A Generational Divide: Do 20-somethings have different life expectations than previous generations did?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I work at a museum and there is a collection of new college freshmen who are there doing internships. I am having a hard time dealing with them – I’m in my 40s and they are all 20-something, and we have very different expectations and ideas about life.

Growing up, my expectations all had to do with achieving goals. The goals weren’t about emotional satisfaction as much as they were practical. Not all of them were that evolved – my mother drilled it into my head that I was supposed to find a man to take care of me and raise a family. If not, I was supposed to get trained to do some kind of secretarial work, or possibly teach. That’s what women did when she was a girl. My goal is somewhat different – I want to be the next director at my company – but what neither of us expected was to be “happy” all the time. It was all about being responsible, starting a family or establishing a means of support. She grew up during the depression, so maybe that’s why.

These young girls seem to react to everything that happens to them in a very black and white manner. Either it makes them happy – or it doesn’t. Anything that doesn’t make them happy is judged as bad or wrong. Everything else is “awesome.” I don’t know if this Happy=Good, Unpleasant/Difficult=Bad attitude is as predominant in all younger people as the ones here, but there really does seem to be a trend. Did their moms all read different books on raising kids than I did?   – Portia Past

Dr. B says: You’re right; two generations ago life was hard in America: WW2, the Depression … and people had different expectations. The environment we live in shapes our culture. Today, people are no longer in survival mode. Now, not only do they expect to be happy, they believe happiness is a right. Something got lost during the transition from survival to individual expression and self-fulfillment. We lost the sense of collectivism and duty that WW2 brought out in us.  

Reality is affected by what we do, not by what we feel. It’s our actions that affect those around us. If we make our feelings top priority, things get messy, because not only do feelings change from moment to moment, but no one can read your mind. People only see the results of what you do.  

Reality is perplexing, and truth is often the opposite of what we intuit. Many things that seemingly make us unhappy are things that ultimately bring us happiness: hard work, challenge and problems (if we solve them).  Some people are even happy being unhappy. 

Your goal-directed happiness requires only the satisfaction of accomplishment. Doing meaningful things is more far-reaching than mere happiness. Happiness alone is a poor life goal based on nothing but fleeting moments. Contentment is a sustainable well-balanced system – and a much better life goal.  

C says: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has an interesting take on emotions that gives another perspective to this issue. TCM views happiness as an integral part of living, but it gives equal importance to sadness, worry, anger and fear. All of these emotions together lead to a balanced life, but any one of them in excess may lead to illness. If we are to lead a healthy life, we should experience all emotions equally, giving no favor to any one emotion for too long. Each emotion is ascribed to an internal organ that is either benefited in the short term by its expression or damaged by dwelling on it. Too much happiness can burden the heart.

We are all made of good and bad. It is the contrast of elements that gives meaning to each. Without pain, we have nothing to measure joy against – our multi-layered depth of feeling would become one long, flat line. I can’t think of a shorter route to boring and blah.

The 20-somethings will figure this all out eventually. Or not. Either way, I wouldn’t worry about getting along with them. They will all move on soon enough, and by the time they are your age they will probably have gotten kicked in the teeth enough times to have developed either strength of character or sizable drug habits. Bon voyage! 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Decision Paralysis: What’s one reader to do with all her options?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I wanted to change my internet/TV/phone service plan, because I was paying a lot for a bundle considering I usually watch mostly Netflix or Hulu. My current plan includes at least 40 of the network and cable channels, and all I ever watch is the news. But when I decided to look into my options with my current provider plus a few others, all I got was a pounding headache – there are SO many choices out there now that just listening to them all, I wanted to give up. I still haven’t done anything. 

This happens to me a lot – I get so concerned about finding the BEST price, because there are so many different stores with different prices and sales – then there’s that one free tax weekend they have every year that I try to plan around. The thing is, if I go online, there’s unbelievable deals, but can I trust them? Or will I find a better deal later in the day AFTER I bought the thing?

Is this an obsessive compulsive disorder of some kind? Or does everyone find it hard to move when there’s too many choices?             

– Wanda Waxalot

Dr. B says: 

No it isn’t OCD; it’s normal. Studies show that the more choices we have, the more anxiety we have. That’s one reason we create institutions and traditions – they simultaneously limit our choices and create a sense of security. 

On the other hand, if we limit choices to the extent that there’s no free will, people become depressed. The key is in flexible limitations. For example: Your cable company offers these fixed plans but when you call, it’s: “just for YOU, today, if you sign up now, you also get…” Feeling like we got a bargain or won something makes us happy and gives us the sense we are special. We feel like you beat them at the game. Marketing has this scheme nailed down.  

The best option is to first examine and try to understand what your actual real need is, and then try to match that. Ignore the noise and don’t give in to the pressures and expectations of others. That is a skill that has to be learned and practiced, because it is not taught in our culture. Counseling can help if you can’t find a place or setting to master it in. 

C says: We all have our crosses to bear, Wanda. Your unlimited entertainment choices are giving you a headache … and in other parts of the world, people are living in conditions where their most important decision is limited to: “Do I try to make my home in this empty shipping container, or build one out of this tarp I found in the garbage?”

We live in a privileged society. What that means is that we waste an extraordinary amount of time fretting over crap that really doesn’t make that much of a difference – oh, no, you paid $8 a month more for your bundle than your thrifty friend did! So freakin’ what? You’ll live. Your kids won’t have to work after school in order to help the family make rent. Your village won’t be attacked in the middle of the night by psychotic militants who burn the place to the ground. You’re out $8 a month until you change plans again. Live with it.

It is very normal for Americans to worry about status, bargain hunting, the condition of their lawns and their sparkling white teeth. Do you know what scathingly few of us seem to worry about at all? Our own sense of decency and compassion, the unnecessary deaths of our most vulnerable population, and whether other people get what they need as long as we get ours. 

I don’t mean to be unkind, Wanda, but geez! Stop looking for someone to give your chronic indecision a cool medical name, and just get a grip. 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

From Concrete to Jungle: Adam Anderson continues to bring life to Rhode Island cities

You may already be familiar with Adam Anderson’s work. He’s behind one of the more glorious sights during the summer in Providence, 10,000 Suns, the field of sunflowers that blooms across the parcel of land left vacant by the I-195 highway relocation. When the city put out a request for proposals last year for the new Roger Williams Park Gateway Entrance on Broad Street, Anderson’s studio Design Under Sky (DUS) was a natural to be part of the INFORM design team; their entry became the winning bid. 

I asked Anderson about the impact of landscape architecture on urban life. “I think it is that connective tissue which makes city life possible, this thread that is essential for our existence,” he said. “As an art form, it expresses our relationship to nature and the living world, and makes us ask questions about how we are living.” 

Prior to forming DUS, Anderson worked for the award-winning offices of Landworks Studio and Ground, Inc. in Boston. There, among other projects, he designed gardens for numerous hospitals, both here and in China. “It’s another function of landscape architecture – incorporating the healing balm of nature with the urban realm. We bring nature and culture together in an artistic way, a sculptural way, that allows the two systems to work with each other.”

The colorful new RW Park Gateway Entrance is designed to welcome the Broad Street community and beckon them into the park, but the gardens also serve an environmental purpose. “We took a 100% asphalt site and turned it into a 70% permeable site. I think it’s going to play a big role in increasing the vibrancy of that area.”

Anderson notes that the influence of landscape architecture isn’t always obvious. “The designs aren’t in your face, you don’t necessarily recognize that there’s been an architect involved, but when you see it, you know it – you move through it and then you say, ‘Oh, that was nice.’” 

Anderson’s focus for now is on cities. “I’m particularly interested in urban spaces and bringing the joy and delight of the living world into them so that people can continually reconnect and have that sensibility,” he said. And the simplest design can often be the most effective. Anderson recalls his project Living Edge, just north of the new pedestrian bridge. “There was a beautiful willow tree and all I did was put a bench under it and it became this beautiful little serene spot to look at the river.” He smiled. 

“Sometimes all you need is a good tree, a nice seat and a good beer.”

For more, go to designundersky.com or follow @adameanderson

Everyone Has Baggage!: How should this reader navigate the dating mine field?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I am single and I’m okay with it, but I’d be happier if I had someone to share things with — things like the rent and everyday problems, as well as emotional and physical intimacy. The problem is that now that I am almost 40, just about everyone I meet has excess baggage. I end up feeling like I am not only dealing with them, but also everyone they ever dated or were married to who left them feeling hurt and disappointed. I met one guy who had been to therapy after his divorce, and he seemed like a possibility at first. But the more I got to know him, the more he seemed like someone who would need therapy forever … and was probably going to drag me there with him if he didn’t stop analyzing everything that happened between us as if he was going to have to take a final exam on it.

My brother suggested that I would be better off looking for someone who just doesn’t have excess baggage. You know, someone who isn’t divorced or doesn’t have past traumatic relationships cluttering their psyche. But I can’t help but think that if someone my age has never been in a real relationship, that’s a little weird. What do you think? – Judge Judy

Dr. B says: A 40-year-old who has never been in relationship most likely will be avoidant and screwed up in their own way, and someone who has been divorced obviously didn’t have the skills to pick well or the ability to communicate well. And, yes – someone who was married and has four kids will have issues that might not be obvious to an outsider. 

The fact is, all humans are imperfect and many are broken. This is unavoidable since we are raised by humans and live in a world populated by them. As a result, everything is imperfect and many things are a mess. You noted that at 40 most people have baggage, but I would argue that most 16-, 25- and 36-year-olds have baggage, too. It’s just different baggage. Young people carry unrealistic expectations, entitlement and fantasies with them. Sometimes they already carry real trauma from domestic violence at home or sexual abuse. Baggage comes from being lied to about the nature of reality, sexuality and relationships and from our role models who have messed up values. Show me someone who isn’t screwed up and I will show you someone you don’t know very well.   

That guy you described who’s in therapy for life? Well, we should all be. Isn’t a life unexamined a life not worth living? At least he knows he has issues and is working on them. Most people just blame everyone else like you are doing. It seems like you are looking for someone just like you. There is only one you, that doesn’t mean everyone else is a pain in the ass. If you don’t want to be alone, you need to learn to embrace imperfection. Conflicts are a part of life. Having good boundaries and communication skills, learning tolerance and humility, and balancing these with self-assurance, goals and mutual intent makes relationships work. If you don’t know your own flaws, it will make it hard to see how someone else’s might help to challenge you to grow. I am not saying you should tolerate disrespect or abuse. Avoid the assholes, but if you find a saint, you’ll learn they can be assholes, too. All relationships take work and commitment. Given the average relationship expectations and skills most people have, all relationships need therapy.  

C says: Honestly, in my experience, those guys who went to therapy and come out analyzing everything are the pits. They just don’t know when to quit, and who wants to live with an amateur therapist? Even the professionals have family problems that are just as messed up as anyone else’s. God save us from the dilettantes. 

Look, instead of searching for some guy who has all the qualities you want, concentrate on developing those qualities yourself. If you want honesty, be honest. If you want humor, lighten up. If you want perfect, go ahead and try to be perfect. Eventually you will figure out it doesn’t exist. In the meantime, you are far more likely to draw people of quality if you are a person of quality yourself.

If you want to find a good partner, look for someone with whom you can find balance in life, not someone who is just like you. It’s not necessary to want the exact same things, but you should both have the same integrity toward what you do and respect for what the other does. Sometimes people who make the best partners are opposites in many ways. But life is like a jigsaw puzzle – it’s not about the pieces all being the same, it’s about finding the right fit.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Unmasked Too Soon: What’s one reader to do with her overly optimistic friends?

Dear C and Dr. B;

Yay, the pandemic is over! Except it isn’t. But some of my stupider friends are acting like it is. Three of them have already made plans to go south and head to the beaches for Spring Break. When I expressed my concern, I got: “Oooo…the bio chem major thinks she’s already a doctor!” Then yesterday when I was hiding out in a corner of the library, these four people walked in wearing masks to get past the door monitor, then they all came back, sat at the table next to mine, and took their masks off to study. When I politely asked them if they could either move to a safe distance or put their masks back on, one of them sneered, “Back off, bitch!” and the rest laughed and snickered.

OK, maybe I am just more aware because in my classes we’ve discussed what the medical consequences from opening restrictions too early could be. But come on! This is something we all should know. News about the variants is in the headlines every day! Our teachers have been vaccinated, but none of the students are going to qualify for months. What can I do to protect myself without alienating everyone around me?  _ Safe Sadie

Dr. B says:

You are 100% correct. Ignoring the truth and clinging to a belief we desire to be true is the current American way, probably even the human way. Going to Spring Break unmasked and crowding together to party is just plain stupid. There will be an increase in COVID afterward, and some people will die as a result of these actions.  

Being right is often associated with being disliked. It becomes a question of – what do you value? If you try to compromise and go along with the crowd but mask up and keep a distance, not only will you be made fun of and ostracized, but you will  probably be exposed anyway. There’s no way to protect yourself in uncontrolled circumstances. In legal terms, you are “guilty by association.” You chose to be there! 

The best advice is: Don’t agree to that which you don’t agree with. If you go along with your friends, you will get trapped in their bad decisions. Find like-minded people who are making better decisions and hang out with them. The quality of your life is determined largely by the skill set of the people you associate with.

The “cross the divide” attitude that we hear so much of now just doesn’t work – this thinking is premature and based on denial and wishful thinking, not science – it’s one reason why the infection rates aren’t going down. We are being misinformed and manipulated by certain sectors of the media that ignore both facts from experts and  basic common sense. You won’t become popular for sticking to the truth – but you and those around you might live longer. 

C says: Let’s face it – as a nation, we are largely self-entitled. Right or wrong, it is not an attitude that is going to change just because of a pesky pandemic. Many people take the motto “Live Free or Die,” quite literally.

Spring Break was doomed to be a fiasco. It’s spring! Youthful hormones are bursting forth and the adolescent brain is consumed with lust, not common sense. Young people always feel invulnerable … until they are smacked in the face by a life-altering catastrophe. Until then, they just don’t get it and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it except stay the hell away.

People will always want to kill the messenger. Ironically, after the dust settles, it is sometimes only the messenger who is left to tell the tale.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Grrrr!: Should this reader embrace the anger or expel it?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I want to know what I can do with my anger, and if I hear one more person suggest meditation I’m gonna slap them. I DO meditate. I do yoga every day. I’ve been to therapy, I’ve tried medication. None of it does a damn thing to change my reflexive nature. Through good times and bad, my most readily accessible emotion when things screw up is anger.

I have come to accept my anger. I think there may be a genetic component to it. My grandfather, I hear, was one of the angriest men ever. He was on his way to becoming a top prize fighter when his dad died and he had to take care of the family. He channeled that boxer’s aggression and anger into success – even during the depression, he rose to the top of his sales force and never knew when to quit. I do think that anger can propel people past their comfort zone … if it doesn’t tear them apart first.

So this is why I am wondering if you have anything other than the usual “yoga, meditation, bipolar meds, blah blah blah” BS to offer me here. I think I’m getting ahead of my other coworkers in our company because my drive is greater than theirs. I don’t want my personality artificially altered. I just need something that can expel excess agitation when it builds up, before I jump out of my own skin. Got any bright ideas?

Angry Alice

Dr B says: Do what your grandfather did. The technical term is called sublimation. Join a sport that will utilize your aggressive nature as a plus and use up most of that energy for the day. Studies show running a mile will give you two hours of calm focus. You can take a run every two hours at work if it makes you calm and productive you can probably get it worked into your accepted work plan. You can always get a medical note from your doctor if your work requires it. Or you can do what a lot of school kids do – join a sports team and practice in a 5:30am slot. Go to the gym, take up lifting. Any of these things have worked for a lot of people. If it doesn’t work for you, then you might have to rethink your preconceived ideas about medications to adjust your genetic predisposition. Why not? It is just what the medications are for. Those that target anger work very well if the patient is not living in a stress-producing life.

C says: I beg to differ. This textbook advice based on academic studies doesn’t address a very key issue here: There is a huge difference between anger and energy. Running and team sports work off excess energy, but if physical activities were all it took to tame anger, then you would not see so many professional athletes being charged with acts of  brutality and violence off the field. Let’s face it, Alice – if it is your nature to get angry at just about everything, I doubt if team sports or running will calm you. You will probably just end up getting pissed off at your bumbling teammates or your untied shoe laces. 

There’s something else going on here and you need to address whatever has turned your energy into anger. A wise person once said: “The cause of all anger is unmet expectations.” So which of your expectations are not being met? Figure it out! This is a different world than the one your grandpa lived in. During the Depression it was a dog eat dog world and powerful, ruthless men prevailed. In our modern world, success in civilized society requires the ability to cooperate and gain the support of others. With your attitude, you are just as likely to eventually be met with lawsuits as with success.

Current stress is not always the source of anger – people who were abused as children have an increased risk of something called intermittent explosive disorder. This can cause seemingly unfounded rage, but the source is in the past. A number of mental health disorders can cause disruptive emotions. Back in Grandpa’s day, a great deal of abusive behavior was written off as the natural entitlement of powerful men, but your grandfather may have been mentally ill. 

As far as the “why not?” advice on medication – this is what makes ME angry. We have an incredibly casual attitude toward taking pills in this country. Advertising and the pharmaceutical industry have conned us into believing that all it takes to improve our lives is the right pill. The problem is that this idea is not making us any healthier, happier or wiser. According to international health studies, the United States has some of the worst mental health–related outcomes of any industrial country, including the highest suicide rate and second-highest drug-related death rate. 

Medications are for sick people who can’t live without them. Anger with a real source has got to be faced, not buried. And self-control is something every adult needs to learn. Don’t confuse anger with power, Alice. It is just another negative emotion that will ultimately lead to only more of the same.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Mean Girls: How should this reader deal with school bullies?

Dear C and Dr. B;

As if having virtual classrooms wasn’t bad enough, I recently had the horrible experience of having this little click of snotty girls decide to target me.

Even before COVID isolation, I was very sensitive and didn’t have many friends. Virtual learning made it easier for me to express myself. So, for English class, when we were asked to describe a personal experience. I wrote about what I went through during my parents’ divorce in the middle of the pandemic. I guess the other kids just wrote about stuff like their favorite song or making cookies, because the teacher singled my essay out as being the one example of honest, insightful writing. She said “This is one girl who has the courage to tell us what she is really feeling.” She may as well have pounded the last nail into my coffin.

That same afternoon, the girl group decided to make me the brunt of ongoing jokes – they call me “Boo Hoo” as in “Boo hoo! My parents don’t love me!” Every time I go online for class, they snicker at me and say things like “We wish we had your courage.” 

It seems like they want to torture me. Why? For having feelings? Why are they doing this? It seems as if they think they are “cool” to not care about anything. Even though I feel like there is something wrong with the girls who are attacking me, it still really hurts. 

Betty Bruised 

Dr. B says: One of our recent columns was about how speaking to immature individuals as if they were 5 years old, no matter how old they are, can bring good results. This is because the level of basic verbal communication skill of many (if not most) Americans is at about that age level. Your peers are a perfect example – you wrote a good essay and got praise from an adult teacher and this singled you out for ridicule. Your work should have been seen as a good thing. You took a risk, you showed initiative, you were creative. That is great! But sometimes the 5-year-olds can be jerks. They don’t like it when the attention is not on them. They will bully anyone who allows themselves to be bullied. 

Try not to take it to heart; it isn’t personal. Don’t give them any more attention or satisfaction than if your 5-year-old brother was vying for your mom’s attention by pulling your hair. That is all it is. If their tactics become verbally threatening, or if they write public comments that are racist or demeaning, copy it and forward it to the administration. Five-year-olds need to learn that there are consequences for their behavior. 

Otherwise ignore it, and try to wish them well. Hope that they will learn and grow and find more meaningful things to pursue in their own lives. If you can do this, it is much healthier than harboring resentment, anger, sadness or fear – it allows you to look at others with compassion, even if they are being mean or stupid.

C says: Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Betty. This is good practice for the real world. There’s a lot of mean and stupid people out there. 

I’m not sure what career you are planning to pursue when you get out of school, but you seem to have a talent for writing. Fair warning: The moment you publish anything that has depth or meaning, a lot of jerks, along with well-educated critics, are going to crawl out of the woodwork and either make your life a living hell or laud you lavishly. I suggest that you not pay attention to either side. Honest expression requires that you are swayed by neither damnation or praise.

There is a saying among those who train in martial arts: “The average person sees everything that comes to them as either a curse, or a blessing. The warrior sees everything that comes as another challenge to be met.” If you do anything significant in life, Betty, you will be constantly challenged. Get used to it, and consider these girls part of your entrance exam.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Pandemic Pod Person: His vibrant wife was replaced with a couch potato. What gives?

Dear C and Dr. B;

Before COVID, my wife almost never watched TV. She’d tune in for news, but that was about it. Now all she seems to do anymore is surf Netflix and binge on series she had absolutely no interest in before the pandemic. These new sports are doing nothing for her cardiovascular system, and it’s changing the things she talks about. 

I asked her what the deal was, and she bitched for half an hour about how much she hates Zoom and how all of the virtual programming that is supposed to connect everybody just makes her feel more separate – the sound and picture quality is so bad it’s like communicating with an orbiting space station. She likes the familiarity of the polished film production on Netflix; she likes being in control of what she watches.

I feel like my wife has been replaced with a pod person. But it’s not just her, it seems like everyone is either living a virtual life or living on entertainment apps. It’s scaring me. Is real life becoming a thing of the past? And what is going to happen when the pandemic is over?    – Shudder To Think

Dr. B says: We all have to survive in our own way. With frigid temps, snow and most things closed, what life is there but the virtual one? Since watching Netflix is what most people are doing, the shows are what they are talking about. Watching the same programs gives your wife a way of connecting  with her friends on Zoom. I suggest not fighting it. Why not find some mutual shows you both enjoy? The weather will break soon and then you can turn off the TV and get outside. Take day trips to  nature preserves and maybe start a garden. 

Since she wasn’t a TV fan before, when other options become available again, there’s no reason she would choose to be a couch potato. Is skiing an option for the two of you now? Don’t worry. Summer is coming. 

C says: I am not so certain that the new habits your wife has developed will go away like seasonal allergies. No one knows what is going to happen when the pandemic is over and for now the point is moot – despite popular demand, COVID ain’t over yet. 

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, Shudder, but I don’t think we are ever going to return to the way of life we had before. Just as 911 forever changed our collective perception of national security, the COVID pandemic will forever change our awareness of contagions and personal space. We have all become more wary of each other, and with good cause. Every day, new viruses and mutations pop up, ready to take over where COVID leaves off. 

So it looks like Zoom and binge watching will be with us for a while. If your wife’s friends are still watching and talking, she’ll likely continue watching and talking too. I’m sure you can get your her out  when the weather warms up, but do not be surprised if as soon as you get back home, she’s turning on the tube again. For now, those shows are a reliable comfort food for our befuddled souls.

It could be worse – as far as addictions go, the monthly cost of Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime is far less than the cost of heroin or crack. And if your wife overdoses on seven seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy,” she isn’t risking a trip to the ER unless it’s from hypochondria. I’m sure that the woman you love is still in there – put some effort into wooing her back. If you give her a good reason to turn off the tube, she will.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Saying it Out Loud: Teen poetry competition gives students the tools to reflect

Teens, poetry and excitement seem like an unlikely combination – but therein lies the magic of Poetry Out Loud. Since 2005, the program has been engaging new generations of students to not only read, but to embrace the rich legacy of this art form by competing to recite a poem, thereby making it their own.

Poetry Out Loud is an arts education program and competition created by The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. By working in partnership with state arts agencies, the program has grown to reach more than 4 million students and 65,000 teachers from 16,000 schools. It fulfills a crucial need that has only grown since the advent of the pandemic – an accessible educational program that really motivates students to learn.

“Poetry, when I was a girl, was done in junior high school,” said Martha Lavieri, program coordinator for Poetry Out Loud RI. “Some ancient English teacher would ask us to memorize ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and it had no meaning to me at all.” She noted that for students today, the concept of poetry has been affected by rap and spoken word. “Cadence has changed, storytelling has changed, and social justice dominates the issues expressed,” Lavieri told us. “It is far more culturally sensitive, which is a good thing.”  

Competitors are asked to recite one poem from a curated anthology, and this year’s collection is one that high school students can really connect to; the Foundation has been responsive to students’ and teachers’ desire for poems that reflect ethnic diversity and cultural issues. “We feel like we are working with an organization that is listening,” said Lavieri. “They’ve been doing an outstanding job.”

Rhode Island is fortunate to have Kate Lohman and Motif poetry curator Damont Combs to assist in facilitating the program in local classrooms. Both Lohman and Combs are teaching artists who offer a wealth of experience in writing and performing.

Lohman said, “I teach oral communication at Providence College and even there it’s hard for students to begin. A poem can get you talking about a topic … something as personal as being lonely. Teens, especially, have intensely complex emotions, but they don’t always have language for what they’re feeling. Poems give them a place to start and the means to reflect and process.” 

“There’s such courage in these kids,” said Lavieri. “It’s not just the poems or the competition – there’s a personal story for each one of them. I can’t think of anything that I’ve done in terms of work or career that’s given me as much satisfaction as this has – watching the strength of these kids and the dedication of the teachers.” 

Poetry Out Loud is supported in RI by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Learn more at the national website poetryoutloud.org. On March 21 at noon, the 2021 state finals will be streamed live on Zoom; tune in on May 2 for the national semi-finals, and on May 27 for the final match. All events are open to the public – find the Zoom link and updates at facebook.com/Poetryoutloudri. 

Cover-Up Job: The Creative Capital rejects a cheerful neighborhood mural

The storefront between Blake’s Tavern and Washington Street Market had been boarded up for months. To passing traffic the dingy, graffiti-marked wall was an eyesore; for Ryan Dean and Lara Henderson, it was a potential canvas.  

The collaborative team had recently helped a new restaurant down the street, turning a broken and boarded up window into a bright mural. The two welcomed another opportunity to bring art to the neighborhood. So after getting encouragement from nearby businesses, they got to work. 

As Dean and Henderson began painting, they drew an audience. “People would walk by, we’d have conversations … it was a way of building community,” Dean said. “We got a lot of positive feedback, thanks and praise for the work we were doing. It was a good way of getting to know passersby and new neighbors.” Despite the freezing weather, within two or three weeks the drab wall had become transformed – the painted characters were playful, the colors engaging.

Then just as the mural neared completion, it was painted over.

To Dean, the cover-up is somewhat of a mystery. “It was funny, because we saw the Downtown Improvement District team walking down the street while we were painting, and they seemed into it, and happy for us. But that was also the same organization that painted it over, so there is some kind of miscommunication. We don’t know where that decision came from.” Dean wasn’t aware of any complaints.

It might have been that the site was next on the list to get a new coat of latex, but the timing is curious. The expanse had been falling into disrepair for at least six months. Yet it was only after local artists created a mural that it got the cover-up.

“It’s kind of two different ideas,” said Dean, “about what an inviting Avenue of the Arts in the Creative Capitol should look like.” To be fair, the neutral tan color doesn’t clash with surrounding buildings – but neither does it welcome visitors to the block or engage them.

Attempts to contact the city have so far met a dead end and Dean is frustrated: “This could have been a real opportunity for artists to engage with their community – Lara and I live in the area, so it was something we would walk by everyday. Neighbors would stop and say that it made them happy to see something fun, so it was a little sad to see that go.”

This may have been a missed opportunity, but Providence Mayor Elorza has shown a clear appreciation of the arts, and Dean and Henderson have a sincere desire to grow community through art. If communication can be forged between parties, perhaps the future holds other possibilities.