Meet Sweet Alex

07/31/09 15:03


AlexSweet Alex is the progenitor of the morning project.

He begins our day with worship before the alter of our computer.  Much mutual smoozing goes on before he settles his capacious belly on my mouse-hand and arm and we go about exploring what has changed overnight. My friends know to expect many stories of Sweet Alex and also Claudette Colbert the regal Siamese who provides the ginger for our lives.

Mark van Doren’s poem reminds me that mornings with no place to go are gifts  of retirement.  The poet Marian Campbell writes also of the experience I share with so many of my friends, that being waking early and just lying in bed enjoying morning peace.

My hope is this narrative may find use to others it may touch along the road.

In shameless self-promotion,  I encourage visitors and friends to follow the link above to learn of the larger endeavor to collect in one online venue a volume of my paper, mental and electronic scriibbling.

Saturday morning

08/01/09 10:06

Some catch up time and respite from the obligations of the political.

Reading the opening post has remided me of a media story published in May that I want to again make note of; that wonderful Athens Banner article on the history of  The Waving Girl.

My response was: “Beautiful and lovingly written story.  Reminds me of my childhood most of which was lived on US Route 66 in Oklahoma. My brother and I would wave the cars and trucks by and note the different states on the tags. Later during WW II we watched and waved to to the troops as they convoyed to war. I have wondered how long folks held the memory of two scrawny little kids in the middle of the country waving them on.

People count. We just never know how much.”

So after the mixed blessings of the Creative Writng class and dipping my toe back into politics I seem to be back to the sublime.

bookSpeaking of Creative writing.  Alma Bowen’s novel The Cement Duck is taking off!  It is such a good read I am not surprised and of course I am delighted.

A mystery story it is based on real events that occurred in North Georgia some years ago.  The  surprising and lasting influence on the lives of those involved are recounted through the eyes of Serena,  working wife and mother.

Read about it in the Times here.  Purchase it here.

The silence

08/02/09 09:15

Last night’s blessed rain continues a light drizzle this morning. I recall thunder during the night bringing Claudette into her “safe place” between my knees and thighs.

The new grass is outgrowing even the weeds but I fear the new soil will be too saturated to permit Frank to mow it once more.  And who knows when he can come back to do it.  Like all of us his aging seems to sap more energy by the day.

Though a weekend the morning is silent. I recall how much I treasured that when I first moved to the lake. It is not as exotic but reminds me of my brother’s account of a solitary driven then hike up a Chilean mountain. “perfectly silent”

I long for the chatter of others but treasure the silence.  So humans are made.

The papers

08/02/09 10:22

Finally getting to the papers.

Maureen is a must today.   Can You Eat In Bed?

Especially for me, as I try to become a credible cook in these last  years of my life, how many being dependent on how well I learn.

The Grapes of Wrath

08/03/09 17:36


Watched The Grapes of Wrath this past weekend and have been struggling a bit with the hot acid that comes with personal memories of that time. (See link above for what I have written in the past.)

Of course the compelling message in the story is not of the abuse of the poor but of the unyielding spirit of life that is in all of us, and of course “the kindness of strangers.”  There were and are now those who are observing and acting in so many ways to counter the effects of man’s too frequent inhumanity.

At the time the book was written I was a member of  that alien race, the poor, that many of the time proposed were poor only because of inferior genes.  (Herber Hoover was forced to apologize to the Eugenics Society for implying that all a child needed to grow into a succesful adult was an adequate diet.)

Ten short years later I was awash in offers of full scholarships from numerous high end universities, the kind strangers who saw value and promise.

Yet the sour hot still fills my throat when I recall the early times. I dread it but I am grateful for it too.  It is the cornerstone of empathy that sustains my connections to the diverse lives with whom I share this planet..

Whatever happened to Ruth Kent?

08/04/09 06:16

I fear I roused the cats too early as they now are both lapsed back into sleep, Claudette curled at my feet and Alex sprawled under the light on the cabinet.

I bring last evening’s drowsing thoughts into the new day.  (I am finding all kinds of benefits to limiting severely the time expended on cable “news.” )

There on WSB’s  the 11:00 p.m.  news was John Pruitt, Monica Kaufman (now Pearson) and Glenn Burns.  How long have they been there? How reassuring that they are.

I remember John’s father,  Mead Johnson’s “Mr. Pruitt,” from 50 years ago.  Lord knows how many babies survived because of Mead Johnson’s policy of charity.  Mr. Pruitt never turned down a request for Enfamil for a poor baby.

WSB (Welcome South Brother – bet you didn’t know that’s what it stands  for) and TV hadn’t really been around that long.

Then I got to thinking about how much I miss Ruth Kent on the morning show.  She talked about Atlanta and interviewed every prominent and many not so prominent Atlantans. Affirmed that we shared the same town.  I miss her.

The worship thing

08/05/09 09:17

I am determined to preserve this space for the active worship of the planet and its creatures we awaken to every morning.

Still thinking on a post that was in my inbox,  I wonder if I should have included the entry about The Grapes of Wrath. It included some  harsh facts of our history  painful to embrace.

The thrust of both the book and my personal account is intended to celebrate the eternal spirit of life and  also those other souls who notice.

(Wyc Orr gives a wonderful account of the reassurance given by FDR’s  visit to Gainesville after the great tornado of 1936. He describes FDR as telling the people of the decimated small city that the resources and powers of their government will be immediately mobilzed to come to their aid.  ie that their plight was noticed.)

Our assets are meaningless if we don’t recognize what they master.

I fear I leave people bemused with some of my crypitic observations.  One of which I was known for in the psychiatric community was my response to those who fear any stress be placed on their children, lest permanent harm come.  My response? “If they don’t have to deal with any  traumas they will grow up silly and without much to be proud of.” (Of course that requires many qualifictions such as the severty of trauma etc.)

Gotta run to lunch. Hooray!


The Photo

08/06/09 08:25

Every morning Art Knowledge News email brings me news of the art galleries around the world. Many items are illustrated with great art.

This Condi Nast  Edward Steichen photo  strikes me with such emotional force that I experience its beauty physically. It depicts in detail what I imagined being grown up to be.  On checking with a couple of age peer friends it seems the impact is unique to me.


I believe it must  be very close to the image of the memory screen of my Oedipal era that I have carried since.  I feel very close to my  mother as I view it.   The woman with the Chanel scarf could be her. Being a lover of history and historical context for the personal I also can place it as representing a high point of  the hubris of the “Roaring Twenties” that preceded the times of disillusionment; a screen image for the culture’s Oedipal era.

Enjoy and comment if you will.


08/08/09 08:24

Long day yesterday.  So I succumbed to neglecting touching this base.  Not all together sure why.

The cats become more animated and stay closer when there are visitors in fact or by telephone.  I realize they do so also when I am writing emails or posting on weblogs.  In other words when I am experiencing in fact or feeling communication with other human souls the cats move to join in.

I will mull on that more; and also the totally remote question of how Claudette can strip a bed in less than 5 minutes.

Saturdays have been my hair day for some time. When working it was Wednesday, “doctor’s day off,” then Thursday to fit the hair dresser’s schedule, then Saturday’s.

But all that 45 year routine (of shampoo and set, color every 6 wk or so) came to a startling disruption about 2 years ago when the hair disappeared.  That time is memorialized for at least 4 years on my driver’s license. <s>

Now hair is back, stringy white and taking off in all directions and I am on the way to a shearing. I will however never return to the 45 year  routine. What was once reassuring predictabliity has become replaced by the pleasure of  blow-dry Round-head Puritian white.

Life’s suprises bring new pleasures.   Next learning how to cook.

Have a good one.

The Mule

08/09/09 08:26


Perhaps the greatest gift (A misnomer, it was purchased at high market price.)  of my psychoanalysis is the acceptance of  life being hard, very hard, and no one escapes.  Mastery and, ultimately,  happiness begins with the looking full face into what fears and challenges  life brings.  A veteran civil rights activist friend sometime later put into words the process. “My dear. We can’t permit the fear to direct our life.”  I would say we can’t permit the troubles to define us.

Seems like a lot of that challenging part is going around right now.

I miss the time when the language of my community was that of Freud. We could do well to rediscover some of those threads.


Link:  and

Alex has retired to the living room and Claudette taken his place before the alter, expressing her contentment in quiet purrs and nose licks and bumps.

Betsy’s  mother and I were college classmates and our families have been life-long friends. Though she and her mother have shared various poems, when her book Earth Milk was published I was distracted by events.

btSo I just this past week obtained and read the body of work it encompasses.  Artistically it is great work. The proof of the authenticity of her vision is in how the poems transport me back to a time when my own emotional nature was developing.  She and I share/ed several greater than life characters.   I find myself in wonder at how much the little girl observed and understood.

Too often it seems we encourage our children to not notice, to just “believe,” and later we are encouraged to just forget, to “move on. ”  That is how we lose our bearings.

My experience is of course unique but those who enjoy poetry, and who doesn’t, will love this book.

Read more about Betsy here and here .


Interesting Women

Off to lunch shortly to meet a new friend.

After a respite from reading because of nothing seeming interesting (thanks to the kindness of a friend) I revisited the great African American writer Zora Hurston and  I am now into another of my beloved h Wharton’s novels, this The Reef. I was surprised and delighted yesterday to discover that one of my medical folks enjoys h Wharton also. There still may be hope for the profession. <s>

Then read a wondeful book review in this week’s  The Nation of the latest resurrection of the diary of Lucie Dillon (Marquise de la Tour du Pin). I was reminded that I have not as yet gotten to Osborne’s Idina Sackville biography.  So; lots of good reading for the rest of the summer.

h Wharton of course writes more or less of the time of Idina Sackville,  and my grandmothers. They are all history through the eyes of women who managed to define themselves in spite of cultural barriers and in the case of Lucie Dillon times of great troubles.

I am reminded of my wonderful Aunt Emma letters in Prairie Tree Letters.  Born in the early 1850s, she became a writer and reporter in Milwaukee and other Wisconsin towns. Later she taught in the public schools in southern California. Her letters encompass the last ten years of her life, mostly spent alone far distant from family.  Her sense of connection and joy past and contemporaneous  speaks for the rewards of life well spent.  She truly has been an inspiration and mentor for me.

I remain grateful for choices and accidents that permitted me to live life outside myself and of myself.  As Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued, it is a woman’s right; just as it is a man’s right.


Watching grass grow

08/13/09 09:12

Gratefully, it rained yesterday. It saves me the hassle of watering my newly seeded and struggling lawn. In comparison with the asphalt it is only a small L shaped strip created by the plumbers when they added to my septic drainage system.  But I treasure what opportunity there is for grass.

For me, another task has been newly acquired, that of cooking. I really never had the time for it when I was working, and not much now.   But I enjoy it and it seems to get more time efficient with pracitice.  I may even budget for a new kitchen range.

For most of us work for sustenance and these things seem to occupy the greater number of hours of the day. They rarely have poems or essays, much less headlines, written about them.

The capacity to efficiently, if not always joyfully, negotiate them most defines our competence as autonomous individuals.

Freud said to work and to love are the  drives common to all people.  We do a lot of celebrating the love part.  How about the work part too?


08/16/09 12:17

Likely one of the reasons I took to psychoanalysis like a duck to water is how much I have always loved dreams.   Dreamwork is productive, even if it is only great grand entertainment.

This morning’s was a doozy, if the bearer of some humbling insights.  I don’t mention Claudette very often but she is the guardian of my tender spots.  Usually rambunctious in the mornings with much running about, tail bushed,  she seemed to understand the work of the dreams going on today.  When I roused, still at the midway point to consciousness, she like a feather landed herself on the bed and curled close in the depression under my chin; quiet purrs.

Someone once made the observation that depression is the place where something once was. The work of my dream was to remind me that love and trust of another is a gift. It is not the missing part. Treating it as an owned commodity is to abuse love.

Tangentially; also came the lesson that to numb oneself or ignore feelings of others is not only anti-social but can be catastrophic.  (I have a short story in the mill that I now think I will complete and share in the next few days.)

Love and good fortune to all in your life ventures this coming week.


Gramma Makes the Point

08/17/09 08:40

By the time I came along Gramma had pretty well given up any personal boundaries she may have once had with children. To the consternation of the other grandmother and family, I had the habit of calling her “Fat Gran.” I adored her abundance. She was so soft and accepting of exploration of details of her daily activities and her person as well.

The grandchildren would free her hair of restraining bone hairpins then comb and brush for hours. It had never been cut and was always worn in a bun on top of her head. Gramma, as I finally came to call her, had resisted both the bobs of the twenties and the pompadours of the forties. It is also my guess that any of the over thirty grandchildren could still recite how to prune roses, scratch a cat’s ears or make biscuits….”First you make a well in the flour…”

Many more memories flow, but this one is about how you could never flummox Gramma.

The summer of 1942 my slightly older cousin Shirley and I spent a week or more with Gramma in the home on I Ave in Lawton, Oklahoma. Until that year Lawton had been a typical dusty little peacetime army town. Pawn shops and penny arcades were the major industries. However that summer the streets swelled with teenaged boys in khaki uniforms and garrison caps. Many, as did my male cousins, came ahead of the draft, directly from the CCC

My glamorous older female cousins taking full advantage of the fresh stock in town were dating abundantly.

But for me it was a time of deep wounding because I was not yet permitted to aspire to dating. Shirley a couple of years older than I, straining at restrictions, influenced me to do the same. I had a pretty good body but Shirley was gorgeous. She wore dark raspberry lipstick, her deep brown hair in a pompadour and she smoked! Lord! I wanted to be like her.

Unnoticed Gramma was taking all this in. She couldn’t say much about tobacco as she had dipped Garret Snuff since her own teenage years. The #2 vegetable can for spit was her closest companion, though her daughters never gave up trying to hide it when guests came.

But on one of those hot 1942 afternoons Shirley and I discovered Gramma did have something to say about other things. We heard a faint call, like a mewing kitten, from the east bedroom. We followed the sound.

It was Gramma in the big feather bed. Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra reclining on her barge could not have been more awesome. Her hair fell over her shoulders and long ropes of beads descended from around her neck. Between her fingers was a smoldering cigarette in a long holder. Cheeks rouged, lips, dark raspberry. The casually draped pink negligee revealed cleavage to the navel.

Sweetness dropped from her lips. “I just want you girls to know how you will be when you get old if you keep tarting up to those soldiers.”

We didn’t know what tarting meant but got the general idea.

It was only years later that Shirley and I recognized the other lesson; this unique kinship the three of us shared. Paraphrasing the words of a song of the times; “We’re Either Too Young or too Old.”


Moms and Chicks

08/18/09 20:16

I find myself often fondling memories from my distant past, thus fulfilling the stereotype of little old ladies immersed in their memories.   But as someone said: “The reason we have memories is to be able to smell the roses in winter.”

chAt lunch today we discussed my friend Alma’s wonderful short story about a mother and her child confronting a scary situation.  We spoke of  how children take their clues as to the appropriate emotion from the mother’s feelings and the iconic image of  a handful of little children behind, beside and under Mom’s skirts.

On returning home I recovered the single memory I have of understanding my mother was very afraid.  I think I was about six and my brother about two when this happened. We were playing someplace in the house and suddenly there was a terrible noise. Suddenly our mother swooped the three of us under the kitchen stove. (This was the old type gas stove with burners and oven elevated on legs.)

As the noise diminished there was a loud explosion and then silence.  A small airplane had crashed in the neighborhood.

In an instant Mother had selected the absolute safest spot in the house should the plane have fallen on us.  You know Mother had never sat around figuring out what to do if an airplane was about to fall on the house.  But she automatically knew when confronted with the prospect.

How wonderful this seemingly magical knowledge living things just have, especially when there are young around to be protected and cared for.  It is the space for children to grow themselves and also where the children learn how to be human, or ducks or whatever.

Recently on one of the cable channels there was a story of a ten year old boy trying to live on the charity of his Afghan village community.  He had been expelled from his home by his father. I thought then and do know; that is a culture in profound decay.

Today an addition to the volumes of cross species tending the young was on the news.  A female dog adopting an orphaned baby pig.  Not just letting it suckle, but carrying it around with her!

There is something terribly wrong when those traits are absent. It takes a lot of deprivation and or terror to undo them.

Truth Telling

08/20/09 09:27

Maybe the reason much of the public discourse is making me crazy is that there is so much lying. I have been cursed with the habit of truth telling all of my life.  I am not very good at telling others only what they want to hear. I believe my father had much the same attribute. He got away with it better than I, not only because he was a man but also because his tone was so charming and upbeat.

For me it has most of the time served me well in workplace of the professions I have pursued. I recall the father of one of my patients saying to me: “Doc, I know I can trust you because you can’t lie worth a damn.

In fairness to myself, I also cherish the friends who feel safe enough to speak truth to me. But my compulsion has created more than one social disaster.

The current really bizarre choices of media and other public presentations in the public arena seem to represent an opposite compulsion; that being solely to achieve maximum emotional impact on the other. This results in a virtually complete disassociation of facts and weight of importance from words and behaviour.

The most basic rules of civility carried to their extreme have created a mythical Disney village where the discourse is scripted by Customer Service or P. R.

I began this note with the notion of laying praise at the feet of those gentle-folk, surviving particularly in the South, who are so finely attuned to the impact their words and style will have on others.  But writing sometimes takes over and, as demonstrated, I instead find myself, if not deploring, at least observing the consequences of too much of that, or maybe just its misuse.

Like everything else there is no substitute for the modulating influence of deep seated genuine respect and affection for others. Those are attributes lost somewhere along the road to profit.

Country Roads

08/21/09 08:16  Tags: daily journal, north georgia, roads

Today I am looking forward to my now almost weekly trek to White County for lunch at the Nacoochee Grill.  The  promise of conversation in friendship creates an ambience of pleasurable expectation.

These North Georgia roads are nearly always a joy to travel. There are a number of reasons. The scenic setting is beautiful with meadows of  grazing horses and cattle backdropped by the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  One easily understands why many progeny of the 18th Century settlers have never seen a reason to move on.


115 into Cleveland then 75 up to the outskirts of Helen is sufficiently hilly and winding to require attentiveness but is not overly challenging.  There are minimal opportunities for passing. Contented travelers follow the prevailing pace and acquire a sense of neighborliness in the journey

The roadside has mostly escaped gentrification and along it are scattered long ago established churches,  fresh produce stands, general stores, “collectible”  shops, and local prepared food offerings. There can only be one Bessie Mae’s and certainly no other opportunity for a Yonah burger.

Now and then a time deadline evokes frustration by, for whatever reason, a slowing of traffic. The last time I went up the reason was a shining bright red pickup truck putzing along at about 35 mph. Then I noticed balls of bright yellow bouncing above the tailgate; marigolds. I began to enjoy being treated to this live Van Gogh painting for several minutes, a unique gift.

By some magic the trip from my house takes exactly 45 minutes, no matter the traffic, trees fallen across the road or whatever.   Nice to have some things to count on.


Sunday’s papers

08/23/09 13:23  Tags: anecdotes, history, journal, opinions, religion, science, world-view

I am reading the Athens Banner-Herald online more and more. There is really some good newspaper writing and often pretty well balanced discussion. One of the op eds that captured my attention in today’s paper is by Mark Farmer: Dogma just can’t replace real science

I suppose I will never repair my scientist’s brain which drives a thirst for information. I am not so much hoping for pure and proven “truths.” as I am that which is determined relatively free of outcome motivation. An associated interest is in how truth is determined by a human institution. Dr. Farmer touches on both and also gently implies the consequences. Nice column and interesting discussion.

I quote my comment on the column’s blog: “We seem to be failing too often in our educational systems to convince our students that they must look outside their heads for truth. Thinking or wishing it so does not make it so.”

Dr. Farmer’s position is certainly much more sane than the Robert Wright’s NYT op ed.  A Grand Bargain Over Evolution.  Wright suggests that the interpretation of the operation of natural law is open to bargaining, a middle ground between fact and wish. His documentation is another of the serial resurrections of the repudiated, if not disgraced, science fiction writer C. S. Lewis.  My father would say “Boushwaw!

Also in the ABH, Chris Young a returning biochemical engineering student with grace and emotion settles the issue better than any I have seen since my own student years. Explore the academic world with purpose

It has been observed many times that the more unrealistic a belief, a delusion if you will, is the more insistent the believer to convince others. Most ordinary people are satisfied to leave the “convincing” to the factual information.

This is for those who seek immortality;  Rhonda Rich’s Remembering my mama – the fantastic historian, It is an elegant dessert of affirmation that nurtures my impulses to keep up this journal and to encourage others to do the same.


Laying on of hands

08/25/09 11:38  Tags: climate_change, ecology, nature, seasonal_change

The earth this past week has moved enough to bring the sun directly into the window I face and I know the fall is beginning. Another sign is the rapidity with which the humming-bird feeder is depleted as my summer residents prepare for the long flight south.

When I first moved to the lake the biggest change I noticed was the insistence of the changing of the seasons. I suppose in more urban areas prominent bearers of the news of seasons the native flora and fauna, have been largely replaced with electric lights, air conditioning and such.

Maybe that is why so many folks seem unconcerned about the rapidly approaching climate changes of planetary warming. If ever aware, they have become unaware of the prophecies brought by life around us. They become and confident that the earth will yield some kind of energy to fuel the air conditioning and the resources for protective dwellings. They have no fear from the loss and change of the life around them.

I think Sweet Alex is the first cat I have lived with that enjoys hand holding. He is now in his computer chair next to me and we are holding hands, as I keyboard with my right. When not hand-holding he is reaching out to touch, the affirmation of touch. We in medicine call it the “laying on of hands.” Now Claudette has noticed and joins us, to also touch.

I wrote last week of the metaphorical mother and her chicks. The children, gathering close enough to touch, to learn the mother’s lessons and prophecies. I made brief note that this is also where the young learn how to be a grown up. I will not dwell on the consequences when the process becomes disrupted. We all know.

We humans and our progeny are going to lose a lot if we don’t nurture and recover our capacities to hold close, to touch, to hear the prophecies of the earth and all its life.

I am reminded of Chris Young’s op ed I mentioned Sunday Explore the academic world with purpose

That’s ecology folks.


Fall, the season of prophecy

08/26/09 12:02  Tags: ageing, anecdotes, history, journal, opinions, philosphy, psychiatry, psychology, religion, science, world-view

Those who have been grazing along with me are aware I have been a bit defensive about so much content relying on the past; that because of the traditional stereotypes. Today’s thinking is leading me to understand the values and also the reason the young, busy coping, so often deny interest.

For me the fall season has been a time of “fortellings.” It is also the season that holds many anniversaries of disturbing events, the most recent two years ago when I was confronted with the necessity of paying the physical price of an extension for my life. Today I find myself reliving the state of alert preparing for “more bad news.” I am aware that one of the functions of remembering is the reworking and coping with what was overwhelming at the time; to remove the gnawing anxieties.

It has also reminded me of a prior fall of alienation through pain. I go back to my writings of that time. My commentary on fall,, is indeed prophetic; and life lived makes sense.

That time coincided with the explosion of the use of the Internet for creative expression, mostly by old and middle aged women; the days of the rings. I found a friend in Canada,, incredibly talented and wise, and we set out to learn all the skills then required to design and create web sites. Most important, the essential encouraging feedback from each other was reliably there. We remain friends and comrades to this day.  There were many other sincere, if less enduring friendships and sites. When at loose ends I find myself searching for them yet. It was a joy to discover, though we have lost personal contact, Macaroo’s Fata Morgana, is still online.

On the one hand it may seem terribly narcissistic to seek knowledge in one’s own work. On the other hand I unashamedly find it at the least validating. I believe this is what Elizabeth Cady Stanton was referring to in Solitude of the Self.“Nature never repeats herself and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.”


A Sad Weekend

08/29/09 10:04   Tags: immortality, legacy, self-improvement., service, teddy_kennedy

As the Senator Edward Kennedy has ended his voyage on this good earth he leaves behind the many who loved and admired him in mourning. The authenticity of his work and legacy is proven, not so much in the sadness but in the rich and joyful memories.

I must keep the television on in honor of the nation’s and my personal life memories; but I am distracted at what can only be described as my depression at the commentary which is almost exclusively  by Republican news anchors and contributors, tastelessly spouting Republican talking points.

Jesus said we should suffer the children and the poor. But didn’t he say something different about fools?

“Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?”  ~Proverbs 1:20-22

The “voice in the street” reaffirms that immortality lies in having lived a life of concern for and in service to others. A life lived for self-improvement is brief.

Tell me a story

08/31/09 09:04  Tags: communication, healing, reflections on story telling, w_lorraine_watkins

I find myself now in a world populated by, friends and family, story tellers. May I be be forgiven for the topic of story telling often entering my reveries? My profession required that I be the listener and not the story teller and I find myself struggling when the request is put to me now. Indeed my one published book, Prairie Tree Letters, is letters by family which tell the story without intrusion from me.

As a child, perhaps because of the variable night temperatures, never comfortable, I often complained of not being able to fall asleep. My mother counseled to tell myself a happy story. It is a tactic that continues to work though I find it more and more difficult to spin the fantastic fantasies of childhood. One of the best was being a major league baseball player, my home run winning a World Series.with no attention being given to my sex or gender roles. (Is it any surprise this was the time I also declared my intent to go to medical school?)

The reason may also have been anxiety as I also recall many times asking Grandma, our mother’s mother, to “please! please! tell me a story… a true story.”  A wonderful story teller she was. She was the grandmother who brought calm and peace. A lost object or problem missing a solution invariably brought the response; “it will come to me.” (The other grandmother, a school teacher, was more into “instruction and education.” More on her at another time.)

Dr. Freud was perhaps most brilliant in his observation that one’s life is lived through the lens of one’s past love relationships. The “cure” came almost accidentally and originated with close associate Dr. Breuer who put the name “Talking Cure” to the ancient habit of story telling.

The human race has certainly benefited from linear reasoning, instruction and education. On the other hand,  one has only to hear how often today the “news” is described as “story”  and presented as such  to recognize that there is a reason for it. Whether politician, preacher or parent, if one wants to be understood the information must come as a story.

The good old days

09/02/09 11:15    Tags: charity, compassion, heritage, medical_care, shasta, social_consciousness


It is approaching noon and I still have not put on the T.V! The lake is at its quietest as we await the Labor Day seekers of that final holiday exuberance of the year. I wonder if it is just me or if the atmosphere encompasses others. But the cats and I seem to be sharing a pleasant, if a bit scary, excitement to meet the next season. I really love that term “audacity of hope.” It brings rich feelings; poignancy that to hope is audacious and the anxiety because it is.

I look to history for instruction and reassurance.

Common to most families who have been in this country for a while, every generation or so sends some members of our family to California, never to return.

Recently my brother and I have been tracing two on our father’s side who went to northern California to find gold. Their letters, all beautifully written, describe as only the contemporaneous personal can, how life was lived then and there. I also continue to read many of the newspapers and histories of the area and time.

Themes in significant parts of the written word include the roots to the “loony left coast.” The newspapers are replete with remonstrances for charity from the more settled citizens to provide for the huge numbers of immigrants pouring off the Oregon and California trails, many near death from the long journey across the plains; and as well for the bouillabaisse of races and ethnics who came by boat.

My brother has researched in more detail one of the county social services that provided for the the brother of our gr_gr_grandfather. Included in this paper describing an archeological dig is a vignette that is affirming.

The facility is described in a public health report of the time: Dr. J. M. Briceland, of Shasta, says:  “Shasta County Hospital is located three-quarters of a mile west of the Town of Shasta, on elevated ground, affording excellent drainage.The hospital is for the comfort and medical aid of indigent sick, without distinction of race, color, sex, or religion.”

Granted we are reading the productions of folks who could read and write. The fact of emphasis of responsibility to provide equally for the different, the unfortunate and the disconnected certainly suggests that the Utopian virtues of generosity and compassion were not automatic for all, but they were by many who could speak. They speak today reminding us of heritage.

More good old days

09/04/09 08:59 Tags: charity, compassion, heritage, medical_care, social_consciousness

The “therapeutic alliance” a term intially and still  most frequently applied in psychotherapy.  In my view it is applicable to all the varied paradigms involving supplicant and healer. The notion of the suffering and the healer emotionally bonded together in the search for relief has been a part of me, seemingly forever. I really have never questioned its operation at the core of the healing professions.

Though not always well defined, for several years I have felt assaults on this powerful intellectual and humanizing tool. As the assaults are escalated to fever pitch in the political issue du jour I decide to think a little more. Somewhat casually I made the comment in my Reflections.  “There was a bonding for me that was likely more through mutual suffering than my inherent character or training.”

Now I am wondering how much of that dedication to the alliance is a result of having received my medical training almost exclusively in institutions of that great era of the “charity hospital.” Socially conscious states and communities created taxpayer subsidized facilities with the chartered purpose of caring for the indigent. Medical staff was largely trainees and volunteers. Intern and resident salaries were tokens and there was indeed a lot of mutual suffering.

Even the private hospitals of most of my era were non-profit and there was quite a stir when for profit institutions first began to be established. My limited experience in private for profit institutions does not permit reliable interpretation. I do wonder if that bond flourishes as automatically in a paradigm of reputedly well financed consumers intending to purchase life from “providers” operating in their self interest.

In all the really disorienting chatter I believe I hear a longing for a restoration of that “therapeutic alliance” by patients and physicians alike. Nurturing these impulses can’t be a bad thing.



09/06/09 11:37  Tags: confidence, fall_2009, future, promise, signs

I feel the earth has paused, it’s creatures waiting, searching for signs.

As of yesterday the summer hummer is still here, though he is chunked up to be almost unrecognizable. He knows he will soon be off on the annual journey. That is not the question. If is not the sign sought, but will he be up to it?

I hear so much, too much, disdain for, even fear of, those perceived to be lazy, dependent on others for the necessities of living. They are declared to be unwilling to make their journeys.  I think most just aren’t sure they will be up to it.

Once they saw the promise in their mother’s face. Now they stand poised, uncertain, seeking signs.



09/08/09 12:29  Tags: affirmation, feedback, virtual_ ping_backs

I wrote earlier that I and my world sit paused in expectation. Almost unconsciously I added the allusion to the promise in the mother’s face; surely better described in today’s language as waiting for the pingback.

Today a couple of pingbacks bring energy and inspiration. My letter will be published next week in The Times. That makes the thought and effort in composition seem worthwhile. I agonized for sometime over its bluntness in the face of prevailing  beliefs in our community.  Dear readers can judge when it is published next week.

The second pingback comes almost miraculously by way of a visitor to my Truth telling journal this weblog. It links to a weblog of an American priest living in Italy.. His beautiful language creates genuine connection and affirmation that truth ultimately brings love that clears the hate created through lies intended to confuse and confound.

Growing up on the plains of Oklahoma, when alone, I nearly always could expect informative visual pingbacks. Recent years living in mountainous and densely forested North Georgia I have come to treasure the traditions of the talking drums. Now this is the age of the written word flung out into the air as Ray Bradbury’s The The Fog Horn.

Whether it is for affirmation of perception and belief as in the elegant language of the priest or the primitive longing for others, pingbacks are important. I intend to remember that we are all waiting.  We can each also serve as pingback.


Gelidonya Lighthouse:

“OUT there in the cold water, far from land, we waited every night for the coming of the fog, and it came, and we oiled the brass machinery and lit the fog light up in the stone tower. Feeling like two birds in the grey sky, McDunn and I sent the light touching out, red, then white, then red again, to eye the lonely ships. And if they did not see our light, then there was always our Voice, the great deep cry of our Fog Horn shuddering through the rags of mist to startle the gulls away like decks of scattered cards and make the waves turn high and foam”— Ray Bradbury, The Fog Horn

The palace on Jesse Jewell

09/11/09 18:22   Tags: health care, medical practice, morning-worship-journal, the mammogram, the palace on jesse jewell

Been a bit negligent. Best explanation lies in a notion attributed to Buddha; you can’t feed them until the milk flows. Guess that applies to one’s self also. In any event the words just weren’t flowing, and likely today to be erratic in so doing.

Had the 2 year mammogram today at the palace on Jesse Jewell. The receptionist was backed by one of those falling water panels and my quiet waiting room had a panel of changing photographs of flowers and such. Not much opportunity for human interaction. Certainly no room for disturbing displays of emotion.

In my day hospitals and labs were substantial; no frills; intended to be there for a long time; and walls to absorb and preserve the ranges of emotions poured into the just big enough waiting and working spaces.

Watching the tech set up for the mammogram I recalled that my office in the Emory Clinic was in the basement, just across from Ted Leigh’s office. We often chatted as Ted peered at thousands of views of images views and exposures of breasts. In fact in being witness to his research, I was present at the invention of the mammogram. I seem to recall from the far past that there was a movie short subject series named “You Were There.”

At the hospital my office was always a bar stool at the counter behind the nurses’ station. Lots of interaction among all levels of staff and anyone who wandered by. Late at night there would often be an infant with the colic or ear ache in a nurse’s lap; or a sleepless child at the desk drawing on blank progress note forms.

Today one thing has not changed. I found myself straining to read the body language of the tech for some indication of what those pictures of my remaining part reveal, trying to ignore thoughts of potential consequences, either way.

Surely surely those who strive to write the rules and set the priorities and “were there” will act on their awareness that succor for the suffering is not simply a business model or an architectural challenge.

Cassandra and Jeremiah

09/14/09 11:31   Tags: cassandra, informaton, jeremiah, love, news, prophecy, respect

The gift of prophecy; quo vadis? Most if not all wish for it. When it comes it often brings struggle.

What is one to do when the news is dissonant? Had Cassandra loved Apollo would her fate and that of Troy been different? Would Jeremiah now be the Beloved Prophet had he not trashed the people’s belief in their exceptionalism?

It is a painful conundrum for me. I have worked and lived with many reminders of catastrophe bred in rejection of knowable outcomes. As a psychiatrist I should be more conscious that man on whole must put information into the context of human relations before it will be “believed” or can be applied.

Also the character of the prophet does make a difference. Man is a creature evolved seeking love and respect, before even self-preservation. The incapacity for that doomed Troy and Jeremiah.

As Mary Poppins understood; “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

The cure after all comes through love.

I just may get the hang of it

09/15/09 20:06   Tags: family, food, friends, journal. cooking, pleasure

I am actually getting the hang of this cooking thing. My stuffed Bell pepper this evening was incredible and one is frozen for the future.

One has had only to glance in my direction to know food has in recent years become one of my sources of physical pleasures. Good food and drink with those we enjoy is a tradition celebrated for thousands of years in pictograms, the arts and the written word. The title of the famous “Last Supper” indicates many previous suppers.

I developed a habit of quick take out and my main meals with friends as possible. Worked great until another of those little surprises age brings. The diet! A real blow to this casual reader of contents and liberal salt user.

This is all preamble to the fact that I am at this advanced age actually learning to cook. Not only that I am learning to love vegetables, even crave them! It is really the only way to come close to non lethal levels of normal body chemicals.  But nothing done simply for self-preservation can endure long.

The glorious side effect that gourmet quality food prepared by self with love for self, even when eaten alone,  brings the ambience of friendship and family… adding to the companionship of Claudette and Sweet Alex.

At the end of a chilly rainy fall day I think of the wonderful Don Blanding poem Vagabond House, beloved by my mother and me.

Yep. We will have it in us.

Have a good one.

A memorial visit

09/19/09 09:19   Tags: attachment, community, connection, family, pilgirmage, roots, watkins, wm._clark

In a couple of weeks my brother will be seeking and hopefully visiting the grave of one William C. Clark.

Born in 1818 in Richmond County, Georgia; as an adult he took up mining in Wisconsin. In 1853 he followed the call of gold and crossed the plains to California.

Soon after his arrival he suffered permanently crippling injuries from a cave in. It is certain he never found a mother lode but he was successful enough to support a prospector’s life style into old age.

The eldest of the sons of Isabella Clark and Thomas Pye-Clark he carried out voluminous correspondence with his brothers. One of whom was my great great grandfather. The love and connection never diminished.

Late in life he was persuaded to return to Wisconsin to the home of his brother John. But the stay was brief, for reasons that can be imagined. He returned to lodging at the Shasta County Hospital attended to by professionals and lodge brothers. The compassion of the community expressed in its institutions is described in an earlier entry.

Now almost 120 years after his death there is family who will make the first visit to his grave; the stuff of pilgrimage, and the stuff of the cross generational passage of commitment.

Exuberance and baptism

09/20/09 12:10   Tags: altruism, culture, exuberance, feminism, happiness, selfishness, service, social-consciousness, unhappiness

We had a baptizing at this morning’s worship. This is the first trial run of the born again keyboard.

For mysterious cat reasons Claudette has come to prefer her water in a glass sitting next to the alter. Sweet Alex on the other hand prefers running water from the lavatory faucet. Of course one of the first rules that accompany computer ownership is that food and especially drink are to be avoided in the vicinity. The keyboard graveyard is proof of that wisdom. However this is shared space with its unique customs. Yes. the glass went over in the exuberance of the Claudette and Sweet Alex romp.

The young man who checked me out at the grocery yesterday has been in my thoughts since. His masculine exuberance infectious as we joked about how rapidly he could do the check out and my caution to not strip his “gears” with his response that he has “great gears.” And you know he does! Watching these first few fall college football games I think it seems especially young men have the gears that mesh the body, spirit, the earth and its creatures. Surely the exuberance is the result.

But There seems to be a lot of unhappiness out there also. The study du jour cited on Huffington Post indicates women are becoming more and more unhappy. The predictable hopeful calls that feminism is a failure are all over the “news” in response. But perhaps if one seeks to know happiness the place to look is not so much theory and emotional biases but how the folks who seem happiest are living. (That’s how I decided to take up pediatrics. I observed that the pediatricians were the happiest of my colleagues.)

An alarming note in the women’s study is that women with children appear to be the most unhappy. My humble interpretation of this, if true and I question it is, points not to a failure of feminism but many years of promotion of cultural values which neither support nor value nurturing. Nurturing in the female in all warm blooded species is an organic imperative. When present in the male also it enhances flourishing of the species. I hasten to emphasize that it is not the nurturing that is failing it is how difficult it comes.

I commented to someone tho other day that I (shamelessly) consider our family to be decent folks who pretty much always strive the do “the right thing,” which in our case includes being decent to others and attentive to their needs, even at our own expense at times. I am content that things work out for the best for the most when that is a commonly held value. I will even say if you want to find happy people look to those for whose “gears” mesh the body, spirit, and serving Earth’s creature.

A video making the rounds but not played enough, in my estimation, is of the reaction of a young father to his daughter “a catch companion” when she tosses away a prize baseball just snatched out of the air. The embrace and show of love without a skipped beat brings tears to observers. The great majority of the commentary on the blogs suggests that though without much notice most of us do continue to resist the notion that happiness lies in unrestrained self-interest.

Though this has political impact, I was really struck most by the joy expressed by the author of a wonderful letter to the editor in yesterday’s New York Times,

asI think I will write more on my political blog, Talking Stick News. Give me time to get it up though.


09/24/09 15:09 Tags: beauty, earth, environment, evolution, humming_birds, sacred

The ambiance was faintly poignant, familiar to the conversations we have with those we love most; mingling with joy awareness of pain that comes with separation.

Amidst the deluges I had failed to note his feeder had become depleted. His appearance near the glass door reminded me to check and I brought it in for a good cleaning and refill, I put it out and sat for my evening meal. There he was once more, feathers all fluffed. We began to converse. He wiggled in response to my voice. We spoke of our long friendship and appreciation for each other.

From my first spring in this house he has been coming each year to the tree limb outside the loft and announcing his arrival from winter quarters in Central America. I fill the feeders and through the summer track visits, always at least one group of young and various interlopers.

This year it seems late for him to be lingering. As we speak of “cabbages and kings” my heart is filled with joy. He nods or shakes his head and fluffs up even more.

Evolved from the cumbersome rumbling dinosaurs this priceless jewel demands only a little nectar and free air to support his flight yet brings the joy of blooming things and his own beauty.

The news brings the words of a “scientist” suggesting efforts to save the panda should be suspended on the basis that it is a weak species. This man is no scientist and he certainly has no understanding of evolution, much less the sacred. Man is incapable of determining any hierarchy of fitness or weakness. Man the meddler!

Dusk is turning to dark and Hummer bolts as if to catch a departing flight. In the empty room the pain of loss expands to poignancy of dread. I think of the tragedy should its most gifted species through venality and ignorance fail to respond to the music and the voices of this unique blue planet.

Fall the harbinger season

09/30/09 09:01   Tags: environment, fall, harbingers, ken_burns, national_parks, natural_world, wealth

After years of drought this past spring and summer brought relief to North Georgia. Everything green responded by becoming more abundant and greener.  Segments of sky and land surrounding my home disappeared. Landmarks and whole dwellings became obscured by roadside kudzu and the deciduous forests that climb the mountains.  I have felt greater understanding of what this land was like before highways and cleared “viewing points.”

Now we are on the step of fall and its glorious gift in the turning of the leaves; the sky and sun never more brilliant.

Fall is the harbinger season. It foretells some time of sparseness but also perhaps greater clarity of vision, a time to reset bearings.

Those who live close to the land and its diverse lives have confidence in the return of abundance.

I think of my father’s often stated understanding that the joy in the beauty of the flowers that were his life and livelihood lay in being perishable; a metaphor for life itself.

I have watched the first four hours of the Ken Burns National Park  series.  It seems a bit too self conscious in mission and also a little jagged in editing. But those are minor distractions from the majesty of the natural beauty and the lives of those who understood the spiritual necessity of preserving broad paths to our essence as creatures of nature.

Probably unwarranted, I feel some sense of ownership in the fact that the great John Muir grew to manhood in Wisconsin during the time and just a county over from  my ancestors who were settling the new territory. Some credence of shared experience comes with reading the letters of  Florinda Watkins and others describing the beauty of the land; and as well the admonishment by a sister questioning seeking wealth beyond need.

From The Sun magazine: quoting Clifton Fadiman, “John Muir once declared that he was better off than the magnate E.H. Harriman. ‘I have all the money I want.’ Muir explained, ‘and he hasn’t.'”

Darwin and me

10/01/09 18:47  Tags: darwin, evolution, nature, spirituality, sprit

Retirement bringing the joy of knowing those who have lived life in differing perspectives has had the down side of distancing me from my scientist colleagues. A longing for their companionship comes to me still.

Coming upon the website the other day aroused those longings, even wishes that I had remained in the theoretical academia. A newsletter of the Edge Organization, there are videos and photos of a Fundacion Ciencia Y Evolucion seminar held during a tour to Punta Arenas – Puerto Williams – The Beagle Channel – Tierra del Fuego – The Extreme South. The title is “Darwin’s Intellectual Legacy To The 21st Century.” Though I miss the presence of Stephen Jay Gould, taken from us prematurely, the panel is impressive. I have only read or listened to a few of the talks, the first one by Dennett is enough affirmation and inspiration to last me some time.

The teeming lives of this planet, creatures of natural process, all striving to endure, as self and progeny manifest such a multiplicity of structures, sensations, and behaviors that they cannot be counted. To contemplate the particular or the general is to experience the sacred. Emotions are among those traits that have proven felicitous to enduring and are as much an aspect of our natural selves as the beating of cardiac muscle. I cannot explain why but I know my contentment comes from that understanding. I suspect it is a result of a particular cognitive/emotional set that has had survival value; the capacity discern truth and its emotional reward.

As a psychiatrist I am particularly sensitive to the sturm and drang that results from efforts to distance  emotions, (sometimes called spirit or mind,) from reason, even body. I am confident that the attraction of nature to us is that it brings the experience of wholeness of self. We renew our understanding of continuity and substance and give up the struggle to separate body and spirit, if briefly.Humans are great wishers and I know wishes can turn into plans and eventually useful discoveries. But we also have a way of  trying to press the process beyond what the facts inform us, sometimes with catastrophic results.

That said;  I do believe mankind now is on a step that has never felt our tread.  It is man vastly more able to manipulate his environment and the very DNA of the process than any creature ever before. Our wish for a creator may be fulfilled as us. And that is an interesting notion. No longer will plunder and leave be a survivable life style.

This post has gone on long enough but I hope this old woman will be forgiven for the reminiscences that mean so much to me.

The elementary school I attended in Tulsa censored library book access on the basis of grade level. By the Fourth Grade I had become a book criminal, caught and punished multiple times for sneaking over to the higher level bookshelves. This suggests that the love of information is a hardwired trait but my mother certainly affirmed it as good. Many necessities were forgone for books offered at low prices in magazine ads. One such was about the natural world and contained a chart depicting man in a “tree of life” that also included other species. My grandmother was quick to declare it blasphemous. I at the time had no idea what she was so upset about and if my curiosity about evolution was stimulated I don’t know, but I certainly recall the passion of her reaction.

By junior high school I was able to legally check out Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. I read the entire volume, hardly putting it down to sleep and eat. I was learning science and its pursuit as a life style. As I have followed work in the applied sciences I have of course added insights and tweaks to technique; but the essence implanted with that first reading remains untainted.


Communication is a good thing and how to do it?

10/07/09 10:02   Tags: commentary, j oan_king on communciation, pingback, spin and democracy, the internet


Joan King’s delightful column in yesterday’s Gainesville Times has been on my mind since first reading. She makes many points worth pausing to consider.  I take the main thrust to be communication among humans is serious business, at least in the past,  being considered worthy of scholarly study and education.

I leave to the reader to make his or her interpretation of Ms. King’s interesting commentary. I take that as a jumping off point for expressing some of my own thinking it has inspired.

We just need to slow down and consider the impact on the other as well as to try to determine if the other is hearing. That associated to Ariana Huffington’s book selection,  In Praise of Slowness and the wry appreciation that at my age there is no other option.  The synapses just don’t snap the way they once did.

As in my piece Pingback, whether as emotional tone or in words, response from the other is in my view a vital aspect to the good of communication. In other words, we must pause to listen and to feel. When strong emotions are aroused the listening ceases and the intellectual processing, if it continues, is colored by the emotional meaning.  This can enhance the richness of personal conversation it can lead to painful misunderstandings,  hurts and even danger. An intense reaction that leads to the topic or a few words becoming associated with that emotion is a desired result for the propagandists.

Today it seems formal education in “expression,” as it was called in my day, has been replaced with education in P.R. and “spin.” It is the meat of advertising, opinion writers and too often journalists and reporters. Though I am as prone as any human to react with emotion to certain things, I swear my scientist’s brain always seeking truth gets boggled wondering if anyone out there is interested in speaking, much less hearing, truth.

I love the networks of electronic communication now at our beck and call but I do have to observe that it seems many of us are striving to talk, to express our version of truth while few are pausing to listen. But, frankly I am not that concerned. Once written it will be there a long time  for the person wishing and in need to hear.

The anonymity and minimal ability for physical pingbacks on the nets raises concerns for some, particularly the professional spinners. I love it because it is creating a demos interconnected by written word as never before, communicating . The professionals decry that there is so much that is not properly sourced, even made up.  I promise; just ask a politician; most lies put out on the Internet are exposed within minutes. Even so called scholarly articles put up by some kook can be exposed with a bit of Googling or a visit to Wikipedia.  Besides a bunch of folks all looking things up get a lot of education.


Is evolution a one way street?

10/10/09 13:14  Tags:Movies, Everybody , Tags: arts, care, evolution, medical, medicine, memories, nature, practice, sciences, teaching, thought

I am finally finding some peace in following the discussions and cussions regarding the pending legislation intended to address the needs of our nation’s people for reliable attention to pain and suffering from illness. The peace I am finding  seems to be coming from going back to my foundations and years of teaching in the humanism of William Osler*.

Is evolution a one way street?  An article by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times cites a report that suggests that is the case. This is a belief that has been long held among evolutionary scientists. A careful read of this study of a single glucocoticoid receptor lends credence to general application.

Then why do creatures have the capacity and, for most of us, the drive to look backward?

The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed, a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can again be.” — Charles William Beebe

We search the memories stored in our brains and, in the case of humans, those stored in various media.  Indeed why the drive to teach the young old ways? Clearly not Aristotle’s blank slate.  And do not believe this is a trait limited to humans. ( One only has to observe the maturation of kittens and puppies who are first taught from the day of birth by parents;  then as adults, often many years later, to suddenly repeat a behavior from kitten/puppyhood.)

These are obviously useful traits or evolution would have tossed them long ago. Personally I think the motivating rewards are the complex feelings of security in attachment and identity.

Maybe as we understand the inevitability of the organism going forward and no return,  we just want to take along what we love. I am content with that and will let the laws of nature sort out the rest.

*A gift of the technology of Google previously published writings are available on Google Books for download and most for free. I highly recommend Aequanimitas and Counsels and Ideals. I also just downloaded a free copy of the 1910 Flexner Report from Carnege which described the atrocious conditions of medical care in North America. It’s publication was the preamble to saving the profession, and most important, the science of medicine.

Reflectons on The Bolter

10/16/09 12:56   Tags: a frances_osborne, biography, class, decadence, family, feminim, greed, idina_sackville, reflections, the_bolter, wars, women

These numerous dark rainy days have encouraged if not driven me to begin another cycle of reading and I am grateful. I have been saving reviews of books that appear interesting and had chosen The Bolter frankly because I was at the time looking for a good beach book of sex and fantasy.

However the author quickly grasped and brought into my awareness  my choice was much more complex. The intrigue of how the author Frances Osborne came to write the book certainly resonates with my own experience. Late in her adolescence she had discovered the long held secret that one of her great grandmothers was Idina Sackville. The secret once revealed came with a large volume of diaries, letters and photographs.

Idina Sackville’s life  is iconic of the debauchery of the 1920s and 1930s. The point of view Frances Osborne brings is however one shared by all women, that of striving to love our mothers and to carry their dreams. She illuminates the plight of Idina and all the immensely talented energetic women born at the turn of the 20th century and their choices become more understandable. Even extremes of anti-social behavior are, if not forgivable, softened by appreciation of the terrible price paid.

I put the book down satisfied that the author is succeeding in her goal of restoration and preservation of family.

I have since begun to realize what a wide scope of historical truth the book also presents. It is prophetic as the horror of the once or potentially great people of the British Empire now in decay takes hold; the outcome of obsessive greed, class and the inevitable perpetual wars.

Yep.  It’s quite a book.

Fragile things

10/29/09 10:23   Tags: envriornment, fragile, frailty, liberated_lifel, spiritua, vulnerable

Sorry for the absence; a mixture of dark days and heavy reading. I suffer from a sense of disquiet and, much like Claudette worrying an object on the desk until it falls to the floor,  I will fidget until I discover its source,  likely a lost insight,  something to do with aesthetics.

It has been a simply gorgeous fall here at the lake and up in the mountains.  I can now see more water from my loft window than for some years. I miss the vegetation, victim of neighbors obsession with “view,”  but now with a full lake I can appreciate the unique quality of silence that nearness to water seems to bring.  May these things never change.

francineFrancine,  a friend most dear to me,  died this past Monday evening.  For slightly over two years she tried so hard and so bravely to survive lymphoma. In those too few years of living she was a vibrant presence in so many lives.  She was among a very few I have known that can be described as truly liberated.  And I simply have never known one as talented and creative as the joyful Francine.  One finds it dissonant to believe her body succumbed to the assaults of illness.

This rich verdant North Georgia brings awe at the great capacities of the earth to provide and to repair itself. Then brother David’s photographs of the far west mountains and Snake and Columbia River canyons and valleys, and also recent discussions of the Dust Bowl, remind me that the greater sections of the country are fragile.

Yes. The sacred places where our most cherished capacities are nourished are so very vulnerable.


Beauty and truth

11/05/09 12:13   Tags: aesthetics, art, beauty, connections_of_love, death, emotions, truth

kajIt’s only Thursday and I am restored from a wonderful weekend filled with love.  For someone who is now at that phase of life where only one “thing” per day can be done easily it was something else to have the day filled with all seven to nine of us. I am still feasting on the rich substance of conversation; food and drink too. I am reminded of one of my grandmother’s letters describing an infrequent visit from her sister Dora. “We had several spells of hugging and kissing.”

In addition to those “spells”  aesthetics was a recurring theme of conversation. Those who have been reading along know I have been musing on this capacity that evidence supports extends back into pre-history, and I believe is not species specific to man. We know the Neanderthals created forms of art in association with their burial rituals.  (And, believe me; Mmselle. Claudette has the sense.  Show her a freshly made bed and she poses and  melts into purrs.)

tcaThe association of beautiful creations as an aspect of burial rituals is common knowledge. Less well known is how important it is to theoretical scientists. The elegance of a theory confirms the likelihood of validity.  Emotions are aesthetics also. How dissonant it is to see the flat affect of the emotionally dysfunctional describing an event of powerful import.  It is a way of avoiding the truth that emotion will confirm.  There is such a thing as just being too cool.

The powerful association with truth cannot be better described than by Keats. Link to a work of art I find most intriguing in its evolutionary implications. It depicts life as I think most seek,  as depicted by the great landscape painters of the past.  Same themes and hopes. New technology.

And how can I not be reminded of the vibrant incredibly talented Francine.  It almost seems the gods were jealous and took her before she achieved fully her  innovative goals  in the integration the performing arts with the truths of human life and the messages of justice.

Reading of her life,  I am humbled that she always found time for lunch and conversation.

No wonder the ancients put so much into creating burial art that would endure. When one grasps the beauty, the truth, of the moment we just have to try to preserve it.

A beautiful model

11/07/09 14:18   Tags: cancer, health_care, personal_memoir, research, researcher, research_model

Some days are more difficult than others to avoid introducing my political life (Talking Stick news) into this diary. Anyone with any access to news is aware of many things of import that are ongoing in the politics of health care legislation. Of course these involve aspects of my most personal life.

The more I learn of how medical research, in particular for cancer, has changed since the days of my working in it the more alarmed I become about the health of my beloved profession. I am therefore going to write of the way it was in my time. The problems today are easy to know through other venues.

I was so privileged for my tenure to have encompassed a large segment of the best of times for meaningful clinical research. Though I believe the information is correct; forgive me for relying on memory and failing to give good documentation. This is a memoir. As with all memoirs, there are those whose recollections differ.

Until shortly before I became an actor in the field the conventional mind set was toward finding a single cure for a single disease called cancer. Treatment programs were primarily hierarchical. Surgery first. It was becoming more and more radical and, yes, mutilating. Radiation therapy next; for those inoperable. Bigger and more powerful machines were being developed. As a few drugs were discovered with anti-neoplastic effect they began to be used for widespread diseases, hematological and metastatic solid tumors. Of course it was inevitable that, as surgery reached its limits and more powerful machines and drugs developed, innovation in ways to employ these modalities would occur.

I entered the field just about the time C. Everett Koop (Yes, that one.) was increasing cure rates of Wilms Tumor in children by adding irradiation of the post-op surgery bed. It was really considered a pretty radical idea. Shortly thereafter the antibiotic actinomycin D was added to the post-op regimen and cure rates soared to over 80%; unheard of for any childhood cancer.

There were abundant NCI and other grants to various academic institutions to follow their particular research interests. The huge change in cancer outcomes began with the development of collaborative study groups involving several academic centers. These began oriented toward the study and development of chemotherapy. The pediatricians initiated collaborative groups that were multidisciplinary in composition. Many/most of the protocols for solid tumors at the beginning of therapy employed chemotherapy, surgery and irradiation in combination. There were a number protocols for hematological cancers that employed various combinations of chemotherapy and irradiation. I was an early principle investigator member of the only pediatric collaborative group.

In the less than 10 years I participated I saw cure rates for Hodgkins Disease and childhood solid tumors go from 3% to 50% Modest numbers of other lymphomas and leukemia cures were beginning to be achieved. (They are much better today.)  Much of this was the result of our work. And the work of the pediatricians applied to adult cancers was increasing those cure rates. Today the basic principles developed at that at time are still being applied.

When I left the field there was a large network of collaborating institutions across the country and virtually every cancer patient for whom there was no established treatment (or it had failed) was offered participation in a research protocol. Most accepted. The cost of the treatments was born by grants and the institutions. In the case of chemotherapy agents, pharmaceutical companies benefiting from our public supported research supplied them at no cost.

As far as I can tell this research model has now undergone great attrition. I have to say when I see drugs that I did Phase I, II, and even III studies are still (40 years later) standard, I wonder at what appears to be a tremendous slowing of research and the fruits thereof. This a beginning article for validating and exploring the cauese. I do strongly disagree that it is the lack of volunteers. As one will discover in the text, the greater cause is lack of good studies due to decentralization,  privatization of research and the love of money.

In my group the mutual goal was the treatment and alleviation of the symptoms of children afflicted with cancer. We collaborated! We were not secretive lonesome eagles trying to out do the other. I humbly suggest this is a model worthy of being restored.

Armistice Day

11/11/09 11:00   Tags: lessons rom a combat veteran, non-violence, pacifism, peace

We’ve called it Veterans Day for now over 50 years but I know today as Armistice Day. I know it from the French soldier’s engraving on the 105mm howitzer shell that my Great Aunt Harriet brought back from rhe war; The Great War.

Aunt Harriet is the only veteran of combat I have known well. She and her nursing classmates at Louisville’s Norton’s Infirmary, graduated early in 1918 and shipped to France. She served as a surgical nurse in a field hospital which would now be called a MASH unit.  She returned to march in the victory parade down New York’s Fifth Avenue.

As a pre-teen during World War II I learned from her the confusing concept that the mutilated German solidiers were no different in their needs and rights to compassionate care than the French, Brit and even U.S. soldiers.  It was from her that I first learned the equally confusing concepts of pacifism and the immorality of glorification of war.

Would that all of our combat veterans return transformed to renounce violence and to serve the oppressed. Soon there would be no more “Universal Soldiers.” And PTSD might be laid to rest once and for all.

I will wear poppies today and reflect.

American bison

I am so blessed with an exceptional group of friends. I never fail to carry their warmth home, and also interesting and provocative thinking. The other day at the Grill with Joan was no exception  The topic of the American Bison and its fate arose. With it an amazing volume of memories, many my earliest, began to flow.

During the depression a few things were free.  Picnicking in The Wichita Mountains Wildlife preserve and nearby Medicine Park were two.  Almost every spring, summer and fall weekend found us along with a group of aunts, uncles and cousins on my mother’s side there. (I recall hearing on the Medicine Park P.A. system the brief call on the Joe Lous/Max Schmeling second match!)

But I digress from the topic of the bison. I was accustomed to seeing the bison in the Wildlife Preserve. My grandparents and others never tired of telling of the proud history of early Oklahoma and Lawton.  So when Joan brought them up I could tell their story, making only one error. (It was the Bronx Zoo, not the Brooklyn Zoo that donated the herd that was a beginning of an attempt to preserve a few of these wonderful animals in their natural habitat.)

Here is some more information that tells the stories better than I can write them.


The area also includes the site of our church’s annual pageant at Easter (grandparents played in)

More family connection is displayed in the superb Yankton Sioux Teepee in the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Its pictographs tell the story of a buffalo hunt with our ancestor John G. Clark whose biography is a part of our book Prairie Tree Letters

See also

Back in the crosshairs

“The government is once again encouraging the slaughter of wild buffalo.”

Being happy ain’t rocket science

11/15/09 09:30

The news out there is pretty bad and the foretellings don’t offer clear pathways to peace or greater comfort.

There are days when the news at home doesn’t seem much better. This time it’s the indoor plumbing. Two months ago it was the outdoor plumbing. Now after three days of sharing the house with my plumbers there are now some evenings to share with the dry-wall finisher.

But, you know, other than having to remain fully dressed and dine on take-out, it’s a good experience to have folks in the house and Alex loves it. These guys are why I love small town North Georgia. They are so kind and genuinely considerate. How very hard they work for what I can afford them. I recall my father coming home late and exhausted, then at it again the next morning. That is the life of most in this country. And all that most aspire to is the opportunity to work, to earn.

ttThere is something about the doing that keeps us grounded, even in the face of fearful events. Note cards from FINC seeking donations came in the mail yesterday. They are photographs of Afghan women at their work. Their expressions are of contentment and happiness.

Laundry needs to be done, the dishwasher emptied and stuffed peppers prepared and frozen for future meals. Tommy Titmouse has just made his third visit to peck on the window by the empty suet feeder. So; I am off to do my work and to be happy.

A movie predicting the world will end in 2012 has become a topic of discussion lately. In that some of my fellow earthlings believe all they see in the movies, it is causing quite a bruhaha. Be that as it may it is my guess that whatever day the world ends, most folks will be going about their work and being happy.

Mammograms and plumbing

11/19/09 09:18   Tags: dealing with events, inspired by the mammogram study, living life, plumbing

Gail Collins has a delightful column in today’s New York Times today. It has freed me from two days of passionate posting on FiredogLake on the mammography study.  I will have more to say onTalking Stick but suffice it to say I did let myself get emotionally caught up by the extremely poorly constructed study and the callous presentation of recommendations.

For an obsessive such as I, it always feels safer to have a multiplicity of tasks on the to do list.

Tommy the titmouse has just made his morning visit to the suet feeder, spreading his wings in appreciation as he headed off. The cats are napping after morning smoozes. I have nothing more of concern to attend to, if I continue to ignore a kitchen unusable now for the second week.

Now it is the dry wall repairs that are ongoing and I must purchase something to kill the black mold and a step ladder to replace all the never used pots and pans to the upper cabinets.  The good news is I now have an operational ice maker! Something I have done without (for mysterious reasons) for a number of years. Next the clothes dryer. You know. Life is hard. But, Praise the Lord, it is life and I find myself enjoying it all. May the to do list never give out.

Ms. Collins’ descriptions of how life goes resonates deeply with my own experiences. Notable events, external and intern, occur in the midst of and are made digestible by the ordinary demands of living.  And it is good.

What ever happened to “Reach for the Stars?”

11/25/09 12:29   Tags: cancer and the culture, kennedy, mcauliffe, reflections on science and discovery, the space program

What ever happened to “Reach for the Stars?”

Many living today know that it was Christa McAullife who made the phrase an every day aspiration. One could say the teacher astronaut  being lost in the reach should bring fear to the phrase.  But it was not the aspiration but weather, mundane statistical thinking and perhaps some hubris that led to her loss. In the imperfections or self and world it is a reach, not always a grasp.

There is always something more ahead. To cease the reaching is to lose what can be.

Had there not been some several years of the space program reaching, at great taxpayer expense, it is not likely the explosion in innovation in micro-computing, communications and imaging would have happened. Imagine our world of the wired black Bell telephone, the IBM Selectric and Speed Graphic still  the top of their lines. Did we get our money’s worth? I think so. More important we fueled our hope and confidence.

My question is evoked by the recommendations by the Obama administration’s prize committee on effectiveness of medical practices.   The report is really only the nail in the coffin of my hope for a move back to humane and universally available care for our sick and would be sick. Surely the insurance, pharmaceutical-appliance and educational industries have extracted all the wealth there is to be had?

Care of the lame and the suffering is a social and cultural concern.  Surely the goal is to care, not to sustain highly profitable industries. To address how it shall be given is not a zero sum game of manipulated statistics. They do not reach.

It has set me to reflecting on the real science as I have lived it and know it can be.  And I can see many parallels to the space program in medicine. The great physician Galen took much Aristotle and much from Hippocrates as well as his own work. He was so successful in organizing the knowledge of how the body works that it was decided that he had published all that there was to know. And for a thousand years the science of medicine lay fallow. Only in the Renaissance did it begin to be advanced by those such as Paracelsus, Vesalius and Harvey who believed there was more knowledge to reach for.  It is a tradition that has endured in medical science until recently. But the obsession with profit is taking its toll.

My little piece of it began in the early 1960s.  And I have stories to tell. There are many but I suppose Halstead was one of the first to challenge the notion that many cancers do not begin systemically. Reaching for a cure for breast cancer in the second half of the 19th century he performed the first radical mastectomy. Others were beginning to do the same for other cancers.

The situation with childhood cancer was in the fifties and early sixties similar to adult cancer in the latter half of the 19th century. I was honored to be among relatively small group of pediatricians who chose to join the surgeons and radiologists in the reach for cures of children. There were remarkable achievements within ten short years. Much of what we developed then is still being applied to all age groups. This includes finding ways to treat breast cancer without resorting to radical mastectomy.

Countless vibrant lives have since survived to participate in their own joy and the welfare of their nation and the earth.

Had Halstead used the reasoning currently being applied, that of cruel perversions of science called economics, to  care for our ill, he would have never put a scalpel to a breast. Had those who believed children with cancer must die prevailed,  Edward Kennedy, Jr. would not be among us. You fill in the multitude of faces and facts. I know of few of us that don’t have a beloved to add.

When you don’t reach for the stars you opt for dark ages and entropy.

Happy Thanksgiving

11/26/09 08:38 Tags: live_well, thanksgiving

asHappy Thanksgiving.

Remember the best revenge is living well.

I intend to continue to live well among friends who care for the world and its critters; friends who love and create beauty, and friends who can discover a gourmet meal in backyard herbs and produce.

Mr. Monday Morning

11/30/09 08:24 Tags: habits, reflections, risk_taking, rituals, safety

Among the Calypso songs that have endured with me for lo many years is Mr. Monday Morning. It begins with the sound of KNOCK KNOCK then “Who that at my door?” “MR. MONDAY MORNING!?

Well he’s certainly knocking at my door this day after the Thanksgiving week of football and dead space on the so called news networks.

Years of showing up, saluting and beginning another cycle of work have carved deep tracks of habit in my psyche. Habits are not just doing thingys but also of feeling, even thinking.

Habits bring the comfort of familiarity. Familiarity, while it may breed contempt, also breeds feelings of safety. I am reminded during my father’s last night on this earth in Tulsa, Oklahoma looking up to see an Emory cap on the nurse coming for the night shift and I felt safe.  I really wish nurses had not stopped the delightful practice of the unique cap.

I observe Sweet Alex and Claudette performing their morning rituals, I imagine to the same purpose.

In these years of the unpredictablility of body and mind Mr. Monday Morning’s call is to learn something new, innovate and carve some more tracks. He reminds me there are yet things to show up for.

Most of my life I eschewed the safe, always seeking the better. Now I am not so anxious for the better.


The port is out

12/02/09 12:11 Tags: disease, healers, healing, healing-and-aesthetics, medicine, physicians, repair

The port is out.  With some cutting and slashing of fibrous tissue formed over two years, the port and I are now free of each other.

It is always good to be with other medical people, especially when they are working. I know I have recently commented on the comfort of familiarity.  That could be part of the pleasure, but I think only part.

On Monday as the conversation turned,  I was struck once more with the special relationship we have with the body. Whether in words or atmosphere, the awe we hold for the power of the regenerative capacities of organic stuff is always expressed.  I know there are those outside the profession who at various times have similar experiences. For the “healers” it is a daily event.

If  gifts and communication I receive are any indicator,  most folks imagine we love disease and the morbid. No more doctor books please. The loving intent is cherished but I like my own material. (smiles)

It’s really almost an aesthetic thing.  Our role is to recognize the when and the cause of a picture not in balance. In fact I commented to my surgeon friend at work freeing the tissue that; “There are two people I never second guess, my hair dresser and my surgeon.”

The hopeful healer,  recruiting the powers of vitality,  arranges the “reparative motif. That is enough.

At least the beer will be cold

12/06/09 11:51  Tags: reflections on procrastination

Procrastination is finally becoming a rational choice in my life.  It just may be that I will die before some of the things I put off can extract their price.

But remorsefully there are a lot that keep catching up with me.

Today it is the crack in the windshield of the car.  I had come to accept the thin line inching across the lower portion for some two years. Now all of the sudden in the unexpected cold;  (Of course to procrastinators the first hard freeze is always unexpected.) the scurrilous little monster decided to extend itself half way then down to the edge, creating a scary chance of a blowout.  Now I suddenly have the intrusion of just one more emergency. Will the insurance cover? Hell. I don’t know. The initial crack was caused by a stone thrown up from the road but it’s been two years. But I’ll put that off until tomorrow.

More immediately, I am feeling the signs of hunger. Just the signs, not hunger. Beta blockers take that away and one is left to rely on the signs.  I am thinking the Thai stir fry with a beer. It is always better left over and is sitting in the refrigerator. At least the beer,  sitting in the trunk of the car, will be cold.

Ain’t it a wonderful day?

‘Tis the season

12/19/09 12:32   Tags: christmas, links, message

wreathChange is not always the easiest thing for me. But I suppose that puts me well within the human race. But Christmas has finally captured my attention and my heart as I am preparing, dear friends and family,  to fire up the fireplace, crack the cork on some red wine and write my Christmas cards. It is most favorite thing of the season I do as I savor the pleasure of thinking of all the folks most dear to me. How very important each and everyone has been and is to me.

The other tradition I have had for some  years is the building of Christmas web pages. This year there is one new and I have kept many from years past.  I just visited them all as part of recapturing the “spirit of the season,”   as I recall my moods and the times they were written. You can begin with a card I have had a couple of years.  It is at  You can just follow the arrows to the pages or go directly to

I am grateful for this year but have regrets that the material gifts I will give must be enjoyed here in my house, a septic system that works and drywall in the kitchen that remains dry. My Christmas funds and more have gone to some of my newest friends, the plumbers.  So Ya’ll come enjoy your gifts any time; and Merry Christmas!


“Ye shall find him in a manger,” Christmas Eve 2009

12/24/09 11:27   Tags: good_shepherd, solidarity, ye-shall-find-him-in-a-manger-christmas-eve-2009


I think I have likely perplexed you my loved ones by choosing this year to celebrate this day and tomorrow in apparent solitude. I will explain.

I am far from alone and most comfortable. Being by the telephone (and now at the computer) listening and communicating with the souls “out there” seems the most natural.  I celebrate all those I have spent so many holidays beside.

Perhaps it is the agony of observing the processes of determining the obligations we as a nation shall follow in caring for all of our flock that has made me so aware this year.

Or perhaps it is a wonderful experience I am having following a thread on the Grant County, Wisconsin Rootsweb list.

There is a poster who stands out in his determination to learn about his family roots. Recently he posted a question about a relative whose remains had been sent to the University of Wisconsin.  I pulled this man’s obituary and death certificate off the web.

The first is a notice of the November 1930 death of a man then unidentified. “Clad in overalls and an army overcoat, the man about 40 or 50 years old, was found in a manger in the stables where he had evidently gone to sleep. He had curled up in the feed box, his shoes off and overcoat drawn over him. It is believed he died of exposure.” The coroner’s report states the remains were given over to the Anatomy Department of the Univ. of Wisconsin.

As was the case for all physicians of my time my first patient was a cadaver, a man with no history and no headstone in his future. At the time and off and on since we all wonder but never take the time to find out the history of these martyrs to the better lives of others.  Mostly they are the so called “losers” and “failures,” the misbegotten who are no longer connected to family or friends.  I call them saviours.

Then here comes a  great nephew owning relationship and seeking information relentlessly.  I recall my brother David and nephew Greg’s excited call from the graveside of our  Rolla Hirst,  and their efforts this past summer to find more of the recluse William Clark.

If we are to be good shepherds we will know each of our flock.

On one of the weblogs a woman calling herself Selise reminds us; “solidarity means leaving no one behind,” then quotes Eugene Debs: “Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Yes. It is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.


Happy New Year

01/01/10 20:51   Tags: love, positive_thinking



Apologies to those who read me regularly for being a bit negligent in writing. Holidays, even quietly celebrated mess up the structure of my life and some things don’t get done.

I have had some nice comments on the Christmas story and some non-plussed, and a bunch of no comments. I guess cadavers and Eugene Debbs are a bit heavy for the season. I wish I could have been more eloquent in expressing a whole flurry of emotions and the insights they brought. I will keep working on it.

The past week has been really peaceful and especially joyful in reading and answering Christmas cards and emails.

I have a list that would choke a horse of awful and semi-awful things going on, some prompting anger even.  But with the love and interesting shared stories by friends and strangers I come to this first day of another decade with the treasure of love.

I wrote on a blog the other day something about ending the disgrace of the war in Afghanistan. I was met with a hostile response that I was being silly and just saying that because it made me feel good. The conversation that followed actually ended on a lot of common ground.  The only thing I regret not acknowledging that: Yes. It does make me feel good.

I have a notion more of us would be happier if we start the new year with some positive plans and solutions.

For beauty and inspiration expressed so much better than I can; read Joan King this past Tuesday.

Have a good one.

The bowls

01/03/10 09:44   Tags: bowls, college_footbal, reflection

I am close to a surfeit of college football but will have room for the final game on the 7th. Once an obsessive fan, I now, like church on Easter Sunday,  visit it at the New Year.  My what changes! since Curt Gowdy describing Daryl Royal and Billy Vessels’ exploits! What a gift when TV made it possible to actually see the games. The luscious Bowls named Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton came alive on New Year’s Day. One knew where and when to find them.

The Rose Bowl is the only that endures with its traditional name and slot. The Rose Parade and the Bowl game that followed were beautiful.  I am grateful this one fragment has not retreated into the mist of the past.

The games I had to discover mostly by channel surfing as their names and even where they play are now mostly business brands. In this corporation called the U.S. I suppose it is to be expected but perhaps I can be forgiven a tear of nostalgia for school and community spirit that gave us something to identify with and participate in.

So many of the games seemed to feature Avatars technically retouched.

But the Alamo and the Liberty Bowls avoided some of the retouching and permitted the audience some real time experiencing.

I was reminded that these after all are college kids as I watched the ECU coach and his efforts to relax and give confidence to his  benighted kicker. He sadly failed, over and over. I shed tears on the final failure.

These are just near-men pushing themselves to succeed, whether for themselves or someone else. Young men are especially prone to sacrificing for others. It takes a lot of betrayal for greed to transform them.

The actors in the Alamo Bowl had all the elements of  human frailty, a boorish coach banned from Texas Tech just before this final game and on the Michigan State side brawling athletes suspended from play.  The game was magnificent.  I was in awe of the brilliance of the offense and defense of Texas Tech. Truly an aesthetic experience. One has to wonder at the creative capacity of this boorish, sexist coach whose style in interpersonal relations  is to bully. What a combination.

The Michigan State team was out manned but the many freshmen held their own to the very end. Throughout the game I was thinking how opponents in the next two years must beware of these courageous already skilled young men now tempered in the heat of the New Year’s competition.


Francine Dibben and the new year

01/07/10 10:35 Tags: francine_dibben, liberated, liberation, memoir, new_year, powers_as_a-woman

I have been wanting to post something more about Francine since she was noted in the Times on January 1 as one of our area’s greatest losses this past year.

I keep delaying because for me the personal pain has not yet begun to let go.  The fact that Francine is the only woman and the only person not a businessman or military on the list is I think a compelling tribute to what a powerful woman she was. And it came from love  and her liberty.

As I said in my previous post; she was truly liberated. Some of us who knew her best understand the details of her journey to liberation. The greatest tribute was that everyone who came in contact with Francine realized they were with someone wonderfully special. She was in command of all her powers as a human and, noteworthy in these days, as a woman.

She loved every living thing and was never intimidated by any new venture. The last time I was with Francine in health was for early dinner and a film at Brenau on the life of Afghan women. Among all her other activities, she had befriended the 2-3 Afghan students at Brenau.

The very last time I saw her was a grand luncheon of friends with conversation so enriching and joyful. We compared hair, mine was better, but neither was much to write home about. And we spoke of blueberries and nuthatches and had wafers of incredible dark chocolate for dessert.

I find myself recalling her diaries through the two years of her illness. What a gift they were for all who loved her. After her final transplant there was still more to do as husband Jim’s green card gave out and Francine drove the 18 wheeler cross country, giving us diary updates.

Lord! I miss her.  I don’t want to start the new year yet because she will not be in it.


Reading and writing

01/11/10 11:06    Tags: books, empathy, love _losses, point_of_view, writing

I would have thought this paralyzing week and more of subfreezing cold along with snow and ice would have been conducive to more writing. Gratefully however the time has been more taken by establishing and reestablishing  contact with those important, out there, beyond the mountains.

Some of this has been prompted by the loss of three cousins all in December.  The last of five siblings I played with as a child and learned lessons with as I grew.  This is a vignette I wrote sometime ago that describes one such occasion my dearest and nearest cousin Shirley and I shared.  Gramma Makes her Point.

I digress from the intent of this diary. There is plenty of time to pursue the mourning.

I love to read but too often it takes a Mack truck to get me started.  I seem to be back to it now.  I am beginning to see a pattern in my reaction.  I think I am discovering the famous point of view writers bring to their writing. More personally rewarding is that I think I am discovering that I have one. I realize that is not enough to make a writer but it’s neat anyway.

My point of view is simple.  I must love and present all my characters with empathy, even the potential killer in my final creative writing course. (That started quite a reaction and I have yet to deal with all the red marks and get it into reading form.)

When reading, no matter the elegance of style, I find myself straining and becoming disturbed particularly by writing, both fiction and non-fiction, that presents characters in a relentlessly critical or judgmental  light.  I have commented in other venues that I see this as the cause of the dissonance I have always experienced with Margaret Atwood and more recently Ian McEwan (though the jury is still out on him to some extent.)

My review of The Bolter gives an example of a recent book that satisfies my biases.  And h Wharton and the somewhat disparaged Somerset Maughm I have turned to when seeking characters I could love.

But the joy of life is its diversity and I am glad there are all kinds of us and each has those with whom we resonate and feel kinship.

Haiti, calls for help

01/13/10 20:58   Tags: calls_for_aid, from_haiti, haiti_earthquake

Forwarded calls for help These are posts forwarded from the weblog Dispatches from a Fragile Island

I am posting them here so that they will get wider coverage. If anyone knows other places please forward them on.

Laurence-isabelle Gingras
My name is Laurence-isabelle and my sister is named Alexandra Duguay and she’s working in the Hotel Christopher, her office number is 502. she’s in charge of the communication and she was in the building when the seisme happend.
Were looking forward to get the much informations we can .
If anyone can give us informations please contact me at the following adress:

Val Vinokur

HEAVY MACHINERY NEEDED IN PETIONVILLE: My brother-in-law’s wife Emily Sanson-Rejouis (UN Human Resources) survived the earthquake because her UN office was a shipping container and made her way back to their hotel. The hotel has collapsed and the family are trapped (my brother-in-law Emmanual and their three little girls Kofie-Jade, Zenzie, Alyahna). She can hear at least one of their voices (the youngest 2 yr old Alyahnna’s) and needs urgent assistance to rescue them. They are buried in the rubble but there might be a small air pocket. Emily said it is chaos on the ground, there is no machinery, and she has asked us to get any assistance possible to her. The address of the hotel is:

Karibe Hotel, Juvenat 7 Petion-Ville, HAITI (near Union School)
A map to the location of the hotel is here:


“Haiti is broken”

01/14/10 14:13   Tags: calls_for_aid, haiti_earthquake, love, loving_nature_of_man

Today’s  title  is a quotation from a little boy living in Haiti with his peacemaker family.  His father blogs at Dispatches from a fragile island.  It was said before the earthquake as he was trying to understand the painful struggles of the Haitians and their government.

I cannot think of much other than the earthquake.  Who can as the images and first hand reports come in?  We are reminded we are one. When one part suffers so do all. The impulse to reach out and to help,  a trait intrinsic to humans, and many other creatures made obvious today.

But the cynics, beginning with Pat Roberts mean hurtful screed, soon begin to promote their sad mood.  As with Katrina, the possibility of looting and rioting are suggested and will soon become rumors.  “Haiti has no government” they say. They mean there are no guns firing.  Those of religious bent who seek and find evil and sin where they look introduce the tones of guilt, especially toward the victims. Even the New York Times have op eds today, one titled “Haiti’s Angry ‘God.” Another leads with ” Poor Haiti is cursed.”

The images and news coming out however belie the cynics.  From the streets of Port au Prince to the outpouring of love and materials from around the world tell the real story.

Please make note of the calls for help I took off the Dispatches from a fragile island  blog.  I have posted them a number of places and have confidence that they have or soon will reach the help they need. An interesting sidelight; it was interesting the big organizations were so difficult to post the information but here was the Haiti ham radio site with an email right there and of course the Facebook walls,  so easy and so reassuring.

Mrs. Hornaday! Mrs. Hornaday!

01/18/10 11:15   Tags: memoir, mrs._hornaday, parrot

I have joined most in the compulsion to stay close to the cable news and other outlets for news of the rolling disaster in Haiti.  I have in other venues posted on my angst and frustrations, even transiently on this weblog.  I will continue to do so.

But sanity demands a return to collect and focus on other aspects of  life.  There have been more personal losses. The death of three cousins  in December mixing with the joy of discovery of cousins and friends not known before.

Lord the memories! Just the casual mention of a parrot in a book I am reading recalls Mrs. Hornaday’s yellow and green “pirate parrot.” It was Mrs. Hornaday that gave my father his first job working in her greenhouses and retail shop. He worked for her intermittently until the move to Tulsa.

This parrot was the frustration of my father and I suspect many others. It flew with abandon through the greenhouses leaving droppings and nibbling on mum and other flower buds.  Losses not easily absorbed in the hard times.

As far as I recall the only thing the bird ever said was “Mrs. Hornaday! Mrs. Hornaday! Usually it would be when anyone entered the shop so there was some benefit.  Of course as a child I loved it.  I didn’t need to ponder on how this empty headed pretty face repeating only what others said found such a useful role in the greater Gestalt of things.  But then we didn’t have T.V. then.

I recall that my mother late in life ceased to want to remember. I think it isolated her to an ungiving present but I now understand. Even the most joyful of memories are accompanied by the pain of loss.

I still miss that bird.

The end of one story.

01/19/10 22:09    Tags: alexandra_duguay, emily sanson-rejouis


This afternoon brings sad news from Mark of Dispatches from a Fragile Island.  Alexandra Duguay is now known dead in the Haiti earthquake. Please read his moving tribute and see the photo of this lovely woman here. Dispatches from a Fragile Island.

A UN worker, she is one of the thousands and thousands lost but I had her name and query from Mark’s site and now I have the photo. It brings it all a little closer. She will be mourned in this little corner and also the larger venues.

Along with posting the search for information regarding Alexandra the day of the quake I also posted a query by Val Vinokur seeking immediate aid for Emily Sanson-Rejouis and family in Petion-ville. See both here.

Share my pain. Share the love.


More sadness, this for Emily Sason-Rejouis

01/21/10 15:55   Tags: alexandra_duguay, casualties, earthquake, emily)sason-rejouis, haiti, un

I have just found the Turtle Bay January 19 reports of the fate of some of the UN workers in Haiti. The death of Alexandra is noted.

This is from the account of tragic losses suffered by Emily Sanson-Rejouis:


“The relief worker walked out of her office in the U.N. logistics base in Port au Prince only to quickly discover that her husband Emmanuel and three small daughters were trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsed apartment building where they lived. Emily’s sister told Turtle Bay that she dug through the building’s remains for nearly 20 hours before finding her husband and one of her daughters. Both were dead. She rescued a second daughter, Alyahna, 2, who survived because her father had covered her with his own body. Her third daughter, Kofie-Jade, 5, who was named after the former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, remains inside the rubble.”

See the complete accounts. Here.

These are only two of hundreds of thousands but the more grievously felt because I tried to help.

Chattering and hugging

01/26/10 10:13   Tags: cataclysm, haiti, human_connectedness, losses, reflections

My! It seems many things have been going on bringing more emotion into my life. Personal losses and the tragedy of Haiti, the economics playing out in this country, all  bring pain and reflection.  They have also brought re and new connections to family and friends.  I am blessed.

The image of the many coming from Haiti that has struck me most deeply is that of the people out in the streets, stunned, gathering together.  “And the walls come atumbling down.” A powerful metaphor.  Recently there has been some writing on “shock” strategies and their use to manipulate people against their interests and on and on. Too often initially at least, we find meaning along the fringes of cataclysmic events and are blind to the greater.

Yes tragedy brings renewal of emotion and the human bonds and we cannot renounce it. Let’s not forget also the images of Times Square on New Year’s Eve or just this past Sunday New Orleans.  We are a chattering hugging species. It is part of how we celebrate an mourn events, great and small.  I will be writing for weeks of the joys of finding new friends and family and what each bring.

For those who like to point out our “dominance,” I prefer “flourishing,” on the planet I hope they will note this factor in making it so. It’s when walls are breached,  in fact or reality, we go to the streets and exercise our greatest assets, each other.

Family, the compassionate healer

01/29/10 13:42 Tags: cataclysm, disaster, importance of family history and species survival

With some gentle aid from friend Nancy and newly found Clark cousins I am feeling affirmed in the  work of family history, a pursuit of some twenty years.

A conversation yesterday helps me to expand. Another of the friends who bless my existence asked the question,    “when faced with catastrophe how do people cope?” There are many answers, most likely correct.  The simplest is they act like families. To paraphrase Freud, to make sense of events great and small we rely on our past experience in family.Certainly, to understand the most basic organic impact and meaning of things,  look to  family.

To recount the stories whether by ancient story tellers,  epic poetry, text or simply the family drama is to make the history understandable. With a re-formation of family, comprehension and coping begin.

In the previous diary I have described first responses to cataclysmic natural disaster; a  gathering in the streets.   Most personal for me is the approaching visit of a cousin, when last seen barely an adult now in midlife suffering shared loss of family. For another poignant example visit the UN  support  Facebook page.

I come close to shedding tears for my great grandmother’s uncle John G. Clark. He spent many of his middle years energetically re-forming family shattered and dispersed by the Civil War and his later years pressing my great grandfather to tell the story.

With age it becomes easier to understand the importance of seeing the greater arc of history. For me it also brings fears for the future of mankind when I see history distorted for short term gain for a few. But I am certain that has always been the case. Though  much has been lost,  much prevails. In fact the individual family history may be the purest and safest repository of the truth.

This re-formation of family and community;  hardwired or told story,  it has preserved this species for a long time.



02/14/10 08:48   Tags: human reactions to snow, reflections on snow


snowFriday’s snow and dawn on Saturday have been a delight. For me it came at a time of freedom to simply enjoy the aesthetic experience. And I did.  I think the cats shared in it. They were more active and glued to the windows of whatever room I found myself. Of course the abundance of the birds could have prompted some of the interest.

I had been bemused and somewhat amused at all of the media coverage of the great snow storms in the north that preceded our dusting. But now I see it as a blessing and an affirmation that we humans, most of the time so determined to impose our will, can still pause in awe of the natural world.

Now most of it is gone from here but this is a link to a few of the pictures I took from my loft.  (Just put your mouse over the text and the link underline will appear. )  The slide show is a bit crude but I am only part way toward my winter project of developing facility with Flash Slideshows.


Is this nuts or what?

02/16/10 09:38   Tags: climate_change, education

There are days and weeks that strain my determination to keep this weblog non-political.

For those of a political bent, I assure you the following is a commentary on human nature though in this particular case  its working in the bodies the people elect to govern them.

The world certainly now knows the House of Representatives of the State of Utah is in session. The legislators are coming out with some doozies.

From the Salt Lake City Tribune account of the legislation:

“Rep. Mike Noel, the Legislature’s chief climate-change skeptic, declared Thursday that global warming is a conspiracy to control world population.

The House Natural Resources Committee then approved a resolution that expresses the Utah Legislature’s belief that “climate alarmists’ carbon dioxide-related global warming hypothesis is unable to account for the current downturn in global temperatures.”

The resolution, sent to the House on a 10-1 vote, would urge the Environmental Protection Agency to drop plans to regulate the pollution blamed for climate change “until a full and independent investigation of the climate data conspiracy and global warming science can be substantiated.” [The bill was later  passed by the full House.]

Read the full bill here.

Now that same august body has come up with the notion to eliminate the 12th year of public education.  Read the account here. I assume that will resolve one problem ignored by the first bill; that being any questions being raised on the basis of  a pesky science educated electorate.

As I said this is not politics.  It’s watching evolution go backwards. You gotta love it.


Science and the seven senses

02/18/10 12:21   Tags: climate_change, cognition, discerning the truth, education, global_warming, science

It goes without saying that as a scientist I honor education above almost any other human endeavor.

The terrifying success of corporate attacks on climate change facts and predictions is the latest observation to arouse the reflexive response that we must strive harder to educate our companions on this planet.

The basic science is simple, clear and easily demonstrable. Carbon dioxide molecules hold heat. You can measure it in a Bell jar or my father’s greenhouses, or the domed stadia. Simple straight forward it’s just math to figure out how much does what. Why big storms that bring ice to usually warm areas?  Just fill up a pot, or to make it more realistic a big glass bubble with water.  Put a flame under one section of it. Depending on the size of the flame this area becomes warmer while other areas remain cool. The fluid begins to move near the flame, rising and circling; low flame, most of the action is nearer the flame. Juice up the flame and the bubbles get bigger and the currents expand to cooler regions. They take some cold water to warm places and replace the cold with warm. Hike it up a bit more and the currents and bubbles get really big and  move faster and faster.  As any cook will tell you,  until the entire pot of water is not evenly hot until there is a full boil. (If you are going to cook rice or spaghetti evenly you don’t put it in until that happens.)

As with the spaghetti pot, if the warming of the planet’s atmosphere by our heat conserving effluences continues to build it will boil.

The little example above is middle school science.  It presents the concepts and more important the method of examining observable data and their meaning.

Simple. Why don’t we teach it? For most in this country we have. Doesn’t work. In fact it seems recently to lead to good collective decision making less and less. Delving a little deeper  I come to the conclusion that as applied to human life and culture truth has always been determined politically and not by scientists.

On reflex I think science, good factual numbers and observations as above, should rule.

But on reflection I think of my generations’  elevation of  science and technology to highest authority and the countless disasters it has caused; taking many lives, causing unimaginable suffering and really coming close to dehumanizing our civil society.

At some level I am relieved to see skepticism, even from the creationists, flat-earthers, birthers, warming deniers and all. But fears that science driven truth will be totally rejected and lost are strong. Paradoxically, should that happen the results would be the same.

We must culture and nurture that “political” aspect of decision making that validates and makes sense of what science shows us but we cannot renounce information that comes to us by any of the seven senses.

Political or not, we are living in times when truth is in great danger. To preserve reason, perhaps to survive as a species, there must be a road forward that resembles that backward to a time when science, religion and politics were one. We need it all in this organic box Osler called the temple where life resides.


What a wonderful morning!

02/23/10 09:52   Tags: cats, diary, friends, morning

What a wonderful morning! Winter may be back but for the moment she has loosened her grip. I awake  with the images of last night’s elegant Olympics ice dancing competition still on my retina. It is a bit late but Claudette has been content to remain sleeping,  melted into  my legs.  Sweet Alex strolled in and with his characteristic measuring lands lightly next to my neck. They are both confident of the soon forthcoming food and fresh water.

Now we are all three, each in our individual chair, performing the morning worship rituals at the computer. I am delighted to find commentary on my last posting which was such a polyglot of fractured syntax.  I am especially appreciative.

I have much to write and say but the time has moved by and I am looking forward to another sustaining lunch with friend Joan.  This time at the Corkscrew in Dahlonega. How blessed I am to have these good folks to enjoy and who help me to keep all my seven senses operating.

I am off. Maybe more later.

Treasures on the “blog”

02/24/10 13:17   Tags: blogs, dispatches from a fragile island, family_history, haiti, history, silver threads, snappy’s gardens

When I first began to discover what pleasures these toys the computer and the Internet could bring there were relatively few others. We were mostly geeks and, amazingly, large numbers of mostly women. These women were taking the new media of html and java and creating some of the most beautiful and inspirational web sites. The ring concept flourished and was the beginning of social networking. Then began the “monetization” and the Internet, too big to navigate and too intrusive to put up with. But recently politics has driven me back to have my say in whatever way I can find.

I am delighted to also find some of those early ring designers and their descendants now doing personal blogs. They are hard to find but what treasure there is to be discovered in them. I have added new links to some on the right.

If you love nature photographs Snappy’s Garden’s Blog. Link here. is one such. Another to which I have alluded is U.N. worker Mark Turner’s Dispatches From a Fragile Island. Link here. About Haiti I discovered it in Mark’s photographs and his wonderful story of educating Dorian. It is much more now as he is taking photographs and working to restore the tormented island. I recommend it to all.

Most precious so far is the discovery of Silver Threads by Silverseason. Link here. I have many reasons to enjoy her intellectually incisive book commentaries and writing. Most affirming for me personally is a shared respect and love for the dignity of family. The fact that Silverseason and I have many family roots that lived in parallel of course adds a “zing.”


Hungarian Memories

02/24/10 13:34

Hungarian Memories (link here)Silverseason on  her blog Silver Threads  (link here), is a compelling biography of her husband Julius. A Holocaust death camp survivor, his story is of one unique family, yet it is  representative of the stories of families who suffer loss by death and dispersal. The biography does not avoid the egregious crimes suffered by the Gluck family. The focus however is on the will and the courage to reconnect and to rebuild demonstrated by this family, while they never sacrificed the values of culture and civilization. Nancy describes the many reunions and trips revisiting and photographing sites of events. I am particularly appreciative for her including many photos. They emphasize that this is an authentic history of real people.  I cannot do it justice with more words and encourage a reading of the real thing. A good read, it is more.

I hope many more of the true stories are written to be preserved; first to keep history honest and, I think more importantly, as Julius does, to remind all of us of our dignity as creatures of this earth and our capacity to endure unspeakable adversity; then with courage to strike out into new territitory in optimism.


What about Machu Picchu?

02/27/10 15:32 Tags: age, friendship, living

This morning was like one of those chemotherapy wake ups; the first day after the toxicity had let go, when the body felt normal. I remained in the bed extra hours just enjoying feeling my body without pain or strange sensations. And Claudette close up to me, content to just be there. I didn’t want to answer the bell. So I dallied.


Finally sipping the first cup of tea, checking the email rewarded my stirring. The first was from a friend I love as dearly as any but have never met. I have written about the gifts of the Internet and surely Betty is the greatest to have blessed me. Over ten years ago we were there supporting and learning from each other how to make beauty to share with all in this new medium and much more. She has succeeded far beyond me. Her writing and graphics are of incomparable elegance. A look at her guest book tells the story of friends around the world. Today’s e-mail announced the end of her day job, a nine year period of caretaking for the second time a husband through final years. Depleted, she is planning the next chapter.

The second from a friend enjoying a glimpse of a future created through many years of efforts and self-deprivation. She once commented on having missed the chance to see Machu Picchu in exchange for these glimpses. My heart swells with empathy and admiration.

I think of and am grateful for those two and all the other friends in my age peer group, one who today is caretaking in a similar situation to Betty and two whose work just ended this month. I love and appreciate these old folks I am privileged to call friend. Each so unique, each all have lived diverse lives to this place. We like to believe we write the script and I am certain I am not alone in wondering if I could have written a more enjoyable or at least worthy lifestyle for myself. When our soul directs us to simply do the right thing the plot often excludes the exotic and the frenetic. But it also assures those, brief as they may be, glimpses of the legacy of answering the bell.

I never had the money to run with the Machu Picchu crowd but I like this one best.

A glimpse of Mach Picchu Link


Let’s put on a show

03/10/10 12:00  Tags: academy_award, community, history, show_biz, streep

I have been enchanted with some newly  accessed genealogy data bases and been working to fill in some blanks in the ancestry. Of course that leads to the pleasure of finding many historical sources. Reason enough to encourage local histories as well as the family’s history.

So I am just now sitting down to write about Sunday’s Academy Awards. I watched them for the first time in some years, having ceased to find movies of interest.  Maybe that gives me a fresh perspective.

I was struck with no matter how some things change the more they stay the same. This show, and it was self-consciously a show, reminded me of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney’s “Let’s put on a show!” And what a show! The most beautiful and the most talented people in the world were there.

I was in awe of the magical hold Meryl Streep had on the entire event. There she was in all her majesty, front row center right, aisle seat, Helen Mirren,  in the background, sat behind her.

I wonder if any Hollywood historians more informed than I can think of anyone more dominating since Gloria Swanson. Perhaps Bergman.  She dominated every venue, whether New York’s fifth avenue or the beach in Barbados where I once saw  her. There was a brief break in the thrall when Lauren Bacall took the stage, but then she spoke.

This was Streep’s show and she presided admirably in celebration of just how much fun it is to get all the beauty and talent together and put on a show.

No better description of what a community enterprise it is than the actress who presented the cinematography award, describing it as the “make me beautiful” award.


What about the children?

03/12/10 11:08

In my mind I am a psychiatrist. In my bones I am a pediatrician, a legacy of the child welfare and settlement house movements.

I am disturbed by two stories in today’s news. The first was on CNN news quoting a report in Time, link, on a nation-wide rise in pregnancy associated mortality.  Actually this is more than disturbing. It is shocking. I recall my early days in medicine when I worked in volunteer and state and city supported charity clinics. We provided pre and neo-natal care, well baby care and mentoring of mothers.  We believed we were there to nourish a stronger healthier and happier people.

If you want to feel really important and really wise work in a well baby clinic.

I still cannot imagine such being considered optional or a “give away.”

It is interesting that the child welfare movement arose in late Victorian England as the signs of the enfeebling price of empire were becoming obvious.  These were the massive loss of young men’s lives, the plummeting birth rates and slums filled with the poor, the hungry and the ill. They  began to fear the extinction of what they called the “English race.”

The second news article is in the New York Times recounting massive public school closings in Kansas City, link. The local news in most if not all states is replete with decreases in public school staff, hours, days even, as suggested in Utah, whole years. The poor who will most need skills to overcome the limits of poverty are those who are being most deprived.

My first impulse is to call for the women to activate and agitate for the children and for peace.  Why the women? History seems to tell us it is by far more often that it is the women who recognize or at least are moved to activism by those signs the late Victorians saw.


Everybody loves Betty

03/14/10 11:14    Tags: aging, betty_white, joi_de _vivre, love, trolo, wasps

It was serendipity that I watched the awarding of the Medal of Freedom to our surviving WASPS.  These are the women aviators who did most of the ferrying of combat aircraft to the battle zones of WWII. All now in the second half of their eighties, an amazing number are alive and were present.

What an interesting group of women they are and have been, many continuing to fly well past retirement age. Everyone I could catch a glimpse of projected a salty vitality. You just have to love them.  The next time you are in an air museum take a look at how fragile those aluminum and wire airplanes were, then imagine a pin up girl climbing in one and heading out across the ocean.
BettyBetty White, of that age group, is suddenly rediscovered and has become the rage of the entertainment world.  She has even achieved the reputed high honor of being asked to host a late night TV comedy show. And all the entertainment and much of the news media is abuzz with “why we love Betty White.”

Mention is made of her penchant for fun, her sexiness and energy.  As a television fan I have known Betty since she and Alan Ludden were romancing on Password and then through her era of situation comedies. Maybe it is just acting (she has done much more than acting), but I don’t think so.  The joi de vivre, a reflection of a life of substance has always been there. No defensiveness. What you see is what you get.

I say we love her and those WASPs, not because of what they are today but because they have been that way all their lives.

Salon has a beautiful tribute by Mary Elizabeth Williams  to Betty and her age peer group.  She says; ” But guess what, kids? Inside every creaky geezer there’s a person who was once quite likely just as lively and oversexed and trouble making as you are now. The elderly aren’t an alien species.” See the full article here.

It isn’t limited to the female gender. See the recent rage on You Tube.  Talk about joi de vivre, this old guy reminds me of  the hilarity among six year old boys pissing on the wall.

The seasons

03/17/10 11:53   Tags: envrionment, planet, seasons, spring, sustainability, trees

Though I had always lived among trees and birds in the city, it wasn’t until I moved to the lake that I came to really feel the changes of the seasons.  After more than 10 years I have learned to permit the transformation in myself as they change. It remains a wonder and it is healing, bringing optimism, this cycle of perpetual withdrawal and rebirth.


Though the skies are gray, threatening to drip. The trees outside my loft window are bringing forth in all their resplendence  the buds of life restoring. I know my hummer will soon be on one of those branches, up from Central America insistent in his demand for attention.  I must fill his feeder.

It is hard to believe just a month ago those same branches were bare and home to inches of resting snow. Remember? Here.

I am so convinced that the future generations must and will recapture the mystery and the health our ancient ancestors felt when in concert with all of our natural world.

I suppose the usual things of fear and hunger drove the humans of the cold places to begin to perceive the natural world as something to be attacked, plundered and controlled. Well, we ice people have done our thing and the planet is on its knees though stubbornly continuing to serve up the gifts of life and contentment; if we will just accept them.


Happy new life

04/04/10 13:23

What’s in a name?

04/05/10 13:55

For the researcher, not a lot, but for the bearer is is an intensely held possession. I was reminded of this when I filled out the Census form. No place for the birth name by which I have been known all of my life; only a single block for one letter. Most of the permanent documentation of my most dramatic life events presents no opportunity for recording it.

After a lifetime of struggling with IRS, voter registration requirements etc I have finally succumbed to acceptance. But somehow when I am in the joy of public recognition of work or at times of the pain or anxiety of illness it just doesn’t feel right to be called by a name I don’t recognize.

Stumbling into the LDS databases with their millions of names, dates and the briefest of descriptive text I first thought “where are the stories? Do the names and numbers really inform?” But they are a place to start. Then I realize should anyone seek to add my name to a chart or even learn something of my story, I will likely never be recognized again as I am now by family and friends.

I am grateful for the hard work of the compilers, but it is not enough.Without the stories, the history; it seems simple accounting of livestock. And if you are a person of the land it is not enough even for livestock. I am reminded of one of my favorite myths.

A flatlander driving in the North Georgia mountains misses a curve and falls in a ditch. A man with a mule appears and offers help. Once extracted the flatlander compliments the mule and asks the owner his name. The man replied; “I don’t rightly know, but we call him Jack.”

More on names and numbers

04/09/10 12:00

As a result of the family history work I find myself more and more preoccupied with history, mine, their’s and ours. I occasionally pause to wonder if there is any point in preserving this history. I take the answer from an evolutionist’s perspective; the more important species’ survival behavioral traits such as sex are pleasurable. Sex speaks for itself.  There are certainly a lot of us that find extreme pleasure in the recording and reading of history.

The first principle resolved I then think of the impact of our generations’ moving to the preservation of history in digital form. Digital is after all nothing more than series of 1s and 0s. Imagine some 2 million years from now when some archeologist stumbles on a landfill of CDs.

Will there be those who can translate even the 1s and 0s into names and dates? First someone has  fall upon the insight that these contain something important and be curious and want to know it.  Hardware and the software has to likely be re-invented.  Those conundrums once traversed and numbers turned into names and dates; I am as confident as of the sun coming up that they will then begin to construct and explore for the stories.

I am reminded of the recent discovery of a new species of hominid in South Africa. A young boys, almost 2 million years old. The environment preserved around him reveals a mature female hominid and many carnivore species but no evidence of predation. More study suggests they all died together, perhaps from some wash into a cave.

The New York Times April 9, 2010. Link to article and video here.

The study goes on. But first we must name him. They are already doing that. There is a contest among South African school children to provide a name.



04/21/10 10:39


Maybe it is that love must be acknowledged.

04/21/10 20:55

Alma recently passed on to me a memoir of To Kill a Mockingbird written by Rick Bragg. Harper Lee’s great novel tops several lists of contemporary books that changed their world. I read it some time ago and have seen the movie and plays.

The book’s realistic representation of the small towns of the old Confederacy resonates with my own experiences of many people I have known who grew up in metaphorical Maycombs. It has been my good fortune that most I have known could have been a character from which Atticus Finch was drawn.

I wonder what spawned such intellect, civility and compassion from a dimming culture of vaporous noble causes, fear and hatred. This Atticus Finch is like a bush of roses in their abundance of beauty, solitary in the desert. Then I wonder why such men and women choose to remain within a such a dark place.

Atticus has become a contemporary American hero.

But is it sufficient to simply know better; to display, or to observe:

“I sometimes think that never so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled” — Omar Khayyam.


I share with some others, if not criticism, frustration, and still challenge myself, that more is not done by these who know better to confront irrationality and lingering embedded inhumanity unique in the old south. The question is compelling.

As an activist “fixer” I am struggle to be satisfied with the answer to which I believe Atticus came; that being to have faith in conversion through love while not submitting to prevailing evil.

I am deeply moved by the love for family and cultural heritage in the south. It is the most natural thing in the world for all of us. As for parents and family, the land and the culture where one grows up is automatically and unconditionally cherished. When in stress we long to go back. I have those feelings for my childhood in Oklahoma. I do not have them for the old deep south but Harper Lee does as well as anyone in describing those who do

When that heritage was created and nurtured on cruel oppression and exploitation of those made helpless by slavery and poverty what is one to do? I am reminded of those of us in contemporary times who have loved and been betrayed by imperfect family or political cause or figure.

So much love. So much hope. The cries from outside are for shame and remorse, and in the case of the south even reparations for the ways of people long dead. Must we abandon our love?

Perhaps we can learn to celebrate the love while not continuing to tilt at the wraiths of the past and manufacture nobility of cause, which all know was corrupt.


Catching up, change and lizard brain

05/04/10 14:43 Tags: family, human_nature, lizard brains, longings, memoir, welsh

Been away for a while and in the breather decided to make a change in the Morning Worship header, at least for the spring. You will also note I have added in Alex’s intro a link to some morning worship music. It can also be accessed by this link here.

Brother David was here a little over a week ago, Fine conversation and food. Speaking of our most known ancient ancestors (Welsh) who are known to have met the Normans and likely the Romans reminded me of Norma and the glorious Casta Diva. Long before family history study I have felt a kinship with Norma and the druids. I likely could have been most happy just living in the woods and speaking to the critters. So maybe there are certain longings written into our DNA.

David had just sent me a copy of the Sinclair Lewis novel Arrosmith. I first read it while still in high school and I have little doubt it was one of the influences encouraging me to seek a life in medicine.  Re reading it at this point in life is like reading a favorite fairy tale from childhood.

I can’t speak for him but the visit with David suggests it evoked much the same experience as we spoke of our passions as we were becoming adults, the romance and the hubris. I am touched that David recalls so many of the details of those things that stirred me. I was biology.  He was electronics. I was in the woods looking at birds and worms and he was building and rebuilding radios. We shared the passion to learn and to fix, and a very bent sense of humor that cherished Thurber and especially Bob and Ray.

Yes in ways it seems a fairy tale. But it is recorded as truth.  Like the old lizard brain, covered over with layers of  living and cynicism, only that time can give  authenticity to all that has come since.

When Oil was Gold

05/06/10 21:50    Tags: environment, nostalgia, oil a romance

There is a great blog on Fire Dog Lake describing just what has gone on and is going on with the well out there in the Gulf.

It sent me on a trip down nostalgia lane.  The author’s descriptions bring back memories of familiarity with all that equipment. The following is in substance my cross post.

I lived on 21st street about a mile and a half from the International Petroleum Exposition grounds.  It was a time when Oil was gold, earth milk, and Tulsa the “Oil Capitol of the World.”  It was a time when to see a Halliburton truck was good luck.

Of course I had many friends in the oil business, including my very best friend who started life as a wildcatter in thethat time winnowing, Oklahoma fields.  He did his own geology and most everything else. But, Lord! the romance of it all!. His wife and I spent more than one night out there all night waiting for the well to come in. It was a time when the stench of oil was uplifting, the sign of hope and prosperity, of greatness.

How things change. How perspective changes. Now we have come to risk the destruction of the planet as our greed and hubris grew from that romance. No one understands the life of the earth better than the geologists and paleontologists. I cannot believe that if they were still doing the exploration we would be in the mess we are.



05/12/10 10:05  Tags: chattahoochee, climate, phoebe, roses, spring

There is some disquiet that the dogwoods were past full bloom on April 15 and now the roses preceded Mothers’ Day by a few days.  It seems only I and the birds have made note as they also have fledged a few days early.

But, over all, a good spring. The lake is full and the roadside fences bowers of honeysuckle, blackberry and country roses. The Kudzu a victim of hard winter freeze is late in its annual assault on the beauty of diverse vegetation.

The new grass is taking hold and is  green aswell, grass; and no intrusive medical things in the immediate future. I have had great joy in planting my patio garden myself this year.

A new joy is the under eaves of my shed has been chosen by a family of Phoebes.  Small gray birds blending in with the titmice and chickadees they first missed my attention.  The territorial behavior of the male every time I go to the car however could not be missed and then I found the nest.

I am getting to know my point and shoot camera a little better now. I hope these images can be enjoyed. The river shots are of the Chattahoochee just below Helen.

Images of Spring
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What shall become of Louisiana?

07/31/10 20:56,   Tags: louisiana, oil spill, rachel maddow

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Promise of Fall

10/18/10 13:07   Tags: economics, environment, investment

The beauty of a North Georgia fall brings such joy that it becomes impossible to be silent. I remember my first fall at the lake. It has now been 14 years. That year brought awe and reassurance in change.

Change has certainly been with me since that first fall that marked my leaving the working world. This year the fall brings new meanings as I discover more intimately  life is at the pleasure of past investments.

The hoarded money is gone.

What began as expenditures, “consumption,” has become my most vital investment.  Choosing and nurturing a home and pursuing a life-style  supportive of a civil society now provides an unexpected harvest. At the time I thought only in passing of it being a “good investment,” of “last resort;”  mostly to assuage guilt at pursuing a dream.  My dorky little home beside the lake.

After all the glitzy career, that home  I chose for these last quiet years is now rescuing me from that most terrifying nightmare; dying in and of poverty.

It’s called a reverse mortgage.  It is another of those liberal government  programs intended to address the needs of the aged.  First I am grateful for the wisdom and civility of those who have made it possible. In this day of plunder and grasp such an option seems almost out of place.

It is a metaphor that refutes the grasp, plunder and consume atmosphere. When a culture can look beyond persons as profit producing units, accepting each as valuable it becomes grounded in the patterns of nature.

Our planet with its  people is our investment of last resort.  Appreciation of civility and abundance of resources is investment that enhances value with time.

As harbingers of winter multiply I am grateful for the small scale miracle of peace that comes to me.

Have a happy Halloween. Link Here.

The Family

06/09/11 15:05,

The cats and I have been enjoying my painting.  It seems just the right thing to create a companion-able atmosphere.   In fact I am just about to the place to let the current painting sit for a while then call it done.

Alex has been examining the waving Buddha Cat I got at the Thai place a couple of weeks ago.  It just sits there mindlessly waving.  Alex usually sniffs it and walks away though sometimes will reach out a paw or look to me questionably.

Today when we came up to paint, there it was waving away.  Alex went up to it and sat, apparently contemplating.  Then in one motion raised his fore-paw and.knocked the Cat Buddha  all the way across the room,  flicked his tail and went to sleep.

You gotta bring something to the family or end up across the room on your belly.



Alex and Buddhacat in Better Times





©2012 by Lorraine Watkins


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