Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shining, Ringing, Resolving and Hoping

Last Morning of 2012
We couldn't have asked for a prettier, more cheerful morning here in Leelanau on this last day of the year. The sun was bright, the air balmy, positively inviting a little dog to run down a snowy two-track road. I've already posted my resolutions, so today I will only send everyone wishes for a happy, healthy, productive and loving new year from Sarah and her pack.

It's almost time! Count the hours! Ring out the old year, ring in the new. Ring joyfully, if you possibly can. Please ring safely!

Thank you for your visits to Books in Northport and to Dog Ears Books in 2011. Please come again in 2012. Happy new year to one and all!

Ring the bell!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading Books and Nature at Year’s End

Edge of the Woods

“Thick clothes, thick books,” I thought this morning as I bundled up like a sausage for a morning walk with Sarah. The books I had in mind were The Divine Comedy and The Portable Thoreau. After collecting new e-mail, I had begun the reading day with Thoreau’s essay, “A Winter Walk,” suggested by a friend’s message.
As the day advances, the heat of the sun is reflected by the hillsides, and we hear a faint but sweet music, where flows the rill released from its fetters, and the icicles are melting on the trees; and the nuthatch and partridge are heard and seen. The south wind melts the snow at noon, and the bare ground appears with its withered grass and leaves, and we are invigorated by the perfume which exhales from it....
There was no sun visible as Sarah and I approached the woods, but it was a warmer morning than I had anticipated when adding layers of clothing indoors.
Holes made by snow on branches melting and falling to ground
Old edge marked by line of mature trees
Overnight wind from southeast?
Someone tiny passed this way
My anticipation this December 30 is not for the last day of the year (tomorrow) or the first day of the next (Sunday) but for the first of my outdoor sitting hours. Already thinking ahead to the beginning of my year-long adventure, sounds of this warm December morning seemed more sharply in focus. Crows nearby. Barking dogs at the kennel a couple miles to the east. A little bird in a bush, not singing but uttering a simple cheet-cheet-cheet. What was that bird? I couldn’t catch a glimpse of it.
Later, as I was driving into town, in a yard on the edge of Northport was a large flock of wild turkeys. That, I decided, was worth going back to see. A few hardy bird-souls were starting to cross the road, but they turned back as I pulled onto the shoulder.
Hesitant, wondering if it's safe to cross...
Back to safety! How many can you see?
Wild turkeys make themselves at home
It would be charming to sit in the midst of a flock of feeding wild turkeys sometime. As they relax and go back to their meal, they make sweet little sounds somewhere between chirping and mewing. Very comfortable, comforting, homey little sounds. After all, they are at home out in the snow. They are on their own home ground. I am looking forward to getting closer to my own, to learning it more intimately.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two Resolutions This Time Around

Already I’ve forgotten if I made any resolutions last year. This time around, as today’s headline indicates, I’ve come up with a couple, both easily quantifiable and thus measurable. That is to say that if I flub either one, I’ll know it. And since I'm announcing them here, the flubbing will be public. Okay, semi-public. All right, at least quasi-public. But enough stalling--here they are:

Plan for a Day: My first resolution has to do with a one-time event I’ve thought about hosting year after year, and year after year I’ve let the date slip past without getting my act together, but this year is going to be different, and here is my official announcement: On Sunday, February 5, 2012 (please let me know if I’ve got the date wrong, which would not do at all! I did check it several times over but am still nervous), Dog Ears Books will be open for anyone who wants to attend a Super Bowl Escape Party! That’s right, if you’re not a football fan, or if you need a break from the excitement of the Big Game—whatever the reason, you can stop in at Dog Ears and be assured that there will be no wide-screen TV booming at you. We’ll have snacks. Maybe we’ll have games. I haven’t worked out all the details yet and am open to suggestions. After all, we have over a month to figure it out. ESCAPE THE SUPER BOWL! And if YOU want to escape while someone you love does not, I have it on good authority that the Garage Bar & Grill next door will have the game on.... 
Project for a Year: My second resolution will demand a more sustained effort. Inspired by several books read during 2011, as well as by a conviction that the woods and hills around me deserve more attention than I routinely give them, I have resolved to spend time outdoors, not walking or driving but sitting still, looking and listening, once every week in the coming year. On these weekly expeditions, the camera and the dog will stay home. Sarah will still have her daily outdoor adventures with me, and the camera will doubtless be with me most of the rest of the time, but this one hour a week will be dedicated to stillness. My weekly report will be made on a new blog called “Home Ground,” where I have already posted more about this year-long project.
What else? Those are my only two formal resolutions. This blog will continue, as will “A Shot in the Light.” I’m less certain about the fate of “Without a Clear Focus” but don’t see any need to decide one way or the other by any specific date. Then there is reading. It was only today, December 28, 2011, that it struck me that my “Books Read 2011” list will be ending soon! As it’s getting cumbersome to have so many long lists here on the blog, I’ll probably remove 2009 and 2010 soon.
And that’s about it. Those are my plans. As for the bookstore, winter hours are posted in the right-hand column. We haven’t had much winter yet, but there’s no telling what January will bring Up North. Or any month or year, for that matter! But I will be keeping you posted, wherever in the world you are.

Monday, December 26, 2011


What motivates you? Do you think you know? For a long time, everyone thought motivation was obvious.

Just like dogs, according to the popular belief, people want to gain rewards and avoid punishment, and they will work harder if rewarded or if threatened with punishment. Do you think that’s how human beings are motivated? Do you think it’s how dogs and horses or monkeys or rats are motivated?

Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, draws on a wealth of experimental research which points in a very different direction, and what researchers in motivation have been putting together isn’t esoteric knowledge. It pertains to our everyday world and is practical knowledge in a very immediate sense, because it has to do with how we raise and educate children, how we treat employees, coworkers and friends--even how we nurture successful behavior in ourselves.

Harry F. Harlow, psychologist, stumbled by accident in the 1940s on a phenomenon he identified as a third biological drive. Besides basic drives urging them toward food and sex, it seemed that monkeys were also motivated by a challenge: they liked to solve puzzles even without rewards. “The joy of the task was it own reward,” as Pink puts it. The reward was intrinsic to the activity. The finding surprised Harlow. What followed, however, was so surprising and went so strongly against entrenched belief that no one would even touch it. The radical finding was that when food rewards were introduced into the experiment, the monkeys’ performances went downhill. They made more mistakes and did not solve the puzzles as often.

(Think about the usual rationale for inflated CEO salaries and the performance of overpaid banking and finance CEOs.)

Not until almost 1970 did another researcher, Edward Deci, pick up the dropped ball and design further experiments in motivation and rewards.
In an echo of what Harlow discovered two decades earlier, Deci revealed that human motivation seemed to operate by laws that ran counter to what most scientists and citizens believed. From the office to the playing field, we knew what got people going. Rewards—esp;ecially cold, hard cash—intensified interest and enhanced performance. What Deci found ... was almost the opposite. “When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest....” Rewards can deliver a short-term boost—just as jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off—and, worse, can reduce a person’s long-term motivation to continue the project. [My emphases added.]
There’s more to the story. Only contingent extrinsic rewards eroded motivation—that is, rewards given on an if-then basis, i.e., “If you do x, you will receive y.” What seems to go on in such cases is that what was pleasure becomes paid work. An unexpected reward does not have the same effect. If an unannounced reward is routinely given afterward, however, it becomes expected and then functions like any contingent extrinsic reward, lowering interest and performance.

The lesson to be learned here is not that extrinsic rewards are always bad. For routine, boring, repetitive tasks, if presented in the right way (acknowledging that the task is boring but making clear that it is necessary and giving workers the latitude to complete the task in their own way), they can be effective. For any kind of creative work, however, an extrinsic reward scheme is a deadly recipe. Moreover, giving employees “clear goals” in the form of minimum production levels to be met, for example, or demands for compulsive time-keeping, guarantee low performance, because when extrinsic rewards are the "...only destination that matters...[,] some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road."

Autonomy, mastery and purpose: these are intrinsic motivators in both personal and professional life. Children early in life show concern for purpose, as well as with autonomy and mastery. The last section of Pink’s book includes a “toolkit” for motivating yourself and others.

I think about classrooms I’ve been in, both in a student chair and at the front of the room; about jobs I’ve had and which ones felt good and which were living nightmares; and about this odd, financially marginal life I’ve put together here in Up North. My personal experience is confirmation of everything in this book.

If you want to hear this straight from the horse's mouth, click here.

Are you still skeptical? Why do so many retired people work so hard at volunteering and hobbies? What motivates armies of unpaid writers to devote themselves to their blogs? What will you be doing today—and why? As the new year approaches, many of us are forming resolutions. What are those all about?

The research does not say that money doesn’t matter. It does. We all need to make a living. But we also need satisfactions that money can’t buy, and woe to anyone who offers to buy the best that’s in us. Behaviorism is (or should be) dead! Long live self-determining individuals! 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All

From Sarah and her pack 
Up North,
with love,

to you and yours
wherever you are--

Friday, December 23, 2011

We Got a Little Snow

Orchard, barn, Lake Michigan
At last there was snow on the ground! Sarah needed to get out and run, too, before our long day at the bookstore. I wanted her to be able to settle down and not be romping all around during guest author John Mitchell's visit. 

Sarah sniffs
She ran. She explored. She sniffed. We both had a wonderful time. Next time, though, I'm wearing snowshoes. Barn boots are great for rainy days but not so good on icy hills.

Between two firs

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wrapping Up in My Grandmother

...To the sensing body all phenomena are animate, actively soliciting the participation of our senses, or else withdrawing from our focus and repelling our involvement. Things disclose themselves to our immediate perception ... as styles of unfolding—not as finished chunks of matter given once and for all, but as dynamic ways of engaging the senses and modulating the body. Each thing, each phenomenon, has the power to reach us and influence us.....
- David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
A rare find

Good, old-fashioned clothespin
On Wednesday afternoon (Bruce was minding the bookstore) we were visiting our favorite thrift shop close to home, where I was delighted to find a little plastic tub of old clothespins. ‘Clothes pegs,’ you could call them, each carved from a single piece of wood, some with a wire band and some without—but no springs and no way the single wooden piece could flip apart. In case you use only an indoor clothes-drying machine and haven’t followed the changes in clothesline technology, I will tell you that newer clothespins (all imported from China) are made of two pieces of wood held together with a spring. They are flimsy, and on the slightest excuse one of the wooden pieces will flip out and be lost forever in the weeds at the edge of the grass, the remaining bits useless. Hanging laundry outdoors is one of my summer morning meditations. These new/old clothespins will help keep me focused, so I was more than happy to carry them away.

An old quilted jacket tempted me. It wasn’t beautiful, in any stylish, modern sense, and it was sadly frayed, not only at the ends of the sleeves but pretty much all over. One would never dare put it in a washing machine (and it looked like it could use a washing, too).

Old handmade quilted jacket
“Why don’t you get it?” David urged. Sometimes he amazes me! The “Mussolini of Fashion” (as a friend called him long ago, hitting the nail directly on the head) encouraging me to buy an old, worn-out house jacket that my mother would never have looked at twice?

“Oh, it’s just silly,” I said with a reluctant sigh, trying to be sensible. “It’s practically falling apart.” I held it up more closely, feeling, being drawn by and trying to resist its silent Take-me-home plea. “But look at these little stitches! It’s all hand-stitched! Someone’s grandma made it, you just know.”

I thought of my own grandmother and remembered sitting in the backyard with her on the glider, pushing the long green metal seat back and forth with our feet on the ground while we used our hands to string beans. (Yes, Virginia, beans came with pretty tough strings in those days.) But my grandmother has been gone for well over 30 years, the old house gone long before that....

It was silly! Sensibly, I put the jacket back on the rack. Found an attractive ivory pullover. Much more reasonable--something I could actually wear in public!

Waiting for me out in the car, David asked, “You didn’t get it? Why not?” “Oh, it was just silly.” “You should get it if you want it.” “It was all hand-stitched!” I said again, as if arguing with myself. That was what kept coming back to me, that vision of patient, gnarled fingers taking stitch after tiny stitch, and then the old woman wearing the jacket for years and years. It had spoken to me. It wanted to go home with me. It needed a new home with someone who would see it for what it was.

Yes, of course! Can you doubt for a minute? (If you recognized the yellow chair already, you knew the end of the story right from the beginning.) “After all,” I told David, finding a way at last to rationalize the impulsive, emotional purchase, “it goes with the clothespins.”

Back Home

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Which Sarah and I Are Visited By Mister Scrooge

December--But No Snow!
No kidding, it must have been Ebenezer Scrooge who stopped by the bookstore early this week. He had a huge smile on his face, but why? Because there is no snow! “This is the best winter ever!” he exclaimed happily. Then, as he paused to scratch Sarah behind the ears, he observed that dogs don’t recognize holidays, and so, he went on to proclaim, “Dogs are part of the war on Christmas!” That idea made him as happy as the snowless landscape. He was nearly turning inside-out with glee.

NOT a Dog of War!
I didn't want to argue. No one should be required to celebrate a holiday if it holds no meaning for him. But involving my dog in his stance? Look at that sweet face! Can you imagine?

So "Sorry," I told Scrooge, "but Sarah loves the world and everyone and everything in it. Why, she even loves cats! Not to chase, either, but just to be around in a companionable way. Sarah is not a dog of war but a dog of peace, love and good puppy fun. It’s true that she doesn’t care what the good times are called, but she would never oppose them!"

Dog Friends: Kona, Sarah, Brandy (and stick)
It was okay. I hadn't put a dent in the caller's glee, but he hadn't made me unhappy, either. Mr. Scrooge went on his way, still delighted that there was no snow on the ground and leaving me still content to be in my very own bookstore, with my very own dog, and the lights on my very own real tree twinkling away. I guess each of us finds happiness in our own particular way.

Sarah at Work
Friends in Omena tonight will be shouting away the darkness, celebrating the turn toward the light and lengthening days. Happy solstice, everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Light a Candle Tonight

Tonight at sunset begins the festival of Hanukkah, or Chanukah. Here is an article that appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle in 2004, which I chose over others because it quotes our own Rabbi Bahle of Suttons Bay. She tells us that the word for the holiday means dedication and suggests that it’s a good time of year to dedicate ourselves to important, positive ways of treating one another. Who could argue against that? Another man quoted in the article (in case you don’t follow the link and read the whole thing, I’m telling you) says the story of Hanukkah is one of hope, prevailing against difficult odds, and sticking together.” That’s good, too, yes?

One of the new books I ordered this season after combing through various catalogs and lists was The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes, by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Nancy Cote. The story actually takes place on the last night of Hanukkah, when Rachel’s mother is making latkes and gets a call that more relatives are coming. There won’t be enough latkes, and there aren’t enough potatoes to make more, so Rachel volunteers to borrow more potatoes from a neighbor. Rachel wants Mrs. Greenberg to join them for dinner, but Rachel’s mother says Mrs. Greenberg will say no. “She thinks she’d be a bother. She’s as stubborn as an ox.” Sure enough, Rachel’s mother was right.

But then Mama needs eggs, and again Rachel runs next door to borrow and to invite. “Borrow? Don’t borrow. Use them in good health,” Mrs. Greenberg says generously. But she still won’t come to dinner.

Even when Rachel goes back to borrow chairs, she can’t persuade Mrs. Greenberg to come to dinner. But Rachel is stubborn, too—and clever. I won’t spoil the surprise by giving away the happy conclusion.

May your candle and any mitzvah you perform tonight shine brightly against the darkness.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting Back in Touch

The Spell of the Sensuous is a book by a philosopher who is also a sleight-of-hand artist. Right away that puts the book in a class by itself, no? David Abram's argument--and the book is couched as very careful, philosophical argument, with citations and support throughout--is that people in oral cultures did/do not feel themselves separate from the earth, trees, mountains, plants, other animals. The surrounding world speaks to them; the relationship is reciprocal. Lots about stories.... David Abram sees a huge shift having taken place with the Hebrew aleph-beth, a phonetic form of writing in which letters correspond to speech sounds rather than (as in pictographs and ideograms) symbols corresponding to aspects of the sensuous, surrounding life-world. There are many references to Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. 

One aspect of sacred existence and correspondence remained for the Hebrews, however, according to Abram: because their language lacked vowels, breath was necessary to make writing come alive, and no text alone could be definitive, as all required contextual interpretation. But then along came the Greeks, who added vowels, and the separation of writer from the natural world was complete. 

Now instead of an environment of which a speaker or singer is part, writers conceptualize abstract time, distinguish it from abstract space, and see themselves as separate from everything else in existence. A member of an oral culture sees himself or herself as residing within the world's mind; the Cartesian or Kantian autonomous individual sees his or her mind as separate from the world. What was all, at one time, both natural and spiritual, has now been separated into material and immaterial. 
It was only with the plugging of these last pores--with the insertion of visible letters for the vowels themselves--that the perceptual boundary established by the common language was effectively sealed, and what had once been a porous membrane became an impenetrable barrier, a hall of mirrors. ... With the addition of written wowels ... human language became a largely self-referential system closed off from the larger world that once engendered it....
I can't tell if the author is aware of the irony involved. He is, after all, writing a book, using a phonetic language (English) and proceeding to argue, in quite classic Western European philosophical ways, for the perspective he wants us to adopt. I don't mind. He is using our common language to reach us. What he wants us to do is become aware of what we lost and how we lost it and, as far as is possible, recover, repossess and be repossessed by preliterate meanings. It is no less than becoming responsive to and taking responsibility for our natural world, each of us acknowledging our particular place in it, rather than pretending to inhabit some abstract realm above and beyond the earth. 

Since I am a pantheist at heart. this argument--or call it a plea--speaks to me in a very immediate fashion, and I find the argument very convincing. In fact, it has inspired me to set out on a new project for the year ahead. But more on that when we turn the page and begin a new year....

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Remembering Today--Books in Paris

The poster of Shakespeare and Company on my wall on Dog Ears Books was purchased for me from a friend on his first trip to Paris, and he went to a great deal of trouble to get it back to Northport. Only when we took it out of the tube and inspected it thoroughly did the two of us see that the poster had been printed in someplace like Wichita, Kansas. (I’m not taking it off the wall to check, but it was definitely “someplace like” Wichita.) It didn’t matter. It was Paris, it was an iconic bookstore, and the poster was a lovely gift that I still enjoy on a daily basis.

Every American who visits Paris must pay respects to Shakespeare and Company. Many of those who do so are under the illusion that they are visiting Sylvia Beach’s historic bookstore, famous before World War II for welcoming the likes of James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Ezra Pound and others. George Whitman’s store, opened in 1948, took its name from that of its illustrious predecessor (on a different street in the Left Bank); more importantly, Whitman followed in the tradition of Beach, welcoming writers and readers of English from all over the world. Many a hopeful, struggling writer spent the night—or even several weeks—on a sofa tucked away somewhere in Shakespeare and Company, and many well-known Beat writers, including Ted Joans, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, were associated at one time or another with George Whitman.

Whitman’s bookshop was not one of my regular Paris hangouts. Since English is my native language and not something I have to seek out, when in Paris (it’s been over eleven years now since my last visit) or francophone Canada, I can never get enough of hearing and speaking and reading French, and immersion in that language is my first priority. Still--of course!--I had to see what Shakespeare and Company was all about.

Picture a perfect May day, the bookshop door standing open to the morning sun and just inside, tables piled high with books. The proprietor and a young Asian woman were deep in conversation, in French, and I lingered beside one of the tables, picking up and leafing through books, unobtrusively (I hoped) eavesdropping on their conversation. She wanted to be a writer, had written some stories, wanted him to read them--could he possibly take the time? She would appreciate it so much! What he really wanted, he told her, was for her to keep a journal for him, to confide to its pages all the details of her life, particularly her love life, omitting nothing. In that way, he said, he could judge whether or not she had it in her to become a writer. The conversation held me like a spell. The young woman objected. She resisted. Her words are etched in my memory: “C’est un peu—exigeant, n’est-ce pas?” Yes, I too thought he was asking a bit much! Did he ever read any of her work? Did she begin a journal to satisfy him? Who knows?

My artist husband also visited Shakespeare and Company on his first trip to Paris. It may have been there that he met poet Ted Joans, who invited David to come visit him at home in Timbuktu. --Okay, I checked with David on this, and it was George Whitman who introduced him to Ted Joans but not actually in the bookstore—George steered David down the street to a little park, saying there was someone he had to meet. They met a few times afterward at tea in George’s apartment and got together at a cafe once or twice, too, but David never made the trip to Timbuktu.

George Whitman died on December 14 at the age of 98 in his apartment above the bookstore. Sixty years of bookselling in Paris, France--quite a life for a boy from Massachusetts. His daughter, Sylvia Whitman (31), carries on. Thank heaven! It would be a tragedy if the iconic name Shakespeare and Company were ever to vanish from the City of Light.

P.S. I drafted this post last night at home but waited to get to the bookstore this morning and snap the poster before uploading. I mention this because it means I'm hitting the "publish" while enjoying a flaky Four Bean Rows almond croissant from Brew North across Waukazoo Street, my croissant the perfect accompaniment to memories of Paris.

Books Around the Tree

Still no snow here! Sigh! General disappointment is balanced by relief at not having to shovel or plow and by thoughts of fuel supplies (wood, oil, propane) stretching further into the future, due to present unseasonably warm weather. The first guided snowshoe hike at Sleeping Bear is scheduled for December 29, and the official site says you can borrow snowshoes if you don’t have your own, but they don’t say what will happen if there is no snow. Surely we will have snow by then, right?

Even without snow, however, we don’t lack reasons and ways to be cozy indoors. Hike in the rain? I don’t think so! Much better to be inside, warm and dry, curled up with a good book! Were you too busy earlier in the year to read Ellen Airgood’s South of Superior or Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River? These are a couple of strong Michigan novels you’ll want to read again and again once you’ve given yourself the initial pleasure. Have you yet to discover John Mitchell’s Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era, an engaging look at what was happening in our own part of the country while battles raged elsewhere? Or have you thus far postponed taking the imaginary 1922 road trip from Chicago to the Straits of Mackinac in Vintage Views of the West Michigan Pike? Now might be just the time to make that armchair travel drive.

There are exciting new looks at history beyond the boundaries of our state, too. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt, and The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, by David McCullough, are a couple I look forward to exploring.

Simple, happy holiday stories to share with children are perfect for this time of year. Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes and The Night Before Christmas are both a lot of fun.

Perennial favorites to rediscover (holidays are a time to indulge yourself) include Wind in the Willows; The Phantom Tollbooth; The Little Prince; and The Secret Garden. Are you ever too old for these books? (That is a rhetorical question, and I hope no one gets the wrong answer.)

Books, as any bookseller would remind you, are gifts that can be opened again and again. Bill Coohon of Northport shared a wonderful article with me the other day from his Popular Science magazine that put the matter in even warmer terms. Lawrence Weschler, in his article entitled “And Yet...And Yet,” writes of books this way:
They have a spine, which in turn implies a pair of outstretched arms and an enfolding embrace, or at the very least a dance.

My bedtime reading for the last few nights has been The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram, a prose joining of wild nature experience to phenomenology, all in the service of ecological commitment, by an author who is both a philosopher and a sleight-of-hand artist. Here is an example of what results from his point of view:

From the magician’s, or the phenomenologist’s, perspective, that which we call imagination is from the first an attribute of the senses themselves; imagination is not a separate mental faculty (as we so often assume) but is rather the way the senses themselves have of throwing themselves beyond what is immediately given, in order to make tentative contact with the other sides of things that we do not sense directly, with the hidden of invisible aspets of the sensible.
Too philosophical for you? Nonetheless, you are doing it all the time, and the sensuous feel of a book in your hands, opening to invite you into another world, those lines of type presenting themselves to your imagination not as symbols on paper but as mental images and voices—oh, this is magic for any day of the year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More Small Town Seasonal Warmth

Dolls and SO Much More!

Colorful Indoor Vista

From the moment that Sally’s store opens in the morning, even before her customers begin to pour in, evidence of activity is everywhere, along with bright colors and a dazzling variety of materials and textures. The name of her shop is Dolls and More, with an accent on the More

Do you know what you’re looking in the pictures below? Luckily, I can now add captions.

Teddy Bear Pieces
Ready to Repaint an Old Doll
About the time I was leaving, Sally’s first customers had come for potluck lunch and a class in handmade greeting cards. A congenial proprietor and welcoming atmosphere make 102 Nagonaba (annex entrance on Mill Street) a magnet for local crafters and shoppers. In Northport, friends are customers, and customers become friends.

Coming Together at Sally's Shop

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bright Pools of Happiness on Rainy December Days

Here’s a story that began a week ago Saturday. The “Best for Kids” sale at the Willowbrook was over, and David and I were moving boxes of books back to the car to return to the bookstore. As we walked across Mill Street in the rain, David saw something on the wet pavement and bent to pick it up. “It’s someone’s credit card,” he said. We looked at the name. “I know those people,” I told him. “They’re customers of mine.”

Back at the bookstore I looked in my files and found a card with their name on it in my trade credit file (they bring in used books and get a 50% discount on used books they buy from my store as long as their credit lasts), but there was no phone number on the card. They weren’t in the phone book, either. Their credit card from Huntington bank, so David said he’d drop it in the Huntington night deposit box.

But I kept thinking that I should know their neighborhood and some of their neighbors. Were they Cathead Bay people or Omena people? I decided to try Omena and called a friend to leave a message, along these lines: “Do you know these people? Do they live near you? If you have their phone number, would you please tell them that we found their credit card and they can pick it up at the bank?”

Late in the evening the man whose name was on the credit card called our house. Had he gotten the message from Judy? Yes, he said, and from Joan, also. (Judy had called Joan to pass it along.) He and his wife were laughing happily, and he said, “This is what I love about living in a small town!”

Today I came to Northport to find a little package and a card on the counter, dropped off yesterday when Bruce was at the store. The card reads, “It’s wonderful living in a small town where people not only know but care about their neighbors. Your kindness means so much!”

I haven’t opened the package yet. It’s to David and me. It is fun living and working in a small town!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Crucial Aspect That Always Slips My Mind

I was so dissatisfied with the outcome of the debate on whether or not the world would be better off without religion. As my friend Ruth pointed out, it’s a moot point, since one has to imagine not only a different present and future but also a completely different history leading up to the present. Still, for the sake of the argument, I can accept the thought experiment.

What bothered me was that even in this fairly high-level discussion, most of the time the teams seemed to be talking past each other, although I have to say that this was truer, in my opinion, of the atheist team than of the religion team, and on that score, therefore, I would have given the religion team more points. The religion team, as I heard the debate, had the better listeners and spoke more directly in response to what the opposition put forth. I also thought they offered better historical evidence for their case, while allowing that every human institution is a mixed bag of good and bad and that religion is no exception. I only caught one example of what I considered name-calling. It came from the atheist side, and on my mental scorecard their score was lowered for the lapse in civility.

But I always forget. Never a debater myself, I want genuine conversation and open discussion and honest give-and-take, and what I forget is that a debate is, first and foremost, a contest. Like a wrestling match or a chess game, it is not about mutual education or understanding but about winning! Alas, in that sense it is also very much like a courtroom trial. The hopeful idea is that in a debate or a trial, the adversarial proceeding will bring out enough pieces of truth that an audience or a jury will be able to put it together. Does that happen in a debate? Some audience members changed their minds, but why? What were their reasons?

So much of what’s really important, it seems, never gets said at all, while what we’ve all heard a hundred times gets said yet again, maybe with a clever line to win laughs from the audience. Well, I like a laugh as well as anyone, but when a subject is as serious as this one and the debaters seriously wedded to their positions, not merely assuming them to entertain us for an hour, I want more.

We so seldom these days in this country hear high-level, real debate, but I realize now that the best debate wouldn’t satisfy me. It isn't debate I want. I want real conversation. In that regard, I can make better sense of what I felt at the end of the NPR debate. These were only four men. I am not taking one side to be representative of all religious people or the other side to be representative of all atheists. As far as these four men went in this debate, however, the team that officially lost had done a better job in my eyes because I heard them more often addressing the other side in ways showing they had been listening and were making direct responses to the other side's concerns. The atheist team, in my opinion, was not only condescending but given to making sweeping generalizations and setting up straw men (arguing as if all religious people are fundamentalists). They were also, as I heard them, fatally close-minded. Obviously, others heard the speakers very differently and judged them by other standards than mine.

I wonder, though. Can a win-or-lose contest possibly hope to further a search for mutual understanding, let alone the search for truth?

* * * *

The forecast this week is for highs in the 40s. It doesn't feel like December. Where is our snow? Snow or no snow, I promise more of a holiday mood in the days ahead. There will be holiday ornaments, holiday books, a decked-out dog and any other surprises I can find in my bag of tricks. It's time to lighten the mood, and don't think I don't know it!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Without Religion, What Would We Have to Fight About?

The resolution to be debated on NPR last Sunday (a week ago today) was that the world would be better off without religion. That is, the affirmative side wanted to be rid of religion, while the opposition defended religion. Debaters were: for the resolution (against religion), Matthew Chapman & A. C. Grayling; against the resolution (defending religion), Rabbi David Wolpe & Dinesh D’Souza. You can read or listen to the entire debate here, and I wish you would, because I’m wondering if anyone else heard what I heard.

I won’t give my critique of the debate yet but will say that the criteria by which I award points (my point system could be formalized but wasn’t when I heard the debate on the car radio) include speakers listening to one another, demonstrating that they have heard the other side’s arguments and making direct, serious response to those arguments. I mentally deduct points for name-calling, straw men and the like.

For now (and I realize this gives away the position I would take on the debate, but do not mistake my position for my judgment of the arguments presented; these are two separate matters, insofar as I can separate them, and I try hard), I’d simply like to offer a list of all the things human beings would hate each other for and make war over if tomorrow, by the wave of a sorcerer’s wand, religion were to disappear from the face of the earth. Imagine what follows voiced by deadly foes.
  • “We don’t need your kind around here!”
  • “Go back to where you came from!”
  • “Your ancestors stole this land from my ancestors!”
  • “You are crowding us out!”
  • “We’re taking over this place, like it or not!”
  • “This land should have been mine/ours!”
  • “I will not dishonor my grandfather’s name by resolving the feud he and your grandfather began!”
  • “Everyone here shares equally, in good times and bad.”
  • “We believe everyone should accumulate as much as he can, winner take all.”
  • “Old ways are best. We hold to tradition.”
  • “Times are changing, so change or get out of the way.”
  •  “We must take care of our natural surroundings. They are the basis of life.”
  • “We should either send our garbage into space or colonize other planets ourselves when this one gets too polluted.”
  • “Blood is thicker than water, and family is the paramount value.”
  • “Nepotism in any form is a crime, and meritocracy is the only just basis for inequality." 
  • "There is no justice without complete equality." 
  • “We need more water for our crops...for our livestock...for our industry.”
  • “You’re taking too much of our water and polluting our land, too.”
  • “Our leader is better, stronger, more inspired than yours.”
  • “We are bigger and stronger, so why shouldn’t we steal everything you’ve got?”
  • "Science should be the only value."
  • "Science is one value among several." 
  • “What you have, you stole from us, and we will never forgive you.”
  • "You are not using your resources to maximum effect and don't deserve to keep what you have."
  • "Your values are squalid, low-life and disgusting." 
  • "You people are selfish and greedy, and you only care about money."
  • "The only value is land."
  • "The only value is labor."
  • "The only real value is happiness."
  • "The only thing that matters is money...and power." 
Obviously, the list could go on and on and on. Human beings fight over territory, resources and wealth; they fight for material gain, for personal power, for power over others and for glory and honor; they fight out of fear and envy, from greed and in their own and others' self-defense. In my opinion, religion is not the cause of wars, although it is a frequent rationalization given for them. What do you think?

I'm coming back to add a Monday morning postscript, having received e-mail from a friend concerned, after reading this post, that I was exhausted, angry and depressed. Not at all. It is my philosophical turn of mind, along with many years of graduate school in philosophy. Argument fascinates me. Debate fascinates me. Unlike one of my sisters, I never got into formal debate exercises, but all week since hearing the radio discussion I've been wondering what criteria, if any, ordinary people (in the audience) use to judge winners and losers. Beyond that, the question of the truth of the matter nags at anyone who listens to the news and thinks about history, doesn't it?

Another postscript: The rest of my thoughts on this were posted the following day.

For a more carefree post, see my other blog.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Good Time, with Only Minor Controversy

Tree and refreshment table
Tree was decorated long in advance. Books were delivered in plenty of time. All was in readiness for Susan Newhof's reading and book signing on Friday.

The author arrives!
It's always a relief to the bookseller when the guest of honor arrives before the crowd, especially when, as in this case, the author and her husband were driving down from Manistique after a book tour of several days in the U.P. Fortunately, weather was not a problem (one never knows what to expect at this time of year), and here she is, looking lovely.

More people arrive
Other people began to arrive--and kept arriving. This is good! The more, the merrier at an author event, always!

All chairs were taken--a pleasure to see!
The audience came prepared to be entertained. Did they expect that the author would begin by asking them a question? "How many of you here believe in ghosts?" Only one hand was raised, and everyone stared. It was the only moment that controversy reared its head during the evening, however, and everyone took it in good--spirit!

Documentary evidence that I met the author
I even remembered to have David take a picture of me with the author, something I often forget to do.

{Now if only I can master the intricacies of the new Blogger platform and figure out how to arrange my photos the way I'd like them to appear, everything will be fine. Please take note: this is the first time I have added captions to my photos. I have long been envious of bloggers on other platforms who could add captions to their photos. Now I can, too! But I wanted my first paragraph to begin in that big blank white space to the right of the tree picture. Obviously, I need more practice and must search out solutions to problems I'm still having.}

Thank you, Susan Newhof, and thanks also to Doug and Merilee Scripps, to Bruce Balas, to Marjorie Farrell (the cookie lady) and to all who came to our book party. We had fun, didn't we? Yes, we did!