May 16, 2011

May Mish-mash of Tiny News

Water! It seems to be everywhere. The earth in Southern Ohio (and sadly to a greater extent further south) is swollen with it. Plant life is lush with it, growing, expanding, dripping, filtering out the sunlight whenever it manages to shine through a cloudy sky. In this soupy environmental mix, I sit and peruse the news. And I've whittled it down to a few interesting tidbits I am calling "Tiny News."

1) Not all Tiny News is small, but "One Story" books are quite little. One Story ( publishes 18 issues a year and each issue is ... one story. You can go online and order individual issues, or be smart and subscribe. The 3 issues I ordered arrived Saturday: "The Quietest Man" by Molly Antopol (#132); "The Husband" by T. Cooper (#138); and "Housewifely Arts" by Megan Mayhew Bergman (#142). I can't wait to read these little gems (they are approx. 5 x 7 inches in size and 26 or so pages, with a plain cover).

2) I recently saw a photo of Chattanooga's Hunter Museum of American Art on the Tennessee River and I would like to visit it. (This is Tiny News now, it will be bigger news if I do go and take a bunch of photos of Chattanooga. Including, hopefully, a choo-choo.

3) Colatura di Alici: "an ingredient used in Italy for centuries" states Lidia Bastianich (to the WSJ) for a burb entitled "My Magic Ingredient." "It's the juice that drains out of anchovies salted in a barrel." Hmmm.... My Magic Ingredient? Butter. Butter makes everything taste pretty darn good. I am not supposed to like it so much. Nor it's evil twin, salt. (sigh)

4) I read a lot of print and online media because I like to be surprised, see pictures of cool things, learn new things and read about other people and how their lives are going well. Sometimes I find Tiny News that sounds made up. Like a secret honor society of folks on Wall Street known as Kappa Beta Phi. They meet at the St. Regis Hotel, NY, in January and Fast Company magazine says new members "often dressed in drag, perform a far-from-PC variety show poking fun at Wall Street and government bigwigs. If the members don't like it, they throw dinner rolls."

I would very much like to see a photo taken from the audience's viewpoint, of members throwing their arms back and lobbing dinner rolls at executives onstage in drag singing poorly. I do not know why this sounds interesting to me, but it does.

I am a member of Beta Sigma Phi, a social/cultural/service sorority for women. We do not throw dinner rolls, we eat them. Except for a few who are watching their weight. Last month, we learned about flower arranging. Next month, scrapbooking. Our group is located in Ohio, but I suspect even a NY State branch of Beta Sigma Phi would not throw dinner rolls.

5) Spearmint: I have been ahead of the times. For years I have bought spearmint oil, put a drop of it in the middle of a tablespoon of body lotion (like Curel, or St. Ives) and rubbed it on my arms and legs for a refreshing pick-me-up. Now, spearmint is all the rage, says the Wall Street Journal, and you can buy "Fresh Mint Leaf Cologne" ($55 for 30ml) at Or, you can buy Curel Moisture Lotion ($7.99) and spearmint oil ($14.50 for 11 ml, which will last you for many years) at the links I've indicated to save you money, time, and keep you freshly scented. Note: I have allergies and asthma, and am very sensitive (not in a good way) to cologne. My spearmint trick has never given me any problems.

6) More Tiny News: "Get to the Good Part: In Praise of Shortened Attention Spans" by Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal about Oxford University Press's "Very Short Introduction" Series "in which celebrated experts write with extreme concision about their areas of expertise. Each volume in the series is about 140 pages long... ...You don't have to be in a hurry to learn from these books, for it is their compression that makes them so invaluable. Force a writer to be brief and you force him to think clearly--if he can." Oh, I love that last line! Here's a link to the series. There are 275 volumes (topics) in the series.

7) coaches kids in poor communities on financial literacy and business skills. Sounds like a good thing.

8) I love the story in the Wall Street Journal recently on the Argentinian man, Pedro Martin Ureta, who has created a huge guitar from trees (best seen from the air) in honor of his wife. It's made of 7000 trees. His wife died in 1977 at age 25. Here is link to a cool video that shows the guitar from the air!

9) "Authentically Disney, yet distinctly Chinese," that's how Disney describes Shanghai Disney which has broken ground and should be up and running in 5 years. I am saying no more....

10) Tiny News Phrases: "Even the moon looks cold." Lisa Colbert, ABC6 Columbus weather reporter. Also heard on NPR, someone being interviewed and described his "multi-hyphenated existence." I believe it was this gentleman, playwright Majahat Ali. I thought this an interesting term, familiar, I am sure to many, but one that I hadn't really heard before.

I learn something new every day. It may be Tiny News, but all that adds up, doesn't it?

May 4, 2011

"The Story of Beautiful Girl" by Rachel Simon

Like waiting for a holiday, a vacation, or a very special event, anticipation is a big part of the pleasure and following along with Rachel Simon, via her blog and Facebook page, as she did a pre-release tour for her newest book, The Story of Beautiful Girl, helped get me through winter doldrums and kept the May release date firmly in my mind. I had read the online excerpt and was sure ...Beautiful Girl would become one of my favorite books. Titles that are on a special shelf in our home. Books that transport my mind, suspend time, wrap themselves around me like a beautiful quilt of memories.
The Story of Beautiful Girl did just that.

First, as a book designer, let me take a moment to comment on the packaging of this title. The cover art was featured on a CBS Sunday Morning episode (click the link to see the episode) months before the release. When I saw it, held up proudly in Central Publishing's New York office, I called to my husband, "They're showing Rachel Simon's book!" It was exciting, because I was already familiar with the distinctive silhouette of a woman, her hair bound up in a loose bun, her face slightly downcast.

The white background of the jacket has a pearl effect; I'm not sure how that was achieved, but it is understated elegance at its finest. The font used in the title is a work of graphic art and the orange-red letters are raised off the jacket. But wait, that's not all! When you open the book you are greeted with matching colored end sheets splashed with the silhouettes of feathers. A feather is also shown on the back jacket, with a baby's hand reaching toward it. I love the simple beauty of this jacket. It fits perfectly with the story and the sophisticated design continues on each page. And now, to the story...

The Story of Beautiful Girl is dedicated to "those who were put away." Even the front matter supports the design and tone of the story, with a beautiful verse by the Reverend Nancy Lane. I'm not giving it away, because you need to get this book and find these lovely touches yourself.

Simon begins her tale in 1968, with Part I: Hiding. We meet Martha, the widow, Lynnie, a young woman who is mute and mentally disabled, and Homan, an African-American deaf man on the run. The story continues in Part II: Going (1969, 1970) and we become closer to the characters and also learn the significance of the "red feather" as well as more details of past events pertinent to the story.

I don't want to reveal much about the plot, so I'll just say that Part III: Seeking scoots us to 1980, 1988, 1993, 1995, 2001, and 2011. I like the way each chapter has a title, along with the name of the character who is the focus of the chapter and the year. We meet additional supporting characters like Kate who worked at the at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded where Lynnie and Homan start their story, and other folks whose paths cross with Homan, Lynnie, and Martha. The child hinted at on the back jacket is Julia, Lynnie's baby, who grows to adulthood by the last chapter in a heart-stopping scene that will make you feel as if you hear the music and see the images, like a movie, like a wonderful conclusion of a meaningful film that weaves a story around your heart and enlightens your mind.

There is no doubt that this book will end up in movie form, but a film will not be as good as the book, because only with the author's words can you be brought so closely into the thoughts of these characters. A film might show the events, show other things too, and do much good in bringing to light the story of those among us imprisoned by the limitations of our approach to folks with disabilities, but it will never have subtle beauty of Rachel Simon's writing.

Simon is the author of Riding the Bus with My Sister and The House on Teacher's Lane, and has other books and anthology contributions to her credit as well. Her story is included in Thicker than Water: Essays of Adult Siblings with Disabilities. On her blog and in her books, Simon writes about her sister, Beth, her family history, "building a home with her husband" (the title on the hardcover version of The House on Teacher's Lane), and the writing life and events related to her book. She travels the country meeting with other siblings of folks with disabilities and talking before advocacy and support groups for people with disabilities and their families. And now, with The Story of Beautiful Girl, she has wrapped much of her life and heart into fiction form and presented to us a story of loss and of hope.

This is why I love fiction and those who write it well; who take what means something to them and weave it into a story, not from nothing, but from nearly everything. A writer, in some cases but perhaps not all, doesn't build a story from an empty page, but looks at everything in the world, then decides what to leave out. What is left is the foundation of the story.

In The Story of Beautiful Girl I see the shadows of what was removed. The months and years not explained in the book. The author does a good job of giving enough information so that we can fill in the blanks. It's the only way you can take a story from 1968 to 2011 in 346 pages.

I appreciated very much the Acknowledgments section, located at the end of the book. Don't skip reading this, as it is an important part of the "why" behind the story. I am always interested in how writers get ideas for their stories and Simon mentions a nameless man from 1945 as the impetus for ...Beautiful Girl.

As the parent of an adult son who has mental and physical challenges, including deafness, I noticed carefully the way Rachel Simon portrayed the thoughts and emotions of Homan. It was amazing. Only someone who has spent time with folks with disabilities and interacted with them with respect and humility can then capture so beautifully their viewpoint. This is the effort that a reader may not see within the words on each page, but for those who follow Simon's work and life, the heart in her book will come as no surprise.

You can learn more about Rachel Simon and her work at The Story of Beautiful Girl, in my opinion, is suitable for readers 15 and older. I would love to see high school seniors assigned this book and having the opportunity to learn about this important chapter in our nation's history, as well as learning to see things from a person-with-disabilities point of view. We still have a long way to go in our treatment of folks like Homan and Lynnie. And, while places like the School described in this book have closed, there are still state hospitals, nursing homes, state schools, jails, and prisons where people with disabilities struggle to be understood and to have hope. Hope for the basic things all of us yearn for: safety, understanding, family, work, home.

POSTSCRIPT: Here is a 26-minute interview with Rachel Simon where she talks about the bigger issues related to how folks with disabilities and those without relate to each other. She provides insights on what life is like for some folks and how we can understand better how they are just like us. "The big joys that make up their daily life..." She also talks about the "holy work" of telling stories and the way art is woven within "The Story of Beautiful Girl."

May 2, 2011

Justice on May 1, 2011

Last night, as this early riser struggled to stay awake long enough to see the Phillies beat the Mets... (no, they did not, but if the other team has to win once in a while, then it seems fitting a NY team would win last night)... the news of Osama Bin Laden's death broke into our bedroom here in southern Ohio and shocked me from near sleep. "At last...," I thought. As I closed my eyes to sleep a while later I knew I would call my son, Bryce, the next day to let him know. For Bryce, a special needs adult, was with me and my sister, Joan, in NYC on 9/11. We were to be in the World Trade Center that morning. We slept in. (Here is a blog post about that day.) And didn't this news bring in me, as I slept and as I woke and padded to the coffee maker, a flood of emotions and memories.

I think of: Laura Gilly, a flight attendant for 9 years who quite her job to work for Cantor Fitzgerald. she was only 32. And Louis Modafferi, the captain who led Staten Island's Rescue 5 and worked on a federal rescue team. And Andrew Golkin, 30. 750 people attended his memorial service. My heart remembers the names of Lisa Egan and Samantha Egan, sisters who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and Patrick Sean Murphy, 36, who loved his family, basketball, and fishing. He had 2 children, Maggie, 2, and Sean, 4.

This morning, I must not think of my fear and worry that day, the way my mind imagined rushing down a crowded stairway pulling my slow-walking son behind me. I must remember Wendy Faulkner, a v.p. at Aon who lived in Mason, Ohio, and known for her generosity and caring. Her family established a nonprofit group to continue her legacy of helping children in the Third World. Margaret Quinn Orloske was a "born organizer" and "American History Buff." She traveled 2.5 hrs. each way to her job as v.p. at Marsh & McLennan. Her friend is quoted in the NYT as saying "No matter what she did, she did it well."

Please remember with me Stanley McCaskill, 47, who lived with his mother in the house he was born in. He checked in with her every day from his job as a security guide at 1 WTC. My heart aches for what she must have felt that day. Thomas E. Jurgens, 26, was "one of 3 court officers who disappeared while helping victims." Gayle Greene, 51, shared a family name with me; I wonder if we were related in any way. She loved Christmas decorations. She also worked in the WTC.

Marion Britton, Donald and Jean Peterson, Toshiya Kuge, and Edward Felt were among those killed on Flight 93. Mari-Rae Sopper, Ada Mason, Chortz Ghee, Eddie Dillard, and Lacey Ivory were among those killed at the Pentagon.

I want to say their names.

I know that children died, babies newborn and unborn died. Grandpas and new fathers, pregnant women and little girls. Average Americans and foreigners. Workers and retirees. Firefighters and police officers. Receptionists and vice presidents. Flight attendants, pilots, and teenagers. Young folks like my youngest son, so full of promise and just at the start of their wonderful lives.*

Nearly 3,000 people died that day or afterward as a direct result of the attacks on 9/11. (I am not counting the terrorists.) 1,461 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan. 4,424 U.S. troops have died in Iraq.

Other wars have cost us the following:

294 U.S. troops died in the Gulf War.
58,245 U.S. Armed Forces died in the Vietnam War.
618,000 U.S. citizens died in the Civil War.
117,465 U.S. citizens died in World War One.
418,500 U.S. citizens died in World War Two.

For many years, I was a member of a Christian church that embraced pacifism. It is impossible for me to raise my fist and say "Yes!" at news of a death of a human being without feeling a twinge of guilt, followed by embarrassment that such a conflict exists in me; in some ways I feel weak. I want the confidence to be able, were the situation to arise, to shoot someone who kills or attempts to kill someone I love. I know I would be able to do it. I know I would never be the same afterward.

To those troops who found and killed Osama Bin Laden, I will do the most forthright thing I can this morning and say, "Thank you." Thank you for doing something I cannot do myself.

My hope for the future is that extremism in any form, in any religion, in any politics, will one day give way to cooperation and dialogue. We must have hope and ideals and things to strive for. But today, this morning, I'm glad to tell my son, who breathed the ashen air on September 11, 2001, that "the bad guy who planned the whole thing" is dead.
*Some information in this post was found in Portraits: 9/11/01, The Collected Portraits of Grief from the New York Times, (Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2002). A few times a year I pull this book off a shelf and imagine my name, and my son's and sister's names there. And feel sorrow. And give thanks.