What’s Your Morbid Hobby?

Life is full of “which is worse” scenarios. There’s the “death by fire” or “death by ice.” Here it is in the poem “Fire and Ice,” as could only have been written by the great American poet Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

The political parties have us vying for which is the worse social problem and no, it is not Planned Parenthood. I’ll tell you straight out I’m going with opioid addiction. The biggest threat to our nation. The biggest threat to our people. That’s right, the fact that many people don’t want to acknowledge even exists. And this is why it’s so dangerous.

One of my more morbid hobbies is collecting headlines that deal with opioid addiction and drug overdoses. I’ve been doing it for years, the pile is getting higher, but recently it’s been a real jackpot.

It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I collected the rare articles of addicts who had fought through their addictions and made it. Addicts who had ultimately gone to college and gotten major degrees in major universities. One black American from an inner city who went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School. If I can dig the article out from my ever-growing pile, I’ll add the link here. There were articles about homeless who had gone into halfway houses and used that as a place from which to stabilize their lives, which included finding steady work and thus having a stable and proud income.

I clipped and sent these articles to send hope to a young relative of mine who was an addict and always feeling darkness. “See? You can do it too.” I’d like to think my hobby made a difference, helped this relative make good choices, but it seems like it did not. And now I cannot find the articles, even online.

Several years ago I would talk to a lot of my friends about this problem, and this pain of mine. On days when my relative was being arrested, or days when he was being released from prison, or days when he was beginning rehab and there was hope, I would sit in my seat during religious services and cry to myself. I’m not sure if anybody ever noticed my red eyes or my irregular breathing. If they did, they sure didn’t say anything. A few would tell me an aside about a relative who was an addict if I brought up the topic.

A few years back, my stepson died of an overdose of legally prescribed painkillers, shocking us all. He was a pleasure-seeker but he was not an addict. So my headline search and article clipping widened to include deaths by legally prescribed painkillers for things like, quite simply, pain. You know, those pain centers that are everywhere? Particularly in Florida?

Within the last few years, several parents in my community have lost a young adult child. Some of the parents have been brave and willing to confront this public epidemic. Others have not.

A few years later, after I was already personally grappling with this problem, the headlines expanded to include elderly adults who had been bankrupted by their addict children and grandchildren. I knew about this from personal experience, too.

The Untold Cost of the Opiate Epidemic: Elder Abuse

The headlines have continued to change over the years. In the last election, people started to care about the problem of “solving” the problem by throwing people in jail or prison. Were we creating solutions? Or new problems for even more people? A few times I sat in at a drug court. I saw young hopeless male adults. Five or so young adults would stand in front of the judge, who would ask them if they were on anything at that time. I saw them, in unison, lie. Five No‘s. I saw a pained grandmother as the judge would approve this one for drug court and that one – her grandson – to return to jail.

In the months and years after that, I started seeing headlines about large and small towns that were creating drug courts as a new approach.

This recent headline shows where we’re going, as a nation:

Life Expectancy in U.S. Declines Slightly, and Researchers Are Puzzled

Get this subheading!

African-American men gained 0.4 year of life expectancy in 2014, to 72.2 years.

My monthly AARP magazine is getting into the act, too, and not just about elder abuse by those seeking to get grandma’s retirement money in order to fund their heroin addiction. Once a place to find articles about cell phones and travel destinations for seniors, this 2011 headline was a first:

Boomers on Drugs

What you didn’t know about grandma!

Opioids and addiction are a national issue now because of the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes attempts to eliminate – just when America is acknowledging this deeply entrenched and growing problem – American’s ability to get detox and rehab not just for the rich, who can afford private pay rehab stays, but for the poor and middle class who cannot. The people who care about this are elderly, farmers, veterans.

About six months ago I sat at a forum in my town for high schoolers, the goal of which was to open up a discussion about opioid dependency and provide referrals for those who needed them, and so on. A few audience members asked questions, and the oldest was about 90 years old and he had become an addict after radiation treatment for cancer. Whoever we are, we are at risk. There is no safe corner.

Yes, this is no longer a problem that white Americans or educated Americans, and so on, can ignore, thinking erroneously that this is “their” problem and not “our” problem. There is no way to hide from this situation.

Sadly, my morbid hobby continues and my pile continues to grow. Urban, rural, east coast, west coast, white, black, young, old, rich, poor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, we are one nation, drug addiction and opioid overdose does not discriminate, and neither should we.

More to follow.

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Film Review: My Hero Brother (2016)

Want to see a light film that you didn’t expect to like but has a subtle and uplifting impact? Read about some incredible sibling relationships, and a lot more!

The film is not in the theaters now, but you’ll be able to find it on Netflix and elsewhere.

Read my published review of the film, My Hero Brother, by Yonaton Nir. Here’s the link, as published in The Newton Tab:

‘My Hero Brother’ shows the treasure we share

And then drop me a comment!

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Poetry Submissions: What Would Joyce Kilmer Say?

submittableI’m sure many of you poets have all encountered this email text:

“It is difficult to make a judgement about a poet’s work based on one poem. Therefore, I am asking you if you could, to send, say, 6 – 8 more poems by return e-mail? We would then have a better idea, and we can then see whether or not we can go forward.”

I’m imagining a dialogue like this:

Joyce: I would like to submit my poem, “Trees.”

Editor: Dear Mr. Kilmer, while we enjoyed reading this one poem, it is difficult to make a judgement about a poet’s work based on one poem.”

Joyce: It’s a darn good poem. It has staying power.”

Editor: Yes, but we would don’t know whether or not we can go forward with promoting you as a poet with just this one sample.

Joyce: Dearest editor, I wouldn’t call it a “sample.” It’s a poem. It’s inspirational. Universal and timeless. It will resonate with the entire English-speaking world. How about if I send you 3 others at this time? I’m kind of busy getting ready to defend our country, to enlist in the National Guard, you know. Maybe you can wait until I return from fighting World War I on the European front? I might have some really good poetry for you then. Very graphic, you know.

Editor: Mr. Kilmer, this poem is but twelve lines.”

Mr. Kilmer: It speaks volumes.

Editor: I’m sorry, sir, but please do get back to us when you have more and possibly longer poetry in your collection.

Or possibly the dialogue with Ms.Charlotte Bronte would have been like this?

Editor: Ms. Bronte, your poem “Parting” is really very evocative. However, we would like to see additional samples of your writing. Besides, we’re much more interested in prose fiction these days.

Ms.Charlotte: Dearest editor, as an artist I must be true to my “voice.”

Editor: My dear Ms. Bronte, let me be blunt. Literary tastes are changing. The
marketplace simply does not support poetry any longer. Besides, for a female writer, I would suggest you look into literary prose.

Ms. Charlotte: Dearest editor, it’s so easy to be anonymous on the internet these days. Perhaps I can just create a male moniker and nobody will ever know that I and my sisters are of the delicate gender!

Charlotte Bronte went on to write her great and enduring novel, Jane Eyre. She and her sisters Emily and Anne wrote, under false appellation, the volume of poetry, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, published in London in 1846 by Aylott and Jones, which sold only two copies.

trees_joycekilmer

Joyce Kilmer went on to write his enduring and beloved poem “Trees,” first published by the magazine “Poetry” in August 1913, subsequently published in his literary collection “Trees and Other Poems” before he enlisted and fought in World War I, when he died  France, shot through the brain while he was out scouting for tactical information, in 1918.

 

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Bye Bye Business!

balloons
It’s been a great run, really.

But two weeks ago I realized it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to my business that I’d been running since 1995.

I’ve passed by many storefronts that have closed up, only to be opened again occupied by a different business. Then that one closes. I’ve read in the paper about businesses with hundreds, even thousands, of employees being laid off, let go. What becomes of these people? My favorite jewelry store where I always had my necklaces and earrings repaired is going out of business; tomorrow is their very last day.

This time it was mine and I was the one on the inside, calling the shots. I’d been watching my orders steadily decline for a while, while still feeling responsible to be accountable and available if any new orders came in, no matter where I was physically. Now clearly the business, and my life, went past the balance point. There was nobody to send out pink slips to because I didn’t have any employees. So that pain I didn’t have to endure or inflict. But it was painful for me none the less.

When business dries up, if we have a home-based business we can hang on a little longer when business slows down because we are not paying rent to a landlord or wages, salaries, health insurance to employees, and so on. But still there may be one day when you realize that carrying an infrastructure – telephone, fax line, internet, websites, amount of time cleaning out spam from my email, URLs, having to change my phone message every time I’m away for a day or two – all adds up. It adds up in terms of money, time and the amount of thought that occupies your brain.

In my case, my brain’s space is becoming more and more valuable real estate as I age (and as I deal with my aging-even-more mother).

The computer software business has changed, as the method of delivery changes. School software budgets have mirrored city and state budgets, and with each dot.com bust or Wall Street financial crisis, schools have been less and less willing to purchase software vying, instead, to find online learning materials. We cannot go backward. We cannot go back.

So one day about a month ago I decided to take those first steps. I prepared an email announcement for each customer who had ordered multiple times, saving them all in my “Draft” folder and then when I’d written every email, sent them out, one night, one by one. Within a half an hour, the deed was done.

That evening I gave myself some downtime and watched football.

A few days later I began taking down all my files of customers, scores of binders with scores of customers’ records. One by one I went through and discarded shipping air-bills and other information, putting credit card info in a separate pile to shred, leaving only the names of customers and what they had licensed. This took days. The 3-ring binders went into a bag for recycling. There were hundreds and hundreds of these individual records and each one was like saying goodbye to a baby that I had nurtured. Each one evoked a memory, and represented hundreds of students who had learned English and improved their writing through my software application.

It was so bizarre. I never realized how far and wide my software had an influence. Canada, New Zealand, UK, Singapore, Chile, Algiers, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Japan, Taiwan, Qatar, the UAE, even Malaysia. I wanted to REACH OUT! and say hello, thank you, and goodbye just one more time. No. That would be a bad idea.

Soon the papers alone were tucked into expandable manila folders, just in case I ever need to look at them, and a shelf in my closet was cleared out where I placed these folders, out of sight. No, I didn’t trash them. I’m hanging on just a little longer, I realize. I have a fantasy that these schools are going to call and ask for one last upgrade, one last license. I’m kidding myself.

It’s starting to hurt, but it’s also starting to feel better.

Along with clearing out these files, and others, I’m making room for something else.

But what?

Some writing, perhaps? Another book? More film reviews? Building up my blog?

Next comes the telephone number. I was resisting this one for a while. It would be the final blow. I removed the phone number from my website. I have had such a great little number for my business. Then my husband and I get a great idea. Our home telephone number really sucks. It’s impossible to remember and there’s no really clear pattern. My husband loves the idea of switching the business number to our home landline. Verizon says it’s possible! Thank you Verizon for allowing me to hold on just a little longer.

Still I dawdle.

Yesterday morning I sat at my desk and waited, and waited, for a message.

The message arrived. It was: “You’re hanging on! You’re not letting go! This software business of yours is the past, not the present or the future.”

Quickly I phoned Verizon – bushwacking through their horrendous menu – and made the switch. It occurred so quickly that I was still on the phone with the technician when the business phone switched off; within another 10 minutes the home landline number went dead. I phoned my old business number and our landline rang. Prominently displayed on the caller ID was already, the cute easy-to-remember and easy-to-say new/old number. Glad it happened so quickly or I would have had time to think twice about what I was doing!

I’m in awe of the process of endings and new beginnings. I’m in awe of what it takes to say goodbye to the old and to say hello to something new. I know how many people – hoarders, people in dysfunctional relationships – struggle with this. Or succumb to the fear of the unknown and the new.

Today lots of books about editing and writing (and a few other subject matters) sit on my shelves, where my CD disks, mailers and info about suppliers used to be. The shelf is nice and neat.

And I love our new telephone number.

*****

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Film Review: Hidden Figures

hiddenfigures_2

Please read my review of the film Hidden Figures as published in Boston’s print and online paper, The Jewish Journal.

The Jewish Journal begins….

The film “Hidden Figures,” directed by Theodore Melfi, brings us the true story of America’s zeal to put a man into space juxtaposed against the remarkable but unknown story of three black American women whose mathematical, scientific, computing and engineering genius made it possible – in an era of …  READ MORE

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Book Review: Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS

french_identification_certificate_for_marcelle_montagne_an_alias_of_oss_agent_virginia_hall

When we hear CIA – it’s impossible for this acronym to not conjure up an image – but how many of us know what the OSS was? During WWII, the Office of Strategic Services became America’s first central intelligence agency, with offices in Washington DC, which expanded to London, Spain, North Africa, Scandinavia and more, as the war theater expanded yet into the China/Burma/Japan theater.  And many of the most important figures in its mission to espionage were women.

Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS by Elizabeth McIntosh, herself a woman of the OSS, gives us a look at that this dangerous enterprise that spanned continents. It is written as a combination history book, and memoir – but a memoir of hundreds of women who risked it all for freedom.  Not only did the author, herself a member of the OSS in the Pacific theater and charged with “black propaganda,” do her scholarly research, but she visited those women who had survived and who were still alive many years later, interviewing them and piecing together the heroic stories of their daring exploits, and their after-story, always one of pride in what they had done as members of the OSS.

Some readers (such as on Goodreads, etc.) have complained at the litany of women whose exploits were described. For sure, some women’s stories are told in vivid detail, while others’ exploits are mentioned but briefly. It was wearing at times, particularly toward the end of the book when the topic turned to the China/Japan/Burma front. But there’s still so much more ahead: How many of us are surprised to learn that Julia McWilliams, who later married Paul Child and became our French Chef, Julia Child, was an OSS agent and stationed on in the Pacific front (See her recipe for sharp protection, below:)? sharp-protectantBut I think that’s the point. McIntosh wants us to know, although perhaps there is sometimes too much detail, that each woman was an integral part of the effort, each working efficiently, creatively, and utilizing her own talents, and each took risks. As the history of WWII fades in the minds of Americans alive today, as espionage is performed more by drones, satellites and computer hacking, we understand less and less what it took to defeat the Axis powers and Nazi Germany during the 1940’s. Some women packed parachutes, some encoded, some turned Nazis and German POWs into spies for the Allies forces, some traced Nazi gold as far as South America, some forged documents, some monitored the manufacture of weapons and other war supplies, and some rose to heroic stature.

virginia-hall

We also must marvel because any detail overlooked might cause death to one and to many: Women of the OSS often kept counterfeit money in their brassieres to soften it up, to make it look old and used. Women of the OSS COI (Cover and Documentation) research, and provided clothing for those going undercover so as not to alert a Nazi soldier to the irregularity. Women of the OSS trained men to smoke cigarettes down to the butt, as European men did. Nothing was too small to notice. Details meant lives saved.

There is no typical profile but for a woman who had skills, education, and a sense of mission. Many who we read about were Americans educated, at least for a while, in Europe, and so were multilingual, speaking English, French, German, Russian, Italian, Japanese, Czechoslovakian, and more. Many were not even Americans, but were dedicated to the Allied cause.

Among those who were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star or the Career Intelligence Medal, or other honors. Cordelia Dodson, among her many other exploits, became a driver, which required driving in war-torn London, and relayed men to planes that were airlifting and dropping them off behind the lines in France, to join the men and women of the resistance. Marked by an artificial limb, “The Limping Lady,” Virginia Hall,  entered occupied France and organized, armed and trained three units consisting of 300 agents who took part in sabotage operations against the Germans; she located drop zones for supplies and money for the resistance, and recruited French citizens who would establish safe houses for agents and supplies, often carrying her detachable brass foot in a bag. Gertrude Legendre, a debutante who was initially supposed to supervise the routing, delivery and verification of intelligence in London, ended up on a mission in Germany with several others that found her in a prisoner of war camp in France, interrogated by the Gestapo, and later made a daring escape into neutral Switzerland by jumping off a train. Maria Gulovich, from Czechoslovakia, translated front-line intelligence from Slovak or German into Russian, and was eventually recruited by the OSS to lead a group of resistance fighters through occupying troops to the Russian front, acting as interpreter and foraging for food in the villages while on route. Chased for months by Germans and braving snowstorms, starvation, enemy fire, gangrene, betrayal and ultimately capture, she and her two companions made a final daring escape and were rescued by British and American OSS authorities.

What I also found unique about this book is that it also gives voice to the these women’s scorn toward the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews. OSS women cared not just about Germany’s military takeover of land and territory in its quest for global domination, but about how Nazi’s treated other humans, including the Jews and Nazi attempts to exterminate them.

Wrote Cornelia Dodson, a graduate of Reed College in Oregon who was studying in Vienna in 1938 when Hitler’s troops marched in: “I learned to hate the Nazis from that time on. They were so arrogant, so merciless, rounding up anti-Nazis all over town, even during opera performances.  Their persecution of the Jews was inhuman.” (p. 172) Dodson returned to the U.S., but became a member of the OSS X-2 (Counter-terrorism Unit) later, then went on an undercover mission to Bern to obtain the complete set of diaries written by Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano.

Maria Gulovich began her anti-Nazi covert operations and resistance in her native village of Hrinova, Czechoslovakia, when she hid a young Jewish woman and her five-year-old son whom her sister had brought to her in her home.

In the first part of the book, the author mentions discrimination (such as the State Department being closed-minded about women), but in the epilogue she strongly advocates for equality of advancement when the CIA becomes America’s intelligence organization. She questions not just where women would be allowed to be in combat, notes advancements, but also advocates for rising within the organization, even for a woman to one day be head of the CIA.

Still, overall, McIntosh’s focus is on honoring these brave thousands of women, some named, many nameless, the choices they made and the sacrifices they made in the name of freedom and against tyranny, totalitarianism, and madness. As the conversation these days shifts to questions about women in combat and sexual assault in the military, this is the story of the brave women who, during World War II, were dropped behind enemy lines to defeat a “well-trained enemy” bent on world domination and genocide.


*The one historical inaccuracy I found was this, in reference to the  Enigma machine, the German cipher machine which GB had in its possession: “Later, code manuals and additional apparatus were captured.” (p. 146) After the truth about Enigma was declassified, it was revealed that Alan Turing devised the electromechanical machine that allowed the British to crack the Nazi code. Turing was later arrested, prosecuted and publicly humiliated for homosexual acts, and died young (either of poisoning or suicide) and thus during his lifetime was never able to be acknowledged for his singular role in winning the war. See also Joan Clark, the only woman who was on Turing’s code-breaking team. See “The Imitation Game,” screenplay by Graham Moore loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

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TJ’s Household Haiku Weekly Challenge: “At the Diner”

TJ has a Household Haiku Weekly Challenge. This week her two items for the haiku are MEAL and FRIENDSHIP. Her blog is, timely enough, located in Paris. May Paris be blessed with all things good.

Here is my haiku:

AT THE DINER

Nan sees tearful Fran’s

waitress writing up her tab.

Says Nan, “I’ll take that.”