Follow up…

So, it’s been quite a while since the last blogging. Also, since the last flogging. What?  I wanted to follow up on pieces before about military suicide rates and the struggles of veterans.  I just found this article which I think is worth a read for people interested in this issue. The article discusses this study which says the suicides among active and non-active duty military are not statistically connected to number of deployments, combat seen, or length of deployments. Instead, the suicides track back to underlying problems the service members had including alcohol abuse, depression and manic depression/bi-polar issues…things common in the general American population.
It takes a while to get what they’re talking about (isn’t alcoholism potentially related to PTSD, etc?), but the more I read, the more I sort of understood it. The important takeaway for me was the experts all agree the military needs to revamp how it handles the mental health issues of their troops- which I suppose everyone has been saying for a while- and that things like PTSD don’t account for many of the suicides.

Anyhow, worth a read. Here’s the link.

I also wanted to share, come to think of it, this poetry by a guy named Ed Poynter. He’s a veteran of Iraq-Afghanistan from the UK. He’s seen combat and written about it as part of his personal therapy.  The poetry is good and accessible. It’s a step up from the verse of the average joe, but still very down-to-earth.

Here’s the link for some of his work.

Thanks for reading. I’ll try to keep more updated!  I can’t believe it’s August!








Reading List, Memorial Day 2013

On Memorial Day,  a lot of things get read.  Here’s some things I think are worth looking at today:

The story of Keith Benson who died in Afghanistan. The side street next to my brother’s house is now named for him.

Names (and faces) of all the men and women who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.  There are 6648 of them.

Article on the 6500 veteran suicides in 2012

Story about the mental health needs of military families

Another article in veteran suicides.

Article on Korean War vet who was KIA and whose remains were just identified and buried.

Map of the Middle East

List of Names on the Vietnam Memorial

War Dead from WWII

A story of a Roslindale kid killed in Vietnam.

Reflections on a kid who died in The Civil War

A Civil War veteran from my old neighborhood

And this poem.

And also this poem. Every Memorial Day, this poem  



Let’s honor the war dead by supporting the needs of their colleagues and families:

Help vets through the VA

Support Fisher House

Support Homes for Our Troops

And by, the best we can, making the world a place more conducive to lasting peace.



Women’s Day, Thursday, Everyday, And Every Kid

Every Thursday I get to my brother’s house and after dinner with the boys, my niece and I begin our activity for the evening while her dad puts the bros to bed.

Sometimes, this activity  is homework.  At  age 10 and in 4th grade, AD is a reading whiz, an articulate young writer, has decent penmanship when she tries, and is getting better at math.  She is often tired at the end of the day, but she usually does her work  without much complaining.

Homework: answer questions from the social studies magazine. Do the math packet on decimals. Read a paperback for 30 minutes (approximately…), go on dad’s laptop and do ExtraMath.  In the process of this, she fills me in on what her teacher is up to (she’s had several leave the last few years to have babies), what her friends were goofing about at lunch, or art, or recess or afterschool club aka “Wolf Pack”. There is a lot of goofiness in Grade 4.  And she talks about  her progress in violin, about various upcoming activities and  field trips, soccer, her dog, her cousins, the news from her mom’s house side of things,  and, with increasing frequency, what the boys in class are up to.

Sometimes, there is no homework, and we play indoor games of AD’s creation. This used to involve a lot of dolls and makebelieve. But now, there are different things: art contests with a timer, yarnball hand-soccer (technically banned by her father lol) UNO, or board games or games she’s learned from friends. We rarely watch TV but occassionally the Disney Channel or Nick comes on. There’s no DS allowed during certain hours.  And usually, she’s okay with that.

And in summer, there’s a lot of outdoor time. Soccer, playground, games, again, that she has made up (with constantly morphing rules…).  She runs me ragged sometimes, but it’s always fun. She’s always fun. She’s hilarious, too. And she’s a really goodhearted kid.

I think of her life sometimes, of which these Thursday nights are a microcosm – her life with, sure, it’s ups and downs, complexities and challenges,  but overall she’s healthy, safe, loved, and thriving.  And I am thankful. And I am amazed when I consider her potential and all she has to offer the world –  now at age ten, let alone in adulthood.

And from time to time as I think of this, I think how every kid deserves the same, but so many don’t get it: the health, the security, the family, the love, the schooling, the culture, the extras, the opportunities.

It’s The International Day of The Woman today.  It’s worth pausing and thinking how we can help both  girls– the women of future – and the women who are raising them today — all get the life they deserve so they can give what they’ve got in them to give.

Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn and The Half The Sky Movement have compiled a great list of organizations successfully empowering girls and women.  Check ‘em out and drop as you see fit.

Thanks for reading,



Seven Reasons I Love Nina Simone

Nina Simone was born February 21st, 1933.  That’s 80 years ago. But what’s more notable to me is it’s one day after my birthday, the 20th.  Though, granted, I wasn’t born in 1933!.  I’d forgotten about this bond until I saw a photo array in Time celebrating Ms. Simone’s 80th. (She died in 2003…) .   And I got to to thinking why I love her so.  It’s not just because our birthdays are so close together…though that doesn’t hurt.


I first heard Nina Simone when I bought some discount cassette tape at an outlet mall and played it in my car on the way home. I had gotten it for some other song– it was one of those cheapo compilations one step up from bootleg– but I was immediately hooked on Nina’s jaunty version of  “Trouble In Mind”  — her gravelly voice and bouncy piano. Such a merry tune.

Later, I would hear her bluesy interpretation of it, complete with lyric about putting her distressed head on the rail road track – and admire the spectrum she covered. The bluer version seemed to ring more true, but I like how she could put on a happy face if she wanted to. She’s Nina Simone, she can do whatever she likes . It seems now almost subversive.  Like as she was singing this happy song, she was actually planning rebellion or world takeover.

And from that song, I got hooked on others, read her autobiography, had my eyes opened to the breadth and depth of her career and her impact.  The High Priestess of Soul.  Haunted, haunting, undaunted, vulnerable, brilliant, tough, ethereal. She earned the title.

So, as a last ditch effort to commemorate Black History month and as a belated “Happy Birthday”, I present this list of ten reason why I love Nina Simone.

1.   She owned whatever she played.   Nina’s musical catalog is filled with covers of  original songs, jazz , showtunes, pop songs –  you name it. But with her distinctive arrangements, her voice and piano playing and with the weight of her personality behind each song-  each is uniquely and unmistakably “by Nina Simone”.  She leaves a distinct mark on anything she performs.

2.   I love what I don’t even love.  There are plenty of Simone songs I don’ exactly love. But  they are so her that I still find them compelling. They seem all connected to her larger body of work and her forceful, confident (and then some) musical genius.  There don’t seem to be any B-side throwaways. There’s something quirky (for lack of a better word) in everything she does.

3.  She was uncompromising   Nina Simone was a much loved artist – still is, obviously. But she was also somewhat feared. She would chastise her band in a live set (check out “I Shall Be Released”) , she would stop playing if the audience was being loud. She was a diva and a genius, and the two seemed to feed into each other. Her forcefulness let her stick to what her genius knew was the right way to play, and her genius made her so good who was going to tell her no?  This toughness holds true for her life offstage, too. Fed up with American racism, she became an ex-patriot so she could live with the dignity she knew she deserved.

4.  Her original works.   Admittedly I don’t spend a lot of time listening to “Young, Gifted and Black”  or “Mississippi Goddamn”  – but these are works encompassing not only the composer Simone’s talents, but also, moments in history. And they tie into her role as a civil rights advocate and person of unrelenting insistence on being treated with respect. You don’t get that in music a lot these days.

5. Her piano playing.   Nina Simone was a child prodigy in music. She dreamt of being a classical pianist. But things happened and put her on a different course. The classical training, though, is very evident in a lot of her songs. I point you in the direction of  “Love Me Or Leave Me” , for one.   I can’t really think of Nina Simone as just a vocalist.  Her music, to me, is so tied to her piano playing.  It’s like an extension of her.

6.  Her Voice    You hear Nina Simone for the first time, and you wonder “Who was that?”.  Soulful, yes. Bluesy, yes?  But a comparison between her and, say, Aretha Franklin or Ella Fitzgerald is moot– other than she, too,    has a one-of-a-kind voice.  Simone works her wonders with a distinct vibrato, a gravelly tone, amazing expressiveness, and versatility. She isn’t a power-belter, but she gets power across whenever she wants to – along with a hundred other things.

7.  She defies categorizing   The title High Priestess of Soul seems to work for Nina Simone, because she has that other worldliness about her. But it isn’t accurate to call her a soul singer, a jazz singer, a r&b singer, a pop singer, a caberet singer.  She is all of those, and probably then some.  Nina Simone didn’t seem to ever find a song she couldn’t tackle. Are all of them hits or even that pleasing to the ear?  No. But there are few genres where you can’t find something she did and did well.

Some favorite Nina Simone songs:  “Love Me Or Leave Me”,  “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”,  “Like A Woman”, “Trouble In Mind”  (several versions),  “My Baby Just Cares For Me”,  “My Way”,  “I Shall Be Released”,  “Work Song”; “Children, Go Where I Send You”,  “Forbidden Fruit,” “Strange Fruit,” “Ooh, Child”, “Little Girl Blue”…..

More Simone favorites.






So,  it is 2013.  I find it’s tragedy that inspires me to come here and put up the first entry.

Hadiya Pendleton was murdered  in the last week of the first month of the new year by a man with a gun in the city of Chicago.  She died in a park that Google Maps tells me is less than 35 minutes from the town where my sister and her family live.  Hadiya was three years older than my niece.

Hadiya’s death made national headlines because earlier in January, the high school drum majorette  had been on top of the world, appearing in front of the most powerful man on earth as part of the inaugural parade. And now, she’s gone just like that, for good. Forever.

For nothing.

A lot of questions get asked in when we hear about a tragedy like this.  We ask “Who is to blame?”

And the answers come: criminals with guns, people who facilitate criminals’ getting those guns, parents of those kids who use guns, the insane, the misguided, the evil, the individual, society, gun makers, gun lobbyists, guns….There’s no shortage of answers to the question of “Who is to blame?”

And then the question comes:  “When will this carnage stop? When will we say enough?”   And then, the related question follows: “How do we stop this?”.  And then, we get the well-worn answers: more guns, less guns, different guns, different bullets, interventions, regulations. There is no shortage of answers to the question “How do we stop this?”


I think, though, as the death count rises in this brand new year, as the gun debate rages, as laws are drafted as stories like this  infuriating tragedy of Hayida Pendleton get told and re-told and told again with different names and ages and places, the question must change.

It’s not “Who is to blame?” ….It’s not “When will this carnage stop?” ….It’s a recombination of these questions.

WHO is going to stop this carnage?

And the answer comes, I think, when every person —every person from ever strata of society, who says she or he wants to stop the senseless violence and the murders and the mourning— every one of us looks in the mirror and answers “Who is going to stop this carnage?” with “I am.”

Not everyone knows how to be part of a national solution to violence, but anyone with a mouth or an email account can ask a question of someone who DOES know. Anyone can get informed and let herself  be put to work. It’s time to get informed. It’s time to get involved. It’s time to get to work.

Because this has to stop. This just plain has to stop.

I am dedicating the focus of my blogging exploration in 2013 to this endeavor: to asking questions, to getting involved, to learning, to working,  to straying from my comfort zone, and to answering  “Who is going to stop this?’  with “I am.”

Because I am horrified. I am ashamed. I am angry. And I want that to start  counting  for something.

And because that girl didn’t deserve to die with her whole life in front of her.

Feel free this year  to be a guide, a companion, or a little of each.  “I am” is always better when it leads to “We are.””

Thanks for reading,



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