“Will you be called Grandma, Granny, Grandpa, Gramps, Granddad, Papa or Nana?”

Grandparents MonthFor all of you who remember your grandparents fondly, are grandparents yourself, or look forward to being a grandparent in the future, this guest post is to celebrate Grandparents Day (September 13) and Grandparents Month (September).

Guest blogger, Jane Hanser, author of Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways {Abbreviated from the original with the author’s permission]

It’s an exciting time when the first grandchild appears in this world and the family negotiates which grandparent will carry which name. With divorce and remarriage there can be three or more sets of grandparents! And that makes the naming game even more of a challenge! The proportion of grandparents raising the children of their children is on the rise, too. These grandparents, who have needs of their own, step in to raise their grandchildren usually under difficult circumstances and with little preparation or warning.

My mother’s mother was the only grandparent I knew, the only grandparent who was alive in my lifetime. I remember the smell of her fresh sausage, and her snoring when, at a young age, I shared my bed with her when she stayed overnight. But Granny didn’t reach out much to me. I would have loved it if she had. But that wasn’t her.

Ida, my paternal grandmother, is the one I feel the deepest connection to. But that didn’t happen until well into my adulthood. I sought out her grave, and discovered her given name wasn’t Ida at all! Her European name Chana Henye bore testimony to both Hebrew and Yiddish roots, but was replaced upon reaching the New World. Ida, in casting off her old world name, may have been trying to create something new while I, in reaching back to her generation, am trying to grasp, understand, and hold on to the beautiful things about my ancestors, their lives, personalities and values I tried for years to locate even one photo of her. The closest I came was a photo of her sister as a young married woman and which I have prominently displayed in my office.

Not all grandparents revel in their grandkids. My husband remembers his maternal grandfather saying to him and his brother, “Wassa matter mit you”? and yell or turn away. I, Nana, however, am waiting eagerly for the first time we’ll be called upon to babysit our three grandkids. We don’t expect we will have them in their beds quite at their regular bedtime, we don’t even promise that they’ll fall asleep before we do! But we do promise that it’ll be a night to remember!

Split-Screens—Contemporary Dualism

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Social networks, the structure of some of today’s blockbuster novels, and experiments in original content for television and movies have given us a world that is a split-screen reality. Plot has merged with multiple points-of-view (POV) more than ever.

Pushing further, there is no one reality but a gradient of realities, in flux, and based upon the beholder. A split-screen reality.  No black and white, but seemingly infinite shades of gray. Our individual reality, in truth, is a fiction emotionally true and relevant but not absolute.

TV series like the award-winning “The Affair” or Netflix’s “Bloodlines” , present a number of points of view, with the audience unsure about the truthfulness of any given character as the drama moves forward. Other examples of split-screen reality include the blockbuster novel and movie Gone Girl, and Celeste Ng’s exceptional novel, “Everything We Never Told You”. The authors dive into a range of point-of-view characters whose retelling of scenes often is head-spinning. But that’s the point.

Characters we love can also be unlovable. The dualism pulls us in more. Just watch as the point-of-view shifts in Gone Girl. Amy is a demon (from her husband, Nick’s, point of view) until we hear her side of events. While not a sympathetic character, we soon realize the two main characters both have different realities, revealing only what they wish to reveal: what novelists call “unreliable narrators” who can’t share a single narrative.

Multiple witnesses of events recall the Rashomon effect (named after the classic 1950 Kurosawa film). We as viewers watch the same story, only from a different character’s point of view. Each character’s viewpoint seems like the truth until we hear the next version. We end up unable to make sense of the contradictory stories: to connect the dots and reveal the truth. Who is lying and who is telling the truth? The answer may be “both”. The viewer’s (or reader’s) sympathies switch from account to another. At the conclusion, all versions remain equally plausible and equally suspect.

Still, why does it amaze us when intelligent folks can diverge so much in their opinions and perceptions of exactly the same thing? We want to know more about that divergence. No matter what we read, no matter what we hear or see on TV, YouTube, or Facebook we are confronted with someone else’s interpretation, created from their own experiences and background… experiences and background which may be completely different from our own.

The split-screen reality of drama, literature, and the Internet reinforces the notion of multiple realities, of contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. Memories are already being replaced  not only by the stories we tell, but also by the posts we read, the blogs, the “data”– so that all that remains is a memory of a memory of a memory of what is fact and what is truth. Some details are reinforced with each telling while others fade, lost forever. Which version will I tell to whom? And why? Which do I believe is real?

 

Step into Nature—Patrice Vecchione

 

Step into Nature

Recently I attended Patrice Vecchione’s Monterey book launch for Step into Nature, a personal journal of solitary walks in and their influence on her art (as a collage artist and painter) and on her poetry. Step into Nature invites the reader to join her on a quiet and unassuming spiritual journey, a discovery of the symbiosis we share with plants and animals as thinking, feeling creatures. Her book soothes the imagination and brings a Zen-like equilibrium to the reader.

The book launch was jointly sponsored by the Carmel Art Association and Pilgrim’s Way Bookstore and Secret Garden. Vecchione read excerpts dealing with a world of surprising relationships: with a rat, a fox, a puma, an owl, a hive of bees.   Her reading exuded her enjoyment and connection with the sheer beauty of mother earth. As Patrice states on her website blog:  “I think of collage as a visual poem. Poetry distills experience into language. Often disparate ideas and emotions coalesce. Collage unites images from varied sources to tell a new story….—we retain a ribbon of memory from that day and another from years before. There in that mix are the stories of our lives.”

I look forward to co-authoring an article with Patrice over the summer on the symbol of the rat in Buddhism and evoking empathy.

 

 

 

SideTour–When You Don’t Want to Feel Like a Tourist

SideTour2

On a recent vacation in New York City, we thought we would try out SideTour (www.sidetour.com), an online marketplace for unusual, offbeat experiences and activities.  Originally designed not for tourists but for locals who want to discover secret treasures in their own neighborhood, the company has now begun to expand to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego,  San Francisco, and Seattle. Acquired by Groupon in mid-2013,  SideTour continues to gain momentum and expand its repertoire while continuing to keep group size between 5-12 participants on average and costs within the $25-85 price range. These are not cookie-cutter offers and even more customization can be provided by some of the “hosts” who offer “side tours”.

Competing with other sites,   SideTour’s  website claims  to focus on events led by experts who have been screened for experience, personality, and expertise.   In New York you can get together to dine at a chef’s home, take private or semi-private cooking classes, see art collections after the museum is closed, and sketch from museum collections onsite, just to list a few of the  imaginative selections online.  We signed up for five tours including  sushi and dumpling classes, sketching at a museum, and a tour of the Met emphasizing gossip about the particular art being viewed.  The fifth side tour was cancelled two weeks in advance for lack of additional participants.  Although I read online that refunds were slow to be credited, we did not have that problem!  SideTour3

 

We did notice that tours which had been given repeatedly, seemed to be more polished in terms of preparation and information.  We tried a couple of “newbies” and enjoyed them too, even though this time next year they will have undoubtedly improved.  SideTour was fun and different. I highly recommend that you check out the offerings before planning a trip to one of the SideTour cities!

 

Facebook and the Internet–Let’s Face It

Facebook logo

A lot of online social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter in particular, rest on the human need for connection. For letting people into your life, no matter how insignificant the post may be.  Still,   regardless of how inane the post may be, it’s still not the same as being there.  There is no intimacy or sensory experience involved.  Only reading.  There is FaceTime,  a more intimate connection than the  phone time. And why is that? FaceTime provides hearing and visual pleasure at the same time. It is because, since we were babes in arms, the face and the  sensory experiences of taste, smell, touch, and hearing come in to play for a  primal sense of intimacy we all cannot live without.

For some Facebook and Twitter users I feel there is a  kind of a loneliness in which we post our lives in hopes that others will “like” or respond in kind. In which the “Friends” validate one’s existence.  Or at least, relieve the boredom of daily life.   To some users Facebook can be like a drug–heightening a need that is never completely fulfilled, requiring more “likes”, more “friends”, more comments.  Is that why I have to set the timer to make sure I don’t spend the entire day on Internet in a virtual time suck?

In a time when even the smallest thought or feeling must be shouted out and displayed to the world, the idea of what constitutes a friend has been dramatically changed.  How can one have 1000 friends?  Don’t we mean “followers”, and even that  has a marketing or self-promoting connotation.  No wonder every business has to have a Facebook “presence”.

The Internet doesn’t actually offer any of us  a true sense of friendship–but more a  pamphleteering of events for the community.  In this sense Facebook, Twitter, blogging and other social media are phenomenal means to getting the word out about news, great and small, in an individual’s life.  Maybe reading that post will result in a phone call or even something as extraordinary as a visit. Let’s just remember that the more we rely on social media as a substitute for human connection, the more we are actually doing the opposite:  isolating ourselves from the very thing we want. Friendship still has to be cultivated the old-fashioned way and by definition, no one has one thousand friends.  I’m waiting to be the exception.  Where are my thousand true FB friends?

 

“Babymoons and Doulas, Push Presents and Placenta Pills”–A New Riff on the Cycle of Life

 

We baby boomers may not know all the latest ways to celebrate one of the most miraculous stages of the cycle of life–the birth of a baby. Over the course of the past year, I have enjoyed learning about the 21st century style of celebration of birth.  Babymoons, doulas, push presents and placenta pills are now part of my vocabulary.

Take the term “babymoon”.  At first I thought maybe this referred to the new moon, a baby’s bottom, or a children’s book, like “Goodnight Moon”.  Wrong.  A babymoon is like a honeymoon, a vacation taken by the expecting couple to enjoy one last trip without a newborn baby–a romantic odyssey.  Baby paraphernalia, crying, sleeplessness, and all that good stuff is set aside for future vacations.

Next, is the “doula”: women who provide emotional support and advice especially during the first pregnancy, to encourage and guide through the often-frightening process of pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. Doulas recognize that pregnancy is not solely a biological stage on the cycle of life, but an intensely emotional free-falling dive if not gently steered and supported. While I have known of the medical professional,–the midwife who can assist with labor and delivery– the doula reassures young pregnant women who have many pressures on them both at work and at home.

Baby showers need no explanation.  But the term “push present” (aka “push gift” or “baby bauble”) was new for me. The push present is a birth token from the new father, perhaps reminding him that labor pains are no picnic and he better remember that.  As recognition of the young mother’s journey into motherhood, the push present symbolizes perhaps the most dramatic change in an adult’s life… for both parents.

Perhaps the most familiar but also the most surprising of all the new wonders of celebrating a baby’s arrival is placenta pills or “placenta encapsulation“, the trend of drying the placenta and then having it ground into a powder and packaged into capsules.  These placenta pills are thought to improve postpartum recovery, relieve anxiety and depression, provide nutrition, and even assist in breastfeeding.  But, you need a cooler or the hospital won’t give you the material to take to the doula or another pill packager.  (There are many advertised online in San Francisco).

These are wonderful new and old ways reintroduced into the celebration of life! I learned about the creative alchemy used to reaffirm the accomplishment of childbirth, but the miracle of birth remains the same.  While each generation reinterprets how they want to bring a child into the world, the emerging baby is still the most exciting part of the experience.