Universe

Tar Baby and the Stickiness of Story Telling

I’ve been re-reading Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, and it is as mysterious to me now as it was 40 years ago. Morrison always makes you work. She prefers metaphor to clarity — why did Son hide in the closet for three days? She is a little disdainful of me — why is she so obviously withholding clues about why Michael won’t visit his parents? Morrison wants you to consider some hard questions, but she isn’t going to answer them for you or to make it easy for you to answer them yourself. For your effort, however, she offers wisdom — not necessarily hers, which is abundant, but your own. I mention all of this because I think I got a little bit of wisdom from Tar Baby.

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Around the World in 80 Heys

Anais Nin

One of the small disappointments in my life is that I’m not the kind of person who gets nicknames, at least not the kind that are said to my face. For a short time, a few people called me “KimTwin,” a reference to an outboard motor. I was 20 and would have preferred a nickname that you would give to Anais Nin, mysterious and bohemian.

Although I am not a nickname kind of person, I’ve been called many things during my travels. Each gave me a little insight about another culture, and provided a small thrill. Here are the ones I remember.

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How to Save a Life

About ten years ago, I made a list of things I wanted to do before I’m not here anymore. Like a bucket list. It included living long enough to hug my grandchildren. It also included “saving a life.” At the time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to save a life since I’m not a medical professional and I’m not very strong. But I now realize that “saving a life” doesn’t require a dramatic gesture to prevent someone’s imminent death. It’s also helping people feel hope, easing their pain, and supporting their path with dignity. This isn’t very hard to do.

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The Truth That Could Set Us Free

To the Man Who Restored my Belief in Humanity, by Yehuda Bacon, 1945

Black Lives Matter demonstrations and conversations call into question America’s commitment to its values. They speak to the continuing oppression of important people in my life, including my son Gabe. So much has been written about this and so expertly, I couldn’t possibly do better.

But I do have a story that seems especially relevant right now.

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Vive La Revolution

The Revolution, Marc Chagall, 1937.

Happy Bastille Day 🙂 a reminder of the 1789 rebellion staged at the infamous prison, which entered in the French Revolution and ended the French monarchy. France’s path to freedom from tyranny wasn’t easy — the guillotine, the Reign of Terror, Napoleon, financial collapse — but the French eventually got democracy, and now we can celebrate with mussels meuniere and tarte tatin.

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Getting Off the Merry-Go-Round So to Speak

In 1993, when I was working at a California state agency on a controversial project, every team meeting featured two agency managers suggesting, often, that we should be “getting off the merry-go-round.” It took me awhile to realize the purpose of the merry-go-round metaphor was to sabotage an open discussion of a proposed analytical approach. Whether or not others figured it out, the metaphor had its intended effect. The deciders decided we should be “moving forward.”

Language is powerful and most people naturally deploy short cuts to describe complicated ideas. We process so much information that we often rely on these short cuts to give our brains a break. There are a lot of language short-cuts out there right now and most of them deserve a little scrutiny…

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