Think Before You Say “Yes”

Last August I talked about the Cost of War and how taking it into consideration beforehand improves our understanding and choices. In this post I would like to show how those deliberations help in our day to day decisions as well.

When someone asks you to do something — anything — think before you say, “Yes”. As adults our primary responsibility is to take care of ourselves first. That involves providing the basic inputs required to survive. It also includes fulfilling any commitments and obligations that we have taken on including the tasks involved in every day living. Either we perform the required tasks ourselves, provide goods and services to others in exchange for the ones they provide us, or earn the income necessary to purchase them.

Regardless of how we get those goods and services, what we use up is our own time, energy, resources and funds. Let’s call it our TERF. Since there are only twenty four hours in a day, the amount of TERF each of us has available is limited. Survival requires that certain things be done first including making sure we have enough of the basic inputs — clean air, fresh water, food, rest, clothing and shelter. Providing for them is our primary priority. That always requires a certain amount of our TERF. Another priority is allocating the TERF required to fulfill any commitments and obligations we have taken on. They include those involving our spouses or partners, having and raising children, taking care of sick or aging parents, friends or animals, etc. Here again, each of them requires more of our limited TERF.

Continue reading “Think Before You Say “Yes””

Advertisements

Baskets? Yes, Baskets!

virgin_islands_national_park__virgin_islands_usSomething happened recently that I’d like to share with you. I’ve decided to change tacks and follow my heart and my gut. Together, Erin Coyle and I have been trying to help others understand the broken health-care system and how to work their way around and through the intricacies of it.  We’ve enjoyed doing it and have even gotten some favorable responses. From time-to-time some of the ideas have shown up as blog posts or as topics on my website: www.imperfecthealthcaremarket.com.

Early in November, I got a call from the St. John Historical Society. They were planning a meeting in December honoring St. John baskets, and they asked me to come down to talk about them. The Virgin Islands, volcanic in origin, rose out of the ocean like mountaintops cropping out of the sea. The two larger ones are St. Thomas and St. Croix. The smallest — St. John — is where I lived for eighteen years. When I first moved there in 1987, I studied St. John basketry. Through basketry, I met Mr. Herman Prince, St. John’s premier basketmaker and basketry teacher. When I told Mr. Prince that I wanted to write an article on St. John baskets, he said, “Before you write an article about baskets and basketry, you

Mr. Herman Prince. St John's premier basketmaker and teacher.
Mr. Herman Prince. St John’s premier basketmaker and teacher. (Picture courtesy of the St. John Historical Society.)

should learn how to make one.” So I took his course at Hawksnest. Not only did I learn how to make a basket, I also learned much about the culture. In 1990, I published a basketry article, entitled, “Basketmaking on the Island of St. John,” in The Clarion, the magazine of The Museum of American Folk Art. My interest in basketry didn’t end there; during my 18 years on St. John, I collected more than 25 baskets, many made by preeminent St. John basketmakers.

The phone call from the St. John Historical Society got me thinking. Sometime in late November, I pulled the collection of baskets out of the attic, looked them over, and realized how special and beautiful they are. Five of Mr. Prince’s baskets arein my collection, as well as others from St. John basketmakers such as Louise Sewer; her daughter, Lorrel; Victor Sewer; Felicia Martin; and Ina George. I also own a basket made by renowned basketmaker Jackie Abrams, who visited St. John in 1993-94.

Looking over my baskets, I thought, “Wow – some of these baskets really are fine art.”

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum had just launched a basketry exhibit: “A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets” on display from October 4, 2013 to December 8, 2013. Looking over the catalog, I realized that one of the 63 baskets in the exhibit was made by my old friend and teacher, Herman Prince! His “St. John Market Basket” was in the exhibit and is now part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection; you can see it on the exhibit’s website and on page 144 of the show catalog. One of Jackie Abrams’ baskets was also in the exhibit as part of the Cole-Ware Collection.

I began to really think about my time on St. John, especially the time I spent with the basketmakers. Many basketmakers that I knew, including Mr. Prince, have already died. I quickly realized that if I don’t tell the stories about them, valuable information about the basketmakers and the baskets will be lost, forever.

Preserving the collection – and the stories that go with it – is important not only so people can learn about St. Johnian basketry and its relationship to the culture; it can even preserve and pass on the art of basketry itself. One of the baskets in

Mr. Herman Prince's, St. John Market Basket.
Mr. Herman Prince’s, St. John Market Basket.

the collection is a miniature St. John basket with a cover, made by Ms. Lorrel Sewer. She learned basketmaking – the form called wist work – from her mother, a premier basketmaker in her own right. Ms. Lorrel gave me the basket for the collection in 2000. A number of years later, I got a call from her asking if I would be willing to send it back to her. She wanted to make another one, but she had forgotten how to make the cover.

Ms. Lorrel had lost that skill, and there were no other basketmakers alive to teach her. Because I had preserved the basket by keeping it as part of the collection, she was able to re-learn how to make a basket cover by studying her own work!

So what I’ve decided to do is to make a video that documents my collection of baskets. It will bring the baskets and their history to light and to life. It will honor the basketmakers who came from the small, isolated island community of St. John. I want to help tell the story of how they raised the level of the baskets they produced to museum-quality fine art. I want to make sure that the stories, memories, and culture of these beautiful people will not be lost! I plan to donate the video and  all of the baskets in the collection to the St. John Historical Society. I want to honor the makers and help preserve their stories and culture for future generations of historians, visitors and viewers.

In short, I have decided to follow my true passion. For now, the other important things we have to offer will just have to wait.

Should I Enter a Clinical Trial–Part Three

An Example of What Happened

We would like to provide a concrete example about the consequences of participating in a clinical trial. It is based on Amanda Bennett’s The Cost of Hope. She is a fine journalist and currently Executive Editor of Projects and Investigations at Bloomberg News. The book documents her husband, Terence Foley’s, seven year bout with kidney cancer. Initially, Foley was diagnosed with an atypical and aggressive form — collecting duct kidney cancer. It was spotted in December 2000 during the operation to remove his intestines to treat his ulcerative colitis. There were only 50 known cases of it worldwide at the time. This alone makes questionable whether his participation in the clinical trial contributes to our understanding of the potential benefits for future patients. In January 2001 when it was diagnosed, the prognosis was that he had a few months to live. [Bennett, p. 66] He died of it seven years later in December 2007. Continue reading “Should I Enter a Clinical Trial–Part Three”

Aging

george-booth-i-would-embrace-the-aging-process-if-i-could-lift-my-arms-new-yorker-cartoonMy Mom, when she was 80, said to me, “Bernie, I wish I was 20 and knew then what I know now.” My response was, “Mom, That’s a contradiction in terms.” Perhaps by sharing my experiences and what I have learned from the time I was 20 until now can help others. Just to prove I’m keeping up with the technology, from time to time I post my experiences on this blog. Trust me, when I was growing up we didn’t have blogs! In the following series of posts on aging, I’ll tell you about some of the issues I’ve faced and how I’ve dealt with them. My hope is that this series will help you, no matter what your age, to understand some of the challenges older folks, like me, have.

Aging is isolating. It’s harder to get around. Friends die off or disappear. Your energy level ain’t what it used to be. You can’t do what you used to. Much of the new technology leaves you behind. Even though I use a computer and even have a blog, I never learned to text or twitter. I-Phones with their Apps are too difficult to deal with, even if I could afford one on my limited budget. People don’t talk to one another now, not the way we used to. Instead of picking up the phone they e-mail or text, and I don’t use a cell phone except for emergencies. Moreover, younger people have their own lives and appropriately, their own agenda. Continue reading “Aging”

The House I Grew up in

bernie's houseAbout a month ago Grace Camblos, a biographer, photographer, and author, invited me to participate in a four week memoir writing class.  One of the “prompts” she gave to us was to write about, “The house I grew up in.”

I remember it well. The address was 144-15 33rd Ave., Flushing, Long Island, NY. We moved there in about 1938. It was a two-story house with a finished attic and basement and was the third of three houses on the block. They were the first of many, built by Abraham Levitt, who went on to develop Levittown on Long Island and in Pennsylvania.

I was 14 in September of 1942 and I just got back from eight weeks at Camp Man, the Queens County summer Boy Scout camp, at Ten Mile River in upstate New York. It was a Monday morning and the High Holidays had just begun.  My grandmother’s room was just next to mine at the head of the stairs. I got dressed and was heading off to school — to Fieldston. As I passed my Mema’s room, her full-time nurse came out and said, “I can’t revive her.” We went into her room and turned her over so she was face down with her head to the side. I climbed on top of her and rhythmically pressed down on her rib cage administering artificial respiration 1940’s style, that I learned how to do as a Boy Scout.There was no resistance, no push back. Her body did not respond to the pressure. I could not revive her. Reality struck. I felt the difference between life and death. I felt it in my hands.

Continue reading “The House I Grew up in”

The Cost of War

We all know that war and any other aggressive action, by its very intent, causes damages and destruction. It is likely to cause death, damage, destruction, injury and disability to the “enemy” — and to ourselves and our own forces as well. Moreover, each action always involves time, energy, resources and funds — all of which could have been used for something else. It is essential to understand and plan for the resources required before taking any action.

Moreover, any action will almost certainly provoke a “retaliatory response” requiring additional resources to react to it. There is an almost instinctive, virtually automatic, retaliatory reaction to any initial aggressive act — meet aggression with aggression. Frequently it leads to an escalation of the conflict. Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. His important post-Vietnam advice was — understand your enemy before engaging in hostilities and taking any action. Add to that the likely collateral damage and the potential for unforeseen and unintended consequences and the additional cost of providing compensation and restitution for any damages and injury caused, certainly to one’s own forces, and perhaps to others as well. All those factors contribute to “The Cost of War.” Be mindful of them. Continue reading “The Cost of War”

The Cabin

Photos by Grace Camblos

The Cabin
The Cabin

My first trip to the South was during spring break in 1942, at age 14. I took the Southern Crescent from Penn Station in New York to Spartanburg, SC. An employee of my father’s picked me up there, and we drove first to Hendersonville, NC, and then another 10 miles west toward Penrose along Kanuga Road. It turned into Crab Creek Road once you got to the top of Jump Off Mountain.

It was a bright and sunny spring day, with the Carolina blue sky above and mountains to the left and to the right. As we negotiated the dirt road along Crab Creek, we finally got to what eventually became Shoals Falls Farm. There was a broad expanse of bottomland to our left that rose into the hillside and the mountain. It was spotted with small houses and shacks. In the distance stood a small wooden barn.

Shoals Creek
Shoals Creek

Just past a largish house on the left — it turned out to be the Patterson’s house — we turned left onto an even narrower dirt road, crossed over one rickety bridge over Crab Creek, another bridge over Shoals Creek, and passed two houses on the left. I later learned that the first and smaller one was called the Little house, and the larger one the Jack Newton house. Along with my Dad, he had just purchased some property there. Just beyond the houses, past the wooden barn on the left, the road took a jog to the left and then the right, right on up the mountain.

A short distance up the road there was another one that cut back to the left. There were two stone pillars, with the gate between them swung open. Passing through the gate, the road dipped down toward Shoals Creek, then fanned out into a parking area that butted up against the creek, with an old-fashioned gasoline pump standing to one side.  The roads were so shrouded in trees that you couldn’t see the sky. Continue reading “The Cabin”