Category: "About the Author"

You Gotta' Read This Book

October 18th, 2018

It's only been a week since I borrowed a copy from my library, and I'm already getting sick of hearing myself say it.

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Teacher: "The kids are acting so tribal these days."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."

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Observer: "I can't understand how people believe this stuff."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."

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Friend: "I'm amazed at the rage in these petty arguments anymore."

Me: "You gotta' read this book."

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Talking to each other

If you can relate to my essay from April 2018, "Why I Left Facebook," then you will most certainly relate to this book.

If -- whether by choice or by ignorance -- you don't have a single social media account, you should still read this book.

And if you stand at the other extreme -- you're a social media guru or a social media influencer -- you should definitely read this book.

Before you lose faith in humanity, read this book.

The book is called, "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts RIGHT NOW," by Jaron Lanier. It does not bash technology. It only criticizes the big BUMMER that social media has become.

I think it would be safe to categorize Lanier as a genius, so this isn't light reading. You may not like his writing style. You may not agree with his politics. You may not grasp every point he makes. But I dare you to read this anyway.

His is an uncomfortable yet indisputable answer to the question, "Have we all gone mad?" Lanier challenges us to look at how ugly the world seems to have become from a different lens. He offers the viewpoint of someone who worked in Silicon Valley when the vision for the Internet's impact on society was purely positive.

As long as you have hope that the people around you still have the capacity to be kind, you will benefit from reading this. Fewer than 150 pages, written with humor and the benefit of personal expertise, I urge you to explore his words and see why he recommends we all DELETE OUR ACCOUNTS RIGHT NOW.

Find it at your local library or Powell's Independent Online Book Store.

Plus, once you all read it, I can stop repeating myself.

Tuned In or Tuned Out?

September 7th, 2018

I have written nothing, because what I want to say is just too large, too intense, too heavy. Where do I start? How do I arrange my points? What is my point exactly? The only thing prolific about the material I'm producing right now is the writer's guilt over a lack of material.

White floods my page. The non-color reminds me of chocolate stormwater, because my clarity is so polluted with the sediment that keeps washing into my mind—every grain another analogy that broadens the initial point—I cannot frame the picture. I cannot decide which brush to use to apply the first stroke, and so I decide to pick up no brushes at all.

chocolate water

Huge gaps between the public posts on this page indicate abandonment. But only I have the password to look behind the published curtain. There I find the weedy list of unfinished drafts. Every one has been held back for the same reason: rambling. Instead of writing nothing, I have written too much.

I blame it on the times. Stay positive. Trust your instincts. Be grateful. Inspire others to find the best within themselves. These are the messages I want to convey. But I can't hear past my own internal clamor of frustration, concern, worry, distrust, and dissatisfaction. I want to shout, "Can't you see what's happening here?"

How many other artistic expressions are hiding in the shadows of rampant discord? How many brushes have fallen silent from the dust of hopelessness?

And why is this happening? I propose the reason is fear. I am afraid. The jury is now filled with cruel peers. The penalties for missteps could go viral. The best intentions are easily tarnished with the assumption that every one of us is either racist, self-serving, and combatant or all-loving, selfless, and peaceful. No one is allowed to fall in between. Almost all of us fall exactly in between.

A silent, blank canvas is a signal to the audience that the artist has tuned out, which adds to the artist's pain, because an artist's mind is endlessly, relentlessly tuned in. I must click the button marked "Publish!" now quickly, before I change my mind.

Stand Up Straight

August 3rd, 2018

Just watch a cable television station long enough to catch a few commercial breaks and you'll be wondering how we ever got along without medications, surgeries, fitness equipment, or weight loss pills. In response, I'm recycling the following post from 2013. I want to remind you of one, simple, basic practice that can help prevent the need for any of that: learn to stand tall.

You too can have strength, confidence, poise, and vitality. But wait, there's more. Proper posture makes you more attractive. And this can be yours today for the bargain investment of just two minutes of your time. Beautiful models, successful salespeople, effective leaders, and focused athletes all know about this secret. Read on to learn how you can have all this and more today.

Hiking the mountains

Okay, enough sales talk. Our moms and dads told us to stand up straight when we were kids. But there is more to it than just straightening up and pulling your shoulders back. Feeling tall. Holding your head high. Centering your balance. Commanding a presence. These are auxiliary goals, which require a mindful timeout from hunching over our 40-hour-work-week positions.

You probably spend most of your day in a physical position that is redundant. Our accommodating bodies remember this. Then, for another 56 hours per week we sleep, curled into a reflexive comma. This leaves very little time for our skeletons to be in the state of equilibrium required for our whole bodies' optimal function.

We need to remind ourselves what perfect posture feels like. We have to practice. Like the computer you are now sitting at (and have been sitting at for too long), your posture needs to be rebooted regularly. The muscular system needs to be reset in order to let the frame return to true alignment. The kinks must be gently stretched to spread out the workload evenly across the entire body. Even our inner ears need to be reminded of what balance means.

When you stand tall, oxygen and blood circulates more effectively. Overworked muscles get some much-needed assistance from one of the other 600(+) muscles in the body. Thought, strength, and agility sharpen. And you just feel better.

And good posture takes visual pounds off in an instant, particularly in the abdominal area. Have you ever seen those before-and-after photographs for diet-pill commercials? We joke about how obviously the subject is sucking in his or her stomach for the after shot, but the truth is, holding in the stomach to some degree is what we should be doing anyway. Engaging those muscles as we stand, sit, and move removes some of the burden from the lower back, reducing its sag and its pain.

A popular yoga position called Mountain Pose starts at the ground and consciously moves up each section of the body until the crown of the head is reaching for the ceiling. But you don't have to practice yoga to learn how to feel like a mountain. Of course, you should never feel sharp pain when doing this. If you do, stop immediately and address the problem with a doctor. Otherwise, getting into perfect posture goes a little like this:

Take all the time you need to achieve each step; don't hurry.

1.) Stand on a level surface with your feet parallel to each other, about hip-width apart.

2.) Spread apart every toe, so your balance is even on each, then center your balance between the ball and heel. Be sure you are not leaning forward, back, left, or right; your weight must be centered.

3.) Focus on your knees. Aim them straight ahead and engage your thigh muscles to make it feel as if you are pulling your kneecaps up. Make sure your knees are directly above your feet. Do not lock your knees.

4.) Focus on your pelvis. Engage your stomach muscles to tilt the top of your pelvis back (to adjust for the involuntary sag) and align your hips above your knees, which are above your feet.

5.) Lift your waist to hold your rib cage, feeling your back straighten as each vertebra spreads apart toward the ceiling. Fill the rib cage with oxygen.

6.) Pull your shoulders back (to adjust for involuntary hunch), adding more air to your lungs and more space between each vertebra. Let your arms hang comfortably, but extend each finger toward the floor. Do not lock your elbows. Shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and feet should all be on the same vertical plane.

7.) Relax your face, but lift your chin enough to get your head above your shoulders while pulling the crown of your head toward the ceiling.

8.) Stand and concentrate on this posture. Program it into your mind. Breathe deeply and slowly. Tell yourself good things. Come out of the stance gently; sway around if necessary to shake any out any stress that gathered anywhere.

Also, when sitting, center your upper body parts on your hips, while keeping your feet flat on the floor.

The stronger you are, the more difficult some portions of this may be for you. If any part presents problems or produces discomfort, then take measures to stretch out the overdeveloped muscles, or better yet, make full body stretching a part of your daily route. And breathe. Muscles need oxygen. In fact, forcing a cold, suffocating muscle to stretch can cause more harm than good, so it's good to get the blood pumping a little first.

Don't be frustrated if this doesn't come naturally or feels uncomfortable at first. Keep practicing every day. When you are able to get to perfect posture without effort, you can practice it in the grocery line, while cooking dinner, while watching a soccer game, etc.

Don't waste time while waiting for the ship to come in.

Our mental and physical wellbeing relies heavily on our body's alignment. You can improve this, no gym membership, pills, or surgery required. Subtle results will yield great benefits, one muscle, one action, one breath, and one thought at a time.

by Ruth Heil

    They're Here: Spotted Lanternflies Hatching

    May 30th, 2018

    Last summer I considered myself lucky. I had been spared the experience of living inside a swarm of the latest (and possibly greatest) pest problem to fly into my region of Pennsylvania. I found something this week, however, that proved my luck has ended. The lanternfly is here.

    (image obtained from https://extension.psu.edu/how-you-can-comply-with-the-spotted-lanternfly-quarantine-regulations)

    Beyond being a significant public nuisance, the Spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is likely to ruin agricultural orchards, grapes, and some lumber products wherever it lives and feeds. If you haven't already heard about the problem, familiarize yourself now, because we must come together to battle this enemy.

    Here are two key resources:

    The authorities have taken this threat very seriously, and they are reaching out to the public for help. For instance, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is looking for contractors to bid on the work of removing tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). The tree, like the lanternfly, is considered an invasive species and has long been an enemy of our healthy, native ecosystem. However, research has now connected the tree to the sustained survival of the lanternfly. Destroy the Ailanthus and you reduce the lanternfly population.

    Additionally, PA's Dept. of Ag posted its latest Order of Quarantine and Treatment, which can be found by jumping to Page 28 (i.e. 3094) at this link: PA Bulletin of May 26, 2018. It essentially states that it is the responsibility of every property owner in the region to help control the lanternfly.

    Since the adult pests die off over the winter, last season's initiative was to find and destroy the egg masses. I looked but didn't find any. Sadly, I hadn't looked close enough. About a week ago, a tiny insect clinging to a pruned branch in my backyard caught my eye. Having seen many photographs of the nymph-stage lanternfly, I immediately knew what it was. I tried to crush it, but it hopped free with the quickness of a flea. Suspecting that nymphs don't move far, I vigilantly searched the area again. Within a few days, I found two nymphs hanging on the side of my shed. Then three. Then four. I was getting closer, perfecting my swatting technique to a 90% kill rate as I went.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    I returned to inspect and slap the shed numerous times over the next few days. Then one morning, I found a congregation of about 29 nymphs clinging to the bottom of one of the shed's wooden shingles. There was the egg mass, hidden cleverly from view.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    I have killed about 100 lanternfly nymphs and removed three egg masses over the last five days. Some nymphs were found on the nearby woodpile, which represents thousands of hiding places. I've come to realize there are two ways of looking at the matter. One is to feel hopeless about the obvious fact that I've removed only 100 drops from a bucket that is about to overflow. Add this to the numerous other bug battles to contend with, such as the Emerald Ash Borer and the disease-carrying ticks. The other way is to be motivated by the fact that I am certain there will be 100 fewer of the buggers come summer. Add this to the work of the many dedicated individuals who are tirelessly seeking a solution as well as the everyday people like me who are multiplying my meager efforts.

    Thus, I am sounding the alarm: the nymphs are hatching! PLEASE take the time to educate yourself about the lanternfly, including identification at all stages and methods for eradication, mechanical and chemical.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    Same shot as above from a greater distance to show how tiny these creatures are.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    The diameter of this log is less than two inches.

    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
    Spotted Lanternfly Nymph

    The visibility of the white dots depends on the nymph stage (1 to 4). At nymph stage 5, the black begins to turn red.

    Assault Weapons, Entertainment Violence, and a Culture We Must Change.

    April 3rd, 2018

    I don't believe outlawing guns is the answer. I don't believe arming teachers is the answer. I don't believe any one faction is to blame for the atrocities that keep happening in our safe zones--such as our schools and churches--and other places where the public gathers. No solution is that simple. Instead, the change we need is far more drastic and difficult. We must abolish our cultural affinity for madness.

    To do this, each of us must move away from acts of aggression and toward acts of kindness. This includes how we behave when we are driving, what we say when campaigning for office, how we phrase opinions on social media, how we shop on Black Friday, and what we shout from the sidelines. It also includes what we demand be done to our enemies. And it includes banishing the ferociousness, hysterics, and injurious disorder in that which we are willing to call entertainment. We reward violence in this country by the mere fact that we light it up on our television, movie, and gaming screens ... seemingly everywhere and all the time.

    circle

    Like a raindrop in a pond, the energy wave of every action (thought included) has the power to alter the entire surface surrounding it. Which energy do you want to be a part of spreading?

    My post today was launched last Saturday night. The groceries were put away. Our stomachs were full. The dinner dishes were washed. The doors were locked. Our cozy, comfortable clothes were on, and it was time for a quiet night. Relaxing on the couch, I grabbed the remote and turned on the television for a little entertainment. That’s when it all went bad.

    I got caught up in a documentary on CBS called 39 Days. Here was my chance to learn more about what the activist students from Parkland, Florida wanted after a gunman opened fire inside the place where the students were mandated to spend their day. I had been hearing about them on the news. Who were they exactly, and what was their message?

    Like any effective documentary, 39 Days had a limited focus: the student-led, grief-to-action campaign for gun control following the February 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Not surprisingly, I was left with mixed emotions. Did they fully understand the implications of the constitutional change they sought? Was there really some corrupt force in the National Rifle Association hiding behind first amendment protection? Could this innocent-yet-violated emotional experience bring about the change so many other citizens have failed to achieve in the recent past?

    Terrified Parents

    You must remember, I am not a mother. I do not have to send a child or grandchild out into the dangerous world every morning. Also, I am not adept at navigating through teenage drama to find authenticity in their fears and concerns. In short, there is distance between me and the current state of affairs inside America’s public schools.

    I do know that I rarely hear good things. Almost every parent I talk to has a personal story about a bully. Almost every parent I talk to has a story about a letter that came home communicating a district-wide concern about safety and security. Almost every teenager I speak to seems a bit agitated, nervous, and self protective.

    Gun

    Terrified Citizens

    Plus, as I watched, my mind applied a broader experience to the context:

    • Texas First Baptist Church Shooting (Nov. 2017)
    • Las Vegas Slaughter (Oct. 2017)
    • Orlando Nightclub Massacre (June 2016)
    • San Bernardino Massacre (Dec. 2015)
    • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting (Dec. 2012)
    • Aurora Colorado Theater Shooting (July 2012)
    • Virginia Tech Shooting (April 2007)
    • Pennsylvania Amish School Shooting (Oct. 2006)
    • Columbine Colorado (April 1999)

    ...just to name a few.

    And I was thinking about more than just shootings:

    • The Austin Package Bomber (March 2018)
    • A truck driver who plowed through a crowd of protestors in Reno, Nevada (Oct. 2016)
    • A car driver who plowed through a crowd of protestors in a Ferguson suburb in Minnesota (Nov. 2014)
    • The Boston Marathon bombing (April 2013)

    All this along with thousands of no-less-disturbing stories of random acts of death, big and small. Violence. Weaponry. Aggression. And media coverage that feeds a warped sense of glory.

    Terrified Students

    I don’t think anyone would argue that the Parkland young adults don’t deserve to be heard. Every voice matters. And when that voice comes from a direct witness to such pain and fear, it shall be heard with compassion and a sincere ear. It shall be heard with a quest to understand so that the proper, preventative changes can be made.

    However, whatever your opinion of gun control, whatever value we may receive as a benefit of keeping assault weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill, this won’t fix the hard fact that America is not just in serious pain, it is in love with serious pain.

    39 Days ended with a dramatic reading of the 17 names of the dead, timed to the very few minutes it took for the shooter to inflict his carnage. My heart ached. I wondered how frightening it must be to go to school today. I prayed for a resolution.

    Peace Sign

    Media Exploit

    Then, after a commercial break, CBS seamlessly moved into the next item on its broadcast agenda. I didn’t know what I was watching, but I could smell the tension in the first scene. Pretty adult cheerleaders, a hug from a coach, a glare from a fellow girl in uniform, lights and activity and cheers from the crowd as the squad jogged into the stadium’s back hall. “This is a crime show, isn't it?” I said, appalled at timing. “Here comes the next killing, right on time.”

    Flash to the coach-hugging cheerleader in her bath rob. Candles. Soft music. A test of the water’s temperature. I was about to see death unfold fewer than three minutes after an hour-long, heartfelt plea to stop the killing. I didn’t want to watch, yet I had to know if my hunch was true. A few seconds later, her face was underwater, eyes bulging, resisting, struggling, pure fear...death.

    In that moment, I became furious. Enraged even. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

    How dare they? How dare the network flow from one ratings grab to another with such immunity to consequence? How dare they air entertainment from murder within moments of an exhibition on the heartfelt campaign to stop the murdering?

    When the students chanted “enough,” they were referring to assault weapons and the like. Although I missed the beginning of the special, I heard no mention of outrage about the culture of violence behind the spark that ignited a young man’s desire to send bullets into his peers?

    It turned out that the second show was a rerun of the criminal law series called Bull. This was one of a thousand drops in a lake of shocking scenes, the energy of which has turned our hearts to ice. Most people--myself included--would say that’s a pretty good show. We are numb to the violent images that exist to grab our attention and keep us watching.

    At War Always

    What is remarkable about the campaign of the Parkland students is they are underdogs against giants. These meek peacekeepers are up against a government that has grown to lead the world in military action, the nation to call when there’s a need for warlike conflict. That started because we are willing put our might behind the protection of freedom and human life. Yet it has grown into a military doctrine that has failed our own citizens.

    Stirred up by the fear of terrorism, we have employed a hostile security strategy. Now, to our children who look up to us, we are the men and women who solve the world’s problems with grenades, tanks, missiles, and guns. Consider that our president just agreed to sign a flawed national spending bill only because it contains adequate funding for military conflict. Further, as our own public schools rot in disrepair or struggle to inspire kids under the constant stress of inadequate funding, America finds the money to build or rebuild foreign learning centers in the places it bombed to smithereens.

    This is the message to our young citizens: bombing deserves greater financial investment than they do. How are they to know the implications of peace when this is the path down which they have been lead for all of their lives?

    Television Past

    With each generation, fewer of us grow up with the leadership of creators such as those who made programs like public television’s Sesame Street. What once spewed from our picture sets while Mom or Dad busily completed the chores of daily life now has barely enough funding to survive. Still, its inner city main street community -- with its big yellow bird and cute little muppets -- hangs on as it strives to build the character of its audience. Yet, are we willing to send them even a few of our entertainment dollars?

    Name me a television show today on a major network that is akin to moral standards of Little House on the Prairie or The Brady Bunch. Who wants to watch that anymore? Sure, there are stories about communities and families, but the average program disguises cruelty as humorous insult or bad behavior as a necessary evil of the times. There is rarely a strong moral lesson. The characters in today's sin-based plots abuse and hurt each other in ways that John Boy Walton could have never comprehended.

    Meanwhile, the networks must do whatever it takes to maintain viewers. Since they can’t shock us with petty punches and innuendo any more, they must get tougher, more graphic. We need greater potency with each hit. This crescendo, designed for the adult with the pocketbook, effects every viewer, especially the young and impressionable with the developing personality. And unlike Sesame Streets’ desire to build character and knowledge, what does the CBS network strive to build? Ratings. And the formula it uses? Violence and vice. Can the young child tell the difference between what is virtuous and what it is self-indulgent? How can the new puppy tell the difference between the words “sit” and “stay” if the teacher doesn’t take time to explain?

    And for our teenagers, what do we teach when we flash without a moment’s pause from a documentary pushing for constitutional change to stop the killing spree to a popular television series that starts with a glamorous kill?

    We can’t point fingers at the weapons, the law enforcement, the legislature, or the parents. We are all responsible for letting this happen. Entities such as Hollywood keep giving us violence and vice because that’s what we keep tuning in to. Are we really surprised that some of our unstable children are aspiring to be the next murderous psychopaths?

    Entertainment is said to follow reality, but when do we pull the curtain in order to foster a new reality? How can we expect to raise the national level of human decency when we refuse to turn these images off? When do we shut down this nationwide attraction to violence and vice?

    Vision for America’s Future

    The fact that we as consumers of entertainment have allowed our culture to spiral down this vicious path is very hard to swallow. It's easier to turn away and lay the blame on someone else.

    But while the reality of our part in America’s violence problem may be difficult to accept, it’s also remarkably empowering. I may not be able to fix how others act, but I can darn well do something about how I act. I can control my knee-jerk response. I can stop laughing when others fall down. I can stop yelling when others step in my way. I can turn off the screen before the act goes down. I can hug a friend, not as a trendy way to say hello, but as a means of spreading truly good energy. I can smile and hold the door, not just when I feel the warm beauty of spring, but when the ice of winter has made me cold and grumpy. And I can stop trying to pretend that I am bold, tough, admirable, and strong, and let those close to me see that I am timid, sensitive, flawed, and weak.

    I can talk openly about my mistakes as way to both fix them and to divert those who follow me from doing the same. “I was wrong, kid; be kind.”

    Peace Lily

    What kind of woman mauls down a crowd with her car? What kind of person ignites a bomb full of nails at a finish line? What kind of man opens fire on a fun-loving crowd from the security of his distant hotel room? The kind of person that enjoys watching a cheerleader’s face as she drowns. For the bulk of us who view such an image, we keep watching to find out how the detective solves the crime. But we cannot forget the consequences unleashed subconsciously when we see that image nor can we ignore the consequences of publicizing graphic murder, night-after-night, in the first place.

    Imagine where we’d be if, after every massacre, we debated the need to reinvent our culture with same fervor with which we point fingers? What if we campaigned for a grassroots effort to invite the ill and the outcast into a social club of good health? And if we do accept that the influence of violence hangs over all our heads, do we react to the problem with more violence? More anger? More fear? Or do we come at it with kindness? Do we dare? Can we be brave enough to lay down our arms? Can we trust in our assumptions that the majority of people are good? Can we seriously think peace could ever been as contagious as violence? It’s risky business, being a peacemaker. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

    Peaceful Shoreline

    PLEASE NOTE: It came to my attention that comments were not posting successfully. I believe I have fixed the the issue. Please email me at blogger at thewritebeat.com if you have any trouble commenting. Thank you for your patience.