Friday, March 14, 2008

A Possible Consequence of Our Media Binge

Over the past two and half decades, our boys each played competitive sports. During that time, we've found ourselves in the regrettable position of disagreeing with a ref a time or two. Interestingly enough, my husband enjoyed a stint as an IABO official, during which time he too became the sorry recipient of the same unpleasant treatment. This diverse point of view drove one critical point home to us—that despite the drama in the stands, or the feelings that may arise within themselves, the referees' duties were to fairly represent the efforts of the players on the field or court. The refs' interests or attitudes should never affect the outcome of the game.

Now we are involved in a contest with far greater consequences than a game—a contest where the outcome will affect individuals, communities, nations and the world. I speak of the current U.S. Presidential race.

I believe the media is and has always been the referee in the political process, but their increasingly visible biases worry me. Now we have stations that the public can identify as “liberal” or “conservative”, “left-wing” or “right”. When I was a child, I thought their duty was to be unbiased and to report, not interpret the news. Now, with a mere mention, or lack thereof, a political candidate can be promoted, demoted, or all but eliminated from the public radar, negating the process of a free election. “Out of sight” can mean “out of mind”.

I regret the process of exit polling and early predictions. I know the media reached a "voluntary agreement" not to release their predictions of a winner until after the polls close, but leaks occur in their effort to "be the first" with the news, and as a result, some voters can feel politically neutered, discouraging their participation altogether.

And the media’s influence is not confined just to the news corps. I am increasingly appalled by the extreme influence we allow the entertainment media to exert on our political process. What does it say about our voting constituency when the endorsement of an actor or musician, most of whom are no more politically savvy than any other citizen, (and who, in many cases, are far less), can draw a voting block's support by throwing his popularity and fortune behind a candidate? Should we be appalled that a candidate’s appearance on MTV, playing a sax, could create a sudden rise in his popularity among young voters? Or that voters are more likely to tune in to see a candidate share some lively banter on a late night talk show than will faithfully watch the network broadcast of a debate on issues and credentials?

But entertainers are business people, just like the corporate giants who endorse and support candidates. . .

Fine by me. Let’s hold everyone who uses their power and money to steer the ship of democracy by influencing elections, to the same standard of scrutiny. And let’s personally judge the candidates not only by the issues and standards they claim to revere, but by the issues and standards their publicly-embraced endorsers appear to cherish. When we do our homework and check to see where a candidate stands on the issues that matter to us, let’s also ask ourselves whether their high profile supporters reflect the values or issues that are important to us and to our families as well. Let’s judge the candidates by the money and company they keep. We do it when they accept PAC money. Let’s do it when they accept Hollywood, or media, or any other money!

It’s our own fault if we fail in this. We are the consumers and the voters. We still control the referees. But if we allow the news to erase a candidate by failure to cover him or her, or if we, like sheep, follow the gleaming smile of our favorite star of Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone instead of our conscience, then we have allowed the refs to affect the outcome of the game.

And remember how all encompassing that outcome might be.

On Being an Empty Nester

I was once terrified of this stage of life, fearful that without multiple voices at the dinner table, or when there were no more ball games to attend, (the staple of our non-church social life), life would be so radically different that I would feel lost in my own skin. Well, NOT SO!!!

There was a transition period, of course, like the day we arrived home after dropping our last child off at college. We were driving into town and I realized that after a week's absence from home, we'd need a few groceries. I remember looking at my husband and timidly asking, What do I buy? Two peaches? One quart of milk? It was an astounding change considering the fact that in actuality, sending the last child off didn't mean one less mouth to feed. It meant the sudden departure of his entire posse of muddy-cleated, sweaty-uniformed, two-extra-gallons-of-milk-a-week-drinking Little Debbie Eaters. What was I to do?

I was a little lost for a time. Holidays home were my heaven, and I died again when the planes departed, but eventually I could watch my Lewis tribe return to their collegiate and married worlds without tears, and then my wise husband explained this new stage of life to me.
"It's our house now! We can do whatever we want!"

It was a daring thought! I considered the ramifications of such a wild and crazy notion, and then giggled, "Cool!" Now, what to do with all this freedom? Well, I could draft a long list, but let me share just a few tidbits from my new Empty Nesters Wisdom.

First, somedays there is a little extra time and freedom, and some days there is not. Why? A variety of reasons come to mind. For example, your parenting style is not likely to change, you just need more gas to hover your invisible helicopter over your children's new airspace. Are you a note-in-the-lunchbox mom? Then buy stock in the US Postal service, because you will likely feel compelled to attach that little sticky note to a thirty-two pound collection of non-perishable items intended to keep your Ramen Noodle-eating child from suffering malnourishment. (Don't laugh . . . prepare. You'll thank me later.)

But time is more flexible now, and there is freedom in that.

The most wonderful aspect of this new stage of life is that there is time for exponential growth. Like an unlimited enrollment at Life University where you get to explore and learn new things while living with the room mate you know really, really well, these years are delicious. In fact, I've come to think of them as dessert--a time when all the sous-chefs in your life have contributed to helping you prep for the great learning smorgasbord, and now it's time to indulge yourself and everyone in your circle into the richness of what you have become and what you will do with what you have become. (My editor is cringing over that last elongated thought.)
I want to be a more active voice in shaping the world now.

I'll bravely admit something. I'm generally a people pleaser. It's an unflattering characterization, I know, but I generally like to make nice. This was not necessarily so in my youth. In fact, I was somewhat of a political activist--sitting on committees to argue policies and define students' rights and responsibilities--but after marriage and children, something switched inside. Other people's needs came first and despite my internal passion about the world, in the minutia of life, my non-parental voice stilled somewhat. (Notice the honest admission that only the non-parental voice stilled somewhat. After all, my children may read this.) Anyway, I became more involved in facilitating the expression of others' opinions than my own.

I had heard quiet rumors of the tongue-loosening that occurs after forty. Alluded to in Relief Society, where the sisters of the the LDS church meet to teach and edify one another, this rumored fourth decade burst-of-courage-to-boldly-fight-for-truth-and-righteousness gave me reason to look forward to the big 4-0, and biological fact or not, I did find a new inclination to speak my mind. Perhaps it was, in part, because my astute children's own minds were awakening to the complexities of the world that was bearing down upon them that I began not just fussing over issues but writing to my representatives and calling their offices. The aperture opened a little wider as I hit the fifty year marker, and now, I not only have more life experience, I have the time and freedom to do something with it. (See? There was a point to all this rambling.)

Perhaps this fourth-quarter reawakened-desire to change the world is universal to men and women. I've really fallen in love with President Washington in the past two years. Flawed? Human? Of course, but judging the man within the context of his own time, he was, without question, both brilliant and inspired. I love to read his Farewell Address and I recommend that every American do, (Washington's Farewell Address) for in reading it, one is awed by how desperately he loved this land and us, the generations that would follow after him. So much so that even in the last days of his public life, after suffering physically and emotionally over this infant nation thoughout his life, and when he desperately longed for nothing more than a short season of quiet peace, he could not walk away silently. Like a waning father . . . like a great patriarch offering his final words of wisdom, he spelled out three concluding warnings to his future American children.

One- He called on Americans to be unified, warning that factionalism would occur in our nation if political parties were allowed to polarize the people. (Hmmm. . . .)
Two- He warned against making alliances with foreign powers, and
Three- He cautioned his fellow Americans about the indispensable values taught through religion and morality. On this topic he said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness -- these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them."

There was no resting on his laurels. If anything, it was among his most profound moments.
So, to all you Empty Nesters, and to those who worry about those approaching years. . . Don't! See them as the great harvest of all the experiences you've had to date, and then use them to do something grand. It's in us. Just like our predecessors . . . it's in each of us.

What are we leaving behind?

One of the most entertaining and intriguing parts of the research on this
series has been reading the personal diaries and letters of men and women who lived two hundred years ago, in the era of the War of 1812. Clearly, some of the entries were as poignant to them as they are to us—a young boy’s account of seeing a conquered American army being marched through the spectator-filled streets of Montreal, or Sarah Ridg Schuyler’s descriptive account of being ushered into the magnificent but unfinished Capitol to attend President Madison’s Inaugural. These glimpses into another time, even another world, are priceless shards of history that help personalize the people and events of this lost era.
They touch us on a personal note as well. While the account of a young woman’s appraisal of a rival seems like a universally timeless topic, her gentle word choices and the grace with which she applauds the other woman’s virtues also provides a stinging measurement of how different our eras are. There is something in the word choices and the sentence flow that simultaneously fascinates me and makes me melancholy. Beautiful expressions like, “extraordinarily entertaining” and “pleasant diversion” would likely now be reduced to “really fun”, while “her face was exquisite, as perfect as porcelain” might be expressed as “really pretty” or worse yet, “she’s hot”. Where is the beauty of our language today? Where has our vocabulary gone?
I’m guilty of it too. It drives me crazy that the descriptive words that flow through my head when I write get replaced with their anemic sidekicks when I speak. I started noticing it when my children were in their teens so I began employing a strategy to take our language up a notch. Whenever anyone would use a word that impressed me I would point it out and say, “Good SAT word!” Sometimes they’d be flattered by my notice of their brilliance and sometimes they would just roll their eyes and give me that “Oh please” look, but when I tried it with the students at the high school, they seemed to like the recognition and actually started applauding impressive word choices made by their peers.

Another tactic I began utilizing at school was aimed at reducing the amount of swearing I heard in the halls. I made posters of a saying President Kimball used to say. It went something like, “Profanity is the attempt of a feeble mind to express itself forcibly.” I plastered them in my work areas and made little cards with the saying on it. When a student would swear within my ear space I’d scold them humorously and make them read the card, then I’d tell them if I caught them swearing again they’d owe me a quarter. Sure enough, I collected a lot of quarters which I then invested in treats to reward my “reformed”, but the most interesting thing began to happen. Kids would drag their “vocabulary-challenged” friends over to me to have me “give them the treatment too”. Somehow being reminded that coarse language was not acceptable actually pleased them and there was a remarkable drop in swearing in my areas. They just needed to have the expectation raised.

Another concern the old diaries have raised in me is the effect of our increasingly paperless world. When our letters and cards are being transmitted electronically and texting replaces writing, few permanent records of our interpersonal communications are being kept at all. In two hundred years will there be many “hard copies” of personal writings for our descendents to read, for them to know what moved us, what filled our days and what dreams we dreamed? Will they even be able to feel the imprint of our culture on our language?

I’m the most craft-handicapped person that ever lived, (a glue gun is a lethal weapon in my hands and my handwriting is so poor I was encouraged as early as sixth grade to take up typing), so I bravely admit that I am not a scrap booker. But let me with equal courage express my longing to be one . . . to leave a beautiful record behind. I do my best. I journal on my computer, (yes, an electronic device, but it can be printed out). I’m no Wilford Woodruff. I have gaps, and when life is really hard I avoid delving into those topics until the rawness has soothed somewhat, but the rest is there . . . the dreams, the triumphs, the disappointments.

Like Sarah Schuyler, someday I hope my children and my grandchildren will read my journal and know me . . . really know me, not as just the wrinkled old woman I will be by then, but as the proud young mother of babies, and as the exultant mother of a new parent. I don’t want tender letters to my missionary sons to dissolve in the press of “delete” nor letters written to lift a crushed heart to evaporate when the computer memory has been exceeded. I hope my family will understand my opinions about the government and the entertainment of my day. Better yet, I hope they will sense what I did to make a difference in the world. I want them to hear my voice in my entries . . . to know I was, as we all are, a complicated and diverse person—silly one minute, then somber at times . I want them to feel how deeply love touched and shaped my life and how my testimony of Jesus Christ’s and Heavenly Father’s love sustained me so fully that I could often feel the blissful joy of heaven right here.

I want to leave all those things behind in hard copy . . . for them to understand, and for me to remember.


I suppose I was a dreamer as a child, always imagining places more fascinating and mysterious than the small town in Carroll County, Maryland where I grew up, still too young to realize that what makes any place or time exquisite has little to do with geography and far more to do with the people and the moments you share with them. I also either had an old soul or I was weird because on a sixth grade writing assignment, while other girls were writing poems about the Jackson Five and Donnie Osmond, I penciled a deep, introspective ode entitled “Time”, my first published work, (which still hangs on my mother’s hallway, appropriately matted in black). A few years later I won a high school creative writing contest and I began to see myself as a writer. (Parents, never discount the importance of these little benchmark moments.)

I also loved acting and singing and playing colorful characters with accents. (That came in handy when I met my husband over a CB radio while faking an English accent. . . But I digress. . .) Tom and I married in 1976 and began our family—three boys and “Amanda” as my husband puts it, though Tom, Adam and Josh might prefer equal billing. Like many stay-at-home-mothers, finding uncommitted blocks of time was challenging, but for a few weeks each year, for ten memorable years, I diverted some energy to return to my “rock star” fantasy singing with friends in an annual musical revue to benefit scouting. Eventually I realized that whether through music or writing, what I loved about entertaining was the joy of connecting with people . . . of telling a story. I returned to writing, beginning a series of short stories when necessity plucked me from my comfy nest, inserting me back into the working world as a Science Lab-Assistant. New challenges brought new growth and I quickly discovered how much I loved researching a topic and following the trail of a question.

As our children left home for college and missions we experienced some of Elder Maxwell’s “divine tutorials”. These experiences became the basis of my first manuscript, a story of family love and forgiveness, which I submitted to Covenant in 2003 and which they returned plastered in editorial red ink. Depressed, dejected and feeling unworthy to even own a computer, I buried it away for weeks before considering that Covenant’s willingness to have me make corrections was a great opportunity. I was visiting my daughter Amanda at Utah State when the acceptance call came on the revised manuscript. I remember screaming. I still get goose bumps when I recall how exciting that moment was. The next great day came in the spring of 2004 on my grandson Tommy’s six month birthday. Krista, his mommy, had brought him down from New York for a visit when the box filled with advance copies of UNSPOKEN arrived. This grandma felt like a new mother again.

I had already begun pursuing another dream that had tugged at me since my first visit to Williamsburg, Virginia. I wanted to attempt a different genre and write a historical novel about two people denied the right to be together because of class distinctions. I originally attempted to set the book in the late 1840’s to avoid early church history, a topic Elder Lund had covered so eloquently and which I felt inadequate to embellish, but after much soul searching, a nudge from my editor, Angela, to expand the book, and a year teaching D&C as an Early Morning Seminary teacher, I reconsidered. I backed the book up a generation and picked up the extraordinary history in my own backyard—the War of 1812 and the Star Spangled Banner story—to illustrate the tumultuous America that would become the cradle of the Restoration and the world in which Joseph Smith was raised. After three years of research and rewrites, the result is the historical fiction series called Free Men and Dreamers. Volume one, released in February of 2007 under my initials, LC Lewis, is entitled DARK SKY AT DAWN.

The nest is empty now, each of our four children are chasing their own dreams in diverse places, like four research assistants quadrupling my view of the world. Tom and I have an arm-long list of places to visit and history I want to explore to flesh out the rest of this series. Volume two is set for a May 2008 release and volumes three and four are already in the works, plus I am working on a sweet family novel for the national market.

We live in a rapidly changing world that creates more questions than answers it seems. To borrow a line from Dark Sky at Dawn, “. . . knowing what to keep and what to abandon will be the challenge of the next generation.” I’m exploring that. I hope you’ll join me on the journey.