Moving Away From Rigidity


 

 

 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

I can be a very rigid thinker, following the rules, the expectations others have for me, and the expectations and boundaries I set for myself.  If I am, instead, open and not following pre-set boundaries, I actually do better in life. By being independent, willing to look at different paths, different and unexpected approaches to problems and thinking, I find new possibilities.

Not that I don’t think that structure and framework are important for a purposeful, successful life.  Being organized and focused is very often essential in getting the work done that needs to be done. In me, that need for structure and “rules of engagement” can often come before that additional element of doing the work, that of being spontaneous and open to the Muse and the creative process.

Others have weighed in on this dichotomy of rule-driven motivation and discipline, and spontaneous creativity.

“Men like us often had a lifestyle guided by either/or logic. We think we must either conquer the challenge we see before us or we will be failures. We think loved ones must either meet our needs or they do not love us. We think we must either be perfect, or we are unacceptable.

“Let us now step back from the rigidity of such unhealthy logic. Most of human experience and many answers to our problems don’t come in neatly tied packages. As we learn to think and feel in more flexible ways, we find life gets better. Using our intuition at times, rather than always following rigid rules for life, improves the recipe. The arrogance of our thought processes has sometimes told us we had the answer, but it closed us to growth which only comes by trusting our feelings. If we make mistakes, we can learn from them and go on. Many of the most ingenious inventions came not by rigidly following rules but by following an inner feeling.”

Touchstones: Daily Mediations for Men, May 28

In getting out of my ruts, my “tried and true” ways of approaching a problem or a situation, I learn more about myself, and I find myself opening up, becoming the artist I want to be.

I’ve been working on a painting, trying to be spontaneous and fresh. Yet, my rules and set formulas weighed heavily on my process and my work felt heavy and cumbersome. I struggled against myself and my old patterns, trying to break away and be bold and fresh.

I decided to act “outside of the box” and try new methods. I started the painting with acrylic paint, and then, the next day, “overpainting” with oil, thinning down the colors with additional oil, and moving my brush across the canvas boldly, spontaneously mixing colors and oil with abandon, playing with the light.

The carefree voice said “Oh, give it a try.”

“What if I screw up?” the critic in my head kept saying.

I might, and I probably am.  I can fix my “mistake” with a paper towel, or a dry brush, removing some paint, or rearranging what I had just painted.  Besides, I thought, maybe my “mistake” is the gift of creativity and spontaneity I had been looking for in this work. Let me be bold and innovative here.

I heard a poet say the other day, as they were struggling with their poem, “Let the poem form emerge and lead you.”

Ah, let the work lead you and reveal itself to you.  The creative work will find its form and will express itself.  I need to give myself permission to let go and let the creation find itself and become itself – unique and a creation in and of itself. It is OK to be gentle with myself and my creative spirit.

Creating art is always a lesson in letting go, of not being in control, letting things flow and come into themselves.  I can be both an observer and an instrument of the creative process, and not the final authority on what is being made here. I can give up being in control. Creating art is a meditative practice of cutting ties, going beyond boundaries and letting myself and what I am creating be unfettered by my preconceived and “absolute” limits.

When I am in that “zone” and shut down the voices of limits and rules and earlier expectations, then I really become free and move toward the artist, the whole healthy person that I am seeking to become.

These acts of creation often become powerful metaphors for me in the rest of daily life.  In these acts of creation, I am learning not only about the world and the creative work that is emerging, but more important, I am learning about myself.  I am learning not to be afraid of letting go and more towards becoming.

 

 

5/30/2020

Quarantined


 

 

Regeneration, rejuvenation, restoration—

Yet nature unaffected —

Late afternoon quiet

One car on the highway, far away

The one dog barks twice, then joins the status quo

Birds cavorting, swirling, scouting for nesting sites

Snubbing social distancing and travel bans

Spring arriving on time, by its own clock.

 

Quarantine gives me time

Daily routines upended, reset,

Important, pressing tasks now abandoned.

Daily rhythms recalibrated, the away, the alone

Now what is needed.  Time away is our new cure, our new

Mantra: stay home, stay well.

 

Plague now more than unstudied history, the world today

Together in lock down, isolation, yet as one, all against this

Invisible silent, invader, the master of stealth, its

Irrationality in who it sickens, who it takes.

 

Against it, I plant my garden, pulling weeds, watering seeds,

Taking out the trash, organizing, taking on countless little tasks

Left undone for so long.  The virus

Random, lethal, drives my chore list, the home labors;

Idleness, yet urgent, awaiting Death’s irregularity, its unpredictability

Not knowing if it will come, or not.  Life is, after all,

Uncertain.

 

I plan for flowers, summer tomatoes, harvests I will can and dry, and freeze,

Savored on the deck, a meal needing friends to drink to that next season in our lives,

If it comes at all. The virus, unmentioned, ever present, in my mind,

Persistent, obnoxious, pending,

Unplanned.

 

My life, on hold,

Nothing guaranteed, nothing to really write on the calendar,

Now just white space, some crossed out events,

Uncertainty reigns on the refrigerator door of my life.

 

 

Community life regroups, reconvening, after a sort,

New technology, new words, ways to find our way back to familiarity–

Now faces we saw in one room, so human, expected, so normal

Become boxes on screens, familiar yet distant, removed,

Voices, thoughts, and agendas, some old familiarity, yet

Transformed over electronic space, not quite

Human, not quite

Real, like our lives these days, everything

Not just quite, with no real end in

Sight.

 

The daily death count, new cases, slips into my inbox, a regular part now of

Cocktail hour, an old custom, reinstated by statistical, medical, psychological necessity.

The drink of the day needed, somehow, to deal with the numbers, today’s

Place on the curve we are trying to flatten, we becoming

Amateur epidemiologists, public health analysts—

Dr. Fauci the Mister Rogers of our time.

We are, after all, now in his neighborhood, the new norm of this surreality, the

New normal we are trying to understand, his calmness in the eye of the storm

Soothing.

 

My mask at the grocery store, the bleach-soaked towel, keeping social distance

Somehow doing my part to flatten the curve, do my part, be the patriotic warrior

On the world’s latest battlefront, six feet apart,

Home for the duration, we to be changed,

Quarantine veterans in the making, changed in ways we do not yet fathom.

 

I am left with this—-

A social recession, a need to

Make people, again, the center of our lives.

Racism is America’s pre-existing condition.

Wanting that decisions, not situations, determine our future.

Be the communitarian.

—Neal Lemery

4/18/2020

 

 

 

A Time for Patience


 

 

 

 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

 

 

There is a time for everything, and everything has its time.  Life is like that. There is a rhythm, a pattern in life, where things that are to be done have their own time for being expressed, for getting done.

 

There are many metaphors for me in sorting all this out, and figuring out time in my life, and the “right time” and the “best time”. One is the rhythm of music.  Music is the learning of patterns, of repetitions, of putting things in order, and of honoring the rhythms that the expression should take, so that it becomes an act of beauty and pleasing form. Music teaches patience and a “right time for everything”.

 

Old Testament poets talked about time and patience with these familiar words:

 

 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

“ A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

“ A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

“ A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

“ A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

“ A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

“ A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3)

 

I like this scripture in Ecclesiastes in the King James version because it is poetic; it has a cadence and a rhythm that is pleasing to my ear and to my heart.  I am a poet, and the work of the poet is often to find the beat, the cadence, the rhyme in the ideas that I want to express.  And, doing that work and finding the right words in the right order takes time and patience.  Often, my poetry first finds its expression in scraps of paper and scribbled words and phrases. The work often sits on a tablet of paper for a while, letting time age it, season it.  One day, the work becomes rewritten, reorganized, and re-formed, reshaped, re-spoken.  It is a work in progress.

 

Such is my life, always being reshaped, reformed, reworked.  I am different today than I was yesterday, and so my work today will be different today, because the me of today is the work of a man who is different today than yesterday.

 

Like any work, it is often transformed and reworked by the passage of time.  Relationships with others change over time, partly because I change, I am reworked, and I look at the world with different eyes, and with a longer, hopefully richer and more insightful perspective.

 

Thus, I try to be gentle with myself in difficult times, and in working difficult problems and being in difficult situations.  They say that Time Heals. Healing is one aspect of this perspective, and I want to recognize that time is an ally, a friend, something to be seen as a tool, a process that helps me be a better student of my life, and to increase my ability to learn.

 

I am finishing reading a book on the history of calculus (which is intellectually exciting and certainly challenging). The lesson in the book for me is that all the great minds that wrestled with calculus and its development for humanity utilized time, that much of the work was spent in contemplation, and deep thought, over time.

 

There’s a saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day.  A great city, a great work of humanity needs some space over time to come into its own.  The pouring of concrete, the mixing of mortar and the setting of stone needs time in which to age, to strengthen, to come into its own as its own identity and its own form.  Cement is liquid, then sets, then ages into strength and final form.

 

I learn those lessons not just on my guitar and my banjo, but in my garden, and certainly throughout my life. In each day, I become a different man, a product of growth and also of weeding and pruning, of adding the necessary fertilizer, the length of the sunshine in the day, and the temperature and moisture in the soil.

 

An aspect of appreciating time in my life is the virtue of patience.  Yet, life is finite, and there is no pre-established limit to the length of my life.  Life is a gift with an uncertain span of time, and I think I should see it as a gift, an opportunity, something precious, and fragile. The current pandemic is teaching me a lesson on the fragility and preciousness of life. What will I make of it? Who am I becoming?

 

Who indeed am I becoming? I am the master of all that. I am the captain of my ship, and I am the one who plots the course, who charts the path of my ship.  Yes, there are storms and tides, and often I am pushed and blown into treacherous and uncharted waters, yet the hand on the tiller of my ship is mine, and I am the one who trims the sails.

 

I look at life from the eyes of the poet, the musician, the gardener, looking for patterns, looking for putting my house in order, and making sense of the path I am on.  So it goes with anything difficult that we take on, and try to work through, to manage, and to bring to fruition.

 

Respecting time and practicing patience are vital tools in this life and in these times. These are the gifts we have now to use wisely and bring about the changes we want to see in this world. I speak not only of relationships between people, but also within myself. Learning to love and honor ourselves is the most challenging work in life.  Honoring myself, nurturing, tending to and caring about who I am and how I am equipped to deal with life is my most important work. Part of that work is to be easy with myself, to not beat myself up, to be kind and respectful to myself, to honor myself.  I do good work.  I really do.

 

Time gives me the chance to see that in myself, and to enjoy the fruits of my labor, to find the rhythm of my life and all of the poems, the songs, and the flowers that are within me.

 

4/9/2020

Connecting and Creating


 

 

This time of quarantine, social distancing, staying home is a new order in society. Our social connections can become frayed, even severed.  The many events of daily life have changed, our calendars cleared.  Routines are disrupted, and we find ourselves adrift.

Staying home and apart from others is the new social expectation, a necessity to reduce the impact of this pandemic, “flattening the curve”. Staying home is seen as a medical necessity essential to health and wellbeing, a fundamental obligation to our society.

Instead of isolating, these times are times of great connectivity. Our technological lives now grow connections. We message each other more frequently, communicate more deeply, and find new ways to meet and interact. We access more books, movies, and “off-site” encounters and conversations.  Our now rare trips to the grocery store and running other essential errands take on a new heightened satisfaction of interacting with others. We are important to each other, something we may have overlooked in the busyness of the pre-pandemic world.

I connect deeper with myself and my world. Tending to my garden and the young seedlings in the greenhouse takes on new importance as I witness the miracles of sprouting and growing, of new life as we move into spring.  Filling up my birdfeeder gives me time to celebrate the migrations of birds and to notice their lives in this quieter, more meditative and spiritually reflective time.

The morning cup of tea takes on new meaning, giving me a welcome ritual and a time of contemplation. I am finding time to breathe and connect with my soul.

This is also a time of great creativity. Times of plagues and quarantine, while socially threatening, have led to great creations.  Shakespeare wrote several of his most famous plays while in quarantine.  Newton developed his theories of gravity and motion, and invented calculus.

Now the world is taking a retreat from normal routines. We have time to pause, to re-energize our creative juices, and find our quiet space to express ourselves. This is a time of renewal and re-creation of so much of what is truly human and soul-nourishing.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”  — Stephen Jobs

This is that time to connect.  Go and create.

Neal Lemery 3/31/2020

Hunkering Down


 

 

The morning drizzle finds me inside, sorting and organizing, rediscovering my writing space.  Long neglected filing cabinets and piles of papers are now getting sorted.  I have a number of bags of burn pile starting paper, waiting for a sunny day and a match.

 

The second week of “Stay Home, Stay Well” in this pandemic finds me with a deeper layer of projects on the “to do” list. The yard is already manicured, seeds are sprouting in the greenhouse, the vegetable beds weeded and waiting.  Even all the laundry is washed, folded, and put away.

 

Old treasures are found and filed away, fodder for a poetry collection and other writing projects.  Mellow guitar on the dusted off CD player soothes my soul in this time of global uncertainty.  My paper sorting provides me with comfort, familiarity and accomplishment. Here there is order of a minimal sort, in a world now chaotic, unknowing, scary, now comfortably distant from the reality of my day here, hunkered down.

 

We are learning again how interconnected we all are, dependent upon each other to be staying well and safe. Microscopic disease runs rampant, reminding us how vulnerable, how fragile life can be; how something so small can change our world, and threaten our very lives. What are the lessons I need to learn? How will we change?

 

My bean soup simmers downstairs, soon to be flavored with a little bacon grease, chopped onions, and a little wine.  Two for the pot, one for the cook, I can hear my aunt say.  After this paper stack, it will be time for a break, to check the soup, put the kettle on.

 

I head to the kitchen for the mid morning cuppa. The water boils, poured into the hefty mug that will heat both hands. I sweeten the tea with a dollop of honey, just like Grandma in her old farm kitchen, after we gathered the eggs and picked some lettuce for dinner, throwing a few leaves to the hens.

 

She survived the Spanish Flu, the Depression, and World War II, keeping the farm going, steadily moving ahead in life, making do, and building a family.  All we are called to do is stay home and be healthy. She’d laugh today, at what we think we have to endure, how inconvenienced we think we are. She’d wipe her hands on the apron she made from a flour sack in 1934, and sit down to tell me a story, over our tea.

 

The tea, slowly cooling, soothes and comforts, like it always has on cold days, and demanding times. Quiet, thoughtful memories of good times, old traditions are revived.

 

I survey the bird feeder, taking time to notice new birds, on their way to Alaska, this corner of the yard alive in late March drizzle. Others, settling in for the summer, scout for nesting sites, raiding an old nest we’d found last fall and set on the porch with the pumpkins. Ancient rhythms are noticed again, rebirth and regrowth, endless, and comforting.

 

Life as we knew it, is on pause now. Slowing down feels good to my heart, this time creating a place to savor and rejoice in. I go slowly through the day, finding a new kind of work, a new order of the day, building a time that promises many lessons for us all.

 

—Neal Lemery 3/28/2020

 

Moving Into A Quieter Time


 

 

By Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, March 12, 2020)

 

How often do we wonder out loud why life is so hectic, and complain that we don’t have enough time?  Our lives are full of obligations, errands, events, endless demands on our time, and yet we often feel that we don’t tend to the important things in life.  We are bombarded with demands for even more obligations and commitments, and our growing collection of electronics chirp and beep further straining our capacity to manage our lives.

Do we really want fewer obligations and more time to kick back and enjoy life? I think we do, but we simply haven’t given ourselves permission to do that.

Well, now we have that opportunity.  If there’s a silver lining in the cloud of the Corona Virus crisis, it is the gift of time and space in our lives.  My calendar is getting cleared as I write this, with almost hourly e-mails announcing cancellations, postponements, and changed plans.  I now have mandates to not be so obligated and committed.

Public health officials and the Governor are taking drastic actions to call us to a simpler, less hectic life.  No large groups, no travel to meetings, fewer social interactions, and a call to spend more time at home.

There’s compelling scientific evidence to support these directives.  Yet, this crisis is perhaps a blessing in disguise. The Chinese writing character for crisis contains the character for opportunity.

My meeting was cancelled for this morning, so I found myself in the garden, with time to contemplate where I’m going to plant my early spring vegetables. I planted some seeds in the greenhouse and began my annual organizing there.  I’d told myself I’d get to that needed project, but I’ve just been “too busy”.  Now, the cleared up calendar is telling me I have the time.

The “hunker down at home” message is going to allow me the time to tend to my garden, to find a sunny spot and enjoy a cup of tea, and read some of those books that have been piling up on the coffee table. Spring is truly coming and yes, I can even enjoy it.

I’m going to have fewer hours at my favorite coffee shop, but I can also make time to invite a friend over for coffee and sit out on the deck and enjoy the birds that are arriving at my feeder. I’ll catch up on some correspondence, even getting back into the old yet treasured practice of writing a letter to a friend.

We have a month, at least, with legitimate excuses to dial back the pace of life, to take our foot off the gas, and take a breath. I’ll even avoid meetings that, perhaps, weren’t really that essential. I know I’ve been over-obligated, over-involved.  Now, I have an excuse to move into a quieter time. I can still do what I love to do: play my guitar, learn more about playing the banjo and mandolin, doing more in my yard than the most pressing tasks, even having a second cup of coffee on the deck in the morning, and linger over the daily paper.

I suspect my friends who are working will enjoy more productivity by working at home, and not having to travel for meetings. Maybe they too can live in quieter times and linger over that second cup of coffee on the deck. Perhaps we’ll be more like Europeans, with shorter work weeks, and more time with friends and family. Let’s give it a try.

I’m going to connect more with friends and family, too. More listening, more planning a small event where we really have a deep conversation and talk about our lives. Dinner can be more relaxed, and I’ll try to more thoughtful on what I cook and focus on healthier eating.  In all of that, I’ll be in the spirit of our collective effort to deal with this disease, focusing myself on being rested and improving my health, being a responsible citizen in times of crisis.

I’ve been yammering for years on the hectic pace of life, whining about how Americans work too much and don’t spend enough time with their family.  Now’s my chance, our chance, to get out of the fast lane, kick life down a few notches, and enjoy a quieter time, a slower pace of life.

It’s time I practice what I preach and get to really know myself and the people I love.

After all, it is doctors’ orders.

The Extra Day


 

 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

Leap Day.  It only shows up on the calendar every four years, and sometimes not even then, being quirky and a human invention to try to define and measure a celestial phenomenon that defies the precision of those of us who love to measure things.

 

This year, though, it is mine to enjoy and celebrate.  Conveniently showing up on the day after my birthday, the day seems like a day to celebrate, and take advantage of, a nice little bonus to birthday celebrations.  I’ve entered the last third of my own century, so these celebratory events need to be seized and enjoyed.

 

What to do? There was a tree seedling sale in the next county, and a presentation on unusual perennial plants for the garden at one of my favorite public gardens, one I seem to seldom visit. The garden was on the way back from the tree sale, and I was sure I could work in a stop for coffee and another for lunch.

 

The bonus was driving along the ocean, wild and crazy from a series of late winter storms that have been rolling in.  The weather couldn’t figure out its day, so there was a continual onslaught of drizzle, rain, hail, sunbreaks, wind, and then several repeats of the cycle, with even a promise of a thunderstorm.

 

Trees! Not that I need more trees!  Our two acres is now more than well-planted with a variety of evergreens and an abundance of shrubs, vegetables, and herbs. I try to grow trees now for the annual plant sale of the master gardeners, and an occasional gift to friends needing some native trees.

 

Already this year, my greenhouse has seven baby coastal redwoods that are getting an early start on spring, destined for the plant sale.  But, surely, there’s room for more seedlings to nurture, preparing them for new homes. I just couldn’t resist the invitation for a tree seedling sale.

 

I arrived to find the parking lot full and a line of tree lovers queuing up outside the door of a building at the fairgrounds.  We all had that look in our eyes, a hunger, nearly a lust, for the opportunity to get a bag or two of tree seedlings.  The uniform of the day was a full array of flannel shirts, work boots, and worn jeans.  It was like we all had been out tending our trees and gardens and took a collective break to come into town to get our trees.  Of course, we all came in our pickups.  This is Oregon, you know.

 

We crowded through the door, the cashier handing each of us an order form, and being directed down to a number of tables stacked with several dozen kinds of trees, wrapped in wet cardboard and stuffed into large plastic bags.

 

I made my way to the front of the lines for the two kinds of trees I really wanted, the crowd loud and pushy.  The clerk filled a sack with my newly acquired treasures, giant sequoia and western red cedar.  The sequoias are hard to find around here, and the cedar trees were a special treat. Cedars are hardy natives. Finding a good supply of cedar seedlings has been a challenge until a few years ago, when estuary restorationists began stirring up a heavy demand for them.

 

I order my coastal redwood seedlings from a nursery in Redwood Country, and I already have enough young starts this year for the plant sale.  Their cousins, healthy giant sequoias, natives of the Sierra Nevada, were a surprise and I eagerly added five to my treasure bag. These trees do well in the Northwest, with trees as old as one hundred fifty years thriving throughout western Oregon. My neighbor’s row of these little giants add a special beauty to the neighborhood.

 

On my way to check out, I spotted some healthy nine-bark saplings, natives that have startling purple leaves and multi-colored bark, and grow well around my trees and other shrubs.  A good supply is hard to find, so I snapped up some of them, too.  I’d make room for them in my almost filled up young forest.

 

The price was a steal, only $2 for each little seedling, about a third of what my regular suppliers charge. I was going to look around some more, but there was a small yet noisy crowd behind me and I didn’t want to hold things up.  I quickly paid my modest bill for trees and headed back out through the maze of pickups, in various stages of mud-splattered late winter gunk, my hands clutching my treasures.

 

I knew I needed to get them potted up soon, their roots bare and freshly liberated from their plastic tubes and trays of the tree propagators’ world. And, I needed more pots and some good potting soil, too.  On the way out of town, I stopped for those essentials, spending more for pots and soil than I paid for the trees.  Money well spent, of course, looking at the long term.  Cedars can live for over a thousand years, and giant sequoias can be around for three times as long, my purchases being a modest investment in creating a legacy.

 

There are all the newly trendy reasons to plant trees, of course: trees are great carbons sinks, they filter the air, produce oxygen, improve water and soil quality in the forest, provide habitat for forest creatures, etc. Those are all great things, but ultimately, they are beautiful.  Adding trees to our corner of the earth is simply good for its own sake. And, a good thing to be doing on this “extra day”.

 

After my promised lunch, I rolled up to the public garden, nicely manicured and neatened after last week’s sunny days.  The other people gathering for the talk arrived in their neat suburban sedans and nattily attired in “formal garden casual”; the only one clad in flannel and slightly dirty denim is me. My work boots still had traces of the mud from the messy tree sale.  I was sure the two groups wouldn’t blend in well with each other.

 

The “rare and unusual perennial” crowd was, however, equally rowdy when it came to picking out our treasures to take home.  After the lecture and slide show, we noisily crowded around the plants, on the verge of shoving and pushing to the point of getting out of control. Finally, realizing there were enough plants for all of us, we settled down and lined up quietly as the program speaker took our money and handed out environmentally correct paper bags for our loot. Just like the tree crowd, we could eventually shape up to be somewhat orderly and respectable, though there was that fundamental difference between paper and plastic.

 

I drove home, eager to get to work before the end of daylight, and quickly planted my ninebarks and potted up my trees.  I even lightly mulched them in fir bark, simulating the forest environment that will eventually be their new home.

 

 

All that work in the chill of the late afternoon brought me to brew a cup of tea, and I kicked   back, slipping off my work boots, contemplating the wonders and satisfactions of this “extra day”, and the long-term benefits of more trees to give out into the world.

 

 

 

2/29/2020

An Example of Bad Taste, and Worse


Neal Lemery

Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 1/15/2020

 

An Example of Bad Taste, And Worse

 

I quickly went from shock to a strong sense of revulsion and disgust the other day, as I was checking up on the latest local news.

It was a story of tragedy and grief.  A young mother was killed in a traffic crash, with her baby rushed to the hospital.  The text of the story, taken from the Sheriff’s press release, told me all I needed (and wanted) to know. The story was a traumatic reminder of the fragility of human life and the senseless disaster of traffic crashes.

What left me numb and sickened, and then outraged, was the accompanying color photo of the car, horrific in every detail, posted by a local newspaper.  The photo didn’t add to the story, and instead it fueled my emotions and smacked of tabloid journalism and poor taste.

I thought of the victim’s family and friends, and of all those impacted by the tragedy, and how seeing that photo would amplify their grief. And, to what purpose was the photo published?

When I was a prosecutor in the criminal justice system, I reviewed countless photos of tragedy. I sometimes used them to assist experts determine causation, and in court as evidence for the judge or jury to consider in making their findings. In deciding on whether to use a particular photo, I always asked myself three questions: is it true, is it kind, and is it necessary?

If the photo was the only way to convey an important fact, I still needed to decide if the real motive to submit it into evidence was to simply be dramatic, or appeal to lurid or emotional sensationalism.  Photos that didn’t meet those standards were left in the case file.

Like prosecutors, journalists also have professional standards of ethics.

A position paper on reporting stories of grief and tragedy by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), takes on these questions:

“Stories involving grief and victims goes to the heart of one of the tenets of the SPJ Code of Ethics: minimize harm.

“The Code recognizes the responsibility to … show compassion…be sensitive… ,. When using photographs (be sensitive) to those affected by tragedy or grief.

“(A)void pandering to lurid curiosity.  … media will receive higher marks if they present their stories in responsible fashion without resorting to sensationalism in words or photos.” (SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers: Reporting on Grief, Tragedy and Victims) https://www.spj.org/ethics-papers-grief.asp

Like all professions, journalists have an ethical responsibility to conduct their work without subjecting others to ridicule or lurid sensationalism. That responsibility, in this instance, is sorely lacking and leads to an unhealthier, less loving and compassionate community.

As a community, we can do better.

Making Our Communities Age Friendly


Neal Lemery

Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer

12/17/2019

 

 

Making Our Communities Age Friendly

 

In ten years, our population of seniors 75 years and older will double. Yet, only 1% of our housing has the amenities that will allow seniors to stay in their own homes.

 

How do we make our housing and our communities more friendly to our aging population?

 

That was a question at the recent Building Our Communities for All Ages conference sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in Portland.  Over 200 people, mostly community volunteers and professionals, gathered to hear success stories and challenges from experts dedicated to improving the quality of life for our communities and seniors.

 

We need age-friendly housing and neighborhoods, topics which are especially challenging in rural Oregon, where funds for public improvements, housing, retirement living, and transportation are hard to come by.

 

We want to encourage people to grow old in their homes.  It is less costly, more efficient, and prolongs both length of life and quality of life.  Yet, 50% of seniors spend more than 30% of their income on housing. 80% of rural senior Oregonians own their own home, yet 40% of houses need major modifications for aging population, and only 1% of housing is fully equipped to allow aging seniors to safely remain in their homes.

 

80% of Oregon seniors own their own homes, but are increasingly “house rich, cash poor”, as rising property values increase property taxes and other costs also grow, while incomes remain limited.

 

“You cannot do anything alone.  It’s about collaboration.  Sometimes it requires compromise,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told the conference.  “Young people thrive when they have an older adult who cares about them and engages with them – making connections.”

 

“70% of the reasons for a long, healthy life are products of social engagement and activities.  The other 30% are related to genetics and quality of health care,” urban activist Gil Penalosa said.

 

“It’s not retirement, it’s re-hirement,” he said. “People are living longer, and need to be engaged in their community in order to live healthier, longer lives.”

 

His worldwide planning group takes a radical view of making public space people friendly. He brings in art, pedestrian-friendly spaces, and a revitalized sense of community to places all over the world. His message is simple: start small with inexpensive changes that allow people to mingle, and develop relationships with each other.  His premise is “8-80”, creating public spaces for both the eight year old and the 80 year old.  (https://880cities.org. )

 

A healthy community requires eight dynamic factors: housing, transportation, parks and public spaces, health and community service, respect and inclusion, social participation, and communication and information.

 

Aside from the structural needs of housing, healthy social interactions and opportunities for physical activity are critical.

 

“Loneliness is just as lethal as smoking five cigarettes a day,”  Sharon Meieran, Multnomah County Commissioner, said.

 

A decline in our physical activity also increases our risk for diabetes.  25 years ago, 9% of Oregonians were obese. Today, that rate is 29%.  By building sidewalks and improving parks and other pedestrian friendly facilities in our community, we improve our health and our ability to remain in our homes.

 

Rural Oregonians have additional challenges.  A majority of us are sixty miles or more away from health care, and live more than ten miles from a full-service grocery store.  Public transportation is limited, and many people require door to door bus service.

 

More information on the conference and Oregon’s responses is available at https://states.aarp.org/oregon/gov-brown-to-kick-off-age-friendly-summit

 

 

Opioid Summer Energizes Community Response


 

 

 

by Neal Lemery

(Published by Tillamook County Pioneer on 10/20/2019

“Tillamook County is Number One!”

Who doesn’t like to hear that statement about one’s community?  There’s that sense of pride, and a feeling of accomplishment. Time for some applause and even a cheer, except when you are at a conference of about 200 medical professionals and drug treatment experts, and the topic is the national opioid addiction crisis.

Tillamook County is the worst, with the highest death rate in a state that has the fourth highest overdose rate. While we Oregonians are proud of our innovation and progressive thinking, leading the nation on many challenging issues, Oregon is dead last, at the very bottom, #50, in the availability of drug treatment.

This 2019 Opioid and Substance Abuse Summit in Seaside on October 14 is the fourth annual gathering of regional health care providers, and others involved in and concerned about our substance abuse crisis. Organized by the Columbia-Pacific coordinated care organization, the Summit marshalls resources and educates the community on how to respond to the deepening opioid addiction crisis that is ransacking our communities. Columbia Pacific coordinates health care under the Oregon Health Plan and the Affordable Care Act for Tillamook, Clatsop and Columbia counties, and is part of Care Oregon, a non-profit organization focused on health care services.

“It has been a tremendous honor to host these community opioid and substance use disorder summits over the past four years. We have seen such amazing work happening within the region, in terms of expansion of access to medication to treat substance use disorder at TCCHC and Rinehart clinics, drug take back boxes at some pharmacies, improved opioid prescribing, and the start of needle exchange and harm reduction programs in Clatsop and Columbia Counties. We have more work to do to address overdose deaths and improve lives of those suffering with substance use disorder, but events like this can be a space to re-ignite the fire and passion in coming together to continue to make things better.”

—Safina Koreishi MD MPH, Medical Director, Columbia Pacific CCO

 

The Oregon coast is on the front lines, with drug usage, resulting death rates, and low levels of treatment services at the top of public health statistics.

In Oregon, one to two people a day die from drug overdoses.  Five people die from the effects of alcohol every day.  That’s over 2100 Oregonians a year.   Oregon has the fourth highest drug addiction rate in the nation. And, in neighboring Clatsop County, 40% of teens vape tobacco or pot, compared to the statewide usage rate of 16%. The Oregon coast leads the state in sales of alcohol per capita.

The costs of drug addiction is staggering. The collective emotional pain is inconceivable. The economic cost to Oregon in terms of loss of earning capacity and economic value is $5.8 Billion a year.  That’s Billion with a B.

There was other dismal, alarming news.  Yet, the room was alive with energy, enthusiasm to respond, and a strong desire to meet the needs of our families, friends, and neighbors.

“We can do this, and we are taking this epidemic on,” was a frequent statement.

Doctors, counselors, emergency responders, and other community professionals took the stage to discuss new medications, response protocols, and a variety of treatment regimens — programs that are up and running in rural communities, including our county, number one in drug deaths.  Lively discussions were had on the interrelated high rates of intimate partner violence, suicide, illiteracy, and people underserved by the health care system. The crisis is complex and multi-dimensional, and touches all of our lives.

In the background was the disappointing recent news that Oregon Governor Kate Brown has ordered state government to delay implementation of the legislatively mandated strategic plan for a recovery-oriented system of care.  The plan was developed by a large and diverse team of treatment professionals using best practices and current medical science.

We had frank, direct, and often deeply disturbing discussions, often with personal and family stories of addiction, despair, hopelessness, and, ultimately, with awareness of the anxiety and loneliness which fuels the drug use. There can be redemption, there is hope, and there is a growing diverse and empowered recovery community.

Drug and mental health courts and outpatient and residential treatment facilities in rural communities are opening. Peer coaching, 12 step programs, and health insurance plans willing to fund many forms of treatment are springing up. First responders and concerned citizens are arming themselves with the opioid antidote Naloxone, which can take the form of a nasal spray safely administered by a lay person and available without prescription.  The drug neutralizes the drug causing an overdose and saves people from certain death. Other drugs now becoming available tackle the wide range of addictive symptoms and conditions.

“There is hope,” one physician said, “and there also needs to be compassion, understanding, and awareness that addiction is a medical problem, not a character flaw. This is a crisis of culture and education.”

Effective response to this epidemic involves trauma-informed care, focusing on a person’s response to trauma experienced throughout life. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) cause the brain and the body to retain trauma throughout our bodies; the trauma response paralyzes our coping mechanisms, and shuts down healthy and healing responses. The more trauma we experience, the less the mind and body are able to deal with and enjoy life.

We self-medicate, trying to ease the anxiety, the pain, and the emptiness we have experienced.  Advertising and social expectations point us in the direction of drugs. Tobacco, alcohol, and opioids are the most poisonous, the most deadly substances we use, yet they are our legal drugs and the most highly marketed and available drugs.

The real “gateway drugs” are freely available at the neighborhood store and where we gather to “relax and have a good time”.

Drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s neural receptors for levels for dopamine, a pleasure inducing chemical the brain releases. Trauma inhibits the body’s ability to feel joy and contentment, and we turn to chemicals in order to reconnect with our natural desire for a sense of well-being and tranquility. Yet, the temporary pain-killing effects of our drugging fades with continuing drug use, moving our desired feelings of joy and contentment even further away from being in our lives and limits our healthy response to dopamine and other endorphins. Drugs are a self-fulfilling prophesy of pain and emptiness despite our desire to heal and feel “normal” again.

Traumatized kids are 46 times more likely to develop substance abuse disorders than kids who have not been traumatized.  Schools now are implementing educational practices and activities that are trauma-informed, approaches that help heal and restore a sense of personal well-being and emotional health.

One physician who shared her story of addiction, chaos, and near death spoke of her first use of heroin as generating a sense of peace and relief she had always sought, but had never achieved. Heroin made her life bearable and the traumas in her life faded away at last. Life became beautiful, until her life spiraled down into deeper chaos.

The tool chest of recovery and health is gaining new tools, yet we are a culture of drug use, instant gratification, and often unattainable expectations of perfection and acceptance. Medically assisted treatment  (MAT) is becoming part of the new standard of care for treatment providers, along with education, peer coaching, and the community gaining understanding that addiction and trauma are interwoven, that addiction is best understood as a medical issue, a condition that can be effectively treated.

Access to treatment remains a critical issue, and is very often a barrier to getting help.  Yet, widespread availability of naloxone, educated emergency responders and health care professionals, and a broader application of medically assisted treatment are making a difference. Trauma-informed responses by the criminal justice system and social services are being implemented.

At the end of the day, after dozens of stories of agony, despair, hope and redemption, there was a spirit of hope in the room.  We are taking on this epidemic, we are finding the tools, and we are able to respond and attack this problem, this epidemic.

We can be number one, not in the number of deaths, but in the availability of remedies, of treatment, and salvation.

 

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