Happiness & the Rat: More Similar Than We Might Think

There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.

– Albert Einstein

This week takes me back to the rat, the brain that dictates all we do, and the choices we make along our road toward happiness or wherever we’re headed.

You might remember the super-MOOC [massive open online course] Understanding the Brain: The Neurology of Everyday Life I signed up for back in April: Dr. Peggy Mason, professor of neuroscience at the University of Chicago, teaches this 10-week course.

After a 25-year focus on the cellular mechanisms of pain modulation (how does morphine work?), she now focuses on the biological basis of empathy. Some current research looks at “empathy in rats.” Watch this short video to see one of her experiments!

In her findings, it appears that a rat will choose to free another rat from captivity before choosing to eat a yummy treat. In other words, the rat empathizes with his comrade and helps relieve this other rat’s seeming misery before feeding himself chocolate and butterscotch.

Often, we humans think we’re quite different from others life, Continue reading “Happiness & the Rat: More Similar Than We Might Think”

Here’s to Jack Gilbert–Who Could Have Been Famous

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


Jack Gilbert

Last week, Peg brought Jack Gilbert’s poem “A Brief for the Defense” to our early-morning poetry circle.

Sun Magazine published this poem along with a short biography and their regret that they hadn’t known of Gilbert’s work until reading about his death in The New York Times. Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012, lived “mostly off the poetry grid,” the article said.

He rose to the top in the poetry world and then chose to step away, travel and feel his way through the world. He chose to study living rather than study academically–or be studied. In 1962, at age 37, he won the Yale Younger Poet’s Prize but six months later bowed away from public view. Over the years he gave few readings and taught only off and on at universities–both in the USA and in Europe–to earn a living.

I hadn’t realized just how lucky we were when he visited our little college in the early 2000s. Continue reading “Here’s to Jack Gilbert–Who Could Have Been Famous”

Lives That Touch Our Own: Karen Turner–More than English Professor

“Nobody sees a flower–really–it is so small–we haven’t time–and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.”
Georgia O’Keefe, American Artist



karenturnerbench-inscripMany of you, I imagine, have had this same experience: A friend, teacher, pastor, rabbi, astrologist, lover, sister, doctor, neighbor–someone in life–is like a fixture. We take them for granted. We don’t realize how important they are or how we’ve depended on them until it’s too late.

Not to sound dramatic, but you probably know what I mean. It’s human–waking up a bit too late. For me, it wasn’t losing my mother that left me reeling in the way of “I never realized how important she was.” I had regrets, but I knew Mom was important in my life. Her diagnosis spun me into a panic and regret, but I would have some time near the end of her life to say goodbye, make some peace, and let her know how I appreciated her. I tried–as difficult and awkward as I was.

When she died, I was just 31 and hugely sad. The loss called me to attention in a way nothing had. I wanted to make her proud. I wanted to live a life that would show my mother’s efforts and all she gave of herself to me was worthwhile.

A couple of years later, I traveled to India Continue reading “Lives That Touch Our Own: Karen Turner–More than English Professor”

And Still I Rise–A Tribute to Maya Angelou

“People will forget what you do, and

people will forget what you say, but

people won’t forget

how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou, the literary icon who died this week, gives her high school teacher Bertha Flowers credit for helping her to speak again after five years of silence and for igniting her interest in literature. Angelou once stated that the period of silence actually allowed her to absorb her surroundings more intensely. She had been mute after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

The literary master was a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement and worked directly with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She authored 30 books, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) is the first of six autobiographies.

Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008. President Obama honored her in February of 2011 with a Medal of Freedom — the highest honor a MAngelou quotecivilian can receive and a “thank you for inspiring people of the world to be more compassionate, loving, and to act from their best selves,” according to a Final Tribute aired by ABC.

Maya Angelou was a poet, actress, activist and educator, and she believed that “Love is what can heal all.” Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she lived for years in Harlem, Ghana, and influenced lives all over the world–including Oprah Winfrey’s–who has long considered Angelou her mentor.

She was also a cook and loved to bring people together around a pot roast,  a “Sunday Dinner” which she said is “one of the most intimate ways to be together.” She  loved country music, she told Robin Roberts on Good Morning America.

Maya Angelou was the second poet in U.S. history Continue reading “And Still I Rise–A Tribute to Maya Angelou”