Living with a Wild God

Living with a Wild God

“Try inserting an account of a mystical experience into a conversation, and you’ll likely get the same response as you would if you confided that you had been the victim of an alien abduction,”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything

The first time I met Barbara Ehrenreich was when I read “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking is Undermining America.” (Which reminds me, I must write a review on that book)  While the meeting wasn’t face-to-face and it is unlikely that we will have a conversation over coffee, Bright-sided gave me insight into her brilliant mind.

Barbara Ehrenreich is candid and determined to have honest dialogues that challenge the status quo. For someone who questions the idea of positive thinking, she embraces joy.

“I have a big foot in the joy camp.” Barbara Ehrenreich

“Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything,” published in 2014 is her latest exploration into the unknowable. To be clear, Ms. Ehrenreich is an atheist and a skeptic.  Her response: “Why ‘revere’ the unknowable?  Why not find out what it is?”

Living with a Wild God, is as close to an autobiography as most would define the term.  Ms. Ehrenreich does not hold back in her frank retrospective.  The good and bad, are recounted in a forthright manner, including the mystical experience she had as a young girl.

Ms. Ehrenreich is highly intelligent, which is not surprising given that her father, a scientist, was endowed with a genius I.Q and photographic memory. With a PH.D. in cellular immunology, she took on the challenges of life, which were, at times, intensely difficult.

So, what happened on the pre-dawn walk in Lone Pine, California?  The reader is never quite certain. All we are told: “There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me, and I poured out into it.”  Here is where it becomes interesting. Ms. Ehrenreich is not certain of what happened either. Now, as an older woman, she looks back to explore the meaning of an event that remains vivid decades after its occurrence.

Perhaps the passage of time endows humanity with a greater capacity for understanding.   Is it possible that age allows freedom to accept there may be undiscovered possibilities?

My greatest takeaway from Living with a Wild God was logic, sound reasoning and yes, skepticism are essential to human endeavour; that searching and questioning enable us to move forward, to come face to face with the unknowable.

“You can and should use logic and reason all you want. But it would be a great mistake to ignore the stray bit of data that doesn’t fit into your preconceived theories, that may even confound everything you thought you were sure of.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything


The Zhivago Affair

The Zhivago Affair

The Zhivago Affair

“Oh, what a love it was, utterly free, unique, like nothing else on earth! Their thoughts were like other people’s songs.”

 Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago


Words hold power.

A story is more powerful.

That was my thought as I read, “The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book”  by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée.

I confess that when I first read Doctor Zhivago and watched Omar Sharif fall desperately in love with Julie Christie, all I was interested in was the love story.  I was young and unfamiliar with the traumatic events of the time in which the narrative was positioned.  I knew that there was some conflict, but, in my view, it was dramatic background material that served to move the characters around a stage.

The Zhivago Affair sent me scurrying back to reread parts of the original novel.  My eyes were opened.  Indeed, there was a passionate and profoundly moving love story – one that I had missed completely.   That is, the love of Boris Pasternak for his beloved Russia.  Boris Pasternak wrote Doctor Zhivago, knowing that his life was in danger.

“You are hereby invited,” he said, “to my execution.” Boris Pasternak

The Zhivago Affair is a page-turner.  It’s complex, exciting, poignant.   Peter Finn and Petra Couvée have crafted an extraordinary account of how a book can be used by powerful nations to wage political battles and influence the course of history. The reviews have been enthusiastic; descriptions include, masterful, thrilling, rich, scrupulously researched.

A word about the authors: Peter Finn is National Security Editor for The Washington Post (previously stationed in Moscow as the Post’s bureau chief); Petra Couvée is a writer and translator; she teaches at Saint Petersburg State University.

My greatest takeaway from reading The Zhivago Affair, was an understanding of Boris Pasternak’s life, his loves, his hopes and fears.

“I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and of little value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”  Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

A special thank you to Elisabeth van der Meer from  A Russian Affair for rekindling my interest in Russian literature.

The Rainbow Comes & Goes

The Rainbow Comes & Goes

The Rainbow Comes & Goes

“My mother comes from a vanished world, a place and a time that no longer exist. I have always thought of her as a visitor stranded here; an emissary from a distant star that burned out long ago.” Anderson Cooper

This is not my usual reading choice.  I confess the title caught my attention; rainbows are a powerful symbol of hope, of connection to the past and to other worlds.  North mythology spoke of a  burning rainbow bridge “Bifrost,” as the link between the gods in Asgard and humanity in Midgard (earth).  In ancient Japan, ancestor used rainbows to visit earth.  For the Navajos, rainbows  are the paths taken by holy spirits. Whenever I see a rainbow I feel a lift of my spirits as if, for a moment in time, I have glimpsed into a realm of infinite possibilities.

And besides rainbows, I enjoy Anderson Cooper’s insightful journalism.  As for Gloria Vanderbilt, the name alone envisions a woman of great strength and courage; a woman who lived her life in the limelight with grace and equanimity

On her birthday, Gloria Vanderbilt wrote to her son,

“91 years ago on this day, I was born. I recall a note from my Aunt Gertrude, received on a birthday long ago. “Just think, today you are 17 whole years old!” she wrote. Well, today — I am 91 whole years old — a hell of a lot wiser, but somewhere still 17.  What is the answer? What is the secret? Is there one?”

Ah, those are marvelous questions.

I chose audio-book format, which I would highly recommend.  Hearing their voices places listeners in the center of the discussion between a mother and son.  As I listened, I realized that I wanted to record conversations with my mother, to share ideas between generations. Time moves ever forward; the only way our stories are remembered is if we write them down.

Rainbows come and go in life; times of celebration and grieving mark our journey. William Wordsworth says it the best in “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

The Rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the Rose,The Moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare, Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair;The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath past away a glory from the earth.