Saturday, March 11, 2017

Word

I always wanted to write. Since the age of five, writing was my passion, and though I was very interested in creative writing, I was later drawn to journalism and reporting. To me, journalism was a form of service--offering to the public, to the community, facts that would help people live their lives safely and knowledgeably.

When I was nine, I started a newspaper on my upstate New York street (if memory serves, it was called the Gillespie Street Times, but I can’t swear to that). For a very brief period (because play eventually won out) I interviewed neighbors, collected data, and kept track of all the comings and goings (lost cats, pot holes, kickball games, etc.) My self-appointed job was to be accurate, because no reporter wants to be called into an editor’s office due to misleading statements or inaccuracies (though I was my own editor back then, and I sure didn't have an office!).

In high school I signed up for journalism. We learned to report on who, why, what, where, when, and sometimes, how. We threw spitballs and made squirrel noises at a teacher we didn’t adore when she turned her back to scribble on the blackboard. Another teacher we revered—he introduced us to coffee and motorcycles and insisted that our stories were factual, lucid, and significant. We went out into the field, gathering experiences, information and facts based on observation and interviews with credible sources. We were only in high school, yet we had begun to realize that some “real” reporters risked their lives for facts, traveled to war-torn countries, and put their lives on the line for the truth.

Onto college, where I volunteered for the college newspaper (for no credit, out of passion for truth). I spent long nights in the newspaper office, walking or biking home alone at 5 a.m. after the newspaper was “put to bed.” I was in love not only with the cute boy who wrote headlines, but also with words, truth, and accuracy.

I graduated and got a job as a reporter at a community newspaper. I worked and wrote nonstop: Meetings, deadlines, stories due the next morning after a town board or school board session that ended at 2 a.m. I always got quotes from both sides, reported the pros and cons, and checked my facts. No reporter wants to have to print a retraction or correction. (And btw, I was paid a pittance.)

Later, writing for magazines, I continued to deal with facts. I interviewed experts (including Mr. Rogers—on the phone!). I answered to fact-checkers, editors, and copy editors. Every detail was checked and rechecked. Even a simple piece about diapers or toys brought out fact checkers galore. Readers may not always know how long and nit-picky is the process to ensure that information is correct.

Some go to grad school--or to combat zones--to study to become better writers, reporters, to become investigative reporters, to learn how to interview well and write clearly. When these paths are demeaned, when those who seek to write and speak truth are maligned, a dangerous door is opened. Disparaging the media is a calculated step to create a confused and untrusting populace that can easily be manipulated.

Words have power. Words have meaning. Words can maim or heal. By far, most journalists write or report not to harm, betray, or confuse, but to inform, help, and clarify.

I’ve devoted my working life to words. Whether written or spoken, words matter. And like the sun, the truth always rises—quite often, due to the devotion and hard work of journalists. Yes, there are a few bad eggs (and a few mediocre news stations). But the vast majority of journalists respect and strive for truth and accuracy.

Don’t just “believe me.” You can fact-check me on that.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Matter of Perspective



When I was a kid, I loved seeing the world upside down. One of my favorite pastimes was to recline on my living room floor and stare up at the ceiling. From this perspective, the ceiling became the floor, and one had to step up over the door archways to get from room to room. My cluttered Victorian childhood home seemed incredibly neat and spacious from this upside down vantage point. I could spend hours just contentedly gazing while my mom dusted nearby or watched her afternoon soaps.

I also loved to gaze into puddles at the reflected sky. It was endlessly entertaining to stomp my feet in a puddle and watch the ripples spread across the reflected clouds. This pastime sometimes led to unexpected adventure. Once, my best friend and I, on our way home from school on a windy April day, decided not only to gaze at a giant puddle but to splash our way into the deep middle and purposely fall on our knees. Cold, wet, and giggling, we then ran home to tell my mother we had “accidentally fallen,” change into warm clothes, and treat ourselves to hot chocolate and marshmallows.

I also loved gazing through the stained glass window on the stairwell. The yard below took on otherworldly qualities, depending upon the green, blue, or red pane. Another favorite resting spot (in the summer) was to relax on a small incline on the front yard (back then it seemed like a hill). From here I could gaze directly up into the leaves of three towering maple trees, where I could imagine all sorts of fairies and animal shapes in the leaves.

The other day, out on a walk, I came across a few puddles and stopped with my camera. The experience brought back a rush of memory and emotion, thinking not just of how easily entertained I was in my childhood, but also of how willing and ready I was to look at the world from different vantage points. Today, I have my set opinions, political views, and habits; I’m less likely to ponder something from another’s perspective, or from the perspective of a rabbit or bird, for that matter. I see things straight ahead from my 5’3 vantage point, with my glasses or contacts on, and with plenty of thoughts and judgments spinning about in my mind. I’ve become less willing to splash and muddy my clothes in a cold, wet puddle, that’s for sure.

However…when I go to yoga class, sometimes I relish the headstand (or as we say in Iyengar yoga, head balance pose), or the handstand. Though I can’t stay up for long, I always feel energized, revitalized and strong when I come down. I guess these inversions are my grown up way of still playing with perspective. If I can stand on my head, all is not lost. I’m still able to see the world upside down--in a good way, that is, with fascination rather than fear, and with trust that I have the power to return to upright whenever I choose.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Joy Of...Serving


This year, due to a lingering minor illness, I faced the possibility that I would not be able to make Christmas dinner at my house. The idea of not hosting the annual December family feast sent terror racing through my veins. Not make Christmas dinner? Unthinkable!

I remember a year when my mother (who passed 15 years ago, and whose Christmas dinner I have loyally replicated every year since), had injured her back and was bedridden during the holiday. My father hung and angled a mirror on the bedroom door so that she could see our reflection in the dining room from her nearby prone position, and I’m sure (though I don’t exactly recall) that many of us spent a lot of time in my parents’ bedroom that holiday season. I know she was frustrated and saddened by the development, but the celebrations went on and my sister and other family members made the dinner happen. It was a Christmas my mother never forgot, and never wanted to repeat!

More than a decade ago, I received a breast cancer diagnosis just before Christmas. Though I was frightened and distracted, that was one of the most memorable holidays of my life. I distinctly remember making the cranberry sauce that year, reveling in the brilliant red of the berries, feeling the small, colorful orbs between my fingers as I washed them. I clearly remember the faces of my family that year around the table, their expressions of concern and love. The mere thought that this might be my last Christmas with them (thank God it was not) made every moment and every ritual more significant.

Often, come December, I find myself complaining about all the work that needs to be done, the shopping for gifts and food, the cleaning of the house, the decorating and preparations, card-sending, and dealing with traffic and lines at the store. It’s easy to fall into a negative mindset, even while looking forward to spending time with my beloveds.

But when threatened with an illness or when some other complication puts the honor of serving in jeopardy, I’m reminded again of how much my mother loved—and how much I love—to provide. There is true joy in serving (whether you serve at a soup kitchen or in your own home).

The specter of the day when I will be forced to scale back or cancel some of our traditions makes ‘keeping up’ as long as I can all the more crucial! (I recall my mom doggedly making multiple trips to the grocery store in her later years, hell-bent on doing all the shopping herself even though it was a struggle for her to carry the bags home). This season underscores the truism that to love and care for others is the greatest gift of all: As the sacred prayer so rightly asserts, “For it is in giving that we receive." Happy Holidays to all! 



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Summer's End




The other day, a friend commented to me that she was very sorry to see summer end. It had been a great summer for her, filled with travel, fun, and relaxation. For me, however, the summer of 2016 has been challenging, tiring, hot, scary, and downright un-enjoyable in many ways. I’m not sorry to see it end, though there were also moments and days when I felt blessed, lucky, and filled with joy and gratitude.

This was, for me, a summer that did not go as planned. In fact, I decided in June that I would stop making any plans at all because everything I conjured up was somehow blocked. I did not spend countless hours on my deck reading books and meditating. My “vacation” at the lake with family was spent tending to my eldest son, who was healing from surgery. I made it to the town pool exactly once. The tomatoes I planted in my backyard yielded not even one tomato. I never made it to the beach. I didn’t get to drive south to visit my sister. My hanging plants wilted and collapsed from lack of watering early on in the season. After a short yoga retreat I attended in the countryside, I ended up with a serious eye infection. And so on! This was definitely not the summer of my dreams! Nothing really worked out the way I envisioned.

And yet, as you can see from this picture, I’m still standing and smiling (a little!).  I’m grateful that my worst fears and worries did not come true, and that even though my tomatoes crapped out on me, my friends and family did not. I realize that we can’t all be happy and have everything go swimmingly all the time; we learn from failure, mistakes, and even from tragedy. We also learn that we can’t plan and control everything, that life takes us on unexpected journeys, that we may intend to go right and find that we are suddenly forced to turn left, that we want to stay up when the powers that be determine our direction will be down.


This summer reminded me a bit of days long ago when my kids were toddlers. I recall planning productive afternoons—a trip to the park, the bank, grocery shopping, followed by story reading and naps. On so many occasions my plans were thwarted by the indomitable will of a two-year-old, who suddenly decided he would not put on his shoes, he would not eat his breakfast, or he would spend the next three hours poking at moss with a stick.

This is life, and whether summer brought you more of the highs or more of the lows, we’re all in this churning stew together. Anyway, autumn is my favorite season. May it be a good one for all!


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Automatic Pilot


Most days, when I wake up, I feel like I’m on automatic pilot. First, the alarm goes off (or not; if I’ve spoken directly to the Universe requesting a wake-up call the night before my eyes pop open before it rings). Second, I automatically think to myself “Oh, no. Not time to get up already!” or “Yay! Today’s the day I’m going to the beach!” depending on whether my plans involve work or play. Then I roll out of bed, search for my glasses and mouth guard (a loathsome thing that’s supposed to quell my teeth-grinding, but which I invariably throw on the floor in my sleep), grab my robe, unplug my cellphone from its charger, and head downstairs for a cup of tea. As I said: automatic pilot.
            One recent day, however, I decided to spend a bit more time in bed before rising. That was the day I snapped the above picture, after noticing that the leaves of the pear tree near my window were tapping against the pane outside the closed shade. That morning, I spent quite a bit of time gazing and snapping photos. It was such a pretty sight, and reminded me once again of how I tend to rush about without really noticing the details.
            Later that day I was eating dinner with my family at the kitchen table. The curtains were drawn because bright sunlight was streaming onto our faces, but at one point I got up and looked outside. Just below my window were two adorable mourning doves. They were hopping about in the grass cooing (I could hear them through the pane). The grass was wet and green from a recent rain, and the doves seemed playful. Once again, I was struck by the scenes that are outside my ordinary field of vision.
            This spring an owl came to visit our home for a few days. We would hear him at 3 in the morning, hooting in a tall tree. No amount of peering or searching brought him to our sight, but we were alert in bed for more than an hour just listening. Deep in the night, right outside my window, was a vast owl world unknown to me.
One day, returning home from a local café with a cup of coffee, I went to my computer for a while, but then got up again to check to see if a package had arrived. I’d heard a truck coming up our hill and was curious. When I opened the door, the truck was gone and there was no package, but a huge mound of dirt was piled up right at our front step, and there was a large open hole just beneath the foundation. A skunk, woodchuck, or some other creature had been hard at work digging while I’d been writing. Who knew?
Another day, I pulled open the shade in my living room to find a dozen tall, bright yellow weeds I’d never seen before. I snapped their photo, sadly knowing it will only be days before my neighbor notices and mows them down.
            I often write about this sort of thing because I find it intriguing. How much goes on while we’re not aware, not looking, or listening? I know that we can’t touch, see, or feel every breeze, every flower, or every birdsong. But can’t we try?