Sunday, April 10, 2016

Reading, (a)Loud

I am a LOUD reader.
No, I don't read aloud.  Well, not usually (we'll get into that in a minute...) but when I read, to myself, I am loud.  My head is inside a newspaper, but my voice is on the other side of the room.  Like a parishioner at a southern Baptist church,  out of my mouth come a a whole lot of "uh HUH's!" and "AMEN's!" and quite a few unintelligible "mmh, mmh, mmph's!"  It's involuntary.  I can't help it.  In fact, most of the time, I don't even realize I'm doing it.

Until, that is, someone else is in the room with me and then it can't be ignored.  I'm overcome with emotion.  I'm living the story I hold in my hands.  And while I am completely immersed, those around me are bound to know how I feel about these stories they can't see.  It's hard to ignore someone gasp, grunt, moan, and even let out an "I cannot BE-lieve it!" in what is usually a fairly quiet setting.

Growing up I spent a lot of time lost in the world of books.  Whether I was in the library or in the bathtub or on a long car ride, I have always been able to get completely inside of a well written story. Heck, I can even loose my way in a poorly written but extremely suspenseful or romantic or adventurous or comical story.  In many of these cases, it would be no surprise to those who know me to somehow (finally) get my attention and have me raise my head only to find the story played out on my face:  tears, anger, fear.  I felt it all from the words on the page.

This translated into my adult life while reading the newspaper.  About three years ago, RK purchased a subscription to the New York Times, Sunday issue for my birthday.  Best.  Gift.  Ever.  I read it end to end, every single page.  It usually takes me about a week.  And in that week, I ride the rollercoaster of national and international news as if the stories are actually happening to me at that moment.  The sighs, the tears, the "ohmygosh!'s" are all there, every week.  It was actually RK who pointed this "loud" readership out to me.  It wasn't that he'd ask me what I was reading about, it was just him giggling after I emoted.  I would look up at him and say, "what?" and he would describe all the sounds coming from my corner of the room.  So, I would proceed to draw him into the drama.  I had to tell him all about what I had been reading, what I had learned about the people in Syria, or the transgendered youth in New Orleans, or the Indian transplant cabdriver in Iran, or the woman who lost her child, or...on and on and on...

And that is where the (sometimes i DO) read aloud comes into this story.  I started reading the stories to RK because I didn't think he'd get around to reading them himself.  I had told him so much, I thought, I may as well just read the actual article to him at that point.  I was in it at the moment!  I couldn't help but take on the story as if I was now reporting it to my audience.

{The irony of this is that I do NOT like being read to.  AT ALL.  It dates back to my days in kindergarten.  By the time I entered those hallowed halls, I could already read.  And, as most people know, it's very common for an elementary school teacher to read to her students...
Most kids love it!
It drove me crazy.
I can absolutely love an author!
I would never go to a reading.
I don't do books on tape.
If RK tries to read something to me, I completely zone out.}

It is here I must admit, this reading aloud thing, I may get it from my father:  
My dad is awake before anyone else in the house.  By the time the rest of us crawl out of bed and wash our face, he's already read the entire daily news;  he has categorized the paper into sections for each of us (sports for RK, calendar and funnies for me, travel section for mom) and before we can dig in, coffee and toast at the ready, eyes finally open, excited to Pop proceeds to tell us, in semi-remembered details, every single story he's sure we're going to enjoy!

I usually drift off and can't stop myself from slowly looking down at the paper in front of me and begin to read.

What is it about getting lost in the words that just doesn't translate if someone else, other than my own mind, takes over that page...?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

This Election Cycle

President Obama recently spoke at the Toner Prize Ceremony, held for Excellence in Political Reporting.  It recognizes the best national or local political reporting in any medium or on any platform—print, broadcast or online.  This is just a small excerpt from that speech.
 "As I’ve said in recent weeks, I know I’m not the only one who may be more than a little dismayed about what’s happening on the campaign trail right now.  The divisive and often vulgar rhetoric that's aimed at everybody, but often is focused on the vulnerable or women or minorities.   The sometimes well-intentioned but I think misguided attempts to shut down that speech.  The violent reaction that we see, as well as the deafening silence from too many of our leaders in the coarsening of the debate.  The sense that facts don’t matter, that they're not relevant.  That what matters is how much attention you can generate.  A sense that this is a game as opposed to the most precious gift our Founders gave us -- this collective enterprise of self-government.   
And so it's worth asking ourselves what each of us -- as politicians or journalists, but most of all, as citizens -- may have done to contribute to this atmosphere in our politics.  I was going to call is "carnival atmosphere," but that implies fun.  And I think it’s the kind of question Robin would have asked all of us.  As I said a few weeks ago, some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, but all of us are responsible for reversing it. 
I say this not because of some vague notion of “political correctness,” which seems to be increasingly an excuse to just say offensive things or lie out loud.  I say this not out of nostalgia, because politics in America has always been tough.  Anybody who doubts that should take a look at what Adams and Jefferson and some of our other Founders said about each other.  I say this because what we're seeing right now does corrode our democracy and our society.  And I'm not one who's faint of heart.  I come from Chicago. Harold Washington once explained that "politics ain't beanbag."  It's always been rough and tumble. 
But when our elected officials and our political campaign become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what's true and what's not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions on behalf of future generations.  It threatens the values of respect and tolerance that we teach our children and that are the source of America’s strength.  It frays the habits of the heart that underpin any civilized society -- because how we operate is not just based on laws, it's based on habits and customs and restraint and respect.  It creates this vacuum where baseless assertions go unchallenged, and evidence is optional.  And as we're seeing, it allows hostility in one corner of our politics to infect our broader society.  And that, in turn, tarnishes the American brand.
     The number one question I am getting as I travel around the world or talk to world leaders right now is, what is happening in America -- about our politics.  And it's not because around the world people have not seen crazy politics; it is that they understand America is the place where you can't afford completely crazy politics.  For some countries where this kind of rhetoric may not have the same ramifications, people expect, they understand, they care about America, the most powerful nation on Earth, functioning effectively, and its government being able to make sound decisions.  
So we are all invested in making this system work.  We are all responsible for its success.  And it's not just for the United States that this matters.  It matters for the planet." 

Read Obama's speech in full, or watch the video.  It's moving, it's clear (though you may not feel it concise), he makes points I wish I had articulated and he gives me hope that there are leaders in the world like him that will continue to speak out, even if they don't always have a podium.