There’s No Place Like Home


House in Summer copy“When you look into my eyes
And you see the crazy gypsy in my soul
It always comes as a surprise
When I feel my withered roots begin to grow
Well I never had a place that I could call my very own
That’s all right, my love, ’cause you’re my home”       Billy Joel  You’re My Home

Epigrams about Home:

“There’s no place like Home.”
“Home is where the heart is.”

 

Or as I wrote once for an ad for our church:  “Home is where you go to make sense out of life. Family are those who love you while you look for the answers. (The ending tag line for the ad: Come home to First Church, a Family of Faith. “)

Harbor copyHome.  Safety, love, comfort, celebration, the gathering place for family, a haven from the troubles of the world, the welcoming beacon to the wandering soul.

Home is iconic in that while it can be as individual as we are, a city dwelling, a farm, a house in the suburbs, a condo or apartment, it stirs within us memories of childhood, of family.  For some, those memories are of warmth and love, for others, recollections of conflict and heartache, for many they hold some combination of the two.

architecture apartment copy

 

Doug and I have shared seven homes in our long marriage, alone in an apartment as newlyweds, three with just our son, three with our children, (one in a cottage at the church camp on Lake Erie where Doug ministered, one we lived in for 28 years,  during the kids’ school years where we sheltered them until they were grown and gone) Houses on Water Street copyand now, a house in a historic little town on the Albemarle Sound where they come with our grandchildren to visit with us and our dog. Some will always hold a place in my heart, some have just been a roof over our heads.

No matter the construction or the size, home is ultimately a state of mind, a place to love and be loved.

After many years of conflict and fights that erupted seemingly out of the air in our house, my father’s job with the Air Force was moved the summer I graduated from high school. My mother chose not to move with him from Utica, New York to Norman, Oklahoma.  So, when I left home to go to college, I bid farewell to the house I had grown up in and when I returned for the Thanksgiving holiday we didn’t live there anymore.

2 paths copy

No walking down our road, rural enough not to have sidewalks, on which we could even skate in winter on the ice that would cover it.. No yard where we played and looked for four-leaf clovers and buried dead birds, or frogs, with solemn services and crosses made from twigs. No woods whose paths I had wandered finding escape and joy. No creek. No blackberries. No crabapple tree.

For a very long time, it was the home I missed the most.

buffaloBut leaving was also freedom! No longer the monkey in the middle of my parents’ fights, trying to make my mother laugh and calm her resentment, no intervening with my father so he would belittle me instead of her.

Replacing that: the University of Buffalo; learning, new books, thoughts and ideas; a new place to explore with new friends; time with my stern grandmother, other relatives, and wonderfully with my favorite aunt and uncle and cousins in this place my parents grew up; and ultimately, most importantly, Doug.

It was only later, after our son was born, when the Air Force moved my mom to Kansas City and there was no one to go and stay with there, that I realized my home was no longer Utica, nor was it Buffalo, though it holds a special home-like place in my heart. Open Door copyMy true home was the love I had for Doug and the family that grew from that love.

Stephanie Perkins says, “For the two of us, home isn’t a place. It is a person. And we are finally home.”

Seriously looking at retirement means very soon we will look to find a new place to live. This time, for the first time ever, ii will be in a house we choose that will actually belong to us….with at least a little garden for Nessa and me. We’re not there yet, we haven’t even looked yet, but I can feel it beckoning to us.
Sunset from the Courthouse copy

I will miss lovely Edenton, walks at the harbor at sunset, the quaint and stately old houses, the sense of an earlier, simpler time that permeates every second of living here.

I know I will be nostalgic for the fireworks over the water for the 4th, the Peanut Festival, the Christmas parade, the trolley ambling though the town telling tourists the history of this first capital of the state. I will miss the charm of rocking chairs on porches, the carillon at the Baptist Church playing old hymns at noon and six, and chiming away the hours in-between. I will miss my garden and the Arts in the Garden events and the Pilgrimage Tours, and most of all, my church family.

photo-8But when we do move to Raleigh, just like my move to Buffalo for college, this move will be a life changing one. It will be adventures into new opportunities, an exploration of where God is calling us next.

I know it will start when we pull up the roots we sank ever so deeply here and slowly grow them in our new place. But this move, like every move, will still lead us where we need to go, and this move closer to our family, like every move with Doug always leads me home.

“No matter where we roam, for always and forever you’re my home.”  (Love you…and yes, I do get to post your picture!}

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Notes in the Margin – On Writing


Lie and Truth copy“Fiction is the Truth behind the lie.”  Stephen King

A month ago, Wordsmith Writers, my writing group, decided to share a book on writing.  This week we will discuss the beginning section of “On Writing: A Memoire of the Craft” by Stephen King. This has provoked a lot of thought on my part about my writing, as well as on King’s ideas.

Some Personal Thoughts on writing 

child reading copyWanting to write for me, as for many including King, started as a love affair with words when I was a child. Words, books, transported me, made me laugh, moved me to tears, taught me important ideas and obscure facts, led me to adventures, and let me wander in other lands and lives. It was an escape and a delight. It called to something inside of me and made my heart sing. While there were many years when I only wrote grant applications and reports, that music lived within me until I had to let the song out.

ideas in the clouds copyWords are thought given form leading the author to take pen to a blank page, or to tap words into a computer document. That interplay between the words and the writer’s mind and spirit is often lyrical, the flow seamless. Writing comes pouring out without any sense of effort on my part and I have no awareness of the computer or my individual fingers tapping a’s, t’s or m’s, no sense of myself, only story unfolding before me just as it did when I lay on my bed reading, immersed in the words of a book, oblivious to everything else. Those moments are magic, lightening captured, music swelling inside bursting free.

lightbulb copyI am not sure how anyone can teach anything about that kind of moment.  I had one whole chapter, more than twenty pages, come to me that way once. It is the “history” chapter of my book and through all my edits and re-edits that chapter has stood virtually intact. But those moments, bursts of thought and words, lovely words, make writing alive to me.

Yet, writing isn’t always like that. Sometimes, writing can take incredible effort, words trickle out, it is a wrestling match, an exercise of will and even when the words come they have to be rewritten almost as soon as they appear on the page. Then, if you keep digging, the magic comes again. Often it seems a balance somewhere in-between.

CHAIRS copyEasy or difficult, writing doesn’t end with that one on one interaction between writer and word. Writing is more. It is story, or exposition, and while story has its beginning in a writer’s head, even getting it on a page is not enough. Stories are intended to be told or read. If it is music, it may need to be orchestrated and fine tuned, but then it has to be sung.  It requires an audience.

faces copyTo play with the Stephen King quote above, it is not enough that a story captures a writer’s truth. A story must be written in such a way that it resonates with a more universal Truth, the readers’ truth. Our magic moment, our lightning in the jar of our book, needs to strike a chord inside our reader, capture them and transport them, delighted or terrified, sad, or enraptured, challenged or stimulated into being a part of our story…solving the crime, helping the hero, rooting for our characters or hating the villain and trying to outwit him

I am tempted to say, “That’s the hard part.”

The sea from which we writeBut the truth is from getting an idea as an ethereal concept floating in your mind, to thinking it through and researching and refining, to first draft, to editing, to querying, to publishing, every step has its own challenges….and different magical moments.

So, how does that happen? What is the process?

Ahh….There are probably as many answers to that question as there are genres multiplied by different styles of writing and writers. But there are some underlying principles.

A Learning from Stephen King

writing notesI was the always a do her homework plus more person. Always hand up in the air, geeky underliner, write in the margins with notes like an out-line kind of student (always hit upon for my class notes). I first read King’s book years ago, yet much of it has stuck with me to this day. So I invite you to see this part of my post as my notes in the margins of On Writing.

raven copyI am definitely not Stephen King, nor am I “a King-like writer.”  I have read The Stand and watched the movies of Carrie and Stand By Me, but never made it through The Shining. We don’t write the same genre, but I admire him for the writer and especially the storyteller he is. No, he’s not Hemingway or Fitzgerald, but he can create feeling (I just don’t love fear and terror) and catch you up in his stories. His characters, if macabre, seem real. He does know his readers, and he knows what sells. He is a master of the craft.

This first part of the book is a memoire, not the how-to part, but it set off questions and responses in me.  If I gave my copy of his book to you, you would find them in red in the margins and end pages.

phone book glasses copyWhere do a writer’s ideas come from?  He says, “We never ask…other writers…where we get our ideas, we know we don’t know.”  Yet, he shares life stories that presage some of his written stories. His mother told him about death and seeing a dead body, inspiration perhaps for “The Body” which became Stand By Me. He relates an anecdote that could lead to “Misery,” and rats in the attic at his grandmother’s house. He tells of watching “Poe Movies,” reading incessantly, and discussions with other writers. If King’s ideas come from some nebulous ether he can’t identify, I would say he filled that with reflections on his life and the stimulation from the thoughts of others, mixed with that quirky element that is his own unique, perhaps skewed and idiosyncratic, perspective.

Are there holes in a story?  My take is he set it aside and took it back up later. He rewrote it when he could rethink it. Sometimes, he rethought it and set it back aside, other time he decided it was good enough to sell and he needed the money.

noHow do you handle rejection? He took a nail and tacked rejection letters to the wall over his desk….and when the weight made them fell down he got a bigger nail.  Message to me:  if rejection is getting to you hammer it harder, work harder, don’t quit until you get an acceptance. (Probably better than driving a nail through the email rejections on my computer screen!)

Why write?  Why did he write? Again, this is just my conclusion from what he says and doesn’t say:  as a child when he read he thought of how the story might have been different, how he would change it, and played with it and it morphed and evoked a different story; and then his mother encouraged him and told him he could write; his teachers and school staff criticized some satire he had written and sold for 25 cents a copy, but told him he had talent; then, as punishment or to redirect him, got him a job writing. So, ultimately I think it came down to ideas, praise, practice, and pay.

reading-book copyWho do we write for?  King’s answer is a great quote: “When you write a story, you are telling yourself a story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”  So in my note shorthand: The first draft is for me. The second, third and tenth are for the reader.

How do you learn to write?  My take on the short answer he doesn’t give:  You write.  And while you write you learn the mechanics (Strunk and White is sort of the Bible.) And at least while he was in school he went to a Writer’s group and critiqued and was critiqued. And in that job he got, he had a great editor from whom he learned, a lot.

How do you understand characters who are not like you? King discussed in length how he got his idea for Carrie with several thoughts and an article he read merging into the concept.  But what did he know of girls’ puberty: his wife told him. What did he know about being bullied?  He remembered two girls from his high school days and he thought deeply about them and about their experience. With now adult eyes, he looked back and walked in their shoes…and Carrie came to life. He still didn’t love her, but he came to understand her. So, research, people watching, and experts.

Ok, really long post…end of the Memoire….maybe Note in the Margin Part Two on the other part of King’s book next week.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Phenomenon of Rage


anger“The critical distinction between anger and rage is related to time and intensity. Anger tends to arise “in the moment,” generating intensity that usually leads to an emotional
release that quickly reduces tension. When it is denied expression, the intensity associated with it festers, and eventually is transformed into rage. Thus, suppressed anger acts as an incubator for rage.”  Dr. Kenneth Hardy

Looking at the political climate recently the concept of rage has been on my mind.

fist through glassA context:  I am a clinical social worker and used to express a somewhat similar thought, but in the other direction. I often used to tell clients anger was hurt turned outward:  that when their spouse or child or friend or colleague hurt them, turning that hurt back on the perpetrator with anger was common, but not necessarily the best response. It was a bit protective in providing distance from the one who inflicted hurt, and it could be emotional cathartic, but it rarely would solve the problem that led to them being hurt.

shameI have also used a variant of the concept:  that depression was anger turned inward. Sort of the next step from the above…that when the world hurts us and that angers us but we can’t or don’t express it, if instead we hold it in, perhaps even get mad at ourselves for not being able to stop the hurt, we can become overwhelmed, depressed, even despairing.

 

believe in meThe simple answer, and in some ways over-simplified answer is: We need to be able to stand up assertively (not aggressively or angrily or defensively) for ourselves.  To do that we need to feel good enough about ourselves to face the “slings and arrows” of the world with a kind of impervious shield made of confidence and an awareness of what we believe in and can stand up for.

Learning that assertiveness can be profoundly helpful in many circumstances: with a bully in our school or at our job, with an overly dominant or abusive loved one. However, this is often more difficult than simple and may need the help of a therapist to achieve.

enragedBut today, I have been thinking about the rage in our country that seems to be fueling some of our dissension in the current election.

Lately, I began remembering the Principles of Rage from a class I attended about this dynamic as Ken Hardy outlined it for African Americans experiencing racism and a silencing of their protests about that experience.

Dr. Hardy’s framework for rage was that when you are in a system that consistently oppresses or discounts you and you cannot overcome the issues that you face along with people like yourself, no matter how valiantly you try, you become angry. If even then change does not occur, overtime that anger can harden and  become rage, despair, and alienation.

This is not a post about race, though I may post more on that in the future as President Obama has said, it truly merits consideration.

It is a post about rage. And Dr. Hardy’s principles more broadly apply, I believe, to the times we are in.

angry bubble conversation copyUnemployed blue-collar white men, former line workers in manufacturing plants, auto companies, steel mills, or coal mines who had able to achieve a middle class lifestyle through hard work and no longer can are caught in the throes of rage. Unfulfilled promises and failed answers have been compressed with frustration into outrage. They are flocking to the embrace of a man who has offered to “be their voice.”  And he spews anger effectively, directing them to blame “the Other.”  That is not the answer to the issue. Nor is it to be found in inflaming anger, or issuing veiled threats or calls to arms. But this post is not about him.

I hope it is about us.

matchesI have liberal friends who are lambasting him and his followers. I understand why. He scares them. He scares me. And the crudeness and hatred voiced by some of his followers is ugly. He and they seem to relish it. Yet, the answer is not to cut it off and silence it, not until we hear the pain, the genuine underlying hurt in many of them that is all too real. To shout them down, or shut them up. will only fuel the rage.

And that is not who we are. America has always been the land of opportunity. Imagine what it is like to have a good life and then lose it, along with your home, extinguished with your dream for a better life for your children.

I have worked with many who came back to school in the Great Recession post 2008 to get a GED, to get technical training, to pick up yet another certification to try to reassert their place in the world, to keep on feeding their families. Many are still struggling.

meeting copyWe need as a country to care about that. We need to begin to hold the powers that be to an accounting. The answer can never be to just say “No” to the other side. We need to insist that they sit down and hammer out compromises, and they work together to assure we offer that American possibility to all, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity or political party.

We need laws that are fair and do not disadvantage some for the benefit of a few.

We need to provide an education that assures the ability to do the jobs available now and ones that will be there tomorrow, and we must give the dispossessed a hand up to opportunities in a world that is changing.

flag copyAmerica is better than this campaign and we are more than this election. We are not the land of quitters, and we are more than good losers. Our strength is not found in hating the other side opposing anything they try. Rather, like our founders, we need to set aside anger and work on solutions and compromises. We can find the answers, together.

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On Walking Forward with Hope


sunrise-flight“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” Thomas Merton

Indiana Jones copyDo you remember the movie “Indiana Jones, the Last Crusade?” World weary Indy, who has been everywhere and seen everything, is no believer. Perhaps, seeing hearts torn from the living in the Temple of Doom or enduring poison arrows and massive rolling boulders guarding a stone icon soured him on religion. But Henry, his father, played by Sean Connery, is just such a man.

Petra Indiana Jones copyThe elder Dr. Jones has not spent his time on artifacts, but rather searched his entire life for clues to the location of the Holy Grail, the cup Christ drank from at The Last Supper. When the Nazis shoot Henry, Indy’s only chance to save his father is to find the Grail. To do this, he has risk his own life to get past several challenges. The secret to accomplishing that is found in his father’s journal which holds the wisdom Henry has discovered over a lifetime.

tightrope-walkerOf all the scenes in any of the Indiana Jones movies, my favorite is Harrison Ford, standing on edge of an abyss, pushed to embrace stepping forward into seeming nothingness or accept his father’s death. Indy, relying on the wisdom in his father’s journal, faces the void and makes the “leap of faith.”

Have you experienced that kind of moment? A point in time when you can or perhaps must embrace the next step forward….or retreat to the tried and true.

Doug and I are looking at his retirement…and it truly appears like a step into the unknown. We haven’t quite reached it….but it is there up ahead, looming closer and coming within view.  And it is filled, if not with emptiness, with uncertainty. What will it be like for someone who has pretty much worked every day, even on vacations, to stop? What do you feel like when you have checked off every item on your to do list….and you don’t even have a list anymore? Or maybe only a bucket list. Is it wonderful freedom…or a loss of being needed…or both?

bridge with jag in path copyWe have ideas about how to fill this lack of unrelenting necessary, and do look forward to escaping the tyranny of the urgent. For me, selling my book, and researching the next. For Doug, some writing as well. For both of us, volunteering in areas of our interest and expertise.with those who have experienced trauma, veterans or victims of violence. But even given that, it seems like there is a vast unknown territory out there.

It seems to me that aging and retirement lead to both a redirection of focus that carries the exciting opportunity for a new beginning, yet simultaneously require the letting go of some of the things that give you status and recognition for who you are, of what you are expert in, or what you have achieved.

raised challice copyYesterday, Doug had a medical consult for some surgery he may have to have. In filling out the paperwork prior to the visit, I watched him fill in his occupation, his employer. The words said so much about him.  Occupation:  clergyman  Employer: First Presbyterian Church of Edenton   Just reading those words you gain clues to his interests, and at least possibly some of his skills. He is learned. A scholar. He writes and speaks well. He is great with people, caring, compassionate. He is a man of faith.

Then, he filled out a section on me.  Occupation: Retired  Employer: Blank   All my skills and areas of expertise unreported.  A blank slate…an empty slate….or a clean slate, perhaps.

heavenly bridge copyThe abyss

…the new opportunity.

Henry Jones’ journal carried this entry about the challenges Indy was to face:  “Now, he who finds the Grail must face 3 challenges. First, is the path of God: Only the penitent man shall pass. Second, is the word of God: Only in the footsteps of God, shall he proceed. Last is the breath of God: Only in a leap from the lion’s head shall he prove his worth.”

The path for Doug and for me has passed the first two challenges. Our work has taught us that we must be humble in the face of the lives that have been entrusted to us, and to seek forgiveness for the ways we have been unable to help at times. For the second,  we have tried to proceed in the paths we believe God set before our feet. Now, we face the third.

Forward in HopeFrederick Buechner says it this way: “Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find that we are loved. Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.”

Merton’s quote tells me that we don’t have to know exactly how it will all work out, and we actually don’t even have to make a huge leap. We only need to keep walking in hope. The path really is there, as it has been all along.

hold hand

 

I trust that.  I hope as you move through your lives in the everyday moments and in the path changing moments of new direction, you can trust it, too.

There really is nothing to fear. Reach for me, and I’ll reach for you, and we can hold hands and explore those new paths together.

 

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Relax – There are no Mistakes!


sky at the road's end

“Crossroads”

I’ve got nothing on my mind,
Nothing to remember,
Nothing to forget.
And I’ve got nothing to regret.
But I’m all tied up on the inside,
No one knows quite what I’ve got,
And I know that on the outside
What I used to be
I’m not
anymore.

You know I’ve heard about people like me
But I never made the connection.
They walk one road to set them free
And find they’ve gone the wrong direction.
But there’s no need for turning back
Cause all roads lead to where I stand;
And I believe I’ll walk them all
No matter what I may have planned.

Don McLean

forest-paths in snow copyEveryone of a certain age has heard Don McLean’s song American Pie…and it is an iconic song.  But others of his are amazing, and Crossroads is probably my favorite. These first two stanzas I love for the idea that whatever our choices have been in life, they make us who we are. And who we are is ok.   (The last two stanzas are great as well for couples who share difficult paths with each other – but that is a different post.)

I have never been someone who wishes they had a “do over” or lived with a lot of regret. If I did have another beginning in life perhaps I’d choose some different things, make fewer detours to where I ended up, but if I’m fair I believe that at every different crossroad in my life, given who I was in those moments, I’d probably choose the same way now that I did then. My choices were right for me when I made them.

house at the crossroads copyNo,  I didn’t pursue writing when I thought I would. I chose not to transfer schools and go to journalism school. And yes, my life might have changed if I had. Maybe, Doug and I would have married later, had our children later, and I would have started creative writing  sooner….or been a doctor instead of a teacher and social worker…or….

But I have a husband and family I adore, and one of the great things about having my children young is that, although my son and daughter were not quite as young as I was when they had theirs, I am still young enough to fully participate in our grandchildren’s lives and watch they grow up into adulthood.

And I have written my book with all my life experience to draw upon.  I think it is a richer, better book than it would have been, because I am a more complete person now that I was when I was 22.

2 paths copyAll of this is to say that, in retrospect, I am happy with my choices, even the ones that look like detours. I have posted On The Road Less Taken by Frost, and I am sure part of who I am has both shaped and been shaped by my choices. But today what I am trying to say is a little different. It is:  Relax, there are no wrong choices.  There are only the choices you have already made and the choices you will make in the future. And all of them can lead to good, if that is where you want to go.

forest-paths copyOur teen granddaughters are visiting and looking ahead toward high school for Catherine and college for Caroline. They are already talking about where they want to go and what they want to be as adults. Caroline is pretty focused on some area of medicine. Catherine is more interested in the tech world. They have so much that lies ahead of them, so many places to go, and people to be and become…and so many choices to take and learn from!

My mom was a wise woman who had words of wisdom for every occasion. When I’d make a mistake she’d tell me, “Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over.”  Mom also loved Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the movies they starred in when she was a young girl. So when I just “googled”the phrase,  it was no surprise when I found this YouTube clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUsRGuZb6k   Words of wisdom from a song:

new growth copyNothing’s impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off, and
Start All over again.

Many mistakes lie in the girls’ future, in mine, in yours. The world is filled with them. We all make them. Mistakes are not necessarily destiny…but sometimes they can be serendipity.  It all depends on what you do with them. You can always dust them off….or perhaps discover that what you thought was a mistake is just a new beginning.

So relax, enjoy what will come. There are no mistakes if you just keep traveling toward your dreams.

 

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Just Stories


prairie river“You get old and you realize there are no answers, just stories.” Garrison Keillor

On July 2nd, America bid farewell to weekly visits with the Prairie Home Companion storyteller, Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegone book copywho says he is not retiring, just taking time off to write.

Now, some would say Keillor has done nothing but write, with six Lake Woebegone books and 42 years of stories about Guy Noir, Lefty and Dusty, and tales of the town made up of good-looking men, above average children, and strong women.

I am old enough that, though we had a television, my parents still listened to plays on the radio, (Fibber McGee and Molly, The Lone Ranger,) as my mother darned socks or worked crossword puzzles. Keillor tapped into that tradition, survived in spite of the demise of shows like it, and in a warm as honey baritone carried us into the prairie.

prairie dog with microphoneFor me, listening to him was like being at a family gathering where my uncles traded stories of a time gone by. They would regale my cousins and me in the grand tradition of the storytelling that happened around the hearth in the days of “remember when” and “when I was a kid.” All of us would sit at their feet or lie on the floor on our bellies on the living room rug, open-mouthed, enraptured by their words.

submarine copyOne of the men in my writing group is a lot like Keillor. Dossey is an older, retired, former Maritime sailor who is spinning a yarn about a World War II submarine attack. Every time we meet, he begins by apologizing for serving up a “pig’s breakfast,” then he reminds us that he doesn’t know about grammar or writing.  And yes, there’s a missing comma or two, and the  occasional verb tense issue, but let me tell you he has captured the attention of every one of us with his riveting story, told in the unmistakable voice of a man who earned his life at sea. Dossey tells us he is “keeping a promise” to relate this tale that was told to him, but he spins it so realistically that all of us see it unfold before our eyes as if it were a movie, or we were characters within it watching from the beach.  Now, that is writing!

prairie grass copyTo me, writing should be irresistible. It should defy the need to be defined by genre, be compelling enough that, though we may hear about things beyond our experience, the telling makes us feel a part of the story.

I  constantly tell Dossey that others can get the commas right, but not everyone can captivate like he can. It is a lost art.

In describing music, my mother used to say, there are technicians who play the notes flawlessly, perfect, pristine…and soulless. Then, there are musicians who savor the notes, the pauses between them, the rhythms and cadence, and lift your spirits as they carry you with them to where the heart of the song lives.

horseback on the prairieThat is what real story telling is, I believe. Keillor in his aw, shucks, manner,  the warm treacle of a town time forgot, Dossey in his mariner’s tale, and a few others know that.

I don’t know if Keillor will ever write the novel that fills his dreams. He certainly won’t be Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Shakespeare. Perhaps, he hasn’t suffered enough, or lived in the correct garret in poverty. Maybe living in the softness of Lake Wobegon and the vastness of the flat land has fitted him for other books. Prairie Home Companion copyI just hope he will remain Keillor. I think, while he might not see it, the answer to his yearning is his stories.

What I do know is, his fans will miss him. For 42 years, we have been his companions, eating powder milk biscuits, and traveling the backwater of rural Minnesota with him, riding along on the prairie.

I don’t know about you, but I am a stronger woman for having made the journey.

 

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Joe Friday was Wrong – On Policing Today


crime-scene“Just give me the facts, ma’am, only the facts!” Joe Friday would intone as he questioned a witness on Dragnet.  At least that’s what my family thought they heard as we gathered round the TV and watched Sgt. Friday speedily solve every crime. Joe Friday copyIt turns out he never said it quite that way, but Joe certainly asked his questions in a pointed, no-nonsense manner. We all knew the world he lived in was filled with either or’s, goods or bads, fact or fiction and the program showed it to us in bold relief, as stark in contrast as the black and white of our TV screen.

The truth of this reality started with the infamous Dragnet theme which set the tone.  Horns blared, “Dum da Dum dum, Dum da Dum dum, Dummmm.” A voiceover would begin, “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent,” and the horns would blare again, ominous, true, the facts. The theme became so synonymous with the guilty being caught for a crime, if any kid I knew got in trouble we would all sing, “Dum de Dum dum.” That kid was toast! Joe Friday ALWAYS got his man.  Link to the Dragnet Theme

Color dragnet opening copyAfter the commercial, we returned to a view of LA.  Joe would state: “This is the city, Los Angeles, California, I work here. I carry a badge. It was Friday July 15th. It was sunny in Los Angeles; we were working Day Shift in the Robbery Division. The Captain was John Smith.  My partner’s name is Bill Gannon. My name’s Friday.” Then, Joe would recite the facts of the crime, “We were working a series of hold-ups at Mom and Pop stores….”

We’ve come a long way from black and white TV and the monochromatic society of my 50s and 60s childhood, but sadly and unfortunately, many in our world, in America, and in our policing have not moved into the broader more nuanced world of color.

First, for those of you who don’t know me well, my father-in-law was an FBI agent and my Godfather and beloved Uncle Eddie was a police officer. I am a clinical social worker and teacher, but while I lean liberal on social issues (with the dose of accountability that makes me an independent), I have run a juvenile probation program. I support law enforcement.

gavel copyP.R.I.S.M. (Probation, Rehabilitation, Intensive Services and Management)  reflected the innovative approaches our Probation Commissioner, Mary Winter, and Law Enforcement in general  attempted in Syracuse, New York. My oversight of PRISM involved not only responsibility for an integrated team of youth probation officers, county residential placement staff, and our non-profit’s social workers, but also made me a member of the management team for the Commissioner. I got closer to an insider’s view of law enforcement than the average person.

The PRISM staff cross-trained, which meant our social workers had to take peace officer training and succeed at it. Going into the home of a teenage offender was no joke. And our Law Enforcement staff took our agency training, including conflict management. We approached our youth and their families as a team.

As a part of my work, I learned the juvenile justice data on youth who go to jail for offenses versus youthful offenders who go to diversion programs (like PRISM). 67% of those incarcerated are more likely to commit crime as adults.(MIT Brown study) and end in the adult system than those who receive intervention.

From National Institute of Justice data:  “The prevalence of [youth] offending tends to  peak in the teenage years and then decline in the early 20s. This bell-shaped age curve, universal in Western populations, varies in significant ways. The curve for violence tends to peak later than that for property crimes. Girls peak earlier than boys. The curve is higher and wider for young males (especially minorities) growing up in the most disadvantaged [families and] neighborhoods.  A majority have learning disabilities.”

questions copyYou see, these are also facts, but they are more than the facts of the crime Joe Friday went looking for. Poverty, family makeup (the presence of a father in the home), age of the mother at the birth of the child, histories of abuse and domestic violence, all played a role in teen offending.

In Syracuse, three times more boys than girls were on juvenile probation, but the girls who offended had the greatest problems, often having experienced sexual abuse. While Syracuse is a typical city,  25% African-American, 66% of those on Probation in the PRISM program were black, poor, and from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Few lived with their fathers.

With the addition of unemployment and completion of high school, these issues can also be seen in statistics on crime, arrests, and incarceration for adults.

So, while Joe was right: it is the facts that are needed for criminal trials, Sgt. Friday was also wrong.  More and more, law enforcement focuses on community policing, on building relationships with community members. Officers with this training learn to focus on feelings not just facts, especially in neighbors stressed by the social issues I listed.

However, by this I don’t mean to imply that the police should be made responsible to solve the social, economic, and mental health issues that desperately need resolution. Chief Brown in Dallas has addressed that eloquently.

police officers copyAt the same time, for the current generation of Sgt. Fridays in the best departments, their training addresses not only how to get to the facts needed for prosecution, but also how to de-escalate a conflict, how to negotiate, and how to build enough trust in a community that people will talk to police and give them the facts. You cannot do a great job enforcing the law if traffic stops are as ubiquitous and unjust and racially biased as they were in Ferguson, Missouri. Comprehensive training for all law enforcement would be a good start.

At the same time, even well-trained Joe Fridays can’t do their jobs alone. We need to support them. We need to learn the facts, all of them, for all our community members including for those who don’t look like us. We all need to be open to listen to issues of racism and act to address them.

police shields copyWe need to encourage politicians to create  insightful, creative, and compassionate  policies to address these complex issues. We need to encourage departments to weed out any bad apples. Sgt. Friday was a good guy.  The overwhelming majority of officers are like him…and like my Uncle Eddie. Yet, we know that in every profession and walk of life there will be those who cannot do their job well, and we know that bad apples who carry guns cannot be tolerated. At the same time, every community should support their police departments who rely on community members to help deter crime and catch criminals.

We also need to fully fund the police and programs that address the underlying issues. I would certainly advise exploring an integrated and collaborative approach like we used in PRISM, (which won a Vera Institute of Justice award for its effectiveness at deterring further crime by those in it.) It is vastly cheaper to do that than pay the financial costs of prisons, and, as Chief Brown noted, the societal costs of using law enforcement as the vehicle to address racism, poverty, poor education, no jobs, mental illness, and addiction.

Those are the facts…as Sgt. Friday could tell you…just the real facts.

 

 

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