Saturday, October 31, 2009

Come on, get happy: Tapping into the happiness factor

What makes you happy?

"Half the Sky" authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn note that "our happiness levels seem to be mostly innate, and not markedly affected by what happens to us, good or bad."  Yet psychologist and professor Jonathan Haidt and others advise "there are a few factors that can affect our happiness levels in a sustained way.  One is 'a connection to something larger' — a greater cause or a humanitarian purpose. ... We are neurologically constructed so that we gain huge personal dividends from altruism." (Bold highlighting mine)

How to tap into that happiness factor, today? Kristof and WuDunn give you four steps you can take in the next 10 minutes.

1. "Go to or and open an account. Both sites are people-to-people (P2P), meaning that they link you directly to a person in need overseas, and this makes them an excellent way to dip your toe in. Global Giving lets you choose a grassroots project to which to give money in education, health, disaster relief, or more than a dozen other areas around the developing world. Kiva lets you do the same for microlending to entrepreneurs. Browse the sites to get a sense of the needs and donate or lend money to those that appeal to you, perhaps as a gift to a family member or friend. Or try a third site,, started by students at the University of Pennsylvania to help children in developing countries pay for primary school."

Note: These sites offer a lot of ways to help, and even with the individual stories and photos, the need is overwhelming. I tried to still my monkey mind and asked God (or the Universe, or whatever guide you ask help from) to make one group or woman grab my heart more than the others. The answer came in the form of the work I want to support long-term, empowerment and education of women in Kosovo. If you want to support Women for Women International's work educating women in Kosovo, click here, or go directly to the Women for Women site here.

And remember, if you can't give a chunk of money today, you can sign up for a monthly donation, even $5/month is helpful.

The book continues with three other ways to get involved today:

2. "Sponsor a girl or a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service."

3. "Sign up for e-mail updates on and/or Both distribute information about abuses of women and sometimes advise on actions that readers can take."

4. "Join the CARE Action Network at This will assist you in speaking out, educating policy makers, and underscoring that the public wants action against poverty and injustice."

This book is a must-read.  I cannot recommend enough that you buy it.  A portion of the proceeds from Half the Sky goes to some of the organizations they highlight.

(Photo: Riverside Smile by Erica Derricka,

Dream decorating: Color inspiration

I love this bedroom featured in Apartment Therapy San Francisco's 8 Dramatic Bedrooms in Real Homes

I recently painted my bedroom in a dark blue-green with a hint of charcoal (Joshua Tree from Fresh Aire) and love how reds, oranges and pinks play so well together in the color palette, with plenty of crisp whites.  I love that orange wall reflected in the mirror here. 

Friday, October 30, 2009

A few of my favorite things: Pomplamoose

One of my Sound of Music sing along pals (Do a deer) sent me this lovely cover of "A Few of My Favorite Things." The video is pretty fantastic too, to see all the different instruments used. I loves me some accordion.

Take a look at Pomplamoose's YouTube channel for other covers, including "All the Single Ladies."

Costume countdown: "Annie" ensemble

The scheming low-lifes ready to claim Annie as their child and steal Daddy Warbucks' fortune. I can already hear the first bars of "Easy Street!"

Little did we know when Jonathan captioned this photo of us outside Ledson Winery and Vineyard that we'd be two-thirds of an "Annie" ensemble for Halloween. My Miss. Hannigan costume is almost complete, Jonathan is growing a moustache for his Rooster Hannigan costume (Tim Curry's character) and our always stunning costume designer friend Kari is playing Annie.

We're gonna party like it's 1932.  Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Would you stay at a haunted hotel?

Fake eyelashes and blue eyeshadow at the ready, a friend growing a moustache to complete his costume, cold nights with the wind beating against the window — it's beginning to look a lot like Halloween!

The blog Paris Hotel Boutique posted photos and stories of "Hauntingly Haunted Hotels & Houses" in California. One of my favorites is San Francisco's Queen Anne Hotel.

I love a tidy ghost: "the hotel is said to be delightfully and benignly haunted by the general's mistress, Mary Lake. Common occurrences include sightings of Mary Lake, unexplained cold spots, and clothes and belongings tidied and hung without explanation."

We filmed a scene of "Legally Blonde 2" at the Ambassador Hotel, where Robert Kennedy was assassinated, rumored to be haunted. Shooting into the night, we did see a light in the wing of the hotel that was supposed to be closed off to any access. Even though I thought it could be a locations guy messing with our crew, I still felt a shiver down my spine.

(Emilio Estevez's film "Bobby" was the last to shoot at The Ambassador — take a look at the film's website to explore the hotel with a computer generated virtual tour.)

I love the photos and stories of the hauntings on Paris Hotel Boutique, see the rest here.

Have you stayed, or would you stay, at a haunted house or hotel?  

(Photo of Queen Anne courtesy Paris Hotel Boutique, Ambassador Hotel courtesy Whit Wagner.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blog love: Slaughterhouse 90210

“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.”
— Roald Dahl, Matilda

Have I mentioned how much I love Slaughterhouse 90210? It combines two of my favorite loves, literature and classic TV. (Well, sometimes not-so-great television, I have never, and never will, watch an episode of "The Hills.")

They're often perfect matches, like this one with the Addams Family and Roald Dahl, as well as good life advice.

Whole hog crazy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What will come on the wind?

I was nearly knocked off my feet, the wind gusts in L.A. today so strong they reached 50mph in some parts of the city. Winds that come from where? bring a sense of change, of mystery, of something different in this day. My hair whipping around my face, parts of palm trees littering the street, and kids dancing and play-fighting in the unexpected wind reminded me of two of my favorite movies. Sing along, you all know it — Did you ever know that you're my heeeeero?

Okay, not Beaches. A different wind blows through both Chocolat and Volver.

"Once upon a time, there was a quiet little village in the French countryside, whose people believed in Tranquilité - Tranquility. If you lived in this village, you understood what was expected of you. You knew your place in the scheme of things. And if you happened to forget, someone would help remind you. In this village, if you saw something you weren't supposed to see, you learned to look the other way. If perchance your hopes had been disappointed, you learned never to ask for more. So through good times and bad, famine and feast, the villagers held fast to their traditions. Until, one winter day, a sly wind blew in from the North...

And with the wind we meet Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk, whose travels are guided by the north wind.

"But still the clever north wind was not satisfied. It spoke to Vianne of towns yet to be visited, friends in need yet to be discovered, battles yet to be fought..."

In Volver, a beautiful, magical film about a community of women, the east wind is the culprit for madness and insanity in one small village.

The wind is still beating against my windows — the perfect weather to watch these movies. It also means it's time to add these to my collection.

Have you seen them? What movies are must-haves for you, so you can watch them when the mood and weather are right?

(Photo: Fairfax Av.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Amelia Earhart, Mad Men and the Women's Conference

This fall, change truly is in the air. Change that has been happening for years, but either I'm becoming more aware of it, or equal rights for everyone is again at the forefront of most issues today.

I'm finishing (and ready to re-read) Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide, an inspiring book that will change perceptions and give you tools to make change. Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the authors, is at The Women's Conference that is being held today and tomorrow in Long Beach, California. Check the conference website for blogs, info about the sessions, the speakers and a live webcast Tuesday.

In Dan Glickman's take on Hilary Swank's new biopic of Amelia Earhart, he mentions The Women's Conference, and one of my favorite shows, "Mad Men."

"Fox Searchlight deserves kudos for bringing this important American story to the big screen, particularly at a time when strong female leads in major motion pictures are believed by many to be too few and far between.

"Movies are incomparable in bringing history to life and to the masses. And, this one certainly boasts an on-time arrival as women leaders convene in Southern California this week for The Women's Conference. Central to the conversation there, undoubtedly, will be The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything. This groundbreaking document, produced in partnership with the Center for American Progress, explores the "new normal" in our society where women now make up half the work force and, nearly as often as men, are the chief breadwinners in their households.

"We may love our "Mad Men" on television. But increasingly our society is moving beyond "the problem that has no name," as Betty Friedan once famously put it. According to The Shriver Report, from the kitchen table to the conference room, men and women increasingly are negotiating together a new balance of work and home. There, too, Earhart was ahead of her time, striking the word "obey" from her wedding vows and noting firmly but with affection that her marriage was a "partnership" of "dual control." (Dan Glickman, Huffington Post)

(Speaking of "Mad Men," did I miss Betsy's departure from the psychiatrist's couch, where they were dealing with "the problem that has no name?" I thought I'd seen every episode.)

Times, they are a-changing.

(Amelia Earhart photo from blog Onions + Garlic)

Gross National Happiness

I first heard about Bhutan's Gross National Happiness from Michael J. Fox's "Adventures of an Incurable Optimist." (Highly recommend you watch if you can find it.) Now I read that France's President Nicolas Sarkozy recently proposed a “happiness index." In "From Bhutan to France: Gross National Happiness," Eric Weiner writes about how ideas, like people, sometimes travel well.

Taking cues from Bhutan, the British got the ball of happiness rolling: "Slowly, GNH caught on. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair established an unofficial Department of Happiness, directing his advisers to explore how findings from the “science of happiness” can help shape policy."

"The traditional measure of a nation’s wealth, Gross Domestic Product, is woefully inadequate, Sarkozy declared, and promptly ordered French bureaucrats to take into account factors such as quality of life, the environment and (gasp!) vacation time. What the world needs, Sarkozy said in so many words, is not Gross National Product but Gross National Happiness."

Is it time to move? Or will this idea journey to the U.S.?

Read Weiner's full story here.

(A lovely view of Bhutan, from

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Eat, Sleep, Read: Powell's dot com turns 15 (Win free books!)

Powell's Books, my mecca, my home away from home, my favorite book store in the world is celebrating 15 years online, selling new and used books side by side, just like in their fabulous store in Portland, Oregon. To celebrate, they're giving away a prize a day, with a grand prize of $1500 worth of books! The contest lasts til Oct. 30, and you can enter (here) every day.

Have you been to Powell's Books, on Burnside in Portland? It's a city block of books, new and used, with color-coded rooms to guide your way through the maze. My favorite is the blue room, filled with fiction and poetry, though a close second is the purple room, where I can find travel writing and maps of all the far-off places I want to see.

(The blue room, courtesy Alex McMillan, Flickr)

Enter now and every day this week! And if you win, send me a book or two? I'm dying to read the new Alice Munro collection.

What are your must-reads this fall? Your favorite books from the last year?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Etsy and Regretsy favorite finds

I love Regretsy, the hysterical site that scours Etsy for items that fit with Regretsy's tagline "Handmade? It looks like you made it with your feet." Like Awkward Family Photos, Regretsy's captions make the item more tragically comic than it already is.

"If I had to wear a barbie doll and 2 pounds of broken jewelry on my head, I wouldn’t be happy either. But for God’s sake, at least try to smile. This looks like a hostage photo at the Mattel plant." (Regretsy)

But I maintain my undying devotion to Etsy, especially for their daily emails that often feature the odd above the buy-able, but almost always have at least one great find. Here's a sneak peek at the ones I've added to my favorites.

Though I hope I would look far happier in this Orion blazer.

Vintage Leather and Suede DINGO Riding Boots.

Fiddle Leaf Wrist Wrap Cuff - Vintage Brass and Sterling

And this 1950's Tiny Green Suitcase, which reminds me of the little blue makeup case my Granny Mai used. When she died, I filled it with photos and letters, and get a small reminder of her whenever I look through it. Definitely not for sale.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do stories matter?

It's a hot October day in Los Angeles, and as I work on rewriting and compiling my stories from my time in Kosovo, I'm missing the fall and winter weather.

Ahh... my wood stove in my Kosovo kitchen. In winter, with the electricity turned off more than on, it was my main source of warmth, and I quickly learned to cook over it. (Isn't it funny how romantic memories can be? I forget the pain of burning my right thumb in the same spot, almost every morning, as I reached in to feed the fire with more wood.) The teapot was always filled with water, an easy humidifier and ready to pour for a cup of caj (tea) when visitors stopped by to sit and tell stories.

“Imagine our tribe around a fire on a dark night and ask yourself: do stories matter?” ~David Guterson

As a city girl, I don't sit around fires much anymore. I miss beach bonfires at the Oregon coast, the fireplace in the winter.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halloween decor - love it or hate it?

People take Halloween very seriously in my neighborhood. We live just blocks from the West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnaval - a mad house of street closures, parades, concerts and costumes. This year, with Halloween on a Saturday, they expect approximately 1/2 million people. I plan to be far, far away, having almost been crushed in the crowd the last time I ventured to the fest.

Every year on Oct. 1, like clockwork, this house in my hood has their Halloween decor up and lit.

What do you think?

Too much?

To watch: The Botany of Desire

The PBS special (October 28, 8pm) is based on the book by Michael Pollan, whose role in in the documentary "Food, Inc." helped change my perspective on food and my own eating habits, enhancing my respect for the earth and our place in/on it.

I've yet to read any of Pollan's books, but I've heard rave reviews for "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

Go to the PBS site to see a preview, videos and images of desire: sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control.

Thanks to the blog Living the Local Life for the heads up!

Are you going to watch? Go to PBS to check your local listings.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I heart Duckie in "Pretty in Pink"

How does one go from this bit of brilliance —

to Two and a Half Men?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Beautiful blog of missed connections

I love to read the missed connections on Craigslist, they're the beginnings of interesting, potentially odd, funny, or dangerous stories.

The blog Missed Connections NY illustrates some of them in gorgeous art. I'm in love.

Monday, August 17, 2009
- m4w - (greenpoint)
asked myself why the letter 'n' all night long, then you were gone before i got a chance to ask. also, i saved you a piece of cake.
do you always sit in a circle of asian girls? and sit at the top of the stairs so everyone gets a crush on you when they get to the roof?

See more here.

What's your favorite? "Seeking girl who bit me TWICE last night while we were dancing" made me laugh out loud.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

All I need to know I learned from the Mary Tyler Moore Show

Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

I grew up adoring the Mary Tyler Moore Show. (And Matlock, but that's a whole other story.) I've never exactly fit in with my generation, and sometimes had to watch Nick at Nite at 2am to catch Mary, Lou Grant, Rhoda and co. in all their office and dating hijinks. When my sister bought me the first season on DVD, the sales assistant said, "Huh. We don't sell many of these." That, my friends, is a shame. It is one of the best comedies ever on TV.

Part of what I learned from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, other than that it's okay to spin in a circle and toss my hat in the air, was that a lot of freedom came with turning 30. Mary finally ditched that doctor who wasn't right for her, moved to the big city of Minneapolis, and got a job as an associate producer in a newsroom. In my 30s so far, I'm learning what Anne Lamott writes, that the word "no" is a complete sentence. I'm learning to take things bird by bird (Anne Lamott again), to forgive myself as I forgive others, and that I'm young, and there's a lot o' living to be done.

I need these reminders while in the midst of underemployment, as my friend kindly calls it. I'm putting out to the universe all that I hope to do and to be, willing to pack my bags and go wherever I can be used, longing to write stories about people living their lives helping others, to be a voice for the voiceless, finding more connections. My friend Shannon is celebrating her 6 year anniversary of walking out the door of a corporate office building, to create and live the life she dreamed of having. Read about her decision and the scary and soaring experiences she's had on her blog. As she wrote: Life is designable. Go design.

One of THE funniest shows.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A hard habit to break: Engaging the little Zen master within

My friend Paul is ending a 30 day fast from processed foods, sugars, red meat, dairy, and beer. He's admittedly a stubborn soul, and even managed to stick to the diet on an annual boys night out for steak and beer.

In Paul's latest post, he mentions trying to change up some other patterns in his life. Walking around the lake a different way, he had to fight the natural inclination to look for a familiar view on the right, now on his left.

In the November 2009 issue of O Magazine, Martha Beck writes about tapping into the oft-ignored right brain. In "Half a Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste," Beck refers to using deep practice to wake up your right mind, to build new skill circuits. "First, visualize an ability you'd like to acquire — swimming like Dara Torres, painting like Grandma Moses ... Then try to replicate that behavior. Initially, you'll fail. That's good; failure is an essential element of deep practice. Next, analyze your errors, noting exactly where your performance didn't match your ideal. Now try again. You'll still probably fail (remember, that's a good thing), but in Samuel Beckett's words, you'll 'fail better.' "

She then offers a few ways to engage in deep practice and wake up your right mind. I decided to practice using my nondominant hand (left) to have a bilateral conversation.

"For this exercise, take a pencil in your right hand (even if you're left-handed) and write the question: 'How's it going?' Then switch to your left hand, and write whatever pops up. Your nondominant hand's writing will be shaky — that's okay. The important thing isn't tidiness; it's noticing that your twin hemispheres have different personalities. The right side of the brain, which controls the left hand, will say things you don't know that you know. It specializes in assessing your physical and mental feelings, and it often offers solutions. 'Take a nap,' your right hemisphere might say, or 'Just do what feels right; we'll be fine.' You'll find there's a little Zen master in that left of yours (not surprisingly, left-handed people are disproportionately represented in creative professions).

Little Zen master, indeed.

How's it going? my right hand wrote.

And in shaky, childlike, almost illegible print, I wrote:

"I'm scared. I keep telling people (now, instead of continuing, I feel frustrated that I can't write fast enough, there's an inner critic mocking that I can't do this, that it looks like a child's writing. But a different, kinder voice (right brain?) is telling me to take my time, to laugh at myself, that part of me who thought I could do this perfectly. Okay to slow down. And that maybe — this is perfect."

For those who know what I fear, it's perfection, or really, the lack thereof. Perfectionist thoughts stop me in the middle of creating, of being myself. It's time to tap into that kinder right brain that tells me to slow down, to laugh at myself.

I first heard of nondominant practice at a Sundance screening of the film "Helen," where Ashley Judd talked about inhabiting the character of Helen. "I did a lot of nondominant hand writing," she said, "to get out of the way, and found the heart and emotion through breath work."

Have you tried this? What was the outcome?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

L.A.'s Downtown Art Walk: Art, food trucks and The Ukulady!

Why do I love the downtown art walk?

People walking in L.A.: The bus stop at 5th and Main was bustling with people, no longer the sketchy sidewalk where last year I was accosted by a homeless man pushing $1 porn. When I repeatedly declined ($1 porn must have terrible production value), he checked to make sure I was over 18 (thank you!).

Artists: At the Spring Arts Tower, I talked to Greg Boudreau about his beautiful work on salvaged wood.

Two of his pieces that caught my eye tonight:

Performers: I hopped on the art bus to say hi to my friend Thessaly, a.k.a. The Ukulady, who rides around entertaining passengers on the shuttle. She is adorable and hilarious, playing funny songs on her ukulele.

A lovely night in downtown L.A.: People strolling the streets and stopping to talk, artists performing, DJs spinning, and food trucks as far as the eye can see.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Why I Love L.A.: Coloring at the valet and Faces of Hope

I met Ricardo Aguilar outside El Carmen, on 3rd Street, when he asked my friend and I if we wanted to color while we waited for the valet to bring the car.

Ummm... YEAH!?!

Anyone set up on the side of the street, wearing a sombrero and a bandolier bullet belt stocked with crayons must be good people.

Ricardo started Caras of Hope (Faces of Hope) to bring art to the masses, out of the galleries. "Art should be distributed like music. Not via galleries, because there's not enough galleries, the process is not quick enough. The whole world is entitled to see creativity."

It reminds me to create art every day, no matter what that looks like, what form it comes in. Poaching the perfect egg, being present and aware while you eat and wash your dishes can be done in an artful way. Check out other videos on Ricardo's YouTube page.

Natural Cathedral

John Muir, I think he thought that it was somewhat ironic that there's a chapel in Yosemite Valley. Because you're building a church in the greatest cathedral in America. I think that when people go into these spaces, they find that they have enough spirit that they can fill the space, and they can be filled by those spaces.

~Shelton Johnson, Park Ranger (from Ken Burns "National Parks: US's Best Idea" PBS)

(Photo: Yosemite Mirror Lake, Vibrant Dots on Etsy)

See the world, HEAL Africa

I don't remember much about social studies from junior high or high school, do you? I don't remember learning about the real life experiences in poverty stricken and war-torn nations. I was never given the opportunity to raise money or awareness for a girl my age living in Congo. What I do remember in Tennessee history was my teacher's fruitless attempts to get one kid to pronounce the word oil correctly, with two syllables rather than one. Teacher: "Oy-el." 7th grader who studied trucker magazines at the lunch table: "Oll." Back and forth, for at least 5 minutes. "Oy-el." "Oll."

In Half the Sky, authors Kristoff and WuDunn dedicate the chapter "Study Abroad — In the Congo," to getting out and seeing the world. "One of the great failings of the American education system, in our view, is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. ...If more Americans worked for a summer teaching English at a school like Mukhtar's in Pakistan, or working at a hospital like HEAL Africa in Congo, our entire society would have a richer understanding of the world around us. And the rest of the world might also hold a more positive view of Americans."

The authors continue to tell the story of Harper McConnell, who grew up in Michigan and Kansas. After graduating with a degree in political science and English and studying poverty and development, she learned her church (Upper Room, in Edina, Minnesota) was planning to work with a hospital in Congo. Harper moved to Goma to oversee the relationship with the HEAL Africa hospital.

From the website, HEAL Africa’s hospital and community development work address the root causes of illness and poverty for the people of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The hospital and the 28 women’s houses in Maniema and North Kivu have provided a safe place for many victims of the war, and have been a motor for combating poverty and promoting community cohesion over the past 14 years.

Kristoff and WuDunn describe Harper's life in Goma, that though she may miss a paved highway and a morning latte, there are "compensations for the lack of shopping malls and Netflix movies. Harper has undertaken two major projects that make her excited to get out of bed each morning. First, she started a school at the hospital for children awaiting medical treatment. ... Second, Harper started a skills-training program for women awaiting surgery. Many of the patients, like Dina (whose story was told in the previous chapter), spend months at the hospital, and they can now use the time to learn to sew, read, weave baskets, make soap and bake bread. Typically a woman chooses one of the skills and then works with a trainer until she is confident that she can make a living at it. When the woman leaves, HEAL Africa gives her the raw materials she needs ... so that she can generate income for her family afterward."

In Harper's words:
"There are times when all I want is a fast Internet connection, a latte, and a highway to drive on. Yet the greetings I receive in the morning from my coworkers are enough to keep me here. I have the blessing of carrying a purse sewn by a woman waiting for a fistula surgery at the hospital and watching how these new skills have changed her whole composure and confidence, ... of seeing children in school who previously never had the chance, ... of dancing with my coworkers over a grant awarded for a program. The main factor that separates me from my friends here is the opportunities I was given as a first-world citizen, and I believe it is my responsibility to work so that these opportunities are available to all."

Read more about the hospital and personal stories at, and find out how you can participate in this story. Just $10 can provide education during treatment, HIV testing, counseling, vocational training and more.

(Photos from HEAL Africa)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

This Woman's Work: A tribute to those who fight breast cancer

In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I think we all know survivors, people in the midst of the fight, and those who fought so beautifully, but died. This brings me to tears every time.

From So You Think You Can Dance, Ade and Melissa performing a contemporary routine to Maxwell's cover of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work."

Pray God you can cope.
I stand outside this woman's work,
This woman's world.
Ooh, it's hard on the man,
Now his part is over.
Now starts the craft of the father.

I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.

I should be crying, but I just can't let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can't stop thinking

Of all the things I should've said,
That I never said.
All the things we should've done,
That we never did.
All the things I should've given,
But I didn't.

Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away.

Give me these moments back.
Give them back to me.
Give me that little kiss.
Give me your hand.

(I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.)

I should be crying, but I just can't let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can't stop thinking

Of all the things we should've said,
That were never said.
All the things we should've done,
That we never did.
All the things that you needed from me.
All the things that you wanted for me.
All the things that I should've given,
But I didn't.

Oh, darling, make it go away.
Just make it go away now.

Doc to watch: "Crips & Bloods: Made in America"

I've always felt misinformed and ignorant about the gang wars in South Los Angeles. After my friend Rachel wore many hats producing "Crips & Bloods: Made in America," I met Aqeela Sherrills at the Men's Story Project in Berkeley, who consulted on the project and helped broker the 1992 Peace Treaty. I finally Netflixed the film after many conversations with both of them, especially with Aqeela, who lives a life of gang mediation and whose Reverence Project and Watts Arts Gallery offer opportunities for peace and hope for youth and adults. Directed by Stacy Peralta and narrated by Forest Whitaker, the film offers both an overview of the history of the city and South L.A. as well as an inside view from current and former gang members.

A few quotes / highlights from the film:

Surrounded by the California dream, this region has its own legacy. … It’s also the home of America’s two most infamous African-American gangs, Crips and Bloods. This bloody, 40-year feud, has taken 5 times as many lives as the long-running sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, yet whose devastating body count continues today. But in South Los Angeles, life wasn’t always this way. (Narration)

"In a free society, I’m walking down the street and police got the nerve to ask me, ‘Where you going? Where you coming from?’ It ain’t none of your damn business where I’m going! It ain’t none of your damn business where I came from! … He’s going to go and ask me ‘What are you doing here?’ He going to go ask anyone else what they’re doing there? You stop and ask anybody else in this society, ‘Why do you exist?’ … You’ve got the nerve to ask me that all day, every day, now what do you think that does to me psychologically? What does that tell me? What message am I being fed? Every day. See you don’t understand, every day he’s feeding me a spoonful of hatred. Every day, that’s my diet, a spoonful of hatred. … I’m a walking time bomb. I’m going to go off, some day, some time, on somebody. The question is: upon whom?"

"That’s where the gang problem, so called, is. It’s been redefined as a crime problem and a gang problem, but it’s really an issue of no work, and dysfunctional schools and so on. …It’s a belief that our society did not contribute to the formation of this problem. It’s the story of the scapegoat. The gang member is the scapegoat. Nothing’s our fault, it’s their fault. We didn’t create them, they’re inevitably incorrigible." (Sen. Tom Hayden, Author, “Street Wars”)

"Part of the mechanics of oppressing people, is to pervert them to the extent they become the instruments of their own oppression." (Kumasi)

Peralta: "So if the resources were here, you’re saying these kids wouldn’t choose gangs."
Gang member:"They wouldn’t choose that cause there’s no hope. You in no-man’s land. There’s no hope."

"In a recent comparison of twin psychological studies by the Lancet and Rand Corporation indicates that children in South Los Angeles are exhibiting greater levels of post-traumatic stress disorder than children of a similar age in Baghdad, the war-torn capital of Iraq." (Narration)

"The streets of South L.A. have given rise to a new sort of gang, determined to fight not simply for turf or colors, but for the lives of the next generation. These peacemakers, many former gang members, have stepped out from behind the guns, and are now standing between them, literally risking their lives for the formation of street-level gang intervention organizations. (Narration)

“See, the ingredient is to care about people and to love them, that’s the ingredient, across the board. And to understand that they’re human, they’re not gang-members, they’re human beings.” (Jim Brown, Amer-I-Can)

To find out how to help, check out all the grassroots organizations working toward peace at How to Help on the film's website.

(All photos from

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Annie Dillard: the whole world sparks and flames

If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire since the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames. ~ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

(Photo: Rain Makes a Beautiful Day, Dahlia House Studios, Etsy)

Cheers to Lumja! and The Girl Effect: Holding up Half the Sky

This morning I woke to a text message from my friend and former "tutoree" Lumja: "I just wanted to tell you that I passed the exam now I am a student at the University of Pristina branch of the English language and literature."


I could not be more excited for this beautiful, intelligent, funny and fiery girl. I met Lumja in Mitrovica, Kosovo when she was 17, in a group of young activists writing stories for a local paper (Youth Voice) for their city. She stood out with her willingness to practice her English with me, her excited gestures and her strong opinions. When I asked her name, she told me Lumturije, took one look at my confused face and twisted tongue and told me to call her Lumja.

Along with another high school student, Safet, we met once a week for English tutoring and practice, but mostly because I just loved their company.

(Safet and Lumja, 2006)

I wrote this (in 2006) about girl power in Kosovo:

At my weekly meeting with Lumja and Safet, both 17 years old and juniors in high school, I asked about homework. "We have to write papers, do math work at home," Lumja said in her usual energetic manner, scanning the air around her for the perfect word in English, her busy hands illustrating her points. "But we go to bed early, since there is no power."

The family eats breakfast and lunch, but no dinner. Lumja and Safet return to their home villages around 6pm, when it has been dark for an hour or so in the winter. They go to bed early, but Lumja wakes up in the middle of the night, when the power comes on at 1am, to study for a few hours with light.

In the morning, she does not have time to study, since she wakes at 4 or 5 a.m. to help her mother with breakfast and housework. One morning her father asked Lumja, “Why does your face look like that?” “This is the only face I have!” she teased. He pressed further, "Why are your eyes red and tired?" She had to admit to stealing power hours in the middle of the night for studying.

If she tries to study at school, in the break they have that is similar to our study hall, she is teased by her friends who won’t let her concentrate. Her sister, who is woken every night she leaves the room, calls her crazy.

Safet says he studies at night with a candle, or in the morning, since he does not have as much work to do as girls do. Since he opened that door, I stuck my western-thinking head through it. I explained that I know it is traditional for the women to do the housework, but do men do equal work, chopping wood and such? Lumja chimed in here – her brother mostly sits around watching television or playing video games. Safet admitted that girls have more to do here. Prefacing my comment to be as culturally sensitive as I could, I said, “I know I’m American, so my thinking is different, but – that’s just wrong!”

Lumja said even though she’s a girl, both her parents want her to go to University. It’s just a matter of money. Her father works to support his seven children, all but the youngest in school, and earns only 150 Euros a month as a guard at the Trepça mine.

I'm in the middle of furiously underlining the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It's a great book, informative, heart-wrenching and inspiring. The introduction describes the education of women as the number one means to fighting poverty. (Bolding mine)

Looking at a successful model in East Asia's, "the basic formula was to ease repression, educate girls as well as boys, give the girls freedom to move to the cities and take factory jobs, and then benefit from a demographic dividend as they delayed marriage and reduced childbearing. The women meanwhile financed the education of younger relatives, and saved enough of their pay to boost national savings rates. This pattern is called 'the girl effect.'

... "In the early 1990s, the United Nations and the World Bank began to appreciate the potential resource that women and girls represent. 'Investment in girls' education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.' ... UNICEF issued a major report arguing that gender equality yields a 'double dividend' by elevating not only women but also their children and communities. The United Nations Development Programme summed up the mounting research this way: "Women's empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation."

Oh, and there's evidence that empowering women and girls would disempower terrorists.

I cannot cheer enough for this one girl I know going on to more education and pursuing her dreams. Here's to Lumja and her beautiful family!

(Lumja's lovely family - minus Lumja who took the photo)

(Little sister, rich Turkish coffee and ever-present Fanta)

(Lumja on left - the first day I met her at Youth Voice)

(Safet, me and Lumja, Mitrovica 2006)