Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Last Lecture

Last night I finished reading our March book club selection, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I'd recently seen a video clip from an appearance on Oprah and became interested in reading the book. So, when it was suggested in book club, it was perfect. And, luckily, the library had a copy (large print only, unfortunately).

I actually wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I had watched the film version, instead of the written version (heresy, I know, for a book-lover like me to say!). Having seen a small portion of his lecture "live," I realized how dynamic and engaging it would have been to see the whole thing instead of reading about it.

At the risk of sounding smug, I feel like I've already figured out a lot of the "lessons" he shared. Actually, one of my guideposts in life--depressing as it may sound--is to ask myself, "if I had a terminal illness, would I still be doing this?" If the answer is "no," I either quit whatever it is, or look for ways to make it more enjoyable/worthwhile. I've long had a semi-obsession with life, death, purpose, passion, and is-this-truly-important/worthwhile. I think it is serving me fairly well, though I do sink into a bit of a spiral of despair sometimes!

From the book, I'd marked two things. From the time management section: "Ask yourself: Are you spending your time on the right things? You may have causes, goals, interests. Are they even worth pursuing?" This is something I constantly consider. I make mistakes, but the "is it worthwhile" evaluative thought process is a guiding light in my life!

The second is something I disagreed with with regard to work habits: "'Wow, you got tenure early,' they'd say to me. 'What's your secret?' I said, 'It's pretty simple. Call me any Friday night in my office at 10:00 and I'll tell you." I don't think that is a healthy approach to life/work balance!

The title of the lecture is about your childhood dreams, so of course I thought about mine and whether I've achieved them. (This is something I've already thought about/worked over when I first became really interested in simple living in about 2001). The ones I remember are:

1. Be a writer.
2. Travel to other countries and help poor and sick people there.
3. Be a librarian.

The first two I actually have written down in a journal from 1991. I perhaps had others, unwritten, that I am not remembering right now.

Anyway, I am a writer. I have not traveled to other countries, but my whole adult life has been centered on social service/social work/community service, so I think that fits with #2. I am not a librarian, but I lend books to my friends like crazy! I also have a lending library for my LLL Group and a personal lending library box of books as well. Just a few months ago, one of my friends was over and I was picking out books to loan her. Her partner said, "getting some new books?" and she said, "yes. And Molly is the BEST librarian EVER!" So, LOL, I think I may have accidentally made #3 come true as well :-) Life is good!

Edited on March 2nd. I wrote the post above really quickly and have since had something additional thoughts (prompted in part by a comment left by Nick King, who has a really touching and useful and comprehensive website based on his wife's experience of living with a terminal illness [ALS]).

First, I remembered one more thing that was on my childhood dreams list--actually, it was the first thing on the list, since I was four when I first said it--"be a nurse." Well, I'm not one. And have realized that I could likely never be, primarily because I am WAY too squeamish about blood (though the reasons are really more complicated than just that). However, I think this was an early expression of the "I want to help people" dream that I feel like is a thread running throughout my life. Also, I am deeply involved with pregnancy and birth, which involves some elements of medicine/nursing. And, as a play on words, I am definitely committed to nursing my children!

Second, I recalled one of the exercises that first helped me explore this type of things: Gifts, Dreams, Sorrow, Unlived Lives (be prepared that it opens as a Word document). In 2001, I went back through old journals, reflected on my childhood, talked to my parents, did lots of introspection, took online quizzes, read lots of books, etc. in an effort to figure out my "life purpose." I wrote a life purpose statement at that time after a LOT of inner work and consideration. Miraculously, since my entire life has changed since then, I would not change a single word of my life purpose statement. It still completely and totally applies to me, even though I am 8 years older, have two kids, live in a different town, do a different kind of work, and so forth. I think that means it was an accurate one and that the work I did with myself to develop it was time well spent. I hope to post more about this later, because it something I really really feel deeply about (I also feel very private about actually sharing what my life purpose statement says. It is posted on my wall, but unless you're here looking right at it, I basically never share it directly with anyone. I just share that I have one and I believe deeply that it is something that is worth spending your time with).

Okay, back to the book. I want to clarify that I haven't actually LEARNED the lessons in Pausch's book--I fail A LOT, but I have heard of them and try to apply them :)

Bascially, I have heard a lot of "it changed my life" stories about this book and that was not my experience/reaction. The kinds of things in the book were the kinds of things I've spent a lot of time thinking about--sometimes I think I've done too much thinking!

Finally, the relationship content of his book was very touching. I teared up a lot when he would talk about his wife. There was a hot air balloon story from his honeymoon that made me laugh and cry. And, at the end, when she hugs him after his lecture, it was really sad. So, I feel like my first post was too flippant about the way, or not, in which I was touched by this book. I also think he had a real knack for using story telling/anecdotes to make his points. I would imagine he was a dynamic and engaging professor!


Tree of Happiness

The irrepressible, creative, and always-inspiring mamaroots nominated my blog for a Tree of Happiness Award :)

In turn, I'd like to nominate:

Enjoy Birth--love the positive view of birthing babies expressed there!

Passion for Birth--I usually learn something new or creative by visiting Teri's blog.

Woman-to-Woman CBE--because Kathy is such a talented researcher and prolific, interesting writer!

Here are some things that make me happy:

1. Books! Love 'em. Can't get enough of them.

2. My friends--I feel so lucky to have such a beautiful real-life network.

3. LLL--I love being able to help mothers and babies in my community.

4. Blogging about birth.

5. My kids--they make me laugh so hard every day!

Saturday, February 21, 2009


This week while preparing for a birth class, I read Sheila Kitzinger's book Homebirth. I was struck anew how much I love her writing. It is so lyrical and vibrant and really gets to the heart. I also deeply identify with it. I wanted to share a poem that was in the book in the section about assessing risk and statistics and homebirth and is it really safe, etc.:

Thoughts on "risk"
by Judith Dickson Luce

word so small
born a verb
an "action word"

as I learned in 4th grade
I risk
you risk
she risks
even a noun something
I take
you take
she takes

in philosophy a description of what life is
with its own rewards:
I love and risk loss and pain
I try and risk failure
I trust and risk betrayal
I live and risk death
but we've moved so far beyond philosophy
to insurance--for anything and everything
to machines
to technology and control
(no daring)

and computers spit out the risk we are "at"
before we breathe
before we take a first step
that might lead us to fall
and the computers and the statisticians tell us
it is healthier and safer
and wiser not to take risks
since we are "at risk"
and they can reduce risk
and with it our capacity
for living
and touching
and caring
it's safer that way
neater and more efficient
and definitely more sterile
and what more can we ask of life?

Commentary by Tom Luce: "It's very risky to be born since very few people who are born avoid dying (though many avoid living). If you are born there is a high statistical risk you might die."

Here is an example of what I mean about Kitzinger's lyrical writing style:

"Your breathing dances, you get into the swing of contractions, swimming over each as it rises in crescendo, or breasting it like a great ocean wave. You float, you ride, you ski down the mountain slopes, or leap into the void...The imagery that is likely to be helpful to you will include active verbs of opening, releasing, spreading, unfolding, and fanning out. As contractions sweep through you, concepts that suggest power, energy, strength, and perhaps, storm or even whirlwind suddenly make sense, along with wave and water fantasies--verbs such as stream, pool, flood, gush, flow, and cascade. And all over the world, in many different cultures, woman use visual images of fruit ripening and of the baby's head like a hard bud in the center of a flower unfurling petals. As you read about birth, and whenever you take time to relax and enjoy anticipatory fantasies, create you own images and dreams that will give positive meaning to all the sensations of labor. Doing this will help you to savor fully an adventure that can be among the most thrilling, intense and satisfying experiences of your life."


Max Tivoli

This week I zoomed through The Confessions of Max Tivoli for book club. It was a swift read and I liked it so-so. It caught my attention (most fiction will!), but I found the endless references to his "aging in reverse" tiresome--I felt like yelling, "We GET IT already! Stop reminding us that he is getting younger instead of older. I REMEMBER!" And, as is sometimes the case, the title character wasn't that likeable. Kind of obsessive and sneaky.

I marked a semi-depressing quote to share:

"I couldn't fathom Hughie's belief that his son would accomplish wonders in the world, as if other worthy children, equally full of promise, and failed, and turned into men just like us, who would lay onto the next generation the same hopes, infintely deferred."

Though not in the same words, I used to wonder something similar after I had my first baby--you have to put so many things on hold in order to be responsive to a baby and small child and while I was telling myself it was worthwhile, I was also wondering: "What is the point? Each generation 'sacrifices' and defers goals for their children and to what end? So those children can do the same for their children and so on and so forth...When does someone finally get to actually change the world themselves, rather than waiting for their kids to do it?!" Told you it was depressing (I think perhaps I was actually depressed at the time).


Saturday, February 14, 2009


I did not actually read ANY books this week! I did read many, many issues of the International Journal of Childbirth Education--I bought a big binder of back issues used last year and then didn't read them. I finally decided to go ahead and finish them all. I'm learning lots of good things and blogging about some them at ICEA.

Today is the 11th anniversary of when my husband proposed :) In honor of Valentine's Day I wanted to share a link to a wonderful essay written by a father in New Beginnings magazine. It is called the Origin of Love and it makes me tear up every time I read it.

Now, some Zen quotes:

What, at this moment, is lacking?

Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence.
--Deepak Chopra

I don't feel like I have a lot of room in my life right now for inner silence. :(

Another good one:

"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?"
--Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Blue Cotton Gown

My favorite book this week was the midwifery memoir The Blue Cotton Gown. The author is a CNM who practices with her OB-GYN husband (a women's health practice, not births). It was really sad in parts--lots of stories about clients' lives and some of them were pretty complicated. I wrote a full review on CfM.

I've also been reading old issues of the International Journal of Childbirth Education. I wrote a post with some quotes about that at ICEA.

I got the BirthWorks journal this week as well and was surprised to find my Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy & Birth review published in it. I'd forgotten about sending it to them!

This is a really insubstantial post, but it is all I can manage today (and possibly until next week!)