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Patience

I enjoy plants and flowers, but I don’t have a green thumb.  What I do have is patience.  I planted peony bulbs three years ago and last year I was rewarded with this fuchsia flower — a singular diva bloom.  This year my reward was the pink peony — again, a spectacular solo performer.

Thanks Mother Nature for changing it up and giving me something to look forward to, because I sure can’t remember what colors I planted.

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Journalism vs Marketing

 

For the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over the topic of Facebook as a news source. This mulling was sparked by the recent accusation that Facebook was blocking more conservative posts from its members’ feeds. Although I’d classify myself as active on social media I would not characterize myself as a heavy FB user, but I cannot deny that FB is a driving force in contemporary life.

But as a heavy consumer of news, this provoked me into thinking more critically about how news is packaged now. I began by looking at Random House Webster’s College Dictionary’s definition of journalism:

journalism: (1) the occupation of gathering, writing, editing and publishing or broadcasting news. (2) newspapers and magazines; the press. (3) a course of study for a career in journalism. (4) material written for a newspaper or magazine. (5) writing marked by a popular slant.
Then I added the Five (Plus One) Questions of Journalism that I learned in school:
WHO? WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY? and HOW?

Although many FB users like the ability to share personal content with both their friends and in some cases, the public at large, Facebook is a business and the reason its platform is “free” is because its users have a value to their business. I respect that Facebook is a business model and the positive elements it brings to its users’ personal and professional lives, but I don’t give it any higher, altruistic attributes.

Facebook evolved from a cool way for college students to engage with a defined population into a global tool for people (with internet access) to share personal content. That personal content shapes and drives what you see, and it is driven primarily by those mystical algorithms. The recent news kerfuffle revealed by Gizmodo is that there are humans (primarily young, East-coast educated humans) who curate the news feeds, and while this isn’t surprising from an employment standpoint it does make me consider what the employer’s motivation is in regard to this staff.

And then I remembered the Three Big Questions of Marketing:
1. Why do you do it?
2. How do you do it?
3. Why should we care?

But if Facebook considers itself a news source shouldn’t  it be held to as high a standard as news outlets? Recently I read an op-ed letter that described Facebook’s news feed as akin to getting your news out of a gumball machine. Although that resonated with me I’d be more inclined to describe it as getting your news from one of those arcade games where you crank a crane over the stuffed animal of your choice before you drop it. You may not get THAT animal but you’ll get something. Since Facebook is using “likes” and “friends” to drive the feed the reader will never know what s/he DOESN’T see. There’s nothing inherently wrong with click bait and recommended content, but I have a problem with the limits on “why” is it selected for you.

When you buy a newspaper or visit a news-specific site there is visible paid advertising, so why is that any different from Facebook? I don’t necessarily read every article in a newspaper or every ad, but the people who run the newspaper make it very clear which content is which. They even make it clear when they aren’t just giving me the facts; such as the Op-Ed page where they invite folks with differing opinions to share them. And maybe that’s where I get hung up. I don’t want anyone to presume that because I liked something once, that’s the limit of everything I like. I may be open to liking something new and different, but the only way you’d know that is if you get to know me. And getting to know me is a privilege earned by your professional behavior.

But let’s get back to journalism, which is what I’m calling “news” for this exercise. Most adults realize that although journalists should be unbiased professionals many of the organizations who employ them have a distinct slant. I try to read from as many news outlets as I can and pay attention to the bylines.  I follow news organizations on Twitter — and that has sped up my own personal news cycle in terms of delivering breaking news. But there is something warmed-over about Facebook news — like it’s pre-digested. Sometimes news is like a punch to the gut.  When it’s bad news it will sadden you or even make you shake with rage.  News shouldn’t be trying to sell you on something.  Its first purpose is to inform you, its higher purpose it to enlighten you, but its most noble purpose is to make you uncomfortable.

Facebook’s purpose is to get your eyes to linger as long as possible so somebody somewhere can figure out how to sell you something.  It is far from FB’s best interest to make you feel like logging off (which may also explain why trolling and negative behavoir get a lot of attention).   I enjoy a good cat video as much as the next guy, but until cats can get press credentials I’ll get my news from the journalists.

 

 

 

Short Fiction

At Loose Ends

CHOMP

She felt raggedy, unraveled.   She looked it, too.  But once she started working she couldn’t stop; wouldn’t stop.  Didn’t matter if she couldn’t finish in just one sitting she wanted to get as far as she could.  Maybe it was her obsessive, excessively competitive nature that made her count the rows of stitches?  Or perhaps she just liked to see the thing materialize, soft between her fingers.

Too much coffee and a restless leg made her stop around three thirty.  She rubbed her neck and then her eyes as she looked at the pieces.  Knitting is creation — there’s a reason it’s used to describe healing for broken bones —  making something new exist in an open, fractured place.

So she knits all night to fill up the broken, empty place. Thinking about the sweater, socks, blanket, hat takes up the loose yarn and energy she would spend on thinking and crying. Mourning is for the daytime and knitting is for the night.

 

creative non-fiction

Factory Ladies

One of my first jobs was working in a phonograph needle factory.  And, no, this is NOT a piece of flash fiction set in the distant past.  Before you get too far ahead of yourself in guessing my age, I was a “kid.”  I worked with a couple of other “kids” on a part-time basis and we worked alongside a group of full-timers, all women, called respectfully, “the ladies.”

These were not highly skilled, specialized jobs.  I think I worked fifteen hours a week, for five bucks an hour doing a menial, low-tech assembly line type of job involving little pieces of plastic, glue and a machine scientifically called “the squeezer.”  The Ladies performed only slightly more sophisticated processes full-time, for eight hours, five days a week.  When school was out we kids could work eight hour days, too.   Thankfully we had a cap on our weekly hours because it was mind-numbing work.  The glue would stick to my fingers creating weird bumps and the fumes would sometimes give me  headaches.   One of the ladies also did pink-collar admin work for the factory owner, a guy who bore a striking resemblance to Pop-Eye, except instead of a pipe he bobbled a burning cigarette between his lips. Clearly OSHA wasn’t very interested in monitoring suburban phonograph needle factories, because the place was one spark and a bucket away from an arson investigation.

I got the phonograph needle factory job from networking (before that was even considered a thing).   My good friend worked there and she recommended me.    It was a pretty easy job, it was local, and it gave us something to talk about other than school.  We were sixteen years old and marking time until our futures arrived.  Or rather, until we left town to meet up with Future at college.    And we were accomplished, eager eavesdroppers.  We knew when the Ladies dropped their voices low that they were gossiping about the owner. However, there were three main topics of general conversation:

  • Food, or more specifically what was for lunch and what were you planning to make for dinner that night.
  • Death, or more specifically what recently deceased bodies looked like.  Sometimes there was a spiritual component to the conversation: was there a hell?  Was promiscuity punishable by damnation?  There was one Lady who calmly maintained her existentialism and this seemed to upset one of her co-workers who was sure this  position would send her straight to Hell.   After these vigorous debates the Ladies would break and all eat lunch together.
  • And the most provocative topic was sex.   The most vocal and continuing debate was over the sexiness of Elvis Presley, Chad Everett (star of the TV drama,  Medical Center, 1969 – 1976 ) and  Richard Chamberlain (Golden Globe winner for Best Actor, 1962, as Dr. Kildare.  Also outed as gay in 1989.)    Again, television medicine did little to answer their questions about death, but it led to some serious romantic fantasy.  The Ladies did not censor themselves.  I took their openness as recognition of my own womanly maturity — mostly fantasy itself.

These women were earthy realists.  Of the five, only one was married.  The others were divorced. Two had children, and clearly the single women were self- supporting.  The Factory Ladies were very nurturing, proud and protective of us kids.  We kids treated them with respect and found out more about their lives — how different they were from ours and how hard they were.  Even though they didn’t expect that their work lives were going to change very much, they knew that we were on the edge of a transition we were still too dumb to comprehend.  Maybe they remembered themselves, fresh at their own thresholds, wondering what they would have done differently?  Or maybe they were just cheering us on.

The bulk of my spending scratch and college funding had been raised from some cushy and steady babysitting gigs ~ a stroke of financial good fortune brought on by a deficient teen social life.  All of the women I met growing up were either mothers or teachers.  I didn’t know any lawyers or doctors who were women, and most of my friends’ moms worked at part time jobs during school hours, if they worked outside the home at all.   I did get a subscription to Ms. Magazine as a Christmas gift from the progressive family I babysat for, and my parents insisted on personal independence for me and my sister, but I had little frame of reference about my career options.  Although I watched TV, went to movies and read books I just never internalized that I could make a living creating any of those things.  And I venture to add that neither did my parents.  But working alongside these women gave me some insight to the meaning of work, of camaraderie and how to navigate a difference of opinion, that respect is due to all types of work.  They may have asked us to refer to them as “ladies,” but they were working women.  To this day I cringe (and then say something. I aim for humorous, yet pointed) when I hear anybody say in any work-related context, “Have the girls do it.”  Or, “I’ll assign it to my girl.”   I’ve heard both men and women refer to their associates this way, and in the recent past.

Women work.

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Forever, Plastics

Perhaps my goal here is to further “afflict the comfortable,” but this BBC Earth video from 2009 left me awestruck.   I discovered it visiting the site of the poet Liz Brownlee who is participating in the A-to-Z Challenge again this year (her “A” entry is about the albatross).  I became her WP follower two years ago when I first survived  A2Z and she continues to inspire me with both the depth and breath of her work.

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“Just One Word: Plastics.”

That quote is from the 1967 film The Graduate.  An innocuous little quote, but it is what’s been keeping me up nights.  More specifically it’s the growing amount of plastic in the water.  Let’s start small and consider the microbeads from beauty and cleaning products that may have already entered the food chain.   These tiny (smaller than 2 millimeters) bits of plastic are added to our face washes, toothpastes and nail polishes to help us exfoliate.   But unlike organic grainy products like sugar, sand, shells or coffee grounds that break down, these microbeads travel down our drains and into the sewer system. Since they are too small to be filtered out at local water treatment plants they flow right into the ocean (they are even too small to join the huge floating garbage patch — more on that in a bit) where they are eaten by fish….who are in turn eaten by bigger fish…. and, well, you get the idea.  The plastic bits are also great at absorbing other pollutants in the water — intensifying their toxicity as well.

Maybe there’s hope.  Congress passed and President Obama has signed legislation banning the manufacture of polyethylene microbeads late last year.   ( H.R. 1321, or the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015), but the ban on products containing microbeads isn’t in effect until January 1, 2018.  The manufacture of products containing microbeads begins six months earlier on July 7, 2017.  This legislation was sponsored by New Jersey’s  Representative Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.)  So let’s give thanks to some bipartisan efforts in passing legislation to protect us (and our waters) just a little bit.

One of our local environmental advocates is NY/NJ Baykeeper.  The good folks of this organization published the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Plastic Collection Report. (You can access the link to the February 2016 report from NY/NJ Baykeeper.)  Their estimate is 165 MILLION plastic particles are floating in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary ~ that seems like a big number for a localized area that prides itself on water tourism.

But the West coast isn’t immune to the growing footprint of plastic either.  It’s a real thing, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – 270,000 tons of plastic garbage  floating across the ocean.   How can we possibly think that our children’s children are going to be able to swim in the ocean on a summer day?   I grew up within a 2 mile walk to the Atlantic Ocean.  I took for granted that I could go to the beach anytime, in any season.  I’ve scavenged for driftwood in the deep cold of winter and I’ve walked on the beach at summer’s twilight, feeling the sand cool between my toes. I’ve cleaned beaches with various groups and marveled at the junk coughed up by rough surf.

Then I realized with great shame that even with self-awareness and best intentions, I am part of the problem.  I buy bottled water, I drink coffee in a to-go Styrofoam cup, I eat  my morning yogurt from a plastic container.  My newspapers are delivered dry in plastic bags.  I can rationalize that I recycle plastics at home, but it that enough of an effort to stem the tide of floating junk?   I began to really look at every product I touched today.  Here’s an abbreviated list:

Lip balm and tubes of make-up

Personal care products: tube of toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo and hair dryer 

Plastic bag to carry my ice cream home from the market

The garbage bag in my plastic kitchen garbage can is also plastic 

My electronics:  laptop computer, cell phone, e-reader (not just plastic, but toxic e-waste, too)

Okay, then, what’s the alternative?  The NY/NJ Baykeeper Report includes guidelines to move towards a “plastic-free” lifestyle.  I’ve added them below as well:

Bring reusable bags to the grocery store.  Shop products sold in bulk at the grocery store.  Check out ECOBAGS®, ECO Lunchboxes, and EcoDitty for a great selection of produce bags, lunch bags, sandwich bags, and more.  Use a reusable glass or stainless steel bottle or mug, such as Klean Kanteen and Love Bottle.  Carry reusable utensils with you. When ordering take-out, opt-out of plastic utensils.  Ask your server to wrap your leftovers in aluminum foil instead of using polystyrene foam boxes.  Say no to plastic straws. Check out Glass Dharma for durable glass straws.  Dispose of cigarette butts in a receptacle. The filter is composed of plastic.  Use fewer garbage bags by composting food waste and paper.  Check out all natural personal care products that do not include plastic microbeads. When in doubt, check the product label for polyethylene or polypropylene. If the product contains either of these ingredients, it contains plastic microbeads.

 

The reality is that Nature will do her own cleaning after humans have polluted themselves out of existence.  But I don’t want to just ride the plastic gravy train until we can walk back to Russia from Alaska.  So I’m also going to give a shout-out (and link) to young New Jersey company looking to reduce hard-to-recycle waste, Terracycle.  These folks started out in 2001 and have taken some creative approaches to waste, recognizing that in case it’s too late to put the brakes on our disposable society, maybe we can alter the life cycle of waste. Hey, outside the box thinking means never needing a box at all.