People continually advise authors, along with realtors, inventors, political strategists, and salespeople, to harness the power of social mediato reach out to the public. All well and good, but the methods to achieve this are sorely limited, partly by their very numbers and variety and the amount of time required to become skilled at using them. The basics are to create a web page, initiate a blog, tell everyone you know how to get on them, jump on Facebook and Twitter, add a newsletter and other outlets as you’re able. But the strategies to accomplish this successfully are a mystery to me as dark and deep as the methods to build the Egyptian pyramids.
I went online with the publication of my second novel, about 5 years ago. Despite regular postings (all right, perhaps not as regular as they should have been), sign-ups have never shown a dramatic increase, nor have sales of books. I usually feel as if I’m talking to myself, okay in my case, for I mine the postings for nuggets I can use for my syndicated features and other freelance work. I tell myself that someday I’ll pull items together to publish a collection of think pieces. Sure. Just like someday I’ll lose those final 15 excess pounds. Nagging at the back of my mind is a sneaking suspicions I’m wasting my time.
I’ve tried to initiate a social media wave or trend on behalf of other, non-writing activities, to promote a conference or advertise a holiday festival. I’ve posted myself and begged others to do the same. To no impact. Still it’s tempting to think, “If I could reach out to five people, and they could reach out to five, and those could reach out to five, I’d soon reach a mob.” Doesn’t seem to work for me.
I’d still be a skeptic except for the coincidence of my witnessing an actual social media blitz which I initiated without intention. Some time ago I became aware of a great, free, online movie service marketed through libraries. Kanopy offers moviesat no charge to library card holders of participating libraries. These aren’t usually brand new, big ticket, glitzy movies. They tend to be “artsy,” foreign and classic movies that appeal to smaller audiences. But they’re great. I’ve caught up on a number of favorites and ordered kids’ movies for my grandson. I’m currently watching Frank and Robot, a near-future fantasy with Frank Langella.
I happened to mention Kanopy to several friends at lunch. One went home and posted a remark on her Facebook account. Overnight several of her contacts talked about how great the service is. Shortly after more people contacted her with raving positive reviews. With one contact, I’d estimate at least ten people reacted initially, and who knows how many have praised and advertised Kanopy since then?
So I witnessed a social media trend right in front of me. Why was the Kanopy item so popular? Ideas: Everyone likes movies of some sort or another. Everyone likes free services. Everyone likes to share information that shows them to be early adapters or in the know.
Now if I could just apply these lessons to selling my books, I might have a chance of building a base for my own writing. I’m still struggling with that. The real challenge.
The holidays are supposed to be a time for cheer, happiness, partying, peace, good will. While I certainly participate in striving for these, there are certain holiday songs that always make me cry. Considering these, I think it may be that they envision a better type of human, a more empathetic and caring society. Not fashionable these days, I know, but with my schizophrenic personality, half cock-eyed optimist, half gloomy cynic, I’m able to live with the contradiction.
The first isn’t traditional at all. Written by Jerry Herman in the ‘60s, “We Need a Little Christmas” is from the musical Mame. It seems to insist that we stop all this nonsense with wars and greed because “I’ve grown a little leaner, Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older.” Certainly true of both me and the world.
The next can be guessed by many, “So This Is Christmas” by John Lennon, also known as “War Is Over” (good luck with that). This song gives all of us a much-needed scolding. “What have we done, Another year over, a new one just begun?” Sad to think Lennon was unable to convey his lesson in time to change his own fate.
Although the subject of “Good King Wencelas” is a saint from about 900 a.d., lyrics were written in 1853 and paired with a 13th century tune. I love the story captured in the song, the miracle of heat in the sod, and the admonition “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”
The next probably won’t be familiar. I learned “Masters in this Hall” in the fifth grade from my wonderful singing teacher, who passed along so much history and appreciation of music. Another hybrid of an old French tune and lyrics by Englishman William Morris in 1860, it carries an openly revolutionary message. “Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud! For today our poor folk raised up and cast a-down the proud.”
Even a tune so innocuous it seems simply a paean to the season can carry inspiration for humanity. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” (note the comma, thus making the statement a command to gentlemen at large, as well as gentlewomen), slips in words of encouragement and counsel. “With true love and brotherhood each other now embrace. . .oh tidings of comfort and joy.” Surely only the most radical in the 1600s as well as intervening years even dreamed of universal brotherhood, although the definitive term may be “gentlemen,” since in those days most people were excluded from the category.
Finally, “Oh, Holy Night.” In addition to its electrifying melody and soaring exhortations, its subtle message of “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn” provides an optimistic message for us to whistle or hum during the holiday season.
There you have it. My personal list of holiday favorites, always sure to tweak my emotions with thoughts of what humans are and what they could be, if only. If you see me driving along the street at this time of year, tears streaming down my face, you can be fairly sure I’m listening to one of my favorite Christmas songs.
For reasons unknown, a fad in my neighborhood during fall and culminating on Halloween is pumpkins. Multiple pumpkins. Large, small, lumpy, smooth, often orange, punctuated with white, green, sage, multi-colored. On my walks I started counting numbers of pumpkins on porches. Very few have only one (I myself have two), and the winner so far is 16.
I don’t know why. Granted I’m in a family-heavy neighborhood where children are cherished and indulged as if they were tiny royals. Also an area with no poverty, whose residents can choose to dispose of their disposable income as they wish. I shouldn’t quibble, indeed, I’m not even sure what “quibbling” is, because I adore seeing the variety and the panache with which the home owners place their harvest bounty. Some stack several orbs on top of one another, some group colors and textures with care. Many set off large pumpkins with several miniature ones. Others combine real produce with the man-made variety. One home with front stairs positioned a pumpkin at the end of each step all the way up to the top. Another, with a short brick retaining wall, marched the produce all along the top, as if presenting the front entry to the world.
Squirrels treat outdoor decorative pumpkins as their personal grocery store. In my old neighborhood, which seemed to have ten squirrels for every resident, a pumpkin was fortunate if it survived overnight on the porch without a gnaw. My new neighborhood has fewer critters. Still last year only a few days passed before the golden fruit (yes, pumpkins are technically fruit) was attacked.
I’ve collected suggestions on squirrel repellents. The silliest one was to place several pumpkins together, as if propitiating the squirrel god by providing one sacrificial sphere. This only drives the critters into an eating frenzy. The defense that seems to succeed is to combine two techniques. I sprayed the pumpkins with hairspray, then sprinkled them with liberal doses of cayenne pepper.
I wonder if the proliferation of decorative pumpkins is another indication of our surfeit of consumerism. Surely no one other than pie makers NEEDS sixteen pumpkins. Still this is one glut I don’t object to. I tell myself we’re helping out the pumpkin farmers as well as delighting children and passersby, then give myself permission to simply enjoy the symbol of harvest bounty. Maybe I’ll dig out the seeds to roast and nibble on. That will justify my permissive attitude.
Twenty-five years ago in 1993, a group of Colorado women, including me, launched a commemoration of the state’s woman suffrage. Colorado was the first state to institute votes for women, and it was accomplished by a popular vote. In other words, by men voting to endorse the move!
As I became involved with the project, I learned about the history of women’s political efforts. Seems to me in the West in general, women achieved status and power more easily than back East. Perhaps because the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed single, widowed, divorced, or deserted women to file for property. Perhaps because married women on homesteads and ranches had to assume men’s responsibilities and equal amounts of hard duties to keep the holdings afloat.
In any case women’s rights came more quickly out here. In Colorado, the movement was helped a great deal by the silver crisis of 1893. Silver was devalued and other economic brouhaha occurred. Then it wasn’t just kindly thoughts on the part of men; it was financial desperation. So much for lofty goals like equality of the sexes.
Each iteration of feminism brings its own perspective, extremists, battles, losses, draws, and wins. Cobble together your own interpretation of what was significant, who was a heroine, who a villain.. However, it’s useful to remember any time members of a group are lumped together as identical, the more scope for errors. In the 70s, women protestors were known as “bra burners” when, in fact, this wasn’t a wide-spread phenomena. The respected rumor-debunker Snopes says, During a demonstration by feminists at the 1968 Miss America pageant, some bras — along with numerous other items — were burned when a trash receptacle was briefly set alight.” This was the only occurrence of the symbolic action.
Another point: social change doesn’t occur overnight. Years ago, when my children were babies, my husband and I decided that family responsibilities were a benefit as well as a responsibility. We decided to alternate each of our stints at child and house care with employment to support us. This began as a one-year period but quickly extended to two, then five year rotations when we realized no one would hire us for any kind of decent wage if we constantly hopped in and out of jobs.
The first five years were my assignment. Because a stay-at-home mom wasn’t unusual, no one blinked an eye. However when we rotated, the response changed. Upon learning my husband was trying his hand at writing, one woman congratulated me on letting him be “the creative one,” never acknowledging my struggles at scribbling. Other responses included sly comments about “an alcohol problem,” “lack of job skills,” or just general “no ambition.”
None were true. The first step for our then-unusual transition was my husband’s. When the kids were very little, one day he offered to let me have an entire day a week to do whatever I wanted while he took care of house and children. I pulled out a piece of paper and toted up the number of hours I normally spent on my chores. When I realized the accumulative time was well over ten hours a day, seven days a week, while he was working eight hours a day, five days a week, I surrendered without a complaint.
So just as women’s right to vote in Colorado was approved by men, my personal voyage to women’s lib was launched and sustained by a man, my husband.
Is this often true of social change? It may be. Certainly the prohibition on slavery never would have occurred without the support of some white men. The
realization that children deserved protection from excessive labor and horrid conditions came from adults. If the #MeToo movement bears productive results, it will occur because people of all genders support it and come together in a spirit of good will.
* photo courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Dept.
For two weeks I’ve been searching for a piece of glass for a picture frame. I know I have one somewhere. I remember buying the frame years ago and not using it right away. I stored it on a closet shelf. Recently I broke a glass and started looking for its replacement. Nowhere.
Of course, between the last time I stumbled on the glass, probably digging around for another lost item, we moved. Naturally now it’s missing. Along with the other items I’ve misplaced during the move. These include some shoes, important instructions for equipment, one year’s tax returns, and a mixing bowl.
I’ve always prided myself on being organized. Other people link this characteristic with me, too. But I’m here to tell you the reason I’m organized is because I constantly and desperately am fighting chaos. I’m not an obsessive-compulsive; I’m just panicky. I restrict my messes to specific areas—a shelf here, a drawer there, the garage storage.
Other people’s chaos is so huge, they can’t control it. I see victims of hoarding disorder on television. Garbage rots, belongings seem to multiply on their own, clothing disintegrates, piles grow higher and higher until they collapse. Health and safety are threatened.
No one thinks his own hoarding is out of control. Many of us believe our neighbors or friends accumulations are. Some consider messes to be a sign of creativity, I suppose because it shows such variety, it must indicate lots of ideas.
Others say a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind. Someone, or several someones, including Einstein if you can believe a Google search, asked, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
There is a real cost to clutter. We lose valued items in it. Research from Pixie, a tracker app for lost items, reveals that Americans spend an average total of 2.5 days a year looking for misplaced stuff. That’s nearly half a workweek we lose just searching for things.
Hope is in view. Advice abounds in how-to, from the Japanese expert who urges “joy” as the bottom line to advocates of discarding anything you don’t use at least every six months. You can also set your own goals such as one drawer a week, or encouraging your friends and neighbors to swoop in periodically to identify with colored tags the items they’d like to relieve you of.
Or pick a day, any day, and tell yourself you’ll start with your desk, groaning under stacks of papers. If you don’t have a particular date in mind, aim for “Clean off your desk day,” the second Monday of January. Then you’ll have a little spot of order in all your disorder. Perhaps it will grow. You can only hope.