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Monday, June 25, 2012

Defending a Written Position and Writing Truths

I am used to defending my position on the prescription drug health epidemic that continues to devastate families in Scioto County. I believe that fighting drug abuse must be the number one concern here if residents hope to secure a better future. Statistics and numbers are readily available about the growth and the extent of the problem. I have posted these facts in many blog entries, and I am quite sure most Scioto residents already know the bitter truth.

I feel great progress has been made through the work of many dedicated local groups and individuals. So, when I say the problem continues, I do not discount the positive work and the great strides that have been made by those who have come to realize the need for prompt action. I am proud that these folks have answered the call and committed themselves to stopping the epidemic. Sometimes we stir up the populace, and I think that disturbance goes with the mission.

Now that all ten pill mills in the county are gone, some residents assume the work of the drug task force is done. It is not. Opiates, heroin, and other substances still plague our area. Those close to the problem knew taking down the pill mills was not going to solve all the maladies of drug abuse. And, certainly, these people understood much more work had to be accomplished in prevention, intervention, and enforcement.

The initial energy required to first expose the problem, then tackle its main strongholds caused some backlash. After awhile, a number of citizens felt a tide of "negative publicity" was bad and demeaning to the county. They had difficulty facing the truth that drug abuse had been responsible for crippling their once pleasant way of life. Others simply didn't believe doctors, pharmacists, and pain clinics could be so crooked.

Their view was understandable considering that most reports focused entirely on the most sensational aspects of drug abuse, namely destruction and death. Unfortunately, the age of yellow journalism has returned: Gore and violence sells, not straight news. One national broadcast actually labeled Portsmouth as "the town where everyone is addicted." I about choked with disbelief myself when I heard this description of my home.

I remember a local radio station fielding calls for a day to gauge whether another national broadcast on Scioto drug abuse had properly portrayed conditions in the county. The callers responded with mixed feelings and many gave reasons they believed the show had overestimated the extent of the epidemic. More than a few were outraged at the description and film of the county.

In other words, some felt that the directors of the broadcast over dramatized real conditions to get higher viewership while others believed people in Scioto purposely influenced the directors to make it appear as if all hope for a bright future had already been extinguished. I can assure you that no one here knew what the program was going to air and that the film crew spent weeks in Scioto filming content of positive work impacting the problem -- it just wasn't shown in the final cut.

I am still vigorously defending my position on drug abuse these days. I understand the constant reports and reminders begin to have a "broken record" effect after so much has been exposed and debated. I hope the "broken record" can be replaced with a "new recoding" of Phase II. The problem has already been exposed and initially met with strong resistance. Phase II calls for the people to amass and come to grips with creating long-term solutions. The so-called "easy work" is done, and now the county faces the "hard work" of continuing improvement and revitalizing resources. One of the biggest obstacles to this is indifference. Many see Scioto in terms of fragmented communities and remain resistant to putting together a cohesive singular group.

I have been accused of overreacting with strong emotion. Some believe I am too sensitive to the threat of destroying work that has been accomplished. Others simply believe my stance is wrong. Controversy and disagreement are partners to any movement worth joining. Anyone who knows me understands that my reactions are my views, and my opinions do not necessarily reflect the consensus of any group or the consensus of the people. I stand upon my right to express my opinion and to think for myself. I represent a single person's view even within the groups to which I have volunteered my service.

I stand guilty of showing emotion, sometimes being headstrong in my defense of what I believe in,
and occasionally playing "the devil's advocate." I do want people to think for themselves, but I also want people to put their interpretation of how to help solve this problem into use. I am not a threat to your contrary beliefs or to your exercise of them. If I rattle your tree, I am not doing so to steal your fruit. Sometimes I am more interesting in finding out how you react to my strong wind than I am in altering your state of being.

The power of the pen continues to amaze me. I don't think people want to admit it, but too many fear any controversy or opposing view the pen creates. Why? People, in general, do not like to acknowledge that the same words can evoke entirely different connotations and many underlying emotions. I am guilty of being a part of that group at times. Aren't you?

That does not deter me from investigating the truth when I write. In speech, people do this all the time. Speech is enriched by gesture, tone of voice, facial expressions, pause, and the chance for immediate correction and/or clarification. All of these things help a speaker make his meaning clear. Speech offers a lot of freedom of simple expression.

But, the written language is captured on the page in bare letters. It stands alone for all to see, ripe for varied connotations and a multitude of "between the lines" interpretations. No one is there to offer immediate clarification of the written word. I understand considering the audience is very important to a writer.

Some writers, however, believe they are so skilled that they write in terms that cannot be denied. I doubt if these people are foolproof when writing their thoughts. I might call your attention to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for examples of multiple interpretations that are the very crux of our democracy. Writing, due to its conventions, is prone contain errors that can fog meaning.

I have no problem with writing even though some may misinterpret my meaning. I want to further my communications with those people who don't care for what I write. I want to wake some of them up. I want to tell some of them I do not understand their position. I simply want to begin a discussion with others. I don't care when others disagree with my position because I believe in written discourse and the need to clarify meanings on paper. Anyone who believes he or she possesses complete mastery of written thought does little to gain my respect. I have been taught to write with thorough detail to impart specific meaning, yet I am not egotistic enough to claim perfection of that trait of good writing.

So I (and the students I taught) concentrate on Ken Macrorie's dual obligation to truth. According to Macrorie, an honest writer must be true to the realities of the outside world, the real world around him or her, and to the inside world, his or her own thoughts and feelings derived largely from personal experience. To be false to either produces writing that is not "true."

As a teacher of writing, I always valued student writings that upheld this obligation, even those papers with which I disagreed. I learned that opposition opened my mind to the "real world" of a seventeen or eighteen year old. In addition, I found that offering students the freedom to make mistakes in thought and in interpretation produced fluency: The students were able to sustain their honest truths and not worry about conventions more than supported content.

Over and over, the students modified my thinking and over and over, I modified theirs. I refrained from using words like "wrong" and "bad" to describe their efforts. I allowed them freedom to use all language, even "blue" language in characterization and in accurate development of tone. (I became known as the English teacher who let them write "fuck" if the need be and the situation was accurate.)

Class members became brutally honest at times. We fought through disagreements and learned to love someone's mind-changing opposing viewpoint. The students even carried their new-found writing power into the halls of the school and into the homes of the community. We soon found most of our personal "truths" were vital to understanding the world in which we lived. We learned, together, that writing and revising could go on forever but must it stop to meet weekly assignments. I learned to look for the "great sentence" or the great "paragraph" instead of expecting perfection in a paper.

Oftentimes, I need to write much more than a single piece to make someone understand my position. I think I do that often. In fact, the more I write, the more I believe I have to further explain in Chapter Two, Chapter Three, etc. My words are inadequate at times, and I have learned to accept that failure also, no matter how much illustrative writing I do.

So, hey, just let the old fart express his ideas and keep banging on the keyboard. Please tell me how you disagree, agree, or don't give a hoot about what I say. (Do you have any idea about how false "hoot" is to my mood now? Sorry for the fake tone but I think some are recording every expletive I write these days.) Just like John Lennon, I want us all to live in harmony, love, and peace. I better cut this entry now before it sounds dated in '60s schmaltz.

Write, write, write, write... please! Put your words on paper and see what happens. It's something I do all the time. Get serious or lighten up or just write "u$h7&&gsji#@." I don't care. We can save your marks on paper to reread time and time again, and who knows, maybe you will encourage some thinking. I certainly hope so. I'll keep trying to be honest with those dual truths. All I ask is that you do the same. I like many different kinds of ice cream, but I prefer those natural flavors over imitation. To each his own -- just let everyone develop their own tastes.

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