For What Binds Us
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
Here in Argentina, it’s said soccer is a religion. So it’s no surprise that the new Pope, an Argentine, is an avid fan himself.
Today I spent the day reporting on the San Lorenzo football club, his preferred team, and one of the top five most traditional clubs in Buenos Aires. Pope Francis is a long-time San Lorenzo fan — and No. 88,235 on the club’s member list.
In the morning, I hailed a cab and headed almost an hour away, where I visited the San Lorenzo club headquarters, stadium, and stadium chapel. I heard stories, saw photos, and talked to many, many people who are very excited about the new Pope (and his fútbol allegiances). I even got to see the old white Fiat that has transported the Pope from his downtown apartment to mass on stadium grounds.
In honor of International Women’s Day 2013, I asked my social media connections to send me three words that describe the women that most inspire them. I received 150 words, from a cross-section of 50 women and men (thanks all!). Here they are shown in a Word Cloud, via Worditout. Some personal favorites were sassy, selfless and laughing. The top submissions were: 1) Loving, 2) Compassionate, 3) Brave/Independent/Strong (the third place spot was a 3-way tie).
I recently listened to historian and civil rights activist Vincent Harding’s discussion with Krista Tippet on the radio program “On Being,” and I was blown away. The former speechwriter for Martin Luther King, Jr., shares memories from a tumultuous time in U.S. history, but one he says birthed unprecedented creativity, kindness, love and compassion. He instructs us to use the wisdom gleaned in that time — those important lessons — to heal today’s fractured U.S. society. What moved me the most were Harding’s words on the importance of storytelling. In a society that is so diverse, he says, listening to the stories of our neighbors can have a profound impact on our ability to build a “beloved community.”
“It’s a powerful time in this country for young people and others to be asking the question And what are we for? Do we exist for some reason other than competing with China or finding the best possible technological advances? Are there some things even deeper that we are meant for, meant to be, meant to do, meant to achieve?
When the mother with the baby at her bosom starts telling stories, it is clearly not just to pass on information. And what I find is that even in some of the strangest situations most often where I go, where I speak, where I share, I start out by asking people to tell a little of their stories. And it is amazing what people discover of themselves, of their connections, of their community. It’s wonderful.
How do we work together? How do we talk together in way that will open up our best capacities and our best gifts? My own feeling that I try to share again and again, is that when it comes to creating a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religion, democratic society, we are still a developing nation. We’ve only been thinking about this for half a century. But my own deep conviction is that the knowledge is available to us if we seek it … those are things that can be available to us if we’re willing to work with each other and work with the universe on developing them. They don’t come free and easy. They are tough tasks to take on.”
Someone recently asked me to describe in very simple terms what it is like to work as a journalist. The short essay will be read by English language learners.
On Being a Journalist
My job always begins with a good story.
In journalism, a story idea may be generated by an editor or reporter, or even a reader. A story worth telling is one with characters and tension. It challenges or boggles the mind, and deserves explanation and a presentation of various points of view. Most of all, it says something important about the world in which we live. As a journalist, I am perpetually in search of such stories.
Once I know my general story idea, I must compile information from reliable and knowledgeable sources. To do so, I may conduct interviews (in person is preferred to via email or over the phone), consult archives or reports, find official and/or government documentation, go to a live scene to collect “color” and description of place, or consult older, related stories. Reporting can take days or months, depending on the complexity of the topic and the desired length of the story (and whether or not I’m on a deadline).
Once the bulk of my information is collected, I must write. First, I outline, which helps me organize my ideas and see the story arc. It also helps me to narrow in on what information will be part of my story lede. A good story always leads with the most interesting and powerful information. In journalism, we refer to this as an “inverted pyramid,” meaning the most important information goes up top. If I’ve done my reporting well, I should then be able to fill my story with information, facts, description, quotes and explanation. If I notice holes in my story, I go back and seek out the additional information I need.
An editor will then work with my story, and I may have to make changes or rewrites. Eventually, it publishes — ideally accompanied by attention-grabbing photos. My goal is to leave my reader with various viewpoints and perspectives, delivered in a pleasant reading experience. As a journalist, there are very few feelings more satisfying than seeing my byline, and knowing that readers around the world are reading and learning.
My camera broke in October. Suddenly, every picture I took had a thick black line at the top of the frame. I took the camera to the one shop in Buenos Aires that I was told could fix it, a Sony specialty store, and they predicted it would be a month or so until I had it back. The cost would be high — considerably more than in the US — but I was more than willing to pay.
Three months later, I’m still waiting. Well, more precisely, they’re still waiting — for the one teeny piece that is going to fix the shutter and cost me hundreds of dollars. I’m guessing it’s stuck at customs.
Imports and the Argentine government have a complicated relationship. While many people here want and depend on imported goods, the government wants to limit their entry, pushing to spur local industry and hold up the MADE IN ARGENTINA label.
It’s hard to argue against growing the local economy and limiting dependence on faraway markets. I’m all for it. But in practice, the execution of the ideology can be frustrating for many people. Various high-demand goods are not available, and those that are sell at comparatively high prices, despite what is often poor quality.
It’s the reason my friend asked me to bring her mascara from the US. And why a yoga mat costs US$70+. And why a professional musician has family bring tuning kits and strings, plus requests from other musician friends (I’m told a recent delivery included trumpet oil, percussion mallets and oboe staples). In more extreme cases, the import restrictions have threatened to shut down entire industries.
It’s an interesting exercise in considering the true value of a particular good, as well as how interconnected global trade markets really are. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that these are themes I rarely considered before moving abroad.
I recently published a feature on the theme, for the Associated Press, using the cycling industry to explore the effect of import restrictions on a local industry. During my reporting, I visited bike shops and factories and spoke to producers, sellers and cyclists to learn how they depend on imports and how they’re adjusting — or not — to the restrictions.
At Musetta bicycle factory in suburban Buenos Aires, I saw cardboard boxes full of partially assembled mountain bikes, missing a pedal, seat or handlebars and unable to be sold, gathering dust in a corner. I met a man who brought his bike in a suitcase from abroad. And I learned about the trend to forgo a new bike completely … to fix up an old vintage one instead.
Read the story here. I’d love your comments.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine President Cristina Fernandez faced another protest Wednesday led by a union boss who used to be one of her most loyal supporters.
Yet again, we’re forced to wrap our brains around the unfathomable. How could this happen and who the hell could do something like this?
J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and expert on mass killers, has noted that almost without exception, [mass murderers'] crimes represent the endpoint of a long and troubled highway that in hindsight was dotted with signs missed or misinterpreted. “These individuals do not snap,” he told the New York Times, “whatever that means.”
Adam Lanza, like most of the 62 mass murders in the United States between 1982 and 2012, were sick and in need of serious help. Let’s hope mental health care and mental illness sticks around in the public debate and continues to resonate. In the aftermath of last week’s horror, articles with a range of opinions, like this plus this and this in response, have raised awareness of the issues and spawned debate.
Can we begin to chip away at the stigma?
When I moved to Argentina last year, one of the first things I noticed was a general willingness to talk about mental health. Unlike in the U.S. (where I received psychological and psychiatric treatment years ago), it’s not taboo and it’s not expensive, and psychologists are everywhere. (In 2008, there were 145 per 100,000 people. Last year, that number was 196 per 100,000. That compares with about 27 psychologists per 100,000 people in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association. Here is a NYT piece about this phenomenon.) It’s not uncommon for a casual acquaintance to mention his/her analyst or have to miss work or an event because of an appointment.
I mention Argentina not as a picture perfect model, but as an example of something different. Far different. I’m not a professional and I don’t claim to have the slightest idea how we handle seriously troubled and violent individuals. I don’t know that less stigma, and more care and research would take away the issue. And yes, we have come a long way since the days of locking mentally troubled individuals away and out of public sight. But I have read and experienced enough to know that, at the very least, it’s still not easy to talk about mental illness nor to access treatment in the U.S. in 2012.
In CNN today, associate professor of pediatrics Aaron E. Carroll outlines the problem and encourages the U.S. to “get serious about mental health“:
We should be careful not to blame the mentally ill for all crimes. But we should also be prepared to accept that we might be able to prevent some tragedies if we did a better job of caring for them. I’ve seen mental health illness in children, and our system is ill-equipped to handle it. Studies show that more than 10% of children in the United States might benefit from some sort of mental health treatment. Most don’t get it. We often don’t have the research to tell us how best to care for these problems. Even when we do, we often lack the capacity. There is a shortage of resources and services available to serve children. Furthermore, even when those resources exist, a lack of coordination often prevents they’re being used effectively.
After hearing Adam Lanza described the way I remember hearing a lot of these killers described over the years, I did a little research, which confirmed the hunch. Here, below, a sample of media descriptions of the 10 mass murderers in the US in 2011 and 2012, in reverse chronological order by date of crime. These were found in major media, including the New York Times and AP.
Adam Lanza, 20: an enigma; intelligent and shy; left few footprints in life; nervous and fidgety; deeply uncomfortable in social situations. Brother, Ryan, had not seen him since 2010. Source.
Andrew Engeldinger, 36: introvert; struggled with mental illness for years and had shut parents out of his life for nearly two years before the attack. Family had a clinically diagnosed history of schizophrenia; competitive and intelligent; a high level of intelligence; no known friends. Source.
Wade Michael Page, 40: Ticking time bomb of rage; pretty calm, friendly; steeped in a neo-Nazi “hate music” scene that espouses white power and racial superiority and occasionally promotes violent acts against people of other races and religions. Discharged from the army for “patterns of misconduct” and ruled ineligible to re-enlist. Source.
James Holmes, 24: Suffered from dysphoric mania, a form of bipolar disorder that combines the frenetic energy of mania with the agitation, dark thoughts and in some cases paranoid delusions of major depression. An enigma; young man struggling with a severe mental illness who more than once hinted to others that he was losing his footing. Amiable if intensely shy; really smart. Source.
Ian Stawicki, 40: History dotted with failure, rejection, delusions, violence and a strong interest in guns. Erratic, argumentative and full of rage for years, but especially so recently; social rejection; episodes of apparent delusions; spasms of violence. Charming and paranoid; “a little off”; He slept with a gun under his pillow and was a skilled marksman. Source.
One L. Goh, 43: Life was on the skids; felt disrespected; a man struggling to deal with personal and family difficulties over the past 10 years; very quiet; had “anger management” issues. Source.
Jeong Soo Paek, 59: Jeong’s family was afraid of his violent tendencies; had threatened to commit suicide with his guns.
Scott Evans Dekraai, 42: Suffered from post-traumatic-stress disorder; unstable and physically abusive; witnesses thought he was near the breaking point. Source.
Eduardo Sencion, 32: Convinced demons were after him; diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a teenager; avoided intimate relationships because he feared “he would father a child and pass along his illness.” Gave his mother keys to his gun safe, warning her he was “getting sick.” Began hearing voices telling him to do “bad things” to people. Source.
Jared Loughner, 22: had been behaving increasingly erratically in recent months; had posted rambling videos online in which he made statements about mind control; mentally unstable. “He has kind of a troubled past, I can tell you that,” prone to outbursts in class, “floating through life” and “doing his own thing”. “If he tried, he would probably be at the top of our class. But he kind of just wasted his life.” Source.
“If consensus is overrated, I think balance is, too.
I have no interest in living a balanced life.
I want a life of adventure.”
- Chris Guillebeau, The Art of Non-Conformity
“I burn a lot of omelets. It’s a regular occurrence. I’m drawing robots with my kid, I’m jotting down an idea I don’t want to lose, I’m taking the call. And then the smoke alarms go off. I “work” on holidays. I’ve been known to read in bed all day on a Monday. I send birthday gifts three months early or three months late, but I always send just the right gift. I can eat granola cereal every day for a week, wear the same clothes, and not leave the house because I want to finish a project. The last time I was at a monastery, I tweeted about it. This is not a balanced life. But it works for me.”
- Danielle LaPorte, The Fire Starter Sessions
And just when I think Buenos Aires has experienced the most epic rainstorm ever, a bigger and badder one comes along. Today, instead of following slow-moving traffic through a massive detour due to flooding, my renegade bus driver on the 65 used his superpowers to make the bus lift higher so we could split from the traffic and traverse a flooded street (which resembled a lake). As we approached the deepest part, everyone braced as if on a roller coaster. My face contorted as water reached the bus’ windows and then I squealed as it flooded onto the bus up to knee-level. We kept going and the water eventually left as it had come in. Everyone was cracking up.