Recent Book Reads and Recommendations!

I’m going to start posting books by ones and twos per The Word Nerd’s Recommendation, but until then, here’s a whole bunch. My recent reads and recommendations:

1. EVERY NOTE PLAYED BY Lisa Genova

I ADORE a complex medical dilemma coupled with lots of family drama. And Genova is an actual neuroscientist – as well as a superb writer. Richard, the main character, is a brilliant and world-renowned pianist. He’s also a terrible family man. So what happens when you suddenly start noticing a funny weakness in your hand and are diagnosed with ALS? It’s the family who steps up. This hit very close to home as I lost a dear friend to this horrible disease. For me, an informative tear-jerker.

2. THE BONE CURSE BY Carrie Rubin

What do you know? Carrie Rubin is also a doctor in real life, and a superb writer. THE BONE CURSE is book #1 in an exciting new series: a medical thriller with a supernatural element! I also kindof know Carrie through the internet and it’s always so thrilling to see your writer friends pave the way and do it SO WELL! Great job, Carrie.

3. THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT BY Chris Bohjilian

Oooh…this one was kindof a guilty pleasure (in the tamest of ways!) The moral of this story is: it’s time get stone-cold sober. At least for Cassandra Bowden, who woke up next to a dead man. Did she do it? SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! She really doesn’t think she has it in her, but…SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! After flying through this book (ha), I said to self: GO FIND ALL THE BOHJILIAN BOOKS NOW.

4. EDUCATED BY Tara Westover

This book is getting all the rave reviews for good reason. I LOVED it. I could not put it down. In the same vein as THE GLASS CASTLE: a family, a brilliant but mentally ill father, a child with no formal schooling who is schooled in survival and using her own smarts. After listening to the audiobook, my dad commented, “I knew a few people like that in Idaho.” Wide eyes.

5 & 6. GHOST (Track #1) and PATINA (Track #2) by Jason Reynolds

Give me a book about running and I’ll open it! Jason Reynolds is a really exciting middle-grade author who is giving us books with heart and diversity. I’m really enjoying this series for kids 8-12.

7. THE GREAT ALONE by Krisin Hannah

After reading EDUCATED, I must have been on a survivalist kick, which is what Hannah’s written. The setting is the wild, beautiful, and dangerous Alaska. I enjoyed this book, but the mother’s horrible enabling DROVE ME CRAZY the entire book. Obviously I lack empathy. Or something.

8. MIDWIVES by Chris Bohjalian

This book is pretty astounding in its writing and its research. Bohjalian is really really good. I have so much more respect for what midwives do – and what they risk. A medical thriller with lots of family drama and ethical questions that are terribly hard to answer – right up my ally! A GREAT READ. Jodi Picoult fans will love Bohjalian (but you probably already knew that.) Also, he’s lives in Vermont! Think he’d mind if I knocked on his door?

9. JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno

YAY FOR DEBUT AUTHORS! I’ve known Melissa for years. How fun it was to both have debut books in June. This was a very sweet, yet realistic look at child homelessness. Sad, but hopeful. I loved all of the images of trees, throughout. Themes of hardship, sisterhood, and home run through this novel. Melissa has more books on the way and I look forward to more from this huge talent!

10. THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST by Samantha M. Clark

This book was not at all what I expected – in a really fun and surprising way! There’s this boy who doesn’t know where he is. What’s his name? Where are all the people? Why won’t his inner bully leave him be? With only one character throughout, Clark does a fantastic job of keeping the reader engaged. It’s somewhat heartbreaking but somewhat not…I don’t know. I’ll be thinking of this book for a long time. “Once upon a time there was a boy…” So good!

Okay, that’s it for me. What’s kept you up at night? Do tell! I love hearing what you’re reading and yes – I’m ready for a new book!

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SUMMERTIME {and Guinevere News}

It’s officially summer! School’s out, time to play. Yesterday was the longest day of the year. The sun was up around 4:30a.m., helping me rise and shine – along with the birds. SO MANY BIRDS singing in the morning. Now the days will start getting shorter…but never mind about that…

We have already spent many hours at our favorite summertime spot:

This one is actually a mermaid:

It took me days to get “organized” for summer. The rhythm of family life changes so much with the seasons. All the kids are home. Three of them have summer jobs. We have four drivers, two cars, many bikes. Vacations, pick-up soccer, a messier house. Hence the giant calendar and job charts now posted on the fridge. Hey, this mama doesn’t do it all.

I’m very very envious that Gregor bikes to and from work with our girl Cope every day:

In other news, I had my official book launch on June 16th at Morgan Hill Bookstore in New London, New Hampshire. SO grateful to all who came.  It was surreal to see Guinevere lined up in a row. I literally felt dizzy.

And then I actually signed a book I wrote. More dizzy.

I want to say a huge ginormous THANK YOU to all of you who have purchased and have read THE UNFORGETTABLE GUINEVERE ST. CLAIR. Years of my life were spent writing, researching, editing, querying. There were many days when I wondered what the heck am I doing? Would I still be querying literary agents twenty years from now? Was this all for nothing? To say it’s a dream come true is a terrible cliche no good writer should use, but…that’s about it.

Thank you, also, for your feedback! Every time I see a review on Goodreads or Amazon, my heart skips a beat. Which leads me to another ask: if you read and enjoyed Guinevere, would you please consider leaving a review at Goodreads and Amazon? Word of mouth is the best way to get a book in someone else hands, so I hope you’ll keep talking 🙂

Some Guinevere official business:

I’ve created an “official amymakechnie.com author website” HERE. It was fun. And challenging. And frustrating. And oh yes, fun. Geez, my learning curve is slow. If you’d like to receive a monthly author newsletter, click HERE.

Lastly,

If you’re not already a maisymak blog subscriber, but you’d like to to be, click HERE.

That wasn’t really the last. Here’s the last: Thank you, dear friends!!!

Happy Summer!

 

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on not forgetting: we already have a great kid

The other day I asked one of my kids if they knew I loved and was proud of them. It was a rhetorical question, because of course – I DO AND I AM.

But the reaction? There was kindof a shrug. So I pulled over and said, “Wait a second, you DO KNOW THAT, RIGHT?”

Yeah, sure, mom.

It’s been looping inside my mind like a reel: they KNOW I love them, but do they know it’s absolutely unconditional? That NOTHING can separate the love I feel for them? No matter what?

There’s the rub: no matter what

I had a friend who told me that every morning her mom would say, “you’re so pretty.” This was absolutely well-intentioned, but when she went to college, no one said that to her every morning. Am I pretty? began to be a constant, nagging question. It began a serious struggle with worth. Would I still be loved if I weren’t pretty?

Will you still love me if I’m not skinny?

Will you still be proud of me if my best friend makes the team and I don’t?

Will you still love me if I’m attracted to my same gender?

Will your eyes always light up when I walk into a room – no matter what?

Many months ago, when one of my kids was having a hard life stretch, I realized that I really only wanted one thing. I could let go of all the awards, public acclaim, athletic talent, musical ability. The only thing I really really wanted was for my child to rise up every morning and walk out the door feeling truly and utterly loved. What we couldn’t do and overcome!

I am convinced that with this sure knowledge, that even through the hard days, there would still be happiness on the horizon. That’s it. She/He could be ugly, misshapen, failing a class, dumped from a friend group – whatever. I just wanted a child who knew who she was: a child of God. Divine. Created from love. And absolutely and unconditionally LOVED by her parents.

It’s come into sharper focus for me with these school shootings. I see myself standing outside a school, waiting for my child to come out. I can feel the desperation and panic start to rise, just imagining such a scenario. In that very moment, all I would want is for my child to come walking out the door and into my open arms. That’s it. I want them to be alive.

Alive. And running in a field together. That’s all.

I think we sometimes forget what our children need. We are so hell-bent (and I use that word intentionally) on getting them into lessons and schools and teams and social groups that I worry – do they know that without any of those things – we would still love them?

How could they know? When all of our effort, when all of our praise is focused on the accolades?

I’m not advocating false praise, or handing out a trophy every morning – that’s external, materialistic, and meaningless “stuff.” You can love your child and not like them every minute. And true love can be tough love: “you will get a summer job and pay for your own cell phone” because I love you.

I’ve just finished reading the most terrific and heartbreaking book I’ve read in a very long time: EDUCATED by Tara Westover. What she is able to overcome is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read. It also makes me want to weep – Tara is fiercely unique in her ability to get out of a family that is completely dysfunctional and literally crazy. I want to think I would be her, but I doubt my own strength, especially as a sensitive, compliant child. While you read, you can’t help but hurt for all the others left behind.

Amazingly, without ever going to school, Tara studies on her own to learn trigonometry (okay, right there, I’m dead in the water) and takes the ACT, earning a 22. She studies harder and earns a 28. She’d never seen a bubble sheet before.

Remarkably, she is admitted to BYU (where she sees all sorts of heathens showing their knees and ankles 🙂 ). She eventually earns a scholarship to Cambridge (you HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!)

A professor observes how uncomfortable she is, how she “knows” she doesn’t belong. Dr. Kerry says,

“You act like someone who is impersonating someone else…it has never occurred to you that you might have as much right to be here as anyone….You should trust Professor Steinberg. If he says you’re a scholar – ‘pure gold,’ I heard him say – then you are.”

“This is a magical place,” I said. “Everything shines here.”

“You must stop yourself from thinking like that,” Dr. Kerry said, his voice raised. “You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself – even gold appears dull in some lighting – but that is an illusion. And it always was.”

So good. Pure gold.

I am sometimes heartsick to think of all the ways we mess up our kids after they come to us, as small babies, so completely perfect. For all of our good intentions, it sometimes goes horribly awry. But all is not lost. I think it’s actually very very simple. WE JUST LOVE. Tell them their beautiful – but not just on the outside. Tell them their souls are beautiful, that their hearts are kind. Tell them you’re proud of them – but not just when they excel – but also when they fail. Because failing is perhaps the greatest show of courage; they can fail and they will still be forever and unconditionally LOVED. Teach them what goodness and true love is; use words if necessary.

Our kids are in the arena. They are fighting a daily battle. They are warriors just for enduring. I don’t think we know the half of it. And they sometimes forget – because we do – that they are already golden. That gold should SHINE, not dull, by the light in our eyes.

It’s that time of the year, when many many kids are being awarded, graded, applauded. But not everyone is, are they? I don’t begrudge any of the above. Achievement is important and good for our personal growth.

But in all of our effort to make our kids “great again,” let’s not forget that they already are.

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Real Quotes From Real Kids

In honor of kids everywhere, I’m back with one of my favorite posts: Real Quotes from Real Kids. They say the best things. I give them credit for every funny thing you think I’ve ever said and since it’s Children’s Book Week, it’s only fair to out my darlings as they’ve inspired every book I’ve written and am in the process of writing.

Here are some latest gems:

1. “Mom, I don’t know that I have an hour a week to schedule you in.” (when asked if we could possibly spend some time together.)

2. “I’m NEVER going to dye my hair! (condescending look my way) Anyway, it’s good to look old in my future profession.” (medieval history.) (hmmm…wonder who that was?)

3. “If I ever run an orphanage we’re going to have fun! And I’ll have Daddy cook!”

4. “I’m marking my territory.” (In response to strewing clothes and personal items allllll over the house.)

5. “When I’m at the pinnacle of success, I’m buying myself a Rolex.”

6. “How do you NOT KNOW HOW TO MAKE NACHOS??!!!? It’s a LIFE SKILL!”

7. “WAIT! Don’t leave me at my darkest hour!” (bedtime stalling tactics)

8. “Take the book away! The temptation is just too great!” (more bedtime stalling tactics)

9. “Mommy, (great worried brow) can you get pneumonia from an ice pack?”

10. “Mom. We’re not there yet.” (when asked to reveal love life secrets.)

11. “I loved your book, Mom…I’m just sad I didn’t get my own personal dedication.” (but they did in the acknowledgements!)

The secret to great writing? I think it’s eavesdropping on the children 🙂 Everything is copy.

For more Real Quotes from Real Kids, Go HERE.

Happy Children’s Book Week. What else are you and the darlings reading?

 

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Recent Book Reads {+ good shows, movies & podcasts!}

Books! Podcasts! Shows and Songs! Here’s what I’ve been loving the last three months.

First: BOOKS. Got book goals? I keep track using a notebook (and pink ball point pen) and the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Haven’t signed up? It’s free, easy, and a great way to track books.

Here’s what I’ve read (and liked!) since January:

1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: An inspirational kick-in-the-pants guide to what happens when you say YES to more opportunities. A bold account from a minority woman in show business, self-described introvert, writer (creator of hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), and single mother. I went back and forth between, “I need to say yes to more,” and “This is exhausting. Can I have a nap?” But no doubt about it: Shonda Rhimes is a FORCE.

2. QB: My Life Behind the Spiral by Steve Young: A fascinating look at sports, anxiety, faith, and how to throw the perfect spiral when you’ve got a photographic memory.

3. IQ by Joe Ide: The lovely literary agent, Zoe Sandler, sent me IQ and the follow-up, RIGHTEOUS, as she also represents Joe Ide. What I liked: A Sherlock Holmes in the hood mystery, and a needed diverse teen figure in literature. What was hard: the language. Like, it ain’t for the faint in heart. I’m kinda faint.

4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This one is getting all the feels, and for good reason. I’m a sucker for a great family drama, and Celeste Ng can articulate the great nuances in family life SO WELL.

5. Everything I Never Told  You by Celeste Ng: Ng’s first book. More great family drama writing. But this one is sadder, left me in a funk.

6. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn: As a huge “Rear Window” Hitchcock fan, I dove right into this psychological thriller. Does she see what she thinks she sees – or is Anna crazy? A satisfying page-turner.

7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: A stunning, unflinching account of Joan Didion’s husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and navigating the world without them. Sad, but heartbreakingly readable. I loved this.

8. The Witches by Roald Dahl: Paige and I read this together. Paige loved it. I liked it 🙂

9. A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel: Have a phone? Do your children have phones? Do they drive? Read this RIGHT NOW. So sad, so scary. DON’T TOUCH YOUR PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Your brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Think you’re the exception? You’re not.

10. How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland: Nuland writes that most people don’t die with “dignity.” Calm and descriptive, Dr. Nuland breaks death down from the point of view of the body. Fascinating – and also disconcerting. I kinda thought it wouldn’t happen to me. It will. I’ve been thinking about my coronary arteries a lot more.

11. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast: I DO NOT enjoy graphic novels. I LOVED this one. NYTimes Bestselling cartoonist, Roz Chast, wrote a memoir about her parents aging and dying (what’s up with my reading choices?). Honest, funny, poignant. It’s so so good. Highly recommended!

12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I’ve finally read Anita Diamant! All the girls and the cousins and the moms in my family raved about this book until I finally read. A good coming-of-age novel about a Jewish immigrant becoming a woman in 1900 America.

Podcasts I’m digging:

1. Everything Happens by Kate Bowler: Think a podcast hosted by a young mother and divinity instructor diagnosed with an incurable cancer would be a downer? It’s not! Kate Bowler, a self-described optimist, is walking us through the hardest part of life. Skeptical? Start with the Alan Alda and Wes Moore interviews – awesome.

2. That’s the Way I Heard it by Mike Rowe: Short historical sketches (10-14 minutes) told in mystery format, I sit in parking lots, unable to get out, absolutely riveted. And Rowe’s voice? Perfect.

Shows I Watched and NEED MORE OF:

1. Victoria by Masterpiece Theater: I could be happy just staring at Jenna Coleman on-screen. Her beauty is unreal. Oh yeah, the story is pretty good, too 🙂

2. Home Fires by Masterpiece Theater: No Season 3? I OBJECT!

Movies I LOVED:

1. The Greatest Showman: Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron…I loved it.

2. Coco: You’ve got to watch this with your family!!!! Tears, laughter, so good.

3. The Post: Inspired me to write THIS.

Songs I Can’t Stop Singing:

Midnight Train by Sam Smith

Greatest Showman Soundtrack

And now it’s your turn – what are you reading and watching and listening to???

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Embrace the Cheese {life is more fun}

On the Happier podcast this morning, I listened to sister, Gretchen and Elizabeth talk about “why you should embrace the cheese” – and I absolutely loved it.

I’m a firm believer in cheese. It really does make life more fun, even as you’re rolling your eyes at the cheesiness.

In high school I constantly began saying, “that’s so cool” or “that’s so uncool.” My twin, irritated at my black and white view of the world, snapped – “Everything to you is either cool or uncool.”

“No, it’s not!”

“Yes, it is!”

Yeah, he was right. My own insecurities were leading me to judgmental conclusions about everything. Cool or uncool. And if it was uncool, well then.

I began to ponder my relationship with cheese on a deeper level. Perhaps I needed to embrace my inner cheese. Perhaps that was the ultimate expression of confident.

This embracing was solidified for me in college when I was regaling a dramatic love story gone awry to my best buddy. I said, “I know it’s so cheesy,” and she laughed and said, “Amy, everyone loves cheese, whether or not they’ll admit it – everyone loves cheese.” Oh, yes, she was right! I was sold.

We are embarrassed by cheese and emotion and vulnerability. We squirm and cringe – and deep down I think we love it. And as humans – we need it.

I declared from that day forth, cool would NEVER crush my inner cheese.

Just ask my kids!

I consistently have to remind them (esp when they are rolling their eyes at me, and saying utterly ridiculous phrases like, “Oh my gosh, mom, are you SERIOUS?”) that EVERYONE LOVES CHEESE (even when it gives you gas.)

I have numerous examples of cheese working in my favor, and most of them have to do with The Professor, aka, dear Husband – THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, MY CUPCAKE, MY EVERYTHING (see? You probably cringed reading that. He will definitely cringe reading it and it will make me laugh and laugh. Laughing is good for you. You’ll live a longer, happier life. CHEESE IS FUN, especially at the expense of Husband – in the kindest of ways, of course.)

The first time I was really cheesy with Husband was our first Valentine’s Day. Dismayed when he staunchly declared Valentine’s a “Hallmark Holiday” designed by companies who just wanted your hard-earned cash, I reconsidered our union. Could I marry a man who did not value the cheesiest of holidays?

I decided he must be given a test. I emptied an entire bag of Hershey kisses all over his college bedroom floor and wrote a note: Now that I’ve kissed the ground you walk on, will you be my Valentine? Very cheesy.There was A LOT of cooing from my roommates – so I know I was on the right track.

The result? He was totally mine 🙂

You want more cheese in your life, believe me. LIFE IS MORE FUN WITH CHEESE (just listen to Elizabeth’s Valentine story.)

To achieve more cheese, you must be BRAVE. Cheese requires BOLD. I believe the resistance to cheese is fear. You’re waiting for someone else to make the first cheesy mood. Because what if you’re rejected? What if your cheesy move is not reciprocated? Will you die of mortification?

Go read or watch the Queen of vulnerability, Brene Brown. I’m positive she loves cheese!

I was lucky because I went to BYU, where, believe me, there is not better Cheese Ball training than BYU (and I LOVE BYU so don’t think I don’t!) There are dances every month and there is this expectation that you will ask and respond in the cheesiest of ways. (Not coincidentally, it’s a huge Utah Mormon thing – just ask my nieces!)

Another generation of cheese…and the absolutely most coolest girls!

For instance, my freshman year, Ben Owens asked me to Homecoming by putting a note in a jar of honey and writing something like, “Honey, will you go to Homecoming with me?” I’m cringing just thinking about it….but of course I had to respond in a BIGGER AND BETTER WAY. So finally I came up with the idea of giving him a huge block of ice shaped as a heart (this was not easily done, mind you) and once the ice heart melted, a note inside read, “Now that you’ve melted my heart, I would LOVE to go to Homecoming with you.” You’re likely rolling your eyes, aren’t you? I even rolled my eyes at the time, but guess what – IT WAS FUN! Good, cheesy, fun.

So anyway, this is just to say, embrace your inner cheese. Just this last weekend I brought a group of teens to a “Super Saturday” where we went to workshops, listened to speakers, ate dinner, and went to a dance. Some teens in my group were NOT EXCITED. In the beginning there was a lot of sighing, slumping of shoulders, frowns, this is dumb, this is so cheesy, can I use my phone? And you know what, good wholesome fun is often very cheesy. It’s not “cool.” But what exactly is “cool”? Pretending you don’t care? Being on our phones? Watching movies alone? Nice clothes? The best cars? Making fun of people’s clothes and cars? Sex? Alcohol?

Bah.

You know what’s really cool? Cheese. Cheese is the coolest. Cheese is kind. Cheese is goodness. It’s getting outside of your comfort zone to do something really “uncool.” It’s dancing in the middle of the room. It’s Mr. Rogers. It’s letting go of FEAR, and some silly societal expectation made up by who knows who.

So I’m sticking with cheese for life. BRING IT ON.

And those kids I brought to Super Saturday? By the end of the night, everyone was smiling.

If you have stories of cheese, please add your voice here. There is strength in knowing that you, too, LOVE CHEESE as much as I do.

Didn’t you know? We are the cheese we’ve been waiting for!

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A Blog Writer’s Mid-Life Crisis…and finding a way through

A month ago I was ready to throw in the towel. Maybe it was time to quit the blog life. What do I have left to write about anyway? Posting the smallest detail about the kids is like trying to gain clearance for a special ops mission (mom, stop blogging about my underwear). And if I don’t have underwear, tell me – WHAT DO I HAVE?

Fine. I guess I see their point.

In addition, I’ve been so bummed out about the world of late that life was just too depressing to write about.

The books I’ve read this month are too sad.

Two years ago today I was on a cruise ship in the Bahamas.

This year? No cruise ship. A poor state of mind.

Do you feel this way in March?

Also, I’m thinking about my web presence. I’m having a book published. JUNE 12TH!!! You can pre-order now 🙂 Am I now supposed to have a more serious presence? An official amymakechnie website? Who cares about my cream puffs? sniff.

I fell into the trap, an all-too familiar trap for me, in the form of you have nothing worthwhile to say in your little blog. 

Post ideas would come. I didn’t write them down. The longer I went without writing, the more paralyzed I felt (get a grip, Amy, it’s only been a month.) Still.

I hadn’t given up writing altogether. No, I’ve been poring that creative energy into my latest novel. It’s been a bit torturous, probably my hardest project to date; very emotional (more to come on that…!)

Well. I guess you could say I was looking for a sign. And don’t I know it: we see the things we are looking for. I was looking for a reason.

Today a woman, Marci, whom I admire immensely, showed a class full of women a picture from a post I wrote last summer. I posted a picture of a dead butterfly that I thought was beautiful, even though the butterfly had recently met its demise. I wrote: I found this butterfly today. It was dead but looked ready to launch…there’s a lesson in there somewhere…

Really, I was thinking about the next spiritual journey of this butterfly’s soul. But Marci saw it in a different way. She said that this picture and my caption – I kid you not! – changed her life. She spoke about the girls that we teach. We might think they have it all together, like this shiny, beautiful, colorful butterfly. But inside they might be hurting or even feel dead. She said our girls need us to really know them, to watch for them, to lift them up. They need us to love them, to help them launch.

I sat there thinking, this is my sign. there is more to write. 

Two lessons for me: when the universe calls on us to act (“the universe,” “the muse,” our “conscience,” “God” – call it what you might) we should act. My medium is writing. I feel compelled to do so. What you feel called to do, you should – that is your great gift to the world in whatever big or small sphere you operate in.

The other lesson is this: when we are moved by another, we should acknowledge the art or action and what it means to us. So, thank you, Marci and Danielle(!) for telling me that the picture I took of a dead butterfly with a caption meant something to you. That means something to me.

And so I had to write.

The End.

Happy Monday to you!

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Monday Encouragement

Are you also in dire need of a news detox? Me too. Which is terribly ironic (re: my previous post on the free press.)

Reading too much and watching too much news has left me despondent, especially regarding politics, gender, guns.

You know, I’ve had to be reminded that before there was 24 hours news, there were still terrible things happening in the world – it just didn’t land in our mailbox 24/7.

There is the evidence for optimism (see Melinda Gates speak about lowering child mortality.)

History teaches us that lesson over and over. We have madeTREMENDOUS PROGRESS. I’ve heard my parents talk about how hard my ancestors had it (teaching our children about their resilient ancestors is key to modern day resilience.) I’ve heard my parents talk about how scary the 70’s were, when there were hundreds of political bombings, sometimes daily. I’ve heard my parents talk about how scary it was to live through the threat of nuclear war continually hanging over America, the scandal or Watergate, the long gas lines.

In the 70’s, two of my brothers-in-law escaped Vietnam on a small fishing boat. That’s a really cool story now – but it wasn’t cool then.

Is modern life getting worse? I don’t know. But look around. Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now.

Can we do better? Yes.

And first and foremost, that starts with our families.

It feels easier to march and yell and  “save the world” (and hey, I’m ALL FOR THE MARCHING and the voting!) but it’s much harder to go home and love our families. It’s harder to love our neighbors and those people who don’t vote like we do. Much, much harder. But that’s where our greatest sphere of influence is.

Here is my first inspiration:Thee first family I knew. My mama was so tired (she says this look is apropos of her mental state at the time 🙂 ) Our baby boy Patrick was born 17 months later. And man, I admire and love her so much for working so hard at creating the family she wanted, for fighting for stability, for turning off the tv, for making us run around the block for exercise, for preaching the importance of breakfast, and opening the scriptures and showing us how to get down on our knees to pray, for teaching her girls what true feminism is. I love my father for his kindness and hard work and providing and showing us all what it means to be a real man. These two worked so hard at creating a loving family. Yea!!! It worked! I still love this family, 40 years later!!! LOVE IS WINNING.

(We can talk about the haircuts another day.)

I say, let’s love your family first. Second, find your causes, get your boots on the ground and ACT – BUT ALWAYS WITH LOVE.

Hate only begets more hate. Let’s stop worshipping violence. Let’s not allow it in our homes! Let’s turn it off. Let’s reject the idea that we have to be entertained by watching other people hurt each other. Let’s RISE UP and BE KIND to EVERYONE – wouldn’t that be a revolution?

As my good friend, Sue Houston wrote:

The basic problem is that at some level we still think that violence can produce peace, that violence can be entertainment, that violence can be depicted everywhere and that there will be no ill effect on our collective psych.

If we want peace, we need to teach peace.
If we want compassion, we need to act compassionately.
If we want Love to win, then we need to learn to Love, not just our friends and people who are like us.

We need learn to see the common humanity in every single person, and to Love everyone, without exception.

Boots on the ground. Love is a verb. Act. The power lies within us – how much do we value the children of the world?

“And I think that we in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace just get together, love one another, bring that peace, that joy, that strength of presence of each other in the home. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world.”

Mother Theresa, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. December, 1979,

Happy Monday, friends.

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The Absolute Necessity of A Free Press

In a serendipitous meeting of experiences this last month, I write to pay tribute to the news. Yeah, I know. News organizations can be obnoxious. They can recycle the same tired stories. They tend to lean toward the dramatic and dark, and not all of them are legit. But still – for our democracy to survive, the free press is an absolute necessity.

You may have noticed:

Women are speaking. A lot of them.

And who are they turning to? Writers. The free press.

The success of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter? The free press.

With the click of a button, a single needed voice can spread like lightening across continents.

We need the media. We need their fact checking. We need whistle blowers because we humans have a tendency to let power and money and status corrupt our souls.

Here’s where my serendipitous free press journey began:

Last month I began reading NFL quarterback Steve Young’s memoir, QB: My Life Beyond the Spiral (and excellent read, football fan or not.) I enjoyed many things about the book, including Young’s striving to do “the right thing.” I was struck by his photographic memory and ability to memorize over a hundred plays and know where each man should be on each of those plays. I appreciated how he wrote about his near-debilitating anxiety before each high stakes game.

 

I noted that the book was co-written with New York Times best-selling author, and journalist, Jeff Benedict. This is common practice: we turn to journalists to help write our stories.

You know what Young suffered a lot of? Concussions. (Seven!) After the last one, he never played again.

“As I finished writing these pages, the NFL’s top health and safety official admitted for the first time that there is a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease found in dozens of retired players. CTE is real.”

And here came the serendipitous part. While reading Young’s memoir, I began the brain unit with my Anatomy and Physiology class. A student mentioned we should watch the 2015 movie, Concussion, with Will Smith. A movie I finally viewed this weekend.

I began researching the history of the film and was soon watching the 2013 PBS special League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis. I was riveted, disgusted, up in arms. Oh sure, I knew something about concussions and the NFL’s reticence to connect a link to obvious: repeated trauma to the head is NOT GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN.

But what was most disconcerting was the way Nigerian-American neuropathologist doctor (with several more advanced degrees,) Bennet Omalu, was treated. He was shunned, threatened, banned from presenting, asked to retract his findings. Basically the NFL tried to completely discredit and destroy him until finally, the research could not be denied.

I didn’t know this story until it was written about.

Enter two brothers. Journalists. Investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada. Steve has a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in Iraq. Mark broke the Barry Bonds steroid scandal. Going up against the NFL, which surpassed $13 BILLION in revenue in 2016? “It cost us everything,” the brothers say.

Did they report anyway? They sure did.

This post really isn’t about football or sports (of which I am a big fan) per se, but the people, specifically writers (and in this case, also a scientist), who sought to right a wrong, to expose the corrupt, to tell the truth.

As one team doctor said, “Your work suggests or is suggesting or is proving that football is a dangerous sport, and that if 10 percent of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.”

I’ll let you do with that as you will.

Another breaking news headline this month: the so-called doctor with the last name of Nassar, who the USA Gymnastic Association inexplicably continued to employ after reported abuse (they deny wrongdoing.) Read this. Or don’t. “The 156 women who spoke in open court this week, chronicling Larry Nassar’s 20-year career as a sexual predator, seethed. They were unsparing. They were implacable. They were also brilliantly sardonic.”

Who did these girls go to when those with the power and money continued to abuse? The free press.

Who took down wall street? The free press.

Who finally brought the Catholic church abuse to light? Writers at The Boston Globe.

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Think of our battlefields. Think of our young men and women on those battle fields. Freedom of speech, a tenet of American democracy is a privilege we’ve paid for with our lives.

At this moment, how many thousands of people are there around the world who are sitting in a jail cell for having an opinion? While I so easily publish a blog post.

As E.E. Cummings wrote, “The theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion.”

Converging with all of these thoughts was watching the wonderfully acted, heart pumping film, The Post, this past weekend, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Watch a trailer HERE. Ah, I’m such a sucker for stories about the newsroom.

You want to watch bravery in action? Watch a terrified Meryl Streep surrounded by a room full of men, having to make what is likely the hardest and most dangerous choice of her life: expose the highest power of government (possibly face jail time and lose The Washington Post) or keep quiet and risk nothing. It took great restraint not to stand and clap right there in the Regal Cinema.

The Post Header via Film Stage

There’s a line that has stuck with me – “If we don’t publish, we will lose. The country will lose!”

Nixon was ticked (to put it mildly,) and attempted to ban the New York Times from ever covering another white house event. Well, we all know what happened to that guy.

It is a very very dangerous thing to let anyone, much less a sitting president, dictate what is and what isn’t news worthy. And when a president cries “fake news,” let us be very very wary.

Freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching government or any other entity which strives to silence truth.

There is no doubt the free press has great power. With that power comes great responsibility (said everyone from God to Yoda to Dumbledore). There are publications creating fake news for a click – and I find it disgusting and immoral.

For all their flaws, I take this side: The truth shall set you free.

As for who must keep the press in check? That’s on you and me. Because if there’s ever a time where we can “buy” the news…what is left?

Tonight is the State of the Union. The press will be in attendance. They will report. Will they get it right? We should tune in.

To those brave enough to speak truth, brave enough to write it, and brave enough to hit “publish:” American heroes.

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