Our Committee

by cheri sabraw

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White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico, 1953

Within our minds, like a corral full of transhumant donkeys and their shepherds,  a committee resides.

The committee is influential, detrimental, and experimental.

Not everyone has the same size committee. The more members you have, the harder it is to shut them up.

This committee is full of stubborn, negative, limiting, and passive-aggressive voices–like those  whiny timid ones I heard at faculty meetings that complained about everything from attending parent conferences to supervising student dances.

The goal for those of us who strive for mental, emotional, and physical health is to pare  down our committee  as the years go by until  all members have hung up their spurs and left the premises.

Until that happens, be aware that:

Your committee has dynamic and vocal blowhards (strike that… I meant members) who have been with you for a long time– from your childhood until the present moment. Other committee members have raised their voices during your work life, have offered romantic and sexual advice, and often have weighed in on your body and how it looks.

We usually do not seek professional help until the committee’s edicts become so dominant that they begin to limit how we interact with others, and most importantly, with ourselves.

When young, I had a committee the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir but today, my committee is down to three members: one who supervised all the career and business decisions I have made and make, one who was one of my husband’s committee members and somehow has entered my blood-brain barrier, and one who weighs in on my body–its health and its appearance.

These three committee members still feel the pesky need to chime in every now and then. Oh. They rattle and babble about prattle.

Am I meeting expectation?

Am I still attractive?

Am I making the right decisions?

With practice, I have taken charge, for the most part, of my committee members and their limiting edicts.

But every now and then, usually after the fact, I recognize that my committee has influenced my behavior.

 

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Nova Scotia 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life, People | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

How to live a real life, revisited

by cheri block sabraw

Five years have passed since I wrote How to Live  a Real Life, the post that every year since has been read  more than any other post I have ever written.

Upon revisiting this post this morning, I am surprised by the honesty in it.

First, for those of you who have not read it, I re-post:

How to live a real life

by cheri block sabraw

For the first forty years of my life, I operated on automatic. Whatever needed to be accomplished, I did. Serious problems–financial ruin, death, divorce, betrayal, disease–only occurred in the rich literature I was teaching to my high school students and in the lives of other people.

I began to reflect about the meaning of life when lung cancer forced my father to drop out of the earthly life experience, but even then, I was busy, so I jumped back into my English saddle and cantered on my rocking horse. I continued to produce, to meet the needs of others before my own, to base my worth on my work and my appearance.

About five years ago, my handsome husband took a new exciting job far from our home, at the same time I was hitting menopause. I began worrying about how I looked, dressed, and appeared to him and to others. Thoughts that had never entered my mind, did. For the very first time, I realized that I was aging and would look different from the person that others had been attracted to for my figure, my face, and my enthusiasm. What would be left of the essential Cheri if her face looks old, her figure sags a bit, and her enthusiasm wanes on occasion? Would I still be attractive in a different way?

All of these questions terrified me.

Then my mother moved to town and had two strokes within one year, leaving her a changed person. My mother is alive but is not the same person I knew. This grief I shared but didn’t fully process.

Joe died last year and with his death, I lost a husky male friend who could help me understand what older men might be experiencing themselves. Our conversations were rich with authenticity.

My friends, many of them, moved away.

All of these events forced me into a deep contemplation.

Deep contemplation at the Rancho is possible because of the silence here.

I stopped talking so much and started listening to my inner voice.

I stopped jumping through every hoop in a childish need for approval.

I stopped trying to control the comings and goings of my family members.

I  stopped cheerleading (after 40 years of it).

I started thinking of important things in life that had nothing to do with me, my happiness, my appearance, or my ego.

Then, I enrolled in a class at Stanford that helped me integrate many of these feelings into one paper entitled How to Live a Real Life.  I got an A on that paper but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had gotten a B+. 🙂


I’m going to post the criteria I included in that paper before I post a few selections from it.

Criteria for living a real life: A cumulative list

  1.  Reflect.  We must be willing to examine the truth about our lives and to change, if necessary.
  2.   Listen. We talk and interrupt. We miss messages sent from the self, from other human beings, and from Life (God, Divine Mind, Higher Power, The River).
  3.   Simplify. We must be willing to clean out clutter from the external self—things and obligations, for example—that contribute to the preoccupation and distraction that camouflage the present moment.
  4.   Move away from vanity. Modern culture worships youth, skin, breasts, hair, and clothing. While looking our best contributes to self-esteem, making physical appearance more important than spiritual and moral development is self-destructive.
  5.    Let go of control. We can control very little in our lives. This realization and practice removes some of the stumbling blocks to being authentic such as anger, narcissism, and fear.
  6.    Set others free. Although a by-product of #5, choosing to set our spouses, children, siblings, parents, and friends free from our controlling thoughts releases both the captive and captor.
  7.     Accept loss. As we age, we lose people we love. Some of us lose parts of our lives that we naively hoped would last forever: physical health, sexual attractiveness, professional acknowledgement, personal freedom, and intellectual acuity.
  8.    Practice intimacy. When we love and share our thoughts and fears, we create connection, that which we desire the most.
  9.   Be better than you really are. We are imperfect but we can transcend this imperfection, if for only a moment.
  10.   Become a Mensch. If we practice the first nine criteria, we will be able to devote our time to other people and their needs. We will be righteous, unselfish and honorable. Our nature will be to think of others before self.

If you would like to add or amend any of the criteria, let me know. I’m open.

Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is perhaps one of the greatest plays ever written. I cried unabashedly when I read it as a high schooler and could never teach it without breaking down several times (this became an urban legend at the high school where I taught…).

It captures the essence of my list.

May your holidays be introspective. The cold winter is a perfect time to do this.

 

January 14, 2017

Reflect: Although nostalgia does wick into the watercolor of my life, I now try to experience memory as a positive force, not one that somehow makes me feel that something pleasurable has left and then replaced by a drab foreboding of the future.

Listen: I still talk more than I listen. Oddly, most of what I hear bores me. I find myself only listening to people who interest me. This type of selective listening is dangerous.

Simplify: My life is simpler than it was five years ago. I allotted an inordinate amount of space in an already busy brain to worrying about my mother and her daily life challenges. Now, every morning, I meditate on the memory of my magnificent mother and try to seize life as she would have, minus the worrying about whether I am meeting expectation.

Vanity: Aging is a steamroller. However.  I still buy products…

Let Go of Control: Five years have brought tremendous progress to me in this category. I am much more content not trying to control the weather, how Europe is doing, how fast my roots grow out, or my husband’s work schedule. In these areas, I am finally free.

Set Others Free: A Buddhist truth: the more you grasp at something, the more it eludes you. I have found this, above all other truths, to be the most instructive. Just remember that the harder you squeeze the soap bar, the greater the chance it will fly out of your hand and on to your toe.

Accept Loss: Time strips us of so many things we desperately want to hold on to: the people with whom we so adored social engagement, the pets whose love and eyes brought us solace when human words were inadequate, the world as we hoped it would progress and myriad other expectations. I now accept these losses because I have to.

Practice Intimacy: Now, I am intimate with those people who want to me intimate with me.

Be Better Than You Really Are: This criterion is the most challenging for me now. I shall devote 2017 to being better than I really am.

Become a Mensch: Most thoughtful and reflective people know when a mensch is in their midst. A mensch-aura is subtle, humble, and quiet. The problem is in listening past the din in modern culture, the selfie in self, and the humility in bravado.

This year, I am going to read Our Town without crying.

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Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

On teaching

by cheri block sabraw

In between learning how to oil paint, trying to take off the 4 pounds I put on during the holiday season (pasta, enchiladas, Chardonnay), and coping with a pesky Labrador retriever beset with acute cabin fever, I have been reviewing my essays, all 400 of them on record here on the blog.

I am organizing, revising, and entertaining myself. Whoop-de-doo!

Entertaining oneself with one’s own painting and writing certainly speaks of something either juvenile or vastly mature.

It also bodes well for that time in my life in which I will be alone, perhaps in assisted living or solitary confinement.

So here is a piece that I wrote in 2009:

THE WIND IN MY PILLOWS

The average tenure for a high school journalism advisor is three years. I lasted fifteen. Those were my dancing years. The role of a journalism advisor is akin to a dance in which the right to free speech leads, while the fear of libel follows. But where does poor taste fit in?

As one might guess, I encountered many a frisky reporter over the years. My students were smart and capable and precocious. I was capable and precocious, so it worked.

Aspiring journalists, graphic artists, and photographers started hanging around Room N-9 as early as their sophomore years, hoping to make an impression on the advisor.

“Good Morning. I’d like to welcome you all to Journalism I and II, home of The Smoke Signal, our award winning student newspaper. My name is Mrs. Sabraw. I will be your instructor and advisor, roles which put me into an inherent conflict. My maiden name is Block, but that does not mean I am a square. {New students laugh.}

In reality, I was a square.

In this room, language and how we use it, matters. How we report the news, matters. Headlines we choose, matter. Photographs, political cartoons, columns, and captions, matter.

Your finished pieces, artwork, and photos I will grade. {New students’ expressions change from happy to serious.}

Regarding language in the high school classroom and paper: There are ten words we do not use in this room. You can hear these words out in the quad, in the music and movies that entertain you, and at the mall but not in our stories or in Room N-9. These words are not descriptive, unless for example, you stub your toe on a metal coffee table in the middle of the night. Then one of these words might help blow off pain and steam.

What are these words, Mrs. Sabraw?

I am not going to tell you because I do not use that language in my classroom. {New students look disappointed.}

If we don’t know which words not to use, how will we know not to use them? {Rhetorical question}

And so the dance began.

One of my most memorable dancing partners was a kid named Evan.

That Evan carried a blanket around school with him at the age of 17 was not a problem for me. After all, I was his teacher, not his parent.

That he refused to prepare for vocabulary tests, reading quizzes, or any other symbol of the Man wasn’t a problem either.

That he sat on the back couch in my room as my teaching assistant, swaddled in his blanket while correcting student quizzes didn’t faze me.

Evan was needy. He was also brilliant. And he cracked me up.

When I told Evan that his quips from the couch, while I was teaching English, made us a funny team, he smiled and asked if we were like Johnny Carson and Ed Mc Mahon or Groucho Marx and George Finneman.

He read widely and wrote well. People accepted him for his smarts and humor.

In journalism, Evan became a columnist and in that role, he found his calling. He and I danced around the First Amendment in a West Coast Swing. We debated a Supreme Court Ruling called Hazelwood.

You know, Evan, First Amendment rights for high school journalists are different from those of professional journalists.

Evan had a problem with this distinction.

One day, Evan decided to write a trashy fable about the administration. It reminded me of a poor copy of The Wind and The Willows. Here is the beginning:

“Along the banks of Mission Creek lived three furry critters—Rat, Mouse, and Beaver—and an insect—Gnat. If truth be told, they were wholly feckless. Especially Beaver. Defying her genetic predisposition, Beaver spent her days grooming her tail, wondering about her reputation, and eating Triscuits. Rat, whose given name was Dick, amused himself by scavenging through the trash cans at the local high school. On many of his trips, up the creek bank, across the student parking lot, and into the N-Wing, he collected copies of the student newspaper, The Smoke Signal, lying scattered all over the grounds. He had taken to reading a brilliant column, Through the Looking Glass, written by an insightful person.Since many other creatures inhabited the creek, all of whom depended on the leadership of Rat, Mouse, Beaver, and Gnat, the Four busied themselves attending meetings and issuing edicts.”

The column continued in a sordid way with Beaver and Dick, the lascivious rat.

Even the dullest member of humanity could see that the four critters were the principal, the vice-principal and the two assistant principals.

But Beaver and Dick presented an editorial conundrum.

Evan loved the entangled sexual mystery unfolding in his column and was sure that I, as the provincial square, missed the joke. So, I let his pleasure cure, like a pickle.

First drafts of all stories were due on Monday morning by 11:00 a.m. and went to the editors for review. Evan met with Elizabeth, the Editorial Editor, about his column. Elizabeth loved his piece and called the Features Editor over for back up. Should this column stay or should it go?

It should stay, definitely. So the column, entitled The Wind in My Pillow, found itself ready for review, on my desk. On the square’s desk.

I called Evan over for the perfunctory conference.

This fable seems symbolic. Is it?

Mrs. Sabraw, really, you have made your life’s work finding symbolism, even in rocks. Good job. Yes, an allegorical element resides in this fable.

Well, Evan. This fable is tasteless and crass. There are other ways to make your point about administrative failure than in this way.

The following week, the routine repeated. Thursday arrived. Evan sat on the couch wrapped in his blanket with his fable. The newspaper deadline was one day away.

Elizabeth convened an editors’ meeting on the south side of Room N-9 again, far away from me. They were puppies up to no good. Evan arrived with his fable, newly named, The Beaver in the Office. All systems were go. Evan got the green light {He remarked later how Jay Gatsby had seen the same green light at the end of Daisy’s pier.}

Evan and I met. {Again}

Funny how things got quiet that morning in the journalism room.

Here’s the final draft, Mrs. Sabraw. I think you’re gonna love this one.

I reread. {Editors and reporters, alike, smirked in the superior knowledge that this square, this bastion of banal bull, was getting snookered, big time.}

Evan, this isn’t going in the paper.

Mrs. Sabraw, give me one good reason why my words, assembled with creativity in my fable, full of humor and symbolism, aren’t being published? This is censorship. I am calling the ACLU. Mrs. Sabraw?

Atmospheric pressure in Room N-9 plunged that day with the utterance of THAT word. {Censorship}

The humming room became as quiet as a courtroom before the verdict is read.

Evan, I may be a square, but I know what a dick is.

Oh.

 

Posted in Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Quail new year

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Atop a silver castle, his plumage ordered, bedecked, he sports a brick-red crew cut and keeps his beak Roman and circumspect.

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Under his crusty castle, my body hunched at best,  I long for a mate that’s relaxed, and a roll in our hidden nest.

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Your antics tick me off, I’m trapped by monogamous law, and if you knew what’s good for you, you’d stand on both your claws.

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Try to balance, sissy, upon your strongest leg, and when you are done admiring me, please go scramble me an egg!

Posted in My photography | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

Reflection 2016

 

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by cheri block sabraw

I looked in the magnifying mirror  yesterday.   In my eyes, I detected an alertness that made me wonder if such spirit portended fear and survival or curiosity and wonder. Though I would like to believe the latter, I suspect that along with my usual ebullient approach to the life experience, the former has lodged there too.

New Year’s Eve and Day have always been holidays that I anticipated with fun, optimism, and a strong sense of the future. I suppose, as with so much that animates me, my feelings about the New Year holiday began as a child. We spent them all  at Lake Tahoe, skiing, sledding, ice skating, and throwing snowballs. My father Hugh made raging stimulating fires in the stalwart fireplace; my mother Joan made blueberry pancakes for breakfast, chicken soup for lunch, and homemade lasagna for dinner. What more could a child desire? My three younger siblings, Stevie, Cindy, and Jimmie tumbled (or maybe were pushed) out the door and into a snow drift. Icicles, like icy daggers, hung from our cabin roof. Occasionally, they would break off and we snow buccaneers would find our swords.

On New Year’s Day, we watched football all day. The Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Orange Bowl beamed in from KOLO TV in Reno. Full of too much football, as a teenage girl, I would don my tight pink ski apparel, put on my clunky white ski boots, and crunch down to the lodge to see and to be seen, hot chocolate included.

My mother insisted we analyze our previous year and commit to resolutions.

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And so today, as I bid 2016 adieu and welcome 2017 here in the Arizona desert and far away from my childhood Tahoe memories, I take stock of my many blessings and continue to strive for personal improvement.

By writing these resolutions and blowing them into the atmosphere, they become real, unlike those resolutions that we tuck inside our secret selves.

I want to improve my posture this year, push more weight, walk every day, and write that book whose plot and characters still allude me.

I hope to find a part-time job this summer, paint every week, and maintain my blog regularly.

Maybe a volunteer opportunity, in which I am not committed to regular weekly hours, will materialize before my alert eyes.

And you?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life, My childhood, My photography | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

There is balm in Gilead

 

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Raven at the Grand Canyon, photo by c. sabraw, 2016

 

by the Maven

Once upon a morning, grimly, while I stretched, stiff and dimly,

Over plenty a  cushioned yoga mat of yore,

While I extended, deeply fetching, suddenly there came a kvetching,

As of someone gently etching, etching at my blogging door.

“Tis a reader,” I uttered, “etching at my blogging door–

Quoth the Maven: Only this! I hope for more.”

 

 

 

Deep into my conscious seering, long I sat there, pondering, gearing,

Pledging, dreaming dreams no writer ever dared to dream before;

The blank screen was unbroken, writer’s block advanced its token,

And the only word there written was the hidden word, ” Explore?”

This I vowed completely; thus my ego murmured neatly, ” Explore!”

Quoth the Maven: All of it and  more!

 

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Snow at the Rancho 2009

Then, I knew, the air grew sweeter, made so by so many readers

whose comments twinkled with wit  and thought galore.

“Thank-you,” I crooned, “thy Patience has lent thee–by angels she has sent thee

Curiosity–curiosity and intention from my memories of Explore;

Salute, oh salute this moment when we  rejoice this Explore!

Quote the Maven, ” Labrador!”

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To my readers  around the world  who are sitting, still committing,

On the pallid bust of Dinah, just outside my patio door;

Your eyes have all the gleaming of such intellect that’s streaming,

And the “Likes” and off-blog emails that slam my heart onto the floor;

And your comments sometimes steaming though not always ones redeeming

And my soul from Notes Around that pines for more and more,

Is lifted–Heretofore!

 

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This holiday season, I want to thank you for taking an interest in my writing for so many years.

Thank you for your comments to me personally or in the public space known as Notes from Around the Block.

Special thanks to the following individuals:

Kayti, Richard, Christopher, Brighid, Paul, W.K. Kortas, Ben S., Cindy, Linda L., Jimmie B., Jim L.,Peter G., Sharon, Susie, Susan from N.C., Hizzoner, Ken G., Linda B., Muni, Tyler B., dafna, Judy, Gary, Tom, Pamilabear, Joyce, Ines, Bruce, Chris V., Chris M., Tiffany L., Jan (my cuz), Janet J., Sara, Dan O., Tom S., Yang Ho, Greg L., Richard H., and Andreas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And your words are?

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Highway 168 from Bishop , CA, to State Route 266, Nevada. Eighty miles with  no cell service. A perfect road on which to have a meaningful conversation about language, don’t you think?

by cheri sabraw

Most of us like to socialize  with people whom we have some commonality, right?  I know I do. I like people who regularly use the words history, mystery, mystical, down home, funny, relaxing, and avocado. Add to those words lime, salmon, quinoa, and massage.

My friends and I  understand each others’ nouns, adjectives, and verbs. It’s the tie than binds.

For example, when I meet a friend for coffee, we do not regularly talk about jihad.

Add to jihad the words left swipe, spandexual and WTF. Not my lexicon, brother.

(As an aside, in one of my Masters’ classes several years ago, one taught by a distinguished  84-year-old opera expert, one of my crass classmates began her question to the professor with WTF.  I, for one, was offended. Good God, I thought. Show some class.)

She, I am sure, would have been equally offended by my use of Good God, a pair of words that are as useful to her as butter plate, pardon me, and lace camisole.

I’m not opposed to learning new words, as long as they are relevant to my existence. Words like Smith Machine, gluteus medius, and kombucha now inhabit the hallways of my vocabulary.

Some words,however,  like traffic, transcend all boundaries, especially those of us who live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Other words jam and corrode our intellectual growth. Take for example the  A Triplets: awesome, amazing, and asshole. Overused? What do you think?

I am always listening and reading your words. They tell me a great deal about you.

And your words are?

And why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Education, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , | 32 Comments

Aftermath, a spy story, by John Podesta translated by Julian Assange

by cheri sabraw

The wind howls this morning in gusts of exuberance. Even the 150-year-old oak trees anchor their roots to secure their moorings. Our handsome black walnut trees sway like Polynesian dancers  at the lower end of our meadow. The capricious dead sycamore leaves circle the driveway like swarms of angry bees, out of control by the whims of the wind.

Last night, the skunks fled their dens. Rain is coming.

Like a child, I step out into this frenzied atmosphere taken in by the energy of the storm.

From Mission Peak, a lone hiker yells down the canyon, “Fraud!”

My robe, once tight around my waist, loosens out on the driveway as I hurriedly stack patio furniture before the wind can airlift it recklessly into the order of the orchard.

The atmosphere is electric and mysterious like the setting from The Hound of the Baskervilles wherein distant barking and baying portend an unsolved murder.

From Mission Peak, the sore loser yells, ” A Free Press!”

I call up to the shoulder of the mountain, struggling with my independent robe, ” The press happened last month. Our yield was 256 bottles of olive oil!”

From Mission Peak, “Conspiracy,  Putin, the election!!” shrieks he.

Oh, you meant Press as in the Washington Press Corps, I yell.

The clouds come closer, darken, and form into that glib superior smile we saw often during the recent presidential election.

I call out to the lone hiker, are you The Spy Who Loved Me? Are you From Russia With Love?

Who are you?

He goes silent.

My robe flies up into the trees, snarled in the redwood branches. Now,  I am able to be myself, unconstrained and free from the sash that binds my waist.

You idiots! I bellow. The hounds bay.

John Podesta returns to his keyboard.

The desperate become more so.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

My machinations

by cheri block

Nineteen days after my 10th birthday, I hunkered down in our darkish den to watch the Twilight Zone. With me, were my eight-year-old brother Stevie and my four-year-old sister, Cindy. My mother had just given birth to Jimmie, eleven days earlier. She was somewhere in the house crying.

Had she not been postpartum, I’m sure she  would not have allowed the three of us to watch such a scary show.

I have Jimmie’s birth, then, to blame for my concerns about the reliability of machinery.

That night in 1960, I remember settling into a frumpy faux-leather sofa with scratchy pillows and a throw, covered with dog hair,  wedged down between the cushions. My younger siblings and I sat on that Gas Chamber-green sofa with our two German Shepherds, Dickens and Galaxy. At least we had protection.

That night, the episode, titled A Thing About Machines, scared the holy crap out of all three of us. When Mr. Finchley’s appliances turned against him and began to attack , I remember telling Stevie, “ Don’t ever put your hand into a garbage disposal again!”

Eventually, Finchley’s razor slides down the bannister and Finchley bolts. His car chases him into a pool where he drowns. He had, however, consumed alcohol.

Taking my bath that night, I remember wondering if the drain would suck me down with the water. And then there was the hair dryer. It all was too much for a little girl with a prodigious imagination.

My teenage years gave me little relief from those memories. I wondered if the chair lift at Tahoe Ski Bowl would suddenly rebel against its keepers and fling my brother and me down onto the tops of Douglas fir trees. Would my family motor boat, the SIX BLOX, circle around like a shark, while I was waiting to be picked up after falling on my water skis, and then run over me, shredding me like lettuce? Would my Willy’s 44 Army Jeep make a disobedient left turn and head up to frigid Quail Lake despite my braking?

I am happy to report to you, my readers, that now that I am a big girl, I rarely think about machines going rogue. Oh sure, every now and then in the BART tube under the Bay, I push away distant memories of that particular Twilight Zone Episode.

But, curiously, yesterday, I found myself transmogrified into the body of a Yellow Labrador Retriever.

It started when I turned on the vacuum.

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Posted in Life, My childhood | Tagged , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

The lament of the candle makers

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Tindaro Screpolato, a sculpture in the Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy

 

by cheri sabraw

I taught Journalism I and II to precocious high school juniors and seniors for thirteen years (1985-1998) and served as the advisor to the newspaper staff.

You can imagine the decade-long censorial tussles, the moral dilemmas, and the delicate dance that I engaged in with my headstrong students. That dance– akin to a waltz when I agreed to the job was, in reality, more like a complex rumba.

During my tenure as advisor, my many staffs and I argued about stories concerning how much to print about a teacher’s death by overdose, whether the decision to print a silly quotation by a freshman about seeing his mother naked was inappropriate and libelous, about whether issuing the custodial staff a “D” in our annual report card was accurate and fair, about how to cover a teacher’s strike when the journalism advisor herself had chosen to come into work, and in one case, about a suggestive photograph in a hot tub. (Luckily, the journalism advisor was not in that tub…)

On the first day of class each year, I liked to begin our year-long  Saga of Free Speech with a discussion of what constituted “responsible journalism.”

And so.

I would begin by telling this little ditty:

The day in 1879 that Thomas Alva Edison and his scientists in Menlo Park, N.J., turned on the first incandescent light bulb, one that would last for more than 13 hours, was a momentous moment for all of mankind.

Before long, after  the news had spread throughout the township and in the scientific community, the reporters began to arrive in droves, eager to report on the dawn of an illuminated world.

Mr. Edison, after hours upon hours testing carbon wire in the laboratory, took the first question from an eager reporter:

 Mr. Edison, have you been in touch with the candle makers? Do you realize this invention will put them out of business? Are you concerned about the candle makers?

 

This story, along with a reading of Mark Twain’s short story The Stolen White Elephant (in which Twain lampoons the reporters’ inability to keep a secret and the detectives’ penchant for following dead-end leads rather than open their eyes and look), provided a perfect opening to a wide-ranging discussion about the role of the news reporter.

 “News reporters are to keep most adjectives and adverbs out of their stories,” I said, “the goal is to report news in an objective fashion so that your readers can draw their own conclusions. You are not to lead your readers in a direction you think they should go. That would be biased. If you want to influence reader opinion, then consider joining the editorial staff.”

Were I teaching today, I would have my students scan the Google News Feed, where headlines from the NY Times, the Washington Post, and other “news” outlets (even fake news outlets as Facebook has streamed) try to influence reader opinion by dressing up News in an Editorial costume.

Sadly,  we’ve become accustomed to this Mardi Gras of Free Speech, which, while creative, is anything but accurate.

This past election period seemed like a frenzied climax of reporter hustling.

Never, in any other election I have witnessed, has such an obvious press bias been so apparent. We expect this from the New York Times but from the Wall Street Journal?

Perhaps the Biggest Loser of this past election period was not the Democratic Party; rather, it was the press, which thought we Americans were stupid enough to believe what it said was the truth.

Let’s see.

How did those candle makers get out of bed the next morning?

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Cheri and Martin Q. assessing the sculpture, 2014

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