Sunday, April 29, 2012

I ♥ Facebook

Last week, a beautiful elder in my community, named Isis, passed into spirit. Although significantly disabled by her many chronic health issues by the end of her life, Isis was an active Facebook user. When I heard that she had passed over, I went to her Facebook page and posted a brief good-bye to her. When I returned to her page this week, I discovered that many, many people had done the same thing that I had done. Her Facebook page is now a monumental tribute to a life well-lived by a marvelous, generous, enormous spirit. It is loaded with beautiful messages, images, remembrances, music, poetry, blessings, and prayers. It has become a vehicle for a collective mourning by a host of people, most of whom do not know one another, but who had their lives touched by Isis. On Facebook, I can still visit the living Isis by scrolling back on her page and reading her own musings and hilarity from months and years gone by, peeking at her photos of herself with her grandchildren.

Facebook gets a lot of bad press. It can be a massive waste of time, a black-hole of a time-sucker. It’s accused of being pretend communication, not real communication; a wasteland of shallow and useless multimedia junk; a collection of superficial and phony relationships; useless bunk. If you’re on Facebook you need to get a life, etc. etc. etc. Well I don’t buy it. I love Facebook and I don’t care who knows it. Like most things in life, one must exercise restraint; but when done in moderation, there is a lot of benefit to reap from Facebook.

I go on Facebook every day when I take my lunch break. I click on very few links to videos, music, or articles. I am selective. But I do click on a few things. And I find most of them entertaining, informative, funny, uplifting, beautiful, inspirational, and moving. (If they are not, I can tell right away, and I close them up and go somewhere else.) I am reminded that there is a wealth of wonderful life out there, more than I could ever absorb. But I can enjoy a taste of it with my lunch. I resolved a while ago to use Facebook to emanate and absorb positive energy and I take care to do so by the choices I make when engaging with it.

Through Facebook, I have been able to become a part of the everyday lives of distant friends and relatives in ways never before possible. For example, when I was a teenager I lived in Scotland for a year. I remain in contact with quite a few good friends from those long-ago days. Until Facebook, our lives were extremely distant with little communication. But there are a few of these old buddies with whom I now converse regularly on Facebook, several times a week in fact, and we are again in each other’s daily lives. One of these friends (she lives in Fife) has two daughters who are grown, whom I have never met, and they are friends with me on Facebook too and I have developed a wonderful relationship with them. Sometimes I talk with them and their mom (my dear childhood friend). How cool is that? I am part of the daily lives of many relatives who don’t live near me, most notably some of my husband’s family in Chicago. And I can see what my children are up to and laugh at their silliness and listen to some of their music and see photos of them in their far-off grown-up lives. There are so many people with whom I share frequent communication who would otherwise not be a big part of my life if not for Facebook.

Through Facebook I have found a lot of people with whom I had lost contact and have had the splendid opportunity to see their children, their pets, their partners, their homes, and to get a glimpse into their lives. Facebook has allowed me to celebrate, mourn, laugh, shout, and share with people far and near. And it serves to remind me, daily, that there are people all over the world doing wonderful things in their lives. Wonderful big things and also wonderful little things. It reminds me that our lives are not actually as mundane as we may think. They are often rather momentous. They are filled with wonder. And the world is not necessarily a completely horrible place because just look at the goodness all around us. Look at the beauty and the hilarity that people are sharing on Facebook. I like having a piece of that. I appreciate the reminder.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Playing with My Food

Today I am pondering the fact that so many people in this country go through life without even the most rudimentary understanding of the life cycle of the foods they eat. There seems to be a huge disconnect for most people between what they see on their plate and the greenly growing creatures in the world around them. This is one of the reasons why I love living in a rural community, because people in my hometown are connected. They all have gardens, if not farms. I try to imagine what it might be like to be unable to recognize an apple tree in blossom or to have no idea when cherries are actually in season. I had someone ask me the other day what kind of tomatoes I grow. What a ridiculous question. I grow about a dozen different heirloom varieties and the selection changes from one year to the next. Some people can think of only one or two kinds of tomatoes. Some people have never seen a dramatic green Zebra tomato, a brilliant yellow Sungold, or a deep purple-red Paul Robeson tomato.  

The most mystifying thing to me of all is how people can live without growing at least some of the things they eat. Even if they only have a tiny patch of ground or a deck big enough to hold only a few pots. How can people pass up the opportunity to grow their own food?

When I was a teenager, my family visited my cousins in France. They had an apartment in Paris and a little country home on about three acres of land an hour’s drive from Paris in a town called Maule. We drove to Maule and spent the afternoon with them. They proudly took us on a tour of their abundant orchards. At one point Cousin Joseph turned to my father and asked him how much property we owned in our suburban town in the U.S. Dad replied that he had about a quarter of an acre. So Joseph asked, “And what do you grow on it?” Dad replied that we didn’t grow anything on it. Joseph’s question always stayed with me. The truth was that mostly Dad grew a lawn on it. You can’t eat a lawn. Although that’s the standard crop of suburbia. In the summer my mother would till a little vegetable patch and grow tomatoes and green beans. In retrospect, I think her little vegetable patch may have been what inspired me to a lifelong love of gardening. I clearly remember grazing on her green beans while standing barefoot in the dirt. Nothing in the world tastes better.

My half-acre yard is bursting at the seams with food. Vegetables, fruit trees and vines, herbs. Also the flowers! In the summer I grow three varieties of apple, both white flesh and yellow flesh peaches, Santa Rosa plums, cherries (they are ripe in June, by the way), strawberries (I am just finishing up the ones in the freezer from last year and there are now flowers on this year’s first crop), raspberries, blueberries. This time of year I have collards and asparagus. Oregano, thyme, tarragon, peppermint, and spearmint grow pretty much year-round.

This weekend, with the unseasonably warm weather, I confess that I’m being lured into planting early; despite the fact that we are nowhere near clear of a killing frost. I am exercising restraint, but gosh it’s difficult. I am already salivating thinking about my summer squashes (zucchini and patty pan), eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and lemon cucumbers. For me, summer arrives for real when I bite into the first homegrown tomato, round about the end of  June or first of July. I pity those people who have no idea what that experience is like, who buy hothouse-grown tomatoes year-round at the grocery store, and would not be able to recognize a tomato plant if it was growing in their kitchen sink. Homegrown food reminds me of life’s bounty and cancels out all the evil in the world in one mouthful.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Diary of a Mad Saleswife: Steve Jobs and Me

I have always known that I am hopeless as a saleswoman; but now, after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I realize that I am not just hopeless at sales, I’m probably pathologically inept at sales. This does not bode well for an unknown author about to embark on a rigorous book marketing campaign.

Last night I completed the Jobs bio, which was satisfyingly thought-provoking in scope. All over the map. One of the things I realize is that Jobs was not so much a technology innovator. He hired brilliant geeks to innovate. One could argue that he was extremely creative, but I think his aesthetic sense stemmed more from a terminal case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder than from imagination. So what was his formula for success? In my opinion, he was a marketing genius.

Think about it. First he sold people a home computer that was sealed so firmly shut that you couldn’t even unscrew and remove the back to try to repair it if you knew something about electronics. He made it tamper-proof on purpose because he was a control freak. But who was buying home computers when they first became available? Just the sort of people who would like to be able to take the back off and fool around with the insides. Then he sold people a telephone that could do all the time-wasting and distracting things that a computer could do, and none of the useful and constructive real-work things that a computer could do, on a device with a screen that was a fraction of the size of a computer screen. Soon after that, he sold people a web-connected phone that had a computer-sized screen and could do every useless thing that the phone he invented could do but it couldn’t make phone calls. Granted, the iPhone could also be used as a music player. I like that and I think that was useful. (Although it upstaged the iPod, but Jobs didn’t care at that point since he had already sold millions of obsolete iPods.) The iPhone could also be used as a camera, but only for people who are not into quality photography and use it to take pictures of themselves and their friends falling down drunk at parties. Of course everything Jobs sold was extraordinarily over-priced, but he managed to sell it anyway and made a lot of money. How did he get away with all this mishugas? (That’s a Yiddish word meaning ridiculous craziness on steroids.)

He got away with it because he was a brilliant salesman. He convinced people that they couldn’t live without his latest device, no matter how expensive or impractical it was. They would sell their children to medical scientists to come up with the money to buy an iPhone. Jobs claimed that he didn’t bother to do marketing research because people (interpret that to mean consumer targets) didn’t know what they wanted until he showed it to them.

But enough about Steve. Here am I, a few weeks from the publication of Memories from Cherry Harvest, and I’m working with a marketing director and a publicist to develop strategies for selling my book. Little do they know that I am the mom who couldn’t manage to sell a single box of chocolates to support my son’s Little League Baseball Team in the course of eight seasons. I always paid the $30 buy-out and didn’t take the chocolates. I couldn’t help school fundraisers by selling flower bulbs, magazines, candy, water bottles, or T-shirts. Neither could my children; because they had a mother who was embarrassingly unsupportive. We were always the one family that sold nothing. I couldn’t even sell a raffle ticket to support the Water Polo Team (I bought the whole book myself each year, which should have given me excellent odds of winning something but I never did). I confess that I am that wicked evil person who hangs up on telemarketers; who yells at them, “Don’t ever call here again!” I send direct mail back in the enclosed postage-paid envelopes (taped to a brick) with threats of criminal prosecution if the marketer ever sends me another piece of junk mail. I send nasty emails back to spammers and actually call the 800 number on unwanted catalogues to be taken off the mailing list. I don’t like people to accost me with their products, and now I am in the position of having to accost others with mine. Argh.

It never ceases to amaze me that, with the millions of people who read the English language, so few books actually sell many copies (only 7% of books sell more than 1,000 copies, hardly any sell more than 10,000). And it takes a massive amount of time and energy to get the word out about most books, especially those written by an unknown author. So how do I sell my book without becoming that marketing demon that I so dislike? One good thing about being a “new voice” is that people don’t know about me and therefore I really am simply trying to get the word out, to connect with my audience, and find those people who would enjoy reading the book and who might, hopefully, find something of value to them in my words; something that they can carry away into their life. I am searching out people who would want to read my book (anyway) if they knew about it and informing them it’s there rather than full-bore selling it to them.  

If you’re reading this, please take pity on me and tell your friends about my book. If you’re on Facebook, please go to the Memories from Cherry Harvest page and “like” it (my marketing director will be so happy). If you’re on Goodreads, friend me and leave a comment on my author page. There’s more information about the book on the Woza Books website if you’re inclined to check it out. And if I call you, please don’t hang up on me.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

If I Disappear Please Come Find Me

“If I disappear, please come find me,” my political activist friend said to me at dinner the other night. Is she at greater risk than anyone else? Do we not all have reason to be fearful these days?

This past week, the Supreme Court passed a law stating that anyone arrested for any reason can be strip searched upon booking into jail. This means that a person arrested for failing to pay a parking ticket can be strip searched when booked into jail. Does resistance to such indignity constitute resisting a police officer? Does the law allow a police officer to strike someone for doing so? Of course. Another new law on the books states that it is a federal offense to peacefully demonstrate at any location where secret service agents are present. (This is how Cornel West was recently arrested for demonstrating outside a federal building.) What happened to our right to gather? To protest? How do protestors know if a secret service agent is present or not? Do you want to place bets on whether or not secret service agents will be strategically placed in locations where government would rather not have a protest occur? It is also legal for a “suspected terrorist” to be arrested, denied a trial, denied a statement of charges, and whisked off to a high security prison in a country outside the borders of the U.S. This has happened to innocent individuals, some held for years, some still incarcerated. Held with no ability to communicate with their families or anyone from their former life. It is possible for a prisoner to be accused of attacking a prison guard and therefore placed in solitary confinement for the rest of his or her life. Indeed, two men in Mississippi have been held in solitary confinement for over 40 years as a result of just such an accusation. With no discussion or examination of the facts.

In a “Driving While Black” incident in St. Louis in the early 70s, my husband Ron spent a weekend in jail for having dirty license plates. If that happened today, he could have been strip searched, could have resisted such indignity and therefore been beaten, conceivably whisked out of the country as a suspected terrorist, placed in solitary confinement, denied communication with his loved ones. Each one of us, whether politically active or not, is vulnerable to being swept up in a Kafkaesque series of events that turns our life into a nightmare of vast proportions. Do I want these “safeguards” so that the government can “protect” me? No, I want protection from the government. From the police. What I want at the moment is to flee the country. But my life is here. My children, my friends, my family. I could not start over at this age. And if I had fled when I was young, I would have lived my life in exile from all of my family because I would rarely (if ever) have been able to return to this country to see them. My ancestors fled state-sponsored terror in Eastern Europe in just this way and it is a wrenching experience.

Instead of fleeing I am seeking allies, I am looking for a host of many who will raise an outcry in defense of me and my loved ones should we need it. Let us stick together. Let the whole world be watching when an injustice occurs. If my talented Black son or my distinguished Black husband is gunned down, please stand with me to demand justice. If I disappear, please come find me.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Collective Healing

From time to time a deeply disturbing public act of violence occurs that impacts whole communities, at times the entire country. Then we have a lot of people experiencing varying levels of grief and pain together in a strangely pervasive way. It was like that when 9/11 happened and when JFK was assassinated. The shooting of Trayvon Martin has had that kind of impact. In our local community, the difficulty of coping with the tragedy in Florida has been compounded by the recent local murder of a young Black man in what appears to be, to some extent, a racially motivated act of violence.

To respond to these events, my friend Dianne organized a demonstration that she called the All Humanity March, which took place yesterday. It was billed as a way for us to show solidarity with one another as caring human beings who embrace our diversity. As the event unfolded, it became quite clear that it was, more than anything, an opportunity for collective healing. Dianne’s opening words to begin the event were so eloquent that I asked her if I could post them on my blog. Dianne is a poet. She says she wrote her words in the form of a poem to make them easier for her to read. I am printing them here exactly as she sent them to me.

Opening Remarks for the March 31st All Humanity March
by Dianne Durham

We have been utterly shaken by the news of the murders of Jamal Andrews in Redwood Valley and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

I believe I can say today that we’re all here because we know
that we need to see beyond race, that we need to see beyond economic class,
beyond gender identity,
beyond sexual orientation,
beyond religious beliefs.
We’re here today because we need to see truth as being so much bigger
than the old, bold, distracting, destructive lie.
We’re here because oftentimes
the lie is so much easier to believe than the truth.
And what is the lie?
The lie is that we’re so different from one another,
and that different is always suspect.
We’re here because we need help remembering the truth – our truth:


We are here today to remember, to nurture, and to protect our connection.
To remember,
to nurture,
and to protect
our connection.
Today we honor the lives of Jamal Andrews and Trayvon Martin,
and as we send our love to the families of these two young men
who were ruthlessly murdered,
we honor the life of every person throughout history
who has been bullied or taunted, hated, hunted or killed for being uniquely human!
As we remember, nurture, and protect our truth
Let us march today with a renewed sense of strength and unity.

To find out more about Dianne’s activities go to her organization’s website by clicking here.

For photos of the All Humanity March visit the Ukiah Aware Facebook Page by clicking here.

Here is a photo of Dianne (on the right) holding the microphone for Lillian Vogel (seated) to speak at the March. Lil is 102 and still as brilliant as ever (totally there mentally). In the background you can see my lovely husband Ron on the far left.

Photo by Trudy Morgan