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Leigh Newman (186 posts)
I love a good miracle—especially when it's the kind somebody took a picture of to prove it actually happened. A few days ago, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins found a way to help a paralyzed man use a robotic arm to hold his girlfriend's hand—just by thinking "I want to hold your hand." A chip in his brain directed the the high-tech limb to operate the way a real one does, by desire and mental direction. The man, Tim Hemmes, and his girlfriend had met after his motorcycle accident in 2004, Business Week reported. He had never been able touch her before.
The pictures published in the San Francisco Chronicle—are astonishing, not just for the contrast of her human hand in his robotic one—but for the expression on her face.
While being interviewed Hemmes added, "I always tell people your legs are great ... but...your arms and fingers and hands do everything else. I have to get those back, I absolutely have to." He also said his goal is is to hug his 8-year-old daughter. "I'm going to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to do that again."
Uh-oh, I thought. Because what if his beliefs don't come true? What if he doesn't get his real flesh-and-blood hands back, no matter how much faith he has in himself and technology? What do we do as humans when we put all our energy and time behind something that might not pan out? I had that horrible feeling I get sometimes when I watch my son try to do something impossible, like build a race car out of paper that will drive—only it was worse because this man's life was at stake.
Which was the phrase that snapped back me out of my dark little mind cave. His life was at stake. I realized something, something I should have realized all along. Hemme's belief is not in the power of robotics or brain chips. His belief is in hope—and this is the quality that is defining is his life. For example, he could have done anything with that hand: scratched an itch, brushed back his hair, shook hands with the doctor. But he chose to reach out to someone he loved—and to show her how he felt.
Every week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. On sale today, the novel:
By Colson Whitehead
Imagine this: Michelangelo drawing a graphic novel where exquisitely painted super-hero angels rule reality. That in a nutshell is what novelist Colon Whitehead has chosen to do by writing a zombie novel—apply his virtuosic literary talents to a horror genre novel—except that, the novel is anything but genre and the horror revolves around the same kind of thinking that has produced thought-provoking post apocalyptic novels such the The Road.
Our narrator is one Mark Spitz who works as a sweeper, cleaning out a Manhattan building of "skelts" (i.e., flesh-eating zombies) or what are known as "stragglers" (individuals stuck in a particular moment in time, say, making copies at their office or inflating party balloons) all of whom were infected with a plague several years prior. As he and his team work on reconstructing the city in order to make it habitable again, he thinks about his past (our present) society, reflecting on everything from sitcom stars' haircuts to chain eateries with fake memorabilia to leather sectionals in the average American living room—not to mention how "public relations" shape our collective view of the world (sadly, PR still has a place in this ash-covered universe). As witty and spot on as this commentary is, however, it's Spitz's moments of reflection that elevate this story into the compelling. How has he survived when so few others have? And what is it about living that people all prize so much, even in the face of total destruction? "It happened every so often that he recognized something in these monsters, they looked like someone he had known or loved," writes Whitehead. Humanizing even your human-eating enemy—it's a point so clever it's almost funny. Except that it makes you re-think how we look at our non-zombie foes, the ones in real life who we sometimes have such trouble understanding as, well, human.
I don't mean to sound like a middle-aged, significantly less green Yoda, but it's true: Anger is usually not anger. I, for one, am the first to get furious when somebody I love gets really sick (yes, live long enough and your friends get cancer). I yell at their nurse, their acupuncturist, my husband, and—once a month—the poor bewildered Verizon customer representative who has the temerity to suggest that my obscene phone bill is due to my out-of-control texting habit. Let me add: my language can get a bit salty.
Which is why I found this video, staring the likes of Bono, Jessia Alba, and George Clooney so worth considering.
For the rest of the day, I'll be thinking about the 30,000 children who have died (please, I beg you, go to the One website now) due to famine in three months. By bleeping out the celebs, it makes the point that the real dirty word is "famine" and that famine should be—and must be—censored from the future of this planet.
But the video also got me thinking about the more traditional F-word, the one the celebs appeared to be throwing around with reckless abandon to express their outrage about what is happening in Africa. What they really were was upset—that this could happen, that people could stand by and let it continue—and they were using that feeling to try enact some change in the larger world.
Ow. I was forced to realize, once again: My curse-studded fury neither helps others nor get to the root of what is going on with me. It's corrosive, it's immature, and it only results in making customer service representatives hang up on me while pretending to transfer me to pretend supervisors.
So what if we re-think the whole modern language of anger? What if what we said, more closely reflected the emotion underneath or behind or fueling the rage? For example, we could get together as culture and officially exchange the F-word for the H-word. When something when horribly wrong, you could get as mad and mean-sounding as you felt. You could glare at old ladies and scream at puppies. But you could not say "F—you!" Instead you had to say "H—me!"
The H-word comes with certain setbacks, of course, such as that its use may dispel the fury you're trying to express, because—if I may be so crass as to utter our new curse out loud—the fact is that "help!" is a clear admission of being overwhelmed. And unlike the classic F-bomb, it does inspire the listener to do exact as we command.
Somewhere between, say, brushing your teeth, taking the car in, and paying the cellphone bill—try adding Derek's Walcott's classic poem Love After Love to your to-do list today.
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
There are so many reasons his poem is so moving: the idea of nurturing (instead of denying) yourself with food and drink, the idea of re-meeting who you were (and who you still are) despite all the years of disconnection due to ego and its insidious double, insecurity. Most of all I love this idea of feasting on your life, from the wonderful moments (the love letter) to the revealing moments (the photographs) to the painful moments (the desperate notes). Let's all feast today, even if that feast takes place while we're buying coffee filters or "making" a premade rotisserie chicken for dinner. Reflection happens everywhere—even in the aisle of the supermarket.
Things in life are so rarely as they seem. Take the insightful new blog we discovered, Bowl of Saki, whose names suggests it will extol the virtues and varieties of drinking high-alcohol Japanese wine. This saki has to do with metaphorical wine—a way of "drinking in"the world that was advocated by Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan in the early 1920s. Each day, the site features one intriguing—and challenging—idea, my favorite being this one from September 23, which focuses on (ouch) the ego. "The whole tragedy of life," says Khan, "is in losing sight of one's natural self, and the greatest gain in life is coming into touch with one's real self."
I have felt this pain, as I suspect we all have from the moment we start picking lipstick—and the shade of smile beneath it—to appeal to the larger world. And yet what followed was what really stopped me."The real self is covered by many layers of ego; those which preponderate above all others are hunger and passion, beneath these are pride and vanity."
Contrary to what we usually think, pride here is regulated to a distant third in the recipe for an raging ego. First is hunger. Not hunger as in meatballs, hunger as in "strong desire." What, I wondered, did I have a strong desire about? Oh dear, I knew instantly. I have a strong to be a lunch-box note mother.
A lunch-box note mother, to me, is a mother who remembers to tape loving but not embarrassing notes on her child's sandwich each morning. She volunteers at recess and never loses her temper and never runs around the house in her underwear, bitterly accusing her offspring of purposefully hiding her office shoes. Her children revere her, and grow up to be popular, smart, and marvelous at the clarinet. All the other mothers, too, worship her and invite her and her kids over for playdates just to study her maternal perfection and get her recipe for banana bread.
All this glittering accomplishment and adoration, unfortunately, has nothing to do with mothering, which is the process of loving your kids and raising them to adulthood and sending them to school with a lunch and a note. I am no a wise old Sufi soothsayer, but I can see the value of a certain test I like to think as my pocket egometer. Compare the noun form (marathon runner) with the physical action (run long distance as fast as you can) of what you want to do. If your hunger for the noun form is stronger, please consider that this impulse is exactly what's preventing you from doing it to your best ability. Then go drink a glass of wine or get a hug from a friend—and start over in the morning at the action, not the ideal.
I have a dream house. Some of the details are slightly fanciful, for example, the stained glass windows and the full-on turret. There are covered porches, a bay window, and a rambling yard. Plus: a distinctive color scheme. My house (one dream day) is very pale yellow, with shutters and a dark green, glossy door with a pineapple knocker.
The door, however, is suddenly up for revision—due to a recent development in the larger, realer world. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin has put the door to the Greenwich Village bookshop online. The tiny store was only open for four years, during the 1920s, but served a famous meeting spot for bohemians of New York. While visiting there, literary heroes such as Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and Upton Sinclair dug their names with blue pencil into the wooden panels, which you can now scroll across in order to read brief bios or anecdotes.
Even more interesting to me were names of lesser known literary folk, like Mary Aldis who "constructed a playhouse from an old cottage on the grounds of her summer estate in Lake Forest, Illinois." It got me thinking. What I'd really like is a door signed by anybody who comes over to my very real house with the leaky bathroom—friends, family, the UPS man. They all have a story, and I can't think of anything more satisfying than to come home at the end of the day and run my finger over all their names. I know their bios and they know mine. They have laughed with me and eaten my lousy stews and played with my kids. We have created something—perhaps not a theater troupe or a painting—but something worth signing nonetheless.
Five friends every woman should have
Trading in a mansion for a mobile home
Don't get me wrong, I love zombies as much as the next person. I even like them when they're inserted into Jane Austen and eating brains hither and yon across the English heath. But sometimes, it's enjoyable to read a novel about living, breathing, car-washing, human-being-type people, such as the characters who populate The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides, reviewed in O magazine.
Last Sunday, to my pleasure, Eugenides, who was profiled in the New York Times, engaged in a conversation, not with a reporter but with the fiction writer Colm Toibin, during which he discussed his recent fascination with plain, old-fashioned characters (my translation: people made of words) "We know that we might be 'mocked' for persisting in writing realist fiction," he says. "But we keep on doing it! Because we think there is something about reality, and especially about human consciousness, that can be accurately described and that the novel is the best way to do it."
I couldn't agree more. There is something about human consciousness that comes so naturally (versus supernaturally) alive in a novel—and about human feeling, too, be it sadness, pain or delight.
What to read this fall
Our book pick of the week
Read the full article in the Times.
Every week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. On sale today, the powerful, passionate novel:
The Forgotten Waltz
by Anne Enright
Why we picked it up: We'll never forget Enright's painful but exquisite Booker prize-winning, The Gathering, which explored how a family secret (involving a young child) can ripple through the generations.
The beginning that will make you gasp: Nine-year-old Evie claps with delight as her father kisses a woman (Gina, our narrator) in her bedroom, while, downstairs, completely unaware, her mother calls for her—ouch.
Where you'll travel: From the snow globe of Dublin to windy Irish seaside.
The moment that explains adultery: "'When can I see you?' he said. The pain I felt was so sudden and unexpected, it was like being shot. I looked down the length of myself, as if to share the news with my body."
What O reviewers learned (as we all do at one time or another in our lives): Love can be miraculous—and still destroy everything in its path.
The full review of The Forgotten Waltz.
This fall's must-read books.
Monday is too stressful. Wednesday is already hump day. But Tuesday is "you" day: a day when you have the energy to do—or plan—something fresh and unexpected that might just turn your whole week around.
The new iPhone was revealed this morning at 10 am. Need an excuse to buy it? How to sell your old iPhone online—for more than you'd expect.
Celebrate World Smile Day this Friday. How to whiten your teeth with strawberries and orange peels (or at the very least, give yourself fruity breath).
Add some lightness to your snacking in honor of National Popcorn month by saying begone to salt and butter. How to make pizza popcorn and three other twists on the traditional recipe.
Fact: On average, there are 13 books per one child in middle-class homes, but only one book per 300 children in low-income homes.
One thing that distinguishes life from the movies or even books is that, in reality, people never do what they're supposed to do. They yell at the people they love when they're deathly ill (instead of tenderly thanking them for their care) or laugh like maniacs during their marriage vows (instead of solemnly swearing their devotion). The video below is no exception. Watch how this 29-year-old deaf woman reacts when she regains her hearing.
What makes this moment so moving and true—even for the nurse, apparently—is the woman's spontaneous burst into tears instead of the standard leap of joy. But note also, what she says—and she only says two things. "I'm listening to myself cry," and "My laughter sounds so loud." Of all the things in the world that she could have heard for the first time—a door bell, a keyboard tapping—her own emotions aren't a bad start.
My idea: Let's all try to listen to our laughter today. Maybe it be as overwhelmingly, infectiously, and unexpectedly noisy as you can make it.
There will be tears: even in Korean
Dr.Oz on the power of laughter
One woman's story about raising her deaf child