Saturday, January 24, 2015

Were They Really "The Good Old Days"?

My View from the Front Porch

Scrolling through headlines tonight, I was like, "Yeah, yeah, tell me something new". And then I had a thought. Maybe I could write headlines about my childhood and my neighborhood. I laugh every time I see a Facebook post, or a chain email, about "the good old days", and how great it was that children had so much freedom back then, and how different things were. 

The facts expressed in each of these mock-up headlines are true. I was that child. I was that younger cousin. I was that granddaughter. I was that classmate. It was my mom, my school, and my neighborhood park. 

Most of the time I had a pretty good childhood. My mom showed her love with her cooking, and took good care of me when I was sick; and my dad loved to support us, and to build and repair for us. 

I went to church, and I read the Psalms, and I loved nature; and I found God in all of those. But please don't tell me that yesteryear was better than today. Life is really pretty universal. Or, as Dickens said, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

Here are my "mock-up" headlines:

Local School to Serve as Bomb Shelter for Community

10 Year Old Boy Sexually Abuses 5 Year Old Cousin

Mother Warns Young Child Not to Unlock Car Door to Men from Tavern While Waiting for Her to Shop

Couple with Party Line Worries, when their Visiting Granddaughter Calls Home to Parents, Because of Teen Boys' Lewd Talk

Mother Tells Child to Sit on Porch if she isn't Home after School, Not to Go to Neighbors: "They will think I'm a bad mother"

Estranged Husband Kills Kindergarten Teacher at School, Shoots Himself, and Flees into Woods

Hurricane Destroys Roof over 5th and 6th grade Classrooms; All 4 Classes being Held in Gym

School Bullying Commonplace, as Children Ridicule, Put Lipstick on Back of Classmate's Coat on Bus

Children Warned Not Safe to go to Leverich Park except for Organized Large Group Activities

Let's remember as we read headlines, that just as the ones I created here covered six or seven years time, that the ones we see every day often cover many areas of the country and world. Sensational things, hurtful things, sometimes horrifying things will always be with us. They are nothing new. 

And sometimes we can help, or pray; but let's also remember to live in the life we are in, not in another area or another time. 

May we be at peace, and may we find some joy in each and every day. 

Important Follow-up Note:

I want to clarify something. I have great respect and love for my late mother. She wasn't perfect...and neither am I...but she lived in the times she was in.

I have learned from talking to people my age, over the years, that my mother leaving me in the car while she shopped was a fairly common practice at the time. 

Even as far as my sitting on the porch, she always expected, of course, to be home when I got home from school; it was just that sometimes she was  running late. And adults worrying about what the neighbors thought was a way of life that permeated the society I lived in as a child. 

Some years later, when my youngest was a baby, my husband and I went to a neighborhood watch (in a different state), where someone asked the speaker something about children alone, and he said they are safer alone outside than alone inside the house. I don't agree, nor am I sure it should be an "or", depending, of course, on age and maturity. But I just wanted to clarify that it wasn't so much about my mother, but about a general way of thinking during, perhaps, a fairly wide span of time...a time period that some people look back on as having been perfect. 

For those for whom the "good old days" really were (almost) perfect, I'm really happy for them...for you, if you were one of them.

Some of us looked back in adolescence and saw some flaws in our childhood, and over the years came to believe that there is no perfect world. 

But there is much good in the world, and so much love and, with our eyes open to all of it, we to try to embrace the good. 

Peace to you, and all good.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review of The Warmth of Other Suns

Book review of: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

How often do you find a book that is both gripping and eye-opening, both broad and narrow?

This book gives a vast overview of the 20th century migration of black people from the south to the north and west, while taking a closer, deeper look at the lives of three specific individuals.

I could hardly put the book down until I had finished reading it. Even after I finished reading, it stayed with me. When I think of a particular fast foods place, I always think of what I read there one rainy evening, the story of a doctor's long drive to Los Angeles, as he drove through states where he thought he would be treated a little better, only to find that no motel would let him spend the night. 

I came away from my reading with a deeper understanding of some of the history in America, as well as some background to the history we continue to make today. 

This was an unforgettable read. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why Did I Write "Come to the City with Me"?

I wrote that blog post yesterday morning because I woke up at 4:16 a.m. needing to write it, and I fired up the computer, and I just started typing. But why?
I think many white people are actually not prejudiced against black people, as individuals. Many white people have a black friend, or maybe several, and enjoy watching black actors or athletes on TV, or listening to black musicians. But I think it's too easy for human nature to be, or become, prejudiced against 'intersecting sets'. Let me try to explain what I mean by using an analogy. 

When I was a teenager, some older people would talk about teenagers and loud music. My dad liked to play jazz on his stereo, and he liked it loud. I'm guessing the same people who complained about teens and their loud music probably wouldn't have said a word about my dad and his music. And I'll bet those same people wouldn't have complained about a teen who listened to classical music, either. It wasn't the teens themselves, or the volume of the music in and of itself, but the intersecting 'set', that they thought they didn't like. 

When we develop a prejudice against a 'group', I think it is often an intersecting group, because...well, that's just the thing about prejudices. Sometimes, we don't even know the reason it developed. It might be ideas we picked up from our grandparents, friends, or the media, or perhaps a bad experience that we lived or, more often, a bad experience that we lived vicariously through someone else's story. 

What we don't always realize is that for every story, there are other stories. Occasionally, we hear those 'other stories', stories of heroic deeds. But what we often don't hear is what I like to call 'everyday heroism'. When you or your spouse gets up early and shovels out the car in freezing cold to drive to work, that's everyday heroism; but of course it doesn't usually make the news. When someone smiles or serves others in spite of their own pain, be it physical or emotional pain, that's everyday heroism; but of course, you won't usually know about that, unless you know the person yourself, because it doesn't often count as 'story'. 

So, in my post yesterday, I wanted to share with you a few little snippets about people I know or meet every day, some of them from what might be an 'intersecting set' to some people, for example, people who you might see standing at a bus stop or people who live in the inner city (whatever that is; you know it's not really a defined place, right?).

I wanted to share with you in case you haven't had the privilege to live where I live. I wanted to take people from a 'group' that is often portrayed negatively in the media, and let you see the 'everyday heroism' of a few of their individual lives. Not the 'superhero' kind of heroism - we shouldn't need those kinds of stories - but just the heroism of everyday living. 

If you didn't read it yesterday, and you would like to read it, 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Come to the City with Me

Come to the city with me, will you? I would like to have you "meet" some of my friends, some of the people I have worked with or done business with, some of the people I have taken college classes with. I don't live in the inner city but I sometimes do business there. And I live in a diverse area. I'm a minority in many places where I shop and go about my business.

I speak mostly in the present tense here, but I'm touching on the past eight years of living in Baltimore.

Here's my good friend, walking to the bus stop. She lives with her two children, her children's father, and her mother, in the so-called "inner city" (or that was where she lived, at the time I'm referring to). She used to work a job where she managed other people, but it involved out-of-state travel, and when her first son was born, she wanted to spend more time with him. So she got a job closer to home. She drives to work, but this day, that I'm sharing with you, her car is in the shop, and her man goes to work early, so you would see her walking to or from the bus. Her children are very involved in sports, academics, and school civics, and she is very proud of them.

My son takes the bus to his first year of college (several years ago). One afternoon he tells me about the women he sees on the bus each day, all dressed up to go to an office job, getting off the bus with children who are carrying miniature backpacks or little lunch bags. He notices the dedication of these women, as he observes that they are taking their children to day care, and, as he says, then they will probably get back on the bus again in order to go on to their workplaces.

A few years later, I'm taking a class with some of the women who take care of these women's children, or other children like them. My fellow students take these classes in addition to working and, for those who are mothers, in addition to taking care of their own children as well. We share stories and have important discussions, and I learn much from their experience and wisdom.

Here's one young student who is usually a little late to class. She lives a little further out than I do. She walks a very long way to get to the nearest bus stop, but she is always cheerful and so enthusiastic about learning and life.

As with any area I've lived in, not everyone is always enthusiastic. There are people who work with customers every day, who look tired, and they probably are tired, both physically and emotionally. They might not always offer 'service with a smile'. But I've found they will always serve, and always go the extra mile if there is a problem, and often wish me a blessed day.

I sometimes forget that you aren't "supposed to" talk to strangers in any big city. I didn't grow up in a city, and although I lived in Los Angeles for years, I next lived in a fairly rural community in Kentucky for more years after that. So, sometimes I'm walking through a store or a shopping center and, as I pass a man, I sometimes say hello (just as I often do with women too). Any time I say "hello", he says, politely, "Good morning," or "Good afternoon. How are you?" or something similar. By saying "he", I'm not talking about one man. I'm talking about every man I have ever "met", since I've been here, young or old. I have received nothing but respect from the men in this city.

We frequent a historic downtown church which attracts people from many miles away, a church which is located a block or two from a rough neighborhood. It's a bit of a drive for us. At a church coffee social, I meet a woman about my age who has been attending this church for years. She's so sweet, I wish I lived closer to her, so I could get to know her better.

I could introduce you to more people I know or do business with, here in this diverse city. But just know this. The people I know or meet each day, some of whom live in the inner city, and among many of whom I am a minority...these are my people. These are my neighbors, my former co-workers, and my classmates; these are some of my doctors, nurses, bankers, and professors.

So when I read negative things in the news, and social media, which talk about "those people"…people who live in the inner city, or whatever else that phrase may mean to different people…I don't just cringe (although I do that); but more than that, it gives me real pain. I'm wondering if that's how God feels, too, when we talk in negative ways about any of the people he has created, when we judge people as members of one group or another, be it racial, economic, or anything else. 

I think we sometimes forget that each and every person was created lovingly by God in his image and likeness. When Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, someone asked him, "Who is our neighbor?"…and he told a parable we have come to call "the story of the Good Samaritan". Isn't it interesting that he picked a Samaritan for the hero of his story? He picked someone from a group that was racially a little different from many of the people he was talking to, a group which was somewhat segregated. I wonder if he was trying to tell us something.

You might also like to read the post I wrote the next day, Why Did I Write "Come to the City with Me"?

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A Book Review Template You May Copy (if you'd like)

I used to spend days writing long book reviews, trying to get it "just so", while feeling the need to "sell" the book that I was sold on. Sometimes I got hung up just trying to get started, looking at the blank screen, wondering where to begin. I often fell short of my own expectations.

One day, I noticed that I was writing very few book reviews anymore. I realized the reason: I was making it too big a project! So I made myself a template of questions, or writing prompts.

Now when I want to write a book review, I go to my template; go to Save As; add the name of the book to the title, for my new file; and then I begin answering some of the following questions.

I don't answer all of the questions! Probably, that would make the review way too long. But it would also be overwhelming, which is the opposite of the reason for the questions. 

For any particular book, I pick and choose a few of the questions, as answers pop into my head. Then I frame my answers into sentences and arrange them into one or more paragraphs. 

Here are my questions (my book review template):

Did you like the book? How much? Would you recommend it?

Are there one or two things that you liked best about the book?

If it's a fiction book, would you like to briefly share something about the story, being careful not to give away anything important? Would you like to share something you liked about a character or about the message, again not spoiling anything for the reader?

If it's a non-fiction book, have you used any of the information or advice?  Would you like to share a line or two? Or tell something about what is covered in the book?

Why did you read the book? Were you glad you read it? If yes, why?

Would you recommend it to others?  Why? To whom would you recommend it?

If I'm still feeling stuck:
What different words or short phrases describe the book or the topic, or the tone of the author?
 Make a list. 

(After making the word list, I come back to some of the questions again, perhaps after taking a break to do something else. And then, I see if a few of the words in the list might help me get started with answering some of the questions, which it does.)

After coming up with this template, I have been able to review five books in about a month, which is about ten times more than my average had been. Not that I'm in any contest to write lots of book reviews! It's just that I had fallen behind on books I really wanted to share. 

One thing I remind myself now is that my review doesn't have to be perfect or even profound to post it. That desire to be perfect or profound hangs us up in lots of areas of life, doesn't it?

If you, too, sometimes find that the desire to get it perfect or profound holds you back, or that you are looking at a blank screen, please feel free to copy and paste this template - the words in italics - to help you overcome that writer's block. 

It is my gift to you.

Happy New Year!  

You can read my Amazon reviews here