Category Archives: Politics

Self-care in This Chaotic Trump Era

Faye @ computer
photo by Marv

I have the privilege, twice a year, as an alumna of the Solstice Creative Writing MFA of Pine Manor program, to audit classes. This past Friday, I participated in an intimate community gathering in which Nicole Terez Dutton (poetry faculty) and Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan (psychiatrist and poet) presented and led students, faculty and staff in a discussion of Writing as Balm, Armor and Resistance.

The Solstice group is diverse in gender, identity, age, and experience. United by the bond of writing, we are, as a group engaged, informed and sensitive to information and the world in which we live. To say that writers as a whole are more sensitive than most might be a stretch. Yet, I believe it to be true.

Writers read voraciously. Writers scan their universe, both wide and intimate, for the details of what is apparent and what is beneath the surface. Story, above all else draws us like a moth to flame. We watch on the subway, we listen at the train station, and in the coffee line at Peets. We observe couples, families, friends. Wired to story, we absorb and chronicle.

In this context, Nicole Terez Dutton set the stage to step back and identify all the variable assaults to our dignity as a nation, as a people of diversity, as a group of involved individuals struggling to live through and manage this wild, chaotic Trump era and its effects of what was once reliable and, for the most part, with precedence.

When she highlighted the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s 14 warning signs of Fascism and ticked them off, one by one, with incidents of this past year, we grasped the full sweep of the dangerous trajectory of leadership in our country.

We have to work against Fascism, we have to help each other to survive, she said.

In introducing Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan, she said, we need strategies to be well, stay well, to be with each other.

In this spirit, I am grateful to share a brief account of Prabakar’s positivity philosophy of self- care.

  • All creatures deserve to be happy; should is a terrible word
  • Listen to the self; adopt gifting to the self; practice foregiveness of the self

I experienced delight when Prabakar said, the simplest way to listen to the self is to keep a journal (he keeps his on his phone, a novel idea to me). His directions to track sensations are simple and basic to the practice of mindfulness.

  • keep a close ear to the ground; give weight to the everyday experience
  • what does the first taste of morning coffee taste like? I am drinking my first cup as I write this: the taste is slightly bitter yet buttery sweet from the mix with coconut milk.
  • what does the walk in air feel like?
  • what does disgust feel like—i.e., I want to vomit when…
  • include mixed feelings—I often struggle with ambivalence and find it helpful to write them out and reflect on the pluses and minuses.
  • On foregiveness of the self :Not fair to judge thoughts and emotions which are not under our control. Okay to feel anger. Aggression is a choice.

Nicole ended with inviting the audience to respond and state how each of us are managing. Solstice writers stood and spoke out about their own struggle and efforts to bring self to the page, to speak to systems of oppression, to take on projects that are satisfying and not too demanding, to bring solace and sustained work to ourselves.

I shared how writing this gratitude blog sustains my creativity while trying to make a difference. I ask each of you reading today to add to the conversation. Please contribute your approach and point of view and write a comment!

On Kindness

 

Renah @ Wayne U.
Photo by Marv

When I think about kindness, I think about Renah and Jayne, both felled by polio and wheelchair bound, at a time when I most needed kindness. Twenty years old, a recent transfer from Simmons College, I arrived at Wayne University and made the impulsive decision to move off campus into an untenable roommate situation. Friendless, far from my New England family, I returned to the thirteen-floor, converted hotel dorm in need of a home.

Dressed in a skirt and sweater, knee socks and saddle shoes, I knocked on Renah and Jayne’s door and was greeted by Renah’s welcoming smile. The lilt in her voice, her innate curiosity at my “preppy” attire, tempered my anxiety as I explained that the housing director had suggested I check out their room.

“Sure, we have an extra bed, by the window,” she said, as she gripped the thick rubber wheels of her chair, nodding for me to follow.

“We have a new roomie,” she called out to Jayne, reading in bed, a hand pulley above to lift her to a wheelchair bedside.

I embraced them; they embraced me. The timing was perfect. That year was filled with lessons of gratitude; our day-to-day consideration of one another filled me with ease. We told stories, shared worries. My new friends taught me how laughter can face down hurt.

At least once a week, I would grab the handles of Renah’s chair to walk the block to a storefront restaurant where we joined our little gang for a “real” meal. The wait staff, customers, everyone knew Renah and as her new “preppy” friend from Boston; I was folded in.

Long before the passage of The American Disabilities Act of 1990, there were enormous challenges for the physically challenged student attending a university. Ramps were not a given, nor were elevators in multi-floor buildings.

At her core, Renah was an activist who could look you straight in the eye and compel you to deal straight with any demeaning innuendo or impediment involving her ability to navigate her life. I recall her persistence as she negotiated a third floor change in a classroom location from the third to the first floor so that she could attend an advanced sociology class.

What would she and Jayne make of the “what is” of now—our Trumpean president, a braggart who boasts how women cannot refuse his advances, his reckless leadership? What would they make of the cascade of women truth tellers sharing their stories of male sexual predators stalking and accosting them in the work place?

In my fantasy, Renah would have kicked Harvey Weinstein right where it hurts. A young woman in a hand-driven wheelchair, she learned to be tough to the core to face the unfair and unkind behaviors she encountered.

It is humbling and gratifying to realize all these years later how the lessons of living side by side with two kind and strong-willed women have infused my resolve to stand up and assert, to write and resist the tyranny of entitlement and abuse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON GRATITUDE STRATEGIES

Faye in Reflection

Given the preponderance of awfulness—awful violence, awful weather, awful words, awful politics— over the past two weeks, I turn to a consideration of simple, effective gratitude strategies that can be helpful in shifting our attention away from the negatives that swirl around us.

  • Intentionality is the key
  • Decide on a practice
  • Make gratitude a habit
  • Select a strategy

In this post, I will review 4 four key research-based principles for turning gratitude into a lasting habit recommended by The Greater Good in Action Website https://greatergood.berkley.edu/article/item/four_gratitude_strategies

  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. Select a dedicated notebook. At the end of the day, write in detail about three things, large or small, that went well. Spend time with the details of the why and how each event left you with a sense of appreciation, happiness, or well-being.

Over this past weekend, my 13 year- old granddaughter, Zoe, accompanied my son, Craig, for a visit. One night, she prepared caramelized onions and asked, if I had a pair of protective eye goggles she could wear while cutting onions. “Will swimming goggles work,” I asked, pulling a wide framed pair from my catch-all drawer. Goggles in place, she cut and prepared the Vidalia onions like a pro. I experienced such pleasure in watching how carefully she positioned the cutting knife and how patiently she stirred until she perfected the texture.

  • MENTAL SUBTRACTION. This is a “what if” exercise that results in expanding the sense of positivity of a positive event. Consider a positive event such as a job opportunity, the meeting of a friend, an educational achievement. Reflect on what your life would be like without them.

Where would I be without this blog? Without the blog, I would not have the ongoing inspiration or motivation to continue to expand my dedicated gratitude practice and to step up on a regular basis to impart what I am experiencing and learning. The effect is a sense of aliveness in the challenge of daily living in these unprecedented times.

  • I’ve written at length about my practice of soul tracking where I suggest choosing a place in nature and paying attention to what attracts you— sights, sounds, smells— and pausing to reflect and savor. Researchers have coined this process The Savoring Walk—noting a 20-minute walk by yourself once a week, ideally a different route each time, has lasting effects one week later.

I am grateful for my winding garden path and tiny frog pond. Every day brings new possibility as unexpected lily blossoms open in October and tall zinnias continue to bloom. A ten-minute very slow walk can shift my mood and leave me content and happy for hours after.

  • SAY THANK YOU. All forms of acknowledgement of appreciation to others can make a difference to both the giver and the receiver. Research indicates that the effect of writing and delivering a gratitude letter has the greatest positive impact on happiness one month later.

 Dear Readers, Thanks to each and every one of you for reading this post and bringing the possible practice of gratitude into your life. I hope you will choose one strategy to try with the hope that you will find a measure and contentment as you embrace a practice. As always, please share your experiences in a comment.

On Empathy and Repair

Women with Buckets
Thanks to Ginnette Riquelme/Reuters

I spent my entire professional life as a social worker/psychotherapist listening to my client’s struggles, their questions, and feelings. Through it all, in every hour, with each person or persons, I learned that empathy for another, understanding of another, came from mindful attention to the details of another’s life.

Without empathy, I could not imagine the dilemma of others; I could not think through what it would be like to lose a mom at eight years old, to be a first time mom and deliver a stillborn child, to carry on in spite of losing a job to a younger person.

Perhaps, that is why, no matter how hard I try to move away from the subject of President Trump’s personality and leadership style, to consider and write about other subjects, I return to his influence on the mood and lifestyle of our country. His war mongering speech at the United Nations, his name-calling tweets and bullying threats days after Hurricane Irma’s shattering strike reek of empathic-deficit leadership.

Okay, that is the reality; but how does one live with gratitude and hope in the face of such astonishing and aggrandizing tone-deaf leadership? I have concluded that each of us must do our part, the best we can. Individual efforts, actions grounded in empathy, can and do make a difference.

I was transfixed by CNN and MSNBC’s empathic reportage of the Mexican earthquake, the lines of volunteers of all ages outside buildings, a decimated school, passing buckets of debris, energized by care, hoping to rescue adults and children from the crush of burial.

I watched images of rescue operations— electrical workers checking gear, loading trucks from sites all over our country readying to travel to Florida to help remedy thousands of outages. When I think of the networks attending to the detail of reportage, the camera crews on site, the reporters dressed in tall boots and rain gear sending out image after image, I am grateful for the details of efforts to rescue.

Yes, it rained a bit here and as it turned out, more than a bit in my home where water seeped into our solarium (once again) where windows open to sky and trees gave way to the pressure of an all night tropical storm, the after effects of Hurricane Jose on the East coast. I am grateful for an immediate response from Mike, a home team helper, whose attention to and knowledge of details traced the source and helped set the stage for repair.

In some way, we are all responsible for repair. It is in the seeking of ways to help, in the interest of others, to extend beyond ourselves, each in our own way, that will help right the imbalance in empathy. This day, I am grateful to readers of this blog; you inspire me to extend into difficult-to-articulate areas and to connect through writing. Please comment and share your own experience on this topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spot Fake News; Get The Truth

 

Zinnias

In my fall garden, especially as flowering is on the wane, I am on the lookout for decay, the need to cut and clear spotted or curled leaves, the need to savor the remnants of growth. This morning, tall-headed—zinnias, orange, white, yellow—leaned into the warming sun. New, fresh buds are about to open. I am grateful for the possibility of fresh color, the possibility of mulberry pink flowers in September.

Would that the approach to news— how to spot decay (fake news), what to cut out and clear (disinformation)— were as obvious. In my last blog column, I offered concrete sites such as FactCheck.org as a resource which provides long-form accounts based upon factual sequences which can mediate presumptive bias. Since my week at Chautauqua on Media and the News, I am on the lookout for blight, spottiness, imbalance, bias in presentation, the shaping of news.

All news is written from a point of view. Over and over, Trump has labeled all mainstream media as fake news. In effect, his words eradicate most of the news media I reply upon for information. Countering his bluster takes effort. Clarity of sources and point of view about what is being written and promulgated in the daily news is essential to maintaining one’s perspective.

Judy Wolfe, in her presentation at Road Scholar’s week at Chautauqua, emphasized that by simply searching for media bias, one can come upon sites and graphs prepared and posted by a variety of people and organizations. In preparation for this blog, I gave it a try. Yes, the effort to discern and impart information about how to manage media bias is impressive. If you want to dig in, learn more about the possibility of what sites are LEAST or MOST biased, I recommend https://mediabiasfactcheck.com as a starter.

This media bias site offers both a chart and lists of news items according to bias categories from Left to Right starting with Left-Bias, Left-Center Bias, Least Biased, Right-Center Bias, Right Bias, Pro-Science, Conspiracy-Pseudoscience, Questionable Sources, Satire.

As a good example, their lead post on September 8, 2017, is titled How The Truth Can Get Damaged in a Hurricane, Too. Take a look at the following examples.

I’m grateful for readily available resources which, with a touch of the finger, can share multiple social media sites and verifiable facts of current events and issues. Hopefully, I have expanded your “get the truth” tool kit in managing true and authentic news and have inspired you to check out a site or two to use as a ballast in this time of Twitter, Facebook and variable news options.

 

 

 

 

On Accountability & The Media

Marty Baron, Exec. Editor, Washington Post
Thanks to Marv

First morning at Chautauqua, Judy Wolfe, the female partner of the Glassman/Wolfe in-house Road Scholar team, threw out the question, Are the media biased? Before anyone could respond, she said, Depends on who you ask.

I am grateful to distill and share some of my learning about how to discriminate truth from falsehood in the news from my Road Scholar’s week at Chautauqua. According to President Trump, all news is biased and must be called out except those outlets that adhere to his point of view. Despite being the number one target of Trump’s organized campaign to discredit mainstream press, the news media is alive and well.

  • Marty Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post and the former Boston Globe editor highlighted in the movie Spotlight and the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, is hopeful. It’s a great time to be a journalist, he said. His logic, clear and specific made sense. For a long time, people have taken journalism for  granted…in the last year or so…maybe people have begun to understand that you shouldn’t take quality journalism for granted.

I could not agree more. In fact, the whole premise of 52 seniors coming together to dig into media and the news was all about honoring and embracing what the 4th estate presently faces in the workings of our democracy.

  • Jay Rosen, the New York University professor of journalism and a self-described “loyal critic of the press,” held back no punches. There is an organized campaign to discredit the mainstream press in this country…And it’s working, he said. When journalists get to their desk in the morning, between 20% & 30% of the public, the electorate is already lost to them before they even log in.

 How dispiriting is that, especially when you consider the dangers inherent in a black out of investigative journalistic endeavors imbedded in fact checking and accountability.

  • According to Baron, quality journalism depends on accountability. The purpose is to find out what’s really going on…particularly when it involves wrongdoing, he said. Baron agreed with Rosen’s assessment that Trump is engaged in an effort to try to intimidate the press and maybe do more. He emphasized the Post’s priority in protecting the confidentiality of its sources through the use of encrypted online communication and entirely offline communication when possible.
  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson, FactCheck.org co-founder, introduced the dangers of viral deception, a term she coined about the usage of misleading or flat-out false narratives. Passed from person to person and friend to friend…misleading facts, narratives, rise in credibility as more and more people share them online. And with each additional click, public discourse is degraded just a little more.

 She warned, Deception is problematic because it can mobilize national action…mislead the electorate… invite non-responsive policy, impugn character, even endanger lives.

The good news is that we are learning how to manage our tendency as human beings to automatically accept and spread content we agree with…Familiarity equals perceived accuracy. (WRONG!)

I was dismayed to learn that a quarter of US adults have shared fake news and the relevant research reveals that misinformation tends to persist even in face of debunking.

 There is genius behind FactCheck.org as a possible antidote in that FactCheck.org deals with presenting long-form factual details rather than conclusions. I’m grateful to learn that long-form accounts which require the reader to follow a sequence of facts (upon which to reflect) can have a salient effect on short-order and untrue conclusions.

In brief, the mindfulness payoff in taking time to read, reflect and digest the detail accounting of events can and will keep facts front and center.

  • For accuracy, Jamieson recommends:
  1. Consider the source (who is funding?)
  2. Read beyond the headline (dig deeper)
  3. Check the author (Google or Wikipedia)
  4. Ask what the supporting evidence is
  5. Check the date (current or old)
  6. Consider if it’s a joke (ha?)
  7. Check your biases (not easy but necessary)
  8. Consult the experts

More, next blog. As always, I would appreciate comments.

 

 

 

 

 

GRATEFUL FOR CHAUTAUQUA

Amphitheater
Derek Gee/Buffalo News

As I write this, I am grateful to be anticipating and preparing for a week of learning, walking and socializing at Road Scholar’s Chautauqua Experience in Summer. This is Marv’s and my 4th summer!

The Theme of the Week: Media and the News: Ethics in the Digital Age. I cannot believe the timeliness of the topic. When we chose our date almost a year ago, we had no idea that Trump would be elected or that issues such as real or fake news, and ethical dilemmas in both the media and news would be so pertinent.

Every Chautauqua Road Scholar event has a resident scholar who provides a daily lecture on background and current information in preparation for the Amphitheater public lecture series. During two of our prior visits to Chautauqua, Marc Glassman, a radio and print journalist, and his wife, Judy Wolfe, a creative arts consultant, provided exceptional content through lecture and video examples. At luncheon and dinner, the couple circulated among our various tables to continue the conversation.

Gratitude for their friendship and a rich and varied learning experience influenced our choice for this summer. Who could predict the serendipitous possibility last July, over lunch, when we decided to join Marc and Judy for their gig in August, 2017!

Yes, I am up to my eyeballs in news, fake and real, trying to discern, stay the course, to be informed. I need a “chill” vacation and yet I need to understand more about how the news and media are influencing the day-to-day behavior worldwide. Just this week, with Trump’s impulsive shoot-from-the-hip Fire and Fury response to a news reporter, we are looking at nuclear warfare; the possibility of another Korean war outbreak is front and center.

How to manage what seems real from what is real? How to manage multiple perspectives? Hopefully, I will come away more able to discern, assess and distinguish what has heft and meaning from what is fear mongering.

Here’s the lineup:

Monday: Jeff Rosen, liberal media critic, writer, professor of journalism at New York University. He authors the PressThink blog on “the fate of the press in a digital era and the challenges in rethinking what journalism is today.”

Tuesday— Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication and the director of The Annenberg Public Policy Center. She runs Fact Check, an organization devoted to examining the factual accuracy of U.S. political advertisements.

Wednesday— Arzu Geybullayeva, columnist and journalist. She has been a co-director of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation since 2011, an organization that fosters relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

Thursday—Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time Magazine

Friday—Marty Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post, with Eric Newton, Innovation chief, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.

I’m pleased with the distribution of men and women and their varied expertise. I’ll be taking notes with the intention to distill and share in future Gratitude is as Gratitude Does blogs. In the meantime, be mindful of options that can bring gratitude.