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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

My parents married on July 4, 1925. It might seem counterintuitive for them to join each other on Independence Day, but back then to marry meant independence from one’s nuclear family. They were now off on their own, together ready to start a new branch of the family. And they began to have children. They were doing what had been done for only a few centuries before them, marriage being a fairly recent construct in humankind’s history.

Given statistics today, almost a century later, what they did seems almost quaint. Tucked into the back pages of The Wall Street Journal’s Business & Finance section, amid such stories about carmaker Tesla’s quarterly earnings and predictions about the future of tech stocks, is an article that would amaze my parents but speaks to our times: “Despite high costs, more women are interested in single motherhood,” by Veronica Dagher.

Not only are couples no longer feeling the need to marry before they have children. In today’s society, some women don’t need to be part of a couple before they embrace motherhood. Increasing wages for women create economic independence, and the share of women earning top salaries in high positions exploded 500 percent between 2008 and 2012. Women have gone from 1.9 percent among the top 0.1 percent of highest earners to 10.5 percent.

In 2017, according to the WSJ article, four in 10 births were to either solo mothers or mothers living with nonmarital partners. Fifty years ago, the number was one in 10. That means these four out of every 10 children are being raised without a father. That has got to have profound effect on those children. 

According to California Cryobank, a major sperm bank in the United States, about one-third of its clients are single mothers by choice. Further, the number has increased by 3 to 5 percent in the last five years. Rosanna Hertz, a Wellesley College professor, who wrote the book, “Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women are Choosing Parenthood Without Marriage and Creating the New American Family” (2006), has found that most of those mothers are college educated and earn roughly double the national household median of $110,000. But with rising salaries, not all single mothers are high-wage earners. Some have middle-class backgrounds and may even have more than one child.

What’s puzzling about this picture? Are we witnessing men being thrown away? I pray not. To paraphrase “South Pacific,” there is nothing like a man.

It’s understandable that single mothers may be single because they never found the right person to marry. Or they may be divorced or separated. Or widowed. Or they may have chosen not to marry. All of those reasons have to do with themselves. But according to Hertz, “there has been a notable increase in the number of women opting for this family structure in the 13 years” since she wrote her book. Since it takes both sexes to make a child, does a woman in good conscience have the right to knowingly deprive a child of a father because of an overwhelming maternal desire? Is it selfish or unselfish to procreate without a mate? Does boundless and unconditional love compensate?

There is a support group that deals with such issues. Called Single Mothers by Choice, it considers the emotional, financial, psychological and practical aspects of becoming a single mother. It also provides others in the same situation to talk with. To choose single motherhood is a hard and, incidentally, an expensive route. That was the thrust of the WSJ article. Right from the first step, there is no one with whom to share costs. Initial costs can range from several thousand dollars to six figures, and insurance is spotty.

It is certainly true that life does not always work out the way one would like. In fact, it almost never does. Too many bends to see around, too many roads not taken, too many disappointments. But I would just like to add a last thought from “The King and I”: Most men “can be wonderful.” 

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Schools are out, or almost out, trees are lush with leaves, people are beginning to wear shorts and sandals, and the temperatures are finally approaching the high 80s. It seems to have stopped raining. The lines after dinner at ice cream parlors stretch out the door and down the street. Dogs have their tongues hanging out when being walked. And it’s light until almost 9 p.m. Summer, glorious summer, has truly arrived.

It has been many years since my children enjoyed summer break from school’s routine and therefore I with them. Yet the feeling of relaxation that summer ushers in still floods my being. This is the time to make a barbecue and invite friends, enjoy the summer sky over some nice port in the long evening, lounge in the backyard, splash at the beach, watch a baseball game, sleep in a bit and read, read, read those books and magazines that have piled up on the bedside table all year long. It’s also the time to sail, swim, play, get lost on long walks and, in so many other ways, rejoice in the outdoors. There is even time to think.

Here is something tantalizing to think about. A letter published on the website Medium.com Monday, written and signed by a group of 18 billionaires, from 11 families, including financier George Soros, co-founder of Facebook Chris Hughes, Abigail Disney and heirs to the Pritzker fortune, Liesel and Ian Simmons, urged government to tax them at a higher rate. They called for “a moderate wealth tax on the fortunes of the richest one-tenth of the richest 1 percent of Americans — on us.”

Over the last three decades, the wealth of the top 1 percent grew by $21 trillion. Who can even visualize such sums? But the wealth of the bottom 50 percent fell by $900 billion — not hard to visualize by comparison because we can see the effects on American lives. 

The letter follows a similar declaration by investment guru Warren Buffett in 2011 encouraging greater tax on the richest. He revealed that his effective tax rate was actually lower than that of any other 20 people in his office. 

The richest pay 3.2 percent of their wealth in taxes versus 7.2 percent from the bottom 99 percent. President Barack Obama (D) picked up the suggestion at the time and called for a 30 percent tax for that population, dubbing it the “Buffett rule.” Not only was that never enacted, the latest round of tax cuts under President Donald Trump (R) have particularly helped those same richest Americans.

The Monday letter was addressed to all presidential contenders. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. senator from Massachusetts and Democratic hopeful, has proposed a comparable strategy, recommending that those who have $50 million or more in assets, like stocks, bonds, yachts, cars and art, be subject to a wealth tax. That would include some 75,000 families and raise, in her estimation, $2.75 trillion over the next 10 years. That money could be put toward better child care, helping with education debt and the opioid and climate crises. Such a tax would strengthen American freedom and democracy and would be patriotic, it is claimed. Surveys show that about seven out of 10 people support this concept.

In 2014 Nick Hanauer, a successful Seattle entrepreneur, wrote a memo to “my fellow zillionaires” in which he advised the following: “[We are] thriving beyond dreams of any plutocrats in history, [while] the rest of the country — the 99.99 percent — is lagging far behind. If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.”

How is that for some heady stuff to occupy the mind and lessen any lazy guilt as our bodies are stretched out on the lounge?

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

One of the best plays I have seen on Broadway is the drama, “The Ferryman.” Written by Jez Butterworth, directed by Sean Mendes and playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre only until July 7, it is so deserving of winning four Tony Awards, including best play, and should not be missed. The story is about a large Irish family in rural County Armagh in Northern Ireland and conjures up Tennessee Williams and “August: Osage County” for its familial interactions of love, lust, betrayal, anger, contradictions, secrets, repression and murder. But it is so much more.

It is historic, being set in 1981 at the height of The Troubles involving the British, loyalist Irish Protestants who want to remain in the United Kingdom, and nationalist Irish Catholics, including the Irish Republican Army, who want a united Ireland.

It is a story about storytelling as three generations live under one roof of a large farmhouse and slowly reveal much about their own histories. It is about human kindness, as personified by the appealing leading character, farmer Quinn Carney, husband and father of seven children ranging in age from 16 years to nine months. He houses and employs Tom Kettle, an Englishman, whose mind is not all there, as his handyman; and Caitlin, wife of Carney’s long-missing brother and her son, Oisin, as well as aged aunts and an uncle. Yet Carney is also a former active member of the IRA, with its brutality and bloodshed, which he has ultimately rejected. It has homey fairy tales and classic epics in the mix, hopeless love, and lots of barroom talk and drinking, happy celebrating and passionate confrontations. Amid all that activity, with a cast of well-defined characters, it has genuine, laugh-out-loud humor.

The play is also remarkable for its length. It runs three and a quarter hours with only one 15-minute intermission after Act 1 and a three-minute dimming of the house lights following Act 2. Yet not for a minute, for me and my companions, did it keep from being riveting as it pulsated with suspense interspersed with hearthside family goodness that is set against the background report of Irish Republican hunger strikers dying one by one in a Belfast prison.

There are even live animals in the form of an affectionate goose, a feral rabbit and a real, sweet baby. Artfully they all come together to deliver a memorable play and to live in the minds of the viewers well past the end of the performance.

The prologue, set against a crumbling, graffiti-splayed urban wall, sets the sinister mood with an encounter between craven Father Horrigan and Muldoon, a major figure in the IRA. And every subsequent scene in which the priest appears seethes with tension. He delivers the news that Seamus, Caitlin’s missing husband, has been found face down, preserved by the acid in a bog, hands tied behind him and a bullet in the back of his head. The mystery of his disappearance deepens because he was not involved in The Troubles.

There is an Aunt Pat and Uncle Patrick, as well as an often mentally absent Aunt Maggie, whose roles are largely to unveil past history even as their passions define them as three dimensional characters within the family and their country. Their narratives give their lives shape and substance.

With the discovery of the body, the past meets the future as Muldoon attempts to contain the truth of the missing husband’s murder from emerging. In the process, other truths seep out in the appropriately furnished great room of the farmhouse that serves as the only site where all subsequent action takes place.

In the beginning, the viewer is puzzled as to who the family members are and their relationships to each other, which create an air of mystery. As the plot develops, the answers powerfully emerge, carrying us along, absorbed and engaged. And while the plot is masterfully orchestrated, I don’t want to give away the most important details in the hope that you will still get tickets and join me in your admiration for a remarkable play.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? I recently asked that question of staffers at the news media office, and this is what they answered. I’ve grouped the responses by department, wondering if there was a common thread that ran through their common work. Answer: There wasn’t, at least not one that I could see. You judge.

The Sales Department

“Go to college.” I also asked this person if that advice had changed her life. “Yes, it was a positive thing for my future. College changed my life, with its new ideas — and independence, both socially as well as academically.”

“No matter what, trust that God has a plan for everything. For something good to come out of whatever seems bad now.” Right around then, I started to ask the source of the advice. “My mother,” she explained.

“One day, when I was about 12, my mother and I were disagreeing. ‘You need to remember the world does not revolve around you.’ That thought helped me be a much less self-centered person. I became more aware that what was going on around me was often more important.”

“Never look back or to the future. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet come. Live for today. That came from my Aunt Doris.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up. That came from my mother and was especially true for my dancing. Another is: Always trust your gut. Go with it if something doesn’t feel right.”

The Business Department

“See the humor in things. It’s only just recently that I have begun to see that and be on the positive side of things. That has made me a happier person since I turned 50.” I forgot to ask who told her that.

“Expect the unexpected. That may sound pessimistic but it has made me ready to cope. That advice comes from life’s experiences.”

“Treat others as you want to be treated. That came from my father.”

The Copyediting/Proofing Department

“Have a sense of balance. That’s good because often I don’t have that. When I think about that, it always works out for the best. And that came from my sister.”

“Probably two things. First, never stop learning. At the dinner table, if there was something that came up that I didn’t know, my father would take down the ‘World Encyclopedia’ after dinner and we’d look it up. Be curious, educate yourself. Read about it. Second, be kind and treat other people with respect. Again the source was my father.”

“Learn to cultivate a sense of urgency. I tend to be too laid back. That’s from Dr. Who, the sci-fi character.” [That thought came from the sister, above.]

The Art and Production Department

“Try not to care what other people think. It’s a constant struggle because I am a Libra, a people pleaser. That came from my mother, who oddly enough was always critical.”

“Stop worrying. My husband told me that, and I find I’m not as uptight as I used to be.”

“Having low expectations is a good strategy. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. That may sound pessimistic but the message is that things will always be better. The source: Stefan Sagmeister, who wrote a book that included things to be learned.”

The Editorial Department

“Don’t listen to outside people. If you think of something you really believe in, just go for it.”

“This paraphrased quote from Maya Angelou: ‘People will forget what you did, what you said but never how you made them feel.’ My first-grade teacher made me feel mutual respect and that is what I show others.”

“Keep swimming — no matter what’s going on in your life, never give up, keep going. I never gave up on dating [points to engagement ring] or careerwise. From ‘The Road Less Traveled,’ life is difficult and once you realize that, life becomes easier.”

“Always clean stuff from the top down. Don’t do anything over again — from my father.”

“I will quote what a priest told my father when he was diagnosed with cancer. ‘All you can do is be grateful for what you’ve had. Otherwise it’s too difficult.’”

And from my mother: “You don’t have to answer every barking dog.” Not a bad piece of advice for a future newspaper publisher.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A recent article in The New York Times asked, “What is your oldest or most cherished grudge?” Everyone holds grudges, I guess, and they can range from some perceived slight or cutting remark to deep hurt or betrayal. While we all know that forgiveness is a lot healthier than anger, still there is something immutable about a deeply held grudge. However hard and sincerely you try to let go of it and go on with your life, it’s impossible to entirely discard the pain. Some people even admit to tending their grudges like a garden.

“Holding onto a grudge really is an ineffective strategy for dealing with a life situation that you haven’t been able to master,” said Dr. Frederic Luskin, founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, as reported in separate Times articles by Tim Herrera and Katherine Schulten. The psychological study suggested that “skills-based forgiveness training may prove effective in reducing anger as a coping style, reducing perceived stress and physical health symptoms, and thereby may help reduce” the stress we put on our immune and cardiovascular systems. Carrying anger into old age can result in higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness.

So how do we discard grudges? How do we forgive?

Luskin urges that we recognize three things. First that forgiveness is for you, not the offender. Second that it’s best to do it now. And finally that forgiveness is about freeing yourself.

Then to continue the process, change the story about the source of the grudge. Rather than being a victim, think of yourself as heroic. Then think of the good things in your life so as to balance the harm. And remember that life doesn’t always turn out the way we want. Luskin emphasizes that forgiveness is a learnable skill. It just takes a little practice, he advises.

Now all of the above sounds good but I have another track to suggest. To sooth a grudge, there is nothing quite as satisfying as revenge. And the best revenge? A life well lived. It’s an old adage but true.

So what makes for a life well lived? I guess there are as many answers as there are people, but I can tell you mine. Make your home a happy and comfortable place by creating a room or a corner just for yourself. All you need is a special chair with a fluffy pillow or a bedside table with your latest reading choices or music source, and of course a picture you love on the wall. Take an aromatic bath. Welcome friendship and love in your life. If all else fails, get a dog.

When the weather is glorious, take a guilt-free walk, even for five minutes. Say hello to strangers in the post office or the supermarket aisle and watch a smile appear on their faces. Make yourself something you really like to eat, and if you shouldn’t be eating it, just eat a little. Do some kind of work that is worthy of you, then take pride in the way you carry it out. Clean out just one desk drawer and feel like you have your life under control. Remember to laugh at life’s little incongruities.

Go see a good movie. Or a play. Or attend a concert. These can all be found locally. Plan a trip, even if it’s only for a Saturday afternoon to the East End. Then go on it and see how many new things there are to see. Buy a shirt or an ice cream cone. Celebrate every possible occasion and even celebrate just for the heck of it. Take a nap, if only for 20 minutes.

And for Pete’s sake, read a newspaper, preferably a hometown paper because that tends to have more good news!

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Incredible as it seems to me, it was exactly 50 years ago that we started packing for our move to the North Shore of Long Island. We were on an Air Force base in Texas at the time and had originally not planned to come here. It was 1969, the Vietnam War (a part of our everyday life in the military) was raging, both Kennedys and Martin Luther King had been assassinated, the country was being ripped apart by riots, and until that moment we had intended to settle permanently in San Diego. My husband, who loved warmer weather, had researched the climate throughout the nation and decided that when his tour of duty ended, we should live on the southern California coast.

So we were taking our two sons, the third still in utero, to settle on the other side of the country from the city in which we were both born. But our families were still in New York. And when the time came for us to declare our intentions to the movers, we couldn’t go through with the decision. In those chaotic times, family seemed the most important element of our lives. My parents were our children’s only grandparents, my husband’s parents having both passed away some years earlier. Our children were my parents’ only grandchildren, and they all adored each other.

To everyone’s surprise we changed our plans at the last minute and wound up in Stony Brook, attracted by the coming medical center, which my husband felt would enrich his ophthalmology practice. The rest is history, our history interacting with our hometown, and after half a century I will say that the community never disappointed.

We discovered St. Charles Hospital, where our third son was born and where I was cared for like royalty. After a nomadic year of renting, we found a beautiful piece of property in the middle of the woods and borrowed to the hilt so that we could build a modest ranch house there. My husband started his solo practice—that’s what physicians did in those days—in a small medical building in Port Jefferson, and after six months we could afford linoleum to cover the subflooring in the kitchen. A year later we were able to pave the driveway. We regarded those as personal high water marks.

Meanwhile we loved, loved, loved the beaches, the creeks and the rivers within easy drive. We swam, collected all manner of shells and identified them for our children, we rode tire tubes into the harbor as the tide swept us out of the creek and we rented kayaks to paddle on the Nissequogue River. Our big expenditure was a Sailfish that we kept on the rack at the beach, and we sailed across Stony Brook Harbor to the Smithtown beach.

We were pleased to join the Historical Society, the Environmental Center, the Emma S. Clark Library and the Civic Association. People welcomed us, we found friends—or rather our children found friends and we then became friends with the parents—and we enjoyed the social and cultural scenes thoroughly.

Our children were educated in the local school district well enough to continue in life and thrive. We thank the many teachers, administrators, counselors and other personnel who every day delivered that fine effort.

My husband’s practice grew, and so did our children, so that shortly after the youngest started first grade I was able to realize my dream: starting a hometown newspaper to serve these villages. Again, our work was welcomed and our lives blossomed. I am thrilled every time I meet new residents and visitors to our area. Those contacts are invariably enriching, and we take our mission to provide impartial information and protect the community to be a noble pursuit. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to be joined by highly committed colleagues.

After 50 years, we can look back and know that we made the right choice.

Author Angela Reich with her book, 'Shipwreck of Hopes'
Leah Dunaief

Today, May 23, is the birthday of Margaret Fuller. She would be 209 years old. I don’t know if you have ever heard of her. I hadn’t really, maybe vaguely. She was actually born Sarah Margaret Fuller, named after both her grandmothers, until she dropped the first name at age 9. She was in other ways a precocious child, too, the oldest of Massachusetts lawyer and Congressman Timothy Fuller’s children, and he taught her to read and write before age 4.

Fuller, a Harvard grad, was such a stern teacher that he forbade her reading sentimental novels and instead gave her what was then, at the beginning of the 19th century, a vigorous classical education — indeed a rarity for a woman at that time.

Margaret Fuller grew up expecting to be exceptional, and she was: as a journalist, editor, literary critic and women’s rights advocate. She strenuously protested slavery, homelessness and other injustices. She advocated for education for women. She also was reputed to be the best read person in all of New England. She was the only woman allowed to use the Harvard library for her research. Her breakthrough book was “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” considered the first major feminist work in the United States, and she was friends and the intellectual equal of such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne — said to have modeled Hester Prynne after her, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and admired by Edgar Allan Poe.

Margaret Fuller

She died in 1850 at age 40 in a shipwreck off Fire Island, with her Italian count husband — if they ever married — and 2-year-old son, within sight of the shoreline. Her ship, the Elizabeth, ran aground on a sandbar as it was being captained by the first mate. The event was in all the metropolitan newspapers four days after the tragedy, once word could get out after the gale passed that had come sweeping up the East Coast, destroying the ship. Fuller had been sent by her publisher, Horace Greeley of the New-York Daily Tribune, to Europe from which she filed dispatches for four years, first from England and then from the 1848 revolutionary wars raging in Italy. In effect, she was this nation’s first female wartime correspondent.

Fuller’s life was honored with a book, “Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli,” a flattering portrait edited jointly by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing, all of whom rushed to get it out in print before, they feared, her reputation would die. In fact, it was the best-selling book in the United States until Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Margaret Fuller was a remarkable woman, and I am glad to meet her. How did we happen to meet?

We were introduced by Angela Reich and the Three Village Historical Society. Reich wrote a book called “Shipwreck of Hopes,” about the ship Elizabeth, and although this is fiction, the author spent a great deal of time getting the historic context right. She traveled to Harvard, poured over original letters and manuscripts, and otherwise discovered that there were thousands of shipwrecks off the Fire Island coast. Yes, thousands! This just happened to be one of them, and this one carried a famous passenger.

It is a wonderful thing that we can listen to a writer discuss his or, in this instance, her book and all that went into the writing, dressed in our daytime suburban-casual clothes, enjoying other community members similarly gathered and even a little homemade carrot cake on a given Monday night. In the process we learned some local history and met two worthy women: Margaret Fuller and Angela Reich.

We live in a terrific place where such delights — theater, music, documentaries, political debates and book discussions — frequently happen. All we have to do is get off the sofa after dinner and go to them. It’s often hard but so worth the effort. 

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

It’s still the same old story, only 60 years later. When I was an undergraduate at Barnard, the college president, Millicent McIntosh, who was well ahead of her time, urged the women — actually we still called ourselves “girls” then — to prepare themselves for a career and not just for marriage. “Statistics tell us that you will be alone during some parts of your adult life, whether from widowhood, divorce or not finding a mate. You may have to support yourself and your children, should you have them.” We giggled at the message.

The question then became: Who will take care of the children while we are working, and what will be the effect of a working mother on those children? In short, the issue was how to balance a career and motherhood.

Although she didn’t say it, the answer for President McIntosh, our role model who had several children, was to have help in the home. That was made possible by the fact that she and her physician husband made a sufficient living to pay for that help. That meant for women to have a career was a luxury, and we resolved the career/motherhood dilemma by assuring ourselves that it was quality time spent with children, not quantity, that would make the difference in their lives.

How pat an answer. How innocent. How ridiculous.

This was just before the world changed, just before Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and the invention of birth control pills. Within the following 20 years, certainly by the early 1980s, women poured out of the kitchen into the workplace, and the two-paycheck family became the norm. Values in America had changed, family income had improved, but the conversation was the same: Who will take care of the children and how will women and men — and the children at home — cope?

So how have we coped?

For starters, women can pursue success in the workplace much more readily, if not yet with pay equality. Women can also support themselves rather than stay in a marriage they may deem difficult. The other side of the coin is that the frustrations of balancing the workplace and motherhood that we imagined early on have indeed come true. And lots of other changes have taken place in society that weren’t imagined.

The relationship between men and women inside marriage has changed. The drive for equal pay in the workplace continues. The rate of divorce has soared in the last half-century. And fewer Americans are even getting married than ever before. 

In 1960, 82 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were married, but in 2010 that rate had dropped to 44 percent. By 2018, the reproductive rate in the United States had fallen to a 32-year low, which will of course have all sorts of implications for the future workforce and economic consequences on Social Security, among others. Remaining in the middle class now depends, for most people, on two incomes.

And the work-life balance question? Well, that problem still hangs in the air. Someone has to take care of the children, but who? I can honestly say that almost every career-successful wife I have ever interviewed and asked how she managed the home-workplace situation has expressed frustration with the outcome even as she loves her work. 

Couples today work out their own arrangements. Those fortunate enough to have the funds hire help. Roles in marriage have sometimes reversed, with the husband staying at home for the family. Some corporations have realized the benefit of offering paid family leave, so that infants are not left to third-party care. Grandparents have been pressed into service to care for their grandchildren. 

But the bottom line is that the choice to work has now become the necessity in most cases for both partners to support the family. 

The choice is still a luxury.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Many of us sit through meetings of one kind or another: business meetings, community meetings, even social gatherings. But did you know that the air we breathe in those closed spaces might not be so healthy for us? If you come out of such a gathering and the air around you then feels fresher and cooler, consider this: “Small rooms can build up heat and carbon dioxide from our breath to an extent that might surprise you.”  So explained a recent article in the Science Times section of The New York Times.

When we breathe, we exhale carbon dioxide. That gas, which we might characterize as stale air in such a situation, can actually affect decision-making as a result of its impact on the mind. Some eight studies over the past seven years have considered the effects on cognitive function in small, airless rooms over a couple of hours. The results suggest that perhaps we should not entirely trust decisions made there.

Carbon dioxide, when inhaled, dilates blood vessels in the brain and reduces activity among cerebral neurons, thus decreasing communication between brain regions. We know this to be true when a large amount of the gas is inhaled but we don’t know so much about the effect of smaller amounts. If student test results are compared in rooms with 600 parts per million (ppm)  of CO2 and similar rooms with 2,500 ppm, the scores of the test takers with the high concentration are significantly lower. It is interesting to note that carbon dioxide levels can be twice that high in some classrooms.

Such studies were repeated in the workplace, with workers taking problem-solving and strategy tests, and the results were the same. In today’s energy-sensitive world, many office buildings are better sealed, with less fresh air seeping indoors. Another interesting fact was that not every type of test showed that same result.  Less complex test material, like some proofreading, for example, did not show a comparable shift.

So the next time you are in such a situation, open a window or keep the door ajar. Perhaps the intellectual level of the conversation will rise.

Now here is another tip for better living that is also from The Times, although published a different day. For those of you who, like me, love to sit around sometimes and do nothing, here is exoneration from the charge of laziness in an otherwise busy world. The Times tells us that the Dutch call this “niksen.”

What is doing nothing, exactly? A psychologist named Doreen Dodgen-Magee, who studies this matter, likens it to a car whose engine is running but isn’t going anywhere. It’s “coming to a moment with no plan other than just to be,” she writes. She calls that boredom, which she doesn’t intend in a negative way.

But the idea of niksen is to take conscious time to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. I like that, although it flies in the face of our always-be-productive American culture. According to some experts, “the benefits of idleness can be wide-ranging.”

Daydreaming, “an inevitable effect of idleness — literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas,” according to Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in England, who has done research in this area. “Let the mind search for its own stimulation. That’s when you get the daydreaming and mind wandering, and that’s when you’re more likely to get the creativity,” she explained.

It’s not easy to do nothing and certainly to do so and not feel guilty about it. We have to set time aside deliberately to disconnect — and not just from our devices. The reward is that we can refocus with more energy. I have a chair in my living room that I can sink into and just have my mind go blank. It’s even tempting to fall asleep there, and sometimes I do for a few minutes.

Delightful! 

As of May 1 James Holzhauer won his 20th game of "Jeopardy!" Wednesday, which means he now ties for the second-longest winning streak in the show's history.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Did you know that the Boston Tea Party, during which colonists boarded British ships anchored in Boston Harbor and pitched their precious cargoes of tea into the sea, was organized by a local chamber of commerce? In 1773, in response to the onerous Tea Act imposed on the North American colonies by the British Parliament, the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce — that’s always been a tough part of town — called its members together and dramatically displayed their displeasure at yet another tax. And the rest is history — our history. 

All of which is to say, chambers of commerce have been around for a long time and, in their own way, can be quite powerful.

How do I know about this? I was watching the television program, “Jeopardy!” the other night, fascinated by the latest contestant who has won well over a million dollars so far and in record time, when the answer to the final question about a group founded in 1599 was, “Who was the chamber of commerce?” Intrigued, I looked up the history of chambers and discovered that in Marseille, France, tradesmen had banded together at that time to protect and promote business. They called themselves “chambre de commerce,”
chartered by King Henri IV.

There are all sorts of chambers today: international, national, national-international, state, regional and particularly local such bodies. They still have the same mission and generally are respectfully regarded by the public. They tend to be a nonpartisan source of information about their towns, especially regarding business, and membership in them suggests a certain authenticity. There are roughly 4,000 local chambers in the United States today, according to the internet, and they often advocate with government on behalf of business. 

Our media group belongs to eight of them in the areas we serve across three townships. Some are larger, like Huntington and Smithtown, some are just getting started, like Rocky Point Sound Beach. Earlier this week I attended the Brookhaven Chambers of Commerce Coalition, usually referred to as the BCCC. Founded in 1992 by Barbara Ransome of Port Jefferson, among others, the BCCC was celebrating the 20th anniversary of its annual gala, honoring a member of the year chosen by each of 16 chambers. Some 230 people filled the room and patiently applauded as the chambers in turn introduced their winners.

The now-famous “Jeopardy!” contestant, James Holzhauer, did have the right answer but only barely squeaked by one of the other two challengers to enlarge his winnings and earn the right to return the next night. Holzhauer is one of the more unforgettable characters that have appeared on the show. He is both “extraordinarily knowledgeable,” as described in The New York Times, but also has brought an unprecedentedly aggressive strategy to the game program. He is, by his own description, a professional sports gambler, and starts with the high value questions first, then bets shrewdly and big on the Daily Double. He thinks nothing of interrupting the amiable chatter from host Alex Trebek and moving the pace of the traditionally polite game faster. Married, with children, he is laser focused most of the time but seems to have relaxed a bit and even joked with the audience, as the days go by and his winnings pile up.

Holzhauer is different from the long line of previous contestants in key ways. By his own admission, he is used to winning and losing large sums of money all the time, so he doesn’t tremble when he bets $60,000 on the Final Jeopardy question. And he knows he is well prepared for the game.

What is the secret to his immense knowledge of trivia? He wasn’t a diligent student in school, he admits, but he prepared for “Jeopardy!” by reading children’s books in libraries where facts are presented in an interesting way. He worked really hard to achieve his longtime goal of getting onto the game show, and he studied to win.

Three cheers then for chambers of commerce and libraries.