GOING BLIND

BLOG #50, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
GOING BLIND
December 10, 2014

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My wife and I often travel on Southwest Airlines; whenever we do so, I like to peruse their in-flight magazine, Spirit. The cover story in the July 2014 issue was titled “As the Lights Go Down.”

Nicole Kear begins her gripping story with these riveting words: “The day I found out I was going blind started out like any other.” She was nineteen years old, a sophomore at Yale, undecided as to whether to major in English or in theater.

A routine appointment with her doctor turned out to be anything but! The eye-specialist shattered her dreams by announcing that she had a degenerative retinal disease called “retinitis pigmentosa.” My retinal cells were slowly dying which would result in gradual vision loss. First the disease would eat away at my night and peripheral vision, and eventually it would claim my central vision too…. It was untreatable and incurable.

As she walked the twenty blocks back to her home, she was overcome by wave after wave of fear: “But more than anything, I felt instant and irrevocable loss, like a kid who’s just lost her grip on a helium balloon. I made a grab for it, fast, but it was too late, and I watched helplessly as it receded, further and further out of reach.”

As time passed, she felt for a time that she’d be crushed under the strain of knowing that darkness was inevitable. “But something else was happening, too. Through the fog of my shock and confusion, I started seeing everything with the eyes of someone looking for the last time. Sights I’d always taken for granted–the bits of sparkle in the pavement, the bright, brilliant red of the streetlight–seemed immensely, heart-breakingly beautiful. I’d wasted so much time, I scolded myself, being blind to the beauty around me. Knowing it wouldn’t last forever, I became ravenous for images.”

So how was she to face it?

“Though I couldn’t control my disease or the blindness it could bring, I could control how I responded to it…. In the time I had left, I could stuff my brain with images in hopes they’d be enough to last a lifetime. I could use the death sentence my eyes had been given as a kick in the pants to start really living.”

Time passed. One afternoon, she sat down with her leather-bound journal and drew up a personal bucket list of things she wanted to see and do before her vision gave out. She called it her carpe diem campaign.

She double-majored in English and theater, learned how to be a circus clown, learned how to master the flying trapeze, and traveled to Europe. In Rome, “I sat in front of the Pantheon, drinking in every column, every chiseled Latin letter, sketching these details in my journal in an effort to permanently imprint them on my memory.” She picked sweet-peas on a farm in North Italy, hiked cloud-capped mountains to see where Ovid had lived, watched men on Vespas smoking cigarettes and women gossiping while leaning out of windows, and smelled the sweet aroma of marinara sauce simmering on stovetops. “Spending all the money I’d saved from birthdays and graduations, I bought a Eurorail pass and set off with my sister to Paris, where we watched Grand Guignol puppet shows, and Amsterdam, where we stood by narrow canals eating wheels of black licorice. I witnessed the sunrise over Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, and I felt near to bursting with awe at the beauty and the grandeur.”

After college, she moved back to New York, where she performed Shakespeare in the lower East Side, 1950s cult classics in the West Village, and avant-garde German theater on St. Mark’s Place.

She fell in love several times–but finally the real thing: David proposed to her in the middle of the Smoky Mountains.

Next came Hollywood: “I was an actor, after all, and in L.A. the streets were paved with TV pilots. David and I quit our day jobs as long-term temps at an investment bank, packed our stuff, and ventured west. I was bowled over by California’s beauty. Rolling, golden hills that looked like sleeping lions. Jagged cliffs with precipitous drops to the churning, foaming Pacific Ocean. Even the light was different, and the smells. Every time I walked out my front door and inhaled the scent of jasmine, I stopped to marvel . . . sniffing jasmine blossoms made me feel like a Disney princess.”

Driving became more and more difficult. She’d become totally night-blind. As her field of vision continued to shrink, she bumped into things more and more, and fell down stairs–and fumbled her stage-lines.

Then she discovered she was pregnant. But now, color-blindness was setting in, and her depth-perception was going too. Even so, She and David decided to go ahead with it. “When my son made his entrance, just after midnight on Thanksgiving Night, I soaked in so many sights: his strong chin, bee-stung eyes, the complex curvature of his ear, so tiny it made my heart ache with tenderness…. Two years later I saw my daughter for the first time, a ruddy, round-cheeked newborn sporting a Mohawk.” There were details she couldn’t see, but she didn’t worry about that.

By the time she was 34, she was deemed legally blind. She could no longer read regular print. Even so, she decided to have another baby. “My third baby is now 2 years old, and I’ve been able to read her books (if the text is big enough), take her to the playground (if it’s enclosed), and watch her blow out her birthday candles.”

Nicole Kear concludes her remarkable story with these poignant words: “But I’ve learned not to peer too anxiously into the future. Hindsight may be 20/20, but what’s to come is too murky for any of us to make out. My eyes are so dim that I need to train them on the present, to soak up as much as I can, to slow it down, to make it last. As much as I can, I stop to smell the roses–and while I’m there, I look at them, long and hard. Those blazing red streetlights. The way the skin on the top of my children’s noses wrinkles when they smile. . . I don’t know the kind of life I might have had or the kind of woman I might have become if that appointment 18 years ago had actually been routine. . . . What I do know is the life I have is nothing like what I expected, but it is everything I wanted–full of beauty, love, and a light beyond anything the eye can see.”

Nicole Kear is the author of the new memoir, Now I See You.

* * * * *

Four months after reading this, on a 55th anniversary cruise from San Diego through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale, my eyes became progressively more difficult to keep open, and the pain increased continuously. In Fort Lauderdale, our son rushed me to an eye specialist.

I can now see again, but it has resulted in a profoundly greater appreciation for the daily miracle of sight.

I conclude with this quotation penned by Harry Moyle Tippett:

Out of a world of total silence and darkness Helen Keller found a way to a world of light and holy purpose. In the top floor bedroom at Forest Hills . . . there were eight windows looking out into a vast expanse of blue sky by day and of star-studded velvet by night. Small strings guided her steps to the sanctuary, and there she reveled in an inner illumination that matched the glorious light of day she could not see and the silver sheen of stars she could only feel. She said, ‘I learned that it is possible for us to create light and sound and order within us, no matter what calamity may befall us in the outer world.’

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Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month – Johanna Spyri’s “Heidi”

BLOG #31, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #32
JOHANNA SPYRI’S HEIDI
July 30, 2014

I’ve thought long and hard about the book you’ll be reading in August. In the calendar of the year, August is one of those rare in-between months, a time to veg out, get away, go to the beach or mountains, take a cruise, regenerate–for September, life-gets-back-to-normal–
September looms up at the end of August. But, please, we grouse, not yet, not yet.

Undoubtedly, you’ve noticed by how that my Book of the Month selections don’t fit into any book club mold you’ve ever encountered anywhere else. Much more eclectic, for starters. And less academic than you’d expect from a college English professor. In truth, it has taken me this long to arrive at a clear picture of what the Series template is likely to be. I can now tell you how I perceive it: It is neither more nor less than a library of much-loved books that, had you read no more than those chosen you’d still feel your life had been enriched in ways past quantifying. For they are–most of them–books you’ll want to return to again and again. Some, just to have read them once will be enough. Hopefully, you’ll want to keep all the selections together in one part of your library.

But for the August selection, I am returning to one of the most beloved family books of all time. It has been translated into over 50 languages; it has sold over 50,000,000 copies, and has been filmed over a dozen times. As is true with every book children love, adults cherish it every bit as much. Of course, I’m referring to Heidi.

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[Jessie Willcox Smith’s wondrous cover painting for the McKay edition]

It was with some trepidation that I scanned the Spyri section of my library for the Heidi edition I’d re-read before writing this blog. Would it be the Airmont paperback edition or the rare Pocket Book 1940 First printing? The John C. Winston edition, with four lovely Clara M. Burd illustrations in color? Or would it be the 1922 David McKay edition with ten stunning illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith? It was a no-brainer! It is no wonder that the asking price of any magazine cover that features Smith’s inimitable children has reached the stratosphere where dwells the likes of Maxfield Parrish, Rose Cecil O’Neill, Howard Pyle, and Elizabeth Shippen Green. If you can land a fine copy, ignore the price, and grab it before it’s sold to someone else.

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But whatever you do, don’t be satisfied with anything less than the complete unabridged text. In recent years, it has become acceptable in certain circles to strip all positive references to spiritual things from classic books. This is true also of Heidi books. And glaringly, in Heidi movies.

What I discovered in my re-read was that it is a profoundly spiritual book. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Johanna Spyri, neé Hausser (1829-1901), a writer whose story for children, Heidi, is known all over the world. Her psychological insight into the child mind, her humor, and her ability to enter into childish joys and sorrows give her books attraction and lasting value. After her marriage in 1852 to Bernhard Spyri, a lawyer engaged in editorial work, she moved to Zurich. Her love of homeland, feeling for nature, unobtrusive piety, and cheerful wisdom gave both her work and her life their unique quality.”
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Adeline B. Zachert, in her most insightful introduction to the 1927 John C. Winston edition of Heidi, noted that “Character grows from ideals. It is caught by contagion. One may catch it from one’s companions; children often learn of it from the friends who live within the covers of their story books; these characters become the companions of their thoughts. They become real; they live and act in the imagination of children, and often exert a greater influence than do the flesh-and-blood associates with whom they daily come in contact.” Ms. Zachert (then head librarian for the state of Pennsylvania) pointed out that a child’s first response to a book generally depends on its outward appearance (color and texture of the binding, the decoration and imagery on the cover, and especially splendid color depictions of paintings by artists who know how to capture the essence of a character or setting). But after the first impressions, it is the power of the story itself that take it from there.

Other books written by Spyri include Cornelli, Moni the Goat Boy, Children of the Alps, Stories of Swiss Children, Heidi Grows Up (always popuolar), Mazli, Uncle Titus in the Country, Toni the Little Wood-Carver, Heidi’s Children, Erick and Sally, Gritli’s Children, The Story of Rico, Rico and Wiseli, Veronica and Other Friends, and What Sarni Sings with the Birds.

CONCLUSION

So, don’t delay, if there are children in your vicinity, read Heidi out loud to them, or take turns reading it out loud; if there are no children around, read it to yourself. You’ll be surprised at how much you will revel in the story, and the insights you’ll gain from immersing yourself in this timeless book. If you see a film version of the story, only do so after you’ve read the book! Otherwise you deprive yourself and your listeners of the once-in-a-lifetime experience of creating mental images uniquely your own.

 

Trains — The New Way to Travel (Part Three)

BLOG #24, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
TRAINS – THE NEW WAY TO TRAVEL (Part Three)
June 11, 2014

During that long night, the train would stop at Helper, Provo, and Salt Lake City, Utah. At Salt Lake City, many got off, and many got on. But since the overhead lights were left at dim, we were only partly aware of the stops. Then came Elko and Winemucca, Nevada; but again we were little aware of the stops. Not until Reno, did we thoroughly awaken. By breakfast time, we were climbing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Never before had we seen so little snow in the Sierras in mid-April. It was late afternoon when the train drew into the Old Sacramento train station. Here we disembarked, rented a car, and drove up the San Joaquin Valley to Red Bluff, where my sister and brother-in-law live.

IMAX ON WHEELS

A week later, we boarded the east-bound California Zephyr in Sacramento. Right on time. By now we’d become one with the rhythm of the train and life inside it.

Europeans and world travelers are fascinated by America’s vast open spaces, the grandeur of the West; for there’s nothing to match it anywhere in the world. They don’t show that fascination in planes–but they certainly do in trains. On trains you see people from all over the world who are entranced by the majesty of the American landscape. To them, rolling through the West in an Amtrak car is like looking through IMAX lenses at some of the world’s most iconic scenery slowly rolling by. Just as interesting: to see Americans discover for the very first time their own heritage outside their windows.

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Everywhere we’d been, during that intervening week, people had asked us what it was like to travel on a train. We couldn’t have attracted much more attention if we’d announced we’d be on the next space flight. Because we live in a “ho-hum” and “whatever” time, almost never do people get energized or excited about anything any more. Planes certainly don’t excite any more; indeed, the normal response to hearing we’re taking a plane somewhere is either complete boredom or commiseration. Not even cruise ship travel excites any more. But rather, “sure hope you don’t get sick!” or “Where you going this time?” Hardly anyone travels by bus anymore. And car travel is–just car travel. This is why it’s so amazing to see so many people light up and gush when told we’re traveling by train. “Oh, be sure and tell me what it’s like when you get back!” or “You lucky guy! Can I tag along?”

Life has, in truth, come full circle: what’s old has become new, and what’s new has become old. Retro is in. Roughing it is in. Five-star hotels are passé. Children and young people are searching for experiences that are fresh, new, and not cookie cutter. This is why trains are in and planes are out.

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Interestingly enough, the same phenomenon is true on trains. All you hear around you are variations on “Thank God we’re traveling by train!” “Isn’t plane travel awful!” “Isn’t it great to be free to get up, walk around, talk to people, play games, eat whatever or whenever we want, relax or sleep, with no timetable to worry about!”

Really, it’s one big mutual admiration society! Hardly a soul wants to be anywhere else but on a train. And they love the Observation Car. The interaction with people of all ages, the running down to the snack area below whenever they want a bite to eat, the opportunity to play board games, to laugh, to reminisce, to joke–but more than anything else: to talk with people and find out what makes them tick.

Then there’s the Dining Car (right next to the Observation Car). We actually looked forward to the three full meals a day they offer there. The food was surprisingly good. And the vegetarian options were most palatable. But really, you’d have to experience it yourself to fully appreciate the full difference. Had we been traveling by auto, it would have taken us two and a half days (including two nights at a motel), the stress of driving long hours, finding acceptable eating options on the road, gas costs alone would have totaled over $500 for the round trip–not counting repair problems or road hazards. Meals would have cost us at least as much, per meal, as on board Amtrak.

But oh the difference! To get on the train and be able to fully relax. No driving pressures. No hauling in and out suitcases each night. No missing much of the scenery because of driving demands. Just sit back, relax, and watch America slowly pass by. Tired of sitting? Wander down to the Snack Car, the Observation Car, the Dining Car. Get acquainted with your fellow passengers.

Occasionally, one of the train personnel would get on the mike and tell us about the history of sites we were passing by. Later on, I discovered that someone has written and published three books detailing every significant history-related spot in the entire transcontinental train route from the Atlantic to the Pacific! I saw all three in one of the train station gift shops.

There’s also not a little of “Now that we’re here, let’s close the door! We don’t want too many people to discover how wonderful train travel is, because they might then wreck it for the rest of us.”

The one sad negative for the host of wanabee train travelers is that trains service all too few locales across the country. Radically different than it used to be when trains connected virtually every hamlet in America. Europe is much more fortunate than we are in this respect.

Next week, I’ll be bringing to a conclusion my paean to train travel.”

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TRAIN — THE NEW WAY TO TRAVEL (part 1)

BLOG #21, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
TRAIN – THE NEW WAY TO TRAVEL (Part One)
May 21, 2014

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Yes, trains, long considered antiquated and a quaint holdover from the past, have quietly and unobtrusively in recent years become the “in” thing with thousands of travelers. Hadn’t realized it until Connie and I boarded The California Zephyr at Denver’s rapidly changing Union Station on April 20. Actually, “rapidly changing” is a major understatement, for it is a stunning transformation. Even though the construction is still going on, it is the talk of the plains: A new upscale hotel is going in, buses from all over the region have been rerouted so they disgorge and pick up passengers in a large state of the art underground terminal directly below the train waiting room. Same for light rail. As a result, already over a billion dollars of new construction is changing the city skyline of what locals call “LO-DO” [lower downtown].

The initial news that Sunday morning was not good: the train would be two and a half hours late. We later discovered that a big fire had broken out near the tracks in the vicinity of Omaha. But not to worry, the train would make up a lot of the time later on. And it did: an hour and a half of it before we reached Sacramento. But the delay didn’t appear to bother anyone very much. Just accepted it as another example of what regulars label “AMTRAK time,” the result of freight train corporations owning the tracks, and consequently having priority over passenger trains. But, in reality, as everyone knows all too well, air travelers face jammed skies and weather-based delays and cancellations virtually every day, not counting mechanical problems—so, delay-wise, it can be a Hobson’s choice.

ALL ABOARD!

Since it had been some years since we had last traveled by train, we wondered what it would be like in the Year of our Lord 2014. It was enough that finally here around the bend, the long silver city on steel wheels backed into the still-under-construction station. We were surprised to see how excited we were–it had been a long time since we’d experienced anything but dread and distaste over the prospect of boarding yet another flying cattle-car. So this was different. How different we didn’t yet realize.

We quickly discovered that, as through-travelers to California, we were assigned a through-car. Not so for shorter-distance travelers who had to settle for potluck car-wise. But not to worry: they could later change seats if they so desired.

Downstairs (adjacent to the restrooms) were storage facilities for large suitcases. No charge for them such as is true with most airlines today. The smaller case we could stow in the overhead above our seat upstairs. After picking just the right seats for the anticipated view, and then positioning our smaller suitcase or bag overhead, with a giant sigh of relief we took our seats and watched the scurrying around, including the boarding of the last passengers and train attendants–and the journey began.

Unlike air travel, where only the person sitting next to a window can see out, here everyone can see. Furthermore, passenger jets fly so high today that rarely can even those sitting next to the windows see what is passing below; whereas in trains, the continually unrolling of the travel scroll reveals a world that’s only feet away–and not 40,000 feet away such as in airplanes.

After a while, an attendant came through, checked to see if we were through-passengers, then wrote our destination down on a card and attached it to the overhead rack. Later on, we learned the reason for that: late at night, unless aroused by an attendant, some people sleep through their destinations. One young woman in our car, who was supposed to get off in Elko, Nevada, dropped off to sleep after being awakened, and didn’t get off until Reno; there she had to wait for the next eastbound train the following day.

After we had been checked in, we were free to wander. What a difference from air travel where, most of the time, you remain strapped to your seat, and only get up for potty breaks. Even then, in the forward compartment, no one is allowed to wait in line. No such restrictions on the train. The most popular place to be is the observation car, for there you can look up as well as out. In our case, since passengers see two of the most beautiful mountain ranges in America (The Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas), in consecutive days, almost everyone jockeys for a seat in the observation car during those stretches. Especially was this true when traversing Colorado’s iconic Glenwood Canyon.

The snack car too was almost always in use by someone. And then there was the Dining Car, where three meals a day are served. Reservations are easy to secure. Only when your number is called do you enter the Dining Car. Then you are seated. Unless you specifically ask to be seated alone, generally you join others already seated. We always prefer to thus get acquainted with our fellow travelers, for that’s what makes train travel so fascinating. Reminded me of the long-ago days when air-dining was such a pleasure; today, you’re lucky if you get pretzels, peanuts, or crackers. On the train, it is a leisurely affair–no one hurries you. Though you don’t dine on fine china, at least you have clean white tablecloths, and can order from a surprisingly large array of options. Even for vegetarians such as us. And the food was certainly good, and those who served us most gracious and interesting to talk to. And it was clear that they–and all the other train attendants we chatted with–loved their job. Many had worked for AMTRAK for much of their entire careers!

So what a different world! No reason to be struck with deep-vein thrombosis that happens on long air flights, because everyone is free to wander. Children love it, for it’s like the entire train is just one long fascinating moving playground. In fact, a good friend of ours, who when he heard we were traveling by train to California, asked what we thought of train travel. After listening to my answers, he booked The California Zephyr west to Emeryville [San Francisco], and the coastal AMTRAK south. He and his family of four got off at Santa Barbara and drove up to President Reagan’s mountain hideaway; then drove on to Disneyland, after which they headed home by the same route. Later I asked him what he thought of train travel. He had booked a family sleeper [though AMTRAK travel is generally cheaper than air travel, sleeper compartments cost considerably more – sort of like traveling business class by air]. He said his kids loved train travel! In fact he said, they’d asked if they might always travel by train from here on!

But our journey had just begun. Part two of “Trains – The New Way to Travel” will resume on Wednesday, June 4; as next week we’ll break for Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club June book selection. By the way, there’s always lots of time to read on trains.

I have so much more to share with you about why so many people – including young people (college age and young adults) – are gravitating to train travel today. See you June 4.

A NEW “LOST GENERATION”?

BLOG #40, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A NEW “LOST GENERATION”?
October 2, 2013

The most famous “Lost Generation” was the post-World War I generation who came of age in the war and Jazz Age that followed. The term was coined in a letter Gertrude Stein wrote to Ernest Hemingway, “You are all a lost generation.” Hemingway then incorporated it into his 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, that captures the attitudes and life style of the hard-drinking, fast-living, hedonistic, and disillusioned young expatriates living in Paris (authors such as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, e. e.. cummings, Archibald Mac Leish, Hart Crane, and others).

These writers considered themselves lost because the unbelievably brutal so-called “Great War” had stripped them of their illusions, turned them away from religion and spiritual values, and left them in a twilight world in which nothing made sense. Not surprisingly, it segued into theater of the absurd writers such as Pinter, Ionesco, Brecht, and Beckett, who wrote plays in which little or nothing made much sense.

On the front page of the weekend Wall Street Journal (September 14, 15), was a jolting article by Ben Casselman and Marcus Walker titled “Help Wanted: Struggles of a Lost Generation.”

In it, the writers postulate that the economic meltdown of the last five years has created a group of young people who have come of age during the most prolonged period of economic distress since the Great Depression. Only this time, unlike the earlier “Lost Generation,” today’s young people are lost because the economic underpinnings they assumed their education prepared them for, are no longer there now that they have graduated and are looking for such jobs.

They are worse off in another respect: they are saddled with student loans that, in good times, they could gradually pay off, but in bad times (think no job at all, minimum wage, or part-time jobs), they don’t see how they can ever pay them off! The writers note that the unemployment rate for Americans under the age of 25 is two and a half times higher than the rate for those 25 or older. But even that rate ignores the hundreds of thousands of young people who are going back to college, enrolling in training programs, or just sitting on the sidelines.

The writers, backed up by Pew Research studies, feel that today’s young people are likely to suffer long-term consequences for their current inability to get full-time decent-paying jobs: “Economic research has shown that the first few years after college plays an outside role in determining workers’ career trajectories: about two-thirds of wage growth, on average, comes in the first ten years of a person’s career. In weak economic times, graduates are likely accept lower wages and work for smaller companies with fewer opportunities for advancement. And in many cases, they never move off that second-tier track.”

They also note that our weak economy is leading to potentially seismic societal changes: “An
entire generation is putting off the rituals of early adulthood: moving away, getting married, buying a home and having children.” 56% of 18-24-year-olds are living with their parents.

In earlier times, young people could at least look forward to a strong recovery, however all the current projections are for a long weak economic recovery, and by the time it finally does happen, the bloom will long since have been gone from the degrees of untold thousands of young people caught in the backwash of today’s global fiscal collapse.

In Europe, it is even worse today for this age-group: “Over 23% of the European Union’s workforce under age 25 is unemployed, and youth jobless rates in the worse-hit European countries approaches 60%.”

* * * * *

Although Casselman and Walker’s economic study contains plenty of doom and gloom, it appears to me it is nowhere near as bad as the generation that graduated in 1929 and had to face the Great Depression when things were so bad life could be summed up in that generation’s six-liner: “Brother, can you spare a dime?” (A dime could get you a simple meal back then.)

Perhaps we shall need to re-evaluate the entire educational construct. With four years of college now costing $100,000 – $200,000, it may be necessary to come up with an entirely new method of preparing our youth for their adult life and careers.

Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club – “BRAVE NEW WORLD” and “BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISITED”

BLOG #19 SERIES 4
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #19, 20
ALDOUS HUXLEY’S BRAVE NEW WORLD AND
BRAVE NEW WORLD REVISITED
May 8, 2013

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The Book of the Month that follows the tripartite “Paralysis of the American Mind” series had to be a heavyweight, preferably a book that would build on the three previous blogs. For this, I reach back to two books featured in my 1968 thesis for my masters in English degree from Sacramento State University: Plato to Orwell, a Study of Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. Utopias in literature depict idealized happily-ever-after societies, each written during time-periods in history where such societies appeared possible in real life societies. Dystopias, on the other hand, depict anti-utopias (unhappily-ever-after societies). I chose five: Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes, Zamyatin’s We, Huxley’s Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, and Orwell’s 1984.

Of these, Huxley’s fictional world mirrors most accurately the world we see in our everyday news. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), novelist, short-story writer, essayist, poet, critic, and dramatist, was born into one of England’s most illustrious literary and scientific families. Brave New World was first published in 1932 and Brave New World Revisited in 1959. Unlike George Orwell who predicted in 1984 that the future would be modeled after dictators such as Stalin, Huxley felt a world characterized by hedonism and pleasure would endure a lot longer.

Easily one of the most significant 25 books of the last century, these two books should be on the Bucket List of every thoughtful reader. The first is fiction, the second is a chilling essay. In Brave New World, as you read from page to page, you will wonder how it was possible for Huxley to foresee the world of today so clearly. Originally, however, Huxley felt it would not become a reality until 632 years after Ford (a hybrid term combining Henry Ford and assembly line sameness and Sigmund Freud’s dethroning of God and Christianity). Instead, only 27 short years after he’d written Brave New World, Huxley was horrified to discover it was beginning already and would be a reality by the 21st century.

Note some of his predictions in Brave New World (the title taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Miranda responds to seeing other men besides her father for the first time, with these euphoric worlds, ‘How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world. . .”). Only Huxley flips those four words upside down meaning-wise, almost as though he was mocking Miranda’s naivette. Upon publication of his dystopian bombshell, overnight Huxley assumed world-wide prominence, and he has retained it ever since.

So what will you find?

• Pneumatic women (who give themselves indiscriminately to anyone and everyone) are to Huxley the logical result of contraceptives and the lowering of physical barriers to free sex resulting from mankind’s turning away from Christianity and monogamy.

• Ford (Ford/Freud) is deified above God, and is considered the culture’s founder/god.

• Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Centers where babies are cloned. According to their predestined places in society, the babies are given more or less oxygen. Betas are given the most oxygen, followed by those with less: Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons.

• Children are raised and educated by the state.

• The filthiest words in the language are “Mother” and “Father.”

• There is no old age; bodily functions are artificially reinforced by medicine; no one shows signs of aging until about the age of sixty, then suddenly the cumulative effects of the drugs take effect and the individual buckles, senility arrives, and usually the individual dies quickly.

• There are ten Controllers who rule over the entire world.

• “Soma,” a drug, is dished out to everyone each day—it increases in intensity as it is sorely needed in a society with all challenges removed. In heavier doses it can be used for trips that can put the individuals into weekend dream worlds [much like LSD].

• Music too is synthetic; sex and music turns Fordism into an inspirational orgy.

• It is dangerous to be too stunted or too brilliant.

• Education begins even before birth in bottles, where specific traits are implanted.

• Babies are conditioned by explosions, electric shocks, sirens, screeching sounds, etc., to be terrified of beautiful bowls of flowers and colorful nursery books. Babies are conditioned to dislike books because otherwise they might question stratified society; and all things beautiful in nature are discredited.

• Babies are conditioned to hate their country but to love all sports.

• All through childhood they are constantly being conditioned to consider all words dealing with home and family relationships as smutty. Lecturers stress the filth and horribleness of ancient families.

• Sayings such as “everyone belongs to everyone else,” “ending is better than mending,” “I love new clothes,” “cleanliness is next to fordliness,” are repeated tens of thousands of times subliminally while children and teens are asleep.

• The insinuating voice repeats these injunctions so many times over so many years that eventually, by adulthood, they harden into the state-ordained philosophy of life.

• History and literature are both downgraded:

You all remember, said the Controller, in his strong deep voice, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s, ‘History is bunk. History,’ he repeated slowly, ‘is bunk.’

He waves his hand; and it is as though, with an invisible feather whisk, and the dust that was Harappo, was Ur of the Chaldees; some spider-webs, and they were Thebes and Babylon and Cnossos and Mycenae. Whisk, Whisk—and where was Odysseus, where was Job, where was Jupiter and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk—and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle Kingdom—all were gone. Whisk—the place where Italy had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, whisk, King Lear and the Thoughts of Pascal. Whisk. Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, symphony; whisk. . . . [BNW, pp 22, 23]

• Freedom is made to appear as archaic and useless to children and youth. Democracy is “idiotic.”

• Poetical references to the Deity are perverted and attributed to Ford.

• Prior to the establishment of the world state, thousands of culture fans were gassed, museums were closed, monuments were blown up, all books published before A.F. 150 were suppressed, all crosses became T’s. All mention of heaven, God, soul, and immortality were eliminated.

• Another tool of the state is television. Movies have become “feelies” (one holds knobs at the side of the seat, then feels the action as well as hearing it). Even the scent organs are included in these orgiastic productions. Both pain and desire are transmitted electrically. The plots are mostly pornographic.

• Discontented people are exiled to islands where they are locked up with others who dare to question the state.

• Because the state allows all the natural impulses to have free play, there are no longer any temptations to resist!

• Once every month everyone’s system is flooded with VPS (adrenalin, the physiological equivalent of fear, rage, murder, etc.).

* * * * *

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley noted that “Liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a country that is permanently on a war footing, or even on a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government.” [BNWR, 14]

Huxley also articulated his worry about the rapid acceleration of America’s Power Elite; mass production squeezing small businesses out; sociologists hastening the downward spiral of freedom by urging other-directedness and conformity. Also he worried about the disappearance of thousands of small journals and local newspapers. Only chains can economically survive (with the loss of the small men of the press, comes another link in the totalitarian chain). The constant bombardment of the media [just imagine what he’d think today!] results in the assimilation of so much trivia that mankind will find it harder and harder to resist the encroachments of would-be-controllers:

The dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine those techniques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrelevance the rational propaganda essential to the maintenance of individual liberty and the survival of democratic institutions. [BNWR, 37]

Huxley maintains that a Hitler would have a much better chance of staying in power in the modern era. Thanks to technological progress, “Big Brother can now be almost as omnipresent as God.” [BNWR, 39]. He also submitted that parents generally fail to realize the extent to which children swallow media propaganda.

Huxley concludes BNWR with predictions that will curdle the blood of any thinking person. Buy both books and slowly digest them. They are available in multitudes of editions.

I quote from the Brave New World Bantam Classic edition of 1966; and from the Brave New World Revisited Harper Perennial Library edition of 1965.

IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES

BLOG #10, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES
March 6, 2013

During the last couple of years the chances are excellent that at any given moment, day or night, I could have been found leafing through, or reading an old magazine. Far more likely than immersion in a book.

Why? Because it is in old magazines that the greatest stories ever written are most likely to be found. During the Golden Age of Print in America (1880s through the 1950s), magazine was king. During much of that time, magazine editors paid writers more for a given story or book manuscript than movie producers or publishing house editors. This is why the appearance of a given story in a magazine normally predated its appearance in a book.

If you were a child or a teen during that Golden Age, you had ever so many choices: long-lived magazines such as The Youth’s Companion (a weekly for over a hundred years), St. Nicholas (a monthly from 1873 to 1939), The Youth’s Instructor (a weekly for over a hundred years), Little Folks, Girl’s Own, Boy’s Own, Young People’s Weekly, Boys World, Girls’ Companion, Jack and Jill, just to name a few.

During that time period, there was an unspoken consensus in the adult world that children were to be protected from obscenities, the dark side of human nature, and printed material that would degrade or disillusion. The flip side was that since America, since its founding, was built on Judeo-Christian bedrock, authors who could memorably articulate those values in their stories and books became household words across the nation, in the Commonwealth, and in the Western World. Recognizing that children would become their favorite stories, parents everywhere religiously conducted daily story hours since the values in these magazines and books could be internalized in the hearts and souls of their listening children. And it worked!

Not so today. Today, when the Christian community is, more often than not, on the defensive, with a secular media vastly out programming it, parents everywhere feel overwhelmed. How can they prevent their children from being destroyed by a society that is openly hostile to Christianity?

I submit that Story is the answer. The stories that once could be found in most every household—but today are crumbling out of existence in old magazines that are being lost to posterity at an alarming rate. Indeed, so fast are these wonderful priceless old magazines being cut up, destroyed, hauled out to the dump, that they will soon be all but extinct.

And this is why my wife Connie and I have dedicated what’s left of our lives to preserving as many as possible of the best of these long ago treasure chests of stories. Sixty-six of our eighty books so far are story anthologies—and most originated in old magazines.

And that’s why, day and night, we are racing against time to preserve as many stories as possible before God calls us home.

PAC MONEY AND ATTACK ADS

BLOG #47, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
PAC MONEY AND ATTACK ADS
November 21, 2012

In all my life, I’ve never seen or heard anywhere near this level of post-election disillusion and borderline despair, the general feeling that America—that hope of the world—has reached the tipping point, and that the next steps may prove unreversible.

The catalyst, of course, was the entire unbelievably vicious and below-the-belt attack ads, paid for mostly with PAC funds conveniently hiding the identity of the attackers in walls of anonymity. Neither party came out of the fray with clean hands, but in retrospect, what is likely to leave the longest and bitterest legacy has to do with the early-in-the-campaign poisoning of the well, when Romney, who had exhausted his funding during the hotly contested primaries, found himself up the proverbial creek without a paddle, unable to fund a counterattack to the blizzard of attack ads geared not only to discredit his achievements but to utterly destroy his character. They worked: Romney was never able to fully recover.

The Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to the scorched-earth-leave-no-survivors blitzkrieg of unsubstantiated anonymous attack ads might very well be perceived by future historians as the beginning of the decline of the world’s greatest democracy. In Colorado (one of the so-called Nine Swing States), for month after month, we have had to endure such a blizzard of attack ads, from both sides, that, at the end we were left numb and nauseous. It was a veritable nightmare!

The logical result of all this would be to scare off, in the future, America’s best and brightest from even considering a career in politics. Why would any sane person subject his/her family to such vicious character assassination? Children and young people had to emerge from this mud bath with feelings of revulsion: If all politicians are unethical, unprincipled, unpatriotic, unempathetic, and uncaring, then why even vote at all? For the first time since I can remember, what a politician actually stood for or believed in, or had either achieved or hoped to achieve, was buried in layer after layer of sizzling hot verbal lava that left no reputation untarred.

Nor is the entire swing-state scenario a pleasant one to consider. Have we indeed reached the level where only nine states really matter? And the other 41 do not?

One thing I wish to make clear: I am not claiming one party can justifiably lay claim to the higher ground here. What I am hoping to accomplish by this blog is to add my frail voice to what needs to become a national movement to restore civility, not just to elections but to the periods in-between, when no one reaches across the aisle to the other side, and polarization and the annihilation of the moderates who once served as agents of synapse, has all but brought government to a standstill.

It is terrifying people I’ve interacted with, on all sides, to be reduced to near hopelessness in terms of their perception of America’s future.

But, as one near despondent Kiwanian said last week, “In all this, friends, please don’t despair: God is still in His Heaven.”

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

BLOG #39, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #13
ELIZABETH GOUDGE’S CITY OF BELLS
September 26, 2012

1948 Pocket Book copy of City of Bells

Those of you who love our Christmas in My Heart® stories may remember my recent story, “Message in a Book,” in Christmas in My Heart 20. In it I referenced a passage from Goudge’s City of Bells:

“‘A bookseller,’ said Grandfather, ‘is the link between mind and mind, the feeder of the hungry, very often the binder up of wounds. There he sits, your bookseller, surrounded by a thousand minds all done up neatly in cardboard cases; beautiful minds, courageous minds, strong minds, wise minds, all sorts and conditions. And there come into him other minds, hungry for beauty, for knowledge, for truth, for love, and to the best of his ability he satisfies them all. . . . Yes . . . it’s a great vocation” (City of Bells, p. 95).

* * *

For several evenings running, I’ve been wrestling with a decision: which book should I choose to anchor our second dozen Books of the Month? I’ve been in a reverie, induced by the haunting sight of falling aspen leaves in trees that have once again transformed Conifer Mountain into one heartbreakingly beautiful glow. Made doubly so by the realization that in only days the aspens will stand naked, stripped of their glory, not to be clothed again until spring. As a result, the book decision was colored by my autumnal mood, tinged with the poignant thought, Who that I love may not live to see autumn leaves fall again? Might even I not be there to see them fall?

So the chosen book had to match my mood. Finally, it came down to one author, Elizabeth Goudge, the Christian British writer (1900-1984) who, over the years, has become an integral part of my spiritual and philosophic DNA.

She wrote so few books that it almost broke my heart to read the last of them. Now I can only re-drink at her wells of insight into this thing we call life. She wrote so few because she poured everything in her into each one. It is impossible to merely breeze through a Goudge book, reason being: she’s not just a “good read,” she’s a “great read.” She had to have agonized over each and every sentence before she’d signed off on it with her publisher. So I find myself savoring them more each time I come back to a given book.

And her fictional children! I don’t know how she did it—for I certainly can’t!—, how she somehow retained, as an adult, the incredible gift of still being able to think as a child, to reason as a child, to love as a child.

And it was so difficult for me to choose just one of her romances–treasure chests such as The Dean’s Watch, Green Dolphin Street, Pilgrim’s Inn, Rosemary Tree, The Scent of Water, Towers in the Mist, etc. In the end, however, the one that best matched my mood was City of Bells, for as I read it I could hear and see the bells of Canterbury Cathedral that helped give birth to my Christmas love story, “Evensong.”

After reading City of Bells in March of 1991, I wrote, “I do believe this one is Goudge’s greatest book.” I’ll be most interested in your response to it. I’ll be exceedingly surprised if you don’t immediately become another Goudgeaholic and track down every Goudge book you can lay your hands on!

In America, Goudge was published by Coward-McCann; City of Bells in 1937, Crowell-Collier in 1947, and Pocket Book in 1948. Keep in mind that sometimes the American editions feature alternative titles from the original British editions.

Happy hunting!

DAYTON DUNCAN AND KEN BURNS’ THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA

BLOG #26, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #11

DAYTON DUNCAN AND KEN BURNS’

THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA

June 27, 2012

 

 

 

 

Without fear of hyperbole, I submit that this collaborative effort by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009) is one of the greatest books of—not only this year, but this generation.  It is a prodigious piece of scholarship!  Just imagining their challenges gives me the chills: Becoming the authority on America’s history of conservation, and lack of it; the history of all of our national parks and monuments; the biographies of all the key figures in the development of each one; securing copyright permissions for this warehouse-worth of documentation; securing illustrations of all kinds and permissions to use each one; writing (in association with the filming of the award-winning PBS series of the same name); and then fact-checking every last piece to the mosaic.

 

Obviously though the text itself was written by Dayton Duncan, it had to be synthesized with   Burns’ PBS film series; there could be no noticeable discrepancies between the two.

 

I’m in awe at what they and their staffs accomplished.

 

TWO YEARS WITH DUNCAN AND BURNS

 

For almost two years now, this book has been my bible for writing two blog series: The Northwest National Parks and The Southwest National Parks.  Every time I’ve moved from one park to the next, before I turned to any other sourcebook, I first milked this book dry.  They never let me down.  They and the writer of the two companion books on the wonderful old lodges that grace these parks: Christine Barnes.

 

So it has been, as you have kindly vicariously traveled along with Connie and me and Bob and Lucy Earp, that thanks to The National Parks, we were able to briefly give you snapshots of how the following parks came to be: Crater Lake National Park, Oregon Caves National Monument, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascade National Park, Olympic National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Death Valley National Park, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park; we are now studying Yosemite National Park; and we shall conclude the Great Circle with Great Basin National Park.

 

But, my blogs have only provided you with enough information to whet your appetite for learning more about each park; for that it is a must that you buy a copy of the book for yourself and make it your own.  Within those two covers you will have an almost inexhaustible treasure mountain to mine from in future years.

 

But more than all that, you will discover that the book is also the riveting story of the American people, and how thousands of people from many professions and many levels of society came together in making possible a cause greater than themselves.

 

Once you read this book, I will almost guarantee that you will, like our intrepid foursome, wish to personally explore these parks yourselves, using the book as a guide.  In our trips, as we were driving from one park to another, one of us would read aloud from this book to the others in the car so that when we arrived there we’d not only know what to look for but also know the significance of what we saw and experienced..

 

Nor should I fail to bring out a great truth: Our children and grandchildren will value very little temporal things we give them, but they will cherish until the day they die the memories you made with them, the places you took them to, the time you spent with them, the things of value they learned with you.  With this in mind, consider the purchase of this book, reading it, marking it, internalizing it, and making it your family treasure map to the greatest national park mother lode in the world!

 

And—a favor I ask of you: please share with me your own personal book-related reactions and memories resulting from it.  You may reach me at:

 

Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 1246

Conifer, CO 80433

 

SOURCES USED

 

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).