Books That Change Lives

Several submissions from readers of the New York Times.

Two standout write-ups.

1. Go, Dog. Go! 

“Go, Dog. Go!” — that epic by P.D. Eastman — has it all: Drama — where are those dogs going? Humor — dogs on scooters, flying helicopters and driving cars! Existential angst — why doesn’t he like her hat? It’s multicultural — blue dogs and red dogs and green dogs! It’s a love story — why yes, he does end up liking her hat!

From “Go, Dog. Go!” — my first book way back in prekindergarten — it was only a short skip to the poems of William Butler Yeats; “The Myth of Sisyphus,” by Albert Camus; the guerrilla ontology of Robert Anton Wilson; and the 10,000 mostly nonfiction books in my home library on Irish history, African-American history, my Pagan spiritual path, world religions and metaphysical matters, the Middle East, quantum physics, the Beatles and rock music. . . .

O.K., maybe that wasn’t a short hop. But my love of reading — as a way to have adventures, explore life, lives and ideas, and satiate my curiosity about the world — began with dogs driving fast cars. I still reread “Go, Dog. Go!” to this day.

Rick de Yampert
Palm Coast, Fla.

2. Atlas Shrugged

When I first read “Atlas Shrugged” for a high school assignment, I was so impressed with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of strength, independence and forging through life on one’s own that I reread the book a few more times in the next few years. The final time I was a young mother and as I read, I realized that there were no children in Rand’s cast of characters, no old people; no one was sick or disabled. Where were they? How were they supposed to manage on their own?

That’s when I became a Democrat, even a socialist. It finally dawned on me that total self-reliance is fine, as long as you’re young, healthy and strong. But no one gets through this life on her own. It takes a village to support a community, to raise and educate children, to care for the sick and elderly. Who wants to live in a world where the weak are thrust aside and forgotten? Rand’s philosophy could never be mine. Her words allowed me to crystallize my own thinking. I grew up.

Barbara Lipkin
Naperville, Ill.

My pick? Maybe John Bogle’s Common Sense on Mutual Funds which has helped me invest more wisely than I otherwise would’ve. Or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for similar reasons as to Rick. It was the first of many Achebe, and other, African novels. They have been incredible windows into places and people the West pays little attention to and does not understand or appreciate. My life is richer because of their artistry.

And you?

Two Very Good ‘Los Angeles’ Sentences

From Margaret Talbot’s “Dancing with HAIM” in The New Yorker.

Talbot doesn’t drive. Sentence one.

“In high school and afterward, I was often a passenger, and, though I’ve always enjoyed riding in cars as much as any golden retriever with its head hung out the window, I also walked and took buses a lot.”

Slowing down has it’s advantages, in particular, noticing the details of one’s surroundings. Sentence two.

“I got to know the particular topography of pedestrian L.A.: muffler shops and taquerias and strip-mall doughnut shops run by Cambodian immigrants; bougainvillea and birds-of-paradise that grow opportunistically in cracked sidewalks; abandoned shopping carts and outdoor newsstands and faded courtyard apartment buildings with grand names; the scintillation of sunshine on passing rivers of traffic, telephone-pole flyers advertising suspicious-sounding opportunities in the entertainment business, and freeway underpasses and their homeless encampments.”

 

Rich Beyond Measure

That’s a wrap. The semester is over. Grades are (mostly) in. Back at it January 7th for one month-long course. Then my academic year will be a wrap since I’m a half-timer. Don’t hate me because you ain’t me.

It felt kinda weird returning to work in early September after such a long sabbatical. Pre-sabbatical, I handed off my administrative duties, so I was teaching full-time for the first time in a long time. And while I was gone, even more colleagues who I enjoyed had moved on. By “kinda weird” I guess I mean somewhat disconnected.

After all these years, I sometimes feel as if I should’ve assumed more administrative responsibilities somewhere along the line. I mean what kind of sad sack is back exactly where he started 22 years earlier?

And yet, as I read final papers, and email messages, and hand written notes of appreciation, I feel like finally, I might be getting this teaching thing down. Of course, putting that in writing means my “J-term” course will probably be a disaster, you know, pride coming before the fall and all.

Every educator is different, but for me at least, the “secret” to teaching well is the same as living well, the more selfless, the better. Maybe it was having no administrative responsibilities that enabled me to see and hear my students more clearly this fall. More specifically, maybe it was not being in a hurry, maybe it was taking the time to listen to them and to read their words even more closely. And then to respond to those words.

The more authentic and present I am in the classroom, the more my students appreciate my teaching. They also appreciate the thought put into our more accessible, shorter, more thought provoking than average reading list.

My students’ end-of-semester gestures of appreciation make me think I’m still doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time. Consider one student among many, a physically imposing, politically conservative, first year footballer whose domineering dad tolerated no negative emotions.

“When I found out I had to be in a mandatory writing seminar as part of the ‘First Year Experience Program’ (FYEP) titled ‘The Art of Living’, I dreaded it. I despised writing, especially that of a personal nature. All of the essays and discussions I would have to participate in would be about my life, inner thoughts, and feelings. I figured it was just another stroke of bad luck. My goal for the semester was just to survive, and hopefully improve on my personal writing ability after a few failed attempts. However, I found out very quickly that this was just the class I needed. It turns out that my destiny was not to have an unfortunate event take advantage of me, but was to have an unbelievable stroke of luck being placed in the Art of Living writing seminar.”

Further in:

“This unexpected change of heart provided me with energy and enthusiasm. Writing my fourth essay became something I enjoyed, not something I dreaded. I wrote about my stance on modern love and the concept of soulmates, which was the strongest stance in any essay I had written. I wrote about my own experiences with love, and how in my eyes the person I want to marry will be able to fill my heart with love. I wrote about how that love would allow me to experience the six varieties described in Krznaric’s writing: eros, pragma, ludus, agape, philuatia, and philia. . . . I had ended up doing the exact opposite of what I had initially thought I would: I wrote about my definition of love, my love life, and I loved doing it. By writing from the heart and being vulnerable with my audience, I was able to capture their attention and provide details that I otherwise might have excluded. My paper connected better with my readers, and it was relatable. Over the course of this semester I had not only grown as a writer, but I opened my mind and grew as a person.”

Watching this young man blossom into a superb, sensitive discussant was a joy:

“One of the most influential changes to my (writing) process was in-class discussions. They allowed me to deepen my understanding of the prompts while listening to others’ thoughts and feelings. I could formulate my own stances in response. It allowed me to consider outside opinions and beliefs and flush out my ideas. They made my essays even more thorough because I gained not only different pieces of textual evidence but I learned about different experiences my peers could connect to the readings. Being able to have personal, open conversations in class also made the texts more applicable to daily life. The discussions helped shape not only my essays, but the way I looked at the world as a whole. I could consider expanding my varieties of love as Kznaric wrote, or I could consider the lifestyle of Stoicism written in William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life. These discussions opened my heart and mind to the different ideas we discussed in class, and allowed me to incorporate those into my essays. This class broadened my life views and expanded my horizons.”

Because I’m half-time and I get paid over 12 months, and I max my retirement contributions, and I add family dental insurance and a Health Saving Account in for good measure, my take home pay for November was $34.37. But I feel rich beyond measure.

Wednesday Assorted Links

1. What swimming in my underwear taught me about Donald Trump and getting away with it. Funny, but rest assured Briggs YMCA patrons, I do not condone swimming in one’s underwear. That’s the reason the swimming backpack has a second just in case suit and pair of underwear. More spontaneous peeps should adhere to a strict “forget your suit, forget the workout” life philosophy. (Thanks DB.)

2. Why shade is a mark of privilege in Los Angeles.  My conservative friends will say this is ridiculous. As someone far too experienced with skin cancer, I respectfully beg to differ.

“As the world warms, the issue of shade has drawn more attention from urban planners. The writer Sam Bloch, in an article in Places Journal this year that focused on Los Angeles, called shade ‘an index of inequality, a requirement for public health, and a mandate for urban planners and designers.'”

3. I learned to play the piano without a piano. Passion personified.

“I was 11 years old when I asked my mum for piano lessons, in 2010. We were in the fallout of the recession and she’d recently been made redundant. She said a polite ‘no’.

That didn’t deter me. I Googled the dimensions of a keyboard, drew the keys on to a piece of paper and stuck it on my desk. I would click notes on an online keyboard and “play” them back on my paper one – keeping the sound they made on the computer in my head. After a while I could hear the notes in my head while pressing the keys on the paper. I spent six months playing scales and chord sequences without touching a real piano. Once my mum saw it wasn’t a fad, she borrowed some money from family and friends, and bought me 10 lessons.”

4. On writing about divorce when you’re still married.

“There’s my husband in the corner, who’s married to someone always wondering just how solid the ground beneath her feet is, and who always reassures her that it’s good. There’s my ring on my finger. There are all my friends, rising up from the ashes of their old marriages and seeking out new bodies to bond to. What is more romantic—more optimistic and life-affirming—than the fact that we know how all of this might end and still we continue to try?”

5. It’s that time of the year when you start wondering what to get your favorite blogger for Christmas.

 

I’m Thankful

  • For people, near and far, who make time for the humble blog.
  • For late November sunlight.
  • For my family’s and my health.
  • For friends near and far.
  • For my daughter inviting me to run the Oly Trot with her. Her first “organized” run. We ran conservatively for the first 3.5 and then did our best East African impersonations for the last .5.

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Another of Alberto Salazar’s Runners Says He Ridiculed Her Body for Years

Someone should write a book. Something like “The MeToo Perps’ Painfully Predictable Non-Apologies”. Possible subtitle, “Their Inability to Understand the Harm They’ve Caused”.

Chapter 53, Alberto Salazar.

“My foremost goal as a coach was to promote athletic performance in a manner that supported the good health and well-being of all my athletes. On occasion, I may have made comments that were callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training. If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry.”

“On occasion, I may have. . .”

For shit’s sake, you either did or didn’t Alberto, so either don’t apologize or drop the tentative “may have” bullshit.

“. . . callous or insensitive. . . “

That doesn’t sound so bad. The most timid of adjectives given the allegations.  Why does the (alleged) perp get to label his behavior instead of the victims of the abuse?

IF any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made. . . “

Thus creating the suggestion that the problem is in their heads. In the initial draft his lawyers probably rewrote, I wouldn’t be surprised if he asked, “Why are they so damn sensitive?”

“. . . hurt by any comments I made”

The classically vague, non-apology apology. Salazar can’t bring himself to acknowledge anything specific that did cause significant pain. Again then, why say anything at all?

He wraps up his non-apology this way:

“I do dispute, however, the notion that any athlete suffered any abuse or gender discrimination while running for the Oregon Project.”

The ultimate power play, the abuser defining what constitutes abuse.

After a close reading of his words, it’s obvious that Salazar is more defiant than remorseful. Sadly, he has lots of company.

Such A Happy Ending

Even better than your fave romantic comedy.

The coolest things about being a famous blogger are annoying your friends with tongue-in-check hyperbole, having readers from lots of other countries, and having people tell you they enjoyed a particular post.

But the coolest may be what happened after I posted “Looking for Love—Introducing The Romantic Love Score” four years ago.

I ended that post this way.

“My friend’s RL score? Currently hovering in the high teens, but she’s committed to changing that. Hope I get invited to the wedding.”

The friend, actually a former student, the one who inspired the post, really took it to heart.* She made lots of changes to her life, some I assisted her with, like what used car to buy, and she committed to updating me on the results every six months. I awaited each update with great anticipation.

Then she went silent. For a year. Last I had heard she was dating someone she liked a lot, but I did not know what to make of the delay. Turns out, she was busy falling deeply in love. And planning her wedding.

Here’s part of what she just wrote:

“The wedding was held in my hometown Lutheran church. We kept the wedding invite list very short. To be honest, we felt uncomfortable asking people to travel to PA knowing that it was a significant cost (in more ways than one) with limited time with the person(s) you are celebrating. We had about 50 people in attendance and it was perfect for us.”

Typically considerate of her, but I sure would’ve loved being there, but maybe it was best I wasn’t since the two pics she included in her recent message nearly brought me to tears.

Her crediting my post and subsequent encouragement with helping her make more friends and meeting her husband moved me.

If you know someone like my friend pictured below, full of life, but wanting to share it with someone special, consider forwarding the aforementioned link to them. The more weddings, the better my daughter’s photog business.

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*Ironically, I never had my “former student” in a single class. We met while making S’mores one night at a First Year student retreat. We hit it off and she ditched her small group for mine. Following the retreat, we talked off and on during her remaining three and half undergraduate years. She gets the credit for staying in sporadic touch since then via email.