One way to engage in the outside world, sharpen your writing skills and work on your powers of perception is to keep on top of current events. When I watch the news, listen to the radio or read the newspaper, I am constantly asking follow-up questions in my head, finding the hole, looking for the true motivation or backstory behind the story.
A journalist should be there to ask questions and translate the motivation to a larger audience, using nothing more than the story and the subjects' discussion point. An editorial writer would look at a singular situation and relate it to the bigger picture of what is happening in the world, injecting some opinion. A fiction writer could look at what is happening and what is being said and imagine what else is happening behind the scenes, what dialogue is happening inside of the subject's head beyond their words, what body language says and how that moment is one moment on a continuum of life experience.
Find your comfortable place in those roles above. It may be a hybrid of two or more. Write.
writercize: Look at a current local, national or international event. Evaluate the situation and translate what is happening to your reader. Speculate if you feel compelled to do so. Remember the Ws of journalism - who, what, where, when, why and how?
Click "read more" for the writercizer sample response on the timing of the "occupation" (Occupy Wall Street, etc.).writercizer sample response:
When I met my husband, he remarked on the apathy among Americans when it comes to our political system and workforce rights. He is from Italy and spent some several years as a boy in France, so he was accustomed to protests and high voter turn-out and constant, deep political debate on the airwaves. He was accustomed to frequent labor strikes. He viewed Americans as perhaps a little insolent, complaining at dinner tables around the country, but quiet and inactive in their opinions when it comes to the public arena.
I argued that Americans cared, but in a country with such a large land mass and population, it was more difficult to connect with our politicians and make any real difference in legislation. I said that with the separation of state and federal laws, people generally worked harder to make their voice heard locally and left national problems alone. I argued that when Americans strike, they wait until there is literally no other choice and it has to mean something major, because our strikes last for days, even weeks. In Italy, a transportation strike may occur for the two hours that will most effectively paralyze the system for the day but then pick right back up at a normal pace afterwords. That type of strike does not happen in America. We dig our heels in for the long term, and with a long term strike comes a long term lack of income, so it had better be worth it. I argued that somewhere deep within each of us lay that child of the 60s and 70s, the protester, the civil rights advocate, the active participant in our legislative system, but it was hidden in our daily lives because of the size and because of the great effort to start a movement, with little perceived pay off.
Now, that flower child is back, and back in force. Occupy Wall Street is one month old. In perhaps one of the most surprising twists of the year, organizers say they were inspired by the Arab Spring and using that as the example to follow. Arab Spring protesters looked to the Western World for freedom and democracy, and now the Western World looks to the Arab Spring for strength and courage in the face of oppression. In the Arab World, that oppression came from corrupt dictators. In the Western World, that oppression is perceived to come from the 1%, the richest men and women in the United States, and protesters want to see an end to the unequality.
What is not clear is what they do want. Since the movement is a group effort, without a leader, there has not been a clear statement of intent. It's a little like the "hope" and "change" buzzwords of the last election - the words resonate with everyone, but in a slightly different manner. We know what we are running away from. What we may not be clear on, or agree on, is what we are running towards.
In radio interviews, I have heard disgruntled Americans talk about wage inequality, the injustice of banks taking home huge profits after the people bailed them out while still arguing that they need to charge even more, problems with a broken health care system, the plight of homelessness and joblessness, the difficulty students are in with looming school debt and few opportunities, the mortgage crisis and effect that lower equity has on spending power. I nod in agreement at all of the frustration, but I recognize that each conversation with each protester gives a glimpse into a different reason for why they are involved in the occupation.
It is very interesting to me that the occupation has taken such strong hold without a clear, concise call to action or statement of intent, so I began to ask myself why this is happening now, why it is gaining in strength and numbers. The top 1% have been a problem for many, many years in terms of the inequality, and haven't garnered as much hatred and frustration as right now.
In all fairness, there are several in that top 1% who have also done a lot of good. Bill and Melinda Gates are major philanthropists who have helped improve schools and living conditions in Seattle and around the world. Entrepreneurs in the top 1% have opened businesses, and funded other entrepreneurs with significantly fewer resources, in turn giving people jobs and creating intellectual and material property. They have donated to valuable cultural resources such as museums and theaters and brought attention to hunger and violence worldwide. There are stellar human beings in that 1%.
There are also those who are indeed greedy and ignorant to the needs of the average person. I expect an ethical business leader to invest in their people and product when a company makes money; I expect them to pass up the incentive to show record profits every single quarter to please the shareholders in lieu of putting the long-term interests of the company and its people first. Profits can not and should not be expected to grow by leaps and bounds each quarter in order to increase the price of shares in a company. A responsible citizen should look at that growth and question it - why are people still laid off? Why isn't the company hiring? Why is health care coverage being diminished? Why is the company decreasing its contribution to its employees retirement or 401(k) plan? How is this company making more money and paying its CEO and CFO and executives higher salaries while the rest of the employees live in constant fear of pay cuts, fewer benefits and layoffs? Why is it that when a high level executive is dismissed for poor performance, they are given millions as a goodbye gift while a middle manager is escorted out of the building with a couple weeks pay? What is fair about a board of millionaires making decisions about how to pay other millionaires while making cuts to the average person? Shouldn't a board include representation of all types of stakeholders in the organization, from the hourly employee to the bank consumer paying $20 in fees just to maintain a bank account to the small businesses unable to secure a line of credit in order to expand and hire?
It is that 1% that is under fire, those who take advantage of the system and accept high pay-outs for poor performance, without qualms and without apologies.
But I return to my original question - this has been going on for decades, so why now? The disproportion is now greater, but be it the 100 to 1 of the 1980s or the 500 to 1 of today on the pay scale, it's always been a huge difference from the average person.
My take in it, my personal revelation, is a sad one. Americans have always cared; we've just been too busy working and dreaming of the next great dream to take the time to protest. Now we're out of work and out of dreams.
Occupy Wall Street is happening right now because too many of us are unemployed, unencouraged and unhappy ... and without enough jobs we have infinite time to voice our frustration. Sustained unemployment has been our tipping point. Until long-term jobs, corporate investment and confidence return, our politicians and executives can live in constant fear of when, where and how the next occupation will take place.