What We Think We Know About Head Lice and Racism

Remember elementary school and all the crazed mania about head lice? I was lucky enough to never have the little buggers. If I ever had a close friend who did, I never knew about it. Like most 80’s kids, everyone knew “only dirty kids got head lice!” You know what? At eight years old in 1987, I was wrong.

There you have it. I was wrong. I knew only the propaganda about head lice that I’d heard from my peers. I knew nothing of the content of this article published August 21 of last year citing a clinical report which found only about 32% of cases “diagnosed” by school nurses, health care workers, teachers, etc. turn out to be actual lice or nits (lice eggs). The remainder were identified as scabs, hairspray, dandruff, sand and other “artifacts.” In this day and age, we also know that personal hygiene has nothing to do with who might contract head lice. Anyway, this post isn’t really about head lice. What I’m trying to convey is that my eight-year-old self thought she knew quite a lot about head lice. She (I) was wrong!

This post is really about racism and what we think we know about that word and what it means. Time and again, I’m hearing my peers make statements like, “I’m not racist!” “(Such and such) is NOT a racist statement.” Clearly, even in 2016, we white folks think we know a lot about racism, but what if we (like that little eight-year-old me in the 80’s) might be wrong?

For one thing, I’ve noticed that just like the kid sent home for having “nits in their hair,” we recoil from any association with the word “racism.” Our gut reads on our faces as we say, “Ew! Gross! So dirty! Not me!” We recoil from the word racism, because we’ve come to associate it with the horrifying stories we read in our social studies books in public school, the disgust we felt for the prosecutor when we read To Kill a Mockingbird and the tears that roll down our faces when we watch videos on television of young black men (and women!) being terrorized by law enforcement and greater society.

We know we would NEVER do those things. We know we would never push someone out of line, because we felt our skin tone makes us superior to them. We know we would never mace someone for bending down to pick up the wallet we just dropped, because he happens to be black. We know we would never raise a gun barrel against our darker brother simply because he’s darker. This might all be true, but it does not mean we’re not racist.

I was wrong about head lice in elementary school in 1987. I was wrong about racism in college in 2001. I was racist. Want to hear something more powerful. I am racist. All I have to do to expose my racist tendencies is to hit up good ol’ Google for a visual association test. I’ll save you the Googling. Go here. I first took a test similar to this one in 2004. I came up racist then. I come up racist now. Disagree with the testing format all you want. If it determines that you may be profiling people, then you are racist. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to go out and shoot the next dark-skinned person you see. It doesn’t even mean that meeting someone with darker skin at a coffee shop or another casual social venue that you’ll treat them any differently. All it means is that your brain works the way it’s been programmed by any number of factors that could include upbringing, our national media, the entertainment industry, your social circles, etc. Sure, it can mean a lot more, up to and including the ugliness we’ve seen throughout human history, which is why we recoil so strongly from it.

You know, maybe if we had a different word for this type of brain programming, it would be a little easier to accept. For example, what if we called these implicit preferences “profiling tendencies” instead of racism? Would you feel quite as judged if the statement were, “Most of white America has profiling tendencies,” rather than “Most of white America is racist?” But I think it’s important that we continue to use the words racism and racist, because the end result is the same whether we’re the person assuming that a black victim was a “thug” or the person actually pulling the trigger against him. It’s the bad jokes, the assumptions, the little everyday devaluations that allow for hundreds of black men and women to have their lives taken from them, and our country to remain complicit with that reality. This is where our higher selves come in. This is where we can work hard to rewire our brain and be better than our “programming.”

This is where you can be “racist” and still work against racism as I am/do. My racist programming runs deep, but so do my convictions to change this country, one person at a time. My college days of denying and lamenting that I was racist, being hurt over it and making it about me are over. It’s NOT about me. It’s about my brothers and sisters who live with more melanin and less trust from society. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it might make me that there’s programming in my brain that slants my view of them. Too bad. We really don’t have time for my hurt feelings. We’ve been out of time for that since long before I was born. Because it’s not about me, I need to put my feelings on the subject aside, and ask myself instead what can I do to help?

This is where the news is so good, because when I was in college, the sentiment coming from black activists and writers toward white people wanting to help and asking what they could do was, “Sit down and shut up.” Today, the sentiment has changed. The leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement are giving out encouragement to any and all people who want to help. They’re saying spread the word. They’re even saying that white people are more likely to listen to other white people and that they need our help. It’s so refreshing after 15 years to hear and answer these calls.

And anyone can do it. If you’re like me, it’ll feel uncomfortable at first, because you’ll get push-back from some of your friends. Plenty of people will tell you that you’re wrong, that US society isn’t inherently racist, that institutional racism doesn’t exist, and that there’s no problem with police brutality against people of color in this country. You may lose some friends, and the push-back may never entirely go away, but just like my hurt feelings in college, you have to ask yourself, is your social discomfort now, in this moment, really more important than the rights and safety (the entire future), of millions of people who happen to have darker skin than you?

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How I Know I’m Still Racist

In roughly mid-2015, I started receiving calls on my cell phone for someone by the name of Rita. These calls (sometimes recorded, sometimes from a real live person) came mostly from higher education institutions. I’ve had my cell phone at the same number since 2007 and never received a call for anyone named Rita before. Now, suddenly, eight years later, I found myself answering these odd calls, often several times per day.

After a few days and a few questions I found out that someone by the name of Rita had recently entered my phone number into a web form requesting more information about higher learning opportunities, one of those forms that feeds the leads list for multiple institutions, everything from accredited universities all the way down to the lowest of bogus online scams. My next realization, I could do nothing to rectify the situation (other than asking each individual institution to take me off their contact list), left me thoroughly annoyed.

The calls continued, dying down for a while around the holidays and the early part of 2016, but have cropped up again in the past several months. I have thought of changing my number, but so far the annoyance of that outweighs the annoyance of the calls themselves, which I’ve mostly figured out how to avoid answering.

I tell you my tale of woe, not for sympathy’s sake, but because, through and odd twist of the Universe’s sense of humor and my growing awareness, I’ve learned something very important from it, something that only dawned on me in the last few weeks (something beyond a cautionary warning to be exceptionally careful about entering correct phone numbers into online forms). What I’ve actually discovered, very surprisingly, has nothing to do with Rita herself (whoever she it) and everything to do with the prejudice still lurking in my own subconscious.

You see, over time, I came to have an image of dear Rita in my mind. What did I know factually about her? Rita wanted to know more about higher education opportunities (under-educated, perhaps?) and Rita had screwed up and “fat fingered” the phone number she’d entered into the form requesting that information (careless? sloppy? non-detail-oriented?) And guess what color I imagined Rita’s skin to be? You guessed it. In my imaginings of Rita, she was a black woman.

So what?, you may say. An image in my mind about a woman I don’t know hurts no one, you might think. But actually, it does. In fact, it points to a very troubling tendency within myself of which I’m, now, newly aware. Because on a conscious level, I can be as anti-racist as I want. I can post and repost all the Black Lives Matter material on my Facebook page and advocate for people of color and vote for candidates supporting systemic change in this country to better the lives of diverse communities all freakin’ day long. But apparently, ask my subconscious to serve up an image of a person I’ve deemed under-educated and prone to careless mistakes, and good ol’ subconscious paints a person of color to stand for those characteristics. Wow! Ouch! Scary!

But while I may feel it’s ouchy and scary for me, the people who really stand to suffer from my latent racist tendencies (as well as similar tendencies in other white people) are, of course, the very people targeted by them. How can it actually hurt them? Well, the door to the subconscious swings both ways you see. If I ask my subconscious to serve up an image of “under-educated, careless woman” and it’s most “optimized search result” is the face of a black woman, that means when I see a real, live black woman (especially one I don’t know personally), I’m also subconsciously ascribing those negative characteristics to her. Until now, I didn’t realize I was doing it, but my subconscious has proven this unequivocally true about me.

Have I ever talked over a black woman, because subconsciously I suspected I knew more than she? In the wake of this discovery, I have to guess that I have. What if I’d ever worked for TSA before realizing this? Would I have assumed the bags packed by black women more likely held prohibited items and required more thorough screening? With a subconscious labeling all black women this way, probably so. What if I’d been an insurance agent? Would I have been one of the many taking part in the recently uncovered practice of charging higher car insurance premiums to people of color (considering I was unconsciously labeling them all as careless)? Would I have passed this bias onto my two white sons who may someday hold jobs that affect the futures of black women in their generation? More than likely, yes, and that’s perhaps the scariest of these what-if scenarios.

This is one tiny piece of information about the racism that still lurks in the recesses of my mind. What other falsehoods continue to abide there? This is not a poor me piece, but a piece about empowerment. Beliefs tucked in the subconscious don’t change overnight, but with mindfulness and determination, we can rewrite them over time. I have work to do on myself. Every time I see an African American woman (again, especially one I don’t know), I need to consciously remind myself that I don’t know her aptitudes, that she may be extremely well educated, intelligent and detail-oriented, or some of these things, or not, but that the color of her skin has NOTHING to do with whether she possesses these characteristics.

If you believe, as I do, that these things don’t happen by accident, you’ll see the divine perfection in the circumstances that led me to stumble upon this information. Of all the possibilities, the person who incorrectly entered my number into that online form had the name Rita, a moniker that could have easily belonged to a woman of several different races. It just makes what I’ve learned from all this that much more undeniable.

I’m pretty sure some people in my social circles (especially quite a few acquaintances I don’t often speak with in person) have written me off as a “Black Lives Matter whacko.” Nothing will stop me from promoting awareness about our country’s shortcomings when it comes to caring for people of all races, even if I can do little to change their minds,. But my own mind, that I can continue to change, and I have every intention of doing so.

Why I post about Black Lives Matter – It’s not about me.

I have noticed a disturbing trend recently as I’ve been sharing Black Lives Matter posts on my social media. My friends are commenting in distracting ways that attempt to turn my posts around and make them about me. Black Lives Matter is NOT about me, and I don’t post about it to serve myself in any way.

I post about Black Lives Matter (BLM), because I’m convicted about doing all I can to end racism in this country. By conviction, I mean it’s what I feel called to do. I do it for no other reason than that.

However, there seem to be some pervasive beliefs from some of my friends that I post about BLM from a place of anger, hatred or ignorance. In my little microcosm, these people are doing to me (whether intentionally or not) exactly what’s being done to the movement as a whole on the national level, trying to characterize a campaign, that is actually about extending our arms to lift a group of people up onto a level playing field, instead as a movement fueled by anger, hatred, etc. Neither assertion is true, but if any of us trying to further this campaign allow ourselves to be confused or our voices drowned out or silenced by these attempts, then racism wins. And I’m not prepared to let that happen.

So, I’m going to dispel here, several of the specific accusations I’ve seen over the past weeks. Please remember as you read, BLM is not about me, but if you believe that I’m posting with less than genuine motives, then that becomes a distraction from the real issues at hand, and it’s important that we not continue to be distracted from the real life-and-death issues we’re actually facing, as a nation.

So, if you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because it’s “cool and hip….”

Wow, sorry to burst your bubble, but posting about Black Lives Matter has never felt “cool.” It’s always felt scary, and not only because it hurts to think that these things are happening and real black people are facing a risk three times as great as a white person every time they step out of their door each day, but also because I know not everyone in my social circles believes the statistics or feels as I do. I have loathed the idea of losing friends over my posts. However, I have determined that my being comfortable is not as important as the lives of my brothers and sisters of color.

If you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because I “hate police….”

Again, wow, and not in a good way. Anyone who knows anything about my family and me should really find this one laughable. I stand firmly behind my husband (who works for the City where we live) as he and his cohorts work on the non-profit they’ve established, which seeks to restore funding to the emergency and public safety services in our county here in Oregon.

In case there’s any confusion, “standing behind my husband” often means parenting my children solo. I never wanted to be the wife “counting the hours” that my husband spent away from our family in support of a fantastic cause, because I don’t believe in “score-keeping” like that, but I do wish I had the figure to post here – 52 weeks in a year, all but a handful of Tuesday nights since spring 2012 – you do the math.

The funding he’s pursuing would support our local Sheriff’s Department (among other local public safety infrastructure), all of which I fully support. I’ve met many of the City police officers at City employee events, and while I’m sure they’re human just like me, I support them too. I understand the need for police in this country. Why why why is the work of pointing out dangerous examples of law enforcement officers deemed tantamount to condemning all law enforcement? The thing is, my newsfeed is FULL every day now, of examples of good police officers. If everyone becomes afraid to post about the dangerous ones, then once again, racism wins.

If you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because I have some “liberal-media-imposed shame” about my heritage….

This one sort of makes me laugh, but it’s really no laughing matter, because once again, if you believe this about me, it lets you dismiss my message, or worse still, distract from it with comments that once again change the subject away from the real issue, which remains people of color who are losing their lives every day.

I meditate, and that’s an entirely different blog post, but something from which meditation frees those who practice it is shame. Nothing good ever came out of shame. Meditation allows the soul to completely let go of shame and accept and love ourselves unconditionally, flaws and all. It’s one of the many reasons that meditation brings complete and unparalleled peace into the lives of those who follow it. The point is, I don’t experience shame any more. And even if I did, there’s nothing about my heritage or my ancestors that my shame could do anything constructive about.

And there are many proud things in my heritage. I have Scotch-Irish lineage, Native American lineage, and I don’t even know what all else. I’m very proud of my ancestors who fought against oppression in ways far more real than the work I do of spreading the word. I’m also proud of its many varied traditions and cultures. I feel these things in my blood when I hear Celtic music, when I attend small town festivals, and when I sit around the dinner table of my Louisiana cousins. I LOVE my heritage! That this should even come up, should be ridiculous.

However, I do have to own part of the fault for this confusion. I made a poorly-worded comment in reply on one of my posts. I said “Black Lives Matter. I can’t say it enough to redeem my roots.” By “roots” in this case, I was actually referring to a single incident that happened at my high school when I was a student there in 1995. I used the word “roots” to describe the incident, because I was present at the school when it happened. I wasn’t involved with it. I didn’t even know about it until a few weeks ago. It was a poor and confusing use of the word “roots,” and I apologize for it. I let sloppy verbiage open a door to distraction and confusion. I suppose I’m glad it happened, so I could learn from it.

Moving on, if you believe I post about Black Lives Matter, because I watch videos of these horrifying incidents against people of color and become crazed or enraged….

You really know nothing of the peace meditation has brought into my life. Just like shame, rage has left my emotional repertoire. Again, really don’t want this to turn into a post about me, but if you believe I’m posting out of rage, that distracts from the reasons I’m really posting which are, simply and in total, to spread awareness about what’s happening to people of color in this country. Until we face it, and admit it’s a tragic part of our reality, nothing’s going to change.

One last thing, and this is a bit different, but, I have also faced the suggestion that my posts, and I’m paraphrasing here, but nevertheless, “perpetuate the image of an evil that doesn’t actually exist.” I’m not 100% sure how to respond to this, because it baffles me that anyone could look at the statistics, read the news stories, even just the facts in them, and not see a problem with the status quo. I suppose, for this reason, I can’t 100% respond to this suggestion. All I can say I guess, is, if you truly believe in your heart of hearts that this is no big deal in this country, then there’s probably nothing I could do or post to make you believe otherwise.

I would ask that anyone okay with the status quo try to stick to their own timelines with this feeling instead of distracting from my message with comments about it. Yes, it’s social media, and yes, you have every right to your opinion, and every freedom to comment with it, and sure, I cannot stop you if you want to come in and type paragraphs-long rebuttals to my posts.

However, it’s kind of unspoken Facebook etiquette. If you have more than a sentence or so to say about something, it’s more appropriate to share it to your own timeline and mount your soapbox there, rather than hijacking someone else’s post. As I begin to close here, let’s remember, I’m not asking for the conversation to cease. Rather, I don’t want the conversation to be turned around and made to look like something it’s not.

I think that’s about it for now. Don’t know how much a difference this post will make, but I had to at least try to dispel some of the confusion that keeps popping up. I hope it can cut down on some of the distractions and background noise, at least within my little microcosm. Every one of us is important to the direction of our future.

Friendship: Buoys & Black Holes

I’ve enjoyed the good fortune recently of being adopted by a group of women, far wiser than I in many ways, who meet for lunch once a month. Along with decadent food and wine, they always bring wit and wisdom, studied perspectives and brilliance to the table. I feel a bit like a mascot in their midst, but so grateful and beloved, I scarcely feel sheepish. And it would be disingenuous to say they have no taste for the youthful and energetic flavors I can stir into the bounty being served.

At the last such gathering, the assigned topic for conversation was friendship, and when my turn came (especially after listening to their nuanced commentary), I had to admit, at 35, I’m still figuring out what it means, and not in the sense of a natural maturation of understanding, but on the most basic level. Playing my life back in sequences, a clear pattern emerges for the viewer. The people I tend to throw the most energy and devotion into have nearly always turned out to be the wrong ones, either in that we were simply unsuited for one another, or more often, that they were social vampires of one kind or another. I’ll give an example of each, one short and one long.

Ironically, my short example comes from what had been a life-long friendship for me. “Greta” and I knew each other from babyhood, as we were born the same year and our parents were friends. Two other girls were born into our little circle and we dubbed ourselves the “The Fearless Foursome” as teenagers. By that time, I’d already started to feel hurt and attacked by Greta’s sparse yet blunt communication style, but due to nature, nurture and the inexperience so central to adolescence, I said nothing, allowing anger and bitterness to grow over years, all the way up into my 20’s. It blew out a few times, but was patched over, each time without finding any resolution. Then, in 2011, I finally decided the bad outweighed the good, and it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. I couldn’t take Greta to task for being who she was. I also refused to indict that tender teen I had been for not knowing how to handle it all. We were simply unsuited, our communication styles too different, and several incidents in the years leading up to my decision to break ties, only solidified my resolve. This wasn’t something that was going to get better between us. The important difference, finally, had to do with knowing and respecting myself enough to say goodbye.

And now my long example, again ironic, because “Ashley” streaked through my life in a flash of 14 months. I met her in my creative writing class at the Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA) and it was June of our rising senior years of high school. She left for college in another state in August of the following year. Outside of class, I didn’t spend much time with her during the three weeks of GSA, but just after school started back in the fall, we found each other again, living closer to one another than to anyone else who’d shared that life-shaping experience with us.

It didn’t take me long to realize Ashley held many keys, to all the right hangouts in Lexington, Kentucky where we sought our bliss, to many new people who would become my “friends,” to unexplored parts of who I was becoming. She was the one who dragged me into a Cajun restaurant for the first time. Feeling adrift, having been raised on Midwestern meat and potatoes and looking over the “foreign” menu selections, I asked her what she was getting, and she replied, “Oh, I’m not eating.”

“Then why are we here?” I asked incredulously.

“Because you’re going to try this, and you’re going to love it,” she replied, and she was so right. Every time I go back to Lexington, I try to make it into the current incarnation of that restaurant. The Pazole stew, served over penne pasta with a buttery slab of garlic bread is Kentucky’s version of pure Cajun nirvana.

And Ashley was a type of nirvana for me as well. I can’t remember how many months after I met her, I started driving her everywhere. She got into a minor fender bender and said she no longer felt safe driving herself, convenient as well, since she liked to drink at the parties we went to.

For another key Ashley held was an illegal copy of that which unlocked my freedom. If I wanted to return to my parents’ house on a given evening, the best curfew I could hope for was 10:30 or 11 p.m. Ashley, on the other hand could waltz in and out of her mother’s house at any hour of the day or night. I took to crashing at her place whenever I could get permission from my parents to do so which certainly was not every weekend, but I took what I could get.

So addicted to the way she made me feel and the experiences afforded to me through her access to the city I was coming to love, I ignored the signs that Ashley might not be the best friend. Or perhaps “ignored” connotes too much awareness. It’s no stretch to believe that at 17 and 18, I still swam in such naiveté that I wouldn’t have recognized those signs had I run into them headlong. And once again, looking back over the timeline, I spent a good bit of it glancing off one or another.

She once invited me to an event, some of her best friends planning to streak the mall, and then refused to answer my calls or return my messages after she took some heat from another member of her core group for telling me about the plan. I could’ve taken a major hint from the way she talked about her other “friends” as well, people who I knew thought she actually cared about them, and she would call them sluts, or join in with the guys in our circle on mean pranks against them.

I took one of those silly quizzes in a fashion magazine, something about What kind of best friend do you have? and scoffed at the answer I got about Ashley. As ridiculous as those quizzes are, this one pegged her as a selfish party girl, using me for rides and one more buoy for her self esteem, but I completely blew it off. Ashley was my very best friend!

I even went to great ceremonious lengths to introduce her to my “former” best friends. I assembled the Fearless Foursome one evening at a busy restaurant in downtown Lexington. I wanted them to meet Ashley and know that she was going to be right on par with them in terms of the important people in my life. When she arrived with a few of her friends, she rode a weak wave and a lame excuse about being intimidated over into a corner booth halfway across the restaurant from where I sat. I don’t recall how many times I tried to roust her over to meet Greta and the others, but I’m sure it wasn’t as many times as I would make excuses for her throughout the evening.

Why did I cling to her so? How could I be so blind? Well, she wasn’t 100% vampire. I still believe she did care for me in her own way. Perhaps the rotten friendships she’d grown up with attending the small private school she went to crippled her from being a very good friend. I think, on some level, she did her best. She certainly imparted some wisdom to me, and not just in learning to steer clear of people like her. She modeled a quiet confidence, a fearless forward motion I so desired to emulate, and as she was opening doors for me, she was also opening me up to my own rising potential. People, places, experiences. So many I would never have touched without Ashley in my life!

Her going away party for college was devastating for me. She gave me a card in which she wrote that she didn’t think she’d ever met a more genuine person. I mourned her physical departure, but little did I know, I had yet to lose the part of her most important to me.

Weeks later, dealing with the displacement of moving out of my parents’ house and into a college dorm, I ran into one of her friends at our favorite coffee shop, and as I would later write, “desperate to bring Ashley into the room,” I recounted to him some of the inside details from our New Year’s revelry, now months in the past. When he seemed surprised to hear them, particularly the part about Ashley having had a crush on his former roommate, I grew worried. Had I revealed to him something I shouldn’t have?

Ashley was right about me in those days. Extremely genuine, I had to know if I’d accidentally betrayed her, and in what I now realize was a foolish mistake, I emailed her about the conversation I’d had in the coffee shop, saying something at the end of the message to the effect of, “I hope that wasn’t an oops.” Unfortunately my instincts proved correct, and Ashley was livid with me for outing her about her former crush. I called her weeping the same day I received her angry response. She tried to calm me with her words over the phone, but what she’d said in the email was that she could never trust me again. Devastated, heartbroken, already in withdrawal from her and now feeling even more cut off, my obsessive mourning for her began, and wouldn’t end for years.

I would see her a small handful of times after that. She came back that Christmas and so many of us gathered at the airport to welcome her home for winter break. I still felt the distance between us, perhaps even more profoundly as she stood right in front of me, her heart now closed to me, at least in my perception. I dreamed about being reunited with her and finally receiving her forgiveness (or not) countless times. When I think now about the exhaustive amounts of energy I poured into mourning our relationship, stretching months and years beyond the number we had spent together in the first place, it’s hard not to chalk it all up to adolescent angst, but in the end, it was real energy, real feelings, at least for my part.

Falling for, fumbling and emotionally flailing after Ashley would prove a singularly unique experience. Subsequent social bloodsuckers I would befriend over the years wouldn’t be after my chauffer services or my undying devotion per se. Some would be after my sympathetic ear, others my unsinkable willingness to lend my sanity to their dysfunction, and still others my uncanny ability to mistake a bad business proposition for something worthy of support and pour hours of my time and talents into it. Most recently, the bloodsuckers have been in search of a mother figure, which I’ve only recently become.

All of this is not to say I haven’t had great friends too, but I tend to neglect the real good ones, instead pouring my time, energy and heart into black hole personalities. I don’t think I have any vampires in my life right now, but how would I know, I suppose?

And this is what I meant when I told the wise ladies at the table a few months ago that I was still learning about friendship. I am still learning, and I believe I’m blessed with several wonderful friends in my life right now. As is my habit, I tend to neglect them. Being a mom to young toddlers gives me a “good excuse,” but how terrible to lean on excuses not to spend time with the people who genuinely love me!

I need to be a better friend, myself. I need to start right now, and maybe then, by practicing it, I’ll learn what friendship really means.

IdeaLexington

LexingtonIn the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, the city of Lexington thrives in its bounty of resources. How many towns, after all, have so many claims to fame? The “Horse Capital of the World” and the second largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Lexington boasts the University of Kentucky and its nationally acclaimed basketball program, world class horse racing, 1,000’s of acres of beautifully manicured horse farms, some of the best hospitals (for humans) in the state and one of the best hospitals for horses in the entire world. Founded in 1775, before Kentucky even became a state, the city prides itself on a rich history including everything from Indian attacks to NCAA Basketball National Championships and so very much in between.

cgI came of age in this city in the mid to late 90’s. As a teenager, I “bummed around” its many coffee shops including the still-brewing Common Grounds on High Street. I spent hours in Joseph Beth Booksellers in the Lexington Green Shopping Center, watching it grow from a single unit nook into the behemoth bookstore it’s become today. During my college years at Transylvania University on North Broadway, I frequented the Kentucky Theatre, High on Rose and Sudsies Laundromat / Bar & Grill. That’s right! Order some buffalo wings during the spin cycle!

Growing up in Lexington, for me, meant eating a full hot breakfast including a tall glass of orange juice for under $2.00 at Tolly Ho. It meant loitering for hours in South Hill Station, once a working rail yard, renovated in the 90’s to function as a retail and restaurant destination, and since, razed to make room for more condominiums. In the 90’s though, it housed The Coffee Stop where I pined over many a college student and drop-out, Yats (my favorite Cajun restaurant) and Laser Quest, the giant laser tag maze where my friends and I tried again and again to beat each other’s top scores, and I had one of my first really exciting kisses with one of the “Marshalls” who worked there.

It also meant learning that Versailles Road turned into Maxwell which turned into Tates Creek Road, and Waller Avenue turned into Mason Headley which turned into Cooper Drive, and perhaps most importantly, Upper turned into Limestone, which turned into Nicholasville Road which you ALWAYS wanted to avoid if you possibly could, though that was a tough since seemingly everything cool was located on that strip.

I could always tell when Sheikh Maktoum was in town inspecting his thoroughbred operations, because his oversize jet sporting the brown and tan stripes on the tail would be parked at the edge of the airport just off Versailles Road. I could always tell when the Lexington Opera opened a new show, because the parking lot next to my college apartment would be full and, sitting on my roof (accessible from my loft window) I could watch the dressed-to-the-nines people getting out of their cars and walking across the street. On sunny summer days, Woodland Park was the place to go and sit under a tree reading my favorite book and sweating in the humidity.

I can’t “sum up” Lexington, because the experiences there resist categorization. The “big little city” tastes like a spice mix beyond sweet or savory. Just listing everything memorable would take more words than I’ve already used. I can say, growing up in Kentucky, places like Hollywood, California and even New York City seemed as far away as Never Never Land. By the time I made it to Hollywood, I realized Lexington was “more Hollywood-like” to me than the actual city. In the real Hollywood, cynicism all but seeped out of the cracks, not at all like the dreamy and idealistic place it advertised itself to be, not at all like Lexington where even cynicism had a certain idealistic ring to it.

Probably most of this makes no sense unless you’ve lived in my “sweet baby city.” Lexington was and is my mother, lover and friend as I wrote in my poem titled after the city, and I miss her. I’ve spent significant time in Hampton Roads, Virginia and now live just over an hour from the Pacific Ocean in Grants Pass, Oregon, and I’ve visited New York City; Hollywood, CA; Chicago, IL; New Orleans, LA; Sewanee, TN; Moab, Utah; Austin, TX; Bellingham, WA; Jackson Hole, WY and dozens of other cities where I found this or that to love about them, but never have I found the equal of Lexington for its resources, for its opportunities, for its various diversions for the sheer idealism it bestows upon those who walk its streets. So now, no matter what cities I may walk through around the world, I carry with me a piece of that Lexingtonian idealism bred into me and trained into my soul.

Can an Author Boycott Amazon and Still Survive?

I have a question for my fellow writers/bloggers. Is it possible to boycott Amazon and still give your book a fighting chance?

I’m definitely getting ahead of myself here, because I’m not yet a traditionally or self-published author of any type of book, but like so many, I plan to be some day very soon. I’d like to think it will be one of my many novel starts, but more likely I will complete and self-publish (and self market) a guide to business social media before finishing anything else, but I digress.

I already know the P.O.D. publisher I will approach first. I’ve been a fan of Angela Hoy and her Writers Weekly newsletter since about 2002. Her other business she shares with her husband BookLocker.com will be my first choice for publishing for a number of reasons, which don’t particularly matter for the purposes of this blog.

I closely followed BookLocker’s antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, and some of you may also remember when your “buy” buttons disappeared on your Amazon listings. After reading about the incredible fight and “settlement” (in my opinion, Booklocker won), and hearing about all the ways Amazon is trying to take control of books away from authors, I’ve developed a healthy distaste for this Goliath of the industry.

So that’s why I’m asking, do you think any book has a fighting chance if it’s not listed through Amazon? I tend to think if an author is doing his or her own marketing anyway, where the book is available doesn’t really matter, but I recognize that’s likely wishful thinking and/or naivete. If you’re driving traffic to your book, that traffic should follow the roadmap you give them to get to your book, shouldn’t they?

I also live in the Pacific Northwest where Powell’s Books is a regional leader. I tend to think an online listing with them would be almost as good, and certainly ethically preferable, to listing on Amazon.

Thoughts anyone? Have any of you out there chosen not to list with Amazon due to ethical objections to any of their business practices? Please comment and educate me.

My first post about a real brainy teen!

Last fall, I started strong, but then abruptly let die, a new blog BrainyTeen.net.

I even established contact with a few interview candidates and even received a prolific and heartfelt response to a full set of interview questiosn from one.

And then NaNoWriMo happened, and it was my first year as a regional ML for that…

…and then the holidays happened…

…and then the new year rolled around, and I hadn’t even gotten back to the fine young man who had spent so much time carefully answering my questions, and I was more embarrassed than anything at having let my new project fall off a cliff.

And then whatever magical unsticking, of whatever mental roadblocks had been holding me back, gloriously happened an now… today… FINALLY, my first post about a real live brainy teen at http://brainyteen.net/2012/03/15/jacob-fisk-part-i/

Walking on air right now! So happy!