Friday, May 25, 2018


Pathways to Life by Martha Slavin

I have become a rabid Warriors basketball fan. A surprise to me since I've never like watching basketball until the last four seasons. Before the Warriors became champions, we shared tickets with friends. I hated going to the games because to me they were no longer an athletic event. They were a show, they were extremely loud and expensive, spectators strutted around covered in Bling, and the cheerleaders, like most modern cheer squads, sashayed and pranced like Vegas showgirls. People seem to be at the game just to watch each other. We gave up our share of the tickets.

The Warriors with their joyous, winning ways have put the fun back into the game (though they still persist with a sexy cheer squad). As I watch a game on TV, I realize how quickly I turn against the players of the opposing team. I think of James Harden in particular, who I grew to dislike during the first 3 seasons of playoffs. He seemed to cheat when his team was behind by looking to create fouls to increase his team's score. He bad-mouthed other players. He strutted around with a chip on his shoulder. This year with the addition of some better players on the Rockets, Harden doesn't carry such a heavy load, has learned to share the ball with the likes of Chris Paul, and with the help of his team members is really pressing the Warriors, without as many fouls as he used to accumulate.

I let go of my dislike of him because he is showing me a different side of himself. Though he still spends too much time dribbling, I can see how he thinks through the plays and is more aware of other players on the court who can help his team win. He is an example of how character, working together, and maturity count. Isolation doesn't win.

The other side of the coin is my reaction to an opposing team. How quickly I rant and cheer against them even when they may be perfectly reasonable, likable people off the court. They say that playing sports is a good way to learn personal skills, character development, and teamwork.  Maybe the same could be said for spectators. I can see that it is easy to learn the wrong lesson. I've watched people shout at each other and get into altercations at leisurely baseball games. I can feel my own emotions surge as my team goes ahead or goes down to defeat. I could ask myself what does this game mean to me? Maybe I need to step back, slow down, and remember it is just a game. I need to remember that though character counts in athletics, it matters even more in real life.

Go Warriors!

Sunshine in Flowers by Martha Slavin

Friday, May 18, 2018


Finding Faces in Unexpected Places

"I have three voice-activated devices in my apartment. I use them all the time. They're quick and convenient. Even the Robo-vac answers my calls."

The 20-something son of friends sat among a table full of skeptical elders as he explained why he liked using the devices he has spread around his apartment. I wanted to ask him about what he saw as the downside of these devices, but I thought of my father-in-law's frequent criticism of my generation's values while I was in my 20s. I kept my mouth shut. The son shared his interest in new ideas with confidence. He saw the positive attributes of the new products he was using.

I wish I had asked him about the downsides.

I recently listened to a young woman on the radio who advocated for artificial intelligence and the benefits we would receive. When asked about hacking, computer crashes, and other potential problems, she breezed through them, claiming that those types of problems would be solved. She offered the automatic pilot on planes as an example of how we depend on the safety of these digital means.

But I still thought of the various social media and their lack of understanding of the shortcomings of their products, our own high expectations of digital devices, and their often erratic behavior. Bill (husband) has new hearing aids that allow him to receive phone calls through the instruments, which is why he enthusiastically adopted the equipment. He hasn't solved one problem with them. Though he turns off the phone's volume on his phone while he is teaching, he forgets to do the same with the hearing aids. On numerous occasions, a phone call will ring loudly as he is in the middle of class and then he can't figure out how to turn off the audible ringing in his ears.

When the power went off in our house recently, the lack of connection canceled the printer and scanner link to my computer. I still haven't gotten the scanner back. The light in our pantry is set to come on when we walk in. It is programmed to stay on for several minutes and then go off. Since the power outage, it goes on and off at odd times of the day and may stay on unless we turn it off by hand.

We expect these devices to work continuously. We forget how to fix them between occurrences. We usually have to call for professional help. Before their installation, all we had to do was flip a switch on or off.

Our 89-year-old neighbor is still energetic and full of good humor. He grew up on a farm in the Midwest and learned how to fix things. Though he has digital devices such as TV and his phone, he uses them because he needs them, not because they are the latest gadgets. He doesn't have any interest in acquiring voice-activated ones, though I am sure he would if he found a good use for one.

Bill, our neighbor and the 20-something son of a friend represent three points on a spectrum:  Millennials with bright ideas, intensity and confidence, an early adopter to new ideas though sometimes flummoxed by digital behavior, and a Korean War vet, who has lived through the ups and downsides of life and has learned to make-do with what he has. All three exhibit similar values, kindness, enthusiasm for life and a caring nature, but all three live in different worlds.

Where do you fit on this spectrum?

Friday, May 11, 2018


all artwork by Theo Slavin

When I look back on my active motherhood years, I think of the expression, 
If you can't be a good example, be a terrible warning." 

Sometimes, I found motherhood filled with cringe-worthy actions on my part. I can think of 10 mistakes that I made while Theo was growing up that put me in the terrible warning category. (I'm sure he could make up his own list!)

The first on my list occurred when Theo was in college. I had been intent on cleaning out the detritus in our house and gave away several boxes of duplicate family photos to the reuse center in Oakland. I never gave the boxes another thought until one afternoon when I received a frantic call from Theo.

"Did you give away all my baby pictures?" he demanded. He told me he was standing in the gallery at California College of Art. On the wall in front of him, from ceiling to floor, was a collage of photos of Theo. An art student had made an assemblage out of all the photos I had given away. That doesn't seem so terrible until you put yourself in Theo's shoes. He walked into the gallery and saw his life all over the walls. How would he feel at that moment? Would he think, had I gotten rid of him on purpose? Did I not want to have his photos? What heart-wrenching thing had I done?

I told him quickly that all the photos were duplicates. That those same images were safely stored in numerous photo albums at home. I apologized profusely for not telling him that I had given away the duplicates.

That incident ranks right up there with leaving him abandoned on the subway platform in Paris, his shoe in my hand as I hurtled away inside the train. Theo, his friend and I had rushed to catch a train. The friend and I made it, but Theo stepped into the car as the door closed. In Paris, the doors do not reopen even if your foot is in the doorway. I grabbed him to try to get him in, but finally (this all took seconds) let him go, bringing only his shoe with me. Luckily, Theo knew his way around the Paris subways. But he didn't follow my explicit instructions about being lost from each other:  "Stay in one place, I will come back for you." (We had limited cellphones in those days.) Instead, he climbed up to the street with one sock foot, one shoe foot, and started walking home. Meanwhile, his friend and I got off at the next station and hopped back on the next train to try to find him at our starting point on the platform. We arrived, but Theo was nowhere to be found. Frantic, we gave up, rushed home and found Theo waiting for us.

Those first two on my list are my most memorable 'momming' moments along with catching his tiny fingers in a closet door when he was about two. As mothers, we bounce around from one fire to the next, trying to dampen the unexpected heat from our own actions, and hope no one is singed in the process. I am glad that my mistakes turned out to be relatively small in comparison to the person Theo turned out to be. My 29-year son is a kind, thoughtful and inquisitive person, just the kind of man you would like to have for a son.

Theo, fingers and toes intact, now rides BART and buses without a care.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you mothers who I know have your own list. 
May you have a good day full of joy and fun!

photo by Martha Slavin

Friday, May 4, 2018


We all have stacks, don't we?

I took a box to the shredder yesterday that was full of my 10 years-worth of daily journals. I stopped writing in them about four years ago and they have languished on a high closet shelf ever since. These journal entries contained the emotional garbage that I didn't want others to read. Three years ago, I attempted to shred them myself, but discovered that my shredder's mouth wasn't wide enough for the journal pages. I put them back on the shelf because I wasn't ready to let them go.

This last week I reached up to the journals once again. I discovered I had no interest in reading any of the entries. I realized I have become a different person than the woman captured on those pages. I spent an hour or so tearing off the covers, pulling apart the string bindings and dumping the remains in a box, which I took to the shredder. I felt no regret, no hesitation about handing the box over to the young man at the shredders. Those pages served me well long ago, but I no longer needed them.

That action doesn't mean that I don't have journals left. I have art journals full of sketches and practice paintings. I have writing journals scribbled with lists and half-started stories.  I still treasure these because inside them I've found little gems.

Onion study that has some problems
but parts have real promise

I picked up my first writing journal from 1987 with its lovely blue flowered cover and read my first words:

I have decided to write down my thoughts for a half hour each day.

What followed was a list of events from my life that filled several pages. The lists included everything from standing on the headwaters of the Mississippi to sitting in Helene Rubenstein's elegant living room overlooking Central Park in New York City. From those lists, I created pieces of my story.

I re-read some of the entries and found the writing somewhat awkward. I was glad that after all these years of writing, I can see improvement. I also found little gems that could be a new starting point for another piece.

                    My life has been a paper bag with a hole in it -- 
                    filled with memories
                    that randomly drop out behind me 
                    without my noticing them

                    They lived on the shrinking edge of money

                    He had fine lines that came out of the corners of his eyes
                    and traced in a circle up to his forehead
                    as if the synapses of his brain were visible.

In my art journals, I have many studies that will never be framed. Over each painting, I put a piece of paper with a small square cut out of the middle. I move the paper back and forth until I find something interesting, which is a good reminder that those practice pieces are just beginnings.

a study that never came together

but the geese were worth saving

What little gems do you have tucked away in your stacks?