15 April 2013

Boston: Another Lesson in Perspective

Like so many others, I spent my afternoon riveted to CNN, hoping to hear that maybe the bombings in Boston weren’t as bad as everyone first thought. Instead, the opposite happened. Right before 5:00, I refreshed the website and learned that an 8-year old child was one of the two fatalities, and my heart just sank. Tears came to my eyes, and I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what had brought that precious little boy to Boston this morning. Was his mom or dad among the runners, and was he waiting impatiently to watch him or her cross the finish line – craning his little neck to see over all the adults, screaming his heart out with excitement and 8-year old joy? Had he painted a sign to congratulate his sister or his nanny or his teacher? Was he just starting out as a runner, and did his parents plan this special field trip to watch one of the most prestigious marathon events in the country? Or did he just happen to be there – wrong place and a very wrong time?

I reacted similarly to the shooting in Connecticut. I remember talking to my mom on the phone that night, and just sobbing as we talked about it. Parents send their children to school every day. EVERY day. They dress them and feed them breakfast and pack their lunches, and put them on a bus or drive them to drop-off, and leave them in the capable hands of teachers to learn and laugh and play. Going to school is an unavoidable part of most children’s day, and we don’t think of it as being a dangerous or risky place to be. That day, like today, began normally and happily. And ended in terror, trauma, astonishing heartbreak, and death.

I notice that days like today have a universally uniting effect, as they should. People come together, offering words of sympathy and comfort to the victims and their families, and for a moment, we forget that we spend the majority of our time fighting over really stupid things. For a few days, we look past the politics and our private agendas, and we remember that we’re all people, that we all grieve our losses the same way. We cry out of genuine concern for complete strangers, and we pray for them to live, to recover, to somehow move past what has happened to them. For a few days – maybe a few weeks at best – we are the best iteration of ourselves. How great would this country be – how great would the world be – if we could retain our sense of perspective without having to re-experience traumatic loss and be reminded of it? Why does empathy need to be rebooted?

The short answer, of course, is that I don’t know. But I’m reminded all over again of why MISS is necessary, and will continue to be necessary, so long as children are lost tragically and senselessly, and so long as their parents have to continue trying to recover from that.

(Yep, you can still donate to MISS's Kindness Walk, and help to ensure that whenever a senseless act of evil happens, MISS can be there to offer comfort and support for the parents left behind.  Here's the link:  https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/AlaneBreland/missfoundationkindnesswalkandsafetyfair.)

10 April 2013


by Philip Roth

Alright. So I finished my second Roth novel, and I think the only logical conclusion at this point is that I’m just not as smart as all those people who love Roth. I say this because I just have to be missing something. I started reading Nemesis in January, and I found it to be a quick, albeit boring, read. I took about a two-month break in the middle of the second section, simply because I basically forgot about it until I was reviewing my Goodreads list and realized that I’d never finished it. After picking it back up again, it took about an hour to finish.

The plot is set in 1940s New Jersey in the midst of a summertime polio outbreak. In the first section, we meet Bucky, a phys ed teacher at a playground where the neighborhood children spend their days. World War II is in high gear, and Roth goes to great effort wanting us to understand just how dejected Bucky was to have been rejected from the military due to nearsightedness. One by one, many of the playground children contract polio, and Bucky’s relationship with God begins to deteriorate as he struggles to accept a God that would allow innocence to fall victim to pain and death. Eventually, Bucky gives in to the pleadings of his girlfriend, and he joins her at a summer camp in the mountains, which is where the second section takes place.

When Bucky arrives at Indian Hill, he immediately begins to feel guilty for leaving his job at the playground. This guilt intensifies when he learns that the epidemic spread throughout the neighborhood even more after he left to such an extent that city authorities were considering a quarantine. Bucky vacillates between feelings of relief and elation at having escaped the nightmare of the city to spend the summer with his love, and guilt and misgiving over what he views as his abandonment of the boys back in the city. He becomes particularly attached to one teenage boy, who days later begins to exhibit the first symptoms of polio and eventually requires hospitalization. Bucky shares with camp leadership his suspicion that he is the carrier of the virus, at which point he is sent for a spinal tap.

In the third section, we learn that the spinal tap was positive, and that after the initial symptoms began, Bucky then spent months and months recuperating from polio, ultimately losing the use of his left arm and recovering only partial use of his left leg.

For as much as I stubbornly refused to dislike Lucy in When She Was Good, I just could not bring myself to find anything appealing in Bucky. He’s a narcissist, completely convinced of his own importance. He ruins his own life by insisting that he is to blame for not only the polio outbreak at Indian Hill, but in his old neighborhood as well. He hems and haws about God, and his own martyrdom, and how his broken engagement was the only way to ensure that his almost-fiancĂ©e could lead a full life. By the end of the book, I was hoping that he would just die and get it over with. No such luck.

Are there really people like this? People who cannot process reality, who need someone to blame so badly that they will fault themselves when left with no alternative, and who end up in some emotional quagmire from decades before? I don’t know. I do know, however, that I didn’t particularly enjoy reading about Bucky, and I didn’t find him all that interesting or dynamic. In fact, I find him insipid, unintelligent, and very, very annoying.

09 April 2013


Book by Antonio Mendez. Film directed by Ben Affleck.

A book review and a movie review, all at the same time!

I saw Argo (the movie) last October when I was visiting my friends Brandy and John in Colorado. Brandy and I had planned to go and visit some mountains and some snow, but it rained instead. Everybody knows that rainy mountains aren’t nearly as much fun as snowy mountains, so we opted for a movie day instead. I am embarrassed to admit that I knew little to nothing about the Iran hostages prior to seeing Argo, so it was even more of a learning experience for me than it might have been to a more knowledgeable viewer.

I agree with the reviewers who thought that the manufactured tension at the end of the movie was a little bit tiresome, but overall, I loved Argo. The casting was perfect – especially Alan Arkin and John Goodman – and I agree with all those people who were dumbfounded that Ben Affleck didn’t receive a Director nod at the Oscars. I’m not generally able to pinpoint good directing as the reason I enjoy a film, but Argo is an exception to that. I suppose that Best Picture is a pretty good consolation prize, but in all honesty, I thought Zero Dark Thirty deserved Best Picture just as much as Argo deserved Best Director. Oh, well – I’m not in charge of either decision.

My mom and I were in DC last weekend, and while we were there we visited the International Spy Museum, which is across the street from the National Portrait Gallery. We weren’t able to go when we were in the District last summer, but we’d been told that it was a fun museum. At some point during the lead-up to awards season, I read that Antonio Mendez and his wife, both former CIA operatives, were on the board of the museum, which further intrigued me. In all honesty, I can’t say that I was all that impressed with the museum itself; I chalk it up to an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia, my absolute inability to figure out the preferred direction of travel inside the museum, and the fact that way too many people (and too many children, in particular) were there. I eventually started following every exit sign I found and made my way to the gift store (I do love a gift store, y’all), where I found autographed copies of Mendez’s book Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History. I bought one for myself and one for my dad, who loved the movie as much as I did.

This isn’t the book that the film is based on. That’s The Master of Disguise, which was written after the operation was declassified in 1997. Mendez wrote Argo in 2012, after the film had already been completed. As anticipated, the book fills in all the details that the film glosses over. It’s an easy read, albeit lengthier than necessary (I found myself wondering whether Mendez had an ineffective editor or a page number quota that he couldn’t reach without pages and pages and pages of backstory). In any case, I loved learning about how CIA operatives are trained in forgery and disguises; it’s like Mission Impossible, only real.

In a nutshell, here’s what we learn from both the book and the film versions of Argo: the CIA is crazy smart; you can’t hide from them, but they can very effectively hide from you.

08 April 2013

If you're able to donate...please donate.

I am participating in The MISS Foundation’s 3rd Annual Kindness Walk & Safety Fair on May 19, 2013. As part of that effort, I am also raising money, and my goal is $500.00. That goal may increase, depending on how many generous friends I have. ;-)

I know, I talk a lot lately about MISS. But, I guess, if you can’t use your own blog to promote your own causes, then what’s the use of having a blog, right? Here’s the thing: MISS doesn’t get much support, and the reason for that is probably pretty simple. Our cause is a sad one, and by giving money, our donors are contributing to ongoing support of bereaved parents and advocacy for issues relevant to child death, but not to a potential cure. St. Jude’s appeals to your heart by showing you photos of adorable bald babies who are suffering through the horrors of cancer treatment; you want to help the adorable bald babies beat cancer, so you give money. March of Dimes and child advocacy centers and dozens of other organizations use the same technique; pick up any one of their brochures, and you’ll see groups of happy, healthy kids who have benefitted from their services. They have success stories, and they use them to make more success stories. It’s a great method, and we’d use it if we could. But, we can’t.

You can’t help the babies that make MISS necessary, and none of us are mean enough to show you pictures of the babies that make MISS necessary. Dead babies make us necessary. We don’t have success stories because no parent ever successfully recovers from a child’s death. If children never died, MISS wouldn’t exist, and believe me when I tell you that Dr. Jo (our founder) would be thrilled to find herself jobless tomorrow if someone could invent a miraculous cure for dead babies.

Here’s the good part, though. MISS doesn’t discriminate. We help every parent who comes to us, searching for the smallest speck of light in the blanket of darkness that is losing a child. No matter what caused the death – stillbirth, car accident, cancer, some other congenital defect, homicide, suicide, tragic accident, whatever. No matter the age of the child at the time of death – infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults. Parents and families who come to us get help. End of story.

MISS doesn’t stop there, though. In fact, when I first talked with MISS’s CEO, Barry Kluger, about why I wanted to become a part of the Executive Board, I told him I love that MISS isn’t just about hand-holding and crying and grief. The hand-holding is vital, and it’s the heartbeat of the organization, but it’s not ALL of the organization. MISS is about activism. Dr. Jo is perhaps the loudest voice speaking up against a change to the DSM5 that would medicalise grief. Barry has co-written an amendment to the FMLA that would extend its protections to employees following the loss of a child. These are professionals, y’all – smart, smart people who teach me daily, not only about grief, but also about intricacies of psychiatry, medicine, chemistry, and yes, even the law. I learn from them, but much more importantly, others in positions to effect change look to them and learn from them and model them.

Where does your money go? Or perhaps more importantly, where doesn’t it go? Salaries. Save one part-time administrative employee whose salary is paid by a generous donor, MISS operates entirely on the considerable devotion of its volunteers. Our volunteer pool is primarily comprised of bereaved parents; they come to MISS for help, and after they get help, they give it back. Parents are offered a number of counseling sessions gratis, after which they pay a very nominal amount to continue services; that nominal amount goes directly to the counselors. In terms of overhead expenses, MISS has one office, for which rent and related costs must be paid; that office is small and used both for individual counseling sessions and group meetings. When MISS representatives travel – either to advocate on behalf of the organization or to participate in training seminars – they pay their own expenses. Donations go directly to supporting the mission statement of the organization itself, and not into the pockets of its representatives.

So, now that I’ve said that, I am going to ask you for money. For as little or as much as you want to give. We will appreciate every single dollar, and we won’t waste a penny, I promise you.