I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

Taking it to the Street

October 18th, 2011

Everyday citizens are now marching in the streets because they have had enough. In one month, the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread from Manhattan in New York to cities all around the world.

(Be sure to check out the October 17th post on the Occupy Wall Street Website if you don't yet know the reason for the "people-powered movement.")

Organizers want to expose much of what is wrong in today's society; however, it has also showcased one positive point: that people are willing to stand up in defense of what is right.

Despite news reports that describe participation as a mob-like, few people involved in this are fond of fighting. They've seen the outcome of unified marches in other countries like Egypt, and since they aren't getting satisfaction from their government or from corporate leaders, they've decided to do what they must to get their voices heard.

And they are protesting on behalf of all of us.

They are fighting for the middle class. They are camping out for the lower class. And they are marching for the upper class. How? Because they represent justice, fairness, and ethics. It doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have, you cannot live a good life without those three things.

Meanwhile, the protestors have been called all kinds of names in the op-ed media:

  • Capitalism killers
  • Anti-American
  • Liberals (what does this even mean anymore?)
  • Radicals
  • Ex-hippies (can one ever really get divorced from "hippyism?")
  • Class warriors
  • Propagandists
  • Lazy, trust-fund babies

I suppose there are individuals out there who deserve the labels, but it isn't true of the movement itself. No one can deny that too many working-class Americans have suffered significant financial loss at the hands of injustice, unfairness, and unethical dealings. Some of us, myself included, expected things to change after Enron, the mortgage meltdown, hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill and the big bank bailouts. Logical, corrective action was anticipated, but years later, it seems as if nothing has improved.

People are mad for good reason.

Opponents can throw around all the names they want. Many protestors are just quiet-mannered, good-natured Americans who have learned that obedience and compliance might look good in a human resources file, but it has done nothing to address corrosive power.

Capturing elusive bills is a fun game on the board walk, but the time for games is over.

Opponents have concluded that the movement does not not fight for anything in particular ... that it has not clarified its demands ... that it offers no real solutions. Meanwhile, to me the solutions are painfully simple: Justice, fairness and ethical action.

A basic protestor's profile

The people who march include folks who want to work and get paid fairly in return. These are taxpayers who have been told that their local library is closing due to budget cuts while large corporations still duck through tax loopholes. These are military family members who want to know their deceased sons or daughters fought for something meaningful and beneficial. These are children who must visit their parents in jail because Mom and Dad stepped outside strict boundaries, boundaries that others erase with money. These are people with the creativity and drive to start their own companies, but find it impossible to compete with companies who, with the benefit of government support, dominate the markets to such a degree that innovation is no longer profitable.

This week, I learned that Stephen Redding has decided to join the march. No stranger to protests, Stephen has a reputation for going against social norms for the betterment of the human experience. He believes the time is right for us take a stand so that we might protect our chance to live a life that is at peace with the universe.

Basic protestor demands

So while the issues and intentions are widespread, the solution remains finespun.

Decisions need to be based on the old-fashioned phrase, "It's the right thing to do." It's time that those within government and those in corporate boardrooms who understand these six words are able to start acting on them. The Occupy Wall Street organizers have turned the microphone toward the citizens -- in all classes -- who know what is right. May they too be brave enough to act.

Until then, thank you Occupy Wall Street for fighting for me.

Imagining a Life Without Libraries

October 4th, 2011

Some may describe it as stuffy and obsolete, but I think of a library as a captivating window to the future as well as the past and present. I cannot imagine life without; I fear that I soon may have to.

When I was a teenage student, my mom would take me to the library to keep my brain alive during the summer break. As a young adult, my local library gave me access to knowledge and entertainment .... access that I could not afford otherwise. Today, I consider the library a source of truth, far more credible than the hodgepodge of Internet websites that intertwine fact with myth, marketing, and hearsay.

A Child at the Library

I have fond memories as a child when Mom would take me to the Northampton Public Library. I loved the smell. I loved the way voices sounded in a whisper. I was fascinated by the quantity of book spines, lined up like soldiers on a shelf.

At the library, I was allowed to go off on my own to the section where I could understand the words. There I could select three books. I don't remember the stories – I probably didn't read them all -- but I do remember the crinkling sound of the plastic covers as I crept open the books to peak inside.

My brother would go with us too, and thankfully he liked a different section. It was one place we could go without bickering ... we were both too busy getting lost in a world of books.

After our selections were made and I found my mom, we would line up at the counter by the door. I would wonder about the thickness of the books Mom had chosen. How could she read all that in just two weeks? One-by-one we would slide our pile across the smooth wooden surface to the librarian. With little effort, she would flip over the books, crack open a back cover, pull out a card, and slip it into a machine that would stamp a date onto it with a sound so loud everyone in the place knew someone was checking out.

When my turn was up, she would smile as she took my pile. One. Two. Three. I loved the sound of that stamp machine. Then, with the dated cards securely tucked back into their pockets, she pushed the pile back to me ... mine for two whole weeks.

I did other things at the library too. I participated in art programs where I glued macaroni or beans to paper to make a picture. Sometimes the librarian would read a book out loud as if to turn it into a radio show. It was a place that was fun without the pomp and pageantry.

And I felt like just being there could make me smarter. Reading required focus and patience my young mind just didn't have. I wanted to run outside and make my own experiences, not read about accounts from others in a book. But the books gave me something to do when it rained, when it was dark, or when I was sick. And because they were there, I read them. It made me feel grown up to sit and read, just like my mom.

A Window to the Future

Northampton's library was downhill from its junior and senior high schools. As I got older, I became aware that the library was a place where I -- not the teacher -- could decide the subject.

Later in life, I sat in the passenger seat as my older sister dropped her own stack of thick books into the slot at her local Palmerton library. After I moved away, I would visit the Upper Merion Library where I would read the community announcements and say hello to my neighbors before getting lost among the books. As an adult writer, I depend on the library for its reference material, periodicals, online databases, and more. Through every phase of my life, the library has been there.

Hope for Our Libraries' Survival

I'll admit, there were times when I forgot about my library, too. When life got hectic. When the Internet became available in my home. When I spent my days working in a secure but draining job and was too tired to read at the end of the day.

Others have forgotten too, and now our libraries are in trouble. In Philadelphia, the mayor closed libraries to balance the budget. My local Upper Perkiomen Valley Library seems to be shrinking before my very eyes.

Nearby, the Indian Valley Public Library just made this announcement:

"Souderton Area School District has decided to cut its library appropriation in half -- from $440,000 to $220,000 in 2012. And, it will be eliminated altogether in 2013. For over 25 years, the library worked with the school district by providing resources and services for students (and all residents) during after school hours, evenings, Saturdays, Sundays. Lifelong learning, as provided by the vast resources of the library, was a cherished goal. This news from the school district comes after two straight years of cuts in state aid for public libraries."

Meanwhile, residents are fleeing the Souderton school district due to the taxes that have resulted from building a brand new school...one that seems to overreach the need. School officials have redirected taxpayer money toward a place that will serve kids for a few high-school years and away from one that would serve them all life long.

In Philadelphia, I heard firsthand from one mother who depended on the library -- one closed by the mayor -- to keep her son focused, entertained, and inspired. She said she was not alone. It was a busy place.

To say that today's library has become obsolete is to admit you've lost touch. It means you've forgotten that there is a way to read voraciously -- or even occasionally -- without having to break out the credit card. It means that you've forgotten there is a place to go where you can ask a human being a question and get honest-to-goodness advice on where to find the answer. It means you've forgotten that not everyone can afford to maintain a fully functioning computer at home. And it means that, with all the world's problems, you've forgotten there is no better armor than knowledge.

This jailhouse library in Jim Thorpe, PA offered refuge and reform to men and women who needed it.

We can tout the virtues of educating every child, but the fancy technology and marble hallways in our brand new schools are for kings. Libraries are for everyone. Visit, use, support, donate, and speak out in favor of your local library. The stamp machine I loved so much may have grown obsolete, but a place where knowledge is shared with everyone never will.

Addiction at its Flashpoint

September 27th, 2011

"The Internet is bad," said the voice in my head as I scrambled to the door. So much for leaving early. This scene was playing out too many times now: I was late again because I let myself get sucked into cyberspace. If I wasn't careful, the computer was going to tarnish my on-time reputation.

The morning started OK. I had no pressing deadlines and had been tackling the pile of unaddressed paper and details and mini-tasks that had been crowding my desk space for far too long.

Then I launched my browser to look up an event date. That lead me to another Website which I had to read. While connected, I thought I'd quickly check my email after which I found myself drafting an indepth reply. Suddenly "plenty of time" became "Oh shit, I'm late."

Other Bad Things

Waiting for the traffic light to change, I tapped my finger madly on the steering wheel. I thought about the World Wide Web and the voice's declaration. What other things in life had I labeled as bad?

Drugs are bad.

Lying stinks.

Greed is awful.

Fast food is terrible.

The signal changed from red to green and my frustration redirected to the clock. Why was it moving so damn fast?

I arrived to the meeting with one minute to spare. Instead of portraying confidence and poise, I flew in rushed and frustrated. After it was over, I walked out as if I was a women with a hangover, pledging never to drink again.

{This light trail from a sparkler represents my brain during frenzied internet use.]

A Change in Direction

I thought about my earlier analogy as I breezed through every light on my way back home. The clock was moving at the same old speed; only my perspective had changed.

It was time to recognize that the Internet is engrained in a life which I control. Likewise are drugs. They aren't bad; they save lives. It's their abuse that's bad.

Or like wine: it will not give me a hangover if I don't drink too much.

It's all about my choices as I partake in life's experience. I have the power to make good decisions online, just as I do about lying, greed, and fast food, offline.

For instance:

Honesty and Authenticity. Sometimes it requires courage to remain true to yourself, but lying can hurt the liar more than the fool being betrayed. Whether anonymously hiding behind a computer screen or standing on a public stage, I must avoid any temptation to lie or tell a half-truth because doing otherwise will destroy my credibility.

Contentment. With so much at our fingertips, it can be hard to recognize when information collection becomes information gluttony. Greed is a desire for more even though there is already enough, and it can apply to details and social connections just as it does money. Where in the past a phone call from a friend or an intriguing new discovery would sustain me for an entire day, now I want a new message in my inbox every minute. However, contemplation and reflection breeds contentment better than excessive interruptions ever could.

Deliberateness. Like fast food, shoving in empty calories does nothing to nourish the body. When I skim over a multitude of Web pages, I never focus on actually reading and retaining any of it. When I speed through all my emails at once, I neglect to carefully read what the senders wrote. When I try to investigate every link and lead, I lose track. It is when I slow down that I can truly ingest the information.

[A multi-course breakfast eaten during vacation serves an example of the fulfilled feeling that can come from a good, slow meal.]

My New Declaration

Back at home, I logged on with a fresh attitude. I am a user. I must prevent addiction. I must remain authentic. I must know when I've had enough. I must avoid junk and senseless temptation. And I must respect the clock and the day's goals.

Only then can I say, "the Internet is good." The computer was never going to be responsible for my success or my reputation anyway. I was.

How do you keep your computer under control?

Hammering Away at Organization

September 20th, 2011

During my career as an office management consultant, I would meet with disorganized professionals to talk about the clutter in their office.

Amidst piles of paper piles, scattered post-it notes, and dusty gadgets, I'd ask the person what they wanted most ... what they envisioned for themselves. More often than not, they responded with statements like, "I guess I need bins and better shelves," or "I want labels," or "I need you to help me figure out what kind of filing cabinet I should buy."

Organization is a habit, a mind-set, and a skill set, but all they could picture were the tools. If they truly wanted to address the chaos, they first had to recognize that organization can't be bought at the office supply store.

Read more in the latest SOS Signal newsletter.

Reflecting on Sacred Ground

September 14th, 2011

This past Sunday, America stopped for a moment to remember a terrible day: 9/11/01. 2,973 people are gone, each connected to one of the three places where they were tragically attacked that morning. For those left behind, each crash site serves as a cosmic telephone booth -- a place to go to talk to the loved one they miss so dearly. The three memorials -- The World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Shanksville -- remind us all what was lost and what was learned.

Like Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, and Valley Forge, these American places are now sacred. Manhattan is the most symbolic of the three terrorist attack sites due to the sheer volume of witnesses, victims, heroics, and suffering. We envision the 9/11 Memorial and Museum remaining for eternity; we hope our great children will never have to fight to keep it from turning into a parking lot.

America declared, "We Will Never Forget," and promised that the slaughter would be "Never Forgotten." Most people can tell you exactly where they were when the attack began. However with 10 years passed, a decade's worth of newborns exist now ... infants and children who were not alive to witness the experience. And while the emotions are still intense for some, on average it takes only two years until a tragic memory fades to point where we are less likely to change our habits in response. As time marches on, it becomes more and more difficult to keep our remembrance promise.

We are not alone. There are others who once suffered as we have. Around the world, every culture has a story, each one passionate, painful, and reflective. Other sacred sites commemorate events that occurred hundreds or thousands of years ago, but time has not diluted their importance. These places are where memory transcends generations.

A person cannot grasp the enormity of another's struggle until he has lived through a similar one. From tragedy comes understanding. As I think back to 9/11, I hope that the heart of America will now open to each grandchild who is fighting to maintain a connection to those he wants "never forgotten."

For instance, the tribes that followed and loved Sitting Bull and Chief Big Foot must fight for remembrance of the Wounded Knee Massacre. May we offer them, and many others like them, our support and understanding as we heal from our own wounds. May we accept that they are as deeply connected to their sacred places as we are to ours.

[Photo Note: Places like Valley Forge remain so that we remember.]

Here are additional links if you'd like to learn more:

Wounded Knee Museum Blog

US Forest Service opens Sacred Sites Report for Public Comment