How empathy can compel you to become a storyteller

Empathy turned Jennifer Lawrence into an actress. During a 2018 60 Minutes segment, Jennifer Lawrence revealed that she had no formal acting training and relies solely on empathy:

During the interview, she further revealed that sensing another’s feelings and letting go of her own identity comes easily to her, allows her to focus, and is tremendously rewarding.

Jennifer Lawrence (from 60 Minutes transcript): … That’s what I crave —that really getting lost into something, being almost possessed by another emotion. That’s the adrenaline rush, that’s the high that I can’t live without.

Lawrence described herself as a poor student, a misfit, and hyperactive in a traditional school setting.

The 60 Minutes segment is just as much a testament to parents who were able to step back and get to know their unconventional child and let her become who she was meant to be.

Unfortunately, so many children’s talents are wasted and their spirits crushed by school systems that subscribe to one size fits all.

But I digress.

Empathy can seem like such a hindrance. It can hurt to constantly sense others’ pain and many other emotions through their body language, facial expression, and notes in their voice.

Writing enables me to release many of those feelings by telling others’ stories. When I write, the characters appear in my thoughts and, at times, acting out premises results in their dialogue. When I get into flow, I experience a rush as well.

Did empathy turn you into a writer or another type of storyteller?



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Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution Seeks to Educate, Empower, and Emancipate as do the many women running for office in 2018

Inspired by the Orange County Women’s March today and all the passionate individuals I met volunteering for Laura Oatman (48th Congressional District) and other organizations and candidates, I am blogging this. I never got around to pitching it for publication when the book came out November, 2016. (It’s not quite final draft; it has not been professionally edited.)

Reading Our Revolution was like jumping off the high dive and hitting the surface gasping for air. Sometimes, knowledge hurts. I considered myself fairly well informed regarding politics; after reading this book I realized that I had been deluding myself, especially regarding recent key legislation that reconfigured our economy. As detrimental to most as this legislation has been, equally demoralizing has been the prevalence and influence of disinformation and an array of ignorant attitudes that are part of U.S. culture.

Part autobiography, part campaign strategy, part blueprint for progressives, Our Revolution takes you inside Congress and depicts the unlikely tenure of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (since 1949, one of only six third-party candidates elected to the House of Representatives, and one of only seven third-party candidates elected to the Senate). Sanders’ first became an elected official 36 years ago when he became mayor of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington. His Burlington legacy includes the revitalization of Burlington’s economy along with progressive municipal policies during his eight years as its mayor. The city runs entirely on renewable electricity and still boasts a large housing development that is resident owned, a supermarket that is a consumer-owned cooperative, and a worker-owned private employer.

Our Revolution also details Sanders’ unlikely bid for the presidency in 2015 and 2016. Although he did not succeed in upsetting Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, he came awfully close, and he did succeed in convincing Clinton to make her platform more progressive, such as making college education free for most.

This book is so compelling, because its voice is so plainspoken. Sanders is one of us. He seems to have written it straight from his heart and soul. Certain scenes in the book will forever haunt me, such as the public forum in which Sanders chatted with a Flint, Michigan mom who comforted her daughter, a once bright and inquisitive youngster, now a placid special ed student courtesy of lead poisoning from tainted water.

Does corporate media threaten our democracy?
Chapter 10: Corporate Media and the Threat to our Democracy opens with, “Today, a handful of multinational corporations own much of the media and control what the American people see, hear, and read. This is a direct threat to American democracy.” Sanders shares his disillusionment with the media, due to its lack of coverage of issues critical to working families. He recounts a 2013 press conference regarding the future of social security that received almost no media coverage, despite the fact the press conferences participants were representatives of organizations such as AARP, which in total represented 50 million Americans.

Does corporate media help to sabotage our healthcare system?
I write about mental health. What astounds me is that because of superficial coverage in mainstream media, depression is still such a mystery to most, despite the conclusive research that exists as to its treatment and causes, some of it decades old. It still is not common knowledge that exercise is the most effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, that depression can be a by-product of other illnesses, that many lifestyle factors influence depression, and that bipolar depression generally results from faulty circadian rhythms.

What drew me to Bernie Sanders was his advocacy of a single-payer healthcare system. I too view healthcare as a right, not a privilege. We’re not talking Botox treatments or tummy tucks here, but basic preventive, coordinated care. Sanders details how to fund this. The state of Indiana is an example of how this system could work. It embraced the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by expanding its Medicaid eligibility and coverage, and paid for the expansion by analyzing its healthcare delivery and improving preventive practices such as improving follow-up of cardiac patients that resulted in lower rates of readmission.

Has recent legislation headed the U.S. toward oligarchy?
What Sanders does so well is explain how the recent changes in several pieces of key legislation created our current political landscape. The Clinton Administration’s repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, put in place after risky and destructive bank practices led to the Great Depression, enabled large commercial banks to merge with investment banks and led to the 2008 Wall Street crash and the Great Recession.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 vote on Citizens United allowed corporations and billionaires to donate unlimited funds to “independent expenditures” such as front groups with names such as “Concerned Citizens for Tax Reform” that support candidates in return for political favors. Sanders was the only candidate not to have the backing of a super PAC or front group behind him, and he argues that since the Citizens United decision, the U.S. is headed toward oligarchy, a system in which a small group of individuals controls the entire country.

In 2013, the Supreme Court repealed key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act “that required states and local governments that have demonstrated a pattern of discrimination to clear with the federal government any proposed changes to their voting laws.” Within days of the repeal, many states passed laws that made it harder to vote, such as requiring a state-issued ID to vote, restricting early voting, eliminating same-day registration, creating fewer polling places, and aggressively purging voter rolls. These new laws mainly kept poor people from voting.

Revised legislation also expedited the redistribution of wealth. Sanders includes some startling statistics, such as “… 52% of all new income generated in this country is now going to the top 1 percent,” “… the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and “…in 1979, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owned about 7 percent of the wealth in this country. Today it owns 22 percent.”

Creating a future with opportunity for all
As a woman, a mother, and a U.S. citizen, I was traumatized by watching Donald Trump win the presidential election — a man who got away with mistreating women, menacing his opponent and disregarding facts during the debates, boasting about filing for bankruptcy repeatedly and not paying income tax for 19 years, and so many other actions that display a willingness to do whatever it takes to make enormous sums of money no matter what the cost to individuals, communities, and the environment. Reading this book six weeks after the election comforted me and gave me hope.

Sanders’ campaign slogan was “A Future to Believe In.” “Part Two: An Agenda for a New America: How we Transform Our Country” sums up his intricate plans to reorganize the federal government in such a way as to provide healthcare, social security, improved infrastructure, and educational opportunity for every citizen. For example, he would fund free college by imposing a small financial transaction tax of .5 percent on stock trades, .1 percent on bond trades, and .005 percent on derivative trades.

Our Revolution’s publisher, St. Martin’s Press, should create a shorter book out of its second part “An Agenda for a New America: How We Transform Our Country” and use more charts and graphs to emphasize the startling statistics as well as the accounting and other remedies Sanders recommends.

Sanders emphasizes that creating a future to believe in depends on grassroots organizing, adapting laws to protect the vulnerable, challenging the power brokers, and working collaboratively. He dedicated the book to his volunteers and ends his dedication to them with, “Don’t give up. The struggle must continue.”



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Antifa, why oh why?

Trying to learn
Learning to try
Antifa, why oh why?

Inauguration Day 2017, a man dressed in black, his face obscured.
The body of a professional athlete.


Was he hired by the oppressors to discredit the peaceful protestors?
Antifa claimed him.

Why oh why?

But I do know why… alienation, injustice, electronics addiction, immaturity, learned helplessness

Antifa… all that passion, can’t you channel it constructively?
All the youth for whom it will be worse
Much, much worse if the opportunities slowly disappear

Losing our rights though sleight of hand, sleight of law, elitism, and the increasing power of the soulless…

Antifa, don’t hasten the haters
Performance art doesn’t have to include violence….
Mentor those youth who are walking through your pain…

I tend not to finish my poems or much of my fiction. This poem isn’t finished either, but I have been inspired by a fellow blogger (, Stained) and am posting it anyhow as the image from Inauguration Day 2017 that inspired it has been haunting me for a year.

I am remembering that I did include a few poems in Dream Walking and that I should do the same in Baby Fever its sequel.

Zinzi Clemmons raw, honest, compelling recent novel What we Lose (Guardian review: A debut of haunting fragments) uses one paragraph and one-page chapters to provide rhythm to the story and engage the reader.

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Gritty YA fiction

Not every teen reader can relate to wizards or cheerleaders. Such a Pretty Girl, Rules of Survival, Shelter, and Stealing Heaven deal with gritty themes such as surviving incest, child abuse, and homelessness. Along with providing inspiration, these realistic teen novels offer compelling, streamlined story telling that should appeal to adult readers as well as teach empathy.

Beth Cooley’s 2006 Shelter (Delacorte Press) is a reverse Cinderella story. When Lucy’s father dies, overnight she must adjust from living a sheltered upper-middle class lifestyle to living in a shelter with her mother and younger brother. Lucy’s mother has not worked outside the home in years and navigates the maze of finding employment that will get them out of the shelter. Lucy struggles to find friends at her new high school, excel at school to secure a scholarship, comfort her brother, and overcome the pain of the friends who deserted her once the money ran out. At first, Lucy dreams of getting her old life back, but eventually she appreciates her newfound resilience and her new life. Cooley crafts engaging characters and skillfully creates suspense out of the family’s struggle to exit the shelter.

Stealing Heaven
What if you have been brought up to be a high-class thief? If that premise intrigues you, so will Elizabeth Scott’s 2008 Stealing Heaven (Harper Teen). At eighteen, Dani is finally old enough to choose her own destiny. She becomes legally responsible for herself, but eighteen also means that if she were to get caught stealing, she would be charged as an adult and end up with a permanent criminal record.

Nothing dirty, nothing violent, just scamming wealthy people out of their silver summarizes Dani and her mom’s heists. The demands of her mother’s chosen career include constantly moving across the country and creating phony names and identities to go along with each move.

Dani’s fight to find her own identity is further complicated when she meets Greg, a cop, and struggles with keeping up her guard while getting to know him. Ultimately, Dani must choose between Greg and her mother who happens to also be her employer.

Such a Pretty Girl
Laura Weiss’s 2007 Such a Pretty Girl (Pocket Books) masterfully portrays a mother who is a consummate love addict and who idolizes and physically craves her husband to an irrational degree. Her denial is so great that she convinces herself that teenage Meredith, her only child, is to blame for seducing her own father.

When the story begins, Meredith’s father is getting out of prison after three years instead of the nine he was originally sentenced to serve for molesting her. Her mother sold their house to finance an expensive attorney who got his sentence reduced on a technicality. Meredith is terrified. Her mother not only completely dismisses her fears, but also prompts Meredith to help celebrate her father’s return by saying, “I put touches of color in your father’s condo, too. I think he’ll be pleased. Oh, and I took three steaks out to thaw so now is not the time to go into that silly vegetarian kick.”

The suspense builds as fifteen-year-old Meredith fights off depression as she plots to keep herself from getting raped once again by her father.

Rules of Survival
Matthew, the son of a sadistic single mother, narrates Nancy Werlin’s 2006 Rules of Survival (Penguin Group). He is the oldest of four siblings and their protector. The first rule of survival is pretending. Pretending that everything is OK. Pretending that each time you get beaten up will be the last time. Pretending that you are the adult. This novel captured the art of switching gears from fearing for your life to acting as if everything is perfectly OK.

The author captures the slow spiritual awakening of Aunt Bobbie and the father and the world through the eyes of a teenager struggling to keep his spirit from breaking in the face of a troubled, violent parent.

How does a child escape a dangerous parent, stay out of foster care, and keep his siblings together? Staying alive is the first challenge. Keeping his siblings alive is his second challenge. Matthew’s journey is mesmerizing.

Do you know of any other superb gritty YA/teen fiction?

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Bill Clinton, power, and denial

Bill Clinton has never owned his egregious misbehavior with women. He is a symbol of our culture of denial, in which charisma, money, and power mean that you can take advantage of anyone less powerful.

To be the most powerful man in the most powerful country and to take advantage of a 22-year-old woman working for you and then to smarmily split hairs over what type of sexual contact took place…

A few years back I read all of the sexual assault accounts against him through the years, and at least one seemed absolutely credible.

That’s the problem with rape, even if physical evidence is immediately collected, it boils down to one person’s word against another.

Bill Clinton’s word became meaningless to me. Any politician who has him endorse them, I really question their integrity.

Bill Clinton also pooh-poohs that the Glass-Steagall Act disappeared on his watch. The legislation that kept investment banking and commercial banking separate was the lesson learned from The Great Depression and lasted from 1933 to 1999. Economics is tricky, and it is difficult to assess the magnitude of the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

I am so sick of politicians who are out of touch. Those with integrity still exist. Senator Elizabeth Warren for one who co-authored The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Parents are Going Broke.





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“Heather the Totality” by Matthew Weiner

Provocative. Evocative. Compelling. Matthew Weiner’s debut novel Heather, the Totality delivers characters who will linger in my imagination for a long time. Characterizations are captured in short, visually stimulating scenes that keep the action moving and the reader reflecting on karma, the many nuances and challenges of parenting, and the pursuit of personal fulfillment.

“Her parents weren’t bad people, but they were living in a self-righteous delusion that they deserved everything they had,” Matthew Weiner, Heather, the Totality.

I can’t remember the last time I was disappointed by a non-fiction book that I read based on a review. I’d say I’m batting less than 1,000 when it comes to fiction I have chosen based on reviews. One best-seller was written from four points of view… that all sounded like the same whiny character.

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A tug on my arm woke me up. The tug was immediately followed by Nicholas’ gentle voice saying, “I’m hungry Mommy.” The clock radio read 7:03 a.m. Donald was gone.

All it took to appease Nicholas was a bowl of corn flakes. I munched on my peanut butter and whole grain bread and watched him methodically use his spoon as he took great care not to spill any milk.

Donald returned at 7:40 a.m. with bagels and cream cheese. “They look divine. Except I can’t eat them. White flour,” I reminded him for the umpteenth time.

“I forgot. Sorry,” he said sheepishly.

“Nothing says sorry better than scrambled eggs,” I replied in my best Mary Poppins voice.

At 9 a.m. I was finally able to push Nicholas and Donald out the door. The neighborhood park was barely half a mile away, and if Nicholas didn’t get there by 10 a.m., he would be shimmying down the curtains.

I immediately fell back to sleep until 11 a.m. when they arrived home. The six hours from the night before and those two hours only added up to eight hours though, and I woke up groggy and instantly realizing that I was missing my seminar. Still feeling uneasy about the baby, I comforted myself by visualizing the grey and white wiggles from the sonogram the night before.

Donald was itching to play tennis and “hang out.”  Although the basketball courts were a five-minute drive from our house, the neighborhood bar was only an additional three-minute drive. I knew he’d be gone until dinnertime, but I smiled and kissed him good-bye.

By 4 p.m. Donald had been gone four hours, and Nicholas was restless. The rain had kept him inside Saturday, and he wanted to go to the park again. I didn’t have the strength to take him. Donald wasn’t answering his cell phone, but luckily Legos came to the rescue.

While Nicholas focused on making a roof, I fumed. What the hell was Donald thinking?  This was supposed to be my rare weekend off mommy duty.  He wasn’t supposed to have even been able to go out all day.  I spent all that time in the hospital going through another miscarriage scare and am supposed to be in bed all day, and he can’t pry himself away from his bar stool?

I caught myself spiraling further and further into negative thinking and struggled to refocus by watching the intent expression on Nicholas’ face as he methodically assembled a structure. For such an athletic child, it constantly amazed me that he could get lost for hours in his Legos.

Donald finally showed up at 6:30 p.m. and headed straight for the refrigerator to retrieve a cold Budweiser.

“You ruined my weekend. I had to stay in all weekend,” he said as he slammed cupboards while looking for his favorite beer huggie, the one from University of Texas at Austin, his alma mater.

“You are so full of shit. I missed most of my writing seminar. I spent hours alone in the ER and almost lost the baby. And you were out most of the day,” I blubbered.

“This is why I didn’t want another baby, more work for me.”

I burst into ugly sobs and left the room.

It’s the alcohol talking. He’s making dinner. If you’re lucky, he won’t burn down the house in the process.

I know he only partially means what he says, part of him is so excited about the baby, I can hear that in his voice when he tells other people we’re expecting and when he talks to Nicholas about having a sibling.

Is he lazy or just an alcoholic? Is it he’s stuck in a college sophomore mentality because that’s when he started partying so hard? Is that just his personality?

He has so many good qualities, I try and focus on them — but it doesn’t seem like he pushes himself to grow.



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