The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

About Blogs and Bloggers

I was talking to a social worker today and the subject turned to blogs. My friendly social worker acquaintance mentioned she was going to a meeting this afternoon that would be all about blogs -- and did I ever read any?

I told Karen that yes, I do read blogs - a lot of them! - and that I have one of my own. I told her I am not always as good about writing mine as reading others, but that it was a great way to learn and to communicate with Out There. I asked Karen what she thought of blogs in general. She told me that what concerned her was this huge bunch of unsubstantiated information floating around the internet.

Those are opinions, I told Karen. Most blogs, I told her, reference their sources of information, and if a reader is interested or concerned, that reader can generally click on a link that will take them to the source. I told her how easily one can get lost going from source to source and link to link - but the experience is wonderful in and of itself. It's not unlike reading the dictionary or a brand new encyclopedia or making a new friend. And sometimes you do make new friends.

I told her it is a great way to learn about just about anything, and the pros and cons of any situation. Most blogs have a place where readers can leave comments, and whether one chooses to leave a comment or not, reading through those comments is just as informative as reading the initial blog entry. While it is true one has to form opinions along the way, it is nothing but enriching to read what others think and feel (and why) and constantly question the validity of those opinions we do hold dear.

I have another friend who refuses to read blogs. I mentioned him and a mutual organization a few weeks back in this blog, and e-mailed the link to him so he could read it. (He did read the link.) He told me he didn't read blogs as a rule because he felt they were personalized journals not unlike diaries, and he felt he didn't want to know the secrets and other diary stuff he would find there. I know there are some blogs that are just that. When I do my random wanderings (I use the 'next blog' feature at the top right of the page here on I click past those -- but I stop and read blogs from all over the world that express opinions on the news or some invention or politics or some other issue that is not dealing with a personal fight with parents, what happened on a date last night, or what the new baby had for breakfast.

Among the more interesting blogs I have stumbled upon is a message place where a teacher writes notes for her students - about homework, class policy, hints and such; a blog written by a young Sunni in Iraq who was jailed on the day he went to sign up for college (this blog was linked by news sources, I later found out) and the comments added to his entries were as interesting to read as his blog entries themselves. I found a psychiatrist who discusses political matters, a handyman/construction worker who discusses advertising; I read of people who travel and their impressions of the places they go. I read blogs written by everyday people in countries other than my own, and I learn about those people and how they see everyday people in my country.

I have a son who blogs constantly, diversely and well. I have a brother who is cruising around reading blogs, gathering information for when he gets down to the business of writing his own. I have another son and daughter who read blogs - mine, their brother's and those of who-knows-how-many other people. I feel good about this - that when any of them write, they will have well rounded opinions, they will have explored whatever subject strikes their individual fancies, and they will be adding something positive to this exploding internet.

That we can write about anything in a blog is mind boggling. No censors - at least, not obvious censors. And yet - as in me choosing not to read diary blogs - we are all censors. We develop favorites, yet we are never satisfied with the same old circle of people. We explore and we read and we learn.

And we blog.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Survival Plan

Given that most of the physical victims of the Gulf Coast Disaster that was Katrina were poor folk, and many were older and/or disabled, many on Social Security and /or Social Security Disability and others receiving some sort of aid to families with dependent children, is it possible that the timing of the storm made much of a difference?

A neighbor said that this morning. She said that, because it was the end of the month, when those on fixed and limited incomes are the most strapped for cash, more people were unable to evacuate than if the storm had come through even a day or two later. Those who remained didn't have a lot of food in the house, and probably had no emergency gallons of drinking water stashed away, either. Prescription medications, a couple of days' supply left, may have been ready for their monthly refill. The gas gauge in the car (if there was a car) was probably on E, ready for it's monthly infusion of gas.

It sounds like we need a Plan B.

Because I live on the Florida coastline, I check into these things. My community is prepared. Anyone who needs assistance to evacuate is encouraged to register with the Fire Department. If one is not registered, one can still be assisted, but will have to wait out his/her turn on the list. (Those who have previously registered are reminded to keep their addresses current on the registry.) There are lists available everywhere that one can use while creating an emergency supply box. Things to include are batteries and flashlights, water, necessary medications, first aid kit, a pre-paid phone card, and more - but you get the idea. Important papers should be encased in plastic, photos and such in waterproof (zip loc) freezer weight bags, just in case. And it is more important that any other time that each of us carry up-to-date identification with next of kin listed as well as medical conditions. If one hasn't already put In Case of Emergency (ICE) information on one's cell phone, not is a good time to do it. Even if you can't make a call, the information will be accessible as long as the battery is good. And that reminds me -- when the very first hurricane warnings come, plug in the cell phone to charge, even if you have no minutes left - for just the above reason. Check with neighbors and church groups to see who needs a way to evacuate, or who can find room to take you (or others who have no car) to safety.

I am one of the lucky ones -- the patch of earth where I live will be one of the two islands left of Pinellas County if St. Petersburg meets up with Category 5 hurricane. I live on the 7th floor, which means I will be requested to move down to somewhere on the first five floors during a storm, but I won't have to evacuate. In the event of such a thing, I will toss my car keys to someone who must evacuate, put Liberty in her carrier, pack up whatever is in the freezer and refrigerator to share, and go visit the neighbors.

With such a large community, even toward the end of the month there will be, somewhere amongst us, food for everyone, and even enough to share with those who come visit us to be safe. We have sense enough to keep drinking water on hand. There is a resident management team where I live that keeps a supply of canned goods, blankets, and assorted other necessities that we all contribute to when we can, as a bit of added insurance. There are large rooms for meetings to be held and announcements made, so we should have some realistic idea of what is going on. And I have neighbors who really care about one another.

I just reviewed my survival plan. It's a good time for everyone in a vulnerable location to do that. If there are holes in yours, find a way to fill them in so you will have less to worry about should the unthinkable happen in your community.

And pray that if disaster comes, it doesn't come at the end of the month.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Balancing the Checkbook

I am disabled - I've mentioned that before here - and I rely on my monthly Social Security disability checks. They drop like clockwork into my bank account, and I can count on them being there on the third day of every month. It's how I pay my rent, buy my groceries, pay my bills.

But what if I am taking refuge in another city and cannot access my account at the ATM because my bank is under water? What of all the transactions lost?

And what if I didn't have direct deposit and my monthly checks arrive in my mailbox? What if I lived along the Gulf Coast? What if I no longer have a mailbox?

Those who come in contact with the displaced persons from the Gulf Coast disaster -- think of these things. Think of all the ways their lives are different now, of all the things that have stripped these people of everything - everything! - save their dignity. Treat them with care. Dignity is all many of them have left, and we must do nothing to take that away from them, too.

Love with an open heart.

Give with an open hand.

Just thinking...(Odds and ends)

I've been doing more reading than writing these past few days. I am unsettled, vaguely unhappy with the world in general, and, as usual when I am in this state, I have thrown myself into cleaning something. Did the laundry, tidied up several areas, and broke the belt on my vacuum cleaner. I don't have a spare. That means it is time to quit.

I browsed around the web a while, trying to find something to focus on that wasn't wet, hungry and righteously furious, and made notes of things to research and eventually write about. Look for a rant in a day or two -- I just want to check facts before I toss them down here.

I found myself defending an earlier blog entry, Getting Better - posted last week - to several people over the weekend. One person told me it was morbid. Another said she was "deflated" at the idea that the possibilities were frightening, and suggested I add the word 'irresistible' to that line. I am not arguing that this is how these people see the poem - but I felt the need to defend that, at least for me, the poem is accurate. And no, the word irresistible has no place in the poem, because it (the possibilities) is entirely resistible. I resist it all the time. Still working on why -- but the fact of the matter is, if the possibilities were, in fact, irresistible, I would be well, not merely getting better. He who thought the poem was morbid prefers Helen Steiner Rice, and sends me e-mails with all the saccharine encouragement links he can find. I tried to explain to him that sometimes reality is an inspiration all by itself, and the act of recognizing improvement in one's condition is certainly an encouragement.

But that's what poetry is, and what it does. Each of us has a magnificent set of filters in his/her head through which everything we experience, everything we hear, everything we read passes. These filters are our own, based on everything we know and experienced up to that moment. What passes through these filters and reaches the brain becomes what we know now, this minute - and becomes part of the filter for the next input. It's what makes us individuals. It's why I can write a poem about someone with a great childhood not understanding mine and have a listener come up to me, after a reading, and say he knew exactly what I meant - he and his lady friend were of two different geographical cultures. That's not what I wrote about -- but that is what he heard, how it filtered down to his brain. I took it as a compliment that he could translate it into his own life.

I suppose I should remember all this when I discuss politics or ethics or much of anything of worth with anyone.


But I am human, and I forget.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

"There is nothing more thrilling in this world, I think, than having a child that is yours, and yet is mysteriously a stranger." -- Agatha Christie

It is not that I expect little of them, but my children never cease to amaze me. In his blog, my youngest son, Taran, speaks his mind (rant rant rant!) on the aftermath of Katrina. Some of what he wrote was what I expected - but some of his ideas blew me away.

Taran mentions empty seats. Here's the scenario over the last weekend. There is a hurricane churning and gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico that is going to make landfall - definitely going to find a place to go onto dry land - somewhere on the Gulf Coast of the US, and most probably Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Orders for evacuation go out, and as in all instances, they are stressed and soon made mandatory. So people pack up and leave. A lot of people go. But by the admission of the mayor of New Orleans, not everyone who should evacuate would go. Many just could not go. Many just couldn't afford to go. And yet, on the highways leaving town, there were cars with many empty seats. How many of those leaving even thought about taking along someone else, someone who would otherwise have to stay behind and get through as best he could? Those who drove off in vans and those big old SUVs -- was there a bit of room for someone else there? Under the circumstances - hey, there's a hurricane coming and home is in the direct path - couldn't the beds of pick-up trucks even been utilized to get people to high ground and safety?

Never thought of that.

Those grocery stores who knew they were directly in the path of the oncoming storm -- couldn't they have rented trucks to carry some of their stock out with them -- the water and food and diapers and such that are in such demand now - but which are under water?

Taran also mentioned rental car agencies. All the cars left on their lots now have to be written off as, at least, flood damaged. Wouldn't it have been better, as Taran says, for the agencies to have tossed the keys to families who needed to get away from the descending storm?

Planning an evacuation needs to take on a more extensive, more thoughtful, more creative approach.

Hurricanes bring loss. The loss wouldn't have to be so many lives if we were a society of people who looked out for one another.

Think. Plan. Be safe.

And listen to your kids.