The Writing Life
Essays, Stories, Commentary by Deborah M. Padgett
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Thursday, April 6, 2023
You Can't Go Home Again... September, 2015 Community Reporter Column
Thursday, January 26, 2023
Be the Change or "I'm Speaking!"
Be the Change… Love What is…
“Peace begins within. …The glory of the human spirit lies in our ability to choose, to let go of despair, to turn our energies to creative uses. Peace begins with resolution of our inner wars.” Promise of a New Day, Karen Casey & Martha Vanceburg, passage from December 13.
How I have struggled between speaking out and remaining still! My world today seems a veritable Tower of Babel with everyone talking and no one listening, caring, contemplating or taking heart. I want to scream “words matter, reason matters, facts and data matter”! I cannot make sense of the images of cruelty or the excuses for allowing and perpetuating suffering that could be alleviated. I feel battered by the voices that defy reason; the blatant lies accepted as truth merely because they’ve been repeated over and over again. Many times, I have experienced gaslighting and crazy-making, illogical diatribes through which it seems my voice can never be heard.
My first attempt at a column, was titled “I’m Speaking!” I was inspired by Vice President Elect Kamala Harris and her calm, dynamic, knowledgeable, persevering and compassionate words applauded by and taken up as a mantra by women everywhere. I wrote and I thought. I thought and I wrote some more. I spoke of the history and tirelessness of women showing up and speaking up and the forces that serve to silence them/us. I fought with my personal sense of being seen as a challenge to community, friends and family… being seen as one who brings trouble we don’t need down on our heads when I call attention to the ongoing ills of our world and attempt to identify where I am complicit and ask that they do the same.
The more I contemplated speaking my convictions and/or my complicity in remaining silent, the more the chaos and cacophony of careless and thoughtless speech crowded my mind.
In recent times my troubled mind, my fears for my loved ones and the future, my grief at the massive loss of life, my fear of becoming sick myself or of losing my true life’s love have left me awake in the night. Last night I found rest in a Yoga Nidra practice led by Jennifer Piercy. Her close and soothing voice urged… “Set your deep resolve for this practice. Ask yourself: in your life right now, what is your deepest, most heartfelt desire? … Now, see and feel your life with the fulfillment of this desire. What would your life look, sound, smell and taste like if this deepest desire were a reality? State your desire like a mantra. Then give thanks and let it go… “ Over the years I ‘ve engaged in this and other meditative practices I have settled on a mantra of “love what is” along with, what sometimes seems the conflicting notion “be the change.”
I slept soundly and awakened to my morning ritual of listing those things I feel good about today, in the moment of the writing. I reached for my daily passage in The Promise of a New Day. I found resolution for my conflict between speaking out and silent acceptance. I returned to the heartfelt desire I embraced in my sleeplessness. My desire, my choice, my pursuit, is to be the change I wish to see in the world. Speak out but listen too. And simultaneous with my being and acting and speaking for change -- with all my heart, I will love what is for that is where freedom is found.
Conversation in the Digital Age
Conversation in the Digital Age
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…
My little brother “ruined his eyes” sitting too close to the TV set from 1958 to 1965. My little sister ate too much apple pie while sitting sedentary in front of the TV after school every day from the time she started Kindergarten until fifth grade. My older sister had to be coerced from the pages of a book. She slumped, sullen and disgusted to join the family dinner table. She cleaned her plate, excused herself and was once again swallowed by her book. In the 1980’s on family road trips with my own children their eyes were closed, ear phones connected to a Walkman and, I swear, neither of them ever saw Big Sur, Santa Monica, the San Francisco Pier or Bodega Bay. I would swoon loudly along the curving coastal road. Occasionally (rarely) an eye would open and the child would raise her head ever so slightly, perhaps mouth the word “cool” and return to her technology-inspired inner world. In recent years I’ve had the good fortune to have many, many grandchildren. Our firstborn grand girl (now 26 years old) loved to read, loved everything pop culture, spent hours with her face in fashion magazines, watched at least a movie a day, read Harry Potter and the entire Twilight series before, during and after family dinners. Needless to say, this absorption kept their heads down, their faces from view and we judged them unavailable to converse and expand their horizons. We worried. We fretted. We despaired they would manner-less, friendless and jobless.
Then came the Internet, email, text messaging, smart phones and social media! OMG! We were and are in NO MOOD to LOL. No matter the wonders of the world or once in a lifetime entertainment or visitor from afar. Nothing absorbs the attention of a child, young adult or grown child (not to mention our aging friends) like whatever and whoever presents itself on the nearest digital platform.
We’ve developed entirely new protocols and rituals to incorporate the necessary digital technology into every moment of waking life. God forbid eighteen-month-old Junior bang his spoon and eschew the coloring crayons at the family’s night out! What kind of parents subject others at a restaurant to a child not mesmerized by the screen of an iPhone or iPad?
All the best parenting experts, psychologists and social scientists are delving into questions of what and who are we becoming as technology increasingly seems to fill in for face to face human interaction. An entire and lucrative industry has grown up to analyze, admonish and advise us regarding the “hell in a hand-basket” prospects for humanity. I don’t mean to dismiss or make light of the negative aspects of too much screen time, too little training in human discourse, conversation and empathic listening. Really, I don’t. The lethargy, glazed eyes, vacuous, prurient and even violent content of all we expose ourselves to on our screens concerns me too.
When I decided to write this column, I asked a 49 year old man, a sixty something woman, a 40 something woman and two 70 something brothers their opinion on the pros and cons of the current state of technology and even artificial intelligence. Where did they think the world was heading? One responded, “Hey! What are you going to do? It’s here to stay. There’s nothing you can do about it now?” One of them said, “You can’t have a meaningful conversation anymore. Someone or something on the screen is always more important than the person sitting right next to you or across from you at the table.” One said, “The good thing about smart phones and the internet is that if my kids couldn’t communicate with me through an app, I don’t think they would be in touch at all. I prefer something to nothing.”
I recently read Sherry Turkle’s RECLAIMING CONVERSATION: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. Penguin Press, 2015
Turkle, an MIT researcher and psychologist seeks to clarify how email, text messaging and social media have impacted our relationships and our ability to experience empathy. What happens when we cannot look into the eyes of the person with whom we’re talking? What happens when emoji’s and punctuation standards and tone of voice are difficult to decipher? How important is facial expression and body language to being truly seen, heard and understood? How important is non-digital communication to conducting a successful business?
Turkle’s book was published in 2015. Her research was conducted over several years prior to that. In the intervening years technology has expanded and its effects on communication and our connection to each other has undergone some scrutiny. Turkle’s is certainly not the only book on this subject and I find this tremendously encouraging. The view that we can’t stop the speeding train that is the human downfall brought on by technology and Artificial Intelligence simply doesn’t make any sense to me. The very fact that we talk about it nearly ALL THE TIME is a sign that human beings care deeply about the ill effects as well as the benefits. It occurs to me, as I think about what has become of my siblings as a result of their out of control childhood and teenage behaviors and what has become of our children and growing and grown grandchildren, is that we human beings quite naturally question the questionable. Historically and consistently we work against the deleterious and we put in place, more often than not, a suitable balance. We teach our children limits, boundaries and manners. Sure, they appear to ignore us. But one day they grow to monitor themselves toward a more rather than less rewarding life and, sooner than we can imagine, we are spectators to lives well-lived by our children and grandchildren.
ENOUGH TO GO AROUND
January 2018 Community Reporter
ENOUGH TO GO AROUND…
This time of the year I love the glow of the holiday lights, the moon shining on fresh fallen snow, the lights of the Cathedral and the State Capital just in the distance above the treetops. In this season of gift giving and welcoming loved ones home I find myself reflecting on the state of our world. While there is much scarcity in this world, there remains plenty of deprivation and misery. There is a dramatic increase, for example, in the cost of education, an increase in the availability of low-wage, part-time, no benefit jobs, an increase in the rate of suicide and in the number of individuals, children and families who are homeless. This week an article describing the increased prosperity and stability of the population of China buoyed my spirit. Believing, as I do, that we are one world and one people, I rejoice when I learn of better living conditions and greater hope for any segment of this world's population. As we move into this New Year I am reminded to live in the hope for enough to go around. You've more than likely heard me say this before, but I think it bears repeating. In 1990 I read Barbara Kingsolver's ANIMAL DREAMS and found there a hope and words to live by that return to me when I am confronted by the woes of the world, the fears that plague, the grief that strikes and saps joy. "It's not some perfect ideal we're working toward that keeps us going...What keeps you going isn't some fine destination but just the road you're on, and the fact that you know how to drive. You keep your eyes open, you see this damned-to-hell world you got born into, and you ask yourself, "What life can I live that will let me breathe in and out and love somebody or something and not run off screaming into the woods?" Kingsolver says, " The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope…" What she hopes for "is so simple she almost can't say it. " She hopes for …"Elementary kindness. Enough to eat. Enough to go around." She hopes for "…The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed." I embraced this same hope many years ago and have done my best to live inside it and offer it to those in need of a defining path forward. I believe when we live inside our defining hopes we act in the interest of seeing those hopes realized. There is an action toward generosity, compassion and elementary kindness that comes of living in this hope and it brings us to the place of being the change we wish to see in the world. In this season of giving and as a grandmother of young people newly facing independence and adult life I want to be the bearer of a message both hopeful and true. In this season of scarcity and plenty, danger and safety, warm sanctuary and loving arms for some and only the vague hope of these comforts for many, my hope and wish for you is enough to go around.
Deborah McWatters Padgett is a writer and visual artist. For more information see http://www.padgettstudios.com
YES, WE CAN!
I confess to having recently lost all sight of the privilege it is to be alive in this imperfect wonderful/horrible world of ours. I confess to being sucked into the great, swirling vortex of everything that is going wrong in the world, every day, everywhere, minute to minute. My mind was saying things like “What is wrong with everyone?” “What is the point in even trying?” “How can people be so stupid, cruel, bigoted, selfish, and short sighted?” I began to entertain the possibility there are three types of people in the world. Idiots, jackasses (to use a kinder word than the one in my mind) and, in direct contrast and opposition, those people who are just like me – not an idiot – not a jackass. I became overwhelmed with grief, misery and helplessness at the impossibility of accepting that the world and all of its population were in the worst shape ever known in the history of humankind. What about war? What about terrorism? What about poverty? What about violence? What about Black Lives? What about inequality, prejudice, bigotry? What about climate change? What about nuclear holocaust, what about suicide, addiction, mental illness and natural disasters? I was ready to tear out my hair and head running full boar for the hills never again to face this horror show we call modern life. I am a mom to four grown children, have twenty-three grandchildren and two “greats” (half of whom are coming of age, many of them are African American). They seek answers, hope and purpose.
During the several years before our current president I practiced living in a place of studied acceptance and calm. I was nurtured by Pema Chodrun’s LIVING BEAUTIFULLY IN TIMES OF UNCERTAINTY AND CHANGE, Thich Nhat Hahn’s encouragement to live in the present moment, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s secular and healing approach to FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING. And I DID feel some peace. I DID feel some calm. I HAD some perspective on the issue regarding will it be/will it not be okay. In losing this calm view I told myself it was unhealthy to continue in the naïve vein of ignoring the reality of world, national and local decline and the threat it is to humanity’s survival. I watched and listened to the news from what I considered to be reputable and responsible outlets. I paid attention to the dialogue, prophecies, reports and opinions of politicians, journalists, pundits, respected educators, spiritual leaders and friends, community members and neighbors. I watched and listened as one after another the voices of outrage attempted to out shout each other, called names, dismissed, denounced, lied and justified. I couldn’t stay in that place of loud noise and haranguing chaos. In the midst of my anguish I picked up Langston Hughe’s novel, NOT WITHOUT LAUGHTER, published first in harder times than ours,1930, again in 1969, then in 1994 with a forward by Maya Angelou. I reread James Baldwin’s ANOTHER COUNTRY. Weren’t these times in our country and world at least as bad as our current times? I had to believe that someone, somewhere, in the here and now could offer a middle view, a broader view, a view based on reason and verifiable information. Just as I was entertaining my run to the high hills, Jeffrey Brown (PBS News Hour) interviewed Harvard’s Steven Pinker about his new book ENLIGHTENMENT NOW. Brown introduced Pinker as an optimist and they both chuckled a bit at the idea such a thing was possible. But, in fewer than three sentences Pinker drew my full attention to the possibility of taking a reasoned, scientific, humanistic broad and deep look at what is rightwith today’s world. He demonstrated the world is a better place today than it was in the past, that human beings are problem solvers and though problems solved bring to light new problems, genuine, verifiable, appreciable progress is being made and it would behoove us to find ourselves, as a planet, as a global human society, paying attention to what is right rather than wrong with our world. He puts reason and fact to the progress made in each of the areas of concern I raged about some paragraphs back.
“… the world as a whole? Last year, the world had 12 ongoing wars, 60 autocracies,10 percent of the world population in extreme poverty and more than 10,000 nuclear weapons. But 30 years ago, there were 23 wars, 85 autocracies, 37 percent of the world population in extreme poverty and more than 60,000 nuclear weapons. True, last year was a terrible year for terrorism in Western Europe, with 238 deaths, but 1988 was worse with 440 deaths. Indeed, we've become safer in just about every way. Over the last century, we've become 96 percent less likely to be killed in a car crash, 88 percent less likely to be mowed down on the sidewalk, 99 percent less likely to die in a plane crash, 95 percent less likely to be killed on the job, 89 percent less likely to be killed by an act of God, such as a drought, flood, wildfire, storm, volcano, landslide, earthquake or meteor strike, presumably not because God has become less angry with us but because of improvements in the resilience of our infrastructure. And what about the quintessential act of God, the projectile hurled by Zeus himself? Yes, we are 97 percent less likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning.”
More encouragement toward optimism is offered by James and Deborah Fallows’, How America is Putting Itself Back Together, Atlantic Monthly, March 2016. Excerpted and paraphrased:
“As a whole, the country may seem to be going to hell. That [harangue, complaint, lament…] is a great constant through American history. The sentiment is predictably and particularly strong in a presidential-election year like this one, when the “out” party always has a reason to argue that things are bad and getting worse. And plenty of objective indicators of trouble, from stagnant median wages to drug epidemics in rural America to gun deaths inflicted by law-enforcement officers and civilians, support the dystopian case.
But here is what I now know about America that I didn’t know when we started these travels, and that I think almost no one would infer from the normal diet of news coverage and political discourse. The discouraging parts of the San Bernardino story (for example) are exceptional—…but the encouraging parts have resonance almost anywhere else you look. Some share… pessimism about trends for the country as a whole. But they ... feel encouraged about the collaborative efforts on education reform under way right now in their own town. What is true for this very hard-luck city prevails more generally: Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see.”
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not urging in the direction of silent acceptance of all that needs our activism and our innovation and our greatest critical thinking and problem-solving skill. These are givens. This is our human purpose and I believe it has always been so. Progress is made in a world and universe forever falling apart (as in the 2nd law of thermodynamics… Look it up! It’s important to understand…) by human beings staying the course. And, yes, times are tough. But, hell… We SHALL overcome… YES, WE CAN and when the going gets tough? You know this one! The tough get going!
Deborah Padgett is a writer and artist in St. Paul’s W 7th Community. For more information on her published work see padgettstudios.com