Magical Mary

Magical Mary
By: Marine Yanikian-Sutton

The King Arthur legend has captivated me since I was a wee tot. When my friend named her son “Arthur,” I named mine Elyas-one of Arthur’s knights. It wasn’t Gwenavere I wanted to be, it was Morgan le Fay.  What was it about her that caught my attention?  It could have been the long flowing hair, her enchanting approach to life, or even the way Hollywood made her glide over thin air, parting the veil.

As an adult, I've come to realize that I am not Morgan and can never be Morgan, but I surely met one of her descendants during this last month. Magical Mary resides in Scotland and she weaves her captivating spells as surely as Morgan wove hers. 

Mary Mconnell of Star Therapies, a healer from Scotland, a gift from Liza Baker of Simply Health Coaching, entranced me a few weeks ago and in so doing, healed my soul. Before meeting her, my neuropathy controlled every minute. Pain in my hands and feet deterred me from every day responsibilities. My balance was likewise off. I had come to accept these symptoms and functioned in spite of them.

The distance evaporated as we connected via FaceTime.

"On a range of 1-100, how poorly do you feel?" She asked at the start of our session.

Mind you, I've been doing great for weeks. Mind-healed, body-thriving.

"I'm at about 70% today. I'm at the end of my fifth chemo session and all things considered, I guess I don't feel all that bad," I said.  Then after a slight pause, I added, "I can't stop the emotions that rage over me at times though. One minute I'm fine, and then it hits me, how monumental this is, and what I'm going through."

"Understandable," she said, "but by the time we are done, that number is going to shrink substantially."

The skeptic in me didn't want to believe her, but I've also become quite open-minded and wanted to give her a chance.  She was taking time out of her busy schedule to converse with me even though I lived on the other side of the planet.

"I'm going to teach you 5 techniques today.  Some may cause a great deal of pain and emotion to be triggered, others may not.  I will show you how to control your emotions through these exercises.  Watch me, then we'll do them together."

I did as I was told.

I watched.


Took notes.

She tapped, breathed, contorted, inhaled, pressed pressure points, and breathed some more. An hour later, I sat back. I felt more buoyant than I had in months.

There were no more tears to shed, I'd done that during the various exercises. I was left speechless.

"Well, how do you feel?"

My body felt lighter, no knots in my stomach, no sorrow in my soul. My mind could clearly complete a thought without being hammered with fifteen others. I felt as though I'd taken in the sunlight and it was radiating outward.

"As though you've given me the means with which to transform my perspective and ease my worries," I said.

She smiled.

"Are you sure you're not a magician?" I asked.

She laughed and responded, "Some people do call me Magical Mary, but all I did was guide you through some breathing exercises, teach you about a couple of pressure points, and showed you your own energy source."

"Well, from here on, I will refer to you as Magical Mary!" I said.

"Do you have time for one more activity or do you need to rush off somewhere?"

"My schedule is wide open these days. I write, read, and write some more."

"Well, this one is called Reiki.  You may want to lay down."

I sat up straighter in my chair. "No, that's okay. I'll sit."

"That's fine as well.  You will be closing your eyes when I tell you and breathe deeply. You may feel different sensations, see different colors, feel different emotions. Just be open to everything. I will talk to you at the end and ask you to open your eyes."

I nodded.

I closed my eyes, inhaling and exhaling deeply.  Meanwhile, I felt pressure starting around my skull and working down my neck, shoulders, arms. I felt warmth radiating from my heart outward and the strangest tingle of sensations in my legs.

"Alright my dear, open your eyes and come back to me."

I slowly opened my eyes, struggling to do so.

She smiled and asked, "Well, how do you feel?"

"As though you just gave me a full body massage. How is that possible when you haven't even touched me?"

She grinned and added, "You may need to lay down for about half an hour and take it easy the rest of the day."

Emotions welled up. "I don't know how to thank you," I whispered. Liza had healed my body and mind and introduced me to a jewel of a person.

 Southhills Burbank and Magical Mary  had given me the tools necessary to heal my soul.

"No thanks necessary, I'm just glad I was able to help.  If you really want to help, go onto Facebook and Like my page."

How can I deny such an easy request? I felt empowered as though I could go out and walk 2 miles without pain, gliding down the street. 

"We will meet again, you know," I said, "I'm a firm believer that once paths cross, it is forever."

She smiled and said, "You are always welcome here in Scotland."

"Sounds like a plan," I said back, "but as for now, all I can truly say is Thank you!"

(The breathing did wonders. It has enabled me to walk 15 miles between chemo sessions. Using the pressure points she taught me has controlled the neuropathy enough that I've stopped dropping everything I pick up. I'm not running into walls any longer and feel less afraid of driving.  All good things.)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

To contact Magical Mary, click on her name. To contact Liza Baker, click on her name.  To contact Southhills Burbank, click the highlighted link.

Please leave a comment below and pass it on to a person that may find this useful.
If you are reading my blogs for the first time, pleas subscribe and I will send you weekly Wednesday love notes, along with the blog. Enter your e-mail, hit return and confirm that you are not a robot.

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Thank you for following along. 

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

Lynching, the Milgram Experiments, and the Question of Whether "Human Nature Is Good"

At The Deviant Philosopher Wayne Riggs, Amy Olberding, Kelly Epley, and Seth Robertson are collecting suggestions for teaching units, exercises, and primers that incorporate philosophical approaches and philosophers that are not currently well-represented in the formal institutional structures of the discipline. The idea is to help philosophers who want suggestions for diversifying their curriculum. It looks like a useful resource!

I contributed the following to their site, and I hope that others who are interested in diversifying the philosophical curriculum will also contribute something to their project.

Lynching, the Milgram Experiments, and the Question of Whether "Human Nature Is Good"

Primary Texts
  • Allen, James, Hilton Als, John Lewis, and Leon F. Litwack (2000). Without sanctuary: Lynching photography in America. Santa Fe: Twin Palms. Pp. 8-16, 173-176, 178-180, 184-185, 187-190, 194-196, 198, 201 (text only), and plates #20, 25, 31, 37-38, 54, 57, 62-65, 74, and 97.
  • Wells-Barnett, Ida B. (1892/2002). On lynchings. Ed. P.H. Collins. Amherst, NY: Humanity. Pp. 42-46.
  • Mengzi (3rd c. BCE/1970). Trans. B.W. Van Norden. Indianapolis: Hackett. 1A7, 1B5, 1B11, 2A2 (p. 35-41 only), 2A6, 2B9, 3A5, 4B12, 6A1 through 6A15, 6B1, 7A7, 7A15, 7A21, 7B24, 7B31.
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1755/1995). Discourse on the origin of inequality. Trans. F Philip. Ed. P. Coleman. Oxford: Oxford. Pp. 45-48.
  • Xunzi (3rd c. BCE/2014). Xunzi: The complete text. Trans. E. Hutton. Princeton, NJ: Princeton. Pp. 1-8, 248-257.
  • Hobbes, Thomas (1651/1996). Leviathan. Ed. R. Tuck. Cambridge: Cambridge. Pp. 86-90.
  • Doris, John M. (2002). Lack of character. Cambridge: Cambridge. Pp. 28-61.
  • The Milgram video on Obedience to Authority.
Secondary Texts for Instructor
  • Dray, Philip (2002). At the hands of persons unknown. New York: Modern Library.
  • Ivanhoe, Philip J. (2000). Confucian moral self cultivation, 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett. 
  • Schwitzgebel, Eric (2007). Human nature and moral education in Mencius, Xunzi, Hobbes, and Rousseau. History of Philosophy Quarterly, 24, 147-168.
Suggested Courses
  • Introduction to Ethics
  • Ethics
  • Introduction to Philosophy
  • Evil
  • Philosophy of Psychology
  • Political Philosophy

This is a two-week unit. Day one is on the history of lynching in the United States, featuring lynching photography and Ida B. Wells. Day two is Mengzi on human nature (with Rousseau as secondary reading). Day three is Xunzi on human nature (with Hobbes as secondary reading). Days four and five are the Milgram video and John Doris on situationism.

The central question concerns the psychology of lynching perpetrators and Milgram participants. On a “human nature is good” view, we all have some natural sympathies or an innate moral compass that would be revolted by our participation in such activities, if we were not somehow swept along by bad influences (Mengzi, Rousseau). On a “human nature is bad” view, our natural inclinations are mostly self-serving and morality is an artificial human construction; so if one’s culture says “this is the thing to do” there is no inner source of resistance unless you have already been properly trained (Xunzi, Hobbes). Situationism (which is not inconsistent with either of these alternatives) suggests that most people can commit great evil or good depending on what seem to be fairly moderate situational pressures (Doris, Milgram).

Students should be alerted in advance about the possibly upsetting photographs, and they must be encouraged to look closely at the faces of the perpetrators rather than being too focused on the bodies of the victims (which may be edited out if desired for classroom presentation). You might even consider giving the students possible alternative readings if they find the lynching material too difficult (such as an uplifting chapter from Colby & Damon 1992).

On Day One, a point of emphasis should be that most of the victims were not even accused of capital crimes, and focus can be both on the history of lynching in general and on the emotional reactions of the perpetrators as revealed by their behavior described in the texts and by their faces in the photos.

On Day Two, the main emphasis should be on Mengzi’s view that human nature is good. King Xuan and the ox (1A7), the child at the well (2A6), and the beggar refusing food insultingly given (6A10) are the most vivid examples. The metaphor of cultivating sprouts is well worth extended attention (as discussed in the Ivanhoe and Schwitzgebel readings for the instructor). If the lynchers had paused to reflect in the right way, would they have found in themselves a natural revulsion against what they were doing, as Mengzi would predict? Rousseau’s view is similar (especially as developed in Emile) but puts more emphasis on the capacity of philosophical thinking to produce rationalizations of bad behavior.

On Day Three, the main emphasis should be on Xunzi’s view that human nature is bad. His metaphor of straightening a board is fruitfully contrasted with Mengzi’s of cultivating sprouts. For example, in straightening a board, the shape (the moral structure) is imposed by force from outside. In cultivating a sprout, the shape grows naturally from within, given a supportive, nutritive, non-damaging environment. Students can be invited to consider cartoon versions of “conservative” moral education (“here are the rules, like it or not, follow them or you’ll be punished!”) versus “liberal” moral education (“don’t you feel bad that you hurt Ana’s feelings?”).

Day Four you might just show the Milgram video.

Day Five the focus should be on articulating situationism vs dispositionism (or whatever you want to call the view that broad, stable, enduring character traits explain most of our moral behavior). I recommend highlighting the elements of truth in both views, and then showing how there are both situationist and dispositionist elements in both Mengzi and Xunzi (e.g., Mengzi says that young men are mostly cruel in times of famine, but he also recommends cultivating stable dispositions). Students can be encouraged to discuss how well or poorly the three different types of approach explain the lynchings and the Milgram results

If desired, Day Six and beyond can cover material on the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners make a good contrast (with Mengzian elements in Arendt and Xunzian elements in Goldhagen). (If you do use Goldhagen, be sure you are aware of the legitimate criticisms of some aspects of his view by Browning and others.)

Discussion Questions
  • What emotions are the lynchers feeling in the photographs?
  • If the lynchers had stopped to reflect on their actions, would they have been able to realize that what they were doing was morally wrong?
  • Mengzi lived in a time of great chaos and evil. Although he thought human nature was good, he never denied that people actually commit great evil. What resources are available in his view to explain actions like those of the lynch mobs, or other types of evil actions?
  • Is morality an artificial cultural invention? Or do we all have natural moral tendencies that only need to be cultivated in a nurturing environment?
  • In elementary school moral education, is it better to focus on enforcing rules that might not initially make sense to the children, or is it better to try to appeal to their sympathies and concerns for other people?
  • How effectively do you think people can predict what they themselves would do in a situation like the Milgram experiment or a lynch mob?
  • Are there people who are morally steadfast enough to resist even strong situational pressures? If so, how do they become like that?
Activities (optional)

On the first day, an in class assignment might be for them to spend 5-7 minutes writing down their opinion on whether human nature is good or evil (or in-between, or alternatively that the question doesn’t even make sense as formulated). Then can then trade their written notes with a neighbor or two and compare answers. On the last day, they can review what they wrote on the first day and discuss whether their opinions have changed.
[Greetings from Graz, Austria, by the way!]

Different Trading Styles in the World of Forex Professionals

To call yourself a professional in the world of Forex trading, you need to use the moving field of global currencies to draw profits. The aim of the exercise is to make as many winning transactions as possible and keep your losing transactions to a minimum, thereby bringing the best revenue. There are numerous methods that professional traders use as their primary work strategy in the Forex market. 

Here are some of the noticeable styles of online trading in Vietnam: 

Software-driven Trading

Analyzing the market and predicting trends using software-driven systems, is a common theme in today’s environment. These systems are developed based on a set of trading laws and algorithms, enabling them to paint an accurate portrait of the trading climate. 

Trend-driven Trading

In this form of trading, a dealer waits for a trend to seize the market, and then capitalizes on the trend by making transactions with a high probability of benefitting him. Professionals in the world of trading are largely capable of sensing a trend driving market prices, and then exploiting it. 

News-based Trading

This form of trading takes place when a person anchors his trading-related decisions heavily to market news. The reason for this is that the news relating to the market is fundamental to the changing prices. 

Price-driven Trading

This involves analyzing the prices in the market to determine one’s decision. Traders that use this technique exploit the patterns in the price currents to conduct their trade. This idea is built on the belief that all factors of the economic flow are integrated into the pricing system, and are, therefore, directly influenced by it. 

Day Trading

These are traders that restrict their activities on the market to the timeframe of a single day. In other words, these traders deal in currencies within a short time period, in which they could potentially make many transactions. 


This is similar to the idea of day-trading, but with the need for transactions of higher frequency than day-trading does. In this technique, a trader makes quick entries into the market with the goal of ‘scalping’ some profits. This could resemble gambling, and is, therefore, not recommended for beginners. 

Swing Trading

In this technique, traders evaluate the market with a short to mid-term basis. They conduct trades with a view for near-term goals and can maintain trade ranging from a few hours to many weeks as well.

Each of these methods is tailored for different needs, and they can only succeed when applied together with a thorough understanding and trading skills. The Forex exchange is among the most used of platforms for CFD trading in Vietnam

However, teaming up with an expert broker firm can help elevate your chances of success in this risk-riddled market. WesternFX is among the most reputed brokerage firms at present. We have shaped the success stories of countless new traders and can shape one for you as well.  

Hello Mary Jane!

Hello Mary Jane!

By: Marine Yanikian-Sutton

My father was a smoker-nicotine. He took long puffs on his Marlboroes, finishing a packet a day sometimes. I'd watch from afar, a book on my lap. Occasionally, when he'd pause to step out of the fumes, I'd beg "Please, papa, please don't keep smoking. You're probably going to die of lung cancer and I don't want that to happen."

"We're all going to die of something," he'd say.

"But cancer?" I'd ask, "I heard it's horrible and it's all because you're a smoker!"

"We're flowers on this planet, daughter. We grow from seeds and blossom into flowers. We share our beauty and then we wilt."

"I don't understand!"

"You will," he whispered, "You will come to understand that not everything in life is white or black. There are many shades in between."

"No," I exclaimed, "I love you, but I will never put poison into my body knowing that it is poison."

_ _ _ _ _

December 2016 came as a shock. I'd never smoked, rarely drank, exercised often, cooked wholesome meals using fresh ingredients. I did everything that was right, but Cancer didn't care.  It hit me like a gangster in a dark alley.  

When I was down, it started messing with my mind, causing me to time travel from present to past. Many friends and family visited me and each one would ask, "Are you planning on smoking?" 

I put it off. Smoking? Isn't that what killed my dad?  But when the voices ranged from Ryan's 80 year old grandmother, to strangers whom I'd met due to the cancer, I couldn't escape the reality.  The person who had taken care of her body was now going to endure the same hell as the person who'd pumped his body with poison all of his life.  

"I can't do this," I told my brother. "I'm not strong enough."

"Don't say that," he shot back, "you have all the strength you need inside and you will do this!"

"But I'm scared!"

"I know," he said while crossing his arms over his broad chest.  He was tall, like a baseball player and as mentally and physically fit as a Yogi. "Maybe, just maybe, we need to have a conversation about Mary Jane?"

"The shoes?"

"The weed!"

"I can get you some if you want," he said as did almost every voice that dropped by to see me.

I turned each away, but the comments continued.

"I can teach you how to smoke."

"We can do it together."

"There's nothing to worry about!"

"You're not a bad person if you do this."

"It's not like you picked it up in a dark alley."

Literally, I pushed everybody away until the week before the chemo was set to begin. The weed appeared. People I cared about brought me different strands- CBD, THC, a mix of the two.  Lessons were taught, how to inhale and exhale properly. I did it because the alternative was terrifying.

Along with this exploration, I messaged an old friend, one who'd been my nephew in a ninth grade play when we were snotty teens. I'd called him Red Chief then and always thought of him as such, my nephew.

"I need help, I said. I'm about to experience a lot of mental and physical pain. I don't know what to do."

Red Chief has love lodged in the center of his heart.  It doesn't matter when you message him, he will stop what he is doing because at that exact moment you are the most important person in his life.

He responded immediately, "I don't know what you are going through, but I can't recommend edibles," he said.

I sighed, "I can chew better than I can smoke," I thought, but I trusted my Red Chief.  We'd seen each other numerous times since high school and every time he'd wanted to share his light and love with the world.  A comic book artist by trade, he was brimming with talent and had shared his artistic experience with my students before dabbling in edibles.

"Give me a minute," he said.

I had minutest to give.  I waited.

He messaged back with a list of sites. "Read these.  They should guide you toward what strands impact what symptoms."  Then, he said what everybody said, "Then, if you know what you need, I can get it for you."

I had only a week. I'd waited too long, fear controlling my actions. I read about how certain marijuana strands can diminish the effects of seizures and battle cancer. Hope sprang to life within me.

I read about the difference in CBD and THC and the different mixtures that can be created henceforth to alleviate body pain vs mental anguish.

I time traveled when I needed a break-

_ _ _ _

"There isn't anything you can do within the white and gray spaces in life that would stop me from loving you," my papa had said, "Can you truly deny me this one luxury?"

"No, I love you papa, I love everything about you. Your determination, strength, eagerness to help everybody, and ability to talk to me as though I'm your equal."

"Just remember, when your time is up, it will be up.  There are people out there that have smoked all their lives and live to be 90 something, and there are 20 year olds that get hit by cars while crossing the street.  Life is strange that way."

_ _ _ _ _

Red chief didn't just let me be. I hadn't told him much, but I had told him that I would be in pain.    He reached out after I went public with my cancer diagnosis.

My papa's words hung around my neck like a talisman.

"There's a company out there that will take away all of your pain, for free! Look it up yourself."

He messaged me the name:  Jetty Extracts

"For every item they sell they are committed to help a cancer patient," he explained, "they will send you a monthly care package that will help with all he symptoms. I believe it's called the Shelter Project."

"I love you, my Red Chief. Thank you," I said.

"And I you! I hope one day that I'm able to give back like they are, to help others through their journey."

"The fact that you want to help and have such light in your heart is an indicator that you will do just that! I think I owe you a big kiss the next time we meet!" I said, remembering how we'd glided across the stage in our own little family unit-Red Chief, his father, and myself.  And although we'd aged, we were still watching each other's backs as though we were truly a family unit.

That's how I stepped out of the white and realized that reality rests in the gray scale too, that there is no right or wrong, that we are all just trying to do the best we can do.

Now at 39, I am consciously pumping my body with poison. The poison isn't the marijuana though, it's the chemo. And I've grown to have more faith in the marijuana than the chemo, in the gray hues of life. Every three weeks it pummels my body in hopes that it will kill the cancer cells and give me one more chance at life.  My allies in the fight: My Red Chief and Jetty Labs.

And in that warm tingly embrace right before I inhale from that fragrant leaf that's brought me this far, I talk to my papa (who died five years ago), and I tell him, "You were right papa, you were right.  There is no black and white. We do what we must and sometimes, that's the only solution."

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

If you want to find out more information about the Jetty Extracts, please click on the link.

To contact Red Chief, you can find him on Facebook under the handle,
Jasen Omega (aka Jasen Perri)

If this blog was helpful and you would care to follow along on this journey, please click on the subscribe button and I will send you weekly Wednesday love notes, along with the blog. Enter your e-mail, hit return and confirm that you are not a robot.

I can also be followed at: @myaniki (Twitter), 8 Faces of Cancer (Facebook Group)

Thank you for following along. 

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!


I'm heading off to Europe tomorrow for a series of talks and workshops. Nijmegen, Vienna, Graz, Lille, Leuven, Antwerp, Oxford, Cambridge -- whee! Then back to Riverside for a week and off to Iceland with the family to celebrate my son's high school graduation. Whee again! I return to sanity July 5.

I've sketched out a few ideas for blog posts, but nothing polished.

If I descend into incoherence, I have my pre-excuse ready! Jetlag and hotel insomnia.

[image source]

Hint, Confirm, Remind

You can't say anything only once -- not when you're writing, not if you want the reader to remember. People won't read the words exactly as you intend them, or they will breeze over them; and often your words will admit of more interpretations than you realize, which you rule out by clarifying, angling in, repeating, filling out with examples, adding qualifiers, showing how what you say is different from some other thing it might be mistaken for.

I have long known this about academic writing. Some undergraduates struggle to fill their 1500-word papers because they think that every idea gets one sentence. How do you have eighty ideas?! It becomes much easier to fill the pages -- indeed the challenge shifts from filling the pages to staying concise -- once you recognize that every idea in an academic paper deserves a full academic-sized paragraph. Throw in an intro and conclusion and you've got, what, five ideas in a 1500-word paper? Background, a main point, one elaboration or application, one objection, a response -- done.

It took a while for me to learn that this is also true in writing fiction. You can't just say something once. My first stories were too dense. (They are now either trunked or substantially expanded.) I guess I implicitly figured that you say something, maybe in a clever oblique way, the reader gets it, and you're done with that thing. Who wants boring repetition and didacticism in fiction?

Without being didactically tiresome, there are lots of ways to slow things down so that the reader can relish your idea, your plot turn, your character's emotion or reaction, rather than having the thing over and done in a sentence. You can break it into phases; you can explicitly set it up, then deliver; you can repeat in different words (especially if the phrasings are lovely); you can show different aspects of the scene, relevant sensory detail, inner monologue, other characters' reactions, a symbolic event in the environment.

But one of my favorite techniques is hint, confirm, remind. You can do this in a compact way (as in the example I'm about to give), but writers more commonly spread HCRs throughout the story. Some early detail hints or foreshadows -- gives the reader a basis for guessing. Then later, when you hit it directly, the earlier hint is remembered (or if not, no biggie, not all readers are super careful), and the alert reader will enjoy seeing how the pieces come together. Still later, you remind the reader -- more quickly, like a final little hammer tap (and also so that the least alert readers finally get it).

Neil Gaiman is a master of the art. As I was preparing some thoughts for a fiction-writing workshop for philosophers I'm co-leading next month, I noticed this passage about "imposter syndrome", recently going around. Here's Gaiman:

Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, "I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent."

And I said, "Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something."

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.

Hint: an elderly gentleman, same first name as Gaiman, famous enough to be backstage among well known artists and scientists. Went where he was sent.

Confirm: "You were the first man on the moon".

Remind: "... if Neil Armstrong..."

The hints set up the puzzle. It's unfolding fast before you, if you're reading at a normal pace. You could slow way down and treat it as a riddle, but few of us would do that.

The confirm gives you the answer. Now it all fits together. Bonus points to Gaiman for making it natural dialogue rather than flat-footed exposition.

The remind here is too soon after the confirm to really be a reminder, as it would be if it appeared a couple of pages later in a longer piece of writing. But the basic structure is the same: The remind hammer-taps the thing that should already be obvious, to make sure the reader really has it -- but quickly, with a light touch.

If you want the reader to remember, you can't just say it only once.

[image source]

God's Grace: A Journey of a Thousand Miles

I've always had a love/hate relationship with our Creator. I've felt abandoned and lost regardless of the amazing people he's brought into my life- that is until now.

He sent me an angel ten days after my admittance into the hospital. Tall, strong, and glowing, she walked in with the largest of smiles.

"Sistah," she exclaimed and gave me the warmest of embraces. She smelled of lilac and spices, endless green pastures, and the freshest of air.

Tears burst forth the moment she walked in.

She held up a crocheted heart and exclaimed, "I sat up all night, praying and crocheting. All the hope and love I have for you is in this heart."

She placed it within reach and I grabbed it as though it were my life jacket. I couldn't speak. I couldn't formulate words of gratitude to match her deed. I was a sponge, and she was the water.

"The girls and I miss you very much," she said.

At "girls" I lost all control. She became my sister in October when we sat down together and planned out what our middle school Serenity Club would look like, a lunch club that would welcome troubled girls and empower them to find peace and acceptance. We'd just gotten them to the point where they felt loved and were beginning to shine. Then, my world had turned up-side-down.

"You know that you are loved," she said, "Not just by the students, your family, and friends, but by Jesus, the holy spirit, and God. And, he has great things in store for you, my dear. This is simply a test, a tribulation that you will have to overcome. Turn to him during this time, give yourself to him, and he will deliver your from the darkness."

She handed me a tissue. I wiped away my tears. She knew of my troubled past.  She knew of the anger that dwelled deep in my soul, the pain and confusion.

"Just because you turned away from him, doesn't mean he's forgotten about you. He's been watching, waiting. Talk to him, share your pain and he will carry you through this."

"How?" I asked.

I had no idea how to trust him enough to find the kind of deliverance she was referring to.

She handed me a bible and said, "Read this and then, tell him how you feel, ask him for guidance, talk to him as you used to talk to your father."


"You've never been alone, you thought you have, but he's always been there, through your father's death, and other moments of darkness, he's sent you angels to help you through it all."

I let myself float away. She talked, but I remembered the angels that had stood beside me, that had tried to heal my soul through those times.  I envisioned each one and knew that I had pushed each and every one away. I'd let the anger consume me. I'd stopped writing, trusting, and being. I'd felt broken.

So why now had God reached out and sent me another wake up call?  Why had my angel walked into my hospital room? What was I missing? What did he want of me? I'd given myself to teaching and my students with the most unconditional of love for the last 19 years, what had I not done? All this I asked myself during those moments of light that her presence brought.


It took me a couple of months to physically heal from December's operation, and when I did, my brother and sister-in-law were there.

"Come with us to church. You will love it. It's in Burbank, it's a relatively new church. The pastor and his wife are amazing and this will be good for you."

I couldn't drive. I felt weaker than I'd ever felt before, but every Sunday morning I found the strength to dress and we drove to church. I felt guilty for driving to Burbank when we had so many churches around us, but my husband said, "I doubt Jesus turned away a person from a neighboring village because they didn't reside in the village he was currently preaching in."

And so we went and we did fall in love with the people, the music, our pastor's sermons. The contemporary grunge look was appealing to the rebel in me. The band's voices mesmerized and fueled my mind. Each Sunday as I sat there, I prayed one prayer, "Show me why you saved me.  What am I supposed to do with the rest of my time?"

There were days the chemo was too much and I could feel the bass pummeling my internal organs. I removed myself then, into the back room where tears and breathing became my solace. Pastor Dave was never far.  He approached and asked, "Are you alright?"

I nodded.

"Is there anything we can do for you?" He asked.

"You're already doing it," I said.

"Just pray," Ryan added.

He squeezed my hand and said, "Already being done!"

I figured that the more prayers going out there meant that maybe God would show me what my purpose was. And one day, after my second chemo treatment, sitting in the hospital with my brother I envisioned the structure of The Eight Faces of Cancer. It graced my brows as surely as a crown sits on the head of a King. I saw each chapter, envisioned the development, plot, and purpose.

This writing opened up a new world of possibilities, a path I'd turned from after my dad's passing. The heavy dread lifted and a lightness descended as I lost myself in the world of words.

- - - - -

This last week, on Mother's Day, as I was listening to our Pastor's words describing Martha and Mary and how blessed they were in their own rights, I realized I needed to make contact once more with my initial angel, to thank her for walking her path and for leading me to South Hills Church.  In the darkest of moments, I "lean in" and allow Pastor's Dave's words to carry me forward.

I was lost in thought when Dave transitioned from sermon to a Mother's Day Surprise. He called out my name.

I glanced around at my husband and family, wondering if I was imagining things. The chemo had started interfering with my mental acuteness as well as my body. Information took longer to process. From the stage he repeated my name, "Mar-i-neh, please come up here."

I rose slowly in case my body/feet failed me. Ryan and I joined him on stage, both of us weeping this time. Confusion swirled about my thoughts. Was this another dedication, like the one he'd just performed for the children? What was going on?

Pastor Dave began to read off of a paper he'd placed on the podium, a testimonial my sister-in-law had written.

"She is an inspirational mother who nurtures her children's growth with her unconditional love, support, and kindness," he read.

I covered my face with my right hand, unable to stop the tears and snot from running down my face. He had no idea how terrified I'd been that I would never again get to be their mother, that they would be motherless.

He continued, "In December of 2016 Marine was diagnosed with stage 3 Colon Cancer."

I cringed. I'd gone public, but I hadn't heard anybody else say it aloud till now. I felt the brand sear my skin and willed myself to stand strong.

"She fought through the darkness and found the light."

I couldn't help but mentally recognize my angels-Ms. Stacey Ligon, the McCollums (Merideth and Phil), Suzanna and Sassoun Nalbandian, Melik and Seta Yanikian, and now Pastor Dave Stewart and his wife Karrie.

I had turned my back on God. But he had not turned his back on me.

"Her amazing talent of writing has come to life as she started a book called The Eight Faces of Cancer,  and a blog that will take you to another world," he continued to read, he paused to comment on my weekly blogs and lighten the mood a bit with his humor.

I gasped for air.  Is this why you saved me? I tell my story?  To stand tall in spite of the tribulations? 

Pastor Dave continued talking about the blogs, quoting one from the previous week and ended with giving me the one thing I've missed since the diagnosis-a part of my old life-the healing powers of the ocean.

"You and the family can go any time. You can wait till the treatments are over.  However we/the church wanted to give you this experience. Just let me know, we have a booking agent that is ready to book your stay at a resort of your choice along the ocean."

I'd expected prayers, not a selfless act of kindness. What I took away from the moment though was what I had been looking for all my life- God's grace.

I realized that I was not alone, that I had never been alone.  I realized that miracles happen every day and some of us see them and some don't.  I realized that every time the darkness lifts it's a miracle and I'm not sure how I would have gotten this far in this fight without the miraculous individuals our Creator had sent to guide me. All I could think of just then was how blessed I was that God did not give up on me when my anger was ready to give up on him.

I returned Pastor's Dave's embrace and whispered, "Thank you. I feel blessed that I am still alive and that I've been led here."

Now, to continue this"journey of a thousand miles..."


If you want to find out more information about South Hills Church, please click on the link. 

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Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

The Sucky and the Awesome

Here are some things that "suck":

  • bad sports teams;
  • bad popular music groups;
  • getting a flat tire, which you try to change in the rain because you're late to catch a plane for that vacation trip you've been planning all year, but the replacement tire is also flat, and you get covered in mud, miss the plane, miss the vacation, and catch a cold;
  • me, at playing Sonic the Hedgehog.
  • It's tempting to say that all bad things "suck". There probably is a legitimate usage of the term on which you can say of anything bad that it sucks; and yet I'm inclined to think that this broad usage is an extension from a narrower range of cases that are more central to the term's meaning.

    Here are some bad things that it doesn't seem quite as natural to describe as sucking:

  • a broken leg (though it might suck to break your leg and be laid up at home in pain);
  • lying about important things (though it might suck to have a boyfriend/girlfriend who regularly lies);
  • inferring not-Q from (i) P implies Q and (ii) not-P (though you might suck at logic problems);
  • the Holocaust.
  • The most paradigmatic examples of suckiness combine aesthetic failure with failure of skill or functioning. The sports team or the rock band, instead of showing awesome skill and thereby creating an awesome audience experience of musical or athletic splendor, can be counted on to drop the ball, hit the wrong note, make a jaw-droppingly stupid pass, choose a trite chord and tacky lyric. Things that happen to you can suck in a similar way to the way it sucks to be stuck at a truly horrible concert: Instead of having the awesome experience you might have hoped for, you have a lousy experience (getting splashed while trying to fix your tire, then missing your plane). There's a sense of waste, lost opportunity, distaste, displeasure, and things going badly. You're forced to experience one stupid, rotten thing after the next.

    Something sucks if (and only if) it should deliver good, worthwhile experiences or results, but it doesn't, instead wasting people's time, effort, and resources in an unpleasant and aesthetically distasteful way.

    The opposite of sucking is being awesome. Notice the etymological idea of "awe" in the "awesome": Something is awesome if it does or should produce awe and wonder at its greatness -- its great beauty, its great skill, the way everything fits elegantly together. The most truly sucky of sucky things instead, produces wonder at its badness. Wow, how could something be that pointless and awful! It's amazing!

    That "sucking" focuses our attention on the aesthetic and experiential is what makes it sound not quite right to say that the Holocaust sucked. In a sense, of course, the Holocaust did suck. But the phrasing trivializes it -- as though what is most worth comment is not the moral horror and the millions of deaths but rather the unpleasant experiences it produced.

    Similarly for other non-sucky bad things. What's central to their badness isn't aesthetic or experiential. To find nearby things that more paradigmatically suck, you have to shift to the experiential or to a lack of (awesome) skill or functioning.

    All of this is very important to understand as a philosopher, of course, because... because...

    Well, look. We wouldn't be using the word "sucks" so much if it wasn't important to us whether or not things suck, right? Why is it so important? What does it say about us, that we think so much in terms of what sucks and what is awesome?

    Here's a Google Ngram of "that sucks, this sucks, that's awesome". Notice the sharp rise that starts in the mid-1980s and appears to be continuing through the end of the available data.

    [click to enlarge]

    We seem to be more inclined than ever to divide the world into the sucky and the awesome.

    To see the world through the lens of sucking and awesomeness is to evaluate the world as one would evaluate a music video: in terms of its ability to entertain, and generate positive experiences, and wow with its beauty, magnificence, and amazing displays of skill.

    It's to think like Beavis and Butthead, or like the characters in the Lego Movie.

    That sounds like a superficial perspective on the world, but there's also something glorious about it. It's glorious that we have come so far -- that our lives are so secure that we expect them to be full of positive aesthetic experiences and maestro performances, so that we can dismissively say "that sucks!" when those high expectations aren't met.


    For a quite different (but still awesome!) analysis of the sucky and the awesome, check out Nick Riggle's essay "How Being Awesome Became the Great Imperative of Our Time".

    Many thanks to my Facebook friends and followers for the awesome comments and examples on my public post about this last week.

    Learning the Language of Love

    By: Marine Yanikian-Sutton

    I was a freshman at USC double majoring in Psychology and English. The Psych professor stood before a hundred of us and held up a rubber band.

    "What does this represent?" he asked.

    Silence filled the room.

    He answered his own rhetorical question. "This is a representation of relationships. Once formed, they need to be flexible. They need to be able to stretch, change, expand, and retract."

    "What do you mean? If you overstretch it, it will snap," another freshman said.

    The professor held up a stick and continued, "Exactly. If your relationship can't change over time, if you can't walk down different paths and reconnect when needed, if it is as inflexible as a stick, it will break. That being the case, if you overstretch it, it will snap," with that he snapped the twig which could be heard as far back as the last row.

    When I met Ryan December of my freshman year I held on to what I had heard  about the rubber band, about facing life's challenges flexibly.

    He was a world away, studying to become a history teacher in Northern California. We conversed for months in an old-school chatroom. He was driven though, determined to change the world. He wrote poetry, and loved all things outdoors. He seemed to take to me too. His letters, poetry, words, I was doomed from the start. When he was done with his credential, he moved to Los Angeles and found a job that was less than two miles from where I lived.  He worked hard.  He played hard, while I studied nonstop.

    During breaks, he whisked me away to see the stars that are absent from the Hollywood skyline and lakes that fill endless craters.  He reintroduced me to the adventurous life of the wanderer which I had only experienced during the first year of my life when my parents immigrated from Armenia to Lebanon to Italy to the United States. All this had created the gypsy in me which had been simmering for twenty years and was finally flying free.

    But I was torn, scared. I tried to sabotage it all-

    "I'm Armenian, you're not," I told him, trying to push him away.

    "I'm broken in so many ways, maybe you should find somebody else," I suggested.

    "What will people say? We come from two different worlds."

    "I'm a city gal that's traveled around the planet to be here and you're from the country."

    "I don't care!" He'd say each and every time, "I'd rather love once, than never find love again."

    It wasn't until a University buddy of mine told me that "pleasure spiked with pain," is the only pleasure one would ever find within our world, which woke me up to alternate possibliites. I slowly, but surely let him in because I realized that regardless of who my partner in life was, there would be complications, struggles, and challenges that we would have to face.

    So on Shakespeare's whims and my girlfriend's wisdom, we fought our cultural, regional, emotional, and mental differences.  We got married. We were young, the world was our playground and we took full advantage. We wandered through 50 distinct countries or states in the last 18 years.

    Over those years we grew together, stretching the cords of our bond. It wasn't always perfect, but we knew that our rubber band was for life. We worked on our relationship like a gardener would tend a garden. We read books like The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman and made sure that although the rubber band stretched, it did not snap.  We learned to hone in on each other's distinct needs. We laughed together, cried together, and now are fighting a new battle together.

    "I wish I had never gone into the hospital," I told him this last week, "I've put you guys through so much."

    "And losing you in December would have eliminated all that? You're back.  Every day that passes you're stronger, wiser, you're my Ma-ri-neh!"

    I nodded and hugged him as tightly as I could.

    "I miss our old life though, not having to worry about the temperature outside, jumping into the car and going for hikes, picking a location on a map and figuring out what and when and how we can explore it," I said.

    "This is just a bump in the road, trust that it will be over soon. You've always overcome challenges, you will overcome this too. Give yourself time, you'll figure it out."

    "But this is cancer," I said.

    "Come on, I know your emotions go up and down with these damn chemo treatments, but you've got this. You are usually the one that lives in a world of positives. See the positive, and walk towards it."

    "I think I'm supposed to share this experience with others, to change lives, to inspire others to fight the darkness?"

    He grinned.

    I sighed and squeezed him tightly.

    He grabbed my hand and led me to a corner of our property.  As I'd been writing to make sense of the world, he'd built me a Zen Garden. After reading The Five Love Languages, he'd come to realize that "acts of service" is my secondary need, with "quality time" being at the center of who I am.

    "It's beautiful," I mouthed.

    "So you can sit and write and find inspiration," he whispered.

    The stone path made the ground easier to walk on. He led us to two chairs that faced a cactus outcropping.  The bees hovered around the blossoms, the hummingbirds fluttered in and out. The slightly warm breeze caressed our skin.

    "I can't whisk you away, but we can sit here and enjoy what we've got today?"

    And so we did. We locked fingers and eyes.

    We inhaled the deep nectar smell of the blossoms. We spoke of life and our boys, our past and our future. We sat and took in the beauty and knew that all anybody has in the current moment is the current moment. And now, in the current moment, our love was stronger than ever, as flexible as the rubber band, as pure as the nectar the hummingbirds seek.

       Till next week, go, live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

    If you enjoyed this blog, explore previous ones, and if they tickle your fancy then please subscribe. All that will happen is that we will swap an e-mail for a weekly Wednesday love note with my latest blog and an update on this journey. 

    I'm still trying to gain subscribers in order to create a platform with which to approach an agent/publisher.  It is a bit tricky.  Hit the Subscribe button at the top, enter your e-mail, hit enter and then reconfirm that you are not a robot.  

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    Much obliged for your support and time! :) Marine. 

    On Trump's Restraint and Good Judgment (I Hope)

    Yesterday afternoon, I worked up the nerve to say the following to a room full of (mostly) white retirees in my politically middle-of-the-road home town of Riverside, California.

    (I said this after giving a slightly trimmed version of my Jan 29 L.A. Times op-ed What Happens to Democracy If the Experts Can't Be Both Factual and Balanced.)

    Our democracy requires substantial restraints on the power of the chief executive. The president cannot simply do whatever he wants. That's dictatorship.

    Dictatorship has arrived when other branches of government -- the legislature and the judiciary -- are unable to thwart the president. This can happen either because the other branches are populated with stooges or because the other branches reliably fail in their attempts to resist the president.

    President Trump appears to have expressed admiration for undemocratic chief executives who seize power away from judiciaries and legislatures.

    Here's something that could occur. President Trump might instruct the security apparatus of the United States -- the military, the border patrol, police departments -- to do something, for example to imprison or deport groups of people he describes as a threat. And then a judge or a group of judges might decide that Trump's instructions should not be implemented. And Trump might persist rather than deferring. He might insist that the judge or judges who aim to block him are misinterpreting or misusing the law. He might demand that his orders be implemented despite the judicial outcome.

    Here's one reason to think that won't occur: In January, Trump issued an executive order banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. When judges decided to block the order, Trump backed down. He insulted the judges and derided the decision, saying it left the nation less safe. But he did not demand that the security apparatus of the United States ignore the decision.

    So that's good.

    Probably Trump will continue to defer to the judiciary in that way. He has not been as aggressive about seizing power as he could have been, if he were set upon maximizing executive power.

    But if, improbably, Trump in the future decides to continue with an order that a judge is attempting to halt -- if, for some reason, Trump decides to insist that the executive branch disregard what he sees as an unwise and unjust judicial decision -- then quite suddenly our democracy would be comprised.

    Democracy depends on the improbable capacity of a few people who sit in courtrooms and study the law to convince large groups of people with guns to do things that those people with guns might not want to do, including things that the people with guns regard as contrary to the best interest of their country and the safety of their communities. It's quite amazing. A few people in black robes -- perhaps themselves with divided opinions -- versus the righteous desires of an army.

    If Trump says do this, and a judge in Hawaii says no, stop, and then Trump says army of mine, ignore that judge, what will the people with the guns do?

    It won’t happen. I don’t think it will happen.

    We as a country have chosen to wager our democracy on Trump's restraint and good judgment.

    [image source]

    My Chemo Companion: Shirley the Hell Hound.

    What might you think about while on death's bed?

    I thought of the past and the future that I would miss. I thought of my boys and husband.  I categorized all the firsts that would slip by with me not in the picture:

    college application acceptance letters
    serious relationships

    This list became my mantra. I couldn't write it down, couldn't bring my hand to lift the pen enough to to do so.  So, I spoke them in my mind's eye. I caressed them with tenderness and shed tears as  I went down the list. I hoped that God and the Universe would recognize that these simple attainable truths should not be denied in life and maybe grant me a pardon?

    I became encased in thought and wrapped it around me as one would a blanket. Anything could have been on the television screen, and anything was. The Food Network was airing non-stop holiday baking competitions with food I'd forgotten how to chew and swallow. Ten days of "nothing by mouth," or so said the sign on my door had left me parched and frail.

    I didn't think about my dog while chanting.  How could I? The parameters of logic and thought had started their own internal shenanigans.

    But Shirley, my Cheagle, obviously hadn't forgotten me. Based on her behavior once I got home, I knew for certain that she'd thought about me and worried about me often.  We'd adopted her a few years back from an organization called, Dogs Without Borders.  She was a  rescue who picked us as much as we picked her. We'd seen a picture of her a week before we'd even began to ponder a life with a new dog. Our last one, Java was a lifer and she'd come into our lives and stayed in our lives for fifteen years. She'd died an old happy dog.  Shirley on the other hand had been unwanted. She was in a pen with ten other puppies, nipping at each other. Everything changed when she saw my boys-Harmon and Ely. She trotted over to them, settled on her hind paws and began to interact.

    "Can we hold her?" Ely asked.

    "Can we walk her?" Harmon demanded.

    "Mom, I think this is the one!" They'd both said after fifteen minutes in her presence.

    We then went through a formal interview process we'd been preparing for.  We shared a video of our house to prove that we had enough space, that she couldn't get out and hurt herself.  We signed paperwork that committed us to never putting her down or getting rid of her without contacting the organization. We agreed to give her organic food. It almost felt as though we were adopting a third child. At moments I wondered whether she was worth it...

    December of 2016, I had no doubts that she was.

    Who knew that she would become my chemo companion?

    It was a few days before Christmas and our house was filled with loved ones-grandparents and uncles who refused to let the darkness damper my boy's holidays. They'd filled our house with great smelling food I couldn't stomach and laughter that I didn't know what to do with. I felt as though I was a "lifer" stuck in a temporary body. I felt as though I no longer fit.

    All things normal, hurt: laughter, sitting, walking, thinking, talking.  There was a dull constant pain at all times except when Shirley found her way beside me.

    Shirley sat in the middle of our living room as I limped in that first December evening after my release. I could barely walk without pain, shoulders slumped over, frail and trembling.  I stopped across from her and looked down, tears trickling down my face.

    She looked into my eyes and whimpered a deep guttorial howl-cry. Many moans followed, of different sound ranges as if she was picking her words precisely to relay her devastation. She brought me back to reality, momentarily.

    "I'm sorry," I whispered, "I didn't even say goodbye to you before I left."

    She shouldn't have responded, but she did.  She didn't bark or howl as one would expect an animal to do. She didn't run around, tail hanging between her hind legs. She sat there on the floor and continued  the deepest conversation I'd had in fifteen days.  Moans, barks, and growls intermixed as she responded to my apology.

    "I won't do it again. I won't leave without saying goodbye, I promise," I said, then added, "I am so sorry Shirley, I couldn't help it this last time."

    My boys watched, taking it all in, aging a little more than they should have this year.

    Then I let Ryan lead me to an arm chair where he eased me slowly down.  Shirley trotted quickly to my side and sat at my feet, watching me intently. I don't think she slept those first few days.  She didn't want to lose sight of me.

    "Has she been like this the whole time?" I asked.

    "Well, she hasn't been eating well," my mother said.

    "She's been restless," my husband added.

    I sighed.

    I leaned my fingers down and let her thoroughly have her way with them. The saliva fest was for her. For me, it was enough being home with my family.

    That night and for all the days to come she either sat beside me, pressed to my thigh as I wrote, or slept under my bed, where I would take long naps to get through the short days. It angered her when I'd go into the restroom or step onto the porch and not let her out.

    She became my chemo companion. She rode my mood swings, energy level, anger, and frustration as though she were my personal therapist. If I sat in the shade of my avocado tree reading or writing, she monitored the front yard the entire time, sweeping from North to South and repeating it continuously until I retreated into the house.

    And if I could talk back in a language she'd understand, all I would say is, "Thank you Shirley, for picking us as your family! Not sure I could've gone through this hell without my hound."


    "The Eight Faces of Cancer" isn't simply a blog. It is a book that highlights the 8 chemo treatments and 8 faces that emerged along this path that have healed my mind and soul.  We are 5/8 of the way through both with treatments and book.

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