Categories
Non-Fiction

23 and Thomas Jefferson

What? Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved concubine, in the parlance of the day, was half-sister to his deceased wife Martha? What? Sally and Thomas’s children, legally slaves, were 1/8 African and 7/8 white? WHAT? At his death, all but five of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves – some of them, Sally’s great nephews and nieces – were sold […]

Categories
Picture Books Poetry

Isn’t There a Rule About That?

Twenty faces in Zoom cubbies scrunched up in thought. Max, the teacher had asked, “What do you think of when you hear “poetry?” My heart fluttered – a kind of panic. “There are rules, but I don’t know what they are,” I said. “There’s no wrong way to write a poem,” Max was saying. I […]

Categories
Self-Help

Gonzo Mindfulness Meditation: What I learned when I explored my brain

In this time of “social distancing,” my friends are knitting, sewing, quilting, gluing and painting every sort of art project. They have assembled umpteen jigsaw puzzles and gotten Zoom drunk with friends.  They’ve elevated binge-watching to an art form. They’re reading books, baking bread, deep-cleaning their homes, and posting on Facebook dozens of times daily. […]

Categories
Essays Picture Books

Purple Mountains Majesty _ As Seen from the Hoosegow

Got COVID cabin fever? Me too! When I fantasize about open spaces and freedom of movement, my mind always travels to the American West. This is not unusual. Traveling west to get away from entanglements has been a staple of the American narrative since before the United States was a country. “Go West, young man,” […]

Categories
Classics Fiction

COVID Anxiety

I can let my hair go gray! I haven’t seen my hair in its native state for two decades. I can catch up on my 23 episodes of This is Us and, coincidentally, my 23 episodes of Call the Midwife on my DVR. In what is the opposite of binge watching, I watch these shows […]

Categories
Classics Self-Help

Flattening the Curve: The Plague and COVID-19

“Should we go see the grandkids in Virginia?” We have the plane tickets. We’ve reserved the hotel and the rental car. And I would love to luxuriate in the embrace and enthusiasm of my young grandsons. But COVID-19 casts a pall. Maybe we should drive. Less proximity to potentially-infected fellow passengers. Except neither of us […]

Categories
Fiction

Love and Nordic Noir

Human desires are fickle. Human needs are constant. I am not trying to sound philosophical or profound. It’s just the conclusion I came to after my two-week vacation in Florida. *** “Another f***ing day of sunshine.” I can’t believe those words popped out of my mouth as I squinted at the bar of glary light […]

Categories
Non-Fiction

High Expectations — And Then There’s Real Life

Remember when you had homework? I do. I brought home a pile of books: my intentions were so lofty. In those days before backpacks, I bundled them in my arms. The books often slid out of my grip. It was annoying. Come Friday night, I wanted to relax. On Saturday, pangs of guilt nibbled at […]

Categories
Classics

Giants and Gods and Dwarfs

I remember the first movie I ever saw. I was about six. We lived in a refugee settlement in Hong Kong, having fled China. I had no idea what to expect when Mom took me to the dark, spacious theater. I had to be very quiet. Then the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs […]

Categories
Non-Fiction Picture Books

Iran: What We Don’t Know

General Suleimani Who? Is it legal to kill another country’s official when we are not at war? Does this mean Guatemala can assassinate Mike Pence for the two dozen deaths of Central Americans in ICE custody? And what’s the deal in Iran? They’ve been chanting “Death to America” for forty years now. I was full […]

Categories
Self-Help

I’m Dead. Now What?

My mother left me some exquisite Chinese dresses. They are called qi pao. Below a high collar, the dress sinuously hugs the body. I have one in silk, one in wool with embroidered trim and a lacy one. They fit me, which is amazing, as they were tailored to my mom’s measurements. I wear them […]

Categories
Classics Fiction

Willa Cather, Greta Thunberg and Me

Willa Cather’s novel about pioneer life in Nebraska — My Antonia — was published a century ago in 1918.  This book casts a nostalgic look at the Midwestern prairie at the time it was being turned into farmlands and towns. Men and women from America and from Europe, primarily Eastern Europe, struggled to make a […]

Categories
Being Chinese Self-Help

“I Love You, Mom and Dad”

“Ming zaw way,” in the Shanghai dialect means, “See you in the morning.” This was how our family bade each other good night. For my entire life, these were the last words I would say to my parents before we headed to bed. To me, their “ming zaw way” meant “Good night, sleep tight.” They, […]

Categories
Being Chinese

No Tickee, No Shirtee

I recently reread Robert van Gulik’s The Emperor’s Pearl: A Judge Dee Mystery to see if his depictions of Chinese culture still rang true. This book is one of a series of mysteries set in 7th century China about a crime-solving magistrate. When I first encountered these books as a teenager in St. Louis in […]

Categories
Fiction

Istanbul: Glimpses After Death

As a physician, I am skeptical that consciousness and memory can remain intact after the heart quits pumping. There may be reflexive movement or some random cellular metabolic activity after blood flow stops, but that’s all. As a human being, I find the idea of a period of awareness after death intriguing, yet I know […]

Categories
Non-Fiction

Thanks, Mom!

Who? Trevor Noah? That was my reaction when Jon Stewart tapped Noah to replace him as host of The Daily Show in 2015. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were practically my only sources of news during the George W. Bush era. The regular news shows were so depressing: I couldn’t imagine an administration […]

Categories
Non-Fiction Self-Help

The Body Keeps Score

I flagged so many pages of Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps Score that it became kind of ridiculous. But it is that important. Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist who has spent over thirty years working with trauma survivors. He has worked with patients with PTSD, victims of natural and man-made disasters, and people […]

Categories
Non-Fiction

The Troubles

I decided to read Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Mystery in Northern Ireland, by New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, because a recently solved forty-year murder mystery sounded intriguing. Also, I wanted to learn something about Northern Ireland. Much of the discussion around Brexit brings up the Ireland/Northern Ireland border as […]

Categories
Classics Poetry

Reading Dante in St. Louis

I tend to pick up long, dense literary works when I’m stressed out: Faulkner, Beowulf, Dante. I find hope that I can chip away at my troubles one problem at a time the same way I can finish lengthy tomes by reading a few pages every day. To be transported into other worlds and to […]

Categories
Non-Fiction

H is for Heartbreak

So, you are a middle-aged woman, single, no children. You are English. Your job as a researcher  and teacher at Cambridge University may not be renewed. If you lose your job, you lose your apartment on campus. Then your beloved father dies suddenly. You are disconsolate. What do you do? Well, if you are Helen […]