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Sunday, August 26, 2012


If the Buddha Had Kids: Raising Children to Create a More Peaceful World, by Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D.
Penguin Books

Be forewarned: As is the usual case with “Books in Northport,” my take on If the Buddha Had Kids leans in a personal direction, emphasizing what the book means to me. I suspect that it will have similar meaning for a lot of other readers, and this book certainly deserves wide readership.

When contacted by Penguin Books to see if I would review If the Buddha Had Kids on my blog, I agreed without imagining it would be directly relevant to my own life. After all, the next crying babies in our family will be great-grandchildren, and raising children—well, that chapter is closed for me, isn’t it? So on the one hand, thinking as a bookseller, I know parents of young children, and a number of them already find Buddhism a helpful spiritual path, so I thought the book would appeal to my customers. On the other hand, I thought, as for me, I am too attached to the world and too happy in my attachment (so went my thinking) to want to disengage, so the Buddhist way is not my way. Good thing I'm a bookseller and read the book, because it was full of important surprises.

My first error in thinking should be obvious to any parent: once a parent, always a parent! It never ends! How do I connect with and respond to my 42-year-old son? To my stepchildren, my nephews? To grandchildren of school age and beyond? Connection and dialogue with my mother and sisters is still and always will be family connection and dialogue.

The title sounded a trifle gimmicky, but this book stopped me in my tracks right at the prologue. There, before the first chapter, the author (a practicing psychotherapist for over 30 years) tells of her 33-year-old daughter’s final illness and death from pancreatic cancer. She tells of parenting this daughter from the time the girl was three years old and arrived from a foster home after having spent the first year and a half of her life in a dangerously violent home. Kasl says that her daughter “was attached to me by a thread so thin it barely held at times.” And now the daughter was dying. And leaving behind a six-year-old son for whom the grandmother had already felt strong concern. All the things Kasl wanted to say to her daughter she says in this book to other parents. Right away any reader must realize that the author is speaking out of deep personal experience, and the lessons she will share come out of that experience.

It goes beyond parenting, too, as is quickly apparent. If the Buddha had Kids is specifically aimed at parents, but the practical advice on how to listen to others and how to explore one’s own feelings applies to all human relationships. For example, Kasl gives a list of examples of “living out of the ego” that create problems for parents. Here are a couple of them:
4. Difficulty seeing the need beneath the surface of a behavior. You might react to a child’s behavior as irritating, a nuisance, or difficult without seeing the underlying need. The child may want attention or feel angry, hurt, hungry, tired, or lonely. 
5. Difficulty acknowledging your own part in the child’s behavior—that is, perhaps your inattention, control, intrusiveness, or volatility contributes to a child’s whining, rebelliousness, depression, or being explosive or unable to concentrate.
Now read those two points again, replacing “a child” or “the child” with “someone else” or “the other person.” Read this way, we are on an even wider path to peaceful living, in much the same ways recommended by William Ury in The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop--also published by Penguin, I note and reviewed on this blog.

Finally, what about that attachment/detachment stuff, always the biggest hurdle between me and Buddhism? It isn’t simply that detaching is “too hard.” No, I didn’t want to give up attachment. I had (and still have) no desire to remove myself from the wonders of life or to observe the world as a bemused and distant spectator. So what a wondrous revelation to read Kasl’s chapter on pleasure in the natural world, entitled “Wow! I Climbed the Mountain,” with the statement that “there is mounting evidence that disconnection from nature affects our mental and emotional well-being in ways we do not fully comprehend.” Wow, indeed! This is more like it! Have I had Buddhism wrong all along, or is Kasl’s a departure from the classical version?
When a child loses his sensory capacity for connection with nature, he may also lose the capacity for contemplation, relaxation, and comfort with stillness. In general, when we can’t go deeply into the human experience, we turn instead to counterfeit stimulation—computer games, TV, the Internet, texting, tweeting, everything that is fast, and stimulating. We can’t sit still. The more we become dependent on constant stimulation the more quickly we feel boredom.... The hunger never abates.... The person feels increasingly helpless to feel satisfied and happy, as if he were losing control over his own life. This feeling also contributes to depression and anxiety.
In the frenzy that is August, I have fallen behind with my stillness project, but even having it on the back burner is a comforting thought. Kasl offers practical suggestions for things parents can do to get children “back to nature.” They are simple ideas, as is appropriate to the subject.

Related to the “back to nature” chapter for me, because it also relates to my stillness project, is the one called “The Amazing Sounds of Silence.” The author recalls her family’s tradition of setting aside an hour after lunch on family camping trips as quiet time. “We could sit in a camp chair or lie on a cot and read, embroider, carve, write, or sleep.” After my own father’s parents retired to Florida, our family traveled south every other year for a visit, and after lunch adults and children alike had “nap” time. Reading was allowed, but no talking, no radio, no TV or games. Shades were pulled down, and a peaceful quiet filled the house. I liked the feeling of being alone with my own thoughts and dreams during that time.

Happily, just as we are not required to detach from nature but to be present in it, we are not detaching from other people, either. The detachment is from our own egoistic preoccupations and from the ego’s insistence that other people should not be the way they are but should be some other way we think would be better. Again, the author’s focus is on the adult-child relationship, but I find it insightful across the board, helpful for all relationships,. The chapter “Deep Listening and Loving Speech” tells parents how to give empathy and understanding. The whole idea is to be fully present and open and to create connection rather than separation (and again I am put in mind of the William Ury book). Resistance and argument escalates anger. The idea is to defuse anger and prevent its escalation by giving the gift of peaceful, active listening.

My only quibbles with this book are very minor. I would have appreciated an index. The claim of 2-3% Cesarian sections in a nurse-midwife birthing center compared to 30% hospital rate did not take into account mothers’ ages or complications during pregnancy that would have influenced the choice of childbirth location. Absence of commas in compound sentences sent me back to the beginning of more than one sentence. As I say, all pretty minor points.

Most of what I have written here in praise of the book is either personal or general, with only a few direct quotes. The reality is that it is a wealth of ideas, examples, exercises and practical advice. Beyond the basics, the author covers topics such as education, sexuality, money, modern technology, and food. Exercises in various chapters offer the parent-reader (or nonparent adult) opportunities for self-reflection, but there are no scorecards attached: In going through an exercise and answering the questions posed, the parent is encouraged to practice with him- or herself the same loving kindness to be offered to the child.

--What I’m telling you is that you, parent or not, can read this book and learn from it without feeling scolded. So please do read it. It’s what the world needs now, and there is no one whose life does not have a corner in which to apply these ideas. One conversation at a time....

There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Apples Plus Art Equals--Book Launch!

Apple varieties from the Kilchermans' farm
A whole tree!
We had apples inside the bookstore, courtesy of Phyllis and John Kilcherman of Northport, who grow many heirloom varieties on their farm, and we had a live apple tree outside the door, brought by Bill and Lynne Rae Perkins, to be raffled off to the lucky customer whose name would be pulled from the box at the end of the evening. It was apparent from the beginning that this would be no ordinary book launch.

Perkins creativity in different forms
Just above you see the back of the new book, Seed by Seed, illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins, several copies held in place by beautiful rustic twig-and-stone bookends created by her husband, artisan furniture-maker Bill Perkins. And in the foreground is Lynne's Newbery-award winning YA novel, Criss Cross.

We had pretty much the full range of human ages in Tuesday evening's crowd. Lucy entertained a group of children in the gallery by reading the story of Johnny Appleseed to them, while parents and grandparents kept infants and toddlers closer by.

The crowd came for Lynne. They came for books. They were additionally treated to sweet cider from Tandem Cidery on Setterbo Road (Tandem is also known for their hard cider) and chocolate chip cupcakes made by Lynne Rae and Lucy Perkins--cupcakes decorated to look like apples, with twig stems and mint leaves. A friend of Lynne's brought apple crisp. I'm told it was delicious but was too busy selling books to find out. For a bookseller, that's a good thing. And Lynne was kept busy, too, signing books and visiting with friends and customers.

Seed by Seed was written by Esmé Raji Codell and is the first complete story book that Perkins has illustrated for someone else. Usually she both writes and illustrates her own book. You can read about her new experience by going first to her blog (always interesting in itself) and then following the link you’ll find there.

The exciting book-and-apple party was a great way to round out my bookstore events for summer of 2012! What will the coming season bring? We already have one guest author who made a big hit on his first visit and has promised to come back in November, but long before then, coming soon on Books in Northport, will be a review of a new book, If the Buddha Had Kids. Sneak preview hint: You don’t have to have kids to get a lot out of this book! 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pictures from an Author Reading

Bonnie Jo and (in print) Margo Crane
Sunday was big excitement at the bookstore: Bonnie Jo Campbell came up from Kalamazoo to read from her 2011 novel, Once Upon a River, now available as a quality paperback book. In the picture below, you can see part of the crowd assembled to listen with delight and to ask the author questions in person.

Customers attending Bonnie's reading
This post is almost all pictures, because I don't have time to write much, for a couple of reasons. One reason is that I'm learning a new camera and its software, and it has taken me hours just to get these few pictures online today. There was another camera on site, however, with a more experienced user. Below is one taken by Bonnie's husband, Chris, and it's one of my favorites.

Two little farm girls, Bonnie Jo and Pamela Jean
If you didn't get to Dog Ears Books on Sunday, you missed more than meeting a top-notch author, hearing her read the first chapter from her second novel, and having the opportunity to ask her questions and get candid answers. You also missed Bonnie's homemade elderberry wine!

Refreshments, compliments of guest author
The second reason I'm not writing much today is that tomorrow evening is another bookstore event. Look carefully and closely at the photo on the left, and you'll see, peeking out from behind the nearly empty wine bottle, my display copy of SEED BY SEED, the new children's book illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins of Suttons Bay, to be launched at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Northport. There will be Kilcherman apples and Tandem cider and--who knows? Maybe other apple surprises! Grandparents and grandchildren welcome!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Guest Blogger: A Writing Challenge in Six Weeks--with Cherries!

This guest post was graciously contributed by Marjorie Farrell. When she told me about the writing challenge she had accepted, I thought it would be great for Books in Northport, and she rose to that challenge, as well.

Meeting the challenge!
A Writing Challenge in Six Weeks, With Cherries

Fourteen years after first attending the Clarion summer-long writing workshop (then at MSU, since relocated to UCSD), I reconnected with the group.  They were running a fundraiser Write-a-Thon competition for scholarship money, helping other students to afford the expense.  It was not a competition against other writers, but a competition against yourself.  The challenge was a promise to write for 43 days—the length of the actual UCSD workshop.  We could choose to promise a specific number of hours, days, words or stories.  Supporters could pay any amount per unit.  On a whim one morning I emailed the request to a friend who attended the same workshop. “Let's do it,” she said.  Now I had to back up my brave talk.  Could I do it?  I have written haphazardly over the years, never feeling anything was good enough to send out.  My stories never made it past the first draft.  Was this to be an awakening, a trial abandoned by week two, or a fresh start?

Below is a week-by-week summary of my journey.

Week 1:  Sent e-mail to potential sponsors.  Set writing goal so sponsors would know I was working to earn their money.  I'm a busy person.  I figured I could swing 1 hour a day.  I spend that much time making coffee, drinking it, eating a morning snack. I can write at the same time.

Where to start.  I've thought of nothing new.  Check my various notebooks, sketchpads, backs of envelopes.  Still nothing appealed.  Inspiration didn't jump out of the hedge and embrace me over the weekend.  I had counted on that happening. In desperation I grabbed a copy of a short story I wrote last summer in a mystery writing class at the Old Arts Building in Leland, MI.  I couldn't use the story itself for a starting point.  It had been given to us as a map to lead us into character writing.  The plot wasn't mine, but the final characters were.   I plucked two of them whole out of the story, set up my locale (Leelanau Peninsula) and tweaked the characters a bit.  As I don't have a plot, I decide not to write in linear fashion, but rather write scene by scene, character backstories, and to research events as they occur to me.

Week 2:  I still need a plot.  By midweek I don't have one yet.  I'll write the characters, I thought.  Maybe they will give me the plot.  Two people.  One, a young man new to the area, looking for work.  He is heavily tattooed.  Why?  Symbolizes his search for something.  They tell reader he is an outsider.  The sheriff is female.  I name her for my friend in New York who says Northport, MI, looks like Cabot Cove, ME, in Murder She Wrote.  I have no name for the guy.  I like the name the teacher gave him, but can't use it.  I write up a list of names.  No good.  I try naming him after my husband.  No.  I am in Naming Hell, having a devil of a time.  This never happens.  I am good at names.  Oh, I need a literal Devil in the story.  Name him after my husband?  No.  The young man's name comes to me.  He lives in the Midwest, his mother was a flower child.  She named him Prairie.  When she moved here in the 1970's she legally changed her last name to a small Midwest bird.  Perfect.  Nothing silly like warbler or chickadee.  I try out Wren or Sparrow.

Week 3: I need a plot.  One still hasn't shown up.  I write the devil-arriving-in-the-community scene.  Why is he coming here?    I read an article about early summer weather in March leading to a poor cherry crop.  I write the young man character.  Why is he here?  What about all the tattoos?  I need a crime to solve.  I need 2 crimes--one real world, one alternate world.  The town has 2 levels of characters.  The Devil will be in disguise.  The Devil doesn't just show up in the real world with tail and pitchfork.  Maybe he is a devil, not The Devil.  This has become a fantasy/magical realism/mystery story.  The Sheriff and young man are mother and son.  Bingo.  She is an Earth Mother.  He is Genius Loci, protector of the region.  Devil is threatening what?  Loki (or is it Loci) are Norse.  What culture are my other alternate reality characters?  Is it OK to mix them?  Are there two Loki?  One is the protector, the other is a wicked, mischievous Loki.  He causes trouble because he can.  It is his nature.  In mythology, Loki caused the death of a beautiful god by tricking a blind man into shooting the god with an arrow wrapped in mistletoe.  That is hardly a mischievous act.   My first reader (husband) says that Genius Loci is normally a benevolent, protective spirit.  The idea of an evil one is interesting, but mixing of Loki/Loci seems odd.  I must find a reason for these similar named, but different spirits to be here at the same time.

Week 4:  I need a plot.  I have a crime, maybe.  The wicked Loki causes strange weather to hamper cherry crop.  Why?  Genius Loci needs to win.  How?  I need a chase scene with loaded cherry truck.  The cherries splash out of the bins in the truck bed onto the car behind, just like what happened to us.  Is there a bet with the Loki?  Maybe a chase scene and Genius Loci wins.  Look up how to drive a truck.  Find out why cherry bins are not lidded for transport.  I feel like writing more about relationship of mother and son.  I email a snippet of the story to my Write-a-Thon group.  I get interesting responses.  Two people say the mom/sheriff/earth mother is the most intriguing character. I decide to have her live in an old church, like I do.  Our Fearless Leader says then the church becomes a character in the story.  I like that idea.  I had planned to have the strange weather be a character.  Sometimes reading groups can be helpful.  I usually don't feel that way.  On reflection, I like the idea of 2 Loki characters battling each other.  Change devil to wicked Loki.  I've have given myself a headache.   I'll work out the cultural/mythological details later.

Week 5:  I need a (real world) plot.  A crime.  I read newspapers, magazines.  No crime I feel like solving.  I am unhappy and bored.    I clean my house.  I miss my company of the last week.  I go to Northport shopping.  I go to Leland shopping.  Again, I notice the cemetery that has a lakefront view.  It has intrigued me for years.  How did a valuable piece of land become a cemetery instead of a home site?  Isn't someone losing tax money on it?  Are cemeteries taxed?  When was this cemetery started?  Was there originally a church next door?  I go home and look it all up.  No, cemeteries aren't taxed. I continue to research the history of that cemetery.  I have an idea for a real world crime.  Someone wants that piece of property to develop it.  Who?  What will they do to get it?

Week 6:  I have two plots.  One real world, one alternate.  I make notes on how they will cross.
End of Write-a-Thon assessment:  my story is rough, has gaps, too many scenes not put into story yet, but it is a good start.  Now I will fill in the holes, tie up the ends and SEND IT OUT.  I give myself until Thanksgiving to finish it and send it out.

I begin to think there might be a novel in it.  I daydream.  Maybe a series?  What about a mini series for TV?  A movie?  Anime?  Action figures?  Come back to reality and realize I still have to finish and polish the darn thing.  AND SEND IT OUT. 

We attended the Traverse City Film Festival during last week of Write-a-Thon.  I wrote early in the morning for one hour before leaving to stand in hours long lines to see great movies that likely will never show up in major theaters.  I think about incorporating Alfred Hitchcock's first movie (a silent film) in the story line.  The wicked Loki has a small part in the movie.  Purpose?  It lets the reader know he is long-lived and recurring, other worldly.  I need to write a small scene or two to create his back-story.  Then, decide how much to include in the story.  Inspiration is truly everywhere.

What I have learned: 
1.  Most important for me was building the habit of writing.  I put it at the top of my to-do list everyday.  One hour.  I try to make it first thing after breakfast.
2.  It is mostly all there in my head already.  If it is not already there completely, it is out there waiting for me to find it, or it is easily researched. 
3.  Keep a pen and notebook by my computer.  Random thoughts about the story will pop up out of sequence.  Also, random thoughts about birthday cards, groceries and hair appointments will pop up—always when the phone and the calendar are across the room.  If I get up, I lose the writing rhythm. 
4.  I carry a notebook and pen with me so I can write notes to myself about things that I see or hear.
5.  Read newspapers, magazines, other books.  Look around me, pay attention when I am out doing the day-to-day stuff.  I find characters, plots, inspiration everywhere I look.  I only have to open myself to it.  I saw a woman wearing a t-shirt.  It said, “Be careful what you say in front of me. You may end up in my novel”. 
6.  Then I only have to write it and SEND it out to magazine publishers.  A novel may come, a series may come.  Finishing a short story and sending it out is the first step.  I cannot swim if I don't get in the water.

In total, I wrote 72 hours (I count research as writing), nearly doubling my 43-hour goal.  In addition to writing those six weeks, I also:

Cleared out my Mother-in-law's house to put it up for sale.  She passed away in April. I held a two-day yard sale at my Mother-in-law's house.  We plan to put the waterfront property on the real estate market before summer's end.   Readying the house and running the sale is harder to do than I expected.  Everyone knew her and has stopped by.  I thought I could write while running the yard sale.  Ha.

I cleaned our house in preparation for a visit from the great-nieces, or as we call them, The Great Nieces. I write extra to make up for time I will play tourist with them.  We have a fun time with The Great Nieces visiting.   I make lists of places and events we visited which I may want to include in the story.  I was hoping to show them the cherries slopping out of a truck onto our car, but that didn't happen.  Guess you can't plan something like that, no matter how cool the visitors are.

I cleaned house thoroughly for Northport Home Tour to raise money for scholarships.  I finished planting the meditation garden in the front yard.  I visited nurseries to buy pots of plants to set on deck and steps.  I never got around to planting them myself.  The day of the Home Tour we had 271 people through the house in 6 hours.  It was fun.  We love to talk about our art, music and our old church house.

In six weeks I have proven to myself that I can write.  I can write and I can get a lot of other work done, at the same time.  It isn't all one or the other.  I learned to prioritize.  What has the earliest deadline?  Always make sure the hour (or more) of writing gets top priority.  Life really is a movable feast, to slightly misquote Hemingway (another Michigander, I learned). I  have to pick and choose.  Time is included in that banquet.  I simply have to choose when.  I'm 65 now, 14 years older than I was when I attended the writing crash course.  I am 14 years stronger, experienced and wiser.  That time is now.

Marjorie Farrell, long-time reader, writer, photographer and general bon vivant artist, has retired with her husband to Northport.   They have family here and have been long-time visitors.  They love the Peninsula and now proudly call it home.  Her favorite word is joy.  Her favorite fruit is peaches, sadly not cherries.  She has no favorite color.   Or maybe, it is cherry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Two Recurring and Interwoven Strains

The first link for me in a recent chain of reading coincidence was David McCullough’s The Greater Journey, a fascinating look at American visitors to Paris in the nineteenth century, but it required a second book for a chain to begin to be forged, and that second book was Jacques Barzun’s Darwin Marx Wagner, presenting the same century in very different perspective, European rather than American and critical rather than reportorial. Then Steve asked his question: Is nature evolving intentionally, with some purpose? Put another way, is evolution making progress to a goal? I recommended the Barzun to him and went on my merry way, but, as it happened (a happy coincidence), I had in my bookshop a book giving all possible permutations of the answer to Steve’s question, as formulated by all the big names in science. That book is Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life, edited by Connie Barlow.

Of the arguments presented in favor of progress, I could not help favoring those of Julian Huxley, who made a strong case for his side, in my opinion (and, in my opinion, a more complex and persuasive argument than E. O. Wilson’s case for progress based solely on biological diversity). But was I persuaded, in the end?  Stephen Jay Gould’s nay-saying argument is not given at length, but even so his statement that “luck” rather than intention accounts for the appearance and present dominance of our species is hard to refute. Maybe Steve needs to read this whole book! All the big-name scientists are included.

(What it comes down to for me is not an ax to grind either way, for or against progress, but I do want to point out that an ax has two sides—relevant to me because it brings us back to my personal philosophy of life, Everything is a double-edged sword. You win some, you lose some. Or, as Joanie Mitchell so memorably put it, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now/from win and lose, and still somehow/it’s life’s illusions I recall/I really don’t know life at all.” Know it, as in understand its secrets? Hardly. But I am deeply grateful for all its wonders, large and small, and my “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” prayer still bursts out spontaneously on many lovely days.)

But well, so now I find myself thoroughly absorbed in a book that could win the prize for “Most Boring Title” and one whose delights I’m afraid many people miss (as I did until recently) on that account, The Education of Henry Adams. Adams writes of his life in the third person, telling the story of Henry’s education broadly understood, beginning with school but including parents and their friends and his own boyhood friends, going on to Harvard (which gave him no real lessons at all), then to Washington, DC, to Germany, Italy, and England, where life educated him pitilessly. As if he is examining a tiny insect under a microscope at different stages of its life, Adams looks back and reveals his own follies and shortcomings in bemusement from as objective a point of view as possible. And the language! The charm, quiet humor, and grace of his sentences!
The bearing of the two seasons on the education of Henry Adams was no fancy; it was the most decisive force he ever knew; it ran through life, and made the division between its perplexing, warring, irreconcilable problems, irreducible opposites, with growing emphasis to the last year of study. From earliest childhood the boy was accustomed to feel that, for him, life was double. Winter and summer, town and country, law and liberty, were hostile, and the man who pretended they were not, was in his eyes a schoolmaster—that is, a man employed to tell lies to little boys. – “Quincy (1838-1848)”  
Sometimes in after life, Adams debated whether in fact [education] had not ruined him and most of his companions, but, disappointment apart, Harvard College was probably less hurtful than any other university then in existence. It taught little, and that little ill, but it left the mind open, free from bias, ignorant of facts, but docile. The graduate had few strong prejudices. He knew little, but his mind remained supple, ready to receive knowledge. – “Harvard College (1852-1858)"
Here I was in the nineteenth century again, with names familiar from the McCullough book popping up one after another—and then, suddenly, in Rome, where Henry Adams came face to face with the century’s big question, that of evolution! Rome, much as he loved it—overwhelming, sensual, drenched in history and saturated with sin—was to the eyes of young Adams the living refutation of the nineteenth century’s beloved theory of progress. 
...The month of May, 1860, was divine. No doubt other young men, and occasionally young women, have passed the month of May in Rome since then, and conceive that the charm continues to exist. Possibly it does—in them—but in 1860 the lights and shadows were still mediaeval, and mediaeval Rome was alive; the shadows breathed and glowed, full of soft forms felt by lost senses. No sand-blast of science had yet skinned off the epidermis of history, thought, and feeling. The pictures were uncleaned, the churches unrestored, the ruins unexcavated. Mediaeval Rome was sorcery. Rome was the worst spot on earth to teach nineteenth-century youth what to do with a twentieth-century world. One’s emotions in Rome were one’s private affair, like one’s glass of absinthe before dinner in the Palais-Royal; they must be hurtful, else they could not be so intense; and they were surely immoral, for no one, priest or politician, could honestly read in the ruins of Rome any other certain lesson than that they were evidence of the just judgments of an outraged God against all the doings of man. This moral unfitted young men for every sort of useful activity; it made Rome a gospel of anarchy and vice.... – “Rome (1858-1860)“
Succession no more equals progress than correlation equals cause and effect, and the lesson Adams draws from the vision of Rome with its layers of bloody past and present is this: “No law of progress applies to it.” He goes on to say that “not even time-sequences” apply! Moreover, the immorality of Roman history “was going to be America.” This is a strong statement!

Before his two years of desultory study in Germany and his time as a tourist in Italy, Adams had seen enough ot his own nation’s capital to have any illusions of grandeur shattered. Friendship, he had learned there, went under the threshing bar when a political was at stake. Taking this lesson to Europe with him, it is no wonder he reads into the American future the downfall of the glory that was Rome, and that interpretation of the march of history clearly refuted any idea of moral progress.
The great word Evolution had not yet, in 1860, made a new religion of history, but the old religion had preached the same doctrine for a thousand years without finding in the entire history of Rome anything but flat contradiction.
Somewhere Adams reflects that in the nineteenth century every civilized person was either a banker or an anarchist. (I can’t find the page for this citation.) Presumably he was thinking that “bankers” were prepared to take advantage of the great disorders of society, while “anarchists” wanted to do away with corruption and start all over again.

If Evolution was the “great word” of the nineteenth century, it is hardly surprising that someone writing of that period would dwell on the idea. The coincidence is only that I picked up McCullough, Barzun, and Adams in such rapid succession, with no historical reading plan in mind, as somehow the 1800s and their burning scientific and social question would not leave me alone. I cannot say the same of the Barlow anthology. No, that book I opened deliberately, intentionally pursuing Steve’s question. 

But now, could evolution be a similar mix of chance (75%) and intention (25%)? Could the course of my reading (I won’t call it progress) be an example of microevolution, mirroring the Big Picture? Who is ready to see more than coincidence in the recurring and interwoven strains of my unplanned reading?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dogs Take the Lead; Art Follows

Weekend posters
I know what you want. You won't take less, and you won't take anything else. You want the dog parade! But there was so much more going on, as these posters evidence--art and wine and more art and more wine.

But dogs. Okay. Dogs come first, as usual. And the weather was perfect!!!

Leg the parade begin!
Here they come, August of 2012, sponsored this year by the Northport-Omena Chamber of Commerce, with proceeds going to Black Sheep Crossing, a no-kill animal rescue farm. Cherry Scott and dog handler below with rescued Great Pyrenees represent the local nonprofit.

Guard breed represents "sheep crossing"

Here's the Chamber float with Cherryland guest aboard

Colorful canine and human walkers
There were dogs of all sizes, some experienced parade walkers and many enthusiastic newbies. The nautical theme, "Old Un-Salty Dog," inspired many. Moby-Dick below was hard to handle in the stiff breeze, but take it from me, he was brilliant.

Moby-Dick in the wind
Border collie rescue! Look at them! Wouldn't you rescue those darlings, too?

Border Collie Rescue
Then look! Here comes Bruce Balas, carrying one end of the Omena Mayor and Council banner!

He's wearing a Dog Ears Books shirt!!!
Mary and Nike
Dogs large, dogs small, dogs with and without hats, with and without bandanas, in floats, in arms, and on their own four paws.

Many more parade participants....

What's a parade without a band?

Friends of Library with Clifford (the big red dog) and Stanley Steamer
A sailor from the Northport Navy...

...and close on his heels, a pirate in arms!

Here were MORE pirates!
Antique fire engine followed by amphicar told us
the parade was almost over for another year

There it goes--and it was a great one!
Yes, another dog parade here and gone, but the day was not done. The wine festival was going on down by the harbor, with live music, and Waukazoo Street had live music of its own, thanks to Motovino adding to the ambience of our downtown neighborhood.

Musicians play jazz on Waukazoo Street
We were not just kicking back and resting on our laurels at 106, either. With two galleries in our building, we greeted the public from 5-8 p.m., with three live artists (as I like to call them) on hand. 

Which artist snagged the best parking spot?
It was almost 9 o'clock before we locked up for the night, but all in all I have to say it was a definite sweetpea of a day. One for the memory books, and all of it captured by my trusty old camera.

Wild sweetpeas for my friend in New South Wales

Friday, August 10, 2012

Too Many Topics, Way Too Little Time

Sarah! Wake up! It's August!
Am I ready for EVERYTHING to happen? Because that’s what Saturday will bring, with the first-ever “Northport Loop” Wine Festival in town from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., representing wineries from M-204 north; the wildly popular annual Dog Parade at 1 p.m., with this year’s nod to our new marina facilities in its theme, “Old Un-Salty Dog”; and finally, a Gallery Walk through Northport from 5 to 8 p.m., all galleries owned and run by the artists themselves--with, in a couple of cases, a little help from their friends.

Dog owners from Omena kept coming by the bookstore on Thursday to register for the parade, including the new “Mayor” of Omena. What? You didn’t see the results of that election-for-sale that runs animals as candidates at a dollar a vote to raise money for the Omena Historical Society? The Mayor will be in the parade in Northport on Saturday, along with many other local and visiting dogs. Today—Friday—is the last day to preregister at the bargain price of $5/dog. Proceeds this year go to Black Sheep Crossing, a local nonprofit animal rescue operation. Good cause! Those who miss early registration can sign up to be eligible for prizes on the day of the parade, Saturday, for $10/dog. And by the way, the dog parade this year is being sponsored by the Northport-Omena Chamber of Commerce, under the hard-working direction of Jamie Covert of the Northport Bay Dog and Cat Company. Jamie, you deserve a medal! Good work, girl!

The Gallery Walk is definitely a not-to-miss event. David and I will be at 106 Waukazoo, along with Woodruff Palmer, we three representing and welcoming the public to the Painted Horse Gallery and the David Grath Gallery, open until 8 p.m. that evening. Because Dog Ears Books is situated between the two galleries, and because all three businesses share one entry, the bookstore will be open, too. That’s gravy. It’s the art that’s being showcased. Artists Edie Joppich on Bay Street and Pier Wright on Mill Street will be in their galleries for the evening, semi-retired artist Gene Rantz will have his home gallery open for the only evening this summer. Be sure not to miss the new gallery in the old Depot down by the marina parking lot, where the work of many fine artists and craftspeople is on display in a unique and charming local setting.

Well, so here’s the other thing. I’ve been trying out a new camera, hoping to get used to it and fall in love, but I’m sorry to say there’s no spark. Everything about it is slow. The optical zoom is jerky. The close-up focus is uncooperative. Altogether it has been a very disappointing and unsatisfying experience, and hence—besides the “not enough time” factor--the absence of new photos on this blog.

Then there’s that question Steve raised about intention and evolution, which I’ve been reading up on in my nonexistent spare time. “Spare” as in “stolen.” It’s strange and exciting when books related to a current topic of interest just seem to fall into one’s hands. That is the serendipity of books, nothing at all like doing an online search. But more of this another time.

It's a busy time. That's okay. Soon enough it will be winter again. Remember winter? I do!

Winter on Waukazoo Street

Monday, August 6, 2012

Please Forgive a Brief Digression into Philosophy

A friend asked the other day if I could give him a definition of ‘intention.’ Definitions are not my strong point. I generally use words correctly (let me know if you find errors in this post, please!), but I’m not quick at defining and sometimes downright resistant to it. But let me not get sidetracked into speculating on reasons why this may be. Digressing from a digression can be the beginning of an infinite something-or-other.

Here’s what I came up with for Steve, and let’s see what he thinks of it:

Intention: (1) a being’s purpose in acting; (2) the will directed in action toward some end

Acute critics will be one step ahead of me already at this point. They will know that many modern philosophers have asked if intention (or will, for that matter) can be said to exist at all prior to or apart from action, and many of them have answered the question in the negative, while others (does the name Wittgenstein leap to mind?) are content to hedge their bets, turning the question around and asking, “Where is it? Can you point it out?”

Philosophers, psychologists, and others skeptical of intention and will also express skepticism about consciousness in general. Thoughts? Beliefs? Nothing but relics of old, irrational beliefs, they say. There is no “ghost in the machine,” and we are only “meat machines,” in their view. There are no minds, they say, only meaty brains. It is strange that anyone denying the reality of thought would bother to give arguments to try to change others’ minds, but consistency has always been more a feature of formal systems than of human behavior.

To say that we can judge another’s thoughts, beliefs, and intentions only by their actions (words possibly counted as actions, depending on the particular opponent) is hardly a refutation of thought, belief or intention. It is merely another illustration of one more aspect of reality where we must, if we are to make judgments at all, judge on incomplete evidence. Can anyone give a single example of a situation for which we have complete evidence? The problem is not with reality or with our beliefs but with the requirements of epistemological justification we have set up.

So here I go, out on a limb, with my own position on intention:

(1)       Intention may precede action but does not necessarily always do so. When a situation permits only a split-second response, intention and action are two sides of the same coin, flipped with the speed of lightning.

(2)       An agent may be unconscious of or mistaken about his or her intention(s). This was the position of Kant, who, while he argued that the only thing good in itself was the good will, also believed that only God could read the secrets of the heart and know an individual’s true motive.

(3)       An agent may form an intention upon which, for any of a number of reasons, he or she does not act. An example should suffice to make my meaning clear: A cat crouches, preparing to spring, eyes fixed on a ground-feeding bird. The bird flies away. The cat relaxes. Who would doubt what the cat “meant to do” and what it hoped to accomplish in the doing?

Okay, that’s it. Now what’s your take?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Burger Shack Story #9 (Next to Last)

[This is the next-to-last of my ten-story cycle. To read any of the previous eight you may have missed, look under "Pages" in the right-hand column for "Burger Shack Story Cycle."]

For the Sake of the Children©

My wife is a person with so much love in her that it just spills out on whoever’s around, whether she knows ‘em or not. You ask me to describe her, and that’s the most important thing you got to know. Another thing. When she makes up her mind, you don’t want to get in her way. You won’t stop her, and you’ll only give yourself grief.

Me, I have a hard time making decisions. Seems as soon as I think my mind is made up, some little gnat of a doubt starts buzzing around my head, and I have to look at the whole situation all over again. Maybe Cheryl, my wife, does that, too, in the privacy of her own mind, but you’d never know it to look at her, and I’ve been watchin’ her, close, for near thirty years.  From what I see, she takes stock, sorts things, makes her move, and never looks back. She’s always satisfied, too, with how she acted, however things turn out. Don’t you think that shows strength of character? I’ve never heard her say she wished she hadn’t done something. It’s only other people getting in the way that sometimes skews events in the wrong direction, despite her best plans, but as long as no one else interferes or messes up she’s never disappointed.

Trouble is, interference can come from anywhere, including from the Lord Himself, who from what my wife says does not always see the little telling details of human lives on earth and so occasionally muddles up what should be clear and straightforward. I don’t think she got that idea in church, but once she realized it was true she never doubted it for a minute. That’s my wife.

Take when we met. I knew right off that Cheryl was determined to be married by June to come, and I saw no reason to put up a fight. Hell, she was a prize! --I mean, heck, not hell. You know what I mean. I don’t tell stories as good as Cheryl, but since you asked I’m trying. We met in September, senior year of high school, and she was a new girl that year, too, but she announced our engagement to our families in Thanksgiving, and all between then and June she was so busy planning the wedding it’s a wonder she graduated from high school, but she did that, too, because Cheryl’s got the energy of five normal women, for sure, and always did. She planned the whole shebang! All her mother had to do was follow orders while her daddy wrote the checks. I kept up with school and worked a part-time job and managed to arrange to go full-time after our honeymoon, and that was about all I had to do myself. Cheryl planned everything else and told me what I had to do— how many groomsmen I needed (four), who they should be, where to rent the tuxedos, how much to hand the minister after the ceremony, what to pack for our honeymoon, and about anything else you could think of. It’s a good thing women take care of that kind of thing. Some brides’ mothers do it, but Cheryl’s never could have done the job that she did herself. She thought of everything.
Here’s an example. It could’ve been a very embarrassing circumstance. Cheryl’s maid of honor, a good friend at the time, a girl named Cindy, well, it turned out she was pregnant, and if Cheryl hadn’t found out and made a substitution there would have been an unmarried witness up there at the altar, showing six months, at least. “And that would’ve reflected on me,” Cheryl told me as she explained the change. The look on her face told me she’d been shocked but was satisfied she’d taken care of the business. Us? Oh, she and I fooled around a little before our wedding, but Cheryl always drew the line where it needed to be drawn. I would’ve slipped over if she hadn’t been firm in her mind.

I guess you’d have to say we’ve had a traditional marriage. Isn’t that what it’s called nowadays, with so many different kinds being had? I went out and made the money, and my wife stayed home and took care of the house and kids. She found the right friends for us and the kids, bought all our clothes, shopped and cooked and cleaned and planned our summer vacations and let me know when things needed fixing or to be replaced or bought new, like when it was time to get a new furnace and put in central air conditioning. I always said, she made all the little decisions and left the big ones to me, like who I should vote for for president of the United States! Things went pretty smooth for us for years.

Then Jenny, our oldest, she got to be a bit of a problem. The way I see it, she was too much like her mother in some ways and too different in others. That is, she wanted to do everything her way, but her way was not her mother’s, and that caused friction.

“It’s just her age,” I told Cheryl when Jenny got her ears pierced, without permission, at the age of twelve. Lots of girls Jenny’s age at her school had pierced ears, and I tried to get Cheryl soothed down, for Jenny’s sake, but what happened in other people’s families had nothing to do with her own, as far as Cheryl was concerned. She’d have been even madder if she’d known the whole story, that Jenny had come to me to ask for permission! That was Jenny, smarter than a squirrel! She knew her mother would say no but hoped she could get around her Pops, twining little strands of hair around my ear through her fingers and giving that impish grin of hers.

“You know you need to ask your mama,” I told her, wishing I could give her everything she wanted.

“Daddy, you’re the man of the house! You can say yes!”

She was long-legged as a spring colt, our oldest child, growing up. I couldn’t look at her without smiling, but I knew my place, too. “I can’t make decisions about girls, sweetie. That’s your mama’s business. You go ask her.”

Jenny pouted and flounced and fired one last shot from the door on her way out. “What is your business, anyway? What do you ever make decisions about in this family?”

It was a mean thing to say, but I didn’t hold it against her because she was upset. I never dreamed she would go ahead without permission. That’s what she did, though, and that my wife hit the ceiling and ordered the earrings removed and finally pulled them out herself. She loved Jenny too much, you see, to let her take a first step down the road of disobedience, a road that could only end up at a very bad place. Poor Jenny! What’s for your own good can sometimes hurt pretty bad. She was hurt and angry, and my heart ached for her, but what could I do?

“Weren’t you a little hard on her?” I asked Cheryl that night. As usual, I had a hard time seeing Jenny as 100% wrong and Cheryl as 100% right. Not that it was my business to tell Cheryl how to raise our daughter and not that she wanted my opinion, either, but I couldn’t help turning the whole thing over and over in my head and seeing it from different angles.

“Absolutely not! Don’t you think I know girls? First it’s pierced ears, then it’s a tattoo, and pretty soon she’s staying out all night and dropping out of school to have a baby!” She chuckled ruefully. “A little late for you to take over my job, isn’t it?”

She had a point there, my wife. I had to trust that she knew what she was doing. God knows she loved our kids like a mama lion loves her cubs!

Well, that was a long time ago. And now we’re a long way from home, but it’s all connected. Say, look at her there, my wife, talking to that girl at the counter. She doesn’t look forty-six years old, does she? More like thirty-six, I’d say. Doesn’t she have just the greatest smile? And her laugh. You’re sure to hear it in a minute if you wait and listen. It’s no little halfway, can’t-decide laugh! When she laughs, she means it!

You know, it’s a little confusing sometimes living on the road. This place, for instance. Rocket’s Burger Shack. We had one back home, not far from our house. Looked just like this one. That kind of thing can be confusing. Then there’s sleeping in the motor home. Some mornings I wake up and kind of panic a little, wondering why the alarm hasn’t gone off and thinking I’m late for work, and I open my eyes and don’t know right away where I am. Then the pieces come back together, and I remember that the kids are grown up and gone and I’m retired and it’s just Cheryl and me, on the road. When I look at her, everything seems all right again. Even if she’s still sleeping, I can look at her and know she’s in charge and that everything will work out.

I know a lot of retired couples in motor homes just wander about willy-nilly all over the continent, but that’s not us. And we’re not working down a checklist of national parks, either. No, my wife’s had a different plan all along. She just didn’t tell it all to me when we set out. She lets me know it piece by piece, instead, stage by stage. Yes, every morning I get what I call my “marching orders.” That’s one of our little jokes.

At first I had no idea whatsoever what any of this travel was about, but now I’m pretty sure it has to do with Jenny. Well, you see, we know where the others are--Eric overseas is a career Marine, and Monica, his baby sister, lives in Hawaii. She works in a big hotel there. Here are their pictures, see? Aren’t they beautiful human beings? And they’re doing well in the world. Cheryl did a great job, didn’t she? It’s just that, well, they’re so far off we don’t get together the way we’d all like. Plus, neither of these two is married, so, no grandkids there.

Well, I’d have to back up a ways to tell you, but I see Cheryl is deep in talk over there at the counter. That’s the way she is, you know. If she was shipwrecked on a deserted island, she’d make people appear and she’d be friends with them in ten minutes’ time! It’s all that love in her, overflowing into the world.

Okay, well, back to the ear-piercing then. It must have been hard for Jenny to go to school the next day without the earrings, just little, bloody, torn holes in her ears. Girls that age, my wife says, can be terribly cruel to one another, so she probably got made fun of, but we really don’t know. All we know is, after that was like a downhill slide. And it was exactly the way my wife had said it would be, which proves that she was right all along, don’t you think? Jenny got her first tattoo when she was only fourteen! We didn’t even know about it for months, not until bathing suit season, and by then had two more! She stopped doing homework completely. Then, age sixteen she sneaked out of the house—her mother’d grounded her for bad grades--and went “joy-riding” with friends in a “borrowed” car. Across the state line! It was two days later we got the call and drove over to the police station, and she was in a cell, like a criminal. The worst part was, she didn’t even seem upset. She acted like she didn’t care what had happened or what might happen next. I really couldn’t understand it, and I still don’t. It was like our child had disappeared and a stranger had taken her place, someone we couldn’t reach at all.

That incident, as wel called it, got arranged—Cheryl made the arrangements, of course—and Jenny didn’t have to go to a juvenile home. “This time!” the judge said sternly. Jenny didn’t even get charged along with the others for stealing the car. Instead she was treated as a kidnapping victim. “Naturally,” Cheryl explained. “She didn’t drive herself across the state line, did she?”

My wife hoped two nights in jail would’ve taught Jenny a lesson. She had Jenny’s bedroom door and window locked from the outside. But it turned out it was too late. Jenny was already pregnant two months before the joy-riding. When we found that out, we weren’t surprised when she got out of her room somehow and disappeared again. I even thought her brother might have helped her escape, though I didn’t mention that to Cheryl, of course.

Cheryl was a rock. “No, we’re not going to the police. She’ll come running back when she needs us,” my wife said. ‘We have two other children to raise.”

I couldn’t help remembering Cindy, the rejected bridesmaid, and wondering if my wife thought Jenny’s pregnancy would reflect badly on our family, but I think she just knew there was no holding Jenny at home any more, however much love was poured on her, and I’m sure my wife had a lot of private sorrow she never expressed. She’s not one for regrets, but she always loved her kids.

So we went on like nothing had happened. We went on with the two we had left, Eric and Monica, until they made their way out into the world, and then my wife was home alone. She didn’t much care for that, so she figured out how I could take early retirement with partial disability, and here we are. “No point staying home to rattle around in an empty house,” she says. Once I asked her what the point is rattling around in a motor home, here today, gone tomorrow, but she only smiled and said, “You’ll see.” It’s been a while, but I figure I’ll see pretty soon.

Yep, pretty soon, I think, because we’ve been here a few days and even had breakfast at this same Burger Shack three days in a row, which is not how the trip was going up to now. Seems to me my wife is watching school buses, too. She won’t say, but that’s how it seems to me. One time she said she guessed that Jenny must be “no kind of mother at all, living in a trailer and covered with tattoos.” She said, “Those kids deserve a real family life, if not with a mother, with loving grandparents,” but then she clammed up and wouldn’t say another word, wouldn’t answer a single question. That’s when I figured she must have in mind finding Jenny and her kids, since those are the only grandkids we have, though we’ve never set eyes on them. Now I figure the reason we’re here must that Jenny’s somewhere close by.

That make sense to you? It would if you knew my wife and how much love she has to give. I think she just can’t stand not being able to give her love to those little kids, her own flesh and blood.

Here’s another clue, a big one. The other day she forgot to lock one of the little cupboards in the motor home, one she says is none of my business, and I got a peek inside while she was in the grocery store. Kids’ clothes, that’s what’s in there. Brand-new kids’ clothes, size 6 boy and size 8 girl. I don’t know how she would even know Jenny has a boy and girl, let alone how big they are, but my wife has a way of finding out things. You see how she talks to people. She talks to everyone, everywhere we go. It’s part of her friendliness, her loving nature, but she finds out things, too. A person has to know things to make decisions and plans, right?

Next? I have no idea! When there’s something I need to know, my wife will tell me. She’s the captain!

Most men wouldn’t care to have their wife in charge, but I don’t mind. She’s smart, and she’s got a good heart. Besides, she’s a take-charge kind of person. And whatever she does is for the best of all concerned. That’s what really counts. It might not look like it at the time, especially to anyone who gets in the way, but Cheryl figures out what’s best for everyone and goes ahead to make it happen.