Wednesday, March 29, 2017

St. Patrick, The Snakes and The Kids

St. Patrick, The Snakes and The Kids

Recently I ventured out of my comfort zone to speak to a group of school children about my love of stories and the pleasure one can derive from writing one’s own.  This was the second time I’ve done this, so I knew what to expect and was quite looking forward to the experience.  The kids are delightful and since their teacher has read Edward Speaks at Midnight to them in the past, they are always full of questions about Edward, which I’m always happy to answer.  This year my visit with them happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day so I had the utterly brilliant idea of incorporating the sainted one’s story into my little program.
So when the afternoon rolled around, dressed in a spring green coat, I stood up in front of the class and began to tell them about St. Patrick, starting with what I deemed the most exciting part of his biography:  the snakes.  When great theatricality I told them how he climbed to the top of a hill and cast all the snakes into the sea.  
“And if you go to Ireland today, you’ll not find a single snake,”  I said, triumphantly.

Scores of little eyes stared up at me in disbelief.  There was a pause, then hands shot up all across the room as questions were hurled at me like water balloons.

“Where’d the snakes GO?”
“Did he KILL them?”
“WHY did he kill them?”
“What did the snakes do to HIM?”
“What kind of snakes WERE they?”
“HOW did he make them leave?”
“Couldn’t they SWIM?”
“You mean he just KILLED them?”
“For no REASON?”

I mumbled and stuttered in my feeble attempt to defend poor St. Patrick’s now so obvious cruelty to snakes but couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  The questions kept coming and it was clear I was losing my grip on the reins of my little performance.  Glancing over at the teacher for help I saw she was giggling, so I knew I was on my own.  I briefly entertained the notion of smiling, nodding and backing out of the room to run to my car, drive to the airport and board a plane to someplace sandy and warm where handsome pool boys would bring me colorful drinks with little paper umbrellas bobbing up and down inside them while I sat by the sea with my eyes closed. 

It took a good few minutes to settle everybody down and I’m sorry to say I eventually fell back on that strategy so well-known and beloved by parents everywhere:  I made things up.  Before I was through, these snakes were the most vicious, evil creatures God ever made and St. Patrick simply had no choice but to shoo them all into the waves.  As to precisely how he did it?  Believe me, you don’t want to know.

Later that afternoon I met Walt and his Mom on my walk with Edward and Apple.  Walt is probably my biggest fan; he’s certainly my favourite.  He often meets us mid-walk to tell me what about his Little League games, or what he’s doing in school, or where he’s been on holiday.  He’ll tell me about reading “Edward’s book” again and he’ll laugh about “Apple talking about chipmunks and cheese”, all the while petting both dogs like the old friends they are.  Walt is a curious fellow so I felt it was a good idea to share my St. Patrick experience with his mother - so obviously an expert on the minds of little ones - in the hopes of finding out just where I’d gone wrong.

“Well that’s easy,” she said with a laugh.  “You mentioned snakes.” 
  And when Walt was out of earshot, she added, 
“Next time, just do what I do.  Make stuff up!”

So, it turns out I didn’t do so badly after all.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

One More Time: How Do You Feel?

This week the US House of Representatives will vote on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, something the Republicans of this body have been anxious to do since is was put into effect in 2013.  The anticipated changes to our healthcare system here in the states, a system far from perfect, are sobering.  While Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, astonishingly calls this new plan "an act of mercy", 24 million Americans brace to lose their healthcare over the next ten years.  
In light of this, I thought it might be interesting to revisit an essay I wrote in the autumn of 2013  when I was just home from a visit to the UK where The Songwriter took an unfortunate tumble on the Isle of Mull, broke his ankle, and landed us squarely in the middle of the National Health Service of Great Britain.  
If these proposed changes to our health care system here in the US are of concern to you, or if you have some concern over the proposed new budget released last week  - a budget that completely eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities and  The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as drastically defunding the Environmental Protection Agency - then I urge you to contact your representatives.  You can find their contact information at
xoxo, P
How Do You Feel?
Like many others around the world, I was fascinated by the opening ceremonies of last year’s London Olympics.  The sheep, the supermodels, the Queen’s doppelganger parachuting in alongside the illustrious James Bond - all were memorable sights to be sure.  The only portion of the program which seemed perhaps a bit odd to an American’s eye was the proud tribute to the National Health Service, complete with hundreds of real nurses and doctors dancing amongst giant beds in a replica of a ward in London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.  As it is customary for a host nation to celebrate what they are most proud of in their opening ceremonies - to showcase their values, and honour what they hold dear - the message was clear, and as director Danny Boyle himself stated following the production, free universal healthcare is “an amazing thing to celebrate”.
When I left for my September trip to the UK, I certainly never dreamed I would return home with an empirical opinion about the National Health Service of Britain.  However, when your husband breaks his ankle in three places on the hills of the Isle of Mull, there is no time to consider the politics of universal health care.  You simply put your trust in the system and pray for the best.  And here’s the truth.  The care he received was superlative.  From the tiny hospital on Mull, through three ambulance rides and three emergency rooms, with nurses and doctors from hospital wards to operating theatres - at every turn in the road he was treated with the utmost competence, professionalism, and kindness.  No prima donna he, our surgeon was highly skilled, forthcoming, clear, and amazingly accessible.
  The first sign that we had entered a different system from the one we are accustomed to here in the States was the question I was asked at the first reception desk I encountered.  Instead of our usual, “how do you plan to pay for this?”, I heard, “how is your husband feeling?”.  This attitude was pervasive throughout his surgery and hospital stay.  I have been in emergency rooms in the US when my father was having a stroke and, even in that dire situation, before anything was done for him we were queried incessantly about his ability to pay for any treatment he might require.  Clearly, Great Britain ran on a different system.  
Our family has been fortunate in that we have been consistently able to pay for our health insurance, (which I assure you, is no small feat for the self-employed American) and we have enjoyed excellent medical care.  However, we have many friends who earn their living in the arts and who quite simply could never afford the astronomical cost of health insurance in this country.  They live in constant concern that an illness or injury may visit their door.  Their six year old may take a bad fall on the playground, a cold may turn out to be something worse.  Entire savings can easily be wiped out, bankruptcies can occur, houses can be lost, with even one serious illness.  One artist friend, recently hospitalised for two days with high blood pressure, was visited bedside by a lady on staff inquiring how she was planning to pay for her stay.  The entire bill for those two days was over ten thousand dollars and included a bill from that questioning lady herself. Clearly, our system doesn’t work for everybody. 
One would think, one could hope, that our elected officials might find it prudent to manage to work together in an effort to address this problem, but when our plane landed back here in the States we were met with a Congress willing to shut down the entire government in a petulantly political attempt to block revisions to the health care status quo.  The Affordable Health Care act is a law that has already been passed and still they hold the country at ransom in an effort to repeal or block it.  I am grateful for a President who had the guts to try and change what is clearly not working and while the new law may not be perfect, it is a recourse our friends without health insurance thankfully now possess. It is humiliatingly painful to see those who refuse to even try to help make it work, or make it better.  In my own state, our governor is simply ignoring it completely.  The health care of a nation is an issue that should transcend politics.  To hold it hostage is a slap in the face to those in need.
Perhaps I shall be assailed for these opinions.  It is true that my experience with the NHS in Britain, though serious, was brief, and there are no doubt plenty of British citizens with critical views on aspects of their system of which I am unaware.  It is also true that the so-called American Dream marches hand-in-hand with a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “make your own way” philosophy and anything that hints of a variation in that creedo is, by some, suspect.  But I believe the prevailing question of, “how can you pay”, instead of “how do you feel” creates an atmosphere that moves insidiously throughout the soul of a nation, too easily turning the sick and the needy into “deadbeats” and “shirkers” and eventually stripping away our compassion, our humanity, our greatness.  I am embarrassed that my country, the richest nation in the world, is ranked thirty-eighth in health care.  Now, after my experience in Great Britain, I have seen another way and know that changes are possible.  If only we can find the courage to make them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Emma Watson, Fairies and Books: A Reading List for an Early Spring

Emma Watson, Fairies and Books
A Reading List for an Early Spring

Having always been suspicious of anything too popular, I came to the Harry Potter books rather late.  The fourth one was being published before I was convinced to open the first.  A mere few chapters in and I was happy to admit, in this case, my suspicions were unfounded; these were wonderful stories, more than worthy of their magical reputation.  I tore threw the first four with glee and joined the ranks of children and adults alike who waited impatiently for each new book to be published.  Even today I’m a little envious of anyone, young or old, who’s not yet read the Potter books.  What a treat awaits them.
Had I been younger, I would have found a serious heroine in Hermione Granger, the smart, bookish Gryffindor girl who possesses bravery and brains in equal measure.  And when I saw the films, I have no doubt Emma Watson, the young actress who played Hermione, would have been utterly fascinating to me.  Watching Ms. Watson grow up through those films was a treat, even more so when one sees the young woman she’s become today.  Fame is so often a dastardly gift, one that once given, cannot be returned.  To bestow it on a child is dangerous indeed and we’ve witnessed so many go off the rails into thickets of trouble from which no exit can ever be found.  But Emma Watson appears to have been much like the character she played:  level-headed, whip smart and bookish.  A new generation of little girls is about to discover her as Belle in the new Beauty and the Beast.  How lucky they are.

Delightfully,  Emma Watson has of late been acting in the role of Book Fairy,  dropping of copies of her favourite books - in subways, on park benches - for people to find and take with them.  She includes a personal note in each book she leaves lying around and she encourages the reader to leave it in a public place when they’re finished for others to find.   She was lately in Paris, placing copies of Maya Angelou’s, Mom and Me and Mom,  alongside the statue of Gertrude Stein. 
 I have to admit, I just love that.

So, in the spirit of Emma and Hermione, here's a baker's dozen  books that I’ve recently read, along with a few that are working their way up to the top of my stack to be read, just in time for this oh, so early Spring.  As usual, just click on the book to see more.
Hopefully you’ll find something here 
that peaks your interest.

All the best, 

The Chateau
by William Maxwell

Anything is Possible
by Elizabeth Strout

Foreign Affairs
by Alison Lurie

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
by Kathleen Rooney

Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders

How They Decorated
by P. Gaye Tapp

A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles

The Photo Ark
by Joel Sartore

The Dark Flood Rises
by Margaret Drabble

The Givenness of Things
by Marilynne Robinson

America's Original Sin
by Jim Wallis

by The Fan Brothers