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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Out in the World Again

It's been so lovely to finally go out into the world again.  My husband and I have stayed pretty much to ourselves on our farm during the pandemic, never getting into Zoom meetups of any sort.  So the outdoor Bonnie Raitt concert in Bend in August was absolutely magical.  It was a gorgeous  evening, perfectly temperate, the skies clear of the wildfire smoke that would blanket the area just a week or two  later.  Eight thousand maskless Babyboomers rocking out, getting drunk and high on busting out after two-and-a-half years of the pandemic.

 

Last week we finally made it to the Hult Center in Eugene to see the touring production of Hamilton.  As everyone has already figured out, it's a phenomenal show.  Credit to Lin-Manuel Miranda for his WORDS, because that's what the whole thing is based on, this brilliant script. The leads are good, of course, but  I love to watch the various ensemble members in turn as they dance with such incredible energy, and it always amazes me how each individual is doing their own part perfectly, everybody's dedication adding up to one big glorious bang

 

And then yesterday, a quieter but no less enjoyable outing: We joined a group of other Benton County tree farmers for a tour and picnic at an impressive tree farm out off of Bellfountain Road, about 1500 acres of farm and forest held and worked by the same family  since their ancestor's donation land claim of 1850.  In Oregon, that's as far back as you can go unless you can claim to be the descendant of an indigenous person.  Although the original land claim was filed by a man, the property has been handed down through the maternal line, and the current president, who led the tour, is a fiftyish woman assisted by her mother, the recent president, and her first cousin.

 

After the tour, my husband remarked what a nice change it was, having the commentary delivered by women,  and I wholeheartedly agreed.  I mean, you have to love tree people in general—everybody standing around debating about how long to let a stand grow before you cut it, trying to make decisions about a forest  for which they are going to be present for such a short time.  And the feminine take seems even more skewed toward the long-term philosophical.  Sarah, the president, pointed out one stand she could date definitively because she helped plant the baby trees when she was pregnant with her son, who is now 24. At another stop at the top of the hill, she halfway apologetically explained that she'd laid out the edge of a small clearcut with a curve, just so it would look better.  "It's a little silly, I guess, " she said and I called out from the back, "I don't think it's silly at all!"  She and her cousin talked of deciding which species of native plants they could interplant to encourage the wildlife.  Wild rose, flowering currant, elderberry? It's a huge job they're trying to do, sustainably managing all these differing age stands of timber for both lumber production and wildlife and to keep happy the visiting East Coast family share holders who come inspect the forest, thinking maybe they have better ideas.

 

When  a guy was introduced as the neighboring farmer who takes care of the flat grass-seed part of the property, I recognized his name.  I sidled up to him. "Did you happen to be born around August  12, 1979?"  He looked at me in amazement. "Wow, how'd you know that?"  I laughed and explained that his mother and I had been in the same birthing class and had ended up at Good Sam Hospital together. Before I'd been put to bed with high blood pressure and had to stop going to the classes, I'd been impressed with Sharon, who was so calm and down-to-earth and had married into this large, well-known farming family in the south end of the county.  I correctly nailed her boy's birth date because I had my son first and was laid up  after a C-section when she came into deliver. I remember watching with envy as she waltzed down the hall to the nursery, having  delivered with no difficulty.  And now, 43 years later, here was her son and her 14-year-old grandson, learning the ropes and getting ready to take his place in the family business. 

 

Well, seeing other human beings out in the world again is a very good thing!  We will get our super shots this week and hope we can keep it up!

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A Surprise of Joy

High Summer hardly seems the time to read holiday books, but when my eight-year-old grandson  informed me  he was ready to hear me read my novel  Nekomah Creek Christmas, I was not about to argue.  Like other generations of smart kids in our family, he has usually preferred Herb reading a Freddie the Pig title, the old classic series by Walter Brooks.  If I get a turn to read, I feel honored.

 

Nekomah Creek Christmas was published in 1994, and I haven't re-read it in years.  Much of it I can't  even remember writing.  I was startled though, by how prescient I'd been in introducing the issue of the  power and influence of the Christian right. On this bunch of grade school kids!  And yes, I mention global warming, so nobody should pretend the warnings haven't been up for discussion for quite awhile now.

 

What truly delighted me, though, was my own main character, Robby Hummer.  It was no secret I'd based him on my son Miles, who was twelve and utterly disdainful of the whole enterprise when the first book, Nekomah Creek, came out.  It annoyed him that I'd had the audacity to attempt co-opting his own thoughts.  "You don't know what I'm thinking.  Robby Hummer is you, Mom.  Not me."

 

Well, he was right about that.  Writers always put their own thoughts into their characters' heads. And I had deliberately given Robby the creativity that was me as a child, not Miles.  And also a certain sensibility, a willingness to put feelings into words.

 

So now, as I'm reading this book to my grandson, who takes after me in this exact way, it's astounding how Robby Hummer is so much closer to Nolan than he ever was to my supposed "model."  It's as if I wrote this child before he existed. 

 

The pandemic has been challenging, of course, and my husband and I have eased into a mode of not planning anything very far ahead, just taking it day to day, moment to moment, trying to make life as pleasant  as possible for each other and the people we love.  When one of our largest oaks fell over just outside the kitchen window, we started turning it into a fairy garden for the grandkids, complete with a little bubbling waterfall. This is the sort of thing I loved doing as a child, and it's so great that I am now the mistress of the Kingdom  of Fallenoak, a creation that never could have germinated  in the boring and orderly  suburban tract house yard of my childhood.  Herb has remarked that it functions like a therapy garden, the way it calms everybody down.  He takes his own turn at the crack of dawn, watering the creeping mint and tiny flowers, making sure the fountain is full.  He reports that this morning an adorable line of baby quail followed their mother right through.  

 

Yesterday Nolan was building a set of pebble steps in the garden as I read, and his little brother, hollering just minutes before, was now meditatively dragging a red antique tractor through the sandy "beach."  Sitting there with the sun on my shoulders, cracking my grandkids up with this story I'd written so long ago, it occurred to me that I could never have imagined this particular reward of joy coming as a result of it all these years later.  Nolan just got it.  He was laughing his head off.  What could make a writer happier? Through the open kitchen window I could hear the pans clanking as my husband put together another of his wonderful dinners and I thought, okay, this. This moment.  What could be more perfect?

 

 I guess I'm retired.  At any rate, this is my life now.  I'm loving it.

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A Black Life That Mattered

Like the Corvallis story of the Creffield cult that resulted in my historical novel, Brides of Eden, I don't remember where I first heard about Lew Southworth, one of Oregon's  Black pioneers. I only know that as I lay on the chaise in the backyard suffering with swine flu in May of 2009, I entertained myself by putting together in my mind the words of what I envisioned as a children's picture book about this man's colorful, amazing, and inspiring life.

 

Sadly, I have never been able to publish my resulting text. Some editors said they'd never heard of Lewis Southworth. He wasn't famous enough.  Um, excuse me, how do they think people get famous? By people writing about them!  Sacagawea  wasn't  famous until  a hundred years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition when Oregon novelist Eva Emery Dye wrote her up as a character in a romantic historical novel.

 

Another said the book was interesting but that they already had somebody to cover such stories.  You mean you have a Black writer who writes all the Black stories?

 

It struck a spark with an editor at a division of Simon & Schuster who immediately  thought of the same illustrator I had, the inimitable Kadir Nelson, whose work often graces the cover of the New Yorker.  Lew's story came close at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, where the legendary editor Frances Foster told me she had started listing possible illustrators. But then she passed me the hesitant responses of her underlings. One guy worried that Southworth seemed "too minstrelly" because he earned money playing the fiddle.  This New Yorker didn't approve of Southworth working to buy himself out of slavery.  I guess unless you lead a slave rebellion or something, your Black life didn't matter?

 

I told this story to my Black sister-in-law before she died in 2012, and her verdict was, "All the stories should be told."  I would bet good money if I sent this story in with a picture of one of her beautiful Black daughters as the author, it would be snapped up and published with enthusiasm.  But I am hopelessly honest and rule-abiding and could never do such a thing. On-line nastiness and controversy has no appeal to me.

 

Sorry, I am White.  Many of these editors and publishers are White. They are afraid of getting it wrong. Maybe they're correct in this fear.  Maybe if I published this, I'd get nothing but grief and so would they. But I still feel like I'm letting this deserving man down.  He should be a folk hero, and I don't see anybody else around here stepping up for him in this way.  It's so hard to let go, but guess what? I'm tired of trying!  I'm feeling like I'm up against something bigger than whether I've written this story effectively.

 

So this morning, while doing yoga, while thinking about going up to Portland to have lunch with my cousin who married a guy named Southworth,  I got the idea of just putting the story right here on my blog. Apparently that's the best I can do. This should be a beautiful picture book with Kadir Nelson doing wonderful illustrations of covered wagons,  gardens in the coastal wilderness of Oregon,  and storms on Alsea Bay. He can do dignified Black men like no one else and if I could pay him to do these paintings, I would.  I wasn't stupid enough to think I could write a Black story without  having the authenticity of a Black illustrator, but I guess  I underestimated the level of fear  involved in cultural appropriation or whatever.  Maybe I should just be grateful Random House wanted to publish Children of the River back in 1989.  I'm not sure a White woman could get away with writing about a Cambodian girl now.

 

So, Kadir Nelson, if you read this, please tell some publisher you'd like to do the illustrations to honor this Black life.  I'll bet they'd listen to you.

 

 

NO MATTER WHAT: THE LIFE OF LEWIS SOUTHWORTH

 

Lewis Southworth was born on America's birthday of freedom, the Fourth of July.

But he himself was not free.  His mother and father were slaves, and in Tennessee, in 1830, that meant just one thing: from his first breath to his last, he too would be a slave.

 

He had to bear the name of his master, Mr. Southworth, and it seemed he would always have to do whatever this man told him.

 

No matter what.

 

 

When Mr. Southworth decided to go West, he took Lew along, for Lew was a good hand with a horse and a crack shot with a rifle. 

Each day he walked that dusty road with Mr. Southworth's many children and their new young stepmother.

 

At night, out came Lew's fiddle.  Oh, Susannah, oh don't you cry for me…

Like magic, young people purely worn out from the day's trek heard that cheerful music and perked right up.  Soon they were swinging their sweethearts around in the campfire light, bound to dance as long as Lew kept fiddling.

 

When they reached Oregon, people talked of nothing but the big news out of California. Gold! Folks were panning it right up from the rivers and getting rich!

Farmers were leaving their crops and livestock in their wives' care and heading south.

 

Mr. Southworth agreed to let Lew go too as long as he sent home a share of his earnings.

 

 

Seemed like every young man in the country got to the gold fields before Lew, though.  All the best claims were already taken up.

Everybody had a gold pan.

 

 

But not everybody had a fiddle!  Not everybody could play like Lew.

 

Soon he was earning money faster than the miners, playing dancing music in the gold rush towns. 

 

He told people he was fiddling for his freedom.

 

You don't look like a slave, one miner told him.  Where's your chains?  Where's your master with his whip?  Just run away! Slavery's against the law up in Oregon anyway.

 

But Lew knew folks in Oregon still being held as slaves.  And he'd sure never seen the sheriff showing up to make the owners set those people free. He didn't trust the law to defend him or help demand his freedom.

 

Mr. Southworth said he was worth a thousand dollars.  That's what he'd have to pay if he wanted to be free.

 

So Lew was saving up the copper coins.

Saving up the pinches of gold dust.

Years, it would take him, for a thousand dollars meant a lot of fiddling.

But the important thing was to be free. 

No matter what. 

 

 Lew traveled around for a few years.  He played his fiddle in Eureka and Virginia City.   He sent Mr. Southworth money in payment for his freedom. First three hundred dollars, then two hundred more. 

 

Still his owner did not want to give him up. Lew was a valuable, hardworking man, he informed Lew, as if Lew needed someone to tell him this about himself!

 

In 1858, he came home to Oregon with a final payment.

 

At last, Mr. Southworth grudgingly agreed: he would stop trying to claim Lew as his property.

 

Lew was a happy man.

He may not have looked like a slave the way folks thought of it, but for twenty-eight years, his life had not been his own.

 

Now he was free.  His ransom, as he always called it, had been paid. Still young and strong, he could work hard for himself.  He could build his own life.

 

He took up blacksmithing and opened a livery stable in a bustling little river town called Buena Vista.

 

 

Freedom made life better now, but Lew did have some sad times—that dark day in 1865 when he first heard the news: Some fool actor back East had gone and shot President Abraham Lincoln dead.

 

Abraham Lincoln. The man who had proclaimed all the slaves be set free.  The one Lew liked to call the Great Emancipator.

 

Now he was gone.

 

 Something else troubled Lew, too.  He wanted a wife, but in those days there were very few Black women in Oregon, and nobody would approve of him courting a White one.

 

He had to watch and wait several years until finally he heard tell of a likely lady, a widow in Salem name of Maria Cooper.

 

After a careful campaign of visits, Maria said yes to Lew, and they wed in a summer ceremony.

 

Maria already had a little boy, so—just like that—Lew had himself a family.

He would be Maria's husband.

He would be Alvin's father.  

They would all take care of each other.

No matter what.

  

 

Teaching slaves to read wasn't allowed when Lew was a child, so when he signed his new son up for school in Buena Vista, he asked the principal to teach him to read and write too.  If the principal would help him, he promised he'd jump at the chance.

 

Education was like a prize in a game he'd never before been given the opportunity to play.  Now he made up his mind to win.

 

The principal was impressed with Lew's determination and readily agreed.

Lew would learn to read and write.

No matter what.  

 

In the 1870s, land around Alsea Bay opened up for homesteading and Lew staked a claim. He moved his family to the acreage near Waldport and got to work.  Deal was, if he cleared and plowed and planted it like the government people said, in a few years he could take  title to the land.

 

He could read his name on a fancy certificate.

The land would be his, free and clear.

No matter what.

 

 That sounded good to Lew.

Another opportunity to seize.

 

He built a house.  He cleared ten acres one year and another ten the next, chopping down huge Sitka spruce and cedar trees.  He planted an orchard of apples and plums.  He sowed pasture for his horses and hayed it in the summer.

 

He took his rifle to the forested hills and brought home deer and elk meat.  From the bay he loaded his skiff with crab, clams, and salmon.

 

His family never went hungry.

 

Maria worked in the garden and helped burn out all those stumps left by the logging. She milked the cow, put up the produce and salted the meat.  No end of tasks to keep a woman busy on a wilderness ranch.

 

One time she even had to shoo Alvin's little pet bear off the kitchen table where it sat eating up the sugar!

 

Alvin helped too, but schooling had to come first.

Whenever classes were in session, Lew made Alvin row himself two miles downriver  to  the wood plank school house at Old Lady Toby's on the north shore of the bay.

 

 

Truth be told, Lew Southworth was fast becoming one of the most respected citizens in the Alsea Bay area.  He donated a half acre of his land for a new school house.  He served as head of the school board.  He ferried people and cargo up and down the river on his scow.

 

When everyone else was too busy, he took the time to show a boy—somebody else's son—how to properly pack a gill net for fishing.

 

Good thing his neighbors paid no attention to the lawmakers at the Capitol when they made bad laws.  In those days, one law even stated Black people couldn't live in Oregon at all!

 

Alsea pioneers had no patience for this.  They had a wilderness to settle.  They needed rugged men with plenty of skills.  They needed hardworking people to build the community.

 

They needed men like Lew.

Men who saw what needed to be done and did it.

No matter what.

 

 

And if it weren't for Lew and his famous fiddle, who'd set everyone's toes to tapping at the Saturday night dances?  Neighbors floated down the river from miles around to hear him play.   Rowing up to the docks, they could hear the happy strains of  Soldier's Joy already floating out over the water.

Everyone loved Lew's music.

 

Everyone, that is, except the brethren at the Baptist Church he attended.

 

Fiddle music, they said, was the work of the devil. He had to quit the fiddle or stop coming to services.

 

Lew pleaded to their good sense.  How could his music be bad?  It kept up his spirits and made him happy about life.  Wasn't that almost like going to church?  And it did good to others, too, because it made them happy to hear it.

 

The church people wouldn't listen, though.  They wouldn't change their minds.

 

Well, guess what?  Lew wasn't about to back down either.

He'd stay away from their church, if that's how they felt about it, but he would keep on playing that fiddle.

He would keep on making his music.

No matter what.

 

On November 2, 1880, Lew put on his best suit and topped it with a yellow rain slicker.  At his dock, he climbed into his skiff and started rowing the four miles to town.

 

As he guided his boat along the south bank of the Alsea, ominous clouds darkened the sky to the west.  Wind bent the tops of the giant Sitka spruce trees with a warning.

 

But Lew kept on rowing.  A bit of bad weather couldn't stop him from something this important.

 

The Presidential Election.

Lew was a registered voter now.

He took pride in voting in every election, large or small.

He wouldn't miss this one.

No matter what.

 

 

By the time he got to Waldport, ocean breakers were sweeping over the bar, even washing across parts of the sandy spit.  The wind blew from the southwest something fierce, whipping up whitecaps at the crests of the waves on the bay.

 

Lew looked across to the North shore.  Lutjen's was the storefront next to the salmon cannery.

That was the polling place.

Through those high, rolling waves.

 

In the shoreline litter of fishing and crabbing debris, he scavenged for some big, empty  oil cans.  He lashed them, bow and stern, to his skiff.

If he capsized, at least the boat might float.

 

Seeing what Lew was about, a couple of men crept out of their fishing shack.

Was he really going to risk that crossing?  In this gale?  Just to vote?

 

That's right, Lew told them, intent on the business of making his skiff seaworthy.

 

Why you have to be so all-fired worked up about the election? one man asked.  Everybody's already agreed it's crazy to try going across in this storm.

 

Lew stepped into the boat.

 

Don't do it, Lew!  You'll drown for sure.  Don't be a fool.

 

Lew's eyes flashed.  He was no fool.  He was a free man who could make up his own mind. 

 

He had to go, he told them.  If he didn't do his duty, he'd be letting down that man he so greatly admired: Abraham Lincoln. The man who freed the slaves and helped give him, Lew Southworth, the right to vote.

 

He wasn't about to go forgetting that!

He shoved his oar against the dock and pushed off.

He was going to vote.

No matter what.

  

People stood on the dock in the lashing rain, watching Lew's boat bob up and down.  One minute it was tossed high on the foaming crest of a wave, the next it would disappear into a deep trough.

 

Over and over they lost sight of it, over and over Lew and his skiff came rising back up. At last he was so far off, they couldn't see the boat for a long time. And then…

 

They cheered!

On the far shore, Lew stood waving a signal with a wide arc of his hat.

He'd made it!

  

Lewis Southworth lived to be an old man with many friends.

All through his life he helped people, and people helped him.

 

He saw hard times and good times, and times that must have made him feel just purely proud.

 

But when he looked back, maybe his proudest moment of all was that Presidential Election Day in 1880 when he rowed across the stormy bay.

 

Because, when the ballots were checked, here's what the election clerks found, and this is the story that is still told today—

 

That on a certain November day back when the coast of Oregon was still a rugged wilderness, only one man from the district of Waldport turned out to have been brave and dedicated enough to battle the fury of the storm and cast a ballot:

Black pioneer, Lewis Southworth.

 

A free man.

Determined to vote.

No matter what.

 

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Hoping for a Better New Year

     
 

One of the things I've missed most during the pandemic is "Group Power," my weightlifting class at Timberhill Athletic Club in Corvallis.  I stopped going before they actually had to shut down, and bought my own set of weights to use at home.  What was the use of going if we had to wear masks and couldn't smile and greet each other and chat, one of the big benefits of working out in a group, as opposed to alone, in your own guest room?

 

When covid numbers improved in the summer, I made it to three maskless classes before it began to look dicey again.  But we're all constantly weighing our risks and benefits, right?  At some point in the fall, fully vaxxed and boosted, I decided it might be worth it to exercise in the mask, just to get out of the house and see some  people I wasn't related to.

 

Good call, because it turns out the experience of working out in a group of masked women of a certain age, doggedly determined to keep our strength up, has been  a real upper.

 

This vacation week, I got the bonus of running into my grandson's beloved second grade teacher, Jennifer Rodriguez, at this class. Please understand that Nolan being assigned this talented, empathetic and experienced teacher has been one of the best things that's happened to our family recently. The first time he came to the farm after school had started, he happily put it this way: "My teacher has a such a good way of seeming to understand exactly what I want and what I need."  I said, "Really?  So what do you want and what do you need?"  He thought a moment.  "I don't know." Then he grinned. "But SHE does!"

 

So, on this last bleak day of the year, with our covid numbers rising across the nation and right here in our own county,  I navigated the icy roads to the gym in a decidedly gloomy mood.  As I loaded weights onto my bar next to Jennifer Rodriguez, I said through my mask, in what I now fear was probably a pathetically downer of a tone, "So are you feeling okay about having the kids back in school Monday?" This lovely woman didn't miss a beat.  She said, "Oh, sure.  I'm just gonna go for it!"

 

What a gift, this spark of optimism! No wonder Nolan loves her so much!  I think I'll try harder to talk optimistically to others myself!

 

Happy New Year, everyone!  It's just  gotta get better, right?       

 

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9/11 Anniversary

Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11.  It was a beautiful September day here at Wake Robin Farm, just as it is today. The twins, Mary and William, were 15, getting ready for what was supposed to be a routine day at Corvallis High. The odd part? It was. When they came home, they reported that nobody talked at all about planes flying into the two towers of the World Trade Center. No teacher said a word.

 

Personally, we were preoccupied by the fact that my mother was on a trip in France and our oldest son Miles, 22, was in Beijing, spending a term there to study Chinese.  We heard from him immediately by e-mail with this prescient prediction:

 

I'm very worried about the aftermath of this. The Muslim community is probably going to get it….And when they figure out who's responsible, I pity that particular country's citizens, because I'm afraid we might really let them have it.

 

Well, he was right, and many horrible things have happened in these twenty years.  But many good things too. Miles himself was just about to meet his future wife that Fall, and twenty years  later to the day, he sends pictures of himself with his two sons, our darling grandsons, building an amazing sand fort on the beach at Neskowin. Life can still be good.

 

Coverage of the anniversary invariably talks about us losing our innocence that fateful day, and things never being the same afterwards.  Of course we've already been hearing plenty about things never being the same after the Pandemic. Um, people? Things will never be the same in the future no matter what happens. Life is nothing but change. You can't step into the same river twice. 

 

As for losing our innocence, isn't that what they said when President Kennedy was shot?  No, wait, I guess we lost it all over again in 1968 when  Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kenny were assassinated in the space of a couple of months. What about Watergate? The Iran hostage crisis? The Pandemic and, most recently, the January  6th insurrection at the Capitol?

 

The truth is, we've never been innocent. What people mean when they say that, I think, is more like, "Wow! Sure didn't see that coming! What a shock!"  Well, who knows what shocking thing we're not seeing coming next? In the meantime, instead of languishing in nostalgia for a lovely past that never was, our best bet is to make today the best it can be and try for better tomorrows.

 

Our current challenge is simply to outlive and endure the sadly stubborn and uneducated people who refuse to get vaccinated and wear masks in the face of Covid-19. I'm feeling grateful that our Oregon county, Benton, is like an island of sanity in the pandemic, and, locally, we are all clinging to this goal of being able to keep our precious children in school.

 

 

It's beautiful and peaceful  here today at Wake Robin Farm, and I'm going to enjoy it. I feel like more of a Buddhist than a Christian these days, but I've always liked this Biblical line: Today is the day which the day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! 

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Apparently  lots of people show up in the offices of therapists without really knowing what their problem is and they need somebody to help them figure it out.  Not me. When I went to Corvallis therapist Madeline Rubin in the horrible summer of 2013, I knew exactly why I was there.  I was physically sick from the effects of Oxycodone and Xanax, and my poor fried brains were making it tough for me to cope with everything and everybody.  Having long since absorbed the idea that we can't change others, we can only change ourselves, I figured I was the one who ought to be signing up for therapy.  Long story short—it's all in Accidental Addict—her sessions were my lifeline.

 

So when I heard therapist Lori Gottlieb being interviewed on NPR about her new book—Maybe You Should Talk to Someone—I was intrigued.  Her subtitle explains it: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed.  Gottleib is apparently a good therapist but also, she's a great writer and storyteller and her book is a winning combination of memoir and non-fiction treatise on exactly how therapy works.

 

The thing I valued most about talking to my own therapist, Madeline, was the way she would tell stories in general about people and human nature.  Without betraying anyone's privacy, she would simply share what she had learned over the years by listening to her patients.  "If a person says, 'That's it, I'm outta here,'" I remember her saying one time, "Nine times out of ten the other person is going to say, 'Well, I'm outta here too!'  That's just how people are. They have to defend themselves."   I never really thought she could explain me to myself and I didn't need that, but I was a rapt audience for her hard-won wisdom in helping me try to understand everybody else.

 

Gottleib likewise delivers, and in a highly readable fashion.  She tells her own story intertwined with those of a handful of her clients.  In her introduction she points out she has knocked her lights out changing details to make the characters unrecognizable as the real clients in her life and, in reading it, you have to feel she may have taken liberties to shape these stories into what amounts to entertaining fiction.  I, for one, completely forgive her, since the principles of human nature she's explaining ring so true.

 

Some critics like to denigrate a book that makes for such fun reading.  How can we take the author seriously?  Well, not me!  If an author can be thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time, more power to her. 

 

If you have any interest at all in the idea of therapy and how it works, maybe you should read  Maybe You Should Talk to Someone!

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OMG!!! You're Reading My Blog!!! Congratulations!!!

 

I guess it's traditional to get cranky with age over the changing use of language. But even when young  I was something of a Grammar Nazi, thanks to my degree in Journalism and classes in which a reporting assignment would be knocked down a full grade for each spelling or usage error. I hope I've had the good sense to not go around correcting people in person, but I mentally "edit" all newscasts, and never fail to be bothered by such things as the ever common use of "less" for "fewer."  As in "Benton County has less cases of Covid this week."  No, that would be "fewer cases," because this is something you can actually count. 

 

Linda, nobody cares.  Okay.

 

My mother complained repeatedly about newspaper accounts describing a person as having "gone missing." Not sure why it bothered her, but it certainly did.  My husband cannot bear being told somebody is "reaching out him," so keep that in mind if you are trying to persuade him to make a charitable donation.  He will not feel charitable.

 

But personally I try to remain open to new expressions that seem to improve communications, and when a forester with whom I was consulting on a potential thinning job assured me that the loggers he works with are "totally dialed in," I rather liked that.  I'd probably seen this new slang in writing but I don't know that anybody had ever spoken it to me before.  And since we were talking about the plot of Doug fir we had planted, thinned and limbed for twenty years ourselves, it meant something to me  to have it confirmed that these guys with the equipment would have a good grip on which  trees to cut, which to leave.

 

I'm thinking that the annoying trend of congratulating people for their purchases  started sneakily with waiters approving a diner's  choice of  entre; it's actually been so long since I ate in a restaurant, thanks to Covid, that I'd kind of forgotten!  But where I really felt smacked with it was when I started publishing with BookBaby and began receiving this message:  "Congratulations!  We've sent you a payment!"

 

Yeah, okay.  That's what you're supposed to do, right?  You're publishing my book and when people buy copies on Amazon or at their local independent, you eventually forward me the $1.80 I get on the $18.00 book.  Why is that cause for congratulations?  When I get a nice check from Random House for my Children of the River royalties, do they enthuse with congratulations?  No, they do not.  They made the decision to publish my book over thirty years ago and it's been good for both us.  They send the money, that's it.

 

Somewhere, I suspect, some youngish person in marketing came up with the notion that it would be good business to try to make people feel clever for their purchasing decisions, and it's alarming to see how this has apparently caught on. Far too many on-line purchases now  come with this unpleasant condescension. 

 

Today I got this message: OMG! Your package has been delivered! Congratulations! 

People, we are talking about a package of underpants. Enough already.  Have others found this annoying or am I just getting old?

 

Whatever, as the kids got us saying a couple of decades back. 

 

But please don't let this stop you from buying my BookBaby published books!   When they eventually congratulate me on paying me for your purchase, I promise not to hold it again you, my eventual reader, for whom  I have nothing but goodwill.

 

Or should I get with the younger generation's program and say OMG! Congratulations for being smart enough to want to read my books!

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Glennon Doyle, My Take

A couple of weeks ago my husband asked me if I had heard of a writer named Glennon Doyle, because he was reading a big profile of her in The New Yorker magazine.  Well, I hadn't, but with a million and a half Instagram followers hanging on her every word, maybe I should have?

 

So I started her most recent book, Untamed, to see why so many people were drawn to her advice.  For a few chapters I was like, well, okay.  Her writing was punchy and readable and certainly much more fun than Eckart Tolle, whose classic, The Power of Now, had been my previous read.  She was good at setting up scenes, how she met and fell in love with soccer star Abby Wambach.

 

Apparently some readers have been upset by the ways she changed since her first books; they liked the Glennon who was saved from bulimia and alcoholism by Christianity, by getting married and becoming the mother of three children.  They didn't like the idea of ditching her husband for a woman and dismissing a lot of her own previous advice, particularly since they had taken so much of it so fervently to heart.

 

Well, I didn't have any problem with the lesbian relationship or ditching the paternalistic aspects of Christianity.  I didn't disagree with her ideas about being honest with yourself, living your most beautiful, most authentic life and all that. The causes and charities she directs her followers to support—immigrant children at the border—are important.  So I kept reading, entertained, only  brought up short occasionally by her hammer-on-the-head style of attributing quotes to herself and others that just don't sound like things people IRL would actually say. Canned sermons forced into dialogue grate on me.

 

Untamed was beginning to seem to me like an odd new hybrid.  We've long had a tradition of the trainwreck memoir, the author describing the trouble she got into and how she survived it, leaving the reader to take what she can from it by way of inspiration.  I'm thinking of  Anne Lamott's charming first memoir,  Operating Instructions, in which, with endearing self-deprecation, she describes her experience of having a baby on her own.  Another was  I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can, Barbara Gordon's  1980 memoir about her addiction to Valium. It was just her story, without further prescriptions for the reader.  I thought I was doing the same thing with Accidental Addict:  Reader, here's what happened to me when kindly, well-meaning doctors prescribed me Xanax and Oxycodone. Heads up!

 

Then we have our trusted  advice columnists—Dear Abby and Ann Landers, of course, and, more recently, Amy Dickinson and Carolyn Hax.  Cheryl  Strayed's  answered queries collected in Dear Sugar were particularly insightful, I thought.  But the advice of these women is valued because they have wisdom.  They seem intuitive.  In the case of the popular Brene Brown, her advice comes from years of research and interviews with other people.

 

But here's Glennon Doyle, all navel gazing. I suppose she intended to be disarmingly confessional in telling how she cheated at vote counting to be a  homecoming princess in high school.  I wasn't worried about the cheating, I just thought it was sad and baffling that she somehow thought being a homecoming princess was such a worthy goal in the first place. She's mistaken if she assumes the rest of us all started from a place as clueless as she did.

 

Now she lives her life at breakneck speed, writing it all down as fast as she can, with precious little time to look back and reflect and give events some perspective. Hey, she's pretty sure she's solved last week's problems; she'd better get it down and explain what she's learned.  People write her, "Oh, Glennon, what shall I do?" and then she tells  them.

 

One of her biggest tenets seems to be that we should live without caring what others think.  Okay, except nobody cares what others think more than Glennon, especially since she's commercialized her private life.   She says she's now strong, happy, and confident, but claims that makes it harder for other women to like her.  Somebody got up at one of her talks and said as much, and clearly that bothered her. She complains that women just can't like other strong, happy, and confident women.  Not true!  I admire them greatly and am always looking to befriend that kind of positive energy.  I just don't see her in this category.

 

Still, I kept reading along, a half-hour each morning on my Kindle while pedaling my stationary bike. If other younger women found her helpful and comforting (and that definitely seems to be the case) who was I to be so judgmental?

 

And then, in a chapter called Invaders, Glennon writes about her struggles with depression and anxiety and gives "five pro tips for those who live too high and too low."

 

1.       TAKE YOUR DAMN MEDS "Jesus loves me, this I know, for he gave me Lexapro." So cute.  If anybody judges you for taking  your prescribed medicine? "Tell them sweetly to fuck all the way off."

2.       KEEP TAKING YOUR DAMN MEDS  She likens going off meds because you're feeling better to folding up and throwing  away your  umbrella because it's not raining anymore.

 

Um, how about finding a way to get well enough mentally that once in awhile you can stand in the rain? Standing in the sunshine is more fun without the umbrella anyway.

 

Having struggled with the effects of having been on  Xanax, Oxycodone, and yes, Glennon, Lexapro, and resisting that "return to myself" she touts by going back on the meds, I want to say that I feel a lot more empowered by having healed myself than by having my doctors keep up the prescriptions.

 

I absolutely would not judge another woman for taking psych drugs if she felt she had to, but it seems to me that Glennon Doyle's defensiveness is just as judgmental in reverse.  It takes a whole book to explain how psych drugs can be bad for people in the long run, and Robert Whitaker did it beautifully in Anatomy of an Epidemic. Glennon Doyle is trying to be the patron saint of empowerment for women and then encourages them to stay drugged? Robert Whitaker asks how it is we came to be a society where something like a third of the women have been convinced they have a brain imbalance that needs "correcting" with pharmaceuticals. Wouldn't it be better to find out what it is about our lives that has so many of us so depressed?

 

Taking or not taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety benzodiazepines is not a moral question.  It's not even a question of empowerment.  The question is, in the long run, are these drugs helping your precious brain or hurting it?  I know how I voted in my own case and I'm so glad.  I don't care if Glennon Doyle needs to take Lexapro or her pal Elizabeth Gilbert wants to reference the casual tossing back of Xanax as she did in Eat, Pray, Love , (which I remembered as I suffered the tortures of the damned in withdrawal from that poison) but she is in no position to be advising  women they should follow her lead and stay drugged. She's as judgmental of people trying to go off their Lexapro as she feels people are of her staying on it.

 

I imagine this beautiful, no doubt charismatic woman will continue to live her life in this very public way, and it's bound to be entertaining.  So watch if you want—she definitely wants you to—but please ask yourself if she really seems like a person worthy of providing the guidance you might seek.   

  

 

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Me Too, Meghan

I honestly never had a Me Too moment on the subject of sexual  abuse, but now I'm having one regarding suicide.

 

I like watching The Crown as much as the next person, but I haven't followed the Royal Family closely, and even with all the build-up, I didn't watch Oprah's recent  interview with Meghan and Harry.

 

But when reviews quoted Meghan as saying she'd felt she just didn't want to be alive anymore, I sat up straight.  Her words had the ring of truth.  In fact, they were the same ones I said to my husband more times than I care to remember: I just don't want to be alive anymore.  Thing is, I've been in that darkest of places and I know. You're not trying to threaten or  frighten people, you're not saying, If you don't do such and such I'm just gonna kill myself! No, you're only trying to say, Hey, this is the only way I know to express how bad I feel.  And if you feel this way, you're supposed to tell somebody, right? You're supposed to give people a chance to help?

 

But what if you try to put it into words, your despair, and people want to imply that you're a drama queen? Piers Morgan obviously does not have a clue how truly horrendous it is to feel you literally don't want to be alive.  Great Rx: a public mocking.

 

I'm not revealing any big secret here, the fact that I've suffered bouts of suicidal depression; I wrote all about it in Accidental Addict.  I know all about being in that dark place, and whatever combination of circumstances and chemical imbalances puts  a person in that pit, what she needs to climb out is loving support, not to be ignored or shunned. Not to be made to feel she is being difficult.  

 

Meghan is fortunate to have in Harry a husband with the courage to do the right thing and get her the hell out of England. To break away from what was supposed to be his own support system must have required extraordinary courage. I hope their speaking up will help others suffering in this way, and I wish for them a real life happy ending that a fairytale princess story obviously does not provide.

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Pandemic Blues

 

Nobody's trying to be poetic around here, but when I looked out this dreary morning and saw my little grandson's red wheelbarrow left down in the swale where brown flood waters rushed three weeks ago, this famous piece by William Carlos Williams came to mind:

 

so much depends

upon

 

a  red wheel

barrow

 

glazed with rain

water

 

beside the white

chickens

 

 

Well, our family's chickens all live in Portland, sheltered by a sturdy coop our daughter, Mary, built under the fir trees.  We haven't seen the gorgeous granddaughter who likes to help feed these chickens since August, and we have never yet been able to meet and hold in our arms her baby sister.

 

I'm sorry,  can anybody tell me what the big deal is about this poem?

 

 

 

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