26 November 2008

Breaking news

Holy heck! I have been feeling that earthquakey shift in my consciousness again tonight: The definition of news has just changed for the good. I've been mentioning Twitter: well, I just picked up my computer for the first time and found that a bunch of scary stuff is going down right now. A thousand people may be dead in Mumbai. (**Edit: Now I'm hearing possibly 100 dead, 600 injured.**) The Indian Army has gone into the Taj Hotel, where they had found unexploded grenades, and terrorists were supposedly on the 18th floor, all this information broadcast in blurts from mumbaiupdates since about two hours ago. Just as I was getting up to speed on the situation, I saw the post stating that the Indian government wanted to stop the broadcast of all tweets containing the text "#Mumbai." (People agree to post with a "hashtag" in front of a topic to make it show up as trends; one can search for the string "#mumbai" and get all the news before it's even fit to print.)

It felt eerie and unsettling to tweet a query to someone who seemed to be in the middle of this maelstrom (**Edit - but who I later learned was in Boston **) and ask directly whether the government's fear is of endangering civilians or is there a possibility it could mobilize aid more quickly? Thirteen minutes ago an update came: "This is exactly what #Mumbai doesn't need: a certain tv station following the configuration of the police. That's what I'm getting at" and then a few minutes later came: "SUCCESS - the NDTV website is no longer broadcasting live video from the #Mumbai front. Thank you NDTV." So security is the issue, and too much news can be harmful, apparently.

Yet it's a torment to know this is happening right now. We can tweet about blood drives, and I can post on Facebook and hope my messages go out across those six degrees, but that's still halfway around the world. I suppose that distance feels a little more spannable with Twitter, but it's still vast.

25 November 2008

I'm Open!

So many meanings, that little exclamation. In the game, ready for any move needed, receptive, allowing for alternatives, even vulnerable. Living online the way I have been coming to do has thrown open some kind of floodgate in my concepts of identity and how good other people out there are but there are exceptions, there are other elements to be aware of, too. I know full well I am also making myself more Googlable, for better or for worse. And I can't help it: it makes me nervous.

What doesn't make me nervous is going to my writing group. I have gotten a good sense of where people are, and where I am. I try to bring in work I'm happy with, but I always get pulled up just right. I'm always surprised and impressed by their insights about my work. This week I brought in a piece that is still mostly a rant, but I got just the criticism I needed to revise it into something that has meaning and value, instead of just leaving it to stew in its own juices.

I keep wondering why it is that I think back on the film Slumdog Millionaire with such affection and it's in part the children, as I said in my Movie Habit review. Although they are forced by their circumstances to try to survive, having been orphaned by a Muslim-hating mob, all their naïve, energetic striving proves inspiring. I also admire the energy and verve of the lead character, Jamal (Dev Patel). It does take a lot for a boy in the slums to become a chai-walla at a call center, and Jamal's face and his entire stance reveal the chasm between these worlds. He persists, despite the hopelessness entailed in coming from the slums of one of the world's megacities, a much more damning fate in India than it is here, incidentally. There's something eternally optimistic about the colors themselves: the blue of plastic tarps setting off a rich palette of yellows, browns, and reds throughout, the film organizing a kaleidoscope of color out of the chaos. I returned to this because of Opal Dream, the film we're screening for our block kids' movie night, which is dark but not too dark. It's definitely not as fluffy and effervescent as Ella Enchanted, or Enchanted or any of the Disney films (although Bambi's pretty darned tragic), but it's a good and provocative story. It's not about people who are being good all the time, probably the downfall of a lot of potentially interesting tales that come out of Hollywood these days. It's about people who are forced to deal with circumstances outside their ken. It's like I said to my friend the other day: even if you don't agree with it, it puts a draft out there to edit, gives you a place to start thinking about some issues.

23 November 2008

Do they deserve a break today?

I was just considering whether to try and zoom down to Denver to catch a smidge more of the film fest, and had picked out a shorts program, which turned out to be a "first-look" or student program. That brought to mind something another selection committee member said at one of our selection meetings: that we give students a handicap in judging their films but truly they have so many resources at their fingertips, so much expertise and equipment around them, that they don't really deserve the kinder, gentler appraisal. She went on to say she's is often a lot more impressed when people on their own gather up the resources to make a film than she is when they're in film school. Food for thought, eh?

21 November 2008

We are what we feed our kids

Rocking my world this week: a couple of talks, and Twitter, all inspiring in completely different ways.

The first talk was a tirade about what we are allowing schools to feed our kids for lunch every day. Ann Cooper, who turned things around in the Berkeley school district, unleashes her fiery torrent of rhetoric and statistics to paint a damning picture of a society that has allowed our government to climb into big businesses' comfy pockets and beds.

Cooper says in her talk that if we send our children to school and we feed them bad food, that's what they learn. And what happens? We get sick. I think she's right: there's something we can do about all those additives and preservatives and hormones and pesticides we're allowing the USDA to dump on all our crops because Monsanto's too big to fail, because we've got to keep doing business with them because it's our patriotic duty and not to do so would destabilize our economy too much. We can stand up and say, our kids need real food. The problem is a lot of parents don't know it's not nutritious; they assume if it's coming from the government, it's good for us. There's a midwestern stoicism among some of my relatives that is thrift-based and also very stoic. But there comes a point when those top 10 companies responsible for feeding a huge percentage of our country's population must be recognized as having a greater interest in their short-term profits than in their consumers' long-term health. And we have to be willing to stand up and say, not only is $8 billion a year not enough money, but we must double that at least and spend it in different ways to get value for our money, that is, the health of our children and our planet.

I have some friends who are starting a new venture, writing a book and starting an NGO, both called Goodness To Go. They are trying to provide a roadmap and toolkit for anyone wanting to start a new venture. (I will definitely put in a word to advocate employing social media in their networking strategies, given all I have seen and done this week. Just this week I signed up for some stuff on Facebook and started wearing a little white ribbon tied in a double-knot to symbolize my belief that any human being should be able to marry the person of their choice. The social media explosion makes enterprises like this seem so much easier. Such amazing opportunity. It is Web 2.0. People are reaching out to one another online; there's no going back. No putting that powerful genie back in any teensy little jar.)

One Less Coffee, One More Lunch might be a good name for a charity that supports school lunch improvements (that name might be too scolding, tho -- we can sleep on that awhile longer). You could give people a way to set up little electronic accounts that let them donate their Starbucks money weekly or monthly or even daily if so motivated. Heck, offer to give away a bunch of espresso makers to provide a direct incentive for saving money and resources (all those paper cups and plastic lids and stirrer sticks and napkins, not to mention the gas and pollution expended on auto trips just for coffee that's been flown halfway around the world). Channel all that not-spent-at-Starbucks money into feeding kids better foods, getting fresher, cleaner, more local produce and staples into school districts to support total community health.

My gosh, you could even have an app with little buttons you push to pick one or more causes you'd like to support. I want to send bikes and books to Akumal. To buy kids nutritious and fresh school lunches that stoke their appetites and imaginations. To publish novels that let people know it's okay to be who they are, or to write what they have to say.

The second inspiring talk I heard was a talk by Ken Robinson an engaging and urbane fellow, just my type (and the English accent never hurt his chances either) who spun a good twenty-minute tale (all you get at TED talks, apparently). His was about learning and how schools teach kids, delivered in quite the opposite way Ann Cooper speaks, softened and readied by funny jokes and self-effacing patter. He related a triumphant anecdote about a woman who took her child for a consultation, imagining ADD or ADHD or something equally dire. The doc invented a pretext for leaving the child alone in the room and turned on the office stereo on his way out with her mother. The girl was up as soon as music came on, moving around the room.

"She's a dancer," was his diagnosis. "Get her into a dance school." And it's true. She was and we all know people who must move to be able to think. (I think our daughter has that bent. She would be great at circus school. Can you imagine what our friends and family would say if we were to announce, "We're sending our daughter to circus school!") I think a little friend of my daughter's mom is like that: I see her running all over our neighborhood, deep in her world. I feel the same need to nurture my own key strength, I suppose; I have this inner world that requires me to park myself in front of a keyboard and record something, anything, fairly often. I have to write to think things through, and I need some restorative time alone or at least quiet pretty much every day. But I have a musical intelligence, too, so I find loud music organizing and appealing, especially when performed right in front of me. I crave quiet more as I get older, I notice, but I'll still take earplugs and go listen to some live music just about anytime. And I need to work up a sweat every day, too. And our schools need to be places where all of these behaviors are valued, not just places where people are taught to think "straight" so they can hold jobs.

I'm glad I saw those talks. I would considering starting something, and it makes me want to get back to what my character is doing in my novel (o how I love saying that: novel, singular. Still feels right to combine the two. Ahhhh). Maybe I'll have to volunteer to user-test my friends' new NGO starter kit.

In other news, I'm feeling a little mindwarped, like I've just had my first warp-speed flight and lived to tell the tale. Honestly, it's all because of Twitter. At first I didn't see it. Now I think it's amazing. I love it, really, but feel strongly compelled to issue one huuuuuge caveat: I think mania and Twitter would not or do not go well together. That's my safety tip for the day ('coz I'm all about that, dontcha know?): manics, take your Twitter in appropriate doses for your tolerance. It's has an addictive allure; the rabbit hole is endless. Use it with care and discretion and it can be your friend; abuse it and it can be your enemy.

Those are my pearls for today. Ciao and peace and out.

20 November 2008

I heard the news today, oh boy

Here's my personal reaction to a film I saw at Starz Denver Film Festival last weekend:

Stop the Presses! The American Newspaper in Peril

As a home-based worker (a writer and mom) I rely heavily on the newspaper for my initial hit of what's happening in my world. I straddle two major demographics as I have my feet planted firmly in both the print and online worlds. In the audience during the panel discussion that followed the screening of Stop the Presses!, Mark Birnbaum and Manny Mendoza's documentary about the decline of the newspaper industry and the need for new solutions for its ills, I saw how vast the gulf between those two worlds can be.

Listening to that panel discussion, I arrived at my own personal conclusion about all this talk of newspapers losing their audiences, the single-copy subscribers: I have had it up to my eartops with being lumped in with any other enormous group, whether it's the dinosaurs who only read newspapers and magazines, or it's Generations X and Y, who get their news exclusively online, or from talking with friends. We're not so one-dimensional, we the people. Take me for an example: I get the local daily delivered to my door, the Sunday New York Times, The New Yorker comes to my mailbox weekly, and I read books I check out from the library. We don't get cable nor do we have a TV in our living room, so we don't watch much, and what we do watch is mostly Netflix DVDs (I still feel badly for abandoning my local shop).

But I have also started using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter of late, which means I get and can provide instant updates whenever I want them whatever or whomever I choose to befriend or “follow” as long as they “tweet” or post brief messages on Twitter. Along with trolling for periodic updates by intriguing and popular people, I also signed up for CNN, NPR, BBC, and a few other newsgathering organizations. I am not much interested in watching movies on my iPhone but would consider watching TV episodes that way. I'm too cheap to buy a lot of stuff from iTunes. I still like to have the CDs for music I like, although I can see how those days are numbered. I still like having a physical artifact. I also prefer to do my crossword puzzles in pencil; doing them online isn't quite as satisfying.

See what I mean?

How will newspapers attract and keep readers like me, who value a variety of information streams and formats, without condescending to us or trying to give us too much of what we don't want or need? How can they make their news feeds indispensable, and get a return on their investment of staff salaries and benefits? Stop the Presses! doesn't answer the question, but it doesn't make any condescending presumptions, to its credit. I for one am anxiously waiting, watching, and even examining how I can personally can help solve this problem. It still seems like the world is still waiting for that killer news app.

One person during the panel said an argument has been advanced by an NYU prof that "there is no business model for newspapers, because there's nothing else like them.” Suddenly I feel we're getting warmer. What if that were the one assumption we took back to the empty drawing board? That whatever the model, it may not look anything like the previous one. What would we do differently? How can we support the Third Estate as one of the important pillars of our social world and reward people appropriately for the effort and risks involved in reporting stories? I think folks like Spot.Us and The Poynter Institute are on the right track; it's just convincing individuals that it's in their best interests to buy investigative reporting as well as books on Amazon and trinkets on eBay. A tough row to hoe in this barren climate.

19 November 2008

Wow me: Nine tips for filmmakers trying to get films into film festivals

I had to ask myself tonight whether I give films in film fests a bump in my reviews just because they're part of a festival. Did I like The Brothers Bloom and Slumdog Millionaire even better than I would have otherwise because they were screened at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House last weekend and I had a press pass? I'd have to admit that might affect my judgment a little. The first film I attended to a press screening to review for Movie Habit was The Hours, adapted from the beautiful book by Michael Cunningham. I still cringe at having given the film four stars because I don't ever feel a need to see it again. Mostly, I preferred the book. I liked my own internal images of Virginia Woolf, and now Nicole Kidman is all mixed up in those forever. She was terrific in her breakout film, To Die For, but she has seemed a bit opaque in the way of a porcelain doll ever since. Today, the thing I really remember about The Hours is Meryl Streep straining eggs with her fingers. I could watch that all day. But it alone wasn't worth four stars; I was just so impressed that I got to go see the movie for free. (I was less impressed soon afterward when I realized that my reviews took at least a couple of hours to write, plus the time spent watching the film and getting to and from the screenings. "Free" in this context quickly turned into a little joke for me.)

So here's a bit of advice on how to get your film into a film festival. Incidentally, I speak from experience. Now that I have been on the selection committee of a film festival for two years running, I have had some time to reflect on my experience plucking the gems out of the submission stacks. I figure it might be helpful for all you ambitious filmmakers who want to get your films into festivals.

  1. I don't care about the packaging. Sure, it's nice for you if you have good graphic design, but a DVD in an envelope or clear jewel case with the title scrawled right on the DVD with permanent marker is all I really need, as long as your DVD will play.

  2. Hold your pizza parties to reward your faithful friends and family after the labeling and packaging and addressing parties. We've received some really filthy DVDs that weren't even pornos. (The one porno we did get was an accident; some mortified filmmaker's assistant called and begged, "Please swap the disk you received from us with the one we are overnighting. We sent you the wrong one." I was never enlightened about whether the porno they sent first was a copying error or another film by the same filmmaker.)

  3. Take stills during production that you can send us for our promotional materials, or, if you forgot to do this, use editing software to extract stills. Remember that these images may be blown up or shrunk to tiny thumbnails, so bold, high-contrast images often work best.

  4. Don't worry about giving us perfect writing; we have to rewrite your synopses to suit the program and other promotional materials anyway.

  5. We'd prefer to watch your film free of a time code displayed throughout or a watermark on every frame; every year I hear some sniggering about the stencil "Screener Copy." Look, all the films go directly into big stacks in cloth grocery bags. We carry them from the film fest offices to our screening rooms (sounds so much more glamorous than living rooms, no?). I've been tempted to take films on trips that occurred during my viewing months, but I don't because I couldn't stand it if I were to lose one or more of your DVDs. So trust us. None of us want want to leak your film on the internet, really. If we love your film, we'd prefer to surprise the dedicated film fan who attends our film festival if we love it. Nor would leaking your film be our first impulse if we don't like it.

  6. It's tough to do comedy well, but I judge horror infinitely more harshly. Like the Peggy Olson character on Mad Men, it has to prove itself especially well to get my blessings. Just shocking or showing something gross or disturbing isn't enough. It has to have some redeeming value, some reason for watching this horrorshow or zombie flick.

  7. In your submitting your film and my giving you somewhere between a few minutes to two-plus hours of my time, we are entering into a contract with one another. I agree to watch your film with an open mind as long as you sustain the rules you declared early in your film convincingly throughout your film. If it's experimental, fine; it still has to have some internal logic or a discernible reason for being. If you're going to change your story's rules or tweak conventions, because that's half the fun for many of us creative folk, do so with all the confidence and imagination and heart you can muster. Put yourself in my shoes: I'm putting myself in your hands and hoping for the best; please don't give up on what you've pledged part of the way through my time with you.

  8. If you send me any fancy promotional stuff for a film you are submitting to a film festival, be forewarned that your film could suffer a bit of backlash on my part. Go ahead and promote it like crazy once your film is accepted -- our staff will love you forever. Until then, keep everything but your film under your hat. Every film in the stack is equal to me until it proves itself otherwise.

  9. When you do write your synopses, remember that we are all curious about new ideas but no one wants to be told how to think about a film (which means, for example, avoiding superlatives like "best" and "greatest"). Let us be the judges. A good film speaks for itself.

I sincerely wish you all the best. I am always hoping for something great every time I watch a film, whether I am popping into my player a DVD you burned days earlier on your laptop and submitted to the festival or I'm all dressed up and attending opening night at the Starz Denver International Film Fest. More than anything, I just want to be wowed.

14 November 2008

For the love of it, not for the parties

I love Roger Ebert's attitude about attending the Toronto Film Festival. His is a lot better than Rex Reed's!

And I had to laugh when I read in another critic's Toronto sum-up: "Ricky Gervais is so charming as a cranky dentist haunted by a recently deceased Greg Kinnear, the time seemed to pass in minutes."

13 November 2008

Message to my girl

I'll lead today's post with my favorite song in all the world, which is "Aguas de Marco," or Waters of March, by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

It's lyrically beautiful, it's long enough for me, and I imagine it is responsible for many thousands of people learning Portuguese (a number that may one day include me). This display of the lyrics is lovely because you can see the original alongside the translation. On KGNU, our local community station, on Friday afternoons is that super-silly Afternoon Sound Alternative show with the lovely and talented Agent 99 and Barry, who has curated a fine collection of Aguas de Marcos in his electronic nook over here. I love this song because we're all connected by all these things: the sticks and stones and nails and words and joy in our hearts, the communities and rituals and languages and the wine we share.

Becoming a parent is like Jobim's song about everything: like putting a human being on the moon, it organizes us and splashes us with all the grit and heft of pure humanity. It's no longer just an intellectual idea, a wish for the future, a symbol of hope. It's flesh and blood and sweat and tears and you are bound up with this person and their constellation of people from here on out. It makes your family bigger than you, which is a good and healthy thing. It makes you ask for help, and shows you who your friends are.

So I know you know this stuff but I am feeling the need to compile a few pieces of advice that I wish I'd known or understood from the get-go about having a child. I'm gonna want to say this stuff sooner or later, so might as well do it now, right?

My top ten pieces of advice based on my few years of experience as a mother so far would be, in no particular order:

  1. Every day, tell your child something you would love to hear someone say to you, or that you wish had been said to you when you were a child.

  2. Sometimes what looks like malingering is much more complex.

  3. I looked up one night when my little one was about one year old and realized I'd been so anxious about not waking her after she'd fallen asleep that I wasn't going in and kissing her or stroking her cheek when I felt like it. Once I saw this in myself, I felt terrible, feeling like I had traded warmth and accessibility for adherence to rules and systems. I cried a few remorseful tears. And I started going in more and giving her a kiss on the cheek or head before I went to sleep. I think she started sleeping better after that, but maybe that phase was over. The points of that story were not just that you want to be the kind of mother who checks her child in the night but also that sleep problems occur in phases. Sometimes you just have to wait them out and be there for your kid as much as possible when they have night terrors or other disturbances, even when you fear you're giving them the wrong message by sitting up with them in the middle of the night.

  4. Take your child outside and enjoy some different scenery every day.

  5. Breathe deep. Again. Remember that weird yoga teacher you didn't like (he was a bit odd, I agree) who told you to squeeze out all the breath all the way down to your tuchus? That deep, at least a few times a day.

  6. Don't take it personally. Whether it's unasked-for but well-meaning but ignorant advice from others or it's criticism from your kid. Or it's your fears of inadequacy as a parent. We all get that.

  7. Family comes first. You don't owe anyone explanations or need to tell anyone about anything concerning your family, especially in public places when your child is melting down or would rather you didn't talk about them. (This was big for me since my skin is a different color from my kid's, and I always felt I had to reassure people that I was carrying an overloaded screaming brown child out of the grocery store because I'm a mother, not a crazed maniac making off with someone else's kid.)

  8. Try to meet your child where he or she is. Get down low and try to see things from their perspective.

  9. Give yourself breaks. Don't feel bad about asking for babysitting or housecleaning help when you feel overwhelmed -- or a little before that. People want to help you, and when they can't, they will let you know.

  10. You definitely know this already, but read to your baby every day. Even in the early days when they're a little lump of sleeping babyness, read a paragraph of the book you are reading out loud. They need to learn all about you and your voice and they just love to listen to their mother's dulcet tones.

Good luck, girlfriend!

10 November 2008

Ghosts in the machine

All three of us who live here have independently come to the conclusion that we share our house with at least one ghost. Maybe more. My sweetie and I practically spoke over each other as we confessed to each other for the first time in twelve years that we hear sounds all the time. Our little one just asked me if ghosts really exist, again. They're one of those things I've never seen for sure, but I told her I can't rule them out.

I think we have ghosts, the young miss announced. I think they're real.

Who would know better than a little girl who spent most of her first six months hearing a chorus of voices she has probably been listening for since?

I think they hide behind doors. Maybe they like the downstairs. You know, where it's not all nice like upstairs. With the floor all covered with kitty litter and stuff? What, Mom? Maybe they like that!

Can they come in the cracks? Because I think I just saw one over there. Do you think there's more than one? Probably usually they live in a family, just like us.

08 November 2008

An eligible girl

My posts have been rambles, haven't they? But fun to write.

And I'll keep circling around and trying to sort out all my thoughts about this election and what it means, because I haven't thought them all yet. Today it occurred to me that the thing this election shattered for me was any cynicism I had left about one person making a difference. He's my age, I keep thinking. There are no excuses, there's just you and what needs to be done most in the world.

But my sweetie pointed out over dinner -- because we have to talk about her a little when we're on our date nights -- that throughout this election cycle it has really rankled that he can't say to our daughter, "Someday you could be the president." And it's true. Half a world and five months has separated her from that particular opportunity. Even though her ideas about the world have all formed since she lived in this country and learned English as her first language, she's not eligible. At least she will grow up knowing that people who look like her are presidents, CEOs, firefighters, ballerinas, teachers, artists. Because they are.

In the pool today, she kept saying, "Do you think I'm eligible to jump off the diving board?" I think she wanted me to say she was not, but I said she probably was by now, as she is such a good swimmer now. A few minutes later we saw a little tiny kid, maybe four, jump off, and swim out to the edge, which settled the question for good. I think she could swim her way out of the deep end now, too. I think she really is "eligible."

06 November 2008

Rambling but impassioned rant o' the day

Ooh. Double-posting action here, baby.

I got off my thought train at this station, the station of privilege, the only place I feel any claim to in particular. I consider us relatively lucky, having been able to ride one tiny outer wave of Silicon Valley's technological boom, only to land here just in time to catch one tiny wave more.

And now.

I saved the phrase I wrote: ... everyone listening for the sound of bricks and mortar crashing earthward in a mushroom cloud of dust and chaos
It just didn't fit anywhere and so I am saving it for something else. That's how this time feels. Something else is coming. I don't know what it is or what it will feel like. But it's imminent. We're all in suspense, waiting for the sound of the other shoe falling, the collapse of the detonated building.

I'm still on this social synchronization kick. I don't know what the synchronizing events are.

Wait, sure I do. They're not just national tragedies. They're also moments like this one, when people are electing great new leaders who bring energy and hope and creativity to the problems they approach. We sync up when one of us achieves an amazing feat, like putting deploying humans and robots on missions out into our solar system, and getting most of them back. (Most people old enough to remember the terrible exception, the Challenger disaster, remember where they were when they heard about it. I was in a class at UCSC. We were stunned. It was the same situation as when I heard about John Lennon. I was in high school, and just shocked. I had to talk to my friend Bill Kennerly immediately, I knew. Someone had to tell him; he was the biggest Beatles fan I knew at the time, so I believed the responsibility automatically fell to me because I knew this fact about him. I think he wasn't at school for some reason and when I did call him it turned out I was the first person to tell him. Like his mother wouldn't have noticed? Duh, sure she would've. But I digress.)

So what if we all held Obama's example of youthful energy up as an example of what each one of us can do instead of wasting our tears on things gone by? But it's suddenly getting so rough to survive all the medical problems that are causing people in this country to lose their savings and then homes. Perhaps that's one of those hidden causes, a secondary cause perhaps, of the foreclosure crisis. It wasn't just bad loans to people who never proved they could pay them, in which both parties have had a bitter dram of their own medicine lately, now, haven't they? But when you look at people who believed the low-fat high-fructose corn syrup mythology that the big food corporations were selling at the time, a lot of those people are overweight now. I might be wrong that their health expenses are greater, but certainly if you just look at the increase in Type 2 diabetes among the general population over the past couple of decades it is quite shocking. And health costs have doubled in the past seven years, "no limits" the unspoken motto of the insurance industry. It sickens me how public health has declined, at the people's expense and to the benefit of the big ag companies in this country over the last twenty years. Where's the bailout for these folks? (Oooh, I see a plot point in my novel here, the basis for a great class-action suit that would alter public health forever.) And I know, I keep coming back to this, but I believe that people have the gut-brain thing all backwards. What if we treated brain stuff by treating our guts? How could that help us understand the rest of our brains?

Change we can believe in!

Why blog? Why write?

Why think?

It's such a joy to turn myself loose whenever something catches my eye, however large or small the idea. I'm always happy about knowing something about something new, ya know.

The kids in my daughter's classroom have been a joy to get to know this year. My kid tests me like always and everyone else is trusting and testing me right on schedule. I swear the brown kids have collectively breathed some kind of sigh about me and decided I am on their side. I think it's because I really like each one of them.

It's a source of endless fascination to all of the kids that they are different from one another, in shape, size, color, hair, you name it. There are mixed-race families of all kinds, Indians married to whites, whites adopting Indians, black and white, gay and straight folks, young parents and older ones. Despite feeling their differences acutely, the kids resemble one another in almost every way, more than they can fathom at their young age. But they are growing up with a brown man as our country's president!

Anyway, on the 5th, the kids were abuzz with election news. "Tyson" came up to us on the playground before the first bell. He and I had been in a little jousting match lately; he'd been making a point of telling me he didn't want me to answer his questions when I came in to volunteer.

"That was quite an exciting election, wasn't it?" I said, as Tyson practically sputtered his words. "This election was all about change!" Tyson declared. "Change we can believe in!" He said the school vote had come to 380 for Obama and 150 for McCain. I haven't heard otherwise since.

Once all the kids had filed inside the classroom, and as soon as coats and bags had been stowed, the Spanish-speaking girls got down to rapt and rapid conversation. "La-li-la-la John McCain," I heard, not able to keep up with the urgently murmured words. One of McCain's supporters, "Meghan," before even hanging up her coat, made a beeline for the teacher. Meghan poured out a stream of frustration and sadness that lamented the vote having gone the wrong way for her and everyone in her family. The teacher nodded and empathized with her frustration but without totally agreeing with her charge's politics and not disclosing her own. She and I understood each other. But the children did not know whom the teacher had supported in the election. (That's why I found one of the ads for one of the Colorado ballot issues so offensive -- it almost made me vote against it.)

This historic election makes me happy for myself, with my threads of African and Native American descent along with the "Scotch-Irish" und lots of German. Who knows if anyone else in my ancestry was disavowed along the way (Jews, perhaps?). My ancestors did not uniformly seem to be the kind who advanced because of their tolerance for other cultures, other ways of life. Now all that mixing we have been doing all along can come out of the cultural closet. It may continue to reverberate and reveal to us something about how unnecessary that boundary truly is in our world. But it makes me positively overjoyed for my daughter and her peers, these truly wonder-filled sprouts of joy and energy bursting out into the world. From across the street when I was in the little school, that big public school made of bricks and concrete and pavement seemed so white and sterile. Now that we are families of that big public school, it feels warm and welcoming; it has a supportive structure for the many things everyone needs and wants to provide for this new crop of learners and workers.

Speaking of workers, I still can't believe how early they start inculcating the kids with information, though. Such is the pressure of the testing they do in the third grade that if the Leave No Child Behind folks had their way, the kids would all be able to work at McDonald's by the time they were eight. For us that timetable isn't quite right. But I'm continually amazed at the blistering speed with which they get new concepts. The testing drives that intense exposure to math and language.

I wonder if there would be a way to build into such a large entity -- the U.S. public school system -- some new adaptive approaches using specific developmental markers that indicate readiness for learning. Of course, all that has to be supported by nutrition that supports mental health and learning. Because you can't learn if you're not healthy; if you're chronically unhealthy, you're likely to be poor, and if you're not now, you may be soon if you're not very careful. And you have to have the money to provide a long enough school day that they have playtime, too.

How does a community support total health? Isn't it kind of like what parents are always urged to do in the magazines: provide enough nutrition to get through the time. Remove sources of stress (that's huge). Have available fruits and healthy snacks available in every way, not just the highly processed, simple-carbohydrate, oversalted and -sugared stuff that leaves you gasping for a Coke to jack your sugar levels back up to their precarious heights again an hour later. You rezone your neighborhoods to allow every neighborhood a bodega stocked with affordable, fresh veggies and fruits, breads, dairy, eggs, and other essentials. Oatmeal and granola alongside some of the more familiar options. It's a start.

So those are my priorities, again: public health, food, learning. It's all one thing. How do we the people take those things back from the corporations that are holding them hostage?

05 November 2008


Hey now! Hey now!

Time for the dream team! (Stretch it out all long and Spearhead-style for maximum effect.) As someone who recently made her father-in-law smile when my sweetie and I said we were going to see Michael Franti and Spearhead, which we described as "socially conscious hip-hop," I suddenly feel like it's my kind who are in the mainstream. Talk about a new sensation. I love the way it makes me feel like America is part of the world again. No longer a superpower standing alone in its own universe with its own laws.

Everyone is suiting up for the big game ahead. Time to get some work done, and with a Democratic majority and Obama at the helm of this good ship (really she still is good at heart and that's what this election brought out in people), we have a chance at reversing course and setting a new direction, one that adapts to our existing resource pool -- which is vast and includes raw resources, infrastructure, an educated and willing workforce, support for innovation, and millions of people who just voted in this election wanting something or at the very least someone to believe in, to work hard for.

The experience of this election does make me feel like rolling up my sleeves and getting to work in a new way. I'm less fearful. Although I've decided not to use the real drug company or name (you who have heard/read my rants know which drug I'm talking about) in my story. I decided I like the weird side effects in my fictional drug better anyway. I will, however, include a bibliography to offer some source material to back myself up with folks like the former high-level government employee whom I interviewed, who reminded me that there can be malcontents in our midst: "Whistleblowers aren't always model employees." I want people like that to know I am not just pulling this out of thin air. That people really do play dirty pool for money and here is how and why they do it. Because it's not only the malcontents who blow whistles. Perhaps I'll write this book and this kind of stuff will come to look like a dusty old relic of an outmoded economic system. People will write me off as some kind of paranoid crank while I'm like some 1960s radical who can't quit carping about corporate malfeasance well into my eighties.

Last night I kept coming back to my computer for the election maps and to watch this barometer of feelings streaming past again and again last night as the results were coming in and the race had not yet been decided. Suddenly the results just flooded in, and Obama had handily won his Electoral College victory had been handily won by 9 our time. Just as I was finishing reading to our little one, we heard the whoops in the street. I jumped back online again and the words from Obama supporters were all positive: hopeful, elated, victorious, proud, overjoyed, amazed, and the everpresent sassy, which appeared in both camps' postings. It's fun to set it to 11PM Eastern Time and watch the emotions shift gears.

Today I also feel jetlagged, maybe in sympathy for those hard-traveling campaign workers of all stripes. It ain't easy at any level of the campaign. And my heart goes out to those conservatives who didn't get their pick, too. I can't help it, being the bleeding-heart liberal that I am. I know they thought they were holding some line, but it turned out that line was drawn in sand, and there are too many of us on the "other side."

It is just thrilling to be here to see this happen in our country, right now. Another forty-something woman said to me today, "I really didn't think we'd see this happen in my lifetime. An African-American or a woman in the White House." All present agreed. She likened it to the way people said to her grandmother back in her day, "Oh, sure, when they put a man on the moon."

This election has been a great reminder that someone like Ferran Adria could still come up with a process for plunging purgatory into a deep freeze. It may prove true that anything is possible, and this certainly proves, again, that one person can bring about great change.

04 November 2008

President Obama!

What a moment in history this is! A few minutes ago I was reading a story to my little brown girl and we heard the whooping in the streets. We sprang out of bed and ran down to see if they'd called the election and yes! It is true! Barack Obama will be our next president! Oh, my goodness, to think that in 1963 the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired a march toward true equality that is culminating in Barack Obama's presidency, his position as leader of the free world. I finally feel like it will be a truly freer world as a result.

And what a relief this is. All day I had to keep reminding myself to take deep breaths. I've been walking on pins and needles wondering whether the Republicans would pull out some last minute flood of votes or lines would be so long at the polling places or the glitches so numerous that polls wouldn't close until midnight and the vote wouldn't even be counted until three in the morning. So it is huge to see victory come this early (even if it is due to the Electoral College factor, which I'd rather see us do without entirely).

I am elated.

Little did I know this was a tipping point.