"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Saturday, May 30, 2009

This I Believe

I am never shy to share my opinion, and for many things, especially the important things, there is a great deal of passion behind the things I believe. For awhile, NPR ran a series called This I Believe, where people from all walks of life from top politicians to grade school teachers wrote essays and read them on the air--their own voice deftly expressing the core beliefs that defined their lives. A website is in place to archive the essays, and continue the unity that was felt in hearing those testimonials. In the wake of Prop 8 being upheld, I have examined a little more closely what I believe, and how important I think it is to share this openly. So, I give you my essay.

This I Believe

by Kim Salyer

There is a life and a world I wish for, and the one I am living now. But the things I believe are the same in both places. Somehow, even though at times I have been given all evidence to the contrary, I believe in the goodness of a group of us that witnesses something wrong. I revel in a group of strangers seeing one person struggling and then uniting to help, and then finding bonds with one another as that happens.

As much as I strongly disagree with other's politics and their beliefs, I believe that we all have a right to say and feel what we believe, to live in the comfort of knowing that in this country, souls who came long before us gathered, debated, fought, drew weapons, and lost lives for that very right. I believe to the core of my being that no matter how outdated the language, or the literal placement of words on parchment, that the spirit of our beginnings was about freedom more than anything else. And though that sounds obvious as I type, I think of how freedom has been lost in a cloud of judgment, religion, division, left or right and red or blue. One side is all wrong and the other is completely right according to whomever is speaking.

However, the men who gathered and wrote and passionately started this country were all flawed, as we now are all flawed. But there is a beauty in that. It is the beauty of a man placing pen to paper and declaring rights for everyone when his life was a contradiction to that statement. But yet, the ink flowed, because even he knew, though he might be steps behind these words in his own life, that they were the right words at the right time. The words were there as a challenge, as a testament, as the country they imagined would be made possible after the last letter of the last name of the last man to sign was written.

I believe history does repeat itself in deceptively different disguises of the very same lessons over and over. We read our history books, biographies, and newspaper articles and shake our heads with disbelief over the acts of groups of people, judging others and doing horrible things to repress them. How far we've come, we think. But it is happening again right now, in a thousand ways, here in America and around the world.

I believe that we are born with the very kernel and core of who we are tightly sewn into our DNA. Some outside forces, whether it is upbringing, calamity and chaos, or the extraordinary luck that can attach itself to a person or family, may affect the outcomes somewhat. But, the very bits of our being- the person we speak to in our own quiet moments and know as ourselves- is there from the onset.

I believe that no judgment or quotation of scripture can change whom a person loves. In a life of abuse and violence, global warming, and news broadcasts that cause most of us to turn off the television before the second story is told--- love IS the one last pure hope. It is still the thing that mysteriously changes our lives without warning, that brings about new life, that gathers a group of strangers together on the internet to help one soul mend a broken heart because we all have the capacity to love.

I believe that all of us should have the right to find and nurture that love without hiding, without fear of judgment or rejection, or worse, violence and hatred. And although some would call my religious beliefs (and struggles) into question, I believe that anyone who thinks that the very savior they believe in would have judged people the way that some do are missing the point so badly that it is painful to watch.

I believe that in time, there will be new ink on paper, the words flashing from a glowing screen as they are created instead of drying on parchment, but a group of men and women will sign. And those who craft those words will be flawed, and may not be living up to those words yet, but they will know it is the right time and the right place. And as the last letter of the last name of the last person is written, it will be another beginning.

This, I believe.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

A Tuesday video just for giggles, you have to watch the whole thing. The best part is his funny jump to get out of the box.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

Today is observed as Memorial Day in the United States, a day for remembering the men and women of our armed services who died while at war. Thank you to those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and for those now serving.

As always, the Boston Globe site The Big Picture does a beautiful job of capturing the emotion and reality of this holiday. check out more pictures here.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Harvey Milk Day and The Fight for Gay Marriage

Excerpt from a speech made by Harvey Milk in 1978

Today was Harvey Milk Day. And how fitting that the decision on Prop 8 will be announced in the upcoming week. I am so hoping that the court rejects Prop 8, and that California is added to the list of states legalizing gay marriage.
It pains me to think that tomorrow I could go and get married while some of the most beautiful people I know don't have that right. It is in fact ILLEGAL for them to do so. I can't wrap my mind around it.
I was listening to a book review on NPR the other day, and the book's author was talking about the main subjects of his biography- a couple in an interracial marriage in a time when this was more than frowned upon. As the author continued to talk, he touched on a time not so long ago when it was a FELONY to be married to someone of another race or ethnicity. I suppose I knew this on some level, but I still was in shock for a moment. How judgmental this country has been and continues to be at times still levels me.
When I hear people ranting in hate about this issue, when I hear people involving the church and quoting the bible for support, I am sickened. We need only take a look in our country's past to all the things that we read in history books with disgust--wondering how in the world this happened or that happened. I honestly believe that generations from now, people will look back on this struggle as asinine.
This isn't about religion or politics. It isn't about morals or sin. It is about every person's right to be treated fairly and equally. And speaking of history, do these words ring a bell?: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

May 21, 2009

Tomorrow is Harvey Milk Day

Guest blog post from Senator Mark Leno, chair, California LGBT Legislative Caucus

Today is the 30th Anniversary of the White Night Riots, when the LGBT community and its allies rose up in anger after a lenient manslaughter sentence was handed down to Dan White, the man accused of murdering Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. This miscarriage of justice is still with us today as we grapple with homophobia, Proposition 8 and inequality in California.

Just yesterday I heard the
discouraging story of a sixth grader in San Diego County whose A+ presentation about Harvey Milk’s life was censored by her school and labeled as inappropriate “sex education.” Her mother protested, and said "Harvey Milk was an elected official in this state and an important person in history. To say my daughter's presentation is 'sex education' because Harvey Milk happened to be gay is completely wrong."

The school’s action sends the wrong message to students — that being gay is shameful and that the contributions of LGBT Americans should be erased from our history books. Incidents like these are precisely why we need to honor figures like Harvey Milk and affirm our schools as safe places for ALL students to learn and grow.

Join me today in honoring Harvey Milk today, on what would have been his 79th birthday. Harvey was the first openly gay elected official in California and he gave his life for what he believed in. With courage and sacrifice he gave hope to an entire generation of gay and lesbian people whose basic humanity and freedom had been denied and dishonored.

Harvey’s leadership and inspiration brought LGBT people out of the closet and into civic life, but many people may forget that he also fought for important issues we still value today, including access to education, public transportation, affordable housing and protecting the environment.

I first introduced legislation to create Harvey Milk Day in California last year in the Assembly. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, arguing that Harvey should only be honored at the local level in San Francisco. Since then, Gus Van Sant’s Academy Award winning film, Milk, has introduced Harvey’s story to a new generation of Americans. His legacy and message of hope has now spread across the globe.

We need that message of hope now more than ever, which is why I reintroduced the Harvey Milk Day bill again this year. I urge you to tell the governor what Harvey Milk means to you, and
sign EQCA’s petition. With your voice, we’ll get his signature this time around.

If you’re in the Sacramento area, help me and my fellow members of the LGBT Caucus celebrate what would be Harvey Milk’s 79th birthday on the North Lawn of the Capitol from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. If you cannot be there, please wish everyone you see a happy Harvey Milk Day and if they ask who he was, please share his courageous story of hope.

Sincerely,Senator Mark LenoSenator Mark Leno represents the 3rd Senate District, which includes Marin and portions of San Francisco and Sonoma Counties.

article courtesy of http://ca-ripple-effect.blogspot.com/2009/05/happy-harvey-milk-day.html


Monday, May 18, 2009

Next Please

Thanks to my new commute to work, I have been listening to NPR even more than usual, and one thing I have always loved is hearing the backstory of so many books from the authors themselves. I have found out about some of my favorite books through NPR features and interviews. I have also been scanning the pages of Bas Bleu, a catalog full of amazing reads that I know I would have otherwise never discovered.

Here are a few that are on my list to read (that I think many of you would enjoy as well):

Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story by Isabel Gillies
Isabel Gillies had a wonderful life — a handsome, intelligent, loving husband; two glorious toddlers; a beautiful house; the time and place to express all her ebullience and affection and optimism. Suddenly, that life was over. Her husband, Josiah, announced that he was leaving her and their two young sons.
When Josiah took a teaching job at a Midwestern college, Isabel and their sons moved with him from New York City to Ohio, where Isabel taught acting, threw herself into the college community, and delighted in the less-scheduled lives of toddlers raised away from the city. But within a few months, the marriage was over. The life Isabel had made crumbled. "Happens every day," said a friend.
Far from a self-pitying diatribe, Happens Every Day reads like an intimate conversation between friends. Gillies has written a dizzyingly candid, compulsively readable, ultimately redemptive story about love, marriage, family, heartbreak, and the unexpected turns of a life. On the one hand, reading this book is like watching a train wreck. On the other hand, as Gillies herself says, it is about trying to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, and loving your life even if it has slipped away. Hers is a remarkable new voice — instinctive, funny, and irresistible.

The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South by W. Ralph Eubanks, W. R. Eubanks
A powerful story about race and identity told through the lives of one American family across three generations.
In 1914, in defiance of his middle-class landowning family, a young white man named James Morgan Richardson married a light-skinned black woman named Edna Howell. Over more than twenty years of marriage, they formed a strong family and built a house at the end of a winding sandy road in South Alabama, a place where their safety from the hostile world around them was assured, and where they developed a unique racial and cultural identity. Jim and Edna Richardson were Ralph Eubanks's grandparents.
Part personal journey, part cultural biography, The House at the End of the Road examines a little-known piece of this country's past: interracial families that survived and prevailed despite Jim Crow laws, including those prohibiting mixed-race marriage. As he did in his acclaimed 2003 memoir, Ever Is a Long Time, Eubanks uses interviews, oral history, and archival research to tell a story about race in American life that few readers have experienced. Using the Richardson family as a microcosm of American views on race and identity, The House at the End of the Road examines why ideas about racial identity rooted in the eighteenth century persist today. In lyrical, evocative prose, this extraordinary book pierces the heart of issues of race and racial identity, leaving us ultimately hopeful about the world as our children might see it.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World
Eric Weiner
Though Eric Weiner—who spent many years as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio—describes himself as a “grump,” he makes a delightful guide in this unusual travelogue. The Geography of Bliss chronicles Weiner’s year-long odyssey, traveling around the world in search of its “unheralded happy places.” Guided partially by the vast sociological information kept in the World Database of Happiness (in Rotterdam), and partly by his own gut, Weiner journeys to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and back to the United States—to find out where people are happiest and why. What he discovers is a kaleidoscopic array of perspectives on what happiness truly is. Through his engaging explorations of each country, Weiner offers the reader a wealth of inspired observations—provoking both thoughtful reflection and hearty laughs. What a blissful adventure of a book!

Diana Athill
Book after book has been written about being young, and even more of them about the elaborate and testing experiences that cluster around procreation, but there is not much on record about falling away. Being well advanced in that process…I say to myself, “Why not have a go at it?” So I shall.
In this elegant memoir, legendary British editor Diana Athill writes engagingly, beautifully, and unflinchingly about old age. As she embarks upon her ninth decade of life, Athill lucidly contemplates both her present state—the losses that come with physical deterioration as well as the freedom from inhibition afforded by the approach of death—and the events of her recent past, during the transition from middle-age to elderly. Athill’s reflections are often unconventional—she writes quite candidly about her affairs with married men, her lack of maternal instinct, and her atheism—but her refusal to sugarcoat her observations makes the gentle thread of optimism that runs throughout this slender volume that much more meaningful.

Greatest Closing Arguments in Modern Law
Michael S. Lief, H. Mitchell Caldwell, and Ben Bycel
Words wield extraordinary power in a trial's closing argument. Even when the consequences are not life or death, the argument must be both intellectually and emotionally compelling. In Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, district attorney Michael S. Lief, law professor H. Mitchell Caldwell, and attorney and columnist Ben Bycel have assembled what they deem to be ten of the "greatest closing arguments in modern law." Among them are Robert Jackson's eloquent summation at the Nuremberg Trials; Clarence Darrow's impassioned plea to spare the lives of Leopold and Loeb; and Gerry Spence's spellbinding entreaty on behalf of Karen Silkwood's family. Each speech (a few have been slightly abridged) is introduced with historical background on the case, brief biographical information about the lawyer who delivered it, and analysis regarding the argument. This collection of brilliant logic and oration, lyrically spun, is sure to enthrall even the least lawyerly among us.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fright at the Museum

When I think of a museum, I think of beautiful art hung tastefully on bare walls, and perhaps sculpture scattered throughout a well-lit space. And while I enjoy other museums that honor history and the odd item here or there, the ones listed below might be stretching it a bit. But, they sure are fun to read about!

1. The SPAM® Museum
If the on-site “wall of SPAM” is any indication, a tour through the SPAM Museum in Austin,
Minnesota, is guaranteed fun for the whole canned-pork-loving family. SPAM’s parent company, Hormel Foods, opened the establishment in 2001 to the tune of almost 5,000 cans of SPAM. One of the main attractions is a scale model of a SPAM plant, where visitors can don white coats and hairnets while pretending to produce America’s favorite tinned meat.

2. National Museum of Funeral History
It’s pretty hard to argue with the motto “Any Day Above Ground is a Good One.” So goes the backhanded optimism of the National Museum of Funeral History, a Houston facility that opened in 1992. Visitors are treated to exhibits that include a Civil War embalming display and a replica of a turn-of-the-century casket factory. In addition, the museum boasts an exhibit of “fantasy coffins” designed by Ghanaian artist Kane Quaye. These moribund masterpieces include a casket shaped like a chicken, a Mercedes-Benz, a shallot, and an outboard motor. According to Quaye, his creations are based on the dreams and last wishes of his clients, which—let’s be honest—really makes you wonder about the guy buried in the shallot.

3. The Hobo Museum
If you’re bumming around but looking for a good time, be sure to take a load off in Britt, Iowa, at The Hobo Museum, which details the history and culture of tramps. Bear in mind, though, that the museum kind of, well, slacks on hours and is only open to the public during the annual Hobo Convention. Luckily, tours can be arranged by appointment any time of year. Of course, if you’re interested in the Hobo Convention,
lodging is available all over the area, but it’s a safe bet that most of your compatriots will be resting their floppy hats at the “hobo jungle,” located by the railroad tracks. Both the event and the museum are operated by the Hobo Foundation, which—incidentally—also oversees the nearby Hobo Cemetery, where those who have “caught the westbound” are laid to rest.

4. Cook’s Natural Science Museum
What began as a training facility for Cook’s Pest Control exterminators blossomed into one of the few museums in the country willing to tell the tale of the pest. At Cook’s Natural Science Museum in Decatur, Alabama, visitors can learn everything they ever wanted to know about rats, cockroaches, mice, spiders, and termites … all for free. And while most people would rather step on the live specimens than learn about them, museum exhibits such as the crowd-pleasing Pest of the Month keep reeling in patrons.

5. Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia
On the
West Coast lies the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia, home of the World’s Largest PEZ dispenser and a whole bunch more. Most everyone is familiar with PEZ, a pretty ubiquitous pop culture touchstone, but did you know that PEZ was originally marketed as an adult mint for people trying to quit smoking?

6. The Barbed Wire Museum
The Barbed Wire Museum in McLean, Texas, comes complete with a
reading list for those who want to know more about the history of this apparently fascinating fencing. Also known as the “Devil’s Rope,” it came into being by way of a mutated coffee bean grinder (which made the barbs) and a hand-cranked grindstone device (that twisted the wires together). Just like Mama used to make, right?

7. The Conspiracy Museum
There’s more than one theory about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, so why not have more than one museum devoted to it as well? Most JFK buffs are familiar with the Sixth Floor Museum housed in the former Texas School Book Depository, which recounts all those boring “mainstream” details of the late president’s life leading up to his death at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald. But just down the street, the Conspiracy Museum offers fodder for those less apt to buy into The Man’s propaganda. For the most part, the museum specializes in showings of the Zapruder film and explanations of contrary assassination theories, including other gunmen on the grassy knoll and possible mafia involvement.

8. The Museum of Bad Art
Founded in 1993, The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Boston is “a community-based, private institution dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms and in all its glory.” The art featured on the site is not of the middle-school drivel variety; rather, the pieces seem to be the product of people who think that if they light candles and play Mozart loudly, the talent will come. It doesn’t, but the results are fun.

9. The Mütter Museum
Originally, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia erected the Mütter Museum as a creative way to inform medical students and practicing physicians about some of the more unusual medical phenomena. (You know, babies with two heads, that sort of thing.) But today, it primarily serves as a popular spot for anyone interested in the grotesque. There, you’ll find the world’s largest colon, removed from a man who died—not surprisingly—of constipation. Also on display: an OB-GYN instrument collection, thousands of fluid-preserved anatomical and pathological specimens, and a large wall dedicated entirely to swallowed objects.

10. The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
Take two
trips to the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices and call us when you’ve lost all faith in the medical profession. Thanks to curator Bob McCoy (who has donated the collection to the Science Museum of Minnesota), those in search of history’s quack science can find what they’re looking for in the St. Paul tourist attraction, whether it’s a collection of 19th-century phrenology machines or some 1970s breast enlargers. If you make the trip, be sure to check out the 1930s McGregor Rejuvenator. This clever device required patrons to enclose their bodies, sans head, in a large tube where they were pounded with magnetic and radio waves in attempts to reverse the aging process.

11. Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum
So, what do you get when you combine the loneliness of a pet cemetery with the creepy flair of vaudeville? The Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum, of course—where dummies go to die. The Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, museum was the brainchild of the late William Shakespeare Berger, who founded the site as a home for retired wooden puppets. In fact, he collected figures from some of the country’s most famous ventriloquist acts. And with more than 700 dummies stacked from floor to ceiling, you’re bound to feel like you’re stuck inside a 1970s horror flick—albeit a really good one. But sadly, when Berger gave the tour, you could totally tell his mouth was moving.

12. The Trash Museum
Mom wasn’t kidding when she said one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. At the Trash Museum in Hartford, the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) turns garbage into 6,500 square feet of pure recycling entertainment! Tour the Temple of Trash or visit the old-fashioned town dump. And for your recycler-in-training, head down the street to the Children’s Garbage Museum, where you can take an educational stroll through the giant compost pile, get a glimpse of the 1-ton Trash-o-saurus, or enjoy the company of resident compost worms.
article and photo courtesy of mentalfloss.com


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pullman Porters

A Pullman Porter, circa January 1943

I listened to the story of the African American Pullman Porters on NPR on the way to work this past week. It is another story of a niche in American history that could have remained untold.
George Pullman invented the sleeping car for trains in 1868 and in an act of racism, hired African American men who knew the "rules" of slavery, and would be excellent at the job of serving wealthy white travelers. But in this act of racism, he gave tens of thousands of African American men jobs that helped them earn and save money, and send their children to college to offer them a better life. It is a story full of ironies.

I was so intrigued by the different stories shared, and by some of the men and women who were descendants of Pullman Porters. Though they may have had to suffer indignities and racism while on the job, these men left behind a legacy in their children and grandchildren that impacted our society in such a positive way.

Pullman Porters Helped Build Black Middle Class
Listen Now [7 min 19 sec]
Morning Edition, May 7, 2009 · Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown were descendants of Pullman porters — that distinctive and distinguished figure from yesteryear — the uniformed African-American train worker, who forged his way into the middle class.

As part of this year's National Train Day celebration on Saturday, Amtrak is honoring the legacy of Pullman porters in Philadelphia. The porters served first-class passengers traveling in the luxurious Pullman sleeping cars, and the safe, steady work that allowed tens of thousands of African-Americans access to middle-class life.

The legacy of Pullman porters is complex, author Larry Tye tells NPR's Steve Inskeep.
George Pullman, the entrepreneur who invented the sleeping car and began hiring porters for them in 1868, "was looking for people who had been trained to be the perfect servant, and these guys' backgrounds [were] as having been chattel slaves. He knew that they knew just how to take care of any whim that a customer had."

Tye, who wrote Rising from the Rails: The Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class, says Pullman "knew they would come cheap, and he paid them next to nothing. And he knew that there was never a question off the train that you would be embarrassed by running into one of these Pullman porters and having them remember something you did that you didn't want your wife or husband, perhaps, to remember during that long trip."
Over time, the porters were able to combine their meager salaries with tips. They saved and put their children and grandchildren through college, which helped them attain middle-class status.

After decades of discrimination and abuse, the porters eventually organized in 1925 and became the first African-American labor union. The porters hired an outsider named A. Philip Randolph, who patiently fought for, and won, a collective bargaining agreement in 1937.
Randolph used his experience fighting the Pullman Company to help organize the civil rights movement. E.D. Nixon, a Pullman porter and leader of a local chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, worked with one of his employees to help start the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama.

Nixon used Rosa Parks' arrest as a rallying cry to help organize the boycott. Because Nixon was often out of town attending to his duties as a porter, he enlisted the help of a young black minister new to Montgomery to run the boycott in his absence: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As train service declined, and the civil rights movement grew, the number of Pullman porters dwindled.
article and photo courtesy of NPR.org


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hope and Healing

The Today Show, shortly after the accident.

Stephanie Nielson is a survivor. In August of last year, she and her husband very nearly died in a private plane crash. Stephanie's blog, NieNie Dialogues was popular before the crash, so her many readers and other bloggers rallied for her, creating buttons for blogs and websites to raise money and alert everyone to her story.
That was how I found out about Stephanie, through other bloggers. I began to read her blog, post after post before the accident, to get to know her. Although she and I don't share the same faith or lifestyle, I felt a connection with her words, her humor, and her honesty.
The posts after the crash are heart wrenching. She and her husband both suffered severe burns, and rehabilitation, especially for Stephanie, has been grueling. Her face was burned badly, and she has endured surgeries and a great deal of pain in the process of healing.
Reading the posts after August, her words are raw and real, and so compelling. Her appearance has obviously changed, and reading that her own children were scared of her at times, made me hurt for her. As she writes of her insecurities about her appearance now, I can so understand how devastating that would be. Her words are soaked with the loss she feels, and her worries and trepidation about how she will find herself again.
She and her husband (she always refers to him as Mr. Neilson in her posts) have a strong marriage, and his support for her is amazing. She adores him, and that adoration oozes from every post. It is a great love story.
Her journey is one worth reading about. I am rooting for her, as I know so many readers are.
So many times I curse the internet for pop ups, spam, and lurking viruses. But like Matt Logelin's story, Stephanie's is one that makes me believe that cyberspace can be such a beautiful place. So many people reaching out, loving her without ever having met her, offering her support and encouragement, it heartens my faith in human beings. The ability for so many people to "circle the wagons" for others in far away places makes all the other things I curse seem obsolete.
It also makes me believe that out of tragedy can come unexpected kindness; a flood of support that can make those who have lost so much find hope. And hope is where the healing begins.

Check out Stephanie's blog here.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Play Dead Bailey

A friend forwarded this to me, and I have laughed so hard at this, watching it several times. I love how Letterman can't stop laughing!


Lost and Found

The real Nathaniel Ayers.

I have written before about learning so clearly that every homeless person has a story of how they lost their way, how they came to be where they are. In that posting, I wrote of hearing one man's story, and how it changed my view of all homeless people after that.

Last night, I saw the movie, The Soloist--a true story of a Los Angeles Times reporter who meets a homeless man playing the violin on the streets of LA, and learns the man was once a musical prodigy and had attended Julliard. As the reporter learns more and more about the man's life, he is drawn into helping him, and becomes his friend.

The real musician that is featured in this movie, Nathaniel Ayers, had an amazing future in front of him. By all accounts, he was gifted, a prodigy, and all those who taught him or played with him had no doubts about his future success. But while attending Julliard, schizophrenia set in, and Nathaniel's life was changed forever.

All of the actors are amazing in this movie. The reporter, Steve Lopez, is played by Robert Downey Jr. and Nathaniel is played by Jamie Foxx. There were moments watching Jamie play this man, when you could see him remembering all that he once was, all that he had lost, and it was heartbreaking.

What I didn't touch on in my last post was the frightening reality that so many people that are homeless are suffering from some form of serious mental illness, and are either undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or without family or resources. A large number of schizophrenics find their way too homelessness, because this horrifying disease leaves those who suffer from it in such turmoil about what reality is, most hear voices, and the ability to just survive in any way with schizophrenia becomes a victory.

The movie does a excellent job of putting you in Nathaniel's head and letting you understand first hand how frightening and tormenting this disease is. You FEEL the pain of losing your grip, not understanding what is happening to your mind, your body or your life.

I cried several times during the movie, and thought of all the homeless people out there, who once had normal lives, families, dreams and ambitions who are 'lost souls' that no one may ever discover or take the time to know. I think of the randomness of Steve Lopez meeting Nathaniel, and know that there must be other Nathaniel's out there.

The beauty of this story to me is: one person can make a difference. Nathaniel's life was changed, brightened, and made more beautiful by one man who wrote one story, and then could not walk away.

Please see this movie! Check out the official website here, where you can learn about the movie and also see the real Nathaniel and Steve being interviewed on video.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Taken to Heart

How many times do we read about orphanages across the world and the terrible conditions and suffering children? How many times do we see commercials pleading with us to help the children? How many times do we volunteer with an organization and walk away thinking we wish we could do more?

I think the answer to all of these questions is "all the time", or at least it seems that way to me. I have written before about on of my favorite quotes, "Be the change you wish to see in the world". Student Amy Lambert has taken this challenge to heart. At only 24 years old, she has raised the funds to buy an orphanage in Africa, after volunteering there and seeing too much suffering and need first hand.

What if we all took action, however small, when seeing situations where help is needed? Imagine the impact. Imagine the change in the world, and the hope that would bring. Imagine the idea of taking action becoming contagious as people begin to see change taking shape.

I am so inspired by Amy, and hope that when she moves to Tanzania this July to begin running the orphanage, more people hear about her story and her success.

Student buys African orphanage
A student who visited a run-down African orphanage was so moved by the children's plight that she raised £30,000 to buy it.

The undergraduate at Bath Spa university raised more than £30,000 in just seven months
Amy Lambert, 24, set about gathering funds after witnessing the horrors at the decrepit Kichijo Orphanage in Tanzania.
She spent eight weeks volunteering there last summer, when she cared for 150 boys and girls - many of whom had lost one or both parents to AIDS and HIV.
Miss Lambert found children who were starving, dangerously dehydrated and sleeping in dirty beds.
The undergraduate at Bath Spa university raised more than £30,000 in just seven months.
But rather than passing the cash to authorities, she asked them if she offered to buy the orphanage instead.
Now she plans to complete her degree in Psychology and Health Studies this July before moving out to run the orphanage full time.
Miss Lambert of Pewsham, Wiltshire said: "These children are the most beautiful, selfless people I have ever met. I have never felt so helpless."
Her offer to buy the orphanage was accepted earlier this year and now plans to tear down the crumbling building and replace it with a modern one.
She also hopes to add a school room to educate the children and sew crops to teach them about self-sufficiency.

Anyone who would like to donate money towards Amy Lambert's orphanage should visit

article and photo courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk


Saturday, May 2, 2009

For Luck

I remember my kindergarten teacher explaining to us that four-leaf clovers were rare and brought luck to those who found them. She let us spend time several afternoons searching the lawn behind our classroom for all the luck we could find. She then taught us to preserve them by pressing them in various books in the classroom.

Thus started a lifelong habit of mine, with me never being able to pass a patch of clover without scanning the green leaves for that rare four-leaf find. I also religiously pressed them in books just as Mrs. Starr had taught me to do. For years, I have also kept a framed four-leaf clover on my desk to remind me of the magic (and hope) of luck.

I love finding old books of mine, decades old, with dozens of lucky clovers pressed in the pages. I usually chose to only press them in my favorite books, journals, or books that had a special meaning to me, so finding these books always evokes a memory or emotion.

I got out of the habit of searching and finding for awhile while living in large apartment complexes where patches of anything green were hard to find. I might find one here or there when I was in another neighborhood, or at the park, but very few were pressed between the pages of any of my books for a few years.

Where I live now, the yard is covered in clover, with patches of grass in between. I can't go outside without searching, and remembering that as a child, I thought I had a special gift for finding four-leaf clovers. I loved that I could find them so quickly, it seemed as if my eye was drawn to the rare ones in the ocean of green.

Tonight as a storm loomed in the sky, a few raindrops began to fall. I knelt down next to a patch of clover, and sure enough, one with four leaves jumped out at me. I brought it inside, and pressed it in a reference book I use for my writing. There are dozens of clovers between those pages, hopefully working their magic to make my dreams come true.

From Wikipedia, here is a little history, legend, and a more clinical explanation of the four-leaf clover:

The four-leaf clover is an uncommon variation of the common, three-leaved clover. According to tradition, such leaves bring good luck to their finders, especially if found accidentally.[1] According to legend, each leaflet represents something: the first is for hope, the second is for faith, the third is for love, and the fourth is for luck. Another Irish legend tells that the three leaf clover, or "Shamrock", was what Saint Patrick used to represent the Holy Trinity. The name "four-leaf clover" is a misnomer: the clover leaf by definition consists of three leaflets. Clovers can have more than four leaflets: the most ever recorded is twenty-one,[2] a record set in June 2008 by the same man who held the prior record and the current Guinness World Record of eighteen.[3] Unofficial claims of discovery have ranged as high as twenty-seven.[2]
It has been estimated that there are approximately 10,000 three-leaf clovers for every four-leaf clover[4], however this probability has not deterred collectors who have reached records as high as 160,000 four-leaf clovers.[5] It is debated whether the fourth leaflet is caused genetically or environmentally. Its relative rarity suggests a possible recessive gene appearing at a low frequency. Alternatively, four-leaf clovers could be caused by somatic mutation or a developmental error of environmental causes. They could also be caused by the interaction of several genes that happen to segregate in the individual plant. It is possible all four explanations could apply to individual cases.



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