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

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

Have You Read This Classic? A Different Drummer


Every so often, a “forgotten classic” is rediscovered and the literary world rallies with praise and predictions. This is true of the reissue of John Willams’s 1965 novel, Stoner, which went on to become an international bestseller. It also happened to the 1962 debut novel by William Melvin Kelley, an African American and member of the Black Arts Movement, who died in 2017. 

A Different Drummer more than lives up to the hype, both in terms of its literary accomplishment and in the power of its political vision.

Kelley’s story is set in the deep south, in 1957, amid the racial hostility and resistance of the early civil rights era; but he also draws our eye to the complicated nexus of oppression, bigotry, reparation and guilt inherited by white Americans after the abolition of slavery.

The story revolves around the Willsons, a former slave-owning family whose latest scion, David Willson, has sold a piece of their former plantation to his servant, Tucker Caliban, the descendant of a rebel slave. 


The sale sets off a chain reaction and leads to a mass exodus of the town’s Black population. Significantly Kelley’s Black characters, including Tucker, are seen only through the eyes of the white majority, their motives never explicitly revealed. So when Tucker salts the fields he has bought (ie land on which his forefathers were oppressed), and burns down the house and kills his livestock before leaving town, the reason for his actions have “yet to be determined”.

Instead, Kelley delves into the minds of the Willson clan past and present, including David, who now is head of the family business but who once wrote against segregation for a radical newspaper; also his wife, Camille, their two children – tracing their psychological trajectory from slave owners to benevolent masters, and then campaigners, of sorts, for racial equality.

Some chapters reach beyond the Willsons to the wider townsfolk, and here we see an America that holds fast to its moral superiority over Black people. There is as much outrage as confusion over the departure of Black locals, even if the governor’s statement claims: “We never needed them, never wanted them, and we’ll get along fine without them.”

The Willsons, for all their past violence and residual prejudices, are drawn with sensitivity. Their daughter Dymphna feels sisterly towards Tucker’s wife, Bethrah, who is all the more trusted because “she hardly looked like she was coloured, except maybe her nose”.


Published two years after Harper Lee’s To Kill a MockingbirdA Different Drummer also depicts the racial complexities of pre-civil rights southern life through children’s eyes. Kelley’s youngsters observe adult violence and bigotry without understanding it fully; we see their incomprehension of a changing America in which a man like Tucker must now be referred to as a “negro”, not a “nigger”.

Yet for all of Kelley’s sympathetic characterisation, his ending returns us to the horrors of race hate. A new introduction to the novel ascribes Kelley’s literary decline to the fact that “many white readers didn’t want a black writer telling them what they thought, especially when so much of it was withering”.


Today the book offers us an unflinching study of the southern white American psyche at the cusp of the civil rights movement: its belligerence against change, the incomprehension and anger. It is woeful to think that almost 60 years later, Kelley’s story seems just as timely and as urgent, but what a gift to literature that we have rediscovered it.

 A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley is published by Riverrun (£8.99). To order a copy for £7.91 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only.

P.S. I was privileged to have a Department Chair who chose this book to be read to my junior class English students; their different racial backgrounds made them eager to discuss this novel.   

Good Night, Sleep Tight (In a hurry? Make sure you read the list at the end)

Good Night, Sleep Tight   (In a hurry? Read the last paragraph: what sleep animal are you???)

It’s rather shocking and amazing how the phrases we often use are said without thinking. The above is one of them. What exactly is sleeping tight? The phrase comes from the experience of sleeping in a rope-strung bed. Instead of springs, these beds supported a mattress or feather bed using ropes connected to the bed frame. After a sleeper who packed a few pounds had used the bed, the ropes needed to be yanked on, and again tied tightly under the mattress to keep it in place. Getting ready for bed could require more than brushing your teeth…which according to the history of dental hygiene and dental methods, if the tooth was decayed, someone simply yanked it out. But the absence of a tooth brushing routine provided the hefty sleeper time to pull tight on the bed ropes, probably every night. THE GOOD OLD DAYS?

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled THE POWER OF SLEEP, Samsung provided more interesting SLEEP HISTORY.

Though our parents might have told us we needed 8 hours of sleep per night, sleep patterns and need are unique to individuals. As unique as our fingerprints, a person’s chronotype or sleep preferences should be considered when buying a bed or creating a sleep atmosphere that will encourage a good night’s rest. Modern technology can now analyze your sleep patterns, using a personal sleep coach. Samsung now has a Sleep Coaching Program…a trainer to help you track daily habits (activity, food and drink intake) to help you improve the pathway to a good night sleep. Two changes the article mentions is meditating at night before sleep, and then waking to natural light in the morning.   

Vanessa Hill, a sleep researcher, used Samsung’s program to change her sleep habits. She focused on being active during the day AND practiced deep breathing before going to bed.

ME? I often watch stimulating films with my husband before bed; I have also been known to snack on dark chocolate. Both bad choices for falling into a restful sleep.


Optimizing your environment for a healthy sleep; what to consider: Noise levels; light exposure; room temperature…though counterintuitive, the National Sleep Foundation states that a cool 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit and 15.5-19.4 degrees Celsius is ideal


In the Samsung promo, I found this fun and interesting:  SLEEP COAHCING TAILORED BY SLEEP ANIMAL SYMBOL  

The UNCONCERNED LION: he or she has healthy sleep patterns, sleeping at consistent times, getting enough sleep and sleeping deeply.

The SENSITIVE HEDGEHOG: Enough total sleep time but spends too much of that time awake and has inconsistent sleep times.

The NERVOUS PENGUIN: Sufficient and consistent sleep times, but remains alert and wakes up often during the night.

SUN-ADVERSE MOLE: Enough sleep without waking up too often, but has inconsistent sleep times. Tends to avoid sunlight.

CAUTIOUS DEER: Consistent sleep times, but is skittish, tends to toss and turn, and doesn’t sleep long enough.

EASYGOING WALRUS: Consistent sleep times, but not enough sleep. Can stay awake for an unusually long time.

ALLIGATOR ON THE HUNT: Not enough total sleep time, wakes up often at night and has inconsistent sleep times.

EXHAUSTED SHARK: Not enough total sleep time, tends to toss and turn, and has inconsistent sleep times.

 I would love to always be the Unconcerned Lion; and there are nights that I am. Bu I am probably most like the Sensitive Hedgehog.

 WHAT ABOUT YOU?    Thanks for reading.

How Beautiful With Shoes…Or Without

Can I be beautiful with the shoes I had to wear? And how beautiful?

I often spend at least an hour in the shoe store. Not because I love shoe shopping, but because I must wear orthotics in my shoes 80% of the time, and at Famous Footwear you have access to all the boxes. My ritual? To create a pile of styles that might work…and then try to stuff my orthotics in the shoes, always checking to make sure I have room for my feet! It can be daunting and it takes time. And it always makes me jealous of ladies who can wear tiny ballet slippers that give one’s foot absolutely no support; or those torturous heels that attempt to reshape the foot during the hours one wears them. So I am thinking that somehow I squandered my chances to be like those ladies…I either wore an ill-fitting shoe or I’m just cursed by my DNA.

In the upper grades, when you’re on the cusp of life, girls want to shed bulky clothing. For girls it is happening, their shy ways are morphing into those first stages of womanhood. But me? Instead, I was having foot problems. The doctor my mother took me to, someone lost-in-the-old-ways, not only removed a growth (a plantar wort) on the bottom of my foot using a painful process, he also told my mother to put me in oxfords. Oxfords!!

These are shoes that men might wear, or women who care nothing about fashion. These shoes are leather with stiff soles and of course SHOE LACES. They usually come in black or brown. I must have still been under the influence of the painkillers my mother gave me after the doc shot the bottom of my foot with a form of acid, because when we then went shopping for these shoes, I agreed to a pair of cherry red oxfords. And of course the very next day, I wore them to school. Seventh grade!

That is why Jack D. came up to me at our first of two grade school reunions, (I was in my early thirties) and told me that he’d had a crush on me in eighth grade, but he just could not get beyond the red shoes. Yes, even he remembered them.  I don’t know what shoes I was wearing the night he revealed this, but I can assure you they weren’t oxfords. I moved from those red shoes to saddle shoes and then quietly relied on my mother’s busy life to blot out the doctor’s warning that I had weak arches or something! I can still remember the elegantly thin loafers I wore in my Catholic high school, my white crew socks folded way down to reveal my lovely ankles. (Can ankles be lovely??)

And yes, I had years of wonderful carefree shoes—woven flats in various colors, dyed Peau De Soie for every prom dress or dance ensemble, sandals that revealed lots of skin, heels that were chunky or spindly depending on the style of the season. But most of all years and years of walking around barefoot. I always cleaned my house in my bare feet. Even in winter. I don’t really know why—I guess I thought I moved faster.

But the years caught up with me. Chronic foot pain led to the discovery of a stretched tendon. Surgery was mentioned, but the orthotics now protect that tendon. Foot surgery is always an ify choice, I now being condemned to BIG SHOES. I still cheat and wear little shoes for holidays and evenings out with friends. But trips to the shoe store will never be the same. Bottom line, I can still throw on a pair of athletic shoes and walk for miles. No complaints. But I do wonder if I might have stuck with more-supportive shoes my entire life—if those oxfords hadn’t been RED! How beautiful a thought.

Celebrating the Written Letter….or Even a Note



A piece in the Chicago Tribune inspired me today. The author, Peter Schwartz, wrote: In the past month, I’ve returned to a practice and a habit that the human community, until recently, had shared for hundreds of years: writing letters.

He underlines that this is a recent change in his means of corresponding, and has become his personal choice. “I have no expectations that anyone will or should respond. These are messages in a bottle, my small effort to stand against the digital degradation of human communication and human bonds. He then provides a brief history…“People have corresponded with each other using letters since the 13th century…We can trace the origins of the postal system in the United States to the establishment of the first post office at a Boston tavern in 1639. Benjamin Franklin — himself a prolific letter writer — served for nearly 40 years as the postmaster for Philadelphia and then for the Colonies and the new nation.”


Many of us remember Franklin from the often boring American history books we read at the primary and secondary levels. But it is also our HISTORY, our STORY. As kids, we were encouraged to WRITE thank you notes to relatives after receiving a birthday gift. Today? The thank you is often over the phone—that works. I love the human voice, eager to deliver a thank you before hurrying away to baseball or homework. But it does underline how we’ve gotten away from writing…writing anything…a letter, even a paragraph.

Do some of us still consider writing a standard note card with I love you added on? How about a phone call, so we share human voices and then sidetrack to other topics? But instead, we often settle with using a text emoji. I admit…I do that too.


We no longer have thank you notes in a desk drawer; we don’t have postage stamps; or is it that we don’t trust our mail delivery person??

I think it might be that we have no idea where the closest mail drop box is. Actually in our neighborhood we have two, both walking distance from our house. That’s the Chicago way.

In Iowa, the post-office was often inside the local grocery store! Awesome.

In Southern California, they utilize stationary stores (there were 2 near us; one I could walk to; one I would have to drive). These stores would wrap, weigh and ship your gifts, sell you stamps, and help you apply and receive a passport. If you just needed to ship or mail, you could drive to the bigger Post Office, but the lines were long. Since the days of the Pony Express, Americans like it quick and easy. But the Chicago post office near us is kinda hit and miss…parking is difficult, and once again you might have to wait a long time. 

PETER SCHWARTZ writes: It’s weird to now remember that publishers used to routinely collect and publish the letters or correspondence of famous people. When I was a teenager, I read the letters of E.B. White, author of “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little.” White lived on the coast of Maine across the water from the cabin my parents built in the 1970s. It made sense to my teenage mind that White lived nearby. I had read his letters, and his books, of course. I therefore felt as if I personally knew him. 

Have you ever read a book of letters?


There is another value to paper letters, because the time it takes to send and receive letters honors the space we need for meaningful communication. It rewards patience. The rich pleasure of receiving a letter partly emerges in the waiting…the act of receiving, reading a letter — the anticipation one feels seeing the envelope, then opening it, and the awareness of one’s surroundings, one’s feelings and own physicality while reading it. LOVE LETTERS, ANYONE?


When my friend Luke was diagnosed with cancer, I began writing him letters. He was grateful, told me he enjoyed the letters, so I kept it up. I wrote many letters to Luke while he was fighting for his life.

Weeks before his death, our church “roasted” him at his request. But he was so ill, he left the festivities early. Thus I sent him a copy of my speech: Luke’s got a son he calls Little Luke. That’s in juxtaposition to Big Luke, Gigantic Luke–Luke the big lover, the big eater (he orders double and dessert too) the big dancer–but truly, the guy with the great big heart. I looked it up, the name Luke means light. Luke, you are a light in all of our lives, no, I take that back, a bright, powerful flashbulb–you dazzle us.  

Luke read this an hour before he died. That was a gift to me, a gift of the highest kind.


Teaching And Nursing Made Me a Better Person


Many of you know that after teaching high school English at Bloom Township HS, I went back to school and became an RN. In college, I had majored in English/minored in Education, and after graduation secured a position at Bloom, a school in Chicago’s southern suburbs. I loved teaching. My student population was challenging, echoing the problems of Chicago’s inner city schools. During my interview, the superintendent asked me what I would do if a student came at me with a knife. Innocent me said I would deal with the situation. It was a turbulent time, and we did have riots, thus one day an angry kid came toward me in the library with a knife..but the principal was right behind him, and I was fine. I did have to sit before a police board, tell my story. But I understood the student’s complaints and angers and bottom line, I loved teaching.

Then after the births of my children, I went back to school, earning my RN degree, hoping to work in maternity. The head nurse at St. James, where I did my practicums, said right out that I would not find a position in Labor and Delivery or even postpartum. Never discouraged, I found a listing in a nursing journal: Mercy Hospital in downtown Chicago was hiring Labor and Delivery RNs. I applied, was interviewed and hired!

Being a newbie at my age demanded I be organized, alert and eager. After passing my nursing boards, a friend and I drove into the city for two weeks to go through orientation. I was then assigned to Labor and Delivery, 3-11 shift, with only a preceptor to guide me. I was on my own. It was challenging, my son in pre-school, our eldest daughter in college, and my younger daughter finishing high school. She was incredibly helpful. Time management, creating a schedule was the first thing I thought about each morning when the alarm went off. I worked part-time which gave me days to prepare meals, do laundry, and paint! We had just moved and were still completing some house projects. CHANGE was the word during that time period. I sometimes look back on those days wondering how we all managed it.


Nursing helped me become a better person. It was helpful that I had already worked with teens while teaching. Many of my patients were young, scared  primiparae: they had never given birth. My patience as a teacher helped me, making it my goal to explain the birthing process, teach and encourage breathing skills, and tamp down fears. There were good outcomes when my teaching did some good; and there were times when gripped with pain they forgot everything I had told them. That’s human, that’s okay.

During my time working with pregnant teens I learned to go slowly, to provide information only when it was absolutely necessary or they asked me questions. Post-partum was often a time when I could bond with my patient, so much so that they began asking me how to raise their children, how to talk to them so they would be smart. Thus, I signed up to work with an organization of women in the south suburbs whose primary purpose was to support and help single young  women who were about to give birth. I actually held classes at Bloom High School. With the help of this dedicated group of women, we taught pregnant high school girls good nutrition, how to care for an infant, and did what we could to prepare them for labor and birth.


I became a confident RN, able to handle emergencies, deal with interns and doctors, and not hesitate when having to give postpartum instruction to the father, because the mother did not speak English. “Nothing in the vagina for six weeks…” and the husband, the father of the infant would just look at me. So I repeated it, “No sex.” Often I worried about the mother, tired, in pain, soon to be running a household again, with a new baby and other children. WOMEN, they can be so strong. I knew this as I listened to them talking in post-partum, the topic often about money, this new baby and how would that work out when they already had three children. Thus, even though Mercy was a Catholic Hospital, I quietly talked with my patients about birth control. It got tricky to do so when the mother didn’t speak English. I had to rely on the husband or father of the baby to translate. Those were the times I wished I spoke Spanish! On discharge, I went over post-partum care again, hoping that mother and child would do well. I did receive a few phone calls from teen mothers thanking me for my help, they being thrilled when their babies did well, and especially when they began to talk!

I will be always grateful for the positions I had at Bloom and Mercy. I loved my work; both careers made me a better person.


The Polly Hill Arboretum


THE POLLY HILL ARBORETUM, located in West Tisbury, Massachusetts on Martha’s Vineyard.

If something were to suddenly happen to me, if my life had to radically change, I would hope that change might carry me away from any chaos that can create fear.  I hope I’d be able to secure a soft spot in some downy grass, lay my body down in a last square of sunlight. I’d desire the ability to smell the air, the grass, listen to the whispers of the trees and maybe birds — oh yes, it would be wonderful if there were birds. I would lie there, watching the sun move away from me, though trying to hold it back, knowing it has to speed along the grass and up the trees, until I must crane my neck to see the last of it in the sky. Even better, it might take me along, let me keep breathing before it is covered with clouds. 

I’m not eager for these images anytime soon, but there are places and experiences when you feel like you are walking into a different world. The Polly Hill Arboretum is such a place, and I am grateful to my son-in-law Ben Clock and daughter Caroline for taking me and my husband John there last month.

An arboretum is created when scientists and plant lovers gather a collection of trees and shrubs to preserve and permanently cultivate various species. The photos you see above represent the work of Polly Hill, who in 1958 began sowing seed over 20 acres on Martha’s Vineyard, while also preserving 40 acres of woodland. The arboretum established in 1997, is not for profit, and is devoted to the cultivation and study of plants that flourish in this island climate. Nothing like it had been considered, until Polly decided to broaden the range of plants that could be successfully cultivated there. She was eager to preserve the areas thriving vegetation, and later to share with the public what she had learned and created. Delighted with the results, Polly Hill kept adding trees, flowers, vines and hard space to create this beautiful, magical place with a visitors center, walking paths and signage to increase your knowledge while you are there. 


When I first posted the photo that is in the upper right corner, called an allee, a walkway created under two parallel rows of trees shading the middle space…many of you responded to this magical creation. Now above the title of my piece is another photo, this being the one Ben is sure is the Dogwood Allee at Polly Hill. He is not sure about the other photo, which I found online. Even so, in my dreams I want to walk that space over and over, sunlight filtering through the beaches, my walk cushioned by the those green tiles.

THANKS FOR READING. A few of you have written that you have also visited this magical place. I am sure Polly Hill would be joyful.  

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