What’s in a name?

Many societies privilege particular ways of referring to individuals and share unspoken laws about which terms are proper for referring to men, women, and children as well as specific members of one’s own family. I came across an article today that addresses how women’s names are NOT spoken in Afghanistan, a practice  stemming from a tribal tradition that doing so exposes a wife or mother to visibility by other men. The same underlying logic influences conventions for dress. A body exposed, like a name revealed, dishonors a woman–but perhaps more importantly, the man/men to whom she belongs.

I’m of two minds on the perspective presented in Mashal’s article. On one hand, I would be appalled to be called “My Goat” or “The Household” rather than by my given name, “Cynthia.” I like to think that people who speak or see my name recognize the things I have accomplished and the person I have striven to become through my beliefs and actions.

On the other hand, I acknowledge the ethical barriers to intervening in the practices of another culture, of assuming that our Western perspective and attitudes are the best and should be the lens through which we judge others.  For example, I have taught many women over the years who cover their heads with a hijab and just about every inch of their bodies, few of whom I would describe as oppressed or diminished by the practice.


25 Things to do on Sunday

While perusing headlines on my phone this morning, I came across a story called “25 things to do on Sunday to lose weight all week”:


Given the amount of food and wine I’ve been shoveling in of late to address the stress of caring for my ailing parents and spending so much time away from my husband and daughters, I thought the article might be instructive. The idea behind the piece is a good one. Rather than waiting until Monday morning to get a fresh start, it’s wise to lay the groundwork on Sunday.

Many of the tips offered, not specifically those that are food-related, are applicable to other weekly goals. Like writing.

Since I came to Illinois on April 24, my work schedule has been anything but productive. Two to three days a week, Dad and I sit in the infusion room for eight hours at St. Mary’s in Decatur or in one or another doctor’s office. Back at my parents’ house, most of my time is spent tending to Dad’s needs and the business of running a farm or making trips to the nursing home to see Mom. Many days, I turn on my laptop for the first time no earlier than 8 or 9 p.m. and find myself drifting off by midnight. Simply put, it’s hard to get any of the numerous tasks that I have on my plate done.

So, today, being a Sunday, I’m adopting some of the tips in the article–a few related to food and exercise (equally important for making the most of the week) and some that could just as well be about getting things done in the realm of work all week long.

In the week to come, I’ve made dates with myself to

  • compose an additional chapter for part II of my book-in-progress . . . while parts I and III are well underway, the second section focusing on my life growing up here in Illinois has been more difficult to put into words
  • finish and send article pitches to two editors
  • provide feedback on incoming student work

I’ll also stick to my plan to run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, and complete the grocery shopping to make healthy meals to keep Dad and me well-fueled for the week.

Sundays have always been a day for reflection and rest. I’m thinking they could also be a day for planning and looking forward to a productive, happy week. Wherever I happen to be.


Innocence for some

The op-ed “Let Black Kids Just be Kids” appearing in today’s New York Times addresses the racialized notions of innocence and corruption and children that have dominated American culture since the mid-19th century:

According to the author, White children have been associated with purity and innocence whereas Black children are portrayed as more sexualized, violent, and adult-like. One result, according to Robin Bernstein, is that the appearance and behaviors of Black children are judged through a harsher lens in our society. That’s one of the reasons why a Black child wearing a hoodie is perceived as dangerous, while a White child in the same attire might not attract much attention at all.

Bernstein’s essay is solid and provides ample historical context to prove her point. I also think that (too) many African American children, like the little girls who regularly congregate in Edwina’s apartment, have a look of weariness and distrust in their eyes. They have felt racism, both direct and indirect, in their short life. Survivorship in such a setting requires donning an extra layer of guardedness.


Corpse Hotels

I admit to leaning towards the morose in my interests. Since traveling to the Netherlands and learning about a rising trend towards sustainable funerals there (and elsewhere around the globe, I discovered), I have become increasingly intrigued with modern accommodations for the deceased–and the living who remain behind. In today’s NYT, I came across a story about an innovative practice in Japan–in Tokyo, specifically–for addressing the needs of small families who have lost a loved one: corpse hotels.

Since crematories are too few to accommodate the needs of an aging Japanese population and traditional funeral homes often offer too expensive and elaborate services for a small family facing the death of a loved one, some unique hotels have sprouted up to fill the gap. According to the article (and accompanying video clip), Japanese tradition dictates a night-long wake in the deceased’s family home followed by cremation in a nearby facility on the following day. But with space in Tokyo at a premium, forcing families into smaller high rise condos and apartments less welcoming of corpses, and overbooked crematories requiring waits of a week or more in some instances, an alternative intermediate resting place for the deceased and family members has become necessary.

These spaces provide “rest” of two kinds–for the deceased awaiting cremation and for family members seeking a comfortable environment for paying last respects and remaining with the departed until final rites can be performed.

While this business venture is certainly market-driven and provides an opportunity for profit among those behind corpse hotels, I think that the services provided are likely appreciated by the families who utilize them.

Father’s Day(s)

Today is Father’s Day, and my dad is back in the hospital. I brought him to the ER yesterday morning when his ankles began swelling beyond recognition and his mind became more confused. At the moment, he’s sitting in a hospital bed on the sixth floor, Cardiology, undergoing an infusion that will be repeated every 4-5 days for as long as there’s some benefit, however minute.

I’m crazy about Dad, always have been. He’s got grit. As I’ve written before, Dad knows what he believes in and stands by it. He is a good man, a hardworking farmer, a devout Catholic. He has always acted on his convictions and refused to “go along with the crowd” if their mindset doesn’t gel with those convictions. I have nothing but respect for Dad.

During the past eight weeks, Dad has faced a new challenge: Congestive Heart Failure. His time on earth, and in my life, is coming to a close. I have spent every day with Dad these 55 days, sharing meals, watching Westerns on television, enjoying long chats about his past and the future without him here to counsel me on caring for Mom and managing the farm.

On this Father’s Day, I am reminded that I am extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to call this man my dad. I wish we had many, many more Father’s Days ahead of us.


Stolen Beauty

One of the highlights of my time in the Netherlands was the magnificent artwork. On our free days, the students who participated in the Study Away Program taking some time to explore the country on their own, my colleague from UAB and I often traveled to one or another art gallery. We saw mesmerizing works including “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in The Hague and “Starry Night” in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is home to many, many famous artists–Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Gogh, and Brugghen among them.

A story in today’s New York Times explores a very dark moment in Holland’s history generally and in the art world specifically. During World War II, numerous paintings by the Dutch Masters were stolen by the Nazis and, as the article posted here reports, are being returned by Holland’s authorities to their rightful owners in an untimely manner:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/arts/design/are-the-dutch-lagging-in-efforts-to-return-art-looted-by-the-nazis.html?_r=0

I hope that I will be able to return someday to the Netherlands to revisit the great works of art I saw on my visit in 2015. Perhaps some memorable pieces will have been relocated.

On a related note, a film called Woman in Gold featuring Helen Mirren as a Jewish Holocaust survivor seeking her family’s art that had been taken by the Nazis is supposedly a compelling portrayal of the beauty and riches stolen from Jews during the war. I’ve not seen it yet but just might after reading the story in the NYT.