Dare I dabble in Drabble? the prolix writer asks. What’ve ya got to lose? his friend patiently responds.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we were visiting friends. But all four of us spent last Wednesday indoors, in front of the TV. We were watching Special Counselor Robert Mueller testify, first before the House Judiciary Committee, and then before the House Intelligence Committee... And while many have faulted Mueller for his halting, weary performance and his insistence on sticking to the “four corners of his report,” much emerged from those hearings.
This Wednesday, July 24, beginning at 8:30 am ET, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify—reluctantly—before two committees of the House of Representatives. I believe it is extremely important that as many people as possible watch his testimony and listen to his responses to questions. I am deeply saddened for our country that The Mueller Report, its findings, and the man himself have become such partisan issues. According to every reputable intelligence source we have, it is indisputable that the Russians interfered with our 2016 elections. This is cyberwarfare, and it is as serious an attack as any that could have occurred. Its intentions were to disrupt our democracy and make us distrust our government and its institutions. I believe the Russians were successful beyond Vladimir Putin’s wildest dreams.
I stood with nearly 300 members of my community Friday night at a candlelight vigil in protest of the horrific treatment of immigrants on the US southern border. This was one of 800 such vigils worldwide, all designed to persuade the government of this nation, a nation of immigrants, to stop using cruelty and dehumanization against children and families. Think about that: people throughout the world gathered to register their horror at the policies and actions of the US government.
I have a few friends who are medical nihilists (several of them are married to physicians). They avoid medical care whenever possible, rarely see a physician, and when they go, generally ignore the physician’s instructions. I am cut from a different cloth. I go to the doctor for preventive care, get my flu shot every year, and seek medical guidance if I’ve had a problem for more than a few weeks. I do have several chronic conditions and a bionic knee and wrist. However, I am fortunately, at this point, in good health. (Cue my late mother’s voice here, making clucking sounds to ward off the evil spirits.)... And, after years of working as a medical writer/editor, I realize that I have just enough medical knowledge to be a danger to myself and others. (I do, however, refrain from prescribing and for the most part avoid misdiagnosing my friends and family.)
It is terrifying and large— Resembling a giant ink spot, but much more ominous. Its effect on me seems surreal: I was comfortably at my desk, fingers moving along my computer keyboard as they always do... But not now.
Did you know that Facebook Addiction Disorder is really a “thing”—and not a FAD? (Sorry, another bad pun—and so soon!) It’s not in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it, and obsessive Internet use in general, is increasingly drawing the attention of psychiatric researchers... None of this may sound very serious, but it’s all tied up with how our brains function. And, not surprisingly, it’s connected to all those other areas of our lives that we know we should better control—such as overeating, smoking, and stressing about things real or imagined. Why, if we’re so smart, and we know what we should do, is it so hard for us to follow through? Are there ways that we can take better control of our lives—without investing a fortune of time, money, and energy?
Now listen, friends, as I unveil the chorus Of those I’m calling 23&WE We’re not discussing folks who came before us It’s those who say what this country should be And how they’ll make enough of us agree They’re poised to set out from the starting gate, And one of them may well decide our fate.
I can’t carry a tune, and no one would ever accuse me of having perfect pitch. But I love music—so many different kinds of music, preferably live. At some point in my life, I’m determined to see Bruce Springsteen in concert—even though I hate crowds. But one type of music really transports me: the fully realized magnificence of a fine symphony orchestra. Fortunately, there is such an orchestra that performs fairly close to my home, and my husband and I have had a series subscription with friends for the past few years. Thursday night was the season finale—and it was a whopper, appropriately titled the “Blockbuster All-Orchestral Season Finale.” For those of you who don’t love classical music, imagine attending a concert given by your very favorite band, and I think you’ll get the mood...
Not so many months ago, I wrote a post about the “Wild West Marketplace” of consumer genetic testing. That description came from Laura Hercher, a highly respected genetics counselor whom I interviewed for the piece. Though our focus primarily was on the entertainment aspect of consumer DNA testing (tracing one’s ancestry, etc.), we also discussed the more serious health implications. I find the topic fascinating, but I thought I’d leave it there. Hercher pointed out many of the flaws and potentially false results that these tests may yield. Then events made me take a second look at the feasibility of genetic testing in my own life: my sister died of pancreatic cancer, only 43 days after she’d been diagnosed... I began to think about my likelihood of developing a heritable cancer.... As a former health writer/editor and continuing catastrophizer, I immediately felt I needed more information...
In Part 2 of my exploration, “How Do We Talk About Race in America?,” I spoke with Doug Glanville, a friend of my daughter’s whom I’ve known since they were children. After graduating as an engineering student from the University of Pennsylvania, Glanville has gone on to do great things in his life: his rich and varied career, which included nine years of playing major league baseball (twice with the Chicago Cubs), now involves being a sports commentator, writer, podcast co-star, and lecturer at Yale University, teaching a course titled "Athletes, Activism, Public Policy, and the Media." He is a uniter and optimist by nature—confronting racial injustice when needed but always trying to put it into perspective and not overreact..... He told me when we spoke that he likes to “take lemons and make lemonade.” Well, life just handed him another big lemon, which he described in The New York Times Sunday Review. (He’s also a contributing opinion writer for the Times.) I hope everyone will read his entire Op-Ed, because it’s a powerful, nuanced, sophisticated view from a very thoughtful person about issues we should all be aware of and thinking about.
I’ve found, on occasion, that some of the most life-affirming experiences I’ve had have occurred at a funeral or memorial service for someone whose life has been well-lived. I had that honor today (Sunday), attending a memorial for a 92-year-old woman whose friends’ recollections often included the phrase “Renaissance woman.”
Dracul Van Helsing recently nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award. Thank you so much, Dracul, for your support of my blogging efforts.
I am honored to have been nominated by Dracul Van Helsing for the prestigious Mystery Blogger Award.
When the world is too much with us—as it occasionally is for me lately—we often turn to nostalgia. My fellow blogger JP recently wrote a delightful post about a childhood “Freeze” moment: while playing a piece in a piano recital, he lost his place, couldn’t find it, recovered as best he could, and somehow lived through the humiliation. I guess we all have “Freeze” moments when we wish we could turn back the clock and get a do-over. JP’s post reminded me of mine, which occurred when I was a high school senior. My current self finds all this quite amusing, but those decades ago, my sensibilities were different.
This title is a bit of a come-on to encourage you to stay with me to the end of a post that is important to me, responds to concerns I’ve heard from some of you, and will, I hope, be of interest to even more of you. You may recognize that imperative from E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End. “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”
Today, April 22, is Earth Day. Above is a photo of my favorite T-shirt, with a message that is always worth a reminder, 365 days a year--unless it's Leap Year. [Note to my darling daughters: you should in no way assume this is directed at you!]
I realize once again I’m taking on a “you can’t cover such a mammoth, complex topic in a blog” subject. That’s why I won’t mention world economic inequality right now. I have some awareness of my limits, for goodness' sake (!?). ... What I do have is a heart that hurts when I see so much suffering and anger in this land of plenty, a conviction that this growing economic inequity is unsustainable, and—I’ve been told—an analytical mind in addressing problems. And my blessed blog gives me a bit of a forum to try to evoke discussion of these views. So here we go.
An Exploration in Rhyme...
Well, I didn’t really think I’d be returning to this topic—certainly not so soon—but I’ve learned some things since the first post appeared that I feel are worth sharing. As I noted previously, despite my ambivalence concerning legalization, I’ve been assuming that it will eventually happen. I still do. A number of you have pointed out the analogy to Prohibition, and we all know how that effort to oppose the public will turned out. But a New York Times report on the collapse of an effort to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, which was a campaign promise made by the state’s governor, Phil Murphy, and had both his strong backing and statewide public support, points to some opposing arguments that legislators made. (I promise if you stay with me through this, you’ll see that not all my findings are negative.)
It’s time we talked about octopuses. I hear you saying: “Annie-the-English-major: Don’t you mean octopi?” That’s the first misconception we must clarify right away. All those years we’ve been talking about octopi? We’ve been wrong. Well, not everyone agrees, but here’s what the Oxford Dictionaries say: “The standard plural in English of octopus is octopuses. However, the word octopus comes from the Greek, and the Greek plural octopodes is still occasionally used. The plural form octopi, formed according to rules for some Latin plurals, is incorrect.” So I’m taking the strictly classical position; I dare not intermingle Greek and Latin grammar. It’s possible, of course, that your more pressing question is: Why is it time we talked about octopuses? I shall explain.
Probably not. If you’re reading this, you are either a) one of my very loyal readers, in which case I am most grateful for your perseverance; b) interested in all things medical, no matter how icky; c) a catastrophizer like me, who always goes to the darkest possibility in terms of health; or d) just plain curious to find out what this strange woman is up to.
"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience." --------Eleanor Roosevelt A mini-celebratory brunch is in order: the doctor reported both heart and aorta are sound. “We’ll take you out,” we say. “You’ll come here,” she insists. “The best bagels, fresh eggs, delicious fruit, plus quiet and lots of room.” We relent. Four years ago, the collapse—after a symphony hall concert. She attended concerts often—multiple subscriptions, with friends and alone. And the art galleries, the library lectures, the trice-weekly swims, the scheduled trip to Macchu Picchu… That evening, she was alone.
First, sorry about that title; I couldn’t help myself. When I was in grad school, a sheltered 21-year-old living on her own in the Big City for the first time, I had a friend I’ll call Bo. An English major like me, Bo was a wildly creative character who scavenged through garbage cans and transformed odd stuff he’d found into some very interesting works of art. He was also eager to share some of the things he regarded as life’s gifts with his friends. And so one day he offered me—a non-smoker, rule-abider, and pretty fastidious sort—a dirty-looking piece of hemp. ....
No matter what your politics, you may well be troubled, as I am, by the efforts on college campuses—as well as in many other arenas—to stifle dissent by preventing people with unpopular views from being invited to speak—or interrupting them so that they can’t be heard. Short of shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater, the First Amendment to the US Constitution should be a protected and revered part of all our public dialogue—from colleges to the White House. And it seems the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) college entrance exams, has decided to do something about that problem, reports Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. They determined to ensure that the next generation really learns what the Constitution is all about.
NOTE: Gazing at a lovely picture of a friend’s daughter with her two kids--a newborn and a toddler--I found myself advising her, in full cliche: “Enjoy every minute of this time; it goes so fast!” That made me wistful about my own daughters’ younger years. Even though I realized then the flight of time, it still slipped past me far too quickly. So I dug out a poem I wrote decades ago, which was published in a local anthology. Here ’tis:
For now, at least, 35 days after it was foisted upon us, what has been called “the Seinfeld shutdown—it’s about nothing”—is over. That would be amusing if it hadn’t wreaked such terrible damage on so many people. It will take a while to understand the larger impacts on our economy, national security, and more, but we’ll probably never know the devastation it caused some of the most vulnerable government workers and private contractors..................
OK. Now that I’ve gotten all that out of my system, I’d like to update an exploration of an issue I first raised in “Here’s Why I’ve No Intention of Discussing the Elephant in Our National Room”: What are we looking for in leadership in 2020? It’s going to be a wild ride out there as a multitude of Democrats seek the party’s nomination.
I invite you to put on your citizen-pundit hats and tell me what you think. Feel free to name names: those you either like or don’t like at this point, but please tell me why....
But I’m equally interested in the issues you think are paramount and the qualities you’re looking for in a President—and whether you think that type of person/persons would be viable in the general election. In these hyper-partisan times, are you looking for someone who expresses commitment to reach across the aisle? How do you think such a person would fare in the primaries?
Ken Ramirez, a world-renowned animal trainer, was offered quite the challenge. A botanical specialty group in the United Kingdom had built a large garden in the midst of some tall buildings in London—a garden that was home to thousands of butterflies of varying species, as well as many other types of flora and fauna. Its purpose: to show the “symbiotic relationship between plants and animals,” wrote Ramirez, describing the task ahead.
“The director of the project, Lucinda Bartholomew, had envisioned a fundraising gala presentation that would include an orchestra in the middle of the garden playing beautiful classical music while butterflies flew from one part of the garden to the other.”
They wouldn’t just fly willy-nilly, mind you. The idea was to design and implement a plan to train more than 10,000 butterflies to traverse the garden, on cue, in unison. Now if someone offered me an assignment that seemed like an impossibility, I’d think long and hard about it. But the fact that Ramirez hadn’t ever worked with butterflies before and knew little about their sensory mechanisms didn’t deter him at all. Ensured help from the group’s butterfly experts, he enthusiastically agreed. ”What a unique training opportunity!,” he wrote.
I hadn't planned this additional post on race, but I came across what I feel is a wonderful piece of Op-Art on the topic in The New York Times. Some of you may recall it, but even if you do, I hope you'll use the link above to revisit it. It's worth several readings, I believe.
And it's followed by another serendipitous example that I find enriches the topic.
Writer and illustrator Henry James Garrett has created a wise and amusing morality tail/tale that's titled "The Kernel of Human (or Rodent) Kindness."
An Introductory Note:
I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for quite a while, and I am quite serious about it; it’s had a beneficial effect on my life. But in my description of my blog, I speak of “seeking dialogue to inform, enlighten, and/or amuse you and me.” The emphasis here is on “amuse.” I realize things have been pretty heavy in Annie’s blog world, with focus on climate change, the political scene, and race relations, so I thought it was time to lighten up a bit in this holiday season.
What follows is a piece I wrote some years back, which was published in a now-defunct humor magazine. It still amuses me, and I hope it will elicit a smile from you as well. Perhaps it will also evoke feelings in concert with my desire to find common ground…
In an article in The New York Times Sunday Review, genetics counselor Laura Hercher described a man named Matthew Fender, who—after searching for heredity data through 23andMe—had placed his genetic test results into Promethease, a DNA search engine that probes such data for variants cited in the medical literature.
Fender had sought to learn his risk for developing a pulmonary embolism, the condition that had killed his sister, a seemingly healthy young woman of 23. The report didn’t mention that, but it did provide the alarming news that he carried a mutation (PSEN1) strongly associated with early onset Alzheimer’s, as well as two copies of a gene variant (ApoE4) that indicates greatly increased chances of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s.
After getting no satisfactory guidance from his primary care doctor and other professionals, Fender checked out a competing genetics company, Ancestry DNA, to see what his results there would say about the PSEN1 variant. They said nothing.
He then persuaded his doctor to order the test, which proved negative....
It’s worth noting that both companies claimed their tests were 99.9% accurate. Yet a 23andMe representative told Hercher that “a 99.9% accuracy can still mean errors.”
“Being a human being is a really hard job.”
I heard this comment from the neurologist who treats me for migraines—a prominent researcher and a wonderful, compassionate man. He was quoting an observation that his mother often made when he was growing up. “I didn’t realize how wise she was when I was young,” he told me, but over the years, his mother’s words have come to resonate. Fortunately for me and his other patients, they appear to form part of the empathy that makes him both an exceptional physician and a lovely person.
“Forget about race; it’s hard enough just to be a human being.” During the same week that my neurologist repeated his mother’s words, I heard a white comedian quoting Richard Pryor, the brilliant African-American comedian and social commentator who died in 2005.
At first I was struck by the similarity of the sentiments. But then I thought: Did Richard Pryor, who was a pioneer in speaking truth to audiences black and white about the burdens of racism, really say “forget about race”? So I did a little research.
Well, there really was a blue wave—reportedly the greatest turnover since 1974—and a number of races remain too close to call or subject to a recount. These victories are especially impressive because of the gerrymandered districts and increased state restrictions that led to long lines at the very least and disenfranchisement of numbers of voters, mostly people of color. For a detailed look at what voters faced, read What It Takes to Win, published by the Brennan Center for Justice in October.
As I stated in my last post, I view this not as a partisan issue—but as a critical win for our democracy. Unless/until the Republicans become better stewards of their Constitutional oaths, or are replaced by a new political force more willing to seek compromise for the good of the people, I hope Americans will continue to shun them in large numbers.
However, one of the consequences of this election was the defeat of some of the most moderate Republicans, increasing the likelihood that the party will become even more intransigent.
And so, although I am grateful that the Democrats can put the brakes on many of President Trump’s chaotic and sometimes horrific actions, I see reason for concern that to accomplish anything on the substantive issues needed to show voters they are delivering and to hold their majority, the Democrats face an uphill battle.
Those of you who have been following my blog know that I’ve been searching for common ground among us and/or stressing that we can be agreeable even when we disagree. I’ve also stated that I have strong opinions, and I’ve made no attempt to hide my concerns about climate change and gun safety, while generally avoiding the virulence of the political debates being played out in so many other arenas.
The thing is, I am perplexed that some of the most important issues we face are depicted as partisan, when, in fact, the majority of Americans agree about them...
The following two emails reached me today. I am reprinting them here without comment.
Decades ago, when Transcendental Meditation (TM) became a hot topic in the US, some New Jersey schools began a pilot program to introduce it to their students. An immediate furor arose from people objecting to what they saw as a religious incursion into the public schools. I wrote a letter to the editor of the newly introduced New Jersey Weekly section of The New York Times, which the Times ran as an Op-Ed titled “A Word in Favor of Meditation in the Schools.” (See my first post, Greetings.)...Here I shamelessly quote myself:
“If we can educate young people in relaxation techniques that will enable them to handle stress before they are exposed to the eventual stresses created by employment, marriage, child-rearing, and the like (in other words, everyday living), we may well be setting them on the way to longer, healthier, and happier lives.”
Unfortunately, all these years later, school children are being exposed to stressors that didn’t even exist then, and they are showing the impact in terms of anxiety, depression, and attempts at suicide. At the same time, mindfulness meditation and yoga have become all the rage among adults. So I decided to explore the extent to which mindfulness has been incorporated into public education, and how effective it’s been. The topic is vast, so I’m just scratching the surface here.
Despite my optimistic outlook, there’s one area where I need to search especially hard for positive signs: climate change. To me, it is the existential threat to our planet, and I am infuriated and frightened by those who willfully ignore the important lessons that scientists are teaching us.
Recently, I had an exceptional guide into the impact of climate change on phytoplankton, the tiny organisms at the very bottom of the food chain. And I’m now convinced that we really need to pay attention to the fate of these microorganisms—because our future is intertwined with theirs.
I’ve long been aware that the mindfulness community is devoted not only to helping individuals find inner peace, but also to creating a more peaceful world. But I was pleasantly surprised this week when I received the letter below from one of my favorite mindfulness guides, Tara Brach (whose letter was more nicely formatted than what you see here).
Brach describes her role, as part of a group of Buddhist mindfulness leaders, in an interdenominational effort, Faith in Action. Its vital mission is to get out the vote on Election Day, November 6, vastly expanding the electorate...
Please click on the links to see if there’s any action you’re able to take (in addition to voting on November 6, of course!) and share this information as widely as you can!
After my last couple of posts, several people said they appreciate my optimism—a trait that is clearly in short supply these days. As I don’t think I’m either ostrich or Pollyanna, and I’ve done plenty of ranting and yelling at the images on the TV news and on my often too-smart-by-half phone, I’ve been exploring the source of the hopefulness that I've been conveying to you. I think that the mindfulness meditation I’ve been practicing for more than a year now has finally reached fruition, and I'd like to share some of my discoveries and resources...
It’s been quite a journey for me to reach this point, and I’ll readily acknowledge there are times when reality’s bite makes me feel optimism is kind of nutty. But then I breathe, smile, and the shadow passes. We really don’t have to live in anger and fear.
Despite my own strong political views, I have not, from the outset, intended this blog to be strictly political. So much stuff is readily available that I see no need to repeat what’s often appearing elsewhere—unless I (or we) can somehow come up with a different perspective.
And that’s what I’m hoping you’ll help me with now.
I see a direct line between two recent bits of news. Here’s the first: “America Really Is in the Midst of a Rising Anxiety Epidemic,” headlines a Science Alert published in May. Reporting on the findings of an American Psychiatric Association (APA) Public Opinion Poll, the author writes: “If you’re feeling stressed, uncertain about what the future holds, or even physically unsafe, try not to panic—you’re definitely not alone.” ...
And here’s the second: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the lovely, gentle film about Fred Rogers, a soft-spoken Presbyterian minister whose Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood series on PBS uplifted and reassured a generation of children and their parents, has raked in more than $20 million since its June 8 opening. That figure makes it the highest grossing biographical documentary—and one of the top 15 nonfiction films—of all time.
The title of this post might also be “Blogging While Aging Ain’t for Sissies!” It is directed at those of you who—with astonishing alacrity—sped to my site last evening immediately after receiving the WordPress email announcing the publication of “Should We Get Smarter With Our Smartphones?” and found…nothing—no content. I don’t know who you are, … Continue reading Backstage in My Blog World: An Explanation and an Apology
My intention here is not to make everyone anxious; the data are not at all clear or persuasive that our ubiquitous cellphones are a health risk. And I'm aware that I'm simply touching the surface on a highly technical and controversial issue. But enough legitimate sources are urging us to take a thoughtful inventory of our cellphone use that I felt it was worth bringing this information to your attention.
Lessons learned from the serendipitous arrival of an uninvited kitten--a tiny parable for our times?
Cat and dog parable, pet stories,