Author Archive

BOOK REVIEW: THE NORDIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING: IN SEARCH OF A BETTER LIFE. Anu Partanen   5 comments

Recently I posted this review on amazon and Goodreads. (Maybe as you read it, you’ll think of My Father’s House.

“The core idea is that authentic love and friendship are possible only between individuals who are independent and equal.” (p.50)

Maybe It’s personal. After all, my parents were immigrants from Sweden, immersed in a Swedish-American culture that constituted the theme of my own growth experience in the twentieth century. Or maybe it’s just that it’s so sensible. Maybe it was my parent’s encouragement of positive goals in life and utter discouragement of humiliating child training techniques. Maybe it was the belief my neighborhood encouraged in taking responsibility for one’s own life even while granting the same right to others. Maybe it was believing in a United States where that was possible for everyone. Maybe it’s what I know as a psychologist that the core idea of authentic love as described in the author’s opening is indeed the way of personal and cultural growth. And maybe it’s what I learned in my mature years that the freedoms I accepted were not so equally available to everyone. Maybe it’s the dream I still hold for a United States where one day the ideal will be reality. Whatever the reason, that opening theme clutched my heart with longing and joyful sadness.

Maybe it’s that I believe loving someone or something is open to accepting their imperfections and believing the good can be strengthened even as the bad is corrected. Maybe it’s that genuine love of my country includes the belief that, like an effective parent, I can help correct it for the good.

O r maybe it’s just that I have often thought how freeing it would be not to worry about being available to love and care for one’s child while at the same time being able to pay for sufficient food and housing, or the best possible education for encouraging individual growth and responsibility from toddlerhood through adulthood, or paying for the maintenance of good health, or not losing one’s home because of a catastrophic accident or illness, or being sure of a good healthy life in old age. How it would make sense to me to pay sixty percent of my income in tax if all needs were covered so forty percent would be available to me to develop my own creative – or just plain comfort – goals. How very practical. How free of unnecessary stress. How very much what the Nordic way has to offer, based on the idea that “authentic love and friendship are possible only between individuals who are independent and equal.” (p.50)

As for the author’s personal message and style, it is so clear that she has a fondness both for her native Finland and her adopted United States. And I love the way chapter by chapter she takes down the objections to the Nordic way.

I like the final conclusion:  “Individualism is one of the great foundations of Western culture. But unless society secures personal independence and basic security for the individual, it can lead to disaffection, anxiety, and chaos … While some of the praise heaped on the Nordic nations in the international media and various studies has surely been exaggerated and overpositive—no place is flawless, as Nordic people themselves will be the first to point out—the Nordic countries have undeniably created a model for what a high quality of life and a healthy society can look like in the twenty-first century.” (pp.328-329)

p.s. I’d be happy if you’d check out http://www.forgivenessoptions.com

 

WANT TO KNOW WHAT RED LINING FEELS LIKE? TRY MONOPOLY   2 comments

My son and I spent a wonderful week recently on the shores of Lake Superior. Relaxing, doing some exploring, reading, removing some computer glitches (mostly me), doing jigsaw puzzles (only Doug) occasionally watching a movie, and playing games. I even beat him a couple of times at Chinese Checkers and Scrabble. But I want to talk about Monopoly.

On each of the first two times around, the roll of the dice landed Doug on two valuable properties. Of course he paid for the deeds and even mortgaged one to pay for another on his third time around. In the meantime, I consistently landed on “Chance” or “Community Chest.” No option to buy anything, except I did pick up two of the railroads. “You’ve won the game,” I said as I sipped my hot tea and traveled around “Go” again to collect my additional $200.00. Doug even landed in jail at one point, but chose to take his chances on a potential double roll of the dice to get out without paying. Why get out? All he had to do was watch me go around and, at least occasionally, land on one of his properties. It wasn’t long before his own trips around “Go” made it possible to free the mortgaged deed. And it wasn’t long before my hopes, along with my enthusiasm, were pretty much shattered. What was there to strive for, really? All the complete blocks were taken. He even owned the other two railroads, so my two weren’t worth much.

In the meantime, I saved a lot of money and collected more each time I passed “Go,” accumulating a goodly stash of $100 bills, so much so that the bank had to ask me to turn some of it into $500.00 bills.  OK, you see where this is going, I’m sure. I mean, I had lots of cash, but basically no property. I was rich. Until Doug built houses and then a hotel on one of his blocks. All I had to do was land on a hotel once and my cash was gone. I had no property to mortgage with hopes of staying in the game. Maybe it looked like I was rich, but I wasn’t. Game over. Doug was loaded with wealth – i.e. property. I couldn’t survive just one big hit. (Maybe it wasn’t a hotel. Maybe it was a hospital I had landed on)

So, what’s that got to do with red-lining? Simple. Imagine that, as the game got under way, you learned that, no matter where you landed, the only properties you were allowed to buy were Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues. That’s red linng. ‘Nuff said?

I’M HAPPY FOR THE ATTENTION PAID TO MENTAL HEALTH, BUT…   2 comments

The latest thing in “explaining” mass shootings is to focus on the shooter’s mental health. All good and well. Why wouldn’t this Psychologist be happy to know people’s mental health is gaining in focus and purpose?

But this Social Psychologist doesn’t like the way it’s being used to avoid the more basic horror – the cultural grounding in which poor mental health is being fostered. What sensible, alive, and aware person doesn’t carry a substratum ache of empathy, concern, and fear in this world of cruelty, killing, and destruction. It almost seems like a mark of emotional health to be disturbed. No, I don’t like the implication that the cause lies in an individual’s deviation from the norm. On the contrary, the cause lies in the culture that fosters the human potential for evil.

Will we ever get around to looking at the painful, destructive inequities in childcare, education, financial status, health care, gender acceptance, respect, and expectations for individual accomplishment (not necessarily measured by financial wealth)? What did I leave out?

It could be done. We could create a culture based on encouraging personal growth, self-confidence, gratitude, appreciation, cognitive competence, kindness, personal value – dare I say love?  But that would require reducing the “blame the other” emphasis implied in the focus on individual mental health and looking instead at our own responsibility as part of a culture. As it is, I’m afraid we have adopted “mental health” as a way to avoid looking at our own selves.

Please notice, I haven’t used the words “mental illness.” That’s a related but different story.

MY CORNEAL TRANSPLANT   18 comments

All is going well. The surgery was done on Friday, May 27 with a gas bubble holding my newly acquired cornea in place. For three days (almost) I followed instructions to lie on my back 45 minutes out of every hour to allow gravity to do its job. I’ve already had four post-op exams and it looks like healing is progressing nicely. I think it’s amazing, but the medical folk take it all in stride like there’s nothing noteworthy about receiving a piece of cornea born and used by someone else.

Anyway, I give thanks to the donor’s family, and yes, I’m doing the three drops every four hours. I’m pretty sure I get them in the eye as hoped; I did practice for several weeks with over-the-counter tears. Things are still blurry., though. It’s not like the instant “Aha, there’s a world out there” of Cataract surgery, and they did warn me it would take time. But now that I’m off my back I can catch up on the things I didn’t do in the interim.

By the way, I listened to two audiobooks and slept a lot, so it felt almost like a vacation. (And no, there was no pain worth mentioning.) But now I have to catch up on plans, including two blog articles I have in mind:

  1. “Why I’m not so sure I like the emphasis on mental health,”
  2. “Want to know what red-lining feels like? Monopoly on the shores of Lake Superior.”

YESTERDAY I SAT ALL DAY AND READ A BOOK! HERE’S THE REVIEW   2 comments

THE MIGHTY QUEENS OF FREEVILLE: A STORY OF SURPRISING SECOND CHANCES by AMY DICKINSON

I loved reading this book, so different from the heavy stuff I’ve been into lately. True, the content isn’t light weight, but it took me into a small town with the family, basically of sisters, providing a constant source of love and support – a place to return to for love and rejuvenation — where growing-up-and-school-friends remain in place. It reminded me of my own hometown of Forestville where I grew up feeling safe and believing that life was as constant and rewarding as one chose to make it. What a blessing it was to grow up in such a place.

Yet this is a story of personal courage, of mastering (mistressing?) the challenges of loss and abandonment while taking us into a broader geographic world. I loved the relationship between Amy and her mother, between Amy and her aunts, between Amy and her daughter.

I love the author’s writing style of lightness and humor, even when talking about personal tragedy and loss. Personally I liked delving into the tragedy of loss through divorce. Living where I do, so often there is table talk of partner loss through death, but little such compassionate understanding of the heartbreak of divorce.

Finally, as one might expect and hope for from an advice columnist, there are touches of serious contemplation of life. Consider this from the final pages.

 

Here I am in advanced middle age and I finally realize what it means to be an adult. To give with no possibility that I’ll be rewarded. I used to think that being a parent defined my adulthood. Mothering was the making of me. But emotionally, mothering is a little league undertaking: it’s nothing compared to trying to keep these wonderful women in my life – Knowing all the while that one day they will leave it.

IT’S FOR REAL   Leave a comment

I JUST POSTED THIS  REVIEW ON GOODREADS OF THE KILLING DREAM: BOOK THREE OF THE TRILOGY LONG JOURNEY BACK FROM NAM BY JAMES ROBERT KANE

Is this for real? Dreams and visitations? Yes, truth can be told in so many ways, and this culmination of the trilogy strikes to the heart of the matter. For this reader, this last volume in the trilogy is the most powerful. In crisp clear language the author takes us through the final stages of healing – through grief, guilt, confusion, beautifully crafted love scenes, resolution, and ultimately awareness of the breadth and yet limitation of human life. One cannot help feeling the humanity of the well-crafted characters. I venture to say this volume could well stand on its own, though it would then lose some of the richness of what has gone before.

ISABEL ALLENDE, A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA REVIEWED   2 comments

 

Despite the fact that I had not managed to read the last several pages before our book club’s meeting time, I was eager to engage in conversation about what I thought were the broader issues of the book: the personal suffering, determination, and heroism of the main characters as they experienced, survived, escaped, and moved on from the horrors of unjust regimes. But the first comment in the group was something like, “I skipped over the political stuff and focused on the personal stories of the characters.” There were many nods of agreement throughout the room. Since I thought the “political” stuff was an essential part of the story I sat back and listened to the focus on love and family. I agreed with those who thought the characters were well-developed, sympathetic, and interesting.

 

Now I have read on to the end and found myself interested in the “Dear Reader” section and the discussion with Madeline Miller — fascinated with their distinctive processes and emphases. If I were to try in one sentence to summarize what most gripped me about this book it would be the quote on page 330 Where Miller says, “That’s something that I love about your work: the themes of power and injustice. I feel like over and over again you are looking at these systemic injustices and personal injustices, and I think it’s incredibly powerful.”

 

Today, as the world is trembling in response to the horrific destruction in Ukraine, it’s books like this that shake us with the personal reality of the suffering as well as the frightful potential for the broadening of injustice and hopefully for a growing concern with justice. “Politics” is not the right word. The words are “justice/injustice.” This novel, grounded in fact, has the power to grow our depth-level awareness.

THE BOOK OF JOB – 2021 (HUMAN TIME) — NOT A WINNER   2 comments

Again I’m free to post this short story here. It didn’t win, place, or show in the latest Writer’s Digest” contest.

A COMMENTARY ON TODAY’S WORLD?

“One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’” (NRSV)

 “But do not ignore this fact, beloved, that with the lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day.” (NRSV)

 The Lord stepped down from the throne, a fond parental smile revealing their anticipation of greeting the representatives of earth, the most difficult, and maybe most beloved, group at this millennial gathering of celestial bodies. Outside the great hall there was a cacophony of claims to priority, all the more dissonant as there were as many languages being spoken as their world had to offer. And then the quieting joy as they forced their way past each other over the threshold and discovered in the great hall that each understood everyone’s words, though probably not each other.

Some arrived with prayer rugs, others with cushions, while many eyed the chairs arranged throughout the room, creating a visual clamor of national clothing colors — from the reds and blues of kiffiyehs covering middle eastern heads to the bling of formal saris and the dignity of Sikh turbans; from the oranges and yellows of flowing African skirts to decorated Chinese head pieces, mitigated by the occasional black suit with stiff backward white collar worn by expressionless men.

A buzz of questions erupted when the rumor spread that Satan would be in attendance. One man with a backwards white collar swung around to the exit. “I’m not staying. I’ll have nothing to do with Satan.” With a quick hand on his shoulder the Lord smiled lovingly and firmly, “You already do have much to do with Satan. Sit down and relax.” Relaxing, however, was far from the intention for any in the gathering.

And then Satan arrived, accompanied by a stern looking entourage in various military and civilian attire, protectively alert for signs of danger. Some of the gathered rose as if to leave while others settled in various degrees of fear and curiosity. Satan’s group, on the other hand, stood straight-backed and immobile around him as the Lord reached their hand to Satan who pulled back a bit.

“It was only a moment in time since you last reported in,” the Lord observed. Satan waved a reassuring gesture to his guards and, offering a half smile to Gabriel, the Lord’s assigned assistant for today’s meeting, replied, “Yep. I told you then the world was quite a mess, but you preferred not to listen to me and focused instead on putting poor Job to the test. Strange thing to do, considering he was one of the truly devoted ones – maybe the only one.”

“Well that was then, and this is now. But why do you have this uptight entourage behind you? Don’t tell me you’re worried about your safety. You know perfectly well I don’t operate that way.”

“Habit, I guess. You get that way after you’ve been hanging around earth long enough.”

“Maybe you’re worried about the coup I hear you’ve been trying to pull? How’s that been going for you?”

“Pretty damn well, I’d say. I think I have my position pretty solidly cemented.” Satan’s smile broadened even as it curled. Gabriel stiffened. A buzzing erupted as whispers of shock – or maybe agreement – rolled like a tsunami through the attending group. Some things are just too sensitively political to talk about.

“Relax, Gabe” The Lord swept their hand reassuringly about the room encouraging calm. Then, smiling benignly toward Satan, “You think you’re in a good position now, Sate.” Again a flurry of action from the gathered group, shocked at the intimacy between the two powers. “But my cause will defeat you in the end, I’ve set earth dwellers up with some pretty powerful tools.”

“Like what?” one of Satan’s deputies sneered and then backed up in response to his boss’s silencing look.

“Like faith, love, dedication, community, gratitude, compassion, intellect, logic, science, even anger to mobilize against evil.’

Satan’s entourage tittered a bit, receiving Satan’s quick appreciative smile in return. Then, with something that looked like a sneer on his face, he declared, “a perfect array of tools. Thanks. I’ve been able to make good use of them. Look at Constantine, for example. It took very little effort to get people to have “faith” in him. All he had to do, really, was put the cross on the sword and send them out, using your “anger” to kill off anyone who called you by a different name. Didn’t you see what was happening?  I’ve used that faith thing a lot, managing to get people to confuse ‘faith’ with abject obedience. Really pretty easy to do.”

“But love in the long run will overcome anger.”

“Really? Where do you see that happening?”

“Look at all the times neighbors come to the aid of people who are suffering. That certainly is love – and caring for community besides.”

“Don’t fool yourself. I know how to use that one too. Maybe you were thinking in broad terms when you established that “neighbor, compassion, and community” thing, but I managed to get them to think close to home. Look over there” The Satan gestured, “that fellow with the backwards collar does a great job of convincing people you should be kind to your immediate neighbor and keep out anyone who doesn’t belong in your community.” The fellow with the collar reddened as the Lord turned a sadly inquisitive eye on him.

“And ‘anger against evil?’” Boy, have I ever got you there. All it took was planting the idea that anyone not like your “community” is an evil danger. You can’t tell me you haven’t seen the result of that little trick of mine.

The Lord calmly moved closer to Satan and looked him confidently in the eye like a parent gently berating a wayward child. “You’ve obviously been seduced by one little planet, that troublesome little place. And you’ve forgotten that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. We’re just getting started. Sure, we’ve got lots of problems to work out, but don’t forget creativity and science, and even the flexibility to adapt and change over time.”

“I hate to tell you, old timer, but you’re a bit late. People can’t even agree on who you are. Allah, God, Great Spirit. Some don’t even name you.”

“And some don’t even know you’ve taken control of them!” the Lord snapped back.

The attending representatives broke into a buzz of discussion, piling disjointed thoughts on top of unverbalized shocked utterances. “The Lord does have a temper! Maybe losing it once in a while isn’t so bad.” “What are we supposed to say when we report back on earth?” “This is depressing – like there’s no hope.” “I don’t think it’s so bad – Satan seems to hit the nail on the head.” “Why doesn’t the Lord point out all the research being done these days on happiness and gratitude…” “And even love.” “How come the two of them seem so cozy with each other? Almost like they’re two sides of the same coin.” “We came all this way for this? I could have spent my time reading, or watching TV. Or discussing with friends. Where is all this getting us?” “What’s the point anyway?”

The words piled on each other like a rocky landslide. Some attendees rose as if to leave. Or perhaps to fight. Or simply to attack each other with accusing looks or raised fists. Some moved as if to surround the Lord with protection or maybe just encouragement. The great hall had disintegrated into a tumult of words, utterances and movements both organized and random.

Still the Lord was smiling benignly. Satan wasn’t. One thing that didn’t play into Satan’s hand was discussion.

“Cool it!” The Lord raised their hand in a calming gesture. Then, turning to Satan, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll make a deal with you. Why don’t you do what I had you do with Job. Take everything away from your most devoted and successful follower and see what happens. Come back and report to our next millennial gathering. That’ll be like tomorrow in our eternal timelessness, but it gives you lots of earth time to work it out.”

“You’re on!” Satan smiled a crooked smile while his entourage vacillated between sneers and fears. “Let’s shake on it.”

Outside the great hall departing participants fell into disarray as their sudden fall back into multiple languages jarred whatever efforts they had been making to understand each other.

The Lord didn’t try to hide a worried parental smile.

 

 

 

Posted March 13, 2022 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

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I JUST POSTED THIS REVIEW OF “HAMNET” BY MAGGIE O’FARRELL ON AMAZON AND GOODREADS   Leave a comment

If I were an English teacher conducting a writing course, I’d assign this book as an example of exquisite writing. Often when reading a novel I’ll skim over the descriptive parts to get to the essence of the story, but here I couldn’t help lingering on the way as I was drawn into seeing, feeling, and hearing the historical time and place. I’d also ask for an analysis of the purpose and accomplishment of the story and I’d look for the answer that the author has drawn me into the time period as if I were living it. I liked “seeing” the streets and the homes of Stratford in that period. I’d also note its relationship to our own pandemic time. And certainly there’d be room for a student paper on the gender biases of the period.

I’d ask for an opinion on the believability of the story. Here I’d be aware that I’d just recently skimmed my way through a tome on the life and works of Shakespeare so I liked the way the author made a sensible story of some of the major questions – most especially why he married Anne (Agnes) and why he was almost never home with her and the children. I liked the way his talent appeared to emerge from him as if he were surprised to find it. Overall I’d be satisfied with her construction of the creatively imagined life.

But I’m not an English teacher, so I’ll fall back on my own experience of teaching psychology. I wouldn’t be assigning the book, but I’d be finding the character development especially interesting when it came to Agnes and Hamnet, primarily in the influence of beliefs of the time. Not the deepest of character developments, but sufficient to the purpose of the story.

I loved this book and gave it to my daughter with the encouragement to read it. Wouldn’t it be neat if we could have posted our reviews next to each other? Oh well, we can’t have it all, and besides, she hasn’t finished it yet.

 

 

Posted January 13, 2022 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

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SEE NO STRANGER BY VALERIE KAUR. JUST POSTED ON AMAZON AND GOODREADS   2 comments

I wish I had written this review right after reading the book. Unfortunately I finished it in the height of holiday activities so I’m afraid my words won’t be as rich as her writing deserves. I wish everyone could know what the author knows, and what the reader knows after devouring the book. I can’t think of a better exposition of the tragedy of being targeted by irrational hate. Or a more fitting addition to the positive signs of research and writing recognizing the reality of the power of community. About community: the one I married into is so different from the Sikh community, and yet so similar — the positive aspects of love, belonging, ethical guidance, and cooperative behavior standards, balanced by the demands of role expectations, gender biases, hierarchical and often shaming group control. I’m sure there are myriad ethnic communities who can identify with this portrayal Yes, this is a gripping story by a strong and honest woman. More than that, it is a lesson for our time.

 

I don’t want to leave this review without mentioning the generous, loving, strong, dedicated, and giving ethic represented by the male headdress that leads so many haters to perceive Sikh men as different and therefore the enemy. I did have the eye-opening experience of visiting a Sikh temple in India where meals were served freely to everyone who simply came and received. All were welcome. Thy “saw no stranger.” From the wealthiest to the poorest, from the most significant to the least important. No one asked. One was just welcomed to take a seat cross-legged in the hall and dine. I hope this book is one step closer to making a broad reality of such community and love.

 

And besides, it’s a page-turning read.

Posted January 12, 2022 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

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