December 27, 2016

Guest Essay: Lord of the Rings vs. Harry Potter

Harry potter books
LOTR book

Recently my brilliant friend, Rowyn Peel, posted on Facebook: “To my friends who haven’t read Harry Potter (which is still shocking to me), THESE BOOKS ARE SO IMPORTANT. Read them. Cherish them. Pass them on to little children. Harry Potter is life, y’all. (Also, JK Rowling is the sass master on twitter, she is the queen omg).” I Commented in response: “I haven’t read them. I learned about friendship and bravery and love overcoming evil from ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Does HP do that better, or differently enough to warrant the expense of buying them?”

Rowyn’s response was so thoughtful, well-crafted, and helpful that I asked her permission to share it on my blog. Permission granted, here is her reply:

I grew up reading both series, and for probably a variety of reasons, I connected to Harry Potter much easier. It’s third person, but limited omniscient into Harry’s mind, so it’s easy to connect to the individual character. It’s placed in modern times, with normal people and things, to make it that much more relatable. It probably has a lower lexile score, so it was definitely easier to read as a kid. I don’t know what other reasons there may be (nostalgia on my part, but I’ve heard people love it even if they don’t read it until they’re adults), but Harry Potter is kind of my life.

I like LoTR well enough, but the world and the writing style are very different and I enjoy it in a more fictional way, if that makes sense. Harry Potter feels so much more real, and the messages are much more subtle and in some ways more complex. It’s not just good vs. evil as in LoTR, it’s we-try-our-best-to-do-what-is-right-and-good-instead-of-what-is-easy vs. they-have-different-priorities-and-a-warped-sense-of-mind-try-to-pity-instead-of-hate-them. Also the overarching theme of Harry Potter is that love is the strongest magic of them all.

Harry Potter: kids trying figure life out, they happen to be witches and wizards: relatability score 8/10
LoTR: epic quest in a fantasy land, oversimplified good vs. evil: relatability score 1/10

Now I may have to go out and buy all the Harry Potter books. After all, given my love of food, I’m pretty sure I’m more hobbit than ranger, but how else am I going to figure out whether I’m wizard or muggle?

November 30, 2016


Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 9:50 am


Yesterday after a massage, I thanked my bodyworker and she murmured, “So you can rejoice again.” My mind lingered on that word….”rejoice”…and has been lingering on it ever since. We don’t use it so much in daily conversation or even in formal writing – I think because it’s considered a religious word. (Multiple sources say it appears 192 times in the King James Bible.) It means, “to feel or show great joy or delight.” To feel it, yes, but emphasis on the showing. Ask someone to demonstrate rejoicing with their body and they just might throw their arms wide open, smile broadly, and tilt their chins to the sky. Or they might dance. Or do a cartwheel. It can be conceptualized, then, as the verb form of “joy.” Rejoicing is joy in action. It’s one thing to feel joy, but to act out joy takes joy to another level. “She was joying all over the place.” Being joyful can be silent and imperceptible; rejoicing is large and energetic and seen. Rejoicing is joy made visible. Let’s do more of that.

October 29, 2016

Wrestling with a dilemma burns no calories

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Ann @ 8:21 am
This is not cake.

This is not cake.

To be (eating cake) or not to be (eating cake)? That is the question. While other humans are focused on actual problems, I’ve been stressing over whether to celebrate my birthday, as is customary, with a hunk of cake. I do so love cake. But I don’t eat cake (or donuts or pies or scones or bagels or ice cream or pastries or brownies or potato chips or Nutella) and haven’t, for a very long time. Nevertheless, my body has turned against me this year – packing on ten pounds in ten months and five pounds this month alone despite feeding it only healthful amounts of healthful foods. Now I’m afraid to have a damned piece of birthday cake.

“Throw caution to the winds!” say the wise (and, often, short-lived). But if my body packs on pounds eating protein shakes and broiled chicken, what’s it going to do when I sugar-shock it with a celebratory confection?

Meanwhile, people with real problems are not thinking about cake at all.

September 4, 2016

Season of Change

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Tags: , , , , , , — Ann @ 4:17 am

It typically happens one day in early August. I step outside and notice that the light has a different quality, a subtle shift in shape and shadow, enough to let me know: Autumn is coming!

I am a Fall-o-phile, as are many of my friends. Every September 1st, my polyglot friends and neighbors Bonita and Silvano would arrange their refrigerator-magnet letters into the phrase, “Autumn in the Bay Area: Ausgezeichnet!” Yes, excellent.

Tuilieries Garden, Paris

Tuilieries Garden, Paris

To me, Autumn is an excellent melange of back-to-school clothes (green-and-black plaids, knee-socks, and Mary Janes), new binders and sharpened pencils, woodsmoke, pumpkin-flavored everything, maple syrup, spices, chilly mornings, crisp apples, and red-and-golden leaves.

Let others celebrate New Year on January 1. To me, Fall’s first fruits have always heralded new beginnings. The Jewish calendar supports my own calendrical rhythms. Rosh Hashanah (literally, “Head of the Year”) is the Jewish New Year that lands in September or October and is celebrated with apples and honey and fresh-start sentiments. It’s the first falling leaf on the autumnal Tree of Life, informing those who celebrate it that change is in the air and, if we’re paying attention and doing our inner work, potentially within us all.

That’s the exquisite nature of Fall. It brings an urgency unlike any other season. It speaks of new beginnings but also of time passing by. All of the joy, preciousness and fragility of life are captured in Autumn’s seemingly contradictory messages – a time of new beginnings even as we’re reminded that the hour is late. Open and unboundaried with a promise of renewal yet with a concurrent under-thrumming of yearning and existential angst. Harvest brings abundance but strips the branches bare.

Autumn says “do it now, before it’s too late.” And though I love all the trappings and symbols of Fall – the cider and the pumpkin patches and the cups of cocoa – what I love best about it is that sense of urgency. Autumn knows that life is precious; Autumn reminds us how swiftly the fresh green leaf yields to the pull of time, turns golden-red, then brown, then spirals down in its final pirouette to earth.

A perfect image, that: let the Autumn winds catch us dancing, to the very end.

August 28, 2016

Friends Don’t Let Friends Go Pixie

Filed under: MiscellAnnia — Tags: , , , — Ann @ 3:04 am

Measure of a True Friend:

If, in a fit of hair despair, you are heard to say, “I HATE my hair and I’m getting it chopped off!” a True Friend will hear this as the cry for help that it is. A True Friend will rush to your side bringing dark chocolate, the latest issue of American Salon magazine, and statistics on how many inches one’s hair grows back per year. She will talk you down from this crisis, assuring you that this, too, shall pass, and walk you around the block for hours, if necessary, until you come to your senses. Truly Awesome friends will drive you to the mall to have you try on short-short wigs until you suddenly cry out, “What was I thinking!?” and drop the whole idea.

If, on the other hand, you threaten to have your hair chopped off and a friend, regarding your Rapunzel locks with a gleam in her eye, murmurs “You’d look GREAT in a pixie cut!,” run away. This is not a True Friend.

Postscript: Human hair grows at the glacial speed of 1/2 inch per month. Put down the scissors.

Post-postscript: This was written in the spirit of fun, born of my own moment of “I hate my hair” and threatening to go Full Judi Dench. My women friends are unfailingly supportive in all ways and have been my greatest blessing.

June 19, 2016

All the Good You Can

Filed under: Sacred Wilderness — Ann @ 6:00 am

Wake up there's work to do we need you

Recently a friend tagged me on Facebook in an ad for an online paralegal course with the message, “If your therapist gig doesn’t work out…” It was fun and funny, an allusion to my 30 years spent in law offices before I chose a “helping profession.” What she doesn’t know is that I already have a plan in place for if my “therapist gig” doesn’t work out. (I’m still an intern and I love the work greatly, but there are a few scenarios that might keep me from following through all the way to licensure.) That plan is to live out the rest of whatever years are left to me, subsisting on a humble Social Security check, and following the advice attributed to John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” Because all I ever wanted to do was help others. It was my favorite part of being a paralegal, and the reason I traded that relatively lucrative, benefited work for mountains of student loan debt and four-years-and-counting of internship wages that, in most jobs, mean $10 per client hour.

I definitely help people (or have ample opportunity to try) in the work that I do now. But I want to do more. And maybe it’s a natural function of growing older, but with every passing day I am driven to want to do even MORE helping. I get stuck when I think I’m not doing enough, and then I remember the wisdom of one Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not given to you to complete the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist from it,” a fancy way of saying, “Every little bit helps.”

So meanwhile – until and unless I invoke Plan B and leave my beloved counseling work behind – I remember that we don’t necessarily have to volunteer 20 hours a week or fly to another country to build homes. Driving kindly counts — letting the other guy in, waving ‘thanks’ when the other guy lets YOU in. Sending get-well notes to ailing friends or neighbors. Spreading joy and positivity everywhere, including on social media. Picking up litter on a trail while you hike. Smiling at people on the street. Letting people with fewer items in the grocery store line go ahead of you. It’s important to me to remember that the smallest act of kindness matters, lest I get caught up in the lie my brain wants to tell me: “You’re not doing enough to help others so you might as well stop trying.” That Rabbi Tarfon, he knew a thing or two about human nature.

When I graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College in the 90s, I was a valedictorian speaker and I drew from Robert Anton Wilson’s essay, “Ten Good Reasons to Get Out of Bed in the Morning” — a work that inspired me to my very core. His final reason still inspires and motivates:

“NOBODY IS UNIMPORTANT ANYMORE. There we have it, the final reason to get your ass out of bed: we need you. We need you on our side – the side of hope and action – and we need you now. Every decade is a scientific milestone, which means that every year counts as well, and every month, every week, every day. Indeed, at this point, every act of our lives is either a step toward the achievement of all our visions of glory or a step back toward the stupidity and self-pity that can destroy us. No one really needs LSD to see the cosmic importance of every minute.” And this:

“Any single act of love and hope may be the grain that tips the scale towards survival and, conversely, any single act of cruelty or injustice may be the grain that tips the scale the other way.”

Now, more than ever, even more than when Wilson wrote his essay in 1977 – now, when too many people are tempted to collapse into hate and anger and despair — we need to understand “the cosmic importance of every minute” and we need to understand that every word we speak or write, every action we take either in the direction of tearing down or building up, matters immensely. In this moment, we have the power to effect change. Paraphrasing the popular final line of others’ commencement speeches: We really ARE the ones we’ve been waiting for. And now is the time.

April 26, 2016

Hair Style

Filed under: MiscellAnnia,The Healing Project — Ann @ 8:32 am

Red bow

Yesterday a 20-something co-worker said, “You have such stylish hair!” and my inner 16-year-old’s heart leapt in exaltation. In the past few years, I’ve started playing with my hair, using it as a canvas of tonsorial delights. Yesterday, I’d pinned in red and orange streamers, fastened with a gold butterfly. Sometimes I tie a big red bow in my hair. Or decorate it with multicolored bejeweled clips. I also have hair chalks so I can paint it to match everything I wear. I’ve developed somewhat of a rep at work for doing crazy things to my hair, and what I love most about it is the fun I have doing it.

Because it wasn’t always this way. When I was coming of age in the 60s, long, straight hair was all the rage and my naturally curly locks were considered anything but stylish. I HATED my hair. Trying to tame it, I used giant frozen orange juice cans as rollers (try sleeping with those jabbing your scalp). I ironed it until it steamed. And while those desperate attempts may have worked temporarily, the truth would always come out. I remember one day in 9th grade getting stuck in a rainstorm at Juan Crespi Jr. High while waiting for the school bus. We all got into the bus, drenched, and on the trip home, as I watched classmate Linda Hart’s long, straight dark tresses dry into shiny perfection, I felt my own drying hair frizz up and stick out until all I needed to be Bozo the Clown were the big floppy shoes. I was mortified as only an adolescent girl can be.

That’s why, these days, every hair decoration feels like an honor well-deserved. And when I say now, honestly, that I love my hair, I mean “love” as a way of honoring and caring for it — making it as beautiful as possible. We can “love our bodies” in a way that means we think we have the most perfect hips, the best waistline, the greatest legs — or we can “love our bodies” in a way that means we treat it tenderly, giving it the most healthful food, making sure it gets exercise, and dressing it in a way that makes us feel authentic. So when I say I love my hair, I don’t mean that I think it’s the most beautiful hair ever. I mean that I treat it as if it were. Adornments, decorations, color, bling.

It’s been a long journey from hair-hatred to locks-love. My teen self would have been horrified at the thought of drawing attention to these unruly curls. My grown-up self smiles triumphantly with every purple streak I paint.

January 17, 2016


Filed under: Sacred Wilderness,The Healing Project — Tags: , , , — Ann @ 9:09 am


: highly responsive or susceptible: as (1) : easily hurt; especially : easily hurt emotionally (2) : delicately aware of the attitudes and feelings of others

Odds are if you’re a “sensitive” person, you know it, and you’ve known it all your life. Sensitive is when you break into tears thinking about how little actual life-time your cat has because he sleeps so much of the day away (true story – me – last week).

Chances are if you’re sensitive, one or more people in your past have told you that you’re TOO sensitive (usually in the form of a non-apology for hurting your feelings). Or you’ve been told that you’re “too emotional.” In other cultures and/or at other times, “sensitives” may be valued for their intuitive gifts. In this culture, we don’t like people to be “too emotional.” It makes us nervous.

And, yes, there is a downside to facing the world with every feeling-receptor wide open. When you wear your heart on your sleeve, it’s far more vulnerable to breaking and bruising. Sometimes you have to limit your human contact. You can’t see films that are too intense or depict others being hurt.

But the pros far outweigh the cons: When you’re sensitive, you see beneath people’s facial expressions, always wondering what’s really happening under the surface. You are infinitely curious about the human condition. You make deep connections with others. If someone in the room is hurting, you’re going to be the first person to notice it. Chances are you’re a social worker, therapist, or otherwise involved in the healing arts.

The best thing about sensitive people is that they’re barometers of atmospheric inauthenticity. They embrace emotional honesty because they don’t have to waste precious energy using their superpower to break through layers of deception. So if you’ve ever been told you’re too sensitive, I want to sit next to you at every gathering. Because you’re the one who’s going to “feel the feel” and bring the real. And there’s nothing I love more.

January 4, 2016

Quotable Me

Don't Do This

Don’t Do This

Occasionally thoughts pop into my head that may or may not be considered “pithy” by me or by others. Years ago this occurred to me:

The trouble with some people is that they’re jumping the gun when they should be biting the bullet.

I’m sure there was context for this mini-insight, but that’s lost to history.

Someone, somewhere, someday might find this quote useful, interesting, inspiring, amusing, and/or shareworthy. So this morning I did what writers do and tacked it to the virtual bulletin board that is this blog post. (We USED to write such things on scraps of paper and use them as bookmarks, tuck them into files, or tape them to mirrors. Usually we just lost them. This is better.)

Before You Speak and As You Think

Filed under: Sacred Wilderness — Tags: , , , — Ann @ 7:21 am





We’ve all seen the “Before You Speak” motivational poster. As I write this, one is taped to my apartment’s front door where I can see it on a daily basis.

However, this morning I was reading Miss Manners’ response to a Gentle Reader in which she cautions the reader not to characterize a gesture of condolence in negative terms because “it’s not useful” to think that way. I started ruminating on the “usefulness” of our thoughts. (Thinking about the usefulness of thinking….metacognition at its finest.) I decided it would be fun to create an “As You Think” poster as a companion to the original.

Words are important — but thoughts come first.

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