Monday, April 24, 2017

Thank You, Ms. Thomas -- Creator and Writer of Call the Midwife

Heidi Thomas 

Ms. Thomas created and writes Call the Midwife, now in its 6th season airing on PBS.

I have no scientific studies to back me up nor am I credentialed in any form of psychology, but I believe that the most effective way to change a culture is through arts and entertainment. And within the arts and entertainment world, TV is the most likely to reach the most people.

I know you're thinking not PBS, you won't. And that's probably true. BUT Downton Abbey certainly did reach a huge audience. The first five seasons of Call the Midwife are available on Netflix with the sixth season most likely to be available on Netflix early next year, so it is easily available to a vast audience. By-the-bye, if you're interested in watching now but have missed the first five seasons, you could catch up on Netflix then watch the sixth on PBS online.

Call the Midwife is set in Poplar, a fictional district in London's East End. My first knowledge of the East End was from The People of the Abyss, Jack London's nonfiction account of the year he lived there -- 1902. The conditions then were like those in the worst of America's ghettos. Poverty, disease, violence, alcoholism, drugs, lack of education, substandard housing and/or homelessness.

By the late 1950's when Call the Midwife starts, poverty and all its attendant ills still thrived there and the people were dependent on charitable organizations for many services, including medical care. The first season recounts the experiences of Jenny Lee, a newly trained midwife based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a real midwife who worked with an Anglican nursing order of nuns.

The characters are about evenly split between the sisters of Nonnatus House convent and the trained midwives who work for them. Most of the deliveries are made in the local women's homes, but over the years Nonnatus did open a small maternity hospital in Poplar.

Okay, with all this history of the mythical Nonnatus House, this is what I wanted to talk about.

We are buffeted and pummeled and generally knocked about by strident would-be tyrants who think they can convert us to their point of view with angry voices and defamatory pronouncements against their critics.

Someone once told me "the louder the voice, the weaker the argument."

In Season 6, Episode 3, Ms. Thomas has written what is, in my opinion the perfect example of this truth. There are no car chase scenes. No explosions. No gun, knife, or profane verbal fights. But the tension is palpable. And all the conflict any writing instructor asks for -- internal, interpersonal, and external.

Spoiler Alert!

Sister Ursula, the new autocratic Sister in Charge of Nonnatus House, continues to make changes in the way things are done there including plans to send Sister Monica Joan to the Mother House because she has dementia and, after all everyone must earn their position at Nonnatus House. Sister Julienne who has always effectively run Nonnatus House with understanding and tolerance is hobbled by her vow of obedience and will not question Sister Ursula's tyranny. Humanity vs. efficiency.

A young, part-Chinese, first time mother has to deal with her overbearing Chinese mother-in-law. Cultural traditions clash.

And the Maternity Home is being inspected by a government bureaucrat working with the Health Ministry to close neighborhood maternity homes in favor of larger hospitals. Better care vs. cost effectiveness.

Sister Ursula has mandated that each midwife is to take no more than 20 minutes with each patient so they can see more patients. Mrs. Chen wants her daughter-in-law kept in a stifling, closed room both before and after the baby is born without regard for the young woman's comfort. The bureaucrat is courteous but unimpressed with the maternity home's clean, professional, accessible facilities noting "all this for only four beds." The District Doctor explains that the people in the neighborhood have no transportation other than the bus to get to a hospital or doctor's visits, so maternity care in their own home or a local maternity home are their only reasonable options.

Sister Ursula's enforced time limitation causes one of the midwives to fail to pursue the new mother's and baby's discomfort and fairly mild symptoms. Mrs. Chen's insistence on keeping the room closed tight and the heater on, causes the baby to lose consciousness due to carbon monoxide poisoning. At which point she grabs up the baby and runs to the maternity home for help.

Where the government inspection is interrupted by the emergency and observes the prompt, effective solution of sending the baby and mother-in-law by ambulance to a regular hospital and the doctor and a midwife decamp to the substandard home to care for the new mother.

-- My down and dirty description of the action doesn't begin to convey the tension that I felt while all this was going on. Ms. Thomas' writing in no way spoonfed the audience or belabored explanations. She trusted us to recognize what was going on. To understand. --

The rest of the inspection is done with the bureaucrat accompanied by our beloved, but no-nonsense, plainspoken Nurse Phyllis. He's convinced that the maternity home should not be shut down yet, but, not unsympathetically notes that the shut down is inevitable sometime within the next several years. Times are changing.

Then Nurse Phyllis explains to Sister Ursula that her time limitation was unrealistic and led to the midwife not recognizing the dangerous situation of the Chen family.

The baby and new mother survive and Mrs. Chen explains that she was pregnant when she and the rest of her family had to flee during the Japanese invasion of their city. She had her baby on the road and had no way to keep it dry and warm. It died. She had only been trying to protect her grandchild.

-- By now I was in tears. Not just because Mrs. Chen had had her baby and lost it because she was driven from her home by war, but because women all over the world are still having babies and losing them because of war. --

Sister Julienne listens nonjudgmentally to Sister Ursula and joins her in prayer. Sister Ursula sees the error of her ways, apologizes to Sister Julienne, and leaves to return to the Mother House. Sister Monica Joan gives her a sweet and advises that too much penitence is prideful and even a penitent must eat. And Nurse Phyllis offers to drive her to the station. All to show that Sister Ursula is completely forgiven by those at Nonnatus House.

Humanity vs. efficiency. Cultural traditions clash. Better care vs. cost effectiveness.

All is not well no matter how well this particular episode ended. Times do need to change. Without car chases, explosions, and fights.

And this is a heartfelt thank you to Ms. Thomas for her showing us how.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SCIENCE "in service to civilization"

Please, whether or not you read the rest of this blog post, watch this video and think about it. It's only 4 minutes long. It's about our future. Our children's future. Our grandchildren's. Our Human Species'.

I'm just a little more than three weeks out of my second total knee replacement and that many weeks in physical rehab, so I can't participate in person in tomorrow's March for Science in Denver.

See this. These scars are what science has done for me.
I know knee replacement is not a question of life and death like a heart transplant is. Like Insulin is. Like an intrauterine blood transfusion providing blood to an Rh-positive fetus is when fetal red blood cells are being destroyed by Rh antibodies. Like antibiotics and antivirals and vaccinations can be. 

Benjamin Franklin was a rock star of a scientist at the birth of our nation. Electricity. No, he didn't invent it or, for that matter discover it, but he did identify it.

image from Wikipedia     

And look what our scientists and engineers and inventors have done with it. Light in our homes, cooling, heating, preservation and preparation of food, transportation, communication, access to information from anywhere in the world and the universe. 

a fan, a lamp, a computer monitor         image from the ESA/Hubble telescope        
in my living room                                                                         

Dr. Franklin had no idea that all these things would come to pass. He just had an idea. And that's what continues to go on to this day. Scientists who discover something today or next week will likely have no idea what wonders can come of their discoveries. Can we deny these possibilities to our children and grandchildren? Imagine babies born without cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, children who do not develop diabetes, grandparents who do not develop dementia. No more cancer.

Those are just the medical marvels. My medical wish list. The other things that will come along I can't even imagine in order to wish for them. Maybe even an Earth that is a healthy habitat for life and colonies of human beings in Space.

Stand with me for Science

P.S. I just got a telephone call rescheduling my post-surgery follow-up. My surgeon, Dr. William Peace is being deployed to Afghanistan. Please keep him and all those in harm's way in your thoughts and prayers.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Robinson, Kim Stanley -- a Science Fiction Writer

Mr. Robinson is identified by The New Yorker, "as one of the greatest living science-fiction writers." He was awarded the Hugo for two of his Mars trilogy books and a Nebula for the third in the trilogy. Plus two more Nebula awards and last year the Robert Heinlein Award for his whole body of work. Oh, my goodness!

And when did I hear about him? About a month ago during an interview he did with NPR. They didn't mention all those awards. (I only mentioned here the ones that mean the most to me. He's got quite a list of them.)

During the interview they described New York 2140 as focusing on the way realistic humans might deal with the world when sea levels rise 50 feet above their current levels and the major cities are and have been flooded for several generations. And they specifically said it is not an apocalyptic view of society.

So, of course, I got on line to my personal source of all things written -- my public library -- and reserved a copy.

The book is complex, peopled with characters from all walks of life. Regular life -- a police detective, a hedge fund operator, a building super, a couple of feral pre-teens, a government/NGO activist (read social worker) and an entertainment personality. Each of whom brings their own community connections. And, of course, some unknown, nefarious speculators intent on a hostile take over of the potentially lucrative intertidal real estate where our regular folk live.

Plus an anonymous citizen who explains the City of New York, its geography, a bit of its history, and its 2140 climatic conditions. All information, I as a non-New Yorker need and am interested in. Though, let me reassure you that it's not necessary that the reader recognize the City's particulars to follow the story.

The story is fairly simple. Climate change has done the inevitable, drowning the major coastal cities of the world with New York being our particular city of interest. American society and government has continued on it merry way meaning that income inequality has escalated and the people's income continues to determine the quality of life they lead and limit their political power. The amazing part to me, is that New York continues to be a people magnet, attracting people to live there in whatever condition they can afford despite its flooding, hostile weather, poor housing, etc.

The story draws us in as the characters work together to change their society to more successfully deal with what to them is New York's normal, if difficult, condition.

There is no lantern jawed hero scientist or bosomy damsel in distress. Well, maybe the entertainment personality, but that's not all there is to her.

I like the idea that a group of regular people can change the status quo and have a chance at making a better world, albeit a seriously flawed physical one.

And you can bet I'm going to be reading much more of Kim Stanley Robinson.

image from El PeriĆ³dico


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quintessential, etc. Reprise -- flash fiction

Confession time:
I didn't have a Q post ready to go this morning. When I sat down to write one Facebook came up with one of those memories from past posts and this was today's, two years ago. It made me laugh when I wrote it and it made me laugh all over again today. So Fellow A to Z Bloggers you're getting a reprise of an old Q. And I'll use the one I was planning for today for when we get to T.

Quintessential, Quit, Quiet

note the date: 2015

“Oh, my goodness,” she wailed, tears streaking her smoke and ash stained face. “I tried to use the fire distinguisher. I did, but …”

“Maggie, it’s all right. You’re all right.” I hugged her and patted her back. “Take a deep breath, dear. It’ll all be all right.”

“I’m not being historical. Really, I’m not.” She settled against my shoulder, hiccoughing. “But, you always say I should be more remorseful.”

“Resourceful, dear.”

“What?” She pulled away from me, her blue eyes wide, filled with fresh tears.

“Resourceful. I always say you should be more resourceful.”

“I know. That’s why I tried to put it out myself.”

I knew I shouldn't laugh. She was my beautiful daughter who normally smelled of cherry blossoms and lavender. She spoke faster than she thought when she was in the throes of any intense emotion – anger, joy. And today, fear.

“And you did fine. I’m glad the fire department got here so quickly.”

“They asked me how it started. I tried to tell them. But I couldn’t remember all the perpendiculars.
I’m afraid I got them all mixed up.”

I laughed. “You, my dear, are the quintessential master of the malapropism.”

“Quinta what?” She stamped her foot. “Mom, you are being completely nonsensual.”

“Maggie!” I laughed. I cried with laughter. “Maggie, Maggie, please quit. Just be quiet for a little. My cheeks hurt.”


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods, and a Blogging Friend -- Nonfiction

John, Anabel, and me
on top of the world

On a clear day it really does seem that you can see forever from the top of Pike's Peak. At 14,115 feet, it's the highest point from there east to the Atlantic Ocean. And looking southeast across the prairie you can see Oklahoma's high point Black Mesa at 5,705 feet. If you know what to look for. That's about 250 miles away. Of course it's much easier to see Pike's Peak from Black Mesa because it seems to rise up alone, right out of the prairie.

Looking west, all you can see is range after range of mountains. Pike's Peak is one of Colorado's 53 Fourteeners -- mountains higher than 14,000 feet above sea level.  It's not the tallest, but it's the most visited mountain in North America.

That snow covered peak rising above the other mountains is Pike's Peak. I took this photo from the top of Green Mountain a couple of miles from my house. And about 100 miles north of Pike's Peak.

There are so many ways to get to the summit 14,115 feet above sea level. There is a paved road to the top and a cog railway.  Motorcycles are popular. You can rent a bicycle or hike it. You can even take the railway part way up then hike the rest of the way. There are outfits that will take you to the top in a van then you can bicycle down. There is an annual marathon running 13.32 miles up then back down again. And the 2nd oldest auto race in North America, The Pike's Peak International Hill Climb covers 12.42 miles of the 16 mile highway to the top. It's a timed race -- one car at a time. For a vicarious adrenaline rush you can watch video of it on YouTube.

When I was growing up in Oklahoma our family vacations took us either to the mountains in Colorado or the beaches on Texas' gulf coast. And, of course Colorado included on one occasion a car trip up Pike's Peak. In those days the highway to the top was not paved. There were even fewer safety rails along it then than there are now, and there are none to many now. Because of the altitude my Dad had to stop in Colorado Springs and have our car's carburetor adjusted so we could make it to the top.

My Momma was afraid of heights. Actually, I am, too. But I love Pike's Peak! Momma liked Garden of the Gods better. It's a beautiful public park in Colorado Springs at the foot of Pike's Peak. It has dramatic, natural sandstone formations. And no heart-stopping drop offs.

Did I say "on one occasion" Daddy drove to the top of Pike's Peak? I didn't make it up again until my husband Scott and I moved here five and a half years ago. Since then I've been up it several times and enjoyed it every time. There are, after all, special donuts in the gift shop/snack bar at the top. Making donuts at that altitude takes a very special recipe. And they are wonderful.

When I heard that my blogging friend Anabel of  The Glasgow Gallivanter and her husband John were coming to the U.S. to explore Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, I quick quick contacted her and asked if we could meet while they were in Denver.

As a matter of fact, we ran across each other's blogs during an A to Z Blogging Challenge. She is a retired librarian and writes travel blogs. John does her photography and is an electronics engineer and Dean at the University of Glasgow.

We agreed to get together one day while they were in Denver on their way home. I don't know about Anabel and John, but I had great anxiety about meeting her in person. I do very well with people reading and writing, but in person there's always the concern that they might not like me. Or like the things I like. Or the places I like to go.

From reading her blog I knew they hiked a lot. But by last September my hiking days were pretty well on hold. I needed knee replacements, but couldn't get that done while my father still lived. He was in hospice care and I needed to be able to see him everyday or at least almost every day. And I needed not to go further afield than a couple hours from home. There had been no time for me to have surgery and rehab.

So I was pretty limited to within close driving of Denver and things we could do that didn't require any serious walking.

My three favorite places in Colorado are the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Pike's Peak. In that order.

Anabel and John were planning to see Rocky Mountain National Park on their own, which was good because it was too far away for me to go. That left DMNS and Pike's Peak. Well, I figured as many places as they've been, they've seen their share of museums. Then Scott offered to drive us up Pike's Peak.

Honestly, that's the most exciting way to see it. Before you get above timberline it's not so scary, because if for some reason you missed a turn, the trees are thick enough, they'd break your fall down the mountain. Trees don't grow above timberline -- too cold, not enough water, and high winds. In Colorado that varies from 11,000 to 12,000 feet. Above timberline, there's nothing to break your fall if you miss that curve.

I trust my husband's driving unreservedly.

And you really must read Anabel's blogs about their visit to Tibet. Pike's Peak couldn't possibly be that big a deal. (See the link above to the Glasgow Gallivanter.)

Needless, to say, we made it safely up and down and then drove through Garden of the Gods.

John and Anabel                                                      and Scott       
Living proof that we made it back down the mountain to Garden of the Gods

And I guess they liked me well enough, because they took us up on our invitation to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science the next day.

I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them and they taught me what it takes to be a good traveler -- the courage to take a chance and the flexibility to deal with whatever comes up.

I've got new knees and am working hard at rehab, so the next time they come through Denver, maybe I can keep up with them. And we can actually do some hiking.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

One of Those Days -- flash fiction

image from clipartfest

"Xcell Enegy, how may I direct your call?"

"Hello, this is Angela Spivey. I live at ..."


"Not now, Honey. I live ..."

"Momma?" The child climbed onto a stool at his mother's left elbow.

"Just a minute, Baby." She turned her back on the child. "I live at fourteen oh four ...."

"Momma," the child tapped his mothers arm.

"Fourteen oh four South ..."

"Please hold."

"No, wait .... My electricity ...."

The child tapped her arm again. "Momma." Tap, tap. "Momma..."

"Your call is very important to us." Dissonant video game music filled the phone.

Tap, tap. "Momma."

"If you are calling to report ..."

Pinch. "MOMMA."

She flinched and glared at the child.

" outage, you may contact us online at xcel dot ..."

Apparently afraid to repeat the pinching, the child tapped her arm. "Momma." Tap, tap, tap.

She slammed the receiver down and turned on the child.


Shocked into silence, the child couldn't remember what he wanted.

All the mother wanted was to change her name to anything other than "Momma" and have the electricity come back on.


Monday, April 17, 2017

No One Snaps Beans with Grandma Anymore -- Nonfiction

Or shells peas or shucks corn or pieces quilts or, for that matter, quilts with Grandma anymore.

This was the title of a piece that showed up on my Facebook feed and now I can't for the life of me locate the article. It doesn't really matter. Whatever point the article made, the title makes the point for me that we need to take time to explore our history.

Not the history that Miss Hall taught us in the eleventh grade. That history was about people so important that they have become legends. People who wrote the Declaration of Independence and spoke the Gettysburg Address and spoke the I Have a Dream speech.

I mean our history. Our stories. And we didn't get them just snapping beans. We got them around the dinner table. Or in the early evening sitting on the front porch. At family picnics when the little kids sat on the ice-cream churn holding the top down while the men cranked and cranked until the ice cream was frozen enough to make churning nearly impossible.

Or in the car when us kids couldn't stand Daddy's Country and Western music and he couldn't stand our Rock and Roll so the radio just rode along silently while someone said "Do you remember the time..." Or someone else pointed out the place where Great Grandpa and Great Grandma first settled when they came to Oklahoma -- the men and big boys came in a covered wagon along with the livestock, the women and little children came on the train.

The story about Grandma's grandpa who was still picking cotton at age 94 and making his grandchildren hop to keep up with him.

The story about a time when Grandpa could ride a horse in the Deep Fork Creek Valley through grass so tall you couldn't see the horse.

And about Granddad carrying planks in the back of a vehicle he called "the duck" to lay across creeks where there was no bridge so he could deliver the mail.

The story about Dad's being sent by steam locomotive from Rhode Island, a place none of us were quite sure where it was, all the way across the United States to the West Coast to be shipped to the South Seas in World War II. And how they had to go north from Denver into Wyoming, then west across the Rockies, because the mountains weren't so tall there and the train could pull the grade.

About the mean rooster that flogged my cousin Chris who was just a little boy. And we had that rooster the next day for Sunday dinner.

About watching Neil Armstrong in that grainy, black and white, TV picture take humanity's first step on the moon. Astronaut Armstrong was definitely the stuff of legend, but the people in the den watching were my story. There were nine people, three generations -- some watching avidly as history was made, a couple oohing and ahhhing over a new baby and a couple more playing with a new puppy. It seemed to me that I, alone, understood the importance of the television event.

Actually, I alone was missing history being made right there in that room with me. Now, the old people who were in that room are long gone. They took with them, the recipe for Big Mama's Fresh Apple Cake, stories of the early days in the uranium ball mills of New Mexico and the oil fields of Oklahoma. Even the baby has grown children and I've lost touch with him and all his stories.

The important thing about snapping beans and shelling peas, is being present to our own histories as they're being told. Indeed, as they're being made.

Where was I when the big world events were making news? When the Cuban Missile Crises made the news? When President Kennedy was murdered? When my friends were being shipped to Vietnam. When the Oklahoma City Bombing happened? When the World Trade Center was attacked?

How did I meet my first husband? What was it like when my son was born? What went wrong with that first marriage? How did I meet the man I happily live with now. What was it like when my daughter was born.

Where have all those people gone? What did they do?

Where are all those people still in what is becoming my history? What are they doing right now, today? What will they do as they make their way in the world?

What are we doing? How will we make our way?

We don't need to snap beans anymore. We can if we want to. Better yet, we can take the time whenever, wherever. To find out what that youngest grandchild's favorite color is? Take a ride with the newest licensed driver in the family. With the radio turned off, of course. Watch the video of the band performance and basketball game on Facebook.

We can scrapbook, read our daughter-in-law's blog, attend a slam poetry competition, listen with enthusiasm to a discussion of soda firing pottery.

The venues may have changed, but we're still busy making our histories. And we can still pay attention.