What Can You Do?

I have been limiting my intake of bad news and tragedy. To the best of my ability, I have disconnected from most vestiges of “grief porn.” Local news has hitched its wagon to this industry and viewers can’t get enough of it. Popular shows now fixate on zombies and the apocalypse. Americans have a predilection for this kind of thing and television execs know this and serve it up on a platter for mass consumption.

Humans are limited in their capacity to process tragedy and grief—yet, thanks to the media most consume it in unhealthy amounts, with death and mayhem just one remote or mouse click away.

Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton’s book, which came out in the midst of the Cold War and during the nuclear age, coined the term, “psychic numbing,” or “death in life” to characterize the national state at the time. This is in line with another condition, “learned helplessness.” Others have connected these to media consumption, especially consumption of images and stories related to death and tragedy—again, “grief porn.”

By making the decision to tune out the distant and impersonal, and focus on the immediate, and work on being conscious of the things going on around me—some call it “being present,” I find that I’m less agitated, and I’m not wound up about things I can’t change.

Instead, I’ve decided to focus my energy on the things that I can do that affect change, in my own life, in the quality of life I have with the people I love, and outside of that my small circle of friends. Does this mean I’m burying my head in the sand like an ostrich? No, of course not. I live in the world and I want to know what’s happening in the world. I’ve just assumed control, and am acting as my own gatekeeper for information. If I take in bad news and tragedy, I’m more likely to access it in ways that I can manage, with some contextualization of the event(s).

There’s a song that we used to sing in Bible class called “Brighten the Corner.” There’s a great deal of truth in that song, and I think it hammers home the point that we can brighten our own corners. Maybe our personal sphere of influence isn’t much greater than that. However, there is a rippling out from each and every brightened corner that’s cumulative and can over time, have a profound, positive effect.

Is government the problem? I don’t know. Since we are responsible for government, then perhaps we’re the problem. Is it necessary that we trade liberty for safety? Does our fixation on terror and the way that government manipulates our fears benefit us in the long run? You probably know my answer to that one.

What can you do to brighten your little corner of the world?

Lobster Roll Season Opens

I was pleased to hear about Sherman’s Books & Stationery opening a new store in Portland. I learned about it when I emailed an old friend and colleague from my workforce development days. His son, Josh Christie, happens to be manager of the new Sherman’s. They held their grand opening on Saturday. I covered it for the Bangor Daily News. Christie is also the author of one of the best books about Maine beers, Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland.

Grand opening at Sherman's on Exchange Street.

Grand opening at Sherman’s on Exchange Street.

The news about the Sherman’s opening came via my own network. I tapped it and it’s provided opportunities for me as a writer. I continue casting my freelance net widely, and I’ve been landing writing assignments more frequently. Yesterday, my news story about the grand opening appeared in the BDN. I wrote a prior story about bookstores across the state. I have another article in the works about Portland being Maine’s literary hub. Continue reading

Having a Vision

Community spirit might be battered and bruised in many places; there are some where that spirit of place is on life support. Then, there are those towns where the locals recognize that the solution won’t be coming from anywhere else but from within.

I was in Rangeley Wednesday night for a Community Visioning hosted by Rangeley Health and Wellness. On a very quiet night in the middle of the region’s sleepiest month, more than 100 townspeople turned out to say what were the most important things their community needs to consider. Continue reading

You’re Out!!

After seeing my blog stats crash and burn over the past week, it might be time to get back to bread and circuses. Seth Godin says blog stats don’t matter, but I’m not as self-actualized as Seth is. I guess writing about education, post-industrial collapse, and even food is way too controversial for most people. While I don’t plan to start tackling certain kinds of pop culture subject matter—like zombies and meth-dealing science teachers—baseball is a sport, and one of the circuses I’ll still buy a ticket for and write about.

Longtime readers and old friends know that I played the game, coached it, and even ran a semi-pro college league for five summers—heck, I even wrote a book about baseball. What many don’t know is that I once was an umpire and given the nature of the free agent lifestyle, I’ve decided it’s time to get back behind the plate again.

The boys in blue.

The boys in blue.

I was a member of the Western Maine Baseball Umpires Association (WMBUA) from 1998 to 2001. After four years, I had worked my way up from 7th and 8th grade junior high games to getting some varsity high school action. Then, Mark graduated from high school and I wanted to see him play college baseball at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, a three-hour drive I got used to making two or three times each week; when he came home in the summer, I started coaching a team in the Twilight League and it wasn’t long before I was running a team, running the league, and even writing a column on the league for the local weekly newspaper. Umpiring got pushed aside. Continue reading

The Quest for Education


Don't take my education!!

Don’t take my education!!

In the southern part of the state and mainly greater-Portland, events at the University of Southern Maine have highlighted for me (and maybe a small cadre of others) the challenges inherent in maintaining the status quo relative to higher education.

Is it possible and even feasible given the current landscape of diminishing public resources for taxpayers to be on the hook for what some consider an outdated education model? Along those same lines, is the current statewide higher education complex and namely, the University of Maine system, viable and more important, sustainable? Continue reading

We are all Detroit

Ruins at the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant are seen on September 4, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (courtesy of Chicago CBS-2 affiliate)

Ruins at the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant are seen on September 4, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (courtesy of Chicago CBS-2 affiliate)


“It regards itself as the temple of a new gospel of progress, to which I shall venture to give the name of ‘Detroitism’.”—British historian and MP Ramsay Muir in 1927

“Mayors come and go—it is the footmen that tie the knots and divide the bag—the longtime little men; bureaucrats, cockroaches.”—from Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff

Crashing the Party

My sister is a writer and a blogger. If you haven’t checked out Julie-Ann’s site, I highly recommend that you do so. She brings the goods, which translates into fresh content on a regular basis.

One of the features that she’s developed over the time she’s been blogging is a series of posts she calls, “Lady Alone Traveler.” These are some of my favorite posts that she’s been laying down over the past two years. Continue reading

Cheap Meat

True believers are a dangerous lot. Not dangerous in the sense that they’ll physically hurt, or inflict something worse on you—dangerous in that they think they are the only ones with a direct line to the source of truth.

Their unwavering belief in their cause—whatever that cause might be–renders them incapable of considering alternative viewpoints, or being able to empathize with how others frame the same issue with equal fervor.  While belief of this type is often directed towards deities and religious systems, more and more this same kind of rote call and response is found in most of the debates about issues from gay rights to gun control. Ultimately, people just end up talking past one another. Continue reading

Time for Food

Real food takes time. Time to grow it. Time for the harvesting, or the fattening of livestock for those who don’t have an opposition to locally-grown meat.

Since convenience foods have come to predominate the American diet, the home cooked meal has become an endangered species. Families no longer commune around food, instead, everyone fends for themselves. If you have older children, think about the last time you had a family meal that wasn’t a special occasion, but just a normal weeknight. Continue reading

Limiting the Conversation

Life in the 21st century is complicated. Everything seems to be moving at a faster and faster rate. We are bombarded with information, people are working longer and longer hours, and essential systems seem to be crumbling simultaneously, or if they aren’t crumbling, they’re being patched together with the equivalent of bailing wire and bubble gum. Continue reading