Facebook Controversy and Postmodernism

This week, facebook’s choice to reverse a ban on violent content has come under discussion from just about every news source I have encountered. For those of us catching up on the news, the discussion was initially sparked by a video recorded in Mexico that depicted a woman being beheaded by a masked man.

I should state up front that I am not a journalist—I’m a poet by training, so this post will be a poet’s interpretation of the matter and while I will do my very best in recording the latest and most accurate details to inform my post, for the most accurate details and news on this matter, you should look elsewhere.

Many have voiced that they agree with the reason  facebook has allowed the content. A facebook spokesman stated in response to a BBC report— that its users have a right to show and comment on the world in which they live and experience, and that, “Facebook has long been a place where people turn to share their experiences, particularly when they’re connected to controversial events on the ground, such as human rights abuses, acts of terrorism and other violent events…”

I agree with this philosophy to a point. But like the many who have commented on the issue, I also feel a line has been crossed. It feels unsettling that people could witness/experience the violent death (virtually) and in the next moment, watch a viral video of a cat playing the piano.

One argument against letting this content or other content like it remain on the site is that it could “potentially cause psychological damage to users, who can be as young as 13…” By far this is the best reason I’ve heard, and facebook has said that said they will work on providing warning labels so no one is caught completely off guard.

And then there’s still the argument that content considered more minor in comparison, such as nudity is removed from facebook as part of their policy, while a violent beheading is allowed to remain. The whole situation feels confusing. It is.

What is the impact and depth to which reversing this ban has “crossed a line?” Why do we have this unsettled feeling about it all?

First off, what is this “line” that has been crossed actually referring to?

In a postmodern system of values, do we even have the ability to say there is a line? Truth, morality, it’s all subjective, right?

What exactly are we dealing with? Freedom of speech and Censorship? Promotion of justice? Ethics and politics?

The reasons for and against are valid, however I think they answer the wrong questions and they fail to articulate the severity of the experience of watching another human being lose their life at the hands of another.  This is more than just freedom of speech. It’s has something to do with the fact that it could cause psychological damage, but I think it’s even beyond that, and deeper than being in bad taste in general. Watching the death of another human being gets at our very understanding (or lack there of) of our mortality.


A person’s last, sacred moments on this planet. Life and death are a great mystery and so, they are sacred.

Forgive the drama of the one word line, reading death, dropped and separated by the rest of the text.


no. I don’t apologize

for that.  In fact, stare at it by itself for a while until it sinks in.

Have we as a society become so callus as to fail to recognize that death is sacred?  birthpainsinlovesjoysuffereingsexdeathfaithdoubtcompassioncruelty… These are all things of the human experience. They are connected to our core values. They are experiences that compel us to think about why we do or do not believe in God, how we make life decisions, how we determine our purpose, why and how we live or suffer. The question at hand, whether something as serious as the death of another human being can be watched and circulated on something as widely popular as facebook, is not an just an ethical question or a question of what will allow us the greatest freedom of speech and expression.

It’s a spiritual question.

I can feel the tension in saying this. I know this is taboo, however,  I beleive that with this issue, we’ve stumbled head first into a postmodern clusterfumble where ethical meets political meets spiritual.  The uncomfortable types of questions and thought that require more of us than black or white answers make up the reasons why “lines” have been crossed.

In my experience, condemning people, and trying to coerce them into seeing why I am right and they are wrong is about as effective at producing change as yelling at the sky is to make it rain. In my opinion, its more about how a person conducts his or herself that will be an influence to those around them.

So, no matter what side of the argument you’re on, no matter which lines are placed in front of you to cross or stay behind, think about what kinds of questions you are asking and answering so you can fight the temptation to see these issues as black and white or only a political. Life is complex and thus deserves a complex examination.

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Newly Revised

Thanks to all of you who read my most recent post, “Stigma.” I was not anticipating much traffic frankly, and after a second look at my published post, I realized it was not my best work and was I not entirely fair to the author. I still stand by my initial response about how mental health was handled in the piece, however, upon closer look, I hope I’ve communicated a more fair critique of the article as well as clarified my thoughts and position.  Thank you for stopping by and feel free to join in the discussion. MeriLynne

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Stigma: review of “A Nation of Wimps” published by Psychology Today

<http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200411/nation-wimps&gt;  CHeck out this link to read the full article.

I’m not a parent, but I hope to be one someday in the future. I admire those who have taken on that commitment in their lives and are dedicated to health and well being of their kids.  My generation is known for feeling like we should be entitled to honor, award, recognition. We are also known for thinking we’re entitled to instant gratification. I know, I know. I am aware of this see it even worse in classes just five years younger than me. I agree we have challenges and as parents and future parents we have some thinking to do when it comes to raising our kids to be independent, critical thinkers who are conscientious, considerate, patient and responsible leaders in their own way.

I just read an article from Psychology Today entitled, “A Nation of Wimps” The first paragraph had some good things to consider, about letting kids make mistakes, think for themselves, even fail if they have to in order to learn responsibility and independence.  But the narrator lost authority soon after that when the issue of mental health was discussed. The argument was that the model of “Mom and Dad will fix it” in over protective parenting can be a contributing factor of mental and emotional health struggles in children and college students. He argues that sometimes it can lead to lack of decision making skills. On the whole I agree with this concept, however and don’t take my word for it without reading the article for yourself (I’ve included the link in the beginning of this post) but there was one paragraph in particular that made me realize we have a long way to go as a society as it relates to mental health issues.

The author says,

“About 20 percent of babies are born with a high-strung temperament. They can be spotted even in the womb; they have fast heartbeats. Their nervous systems are innately programmed to be overexcitable in response to stimulation, constantly sending out false alarms about what is dangerous.

As infants and children this group experiences stress in situations most kids find unthreatening, and they may go through childhood and even adulthood fearful of unfamiliar people and events, withdrawn and shy. At school age they become cautious, quiet and introverted. Left to their own devices they grow up shrinking from social encounters. They lack confidence around others. They’re easily influenced by others. They are sitting ducks for bullies. And they are on the path to depression.”

WOAH, hold on here. Introversion is not a character flaw. It just means that a person is feeling at their best when they’ve had enough alone time. That they draw energy from spending time alone vs. drawing energy from being with people and constant stimulation.  Famous introverts included people like Abraham Lincoln. The writer makes it sound like a disease or something for which a person should be medicated and “fixed.”

Furthermore, who says introverts or those who are more prone to anxiety are easily influenced and withdrawn? Maybe some of us, but one characteristic doesn’t cause the other.

Also, I disagree with the generalized assumption that all children who are shy and or introverted are, “high strung.” I find this term offensive as it suggests that a person who has a wide emotional and analytical spectrum who may or may not be an introvert in the first place is “too much” for those in our society to understand or handle. That they are not as acceptable or “normal” as those with more laid back or extroverted temperament. Don’t get me wrong, we need our extraverts.   Every successful office, profession etc. needs a good balance of both And really, just think of high school dances without them…sad and awkward.

As one of those shy and introverted, apparently “high strung” types, I don’t think it’s correct to equate my personality to that of a crazy, narcotic, anti-social, ill balanced, withdrawn individual. Nor do I think any of that makes me more prone to the type of drug and alcohol abuse the author describes (see article).

But more importantly, the view of those with anxiety and depression in this article needs to be addressed:

“Herein lies another possible pathway to depression. The ability to plan resides in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the executive branch of the brain. The PFC is a critical part of the self-regulation system, and it’s deeply implicated in depression, a disorder increasingly seen as caused or maintained by unregulated thought patterns—lack of intellectual rigor, if you will. Cognitive therapy owes its very effectiveness to the systematic application of critical thinking to emotional reactions. Further, it’s in the setting of goals and progress in working toward them, however mundane they are, that positive feelings are generated. From such everyday activity, resistance to depression is born.”

I am not a mental health care professional, so I welcome comments that will explain this this if I am understanding it incorrectly, but as far as I understand from my own observations of friends and family who have dealt with clinical depression, anxiety certainly effects and is effected by our daily habits and thoughts, and, I believe the author that it the cause of the symptoms of depression is “unregulated thought patterns” but isn’t that a result of chemical imbalance rather than “lack of intellectual rigor”?

Every case is different, but it seems this view lays blame on the every day actions of those who suffer from it rather than speaking of it as a chemical imbalance. A thing your brain, as an organ, like your heart or your liver would have to deal with if it had some imperfection.  I’ve watched a lot of people go through this, and I get that a symptom of depression could manifest in not feeling well enough to set goals all the time, but the author made it sound a little too much like the person has a character flaw of being unable to plan well, set goals, have, “intelectual rigor” or control their “critical thinking to emotional reactions.”

I understand the author is taking the position that over protective parenting could result in the scenario of an adolescent entering college not prepared emotionally, resulting in a higher risk for these disorders, but again, these are complex health issues with societal stigmas so impacting that many people wait years to get help, thinking it’s there fault, and  thinking they feel this way because they aren’t strong enough. This way of talking about it in my opinion, just reenforces that lie to those struggling with these bio chemical health issues.

We need to remember that the brain is a mysterious and complex organ. In fact it’s an incredible organ that houses our thoughts, memories, personalities, our very understanding of a soul. But it is also an organ like any other and because our world isn’t perfect, our bodies have imperfections as well.  To have anxiety or depression  is not a symptom of weakness or as this article portrays it, being part of a “Nation of Wimps.”

I’m disappointed at how these issues were handled on the page, especially in two disorders that our society has highly stigmatized.

By the way, this is actually not meant to be  a slam on the author as an individual, it is  however, an attempt to bring up a discussion about how we as a society understand mental health issues and how we view those who have them. Our society is at it’s best when everyone can think and evaluate for themselves and accept and celebrate who they are and how their experiences have shaped their understanding of the world.

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The Muse Is Giving Me the Silent Treatment

I was lucky enough to read the blog post, “Stripped of My Desire to Create” by Michelle Stodden this morning on Freshly Pressed. It’s worth checking out because it gives such a great real life perspective on the stuff that most writers struggle with when it comes to finding time and mental space for inspiration to create.

As writers, especially those of us who are beginners at this, we are bombarded with the romantic vision of the  eccentric writer sitting alone at a desk engaged in a tumultuous relationship with a temperamental, mysterious muse who has the power to make us or break us. She’s allusive and merciful all at the same time, and can choose who she blesses with her presence. And, naturally,  in these romanticized stereotypes, the writer has no children, no spouse, no need for  another source of income, and has the luxury of spending all day at their desk. To which I say: Yeah, right, like that is what most of us live like.

I am going to attempt a different look at the idea of the muse. Take it or leave it. These ideas are meant to be helpful.

In my writing community, we talk about the muse not as a touch and go blessing or curse, but that inspiration can be a continuous, unbroken presence for the artist. I think it’s safe to say there is no actual “muse” hovering around, telling us what to write and what not to write, but we all know that mysterious feeling of being in the “zone,” where it feels like the world has stopped.  We can focus, capture our ideas into perfect language, create something beautiful and original, and feel pretty damn awesome about ourselves. But often, our question is, how do we get into a mode like that?

Some writers, like Hart Crane for example, felt like he needed the ecstatic experience to create. He drank, was promiscuous, lived a lavish life style constantly on the edge of a breakdown for most of his writing life until he tragically died after jumping off a ship in the Caribbean. He wrote beautiful poems, but not very many. Many think if his life had been one of stability, we would have more of his wonderful work.

As an MFA student, my professors and community have been adamant that those writers with stability, routine and discipline are the ones who also develop long, stable careers. That’s to say that the reckless behavior that some think will propel writers into encountering the muse doesn’t always work, and waiting for her to show up doesn’t either. So what do we do?

If you want to write and you want to meet the muse, show up to work everyday, on time and prepared to produce something.

My father told me this when I started to write back at thirteen years old, “write everyday.” I was thirteen, so I didn’t believe him. But he was right. My professors say the exact same thing.

That muse may not be as mean and temperamental as we think she is. But what we need to understand about her is that she needs our attention to speak into the chaos of life. And in reality, what we are doing when we write everyday is training the brain to be creative and practicing, just like any other thing we want to get good at. Don’t expect inspiration to show up at your door so you can write, it won’t come, at least not on a regular basis. Instead, train your brain to find the world inspiring, it’s possible.

This should be a relief to many. Writer’s block can be a thing of the past with discipline and courage. Show up and write everyday even if it’s ten minutes and all you get out is one sentence that you like…or maybe you hate. It’s still progress. If you’re like me, the fist week it will be frustrating. You’ll hate everything you put down and want to chuck it into the trash. But come back the next day and try it again. Be patient with yourself and most of all, if you stop standing up the muse on scheduled dates, she’ll have more to say to you in no time.

Posted in Creative Non-fiction, Eastern Washington, Poetry, Review, Uncategorized, Work, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Still Alive and Still Writing

So..it’s been like two years since I’ve posted anything. I would like to remedy that as soon as possible. Thanks for all of you who have visited in the past. I have been busy with my MFA program and while I’ve been writing like crazy, have not thought to post any of my bookish school projects. More coming soon. In the meantime, here is a poem:

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

Written by Ted Kooser from his book Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004

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The Kite Runner

I just finished the film, The Kite Runner. It is a difficult film to watch, but I feel that it’s content is extremely important for people to see– so much that I felt immediately prompted to write about it.

To summarize for those of you who have not seen the film or read the novel, it’s begins with a young man named Amir, receiving a phone call from an old friend of his father’s back in Kabul where the boy grew up, asking him to come back home. His father’s friend says he is not well, and has some important things to talk with him about. The story then unfolds through Amir’s childhood memories of himself and his best friend Hassan, and the life he left as a boy to come to America. What is revealed through memory are the cultural and racial tensions of the Afghani people, and the lasting destruction on the country as a result of violence placed upon them from foreign Soviet invasion and later, the legalistic and tyrannical rule of the Taliban. Hassan one day is retrieving a kite for his friend after a kite flying competition, and is cornered, persecuted and violently abused by an older boy because he won’t give him his best friend’s kite. The attack, however, reveals more about the tensions of social status and heritage, all of which Hassan is on the “wrong” side of according to the older boy. As a boy, Amir witnesses this brutal attack, but is too afraid to stop it and never breaths a word to anyone, though Hassan is deeply terrorized by it.  Amir carries the memory with him.

In his return to Kabul as an adult, his father’s friend explains that his childhood friend is actually his brother by one of his father’s servants, and was murdered by the Taliban, leaving a son behind as an orphan.  When Amir goes to the orphanage to take him back to America with him, he finds that his nephew has been sold to the Taliban and is being abused and used by corrupt leaders, one of whom was the boy, now a man, who attacked Hassan as a child. The rest of the film focuses how Amir reconciles his sin against his brother by fighting to get his nephew out of the hands of corruption and abuse and raising him as his own son.

For those of you who have seen the film, read the novel, or have personal experiences with any of the content I’m writing about, I know this is just barely scraping the surface of it all, and that every person will see it differently.  I can only account for my own experience.  As far as I understand, the film presents the harsh realities of corruption and violence and fear as a vile way to control. There are shockingly realistic images of brokenness and corruption by those who use fear to gain power.  One of the most shocking is that one of the female characters, on the screen for just a moment who is publicly executed for the sin of adultery by being stoned to death. It is bleak and broken. But while the heaviness of this film cannot be disputed, there is also a thread of redemption, loyalty and love displayed by the characters.  That is the strongest theme I came away with after watching the film. One phrase thrown out many times throughout the film is “nothing is free,” this includes choosing to love people. Amir is beaten before he is able to take his  nephew to live with him, and his brother Hassan was attacked was murdered for standing up for himself against corruption.

In my work I have had the privilege of working with refugee families from all over the world. Some of my clients are in fact from Kabul. I sat one day with them when they first met their interpreter, also from Kabul and a former refugee. When the interpreter said, “Oh yes, the Taliban, they are so very bad,” I believed her, but had a vague image of what it would mean to live in that day after day.

I appreciate this film because it’s so easy to feel that those things that happen are very far away, but they are not. Pain and struggle for power is the oldest game on earth, but love can redeem, even if there isn’t anything that is free.

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Lake Powell

I still have a drifting sensation even though I’ve been off the boat for 24 hours. It feels like I’m constantly moving back and forth, being  rocked on the black glassy surface of Lake Powell. The only thing to tell me I’m not there, is that the scenery is my parents’ back yard with tall ponderosa, short shrubs, sage brush, and the highway noise off to the side instead of red sandstone pillars appearing out of nowhere from the water. These pillars of rock in Lake Powell impose on the on looker a sense of time passed, which beckons from me at least a reverent desire to be silent and observant.

I grew up in Arizona in Flagstaff with Sedona’s towering red spires only a 45 min drive from my front door. We took all of our relatives to the Grand Canyon when they came to visit, and the walls in my college dorm were covered with pictures depicting the southwest. I’m no stranger to the of beauty of the Southwest. And still it has a way of giving me a reason to be silent in it’s presence. Having their image in mind as a constant makes it that much harder to believe the sand pillars stretching for miles along Lake Powell will be gone someday.  They will tumble into the lake water as soft as the sand on the shore-that which had stood for millions of years.

Posted in Arizona, Creative Non-fiction, Desert, History, Nature, Southwest, Spirituality, Travel Writing, Uncategorized, Writing | 2 Comments