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© Tom  Gilbert

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Labor Day Celebrates Workers

September 2, 2019

Today in the United States is Labor Day, a national holiday to honor the American labor movement. It was many years of struggle for laborers to get collective bargaining and better wages and working conditions. That struggle still continues.

It's nice to have a day off from work. But there is much more to Labor Day than marking the unofficial end of summer with picnics, parades, camping and leisure. Work is part of the human experience and just as all humans deserve the right to dignity, we also deserve the right to do meaningful work that rewards us fairly. Unfortunately, it is an often complicated situation in society. Many people do not make enough to support themselves and family. And work conditions go beyond physical safety. We must consider the emotional and social impact of safe and meaningful worklife.

I've had several jobs in my life and I've written about work in the article, The Five W's of Work. Consider what work is and who you work for and with, where, when and why.



Zozobra Burns Away Your Gloom

August 29, 2019

There is an event in Santa Fe, New Mexico each year around Labor Day weekend that is an amazing tradition. Imagine a five story high marionette that moans and groans while he gets set on fire. Thousands of people are crowded around, cheering his destruction.

Zozobra is the original burning man - at least for the Southwest. He will go up in flames for the 95th time on Friday night, August 30.

This event was started by artist Will Shuster who got the idea from another Santa Fe artist and marionette maker, Gustave Baumann. It was always part of the Santa Fe Fiestas that took place each year over Labor Day weekend until a deadly shooting one year had the city deciding to separate the two events. It has traditionally been a time of revelry, art, music, and fun, but it was getting too big and rowdy.

Zozobra means "anxiety" in Spanish. The idea is to put all your bad juju and mojo onto this giant puppet, sometimes referred to as "Old Man Gloom". I will never forget the first time I saw it back in the early 1980's when my future wife had us running around arroyos and through neighborhoods to Fort Marcy Park. We got in just as the lights went out and a cheer went up from the crowd. What a spectacle!

I've seen it since a couple of times. Once my nephew, when he was about eight or nine, got to be one of the "glooms", young lads chosen to dance around Zozobra before he is lit up. That was fun to see.

Getting rid of the bad stuff of the past year and looking forward to a fresh start is healthy. With the annual burning of Zozobra it can also be quite fun.


Writing Doesn't Have to be a Job

August 18, 2019

In my experience as an elementary school teacher I encounter a lot of students who do not like to write. The reasons vary. Many of them revolve around it either being too difficult or believing they have nothing valuable to express.

True, writing can be hard. As for the second reason, it is my opinion that we all have valuable things to express. We all have thoughts, ideas and experiences. Sharing them through writing is both a gift to others and a gift to yourself. Writing helps ups process and understand life.

Some people write for a living. Others have to write as part of their job. But let me be clear - writing doesn't have to be a job, as in "a chore". Writing is a way to communicate and it is good for your brain and your soul. There's research to back this up. Go ahead and look it up.

I have worked in a variety of occupations over the years. I don't consider my job to be a writer, but certainly writing is part of what I do as a teacher and personal historian. One of the greatest lessons I've learned about writing is the way to get better at it is to just do it. Writers write.

Whatever your career path I hope you consider writing to be a valuable activity. Nothing listens like paper. If you want to try an interesting writing exercise, spend some time writing about all the different jobs you've held. Write about work and your career. I did this four years ago and I discovered it gave me some good insight into my life experiences (read Writing About Work). I don't live to work. However, I do live to write. It's just something I must do. Like all things that tap into our passions, writing for me is a way to be more who I am.

If you are interested in capturing your life story through writing I encourage you to investigate your options. Life story writing is not a "one size fits all" process. There are many ways to go about it.


Two More Mass Shootings Is Too Many

August 4, 2019

Once again mass shootings took place in America, two in less than 24 hours in two different cities. 20 shot dead in an El Paso, Texas shopping mall. Another 9 gunned down at an outdoor nightspot area in Dayton, Ohio.

My reaction - not again! When is enough finally enough? When will our government act to do something about the epidemic gun violence?

I am an elementary school teacher. You can bet I think about the safety of my students, more and more these days. Another school year is about to begin. I worry and I am vigilant. Children need education and they need to be in a safe environment for this.

Anymore it seems like there are no safe places. Mass shootings continue at an alarming rate and they happen in schools, nightclubs, shopping malls, at concerts, sporting events and on crowded city streets.

My head may be bowed in prayer, but it is not bowed in defeat. I care about lives and the safety of us all. It is not infringing on the rights of people to have universal background checks. There are ways to counter the violence.

Teaching that lives matter and everyone deserves dignity and respect is something that we need in out too often divisive society. As both a teacher and a personal historian I am constantly aware of the value of our lives and the importance of our experiences. We are not islands unto ourselves. We are in this world together, for better or worse.

What can you do? Start where you are at. Love and care for your family and your neighbors. Use common sense. Recognize that violence is not the answer. Speak up and support those who are working to make our country and world a safer and better place to live.

I can't begin to imagine the heartache and the suffering that comes from losing a loved one to gun violence. It is especially heartbreaking when it happens to innocent young children. Every single day the parents of those who lost a child in this way carry a heavy burden.

If you are not familiar with the Sandy Hook Promise I encourage you to find out more. Sandy Hook Elementary was the site a few years back of a tragic school mass killing of very young children. Some of the parents who lost children have worked tirelessly to advocate for more safety and sane gun control laws.

Mass killings have happened so frequently that they are becoming commonplace. There is a danger people will become numb to these all too frequent tragedies. This cannot happen. Let's work to bring about change because we are all in this together.



Life Lessons From "A Soldier's Passage"

July 29, 2019

Anyone who has been present for the final breaths of a loved one's long life understands that it is a transformational experience. Death comes to us all and if we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by loving family members then it can be a very holy moment.

For Paul Ingles, writer/director/actor in A Soldier's Passage - Conversations from the last mile of the long march home, witnessing the passing of his father was a gift, one he says was "the most profound experience I've ever experienced."

Ingles' based his first feature-length film on the final months of an elder's life and he also played himself in the mostly true reenactment of the final months and eventual passing of his WWII veteran father.

You can continue reading this article here. For those interested in exploring A Soldier's Passage more deeply, Paul Ingles will be conducting a two-session discussion and screening of the film through the Oasis Program on August 14 and 21 (info here).



Reflecting on Apollo 11 Moon Landing and Marriage

July 20, 2019

Many of us this week, myself included, have been reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the first men to walk on the moon. It was an incredible moment in history and the culmination of lots of effort, energy and expense to get there. Be sure to check out Google's Doodle animation sequence celebrating the event.

When Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of the lunar module and set foot on the  alien surface of our moon he uttered a phrase. How much thought went into it? I don't know the real answer to that. Maybe only Armstrong did. But he equated his "one small step" with a "giant leap for mankind". It wasn't an individual effort. It was a group, a collective, a "we" moment being celebrated.

The crew of Apollo 11 - Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong - demonstrates in a very clear way that it involved a team. There had to be a tight relationship between the astronauts who worked together to make it to the surface of the moon and then back to Earth.

July 20, 1969 is one of those moments in history where people who were alive and aware of it will never forget it. Our technology was crude by today's standard. We had to watch on little black and white televisions. The computer power of NASA and Houston's Mission Control and the onboard equipment of the Apollo spacecraft was at the time considered incredible. Now our smartphones easily outpace that technology.

The reason I reflect today on both the moon landing and marriage is that this day is also a wedding anniversary. My wife, Annette, and I have been married 34 years. It is not quite to the Gold Standard of 50 years, but we're moving in that direction! We both uttered our short phrases at our wedding and the "I do" continues.

The commitment to keep a marriage alive and strong and to go from the Earth to the Moon and back have some parallels. There is sacrifice, bonds, hard work and love. JFK (John F. Kennedy) summed it up well in his speech proclaiming the United States' intention to make it to the moon by the end of sixties decade when he said, "
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..." (link to the speech).

There you go. We choose to explore, to take on challenges, to love and commit to marriage and relationships because the challenge, when we are able to fulfill it, brings its own reward.

I love my wife to the Moon and back and I love the humanity that, despite our ongoing challenges and divisiveness, carries the flame of hope forward that we will keep growing and developing our "best and brightest" qualities, not for the betterment of "one", but for the "many".



Narrative Medicine Helps Treat Patients Better

July 14, 2019

"It makes a difference when they (hospital staff) know you from a a different perspective than just 'you're a patient here, and we're talking care of you."  That's a quote from Army veteran Fred Lenzen who is one of a few thousand individuals who have shared some of their life story as part of a program to include 1,000-word life story narratives as part of their medical record. The goal is to help them receive better care because medical staff are better able to understand a patient's situation. It certainly creates an opportunity for empathy.

The My Life, My Story program has been implemented in many VA (Veteran Administration) clinics and facilities around the country. What a great way to provide greater dignity and respect for veterans.

This program has been featured in a number of publications recently, including the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio. It started in Madison, Wisconsin where both volunteers and writers, including poet Thor Ringler, have been interviewing veterans and writing these narratives since 2013. The term narrative medicine is being used to describe these consise life stories. What a wonderful way to dignify a veteran's service and life. Writing about our lives often has a therapeutic benefit. But this goes even further as it can help these veterans get better treatment.

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