Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What's on My Mind: My Social Media Dilemma

I remember seeing a show many years ago that talked about empathy.  The story went as follows:

Imagine that you are in your car, and someone cuts you off.  You will often react by honking your horn, yelling obscenities, or feeling angry. 

Now imagine that you are walking down the street, and someone cuts you off by bumping into you.  If the other person apologizes, you continue on your way; no harm, no foul.  If not, you may grumble something under your breath, but you are less likely to cause a scene or audibly vocalize your anger.

Why?  When we are in our cars, we feel a sense of protection.  We are yelling at a vehicle, an object.  But when an actual person bumps into us, we are face-to-face with a human being.  We are no longer “protected” by a vehicle, we are forced to look one another in the eye, and, therefore, more likely to be empathetic to the other person's (unintentional) actions. 

I was reminded of this story this morning as I spent another day scrolling through my Facebook page. I began to think that this is what’s happening to us on social media.  We are “protected” in a virtual world.  We aren’t looking people in the face as often when we speak our minds, and, as a result, we seem to be losing our sense of empathy.  I know that for many this is nothing new; however, I think we are seeing an increase in the lack of empathy that has been taking place.  For example, I stumbled across a political post this morning and clicked on the comment section, only to see comments quickly becoming verbal attacks, the argument nowhere to be found.  Words like, “You are disgusting for thinking this,” “You’re an idiot,” “I used to like you,” etc.  I know you and I have both seen this and much worse.

I have often wondered when social media turned into what it has now become: both an immense connector and divider at the same time (in the words of Jon Stewart). The trend was moving in this direction before this past year (though many will argue that it has become exacerbated).  Perhaps it’s a by-product of our “tell us what you think” culture.  Perhaps we are becoming more comfortable with using social media as a platform to express how we think or feel.  Regardless, both our connections and divisions are becoming greater, but it’s the divisions that have me most concerned.

In a recent preview for his upcoming special, Tom Brokaw mentioned to Jon Stewart that these technological innovations are nothing new.  He recalled the time when his family got their first TV and went on to say that while TV could be used for “good,” it could also be a platform used otherwise.  He said that he saw similar connections to social media.  To me, what is unique about social media, however, is how we are communicating our oppositions or disagreements.  In the past we would sit down, face to face with one another, and express how we felt.  Now?  Now we are communicating with a computer screen between us, and like being in the car, there is an inexplicable barrier between “me” and “you” when people don’t see the way the other does.  Or see why the other person does.

The result?  Well, the result I am seeing as of late is verbal attacks on one another, and when these attacks happen to my own friends or are attacks on what I fundamentally believe and hold to be morally and ethically true, I have been hitting three buttons:  Unfriend.  Unfollow.  Delete.  (I do, however, see the inherent danger in doing that as well.) What I can’t delete, unfortunately, and what I can’t ignore is the impact this is having on my understanding of community.  My understanding of empathy.  And I don’t know what to do about that in a virtual world.   I mean, I do my best to leave it as often as I can.  To reach out to people and meet face to face.  To pick up a poem, a short story, a play and remember the importance in doing so.  To fight for a cause I think is important enough to take part in.  (Maybe that’s all I can do.) 

But I still find myself going back.  Find myself trying to understand how we got to this place.  I guess I still long for the sense of connection, the sense of community that I once found there.  Maybe it still is, and I’m just having a hard time seeing past the cars that continue to cut us off without recognition or acknowledgement of who we are as human beings.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Je T'aime, Lafayette

Last night I found myself up until about 2AM reading news reports and Facebook posts about the shooting in Lafayette, and I have not been able to detach myself from the computer today.  Friends and family have all been accounted for, but making sense of it all is far from over.  And maybe that's what I'm doing...trying to make some sense from this.

Lafayette has always been more "home" to me than where I was born.  My father's family still resides just south of there where I myself own land, and I would spend my summers on the farm with my grandmother until two years ago when she passed away.  When my father died, it was the first place I wanted to be.  Because Acadiana is a place unlike anywhere else.  I am often reminded of this when I've been away for a while and then walk into an establishment...any establishment...grocery, retail, gas station, bank...I'm not just greeted by a "smile," but by genuine people having genuine conversations.  By people who see my maiden name (and know how to spell and pronounce it), ask who my family is, and then proceed to tell me they went to high school, played with, lived down the street from them.

Lafayette is about community.  A group of people who will do anything for each other in times of need.  During Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, I remember report after report on the news of someone taking a pirogue down the bayou, tools from the shed, sweat off their backs to help one another.  After Lily, my family gathered on our property and cleared trees, fallen branches, and then sat on the porch to drink a beer.

What hurt me last night is knowing that in a place of hundreds of thousands of people, at least one of my friends would know one of the victims (and, after this morning, I've come to find out the number is quickly rising).  Because despite its numbers, Lafayette is a strong community.  People know one another.  Celebrate one another.  Support one another.

This "man" came in and devastated a town, a community, and today my heart goes out that community I know and love.  I know that in the next few days you will be searching for answers, saying your prayers, wondering "why" this had to happen and continues to happen...again...and again...and again.  I am searching for those answers myself.

I know that in the next few days, you will come together as you have done time and time again.  In each other's kitchens, under the carport, in the Parc.  For those of us who can't be there, our thoughts are with you.

My heart goes out to you, Acadiana.  Stay strong...as you have done time and time again.

Je T'aime, Lafayette.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Giving New Life to The Exhibit

After eight years, I have finally decided to brush the dust off my dissertation play, The Exhibit.

On my way in and out of rehearsals the past several weeks, I was feeling the excitement once again that I had when I first wrote the play. I walked onto the stage to place the charcoals, buttons, fabric, and I questioned why it had taken me so long to step foot on the stage again. But I know the answer. I have just not allowed myself to speak it in public. And with this second life to my first play, it's time.

Many of you know the story. Many of you will not want to hear it again. Some have their own versions. But this one is mine. And I claim it as my own, in my own words.

It was a rainy Thursday night back in 2007. My friend and I had just finished up dress rehearsals and were standing outside a diner at 10pm. We noticed how hard it was raining. One of those fast, pouring, Louisiana rains. What I didn't know was that my friend Shelley was on a highway with her visiting friend heading back from a day of sightseeing.  What I didn't know is that her car had been hit from behind by an impaired driver going to fast. That the car hit a tree head on. That she died instantly.

The next day I was teaching my final drama class, and I saw our graduate advisor pacing outside my door. I thought little of it. When I finished my class, she took me around the corner and told me to sit down. She told me that Shelley was dead.

The next few hours only contain images. Images of her face. Images of standing in the department office. Images of standing in my own office.

I would later be driven to Shelley's house where her roommates were all gathered from across campus. We sat there in the den. At the kitchen table. Shelley had just made Nanaimo bars. They were still sitting on the table.

I don't know how much time passed, but I found myself at a table with her roommates, her friends. Her family was flying in for graduation in a few short days. Her classes had to be wrapped up. Her clothes had to be packed up. And we had to face the truth.

Soon the department head and assistant head were at the table with us. Who could help...who knew where her papers were kept...who would take over the final days of her classes. And then, the topic switched over to the play.

The play.

My friend and I were supposed to be in a play that night.  We had been rehearsing for about a year. It was one-night only.

When you hear about playwrights who see their plays as something that becomes a part of them, like an only child, or an appendage, or part of the soul, this is what it meant to this playwright. This director. And we loved and respected her for that.

But when asked if I could perform that night, I hesitated. I knew what that would mean to the director. I knew, deep down, that this would hurt her. But I also knew that I was hurt. And I asked if I could perform the next night. I needed another day. I couldn't go on.

That one decision would have major repercussions. The time I needed from the loss of my friend would equate to the loss of several more. It divided the cast in two. I lost my mentor, my friend. People closest to me told me their thoughts and feelings. They told me the other people's responses were selfish. Were irrational. Were to be ignored.

But the damage was done. To me. To them. And it was exacerbated when I decided, a few days later, to go on with a staged reading of my dissertation, The Exhibit.

How could I do that? How could I give a reading of my play when I had not done the other one? Meetings were held with the cast without me. My voice was silenced. My story would not be told. The story about how I wanted to do the play the next night. The story about how I didn't go to the department head to "rat" anybody out. The story about how I went in there to talk to her about Shelley's memorial and she closed the door and asked me what was going on with the cast and if we should have a meeting. And how I said I would love that but didn't want to cause anymore trouble. About how I sat in a friend's apartment and cried because the cast met without telling me. Because they were too upset to look at me. To listen to me. To hear me say I was sorry. I was grieving. But they'd say they were, too.

And I've held onto that story publicly for eight years.  And now it's time to let go.  Why? Because I need to. I need to honor Shelley, the play, the time I spent with those cast members, my director and mentor, all of whom I loved.  And it's time to write drama again. It's time to be on the stage again. Because since that time I have not written a new play. I have not allowed myself to enjoy the stage, a place I know and love.

I can't go back and undo the past. And, first and foremost, I would undo the loss of Shelley.

But the losses that I have experienced have made me who I am.  Cliche?  Perhaps. But it's also true. And the older I get, the more I know this hard truth as well: not everyone will approve of your choices. You lose people you love.  Some will come back into your life. Some you will never see again. And that is life.

But tonight, the show will go on.  The lights will come up. My play will find a new voice, new memories.

And for that, I am thankful.  And so, it begins.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Preservation


Stay connected.  Today
feeding Facebook with news-
worthy tweets and snapped chats
tumbled in an instant…
forty-three minutes of
morning scrolling through words
scanning phrases so I
can move on, move into
the next and the next and

stay connected.  Today
is different because
he told me to “look up”
she told me to forget
my phone, and I’ll see how
one generation is
not at fault.  It’s not a
click away from our down-
fall.  Rock ‘n roll still swings
the pendulum and the
devil – he never came.

Stay with me.  Today I
started thinking about
grandmother’s rocking chair
in the kitchen corner
coffee in my hand, just
to make me feel older
than single digits, and
hums from the wall unit
and gears shifting, never
without white noise, never
without my grandfather’s
garden tomatoes fresh
from the morning darkness.

I was thinking about
my grandmother’s crippled
hands holding the wooden
spoon, spooning cornbread from
mixing bowls and Blackburn’s
syrup in mason jars
sweet as the fig tarts in
the orange Tupperware
there in the middle of
her kitchen table.  We
finish conversation
just after 10pm.
Just after I type this

I’ll update my status
and make sure that I stay
connected.  But I start
thinking about my aunt
before cancer erased
the left half of her side
before I lied down in
the shoulder’s crease when she
said she would miss me and
I cried until…She sat
with me in her kitchen

(bright yellow walls made her
happy) and she taught me
lessons, told me advice,
forgot time was passing
past midnight.  I wanted
to remember it all.
I do remember this:
How I learned the meaning
of being connected –

the slow turn of her wrist
smells of Community
a steady hum through coils
waves of her long, grey hair.
These memories cannot
be deleted or be
updated or exceed
the word limit.  They are
what keep me, what shape me,
what I promised you: I
won’t stop writing.  This is

for the women in life
who always stay with me.  




**************************

OLD COPY

Stay connected.  Today
updating the Facebook feed or
typing Twitter characters until
what is Upworthy
must be shared,
this album must be liked,
accept a Friend Request from, who?
Forty-three minutes of morning
scanning words
glancing phrases
so I can move on
move into
the next and the next and…

Stay connected.  Today
will be different because
he told me to “Look Up”
she told me to forget my phone
and I’ll see how that changes
or rearranges the time.
It’s not a generation at fault.
It’s not a click away from our downfall.
Rock ‘n roll still swings the pendulum
and the devil never came. 

Stay with me.  Today
I started thinking about
my grandmother’s rocking chair
kitchen corner
coffee in my hand
just enough to make me feel
older than single digits
the hum of a wall unit and the gears shifting
never without white noise
never without my grandfather’s tomatoes
fresh from the morning darkness
just beyond the utility door.

I’m feeling more connected.

I started thinking about
my grandmother’s crippled hands around
a wooden spoon spooning cornbread mix
from the mixing bowl painted with green and red
and the Blackburn’s syrup in the honey jar
sweet as fig tarts in the plastic orange Tupperware
in the middle of the kitchen table
in the middle of a conversation.
Just after 10pm.

Just after I type this
I’ll update my statuses and iTunes and apps and
make sure I stay connected. 

But I started thinking about
my aunt before cancer erased
the left half of her body
before I lied down in the crease of her shoulder
and she said she would miss me
and I cried until…
she sat with me at her kitchen bar
(bright yellow walls made her happy)
and she taught me lessons and told me advice and
forgot that time was passing past midnight.
I wanted to remember our time
but all I remember is this:

How I learned to stay connected with
the turn of her wrist
the smell of Community
the hum through the coils
the wave of her long, grey hair.

These memories cannot be deleted or updated or
exceed the word limit. 
These memories are 
what keep me
what shape me
(what I promised you:  I won’t stop writing).

This is for the women in my life who will always
stay with me.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Constructing Memory




Much has been written about how Smart phones, apps, and social media have changed the way that we communicate with one another, and for the past five years, I have been having conversations with Gen Y students in the classroom about these changes.  One of the experiments that we do is a social media blackout where the students are asked to abstain from all social media for five days, and I tell them that I will go along for the ride.  I give them an assignment that already breaks the rules: I ask that they blog about their social media fast.  What continues to be of interest to me is that students rarely realize how much of their day is spent in front of a screen.  They don't realize that they've been passing a friend to a class every day for the past few weeks.  That they really don't like when someone pulls out a Smart phone during lunch and begins to text.  That they've missed the fact that flowers are blooming on campus.  And many of them continue the fast to see what life has to offer away from technology.  One student recently wrote:



These are just some of their observations over the years.

So, yes, there is an addiction, but it is often an unconscious one.  There are debates about what we are "getting" from this new form of communication.  I myself am guilty of these behaviors (as much as I hate to admit it).  What's the first thing I did when I woke up today?  Got coffee?  Ate breakfast?  Pet the cat?  No...I checked Facebook.  For 45 minutes.

We're seeing YouTube videos that tell us to "Look Up..."



...or realistic moments about the day "I Forgot My Phone..."  (posted on my birthday interestingly enough)...



We're even seeing classic poetry being used in Apple commercials (albeit Robin Williams reading of a classic Tennyson work):



And millions of people view these.  And people go to other forms of social media to discuss, like, say he/she will take more time out of his/her day to abstain.  And how long did you last?  A day?  Two?

I'm right there with you.

***

This morning I shot the picture (yes, with my iPad) at the top of this entry.  Why these items?

1. Technology
2. Writing
3. Memory (This card is to celebrate our recent wedding, yes...but the blue Mustang convertible reminded my dad's army buddy and his wife of my dad's car...it looks identical to his actually.  And since dad has long since passed, they wanted to remind me that he would still be there on my wedding day.)

Effects of communication aside, I've been thinking about the relationship between technology/writing/memory.  I'm uncertain where this will take me, but the outcome will be a collaborative creative work.

There's something there that I'm trying to uncover...but I'm not sure what...or why.  When I try to decide how to approach this project, I keep seeing images of my grandmother's kitchen, the rocker in the corner, my father's mustang in the garage, my aunt holding a cup of coffee at the kitchen bar talking to me about life past 2AM...and I wonder...what would be different about those childhood memories, of people who are no longer here, had a Smart phone been next to me?

Making memory tangible...I have to end with Paul Auster:

"The pen will never be able to move fast enough to write down every word discovered in the space of memory.  Some things have been lost forever, other things will perhaps be remembered again, and still other things have been lost and found and lost again."

Well, my cat is pacing at my feet rubbing.  Guess I should go feed her.  Guess it's time to get back to the real world.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On Getting Married at 41

I have something shocking to tell you.  It will go against most of what you have seen on TV.  Read in books.  Watched in films.  Ladies, I am here to tell you...it's okay to get married for the first time...at age 41.

How do I know this?  Well...that 41-year-old, first time bride is none other than myself.  In four days I will be walking down the aisle behind my bridesmaids who are now closing in on their 20-year wedding anniversaries.  My father has long since passed away, and none of my grandparents survived to see this day.  But the day is finally upon me.  And I couldn't be happier.

The best part of waiting to get married is that you have a better sense of who you are...at least that is the case with me. I was recently asked if my future husband completes me.  I said, "No.  He enhances who I have already become."  I don't think that anyone should complete you (sorry, Jerry Maguire).  I think you need to be in space where your life is complete with or without a man.  Now, don't get me wrong.  It took me years to learn this lesson.  I bought into all of the Disney and Hollywood myths (and I'm here to tell you that women still do, which is a big problem...but, hey, they're making millions, so why change now?).

Now I do know couples who are still happily married straight out of college, and I've dated some good men in my life (okay, maybe two or three).   I even came close to being engaged twice.  But I wasn't comfortable in my own skin.  My self-esteem took years to solidify especially when it came to who I dated.  My father was a very dominant man, and our home was the stereotypical 50's household, but there was violent behavior and there was a lesson in female submission that needed to be unlearned.  I'm not proud of some of the decisions I made when it came to men, or some of my behavior, but I didn't know better.  And then I learned better.  And it took years of my time.

But the time was not wasted.  I didn't sit in the corner and cry (okay, sometimes, but my friends eventually pulled me up and took me out for ice cream). I knew that I could not control if or when someone would come into my life.  But what I could control was how I lived it.  So I decided to go to graduate school.  To spend time with my father's family after his death.  Seven years passed in Acadiana, and I wouldn't trade one minute of that experience.  I wrote, I met lifelong friends, I earned my Ph.D., I leaped over barricades to catch Mardi Gras beads...well, that's a story for another post.

And when I graduated I got a job at TCU (where I am still teaching to this day), and I love every minute of my job (well, sometimes when the papers pile above my head, you will hear me grumble from behind them).  It was around that time that I started to have friends buzz in my ear, "Have you tried online dating?  Try online dating!"  Lord.  Really?  That's for desperate people.  What if I end up with some creepy dude in cyberspace who stalks my apartment past midnight?  But after about a year of that buzz, I took the plunge.  And four creepy guys later, I met Kevin...one week before my subscription would expire on eHarmony...on my birthday.

Three years later, two beautiful step-kids, and one amazing man later, here we are...four days before our wedding.

I'm here to tell you that the number of days it takes you to get married is trivial.  Live your life.  Don't waste it wondering why it's not turning out one way or another.  That's not something that you can control.  What you can control is your own happiness.  And if the right person comes along, whatever age that happens at, you will be ready.  And if he doesn't, that's okay, too...despite what your mother says.

So if you see a 41-year-old bride on the road this weekend, her veil blowing in the Texas breeze, don't be afraid.  It's just me.  It's taken me some time, I took the long way around, but I'm finally getting to the chapel.

And it's my turn to say, "I do."


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

And Then There Was 40

If someone would have told me 10 or 20 years ago that 40 would be on of my best years, I would have laughed...relentlessly.  I mean, isn't there a reason why they sell stuffed vultures and black crepe paper for those middle-aged parties?  Give out diapers and Geritol as party favors?  And, yes, I do see the effects of my years slowly creeping in.  The gray hair is starting to sprout from the top of my head.  My bedtime is now well before midnight (you're talking to the person who used to stay up until 3AM and then sleep until noon).  My knees are starting to click when I go up the stairs.  I do laundry on Friday nights...and enjoy it.

But what people fail to tell you about 40 is that you've come to a point in your life where you have settled more and more into who you are, where you stand, and what you will not stand for.  That's not to say I have it all figured out.  I don't.  And I'm not sure I want to.  My life, for me, should have constant room for growth, development, and pushing myself into new directions. 

And 40 was certainly a year for just that.

This past year I signed up for two photography classes (thanks, Dwight!) and began to explore life beyond the lens.




This year I submitted my play for publication (after seven years of having it sit idly on my computer).  My fingers are crossed that good news will soon come my way.  

This year my boyfriend proposed to me after three years of dating, and yes, this is my first time being married.  I will be the first to admit that I made some poor choices when it came to the guys I dated.  But, the older I got, the more confident I grew.  And with that confidence came an understanding of who I was, what I wanted, and what I would not settle for.  Just when I had reached the point where I had made that discovery, my fiancee entered into it.  The timing was finally right.  And I said yes.


This year we are building a home together, just as we will begin building our lives together...a brick at a time, a step at a time, with a solid foundation to hold us up.

So, yeah, I might be over-the-hill to some...but I'm flying down that hill and looking for the next one to climb.  And I'm the happiest I've been in a long time.

41...I'm ready...let's see what you got.