Sunday, September 13, 2020

Accepting, Embracing What Is

This year, I’ve posted sporadically and done a poor job of visiting your blogs and leaving comments. That haphazardness is due to Meniere’s Disease. 

The specialist who diagnosed Meniere’s in 2006 said I had a “truly bad case” that was both “progressive and intractable.” This year’s vision problems have resolved themselves as I follow the routine of 30-minute-focus/20-minute-close-eyes. That’s easily doable; what Meniere’s does to my mind isn’t easy. 


For me, this year has been the worse for Meniere’s since 2009. From early March on, I’ve had almost daily headaches that are like migraines in intensity, but without the light sensitivity. On those days, I want to bang my head against the wall so as to knock myself out. The headaches drain me, so, if the next day is headache-free, I have no energy to do anything except listen to a book. 


The headaches make me stutter when I talk; I can’t think straight. My brain becomes “foggy.” That is, I can’t prioritize, make decisions, or make sense of what is being said to me. 


Beyond the brain fog, Meniere’s brings wooziness, dizziness, insomnia, and an imbalance that has me bopping against the hall walls and falling against the computer screen or furniture. (My mailbox is across the street, and I weave back and forth getting to it. I suspect the neighbors think I’m a secret tippler!) 


This year, I’ve so enjoyed listening to audio books about the American Revolution. As our democracy is being fractured, these books help me put the present time into perspective. However, my last post, which was about my reading, took me 5 ½ hours to complete because of the brain fog and the vision routine.


Leaving comments when I read your postings also takes time. Time for the words to come and to make sense. When I proofread the comments before clicking, I discover words missing, meaning gone. So, writing comments whether on your blogs or mine is both time-consuming and frustrating. 


For most of my life, I’ve had a routine: school, convent, work, retirement. Even with my vision, routine reigns: 10 times a day I put drops in my eyes. And I now have the vision routine of 30 on/20 off. When I don’t stick to a routine, I accomplish little. When that happens, I feel frustrated; disappointed in myself. In 84 years, I haven’t been able to outgrow this incessant drive to achieve.


A psychiatrist once said to me, “Dee, be gracious to yourself.” I’ve said that to others, but the truth is, I find it hard—I’m driven to produce. (If only I could work on my childhood memoir, I’d explain how that happened!) This past Wednesday, however, some concerned friends encouraged me to accept that I must let go of routine. I need not only to accept that truth, but to embrace it and find good in what is. By doing so, I’ll banish the debilitating feelings of disappointment and frustration and, yes, guilt that hound me. 


I’m sharing this with you simply to let you know that when I can visit your blogs, I will do so because I so want to keep up with those of you who have become virtual friends. You matter to me. As the weeks and months pass, I’ll visit when the day feels right and I’m making sense. When a day is especially good, I hope to post my ongoing response to the audio books. Just know that you aren’t forgotten, that I will always feel deep gratitude for your support.



PS: I’ve read, reread, edited, and searched for words for this posting for five hours. I’m going to stop now. Please excuse any mistakes.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Reflecting on Learning from "Bunker Hill"

What does a revolution look like? What happens when something revolves? 

I’ve been reading about the American Revolution (AR) at the same time as I’m witnessing Black Lives Matter (BLM), which seems to me to be another revolution, one to secure systematic equality. In Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick, a writer who delights in extensive research and has an uncanny ability to find what I call “the telling detail,” I’ve been repeatedly surprised by a number of similarities between the AR and BLM.

BLM: For the past three months, people of all ages and from all walks of life and background have peacefully protested police brutality, especially toward Black men. They have drawn attention to systematic racism in our country.

AR: Between 1767-75, colonists wrote King George III and members of Parliament to air their grievances about the Townshend Acts. The cry was, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” 

BLM: For many Americans, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, was the final straw in the long history of racial inequality in the United States. 

AR: The final straw for the colonial rebels was the march to Concord, Massachusetts, by British soldiers and the deadly skirmish at Lexington in April 1775.

BLM: A large majority of Americans support the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Many supporters do not have a shared reality with the Black protesters, but they do have a shared desire for justice. For equality. For human dignity. 

AR: At first, only Massachusetts supported independence. The other thirteen colonies, particularly the southern three and New York, did not immediately see how what was happening in Boston touched their lives.

BLM: In several cities, looting and rioting followed the peaceful protest. (Personally, I think today that the wordrioting is code for “Black rioting.” Somehow “Whites” don’t riot.) Because of that, some supporters have turned against the protest and are themselves protesting the loss of property. They now view the protesters as criminal rather than peaceful, convoluting protesting with looting/rioting. That is, they see everyone in the protest—except perhaps for the White participants—as potential looters and rioters. Moreover, they fear that these protesters will destroy their property and livelihood just as lotters in Minneapolis destroyed the small businesses along Lake Street.

AR: Those colonists who favored independence came to be called Patriots; they disagreed with the Tories who had little trouble with the status quo. The Tories deplored many of the Patriots’ actions and began to fear them because several Patriot gatherings evolved into mobs that assaulted and tarred-and-feathered dissenters. 

In 1765, a mob of Boston colonists, protesting what they considered an unjust law, ransacked the home of Thomas Hutchinson, the Massachusetts governor. They shattered windows, broke dishes, demolished furniture.  In the early 1770s, colonial sailors, resenting corrupt tax collectors and abusive law enforcement, attacked British ships. In 1772, they burned the Gaspee. In December 1773, a number of colonists, dressed as Native Americans, dumped a shipload of tea into Boston harbor to protest the tea tax. 

Looters? Yes. Property destroyers? Yes. In the dark of night, in costumes that masked who they were, these “Sons of Liberty,” feeling unjustly done by, rebelled. Their actions caused loss not only to the British tea company but also to those in the colonies who stored tea in warehouses, carted it to stores, and owned the stores that sold it.

Protesters, looters, rioters seem part of both revolutions. However, I’m not defending destroying property. I am loudly decrying the taking of human life in the name of justice. Or of “law and order.” And I’m trying to help create a country in which all of us will acknowledge the truth of the reality that has been part of Black lives for centuries.

Drawing from Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

An Intro to a Series

The political and pandemic period in which we now live prompts this posting, which introduces a series of postings I plan to do on audio books by well-known historians.

First, some personal background: my parents encouraged me—from about the age of 10—to read two newspapers a day. Around the supper table, we discussed what I’d read. They wanted me to understand “history being made.”  In college, I mostly studied ancient and European history.

However, in August 1969, after leaving the convent, I began my studies for a Master’s Degree in American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Two years later—after taking as many classes as I could over the course of twenty-four months—I obtained the degree with an emphasis on Black and Southern history.

For American studies, I took classes in several departments that offered courses about the United States. Among these were sociology, art/architectural, linguistics, literature, political science, and history.

After completing my master’s in 1971, I read two weekly news magazines (Newsweek and Time) and the daily Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers. From 1976 on, I nightly watched The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which later became known as the PBS Newshour.  

What I didn’t do after leaving the U of M was to continue reading books on American history written by distinguished historians. That was a mistake I’m correcting now.

For the past four years, whenever I hear the president speak, I think of the behavior of Joseph McCarthy, the Republican senator from Wisconsin who conducted televised hearings during my last two years in high school. I watched those hearings whenever I could and listened to my grandmother Ready rhapsodize about McCarthy. 

In the spring of my senior year (1954), while watching the Army-McCarthy hearings, I heard the legal representative for the army say to McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?” He asked this after repeatedly witnessing McCarthy browbeat and belittle others with derogatory names and blatant innuendo.

As McCarthy did in the 1950s, many Americans—those of the “Contract with America” in the 1990s, the Tea Party Movement that began in 2009, and those who espouse the QAnon far-right conspiracy theory of the past two years—keep referring today to their “rights” and to the Constitution to explain their words and actions. Given that and the partisanship so evident in our country, I decided on my 84th birthday in April to study American history. I’m going for another master’s degree!

No, I’m not going back to school. I’ll take no tests. Write no papers. But I will, for as many years as I have left to live this life, read the books of reputable historians who can explain the threads that tie together one century/one event to another in the United States. Ultimately, I’ll award myself a home-made diploma from the University of Historians! 

I’ve started my degree work (sounds impressive doesn’t it!?!?!) with the late 18th century. Already I’m astounded at how woefully ignorant I’ve been of this period of American history.

In future postings, I’ll share with you books I’m reading about the following:

·      The 1st American Revolution (the war for independence—1775-1783)—books by Nathanial Philbrick, Rick Atkinson, and David McCullough.

·      The 2nd American Revolution (securing the peace, establishing government, writing the Constitution—1783-1789)—three books by Joseph J. Ellis.

·      Biographies of those who led the struggle in both revolutions—books by McCullough, Ron Chernow, Jon Meacham, and Ellis. 

I hope to live long enough to study the entire history of our young country. And then . . .  if my health permits, I want to study the history of the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand as well as several Asian, African, and South American countries. I want to learn and appreciate.

So much to listen to and absorb. So many reasons to be grateful. Peace. 

You will note that the historians I’ve mentioned are all men. White men. As I learn enough to be appreciative, I will read histories written by and about women, histories written by and about Native Americans, and histories written by and about people of color.

I want to, I must read about colonial women and their work for the cause; about African Americans and the significant role they played in the Continental Army that George Washington commanded; and about how the founders of the United States systematically put in place plans that would push Native Americans westward and ultimately eradicate them. 

If any of you have books to suggest to help with my education, please do so. The only caveat is that the book must be available in audio because I’m no longer able to easily read paper or e-books. Once I move beyond the United States, I’ll need suggestions for other countries and their histories. So please help me out with this. Help me be inclusive. Expand my mind and my heart. Show me how to embrace Oneness.

That is . . . Help me learn the lessons of history and the struggles of all human beings as they try to find Oneness.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Using Speech-to-Text

The subject for this posting was to be a continued sharing of the books on the American Revolution to which I've listened in the past four months. Specifically, I was going to tell you about two novels that humanize those men who fought the war, won the independence, and secured the republic. So often these leaders are presented as demigods. Jeff Shaara’s historical fiction portrays their flaws as well as their virtues. Thus, they become approachable human beings. 

That sharing, however, is going to have to wait because I want to tell you what’s happening with my writing.

Since December, I’ve struggled with a second memoir. Two questions kept giving me pause: What part of my life shall I write about? And, what thematic thread will weave all the stories together? That thread is important for it determines which life stories I’ll tell.

During the weeks I could work at the computer, I began the memoir a number of times, arriving each time at a cul-de-sac that led to yet another beginning. Ultimately, I decided to write a memoir that would serve as both prequel and sequel to Prayer Wasn’t Enough, the convent memoir I published in 2018. That experience will be only a chapter, or possibly two in this second memoir. 

Eye issues have been part of my struggle. I have the energy to write 2 ½ hours a day, but with my vision/focus regimen that means 5 hours. It’s ½ hour writing, followed by ½ hour resting my eyes. I would need to do that 5 times to get in the writing. With that schedule I might have a first draft completed sometime next year. Then I’d need to do a second and possibly a third draft. Given the time it always takes me to get to a final manuscript, the memoir would probably be published in mid-to-late 2022.

Giving 5 hours a day to writing seems formidable to me because I also want to blog, exercise, meditate—and of course, listen to books, prepare and eat meals, visit friends on the phone, sit on the screened-in porch and chill out, and . . . sleep. 

Last week, one of my nieces suggested that I use the speech-to-text function of my Mac/Microsoft Word. That is, I would sit with my eyes closed so I wouldn't be focusing and having to do that 5-hour regimen.  I could simply talk. My words would become text. After trying that function, we both realized it would require a great deal of editing because of all the misunderstood words. 

A friend then described his experience with “speech-to-text.” He thought the difference between his experience and mine was the Mac system I was using. With his help, I downloaded and then installed Catalina 10.15—an upgrade from El Capitan 10.6.  

However, my Microsoft Word program wouldn’t work with the new system. Thus, I’ve had to purchase the most recent Word for Macs and am learning how to use it. For someone as technologically inept as myself, this has been challenging. It’s why I didn’t post Sunday. 
Today, I’m using “speech-to-text” and liking it. This will mean that I can keep my eyes closed/unfocused and thus not need 5 hours to do 2 ½ hours of writing. 

O joy in the morning!

PS: The five books pictured here are among the memoirs I've read and enjoyed in the past years. Of course, Educated by Tara Westover is a favorite now. 

Covers from Amazon.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Two Books That Give Me Hope

I’m now in my fourth month of listening to unabridged nonfiction books by American historians. With so much from which to choose, where did I start back in April? 

With Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.I had read a number of reviews of his book. The Newsday reviewer expressed what nearly every other reviewer said. That is, 

Meacham, by chronicling the nation’s struggles from revolutionary times to current day, makes the resonant argument that America has faced division before—and not only survived it but thrived. . . . Meacham believes the nation will move beyond Trump because, in the end, as they have shown on vital issues before, Americans embrace their better angels. This book stands as a testament to that choice—a reminder that the country has a history of returning to its core values of freedom and equality after enduring periods of distraction and turmoil.

In reading the book, I met a number of presidents who’d faced situations that called for mature thinking, a well-developed moral compass, and tested integrity. These presidents had brought a majority of Americans to an acceptance of our founding ideals so that our country could truly become “more perfect.” 

Note that the Constitutiondoes not say that we are going “to form a perfect Union.” Those who drafted the document knew that was impossible. So they said, “to form a more perfect Union” that will bring the “blessings of liberty” not only to the first generation of patriots but also to their posterity. To us. And to those beyond us.

It is up to all of us to keep working on the “more.” 

Meacham’s book is the first to which I listened. He doesn’t overtly compare those past presidents with President Trump. But for this reader, the comparison was painfully obvious. As the years have passed since my protest days of Vietnam, I’ve become more and more disillusioned about the possibility of our country surviving its deepening partisanship. However, Meacham’s book helped me believe that even as fractured as we have become, we the people will ultimately call on the “better angels” within us to embrace the Oneness that unites us in a common good. 

The next book I listened to was 1776 by David McCullough. Every person who proclaims his or her “right” not to wear a mask needs to read this book. In fact, all of us can profit from the history lesson that 1776 provides. 

Right now, life is scary here in the United States. (At least I’ve found it so.) But both McCullough’s and Meacham’s book illustrate the cycle of history. That is, the ups and downs, the flattening of the curve of those peaks and valleys, and the will of a people to return to the ideals that are foundational to what it means to be an American. 

As I’ve witnessed the peaceful protesting of George Floyd’s murder and seen that protest impaired, in some minds, by both white and black looters, I have often thought that the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle to end systematic racism are another example of an American Revolution. I see many parallels today between the divergent views expressed by those on Facebook in 2020 and the strongly held and differing views of the patriots and Tories of 1776.

Change is risky—and scary. It calls us to new thoughts and realizations. It asks us to let go of some of our most treasured shibboleths. Those that, perhaps, have given us a sense of security all our lives. Many feel, I believe, that their lives are being threatened and becoming unmoored. Who are they to believe? What are they to believe?

These two books are helping me live my belief that all shall be well. That the arc of our history leads to Oneness.