitals. It’s easily misdiagnosed– as a brain tumor, as MS, s seizures, as trigeminal neuralgia, as migraines. In my case it feels like someone is shooting burning arrows into my head, face and neck, using electrical voltage. If I don’t do anything to stop it (in my case, some medicines help a litle, including verapimil, klonopin, B12, but mostly, exercise in fresh air) I get dizzy, and start to see purple flashes.

The pain is comparable only to labor. It’s all-consuming, it takes your mind away. It lasts anywhere from 20 minutes–if you are lucky and intervene in time– to a few hours. It feels almost mythic, like you offended the gods and they now are punishing you. When it’s over, like labor, you almost forget it ever happened. You can’t quite remember what the pain feels like till the next attack. Then it’s nauseatingly familiar. It responds to no pain killers. Even medicines that work on migraines don’t work on most cluster headaches.

The other nasty fact about clusters is they are so individual to each person. One person might get dizzy. Another might throw up. Some always have it on one side of the body. Some people feel it first in their gut. others get what they call “shadows” in the head. There are dozens of possible treatments. Most of us try several before we find anything that works.

But I am a word person. So one of the things that troubles me most is the lack of language to describe the overwhelming, all-consumingly powerful experience of these events. It feels more like a seizure than a headache. It  feels like you’re dying, like your organs are shutting down. What’s more, in the midst of one, out walking it off at two or three a.m. marching through snow, or sleeping in my car because I can’t bear to breathe in stuffy air or have the people I love watch me in agony– I think, if someone came along right now with a gun and threatened me, I’d probably say, Go ahead and shoot. So we need a name that at least suggests what this feels like.

The other contender– Horton’s Disease– is worse. I picture that adorable Seuss elephant sitting on an egg or hearing a Who. How bad can THAT be? We need a name that sounds like Voldemorte’s Syndrome. Crutiato would be ok. Cluster of course leads one to think of cluster f-cked but that it not printable, and it would be embarrassing, for instance, coming to a concert hall and explaining, I have to sit near the door in case I get cluster f-cked. I have found it easier to say I get seizures and may need to suddenly leave.

I’m throwing the floor open to suggestions. But cluster headaches sounds like a bouquet. It sounds like, at worst, a handful of used tissues. It doesn’t sound like the mysterious, often incurable, hard-to-fathom torture that it is. It only affects a tiny portion of the population. We are the tortured elite. But we deserve a name, anyway, that strikes fear into the listener. Those of us who survive these attacks, sometimes night after night, sometimes 10 or 12 a day for weeks on end, are anything but wimps. If someone asks what’s wrong with me, I’d like them to gasp a little. What they hear instead is “I get a little bunch of headaches.”

I’m hoping someone will come up with a name the medical establishment is willing to use– something we can spell, and pronounce, something accurate and ominous. Any suggestions?

Worry a Day: Why am I agreeing with Republicans? September 25, 2009

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Ok, so let me be honest. Any time I find myself agreeing with Republicans, I worry.

But let’s look at a recent newspaper article about what’s going on in New York State, my home state. (For my worry over the demise of newspapers, see earlier blog .) “The state’s highest court agreed Thursday ro expedite a hearing on whether Gov. David Patterson can legally appoint a lieutenant governor to fill the vacant position.”He wants to appoint Richard Ravitch, a 76 year old who headed the transit authority in NYC, and unsuccessfully tried to broker a deal for major league baseball when the ball players went on strike.

It goes on to say “Senate Republicans have contested the appointment in coiurt and so far judges have ruled against the Democratic governor.”

Let’s back up a minute. Governor Spitzer was thrown out of office for apparently consorting with prostitutes and taking them illegally across state lines. To me, any politician’s private life is private– even when anything but admirable. However, in Spitzer’s case he literally crossed a line. So we ended up stuck with David Paterson.

I didn’t vote for the guy to be my governor. Nobody did. We voted him in as lieutenant governor, which frankly, I spend as much time thinking about as I do  — well it’s hard to think of something I spend less time thinking about. When it comes to Vice President of the US we’re  hammered over and over: it’s just a heartbeat away. That was why, for me, Sarah Palin was more tragic than comic. In history, we’ve all seen too many sad occasions where the VP had to step in and become president. So we do think about it.

I doubt most New Yorkers were thinking, Hmm, I wonder if David Paterson will be a good governor just in case the ever-upright Gov Spitzer turns out to have a thing for hookers. So Paterson fell into that position. So far it seems to me he’s been doing a fairly dismal job. Then again, no one elected him to do this job.

Now Patterson wants to appoint the next guy in line. This would mean New Yorkers would have both a governor AND a lieutenant governor they did not elect to their current positions.

It seems to me the further politics strays from the actual voice of the actual people, the worse off we are. So, no, not only do I think Gov Paterson should not appoint the next guy who could become governor, I  think that we should allow a reasonable period of time to pass, and then hold another gubernatorial election. I think in a democracy, it’s our country, and we should choose our leaders. When in doubt, vote again. We let go of that right back when Gore won the popular presidential election, and the result was an eight year mess.

So here I am, siding with the Republicans. One more little note “Paterson and his private attorneys, hired at taxpayers’ expense, have told the courts that…the governor needs to have the seat occupied.” What’s wrong with that sentence? Not only do we  have a governor we never elected, we get to pay for him to fight in court to appoint the next guy we wouldn’t elect.

NOTE: The court just voted to allow Patterson to make the appointment. And the fun just never stops in NY state.

Worry a Day: The world is too much with us, late & soon September 23, 2009

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Here’s one of my favorite poems from Emily Dickinson. She was famous, of course, for wearing all white, and for locking herself in her room and not coming out even when guests arrived. Fellow poets have argued (persuasively) that far from craziness, this was the deepest kind of canniness on her part. In other words, she knew what she had to do to write her hundreds of peculiar absolutely original & sybil-like poems.

She once told one of her favorite cousins, about locking herself in: “One turn of the knob, Mattie and — freedom!” We think of freedom as unlocking the door and walking out. For Dickinson it was locking it, and staying in.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know. How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

I noticed that if you change one letter at the end there (bog to blog)  it becomes depressingly up-to-date. (“To tell your name the livelong day/ to an admiring blog.)

One of the things I worry about it using up my words.

Worrying about the fate of newspapers June 25, 2009

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I can’t eat breakfast without a newspaper in my hands. Neal Postman in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” commented that any human being who can watch the daily news and continue to eat a sandwich has something deeply wrong with them. But there’s a subtle yet  important difference between watching the news and reading a newspaper– which is exactly why I am praying newspapers survive. For one thing, I can control what news article I read, and I can’t control what’s on the tv.

One reason I stopped checking email at AOL is because I can’t filter out those awful headlines that come along with that overly enthusiastic man announcing You’ve got mail!” as if I should be overjoyed at the latest offer from Victoria’s secret. I can’t stop them from showing me gruesome photos, or telling me who got cut from So You Think You Can Dance when I haven’t gotten around to watching the last taped episode yet.

I still remember that bedeviled woman who drove her car into a lake, drowning her own children in the backseat of her car, hoping to keep some man who had dumped her. I was in a pizza parlor where tvs were mounted on every  wall. I was there eating pizza with my then-five year old son when that little humdinger came on the news. I saw that he understood what he was watching. We both watched in horror the photos of that car in the water. “She drove her kids?” he asked me. “Into the lake?”

“Time to change the channel!” I sang out, and raced over to the nearest screen and blocked it with my body. The damage was done. My kid now knew there were mothers who will kill their own children to get what they want.

I can fold over the page of a newspaper. I can choose.  I can stop when it gets unbearable. But as a life-long addict to words,  I also love the rustle of the paper. Its looseness, like an animal’s ear flopping down, that silky thin-as-an-old-dollar-bill texture, the smell of the ink, the way it rubs off on my hands or whatever I am foolish enough to rest there. I like wrestling the thing and always losing and then viewing the crumpled mess after I have read it, something like the carcass of the Thanksgiving bird. I love the ridiculous thrill I get when I  find a coupon for something I actually intend to buy, like a meal, or a skein of yarn. I feel like I just got away with something.

Let me also admit I always start with the local news. And the business section, even in these g-dawful times, is about as scary as the Food Network. I don’t care about sports, but I’ll read the sports page because nothing bad ever happens there, as far as I’m concerned. I like reading about weather, because it all looks so pretty there on the page, even rain, even clouds. Obituaries depress me, though, the ranks of the dead forever swelling, and those ads that people take out to talk to their dead beloveds just slay me.

I like ads for local businesses, the more amateurish the better. My six year old likes the newspaper because she enjoys the comics, even during the weekdays when it’s all black and white. She never has to see a mother drowning her kids. Just her own mother, happily mauling a neat pile of papers , with one or two rectangles where she’s clipped yet another coupon to hang fluttering on the fridge for years.

Thoreau disliked the news, said he’d never read a word in a newspaper that informed him about anything. “All news,” he wrote, “is gossip.” He also said, “What news! How much more important to know what this is which was never old!” Thoreau was right, of course– he was nearly always right, which somehow doesn’t make him any more endearing. Nonetheless I hope I do not outlive the newspaper. I spend altogether too much time in front of screens, and the only one that ever did me any good is a movie screen— that dream life writ large in the dark. A newspaper is the additive inverse of a movie screen– stark reality’s fine print published in broad day. (I always associate a newspaper with morning.) Somewhere between those two extremes, we live and gather our sense of the world. And I am a creature of my own affections and would like to see them survive.

Worry a Day: Are we too stupid to survive? on gays in the military June 23, 2009

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The Supreme Court refused last Monday to consider a legal challenge to the Pentagon’s bizarre ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy. It worries me that we can still really be this dumb, as a nation.

I don’t see whose business it is, anyway, someone else’s sexuality. But the 1993 law allows the Pentagon to fire anyone in the military who decides TO tell. I agree with former Captain James Pietrangelo who calls this “an absolute travesty of justice” and “rubber stamping legalized discrimination.”

If you follow the logic of the Pentagon here, you have to conclude that there can be no women in the military, either, because the idea is that people are driven so brainless by their own sexuality that they become a danger to themselves and others. Or that there can be no true comradery where there is also sexual attraction. Or that people lose their identity as a group where there is sexual tension.

Sexuality is part of normal adult life. If anything, it makes us sharper, funnier, braver, more alive and alert. The most dysfunctional social groups I know are same-sex heterosexual groups. I’m not talking about an all-women’s book club, I mean for instance all women in a medical office working day after day. Or all guys working on a construction site. You want to see some seriously bizarre behavior, take a look at some grownups who never even get to TALK to anyone of the opposite sex.

There’s a famous scene in The Iliad where Achilles becomes an insane fighting machine to avenge the death of his beloved/friend Patroclus. Or think of the courage of Jonathan and David. If the ancient Greeks and the Bible were smart enough to make these connections, why are we such dunderheads? My husband would fight harder to protect me than almost anyone or anything else on earth. Love does not make us weaker, it makes us stronger. Besides, I don’t believe soldiers whose lives are at stake are worrying about each other’s sexuality.  I don’t think we as civilians can begin to understand the comradery and the bond that exists under such duress.

More than 70% of military personnel say they feel comfortable in the presence of gay personnel. The American public feels about the same.  A poll conducted in May 2005 by the Boston Globe showed 79% of participants having nothing against openly gay people from serving in the military. In a 2008 Washington PostABC News poll, 75% of Americans – including 80% of Democrats, 75% of independents, and 66% of conservatives – said that openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. Even the most conservative groups now favor that idea. A May 27th 2009 Gallup poll showed 69% support across the board. — As with most highly-charged issues, maybe we should just put it to a national referendum & be done with it.

The Clinton presidency was over as soon as he lost the battle over gays in the military. The whole edifice began to sag. You can’t take the moral high ground and then sink it. This is a civil rights issue, and it matters as all civil rights issues profoundly matter. This brings out our secret predjudices about gay and lesbian Americans, our distrust of them, and by extension, of ourselves. Obama is capable of going to the military and working this out. That’s why we elected him Commander in Chief.