Archive for April, 2008

Competitive Giving

DeeTee From DeeTee:  … Can you say “oxymoron”??

Basically, I like Oprah.  I don’t agree with all she says or does; however, if one were to ask, “Does she do more good than harm?” I think the answer would be overwhelmingly YES.   Sometimes I’ve seen a particular show of hers just when I needed to see it, and that is very helpful, personally.  Sometimes I’ve seen shows that leave me aghast.  Well, that’s TV for ya…

However, I feel I must comment on Oprah’s “Big Give” show — which, admittedly I never watched, more than five minutes — but she’s talked about it multiple times on her show and I’ve read about it elsewhere (see “Living Oprah” link below)…

As I understand it, contestants were given a set of rules, a lot of money, and then… they had to be the best “giver” — or at least, not the worst — to remain on the show for another week. 

I know that a lot of people benefited from this show.  It may have even influenced some people to attempt charitable endeavors that they wouldn’t have otherwise.  But… competitive giving?  To be judged, weekly, on whether you were “giving” enough — and it’s not even your money to begin with?  I mean Oprah (or Harpo) provided the $$.  And the winner — and all the contestants, even those who were eliminated — were each given hefty $$gifts from Oprah for their time and service — and the contestants were COMPLETELY SURPRISED.

OH    COME    ON.  I don’t believe it for a minute.  And I don’t believe that we — we the American people, the society — need to watch a GAME show to know what we need to do in our lives.  I appreciate that Oprah sets such a good example, publicly, when it comes to giving charity; however, the rest of us are morally obligated to be as charitable as we can, and to do unto others, whether or not Oprah sets the example.

Rather than ramble on further at this point — I’m sure to mention Oprah in future posts — let me recommend two highly entertaining Oprah links:

The first is a blog called Living Oprah.  The blogger, “LO” (Living Oprah — get it?) is performing an experiment:  she has committed herself to following ALL of Oprah’s advice, daily (whether or not the advice is conflicting, or expensive), and then she posts about it.  LO’s blog is extremely intelligent, and the commentary she receives on her posts is also well-worth reading — it’s thoughtful, funny, and challenging.  Once you check out this blog, you won’t be able to stop reading it!

The second link is something I found while reading “Living Oprah”:  It’s a satirical article, “Oprah Launches Own Reality,” in the satirical newspaper The Onion.  A relatively short article, it’s extremely clever:  “Developed over the past three years by the theoretical physics wing of her company, Harpo Productions, >OpraH was reportedly created by tearing a small hole in the fabric of known reality.”  If you like witty satire, this is a MUST-read!  — And if my name was Oprah and I said “you must read this,” chances are you’d read it! 😉

Time to get some sleep…

April 29, 2008 at 1:20 am 1 comment

A Nickel for Your Thoughts…

DeeTee From DeeTee:  If I had a nickel for every nickel that a purported charity organization sent me, along with a letter that says something like, “This nickel could save hundreds of lives by providing food for a week…”

Well, I do have a nickel for each nickel, because I keep them!  Each of those nickels goes towards some other, more worthy organization that won’t waste my donation by sending it, nickel by nickel, to other potential donors, instead of spending it on those who need it!!

Using the most rudimentary logic:  If a nickel can provide so many good things for so many needy people, why are these organizations wasting hundreds of thousands of nickels in this fashion? — and how does this encourage me to believe that these organizations will even think of using my donation wisely?

Sometimes I write back on the enclosed form:  “I do not contribute to charities who use donations in such a wasteful manner.”  But obviously these comments aren’t read, because the next month I’ll get free mailing labels, more $$, pens, etc.  One organization (can’t remember which one) actually sent me a crappy little animal blanket wrapped in plastic — they don’t even know whether I have a pet — that just went straight to recycling.  What a colossal waste of materials and postage.  Why should I send this organization more money, if they have so much they can afford to waste it in this fashion?

Please consider this my open letter to all “charitable” organizations:

Dear ________,

Please use my donation wisely, towards the people/animals/causes that supposedly need my help.  That is why I’m donating.  I’m NOT in need of dream-catchers, key-chains, religious greeting cards — that’s pretty presumptive, isn’t it? — cutesy notepads (what a waste of paper!), mailing labels — I have enough to last the next ten years, please stop!!

If I need a pen/key-chain/stationery, etc., I’ll walk over to the drug store and buy it.  Please don’t send me nickels, dimes, quarters — some of you have even sent dollar bills, or checks for $5 or more, in an effort to entice me!  It actually does quite the opposite.

If I believe in your cause, and if I have the $$, I’ll donate.  If I don’t believe in your cause, I won’t — and I’ll throw away your labels and other sundries as well.  Sending me dunning notices (overdue notices for charity?  tacky…) and monthly pleas will not encourage me to send more if I don’t have it; key-chains and other “gifties” won’t make me donate, EVER, if I don’t believe.  Why not look in your humongous databases and see if I’ve ever donated before?  If, after 5 years, I haven’t contributed a cent, maybe save yourself the postage and stop mailing to me.

When I DO donate, I’m most appreciative of receiving a “thank you” note, along with an explanation of how my donation might be used.  PERIOD!!!  And if you don’t over-request, I’m much more willing to donate again.

Do I ask too much?   😕

April 23, 2008 at 3:35 pm 2 comments

Playing Nice

Chie From Chie: Have you noticed how many rude people there are today? People cut in lines, steal your taxi, talk loudly on cell phones, flip you off, honk their horns and generally walk around oblivious to the rest of the world. As you nod your head in agreement – “Yes, yes, people have gotten very rude” – consider this. You might be part of the problem. I know, I know, it’s usually those 20-year olds, or senior citizens, or baby boomers, or people with kids, or men, or women, or teenagers, or somebody else, right??? Wrong! It’s you. And, as much as I hate to admit it – it’s me. We are all guilty of bad behavior at some time. Many people can’t acknowledge it because they are truly oblivious to other people around them. More often than not, however, people know when they’re being rude. They just rationalize their behavior by saying “I’m late”, or “I’m busy”, or “My job is more important.” For whatever reason, we feel justified in parking in the handicapped zone or going through the express lane with 25 items or not acknowledging the pregnant woman standing in front of us as we sit on the bus with our eyes lowered to our paper.

What’s the big deal? People are rude. It’s not the end of the world. Or, in the immortal words of some bathroom philosopher: “Don’t sweat the petty stuff, pet the sweaty stuff.” But, I would submit to you that now, more than ever, civility is needed in our society. Rudeness is a downward spiral that ends with an L.A. road rage shooting. Maybe, if we started acknowledging other human beings with a Good Morning to our neighbor, or a Thank you to the coffee clerk, people wouldn’t be so faceless and easy to dismiss (and shoot at). In these contentious times, if we can’t be kind to one another, can’t we at least strive to be polite?

On a recent WBEZ Eight Forty Eight show called “Hold the Happiness”, Al Gini (a professor at Loyola) talked about how we feel we are entitled to be happy all the time ( Ignore global warming and ignore soaring gas prices – I want to drive a Hummer!  As a result we have become a society of narcissists. Not the “I’m drowning in my reflection” kind of narcissism, but a society of selfish, self-absorbed people. He felt that instead of being entitled to be happy we should be entitled to be melancholy. Melancholy meaning reflective. Melancholy as a Muse. He felt that if we were more contemplative then perhaps we would think about our place in the world and have some consideration for the other beings that inhabit it.

Two examples illustrate how far from a civilized society we have become. Several years ago a famous Chicago talk show host talked about something called the “gratitude” or “blessing” journal she kept. As I recall (I could be wrong – I am making no warranties or representations, please don’t sue me), she tried to write in it the things that she was grateful for during the day. She said sometimes it was only something as simple as someone holding the door open for her. Her audience cheered and clapped but my reaction was “Huh?” Is that really what we’ve come down to? Common, every day courtesies are now so rare that we have to write them down in a journal. How sad is that?

The second example happened just yesterday. I watched a woman cross in the middle of a very busy street while her friend stood on the curb. As the cars hit their brakes around her, she encouraged her friend to join her with the words and I quote “C’mon, they can’t hit you or you can sue them!”

Robert Heinlein, a wonderful social commentator, wrote in his book Friday, about what marks a sick culture. Symptoms: 1) When the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a separate group (racial, religious, red state, blue state) 2) The population has lost its faith in both the police and the courts (Civil rights vs. Patriot Act) 3) There is an increase in violence and terrorism (no explanation necessary) and the most telling sign is 4) When personal rudeness and lack of consideration for others is viewed as a sign of strength not ill health (current U.S. foreign policy). If his observations are true, and it appears that they are, then the U.S. is in decline that will make the fall of the Roman Empire look like a mere stumble.

Can we fight the decline? I’d like to think our society is not beyond saving. But it’s going to take a concerted effort by a large group of people. Tomorrow (and every day there after) I’m asking you to hold the door open for someone. Acknowledge the doorman. Say thank you. Let’s see how far we can take just basic courtesy and Pay It Forward. After all, what can be more important than how we treat each other?

For the record, following is a short list of my least favorite bad behaviors. I vow to try and avoid doing them. I hope you will too. Feel free to add to the list. Thank you for your consideration and I hope you have a nice, melancholy day.

Bad Behaviors To Avoid:
Car Drivers: Driving slowly in the pass lane. Stopping your car in the pedestrian crosswalk. Talking on the cell phone while trying (and not succeeding) to steer. Listening to music so loudly that people walking down the street feel the bass.

Bicyclers, skateboarders and rollerbladers: Riding down the middle of the road with a “dare you to hit me” attitude.

Parents: Refusing to remove crying/whining/out of control children from restaurants, movies, churches, etc.

Everyone: Walking 10 feet in front of someone waiting for a cab and taking their next taxi. Not offering your seat on the bus to a pregnant or disabled person. Listening to music on the bus/train so loudly that even with headphones on everyone around hears the song. Snapping your jaws while chewing gum. Spitting on the street. Cutting in front of someone in line. Not saying thank you when someone holds the door open for you.

April 13, 2008 at 9:28 pm 1 comment

Just a Few Cool Links…

DeeTee From DeeTee:  My friend “the other Mary” (see comment for “The Magic of Mary Oliver”) sent me some really cool links last month, and I want to publish them here:

The “Falcon Cam” of the Evanston Public Library:  Peregrine falcons have been nesting there for several years (I assume because they want their nestlings to be well-educated).  Well, they have a camera set up that updates the picture of the birds, and their nest, every few minutes.  The Other Mary warned me that I’d become addicted, so I didn’t watch right away… and I missed watching the eggs appear!   😦  As the mother and father take turns sitting on the eggs, we will eventually witness the eggs crack and the chicks hatch… now how cool is that?!

Measure for Measure,” a New York Times blog, has several renowned songwriters blogging on the songwriting process which, of course, is different for each and every person.  These writers include:  Andrew Bird (Chicago singer/songwriter & amazing performer), Darrell Brown, Rosanne Cash, and Suzanne Vega (I’m not providing links to each artist, as they are already provided on that blog).  Whether or not you write songs — whether or not you know all these artists — if you are at all interested in the creative process, this is a fascinating read.

Thanks, Other Mary, for the links, and hope y’all enjoy them!

April 11, 2008 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

The Magic of Mary Oliver…

DeeTee From DeeTee:  Well, I do like to complain a bit, and I don’t want you to think I’m losing my touch, but… I must write about the most wonderful thing that happened last week.

On April 2nd, the Poetry Foundation, along with the Poetry Center of Chicago, hosted a reading by Mary Oliver, held at the Rubloff Auditorium in the Art Institute of Chicago.  (Wow, that’s a lot of links for one sentence!)

To be honest, I haven’t been to a poetry reading in quite some time.  Sometimes the poet who writes so beautifully is not the best reader of his/her poems, and it’s always a little iffy… but Mary Oliver writes the most amazing poems.  I first became aware of her poetry through singer/songwriter Andrew Calhoun, who also writes poetry, but whose song lyrics are also very poetic.  Andrew is in the habit of reciting a Mary Oliver poem or two in a typical set, then launching into one of his own songs that is somehow related to her poetry.  Always an amazing experience.  And now, I had the opportunity to hear Ms. Oliver recite her own work, and no way was I going to miss this… even though I was still not completely 100%, health-wise.

My friend and I met at a nearby coffee shop, then walked over to the Art Institute.  “Do you think there will be a big crowd?” she asked.  I had no idea.  I wondered if anyone other than an Andrew Calhoun fan (and Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, who has quoted Ms. Oliver in at least one column) would even know Ms. Oliver’s name.  (What do I know??)

Suffice to say:  the Auditorium was packed!  My friend and I sat way up high in the balcony, as the lower seats were completely filled.  I blew my nose, sucked a cough drop, and watched as this teeny little elderly woman walked up to the podium amidst thunderous applause.  And then, complete silence…

Mary Oliver has had numerous poetry books published over the years, and now she flipped through them, searching for particular jewels to share… she said she always has a set list, but then feels compelled to stray from the list.  Her voice was quiet and steady, just like her poems.  What makes her poems so wonderful is this:  she is a careful observer of the details in life that so many of us completely miss; she is one with nature; her word choices are delicate and deliberate and reflect her world view; and although the view expressed is completely her own, the listener says, “Yes!  That is exactly how I feel about this subject!”  We feel that she is expressing our views, which, in fact, we are just learning for the first time.

About halfway through Ms. Oliver starts reading a poem about a woman she saw cleaning the ashtrays in a Shanghai airport (I do not know the name of this poem; if anyone does, please leave me a comment!).  I wish I could remember her exact words, but the gist was:  she watched the woman swishing her rag in the huge dish-like ashtrays; the woman moved neither quickly nor slowly; her hair was like the rivers; the narrator can tell that this woman is happy with her life; she wishes, somehow, to see the woman rise like a phoenix and leave the airport but knows this isn’t likely to happen.

Suddenly I had tears streaming down my face!  It was like:  This woman took the time to SEE this other woman, and feel her beauty.  Mary Oliver writes her little poems for no other reason than that’s what she does.  I.e., it’s not for power or fame, but for the act itself:  the recording of a memory in a precise language that reflects not only the event, the object, but so much else at a deeper level.

That there was a packed auditorium full of people who were here for no reason other than to hear this poetry; to have our souls revived by the magic of her words.  That in this city of cell-phone users, sleep-walkers, angry crazies, etc., there was this oasis, this stoppage of time and madness, for all of us to rejuvenate ourselves for an hour or so.

I wept for the beauty and grace of it all, for my own blindness to so much around me, and for how thankful I was to be a part of this, now.  This chocolate for the soul.  A gentle pampering of the spirit. 

After the last poem was read, the room once again erupted in applause.  My friend and I went out to the cold dark night and, when we looked really hard, we could see a few stars, just a few, twinkling so far off.

April 7, 2008 at 4:03 pm 5 comments


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