Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Letter To NPR

Listening to Scott Simon's interview of Mitch Albom this morning, in which the 2016 election was discussed, made me remember that even NPR, long held up by the far right as the bleeding-heart liberal socialist commie bandwidth of the radio dial, can suffer the same biases and lack of balance as the right-wing radio shows that most NPR listeners love to mock. The indiscriminate lumping of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the same "today's politicians, amirite?" category by both the guest (explicitly) and the host (implicitly) made my stomach hurt, as it was so emblematic of just how unbalanced the coverage of this campaign has been, and how casually this imbalance has been accepted and normalized.

Scott Simon's question, in brief: Are there concerns that you feel have not been raised during the campaign?

Mitch Albom: "Where do you begin? I think every major concern has been overlooked in deference to tawdry things and comments and who said what on a TV show or an open mic or a snippy remark in a debate. To raise one, and it would just be one, I haven't heard a word about education in this entire election season. Every now and then you hear Hillary Clinton talk about about a plan for colleges and that's about it. Being here in Detroit, our public education in this city is - it's shocking and the oversight of it and the oversight of the teachers and the funding is nonexistent. And the priority that's put on it is so low ..."

Then Mr. Albom talks about the fact that education isn't sexy, so it doesn't get coverage, but that literacy and learning to read is the true key to success in school and life in general. He advocates for free community college, and for more emphasis on early education, and early literacy education in particular. All this could still have been a commentary on the state of today's media.

On how the media have provided Trump, who rarely speaks about policy at all, much less education policy, with essentially an open mic, only recently beginning to fact-check and call out his lies instead of just letting him spew out over their airwaves.

On how at the same time the media have not bothered to cover Clinton's public policy speeches for the last two or three years, but instead have devoted 24/7 coverage to the repeatedly debunked email “scandal” or rumors of her health or whether she smiles too much or doesn't smile enough, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton actually has been discussing the topic of education for several decades and has detailed policy proposals on her current campaign website.

Since that's in fact what has been going on, I first agreed with Mr. Albom, assuming he was only speaking about the poor job the news outlets have been doing in making education a topic of conversation in this campaign. However, Mr. Albom then revealed that he himself must be paying attention only to what is being broadcast on those media outlets he's complaining about, since a simple Google search for “Hillary Clinton education plan” brings up a wide range of articles on both her current stance and her history on this issue. Either that, or Mr. Albom is a Hillary Hater. How else do you explain his answer to the follow-up question?

Scott Simon's question, in brief: Any last words on any of the various presidential candidates?

MA: "I have not been more disappointed in a pair of candidates in my adult life. You know, I'm very lucky, Scott, I get to travel around and I meet a lot of people and – I can't tell you how many times, and gosh, in your job, you have to do this too – how many times you have a conversation with somebody, and after they leave you go, 'wow, what an impressive person, what an incredible set of values, leadership, accomplishment, whatever' – and none of these people ever end up running for president."

He explains this phenomenon by saying that we have created a system where only thick-skinned people like rampant egotists or lifelong politicians will ever run, because these other more virtuous people he's been meeting are so smart they realize that if they run for office the media will rip their lives apart in the search for sensationalism, and "all of a sudden 50 or 60 years of hard work and accomplishment go out the window, and so what I have to say about these two candidates is summed up in a sentence that probably many people utter: 'This is the best we can do?'"

How can he believe that Clinton is just like Trump? If he doesn't believe that, why did he say these things?

Does he literally not know anything about Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, former Senator, who has an incredible set of values, who shows true and collaborative leadership, and who has a history of accomplishment that more than equals Mr. Albom's? I would think that his philanthropic soul should at least be drawn to her work with the Clinton Foundation.

President Obama, who is one of the most accomplished and capable people to hold that office, made his opinion clear at the 2016 Democratic National Convention: "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America." Perhaps Mr. Albom missed the media coverage of that event.

Scott Simon definitely missed the opportunity for clarification with regards to whether the first quote above was meant as “the media are not covering education enough” (true) or as “neither candidate is talking about education” (false). If Mr. Albom truly believes that neither candidate has been talking about education, then he just hasn't been paying attention. But because he so casually lumped Hillary Clinton – and by reference her history as an advocate for children, for education, for women's rights, for universal health care, and more – with Donald Trump, whose lack of values, accomplishments, or qualifications on any level should make this not even a topic of conversation, I'm going for “Hillary Hater.”

This is the first time I've written to NPR on this topic, though it's not the first time I've yelled at the radio when a host has not followed up on statements that leave the impression of something that is demonstrably not true. But to have a guest essentially say "Trump and Clinton are equally unqualified to be president" and an NPR host not say "are you REALLY saying that? because it's not true at all, you know" doesn't mean NPR is being "fair and balanced" to me, because that unfair statement was not balanced by Scott Simon's questioning of its veracity.

I'm interested in hearing the other sides of the story, and wish I could talk directly with both men about values, radio production, interview strategies, and education. Since that's not likely, I'll keep listening, and keep writing letters.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Honesty

What brought this country to a point where so many people admire one man's openly admitted lawlessness and dishonesty in pursuit of his individual gain, no matter the cost to others?

That's the sentence that started what was going to be a medium-length Facebook post to follow up an article I linked to that referenced how Trump supporters seem to be incapable of criticizing him; when provided with made-up examples of things like writing off a white Siberian tiger for Putin's birthday as a "business expense," they instead list their own reasons why such tax-evasion schemes are actually good things.

"I'm a selfish person and much of my time and money goes towards pursuing my own goals and desires," that Facebook post would have gone on to say, "though I like to think that I'm getting better at not having this create a negative impact on the people around me." I would also have added (in an increasingly moralizing tone, I'm sorry to say) that at least I'm always aware that I am part of a larger society, and have a role and responsibility towards it, and ... and then I realized that I, too, have avoided taxes in the past (the IRS don't read blogs, do they?) and justified it in various ways. I, too, have expressed biased and even racist views, often those I'm not conscious of within myself at first, others that I've recognized and continue to struggle with. For example, I'd automatically assume the author of the linked piece, who describes himself as "a Southern white male veteran who lives in a very rural area," is a Trump supporter, or at least embodies some of their characteristics, just because of that description. Instead, he subjects those supporters to some trenchant castigation, and I'm once again left facing my assumptions, and questioning why they're there. It's true that when you see the clumps and colors on any demographic map, "southern white male veteran rural dweller" does tend to tick all the Trump-supporter boxes, but that's no excuse for my looking at those words and assuming that any individual person does.

There are many other words today defining the ways that we categorize and describe ourselves, some of which weren't part of the language when I was growing up. Agnostic. Republican. Feminist. Catholic. Vegetarian. Latin@. Gun owner, PETA supporter, single, married, transgender, genderqueer, male, female, other. Other. And that's really what it boils down to, isn't it? "Othering," another word that's younger than I am.

So much of what shapes our ability to be honest occurs long before we are capable of this kind of self-reflection [Ed. Note. Or perhaps it's just that I'm coming late to the party, and this is a realization that usually happens in one's twenties or thirties. I wouldn't be surprised.] and gets normalized and buried in the mental category of "just the way things are." Some things in this category can't be changed: I'm white and female and over 50. What can be changed are attitudes like "... and therefore superior to non-white people" or "... and therefore should behave in a certain way" or "... and therefore must believe what this other over-50 white female believes," all of which I would resent were they assumed about me. If I am honest with myself, I will be watching for these inbred instincts and consciously working to get rid of them, to retrain and reshape the paths in my brain that click in those specific neural patterns when presented with a certain image or idea. There have been times in the last few months when I've found myself spontaneously quoting scripture, of all things (not always the Bible, but usually), as the random access database that is my brain spits out what it thinks to be information relevant in the moment. If all of that and more is in there, and comes out of my mouth without prompting, what other learned language and behaviours am I demonstrating without realizing it, every single day?

Who's defining the word "honest" these days? Here's what Merriam-Webster says: free from fraud or deception; reputable, respectable; creditable, marked by integrity, marked by free, forthright, and sincere expression. In other words, someone you can believe in. If I'm not honest with myself (and others), how can I believe in myself? If I can't trust that other people are being honest with me, then I find it harder to believe in them. At the least, I will give them the benefit of the doubt, but it will color every interaction from then on. And I am sure that other people have come to that conclusion about me in the past, which is one reason that it's something I'm thinking about now, and working on improving. Yet there has been a new definition added in recent years, where "speaking your mind" and "telling it how it is" now mean "being honest with your listeners" even when the mind of the speaker is filled with hatred and bigotry and a terribly warped view of a fearful pseudo-reality and the purpose of the telling is to incite even more hate and bigotry and fear in those listeners.

If someone honestly believes a lie, and tries as hard as they can to convince others of the truth of that lie, are they a liar? That's different from someone who is desperately trying to convince themselves of a lie, and who needs everyone else to believe that lie so that they can be validated in believing it too. Or who just doesn't give a damn about the truth, and lies with impunity because they can and it's getting them what they want, or because it amuses them to lie to others and manipulate them.

What I do not understand is how a person can look at the well-documented history of Donald Trump's lies, including lying about the fact that he lied when the contradictory lies were both caught on tape [Ed. Note. There's another blog post in that somewhere, about English expressions that are still being used, but no longer have physical cultural connections to the things those words represent.], and still use the word "honest" to describe him. And if they can't use that word, why is "honesty" no longer on their list of important qualifications for the presidency?

Finally [Ed. Note. Thank god.], what responsibility is placed on the listener? It's just as important to listen honestly as it is to speak honestly, and we do so little of that in our lives, unless we're called by vocation or profession to do so. To simply listen to what people are saying, and then to try to hear both what they are saying out loud and what they are saying with their body, their intonation, their phrasing, their choice of words. To work through what was said, with the other person, until both sides have a clear understanding of exactly what is being communicated. This is not necessarily agreement with what was said, but agreement on what was said. But it's irresponsible to listen and believe something without questioning it, especially when it comes to politics instead of personal relationships. This is also why I do not understand how a person can look at all of the well-documented history of Hillary Clinton's honesty and discard it in favor of the rumors/lies about her without also questioning their own motivation and their reasons for doing so. "Well, I just don't trust her," that person will often say. Why? And if their answers to that question are things that I can refute with the equally well-documented proof that the specific rumor/lie is indeed just a rumor/lie, and they're only left with their "gut feeling" then there's something at work here other than the question of honesty, in my opinion, something in that person that's probably manifesting itself in other gut-level feelings like fear and unhappiness and worry about the future, all of which are playing into the hands of a person who's promising to solve all of their problems, starting by getting rid of all of those "others" who are causing them.

What brought this country to a point where so many people admire one man's openly admitted lawlessness and dishonesty in pursuit of his individual gain, no matter the cost to others - and we, as a country, are only now getting around to talking about it seriously, rather than mocking it? This is a problem that will not go away by itself after November, and it's something that America needs to address as part of who we are as a society, and how we want that society to look in the future.

How do you define honesty?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Blackberries

the sun-hot fruit fills
our hands with sweetness I taste
summer on your lips

"Blackberries," August 20, 2016; photo taken September 2014, Salisbury, England

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Vacances d'été

I haven't had a camera for weeks, now. My faithful Canon SX120IS, which has accompanied me nearly everywhere the last six years, has decided that it's too tired to continue, and not even tasty fresh batteries can tempt the viewfinder out of its metal shell for more than a few moments, these days. So I just stopped carrying it around, and found this to be strangely liberating. While I still stop and appreciate the view/the quirky photo op/the beauty everywhere, I don't feel compelled to save it in digital format. That's one reason for the lack of posting here since the end of April; another is that I've been très occupée both at work and after work, and just haven't had the time - or rather, I've chosen to not make the time for this blog.

After I got back to Portland and took up essentially where I left off a year earlier, I stopped being in "travel blogging" mode, where my first thought upon seeing or experiencing something was "oh, I must share this with my far-away family and friends." You're all here, more or less, and many of you are seeing and experiencing the same things, often at the same time. And frankly, my day-to-day life is pretty generic, though highly enjoyable: I get up at 6am, do my hour's commute to work (bike or bus is about the same), work from 8:30am-5:30pm, and either go home again or go out alone or with friends. Weekends have been either packed with events or spent in a vegetative state, as I de-stress from the previous five days. In case you didn't know this, I was hired as a full-time legal assistant and trained by the part-time legal assistant who was then let go four months later, leaving me to fill both positions by myself. We just hired a part-time administrative backup/LA trainee this past week. February through July was a challenge, to say the least, and often hair-pullingly frustrating. But I had, and continue to have, the opportunity to both shape the workflow in the firm and to (very quickly, by necessity) increase my knowledge and skill in the area of family law. And the overtime reflected in my paycheck certainly made it easier to both justify and pay for my after-hours fun.

I often get off the bus on the east side of the river and walk the extra mile across the Morrison Bridge into downtown.

Freelance work has slowed to a trickle, and I think partly because I was falling behind deadline so often after I started my job in September. The time factor was a big part of it, as was the need to replace both my computers so that I could actually do the freelance work, but there was definitely a shift in my thinking towards other places to direct my energy. The first and most important was getting a full-time job with health benefits, then keeping that job, then doing my damndest to show my employer why my proposed changes to the workflow, when combined with my capability and productivity, justify the rather substantial raise I will be demanding at the end of this month. Because I'm saving up to move back to France for good this time, and will need a lot more in my bank account than I had in 2012. Therefore priority one right now is earning money, and I'm just lucky that I've got a job I enjoy, that I'm good at, and that brings me a decent wage.

The paved and dirt paths that wind up and around Mt Tabor are just a five-minute walk from the house.

Priority number two is shifting my freelance work focus so that I'm working on my projects. Writing under my own name, things that I want to write, things that have been in my plans and in my head for years, waiting for the right time to come out. This is the right time. When I did the poetry month series, I discovered that I have words bubbling up out of me in a surprising abundance, and that writing in a poetical format of some sort is as natural as breathing. Now that I've started outlining the short story series that came to me one evening in Tours, I'm finding that entire stories are in there as well. It's a very strange process, writing stories. I was going along jotting down notes for one the other day, and was just at the end when to my surprise another character entered the room. I didn't even know he was there, and his presence changed the whole dynamic in a way that made the story even more of what I wanted it to be. It's a lot of fun.

But again, that takes time. This takes time, this blogging; I've been typing for an hour, and haven't even finished. So in order to leave more evening and weekend time for to-be-published-someday writing, I'm going to do much less writing about what's going on in my life and in the world. Oh, I have political words in me, and flowery descriptive words, and double-edged swords of words. Flurries of words that blow across a white screenpage, that pile up in the sheltered corner where a half a dozen draft posts wait already, that snowball into an avalanche once I get out into the drifts and start patting them together. I'll still be writing, but probably not on this site more than once a week.

Hiking the Cape Horn trail above the Columbia River Gorge with my housemate Quyen, April 30th.

I really thought that after the April poetry series I'd continue the momentum with a daily blog post, but by that time I'd completely lost any desire to blog my days again. Ma vie quotidienne est intéressante et agréable (généralement), mais ça m'ennuie un peu, en la racontant après. And if I'm bored by what I'm writing about, writing becomes an effort, and I just don't have a lot of energy to spare these days since I'm putting so much of it into work. And also into having fun, which I could write about, I suppose, but generally since I'm not reviewing events until they're long over, what's the point? I'm using Facebook for that sort of sharing, and other people write better reviews of things these days than I ever would want to spend the time doing. And then I wouldn't have time to write non-me-focused things about philosophy or politics or poetry (admittedly still me-focused since it's my opinions, but it's not "look at me and how great my life is" which is what I feel this blog verges on anyway).

So if you're interested in what I'm doing day to day, there's a better chance you'll find out on Facebook. If you're interested in a recap of what I've been doing the last three months, keep reading, because I ...

bought a new bicycle (5/1)

enjoyed a performance by the Malpaso Dance Company (5/4)

went to happy hour at North Bar with food from Mi Mero Mole next door (5/5)

watched "Young Frankenstein" and ate expensive tapas on the outdoor patio at Pix Patisserie/Bar Vivant (5/11)

went to a family law seminar at the Multnomah County Courthouse - yes, I'm putting this in the "fun" category (5/13)

had one last dinner at Veritable Quandary with Mom and John before going to the opera (5/14)

saw my niece Leah perform in her last high school band concert (5/18)

went to happy hour with friends before having a massage (5/25)

went to the farmer's market every week for berries and flowers

house- and dog-sat for friends over Memorial Day weekend

A succulent selection from Flying Fish's new oyster bar at Providore on Sandy Boulevard.

enjoyed happy hour at The Observatory (6/1)

had Leah over for a sleepover and dim sum, then went to watch my brother-in-law play trumpet in the Willamette Falls Symphony (6/4-5)

snuggled with Kitt the cat during a multi-day sleepover while Mom and John were in town for Sweeny Todd and sushi (6/9)

... and also for nephew Morgan's Oregon State graduation and Leah's Reynolds High School graduation and party

climbed to the top of Mt Tabor for a midsummer night's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream (6/21)

saw the film "Mandorla" and met its director (6/23)

bought amazing sorbetto at Pinolo Gelato's one-year anniversary (6/24)

rode topless through the streets of Portland for the World Naked Bike Ride (6/25)

was blown away by Baroque instruments at Reed College (thanks again for the free ticket, Annabeth!)

Frozen smoked tunsoy from the Philippines, available at one of the many Asian markets on SE 82nd Avenue.

visited a winery for an evening of jazz with Morgan (featuring Ben on trumpet) (7/6)

spent a great four-day weekend with my grandmother Wini, during which we saw my sister Kate play with the band "Hey, Handsome" and got almost the entire family together for my brother Ian's birthday lunch (7/8-11)

ate dinner at Southpark before watching an excellent performance of "Eugene Onegin" at the Newmark (7/14)

rode my bike to Helen's summer barbecue at 6pm and Lark's Bastille Day party at 8pm before biking to Laurelhurst Park for the 10pm production of "Comedy of Errors" and then biking home after midnight (7/16)

had lunch with almost all of the people I've ever worked with in Portland law offices, in downtown's Director Park (7/18)

house- and dog/cat/chicken-sat for friends in Vancouver, which had its share of trauma (7/21-22)

dog-sat for more friends here in Portland, saw "As You Like It" in Laurelhurst Park in the afternoon, and joined Mom and John and Helen for dinner at Clyde Common (7/23)

rented a Zipcar and drove to Breitenbush for a day of river sun yoga vegan stretching forest peace (7/26)

laughed through a very entertaining naked magic show at the Schnitz (7/27)

played mini golf in the middle of downtown Portland (7/28)

walked through the Native American fashion exhibit at the Portland Art Museum (7/29)

voted in a chicken beauty contest at the Lents Street Fair (7/31)

Shh ... don't tell Mom and John that I let Kitt sleep on my bed when she stays here.

Last Thursday I went to see Rossini's "THe Italian Girl in Algiers", which I'd never seen before and which I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope Portland Opera does more of these opera buffa productions in the Newmark - the smaller theatre really draws the audience in close, and while you wouldn't want to stage the "Anvil Chorus" there, I think it's a better choice than the Keller for many things. Mom and John saw it last night, after we met at Shigezo for dinner with Helen. (Another advantage of the Newmark is that there is a wider variety of restaurants within walking distance, though we seem to end up at Japanese places more often than not.) Today I did laundry, and put this post together, and got a massage, and am about to go start some chicken cooking for lunches this week. There! Now you're all caught up.

This week I've got a Monday date to catch up with Nick the bartender at West Cafe, where I used to spend nearly every Wednesday evening after work studying for my French classes before going to choir rehearsal at St. Stephen's Episcopal just up the street; a happy hour with friends on Thursday; a lunch with Morgan on Saturday; and then a friend's birthday party Saturday night. Work is still intense, though now that we have a competent part-time admin person, it's much less stressful for me, though there is some added time in doing the training, so I'll continue to put in overtime in August. (A good thing, actually, as I'm obviously spending a fair bit of money on all of these fun events.) I've got my eye on a new camera, and hope to make that purchase in two weeks, so there might be the occasional photo montage here, though again most of my real-time posts will be on Facebook only.

Oh, and this happened.

What with the biking, and the walking, and the not eating much for lunch because the lawyer dumped three new tasks on my desk that absolutely have to be done by the end of the day along with all of the other tasks already assigned followed by the not eating much for dinner because I'm too wiped out to be hungry, added to the fact that I've changed my diet to accommodate my changed body (post-gall bladder removal, finally realizing that I have to eliminate a lot more than gluten and dairy, not able to consume mass quantities of alcohol and potato chips and takeaway Chinese food like I used to) has made a lot of extra E just sort of vanish, somehow, without my really noticing other than having to buy new clothes for work every two months. But when I tried this dress on, I thought "damn, girl, you are looking rather fine." Also, it'll work well as a choir dress - yes, on top of my already busy routine I am auditioning for the Bach Cantata Choir again - and a night on the town dress, once I get some non-Birkenstock black shoes. I think I'll get a black compression sleeve, too, just for a formal touch.

À la prochaine, mes bien-aimés!

au claire de la lune / les rainettes chantent de la fin / d'été, de la vie

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Writing On The Wall

Will anyone remember me at all
When I and all who know me now are dead -
When all that's left is writing on the wall?

(They say the One who sees the sparrow fall
Has my whole lifetime stored within His head.)
Will anyone remember me at all

Or will these poems fade away and crawl
Into a dusty corner, never read?
When all that's left is writing on the wall

What eyes will see, what ears will hear the call
And resonate to anything I've said -
Will anyone remember me at all?

Perhaps there will be those who can recall,
If only I will say what is unsaid,
When all that's left is writing on the wall,

The words half lost, a hieroglyphic scrawl.
And then when time frays memory's final thread,
Will anyone remember me at all
When all that's left is writing on the wall?


poem: a villanelle, and not my first, either

photo: Florence, Italy, May 2015

This is #30 in a series of poems that I wrote for National Poetry Month. All work is my own, as are the photographs.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Poem To Explain The Lack Of A Poem Today

empty
as the skies above the northern plains
as the towns abandoned by the last descendants
          of the first to settle that new land
          newly abandoned then and now the echoes blend
          ghosts of the conquered and the conquerors

stagnant
as the muddy shores of rivers going dry
as the dying pools where minnows gasp their last
          out of water out of breath out of time
          the land is begging for a cooling rain
          skeletons of trees stand sentinel

bare
as the pantry of an artist on the edge
as the canvas waiting stretched against the wall
          the only paint that's left is blood or tears
          abandoned brushes stiffen on the floor
          how can you summon inspiration at a whim?

how do you draw

a blank?


photo: on Amtrak in the middle of the Montana canola fields, July 10, 2015

This is #29 in a series of poems being written for National Poetry Month 2016. All work is my own, as are the photographs.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Siren's Song

I never dreamed that I could fly
The ocean holds my fantasy of choice
With sparkling shallows for my sky
A dolphin's song, or silence, for my voice
Deep breaths as liquid fills my throat
A single O enough to give me air
Disdaining snorkel mask or boat
I dive to seek the kraken in its lair
For now I'll live each landlocked day
Remembering how it felt to swim so deep
Until I find if there's a way
To be a mermaid when I'm not asleep


photo: the Silent Pool at dusk, Breitenbush Hot Springs, December 5, 2015

This is #28 in a series of poems being written for National Poetry Month 2016. All work is my own, as are the photographs.