Sticks and Stones

sticksandstones

Remember the old childhood rhyme:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?

There are variations on the words, but for anyone who was ever called names as a child, an adult might have recited this to you to remember the next time (and there was always a next time). It really didn’t help. Words do hurt.

words hurt

I will never forget proudly riding my new bike to school in 4th grade and someone calling out, “Hey, fatty on the red bike!” All these years later, I still hurt for my 9-year old self.

red bike.jpg
I loved that bike.

Labels. I started thinking about them at work recently. One of our volunteers had the Dymo LabelMaker out, and was on a roll reorganizing the file cabinet of materials we hand out to animal adopters at the shelter.

DYMO

I’ve always loved label makers. Getting things organized and in their place with the nicely typed label–such a satisfying thing to do. Between my educational background in library science and my years working cataloguing art in museums, I naturally tend to categorize and label things. Things, not people. Labels are great when we need to know what’s in our food, for example. Although the little labels put on every piece of produce in the grocery store drive me crazy. Someone has to put them on, and then they are hard to get off. Another reason to go to the farmers’ market. They don’t have to label the food to identify it.

fruit_labels

What I did learn about the labels on our produce is they actually are a code that means more than just an identification for the checker for pricing. This IS important.

know-your-labels

But it was a slow day and my mind drifted to what labels I would put on my coworkers and our volunteers. The Bossy One. The Talker. The Mother. The Scary One. The Big Sister.

bossy

And as I was doing this, I realized how unfair it is to reduce people to a single characteristic, and how hurtful it can be. Growing up, I always thought of me and my siblings with the labels The Pretty One (Cathy), The Funny One (Ellen), The Boy (Steve, obviously), and The Baby (me). My alternate label would have been The Shy One.

nerdy me
That outfit was high fashion in 1971! I was a shy nerd, but a well-dressed one.

But I wanted to be pretty, and funny, too! I never wanted to be The Boy, but my brother was also The Athlete, and I, to my embarassment and humiliation, had (have) no athletic abilities whatsoever. We are all so much more complicated than simple labels imply. I worried about following in the footsteps of these siblings when it was my turn at Druid Hills High School, and how disappointed the teachers would be when the youngest Cottraux turned out to be a quiet, clumsy nerd.

nerd girl

Things happen in life that we don’t predict, and I never went to Druid Hills High School. I arrived in California at age 11 with no labels, but that didn’t last long.

Stereotypes abound in popular culture. In books and movies, there’s the Sassy Best Friend and the Goofy Sidekick and the Grumpy Old Man and many others. A popular movie in the 1980s, still beloved today, was The Breakfast Club (1985).

the-breakfast-club 2

The 5 high school characters are clear stereotypes. I most heavily identified with the Ally Sheedy character, Allison, who in plot synopses is called The Basket Case. I disagree. She’s an introvert and an outcast, misunderstood, with things to say if anyone cared to ask.

One thing I disliked about the movie is that the key to opening up for Allison is getting a makeover by Princess and Popular Girl Claire, played by Molly Ringwald. Suddenly she’s happy and being noticed by the boys. Life doesn’t work that way.

before and after

One of my favorite television shows, and it unfortunately wasn’t on for long, was Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), set in 1980. I graduated from high school in 1979, so the world depicted in the show is a little closer to my high school experience. A great show with a great cast, critically acclaimed, yet it failed to find an audience for reasons I don’t understand. I developed several celebrity crushes seeing the early careers of actors like Jason Segel and James Franco. I loved this show. Please watch if you find it.

freaks_and_geeks-show.jpg

The high school counselor, played by Dave Allen, reminds me so much of my senior English teacher. I’ve forgotten his name, but he was different. He took the desks out of the room and put in old couches. The first day of school he talked about how the movie Midnight Express (1978) was the scariest movie he’d ever seen (drug smuggling reference, if you’re unfamiliar with the movie). I was a little afraid of him, but he was a great teacher.

counselor
Dave Allen as Mr. Russo.

Labels and stereotypes, again. In 1977, Randy Newman released the song Short People, about the ridiculous nature of steretypes and prejudice. And as a short person, I found it highly amusing.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 4.31.13 PM.png

Ridiculous yet hurtful. So why do we persist in labeling each other? Within the family it starts, then continues when we go to school. Teachers label us. We decide we are good or bad at something based on stereotypes and labels. I was in school in the days when girls weren’t encouraged in math or science. According to Peter DeWitt in Education Week, teachers use a term Growth Mindsets; he discusses the labeling teachers use with students and how it leads them to treat students in fixed ways.

Adam Alter, writing for Psychology Today, describes a study done by Darley and Gross (1983) that is still relevant today:

College students watched a video of Hannah playing in her neighborhood, and read a brief fact sheet that described her background. Some of the students watched Hannah playing in a low-income housing estate, and her parents were described as high school graduates with blue collar jobs; the remaining students watched Hannah behaving similarly, but this time she was filmed playing in a tree-lined middle-class neighborhood, and her parents were described as college-educated professionals. The students were asked to assess Hannah’s academic ability after watching her respond to a series of achievement-test questions. In the video, Hannah responded inconsistently sometimes answering difficult questions correctly and sometimes answering simpler questions incorrectly. Hannah’s academic ability remained difficult to discern, but that didn’t stop the students from using her socioeconomic status as a proxy for academic ability. When Hannah was labeled “middle-class,” the students believed she performed close to a fifth-grade level, but when she was labeled “poor,” they believed she performed below a fourth-grade level.

Scott Barry Kaufman, also writing for Psychology Today, describes how we become trapped by labels. Labels can become self-fulfilling prophecies, and follow us long after the label has been lifted. I will always be that 9-year old girl humiliated by the mean taunts as I rode my beautiful red bike. And labeling doesn’t allow for variations and gradations:

When we split people up into such dichotomous categories, the large variation within each category is minimized whereas differences between these categories are exaggerated. Truth is, every single person on this planet has their own unique combination of traits and life experiences. While this isn’t true of objects, such as rocks, books, and television sets, it’s true of humans. Which is why we must be very, very careful when we allow labels to get in the way of our perceptions of reality. As the actor Anthony Rapp so aptly put it, “labels are for cans, not people.”

quotation-philip-pullman-simple-people-meetville-quotes-49158

Have you ever seen the Diversity Day episode on the comedy The Office? Funny, yet a little too true in how stereotypes work.

I particularly like this quote from Ellen DeGeneres:

quote-the-problem-with-labels-is-that-they-lead-to-stereotypes-and-stereotypes-lead-to-generalizations-ellen-degeneres-47-93-02

And here is one from Joan Baez:

quote-if-people-have-to-put-labels-on-me-i-d-prefer-the-first-label-to-be-human-being-the-joan-baez-1-52-08

I still get labeled. The Good Sport. Annoying Vegan. Book Nerd. Crazy Cat Lady.

cat lady

We were out walking the dog this afternoon and I saw this on a telephone pole:

Kevin

I laughed, and wondered why someone felt the need to write the name Kevin on the pole. “I shall call this telephone pole, hmmm, lemme think, Kevin!” It’s probably not even the pole’s name. Who knows.

I tried Googling songs about labeling, and came across this by The Ting Tings. Not my musical style, but it seemed appropos.

My name is Genevieve, and someday I am going to get back on that bike again. I don’t care what anyone says.

old lady bike 1.jpg

The word soup in Thomas Wolfe’s refrigerator

If you have ever met me or read my blog, you know that I am not a tall person. And I’m okay with that. Thomas Wolfe, on the other hand, was not a small person. I assume he was okay with that. Tall people come across with a sense of authority and power to us shorties. I am 5′ 0″. Wolfe was 6′ 6″.

Tom and me
Due to budget constraints, the “life size” Wolfe is only 6′ 0″. The actual life size me is 5′ 0″. Add 6 more inches difference. He was really tall; just sayin’.

 

I’ve always kind of known about Thomas Wolfe, mostly from the book title You Can’t Go Home Again (published posthumously in 1940) and the romanticized view of Southern writers that an avid reader who spent her childhood in Georgia can’t escape.

EGcoverCan'tGoHome

 

After watching the film Genius, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer A. Scott Berg book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978)  and writing about it, I have continued reading and researching into the life of Thomas Wolfe.

 

I loved the film, but after my recent sojourn to Indianapolis for the 39th Annual Meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society, I have even more questions. (And I’m buying yet more books. Running out of places to put them all!).

 

What was interesting to me is that so many dedicated Wolfe scholars and readers had some negative reactions to the film, which we watched together at the Indianapolis Public Library as a part of the weekend. Author Berg, on the other hand, who spoke to us to a standing ovation at our closing banquet, was pleased with the film. And I still love it.

 

genius poster

 

 

One of the complaints from the group about the film was the casting of Jude Law as Wolfe. Law, in my opinion, did a wonderful job, but he’s not anywhere close to 6′ 6″ and 250 plus pounds. But what actor would be close to that without being some former wrestler or football player of dubious acting ability? Law is better looking than Wolfe, but it’s a movie. I can look past that!

tom and jude

 

The book had been considered for films for many years, according to Berg. At one time, Paul Newman was slated to play Max Perkins. And at another, Tim Robbins wanted to play Wolfe. That I can see, in his younger days.

tim-robbins-2
A young Tim Robbins, who is 6′ 5″.

One thing to keep in mind is that the film is based on a book about Max Perkins, the editor who wrangled with Wolfe and served as a father figure to him in many ways. In the book, next on my to-read list, Perkin’s relationships with 2 of his other writers, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, are also featured. It’s not a biography of Wolfe.

perkins writers

In speaking about the casting of Jude Law, Berg said that in the interviews he did for the Perkins book, it was mentioned that when Wolfe first appeared in Perkins’s doorway at Scribner’s, Perkins saw, in his mind, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Berg sees Shelley in Law’s countenance. Of course, we don’t have photos of Shelley to get an accurate idea, but there are portraits.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

My imagination was totally captured by the images in the film of Wolfe writing as fast he could, using the top of his refrigerator as a desk, sheets of paper flying through the air as he filled them with words. I imagine the inside of his head as a swirling word soup. Mine often is like that, but my word soup tends to stay soupy and muddled, whereas Wolfe was able to put the words into such beautiful creations. If we were working in a restaurant, I would be the dishwasher and Wolfe would be the executive chef, the genius who I admire and emulate. Or maybe Wolfe would be the Chef de Cuisine, doing the work of making the delicious soup, and Perkins would be the executive chef, at the pass making sure the plates are perfect before they go out.

word soup 1
Word soup ingredients.

 

This leads to the burning question, can a refrigerator be used as a desk? Remember that Wolfe was 6′ 6″ tall. A typical 1920s-1930s refrigerator was probably just over 5″.

 

You can buy such a vintage refrigerator today if you think it will help you become a writer.

ebay ad.jpg

 

Being who I am, I had to test this out. My home refrigerator is 5′ 10″ tall. For me to use it as a desk, I have to stand on the kitchen counter next to it.

fridge writing 7
No worries; I sanitized the counter after I was done.

 

fridge writing 4
At 6′ 6″, Wolfe could probably even use a modern day refrigerator as a desk if he really wanted to. It wouldn’t be a good ergonomic choice.

 

One of my favorite papers presented at the meeting was by Paula Gallant Eckard of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She is the author of the recently published Thomas Wolfe and Lost Children in Southern Literature (2016).

 

There is a common thread of a sense of “lostness” in much Southern literature, especially in regard to children. Eckard discussed, among other contemporary writers, Kaye Gibbons (Ellen Foster, 1987) and Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, 2011).

 

salvage and jes.jpg

 

Other highlights: the charming performance by the Indiana University Kokomo Players of “Wolfe’s Wanderlust: Scenes and Music from His Life and Fiction”

and the amazing table centerpieces created for the banquet, each based on a theme in Wolfe’s life.

 

Everyone I met was warm and welcoming. I arrived a bit anxious about going into a meeting of scholars with relatively little knowledge. I needn’t have been. They are all eager to share Wolfe with the world and bring him back into the canon of American literature alongside his contemporaries Fitzgerald and Hemingway. He died so young; who knows what legacy he might have left behind.

Speaking of young, the first person I encountered going to register for the conference was my new friend Savannah Wade, from Asheville, North Carolina. Pay attention to that name, she has a bright future ahead of her. I was so impressed with her varied interests and thirst for knowledge. When I was 23 years old, I wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to get on a Greyhound bus alone and head to an unknown city to meet with anyone! I felt so grown up doing this at age 55. Savannah, now, I can picture writing a work of genius using a refrigerator as a desk. And I can see that she has ways with word soup that I can only dream of.

Savannah
Savannah

And now I must go and dust off the top of my refrigerator. It’s the first time I’ve seen the top of it in a while!

I don’t know about you, but I find punctuality to be overrated

Remember Andy Rooney, the crusty old guy who did the final segment on the television show 60 Minutes from 1978 to 2011? Sometimes I feel like I am turning into him, even  getting old man eyebrows. Thank goodness for scissors!

Andy Rooney
Andrew Aitken “Andy” Rooney, 1919 to 2011.
eyebrows
Old man eyebrows. Great unless you aren’t old or a man!

Not to be confused with Mickey Rooney, the much-married song and dance man of the stage and screen. Although he might have been cranky and opinionated, too.

Mickey Rooney

I’m in an Andy Rooney kind of mood. You know, the “I don’t know about you but such and such really annoys me” kind of mood. Here’s a classic Andy Rooney rant, this one about public “art”.

 

I’m feeling feisty on the subject on punctuality today. I used to be a very punctual person. Really. To the point of always being early for everything. Not too early to the point of seeming crazy. If I was really too early for something, I’d wait outside or in my car until I could walk in just early enough to show I was paying attention to the clock. I got a lot of reading done in my car in those days. Or if it was for a job interview, pep talk time and reminders to breath. The other advantage of being early in the case of something like a job interview, you can squeeze in a trip to the restroom just so you feel that much better before you go in.

bad_interview_questions
The panel interview, nightmare of job-seeking introverts everywhere.

But I’ve decided punctuality is an overrated concept. Maybe I’m finally defeating my OCD tendencies!

I had an employer once who had the supposedly brilliant idea that for employee evaluations he would issue old-fashioned report cards with grades in various categories. I always got an A+ in punctuality. Mostly because I liked to get there before anyone else so I could make the coffee. No one else made it strong enough,so my motives were selfish, but it got me brownie points.

 

 

But the reality is that my good grade in punctuality was meaningless when it came to actually getting the job done. If I had been 10 minutes late every day, like the office manager was, I’d still have gotten my work done. She got C’s in punctuality but A’s in everything else, and everyone loved her. I was a younger, moodier, more anxious me then, and didn’t particularly play well with others, so low marks for me in attitude. I was oddly proud of that, too!

i_heart_my_attitude_problem_poster-rccc875b3457b49c88bb2fd2d1aeafda1_wa3_8byvr_324
Yep, that was me.

Needless to say, the office manager stayed on with bonuses and promotions, and I left by mutual agreement with the boss and went to graduate school (the first time). My philosophy–if life gives you lemons, go back to school and learn how to make the best lemonade ever!

lemons.jpg

I love to watch competition cooking shows, but I always wonder why the insistence on the time clock down to the last second. Would another 5 seconds hurt? If you are eating at a restaurant, wouldn’t you rather have the dish that the chef finished the way s/he wanted rather than the one rushed to beat the clock? It shouldn’t be all about the clock, but all about the food. Within reason, of course.

cooking clock

 

skeleton-sitting-at-a-laid-table-with-a-plate-a-knife-a-spoon-and-CXR9A5
Okay, time is important. I don’t want to be this unfortunate diner either.

When adorable Cydney Sherman on Masterchef Junior dropped her vegan burger on the floor and there were only 60 seconds left on the clock, would it have killed Gordon Ramsay to give her a few extra seconds to wipe her tears and cook another one? (But I am glad there was a vegan challenge, and she didn’t go home as a couple of other junior chefs made bigger mistakes than she did.) Masterchef Junior makes me cry every week!

Cydney-Sherman
Masterchef Junior contestant Cydney Sherman. Please don’t make her cry again, Gordon Ramsay!

In my school program this time around (remind when I finish the Ph.D. to stop going back to school, unless it’s vegan cooking school or sewing school), we submit all of our assignments online. The due dates are listed with whatever is due being due at 11:59 p.m. on the day. Really? If I turn it in at midnight, that not’s good enough? Will my coach turn into a pumpkin while I lose my glass slipper?

1159

 

Cinderella_s_pumpkin_carriage.jpg

Emoji_Props_Cinderella_Slipper-L
Who in her right mind would wear glass slippers, anyway?

Being on time really doesn’t equate to doing a good job. Yes, I understand deadlines are important. Without them I’d never get anything done! And I do still aim for punctuality on things like doctor appointments and show start times. Some places won’t let you in until intermission if you miss the start of the show. Dinner reservations are important to honor; I’d rather give the chef extra time to cook than hold up service from my end!

Seinfeld-Chinese-Restaurant1
I don’t want to be THE annoying customer!

One of my professors this semester has the wonderful approach that assignment due dates are guidelines, not ultimatums. Thank you, Dr. P.! I am a busy person. We are all busy people. Let’s cut each other some slack when it’s not a life and death situation.

I keep a calendar, color coded with my class assignments and due dates. I was taking 4 classes this time around, but one class in particular was totally stressing me out. I had little blue post-its everywhere on my calendar! My old OCD self would have done everything to make it work, but maybe not doing as good a job on things in service to the deadlines. I made a decision that would have been unthinkable to me in the not-so-distant past. I dropped a class 8 weeks into the semester. And it feels so good!

OCD

paper

 

calendar
All of the blue post-its are gone!

I feel much more relaxed and only slightly defeated. That will go away. It’s like not finishing  book you’ve started and aren’t enjoying. There’s a small sense of defeat, but you forget about it. Or not.

austerlitz
Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. The book I couldn’t finish. Not forgotten, apparently!

And now I have 6 glorious days before my next assignment is due! At 11:59 p.m. on March 12. The clock is ticking.

 

 

 

 

 

Be It Ever So Humble…

There’s no place like home. I’ve been awake for a while, listening to the rainstorm outside. Despite what people from other parts of the country say, we DO have weather in California. And right now I am watching out the window, waiting for an ark full of animals to float past.

visual-lie-noahs-ark

I did sleep for a while, and in my dreams, I tried to buy my childhood home. I called the owners. I have no idea who they might be. I’ve written about my dreams and phobias (see  Tim Gunn and Ruby Dee walk into a bar… ) before;  I must’ve really wanted that house in the dream if I used the telephone. I offered them half-a-million dollars for the house. No, I don’t have that kind of money. Never will! When you talk about those sums, it might as well be play money.

monopoly-money

Granted, half-a-million dollars doesn’t get you anything in the real estate market in the Bay Area of California, but maybe it still does in Atlanta, Georgia.

I often dream of the house in which I spent my early childhood  (see Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said). When I can’t sleep, I try to draw the floorplan in my head. This morning, I actually tried sketching it out. I have the proportions wrong, but the basics I think are right. Note that my mother sold the house in 1972 and I have not been inside of it since, and have only seen it from the outside a few times when visiting my family. But I remember this house better than almost any other house I have lived in. The memories include sense memories like smells from the kitchen (and the boy funk smell of my brother’s room); the taste of tomato sandwiches; the darkness in my sisters’ room at night, where I often slept on the floor between their beds; the feel of the green recliner chair in the den, where I curled up with books and cats.

house-sketch

I don’t have many pictures from those times; my mother lost a lot of the old photos in a house fire in 1987.

old-house-2
Early days in the backyard of the house, before the additions in the 1960’s. I am the little one on Mom’s lap.
screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-6-52-52-am
The street view on Google Maps.

There’s no place like home, so they say. Dorothy had Toto and Auntie Em, I had Luke and 3 older siblings.

I also had my trusty stead, which I also said goodbye to when we moved to California in 1972.

the-carport
Apparently I really liked that outfit.

Is there really no place like home?

Why are the memories of our childhood homes so vivid? And are they accurate? According to writer Lauren Martin,

“The past is as elusive a dream as the future. Always distorted, always yearned for, and always seen as better days. It keeps us from the truth of the present and the pain of reality. It’s seen as something beautiful, something irrevocable and somewhere that will always be better than where we are now.”

In The Psychology of Returning to Your Childhood Home, psychology professor Jerry Burger “found that almost everyone who visits a childhood home goes to the place they lived from the ages of five to 12. Burger says people have an emotional attachment to their childhood home because it’s a part of their self-identity, and the self is developed between the ages of 5 and 12.”

He distills this need to revisit our childhood homes to 3 main reasons:

-a wish to reconnect with childhood.

-a desire to reflect on the past when going through a crisis or problem.

-unfinished business from childhood.

Okay, I can see some of all of those in my dream forays to 1737 Dyson Drive.

dyson-drive

Especially the unfinished business from childhood. In my case, an unfinished childhood. My widowed mother remarried in 1972 and split up the family, taking me and my brother from Atlanta to Sacramento while my sisters stayed in Atlanta. Mom’s second husband was a mean drunk who called me Little Shit. We moved several times, necessitating changes in schools. I spent my pre-teen and teen years mostly in my bedroom, drawing pictures, reading, and talking to the cats. I married young and drank too much myself. It’s no wonder I’ve idealized those years before 1972, and the house has come to symbolize that time.

me-and-van
My relationship with my stepfather in a nutshell. I’m the pissed off one being held into the picture by my sister Ellen.

`

Kathleen Hughes writes in The Wall Street Journal of our desire to return to our childhood homes:

“While most people say they want to return simply out of curiosity, psychologists say the visits reflect a subconscious desire to bring childhood into perspective as an adult. For baby boomers stressed by aging parents and teenagers, the visits may offer a quick route back to memories of a better time—an era when parents were healthy, families were still intact, children felt loved and the world at least seemed safer than it does now.”

Jungian analyst Dr. John Beebe describes it:

“A lot of people haven’t fully left home,” Dr. Beebe says. “Some people need to go back [in order] to move on.”

Others, while claiming to be “just curious” about seeing their childhood home, may have a deeper motive, he suggests: a desire to reconnect to the way they felt as a child before life—school, careers and families—required so many compromises. “In adapting to the world, we all lose some of our soul,” Dr. Beebe says. “When we make the journey back, we find some of our soul again.”

For me, it often leads to the question, how would my life be different if we had stayed? I also ask the question, how would my life be different if my father hadn’t died when I was a baby? These questions are interesting to ponder, but ultimately don’t change the paths our lives took. And the paths are what make us who we are. It’s taken me a long time, but I like who I am now.

i-think-i-like-who-i-am-becoming

I am studying story and narrative this semester prior to going into the writing and research phase of my PhD. One can’t study narrative structure without running into the inimitable mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) and his writings on the Hero’s Journey.

joseph-campbell-quotes-1

In 1988, Bill Moyers released on PBS “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth”, 6 1-hour conversations with Dr. Campbell on what enduring myths can tell us about our lives and how the Hero’s Journey translates into our personal journeys.

There has been feminist critique of Campbell’s “somewhat lopsided and masculine view” (Laura Kerr). In his lifetime, Campbell did not publish a book on the woman as hero, but he did leave writings and lectures, which were published posthumously in 2013 as Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (Joseph Campbell Foundation). A short excerpt is available at New World Library.

goddesses

I also like this quote from Muhammad Ali; just substitute person for man.

muhammad-ali-quote

I definitely don’t view the world the same way in my 50s as I did in my 20s. I probably have more in common with the 9-year old me with my bike and my cat and corkscrew curls than the me in my 20s! And that’s okay. When I feel homesick, I can travel to Dyson Drive in my head, reliving the feeling of the sun coming through the window while I read Doctor Dolittle in the scratchy green reclining chair. I can even see the dust motes in the light. I’ll set it to the soundtrack of James Taylor singing his 1968 song about homesickness, “Carolina in My Mind.”

Peace and hugs.

Making a kitten video becomes a music appreciation lesson

Smart phones and social media have made it possible for me to indulge myself in my fantasy world of talking animals that I so believed in as a child. I was a shy, quiet, bookish girl, lost in my stories of animals and little people like The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers (see Some of the books that made me a life-long reader). If I had access to video and the internet in the 1960s, I am sure I would have been unbearable, dressing the family pets in clothes and making them act in weddings and other such human activities. But I can have my second childhood now and let my mind go back to that precious place.

kitten-in-cap

Today was the day that the most recent family of foster kittens left our care to return to the shelter for their next steps in the adoption process. So the 10-year old that lives in my head decided we needed to make a graduation ceremony video. My cameraman (cough, cough, Robert Ward) kept getting his hand in the picture, but we are still working on our technique.

 

You can’t have a graduation without playing Pomp and Circumstance.

pomp-sheet-music

Which is where the story takes a turn from kittens to musicians. As we were driving the kittens to the East Bay SPCA, Bob, who happens to be a classical musician, said, “Elgar is the James Taylor of classical music.” Um, what? This required some explanation.

NPG x11894; Sir Edward Elgar, Bt by Charles Frederick Grindrod
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
jt
James Taylor (born 1948)

James Taylor has a way of creating a sentimental, nostalgic, introspective mood that often seems to look back on better days and times.

 

Matthew Riley wrote an entire book on Edward Elgar and the Nostalgic Imagination (2007, Cambridge University Press). He uses terms like vanished greatness, a lament for times past, childhood and the countryside of an old England as musical subject matter. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th were times of great change, and Elgar’s music was a look at times past, not a look forward to the future. Arguably, the same can be said for James Taylor reflecting on the late 20th century/early 21st century.

While driving me and the kittens (I see a new story called Driving Miss Crazy Cat Lady in here somewhere), Bob put the car audio system on Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor. It’s quite lovely. Here it is performed at the North York Moors Festival in 2013.

 

It was suggested by my instructor that I might like the Enigma Variations as well. I do have a taste for both nostagia and melancholy, but I usually lean toward sad and folky singer/songwriters since I am still fairly ignorant of the classical music world after all these years (sorry Bob).

enigma-cover

The Enigma Variations (1898-1899) comprise 14 variations on an original theme, each variation being a musical sketch of a loved one or close acquaintance. I won’t post all 14, but here is a selection, Nimrod, the 9th variation and tribute to Elgar’s great friend Augustus Jaeger, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor Daniel Barenboim in 1997.

 

jaeger_enigma
Music editor Augustus Jaeger (1860-1909).

Another singer/songwriter in the musical world I inhabit is Natalie Merchant.

natalie
Natalie Merchant (born 1963).

Whenever I take a foster cat family back to the shelter, saying goodbye to them always makes me think of the song Break Your Heart.

 

Did Sir Elgar like animals? I have no idea. I assume Natalie Merchant does, although I couldn’t find an image of her with any. She did allow the use of her song My Skin on one of those heart-breaking and tear-inducing ASPCA ads, which is too hard to watch so I am not showing it here. But this is the song:

 

I know James Taylor likes animals. His cat, Ray Taylor, is often featured in JT’s social media.

 

jt-and-ray
James and Ray Taylor.

Now that we’ve come full circle back to cats (I knew I could do it), I will leave you with this. Please consider fostering for your local shelter. It will add joy to your life, and help the shelter save more lives. You might even meet your new best friend, like Marble here, who entered our lives as a foster and now is a member of our furry family (see The one that didn’t get away).

marble

Peace and hugs.

Folding laundry naked while baking a cake (no, it’s not sexy)

Yes, I found myself the other day folding laundry in my underwear while keeping an eye on the birthday cake in the oven. I normally do not fold laundry in a state of undress. I was multitasking. And making a hash of it.

everytime-fold-laundry-contemplate-becoming-a-nudist-then-i-remember-5117353

I didn’t manage to finish folding the laundry and I was cold (yes, I live in California, but we are having what passes for a cold spell here right now).

cold

I was in a rush to get to the grocery store (not sure why, it was my day off).

slide_411536_5186618_free

The cake turned out raw in the middle. That hasn’t kept us from eating it; it still tasted good.

The point is that multitasking really doesn’t work. We women, especially, pride ourselves on our multitasking skills.

woman-with-lotsa-hands

But in my case, I end up doing a half-assed job of the various things I am trying to do, feel stressed out while doing them, and don’t save any time.

saving-time

As some of you may know, I am a fan of the Greater Good Science Center (see The Art and Science of Awe). Last year, I went to a talk and book signing by sociologist and Greater Good Science Fellow Christine Carter, Ph.D.

thesweetspot

Dr. Carter is a wise woman.

Here is a link to her article How to Only Do Things You Actually Want to Do. Who wouldn’t want to follow that advice?!

She also teaches an online course, The Science of Finding Flow, through the Greater Good Science Center. I am going to sign up, but I will finish what I am doing first.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-45-40-am

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-45-03-am

But apparently I didn’t listen well enough to Dr. Carter at the talk. (I was probably multitasking during her talk, reading e-mail or some such nonsense.) And I ended up folding laundry, in my underwear, in the cold, while underbaking the birthday cake.

There will always be more laundry to fold.

img_9766

I love cooking, so why not bake the cake and enjoy the process?

32493705-pastry-cook-prepares-a-cake-with-cream-and-chocolate-stock-photo

So, let’s quit multitasking, slow down, and enjoy a cup of coffee in a real cup instead of that darned travel mug.

54049-travelmugs_all1

I always manage to dribble coffee down my shirt if I drink it while driving anyway.

coffee spill.jpg

At this moment, I am sort of multitasking: sitting in the foster cat room, playing with kittens, writing this, and drinking my coffee (in a real mug). But those are all things I love to do. I am not at all stressed out. And I think I am doing a pretty good job.

img_9609

I found my flow.

On Desolation Row (or, just shoot me before I have to go to another staff meeting)

pp-word-word

You’ve been to that meeting. You know. THAT meeting. The one where someone is standing at the front of the too hot/too cold/overcrowded/uncomfortable room reading a PowerPoint to the audience of zombies.

not-another-meeting

You’ve made your shopping list. You’ve doodled so much you are out of ink or an empty millimeter of blank paper. You might have drifted off and checked that you’re not drooling. You wish you’d paid attention to that guy who told you how to sleep with your eyes open. You drank the Kool-Aid, I mean coffee, from the brown box of Peet’s coffee. (Note to leaders: The Coffee won’t make us love you or the meeting but please keep having it brought to the meetings anyway.) You’ve collected all of the words on your Buzzword Bingo card.

coffee-box
And some almond milk would be awesome, thanks.

buzzword-bingo

Even though you are a peaceful and compassionate person, you’ve devised some horrific endings for the person up front droning on at that PowerPoint. Or for yourself.

archie-bunker-and-russian-roulette-imgur

If this were an episode of The Office, it would be funny.

 

But this is real life, and you have better things to do with your precious time on this planet. As you are finally released and stumble into the hallway, you and your colleagues all whisper to each other about what a waste of time that was as NOTHING EVER CHANGES anyway.

staff-meeting-postcard

There is hope! Meetings can be seriously fun and productive. Just ask the people who practice Liberating Structures. I went to a 2-day workshop, the Bay Area Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop, held in Reidenbach Hall at the First Congregational Church of Oakland.

doctor-whosits
Dr. Reidenbach, seventh pastor of the First Congregational Church of Oakland.

It was my first exposure to Liberating Structures (LS), but I had heard of one of the structures, Open Space Technology, and liked the sound of it so I thought, why not?

Plus I am at the end of another semester in my doctoral program, taking an awesome class in Humanistic Foundations of Organizational Development (see Life is Our Classroom). This seemed to fit right in, empowering groups to determine their purpose and direction.

intrepid-1
Your intrepid reporter, Day 1.

LS co-developers Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz were there, joined by Fisher Qua. They don’t call themselves facilitators, so I will just call them Keith, Henri, and Fisher. Everyone was using the American pronunciation Henry but I prefer the French:

 

 

So as not to be the person reading the PowerPoint, I am not going to go through the 2 days structure by structure as we learned about and practiced them. If you are really interested, check out Keith and Henri’s book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation.

bookcoversmall

Instead, I’ll highlight a few of my favorites. My absolute favorite was the Mad Tea Party, which isn’t on the LS matchmaker menu yet, but is a “structure in development”.

Our Mad Tea was subtitled A Nod to Bob Dylan; our open sentences we completed in rapid fire succession in our revolving circles of tea party pairs were based on the lyrics to Bob Dylan songs.

Well, thanks to a certain ex-husband, I know a lot more about Bob Dylan and lyrics to Bob Dylan songs than you might think. So that made it even more fun. I felt like I was in on a joke, which doesn’t happen very often. I kept waiting for the open sentence to be something like:

“Little red wagon, little red bike, I ain’t no monkey but I know____”. (From Buckets of Rain, Blood on the Tracks album, 1975).

bob_dylan_-_blood_on_the_tracks

 

Some of the ones we were given included:

“All I really want to do is___”

“I’m all tangled up in___”

“If I gotta serve somebody, I’m gonna serve___”

“Beyond the horizon I see___”

It was all very rapid moving, which got my energy up. I am seriously an introvert. Most of those in the room who identified as introverts said they did not enjoy this activity. As a true introvert, I didn’t speak up about my experience, but I had a blast! I think the reason I liked it was I didn’t have to spend more than about 60 seconds with any one person; no small talk, just finish the sentence, move on down the circle. Maybe if I ever end up single again I’ll try speed dating!

introverts_1

I did love Open Space Technology. The key is having enough people in the group who are willing to put their topics up in the Marketplace. We did 4 rounds, ranging from 30 to 60 minutes. For each round, I had about 6 sessions to choose from.

 

The four I picked were:

-Bringing Art and Movement in LIberating Structures

-Liberating Structures in the Classroom

-Surfing Sideways (meaning when things don’t go the way you think they will)

-LS at Your Worst, or LS with Yourself (for personal and family challenges)

You can tell it’s a seriously fun time when everyone leaves their notebooks, coffee, and sometimes even their phones at their chairs to jump in hands on, brain fully engaged.

my-chair

Me being me, a bonus of this expedition was exploring the old church during lunch and breaks. I don’t go to church, but there’s something cool about church buildings, especially old, musty ones.

I managed to sneak into the church kitchen (not hard, the door was wide open just off Reidenbach Hall). I want to cook there! (Vegan spaghetti dinner for 100, no problem!)

I also got to reconnect with Saybrook University colleague Jim Best, a local host for the Bay Area LIberating Structures group. He ran a Shift and Share session on using LS in virtual sessions, a reality of life.

There were times I felt a bit out of my element, but all of the other participants were warm and welcoming and eager to share and listen. The big question now for me: how do the people who need to be immersed in LS, the Michael Scotts and the PowerPoint readers, get there?

On a serious note, I’d like to end by pointing out that the church is collecting donations of items for the surviving victims and families of the Ghost Ship fire. Please find a way to help. Look for a reputable disaster relief fund or group and do what you can.

ghost-ship-2

Peace and hugs.

I’m not obsessive, I’m passionate (or, I’m stalking Thomas Wolfe)

Can you stalk someone who is no longer alive? I’ve become entranced/fascinated/obsessed with Thomas Wolfe since I brought him up in Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said. I go through crushes with writers. I’ll become intrigued, learn everything I can about said writer, read everything they wrote, watch every movie made about them or based on their books, until I’ve exhausted the possibilities. Then I move on to the next crush.

I now follow the Thomas Wolfe Society on Facebook. My queue on Audible.com contains whatever they have (and as much as I like the writer Tom Wolfe, it’s Thomas that’s the subject of my interest).

wolfewall2
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)
2007tomwolfe231
Tom Wolfe (born 1931)

I saw a post on the Thomas Wolfe Society Facebook page about the movie Genius (Don’t Believe the Haters: In Defense of ‘Genius’), starring Colin Firth as editor Max Perkins and Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe. The post is a defense of the movie, which apparently had detractors. I had never heard of the movie (have I mentioned that rock I seem to live under?). I had to see it. Why? It’s about Thomas Wolfe, and it stars the amazing Colin Firth, handsome Jude Law, always good Laura Linney, and Ice Queen Nicole Kidman. I am not so crazy about Kidman, but in this movie her demeanor and style seem to fit the character, Aline Bernstein, a woman who succeeded in the then male-dominated world of theater set and costume design and could be said to have had a “tumultuous” relationship with Wolfe.

movie-image

I found an interesting post on History vs. Hollywood that compares the actors to the characters they played in the film. What is really interesting to me is that this is a predominantly English cast, in a movie filmed in England, about an iconic American writer from the South and the story is mostly set in New York. Dominic West, who I thought was American the whole time I watched The Wire, portrays Ernest Hemingway. Guy Pearce is a convincingly pained and troubled F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why do the Brits appreciate this literary heritage more than most Americans?

 

Fitzgerald was one of my crushes. I went through a fascination with Hemingway the man, but never got so much into his writing. Yes, I appreciate his style and way with words, but I’m not so much into his subject choices. Fitzgerald totally appeals to me: handsome and troubled with a beautiful, crazy Southern Belle wife.

fitzgerald-zelda1-da00634a1e339412108e721686ce604042ca4898-s300-c85

This was in my freshman year of college, and in my American Literature class with Professor Robert L. Casebeer (real name) in 1980 I wrote many a paper about Fitzgerald.

sou-2011
My first attempt at college was in Ashland, Oregon, 1979-1981.

Before that, in high school, I went through a serious John Steinbeck phase. I still love his books. I admit to being a total wallflower nerd in high school. I spent a lot of time in my room, drawing and painting and reading and sewing my own weird clothes. No surprise I was never asked to the prom, much less on a date.

steinbeck
John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

I’ve been through similar obsessive phases with the English writers Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisted) and John Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga).

Lest you think it’s only male writers that I stalk, I’ve been through my Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) phase and an Agatha Christie (1890-1976) phase as well.

 

 

I first became fascinated with Thomas Wolfe back in the 1990s. I got to Wolfe through a desire to live in Asheville, North Carolina. Musically, I was in a David Wilcox phase, and he is (was?) based in Asheville. I was also in my museums career phase, and figured there would be a job for me at the Biltmore Estate. I applied for several jobs, but it’s hard to get an interview when you live 3,000 miles away!

David Wilcox.jpg
American folksinger and songwriter David Wilcox
asheville_nc
I’d be so much closer to family than I am in California.

 

biltmore
Is it so much to ask for to live in the library at the Biltmore Estate?

And it was my obsession with Asheville that got me to Thomas Wolfe, native son.

There are so many connections I could go into–Paris in the 1920s, where so many artists and writers (the so-called Lost Generation), including Wolfe, spent time. A good account of this is Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast. And one day I will make a  pilgrimage to legendary Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, central to that time and that generation.

feast

shakespeare-and-co-paris-bookstore

But meanwhile, I’ll be listening to the audiobook version of Look Homeward, Angel and dreaming of different times and places.

book-cover

 

thomas-wolfe-and-angel

Life is Our Classroom

As part of my doctoral program at Saybrook University, I am taking a class entitled Humanistic Foundations of Organizational Development. I am enjoying the class tremendously, and learning about some inspiring and relevant thinkers, such as Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire (1921-1997), author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, author of If God Were a Human Rights Activist.

paulo-freire
Paulo Freire
boaventura
Boaventura de Sousa Santos

In collaboration with my fellow Humane Education specialization students Suzy Fisher and Jennifer Elfenbein for a class project, we created this video about our educational program and the Institute for Humane Education, through which we do core coursework. It’s a labor of love, and we are quite proud of it. Please watch, and if it makes you think, we’ve done our job!

Please turn off all electronic devices

I am in my 50s (how did that happen?). I did not grow up in the world of personal computers, cell phones, tablets, iPods, etc. It was with great excitement that my family bought a color television. The old black and white set was relegated to my mother’s bedroom, where it sat on her dresser with its wire coat hanger antenna. When one of us was sick (or pretending to be), we would camp in Mom’s room and watch from her bed. We didn’t have remote controls. As the youngest of 4 children, I was the human remote control (“Hey Gen, change the channel to Mannix.”)

old tv
I think we got 4 channels.
mannix_tv_series-630966247-large
Mannix, starring Mike Connors, ran from 1967 to 1975.

A fun Friday night at the Cottraux house was eating TV dinners in front of Mannix. My teenaged sisters were usually out on dates, so it would be me, my brother, and Mom, each with a TV tray and the dinner of choice. I enjoyed these, surprisingly. They were considered a treat. My food tastes have changed, thank goodness!

Tvdinner
Yes, I actually enjoyed these.

None of us in the immediate family like to talk on the telephone. In fact, some of us (me) hate to talk on the telephone and have telephonophobia. This is a real thing, the fear of telephones, and is considered a form of social anxiety. But my teenaged sisters HAD to have their own phone in their bedroom. It was a beautiful Princess phone. I thought my sisters were so COOL and I wanted to be just like them. Still do in fact.

phone
I’m not sure if my sisters’ phone was pink, but I thought it was beautiful.

 

I had no interest in mobile phones when they came out. None. Plus they were huge and hideous.

old mobile

I finally got a mobile phone in 2000 when I was working for California State Parks on a 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. shift and was often the first one at the park on cold, dark mornings. I justified it as a safety thing. I never talked on it. I had it for years. It didn’t even have games that I know of.

nokia 6101

So how did I become the person at the summer residency program at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine who always had her iPhone in her pocket and had trouble setting it aside during activities?

 

I’ve written a little bit about the week in Maine:

I’m finally headed to summer camp…

Falling in love with frogs

This was a time to enjoy being in a beautiful natural setting with amazing people and at least 5 species of awesome frogs. It was not a time to be worrying about where to charge a phone. Some of my favorite activities:

The Bioblitz Dance (Bioblitz Dance)

The Bioblitz Dance is an ongoing “dance” challenge as part of the National Park Service’s Centennial.  The dance was created by John Griffith of the California Conservstion Corps. You too can do the Bioblitz, and post the video to YouTube under the title “The Bioblitz Dance”. It’s fun! And remember, it MUST be done outdoors.

 

Seton Watching (Go Out and Seton Watch!)

At first I heard the name of this activity as Seated Watching. Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was a naturalist and wildlife artist, born in England to Scottish parents. His family emigrated to Toronto, Canada when he was a child. He reportedly retreated to the woods to escape his abusive father.

800px-Ernest_Thompson_Seton
Ernest Thompson Seton

The idea is pretty simple. Find a comfortable spot outdoors, sit quietly, and observe. Each of us chose a spot, and every day for the week we had varying lengths of time set aside to go sit and observe. You might think my spot was the frog pond, but it wasn’t. I did my own version of Seton watching in the early morning hours at the pond. My “official” Seton watch spot was in a hammock under the trees at the edge of the meadow leading to the pond. My first choice was actually an old school desk in the woods, but I couldn’t remember which trail went there, and the hammock was empty and close by.

IMG_4436

The instruction was to observe a spot about the size of a magazine spread, but since I was looking up into the tree canopy, it was a little different. But still amazing. The play of light through the leaves varied each day depending on time and weather. The sounds of the wind through the trees (I think they were birches) was always intriguing. I could hear birds all around me but I couldn’t see them. I stayed awake. And I didn’t look at my phone.

Wonder Walk (Wonder Walk instructions)

Wonder Walking is done in pairs, with each person taking a turn as the Leader and as the Follower. We did this on the first day when we really didn’t know each other, so there was an element of trust that had to be assumed in turning yourself over to a stranger to be led eyes closed. The odd thing is that I was much more relaxed as the Follower than I was as the Leader. Maybe not that odd, when I think about it!

my hand
Rafael leads me on a Wonder Walk. Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.
with Rafael
Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.

If you are at all curious about Wonder Walking, I am game to go on one with you. Just let me know!

Group Outdoor Art Project

When this activity was announced, my first reaction was “Can’t I do an art project by myself?” Once a loner, always a loner.( I am trying to prove that wrong in my old age.) As an art museum registrar, I found it particularly interesting that all of the groups chose to do ephemeral, performance pieces. Some involved sound, including music created with natural objects in the environment. Flowers played a big role in other offerings. My group did a participatory, silent piece that resulted in a bird bath filled with flowers. It was quite beautiful. And I enjoyed the group process more than I admit.

IMG_4493

Also highly recommended: eating your meals with friends out of doors. And campfires with campsongs (learn the lyrics to Señor Don Gato; you’ll thank me) and (vegan) S’mores. 

IMG_4506
Veggie dog on the dock at Castine, Maine.
IMG_4559
Who doesn’t love a campfire?
IMG_4596
Age 54, my first S’mores experience.
senor-don-gato-manders
Illustration by John Manders

Get outside, and please, turn off your electronic devices!

shutterstock