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John Roosevelt Boettiger
Mill Valley, CA, Seattle, WA, Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Amherst, MA, Hyde Park, NY, New York City (Manhattan), Dedham, MA, Vikersund, Norway, Paris, France, Sebastopol, CA, Berkeley, CA
Author, writer, editor, psychologist, father, grandfather, great-grandfather
Interests: Writing, reading, conversation, hiking, walking, bicycling, asking and responding to intriguing questions, metta, silence, prayer, meditation, justice (social, economic, judicial, political, familial, personal), the wily craft of coyote politics, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, family trees, redwood trees and live oaks, marsh land, hillsides, mountains, geese in flight, birds of a feather
Recent Activity
It has been a few months since I have done a systematic review of readers' comments. I'm grateful for yours. As you must know, it is a great pleasure to bear some responsibility for giving joy to another. John
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Tomorrow, October 11, is Eleanor Roosevelt's birthday. We grandchildren called her Grandmère. She learned to speak French before she learned English. Born in 1884, she died on November 7, 1962, at the age of 78. A few days or so before she died she told me she was ready, even impatient, to go: no more usefulness, no more pills. She had a lifetime full of meaning. I hope she knew that at the end. She was a model for her children and grandchildren, despite her own upbringing and therefore her expectations as a young mother. She and PaPa (FDR) had a daughter (Anna, my mother - with her mother, one of a long line of Anna Eleanors) and four boys (James, Elliott, Franklin Jr, and John). I wish her children, especially the boys, had been more prepared to recognize her values and practice in their own lives. Hardly her fault,* and only in some measure theirs. Growing up as a Roosevelt was both privileged and difficult, as those of us in the following generation know, and I hope have forgiven their parents, as we must if we are truly to become grown-ups. At the time of her death and long... Continue reading
I am participating for 8 weeks in the Whole Life Challenge (https://game.wholelifechallenge.com), changing habits in seven realms: Nutrition Exercise Mobilize Sleep Hydrate Reflect Most of these are more or less self-explanatory. All of them deserve at least a few words. Nutrition essentially involves eating only nutritious, healthy foods in moderate quantities, cutting out sweets, bread, jellies and jams, soy, rice, pasta, beans and legumes, peanuts, industrial vegetable and seed and hydrogenated oils, cereals, alcohol. Mobilize refers to "completing any kind of stretching or mobilizing of your muscles or joints each day." Hydrate, for me, is drinking 76 oz of water a day. Reflect means "writing at least briefly about how the day went." That experience becomes more and more meaningful as the project continues. Sleep is reliably getting 8 hours. Exercise is being active for part of each day. I add Meditation at least twice weekly, preferably more. An essential component is participating in a team, a group of others who are engaged in the same Challenge, to offer each other support, and buck up our senses of humor, which can feel tested or flayed from time to time. The spirit of the enterprise is illustrated by a remark of... Continue reading
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My granddaughter Sophie and a friend. Continue reading
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UPDATE, Thursday, September 28: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, breaking down during one TV interview, says people on the island are in a “life and death” struggle." More than a million people lack drinking water and most of the island is without power. “I know that leaders aren’t supposed to cry and especially not on TV, but we are having a humanitarian crisis," Yulín Cruz told WUSA-TV. “It’s life or death, every moment we spend planning in a meeting or every moment we spend just not getting the help we’re supposed to get — people are starting to die.” ___________________ My friend Gail Reed lives in Cuba. She writes today: "Cuba has just offered 4 'light brigades' to Puerto Rico to get electricity back. Trump: LET THEM IN!!" Also: https://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson-sorkin/the-distance-between-donald-trump-and-puerto-rico. New York Times: "At Centro Medico in San Juan, the main hospital on the island, power went out again Tuesday, forcing staff to switch to generators that have to be constantly refueled, said Jorge Matta González, the hospital’s executive director of medical services. "The emergency room, busy under the best of times, is a jumble of patients, doctors and nurses all scrambling to treat 164 patients a day. Only... Continue reading
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John F. Kennedy / Elaine de Kooning / Oil on canvas, 1963 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / © 1963 Elaine de Kooning Trust Elaine de Kooning wrote in retrospect: “Painting a Portrait of the President” By Elaine de Kooning In the winter of 1962–63, the artist traveled to Palm Beach to execute a portrait commission of President Kennedy, destined for the Truman Library, Independence, Mo. Challenged, Elaine de Kooning Presented herself in the task, producing a whole series of studies (six of which are reproduced on this page) and finished paintings (one of which is on the cover of this issue; three others are on view in the Massachusetts Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair.) President Kennedy was off in the distance, about twenty yards away, talking to reporters, when I first saw him—and for one second, I didn’t recognize him. He was incandescent, golden. And bigger than life. Not that he was taller than the men standing around; he just seemed to be in a different dimension. Also not revealed by the newspaper image were his incredible eyes with large violet irises half veiled by the jutting bone beneath the eyebrows. One of the reasons I... Continue reading
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Maria Popova writes, There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing,” Maya Angelou wrote in contemplating courage in the face of evil. In the decades since, cynicism has become a cultural currency as deadly as blood diamonds, as vacant of integrity and long-term payoff as Enron. Over the years, I have written about, spoken about, and even given a commencement address about the perilous laziness of cynicism and the ever-swelling urgency of not only resisting it but actively fighting it — defiance which Leonard Bernstein considered an essential countercultural act of courage. Today, as our social and political realities swirl into barely bearable maelstroms of complexity, making a retreat into self-protective cynicism increasingly tempting, such courage is all the harder and all the more heroic. That’s what English writer Caitlin Moran examines in a stirring passage from How to Build a Girl (public library) — a novel that quenches questions springing from the same source as her insightful memoir-of-sorts How To Be a Woman: "When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions... Continue reading
Seems like a good time to read again and reflect upon this poem of Marge Piercy. The birthday of the world On the birthday of the world I begin to contemplate what I have done and left undone, but this year not so much rebuilding of my perennially damaged psyche, shoring up eroding friendships, digging out stumps of old resentments that refuse to rot on their own. No, this year I want to call myself to task for what I have done and not done for peace. How much have I dared in opposition? How much have I put on the line for freedom? For mine and others? As these freedoms are pared, sliced and diced, where have I spoken out? Who have I tried to move? In this holy season, I stand self-convicted of sloth in a time when lies choke the mind and rhetoric bends reason to slithering choking pythons. Here I stand before the gates opening, the fire dazzling my eyes, and as I approach what judges me, I judge myself. Give me weapons of minute destruction. Let my words turn into sparks. Continue reading
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Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/15/duty-warn-and-dangerous-case-donald-trump) indicated a few days ago, There will not be a book published this fall more urgent, important, or controversial than The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, the work of 27 psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts to assess President Trump’s mental health. They had come together last March at a conference at Yale University to wrestle with two questions. One was on countless minds across the country: “What’s wrong with him?” The second was directed to their own code of ethics: “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn” if they conclude the president to be dangerously unfit for office? As mental health professionals, these men and women respect the long-standing “Goldwater rule” which inhibits them from diagnosing public figures whom they have not personally examined. At the same time, as explained by Dr. Bandy X Lee, who teaches law and psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, the rule does not have a countervailing rule that directs what to do when the risk of harm from remaining silent outweighs the damage that could result from speaking about a public figure — “which in this case, could even be the greatest possible harm.” It is an old and... Continue reading
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The Forgotten Victims of Agent Orange VIET THANH NGUYEN AND RICHARD HUGHES New York Times, September 15, 2017 Phan Thanh Hung Duc, 20, lies immobile and silent, his midsection covered haphazardly by a white shirt with an ornate Cambodian temple design. His mouth is agape and his chest thrusts upward, his hands and feet locked in gnarled deformity. He appears to be frozen in agony. He is one of the thousands of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. Pham Thi Phuong Khanh, 21, is another such patient. She quietly pulls a towel over her face as a visitor to the Peace Village ward in Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, starts to take a picture of her enlarged, hydrocephalic head. Like Mr. Hung Duc, Ms. Khanh is believed to be a victim of Operation Ranch Hand, the United States military’s effort during the Vietnam War to deprive the enemy of cover and food by spraying defoliants. Perhaps Ms. Khanh does not want strangers to stare at her. Perhaps she feels ashamed. But if she does feel shame, why is it that those who should do not? The history of Agent Orange and its effects on the Vietnamese people, as... Continue reading
Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility Only in a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present. Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened Into the rose-garden. My words echo Thus, in your mind. But to what purpose Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves I do not know. Other echoes Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow? Quick, said the bird, find them, find them, Round the corner. Through the first gate, Into our first world, shall we follow The deception of the thrush? Into our first world. There they were, dignified, invisible, Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves, In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air, And the bird called, in response to The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery, And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses Had the look of flowers that are looked at. There they were... Continue reading
Quotation of the day “There’s a massive amount of carbon that’s in the ground, that’s built up slowly over thousands and thousands of years. It’s been in a freezer, and that freezer is now turning into a refrigerator.” — Max Holmes, deputy director of the Woods Hole Research Center, on the thawing permafrost in Alaska. Back Story We often go back in history for our back stories, but today we’re going way back. Mount Vesuvius erupted on this day in 79 A.D., burying the Roman town of Pompeii under a heap of ash, rocks and pumice. Casts of victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii, Italy. Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times Most of what we know of the event we owe to Pliny the Younger, who described it in a letter to the Roman historian Tacitus. According to the account, in the early afternoon that day, Pliny’s mother told his uncle, Pliny the Elder, that “a cloud which appeared of a very unusual size and shape” was approaching. “I cannot give you a more exact description,” Pliny the Younger wrote of the cloud, “than by likening it to that of a pine tree, for it shot... Continue reading
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Total Eclipse by Annie Dillard reprinted from The Atlantic, August 8, 2017 “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.” Click photo to enlarge Ever since it was first published in 1982, readers—including this one—have thrilled to “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard’s masterpiece of literary nonfiction, which describes her personal experience of a solar eclipse in Washington State. It first appeared in Dillard’s landmark collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and was recently republished in The Abundance, a new anthology of her work. -Ross Andersen It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering. We had crossed the mountains that day, and now we were in a strange place—a hotel in central Washington, in a town near Yakima. The eclipse we had traveled here to see would occur early in the next morning. I lay in bed. My husband, Gary, was reading beside me. I lay... Continue reading
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Download Touch the Hand of Love Touch the Hand of Love Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma Touch the hand of love. Let it calm your troubled mind and caress your tender sorrow. Know the hand of love as you walk that weary road, as you travel your tomorrows alone. You may have to wander far over thorns that bleed and scar you, and those rocky mountains you must climb will try to blind you. Touch the hand of love. Let it calm your troubled mind and caress your tender sorrow. Know the hand of love as you walk that weary road, as you travel your tomorrows alone. You may have to wander far over thorns that bleed and scar you, and those rocky mountains you must climb will try to blind you. Touch the hand of love as you walk that weary road. Let it hold your tender sorrows as you travel your tomorrows alone. Continue reading
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Sam Shepard was 73 when he died last month at his home in Kentucky of the unforgiving disease known as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Playwright, actor, author, screenwriter, director, and far from least, gifted friend and companion, Shepard wrote 44 plays over a more than half-century career. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in the film The Right Stuff (1983). His plays garnered more Obie awards for off-Broadway productions than those of any other writer or director. In my imagination, I think Shepard and I might once have been neighbors, when he was riding horseback and writing on the 20-acre Flying Y Ranch north of San Francisco. Patti Smith wrote "My Buddy" about her friend Sam Shepard: postscript to a life fully lived. It was published in The New Yorker earlier this month. He would call me late in the night from somewhere on the road, a ghost town in Texas, a rest stop near Pittsburgh, or from Santa Fe, where he was parked in the desert, listening to the coyotes howling. But most... Continue reading
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I want to offer readers of Reckonings a sense of a fairly short essay entitled "What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can't," by Adam Gopnik, which appeared in the August 7 & 14, 2017 issue of The New Yorker. I've long admired Gopnik's intelligence, the diversity of his experience and clarity of his writing, and his sense of humor. I only learned today that he is "a part-time meditator." (I quail thinking of what a full-time meditator might be.) He follows, in his own description, "guided meditations recorded by Joseph Goldstein, a seventysomething Vipassana teacher who has the calming, grumpy voice of an emeritus professor at City College, though my legs are much too stiff for the lotus position and I have to fake it, making mine in every sense a half-assed practice.") Gopnik is also reviewing two recent books on Buddhism, Robert Wright's Why Buddhism Is True (2017) and Stephen Batchelor’s After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age (2015). While he thus discusses Buddhism more generally, and in its American incarnation, he is primarily interested in its practice. He spends little time discussing the Buddha's own life, but that time is well spent: "... Continue reading
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Two topics that have been central in the pages of Reckonings, almost bookends sustaining its diverse realms of inquiry and reflection. Emily Dickinson's poetry has been as close to me over the years as the work of any other author, grounded in the personal history for which I've been grateful: the most productive years of my vocation, my teaching and learning in Amherst, Massachusetts, her home. Over the years, walking along Main Street, I returned often to that home, to the room in which she wrote. These two Dickinson poems were the subject of a recent discussion in a seminar on spirituality here at The Redwoods. We were exploring the development of our own religious experience, how it was nourished or neglected, and shaped our paths in life. Some keep the Sabbath going to Church − I keep it, staying at Home − With a Bobolink for a Chorister − And an Orchard for a Dome − Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice − I, just wear my Wings − And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton − sings. God preaches, a noted Clergyman − And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to... Continue reading
How to Meditate: An Animated Guide [Editor's note: From my brilliant and wonderfully imaginative fellow blogger Maria Popova, on Brain Pickings] In his poem about how to meditate, penned decades before neuroscience as we know it, Jack Kerouac described meditation as the way to pump the brain’s “good glad fluid.” Half a century later, neuroscientist Sam Harris made an eloquent case for how meditation stretches our capacity for everyday self-transcendence. But meditation is somewhat like poetry — a lamentable number of many people hold a stubborn resistance to it, a resistance that “has the qualities of fear,”borne out of a certain impatience with learning a new mode of being that doesn’t come easily but, when it comes, brings tremendous and transcendent satisfaction. This lovely primer by journalist Dan Harris in collaboration with Happify, animated by Katy Davis — who previously animated Brené Brown’s wisdom on vulnerability, human connection, and the difference between empathy and sympathy — explores how to overcome that self-defeating resistance and reap the enormous, far-reaching benefits of meditation: Harris examines the more granular aspects of meditation and self-reflection in his book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge,... Continue reading
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Christian Wiman is a poet and former editor of Poetry magazine. He was born in what he described as “a flat little sandblasted town in West Texas: pump jacks and pickup trucks, . . . a dying strip, a lively dump, and above it all a huge blue and boundless void that I never really noticed until I left, when it began to expand alarmingly inside of me... People were tough as old mesquite trees, and just as vulnerable to the spiritual elements—bare, forked creatures before a quite palpable and demanding God. I admire that intensity now, and miss it. Of course there were also plenty of self-righteous zealots and fire-eyed maniacs, who also seem to thrive in waste places. Them I don’t miss so much." For years he traveled the world – from Guatemala to the Czech Republic – devoting himself to the craft of poetry. He has published several books of poetry, translated the poetry of Osip Mandelstam, and written an eloquent and widely admired collection of reflections on the relation of poetry and religious faith, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2013). The novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, author of the novels... Continue reading
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Camille Seaman I've only begun to explore Camille Seaman's photographs. I am dumbfounded by their beauty and moved by the way she describes her mission: "The thread that ties all my photographic projects together is my desire to create images that articulate that humans are not separate from nature and that everything is interconnected, inter-related." Listening (to her TED talks) and seeing her photographs, I was reminded of a suggestion given me a few days ago by a friend: read Paul Kingsnorth's essay "The Axis and the Sycamore" in the January-February issue of Orion Magazine. A comment about Kingsnorth's essay by an Australian geoscientist, Glenn Albrecht, led me to Albrecht's blog, in which he explores an imagined eventual transition from the current Anthropocene to what he would call the Symbiocene: "The concept is derived from the term ‘symbiosis’ which itself is derived from the Greek sumbiosis (companionship), sumbion (to live together) sumbios (living together) and, of course, bios (life). The scientific meaning of symbiosis implies living together for mutual benefit. As a core aspect of ecological and evolutionary thinking symbiosis affirms the interconnectedness of life within the variety [of] all living things. I wish to use this profoundly important concept... Continue reading
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Why on earth did it take me so many years to discover John O'Donohue? For a rich perspective on his life and work, see www.johnodonohue.com. Many of the selections below are taken from that source. He was a remarkable man, "born in 1956, into a native Gaelic speaking family, on the farm inhabited by previous generations in the Burren Region of County Clare, Ireland. As the oldest of four children, he learned to work alongside his parents and uncle, developing a close kinship with the wild landscape, framed by an ethereal view of a limestone valley and the beckoning waters of Galway Bay. This valley was the shell of John's soul, forging a deep and powerful connection with the elements shaping him. He was educated at the local primary school, alternating his studies with the farm chores of tending livestock, raising crops and carving peat for fuel, in his youth. John later described the profound influence of his childhood home as, "A huge wild invitation to extend your imagination…an ancient conversation between the land and sea." "My earliest memories are of the landscape of The Burren in the west of Ireland. The Burren is an ancient kingdom of limestone sculptures... Continue reading
About 25 years ago, in his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore suggested that the greatest malady of our time was neither heart disease nor cancer, but loss of soul: loss of wisdom about it, loss of interest in it. “When soul is neglected,” he wrote, “it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning.” While Moore warned against efforts at precise definition, he associates the word soul with depth and authenticity in our lives. As such, the expression of soul is present in our ordinary daily rounds−our work, love and play−as well as in rare moments of dramatic crisis, insight or vision. The practices most commonly devoted to the cultivation of soul, its renewal and redemption, are imagination, contemplation and meditation. My model of a place dedicated to such crafts – the one I know best – is the Meditation Room at The United Nations in New York City. It was designed by Dag Hammarskjöld when he was the UN’s Secretary General. He described it as a space “dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense. We want to bring back, in this room, the stillness... Continue reading
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When I was a child and imagined being a grown-up, there were two vocations about which I dreamed: I would be an architect or a forest ranger. The architect I imagined was a designer of homes, each of three sides, surrounding a capacious patio, looking out upon wild greensward, bushes, granite and tall trees. My family moved often during those years, and I think I was designing a home where we would stay. As a forest ranger I lived at the top of a tower surrounded on all sides by endless forest, and my task was to watch keenly for the danger of fire. Both of these visions of a future life looked out upon trees. For as long as I can remember, I have felt a deep kinship: climbed them, talked with them, swung under their boughs, softened in their shade, sat reading against their trunks. Trees have been my brethren. No surprise, surely, that I find myself living in a community called The Redwoods. And no surprise, either, to find my wise age-mate Parker Palmer discovering later in life a similar kinship. I have no doubt of the answer to the question he asks himself: "I wonder if... Continue reading
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I urge readers of Reckonings to listen to Pope Francis's TED Talk on 26 April, as I found what he had to say wise and moving. You can read his remarks at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20170426_videomessaggio-ted-2017.html. But it is more valuable to see and hear him, and for that, go to https://www.ted.com/talks/pope_francis_why_the_only_future_worth_building_includes_everyone?language=en. James Carroll's response below will give you a sense, but please take the time to see Francis himself. As Carroll says: "He speaks, yes, as a Christian, but also as a moral voice that history has wondrously lifted up. 'The future does have a name, and its name is hope,' he said. 'A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ ' Then begins the longed-for revolution, which Francis presumes to label 'a revolution of tenderness.' That no other world figure talks this way, in TED or out, is not the problem. It’s the point." Two Scenes from Pope Francis’s Revolution of Tenderness by James Carroll May 1, 2017 Did the conservative, crimson-garbed men who elevated Pope Francis to the papacy, in 2013, know what they were getting? In... Continue reading