So, You Say You Want Freedom?

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This post started as a simple Facebook status that I planned to share on The Teapot Journalist Facebook page, but by the time I finished, I realized I might as well expand it and turn it into a proper blog because it is such an important issue.

The New York Times shared an article (as have many others) regarding Trump’s latest attack on the press—primarily the revocation of Jim Acosta’s White House press credentials after an terse interaction during a news conference (but also verbally attacking two black, female journalists—and yes, I do think it’s important to note both their race and gender).

The reason I am choosing to address this is because of the many Americans who regularly express concern and fear about losing their freedoms—usually in relation to guns, taxes, and other choices they want to make for themselves.  Often, they follow their arguments with the statement that if we lose one freedom, what’s to stop another freedom from being taken away?

I agree.  When it comes to freedoms and limitations, there are many angles to consider.  But, the one that is continually overlooked is the constant attack on the press—a Constitutionally protected entity intended to provide the people with the truth of what is happening at local, national, and global levels.

I, like many others, have grave concerns about the way money and power manipulates our news sources—particularly in the mainstream media.  Filtering headlines, sources, and mixed messages can feel like a full-time (and exhausting) job.  Personally, I am struggling to find sources, even “underground,” that I can trust at any level because the governments and chess board manipulators at all levels work so hard to make their propaganda the diet of “the people,” rather than truth.

However, especially as a journalist, I believe the Press has a place and purpose in society which ad hominem attacks and constant cries of “fake news!” do not help them fill.  If we genuinely desire change, a more productive approach is to think critically and hold journalists to a higher standard with the intention of seeing the Fourth Estate rise up with integrity.

For those concerned about losing freedoms, the revocation of Acosta’s press credentials and threats of similar action against other journalists should go on that list of things about which to worry—and speak up about.  Freedom of the Press is a Constitutional right that, regardless of your opinion of one news source or another, if curtailed has the potential to to open the door to many other valued freedoms disappearing.

Don’t make the Press the enemy.  Raise your expectations and productively challenge them to raise their standards.

(I will note the irony that the New York Times is sharing this story after they essentially pushed Chris Hedges out of his position with them when his journalism put the NYT in a bad light by challenging the American myth of nationalism and that war and violence are necessary for peace.)

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Do Your Research…Before You Vote!

 

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Everywhere I turn on social media, I am reminded to register to vote.  And every time I see the reminder I worry: am I going to be able to vote?  Then I remember, yes, you only have to register one time.  You registered when you were 18.  You voted recently.  You’re good to go!

Last year, I remember driving through town with my husband and commenting that I wished I could help people, regardless of political party, register to vote.  Many are unable to do so because of lack of transportation, work schedule, or other things that get in the way–especially when you’re not part of the middle or upper class.  These issues don’t even touch the fact that many feel it’s a waste of their time to vote because they believe it won’t do anything.

Can you blame them?  How challenging does it feel to try and connect with your representative for a particular office if you want to give your input on a policy or upcoming vote?  Doesn’t it feel like all those voicemails you leave are going to a ringing phone in an empty office never to be checked?

Look at the last presidential election.  Look at who won.  Look at the reasons people gave for voting for him.

A large population in the United States feels underrepresented, ignored, and that their urban counterparts are the only people about whom elected officials care.  Honestly?  They have a point.  I’ve spent a lot of time in rural Virginia as well as large cities.  What matters in each of these places differs drastically.  We need elected representation that understands that.

I’ve only heard one politician address the diversity of his constituents, and it was while discussing the gun control debate.  You may have guessed it—Bernie Sanders.  He acknowledged that he represents people who use their guns to hunt and provide for their families, as well as people who live in cities and feel more disinclined to carry a weapon.  In my opinion, that shows an individual who is connected to and understands that many issues are not as cut and dry as we’d prefer, and also that “we the people,” when we vote, should do our best to consider not just how someone will affect us, but also our fellow citizens and their needs, even if they are different than our own.

Therefore, as we approach midterms in just a few weeks, please take time to genuinely research the candidates.  Consider what difference they can actually make versus where they fall on issues that are likely unchanging (I’m talking about “one-issue” voting).  Look into people whose names you don’t recognize, because our elected offices are filled with career politicians who are far too comfortable and in too many corporate pockets.  Change will only occur when passionate people with fresh eyes and ideas enter the stage—or those who have been sidelined because they choose to run third-party.  And please, consider third party candidates!  It’s not a throwaway vote.  It’s you saying, “I’m tired of the red and blue; let’s have something new!”  (Did not intentionally rhyme that.)

Be an empowered voter.  Don’t allow the system to dictate your freedom…because that’s not freedom.

 

Change Your Thinking, Change Your World

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my tone and communication approach mentioned or alluded to on several occasions.  As a human, my defenses wanted to go up, and they did to an extent, but I tried my best to take notice and examine the way I speak and interact with people, whether in person or on social media.

A couple of years ago I was invited to contribute to a blog with the goal of sharing in a kind but firm manner about the issues surrounding racial issues, privilege, and the way these topics contribute to a lot of negative events and divides in the United States.  I remember one of my editor’s critiquing me on my tone in a particular piece, essentially reminding me that “you get more flies with honey than with lemons.”

Due to my health circumstances, my primary mode of communication over the past two years has been technological and through social media.  It can be easy to get into word battles, forgetting the person on the other end of the conversation is more than that one point you’re arguing and, more than that, they are also human with a soul and feelings.  Therefore, with all the synchronistic reminders about how I come across to people, I am making a deliberate effort to check my words, speak kindly (but firmly, when necessary), but to also remain true to what I believe, even on hard issues.

A few mornings ago I entered into a conversation with a family member about a political meme they shared.  I care about this person a lot, and I want to facilitate good conversation when we speak because our relationship goes far beyond a Facebook chat.  We were able to have a constructive, cordial, and engaged discussion that ended on a very positive note.  Additionally, it left me considering what I had said, how I had said it, and if there was more I could have added to improve on what I’d said.

Like most people, I think, I continued mulling over certain aspects of what we’d said, trying to think of what my next response would have been, had we continued the discussion—which ultimately began addressing freedoms that we have in the United States, whether real, perceived, or mythical, particularly regarding money and how we spend it.

For instance, how many people are actually able to campaign to become politicians compared to those who would like to based solely on financial ability?  And would campaign spending limits fix this?  I know in the United Kingdom there are spending limits for referendum votes, like for Brexit (I don’t know if they limit candidate campaign spending).  I took the perspective that spending limits would make a positive impact on our political system because it would take some of the power away from the 1% and large corporations and give it back to “the people.”  My family member took the position that if we start to limit freedom in one area there is the danger it will spread into other areas, too.

I understand that concern.  I appreciate and value the freedoms that I have because of my citizenship, race, gender (in Western culture, because even with the hurdles I may face as a woman, other parts of the world are significantly worse), socioeconomic status, etc.  But, what happens to people who don’t have those same privileges?  I am by no means a wealthy person, but all of my needs are met.  Could I go out, campaign for office, and get elected?  Maybe at a local level (which is where we really need to invest our energy, by the way!), but without the right connections to people with money and influence, I would be hard pressed to go to a higher level.

The conversation flowed from the political curtailing of spending to the personal ability to spend, and whether or not either one of us would like someone telling us how we could spend our money if we were one of the lucky few to be exorbitantly wealthy.  Shortly after, busyness of the day caused our conversation to close, but I continued pondering the question and different factors over the course of the next few days (hence this blog post).

I agree that there is a potential danger to limiting freedoms, because when one is sacrificed, it’s that much easier to continue removing others one at a time.  In fact, I would argue we are already at that place, but it’s been done in such a way that many people don’t see it—for instance, the Presidential Alert that most cell phones in the U.S. received last week.  Those alerts mean the government has accessed all of our cell phone numbers from our cell phone companies and can reach and/or surveil us that much more easily.

Remember Edward Snowden?  He’s in Russia because he called out the NSA for illegal collection of data on Americans.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, watch this great episode from John Oliver as he explains why that should massively freak all of us out!

Moving on…

So, while I get the concern (fear) of the slippery-slope of losing freedom, I have to jump to a different perspective from which to see the concept of spending and money (the semi-original topic).  The “American Dream (myth)”, while perhaps originally rooted in the idea of leaving someplace for a better life, has historically set up the majority of Americans (even today) to believe that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, and what I earn is mine to use as I please without concern for anyone else (I recognize it’s a very black and white statement for a complex issue, but I’m trying to not write a book.  Feel free to email if you want to discuss further.)

This (predominantly) American mentality has created a selfish society that values personal, monetary worth over the good of humanity.  Of course, many who read that sentence will think, “Not me!  I give _____ amount to such-and-such a charity or religious organization,” or “I gave that homeless person $5 last week,” and while those are good things, it misses the core problem: that while giving to those causes we consider “worthy”, in the very next breath we criticize those who are in need or policies that could help make the playing field more equal if we feel our personal income and accumulated possessions/finances are going to be threatened.

Before you start thinking, “She should move to Venezuela and see how she likes it” or “She’s such a socialist,” hear me out.  I am advocating for a change in how we view our freedom and how we view our fellow humans.

If, as my family member posed, I’d been born to a billionaire father, would I want someone telling me how I could spend my money?  My first reaction is, no.  I’d want to be able to spend and give as I saw fit.  However, when considered, we need to recognize that a better system could be structured if we separated the personal spending from the political.  The issue is that the 1% and the large corporations can use their money as personal investments in the political arena (buying products…or in this case politicians, policies, votes, etc.) to benefit themselves.  How does that help the 99% (who, incidentally, are often the biggest advocates for the absurdly wealthy to be given tax breaks and other benefits, rather than being expected to pay their due to our system, too)?

Ultimately, I see it boiling down to selfishness and greed brought on by the idea that no one deserves anything and should therefore have to work just as hard to get anywhere.  But that ideology ignores the cultural, economic, and systemic shifts that have taken place.  No longer can a college student work for a summer to pay for college.  No longer can someone walk into an office, drop off an application face-to-face, and practically be guaranteed the job.  No longer can (or could we ever?) receive quality healthcare without the risk of financial ruin.  No longer can you move out on your own and easily survive…or survive at all.  The list goes on…

How do we fix this?  We can start by reading, educating ourselves on what’s really happening behind the “curtain” of our political system, opening our hearts and minds to the plights of others, and viewing ourselves as a team.  I’m not advocating for “everyone gets one egg for their meal today.”  I’m advocating for a mentality shift that doesn’t equate “tuition free college” or “free healthcare” as an attack on our freedoms and bank accounts but as an investment into our society and future.  I’m pushing for the understanding that when we set up a system to succeed, even if it costs a little bit more from the people (tax dollars…that aren’t poured into the military industrial complex), that we will all be more successful and stable.

Joy, Pain, Tears: Ten Years

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Sitting on a cannon outside of Rochester Castle

Today is the day my family chose to commemorate the death of my late grandma, of whom I am her namesake.  Her death is the one I have felt most deeply in the course of my life.  It is shrouded in a sense of unknowing, because tragically we don’t actually know how things ended—I think most of us choose to not dwell on that reality.

I still remember the night before I found out she had died.  It was my first semester of college, and I had just completed a project for my Spanish class: a family tree.  I knew my grandma didn’t leave England, but as I lay in bed, I thought to myself, “Maybe if I fly there and back with her, she’ll come to my wedding.”

The next day, one of my floor leaders brought me into her room, and my phone rang.  It was my dad.  I could immediately tell by is voice something was wrong.  He told me Grandma had died.  I remember grief washing over me as I registered his words, and then my very next thought being about him, her son, and telling him how sorry I was.

I went to my room, kept the lights off, and cried, pacing around my small dorm space.  I remember pulling out my Spanish project and writing “(D)” next to her name before taking it to class.

Fall Break was approaching, and the whirlwind began.  Expedited replacement passport, a fast trip to England–my first since I was eight, and the process of becoming reacquainted with my British family in person.  When I reflect on those times together, I’m thankful for them.  I”m thankful for the laughter, the bonding, the sharing of memories, and the tears, acknowledging we’d lost someone dear to us.

As I said at the beginning, Grandma’s death is the one I’ve felt most deeply in all of my life.  There are several reasons for this: she lived in a different country, so I only met her twice, and didn’t have the wonderful memories like my cousins, the world wasn’t as interconnected then (plus, she only had a rotary phone), which made it more difficult to keep in touch, and her personality was one that chatted mainly on holidays and otherwise she did her own thing and expected you to do your own thing (or so I’ve been told).  But, I know she loved me.

The biggest reason her death made such an impact on me is that her’s was the first that didn’t come. with a nice, boxed explanation.  All of the other people I’d known who were older when they’d died (and, I’ve known a lot) came with an explanation: “Oh, they lived a long, happy life.”  “They are in a better place now.”  “We don’t need to be sad, we can be happy they are no longer suffering/”. And, often, other religiously inspired cliches.  But Grandma wasn’t even 70, I’d never gotten to know her the way I’d have liked, and having her taken away so abruptly stunned me.  It was the first time I experienced the “It’s not fair!” response to losing someone at the core of my being…and that feeling has never left.

Part of me still feels pangs of regret at not taking more initiative to talk with her, though my reason tells me I was young and it wasn’t as easy then.  I sent her a letter once, with pictures from a pageant I’d won.  She’d kept it, because when she died they gave it back to me.

She loved roses and had bushes of them in her back garden.  I have a happy memory of my first visit to England, when I was five, playing back there with her, my dad, and my brother.

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She spoiled us!  Upon walking in the door when my dad took me over for a week when I was eight, she handed me a bag of (British) smarties (not to be confused with the American).  He said something like, “Mum!  That will spoil her dinner!”  And she probably said, “I don’t care!  I’m her grandma.”

I remember her making me fish sticks and peas and making me sit at the tiny table in her kitchen.  I’m vegetarian now, and I long ago stopped liking fish sticks (except, maybe I’d like them if they were English), but that memory always makes me want to go cook myself a replica meal…just for the memory.

Before leaving the house on outings with my dad, she’d always give me a few pounds and tell me, “Make sure your father doesn’t take them from you!”  I accumulated quite the collection, leading to another hilarious family story of my uncle offering me cash for the pile of coins I was carrying around.  I actually think I would have made out better taking the cash, but I didn’t understand that at the time and started to cry, thinking he was trying to take my money.

She knew how to put the fear in us: “If I have to come upstairs…”

The one time my cousin and I stayed with her together, we thought (perhaps imagined) we heard her walking up the stairs…it was like a scene from a movie: madly turning off the light, leaping into bed, and not saying another word the rest of the night.

She was German.  She was authentically proud and self-reliant.  She loved her family.

Whenever I go to England I miss her.  When I see women around her age, I wish they were she.  I’d like nothing more than to visit her, share a cup of tea, walk around town, and get to know her better, especially as an adult.  I’ll never understand why I didn’t get the chance to know her, my own grandma, better on this earth.  I think I’ll forever feel this hole in my heart and its accompanying ache.  But, I proudly bear her name as my middle name, and I know, wherever I go, whomever and whatever I look at are seen with her blue eyes.

Here’s to ten years.  I love and miss you, still and always.

Let Us Choose Peace

fullsizeoutput_f64Grainy shot from my trip to China–an incredible experience!

Today is the International Day of Peace.  I was excited weeks ago when I read it in my calendar, especially because the healing writing group I am involved with meets today.

The concept of “international peace” is simultaneously a fantasy that seems attainable, while also being something we can never touch.  Over the past week, peace has been in my face—or rather, the lack of it.  My heart is filled with sorrow at the hardness of humans against other humans, for differences that should bring us together.  Instead our governments, many media sources, propaganda, and our own prejudices divide us.

Two days ago I listened to a podcast by The Corbett Report about the lies that started the war in Afghanistan.  Last night, my husband and I watched some more of a documentary we’ve been viewing about Israel and how the United States gives carte blanche loyalty to a country committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  9/11 recently passed, and I was again reminded of the millions of people affected by the United States choosing (even possibly orchestrating the events) to go to war for geopolitical reasons (i.e. greed).

This week you may have seen a woman from CodePink interrupting a presentation on the Iran Missile Program.  She spoke clearly, even while they tried to deter her from speaking out in support of the citizens of Iran who are constantly being hurt by decisions made by the United States government.

Peace.  We all seek it.  We all desire it.  We want it…for ourselves.  However, how many of us want it for the people we perceive as our enemies?  I say perceive, because statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be stung by a bee and die than die from a terrorist attack.  I say perceive, because if you follow social media accounts of travelers in the Middle East (where so many westerners base their fear) you would see incredible hospitality, people having fun, the most delicious food you can imagine, and a culture that cares.

That is the difference between people and governments.

When will we, as humans, stand up to the partisan politics that continue to wreak havoc on our WORLD?  My citizenship does not make me blind to the beauty and the atrocities around the globe.  I consider myself a citizen of the world.  I cherish what I have learned from my travels abroad and my chance meetings with internationals in the countries where I have resided.

Peace requires a change in our mentalities.  It requires us to remember and acknowledge the humanity in each one of us.  It forces me to remember the love I have for the person who says hateful things about other people I love.  It teaches me that through education peace has a greater chance of attainability because when people know something it can change their perspective.

Today, and every day, let’s choose peace—a peace that comes with well reasoned ideologies and process to create something better than we have ever experienced.  Something that goes beyond what we can fathom.  Think outside the box.  Imagine what can happen if we fight for peace and stop creating war!

Let us choose peace.

Art As A Weapon

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I was browsing a site that sells art this evening.  At the top of a page, there was a description of modern art’s color blocking that emerged in the mid-twentieth century.  I remember wanting to spend significant time discussing and attempting to understand modern art during my art history class in college.  I found the subject frustrating—starting with Duchamp’s Fountain.  Now, when I see images from that era, or artists attempting to continue the genre, I sit back, annoyed that I ever gave it the time of day.

You see, earlier this summer, my husband and I watched a four-part documentary series filmed in the 90s.  One of the segments shared that the modern art movement was really a CIA propaganda move to combat the rise of the Soviet Union.  Essentially, it was a war of the arts to prove who could produce higher culture.

Tonight I watched the movie Florence Foster Jenkins.  I won’t bother with the synopsis (because you should go watch it), but she is a well to-do woman who can afford to sponsor her own music career—while funding the career of her own pianist.  Her husband protects her from negative criticism because…well, you’ll just have to watch the movie.  But, while watching it, I realized how the arts can be a healing force.

I’m married to a musician, but I am not one.  I love music—certain kinds of music.  It makes me feel so many emotions.  I rise and fall with it.  Art does not only belong to the rich.  It belongs to all of us.  In our home we are so fortunate to be surrounded by art almost entirely created by people we know.  None of them paint or draw for a living.  For most, it’s a hobby.  Different techniques.  All bring me pleasure.

I suppose I’m trying to explain that I feel cheated by the government for manipulating the world with art.  Would Pollock be famous without the CIA?  I know the great artists were funded by patrons—often the Catholic church.  I’m struggling with the idea that what I’ve grown up admiring is not pure, but rather is tainted by the souls of those who sold themselves out to governments that do not work for the good of the people, but for their own self-interests.

Thoughts While Aging

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Age is really on my mind.  Tomorrow’s my birthday.  I’m turning 27 (it’s still my mid-twenties, right?).  As I reflect on the last year…and two years…I realize I feel old and unaccomplished.

Maybe this is a theme in my life.  Growing up, I was always ahead; I knew more than most of my classmates, I read at a much higher level, was exposed to many historical and cultural things, and traveled around quite a bit.  Then I “mainstreamed” and met other people who were high-achievers and competitive.

Over time, my inner-drive diminished some.  Then, I started college—early.  Again, back to being ahead!  I graduated at 20, flew to NYC for an intensive journalism program, and then began job hunting back home (I was willing to move almost anywhere).  Truth be told, I don’t remember how many places I applied to prior to graduating.  They didn’t really prep us for those things.  In a way, I think colleges and universities didn’t realize how much the culture was shifting after the recession, which made getting hired way harder than it used to be.  (I promise this isn’t a sob story.)

After several years of working numerous part-time and seasonal jobs, moving across the ocean, and then moving back, I finally landed a full-time job.  It was rough at times, but it was employment.  Though looking for something new and in the field I love (journalism), I determinedly started my second year.  About a month into it, I found myself hospitalized and diagnosed with cancer.  Not exactly soaring forward in the career world.

Truthfully, the gap on my resume that comes from my nearly two year long fight with cancer and recovery is a stress in my life.  I often wonder how I will get hired without disclosing everything…and then they may not hire me anyway.  But, that’s a spiraling thought process—don’t focus on that.

The flip side of these nearly two years without work is the time I’ve had to grow as a person.  If I hadn’t fought it so much, I’d likely be much further along, but I do want there to be something to show at the end of this…more than a healthy body.  I want a healthy mind and spirit.  But, with all of that, I still feel behind—not as accomplished as other people my age.

Nevermind it all.  I have goals, daily, weekly, monthly, and beyond.  Now is the time to turn up the determination levels and dig in.  If I want it, I must work.  While I’ve been sick, I’ve simply felt like I could only survive.  Beyond that was often too much.  But, now I must push myself to increase my stamina as I continue to heal, recover, and regain normalcy.  These things beyond basic health will take work, but I want them.

So, now I close.  I’m only 26 for a little bit longer.
Who honestly knows what the new year will bring?
Only one way to find out!