February 25, 2016

OK "60 Minutes," Report THESE Two Stories

Story #1) Marione Ingram and The Hands of  War
Marione and her husband Daniel are dear friends who are frequent visitors (and occasional subjects) on this blog. We often get together, and they tell me about their many interesting endeavors.

The photo above was taken a few days ago when we had lunch after an unusually long absence. The Ingrams spent the month of January in Hamburg, Germany, where Marione spoke at five separate "author talks" to promote the recent release of the German-language edition of her book, The Hands of War.  

The original English-language version was published two years ago to rave reviews. The memoir opens with eight-year-old Marione attempting to revive her mother, who had attempted suicide after receiving a concentration camp deportation notice. That event occurred just as Allied planes began their destruction of Hamburg in ten days and nights of bombing, the most devastating single air raid of the European war... and the greatest man-made firestorm the world has ever seen.

Marione has recounted the story of her mother's attempted suicide many times. But as she began to tell this story to one audience at the start of her author tour there, Marione started crying and was soon sobbing uncontrollably, an outpouring of emotion that lasted over a minute. Soon, half the audience was also in tears. Sharing the story in the city where it happened 73 years ago proved cathartic for her.

Marione and Daniel were blown away by the warm reception they received in Hamburg. It was standing room only at every event. There were great stories in the newspapers about Marione and her book. The Ingrams had the sense that many Germans were consciously trying to do penance for the sins of the Nazi years.

February 24, 2016

Guidelines on Staying Focused, Productive, and Satisfied

I've seen dozens of checklists -- like the one below -- that are chock-full of advice on how to be happier, richer, more popular, etc. A friend sent this one to me, and for some reason, it really registered. I received it a week ago and saved it. Since then, I've reviewed the suggestions several times... and should probably post some of them on my bathroom mirror.

The author, Geoffrey James, is a contributing editor at Inc.com, where this list first appeared.


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1. Assume people have good intentions.

Since you can't read minds, you don't really know the "why" behind the "what" that people do. Imputing evil motives to other people's weird behaviors adds extra misery to life, while assuming good intentions leaves you open to reconciliation.

2. Avoid using negative words.

Stop using negative phrases...such as "I can't," "It's impossible," or "This won't work." Stop using profanity, too. What comes out of your mouth programs your mind. When you talk trash, you're transforming your brain into trash.

3. Avoid spending time with stressed-out people.

You may not realize it, but your physiology is programmed to mirror the physiology of those around you. In other words, you can "catch" stress from other people. So although it may not be possible to avoid stressed people all the time, avoid them as far as possible.

4. Begin each day with expectation.

If there's any big truth about life, it's that it usually lives up to (or down to) your expectations. Therefore, when you rise from bed, make your first thought be, "Something wonderful is going to happen today." Guess what? You're probably right.

February 18, 2016

My Friendships, Part 6: AA Friends -- Continued

1978 was the turnaround year in my life. My wife and I had separated in November 1977 when I decided to stop living a lie and finally acknowledged that I was a homosexual.. We reconciled in early 1978 after she learned she had throat cancer. In March, I started my recovery from alcoholism. In May, the cancer took by wife's life. In the fall, my daughter left home for college. My son also was living on his own.

I started drinking at age 15 and continued until March 28, 1978 when I was nearing my 50th birthday. Thanks to the volatile combination of my alcoholism and my repressed sexuality, I spent at least a half-dozen nights in jail and I got expelled from Cornell Law School. I spent 34 years of increasingly heavy drinking before I admitted that I was an alcoholic.

I needed a lot of help during my first years of sobriety and fortunately I got it. In yesterday's post, I talked about my AA sponsor Joel Anderson. I'll mention a few of the many others who helped later  in this post.

AA Meetings
You can find an AA meeting in the  Washington area at just about any time of day or night, but the vast majority of meetings are held at 8:30, often in church basements.

I just checked the onliine resource for finding meetings in DC and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. I asked for the location of closed (AA members only) meetings starting at 8:30 tonight within 5 miles of my house. I got over 20 hits. A few were Spanish-speaking meetings;  others were listed as GLBT. Most had no special label.

For my first five to ten years of sobriety I attended an AA meeting just about every day, usually the 8:30 p/m. meetings. Since the start of my sobriety coincided with my living alone for virtually the first time, the evening meetings were an antidote for loneliness as well as alcoholism.

Somewhere between my fifth and 10th year in AA I began to question whether I was going to meetings almost every night because I needed them to stay sober or whether I was doing this mainly out of fear of being "home alone." I began experimenting with spending one night a week at home or someplace other than a meeting. Then I'd try it with two nights. I felt as though I had climbed Mount Everest when I was able to comfortably spend a Saturday night at home by myself.

February 17, 2016

My Friendships, Part 6 : AA friends

Joel Anderson at AA World Conference 
"There are no coincidences in AA"
That's one of AA's many sayings. It's not one of my favorites, since it implies that God plays a part in everything that happens. But it certainly came to mind this morning.

I've been writing about friendships, and had planned to post something today on the major contribution that AA has made to the number and quality of my friendships. I wanted to include photos of several people who had helped me in my recovery... people who had also taught me how to deepen friendships by sharing feelings.

I planned to begin with the photo above of Joel Anderson, my AA sponsor. Our relationship was strong and deep, not unlike other relationships I developed through AA.

When I went online this morning, I found a message from Joel's wife Ellen on FB and on CaringBridge  that Joel had passed yesterday morning. I knew he hadn't been doing well, so I wasn't shocked. But I was in tears nevertheless.

There were many good reasons for picking Joel as a sponsor. But what made it an easy choice for me was that Joel believed -- and demonstrated -- that getting sober in AA could be a lot of fun.

When he dated and married Ellen, also in recovery, the fun multiplied. So did the help they both gave others.

Just one quick story. Joel and Ellen were the focal points for a "come one, come all" gathering every Friday night at the Nanking, a Chinese restaurant off Dupont Circle. We came to the Nanking for fun, food, and fellowship, knowing the check and the fortune cookies would arrive at the table in plenty of time to make one of the dozen or so 8:30pm AA meetings held in the basements of area churches.

One memorable AA moment came on the evening I persuaded the waiters to substitute X-rated fortune cookies for the regular ones. The tradition at our gatherings was to pause for a moment at the end of the meal while everybody opened and read their messages. I still laugh when I recall the the silence that fell across the table when people opened their cookies on this particular night.

After a few moments, I turned to the guy next to me and innocently asked "What does yours say?" In a low voice, he read his fortune: "If you don't like this message you can shove it up your…"

February 12, 2016

"Bad Jews," the Play… and Yousef Bashir, the Reconciliation-Seeking Muslim

I hasten to clarify that in Bad Jews, the title of Joshua Harmon’s play which I recently saw at Studio Theatre here in Washington, the word "bad" has nothing to do with morality; instead, it refers to one character's lack of religious devotion.

The play opened in a 63-seat theater in New York City in 2012. Today, it is the third most-performed modern play in the United States, and has enjoyed successful runs in the UK. It was such a big hit when first performed at Washington's Studio Theater during its 2014-15 season that it was repeated in the current season and was a big hit again.

Here's how The Guardian described Bad Jews when the play opened in London:
The play examines two extremes of New York Jewishness through a tense, one-room comic drama: three cousins, all with very different religious beliefs, fight over a Jewish necklace that belonged to Poppy, their recently deceased grandfather. The necklace has significance not for its monetary value, but because of what it symbolises: Poppy kept it hidden for two years while in a concentration camp, storing it under his tongue. 
The issues at stake in the play reach far beyond the motivations of the characters and their religion. How can the current generation of young people, the play asks, carry forward the memory of such a major historical event that is so recent, so closely connected to their identity, and yet so far from anything they have experienced themselves?
Anti-Semitism in the U.S. and Europe
Before the play was performed in the UK, the playwright made a small, important script change. Harmon explains:
There’s a line with the phrase, "Now, when it’s safer to be Jewish than it ever has been…" It might still feel true in New York, but it doesn’t feel that way in Europe right now. They’re doing bag checks outside the theatre.
The play originally opened at a theater in Bath. When it arrived in London, anti-semitic hate crimes had already doubled within one year. Things were so tense that the London Underground banned the play’s posters from its stations because they “may cause widespread or serious offence."

Many of the crimes were linked to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in Gaza. Which brings us back to the Studio Theater. The three friends who attended the play with me were Larry Evans, a colleague from my BNA days; Jack Golodner, whom I've known since our student days at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations; and my new pal Yousef Bashir, who is from Gaza.

We adjourned to a nearby coffee shop and -- just a week after the city's crippling blizzard  -- enjoyed our drinks and desserts sitting comfortably outside. The conversation turned to the Gaza conflict because of Yousef's unusual connection. Here's a recent photo of Yousef.

February 4, 2016

"I'm Grateful" -- David Hilfiker's Blog Post Today Speaks for Me, Too

On January 30, 2013, David Hilficker launched a blog  -- "Watching the Lights Go Out" -- with this opening sentence:
I have been diagnosed with a progressive "mild cognitive impairment," almost certainly Alzheimer’s disease.
David explained that he was "writing this blog to dispel some of the fear and embarrassment that surrounds Alzheimer's and other cognitive impairments."

His blog quickly became one of my favorites. Beautifully written, it gave an excellent first-hand account of his day-to-day life with cognitive decline. Reading it, I often felt more uplifted than depressed as David described his journey not as the end of life, but rather as another phase of life with opportunities for growth, learning, and relationships.

Then in October, 2014, David wrote: "The Last Post....(?)." That piece was not, as I initially feared, a post to report that his lights were about to go out. Instead, David explained that he was suspending the blog after learning that he did not, in fact, have Alzheimer’s disease. His cognitive decline had stabilized.

February 3, 2016

Trader Joe's "Calming Sleep Formula" Works for Me and Reinforces My Case for 5-HTP

At Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago, looking for the vitamin D-3 that I take every day, I noticed a pill bottle labeled "Trader Joe's Calming Sleep Formula." Underneath, there was this explanation: "for occasional sleeplessness."

What really jumped out at me was this information on the label:


I put "5-HTP" above in bold for a good reason: My use of this supplement to treat Parkinson's disease (PD) symptoms has generated more conflicts with my family, friends, and some of my doctors than any of my other self-help endeavors.

Serotonin, 5-HTP, and Me
PD kills the brain cells that produce dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates movement (also behavior and emotion). PD research -- and treatments -- have focused primarily on replacing the depleted dopamine.

Serotonin, another neurotransmitter, helps regulate mood, appetite, sleep, and memory. It, too, is affected by Parkinson's, but that connection has been largely neglected until recently.

The gold standard treatment for PD is levodopa, a synthetic substance which the brain converts into dopamine. Levodopa is typically combined with carbidopa, a coupling that helps deliver the levodopa to the brain before the body metabolizes it.

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a chemical by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan. Since 5-HTP increases the synthesis of serotonin, it is used for several diseases in which serotonin likely plays an important role -- including depression, insomnia, and obesity.

Years before my 2009 Parkinson's diagnosis, I used 5-HTP to help counteract the insomnia and low mood that often accompanied jet lag. The neurologist who made the PD diagnosis told me that depression often accompanied Parkinson's, and he gave me a prescription for the antidepressant Elavil.

In addition to depression, there are two other frequent PD side effects -- insomnia and constipation -- and I was experiencing all three. I explained to my doctor the positive experience I’d had with 5-HTP as a treatment for all three conditions, and told him I’d prefer taking that single, useful supplement to taking three different pills, one for each problem.

And it worked… for a while.