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The Greatest of Gifts: Stepping Outside our Bubble and Listening to a Different Perspective

May 16, 2018

We are at a critical time in the world when it is more important than ever to seek outside opinions and learn from each other. While the Internet is a vast resource of endless information and said opinions, in many ways, it’s a device of polarization.

When former President Barack Obama gave his farewell address on January 10, 2017, there was one line that that struck me deeply and was particularly telling about the state of the country.

“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life,” said the former president.

While this may seem like a simple direction to follow, technology – and social media in particular – has made it extremely difficult to actually do.

Because of the Internet and the democratization of information, we have more access to diverse opinions and different people than we’ve ever had in the history of humanity. Yet there is far less accepting (and extreme criticism) of those diverse opinions.

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My own experience with confronting differences happened when I “moved to the middle” nearly two years ago. I left my blue, Liberal bubble of San Diego for Terre Haute and the red state of Indiana. Making that move outside my comfort zone suddenly put me in a place where I was the stranger. I was talking to people with different backgrounds and political beliefs that I would not have met had I stayed in San Diego.

When I told people that my family and I made the move from San Diego to Terre Haute, the first question I always received was:

“Why would you ever want to come to Terre Haute?”

I expected that question from individuals who lived in Southern California. What I did not expect, however, was getting that question from fellow Hoosiers and Terre Haute residents. The undertone of the question was not about why I left the seemingly picture-perfect Southern California. What they were asking was why I chose to move to the middle of America and settle in Terre Haute; as if this town had something to be ashamed of, or had nothing to offer its residents.

For me, Terre Haute’s greatest gift has been self-awareness. I realized how I was living in a bubble in San Diego, and came to understand how my biases informed my beliefs about the Midwest and its residents.

Once I was able to put those biases aside, I was able to get to know my adopted town of Terre Haute and see all the assets this city had to offer.

Assets like a local parks department with more than 1,000 acres of land dedicated to community and neighborhood parks, trails and greenways. Terre Haute has Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which has been ranked the #1 engineering college in the nation among schools whose highest engineering degree offered is a bachelor’s or master’s for 19 years. The city has five institutions of higher education. It has a small business incubator helping entrepreneurs launch successful business ventures to keep people and jobs in Terre Haute.

Terre Haute has a regional airport that was named airport of the year by The Aviation Association of Indiana. The community has an award-winning art museum, free and low-cost youth programs, a vibrant community of small businesses and entrepreneurs, and a low cost of living.

I began sharing these observations about Terre Haute and Midwest living on my social media channels, through writing on this blog, and in local and national publications. I did this because sharing information through words and photos is the way I try to make a difference and impart some positivity in the world.

As I got to know myself differently, several of my new friends and neighbors told me they started to see their own community in a new light. Just as growing up in one city kept me living in a bubble, the bubble exists for anyone who does not look beyond what they’ve always held as truth. None of us can see ourselves until we step outside of ourselves.

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With technology and this country’s political divide, the opportunity to engage with and learn from others is shrinking. Social media makes it possible for us to choose to live in a bubble. If we don’t like what someone has to say – or has an opposite opinion – we simply unfriend, unfollow or block them. We, literally, have the ability to scrub our world of political differences.

Yet we all learn from someone else’s point of view. Even if we don’t agree with their beliefs, just understanding one’s perspective opens up an entirely new perception and way of thinking. I found that only by listening to others who are different can we truly understand each other and ourselves. Isn’t this truly at the heart of inclusion?

Leaving my Southern California home of 40 years and moving to Terre Haute opened my eyes and mind. For some local residents, having an outsider provide observations opened their eyes to see what’s been right in front of them all along.

To be sure, I know Terre Haute is far from perfect, and there are many community issues and problems that need to be resolved. And I cannot discount the views of the city’s residents who have been observing the reality of this city their entire lives.

But if I’ve learned anything over the last two years, it’s that fear keeps us separate and confidence is built in the small space of sameness. The only way we can stop the polarization happening in this country is to embrace new opinions and learn from each other. And when we pierce the barriers of comfort, we move towards a more dynamic, inclusive world that doesn’t see difference as inherently bad.

Photo: Fairbanks Park and the Wabash River, Terre Haute, IN

Thanks for reading! If this resonated with you, please leave a comment or share the post on social media. And if you don’t agree with the sentiment, that’s okay too (and I’d still like to hear your comment). After all, isn’t that the point of it all? 🙂

On Journalists, Writing and the Movies That Inspire Me to Tell Stories

April 27, 2018

I knew I wanted to be a writer and journalist from a young age. In elementary school, I wrote fictional stories. At age 12, I wrote and produced a monthly newsletter that I mailed to pen pals and subscribers across the country (in the days way before the internet). In high school, I chose journalism as my elective course and spent two years as a reporter for the school newspaper. I was a journalism major in college, contributed to the college newspaper, and got my first “real” job working at the San Diego public broadcasting station. After college, I continued to write in various publications, which ultimately led me to call myself a writer today.

For me, the appeal of writing is telling a story and making words come alive on paper (or the screen). When I publish a piece – whether it’s a post on this personal blog, a feature story about a noteworthy person or business or when I wrote parenting pieces for Red Tricycle – my favorite part of the process is when a reader says, “I loved learning about that person.” Or “I didn’t know about that business and now I have to go there.” Or “What you wrote is how I feel.” I don’t write because I want to hear myself talk (or type); I write because I like to share stories that impact people’s lives.

Last month I attended the Power of Narrative Conference in Boston with my close friend and fellow writer, Ann marie. This conference brings together the most inspiring writers. Conference speakers have been Sacha Pfeiffer, a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight team that reported on the Catholic Church controversy in 2002 (and the inspiration for the movie); Emily Steel, the New York Times reporter who uncovered the sexual harassment stories that were the impetuous for the #MeToo movement; humorist Roxanne Gay (“Hunger”); Sonia Nazario (“Enrique’s Journey”); Doris Kearns Goodwin (presidential historian); and so many more.

It’s hard not to feel humbled at this event, surrounded by writers who have told incredible and inspiring stories. Ann marie and I joke that we are probably the only two conference attendees that have not won a Pulitzer Prize. There’s a hint of truth to the statement, which speaks to the caliber of people that attend and speak at this conference. I always leave feeling both inspired and depressed — inspired by the talent, yet depressed because I don’t think I could ever achieve what these individuals have done.

I love writing and feel incredibly fortunate that I can use my words and thoughts to tell stories. Yet at the same time, it can be incredibly frustrating to write, write, write, and feel like you have a great story to tell; and also face constant rejection of pieces submitted. I know this is part of the process and I’m not complaining (well, not all the time). But it’s often hard to know whether you’re making a difference. And when the rejections come, I start thinking maybe what I’m writing isn’t really as worthwhile as I think.

When I feel this way, I come back to the following quote that my friend, Ann marie, posted on Facebook:

Some of the greatest work you do will be known by no one and only experienced by the individual you changed. Be mindful of what matters.

It is a perfect reminder of why I write. And it reminds me of all the writers and journalists I’ve admired, and the stories that impacted me.

Growing up as a child of the 1908s and 90s, I learned about journalists and writers from books and movies. Watching the stories of investigative reporting inspired me (and still inspires me) to want to make a difference in my community and the greater good. Just like so many people credit Atticus Finch and “To Kill a Mockingbird” as the reason they went into law, I watched Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) investigate the Watergate break-in in “All the President’s Men” and knew I wanted to be a journalist.

So as a salute to the journalists who inspired me to write, here are my favorite journalism-themed movies. Keep in mind these choices are not an inclusive listing of the best journalism movies that have been made (if it were, “Network” and “Absence of Malice” would be on the list). These are simply my picks that I still watch when I need a reminder and some inspiration that words do matter and have the ability to change the world.

All the President’s Men — This is the story that started it all for me. I love watching this movie today, and seeing the reporters go through telephone books and newspaper clips to find information that we can so easily discover on the Internet today. It’s a great reminder of how much more work it was to do investigative reporting before the web.

Broadcast News — While this story is fiction, it’s a fantastic look at television news production and a great portrayal of how the news started shifting to entertaining, ratings and profit. Holly Hunter’s character is so real she’s almost difficult to watch. Also the writing, coupled with Albert Brooks and his lines, are phenomenal.

The Insider — This true story is a look at the “60 Minutes” segment that featured a whistle-blower who spoke out against Big Tobacco. I think this is Russell Crowe’s best work as a tormented insider who is ousted from a lucrative job for being an outsider with different opinions, and really struggles to tell the truth to the world about cigarettes. I also love the behind-the-scenes look at CBS News, “60 Minutes,” and what has become known as one of their most embarrassing story productions. This is a Michael Mann film, so it’s a slow-burn LONG movie; but well worth the time to watch.

Live From Baghdad — Not many people know about this true story about a CNN news crew that was stationed in Baghdad after the invasion of Kuwait, and then became the only American news presence in the area at the very beginning of the Gulf War in 1991. It essentially tells the story of how CNN became the dominant 24-hour news station. Michael Keaton, Helena Bonham Carter, and many other actors you’ll recognize give outstanding performances.

Shattered Glass — In the 1900s, a young reporter named Stephen Glass from The New Republic magazine took the term “fake news” to a whole new level. The movie tells the story of Glass and how it was discovered he fabricated more than half of his articles, including the story about a made-up famous computer hackers at a hacker convention. Forbes Digital broke this story, which was considered an important milestone for online journalism. While I don’t find inspiration in Glass himself, this is a great movie about journalism and ethics with fantastic performances in this HBO production.

Zodiac — Arguably one of my favorite movies of all time, “Zodiac” is the story of the police, a reporter and a cartoonist-turned-writer who investigate the Zodiac serial killer that made headlines in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1969 through the mid-70s. The writing and acting are superb and the movie will transport you back to that time.

Spotlight — This movie follows the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team of investigative reporters as they uncover the widespread child sex abuse happening in the Catholic Church in Boston. Although the subject matter is difficult, I find myself fascinated by how the story unfolds and the people who came forward to break the silence. For me, the most powerful part of the movie is the last scene, which shows the Spotlight news room flooded with tip calls from people breaking their own silence after the story is printed. I cry every time I watch it because that ending – and what the writing did for people – is the essence of why we tell stories.

I give an honorable mention to The Post, but I can’t add it to my favorites just yet since it’s still new and I’ve only seen it once. But I do like how it gave a voice to Katherine Graham, the female publisher of The Washington Post, who played a key, yet lesser-known role in the paper’s breaking of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.

What inspired you to pursue the career path you’re taking? Do you have a go-to list of books or movies that keep you motivated?

Reflections on Regret: the Paths Not Taken

March 14, 2018

I recently wrote a post about my personal milestones that have nothing to do with marriage or kids. Those milestones are moments that I’m proud of, or that inspired growth and change within me.

I thought it would be interesting to think about the other side of the coin: regrets.

I have a difficult time with the concept of regret because I’m the type of person who believes everything happens for a reason. I don’t necessarily look at a poor choice as a regret, but as a decision that will lead me down a different road (even if it’s not clear what that road looks like at the time). Maybe that’s a bit Pollyanna or optimistic, but it works for me.

I found this quote by Arthur Miller that resonated with how I think of regret:

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets. — Arthur Miller

So in that spirit, here are a few of my life instances that I’d describe as regrets, or when I wish I’d made a difference choice.

Quitting volleyball tryouts my freshman year of high school. When I was in high school, I thought it would be fun to play volleyball; so I went to day one of the team tryouts. It was much harder than I expected, especially when they required everyone to run a mile. So I opted not to go back the second day. I wonder why I was so scared of “hard” when it came to sports and physical fitness. I’ve written about how – until recently – I never considered myself to be athletically or physically inclined. But I think about what might it have felt like to stick with the challenge. Looking back, I doubt I would have made the team. But I regret not sticking it out and giving myself a fair shot.

Not applying for a job at the University of Southern California’s Hollywood, Health & Society Project. I wrote my master’s thesis on how television shows entertains as well as educate the public through storylines. I spent the summer of 2002 interviewing television writers and producers (ER!) about their shows and how they craft storylines. Knowing the television junkie I was (and still am), this was a really fun master’s thesis. I also researched and interviewed the founder of the Hollywood, Health & Society Project out of USC. After I finished writing my thesis, a job opened in that program. This was truly my dream job; yet I chose not to apply because I didn’t want to move to Los Angeles and I just started a new position at San Diego State University. I wish I hadn’t let geography and the sense of obligation I felt stop me from applying for that job.

Racking up credit card debt. One of the stupidest things I’ve done in my life is rack up credit card debt. I know it’s a relatively common phenomenon; but for so many years, I lived with the debt as a heavy burden on my shoulders that would never disappear (no matter how much we made and put toward those credit card bills). We have been fortunate to pay off our debt by living in a place that is much more affordable and has a lower cost of living. But I never want to go back to that feeling, and I deeply regret making those careless financial decisions.

Not seeing the Eagles in concert. I’ve been a huge Eagles fan for years, and it was always a goal to see them in concert. I was thrilled when the band was slated to perform in San Diego in fall 2015. But I elected not to buy a ticket because they were expensive. I justified the decision to saying I’d see them another time, when I had more money to purchase the ticket. Three months later, Glenn Frey died. I really regret not splurging for the ticket and seeing my favorite band play in person. That’s led me to my new rule for live music: if a favorite singer or band is playing, buy the ticket and go. Because you never know what life will bring.

Not getting my picture taken with Ina Garten. Back in 2004, I attended a book signing with Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. At the time, many people knew who the Barefoot Contessa was, but she did not have the huge following she has today. When it was my turn to get my cookbooks signed, Ina’s handler asked if I wanted my picture taken with her. I declined. The handler even asked if I was sure. I don’t know what possessed me to opt out of a photo, but I really wish I took that photo. I would have framed it and hung it in my kitchen, or placed it next to the shelf full of Ina’s cookbooks.

As you can see, these regrets are not huge, life-altering choices. But they’re what I think about when I’m asked what I regret. Yet maybe – per Arthur Miller’s quote – they were the right decisions after all.

How do you think of regret? Do you have any that plague you? Or are you like me and look at those choices as a means to something else?

My Personal Milestones That Have Nothing to Do With Marriage and Kids

February 22, 2018

I recently read a blog post about milestones more important than kids or marriage. The author wrote about embracing milestones that have nothing to do with marriage or having children because not every woman (or man, for that matter) has done those things or wants to do them.

This idea struck a chord with me. While certainly getting married and having Sophie were milestones in my life, I don’t think of them in the same way as I do other achievements. Perhaps it’s because I always thought getting married and having a child would be a given in my life. But the other milestones are more personal achievements, or bigger accomplishments that I wasn’t expecting. Does that make sense?

I’m not suggesting marriage and children are not milestone-worthy. On the contrary; they certainly are. But I really like the idea of looking at milestones and achievements on a intimate level that may not necessarily involve another person.

When I look at the big milestones of my life, so many of them have to do with overcoming fear. While I’ve always thought of myself as strong and self-confident, I spent a lot of my life avoiding risk for fear of the unknown and lack of control. There are many reasons for this (another blog post, another day), but I always gravitated toward the safe route in life.

So here are some of my personal milestone moments, many of which helped me become more confident and less fearful.

Moving to Indiana — As many of you know, I spent nearly all my life in San Diego with my family. Yet I never really felt like San Diego was where I belonged. So why didn’t I ever go somewhere else? I never even dreamed of moving away because everything and everyone I knew was there. San Diego was home, and the thought of leaving scared the hell out of me. It’s still hard to believe we packed up our entire lives and moved to Terre Haute almost two years ago. But it’s been the best decision of my life and I’m so glad we did.

Leaving my Safe and Secure Job — In March 2012, I left my full-time job to make a living as a writer and start my own business. I said good bye to colleagues I loved, a guaranteed monthly salary and stability because I knew it was time to move on. I could have easily stayed in that lucrative, secure job. Yet if I hadn’t made that leap, I wouldn’t be where I am today — in charge of my life on my terms.

Becoming a Runner — I never thought I had the ability to run or be physically active. But in October 2016, I faced my fear and started running. It wasn’t much at first, and just making it one mile was a huge win. Last weekend I hit a  personal record by running six miles. I did slow down and walked in parts, but it’s the first time in my life I’ve accomplished anything that physically challenging. I never imagined I could run a half marathon or even a 5K, but now those goals are within my reach.

Getting My First “Real” Job at KPBS — My first job was working at a Dairy Queen in high school. But after my freshman year of college, I got a job working at KPBS, the local public broadcasting station. I was incredibly proud to land a part-time student assistant job working for a media company, and was lucky enough to be hired full time after I graduated college. I learned so much about television, radio, marketing, public relations, writing, and working with people in those years, and made some wonderful friendships along the way. I consider landing that job at 18-years-old is one of the defining moments in my life.

Moving into the College Dorms — I went to college at San Diego State University, a mere eight miles from my home. I was excited to go to college, but afraid to go anywhere beyond where my family lived (again, fear). But I knew I wanted to move out of my parent’s house and into the residence halls. The years I spent living on campus were some of the best of my entire life, and it helped me be a more independent person.

Going on the Washington D.C. Trip in 8th Grade — When I was in middle school, I signed up to attend a week-long trip to Washington D.C. and Virginia with 40 of my fellow 8th grade classmates and four teacher chaperones. Being a HUGE history buff, I was so excited to attend this trip. But at the same time, I was absolutely terrified and wasn’t sure I could actually do it. I was scared to leave my family and equally panicked to fly. I packed my suitcase and went to the airport, but I honestly didn’t think I’d set foot on that plane. In fact, I almost turned back until one of the teachers started talking to me as we boarded. I was so distracted that I forgot to turn around. I’m so glad I didn’t turn back because that week was life-changing for me.

Not long ago, I wrote the blog post 19 Goals from the Last 19 Years where I reflected on the goals I wrote for myself when I was 21-years-old. I look at that list today and see that fear is still playing a part in my life, and holding me back from achieving some of those goals. I hope to start conquering some of those projects and seeing what new milestones can be made as I move forward in the next chapters of my life.

What are the milestones that define your life? Do you think of those defining moments as more personal, or do they include marriage and children?

This was a long post … thanks for sticking with me! 🙂

What’s Giving Me Life at this Midpoint of Winter

February 2, 2018

Today – February 2, 2018 – is Groundhog Day. It’s also the midpoint of winter, which means we’re halfway to spring.

I don’t care much for January and February. Maybe it’s the inevitable let-down after the fall and holidays. I can’t say it’s because of the Indiana winter weather because even when I lived in San Diego, I didn’t like the early months of the year either. This time always feels a little off, and slightly melancholy.

Last year, at this time I wrote a piece called What’s Saving My Life Right Now. It’s a post that many bloggers write on February 2. The concept comes from author Barbara Brown Taylor. In her memoir Leaving Church, Taylor tells about a time she was invited to speak, and her host assigned her this topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

The idea behind this prompt is most of us know what’s bothering us and can articulate all those things pretty clearly (see above paragraph as proof). But, she says, few of us stop to note what’s giving us life. What are these things — whether little or big — that are helping us live our lives?

I enjoyed reflecting on the things that made me happy last year at this time. So at this midpoint of winter, I’m writing down the things that are giving me life today:

  • My family, of course
  • My health and my new-found physical strength
  • Beautiful sunsets and sunrises
  • The natural beauty that surrounds me (even if much of it is bare trees at the moment)
  • Running
  • New friends
  • And old friends, too
  • Walking my dogs
  • Sun shining on the winter days
  • Snow, especially when I get to watch it from my family room with a fire going
  • The upcoming Power of Narrative conference in Boston
  • Reading good books
  • Watching Sophie grow and thrive
  • Writing nightly in my “one line a day” journal
  • Podcasts
  • Music that makes me think
  • My new Indiana project that’s launching soon (stay tuned …)

See you in a few short months, spring!

Tell me what’s saving your life right now. Or better yet, make your own list!

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