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Reading, writing...that's what I do.

Love for the printed word, love and belief in ideas.

The Positives and Negatives of Social Media

I do love being on social media, for it allows me to reconnect with old Chicago friends from high school, college, also friends from Des Moines, Iowa, where we lived for 23 years, and Southern California where we lived for seven years. Not to mention people from all over the world.  

BLOGGING

Social media really took off at the millennium, when I started blogging, and since then have been posting once a week. That’s not to say I’ve gotten better at it, though I have covered many topics, changed the name of my blog, and over time needed to change the format. Not being  very good at technical stuff, I am grateful to those who have helped me, especially with the setup of my blog: Jeff, Cheryl, Rena and Claire to name a few.

Now, being part of the Women of Midlife, means sharing posts with each other. We read each others posts and comment. Some members share every day. I share once a week when a NEW POST is up.  

POSITIVES: MAKING NEW FRIENDS 

Reading other people’s work gives you insight into their lives and the topics they know about, share with you. Anne Paris keeps us organized, posting a link so we have a place to drop our stories. Laurie writes about her home, her pets, what she learns on her walks when encountering nature. Alana loves music, among her other talents, and does a blog “Music Moves Me” every Monday. Lois is a woman about town, keeping us up date on shows, fashion, food…things going on in our culture. Janis writes about changes happening in social media. Karen cooks, invents, shares, so that we smile and maybe count calories. Carol always makes us think, as she covers a variety of topics. Marcia writes on The Girlfriend, covering a variety of topics. One can learn about fashion, current events, medical care, the mental and physical needs of women when reading so many of our members: Pennie, Yvonne,  Lisa, Maureen, Renee, Carol, Walker, Laura, Lee, Diane!! 

Some weeks I GET IT RIGHT! Readers love my post and comment. Other weeks, not so much. But I always take into consideration the LIVES of our group: travel, work, illness in the family OR that this just isn’t a post they are interested in. 

I GET THAT! For all writers, variety is the spice of life when writing and reading. Last week many in and outside our group loved my post on KITCHEN MEMORIES. But that’s what blogging is about: sometimes you’ve got a hit; sometimes the topic is, well blah, or readers were busy…so many reasons. 

NEGATIVES     

Social media and blogging, whether posting once a week or for some every day, asks of the writer: NEW IDEAS. Often it is difficult to find a topic that will interest everyone. Being a fiction writer and fiction reader, I often provide a book review. That might not please as many as a more general topic, but blogging requires we write about the odd and the different. Looking over some of my past posts indicates I’ve sometimes gone in unusual directions: A GOOD THING. My book reviews, as well as Sleep Tight and Dan Fogelberg had good readership and lots of comments. But you never know.  

I also like to choose artwork for each post, and for this one I emphasize that communication can be positive and negative. THAT IS WHAT WRITING IS. Whether writing a book or movie review, a political viewpoint or some family memory…readers will either like what you’ve created or take a pass.  

We can extend that result to any interaction on social media. The ability to love, like, laugh, be said or angry can never cover all the emotions and opinions readers have when interacting with social media. It’s a guessing game…

THE BEST PART, as I hoped to show with the illustrations above: we are communicating. Sometimes it is all positive, sometimes all negative. But communication is golden. Thanks for reading.

 

Kitchen Memories….We All Have Them

 

I

It didn’t work out. I made my children liver sausage sandwiches with mayonnaise, garnished the top with circles of dill pickle, and they squished up their faces and asked that I NEVER serve that again. But they did eat these:

Mom’s Raisin Cookies

Raisin Cookies:

2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup (210 grams) light brown sugar

12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsaltedbutter, softened

1 large egg

1/4 cup (60 ml) milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (125 grams) dark raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon. Add the brown sugar, softened butter, egg, milk, and vanilla extract and beat for one minute. Add the raisins and beat until incorporated.

Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing the cookies a couple of inches apart. Bake the cookies for about 8 – 10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are just barely touched with color, yet the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Well, okay. I was in a nostalgic mood. I was just remembering the lunches my mother prepared for us in our old kitchen. Then kids came home for lunch. My brothers and I ate grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup (and, Mom, please make it with milk!!). We nibbled warm chocolate chip cookies while my mother read to us right in the middle of the day—JANE EYRE, THE RED PONY. We’d close our eyes and picture other worlds, strain for the sound of carriages and horses’ hooves or the smells of hot sand and desert flowers. And then the stomach churning sound—my mother slapping the covers of the book together. We’d trudge back to school.

I can still see my mother’s kitchen table, a scarred mahogany library table which she had covered with red gingham oilcloth. It was perfect for rolling out dough, playing with finger paints, doing homework, or just sitting mesmerized by the red, blue, and yellow roosters strutting the wallpaper above the green plaster dado. There were way too many moments in my life when I escaped the memory of my math teacher’s face or avoided my mother’s admonishment to read the newspaper, just sitting, lost in the festive feathers of those bantams. Ah, moments in the old kitchen.

Because that’s where we gathered; the kitchen we stumbled into as toddlers clutching a baby bottle; the kitchen we ran into as children eager for Sugar Pops or the face of the hero on the Wheaties box. We ambled there as teenagers bringing our friends and perusing the contents of the refrigerator. And it was the rule to complain about what was found, the rule to combine foods in taboo ways—peanut butter and egg salad—and then the shrieks of laugher.

There were many moments when my mother stood at the enamel kitchen sink, her back to us, struggling for a stern posture, stifling a laugh. We knew what would come next—a penalty of sorts, a dictum from on high. She’d point to the blackboard she had nailed up over the sink where chores were marked off for each of us, those penetrating words—wash, dry, put away. She’d add something punishing for the child of the moment—clean the hated greasy meat grinder used for making hash or the wooden rolling pin sticky with dough.

But truly, the kitchen was my mother’s place. She filled the small space with her warm gestures and words, conducted important talks around the dinner table, and was always there to kiss us goodbye or hug us hello.

But any kitchen worth its salt could also become the center of the storm.

My older brother had fallen asleep over his Greek or Latin translation and now blamed my mother for sending him to a school that worked him to death.

I burned the toast. Three times.

My younger brother appeared crying—the newly assigned patrol boy was the neighborhood bully. Wow, how I disliked that kid. Leave my brother alone!!

On those forever mornings chaos blocked out kind words, if any words at all. We forgot to help one another as we raced around the kitchen, bumping into things with that “mother threat” hanging over us—things would not go well for us if we dropped the half-gallon glass milk bottle on the floor. Of course one day we did. Milk, laced with shards of glass, spread its long, white fingers everywhere while we scrambled for dish towels and cloths. To our collective surprise, my mother kept us; she did not send us to the dogs that fateful day—instead she frantically looked over our hands for cuts from the glass.

Often my mother turned on the static-laden radio to let in the real world. But we children didn’t hear a thing. To us sitting sleepily at the kitchen table, life was idyllic. We heard only the rasp of the milkman’s brakes, the jangle of bottles inside his metal basket as he came up the walk, the fried eggs chirping in the pan, the bacon snapping and sizzling—breakfast sounds that broke through the constant braiding of bird song.

My mother was a widow, earned our keep by typing insurance policies in the dining room. We took for granted her gift of security, as if in a fairy tale an enchanted rose thicket kept us safe. Magic wasn’t my mother cracking open an egg and finding a double yolk. Magic was being there in that sheltering kitchen.

Now I load a dishwasher. And despite the fact that my family often eats exotic takeout foods with nomenclature that didn’t exist in my childhood, or we prepare meals with blenders and food processors in our gadget heaven—the kitchen is still where we gather. And it is there, as in my mother’s time, that I try to make my children’s empty full again, providing encouraging words before a test, comforting advice about a friendship, and those same hugs and kisses—all food for life’s journey.

I think of the wonderful kitchen afternoons my children and I have had, afternoons when there were no lessons or errands to run, no games—absolutely nothing on the calendar. The kids would sit around the counter on stools, attempting homework, tapping pencils, moving papers, producing occasional squeals and arguments as the phone rang, the microwave beeped, and a Game Boy hummed intermittently. Oh, they weren’t playing jacks or pick-up sticks, they weren’t creating a new world out of Lincoln Logs, but it was wonderful, a wisp of the old kitchen.

The back door bangs. The kids are back. They each choose a stool and rattle around, giggling and smiling at me. The sky is still full of sunlit clouds and we can all hear a basketball thumping in the distance. I wipe the stove thinking any minute they’ll shriek and run off. But instead, they stay, asking me questions, laughing, joshing me about my memories. Yet as I begin to talk, I know they are eager to take in every word. I smile at each of them and then turn away suddenly, blinking. I see the bookshelf in the corner of this kitchen, full of cookbooks. I focus on it—I’m sure there’s space for a copy of the RED PONY, maybe even JANE EYRE. They’d go well with foods of great comfort—steaming tomato soup made with milk and runny grilled cheese sandwiches.

 

We Dream We Plan We Live

 

I wonder if some of the generations below us have decided that we are too old to dream. Because it is not so. We can always dream…and we must.

There is always something in the DNA of humans, something lying fallow in our makeup, that periodically blooms, grows, takes us over. We dream, we plan, we live! And even in dire situations, we go on living. Sometimes it’s hard to work toward those dreams. Sometimes the very act of dreaming provides us with solace. At our core, we all have some vision that we aspire to, that we lean toward and encourage in ourselves and in our children and families. Today you will meet writers whose words build and create worlds that provide the reader with a sharp, yet sympathetic understanding of life and lives…different lives, lives of joy and sorrow. How many of these books have you already read? If not, I hope you will add some of them to your list: MUST READ. 

― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, her work on how she came to understand the death of her husband. “I could not count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response.”

― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, her thoughts on laughter. “It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it . . . so I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you’re done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.”

― Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, on yearning for the spiritual. “What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are not they both saying: Hello? We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we’re blue.”

― Dr. Seuss on dreams. “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

― Vincent van Gogh on dreaming. “I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

___C.S. Lewis on dreaming. “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

___Lewis B. Smedes on forgiving, which helps dreams come to life. “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald, on writing. “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” And his famous last line from The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Because we do beat on, we do dream on, we do keep going. A person very dear to me wrote me this in the flap of a favorite book: Your creativity is boundless, and now I have the chance to make sure you truly believe this about yourself. My creativity, if it is anything at all, is your gift to me, and I’ll spend my life trying to give it back to you. 

Those words truly are the stuff of dreams. But so is the Valentine from the person we didn’t expect to hear from or the endorsement on Facebook or Linked In, the recommendation freely offered for whatever goal, job, dream we are seeking. We all need to hold each other up, to be a brick in the wall of the dream of the persons we care about. It’s just so true, We are all in this together. 

So…what is the stuff of your dreams? And how are you going to work toward those dreams? And who will help you, who will offer to place a brick in the wall of your dream so that it is strong and purposeful? Please share your dreams.

HAPPY EVERY DAY….AND…HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY 

 

How Does The Past Affect Your Daily Life?

Writer, researcher Hillary Mantel wrote: “History is not the past, it is the method we have evolved of organizing our ignorance of the past.”

This is a profound statement, one that I sat with for quite some time. We all have a history, and depending on our families, our relationships, the places where we have lived, the choices we have made, our lives have been relatively easy, challenging, engaging, or so difficult that we have struggled to bury or forget parts of that history.

Mantel uses the word ignorance, which makes me believe she is focussing on her life or other lives where the slow or fast movement of society’s culture, politics, advances and fall-backs might be what she is referring to. Mantel read and wrote about British history and in doing so found in the choices and actions of people of the past many reasons to question their choices.

Here is a very short biography: Hilary Mantel, one of Britain’s most decorated novelists, whose trilogy of books on the life of Thomas Cromwell — “Wolf Hall,” “Bring Up the Bodies” and “The Mirror and the Light” — received both critical acclaim and commercial success which landed her work on best-seller lists around the world, until she died at the age of 70.

BUT WHAT ABOUT US?

If we had the chance to sit down with an author like Mantel what stories would we tell? Often our personalities guide us in those moments when we meet someone at a party or gathering and there is the inevitable exchange of information. Where do you live? What business are you in? Are you married? Do you have children? 

I love the story of an old friend, who when abandoned by her husband at some large business gathering, found herself walking aimlessly about the room, until a man approached her and began a conversation. He immediately asked her what she did for a living…and though Patricia knew this was the standard question, she found herself telling him she was a ballerina. And from there she somehow kept up the charade, which made the conversation tensely interesting, until as always happens, he talked about his work as a lawyer and then they separated, floating away into the crowd.

So if history, as Mantel says, is our way of organizing the past, my friend Pat created a new and exciting way to do that.

PICK A TOPIC YOU KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT.

AT A PARTY, INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO A STRANGER, TESTING YOURSELF ON THE SUBJET YOU SELECT. Your performance, whether good or bad, might make a great topic for your next blog post.

Or: LEARN ABOUT A PERFECT STRANGER by kindly asking: WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR LIFE?

And after reading this post, I’d love to read your answers. The vibrancy of our lives needs to be celebrated. And don’t you think our pasts always have something to do with where we are now?

THANKS FOR READING.

 

Hillary Mantel

SEEING CLEARLY

Recently, in an advice column in our local Chicago paper, a woman asked about her blurred visions. The columnist advised her to see a doctor! Yes, because as we age, everyone will go through what is called post vitreous detachment or PVD. Usually it happens with no symptoms. But I hope this piece emphasizes that if you have never worn glasses, or have just had a cursory exam during an annual physical…as you age, that might not be enough. Changes in vision should never be ignored. 

I have worn glasses since I was two! Born with strabismus, the muscles of my eyes weren’t coordinated and images sent to my brain were out of sync. My left eye wandered. Surgery at the age of five fixed my left eye, but by then the right had become weakened or “lazy.” I traded the strabismus for amblyopia in my right eye. Definition: decreased vision due to abnormal visual development (lazy eye). I grew up aware of having only one good eye. If something was thrown at me, I learned to cover my eyes with my hands.

THE EYE EXAM: CHANGES 

But then later in my life there was the checkup. I always wore glasses, needed a new pair. The nurse began the eye exam with the usual chart reading—one eye at a time, reading from top to bottom, letters in different fonts. I was having difficulty with my left eye, my good eye. This had never happened. The nurse put drops in my eyes, used a light to study my left eye. Moments later the doctor came in. Same procedure. By now I was anxious.

“I’m going to refer you to a retinal specialist. It looks like a problem with the thin covering on the very center of your retina. The macula. It determines your central vision.” He wrote down a doctor’s name, briefly rested his hand on my shoulder, and left the room.

In the car I cried—I needed my vision to read, write. I was a proofreader. How could I do that with a weak right eye? Magnification might help. If there was something seriously wrong with my good eye, my life would radically change. As tears clouded my vision it struck me, if this had to happen, why didn’t it happen to my bad eye?

A RETINAL SPECIALIST 

I saw a retinal specialist. I liked this doctor, felt a sense of calm. More eye drops. More waiting, convincing myself that the chances of this being nothing were almost 100%. Then during the eye exam, the doctor stepped back. “You have a fold in the macula of your left eye. It’s not a hole yet, but a fold. It’s tiny, but it’s affecting your ability to see the letters on the eye chart.” I focused on his words, realizing yes, with my glasses I could still read print, find tiny periods and commas while proofreading work. But the eye chart was a challenge and so were street signs and license plates, until I was almost on top of them.

“I’m not sure why this has happened,” he said. “The vitreous or jelly in the eyeball is pushing on the macula and creating the fold. We want it to stop. And it might release. But if it gets worse, we have to do surgery, and it’s not a pleasant recovery. For now I can only tell you that you should be able to still do your work and I’ll see you in six weeks.”

“It could release.” Those words echoed in my head all afternoon as I tried to work. But I was struggling. Why my good eye?  And if I needed the surgery, how would my vision be afterwards? Would I be able to read WAR and PEACE, my plan for retirement? Then the words echoed again. “It could release.” Yes, the vitreous would release and I would be able to use my left eye. It became my prayer. But when six weeks had passed, the doctor saw no change. “It’s the same. See you in two months.”

Good news?  I just wanted to be able to read. I had been praying, but that night I forgot. The next morning, driving again, squinting at street signs, I said aloud:  I will work through this challenge, through the possibility of having a permanent handicap. I had no choice.

ONE AUTUMN NIGHT WHILE RAKING LEAVES 

Weeks later, I was out raking leaves. In the greying twilight, I looked down and an inky black thread crossed my vision. I closed my right eye—yes, the vision in my good eye was being hindered by this new black, thick floater. I hurried inside, saying nothing to my family. Recently I’d had silver flashes in my peripheral vision, made phone calls to the doctor, researched retinal tears. I was getting used to sorting through symptoms, trying to understand what was happening to my vision. I waited an hour, hoping my visions would right itself; hoping there would be no visit to the emergency room. And in that time period, the black threads disappeared. My vision was okay. 

“Now we know what happened,” the retinal specialist said a week later. “You have gone through what we call a posterior vitreous detachment or PVD. * The vitreous jelly slowly detaches from the retina with no harm done. And it usually happens very slowly as you age, so slowly you don’t even know its happening. Yours went through like a runaway train and left a tiny fold. And maybe even that will go away, but aside from the street-sign-reading problem, your vision is good and you won’t need surgery.”

From that experience there was a change in my eye, but also in me. I would no longer take my good health for granted. I guess you could say I was seeing clearly.

  • Definition: During PVD, floaters are often accompanied by flashes, which are most noticeable in dark surroundings. Most patients experience floaters and flashes during the first few weeks of a PVD, but in some cases the symptoms are hardly noticeable. If PVD is complicated by vitreous hemorrhageretinal detachmentepiretinal membrane, or macular hole, the flashes and floaters may be accompanied by decreased or distorted vision. Floaters are most bothersome when near the center of vision and less annoying when they settle to the side of the vision. They may appear like cobwebs, dust, or a swarm of insects—or in the shape of a circle or oval, called a Weiss ring.

Your Memories Have Power…Write Them Down

“You have your wonderful memories,” people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition the essence of times past, things gone. Memories are…the faded cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of the people who are no longer married, the Mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are often what you no longer want to remember.”

 Joan Didion, Blue Nights

Yes, Didion, her words veering toward the negative. Because loss is tragic, hard, challenging. She had longed for her husband, now for her daughter. That second loss truly shakes up the foundations she depended on, and I applaud her words as she searches for strength.

But can we be nostalgic when we are young? Oh, yes we can.  

Anne Frank was, writing in her diary of days past, knowing those days were gone, that her world was imploding and that she might never again sit in a classroom, walk the streets of Amsterdam free and unhindered, look forward to love, marriage and children.

Anyone who looks back in longing–for a friend, a house, a parent, an experience, can feel and write about their longings–this is nostalgia. You want something back that you don’t want to forget.

CREATIVITY AND REMEMBERING 

There was a time when I began to write, that nostalgia seemed to propel me. Why? I was young, and I saw that my experience was in some ways limited. Major changes in my life had already happened (loss of a parent, early responsibilities as a result). And I realized that I didn’t want to relive my childhood, but that it dwelled within me, making my losses and gains part of me. Yes…the engine of my creativity.

Because when you write, you are either pulling things out of your own experience, or you are making shit up. Both land on the page, and wow, you’re a writer. (Though not necessarily a good one, because it takes time, endurance, belief in what you have to say.) 

SO WHAT IS THE ENGINE OF CREATIVITY?  

When Author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Dutch House, Commonwealth, Tom Lake) takes a memory and infuses it with meaning, she uses it in one of her novels. She describes her process this way: “I’m very sure that my memories are true and accurate, and if I put them up against the memories of my family or my friends, they would have very different true and accurate memories. Even if they differ…” Because we know that fiction comes from seeds of experience. IT COMES FROM LIFE, FROM LIVING. And what one person sees or hears or feels, can differ from another. (Same thing when writing a memoir.) 

EVEN FICTIONAL CHARACTERS LIVE IN OUR MEMORIES 

One of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Strout, discovered that her characters refused to stay within the pages of past books. Though Strout left her home in Maine for New York City, Maine stayed with her. So did the voice, the face, the life of Olive Kitterridge, the eponymous title of the collection of short stories that won Strout the Pulitzer for fiction.  But Olive wasn’t finished. She continued to speak to Strout, and thus Olive Again came to be, stories that take us back to Maine, but also (and this is to amazing and clever) bring back characters from Strout’s other novels. It’s delightful for Olive to find herself living in the same senior facility as the mother from Amy and Isabel, that being only one example. After writing My Name Is Lucy Barton, Strout felt compelled to learn more about Lucy’s beginnings and sent her back to a small town in Illinois to reconnect with her siblings and others in a collection of stories, Anything Is Possible. We all do this: let our memories grow, fill out the stories of our lives, enhance them. At some level WE ARE ALL STORY TELLERS. So…

WRITE IT DOWN 

Many of us kept or still keep a diary. It’s our lives on paper, our deepest thoughts and even our anger and our hurts. To us it is not fiction, but it can fuel fiction and it always comes from the power of memory. 

Talk to an old friend. You will discover that the mention of a place, a high school crush, a certain teacher brings back a flood of memory. And though they aren’t always positive memories, they are part of our lives. Joan Didion wrote Blue Nights after losing her daughter. She wrote The Year of Magical Thinking after the death of her husband. Didion used the power of her memory, her pain to seek healing. Each and everyone of us is a vessel of stories. Write them down. They are part of you; they have power. Don’t lose that power. 

artwork by Salvador Dali

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Recently, in an advice column in our local Chicago paper, a woman asked about her blurred visions. The columnist advised

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