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Getting my head examined

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“You’re crazy … you should really get your head examined!”

How many times have I heard that in my life? More times than I would like to admit. I suppose I’ve said some zany and unexpected things over the years, causing someone to criticize or complain about me. Not crazy, “cool” like some enviable hip slur, but crazy like “you’re weird”; that kind of crazy. I’ve been admonished many times for sure and when young I let it get to me. Growing up and being told I’m crazy was one thing, but at my age today, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m crazy, … so what? Your opinion is just that – an opinion. Not fact.

So I’m finally doing it … I’m getting my head examined. Earlier in the week I had a brain scan. The doctors are finally looking under the hood to see if there’s anything in that noggin of mine that shouldn’t be there or is causing some trouble.

Aside from this medical matter I’m becoming a subject in other ways as well. I’ve sought out research studies and become a paid volunteer subject. Being a subject is pretty neat in my opinion. It certainly makes the day a lot more interesting, being a subject in a well-conceived scientific or clinical research study. Vials and vials of blood submitted, along with questionnaires filled out, measurements and vitals recorded and under the auspices of Institutional Review Boards (IRB) is my way of helping brainy PhDs work towards developing new therapies that rid the world of debilitating ailments or diseases. My contributions are all anonymous of course.

The older I get the more mysterious life seems to be and the greater appreciation I have for it being so. And to try to understand the fundamental building blocks of the secrets of life holds even more wonder and more awesomeness about science and scientific achievement.

Just a drop of blood holds all kinds of secrets, and a few ounces of salvia holds enough DNA to map out one’s genetic profile. A year after I was born (1953), Watson and Crick discovered how instruction for building every cell in every form of life were encoded by the four-letter sequences of DNA: Adenine, Thymine, Guanine and Cytosine, or (put them all together and what does it spell?): ATGC. Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is the repository of genetic information that transmits inheritable transformations. Getting to know DNA means to also get to know the mysteries of heredity. But it is RNA, DNA’s close cousin (another nucleic acid) that does the real work. Like DNA, RNA is a chain of nucleotides, but unlike DNA, RNA is found in nature as a single strand folded onto itself – not a paired double strand you may be familiar as being a helix.

You may have heard of RNA. RNA molecules began to be understood in earnest in the 1970s, and became the molecular system that helped develop vaccines against coronaviruses a couple of years ago. That’s because many viruses encode their genetic information using the RNA genome.

A couple of weeks ago I donated eight vials of my blood to a study at a Boston teaching hospital in hopes of developing a diagnostic test for a particular ailment. I was one of thousands of volunteers and I received a token cash payment which I immediately used it to pay for dinner for two at a trendy Thai restaurant in Chestnut Hill.

I’m not likely to give away one of my kidneys nor am I willing to subject myself to a painful invasive spinal tap, but as long as the giving of myself, be it my blood, bone, tissue, saliva, urine or otherwise is there for the taking, I’m all “in”.

I’ve also been on a tear lately giving away my thoughts, perceptions, opinions and beliefs through online focus groups and discussion groups. I’ve been a subject for focus groups for years.

Many years ago I was in one organized by my alumni relations office to learn why certain class graduates did not participate in alumni activities. Another time I drove into Newon, looked at several print ad mock ups from Fidelity Investments, citing my preferences for this one or that one and why. At the end of the evening, I was handed two crisp uncirculated $100 bills along with a parking voucher.

Last week I participated in a 75 minute digital only focus group sharing my views and opinions about environmental conservation and messaging for a prominent Massachusetts-based non profit. I received a $250 gift card for my participation. I like these discussion groups because there’s no one right or wrong answers; they are only polling for opinions, likes and dislikes from a qualified consumer base.

Fortunately, none of the research scientists asked if I had ever been called “crazy”; instead they sought me out as a suitable candidate who happened to be the kind of human being that’s just right and appropriate for their studies. I don’t have the brains for being a scientist but I share with many others the wonders of nature and the joys of discovery made possible by those who do. I’m glad to be a small part of any scientific endeavor that may lead to transformative breakthroughs. In my career, most of my time was spent in high tech hardware and software start ups in the digital world, and in my later years as a paid volunteer, I’m doing a very small part in the sciences working to more fully understand the code of life.

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Trauma begets trauma

We’re watching Hell on earth on our screens play out every day from Lviv, Mariupol and Dnipro, cities and town in Ukraine. I had never heard of any of these cities until February 24 when the Russians invaded … causing unimaginable brutality and pain perpetrated on the innocents. Imagine civilians like you and me being bombed, tortured, raped, throats cut, killed by invading soldiers dropping bombs from the sky or by soldiers on the ground. War is usually avoided at all costs because was is Hell; fortunately, I’ve never had to go to war.

I remember distinctly during the Vietnam War there was a Draft Day. Birth dates were randomly picked and announced live on the television. My birth date received No. 250; most pundits thought a number that high would not be drafted into the armed forces. That’s not to say I didn’t know a little about the trauma that war has on its participants. My father in law who at age eighteen was dropping bombs during WWII could never talk about his experiences decades later as a husband and father to his wife or children. It was too much pain to remember and describe. An unusually happy go lucky kind of guy, he was tormented by his memories.

My mother was an eleven year old refugee, one of the 110,000 Jewish refugees who settled in America in 1936 escaping from Nazi Germany. As an adult she too still could not talk of her traumatic past when she was separated from her parents as an only child, and all her childhood friends were sent off to other countries around the world never to be seen again. For her the trauma was best buried. She too never talked about her pain and fears and unease to anybody, her friends, her husband (my father) and naturally, not to her two sons. She was depressed her whole life; two post partum depression episodes followed her into adult life as a new mother.

Whenever my father travelled out of the country on business, this separation set off a sense of melancholy in her. It was in her bones and in her mind even though she was safe in America. The 1963 movie The Pawnbroker left a mark on me; I was eleven when I saw it. Rod Steiger played the part of a sullen man who survived a concentration camp, but struggled to live a life in New York City. Flashbacks haunted him.

So here I am in Massachusetts, in my townhouse, relaxing and well nourished, browsing news on my MacBook, having returned from my daily walk around the neighborhood. I’m far, far away from the relentless bombing and fears and screams in Ukraine. I’m incredibly grateful for the comforts I have even thought the culture wars between the Dems and GOP are causing great concern.

I think of the millions of refugees displaced by the damn Russians and how despite the welcoming received in their new countries, I wonder, won’t they still be scarred for life? Few people, it is true, can go through life without encountering some kind of trauma, but isn’t the trauma from war more severe than other kinds of trauma? War effects one’s sense of self, safety and security even after the violence ends.

According to Psychology Today magazine: “Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience … Unlike ordinary hardships, traumatic events tend to be sudden and unpredictable, and involve a serious threat to life – like bodily injury or death – and feels beyond a person’s control. Most important, events are traumatic to the degree that they undermine a person’s sense of safety in the world and create a sense that catastrophe could strike at any time. Parental loss in childhood, auto accidents, physical violence, sexual assault, military combat experiences, the unexpected loss of a loved one are commonly traumatic events.”

It seems that war is the ultimate traumatic event: of the examples listed in the last sentence above, all of them occur during a war; and all of them can easily occur to one person at the same time, or over a brief period of time.

Not all refugees from a war conflict recover well, and others can’t even make it into adulthood. A former manager of mine, Gwynn J., adopted through her church a couple of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”, a group of boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1987-2005). These children, many of whom were only seven or eight years of age when they were forced to become child soldiers (armed with guns instead of playing with their toys) “were the victims of the largest systematic program of child genocide since the Nazi Holocaust”. One day, Gwynn returned home from grocery shopping to find one of the boys trying to hang himself in the basement.

I believe the violence and trauma inflicted on the refugee adults and children will become a breeding ground for more disturbances, unease and trauma as pain and disturbance breeds violence. Recovery is not attainable for all. Some may be resilient and some may be able to recapture a sense of meaning and fulfillment in their lives whether they are reunited with their loved ones in Ukraine or not; I don’t know; I hope so. It is my hope that they may be able to recover and have a meaningful life.

It was Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust concentration camp survivor himself who as a psychotherapist recognized that people who suffered trauma could find new meaning and fulfillment by devoting their lives through a cause or a deed. There are many amongst us who have survived traumas and been able to remake themselves with the support of mental health services and love of their family and friends. Some say if there’s a will, there’s a way. Hopefully, humanitarian aid, faith-based and mental health services will be afforded to all the Ukrainian people for as long as they need them whether they settle in their new countries, cities and towns, or are able to return to Ukraine and continue their journey.

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Something anyone can do

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Even before I turned seventy I was thinking about how to live my best life, whether I might live a long, fruitful life, and whether I had any control over the matter. It was with these concerns that I picked up the book The Art of Aging by Dr. Sherwin Nulland, author of an earlier book published ten years earlier called How We Die, an exploration of disease states we might succumb to at any point in one’s life. (Think heart disease, cancer, AIDS, etc.). While both are written by a doctor, neither is a clinical book nor were they depressing to me. Instead both are moving accounts of how our bodies and organs function, how they may break down as we age, and how to deal with it.

In the Art of Aging, one chapter in particular stood out: “Approaching a Century: Michael DeBakey”. At the time of the book’s publication in 2007, Dr. DeBakey was recognized as the leading cardiovascular surgeon in the world. He invented his first cardiology-related device as a twenty-two year old medical student in 1931: a pump for the propulsion of blood through flexible tubing, it became “the crucial component that enabled the development of the heart-lung machine for cardiac surgery.”

Onward his scientific mind and innovative spirit took off: he developed the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH units) and founded the National Library of Medicine. He became chairman of surgery at Baylor University in Houston and became the pioneer in surgery for aneurysms in the chest and abdomen, as well as treatment of occlusions in the carotid artery to the brain that commonly causes stroke.

Over the years Dr. DeBakey developed a huge surgical practice, eventually numbering over 60,000 patients, 95% of whom he maintained long-term follow-up studies.

He operated until the age of 90 (though could have continued) because there were so many other things that he felt “needed to be done”. He traveled the world as a speaker, author, and consultant continuing to develop new devices to aid his patients, conduct laboratory research, and mentor others. But he was more than a cardiac surgeon. Even at the age of 96 he could hold his own to discuss at length subjects like the origins and theology of the world religions, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and democracy.

What drives a man like DeBakey to be so full of life even in at age 96?

His wife said the chief driver for him was “love” …the love of his patients fed his work and it was love and his work that gave life its meaning”. Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, who was also Lebanese American like DeBakey said “work is love made visible.” DeBakey’s wife maintained that he approached his work with love and it fed him. It was his commitment to his patients and their outcomes that kept him going strong into his nineties.

There was nothing he didn’t enjoy more than “giving hope to others, and to maintain it, to save it.” As a surgeon he was in the perfect position to do just that.

Whatever one’s constitution, intellectual or physical state, this man’s approach to living and working is inspirational. It is in the giving to others that meaning is attained, and it is apparent to me, in my quasi-retirement, in this particular time in history that we live that alleviating concerns of others, giving hope to our fellow man is the most important things to do. It pays off for both giver and receiver.

I’m particularly aware of how fortunate I am as a white guy living in America. While not in perfect health, I do my best to maintain a good weight, walk daily and eat healthfully, stay informed and self-advocate as necessary. Apparently Michael DeBakey ate like a bird; that’s not my way, but I do my best to stay clear of sugar and processed foods. I’m far from perfect; I really enjoy muffins, hermits and M&M’s, but try to substitute healthy choices whenever possible.

We’re living in the midst of an existential threat to our planet (and quality of life). We’re watching an unspeakable cruel and destructive war in Ukraine. We have on our hands an energy crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a financial crisis, a democracy crisis and a mental health crisis for the children and adolescents fearing the future of living on a planet on track to warm up to over 3 degrees Celsius in the not-so-distant future.

We’re living in a world that continues to finance dirty coal-related projects at a pace that is more than two times last year’s pace, and a world where greedy fat cats in the largest financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase (which is the worst of the dirty dozen) continue to pour money into dirty fuels investments which spew even more carbon dioxide into the air … to what end? These are not times for the faint of heart. No pun intended.

What better time than now to be kind and to extend a helping hand to others? Dr. Nuland maintains: “One hardly need be a doctor in order to do the giving. The gratification comes from the feeling that you’ve done something for people.”

Apparently, DeBakey’s genes have something to do with his longevity.

His father lived to be ninety, and his mother into her late eighties. He, like his parents shared similar values, exercised, ate healthfully and sought out intellectual stimulation from one day to the next. While we may not be blessed with the same genes as DeBakey, we have control over our own attitudes and many of our choices and communications. Humans have the ability to reflect on one’s own behavior and can make adjustments over time.

He also made clear in his late nineties, that aside from the philosophical and social interaction and love shared between himself and his patients, “curiosity and the seeking of knowledge is a transcendent life force … it drives you intellectually and to an extent, physiologically.” When he goes to bed at night “he is looking forward to the morning so that he can do those things he was unable to accomplish on that day.”

I would add that I have gotten into the habit when I go to sleep to remember at least three things that I am grateful for at the end of the day. And, like Dr. DeBakey, I sometimes look forward to the simple things like having cereal the next morning, or doing Wordle or Spelling Bee. But I no longer do Spelling Bee while walking at the same time. I don’t think Michael DeBakey would encourage that, plus I’ve learned my lesson (See “Solo Trip” blog post in “off the hook” if you haven’t read it already).

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Just sittin’

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I’ve been doing a lot of nothing during the month of February and it’s been liberating. Doing nothing, just hanging around, watching Netflix or just wasting time is not wasting time. There’s a first time for everything and for the last few weeks I’ve really enjoyed doing nothing; for me it’s been surprisingly worthwhile. It’s something that I have not allowed myself to do do very often. I’m used to having a number of “must do” activities to accomplish during the day in order to feel good and productive, and if not accomplished during the day, sometimes continuing in to the night. So much to learn, so much to take care of, so much to prepare for, so many perspectives and subjects to understand as a way to understand my perspective.

Doing nothing means not to push myself, to not prod, to not try to control my time (and outcome), or to squeeze as much as possible out of one’s day. I have not squandered my time. While I don’t have a bucket list, there are some things that I’d like to do before the end, and since the end could be tomorrow, I tend to use my time to do them. In meditation or through breathing exercises, it says to use this exercise “to not accomplish anything”, to just be in the here and now. By slowing down and not pushing myself, it allows me to look within and take apart assumptions and expectations – of myself and others.

Retirement has not been a time when I do nothing. I’ve got an activity list, obligations, bills to pay and challenges to face. I find myself constantly looking at my watch and spending too much time reading emails, texts and solicitation on my phone or MacBook.

When I embarked on “off the hook” nearly five years ago, I had pent up demand to participate in activities I had often dreamed about but did not have the time to pursue: drawing and lettering (artwork), biking with friends, reading fiction. Volunteering to address climate change at the local level and defeating Trump’s re-election bid. I’ve been cooking Mediterranean cuisine, vacationing in Florida, and before Covid, traveling overseas.

Charles Darwin said, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”. Much of my off the hook time has been about living (alone with myself and with family and friends), and exploring and writing and being creative. That takes time, motivation, effort and sacrifice.

I’ve grown to binge on series like Succession, The Imposters, Dirty John. While I doubt very much that I will be speaking about any of these shows while on my deathbed, I now find just relaxing with them worthwhile. I started watching Mad Men again since it first aired in 2007, and Seinfeld episodes I missed or never saw in the first place.

It feels really good to just waste time {“watching the ships roll in, then I watch ’em roll away again”) …. as the incomparable Otis Reading muses in his “Dock of the Bay”:

….”So I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay, Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wasting’ time …. Sittin’ here restin’ my bones …. Now I’m just gon’ sit, at the dock of the bay, Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh yeah ….I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay, Wastin’ time.

The Top 10 List

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The war in Ukraine with all its pain and suffering and unnecessary death and destruction has been my concern over the past month. Interest and concentration necessary to write about my little life has not been of interest. So instead of doing that I’m providing a filler for off the hook this time:

April 2022 will mark the fifth anniversary for “off the hook”. I started writing it a little while before I retired from my marketing career while vacationing with my pre-pandemic. It has become a regular feature of my life since then. It keeps me keen and aware and attuned to things that matter. I’ve written 97 posts to date, about one every three weeks to record my life. For me it’s an achievement to write so often and think I have something to say that others might enjoy to boot! To be honest, I didn’t have a master plan in mind. I just wanted to use the platform to write about my life and how I was living and now have 100 posts in sight. I wanted to catalogue what I was observing, doing and thinking about in respect to my life, my regrets, my aspirations, my achievements and anxieties. I’m gratified that there are readers who have found the writing to be (their words): “entertaining, thoughtful and sensitive”.

For those who are with me now and haven’t followed “off the hook” since it’s inception, I’ve decided to compile a list of the top ten blog posts that have resonated well with my audience. These are the posts which have the most “likes”, the most “comments” and/or the most “views”. In a few cases there are posts which I liked the best regardless of the response received. The audience is largely unknown aside from some friends and family who have regularly read my posts, commented and have shared their names. Some others have introduced me to their writing and blogs and that’s been illuminating as well. Thank you.

Apparently my writing and composition has improved over the years as many of the “best” were written in 2021 and 2022. But there are exceptions. There was one from September 14, 2018 of particular appeal: “Kvetches like the real deal”. The one with the most views, likes and comments was just published on March 1, 2022 and titled: “Just Sittin’ “. Those in my LinkedIn network liked “A marked man” most – with several hundreds of views; I figure it’s because information researchers are part of my network; they will most appreciate the subject.

For those who have not signed up and become a regular “follower”, I invite you to do so and to share your comments if anything I say moves you.

The Off the Hook Top Ten (not in order):

To find each of them simply type in the name of the post in the search bar at the top of offthehook to go directly to the post of interest. Categories are noted on the bottom of each post. Comments are always appreciated.

  • Blue Toilet Paper Man, March 7, 2021
  • She ate dirt, June 23, 2019
  • A marked man, September 20, 2021
  • The original social distancing, August 18, 2021
  • Just sittin’ , March 1, 2022
  • Happiness, where are you? June 13, 2022
  • At long last, July 4, 2020
  • Kvetches like the real deal, September 14, 2018
  • A Solo Trip, December 9, 2021
  • Seventy? Seventy! February 13, 2021

Enjoy!

Seventy? Seventy!

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When younger and later in life as a married man with two young children, deep into my career and family, I thought that when a person turned seventy years of age they had matured to a point and would share their lessons of life with their loved ones. This didn’t happen. I assumed wrong. No one in my family did that.

My father lived until age 91, but started to decline in his late 80s, and during all those years of decline I waited and waited for him to sit me and my brother down to tell us all that he had learned in his nearly nine decades of living through good times and bad. I wanted to hear about the meaning of life, what was most important, how to be a good man …. but that was wishful thinking. On reflection this probably has more to do with my sense of lacking than of his.

Sitting around and hearing about his life in the way I imagined didn’t happen but that doesn’t mean to say I didn’t learn his view of the world and what mattered to him. He had imparted it to me by virtue of living with him. That’s the only way one really gets to know someone anyway; by living with them day after day, month after month, year after year. I learned that he looked forward and not back. He made his voice and point of view heard – often when it was not asked for. He believed strongly in perseverance, in not giving up. He strongly believed in living within one’s means. He said problems are good; if you didn’t have problems, you wouldn’t be alive. Save more, spend less. Don’t give in to immediate gratification; critically analyze the situation before acting. These were his truths; most of them are mine too.

Now I just turned seventy years of age and it made me think of what I might do if I turn eighty. And then I looked back and reflected on what I did when I turned sixty.

A decade ago, my wife and I flew out to Arizona to visit with friends Steve & Andrea whom I’ve known since I was twenty four years of age. Steve and I first met while living in a group home in Brookline, and while there discovered he was born barely a week before I was and we shared a lot in common. One thing in particular stands out about the two of us: we’ve both been told we’re immature. So we’ve kidded ourselves about it incessantly and point out incidents to each other that proves the point time and time again despite our advanced age. One time we decided that we were going to produce a new magazine called “Immature Man”. To further illustrate the point, I created for Steve a 60th birthday card mock up with a similar likeness to the TIME magazine’s “Man of the Year” cover; but in place of TIME at the top it said “Immature Man” and included a banner running on a diagonal with “Debut Issue” on it. It featured a full blown head shot of him 8 x 11. On the bottom right corner was his actual birthday date.

We know we’re not the only ones; so we are going to recruit other people who also qualify as immature, describe the attractions of being immature, and then invest in our publication, join our staff and make “Immature Man” a success. We’ve done our media research. There is no other magazine like it covering the joys and attractions of being immature.

So now I’m seventy. Though some might think most of the best years have passed, I don’t think so. I finally know now who I am and that I don’t need anyone to tell me how to live my life or what to do about it. I’m not a know-it- all; far from it. I can still listen and learn. But it’s my life to live as best as I can with an eye towards the rest of the world too. (I am fully vaccinated, wear a mask, keep my distance from others. I follow the science and live within the law).

I have an agenda that I would like to follow, but I don’t know how long I have on earth to pursue it. The length of my time on earth is hardly in my own hands of course, but some things are. I acknowledge that truth, accept it and try to live in the present while planning for a future. I know I am going to die and so hope to continue a path of self-improvement with respect to how I live and how I treat other people until I do.

The things I’m doing now I hope to continue going forward: continuing to do some good in the world. Taking care of myself while also doing something about the threats to our democracy and planet. I want to be mobile as much as possible, as long as possible. It’s when I’m physically active I feel best.

What will the future hold? The coming years of this decade will have a lot to do with that.

The planet is burning up, and the world hasn’t really accepted it or at least not enough to act with urgency. Fossil fuel companies are lining up to fight the truth that burning fossil fuels kills. Public health disasters loom as the climate changes.

We seniors (even immature seniors) and most seventy year olds alike will be gone before the apocalypse occurs in earnest. The Climate Clock is ticking and no one will escape it. I see value in using one’s time well, to live as best as possible – but within one’s means – for one’s own good and for those younger too. I believe we can do something about the climate crisis at the grassroots and local level, educate ourselves and others through our own behavior, voice and our vote. All is not lost; in fact, now’s the time to act.

In Awe of Authors

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Medical doctors, PhDs, and authors alike are people whom I’m in awe. Anyone who can consciously slave away for thousands of hours over multiple years to create a book of any type: memoir, history, fiction, dissertation or serious treatise is remarkable. Novelist Philip Roth considered it a very good day of writing if he produced one page that satisfied him. Writing books is not for sissies. 

Stephen King said: “Writing is a lonely job. It isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well”.

The five books briefly described here are written by friends and family whom I’m privileged to know. Two of them are “Halperns”, my brother Skip and my wife Arlyn. The others are good smart people I have gotten to know along the way. I was an early reader of three of the books, and I wanted to share them all with you.

The blog post is much longer than the usual length, but worth it. Each of the authors submitted their abbreviated descriptions of their books. They are listed in alphabetical order by author. They are all available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller (or will be soon starting with the first one below):

GOOD BOYS – GROWING UP AWAY FROM HOME! By Tom Brodnicki

We were lucky. Actually, in retrospect, without knowing it, we were blessed.

Born amidst the “Baby Boomer” generation, we grew up as 13 or 14 year old boys on a quest to follow our parents’ dream for us to become Roman Catholic priests. We attended St. Augustine Seminary located in Michigan away from home as high school seminarians during the turbulent 1960s. Although away from home, family and friends – together we learned, we grew, we experienced the events and turbulence of our nation and the world. We lived in a bubble of sorts as we shaped our values and discovered how we would choose to live our lives and our faith over the decades to follow. “GOOD BOYS” captures our story and answers the question often asked “Given the time, energy and money invested in seminaries like this, was it worth it?”

——–

DANCING INTO THE LIGHT: A Spiritual Journey of Healing By Arlyn Halpern

A heartwarming memoir that captures one woman’s transformative journey of self-discovery by making peace with a family at once extremely dysfunctional, yet oddly endearing: a troubled interaction with her depressed mother co-existed with the affection she held for her happy-go-lucky father.

A series of fateful events, from exotic dancing in a carnival to travel to Israel in the aftermath of the Six Day War, led her to falling in love with a Swedish man and moving to his native land. A meeting with a college professor, and their subsequent marriage, set Arlyn down the path of Buddhist practice. A pilgrimage to India where she received teachings from Tibetan Buddhist masters and where Arlyn undertook the rigorous study of Indian classical dance sustained her through heart-rendering challenges along the way.

Throughout this engaging and courageous tale, she never wavers from looking inward, facing her demons and developing greater wisdom and compassion. It is a redemptive tale of love and loss that will leave no reader unmoved.

——

WELLSPRINGS OF WORK: Surprising Sources of Meaning and Motivation in Work

by Samuel Halpern

Whether you’re just starting out, in mid-career or retired, WELLSPRINGS OF WORK: reveals often- unappreciated sources of meaning and motivation in work. Unlike the many books bemoaning how work brings you down, “WELLSPRINGS” explores a dozen sources of fulfillment to lift you up.

This book is for anyone considering the value of their own work as well as its limits and trap doors. These concerns are especially urgent today because of a range of societal forces – from Covid to the digital revolution to the gig economy.

For anyone involved in business, investing, consulting or law – occupations that strike many as soulless – “WELLSPRINGS” points the way to values and meaning beyond the buck. Samuel “Skip” Halpern found his own nearly 50-year career across those fields spiritually rewarding. His far-ranging experiences – with investor Warren Buffett, legendary fraud Bernie Madoff, the 2008 Financial Crisis and investment funds covering professional athletes, Inupiat Eskimos and hundreds of millions of Chinese workers – are springboards for exploring purpose and value across a wide range of work.

“WELLSPRINGS” provides insight into what clicks for a variety of workers …and maybe what clicks for you.

——-

EAVESDROPPING IN OBERAMMERGAU by Hilary Salk

A Jewish American child living in Germany three years after the Holocaust is the first-person story told by Alison Gold, an inveterate eavesdropper and daughter of a U.S. Army officer stationed in Oberammergau, Germany. She narrates her discoveries of Nazi hatred for the Jewish people in this village known for its holy Passion Play, perfumed every ten years since 1634.

Alison overhears the stories told to her mother and her visiting grandfather by the German piano teacher, who we learn is a Jew, through a convert to Catholicism. Based on a true story, this fictionalized character, renamed Stefan Hirsch, came to Oberammergau in 1934, where he lived until attacked on Kristallnacht by a group of Nazi youths, one of whom performed the part of Jesus in the 1950 pageant.

Hirsch was imprisoned in Dachau and eventually released. He lived out the war in England, after which he returned to Oberammergau.

The novel creates the reason for this return, which drives the plot of her novel.

——-

WORLD WAR BRANDS by Barry Silverstein

…. shows how the war itself was “branded”, how brand advertisers leveraged the war, and how the post-war economy helped birth the modern brand. Included are 38 vintage wartime ads and scores of stories about some of the best-known brands of the ’40s and ’50s. Many brands from this time have survived and thrived into the 21st Century.

This unique book takes a fresh look at the impact of World War II on America from a marketing perspective. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a convincing history about the role of World War II in developing brand consciousness among consumers in the United States.”
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There you have it. Do you have a book “in you” too? If so, what’s it going to be about? I’d love to hear more. Thank you.

Reasons to be Cheerful

David Byrne of Talking Heads and Elon Musk of Tesla are known to be “on the Spectrum” as they each have Asperger’s syndrome.

The dictionary definition of Asperger’s syndrome is one who has a developmental disability that is related to autism. Asperger’s people are characterized by higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictions, repetitive patterns of interests and activities.

I have followed Byrne’s activities for many years because he was born the same year as I and attended college in Providence, Rhode Island at the same time I did too. His music and video performance in “Stop Making Sense” on Netflix (shot over three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre in 1983) is a celebration of his genius, and nobody can watch it without feeling good, happy and privileged. Stop Making Sense is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest concert films of all time. Rogers and Ebert say “the film’s peak moments come through Byrne’s simply physical presence. He jogs in place with his sidemen, he runs around the stage; he seems so happy to be alive and making music”.

One of his latest gambits is Arbutus Foundation a nonprofit that was created in 2018 and one of its initial projects is “a solutions journalism online magazine” (his words) entitled “Reasons to be Cheerful“. Arbutus is a meeting place for putting people together from various disciplines and perspectives so as to create new wonders. Just this week in The New York Times there was an article about his drawings which are meant to “connect” people with each other.

I found his compilation of reasons to be cheerful definitely reasons to be cheerful considering the bad news that’s all around us: the tens of thousands of people dying from Covid, the Republicans’ efforts to restrict voting rights and perpetuate The Big Lie, the imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, continued slaughter of innocent children at the hands of gun toting Americans, likely ban of abortions by the Supreme Court, to the continued climate emergency, etc. on and on it goes and where it stops, nobody knows).

So here is the good news to be shared by Reasons to be Cheerful:

  • To prevent the Sahara Desert from spreading southward, a 5,000 mile line of trees is being planted across the African continent.
  • A California law gives non-car commuters a cash payout that helped increase transit ridership by 50%.
  • The El Paso Community College (Texas) used its pandemic relief aid to forgive $3 million in student debt.
  • A solar-powered fridge that can last up to two weeks without electricity is being used to transport vaccines to over fifty countries.
  • The United States’ phasing out of HFCs in refrigerators could eliminate emissions equivalent to 4.7 billion metric tons of CO2 by 2050, about as much as a billion cars’ emissions in a year.
  • A stretch of beach worth $75 million and taken from Black people 97 years ago, is being return to the Black family descendants, in order to correct a historical incident of racial injustice.

And for good measure here is a podcast of some importance that counts as my good news of the day worth cheering about:

  • The Climate Minute podcast hosted by Ted McIntyre PhD (Massachusetts Climate Action Network) examines current news on global warming, climate change, renewable energy and the prospects for progress on international negotiations, carbon taxes and clean energy policy.

There’s all kinds of good things going on all across the country and the world if one is open to them. Looking for things to be grateful for and volunteering time with those unfortunate is another way to contribute to good news. There is progress being made and there are some reasons to be cheerful. Activism is alive in a number of causes and you too can be a part of it. Try it sometime and see if doing good yourself inspires you to do even greater things for others as well as one’s own self.

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