Out of Mothballs


Menemsha port

Menemsha Port

Joe: Good morning Calliope.

Calliope: Good morning Joe. I’m glad to hear from you so soon.

Joe: I did a little thinking about our last chat. I realized my manuscript would not get any better sitting in a box or on a disc. I have to do something about it.

Calliope: So what are you going to do about it?

Joe: Get it out tomorrow and start to work on it again with the character profiles next to me.

Calliope: Do you think that will bring your book to life?

Joe: It’s not too lively now just sitting around in draft form. I will take another run at it and see if I can energize the script.

Calliope: I will be interested to see what develops.

Joe: I will be as well. I will let you know what happens.

Drifting in the Creative World

Trail to Moshup Beach

Trail to Moshup Beach

Joe: Good afternoon Calliope.
Calliope: Good afternoon, Joe. It seems like ages since we have talked.
Joe: Can’t argue with you there. I have been totally absorbed in my work at the Arts Council.
Calliope: What about your writing?
Joe: I have done a little work on editing Marital Property, mainly working on character development. I have yet to get back to rewriting.
Calliope: What happened?
Joe: Limited energy for one thing. I seem to have lost a little of my fire and am waiting for it to return.
Calliope: Untended fires tend to go out. How about stoking it?
Joe: You are right. I have mostly embers. Let me see what I can do about it.

Chats With Calliope: Sliding Otter News

Sliding Otter News

October 23, 2010

Volume 2, Issue 23

Breast Cancer’s Lessons for the Lives We Live

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience
in which you stop to look fear in the face.”

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Paphiopedilum Orchid.jpg

Five years ago I knew breast cancer only in the abstract. It hadn’t touched my life yet. I wondered how it was that so many women and a few men became hosts to a disease which started eating them up and, left untreated, could kill them. Had it always been this way? If not what has changed? I knew some cancer survivors and heard tales of a woman who died of breast cancer before I had a chance to meet her.

Then my beloved companion joined her mother and two sisters in the family struggle with breast cancer. The discovery immediately took over our relationship, first inviting panic and then survival strategies. Would she recover as did her older sister? Would she succumb to the disease as did her mother and younger sister? What was her prognosis? What should she do? What could I do?

Now, five years later, she has reached an important milestone in her recovery and survival. Each step in her treatment raised questions, challenges and fears. Eventually we tamed our concerns and made the necessary decisions. She endured treatment while I provided what support I could. Our life was different but we survived the ordeal and drew closer together in the process.

Recently I sat in a room full of several hundred breast cancer survivors, some of a few months and some of many years. They came together to raise money for breast cancer treatment and research. They dined and participated in a Chinese auction of gift baskets and a silent auction of bras elaborately decorated by craftswomen whose creations had been exhibited in a celebration of breast cancer awareness. Mostly they celebrated their courage and solidarity.

I wondered again about why people contract breast or any other sort of cancer. Mutated genes have been discovered to make breast cancer more likely. Clusters of cancer sufferers suggest environmental factors. Most likely is a combination of hereditary and environmental contributors.

Fortunately, research advances now make cancer a much less likely death sentence. Genetic testing helps make us aware of our risks. Research promises new, less primitive, treatments more in the near future. We also know more about how lifestyle such as nutrition, fitness and avoiding carcinogens can help keep us from cancer’s grasp.

In these days when we are divided politically, culturally and religiously, it is reassuring to know that we can come together to fight cancer. Think of the pink gloves NFL players wear this month. Perhaps the fight against cancer can serve as a model for better cooperation between people in other areas as well. Thank you Zonta, Pink Hatters, United Memorial Medical Center Healthy Living, Genesee County Senior Center and GO ART!

Life Lab Lessons

  • Learn what you can about what causes cancer.
  • Do what you can to protect yourself and those you love.
  • Watch for signs of cancer and don’t ignore them.
  • Support those you know with cancer.
  • Tell and show them you love them.

How We Learn and Why It Matters

Sliding Otter News


September 25, 2010


Volume 2, Issue 22


How We Learn and Why It Matters


Columbus Circle Crowd

Columbus Circle Crowd


Any genuine teaching will result, if successful, in someone’s knowing how to bring about

a better condition of things than existed earlier. ~John Dewey


Recently I read a news story about the pros and cons of separate schools for girls and boys. Girls tend to be more thoughtful. They also learn language skills more quickly. Boys tend to be more active and physical and develop sensory skills more quickly.

Such an approach holds that in separate schools teachers can address their students’ preferred ways of learning. Boys and girls will compete less since they will be learning in ways which are more natural for them. They should also feel better about themselves in a classroom where they can study in their own fashion and might learn more as well.

If students were in school just to learn facts, this approach might be worth considering. But is learning is just about facts? Perhaps more important than what we know at graduation is what we have learned about those different from us and how to understand, communicate and compromise with people we might find odd at first.

Those suggesting the change maintain that boys and girls have different types of brains. Psychologists have debated for decades about whether variations in ways of thinking and acting are based on biology or environment.

Studies by the psychologist Richard Nesbitt found that Japanese mothers talk to their babies mostly in terms of interactions while American and French mothers focus more on nouns. Further studies by Nesbitt and his colleagues found that when asked to look at a picture, American graduate students concentrate on the main subject while East Asian graduate students concentrate more on the background.

The researchers thought that the explanation for this lay in cultural differences. They viewed Americans as more intrigued with independence while Asians are more attuned to the complex social relationships entwined in their way of life.

Groups of people differ from each other in many ways. These differences often make it hard for us to understand each other’s thinking and actions in ordinary circumstances. How much more difficult is it when we start addressing tightly held values? We tend to quickly brand those who differ from us as misinformed, stupid or stubborn.

Scientists were mocked and persecuted when they first suggested that the earth orbited the sun. Modern artists drew scorn when they tried to paint their subjects from several points of view at the same time such as the Cubists did.

Sometimes we get stuck in our routines, plodding along in the same way we always did whether or not we are making progress. Talking only to those who think as we do keeps us from seeing new possibilities. Perhaps those who think differently from us can more easily see solutions to problems which perplex us. If we had the chance to meet them we could benefit from seeing our problems in a new perspective.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Do you talk only with those who agree with you?
  • Do you avoid people with different opinions?
  • On what do you base your opinions?
  • Stretch yourself a little.
  • Try considering other points of view.


Of Sandpiles, Immunity, Resilience and People

Allison and Joey

You may have a fresh start at any moment you choose, for this thing we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down. ~ Mary Pickford

When I first read Joshua Cooper Ramo’s book, The Age of the Unthinkable, I wondered how it all fit together. It made my head dizzy and took another reading to make some sense of it. He tells how the Danish physicist and biologist Per Bak created a hypothesis that world crises resemble sandpiles. Adding grains of sand eventually causes an avalanche, although just when is impossible to predict.

How can we become immune to disaster? No, this isn’t a reference to the TV show Survivor. Immunity here means protecting ourselves against the  crises which confront humanity from time to time. The human immune system depends on maintaining health through good nutrition, exercise and avoidance of toxins. Social immunity means living in a society where we support rather than take advantage of each other.

Helping others find satisfaction in their lives makes for a more peaceful society. Is it any wonder anger and violence increase as more people struggle for basic survival? As it is impossible to eradicate every health threat, so it is impossible to eliminate all social threats. Resilience is how society protects itself.

Governments tend to settle on one response to threats and stick to it doggedly. This is the opposite of resilience. While such an approach might have worked once, we now live in revolutionary times when society as well as threats to our well being are rapidly evolving.  How do we become resilient in the face of changing threats? Ramo suggest five ways: constantly revamping our thinking about problems, developing a wide range of ways to see the problems and their context, staying in communication with each other, encouraging new responses and making small changes in how we deal with each other rather than awaiting a catastrophe.

Remember the sandpiles? Per Bak originally used it to understand changes in nature. We can also view human society this way. But instead of inert grains of sand, humanity consists of breathing, thinking and feeling individuals interacting with each other for better or worse.

How can we make it easier for all of us to work together rather than undermining and destroying each other? Ramo suggests two simple but not necessarily easy approaches. One is to provide everyone with basic survival rights. The other is to give people the power to control their own destinies. We know we can do this on a personal level. We can also do it on a local community level.

Unfortunately the temptation to grab power and wealth, jelously hoarding them, overcomes not a few of us. Sharing our wealth and caring for each other as we would members of our own families remain challenges. Nevertheless, becoming a world family may be the price of world peace.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Learn what motivates people who bother you the most.
  • Find out what bothers others about you.
  • Discover values you and they have in common.
  • Decide what you are willing to release for the common good.
  • Don’t just think about it. Do something.