Monday, February 28, 2011

The Kids Are Alright - Exploring Religion, Youth and Sexuality (in the UK)

[NOTE: This was cross-posted from Integral Options Cafe - I think it's relevant here as well.]


This study was done in the UK, but my guess is that young adults there are not much different than they are in the United States. This press release summarizes the findings of Religion, Youth and Sexuality: Selected Key Findings from a Multi-faith Exploration - the link takes you to a full PDF of the study summary.

I think this is an interesting and highly relevant study - and I like that they allow the young people to speak for themselves - a more open-ended qualitative approach rather than using a pre-written measure that shoe-horns them into fixed categories.

In my quick reading of the findings, I am heartened to see an emphasis on monogamous sexuality, a desire to see heterosexuality and homosexuality as equally valid forms of sexual relationship, and "(48.2%) of the participants considered themselves ‘liberal’/‘very liberal’," while only "a quarter of them (25.1%) considered themselves ‘conservative’/‘very conservative’."

Then were the religious views (a mixed bag):
In terms of religious participation, the majority of the participants (65.1%) were involved in a religious community .... Religious faith was by far the most important source of information for the participants’ sexual values/attitudes and sexual practices. Religious texts, parents/caregivers, friends, the internet and the media also played a role in this respect, but less significantly.
The entire executive summary is posted at the bottom, after the press release. There is a also a video presentation on the study and its findings:

And here is the press release summary (just the beginning - follow the link to read the whole thing):

Exploring religion, youth and sexuality

28 February 2011 Nottingham, University of

Sexuality and religion are generally considered uncomfortable bedfellows. Now, for the first time, a team of researchers from Nottingham have carried out a detailed study around these issues and how they affect and influence the lives of British 18 to 25 year olds.

Led by The University of Nottingham, in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University, experts spent two years investigating the attitudes, values and experiences of sex and religion among young adults.

The study, which involved nearly 700 young people from six different religious traditions; Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism as well as young adults of mixed-faith, highlights the challenges they face in reconciling their sexuality and their religion and the concerns they have about the stigmatisation of religion and the increasingly sexualised culture in British society today.

The project Religion, Youth and Sexuality: a Multi-faith Exploration received funding of nearly £250,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Dr Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip and Dr Sarah-Jane Page, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at The University of Nottingham and Dr Michael Keenan from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences asked all the participants to fill in online questionnaires. Some were also interviewed individually and recorded week-long video diaries.

Young adults were asked to talk about their sexual and religious values, attitudes, experiences and identities. As well as looking at their family background, social and cultural expectations and participation in religious communities the researchers also examined young people’s experiences of living in British society and how they understood and managed their gender identity in relation to their religious faith.

Executive Summary (from the PDF of the study outcomes and analysis.

1. This report presents selected key findings from an AHRC/ESRC-funded project entitled Religion, Youth and Sexuality: A Multi-faith Exploration, undertaken between January 2009 and February 2011. The research team are committed to data dissemination within academic and non-academic user communities. This report is written primarily with non-academic users in mind. Academic outputs have been planned for the near future, including a book provisionally titled Religious and Sexual Journeys: A Multi-faith Exploration of Young Believers (Yip, Keenan and Page, Forthcoming). Up-to-date information about the project is available at

2. The research set out to explore the lives and identities of religious young adults, aged between 18 and 25. Specifically, it studied the sexual and religious values, attitudes, experiences and identities of young adults from different religious traditions, namely Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. The research also investigated the significant factors (for example family, social and cultural expectations, religious institution) that inform their decision-making in these areas, and the diverse ways they managed their religious faith and sexuality. In addition, the research also aimed to examine these young adults’ experiences of living in British society; and how they understood and managed their gender identity in relation to their religious faith.

3. The research consisted of three stages: (i) An online questionnaire was completed by 693 participants between May 2009 and June 2010; (ii) 61 participants of diverse religious faiths and sexual orientations were interviewed individually between November 2009 and June 2010; (iii) 24 participants respectively recorded a video diary over a period of approximately seven days between February and November 2010.

4. 455 (65.7%) participants were female, 237 (34.2%) were male, and one participant was transgendered. Further, 57.1% of participants were Christian, 16.6% Muslim, 7.5% Jewish, 6.8% Hindu, 4.5% Buddhist, 3.8% Sikh and 3.7% identified with more than one religious tradition. In terms of sexuality, 74.3% were heterosexual, 10% were lesbian, gay or homosexual and 7.5% were bisexual.

5. 64.9% of participants self-identified as white, followed by those who self-defined as Indian (11.3%) and Pakistani (5.8%). 82.4% of participants were British citizens. With reference to participants’ geographic location, 83.8% lived in England, 7.6% in Scotland, 3.2% in Wales and 1.7% in Northern Ireland.

6. The majority of participants (65.8%) were single; 3.3% were married and 0.3% were in a civil partnership. Further, 25.4% were in an unmarried heterosexual relationship and 4.2% were in an unregistered same-sex relationship. 72.4% of the sample were students, 20.2% were employed and 4.6% were unemployed. In terms of highest academic qualification, the majority of the sample (60.3%) had achieved A-level qualifications, 25.4% had a degree, and 6.3% had a postgraduate qualification.

7. The participants held different meanings regarding their religious faith. These meanings were not mutually exclusive. Many considered being religious as having a belief in, and a relationship with, a personal God or a divine power. To them, this belief and relationship gave strength and meaning to life. In addition, some participants considered religious faith as a form of personalised spirituality and philosophy for life that promoted self-improvement and enlightenment.

8. The participants acknowledged the significant social dimension of religious faith which not only illuminated their personal lives, but also helped foster interpersonal and community connections. Some participants also emphasised the sense of ethnic and cultural belonging that their religious identification offered. However, some participants separated personal spirituality from institutional religiosity, considering institutional religion a social control mechanism that excessively regulated gender and sexual behaviour.

9. Almost half (48.2%) of the participants considered themselves ‘liberal’/‘very liberal’, and a quarter of them (25.1%) considered themselves ‘conservative’/‘very conservative’. In terms of religious participation, the majority of the participants (65.1%) were involved in a religious community in one way or another and just over half of the participants (56.7%) attended a public religious gathering at least once a week.

10. While the majority of participants used a particular label to identify their sexual orientation, some deliberately questioned the usefulness and accuracy of such labelling. On the whole, the participants were less reflective and articulate about their sexualities compared to their religious faiths, particularly heterosexual participants.

11. Fewer than half of the participants (43.1%) were sexually active. Further, 12.9% of the participants engaged in casual sex. Just over a quarter of participants who were single (28.7%) were sexually active. Further, 36% of participants in partnered but unmarried heterosexual relationships were not sexually active, perhaps reflecting their commitment to the religious ideal of ‘sex within marriage only’.

12. Most participants thought that the expression of one’s sexuality was desirable, and 29.9% thought that celibacy was fulfilling. While many participants thought that consenting adults should be allowed to express their sexualities, opinions varied on the ways in which they should do so, with some participants believing that consenting adults should be able to express their sexualities however they wished, while others believed sexual expression should be limited to marriage or a committed relationship.

13. The participants were almost equally split on the idea that sex should only occur within marriage, suggesting that some religious young adults had moved from ‘sex in marriage’ as the ideal to ‘meaningful or committed sexual expression’ as the ideal (but in diverse relational contexts). In addition, monogamy within a partnered relationship was highly valued.

14. About one-third of the participants (31.6%) believed that heterosexuality should be the only expression of human sexuality, and a bigger proportion (52.4%) thought that it should be the ideal for human sexuality. 58.1% of the participants were committed to treating heterosexuality and homosexuality on equal terms.

15. Just over half of the participants (54.8%) thought that their religions were positive towards sexuality issues. However, there was also a significant proportion who viewed fairly negatively the knowledge base of priests or religious leaders in relation to sexuality, particularly matters pertaining to youth sexuality. For lesbian, gay and bisexual participants, while some had successfully reconciled their sexuality to their religious faith, some reported the psychological and social costs of ‘coming out’ and managing their sexual and religious identities.

16. Religious faith was by far the most important source of information for the participants’ sexual values/attitudes and sexual practices. Religious texts, parents/caregivers, friends, the internet and the media also played a role in this respect, but less significantly. Only around 1% of the participants considered religious leaders the most important source of influence.

17. Further, in terms of sexual practices in comparison to sexual values/attitudes, the significance of the role of friends and the internet/the media increased, and the role of religious faith, religious texts and parent/caregivers decreased. This is likely due to the fact that friends and the internet/media were perceived to be the safer and more supportive sources to address the specific issues of how to practise one’s sexuality.

18. The participants’ experiences in connecting their religious faith and sexuality were diverse. There are three primary manifestations: (i) tension and conflict due to difficulty in managing these two dimensions; (ii) compartmentalisation of these two dimensions in order to minimise tension and conflict; and (iii) accommodation and harmonious acceptance of these two dimensions.

19. The participants identified a variety of challenges for them as young religious adults in secular society. These included: stigmatisation of religion, sexualised culture, drinking culture and consumer society. However the majority (67.4%) did not believe that being religious made their everyday life more difficult.

20. The majority of participants (68.5%) believed that religious people were stigmatised in Britain. 35.3% thought that it was difficult to talk about their religious faith with non-believers. Further, some felt that references to religion in society often took the form of jokes or gross generalisations.

21. The majority of participants (76.1%) believed there was too much focus on sex in mainstream society. Particularly, they considered sexualised culture and the prevalence of sexual promiscuity significant issues for religious young adults.

22. The majority of participants (63.4%) believed that their religions upheld gender equality in principle. However, some expressed concern that this was not the case in reality, with, for example, perceived gender inequality being evidenced at places of worship.

23. A high number of participants (73.2%) agreed with women being involved in religious leadership. This was particularly important for young women who saw women in leadership as role models.

24. Religious faith was considered the main factor influencing how the participants lived their lives as women or men. Some participants acknowledged that there were discrepant expectations for women and men particularly in the context of relationships and raising children. However, 65.6% of women and 68.1% of men disagreed that women should have primary responsibility for raising children. To them, it should be a shared responsibility.

25. Religious young adults can benefit from hearing the stories of their contemporaries to understand the wide range of experiences and negotiations in their religious and sexual lives. This knowledge could offer help in integrating religious faith and sexuality more successfully. Engagement with mainstream society may also encourage understanding and respect between non-religious and religious young adults.

26. Young religious adults desire an increased openness to discussions of faith and sexuality within their religions. Religious leaders and professionals should be open to such discussions, willing to reflect on young adults’ interactions with secular culture and to engage with secular youth workers and health professionals to find ways of providing support for religious young adults.

27.Training of practitioners working with young adults in secular contexts needs to recognise the role and importance of religious faith in some young adults’ lives. More collaboration is also needed between religious leaders and professionals who work with young adults in secular contexts, in order to formulate policy and practice that provides consistent advice and guidance.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Alva Noe - Men At Work, But In Play

From NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog.

I don't know enough about chess to comment on the quality of play. But this video is stunning, and its electric force has nothing to with chess.

If you ever wondered why games, or sports, matter to us, then watch this video. Don't worry about whether you can follow the play.

Follow the music.

That's the first thing that jumps at you: The music. Or better, the choreography. It isn't just sound and movement organized in space and time; the dynamic pattern that emerges is the expression of a kind of necessity, or principle. They are like surfers on a wave. What is the wave? They are enacting the wave. They are entrained by their own activity.

Openness. The players are tense; they sometimes appear to be suffering. They are working very hard. They are utterly concentrated. But the effect of all this is to enable them to see and hear, not each other, but the situation (the chess situation) in which they find themselves. Have you ever been that present to a task? That involved with anything?

They are not only battling each other, but the clock as well, that is, the ever-present reminder that the condition of play is fragile and temporary. And so each player does battle with himself. He must both cast a spell and fall victim to its influence.

And then it is over. Without drama. But the very gesture with which one player resigns — gathering up the pieces and and handing them a cross the board — is the act of setting up a new beginning. A long night, a long life, of play.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Social Isolation and Depression Are More Harmful In Men than in Women

This study from Psychoneuroendocrinology suggests that for men (but not for women) social isolation and the corresponding depression causes a chemical change in the body that may lead to obesity and heart disease.

Here is the abstract, then a little explanation below. Unfortunately, it's not open access.

Social isolation and depressed mood are associated with elevated serum leptin levels in men but not in women

S. Häfnera, A. Ziererb, R.T. Emenyb, B. Thorandb, C. Herderc, W. Koenigd, R. Rupprechta, K.H. Ladwigbe, for the KORA Study Investigators

Received 24 February 2010; received in revised form 10 June 2010; accepted 8 July 2010.



Leptin, involved in energy homeostasis and a predictor of cardiovascular disease, has recently been recognized as mediator in stress reactions. We aimed to explore the association between leptin levels and two stress-related conditions, social isolation and depressed mood, both associated with increased cardiovascular mortality.


We analysed leptin levels in 1229 subjects (643 men, 586 women), derived from the population-based MONIKA/KORA study. Standardized questionnaires were used to assess depressive mood and social isolation. In a multiple linear regression adjusted for body weight, age and survey, the association between leptin, social isolation and depressed mood and its interaction was explored in men and women separately. Leptin was then dichotomized and four analyses, adjusted for age, BMI, lifestyle factors, psychosomatic complaints and metabolic variables were performed to compare the risk of elevated leptin levels in the risk groups.


Increased leptin levels were associated with social isolation (p=0.04) and the interaction between social isolation and depressed mood (p=0.02) in men but not in women. In socially isolated and depressed men, leptin levels (mean: 6.07ng/ml) were significantly increased compared to neither depressed nor isolated men (mean: 4.51ng/ml, p=0.04). In the multivariate adjusted logistic regression model, the combination of depressed state and social isolation was associated with a 4-fold increased risk (p0.001) for elevated leptin levels.


The finding of elevated leptin levels in socially isolated and depressed men raises the possibility that increased cardiovascular mortality in socially isolated men is partially mediated by hyperleptinemia.

Full citation:
Häfner S, Ziererb A, Emeny RT, Thorand B, Herder C, Koenig W, Rupprecht R, Ladwig KH. (2011, February). Social isolation and depressed mood are associated with elevated serum leptin levels in men but not in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 36, Issue 2, Pages 200-209. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.07.009

When leptin was discovered a few years back (well, maybe 20 years ago now), it was thought to be the breakthrough in helping the body control its bodyfat levels. In mice, as in humans, obesity is correlated with higher blood plasma levels of leptin.

When mice are given injections of leptin, their bodyfat decreases. Not so in humans. But the impact of leptin in mice is very impressive.
Genetically modified ob/ob [these mice are 3x as fat as normal mice on the same diet] mice show many of the abnormalities seen in starved animals, including decreased body temperature, hyperphagia, decreased energy expenditure (including activity), decreased immune function, and infertility (3). Leptin replacement corrects all of these abnormalities, implying that ob mice exist in a state of ‘perceived starvation’ and that the resulting biological response in the presence of food leads to obesity (13,17,23,24). The idea that decreased plasma leptin levels signal nutrient deprivation is supported by the observation that exogenous leptin attenuates the neuroendocrine responses to food restriction (25). Fasted wild-type mice receiving leptin continue to ovulate, whereas fasted controls given saline experience an ovulatory delay of several days. Leptin treatment blunts the changes in circulating thyroid hormone and corticosterone levels that are normally associated with food deprivation (25). Starvation is also associated with decreased immune function and leptin corrects these abnormalities (24). Leptin stimulates proliferation of CD4(+) T cells and increases production of cytokines by T-helper-1 cells (24). These results indicate that leptin may also be a key link between nutritional state and the immune system. (Friedman & Halaas, 1998)
Mice given leptin lose fat in a dose-dependent manner - and they suffer none of the health risks of starved mice. It seemed like a miracle drug. Except that in humans it does not work the same way - the only way to dose it effectively in humans is subcutaneously or in cerebral spinal fluid, neither of which are cost effective or practical.

So then why do obese rats/humans have higher leptin levels? For the same reason these subjects have higher insulin levels - resistance. Chronic high levels of leptin make the body insensitive to yet higher levels. Additionally, leptin is synthesized and expressed in adipose (fat) tissue, so the more fat one has, the more leptin is produced.

In mice, leptin can inhibit the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA) reducing plasma corticosterone levels (stress hormones). However, in mice that have become leptin-resistant, it has no impact on plasma cortisol levels (Heiman, et al, 1997).

The same would appear to be true in humans - leptin levels in those who are socially isolated and depressed remain elevated despite the elevation of corticosteroids associated with stress. More importantly, chronically high leptin levels are associated with cellular stress in humans (Bouloumie, Marumo, LaFontan & Busse, 1999).

So the article at the top is slightly misleading in my opinion. High levels of leptin are simply a marker for other stress-related processes occurring in those who are socially isolated and depressed. It's unclear why men are impacted and not women. But this is useful information.

TOWNIE: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III

The new memoir from Andre Dubus III - Townie: A Memoir - is reviewed in the New York Times. I mention it here (and share the review) because the book is about the relationship between a father and his children - this one from the children's point of view. And unlike many memoirs of coming of age in the 1970s, it's a different world, one without a father (this book is described as a rebuttal to his well-known short story, "The Winter Father").

Rough Boys

One Saturday night in the mid-’70s, I stood on the deck of a shabby duplex watching my teenage boyfriend — a character who could have walked out of the pages of Andre Dubus III’s powerful new memoir, “Townie” — beat another boy senseless in the parking lot below. Under the yellowish dusk-to-dawn lights, I could see my boyfriend’s blond sideburns, denim jacket and dingo boots, and I could see him punch the boy in the stomach until he crumpled to the ground, then kick him over and over until his nose and lips were split and bleeding. In “Townie,” which details Dubus’s 1970s coming-of-age in the poor mill towns of Massachusetts, there are none of the usual signifiers of today’s ’70s Nostalgia Industrial Complex, no peace-sign key chains or smiley-face T-shirts, none of the goofy stoners and ditsy girls in tube tops that American television viewers have become accustomed to on “That ’70s Show.” Instead, Dubus writes about “the apartments” where his older sister buys drugs, two rows of three-story buildings surrounded by packed dirt worn smooth, a Dumpster in back always filled with dirty diapers, used condoms and pizza boxes. He writes about an early manifestation of “Fight Club” culture at his school, where, whenever there is a fight, boys and girls rush to one spot “like they were being pulled there by the air itself. . . . Kids were yelling: ‘Kill him! Kill him!’ ”
Author Andre Dubus III

TOWNIE: A Memoir

By Andre Dubus III
387 pp. W. W. Norton & Company. $25.95.

It was his parents’ divorce that left Dubus fatherless and living in a world of violence and poverty. Dubus’s father (and namesake) was a well-known writer, famous among other things for his short story “The Winter Father,” about a man recently separated from his family. The most vivid image in the story is of the protagonist watching through his rearview mirror as his young son chases after him: “A small running shape in the dark, charging the car, picking up something and throwing it, missing, crying You bum You bum You bum.

“Townie” in many ways reads like one long rebuttal to “The Winter Father.” In the father’s telling, there is no sense of financial desperation on the kids’ side, and it takes just six months for the father to feel connected again to his children and the children to feel safe. In reality, his father’s departure left Dubus’s family vulnerable for years, his mother always working and exhausted, their series of rented houses always dirty and often filled with “Heads,” teenagers smoking pot while blasting Aerosmith. A neighbor kid beats Andre up daily, hurling obscenities and insults his way. A drunk urinates in their hallway and a greaser throws a Molotov cocktail into his mother’s car.

The family’s exposure affects each of the Dubus children differently. Andre’s younger sister, Nicole, puts a padlock on her bedroom door and retreats behind it; his older sister, Suzanne, deals drugs and is later gang-raped; his sensitive younger brother, Jeb, starts an affair with his former art teacher, a woman 22 years older, and attempts suicide. For his part, Andre takes up weight lifting. He begins a careful and ritualized effort to bulk up, reading Muscle Builder magazine and arranging a bench and weights in the basement. He works out the way competitive bodybuilders do, dividing his body into muscle groups, eating only tuna and eggs. Soon he can bench press 150 pounds and then 200, curl 80 and perform 1,000 situps. He learns to box, to wrap his hands, put on gloves and hit the bag as hard as he can. It’s not long before he is using these skills in bars and parking lots. The first time he punches a guy who has kicked his brother down a flight of bar stairs, he experiences a sort of ecstasy: “I could feel my weight sink back on my right foot, my arms go loose at my sides, and it was as if I were in a warm bath under a blue sky.”

Dozens of fights follow, including a brawl at a restaurant. These combats are lovingly detailed, almost overly descriptive, as Dubus tries to connect to the mythic struggle of male avengers throughout history. As I read these passages I thought about how, when I was growing up, fights were inevitable. How the young men were humorless and easily offended. One boy would throw out a halfhearted insult and the other would fling his arm back and the two would be on top of each other, the fighting all the more intense and bloody because neither had anything to lose. Dubus sees himself as his family’s protector, but in my own experience these fights were less about right and wrong and more about degraded teenagers who’d developed an unhealthy blood lust. Only after challenging his sister’s old boyfriend does Dubus sense he’s become addicted to the upside-down intimacy of throwing a punch. “This was different from sex, where if you both want it, the membranes fall away,” he writes. “With violence you had to break that membrane yourself, and once you learned how to do that, it was easier to keep doing it.”

As Dubus grows into a man he begins to write stories and struggles to dissolve his attachment to violence. He struggles, too, to come to terms with his larger-than-life father. That doesn’t mean escaping him — to the contrary, he attends the same college where his father teaches, and arrives at undergraduate parties to find his father already there, wearing a cowboy hat, getting drunk and flirting with the girls. The father acts like a buddy to his son, not a dad. Worst of all, he is proud that his son can fight. He himself carries a gun, and when he hears that his daughter’s husband has hit her, he and Dubus make a late-night long-distance call to California, looking for someone to break the man’s legs.

Only when the father is hit by a car and paralyzed, in 1986, does he finally mellow, letting father and son find healthier common ground. As this fine memoir closes, Dubus is concerned with a fundamental question: Can he care for a father who did not really take care of him? To the book’s credit (and the author’s), he does not lean on easy redemption. Instead he finds tactile ways to support his dad, helping him to work out his upper body and renovating his house to make it wheelchair friendly. Although he’s never able to discuss the life he led with his siblings on the other side of the river, he enjoys this time with his “new father.” But while he eventually forgives his dad, the pain of abandonment does not dissipate. After hearing of his father’s death in 1999, the first thing he thinks of is his leaving the family years earlier, as if that first leave-taking was the real death. The image that haunted his father, of the boy following the car, is no less haunting for the son. His father saw that boy — it was Andre’s brother, Jeb — getting smaller as the car pulled away. Andre watched as the car got smaller in the distance, and Jeb scooped up a handful of gravel and ran down the hill, throwing rocks that scattered across the road like shrapnel and shouting: “You bum! You bum! You bum!”

Darcey Steinke’s most recent book is the memoir “Easter Everywhere.”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lawrence Barraclough - My Penis and Everyone Else's

A few days ago I posted the documentary, My Penis and I, by Lawrence Barraclough, so this is the sequel - My Penis and Everyone Else's, in which he examines just why men have such a difficulty in talking openly about our penises.

My Penis And Everyone Else’s challenges society’s stereotypes of masculinity as well as getting to the heart of why men are so fixated with their members.

Emotional, revelatory, and intensely engaging, this film takes on one of society’s last taboos and culminates in one of the most daring exhibitions ever seen in the UK, as Lawrence puts together the world’s largest collection of penis portraiture ever seen!

“I do think pornography and the way it seeped into culture has had some effect because it’s so saturated, it’s so become a norm that people are seeing sex and their bodies through a completely distorted lens.” -Rowan Peeling, Former Editor of the Erotic Review.

My Penis and Everyone Else's from Lawrence Barraclough on Vimeo.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Michael Frayn's "My Father's Fortune" - A Wealth Of Humility And Humor

Michael Frayn's new book about his father's life, My Father's Fortune, is profiled on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday - including an excerpt from the book. One never knows in a memoir written by someone else what the level of "truth" really is, but this seems like a loving tribute to a long-dead (40 years) father from his loving and grateful son.

February 19, 2011

[9 min 11 sec]
'My Father's Fortune' by Michael Frayn

My Father's Fortune
By Michael Frayn
Hardcover, 288 pages
Metropolitan Books
List Price: $25

Read An Excerpt

When Michael Frayn's father died at a hospice in 1970, workers brought him a box holding what his father had left behind. Among the collection, there was a pair of socks, some slippers, spectacles, a signet ring and a hearing aid.

Though his personal effects were few, Frayn's father left behind an exemplary legacy — he was a man who struggled and sacrificed, yet still maintained a happy, healthy life for his children, and a warm sense of humor.

Now, 40 years after his father's death, Frayn, an acclaimed poet, novelist and playwright, has written a memoir about his dad's life. Frayn tells NPR's Scott Simon about My Father's Fortune and the lessons that his father has taught him.

Frayn was inspired to write the memoir by his own children. Now middle-aged themselves, they were curious about the lives of their grandparents, and they urged Frayn to write what he could remember about them before he forgets.

"My eldest daughter said, 'We feel as if we have arisen from an unknown place,' " he says.

Although he was originally reluctant to take their advice and start the project, he quickly changed his mind.

"I thought it was going to be ... rather a pious chore," he says. "But in fact, once I got started, I got more and more emotionally involved in it, and it became a major emotional experience and really affected me a great deal."

To begin his research, Frayn delved into his father's own childhood, which was cut short when he began working at age 14. Tom Frayn was a handsome man, a good dancer and a hard worker.

"One of the reasons that he had to work from the age of 14 is that he had a very feckless father," Frayn explains. "His father had been a drinker and my father got to go out and try and earn some money to keep the family going."

Tom Frayn was so dedicated to caring for his family that he put their needs far ahead of his own. In fact, he waited over a decade to marry the love of his life because of it.

"He fell in love with my mother when they were both very young — when he was 18 and my mother was still 14," he says. "But they had to wait for 11 years to get married because he felt he couldn't get married until he was no longer responsible for supporting his mother."

Writer Michael Frayn grew up in what he describes as "a modest but agreeable house in the outer suburbs of London."

Writer Michael Frayn grew up in what he describes as "a modest but agreeable
house in the outer suburbs of London."

Frayn's father was further beset with problems when he — and the rest of his siblings — became deaf in their adult years. Again, Tom Frayn did not let this setback stop him.

"He continued to work as a salesman even though he was very deaf," Frayn says. "How he did that, how he faced the customers every day when he couldn't hear what they were saying, I really don't know."

Tom used his deafness as an advantage rather than a handicap. When making a pitch, he would simply ensure that he was doing all the talking. Or, Frayn suggests, he may have even been unable to tell when a customer refused.

The elder Frayn did not care much for material possessions. Instead his passion in life was sport, Frayn says — particularly cricket.

"He loved watching cricket, and what he really wanted was a son who was a sportsman — preferably cricket, preferably a batsman," says Frayn.

The trouble was that Frayn's talents were strongest in the classroom and not on the cricket pitch. His father tried to coach him in their garden, but to no avail.

"I was hopeless at it," he says. "I just couldn't hit the ball, I couldn't catch the ball, so I was a great disappointment to him."

Gradually, his father accepted that his talents lay elsewhere. This acceptance is one of the major themes of his memoir, Frayn says.

"Very slowly over the years, he agreed to accept the idea that I was relatively good at some subjects at school, and agreed to see that as my succeeding in some kind of way," Frayn says.

Frayn's youth coincided with World War II. Luckily, his father was too young to fight during World War I and too old to fight during World War II. This was one more of his father's "bits of good fortune," Frayn says.

Instead of fighting, the elder Frayn lived with his family in London during the Blitz. Because they were in the suburbs, they were not as hard-hit as residents of the East End and the center of London. However, they still had a close call with a flying V-1 bomb.

"On the very first night of the V-1s, one came just over the roof of our house, missed it by a few feet, hit the hillside just up the road and killed everyone in the house that it came down on," Frayn says.

Their home, and the other houses on the street, were severely damaged, but to young Frayn, this was a delight.

"It was like a kind of early Christmas — everything was special, there was no front door, there were no windows in the house, there was a hole in the roof," Frayn explains. But he concedes, "It must have been hell for my parents. All the carpets full of plaster dust and broken glass. I don't know how they ever got it out."

After the V-1 bombings, the Frayn family invested in a bomb shelter, but it didn't end up as safe as they had hoped.

"One of the few things he spent his money on was a shelter in the garden, but what he hadn't taken into consideration was that if you dig a hole in the ground, it fills with water," Frayn says. "We only ever used the shelter once, because after that, it was just a stagnant pool." It ended up much more dangerous to be in the shelter than to stay in the house during the raids, he recalls.

Not one to let things go to waste, Frayn's father came up with a practical solution for their waterlogged shelter. Because of the wartime food shortage, neighbors were buying chickens to maintain a constant supply of eggs.

Tom Frayn asked, "What kind of creature likes water?" and the answer was ducks. "So we acquired ducks. They lived in this armored duck pond the rest of the war and supplied us with eggs," says Frayn.

After the end of the long, terrible war, life changed suddenly for the Frayn family when Frayn's mother died of a heart attack. Frayn was just 12 years old, and his father faced a new practical problem — he had to find some way to look after his young children.

"Those next few years were very grave for my sister and me, and it must have been terrible for my father. He was very grief-stricken, his life had fallen apart, but he also had this terrible, practical problem," Frayn says.

He couldn't help the death of my mother, but he did his best to get around that and to keep the home going. The longer I live, the more grateful I am for that.

Frayn's father still managed to be a supportive father, even after the tragic death of his beloved wife. In fact, Frayn credits his father with getting him into writing. When Frayn was about 6 or 7 years old, his father came across an essay that he had written for school, titled "The House I Should Like To Live In When I Grow Up."

"My father read it and said to me, perhaps you ought to be a journalist," Frayn remembers. "Maybe it lodged in the back of my mind, maybe it's one of the things that made me interested in writing."

Even though his father originally encouraged him to write, Frayn's work in journalism went unrecognized by his father for years. "He never bought the newspaper I worked for, and it was years before he admitted that he had read anything that I had written," Frayn says.

"It was the style then," he explains. "It was thought that you would make them big-headed if you encouraged them too much."

So it was not until Frayn was in his 30s that his father finally commended him. After a series of articles that he had written about Cuba, Frayn's father rang him up and suggested that he write more stories of the kind.

While he didn't overload his children with praise, Frayn's father left his son with other gifts — notably his sense of humor.

"It was a professional resource for him because he used it as a way of getting around his deafness, and I think I picked up that habit of joshing people," says Frayn.

Frayn also believes that he inherited his father's skepticism. "He was not a believer in either religious systems or political systems," Frayn says.

But most importantly, Frayn's father bequeathed him with a stable childhood and a happy life.

"He couldn't help the death of my mother, but he did his best to get around that and to keep the home going. The longer I live, the more grateful I am for that," he says.

Go to the NPR site to Read An Excerpt.

Poem - "Strip Show" by Zach Savich

Strip Show
by Zach Savich

Lightning-torn bark lured on the lower limbs, a sym-
bol of how a bole bares itself in time. I've tried

to wear my sheddings so gracefully
that finches will not flush at the foul capillary sheen my

systolic nerve acts out its barn-raisings slash burnings by.
Have a heart. Mine murmurs yes and no and yet now.

Tags: , , , , ,

Josh Hillis - Kettlebell Cardio and The Men's Health Spartacus Workout

Excellent weights-based cardio workout, which is the best way to burn fat and keep muscle. This requires much lighter weights because your are doing one minute intervals - not easy. Give it a try and you'll never go back to walking on the treadmill.

Kettlebell Cardio and The Men's Health Spartacus Workout

Spartacus is my new favorite TV show by far. The first season, Spartacus: Blood and Sand was awesome. The prequel season (which is going currently), Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, is ridonkulous awesome.

It's kind of like 300, but actually with a way more dramatic story and character development. Or, on the flipside, it's like Gladiator, but with ten times more sex and way more ridiculous fight scenes. Either way you look at it, it's all kinds of awesomeness.

Here is the workout that Men's Health put together for the Spartacus: Blood and Sand crew:

60 seconds work / 15 seconds rest

  1. Goblet Squat
  2. Mountain Climber
  3. One Arm Dumbbell Swing
  4. T-Pushup
  5. Jump Lunges
  6. Dumbbell Bent Over Row
  7. Dumbbell Side Lunge and Touch
  8. Dumbbell Renegade Row
  9. Dumbbell Lunge with Rotation
  10. Dumbbell Push Press

Total circuit time: 12:30. Then rest 2 minutes, and do it again. Total workout time = 27:00

It's essentially a full body cardio circuit. And it's quite the ass kicking at that.

The instructions say to use this as your cardio 3 days per week, and continue to do your regular (read: Heavy) weight training.

Lots of really solid moves are borrowed from RKC kettlebell training: Goblet squats are an RKC staple movement, brought to the world by Senior RKC Dan John. Dumbbell Push Presses aren't owned by kettlbell world, but kettlebell training was the first time I ever saw them. Renegade Rows were made popular by former RKC John "The Renegade" Davies, and then later more popular by former Senior RKC Mike Mahler.

Mountain climbers, jump lunges, and T-Pushups are all great "bodyweight-cardio-strength-training" movements, and that's why every bootcamp fitness class in the world uses them.

In fact, if you could look at the whole collection - they're the perfect selection of movements to send your heart rate through the roof.

If you watch the video, you notice that they are using 36lb kettlebells, and somewhere in the 20lb range for dumbbells. Pretty light for dudes, especially dudes that big. But if you've ever done 60 second intervals with 15 seconds rest, you know it's gotta be fairly light if you're planning to go the distance.

One other thing I have to point out - the swings they are doing in the video are way too slow. Speeding up that hip snap would make the swings much safer.

This is just a case of what happens when a trainer has an ok-to-good idea about basic body mechanics, but doesn't know kettlebells. It's also a really common side effect of using a kettlebell that's too light.

That being said, at least their backs are flat, and they're doing about half of the work with their hips. It sucks... but I'm so jaded by recent events that this looks fantabulous.

What I'm saying is: Those aren't good kettlebell swings, but compared to Jillian Micheals and Bob Harper, it looks absolutely stunningly awesome.

Assuming you know how to do an awesome kettlebell swing, this workout is textbook awesome cardio. In fact, in the Josh Hillis Platinum Coaching Club workouts (which will someday be The Stubborn Seven Pounds 2.0), this is exactly the style of cardio we did.

Big ups to Rachel Cosgrove for designing this for the Spartacus crew. Rachel Cosgrove and Alwyn Cosgrove are known in the industry as fat loss geniuses.

If you're still running on a treadmill for cardio, you'll find this to be a really awesome, really fun, really intense fat loss cardio workout. Enjoy.


P.S. I'm putting together a video series that's pretty much the coolest thing I've ever done. It's the difference between getting results for six weeks, and getting results for six years. And in about two weeks I'm going to give it away. The rest is top secret.

By Josh Hillis, RKC2, CPT, PES, ZMIS
author, The 21 Day Kettlebell Swing Challenge
quoted by USA Today, The Denver Post, and The Los Angeles Times

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Short Film - I Am Sean Bell

Interesting short film made about the aftermath of the Sean Bell killing, in which 3 young men, including Sean Bell on the morning after his bachelor party, were shot more than 50 times by a team of both plainclothes and undercover NYPD officers, killing Bell.

The whole situation is confused and it seems that we will never know what really happened and why. This short film examines the impact on young black men in New York city following the event.

I think this is just a preview of the film - you might have to follow the title link below back to Snag Films to see the whole 10 minute film.

Media that Matters

I Am Sean Bell (2010) 10 min

Director/Producer: Stacey Muhammad

Young boys reflect on the Sean Bell tragedy, speaking out about their fears and hopes as they approach manhood

I’ve loved film for as long as I can remember. Initially, screenwriting was my interest; however, I wanted to see my ideas come to life beyond the writing. This led to a desire to acquire the skills needed to actually produce my own projects. So, I embarked upon the journey of studying and learning as much about the filmmaking process as I possibly could by attending film school, workshops, and anything else I could find.

First and foremost, I consider myself an activist, so I’m drawn to human issues and subjects that enlighten and uplift humanity while challenging us to examine our ideals and issues on this planet. I’ve always been drawn to documentary filmmaking, particularly as an activist. It’s a powerful way to communicate with an audience.

When I chose to do the Sean Bell film, I was extremely disturbed by the verdict and wanted to hear from the children, particularly young black boys, about their thoughts, fears and concerns regarding violence against black men. Most of the topics that interest me are those that give a voice to those often unheard populations of people, who indeed have stories to tell and victories to celebrate.

One thing that I’ve learned is that life is what it is—meaning, everything we do and experience is connected. Often, we try to compartmentalize our lives and deal with different aspects of our experience (be it our personal lives, our career, etc.). Filmmaking, for me, is a spiritual process and journey. I’ve been prepared through life experiences, for each and every topic I choose to explore.

So, my advice to any aspiring filmmaker would be to live your life with integrity, take care of yourself, learn as much about your craft as possible, commit to creating the life you desire and expect the universe to grant you everything you ask.

"Vincent" by Tim Burton - On Perseverance

How easy is it to give up when we face rejection or ridicule? Even more so when the rejection comes from the Top, the best and most well-known in the industry.

Knowing the difference between perseverance in the awareness of our purpose vs. banging our heads against the wall in futility is a fine line (one I am still not clear on some days). Film-maker Tim Burton knew the difference, it seems.

This is less a post about masculinity than it is an example of a man who knew his talent and when rejected by Walt Disney, the biggest name in the industry, he kept his vision and found his success. We can all learn from that, I think.

This comes from Open Culture.

Vincent: Tim Burton’s Early Animated Film

October 20th, 2010

ViNcEnT from Jöl Brito on Vimeo

Back in 1982, Tim Burton worked as an apprentice animator at Disney. Burton’s style didn’t quite fit with the Disney aesthetic. And so he independently created a short, stop motion animated film simply titled “Vincent.” The style of the storytelling has been called “Dr. Seuss meets Edgar Allan Poe,” and it tells the story of a young boy who wants to be Vincent Price, the Yale-educated actor who became a fixture in American horror films starting in the late 1930s. The film runs six minutes and features Price himself providing the narration. (Read a transcript of the narrated text here.) Notably, Price later appeared in Burton’s blockbuster Edward Scissorhands. Animation World Network takes a much closer look at this early Burton work, and we have now added Vincent to our collection of Free Movies Online.

via Mike and Laughing Squid

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Perfect Day of Eating - Carolyn Kylstra

A useful diet plan from Men's Health - most of this is pretty good information, but as always, each person needs to refine the approach to fit your own needs. For example, I eat almost no carbohydrates, but this would not work for an endurance athlete. Just keep in mind that no diet works for everyone.

A Perfect Day of Eating

By: Carolyn Kylstra

Will this be your best day ever? Or your beastliest? What you put in your mouth will have a lot to do with the answer. Food can help fuel body and mind to ensure that you perform at the peak of your abilities.

Or it can sabotage your best efforts, leaving you panicked, drained, and floundering. Are you eating your way to disaster, or triumph? Let's go through your daily menu of foods and tasks to help you snack, slurp, and sup your way to success.

Here is an example of the plan, the breakfast recommendation (click the links for each time above to see the nutrition recommendations):

6:43 a.m.

You've just rolled out of bed. You need to be on the road by 7:20. Big day of work ahead.

Eat This: Bacon or ham and fried eggs

Benefit 1: Fullness and energy
The protein in this power meal will keep you feeling full throughout the morning. A University of Illinois study found that people who eat more protein and less carbs than in conventional meals find it easier to stick to a diet. Protein is satiating and may also boost calorie burn, the study authors say.

Benefit 2: Relaxed blood vessels
When you digest eggs, protein fragments are produced that can prevent your blood vessels from narrowing—which may help keep your blood pressure from rising. In fact, Canadian scientists found in a lab study that the hotter the eggs, the more potent the proteins, and frying them sends their temps soaring.

Not That: Pancakes, or a bagel with cream cheese
These carbohydrate-loaded options will send your blood glucose skyward, and you may feel ready to tackle anything. But don't be fooled: That soaring blood sugar will lead to a crash, and you're bound to feel hungry again before lunch. Resist the tempting ease of most high-carb breakfasts, and go find some protein.

Extra tip: Eat now at home, not later on the road. A University of Massachusetts study found that eating breakfast out instead of at home more than doubles your odds of obesity. Not only are restaurant meals often bigger than home-cooked ones, but you're also vulnerable to an impulse buy at a drive-thru or convenience store.

Poem - "Psalm of Home Redux" by David Lee

Psalm of Home Redux
by David Lee

after rereading Cormac McCarthy and taking
a 5 mile run through the River Ranch

Laughter is also a form of prayer

Okay then, right here,
Lord, in Bandera,
tether me to my shadow
like a fat spavined mule
stuck sideways in Texas tank mud
bawling for eternity

At midnight's closing whine
of the 11th Street Bar's steel guitar,
when the stars slip their traces
and race the moon like wild horses
to their death in the darkness,
let my hoarse song twine with the night wind

May the bray of today's good laughter
fall like a brittle top branch
wind nudged from a sprawling live oak
straight down like early spring sleet
to the hill country's bent
and trembling bluebonnet covered knees
~ from The Porcine Canticles