Capturing Your Soul

In the year 1900, photographer Edward Curtis traveled from his home in Seattle to Montana to witness a Native American Sun Dance, which he and other members of the expedition believed would be the last event of its kind, ever.  Anne Makepeace writes about the effect this had on the man in her book Edward Curtis: Coming to Light:

“If some Indians believed that the camera could capture one’s soul, at this Sun Dance in 1900 it was Curtis’s soul that was captured.  This vision of a passing world would change Curtis’s life, uproot him from his home, and send him on an Odyssean journey that would consume him for the next 30 years.”

I personally did not know the name Edward Curtis until quite recently when a colleague talked about a recently published biography of him, but some of his photographs were familiar to me.  His haunting photographs of Native Americans around the country in the early twentieth century have become iconic.  You can see many of them on display at the Minneapolis Central Branch of the Hennepin County Library from now through January 6th in an exhibit called “Beauty, Heart and Spirit: The Sacred Legacy® of Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian.”  Photographers take note of the November 15th event at which master printers discuss Curtis’s ahead-of-his-time printing techniques.

I have yet to see the exhibit myself, but I’ve been reading about Curtis’s life:

Books about Edward Curtis


This photo of Chief Joseph (shown here from the children’s biography Shadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward Curtis) was the one that clicked with me:


Chief Joseph


While his work was not without controversy, it remains a significant legacy.  I know I can’t read about the dedication and empathy that Curtis put into this project without thinking about what might capture my soul in such a way.  

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Can you swim?


Sitting by the neighborhood wading pool is as close as I’ve been to swimming in a long while

Lynn Sherr’s new book, Swim, is an ode to the water.  She writes,

“Swimming stretches my body beyond its earthly limits, helping to soothe every ache and caress every muscle.  But it’s also an inward journey, a time of quiet contemplation, encased in an element at once hostile and familiar, I find myself at peace, able–and eager–to flex my mind, imagine new possibilities, to work things out without the startling interruptions of human voice or modern life.  The silence is stunning.”

It sounds amazing.  It almost makes me want to take up swimming.  It occurred to me as I listened to Sherr on MPR that no one has ever asked me if I can swim with one arm.  I get asked how I do all sorts of things or if I can do them at all, but I can’t recall being asked about swimming.  Well, I’ll answer anyway: I can swim, sort of.  I took lessons as a kid, and I have the basics down well enough.  But I’ve never been a strong swimmer.  Frankly, I assumed that one really couldn’t be a terribly strong swimmer with one arm.  Seems logical, right?


A quick search brought up this video of a kid (with one arm) winning a swimming competition.

I also found this article about another young athlete who swims (and participates in other sports) with an arm that looks a lot like mine.

I hate to be too you-can-do-anything-you-put-your-mind-to, but in my experience, you actually can do whatever you want to do if you want to badly enough.  We surprise each other and ourselves all the time.

Perhaps I will give swimming another chance.  I hope to find that stunning silence of which Ms. Sherr speaks to eloquently in her book.

Have you ever counted yourself out of a sport or other activity because of your physical limitations?  Have you surprised yourself with what you were able to do?

Parenting Around the World

Something about balance...

Are French parents better?  Or Chinese parents?  I might roll my eyes at the headlines, but I still read the articles.  Superlatives and competition aside, it’s fascinating to read about the ways that culture and family life interact and look at my own family in a new way.

Those of you who are similarly fascinated may be interested in Mei-Ling Hopgood’s new book, How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between), which sprung from Hopgood’s experience as an American living in Buenos Aires when her daughter was young.

You know how American families with young children are obsessive about routines–especially bedtime routines?  Apparently, that isn’t some universal family constant.  In Buenos Aires, children often accompany parents to parties or dinners that go late into the night.  They’ll crash out on sofas or chairs when they get tired.  I think my night-owl family would fit in quite well there as opposed to here where you get dirty looks if you have a child out in public after 9 p.m.   Not that I blame people and their dirty looks. It’s hard not to have strong opinions when it comes to kids.  I get that, and I really can’t blame people for wanting what’s best for my kiddo.

That’s the heart of the book.  Hopgood concludes with this:

“Despite vast differences in beliefs, religion and culture, moms, dads and caregivers in most societies share a common desire: to raise children who can thrive in the reality in which they live. While no culture can claim to be the best at any one given aspect of parenting, each has its own gems of wisdom to add to the discussion.”

If you like this book, try Meredith Small’s Our Babies, Ourselves or the documentary Babies for more cultural perspectives on parenting.   You might also be interested in this speech by Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she explains that she wasn’t trying to say that Chinese parents are superior.  It all, like most things, got taken out of context.

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What is a skeptic, anyway?

Guy P. Harrison has this to say about skepticism in the introduction to his new book 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think are True,

“Some people think of skeptics as cynical, negative people with closed minds.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Skepticism is really nothing more than a fancy name for trying to think clearly and thoroughly before making a decision about believing, buying, or joining something.  It’s about sorting out reality from lies and misperceptions.”

I just started reading this book, and I am impressed so far.  It covers a lot of ground in brief, accessible chapters perfect for when you only have a few minutes to read something interesting.   If you are an advocate for science literacy, a fan of Mythbusters, or otherwise interested in debunking paranormal stuff like psychics, near-death experiences, UFOs, etc. this book is for you.

Harrison believes, and I agree, that skepticism is essential for progress.  That might seem like a bold statement, and certainly some will take issue with it.  But what if we substitute “critical thinking” for “skepticism”?  Perhaps it has less negative connotation to some, but the definitions are awfully similar.  They’re both, basically, thinking about thinking.  Double checking our process to make sure we haven’t made any mistakes.  Looking for perspective.  These aren’t cynical things–they’re necessary.

Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky includes critical thinking as one of seven essential life skills that parents should instill in their children, and she ties it in with problem solving.  I know I’ve recommended this book before, but I can’t resist recommending it again to parents or teachers who want practical, science-based advice for helping kids develop the skills they need to succeed, including evaluating information, making decisions, and determining goals–all of which are related to critical thinking.

Actually, it’s a good time to pick up Mind in the Making because one of my favorite parenting blogs, Not Just Cute, just started blogging the book chapter-by-chapter.  Start here with Chapter One, and read along!

Speaking of “problem solving,” I happened to catch Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose new book Space Chronicles is out now, on The Daily Circuit earlier this week, and he said scientists and engineers are “problem solvers.”  Listening to Tyson talk, I’d say skeptics are idea people.  Skeptics are hopeful and engaged.  Skepticism, science, critical thinking, problem solving… It all sounds so exciting when he’s talking about it.

Skepticism isn’t inherently negative.  Skeptics aren’t trying to be mean when they ask for evidence.  We’re just curious.


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For more about science & skepticism, see my Secular Thursday page.

Girls in Music–Minneapolis and Beyond

Honestly, I’m far from a music geek and I’m not the slightest bit musical, but somehow I always seemed to be connected to music–from my Sunny Day Real Estate soaked teen years to the twee of my early twenties.  I met my husband at a local music festival I produced with a friend, and he’s a guitar geek/musician who keeps me connected to the best new music.

So when a review copy of Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney Smith was floating around the office, I grabbed it immediately.  I might not be the music nerd the author is, but some of my favorite people are.  I loved that this book was unabashedly geeky, opinionated, and funny.  It is part-memoir, part-music commentary by a self-identified music nerd and MTV programmer.  She writes about the role of music in her life, women in the music industry, and the future of record collecting in a digital world, among other topics. Smith has a lot of strong opinions that she shares freely in the book that will either resonate with you or make you laugh–even if you’re not a girl.  I rather enjoyed it, and I found myself thinking back to the ways that music guided me through my teen years, soundtracked my relationships, and grew to be so much more than background in my life.

In particular, Smith has a lot to say about women in the music business.  In the chapter “Where Have All the Girl Bands Gone?,”  she laments that “girl bands have gone subterranean for the time being. . .” and she goes so far as to ask “Do women feel they have to remain on the outside because the female voice is not considered universal?”  

The female movers and shakers in the music business here in Minneapolis have their say on these questions and more this Wednesday (12/7) at the Celebrate Women in Music event at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall.  It will be hosted by The Current‘s Barb Abney and feature several great performances from local artists.  Read more about it in this Pioneer Press article or check out this video:

Some things are complicated. This is what’s worth reading about.

It’s a beautiful day for a walk in Minneapolis.  My kiddo is at Grandma’s for the day, so I indulged in a leisurely walk to my local library, where I had several books waiting for me.  One of them happened to be Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power in a World Without Rape.  I’d put it on hold weeks ago (around the time I wrote this post about feminism), and I thought it an amusing coincidence to pick it up today of all days.  Today is Slut Walk Minneapolis.  It’s happening as I type, actually, in Hennepin Island Park.

To be honest, I’ve never been certain how I’ve felt about Slut Walks.  There are so many great points about them.  Reclaiming female sexuality and bodily autonomy.  Changing the connotations of the word “slut.”  These are things that I love.  Yet, I’m not completely comfortable with it.

I’ve only read a bit of the book so far, and it has already made me think more deeply about the issues involved.  There are no easy answers.  The editors of Yes Means Yes! write in the introduction:

“. . . we don’t believe that empowering female sexuality is the answer to dismantling rape culture, or that it will stop all rape, nor is sexual freedom the only cost of rape.  But until we start shining a light on all the dark corners of sexual shame and blame projected onto us by American culture, we’re going to keep spinning our wheels.”

Thank you to the editors and contributors to Yes Means Yes! for helping me to shine more light on my ambivalence about the Slut Walk.  However I end up feeling about it, I must say that I applaud the women walking today for standing up for change.  I ask blog readers to withhold judgment until you read the mission statement and the blog.  They have some important things to say there.

Science vs. Myth

Yesterday I listened to a fascinating discussion on MPR’s Midmorning between two Christian guests who held differing views on the validity of the existence of Adam and Eve in light of recent science.   I was reminded of a passage from Dolphin in the Mirror by Diana Reiss, which I am currently reading.  Reiss begins her science memoir about her work with dolphins with several examples of dolphins in myth.  She writes,

“Mythologies do not account for the origins of people or dolphins in the way that scientific theories do, but mythologies tell us something about who we believe ourselves to be, our values, and our place in relation to all the other creatures of nature.  Mythologies are, in a way, and expression of that Delphic counsel: Know Thyself.”

Read about Reiss’ really fascinating work with dolphins in this Scientific American article.


More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.

Disclaimer: The above quotation is from an ARC I received through my employer. Book link is an Amazon Affiliate link.