19 August 2010

Change happens

I started this blog on the subject of change, personal change, life changes, the changes that alter and mostly improve one woman's journey. It's a broad concept that incorporates lots of thoughts and thus works well for a blogger.

But today I write, and with a heavy-heart, of things that simply don't change. Let's take the human race for starters. Despite all the technological advances and toys at our disposal, we still use very little of our brains, tend to be tribal and barbaric, and we don't embrace change, we pretend. I heard on NPR yesterday that an estimated 60 million men are considered to be descendents of Ghenkis Khan [why only men are tracked is an interesting question] and this might explain some of our natures, were it not that this represents barely 3% of that race.

I read this morning that 1/5th of Americans believe our President is a Muslim, despite a clearly Christian heritage and lifestyle. And that's more than believed before. Has to do with his contention of religious freedom and the rights of private enterprise, related to the Mosque planned for lower NYC. This comes right back to the cradle of civilization, the tower of Babel - human beings clinging to the familiar, from faces and skin color to ideology.

That's almost as bad as the 1/4th of Americans who continued to believe that Bush was doing a good job, right down to the bitter end. On the one hand, we employ a high level of selective memory, and on the other, we project extremists to the norm. Inconsistency is predictable.

I believe in change. I believe in Obama, but he is one man, only a man, not a Messiah, and he needs his people, all his people, to buy into the future if we are ever going to be able to carve out a new way of life. I, usually an optimist, find myself despairing. Human beings, like fellow animals, follow the scent they know, and when in crisis, are reduced to the basist of human emotions. This is not a pretty time.

The bell curve principle applies, but if so, then change by design cannot happen because the curve is always rising to a mid-point, and that mid-point is static unless the whole curve shifts. Thus the principle of status quo remains supreme.

90 years ago yesterday American women got the right to vote. 40 years ago the modern women's movement launched women into a new paradigm. We've come a long way, but those in the know know that we've not come nearly as far as we would like, as just as bad as being shephered into lifeboats with children first, we would be catapulted into stormy waters at the first sign of trouble - evidenced by recent rhetoric that perhaps high unemployment has as much to do with so many women in the workplace. A little like Jews this way, always the scapegoats. And so many other minorities. I am pained over the continued struggles of black women. Lesbian women. They've got miles to go before they rest. All women are not created equal. Even if we were, men are always at the door of the cave.

Change it seems wears blinders when it comes to equality.

13 August 2010

Foot in Mouth

This morning was one of those moments... moments we are reminded of our own hubris, or lack of, depending on the circumstance. Just yesterday, I was impressing a neighbor with my very high-minded sense of the world, constructed carefully by watching only PBS news or listening to NPR. [I didn't mention the New York Times as that would have been beyond arrogant to a blue-collar Californian.] He had actually asked me what news I listened to, as he passed my house the other night and, with the shutters on the window at the front-door open to capture the evening breeze, he heard the British accent of the newscaster. Just wondered he asked, perhaps a little embarrased to have eavesdropped. I didn't mention that I hear his baseball games regularly. BBC I answered, and I am fairly certain I raised my chin a bit as I spoke. And then, not satisfied to have simply answered the question, which was sufficient, I went on to tell him that PBS and NPR are my favored news sources because I believe these are the only media that present the case with only a bias towards fully educating the public. I actually said to the neighbor that I prefer these sources as I would never hear about the nasty low-class lives of people who in my view are not news-worthy and, by example, said that I would not expect to hear these two words on NPR: Lindsay Lohan.

Ah, the vicissitudes of life. The lessons the universe hands down to us when we get smug. This morning, I lifted my head, aimed my cable remote at my little TV in the bedroom, through which I am able to listen to several NPR news stations, among other things, otherwise blocked by this crazy hilly SoCal terrain, and nestled back into the pillows to listen for a bit, and then jumped up, truly, as I heard, at the tail end of the lead-in to the morning edition, that Lindsay Lohan will move back to NYC when she completes her rehab!

OMG. Just hours after I pronounced the near impossibility of such a thing, there it is. My trusted high-minded news source succumbs to the gossip of the day. What is this world coming to? More to the point, what was I thinking posturing in this way? Clearly, the message was meant for me - one must be careful before climbing on too high a horse. Humility, that's the ticket.

I turned down NPR and picked up my guide to Buddhism - clearly I need a reset.

09 August 2010

Another Birthday

A friend of a friend heard the following line from her shrink: What makes you think that every day has to be extraordinary? [This is neither a joke nor a hypothetical.]

My immediate reaction is that we [as in middle-class American baby boomers] are basically brats, and good enough is never good enough for us. However on second thought I realize that we have every right to believe that every day and every life should be extraordinary, but the word itself requires reconsideration.

This year I woke up in New York City at the quintessentially upper west side apartment of my deaf friend Carol. I awoke up in my comfy bed, turned on the tap and hot water came rushing out so that I might take a brisk shower and emerge clean and fresh. I opened a double-door refrigerator that protects our food and grabbed a handful of fresh blueberries... while Carol walking the dog, got me a hot fresh bagel, the real deal.

For much of humanity, any of these things are extraordinary.

My children are healthy and forging solid meaningful lives that will benefit others and bring them a lot of satisfaction. I talk to my friends on a regular basis, and see them when I can, and thankfully most are healthy and living mostly fulfilling lives. I earn just enough money doing work that is mostly satisfying and makes use of my [considerable] skills. My wireless internet connection at the moment is "excellent” so I can receive birthday greetings, ditto on the cell phone, which rings enough times this day to make me feel lovable.

Because of where I have chosen to live, I am rarely cold. When needed, I enjoy the warmth of my fireplace or heat running through pipes in the walls.

I make choices for myself. I do not fear for my life. I am occasionally hungry but never starve. I take long walks. I listen to great music. I read great literature. Some or all of these things every single day - is this not extraordinary?!

I read a good newspaper, including a hard-copy of the Sunday NYTimes, the New Yorker, Atlantic and Newsweek, more than enough to digest each week, as well as several on-line news sources that are well-written. And lots of books, books always in piles awaiting my attention. I have had the benefit of a good education so that I can think with some clarity about the world and sometimes hold lofty conversations with other smart folk.

I survive sadness and loss as we all do, and most of our losses are less than most others around the globe. I try not to think too often about refugees, victims of floods and earthquakes and the Taliban, or the plight of the poor and the incredible number of those unemployed, but I think about them enough to serve as witness. I consider this to be important – we need to bear witness and pay attention to what happens to others of our human race. My dear immigrant mother who had such high hopes and ultimately so little would look at my life as extraordinary. The little girl from the Bronx who has traveled and lived in beautiful places, and has the most wonderful friends. Not to mention two master's degrees and a lifetime of interesting work experiences. And the option of working less, from home, and hopefully traveling more, including more time in places like New York/CT and London where the people I love most reside.

I have health insurance, which I pay for, but I can afford to, and if I get sick, I have options. If needed, I can buy pain killers, although I have a personal naturopath, even better. And before too long, I will have access to that great public option: Medicare. One of the blessings of age.

I am learning to speak Spanish, slowly, painfully, as the synapses don’t quite connect as rapidly as they have, but I am learning to do this, and learning is the most natural of highs. Learning, and spending my birthday in the big apple.

We all seek higher levels of self-fulfillment and there is no reason not to aspire to more but, in truth, we all live extraordinary lives. Simple, satisfying, opportunistically extraordinary lives. Every single day. Happy birthday to me. xx

04 August 2010

Battle of the BookWorld

Hot news in the business press this morning - Barnes & Noble is for sale. Stockholders are disenchanted with the giant retailer's performance. Over the past three years, B&N's annual profits have slid from $135.8 million to $75.9 million to $36.7 million. They blame the e-book, even though their own Nook sold 600,000 last year. Still, Amazon is cleaning their clock. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2001, Barnes & Noble was worth $2.2 billion and Amazon $3.6 billion. Now Amazon has a market capitalization of $55 billion and B&N barely $950 million. The times they are a changin.

Here's the good news. In the battle between the behemoths - And one must include apple in this mix, versus Barnes & Noble - new bookselling independents are opening their doors and many [of those left after the last decade's bloodbath] are holding their own, providing what the giants cannot: a truly personal experience, which is what readers crave and thrive on. What is more personal than reading? One of the last truly intimate experiences besides sex, and sometimes, almost as good.

Those of us who love the printed word are happiest when we are reading, talking about books, recommending books, surrounded by books, but in a way that feels like the good old fashioned cozy bookstore, not the giant bookseller. Even Costco, with its vast distribution channel and insane prices, cannot capture a serious reader. And even Kindle, which I confess has many wonderful qualities and will surely become more integral to the reading experience as time goes by, will never capture the minds and hearts of those of us who love to feel the page between our fingers and the indescribable pleasure of holding that bound package in our hands.

My prediction: In a very short time, we will all move from our desktop or laptop computers to some sort of Ipad experience, which will include reading books and magazines and newspapers, and possibly obviate Kindle [I always put my money on Apple] and perhaps move us beyond reading emails and other stuff on tiny phone screens. Giant bookstores will have no place - like libraries, they will become repositories of many forms of media, including opportunities to perhaps sample a book in printed form before downloading to the appliance of choice - but they won't be selling music much bc iTunes has already captured that market quite nicely. The worst news is for malls who may potentially lose that important anchor retailer, but good news for independents on Main Streets throughout the country who will continue to be an important gatekeeper for the literary world, but only if they provide true added value even beyond being the "great good place" we all need to meet and greet when we lift our eyes from the internet or get out of our cars to stretch both legs and intellect.

Someone will buy B&N, of course, believing they will create the new paradigm, and that may be so, but in the interim, perhaps, dare I hope, that as a country we might just be coming closer to the truth that bigger is not better.

Photo compliments of Laguna Beach Books, a thriving community bookstore!