Thursday, December 27, 2018

Let's Enjoy Success

From Stick With Us And We’ll Get You There by Mary Walker Baron and Jeff Baugh

Let’s take a minute to consider those New Years’ resolutions we make every December 31st.  Just about every year we make the same resolutions.  The number one resolution for most of us is to go to the gym or at least join a gym.  Have we ever kept that one long enough to even begin working out more often?  How many times did we go to the gym before tossing in the towel? I’ve got nothing against gym memberships, but I think gyms make most of their money from people who join in late December or early January, go a few times, and then never go back.  Somewhere there is a huge stack of towels from all of us who have tossed it in.
            Write down a couple of resolutions for change that you made either recently or quite a while back.  Go on.  We’re not looking.  We’re certainly not judging, either.  We have lists of things we meant to change or start or finish so long you wouldn’t believe we even thought of that stuff.  In fact, I’ll write down a couple of my annual resolutions just to help you feel less silly and also to remind you that we all go through this.
1.  Lose weight.  2.  Write more.  3.  Do more serious reading.
            How did your plans for change work out?  I can tell you that mine didn’t work out and now I know why.  They were not clearly defined.  They tried to accomplish too much and/or they were generally completely unrealistic.
            Take another look at the resolutions I made this year and every year for a lot of years.  At first glance they seem like perfectly fine resolutions that focus on improving body and mind and career.  So, what happened?  First of all, they are really vague.  How much weight do I want to lose?  How much more do I want to write?  And what on earth is my definition of serious reading?  Also, how much is more?  See?  I wouldn’t even know if or when I had met those goals but instead of calling myself a success after one pound lost or one word written or one page read, I’m going to call myself a colossal failure because I didn’t lose or write or read enough even though I never said how much would be enough to begin with!
            Okay, so if you want to make changes try to be as specific as possible.  For example, let’s take my second resolution.  What would have happened if I had written it like this?  “For the next thirty days I will write a minimum of three pages per day on any project.”  That’s pretty specific.  And I could actually probably achieve that goal and finally be able to scratch that resolution off the endlessly repeating list of resolutions.
            Let’s make our resolutions specific, time bound and attainable.  Success is built on success. Let’s enjoy success during this new year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Growing Old Is Not For Sissies

I recently attended a matinee performance of The Waverly Gallery in which Elaine May gives a hauntingly brilliant performance of a woman descending into dementia. Elaine May is 86 years old and may very likely wonder how long she will be able to remember her lines.  Whether we are young or old dementia is not something for which we yearn.
The Alzheimer's Organization speculates that an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages in 2018 live with dementia. One in ten people over the age of 65 years suffers from dementia. In this country, today, someone develops dementia every 65 seconds.
The American Journal of Medicine defines dementia as any decline in cognition significant enough to interfere with independent, daily function. It goes on to say that dementia is characterized as a syndrome rather than as one particular disease.  However, the late Oliver Sacks once observed that when we are young we forget our keys and when we find them say to ourselves, "That was careless of me to forget my keys." However, when we are older, Sacks observes, when we forget our keys we immediately assume we are descending into dementia instead of simply reminding ourselves that all we did was forget our keys. We live under the shadow of possible dementia. It seems to relentlessly hover over us.
It's been over 50 years since Elaine May was last on Broadway.
Ben Brantley, in his review for the New York Times, warns us that Elaine May as Gladys Green will likely break out hearts. "An octogenarian New Yorker, former lawyer and perpetual hostess for whom schmoozing and kibitzing have always been as essential as breathing, Gladys operates on the principle that if she can just continue to talk, she can surely power through the thickening fog of her old age. That she has clearly already lost this battle makes her no less valiant."  What we learn from May's Gladys Green is the essential nature of living in and delighting in this very moment. Both Gladys and we know that it might very well be the only one we have.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

We Honor And Thank Them All

We honor and thank even those who never returned. Today is Veterans' Day set aside to  acknowledge all United States military veterans. The day was originally known as Armistice Day to mark the end of major hostilities of World War I, the war to end all wars. Those hostilities formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The name was changed from Armistice day to Veterans Day in 1954 presumably, I'm thinking, because the war to end all wars didn't. Memorial Day, observed in May, honors those who died in military service.
My uncle Jerry Walker, pictured here with his father A. G. Walker, never returned from World War II. I honor his memory every Memorial Day and I'm sure no living Veteran would object to my honoring his memory today either. I never met my uncle Jerry but I understand from family lore he was quite a character.  "A Walker through and through," my Aunt Cassie often said.
My grandfather, Jerry's father, worked his way up through law enforcement until he finally became warden of the Arizona State prison in which I was born. While Papa was a deputy sheriff he got complaints from cattlemen and many others that kids were ditching school and swimming in the water tanks.  Papa decided to do something about this irritating situation and started checking out water tanks in the middle of the school day. He finally found the right water tank. It was full of kids splashing and laughing. He turned on his siren and his flashing lights and watched as children jumped from the tank, gathered their clothes and shoes and ran in all directions into the desert. Satisfied that he had sufficiently frightened the kids to keep them from ditching school and swimming in the water tanks again, he started driving away. Just ahead of him walked a naked boy with his clothes and shoes thrown over his shoulder. Papa honked and the boy turned around to stare into his father's furious face. Papa loved all of his children and grandchildren but Jerry held a special place in his heart.
Jerry was just 19 years old when he died not from wounds sustained in battle but from an accident in the South Pacific. My uncle Jerry was a belly gunner on a Flying Fortress--a particularly grotesque war machine. Returning from battle the crew was unloading weapons and ammo. Someone dropped a gun. As it hit the pavement it fired and the bullet hit young Jerry Walker in the forehead.
Eventually Jerry's body was returned. My grandfather wanted to make sure he was about to bury his son and so, against all advice, he opened the casket. He saw the bullet hole in the middle of his son's forehead and knew his son was dead. Jerry is buried next to what would become the grave of his father.
Papa never recovered from Jerry's death. I seriously doubt if any parent ever recovers from the death of a child. War is brutal and wastes so many precious lives. May the day come speedily when we all live in peace.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

My Amazing Aunt Cassie

She was named for her grandmother, Cassandra. We called her Cassie. She's on the left in this photograph. My Aunt Thelma is on the right. She also was a remarkable woman. Cassie was the first child born to my paternal grandparents, A. G. and Jesse. She was the strongest and the most unflappable person I have ever known. When she was 8 years old she prepared the bodies of her mother and newborn sister for burial. They were on the kitchen table and there was no one else to do this dreaded task and so my aunt took over. The baby never received a name. Years later Cassie buried her own infant daughter. Unlike her sister, Cassie's daughter had a name. It was Wilma.  I believe my aunt and I had a very special bond but then all of her many nieces and nephews and grandchildren and great grandchildren doubtless thought the same thing. Every Thanksgiving Cassie would tell me that all she wanted to do was make herself a sandwich, go out into the desert, sit on a rock and eat it. Of course she never was able to do that because she spent most Thanksgivings in the kitchen cooking for the multitudes of family and and friends gathered to spend time with her. She loved, though, to go out into the desert, build a fire, and cook over it either in a cast iron dutch oven or on the griddle made of boiler plate steel. We did that often. After one quite ordinary meal in the desert cooked over the campfire I decided to clean the still hot griddle. I picked up a large piece of material. The moment it touched the griddle it burst into flames. I stood transfixed by the flaming mass in my hands. After s few seconds Cassie's calm voice suggested that I might want to let go of the fire before I burned myself. So I did. I watched the burning bundle drop to the ground. I then stomped out the flames into the sand. Cassie looked up and said to me, "There must have been some polyester in that." There was no fussing over what might have happened because what might have happened didn't happen. There was no fussing over me, either, because anyone could clearly see that I was unharmed. We packed up the cook gear, made sure the camp fire was out and went home. Often we don't exactly know the source of our strength. I know mine is inherited.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Exploding Light Plants And Other Adventures

Electricity can be pretty scary especially if you've never before had it. Such was the case when my father bought our first generator. It was a small thing with enough power for a couple of light bulbs. But what a miracle it was! We had light bulbs in three rooms of our very small house on our desert ranch. Of course the light bulbs only worked when and if the generator was running. We never called this miraculous thing a generator, which it was. We called it the light plant. On the evening my brother and I blew it up it hadn't gotten dark yet but the generator, nevertheless, was running. My father was in the bathroom brushing his teeth. I remember seeing his face through the window. Our bathroom was another modern miracle built because Daddy accidentally burned down the outhouse. But that's another story. Daddy, an amazingly responsible person, feared the light plant would run out of gas and leave us in darkness so he asked Tommy and me to fill it. What he neglected to tells us was to first shut it off. So there we were pouring gasoline into the running generator and, not too surprisingly, it exploded. That, apparently, is what happens when gasoline spills onto a hot engine. I remember my father's expression staring at this sudden conflagration through the bathroom window. He then shouted, "Tom. Get rid of the gas can." An equally responsible person, my brother handed the gas can to me and thus 'got rid of it'. Daddy, his toothbrush still in his mouth, ran out the back door, grabbed a shovel, stuck it into the flaming generator and dragged it into the wash in back of the house where he shoveled sand onto it. Once the fire was out he returned to the bathroom and finished brushing his teeth. My brother took the can of gasoline from me, placed the cap on it, and set it down next to the house. We slept outside that night because Daddy wasn't sure the house was safe. Fire can be as scary as electricity.  I still don't completely trust electricity and even though we have a back up generator for our house, power outages don't bother me.  When it's dark it's dark and there's nothing to be done about it.  When there's nothing to be done, that's it. However, sometimes it's important to do whatever can be done. Daddy dragged the burning generator away from the house, extinguished the fire, and made sure we were safe by having us sleep outside. He knew when to take action and what actions to take. Taking action is important but so is knowing when to take it.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Living In A Land Of No Streets

I grew up on Arizona cattle ranches.  Aside from our Post Office boxes we had no addresses. If someone wanted to find us they had to know how to get to us.  And if they wanted to get to us the reason had to be pretty important. That's just the way it was. The first ranch I called home was about 35 sections of land in the desert. It was about 45 minutes on a dirt road outside of the little town where I attended school. The second ranch I called home was over 95 sections of land under Arizona's Mogollon Rim made famous by the novelist Zane Grey. It was about 4 hours of dirt road from the little town of Globe and then another two hours outside of the tiny town of Young.  The people living out in those Arizona Hills cared a lot about politics and they never missed an opportunity to vote.  Our home on the desert ranch was, in fact, the polling place.  Elections were incredibly exciting not only because we got to see people who we didn't even know existed but also because when our poll closed we got to keep the sample ballots and the pens and the ink and the little flags.  The only thing that left in its locked box were the ballots cast by the men and women whose only address was their Post Office boxes.  The only people for whom our polling place was convenient were my mother and my father.  All of the other folks had to brave roads in such disrepair as to be barely navigable. Mr. Kenny, who lived in a cave in the Buckhorn Mountains, had to crank his Model T and hope it made the trip and then hope that after he made his marks on the ballots it would get him back again to his cave.  Oscar and Lillian often walked to our house to cast their ballots. Mrs. Pickens and her son Bob, always in the throes of tuberculosis, coaxed their old pick up truck to our house to cast their votes. And John and Frank Goodwin and Florence married to one of the brothers rattled in through our gate in a cloud of dust which caked the constant chewing tobacco dribbles on their truck doors.  One Armed Joe generally came last hoping for an invitation to dinner after the polls closed. The invitation was always extended and always accepted. Those were the people my brother and I recognized.  So many more people wandered in to vote who we couldn't remember ever seeing.  Our father knew them all but always made sure they were on his list of registered voters.  These people were proud to cast their ballots. They were proud to be part of the great Democracy in which we lived. They were proud to have their vote counted. And my brother and I, always excused from school on election day, were proud to pretend to cast our ballots on the left over sample ballots. That's how we learned to never miss an election and a chance to vote.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

New Jersey Prison For Boys Will Soon Close

The New Jersey State Home For Boys opened in 1867 as a home for troubled youth. Its purpose evolved into a training school for boys and eventually into a prison for boys. It became know simply as 'Jamesburg'. Soon, due in part to public outcry, it will close its doors for good. Why the public outcry?  The Home or the School or the Prison apparently did little that was helpful either for its residents or for the community. Just before he left office New Jersey governor Chris Christie announced the reform of New Jersey's juvenile justice system with a $162 million bond to finance the closure of this Civil War-era youth prison. Two smaller state of the art juvenile rehabilitation centers were to be built — one in Ewing, Mercer County, the other in Winslow Township, Camden County. The facilities are supposed to house between 40 and 72 youth offenders. Christie’s plan to close the home, called the failed youth prison, was hailed by Ryan P. Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, as being one of the most significant youth justice reforms in 150 years. The State Of New Jersey tells us that the Jamesburg facility is the state's largest, housing about 200 male teenagers.  It is a secure facility with a state of the art perimeter fence and 24-hour armed, roving patrol.  The average age of the residents is between 16 and 18 years.  Once in awhile public opinion sways politicians to do the right thing.  This, apparently, was one of those times.




Wednesday, August 22, 2018

He was so organized!

Not only did he write his own obituary trusting others to fill in the dates of his death and funeral.  He has also asked me to give a eulogy.  Here it is.

In my life my brother has never been out of my mind or out of my heart.  Since his death, though, I’ve been flooded with memories.  In this morning’s newspaper I read of the horrible brush fires ravaging California and more memories swept over me. Here’s the main one associated with those California fires. While he was in college my mild mannered, soft spoken brother jumped out of helicopters to fight forest fires.  He knew more about burning forests than most of us ever want or need to know.
         Tom and I grew up in isolation without electricity and sometimes without indoor plumbing.  Our father was a cowboy.  We lived on ranches too far away for friends to come visit. During summers we rarely saw anyone our own age. What we had was each other along with our parents, sections and sections of land, hundreds of cattle, horses, dogs and a lot of chores.  We were ranch hands and we worked hard. There was nothing unusual about our climbing on our horses before sunrise to round up cattle.
         Our parents had very little money and they certainly couldn’t afford luxuries. Toys were luxuries and so we had few. What we did have were our imaginations.  We made toys out of nails and sticks and bailing wire and created worlds in which those toys lived. We narrated and embellished their adventures.
         It is no accident that both my brother and I became writers. We lived childhoods fictionalized and made real by our imaginations. Tom read every word I wrote and responded with his serious edits and observations.  We also wrote stories and screenplays and novels together.
         Because we lived in such isolation, our bond was unique. Sometimes it seemed that we only needed each other. He became my protector and I became his number ONE fan.  Though based on today’s turnout I apparently wasn’t his only fan.  I still claim the number ONE title though.
         I don’t think losing a sibling is never easy nor should it be. My protector died. Life seems very different now and not quite as safe.
         In addition to being my protector, Tom was someone who, along with Linda, accepted and loved me for what I was regardless of what life and society might have expected me to be.
         You all know that Tom had a passion for writing.  He left two big projects unfinished. I don’t feel sad about those unfinished stories. Instead, I’m pleased and proud. Despite his health challenges, he died doing what he loved and holding the hand of the wife he loved. He never stopped writing and he never stopped loving. We should all be so lucky to die doing the work of our hearts and holding the hand of the person we love.
         I’ve lost my protector. However, I have my family and we will protect each other. In my mind and in my heart, though, I have NOT lost my big brother. Tom will always hold that position in my life now and forever.
         I’m honored he asked me to speak today. I’m honored to have been his little sister.
         I love you Tommy.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

My Brother's Last Article For The Arizona Daily Star

My brother, Tom Walker, died on July 27, 2018. He was a writer and a damned good one. He worked as an investigative reporter and eventually as an editor.  After he retired from working for Arizona newspapers he became a grant writer and created revenue for at least two non profits.  We wrote a novel together.  All my life he read everything I wrote and cared enough to make comments.  He even wrote the above obituary.  He just wanted to make sure it said what he wanted it to say.  And in tribute to him his old employer, The Arizona Daily Star, published his last piece. He was a good man.  I shall miss him all of my life and then some.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Unifying Play About A Divisive Time

Yesterday I spent over eight hours immersed in the most powerful, most inspiring, most hopeful theatrical experience of my life witnessing the play Angels In America written by Pulitzer Prize winner and Tony Award winner Tony Kushner.  The play began at 1:00 PM and ended a little after 11:00 PM with four intermissions and a two hour dinner break. I don't think there was an empty seat in the Neil Simon Theatre.  Everyone in attendance came for the long haul. The couple sitting to my left drove down from Boston and intended to drive back afterwards hoping to get home by 5:00 AM Sunday.  During the almost eight hour performance members of the audience developed an unusual camaraderie.  We seemed to support one another believing we could not only get through this very intense experience but also could survive other intense experiences.
In 1981 doctors began to notice clusters of Kaposi's sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia in gay men living in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome got its name and its stigma.  To this day the name lives, the stigma lives and so does the epidemic.
Angels In America was commissioned by the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco and was first performed in Los Angeles in May, 1990, as a workshop by the Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum. It has been performed throughout the world and has made at least two appearances on Broadway. This particular run closes July 15.
In its early years AIDS became a divisive disease breaking up families and destroying relationships and taking so many precious lives.  And then came Angels In America with its unifying power and message of hope.  We always need hope.  Right now, though, hope seems to be the thing with feathers about to fly away.  Last night 1.445 people sitting in the Neil Simon Theatre received a message of hope and the belief that it is here to stay.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Anaclitic Depression Again Rears Its Ugly Head

The phrase Anaclitic Depression was first used in 1897 in an editorial in Archives On Pediatrics. The diagnosis was popularized by psychotherapist Rene Spitz in 1945.  The pediatric diagnosis is also called Hospitalism and referred to infants who, suddenly separated from primary caregivers, wasted away in hospitals.  Symptoms included delayed physical development and disruption of cognitive skills including language.  Infants stopped eating and ultimately and literally wasted away.  These delays, we now know, carried over into adulthood to impact issues of trust and intimacy.
We learn from the Babylonian Talmud that, "Whoever destroys a single life destroys the whole world and whoever saves a single life saves the whole world."
During these days when I feel helpless and consumed by despair I pledge to do something to save the whole world one single life at a time.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Torah Thoughts on Shelach Lecha

As the Israelites make their way through the wilderness, Moses sends out twelve spies, one from each tribe, to scout out the land of Canaan.  When they return, the report is at first reasonable – it is a good land but well-defended, and the inhabitants are strong and it will require an effort to overcome them.  But as they speak, ten of the twelve lose faith and begin to exaggerate the situation.  “They were so big, we looked like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we must have looked to them”, they report.  The people panic, and the two good spies, Joshua and Caleb, cannot convince them to give up their fear and go about the task that God has given them.   Midrash Tanhuma (Shelach §7) adds a commentary to the text.  God says to the evil spies, “You looked like grasshoppers in your own eyes; that I can forgive.  But how do you know how you looked in their eyes?  Perhaps I made you appear like angels to them!” 

I think it is good for us to be reminded that the way we feel about ourselves does not necessarily correspond to the way we are seen by others.  We may feel inadequate, but to our loved ones, we are precious, as they are to us.  Perhaps we did something kind for someone a long time ago which we may have forgotten, but they never have.  We are made in God’s image, so each one of us is a reflection of God, and to others, we may well appear like angels.

Friday, May 18, 2018

This time, the Fool Killer isn't walking away

Tom Wolfe

People have been digging up their favorite Tom Wolfe quotes since his death May 14. Here’s mine, from The Right Stuff: 
  “It was the kind of crowd that would have made the Fool Killer lower his club and shake his head and walk away, frustrated by the magnitude of the opportunity.”
  Wolfe was writing about the media mob on the lawn of John Glenn’s house on Feb. 20, 1962, waiting for Glenn to be either hurled into space or explode in a giant fireball on the Cape Canaveral launching pad.
  Now, it seems the situation has been reversed. The “Fool Killers” are the media. And they have some rich opportunities for their shillelaghs. Just to name a few:
   --  Michael Flynn.
   -- Paul Manafort.
   -- Michael Cohen.
   -- Rudy Giuliani.
   -- Scott Pruitt.
   -- Donald Trump Jr.
   -- Jared Kushner.
  -- And Kelly Sadler, a nobody Trump staffer who became instantly famous for dismissing John McCain: “he’s dying anyway.” (As a hospice patient myself, I found Sadler’s remark particularly galling.)
  -- And, of course, the Commander in Chief Fool, who makes all this happen, like a mad wizard flinging poisonous flowers from his fingertips.
  Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are doing an excellent job of chopping through the underbrush in search of fools that need cudgeling. Let’s hope they’re allowed to continue their work unimpeded by the Chief Fool.
  And let’s also hope the Fool Killer doesn’t become overwhelmed by his opportunities, as Wolfe says he did back in the beginning of the Space Age.
  There’s much more at stake now. Our democracy, for example.