My regularly scheduled Monday blog post will appear on Tuesday of this week. You’ll want the wait. In addition to taking care of a myriad of medical tasks related to both me and my mother, my husband and I are going to see Eddie Izzard. My post tomorrow will be about his show.

Thank you for your patience!

Book Spotlight: Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I only recently became aware of Ta-Nehisi Coates from an article on or Once my interest was piqued, I requested a copy of the book from the library. In the intervening time, I read at least two fiction novels. Delving into fictional worlds is my primary method of escapism and helps me forget a lot of things I would rather not remember. It unfortunately also includes a lot of things that I might rather remember instead, like what I liked about him that made me want to read his books.

I knew ahead of time that he had written the book as a long letter to his son, Salomi. I rather like that kind of one sided conversation that an author has with a particular reader, the most poignant being from a parent to a child or vice versa. When I first started writing in an online journal to read by my friends, thinking of them helped me frame my thoughts. Reading this book is being on the listening end of a very private and emotional conversation filled with love, fear, and hope.

What I like most is that he writes plainly and openly to his son. Coates does not soften his words because they are not cruel, simply the truth of what it is to experience life as a black man in America. He does not exaggerate to bolster a claim that lacks a solid foundation. His experience lights his truth. He does not hide his thoughts from his son or from us. His raw honesty to his son about what to expect in life gives his writing strength, depth, and insight. I also think that his honesty and unwillingness to look away from the truth comes not only from his experience as a black man, but as an atheist. He has no God or spirituality to fall back on, just the realization that life is beautiful and precious and irreplaceable because it is the only one that we have.

In the midst of reading, I saw again that there are some things that I will never understand about the black experience. Black bodies can be taken and abused, crushed, and killed at any time in way that happens much less with white bodies. Justice almost never comes. Mr. Coates’ honesty about this and his unwillingness to be anything but honest for his son’s sake form a gripping narrative interwoven with examples from his personal life, along with others.

There are some things I understand better or differently after reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Not all of these conclusions can be traced to the book. Some things that I see now or more clearly include:

  • The foundation of American commerce was built on black bodies, i.e. slavery. To call it slavery disguises reality: black bodies were controlled and put to use for the profit of their white owners.
  •  In the Civil War, the Confederate South did not want to give up their right to enslave black bodies for profit. Calling this a way of life disguises what happened to black bodies.
  • Despite the North winning the Civil War or the passage of the 15th and 19th amendments or The Voting Rights Act or The Civil Rights movement or #BlackLivesMatter, institutionalized racism exists. As long as it exists, black and brown bodies suffer disproportionately.
  • It seems that some whites are still angry that they cannot enslave black bodies and have been busy trying to punish them ever since. They do not want to give up a defeated flag. They do not want welfare. They do not want affordable health care. They want black bodies to go to work to get off welfare, but make laws that prevent people with jail time from getting hired. And they especially do not want to give up their flags or give welfare or see people covered by health insurance or hire someone if it’s going to help black bodies and hurt poor white bodies. As long it doesn’t hurt rich white bodies, anything’s on the table. They want to call it a way of life or tradition. They want to silence the truth of black bodies, voices, minds, and expression with their revisionist histories.
  • Black bodies are blamed for their violence done to their bodies as rape victims are blamed for their rapes. Blackness automatically equals a thug. Black bodies are told to “be twice as good”, as if this could save them from being beaten killed in the same way that telling a woman to be “twice as modest” wouldn’t work to prevent rape. Rape exists in the land of the burka. Death of black bodies because of institutionalized racism exists in the land of the free.
  • As long as people live in a Dream that there is such a thing as white and it has a singular ethnicity or is associated with lightness, goodness, and righteousness, black bodies will continue to live in danger for speaking too loudly, for playing music too loud, for posing like a “thug”, for wearing a hoodie, for not pulling over for a plain clothes police officer driving an unmarked vehicle in the middle of nowhere, for playing with a toy rifle at a playground.
  • The only solution to break up the systemic and institutionalized racism is to break the Dream. There is no one true white race. Racism is a physical experience for black bodies because their bodies are often not under their control to save; they cannot get or expect justice when harmed. That is the reserve of the privileged, of white bodies.

When I first read the title, it sounded similar to the phrase “between you and me” as in “this is our little secret.” However, the title signifies something much deeper and more sinister. There is a breach between the world at large and Ta-Nehisi Coates, between the world of the white bodies and black bodies. Racism and the dream of whiteness sundered the worlds of white and black bodies with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. Black bodies have not been the only ones at the bottom, but they have been at the bottom of the American Dream since America’s inception.

Let’s tear that shit down. I believe that we have a much better future ahead of us, if only we’d dare. The way it is now is not sustainable or right in any sense of the word.

The Trials of Lower Back Pain

As far as I can work out, I managed to hurt my back because of a stomach ache. On my way to my writing critique group on Saturday, I started feeling discomfort in the middle of my colon. I had, in the past week, failed to take some medication that makes me comfortable. I knew the discomfort would soon pass, but I sat in writer’s group massaging my belly.

After I got up from the table, I noticed that my lower back and glutes seemed to be hurting. I had Mark carry my bags on the way home. I didn’t want anything to add to the strain in my abdominals. By evening, my stomach felt better. I went to bed hoping that I would feel better the next day.

Instead, I woke up with the same lower back and glute pain. I decided to first take a shower, not part of my normal routine. With my soaped cloth in hand, I bent down to wash my right foot. And that was it. That did it. The pain in my lower back and glutes ratched up, and I had to slowly lower my leg before I could straighten up. I had my husband dry my lower legs because I didn’t want to do any more bending.

I was in so much pain that I took Aleve and spent most of Sunday in bed. Mark helped run a bath with Epsom salts, and that seemed to help a little bit. When I woke up this morning, I took more Aleve and went to the pool at the gym and did some physical therapy exercises that I’d learned long ago. The exercises were aimed at helping my back and core, so I went back to it although with I only went as far as I was comfortable. Then I sat in the hot tub.

I’ve noticed that, whenever I have stomach pain, I end up tightening my muscles as if I could somehow steel myself against the pain. The stomach pain I had must have begun that process while I was sitting in an unfamiliar chair. When I’m in these states, I’m not paying attention to my posture or how my muscles are doing. My mind is too focused on the pain and the panic that I’m going through.

Tonight will call for some trigger point therapy and another Epsom salts bath. Even though I just had a monthly massage last week, I made another appointment for Friday. I am not going earlier because I know it will hurt way too much. I’m going to be spending time at the pool and the hot tub and in my bathtub until Friday. Let’s hope that this can be worked out this week because I’d really hate to go away for a few days next week and be in this shape.

If anyone has any good tricks or remedies to release the muscles or lessen the pain, I’d really appreciate hearing what your suggestions are.

I Finally Read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

Please Note: Spoilers!

Many years ago, I saw the movie (1962) on TV with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, Mary Badham and Phillip Alford as Scout and Jem, and Robert Duvall as Boo Radley. (Any movie with Gregory Peck (or Cary Grant) is a movie worth watching, in my opinion, and To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) was no exception.) With all the hullabaloo with the release of Go Set a Watchman (GSAW) by author Harper Lee, I decided to finally read TKAM.

I had read online in a couple of different articles that, in Go Set a Watchman, Atticus Finch was a racist. One article in particular blasted Atticus’ attitude through TKAM as a white man’s paternalistic attitude. I wanted to immerse myself in Scout’s world before going on to read GSAW and to look for signs of paternalism and racism in TKAM. Since it had been years since I watched the movie, I wondered if maybe I had missed something when I had seen it. I was also interested in seeing if there was a thread of consistency between the two novels in Atticus’ character.

When I picked up my TKAM from the library, one of the regular librarians assisted me. As he checked the book out to me, I explained that I was reading the book for the first time in preparation for reading the sequel. He forcefully instructed me to not read GSAW. He then told me that Atticus Finch in TKAM had been his hero growing up, and that GSAW was not nearly as well written as Lee’s first novel. I told him that I had read that criticism of her writing elsewhere. I mentioned to him that even her publisher had sent GSAW back to Lee, asking her to write about Scout’s young life instead. To Kill a Mockingbird was the lovely result. In any case, I had to read TKAM so I went home with the book and began to read.

A couple of things stood out to me. Although I looked for signs of white man’s paternalism in TKAM from Atticus Finch, I found no evidence of that. I am a white woman, so take my opinion for what it’s worth: just an opinion. Atticus Finch treated everyone with respect in that novel, no matter what their station in life and, even more amazingly, no matter how they treated other people. He understood that people were a product of their environments. Some people had hard lives and hard situations that, even when the other people are at their worst, deserve our respect and sympathy. Whether it was Bob Ewell, Nathan Radley, or Mrs. Dubose, it was Atticus Finch’s compassion for others that made him the least paternalistic or racist person on the planet.

I did discover one instance of a paternalistic attitude, but it wasn’t towards any of the African Americans in town, it was towards women. In one scene, Atticus jokes with Jem that the reason that there are no women on the jury is because “I doubt if we’d ever get a complete case tried—the ladies’d be interrupting to ask questions.” That was the only instance that came close to any of the -isms, but it would not be enough to convince me that Atticus was sexist. That was not really one of the issues meant to be addressed in TKAM anyway; it would have been racism, if anything.

Another thing I noticed is that Lee took pains to say at least twice in clear writing that the reason why the townspeople were unhappy with Atticus Finch is that he had committed the unforgivable act of wanting to defend Tom Robinson. Yes, Atticus had been appointed, but he wanted to serve as a defender of Tom Robinson. When Tom Robinson was shot trying to escape, it was Calpurnia and Atticus who went to Mrs. Robinson’s home to deliver the bad news. So, no, I do not believe that Atticus Finch is in any way, shape, or form racist nor displays white man’s paternalism in TKAM.

What really struck me about TKAM was how much of the book went to talk about the games that the children played. The children Jem, Scout, and Dill work themselves up to be scared of the secretive Radley family next door and scheme to get a closer look. All three take turns make up games during the three summers that they shared together. I’m guessing that at least a third of the book is about the games that the children played.

I liked that the book was written from Scout’s point of view. Children are more innocent, especially in the mid-1930s when this story was set, and see things more clearly, without as many prejudices that we have as adults (although definitely more imagination). I found it to be a believable filter for the story because children can notice things as they are more than adults.

I also noticed that Harper Lee’s birthday was 1926. That means that, during her childhood years, she would have been about the same age that Scout was when the story takes place. Makes me wonder whether anything like this happened in her life that she saw.

When I turned in TKAM, the librarian whom I saw was not there. I didn’t see him until a few days later. I told him what I told you here. I find it hard to believe that the Atticus Finch in TKAM would have suddenly become all sorts of racist by the time GSAW takes place.  If Atticus is actually portrayed as racist in Go Set A Watchman, then they can be treated as two different books.

I still plan on reading Go Set A Watchman, but my expectations are that the writing will be poorer and the characters different.

For The Love of Libraries

When I was in elementary school, I went to the library frequently. I would take out as many books as they would let me. I’ve seen it even now. Children walk out with a pile of books in their arms as their mothers hold open the door for them. I know I’m not the only one who tried to read entire sections of the children’s library because I loved reading so much.

As I grew into middle school, I started visiting the adult section. I remember sitting upstairs on the floor while thumbing through philosophy books, such as Kant and Kierkegaard. Hidden among these stacks was where I first encountered the atheist writer Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian. I loved that library.

After I went to college, I no longer had time for recreational reading. All my spare time went to reading the subjects I studied in Business School at BU. Even when I had time off, the last thing I wanted to do was use my brain. I stopped using my home library.

After I graduated, I restarted my use of the libraries. I was at various times a member of the Boston library system, the Somerville library system, the Malden library system, and now again I’m a member of the Floral Park library system. In the early years of the millenium, I worked for a time in two libraries in Massachusetts. But working there affects your relationship with your library. It goes from provider of entertainment to a job.

Since I work from home and writing is my game, I am back to using the library frequently. I’m in there at least twice a week to pick and return the books I’m reading. I try to read something every day, other than the Internet which can only be satisfying on a gossip and time-wasting level. Like eating too much candy, my brain soon craves something more substantial.

For years, all I read was nonfiction, especially psychology, self-help, and self-improvement. I had read some stories that I found wanting, and I no longer wanted to invest or try to find fiction books that would catch my interest. My desire for personal and psychology improvement and refinement was strong enough and satisfied enough that I put fiction reading on the back burner.

I’ve been slowly getting back into reading fiction along with my nonfiction books, although the former now outweighs the latter most often. In my quest to learn about memoir writing, I have read more than a dozen. A topic I once never thought of now captivates my interest. Ditto romance novels now that I am planning one for this upcomign November NaNoWriMo.

My hometown library looks the same on the outside. Inside, it has changed. Where a wall of encyclopedias and two long wooden desks with chairs were now sits wall bookcases light on books, a huge reference desk, a few round tables with chairs, and bigger lounge-style chairs with adjustable table tops like you might see in a college auditorium. The wall bookcases with new fiction, large print, and nonfiction are the same. The front checkout desk is the same. The staff are all changed over, but are just as attentive and helpful as ever.

My life has come full circle. I am living in the upstairs apartment of my childhood home, I can walk a few minutes to get to my library, and I can walk out with a stack of books in my hand as I use my back to hit the push bar to open the door. I once again feel pride and excitment of walking home with interesting books where, once home, I will plop on the couch to read them. The other books wait patiently for their turn in my hands.

Exploring NYC: Queens Botanical Garden

After picking up friend at Port Authority, we dropped her stuff off at my home before driving to explore the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing, NY.

I loved the tree-themed entrance and the  shadow that it casts upon you as you enter.

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Immediately thereafter, a recessed stone fountain pours water under a footbridge comprised of recycled plastics.

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The creek goes around a bend and runs adjacent to the visitor and administrative building, continuing underneath the footbridge to the entrance of the gift shop.

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Behind the visitor and administrative building are the herb garden and the wedding garden. We saw a lot of the usual plants: varieties of sages and lilies, white and purple echinacea, lavendar and thyme, et. al.

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I adored this statue in the herb garden. We saw a few different sizes of lizards slithering around, eyeing us with caution. A yellow finch flew by us, as did a monarch butterfly and two moths that had similar coloring.

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The wedding garden was closed, but I here is the entrance. I assume that it really is only open to wedding so that it looks in the best possible condition for the honored guests.

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From there, we walked by the bee garden. The closest bee house had the most bees. Our presence didn’t seem to bother them at all. They left us alone.

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Across from the bee garden was a rose garden, but most of the roses were dead or dying. Even though the heat was only 82 degrees, the hot sun was brutal.

In the wetlands garden, we came upon another bubbling fountain adjacent to a tiny footbridge. One of the most interesting flowers I saw is called the magic lily (yes, that’s it’s name). Four flowers grow at the end of tall stalks with long, thin petals that glow translucent pinky purple. In the shaded, mulch-strewn path under thick, tall trees, the sunlight made them shine almost too brightly.

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As we came back around to the beginning of the gardens, we came across this striped daisy-like flower and many full bloom hibiscus. The sign next to the daisy flower said mint, but I think it meant the plant under the sign.

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For a $4 entrance fee for adults, you can’t beat walking around a botanical garden, even if it is on the small side.

Confessions of an Advice Column Addict

My addiction started early. We got the newspaper delivered daily to our house. I would read all the comics first followed by the horoscopes and both advice columns, Dear Abby and Ann Landers. I could miss reading the comics. I could miss reading the horoscopes. But, never, ever could I miss reading Dear Abby and Ann Landers. Twin sisters who were also advice columnists, they ran similar columns and gave similar advice, but I loved their no-nonsense and generally kind approach to advice giving. More often than not, they advised tolerance, forgiveness, and acceptance, three values near and dear to my heart.

When I went to college, I no longer read a daily newspaper. The Internet as we know it did not exist. Whatever online communications occurred were usually text-based chats on a command line at universities. The web with its bountiful and relevant web sites would not exist for many, many years. Between my studies and making friends online and off, I forgot all about my beloved advice columnists. If my hands happened upon a newspaper, I would skim the front page directory and go immediately to the advice section.

The return of my daily advice column reading addiction started up again once I was able to access advice columns online. For a while, I was a devoted reader of Miss Manners (answered by Judith Martin) on the Washington Post’s website. I loved her writing style in response to etiquette questions. I loved them so much I read all her prior columns. The writers may or may not have an etiquette question  per se, but Miss Manners would respond in the same formal manner as if it were an etiquette question. What is etiquette and manners but an expression of tradition and respect for others in formal and family settings? I checked for a new column more than the twice a week writing, just to ensure that I wouldn’t miss anything until they decided to throw up a pay wall. Since that was the only thing I read at Washington Post on purpose, I begrudgingly gave up reading her columns. I would have to find them somewhere else or not read them at all.

In searching for new columns, I came across Heartless Bitches International (HBI), a Canada-based, woman-run website devoted to strong women. I particularly enjoyed read their Rants section. Even though Rants was not an advice column, I learned a lot about what strong women thought about their lives and how to live them well. I also read their advice section by Auntie Dote; there’s something about the Q&A format of advice columnists that I like. The advice was hard hitting regardless of the writer’s gender, was not against using profanity to get a point across, could address more explicit topics than the Landers sisters, and seemed to be aimed at a young crowd, especially the 18-24s. However, the advice could be applicable to any life stage. The young are not the only ones who get themselves into bad situations and need to dig themselves out.

Around the same time I got into HBI, I got into reading an advice column called Tomato Nation by writer Sarah Bunting. Sarah blogs a lot about baseball, among other things, as well as dispensing advice. She varied her column contents in ways that other advice columnists did not. Readers could ask her to ask her readers for advice on things such as where to buy clothes, the best eye remover for allergenic skin, or the names of books and movies to which they only remembered a portion of the plot. I liked the variety, but I liked the traditional format more. Since the frequency was not enough to satisfy my craving for advice asking and giving.

I started reading Ask Amy, an advice column by Amy Dickinson. While Amy has her own voice and style, I liked the Landers-esque approach to advice giving – support and, for the most part, validating the writer’s right to whole, safe relationships. Not everyone was pushed to forgive. Her columns seemed more modern than the Landers, but not necessarily as young at the HBI crowd; she was as likely to address issues of young adults starting families as middle agers dealing with elderly, unruly parents and elderly parents dealing with unruly, disrespectful children and grandchildren.

In the last few years, I have been reading Dear Prudence by Emily Yoffe on Slate. Her advice column had a similar feel and style to Miss Manners, although definitely less formal. Her column also appears twice weekly, and she also answers a question via video. Although I am not a fan of watching videos, I have watched a couple of hers. The format is fun: an announcer reads through the question and Prudie answers while sitting at her desk. I’m a lover of reading more than watching videos so I don’t generally watch them. Now that I am a Slate member, I get to read all the columns on a single page. Having that privilege makes the reading even easier! I love not having to press the Next button.

In the last year, I managed to find Dear Abby listed on Yahoo’s sidebar column and picked up reading her column again. Even though the letters are now being answered by Abby’s daughter Jeanne Philips, the style, voice, and kindness in her answers are strikingly similar. It’s like I have been reconnected to my childhood where advice columns were a gateway to learning about adult life in an indirect way.

Recently, I decided that I needed more advice columns so I searched for Advice on Google. I was amused when the first listing came up as a definition of the word. Immediately following were lists of different advice columns. I found a list of advice columns on I saw Miss Manners and decided to check out the link again. Was it still behind a paywall? The answer is a big, fat, glorious no!

Back onto my list of daily advice column readings she goes! I went back and read a number of her back columns, but I’m not going to read all the way to the beginning like I did all those years ago. That might be going just a little too far. Sometimes I consider axing the advice columns from my daily reading obsessions. Then I reconsider. Why let all that great advice go to waste? Someone’s gotta read ’em. Might as well be me.