My Favorite Books of 2019


My Favorite Books of 2019

 

by Neal Lemery

 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plantby Robin Wall Kimmerer

 

“As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.” (Goodreads)

This is a delightful blend of experiences, viewpoints, and meditations. I found this to be engaging, provocative, and simply fun to read.

The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things — Stories from Science and Observation, by Peter Wohlleben. I loved his The Secret Life of Trees. This is an equally enjoyable book about nature and how living things interact and communicate with each other.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall. This is a great exploration of world history and current affairs, from the perspective of geography, and how regional and local geography has profound influences on human activities, politics, and culture.  Much of today’s geopolitics makes more sense after reading this.

Edge of Awe: Experiences of the Malheur-Steens Country. Alan Contreras, ed. This delightful book of essays, poetry, and photography takes you into the soul of southeastern Oregon.  Ursula LeGuin and other contributors are showcased.  Great writing and deep thinking highlight this treasure.

The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities, by Violet Moller.

“In The Map of Knowledge Violet Moller traces the journey taken by the ideas of three of the greatest scientists of antiquity – Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy – through seven cities and over a thousand years. In it, we follow them from sixth-century Alexandria to ninth-century Baghdad, from Muslim Cordoba to Catholic Toledo, from Salerno’s medieval medical school to Palermo, capital of Sicily’s vibrant mix of cultures and – finally – to Venice, where that great merchant city’s printing presses would enable Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s system of the stars and Galen’s vast body of writings on medicine to spread even more widely.

“In tracing these fragile strands of knowledge from century to century, from east to west and north to south, Moller also reveals the web of connections between the Islamic world and Christendom, connections that would both preserve and transform astronomy, mathematics and medicine from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

“Vividly told and with a dazzling cast of characters, The Map of Knowledge is an evocative, nuanced and vibrant account of our common intellectual heritage.”  Goodreads

An enjoyable and insightful look at history and its teachings and preservation.  Very interesting and provocative.

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the Worldby Melinda Gates. Inspiring, fresh, and provocative; ideas and projects that are changing the world.  This is a book of hope and progressive thought. The writing is excellent and I found myself captivated by the seemingly simple ideas and her determination to listen to people on what they really needed to change their lives.

 

The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction andPurpose by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah dares us to be hopeful and open to our full potential. There are lots of ideas and inspiration in this, and I found it worthwhile and optimistic.

 

Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This examination of challenging events and circumstances of four U.S. presidents gives some much-needed historical insight and perspective on what is great and courageous leadership, and the willingness to be daring and put country ahead of politics.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer. This is a much needed and appreciated perspective of Native America, a part of our history and culture that is neglected by historians and political scientists. Somewhat akin to Howard Zinn’s examination of under-reported American history, and it belongs on the same shelf of important and timely writings about our past and today.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Wow. So much I didn’t know and hadn’t thought about. 100,000 years ago, there were six species of humans, and only one has survived. This is the story of how humans came to be, and broadens one’s concept of humanity and cultural development.

 

Artemis by Andy Weir.  The author of The Martianexplores the large lunar colony of the future, with an engaging plot and ideas that stimulate one’s thinking about the future and how space travel and colonization may change our thinking. Well done science fiction.

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama.  The best memoir and autobiography of the year.  This well written story of her life is engaging, thoughtful, and insightful, no matter what your politics may be. I grew to admire her courage and insight, and drive to improve her life.  I found this to be inspiring.

 

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman.  One of America’s finest novelists, Gaiman shares his ideas on how art inspires and changes lives.  This is a short but important read.

 

 

 

Some Less Memorable Books

 

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell.  His hypothesis is somewhat interesting, but not terribly daring or insightful: we are often deceived by strangers who seek to manipulate and lie to us.  I found it repetitive and tedious. But then, maybe I’ve been deceived.

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, by David McCollough. He’s a thorough historical storyteller, but these tales of adventurers and entrepreneurs who settled Ohio is less than exciting and I think I missed his point of telling this story. Well and thoroughly researched, but this is not a page turner and I ended up not caring about the characters.

On Fire: The Case for the New Green Deal, by Naomi Klein. I was disappointed, as I wanted particulars on what projects and ideas that are “shovel ready” for this political and ecological movement. Instead, this appears to be a collection of blog posts, some quite dated, about general concepts. I wanted actual implemented ideas and stories of success.

The Second Mountain, by David Brooks.  Brooks is a thoughtful writer, who is famed for challenging traditional thinking. He begins by challenging Boomers to be innovative and involved. Yet, he seems to lose stem halfway through the book and never gets to the heart of his ideas and show how his premises can work. I was left hanging and unsatisfied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Extra Chair


 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

One year at Thanksgiving, Mom told me to set an extra place setting.  We’d counted up all the relatives who would be coming, and I was curious as to who she was adding. By my count, we hadn’t forgotten anyone and the place settings matched the numbers of who was coming.

“Oh, it’s nice to have an extra setting, just in case,” she said. “You never know who might come.”

I was very curious, but she wouldn’t answer my persistent questions.

Thanksgiving morning came and we were all put to work on preparations for the meal.  My dad had to go into work for an hour, and not long after he left, the phone rang. It was my dad.

“That’s fine,” she said.  “Of course.  No problem. The table’s already set and there’s an extra chair.”

She turned to us after she hung up the phone.

“We’ll be having another guest for dinner,” she said. She smiled then, and started humming a tune, as she turned back to the stove.

Sure enough, my dad arrived home with our mystery guest.  She was a co-worker, and had no other place to go for Thanksgiving. Her smile said it all, how grateful she was to be included.

Every year after that, we always set an extra place for Thanksgiving.  One year there was a flood and some neighbors couldn’t make it to their family dinner, so we set up another table and had another half dozen dinner guests.

One year, it was one of my friends in high school, needing a refuge from a tough time on the home front.

As always, my folks asked no questions, and passed no judgement. The unexpected guest was welcomed with open arms and the first serving of turkey.

My wife and I continued the tradition, welcoming friends, making sure there was a place at the table.

The first Thanksgiving we had our foster son, we made sure he felt welcome, as family gathered to enjoy the holiday.

And, as if on cue, the phone rang, and I heard myself saying, “Sure, of course there’s room.  We’d love to have him.”

I made a special trip while the turkey was cooking, and brought his brother home for the weekend. We made sure to make him feel welcome, a part of the family. He responded with a tear running down his cheek, as he sat down in the extra chair.

Years later, after my folks had passed away, and our kids were starting their own families and had moved away, it was just my wife and I who would be home for dinner.

“Let’s set another place,” my wife said.  “You never know.”

A few days before, she called first one and then another friend, friends who were single, and who, it turned out, would be alone for Thanksgiving.

“Of course, you’re invited.  We’ll expect you at 1,” I heard her say.

We set two extra plates that year, and the Thanksgiving celebration became even more special, as two lonely people found a warm home and bountiful table to share, and our friendship grew. Thanksgiving took on a new, richer meaning that year.

One of our traditions, just as we sit down for the meal, is for everyone to share their gratitudes with the rest of us. There is so much to be grateful in our lives, and we so often tend to skip over giving thanks on Thanksgiving. Instead, we slide into talk about a lot of other subjects, forgetting what the day is really about.

Thanksgiving truly is a day to celebrate our gratitudes and to give thanks. And, often what I am most grateful for is that extra chair, that extra place setting.  I’m grateful for the company of someone who would otherwise be alone on the day we gather and give thanks for all that we have.  And that list begins with being thankful for each other.

 

 

Opioid Summer Energizes Community Response


 

 

 

by Neal Lemery

(Published by Tillamook County Pioneer on 10/20/2019

“Tillamook County is Number One!”

Who doesn’t like to hear that statement about one’s community?  There’s that sense of pride, and a feeling of accomplishment. Time for some applause and even a cheer, except when you are at a conference of about 200 medical professionals and drug treatment experts, and the topic is the national opioid addiction crisis.

Tillamook County is the worst, with the highest death rate in a state that has the fourth highest overdose rate. While we Oregonians are proud of our innovation and progressive thinking, leading the nation on many challenging issues, Oregon is dead last, at the very bottom, #50, in the availability of drug treatment.

This 2019 Opioid and Substance Abuse Summit in Seaside on October 14 is the fourth annual gathering of regional health care providers, and others involved in and concerned about our substance abuse crisis. Organized by the Columbia-Pacific coordinated care organization, the Summit marshalls resources and educates the community on how to respond to the deepening opioid addiction crisis that is ransacking our communities. Columbia Pacific coordinates health care under the Oregon Health Plan and the Affordable Care Act for Tillamook, Clatsop and Columbia counties, and is part of Care Oregon, a non-profit organization focused on health care services.

“It has been a tremendous honor to host these community opioid and substance use disorder summits over the past four years. We have seen such amazing work happening within the region, in terms of expansion of access to medication to treat substance use disorder at TCCHC and Rinehart clinics, drug take back boxes at some pharmacies, improved opioid prescribing, and the start of needle exchange and harm reduction programs in Clatsop and Columbia Counties. We have more work to do to address overdose deaths and improve lives of those suffering with substance use disorder, but events like this can be a space to re-ignite the fire and passion in coming together to continue to make things better.”

—Safina Koreishi MD MPH, Medical Director, Columbia Pacific CCO

 

The Oregon coast is on the front lines, with drug usage, resulting death rates, and low levels of treatment services at the top of public health statistics.

In Oregon, one to two people a day die from drug overdoses.  Five people die from the effects of alcohol every day.  That’s over 2100 Oregonians a year.   Oregon has the fourth highest drug addiction rate in the nation. And, in neighboring Clatsop County, 40% of teens vape tobacco or pot, compared to the statewide usage rate of 16%. The Oregon coast leads the state in sales of alcohol per capita.

The costs of drug addiction is staggering. The collective emotional pain is inconceivable. The economic cost to Oregon in terms of loss of earning capacity and economic value is $5.8 Billion a year.  That’s Billion with a B.

There was other dismal, alarming news.  Yet, the room was alive with energy, enthusiasm to respond, and a strong desire to meet the needs of our families, friends, and neighbors.

“We can do this, and we are taking this epidemic on,” was a frequent statement.

Doctors, counselors, emergency responders, and other community professionals took the stage to discuss new medications, response protocols, and a variety of treatment regimens — programs that are up and running in rural communities, including our county, number one in drug deaths.  Lively discussions were had on the interrelated high rates of intimate partner violence, suicide, illiteracy, and people underserved by the health care system. The crisis is complex and multi-dimensional, and touches all of our lives.

In the background was the disappointing recent news that Oregon Governor Kate Brown has ordered state government to delay implementation of the legislatively mandated strategic plan for a recovery-oriented system of care.  The plan was developed by a large and diverse team of treatment professionals using best practices and current medical science.

We had frank, direct, and often deeply disturbing discussions, often with personal and family stories of addiction, despair, hopelessness, and, ultimately, with awareness of the anxiety and loneliness which fuels the drug use. There can be redemption, there is hope, and there is a growing diverse and empowered recovery community.

Drug and mental health courts and outpatient and residential treatment facilities in rural communities are opening. Peer coaching, 12 step programs, and health insurance plans willing to fund many forms of treatment are springing up. First responders and concerned citizens are arming themselves with the opioid antidote Naloxone, which can take the form of a nasal spray safely administered by a lay person and available without prescription.  The drug neutralizes the drug causing an overdose and saves people from certain death. Other drugs now becoming available tackle the wide range of addictive symptoms and conditions.

“There is hope,” one physician said, “and there also needs to be compassion, understanding, and awareness that addiction is a medical problem, not a character flaw. This is a crisis of culture and education.”

Effective response to this epidemic involves trauma-informed care, focusing on a person’s response to trauma experienced throughout life. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) cause the brain and the body to retain trauma throughout our bodies; the trauma response paralyzes our coping mechanisms, and shuts down healthy and healing responses. The more trauma we experience, the less the mind and body are able to deal with and enjoy life.

We self-medicate, trying to ease the anxiety, the pain, and the emptiness we have experienced.  Advertising and social expectations point us in the direction of drugs. Tobacco, alcohol, and opioids are the most poisonous, the most deadly substances we use, yet they are our legal drugs and the most highly marketed and available drugs.

The real “gateway drugs” are freely available at the neighborhood store and where we gather to “relax and have a good time”.

Drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s neural receptors for levels for dopamine, a pleasure inducing chemical the brain releases. Trauma inhibits the body’s ability to feel joy and contentment, and we turn to chemicals in order to reconnect with our natural desire for a sense of well-being and tranquility. Yet, the temporary pain-killing effects of our drugging fades with continuing drug use, moving our desired feelings of joy and contentment even further away from being in our lives and limits our healthy response to dopamine and other endorphins. Drugs are a self-fulfilling prophesy of pain and emptiness despite our desire to heal and feel “normal” again.

Traumatized kids are 46 times more likely to develop substance abuse disorders than kids who have not been traumatized.  Schools now are implementing educational practices and activities that are trauma-informed, approaches that help heal and restore a sense of personal well-being and emotional health.

One physician who shared her story of addiction, chaos, and near death spoke of her first use of heroin as generating a sense of peace and relief she had always sought, but had never achieved. Heroin made her life bearable and the traumas in her life faded away at last. Life became beautiful, until her life spiraled down into deeper chaos.

The tool chest of recovery and health is gaining new tools, yet we are a culture of drug use, instant gratification, and often unattainable expectations of perfection and acceptance. Medically assisted treatment  (MAT) is becoming part of the new standard of care for treatment providers, along with education, peer coaching, and the community gaining understanding that addiction and trauma are interwoven, that addiction is best understood as a medical issue, a condition that can be effectively treated.

Access to treatment remains a critical issue, and is very often a barrier to getting help.  Yet, widespread availability of naloxone, educated emergency responders and health care professionals, and a broader application of medically assisted treatment are making a difference. Trauma-informed responses by the criminal justice system and social services are being implemented.

At the end of the day, after dozens of stories of agony, despair, hope and redemption, there was a spirit of hope in the room.  We are taking on this epidemic, we are finding the tools, and we are able to respond and attack this problem, this epidemic.

We can be number one, not in the number of deaths, but in the availability of remedies, of treatment, and salvation.

 

—–

Wanting Change: How Does That Happen?


By Neal Lemery

 

Often, I react to the news with despair, anger and frustration.  I remind myself that the “news” is often sensationalized, that the news business is a business, and that almost all the “good news” is not included in a news program.  Yet, what much of what is “news” stirs me up to wanting change, a different approach to old problems.

If I want change, I have to act.

If I am passive, then others will make changes, or not.  And those actions or inactions will likely not be what I want to see happen.  I will not have a voice.  My silence, my inaction diminishes my soul and my purpose in life.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi famously said.

Yet, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, it is an inconvenient truth.

If I don’t like what I read in the news, then either I am an instrument to change the world, or I do nothing.  My inaction assures that I lose my right to express my disagreement with what is going on. After all, actions speak louder than words.

I am in charge of how I react, respond, how I am an instrument of change, putting action into my beliefs, and thus creating change, building a better world.

If I don’t like what I see in my community, my neighborhood, my family, then I need to step up and get involved, and become an instrument of change.

A healthier community starts with me. Put up or shut up.  It’s all on me.

The simple acts are the easiest and the most effective.  They have the greatest impact long term.

Here’s a list of actions for me, and, hopefully, you:

  • Invite a friend to coffee.
  • Play music, and teach someone else, sharing music with others, creating joy and community.
  • Start a conversation with a stranger.
  • Send an inspirational note or story to a friend.
  • Reach out to a prisoner, someone who is going through a hard patch, someone in pain.
  • Acknowledge someone’s loss, or a challenge, and offer them a compliment, a few words of cheer and encouragement. They are not alone.
  • Practice patience and understanding.
  • Don’t expect a reward or recognition. Acting anonymously can be very sweet.
  • Practice forgiveness and compassion, even if another’s words or acts seem hurtful.
  • Imagine walking in the shoes of another.
  • Remember the Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they shall never sit in.”
  • Slow to judge, quicker to forgive.
  • Intend to follow the Golden Rule.
  • Examine your own biases and prejudices. Do some personal housekeeping. I’ve found this to be very humbling and enlightening.
  • Suspend judgement.
  • Don’t assume.

 

My ego gets in the way in this work, but if I am honest, I learn more about myself and the world, and I move forward to be a better human being.

 

And, the world changes, just a little.

 

9/21/2019

Being Present


 

 

 

is often the greatest gift, the

highest act of friendship.

No expectation of conversation,

yet the richest communication

(communing — action).

 

The most difficult, the most awkward

the most challenging

is simply to just be

be in the lives of another

suspending opinion, commentary,

judgement. Breathing in the quiet.

Saying it all, without voice.

 

In the quiet, much is conveyed

and what is hard becomes

eased, relaxed, now flowing

back and forth

communicated.

 

Silence is love in action

an opening, a sharing

relational, transformative

soul changing.

 

—Neal Lemery 9/13/2019

Open Mic


 

 

A place of personal courage, testing

Out new ideas, new expressions, a new

Part of ourselves, making our private, secret inner work

Public, part of the community.

 

Giving what is inside ourselves some air, the stage

Intimidating, yet distinctly our own

Space, space to make a statement –

Welcomed by acceptance, community in open arms – a

Declaration of who we are, giving voice

To what has been stewing, churning, fermenting

Inside

Finding its wings, finding its audience

Being heard.

 

This old space, sacred, the past hundred years,

Here others stood here, sharing their souls, over the years,

Voices and music reverberating on old Grange Hall wood, generations past

Giving to the community, making community, building

Relationships, embolding ourselves, our art, our

Creations.

 

I grow, often against my will, on this stage, exposing my private

Self, shyness and private musings somehow

Put on hold.

 

–Neal Lemery, 9/9/2019

The Birthday Rose


We never celebrated Mom’s birthday on the actual day.  It always fell during the first week of school, and the following Sunday became the official celebration. We took turns replacing Mom as the chief planner, cook, and baker for family celebrations, and tried to make her a cake that was at least edible, though we could never achieve her skill and standards of perfection.

She would just be happy we thought of her and made the effort, and took the time to gather together to enjoy a meal and laughter.

Today, the Sunday after the first week of school,  would be the day we would celebrate her, though she passed many years ago.  One way I honor and remember her is my tending of her favorite rose in my garden. The bush hasn’t bloomed for about a month, the dry summer and warm days obviously not to its liking.

Yet, we’ve had two days of rain now, and the rose decided this morning that it was time to send forth a blossom. School had started, fall was coming, and it was time, once again, to celebrate.  She would have smiled at the gift.

 

Happy birthday, Mom.