Remembrance, Rights, Responsibility


Today is Memorial Day in the United States – the day we remember those who have died protecting our rights and our way of life.

We all appreciate our ability to say or write what we think and to live without the fear of the government evicting us from our homes or throwing us into jail at a whim. Most of us gratefully honor those who protect those rights, those freedoms.

Why is it then that so many ignore their responsibility in using and maintaining these rights? Why are so many of us willing to be herded by the “thought leaders” without doing what it takes to keep them honest?

I recently tripped across the piece “Thumb War” by Katie Roiphe in the latest issue of Esquire magazine. In it, Roiphe uses the Twitter storm around Gay Talese’s alleged comments regarding women writers to illustrate how thoughtlessly people comment on manufactured slants to subjects. We are so willing to blast someone in 140 characters without knowing the whole story.

Social media are like fire – beneficial if used responsibly, but dangerous if not. What worries me is the public’s willingness to be led by the short spurts of incomplete information they are fed. So many people get their “news” from Twitter and Facebook which, by their very nature, are unable to provide the deep research necessary for a complete story.

People don’t investigate to the heart of the matter, the kernel of truth, on other media outlets. They just don’t question whether what they’re reading or seeing is valid. That responsibility takes effort.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are rights established by the Constitution’s First Amendment. The purpose was to give people access to all information, especially information and opinion contrary to the mainstream, so they can make good decisions. Self-government is founded upon making decisions.

The most important area of decision making in government is selecting and influencing our representatives. We have the right – and the responsibility – to vote for our lawmakers. We should always make the best decision based not on what we’re fed by our preferred media source but by our stringent efforts to determine the truth of the candidates’ history, character, and personality.  Elections should not devolve into popularity contests.

This takes effort. We need to think critically about the complicated issues and the candidates’ positions on them. We have do more than follow the tweets and Facebook posts. And we need to vote on our investigation and synthesis of information. We need to fulfill our responsibilities to maintain our rights.

To do less would be to dishonor those we remember today.


Why Writers Must Plunge In

firstdraftsbuttonFrustration radiating from her, a student seeking guidance on yet another essay wailed, “I’ve done all the research. I just don’t know how to start!”

I nodded sagely. “I’m going to let you in on a secret.”

After shooting around a few furtive glances, I moved in a bit closer for the revelation.

Everyone, including professional writers, has a hard time starting. The secret is we just fake it, just start writing something, and clean it up in revision.”

Yes, folks, at the risk of losing my standing in the Mysteries of Writing Guild, I tell you that beginning a project is one of the greatest hurdles any writer must overcome.  It’s just that practiced writers have learned to just start, prime the pump as it were.

The trap so many writers fall into, especially novice writers, is the idea their work should be perfect first time out.

No! No, I say! There’s a reason the Word Deities have allowed humans to invent the “delete” key! It’s called “revision.”

It is so hard to convince people that putting the effort into revising their writing actually makes life much easier. Students just want to “write it” and hand it in. (Hey, I was a student once. I did the same thing.)

Revision is more than a quality issue; it gives writers the license to write poorly. It strips away the pressure to be perfect. It locks away the mental editor poised with her blue pen and focuses on conjuring the raw diamonds of ideas.

Uninhibited, the literary mustang can be free to write whatever comes to mind only later corralling those thoughts into something organized and understandable by the reader.

So, when you’re faced with starting a writing project, think of the immortal words offered by Nike’s marketing department:

“Just do it!”