Thursday, December 08, 2016

Final Thoughts on Election 2016

It’s been one month since the election and I keep hoping I will wake up from, what I consider to be, a nightmare. That’s what it has been for me, and I know I’m hardly alone. This is, I hope, going to be my last woe-is-me-commentary on this subject and going forward I plan to take a more productive and constructive approach by focusing on important issues and current events and even have a little fun. I have been obsessing over the election, and since writing has always been an effective way for me to deal with my emotions, I feel that one last bit of grousing is warranted before I take that higher route, and here’s why:

We Americans had the opportunity to elect a supremely qualified woman to lead our country; a woman who has spent her entire adult life working to improve the lives of women, children, and families across the globe; a woman who was actively involved in government and community initiatives as the First Lady of Arkansas and then of the United States; a woman twice elected to the senate and who was praised by her Republican colleagues as someone who could work with them—who reached across the aisle—who studied the issues, put her head down and did the work, foregoing the spotlight; a woman who served as Secretary of State for four years; a woman, who as president, would have appointed to her cabinet 50% women, which would have provided us with a truly transformative, new experience: to see how our country would be run with more women in government leadership positions.

Alas, what have we opted for instead? It appears to be that which we have experienced since our founding: a government mostly dominated by old and middle-aged white men. Granted, there are a few women being appointed to Trump’s cabinet and that is a positive, but it won’t be comprised nearly of as many as a President Clinton’s would have been. Instead of moving forward into the 21st century, I feel like—and perhaps this is a bit hyperbolic—but it feels as if we have reverted back to the 1950s or before. That thought is utterly depressing.

I am quite concerned about the country’s future as well as Donald Trump’s ability to govern effectively, for so many reasons. I will enumerate some of them below and elaborate on each at some time in future, although I am hoping that won’t be necessary.

First is his character and inexperience. He is a temperamental man child and a narcissist. A minority of voters and the Electoral College elected a man who is the least qualified person ever to be placed in charge of running our country. He knows next to nothing about how government functions, nor is he even remotely knowledgeable about domestic or foreign policy issues, and he appears to have little interest in educating himself about them.  His Vice President, Mike Pence, is Indiana’s far right-wing governor who has, or at least tried, to enact laws in that state severely restricting civil and reproductive rights. My teacher friends there have indicated he is also no friend of public education; 

Second, are Trump’s conflicts of interest, from his domestic and global business enterprises to his kids running those businesses while serving as his advisers. Seriously? What do they know about trade with China or war in Syria? I imagine—nada. This is a huge conflict of interest: his kids running his businesses. Where is the outrage? If this were Chelsea Clinton and The Clinton Foundation, people on the right would be losing their minds. Oh, and again, Mike Pence is in the process of getting permission from the courts to hide his emails while he was Governor of Indiana from access to public records requests. My head is exploding…the hypocrisy is stunning.

Third, some of the people that Trump is nominating to fill key positions in his administration and as advisers are reprehensible. Some are rights-restricting, racist, sexist individuals who will be in charge of leading governmental agencies. Many aren’t even qualified for these positions. One example is Doctor Ben Carson being asked to head up the department of Housing and Urban Development, aka HUD. He’s qualified how? Because he spent time in public housing as a child? That’s like me saying that I ran track for six years in junior and senior high school so because I experienced it, I am qualified to coach the US Olympic track team. Yeah, right. Nor is Trump “draining the swamp” as he promised during his campaign, as he is filling cabinet positions with billionaire Wall Streeters and former Goldman Sachs employees;

Fourth, is Trump’s Twitter addiction. He will be our Twitter-in-Chief, tweeting out his grievances to anyone who criticizes or is mean to him. He is thin-skinned and a royal whiner, but he better get used to it, because criticism and mockery come with the territory as every previous president could attest; 

Fifth, are Trump’s threats against the First Amendment. People have the right to protest anything, so to Trump and his supporters I say: Stop telling people “to quit protesting and grow-up.” Americans can peacefully protest, assemble, and express themselves—that is guaranteed by our Constitution. Trump and his staff regularly threaten the press with possible lawsuits, even jail. Freedom of the press is another Constitutionally guaranteed right; silencing or cutting off the media, goes against that right. Also, threatening to jail a political opponent (the whole “lock her up” Hillary Clinton narrative he and his followers like to chant during rallies), that my friends, is a banana republic tactic; 

Sixth, Trump’s campaign was one of grievance and retribution and that doesn’t seem to be changing. In fact, hate crimes have risen in the month since the election. Why is that? Do more racists and sexists feel emboldened to lash out, intimidate, or hurt others due to Trump’s ugly rhetoric during the campaign? He rarely pushed back against violence or hateful language at his rallies, sometimes he even encouraged it;

I could list more, but I'll stop here.

Many of you may think I am being alarmist and that I should give Trump a chance. I am not being alarmist, and I will only reluctantly give him a chance. So far, he is not alleviating my fears. I am watching closely as everything unfolds through Inauguration Day and beyond. I will be calling and writing my senators and congressman repeatedly when something isn’t to my liking. I will participate in protests, and I will be more vocal than anyone ever imagined I could be to make sure our country is moving in the right direction, which is forward, not backward.

As Maya Angelou said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Trump showed us exactly who he is during the campaign: a vengeful, petty, nasty, insecure man. I take him at his words and actions. It’s up to him to prove me wrong. As New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote in his Dec 5 op-ed: “It is not the job of the defiant to conform to a future president who makes them completely uncomfortable. The burden of unity lies with Trump, not his detractors.” I agree. 

I fear that many civil, voting, and reproductive rights, many of which are already under assault around the country in GOP-led states, will be further restricted. Rules and regulations made over the past eight years to protect consumers, patients, and the environment may be in the process of being repealed or rolled back, instead of improved upon. I am not optimistic that these protections—protections I value—will remain. The Trump-era may be grand for men and the wealthy; it certainly doesn’t seem as though it will be for women, nor for people of color or those who practice a religion other than Christianity or none at all or for poor people. Unless Trump changes course on some of his appointees and policy positions, we are in for a long four years. God help us if it’s eight.

And yet, there is some indication that he can be reasoned with, which gives me a little hope. During the campaign, Mr. Trump was very pro-waterboarding. Apparently, Retired General James Mattis, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, changed his mind about waterboarding by telling him that he had never found that method of extracting information to be effective. That is something positive, right?

Still, my inclination and desire is to retreat from the world and reside in a state of blissful ignorance over the next few years. That’s a nice thought, but that is not who I am, and it is far from the definition of being a good citizen. We must be vigilant because when we are not, much can go wrong.

Take economic inequality, which is pervasive around the globe and has been increasing for decades. It has, in large part, fostered a backlash against free trade and globalization because citizens see those at the top making out like bandits while those in the middle and lower income levels are getting scraps or no benefits from the gains in this new economy. I am pro free trade and globalization, and globalization has been a net positive for the world. However, many have lost out and those who have and whose struggles have been ignored by legislators—across the political spectrum—are angry, and rightly so. I get that, but the sad part is that they have put their hope and trust in one of the biggest con men out there.

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton was realistic and honest about what could be achieved, given where we are economically. She received scorn for her “incrementalism” but she was at least being truthful. Donald Trump, on the other hand, was just telling people what they wanted to hear. Take for example, the declining coal industry. He promised to bring back those jobs. Here are the facts: coal is not the future, it is the past. Those jobs are not coming back. Maybe these people don’t care because they hear what they want (and to be fair, we are all susceptible to that in varying degrees). Furthermore, perhaps it makes them feel good that a person of some prominence expresses their anger and resentment so perfectly. He “gets them.” That’s what they say: “He gets us.”

I hope I am wrong about the Trump administration, for all our sakes. Still, I grieve for what might have been: a new way of governing, one more closely representative of the 50+% of women in this country who have always been governed by men. That is a definite topic for a future post.

For now, I encourage Secretary Clinton to be a powerful force for good in this world as she has always been. We need her voice, her intelligence, her tenacity, her wisdom, and her leadership. But more than that we need to be leaders, activists, and volunteers as well as the critical yet encouraging voices for good in the heads of our legislators. Stay informed, stay active, stay in the U.S. and help create the world in which you want to live and thrive. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

Secretary Clinton and Me: Role Models

This past weekend, my niece Alexa shared her latest social studies project with me. She is in fifth grade, and they are learning about the amendments to the Constitution. She told me when she was assigned the 19th Amendment, she immediately thought of me. (She knows I'm all about empowering women and making our voices heard.) 

I hope that by my example of being a single, independent, and outspoken woman my nieces—and nephews too—recognize and envision the various possibilities for women's lives. Their mothers who are my sisters, are wonderful role models too, as are their grandmothers. I like to think, because of all the amazing female role models surrounding them, my nephews will be more accepting of outspoken females as they become men than many of the male species who've preceded them.

Tomorrow, this gal heads to the polls to cast her vote for the first woman candidate for President. The thought brings tears to my eyes. It is emotional for me. After 44 men, 43 of whom were white men, finally, hopefully, a woman will occupy the Oval Office. Many Americans are holding their nose while voting for Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump is even more unpalatable to them. For me, however, I am voting for the best candidate, the one most suited and qualified for the job, hands down, not the lesser of two evils. 

Hillary Clinton became one of my role models during the 1992 presidential campaign of her husband, Bill Clinton. Many people were offended by her comment: "Well, I suppose I could've stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life."  

I loved it. She spoke to me, a young woman ready to take on the world with or without a man, wanting a career, and living life on her own terms, which I certainly do to this day. A different sort of first lady emerged, one that wasn't just set decoration for her husband's administration, but an active participant in government. That nontraditional role made her unpopular in some circles, and after her failed healthcare reform attempt that resulted in relentless criticism, she decreased her public profile. 

Mrs. Clinton's tenacity, her willingness to get back up time and again after being knocked down, her refusal to take no for an answer, her ability to let all the vitriol and verbal attacks slide off her back, and her intelligence are what I admire most about her. I still hope to one day develop that level of tenacity, strength, and perseverance. 

Secretary Clinton was forced to develop those traits having served in public life for many decades. Her list of accomplishments and credentials is extensive. She had been 1 of just 27 women among the 200-plus students in her law school class at Yale. She was one of only three [women] on a staff of 44 attorneys on the Watergate Impeachment teamShe was the first woman hired at the prestigious Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. 

As First Lady of Arkansas, she created the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth and led a task force to reform Arkansas's education system. As a senator (elected twice), she was instrumental in passing the State Children's Health Insurance Program; she served on five senate committees (Budget; Armed Services; Environmental and Public Works; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and the Special Committee on Aging); she had a leading role investigating the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders and worked closely with Senator Charles Schumer to secure $21.4 in funding for the World Trade Center site's redevelopment.

After losing a bruising run for president in 2008, President Obama appointed her his Secretary of State. As Secretary of State she set a record visiting countries, she brokered a cease fire deal between Hamas and Israel, and played a role in killing Osama bin Laden. She made LGBT rights a focus of U.S. foreign policy. Clinton has also worked to integrate women's issues into foreign policy, instead of relegating them to a separate sphere of policy making. This has come to be known as the Hillary Doctrine. 

Researchers have found that there is more civil unrest and war, failed economies, and sexual abuse of and domestic violence against girls and women in countries in which women are impoverished, uneducated, and considered property. The premise of the Hillary Doctrine is that countries are more stable and secure when women are educated, employed, earn money, and contribute to the economy, and are treated as equals. There is more much more work to be done in this area. However, it appears that these issues, initiatives, and ideas only get enacted or move forward—or at least have a better chance of it—when women are at the table, making their voices heard, raising awareness, and creating policies. I believe Hillary Clinton will make even more strides toward global equality and education for women and girls. 

Here's some inspiration from women who were born before the 19th Amendment was passed:

Mrs. Clinton has solid foreign policy knowledge and experience as well as a firm grasp on domestic issues. She is smart, she wants to learn, she listens. She worked well with her senate Republican colleagues, many of them have said so. The Secretary knows how to roll up her sleeves, put her head down, eschew the limelight and focus on the work. She wants to lead this nation, she is ambitious, and there is nothing wrong with that. Men are never criticized for being ambitious. She has every right to own her ambition, as does every woman.  

It has been lamented during this general election campaign that there has been little focus on the issues. In reality, it has focused on issuesissues we prefer to ignore, sweep under the rug, pretend do not exist. Those issues are racism, sexism, and xenophobia. At least now, thanks to Donald Trump, these things cannot and should not be ignored. Hillary Clinton is not perfect, nor are—or were—any of the candidates running against her, not even Bernie Sanders. I guarantee had he been the candidate, the GOP would have had vast amounts of opposition research on him too, and because he resides further to the left on the political spectrum than Clinton, they would have painted him as a leftist kook. (I do not think he is, but conservatives would have certainly framed him that way.)

So, tomorrow, we Americans vote for the next leader of this great country. Alexa and her brothers know for whom I'll be casting my ballot. It is no secret, and they know my reasons, explained to them in generalities and age-appropriate language. Alexa and I are very close, so it is important to me that I am an excellent role model, that I am the kind of person she can and will respect and trust throughout her life even when we disagree. I think I'm doing a decent job so far. She told me this past weekend that she has two dance teachers and one she really likes. "She is fun, and nice, and I realized why I like her so much," she said.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because she reminds me of you. She even kind of looks like you, and she's sassy!" Alexa replied, laughing. That is one of the greatest compliments for which an aunt could receive. 

I've attached a few articles below for this last day before we elect our next President. They are good reads, should you feel so inclined. Before you tackle those though, read Alexa's comic. I think you'll find it to be a little sassy. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mommy, he’s a bad man

If I were a Donald Trump supporter, hearing “Mommy, he’s a bad man” would be enough for me to withdraw my support immediately.

I was recently told the following story by someone close to me. The television was on in her home during the presidential primary season and Donald Trump was speaking. No one was really paying attention to it except for her 8 year old child. With no prompting from anyone, a few minutes later, the youngster turned to the woman and said, “Mommy, he’s a bad man.” The woman, who is no Trump supporter, said this was a revealing moment for her. The child did not know who the man was or his relevance to the news cycle, only that this was a person who was saying hateful and mean things in an ugly tone of voice. Upon hearing this, she engaged her child in an age-appropriate conversation about the election.   

This story exemplifies why Mr. Trump is not only a terrible role model for our children but also someone from whom they should be protected. No matter how much one may despise Hillary Clinton, she refrains from spewing hateful rhetoric and using a disparaging, vitriolic tone of voice. 

Some readers may come back with: What about her “basket of deplorables” remark? While admittedly that was an unfortunate comment, she didn’t say all Trump supporters were deplorable, just some and she did preface it with being "grossly generalistic." Nor did she use a snarling tone of voice to deliver it. Furthermore, there is evidence to support her assertion.* Secretary Clinton pales in comparison to Donald’s ugliness, even having made that impolitic remark.

Below is a campaign ad put out by the Clinton campaign that addresses this very issue.

Ask yourself: Is Donald Trump really the person you want your children listening to and seeing on television for the next four, possibly eight years?

* Clinton, it appears, has her own "basket of deplorables" too. It's a good deal smaller than Mr. Trump's, but she has one. You can read more in the Forbes article below.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Words and phrasing (really) matter

Tuesday night, during President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention, he said this:

“If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together.”

I admit his statement sounded rather innocuous to me. I didn’t give it a second thought. 

However, it was received quite differently from American Muslims. Tuqa Nusairat's article, "Bill Clinton's Loyalty Test for Muslim Americans", on the Foreign Policy website on July 28, is revealing: 

"Muslim Americans heard Bill Clinton announce a loyalty test for those who want to remain in the land of the free. We heard him say we are only allowed to stay if we somehow prove that we love America and proclaim that we hate terrorism, as if that is not the natural state of who we are. We heard him separate the Muslim community from him and other Americans (the “us”), as if we are a foreign entity that should be welcomed on certain conditions. And we heard him tell us to “stay here,” as if we had any intention of leaving or anywhere else to go.

What we did not hear was an acknowledgement of the Islamophobia our community is facing day in and day out — a sentiment that has increased dramatically since the start of the presidential campaign, resulting in violent and deadly attacks against innocent Muslim Americans. We did not hear an acknowledgement that we are part and parcel of the fabric of this country, that we contribute to it, and that we have helped protect it. We did not hear that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party will protect our rights and stand up against the intolerance and fear that the Republican Party is trying to make mainstream."

Ms. Nusairat wishes he’d said:

“If you’re a Muslim American worried about the rise in Islamophobia, know that your fears are ours too. Let’s work to make a future together that does not include those voices of fear, racism, and intolerance.”

I imagine the former President did not intend for his words to be hurtful, disrespectful, or divisive. However, the way they were received by many in the Muslim community proves that words and phrasing matter a great deal. Furthermore, it demonstrates that we process words and actions from our individual experiences, culture, and biases. Three people can hear the same sentence yet have three different interpretations of it or reactions to it.

The positive takeaway from this for me is that by being made aware of this particular disconnect, I am encouraged to be more cognizant of how I frame statements, be they in writing or in a speech. Who is the audience? What segment of the population am I trying to reach? Is there potential for a negative response to my message? If so, what changes need to be made? These simple questions may help to bridge any potential communication gap(s) because if you have a positive message, the last result you want is to create distance from those whom you want to attract. 

This is not political correctness run amok. It is about respect and understanding. All of us can be clueless at times about those outside our tribe, but that cluelessness can also be a learning opportunity. Nor is perfection the goal—which we all know is impossible anyway—but rather, doing one's best to ensure that a positive point or call to action is actually positive, or at least as positive as it can be made.  

This post concludes with an exercise. If you, like me, thought Clinton's statement was fine at first glance, please read the article then ask yourself: Do I think differently about it now?  

My answer was: I do. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Non-stop Clinton Scandal Investigations: What they really Reveal

The political world has lost its collective mind, especially on the right. Policymakers seem to care little about achieving goals and passing legislation that will actually help their constituents. Rather, they prefer to play political games at taxpayer expense. Every day the polarization and schizophrenia of our nation’s politicians, reporters and opinion makers are on display. Go to the Real Clear Politics web site and read the article titles only. That's all you have to do to see the extreme views expressed and perpetuated by our media. These articles would be laughable if they weren’t so sad.

Here is a Boston Globe headline I saw on the RCP site on July 7: Another Clinton Scandal Goes “Poof”.

That same day, the comment below was given in response to the article “Haters get Over it: Clinton isn’t Going to Jail” in the Chicago Tribune: 

Non-indictment does not mean innocence. It just means that like all Clinton scandals, it miraculously goes away! Still, Clinton remains the most corrupt candidate ever for President.
"The most corrupt candidate ever" is hyperbolic, and if this commenter and others of the same opinion actually took a little time to examine this statement, they might ask themselves why these scandals "miraculously" go away. The Clintons have been relentlessly attacked and vilified for decades with ginned up accusations and conspiracy theories spurring investigation after investigation, yet they are vindicated every time—every time. (Bill was held to account for lying about the Lewinsky affair, and rightly so, but the other accusations...yeah, not much there.)

Is it because they are so powerful that no one dare take them down? Is it that they are incredibly devious masters at concealing all incriminating evidence? This seriously seems to be what some people think. Are they above the law? Maybe, but aren't most powerful and wealthy people? We see it all the time. Why are the Clinton's held to a different standard? I'm not saying it's right, but I am asking the question.

Or, perhaps they have been vindicated time and again because there is nothing criminal to be found. Maybe they are not the monsters their enemies—and yes, they are enemies, not opponents—paint them to be. 

What we do see in all this, however, are vindictive, hateful people who can’t fathom or admit that the Clintons actually could be innocent. Instead, the haters will continue to waste taxpayer money on investigations until they achieve their desired outcome.

Those heading up all the Republican investigative committees are the ones who should be investigated. After numerous  inquiries ending with the same conclusion of innocence and no intent of wrongdoing (and please note, there have been 8 Benghazi hearings), it resembles a witch hunt. Let me reiterate: These inquiries are on the taxpayers' dime. 

To put this in perspective, there were two major bi-partisan investigations into pre-war Iraq planning. Around 4500 American service members have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Four (4) Americans were killed in Benghazi. Furthermore, there were a number of U.S. embassy and consulate attacks and killings during the George W. Bush administration. Where were the investigations for any of those? You can see the full list here:

Ben Mathis-Lilley, a reporter, points out the absurdity of Congressional Republicans in a post he wrote on June 28:

Then there were a few more investigations during the G. W. Bush Administration into the use of torture (which is illegal) and the firings of eight U.S. attorneys during which 5 million emails went missing. Does any of that seem more outrageous or criminal in comparison to Benghazi or Clinton's email server rinse-repeat-and-rinse-repeat-again investigations? 

Clinton-derangement syndrome is real. This malady has infected many Republicans and even some on the left, in particular, Bernie Sanders ideologues who’d rather vote for Donald than Hillary. In what world is that rational? I guarantee that Bernie and Hillary have much more in common and share similar goals than Bernie and Donald ever would or could.

Hillary and Bill Clinton have addressed accusations and answered questions repeatedly over decades. Yes, admittedly, many of their troubles have been self-inflicted. Furthermore, because they have been scapegoated and attacked so frequently, when trying to protect their privacy (as most of us would) they come off as looking even more secretive, untrustworthy, and above the law. It’s a vicious cycle they cannot win, no matter what they do. 

The Clintons are polarizing, especially Hillary who has been criticized and scrutinized since she was first lady of Arkansas when she retained her maiden name instead of taking her husband’s. That seems quaint now, right? Not so fast. There are still those, women included, who feel a woman is obligated to take her husband’s last name.  

All these years of investigations doesn’t prove the Clintons are serial liars and criminals. What it does prove is that there is an orchestrated movement—as irrational and toxic as it is—to bring them down. Perhaps there is a right-wing conspiracy working against them, which I never believed until the past couple of years. The investigations, innuendo, and attacks will continue (even if Clinton wins the election) until the Clintons are brought down to their knees and given their just punishment—whether that be imprisonment or their political careers are relegated to the dust bin of history.

Please don't misconstrue what I am writing. Investigations should be conducted when public officials, corporate CEOs or anyone in a position of power is suspected of malfeasance, when their actions or inaction may have caused a tragedy, or when circumstances smell a little fishy. However, to conduct the same investigation repeatedly, expecting to obtain a different result the eighth time, or more, is the definition of insanity. These legislators are certifiable.  

The Clintons could step away from public life to make it all go away, but then they’d be giving in to their attackers. Both Bill and Hillary have made valuable contributions to this country and the world. Have they made mistakes? Absolutely. No leader, not even the greatest of them, has possessed a spotless record. Both Clintons worked their way up to the positions of political power and influence they possess, tirelessly fighting to better the lives of people around the globe. Now, those who hate them want to see their legacy diminished. Well, I say to Hillary and Bill, don’t let the haters bring you down. Keep up the good fight! 

Related articles:

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Thoughts after a week of violence

I love New York City for many reasons, and hate it for a few others. One reason I enjoy working in the city is that daily, I am in the midst of one of the greatest tapestries of humankind anywhere in the world. Even after fourteen years, I often still can't believe this small town girl from southern Indiana is thriving in this place.

Everywhere, there is interaction with people of various races, religions, and nationalities, speaking foreign languages and wear interesting clothing and accessories appropriate to their culture. Signs in the subway and around the city are often written in Spanish, Chinese, Italian, etc. Exposure to this diversity has increased my curiosity about others and the desire to understand their cultures and religions. 

Hearing someone speak a language other than English, even if I know they are a U.S. citizen, doesn’t offend me. Instead of lashing out at them “to speak English” or stew in silent resentment, I try to figure out what they are saying, even eavesdrop a little. It takes much to impress me, but those who can speak two or more languages, that’s impressive. It’s one of the reasons I’ve started practicing French, Spanish, and Italian on a daily basis. I am heading to Greece in September, so now Greek is practiced too because it behooves me to know some basic vocabulary and conversational phrases while I am there.

Too often we seek security and comfort in tribalism while foregoing engagement with those outside our tribe, which can create an “us against them” mentality. This does nothing to ease tensions where there are some, or allow us to better understand one another. 

There seems to be an empathy deficit in our world. Why is that? Have humans always lacked empathy to some degree? That is foreign to me because empathy is one of the reasons my emotions suffer daily. The violence, atrocities, and injustices happening here and abroad pierce my heart—I internalize it all, even if it doesn’t affect me directly, which it rarely ever does. Still, I embrace the pain because maybe, just maybe if I feel it, it will lessen the pain for others actually experiencing it. I know, that sounds weird, even a bit obsessive, but it’s why I can watch, listen, or read about an ongoing tragedy for hours, even days at a time. If I’m engaged, if I’m paying attention, maybe somehow it will help those who are hurting.

This past week, three horrific events captured the nation's attention. Two African American men were killed at the hands of police in Louisiana and Minnesota: Alton Sterling was selling CDs and DVDs in a convenience store parking lot (with the owner's permission) when his deadly encounter occurred and Philando Castile was stopped for a broken tail light. Then on July 7, a sniper targeted police officers in Dallas near the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally. Eleven officers were shot, five of whom died. The sniper was killed when a bomb was detonated by a robot the police had sent into the garage where he was hiding. Dallas officials remain tight-lipped because it’s early in the investigation, but this was an orchestrated operation designed specifically to kill white cops.

The sniper acted alone, that much we know as of now, or at least that's what we're told. He was not associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, as some on the right have suggested. Sadly, these tragedies more often than not lead to the ratcheting up of fear and anger from politicians and the media, which only serves to further fuel the flames of division.

We have some major healing to do in this country. Platitudes and prayers while fine are woefully inadequate. It's time to get serious and do the hard work of figuring out how to repair race relations, decrease poverty, address the violence rampant in our society, rethink some of our gun laws, train law enforcement officials to use less lethal force, and build better community relations between police officers and the citizens they serve and protect. It’s a tall order. It will be difficult, but something has to change. It's way past time we face these challenges head on. Will we?

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Writing Life is getting political

Part of writing life is expressing my opinions and exploring why I believe the way I do. It also allows me to vent frustration with what I see happening in (what has become) our toxic political environment here in America; well, and around globe too, if I'm to be honest—it's certainly not solely an American problem.

Journal writing has always been an avenue to explore my ideas and flesh out the reasoning behind my support for various issues and political leaders. It helps clarify my beliefs. So, in this space over the coming months and probably beyond, I will also do some political writing. In other words, I will be journaling publicly.

Whether you agree with my assessments or commentary is not my business. What is important is that I write truthfully. It may not be your truth but it is mine. We can agree to disagree, and I even welcome comments, but please keep them civil because I do moderate the comments posted on this site.

To disclose, I am a center left Democrat. I have been accused of being a big lefty by family and friends on the right yet too conservative by friends who reside further left on the ideological spectrum. That being said, I will try my best to make my posts constructive and illuminating, to add value to the political discourse. I may not always succeed, but I promise you that I will try.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why I chose to burn my journals

By Lisa Leistner Hammack

I began journaling in 2004. Before then, I had made several attempts to keep a journal. Even as a young girl, I tried doing it, to no avail. What made me, at the age of forty-three, start journaling and keep going I don’t really know. Perhaps writing my first poem ignited the initial spark.  
I possessed a variety of journals. There were large ones and small ones; some held colored pages and some plain white ones. Bold images adorned the covers of many while inspiring phrases were etched on the outside of others. I purchased them from different retail outlets: Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Books-A-Million, monastery gift shops, etc. 

In the journals, I wrote poetry, recorded quotes, and took notes from books I was reading that I wanted to remember. I wrote about my days, jotted down information I learned from workshops and conferences, explored my perception of words said or actions taken by myself or others, stapled interesting magazine articles and paper-clipped notes from others onto the pages. Mainly though my journals were for prayers. I find it easier to pray when I write. I thought it was pretty cool that the main character, Aibileen, in Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” also wrote her prayers.

By 2014, I had accumulated many journals. If I finished one and didn’t have another to start, which rarely occurred, I felt lost. Later that year, the urge to downsize came over me because I was ready to move from our big home to an apartment. It was hard work, sorting through all of our belongings and fitting all my clothes into one closet and one chest of drawers. Of the four large storage areas in our upstairs all but one are completely empty; the one that is not, is only half full. I secured all my journals in a large plastic tote and put them in the storage area, but something about their presence kept nagging at me.   

I began to seriously consider if I wanted to keep them for my family to read. More importantly, did I really, truly want anyone to read them? I contemplated this for months, repeatedly going back and forth between the desire to keep or destroy them. Then one day my decision was clear: I did not want anyone reading my journals. Some things are best left between me and God. Furthermore, I was concerned that people would misconstrue what was written throughout those pages. The decision: They were to be burned.

I live in a small town, which has burning ordinances. Aside from the environmental rules and although we have a small fire pit, I knew it was sorely insufficient for my needs, so I called upon some friends. They reside in the country and have a large fire pit, so my husband and I packed up food for grilling and visited them one evening. We sat around the fire pit, grilled food, ate, and the journal burning commenced. I thought I might feel regret taking that action, but instead I felt a sense of freedom. 

Their five-year-old granddaughter was visiting during some of the journal burning. She would pick up a journal, pretend to read it then ask if she could throw it into the fire. When she came upon those with beautiful images on the covers she would ask me, “Are you sure you want to burn it?” Eventually, she asked me why I was burning them.

I told her, “I just do not want them anymore, and I don’t want anyone else to read them.” That answer satisfied her. 

Finally, there was one journal left. I had bought it at a monastery. It was diminutive with a blue vinyl-type cover—I don’t recall the words on it—and gold-edged pages. I had saved this one for last because I thought burning that particular material might stink. The little girl held onto to it for a long time, looking at the cover and touching the gold-trimmed pages. She asked me if she could keep this one. I told her, “No honey, they all need to be burned.” She sighed, said okay, and tossed it into the flames. 

It took three and one-half hours to burn them all in that large fire pit. I wondered if I would have regrets as I watched them disintegrate into the flames. It has been close to a year now, and I can honestly say: I have no regrets. I did keep copies of my poetry though.

I wondered too if I would buy another journal. I haven’t and instead decided to use a one-inch binder and loose-leaf paper for any journaling. That way I can shred the pages when I feel the need. As stated previously, there are some things that need to stay between me and God. I’m okay with that.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Writing Life is Back

Writing Life is back! After a five-month hiatus, we are ready to start sharing content again. I had been working on a project, with multiple components, that I had planned to launch this year. Sadly, the timing for it is not quite right and has proven to be more than I can accomplish alone. While I have not abandoned it, it has been put on hold indefinitely.

I know, I know, everything doesn't have to be perfect, but for me, the product must be as polished and professional as possible plus it demands unwavering commitment because of the daily writing, producing, and posting of content required. That level of commitment is lacking right now. So, I am focusing on other things such as travel in September, a healthier lifestyle, spending more time with family and friends, learning foreign languages, studying current events, history, and feminism, and in general, just having more fun.

I also reach a milestone tomorrow: I turn fifty. My intention this year, for some of this blog, is to post "This is 50" segments. Each stage of our life is different, and I always feel youthful regardless of the passing years. My experience being fifty is/will be different than yours, but I want to share mine with you. Those of you fifty and older, feel free to send to me your stories and experiences. They may end up in a blog at some point. Those younger than fifty, I'd enjoy hearing your stories too about aging, whether it's turning thirty or forty or merely another year older. What have you learned over the years? What do you struggle with, physically or emotionally? Whatever it is you would like to share, feel free. You may contact me at

I am excited to enter this next decade. Many women dread getting older, but after having been diagnosed with leukemia when I was thirty-seven, I look forward to each birthday. It is a celebration because as we know, many people do not make it to old age, and I would like to be one of them who does.

I look forward to sharing interesting, useful, and sometimes provocative content with you. Until the next time, here are a few previous posts you may find interesting, or browse through older posts where you will also find journal writing tips.

Journaling Through Cancer in the 21st Century

Appreciate the present and leap into the future by reflecting on the past

Is Blogging Journaling?

Write it Down, Make it Happen (Part II)

Protecting Your Journals' Content

Have a happy Mother's Day weekend!