Sharing my Dear Editor letter that was published today in the Westerly Sun . . .
Thank you Associated Press for reporting this story and for writers, Amand Seltz, Barbara Ortutay, and David Klapper for opening the conversation on a very complex situation in the piece headlined, Conspiracy-theory video shows challenges for big tech, published in the Westerly Sun on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. Conflicting information about medicine is nothing new, but in these times, it swirls as rampantly in the air as the new coronavirus. Every day new information about the virus is reported and we adjust our lives in response. It is becoming clear to me how medicine and politics have become one and the same, and we need first to acknowledge it and then act to dismantle it.
Last week a close friend sent me the YouTube link to part one of the documentary movie, Plandemic. What do you think? he asked. I watched it with one eye, as I prepared dinner, not really that interested, because I expected it to end with some product for sale to cure all. When it didn’t end with a sales pitch, as I expected, and actually had made a couple of points that piqued my interest, I decided that I would watch it again later more closely. But the link didn’t work and the message read, “taken down because it violates YouTube Community Guidelines.” So I responded to my friend immediately and that the fact that it was taken down so quickly interested me. Meanwhile my friend messaged me again with a new link to the video that prompted me to download it before it was taken down again and I did, luckily, because before long it was taken down again, with this message, “violates a copyright claim.” I suspected that there could be some dangerous truth in this video, that threatens someone, somewhere, somehow. I went to Amazon and ordered her book to learn more from Dr. Judy Mikovitz.
Since then, I have watched the 25 minute episode several times, thanks to the download, and am about a third of the way through her book.
I have never been a conspiracy-theorist about anything, but my 44-year teaching career taught me an important learning technique. Ask questions. I have many questions about this story, that I think transcend the challenge of big tech being able to prevent the viewing of such a video.
Who decided or ordered these platforms to cut the mic on this video?
What community guidelines does this video violate?
What copyright claim does it violate?
Why have videos selling quack products been allowed to air without this “take down” reaction?
Why have the social media platforms suddenly removed without warning or reason other postings, that have been up for years, that do not conform to prevailing medical protocols? ie. Truth About Cancer.
Who stands to gain by discrediting Dr. Judy Mikovitz?
Who stands to lose by having her research findings revealed?
What does Dr. Mikovitz gain or lose by speaking out now?
I am intentionally stirring the conspiracy pot. It’s time we examined it for what it is or is not. Instead of squelching it, break it wide open somehow. I hope that we can bring the conversation into a public forum, because I think the public health of the world is at stake. The movie Deep Waters might be a blueprint, I don’t know, but I do know that this is about more than a supposedly “questionable, false, and potentially dangerous coronavirus theories” video going viral on social media.
Time Slips Away
It’s funny how time slips away. Isn’t there a song of that title? Just checked; there is. https://youtu.be/rOHlbchW-qs, if you are interested. It’s a love song by Willie, but seems pertinent to these times. Someone said to me the other day, when I suggested that we would do something in April, “Etta, April is almost over.” It was the 28th, and although I have been busy deleting canceled activities from my calendar, replacing them sometimes with live video events, it dawned on me, that six weeks had just slipped away. An awareness that I had been mostly focusing on surviving each day - eating, sleeping, and shifting to mostly virtual interactions - crept in.
While I consider focusing on the moment a good thing, awareness always spurs reflection, and that too is a good thing, in moderation of course. Once something is known, it is hard to reverse and not know it. So, the question came: Am I doing everything I can to help this situation or at least record it in some way, or am I just existing, letting time slip away? A seed, looking for the right spot was floating around in my head, wondering, what else can I do? Staying home, washing my hands, wearing a mask in public, continuing my volunteer activities virtually, video calling my family and friends, and occasionally cleaning something made the time fly by, but left me feeling like “Is this all there is?” And the Universe answered, as it always does.
That seed landed on fertile ground on May 3, during a virtual interview I gave for Artclectic New England, a podcast and blog which aims to celebrate the fantastic arts & culture in New England. The artful interviewer, Dennise Kowalczyk, started by asking me what I meant by the line on my website, “I am a realistic romantic who is passionate about living, loving, and learning.” Immediately, my neglected website and blog popped into my mind. Following the interview, I pulled up my website and read my old blogs, realizing how helpful that process had been for me and romanticizing that my words might have spoken to others as well. I also realized that this time in quarantine cannot been wasted, and that maybe Random Reflections by Etta could be cultivated again. The seed was germinating.
Luckily my hiatus from television since 2014 when I retired, especially cable news has served me well in this survival mode. Not watching the news, delivered by talking heads displaying facial expressions and gestures that reveal their network biases, but reading it, either online or in the newspaper (I am one of the last subscribers) gives me the facts without the emotion. I check the emotional pulse of the day with a little radio talk, mostly NPR, where politics is tempered with arts, culture, and human interest stories. The deeper we get into this Pandemic response of isolation, the more time I have to reflect and the more the questions come, driven by the inconsistencies of news reports, medical advice, and personal responses. I am left seeking the definitive truth to these burning questions.
About mid morning my blog dam (built the day my children’s book was published, don’t really know why) broke as an “ah ha!” moment rushed over me. I awakened to a message from a second cousin, who is a young teacher, seeking advice about dealing with the division in our families over political issues. And since I love to give advice freely, whether or not you ask, I was on it. My answer: We are each a product of our own life experiences, which influence our behavior. Try not to judge their behavior, but shift to their perspective, even as they namecall and mock your views. Don’t expect to change them. Love them anyway.
It satisfied her, but jarred my thinking. “We are each a product of our own life experiences, which influence our behavior,” I had said. Two recent FB posts popped into my mind about cell phone/gaming addiction in children. While I am an active user myself of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and trying to learn Pinterest, I feel increasing concern about the seductiveness of social media, gaming, and the instant Internet information glut on all of us. I know that times are different, and I don’t advocate going back, giving it up, or resisting progress, ( I admit my phone is my brain.) but I do have an “ah-ha moment,” that I must share. It came to me through this thinking process.
I am a tech-user promoter, teaching regular Digital Drop-Ins for senior adults in a Life Long Learning Center. To encourage attendees to get over their fear of the Internet and Social Media, I often compare technology advances, like smart phones, to fire. Both can be hazardous and powerful, damaging and beneficial.. The secret lies in harnessing the power and minimizing the danger.
When man first harnessed fire, the course of human evolution was changed, by extending awake time, allowing people to stay up late, gather together, and experience free time for the first time. This free time spurred ideas and inventions, that we build on today. My concern is not that we fail to harness the power of technology, but that our obsession with it is having the opposite effect on people today.
While personal devices entertain, connect and provide us with instant information, their constant use can erode our free time. Research is showing that having free time is important for relieving stress and experiencing life. It is also fertile ground for boredom, which when personally acknowledged, breeds creativity and/or self reliance in children, youth, and adults. I wonder, is our reliance on technology today a step backward for mankind, robbing us of this precious free time, a critical element of progress?
As personal devices instantly connect us in groups and to people we might not otherwise know, they interrupt face to face communications in families. Photos of families at the dinner table, each looking down at their own devices are more and more common. The allure of the phone or tablet screen to babies is undeniable, and we marvel at their digital abilities to manipulate these devices. A child’s desire to watch and play on a hand held device that overpowers the allure of TV dumbfounds us and pleases us at the same time - a reliable entertainer that can mesmerize for hours, allowing us to cook, clean, and work, work, work with little or no interruption. On the surface, it looks like a positive solution for family peace and productive days, but those trying family interactions are how our values are defined and passed down to the next generation. Besides a step backward for mankind, is this permissive technology use harming us in a more profound way?
Finally, the “ah-ha!”
I suspect that we are experiencing a major cultural shift. As we communicate with hundreds of friends and family on our devices, we are becoming more and more disconnected to our immediate loved ones, who sit in the same room, sleep in the same house, travel in the same car. Family, where core values are learned, is no longer everything. It is being replaced by digitized values: data, likes, shares, posts, tweets, messages, drops, snaps, video. We are playing with fire in this digital world.
I offer no one size fits all solution to this cultural problem, which, by the way, is not uniquely American. It is a worldwide challenge. Awareness is the first step toward a solution. Acknowledgement is step two. You are on step two. Will you move to step three?
The articles that impacted this post:
http://bit.ly/DianeKrasznay A Facebook post that went viral - relays her 10 year-old son’s reaction to giving up his cell phone during a car ride, and what she did about it.
http://bit.ly/blogofjacqueline Common sense suggestions for reclaiming your family, from Occupational Therapist, Victoria Prooday.
I am about to publish a book, one that has been in the making for a long, long time. The original idea for it was sparked on the floor of my kindergarten classroom at East Park School in Fairmont, WV and first penned with a friend and colleague around 1980, over 40 years ago! Much has changed in my life and in the publishing industry in that time period. Luckily the topic, the alphabet, hasn’t changed in all those years. There is comfort in knowing that some things will never change. (I hesitate to use the word never here.)
I have accepted that one of my life’s lessons is learning patience enough to live in the moment. And in the publishing process, nothing could be more valuable than patience. Patience enough to wait for the creative juices to flow and the ability to recognize them when they come. At a writing workshop I once learned that creativity ebbs and flows. Sometimes your cup is full and sometimes it is empty. Respond when creativity strikes and refrain from forcing it when it is absent. Patience.
Navigating the publishing industry is beyond formidable for a creative soul. It takes patience for artists, who often suffer from little business savvy, to persist to get a book published. It’s insulting to hear that your book has an interesting concept, but has too many words and is therefore not marketable. It’s insulting to hear that you need to rewrite your story without the essence you intended. It’s insulting to be told that your text will be illustrated by an artist of the publisher’s choice. It’s insulting to be held at arm’s length of the industry with only vague and sparse information about the process. Some deep breathing, laced with patience, is required to give you the space needed to reflect on your creation and its future.
Every time I thought that the manuscript was perfect and mustered the courage (or audacity) to submit it to someone, I received valuable feedback, but it took time and patience to absorb the true value of the critique. That the text needed to be shorter and simplified, which I heard many times from many sources, finally sunk in.
I worked, not so patiently, paring it down from 26,000 words to 15,600 words and shopped it around for feedback. The concept was praised, but it was still too long and complicated! The average children’s picture book is under 1,000 words I was told. One writer friend commented that it reminded her of Shel Silverstein, a most amazing poet, and that comment struck a chord with me. Writing it in verse would definitely shorten it, and it did to 8,966 words and with less blood, sweat, and fewer tears than the previous rewrites. Still too long, leaving no room on the page for illustrations, which I knew it needed to help tell the story. Patience was waning. Lethargy was setting in. My co-author had lost interest in pursuing the project. I officially gave it up and moved on to other things, where in conversation after conversation, the book seemed to come up. It would not go away.
I pulled it up and again pared it down to 1,914 words, which flowed like it was channeled. Finally, I got rave responses and decided it was time to seek an illustrator and publish. Turning the baby over to a big publishing house and giving up the rights to collaborate on the illustrations was not an option at that point, even if a publisher had wanted it. (I didn’t try.) It was still over the average word limit for a children’s picture book, their first criteria, so I decided to be the publisher, and dictate the process. Patience had given me power! My story that would not die had to have almost 2,000 words to maintain its essence.
Being patient all those years had allowed me the time to learn how to do it and rekindle the enthusiasm and audacity felt at its inception. But, the process remains slow and intense. I have been working diligently with my illustrator since May, have set up a business, applied for all the identifying numbers, and reached an agreement with a local hybrid publisher to release said book on December 1, 2017, the year of my 70th birthday.
However, the wait to hold it in my hands feels so long. Patience for that moment.
A milestone birthday is creeping up. It doesn’t feel like I have been at this life for almost 70 years. Most of it has been spent looking ahead at what’s next - going to school, getting my driving license, graduation, new jobs, vacation, marriage, kids, and then what my kids needed and finally the much anticipated state of retirement. I experienced a wild euphoria with the gift of free time, that I had never allowed myself in the first three quarters of my life. This euphoria drove me to travel, join, volunteer, reconnect, and look ahead to what’s next. During this transition process, I have come to realize that keeping my life interesting is more about staying in the moment than looking ahead. I cherish every new encounter and acquaintance, and am rebuilding my social network to support this final quarter of my life. However . . . milestones stimulate reflection and that is good for the soul and often provides mysterious direction for the future.
The first birthday party I recall was when I turned 6 in first grade. My mother organized a house party and I recall we played games - Drop clothespins into a Milk Bottle, Pin the Tail on the Donkey - you get the picture. Sounds like fun and she meant well and I probably begged for the party, but the truth is, it was awkward. Tenth party was better. We played the same games. It’s what birthday parties were in those days.
Sixteen. November 23, 1963. If that doesn’t strike a chord, on November 22 that year, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The party went on, but it was gloomy at best. Even at that tender age, we were sharply affected by that event and were distracted from the typical teen activities of the day, trying to make sense of it. I was forever a news junkie after that event and can’t recall who even came to the party that night.
I am grateful to be approaching 70 healthy and happy. However big parties are not my thing. From about 30 on I did not allow my birthday to be celebrated much more that a special dinner. I just wanted to pass through life . . . But now I celebrate each year that passes and look forward to another. My family threw a surprise dinner party at a fine restaurant for my 40th where a pink orangutan delivered helium balloons. I tactfully informed them in advance of turning 50 that I did not want such hoohah! And it passed quietly. It pays to speak up!
Another surprise was organized by my husband when I turned 60 - a full summer weekend of immediate family from out of town. Since it was a good three months prior to the actual date of my birthday, it was a complete shock. My kids, my mother, my sisters all cooperated in the elaborate assemblage of the 17 people who were closest to me in my life, most of whom had not yet visited us in Rhode Island. It was very heartwarming event and I recall that birthday with fond memories. Can it really only be 10 years ago? It seems like a lifetime since that day, so much has happened.
A big party at this stage in my life seems redundant, so I have put the word out that I will be commemorating this milestone birthday in my own way - finishing up a project that has been in process for almost 40 years. I will self-publish a children’s book that I have been working on since my teaching Kindergarten days, Beginning With Xs and Os: The Evolution of the Alphabet. The text is finally finished and an illustrator has been hired, so I must get back to the moment - there is still much to learn and do to accomplish this task by November 23. No turning back now!
I’m embarrassed to realize that I have not created a blog entry for almost a year! Admittedly, blogging was starting to feel too much like a job, even though it was self imposed. I felt stressed to find topics that might interest. So, I stepped back, and waited. After all, I was retired and had sworn off stress, and blogging was beginning to trigger stress. The words of Padma Venkatraman, whose writing workshop I had attended that first summer of retirement, echoed, “Sometimes the vessel is full and spills right onto the page, and sometimes it is empty. Honor both.” So I walked away from my passion in September 2015, feeling that my vessel was empty.
It took a suggestion from Jet Vertz, my co-presenter of The Bucket List class at OLLI, to remind me that this writing I do is indeed my passion. I have learned that one way to learn about myself is to pay attention to sincere (filter for sincerity) compliments that people pay me. Instead of deflecting his recommendation to use some of my past blog entries to inspire The Bucket List class and create new entries during the class to revive my blog, I am embracing his suggestion, and getting back to the blank page. Sometimes acquaintances can they see your strengths clearer than you ever will on your own.
Maybe my vessel is not full and overflowing, but I am going to take some of my own advice and
“Fear Less, Judge Less, and Resist Less” - my simple 2015 Christmas card message. Jet’s comment drove me to my website to reread my blogs to try to muster the nerve to do it again. Thank you, Jet, for making me revisit my own advice and realize that I need to heed it.
I have to face my FEAR that I am not writing anything that interests my readers. It stings when no one comments on my blog, but it doesn’t mean it did not influence someone in someway, even if the only person influenced was me. I have to face the fact that although I try not to pass judgement on others, I do JUDGE myself, especially my writing, pretty strictly. Permission for letting it flow and trusting it will go in the right direction has been granted. I have been resisting the blank page, although my journal notes and entries continue as usual. I will not RESIST turning my thoughts and ideas about the transitions of my life into regular blogs.
My goal, I now realize, is to start and engage in A CONVERSATION about living life to the fullest, at all ages. I admit that I feel very vulnerable about declaring this intention. Who am I to profess expertise on “living life to the fullest?” According to Brené Brown, Ph.D, a noted social researcher, by embracing our own vulnerability, and not denying it, pathways of innovation, creativity and change open. We will see, Brené, we will see. . .
As a young teacher I learned early on in my career, that connecting to each and every student on a personal level, gave me their permission to teach them something, and in building that connection, I was taught by them. When the energy flowed between us was positive, it was like a puzzle falling into place, love in action. Human connections in all facets of life mirror this teacher-student relationship. Sometimes your role is teacher and sometimes you are the student.
Born into a family and a community, you have instant connections that can grow over time into a foundation for a harmonious life. Although we do not choose these connections, we do contribute to their strength by how we manage the ebb and flow of energy between the roles of learner and teacher. Energy is love. To cherish and cultivate these basic instant connections is a labor of love. To participate without judgement is the challenge.
Passing judgement interrupts this flow of energy and can even break a connection. A power outage, even a short one, is at the very least annoying, and is forgotten when the power flows again. But, a broken connection to a loved one breaks hearts, and is remembered always. Perhaps more difficult to nurture is a bad connection, fraught with drama, unpredictable behaviors, and disrespect for cultural mores. Know that your role in these relationships is both teacher and learner. It will help maintain the connection.
While these basic family and friends connections form the foundation for your quality of life, seeking new connections will enrich your life and feed your soul. Dare to seek and welcome new friends, who can be both teacher and learner to you. You will feel their energy. Act on it. Make the connection and cultivate it!
Advice whether or not you ask: Giving and receiving without judgment in relationships creates fertile ground for a life of harmony, but with judgment aboard, life's journey get rough. Do everything you can to keep the energy flowing!
This week I learned for the first time about a phenomenon called Code Switching and I learned it experientially on a Twitter chat (#educolor). Initially I thought it was about HTML coding (a safe topic) until Google informed me that it was about switching between two languages or behavior patterns, depending on the context (where you are and who you are with).
Being a teacher of English and Social Studies, naturally I was intrigued by the language and cultural implications, so I signed in and mostly lurked on the chat. WOW! I quickly realized I was inside a conversation of such relevance that it needs to be held beyond that one time Twitter chat. And it needs to explode out of Twitter into the workplace, especially into schools (still my thing).
Here are a few excerpts . . .
Q1: Define Code Switching
To understand Code Switching is to know yourself. We all do it! I Challenge you to start by reading the April #educolor Storify (organized summary of top tweets) on Code Switching. You do not need a Twitter account; it is online.
Advice whether you ask or not: Sign up to Twitter today - the best resource on the web. Design your own Personal Learning Network!