Archive for August, 2014

Reporting in Ann Arbor

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

The Ann Arbor Chronicle ends next week. One of the more successful – by some definitions – news publications in a long while. After six years the Editor and Publisher are calling it quits. David Askins and Mary Morgan have gone above and beyond the call of duty, and apparently that is not a sustainable business model, or lifestyle.

There have always been an odd assortment of publications in Ann Arbor, and I’m thankful that I have written for a number of them. Two special pieces in the Chronicle on people important to our community – Ken King and Dick Siegel. I also posted very frequent “Stopped Watched” short reports, on many natural and unnatural events I observed mostly while just walking around.

As a digression, I started by helping to create and write for “Yenta” – a student publication at Community High School in the ’70s. Our motton was “Chicken Soup for the Mind”. I wrote a few pieces for the Ann Arbor Alchemist, one I story in particular really enjoyed on the underground vaulted sidewalks downtown. I’ve written for The Ann Arbor News (guest editorials), The Crazy Wisdom Journal, I started and wrote many years formy own nearly monthly newsletter called “Contributions to Wisdom”. The best part of that newsletter was the monthly interviews of people who I found interesting, generous, and doing important work. I also wrote a few pieces for “The Ann Arbor Observer”. The first was on capturing a swarm of bees, then on the death of my odd neighbor, and most recently on a trip down the Huron River. I was also asked to blog for The reinvented Ann Arbor News – annarbor.com.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle had, from the start, a very clear mission. My interpretation of that is striving for very high standards of writing and reporting, an obligation to report for the community and provide an accessible record of public and especially governmental events. It turned into a forum for thoughtful and mostly kind commentary and additional contributions form readers. Something that informed readers in Ann Arbor no longer take for granted. David and Mary also became frightfully informed sources able to quickly reference and make sensible previous decisions, and related actions. Their ability to provide deep background and useful explanations became more and more awesome the longer The Chronicle went on.

The current version of The Ann Arbor News (reinvented yet again from annarbor.com reinvented from the The Ann Arbor News) continues to provide much of the important day to day “hey there was an accident”, this is happening or has happened, breaking stories, informing us of crime and mayhem. Some good recipes, access to restaurant inspections, and some good news as well. It is a quicker, simpler, more basic kind of news without the context and linking that The Chronicle excelled at. The “news” also has its moments of awfulness, I agree. A running joke around here is in any breaking news event waiting for the story of how people feel about what happened rather than actual reporting on what happened. The recent ferris wheel mishap seemed especially heavy on reporting if people would still go on the ride. This is not news reporting.

The comment section of the Ann Arbor News is especially painful as nearly all the comments actually add nothing of any substance, but are quick conclusions, strongly stated opinions without a lot of substance attached, and often confusion and misinformation. It often destroys any positive reaction I have to a story, and leaves me wondering about the fate of humanity. Signed and verified comments would improve things I believe. The accusation is that it isn’t done because comments increase clicks which increase ad revenue. Yikes. This is no way to get good content.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle ended up relying heavily on voluntary paid subscriptions. Mary tells me I may be the longest subscriber they had. I would be very proud of that if it is true. I believe in these alternative funding models, and while my support was never in large amounts of money, the persistent confidence and trust that a regular payment portrays is also a very vital part of supporting a venture I truly believe in.

I will miss reporting for the Chronicle’s Stopped Watched column. I’ll try and do more of that in my blog. Short, interesting posts that are image heavy. I will miss The Ann Arbor Chronicle as a resource. But I trust other venues will emerge. There is a very funny group of people who tweet city council meetings, #a2council They may become the public record of actions taken within city hall. That would be funny, and not all bad. But a little weird, like the fact that so many now rely on Jon Stewart to get the world news.

It matters a lot to me that Mary and Dave stick around, even that they are in my neighborhood. I hope their next adventures will include my selfish need to have people as funny, talented, creative and with such enormous integrity near by. I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Local reporting can be done so much more on an individual basis. Blogs, facebook, twitter, are three dominant methods. Relying a bit on larger corporations that are in it for the money isn’t all bad. They do employ some talented, creative, and caring people. I know many at The Ann Arbor News, and respect those individuals. I refuse to be bitter or absolute in my critique of that news source. A broad brush does not meaningfully describe what they are contributing.

The best thing that can happen next is creative, interesting ideas for local news and information. The largest hole that will need to be quickly addressed is the need for eyes on government. Openness and transparency in public work requires good and extensive press coverage. Dave and Mary set a new much higher standard, and proved how important this is. How do we meet it now?

Saving a Life

Monday, August 4th, 2014

How many lives have you “saved”? What does that even mean? Is that a responsibility that anyone should accept?

There are numerous feel good stories about people who save someone from dying. Pulling a driver from a car wreck, successfully getting people at risk out of a dangerous country, stopping an attack on the street, knowing critical first aid. But what happens next can be complicated.

There are at least 6 people who I can say my intervention saved them from likely death, five of those instances confirmed by medical practitioners. In 34 years of practicing holistic health care there are other instances of helping people “wake up” to life, regain a sense of meaning and purpose, make lifestyle changes that certainly enhanced and prolonged life. And dozens of times I was consulted about what medical care was needed – and I was fortunate to know enough to send them to the ER or urgent care when it turned out conventional care was urgently needed.

Some were friends, some family, some clients, some complete strangers.

Considering those moments, those stories, those decisions can feel burdensome. Heavy. Partly because if I did indeed save these lives, the converse can also be true that I could have dropped the ball, made the wrong decision, and participated in someone dying. And not everyone will appreciate or thank you or even agree that your actions were helpful.

I don’t think we are meant to be responsible for other people’s lives. Even a parent is priming their children to let go, be on their own, be responsible for themselves. Holding on and claiming authority or ownership of another can’t work. If you are a parent, a teacher, or someone who has saved a life, you must let go.

The cliche “life goes on” is especially profound in this circumstance. You may have touched a person in a deeply meaningful and significant way. Then the best thing to do is to step back, let life go on, and be at peace with that. Maybe you’ll continue the relationship and be thanked on their death bed. That has happened to me. Maybe you’ll be vilified for your actions. Yes, I’ve had that as well. You may never see the person again, or only casually. Or they were too young to know your part or your role has been dropped from the story. That has also happened. Of the 6 people I did rescue, two would deny it and they also let me know they are angry about my intervention. Not everyone welcomes such an intimate and real contact. My one experience with a birth where there was a life threatening complication, it ended a long time close friendship.

I like it when it turns out I am the right person, with the right skills, at the right place, at the right time. And I can reflect that I did the best I could. Thirty years after the fact, my brother told the story of being exactly that. He had been trained in first aid and overdose aid, and as a 16 year old in 1973 he was staffing the first aid tent at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. They were handling people with bad trips, dehydration, simple things.

Then they were called to deal with a young man who was choking, whose airway was cut off. From some drug or allergic reaction, no one knew and there was no time to tell. As David told the story, they had all been trained to do an emergency tracheotomy but of course no one had actually done it. And David and the adults he was with all knew that was needed. But who would be willing to give it a try in this life or death situation?

No one was stepping forward, so David called for the pocket knife and a pen to use as a temporary tube. He says he cut the man’s throat, in the right spot, and inserted the pen piece. The man was breathing and regaining some color when the ambulance finally arrived.

The emergency crew quickly took over, but one of the paramedics commented that they didn’t want to know who did the emergency trach, but whoever did it did a good job and certainly saved the man’s life. What would he have said if he knew it was the bearded 16 year old standing by?

David told the story with great relief – he took action and it worked. It wasn’t the first time he was called to act quickly and decisively. He was the one who found the client who had tumbled down the stairs at the crisis center, fracturing his skull and lying in a pool of blood. He was the one who found the neighbor’s home on fire, and grabbed a hose while calling out for someone else to dial 911. David was very good in emergencies.

He also shook it off. He extracted what he could learn from each crisis, pondered why he saw so many of them, and evaluated his actions and those who were also involved. And then let it go, let life go on. Although he also relished a good dramatic story, and enjoyed sharing the lessons learned when he could.

I’m not entangled in the lives I’ve saved or the times I’ve been able to help. It works better that way, and I also don’t hesitate to be open to the opportunities to help. I believe in each person’s autonomy and hope they can be powerful, strong, fully enabled human beings. I truly cherish those intimate connections and sometimes grieve when that intimacy is cut off or fizzles away. And life goes on.