#Reserved

(I kept myself amused this morning by imagining a breakfast restaurant called Hashtag. Probably not the first time for this idea, but the thought cracked me in my own world.)

I write this love letter to you from the Central Branch of the San Diego Public Library system. Specifically, I’m in the eighth floor Reading Room. The library is fairly new and is still suffering the fussiness of final touches–some days the latches on the restroom stalls don’t work, other days the escalators don’t work on all floors, the “Auditorium” sign was removed when the “o” fell off–but there is so much here for me to love in the place of the gaps.

I’m developing a routine, a rule-book of my own design:
First stop, the gift store, full of things you would find at a Paper Source or museum gift shop;
Next, the New Arrivals in Fiction;
Then, the fourth floor of fiction requiem;
Lastly, the Reading Room.

The Reading is a blend of the long study tables you would find at other libraries and a whole collection of chairs mismatched save for their color. The sofas, benches, easy chairs, chaise lounges, dining room table chairs, rocking chairs, wicker…they are all the same brilliant azure. Fifty different textures, and one color, like a Martha Stewart wedding for seating. All of the blue faces the windows, but the windows are walls, so all of us, even those of us in the middle of the space, can gaze off at the Coronado Bridge and hope for a muse over the Bay.

Sometimes I watch the bridge as I write, but mostly I look up occasionally and light on Mexico, close enough to touch if I were Stretch Armstrong, visible in peaks and haze. I’m high up and the mountains are high up; we meet in the altitude. The water view is okay–more shipping cranes and trucking than beckon–but I look off at the mountains and dream of someday speaking Spanish. Rumor has it Tijuana is awful, but I wouldn’t know; I don’t have a passport.

Maybe this year.

Behind You

I’m reading Salman Rushdie’s memoir these days, and he talks about loss of concentration. Since he was on the move almost constantly when the fatwa was issued, he found it difficult to focus on his writing and create something. He had an audience; organizations world-wide awarding him with prizes and his son asking for a book of stories for children, but he found it difficult to find the drive to write with his precarious living situation.
I have very little demand or belief in my work. I’m like a plant that continues to grow despite lack of light or water. But when someone lends of a moment of nurturing, my writing takes off like a weed, overloaded, believing too. For a bit I’m reaching and deep green, maybe even blooming as the effect starts to wear down. Distress signal in a fan of color. And then I’m back to slow growth.
I need to take the food in small doses and live longer…which is why when I was nurtured this past week, just before Christmas, I copied and pasted the nurturance in my phone’s notebook to read. “See here,” it says, “remember your worth.”
I’m not blooming yet…and want to make this last as deep as a well.

The Boob Tube

If my parents wanted me to fit in with the world, they did a God-awful job in terms of culture.  Raised on a secluded farm in Northwest Ohio, I didn’t have prolonged experience with television until high school, and my exposure with COLOR television started at about the same time as my prolonged exposure to it.  I did watch a little television as a grade-schooler, all based in PBS and black-and-white films from the 30’s and 40’s.

My primary source of entertainment as a kid, young and adolescent, was reading.

Christmastime brings back that treasured activity, and if folks ask me what I want for Christmas, I usually ask for books or gift certificates to book stores.  Anything literary is a hit with me.  The earliest Christmas I can remember, all the way to the last “normal” Christmas I had at home in Ohio, involved gifts of books and words.  When I lived at home my parents didn’t put presents under the tree; they split the couch in half and placed my gifts on one side and my brother’s gifts on the other side.  In the middle, for both of us, was a luxurious spread of books, all signed with love inside the front cover in my mother’s small, spidery handwriting.  I usually ended up with the collection every year, since my brother was more into games than books.

Water-cooler talk at any workplace I’ve ever had the privilege to serve has rarely drifted to books.  There was some brief forays into literature with Harry Potter, but those moments were very, very brief.  Always the subject of conversation was last night’s episode of something that bored me to tears if I tried to watch it, and I tried to watch over and over, hoping to understanding the draw.  

Nowhere did that happen more acutely than when I worked for a little sporting goods company in Southwest Missouri called Bass Pro Shops.  Bass Pro was my sustaining income while I was getting my literature degree; I taught call center employees there in the evenings full time and learned about writing and history in the mornings full time at Missouri State University.  Bass Pro not only gave me the opportunity to teach, it gave me a restaurant called Hemingway’s to appreciate, and gave me a love of nature and environmentalism beyond the organic nature of my mother’s farming.  But in the break rooms and on the phones with customers, I didn’t get to talk about Hemingway the man very much.

I was talking to fishermen, and hunters of all kinds.  Including duck hunters.

Which brings us back to television, and my complete lack of understanding its draw, and the backwoods shows from the Discovery Channel and A&E, particularly “Duck Dynasty.”

There’s been a lot of fuss lately over this show, thanks to an interview with its patriarch.  Like most other forms of television, I tried to watch this show, and even though I used to sell duck calls and hunting accessories and I love Louisiana culture (in a Kate Chopin, Treme kind of way), I lasted only about twenty minutes.  And this was before the world heard Phil talk about his views on all things cultural.

Being a writer, I believe this guy is entitled to his opinion.  We all have protection of the First Amendment, provided we don’t shout “Fire!” for no reason in a crowd.  I don’t believe that most of his interview was a “fire” alarm.  Most of it was consistent to what I assumed he would say based on what I saw of the show.  

I say most of it, because at one point he did say “Fire,” or something that rhymes with it, like “liar,” in terms of US history.  And US history was my minor in college, so when I read that part, I couldn’t defend his First Amendment access for it…and I understood his appeal even less.  He insisted that in his part of the world, African Americans loved life under Jim Crow, preferred it to the welfare state that they have been in since it ended, and said it in a way that insisted that anyone who said otherwise was to be dismissed.  Numerous lynchings and hangings and humiliation endured were dismissed for trivial, because a star on the highest-rated US show on television said that time was preferred by the people it oppressed.

I know there’s no logic to that statement, but do the people who watch it see the logic in that statement?  Do they accept it as fact?  Do they believe it because they admire this show?  

Do they think for themselves?

I’m reminded of a scene from a movie that I loved, with good writing, that wasn’t based on a dusty classic–Men In Black:

Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.

Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

See, wisdom.  I’m hoping more people remember that movie and that sentiment than watch “Duck Dynasty” or listen to Phil…but I have to be realistic and agree with Kay…just enough.

Trolling

I’m social media moody.  Sometimes I love it and will spend hours on all of the sites, reading the prizes dropped in my feed, and sometimes I do without, not in the mood to be a cheering squad for the world.

One thing that I never fail to hate about social media, however, is the fact that sometimes it is the only option for customer service.  I hate having to complain to a company online.  And it seems like lately I have to complain more and more.

To begin with, I’m pretty lenient when it comes to services and products…it takes more than one factor, or more than an “imagined” factor, to un-satisfy me.  Not so very long ago I could send an email if a product or service was unsatisfactory, but anymore emails and phone calls don’t work.  I’m either greeted by silence or auto-replies with the email route, or a lengthy wait on the phone with calling in.  So now usually the best avenue is shame the crap out of the organization on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media.  Taking this approach could be done anonymously, I suppose, but I consider that cowardly, so I always post as me.  But every time I have to post as me, I think, “Wow, you sound like a petty fool,” even though I’m not getting any satisfaction in trying to take care of the problem in a way that isn’t petty.

Anymore, shame is the only way to get action.

Why?  Why can’t customer service be a focus, innovation be a focus to proactively reduce the problem?  Why does it take scrawling “For a bad time, call ***-****” on the Internet wall to get anything to be done about the problem?  Why not review methods that don’t work at the private level, correct them, and therefore leave only the anonymous trolls in the feed?  

Maybe it’s just thought that to be cutting edge, organizations only have to place resources in social media…and let the lack of response funnel the action down to one place.  Maybe customer service is reduced to how squeaky of a wheel the consumer can be, instead of who takes care of their customer in the best way.

I’m still learning…and hoping to find the happy medium someday before I just have to perform constant ridicule. 

Music, Music, Music

Seated in the toasty coffee shop with a frou-frou blended concoction because it’s HOT FOR FRICKIN’ DECEMBER, but complaining about it won’t solve it (back in the States they would beat me up for complaining and here they would tell me to go back where I came from if I don’t like it, thanks much), so I plug the noise-canceling headphones into the pocket jukes-box (if you’re a John Wayne fan you’ll get the reference) and watch a sky afire.

SoCal has great wintertime sunsets, if nothing else. Purple canvas and fuchsia brush-strokes.

Just letting the tunes play reminds me how very accepting I am when it comes to music. I can roll my eyes at certain movie and book titles (“I stereotype, it’s faster” ~ “Up In the Air”), but I will listen to some stuff that will clear a room. In fact, I usually clear the living room at home because no one wants to listen to God’s playlist. (It’s not called that, but what a title, eh?) I hate genre-listening, to be perfectly frank. Hours of nothing but jazz or country or heavy metal would cause me to list to the starboard side. I can handle one artist for an hour, at the most, and then I am reminded of a chord in something entirely different (a switch comparable to going from Mumford & Sons to Corey Hart, Aerosmith to Alan Jackson) and have to switch gears. My iTunes recommendation collection looks like Pandora’s box.

Heh.

*Walks off…whistling*

About the List

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…when all the critics and the publications and even academies start naming the best stuff in the arts for 2013.  I love reading these lists.  Sometimes I start with these lists when I decide what to read next.

I hate making lists, however.  So this post may be the world’s worst list compilation.  I will try my best to just write on the list as art form, in sentences and paragraphs, but what may emerge is a list of my own–not intended but sure to occur.

Some of my favorite art is in list form.  Ambrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary” is a great example.  On the music side, some greatest hit collections are fantastic, and sometimes simplicity does the job (“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Greatest Hits of George Michael”).  Some movies play like a list–I’m thinking mostly of documentaries at this point, but Wes Anderson films sometimes manifest themselves in what sounds like a list read out loud.  But I can’t do it well.  The list in of itself requires limitation, something I get enough of on a daily basis.

Every so often I’m asked by a friend or follower on social media to come up with a list of my favorite books, movies, music, writers, etc.  Somewhere in the requirement of the list there are the words “of all time” or “in your life.”  I back away from these requests and most others; when Facebook first started I was pretty faithful about it, but such loyalty tended to backfire.  I couldn’t keep to the number of items needed, or my answer changed depending on where I lived or where I worked.  When I get the question now I either pass silently on it or recommend that folks look at my GoodReads queue or Rotten Tomatoes activity.  When I find a music website that is similar to GoodReads and/or Rotten Tomatoes, I’ll probably refer folks there as well.  

All books, all movies, all music changes my life–even the worst garbage in the world.  V.S. Naipaul taught me not to waste my time with V.S. Naipaul.  “2001: A Space Odyssey” taught me that Kubrick was a genius, but I didn’t want to watch all of his movies in a marathon or I might go off the deep end.  I haven’t finished “Anna Karenina” the book, and never will, but the 2012 movie was a spectacle I didn’t want to miss.  

I love Springsteen, Saunders, Sloan, Cooper.  And, for clarification, that would be Bruce, George, Robin, and Bradley.  I tolerate more in some artists than others…I looked forward to Mel Gibson in “The Beaver” because of Jodie Foster, and while I completely dislike Henry James, I adore the writing of Edith Wharton.  There are few Francis Ford Coppola movies that I can sit through, but I love his wine, his Cafe Zoetrope, and his daughter’s films.

I loved the mindset of Steve Jobs…even though he was a jerk.

The bad and best…they both shaped me.  To make a 10-point list of them would be a display of mass confusion for the reader, because I am awful at lists and because it would include Bukowski right next to Jong, Garcia Marquez in the same breath with Hemingway.  

My discovery is delightfully my own.  But, if you want the short list:  I’m on GoodReads, Rotten Tomatoes, etc, and so on.

Backseat Driver

It took me being on this side of management to see how challenged of a manager I had been.

But…now that I’ve seen how challenged I was, I wouldn’t mind trying it again, to be better, to be ready, to be more prepared.

Perhaps I will try managing myself as a writer…although self-taught is its own challenge.