The Year of All Things Literary!

4 11 2019

Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.
—Jim Tully

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Spoiler Alert! This is a long post, but worth the read. This is what happens when you don’t do any writing of substance for several months.

This year’s Resolution #3: Write, has been a journey of starts, fits, and fizzles. For various reasons, I have not found a new groove or rhythm. The extent of my literary life has been hosting Literary Los Angeles events, supporting friends in their endeavors, and an occasional blog post, the last one commemorating my birthday in August. With only one more month of 2019 left, I feel as though I could have done better, but I am also not beating myself up about it. Having patience with myself, doing things to keep massaging the writing in one form or another, acknowledging that despite the discouragement, it is in the blood and I have to keep trying. These are baby steps I have been employing in this period of malaise.

I actually finished reading two books so far; a far cry from the 11 I wanted to have read by this point, but better than I’ve done in many years. I used to be a voracious reader, and somewhere, along with the writing, that voracity diminished. Not sure if I will get it back in full, but I do expect to finish reading four books before the end of the year—and reading does wonders to fuel the writing!

My Literary Los Angeles events have been the highlight of my year! Originally published in May of 2018, the CurbedLA blog post of places favored by Los Angeles writers was the inspiration to hosting these events. So, I have gathered as many writer friends as I could over the past 10 months to inhabit these haunts over drinks, dinner, or just a day trippin’ tour!

My first excursion was in January, with my dear friend Laura Rebecca at Langer’s Delicatessen and Restaurant. Despite the city’s reputation of the young, hip, and new, L.A. has lots of historic haunts, and Langer’s, open since 1947, is one of them.

Nora Ephron is one of my favorite writers. She loved Langer’s pastrami sandwich, and even wrote a New Yorker piece about it called “A Sandwich”. I had to see if it was worth the buzz (and the price). I must say, it did not disappoint.

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Hanging with my girl Laura Rebecca, a fellow scribe and Yogi at Langer’s Deli.

Later that month, fellow writer and entrepreneur Cheryl Leutjen joined me on a tour of Joan Didion‘s old house, which is now the Shumei Hollywood Center. Thanks to the docent Annie, I learned a lot more about Joan Didion, and about how the Shumei Center’s work. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and the gardens were blooming and beautiful. The landscaper Junzo told us the story of how he had to pull up the tennis court that was there previously and break up the fallow ground so it could receive water and seed. He also told us his vision for a water tower and some outdoor seating for events. Cheryl was happy to find a potential location for her Natural Muse writing group–win-win! The Center offers some cool classes, so whether it is for one of those, or for the Natural Muse meetup, we will definitely plan to return.

February’s Literary Los Angeles excursion was to the Beverly Hills Hotel, with dear friends and fellow writers Sharon Goldstein, Gail Upp, Matthew Shaffer, and Jeff Payton.

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From left to right: Jeff Payton, yours truly, Matthew Shaffer, Gail Upp, and Sharon Goldstein

The Beverly Hills Hotel oozes with urbane charm, glitz, and storied history. Along with the usual Hollywood celebrities, the iconic hotel often hosted writers such as Fran Leibowitz, Gore Vidal, Eve Babitz, and Brett Easton Ellis.

The Polo Lounge used to be a classic bar, but it had recently been remodeled to a restaurant with a small bar. Our plan was to just hang out at the bar, since a sit-down brunch is $95.00 per person—ain’t nobody got time for that.

Who knew it would be a Sunday of torrential rain, combined with the fact that it was Grammy Sunday; so the place was packed to the rafters. Thankfully the hostess took pity on Sharon, who literally needed to eat for her health, and she got us seated at a cocktail table near the bar.While drinks and appetizers were by no means cheap, it didn’t require the taking out of a small loan that brunch would have. I nibbled on some rare sliders which were quite good, Matthew and Jeff had Polo Garden Gimlets, Sharon had Chips, Salsa, and Guacamole, and Gail had Lox over Gluten free bread, with a spot of caviar. We had some great conversation about movies (we do live in L.A., after all), relationships and weddings, our writing ideas, church music and faith, while watching the well-heeled and the Hollywood elite wend throughout the renowned bar with their various comings and goings.

It was such a hit that we decided we must do it again. Musso & Frank was next on the Literary Los Angeles list, so the plan was to pinch all our pennies and make reservations for sometime in April, after Easter. While not as pricey as the Beverly Hills Hotel, it does require some budgeting—either that, or some sweet advances from book deals—the latter would have been nice….

I was the one who screwed the pooch with the planning. We all had Easter Monday set on our schedules: unfortunately I failed to check the website to see whether Musso & Frank was even open on Monday. It. Was. Not. Womp-Wah. So, we kept the date, but changed the venue to the next place on the list: The Frolic Room!

While Matthew and Jeff could not make it, Sharon, Gail, Laura, and this time Joe (Sharon’s husband and multi-hyphenate: one of them being writer) was able to come along.

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Doing what one does best in the Frolic Room: Drink, and frolic!

The Frolic Room was the regular watering hole of writer Charles Bukowski in the 1970s, while he was cranking out some of his seminal works, Post Office, and Mockingbird Wish Me Luck.

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It started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy in the 1930s. Once Prohibition was repealed, it became a legit bar. In the 1940s, along with the Pantages Theater next door, it was owned by Howard Hughes until 1954. Many stars bellied up to the bar, including Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. It is also infamous for being the last place Elizabeth Short (“The Black Dahlia”) was seen alive before her gruesome murder in 1947.

While every bar in Los Angeles and the surrounding environs seems to be turning into a Gastropub (Lord, spare us from hipsters), The Frolic Room has maintained its divey vibe, and the five of us were happy to drink it in along with Coke, Gin and Tonic, Bloody Mary, and a Martini, while trying to name all the golden-age celebrities in the Al Hirschfeld mural that lines the wall across from the bar.

It turned out to be a busy Summer for all of us, so Musso & Frank would wait a while longer. In the meantime, I celebrated my friend Cheryl Leutjen and her Nautilus award-winning non-fiction book Love Earth Now at a book signing at Zweet Cafe in Eagle Rock, where Cheryl penned a lot of the book! Cheryl read some excerpts from the book, along with fellow author Dr. Davina Kotulski, who she met during one of those Zweet writing jags.

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I think a regular weekly visit to a coffee shop might do me some good in establishing a rhythm; but I haven’t found a haunt in Pasadena that I absolutely adore. Time to start looking, I guess.

I was asked in July to be the guest on a podcast! Lori Bisser, a fellow Yoga instructor and graduate of the New Day Yoga 300-Hour training program from which I also graduated, asked me to share my story of gratitude on her podcast appropriately titled “Gratitude Sandwich”. Whenever she launches it, that will be a link I plan to promote. While not writing, it is storytelling, so it counts toward the writer’s life, and the drive towards word creation.

Musso & Frank finally happened toward the end of August. Matthew was wrapped up in his dance competition tour and also on the cusp of his second book release, Dancing Out of the Closet, so he and Jeff could not join us. It was up to the core fabulous five to eat some old school food in old Hollywood, and boy, did we!

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It was good timing, as Musso & Frank is celebrating 100 years in Hollywood! Very few restaurants in Los Angeles hold that distinction; long-standing restaurants in L.A. are about as ephemeral as a three-book publishing deal.

Opened in 1919 by Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet, Musso & Frank hired French chef Jean Rue to design the menu. Rue would not only launch the kitchen, but would hold it down for 53 years! In 1927, the name partners sold the restaurant to two Italian immigrants named John Mosso and Joseph Carrissimi, and the restaurant is still mostly family owned: Mark Echeverria, the COO, CFO and current proprietor of Musso & Frank happens to be John Mosso’s great-grandson. Talk about a Hollywood story!

From the leather menus, to the dark wood, to the black and white photos of executives, business men, guys and dolls enjoying a martini and a cigar, Musso & Frank has legend dripping from its walls, and wafting through its doors. I had one of their classic Martinis (apparently the best in Los Angeles), along with some exquisitely prepared rare lamb chops. Gail had sweet meats with Brussel sprouts—a dish (the sweetmeats) that is hard to find anywhere. After dinner, even I wanted to break out a cigar or cigarette, and I don’t smoke either one! It was like stepping back to a time where food and atmosphere were a package deal, and your dinner was not only splendidly presented, but prepared with flavor, finesse, and substance. An other-worldly experience that was well worth the price tag.

My annual trek to Chicago for the Columbia College Chicago Alumni Board retreat was in September. I came into town earlier in the week than usual, because we were cutting the ribbon on the college’s first-ever Student Center, so two days of events were planned ahead of the weekend board activities. One was a VIP reception for the Board, Trustees, and donors to the Center. The second was the grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting, which was quite the treat!

What was even more of a treat was running into two writing mentors: Randall Albers, one of my instructors who helped to shepherd me toward graduate school. And Gary Johnson, who took me through the ropes of editing my first fiction piece toward publication in Columbia College’s Fiction Anthology, Hairtrigger 9 & 10. Both men remembered me, which was an honor, and Gary remembered my fiction piece “The Foot” a parody of Nikolai Golgov’s “The Nose” with great detail—the man has an incredible brain! Gary was hosting the Writer’s Room at the Student Center Grand Opening, where his most accomplished fiction students were reading from their original works. It brought back so many memories of years of writing classes, diving into the story workshop method of sitting in a circle, closing my eyes, and listening out into the street… Sense experiences that then were poured onto the page, and ultimately transformed into unique stories. As the students read their work aloud, the visceral, rhythmic flow of words poured over me like a warm blanket. It took me back to a time when I was on the edge of my seat both in my listening and in my writing, and made me hungry to get back there.

I was able to talk to Randy briefly, and he encouraged me to find a workshop that would allow me to delve deeply again. Another voyage of exploration along with that coffee shop in which to write.

Friday was the first CAAN Board event, a meet-and-greet at the home of one of the faculty couples. I engaged in conversation with the husband Jason Stephens, associate professor of instruction in the Business and Entrepreneur program. I related my joy in re-discovering the life and vibrancy of the story workshop method and the prescient fluidity it produced in the student’s writing. This led to brainstorming about using writing faculty or students to help the data and marketing students learn to tell stories with their numbers and information, and a light bulb went off for Jason on this potential new building block to help his students view their information in a different way.

Long story short, Jason invited me to speak to his data analytics class about storytelling! When an alumni addresses a class, it is called a “Master Class”, so it was a privilege to be asked to do so, and a new experience for me talking about the elements involved in creating a story, and how one might apply it to data information. Another opportunity to use my gift and knowledge of wordsmithing to address a different medium!

The icing on the cake of my Chicago trip was visiting the American Writer’s Museum on the Magnificent Mile. The interactive space opened in 2017, and it was a lovely afternoon spent reading about some of my favorite authors, finding information I did not know about others, and playing interactive games with their words, getting reacquainted with a typewriter, and generally having a good time soaking up the literary vibe of the place.

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I couldn’t leave without swag, so along with some free bookmarks that had a particular writer, a quote from his or her work, and the address to their museum or historical society, I nabbed a magnet that says simply, “Write On”, and a great mug with quotes from one of my writing inspirations: Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.

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Finally, I ended the month of October at a book presentation and signing for my friend Andrea Wilson Woods’ medical memoir, Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days, about her 15-year old sister Adrienne Wilson’s battle with liver cancer.

I trekked out to Pomona to a really cool bookstore called Cafe con Libros (where are these places closer?! Sigh…), where Andrea read a chapter from the book, and spearheaded a meaty discussion on why a great story always trumps bad writing, the difference between a memoir and a biography, why having a platform is essential for any writer, what social media platforms are best, and how to balance privacy of others but remain truthful about facts.

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November 1, 2019 Cafe con Libros: Book presentation and signing for “Better Off Bald”-Andrea Wilson Woods

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Andrea now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, so this was the tail end of her annual visit back to Los Angeles to visit her sister Adrienne’s grave, and make some connections for her non-profit and advocacy organizations, Blue Faery, and Cancer U. We spent some good time together on Monday at a Yoga class and over lunch, and she was flying out early the next day; so this was just another opportunity to support a friend in their success in not only getting the words on the page, but getting them published and recognized! The book is doing quite well, and getting rave reviews. Buy it!

November has only just begun, but it is already packed. Gail is encouraging me to do one more Literary Los Angeles event, perhaps Chateau Marmont or Clifton’s Cafeteria. I can also spend the remaining two months of 2019 finding that coffee shop and scoping out a writing workshop in order to establish a rhythm that will get me writing more regularly. So I guess resolution #3, while not resulting in copious words on the page, served to keep the literary fires stoked on different fronts so the words can be forged and poured forth at the proper time.

To rephrase Descartes, “I write, therefore I am.”





2018: New Year, New Soul

7 01 2018

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“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton is one of my favorite Christian theologians/thinkers. Like C.S. Lewis, he is less highbrow, and more akin to Christianity in work clothes. As intellectual as people say that I am, I relate to hands-on and sweat of the brow as much as I relate to the theoretical. But I digress…

I never share the resolutions that I make, but feel the need to put down them down online. Who knows, it may do wonders to make me more accountable:

  1. Read more books, and actually finish them. Like most of my friends, I have stacks of books waiting to be read. I started three books before 2017 (that is how pathetic I am), but never finished them. I need to complete them and track my completion of books. I used to read a book a week—it would be a good challenge to get back to that. Here are the books I need to complete: 1. Washington Spies by Alexander Rose. 2. Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. 3. The Curse of Conservatism by Coleman G. Luck.
  2. Meditate more. It does wonders, but I need to set a consistent rhythm. Some changes are afoot in my schedule that will help that, so no more excuses.
  3. Up the home and studio practice. It was really abysmal in 2017. No excuses—I feel so much better when I practice at home, and I need to connect with my own studios and other studios in a greater way.
  4.  Write again. This dried up considerably in 2016, and died a slow death in 2017. The question is, how to feebly pick up the pen again? This blog post, and another article on my Communities Digital News page are a feeble beginning. Which leads me to…
  5. Ditch the perfectionism. I think Voltaire said it best: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” I can create the perfect project, article, meal, etc. but because I only have the materials to achieve “good”, I ditch the entire thing. Time to stop that; if I am not paralyzed by perfection, it will go a long way to my getting words on the page.
  6. Find ways to increase the voice: musically in particular, vocationally in general. Maybe unburying and dusting off the piano? Right now it is surrounded by boxes (long story for another blog post). Maybe taking another Kahmelson & Kahmelson class? Actually signing up for those songwriting expos I get invited to? The possibilities are endless, but I need to take action on just one.




This is 50, Day 01: It’s My Birthday!

2 08 2016

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.
It’s the life in your years.”
— Abraham Lincoln

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The first day of 50 started out as any normal day. We woke at 6 a.m., Lynn wished me a Happy Birthday, I made him breakfast, we prayed together, and I saw him off to work.

In terms of money, my wad was pretty much blown. What I would have liked to have done is had breakfast at one of my new favorite spots in Montrose and then spent the afternoon at Color Me Mine. But I had an already fabulous lead up to my birthday, and more plans with friends this evening and later in the week, including a big bash put on by my friend and fellow Yogi Nancy Kane; so not getting what I wanted on the day was a pebble in the ocean; small and insignificant.

What I did was stay in my PJs for a while, something that I rarely get to do, but that always feels like a mini-vacation when I can. Part of that gift basket from Carrie contained some really good coffee, so I brewed it up, and had a cup with my leftover treats from Sweetie Pie’s in Napa.

While I am not big on reward programs (too many cards to lose, not a huge frequenter of the establishment, etc.), I am a loyal follower of CityWok, a Chinese place that I used to frequent when we lived in the Valley. They are always faithful to send me my free entree coupon for my birthday! So I decided to traipse into the Valley and get my favorite combination fried rice, all for free. Free food on your birthday tastes even better!

The birthday evening was booked in advance. Gina Harris, a new friend from church invited me out to DiSH, a newish La Crescenta restaurant.

She brought her friend Becky along, and we had a good time being girls and enjoying a fine meal. I ordered Braised Beef Short Ribs with Shallots, Carrots, and Celery, in a red wine reduction, over Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Asparagus. It tasted even better than it looked!

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After the weekend and all the sugar from Sweetie Pies, I said I was going to avoid sweets until the big bash on Saturday. The best laid plans… the waitress surprised me with a slice of flourless Chocolate Ganache. This was one of the best flourless cakes I had ever tasted. I definitely needed to get into a Hot Power Fusion class tomorrow.

Detox to Retox, because there is more celebrating to be done.

Happy Birthday to me!

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Happy Father’s Day!

15 06 2014

Happy Father’s Day to all those who have taken on the role, whether you are biologically connected to your children, or merely through the heart. Here is an excerpt from my memoir, FRIED CHICKEN AND SYMPATHY, about my biological father, Theodore Roosevelt Oliver, Sr., followed by a link to an Examiner article that I wrote a few years back about my spiritual father, Glenn “Kirk” Kirkpatrick.

Blessings!

My father when he worked at the Naval Base in North Chicago, IL.

My father when he worked at the Naval Base in North Chicago, IL.

Oliver’s Twist: The Father I Barely Knew…

“People can never predict when hard times might come.
Like fish in a net or birds in a snare, people are often caught by sudden tragedy.”
Ecclesiastes 9:12

I only have two memories of my father: The first one was in life, the second in death. The first was of a family trip to Brookfield Zoo in 1969. I consider June the unofficial family historian, and even she is surprised that I remember it so well. After the nine of us had spent our day at the zoo, we ambled single-file through the parking lot, to get into our lovely green four-door Oldsmobile with the chrome bumpers and the white-green interior, and head back to Cabrini-Green.

I was a vision of two-year-old cuteness, in a sky-blue pinafore with little embroidered flowers, blue socks with frilly borders, and braids that were contacting Mars; to this day my hair still has a life of its own. I distinctly remember Oliver (as most people, including us kids, called him) swooped me up with one large hand, and tucked me in his arm, holding me in the crook, while he used his other hand to retrieve the car keys from his pocket and open the door for the rest of the family. Oliver was stylish, in his button-down shirt, suspenders and tweed slacks. He had on one of his classic wide-brimmed hats, and I attempted to grab it off his head—an attempt which amazingly he dodged—seeing that his arms and hands were full.

He whispered something in my ear, but at that age I didn’t understand or care about words. All I cared about was his arm around me, holding me close, and the feeling of contentment it gave me.

My second memory of him is not really about him, but about his funeral. We were at Burr Oak Cemetery in Worth, Illinois on July 12, 1970. By today’s standards it’s a ghetto cemetery, but back then, it was one of the few options for people of color. Grandpa Joe and Grandma Annie had been laid to rest there, so it was in keeping with tradition.

So there we were, all seven of us kids standing around the gravesite in the rain, like strong little soldiers in black. I was holding onto Bay’s black-gloved hand, and something struck me so suddenly that I began to urgently tug on her arm. She looked down at me, her head wrapped in a black scarf, eyes shielded by the dark glasses she wore.

“Is Oliver coming back?” I asked. I didn’t get an answer. Just silence, with all eyes plastered on the hole in the ground. My first lesson in family dynamics. When faced with a hard question, pretend it was never asked.

I still have a knack for asking hard questions that have no answers.

I felt about as confused, and cheated as I sometimes feel now. At the age of three, I was not mature enough to wrap my heart around death’s finality. The little girl now buried within the adult still doesn’t.

It puzzles me how you can ache and long for someone you didn’t really know. I’m still that little girl in the blue dress at the zoo—except now, I long for my daddy’s arms instead of enjoying being in them. It’s a gaping hole—no matter how hard you try to fill it, it remains a bottomless pit. I pinpoint a lot of my emotional problems to the fact that my father was stolen from me. The depression I struggle with, my choosing emotionally-, and physically-unavailable men, and the subsequent lack of trust which has resulted from all those dead-end relationships.

As part of my own therapy to get a handle on the past, I’ve attempted to piece together Oliver’s life, like shards of a shattered plate. A delicate and painful exercise, with the end result being bloodied hands, and a piece that lacks the beauty, function and worth of the original. To some, it might serve little use except as a reminder of what used to be; but, painstakingly, I continue with the task. With each piece that comes together, and every little bit of new knowledge I acquire about him, I get a sense that I’m doing something significant and important—even if it’s for no one else but me.


My spiritual father, Glenn "Kirk" Kirkpatrick. A reflection of the Father Heart of God

My spiritual father, Glenn “Kirk” Kirkpatrick. A reflection of the Father Heart of God

 The Father Heart of God

Father’s Day has often been a foreign holiday to me. My father was murdered when I was three, and it wasn’t until thirty years later that someone came into my life who helped me understand the Father heart of God. Because of that consistent witness, I asked Glenn “Kirk” Kirkpatrick to step into the role of “Father of the Bride”, and walk me down the aisle.

This father role was not a place he sought, nor I pursued. But Kirk’s heart’s desire was to be the man God wanted Him to be, and as he sought the Father’s heart, he could not help but emulate it. And God’s divine purpose for us is to know his heart; it does not matter if it is demonstrated through human or spiritual genetics. He used Kirk to grant me this gift, and I make it a point to honor him as a father. I wish him a Happy Father’s Day, whether with a card or a message–now, Father’s Day is more familiar, and less foreign. Read more at Examiner.com: The Father Heart of God.





In My Orbit…

12 11 2010

Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have been glued to the interviews and write-ups surrounding President George W. Bush‘s book tour for his memoir, Decision Points.  President Bush chose to  sit down with Matt Lauer, Oprah, and Sean Hannity, among others.

My favorite quote comes from a Joshua Greenman’s writeup: “George W. Bush never was a bad soul, he was just portrayed as one on TV.”

Of course, Mr. Greenman’s long title that includes the words “long road to restoring a reputation” says much about his viewpoint, and he digresses into the usual partisan sniping about Iraq and how we will never forget, blah, blah, blah.  More evidence that objective journalism and opinion journalism have lost their distinctiveness.

The saddest pull quote was from an article in the St. Petersburg Times, where Colette Bancroft interviewed two historians about Presidential memoirs in general:

“Although historians may comb presidential memoirs for revelations, and although they may sell well to the public, Reeves says he thinks they are ‘way up there among unread books. With a president’s book, there’s so much discussion on TV, radio, print, everywhere that you can talk about it without reading it.'”

A telling comment, and a reflection of the devolution of education in America.

I thought the Lauer interview was the least interesting.  Matt Lauer came off a bit pompous, as he was attempting to appear inquisitive and hard-hitting.  And the editing reduced the interview to a bunch of sound bites instead of a reflective treatise on what I consider one of the most compelling presidencies of my lifetime.

Oprah did much better, primarily because she is a more accomplished interviewer than Lauer.  Her sit down allowed us to hear President Bush’s full answers and watch his body language.  It felt as though we were having the conversation in our own living rooms, which I guess is Oprah’s calling card anyway. The interview is worth viewing, and Real Clear Politics excerpts it on their site.

Hannity’s was probably the least formal of the three, more akin to two friends shooting the breeze, than an interview with the former Leader of the Free World.  Where it succeeded was in giving us a view of Bush’s world, then and now, and how it shaped him.

Notwithstanding the sorry editing of the Lauer interview, in these three television appearances, President Bush came across relaxed, exhibiting a wicked sense of humor couched in light sarcasm, and as very comfortable in his own skin.  And dare I say it? He is a fascinating, multi-layered human being, which is the polar opposite of how the mainstream media chose to portray him in the years of his Presidency.

None of these attributes reflect our current President. He takes himself much too seriously to employ humor effectively, and is not at all comfortable in that substantially thin skin. Layers give depth, substance, and sometimes give insight into how someone might lead or act.  President Obama likes to obscure his layers, which is telling in and of itself.  A stark contrast of two Presidents, and contrasts not lost on Howard Kurtz.   The Decider v. the Agonizer.

Most of the writeups  are coming from the perspective of the memoir as a “reinvention tour” or “crafting a legacy”.  But President Bush,  in his interview with Matt Lauer,  said it best:  “I hope I’m judged a success, but I’m going to be dead, Matt, when they finally figure it out.”

In this information age where a President’s life and times is reduced to sound bites and images, I feel reading a Presidential memoir should be required for everyone, no matter what your political stripe.  Having heard enough from both sides, it will be refreshing to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Today’s my reading day, so I’m diving in.





In My Orbit…

9 03 2010

Digital Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jones-ing again.  Catching up on the political grapevine, and the fruit is ripe indeed!

Stanley Fish says it plainly, in THE New York Times no less, and I agree–Do You Miss Him Yet? Oh, indeed. It started for me on November 5, 2008, and I am sure it will only get stronger.  Signs continue that the Kool-Aid high that elected our current President has indeed worn off; especially as he continues to lie, spin, and misspeak.  Yep, me and other Americans are right there with you, Stanley!

Mark Steyn cuts with precision, and dissects the true nature of this Obamacare push: Obamacare worth the price to Democrats.  Can’t add anything to Steyn’s brilliance–read the article.

And Karl Rove,  another person that the crazies on both sides love to demonize, starts his book launch today: Courage and Consequences: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.  I am always fascinated by personalities that everyone loves to hate, whether it’s the left or the right.  I read Hilary Clinton’s book for that reason, though I can’t recommend it.  It’s a snoozer and way too much fiction–but it at least gave her a chance to have her say, and I was interested in hearing it from her perspective.  I’m sure the critics will be brutal simply because he’s Karl Rove; but I pay little attention to critics.  Courage and Consequences will be added to my reading list, along with Going Rogue.  Say what you will about Rove’s politics, he’s a smart man and a class act.





My Brother’s Keeper

19 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

Excerpted from Fried Chicken and Sympathy, Chapter 4: My Brother’s Keeper

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “My Brother’s Keeper“, posted with vodpod

“This, too, I carefully explored: Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether or not God will show them favor in this life.”

Ecclesiastes 9:1

Death truly does comes in many forms, which don’t necessarily involve a dead body.  There are economic, psychological and emotional deaths as well.  Oliver was the sole economic provider for our family, and when he died, that element died with him too.  Bay now found herself burdened with providing for seven children, along with bearing the weight of our various struggles and illnesses, and the inevitable hardships that followed.  Oliver’s death changed our lives irrevocably.

But next to Bay, I think Gerry was affected the most deeply.

Gerry was supposed to have been the “baby” of the family; then I came along and usurped his place.  Because we were the closest in age of the siblings, we were often stuck together, while the others were off at school or doing the teenage thing.  The one family picture where I actually got to see myself as an infant was the one I described earlier, with Bay, the six older siblings, and me on her lap.  The other picture of me from early childhood was with Gerry; I was probably about one and a half, and he was about eight.  It had been a professionally-done black and white print, overlaid and enhanced with colored oil paint.  I am in a cute yellow dress, and Gerry is in a fine blue suit.  The photographer posed us with me sitting on his lap, and one of his arms draped around my waist, holding me securely in place.  We are both all smiles and glow, my milk teeth showing, his a sunny grin with tiny teeth, reflecting a closeness that became damaged and diminished.

When I was six, and Gerry twelve, my favorite T.V. show was Speed Racer, and his, Batman. The problem was, the shows aired at the same time on different channels, and these were the days of one TV per home, and no TiVo™.  We would have “good-natured” battles over who would watch what.

“I don’t want to watch Batman!  He’s stupid!” I’d whine.

“Is not! You got to see Speed Racer yesterday – so I’m watchin’ Batman!”

“No, you’re not!” I’d yell, stamping my foot.

“Yes, I am!”  he’d yell back, turning the knob on the TV and shoving me to the floor.  I would then hop on his neck and start punching him.

“Oww!” he screamed, trying to get me off his back.  “Leggo!”

“No!  I wanna watch Speed Racer!”  He attempted to topple me off his back, while I reached toward the channel knob.  I pretty much had him in a chokehold until Bay stepped in to arbitrate the mini-war.  Most of the time, I ended up watching Speed Racer, while Gerry pouted and fumed.  But with those he loved, Gerry rarely got ugly or violent—and I knew he loved me.

Our favorite game was hanging upside down on the couch with our heads toward the floor and our feet skyward.

“I’m falling down Niagara Falls!” Gerry would yell, pretending to drop.

“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!” I’d scream, letting the blood rush to my head.  Then we’d roll off the couch, feet over head, and walk around woozy for a bit, before getting back on the couch and doing it again.

So my being born really didn’t cause any huge sibling tension, or affect Gerry’s place in the family.  He was still the baby boy, and Oliver’s little prince.  He was spoiled rotten, and got away with acts that would have been unacceptable with the older siblings: being able to stay up past bedtime, talking back, and eating whatever he wanted, even if it was bad for him.  This distinction was not lost on Teddy, Adrienne, Barbara, June and Joan, so they did what they could to put him in his place.  Any of his infractions of household behavior was gleefully reported to Bay or Oliver, in the hope of his getting a beating, or at least a scolding.  It mostly backfired, because in Oliver’s eyes, Gerry could do no wrong.

The same was true of Bay.  Her reactions to Gerry’s bratty behavior and outbursts were based on fear that he would do serious harm to himself; and in his case, her fears had a legitimate basis.  June said that when Gerry would throw a temper tantrum, it involved a lot of thrashing and crying, and three times it resulted in Gerry’s getting a head injury.  The first time Gerry pitched a fit, it was because Bay wouldn’t stop washing dishes to give him some sweets.  She tried to get him to wait, but he first tugged at her skirt, then eventually started hitting his head against the wall.  He did this with such force that he busted the skin above his brow, at his scalp.  Bay rushed him to the emergency-room at Cook County, and he had to have stitches.  Another time when he was upset, he ran into a table and gashed open his head, also requiring an emergency room visit and more stitches.  So it was no wonder that she gave in each time he became demanding, to avoid any more injuries or medical bills.

The coddling given by Bay and Oliver did nothing to improve his short attention span, or his even shorter temper, but I have always felt Gerry’s behavioral patterns had a deeper-seated cause that had little to do with lack of discipline.  From my own personal studies and observations, I suspect my brother suffered from one of the Autism Spectral Disorders (ASD), perhaps Asperger Syndrome.  Many of the behaviors outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) fit Gerry’s behavioral and social dysfunction.  From his difficulty communicating or perceiving what has been related to him, to repetitive behavior and motion, to the inability to interact and lack of sensory response, Gerry lacked the necessary frame of reference to be able to navigate in the outside world.  My curiosity and study led me to seek out a professional opinion.  So a friend referred me to Dr. David A. Reisbord, a Los Angeles neurologist who treats many cases of Autism and its related illnesses.  “The temper tantrums and self-injury are typical in Asperger patients,” says Dr. Reisbord.  “So are all of his other symptoms.”

If Gerry had been born today, and I had had a mother who were willing to seek help, he might have been appropriately diagnosed and treated.  Even if his condition had been recognized and attended to in his teens (during the mid-‘70s, when Autism was being recognized as a serious developmental disorder), some of his pain, and much of ours, might have been assuaged.  But back in the 1960s such syndromes were not commonly known, or were simply dismissed among “plain” folk like us.  Bay’s desire for privacy also tied into her myopic approach to Gerry’s problems.  What happened in the home, stayed in the home, and it was nobody’s business how it was handled.  Even if the appropriate help and treatment had been available then, Bay would never have sought it.








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