Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

NOT A WINNER IN WRITER’S DIGEST CONTEST   7 comments

So now I am free to share it with all of you — the entry that didn’t win..

ATONEMENT

I didn’t know it then, but it was the day I doomed our marriage.  It was a sunny mid-afternoon in 1958 and I was dressed in the black skirt with a stretchy belly designed for expansion with a cover-up top intended to protect onlookers from the sight of my pregnancy. The living room of our new – to us – three-bedroom ranch house was comfortably furnished in used-in-law period and I had happily entertained my colleagues traveling from Boston to New York to present a paper resulting from our study of “The Role of the Nurse in the Outpatient Department.” Funny the things you remember. Arthur, one of my fellow PhD candidates, complained on emerging from the bathroom, “You put the paper the wrong way into the holder.” (Guess where I remember you several times a day, Art, and I don’t recall what you thought was the right way.)

We were all ABDs (All But Dissertation) at various stages of completion of the last obstacles to the Doctorate in Psychology and I missed the meetings we had enjoyed around the table in the gathering room at Boston University. It would be a few years, two children, family-and in-law-entertaining, a clean house, and soul-gratifying part-time college teaching before I would make my final trip to Boston to pass my orals. But on this day I was still one of them and excited to say “See ya’ soon” as we waved goodbye. I would be joining them the next time they presented a paper.

Until, that is, my husband declared “No wife of mine is ever going to a professional convention.” I retreated to our bedroom, rolled into a fetal ball, and cried, before emerging to serve dinner. It was twenty years later and one divorce initiated by me before I went to any professional meeting not directly related to my local academic career.

“It takes two to make or break a marriage,” I knew, but what had I done? I had kept the house clean because he didn’t want anyone but his wife doing that. I had prepared the meals he wanted for seven days a week. I had accepted that he didn’t particularly like going out to eat, drink, dance, or see a movie. I had managed a teaching schedule that allowed me to be home when the children were because he didn’t want them in the care of outsiders. I had waited through weeks of his not speaking until he could tell me what had offended him. His mother and I had established a loving relationship [that lasted until her death from ALS many years after the divorce.] And his father too. Through it all I loved my work, my children, my neighbors and friends, — my life, really. “Yes, I’m always busy, but the two sides of my life balance out giving joy to each” I used to say.

But the house of deception finally broke down. Two years of therapy later it was over. But what had I done wrong? He knew he had done everything expected of a husband and I knew I had done everything expected of a wife. In everything I knew I had been the person he wanted me to be to make him happy. Then came the day he explained two things. First, no man wants to be married to an executive professional. Second, there’s a right way to be when you’re dating, a right way to be when you’re engaged, a right way to be when you marry, and a right way to be when you have children. The first point evoked that sense of guilt that my conscious self had overcome. The second point was a clarification of what I had known at some level but never fully grasped. Rule-guided restrictions are a terrible way to approach life.

Now, in my final decades, it has finally dawned on me. That was my fault point. Hadn’t I believed the same thing? Hadn’t I believed that marrying meant I would do all I could to please my husband? Hadn’t motherhood meant that I would – no, should – put parenting above all else? Hadn’t I believed that following my career could be justified only by pretending it was unessential self-satisfaction – a little like a hobby for which I was surprisingly being paid and otherwise rewarded?

I had cheated my husband, myself, and my marriage of the person he had dated and married. I had redefined myself as his obedient attachment. Sure, it was the 50s and the culture supported it. But I’m the one who didn’t stand up and say, “Of course I’m going to professional conventions. That’s who I am! I’m sorry you’re not happy with that, and we’ll have to work it out. But I’m not about to give up you, or the baby-on-the-way, or the psychology I love.”

“After all you put us through to marry him” said my Swedish Lutheran mother when I divorced my Italian Catholic husband. (A mixed marriage in those days.) But that wasn’t the fault. Compromising myself was the fault.

Why now am I finally getting this simple point? Love and Hate, that’s why. Trying to understand the hate that currently seems so powerful finds me exploring the depths of its opposite — love. Love was so powerful in our early years together, pouring out like an invisible contagion filling us with joyful though often painful energy? Was there an unspoken love contract functioning as we worked at making a life together? What I give I’ll receive in return? But no, love, like marriage, is too complex, mysterious, and wonderful to be bartered.

So now, forty some years later, where did our love go – my husband‘s and mine? It’s there. That intangible thing that survives the years and shows up in unanticipated, even unbelievable places. Purgatory. The place where Catholics believe – as I understand it – that one is purged of life’s sins in preparation for the entry into heaven. Purgatory. The creed that was never part of my belief system. Purgatory. The place where I unexpectedly visited him in the middle of one night several years after his death. He was happy, contented, relaxed as I had rarely known him, anticipating the heaven ahead after his life in a dirty little hovel surrounded by garbage, road dirt, and trash. Happy to be overcoming his lifetime obsession with order, propriety, and cleanliness. And he was happy to see me. It was a good visit.

So was it a good visit more years later when, in my dream, he knelt down beside me in my garden to help me clean up the soil by pulling weeds. He who had grown up with a handkerchief of a lawn and little interest in digging in the soil. No words were spoken. Don’t tell my scientific colleagues, but I know he was on his way to a better state of being.

But then, as I always taught, no good scientist ever believes that the last and final truth has been discovered. For me, I am serene in our atonement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted December 18, 2021 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees — Review Just Added on Amazon and Goodreads   2 comments

This novel certainly needs no more reviews, but I can add something of my own reaction on reading this a second time after many years — this time because it was a book club choice. Having just spent a year studying the history of blacks in the U.S. I found myself worrying about where the racism might lead. Would the bee business be so successful that the whites might feel the need to destroy it? Would the potential black/white friendship lead to violent reactions? Would Rosaleen be able to rejoice in finally being a registered voter? Or would gerrymandering and other restrictions disappoint her? In other words, I couldn’t help reading everything with an awareness of today’s progress and regressions. And still it is a beautiful novel. I’m having trouble finding words to describe the joyful comfort of knowing I was in the hands of a master of creativity and craft. There should be a three star category with a halo to acknowl

Posted November 28, 2021 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

REAL LIFE MONOPOLY   2 comments

I’ll bet most of us remember playing Monopoly – probably late into the night and maybe even into the next day. I personally remember sitting at the card table in our living room playing it with my big brother and sister all evening until 2:00 a.m. the next morning. I remember how comfortable and confident I felt on the occasions when I’d been lucky enough to land on Boardwalk and Park Place early in the game, charging the outrageously high rentals for houses and then hotels on that high class property, And how really great it felt to own Atlantic Avenue and the other two yellow properties so I could add and charge for houses and ultimately hotels. Even better when I acquired Pennsylvania Avenue and the other two green properties on the block. Throw in at least two of the Railroads to prevent anyone else from acquiring a monopoly and I could pretty much sit back and watch my wealth accumulate. I could even afford to sit in jail for three rounds without paying a fine because my houses were still earning me rent. Of course, I felt even more confident as I watched my opponents mortgaging the properties they did own in the desperate attempt to acquire funds to make it past my expensive houses. Of course there was no gain for them if I landed on their mortgaged properties. Only the bank made money. (My mother was often the banker when my children played the game. She kept the bills neatly stacked in proper order.) In every way, playing monopoly demonstrated one of my husband’s sayings: “You’ve got to have money to make money.”

And then there were the times when I wasn’t so lucky. It wasn’t long before I knew the truth. No matter how hard I worked I’d never get out of the hole. Sure, I only had to own a block of two – Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue – in order to buy houses, but the rental to be collected if one of my opponents landed on either of those blocks was far less than Pennsylvania Avenue, for example, even though the initial cost of the houses was the same. When luck placed me in the position of owning no good blocks of property my first reaction was to try hard to get out of that inferior spot. Eventually, though, I’d just get discouraged and accept my fate.

But if you are remembering along with me, you might recall acts of charity – those times when the winners didn’t want the game to end so they’d lend money at no interest in spite of the rules, or even give it away. Charity would cheer the poorer members, but only temporarily. There was still little chance of getting out of the hole. And so it would go on, representing the opposite of my husband’s saying, i.e., You can’t make money if you don’t have it to invest in the first place.” And here’s my point. Think of how you felt when that happened to you. There was little joy remaining in the game.

To step away from the game for a minute, think about the advice financial planners will give you in preparing for your retirement. “Home ownership is your best investment.” And our laws do everything to support that with deductions for mortgage payments, improvements on the property, etc.

Now – back to Monopoly. Try accumulating enough cash to pay the cost of the properties you land on without owning any valuable property. I’m not a statistician, but I have been a player, and I’m pretty sure you’ll still end up at the burned out end of the candle if you have nothing going for you but cash.

  1. Now let’s see what would happen if you added two new rules at the beginning of the game. First: redlining. After you’ve chosen your token you draw a card that says you can’t buy anything but Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue if you should be lucky enough to land on them. Second, inheritance: You draw a card saying you haven’t inherited any property while your opponents gain ownership of Atlantic Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue plus the four railroads. How eager would you be to proceed with the game?

And there you have it. Real life Monopoly.

(The British version has different names, but I hope the point will still be clear.)

 

 

I’M PRO-LIFE, THEREFORE I’M PRO CHOICE   4 comments

There’s nothing so beautiful as a happy, thriving child. And nothing so sad as a child born into poverty, neglect, and even abuse. So why am I pro-choice?

#1. I am not in favor of condemning a child to misery and a tragic adulthood which might well ultimately negatively affect the surrounding society.

#2. The person carrying the embryo/fetus/ultimate child is not an empty box just carrying a load. That person is a host whose body functions change to supply the necessities for the potential life within. Indeed, the life within may cause severe health hazards for the bearer. Consider, for example this observation to be found on p. 43 of the September 2021 issue of the Scientific American.

Autoimmunity may be an unfortunate by-product of the

Complex immune response women need to bear children

And that’s not the only health danger — even to the point of death.

#3. The life of the pregnant one is every bit as important as that of the potential child. In fact, given life circumstances, may be many times more crucial to the goodness of life.

#4. For all these reasons the decision to birth a child is one that belongs to a woman, her doctor, her relationship to others, and her spiritual advisor.

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