Tag Archives: human-interest

Eat Your Greens!

March 28, 2013

Kampf der Apotheken

How many of us were badgered by our mothers to “Eat your greens” when staring at the dinner plate, preferring to polish off the spaghetti, fried chicken, or pizza, letting the green stuff sit. Spinach? Broccoli? Collards? Yuck! In Germany, there are a couple of seasonal, very “green” traditional foods, consumed mostly in the Fall and Winter when the first frost occurs, and continuing on until spring. I am sure most people don’t really think about the health benefits of what they are eating, however, there is no accident that these traditions happen when our immune systems are lowered by cold weather and the bacteria that germinate indoors, during those months.

Once again, I’ve noticed some interesting and inspiring differences between Germany and America. I just can’t help it. One of the areas of great interest to me is healthcare, and attitudes towards health and healing. Both Germany and America have amazing foundations for medical care and treatment, as well as great education in the healthcare fields.

But one thing I’ve noticed which constantly astounds me is the proliferation of neighborhood Apotheken, or Pharmacies. I swear, there is a small pharmacy on just about every other block, and every second corner, even in the smaller villages. It’s crazy, how many pharmacies there are. Americans want to be fit and healthy and Germans want to be sure they stay healthy and just assume they will be fit as a result. However judging by the number of Apotheken, I would venture to say that they have a serious preoccupation with health.

Of course all Germans can afford it, but I won’t go in to the health-care-for everyone-regardless-of-your-ability-to pay aspect, here in Germany. That is for a later blog. What I want to concentrate on is the foundation of traditional medicine, and educational opportunity, and how that plays out in both Germany and America. Traditional medical systems in all countries around the world use phytotherapy as the basis of their doctrines, and it is the basis for most modern medical practice.

About a year ago, while doing research for a book, I came across an article with a wealth of information regarding the African Diaspora’s contribution to modern medicine. An article titled, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy, in the Atlantic World, the author Brian Grabbatin states, “…The slave voyage may have ended at the auction block, but Africa’s botanical legacy did not.” 1

I began an ongoing exploration about Slave Healers who used their powerful core knowledge of plant remedies and cures. Slave Healers on antebellum plantations were the black “nurses,” assigned by the slaveholders to staff plantation hospitals, and they did not only treat other slaves, but worked with white patients as well. Ex-slave narratives contain many accounts of these inter-racial encounters, and the work of these “herb, or root doctors.”

In a slave narrative, the former slave John Mosley is quoted, ”When the slave became sick we most time had the best of care take of us. Maser let our old mammy doctor us and she used herbs from the woods… Yes if we got a leg or arm broken Maser would have the white doctor with us, but that was about all, for our old negro mammy was one of the best doctors in the world with her herb teas. When she gives you some tea made from herbs you could just bet it would sure do you good.” 2

Check this out. In 1847 when The American Medical Association (AMA) was formed, many of the founding physicians in South Carolina also played active roles in the development of the “plantation hospitals.” Francis Peyre Porcher was a young doctor who was among the numerous white physicians who needed information on the medicinal plants of the United States, as they were not listed in their European catalogs of botany or their Materica Medica. To fill that void, the newly formed AMA created the committee of Indigenous Medical Botany. In an eye-opening article by Marita Graham Goodson in the Western Journal of Black Studies, she relates that while describing the medical wealth and extensive healing properties of the plants in South Carolina, Francis Porcher made “…more frequent reference to information obtained from Africans than he did to that from the white medical men who had been his teachers.”

She further recounts that the efficacy of these slave-plant remedies provided the basis for Porchers medical school thesis, and subsequent report to the AMA. Included in that thesis was knowledge of plants he collected from Native American medical practitioners as well as accounts of the African-based medical practices of slaves on Caribbean plantations. These remedies would later help combat the rampant epidemics of Yellow Fever, Cholera and Malaria, which swept through the South in the late 1840’s.

During the Civil War, in what can only be seen as a perversely ironic, twist of fate, the Confederacy published Francis Porcher’s book, Resources of Southern Fields and Forests, which was based on an expanded version of his medical thesis gleaned from “…fifteen years of experience among the sons and daughters of Africa, practicing medicine on them and watching them practice as well…” Those African slaves made a sadly invisible yet invaluable, fundamental contributions to the future medical standards of the AMA.

So what does that tell us about the power and use of medicinal plants and their place in contemporary medical practice? At the beginning of the 20th century, traditional plant medicines, or phytotherapy declined due to the rapid development and fiscally profitable production of synthetic medicines. However, people in low and middle-income countries never stopped using plants as their main source of medicine. And, as rising medical costs plague most societies around the world, we have seen a renewal of interest in traditional practices and herbal remedies.

However in 2013, the global marketplace of medicinal plants has brought the issues of regulating and safeguarding against contamination and residues to the forefront. Of course, in the pre-industrialized, pre-chemical world, this kind of quality assurance was unnecessary. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that nearly 80 % of the world’s population is dependent on traditional medicine for primary health care, and has published guidelines for the assessment of herbal medicines in an attempt to help governments develop regulations that ensure herbal and plant based medicines are safe and safely administered. http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/documents/s14878e/s14878e.pdf

Pass the Oscillococcinum (?)
Herbal medicine is more readily accepted in Europe than in the United States, and a number of the Homeopathic remedies in the U.S. are imported from the EU. The French company Boiron produces Oscillococcinum, a first symptom homeopathic remedy for the Flu, which is highly effective and sold in the U.S, but oddly enough, not allowed in Germany due to trade restrictions. However, European physicians, health professionals and researchers have formed ESCOP, the European Scientific Cooperative for Phytotherapy. This organization is publishing monographs on individual herbs used in clinical medicine as well as those used for self-medication.

Back to the corner Apotheke. In Germany, every single one of those corner Apotheken are well stocked with phytomedicine. Bulk bags are dispensed by pharmacists who are trained in both Western bio-medical and plant medicine. Wow. Go ask about herbs for; bronchitis, hypertension, gallstones or a liver detox and they know exactly what you need. They disappear into the back and come out with several bags of herbs, root, and flower cures, and proceed to ask you questions about your condition. I find that to be a wonderful benefit. This does not happen in a local Walgreen, Rite Aid or CVS! Everyone in Germany as far as I know, uses phytomedicine first and synthetic medicine and prescriptions as a last resort.

In Germany, the Ministry of Health has a separate commission, The German Commission E, which compiled 380 monographs evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbs for licensed medical prescribing in Germany. There is an English translation by the American Botanical Council. The commission itself was formed in 1978 and is presently part of the “Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte” (German equivalent of the FDA). German doctors study herbal medicine in medical school, and since 1993, all physicians in Germany must pass a section on these medicines in their board exams before becoming licensed. So cool!

In America, the FDA (U.S. food and Drug Administration) attempts to regulate the burgeoning herbal and supplement industries, but there is currently no licensing body for the practice of herbal medicine in the United States. However, America has wonderful schools which license and teach practitioners the Western bio-medical model, and Oriental approaches, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Within the Western medical community, naturopathic physicians have a solid foundation in botanical medicine and phytochemistry, and many hospitals in the U.S. are now acknowledging and implementing the traditional medical practices of the immigrant communities. I’ve listed links to several organizations and schools at the end of the blog.

Things are slowly changing, and Homeopathic Pharmacies are popping up, at least in my home state of California, where you can go to find quality medicine, and expert advice from trained homeopathic professionals. Sadly these are far and few between, and usually only found in “higher income” areas. The general population is still in the dark in regards to herbal medicine, which is labeled Alternative and sometimes regarded as “quackery.”

What is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy originated in 1796, and according to The Society of Homeopaths, “ …Is a system of medicine which involves treating the individual with highly diluted substances, given mainly in tablet form, with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing. Based on their specific symptoms, a homeopath will match the most appropriate medicine to each patient.” Homeopathy has been extensively studied and clinically proven to work and the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH) is the organizing body for homeopathic medicine in the U.S. The NCH provides accurate and up to date information about homeopathy to the public, as well as offering the NCH Summer School which provides, “…instruction to those who wished to learn self-help skills for family use, as well as highly specialized classes for health care professionals in medical specialties such as medical doctors, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, veterinarians, and other health practitioners…” They even offer webinars on their website for those that are interested: http://nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org

Eat Your Greens!

Here in Germany, a traditional and quite delicious dish is Grüenköhl, or Kale. Super rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins, Grüenköhl, is eaten with gusto and is really full of health promoting power. The other is Frankfurter Grüen Sauce, a deeply green sauce of 7 blended herbs (4) which is absolutely delicious. All of these herbs are medicinal and I found it really interesting that these healing plants are readily enjoyed by just about everyone. O.K., they are often accompanied by fatty pork dishes, but still… The power of these plants to heal has worked its way into popular cuisine, under the radar of even the most stubborn skeptic!

So, no matter what type of medicine you prefer for healing, go eat your greens! I certainly am.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com


1. In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (review)-Brian Graabbatin
-Southeastern Geographer 
Volume 51, Number 3, Fall 2011 – http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/southeastern_geographer/v051/51.3.grabbatin.html

2. John Mosley interview, Rawick, suppl. 2, vol. 7.6, Texas, 2805.

3. Medical-Botanical Contributios of African Slaves to American Medicine—Marita Graham Goodson,
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 11, No 4, 1987

4.Herbs in Frankfurter Grüne Sauce: Italian Parsley, tarragon, Chives, Dill, Chevril, Sorrel, Lemon Balm


American Botanical Council: http://abc.herbalgram.org

Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences: http://www.scnm.edu/-Southwest

HerbNet-List of University Programs in the US: http://www.herbnet.com/university_p2.htm

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Links: http://blog.chestnutherbs.com/links

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Happy Thanksgiving 2012

November 21, 2012

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Educating Malala

October 18, 2012

By Jasmin S. Kuehnert
In a blog I wrote several weeks ago, I mentioned the new law passed by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that bans women from 70 plus majors at colleges and universities in the country. The new law has sent angry shock waves throughout the country as young women search for an alternative course of action in pursuit of higher education.

You see, the Islamic Republic of Iran never expected that its mandate of providing access to higher education to both men and women, it would be women who would be flocking to universities. As the number of women attending universities in Iran surpassed those of male students, the country was suddenly faced with a highly educated, career-minded, and politically aware female population, the likes of which were never imagined by the government. Today’s university graduate female in the Islamic Republic of Iran is able to support herself, may choose to postpone marriage, move out of the family home to rent her own apartment with other single female college graduates, travel and engage in discourse concerning protecting women’s rights. This sudden surge of highly educated and globally aware women must be a terrifying thought for a government hell-bent on keeping women in second/third class status. So, what better way than to address this so-called problem, by stopping women from pursuing higher education, or at least for now, from having access to over 70 fields of specialization. After all, an ignorant population is easier governed than an educated and awakened one.

If the Islamic Republic of Iran can justify its new law on whatever reason it sees fit, it is of no surprise, though sickening and heartbreaking to stomach, to hear of the brutal shooting of Malala Yousufzai by Taliban militants. To the Taliban, education as we know it is anathema to their religious and philosophical doctrine and an educated female must be the pinnacle of all that is depraved and immoral. The more ill-informed and unaware, the more docile and pliable the populace, the more easily manipulated and kept in check and exploited.

By Tom Schnabel
It’s funny how the mind creates unexpected associations. When I read about Malala Yousufzai, the 14 year-old Pakistani who was shot in the head by Taliban militants, I thought of two plays I read in college. The first was by Gerhard Hauptmann, an 1892 play called The Weavers. In it the weavers are displaced by industrial factories, go on strike, are beaten down and go mad. The last line was “life doesn’t make sense anymore!”

The other play was by Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco, called Rhinoceros. It dealt with totalitarianism, and in it everybody was turning into pachyderms except the hero, who cries out at the end (I read it in French so that’s what I remember) “Je ne capitule pas” — I won’t surrender.

Sometimes the world doesn’t make sense. The thought of a teenage girl being shot for her activism in championing girls’ right to get education is completely abhorrent. When I first wrote these thoughts down, she had a 50/50 chance to live. Thank goodness she wasn’t murdered. She is in Britain now, but the Taliban has vowed to finish the job, and already men purporting to be relatives have been trying to get into the hospital. Fortunately it seems like the MI6 and hospital security is onto them, but nothing is certain.

Malala is a symbol of freedom and courage for all women and for all of us. May she fully recover and remain safe from this truly totalitarian, ignorant, and blasphemous plot.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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Adversity and Ingenuity: Partners in Creation

October 11, 2012

Human beings have shown amazing ingenuity in fashioning musical instruments, often in less than ideal conditions. Many of these instruments were conceived and designed by people at the bottom of the social spectrum, most of whom were slaves in the Americas. Here are four examples that demonstrate amazing creativity by people who managed to make very distinctive music:

1) Cuba: Claves
The claves, or rounded hardwood sticks, were fashioned from pegs used by slave shipbuilders in Havana and Matanzas. The rapacious Spanish had built so many ships to ferry trade (and slaves) in Seville that their forests were depleted. So they moved the shipbuilding to Havana, where the abundant forests offered superior hardwood. Hardwood supplies guaranteed ample ship production, and during construction pegs from Havana’s forests were used fasten the boat parts together (nails would have rusted and not been strong enough anyway).
Some smart slave workers picked up some pegs, hit them together, and there was the magic sound that has helped fuel the percussion section of great tropical Latin orchestras ever since. All this from discarded scraps left on the ground.









2) Trinidad and Tobago: Steel Drums

A similar phenomenon occurred in Trinidad and Tobago, where the big oil companies would discard large oil drums and let them rust. Sometimes the groups were named after the oil companies; a famous pan orchestra was called the Esso Steel Orchestra.
But the genesis of steel pans actually started long before the industrial revolution mandated the need for and production and distribution of oil. During the French Revolution of 1789–according to Wikipedia’s entry on steel pans–slaves working for French planters in Haiti and Martinique emigrated to Trinidad, before the British arrived. The West African slaves were not allowed to participate in Carnival, so they created their own parallel carnival festival, called canboulay. They used bamboo and other wooden sticks, beating on frying pans, trash can lids or whatever they could find. In 1880 percussion music was banned by the British colonial authorities.
Later, during the 1930s, however, finding discarded oil drums plentiful and cheap, black Trinidadians started using those. Steel bands became famous, a popular Carnival staple, and a magnet for tourists as well.
What is amazing here is that the instrument they crafted from a crude, dirty oil barrel became such a refined and sophisticated instrument. These instruments could play a three octave chromatic western scale. Today steel bands play music by Miles Davis, Beethoven, Brubeck, and Bach. I have recordings of both Handel’s and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, performed by a large orchestra of different-sized drums.
Whoever would have thought scrap metal could produce such a magical sound, one used in carnival celebrations ever since.










3) Brazil: Berimbau

The distinctively Brazilian berimbau actually descended from archers’ bows used by the pygmy hunter-gathers in Eastern Congo. When slaves went from Angola and Congo to Brazil, they re-fashioned these hunter’s bows, attaching a gourd and enlarging them. It is a most distinctive twang, and has been featured in northeastern Brazilian music, in capoeira, the martial arts dance, and the great Baden Powell and poet Vinicius de Moraes wrote a beautiful and famous song named after it.










4) Brazil: Forró: Triangle
I don’t know if the Brazilians in northeastern Brazil knew about the use of the triangle in European orchestras or as an instrument used to summon cowboys to dinner in western movies, but after the British started building railways in the 19th century, they left a lot of scrap iron around. Some enslaved blacksmith (Brazil only ended slavery in 1888, later than any other country) took some of this scrap metal, and beat it, shaped it, tempered and tuned it. The triangle has been used in Brazil ever since, especially in Pernambuco state, forming 1/3 of the rhythm section found in local bands (the other two instruments are the sanfona, or button accordion, and the surdu, or large drum).









These are just four examples of human ingenuity applied to music. There are countless other equally imaginative and remarkable examples in the other arts and sciences. It’s a phenomenon that distinguishes us homo sapiens and an occasion to celebrate our creative intelligence and endless imaginations.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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The War on Women: From USA to Iran and around the World

August 23, 2012

Afghan women voice concerns to coalition forces [Image 4 of 4]

There is a war going on; it is against women and it’s on a global scale. From the outrageous remarks on “legitimate rape” made by US Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), to the arrest of the three feminist rockers of the band Pussy Riot in Russia accused of speaking out against Vladimir Putin, to the practice of defacing women with acid in Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia and 15 other countries, to female genital mutilation, child brides, sex trafficking of young girls, and on and on it goes.

And now, Iran, a country not known for its stellar human rights records, has taken its hardline stance against women a step further. In an officially-approved act of sex-discrimination, Iran is barring female students from more than 70 university degree courses. According to Robert Tait of the UK Telegraph, the move “has prompted a demand for a UN investigation by Iran’s most celebrated human rights campaigner, the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.” The Iranian government’s decision means that 36 universities will no longer allow female students to enroll in 77 BA and BSc courses in the coming academic year. These courses have been labeled as “single gender” and open exclusively to men.

Here’s a partial list of university degree programs from which women are barred: English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, business management, petroleum engineering, chemical engineering, mining engineering. The universities complicit with the Islamic Republic’s agenda claim that they are creating an even field, a balance between the sexes by restricting these fields to single-gender students as a large percentage of female college students were left unemployed after graduation.

Just two months ago I wrote a blog about higher education in Iran, and the rising number of Iranian women holding university degrees. In fact, women account for nearly 60 percent of the total enrollment at Iranian universities. Higher education and global awareness of social issues have freed Iranian women to embark on a life of singlehood to pursue careers, rent apartments, travel, and question their rights. Iran’s recent barring of women from more than 70 university degree courses is telling of the Iranian government’s agenda on suppressing women in the traditionally male-dominated society.

Iran, as noted in Tait’s article “has the highest ratio of female to male undergraduates in the world, according to UNESCO. Female students have become prominent in traditionally male-dominated courses like applied physics and some engineering disciplines. The relative decline in the male student population has been attributed to the desire of young Iranian men to “get rich quick” without going to university.” The radical steps taken by the Islamic regime and followed in lock step by the universities are to turn back the clock, return women to a domestic life and suppress their voice in the public arena. Whether the government bans women from a large portion of university degree programs, it does not mean that young Iranian men are going to flock to the universities and take the place of their female counterparts.

The attacks against women are attempts to silence their demands for equal rights. Like everything in life, we cannot take anything for granted. The struggle is not over.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI

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Living in Rennes

July 19, 2012

Rennes - 11

I arrived in Rennes, the capital of Brittany, as an exchange student in September 1975. I was a 19 year old sophomore, who, along with 29 American students from my college, would be living with French families and taking classes at the university. My host family, the Louis, were a clan of women — Madame and her daughters, Catherine, 23, and Marie, 17. Monsieur Louis had died a few years earlier, hit by a truck right in front of the family’s apartment on Rue Marechal Joffre.

The family had hosted several Americans before me. These students, always female, were gregarious and outgoing. They’d bring Marie and sometimes Catherine on outings with other Americans, or they would bring Americans back to the apartment. My heart sank as I listened to these anecdotes. I was shy and introverted. I had difficulty making friends and spent most of my time by myself. I felt I was bound to disappoint the two sisters, particularly Marie, who had come to expect an exciting social life through her contacts with the Americans. Catherine, who worked full time in a record store, was often tired and distracted and was less interested in socializing.

I was fond of Mme. Louis. A tiny, bird-like woman who taught piano to make ends meet, she was my favorite of the three, a substitute for my own cold, distant mother. I enjoyed sitting with her in the dining room, drinking tea and chatting. She told me Americans were brave during World War II but the British were braver because they flew their planes lower. When I told her I was studying American literature she replied there was no such thing because America was too new a country to have its own literature.

The Vietnam War was ending, and there was a great deal of anti-American sentiment in France. President Ford was compared to Charlie Chaplin. Americans were seen as inept, uneducated boors. I had my own ideas about a 200 year old American literary tradition and the contributions of American soldiers during World War II, but I kept my thoughts to myself.

My classes were held at the Universite de Rennes. Because my college followed a 10-week trimester that did not match the university’s schedule, we did not take classes with French students. I took a course in French language, one in French culture and history, and an independent study on the teaching of English in French high schools in Rennes. Our term-abroad advisor was Paul LeClerc, who recently retired as president of the New York Public Library.

Every weekday morning except Friday, I left the Louis apartment and walked to campus, pausing to admire the jewel-like pastries arrayed in glass cases in the patisseries or stare at carcasses hanging in the windows of the boucheries. At first I ate lunch in the noisy university cafeteria, but the other American students had scattered after classes were over and I had no one to talk to. I started buying yogurt and fruit at local markets and eating alone in the park. My program provided for two meals a day with the host family, breakfast and dinner, so I did not go back to the apartment for lunch. Mme. Louis prepared light dinners: soup and salad or an omelette, so I lost five pounds that semester in spite of daily treats of tarte citron (lemon tart) or mille feuilles (Napoleons).

I was isolated not only by shyness but because I had not rented a mobilette, the ubiquitous motor scooters the locals used and the Americans adored. Some students, who lived outside the city limits and could not walk to campus, needed them, but most used the scooters just for fun. The Americans would gather after class and buzz around the city or explore the surrounding countryside. My mother had fallen off a scooter on her honeymoon and broken her foot, and that story, combined with my natural cautiousness, prevented me from joining the pack.

Then I met Shelley and Gary. And everything changed. I no longer remember the details of our meeting. None of us had mobilettes. And none of us fit in with the others. Shelley hated the provinciality of Rennes. She didn’t particularly want to learn French. She wanted to see the world and have adventures. She wanted to sleep with many men. Gary was black and gay. He wore multiple gold chains and spoke in a high, affected voice. He was kind, with a sharp sense of humor that he often turned against himself, probably as a way to survive.

We became our own group, the Three Musketeers. We bought baguettes, cheese and wine and ate lunch together in the park. We sat together on the train on school trips to Chartres or Saint Malo. I brought Gary to meet Mme. Louis and she adored him. At that time the French were curious about les noirs, and I think she thought of him as a male Josephine Baker. I don’t know how he felt about being an object of curiosity, but I don’t think life was that much easier for him back in the States. After all, this was 1975. He preferred Mme. Louis to his own French mother and was gracious and patient with her. But he was not an available male and Marie wanted nothing to do with him, or with me by that time.

Shelley did not want to meet Mme. Louis. On weekends she took the train alone to Paris or Amsterdam and would talk about men she had met in bars and cafes. I admired and feared her recklessness, and I didn’t want to hear too many details. I worried there was some chance she could end up floating in the Seine or the Amstel. One evening, she induced me to take a train with her far in to the countryside to listen to a concert of chamber music in a chateau. I remember getting lost in the woods after dark while trying to find the concert, and cursing myself for going along with her.

By the time I left Rennes, I spoke French fluently. And when I returned to college, I never saw Shelley or Gary again. The three of us reclaimed our usual routines and did not seek each other, as though we were embarrassed to acknowledge our former vulnerability and loneliness.

Rennes is less provincial now, more modern. The French have embraced our technology and the city dwellers have learned our language. But are we still the new kids on the block?

Nancy Gerber

Nancy Gerber

Nancy Gerber received her doctorate in English from Rutgers and taught Women’s Studies and English at Rutgers in Newark for eight years.
She is the author of Losing a Life: A Daughter’s Memoir of Caregiving.

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Higher Education in Iran: The Path to Freedom and…Singlehood

June 21, 2012

5th Day - 3V

Three years ago Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran and other major cities in Iran protesting the presidential elections, which soon became known as the Green Revolution. I remember watching news clips and YouTube videos of the protests and found myself moved by the faces of all the people marching, especially the young men and women. But what really moved me were the faces of the Iranian women, mostly in their late teens and twenties, dressed in jeans, and form fitting coats, their heads and hair covered under loosely tied scarves. Video after video showed these fearless young women standing up to the riot police even if it meant being struck by their batons, feet or hands. These women did not back away but continued to march and cried out for freedom. Many were arrested, jailed, and even lost their lives.

I left Iran in August 1978 at the precipice of a popular Revolution, which morphed into the Islamic Revolution, which then overthrew the Shah and ended the country’s 2500 years of monarchical dynasties. In those heady days of the Revolution, Iranian men and women from all walks of life had poured into the streets carrying anti-Shah banners and calling for freedom. I was a freshman at the University of San Diego as the Revolution unfolded in Iran and watched the events as a spectator would in the nosebleed section of a giant stadium. And I’m still watching from the sidelines from my perch in Southern California.

In today’s Islamic Republic of Iran, women are asking for freedoms which Iran’s theocratic government is finding difficult to address. It appears that when it comes to higher education, women account for nearly 60 percent of the total enrollment at Iranian universities. In addition, the increasing number of educated females with a global awareness of social issues (thanks to satellite television, the internet, and inexpensive foreign travel), has also made it difficult for these women to find husbands they consider compatible. At the same time, divorces in Iran have increased by 135 percent, pushing into the forefront a dramatic rise in numbers of women who are choosing to remain single.

According to an article I recently read in the NY Times: “Politicians and clerics are warning that an entire generation is growing up with values that are anathema to the traditional ones upheld by the state.” A leading ayatollah, Kazem Saddighi, said the following in a recent sermon: “Young people who are not married are nude, as marriage is like divine clothes to cover them.” But with more women earning higher salaries by virtue of holding university degrees and the continued rise in divorce rates, remaining single, renting an apartment and living alone and not with one’s family, is beginning to be seen as a mark of success. Interestingly, the young women embarking on a life of singlehood and pursuing careers have the support of their parents.

The Iran I grew up in was not against women. In fact, women were able to attain higher education, study abroad, hold positions in government and business, marry and raise families, or remain single. In fact, I remember a popular TV series called “Talagh” (=Divorce), which dealt with stories of marriages falling apart and the drama around it. What is interesting in today’s Iran is that it is the Iranian women, pushed into second or third class ranking as having less worth than a man per Islamic doctrine, subjected to strict dress codes and social restrictions, are the ones who are fanning the flames of change. Education, especially access to higher education, has been the Islamic regime’s goal from its early days. What the framers of the Islamic Revolution had not accounted for is this sudden increase in a very highly educated and outspoken female population. This super irony isn’t lost on me.

In the words of one thirty-something Iranian female quoted in the NYT article: “Society has no option but to accept us…I hope the state will follow.” I certainly hope so. It would be foolish otherwise.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.

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5 Considerations to Get Your Creativity Flowing + Take it to the Next Level

April 26, 2012

In writing this I realized I could write a whole post, if not a book, on each of these topics. So CLEARLY I will be writing about this more. If any of these topics spark your interest and you want to know more about them let me know in the comments and I’ll explore it more soon. Also, I host a 3x/mo Sunday evening Creative Mojo Conference Call that’s free to try out and super affordable if you decide to stay on where we discuss all these sorts of things and much more. Join this Sunday if you like! And, now, without further ado…

1. Put your muse in control of your creative flow

Let’s get to the heart of the matter straight off. You’re not creating as much as you’d like because you listen to the critic more than you listen to the creative inspirations of your muse. This is, of course, totally normal given the cultural conditioning and educational system most of us went through but if you want to THRIVE as the creative being YOU ARE, then you need to shift this around and put the muse on heavy rotation and the critic on the way far back back burner (or tune it out completely).

What keeps the critic in control is that on some level, you BELIEVE it’s judgmental criticism and instead of saying that’s an abusive pack of lies GET OUT!, you say you’re right and cower down, which is what it wants you to do. It wants to repress and silence your creativity and aliveness. It wants you to feel insecure and stuck. So, if you feel these things, then it’s a safe bet that it’s been playing you… because who you really are has nothing to do with insecurity or playing small. If there was a score card of you versus the critic, every time you dismiss a creative impulse because of insecurity, it scores. And every time you start feeling more vibrant and flowing, that’s a good indication that you’ve scored… which is unquestionably the direction to go in.

2. Free the creative child inside

I’ve taught a lot of creative classes (painting, voice, and dance) and to neutralize the playing field, I start with asking folks if they’ve ever had an artistic trauma. Almost everyone says yes. They then tell their story and almost ALWAYS, it was some self-hating adult squashing a child or young adults efforts at expression through thoughtless criticism, jabbing a rod of doubt into their vulnerable creative spirit. And, what happened? In most cases the person stopped creating shortly after, if not right there and then.

One of the first times I remember this happening to me was in elementary school. I skipped 4th grade and was put in the TAG (Talented And Gifted) Program but after awhile, I was dismissed from the program without explanation. Did I not perform well at playing chess or creating palindromes (go-hang-a-salami-I’m-a-lasagna-hog)? I didn’t understand but soon after my mom and I ran into the TAG teacher in the grocery story. My mom asked her what happened and she said “Robin didn’t sparkle”. Oh my lord, are you serious!? Yes, she was. I can gasp now as an adult but at the time I was crushed and that, combined with other challenges of the time, definitely led to me pulling myself in quite a bit.

I share this story because, crazily, it’s normal. So we have to have A LOT OF COMPASSION for our artistic selves because it’s likely that the person in you who wants to create isn’t your chronological age, but the age you were when you were shut down… or somewhere in between as it’s learning to grow up. Would you dump vile loads of silencing criticism on a child? Of course not. So you have to consider who the critic is really dumping on when it dumps on “you” and, like any good parent, you need to put your foot DOWN, create a fun, allowing, and permissive space for yourself to create, and go about it like you’re letting a kid create because most likely, that’s exactly who’s doing the creating.

3. No more excuses

Now that you get what’s going on here and you can see how the critic’s been controlling you through re-hashing your childhood traumas on a daily basis, you’re ready to get REAL and drop any lingering excuses you’ve got going on. Right? Right.

For instance, you may say that you’re too busy to create. This seems like a possibly viable reason but if you check Facebook more than 5 minutes a day, check your email more than twice a day, watch tv, cruise around on the internet, or tolerate or create any kind of drama in your life then it’s not true that you’re too busy – it’s just that you’re choosing to do something other than follow your creative impulses and dreams.

So, too busy, too tired, not good enough, don’t know how, want to do too many things how can I choose so nothing gets done, etc. are all STORIES designed to keep you STUCK. If you really LOOK at these excuses, what you see is the work of the critic. Not good enough – well, that’s obvious. But, in general, we come up with excuses to avoid actually creating because if we create, we have to FACE the critic and where we’re still hooked into it. I feel you – this is not a comfortable moment and every single time I choose to create, my critic, which can be vicious, launches a full attack ranging from you suck to you don’t know what you’re doing to you should be doing something more responsible. So, if I want to create, which I DO so deeply I crave it down to the core of my being, I have to CHOOSE to tune that tyrannical force out, connect with the creative inspiration of my muse and carry forth.

To create, to be a creator, is the opposite of victim. You are not a victim to your critic, skill level, time, financial responsibilities, or anything else. If you want to create, you can. You just have to decide to. Dr. Seuss painted from 12-4 every night while working full time in the NYC advertising industry. One of my art mentors, Shiloh Sophia, paints every morning from 6:30-8 before working a full day every day and many of her paintings are created in 15-minute intervals throughout the day in what she calls “in between moments”. Where there is a will, a passion, a twinkling desire – there is a way.

4. Show up and start

“Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.” -Chuck Close.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” -Pablo Picasso.
“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.” -Henri Matisse

Almost everyone wants to start with an inspired idea. But guess what – it doesn’t always happen like that. It often happens by you showing up to create and once you start, then the inspiration begins to trickle in.

Imagine if you had a friend who always asked you for advice but never followed what you suggested. After awhile you’d stop offering your advice. But, if they starting making advances in their life, whether from your counsel or of their own accord, you might become more receptive to sharing your ideas when they asked.

It’s like that with the muse. If you’ve been neglecting this relationship, then your inspiration in-box may not be brimming with tangible ideas. But if you start, as in pick up your arm, dunk a brush in paint, and start moving your arm over paper, or open your mouth and begin making sound, or move your body any which way – INSPIRATION WILL COME and the creative flow you initiated will grow.

To be clear, this does not mean the critic is going to lay off. Many artists I read about who are quite accomplished in their fields, so you’d think they would be critic-free, say the entire time they’re creating they’re hearing you suck, this sucks on repeat but they carry on anyhow knowing that if they don’t make whatever it is, they’ll never find out what its purpose or value may be.

In my case, the vast majority of paintings I’ve made start with me only having a starting point. Like, the contrast of two colors, a shape, or a mood. If I ask for more of a beginning point than that, all I get is silence. So, I begin with what I have. And, like unraveling a spool of yarn, as I keep painting, the rest of it comes.

5. Play

In general, we take ourselves really seriously. We’ve been trained to believe serious will keep us safe. It’s a tight and heavy way of living that we’ve unfortunately become so used to we don’t fully question it. But being serious cuts OFF the creative channel and fills the space with the energy of the critic.

Play is the opposite. It’s light, fluid, flexible, experimental, and fun. It’s discovery, laughter, wonder, openness. It’s kids playing on the play ground, screeching like delighting wild animals. It’s a magic fairy dust elixir of joy and permission that’s the ultimate Roto-Rooter for your creativity.

For example, when I’ve taught painting classes, I have folks do warm ups like make 10-20 minute paintings together on paper. Canvas can make people feel serious. Paper reminds them of kindergarten and it’s wild to see how much more experimental many people are on paper than canvas.

Forcing it and being serious are weapons of the critic. Play and intention (which I’ll get to in another post) is the work of the muse. Children GET this. They haven’t had the critic beaten into them yet so we have a lot to learn from them in terms of how to stay open, expressive, and in the flow.

One of my most favorite vocalists is Bobby McFerrin. In this video he talks about when he had a music epiphany and how he trained himself as a vocalist… which was 1 part focus, 1 part experimental play (aka. improvisation). VERY INSPIRING.

Viva la creative revolution!!

Robin Clark is a holistically oriented coach, teacher, and artist in the
Bay Area who’s been wearing one hat or another in the healing arts for 14 years.
Her passion, both personally and professionally, is the expansion of self,
self-expression, and empowerment that comes through waking up.
She believes we are each wildly creative, each in our own way, and
we’re here to experience the fullest expression of who we can be.
You can find her: at www.robinclark.org

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Filed under Creativity, Credentials, Human Interest

Henri le Chat and Erik Satie: Partners in Ennui

April 19, 2012

My friend Jasmin S. Kuehnert, a cat lover like myself, sent me this video of Henri, a very French kitty.

The music—most appropriate for this video– is by Erik Satie, who left the Paris Conservatory—his teachers called his piano playing worthless-— to play in the more accepting milieu of piano bars such as Le Chat Noir in belle époque Paris of the late 19th and early 20th century. The music is from his most famous work, the Gymnopédies (gymnasts) of 1888. Debussy gave Satie’s career a boost when he later orchestrated these pieces. The 3 gymnopedies became well known in the U.S. in the 1960s, when Aldo Ciccolini recorded them for EMI/Angel.
Henri le chat has complexes worthy of Sartre’s character in his first major work, La Nausée (nausea). Satie, for his part, was a real character: preferring smoky bars to concert halls, night life to a busy concert schedule, and was called “The Velvet Gentleman” because he had 22 velvet umbrellas and a whole wardrobe of velvet outfits. He lived in the Montmartre of Toulouse Lautrec, and called his compositions all sorts of crazy names (cold cuts, pieces in the form of a pear). In his ballet score for Parade, he used a typewriter. Tutti Camerata, a studio arranger, once recorded a great album of Satie’s works called The Velvet Gentleman in the 1960s which came out on the Deram label from the UK. Satie preferred to be called a “phonometriste” rather than a pianist.

Henri, the anguished black cat in the video, might even echo Satie’s unrequited love for Suzanne Valadon, an artist’s model and artist whom he fell in love with. He proposed marriage after their first date, but was rebuffed. She moved into the room next his on Rue Cortot. Having her so near physically but so far away romantically tortured Satie. When she moved out after six months, Satie wrote that he was left “with nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness”. Apparently this one night of romantic ecstasy was the only intimate relationship Satie ever had.

So perhaps Henri the cat and Satie have more in common than we thought. No wonder Satie’s music provides the musical backdrop to the story of Henri le chat noir and his existential angst.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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Filed under Education, Human Interest, Music

Now-Ruz: A Celebration of Life

March 22, 2012

Photo of Haftseen by Firooz Saofoura Zoroofchi

According to a recent post by Shirin Sadeghi on HuffingtonPost: “The talk of war (against Iran) walks tall amongst the rhetoric of Washington.”

As the U.S. and Israel increase the volume of their threats of war against Iran, Iranians in the diaspora and those living under the theocratic stranglehold of the Islamic Republic celebrated the arrival of the Persian New Year on March 19th at exactly 10:15 PM PST. The celebration of Now-Ruz (New Day), takes effect at the exact astronomical beginning of Spring, known as the vernal equinox. Now-Ruz has been celebrated for nearly 3000 years. Its rituals and traditions date back to Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that existed until 7th century A.D. before the Arab invasion and the enforcement of Islam.

In preparation for Now-Ruz, Iranians embark on the spring-cleaning of their homes, even make or buy a new set of clothes (my brother and I loved getting a new outfit or two), and bake pastries in anticipation of visiting guests when gifts are exchanged and feasts enjoyed. The rituals surrounding the celebration of Now-Ruz are rich with symbolism and ceremony. They begin on the last Wednesday of winter with Chahar-Shanbeh Soori (Eve of Wednesday), a fire-jumping festival, where people create small bonfires in their neighborhoods and jump over them as the sun sets. Parents join in with their children and jump over the flames inviting happiness and abundance while releasing and letting go of darkness and negativity by chanting: “Offer me your lovely red hue and take away my sickly pallor.” With fire signifying light (day), the symbol of all that is good, and dark (night), the unknown and all that is evil, celebrants partaking in the fire festival look forward to the arrival of spring bringing longer days and new beginnings.

As a child growing up in Iran, I remember the minstrels or troubadours, known as Haji Firuz, who sang and danced in the streets dressed in bright red and yellow satin poufy pants and shirts, spreading good cheer and bringing merriment to neighborhoods. Another tradition, somewhat resembling the trick-or-treat of Halloween, included young men who disguised themselves as women under chadors (long veils) and went from street to street banging on pots and pans, shaking tambourines and raising raucous. All this was done in jest as seeing a boy or young man in such a disguise invited laughs and more laughs.

Now-Ruz celebrations last for 13 days. As a child, Now-Ruz meant a school holiday lasting for 13 days. In fact, most businesses throughout the country would shut down for the duration of Now-Ruz. Everyone was on holiday!

A major feature of Now-Ruz is the preparation of “Haft-Seen,” (seven “S’s”); a special display of seven specific offerings each beginning with the letter “S” in Farsi. Typically, the “Haft-Seen” includes the following: “seeb” or apple (promotes beauty and good health), “seer” or garlic (wards off bad omen), “samanou” (a sweet pudding, symbolizing affluence), “sabze” or wheat-germ (representing rebirth) grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year, “sek-keh” or coin, preferably gold (for wealth and abundance), “senjed” (dried fruit from lotus tree, symbolizing love), and “somagh” or sumac (color of sunrise). In addition, there will also be a mirror (symbol for the sky), a goldfish in a bowl (life force), lit candles symbolizing fire and promoting enlightenment, colored eggs (symbol of fertility corresponding to the mother earth), sweets to spread sweetness and a book of poems by Hafiz or Rumi.

The Now-Ruz festivities end on the 13th day known as “Sizdah Bedar” (out with the 13th), and it is celebrated outdoors. Staying indoors is seen as a bad omen and families spend the day outside in parks and in the countryside near streams, rivers, and lakes, enjoying a festive picnic. The “sabze” or plate of wheat-germ that was the centerpiece of the Haft-Seen is taken on this picnic so that young unmarried women wishing for a husband will tie a knot between the green shoots (symbolizing a marital bond) and toss it into running water.
Despite the Islamic Regime’s attempts to do away with Now-Ruz, calling it un-Islamic and pagan, the ancient tradition of celebrating the arrival of Spring continues in Iran. The Iranian people have endured and survived invaders and conquerors like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and with time will overcome the Muslim conquest.

I see it only fit to close by quoting Shirin Sadeghi who says: “According to top US government officials, April’s showers will bring superpowers to Iranian shores. The war has been penciled in, they tell us. But Now-Ruz is in ink. And as is its habit, it is a reminder that the darkness is fleeting: the day will soon be longer than the night.”

Happy Now-Ruz!

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.

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Filed under Human Interest