Monday, June 22, 2009

stop. go. stop. go.

When we were little, the game was 'Red Light, Green Light,” and it was actually pretty fun. Someone would stand at a declared finish line, at the end of a stretch of asphalt or a patch of back yard and that kid was the one that managed a race to the finish.

Stop. Go. Stop. Go.

When the light was green, we ran as fast as humanely possible to gain on our opponent. When the light was red – we balanced on the tip-toes of our tennis shoes in sheer anticipation of when the light would change once again – our eyes still on the price of the finish line and the bragging rights.

In life, when we grow up, the game is not so fun. The green light is thrilling but the red lights , where find ourselves in a state of complete imbalance is nothing short of frustrating and at times, painful.

The stakes, of course, are higher. We are racing to get to the stable part of a relationship, or the inside track of the fast track or that place as indefinable as any – where one feels fulfilled and challenged and productive all at the same time. All grown up, the red lights are armed. They are ominous. Their arms come in a form of financial distress, divorce, break-ups, cheating, layoffs, lies and sometimes it's just the end of something and the uncertainty of the beginning of something else.

Either way. It's not as fun as when we were kids.

And in the case of being all grown up, we'd like to punch whoever is giving us the red light, square in the nose.

Of course the light changes...not quite as quickly as when it's called out by children. But it changes. We're not always stopped. And once in a while the red light is actually helpful. It changes its ominous nature and it allows us to open up and take in everything that is around us.

But when it isn't helpful. When it is the one thing that is constantly stopping us from gaining any momentum. We have to find a way to work around it. And it can be tough. And it can be tiring. When it throws us a cliff's edge of uncertainty and doubt and another challenge to overcome...we're not thinking of the finish line. We're just clambering at any way to not fall down.

And when we get to that line – we're punching the red light guy square in the nose.

Friday, June 19, 2009


“Take the pressure off,” she says.

My mother tells me this after we’ve just gotten into an argument too big and too much for before work on a Friday morning. And I am doing my best “not gonna cry,” but it’s not working.

I hate arguing with my mother because it makes me feel sixteen. And I have not wanted to feel sixteen since I was sixteen.

“Just take the pressure off…”

The pressure is the fact that after five days, no news has been given to me on my car which sits battered and bruised in some body shop 25 miles away. I’ve been forced to make five calls each day between the shop and the insurance company to no avail. The shop says talk to the insurance company. The insurance company says talk to the shop. The insurance company then gives me three different adjuster phone numbers all who whom say they are not my adjuster and can’t help me.

And so I wait.

Frustrating is knowing that if the car is totaled I have about $3,000 to find a new one. Because though it would be awesome to have that brand spankin’ new car smell going on – I can’t afford a car payment. I can’t afford a car payment because I left the great paying job to follow the dream. And the dream ain’t going so well. And without a decision, I am wasting time not resolving the issue.

More frustrating is the nagging feeling no woman who is 29 and alone and unhappy wants to say out loud: that if I had a man, he would be dealing with this and the insurance people and the shop people would realistically, most likely, take him more seriously. They would not keep him waiting around for an entire week. And if he raised his voice the word “bitchy” would not enter the realm of thought. He’d simply be justified in his frustration.

And said man would then keep me together by wrapping his arms around me when I’m shaking in tears after yet another pointless phone call followed by a blow up with my best friend.

But said man has yet to make an appearance. And so the frustration abounds.

And the truth is I probably am doing some sort of disservice to women everywhere by acting as though I can’t get through bad days with the male species…but I can. And I have for some time now. I have moved my own furniture, fixed my own broken electronics, grilled my own meat. I’ve aired up my own tires and I didn’t even cry at the deer. I cried at the damage.

I know what McTalk-to-Me would say. He would say to acknowledge the aloneness but move on, keep going. Don’t lose it on your mother at 7:15 in the morning.

And I already know, that when I get home, I’ll crank the music and dance it out. I’ll revel in the silence rather than the drama. I’ll calm and fall asleep after a stressful week and it’ll all seem less threatening.

But it doesn’t make attending events solo any easier. It doesn’t make crawling into an empty bed any more comforting. And it won’t fix my car or heal the bitter words between the BFF or any other FF’s for that matter and me. It won’t fix my car.

And at the end of the day, it doesn’t relieve any of the pressure.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

film about spirituality and action echoes in Tehran

It was on a warm spring night and the eve of what would become a history making event resulting in the ultimate reveal of the true beliefs one of the world’s most controversial countries, that I found myself seated in a padded folding chair in the wide open warehouse of a yacht club.

I sat there, awaiting the Waterfront Film Festival’s debut showing of “Fierce Light” a documentary by filmmaker and activist Velcrow Ripper who took a seat one row behind and a few seats down from me with guest Daryl Hannah. As the film began, Ripper introduced audiences to his friend, journalist and activist Bradley Will. Will’s breath can be heard as his hands hold the camera that is displaying the images in the beginning of the film…the volatile streets of Mexico where enraged citizens and police clash with stones, bullet proof shields and gunfire.

And then a moment erupts on screen that rips through any narration or visual imagery. As conditions became increasingly hostile, and Will’s camera became something unwanted - almost before the viewer realizes it – the sound of a bullet cracks in the air with Will’s last breath, a gasp. His camera clattering to the ground, is picked up by unknown hands and left sitting sideways on a bench.

Will’s death resonated with the activists that had gathered on the same street where he moved about with his camera and his mission to record and act on their plight. An uprising occurred in his memory an uprising against what they must have seen as a murderous and unjust society around them.

The narration continuing, Ripper explains how the death of his friend sent him on a journey to discover what happens with spirituality meets action and activism. When we act on what we believe.

My initial reaction to what Ripper is searching for, was a combination of intrigue based on a journalist’s life lost in the attempt to tell a story filled with raw emotion and skepticism for my view of the new age theology of oneness.

But Ripper began his story with the Civil Rights Movement, a movement during which the belief in equality was so fierce so thick and heavy with necessity that many lost their lives, shed their blood and continued to fight against a deep rooted hatred. And then Congressman John Lewis’s face and voice fill the screen.

“I saw hate,” he said. “And hate – was too heavy a burden to bear.”

The film explores many injustices…from the beating of Rodney King, which ignited the Los Angeles riots of the 1990s to the story a plot of desolate space in the center of where such an uprising had taken place. There, members of the community pulled up dead surface and worked in new land, new soil and created a community garden. That garden produced fresh produce, fresh flowers and fed a community with not just its product but its service, as children spent their afternoons working with the soil instead of on dangerous streets.

And then, along came a company – more interested in space that substance and so began a tumultuous fight to save the garden from blank development. A fight that lasted over 30 days and ended in the arrest of two who refused to leave the property – including Hannah and a sea of salty tears as that corporation turned down the $16 million the community was miraculously able to raise to purchase and keep the garden. The question Ripper seemed to ask is at what cost do we abandon all our conscious and all our convictions? When exactly does the soul get sold?

At least…that’s what I took from it.

The film affected me more than I had expected it to. The idea of taking what it is we believe in and combining it with activism planted a seed in my restless little mind. Think…if we love and we act on that love – in every breath and every minute of every day – it would be hard to turn to hate. It would be hard to march into a museum filled reminders of what can come from such hate and take a human life. Environmentalist and activist Van Jones calls it 'soulfulness'. And if you ask me, there's always room for soul.

If we believe in independence – in freedom – if we live and breathe that freedom in every day and wake only to act upon it, it would be hard for us to allow ourselves to become prisoners of others.

Now, I am not what one might consider a pacifist in any such sense of the word. Will was an anarchist. I am not. But I do believe in the necessity of balance. There must be the dark so we know what it means to fight our way through and choose the light. It is that choice that I believe is the divine of life. And this is coming from a girl who enjoys her dark and twisty little places and her overwhelming ponderous thoughts. But without the suffocating and paralyzing reign of a man so filled with madness – we would not be witnessing an uprising by a people who have so eloquently shown the world there is a silent majority in Iran that chooses to be silent no more.

And now – how unbelievably profound. As we question the purpose of social networking such as Twitter – we now see that it is so rapid and so resonate that members of the resistance in Iran are turning to it to keep the world abreast of the violence and the tyranny that abounds on Tehran’s streets. In 140 characters or less.

As we question whether journalism is even relevant anymore – the ban of all foreign reporting reminds us how it so undeniably is. As we lose our eyes the brilliance of the written and spoken word can still spread a message – a message of what happens in the world around us – and how it affects each and every one of us, a half a world away.

And we can remember how purpose needs action. How even in the battles that are lost – there are wars to be won. As Jones says, toward the end of the film, after the garden had been bulldozed and years after Will’s death still leaves a hole in the heart of the filmmaker – “being a rebel is important, because a rebel opposes injustice. But a revolutionary...a revolutionary proposes justice of a new order.”

That revolution is evident today in Tehran. It can be as vast as a country’s uprising against dictatorship – or as intimate as the parenting of our children or the loving of one another. It's all about soul. And you've got to have soul. Learn more about “Fierce Light” at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

this i believe

I believe in television men. Because they have jobs. They do stuff like solve crimes, save lives and develop surefire advertising campaigns in past eras. Most of them anyway. The good ones. They don’t sit around in fake jobs that apparently don't require them to do too much because they always seem free to sit on the phone with their girlfriends more than they are doing something productive.

Television men come home to Frank Sinatra and a glass of scotch neat. Or a quick witted best friend/room mate or a dog or a coffee house. For non-television men coming home means...more time with said girlfriend and watching said television. Only not really good, quality television. Old testosterone filled movies or porn.

Television men read. Every so often there's a book or a newspaper or a thick magazine in hand. Even if they're fake reading that's more than the men who have spent all day talking about how much of a goal it is for them to be sixteen again and really nothing much more than that.

Find something to do. Build a shelf for chrissakes. I believe in television men.

The well written ones of course, not "The Hills" ones or the "Rock of Love" ones.

On television, to watch our fictional female counterparts try to figure out the inner psyche of the television man is actually refreshing. What's he thinking, they wonder. What does he want? He didn't call me today, he went out, he's on a boat in the Caymans and doesn't care if I'm there.

In small towns like this one – men don’t really play games. We say they do because we attribute game playing to the complexity and realness of a situation but that's pretty much all bullshit. There's no maybe we'll go out or maybe we'll meet for drinks and later they may want you to leave at the end of the night and keep things casual.

Here, by the end of the first date they are handing you a key, telling you there's no need to knock, introducing you to their mother and basically taking in a new roommate.

If the men sound me, so are the women who jump right in.

So I believe in the television men. And the movie men. With the things to do. And the jobs. And moves for the dance that is a balance between love and a life.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

the bigger picture

My plan for this week’s column was a preview of the Waterfront Film Festival which I’ll be attending this coming weekend. However, I will be writing a review of the festival for next week and in the mean time – I would encourage anyone with time to kill this weekend to make the drive up to Saugatuck, Mi. to take in a movie or two.

These are independent films with big names, including Robin Williams, Jeff Daniels and Daryl Hannah and the event brings in thousands of visitors to southwest Michigan each year. Check it all out at and look for a review next week.

As a journalist, covering events like the film festival are fun. But when the day is done and we sit up into the wee morning hours reading articles and books and watching newscasts to try and learn as much as we can about what goes on in our world, the fun is just a part of the bigger picture.

A bigger picture of true point of journalism – to be a voice. Whether to the children on our inner city streets, the shop workers in our factories, the teachers, the parents, the doctors or the businessmen and women. Here, next door, abroad. I’m pushing the column on movies to address a far more serious subject – that of the sentencing of two American journalists to 12 years of “reform by labor” in a North Korean labor camp.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were handed those sentences by an alleged North Korean court after they were apprehended by North Korean soldiers nearly three months ago, as they were working for the San Francisco news outlet Current TV, reportedly on a story about North Korean defectors.

Korean officials say the two young women committed a “grave” crime against the country. Just what they did, however, nobody knows. The sentencing sent shock waves through the news media, put a harsh spotlight on the Obama administration and was an obvious taunt from a country with no plans to live in peaceful coexistence with anyone.

Since the news of Ling and Lee’s conviction there has been an endless supply of reporting, analysis and comment on the situation – painfully and obviously now one that will see these two young Americans as pawns in what is turning out to be a nuclear game of "mine's bigger than yours".

It was weeks prior – even as the two reporters awaited their “trial” – that North Korea turned its back to those nations who wish to live under ideals of peace, humanity, freedom and liberty and repeatedly conduced missile tests and furthered their nuclear aspirations. Still, the current presidential administration was quiet. North Korea acted and they hesitated.

There’s no denying the delicacy it takes to navigate a country in a world filled with countries. There’s no denying the fragility of what is at stake – human life. America can not simply turn its nuclear weapons North Korea’s way threaten an offensive of Sylvester Stallone, Rambo-like proportions. There are consequences and nuclear arsenals to contend with. However, while this situation elevated – the perception doled out by the Obama administration has been: Um…maybe we should put those guys back on the terror list.

Um…really? Washington now has to admit they’ve been checked in North Korea’s chess game…and getting Lee and Ling out of the labor camps they are purportedly being sent to, where prisoners are said to have to try and trap rats for food, transport human waste and live with torture, will not be an easy task. Because obviously – North Korea now has an upper hand.

What the administration must do is chalk up their blatant failure to perceive North Korea for what it is – a living, breathing terrorist entity – and actually do something. It seems almost as if we are dangerously close to adopting a “if I don't look at it, it's not really there” philosophy. There should be more tough talk coming from our nation's capital and less desire play nice with bullies.

The Middle East is a territory of religious ideology. North Korea is not so narrowed. North Korea’s ideology is domination.

In reading the analysis and the articles that are addressing this issue, what struck me beyond the country’s reluctance to be a strong arm when a strong arm is needed – was the reactions of readers to these journalists who “should have known better” than to break another country’s rules. Just because we have freedom of press here, they say, doesn’t mean we should be so daring as to assume those liberties elsewhere.

As a journalist, I agree. And I believe we recognize the dangers. But it is not known if Lee and Ling were actually in North Korea at the time of their capture. Also not known – the circumstances of their “trial” which was held in secret. It is true that the freedom of the press provided for us so valuably in our constitution does not transcend our borders. But true journalism does not live in the constitution.

True journalism isn’t just trying to “get the story” as if they were trolling for the picture of the next celebrity baby. True journalism is to record our world. To give a voice to the people and to report on the actions of those who govern those people. To tell the stories of the goings on in our worlds.

When the world’s journalists are taken, locked up and punished for reporting the truth – we must ask ourselves what that says for the countries behind such acts. Right now, countless journalists are being held in prisons across the world for doing nothing more than what you and I take as a right and a freedom every day.

To those countries, North Korea included, every journalist muted results in an army’s worth of reporters whose voices will only gain in strength and whose missions will continue to expose the atrocities, abuses and infringements on not just a western philosophy, not just an ideology…but the bigger picture. Humanity.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for The Niles Daily Star. Email her at, or visit her on Twitter @jessicasieff