Monday, October 1

I'm a moderate Republican and. . .

A few days ago I found out there are some folks who think I'm a liberal Democrat. I understand why. I do and that's fine. We read and see and understand how we choose to interpret through our lens and perspectives and if I don't always say something with which you agree then. . . . Whatever.

However, that's part of the problem. We're not listening and we're not asking clarifying questions. Instead, we're making assumptions, trolling, making death threats. I cannot even begin to wrap my head around all of the complexities we face just now and it's just going to get harder as both sides of the political aisle insist on getting more and more entrenched.

So a couple of thoughts that seem random but aren't, at least in my head. First, many of us have read Chinua Achebe's brilliant book Things Fall Apart. I'm not going to give you a book report or even a book review because what strikes me is that in this book, the protagonist, Okonkwo, consistently tries to control everything. Achebe references Yeats's poem "The Second Coming", specifically the line "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." I remember when I first read this line I sensed immediately what Achebe might have meant, though it might have simply been the way the line and novel resonated with me. My thinking was that the tighter we try to hold on to things, the more we try to control things, the greater the tension and, sooner or later, the center will not hold and everything will collapse. I feel like that's where we are with the Kavanaugh story.

Too many people have chased after different things that appeal best or most to them and, well, it's a disastrous mess. Disastrous on more levels than I can imagine or try to articulate. And this mess is merely one of many as politicians get more firmly entrenched into positions from which they have no recourse but to dig deeper and shout more loudly.

I wrote my piece about #whyididntreport. After that, when talking with a friend, other recollections surfaced. Mostly small stuff but, even still, it was reminder that too often young women are simply not safe with older men. On the other hand, there are often young women who are acutely aware of the control they can have over men by simply whispering a threat. Either behavior is reprehensible and I worry we are too far into the abyss to find our ways back.

So this whole Republican thing. Yes, I'm a moderate Republican and I worry that my party has lost its mind. I'm not too sure about the Democrats either because right now there is just a lot of positioning that seems mostly about proving the other guy is a nitwit or some immoral monster or both.

I was thinking, though, about why I'm still a Republican because, given the behavior of the party over the past few years, well, I don't even. I'm not going to talk about this administration because I know that's incredibly controversial and my hope and prayer is that this president is an anomaly. However, having said that, my further hope and prayer is that people will wake up and pay attention to how a democracy can and should work, and by "people" I mean both voters and politicians.

Even so, I'm a fiscal conservative and social moderate. I think that's a biblical position. Oh yes, I'm also an evangelical Christian. Now I'm not a theologian and don't pretend to be one, and I've no doubt some of my former students can sort out my exegetical mistakes but my position is fairly simple.

I'm a fiscal conservative because we are charged to be good stewards. I'm a social moderate because we are charged to care for the widows and orphans, for those who cannot care for themselves. I also believe the Bible teaches us to care for them until they are able to care for themselves because as we are good stewards of all things, we also help others become good stewards of their capacities, skills, and abilities.

Sure, it's a lot more complicated than that for many of the issues that face us, but I think it really gets down to some fundamentals we've forgotten or choose to ignore. First, James 1:19 which reads
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
But you should think about reading this guy's blog which is powerfully articulate and thoughtful on the topic of Brett Kavanaugh. Second, three of the hardest verses in the Bible:
Jesus replied:“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV).
I'm fairly confident that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. God is much greater than either party. God does not bless one and condemn the other. He knows our words are not often what is really in our heads and hearts. He knows how we are able to dissemble and rationalize. Politics and perspective of patriotism or anything else notwithstanding. 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
It's likely there are times I err more liberal than conservative on some issues, especially when it comes to the care and treatment of women and children as well as for those who are fighting so hard to be successful. And I'm okay with that.

Sunday, July 22

I'm an emotional fraud, sort of

Mother-daughter relationships are complex. That's an understatement, of course. And I can speak only from the perspective of the daughter.

My mother and I have had a tempestuous relationship over the years. I could go into grand detail, but I'm not really interested in whatever emotion that might prompt. I'll just say this: she hit; I learned to take it or duck, and to lie really well; I got out as soon as I could. In spite of all of that, I was still awed by her for many years.

Here's an example of why she awed me. She decided to learn how to scuba dive when she was 65. That was after she'd beaten breast cancer which required a double mastectomy. Over the years I was surprised she didn't play the "cancer survivor" card more often, but she didn't really see herself as a victim. Anyway, when she decided she wanted to try scuba diving, she went all in. Took the lessons, bought the gear, found a group of people she could diving with pretty regularly. When the dive group broke up after a few years and for reasons I could never fathom (I know you got that), she hung up her dive gear. Whenever she took up something new, she took it on full tilt until it was over and when it was over, that was that. Most of the time, it was over because a particular group of people couldn't or didn't stay together. She was oddly but fiercely loyal to that group.

She was, though, a terrible mom. At least that's my perception. My sister is six years younger than I and no doubt has a different view. My stepsiblings met her much later so they have a view I often didn't recognize. My dad was an alcoholic, though pretty benign in his behavior if he wasn't wrecking a car. Fortunately he hurt only himself and the cars. She was the one who went into towering rages or who simmered with anger until a word or a look or something just made her explode. She did change after they finally divorced, but it took a great while for some of the edges to begin to smooth though we were still often at odds. I do know one reason why and it galls me: we're very much alike in temperament though very different in many ways. I know why that's true, too: I've worked hard not to be like her in many ways so I'm very aware that much of who I am and what I am is because of her, directly and indirectly.

But I don't like her.

When I was in elementary school, probably about 6th grade, she told me that she had to love me but she didn't have to like me. That stung then and for many years after. I've come to understand that. It is, I have found, a sentiment shared by others. In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Rocky Wirtz, owner of the Blackhawks stated that he loved his father, but he didn't like him. Given what was shared in the article--in some ways a teaser for a book coming out in October--it seems that Rocky and his father had a relationship much like I had with my mother. Tempestuous. Conflicted.

I don't love her because I have to, but because she's my mom. I know the love I feel for her is different and partially because she's my mom, and that I have all these horrible, painful memories I have to set aside because she's not that person any more.

When I first started realizing and acknowledging her dementia, it was weird, uncomfortable, annoying, frustrating, confusing, perplexing. I was an emotional wreck sometimes. There were times she was the ugly, mean, condescending, spiteful person I knew so well. Other times I could tell she was scared and uncertain. And sometimes that wickedly funny sense of humor and sharp intelligence would shine through. Even as an adult woman, I was still terrified of making her angry so navigating some of the difficult decisions of getting them to move to assisted living felt like walking through an emotional minefield: her emotions and mine. She was in denial, of course. And when there were moments of recognition that things had to change, she was a bit more agreeable but certainly fought to say it would be only temporary. No one goes into that mental darkness willingly.

Even now that funny Mom shows up or that smart, clever Mom makes a comment that startles and amuses me. She is less mean and ugly about people, though I've still seen that eyebrow raised when someone says or does something and recognize that brief look of judgement. 

As with all of us, we have to take the good and the bad with the ugly. All of us are all of that.

Just recently I posted a picture of my mother with the observation that during a recent visit she didn't recognize me and that was the first time that had happened. She wasn't sure of who I was in subsequent visits, but she seemed to recognize a friendly face and I could still make her laugh. I got a number of lovely comments after that and that's when I realized what a fraud I am.

I take care of her because it's the right thing to do. I take care of her because that's my responsibility.

What annoys and frustrates me is that I want her to be comfortable and I know how mad she'd be if she were aware of what's become of her and sometimes I miss that really irritating, ungrateful, self-centered, smart, funny person, but not all of the qualities of her former self. But we can't choose the parts we like and ignore the rest. All of those qualities made her who she was, who she is.

I don't know any more if I don't like her. I can't tell. But I know I'll keep trying to take care of her because it's the right thing to do. And because she's my mom.

Tuesday, July 3

The Power of Information

We live in the Information Age. Some of us survive in the Information Age, nearly or occasionally overwhelmed by the onslaught of a continuous cacaphony of sound bites and spin amplified by the flood of media bits and pieces we get through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more (I don't Snap though I have an account).

In 2016, Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum spoke of the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution. In this article, Schwab spoke of the disruption already being caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution because of such technology as "artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing." Watch the 11-minute video and be a little afraid, a little awed, a little perplexed. The more technologically complex our world, the more complex and important the need for information literacy.

I don't think there is a simple binary response to what Schwab discusses. It takes some reflection and thinking.

But the point of mentioning the Fourth Industrial Revolution is acknowledging how incredibly fast information is available to us and how MUCH information is available to us. Because there is so much, we each likely tend to find the sources most manageable and often that also means the sources that most appeal to our individual perspectives. Perhaps without meaning to, we shelter ourselves from differing opinions and perspectives. Soon, because of the onslaught, we isolate ourselves from differing opinions and perspectives because it is easiest, because it is less upsetting, because we hear what we want to hear and so we no longer have to reflect or think. We can just be outraged or concur with like thinkers.

The people of the United States like to think our government is a democracy. A simple definition of democracy is "a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives." There are some who people democracy is dying in the United States, that we haven't been a democracy for some time, and that we might still be able to recover a true democracy is "We, the People" can get our collective acts together. (I've before bemoaned the fact that too many people forget that "We, the People" are, in fact, the federal government. So when they wonder why there isn't any change at the federal level, they need to check the last time they actually went to a poll to vote or got involved in any way, shape, or form with exercising their voice as a citizen. Those folks in the White House and Congress work for us and they need to be reminded of that now and then.)

However, for us to get involved and to be truly informed on the issues, we have to do more than listen to our favorite commentators and read or watch our favorite news sources. It's extraordinarily rare that any of them offer an unbiased telling of the news or provide a sufficient context. We have to trust ourselves to do that. And that is why I encourage you to read Vicki Davis's blog post: A Gullible Population is a National Security Issue.

If you're already a bit weary of reading, I'll overlook the potential irony that reading is too much work for you and will attempt to summarize some of her key points, but I exhort you to find time later to read the whole blog post on your time. It is well worth your time.

First, the concept of "weaponized social media" is not new. Vicki notes that cyberweapons have a clear intent. Note her emphasis that weaponized social media seeks to leave people "angry or confused." Think how many times you've seen someone share something through social media and note how outraged they are, and that people have to do something to make sure "it" is stopped. Think about how many times you have simply reacted to that person's outrage without doing any research on your own to test the veracity and validity of the post.

Second, Vicki digs deep into some of the ads that caused such dissent, frustration, and outrage among the American people. As she notes, people responded to some of these ads in very real ways because something tipped in them, some message rubbed an already sore spot or inflamed a sensibility that had been simmering. People simply responded and often, it seems, without thinking and without wondering about the source.

Third, and perhaps most importantly,
information literacy is a massive national security issue.
This makes the work educators and parents do with information literacy and digital citizenship an imperative, not something that would be nice to include if we only had time. It's not just the purview of library media specialists.

It also means that we have to be conscientious in the way we behave with social media. Not liking for the sake of liking, not sharing simply because whatever we saw or read seemed to strike a chord.

A professional acquaintance recently shared something on Facebook by a well-known blogger. I took a bit of exception to what the blogger had to say and I did some research on what he said. I wasn't going to post because, well, who am I? That guy is famous and people flock to hear him speak and share his pithy posts and read his books. I'm just, well, a person who likes to do research and has a healthy dose of skepticism as part of her DNA. But I thought he was wrong or a bit to pithy though, in the end, he made a great point. That made me wonder how many people he lost before he got to the most important point and why he might have lost them, which made me realize that information literacy isn't just about doing research and testing the veracity of sources, but it's about tenacity and being will to hear or read ALL of the words.

So information can be powerful. We can give it more power depending on how we support it and how we share it.

We need to be informed. We cannot be gullible to believe all that we hear and read and see; we must be willing to do due diligence to test the authenticity and veracity of what we hear and read and see. We must be cautious and responsible about what we choose to share and we must be thoughtful about why we choose to share something.

Friday, June 29

A reflection on why and how and faith

Earlier this week I was at ISTE2018. ISTE stands for the International Society for Technology in Education. There were about 24K attendees from all over the world, quite literally. There were thousands of exhibitors in the Expo Hall at McCormick Place. In addition to hundreds of sessions, there were playgrounds and poster sessions. There were dozens of options for every hour of the day. It can be just too much.

I'd made a decision before this particular ISTE that I was just going to go with the flow. There are lots of people I'd hoped to be able to see but knew that without planning it was going to be impossible. It's the purest of serendipity when you run into people you know at an event the size of ISTE.

I also decided I was going to take a lot of selfies and I wasn't going to get a lot of those tags to add to my name badge. Why? Well, that's the point. The why.

You may be familiar with Simon Sinek's Golden Circle. He did a TED talk in 2009 and published a book, Start With Why, that same year. a while ago and his concept--and book--have shot to the forefront of many folks' thinking.

Why? It's a simple question, one of my favorites. Young children love to ask this question and for good reason: they are trying to understand the world in which they are becoming a part. Sinek reminds us that we each need to start with our "why?"--why do we get up every morning? 

My why is actually quite a lot like the example of the young woman in  Chapter 1 of Find Your Why: because I want to help people be and become their best selves, to help others to excellence with excellence.

It occurred to me before this conference that I needed to recharge; I can't help others become their best selves unless I'm able to be my best self. So I worried less about what I wore and who I might see and with whom I might be seen and focused more on what I might learn.

To me, that is part of the how. How do I become my best self? How do I further support my why? 

Faith is also part of the how because it fuels my thinking of the possible. Each day is a gift brimming with possibilities. Faith reminds me that God is in control. Faith encourages me because God can guide me as I strive to seek His will to do that to which he has called me. And that brings me back to my why, which is to help others be and become their best selves, to help others to excellence with excellence.

I'm in a weird place in my life. Old enough to start to wonder if people think I'm too old to be capable or to do what younger folks can do. Old enough to know how little I know and how much I have yet to learn and how much I want to learn, but also with clarity of what I don't want to learn.

I get impatient, yes, when I feel like I haven't been asked to do something that I believe is a great fit for me. But I can't control what others decide or want, so I continue to seek opportunities that may lie elsewhere. Because that which is the best for me in a given situation to do best what I do best is out there. 

I'm happy about the folks I got to see and hug at ISTE. I have small regrets there were some I did not see or get to hug, but I hope they know I love them just the same.

In the mean time, I'll process what I've learned and heard, and all that I've collected because I've still got a lot of reading and thinking and processing to do so. And that is my why right now: to continue to learn and expand my own knowledge and capabilities as well as my circle of professional acquaintances and friends because sometimes others will be the best resource I can offer those with whom I get to work. In the quiet of these hot days, I will read and think and write and learn. That is my how. And I believe with all of my heart that in the days that lie ahead will be possibilities to help others to excellence and with excellence that I cannot imagine.

Friday, June 8

The Demon of Dementia

BrightFocus Foundation
My mother has dementia. Over the past four years, I have witnessed her slowly slide into a mental oblivion. For a while she was able to put thoughts together and express herself with some coherence. While her recollections were occasionally humorously fantastic, some of her older recollections were spot on. There were times I'd take her out and she'd make comments that made me want to correct her, but I soon realized that she articulated what was in her head and whatever connections made sense to her so I let it be. In fact, there were times I learned more about her as a result of those connections that often made me want to pause and process a bit.

I went to see her a month or so ago. We don't live in the same state and I try to visit her at least every other month although I'm beginning to feel as though I need to try to visit more often. She had obviously declined further, which came as no surprise but that still didn't make it easy to witness. I sat with her while she cleaned the tines of her fork and then spent several minutes attempting to spear a piece of macaroni. She didn't seem frustrated. I found myself getting more and more tense as I tried to appear to be patient and not just reach out to do it for her.

I saw her again just after Mother's Day, a day we didn't really acknowledge in any real sense. I found myself sitting with her at the table again and found myself again clenching my hands in my lap as she fiddled with her food, though part of it was simply trying to figure out how to eat it. Early on the house caregiver picked up the half sandwich and put it in Mom's hand and did the same with another resident. She explained, "Sandwiches are easy to eat once they have it in their hands but they have a hard time remembering how to pick it up and eat it."

One of the other residents has a small dog. I have thoughts about the wisdom of a small dog, even leashed or especially leashed, in a converted duplex with 7 or 8 people most likely using walkers or wheelchairs, but the dog and her owner are there. The dog was whining and begging to come to the table; her mother was talking to her and trying to shush her. My mother turned to me and said, "I want her." I explained the dog already belonged to someone. My mother lifted that eyebrow and said very clearly and in a tone of voice I well remember from days gone by, "You wanna bet?"

So she can't really eat a sandwich by herself, but if she wants something, she can, in fact, put her mind to it. Disturbing, Daunting. Intriguing.

Some months ago I was having a weird headache and my doctor sent me to a neurologist to get an MRI of my brain. The headache thing proved to be nothing of concern (he said he could give me meds but it was hardly worth it and I should report to my doctor if the headaches in that location continued; a few weeks later they were gone). I'd asked about dementia and did tell me there were no indicators in my brain. At that time. He explained a lot about what doctors know about dementia, but also acknowledged there is a lot they just don't know.

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, terrifies me. I'm fascinated by the tests, by the attempts to diagnose sooner. I'm fascinated by what I might do to try to make sure this doesn't happen to me though I also know there are no guarantees.

I have a sense of what might have contributed to my mother's descent into this particular hell of which she is, oddly, not aware. That is the blessing in disguise because I tell people how angry she would be if she knew this was happening to her. She didn't seem to go through the panic of losing her memory but mostly because she was in denial that it was happening; I realized that later. There are dozens of things I would do differently had I know then what I've learned over the past few years. Nothing prepares you for those subtle shifts in behavior so it's easy to be in denial or to delay getting any medical evaluation because you don't want to overreact. However, if I'd known sooner about her situation, I could have made plans differently and less jarringly.

I know that my living situation is very different and it's not likely that I'll repeat her particular scenario. I also know that once I hit 65, all bets may be off but that I can do particular things to try to reduce the risk.

What's interesting is that keeping the brain active and learning is not one of the main factors listed to reduce dementia risk: not smoking (check), drinking in moderation (check), regular exercise (gotta work on that), and healthy diet and weight (more exercise will help with the second of these), stress reduction (exercise will help with this, too), and good restorative sleep (huh; exercise could help with this, too). But I won't stop keeping my brain active and learning just in case researchers change their minds. ;)

I can't tell, though, which is worse: watching her decline and wondering what will happen next or wondering about my own situation. I couldn't remember the word "dustpan" the other day. Never mind I haven't mentioned a dustpan in possibly years, but I freaked a little that I could not remember the word. And then the round and round starts to happen as I do a sort of mental awareness and alertness check. Because wondering what will happen next is the best anyone can do. No one knows enough about this disease and it progresses differently for everyone.

What gets harder is to know how best to handle medical situations. Earlier this year my mother had an infection that required hospitalization followed by time in a rehab facility because of the antibiotic that had to be administered. That little jaunt did nothing good for her liver. When she seemed to have another flare-up of that particular bacteria, the nurse practitioner wanted to put her on a heavy-duty antibiotic that would require home health care and would nothing good for her already battered liver. The infectious disease doctor agreed with me that because my mother wasn't symptomatic, there was no point in stressing her liver and, given her age (88), palliative care made sense. The nurse practitioner was not happy with me, but we're now with hospice palliative care. Mom is visited weekly by a chaplain, a social worker, and a nurse.

At this point in my life, the best I can hope to do is keep her as comfortable as possible, do a better job of taking care of myself, and not let the concern about her or me consume me.

Sunday, April 22

The Third Place, Mall Space, and Other Not-So-Random Thoughts

Recently Starbucks (Apr 2018) has been in the news for wrong reasons but also some more positive reasons as the CEO Kevin Johnson asserted Starbucks has long wanted to be "the best third place in our lives." I confess that phrase was new to me. Set that aside for a moment.

Over the weekend much has been made of the closing of Carson's because of the inability of Bon Ton to do whatever it needs to do to keep the stores opening. That has led to hand-wringing over the impact on other retailers which means ancillary impact on shopping malls. Hold that thought, too.

Then I heard and read about warehouses. Warehouse demand outpacing supply. Shortage of warehouse space driving construction. Lots of warehouse projects in the works. Then as I was rambling through the news, I saw some articles about solar farms. Hold that thought as well.

I realize a lot of this news is highly localized, but based on my reading, I'm guessing the Chicagoland area is not the only one with a similar confluence of challenges.

Now, back to the third place. Ray Oldenburg was an urban sociologist who seems to be the one who popularized the idea of the third place. In the early 1990s he noted the need for third places, especially as suburbia became a thing.
Most needed are those 'third places' which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase 'third places' derives from considering our homes to be the 'first' places in our lives, and our work places the 'second.'
The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people's more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends...They are the heart of a community's social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.
For a time, America's malls were the third place for many communities. But then malls started to decline or changed in character, and Americans looked for other places to be that third place.  It became even more evident in 2008 when Starbucks made it clear it wanted to be a community third place.

So this idea of a third place is a powerful one. But I started to wonder why all these folks looking for warehouse space of different type and sizes didn't look at emptying malls. And then I started to wonder why people wanting to build solar farms didn't look at the roofs of emptying malls. And then I started to wonder if there might be a way for malls to be repurposed as storage/warehouse space for some organizations and if their roofs couldn't be converted or used as small solar farms--though I've no idea of the cost involved to build a solar farm or how big it needs to be to matter.

Then I also started to wonder why those emptying malls couldn't become different kinds of third places. Maybe community K-12 schools, along with business, university and/or community college, and public library partners, develop really amazing makerspaces for kids AND adults. Maybe even training locations for adult learners who want to develop or work on literacy skills, computing and coding skills, or other skills that are becoming increasingly necessary.

Maybe solar farm owners/developers/management firms make use of potential labor development as they build their mini-solar farms.

Or maybe some of that roof becomes a rooftop garden that also supports a community college or park program in horticulture, agriculture, and more.

Then I wondered if some of those warehouse projects could be targeted. I've no doubt that places like Amazon keeps track of the predominant kinds of stuff shipped to specific areas so geographically popular items could be stored in those warehouse for more immediate access and delivery. Or even for pickup.

I'm not an urban or suburban planner so I don't know the limitations and I'm sure there are a zillion reasons why some of these ideas won't work. But that's really no excuse not to consider "out of the box" possibilities that focus on the current and future needs communities for services, jobs, and education; for rethinking mall spaces and third places.