Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘New York’

It Only Gets Better

51M50efHnMLCrowded by Eleanor Green
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Bree is a sex addict. Jane is a killer. Anna is a hard-working florist. Each is distinct and completely different from one another. Bree has no problem meeting, and using men. Jane hates men and protects other women from them. Anna loves the man she meets, Pratt, and is always questioning herself. We follow each woman, and their experiences in New York, with alternating chapters focusing on one or the other.

Ms. Green has written believable and contrasting characters, who appear to have little in common. The characteristics of each person are so well defined, that even without chapter headings it would be easy to know who is speaking, what they are thinking, and what is taking place. As Bree continues trying to avoid love, and Anna searches for it, Jane is destroying possibilities of love, and those who abuse others.

As the story continues, and more details are conveyed, readers’ may be able to ascertain a few overlapping connections, but each could be a book unto itself. Bree would be about a woman living in the moment, and not wanting attachment, similar to Diane Keaton in Finding Mr. Goodbar. Jane would be a serial killer murder mystery. And Anna, would be a contemporary romance.

Crowded gets better with each page, as we come to understand how Bree, Jane, and Anna, see themselves, those they are in relationship with, and the world around them. The past has a powerful impact on the present, and the present is a different experience for each character. Am very pleased to have been encouraged to read this book.

 

My Son Ryan

Profile of Jeanne White and her son Ryan. From Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

jeannewhiteIn 1984, one week before Christmas, Jeanne White was told that her son Ryan had contracted AIDS from a blood product he’d used to control his hemophilia. The doctors gave him six months to live. Struggling to make life as normal as possible for her thirteen-year-old son, she attempted to have him return to school as soon as possible.

She did not realize the amount of fear and prejudice that would result when the school heard of his illness and refused to allow his return. After numerous court battles, which brought he and his mother to national and international attention, Ryan was allowed back in school, only to be inundated with hate, ignorance and abuse. As a result of their struggles Ryan was befriended by numerous celebrities such as Elton John, Michael Jackson and Phil Donahue and began to educate children and parents about AIDS by speaking at schools, appearing on numerous talk shows and news programs and having a movie about his life broadcast on national television. On April 11, 1990, five and a half years after his six-month prognosis, Ryan died. His funeral was one of the most publicized services of that decade.

Shortly after Ryan’s death his mother Jeanne, who had always been behind the scenes publicly, was asked by several senators to speak about Ryan to Congress in order to pass national legislation for AIDS education. She reluctantly agreed and was instantly thrown into the media spotlight. The bill, THE RYAN WHITE CARE ACT, was subsequently passed and Jeanne White became one of the most sought after speakers in the country. She founded the Ryan White Foundation and continues advocating for AIDS education and prevention with children, teenagers and their peers.

JEANNE WHITE:

A lot of times it takes a little push. Everybody likes feeling sorry for them selves over the death of a loved one. That’s kind of normal. With me it was Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch who got me going and I fought it every step of the way. Ryan was always the public speaker not me.I was just following Ryan around. Senator Kennedy and Hatch had just named a bill after Ryan called the Ryan White Care Act and they wanted me to come to Washington DC. It was too soon. We had just buried Ryan two days before and they asked me to come anyway. They knew it was going to be hard, but they said, “You know, this is the first chance that we have of getting something done for people with AIDS.” They said, “Ryan’s death is so fresh on everybody’s mind, his illness and funeral was carried by every network for the last week and a half. This is the first chance of someone being in the public eye that takes the focus off the disease and puts it on to the fact that ‘anybody can get it.’”

I said, “Yes”. I said, “No”. I said, “I can’t, I really can’t. Ryan used to do that, not me.” On the second day people from Senator Kennedy’s staff called me again. They said, “Terry’s going to be there.” Terry and others had helped me through a lot of bad times. During all the years that Ryan fought AIDS the more people I knew that died of AIDS. And I had seen so many families just like me. Even though I didn’t want to get involved, so many people helped me that I kind of felt like I owed it to them. Then Senator Hatch called me and said, “You know, we’re not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. I have twenty-three senators lined up for you. All we want you to do is tell what it’s like to watch your son live and die with this disease.”

So I went to Washington and I’m so glad I did. It made me feel good. I didn’t feel I did great, not like I wanted to. I could have done better but I knew I was sincere in what I felt and said. After that, people wouldn’t let me stop.

Phil Donahue, who was a pallbearer at Ryan’s funeral, has become a very good friend of the family. When he was in the hospital visiting Ryan he noticed all the mail and could not believe how much was pouring in. He took a bunch of the letters back to New York with him and called saying, “Do you realize these letters are all from kids?!” I said, “Well yeah, that’s who generally wrote Ryan.” He said, “Jeannie, you’ve got to continue this work. You’ve got to answer this mail.” Phil said, “I’ll hire you an assistant.” There were over sixty thousand letters! Phil kept his word and with the help of Marlo Thomas and the St. Jude volunteers, they were able to find a lady that lived close by.

I was so impressed with Ryan, so proud of him. Sometimes I’d think, “Golly, is he really my son?” To me he was just my little kid, but to the nation, he was this celebrity and hero. I hated to even think that I could follow him, his impact was so great and people listened. When I speak I’m always a nervous wreck, even though I’ve been doing it now for years. I’ve messed up a lot, but I’m me. When I introduce myself I say, “I’m just a mom. I’m a mom just like your mom and because of this misunderstood disease called AIDS, my life changed overnight.” I say a prayer every time I go out. I say, “Lord, please help me to get through this. Help me educate these young people. Help me make a difference in their lives with my story.” Then I say, “Ryan, please be there with me.” Then I have this kind of surge that goes through me and I feel like its Ryan saying, “OK, Mom, I’m with you.”

I think we’ve made a lot of progress. By “we” I mean everybody who has committed so hard to fighting this disease with education and through therapy and drugs and medical treatment. I think we’ve come a long way. The people who have to be commended the most are the people that are not here. Their lives had to be lost for us to get where we are today, to show compassion. Even though I’m tired I’m still doing it because of the Terry Burns, the Mike Callums and the family members that I’ve seen.

One day we were riding in the van and Ryan reached over and grabbed my hand and started swinging it. I looked over and said, “OK, what do you want?” He said, “I don’t want anything.” “Come on Ryan, what do you want?” I continued. He replied, “Can’t a son hold his mother’s hand? ” I said, “Come on, you really don’t want anything?” “Mom, I just want to say thank you for standing by me, for always being there for me.”

I remember that moment when I speak to teenagers. You know, we always think everybody’s going to be here tomorrow, but one day you’re going to wake up and somebody’s not going to be there. I say, “You might think this stupid old lady up here doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but I do. The next time you go home from school, even if you think it’s the corniest thing you’ve ever done, write a letter to your parents. If you think you’re real cool and you can’t go up and hug them around their neck and say, ‘Mom. Dad. Thank you. I love you.’ Then write a note and put it on their pillow. Do something so that you’ll never be sorry.”

It would have been easy to be mad all the time at the people who ridiculed us, who discriminated against us, but we had to put our lives in perspective and look at what was really important and what wasn’t. Everybody saw on the news that it was this fight for Ryan to go to school, but the number one priority in our life was keeping him healthy. Second, was keeping my job at General Motors, because we had great insurance and it paid for all his medical bills. And the third part was my daughter Andrea, keeping us together as a family.

At first, it’s like, “Why?” Everybody wants to know why. Why wasn’t he given a miracle? All my life I was taught if you pray hard enough, if you believed hard enough, that you would get a miracle and you could never doubt that or you wouldn’t get one. I never thought Ryan was going to die. I just couldn’t quite understand that. I thought nobody had more people praying over them than Ryan did. I prayed, “Lord, wouldn’t it be nice to show this kid a miracle in front of the whole nation.” Everybody knew he’s lived with AIDS for five and half years. He’d been in and out of hospitals. He’s been blind twice. I mean, this kid had a heck of a life, why couldn’t he be given a miracle? When he died, it was like, “Why? What more could we have done?”

When he died I was really taken aback. I started questioning my faith. I think that’s normal. I mean, I started wondering if there really is a god? How does God let things like this happen? I see people around me all the time asking that question. “Why do young kids have to die?” I mean, anybody really, lots of other good people have died too. So then I started trying to find reasons.

After awhile it started to get clearer. “Look at all the things he’s done in his short life. He’s educated so many people. Wouldn’t we all like to say we had accomplished as much as this kid did in only 18 years?!”

I tell the kids that when I get to heaven I’m going to be angry. I hope the Lord forgives me for being angry, but I’m going to say, “Why did you have to take Ryan?” Then I say, “You know what I think he’s going to say? He’s going to say, ‘You know what, he was only supposed to live three to six months. I gave you five and a half years and you’re still not happy.’” Maybe I got a miracle. We had quite a few Christmases that we never thought we were going to have.

I didn’t want to lose my faith. I was mad at my faith. I was mad at my church. I was mad at my religion. I was mad at God. But I wanted to find a reason. I eventually started seeing things around me like the Ryan White Care Act and Elton John go through rehabilitation and get off of drugs and alcohol and I thought, “My goodness, Ryan touched more lives than I ever knew. Perhaps those people got miracles and they don’t know it.”

Michael (Jackson) was a real good friend of Ryan’s. When Michael called Ryan in the hospital once, Elton said, “With all the money that’s in this room, we can’t bring this boy back to life.” That was a real big realization to Elton . . . that he had all the money in the world, he had everything he could ever buy, but he could not buy his health. That’s why he entered rehab. When Michael called me after Ryan died, just to see how I was doing, I said, “I’m doing OK but what made you and Ryan so close?” When Michael would call, they would have long phone conversations. He said, “You know, most people can’t get over the awe of who I am, so nobody can ever act normal around me. Ryan knew how I wanted to be treated, because that’s how he wanted to be treated. I can’t trust anyone because everybody always wants something from me.” He could tell Ryan anything and Ryan wasn’t going to go blab it or tell it, you know. “I promised Ryan he could be in my next video and now that he’s gone I want to do a video for him.” He made a video called Going Too Soon, which was about Ryan.

It’s hard to talk about death. I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t really think he was going to die. I can remember him saying what he wanted to be buried in. I told him I really didn’t want to talk about it but he went on anyway, “I know you like me in a tux but I don’t want to buried in one.” I said, “OK, Ryan, what do you want?” I mean, it’s like, I’d say anything to get this conversation over with. He says, “I want to be buried in my Guess jeans, my red T&C (Town and Country) shirt, my Air Jordan’s and my Jean jacket.” He pauses, as I’m fading out, then says, “You know how people are when they’re lying in a casket and everybody is watching their eyes to see if their eyes move? I want my sunglasses on and I want to be buried in my boxer shorts.” “Your boxer shorts?” I exclaimed. He’d just switched from wearing briefs to boxer shorts and really liked them. “Why your boxer shorts?” I deadpanned. “You know that hernia I got? I want to make sure I . . .” He had a hernia that they couldn’t operate on because he had no platelets. “I want to make sure I’m comfortable.” And I thought, ‘Well, if you’re dead, I mean . . .’ “OK, just talk,” Ryan said. “You know, as a mom.”

One of the best things after Ryan died was when people talked about him. I think it was also good for me to get involved in something I truly believed in, doing something, instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. That’s the easy way to go . . . feeling sorry for yourself. People didn’t let me, although that’s what I probably would have done if not pushed. But people were always talking about Ryan and people still do and that kind of keeps him alive within me.

More inspiring people at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Review of American Saint

51DSeMoivLLAmerican Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Seton
Written by Joan Barthel
Reviewed by Gregory J. Wilkin
New York Journal of Books

“Characters like these, and scenes from the siege of New York, as well as the flirtation between Elizabeth and the handsome Antonio Filicchi, along with a very good death . . . all make this perfect fodder for a movie. It’s also perfectly suited to a book.”

Joan Barthel, whose earlier work dealt with murder cases in Connecticut and California that only an act of God could keep from turning into movies, seems to have a winner here with her timely and largely adulatory biography of Mother Elizabeth Seton.

After watching Meryl Streep’s despairing turn as Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt and Barbara Jefford’s as the enragingly venomous mother superior in Judy Dench’s Philomena (as I’m confident He did, on a very big screen), Our Lord may want to get this book made into a movie Himself.

Publicity for the book emphasizes Seton’s wealthy upbringing, her political connections in the young republic, the sad tale of her husband’s early death in Italy, and the way she “resisted male clerical control of her religious order, as nuns are doing today.”

The life Barthels recounts counts in different ways for different folks: Maya Angelou in her foreword to the volume says “Seton’s life and achievements are proof that courage is the most important of all the virtues.”

True enough, Seton had to fight off the harshly overbearing Father Superior, John David, but in doing so, she worked closely with two other French priests and Bishop John Carroll. Courage it took, but to bill her as an early Catholic flouter-of-male-privilege is certainly to engage in a rather crass kind of book mongering.

In her introduction, Barthels situates her biography in the fraught context of the current administrative dispute about American nuns. The Vatican “doctrinal assessment,” which Sister Maureen Fiedler called on NPR “a hostile takeover,” will take five years to be prepared “and no one knows,” Barthels writes, “what will happen in the end.” In one of the least successful segues she pauses, indents, and gives us: “But Elizabeth Seton was there at the beginning.”

These beginnings bring out the best in our author: the early days in the Bayley family in New York are vivid and convincing, full of period detail and useful cultural background. As the young widow and mother takes her charges to Emmitsburg, the narration begins to rely on her letters, at one point quite a few of them rather wearily strung together. But some of this was heroic, loving effort by Seton herself, carried on despite fevers and worsening tuberculosis.

This is a lady who went through a lot. The accounts of the death of her daughters show her face to face with doubt:

“‘Eternity’ had long been her beloved word, her hope and belief. Now she was “uncertain of reunion.” She was kneeling at Anna’s grave when she saw a large, ugly snake stretching itself on the dried grass. Elizabeth was desolate, seeing Anna as ‘the companion of worms and reptiles! And the beautiful soul, where?’”

The takeaway here: doubt for the faithful, even for the saints, is one’s daily bread. Despite it all, Elizabeth Seton keeps her wits and her charm.

Read entire review and more at NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS

Transhumanist Novel

41uUKy0oEmLThe Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books
4 February 2014

In-depth philosophical essays and visionary science dressed up as a novel.

If you enjoy philosophy, you’ll love this book. If you’re a science geek you’ll read every word. If you are religious, spiritual, or into the supernatural, you’ll probably dismiss it, misunderstand it, and/or hate it.

Author Zoltan Istvan has taken a thinly disguised autobiography and transformed it into an almost plausible new world thriller that tends to go overboard on pontification and argument by the protagonist Jethro Knights, who becomes the mover and shaker of the Transhumanist movement and literally changes the entire world.

Istvan notes on the last page, “This story, The Transhumanist Wager, is the result of two decades of thought and inquiry into transhumanism and the quest for scientific immortality. I wrote it hoping to change people’s ideas of what a human being is and what it can become.”

A Transhumanist is someone who believes that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations and can do so by means of technology and science.

The book has its moments. The love story between Jethro Knights and neurosurgeon Zoe Bach is believable and the action sequences in the book are top notch. The philosophy, debates, insights, and vision included in these pages are thought provoking and challenging, as are the observations about the clashes between religious fanatics and fundamentalists and those who believe in science, progress, choice and technology.

From a strictly literary perspective The Transhumanist Wager is nothing more than a collection of in-depth philosophical essays and visionary science dressed up as a novel. There are too many abrupt changes, events, and conclusions taking place in unrealistic periods of time without much depth or nuance to completely engage the reader.

Read entire review and others at NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS

What She Left Behind

61bLHO4EiELWhat She Left Behind
by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books
12 December 2013

“What She Left Behind screams with authenticity, depth, and understanding.”

She’s done it again. At this time last year, Ms. Wiseman’s first novel The Plum Tree was released. It was excellent and received deservedly wonderful reviews. It is rare that a writer’s follow up work is as good as their first. Such a rarity has been accomplished with What She Left Behind. The author has once again delved into the lives of teenage girls, albeit in different circumstances than her first work, yet with the same insight, nuance, and raw emotion readers can appreciate and enjoy.

One of the girls in the story is 18 and is living in the 1930s (Clara) and the other (Izzy), lives in the 1990s. Clara is sent to a state mental institution (Willard State), because she challenges her father’s wishes for whom she should marry and Izzy must adapt to a new set of foster parents and her last year in high school, as a result of her mother having killed her father when she was seven. The girls’ lives intersect when Izzy gets involved in a project that unearths suitcases in the now defunct mental institution in which Clara was captive—she finds Clara’s journal and photo inside.

The scenes of Clara’s experience and travails at Willard State are all too real and affecting in part because many similar circumstances actually took place at that mental facility and others around the country for many decades. Izzy’s struggle with a school bully, harming herself, and learning who and how to accept love and whom to trust, is no less impactful than Clara’s chapters.

What She Left Behind screams with authenticity, depth, and understanding of human behavior and what can and has been done to others to maintain control.

Read entire review and more at New York Journal of Books.

Girl with the Crooked Smile

0988465620.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_Girl with the Crooked Smile: Stuck in a Moment. . . and the Pearls of Wisdom That Pulled Her Through It
by Darah Zeledon
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books

For writer, speaker, and “Warrior Mom of five” Darah Zeledon, life’s joys and calamities have been abundant and enlightening. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons, this woman has found a way to make fertilizer out of a truckload of shit.

Armed robbery, a suicide, complete financial ruin, an accident that almost took her life, and a brain tumor while pregnant with her fourth child are but stepping stones and mere folly for this matador of life.

There is no bull in this story, only honest and brutal reality with doses of humor and insight gushing from its depths like a glass of refreshing clear water to quench the thirst after travel through the desert.

Here is an example of what she says after being diagnosed with a brain tumor and previously being told she will either lose her baby (at five months in utero) or her own life, a neurosurgeon (who says he can save both) offers her some choices:

“Hmmm.” Darah writes. “What were my choices again? 1) High likelihood of facial paralysis and probable deafness on the left side, or 2) guaranteed left-sided deafness with a high probability of no droopy face, or 3) a degree of unconfirmed damage to either of the above-mentioned plus God knows what else. Wait a minute. What the hell am I doing—choosing toppings on a pizza?”

The book takes place in several locations (New York, Panama, Barcelona, and Florida) and hops from one situation to another, but it doesn’t seem choppy or discombobulated. Somehow, like the author’s thought process, it all makes sense.

Her “pearls of wisdom” at the end of each chapter aren’t poetic spiritual New Age bits of gibberish, but practical suggestions congruently arising from her experience. For example, at the end of the chapter about her brain tumor and all the chaos and decisions that entailed, she writes “Be true to yourself and resist peer pressure. Come clean about what you believe. Recognize blessings. Trust your instincts.”

Girl with the Crooked Smile is a real kicker. It has wit, cultural insight (Latin American, Jewish, Floridian), and a warmhearted embrace of life as it is—not as we wish it to be.

Darah Zeledón is a gifted storyteller equal parts psychologist, teacher, mother, philosopher, partner, and friend.

Read this review and others at New York Journal of Books.

A Voice for U.S. Poor

From Nation of Change and GritTV
by Laura Flanders
1 June 2012

A Coming-Out Movement for the Poor?

According to Governor Andrew Cuomo the minimum wage in New York is harder than passing marriage equality. If this is true a question comes to mind. Is it all only about the money? Could it be that there’s something we need, namely a coming-out movement about poverty in America? Democrats in the New York state Assembly have passed a bill in order to raise the minimum wage from the federal $7.25 to $8.50 an hour. Unfortuantely, there is likely to be no passing a minimum wage hike through the Republican controlled Senate. So this bill will be stuck for the rest of the session. “This is broader and a deeper divide,” Cuomo said. “Marriage, in some ways, was more of a personal judgment for people on their personal values. A working class coming out movement might be just what this country needs.

Watch video at Nation of Change.

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