Driving through McFarland

Driving up from San Diego through Bakersfield, Fresno, and Merced to San Francisco I noticed a lot of decayed infrastructure. I guess the San Fernando Valley is still recovering from earthquakes. Over half the highway ramps were closed. It had a post-apocalyptic feel. Maybe it was temporary but it was hard to imagine a temporary situation in which one would close miles and miles of highway exit ramps on a weekday rather than work on them one at a time.

Then we were mercifully out of the L.A. traffic and over the mountains coming down into the dusty central valley. I wanted to stop in all of the small towns just to look around. It was just as beautiful to me as the drive down Highway 1 looking at the ocean, imagining life in these country towns and wondering what it would be like. I don’t know, man. The American Dream! We constructed a future where we retired to one of them (spinning out stories of each town as we passed from its general look, the billboards, the state of the train yards) Perhaps a computer-fixing store with that crazy old coot with his old-fashioned “Internet” and the stern civic minded old lady with the purple and silver hair. Oblomovka kept doing monologues in a cracked voice where he explained to the youth of the future what an ethernet cable was and what particular computer components were for, not like those jacking-into-your-brain nanotrons.

I pulled off the highway in a very small town called McFarland only to find that the gas station pumps had signs on them. “NO GAS”. Quiet and dusty. We looked in vain for the Business District pointed to by a road sign. I think we were in it. There was a tiny barber shop, a corner store, I think a pizza place and two huge churches, signs with pithy proverbs in Spanish, a big football field and then some cow fields. I wished for the time to explore McFarland and wondered even harder what it would be like to live there, the good and the bad of small towns, whether someone would just beat the hell out of me instantly or if I would fix everyone’s web sites, teach at the high school, and start a utopian beekeeping co-op despite being one of 3 lunatic atheists in town plus clearly the evil first wave of gentrification and if they would shave the sides of my head at the barbershop or not. Imagining the BBQs and perhaps a 4H auction or rodeo or two, church picnics, knowing way too much about everyone’s business, who could fix a car, who was an alcoholic, who is rich and who isn’t, and all the things that seem to go with small towns.

Later on as Oblomovka drove part of the way I was surfing around with the connection from my phone and looked up McFarland, still thinking about the impression it made on me many miles away. Aside from the boringest possible demographic info on its Wikipedia page there was one significant thing about McFarland: The Budweiser Story. In a glurgey post-sept. 11-2001 email forwarded around the Internets, McFarland was the scene of a Budweiser truck driver coming to deliver some beer to a convenience store and finding some Muslim guys in there celebrating the fall of the towers, really whooping it up. He took all his cases of Bud and left and the company will never deliver their beer to that town again. The end! This story and its million variants were debunked quickly, but of course that didn’t stop the natural life of the racist faux-patriot email forward.

sandow birk oil painting

Oblomovka and I then began to spin out the image of the oil painting of the incident, the Beer Truck driver guy haloed in a beam of light angelically pointing, the celebrating guys lit by red neon as if by the fires of hell, a globe knocked over on its side, an observing cat in the shadows, all the elements of composition in triangles. I can’t remember all the details that were making me howl with laughter in the car. In my mind it was as Sandow Birk might paint it and I wished for a whole series of meme paintings done in some classical style.

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No Place Fast

This morning I was reading an F. A. Nettelbeck book and thinking about his little books and his poems. Half the time I roll my eyes at what, when I was editing a magazine, I used to call Body Fluid Poetry, but he rescues it over and over either in the poem itself or by juxtaposition with stuff that doesn’t seem like a gratuitous “outpouring”. My friend Greg Hall did this too and I suspect I do too; hopefully with some skill. I admire a poet that can talk dirty with delicacy.

book cover for No Place Fast

The thing with Nettelbeck is that his units of stuff have an impact, whether books or tiny THIS IS IMPORTANT pamphlets. I read them all at once and am left with the impression of having walked through a hologram of a poet’s state of mind, of how their perceptions intertwine with language. The poems might be tiny units themselves but it’s the whole book that sticks with me and the poem doesn’t even *try* to wind up reality and stick a hypocritical christmas bow of finality on it. Fine, instead I am on a rusting lawn chair on a dirty porch hearing a train go by but at least we’re kicked back together with some Thoughts. Fred is always doing something but is always someplace else at the same time. We are in history. I get a little sentimental about some ink on a page from 1976 talking to ME RIGHT NOW DAMMIT. And into the future. Just a moment. You would never know what’s in another person’s brain as they sit next to you on that porch looking across the street but you just never know because anyone, anyone could be thinking on any level.

No Place Fast

Listen, you can hear
the blood drip quaintly
onto the sidewalk

children playing in it
draw pictures of
animals in bright
red fashion

everything seems to
be a feverish, frenzied,
half-acquitted history

then the bullets
turn into rain drops
and the animals are
washed away . . .

Another thing about Fred — I like his line breaks. You know how some people are trying too hard and are amateurish about how they turn a line? It’s good to know a poet knows what they’re doing but Nettelbeck also never stinks of academia which if you have ever sat through a Creative Writing Seminar sort of thing you should know what I mean.

Well, Son

they came down
from the academy in smocks

      paint the colors of jealousy

no one asked them        just like
ushers in church
soapy faced

         splattered us all with their 
         paint
 
         broke our sculptures

         set fire to most of the drawings
  
         ripped up our canvases with knives

no one blamed them    they were
only doing their duty
showing a little gratitude 
 
          we broke out the beer & relaxed

          applauded

I think that's when they started to call
it art

this is art they said
     
         you will learn

R.I.P. Fred. and Dirty Greggie. Hanging out with Rimbaud and Genet on my bookshelf having a beer and listening to Jimmie Rodgers.

Granted I feel weird about liking old poet dudes this much when however much they humanize their whorey angels they still got em but we are all in the framework of patriarchy so what the hell.

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On my way to BlogHer ’11

I’m leaving this morning for the BlogHer conference in San Diego! I think this year’s BlogHer conference is going to be about 3000 people, our biggest ever. On our site I wrote up a quick round-up of mobile apps you might want at a conference as well as a brief explanation of securing your wireless connections with a VPN service — a “geeky conference prep” post. BlogHer also has a useful mobile app for the conference itself with maps of the convention center, the speakers and sessions, and the capability for people to build a schedule for themselves.

At this conference I’m moderating a panel on what happens when your blog goes viral, with Ashleigh Burroughs of The Burrow, a blogger who was shot by Jared Loughner in Arizona; and Nerdy Apple Bottom who suddenly was the subject of intense media coverage for her post on her son’s Halloween costume when he dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo. Both bloggers’ real names were revealed as a result of their sudden fame and they got thousands and thousands of comments and emails; months later they’re still fielding the effects.

I’m also running a Geek Bar session on “Internet Sleuthing” and another, with Skye Kilaen, on recovery from “Blog Disasters” — what to do if your blog goes down or is hacked, how to prepare to recover your data and rebuild your site. For the Sleuthing session I’ll talk about how to track people down and why you might need or want to do that as a blogger. The Geek Bar sessions are 15 minute workshops in small groups, repeated over a 1.5 hour time slot and I expect to give a mini-talk and then open it to hands on work and group discussion. It should be an interesting format and I think will also result in good social contact for the 5 people in each mini-workshop session, who will get to know each other in the process!

This year’s “disaster recovery” Geek Bar talk will be a good continuation of my longer talk last year, Fight Spam and Hackers! which was basically computer security 101 for BlogHer’s community of women who are very heavy users of social media and blogs and who are running their own sites but who may not have had the cultural background in geekery to have ever thought about how to crack a password. I brought up issues of privacy and anonymity, a subject that we talk about quite a lot as bloggers and as women, and tried to frame them in the context of our gender.

At BlogHer DC and Boston in 2008 I was on a panel called Blogging Basics: 6 steps to personalize, polish, and promote your blog which was a concrete list of ways to improve your blog. I still have people come up to me and tell me that they use the tips we gave in this talk! Especially the suggestion to print out your php code and css, and mark it up with a highlighter and notes in order to figure out what it’s doing and demystify it. In DC and Boston we also had a sort of Geek Lounge area set up for people to do hands-on work with their blogs in an informal setting; Sarah Dopp and I ran around the room talking people through tech support issues and usually everyone at a table would start to help each other out and collectively would know much more than they realized they did.

At these “geek” tracks it ends up being a mix of the more programmer or web dev types of BlogHer attendees and people who want to learn that stuff. The track is kind of a mini-She’s Geeky and leads to fabulous “hallway conversations” every year. The conference itself is amazingly lively and vibrant, with around 60-80% of attendees *and speakers* new to the conference and a very high percentage at their first tech conference ever. The conference tickets are cheap because we are highly and I mean *highly* sponsored by companies, with a huge expo hall of sponsor booths and all sorts of weird swag and contests and parties and sometimes individual people wandering around handing out bags of stuff. I think it was the year we were in Chicago that I came back with a pink Swarovski crystal covered Bluetooth headset, a vibrator, and a waffle iron in addition to Free Samples of about 5 kinds of detergent, snack food, retractable usb cables, flash drives, and I don’t even know what else. Everyone is kind of overwhelmed by the rush of women who are pair-bonded with their laptops and the joy of meeting people who you’ve read online for years especially when you find they are even more interesting in person. For myself I also really enjoy seeing the range of expertise people have and what kickass speakers they are — and wonder, are other conferences looking at our speaker list and using us as a resource to diversify their own talks and panels? I’m sure that happens to some extent but it should happen more.

I meant to write up a retrospective of my experiences at each of the BlogHer conferences but that will have to wait for another post! Meanwhile, enjoy this cute photo of me and my sister at BlogHer in 2006. That year we were inspired by the many online discussions of What To Wear to BlogHer especially to the big central party. In a sort of protest against worrying so much about what to wear anywhere, we wore ball gowns to the party and pretended to have a drama filled argument at the edge of the pool and then pushed each other in.

liz

Anyway, I look forward to another fantastic conference and am going to drive down to San Diego the long way, down Highway 1 and 101!

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