Between you and me

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Probably the worst part of the fraud committed by parents to get their children into top colleges is the message it sends to their children. The parents are saying plainly that the children are not capable of succeeding on their own. Regardless of what they may have told their children, actions speak louder than words, and these parents have demonstrated that in order to succeed, one has to lie, cheat, bribe and otherwise con one’s way to the goal. 

And what is the goal here? Just getting into college, not making a million-dollar deal or getting on Easy Street for life. Yes, a college degree usually helps a person to get a better job. It also supposedly helps that person to become a more developed human. But a college graduate is merely on the threshold of the rest of his or her life, with no guarantees of any sort except the number of years one has spent in schools.

There are colleges considered top tier, but they promise nothing more than a sheepskin if one passes all the requisite courses. Are the professors better in a top-tier college? One might think that. Or one might suspect that some of the big name faculty use postgraduate teaching assistants to do the daily teaching with little student contact while they do research, travel to give lectures and win grants, contributing to the university’s standing more than to that of the students’ education. A top college degree might be a good name to drop in social circles, but in a long life performance is ultimately what counts.

Who gets the benefit of that name? Is it the child? Or is it the parents when relating the successes of their offspring? I remember a cartoon in one of the magazines about the time my children were going through that nerve-racking period of receiving acceptances — and rejections. In the center of the cartoon was the back of a car, with a close-up of the rearview window. And at the bottom left corner of the window, proudly displayed, was the sticker of the desired college, followed by the words, “also accepted in” with the other top-tier college stickers paraded across the width of the glass. Exactly whose victory was that touting? Why, that of the parents, of course. Many of the kids probably didn’t have a car or couldn’t even drive yet.

Now let’s be honest here. Some parents have always tried to help their kids succeed, whether by throwing in a hand with the eighth-grade science project or polishing French pronunciation. And those parents who could afford it have sometimes made lavish donations to colleges in the hopes of aiding the admissions process. But those donations, if they build a new room for the library or contribute to the purchase of equipment in the lab, ultimately help many students. Most important, they are visible and not dishonest. And whether we like it or not, people with more money sometimes use their money to their own advantage. Even the ability to pay for tutoring for the SATs divides the students into the haves and the have-nots. But that’s not illegal.

The other truism is this. Whether in college or in life or just inputting on a computer, garbage in means garbage out. If a student is committed and diligent about studying in college, and there are many good colleges in this country, that student will benefit from the college experience. The opposite is also true. It doesn’t so much matter where one goes to college, but rather what one gets from the college in addition to the piece of paper documenting one’s attendance and tuition payments.

My granddaughter is a high school senior this year and waiting to hear where she will go for the next four years. We all are waiting to hear with her. She has already received acceptances so she knows she will be a college student by fall. Wherever she goes, she will get there honestly and because of the exceptional person that she is. We are so proud of her.

 

 

Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Do you even remember what they were? If you are sticking to them, heartfelt congratulations. You are one of few with the discipline and tenacity to hang on. But if you are in the majority for having slipped or temporarily abandoned your resolves, here is some help. It’s called habits.

Habits can be a valuable tool to change your life, both for the better and not. By that I mean, we can slip into some unwelcome behaviors and they become habits almost before we realize it. Or we can consciously take control and set out to break or redefine or make new ones, and as they become part of a routine, they become easier to follow.

This is all far simpler than it sounds, of course. There is a whole branch of science dealing with habits, the unconscious behavioral patterns formed to deal with actions. “We do not so much direct our own actions as become shaped by them,” wrote Jeffrey Kluger in his introductory chapter for a special edition from Time Inc. called “The Power of Habits.”

He points out, by quoting Léon Dumont — the 19th century French psychologist and philosopher — that “a garment, after having been worn a certain amount of time, clings to the shape of the body better than when it was new. There has been a change in the tissue, and this change is a new habit of cohesion.” That is certainly true of the old, comfy pair of slippers that, despite their age, you hate to replace them, and the old pair of pants that have come to fit you like a glove.

Accordingly, the manner of our actions “fashion for themselves in the nervous system more and more appropriate paths.” Kluger here is again quoting Dumont, who studied the science of laughter, of gratitude, of empathy and, for our purposes here, the science of habits.

William James, the American philosopher greatly influenced by Dumont, suggested that people were little more than “bundles of habits.” The point of all this is to build on the idea that if we can shape our brains and the rest of our nervous systems the way we shape a pair of pants, we can control and redirect our lives to follow the actions we wish to take, namely our resolutions to be better.

Think about how many of our daily moves are just programmed in. We get up in the morning and automatically brush our teeth, take a shower, dress, put up the coffee, get our keys, slide behind the wheel of the car, place the coffee cup in the holder, drive to work, all probably while thinking of something else. Occasionally we are surprised to find we have arrived at our destination without consciously paying attention to the route. Almost all of that execution was the result of habit.

Well, suppose you built another step in there, like running 20 minutes on that treadmill or stationary bike collecting dust in your basement before you got into the shower. You like to watch the morning TV shows? Jog along with them as you watch. If you repeat that action for awhile, it could become a habit and presto! You are doing the recommended minutes of exercise a week without the ironclad discipline seemingly required each day.

It just becomes as much a habit as brushing your teeth. If you are forever locked into dipping into the candy jar in the evenings, and you find you are gaining weight, substitute chilled blueberries or red grapes from a cut-glass bowl within reach of your fingers. Of course you have to remember to buy the blueberries or grapes beforehand, wash them and keep them in the refrigerator at the ready.

Complex habits, like procrastination or chronic lateness or smoking are harder to unlearn — but not impossible. We can rewire ourselves, using substitutions or rewards, splinting a bad habit onto a good one for support or hanging out with those whose actions we would like to emulate.

Here’s the bottom line: We can do it. It will just take time for a new behavior to feel part of our routine, an average of two weeks or so. To become a habit will average 66 days.

Mayor Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson on March 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is the time of mixed seasonal emotions. On the one hand, the deep cabin fever that sets in with February is still with us. Winter is upon the land, the trees are skeletons, the bushes just sticks and the lawns an anemic greenish brown. Even the evergreens, instead of being a lusty hunter green, are more like a drab olive, branches hanging dutifully but limply, to remind us that all color has not entirely disappeared from view.

That’s probably also an apt description of our souls, suffering from winter’s darkness and yearning for color and warmth. Patches of snow, remnants of the recent storm, have also lost their luster and serve only to nudge us that winter still has us in its grip. So do the ever widening potholes.

But — and this is only a tiny “but” — March is here. That means we have made it through the coldest, darkest months. This weekend, we will switch to daylight savings time, so those who work past 6 o’clock in the evening will not be stumbling out from their stores and offices into the darkness. There will still be evidence of some day left. Remember, though, to drive with extra care during the week following the change, for statistics tell us there are more car incidents after losing even one hour on one’s biological clock.

Mill Creek in Port Jefferson on March 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

With the advent of March, if we hold on three weeks, comes the official start of spring. Now we know that Mother Nature doesn’t check the calendar, and we can get wicked snowstorms after spring officially begins. But that likelihood is less and would be a grand finale rather than the beginning of a long siege. So there is the smallest whiff of hope for the return of better weather. Also if you look closely at the bushes, you can see buds. Buds! That means flowers will be coming, and leaves, the bright green leaves of early spring. If we really want to get delirious about color, we can trek to Philadelphia to drink in the world’s oldest and largest indoor flower show, now happening at the Pennsylvania Convention Center until Sunday, March 10. This year’s theme is Flower Power, celebrating the contribution of flowers to our lives.

Sometimes on a winter day when the sun is shining, the sky is cloudless and intensely blue and the air, with its low humidity, crisp and invigorating. For those who ski downhill or through the woods, snowshoe or ice skate or even take a walk on a country road, the scene is poetic, an artist’s dream. To come inside after such activity and be greeted with the scent of hearty soup or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies is a treat most keenly appreciated when the temperature is low.

As the season turns, and we think about putting away the shovels and salt — not yet though! — we can also cheer ourselves on a bit by conjuring up the benefits of winter. What are they, you ask? Well, no mosquitoes for one. And the ticks have disappeared. No lawn to mow, although we do sometimes have to shovel snow, so that’s probably only a trade-off at best. We can gain a few pounds and hide beneath our tunics and sweaters until the change in wardrobe forces us to acknowledge the slothful truth. There are no emergency calls to fix the air conditioner in winter. But the boiler is no angel either. It always seems to give way on the coldest nights. A dark and cold winter night can be cheered with a crackling fire, as we sit before the fireplace sipping a favorite beverage and exchanging deep thoughts with a loved one. Even the dog seems to enjoy the warmth and glow, curling up at our feet.

But we are willing to cast all that away for the excitement of spring, with its birdsong, flowers and warmth. The return of light, longer with each day, is a magical salve for our moods. Just for a little while longer, dear friends, hang in there.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Before February’s Black History Month moves away for another year, I would like to share with you the exciting story I read in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” with lessons from four presidents as leaders: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Now you might be thinking that’s not the sexiest subject to be writing or reading about, but in her storytelling hands, it is a page turner. 

We all know too well that Johnson, the Democratic vice president, became president when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. At that time, Kennedy’s progressive legislation was totally bogged down in Congress, going nowhere. What might not be so well known is that LBJ, as he was fondly known, was a “master mechanic” of the legislative process for he had come of age in politics in Congress. “It was his fierce resolve not simply to dislodge Kennedy’s stalled agenda but to realize a society built on racial and economic justice far beyond the [FDR’s] New Deal and [Kennedy’s] New Frontier,” Goodwin wrote.

Taking advantage of the short burst of sympathy and support that he expected to realize from the nation, Johnson, a Texan, wanted to get the contentious civil rights bill, designed to end segregation in the South, enacted. “We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for 100 years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law,” he told Congress in his address to the nation on Nov. 27, 1963. 

But first he needed some congressional momentum to oil the rails and cleverly called for Kennedy’s tax cut to pass. Less divisive than the issue of civil rights, the bill had passed in the House after 13 months but was opposed by Virginia Sen. Harry Byrd, a conservative Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Conservatives then adamantly believed in a balanced budget. The idea of tax cuts came from liberals.

Johnson was able to work out a deal with Byrd. If he could get the proposed budget down below $100 billion in 1965, Byrd would bring the bill to the floor for a vote. With great effort, Johnson did, the bill was voted on and the Revenue Act of 1964 was passed into law on Feb. 26, barely three short months after the assassination. 

Now came the bigger challenge: civil rights.

Once the tax cut bill passed, promising more revenue from increased business that could be spent on social services, Lyndon Johnson focused his
attention and his legislative expertise on securing the mandate of law for civil rights. 

To say the least, Southern Congressional Republicans, many of them Johnson’s friends, adamantly opposed his effort. He liked to tell them his personal story about his longtime black employees, his housemaid and butler, Helen and Gene Williams, and his cook, Zephyr Wright.  

Each year Johnson asked them to drive his extra car from Washington, D.C., back to Texas, a three-day journey. One year Johnson asked Gene to take along his affectionate beagle as well. It was then that Johnson learned how difficult such a trip was for those of color: almost no places on the road to stop and eat, almost no bathrooms in which they were allowed, few places to sleep. “A colored man’s got enough trouble getting across the South on his own, without having a dog along,” Gene explained. Now, all these years later, the winner of the best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, “Green Book,” tells us the same story about traveling through the South in the 1960s with its unjust system of segregation.

Johnson knew his passionate advocacy for this bill would separate him from the South and from his Southern friends and colleagues. 

Johnson confronted those in Congress with how wrong segregation was and tirelessly worked the legislative system for passage of his bill. He challenged Virginia’s defiant Judge Howard Smith, a Democratic congressman and chair of the House Rules Committee by resorting to the discharge petition, a rarely used procedure, to blast the bill out of committee with the help of a majority of representatives. He rallied those outside the House to pressure their elected representatives to free the bill. The strategy worked, as leaders all over the country organized to do just that. 

Once out of committee, the House passed the strongest civil rights bill since Reconstruction. 

Next came the Senate. Johnson took on Richard Russell (D-Georgia), Senate leader of the Southern opposition, in a pitched battle that proved history is the result of individuals in the right place at the right time. Only a son of the South could have persevered at that juncture. Johnson managed, with the help of Republicans, and especially Senate minority leader, Everett Dirksen (R-Illinois), to break the Southern-led Senate filibuster. The bill then passed in the Senate. 

On July 2, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. He ended by saying, “To the extent Negroes were free, really free, so was I. And so was my country.”

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Presidents Day, as we honor those we hold on a pedestal, is a time for inspiration. Here are some inspirational sayings, some humorously so, that have been culled from the internet. 

1. Don’t talk, just act. Don’t say, just show. Don’t promise, just prove.

2. Good things come to those who believe, better things come to those who are patient and the best things come to those who don’t give up.

3. Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it, time will pass anyway.

4. Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together. (Marilyn Monroe)

5. What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create. (Buddha)

 6. Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom. (Jim Rohn)

 7. Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. (Frank Outlaw)

 8. Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. (Herman Cain)

 9. Rule No. 1 of life. Do what makes you happy.

10. No matter how you feel … get up, dress up, show up and never give up.

11. If you can’t change the circumstances, change your attitude. Funny thing is, when you do, you’ll find that the circumstances often change.

12. Hustle in silence and let your success make the noise.

13. Home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically.

14. The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present. (Alice Morse Earle)

15. Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

16. You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens. (Mandy Hale)

17. When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you. (Lolly Daskal)

18. Follow your passion. Listen to your heart. Trust the process. Be grateful. Life is magic and your dreams matter.

19. Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.

20. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new. 

21. You should never regret anything in life. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it is experience.

22. For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.

23. Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.

24. One: Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two: Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it. Three: If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away. (Stephen Hawking)

25. Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.

26. Be with someone who knows exactly what they have when they have you.

27. Money talks … but all mine ever says is goodbye.

28. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

29. Marriage is like a deck of cards. In the beginning all you need is two hearts and a diamond, but by the end you wish you had a club and a spade.

30. An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside the ship. Similarly, the negativity of the world can’t put you down unless you allow it to get inside you.

31. Yawning is your body’s way of saying 20 percent battery remaining.

32. What do you call a bear with no teeth? A gummy bear!

Renee Fleming

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

As befits a woman born on St. Valentine’s Day, Renée Fleming grew up to become the sweetheart of the opera world. Possessing a powerful yet silky voice, great beauty and impressive acting skills, Fleming has moved from a single dimension to any number of new musical venues, with a major role in Broadway’s “Carousel,” singing the national anthem at the 2014 Super Bowl, and innumerable appearances on television, in movies and in concerts.

The opera diva will be the star attraction at Stony Brook University’s Gala, the major fundraiser at the Staller Center March 2. I’ve long known about her spectacular professional career but thought I would like to know more about the person that she is, so I had a brief, 10-minute chat with her on the phone at a hotel in Barcelona, Spain. We were time-limited to protect her voice, which is as immediately recognizable when she speaks as when she fills the Metropolitan Opera House with glorious music.

Q: You are coming to Stony Brook to perform. Do you have some special connection with SUNY?

A: Yes, I went to SUNY Potsdam, and so did my sister and brother. My two nephews are at SUNY, so we are a fan club.

Q: You undoubtedly travel a lot. What do you do to keep yourself healthy and protect your voice during plane trips?

A: I try to stay hydrated, get enough rest. I live moderately and believe in mind over matter. And I do the same as others, trying to avoid those who are coughing on the plane.

Q: I believe you grew up in a musical family, your parents both being high school music teachers. Did you always want to sing?

A: It was the furthest thing from my mind! I loved horses, thought I might be a vet, or maybe the first lady president — which has yet to happen. I had ambition, was a very good student. I always wrote music growing up. But I never heard of a woman composer so that wasn’t an option. I majored in music ed, my parents thought that was a good idea, went on to the Eastman School and Julliard. Then I fell in love with jazz.

Q: Do you get nervous when you are to
perform?

A: I was not a gregarious person, that wasn’t my personality. I was shy. So that was one of the skills I had to learn.

Q: Do you have a favorite role or composer?

A: I’m not so much into favorites. Verdi, Strauss …

Q: Do you speak other languages?

A: Yes, I speak French, German, some Italian.

Q: Do you need to know those languages to sing in them?

A: No, there have been great singers who have not known the language they were singing in. You do not need to know the language but it is helpful.

Q: You have two daughters. How did you manage the work/life balance?

A: It’s hard for a working mother. You never feel you are doing anything well. You have to manage everything. It’s challenging. Fortunately I have a tremendous amount of energy and a great work ethic.

Q: Did you get that from your parents?

A: (Pauses.) Yes, probably.

Q: Do you ever have nightmares that you had forgotten your lines?

A: Yes, those kinds of nightmares like
everyone else.

Q: Did that ever happen?

A: No.

Q: Are your dreams set to music?

A: Hmm, I don’t really know. 

Q: What else about music?

A: I’m working with the National Institutes of Health. When children are exposed to music early, their oral comprehension is increased. Studies have shown that.

A major passion of the opera superstar is the intersection of music, health and neuroscience. She is artistic adviser at the Kennedy Center and has launched a collaboration with NIH — the first of its kind between a performing arts center and the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world. She gives presentations on her concert tours with scientists, music therapists and medical professionals. She recently co-authored an article with Dr. Francis Collins, NIH director, for the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Be sure to come out for the fundraising Stony Brook University Gala Saturday night, March 2, at the Staller Center. You will not only hear fabulous music. You will see one of the 21st century’s most remarkable
women.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

It was a roller-coaster ride for me through the pages of The ScienceTimes on Tuesday. Always a favorite read for me, this section of The New York Times often has an article of interest or even one that could improve my life. This time there were three, and if I were scoring myself, I would say I did pretty well on two and not very well on the third.

The first, headlined “Smaller Portions Support Lasting Weight Loss,” by Jane E. Brody, is right in my wheelhouse. Whenever I am eating in a restaurant, which I do for business meetings as well as an occasional social gathering, I usually order only a main course and skip the appetizer. Or if I do get an appetizer, which I might share with my companion, I will cut the portion of the entrée in half when it arrives at the table, enjoy that, and take the second half home. In that way, I feel virtuous about making two meals out of one, saving not only money but, more importantly, calories.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but restaurant portions have gotten larger over the past decade. And the idea of a doggy bag has become more socially acceptable. When asked, waiters will arrive with takeout containers in a jiffy. For those of us in the generation that was told we had to finish every morsel on our plate because children were starving in China, this is one way to break that lifetime habit.

 

Yogurts, sauces, salad dressings and bread — yes, bread — can have added sugar.

There is no question that Americans are getting fatter. Data just released shows that our average body mass index is right at the cutoff for obesity, Brody wrote. If you go to another country, as I did recently to Canada, people in the street look thinner than we do. We all know that obesity is a challenge to good health. Writer Brody recommends portion control rather than dieting and deprivation as the solution. I like that.

The second article, serving to scold me, is titled “Cut Added Sugars, Study Suggests,” by Anahad O’Connor. This is a problem for me because I have a well-honed sweet tooth. Yes I can eliminate sugar in my coffee or tea, but my downfall is my passion for sauces. And sauces are often loaded with sugar — added sugar that the article proclaims a no-no. If you read the ingredients on any packaged food, you will be surprised to find often that sugar is one of the first five listed. Don’t buy it. Yogurts, sauces, salad dressings and bread — yes, bread — can have added sugar. Fruit juices, soft drinks and other sweet drinks have sugar. They can be replaced with unsweetened ice tea, milk and, best of all, water.

The sugar found naturally in fruit is fine. It’s the added stuff that can cause a devastating condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which may cause the liver to swell with dangerous levels of fat. This raises the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease that can even progress to liver cancer, cirrhosis and the need for a liver transplant. A recent randomized study of children with fatty liver disease was able to substantially reduce liver fat in only eight weeks on a low sugar diet, O’Connor wrote.

Solution: Read the labels on the food you buy and avoid added sugars. For me, that means limited amounts of (sob!) sauces.

The other good news article talked about the value of short bursts of exercise. “Treating Exercise Like a Snack” by Gretchen Reynolds extols the virtue of walking up stairs several times a day. “As little as 20 seconds of brisk stair climbing, done several times a day, might be enough exercise to improve fitness,” concludes a new study on interval-style training. These are instant workouts that don’t require elaborate preparations or equipment.

Aren’t we lucky? Our office is a duplex.

Oh, oh. A small sidebar just caught my eye. Entitled “Fried Foods and Heart Disease,” it will have to wait for another column.

'Traitor'

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Last week, we took our first major film, “One Life to Give,” to an out-of-town showing. An audience of more than 100 history lovers and friends in Philadelphia watched the dramatic story of the friendship of Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge and the beginning of the Culper Spy Ring. We were impressed by how interested the Philadelphians were in a tale of George Washington’s intelligence service centered in Setauket, Long Island. This is, of course, an authentic narrative of the Revolutionary War and of the founding of America, so I guess we needn’t have been surprised at its broad appeal.

In addition, we screened for the first time the almost completed sequel, “Traitor.” This story picks up some five years later, in 1780, and tells of the capture of John André, British spymaster, by the Patriots, and his fate at the hands of, ironically, Tallmadge. He is now a major in the Continental Army and has been tortured with guilt during the past four years since his Yale buddy, Hale, was caught and hanged as a spy. It was Tallmadge who so earnestly persuaded Hale to join the war effort, and we know of Hale’s end at the hands of the British.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.

André has been caught with detailed maps of West Point, the fort that the British are lusting to capture so as to have free rein in the Hudson River, dividing New England from the rest of the colonies. The fort is under the command of Patriot general, Benedict Arnold, who is about to become a turncoat, hence his dealings with André. 

The sequel is, if anything, even better than the original film. And mine is not the only such verdict. Here are some comments emailed to us by the members of the audience after the screening of both films in succession:

• “Thank you so much for including me in the extraordinary film screening last night. … I was not expecting to see something so professional and polished on every level: script, acting, photography, sound, production and, yes, gory makeup! It is also wonderful to see what an incredible family [my grandson, Benji, is the director] and community production this has been — pulling in all sorts of expertise, including [Bev Tyler, historian of the Three Village Historical Society, who accompanied us to Philadelphia]. … Congratulations to Benji [Michael Tessler, Andrew Stavis and the rest of the team]. … Please let them know how much I enjoyed it. And we’ll all be able to say, ‘We knew [them] when … .’”

• “Wow, what a great night. The films were great, great turnout.”

• “What a joy to be there, we really learned from the movie.”

• “Wonderful event! You should be proud. The movies were great. I learned a lot. I’m excited to share new stuff with my students.”

• “What a treat to attend the viewing … last night. Thank you for including us.”

• “HUGE congratulations from me! Wow, I really enjoyed the movies.”

• “Thanks for including us in the movie viewing. An impressive undertaking with fantastic results!”

• “Had a great time at the movies. We were really impressed!”

And this from an old friend who has followed Benji’s development: 

• “Thanks for inviting me to witness [this] fabulous work. … [Benji’s] enthusiasm of his early years with a camera is super matched by his gifts of eye, mind and devotion to story and characters. It’s a little humbling to think that simply giving him a theater with a screen in his early years [he directed films as a teenager] encouraged him to continue creating worlds in film.”

• “I was so impressed with the level of sophistication given that [they] are young filmmaker[s].”

As you can tell, it was a successful and fun evening. We look forward to screening the two films, one right after the other, here in late spring. All will be welcome. Please stay tuned.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A friend called the other day to wish us a happy new year and to tell us that she and her husband had sold their house. The buyers were going to tear it down and build a new one on the property. Before I could react, she assured me that they had lots of pictures from over the years, and their many memories of raising the children there would always stay with them. Clearly she had mixed feelings about what was happening.

It got me to thinking about what a house is. For starters, it’s four walls and a roof, maybe even a basement, but maybe not, in which we shelter ourselves, our families and our stuff. It is also a place where we invite friends and neighbors to drop in for a drink, a chat or even an elegant dinner party. Some of those guests may even stay over from time to time, so a house is a hospitality center in which we connect with those we enjoy and perhaps love.

A house is a physical location where we can be found. When people ask our names, they may immediately follow up with a second question: “Where do you live?” So to some extent, where we live helps define us. But a house is more, so much more. It is a home where those closest to us reside, perhaps where our children grow up, where we planned, and from which we traveled to and from work to become the people we are today. 

Home is where we want to go immediately when we are not feeling well. It’s where we can get a soothing cup of tea or our regular sustenance at mealtimes. Home is a place where we rest, watch television, read the newspaper, use the computer, play video games, call our friends, wash our clothes, floss our teeth and sleep one-third of our lives. Home is our center, where our car knows to go automatically. Home is safe.

The longer we live there, the harder it is to leave.

When my elder brother died, leaving the co-op empty that my parents had bought and lived in for many years, I started slowly to have alterations made inside the apartment. The bathroom and kitchen needed to be brought up to date, appliances modernized, floors improved. 

My cousin watched with some amusement. “You are making a temple to your parents’ memory,” she offered. Not really, I thought to myself. I was investing for a far more pragmatic reason. I had hopes of one day renting it out for some supplemental income. 

But when I thought about her wry comment, I had to admit there was an element of truth in it. Our family had lived there happily for such a long time. I was even born there. It wasn’t just an apartment. It was the physical container for some of my happiest times. And it was comforting, somehow, that it was still there, even if we no longer were.

I remember when I was still in elementary school, just down the block, that one of my young classmates came to school one day to wish us goodbye. With tears in her eyes, she explained that her family was moving to someplace called Ohio for her father’s job, and she would be leaving us. 

“Don’t worry,” soothed the teacher, “you’ll go to a nice school there and make new friends. You’ll grow from the experience. And you can always come back to visit.” She nodded her head obediently, but I remember thinking then how sad it must be to leave one’s home and all associated with it to start over. 

Leaving a home means interrupting the momentum of one’s life. I wondered if my father would ever move us all elsewhere and comforted myself with the thought that he seemed pretty anchored where he was, which meant I would continue to live near my school.

A house is just an inanimate thing, bought and sold. But when it is a home, it can be the soul of the people who once lived there. 

Nancy Pelosi

By Leah Dunaief

This new year may come to be known as the Year of the Older Woman. That was my thought as I read The New York Times article by Jessica Bennett, “I am (an older) woman. Hear me roar.” The story goes on to cite Nancy Pelosi, Glenn Close and Susan Zirinsky, the newly named head of CBS News, among others, as examples of powerful women over 60 in the spotlight.

IT’S ABOUT TIME.

Pelosi survived a serious challenge to her leadership from the energetic freshmen Democratic members, to once again become speaker of the House of Representatives. That makes her the most powerful elected woman in the United States. Pelosi is 78. Long-serving Representative Maxine Waters (D-California), is the first woman, and incidentally the first African-American, to chair the Financial Services Committee. Waters is 80. Donna Shalala (D-Florida) is the oldest freshman in the House. Shalala is almost 78. 

Zirinsky, who worked at CBS in almost every conceivable news position for 40 years, is not being shunted into retirement. Instead she is now the first woman to head the prestigious news division. She is also the oldest person to hold that position. Zirinsky is 66. Glenn Close, regarded as an underdog in the best actress in a motion picture, drama category of the Golden Globes, beat out four younger women. Close, long a favorite actress of mine, is 71.

How much of this has been as a result of the #MeToo tsunami? Older men have long held power into their 70s and 80s. But some of them have been spectacularly toppled: Charlie Rose is 77 and Les Moonves, newly ousted from CBS Corporation, is 69. So age, of in itself, has not been seen as a barrier to power, but gender has. Those fallen men have vacated positions at the top that now can be filled by equally qualified women. Christiane Amanpour, who will be 61 this week, has replaced Rose on PBS. 

Gender coupled with age was always toxic for female advancement, but not in every culture. Native Americans, I believe I recall, would admit only post-menopausal women to the highest circles of power within their tribes. Slowly the rest of our country seems to be realizing the value of older, and presumably wiser, women for positions of leadership. This is most encouraging for the women over 50, of whom there are more than at any time in our U.S. history. And why shouldn’t they have the same opportunities at leadership and power as men? They are healthier, working longer and earning more than ever.

Well, in fact, it seems like they are advancing. In the words of Susan Douglas, a professor of communications at the University of Michigan, according to The Times, “a demographic revolution” is occurring. 

More women are working into their 60s and beyond, and are being appreciated for their talents and experience. In the late 1980s, some 15 percent were still working. Today it is nearly one-third of those 65-69. Those 70-74 and working have jumped from 8 percent to 18 percent. The Times article goes on to point out that working longer is more common among women with higher education and savings. Presumably some are in the workforce by choice and are valued there.

This all reminds me of an exchange that occurred shortly after we started The Village Times, our first newspaper, in 1976. I was 35-years-old, with more gray hairs than now, and hiring staff, when a man came to interview for one of the positions. 

After a positive conversation in my office, I was about to hire him when he paused, then asked, “Are you the boss?” When I told him that I supposed I was, he looked confused, then explained, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. I couldn’t work for a woman boss.” With that he stood, picked up his coat and hurried away. I didn’t even know enough then to be flabbergasted.

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