Paula Garrett

Celebrating the Real First

Oct 9, 2018


On a recent boat tour aboard Pittsburgh’s Gateway Clipper, our guide told us that about 30 miles down the Ohio River lies what is reportedly the first human settlement in North America, the Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Archaeologists have dated it to some 16,000 years ago.  

The Last Fox Tale

Sep 3, 2018
Susan Stephens / WNIJ


The Summer Sport Of Unlearning Helplessness

Jul 31, 2018

I’m taking solace on my front porch these long summer days. Basking in the semi-outdoors as I view the parade of neighbors led by their canine friends.

The problem though is most of my porch time is consumed by reading the New York Times – usually while listening to NPR (on WNIJ of course).

Digesting the news, I go from feeling aghast, irate, fed up and fearful into a numbing sense of helplessness. And then I get mad all over again when I realize I may be falling prey to “learned helplessness.”

The Wizard Behind The Works

Jun 26, 2018

I’m intrigued by the creativity that lies behind the scenes in music, film, theater, and writing. Those people whose names may be unfamiliar, but whose work and talent are fundamental to the production or composition – studio musicians and web designers, theatrical prop builders, and movie location scouts.

And have you thought about who’s behind radio productions like this one? Sound engineers, producers, and most definitely, editors.

How The Ivories Tickle Imagination

May 22, 2018

I recently started taking piano lessons – again. The first time, I was around 10 years old.

We didn’t have a piano so I practiced on my cardboard keyboard. I guess my parents thought that demonstrated commitment, so eventually they surprised me with a big, old converted player piano. When puberty set in, I became less motivated and started fibbing in my practice log.

A Re-Imagining Of The Dream

Apr 3, 2018

Fifty years ago tomorrow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, my hometown. I lived in white suburbia -- immune from, and to a great extent uneducated about, the strife suffered by the people he represented.

I was a sophomore in high school – the age of some of the students gunned down in Parkland, Florida. As I reflect on my teenage years, I stand in awe of those student survivors and believe their response evokes Reverend King’s message of non-violent protest and action.

Brave Teens Give Us Hope

Mar 6, 2018

I grew up watching westerns. “Gunsmoke” was part of my family’s Saturday night ritual, during which I’d be polishing my fingernails for church the next day.

In retrospect I think Miss Kitty -- the Long Branch Saloon madam -- got planted in my psyche as a strong female role model. Of course I was naïve about her profession; I just liked her independent spirit and her red hair. As an adult, hers was one of my favorite Halloween personas to adorn.

Soothing That 'Lost Voice'

Jan 30, 2018

I’m stuck. I go to my list of ideas for Perspective topics, and they all look tired. I feel empty of opinions that matter, devoid of any insight. It’s January; the holidays are over and my birthday just passed. 2018 is new and I feel old.

I know I have to snap out of it, so I eat what’s left of the coffee ice cream in the freezer and chase it with a diet Dr. Pepper. Where’s my discipline, my muse?

It’s too easy and boring to blame the weather or politics. I want to inspire you, and myself, so I’ll tell you about a concert I recently enjoyed.

What Is 'Boxing Day' Anyway?

Dec 26, 2017

The day after Christmas and, if you celebrated this holiday, you may be breathing a sigh of relief that the frenzy is finally over, or you may be feeling that post-present let down – especially since it’s a Tuesday, and you may have go back to work.

Today is also Boxing Day, largely a Commonwealth observance that I used to think was related to boxing up those presents that didn’t fit or were just downright hideous for a store return or charity donation.

What Should The Day After Mean?

Nov 21, 2017

A couple of Thanksgivings ago -- driving back to the western suburbs from Chicago -- I got caught in a major traffic backup on I-88. My first thought was how awful that someone had been in an accident on this day of family gatherings.

But as we inched along, finally getting close to our exit at Farnsworth, we realized we were trapped in the Black Friday mob lining up for the midnight opening of the outlet mall. Then I got really annoyed.

A Satisfying Trip Home

Oct 17, 2017

On a recent flight back to Chicago from Memphis, I had a beautiful sunset view of the Mississippi River, snaking along and defining the border between Tennessee and Arkansas.

Situated in the southwest corner of Tennessee, Memphis is more akin to the Mississippi Delta and the Arkansas farmland than to east Tennessee and Appalachia. And that geography, along with the river, is woven into the city’s DNA. Its rich musical heritage was cultivated from the confluence of rural and urban, black and white.

This Difficult Choice Should Be Available

Sep 12, 2017

Every day we face numerous decisions. Some seem automatic like getting out of bed, turning on the radio, or checking our phones.

Then there are those big life decisions: choosing a partner or not, children or not, career paths. But when it comes to end-of-life decisions, many of us avoid drawing up a will, documenting burial or cremation preference, determining which (if any) life-support measures should be performed. 

A New Look At Musical Heritage

Aug 8, 2017

You never know what you may discover – and learn – when you set off on a road trip, even if it’s just one state over. 

Destination: The Traverse City Film Festival.
Mission: Films that may not make it commercially.

Michael Moore, the festival’s founder, puts it this way: “We need movies that seek to enrich the human spirit … not the bottom line.”

In the documentary “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,” Buffy Sainte-Marie tells us there’s medicine in the arts. She’s one of the many Native American musicians profiled in this extraordinary film.

Another Take On Independence

Jul 4, 2017

When I told a friend I was writing about freedom for this 4th of July Perspective, she said it was funny I should mention this on June 19th.

As an African American, she recognizes this date as Independence Day -- the day in 1865 when word of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that put an end to slavery reached the last outpost of Texas.

I'm proud to live in the Land of Lincoln, but I'm enraged and disgusted by the so-called leaders of our country who model racism and embolden acts of hatred.

A Different Kind Of Graduation

May 30, 2017

It’s graduation season, and the anticipation is palpable at the high school where I’m the librarian. Our seniors have been marking the countdown with giant numbers they’ve suspended over the second-story balcony.

Caps and gowns have been delivered; yearbooks are being signed; and our printers are overflowing with final papers.

A few weeks ago I told a class of seniors my news: After 16 school years, at least at this institution, I’ll be graduating with them – and that I, too, have a bad case of “senioritis” in anticipation of my retirement.

When Art Unites, It's Amazing

Apr 25, 2017

Record Store Day was this past Saturday, and it prompted a flashback to the ’70s when I'd head to my local record store to buy an album every other Friday.  That was payday – with an actual check I had to take to the bank to cash.

A big part of the pleasure was browsing the cover art, which – more than once – was the deciding factor in my selection. In fact, I think the exposure to art that my record store trips provided was almost as significant to my aesthetic stimulation as the music itself.

Tributes In A Faraway Land

Mar 28, 2017

“Kia Ora.” The flight attendant used this Maori greeting as we approached the islands of New Zealand. My vacation had begun, and I’d escaped to the “land of the long white cloud,” Aoteaora.

The rain cleared, and a spectacular specimen of that cloud formation stretched endlessly over the harbor in Wellington, the capital city at the bottom of the North Island. I took it as a welcome, and it turned out to be a harbinger of good weather for the trip.

Job Exchanges Can Open The World

Feb 28, 2017

Ever thought of swapping your identity with someone else? Job exchanges are one way, and luckily, I’ve been able to do two in my career.

Both were in Australia: the first in the capital, Canberra, and the second in Sydney. I spent six months each time taking on the life of my exchange partner and experiencing the world from a whole new perspective -- something that seems massively appealing these days.

A Place To Find Solace

Jan 31, 2017

In the midst of bleak times, weather-wise and otherwise, I need an antidote for gray days and alternative facts. “There’s so much beauty in the world,” a friend said, trying to cheer me up.

So I imagine springtime gathering its energy below the dirty snow and project out four years, hopefully sooner, when mobilizing truth-sayers have gathered critical mass. 

Meanwhile, I find solace and inspiration in art – musical, visual, written, performance, and those creations that defy classification and often expose us to diverse cultures.

"Use your words." Over the holidays, I heard this phrase spoken to children; but as adults I think we, too, need that reminder -- to take care in our conversations and be alert when we hear not just lazy language but also euphemisms that can skew reality.

Summer Brennan gives us some timely examples in her LitHub column on language and power: "A lie becomes 'a claim,' equality becomes 'identity politics,' a protestor is 'an economic terrorist,' a propagandist - 'a maverick.'"

Let's Go Beyond 'Keep Calm'

Dec 6, 2016

I’ve been considering the slogan, “Keep calm and carry on,” its myriad permutations, and why I find them irritating. Being a librarian, I did my research – talked to a historian, explored the slogan’s “official” website, and read a few published articles.

As you may know, it was part of a morale-boosting campaign in World War II Britain during the threat of a Nazi invasion. The saying was to be on one of three posters, but this one was never released to the public.

It resurfaced around 2008 during the banking crisis and has been employed relentlessly ever since.

What About The Future?

Nov 8, 2016

Election Day is here and, although I don’t like wishing time away, I’m way past ready for the campaigning to end. Yet when I think about what’s next, I have to be honest with myself: No matter who wins, the issues that are dividing us will remain and may even intensify.

I knew I had strong feelings about what we’ve been witnessing throughout this presidential campaign. But it was only after listening to “This American Life” a couple weeks ago that I realized the level of my stress and frustration. 

Peddling Fear Is Not A Solution

Oct 11, 2016

I recently saw one of the most upbeat people I know utterly distraught over fear for her son and husband -- and for no other reason than the color of their skin.

It gave me a close-up look at the day-to-day reality too many people have to endure. It defies any notion of freedom, much less civil rights.

Maybe, as another friend suggested, we’re not necessarily witnessing an increase in the abuse of power, but more instances are being recorded and reported. I don’t know but, to me, it feels like my country is spiraling into chaos, and fear is playing a key role.

Don't Let The Web Limit Your Searches

Sep 13, 2016

In 1991 when I was the librarian at Fermilab, I had the memorable experience of seeing an early version of the World Wide Web. I huddled in an office cubicle with a crowd of physicists and computer scientists to see a demo by Tim Berners-Lee, who at the time was a scientist at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland.

The Drive For The Perfect Color

Aug 23, 2016

Lately I’ve been thinking about color, which we see only because of the differences in wavelengths of visible light. If you delve into the physics of the matter, it’s really like beauty -- in the eye of the beholder.

Time To Play 'The Woman Card'?

Aug 1, 2016

Last week I was catching up with a friend I’ve known over 30 years. When our conversation turned to the Democratic National Convention, I told her I was trying to understand why I felt uncomfortable with speeches that centered on female firsts and in general “played the woman card.”

When Does The Sentence End?

Jul 12, 2016

A few weeks ago I was in traffic and behind an Illinois Department of Corrections vehicle. And yes, there was someone looking out the van’s back window through the bars.

I had a strange duet of feelings: sadness coupled with a tinge of fear – wondering who this person was, why they were there, and what did they do, or at least what were they accused of doing.

A Couple Of Thoughts About Solstice

Jun 21, 2016

Yesterday the sun reached its northernmost point in the sky – marking the summer solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere. According to Sky and Telescope, we’ve traveled 292 million miles from winter to summer.

Our planet’s axis is now tilted toward the sun, our life-sustaining energy source. Gardens are blooming, and local markets are thriving. We’re basking in hours and hours of daylight and extended twilight. And the solar power business is booming.

A Season Of Anticipation

May 31, 2016

The end of May feels like the end of a year, much like late August/early September feels like the start of a new one. I’m sure this is because so much of my life has been structured around the school year.

By now, students and teachers alike are counting the days. The promise of summer vacation is so close – just beyond the hurdles of final projects, exams and grading. Many of us find ourselves in a dual state of exhaustion and excitement.

News Image Spurs Personal Concerns

May 10, 2016

One of my Friday rituals is to check out The New York Times and, to be honest, I usually go straight to the arts section.

Sometimes I find myself distracted by photos, such as those from astronaut Scott Kelly’s year in space – breathtaking snapshots of the planet we share as we spin around the cosmos.

But, on a recent Friday, the front-page photo imprinted into my consciousness and left me feeling shallow in my pursuit of film and music reviews.