Sunday, August 14, 2016

How to Bribe Me

By:  Susan

It always surprises me when I see rewards offered for reading.  For me, reading has always been the reward.  

As a child, I suffered from chronic tonsillitis.  I remember getting a penicillin shot almost every other week.  This was back in the early sixties in Iran where disposable needles weren’t available yet.  I remember climbing the stairs to the top floor of the pharmacy where a man in a white coat would take out a giant metal injector and place it in a steel container with boiling water to sterilize it.  He would then approach me, who was being restrained by a mother or a father and probably screaming.  Next thing I remember, I am walking up the stairs of my house rubbing my sore behind.  To encourage me to endure these painful experiences and to show up for the next one, I was bribed with books.  Every time I had to get a shot, my mother would buy me a book!  By age five, when I finally had my tonsils removed, I had amassed quite a library.  In second grade
when I came down with a severe case of the measles, my one request was a copy of a children’s book I had seen on the children’s story hour on television.  The book was Kaduye Ghelghele Zan or the Rolly Polly Pumpkin, about an old lady who tricks some wild animals by hiding inside a pumpkin as a mode of transportation.  I remember lying miserable and feverish in my parent’s dark bedroom and my father coming home with a hardback copy of that book.  I know he had to have searched for it all over town.  Of all the things I left behind when I came to this country, I miss my collection of children’s books the most.

When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to join the newly established library in my local park.  I had to get permission from my parents and my school principal in order to join.  The principal refused to consent because he thought outside reading would interfere with my academic performance.  My elementary school did not have a library.  The one at my high school was used as the detention hall until a blessed soul took away the locks and let us check out the books.  At fifteen when I stepped into a public library in Houston, Texas for the first time, I could not believe that there were no locks and I did not need anyone’s permission to get a library card.  That was incentive enough for me to try to adjust to a new country and a new culture.

During the years I lived in Venezuela, my reward was the small, dank and dusty library at the Church that was set up decades ago by the Standard Oil Company to meet the needs of the expatriates living in that far off post.  I read every Agatha Christie mystery they owned, as I fed and rocked my four children who were born there.  Once, I found a tiny kiosk tucked away in a narrow hallway of a shopping center next to the bakery I frequented.  The young woman and her mother who owned the store were the only source of quality children’s literature in that town.  They did it for the pure joy of it, for God knows it wasn’t for the money. Finding that little bookstore was like finding a treasure.

Once I became a teacher, every time I read The Miraculous  Journey of Edward Tulane, my students would burst into applause at the end of the last page.  Kids have come in voluntarily during their lunch period to listen to Esperanza Rising How to Steal a Dog and The One and Only Ivan bring tears to my eyes and theirs.

I don’t think we need to reward anyone for reading but by reading.  The story is the prize.  The words are the bribe.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

On Promises by Carolyn

"We live in a society that over-promises and under-delivers."

I can't take credit for the line - it's from an insurance commercial that airs on my favorite radio station - but it is so true.

That line has made me think about promises.

Merriam Webster's dictionary defines a promise as "a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future".

Watching the conventions put on by the Republicans and the Democrats has reminded me, once again, that no president has ever been able to fulfill the promises made on the campaign trail. Let's be realistic - if it were that easy to fix all of our nation's problems, someone would have done it long ago. If we buy into the rhetoric offered by  politicians, we are destined to feel the disappointment that comes with over-promising and under-delivering. "Promises and pie crust are made to be broken." (Jonathan Swift)

Likewise the constant bombardment of advertisements for products that promise us perfect health, a long life, flawless skin, lustrous hair, sparklingly white teeth, and miraculous weight loss - all without much effort on our own part. Another instance of over-promising and under-delivering. Yet we keep falling for it. "Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement." (Samuel Johnson)

Parents (or spouses or friends) sometimes do the same thing. Maybe they are busy with work or distracted by something in their own lives. "We'll do something special next weekend, Sweetie," they promise. Next weekend comes. Busy-ness happens again. "I'll make it up to you, honey, I promise" becomes the continual refrain. Childhood (or the relationship) passes in a cycle of over-promising and under-delivering. Trust withers.

Our society builds up marriage as a promise of happiness. Despite our constant real-life observations or experiences that should lead us to realize marriage is not all sunshine and roses, we are still tempted to believe that it is. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-marriage. I hope someday to be married again. I just know that marriage is hard work. A daily state of bliss is not guaranteed. Our culture puts out hype about living happily ever after that over-promises and under-delivers. "You promise heavens free from strife." (William Johnson Cory)

Money. There's another instance of over-promising and under-delivering. We think, "If I just had more money, I'd be happy." or "If I could buy (insert desired item here), everything would be great." Studies have shown that people with more money are no more happy than people with less money. Why do we keep believing the deceitful promise our society makes us that money equals happiness? The only thing money gives us is choices. Again, don't think I am anti-money. I hope someday to have some, along with the choices it brings. But money or no money, my happiness is up to me, not my bank account. "But it is pretty to see what money will do." (Samuel Pepys)

Here's the flip side of the coin: not only do we need to be aware of people and products and circumstances that over-promise and under-deliver, we must also be on guard against being the one who makes the promises and does not follow through. Let our "yes" mean yes and our "no" mean no; let our actions, not our words, speak our intent.