Category Archives: Personal

A Dog’s Tale

A Dog's Tail (DLG)

A Dog’s Tail (DLG)

Fleeing the heat and power outage in Washington DC, we threw our belongings into the car, and headed north to our lake-side cottage in the New Jersey Highlands. Although we arrived late at night, I knew my whereabouts, so familiar were the smells of the forest and the croaking of the frogs. All night long I paced from window to window, anticipating what the morning would bring.

At long last, the sun peeked over Sparta Mountain, slowly encroaching on the dark. I watched as it mounted higher and higher in the sky, casting a delicate glow across the lake. This was my cue. Out the door I raced to meet up with my friends Atticus and Lucy, who live next door, on the far side of the cove in the house on the hill.

But, whoa, what should I encounter there instead–a junior black bear meandering down to the water’s edge in search of a cool drink. Although I am part Plott Hound, bred to hunt bear and wild boar, I grasped the opportunity to retreat upon hearing my Mistress’s entreating call. The bear appeared to welcome the intervention as well, as he sauntered, as if he had no cares in the world, back the way he had come.

Sauntering Bears (courtesy of Wally Wentink)

Sauntering Bears (courtesy of Wally Wentink)

With safe passage assured, I scooted up the hill, there to be greeted by my friends, Atticus and Lucy. Atticus is a handsome dude, with enough character and charm to land him a spot in a Walt Disney movie. Lucy is much more reticent, but her urge to play overcomes her shyness. Rescued from the same part of North Carolina that I was, she is my look-a-like from head to toe.

my look-a-like Lucy (DLG)

my look-a-like Lucy (DLG)

That’s just the beginning of my day.

Atticus a Cool Dude

Atticus a Cool Dude

Life, here, is so full, it seems that the days of summer are flying by. Just imagine my routine.After breakfast, I accompany my Master and Mistress on their daily walk to the end of the road, where I encounter my other friend, the English Retriever Martha (Mudwallow)–so named because she loves to wallow in the mud.

martha and me (DLG)

martha and me (DLG)

Eager to play, Martha brings me a stick, which we snatch from one another as we race together down the road. Then, back home, we play a game of peek-a-boo, each of us trying to surprise the other as we sneak around and around the car. Then, to cool off, we dive into the lake, where we swim and nose around in the shallows.

Blossom's water games

Blossom’s water games

Later in the day I might romp again with Atticus and Lucy, as they take off into the woods in hot pursuit of the local critters of which there are a number– few–bears, coyotes, deer, chipmunk, otter, ground hogs, and a stray cat or two. When the dogs aren’t around, I play with the children. who are most accommodating. Sometimes we pretend we are pirates aboard a ship (a large fallen tree) lodged in the cove. Other times, I swim along as they paddle out to the island, where they play other delightful fantasy games.

Tired Dog (DLG)

Tired Dog (DLG)

By evening time, I am all tuckered out. As a finale, I enjoy the snacks during cocktail hour, and try to make out the grownup conversations, but then, as the the witching hour arrives, and the sky turns pink, I can do no more. As I succumb to the call of the katydids and the trumpeting of the frogs. I close my eyes and happily remind myself that I live the life of a dog.

Republicans in Wonderland

Alice_in_Wonderland  (Wikipedia)

Alice_in_Wonderland (Wikipedia)

Following the Republican Primary I feel that I am, much like Alice in Wonderland, trapped in a fantasy world full of bizarre happenings, none of which make any sense. “Curiouser and curiouser” is all I can say!

Like the unpleasant characters that Alice encounters along her way, the Republican candidates appear consumed by their own sense of importance. They contort their appearances, much like the Cheshire Cat, as they obfuscate and twist facts to suit the audience of the day. As Alice said to herself: “[They] look good natured, but [they] have very long claws and a great many teeth.” So behind the masks, Ron Paul the libertarian glad-hander is an angry bigot; Mitt Romney the conservative businessman is a closet social engineer; Gingrich the intellectual genius is unable to tell the truth; and Rick Perry the Christian preacher has forgotten about the word Love. Clearly, the candidates must have met the Duchess along the campaign trail, and taken her advice when she said:

Cheshire Cat (Disney)

Cheshire Cat (Disney)

Be what you would seem to be, or if you would like it put more simply–Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would appeared to have them to be otherwise.

Now then, how do we know where the truth lies? Certainly not by whose winning and losing. For just as Alice, upon drinking the potions and eating the mushrooms and cakes, vacillated abruptly from being ten feet tall to two inches small, so too the candidates, when imbibing the nectar of success, have had their sudden ups and downs.

The Queen of Hearts has the solution. A caucus, or better still a trial, she said. On the condition that there be no judges, Gingrich concurred. Quoting the Fury’s invitation to the mouse, he proposed:

Let us both go to law; I will prosecute YOU. . .Come I will take no denial; We must have

I'll be judge I'll be jury

I'll be judge I'll be jury

a trial; For this morning I’ve nothing to do.’ Said the mouse to the cur, Such a trial, dear Sir, With no jury or judge would be wasting our breath.’ ‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury, Said cunning old Fury: ‘I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.’

Such nonsense can be very irritating, indeed. Like Alice I hope to wake up soon from this bad dream. Fortunately, Alice shows us the way out. Reaching the limits of her patience, Alice regains her true size and stature, and then, standing tall, she speaks the truth to absurdity.

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None (moviesinbw.blogspot.com)

And Then There Were None (moviesinbw.blogspot.com)

Seven years my senior, my sister Judy was a role model for me. I loved just hanging around her. When she took up French, I tried to learn too. Her library books became my reading list. And when she starred in high school plays, I was her ardent fan, learning lines as she practiced them.

Most memorable of these was Agatha Cristy‘s play, And Then There Were None. (Known at the time by its politically incorrect title, Ten Little Indians.) Today, as I follow the Republican primaries, I am reminded of this marvelous mystery. For each day’s news events are every bit as suspenseful, dramatic, and unpredictable as those in Christy’s 1939 ‘who done it.’

The play’s plot centers around the mysterious deaths of 10 unrelated people who find themselves alone together on Soldier Island from which there is no escape. One by one, each is murdered, presumably at the hand of one among them, and in a sequence that mirrors the poem Ten Little Soldier Boys.

ten_little_indians_1965 (movie poster/ sharetv.org)

ten_little_indians_1965 (movie poster/ sharetv.org)

The tension mounts as each suspects the murderer to be among the others. The mystery remains unsolved as the last two visitors to the island suffer the same fate–and then there were none.

This puzzling chain of events is finally unravelled in an epilogue, thanks to the inspector who arrives on the island and pieces the clues together. It is not for me to spoil the story by recounting the elaborate explanation; as in any mystery, readers’ enjoyment comes from sorting it out for themselves. But I will take the opportunity of recalling Agatha Christy’s play to apply the Soldier Boy poem as a means of extrapolating about the totally unprecedented sequence of events and surreal atmosphere associated with the Republican Primary.

Ten Republican Candidates Seeking the Presidency.

republican debate

republican debate

Ten Republic candidates standing in a line. Palin can’t commit, and then there were nine.

Nine presidential candidates starting at the gate. Perry forgets his script, and then there were eight.

Eight presidential candidates called upon by Heaven. Pawlenty is uninspiring, and so there were seven.

Seven presidential candidates performing all their tricks, Bachman failed her civics lesson, then there were six.

Six presidential candidates trying to stay alive, Huntsman was so principled the number dropped to five.

Five presidential candidates seeking an encore, Paul couldn’t get on stage and so there were four.

Four presidential candidates making policy, Cain’s diversionary tactics puts the number at three.

Three presidential candidates set on wooing you, Santorum doesn’t stand out, oops its now just two.

Mitt and Newt battle it out, just as in the play, when they are eliminated, Obama will have his day!

Introducing Blossom

blossom

blossom

We have a new dog! Her name is Blossom. She is as beautiful as a flower, but looks can deceive. It didn’t take long for us to deduce that Blossom is a Hound in Lab’s clothing, perhaps even a Plott–the so called ninja fighter of the dog world. I got my first inkling, when I noticed that the growth of her head was not keeping pace with the fluid folds draping around her neck. Each day, new evidence pointed to the same conclusion. How does that song go: You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, crying all the time.

Not that hounds aren’t wonderful dogs. Like Labs, they are extremely smart, and make loving pets. They are known for their high energy, playfulness, and affectionate natures. Understandably, they are recommended for active, young adults, especially those who live in rural areas. The problem–or should I say challenge–is that they are strong willed and thus difficult to socialize, taking up to two years in some cases. And we have only just begun!.

They are strong willed and difficult to socialize. And we have only just begun!

Born in a shelter, Blossom was rescued and “hand” raised by my daughter-in-law Haley, who brought her to live with us when Blossom was eight weeks old. To prepare for the event, we purchased a number of puppy books, especially those by dog wisperer, Cesar Milan. His approach reminds me of Blumer‘s symbolic interactionism. According to Cesar, dog training is all about appropriate two-way communications. Owners need to understand the dog’s frame of reference, and communicate their expectations based on the dog’s interpretation of its world. At the same time, dogs need to correctly assess their owner’s needs based on the cues they observe. Alas, in the case of Blossom, I think the cards are stacked against me; for she understands me, and can manipulate me, far better than I understand and manipulate her. Thus, for example, when bored, and craving attention, all she needs to do is to scout out my prize possessions and with a self-satisfied swagger parade them directly in front of me. Even as she provokes, she is adorable.

Blossom: The Easy Life

Blossom: The Easy Life

Picking up the stray pieces of my surroundings, I reassure myself, saying that, determined as Blossom is to have her own way, time is on my side. With each interaction, we are constructing and expanding our mutual understanding and, with it, a space where we can share a rich and rewarding future together. I remind myself, two years isn’t so long. Already, its three steps forward, and only one back. Tomorrow it will be four.

The Scenic Route

The Scenic Route (lemoyne.edu)

The Scenic Route (lemoyne.edu)

Would you believe it? After ten years teaching at Georgetown University, I got lost, yesterday, on my way to graduation. For some, being lost is not a major issue. Not so for me! Suffering from a mild form of dyslexia, getting lost instills in me a momentary sense of panic, as well as embarrassment, even at my stage in life. It is only recently, and with hindsight, that I have come to view the architecture of my brain in a new, and more positive, light. Now I realize that, while others, with more disciplined brains, may go straight to the quick, I meander along the scenic route, gaining serendipitous insights and experiences along the way. Graduation day was a reminder for me.

Let me say first that it is very easy to get lost on the Georgetown campus, especially if one veers off the beaten path. For, as the photograph below shows, the university buildings are nested on a hill, so that each appears to sit atop the others, as in a honey comb. In between, there are many nooks and crannies, connected by long staircases, which appear seemingly out of nowhere. When joined, they form a very elaborate maze. In such a 3-D environment, negotiating the landscape requires spacial skills as well as a good topographical map. Neither were at my disposal on graduation day.

Georgetown University (courtesy planetware.com)

Georgetown University (courtesy planetware.com)

Graduation has always been a rather straightforward, well scripted event. Absent rain, it has traditionally taken place right in the middle of the campus, in front of the main hall. This year, however, it took a different form; instead of one ceremony, in which both Masters and Doctors walked across the stage to the accolades of all, there were now two. The first, which celebrated the PhDs, took place as usual on the main campus, while the second set of ceremonies, featuring the Masters candidates, was distributed, according to degree, in different locations throughout the campus.

It was on the way to the ceremony for the Communication, Culture and Technology Program that I lost my way. The event took place in a large tent, situated on one of the terraced areas at the bottom of a long staircase. Locating it was problematic–at least for me. According to our instructions, we were to find the spot by following the faculty procession as it exited the main campus. However, even though the faculty members were clad in an array of brightly colored robes, within moments their two continuous lines dissipated, and blended into the crowd. Not knowing where to go, or how to get there, I meandered around asking directions, but to no avail. At last, I found a sign pointing to the disabled route, which–under the circumstances–seemed quite appropriate for me. Following the sign, I entered a main building where some very helpful people, although unfamiliar with the site, were able to trace out my destination on a map, and set me on the right course.

So it was that I arrived at the second graduation ceremony, and in time. The effort was well worth it. Not only was I delighted to see all of my students pass in front of me across the stage; I also relished the comments of the speaker, Ed Seidel, Assistant Director at the National Science Foundation, who talked about complexity, and the future challenge that it presents for our brains! According to Seidel, in the future scholars will be overwhelmed by so much data that they can only make sense of it with the help of computational tools, and–as importantly–the collaborations of multiple scholars from widely diverse disciplines. As he said, solving the problems of tomorrow will require a community.

(courtesy of causesdyslexia.net)

(courtesy of causesdyslexia.net)

At this point a light went off in my head. In such an environment, people who are somewhat dyslexic may be at a considerable advantage in addressing future issues. For, their brains do not simplify. To the contrary, the pathways that a dyslexic brain follows are highly complex. Moreover, the dyslexic brain actually resembles a collaborative community, such as that described by Seidel. Working up to four times as hard as normal brains, its neurons interact and share information across a myriad of sources, creating in the process a holistic and, therefore, more realistic picture of the world. For those of us who follow circuitous routes such as these, the key is not to get too caught up in the scenery.

Letting Go. . . .

Letting Go (Courtesy of Bisayan Lady)

Letting Go (Courtesy of Bisayan Lady)

The long hiatus in my blog postings is due, in part, to the difficulty I have been having letting go. It has now been more than two months, since Sparky– my dearest friend, and occasional collaborator–passed away. When he wasn’t commandeering my blog, he was there on my shoulder, helping me to see the world in a different way. The time has come to say goodbye.

Sparky, or Spartacus as he was formally called, was a blessing in more ways than one. A gift from my student Mridulika Menon, Sparky was intended to help assuage my loss of his predecessor, a black lab-shepherd suitably named Diablo. We browsed the dog pictures in all the nearby shelters, but my husband Brock was unable to choose one from among the many to be left behind. Let’s just wait until a dog shows up on our door step, he resolved. And, much to my suprise, on the very next day, that’s precisely what Sparky did! There in my office door was Mridulika, cradling an ink-black puppy, which she had purchased on the streets of Georgetown. I was on my way to George Washington Hospital to pick up my husband, who was undergoing a minor medical procedure. Just before leaving, I called and asked the nurse to tell my husband that Spartacus would be accompanying me.

one smart dog

one smart dog

Sparky was not only intelligent, he had a special gift of empathy. No doubt he was sensitized to other people’s feelings and emotions early in life, for a year after he came to live with us, my husband was stricken with multiple myeloma, then thought to be an incurable cancer. Overcome with fear, I turned to Sparky and held him fast, absorbing his massive strength and fortitude. Years later, he was still there, his head in my lap, at the first sign of a tear. On his last day, the day I had to put him down, I struggled to hide my feelings. My greatest fear was that Sparky would sense my grief, and try to comfort me.

Grand Old Boy

Grand Old Boy

It was Spring Vacation, so I was able to stay home by myself, reliving and savoring my shared times with Sparky. Already I missed him so. As often happens with me, I found comfort in a book, a rather unusual and, I should add, controversial one at that.

Written by the physicist Evan Harris Walker, the book was entitled The Physics of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind and the Meaning of Life. Building on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the entanglement phenomenon–or as Einstein described it “spooky at a distance'”–the concept of state vector collapse, as well as quantum tunneling, Walker contends that reality is non material; to the contrary, it is subjective–that is to say dependent upon the consciousness of a quantum observer. In individuals, this consciousness is the product of quantum tunneling, which is carried out among the synapses within the brain. As importantly, given the entanglement of the quantum world, and the irrelevance of time and space, consciousness must also be nonlocal, and therefore conceived of as a whole. When, according to Walker, we view it this way, we encounter God.

Having to negotiate myself through the scientific concepts inherent in Walker’s argument might have distracted me from my pain. However, I stayed on track by following the thread throughout Walker’s narrative that I shared with him: the whys and wherefores of life and death. As a backdrop to his major theme, Walker describes his quest to discover the meaning of his adolescent girlfriend’s death more than a half of a century ago. His account, in the context of his major argument, provided a great insight to me. I could reconnect with Sparky by employing my consciousness (skeptics might say imagination) to observe him wherever he might be. So, for the next few weeks, there he lay–a slightly unfocused mass of pixels–at the foot of my bed. It was not long, however, before he let me know that it was time for me to let him go. And so I did.

The Dark is Rising

Complete Lunar Eclipse (NASA)

Complete Lunar Eclipse (NASA)

It may seem curious to entitle a blog, “The Dark is Rising,” just a day after the Winter Solstice, when I experienced a phenomenal lunar eclipse. Nevertheless, remembrances of the children’s book, bearing the same name, and written by Susan Cooper, keeps seeping into my conscious mind. It is a book that I read to my son Stephen, one Christmas long ago, when he was confined to my mother’s living room couch, while recovering from a nasty bout with pneumonia. My mother cooked and did her art work, while I read; no matter, we were both engrossed, almost as much as Steve. Given recent events, I realize that the story line of the second book in Cooper’s five part series–appropriately entitled The Dark is Rising–is very timely; there are, in fact, a number of eerie parallels.

the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil

Writing in the tradition of J. R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, Cooper employs mythical symbols and tropes to depict the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil. Time shifts and magic play important roles as well. In the story, the protagonist, young Will Stanton, discovers on the morning of his eleventh birthday, which occurs evocatively on Midwinter’s Eve, that he is the last of the Old Ones–people who, having been granted supernatural powers, have used them across the centuries, to push back the dark.

Will’s entry into this realm is full of foreboding. He is destined to be a seeker. To do his part, Will must collect six sacred, ornamental signs, which, when joined, will defy the Dark. A looming atmosphere accompanies Will throughout his journey: for the forces of the Dark make themselves ever present in the guise of a tremendous chill and snow storm that paralyzes the town; birds attacking from the sky; a wandering madman called the Walker, lurking behind every corner, and the Rider, who, appearing dressed in black and riding a large black stallion, personifies evil. Fortunately, Will is rescued from these encounters by a host of Old Ones–some from many centuries ago–who share his mission on behalf of the Light.

First New York snow of 2011: Nolita from Dan Nguyen NY

First New York snow of 2011: Nolita from Dan Nguyen NY

Now, let’s consider this Christmas season. As in the time of Will’s brush with the Dark, these past few weeks have yielded some unusually tempestuous weather, with torrential rains in California and Australia, causing life-threatening mudslides and floods, not to mention snowy blizzards carpeting most of the East Coast. We must take notice, too, of the birds falling from the sky, and the dead fish washed ashore? More troubling still is the political climate of hatred exacerbated by media pundits and right wing politicians, such as Sarah Palin, who seek private gain at the expense of humanity. As we have seen in Arizona, the consequences can be catastrophic. What accounts for all of this? If you look at the Homeland Security report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, you can only conclude that THE DARK IS RISING.

Today, there are no Old Ones, as in the myths bygone. But some of us are “old” in the sense that we have lived through more civic–even if stress ridden–times, times when people reached out with a hand, and not with a gun. Like the Old Ones of the past, perhaps we need to work together to hold back the Dark, reconstructing a narrative based on trust and caring. As the neurobiologist Dr. Douglas Fields has demonstrated in his research, our brains are the product of our environments. Hence, those of us who grew up in better times can play our parts by reconstructing and retelling the magic inherent in our memories.

Getting Back to Speed~~The Road to Recovery

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary 058 from Michael Dawes

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary 058 from Michael Dawes

It’s commonplace to note the ups and downs in life. As they say in Spanish: la palma sube, y el coco baja. And yet, when we find ourselves at our own nadir, or in the midst of a deep recession, we often despair. The way back up seems so steep, and the recovery so slow. Worse yet, to garner hope, and seek a way out, we need someone, or something, to blame.

As I read the news each morning, searching for the slightest positive signs, I too am discouraged, but not so much by the slow pace of economic growth, or even by the slanderous attacks made against President Obama. Far more disheartening to me are the pontificating pundits,’ who, once having heralded Obama’s ascendence, are now unrelenting in their criticisms of him for failing to get it right.

Economic indicator from jakekrohn

Economic indicator from jakekrohn

One need only consider Elenor Clift’s recent piece in Newsweek, “The Problem With the Cult of Obama: Halfhearted Soul-Searching at the White House,” in which she calls upon the President to reinvent himself in accordance with voters’ aspirations. As the Jungian analyst Lawrence Staples, author of the book, Guilt With A Twist: The Promethean Way, might point out in response, winning praise–or an election, for that matter–is not the best measure of success. After all, Prometheus outraged the Gods when he stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals, but, in so doing, he greatly enriched humankind.
promethea.org

promethea.org

In like fashion, the Democrats poor election results might not reflect Obama’s inability to track the pulse of the American people, but rather his willingness to nonetheless take a risk, and diverge from the game of politics, in order to achieve what he believes to be overriding societal goals. (See, for such an argument, Ari Emanuel, “Forget the Carter Comparison: Obama is Following in the Footsteps of Harry Truman–and That’s a Very Good Thing.)

Turning the pundits’ criticism back upon themselves, one might ask: What have you done lately to stimulate recovery? To be sure, negativism is not the answer. Think about recovery from disease. Do you blame the sick person; do you lash out against God? These are self-defeating strategies. I know from personal experience, having been caregiver to my husband, Brock Evans, as he successfully battled stage 3a multiple myeloma. Most unhelpful were the doctors who slinked along his bedside, rolling their eyes behind his back, and cautioning him that “people in his condition don’t do very well.” On the other hand, what made all the difference in the world–that is to say, in addition to his own courage and fighting spirit– were the mailbags from well wishers reaffirming their love and cheering him on. One turning point came when he received a song, written for him by Carol King, appealing to him to “Hold On, Hold On.” It went like this:

You ask yourself the question
What am I going to do
How can I go on when life has let me down
You know it won’t be easy
But time will take you through
You can find your courage in the love inside of you

Hold on, Hold on . . .

So, as in the words of Hal David, it would seem that “What The World Needs Now, is Love Sweet Love, “ or, at the very least, some very enthusiastic cheerleaders.

Gone Fishing

Tom Sawyer (courtesy of kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com)

Tom Sawyer (courtesy of kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com)

My blog has been so dormant over the summer, one might wonder where I have been. To borrow a term from Tom Sawyer, I would simply say that, this summer, “I went fishing.”

The place was our family’s summer cottage on Hawthorne Lake, a community in the New Jersey Highlands established by my great grandfather, H.P Dillistin, together with his friends and relatives. Dating back, in fact, to Mark Twain’s days, it shares much in common with St. Petersburg, Mississippi, the town along the river where Tom Sawyer had his adventures.

Grandaddy Dillistin

Grandaddy Dillistin

Like the people in St. Petersburg, Mississippi, we have lived together in close proximity for over five generations, experiencing good and bad times, intermarrying, sharing common lore, befriending and sometimes feuding with one another, as in one big, extended family.

My own recollections of Hawthorne Lake are very vivid, dating back to the Second World War, when we spent the summers together with the wives and children of my parents’ male friends who were off at the front. So sparsely populated was the Lake at the time, we shared the waterfront with deer, beavers, muskrats and otters. And we children were much like Tom Sawyer and his friends, preoccupied with the adventures of exploring, frog hunting, cooking mud pies, turtle trapping, and looking for hidden treasures, totally oblivious to the raging events around us.

As in Tom’s case, one special past time was fishing; for the lake is home to many good fish–bass, pickerel, perch, and the sunnies that nip at you as you dip your toes in the water. As a young girl, I often accompanied my father fishing, rowing the boat as he wound reel and cast his line. It was a way of sharing with him, drawing him out, and perhaps getting hints about what was really going on in the world beyond the Lake. But my father was reserved with his children, and said little, as he waited for the fish to bite. I sat there patiently, watching the ripples wrap around the oars of the boat. But–not liking to eat fish, much less to skin them–I secretly hoped the fish would not take the bait.

No wonder I have come to believe that fishing is not so much about catching fish, as it is about capturing our thoughts and our daydreams as they float on by. So this summer, even though I was not sitting on the river banks, as Tom was inclined to do, I was fishing for ideas as I sat with my husband, in our wicker chairs, on our screened in porch, observing the world around me. Energized by LIFE, I am–as we used to say–now ready to roll.