Archive for November, 2012


Much is made of the fact that dogs teach owners about unconditional love. But they also can teach us about unconditional self acceptance.

I have two dogs. Marlena is brown, young, strong, beautiful and timid. Charlie is a small, blond, funny looking, feisty and 14-years old



Marlena who is something of a galloping galoot doesn’t regret that she isn’t smaller, blonder, more agile. She revels in her strength, her speed, her energy. And she sees her inability to be a lapdog as my problem not hers.




While Charlie struts his long hair and interesting looks down the middle of the sidewalk confident that he is perfection, king of his universe, totally unfazed by his size and quite happy that he is able to commandeer any lap in the vicinity.

My dogs learn, change and grow, but they don’t compare themselves to other dogs.

I, on the other hand, have spent far too much of my life wishing I were as thin as, or as pretty as, or as organized as …. you get the picture.

Whose smarter?


The 2012 Miami Book Fair International

I love volunteering for the Miami Book Fair.

For one week I get to focus on reading and authors.  I meet authors I’ve long admired and learn about authors I’ve managed to miss.  And in the process I catch glimpses into the world of the writer and of the book publishing industry.

This year I attended a literary death match held at Bardot, a local trendy night spot.   Four new young, published authors read from their works and competed for the praise of the judges and the adoration of the assembled masses.  In the meantime, a pop-up book exchange allowed the crowd a chance to pick through older books to find unread treasures.  I ended up with a slim volume by Isaac Asimov and a paperback by Joyce Carol Oates.  Who says reading isn’t cool?

Couldn’t resist having my photo taken with Da Chen.

But my highlight was meeting Da Chen, a Chinese memoirist and novelist, currently living in the U.S.

Not only was I introduced to writing about China and Chinese cultural that is engaging and authentic,  but Da Chen himself is a delightful human being.  I am now savoring his latest novel, My Last Empress.  And enjoying the personal Chinese calligraphy he did for me in lieu of signing the book (which I managed to forget to have with me).

Miami is often dismissed as a city with “no culture” and a superficial, brainless population.   But in 1984 Mitch Kaplan, a local book store owner, started a modest book fair which with the support of the Miami-Dade Community College and the residents of Miami has been transformed into the largest book fair in the U.S.   Now authors and people come from all over to participate and enjoy what the Miami Book Fair has to offer.

The bad news is that it’s over for this year.  And like a child after Christmas, I hate that I’ll have to wait a whole year before it rolls around again.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with all the new reading I’ve lined up to do.

The Rewards of Teamwork

The king of the jungle didn’t earn his title just based on his good looks.


The formidable reputation of lions rests on their superior hunting ability.  Lions have been known to take down wildebeests, hippos, even adult elephants.  They do this because they hunt as a team.  The pride makes the kill; the pride shares the kill.

But even the mighty lion is not the most efficient hunter in the jungle.   That honor goes to the painted dog (African wild dog).

The painted dog is not the largest, nor the fastest and clearly not the strongest animal out there.    But when the painted dog hunts it is more successful than all its competitors.  (Their success rate per hunt is 80% while the mighty lion succeeds only 30% of the time.)

Why?  Teamwork.

Painted dogs hunt in packs.  These packs can be large or small; they are persistent; and because of their numbers they have stamina.  The remains are shared among the hunters and those unable to hunt.

Amazing how often ‘survival of the fittest’ boils down to teamwork.

Yesterday my computer died.


It managed to turn on the fan, then just sat there.  It had been failing for several months, but I hadn’t wanted to let go.  Now I have.

The good news:  I have backups.  The bad news:  my only current alternative is a small netbook running Windows XP (and all my current programs were run on Windows 7).

Didn’t want to rush headlong into buying a new desktop, so the netbook came off the bench.

I upgraded the XP to Windows 8 (was actually 1/3 the price of upgrading to Windows 7), figured out how to use my monitor with it’s greater resolution as my screen, connected my mouse/keyboard and plugged my speakers into the headphone jack.

And thus the “Frankenetbook” was born.  Slow, awkward and not overly bright, but a real game changer.

On Voting

It took two hours.

As we voters waited, we all agreed the ballot was too long.  The amendments ridiculously difficult to understand.  But no one was upset or angry.

Children ran around the courtyard.  If asked, they would gleefully reveal whom “they” were voting for.    A couple of tables of men were sitting under the portico playing dominos.

We represented cultures from Europe, South America, South Asia and Africa.  Some of us were clearly from the shiny new condos to the east.  Others from the small modest homes surrounding the polling station.  But we felt as one.   We were all doing what we as Americans do.  We were voting.

Voting turned into a welcome two-hour respite from the tensions and stress of everyday life.

Sometimes you can’t believe your luck.

I took a break from mulling over my final itinerary to Syria in 2010 and picked up old Newsweek I hadn’t gotten around to reading.

I was fascinated with  “History in the Remaking” about Gobekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill) in southwestern Turkey near Sanliurfa.    The site dates to about 9000 BCE (6500 years older than the accepted age of Stonehenge).   Originally thought to have been a temple, some now argue it might have been a human settlement.

In either case, it is old.  It was built before any known written language, before the wheel, before domestication of animals and before farming.  It was built by hunter-gatherers.   Its discovery has shaken up thinking about how human civilization evolved.

Then I saw it:    “south is the Syrian border, visible 20 miles away”.  I became obsessed with arranging a visit.

The site was so new that none of the travel people I was working with had ever heard of it.  But I insisted.  So despite doubts, it was arranged that one day while in Aleppo I would make the quixotic 170-mile drive to  Sanliurfa.

What an adventure.  I had spent the day before getting my fractured wrist set, so at 5:00 am I was in considerable pain and only marginally coherent when I met my driver (for the first time).  He had the necessary credentials to drive across the border, but spoke no English and wasn’t 100% sure of where we were going.

We crossed the border and got to the first major city with only normal bureaucratic delays.    That’s when I realized the driver didn’t speak Turkish and  couldn’t read the Western letters of street and highway signs.  After several circuitous attempts to get on the correct highway, he taught me how to say left, right, and straight.  I read the signs.  He drove.  We made it to Sanliurfa.

I don’t know what we would have done if there hadn’t been a sign off the main road directing us to the Gobekli Tepe site.   As it was my driver grew increasingly skeptical as we drove the 10 or so miles down the winding dirt  path.

But finally there we were.

I couldn’t stay long because I really was not well.  But as I inched up and down the dirt paths through the excavation, it was everything and more than I expected.  I had no idea how vast it was, how much there was already to see.  And even though it wasn’t quite ready for prime time, there was enough information that my mind could see what had been.  And what had been was magnificent.

As I got back in the car, my driver shook his head.  We had been on the road for about 5 hours,  now we were driving back.  I suspect he still wonders about his crazy American passenger and her weird journey.

I regret I couldn’t stay longer.  I regret I was almost too out of it to really take it all in.  I regret I didn’t buy the damn booklet about the site even if it was in German.

But I don’t regret going.   And I can’t forget my wonder and excitement at being there.

Of Angels and Demons

Conventional wisdom, or at least current political behavior, suggests that disagreement is ‘us’ vs ‘them’.  And the ‘thems’ are either demons or idiots.

I beg to differ.

It’s easy to hate people or ideas that you don’t agree with.  It’s easy to dismiss them.  In fact it’s downright satisfying to realize how superior you are in your ‘right’ thinking.

Problem is “they” are you, just you with some different perspectives or priorities.

I worked with Andrew Young, civil rights leader, former U.S. Congressman, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN.  He was fearless in addressing issues he knew needed to be fixed, but I never heard him disparage anyone for their political views.

When he was at the UN, apartheid was still going strong in South Africa.  I went with Ambassador Young when he made an official visit to South Africa.  They anticipated the worse.  He was African-American.  He was a civil rights leader who had marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.  He represented President Jimmy Carter.

By the end of the visit, several South African officials  had commented on his ability to express his deep disagreement with their policies while clearly hearing and understanding their concerns and fears.

Demonizing the other side is easy.  Not speaking to them is easy.

But if you want to actually make changes, the ‘thems’ need to become  ‘us’.

Change means negotiating, empathizing,  compromising.  It’s a process that frustrates and challenges.

Change is messy and hard.

But in the end, change happens.