Sunday, July 26, 2009

BlogHer 2009

Guaranteed, if you've lived abroad for seven years, then returning to your home country will be a bit of a shock. It's not just jet lag you have to adjust to, it's culture shock as well. And that culture shock will be especially astonishing to you because it's your own culture, gosh darn it. Who knew things could change so much back home?

I've only really been blogging for about a year (before that I communicated via mass-emailings), so blogging's all pretty new to me. I started my blog while living in Poland and, go ahead and laugh, but at the time I didn't realize that blogging is an industry. Foolishly, I thought it was a hobby. An avocation. Something like scrapbooking or baking or whatever. I simply never had the crucial afterthought: where there's scrapbooking or baking, Creative Memories® and Pampered Chef® can't be far behind.

So for me, the jury's still out on BlogHer 2009. I attended for the first time ever and my feelings are mixed. The amount of giveaway loot was mind-boggling. I've been to lots of trade shows in a number of industries, but this was beyond the beyond. It seemed to combine the worst aspects of America's rampant consumerism with every stereotype there is about womankind's overwhelming desire to shop. And it kind of made me feel sick. Believe me, I'm not perfect. I came home with booty (even after "recycling" a lot of it), but the attention given to swag spread an oily, glistening sheen of greed over the proceedings that made some participants appear grasping and shallow.

As to the additional focus on monetizing your blog, optimizing readership, gaining followers? Well, who doesn't want money, connections, fame, big numbers? It's human nature, for sure. And at a big blogging conference, you certainly want to address the issues that are concerns for attendees. BlogHer provided a venue with lots of seminar options, so bloggers could learn about what they wanted to learn about, and ignore what was irrelevant to them. My mantra is, if you don't like to look (or read, or whatever) then don't. If I don't want to hear about advertising or getting my Twitter follower numbers up over 1K, then nobody needs to make me listen. It's my choice. So I mixed it up: a few geeky sessions on SEO and Twitter basics and social networking, a session on the latest tech gadgets (video, cameras, netbooks), a fascinating session on travel blogging. The outstanding Friday afternoon keynote highlighted 20 blog posts, read by their authors, and was by turns funny, heartwrenching, tragic, and full of joy. The Saturday keynote featuring a panel discussion with Tina Brown (Daily Beast), Donna Byrd (The Root), and Ilene Chaiken (The "L" word) was thought-provoking and empowering.

Still, even though I just said that people should attend the sessions they choose, I was completely unprepared for the shamefully small turnout at Saturday afternoon's session, "Leadership: The BlogHer '09 International Activist BlogHer Scholarship Winners Share Their Work". Bloggers Annie Zaidi (Blank Noise, Known Turf), Cristina Quisbert (Indigenous Bolivia), Pilirani Semu-Banda (The Wip, Pilirani Semu-Banda), and Toyin Ajao (Gender and Me) participated in a panel with Anita Doberman Tedaldi (Ovolina), discussing their activist work and the role of blogging in social change.

The BlogHer organizers were apparently hoping for at least 100 participants for this presentation. There were only 30 in the room. Thirty people, out of 1,500, who were interested in the groundbreaking work of these social activist bloggers from Nigeria, Bolivia, Malawi, and India? That's it? Meanwhile, next door, "Women Writing in the Age of Britney" was packed to overflowing.

Nothing against pop culture and Britney -- it's not my thing, but hey, to each her own. But I'm disappointed and surprised that BlogHer didn't feature these four women, these scholarship winners, in one of the conference-wide keynote addresses. Their work is big. Their work is shocking. Their work is the new wave of news in a post-print world. BlogHer should have chosen to have them present to the conference-wide audience. After all, they paid to bring them all the way here, half-way around the world. Why didn't they think we'd all want to hear their voices?

And it would have been a good stiff tonic for many, after all the goody bags and loot and monetization and whatnot. Families in Malawi subsist on about $1/day. Isn't that something you want to know more about?

Related posts: The Mom Slant, Motherhood Uncensored

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Little children, little problems...

When the kids were small, babies even, it seemed I could never go anywhere without getting a lot of unwanted advice.

At the shopping mall, there'd be the immaculately turned out mother-of-one, pointing out that my baby -- youngest of four -- had lost a sock, and "oh-by-the-way, your three-year-old just pocketed a packet of gum from the check-out display". Shame.

There'd be a grandma type, asking me why my newborn wasn't wearing a hat "in this weather", or my neighbor across the street saying, "Don't your kids ever wear coats?" Feelings of incompetence.

There was some other kid's father from school, who asked with irritating regularity, "Don't you want to give those boys haircuts?" Upsurge of mulish obstinancy.

And then there was the woman who said, as I complained to anyone or no one about the endless irritation of raising small children, "Oh, you know what they say. 'Little children, little problems. Bigger children, bigger problems...'"

At the time, I felt as if I'd run into some wicked witch in Grimm's Fairy Tales. What kind of thing was that to say? It was meant to be comforting, perhaps, but it sounded like a curse, and full of foreboding. Little children, little problems. Bigger children, bigger problems...

The day before yesterday, at a shopping mall's parking lot, I got out of my car, idly turning round to lock it, and I heard a woman screaming, nay, shrieking at her kids. "GET OUT! OUT! Get out of the Goddamn car! Get out now!" She suddenly saw me from across the lot, and I could see her struggling to regain some self-control. She brought the decibel level down a few notches, and I turned away. And I thought to myself, Little children, little problems. Bigger children, bigger problems... If only she knew.

I find myself thinking much the same thing when reading blogs of young mothers. So much whingeing and kvetching and moaning, and not enough enjoyment of little kids for what they are: little. They're little, and they're yours. Of course children can be exasperating and exhausting and tiresome and just a feckin' handbasket of aggravation. But they're a boatload of fun too, and even though clever complaining ups blog statistics, one has to hope that some of these kids don't ever read their mom's essays, later on. Because they'll feel awfully unwanted and unappreciated. But I digress.

Little children, little problems. Bigger children, bigger problems... Truth to tell, little is so relative. When your oldest child is five, a ten-year-old looks mighty grown-up to you. But when your oldest is almost 26 years old, someone else's twenty-one-year-old son looks little. A little kid, really, twenty-one years old. His whole life ahead of him, full of potential, opportunity awaiting.

Except not in this case.

I went to a visitation on Friday night, and a memorial service on Saturday, for the twenty-one year old son of old friends. He dropped out of university second semester of his freshman year, and was in rehab for long months. This spring, he moved to a halfway house in Florida, part of transitioning back to a new life, free of addiction. He was going to return to school, and was reconnecting with his family. He was a strong, smart kid. An outstanding sportsman. A quick wit, and full of laughter. So well-liked. So loved by his family and close friends. He had everything going for him, all the talent, and all the support you'd ever want.

And then three weeks ago he was found in his room, unresponsive, apparently from a drug overdose. He lingered for 10 days in intensive care, but died a week ago Friday.

How my friends would love to go back to the days of "little children, little problems".

"Bigger problems" are unbearable.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Famous for 15 minutes

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
February 2007

Whoo hoo! I'm published over in Passport at the Women's Colony!

Check out the link to my story, and enjoy. Or suffer along with me, as you deem appropriate.

You'll be happy to know that I long ago forgave Mr D for forgetting the mosquito repellent.


Friday, July 10, 2009

A Museum By Any Other Name...

Well, it's been busy, busy, busy here. I've been working madly on the dreaded dissertation. Already 542 words written (there's yer introduction, mate!) and only about 14,458 words to go. *sigh* Does it sound as llloooooooooonnnng to you as it does to me?

And.... there are approximately 58 days, give or take a half-hour, in which to finish the whole blasted thing. Did I mention I tend to procrastinate? Gah.

Really, I make it sound worse than it is. Once I get to writing, it does become more interesting. It's just that the siren lure of Word Twist on Facebook keeps mucking with my resolve.

One sentence at a time. One sentence at a time. Too bad I can't bind my freakin' blog in leatherette and turn that in!

Anywhatsit, I should be inspired, because whilst while in Santa Barbara, I visited one of my University of Leicester friends, Lynn.

She does about 50 different art-related things for a living, but she also finished, finished her dissertation!

So it can be done, people. See how gleeful she looks?

She's given me the confidence.

She also let me touch it.

Just a touch of bald-faced envy from my seat over here.

Interestingly, her topic was "A museum by any other name is still a museum" and the premise looked fascinating. Not to mention that she got very high marks. I was slavering all over it.

I do hope she's polished my drool stains off it by now.

Thinking about her dissertation came in handy when, on the next leg of the trip, we visited another old friend up in Oregon who has his own museum. Because Dan has either "a helluva lotta stuff in his barn that he on occasion shows to his very bestest old friends" or "a pretty durn cool very private museum"... and I'm going with the latter description.

Dan's museum mimics the form of an old-fashioned Wunderkammer. Collections of oddities and strange specimens from far and wide are gathered together, compared and contrasted, to the astonished wonderment of the viewer.

Here's the University of California Santa Barbara's version of a classic Wunderkammer, in the on-campus museum. Just to give you an idea of what the classical model is...

Weird things, beautiful things, amazing things, horrifying things...

are displayed in collector's cabinets for our collective awed gaze.

Dan's museum is similar in many ways. Old things, beautiful things....

Mysterious and unnamed things...

The only thing this museum needs is perhaps a bit more frequent dusting?

But that dust could have been Mt. St. Helen's ash, rather than dust, per se.

Because Dan's got some of that stuff too! So he's probably right to leave it all alone.

There were surprises around every corner at Dan's place. Antique cars, anyone?

An unbelievable flying machine?

A thriving watch repair business?

It's all there, and lots more.

And what else? Wait for it...

a DeLorean!

Back to the Future, anyone?

The reason Aphrodite's laughing so hard is that the sound track from Back to the Future is playing from inside the car. Because it's got to be a complete and total sensory experience at Dan's Homestyle Museum!

I've known Dan for about 30 years now, and he's always been full of surprises. The first surprise was that he actually hired me for one of my first real jobs, a decision he apparently didn't regret. I must have made him laugh often enough to make it worthwhile. You can't tell from any of my pictures, but he has the twinkliest Irish eyes you'll ever be lucky enough to see.

It's nice to know I still have a friend in Oregon.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Whilst I traveled, by plashy brink of weedy lake...

Hey, Sis! Over here!

"Whilst, whilst, whilst, whilst, whilst!"

There. Got it out of my system.

My little sister has just taken me to task for my poser-y use of various British-isms, including using the word "whilst", spelling words like "specialise" with an "s" instead of a "z", adding a boatload of "u"s to words like "colour" and "glamour", and generally being a prattish put-on.

"After all," she said, "you did speak American English for 44 years. It shouldn't be that hard to switch back."

I lied and told her the spell check on my word processor was still set to British and was going to stay that way until I finished my dissertation, but who am I kidding?

She's right, even if she only has one kidney. Not that there's anything wrong with being one organ short of a full set. We can't all be perfect, can we? (And that's the Queen's Royal "we", in case you're wondering.)

So I'm just gonna click reset on the ol' computer, and I'm going back to Americanisms, for real and for ever. Until I change my mind again.


A few weeks ago I was feeling sad that, since leaving Johannesburg, I'd never seen another jacaranda tree. I believed, mistakenly, that jacarandas only live in Gauteng province, and mostly in Pretoria, for that matter.

It would be pretty nice if only the great stuff about South Africa stuck in my mind... but unfortunately, although there are images like this:

F1000006 jacaranda, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

there are a lot more images like this:

F1000008 fence, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

So, Southern California, where have you been all my life?

IMG_7443, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

Jacarandas are everywhere, and they're just as beautiful in the northern hemisphere as in the southern. Perhaps more beautiful, because you can enjoy them without palisade fences or razorwire cluttering up your view.

IMG_7600, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

So much for unnecessary nostalgia, then.

Anyhoo, the trip to So Cal was all about this one:

IMG_7570, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

and her All Singing, All Dancing, Explosive and Totally Amazing Show,
Aphrodite: The Extravaganza.

We had front-row seats arrived just in time and barely found a spot to alight, due to a multitude of problems involving the application of sunscreen. Whatevs.

IMG_7581, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

There she is! The blonde.

In addition to three years of university tuition and loads of airline flights, we also paid for that double lei draped around her neck. Thirty bucks. But how often do you graduate from UCSB? Right, once. We hope.

Anylei, the $30 was totally worth it, because it enabled her to say, for at least three days following, "I just got leied the other day. Har har har. Get it? Get it? Do ya? Do ya get it?"

IMG_7592, originally uploaded by ehdindigo.

For this, we paid out-of-state Cali tuition? *sigh*