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Archive for June, 2010

The Ocean in 3D

Schools of Fish in the Ocean near Puerto Vallarta

Today I took my grandsons, ages 7 and 5, to see  Dolphins and Whales at the I Max in 3 D at the Museum of Health and Science. I thought it would be interesting for all of us. And it was. But  troubling. Daryl Hannah narrated the movie in a calm reasuring voice, but her words were filled with trepidation.

As she referred to each genus in the order CETACEA , she gave statistics regarding their diminishing numbers; her closure to each segment reminded us of the dangers each mammal faced. Pollution affects their food–other fish or algea as the case may be–and if their food is polluted, they get sick, just like we do. We watched in amazment as a Fin Whale swallowed a whole school of fish in one gulp. We were moved to learn that the Humpback  nurtured and nursed her young for one whole year. And that the Manatee is the friendliest whale of all.

But we also came to realize how precarious their lives are. Their various mating habits, calving, even nursing take place in specific water temperatures and as the polar ice caps melt, the waters’ increase in temperature adversely affects propagation of some genuses.

The beauty of this film is indescribable: the clear oceans, the dance of the fish in their tribes, the feeding, the mating, the fighting, the playfulness, all captured in a 3D ballet. When I looked around the auditorium, I saw a secondary ballet of hands dancing toward the images. My 5 year old grandson said: “You reach out to touch them and it’s just air.”

“Yes,” I said, “Like ghosts.” The 7 year old reached out his hand to touch a dolphin tail swishing in front of his face.  Both boys giggled–at the “ghost” like images before them, the bubbles, the songs, the chirping of some, the low moaning horn of another, the high pitched squeals and long low bellows.

And I sense that every adult in that theater layered discomfort onto their facscination. How much longer would these species of mammals survive? How long before they are indeed just ghosts, extinct as the dinosaurs in the next room. Silent as the fossilized fish captured in rock in the gift shops.

I left with a heavy heart: when the film was made, the oil had not spilled yet–well of course it has over and over in small amounts. But the ghastly disaster we see on TV each night, read about in papers, magazines, e-news sites, blogs had not occurred. How many of these whales and dolphins are already ghosts–brown-covered, sludge-drowned corpses. How long will their spirits haunt us?

With  growing alarm I exit the theater, Daryl Hanna’s opening words echoing in my brain: we depend on the eco system of the ocean for our own quality of life; we cannot live without the life held therein; I try to recall her exact statistics on how many left of each species featured in the film–how many increasingly diminished as we watched?

COMMENTS WELCOME: What films have you seen lately that impressed you regarding the crises we face as human beings living in a turbulent world? What do you see as the ethical way to be heard as individuals concerned with the assaut of humans on our planet.  What kinds of world events frighten you the most?

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Oil Spill

Peaceful and Pure

My son Earl said: “The world is on fire” when the financial world imploded. 

I wonder if the whole universe is on fire now; I wonder if the universe is rebelling–against humanity’s irresponsibility. Earthquakes, tornados, multiple hurricanes predicted in the next few months. Is the universe responding not only to our misuse, our waste, of its natural resources, but also to our unethical behavior regarding business, politics, war, education, finance, insurance.

Is this Armageddon? The Apocalypse?  I hear T.S. Eliot decrying in The Wasteland:

“. . . A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,/And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief/And the dry stone no sound of water . .”

 Does our earth reflect the broken ethics of humankind?  Birds and fish covered in oil, white beaches dotted with tar? A blight on our character? Our conscience?

I am not religious, though perhaps spiritual. Will the universe respond to vigils some  groups advocate?  Are they asking for a way to help us heal this massive oil spill? Or a way to improve human nature and teach us to take fewer risks with our resources and with one another.  To value life—all life—animal, vegetable, mineral.

What are the connections between corporate and political dishonesty and ruthlessness? In finance, politics, war, the food industry, insurance industry, education? Our world seems to be imploding as we witness human behavior in a massive degenerative cataclysm.

How do we overcome this feeling of hopelessness, helplessness? By organizing group vigils? Political inquiries? Seventies-type marches again on DC? From where do we draw the faith and courage to believe we can have any impact on all this? 

I have no answers; only questions.

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Awesome Weight Loss Package

How does a person transform oneself from a professor of literature and writing to a weight and wellness counselor? Reinventing myself is my middle name. I started out after high school entering a dental hygiene program and practiced that art/science for about 10 years. Went back to college for a bachelors and found a new self in the humanities. I spent many years working at the university and continuing my studies through graduate school and ultimately a full time professorship, with tenure.

It’s amazing how many life skills translate from one field to another. Since one of my specialty disciplines is women’s studies, and since I’d at one time run a crisis intervention program for women, working in my husband’s OB/Gyn practice seemed natural and even comfortable. All I had to do was learn about nutritional supplements and weight management. 

We attended several bariatric and obesity conferences together to educate ourselves in this field and frankly, WIN (Wellness International Network) did the rest. I should say does the rest, as we regularly attend training sessions and continue to learn about the powerful results in health and well being these products provide.

Our weight and wellness patients thrive and we offer friends, patients and colleagues an awesome business opportunity, complete with frequent trainings both here in our office and in various hubs — which offer many opportunities to travel, work and have fun with interesting, intelligent and healthy happy people. That’s probably the best part of all.

In future blogs, I’ll share some of our “secrets” regarding product combinations for optimal results, testimonials, and beautiful acedotal stories. Stay tuned, and please, ask me anything you want to know. I love to read your comments.

Distributor for WIN

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Beautiful Memory

I wrote the following comment to Karleen Koen’s April blog post on purses. I’m going to try to reblog her post, but meanwhile my comment belongs as a post to my blog, along with a picture of the purse I highlight here:

From April:

Mama's Purse from the 1950s

Aunt Esther Levy could make anything—she could knit and crochet, she could sew, and cook, and grow strawberries in her yard. She could needle point, and embroider. She made the most awesome popsicles on earth—with Kool-Aid and Seven Up.

Back in the fifties, she went to NYC and she came back with some purse forms and beads for knitting and she began making the most extraordinary beaded bags. She made them for friends and relatives—they paid for the materials—and she also made them to sell among her “fans” in the Nacogdoches, Texas community where she lived and ran a domestic arts store out of her home. She gave lessons, sold the materials to her students, and sold hand made items to customers. Eventually Stephen F. Austin invited her to teach a domestic arts class for them.

My mother, who didn’t have a materialistic bone in her body, was dying for one of these fabulous hand-made beaded bags, and my Grandma Pepper, her mother-in-law through my then late father—wanted to learn how to make the bags herself and agreed to make one for my mother. Grandma Pepper could make things of beauty too—Aunt Esther ordered the materials and instructed my grandmother and voila: the bag you see here in this picture is the very bag she made my mother back in the fifties.

I cherish this little bronze/copper gem and I have all my life. My mother actually gave it to me long ago, probably in the 80s as she grew older because she knew I’d get more use of it than she did.

In 2005, when I first moved to Houston, my brother Phil came to visit. Phil once played professional baseball and with me the only girl among five boys, he paid little attention to me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until he got cancer around seven years ago and began coming into town to stay in my home during treatments that we became close siblings. In fact, that we became siblings at all.

During one of those visits, Phil organized his medical visit to coordinate with a family wedding, to which I wore Mom’s beaded purse. “Wow,” Phil said. “I remember that purse—Mom loved that thing.”

He got all teary eyed. And no wonder: this purse inspired by the love and art of one woman, and created by the love and talent of another, flooded both of us with memories of joy. And beauty. It remains an heirloom of my mother, Frances Levy Kalman Rose, a legacy of my Aunt Esther and my Grandma Pepper, a tribute to their creative spirit, and a remnant of a past that survives the flesh it commemorates.

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Creativity often requires self-sabotage. For example, by calling my blog “Writing Into Fragments,” I convince myself that I can get back to writing longer, more difficult works by sliding back into the creative mode through writing fragments about writing.

And yet, these fragments so far haven’t been so much about writing as about defragmenting myself,  allowing for some difficult issues regarding family to surface, and creating a space to celebrate my move back to my home town of Houston along with renewal of old friends and estranged family.

Writing used to be second nature for me: I decided to return to college for a bachelor’s degree sometime in the mid-seventies; I began writing fiction when my dear friend Peggy Brown coerced me into taking a summer fiction workshop with the new writing professor Ronald Tobias at UTD, in 1981 (I think).

By the time I wrote my dissertation in the mid-nineties, I was a seasoned writer with a nice publication list (under a former married name) and a habit of living in bookstores and libraries in and all around the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton metroplex. My life was circumscribed by intellectual pursuit–entertainment was hanging out with others like me, attending mostly women’s studies conferences, publishing in obscure book review journals and other forums read by other literati. In addition, I published two books, which I’m trying to link to this blog as a professional statement. This segment of my life represents my kind of fun, then.

My life has changed so drastically it would take two novels and a couple of memoirs to capture the differences. And while my writing life was fuller back then, my private life lacked passion, security, and shall we say flavor. I lived a narrow life. I prefer this broader more eclectic present shared with a loving partner and surrounded by family and friends from a wide variety of careers and backgrounds.

And yet, I must now embrace the former me as well: the me that writes. As I creep back into my old ways, I find I must play games with myself, find ways to entice the creative juices to bubble forth. I have begun writing plays–first  LUNCH a long family dramedy with a niece, Leslie Rice Hart, that ultimately introduced me to a wide and committed community of playwrights here in Houston. Since that first play, which enjoyed two public readings, I’ve written about five short plays for local festivals, two of which have been produced so far. The lastes short play, THE THIRD DATE, written with my life-long friend Dottie Simon Unger, is entered in this year’s 10×10 competition–and we find out tomorrow night if it will be produced this year. It’s all been a lot of fun. (It wasn’t but still had fun. Will search for other 10 minute play festivals.)

Now I’m ready to plunge into another full length play, and play with the idea of getting my long dissertation–a comprehensive biography of my spiritual guide, Claire Myers Owens (1896-1983) published. It’s been close to publication twice. Perhaps a third foray into the painful process will bring it to print and for me to closure.

I’m now noticing, however, the game I play with blog categories. In addition to writing, I’ve identied one called “Wellness and Weight”–a forum I intend to use as a means of clarifying my transformation from professor of Literature, Creative Writing, and Women’s Studies to counselor of Wellness and Weight Mangement in my husband’s medical practice. How are the two careers related? What are the crossovers? And more importantly, how can I express my true belief that wellness is the only way to manage health and weight, and that the WIN supplements we use are the best alternative to prescriptions for creating and maintaining a healthy life style. Preachy? Is it preachier (or any less important) than understanding the historical truths of suffrage, or the mind elevating devices of reading Faulkner or Anais Nin (among many others)?

And the third category I recently added–“Things of Beauty”–intends to express in writing the aesthetic sensibility I find in nature and art and the ways they too are linked to creativity.

Am I jostling those creative juices? Or feeding my ego, gratuitiously? Or hoping to carve out a time for myself in this new busy life I have recently created? You tell me.

Comments Invited: How do you nurture your creative soul? How do you distinguish gratuituous ego from self-determination? How do you reinvent yourself periodically? What life-determining choices influnce your day-to-day routine?

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Mother Fragments

This whole blog could be about my mother.  But then I wouldn’t be writing fragments; I’d be writing consistently about my mother.

There is so much to say–but I had a memory yesterday that truly is a fragment and part of a much longer story.

My mother died on June 29, seven years ago. I’d just reunited with my high school sweetheart, Bobby Friedman, and we were on the last day of our first summer vacation together the day she died. We’d made an extended car trip, starting in Fort Worth where I was Professor of English at Tarrant CountyCollege and driving together north to Mount Rushmore, then to Yellowstone where after two nights in their lodges, we drove through the Tetons to Jackson Hole and flew to Seattle–then took a ferry to Victoria, BC– Canada and after four or five glorious days, rented a car and drove to Vancouver. 

Okay, so it was a dream trip–after a lifetime of mssing one another, we reunited and celebrated on our “reunion trip.”  Bobby had bought a new red Solara convertible for the first few segments of our adventure and we planned to pick it back up in Wyoming and drive back to Texas together.

It would seem my mother had other ideas. She always had: she had broken us up all those years ago, the summer after my senior year. Heartbroken, I believed my true love believed me when I told him the break up was my mother’s requirement. I’d fought her for years! After all, we were both Jewish, he was pre-med, and I planned to become a Dental Hygienist, a two year program that would allow us to get married and me to earn a nice salary while he finished his training.  At 17 and 19, we had a life plan, realistic goals, and a smooth, happy, loving relationship.

But Bobby, shocked and hurt, didn’t believe my mother had insisted we break up, he thought I wanted out and used her as an excuse; he went off to medical school as broken hearted as I was when I started my dental hygiene program; he married another the following year; I married another five years later. Nothing was ever right again for either of us, but neither of us knew that other one suffered. Not for over forty years.

Anyone who hears this part of our story asks: why did your mother break you up? The answers, if I ever have them, will come only after extensive writing and searching–something I’ve spent my life doing already.

For this entry, however, I must go to my mother’s funeral and the days that followed. Bobby drove home, alone, from Jackson Hole, where we’d left his car, to Houston; I flew to Harrisburg, PA where my mother and step-father had spent their final years near their youngest son Joe.

All the other brothers were already gathered by the time I arrived. My two married children met me there–Earl and Pepi, with her seven month old baby Miles, whom my mother never got to see.  Pepi had planned to bring him there to meet his great grandmother the following week; she would have been semi conscious by then anyway, but at least they would have “met” in this lifetime.

I managed to put together an outfit appropiate for a funeral, “borrowed” a lovely scarf I’d brought my mother from a trip to Italy the previous summer, and drove to the funeral home.

The last time I saw Frances Alene Levy Kalman Rose was in her coffin, the first dead  person I’d ever seen up close. I told my sister-in- law Jill–she looks alive. Jill assured me she wasn’t. I said: “I feel like she’s going to sit up and start talking any second.” Jill shook her head. “Touch her forehead,” she told me. I did. It was, of course, stone cold.  I shed no tears, not then, not at the funeral or the graveside service that followed.

I’m not sure how many of the siblings spoke. I just remember one part of my eulogy: “She always wanted what was best for us. And she always seemed to know exactly what that was.”

I was shocked when the audience laughed.

Such a loaded comment–especially having just returned from the reunion trip with Bobby. And yet, I had not realized the underlying meaning of my words, though people who knew nothing of my story, discerned the irony.

The following week my daughter and I spent cleaning out the townhouse, shipping boxes to siblings of memorabilia they couldn’t take home themselves, shipping some things to ourselves. There wasn’t much stuff, but enough to take some thought and planning.  We had to hang out in Pennsylvania that week anyway; Pepi was due to be in a wedding in Philadelphia over the 4th of July, and I had promised to play “nanny” while she and her husband James attended the various events.

 We rented a van and drove on the turnpike, met James at the airport and continued to the hotel.

Two things happened that belong in this post. First, on the day of the wedding, there was a fire in the kitchen, and we all had to evacuate. Exciting? Sure. The bride appeared in jean shorts and her veil, trailed by her entourage of hairdressers and make up artists. Joe, Meriellyn, and Evan had met us there for the weekend and they helped care for little Miles during the evacuation.

Early that evening, while Pepi and James were at the wedding, I took Miles for a stroll around the nearby park–a square filled with walkers and other strollers. No sooner had we crossed the street and entered the square, a butterfly landed on the stroller. Lovely, I thought. I watched, expecting it to fly away with the first bump, but the butterfly remained firmly attached to the stroller, facing Miles. We circled the park several times; the butterfly held fast.

“Mama,” I said. “It’s you, isn’t it.” I felt my eyes tear for the first time. “You came to see Miles, didn’t you? He’s beautiful. Perfect.” The butterfly fluttered its wings, but held fast to the stroller until we went back to the hotel.

Comments Invited: Do you have mother memories you wish to share? Ironic moments? Serendipity? Synchronicities? Lost loves? Reunions?

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