So, it’s late afternoon on January 31st and I’m just getting the chance to write my final post for Linda’s Just Jot It January.
Linda’s prompt for today is “write” and my original intent had been to write about the end of Just Jot It January, so two birds with one stone.
I had been trying for the month to prepare my posts a day ahead in order to get them out in the morning, but I didn’t manage it today. I didn’t even check my blog this morning, as I had decided to do some more work on the final layout for my chapbook manuscript, Hearts, to send to Kelsay Books, my publisher.
Of course, I got distracted and wound up sending out a submission of three ekphrastic poems for a contest, which meant writing a more-involved-than-usual cover letter. (I did get some manuscript work done, too.)
I also wound up contributing to a couple of “poetry business” email threads, one for the Grapevine Poets and one for the Boiler House Poets Collective.
I wrote a birthday card and note to a friend – longhand and everything!
And now, finally, this post.
I am happy and relieved to have managed to post every day this month for #JusJoJan. I wrote more “heavy” posts than I intended, but it’s been that kind of month.
I’m not planning to post every day in February, though.
I need to spend some time on other projects and to get ready for a trip to the UK to visit our family there.
I try to keep yogurt in my refrigerator. Because B and T are lactose intolerant, I keep a large tub of Green Valley Creamery lactose-free plain yogurt, which they eat with various mix-ins and which we use in lieu of sour cream in recipes.
I had been eating Greek-style yogurt, usually Chobani or Fage, both of which are made here in upstate New York.
Lately, I’ve become a fan of skyr from Icelandic Provisions. It is also made with milk from our local dairies but uses heirloom Icelandic microbes to make a super-thick and creamy yogurt which is high in protein. They also use less added sugar than most commercial yogurts.
Sometimes, I’ll eat skyr as part of a meal but, more often, I’ll eat it as dessert, especially some of the flavors, such as cold brew coffee and key lime. It’s great to have a treat that is indulgent but nutritious.
I’ve been buying Icelandic Provisions most often at Wegmans because they have the best selection. I wish I could find some of the flavors listed on the brand website that feature mix-ins, but I’ve yet to see them in stores here.
I have, though, eaten some kinds of fruit that I hadn’t known existed, such as cloudberry and bilberry, which grow in Iceland. I’d love to travel to Iceland in person someday, see where they grow, and try them. Until then, I’ll content myself with eating delicious skyr in upstate New York. ***** It’s not too late to join in with Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/30/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-30th-2023/
This is a sobering weekend here in the United States.
The country is reeling from at least 49 mass shootings this month, as recorded by the Gun Violence Archive. I have to say “at least” because it could be more by the time I hit publish. This is in addition to all the shooting incidents with less than four victims and all the self-inflicted shootings, sometimes accidental but, sadly, most often deliberate. In the US, suicides have, for many years, constituted the majority of gun deaths. (If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or any other mental health crisis, please reach out for help. In the US, you can call or text 988 or visit this website: https://988lifeline.org/ any day/any time.)
As I’ve written about before, the United States needs to deal with gun safety issues, especially when it comes to military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, gun trafficking, poor licensing and training requirements in some states, and lack of comprehensive universal background checks. We need to vastly improve access to mental health care, on both humanitarian and violence-prevention grounds.
One of the stories that illustrates this need is the shooting of a first-grade teacher in Newport News, Virginia by one of her six-year-old students. She was seriously wounded but has survived. The boy was known to have been diagnosed with what has been termed by his family as an “acute disability” and is now being treated in a hospital. While this is a particularly stark example, many shootings, including mass shootings and suicides, are linked to mental health problems.
While guns are highly visible as a means of violence, videos released to the media on Friday illustrate that other means can be just as severe in causing injury, trauma, and death.
The country is also reacting to the shocking video of the police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, which led to his death in the hospital three days later. Five officers were fired soon after the beating and have just been charged with several counts, including second degree murder. Two additional officers have been suspended while the investigation continues. Yesterday, the Memphis Police Department announced that the Scorpion Unit that had included the officers who carried out the attack has been permanently disbanded. The public gatherings in the wake of this horror have been almost exclusively non-violent, as Tyre’s family has urged.
Sadly, there are a vocal few who use their power in the media to sow confusion – or even show support for those who perpetrate violence. Even with the release of the video, there were some still insinuating that Paul Pelosi knew his attacker and invited him into his home. Mind you, there is video of the attacker repeatedly bashing a glass door with a hammer in the middle of the night but these conspiracy-theory followers don’t let facts get in the way of their twisted beliefs. In so doing, they multiply the violence and harm.
What can we do?
Some of the things I try to do are live a non-violent life, seek out facts and relay them accurately, respectfully enter into dialogue, and advocate for public policy to reduce violence. Even though I am only one person, I know there are millions of others doing the same.
My hope is that more people will realize that both victims and perpetrators of violence could be their own family member, friend, or neighbor.
I’ve spent decades now advocating for change on a whole raft of social justice and environmental issues.
There has been some progress in some areas, but I admit that there are times when I get tired, times when I realize that a change we’ve been working on for decades still hasn’t happened or where there’s been backsliding on a right that we thought had been secured.
Some days, I want to just throw in the towel.
But then I think about it and realize that a lot has been accomplished by so many people working together. The progress is often slow and incremental. When a change seems sudden, it’s usually the result of years of groundwork laying the foundation.
When I get discouraged, it’s often a comment from a friend that helps me realize the importance of the work, even when it seems we aren’t getting anywhere and even when the hoped-for change is unlikely in my lifetime. (This especially applies to my work on gender equality in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church tends to think in centuries.)
So, at least so far, though I do change the issues I concentrate on from time to time, I keep at it.
In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
Folks who have been reading my blog regularly (thank you!) know that I have been dealing with a lot of loss and stress in recent years. I’ve been struggling to find energy to accomplish things and often feel like I can’t concentrate.
I’ve taken a lot of steps to cut down on what I’m trying to do in a day/week but there are still days that nothing of import gets started, much less done. I’ve tried to reach out for additional support but there are times when I can’t even manage to gather the energy needed to reach out and arrange to meet. Granted, the pandemic waves aren’t helpful, either.
I recognize from friends who study such things and from my reading that I am still grieving and that my brain is quite literally rewiring itself in line with my new reality.
A few weeks ago, I decided to try to shift my perspective. I decided to set aside some things I had been trying to do/worrying about and to give myself more grace/space to wait out the brain changes.
My doctor warned me it would be difficult and it is.
There have been little glimmers of hope. I’ve been able to arrange for some self-care appointments that I need. I’ve managed to post every day this month so far for Just Jot It January, although I confess I’m looking forward to February when that pressure I’ve put on myself will be off. I’ve made progress on preparing my chapbook manuscript for publication.
Overall, though, I am still struggling and struggling to accept that I’m still struggling, which is a large part of what I was hoping to do.
Earlier this week, I was listening to a discussion around Richard Haass’ new book, The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens.
The discussion centered around the dearth of knowledge among many in the United States on the basics of civics and history. The root of this lies seems to lie in our educational system.
Unlike most countries, the United States does not have a national educational system. Schools are controlled by local school boards with a greater or lesser role played by state education boards, depending on the state. This leads to a wide range of what students learn in school and the depth of that learning.
I went to public schools in western Massachusetts in the mid-1960s through the 1970s. Civics and history were an important part of our schooling. I remember in the later grades of grammar school reading the US Constitution and summaries of landmark Supreme Court cases. We were expected to apply what we had learned from history to current events, such as deciding for whom we would vote for president in a mock election. This being small-town New England, we would attend town meeting day with our families, showing democracy in action.
Having already learned the basics of US and world history in our younger years, in high school, our coursework was designed to delve more deeply into particular areas of social studies. One of the best courses I took was one on minorities in America. I learned about such important historical events as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. We studied the Black experience in the US, from enslavement and Jim Crow through the civil rights movement, which was, of course, ongoing. I learned for the first time about the discrimination that had affected my own Italian grandparents and Irish great-grandparents. By the time I turned 18 and could register to vote, I had a good understanding of the complexities of our past and of how to evaluate issues of the present and future.
My daughters went to school in New York, where the State Board of Regents is the main driver of curriculum. The Regents set the required courses and use statewide exams in high school to ensure that the students are fulfilling the goals of the curriculum. While the State is fond of survey courses, they do expect students to do much more than memorize historical facts. A major component of history exams is a document-based essay, where the student is given primary source material, such as political cartoons, government documents, and newspaper articles, and asked to use them to write an essay expressing support or opposition to a given proposition. It demonstrates the kind of decision-making that voters need to do to evaluate candidates or stances on current issues. High school students, usually in their final year, also take a semester course on participation in government, which is considered the capstone of their civics education. This New York State framework, which my daughters used in the 1990s-early 2000s, remains in place today.
Some other states and localities do a poor job of educating their students in history and civics. Some even boast about the limitations they place on what is taught in their schools. A current egregious example of this is the state of Florida, which passed a law last year severely limiting teaching about race and identity. This led Florida to reject a pilot of the new Advanced Placement African American Studies course because it includes materials about current topics such as intersectionality, the reparations movement, and Black feminist literary critique. They also objected to students reading works by such well-known Black scholars and writers as bell hooks, Angela Davis, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. Florida officials claimed the course was more indoctrination than education, failing to realize that one needs to learn deeply through the full spectrum of a field of study to be truly educated and able to make judgments. Perhaps, their own education was too limited for them to appreciate the complexities we all now face.
At this point, we have a lot of catching up to do, with adults needing more education in civics, as well as many younger students. Part of this effort must be to emphasize our responsibilities to each other as citizens, or, as Richard Haass calls them, our “obligations.” (I haven’t had the opportunity to read his book, which was just released this week, so the following thoughts are mine and not from his work.)
For example, the First Amendment states that the federal government cannot establish a religion or prevent anyone from practicing their religion. I have the right to practice a religion or not, as I choose. However, I have a responsibility to not impose my religious tenets on anyone else. The First Amendment also says that laws can’t be made to abridge freedom of speech, but I am responsible for what I say and should take care that it is truthful and appropriate.
There is some tendency in the US for people to be hyper-individualistic, crowing about their individual rights, viewpoints, possessions, etc. while ignoring that we all exist in community and relationships, with people who are similar to us and those who are different in some way. Part of the reason that education in civics is so important is to increase the realization that we are responsible to each other as members of the community and the nation.
We are responsible for finding out the facts on an issue, forming a reasoned opinion, and taking action. We need to be respectful of others and set a good example. We need to keep listening and keep learning, as new information and discoveries come to light every day.
Yesterday, I reported for jury duty, although I wasn’t chosen to be a juror.
After some initial paperwork, all the prospective jurors watched two short videos. One was the basics of court cases, which had been digitized from an older film version, making the audio and visual quality mediocre at best. The other was a very good video about implicit bias.
Implicit bias is the phenomenon of having unconscious thoughts or feelings about something or someone. The video pointed out that most of what our brains do every day is unconscious, ingrained from prior experience. For example, we don’t have to consciously reason out that you pour coffee into a cup rather than a shoe. Our unconscious mind knows what we need to do in most of our daily activities and can handle millions of details while our conscious mind can only handle a few dozen. However, our unconscious mind may also be the home of stereotypes of people of a certain race, gender, religion, occupation, socioeconomic group, etc.
The video was a very helpful reminder that we do need to consciously consider the influence our unconscious mind has on our thoughts and decisions, especially when dealing with new people and situations. During a trial, there are bound to be many instances of potential implicit bias. Do you trust a witness of the same race as you more than one of another race? Do you believe or disbelieve every word from a police officer because of the way you unconsciously react to authority figures?
I thought that the video did a good job of pointing out that everyone has implicit biases because everyone has an unconscious mind that is making it possible to function. The thing that is needed, during a trial and in everyday life, is to bring your conscious mind to bear on a situation and to ask yourself if your initial reactions are influenced by unconscious bias. The hope is that the recognition will make your judgments and actions fairer.
While I’m not acting as a juror this week, I will try to be more conscious of my own implicit bias in my daily life.
I’m sad to say that I woke up this morning to news of another mass shooting, this time in Monterey Park, California, near Los Angeles. Ten people are dead with ten more wounded and hospitalized.
The shooting occurred at a ballroom dance club, after an evening Lunar New Year celebration. Monterey Park is a predominantly Chinese-American suburb which hosts one of the largest Lunar New Year celebrations in the area. Today’s activities have been cancelled in the wake of the shooting.
As I write this, there is no suspect in custody and no idea if this attack was motivated by racial hatred.