Let’s Discuss the Politics of ‘Closed’ Facebook Groups

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I get it. I get why people want to create “closed groups” on Facebook. “Secret groups.” It’s not hard to understand.

With a closed group, an administrator can control who’s let in and who’s kept out; how it’s done and what is shared. They can keep out the caustically antipathetic and avert the toxicity of trolls. All of which is desirable.

As someone who posts on sites like The Huffington Post, with one of the highest readership ratings of any media site in the world, I have heard — oh, have I heard! — from an array, a confluence, a literal horde of trolls over my writing career, and I mean to tell you, their hateful, hissing commentary can be soul killing. And trolling appears to be an equal-opportunity affliction, as I’ve been bombarded by everyone from gun nuts and political zealots, to angry moms and independent writers.

So, yes, removing that seething demographic’s inexhaustible urge to hijack meaningful conversation is a good thing. Though I do know some pugilistic, well-meaning writers who seem energized by virtually jousting with inarticulate, hateful poop-throwers, I’m not one of them… and my experience tells me most people aren’t. Hence, “closed groups,” with their ability to block trollism, have sprouted en masse, popular amongst those who want a safe space to engage with like-minded people to exchange ideas, information, articles, calls-to-action, etc.

But given that increase, inspired, no doubt, by the shit-storm we’ve just experienced in Election 2016, I do think it would be wise to rethink a few things, not only on the general protocol of any group, closed or otherwise, but the impact of particularly closed groups on public perception. I think these points bear some thought, especially considering what was just lost and what we are now facing.

1. Do NOT put someone in any group, closed or otherwise, without asking first. 

This is a big one, and though I’d have assumed it didn’t need to be said, it does. I have now been “put,” sometimes repeatedly, into various groups without my knowledge or permission, discovering said membership only after getting notification that I was in said group. BAD FORM.

When you do that to someone, regardless of your good intentions, you are not only being presumptuous, you’re now giving that person a task they didn’t ask for: if they choose not to be in said group, they now have to take the time to track it down and remove themselves. Which may seem minor, but it’s annoying and can potentially lead to someone else being miffed that that person doesn’t want to be in said group. Bottom line: it’s messy, it’s presumptuous, and it’s bad manners.

If you’ve discovered or are starting a group you think someone else might be interested in, ASK THEM FIRST. Very simple. Send them an invitation; let them be the one to decide if they want to join. And if they don’t, don’t take it personally. Realize that many people simply don’t want to be in groups; some are already in as many as they choose to be in; some may not want to participate in that group, or, if it’s a closed group, they may have different philosophies about those in general.

2. Allow members to participate as they see fit: 

I have now been in a few groups where administrators treat members almost like errant students: they’re obligated to engage in certain ways, with measurable degrees of visibility and involvement; there are to-do lists and even “homework.”

Typically I hop out of any group that turns voluntary participation into the dirge of academic obligation, because I don’t choose to, or have time to, participate in that way. We’re all adults; we do not need to be scolded, managed, or browbeaten into engaging in specific, mandated fashion. Again, it’s bad form, and it turns the positive experience of that group into something, well… less positive.

Don’t judge what members are getting out of it. If they’re there, they must be getting something. Trust your members. Which means, don’t “guilt” people into signing petitions, donating money, taking actions, sharing stories, “liking: other people’s posts, leaving reviews, etc. Coercion, however gentle, is counter-productive. We all learn, grow, change, and are inspired in individual ways. If you invite people into a group, unless they’re trolling — at which point, yes, they’re uninvited — allow them to participate as they choose. You never know what may be gained from their quiet engagement.

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3. As for “closed/secret” groups, are they really the best way to make evolutionary, cultural change?  

I know I’m likely to get some heat for this one, but hear me out:

There are many valid reasons for closed groups: groups that allow abuse survivors to communicate privately; battered women, LGBT groups; any group where privacy is truly survival and mandatory.

But political groups? Really?

One of the biggest criticisms of Hillary Clinton over the entire election cycle, including the primary, was that people weren’t enthusiastic about her; they weren’t as “excited, thrilled, inspired,” as, say, Bernie supporters… and later, as Trump supporters. You remember that, don’t you? And it was strange, that perception, because, in fact, millions of men and women were deeply enthusiastic about her. And where were they, many of them? In “secret” groups, every day touting and cheering their support amongst each other. It was a literal spree of support in… secret groups. Out in the public forum? Not so much.

Back in March I wrote a piece titled, I Will If You Will: Why Clinton Supporters Need to Speak up More on Social Media, based on the fact that so many of them were oddly silent, seemingly cowed from public discourse on media, social or otherwise. And while the piece inspired a fair amount of dialogue, I continued to see more and more “closed/secret” Clinton groups pop up every day, with, still, less open discussion in public forums.

And I understand. Based on feedback I got after the article, it seems countless people, mainly women, were reticent to share their public support for Clinton because of backlash they were bound to receive: in work situations where people might take umbrage; within families where members would be incensed; amongst social media circles where trolls were all too active. Fear, and an unwillingness to set themselves up for that kind of negative response, led, then, to their participation in those many “secret/closed” Clinton support groups.

Certainly those groups provided upliftment and support to the members involved, and that was good. And maybe the group’s mission was just that, and didn’t include any intent or mission to change public perception of Clinton’s enthusiasm quotient, or build greater coalition for her campaign out in the public sphere. Clearly no group was obligated to meet that demand, but I have to wonder: did all the secrecy have an impact, a negative contribution, to the endless mantra that Clinton just didn’t have the same level of support as either Bernie or Trump?

I have no quantifiable statistics, but my gut says yes. The greater lack of public outspokenness amongst her many supporters did her no favors, and at the end of the day, the “silent majority” has never been more painfully evident than in an election where the more popular, more qualified candidate lost in the din of support for her opposition, whose supporters were always out, loud, and proud without any commensurate caution or hesitation.

Additionally, is it possible that all this echo chambering did/does little to help bridge gaps between different, even opposing groups? If we never hear from or engage with those on other sides, isn’t it possible we’re never going to find reasonable coalition again in this country? I’m not talking trolls — they get zero engagement from me and shouldn’t from anyone else. I’m talking about honest, thoughtful people who may have conflicting views as well as the ability to communicate sanely and without invectives and vitriol. They surely exist… don’t we want to engage with them… or at least try?

We liberals got this election so damn wrong on so many levels, I think it behooves us at this point to climb out of the bubble. I realize those with opposing or even just conflicting perspectives have to have the same willingness to put down pitchforks to meet us on the field (will they? won’t they?), but we gotta start somewhere. Someone needs to get out on the dance floor. Not everyone on the other side is a KKK member, a flaming white supremacist, a hate-mongering xenophobe, or a virulent alt-right bigot. Some are just less informed, have been more hurt by problems that exist in this country; have been misled by misinformation, or whose narrow concerns blinded them to the worst of the other side. They make up that BIG red blob in the middle and southern edges of our country. And many of them are on Facebook.

If there’s anything we’ve learned this go-around, it’s that we have to start paying less attention to our own biased media and flawed online polls (oh, how flawed they were!), and more to the people across the street. On the corner. In our hometowns. In those flyover states. In other Facebook groups.

Yes, closed group aficionados, I’m aware that “some of us need, want, demand a safe place to vent, share, speak, write, cry, scream, inspire, laugh, etc., without any pushback or even feedback from those who don’t share our worldview.” OK, but considering the paragraphs above, how about this?

Create the group. Leave it open; not “secret.” Create and post the mission statement. Define parameters: rules against trolling and ad hominem attacks, suggestions for participation, clear awareness of what kind of communication will get someone removed from the group, etc. Monitor conversations. Monitor comments. Monitor threads. Stay vigilant to bona fide trolls; block and delete without apology. And build a group, a circle, a conversation that is open, welcoming, and, hopefully, ultimately, illuminating to anyone open to illumination.

It’s how I’ve built and curated my own social media and, yes, it takes vigilance, but it works. It will be more work for administrators, it will take more vigilance from members to keep administrators aware of anyone breaking the trolling rules, but it might go a long way toward creating both a safe space and a public forum that allows the positive energy, thoughtful dialogue, and inspiring debates to more usefully and productively enter into and impact the pubic sphere.

We need that. If anything taught us that, it was Election 2016.

Table & chairs photograph by Jonny Clow @ Unsplash
Studying man photograph by Bethany Legg @ Unsplash

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Dear Facebook Circle: Could You Do Me A Favor?

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I love that you’re all here. I’ve intentionally set my page to “public” with the idea of welcoming people from all over the world with their varying opinions and perspectives, and I appreciate the diversity. I enjoy the stories you tell, pictures you post, articles you share, events you holler about, even the animal videos (I LOVE the animal videos!). I also appreciate civil thought-provocation by way of opinion pieces shared; I occasionally engage in respectful debate (though less so these days… it’s so circuitous!), and I do think it’s essential to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us.

But it’s a delicate balance, a pendulum swing between “being informed” and “being bombarded”; between “having an opinion” vs. “being an a-hole about it.” And that balance often gets out of whack and in need of fine-turning. And while, in the spirit of self-preservation and mental health, I encourage you to turn off the TV, step away from relentless news, and stop reading everything written on the disasters of the day, I also think there are some simple adjustments we can make, even in how we engage with each other on social platforms such as Facebook.

So can we try this? For the sake of NOT being part of the toxic noise about things over which we have no control, I make these few simple requests, in no particular order:

  1. If I, say, post a piece celebrating a 1%er donating money to an important cause, supporting a good law, or pushing for a raise in the minimum wage, could you do me a favor and refrain from snarkiness about how much MORE that person could’ve donated, what else he spends his money on, why he’s an idiot, or how come he didn’t do more? He donated. He helped. He put effort toward something good. Excellent. It’s being acknowledged. Let’s leave it at that.
  1. If a piece is posted about, say, positive efforts being made on the ebola front, please don’t respond by then sharing every single fear-stirring article about who else has been infected, how many have died, how no one is safe, etc. Read Frank Bruni’s article, Scarier Than Ebola to put things in proper perspective and go get a flu shot… or your kids vaccinated. You’re not going to get ebola. Neither are your children. The media is already working overtime to pump this evolving story into a lather; how about we “rise above” on our social media pages and stay focused on the positive, the real, the actual? If you think immersing yourself in the negative, particularly regarding issues of health and welfare, has any social, physical, mental, or emotional benefit, odds are you don’t feel good a lot of the time. I urge you to turn your thoughts to healthier perspectives. It works, I swear.
  1. I beg you, please reconsider posting ANYTHING further about what an idiot Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Fox News, or any of that particular cabal are. We ALREADY KNOW. It really, truly IS better to ignore people of their ilk. Unless they’re physically setting fire to a room, standing with a knife at someone’s neck, or flying to Russia to “negotiate” with Putin (and would we put that past Palin?), they are nothing but gaseous air intended to prick public response. And when you post and share stories about them, you are doing exactly what they want you to do! Publicize them! Make them viral! Get them more attention!! They need that like vampires need moonlight and blood. So starve ’em out. Ignore them. Unless it’s Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert skewering them, unless you’re taking actual steps to shut them down, stop feeding the beast. I’ve taken a vow to never again write, read, or share anything about any of them…. will you join me?
  1. I get why people are mad at the police. I’ve been mighty mad at the police a few times myself, as anyone who reads my columns can attest. But in every case involving “bad cops,” including my own, it involves SOME bad cops. Only some. Not all. Not every cop is a corrupt, racist, psychotic sociopath. MOST are good people working at an incredibly, ridiculously dangerous job that has got to be draining to the heart and soul of any human being. So posting a relentless string of “bad cop” stories is, like posting bad Muslim stories, an act of propaganda. It focuses attention on a certain element, a small percentage, the extremist edge, of a much larger group, and stirs up negative feelings intended to spill onto ALL of that group. Please stop. It’s not helping; it’s fomenting. Unless you’re authentically participating in some tangible, physical action towards righting wrongs or promoting the advancement of deeply needed awareness-raising related to our racial divides, you’re only creating more divides. Don’t be that guy in the town square endlessly waving pamphlets about what’s wrong with the world. Either sign up for a community action group or focus on who and what’s improving the situation.
  1. Let’s acknowledge this plain and simple fact: the Middle East is a quagmire. Part of why I loved The Honorable Woman was its stunning authenticity in showing just how much of a quagmire, even for those most invested and most desirous of peace. None of us here on Facebook, other than potentially having ethnic ties and certainly our opinions, have hands-on involvement in that situation, so how about we do what we can to not contribute further to the quagmire? Abstention from posting incendiary, fear-mongering, rage inducing, propagandizing pieces would be a good start. Because it doesn’t help. Amazingly intelligent and peace-focused statespeople the world over have struggled to find solutions to this relentless situation, a situation that encompasses nuances, enigmas, ancient wounds, historical precedence, and arcane, ethnic influences that we here on Facebook are not privy to. We’re not going to solve it on social media so how about we at least try to not throw verbal grenades into the public theatre? Promoting peace can be as simple as not promoting dissention.
  1. And lastly, and certainly on a lighter note, if I post a review of something I like, a ramble about my day at the beach; share a well-written piece about the President, or exhibit my opinion about something relative to my worldview, could you do me the favor of not immediately following with a comment in disagreement? It’s not that I mind opposing views, but there’s a time, a place, and certainly worthier topics than, say, the state in which I live or a film I happen to like, with which to argue. There seems an almost knee-jerk response from some to immediately, and likely without much thought, jump on to register an opposing views as if it were their moral duty. I call it the Ego of Opposition. Know this: it’s not required. And when it’s in service to the most mundane of issues, it only serves to make you seem unfriendly, curmudgeonly, negative, egotistical and passive aggressive. So how about this: I won’t go to your page to assert my disagreement to your review of Gone Girl; I won’t jump on your thread to knock down your lovely remembrance of a place you visited that I don’t like; I won’t argue politics (because we all know that’s a rabbit hole), and if you post something incendiary that I think promotes fear or hate, I may refute but I’ll do so with reason and civility. Anything else I’ll take it to my own page. I’d appreciate it if you do the same.

I realize some of you will disagree with this list (of course! 🙂 ) Some of you believe there’s merit in posting about every bad thing in the world, spending time on social media debating (aka: screaming at each other); some of you even believe we’re obligated as good citizens to participate in these ways or we’re not engaged, informed, or involved. Okay. That’s your opinion.

Mine? This world can be a difficult place, surely it is for many, but most of us here in this Facebook circle are the fortunate ones who get to make decisions about how we live in it. And in all my years as a writer, a journalist, an observer of life, and a member of the human race, I have not seen one good thing evolve out of mindless opposition, knee-jerk contrariness, or the fanning and focusing of negativity. We have the power to promote positive action, and we should; we have the obligation to take positive action, and we must; but we also have the ability — the need — to use our words more wisely, more judiciously; more compassionately. I’d like to encourage that. Thanks.

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Selfies, Phone Cameras, and the Etiquette of Photography

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I love cameras. I’ve had one most of my life and have always appreciated its facility in chronicling my best adventures in pictures, some of which I’ve had since childhood.  Now as a professional photographer viewing the art and craft of photography from an even more analytical perspective, I feel as attached to my beloved Canon as anyone could to any inanimate object. Its weight, its glass, its technical ease and brilliance that captures what my eye sees in ways that can take even my own breath away. I’ve traveled the world with it and regardless of time, place, or rugged terrain, it’s slung around my neck, at the ready to grab something unmissable. The wonders of photography are many and never-ending.

Then there’s phone cameras. Camera phones. Cell cameras. Whatever. Which have spawned the selfie. Those damned, ubiquitous selfies. The constant shooting and posting of phone photos taken from that oh-so-familiar “hand up in the air” POV that does odd things to most faces, is almost always horribly lit, and creates a visual world where everyone’s perspective ends at the length of their arm. Selfies have a certain detached, unconnected look about them (as opposed to photos in which a photographer and subject are communicating with each other), that often makes them soulless and self-conscious. Certainly they have their place (Ellen’s Oscar selfie that broke the Internet was all in good fun), but beyond the “fun” aspect, there’s something narcissistic about the incessant posting and reposting of these images, to the point that it seems no one exists and nothing can happen without someone slapping it up on Facebook. Or maybe that is the fear: did it happen, do I exist, am I pretty enough, am I even seen much less pretty enough if my selfie, my profile pics, my endless supply of face-shots, are not posted on social media? It’s exhausting being young sometimes…

I remember having a similar youthful fixation on my looks, my hair, my clothes, my ass; always ready to catch a glimpse in a mirror or window, checking the status of various body parts and sartorial accoutrement as I walked into a room or down a street sure that everyone was profoundly interested in ME… what I looked like, how cute I was, if I was flirt-worthy. Of course, back when I was that kind of young we didn’t have phone cameras (thank God!) and the idea of taking pictures of oneself with a small 35mm was ridiculous. Unless you meant to be ridiculous or you were taking a self-portrait in lieu of new head shots you couldn’t afford (of course that never worked). Youth, presumably because of its evolutionary urge to procreate, is fixated on appearing and being seen as attractive, so the fundamental need to exert oneself in putting forth that image, and making sure everyone else notices, is understandable. If we’d had Facebook and Instagram back when I was a kid I might have found reason to post myself all over the place, too. Or maybe not… there’s still something about the narcissism angle that gets me (though you wouldn’t guess that from the pic below of me at 20!).

LDW @ 20

But beyond selfies and youth is the more general etiquette of taking and posting pictures of anyone online. This has become an issue fraught with some misguided principles, enough so that I’d like to suggest a few pertinent guidelines that apply to every age group, in every circumstance. Pay heed and you’ll find fewer people scrambling when you walk into a room with your phone!

Top 5 Rules of Phone Camera/Social Media Posting Etiquette:

1. BE AWARE THAT NOT EVERYONE WANTS THEIR PICTURE TAKEN.

Particularly on a bad day, in bad lighting, after weight’s been gained, or just because, well, they don’t want their picture taken. Don’t assume it’s your God-given right to take another person’s picture just because you want to. Don’t do the “oh, come on, you look great!!” routine when Aunt Helen really isn’t feeling up to it. Any good photographer knows the best posed pictures happen when people have acquiesced rather than been browbeaten… and, once they’ve acquiesced, are given the time to fix their hair, freshen their lipstick, suck in their gut, or get out of the shadowed light. If they still don’t want their picture taken after all that, DON’T TAKE IT. Period.

2. REALIZE NOT EVERYONE WANTS THEIR PICTURE POSTED ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

Even if someone agrees to pose for a picture – alone, with a group, with you – that doesn’t automatically mean they want said picture plastered all over social media. It’s become so routine to post every single picture taken that the people doing the snapping and posting don’t always consider the privacy preferences of their subjects. ASK. If you want to post a group shot, check with everyone before you part ways to make sure they’re okay with that. A quick, “If I get some good shots here I’ll probably post a few on Facebook… everyone OK with that?” works. Typically people are, but show them the courtesy of asking. Particularly people who aren’t young, aren’t necessarily enamored with their looks, and aren’t accustomed to posting selfies all over the place!

3. DON’T POST PICTURES THAT MAKE PEOPLE LOOK BAD. 

This should be a given but I’m always surprised at the carelessness of what some people post online. As a photographer (and a subject!), I know the self-consciousness that many feel about having their picture taken and I also know how affirming it can be when a good shot is achieved. In fact, a good photo can boost someone’s self-esteem as much as a bad one can drop it. Be aware that most phone cameras – even the good ones – don’t do well in low light indoors; if you are not a photographer and don’t know how to use Photoshop or other post-production software to enhance or improve a shot, don’t use it. But if you do decide to post your phone pics of other people “as-is,” you are obligated by etiquette to take the time to choose the very best one. Post whatever you want of yourself, but when you’re putting up photos of others, don’t put up that one that was shot in deeply shadowed light, glaring sun, or too dark a room. Don’t put up the one where the subject looks bad because they blinked, their hair was weird, or the angle was unattractive. Don’t choose to post a group shot where you look great but everyone else looks horrible. Have some consideration, some empathy, and realize NO ONE WANTS A CRAPPY PICTURE OF THEMSELVES ON THE INTERNET!!

4. NOT EVERY EVENT NEEDS TO BE MEMORIALIZED BY YOUR PHONE CAMERA.

It used to be you could meet a few friends for lunch, grab a movie with former colleagues, go over to your Mom’s for dinner and no one felt compelled to whip out a camera to “grab the moment.” Somehow we all managed to hold onto memories of lesser moments in life (versus bigger ones like weddings, birthdays, christenings, etc.) without having to collect a bunch of (usually crappy) photos that someone is sure to post online. One could say it’s curmudgeonly to complain about anyone wanting to capture camaraderie and companionship with a camera, but goddammit, sometimes you just want to eat your Niçoise without someone snapping away while you’re chewing tuna. Personally, I could do with fewer of those, thank you.

5. CONSIDER POSTING MORE OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND FEWER OF YOUR SELFIES.

It’s no small wonder we live in a culture obsessed with youth, beauty, cosmetic surgery, thinness, sexual voracity, and so on. It’s we the people who are driving that train! We can complain all we want about what “the media” and the “entertainment business” have done to perpetuate certain unrealistic standards, but if you really analyze the chicken/egg aspect, it’s hard to find the line when even every-day folk are obsessed with their beauty, youthfulness, thinness, etc. How many times do we see mostly women, but some men, too, cycle and recycle their profile pics, while friends do their part by exclaiming with each picture change, “You’re SO gorgeous!”… “What a hottie!”… “You’ve never been more beautiful!”… “Hubba hubba!” (all comments I’ve seen online!)? It’s great to occasionally get a compliment on your looks – who doesn’t appreciate that? – and sometimes you have, in fact, just innocently changed your picture, it posts on the Newsfeed, and friends comment without any intent on your part to elicit that response. But in far too many cases it is about the attention, the requisite comments that feed the need. And we get it; you’re hot, you’re beautiful, you’re sexy. But tell me, was there anything you created or accomplished today that might trump that shot of you in a bikini? Yes, you look great, but I’d be more interested in hearing about the grant you wrote, that song you finished, the Little League team you’re coaching…

75. Quite Pleased With Her Collar

Now, don’t get me wrong; there are categories of posted photos I always love. People’s travel pics, fine art photography, baby pictures, family shots, even that dog with the frilly collar. Gorgeous road trips, the weekend at the recording studio, that last location of your indie shoot are all seriously post-worthy. Your Hawaiian hike, that tour of historical architecture in Venice, the shots of your urban neighborhood will likely enchant me. I’m less interested in your lunch or whatever you mixed up at the wet bar, but if there is something creative in either of these, post away.

The point is: Think about it. Don’t just shoot and post. The fact that everyone now has a camera in their hands demands that we be more thoughtful and considerate about how we approach the matter of taking and posting pictures. Get creative, look beyond the reach of your arm, and have both empathy and consideration. I promise I will never post a crappy picture of you and I’m expecting you to extend the same courtesy to me… because, believe me; that promise gets more important as we get older and facial symmetry gets less and less dependable! 🙂

Selfies Guide To Men @ Dashburst

LDW @ 20 photo from the Lonnie & the Lugnutz files.

Frilly dog courtesy of me. 

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

A Pause From Politics… Or Why I’d Never Want To Be President

Not that anyone’s asking. I did have a long stint in rock & roll, God knows, and there has been some questionable behavior over the years, but, really, it’s the job itself that makes the point. It seems thankless, incredibly difficult, and one that comes with a big, fat, ready-made target for easy back-fastening, no matter who, when, what party, or what issue. I have a hard enough time with internet trolls; the presidency would do me in.

I’m not sure there’s ever been a time in history that hasn’t been dramatic and incendiary – certainly historians tell us that’s the case – but this is a particularly challenging era because now, by virtue of the internet and our 24/7 media saturation, we get to know everything about everything. Or so we think.

I have said very little about the situation in Syria; I’ve posted threads of others, shared thoughts expressed by smart people who seem to have a decent grasp on things, but as I’ve listened, watched, and read as much coverage as I can tolerate in a given day, I’ve mostly kept quiet. Which is not typically my style. But this is a complex, particularly troubling event, happening at a very politically convoluted time, playing out against a world literally breathing down the necks of those trying to sort it out while being battered, bullied and second-guessed by every living soul from Putin to Madonna. I don’t honestly think I have enough true, unbiased, completely factual information to be as firmly opinionated as either of them… or so many others, as it appears to be.

What I do observe is often a simplistic, foot-stomping tone to much of the debate, a tone that sometimes seems juvenile, petulant and lacking in appropriate consideration for the deeply sensitive nuances of the issue – which, likely, few of us are actually privy to. As someone who refuses to get swept into the black & white polarity of most of our political discourse and drama, I’ve stood in the back… listening. And I remain there, as I read and hear lines such as:

  1. I’m so disappointed in my President.
  2. I voted for change… where’s change?
  3. How is this any different than Bush and Cheney?
  4. We need to take care of our own backyard before we worry about the rest of the world.
  5. Love is the answer.
  6. War sucks.
  7. It’s simply not our responsibility.
  8. Syria can take care of its own mess.
  9. They’ll hate us no matter what we do.
  10. America can’t police the world.

And so on.

First of all, of course war sucks. I can’t think of one person in this world – unless they’re a sociopath or an arms dealer (which may be redundant) – who doesn’t think war sucks. And of course love is the answer but, COME ON! We can’t even be nice to each other on the internet; how can we expect “love” to keeps warring factions from their life and death struggles? As for Bush and Cheney? Let’s not get into false equivalencies (though we do so love those). Our backyard vs. the world? When has one precluded the other in terms of separate budgets and resources? Have they? If there’s irrefutable evidence that money has been taken from needed domestic programs to fund international military action, let’s hear about it. That would be a very necessary conversation.

But, strangely, it seems manageable for Americans to think “globally” when it comes to matters of money, difficult when it comes to humanity and the protection of it in certain situations. It’s worth discussing that, as a people, by virtue of what we buy, what we sell and export, what we’re willing to pay for our products, our oil, our gasoline, etc., we’ve easily embraced global interaction, the blurring of lines, if you will, of foreign borders. But even beyond oil, some of our favorites retail stores – Walmart, the Gap, and many other companies – work with business models based on cheap foreign labor and limited regulations. Why? Because we welcome a global community that will bring our costs down, make our products cheaper, keep our labor less expensive and our profit margins higher. Perhaps we should think about how we can so readily embrace “global participation” when it comes to money, but when issues like chemical warfare, ethnic slaughters, political ‘punishments,’ etc., occur, too many Americans suddenly shut the door and start talking about “we gotta take care of America, we can’t get involved in policing the world.”

As for the rest: Obama. Change. Disappointment. War-mongering. Craving the limelight (an accusation made by the usually wise Robert Reich about John Kerry). World War III. Our horrible country. Etc. All that.

It’s a swirling eddy of point and counterpoint. Frankly, I cannot imagine being the leader of the free world and having to ponder, research, weigh and come to decisions about grave national and international matters against a backdrop of EVERYONE’S expertise; everyone’s criticism, anger, unrealistic expectations, self-focused priorities and unremitting judgment. It’s never-ending. The President cannot and will not be able to make any decision that won’t bring down the bludgeons, no matter what he does, which way he turns, or what rationale he relies on. That’s a given. Because, somehow, the great we out here in every-day world, on Facebook and Twitter, listening to talk radio and cable news, sending around petitions and memes, penning treatises about our lack of faith in our country and our leaders, appear to have a remarkable depth of arcane, insider knowledge about what the hell is going on in Syria (and everywhere else, for that matter), enough to micro-manage world leaders, including our president, assigned the responsibility of solving it all. I’m not sure how everyone got so profoundly included in the minutia, the nuances, the details, the intelligence, the hair-trigger possibilities and imminent threats, but it seems they did. And from that vaunted perspective, there is no way for Obama – or anyone else – to win this battle.

Because it’s simply the way of the world, true in every aspect of 21st century life. Writers can’t write anything – even, I suspect, about flowers or kittens – without being pummeled for getting something wrong. Artists can’t make a mistake or flaunt youthful indiscretions without media and its many tentacles ripping them a new one. Politicians of any stripe can’t utter the wrong word, make a faulty decision or appear in any way fallibly human without the mob throwing them to the lions. How on earth could a president, a senator, a cabinet member, or a military leader make any decision without SOMEONE screaming they got it wrong? They can’t.

I am against war. I don’t even own a gun. I find the idea of maiming, hurting, shooting, bombing, poisoning and annihilating each other in the name of religions, countries, regions, ethnicities, politics, family feuds or neighborhood boundaries INSANE; anathema to everything hopeful, humane, and holy. And yet war has been the most predictable, most common, most connecting thread between human beings since the dawn of time. Wish though it would, it will not be going anywhere soon. Likely ever. Love may be the answer but war is the machine, driven by men who are hell-bent on aggression and power… or, as in many cases, driven by those with a sense that they’ve lost something of profound value, taken by those hell-bent on aggression and power.

As for Syria, I hope we can find a way to respond to the horrors there without bombing, without military action, without further decimation of that country and its people. I hope we can be part of a global coalition that upholds international law against chemical weapons (regardless of anyone’s past use), that imposes “economic sanctions or a freeze on Syrian assets,” as Robert Reich suggestswithout embarking on what no one wants… another war. Can that be done? I don’t know. But, then again, I personally do not have all the intelligence that is being shared, analyzed and judged by those in positions to act upon it. None of us do. So, because I don’t happen to believe our leaders, particularly our President, are amoral enough to go blithely into war for no reason, I will put my faith and trust in their decision and hope they get it right. Because, right now, they know more than I do.

And lastly: I wrote a piece at Addicting Info awhile back that I’ve chosen to take to heart: All News All The Time Just May Be Very Bad For Your Health. I’ve been involved with political writing and commentary for a while now and have decided to take a pause for a bit. That’s not to say I won’t have things to share on political matters from time to time; I’ll certainly take advantage of social media to stay in the conversation and, as a freelance writer, will gladly take political assignments as they come. But particularly after an election year, with all the drama of our crazy world before and after, the sheer immersion in the genre has taken a bit of a spiritual and creative toll. I’m veering off to focus on some new projects, others that have been neglected in the meantime, but I’m also just going to get quieter, more contemplative and observational for a bit. There’s a lot of noise out there, not all of it healthy or productive, and I want to step back, refresh my spirit, make sure what I’m contributing when I do contribute furthers the cause and isn’t just more noise. I mention this only because a few of you have asked where I’ve been; why I haven’t covered this or that, and I figured – after sharing hundreds of political pieces with you over the years – an explanation was in order. I’ll be around, I just won’t be publishing quite as much, at least regarding politics.

But what I do write, create, photograph, or sing, I will share… you know me!  And I will always welcome your enjoyment and response. Until later, then.

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

I’m Not Hip Enough

ldw-pondersI finally figured it out.

I’m not hip enough.

Oh, I’m good enough – and I say that with complete humility because “good enough” by today’s standards is completely relative. And by that I do not mean your relatives think you’re good enough – that’s a given – I mean that in the world of instant reality show stardom, digitally perfected perfection, inexplicable and arbitrary fame, self published/self promoted… well… everything, what, really, is good enough? I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure I’m at least it.

I’m just not hip enough.

I was thinking about Rock+Paper+Music. Ever since I started writing for Huff Po, this blog here, my very own lovingly created, carefully managed and artistically designed forum for “sass and sensibility,” has become the slightly ugly stepsister overshadowed by the behemoth that is Huff Po. I try to find the balance: I keep my Huff Po stuff what is is – analysis and commentary on political, cultural, religious, and artistic issues –  sometimes articles overlap, but this blog is more personal, with more pictures, a warmer tone at times, often about non-famous people I know who should be famous, what my latest familial challenge is, that sorta thing. And despite the fact that I don’t obligate myself to write in just one genre (parenting, writing, photography, etc.), I do create a through-line with my brand of commentary, my voice, so to speak, so it is thematic enough…right?

Oh, hell, it probably isn’t buttonholed enough and that’s probably as unhip as all get-out and the very reason why Rock+Paper+Music remains a smart, thoughtful, but unviraled and slightly flatlined creative endeavor. I want it to be bigger, better, more OUT THERE, but either I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing in terms of proper 2.0 Internet promotion (likely), the title is too benign (I thought it was clever…what do I know?), or it’s too hard to…well…buttonhole. I insisted on taking liberties with the “blogging mandate of buttonholing” and look where it got me: writing about how I’m not hip enough. And saying buttonhole a lot.

This whole stew session was set off by a blog I was made aware of today. People I Want to Punch In the ThroatIt was implied by the poster of this blog link that it’s really funny. Or at least the posted article was. I immediately swallowed (with some difficulty) and clicked the link. I will refrain from commenting on the visual (there is none) and only read a bit, trying mostly to find out who “Jen” is (suggested by her bio, which is aptly named “Who is Jen?”), and it turns out the person who came up with this rather aggressive title, Jen, also writes for Huff Po (but, really, there are thousands of us, how hip can that be??), has been interviewed by NPR (shoot…I hardly even listen!), she’s witty, snarky, funny, and says things like, “All of a sudden I’ve got lots of people who want to know who I am.” and “I think the title sums it up. If you can’t figure it out, then go away before I punch you in the throat.” Sheesh. So I did go away…but not because I couldn’t figure it out, more because my visceral reaction to the literary violence of her title made me dizzy with hip-envy, which is really the downfall of a person like me. Because even after exhaustively social-media’ing, cyber bush-beating, virtual stone-unturning, and all my other various marketing ministrations, I lack Jen-like “virality” (I made that up…a play on virility and viral…come ON, that’s kind of hip!!).

Nah. Not really.

I’m so unhip, in fact, that I had an old friend – one I hadn’t spoken to in years but who’s on my mailing list – send me an email in response to a new blog notice with one line: “Please remove me from your mailing list.” No signature; no, “hey, how you doing?” Just that one line. Stunned, I wrote back, “We haven’t spoken in years, odd that your one communication in all that time would be this request.” He wrote back chiding me for “taking it personally,” adding the supposedly assuaging explanation that he “just doesn’t like blogs.” I took him off the list. He’s a pretty hip guy. You do the math.

But let me make this clear right now: I’m not a slacker. I know what’s what and I’ve got myself social media’d all over the place (personal page, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and I work those puppies like nobody’s business (just look at how I active-linked them all!). Maybe that’s the problem…nobody’s making it their business. Well, not nobody, but it can get bleak out there. Let’s take Twitter, for example. Despite my rather articulate, occasionally thought-provoking, sometimes self-promoting, but always 140-character Tweets of substantial pith, I’m pretty much ignored. While everyone’s tripping all over themselves to get “followed” by Benicio del Toro (who was officially on Twitter for all of two or three days) or retweeting some disgusting genital/masturbation reference by one famous actor or another, I’m clearly not high-profile enough for consideration by the Twit-verse. Frankly, they’re a hardy bunch and it’s likely I just can’t keep up. That feed scrolls off the page so fast that I can only presume the people who are constantly present, wit and parrying away, are sitting at a computer 24/7 with nothing better to do than desperately attempt to one-up each other or incite conversation with a Tweeting celebrity. Though Roseanne Barr did retweet one of my tweets once, I can only ride that train for so long. And I’ve now just said “tweet” or “Twitter” more in one paragraph than anyone should.

It could be my age. I don’t make a point of throwing actual numbers around but it’s not hard to extrapolate. In any circle of contemporary hipsters I’d be considered seriously OLD and being considered OLD in the world of the considerably YOUNG is about as effing unhip as you can get. You don’t even have to do stupid shit like wear white stretch pants, say “anywho,” or keep complaining about Facebook Timeline. Despite the inroads made by Betty White and Cher, and despite the fact that we’re all sort of grossed out by the epic damage being wrought on older faces by cosmetic surgery, the fact is, if you don’t know why Kelly Osbourne is feuding with Xtina (or even who Xtina is), who/what is trending on Twitter, or how Vodka and feminine products have become linked (sorry…it is viral), you’re not only OLD, you’re terminally unhip. Which might mean I’m slightly hip for being able to reference any of those things. Probably not.

Basically you’re unhip just by virtue of having lived longer than the much hipper younger people who are now running the world on the sheer heft of their buying, downloading, clicking, viewing, sharing, texting, tweeting, stumbling, or YouTubing. Any hip quotient I could ever possibly muster pales in comparison. Though I have a smart phone and still wear black jeans. Not enough. Not near.

But I get the young thing. I do. It’s a great time of life. I had an amazing experience as a young artist. I did have all that stuff – the slavishly devoted managers and producers, the band members who happily hitched on my ride; good Variety reviews, people who said they’d make me a star, backers and financiers and agents and publicists and fans and all that head-swirling stuff, some version of which our girl Jen is probably reveling in when she isn’t punching someone in the throat. But, truth be told, even when I was young I wasn’t so hip. When an unknown Madonna and I met with the same manager at the same time (she and I didn’t meet at the same time, he was considering us both at the same time…and I was the one there on a recommendation from the legendary Kim Fowley of Runaways fame…how hip was that?!), that manager passed on me, took Madonna, and while I kept singing and writing songs about interracial relationships and the meaning of life, she was dry humping gay dancers and making millions (and, yes, admittedly, recording some great pop songs I dance to even to this day!). She was hip. I was not. Dammit all to hell.

Here’s the thing: when you do what I do – freelance writing, photography, music – and you’re not hip enough – as we’ve established I’m not –  the burden of wrangling all that creative output falls squarely on YOU. You don’t get a manager drooling over your “potential.” People don’t rush the door to get you viral and trending. No one’s setting up conference calls to “discuss the trajectory of your articles.” NPR ignores you. We’ve discussed the Tweeting. Basically you’re on your own. You market and media and bush beat and try not to annoy the shit out of the few people who actually respond to those mass mailings or Facebook links, and hold tight to the notion that you remain worthy despite it all. You write a few articles that do go (sorta) viral and that ticks up your hip quotient for a second, but it’s a “what have you done for me lately?” world out there and you’re Sisyphus; every single article, query letter, photography posting, and attempt to put a band together is a new effort that requires rolling that rock up the hill each and every day.

Rocking and frikkin’ rolling.

Did you ever see The Flight of the Conchords, that hilarious 2007 HBO show with the New Zealand music/comedy duo, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie? One of the funniest bits on the show was the ubiquitous appearances of their “one fan” (played by the very funny Kristen Schaal), who made it her business to be the very best fan she could be and, since she was their only one, they were grateful for her (most of the time!). Sometimes I feel that way about my small but very loyal group of friends and fans who always take the time to click, leave comments, re-post, pass on, and generally show a little love on a regular basis. Hipness notwithstanding, they are there, a small but mighty group, and what I lack in “virality,” I have – in spades – in some very appreciated loyalty from them. They’re like my “one fan,” though happily more than one. But just a little more! I’m grateful for them.

The truth is, I love what I do…my creativity lends tremendous purpose to my life. It always has, even when I was younger and hipper and not writing about either. But if it appears I’m now too sincere, too earnest; if I’m not snarky enough or funny enough for the times; if I lack cutting enough edge or just the right touch of verbal violence, so be it. I discovered long ago that you not-hip-enoughhave to be who you are, who you truly are, and if that doesn’t bring them to their feet, again, so be it. To feign something or attempt to be someone else just to match the zeitgeist in hopes of greater acceptance or more success is pure folly. It never works. You always get found out. Look at Milli Vanilli.

So as Popeye would say, I am what I am. Thank you to those who get me. I love you guys, I really do. Which is a long way from wanting to punch someone in the throat.

Yep…definitely not hip enough.

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Art of Art Discussion: Just Quiet Down and Go Create

We all need a break now and again from the day-to-day work that holds our focus. Like the vaunted “15-minutes” regular office workers get to stroll into the cafeteria for java and a Danish, we freelancers take our moments, too; often to hop online for a little social media refreshment. I’m as guilty as anyone; there are days when serious-conversation_smmeeting a deadline, finishing a project, getting errands done, or managing my ever-growing list of marketing tasks all require the interruption of some light trolling on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Huff Po, Fine Art America or any of the groups and discussions one might find here or there. And when I do, I’m typically compelled, by virtue of senses stirred, to jump in. Sometimes it’s just clicks on photos and links I enjoy but, equally as often, the urge for rejoinder is strong. It’s hard for me to read inane chatter, mean-spirited comments, or truly debatable topics without wanting to throw in my two cents!

Certainly political postings corral the lion’s share of this type of response, but more recently I’ve read or partaken in “art discussions” — analysis and deconstruction of style and technique, contest decorum, commerce demands, etc. —  and, much like politics, the tendency for some to veer into cynicism, negativity, and arrogance is apparent. And disappointing.

Like anything else on the Internet, Art is a big topic. Go to any art-oriented site – photography, painting, jewelry design, graphic art, whatever –  and you’ll find opinions on every aspect and angle. And in those discussions, you’ll meet as many wonderful artists as you will curmudgeons, which, frankly, I find surprising. I don’t know why, but I always expect artists to be more uplifting and good-spirited than they often are.

See, I was lucky to have been given a constructive and very positive foundation in my training. My experiences in a wide variety of “the arts” included an overriding message of support, assistance, camaraderie, and the sheer joy of the craft. Certainly there were those who took opportunity for snarky critique, behind-the-back denigrations, sniffing arrogance, or bashing disguised as instruction, but I was fortunate that most of the teachers, professors, mentors, and fellow artists involved in my impressionable youth exuded their own joy in the craft and that imprinted upon me a higher-toned mission statement; one of constructive input, positive output, and personal and communal artistic integrity. Or, as is suggested in this age of The Secret and The Power of Positive Thinking, a “half-full perspective bereft of the toxic effect of negativity.”

talking

“Either love it or do something else,” I was advised. I was also reminded of the old adage, “If you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything.” Which, unless you’re a bona fide reviewer, opinion writer, or comedian, applies to pretty much everyone else.

So it’s jarring for me to read threads in which artists snipe at each other, knock down the work of others; become “authorities” about what is or isn’t Art (as if they, in particular, know!), criticize and demean the marketing choices of fellow artists, or denigrate any aspect of the industry – art or commerce –  that they, personally, don’t appreciate or wish to partake of. These are the kind of people who find fault and spew criticism, whose toxic brew of negativity was what a mentor of mine used to call “sour-pussing.” Glass half-empty. Discordant. Contrary.

For example; at Fine Art America, the very well managed site that provides hosting, printing and delivery of fine art photography and paintings – and a place where I’ve met a slew of very talented, supportive artists who are smart, enjoyable people – there is a contingent (likely too large a one) that “sour-pusses” on a regular basis. A discussion thread commenced recently regarding the winner of a now-concluded “Times Square Art Contest.” The woman who started the thread posited her prompt with a tsunami of criticism; of the winning piece, the artist, the contest, the overall marketing demands of the art world, concluding with a cranky assessment of “the whole thing.” (Frankly, I wanted to get her a juice box and tell her to take a nap!) But, more disappointingly, what followed this diatribe was a slew of commiserating comments, supporting her thesis to some degree or another. Lots of judgment of other artists’ work, denunciations of the overall state of the industry, snarky rejoinders about contests that “demean” artists into “begging” for votes, right down to a nihilistic grump-fest that included the statements, “There will be artists as long as there is society, but that too is coming to an abrupt halt. America is going under as we speak, and the rest will follow in quick order,” and the exceedingly grim “THERE IS NO FUTURE to ART. Humanity is much more interested in Ipods and marching blindfolded into the future. We are the last artists on this planet.”

All I could think was…WTF?!?

I shook my head as I read this manifesto of negativity, wondering how these people got out of bed, much less found the energy and inspiration necessary to create art. Luckily there were a few bright individuals who spoke up to shoot down the negative trend and did so with enough intelligence, optimism, and artistic good-will to offset, to the degree they could, the snarling hordes but, I have to say, I was disappointed that so many seemed hell-bent on ripping Art, and its artists, a new one! I was tempted to leap in and make my points, but realized, with some weariness, that the thread leader was jumping on every response with her continuing brand of snark and snarl and it was just too nice a day to get involved in that level of crankiness…though I did send an email to the most cogent and wise of her debaters, thanking him for his insight!

While I agree that we all have “the right to our opinions,” as Debbie Downer repeatedly pointed out, too many seem to have missed the lessons of integrity, constructive thinking, artistic magnanimity, and a positive, supportive outlook. Clearly Art has long had a history of creative personalities who were churlish and mean-spirited; many who were (are?) burdened with insecurities, jealousies, schadenfreude, and plain old nastiness, but in the communal world of online art exchange and discussion, there really is no room or reason for all that.

But people are who they are; I can’t change them. The woman running that thread is clearly a person with many other issues in her life that contribute to the attitudes she exudes online. But while I feel sorry for her (and certainly anyone in her near circle!), I ain’t gonna debate her. Because I reserve my perspective, my thoughtfulness; my contribution, for conversations that are constructive and focused on offering views and opinions that transmit something positive and helpful, rather than the banal, deflating, blather-fest of negativity I found on that thread.

stepping-into-the-plaza

My suggestion to that crowd? Stop talking and go create. If you have that much time to spend tearing down others in a community setting, go make another piece of art instead. Rather than getting some kind of buzz out of stirring up mutual frustration to feed your own, shut off your computer and pick up a brush or a camera. Don’t worry about what others are creating, just create. Quit expounding on what you think is stupid and create. Don’t announce what you won’t do, just do what you will do. If you don’t have the desire to be in a contest, don’t; but don’t cut down others who do. Don’t want to ask people to vote for your work? Again, don’t. But quit yacking about others who have no problem garnering support for theirs. And if someone wins a damn prize, offer congratulations and accept that even if “it’s not really creative” to you, it clearly is to someone else…enough that they won! And if you don’t have it in you to congratulate them…

Just quiet down.

Stop talking.

And go create.

All photographs by Lorraine Devon Wilke

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Pros and Cons of 2010

Years are like visiting relatives. The kind that come whether invited or not, stay longer than they should and often wear really bad hats. You gussy up and make a spectacle of their arrival but by visits’s end your foot is tapping madly at the opened front door. They titillate with promises of adventures to come, fruitions they’ll facilitate, wonderful gifts to bestow, but all too often they disappoint for no rhyme or reason. Since they’re here for the duration you buck up to make the best of it, but after 12 months they’ve hit the limits of their welcome. Yet, as they bustle out the door on December 31st with hearty farewells and not one look back, you can’t help feel a twinge of melancholy, a moment of regret for what might have been. A belated appreciation for what was. In retrospect, they were often quite lovely and now they’re gone, never, ever, to return (apparently they’re visiting relatives from another planet). You sigh deeply, throw back an hors d’oeuvres, then gussy up, pull out the champagne, and get ready to welcome the next arriving party.

2010 was a brutal year for me, resulting in some loss of whimsy, faith and optimism. In street vernacular, it sucked. Typically I’d not be so expansively damning of an entire year but this one…well, let me set the stage by bullet-pointing the major “Cons” that crammed into these past 12 months:

  • Year begins with husband in full-blown emotional/physical crisis related to MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury), compelling him to move out for the hope of healing and the sake of sanity. You can fill in any and all of the blanks related to the resultant miseries; his, mine and ours. He’s home now and doing much better, thank you, but the recovery continues. (Cowboy Strong, Poetry Sweet, Love in the Age of MTBI)
  • My now 81-year old mother’s dementia progresses significantly. A search for the best possible facility ensues and an excellent one is found in my town. Very good for her. For me it’s complex: she moves closer than she’s been since I was 18 and fled home to avoid our complicated relationship. My brother and I take her on. Maybe not a “Con” as such (how cold could I be?!), but certainly a conundrum. (The Mother of My Reinvention)
  • My amazing son graduates from high school (very good), gets into a fabulous college (great), and I am left to conduct my day-to-day life without him in it (very not good), which I discover is an unexpectedly emotional transition. (My Very Cool Roommate is Moving Out…)
  • The accident which caused my husband’s brain injury was expected to settle by the statute date. Didn’t. A lawsuit becomes necessary (unfathomable) with a trial now set…July of 2011. (WTF?). The plethora of treatment reimbursements were, hence, not forthcoming and you can now mull what that has done to the health and welfare of our former nest egg.
  • We were unexpectedly obligated to move during the month of our son’s college departure. Costly, inconvenient, really heavy sans teenage boy’s muscle. (But a Pro here also: we love the new house located in the secret that is Playa del Rey.)
  • And last, but profoundly and painfully not least, one of my dearest, sweetest, long-time friends dies unexpectedly on October 25th, breaking my heart and those of many others in my circle. (Lisa Blount…As Is and Still Loved)

You understand. A bad year, that 2010.

So on New Year’s Eve night I stood with the front door opened wide, foot tapping, as 2010 gathered its things, fussed about with last minute tidying and much too long a good-bye, and as it left at 11:59 on a cold, crisp Friday night, I welcomed 2011 with a giddy, slightly hysterical, hope for a much, MUCH better visit.

THE PROS AND CONS OF 2010:
Since I enumerated the major Cons above, let me qualify that what follows is an eclectic list of trivia, cultural comment, and some gravitas for good measure. No particular order or category, Pros will be mixed with Cons; just a list of the good and bad, best, worst, and sorta that crossed my path during this tumultuous year.

Facebook: Before anyone starts screaming about how this phenom came about long before 2010, let me say, “I know, for God’s sake!” But Facebook nudged its way significantly into my life this year. Initially reluctant, having no need to list the endless minutia of my day for public consumption, I joined at the urging of my sister, Louise, and proceeded to discover a new way to connect. I now communicate more and know more about my many nieces, nephews and cousins than I ever have. I have lovely FB dialogue with old high school and college friends on a regular basis, something I did not have prior, and the ease of sharing images, songs, articles, blog pieces, and opinion is simply stellar. I’m a fan and believe that, like anything, it can be used for Good or for Evil; it is my experience that the people in my “friend” group use it delightfully for Good. (And the movie, Social Network, was smashing.)

Shenanigans: I love this word. I know Juno lent it cultural buzz long before this year but I’d like to use it in most sentences if I could and that urge only started in 2010. If my last name was Madigan I’d want to get a sitcom going called “Madigan’s Shenanigans.” It would be Irishy and really funny.

Boardwalk Empire: People are carping about how this show hasn’t lived up to its pedigree, what with the Martin Scorsese/HBO imprint, but any show that successfully posits a sartorially splendid Steven Buscemi as the lovable (if malevolent) lady-killer is all right by me. He’s brilliant, as is the show. Don’t listen to anyone else on this one.

Tea Party/Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck/Rush/All that Mess: I’m all for fiscal responsibility, I believe in self-sustenance, I don’t want the Government messing in my private life, and I’m sure there’s political corruption all over the place on both sides of the aisle. But I don’t need any of these folks “takin’ back America” for me because my America never left. Government has its own pros and cons but it’s not some monolithic thing we need to be protected from; it’s made up of people, people we elected into office, and it behooves us to find ways to maximize its potential without destroying its effectiveness. Frankly, if the American public was as capable of running the show without the aid of government (however flawed) as these people would have you believe, our kids would be skinnier, our banks would be more solvent, the city of Bell wouldn’t have happened, more people would be employed, idiotic house loans wouldn’t have been made, illegal immigrants wouldn’t be getting hired by wealthy CEOs, and health insurance would be efficient and affordable for all. And tell me, if the mantra is “don’t tread on me?,” why is it acceptable for the government to get all up in it when it comes our personal lives, say, same-sex marriage or abortion rights? Why, when separation of church and state is a founding principal, is the movement so aggressively hard-right Christian with the obvious spin that this is required to be elected? If we don’t need government shoving their foot in our doors, which is a major plank of the platform, why does it matter what religion you espouse or what spouse you love? You can’t have it both ways, y’all.

Government is what it is because our Founding Fathers wisely surmised that any viable country needs effective leaders, sensible regulation, ethical oversight, separation of church and state and, certainly, limited reign over our personal lives. So how about we try to make our (that’d be all of us) government better and stop with all the incendiary rhetoric? As for Miz Palin, their sparkly gun-totin’  lightening rod, I’m not going to take this moment to cover my thoughts on her. But let me say this: she can belittle Michelle Obama’s health initiative all she wants, claiming that parents don’t need government to suggest what their children should eat, but 30% of American children are obese and they got there on their parents’ watch; helpful suggestions from an admired First Lady should be applauded rather than mocked. But partisanship trumps wisdom, snark replaces thoughtful debate, and a party moves forward with the premiere Mean Girl as their star. As for Glenn and Rush…naw, I’m not gonna give ’em any word count. I’d rather end on: let’s pull together and create some positive change. We’ll always be different people; emphasizing our differences has done nothing to improve the situation. Let’s see if reasonable solidarity might be more effective, yes? Kumbaya.

Pinkberry: Around for years now, I know. But this year I realized, after weeks without, that this swirly goodness is the essential dessert for slightly health conscious dessert eaters. That’d be me. Coconut with almonds and berries. Thank you.

People who don’t respond to email/email in general: In my line of work, more business is done by email than phone. People can complain all they want about how “we’ve lost our ability to connect face to face” but email provides a paper trail (often necessary), allows everything to be said exactly as needed (really necessary), and allows the recipient time to formulate a cogent response (with some people not possible otherwise). It’s a good thing. And when I email asking if you can submit a design proposal, arrange to fix a website, get that bank wire in today, choose a time for the photo session or join us for dinner next week, answer my email. The “I was busy” excuse doesn’t hold when anyone can take two minutes at any time of the day or night to pop out a reply without fear of being caught for hours on a phone. If you can text while you’re driving, eating In & Out, and talking to your girlfriend in the passenger’s seat, you can return my email.

And on that same note, please write me in full, English language sentences. We’re grown people here. There’s no call for emoticons winking and bobbling all over the place. And enough with the “text speak” (i.e. “Wer U B in 2-daze?”); I should not require translation from a 12 year old to get to your point. Profound and flagrant abuse or neglect of any form of punctuation, or the utter lack of paragraphs, are both deal-breakers. I will not read an email that is either in all-caps (STOP YELLING AT ME!!), or, conversely, employs not a one. Remember that earlier comment about Good or Evil? Our many new methods of communication offer great convenience (Good), but without the gift of grammar, punctuation and adult thinking, Evil wins.  All the above applies to texting, as well. <3…(really, I do.)

Multi-Tasking: I’m all for it when it’s efficient, possible and NOT RUDE. Frankly, I’m pretty good at it myself (ironing while chatting with a phone headset on and cookies baking is one of my best!).  But when I’m sitting having a meal with you, talking to you on the phone, or attempting a Skype exchange, I don’t want to see that damn IPhone light up as you text during our dinner conversation, hear computer keys tapping as you rotely mumble a reply to my phone question while you’re chatting via Facebook with your work buddy, or wait far too long for a Skype response because you’ve got 4 chats going at the same time. Focus, people! Really, it’ll all get done but can it not all get done on my time?

My 2010 Farewell Un-Tour: After a lifetime of singing, songwriting and recording, I got to 2010 and decided to officially pull the plug on my music career. Since it had essentially died years earlier, this was purely ceremonial. I stashed the microphone up in the attic, pulled my MySpace music page down, and stopped referring to myself as a singer. The cold-shower hit of this was shocking, but reality reigned and writer/photographer became my default “so what do you do?” response. I took the whole year to let it all sink in. But because enough people have asked, particularly those who only knew me as a singer and were not aware of this change of focus, let me offer an ever-so-brief explanation:

It’s hard enough to keep a band going when you’re young, cute and commercially viable; it’s a whole other thing when you’ve crept past that point, lost the backers years ago and your best shot at a guitar player is that old guy from Redondo who plays Beatles tunes and insists on doing your chart before he commits to the band. ‘Nuff said? My last band gig was a bona fide disaster (not enough rehearsal for not good enough players), my search for new musicians too often resembled those hilarious audition montages in most rock & roll movies, and without the carrot of a record deal or a paid tour (neither of which I could provide), it appears I wore out my own welcome. Since I never learned to play an instrument (a true regret) and was spoiled by my amazing good fortune of having played with some of the absolute best musicians in the world throughout my career, no matter how hard I tried to plunk out a tune on guitar to at least sing a bit, I came to the conclusion that I would never perform with someone who played as badly as me. When the last of the far-too-many auditioning guitarists showed up saying he loved my music, thought I was a great singer but didn’t want to play actual songs (“I just wanna jam, y’know?”), I wearily threw in the towel.

My remaining time here on this earth is too precious to waste working with a geezer who’ll be astro-charting every player I find or a weekend warrior who wants to jam to cover tunes. I don’t share the notion that rock & roll is only for the young but being older at the game certainly does limit the playing field…literally. The remnants remain, however: my record (written, arranged and produced with the truly gifted Rick M. Hirsch and something I remain deeply proud of) is still on ITunes (ITunes:somewhere on the way) and CDBaby (Somewhere On the Way)…please check if you’re interested, and my history as a singer/songwriter can still be found on my website (LDW Music Page). But it’s all history, nothing current. And though I held the final funeral this past year, mourned, and moved on, of late I find myself thinking about it again. Singing along to music more often. I plug in my headphones on long walks, listen loud and rowdy, and get energized visualizing myself up on stage again. I play Devil’s Advocate and wonder if I could be happy doing an acoustic gig or an easy band gig just for the fun of it, no ambition, not necessarily my tunes. If I could find the right players. If it could be the right balance of pain and pleasure. If it made sense. And lately I’ve decided it merits some exploration. So we’ll see what I can stir up in ’11. Have no ideas yet, it might be folly, but I’m open to suggestions…

Best Comedy/Modern Family: No matter how commonplace it is now to love this show (the type of hype that usually engenders a reverse psychology kind of hate response from me), I love this show. There are other hugely popular shows like “Two and a Half Men” that elude me entirely (Charlie Sheen…really???) but this hugely popular show deserves the hype because it not only promotes a positive message, it does so in a consistently hilarious way. I want Cameron and Gloria over for lunch. I’ll have Pinkberry.

Best Drama/Men of a Certain Age: This show rings so heartfelt and so true that sometimes I cannot believe it’s TV. Ray Romano has hit a indisputable hole-in-one (golf vernacular particular to the man and the show!) and I applaud him for moving from sit-comedy to something so authentically real. TNT, Monday at 10, with Scott Bakula, Andre Braugher, Lisa Gay Hamilton, all of whom are spectacular.

TMZ: This thing I hate. Harvey Levin has surely secured a place in whatever passes itself off as Hell these days for creating this hateful, petty, really LOW form of human discourse. Chasing after celebrities and snapping candids of young actresses butts so you can circle them in red and write “CELLULITE” in big letters deserves whatever form of punishment is reserved for the Devil’s spawn.

The Pros and Cons of Neighbors – Verbiage borrowed for today’s blog, this is the name of the novel I completed this year (title courtesy of my son, Dillon, who came up with it). The first draft was done in ‘09 but tweaked into final form this year so it makes the list. I’d always wanted to write a novel but after a lifetime of songwriting and more of screenplays, I ultimately never felt I had a story rich enough to merit the medium. Until this one. It’s about a young woman who, on the night of his funeral, finds her father’s journals with their depiction of her as a failure, a discovery that devastates her and incites a journey of tumultuous reinvention. It was an idea piqued by a family story but developed into a fictional rendering that allowed me to create a cast of characters and a story arc that was fully imagined. Writing it was one of the most profound and satisfying creative experiences I’ve ever had, the responses from private readers and freelance editors has been amazing, and I’m hopeful someday it will be available for reading! If you’d like to hear an interview I did about the book with Family Therapist Nancy Locke Capers, you can click her name here and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Of course, now that the book’s done the fun’s over and I’m left to figure out what the hell to do with it. I know, self-publishing, e-books, Kindle, yes. But as a long-held personal goal, I’m starting with the traditional route, attempting to snag a literary agent who’ll hopefully snag a publisher. Horrible time in the industry to attempt this daring feat but it’s a new year and I’m determined to recapture some of my former boldness. If you hear me blathering at a later date about my newly published e-book, you’ll know where that journey led…stay tuned.

Creepy reality shows: I used to watch “American Idol” so I can’t trash the entire genre. But that premise at least required talent, offered creative entertainment, and resulted in pop stars who generally make great records (Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Kelly Clark). What the hell does Snooki or any one of the various, vapid Housewives have to offer?? It was bad enough that Jerry Springer unleashed American Trash into our living rooms on a nightly basis but he was one of few at the time and we had much else to choose from. Now the relentless TV schedule is just chock full of degraded, embarrassing, truly pathetic shows that depict people of every race, creed and color making stomach-churning idiots of themselves. Where is the pride, I ask? Apparently there is none. Getting on TV and being on a reality show trumps dignity, discretion, privacy, and integrity. And the public is lapping it up. Stop it, seriously! If we don’t it’s like the terrorists win.

Open SesameI’m no Irene Virbila (which apparently is a good thing when it comes to getting seated in new restaurants!) and I don’t know if Open Sesame is part of a chain or not, but this little restaurant in the Manhattan Village in Manhattan Beach, CA consistently serves some of the best Lebanese food I’ve ever had. Seriously. It’s economical, undemanding and isn’t baba ganosh just one of the most amazing tastes in the world? SO good.

Grace – My lovely stepdaughter, Jennie, gave birth to her first child in December of ’09, late enough in that year to make Grace’s first year a significant part of ’10. Raising my son was the singlemost profound and amazing experience of my life and to be able to be part of this child’s world in my role as “Grandma Rain” (yes, the g-word being attached to me is a startling concept!) is awe-inspiring. She is a glorious human being who loves my necklaces and dances when I sing the Bee Gee’s “You Should Be Dancin’” so I think we’ve made a phenomenal start.

Temple Grandin – Due to the aforementioned Cons of earlier, I haven’t gotten out to as many movies as I’d’ve liked so the list is a bit feeble. However, this HBO drama took the prize as far as an emotionally rich, beautifully told story brilliantly acted by everyone involved, most notably Claire Danes. Her performance in the title role is stunning and her interpretation of this complex and accomplished woman made me want to rush out and explore feedlots. Find it on HBO’s On Demand.

Speaking of Movies…my favorites this year: Inception (most clever, inventive script…maybe ever) and the aforementioned Social Network. Honorable Mentions are The King’s Speech and Secretariat (oddly good). Looking forward to: The Fighter, Black Swan, Love and Other Drugs and True Grit (God, I don’t get out enough!).

Snark – I cannot tell you how truly weary I am of this social phenomenon. I don’t mean the kind of snark that pokes fun with a sly wink and a bit of a dig but is ultimately hilarious (think Joel McHale or Jon Stewart), I’m talking about the endless bitchiness that purports to be humor but is really just passive aggressive Mean Girl/Bully Guy babble (think Chelsea Handler or Perez Hilton). It’s crept into too much of the cultural discourse, which has given franchise to the anonymous idiots who post sub-Neanderthal comments below every article on the Internet. Let’s raise the bar, people, PLEASE.  Stewart, McHale (and even Spade) have the corner on this market, so shut up and find another way to be funny. Or perhaps sincere and authentic. Maybe even intelligent. That would be refreshing.

Photography – I’ve been taking pictures all my life but this year I was able to take my shooting, processing, and design skills to a new level, much of it courtesy of my job with legendary brandmaker/photographer, Mike Salisbury. The photo above, shot by Tomasz Rossa for Franco Dragone (Cirque de Soleil creator) for the marketing campaign of his new water show extravaganza in Macau (The House of Dancing Waters), was one I worked on with Mike for a teaser billboard…amazing campaign and great fun to be part of it. But it’s the taking of pictures and seeing them come to life onscreen and in print where I find the magic. There is just something so exhilarating about visually framing a moment in time. If you’re interested (and until I get that damn photo website up), you can go to the LA Times “SoCal Moments feature page (or its gallery at “SoCal Moments“) and scroll through; 20+ of my favorite LA shots are posted.

Friends – When you have a year like my 2010, you are never more aware of the value and life-saving necessity of good friends…and that includes friends who are family members. This past year, like no other, has made piercingly clear to me how precious and perfect so many of the people in my life are; in their ability to show compassion and empathy, to be there in ways both physical and emotional, to offer their time, their solace, their support and their shoulders. I am very lucky – blessed – to have such dear, resilient, extraordinarily dependable friends upon whom I rely. They got me through 2010 and I will never, ever forget.

This Blog – I really have no idea how many people are reading this thing. It could be the few that take the time to comment meaningfully, the many who comment generically (most likely for the purpose of leaving their link), or it could be significantly more…I don’t know – if I were more savvy about Google Analytics I’m sure I could find out (and maybe I’ll get crackin’ on that in 2011)! I’m often surprised when someone who’s never said a word to me about it suddenly comes into view and remarks, “I read your blog all the time and I love it!” I’m thrilled to hear this, as one always hopes what they’re putting out into the world is finding an audience and just maybe having some impact. I’ve spent a career trying to achieve that goal to greater and lesser degrees of success, a goal that sustains with this endeavor. And I’m now learning that there are all sorts of rules and expectations about how a blog should be conducted (someone told me yesterday that you’re supposed to post something new every day…gasp!). There are methods of marketing, search engine optimization, pings and trackbacks to consider and so on (I got tired just writing that), and I am less than clear about how many of these mandates I’m following. What I do know is this: I have found this forum to be a profound and deeply important outlet for me, a place where I can express myself, tell my stories, talk about the people and things I chose, and have a really good time. Writing is salvation for me and if it offers some entertainment, piques a response, gets you to a gig, brings an empathetic tear, or makes you laugh, I am so pleased. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your comments. I hope you’ll continue. I will.

As for 2011: I thought about my departed friend, Lisa Blount, who, despite intractable pain and her daily struggle to deal with it, managed, in the last year of her life, to triumph. She said to several people in the months before she died that it was time for her to once again “Say yes to life” and so she did. She was inducted into the Arkansas Hall of Fame, landed a leading role in a new series and was invited to Nashville to record that CD she always wanted to get done. That her re-emergence was cut short is personally devastating but that’s not the story; her push against her physical pain and her enthusiasm to re-embrace life despite it…that’s the inspiration. And so in honor of Lisa, I, too, will once again say “yes” to life. I’ll hold on to my hat, shake off the remnants of the departed year and invite 2011 in with authentic optimism. I’m sure it won’t be a perfect guest, but may it delight us all by being thoughtful and easy, filled with generosity and cooperation, maybe even leaving the winning lottery ticket on the bed stand on its way out next December…a girl can dream!

 

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.