Sunday, October 11, 2015

It's You. It's Me. It's Us.

Here's the deal. This is just my opinion, so take it all, or some, or none of it, as you see fit.

With every passing month, we hear of another shooting, another mass killing or another way for people to hurt each other. Although these things happen around the world, (albeit with an alarming frequency here in the U.S.), I'll direct my thoughts to us here in the United States.

People wring their hands over every mass shooting, and with good reason. A tragedy is never easy to suffer. But, if it's a white guy as the shooter, (and it's usually a white guy), our media trots out the "mental health" discussion, so we don't have to take responsibility for anything. The problem becomes one so much larger than ourselves, there's just no way we can tackle it on a personal level. So, we cluck our tongues and shake our heads and bemoan "those people" who haven't fixed the problem yet. Liberals call for more gun legislation, conservatives wrap themselves in their version of the 2nd amendment, (the one without the words, "...a well-regulated militia"), we flex and cry, buy more pro- and anti-Obama bumper stickers and nothing changes. Nothing. Fingers point across the great ideological divide as we wait for a Kardashian to do or say something entertaining to take our minds off of the horrors we have wrought.

That's right, I said "we".

How long did we think that FOX News, MSNBC, et al. could exist before stuff like this would happen? How long did we think we could lionize one side and demonize the other before this kind of thing would become commonplace? How long could this polarization go on before various groups or subsets of society became identified as "the problem"? Could it be we didn't realize that this infighting between Americans would be offering a righteous freedom fighter the perfect way to justify his ideological rage? How long could we continue to allow each side to point fingers at the other before it became all too common for those among us, so inclined, to try and fix the problem?
And, how long will we tolerate our media twisting this stuff up to terrify us into staying home and buying more of the stuff their advertisers sell?

Apparently, too long. Apparently, this hasn't happened enough yet. More kids, more adults, more Americans have to be shot and killed before the rest of us realize that we, each and every one of us, are at fault. Sure, the crazy people are crazy. Sure, the people who are not just like us are not just like us. They have different music, different manners, and oh... how dare they... different gods! But, They. Are. Americans. And, so are their targets. Targets of all races, creeds, colors and genders. Americans.

Try this. The next time a mass shooting happens, (just wait, there'll be another soon), read the media accounts. Anytime you see the word "shooter" or "gunman", replace it with the word "American". Then, anytime you see the word "victim" or "victims", replace them with "American" or "Americans". That way, the reports will say something like, "A lone American shot and killed 12 Americans today...".

Because that's what happens. Every. Single. Time. Try that, and then see if you are not absolutely outraged every time you read these things and they don't write it that way. If you really want to get riled up, replace the word, "American" with the word, "human".

We need to stop identifying others as conservatives or liberals or evangelicals or atheists. These are thoughts and feelings, not the sum total of who we are! These are the tools of political operatives, used to drive wedges between us, and we are all too quick to let them do it. We need to start seeing each other as people, not just opinions and ideologies and focus groups. We need to stop allowing our media to package the news for conservatives or liberals. We need to be informed as people. As Americans.

Yes, we'll still parse the information through our own filters but, we can handle that. We need to remember that being smart is good. Being a bigot is bad. Breaking the law doesn't become good because you don't like who is the president. And, it doesn't become okay because you are the president.

But, above all else, we need to stop allowing ourselves to be divided into groups. This is what provides those "freedom fighters" with the moral justification they need to "fix" what they see as wrong. It comes from us. They are us. We have allowed this.

There aren't two Americas. There's just the one. We have people from all over the world here. Duh. That's the whole point of America! Didn't you see the sign on the way in? They aren't all good, but, they aren't all bad, either. The good ones outnumber the bad by a huge margin, regardless of how they feel about trade deficits or climate change.

As long as we allow the media and our leaders to divide us, we will continue to fear the bad guys among us. As long as we fear that we can't count on the person next to us unless they look, act, speak and believe just like us, we will be at their mercy. As long as we remain group A vs. group B,  instead of Americans vs. crazy people trying to hurt our fellow citizens, we will continue to wring our hands, watch the pendulum swing and count the bodies.

We allowed it to get to this point. We are responsible for bringing it back from the edge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Editor's Note: The following is a post relating to the author's being in a play. This, after moving to another part of the country from New York. There will be more posts  as the show develops. This post can also be found on the Tarol Nation blog.

"1-2-3-and!". Flap, flap, flap. "You have lines here." Flap, flap, flap.

That sound was me frantically flailing at pages in the script, trying to find where we were. I had been doing that for a while by this point, but the music coming from the piano had been masking it. Now, as the Musical Director was waiting for me to catch up, it became somewhat more apparent to the other fifteen people in the room. I didn't realize that the lines I had rehearsed so diligently came in the middle of a song. As I know now, that's why they are written on a page where everything else is in all caps.

Not knowing how to read music is a bit of a hindrance, but certainly not a deal breaker. I do know how to count, after all, so it doesn't take much for me to fall into line. However, when things get hectic, when songs are sung in a round, where conversations occur while there are, "whoo!'s" and "yeah!'s" going on, it doesn't take much for me to fall out of line.

Thankfully our Musical Director is patient.

Like when he says, "Someone is changing keys on the second line." Well, thanks for the cover, but we all know that it was me. Or, at least, it feels like everyone knows. I feel like I'm sitting on the ledge of a building, watching myself down below. Watching myself enshrine my amateur status for all the world to see. In my head, I know that I'm no amateur. Seeing and hearing what's coming out of my mouth, though...

Blocking is easier. This part I understand. Enter from stage left. Cross to center, speak. move around to here, speak. This I get. I know my lines cold for this scene. I have a system for learning and remembering lines. I won't bore you with my personal approach, but, suffice to say, I've got this. I love this part! I get to try out different inflections, different ways of emoting.
"Okay, say your line and exit stage right."


The upshot is that there are  some really talented people in this cast, and I can see from the way they approach things that it will be a pleasure to be a part of this show. I was lucky enough to run lines with one of the actors with which I share most of my scenes. She is utilizing a clipped, haughty accent, which is perfect for her part. When I remarked that it would be difficult for me to not slip into the same kind of accent, she remarked, "No! I like the New York thing you're doing."

I didn't realize I was doing a New York thing. I guess I have no choice but to do a New York thing.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Old Laments Never Die

I've heard it said, and I've even seen it written, that spelling is no longer as important as the message put forth. Using “your” and “you’re” interchangeably doesn't matter. Sprinkling “to”, “too” and “two” throughout said message with nary a care is beneath notice.”There”, “their” and “they’re” can be, and should be used as the writer sees fit, with no more thought expended in their choosing than one would use in choosing a hanky with which to blow one’s nose.

In short, those old-time, fuddy-duddy roles no longer matter.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it may seem permissible to shorten the word “you” to “u” or “are” to “r” to save space in your one hundred forty character masterpiece of allegory, the illusion of such use being “ok” is simply that: an illusion. It’s not okay, but one can’t stop progress. 

However, in graphics, missives and blocks of text shared with the rest of the populace, spelling is still important. I would venture to say more important than ever before.

When someone says that the written word is there to serve the writer’s message, it is hard to debate such a statement. But, we must deny it. Because to allow it leads to the idea that all thoughts are equally important, and none are to be dismissed. All are equal, all are valuable and all ideas deserve to be heard.

This is simply not so. Ask any middle school teacher.

I had participated in a great program where a group of adults went to a middle school to talk to the kids about engineering. I asked a group of eighth graders to raise their hands if they had a cell phone, (almost all of them did), and proceeded to tell them a quick history of the tech behind it. I explained that most of their phones had more storage capability and computing power than the rocket that took men to the moon forty-five years ago.

One kid, no doubt to impress his friends, asked, “Does that mean my phone can fly to the moon?”

Yuk, yuk. Not all ideas are worth having.  Or hearing.

Bad grammar, poor word choice, and misspellings used to serve as an easy way to separate the wheat from the chaff. If something was poorly written, its message didn't get out. It wasn't the reader’s job to pull the writing apart and hunt for meaning like a pig rooting for truffles. It was the writer’s job to spell correctly, structure a sentence properly and make it easy for the reader to, well, read.

This, it would seem, is no longer the case.

It may be because the reader no longer requires that the rules be followed, as long as the message is clear. Or, it may be that today’s reader no longer wishes to spend precious energy on writer’s foibles that have little chance of improving any time soon. Or, may the gods forbid, people just don’t care about what used to be known as “good grammar and spelling” and are now referred to as the purview of the “Grammar Nazi”.

Maybe it’s not an issue of “dumbing down” so much as an issue of “You know what I mean.”
Yes, I know what you mean, but, I still notice when you use “to” and you really mean “too”. I still think that a few moments of just looking over what you've written before the rush to publish your heartfelt plea to the world would serve you well in the credibility department. I still think spelling matters.

And, don’t think the irony of you no longer caring about my message is lost on me. Because it’s not.