Friday, November 18, 2011

If you're not speaking out, you're not paying attention

Today's story is a farm bill hammered out in secrecy and planned to be slipped into another bill and voted on without debate.  That, as I recall, is not how policy is supposed to be made in a democracy.  You can read here.
DesMoines Register

The question, to me, is whether I'm willing to take responsibility for knowing what's going on, for educating myself, and for doing something about it.  Emails to legislators work.  Social media helps spread information.  And unless I'm willing to make the effort to be aware and then spread the word, I have no right to complain.

It's hard work.  We can't possibly know all that's going on but we can pay attention to what other people reveal.  Then comes the harder work - getting educated.  Knowing the pros and cons and learning the questions to ask.  And next step is to start talking.  Bring up whatever concerns we encounter - whether they're the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, the unhealthy impact of mass production and chemicals on our food supply, the inextricable ties between policy makers and big business, the failure of our educational system and the destruction of the middle class. 

It's good work.  It's essential work.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Radical Term Limits - a simple solution

I interviewed Frances Moore Lappe tonight - an inspiring woman who, forty years ago, wrote "Diet For A Small Planet."  She's been advocating for a more sustainable food system, and a better, more sustainable world, ever since.  Her newest book is "Ecomind- Changing the Way We Think To Create the World We Want."

Hunger, poverty, climate change, war - it all boils down, she says, to the need for a "living democracy."  That means a system that actually is for the people and by the people.  And the way to achieve that, she says, is to get the money out of politics.

I've been thinking much the same thing, and my idea is simple:  Radical Term Limits.  Politics was never meant to be a career.  It was a public service.  Let's go back to that concept.  Here's how:  no one, absolutely no one, can hold political office for more than two terms at any level.  Two terms at a local office, two terms at a state level, two terms at a federal level.  Thank you very much for your service. Go home.  Someone else has to step up.  No multiple offices at any level. 

This has to be accompanied by strict transparency requirements for all donations, disclosure of all interests in any businesses, ironclad restrictions on lobbyists.  But radical term limits is the key.

We'd have to have a lot more people involved in government.  That means we'd better educate our population, because a lot of them are going to have to serve.  No one would be in office long and that would make buying politicians a poor investment.  No political insiders - the turnover is too great.

Job security wouldn't be a worry - there wouldn't be any.  Instead of serving their own wallets and career aspirations, politicians would represent the voters who elected them.  Otherwise, one term only.  And the two term limit would ensure that there would be a sense of urgency to accomplish something.

Radical term limits.  Spread the word.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Corporate America - Meet the New Boss

I don't consider myself a raving conspiracy theorist.  But recent events make me wonder if I should reconsider and become one.

The Occupy Movement's central theme is disgust with what corporations are doing.  They control health care. They control media.  They control finances and they control what we eat.  They control energy and they want to control the earth's water supply.

And the bottom line, for all of it, is profit.

I recently interviewed one of the authors of "Good Company", a book that studied the behaviors of the Fortune 100.   They established a list of criteria that studied them as employers, as producers and as stewards of the environment and communities.  And most of them scored no better than a D.

The good news is that the study also showed that those companies who scored better also were more profitable.  Consumers respond positively to good companies.  But most companies studied aim for a quick profit and chew up employees, communities, the environment and produce poor quality products while skirting regulations or break laws while building the cost of fines into the price of doing business.

While researching a story on the shortage of psychiatrists in my region, I found that insurance companies manipulate the market.  They collect profits while offering seemingly-sufficient panels of specialists.  But those panels are composed of doctors who don't accept new patients, who no longer accept their insurance, or who've been dead for years.  Other psychiatrists take only cash because they cannot spend the time filling out the reams of paperwork required by insurance companies.  Treatment centers have to fight with insurance companies to get continuing coverage for patients who still need care.

 Doctors are pressured to prescribe the newest medicines because they have a better profit margin.  Companies spend millions on ad campaigns to get you to ask your doctor for them.

And it's so "normal" we haven't even stopped to ask what the hell is going on. It's capitalism run amok - create the demand to satisfy the needs of an ever hungrier group of investors.  Maximize profit, minimize expense.  Taken to extremes, it means shortcuts.  Cheap labor.  Defective, insufficiently tested products raced to market.  Minimal care with maximum profit.

Thank you, Occupy Wall Street.  You're forcing a second look.  And the view is disturbing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Should Do Something --- but What?

I find myself, for the first time, thinking about protesting.  With each day's headlines, I wonder if I should make some sort of grand gesture, even if it's futile.The evidence that we're heading down a bad road continues to pile up and I am seeing no signs of an imminent change of course.

1.  During Republican debates, the audience cheers at the prospect of letting people die.  And executing people.

2.  The US supports the Arab Spring everywhere but in Palestine.

3.  General Electric paid no taxes in  2010.  In fact, we paid THEM to keep making profits.

4.  During the recession, the largest banks have made a massive profit; but Moody's is now downgrading them because of the possibility that if their speculative investments begin to crash, it's possible the US government won't bail them out.  And that could create the very bank crisis scenario the pundits are dreading.

5.  The London riots got front page, first block coverage for days on every news station.  Protesters occupying Wall Street are being ignored by most press outlets.  But not by the NYPD.

6.  Our president will not sacrifice his ambition to the greater good. He made it clear from day one he wanted two terms.  Now, when nothing has made much of an impact on the recession, he will continue to play it safe to ensure his campaign coffers are full for his re-election campaign.

7.   There is no press but the Internet.  Rick Perry didn't win the Florida primary.  Neither did Mitt Romney.  Or anyone else I'd ever heard of.  But I still can tell you nothing about the man who won because the nightly news (NBC, in this instance) simply mentioned what a stunning upset it was, then did another story on the two candidates they already had stories on:  Mitt and Rick.
  Nice, Lester Holt.  Are you executive producer when you're at that fancy desk?
8.  College students can't find jobs.  So they're racking up more students loans to stay in school, hoping things will improve in a year or two.
9.  8.8 million people worked part time in August because it's the only work they could find.  16.1 percent of American workers are underemployed.  31% of the workforce was underemployed at some point in 2009.
10.  Desperation for cash is a major part of the conversation as states consider hydraulic fracturing, the effects of which were illustrated so pointedly in "Gasland".
There is fast money to be made.  The long term environmental impacts may be far more expensive to deal with.  How much does it cost to import enough drinking water for an entire state?  Several states?

That's just ten items off the top of my head.  The actual list is far longer.  I haven't even mentioned our multiple wars, the fortunes being made by hired mercenaries, our unhealthy mass produced food, our continued discrimination against people who don't look like us.

It's feeling like last days of the Roman Empire to me.  And the thought that keeps crossing my mind is that I should just start walking.  Walk from New York to California and back to Washington.  Criss cross the country, bring a recorder and document what I find along the way.  I know I'm a speck in the ocean, but if I did it long enough, maybe it might get some notice.  Maybe it'll force a conversation.  Or maybe I'm mixing up political activism with Forrest Gump.


Maybe a hunger strike?  I suspect I would starve to death before any real change occurred.

And so I feel helpless.  For now.  But if there were enough people like me, who are tired of emotional toddlers running the world, maybe there is something we could accomplish together.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The UK Is Burning

I have been listening to the news from the UK and it is both terrifying and heartbreaking.  It is also ominous.

Terrifying because the thought of gangs of angry, destructive people roaming the cities in packs, destroying everything in their path, is one that makes me feel particularly powerless.  How do you reason with a pack?

Heartbreaking because the "authorities" whose authority is being rejected are reacting like disapproving parents.  I actually heard one government spokesman say, "If they'll go home and behave we'll talk to them."  Behave?  Up until now, they have.  And no one talks to them.  That's not how the game is played.  Power talks to dissent when it can no longer ignore it.

Heartbreaking because there has to be a reason this is happening.  People don't just suddenly explode into violence.  They burn, slowly and steadily, for a long time.  They simmer.  If the heat isn't turned down, they boil.  And at some point, they boil over or blow up.

I don't condone violence.  I don't argue that there's anything justified about the destruction, the looting, the theft.  But I know there has got to be a REASON.  I found a Londoner's blog today that offers a damned good guess at what's happening.  Everyday people have nothing to lose and that is dangerous.

Meet Penny Red.  And pay attention.  Don't think this is a strictly UK phenomenon, you great embarrassments in Washington.

Panic in the Streets

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Internet Changes Everything

Have you considered how completely different our lives are since the Internet? It's been brought home to me lately.

Most recently, my guy's new "album" is out. Well, it isn't really an album. It's an mp3 download. The music industry is quickly phasing out the last physical evidence of music recordings - the CD. Two years of hard work is now available (with some soulful backup work by yours truly) on the Internet for your downloading pleasure.

The entire music industry has been gutted by digital audio files because the big players didn't see it coming. Then Napster started giving music away for free. And the industry's been scrambling to figure out what to do ever since.

Anyone can be a rock star, at least in their minds. All you need is Garage Band or some other basic editing program and - ooooh - your music is out in the world. That's generally not a good thing, as some folks should keep their music in the garage where it belongs. But it's also opened opportunities for some truly talented people to be heard by a global audience.

My guy's been a professional musician his entire life and he's watched the industry expand, contract and then go cold like a dying star. He's feeling his way in this new world where anyone can knock on the door; only the truly talented get in.

My area of study these days is the publishing industry. That's changed a bit lately, hasn't it? Writers, for a decade or more, have found it easier to submit their work to agents and publishers. Agents and publishers have become more and more selective as their inboxes fill and crash. And then came the ebook.

My NPR affiliate has a no-ebooks policy. They won't talk about them. They don't think they're real books. It reminds me of the music industry's attitudes toward downloads. They'll be changing their minds soon because they'll have to.

I have an ebook. And it'll soon be a paperback. We're doing it backwards because nowadays we can.

At work? We all have computers and now we edit documents in a program that lets us all see each other's edits. We're phasing out paper, eliminating the need for thousands of square feet of storage space. And where are those documents stored? The cloud. The vast, nebulous, virtual digital warehouse. In other words, they don't really still exist. But they do.

It's a change in concept, in thinking. Just because you can't see it, touch it, taste it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's a transition to a virtual world. And when I think about where it could be going, I think it's time to write a scifi novel.

What do you think the world will be like in ten years?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Turning Tides

I've got the ocean on my mind lately. Spending a day on the shore will do that to you - that salt air and that constant low tidal rumble stay with you long after you've left. I live within a day's drive of the Northern Atlantic, but I still only get there once or twice each year and each visit is a cherished memory.

This year we stayed on Cape Cod and spent a simply perfect day on Martha's Vineyard. I love my mountains, but I'd leave them behind for a life by the sea in a heartbeat.

When I got home and turned my attention to my radio show, I found a feature story on a Maine woman who has made her living harvesting sea snails, known as periwinkles or "wrinkles", in a sleepy little northern town called Lubec. I've been to Lubec - it's not a tourist town by the sea, it's a working village where the people rely on the sea for their livelihoods. But according to the story I found, fishing is dying there. As one species after another is overfished, the economy crashes further and Lubec's people are struggling.

Julie Keene and her son got by harvesting periwinkles - not getting wealthy, but not starving. Then the rockweed which is essential to the periwinkles' habitat began to disappear.

Apparently rockweed, that bladder covered seaweed that proliferates along the rocky Atlantic coast, is valued by industry as an emulsifier. Commercial harvesters are cutting rockweed off the rocks, leaving a barren landscape of stubs and wiping out a unique habitat.

Julie Keene, a rough, independent woman, has traded her harvesting basket for a camera and has been photographing the devastation left by the commercial harvesters. She testified at the state capitol in hopes of convincing legislators to ban the harvesting of rockweed.

She's not alone. There's a coalition trying to raise awareness of the issue.

There is a pile of swirling garbage hundreds of miles across in the Pacific. There's another in the Atlantic. Industry is scalping the rocks for the plants that grow there. There are environmental emergencies all around us. And it feels too damned big to do anything about.

But Julie Keene is doing something. We can, too, even if it's only to learn more and spread the word.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New York Loves Love

Marriage Equality legislation passed the New York legislature last night - and Governor Cuomo signed the bill with a flourish shortly before midnight. Bam. We have a new law.

There's no question for me that this is cause for celebration. There was an entire group of people who were not allowed to make the same legal commitment to each other that other New Yorkers can because of their sexual orientation. That's discrimination. And it's so ironic that while the gay population is desperately fighting for the right to make those vows, the straight population is divorcing in record numbers.

I predict good things for the economy (weddings are BIG business!), a lot of VERY happy people and, naturally, a lot of challenges to the new law.

But what struck me most was the contrast between two Republicans. One grandstanded, speechified and insisted on changes to the bill that ensured religious protections. He went so far as to ask Twitter readers which way he should vote. The answer was an overwhelming "yes!" After getting the changes he wanted, his vote was "No."

It was a second, quiet, more contemplative Republican who has always been a supporter of civil unions, but couldn't support gay marriage who found himself in the pivotal role. At the eleventh hour, he said that with the changes in place, he couldn't in good conscience vote against equal marriage rights. And his vote, no doubt one that will anger some voters, made the difference.

Hats off to that rarest of animals - a legislator who votes his conscience, not what will get him re-elected. May he serve for as long as he wishes and may his colleagues learn something from him.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Point of View

Greetings to you who stumble into this little corner of the blog world on occasion. We (sweetheart, visiting son, four fractious cats) moved in early June - and there is much to say on the topic, but I will save it for when the wheel slows just a little...

Be well!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I am Remarkably Slow on the Uptake

I choked up at the frozen food aisle when I was shopping tonight. I haven't cried in a grocery store in a very long time, but tonight I did. It was the frozen dinners.

My dad's been dead almost ten years now, but I guess even when you think you're done grieving, you're not. There's still lingering regret to deal with.

It was a rough time, my dad's illness. His actual illness was fairly merciful, for cancer. After seeing what my mom had gone through just a little over a year before, we were both grateful that dad wasn't in pain, wasn't terrified, just slowly dwindled until he drifted away altogether.

We were both still in shock over Mom, and I think he took some strange comfort in the thought that he wouldn't be apart from her long. I didn't have that - I knew I'd be left to deal with it all in a way I just couldn't deal with it as it happened. There was too much to do.

I was working full time, my kids were teenagers, I was an only child - there were no brothers or sisters to call on for help. So I raced through the days like a robot, trying to do everything that was needed and keep a brave face on for everyone. I did a lousy job, I know now, but I tried really hard.

Each night, before making dinner for the family, I walked across the driveway to Dad's apartment and made him dinner. I sat with him while he ate it and we chatted. I was the only company he had all day unless you count the nurses as he got sicker. He really looked forward to me stopping by on my lunch hour and spending a half an hour or maybe an hour in the evening. I didn't mind, either.

But I didn't really cook. I guess I did a few nights a week, but today in that freezer aisle I remember how he'd ask me to get a particular brand of frozen dinner because he really liked it. He'd ask for them a few times every week.

What he liked was knowing that it wouldn't taste bad and I wouldn't have to cook it. He knew I was running on empty. And today was the first time I realized it.

We didn't get along at all when I was growing up, my dad and I. I think maybe we were too much alike in all the worst possible ways - insecurity,sensitivity, neuroses. I didn't want to be like him. I wanted to be like my mom.

All the defenses dropped at the end for both of us, and we liked each other a lot. And I'm sorry, so sorry, now, that I wasn't able to make him amazing, tasty meals every single night.

But I was so lucky. The night before he died I had the chance to ask him, "Did I do alright, Dad?" And he said in the strong voice I hadn't heard in a long time, "You did great." I guess he knew I did the best I could.

I just wish I could have done better. He was a good man.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Jesus Story

Easter was the day for Jesus movies. I didn't realize how many there have been. Mel Gibson's bloodfest was on one station, Max Von Sydow was on another. Jesus Christ Superstar was on, too, as well as well as Raymond Burr looking horribly awkward as the apostle Peter.

Charlton Heston was parting the Red Sea, too, as Yul Brynner wondered if maybe he should have held back the troops.

These movies are influential. There was a recent article talking about the masses who have become Christians thanks to Cecil B. DeMille's "King of Kings" - made before the talkies, and so more easily understood by non-English speaking audiences.

And for my money, there's no movie that hits the story of Jesus better than the 1961 King of Kings, with Jeffrey Hunter and those piercing blue eyes.

My parents were devout Catholics, and I used to watch King of Kings with my whole heart - sobbing until there was a lump in my throat when they killed him. I got teary, too, when Pilate screamed "Die if you want to, you innocent puppet!" in Superstar. It all seemed so unjust, so unfair. It was.

And I now see the story of Jesus differently - as an outsider, an observer. I now find religion to be a divisive force. And something struck me. We (I'm including me here, too - this is a human we) find something particularly powerful from the story of sacrifice for our sakes. God is willing to kill His Son. Jesus, despite his last-minute doubts, dies for us. And our response to that extreme attempt to finally shake humanity out of its selfishness certainly gets our attention. But I have to conclude that it didn't work. Humanity is selfish, with generous potential that it occasionally taps.

And I find myself understanding Judas' point of view. Whether Jesus' story is fact or fiction, it raises a powerful question. Was it worth it? Were we really worth it?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Recognizing Your Fairy Godparents...

I wrote a whining, self-pitying little soliloquy here earlier this week, ending with a plaintive cry for a fairy godmother to show up and - poof! - lead me to the land of happily ever after.

And within hours I got, as we almost always do, a version of what I requested. What the universe provides is almost always more interesting than what we ask for.

I've been feeling stretched out. Dried up. So brittle that the next morning's step out of bed might result in a loose pile of Susan dust on the floor.

Negativity's had the helm and it never steers toward anyplace I enjoy. But it just felt like too much effort to try to wrestle it back.

Then a friend called - surprising me with word of mouth about my book (that link's not a hint, Reader - that's to save you looking around going "What book?"). A woman I've never met contacted me to find out about other possible projects related to my stories. Two other people I know want to get together for coffee - just because they want to. My guy's finishing his album and not only didn't laugh when I wondered if bagpipes were what were needed on one rockin' love song, he tried them (jury's out but cool to hear).

What do all these things have in common? A nice treat for the ego, which really needs some love now and again. An assurance that I'm seen, I'm heard, my work has value, that I'm not just a waste of air. Don't you worry about that sometimes? When you get stuck in a routine, going through the motions and going nowhere, don't you wonder if you, the Individual You, even matters?

I woke this morning realizing each of these people could easily be pictured in shimmering gossamer, wand in hand and benevolent smile on beautiful faces. My fairy godparents are everywhere, and they've been stopping by for a visit.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I want to be a writer, she said....

It feels like a gray morning by the sea lately...I can't see very far ahead and instead of seeing what's around me, I'm preoccupied by the fact that I'm uncomfortable.

Changes are ahead, that I know for certain. Our home base will be changing. We have unanswered questions about how we'll accommodate our unique and particular work needs to the new space. My life in the 9 to 5 world continues to change and I cannot see where it's going.

All the lifestyle coaches tell us we can't get where we want to go if we don't name the destination. I want to write. Full time.

I've got a book out in the electronic world, a book I haven't got time or energy to promote, which is akin to leaving a birthday cake out in the street. Chances are it's not going to be appreciated if it isn't delivered to the right people.

I've become "the writer" at my place of work, which means I'm often editing other people's work. And I don't mind - it feels like at least an imitation of what I'd like to be doing. I write articles and columns for a couple of websites and publications. That's not bad, either.

But I'm losing energy for things I usually enjoy - some work that's usually a joy has become a chore. I circle around writing that is fun like a suspicious dog...sniffing but keeping my distance.

It's a spell, I know. It will pass, as these moods do, and a new feeling will take its place. But I read too many fairy tales as a child. I'm waiting for my own personal fairy to appear, tap me on the shoulder with her twinkling silver wand, and poof! I'm living happily ever after. Somehow after all these years, part of me still thinks that should happen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

When Disasters Are Personal

The news from Japan is truly mind-boggling. And it just gets more worrisome. This is the first time I've felt a personal connection to what's happening beyond the common humanity bond. My cousin, Tom Byer, has lived in Japan for twenty years. He and his family live in Tokyo. And I worried for them. But Twitter proved its worth this morning - when I went on to see if there were any feeds from him, I found he'd been on CBS news.

Tom Byer

Thursday, March 10, 2011

All the News that Fits?

Did you know protesters shut down a bank in Washington DC Monday?

I've been keeping my political views to myself lately, part of a New Year's resolution to stay on a more emotionally even keel. But this is one I can't NOT mention.

I learned about the Coffee Party recently - a movement to demand the corporations simply pay the taxes they already owe but are dodging. It's a movement that started in the UK, and here in the US they're calling it the Coffee Party. But it wasn't the Coffee Party that organized the shut down.

Six hundred people marched on K Street Monday. Three hundred jammed into the Bank of America lobby and the bank had to shut down. I didn't hear about it on the mainstream news. In fact, I had to dig through the Washington Post blogs to find confirmation. But here's what happened, courtesy Democracy Now:

Protesters Shut Down DC Bank of America

And if you're tired of not hearing what happens, I've found another source besides Democracy Now. Before It's News.

The Internet is finally proving its value. And I have a feeling the bank branch is just the beginning.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dancing Naked on the Porch

This is obviously my year for dreams fulfilled. Shortly after posting about my big fun as a backup singer for the talented musician I live with, something else huge happened. I got published.

I didn't have time to think about it much. One day, I was writing emails back and forth with a new publisher called Hen House Press...the next day a collection of my short stories was available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

The View From Outside

My initial reaction was elation that reminded me of the incredulous, happy shock that followed the arrival of both of my children. There's no gorgeous, warm little person to snuggle, but there is a sense of having helped bring something new into the world.

Things have gotten a little weird since then.

In my initial excitement, I told a lot of people. I told people at work, including my bosses. They were thrilled for me. They're nice folks. I told my FB "friends" and sent out a "Hey! Guess what I did!" email to fifty of my closest friends." I didn't expect anyone to buy one but the sales started.

I went to NYC on a business trip and one of my bosses announced to the high-powered business owners at an evening meeting that I'd written a book that was now published. Three people came up to ask me to repeat the name.

And the weirdness grew.

Cousins I don't know anymore passed the word around the family that "Suzie" had written a book.

And it got totally weird. Because what I realized is every single damned thing I've written has some relationship to my view of reality, and I have just laid that bare for the world to see. Nothing's fact, some is complete fiction, but some characters certainly resemble people who could be recognized by relatives and that's a bit awkward.

It's weird that strangers are reading it, too, as I tend to guard my deepest feelings but in a book they flood the pages. It's painfully revealing.

So now I find myself with the strange feeling of dancing on the front porch, totally naked and feeling completely free, while hoping no one passing by on the street notices what I'm doing.

Who knew that this would be my honest answer when someone says, "You're published! How does it feel!"..........Conflicted.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Secret Rock and Roll Fantasy

Sometimes remarkable things happen.

I've always loved music in a big way. All kinds of music. And I had a secret dream. I wanted to be a backup singer.

I never seriously coveted the lead vocalist spot - that didn't seem like as much fun. My favorite experiences were singing with other people - doing four part harmony with my girlfriends in high school, harmonizing with my mother, my best friend, my daughter, my son - whoever would sing with me. There's something about that blending of voices that just thrills me to death.

But I'm no musician and probably never will be - my real talents lie elsewhere.

I got to do it anyway.

I live with a real musician - a man whose talent blows me away on a regular basis. And on his latest album, he put me to work. I felt pretty frozen at first, but as time has passed I have gotten more comfortable hearing myself through headphones (and worse, in playback) and I will admit I'm loving it. In a big way.

Go ahead and listen. The amazing wailing background vocal isn't me - I'm no Machan Taylor (she is just incredible!). But the breezy bridge backup vocals? That's my daughter and me. It just doesn't get much more fun than that!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

We Are Living in Remarkable Times

I was young in the sixties and I believed that people, working together, could change the world. And then I watched the world "grow up".

But for better or worse, I was right. The revolution in Egypt proved it. The ripples have spread out to other people in countries that have endured what they consider unjust and repressive governments for too long.

I learned there is now a progressive answer to the Tea Party - the Coffee Party. And their goal is to force government to enforce its tax laws with corporations that have dodged legal taxes.

The Coffee Party

You can go there, look at the number of people who've signed up, and check back a few hours later to watch it grow.

But tonight I am stunned. There are reports that police in Wisconsin marched into the occupied Capitol with orders to evict the protesters by 4 AM. And instead, they have joined the protest.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Brave New World or Two of These Things Now Go Together

You will think I'm ridiculous, but I feel like the first man to walk on the moon. Or maybe like I've just taken my first ride in one of those newfangled auto-mobiles. Or like Alexander Graham Bell when his telephone worked.

I'm blogging on a bus.

Now this is probably a huge so what for most of you. You've been dragging your laptops around to cafes for years. You have an iPad. An iPhone. You probably Twitter (an unfortunate habit, in my opinion). But understand that this is new turf for me.

I resisted computers for as long as I could. We actually rented our first one from an outfit I can no longer recall and which is undoubtedly defunct - but the deal was you rented the computer and after a couple of years you owned the out of date piece of junk. We kept it for years.
I just went to a flat screen monitor three years ago. Laptop? I still don't own one - but my daughter just gave me her old Macbook Pro and here's where it gets incredible (to me).

I had to go to New York City today. It's a two and a half hour bus ride and it's pretty boring. So, I think to myself, why not bring the laptop? Maybe there'll be a wireless signal, maybe there will be an outlet (her batteries are fried beyond replacing), and if not, I can sit at a Starbucks and look like everybody else for awhile. Damned skippy.

But what to my wondering eyes should appear as I take a seat on the faithful Trailways bus, but an outlet. Two of them, in fact. One for each seat. And it gets better. When I fire up Gideon, as my daughter named this machine, a little message comes up asking me if I'd like to access the wireless remote network "Trailways". The bus has its own wireless signal!!!

So I am, at this very moment, speeding up the New York State Thruway, a young man in the seat in front of me snoring quietly, a woman across the way reading The New Yorker and eating her fourth snack of the trip (she's a small woman - but she's obviously hungry), and I am typing away on the Intergalactic NetWeb!

This is innovation beyond my wildest dreams. This is future shock.

It's not perfect. The bus shakes so much that the ac adapter periodically falls out of the socket and the screen goes black. The Model A wasn't perfect, either. But it was a big switch from the horse and buggy. And rather than staring out the window, which I do plenty of, thank you, I can sit here and blather on to you, my hapless readers. Until you move on to the next blog.

But isn't it amazing that a person in a bus seat can actually communicate with the entire world?
I wonder if we realized what a revolution computers would be...and we need only look at Egypt to know it now - computers started a revolution there!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What a surprise - it's snowing.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.” Andrew Wyethe

“Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.” Goethe

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Writing Dreams Deferred

I started writing when my kids were small. I'd never considered myself a writer. I never considered myself much of anything - I was someone with a lot of small talents in many areas and no big talents anywhere. I played piano, guitar, flute, a little harp. I wasn't great. I could sing a little. I couldn't write songs - they were awful. My poetry was bilious. And so I admired creative people, drew little Barbie doll sketches and figured I was one of those people who appreciated talent but didn't have much of my own.

Then an old friend asked why I didn't write. He was convinced I'd be great. And for some reason I decided to try. I sat down at an old manual typewriter and banged out my first short story. It was, I was forced to admit, terrific. I got brave, showed it to a writer friend who was astonished.

"This is your first story? It's wonderful! Get it published!"

It didn't get published, but it did lead to three novels (I consider them necessary outbursts to clear the pipes for the good stuff - not anything I think I'd want to see in print anymore), a non-fiction book that's making the rounds - getting good feedback but no publishers, and dozens of short stories as well as some very good virtual friendships with people who liked to gather at and workshop stories.

But all those short stories were, I thought, just exercises. A few got published and one was nominated for a Pushcart, but it felt like a fluke. Nobody publishes short stories.

Again I discover how little I know.

One of my more depressing little efforts, "Tweezing", is going to be published at this week. They're planning to feature a new story every single day. They want short stories! They even pay a nominal fee! So all you closet writers out there, check it out and submit your stories.

Then I learned that e-readers are now creating a demand for short stories and there are venues interested in signing up writers.

I was contacted by Hen House Press - they don't have a website up yet but they will soon. They're looking for short story writers who will given them the digital rights to their work - and they'll split the royalties. There's also BookBaby, the newest venture from indie music mainstay CDBaby.

Will we get rich? Hell, who cares? I never did think writing was about getting rich. It was about finally acknowledging that there was one thing I do that I am confident I'm good at. Do what you love and the money will follow, they say.
I'm happy just to be able to do what I love.

Got writing buried somewhere in the recesses of your laptop? Take a look around at the new opportunities out there thanks to the digital age. It may just be your time to be published!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

So you think arts towns are different?

This picture kind of sums it all up for me. Let me explain.
I live in what is known as the most famous small town in the world. It's super-artsy, the namesake for the most famous music festival ever, the land of peace, love and do-your-own-thing. And don't get me wrong - I love it. But you'd be surprised at what really goes on here.
See that building? See that yellow sun-flourish they added after slapping on a new coat of red barn paint? That was apparently a problem here.
That barn, which is the first thing you see when you hit the main intersection leading to town, was a sickening, washed out pink for a few years. Someone bought it, started a new business, and repainted.
They got in trouble with the town. That yellow design apparently was not approved by the powers that be.
There were rumors they were going to have to repaint.
That's apparently subsided - but do you get the picture?
Let me give you another example.
There's a woman I know who does a remarkable thing - she tows an old trailer around behind her Jeep, parks at places and events around the country, and interviews people for a radio feature. Her name is Sabrina Artel and it's called Trailer Talk.
I have a radio show, too, but I think this is the coolest idea ever. Truth be told, I'm envious.
She decided she wanted to interview me, and we made plans to meet in town. She would park, talk to folks in this famous little town, and I'd stop by and talk to her, too.
She found a legal spot on the street, opened up the door and started talking. I found her and sat down at the kitchen table for my interview. She served brownies!
And then the local official showed up.
"I have a complaint that you're taking up two spaces," he told her. "You have to move."
I knew the guy (he has since passed) and popped out with a big smile. I introduced him to Sabrina, explained what she was doing, pointed out that she was parked legally.
He was not to be moved.
"She has to park out in one of the public lots," he insisted.
That, we pointed out, would put her out of the way of where people were and would make it impossible for her to work. He was sorry, but that was final. She had to move. A member of the town board had seen her there and didn't think she should be doing a radio broadcast from the side of the road.
Sabrina packed up her gear as I apologized profusely. We were both amazed.
"I have NEVER had this happen anywhere else," she said, shaking her head. "Not even in Manhattan."
Then there's the neighbor down the road who sent us an anonymous letter complaining about the pale amber lights on the back of the studio building.
"We moved here for the country ambiance," he wrote. "This is not the city."
A backyard neighbor, now a friend, mentioned the letter to our unhappy letter writer (he was sure of his identity)..."Can you believe it?", he asked. "We LOVE those lights! Who could be so mean - and to write it anonymously!"
Hard to believe, Mr. Cranky agreed.
It's an old town these days, not the mecca for young folks it once was. Now the kids loiter around the convenience store and gather on the wall across from the pizza place. There's nothing much to do. So the town proposed a curfew.
That was a stunner - this was the town where young folks used to camp out on the village green. One strange guy lived in a hole in a tree.
It got voted down - that was apparently just too much. Now the town is figuring out how it can improve its youth program.
It's a great little town and it's always been a little schizophrenic - the free spirits irritate the hell out of the folks with their roots planted deep and they both have had to co-exist for generations here. Plus we've got the we-live-here folks vs. the weekenders or the fresh-from-the-citiers. On and on it goes.
Today it's blisteringly cold and there's a heavy blanket of ice-crusted snow over everything.
It seems very peaceful.
Wait til spring!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Brave New Conversational World

Facebook, Ning, Tweet, Wordpress
4Square, MyLife, Tumblr, brain mess!

It's a brave new world and I don't think I understand even a half of it. Sure, I blog. I've been doing it for a few years now and I have seen it as a way to write my thoughts, kind of a public journal. I've made some lovely discoveries along the way, finding some wonderful folks with whom I now "virtually visit" on a fairly regular basis. But I'm no blog phenomenon nor have I really tried to be.

But I think it's time to learn the tricks. I'm making serious plans to make use of my pretty hefty resume in the communications and media relations field. So I did some outreach the past few days. Let me tell you - it was an eye-opener.

I spent an hour or so with the very nice Ric Dragon of Dragonsearch Marketing. The economy may be on life support but Dragonsearch is growing, and growing fast. He offers website optimization - which basically means he'll help you spread the word about your business or website. He's good and there's a reason - he told me that if you really want to try to keep up with a field that's changing moment by moment, you've got to become a fanatic.

"Lots of late nights," he warned me. "Lots of reading. Lots of writing."

I'll share with you one concept of the many he threw in my direction: Twitter isn't about promoting yourself or what you do. Its biggest use for business is to create connections - start conversations - develop a wider network of acquaintances.

I hate Twitter - to me, it's an endless barrage of banal announcements.

Coffee's cold. Ew!

Stuck on the LIE!

I hate Mondays!

But Ric left me thinking of Twitter as a massive cocktail party - there are dozens of conversations going on, lots of introductions, short bursts of information. And out of those connections can come real, useful business relationships.

I'm not going to doubt him. I met him on Facebook.

So let the learning begin!

Any of you been struggling with this one? Any tips to share to get up to speed?