Character Counts

Near the end of my fifth-grade year, my teacher printed four A's on the black board, depicting her top student's grades for every semester of that year. Then she wrote C, C, B, A and singled out the student who had gone from average to outstanding after working hard over the last nine months.

I was reminded of that story after I heard of the passing of Robert C. Byrd, the senator from West Virginia, who started out as a Klansman but ended up a leader for all Americans. He voted in favor of the war in Viet Nam but learned from his mistake, and vehemently opposed the current wars. He asked questions and made a fuss when others fell in line.

I'm also reminded of the time that same elementary school class turned against one of my friends. The chairs and desks of our music class were divided into two sections, and every student moved over to the other side of the room to avoid (and further target) this poor girl I'll call M, beckoning me to join them.

I sat at M's side as she lowered her head into her hands and cried. Every set of eyes in the class stared her down. (I think her crime might have been wearing bell bottoms in the late 80's.) For whatever reason the teacher was nowhere to be found, and when she returned she didn't question why the room was offsides.

M's parents may have dressed their daughter like Jan Brady, but M was, until that day, well liked. The following day everyone liked her again as if nothing had happened.

It's difficult to stand out from the crowd, and I used to (naively) think that growing up made people bolder, strengthened their character. But few people ever acquire such strength. Senator Byrd was a model for us all.


RX Drug Abuse in Florida

So this should be the last edit to my prescription drug abuse video for USF.

I feel like Robert Rodriguez working without a crew and the barest of video necessities, but I'm really happy with the end result. The best part may have been playing with the soundtrack. I knew I hung around musicians for a good reason.



WE CAN is the name of the women-centered drug court program in Pinellas County, FL. I did a short informational documentary on WE CAN this past spring as a research assistant at USF.

It was enlightening to work with the women of the court system as well as the clients, many of whom had never been in trouble in their lives until they got hooked on pain meds.


Florida Folk Show

The Florida Folk Show is hosted by Pete Gallagher and friends every Thursday morning at 9 on WMNF 88.5.

Pete follows up the show each week with a live evening performance at the Sloppy Pelican in St. Pete Beach.

I was there last Thursday to get a few snapshots, for fear of the oil making its way

For now, Florida birds, man and music are all safe.


Writing to Change the World

I read Reviving Ophelia years ago, in my early adulthood. It was one of the first books to really explain life to me; it told me things my parents and peers didn't quite grasp themselves. For once, I understood the reasons behind some of my own bad decision making, and also that people don't usually make bad decisions on purpose, or maim (emotionally or otherwise) those around them without the presence of extreme, unmanageable pain.

If you're like me and tend to believe that people are inherently good (at least on my good days), Reviving Ophelia provides great explanations of how the outside world (media, sexism, etc.) effects the inward life of girls and women.

A few years after writing Ophelia, Mary Pipher wrote Writing to Change the World in 2006. I happened upon the book a few weeks ago and have finally started to dig in. In the introduction Mary writes about how technology has overstimulated and disempowered us.
"Technology advances rapidly as collective wisdom declines. We are a nation good at consuming and poor at savoring."
I believe this, too. Technology is all around us, and for the most part, living, breathing, feeling people are not. It's become so easy to refer to those people we do see as "alien," "illegal," and "terrorist" because it's easier to label them than to say hello.

From my own experiences of moving around the U.S./Germany, I stayed more in touch through letters and phone calls in those pre-internet days than I now do with friends across town via the current social networks we all belong to.

My anti-consumerism aside, there will never be an app for smelling roses. Some of the very best things are actually still free.


Summer Reading

My life has become all about books since I started working at the library three months ago. I leave work after each shift with no less than three or four or more books - subjects I want to know about (the lives of Chinese factory workers), need to know about (health, digital video editing), and all those classics (Dave Eggers and Alan Watts) that I wished I had read as a dumb twentysomething.

I'm physically bringing my work home with me. It took just over a month to hit the 50 item check out limit. My dining room table is buried. It's as if I'm at the library even on my days off.

In the interest of having a clean house, however, I need to stop hoarding soon. But for now, I'll continue to alternate between my two checked out copies (print and audio) of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (book discussion at the end of the month) and then onto whatever next awaits me.

A brand new book I just finished (and returned) and highly recommend is Peter (son of Warren) Buffett's Life is What You Make It. Not only can you judge this book by its crisp little cover, but the title pretty much sums it up while the book itself gives you the common sense to actually follow through and make it happen. Whatever your particular "it" might be.


Memories and Memoirs

When I was a young(er) writer finishing my B.A. in mass comm in Dover, DE, I found my way into an active statewide writers' group. I had the opportunity to read my stuff out loud in public for the first time. It was exciting, you know, for Delaware.

I thought bigger states would lead to bigger things, or at least to a "writers' tea party of my imagination," as described by fellow group member and then-stay-at-home mom/writer Julianna Baggott. (I might be paraphrasing, but that's how I replay it.)

Even though I've been lucky enough to write what I like and sometimes get paid for it, I've never again been part of an active community of writers. Until today. Margo Hammond, a former book editor for the St. Petersburg Times and all-around Book Babe, lead a memoir class - at a tea house even - with writers, both aspiring and seasoned.

The class was packed and I drank way too much coffee, despite the whole tea drinking dream. Margo began by giving us a choice of three writing prompts. I picked writing a letter to someone dead.
Dear Grandfather Morgan,
I don't even know your first name, and I've never addressed any of my grandparents as "Grandmother" or "Grandfather." It's too formal. You're the only grandparent I never got to meet. You died when my dad was in junior or senior high school, my uncle half his age.

I've seen one photo of you from Granma's wallet, which I kept for years after she died. 30 years after your death. She was 30 years younger than you, a single mother in the early 60's.

I don't know what you did for a living or even if you loved Dot and your family. She never talked about you, she never dated or remarried. Did you scare her, scar her, leave a bad first impression of love? Why on earth did you think it was a good idea to marry your daughter's best friend? Like my Granma though, I married someone three decades older than me.

I loved what Margo said about authenticity: "The more specific you write, the more universal it becomes. And the more people will want to read you."

As much as I love journalism and the pleasure of telling someone else's story, I much prefer them to have the tools to tell their stories themselves. Not to mention getting the chance to tell my own.


Homemade Music Symposium 2010

Despite all the cover acts and its heavy metal past, Tampa Bay is a wealth of original music, singer-songwriters, and people willing to share what they know.

The Homemade Music Symposium 2010 combines all of the above. It kicks off Wednesday night in Ybor with panel discussions, lectures, and live music through Sunday.

Visit the Artists and Writer's Group website for more info and the schedule.

If you're new to town or aren't acquainted with local music, this is the place to start.

Poster designed by Kelly Young, Nightcat Studio


The Story of Stuff

I hate feeling guilty about not being able to afford lots of the green options available at the store. (Advertisers and salespeople make their livings from such guilt.) But buying green isn't the same as going green. Something to keep in mind if you visit the Tampa Bay Living Green Expo this weekend.

I also hate that there simply aren't many true green options: lots of things, especially electronics, are made to be replaced. Quickly. The quicker it gets to the landfill, the quicker the company that made the product will have another sale to ring up.

In our shopping-obsessed culture we've become convinced that there is a product to heal whatever ails us. Why not just buy less?

I just listened to a podcast of Annie Leonard on KUOW's Speakers' Forum. The speech was a great introduction to every day environmentalism, and it also took away some of that buyer's guilt of mine. It got me thinking that, sure, buying less will reduce my carbon footprint, but my feet are small compared to the enormous boots of companies that inhale the world's natural resources, spit out a product (and endless pollution), then convince us we need whatever they've got for sale.

Remember The Lorax?

Annie Leonard also has an animated movie called The Story of Stuff, and a new book that chronicles her journey around the world and through miles and miles of American garbage.