“Tell Me, What Is It You Plan To Do With Your One Wild and Precious Life?”


Today’s title from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day.” Today’s image courtesy Old Design Shop.

The last week or so here in the soybean field unfolded fairly uneventfully. November arrived yesterday clad in grey with touches of orange and yellow. The contrast of the leaves and the sky made me gasp a couple of times for the sheer beauty of it as I drove home from the suburb within shouting distance of the big city.

Let me back up. I went to a funeral yesterday. The stepmother and -in-law of two of my close friends took advantage of the veil between the worlds thinning to slip into her next life over the weekend. No preventable disease; no tragic end. Just the sadness that comes when it’s time to let go of a loved one. She was a well-lived 94, and until she became unsteady on her feet a few years ago, she volunteered at the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton, IL (providing food, clothes, and job skills training to residents of the county since sometime in the ’60’s).

As funerals go, it wasn’t bad at all. The pastor had spoken extensively with the family members who arranged it. He used the stories they told to paint a portrait of a woman who lived well, loved her family, and served others. At the points where prayers and blessings were inserted, he acknowledged that not everyone walked his path, and it was OK if you didn’t say the words with the rest of the gathered. The service lasted a scant half an hour. At its conclusion, we made one last walk past the urn containing her ashes. I placed my hand on it, wished her a safe journey.

Afterwards, another of our mutual friends whom I hadn’t seen in a while invited me out for coffee. We invested in an hour of laughs and news, then parted with hugs and a promise of lunch soon.

I picked my way through midday traffic. The quote from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” began running through my mind. So did the question of where have I been relative to my own life the last five years or so.

I know the answer, but out of respect for the privacy of others, I can’t go into it, but I will tell you that it has drained my psyche rather than filling my soul. I thank you for your understanding.

Even in the fading light of the year,  it’s time to get back to my own life, to the things that keep my heart beating: writing, activism when I can, the environment as best I can, and history. And my friends. It’s tough when they live an hour and upwards away. I will just have to make more of an effort, though, for my own good.

So, as the leaves fall in the swirling wind, I begin again.

Reflections du Jour: It’s Happening Again

I’m not doing this without a heavy sigh. Well, several. This came down the pike:


Briefly, some kid with two knives ran around stabbing and cutting fellow students at his high school in suburban Pittsburgh. No motive has been discerned as of this time. 

The questions that go through my mind at a time like this include:

  1. What in the unadulterated hell is going on here on a societal level as well as in the suspect’s microcosm?
  2. Which, if any, psychotrophics was the suspect taking?
  3. Whisky-tango-foxtrot?
  4. Has the suspect ever had a workup by a qualified mental health provider and a healthcare provider who takes a holistic approach and doesn’t just scribble a prescription to make the suspect sit quietly in class? Probably not, but one can dream. 

For those of you who don’t know, I graduated with an MS in psych in the late ’80’s. My first and only job in the field was at a community-based mental health and addictions treatment center. Prozac, touted as a cure-all for mood disorders, came on the market at the same time. 

Indulge me with a little shop talk: it’s a selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitor, or SSRI. Drugs in that family lengthen the time that it takes for the brain to reabsorb the seratonin, the feel-good neurochemical produced when a person is in a good place with themselves. Too little leads to depression. Too much leads to suicidal ideation and delusions. 

Now, I know several people who have greatly benefitted from modern psychiatric medication. They are adults whose brains were fully developed when they began taking appropriately prescribed meds. I also have memories of calls from clients who went on Prozac and developed suicidal ideation within a few days of beginning treatment. Peeling someone off a roof is no one’s idea of a good time. 

Another class of drugs that may help-or not-are the ones widely prescribed for ADD and ADHD. The theory is that people living with either condition are deficient in internal stimulation, causing them to be unable to focus on what’s in their surroundings and leading to impulsive behavior. Many of them are in the amphetamine family. As in speed. And you don’t outgrow ADD/HD, either. 

AD/HD has also been linked to chemicals in the food supply and to processed food. Back in the ’50’s, a pediatrician named Dr. Feingold had noticed a spike in consults for behavior problems. One night as he read the paper, he saw a story with a graph depicting the rise in food processing after the end of World War II. He asked the parents to make more of their food at home to avoid sugar and chemicals, and this obtained good results. So was born the Feingold Diet.  

Again, I know several people who have had their lives made liveable with appropriate medications such as these. However, for example, the kids responsible for the carnage at Columbine were on meds that had been linked to increases in violent behavior.

How, then, do we respond to the near-weekly episodes of violence at schools? “Complex” doesn’t begin to cover the question. In the days to come, there will be another round of finger pointing at the parents, the school, violent video games, and so on.

What I’d like to see is our culture taking a collective step back and asking why we need violent entertainment, why we need to arm ourselves to the teeth for trips to the grocery store, and why we need to implement solutions where someone gets hurt as the first line of defense instead of the last. I’d like to see food without dyes and additives linked with craziness priced affordably. Let’s add in holistic and alternative treatments as the remedies of choice and meds as the last line of defense instead of the first.  And let us not forget lots and lots of time in nature to help children understand that everyone and everything is a part of the web of life, and that no one is ever really alone. 

That is the long answer. 

The short: I don’t know.

That is the long and long term answer.  

The Fine Art of Passive-Aggresive Cuisine


Thought for the day: many recipes involving Jell-o came from the thirties through the postwar era.

During that time, especially during the ’50’s, women were (and still are, but not as strictly) expected to conform to restrictive standards of behavior or risk losing everything. The frustration and angst were drowned by cocktails or stilled with pills.

All that unhappiness had to go somewhere. Could it be that the creation of some of these recipes and and inflicting them on the family could have been a desperate unconscious cry for help clothed in socially acceptable terms? 

Or could it have been a way to express one’s creativity stifled by the suffocating expectations? 

My mom had been on track to become a concert pianist until World War II broke out. Being that kind of a woman, she changed her concentration from performance to music education so she could help returning soldiers and differently-abled children after that. Which she did, and her work at a rehab hospital introduced her to my dad who worked there as an orderly. That part wasn’t so bad. 

The bad came as the post-war vacuum drew her into the hyper-domesticated world of the ’50’s. She could make Jell-o salads with the best of them. Not a great cook otherwise, but give her a box of Jell-o and she could rule the world, a trail of shredded carrots in her wake. But it was not the world where she belonged. 

Mom belonged on a stage where she could share her gift and getting loving support so she didn’t have to deal with the mundane world. She played organ and piano for our church or school events, and taught sometimes, but it never really soothed the ache in the places emptied by doing what she thought was the right thing at the time. 

Eventually, the collective heartbreaks conspired with her cigarettes and estrogen pills to end her life too soon.

Perhaps when faced at family dinners with some Jell-o creation like this over the holidays, the polite thing to do would be to eat a couple of mouthfuls, and then encourage some art or writing classes so their legacy of creativity lasts longer and gives more joy than a salad course.