Monday, March 20, 2023

A beautiful poem by Nicolette Sowder

I loved this poem from the first moment I read it. It has so much to say, so much that is important for all the life around us, plant, animal, and human. Yes, let us raise children this way........ 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

An update--more generosity of spirit

I wrote a post on March 3 about generosity of spirit (A New Yorker in Oslo: Generosity of spirit ( I had experienced that in connection with my book about growing up in Tarrytown New York--A Town and A Valley: Growing Up in Tarrytown and the Hudson Valley. The administrator of the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow: We've Lived and Loved There Facebook page where a notice had been posted about my book praised the book as great and meant that I was a fabulous author. It's nice to hear that as I wrote in my post from March 3rd, because if you think a writer hears that a lot, you'd be wrong. His generosity of spirit gave me a real boost in spirit (self-confidence, motivation, perseverance). Writers need that from time to time. Heck, everyone needs a mental boost from others from time to time. We're human after all. It keeps us going.

Since that time, I've heard from other people who've bought the book; one man wrote that he 'devoured it' and that the book contained wonderful memories. I've heard from a man who works at the Warner Library in Tarrytown that the library has purchased a copy and will make it available for loan to library users. And someone associated with The Tarrytown Historical Society told me that they will buy a copy of the book. All of this is wonderful news and makes me quite happy! I've also contacted several local bookstores in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow to hear if they will carry the book. We'll see what happens.

There is much to be grateful for in this life. I am grateful for this attention at present. I know it's likely to be my fifteen minutes of fame. I know it won't last. But it's a nice fifteen minutes. Writers don't get rich from writing books; very few do. That's not why most of them write. At least it's not why I write. But it's nice to know that something I wrote hit a nerve among folk who lived and grew up in the same town as I did. I thank them for the verbal support and for buying my book. I will pay it forward, that's for sure. 

A slippery slope

We live in a strange world now, one that promotes mediocre books, movies, music and art as very good or even excellent. The reviews are often stellar; I know because I read them. I'm always interested in what others mean or have to say. I will often watch a film or read a book because it's gotten good reviews, but it happens more often than not these days that I disagree with the reviewers, professional and non-professional. That was the case with the Oscar-winning film Everything Everywhere All at Once (I don't understand how this film won so many Oscars) and with some recent best-selling books (The Midnight LibraryEuphoria, and Normal People come to mind). All of them received stellar reviews, but I was disappointed by them. My criteria for judging them to be less than stellar are the following: poor plotting, disjointed plots, disguised preachiness, banal fluff that passes for philosophical thought, lack of depth concerning the serious matters that are taken up in the film or books, and so on. That being said, there were some classic books I read when I was growing up that I didn't like or didn't make me feel good, but objectively I know that they were good books. I have read books considered to be classics, by authors who are considered to be excellent that I haven't liked--for example, some few books by Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene. I evaluate them as mediocre because they had poor plots or rather ridiculous or superficial plotting and a failure to create engaging characters--mediocre at best. Most writers would probably agree that not everything they've published is up to snuff. How could it be? My point is that we need to be able to discuss some of these aspects when reading and writing reviews, because otherwise we can just accept that reviews have become sycophantic. Real objective discussion is rare at present. It seems as though the criteria for judging something as excellent or not have been pushed aside in favor of how one feels about the book, movie, art or politician in question. In other words, using subjective criteria for evaluations rather than objective criteria. If one likes a book, movie, piece of art, or politician because it/he or she made you feel good, I have no problem with that, but it can't end there. There have to be logical objective reasons as well for why one thinks something is excellent. But that's the slippery slope we're heading down right now. The definition of a slippery slope is a dangerous pathway or route to follow; a route that leads to trouble (Slippery slope - Idioms by The Free Dictionary). On that slippery slope, feelings alone matter, not logic or common sense. Feelings determine nearly everything, and it's easy to get fooled into thinking that something is good merely because other people feel that it is good. But it isn't. 

Nowadays we read about a classic book or film being 'cancelled' because it contained some off-color language or outmoded ideas that the woke crowd found insulting and wanted to rid the world of. One simply cannot do this. I am not in favor of cancelling books, films and pieces of art simply because they are outdated or not relevant to current societal mores and ways of doing things. One can teach students about those novels or films in reference to the age in which they were written or made, in other words, place them in their proper historical context. But we cannot rid the world of everything we don't like or pretend that it doesn't exist. We cannot cancel everything we don't like merely based on feelings. 

The potential for harmful situations exists when we abandon logic in favor of feelings alone. Basing judgments solely on feelings leads to a mob mentality, and mob mentalities never lead to anything good. In political situations, we've seen what can happen when mobs get out of control--the January 6th Capitol attack, for example. Even if it didn't start out as a planned attack, it became an attack and got out of control, no matter what Tucker Carlson says and feels. Again, Carslon knows (feels) that it was basically a sightseeing tour. He's concluded for us all and we should just accept his word. Except that I don't. His evaluation is not based on facts, but on feelings, his feelings. It's also based on his network's greed; how much they can milk this situation for all it's worth. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

What is a soldier without a war?

All Quiet on the Western Front (All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) - IMDb) won an Oscar for Best International Feature Film last night, among other awards. The film, directed by German director Edward Berger, is about a group of young German soldiers whose experiences of the brutality and hopelessness of war during WWI contrast with their initial eagerness toward going to war to valiantly fight the French on the western front for the honor of Germany. The film is based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque, who described the horror and suffering of war as a German veteran of World War I. The book has been adapted into film several times--in 1930, in 1979, and in 2022. I have not seen the other films, but if they are anything like Berger's film, they are probably quite harrowing to watch. 

It would be hard to say that I liked the film; films about war are too distressing because you know there will be bloodshed and death. Berger's film has plenty of both. There really is no plot other than that young men go to war, have their idealistic expectations of valiance dashed, fight to survive on a daily basis, and learn to deal with the brutality and trauma of watching their comrades maimed and killed. There is no time to process death or the intense emotions surrounding it. There is no time for humanity. There is no humanity in the trenches. Tanks roll over them, crushing soldiers and collapsing the trenches. Bayonets do the job that shootings do not. Grenades likewise. Berger does not spare his audience. But no filmmaker does when he or she makes a film about war. 1917 (from 2019) was another example of a brutal war film. 

Berger is clearly not pro-war. He presents the pointlessness of much of what goes on, and the arbitrariness of some decisions. When a ceasefire is signed, one of the German commanders whose entire life has revolved around fighting and war, sends his troops into battle fifteen minutes before the ceasefire is to take effect. His arrogant decision results in fatal consequences for the main characters. This commander asks the question--what is a soldier without a war? He is really talking about himself, about how he will have no identity if the war ends. But he is not the one fighting it, he is not the one in the trenches on the western front--his soldiers are, and they are dying like flies. Dead bodies are scattered on the battlefield and one soldier is assigned to go around and collect the dog tags after battle. After all, families must be informed that their heroic sons died serving Germany's interests. 

There is very little that is heroic about war, that much we know at this point in time. Most of us would agree that we should avoid war at all costs. The importance of diplomacy cannot be underestimated. But what happens when one of the warring parties does not want peace? What happens when that person is blinded by wanting to win, wanting to be the victor? That person will send his soldiers into battle with no thought of the consequences for them. They are just pawns on his chess board. That's the way it's been for centuries. And therein lies the problem. What do we do when one country invades another? What do we do when no amount of diplomacy helps, when no amount of diplomacy stops an aggressor? It's depressing to admit, but the world will always have wars as long as dictators and tyrants exist. Invaded countries have the right to defend themselves. Imagine if the USA had not gotten involved in WWII. What would the layout of Europe have looked like then?

It's staggering to read the death statistics of WWI and WWII. In WWI there were 10 million military dead and 7 million civilian deaths; in WWII over 60 million people died (World War I vs World War II - Difference and Comparison | Diffen). My husband and I visited Normandy and the D-Day beaches in the summer of 2016 (A New Yorker in Oslo: Visit to Normandy ( What I remember most about the beaches was that the sand was reddish in color. A reminder of the bloodshed on those beaches. It made me think about all the men who lost their lives there, far from home. It was overwhelming emotionally to be there, but I'm glad I was there. Because it crystallizes the history--it makes it real. There is nothing glamorous about war. Blessed are the peacemakers indeed. There is a special place in hell (if it exists) for the invaders, the aggressors, the dictators, and the tyrants--all those who drag the rest of the world into war. May they suffer there forever. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

"It's not that I have something to hide.....I have nothing I want you to see."

Anon is a futuristic dystopic sci-fi film from 2018 (Anon (2018) - IMDb) where everyone has a digital signature that is available at all times on society's augmented reality grid. Individuals are tracked every minute of the day, every day, on government orders, rendering privacy and anonymity non-existent. The tracking is essentially done by others around you, and is accomplished via ocular implants that record everything individuals see in order to provide augmented-reality displays to them and others.  In other words, the implants overlay this recorded information onto real-life situations almost immediately. If you see a person on the street, the overlays let you see all the digital information that exists about that person because all that information from everyone's ocular implants has been uploaded to the grid. It's almost like having a search engine in your brain. This makes policemen's jobs easier, because they pretty much already know who the criminal is immediately after a crime has been committed or while it is being committed. Policemen can tap into the scene of the crime using coordinates and gather the information that is needed; in principle they don't even need to be present. In practice, they visit crime sites in order to gather forensic clues that confirm their case against perpetrators. 

But there is a person who is not on the digital grid, a tech-savvy young woman (The Girl/Anon, played by Amanda Seyfried) whose analog life makes her invisible to anyone looking for her. It turns out that she has cleverly disguised herself in the system using algorithms that 'disseminate' information about her. It is impossible to gather a complete picture of her or to get complete information about her. Those who pass her in the street register her presence but get no information about her. She is a glitch in the system, and that makes the detective (Sal Frieland, played by Clive Owen) who is working on a series of inexplicable serial murders, curious. The murders are committed from the murderer's perspective, not the victim's, and the victims' views don't provide any information about the killer. He passes The Girl one day on the street, and when he cannot retrieve information about her, it occurs to him that she may be the murderer for whom he is looking. I won't divulge the plot or provide any spoilers, since I thought the film was a pretty good (albeit a little confusing) sci-fi film. 

But at one point toward the end of the film, The Girl says to Sal, "It's not that I have something to hide.....I have nothing I want you to see." Think about that for a second. She wants privacy for privacy's sake. She wants to be anonymous to the system. She is not doing anything criminal, she just wants her life to remain untracked, to remain outside the digital universe. She wants to be free, to say and do things without worrying that she is being tracked and recorded at all times. Although this is a futuristic sci-fi film, it made me realize how far we have come toward creating this exact society, where all of us are digitally connected at all times. We do not lead anonymous lives, nor is there that much privacy left. For example, our cell phone use provides information about our whereabouts at all times as long as we have our phones with us and turned on, which most of us do. The Alexa devices in our homes listen to everything we say and record our conversations, unless we turn off the recording function (The creepy reason why you don't want to put Alexa in your bedroom | Fox News) and Amazon’s Alexa Never Stops Listening to You | Wirecutter ( If you ask me, the society of Anon has already arrived. It's just that our governments have not mandated that we be on the grid if we don't want to. But we already do most of our banking online, the use of paper money has declined drastically, likewise the writing of actual paper letters. We can order food, clothing, concert tickets, and plane tickets online and never have to leave our homes if we don't want to except to attend the actual events or take the actual trips. But if the day comes when governments mandate having a digital signature, freedom as we know it will disappear forever. But rest assured, some few tech-savvy people will find ways around the system. It would be the height of irony if we begin to pay large sums of money to such people in order to return us to an analog society. We may find that an analog society is preferable if the digital one we live in imprisons us by forcing us to have our digital signature available at all times. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

News reporting and bottom feeders

I don't need a dose of daily news from any source. I can live my life fine without it. But it's impossible to escape the news. Wherever you turn, you are inundated with news from newspapers, tv, and social media, all ready and willing to keep you updated (and get you hooked). Even with the minimal amount of exposure to world news that I allow myself, I remain updated on what is going on. I'm part of the world around me after all. But I've learned to limit my intake of news; I had to, because otherwise it's overwhelmingly depressing to be inundated by it. And being depressed about the state of the world does nothing to help the problems in the world. 

I'm not even sure we can solve the problems in the world; there are too many. I think it's enough that we do our little part each day to be good people, to be kind and generous, to help others when they need help, to guide children in the best possible way, to create a future for them that is better than the present. To do unto others as we would have them do unto us. It really just comes down to that. My parents were good people who lived their lives in a simple, honest and unaffected way. They raised a family and did a good job. They were good citizens who loved their country despite its flaws. All countries have flaws. Our parents could not foresee the world we live in currently, but their good values and ethics were and are timeless, relevant in any generation. 

Those who produce and provide the news for us are like dogs with a bone. They get a hold of a news story and literally worry it to death. They hash and rehash it ad nauseam. If you hear it once, you hear it a hundred times a day if you are so inclined. I am not. The constant presentation of the same news story amounts to a kind of brainwashing in my book. I am not interested in being brainwashed. There has to be a less insane way of dealing with the world. It boggles the mind that people like Tucker Carlson are allowed to lead news programs, insisting that what they report is true when they have verbalized the opposite privately. I think of his insistence that Trump was cheated out of the presidency and his defense of Trump as the victim of election fraud when Carlson knew it was patently untrue. I hope his news channel has to pay out bigtime to Dominion Voting Systems (their $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News). I have no use for these kinds of people. Bottom feeders. There seem to be so many bottom feeders now in the world, who have given in and given up their good values and ethics (did they ever have them). And we wonder why the world is in the mess it's in. 

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Shoot the moon - Nederlands Dans Theater - Sol León & Paul Lightfoot

Another favorite--Shoot the Moon--by the NDT

Silent Screen - Sol León & Paul Lightfoot (NDT 1 | Scenic Route)

One of my favorite modern dance creations from my favorite modern dance company--the Netherlands Dance Theater (NDT). I was reminded of it tonight when I was at the Opera ( to see three different dance pieces--one classical ballet--Divertimento No.15--choreographed by George Balanchine, the other two experimental modern dance pieces--27' 52'' and Some Girls Don't Turn--choreographed by Jiri Kylian and Emma Portner respectively (Portner/Kylian/Balanchine - at Oslo Opera House ( I enjoyed all three, but when it comes to experimental modern dance, my taste runs more toward NDT. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

A book recommendation for my Norwegian readers

I just purchased the following book recently, as I was looking for a book that described the bridges over the Akerselva river (my second favorite river after the Hudson River). As luck would have it, a couple of Sundays ago my husband and I stopped to drink coffee at Hønsa Lovisas cafe, and while we were waiting to be served, we took a look at the books on the small bookstand near the entrance. Akerselvas Bruer og Fosser (Akerselva's Bridges and Waterfalls) by Kjell Egil Sterten was one of them. I'm happy to support anything to do with local history, be it in Tarrytown NY where I grew up, or in Oslo where I live now. The author is a local historian and lecturer who clearly loves Oslo. You can buy it from different online bookstores; here are the links: 

Friday, March 3, 2023

A Town and A Valley: Growing Up in Tarrytown and the Hudson Valley

Generosity of spirit

I recently published the paperback version of my book, A Town and A Valley: Growing Up in Tarrytown and the Hudson Valley, and have been trying to promote it, along with another book that I published last May (The Gifts of A Garden). Both books are available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and, among other online booksellers. 

Publishing a book is only the start of the huge job that looms ahead--marketing a book. Writing a book pales by comparison, although it is the most important job that the writer can do. But getting your book out there, getting it seen and read by others, that's important too. After all, writers write books that they hope people will read, even if the number of people who read them is small. What matters is that you've shared something you wanted to share, with others. There isn't always a huge audience for all books, nor should there be necessarily. But if no one sees your book at all, that can be frustrating and ultimately creates feelings of futility concerning writing. 

I've often written about the challenge of being creative and the internal tug-of-war between wanting to share the results and being afraid to do so. Sharing means exposing yourself not only to normal criticism (which is fine), but to destructive criticism on the part on internet trolls. There are so many of the latter whose sole aim is to tear down, not build up. But ultimately wanting to share wins out over the fear. Don't hide your light under a bushel basket, to paraphrase the biblical saying. I've interpreted this saying to mean that one should not hide one's creativity from others, if you truly have something to share. But goodness, kindness, and generosity can be substituted for creativity. If we are good people, we are asked to step up to the plate. And so it goes with talent as well. If God has given you a particular talent, make the most of it and share the results.

However, even if you haven't hidden your talent, even if you've spent a lot of time marketing your book on social media and personal websites, etc. it still isn't enough. You can't do the job completely alone. Authors need help from readers who liked an author's book and who post a positive comment about it on Amazon or Goodreads or social media. That happened to me recently--a rare and treasured experience of generosity of spirit on the part of a man I don't know who had read my book and who happens to be the moderator of a Facebook page about Tarrytown & Sleepy Hollow. I messaged him to ask if I could post a little notice on the page that I had published my book about Tarrytown, and he wrote back to say yes. So I posted it, and he followed up with a photo of the book's front cover and some amazing words about the book and about me. He wrote that 'Paula is too modest. She is a fabulous author and this book is great'. He also wrote 'Such great memories in your book'.

His generosity of spirit and his words made me happy. If only people truly understood how words can influence your feelings and thoughts, about yourself and others. I have some wonderful friends and loved ones who read my books; Jean, Trond, and Brendan (who passed away a few years ago) are/were my most faithful supporters and have read everything I've written. Knowing that they like my books has given me the motivation to keep writing over the past years. The praise from the Facebook moderator likewise gives me needed motivation to continue writing. 

I've often written about the world of academia and its lack of generosity of spirit. Very few people wish their colleagues well; that has been my experience at least. The competition for grant funding is fierce and those who 'win' are often ignored by those who 'lose'. I used to congratulate those who had gotten funding; after all, they did a good job and were recognized for it. In all my forty-odd years of research work, I've been congratulated perhaps twice when I got funding, once by someone who didn't think I was good enough to get funding, the other by a former boss. Among peers, almost never, and I have no idea why. I stopped caring after a while. It costs nothing to open your mouth to praise someone else and to wish him or her well. But that type of generosity of spirit is rare, at least in my experience.

More generally, how many times have you experienced wanting to share a small success or happiness, e.g. a particularly nice photo that you have taken, only to hear from the other person you showed it to that they have taken photos that are just as nice. They veer the conversation over to themselves or to something that they have done and for which they want praise. They don't want any attention focused on you. It's a spirit-crushing feeling when you realize that you are the recipient of envious and petty behavior. So I am grateful to those people in my life who have shown me that generosity of spirit when I have shared my creative pursuits with them. I am grateful for those who wish me well and who can celebrate the small successes that I occasionally experience without their feeling envious or resentful. I pay it forward and for the most part always have. I can say this much about myself; I am not afraid to let other people know that they've done a great job. So it's nice to hear from others when I've done a great job as well. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The upsides and downsides of instant information

Another apt commentary on the state of the world and our addiction to cell phones from my favorite cartoonist--Stephan Pastis--and his menagerie of talking animals (and birds) in Pearls Before Swine

A beautiful poem by Nicolette Sowder

I loved this poem from the first moment I read it. It has so much to say, so much that is important for all the life around us, plant, anima...