Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rest in Peace Mr. Kennedy

We were visiting DC with our good friends the Vogelsangs during Spring break of 2006. When we left the Senate Office building we ran into Senator Kennedy. He graciously offered to pose for a picture with us, gave us tourist tips and talked with us about environmental legislation. It made our trip very special. Thank you Senator Kennedy. You were a good good man and a great statesman. We will always remember that special day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekends at Bellevue

When I read the “about the author” blurb on the back page of the book, I could easily see Julie Holland, poised and perfect and sitting on the set at Good Morning America talking about psychopharmacology or the aftermath of 9/11. She has that polished professional look about her from her picture on the front cover.

So I loved getting to see the underside of that professional. I loved hearing her inner monologue about her treatment of patients, her fascination with psychiatry and her love of Bellevue hospital. I love the stories of strange patients and her fear of them . Working a psych ward is a very harrowing job.

She did an excellent job of explaining just what kind of person you have to be work weekend nights at the Bellevue Psychiatric Ward and what kind of person she really was inside.

She tried for a few story arcs within the individual chapters of the horrifying patients. The one that was most stirring was the story of her dear friend Lucy, also the head of the ER department, who died of cancer. The stories of her own marriage and motherhood were important to the overall arc of the story but not compelling parts of narrative. I was waiting and interested to hear what happened to her on 9-11 but since she only works weekends that was really a non-story in the narrative. What is interesting for her and for the reader about 9-11 is that she will feel the after affects of the event for years afterwards.

I think the piece that was missing was some sense of history or of the public reputation of Bellevue. I feel like Bellevue is this apocryphal hospital, and I wanted to know more about it. I got a glimpse of that history and reputation briefly toward the end when she tells a tale of a family trying to get their daughter out of Bellevue telling the good doctor that it is some sort of hell hole. The doctor makes fun of this attitude, but that belief comes from somewhere. If the book was a little long, I guess I would have liked less chapters on the nookie in the call room (I think I have seen all that on Grey’s Anatomy.) and more on Bellevue the institution.

This was an early review and I would be glad to share it if anyone is interested.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Year of Harry Potter

My dear sweet son started the 6th grade yesterday. Deep breath. I can hardly beleive I have an 11 year old son. (Of course my 70 year old mother can hardly beleive she has a 44 year old daughter either.)

My son goes to a special school for kids who struggle with language processing disorders. Grayson has a hard time with something the school psychologists and testing gurus call "fluency". This means that he has a hard time remembering order or remembering what came before and what comes next. Reading is very difficult for him as he often does not remember what happened on the page before the one he is reading now.

He loves story and he loves to be read to. I often re-cap and retell chapters so he can remember them. We still enjoy quiet time in the evening reading together before bed. I love it.

He decided a few weeks ago that he wanted to read all three of the Harry Potter books that he has not read (I have read the first four to him) himself--starting with the biggest and the baddest: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (number 5 in the series) He wants to finish them by the time the last movie comes out in the theaters in November of 2010. Many of you probably have very smart children and reading the Harry Potter series was easy for them, but for my kid, this is a big deal. It will probably take him most of the school year to get through number 5.

Stay tuned for our updates. Perhaps I will get him to blog about the experience. It should be a great party when we finish them.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I'm Down by Mishna Wolff

In college I had an acquaintance with a life experience very much like Mishna Wolff's. Mishna, like my friend Sarah, was white and raised in an all black neighborhood by white parents. Mishna grew up in Seattle, Washington. Sarah grew up in rural Mississippi. Unlike me, who grew up in an all white suburb and went to an all white high school, Mishna and Sarah both spent a great amount of their growing up years considering questions of race in ways that most of us have not.

When Sarah first told me about growing up in Alcorn, Mississippi, I asked her what it was like to leave rural Mississippi and arrive at Northwestern which is a predominantly white upper middle class university. Sarah said something funny like "white folk can't dance, play basketball or do hair." We also talked about academic preparedness. Sarah admitted that her black high school alone would not have prepared her for college work. She had an active reading and writing life outside her high school classroom thanks to her parents who were college professors. I did not ask her much more than this as race is often an awkward topic. I would hate to appear racist by asking the wrong question.

I always regretting not knowing more of Sarah's story. So when I spotted I'm Down by Mishna Wolff, a white girl whose white father, convinced he was black, raised her and her sister in a black neighborhood, I snapped it up and enjoyed every page of it.

Mishna tells her tales about being white in a black world with humility, humor and grace. The earliest chapters are the best. She learns how to fit in at summer camp by learning how to cap. She struggles with her father over what sports to take up by virtue of how black the sports are. Black people don't ski. It's too cold. She finds she has a hard time fitting in when she gets accepted to a predominantly white private school. Poor Mishna does not really fit into a white world or a black one.

In later chapters as Mishna begins to get a sense of both worlds and how to survive in each, I was amazed that her father and stepmother begin putting her down for her activities and honors which will in the end help her get ahead and get out of poverty. They accuse her of being snooty and elitist. They try to force her to quit activities so she can take up a minimum wage job at age 14. I fear that may be the biggest battle we fight when trying to overcome poverty, a sense that doing things like reading or playing an instrument or playing on a team is some how elitist. Accusing a 14 year old of snobbery when she likes to read is a good way to get someone to stop reading.

If the subject of race and class interests you or you like well told stories, you should enjoy this sweet memoir.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

To publish or not to publish

At a convivial gathering of fellow readers and writers last week, talk turned to whether or not is was necessary to publish one's memoir. Most of us agreed that writing memoir was an exercise in ridding our lives of the demons that have haunted us since childhood. Whatever the ailment, the simple act of writing it down helped us to understand and to deal with the bad memories or the hurt childhood. What do you do with it then? Do you try to publish it? What is the point?

Since most of my reading of late has been memoir, I feel eternally grateful for the writers out there who tell thier story for all to read. It is comforting to know stories that resonate with my own, but it is even more important that memoirists feed me with stories that have no bearing on my life. In order to understand humanity in all it's forms, I need to understand all stories from all perspectives.

I just finished a particularly compelling life story. Karen Armstrong, the famed writer of the History of God, has penned a riveting account of the depression that enveloped her after she had left the convent in which she was a sister for 7 years. It is not simply the story of a women who is regaining her foothold in a fast changing world, but it is the story of paradise lost and then paradise found again. Sometimes you have to loose your religion in order to get it back.

I loved her human frailty and her discovery of what was most important to her in early days again as an adult. I loved that she stumbled a lot before she found her way. It should give any woman hope and courage to face what is out there. Reading about finally being diagnosed with epilepsy after doctors kept telling her she was tired or crazy was especially enlightening for me given my son's struggles with epilepsy. Put this on your list of must read memoirs.

When your memoir is finished where will it end up? In your bedside drawer? In the trash? Or with a lovely cover for sale on Amazon? I hope on Amazon. All stories need to be told.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Let's Not Tell Anyone

Tonight my husband and I went to dinner at a new Bloomington restaurant called The View. It was a perfect summer night: balmy and warm but not too warm. The restaurant has a lovely patio which has a great--you guessed it--view of Lake Monroe and the hills of southern Indiana. They serve fancy pub food: hamburgers, veggie burgers, sweet potato fries, pizzas and salads with fresh greens. They have a great wine and beer list and Wednesdays are half price on bottles of wine.

This is the way a summer evening should be. Calm and breezy with good food prepared by nice people. Friends and family out on the patio enjoying the same summer night. I thought, as a gazed out on the beautiful hills of our lovely region, let's not tell anyone about how fabulous it is here. Let's keep it our little secret. Shhh...