David Rodeback's Blog

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Friday, July 11, 2014
Things I Have Written and Things I Haven't

A couple of welcome and unusual experiences for this writer, some thoughts on how far we've come (or gone), and what happens when ideology and reality collide.


I've been writing more than usual lately, just not so much at the blog. I write at work, at home, at church. Part of my writing has been in pursuit of two New Year's resolutions, projects which I hope will eventually see the light of day -- soon, in one case. Not that all the words will survive; neither you nor I would want them to. As the mousepad on my desk at home says, "I write, therefore I rewrite."

I've mentioned two interesting and unusual writing projects here lately, both of which spun off from my writing here at the blog. I mention them again to report another facet of the writer's experience: observing audiences as they experience one's writing -- which we don't always get to do.

In my first work for the big screen, I wrote for and otherwise helped to create a feature-length documentary on the American Fork High School Marching Band. It premiered in May and is nearing a disc release. On a single evening, in three separate showings, I sat with a total of about 1400 people and listened to their responses, moment by moment, as they heard and saw what I had helped to create. I'm not sure every writer even wants that level of feedback, and I'm not sure I always do. And I'd probably feel much differently, if it hadn't gone very well indeed. But the experience was fascinating, useful, and, I readily confess, gratifying.

I also reported here that I was invited to write a bit of text to be considered for use on a monument. The monument stands in American Fork's Robinson Park, honoring a deputy sheriff who lived in American Fork as a child and was killed in the line of duty earlier this year. My work was accepted; it's the first time my words have been carved in stone, think. It's also the first time I've written words which were intended from the beginning to be carved in stone, which is a different experience in itself. As I've mentioned, my name isn't with my words, and it shouldn't be. The name which belongs on and is on the monument is Sergeant Cory Wride. I went to the announcement, where the plaque portion of the monument was displayed on Memorial Day, and watched people respond to it. All of this is prelude; my point is what happened next.

Several weeks later, I went to the park for the unveiling. Most of the people there didn't know who I was, and most of the people who knew me didn't know they were reading my words. Because of that, I was able to stand unobtrusively to the side after the ceremony. There I listened as adult members of the slain sergeant's family read my inscription aloud and explained it to their children, word by word and phrase by phrase. That is not an everyday experience for most writers, either. And again, I might feel differently if it hadn't gone well. Happily, in this case the words appear to work as they were designed to work.

There was a bonus, too. At the park that evening, a city official introduced me to the sergeant's widow, Nannette Wride. She took a minute or two to describe to me what those words have already meant to her family and to her personally, and that will be a lasting and happy memory for this writer.

Not Writing

I also reflected this morning on what I haven't written lately.

This category was conspicuous to some of you recently. To those who inquired about the absence at my blog of the usual pre-election notes on candidates and issues (and often my own votes), I apologized. For the first time in eight years, I wasn't a state or county Republican delegate, and other circumstances -- related neither to politics nor to writing -- had so dominated the weeks before the primary election, that I was still fishing for indicators about the candidates mere hours before the polls opened. What I found was too tenuous and too subjective to report, even for me, but it was enough to give this voter a little guidance in each race. One of my four favored candidates won; I've done worse.

It's not that I've lost interest in local or national politics. I've just been watching them from a greater distance, partly by choice and mostly by necessity -- and I hope that both the choice and the necessity are temporary. Maybe distance gives perspective, at least for a while; maybe it's just distance. But I've never found it particularly difficult to zoom out and contemplate processes, institutions, and philosophies, instead of just the spin du jour on the issues of the week. That said, I will admit to wondering more often lately what I might say that would be worth saying in the current tempest.

Watching from a Distance

At the national level, we live in a time when we're no longer surprised, let alone more outraged, when we hear of the latest misconduct by tyrants and those who abet them. Lois Lerner lost her e-mails, and so did thirteen other executives, and there's no archive or backup, which seriously inhibits investigation of the administration's use of its primary taxing agency to harm its political opponents? Seriously, is anyone surprised by that in 2014? Does anyone even believe it?

As a matter of policy, the Justice Department only prosecutes cases of voter intimidation if the victims are black and the accused perpetrators are not? Business as usual.

The President announces that, if the duly constituted legislative branch of our national government, i.e. Congress, will not enact his draconian wishes in some policy area or other, he and his executive agencies will simply do so by decree? We already knew he was doing that on dozens of fronts, including some major ones. We expect it now. It's not even news. The Supreme Court is overturning these abuses one by one, usually by large majorities, but at the present rate they won't catch up for a century or two.

Word leaks out that the White House is cooking the books, where census figures and unemployment rates are concerned, not to mention fudging the ObamaCare numbers again? Yawn.

A terrorist state is raining rockets down on Israel again, by the dozens of dozens. Other, more responsible Western heads of state are conferring with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the fund-raising First Golfer cannot even get on a phone call? We're not surprised any more. Not at all.

The Republicans in Congress are acting like lobsters in a tank, grasping cannibalistically at anyone who tries to rise up and accomplish something? For how many years has that not been news?

What does it mean for us, when we run out of outrage and horror, when we lose our capacity to be shocked or even surprised about such attacks on the American spirit?  When all we can manage -- sometimes, lately, all I can manage -- is a wry smile at how the mainstream media now complains publicly that Mr. Obama is making it much too hard for them to make him look good.

Closer to Home: When Reality and Ideology Collide

Is all this too depressing? Let's look much closer to my home. The streets in American Fork are crumbling, and the dominant faction -- to judge by the last city council election -- believes that it would be immoral to increase taxes to pay for the needed repairs. They also believe it would be immoral to borrow to jump-start our road work, even if that would be the cheapest way to handle the problem at this point -- in the long and short runs. Pay as you go is the only moral option, they say. I drive almost every day on the smashed fruits of pay-as-you-go, when it followed don't-pay-as-you-go. The real problem is that, years ago, administrations thought it politically expedient to borrow massively from the infrastructure to pay for other things. That is, they borrowed from the future, not that they called it that. Now we see the results, but the future fruits should have been pretty obvious to people who supposedly knew the numbers back then -- assuming they weren't blinded by politics or by the supposed immorality of taxing to pay for infrastructure.

I would love to be engaged in a relentless, multi-year campaign to educate the majority of American Fork voters to the realities which are getting lost beneath shallow ideologies. I have thought myself thus engaged at some points in the past. I planned to be now. Maybe I will be again sometime soon. In the meantime there are people working very hard behind the scenes to see that our current flirtation with self-righteous folly is short-lived, not an abiding, dysfunctional romance. One of the things they're trying to do is educate the opponents, one by one, who were so amazingly fact-challenged during the campaign. I have thanked these quiet heroes personally and repeatedly, talked with them and encouraged them when I could, and maybe helped a little, but not much. Sometime in the future, I'll help them more, and I'll also thank them by mentioning their names.

Meanwhile, I wish I could sit down with the new city councilors who surfed in on the moralistic wave last November. If they would speak to me candidly of such matters, I'll like to probe their thinking about these last several months, as ideology has had to confront reality. I have some experiences of my own of that sort; most of us do.

There are two of those new city councilors, and I'm sure I'd get two much different answers. I'm not interested in this so I can say, I told you so. There's not much point in saying that; anyone with whom it would register doesn't need to hear it. I'm interested generally -- and to a large degree theoretically -- in what happens when ideology and reality collide, because that's a bigger problem in America right now (among other places) than childhood obesity, climate change, and Chevy ignition switches combined.

When ideology and reality collide, do they bounce away from each other like billiard balls, or do they stick to each other like . . . somebody help me with a metaphor here. If they bounce, in which directions? If they stick together, where do they go next? In either case, do ideology and reality deform each other in the collision?

I don't know how many others are interested in such questions, but I am.

Final thought: There's a funny thing about blogging, at least for me: It's easy to get back into the groove. Now I feel another post coming on.

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