Monday, September 27, 2010

Your Hometown: a left-brained and a right-brained approach to perceiving the place.

Maybe you're like me, and you're far, far away physically (and spiritually) from where you started. But maybe, like me, you still have internal conversations with old friends or family who have departed. Maybe, like me, you never stop loving people you grew up with and you visit them in blurry dreams.
Or maybe not.
Maybe you're not like me at all and the past is the past is the past...
Nevertheless, you might still like to check out these sites.
Your hometown- a left-brained and a right-brained approach to perceiving the place:

1) Arcade Fire's The Wilderness Downtown interactive video site. You really really should have Google Chrome for this experience. Just download it and all is good. The Wilderness Downtown is pretty neat. You put in the zip code from your hometown (or anywhere) and the video captures parts of your hometown using Google Maps and some awesome music and art. The result is a custom-made music video!
It may not be the hometown of your childhood memories, but, really, you can never go back to that.
It's lost. Only accessible in  those aforementioned blurry, time-smeared dreams or glimpsed running by out of the corner of your eye.

If you are unfamiliar with Arcade Fire, they are responsible for the emotional, epic music in the Where the Wild Things Are film. It's pretty interesting hearing this epic music playing over images familiar to your life. Kind of like a soundtrack to a memory from the past.

2) Patchwork Nation. This is a totally different experience than The Wilderness Downtown! Patchwork Nation is a research and reporting project that maps information about America in a more compelling and complex way than using those tired old monikers like Democrat and Republican...which really don't get to the heart of what people are. Patchwork Nation looks at the factors that might make you a liberal or conservative; like race, income level, religion, education level...but it also challenges those assumptions by showing that we are more complicated than those labels.
So, like with The Wilderness Downtown, you punch in your zip, and it spits out information relevant to you. It shows you the demographics of your hometown, or current town, and puts your county into a category like "Monied 'Burbs" or "Boom Town" or "Tractor Country" or "Evangelical Epicenter." These categories can be problematic too due to the fact that they are based on the county, not the city or neighborhood. For example, my current zip was categorized as a "Monied 'Burb", even though there is a huge immigrant population here in pretty dire poverty. Yet, because the wealth of nearby Bethesda and Chevy Chase are in the same county, the entire area is classified by that wealth.
In spite of it's limitations, Patchwork Nation gives insights on how we are changing politically and otherwise. You can see where all foreclosures are taking place and how that effects how people vote. You can see where counties with Cracker Barrels are versus counties with Whole Foods. You can create some cool map/data mashups.
Maybe I'm just a nerd. But, it was fascinating for me to see the data on the different types of communities that I've lived diverse they are, or what they have in common.
My hometown, Lake Butler, FL, currently has a population of about 15,000...and about 86% of those people consider themselves to be Evangelical Christians.
The town I reside in now, Takoma Park, MD has a population of 950,000...with just about every religion represented...only 14% Evangelical.
Very interesting!

When the creator of Patchwork Nation spoke to a group of us last week at Greenpeace, I asked him if he knew of any similar sites that study this kind of human data, but on a more global level. He pointed me to Gapminder, which looks at world trends. Cool mappy stuff.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Small Shaving Tip: If you can't beat the system...break it!

A couple of random tips for the ladies (and applicable fellas too):

1) If you shave your legs with hair conditioner, they will be much softer and smoother than if using shaving cream. You may find yourself unconsciously caressing your own legs in public, causing great embarrassment to yourself and those around you.
That has been my experience anyways.
Go ahead and try it, and let me know if you have any similar experiences.

2) If you do use conditioner to shave your legs, then you should probably be seated whilst shaving. Otherwise, as the bottom of your tub becomes all slicked up with the magical, mysterious, unpronounceable and surely toxic conditioner oils and ingredients, you very well may find yourself sliding right out of the tub and onto a hard, tiled floor, whirling and spinning around like a character from Electric Boogaloo. And let me assure you that it is not fun at all to breakdance in the nude.

That has been my experience anyways.
Go ahead and try it, and let me know if you have any similar experiences.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Transportation Meditations: Part 3: Public Trans.- The Metro

Maybe it's just that I'm in the honeymoon phase of my relationship with the Metro, but so far- I heart it so!
First of all, oh my, the people-watching opportunities are unbeatable. There are all kinds of folks elbow to elbow ("It's called Speed Stick- It's not expensive!"). In the mornings, people tend to be on the quiet side, waking up. But in the afternoons, whoa, what conversations (with occassional splatterings of profanity) I overhear. Sometimes complete tragic dramas are played out over a mobile phone. And I think I might have witnessed a baby being made yesterday. Are we either exhibitionists or voyeurs?
It is truly Public Transportation Theater. I went to a Creative Writing Group meeting the other day, and one of the writers insisted that the Metro is the best place to get story ideas. True dat. It's also a good place, as a writer, to listen to genuine dialogue, genuine slang, speech patterns, etc. to include in your writing. You know, slang that's more current and authentic than 'true dat'. But I digress.
Another few reasons I love the Metro (so far), are: it's easy, effortless- a lot simpler than driving into DC and parking. There are so many OneWays, traffic, crazy drivers, traffic, and more traffic, and road rage. The last time I drove to DC was for a Dr's appointment for took FOREVER to traverse 7 miles, and when we finally arrived home, I just wanted to drink. Nerve-wracking. The Metro, on the other hand, you step on, no, yeah, the train shares it's track with nada...and then you step right off, convienently at your destination. On the way, you could read a book, listen to your Ipod, people watch, or even have a long, loud personal conversation on your phone for everyone on the train to hear, etc. Whatevs!     
Also, I adore the fact that I'm not driving a car that is idling through traffic, burning up the fuel, smogging up the air.

My only complaint is that during the peak hours, the Metro fares are a wee bit expensive. 3 bucks there, 3 bucks back. Not really expensive, I guess, if you consider that to park a car in DC, I'd be spending at least $10-15 a day! And if you factor in gas costs, car maintenence, insurance, and monthly car payments....well, that 3 bucks there and 3 bucks back is certainly the more frugal choice.

I realize I haven't shared my adventures with buses yet. Soon to come, ok!
In the meantime, I'd love to hear about any of your Public Transportation experiences/opinions/eavesdroppings.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Greenpeace and its haters

I started my internship with Greenpeace this week!
While some of what I'm doing has to be kept confidential (just in case someone from Exxon or BP reads my blog! ; )), I can share some insights here and there.
First of all, I've been really surprised by all the Greenpeace haters in the world. Some haters actually have interests that are in direct conflict with Greenpeace. For example, a logging company (Sinar Mas) that cuts down ancient rainforests in order to sell Palm Oil to Burger King to cook fries in. Well, Greenpeace values the rainforest, the animals that live there, and the humans who need the oxygen from those ancient rainforests. Yes, Greenpeace values that over the ability of Sinar Mas to make an easy buck. So, the conflict ensues.

Greenpeace, which is committed to NONVIOLENT forms of protest, informs the public about what Sinar Mas (and Burger King) are doing. Greenpeace is known for it's creative approaches to getting attention on a particular issue, and putting pressure on corporations to rethink and change their approaches. If you want to read about how successful Greenpeace has been with this particular campaign to save rainforests, click here, and you will see that Burger King has agreed to let us 'have it our way'- by dropping Sinar Mas.
Anyways, I just wanted to give that one very recent example of how Greenpeace is working hard to protect forests, animals, and the environment. Most of us can agree that Sinar Mas can choose another way to make its money, without destroying the planet.

It's those other areas, like Greenpeace's unyielding views on nukes and coal, that make it an organization that is opposed by many people in the mainstream. I understand a conflict of views/interests/perspectives. However, I can't understand the venom behind some of the opposition. It seems like a lot of the haters don't really know what Greenpeace does, and the haters project all of their issues with 'liberals' or 'hippies' onto Greenpeace. Misdirected hate.
Luckily, Greenpeace has a history of standing up to criticism, standing up even when they are being fired upon. I'll repeat, Greenpeace participates in NONVIOLENT protest. Activists often put their bodies between a tree and a bulldozer, between whales and whalers, between baby seals and a clubber, between a rainforest and a forest destroyers. I really respect their efforts, obviously, or else I wouldn't be involving myself with Greenpeace.
Watch this video, if you will,  and see some awesome historical Greenpeace activism.
 I find it pretty inspiring.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Transportation Meditations: Part 2, Bikes.

I have a limited experience with bicycles, but I appreciate their image.
Unfortunaetely, I've never been very serious or steady with them.
A bike has coasted into my life every 10 years or so, leaving knees skinned, muscles worn, tears.

I have an early memory of visiting my father, his wife Carla, and her children in Starke. Probably there were Tyler cousins around too. I was being carried around on the handle bars of someone's bike, when one of my (surely bare) feet strayed into the danger zone of the bicycle's spokes. A flip. A flop. A dusty end. Wailing ensued.

Later on my own bike, on the dead-end street near my grandma's, I would ride around with the gang of neighborhood kids. Us girls all toted our baby dolls in pink and purple baskets attached to our pink and purple bikes. Kristy had a Cabbage Patch Kid that I envied, a reminder of my (relative) poverty (no Cabbage Patch Kids, no summer camps, no labels). Jamie had a Kimberly Cheerleader doll who was massive, long-legged, short-skirted, with long, flowing locks of blonde.
I had an ugly plastic baby named Suzy (I named them all Suzy for a while) who would really pee. I would feed her a bottle of water, and she would immediately soak her diaper. Her eyes would close when you lay her down and open when held upright. My unsteady bike wheels weaving through patches of dirt.
Suzy skidding across the dead-end street with a strangely satisfying thud rattle thud rattle. Her plastic nose whittled down by the gravely road, her dress- tattered.

I had a Salvation Army $20 bike briefly when I was a student at UF. I wasn't bravehearted enough to ride it around town, but I happily rode it up and down campus paths until it was stolen by a Grateful Dead dreadlocked kid (I'm fairly certain of this). My memories of this bike and this time are mostly of being extremely sweaty in the hot Florida sunshine, the aroma of Hare Krishna food, and the color yellow.

Current day. I found a bright, day glo orange/pink beach cruiser in my mother-in-law's barn, destined for a landfill. I had dreams of transforming her into something more serious, respectable, useful. I painted her a deep wine color, I fixed up her bungling wheels, I moved her with us here in Takoma Park. And here my dreams met reality. The bike has no gears, no brakes. I'm terrified riding her in the street. I can't get up even a smallish hill, and here there are many hills smallish and large-ish. Pulling Noah along behind me in his little bike trailer is a Herculian feat. And Hercules, I ain't.

I haven't given up on the whole bicycle experience. I just haven't found the right bike for my current situation. Takoma Park is pretty bike friendly, there are bike lanes, people are zipping by on snazzy bikes right outside the coffee shop window as I type this.

My husband bikes to work daily. I'm so proud of him. He does it because he wants to get around without a car, without depending on oil, without polluting the environment, because it's a great workout, because he enjoys it, and because he likes to challenge himself.

I fantasize about Michael, Noah, and I coasting along together (as a biking family) through quaint little villages, breeze across our brows, stopping in a shady, quiet, spot for a picnic.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Transportation Meditations: Part 1, Cars.

How we get from Here to There is important.

Transportation is a big deal.
An entire perspective can be altered by how you choose to get around.
I'm fortunate enough to have a plethora o' choices about how to move myself through the world,
and I'll be exploring some of those choices right here.

My personal car history:

I learned how to drive in my grandma's Lincoln Towncar.
It was an opportunity for her and Mr. Ray (her 6th, 7th? husband) to have cocktails in the backseat while I chauffered them through the scenic country backroads of Lulu and Sanford and Raiford.
"Look. A cow."
Once, I drove right up to a gas station and managed to wedge the whale of a car between the gas pumps and the gas station door, effectively trapping 4 or 5 people (about half of our small town!) inside.
Oh how they tapped and banged on the Quick Stop door, oh how they rolled their terrible eyes.

During my junior or senior year in high school, I acquired a white Ford LTD, which was a former police car. I used The Man's car to skip school a few times, making my transgressions doubly delightful.
Teenaged Me and the Freedom of the open road were a heady mix. I could not be chained.
I could not hold still for two seconds. That first car didn't last long.
It blew a gasket on a lovely green, horse-filled hill between Gainesville and Lake Butler.
Sarah and George were my passengers. We were returning home from Christmas shopping.
Fa La La La La La La La.

Next car in line, a little used Mazda.
From my father, as a freshman, to commute to the University of Florida.
Alas, I wasn't serious-minded enough (yet) for college.
And unfortunately, the Mazda leaked streaks and quart after quart of oil back and forth.      

Next up, a series of used little beaters.
Threadbare tires. Squeaky brakes.
Spilled milkshakes that glue hair and grime to the seats and windows.
Cars that appealed to me because they were cheap
and tied in to some crazy death-wish that ruled my 20's.  
One dented blue vessel that went sailing across icy Minneapolis streets, no snowtires.
One egg-shaped car that haunted late-night dives throughout grad-school in Tallahassee.
Can't remember which car I was in, listening to R.E.M.,
when I had a sudden urge to drive right off a bridge. 
Not that R.E.M. was feeding a suicidal tendancy, I was mostly just bored and melancholic,
had no direction, and desperately wanted something, something, anything to happen in my life.
And I imagined that the car would just float down the river,
bobbing up and down like a shiny piece of tackle.

But when I became pregnant with Noah, I insisted that everything be safe and clean, including my car.
(I shuttered to think that I could be stranded on the interstate
 in the middle of nowhere with a wailing infant in a broken-down old beater,
raditor a sprayin', hazard lights a flashin,' smoke a trailin' up towards heaven).
I assumed that the only responsible thing to do
would be to shell out a ton of cash (every month) on a new, reliable vehicle.
Here enters my current Mom-mobile. Devoid of personality.
Invulnerable to the world. A protective bubble sealing me and my family in snug and tight.
Of course, the feeling of invulnerablity is an illusion. Even though I feel in control behind the wheel, I'm still relying on everyone else on the road to uphold their end of the social contract. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Sometimes people are idiotic, and sometimes people have accidents.
We all know the car-crash statistics.
My husband's father was killed in a car crash a few years ago.
No one really knows if the sun was in his eyes, or if he glanced down to turn up the radio.
But we know he ran a stop sign.
And kept running it until he collided with a car carrying a woman, 8 months pregnant.

I have been entertaining the idea of getting rid of my car altogether now that we have so many other options here in Takoma Park/DC. A bus, a train, a bike, my own two feet...can get me from Here to There as well.
However, I have been steadily bumping into my own limitations. For example, I've realized I'm not Superwoman, and as much as I like riding bikes, it's not possible (well, it's possible, just not probable)
to lug Noah and his little bike trailer up and down hills and through traffic.
To be completely honest, I do feel more vulnerable, less in control, when I'm not driving a car.
And that feeling is magnified, oh about one hundred quatrillion times when Noah is in tow.
But I also feel seperate from a certain reality, a certain truth, a new mindfulness that can be found by getting from Here to There another way. I'll share my thoughts and experiences with other transportations soon.

To be continued...  


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Everything is sparkly and new. Or unfamiliar and anxiety-producing.

Finally decided I've had enough of just reading other people's blogs, lurking in the shadows. Time to dust this thing off and try it again...this dialogue with the universe that I call a blog.
We moved over the summer and are settling in (if that's even possible for a vagabond like me).
Takoma Park, MD met and exceeded many of my expectations, but of course, places are spaces full of people and people are full of contradictions. I bump into my own hypocrisy all the time.
One quality that attracted me to this area is that it's a progressive community of artists and activists, extremely diverse, and rich in culture.
Yet...yet...yet, what continues to divide people everywhere divides people here as well.
Money (or lack thereof). Race. Politics.
1) Money: There are home owners. And then there are the rest of us. It's ridiculously expensive to buy a teeny tiny home in this area. We will absolutely not be able to afford a home on Mr. Mad on a Gray Sea's professorial income alone. No big deal, right, I'll just go back to work next year when Noah starts kindergarten. But then, what about our hopes for another child? And when will I ever get out from under my gigantic, stupendous student loan debt? We will remain apartment dwellers for now, biding our time, trying to figure out where to fit and how to structure our lives.
2) Race: Beautifully gorgeous diverse people. Language barriers. Cultural barriers. Practically segregated neighborhoods. Corridors of crime. The aforementioned homeowners, predominantly white, drive their suv's to some important DC job while herds of ethnic nannies push white privileged wiggly babes in their designer strollers.
3) Politics: While it warms my little liberal heart to see so many Obama bumper stickers, Takoma Park certainly exposes the conflicts within the liberal community. The desire to help the poor or racial other(or to even equalize the playing field) doesn't seem quite in balance with the excessively large homes and perfectly manicured landscapes and waste and consumerism and snobbery and disregard for the environment.
Of course, I am harping on the negative aspects of an awesome place. It is awesome here.
There are activists and artists pushing for change and educating each other.
One example: a group of elementary school kids have been protesting the use of styrofoam plates used for their school lunches. Toxic styrofoam, non-recyclable styrofoam, everyday adding to landfills.
The kids would gulp down their (surely over-processed, not Jamie Oliver approved) chow and think about how their plates are polluting the world. So the kids suggested that the school go back to ye old-fashioned, non-disposable plates of yore. Oh but, the school board(?) refused because they didn't want to hire a dishwasher. Anyways, here we have it- the illogical short-sightedness of bureacrats up against (extremely) youthful, wide-eyed idealism...welcome to Takoma Park.   
More to follow from the trenches of a liberal paradise (note the sarcasm and bitterness).
Oh yeah, I landed an internship with GREENPEACE!

Gray Sea

Gray Sea