Tuesday, November 26, 2019

In celebration of essays, local control, and the Concord Monitor

This essay published in the Concord Monitor 11/17/19
The old Monitor Building when they were situated downtown

Rebecca Solnit, one of my favorite writers, happens to be the editor of The Best Essays of 2019. I’m guessing this book won’t become a bible for Trump supporters, mainly because of one essay.

Solnit included, We are the Resistance by Michelle Alexander, because it demonstrates the author’s ability to think outside the box by disputing the conventional belief that those who oppose Trump are “the resistance.” 

On the contrary, she says, “Viewed from the broad sweep of history, Donald Trump is the resistance. We are not.” She equates those of us who believe in diversity and universal human rights to a river, “sometimes powerful, tumultuous, and roiling with life; at other times meandering and turgid” but always moving.

The river is a perfect metaphor for our plight: Rather than viewing ourselves negatively as a dam holding something back, we empower ourselves by identifying with the river, a powerhouse of nature whose forward movement is inevitable.

Solnit asserts that essays like this are powerful currents propelling the river forward, churning out ever more inclusive perspectives on race, gender, climate, and social justice.

She says, “we live in an essayistic age,” where some of the key transformations in our country have been the result of arguments advanced in essays, not individual ones, generally “but flocks of essays that fill the sky like birds.”

I agree with Solnit and believe, on the local level, the new format of the Concord Monitor is doing the same by providing a roosting place for flocks of local writers, from a variety of backgrounds, to enrich us in “The Forum” section of the paper.

These local scribes, on a consistent basis, challenge us to broaden our horizons by embracing diversity, social justice, and equality for us all, while bringing it all home by celebrating our unique sense of place, including specific ideas on how to make our local communities thrive. 

I can say, without doubt, that I’ve enjoyed and profited more from these local folks, than the old, big-time national columnists. However, looking ahead, I worry about the future of the Monitor.

One-fifth of all newspapers have gone out of business in the last 14 years, and more are closing all the time. One can’t help noticing that the Monitor is getting slimmer all the time.

Losing the Monitor would be like losing an old friend, unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence when you are 74. Already this year, my other local paper, the Suncook Sun, succumbed without warning, erasing access to my most local news happenings.

How do we cope with this accelerating loss of access to what’s happening around us? What happens to our democracy if all our news comes from corporate giants and Russian bots on Facebook.

Everyone across the political spectrum has an answer. Folks on both the extreme left and right say we need a revolution. In an old essay in The Nation back in 2009, my mentor Rebecca Solnit claims the revolution is already happening.

In fact, she points out “we have thousands of them, being carried out quite spectacularly over the past few decades, community gardens and childcare co-ops and bicycle lanes and farmers’ markets and countless ways of doing things differently and better.”

The revolution is already happening in bits and pieces all over the place – but not much has been done to connect the dots. And that’s why we need the Concord Monitor!

The underlying vision is “neither state socialist or corporate capitalist” but something we in New England are intimately familiar with: direct democracy, as in town meetings and local control.

That’s my vision: Connecting the dots by each of us buying local, keeping profits in the community, enabling we, the people, to prosper, rather than corporate titans in NYC or Silicon Valley. 

The more we buy local, the more new, local businesses, farms, and community spaces will emerge. At each turn of the wheel,  more profit will stay in the local community.

Completing the circle, all these local businesses and farms, acting locally, will advertise in the Concord Monitor, making it once again – along with the local community – vibrant and prosperous.

And here’s the final piece of my vision: Harkening back to its roots, and in celebration of community, the Monitor returns to its brick and mortar home in downtown Concord.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The props of my youth are collapsing

Jean Stimmell CC, photograph taken 11/15/19
Sometimes I feel like an entry in the 2 volume, psychology tome, “Encyclopedia of Death and the Human Experience.”

I don’t usually feel that way, even after 1-1/2 years in the brown water navy in Vietnam, 9 years counseling veterans with PTSD in the VA and now an additional 20 years in private practice with a heavy share of trauma patients dealing with life-defying experiences.

But I felt that way yesterday, attending a free lunch celebrating Veterans Day at a banquet hall in a nearby city. The veterans, a smattering from each of our generous smorgasbord of recent wars, were humble and grateful, breaking bread together, enjoying this brief reunion of brotherhood and sisterhood.

However, at least to me, the scene was more than just sitting around the fire singing Kumbaya: I was racked  by the dissonance between enjoying the understated, modesty of my fellow veterans who knew war, while, at the same time, being assaulted by ultra-patriotic music, playing so loud conversation was difficult: songs so adoring and one-sided, as to border on being jingoistic.

These lyrics pulled me back in time, twisting my soul, making me feel ill. I grew up revering John Wayne and this type of – how can I nicely say it – patriotic excess. 

But those fantasies of the USA, who never did anything wrong, were trampled, after marching off to war in Vietnam to kill innocent third-world peasants, whose leader, Ho Chi Minh, declared his independence by reciting America’a 1776 Declaration of Independence.

How could I feel proud of my country for attacking Iraq because it allegedly had weapons of mass destruction, a propaganda ploy to sanction the attack that killed 100,000’s and upset the balance in the middle east? 

How could be proud of our country today for supporting Saudi Arabia’s massacre of Yemini citizens and the dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi, our Washington Post columnist?

If that wasn’t enough, the next day, I happened across an article in the NYT magazine written by an American soldier who was a medic in Afghanistan. He tells a story of survival guilt; a familiar one I have heard from 100s of patients over the years.

What was new – and viscerally unsettling – was that he struck a nerve in me, exposing feelings I am usually in deep denial about: 

"You feel the guilt but it doesn’t feel outsize; it doesn’t seem misplaced and unjustified. Your own innocence is precisely the thing you can’t see or feel." [1]

Though it’s not that simple: in truth, my guilt extends far beyond war: I feel the same way about a lot of things, recovering, as I am, from being a white, middle-class, American, man.  

It isn’t easy, it’s a heavy burden to carry, trying to ferret out and purge my 74-year old history as a man, steeped in patriarchy, classism, and the blinders of institutional racism. 

Don’t get me started on what we’ve done to blacks and Native Americans, or my own sad history of patriarchy.

I’m trying…I’m learning…I’m changing with the help of courageous mentors. However, there’s one thing I am proud of: 

I am still proud to be an American, just one who, having taking off his rose-colored glasses, no longer grants her blind obedience, parroting that everything she does is right and virtuous.

Consequently, while I love her just as much, it’s more in the manner of a parent loving his delinquent teenager. Because I love her, it is my duty to work to change her objectionable behavior – and right now, there’s a lot to change!


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Golden Mirrors to the Soul

Florida Flamingo   Jean Stimmell©2019

Palomino Pony   Jean Stimmell©2019

"I have long been fascinated by the use of “oracles” in shaping human thought — including such devices as augury (in ancient Rome), the I Ching (in China), the Tarot (in Europe), and Rorschach tests (in western psychology). It is my understanding that such practices basically function as mirrors — by confusing the rational mind, they unlock the user’s subconscious, allowing insights to arise from within."

quote by JonathanHarris from “A silent Place."