You Can Bring Books into a Prison, Right?

The literacy needs of men and women in prison are great, so you’d think that reading would be encouraged. Think again….and it’s not just in Texas.

Want to learn more about the importance of reading and its relationship to preventing recidivism?  Check out Begin to Read: Literacy Statistics.

And consider this statement from an article on prisoner’s illiteracy in SF Gate from a UMD professor:  “There is not a lot of causal evidence that specifically says people with educational skills won’t commit crimes, but there is definitely a strong correlation between educational ability and staying out of prison,” said Peter Leone, a correctional education expert at the University of Maryland.

Texas Prisons Have Banned ‘Where’s Waldo’ And ‘Charlie Brown’ But Not Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’

 12.07.17

UPROXX

Where’s WaldoA Charlie Brown ChristmasThe MapQuest Road Atlas.

On the face of things, these books don’t seem to have very much in common, save for, perhaps, their innocuous content. But there’s something much more serious linking them: They’re just some of the 11,850 books banned in Texas prisons by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), according to the Texas Tribune.

In 2011, the Texas Civil Rights Project put together a comprehensive,searchable list of all the books and reading material banned across the state prison system and argued that the TDCJ’s extreme censorship is violating the Constitution.

But according to the TDCJ, the ban ensures publications don’t “incite tensions.” Per spokeswoman Michelle Lyons, “It’s not a matter of picking books we like and don’t like. It’s a matter of maintaining a safe environment.”

And six years later, you’ll still find Charlie Brown on the no-no list. Because nothing is more dangerous than a group of kids picking the smallest, meanest looking Christmas tree and giving it all their love.

According to the New York Times, censoring reading material is still considered a “matter of safety” for the almost 150,000 inmates across 50 state prisons: “The reviews are conducted not by guards but rather by mailroom staff members who skim the pages looking for graphic sexual content and material that could help inmates make a weapon, plot an escape or stir disorder.”

But the ban is inconsistent at best: books like Mein Kampf, Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare — which instructs readers on how to make their own mortars — and even books by white nationalists, like the KKK’s David Duke are all permitted. But a book of Shakespeare’s Love Poems & Sonnets is off limits because of a nude portrait. At least one book by humorist Carl Hiaasen is banned, because, according to the TDCJ, it “contains information about manufacturing explosives.” Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is allowed. While The Color Purple is banned for incest, Lolita, which depicts pedophilia, is fair game. Freakonomics is banned specifically for their chapter on race.

The inconsistent nature of what books are banned is not only arbitrary — it also hurts the inmates. Per the Times, inmates struggle to read or suffer from illiteracy at far higher rates than the general population, and reading increases their chances of assimilating back into society once released.

Study after study shows that reading can change inmates’ lives for the better. Reading in general has immense benefits, including improving emotional skills and mental wellness, reducing stress, and strengthening analytical skills. Take Where’s Waldo, for instance. It has been shown to help develop cognitive processes in the brain. It can also fine-tune emotional processing. Maybe more Waldo is just what the inmates need.

Reblogging: What’s New in Faculty Development? Higher Ed Edition

"Backing the Blue" © Staff Sgt. Susan L. Davis, U.S. Air Force photo; Public Domain“Backing the Blue” © Staff Sergeant Susan L. Davis, U.S. Air Force

When I read the poem copied below, it jolted me back to two classes I taught at the University of Maryland in the late fall of 2015. I was in class with my students a couple of months after the Umpqua Community College shooting where a lone gunman had shot and killed eight students and an assistant professor of English and wounded seven to nine other students before shooting himself in the head. Everyone on my campus was chilled by the awful murders and yet another tragic incident of a campus shooting. The Umpqua shooting struck particularly close to home for me because I taught writing courses in the English department.

About a week after the shooting, when I wrote to the university president and the chairperson of my department to inquire about what kind of active-shooter preparedness training the university planned to provide, I was referred to the campus police.  Their response?  A video put out by the Homeland Security Department with the advice to run, shoot, or hide. It was around that time that the education section of the New York Times ran a story about a solution that the University of Maryland Eastern Shore had implemented to protect their professors–bullet-proof whiteboards that professors could hide behind in the event of a shooter in the classroom.

My response to the university’s solutions? As I told my students, I couldn’t imagine shielding myself behind a portable whiteboard while a shooter might be laying waste to all of them. I told them about the “run, shoot, or hide” solution, and expressed my outrage at the lack of planning on the part of the university. After discussing a few ideas that some of their high schools were implementing, we began to formulate our own survival plan.

I walked over to the classroom door and grabbed the handle. “First, we’ll lock the door.” It was only then that I realized the doors remained unlocked from early in the morning until about 11pm at night. We laughed nervously. “Now what?” the kids asked.  “Well, we can barricade the door with several desks and hope to keep the shooter from entering that way,” a few of us suggested.

Next we had to figure out where we could gather in the classroom–we needed a place where we couldn’t be seen either from the window in the classroom door or the windows that lined the back of the classroom. “We can lay down on the floor,” several of the young men suggested.  “We’ll have to turn off all the lights so no one can see us from the hallway,” another student suggested.

What struck me that day was the matter-of-fact way my students were responding to the unthinkable–that their classroom–a supposedly safe-space for learning and discussion–could be turned into a battleground without any warning. “I don’t want to have this conversation with all of you,” I told them, “but as the oldest adult in the room, I feel responsible for your safety.”  They thanked me for my honesty. One young woman said, “We have to talk about this. We’re just glad that you’re willing to make a plan with us.”

Several of them contacted the president of the university on their own. One young man came up to me after class and offered to talk with his father to get his advice.”My dad is a sheriff in Newtown,” he told me, he’s had all kinds of training.”

I’m grateful that nothing ever happened on the campus when I taught there and that my students have been spared the tragedy of another Umpqua-type massacre. One of my friends emailed me earlier this year to let me know that the university was finally instituting a training program to prepare them for what to do if there’s an active shooter on campus. While I’m pleased that the administration is finally stepping up to help the faculty, I’m deeply saddened at the thought of what’s in store for people taking faculty development. Can’t we find a better way?

Reblogging: Faculty Development Workshop

Do you know the sound of the gun?
One person raises his hand.

Locate. Leave. Live.
There is another rule, but I forget the “L” word for it,
Lock? It will make all the difference,
but I can’t remember it. There is Barricade.
That’s put all your junk up the wall—
and it will take that much longer for the bad guy,
he says bad guy, to get in with his gun.
But that is a “B,” and I don’t know the “L,”
and now I’m breathing fast
during this demonstration, trying to
relocate from my memory the fourth “L” that will
make all the difference.

Do you know much about guns?
Know the kinds of sounds each kind of gun can make?
No one raises their hand in this little northeastern college.
Do you know how to hunt? Anyone here hunt?
Do you know how to be hunted? You should run.

When should we run? After we have locked the door?
No, it depends.
When the sound of the gun is far away, you can run,
or you can stay. Really, you can stay.
You only need 15 minutes of safety. That’s all.
In 15 minutes, he says, the cops will have arrived.
Let’s watch this demonstration of a man
trying to break down the wall in a classroom
in which the door has been barricaded.
The classroom is six floors up, so there is no Leaving. We are working on
Live. Do you know the force of a man against a wall
barricaded with desks and empty filing cabinets and the pressure
of your feet against the chairs?
It may take 4.34 minutes, which is a good long time
to prepare to do the next thing, which is, in this case,
not to Leave, as this is not an option,
but to Live,
which is the one we are working on right now
when the gun pops into the door, between the barricade
and us. There is more to the video;
there is more to the reenactment. The barricade’s fallen,
and my heart’s still pounding. If only I could remember
the fourth “L,” as Locate, Leave, and Live
have taken me as far as I can go now.

 


Art Information

  • Backing the Blue” © Staff Sergeant Susan L. Davis, U.S. Air Force photo; public domain.

Julia LisellaJulia Lisella’s poems have been widely anthologized and have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit, Valparaiso, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Ocean State Review, VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, Antiphon, Literary Mama, and more. She has two poetry collections—Always (2014) and Terrain (2007)—from WordTech Editions, as well as a chapbook, Love Song Hiroshima (2004), from Finishing Line Press.

Visit her on Twitter @julia_lisella.

A Poem for Summer

Summer’s here!  It’s always a joy to welcome the warm weather, the flowers, the picnics, and vacations. Many people schedule trips in the summer to take advantage of the good weather and more relaxed schedules. How about you? What will you be doing this summer?

I will be taking time this summer to write, visit friends, and relax. I’ve felt that my schedule is too crowded and my to-do list never ends. I have to remind myself that I’m the one in charge of my schedule!  Now that I work part-time, I have more flexibility. Yet my lifelong habit of packing my days with activity is tough to break. I need a reset!

The Butterfly Beetle

So, I’ll be taking some time off from blogging to refresh and recharge. I may post a poem from time to time and then resume regular posts in the fall. In the meantime, take a look at some of the older blog posts and revisit some old favorites. Happy summer!

The Sunflowers by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines
creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky
sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy
but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young –
the important weather,
the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,
which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds –
each one a new life!
hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,
is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come
and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

It Was 50 Years Ago Today: Looking Back On My Summer of Sgt. Pepper’s

Sgt. Pepper’s Band Album Cover, 1967

 

If you’re a person of a certain age, you likely remember where you were the first time you heard the breakthrough Beatles’ album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  In June of 1967, I had just turned 15 and completed my freshman year of high school. Since I’d first heard them in 1964, The Beatles had been my favorite band. I couldn’t wait to listen to all of the new songs and look at the artwork on the album cover. Back then, we played the album on a record player and spent hours looking at the cover art and analyzing the images.  I first heard the album while attending a party at my friend Dee’s house. The big, old Victorian had a wrap-around porch where all of us partygoers could dance and talk. I had dated Dee’s older brother, Eddie, the summer before, and still had a bit of a crush on him. But we’d broken up after a few months and he’d moved on.  That night would be the first time in a year that I’d seen him.

I wore a new, yellow, cotton dress and took extra care with my long hair to get it as straight as possible–no easy task for someone with naturally curly hair. Dee and Eddie lived less than a mile from my house, so I walked into the warm June evening, anticipating seeing Eddie again and wondering if I’d get a second chance with him.

When I arrived at Dee’s house,  the porch was full of people–dancing, eating, and talking. I heard some really weird music–to my young ears–but then I recognized the unmistakeable voices harmonies of the unmistakable Beatles. I remember hugging my girlfriends and flirting with a couple of the boys I’d gone to grade school with, all the while scouting the crowd for Eddie. The music of Sgt. Pepper’s played loudly and drifted out into the streets where people walking by could hear. Dee and I talked for a bit and she showed me the cover of the album–then everyone gathered around, pointing to the famous people who filled the crowd. In typical teen fashion, we all agreed it was the most amazing cover we’d ever seen.

I finally saw Eddie walking towards me through the crowd, smiling. Maybe he’d want to dance with me. Maybe we could go out again. My heart beat faster and I smoothed my dress and patted my hair. He kept walking towards me with that smirky smile that I’d fallen for last year. Eddie was 6’7″, so he towered over everyone else at the party as he made his way towards me.  Now my palms were sweating. What would he say? What would I say?  Butterflies filled my stomach.

And then I saw her by his side–Toni, one of my best friends from grade school.  Eddie held her hand as he said hi to me and then put his arm around Toni. Dee and Toni went to the same high school, and I guess she’d fixed Toni up with Eddie the same way she fixed me up the year before. I wanted the porch floor to open up and swallow me. The butterflies in my stomach turned to weights and a sinking feeling filled my whole body. My mouth was dry and the words tumbled out in pat phrases about summer and swimming at the neighborhood pool. I wanted to run away.

But I didn’t. I stayed and survived my encounter with Toni and Eddie, up until people started slow-dancing–and then I knew I had to leave. Not the happiest teen memory I have, but I’ll never forget the first night I heard Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  And over the years, I realize that I got through that night like I’ve gotten through every other tough situation–with a little help from my friends.

Reblogging: Selling Ourselves on an Empty Medium

Many Thanks to my friend and fellow poet, Michael Dickel, for giving me permission to reblog this thoughtful and provocative essay. Read the original on the Bezine
Selling Ourselves
on an Empty Medium

MICHAEL DICKEL

I advertise sometimes on social media. I’ve learned something about how it works. These are some thoughts about what social media really is about—perhaps a change of perspective, like the famous wine glass or kissing couple image, will help us to think about how the business of social media provides structure for the post-truth phenomenon.

MIchael Dickel

To be clear, what I have to say is not new or exclusive to social media. Noam Chomsky has pointed out that “news” media (as all media) are not in the business of giving its audience (readers or viewers) the news (or entertainment or other “content”). The business model sells the audience to advertisers. Newspapers used to be sold for less than the cost of printing, and broadcast did not initially charge (cable and satellite changed that, but most news and much other media content comes in the basic plans, without premiums). And, famously, Marshall McLuhan told us “the medium is the message.”

News media at least also provide(d) content gathered, written, and delivered by journalists who (at least before “post-truth”) cared about ethics, truth, and fact, and who provided an important social service (if not perfect and often shaped or biased). The ads, are often seen as a “necessary evil”— commerce to provide this service. Still, ads remain(ed) the business model and, thus, subscriptions and ratings mattered.

Audience matters more than ever, because what social-media companies discovered is the medium is not just the message. It is everything.


Audience is the only content in social media, in a sense, and the medium (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) simply holds the audience. The audience busies itself with creating its own content and, well, being social. Hence, social media. These media should not be confused with content-media. While both sell audience to advertisers, content-media create or distribute others’ content to attract audiences. Social media create a medium for audiences to inhabit.

Therefore, social media are little more than empty frameworks—pure medium, with no content. The audiences are not only sold to advertisers, they now produce the content that keeps other audiences (and themselves) engaged.

This engagement is necessary in order for the social media companies, which provide the framework-medium, to sell the advertising to reach those audiences. And the medium—computers—provides detailed and accurate measure of the impact of the ads, which makes the advertiser’s purchase of audience more effective per dollar.

The medium, therefore, pushes engagement. Think of the increased availability of emojis / emoticons on the media, including Facebooks additions to the thumb on posts and, now, on post comments. More interactions that amount to increased engagement. Even those not posting have something to do and contribute to the process, and choosing an emoji instead of just clicking the thumb shows a higher level of engagement with that particular content.

So, what significantly differs with content-media, is that the content itself actually comes from the target audiences, who engage in it through an increasing number of channels (posting, comments / replies, likes, shares / replies, emoji, etc.). The social-media companies don’t produce content, just the frameworks—that is, the medium.

We, the users / audience, produce the content for social-media companies, give it away to them, and think we’re doing it to entertain ourselves and friends. However, more important to the business model, we’re also attracting and entertaining audience that the social-media companies can sell to advertisers—and make no mistake, we also are in that the audience for those advertisers.

Many of us, myself included, promote our own projects, work, businesses to these audiences with the “content” we produce. Many of us, myself included, also advertise on social media. So any one individual, such as myself, fills multiple roles within any one social medium. The social-media companies, however, control the medium and benefit from each and every role any individual plays. The more roles, the better for the companies.

(Granted, traditional media to “keep relevant” and stop audience loss, have increasingly incorporated engagement and aspects of content creation—from reader blogs to comments and replies online, so the distinction is less clear with contemporary news outlets than with traditional outlets of the past.)

We, as users / audience, engage— “curate,” “share,” “post,” “like” —all of which keeps the audience for the ads (ourselves and others) distracted from the marketing purpose of the media while providing the audience for the ads that the social-media companies sell (to us). This “engagement” also provides the framework with the information to target our interests so that it can present ads we are more likely to respond to with a “like,” “emoji,” “click,” or “conversion” (e.g., sale for the advertiser, purchase for you). And we participate willingly.

The algorithms the companies create don’t measure truth, although I should say they haven’t up until recently, when Facebook announced one to recognize “fake news.” The companies design the algorithms to measure and record engagement and conversions in relationship to interests and content. Content that attracts attention (and ad responses) rules the news feeds, timelines, recommend-for-you links, and thus rules the media waves.


They call it “Big Data,” all of the information that can be found out about us on the internet, much of it through social media and about our social-media engagement. And the Russians have taken this all quite seriously, using social media for political purposes.

Note that the social-media companies don’t directly sell conversions—the term for sales. The advertisers do track them, with help from the social-media companies and their software. They track these for the effectiveness of the ads and ad settings. Also, the more conversions, the more valuable an audience and the more successful the medium that holds that audience.

All of our content and engagement contribute to the “Big Data” out there. And the data provides a surprisingly, and scarily, detailed picture of who we are.

One researcher found a way to connect pages we like on Facebook with specific personality profiles with some reliability. The methods he used seem to have been used by a political consulting company to shape ad messages to fit those personality types and to target the ads to those specific audiences. They also used the data to choose which audiences to ignore as unlikely to respond.

Reportedly, the consulting firm worked with the Brexit and Trump campaigns, both of which succeeded when expected not to. Whether or not the work this company (reportedly) influenced the “surprise outcomes” remains a question for debate. However, the fact that these campaigns heavily used social media is another aspect of the medium and how important the audience it holds is (and such use is not only in ads, but for tweets and posts).

For reasons largely to do with evolutionary survival, we respond to fear, anger, and (literal and figurative) loudness. We pay attention to it because for most of our evolution, these types of social voices warned us, kept us safe, got our adrenalin going so we could put out fires, defend against dangers, or run away.

Therefore, it should not surprise us that LOUD lies, SHOUTED anger, SHRIEKS of fear (or ALL CAPS) get us going, our adrenalin roaring, and our tendency to quickly respond (with more action and less thought). This responsiveness could—just possibly—lead us also to more engagement, as a sort of “action.” We respond by clicking more little icons, typing another comment (reply), sharing (retweeting) more, and yes, probably also by clicking on ads more—a less direct response, but with adrenaline flow, we go.

Those famous (possibly Russian) trolls, however, keep the lies moving, the energy flowing. Why did social-media companies not “do something” about trolls before? And why are their responses (largely) minimal and ineffective now? Probably because they “influence”—the “audience” for ads probably “engage” more on social media and with the ads themselves when trolls keep the medium roiling. As the companies sell both exposure (showing the ad) and response (click), numbers alone are the main factor. However, the higher the response rate , the much more valuable the audience.

So the more engaged the audience and the more sales (of ads, by the users) the audience generates, the more the companies profiting from the medium don’t want to limit or lose that audience or anything / anyone who keeps it engaged.

Trump has mastered Twitter for getting people riled up—it doesn’t matter for or against, his Tweets get responses, articles, commentaries, editorials in response now that he’s President, symbolic head of the vast U.S. social network. Even if you or I reject the legitimacy of his presidency, he ranks as social-influencer-in-chief, or, in other words, troll-in-chief. And most of us have probably read one (likely more) of his tweets or at the very least, read about them.

Truth doesn’t matter in this medium. Only having an audience in it and how the audience responds to each other in it. The more engagement, the more the creators of the media can sell ads—ads fed into and made more effective in the medium according the data our engagement produces. The medium and its ability to hold an audience and promote engagement matter more than anything.


I don’t have evidence to support all of these ideas. These are thoughts I’ve been working through, and may eventually shape themselves into a long-term research and writing project. So don’t take these words as truth. They are not post-truth, either, though.

Think of them as speculation and hypothesis, a beginning of a process of trying to understand something about the media that contain us as its sole purpose to exist.

However, if it is the case that the liars, haters, shouters—the trolls and Trumps—do increase audience size and engagement (clicks and conversions), then we may be destined for a post-truth social media world until we choose not to respond and engage—that is, until as audience, we choose how to respond by not reacting, how to quiet the social around the trolls, liars, click-bait artists who (want to) roil it.


©2017 Michael Dickel

Le Hinton: Cards Flash Back

This post first appeared on Michael Dickel’s blog as part of April’s Poetry Month postings. Thanks, Michael, for your encouragement and for sharing Le Hinton’s fine poem.

 

Le Hinton is a great friend and an inspiring poet. I met him several years ago when he was a featured reader in a local poetry series, and I was struck by the heart that comes through in his work. Besides Le’s ability to convey powerful emotional experiences in his poems, one of the things that I most admire is his willingness to share his expertise with other poets. Last fall, we both presented at a poetry retreat where Le did a wonderful session on playing with form in poetry. He talked about linebreaks, staggering lines, and unexpected arrangements as tools for enhancing the power of a poem. In this post, I explore a few examples from one of my favorite Le Hinton poems and urge you to give one or two of these techniques a try.

In Le’s poem “Cards Flash Back,” the reader sits next to Le as he remembers his time in speech therapy sessions as a child born with a cleft palate. Interspersed with his memories are some of the things his classmates said to him that still sting so many years later.

You sound like toilet
paper is stuck in your nose.

You’d have a good singing voice
if you were a cartoon character.

Using a few lines of dialog, Le takes us back in time to experience the pain he felt as a child who struggled to speak.

Another technique that Le uses with great effect is to stagger his lines to emphasize meaning. As you read the last three lines of the stanza below, you are commanded to slow down and let the power of his words sink in. The image of hiding in the pages—silent—almost foreshadows Le’s work as a poet—a master of words.

“I hid in the pages. Silent.
But not empty. The page isn’t blank.
Chisel a life from a sheet.
Hold tangible the words on paper
Hold something.
Be someone.
Do something.”

Finally, Le brings the reader into the present where he has triumphed over his physical and psychological challenges and reaches back in time to embrace and kiss the baby smiling and the little boy who sang alone. He triumphs over the bullies of the past and brings us into his circle of celebration where he stands as an adult who has not only mastered his speech, but also the power of the spoken word. He ends where he began, playing with the words apple, book, and thumb and the idea of flashcards in his memory.

“I’ve learned to speak out and still write.
To hold the little boy whose voice sings alone.
To kiss the tiny baby whose lips still smile.
Write the poetry and shout the words
Small no more.
Now without pain,
without bullies,
without fear
or a cleft palate.

Apple. Book. Thumb. I remember.

Here is Le Hinton’s poem in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it.

Cards Flash   Back ~ Le Hinton ~ The Language of Moisture and Light, 2014

Apple, book, thumb. I remember
each card with three pictures.
Pronounce each one, slowly,
precisely. Initial consonants.
Final blends.
Open vowels.
b’s, th’s, o’s. Each carefully articulated.

You sound like toilet
paper is stuck in your nose.

You’d have a good singing voice
if you were a cartoon character.

I learned to be quiet, I learned to write.

On our way to the clinic there was always time
for breakfast at the Cameron Street diner
or a stop for hot dogs after we arrived in Lancaster.
The corner of Lime and King.
A town full of fruit and royalty.
Lemon, Lime, Orange.
Queen, King, Duke.
All streets seemingly one way.

One way to speak.
One way to sound.
One way to turn.
This clinic in this town
with its one-way streets
and hope dressed in white,
doctors dressed in smiles.
Surgical cuts to open a future, to open a life.

Once, it rained so hard getting there, Dad almost stopped.
But dad never stopped driving, never stopped caring,
never stopped steering. Not for hard rain,
heavy traffic, or an imperfect son. Dad never stopped.
I remember those drops of rain falling through a bright sun,
bouncing like marbles off 60s sheet metal,
now baring memories almost 40 years old.

I have to babysit on Saturday, so I
can’t go out with you.

You’d never know that colored boy
was smart from the way he sounds.

I hid in the pages. Silent.
But not empty. The page isn’t blank.
Chisel a life from a sheet.
Hold tangible the words on paper
Hold something.
Be someone.
Do something.

Find the words that take you in,
Find the words that love you safe.
Caress those words.

I’ve learned to speak out and still write.

To hold the little boy whose voice sings alone.
To kiss the tiny baby whose lips still smile.
Write the poetry and shout the words
Small no more.
Now without pain,
without bullies,
without fear
or a cleft palate.

Apple. Book. Thumb. I remember.

Note: I was unable to keep the original line breaks due to formatting issues. Apologies to Le. 

Warrior Writer: An Interview with Drew Cameron for Memorial Day

Author’s Note: This interview was previously published in July, 2008, in  The Museletter, a publication of the National Association for Poetry Therapy.

Updated 2015 bio from drew Cameron’s website Warrior Writers: I am a second-generation hand papermaker, trained forester and former Army soldier. I co-founded the Combat Paper Project and have been facilitating workshops with veterans and the community in which they transform military uniforms into handmade paper, prints, books and art since 2007. The portable workshop has reached thousands of people throughout the country in 29 states and more than 125 workshops. My work is represented in 33 public collections and has been shown numerous times including at the Corcoran Gallery, Courtauld Institute, Library of Congress, Museum of Contemporary Craft and Craft and Folk Art Museum among others. Combat Paper is now operating in four locations: New York, New Jersey, Nevada and California, with open and ongoing programming. I am based in San Francisco at Shotwell Paper Mill and continue to practice papermaking, teach and encourage others to do the same.

Drew Cameron, 25, lives in Burlington, Vermont. He served in the United States Army beginning in August 2000 for four years on active duty and subsequently served two years in the Vermont National Guard, separating in August of 2006. As part of his healing work from the trauma of the Iraq War, Drew participated in a therapeutic writing program called Warrior Writers. Out of that came his idea to create Combat Paper, paper made from the uniforms of people who served in Iraq. Drew and his fellow vets have produced numerous journals and two books of poetry from the combined Warrior Writers and Combat Paper programs.

Ann Bracken: Tell me about Iraq.

Drew Cameron: The reality was a lot more chaotic, more callous [than what is portrayed in the media]. And when we weren’t fighting, we’d get in our trucks and tool around the country. We were young guys with lots of bravado; we got complacent. We got very comfortable and did whatever we wanted. We got a kick out of stupid things.

AB: What do you mean, stupid things?

DC: We acted in what they (the officers) called a “show of force.” Guys would get a real kick out of it. You know, we’d drive fast. We’d go out with a number of trucks, all loaded up. If a car was in our way, we’d just push it to the side of the road or run it off the road. We had our sunglasses on and usually had our rifles hanging out of the windows, at the ready. The idea was that if we were really tough and looked like we were ready for a fight, people would be deterred. Instead, people felt harassed, brutalized, hurt and hunted. Innocent people were hurt or driven over. It was a real provocation. But when I got home, I told myself I had nothing to feel bad about since I had never killed anyone.

AB: You said you thought you had nothing to feel bad about since you never killed anyone. Are these the kinds of thing that people would feel bad about when they came home?

DC: Yes, most definitely. I am very fortunate that I never killed anyone. But that kind of behavior is a provocation. And those are the kinds of memories that play in your mind over and over, the kinds of things that wake you up at night. Even worse that that, many people will have a single horrible ex-

Drew Cameron

perience that will play out over and over in their minds. They’ll replay it and replay it, trying to make some sense of it and there is no sense in it.

AB: Describe how writing about your experiences has helped you. How has it helped others?

DC: I went from being quiet and all alone to being involved in art and helping my fellow vets. I am trying to bring about some kind of change through my work, through the art. Cre- ating art comes from a good place inside. This work is also a political statement. My friends come here to the paper studio and hang out. This project of writing and then making paper out of our uniforms spurs a very positive, creative, releasing activity. It’s cathartic for those who get involved in both the writing and the act of making paper. And the healing that happens is not forced. The people are really doing it themselves.

They [vets] come in here and start talking, making pa- per, doing art and the ideas just start bouncing around. And I’m in my studio, which used to be a place for me to hole up in and spend a lot of time alone. Now it’s a place where I just love to bring people in. I can be generous with this and I

6 The Museletter

want to continue in that vein. I went from being quiet and unable to relate to anyone to someone who brings his friends in here and can offer this opportunity to someone just home from Iraq. This healing is important and no one should have to do it alone.

AB: It really is an amazing transformative act to cut up your old uniforms and then use them to make paper for your journals. How did this idea come about?

DC: The story of the soldier, the Marine, the man, the woman, and the journeys within the military service in a time a war is our basis for the project. Creating handmade paper editions of the book and facilitating papermaking with my fellow veterans eventually led to using our combat uniforms. The story of the fiber, the blood, sweat and tears, the months of hardship and brutal violence are held within those old uni- forms. The uniforms often become inhabitants of closets or boxes in the attic. Reclaiming that association of subordina- tion, of warfare and service into something collective and beautiful is our inspiration.

AB: What would you like to see come out of your experi- ence? What do you want people to know?

DC: I want people to know that when we come home, we vets don’t fit in. Everything has changed. We’ve changed. I’ve been slapped in the face with a set of circumstances and I have a lot of choices as to how I can deal with them. I was sent to fight in an illegal, unjust, immoral war. I can wither away. I can reenlist. I can resist. I can organize. I have choices. I chose to write about it, reflect on my experiences, and move forward trying to do something different with my life.

AB: Can you share a writing exercise that was especially helpful for you?

DC: Sure. Here is what I wrote in my first writing workshop with Warrior Writers.

Warrior Writers has been an impetus for me, recollecting old letters and my overseas journal to pick apart the memories that I would carry on paper. Going back to a place that I have left over four years ago. Trying to remember, regard- less there hasn’t been a day that has gone by in the time since when I haven’t though about it. 1,460 days of thinking about war. I feel as though we must go to the beginning to tear apart the shroud of numbness. We have to find the way back, understand it, dig in and continue; there are no short cuts with this.

When I first moved here I didn’t want to be known as a veteran, I would ask my partner not to tell people. I didn’t

think it necessary, nor did I want to be known as Drew the Army guy. Pushing away from the experience only manifested it in undesirable ways. My affliction isn’t flashbacks or in- trusive thoughts, drug use or violent behavior. My affliction is nothing. Absolutely nothing. I didn’t feel, hate, love, fear, or even care. My life was a monotone of going through the motions, I so very wanted to be emotional. I know in my train- ing I enabled myself to build various walls. Methodically constructing walls takes time and effort, it is an effective way to enable positioning one’s self against the brutality of com- bat. Unfortunately they do not teach a soldier how to deconstruct these walls. This is my charge, to find the foun- dations, to understand them and perhaps permit myself to move in—there will be no moving on.

AB: What is the message you’d like readers to take away?

DC: It’s so important that you’re here. We’re nothing with- out a broader push of people in society. There are many dif- ferent components to culture writing, art, the fine arts, com- bat paper. We can encourage others to do this, to participate in this shared experience. We can influence people by inspir- ing others. There are many small things we can do. For me, it’s a unique opportunity. Before, I never spoke about being a vet. Now, it’s a big part of who I am.

Reblogging:”My Response to the New York Times’ Google Article: What They Left Out. A Lot!

Morna McDermott blogged last week about the NYTimes article “How Google Took Over the Classroom.”  I’m sharing  her excellent and informative post here because there’s so much more to consider, and Morna makes the stakes very clear.

Image result for education data mining

Dear New York Times,

I know that there’s a greater chance of me winning the lottery than there is in you actually publishing what I have to say in an Op Ed. So let’s pretend for a moment this response is actually IN the New York Times and not my little blog, and that millions of readers. the people who actually need to hear this stuff, will become aware of the facts the author, Ms. Singer,  so carefully avoided in her piece “How Google Took Over the Classroom.”  It read like a blatant “paid for by friend of Google” advertisement, because unlike a serious piece of journalism, this multi-page journey into the fairy tale between schools and the tech industry, carefully left out research from the medical profession (pediatricians) or data on whether or not the technological dominance in classrooms is actually GOOD for students.

As Susan Ohanian put it in a recent tweet, the article should have been called “Public schools pay Google $30 per device to train kids to love Google.”

We know these new tech-school partnerships have been great for the tech industry. The NYT article crows about how Google, not educators, are now dominating the conversation over what should be taught in the class and how. Think about that. Tech moguls are dictating what and how children should learn, not educators, nor child development specialists. And their conclusions conveniently seem to benefit their own corporations. What an amazing coincidence that is.

Yes. It’s the 21st century. Yes, computers and tech dominate the future of labor and industry. Yes, both my children own tablets or i-phones. But using something is different than having the industry dominate our children’s waking hours out of (and now) inside of school which adds up to about 10 hours a day, five days a week, from kindergarten through ….adulthood? Reams of private information and data being siphoned out of children along the way to suite private corporate interests, half of which parents are completely unaware of. The one minor blip of critique the NYT article offers regarding student privacy is miraculously resolved in one line about how Google aligns its contracts with schools with FERPA. Phew. That’s resolved! Except that FERPA was carefully revised to open the floodgates for corporate mining of student data, and with ESSA, now promoting policies that allow third party privately managed companies to become LEA’s, well the protection of FERPA for a child’s rights and privacy as a water balloon would be in a gun fight.

So — to my readers. Let’s please do the job New York Times is unwilling to do. Call them on this bullshit and make sure that parents, teachers, students and concerned citizens have all the facts when deciding about who should “own the future” of our children’s education.

First of all, start reading informed researched pieces like every single post by Alison McDowell at in Wrench the Gears to get an honest appraisal of what the tech industry really has in store for our children.

Second, pass along these points about Google (or any tech) dominating education, to consider as well:

  • Increased risks of obesity-increased seat time
  • Reduction of opportunities to engage with multiple learning styles: kinesthetic, social, verbal, environmental…all reduced to visual screen time.
  • Loss of socialization and development of social cuing.

“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” said Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher with UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, in a news release. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.” Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions, according to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles.

  • Damage to eyes, hands/wrists, and neck.

One report states “Children can develop pain in their fingers and wrists, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (the long-term consequences of which are unknown), and neck and back pain from being slumped over their phones, tablets and computers.”

  • Loss of data privacy = online platforms delivered to third party organizations who track every response and behavior your child makes in their learning process. Every bit tracked and monitored and managed.
  • Increases ADHD-like symptoms.  Some experts believe that “Children who are heavy users of electronics may become adept at multitasking, but they can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.”
  • An adrenaline driven mentality to learning (like addiction). As one psychologist’s research findings prove, “As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome.These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention…excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties.”
  • The monies spent on new devises is often wasted. What could have gone to building materials, hiring staff, or other supports, millions are wasted (See LAUSD) on devices that wind up creating more problems than solutions. That’s our tax payer dollars going to fund billionaire corporations instead of a new playground or library books.

And ask yourself, why isn’t the New York Times willing to put the interests of children before those of corporations?

 

Check out this resource from Center for Commercial-Free Childhood for a great graphic that explores the issues surrounding data collection in schools. Then download their parents’ guide and share it widely!

http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/parent-toolkit-student-privacy

 

Reblogging: For Mothers Everywhere

If I could un-speak all of the times that I told my children to hurry when they were little, I would. But it has taken me years of mothering my children to realize that each phase is special and that like a good meal or an amazing sunset, those moments shared with children are precious. I wish that I had a bank account where I could withdraw just a few of the moments when we hurried from one place to the next and somehow share them with my kids again.  But it is only now that all of those moments are passed that I realize their full import. And sometimes, it takes a poet’s voice to capture our folly.

Four generations of my family in 1980.

I heard such a let last week when  Marie Howe read at the Blackbird Poetry Festival at Howard Community College. The Blackbird  Poetry Festival has been presenting renowned poets for the past several years, and Marie Howe gave two wonderful readings as part of the festival. I remember hearing her read this poem on the radio a few months back, and it seemed perfect for sharing on Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day, everyone. I hope you have a grand day of celebration with your families.

HURRY

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

Poem copyright ©2008 by Marie Howe, and reprinted from “When She Named Fire,” ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009. First published in “The Kingdom of the Ordinary” by Marie Howe, W.W. Norton, 2008. Used by permission of Marie Howe and the publisher.

Source: 2008

 

Deciding When Something is Too Small

The change of seasons is here once again, and that always means looking at my wardrobe and deciding what to toss and what to keep. My philosophy is a little soft in this regard–I’ve tried Marie Kondo’s advice to only keep what makes me joyful, but I don’t always succeed.  I waver when deciding what to do with favorites that are a smidge too tight–sometimes finding a way to creatively make them fit with “design details” and sometimes keeping them as a reminder for where I feel most comfortable in my body.

But when I need to make a decision or answer a question about life’s more profound changes, I turn to a different voice–the voice of David Whyte in his poem “Sweet Darkness.” Do I leave my marriage? Do I stay in this relationship?  What should I do about my job?  And after I ask myself a question, I know that I am more than halfway to the answer when I hear David Whyte’ powerful lines reverberating in my mind: “…anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.”

While those words provided guidance for me, they did not make it easy for me to make any life-changing decisions, especially the decision to leave my marriage, even after years of depression and verbal abuse by my ex-husband. While I was no longer a practicing Catholic, my values around marriage and family were firmly rooted in my upbringing which stressed the power of commitment and the necessity to work things out no matter what. And sometimes, to suffer in the process.

But after 25 years of marriage, many trips to the counselor, several deep depressions, and a widening gulf between how much joy we shared versus how much suffering I endured, I realized that my marriage was too small for me. I wasn’t thriving in the way I’d hoped for. I was merely surviving. And I deserved so much more. My children deserved more. And I wanted to offer them an example of choosing self-respect over tradition.

While deciding to leave my marriage was the most life-changing decision regarding what was too small for me, I’ve returned to the wisdom in “Sweet Darkness” many more times in the past 17 years. I’ve ended relationships that were less than satisfying, refusing to settle for the sake of companionship. I’ve left jobs that no longer provided a nurturing professional space. I’ve learned the signs of good fit and can more easily walk away from those things that are too small–except for a few pairs of capris in my closet! I hope David Whyte’s poem can offer you some wisdom. It’s been life-changing for me.

Sweet Darkness by David Whyte
~The House of Belonging

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.