Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Get Off My Tractor!

Neil Young is pissed, and you should be, too.

“Why?” you ask. “He’s an angry, old hippie. What is it THIS time? The government? Evil corporations? Is Big Brother coming to get me? Pffft. Whatever it is, it’s all blah, blah, blah.”

Except…it’s not. America really is dying. Look around you. When I was a kid, we used to joke about the worthlessness of Canadian money. Ask a Canadian about OUR money today. We used to pack a lunch and sit down for a home-cooked dinner. Kids played outside and got fresh air and exercise. One paycheck supported a household. The rest of the world applauded us. Water was FREE!

Were “the good ol’ days” perfect? Hell no! There was plenty for Neil Young to be pissed about then, too; racism, sexual inequality, war, poverty, homelessness, and political corruptness were rampant. And I think that’s the heart of it: we’ve taken steps in the right direction, to be sure (women and people of color can vote, whiskey and abortions are legal, the peaks of Washington and Colorado are both literally and figuratively high), but – in our country’s history – we haven’t really resolved a damn thing. Add a crumbling infrastructure, failing public assistance and educational systems, epic dependence on foreign oil, rapidly diminishing domestic resources, and the slow demise of small business at the hands of gargantuan super conglomerates, and you (we) have a BIG problem.

Somebody needs to do something about something.

In 1985, in response to a comment Bob Dylan made during Live Aid, two angry hippies and the poster child for the American Heartland decided to do what they could about an issue that effects all of us, so they gathered a bunch of blues, rock, and country friends and – with only six weeks’ preparation – performed a benefit concert in Champaign, Illinois, to support America’s farmers. They called it Farm Aid. Over 50 bands/entertainers stepped up to help, including Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Bon Jovi, John Denver, Foreigner, and B.B. King. Van Halen even debuted their new singer, Sammy Hagar. Attendance was around 80,000. They raised $9 million. Neil, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp thought they were done. Turns out, family farms in America needed way more help than anyone thought…(excerpts from FarmAid.org):

1985: To compete with exponential growth of large scale, industrial “factory farms,” and after decades of advancing technology had already forced them to “trade horses for tractors,” record numbers of family farms reported record amounts of debt

1991: Following a devastating drop in market prices, dairy farmers organized around the country in an effort to survive

1992: Farmer’s Home Administration sent out 40,000 foreclosure notices to troubled farms; every five farms that closed took one small business with them

1993: Heavy rains in the Midwest caused the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to overflow, swallowing entire towns; thousands of families were homeless; eight million acres of crops were destroyed, 20 million acres were damaged [Note: this was also the year the FDA approved the use of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to speed the production of milk]

1994 & 1995: For two years in a row, our country lost over 500 farms a week; Ernest Krikava, a 60-year-old Nebraska farmer, was sentenced to prison for illegally selling his hogs during his farm's bankruptcy proceedings – the family had no food for themselves, their hogs were starving, and the bank refused to release funds to operate the farm; Krikava was later pardoned by President Clinton, due in part to the advocacy work of Willie Nelson and Farm Aid

1996 & 1997: A string of natural disasters, including a drought in the Great Plains, Hurricane Bertha in the Carolinas, blizzards, floods, and late frosts dealt substantial blows

1998: Ice storms in the Northeast and drought in Oklahoma and Texas contributed to the most devastating year for farmers since Farm Aid began in 1985; factory farm production continued to foster an enormous inequity in market pricing; Willie Nelson stated, "In rural America, the farm economy is the economy. If we don't pay attention right now to what's happening to farmers, we're not just going to lose them, we'll lose the thousands of schools, businesses, and churches that depend on family farming for their survival."

1999: Farm Aid is held near Washington, D.C., where hundreds of farmers rallied to protest the "Freedom to Farm" bill, in place since 1996; the bill had resulted in record profits for multinational grain traders and big food manufacturing companies, while leaving family farmers bankrupt

I’ll stop there... Okay, one more quote: In 2007, Farm Aid became “the first major music event to serve local, organic and family-farm foods at concessions and backstage. The concessions ingredients were local, organic and/or sourced from family farms. Concert-goers also enjoyed Farm Aid's first HOMEGROWN Village, which offered hands-on interactive experiences with family farmers and sustainable family-farm practices.” In Raleigh this past weekend, I had the most amazing, baked-that-morning “apple hand pie”! Our friend said it was the best food she’d ever seen at a concert. Amen!

I grew up on a small farm, and Farm Aid has been on my “bucket list” since its inception. At the time, I was 20 years’ old, broke, and freshly-moved to the San Francisco area after leaving rural Washington state to “find myself.” A few years later, I moved with Scott to Florida. Because the concert is held in a different city every year, and those cities tend to be near the center of the country, where farming is more prevalent, it hasn’t been a convenient trip. Until this year. You can find reviews online, and a lot of the concert is available on YouTube, so I’m not giving you a play-by-play. But, I’ll say this: for many, it was merely a concert; for me, it was a pilgrimage, a kind of rediscovery or reclaiming of my roots. It felt surreal being there. Some things, I’ll admit, were disappointing (after 28 years, you’d think organizers would have figured out how to open the gates on time). Some things were a surprise (I never expected to enjoy – and want more of – a band called “Insects vs Robots”). Many things, however – especially people – were inspiring; Willie kicked off the event with a welcome song that included Native American dancers; in the grass, we sat next to an elderly man with a walker who’d just lost his wife this year (he shared his all natural gummy bears, we shared our contraband); and Lukas and Micah Nelson sent me over the edge, making it impossible for me not to (finally) fall in love with Neil Young.

My dear friend, folk musician Robin Stuckert, would have been so proud.

It didn’t happen instantaneously. I already respected and admired him, not only because of his history and iconic status, but because Robin loved him and I loved Robin. (Incidentally, Robin despised Kid Rock, but I had him coming around toward the end.) Neil came on late, after everyone had been partying since noon. When he rolled into his rant about family farms and how it was OUR job, our DUTY to support them, I felt the crowd pull away. Seated up on the lawn, a few people were respectfully paying attention, but we were largely surrounded by drunks and young people who’d come for Delta Rae and Jack White and, therefore, didn’t give a shit. There was so much chatter, it was hard to hear him toward the end. That pissed me off. I wanted to tell everybody to SHUT THE HELL UP AND LISTEN! His message was why we were all there, for crying out loud. But, they wouldn’t have listened; they would have called me a bitch, told ME to shut the hell up, their conversations would have continued – only louder – and I would have walked away the bad guy, having tainted somebody’s good time. Instead, I enjoyed the rest of the concert, drove home to Florida, and spent a day on my computer, researching Farm Aid and the plight of America’s family farms. My conclusion: Shit is fucked up and bullshit.

To recap: Every five farms that close take one small business with them; in ‘94 and ‘95, the U.S. lost over 500 farms every week. (I didn’t want to do the math, but I also didn’t think I’d need to.) I skimmed through current statistics to offer you an update, but they were so depressing, I stopped. In a nutshell, large-scale factory farms have all but annihilated the family farm. That matters – to me, to you, to ALL of us – because family farms grew small fields of healthy, ACTUAL food, where factory farms grow mammoth fields of genetically and chemically modified VERSIONS of food. Why and How did this happen? I’ll break it down for you:


Or (for those who need more specifics):


Or (for shits and giggles):

            GARBAGE IN --> GARBAGE OUT

You’re welcome to substitute any (make that ALL) fast food and/or unreasonably large chain stores for McDonald's (like Walmart, for example). With few exceptions, their offerings are toxic. Why? Because they purchase fruit, vegetables, and meat on a scale we can’t fathom, forcing suppliers to produce on an otherwise impossible level. And they’ll keep doing it as long as we keep buying it. Other countries have banned GMO and other chemically treated foods. So, why are WE still sucking it up? Have you checked health statistics lately? Don’t you think, maybe, if we stopped buying and eating foul shit, we’d stop getting sick? Huh? How do YOU feel today?

If you’re still with me, let me share a few other things, too: In 1935, with a population of 127 million in the U.S., family farmers operated 6.8 million farms and supplied nearly 100% of the market; by 2007, with a population of 300+ million, there were only 2.2 million farms; most recent statistics show 1% of the population claims “farming” as an occupation (2% report living on farms); of that 1%, only 45% claim farming as their “principal” occupation; 2% of farms are considered factory farms, and they control 89% of the market; Monsanto controls 90% of the seeds…

I could get all anti-political here and bring up laws our crooked leaders have passed in favor of factory farming, but that’s a lot of research, I won’t like what I find, and I’m already mad. I could dig more into Monsanto, too, and lobbyists and fracking. I could easily tie in the big pharmaceutical companies who keep factory farms in business by helping us “manage our symptoms.” But, if I went too far, I’d disappoint Neil Young and get off message. And the message is this: BUY LOCAL. Make a pledge TODAY to substitute every other trip to the big chain store with a trip to the farmer’s market, the neighborhood butcher, or the corner bakery. If you can’t swing every other trip, try every third or fourth. When you go to the county fair, take a detour off the midway and visit the agricultural tent. Throw money in the donations buckets for the kids in FFA and 4H. Choose restaurants that source their meat and produce from local and/or organic growers. And go to Farm Aid (just be sure to bring your appetite!).

Somebody needs to do something about something. And that somebody is you. Do what you can. Choose fresh. Choose organic. Buy local.

~ Dawn

P.S. To honor the struggle of America’s family farms, I'm challenging all my friends on Facebook and Twitter to share this post. It’s my hope that all readers will consider pitching in any way they can. To all who do, you have my most sincere thanks. ~ D

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Today, I Cry

We don’t cry for the dead. We cry for the living. Specifically, we cry for ourselves. John Belushi, Jim Henson, Madeleine Kahn, George Carlin, Gilda Radner, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams… They made me happy, made me think, opened my mind to other perspectives, and taught me things I didn’t know I was learning, all while making it all look easy. I never met any of them, in person, but felt a bond or kinship with each of them, nonetheless. They were more than entertainers on a TV screen, they were exceptionally funny and clever entertainers whose influence directly contributed to the adult I am today. Their deaths were painful. Yes, we can watch hours of recorded moments on YouTube, but – once they’re gone – there can never be another next moment. So, we cry.

At least, with entertainers, we have their bodies of work to honor their memory. With ordinary folks, like family and friends, we aren’t often so lucky. Maybe they wrote or recorded a few things. Maybe somebody took an old home movie, somebody else shot a short video. Mostly we’re left with a photo album or two and whatever images and stories we carry within us. Over time, even those disappear. It makes me wonder, then, what it is that we leave behind in this world. We work so hard to build things, raise children, touch lives, and leave a legacy. In the end, it’s not even up to us; the preservation of our memory ultimately lies with those we leave behind. 

Every time I visit a House of Blues, I seek out the “altar to Jake” and down a shot with a friend. I never miss the opportunity to let a Muppet make me smile. Whether entertainers or ordinary folks, my heroes live on through me: I have my grandfather’s dedication to family; my mother’s words echo in my head and out my mouth almost every day. Every joke I share – every story I tell – keeps their legacies alive.

It’s up to you and me to preserve the memories of our heroes. Do them proud. Share the “7 Words You Can’t Say On Television” with your friends and your children. Show them how they can entertain themselves for hours with nothing more than a box full of hats. Teach your girls it’s okay to be pretty AND smart AND funny AND talented AND still laugh at themselves. And teach your boys it’s okay to cry; some heroes are worth a few tears.

RIP, Robin Williams. I hope Jonathan was waiting for you on the other side … with a box of hats.

~ Dawn

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Life: One Kick in the Nuts After Another

[Final edit at 6:08pm, accompanied by a tall glass of Jack and water over ice…]

I’m tired of being optimistic. Tired of smiling and pretending I have any influence, at all, on what happens next in my world and that everything’s going to be okay. Because I don’t, and it’s not. Our lobbyist-run government is corrupt, our politically divided country is full of sheeple, and our flat, over-sized televisions spew a thousand channels of shamelessly over-commercialed garbage. Cities, towns, and entire islands all over the globe are disappearing under rising tides. Economies (including ours) are crumbling. Human trafficking, slavery, organized crime, poverty, child abuse, torture, terrorism, and war exist – will continue to exist – everywhere.

With advances in technology, and one-click access to more information than probably every other generation before us, combined, you’d think we’d get better at solving the world’s problems. Instead, phones, tablets, pads, and the mindless games and activities over which we obsess have taught us to look down instead of out and inward. We see it as multi-tasking. We think we know ourselves – and each other – but we don’t. We pop in headphones, link to WiFi, and think we’re connected, but we’re not. Social networking is, in fact, making us anti-social. We tweet our “Check in” at Applebee’s or click “Like” on a friend’s photo of a kitten pushing a smaller kitten in a tiny, red shopping cart and call it “communicating,” while eating lunch surrounded by people doing the same thing. Our “Friends” lists are growing, but our vocabularies are shrinking, and our attention spans are getting shorter. I’d say that’s far from advancement.

As a novelist, I find it all discouraging. What, exactly, does one write about when the world clearly doesn’t give a damn about anything worth writing about? And, given the dwindling number of people willing/able to sit down and read for more than three minutes at a time, where do I find the motivation to produce material for an audience that doesn’t exist? I have enough trouble drumming up readers for a blog post that took a day and a half to write (this one, for example), what’s the point in spending two to five years crafting a story only three hundred people will read, half will pay for, and fewer will review and/or recommend to friends? (Not that I’m ungrateful for those of you who DO buy, read, comment, share, and keep coming back; if YOU didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be here bitching there aren’t more of you.)

The only reason I’ve been able to publish two novels, two short stories, and six magazine articles – and (poorly) maintain a blog – is because my husband makes it possible. I’d hoped to ultimately repay his support and sacrifice by justifying my existence (sporting a substantial ROI, if you will). After ten years, I’m not only NOT making a living, I can’t even cover my vices. Though I’ve certainly reveled in the hundreds of copies sold and the tens of dollars I’ve pocketed in royalties, I’ve arrived at a crossroads.

Ten years, people – TEN! That’s a fucking DECADE of fighting for time to sit on my ass, stare at blank pages, and make up stories, while Scott schleps off to work every day, so the bills can get paid. I’ve persisted through the death of my mother, accidental and suicidal deaths of dear friends, at least half a dozen hurricanes, countless arguments and/or serious misunderstandings with my children and siblings, two near divorces, and a lightning strike to the house that wiped out cable, Internet, and half the sprinkler system. I nearly died in ’08 from poor nutrition and exhaustion! And yet, I have little more to show for all that persistence than a small shelf of books and magazines that collect more dust than royalties, a blog maybe twelve (wonderful) people read, and a husband who’s overwhelmed and out of patience. I don’t want to think about what the next ten years might bring.

Why am I doing this?!

My next project is supposed to be an historical novel that incorporates the origins of firefighting with the history of the Knights of Malta, the eternal clash between Christians and Muslims, and the importance of family and community. The themes are dear to me, and the topics seem relevant and interesting. But, every time I sit down to write, I think, “Aside from the luxury of being at home and available for family, friends, and the occasional crisis (aka, kick in the nuts), what GOOD am I doing?” I’m not making money, creating jobs, or changing the world. I’m not even changing attitudes about anything important, like foreign relations, genetically modified food, the destructive natures of religion and monogamy, benefits of recreational marijuana, pitfalls of vanity and greed, and the very basic need for real, human contact. How do I justify – every day – the hours (days, years) it takes to write a book about people who don’t exist, doing things that didn’t happen, when my husband resents me and the world is going to hell? Surely, you can grasp my dilemma.

If you don’t hear from me for a while, blame Willie and Lukas Nelson. Might as well throw Kid Rock in there, too, since we’re throwing blame around (on everyone but ME, of course, because I’m brilliant, faultless, and totally free of personal responsibility – try saying THAT to yourself in a mirror without laughing…or crying). Through their actions, as well as their music, they’ve inspired me to do well AND do good. I want to make a difference. I want to change the world. MY world, anyway. A successful novelist might be able to pull that off, but the simple fact is: I’m a housewife in Jupiter. Yes, I still believe in my work and my ability, and I couldn’t stop writing if I tried. But, until I reach more people and sell more books than Paris Hilton and her dog, I’ll go on being nobody in the world of readers and writers. And no one will listen. Rather than waste more energy being optimistic and plod forward as merely an aspiring novelist, I think it’s time for a change of focus and scenery. I’ve heard I throw a good party. Maybe I’ll start there…

Until next time.

Peace. Love. Balance.

~ Dawn

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Shove America - With All You've Got

Ann Coulter made me smile today. Never thought I’d say that. On the few occasions I’ve attempted to give her my attention – to see what all the fuss was about – she’s spewed nothing but bullshit, and her voice made my head hurt. Then, along came her #hashtag photo on Twitter, one where she’s clearly shown shoving her foot in her mouth. The Huffington Post’s headline said her now-viral tweet went “beautifully wrong,” so I’m not the only one smiling. I sincerely hope all 276 girls kidnapped from their Nigerian school are found and safely returned to their families. I also hope they team up with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign organizers and send Ms. Coulter a nice fruit basket (because, not only would it be rude and in poor taste, it’s rumored to be impossible to send her a kick in the dick).

What happened to our humanity? In American (media-driven) politics, it seems non-existent. People choose one side or the other – I’m right, you’re wrong – the end. No discussion, no compromise, no real solution, just a bunch of politicians and pundits spewing identical, propaganda-laced sound bytes into their press conference microphones. They could achieve the same results sticking their tongues out at each other.

As human beings, and as Americans, we lost our sense of community when we started pushing the “R” and “D” buttons and stopped thinking for ourselves. As in, allowing data (or thoughts) time to percolate inside our own heads (i.e., without a smart phone) while we weigh facts and consider opinions (preferably from reliable sources who make logical sense and base their opinions on actual fact) in order to deduce a reasonable (hopefully humanitarian) hypothesis. Which is all an opinion is, really: a hypothesis. In the world of science, it’s neither earth shattering nor unusual when new information replaces one hypothesis with another (though I’m sure it’s pissed someone off a time or two). In the thought-processing world inside your head, it’s called, “Changing your mind.” To quote Flo from that insurance commercial, “It happens to me all the time.”

This is 'Merica: Our votes don’t count, but our dollars sure as hell do! It's time we combined forces and allowed our choices to be driven by our right minds instead of by the right or left wing. Once we let go of the “R” and “D” mentality, we’ll realize it’s okay to change our opinions (our hypotheses) about Ann Coulter. Rush Limbaugh, too. Even I changed my mind about Barack Obama. Not every Republican is conservative, not every Democrat is liberal. Few on either side are equipped for the positions they hold, most are full of shit puppets run by greedy corporations, and some should be executed. I won’t profess to have the answers, but I strongly believe thought is the most powerful tool we Americans have in our arsenal. When we open our minds to truth (climate change is real, Columbus did NOT "discover" America), rather than simply buying into what our political leaders tell us (pot's bad, pharmaceuticals and fracking are good), we’re able to see rhetoric for what it really is, we’ll make better choices (with our money, our time, our resources), and we can finally shove this country in a positive direction. You can’t argue it needs a good shoving.

We are the UNITED States of America. UNITE. For truth. For humanity. For real.

~ Dawn