MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the month “December, 2014”

Snowy pearls

snowy snowmanSomewhere around the globe, where the snow had already spread its unblemished tapestry, a young boy was still waiting for Santa Claus. He hoped he would bring him a New Year that would be radically different from the one that was just days from becoming history. This one had simply not lived up to his expectations.

Frederick was a strong young man. He had learned to survive the hardships and no matter what life struck him with, he would rise stronger. Until now. This year had broken him. He was forced to deal with loss, with pain, with anguish, with unemployment, with being broke, with disappointment, with having his expectations built-up only to have them crushed, with break-ups, with heartache, and it just seemed to be getting dimmer. There was no light at the end of the tunnel anymore and that was what hurt him the most.

It was snowing outside. The temperature had fallen to below zero already and you could feel the cold nipping at your nose the minute you stepped out of the door. Frederick decided to stay indoors, with the fireplace lit. He was sitting on the small couch by the window with a hot cocoa in hand, staring at the snow spreading like a white fluffy carpet outside.

He could feel the melancholy gripping onto him. It was this time of the year when he felt more alone, when he pondered on what he wished his life was like, and realized what it was not. He wanted so much more of life itself – a partner, a family, wonderful moments to share and people to experience them with. It all meant nothing if he was simply stuck in a dead-end. He wrapped the red fleece blanket around his legs; the cold was creeping in as the sun set.

Frederick wanted to believe that this New Year would be different. That it would finally be the year when his life would improve, when he would manage to realise his dreams and achieve his ambitions. He wanted to be happy and at least look back and be content with the life he led.

That is what he wanted Santa Claus to bring. A new year that would have things go his way, or at least in the same direction he would like them to. He knew it was a difficult thing to ask, but nonetheless he believed. He had to believe in something after all.

He fell asleep there, wrapped in the blanket, with the fire glazing inside, and the snow silently falling outside.

When he woke up the next day, the fire had already extinguished itself and the sun was trying to peek out from behind the clouds. There was a snowman staring at him outside his window – complete with two thin sticks for arms and a carrot for a nose. He even had pebbles formed in the shape of a smile. Frederick smiled. Maybe it was the kids in the neighbourhood who had created Mr Frosty. Either way, it was a very welcome and very pleasant surprise.

But that was not all.

Right in front of the fireplace there was a little blue box. Frederick could swear that was not there before. And he was certain all the doors were locked so no-one could have gotten in without being heard. He got up and picked up the box. It was feather-light. He opened it slowly – who knows what could jump out.

In the centre of the velvet interior was a white pearl. And at the back of the box cover there was writing. “A pearl of wisdom because every year that passes, no matter the pain, the heartache and the suffering, will always make you wiser, more mature and more knowledgeable. Life will hand you many such pearls, it is up to you what you will decide to do with them. Never give up.”

It was not signed.

Frederick’s pulse raced. Could this be the sign he was longing for? The optimism that he needed for a favourable new year?

To him it was. Because sometimes, all it takes is the smallest of things to remind you that what matters most cannot be seen.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Mystery Box

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Wishing and hoping

bus-cartoon-comic-breadwig.com_What if everything everyone ever wished for you came true? Wouldn’t that make you super happy? Wouldn’t that make you feel invincible? Megan had the strange ability to realise every wish everyone else ever wished for her.

Not her own though.

And there was one catch. The wishes that came true where those that were spoken by the elderly passengers of a specific bus. The number 23 that followed a circular route up to the town’s old medieval castle.

Megan would take the bus once a week to go to her grandmother’s house. She lived in the hills of the upper city, where the ruins of the old town walls were situated. They were used to fortify the city in the Byzantine times and later even used as a prison when the city came under siege. Now all that remained was ruins. The older townsfolk frequently travelled up there because that is where most of their leisure centres were situated. And tourists travelled up there because it featured one of the most amazing panoramic views of the city below.

Megan first noticed the coincidence when she got up to give her seat to an old woman who got on the bus. The old lady thanked her and wished that Megan would always be as smiling and kind. Megan could not stop smiling for the rest of the day. No matter how much she tried. Even when she was watching a tearful period drama that night on television, she could not shake off that smile.

She did not pay too much attention to that at the time. But the next week, when the same incident happened (Megan thought it was only proper that she would give up her seat for the older passengers), an old man wished her that she would find someone who would appreciate her kindness and good manners. Fate would have it that at her stop she slipped on a small puddle of water that had formed at the middle bus doors and almost fell out. But she conveniently fell (literally) into the arms of a young man who was standing just outside. She fell in love with his smile and strong grip. He was mesmerized by her sparkling eyes. That was the beginning of their long-term relationship.

It just seemed that whatever was said in that “magic bus”, as Megan called it, it came true. And it was all good wishes that brightened her life. She was bound to get it all: to be smiling and happy, to find success and joy, to live a life as she wished.

When Megan decided to tell her grandmother about her special trips up the hill, her grandmother smiled widely. She told her a tale that there was a princess who lived in the castle three hundred years ago. When she was born, she was blessed by all the townsfolk who were invited by the King and Queen to share their joy of having a newborn. The townsfolk were so enchanted by her beauty that they simply wished that the child be happy and have everything she would ever wish for. Megan’s grandmother said that the princess indeed lived a long and happy life and it was under her rule that the city thrived. She joked and told her that the elderly passengers of the bus could be descendants of these townsfolks who believed Megan was the reincarnation of this princess, and so she deserved to have the same fortune. Megan smiled. She was too old to believe in fairy tales.

But on the ride home, an old woman whom she helped onto the bus took her hand and wished her that the kindness she offers be returned to her. And that her children will be as blessed as her. Megan smiled and thanked her kindly. That night, her Prince Charming proposed and ten months later, they had their first child who grew up to be as handsome as his father and as caring as his mother.

Megan slowly started to believe in fairy tales. But maybe it was just the fact that she wanted to believe so much that made all her wishes come true.

Or maybe there truly is a magic bus roaming around each town?

 

N.B. 1 Inspired in Thessaloniki by the Heptapyrgion – Yedi Kule.

N.B. 2 Song that inspired the title of this story is “Wishin’ and hopin’” by Dusty Springfield

When the dwarves met the elves

Santa's-Workshop-2When Snow White rode off with Prince Charming, the dwarves knew that their life would change once again. But having lived such a tremendous upheaval the first time, when they had returned home to find this wonderful young lady waiting for them, they now knew that they could not go back to the life they had before. It just seemed so dull now. It was official, they were experiencing the “empty nest” syndrome that they had so often heard of from all those women on the morning shows that Snow used to watch.

As they were returning home that day, one of the dwarves (there is much controversy as to who exactly it was, so we will not go into that right now) suggested that as Christmas is coming they could all take a trip up North. The plan was to go and meet the elves. They were pretty much the same size and also worked all day. So it would be nice to meet their “colleagues” in a sense. They all happily agreed and before the next sunset they had already departed.

It was a very hectic season for the elves in the North Pole. They had to assure that everything was perfect and on time, ready for Santa’s annual trip around the world just a couple of days away. Pandemonium was the order of the day, as the slightest mishap could lead to complete havoc. Especially if the head elf had run out of Zanex.

In fact he was yelling about a toy soldier’s cane being a centimeter too short, when the dwarves arrived at the factory. No one seemed to notice at first. But then Grumpy coughed, or rumbled, according to the elves, and everything came to a halt.

These cheerful slim creatures, dressed in green and red with a small bell jingling at the top of their hat, now turned with eyes glaring with fright and stared at these seven rather chubby intruders.

Excuse us, we happened to be wandering around and heard the jolly songs in here and thought we might come along and see if you could use a hand, perhaps even make your acquaintance…” began    Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey all at once.

The elves were dumbfounded.

Make our acquaintance!? Make our acquaintance? Do you think this is the time to happen to pass by to make our acquaintance!??” bellowed Clyde, the head elf. Sparkles, his assistant, was hectically searching the entire factory for at least one last pill of Zanex. No-one could stand the stress anymore.

Twinkle, the second assistant, began rather shyly to say that maybe it was a good idea that they came along because it meant extra helping hands. Clyde would have nothing of it. “We managed for hundreds of years without them and will do so this year too!” “Yes, but we had you on Zanex until now,” mumbled Elfie, loud enough for Jingles to hear and burst out laughing.

Quiet!!” roared Clyde. “Get back to work!”.

The dwarves were left stranded in the middle of the factory entrance, while the elves returned to assembling and packaging the toys.

Just then they heard a stomp and a jingle, a stomp and a jingle, being repeated again and again. Someone was approaching. The fat man himself. Em, sorry, the chief – Santa Claus.

He took the dwarves under his arm (he was big enough to do so) and led them to his “office” where Mrs. Claus offered some hot cocoa with marshmallows floating inside. The dwarves felt they were on an exotic vacation. Never had they felt so welcomed, well not since Snow left.

The dwarves began explaining to Santa the reasoning for their trip and Mrs. Claus began to snif and scuffle for a tissue at the sound of the “empty nest”. Buddy, their son, had gone off to study this year, and she knew exactly what this feeling was.

Santa consoled all eight of them and excused his head elf who was having a hard year because his reindeer ran off with a deer and he considered it quite unclassy. Whatever the case, Santa thanked the dwarves for having travelled all the way up to the North Pole and told them that although it was a bit hectic this time of year, they were welcome back whenever they wanted. He gave them each a cloth bag with a gift almost their size wrapped inside and promised them that better days awaited them at home.

So, the dwarves once again set off back South, having felt the warmth and hospitality of the North Pole, and having satisfied their curiosity of what these elves they so often heard of were like. One thing they all agreed upon was to never work so hard that they would need medicine to control their anxiety levels.

Once they reached their little cottage, they had a surprise waiting for them. Well, two for that matter. No, eight. One was that it was snowing and their little home had been beautifully decorated to emanate the season’s joy. And the other; well, the other was that Santa had kept his promise. There was a lady dwarf, each for every one of them, waiting quietly by the fireplace where a turkey was roasting. Doc had a lady who was patient and strong, Grumpy had one who could soothe his temper and soften his spirits, Happy had one who could share his excitement but know when to stop, Sleepy had one who could keep him awake, Bashful had one who would make him more confident, Sneezy had one who was always equipped with handkerchiefs and could make natural remedies, and Dopey had one who would get him to think more. They were all cut out for one another.

So the trip to the North Pole was worth it after all.

And up in the factory, the elves finished making the toys on time, Buddy returned to surprise his parents, and Clyde received a new annual prescription to Zanex. Only it was sugar drops, but nobody told him.

Happy Christmas!

A different kind of crisis

Xmas BirthdayGetting snowed in on a day when your to-do list is over-piling, that may be considered a crisis. Dripping donut jam on your clean shirt the minute you step out of the baker’s just two steps away from your office, that may too be considered a crisis. Losing money at a casino fun night, is well maybe not so much of a crisis (unless it is all your savings). We all face different crises in our lives and we all view them differently.

The third-world crisis of lacking food, clean water and a home is far more severe than the first-world crisis of not having matching shoes for a new outfit worth hundreds of dollars. It is all a matter of perspective. But perhaps, with just a couple of weeks before another year passes, we can take a second and rethink…everything.

The holiday season is one to rejoice, one to spread the love and show you care. But it is also one in which you are silently prodded to make amends, first and foremost with yourself.

The most intense period of crisis one can face is when this joyous season coincides with their birthday. That is when a crisis certainly hits. Because you begin to feel all the more intense about the fact of adding yet another year to those that have past, of becoming so many more years young (because you try and avoid the word “old”). You may finally believe the compliment that you are like wine, it only gets better with age. But deep down you do feel the melancholy strike, because there are very few people who achieve exactly what they want at the precise time in which they so desire. It is hard feeling incomplete. As though you are nowhere near where you’ve dreamt to be. And it is all the more difficult when you know that another birthday is rapidly approaching, signifying that time is still flying and there is nothing you can do.

Apart from one thing.

Continue to dream. Change what you can, and leave aside what you can’t. Rejoice in the warmth of the season and learn to appreciate the good of what you have. Maybe next year things will finally come your way. But, however it may be, you’ve already come a long way. You’re still standing and that it is the most important of it all.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Getting Seasonal

Santa run

santa-claus-is-flying-in-a-sleigh-with-reindeerThe white-haired man with the white beard and big belly that had an abnormal affinity for red suits was once again spotted around the park. He was looking at all the young children playing carefree on the swings and in the playground and appeared to be checking a list that he drew out of his side pocket and seemed to have no end. What on earth was he doing? This could take a very ugly turn.

And it did.

Marissa was an old lady who couldn’t hear very well. She couldn’t see very well either, despite the fact that she wore glasses with lenses as thick a piece of gammon at Christmas lunch. She also used a cane to walk, which she would also occasionally use as a weapon lest any “young rascal” would try to steal her bag. She would take her young grandson to the park every afternoon and sit at the bench watching him (or at least someone who looked like him from afar) enjoy himself in the playground. She had become acquainted with the other children and parents who spent their time there too. Therefore, whenever a “newbie” arrived, everyone would notice. They were as easy to recognize as a fly drowning in milk.

The past few days, however, ever since the beginning of December, Marissa noticed the frequent presence of a rather fat and peculiar old man. He was oddly jolly with everyone and was very fond of children. Perhaps too fond, according to Marissa. And he was always there. From the moment she and little Everett arrived, to the moment they left, that old man was sitting on the adjacent bench taking notes.

A week later, after Marissa had ran through her mind all the possible things this man might be noting – all of which were remarkably anomalous, no matter how you looked at it – she decided it was time to take action. She did consider walking over there and whacking him on the head with her cane, then grabbing his list and running to the police to file a report against him as a pedophile. But there were two problems with that: she couldn’t see very well and due to the holiday season more and more people began to draw a liking to red clothing and she might thus end up hitting someone else; and then she couldn’t run very fast, so by the time she had made her way out of the park, he might regain consciousness and chase after her. So, Marissa decided to do the only proper and responsible thing she knew: she would call the police.

Her report said that an old man with white hair and beard, dressed in a red suit that was unflattering for his age, was constantly roaming around the park, observing the kids and making notes. Just to be sure that the police wouldn’t make fun of her, she did send an instant message from her tablet (that had a big enough screen for her to be sure she had captured at least part of the man in question).

It didn’t take long for the police to arrive. The German Shepherd dog accompanying them was already growling, but for some strange reason it stopped the minute its eyes located the old man. And surprisingly it sat down and refused to go near or attack, no matter how much the policemen were yelling. The old man did not even budge.

Yet, all of a sudden, chaos broke out. Seeing that the dog had no intention of chasing or attacking the suspect, the police officers decided to take matters into their own hands. They began to scream, whistle and shout – if there was the appropriate music, it would even seem that they were trying to do the Twist.

And then began the run.

The old man, seeing a handful of unusually frightening young men in police attire racing like raging bulls towards him, got up and began to run too. The kids, thinking this was some sort of festive game, thought it would be fun to join in. And the German Shepherd dog decided it was time to get a move on too. The parents, afraid the dog might attack the children or the police might fire a shot that may reach an unintentional target, raced like mad and white as ghosts, behind the mob. It was complete havoc. And on the side, Marissa was taking photos on her tablet – you know, for evidence.

The old man ran into the forest-y area of the park where a wooden shed was located, he rushed in before the police closed up – the dog was for some reason being intentionally slow at catching up.

And then…

Police, dog, children, parents, the kiosk-owner who had approached out of curiosity, the candyman who was looking for kids to sell his produce to, and Marissa (who was still taking photos), all looked up at the sky, rubbing their eyes. They could not believe what they saw. A sleigh. Yes, a sleigh, a red one with a small turbo engine at the back and a dozen reindeer – yes, those horned animals that look like deer – pulling it along. It all disappeared before the bedazzled crowd managed to take a second blink.

The police stormed the wooden shed, with the dog barking happily beside them. There was nothing in there apart from some hay – most of which appeared to have been consumed – and some firewood. Nothing else.

So where did the old man dressed in red go? And did they really see what they thought they saw?

When the police questioned Marissa, she told them she had photo evidence. But when they confiscated her tablet to see for themselves, all they found was funny-looking selfies of a befuddled old lady in the park.

Feisty, Bitchy, Sassy, Ethereal

Fashionable Women SilhouettesTo say all women are bitches is a very broad generalization. And we shouldn’t generalize as much. Because women can also be kittens, cats, tigers, even lionesses at times. It is safe to say, however, that all women have an animal inside.

There have been many many things said about women. Ever since the beginning of time, a woman is considered “the weaker sex”, but at the same time the complicated one, the controversial one, and the emotional one (exhibited in every sense). In modern times, women have become all the more empowered, emancipated and confident. Something that leads to the derogatory term that originated in the 14th century and suggested high sexual desire in a woman, comparable to a (female) dog in heat. However, today, the range of meanings has expanded in modern usage and in a feminist context, it can indicate a strong or assertive woman. It is also reminiscent of the fact that if you treat a woman right, you’ll have an angel for life, but be warned “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.

It is is a common saying that behind every successful man, there is a brilliant woman, or as John Lennon put it “there is a great woman behind every idiot”. The Ancient Greeks described the world’s three evils as being “fire, women and the sea”. It is no wonder why women are seen as such diverse creatures (being one I can testify first-hand). Women have to fight with mood swings that catch everyone by surprise, even themselves at times. They have to bleed once a month and deal with the consequent PMS that comes along with this. They are more jealous than the queen of the alley cats and are willing to get into extremes simply to mark their own territory. Women rarely embroil in “cat fights”, however, preferring the more effective sarcastic and fake compliment-offering instead. In fact, this is also a huge difference with men – how often have you heard of men quarrelling being described as a “dog fight”? Men actually pride of being called a “dog”, contrasting the equivalent situation for the female gender.

Women bedazzle men and other women because more often than not they do not know what they want, but they expect others to know. They want you to understand without them having to explain. You need to know and anticipate their every move and desire, and most times you will never get it right either way, whatever it is you do. Perhaps this is why men discovered the phrase “Yes, dear”, most effectively said with a condescending nod.

Females of all species are indeed hard to understand. They need constant courting and attention, unless they don’t. So go figure. They are too hard to understand, almost impossible. But at the same time it is this constant mystery that enwraps them that makes them so attractive, so provocatively intoxicating and so difficult to live without.

Let’s face it, Adam could not live alone without Eve, even if she was the reason they both got expelled from Paradise. So let her complain, let her moan and nag, let her shout and cry, it will all pass. Wouldn’t you want to be there for the good times? The sweetness, the generosity, the surprises? She will definitely make it all worth it. Women have that ability. To make up for everything in the end.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Unsung Heroes

This title has been hoarded too

Hoarding1Roger decided it was time he attended an H.A. meeting when he reached the point when he could not even find his bed anymore. He was one of the lucky few who had a home in one of the biggest trees in the forest so the situation he was now in was more than just “a pickle”.

He had heard about Hoarders Anonymous (H.A.) from his Aunt Sara who in turn had heard it from a cousin of a friend of someone else and it just got too complicated for him after that to follow the timeline of who found out about it first. The point was, however, that they existed and they promised to help.

Roger was a compulsive hoarder, but not a severely obsessed one. He could restrain himself, something that could not be said about some of the other participants of H.A. One of them had even gathered all the teaspoons that were set out with the coffee and tea that was offered during the meeting. And when wooden sticks were brought out to replace the vanished spoons, he even gathered those too!

Roger began hoarding as a baby squirrel. He was born in a drought and his family was always afraid they would never have enough acorns to survive the winter. So he too was infiltrated with the mentality that more is never enough: it was better to have the option of having something, than not having it at all in the first place. Having grown up this way, he couldn’t help himself now. He, like many other of his H.A. ‘co-sufferers’, assigned too much value to all of his possessions, seeing things in them that other people didn’t, and thus making it difficult for him to get rid of them. He believed that things may prove useful in the future or they simply reminded him of something, some moment or some person and thus he became emotionally attached. So, slowly, Roger’s nest began accumulating stuff of all sorts. He was very organized so he did manage to keep his home quite tidy. You couldn’t even tell he was hoarding so many things. Until that week when he became too busy, too tired and too lazy to arrange things. So they just kept piling up. And piling up. And covering furniture. To the extent that one day he couldn’t even find his bed, and that is when he decided radical action was necessary.

At H.A. all participants struggled with their hoarding obsessions. They knew it was unhealthy and very often costly in many ways other than money. But at this point it was something out of their control. Listening to the other participants speak, Roger knew he was better off.

One of them stated that she couldn’t sleep at all, not only because she couldn’t find the bed, or the bedroom for that matter, because everything was covered under heaps of stuff, but because whenever she closed her eyes she saw nightmares that she was stranded in the fourth circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno. This was the one reserved for the “hoarders and the wasters”, where hoarders spend their lives acquiring wealth and material possessions—represented as giant boulders—and are forever doomed to push the crushing weight of the rocks against the opposing force of wasters. She thus had panic attacks added to her list of obsessive-compulsive traits. Another of the H.A. participants said that he became a hoarder when he found out that his idol, Andy Warhol, was also a hoarder and that his four-story Upper East Side town house was so jammed with items that the only rooms with paths through them were the kitchen and the bedroom. In fact, when Warhol died, in 1987, he left behind 610 cardboard boxes that he called time capsules and this fan wanted to live up to that.

Roger was now certain he was not the nutter anymore. When it was his turn to speak, he got up and said “I’m a hoarder and I know it”. They all gasped at his certainty and self-confidence. Roger had something these others didn’t. Self-restraint. He knew what he had to do. He just had to decide what was truly worth keeping and what was not. And if that didn’t work, he would just find another tree bark he could use as a storage room!

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Ready, Set, Done!

It could always be worse

RobotWhen Charles brought home the robot, Annabelle was ecstatic. As soon as she saw the life-size box in which it came, with the metallic grey cover and the white plastic ribbon with which it was gift-wrapped, she knew things were never going to be the same. And she was right.

Charles worked long and weird hours. He felt guilty for leaving his wife alone at home all this time, so to make up for it and offer her some company, he brought home the latest technological wonder that was available in the market. They had just moved to Singapore and everything still seemed light-years ahead of their South-Western hometown. He knew Annabelle would appreciate it.

Annabelle knew nothing could replace a human presence, a physical being with whom she could chat, laugh or simply sit with and look at the window. But a robot might also help her around the house. It was already too big for the two of them and it required constant care.

She considered naming the robot, but feared becoming too attached. So she didn’t. Secretly though, she did think of him as “Rob”.

The first couple of days felt as though she were treading on unknown waters. Having something like this, with a mind of its own, was unprecedented.

Soon, though, she discovered that, like everything, even a robot has its perks.

This one would move behind her and tap her back. Mostly when she wasn’t looking. And when she wasn’t in the room with it, it would yell “gal”, for some inexplicable reason. Annabelle made Charles look into its nuts and bolts, but he found no fault. Neither could the service responsible for the robot.

As much as Annabelle tried to ignore it, it only seemed to become worse. And it was all accentuated by the fact that she kept discovering even more annoying little habits of “Rob”.

One day, she programmed the robot to help her vacuum clean the house. Guests would arrive that evening and Annabelle wanted everything to be perfect for the dinner they would host.

It all started out wrong, though. Instead of plugging in the vacuum cleaner, “Rob” plugged in its own finger causing a power outage in the entire neighbourhood. That lost them two hours.

He would then chase after Annabelle every time she left the room, shouting “gal” and tapping her back at the same time. So much, that it was almost impossible to do any work with this robot around. She locked it in the broom closet, but “Rob” broke the door and escaped, bringing a wooden broom with it, which it now used to tap Annabelle’s back with. At one undefinable moment, Annabelle tripped over the broom, fell onto the vacuum cleaner and onto “Rob”. It started yelling “gal” non-stop now. There was nothing she could do to get it to stop. Charles was too busy to help, but he had suggested plugging its finger in again, in the hope it might do the trick. But it didn’t. It just lit up its eyes blue. It’s lucky it wasn’t red, thought Annabelle, then it would surely look like the devil’s spawn.

She was so upset by the entire episode and the fact that she was wasting so much time with this robot, that instead of making her life easier, it simply made it more frustrating and difficult. That is when she decided to do it.

She took the broom and beat the robot to pieces. It was all screws, components and broken pieces now. She took the vacuum cleaner and sucked it all up. She didn’t need a robot-helper. It had been more of a nuisance than anything.

An hour later, she had completed the preparations and even had the food in the oven.

Just then, she heard a mumbling from the broom closet. As she approached, she trembled as she heard “gal, gal, gal”. Could it be? How had this monstrous contraption resurrected? She opened the door and saw…nothing. Just to be safe though, she took the entire vacuum cleaner out to the garbage. Charles could get her another. Not a robot. A vacuum cleaner. She preferred to be more tired and get things done in twice the time, than have such a horrible pest on her head haunting her every move.

It seems whatever you do or think, there is always something worse.

Speaking Truth to ‘Stupid’: Reestablishing Dignity in Journalism

AB15521Journalism was once described as the Fourth Estate: a watchdog of the elites, informing and protecting the masses. People looked to it for the truth. Today, information is propelled from every direction, medium, and person. Does the power of the Fourth Estate still exist, and if not, how do we reclaim it?

More people today choose to avoid the news at all costs. Especially political news, since all they appear to do is replicate the status quo, with politicians lining up to give their own position on developments (if any), while not even staying long enough to listen to opposing positions. It almost feels like we live in a world that doesn’t want to be changed. But, it is the civil responsibility of journalists to change this by presenting hard-core facts, inspire debate and fuel a desire for improvement.

With The Newsroom Season 3 having just begun, and Kill the Messenger recently hitting the big screens, journalism seems to have returned to centre stage, not that it ever left. But right now, it seems this profession has become all the more important, especially since journalists are sacrificing their lives in order to reveal information that is critical for public safety.

The aforementioned film is based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb and takes place in the mid-1990s, when Webb uncovered the role of the CIA in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California. Despite enormous pressure, Webb chose to pursue the story and went public with his evidence. As a result, he became the target of a vicious smear campaign fueled by the CIA and was forced to defend his integrity, his family, and his life, even reaching the point of suicide.

Consider the recent example of Serena Shim, an American journalist of Lebanese origin who disclosed that ISIS jihadists were being smuggled into Turkey and back into Syria in the back of humanitarian aid vehicles. Just days later, she was reportedly killed in a car crash with a heavy-duty vehicle. The second car was never found, raising suspicions as to the true cause of her death. Shim is not alone. Journalists around the world are regularly threatened against publishing information that is their disposal. In 2013, approximately 100 journalists were killed, while so far 64 journalists have lost their lives this year, fighting for what they believe in.

But journalism no longer seems to really be what it used to. Journalists are often characterised as “the Fourth Estate”, a term originally used by Edmund Burke, who in 1787 said that the Reporters’ Gallery in the British House of Commons was where a Fourth Estate, which was more important than the other three, took its seat. Since then, a lot has changed in journalism. Although there are some who criticise the government, many argue that journalism has become part of the ruling estate rather than an objective observer of it.

Journalism became a vulnerable profession with the rise of digital media. However, the economic crisis struck a large blow causing salaries and media revenue to decrease. Churnalism has taken the place of investigative journalism and reporters of all stripes simply find it easier to replicate press releases, instead of researching, analysing and criticising power to provide citizens with informed explanations of current affairs. There is also “citizen journalism” which has blurred the definition of who is a journalist. Furthermore, claims blast from every direction, often without any credible evidence to support them. Yet, this is what sells and what is seemingly desired by the public. This is an age where global terrorism is real and no longer an imminent threat; where people are more interested in exchanging narcissistic selfies rather than improving social welfare; and where everyone complains but few take action. Now, more than ever, is the time for journalism to reclaim its lost vigour, grace and glamour.

People want to read the news. They no longer accept bad journalism, as they want to learn what is going on quickly, simply and clearly; to be informed, not mocked. As MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) told Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) on the first episode of The Newsroom: We need to reclaim the fourth estate; to rebrand journalism as an honourable profession; to produce news that informs and stimulates debates characterised by civility and respect; and return to what is important. It needs to end ‘bitchiness, gossip and voyeurism.’ We need “to speak the truth to stupid,” because we need to actually believe that the audience is not stupid. In reality, it is composed of intelligent people who we should address as such. If we treat people as if they were stupid, that is who they will be, but, if we refer to them as intelligent people who have a say in bringing about change, then that is who they will become. Journalism is not simply about conveying news and arousing the wrath of the masses. It is about communicating information and enabling the audience to develop a clear awareness about what is happening in the world and how things might change, for the better, and for the benefit of all of us.

 

First published on Cafébabel.com and translated into French and Italian.

The chipmunk who needed more air

chipmunks cheeksHave you ever felt like you’re running out of air? Bobby the chipmunk did. And lately he felt so more than ever. So much in fact that he set it upon himself to save the world and do something about it.

At first he thought that it was a natural consequence of over population. So he started considering what he could do about it. But reducing the population forcefully or by any other way was not even an option. Bobby loved to have friends to play with and talk to. He would be really lonely otherwise, and he knew very well that he would not do well with that.

So he began devising a plan. Creating more oxygen seemed tricky. So his remaining option was salvaging and utilizing the existing air as efficiently as possible. He thought that he would lead by example and be an inspiration to all others. So he set off, placing his seemingly brilliant plan in motion.

The first experiment was simple. He would try to breathe in less air. But he realized that made him breathe quicker and more often and in the end, he was actually inhaling more air this way.

Next, Bobby took a paper bag. He would try breathing in slowly and hence less frequently. It appeared to be working for the first couple of inhales, but then he choked on a cookie crumb that happened to have been left inside the bag. It took a distraught and discombobulated sea gull, together with a bear to release Bobby from the cookie crumb that was suffocating him so that he could finally breathe normally again.

But that did not discourage him from continuing his quest. What if he tried holding his breath for a bit? He would estimate how long he could go on without air and portion each of his inhales accordingly. That did not end very well either, though. Soon Bobby became pale, then blue, then a bit red as his eyes almost popped out of his skull and with a face like a funny (but very weird) cartoon, as soon as he let go, he literally flew across the park, deflating like a balloon. There had to be an easier way.

When he met Gerry the giraffe – he fell onto his neck while soaring across the air – the tall animal almost fell over laughing at Bobby’s concern and plans. He did his best to assure him that the air was not going to run out any time soon, not even in their lifetime. Gerry even gathered all the animals to pledge that they would use their air supplies resourcefully and efficiently in order to allay his concerns. Tired of the unsuccessful efforts to reverse the depleting air levels, Bobby decided to recede. Every now and then though he did climb onto a tall tree, simply to feel the gush of fresh wind entering his lungs. And just in case, he had a paper bag with him – always checked for potential deadly crumbs beforehand.

The air was there, although he couldn’t see it. He just had to trust that it would still be there whenever he needed it and in however large or small quantities. Trust after all, was a fundamental component of life.

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