Foul

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Reading coverage of a recent baseball game, I thought about America’s pastime.

No, not baseball.

I’m talking about the reflexive grabbing of our phones to take photos of everything happening around us.

At this particular baseball game, a Yankees game, a foul ball whipped into the stands at 105 miles an hour and stopped only after a shattering hit directly into the face of a little girl.

The baseball player who swung the bat was in tears. The fans surrounding the little girl can be seen in poses of shock and horror, many reaching out to help. All except one. This guy has his phone up, aimed at the injured girl. Recording, one can only assume. Snapping photos maybe.

He is not a reporter. Maybe he is a nice guy who just happened to have his phone up recording the game and swung it around without thinking. Maybe he’s one of those guys killing wildlife by dragging it from its habitat and pestering it literally to death in the name of a selfie.

I don’t know.

But, just like all of you, I stared at the reporter’s photo of the scene in horror.

Except, I was looking at the guy with the phone.

Baseball Girl

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Hurricane Season

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Happy Hurricane Season.

We are still reeling from Harvey, remembering the anniversary of Katrina, and looking over our shoulder at Irma.

Hurricane season. The time of year when many of us get to gamble about whether to stay or whether to leave, whether to be foolish or brave. Time to face that, no matter how much we hate our neighbor, it just may be his generosity that pulls us out of the flood.

I’ve been doing a lot of hating on my neighbors lately.

Not necessarily my literal neighbors – although the 3 am revelers get special curses – but my metaphorical neighbors who proudly and defiantly still support the other guy.

I have even more special curses for them and for their stupidity. Why they would vote for someone who bragged about grabbing pussies, who clearly and demonstrably lied every time he opened his mouth, is beyond me. No time to talk to people that stupid.

I don’t suffer fools well.

When I was in public relations, I had a client – let’s just say they were concerned with mental health – that never wanted to use language that they called “blaming and shaming.”

I got where they were coming from – those who had mental health issues had enough to deal with without stigmatizing language. So, I carefully wrote language that talked about “people with mental health challenges” as opposed to “schizophrenics.” It is the kind of language that has come up with the tongue-twisting “differently-abled” instead of “disabled” or “handicapped.”

And, while I wrote this stuff – they were the client, they paid the bills – I secretly sneered. In real life, I’m all about the blame and shame.

Call a spade a spade. Idiots are idiots, and life’s too short.

But here’s what I see on Facebook:

–people on BOTH sides spreading fake news

–people on BOTH sides getting angry about things that don’t matter (okay, admittedly bad optics, but does it really matter that Melania wore heels to Harvey? Really?)

–people on BOTH sides slinging insults (Libtard, Trumptard, etc.) and just not listening.

And, I get it. Yes, call a spade a spade. A racist is a racist is a racist. It shouldn’t matter why.

Except, it does. Because just shaming and blaming does nothing to change things. It’s not like a racist is going to see my scorn, slap his head in dismay, and realize that he has been mistaken his whole life.

And, I realize that I have the white privilege to just scorn something that doesn’t affect me personally.

Still…

That client liked to change my language from using, “but” to using “and.”

“Different things can co-exist,” she used to say.

People can vote their self-interest AND still sacrifice to save others during a hurricane. People can have a fundamentally different mind-set AND still be lovable.

So, it’s hurricane season.

Maybe it’s time to wash away all the shit we’ve been wading in since November. To pull our neighbors out of the flood of invective. To hold out a hand and say, “Hi, I’m differently politically-abled than you are. Want a seat in my boat?”

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Opinions vs Experts

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There is an arrogance that has seized us. It insists that we “know” better than anyone else, based on the lies we tell ourselves.

I don’t know when it started. Maybe it was when, in certain parts of the country, education was mocked because it didn’t lead to as much money as selling drugs, or playing sports, or being famous for simply being.

It continued on a wave of holding our hands over our ears and humming when someone with a medical degree mentioned vaccines, or when a scientist mentioned global warming.

It has led us here.

Here is where Donald Trump appoints party planners and big donors to head agencies, awards patronage jobs at the Department of Energy to people who didn’t know that nuclear energy was part of their portfolio, and laymen to job of chief scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency. Patronage jobs are nothing new, especially in government, but this administration has raised to an art the act of placing people in jobs they are not only unsuitable for, but in agencies they have an active opposition to.

Here is where Congress has let itself get so caught up in election cycles that it has forgotten how to legislate – an act that requires compromise and doing things that weaken poll numbers in order to move us toward good, even if the steps are incremental.

And here is where the media finds itself without the armor of credibility after years of chasing ad revenue and ratings and offering the entertaining rather than the enlightening. The media has promoted the pretty rather than the competent, and offered cheap, unscripted entertainment, because it fills the public belly like cheap, un-nutritious popcorn. And, while it has debased its entertainment, it has hamstrung its news side.

No one trusts the experts.

I understand this trend.

I come from a family that trusted instinct over education, always.

And there is some merit to the suspicion.

Besides the media and politicians, scientists have been influenced by chasing the next funding grant and polls have been purchased that cynically reflect the best interests of the person paying for the poll. And, as for the medical field, Big Pharma has cast a large shadow over the purity of medical advice.

But, there is a reason I don’t want my friends doing my brain surgery or flying my plane – unless, of course, they happen to be award-winning brain surgeons or stellar pilots.

In my family, doctors’ instructions were to be followed unless they were not. My dad, who had low blood pressure his whole life, was on blood pressure medication for a suspicious fluctuation in his pressure. According to his wife, he stopped taking it when his pressure leveled off, despite his doctor’s instructions.

My dad’s no longer with us.

Did his refusal to believe the experts kill him?

The medical experts who examined my dad weren’t sure. So, I have my opinion, but it doesn’t mean it’s true.

Because sometimes, what you “feel” is true doesn’t trump education.

Opinions vs facts

Be Still

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In the pre-dawn hours, the thunder snarled right above my roof. One of my dogs trembled and burrowed into my side. A particularly loud clap began with a boom and ended with a sizzle, and then my bedroom was suddenly darker than dark.

The power had gone out, taking with it the glowing alarm clock numerals, the lights on the box next to the television that does magic I can’t explain, the nightlights aimed low for our aging dog’s nighttime navigation.

And, with the darkness, a silence so thick it felt like another blanket on this summer night. Between the cracks and grumbles of thunder, it seemed as though even nature had paused to listen; no night birds, no wind to ring the chimes outside my bedroom window, no errant yowl of a night creature. Just silence.

Gradually, I could see the darker outlines of my two dogs, of the frame of the closet door. And, as my eyes adjusted to the black around me, my ears too adjusted. I heard the restless shifting of the frightened dog on the covers next to me. I heard the undisturbed breathing of my husband, seemingly able to sleep through the storm. And I heard my own breath, a lullaby of steady rhythm.

Sights too often overshadowed by electronics, and sounds too often drowned out by hums and clicks of our everynight life.

In an essay about the book called, “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere,” author Pico Iyer is quoted as advocating for, “sitting still as a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.”

So last night, between thunderbooms, I fell back in love.

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Leave the Gun AND the Cannoli – Grab a Book

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We are all so very angry today.

If you’re not for us, you’re a-gin’ us.

We are all so righteous and we are angry that the “other” cannot concede our obviously correct point of view that we spew vitriol on social media and to our friends.

Stupid President (either the current or the past, depending on where you stand). Stupid Congress. Stupid Bigot, Stupid Racist, Stupid Sexist, and Stupid Snowflake Liberal.

The truth is, we are as unable to see others’ truth, as they are to see ours.

This kind of anger and frustration leads some to pick up a pen, others to pick up a gun.

The solution might be to read a good book.

A 2006 study cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article says that psychologists in Toronto found a connection between reading fiction and being more sensitive to others.

For people who read fiction (and it seems that it had to be fiction) that transported them – the kind of transport that jolts you when the book ends and you find yourself back in your room – there was an increased ability to see the world through others’ eyes.

Another study three years later reproduced the study but stripped away variables like age, gender, stress or loneliness, and English fluency. They found that fiction readers had higher levels of empathy (and, interestingly, better social networks in real life).

A later study in 2013 refined the findings down to genre – literary fiction that requires the reader to figure out characters’ motivations using more subtle cues had the most empathy. It seems that trying to figure out what the flawed protagonist is going to do next is good practice for trying to read our fellow humans.

A much-loved quote from the movie, “The Godfather,” is to “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” While I love pastries, we might all be better off if we “Leave the gun AND the cannoli. Pick up a book.”

 

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Catching Creativity

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(Editor’s Note: This appeared initially as a blog for SKIRT Magazine)

I was never much good at catching fireflies.

In my youth, fireflies would twinkle in the soft light, creating magic on the back lawn.

My cousins would burst out into the twilight, armed with glass baby food jars, their legs streaked with the blood of the last swatted mosquito like some kind of warpaint. The evening would be filled with the fwop-fwop sound of their palms slapping to seal the fireflies inside the jars. They compared who would have the brightest firefly nightlight at their bedside.

I would wander much more slowly through the dew-slick grass, an ambler where my cousins were marching warriors. The fairy lights attracted me but once I captured a firefly, it looked puny in its glass prison, its magic diminished with captivity.

Eventually, I let the fireflies be.

As an adult and a writer, I found that the bright sparkle of creativity too would diminish the harder I tried to tame it. Grabbing onto a muse was like trying to pick up a raw egg yolk with your fingers – it slipped and slid just out of your grasp.

Creativity is supposed to be a spark, implying that you can just strike two blunt things together repeatedly until it happens.

It doesn’t work that way for me. I can’t force creativity directly. I can’t even sneak up on it. If I stare at it directly, it wisps away. I can only catch it out of the corner of my eye and let it sneak up on me.

Creativity sparks when I shamelessly eavesdrop on other people’s dramas, the tears of an overwrought stranger watering my creativity. It sparks when two disparate things suddenly seem related, like butterflies and physics. And it sparks when it is most inconvenient – nudging me awake at 3 am to get up and capture a scene or a dream.

But, the times I sit alone before dawn at my keyboard, hammering out the words that seem to come at the speed of light?

Creativity hovers like a bright cloud of fireflies.

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Grateful Enough? Thanks!

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Every morning, I try to meditate. I don’t actually meditate every morning, but I’ve read that it helps, so I try.

Part of that meditation is an accounting of the things I’m grateful for, because I’ve read that helps, too. Helps with what, exactly? Well, helps to make me the calm, accepting person I always wanted to be. There’s a whole industry around gratitude journals.

Gratitude is a good thing, right?

Because the opposite of gratitude is entitlement, i.e. “Why should I be grateful? I deserve this!” I worked hard to be sure my daughter never felt that way, and she couldn’t even play with toys she received until she’d written a thank-you note to the sender. I am suspicious of people who don’t write thank-you notes. When I was hiring, it was the people who wrote thank-you emails or, even better, notes, after interviews whom I favored.

But now, the scientists who study such things say that some people aren’t wired to be thankful. The ones who are the most independent feel like being grateful means they owe a debt of gratitude, and they are profoundly uncomfortable with owing anybody anything.

I get that, because I will go to extreme lengths to return a book or a loan. I have not run for office because I can not stand the thought of asking for money. It’s funny, when I did public relations for causes, I could easily ask for support for the good cause, but asking for myself? Just can’t.

Gratitude interventions – like the popular gratitude journals — don’t work for everyone, despite the marketing, according to the psychologists. Not everyone benefits from forcing gratitude.

But gratitude is still important, even if we’re not wired for it. The psychologist in the story about the gratitude research says that he would, “worry that people who are uncomfortable with gratitude and with receiving gifts may be undermining their interpersonal relationships.”

So, how do we balance the importance of gratitude with the need to be independent and strong?

Maybe we ought to share some of that gratitude with ourselves. For example, “I am so grateful to be published, because a lot of talented people are not. But I am also grateful for my own talent and perseverance that led to my being published.”

Maybe the secret is giving credit where it is due, not with arrogance, but not with false modesty either.

Oh, and thank you for reading to the end. I’m grateful.

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