The Year Came In; The Year Went Out

http://www.amazon.com/Tears-My-Mother-Rashbaum-Burt/dp/145020399X

The year 2017 started for me in Japan. I read on my Kindle during the long flights and the first book of my year was Burt Rashbaum’s Tears for my Mother. It is a vividly graphic account of a family struggling with their mother’s encroaching dementia. Alzheimer’s remains a dreaded word for many families. It spares no group the horrors of mind disintegration.

Rashbaum’s account was deeply personal. The characters were patterned after some in his own family. He tapped vividly into the reality of what it could be like to watch your own self slipping away. Significantly for me, the author is part of my own family, the Jewish cousin who married into one side of my husband’s family. I enjoyed a few days in this cousin’s Nederland, Colorado home last summer, rewarding myself with a writing retreat in the artsy mountain community.  Before I left, Burt and I had swapped books and I came home with another novel of his, the 2015 release of The Ones That I Know.

http://www.amazon.com/Ones-That-I-Know/dp/1511961716

Like Tears, this story is based significantly on events in Rashbaum’s life. One of the characters resembles him a great deal, and another resembles his wife. Through the pages of this book, I again found myself immersed in post-holocaust Jewish reality, which unless you’ve been there is hard to imagine. It tells the story of a group of neighborhood friends, who grew up together in NYC and lost touch as adults. They reunite when one of them publishes a book about their youthful adventures. The book examines how connections of family and friends possibly go beyond the grave and revisit the same group in a fresh incarnation. It explores life’s purpose, as well as its challenges. It is a snapshot view of a variety of contemporary issues that have a basis in historical drama.

At the end, after reading these books, I felt I knew and loved my newly found cousins much better.

The year 2017 was ushered in for me by Rashbaum’s novel Tears for my Mother. It is fitting to conclude this book journey series with The Ones That I Know. Through my reading adventures in 2017, I felt my family expand. My circle of friends has grown as well, and that’s no small matter in today’s uncertain world. We hear much about alternative facts, conspiracy theories, rigged elections, international threats and climate change. The news media is under fire. Our courts are being stacked by extremists. Our constitution itself is on shaky ground. If one thing is clear, I believe that “the ones that I know” have something to say. As long as our constitution stands we need to exercise our right to write, to share our thoughts and ideas, our hopes and dreams, our memories and fears.

Americans consider free speech to be a birthright. It is guaranteed by the first amendment. Free speech serves to hold the powerful accountable and for that reason we must defend it fiercely. Our freedoms and rights will exist only as long as we keep using them.

For all my writing friends and cousins scattered across the country—“the ones that I know”—I say, “Write on!” And may the force be with us all.

For those quiet moments of life: Poetry!

There’s nothing like a book of poetry to offer nuggets for your mind during quiet moments. Kansas is home to many gifted poets. I admire their skill in selection of the perfect words. Weaving those words into meaningful verse is a talent I don’t claim.

I have discovered poets who write for almost any occasion. There are those who have written light verse that can make me chuckle. (Max Yoho.) Others possess the vision of a trained photographer and the knack for painting word pictures. (Roy Beckemeyer) There are those who can analyze life and offer its lessons in verse (Ronda Miller), those who search history for clues to the future (Duane Johnson), and those skilled at sharing life in fresh language (April Pameticky).

There is a certain technique to proper reading of poetry. I’m still learning, but here’s what I suggest.

How to read poetry. . .

Find a quiet corner.

Choose a random poem.

Read, perhaps aloud.

                                        Speculate.

                                                  Visualize.

                                                            Empathize.

        Internalize.

Read the verse again.

Contemplate.

Illustrate.

Relate.

     Appreciate.

 

Hats off to the poets of Kansas.

 

Up next to conclude my book journey of 2017: Burt Rashbaum

the december project by Sara Davidson

http://www.amazon.com/December-Project-Extraordinary-Skeptical-Confront-ebook/dp/B00DB3D348

Sara Davidson’s the december project is a  treatise on how to navigate the December of life and “not freak out about dying”. It is a joint endeavor by Davidson and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, wherein “An extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery.”

Having the distinct privilege to meet some cousins of my husband’s during the summer of 2016, I came home with the realization that there are Jewish people in my own family. Not only that, but Jewish writers and kindred souls who appreciate the counter-culture of my youth more deeply than I do myself. And, though I do not personally know Reb Zalman, my cousins do. That made the book intensely more personal. Cousin Burt explained, “Reb Zalman was the closest I’ve ever come to meeting/knowing a true ‘holy man.’ It seemed every breath he took, and every word he spoke, was holy.”

Returning home from our 2016 visit with some reading recommendations from cousin Sharon, it was early 2017 before I got around to reading them. the december project was one of those books.

I was enthralled with Rabbi Zalman’s story. He had escaped the Nazis in Europe during the Holocaust years, and struggled with his faith upon arrival in his new country, America. Years later, after personal audience with the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton, among other notable events, he became a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement.

I read the book because my cousin recommended it, and because I figured I was on the verge of my own life’s December phase. The book concludes with several exercises to help folks prepare for their check out. I found many of them to be good tips for any stage of life. Among them:

Begin each day with a thankful heart. Give thanks often.

Practice forgiveness. Forgive others who have wronged you. Ask forgiveness for your own mistakes. And perhaps the toughest, Learn to forgive yourself.

Review your life. Explore your purpose. Claim the life that is yet yours to live. What is urgent and needs to be done before you feel complete?

And one that speaks to my introvert’s craving for personal space: Make friends with solitude. Create an inner sanctuary—a place to go where you can feel the spark of the divine within you.

Solitude and sanctuary are concepts that are fast becoming archaic among the younger generations. Yet, I crave the space to find myself. And I wonder, if we can’t stand to be alone with our own selves, how can we expect others to find solace in our company? We came into this world alone, and most certainly we will leave it in a solitary experience as well. Get to know and love yourself.

 

Up next: About contemplation, or Discovering a few Kansas poets

Books of Inspiration

http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Chaser-Finding-Father-Feet-ebook/dp/B003AVMZAY

To be honest, I didn’t expect to get much from Wisdom Chaser: Finding my Father at 14,000 Feet by Nathan Foster. A loose page labeled “Disclaimer” had been inserted inside. It fell from the book the first time I opened it. I don’t know who wrote the disclaimer, nor how I even came to have the book. One paragraph of the disclaimer stated, “If you are easily offended or would presume that a Christian should never use coarse language—DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.” (Emphasis mine.)

Okay. Why not? Are there truly people so sheltered as to be offended by coarse language? How could a Christian book include such language?

I truly don’t recall any offensive language in the book, just the honest personal struggles of a young man as he strove to find his niche in the shadow of a great father. Some of those struggles resonated with me. I could feel the emotions Nathan described since similar ones had visited my heart at various times.

Turns out, Nathan Foster actually grew up in Wichita—another book with a Kansas connection. However I’ve never personally met either him or his father. His father, Richard Foster, wrote the afterword in the book and affirms his son, Nathan. “Nate’s skills in wilderness survival are exceptional. He has. . .led groups of at-risk teenagers into the wilderness. . .and back again.” Survival in the wilderness is a topic close to my heart.

Some of Nathan Foster’s points resonated with me:

“Pace yourself. Move slowly. Don’t stop.” Good advice as we head into another marathon year of resistance.

“Time, my most valuable possession, is quite possibly my only real possession.” And thus, to share time with another person is quite possibly, “the pinnacle of human sacrifice.”

“Capitalism depends on materialism to survive.”

“Building and cultivating relationships is the most important thing I will ever do.”

Like Foster, I often feel “immobilized by choices.”

And, “Lost potential is the byproduct of every evil in this world.”

Can we begin to measure choices by the extent to which they influence lost potential in ourselves and others?

An inspirational and thought-provoking book, I can recommend Wisdom Chaser by Nathan Foster.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Live-Kevin-Olson-ebook/dp/B00E7V3OTC

Learning to Live With It by Kevin Olson, was another inspirational book that has already been mentioned in an earlier post. (“Considering Heroes” December 7, 2017) I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it again. I am full of admiration for Kevin and others who don’t let the poor hand they’ve been dealt stop them from making a positive impact in this needy world. They are our unsung heroes.

The Moon Butter Route by Max Yoho

http://www.amazon.com/Moon-Butter-Route-Max-Yoho/dp/0970816049

Speaking of comedy, I’ll put in another vote for a historical novel set in prohibition days in southeast Kansas. Topekan Max Yoho spun a good yarn about a boy coming of age during the later years of the prohibition era. The Moon Butter Route follows 12-year-old Wally Gant as he enters his teen years in the 1940’s. His first job was to assist with deliveries for the Strang Dairy, a place that didn’t just deliver milk, but also some of the finest moonshine (Moon Butter) packaged in painted milk bottles.

His adventures amongst the moonshiners and bootleggers—some lovable and some not—follow Wally as he finds love and fortune in a rough part of the state and of history. Told with good humor from Wally’s point-of-view, some of the shenanigans he describes are downright hilarious, which reminds me again how laughter can truly be good medicine for the ills of my soul.

 

Coming next: Books of inspiration

A Flynn McGuin Tall Tale

http://www.amazon.com/Rode-Wigglin-Flynn-McGuin-Memoir-ebook/dp/B074HFKVBC

I Rode for the Wigglin’ W  by L.A. Harder

Early in the year, a soft-spoken gentleman in the Wichita author’s group requested volunteers to test-drive a book he’d finished. I signed up, and promptly got distracted by daily life. The year was half over and I was thoroughly disheartened by the accrued crises before I downloaded a Kindle copy and started reading. I admit, I was dubious about a book titled I Rode for the Wigglin’ W. Some kind of western perhaps? Not exactly my cup-o-tea. But I wanted to support my fellow writer.

It wasn’t long before I wondered why I’d waited so long. Wigglin’ is not just a western, it’s a romantic comedy to boot. Loren Harder (as Flynn McGuin) soon had me laughing out loud—just the lift I needed amongst all the sour news and dire predictions of the year.

I Rode for the Wigglin’ W is good, clean fun, a modern tall-tale that you have to read to understand. I’m not going to give away any of its secrets since I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will say it’s well-written (not a grammatical hiccup anywhere that I recall) and fast-paced. It’s written for folks of my generation, with sentimental clues from our coming-of-age years, but it’s clean enough to share with youngsters. And, it’s hilarious. Thank you, Loren.

 

 

Up next: A “ho-ho” from Max Yoho.

Books to Wake-up and Shake-up, Part II

http://www.amazon.com/American-Fascists-Christian-Right-America-ebook/dp/B000N0WT92

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges

A third book recommended by a friend proved even more horrifying. Written more than a decade ago, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges was more than an eye-opener. Hedges described settings and scenes I’d never dare to experience personally, but they illuminated and explained phenomena I’ve noticed in the growing rigidity and prejudice of many conservative friends and family members. Anyone paying the slightest attention to matters of faith can attest to the truth of his detailed observations.

Today’s most recognized “Christian” community, the right-wing conservatives, are often a far cry from living the teachings of Jesus. When matters of faith fail to uplift and support those most vulnerable among us, but instead attack the differences that make us unique, something has gone very wrong. When those who embrace atheism demonstrate greater generosity and compassion to world inhabitants who are powerless, religion has failed its basic purpose.

A Pascal quote used as the introduction for Hedges’ book put it simply, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

***

None of these wake-up books were written by authors I know personally, nor do they include specific mention of Kansas, but they impacted my personal life and growth in 2017. Each was recommended by vastly different friends and acquaintances. They remain relevant today and I pass them along as worthy books to read.

A comment on an internet article I skimmed recently caught my eye. “For the first time in history, an American president has declared war on the American people.” There are many sides to this complex issue, many concerns. How we respond to the challenge of resisting our leader will determine the course of our future. A logical first step would include defining what America has been in its almost 250 year history, and what America stands for in our own hearts. What would we preserve for the generations to come?

I cherish the beloved words learned in our daily pledge of allegiance when I was a grade school student years ago, a pledge still recited daily in my local schools. The most important thought, and one I think defines what America should be, is its conclusion, “with liberty and justice for all.” We have a long way to go to realize this kind of society, but I cling to the dream these words paint. Liberty and justice for all.

All means “all”.

Not just the 1%. Not white Americans. Not men only. Not only straight people. Not just right-wing Christians.

All means all. And in our diversity, may we find strength.

 

Coming next: COMEDY!!!

Books to Wake-up and Shake-up

http://www.amazon.com/Tyranny-Twenty-Lessons-Twentieth-Century-ebook/dp/B01N4M1BQY

On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder

Early in 2017, I sat in an examine room waiting for a dermatologist to examine a suspicious spot on my nose. To pass the inevitable wait time I had brought along the book I was currently reading. When the doctor finally breezed into the room, I was writing a memorable point from the book in my travel journal. He noticed and he asked about the book. Then he recommended one he’d found of utmost importance, On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder.

I was intrigued, as much by the recommendation of a physician to his first-time patient as anything else. On my return home, I looked it up and ordered a copy. Before the week passed, I had devoured Snyder’s treatise. “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the 20th century,” Snyder wrote in the introduction. “Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”

Using examples from historical incidents within the personal recollection of my elders, Snyder listed steps we should take to stave off a descent into chaos. Among these:

Defend institutions. These include the courts, news outlets, and labor unions. Public schools, libraries and book stores could also make the list.

Beware the one-party state. Become informed. Vote. Run for office yourself.

Be courageous. Stand out. Give courage to others. Set a good example of what America should mean for the sake of coming generations. Hang onto the dream of liberty and justice for all.

On friends: Stay in touch with your neighbors. Make new friends and march with them. Make friends abroad. And keep your passport current.

Defend our language. Refuse to talk like everybody else. Separate yourself from the internet. Read books.

Believe in truth. And search for it. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.

As the events of 2017 accrued, it became clear that we are being led by a tyrant. I recommend Snyder’s book. Read it while it’s still allowed.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Will-Change-Men-Masculinity-Love-ebook/dp/B000FC0Y6S

The Will to Change by bell hooks

Friends recommended other books in my 2017 journey that carried an impact. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks, a black feminist writer, delved deeply into the ills of our society as a paternalistic creation. Traditional roles for women and men thrust upon children at very young ages may have contributed significantly to the simmering rage that fuels white supremism, racism, sexism, and ultimately the climate that leads to mass shootings. Until we can embrace the individual talents of every person, there will be violence in our future. Hooks’ study helped frame much of the tragic headliners of 2017 into a new perspective with increased understanding about how frustrated paternalistic roles have impacted events. We collectively need the will to change our ancient traditions of male dominance into an affirmation of every person’s unique gifts.

Wake-up and Shake-up To be continued. . .

Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

http://www.amazon.com/Ike-McCarthy-Eisenhowers-Campaign-against-ebook/dp/B01HMXV2KO

Another true historical narrative on my reading list in 2017 was a new release by Simon & Schuster in the early spring. Given the rash of protests regarding the new administration’s reckless policies, there could not have been a more appropriate time for the release of David Nichols’ new study of Eisenhower, Ike and McCarthy.

Having spent time with Nichols talking about writing and sharing family stories, I was humbled to the extreme to read his well-written treatise on the McCarthy years. This infamous time in our history was over shortly before I was born, but the pages of Nichols’ book included names that would become significant players in world politics as I grew up.

What smacked at me most was the uncanny resemblance between McCarthy’s agenda and his tactics, and those of our current president. Most chilling was the realization that Ike, as a rational and intelligent leader, took clandestine steps to prevent a bid to the presidency by unstable extremist Joe McCarthy. In today’s world, the unstable extremist IS our president, and it is yet to be determined how—or even if—his influence will be checked.

We are tumbling into a deep, deep chasm with no end in sight.

Read Ike and McCarthy by David Nichols to gain insight into this repetition of our history.

Up next: Books to Wake-up and Shake-up, Part I.