Thanks, Guy, for the Reality Check!

Feelings about being unfollowed came up for me today when I found out in my NutshellMail report that a social media and digital influencer whom I’ve followed for many years on Twitter had unfollowed me.

Several thoughts flitted rapidly across my brain: first, WHY? then, “oh, yes, probably because I haven’t been very active on Twitter for some time and clearly I’m not tweeting items of interest to him”, and, third, it’s really not important, is it? Because it’s not like I was actual friends with him or anything. I won a copy of one of his books once after actually speaking with him in a phone webinar, but otherwise I have no relationship with him. And, the wonderful thing about Twitter is, I can continue to follow him regardless of him unfollowing me – which is the more interesting half of the connection anyway. So it felt bad, momentarily, until I shook myself awake and remembered all that.

Which brings me to the next question: Friending. The interesting thing about this aspect of Facebook is that you can unfriend, or be unfriended, with no notification to you or the other party. Most of the time that’s a really good thing since you can unfriend and not worry about undue repercussions. And when someone unfriends you, you’re not likely to find out it’s happened unless you regularly scan through your hundreds of friends or keep lists of them off line. That’s way too obsessive for me – and for most of us, no doubt. Because of the opacity of that process, I’m less likely to feel bad if I do happen to find out someone has unfriended me. Unless it were my daughter or sons. Then I would absolutely feel bad!

The whole point here is that while we might spend a lot of our time these days online and in virtual friendships, keeping open eyes and an open heart about what it all might mean is a useful way to approach that part of life. And, putting one’s energy into growing and maintaining real life relationships with family and friends is really a much better investment of time and emotional currency. IMO.

Grammar. Writing. And What Parts Make Me Crazy.

First of all? The misuse of apostrophes. I know you’ve seen them, in public signs and online. cd-s-and-dvd-optI find it particularly egregious when businesses do it. (Do they really want to sell me something? Then they’d better clean up their apostrophes!) Not to mention, when governmental entities do it too. playground-signThis example is a pretty permanent sign. Did no one proofread it? Where did these people go to school??

And of course, that problem ties in nicely with another of my top pet grammar peeves, its and it’s. The rule is really very simple – “it’s” means either IT IS, or IT HAS. That’s it. There is no other time when an apostrophe should be inserted into it’s.

“Its”, on the other hand, is possessive. “I saw my friend’s new dog. Its spots were quite striking.” “This stove has its own timer.” “This cardinal is thriving in spite of its deformed beak.”

There are many other common grammar mistakes that are often pointed out in social media memes and in more formal venues. They’re and their. You’re and your. purplecrayonThese are high on my list of grievances as well. Sometimes I would love to be Harold with his Purple Crayon, running around changing signs and creating a world of correct grammar.

Another: “My brother and myself went to the movies last night.” No. Just… NO! Myself is NOT a substitute for “I”. Why do people do that? Do they think it makes them sound more humble? More sophisticated? Something? It does not, people. It just does not. I complained about this recently on Facebook, and one of my erudite and highly-educated friends elaborated on the question for us:

In “my brother and me”, “me” is the direct object. “Myself” is a reflexive pronoun, “I see myself in the mirror.” Also, you can use “myself” when you are doing something to you, er, yourself. “I asked myself a question.” (So, “Our dad picked up my brother and myself” is not correct, as someone asked in the comments). You can also use it for emphasis, “I made that myself.”

And certainly I don’t want to forget the corollary (to me at least): it’s also not “You and me should have coffee sometime.” I’m sure this is obvious to many readers, but it’s something you hear used a great deal. An easy fix to remember that it should be “I” in that construction is to take out the “You and” part; you instantly hear you’d never say “me should have coffee sometime.” Oh. OK. Yes.

Conversely, as well, don’t use I where it should be me. “Janet gave her books to my husband and I.” Janet didn’t give her books to “I”, she gave them to “me”. Taking out the “my husband and” will remind you.

stars

But then there is stellar writing. Outstanding use of language that just sings when you read it. Here’s an interesting example from author Zoë Sharp: “My heart had the right idea. It was doing its best to make a break for it through the front of my ribcage.” You can feel exactly what the character means. She’s had a shock and is very fearful in the moment.

Another author whose command of language really resonates with me is Tawni O’Dell. I’ve written about her books here. There have been sentences and whole paragraphs in her books which just take my breath away, and I read them over and over to absorb the enjoyment of the words.

There are many good resources online for sharpening your use of grammar, as well as to read wonderful writing. Here are a few:

  1.  The Grammarly Blog
  2. Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl site – she also does a very entertaining and helpful podcast.
  3. Do you need a free style guide to look up questions of grammar or usage? Try this site, Garbl’s Style Manual. While I have to say the site itself is very … shall we say, 1994-looking? … Mr. Larson’s tips are valuable.
  4. Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. You can read the daily entries of wonderful poems and information on the birthdays of interesting people – some writers, some not – on this site. Or, even better, listen to the audio, also on the site. I find his voice to be most engaging.

FindHariSimran

After the memorial service for our dear son, brother, husband, and friend Hari Simran Singh Khalsa, I kept going back to MSS Krishna Kaur’s talk about the meaning of FindHariSimran. So I spent the morning today going over and over the video and transcribing her words, so as to internalize and truly understand them. This is what she said:

Wahe Guru ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru ji ki Fateh.

It’s a beautiful time to be together. Last time I sat here, I was bringing together Ad Purkh Kaur and Hari Simran in marriage. It was a beautiful gathering and time for all of us to celebrate the union of two beautiful souls into one.

When I think of Hari Simran, I see a very peaceful warrior, and I think of him like that. He was kind, and gentle, but a warrior. He was brave and undaunting in his pursuit of justice. He without any hesitation would stand before any group, any crowd, whether the sit-ins in Wall Street that he was active in a couple of years ago, organizing and speaking and training people on how to think, or whether it was with the Sikh Coalition or other places around the world where he stood up, and proudly said, the last time he was on the phone call with us, that he had been trained to be able to facilitate these kinds of discussions of justice and injustice, and diversity and righteousness.

So we have a gentle, sweet, giant that finished his time here, to much of us, too soon. But as we know, the Guru is always on time. It takes a moment to think about it. I know that throughout this journey of those few days when he was missing, and the energy going back and forth, with Mexico, and those of us who were on the line trying to help facilitate some parts of it, when I heard the news that he had actually been found and that he was no longer alive, I kept asking, and just yelling at God, and saying “What does this mean? What does this mean?” And for a long time, I’ve been looking for understanding what does this mean? Because I know when a great soul leaves, something shifts on the earth, something shifts on the planet. And the response of FindHariSimran was so massive, it was like, (whooshing sound), fast, it just went like wild fire, all over, people caught it. It was not just the sound of FindHariSimran, but it was the energy, the love, the passion, the feeling behind it, that was just so massive that people who didn’t even know him were getting involved (chuckles). That is the beauty of HariSimran.

And talking to his mom today, I think I really figured out for myself, what it all means. She brought the idea that Find Hari. Find God. Find the Divine. Simran, and find that flow of meditative joy and peace. Find Hari Simran. Almost as a mantra that was resounding all over the world. Find Hari Simran. And if we can all Find Hari Simran, not just as a beautiful soul that held that frequency, but also for the message that his life carried, every day and every moment. So we know that, kindness doesn’t mean weakness; gentleness is also strength; compassion is courage; and devotion is a steadfast living your belief, living your commitment, living who you are every day, every moment, in every hour, and that’s what Hari Simran means to me.

And I just want to say to Ad Purkh Kaur, you know, God bless you my dear beloved one. Don’t hesitate to allow yourself to grieve and allow yourself to go through the process of letting go. Your strength is not diminished by that. You are a beautiful strong sister and you have all of us here to support you, so just know that.

There was a memorial in Los Angeles, and the hukam, they asked me to read, was one that had us all a little bit, whoa, that’s just, that’s a different hukam, we haven’t heard that kind of hukam in awhile (laughing). You were there (nodding to someone in the sangat), you know, right? I’ll just share it with you, this English, it’s from NamDev.

“Come thou, oh beautifully-haired God, the conjurer wearing the dress of a saint. Pause.

Thou art the Lord who wears the hat of firmament over thy head, and who has seven underworlds as thy slippers. All the skin-wearers are thy mansions. In this way thou looks beauteous, oh Cherisher of the world. The fifth, sixth myriads of clouds is thine gown, and sixteen thousand queens are thine trousers. The 18 loads of vegetation is thy club, and the whole world is thy salver. Human body is the mosque, the mind the priest who tranquilly says the prayers. With Lady Lakshmi thy marriage is solemnized, and through her, oh Formless Lord, thou seemest to possess form. While I was performing thy love worship, thou hadst my symbols snatched, to whom should I complain?

Nama’s Lord, the Searcher of hearts, though countryless, is walking around everywhere.”

Wahe Guru ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru ji ki Fateh.

I hope you find this helpful.

Addendum: If you’d like to hear her specific talk during the memorial for yourself, and I highly recommend it, because her inflections, her love, and her passion just shine through her voice so deeply, it begins at 1:10 in the video.

Addendum 2: The lovely people at 3HO Foundation have made clips out of several of the sections of the ceremony. Here is MSS Krishna Kaur.

The “Ten Books” Meme

I was a little put out no one had tagged me for the “Ten Books That Changed My Life” meme going around Facebook – what? you all didn’t know I read ALL.THE.TIME??

No matter. When Neil Kramer proposed a Facebook group to organize the lists of all his friends and whoever was interested, I jumped right in.

Here’s my list, with explanations and expansions and links to thoughts on many of them as written elsewhere here. Oh, and? Um, more than ten, I know. I counted more than one by the same author as one, though. And then *had* to add Stones from the River, as it is the one book that I’ve ever read that explains really well how it was that the German people were so taken in by Hitler, and how much the “frog in a pot of boiling water” analogy applies.

Perhaps you’re glad now you didn’t ask??

Oh, and? just because a title doesn’t have a link doesn’t mean I thought any less of it than others; it just means I’ve been too lazy to write about it here or anywhere. They’re still all great reads.

Enjoy!

Defending Food

Because I decided to involve myself in a Facebook group lauding the meme going around called “Ten Books That Changed My Life”, I came back here to my blog to call to mind books I’ve reviewed here – these are the ones of the many I read every month that have stuck with me and had enough of an impact that I wanted to record my thoughts about them.

In doing so, I found a couple of books I started to write about, but for whatever reason, never finished. Hmmm. Lazy, probably. But I thought I’d finally finish and publish the below, begun in June of 2010 (!)

– – – – – – – – – – – –

I thought I knew quite a bit about proper nutrition, being a vegetarian, having known a lot of phenomenal cooks, and basically, having been an eater for …well, InDefenseFood_cover_thumba lot of years. Reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food I’m finding out how wrong, and *deluded*, I’ve been.

The thing I didn’t realize, and perhaps you don’t either if you haven’t already read this book, is just how much of public “knowledge” and “common wisdom” around nutrition actually falls into the category of what Pollan calls “nutritionism” – an ideology around thinking about food, which is not the same as “nutrition”, which as Merriam-Webster tells us, is “the sum of the processes by which an animal or plant takes in and utilizes food substances.”

I am blown away by how much the food manufacturing industry has succeeded in directing our thinking about food, beginning with re-labeling food in terms of its macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fats. I think, for instance, of the TV show, Top Chef, where, during what they call the “quick-fire challenge”, the contestants are presented with shelves or tables full of various foods and told what they have to make in something like 15-30 minutes – and they always talk about “choosing a protein”, as opposed to naming the meat or plant food representing a protein which would fit into the recipe they want to make.

It’s in the interest of the food industry in America to make sure we eat more and more highly-processed foods, and less and less “natural”, or raw, or straight-from-the-farm foods – the latter really don’t make them much money, after all, whereas the former does. Have you ever noticed, for example, that nearly all the coupons you find in the supermarket flyers and Sunday papers are for boxed, packaged, and processed foods? Not ONE says “get 50 cents off a head of broccoli”!

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Well, here it is, more than four years later, and little has changed in terms of what I wrote above. The food manufacturing industry is still trying to pull the wool over our eyes, the FDA is still in the food industry’s pocket, and the junk food still grabs our taste buds and addictive centers and pulls us in.

This book, and Michael Pollan’s others are all very worth your time (I especially loved The Botany of Desire). His axiom to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is more important than ever. Read his books, enjoy the knowledge he shares, and eat some good food!

Changing Attitudes

There are a couple of articles getting a lot of play around the internet in the last few days, from two University of Chicago students who participated in a study-abroad trip to India. One young woman had a very bad, very difficult experience: she was assaulted – visually, verbally, and in all sorts of disgusting ways – “stalked, groped, masturbated at” as she says, over the several weeks of her trip, by all kinds of South Asian men; she also came close twice to being raped. As a result she suffered, and still suffers, PTSD.

The second young woman, also on the same trip, posted something of a rebuttal, trying to make clear that not all men in India behave in the ways the first woman experienced. Her post struck me as being quite well-reasoned and balanced, although some find it to be somewhat overly apologetic on behalf of Indian men. I thought this part of the second post particularly resonant, however: “But Stewart, who is black, cautioned that ‘when we do not make the distinction that only some men of a population commit a crime, we develop a stereotype for an entire population. And when we develop a negative stereotype for a population, what arises? Racism.'” (Quote from this CNN article.)

Here’s the thing I started thinking about, which comes up for me a lot around the subject of men’s attitudes about rape and towards women in general. Why is it, as one Facebook friend said, that there’s a mindset “which thinks its ‘natural’ for men to not be able to control themselves and for women to be viewed as sexual objects first and foremost”? Where does that mindset come from? Are those men, from the time they are babies and little boys, given the idea and impression that girls and women are on this earth simply for them to ogle, gape at, stalk, assault verbally and physically, brush up against, leer at, and on and on? Where do those attitudes come from?

And yes, I think it’s true that it’s not specific to India, or to any other country, region, or continent. It’s not specific at all; it’s global. Men in all countries and all cultures to some degree or another have been allowed or even brought up to believe this. Men have been taught and shown by their fathers and even by their mothers that women are of less value and exist primarily or even only as objects of their desire or use. Many many men are not taught in their upbringing to respect and revere the women in their lives and environments; and they are especially taught by the media to view women as sexual objects only. And, as if that’s not bad enough, many many women are brought up to feel that their sexual self is the only value they have to offer to the world. These intertwined truths result in the kinds of attitudes and behaviors we see.

In some cultures and religions, men are made to believe that they have no control over their own impulses toward women, and that it’s the woman’s responsibility to keep men from ogling them and much worse, often by covering their bodies with all sorts of prescribed clothing (burkas et al.) and by behaving in certain ways and not in other ways. Men think it’s not up to them to behave maturely and consciously, but rather up to women to keep them (the men) from behaving badly. There is a global culture of other-blaming as opposed to taking responsibility and being accountable for one’s own actions.

I do want to clarify that of course, it’s not ALL men EVERYWHERE. But, a significantly large percentage of all men do act in these ways and believe these attitudes . 

Here is the thing I don’t understand though: how is it that women, mothers, in this day and age, are not raising their sons to be respectful, to honor the girls and women in their lives, to question and strike out against what they hear and see in the media, in music (rap and hip-hop!), and online? I certainly, myself, don’t claim to be perfect in this regard, but I know I have tried very hard to get my son to do exactly that. And I have been blessed that those efforts are supported by people around him and around me, and by his father as well, and also by the schooling he’s been exposed to.

This is not only the responsibility of mothers; it’s also very importantly the responsibility of fathers – they need to model better behavior and they need to specifically teach better values – that women are not men’s toys – they are equal and valuable human beings. And, each child has to know to listen to their own inner voice, to know, for boys, they don’t have to “go along with the crowd” when the crowd is denigrating girls and women, and for girls, they don’t have to accept lewd or any behavior that scares them or makes them feel bad, or just “go along to get along” with anyone else’s actions. It’s the only way, ultimately, that these terrible events will change.

We, all people in all cultures, must teach men and boys that the way to stop rape and sexual assaults of all kinds it to NOT DO IT. And they learn that by being taught that every girl and every woman has the same value and rights as they themselves do. It’s the golden rule, folks!

How Would You Survive?

If you look back over the book reviews I’ve done here, you might think I read two or three books a year, at most. In reality, I devour books. I read at least two to three a week, often more. But, because I read for escape, and most of those don’t stick with me, I don’t take the time to write anything about them.


I’ve just finished Room, by Emma Donoghue, and I know this book is going to stick with me for a very long time. A train friend was reading it recently and highly recommended it, but when she told me its basic premise, I thought I’d never be able to read it – as a mom, it sounded like it would cut way too close to the bone. Then I picked up a copy last night at Barbara’s in South Station on my way home (having finished my last book, Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier, on the subway) and, skimming the first two or three pages, I was immediately hooked. The book came home with me, and I finished it today.

You may be wondering, what was that basic premise? Told in the voice of Jack, a just-turned-five-year-old boy, it’s about his and his Ma’s life as prisoners in an 11 by 11 foot room. This is their entire world, and it’s all Jack has ever known.

Ma is a now-27 year old woman who was kidnapped by a man unknown to her from her college campus at age 19. She has lived as his prisoner and sexual slave for over seven years in Room, and for the last five, has protected and nurtured and raised her son in astounding ways.

Jack is a most intriguing mix of nearly grown up, and still practically a toddler. The name of every item in Room, including Room itself, is capitalized in his mind, and because mostly there is only one of everything, nothing is “the” Room, or “the” Bed, or “the” Rug – it’s Room, Bed, Rug, Duvet, Skylight (which looks straight up and is their only view to Outside), investing them with life and personalities of their own.

Jack has mad-crazy language skills (in spite of being a bit shaky on grammar upon occasion) and also math skills. He can repeat back, perfectly, whole lines of what he hears on the TV, in a game he and Ma call Parrot. His vocabulary and understanding are extensive.

Whereas one might think Ma would be nearly catatonic after all those years mostly alone (her captor, who she and Jack refer to as Old Nick – because, like Santa, he only comes at night – comes to Room for only a little while a few times a week), she has made every effort to keep herself – and thus Jack – sane and as whole as possible, teaching him everything she can.

Ma and Jack have a small black-and-white TV that gets only a couple channels via Bunny (the antenna ears), and Ma has taught Jack that everything he sees on TV is fantasy (as she says later, “why teach him there are things and places out there he may never get to see or experience?”) To keep their brains from “becoming mushy” they only watch one or two shows a day, the rest of the time reading, talking, exercising, napping, playing – living as normally as Ma can make it. Jack thinks the things he sees on the TV are each their own planets – the Dora planet, the medical planet, the news planet, the animals planet.

Now, however, Jack is five, and Ma finds out that Old Nick’s living situation has become very tenuous – he has been unemployed for over six months and may be close to losing his house. She decides it’s time for them to formulate an escape plan. Of course, she’s thought of a million escape plans over the years, none of which were feasible enough to try, because of the fortress-like nature of Room, gradually revealed throughout the story. The only plan she did try resulted in Old Nick breaking her wrist, which has never properly healed.

But now her desperation is coming full bloom – Jack cannot stay in Room any longer, they both need the world. So she starts “unlying” to him – explaining that much of what they see on the TV is, in fact, real, and does exist. She tells him about her Mom and Dad, and brother Paul, that they have relatives, people who care for her and will also care for Jack. Together they work out a plan to get Old Nick to take Jack out of Room, making him think Jack is very very sick and needs a hospital, whereupon Jack will run away and get help.

While escape doesn’t work quite according to plan, in the end (about halfway through the book) it does work. Then both Ma and Jack have to start learning what it means to be living Outside, and how their lives will go on from Room.

This is a finely-crafted, incredibly engaging book. I never once got tired of Jack’s voice; his thoughts and experiences and the ways he expresses them ring true in every line. The author tells usIt was not Old Nick’s evil that fascinated me, but the resilience of Ma and Jack: the nitty-gritties of their survival, their trick of more or less thriving under apparently unbearable conditions. Because of this, there are no specifically horrific parts meant only to terrorize the reader. I was always aware, as an undercurrent, of the terrible circumstances of Ma’s and Jack’s existence, but the love and light and life that they shared together was the most stand-out part of the story.

Ms. Donoghue has done a remarkable job of showing us exactly their resilience and desire to survive. You should read this book.