Knowledge: Cause and Effect

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

04.25.2019

Easter 2019

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Five years ago   the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, Malala Yousafzai,  because she dared to follow her dream to learn.

 

In the Christian tradition the fortieth day after Easter is known as Ascension Day.  It is the day Christians celebrate as being the day of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could they believe that a man could be crucified, buried, walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms and he lived five centuries before the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church in the form of the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion and their beliefs can be understood.  These invasions unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  Yet, do we live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”

 

I fear the real truth is much simpler and in its simplicity, much more complicated to live.  We cannot spend time on this earth without affecting it.  We occupy space and the air we inhale and exhale affects our environment.  We all have a carbon footprint and that also affects the future.  How we gain in knowledge is really up to us.  That is the simple part.  The complications arise when we live or fail to live our beliefs.  We do make a difference by being on this planet and we will either leave it a better place or worsen it.  The future is the fruit of the seed of our actions today.  What will you decide to do?  How will your curiosity lead to greater knowledge?

 

 

Slip Through the Cracks… and Stop!

Slip Through the Cracks … and Stop

Day 40

Lent 2019

 

The note was short and written in a surprisingly strong hand.  “It is ironic that I have chosen this course of action.  I do so because I am tired of slipping through the cracks.  I offer suggestions that are never followed up.  I volunteer only to never get called.  I am, apparently, a profession al slipping through the cracks.  Emails go unanswered; phones never returned.  I thought I had something to offer.  I thought my life had value.  Apparently I was wrong.  And so, I am calling it quits.  The irony is that some will consider that choice to be “cracked”.  Perhaps that is fitting since it was caused by my slipping through the crack of life.”

 

I have written some posts in this series about the Beatitudes.  A well-known piece of scripture, the Beatitudes are about eight groups of people upon whom blessings will be given in the after-life.  One of the comforts of the Beatitudes for me is that they describe what we all experience in life – the good and the bad.  No one walks a smooth and straight path all the time.  We all encounter detours and bumps and yes, sometimes dead ends.  Marlon Wayans believes that “Success is not a destination but the road that you’re on.  Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day.” 

 

Henry David Thoreau sought peace and personal success in his own unusual walks of life.  “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

 

We cannot give control of our lives to others, even when we seem to be ignored, forgotten, or slip through the cracks.  As Gautama Buddha once said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”   More recently Jay Woodman said something similar: “The world is a wide place where we stumble like children learning to walk.”

 

We all stumble and at some point in time, feel like we have slipped through the cracks.  Maybe we have but anything that can slip though can also crawl or pull itself out.  When we forget that one basic fact, that even the negative things in life, the stumbles and falls we make on our path can offer us lessons, that is when we truly stop living.  Our life is a gift and we have much to learn and to offer.  If you feel you are being ignored or overlooked, make a turn and go down a more productive path.

 

Steve Maraboli offers this wisdom:   “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.” 

You are Good Enough

You are Good Enough

Lent 1 – 2019

Connections

 

For the past five years we have explored the connections we have with others.  We’ve woven stories, explored through literature, exchanged recipes, and traveled the world seeking sacred places and artifacts.  March is Women’s History Month, so designated because the history of women has often been ignored.  We need to address a common belief that women are – “not good enough”.

 

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
The spiritualist Rumi gave us our challenge.  However, I am not so concerned with you changing your views on women as I am about you finding value within yourself.  We are all uniquely made individuals and we all have value.  We each bring to the world special talents.  Yes, women generally are the ones who bear children but men also bring unique abilities.  Historically, though, men got all the attention.

 

In his book “Make the Most of You”, Patrick Lindsay quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”  Lindsay mentions that there are three actions we all can participate in:  leave everything better than how we found it; wear our scars proudly; unleash our own song.  In this series, I want you to plant thoughts that will help you blossom.  I want you to sing and sing your own individual song as it becomes harmonious with the rest of mankind.

 

Being an individual in this world is not easy.  One of my favorite philosophers of the twentieth century was not a philosopher at all.  She was an actress, the late and magnificently great Katharine Hepburn.  “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”

 

Colombian writer and reporter Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his book “Love in the Time of Cholera” explains what we must realize in order to grow a better version of ourselves.  We have to understand that “human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

 

Too many people go through life believing they are not good enough.  We will discuss this topic another time but for today, I hope the women reading this will know that they are good enough.  Their journey is valuable and their presence on the planet is a gift.  What they accomplish, though, is theirs to make happen.  Whether one works at home or on a global platform, is highly educated or has learned of living from life, we all have value.

 

The Beatitudes are eight blessings recounted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Each is a proverb-like proclamation, without narrative. Four of the blessings also appear in the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke, followed by four woes which mirror the blessings.  In a fourth century translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, each of the verses contained within what we call the “beatitudes” begins with the word “beati” which translates as happiness or blessed.  Many use this group of scriptures to decry religion since they address groups normally isolated or rejected.

 

The Beatitudes show us that everything is good in its own way.  The quiet have time to learn.  Those that grieve had something or someone of value they loved.  Those who seek righteousness will find it.  We all have value.  We all are good enough when we seek life in all its glory.  Religion is not about separating and judging.  It is, quite simply, about acceptance and embracing life – all of it, the good and the bad.

 

Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  We often look for the meaning of life and our purpose in exotic, extravagant, external environs.  We really should just look in the mirror.  None of us is perfect and none of us is a Supreme Being.  To honor your own uniqueness does not mean to equate yourself with being a deity or with being egotistical or selfish.  It does mean living according to your faith and celebrating life – the life within all of us.

 

You, like all of us, have much to offer and the world is waiting for it.  Turn your back on doubt today.  It serves no purpose.  Focus on the positive and let your self-worth be the seed you plant to day in growing a better you and a better world.  You are good enough to be the start of a better future for us all.

 

 

 

To Be a Mother of a Child

A Current Events Comment – A Child’s Mother

2018.12.13

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

A minority group is defined in the United States of America not by being out-numbered but by several characteristics that indicate inequality in their treatment.   The first such characteristic is actual unequal treatment.  This can be defended by statistical or empirical evidence.  For example, if a candidate from a minority group is not hired for a position in which a person of lower experience and education, then said minority applicant has been a victim of discrimination.  This might be discrimination based upon age, national origin, ethnicity, physical condition, gender, or professed or assumed sexual orientation.   Distinct physical or cultural traits can also be the source of inequitable treatment.  This might include the wearing of a headdress, eye shape, skin color, a beard, etc. 

 

Recent comments that payouts to former mistresses were simply “normal business transactions” demean and demote that humanity status of women.  When we devalue women, we devalue life itself.  Recently immigration has been an item of interest in the USA and currently continuance of the US Defense Dept.’s budget is at jeopardy pending the allotment of five million dollars to build a wall to prevent further immigration from the southern borders. 

 

Women make up just over half of the world’s population, but according to the Pew Research Center, they account for a slight minority of migrants worldwide. The situation is much more equal than it used to be: in 1984 women made up just 47.2 percent of global migrants, while in 2005 they were 49.6 percent. Among unauthorized migrants worldwide, the divide is more striking: in 2005, just 42 percent of unauthorized migrants were female, compared with 52 percent of legal migrants.  In the U.S., though, the trend tells the opposite story. In 1980, a clear majority of U.S. migrants were women (52.3 percent), but by 2005 that number had dropped to 50.2 percent.  U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not publish of the percentage of women among applicants for H-1B skilled worker visas but data indicates the gender imbalance among H-1B recipients skewed as much as 85 percent towards men.

 

Though women comprise 51 percent of America’s population, they have less than a fifth of the representation in Washington DC.  Those four-fifths of the representation in Washington must have forgotten how they got there, and I am not referring to those who voted them in office.  I am referring to their maternal parent.  The female body is not just for joking nor is it a commodity as the recent comment about pay-outs for improper sexual congress might suggest.  It is the only vessel through which humans are born.  In this age of test tube babies and IVF impregnation, the female body is still a vital incubation and host environment for the birth of each and every infant born on this planet.

 

In this time of Christmas, when many songs and prayers are offered to the Virgin Mary, I would suggest that respecting women would be a miracle.  Google “women jokes” or “rape jokes” and you will discover that many still think the female body to be an appropriate topic for inappropriate humor.  This is not how we respect someone or a gender.  Surely, to be respectful of the reason for the season, we need to be respectful of women.  This is one way we can show our gratitude and respect to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The respecting of any minority group is commanded by events of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.  Hopefully, this is a miracle we will strive to make reality every day.  Starting during this season would be a gift to the world and ourselves.

 

 

 

Judy Blume

Judy Blume

2018.08.30

Literature and Life

 

“For me, writing has its ups and downs. After I had written more than ten books I thought seriously about quitting. I felt I couldn’t take the loneliness anymore. I thought I would rather be anything than a writer. But I’ve finally come to appreciate the freedom of writing. I accept the fact that it’s hard and solitary work. And I worry about running out of ideas or repeating myself. So I’m always looking for new challenges.”  Judy Blume might just be the most honest writer in our world.  “When I was growing up, I dreamed about becoming a cowgirl, a detective, a spy, a great actress or a ballerina. Not a dentist, like my father, or a homemaker, like my mother— certainly not a writer, although I always loved to read. I didn’t know anything about writers. It never occurred to me they were regular people and that I could grow up to become one, even though I loved to make up stories inside my head.”

 

I remember once in college being asked my most favorite book, a question I have since been asked annually.  In college that day, I answered most honestly.  My answer was met with an uncomfortable silence and finally my instructor remarked he did not know that book.  He moved on to the next student but then later told me I needed to write a book report on my “unusual and unknown favorite book.”  I did so and turned it in the next day.  “Out of all of the vast volumes of literature in the world,” he sputtered, “you like a children’s book?”  That memory and his disdain is as real today and it was then so you can imagine my delight in learning my favorite book is also one of Judy Blume’s!  More on that book, later.

 

Judy Blume grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  She checked her favorite book “Madeline” by Ludwig Bemelmans out from the public library and “I loved it so much I hid it so my mother would not be able to return it to the library.  I thought it was the only copy in the world.”  I first read “Madeline” at the age of four and loved that the young girls were expected to convey themselves with adult etiquette and manners.  At a time when people were still somewhat speaking baby talk to me, this book gave me a sense of the possibility of maturity.  It is that very sense of honesty that Judy Blume is known for in her books.

 

When asked about influences our favorite writers, Blume responds:  “Libba Bray, Harper Lee, Stephen King,.. there’s tons.   Poet – Emily Dickenson, Edgar Allen Poe, or William Shakespeare, I guess. I don’t read much poetry. Does Jim Morrison count? I have a book of lyrics & poems by him. Singer – How about some bands?  Breaking Benjamin, The Doors, and hundreds more. But those are my top 2 at the moment. Book – Rebel Angels; Night; To Kill a Mockingbird… Those are my favorites right now. But that will probably change in a few days.”

 

Clearly Judy Blume was born a writer.    “I made up stories while I bounced a ball against the side of our house. I made up stories playing with paper dolls. And I made them up while I practiced the piano, by pretending to give piano lessons. I even kept a notebook with the names of my pretend students and how they were doing. I always had an active imagination. But I never wrote down any of my stories. And I never told anyone about them. … When I grew up, my need for story telling didn’t go away. So when my own two children started pre-school I began to write and I’ve been writing ever since! My characters live inside my head for a long time before I actually start to write a book about them. Then, they become so real to me I talk about them at the dinner table as if they are real. Some people consider this weird. But my family understands.”

 

Judy Blume has been the target of those who would censor books and critiqued for her open and honest discussion of life with her young adult readers.  She has successfully made the jump from writing for children to writing for adults with over ninety million books sold in over thirty-two languages.  She and her third husband live in Key West, Florida.  Blume is a two-time cancer survivor.

 

Her advice for writers is straightforward.  “The best books come from someplace deep inside. You don’t write because you want to, but because you have to. Become emotionally involved. If you don’t care about your characters, your readers won’t either.  Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being. If you’re that kind of writer, never give up! If you start a story and it isn’t going well, put it aside. (We’re not talking about school assignments here.) You can start as many as you like because you’re writing for yourself. With each story you’ll learn more. One day it will all come together for you, as it did for me with “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”   I’d published two books and several short stories before Margaret, but I hadn’t found my voice yet. I hadn’t written from deep inside. With Margaret I found my voice and my audience.”

 

“No one can teach you exactly how to write. Each person approaches creative writing differently. Every writer has his or her own method. I usually have a character or story idea inside my head for a long time (sometimes years) before I actually begin. I know where I’m starting and where I’m going but I never know what’s going to happen in the middle or if the ending will be what I imagined on the day I began to write. It’s the surprise that makes writing exciting for me. Other writers know everything before they begin. They make detailed outlines or have it all worked out in their heads before they put a word on paper. There is no right way or wrong way. There are a hundred different ways to tell the same story. Whatever works for you is okay.”

Debbie Jinks

Debbie Jinks

2018.08.19

Literature and Life

 

Perhaps it was a bit selfish, but during this month I saved Sundays for writing about my favorite authors or authors that I respect.  Respect is a really difficult concept to explain since it can encompass so many things.  I met today’s author online as she shared thoughts about writing and generously began a Facebook page for those who write.

 

Debbie Jinks is a writer from the United Kingdom who has been writing for approximately two years. She loves to sing, which she did as a profession for 15 years. Although she still enjoys singing, her real passion in life now is writing. After suffering a head injury, which caused Debbie to lose her sense of smell and taste – a condition known as Anosmia, writing became a way of venting her frustration and anger from this life changing condition. It was a way of escaping from the reality of it too. She started to love writing especially when discovering how much satisfaction she got from it. This led her to realize that she wanted to become a writer, and she has now almost finished writing a short children’s storybook of prose, still at the illustration stage, and also started on her first novel. She has two blogs, one showcasing her short stories, including different non-fiction categories, such as wildlife, music and nature. The other blog tells of her experiences with Anosmia, which she writes primarily to support other people with this little know condition, and to help raise awareness of it.  In her spare time Debbie enjoys lyric writing, running and growing chilli peppers, the hotter the better! She also tries to practice mindfulness, when she can put her pen down for long enough!

 

I asked Debbie to name her favorite book.  Her answer was most succinct:  “Now that’s a tricky one!  There are many books I’ve enjoyed reading over the years.  The “Deverry High Fantasy” series of books by Katherine Kerr for example, are wonderfully written, and exciting novels.  All set in the fictional world of Deverry, they are very much Celtic influenced. With heroic battles, evil priestesses and mystics that save the day, they are exciting and allow your imagination to run wild. Especially with the addition, further into the series, of dragons, and talking ones at that! Everybody who knows me is aware of how much I love dragons, so these books drew me in even more once these mythical creatures entered the story. But even without the addition of dragons the books would still have been brilliant. Each book has a well woven tale, mystical and mythical it takes you into a fantastic world where baddies are terrible and even goodies have that not quite perfect side to them, which makes it twist and turn nicely. I’ve read them all and have no doubt I’ll be reading them again in the future.”

 

Katherine Kerr’s depiction of a fantasy world is another author who influenced Debbie as a writer.  “I was always a day dreamer as I child and loved fairy tales and talking animals, anything that involved mystery and magic. These are all encompassed in her books.  Even though Kerr isn’t a children’s author her writing still allows my imagination to run wild, as it did as a child, and now I weave my own tales.

 

“I love fantasy books and am primarily a fantasy reader and writer; surprisingly enough one of my favorite books isn’t in fact fantasy however.  This is a novel by Emily Barr called ‘The Perfect Lie’. I can’t quite put it under any particular genre actually, because to me it’s a mixture of a few. Suspense, thriller, love story, it’s hard to categorize. Set partly in the UK and partly in Italy, it is about a girl forced to grow up too quickly with disturbing and terrifying consequences. Set in two different times of her life, it constantly flicks from the present day to her horrifying past in each chapter, depicting her experiences as a child and how it shaped her into the type of women she is now. Emily Barr’s wonderful description of Italy and the way she gives you a ‘feel’ of the Country, is very much influenced by the fact that she is also a travel writer, which is evident in this book and others.

 

The way Emily has written this book made me want to turn the pages constantly and I had to force myself to put it down every night. It’s the kind of book you can read again and get more out of each time. It was a gripping, sad, and at times disturbing read with a twist at the end that I’d never have expected.  I have read other books by this author, this in fact being the first one. They are all brilliantly written but ‘The Perfect Lie,’ stands out as my favourite. All of the books, however, have that undertone of not quite fitting into any category, so I think would appeal to many different types of reader, and the fact that they are not genre influenced is what makes them so good. You never know quite what to expect as each book is released.”

 

One of the reasons I wrote this series is because literature seldom stays in the genre with which it is organized.  Organization is important but really good writing exerts an influence that supersedes mere words on the page.  Debbie Jinks’ writing and life is a great example of this. 

 

You can catch up with Debbie on:  www.asongtowrite.co.uk; www.anosmiamyworld.wordpress.com; www.twitter.com/wildjinkswww.facebook.com/asongtowriteswildside

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

2018.08.08

Literature and Life

 

“I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.”  This was not an easy lesson for Marguerite Annie Johnson to learn.  A child raised in part by her grandmother, raped by a boyfriend of her mother’s, she was traumatically mute for five years.  Her brother called her “Mya sister”, and that was the basis for her pen name “Maya”.  Angelou credits a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, authors who would affect her life and career, as well as black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset.

 

Maya Angelou would be a dancer, a singer, and San Francisco’s first black female street car driver before settling in as the noted and acclaimed author that we know and love today.  She would go on to become only the second poet (and first black female) ever to read at a presidential inauguration.  When Maya Angelou wrote and recited “On the Pulse of Morning”, she was already well known as a writer and poet. She had written five of the seven of her series of autobiographies, including the first and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  African-American literature scholar Mary Jane Lupton describes the poem:  “On the Pulse of Morning” is an autobiographical poem, one that emerges from her conflicts as an American; her experiences as traveler; her achievements in public speaking and acting; and her wisdom, gleaned from years of self-exploration”.  Angelou herself considered the poem good but not great. 

 

“On the Pulse of Morning” was full of contemporary references, including toxic waste and pollution. Angelou’s poem was influenced by the African-American oral tradition of spirituals, by poets such as James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, and by modern African poets and folk artists such as Kwesi Brew and Efua Sutherland, which also influenced her autobiographies.  Si it might surprise you that Angelou held that her favorite author was the one that most influenced her as a child – Louise May Alcott.  “When I read Alcott, I knew that these girls she was talking about were all white.  But they were nice girls and I understood them.  I felt like I was almost there with them in their living room and their kitchen.”

 

The BBC had an article regarding Maya Angelou and I think it illustrates the impact an author can have.  The article listed fourteen people that were influenced by Angelou.  “American icon Maya Angelou was a celebrated writer, poet, activist, singer, actress and speaker. During her long and varied career she worked as a journalist in Africa, toured the world as an opera singer, authored the international bestseller I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, worked alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and recited one of her poems at a US presidential inauguration. But more than that, Maya’s life, work and wisdom inspired some of today’s most famous names to achieve great things too.”  Those listed included Nelson Mandela, Tupac Shakur, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Bill Clinton (at whose presidential election she spoke), Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Barack Obama, Rochard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock.

 

“She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace”, Oprah Winfrey once said of Maya Angelou.  Controversy did follow Maya Angelou but nothing illustrates the unifying goals of her writing more than these remarks from President Barack Obama.  Although Angelou supported Hillary Clinton in the race to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 2008, she became a strong advocate for Obama during his time as US President. He awarded Angelou the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. When she died, Obama described her as an inspiration to all Americans. “A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking,” he said, “but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves.” 

 

Inspired by the writing of a girl from another time and of a different race, Maya Angelou herself overcame the unimaginably horrible to do unimaginably great things.  She herself said quite simply:  “We are more alike than unalike.”  Hear her reading her poem “On the Pulse of Morning”:  https://youtu.be/59xGmHzxtZ4

Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat

2018.08.07

Literature and Life

 

This series about authors and their favorite books began by my reading a quote about if someone really wanted to be a good writer, they first had to be a good reader.  John Cheever, a celebrated writer of novels and short stories from New England once remarked “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”  One can, of course, write, but without it being read, it often seems like wasted energy.  There is the old adage that the difference between a good writer and a bad writer is that the good writer perseveres and the bad writer simply quits but one still does hope, at some point, to have their work read. 

 

Cheever also defined art as the triumph over chaos.  I think perhaps this is one of the reasons our featured author today began to write although she described it this way:  “Whole interaction between the storyteller and the listeners had a very powerful influence on me.”  Born on the island of Haiti, Edwidge had a life that was a bit chaotic.  Haiti gained its independence from France in 1804 only to see itself sold to Americans.  It has a history of tyranny and neglect and many seem to have forgotten it most of the time.  Edwidge moved to New York at the start of her teen years after being raised for ten years by an aunt and uncle.  French is the national language of Haiti but at home she spoke Haitian Creole, a conglomeration of words from 18th century French with influences from Portuguese, Spanish, English, Taíno, and West African languages.  Moving to be with her parent in New York was nice but also very isolating.  Literature became her escape and comfort.

 

Edwidge Danticat wrote a story about her immigration experience for New Youth Connections, a citywide magazine written by teenagers entitled “A New World Full of Strangers”. In the introduction to “Starting With I”, an anthology of stories from the magazine, Danticat wrote, “When I was done with the [immigration] piece, I felt that my story was unfinished, so I wrote a short story, which later became a book, my first novel: Breath, Eyes, Memory…Writing for New Youth Connections had given me a voice. My silence was destroyed completely, indefinitely.”  Danticat went on to graduate from Bernard College in NYC and then receive masters’ degree in creative writing from Brown University.

 

It is therefore not surprising that she lists Marie Vieus-Chauvet’s book “Love, Anger, Madness” as a favored and influential book on her writing.  Written by an exiled Haitian writer one year before Danticat was born, the book is actually a trilogy – three stories that reflect the American invasion and economic control of Haiti, Haitis troubles from the occupation, and its own internal struggles. Each story has a character that finds refuge in art, struggles to overthrow dominant forces, and battles for integrity against the devastation of war in a corrupt state. Oppression cuts across class and race lines. The dramas are large and small, and the villains are not always who you think they are.  It is easy to understand the book’s appeal to Edwidge Danticat who once remarked “The past is like the hair on our head …You always have this feeling that wherever you come from, you physically leave it, but it doesn’t leave you.”

 

Three themes are prominent in the writing of Edwidge Danticat: national identity, mother-daughter relationships, and diasporic politics.   It might seem like this are applicable to only her native land but diasporic politics affected the African slave trade as well as that of the Sephardic Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 ACE.  Great literature crosses time and space, uniting us all and both Danticat and her influencing Marie Vieus-Chauvet write such literature. 

 

Edwidge Danticat has given us a picture book, a young adult novel, and five other books in addition to her short stories, essays, and work as an anthology editor and guest contributor for such publications as “The New Yorker” and “The Washington Post”.  The busy mother of two daughters has been known to say the greatest gift one can give a writer is time and she eagerly seeks to connect literature and life.   “We need literature because we wouldn’t fully know ourselves without it.  We need good literature to be fully human.”

 

 

 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

2018.08.06

Literature and Life

 

Few writers have failed on so many things and yet made all those failures successful as Mark Twain did.  He apprenticed as a typesetter and printer and then turned to mining.  He penned a story he heard in a California bar with the unlikely name of “The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County”.  It became a worldwide sensation, published in both English and French.  Mark Twain became known for his wit and his satire in prose and in public speaking gained him the friendship and support of American presidents, European royalty, fellow artists and writers, as well as industrialists.  He would earn a fortune and then just as easily lose it.

 

Mark Twain is perhaps best known for his “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” so no one should be surprised that among his favorite books he listed “Le Morte d’ Arthur” by Sir Thomas Mallory.  Twain took the tales of King Arthur and spun them into the story of an American lad with a little of his second favorite book, “The Arabian Knights” thrown in for good measure.  Another successful and noted American author, William Faulkner< called Mark Twain “the father of American literature” while many others consider him the greatest humorist the United States has ever had.

 

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835 and his life was not an easy one.  Three of his siblings died before reaching the age of twelve and when Twain was eleven years old, his father also died.  He himself dropped out of school at age twelve to work, later educating himself at the public libraries he would frequent.  His one goal in life was to become a steamboatman.  “Pilot was the grandest position of all. The pilot, even in those days of trivial wages, had a princely salary – from a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars a month, and no board to pay.”  Twain considered the pilot’s job the most important of all as  the pilot had to “get up a warm personal acquaintanceship with every old snag and one-limbed cottonwood and every obscure wood pile that ornaments the banks of this river for twelve hundred miles; and more than that, must… actually know where these things are in the dark.”

 

Mark Twain did become a steamboat pilot although it took him two years to earn his pilot license.  His pen name came from the leadsman’s cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms (12 feet), which was safe water for a steamboat.  Twain worked as a pilot on the Mississippi River until the second year of the War Between the States and then joined his brother in the Nevada Territory.  In 1867, a local newspaper funded his trip to the Mediterranean aboard the Quaker City, including a tour of Europe and the Middle East.  It was on this trip that he met a young man and, upon seeing a picture of his sister, fell in love at first sight.  He later married the man’s sister.  The lived in New York state, Connecticut, and then Europe.  Mark Twain died in New York City after the death of two of his daughters and his beloved wife. 

 

Twain was born two weeks after Halley’s Comet’s closest approach in 1835.  In 1909 he remarked upon this:  “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together’.”  Twain was a great friend of Nikolas Tesla and the only surviving film of Twain was taken by another scientist, Thomas Edison.  Twain also financed a girls’ science club in NYC. 

 

In recent years the works of Mark Twain have been subject to censorship for his brilliant use of the colloquialisms of the period.  I understand how several derogatory terms would be painful but I personally feel that serve to further educate us and exemplify the inequities that existed.  Such knowledge could, if utilized, prevent future discrimination and continued politics that encourage such. 

 

Upon hearing of Twain’s death, President William Howard Taft said: “Mark Twain gave pleasure – real intellectual enjoyment – to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come … His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American literature.”  He wrote of the common man, used humor to unite the different social classes, and through it all, was as much a knight of the round table of the world as any that ever graced the world in literature and in life.

 

 

 

 

An Unstoppable Spirit

An Unstoppable Spirit

2018.07.13

Pentecost 2018

 

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani education advocate who, at the age of 17, became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Born on July 12, 1997, Yousafzai became an advocate for girls’ education when she herself was still a child, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her.

 

Yesterday Malala turned twenty-one and celebrated by helping girls in Rio learn how to stay in school and overcome violence in the world around them.  This is not an unusual occurrence for Malala, though.  Her thirst for knowledge had led her down a path that even a horrendous attack could not stop.

 

Nine months after being shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai gave a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday in 2013. Yousafzai highlighted her focus on education and women’s rights, urging world leaders to change their policies.  Yousafzai said that following the attack, “the terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”

 

t Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 speech at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pronounced July 12th – Yousafzai’s birthday – ‘Malala Day’ in honor of the young leader’s activism to ensure education for all children.  “Malala chose to mark her 16th birthday with the world,” said Ban. “No child should have to die for going to school. Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change the picture.”

 

Malala Yousafzai was born in Mingora, Pakistan, located in the country’s Swat Valley, on July 12, 1997. For the first few years of her life, her hometown remained a popular tourist spot that was known for its summer festivals. However the area began to change as the Taliban tried to take control.

 

Yousafzai attended a school that her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, had founded. After the Taliban began attacking girls’ schools in Swat, Malala gave a speech in Peshawar, Pakistan, in September 2008. The title of her talk was, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

 

With a growing public platform, Yousafzai continued to speak out about her right, and the right of all women, to an education. Her activism resulted in a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.  Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her because of her activism. Though Malala was frightened for the safety of her father — an anti-Taliban activist — she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not actually harm a child.

 

On October 9, 2012, when 15-year-old Malala was riding a bus with friends on their way home from school, a masked gunman boarded the bus and demanded to know which girl was Malala. When her friends looked toward Malala, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack.  The shooting left Malala in critical condition, so she was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England.

 

Once she was in the United Kingdom, Yousafzai was taken out of a medically induced coma. Though she would require multiple surgeries—including repair of a facial nerve to fix the paralyzed left side of her face — she had suffered no major brain damage. In March 2013, she was able to begin attending school in Birmingham. 

 

In March 29, 2018, Yousafzai returned to Pakistan for the first time since her brutal 2012 attack. Not long after arriving, she met with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and delivered an emotional speech at his office.  “In the last five years, I have always dreamed of coming back to my country,” she said, adding, “I never wanted to leave.”  During her four-day trip, Yousafzai visited the Swat Valley, as well as the site where she nearly met her end at the hands of the Taliban. Additionally, she inaugurated a school for girls being built with aid from the Malala Fund.

 

n October 10, 2013, in acknowledgement of her work, the European Parliament awarded Yousafzai the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

In April 2017, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Yousafzai as a U.N. Messenger of Peace to promote girls education. The appointment is the highest honor given by the United Nations for an initial period of two years.

Yousafzai was also given honorary Canadian citizenship in April 2017. She is the sixth person and the youngest in the country’s history to receive the honor.  Also in 2017 she was accepted as a student at Oxford University, continuing her education in spite of still being targeted by the Taliban.

 

Malala continues to advocate and encourage world leaders to spend their money on books instead of bullets and military budgets.  “The shocking truth is that world leaders have the money to fully fund primary AND secondary education around the world – but they are choosing to spend it on other things, like their military budgets. In fact, if the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just 8 days, we could have the $39 billion still needed to provide 12 years of free, quality education to every child on the planet.”

 

Immediately after the attack on her in 2012 to yesterday’s celebration, Malala has urged action against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism:  “The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women… Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.”