Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vince

Vince at Great America, 1990



The first time I saw his face I felt myself get washed by the grace of God.  There was no way I deserved this child; no way to consider myself worthy enough.  I wasn't – I’m not.

Having children is a way that God shows us that He is gracious.  While I was busy trying to be worthy (and beating myself up because I wasn’t) Vince was busy growing up.  He identified shapes and colors as soon as he could talk.  He read, knew the maps of states, and could count to one hundred before he entered kindergarten.  His mind was constantly going and I loved him so much I was afraid he would disappear. 

Before long he was going to school; then he was playing basketball; then he played Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, reciting Shakespeare to such perfection I wept.  Then he was eighteen, leaving home. Today he is twenty nine.

Twenty nine.

My friend texted me the day before yesterday, a beautiful mother of three boys – all under five years old.  She told me she was just trying to keep her head above water, trying to get the laundry done and make dinner each night for her three little boys.  Next week she’ll be wishing her oldest a happy twenty-ninth birthday.  

That’s how fast it goes.

My son is no longer just mine.  He's moved from being my gifted and talented little boy to a man in this world.  Now our relationship is something that is one grounded in love and mutual respect.  I’ve actually been given the chance and opportunity to know him as a person.  For that, I am eternally grateful. 

Again, it is all the grace of God. 

Happy Birthday, Vince.  


Vince and Rikki - January 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014

pure






The hall of mirrors that is my heart-
Holds many kinds of love,
Twisted, woven, passionate.
I look into the depths and see:
A love that rages,
Offended at the world assuming
There could be a replacement for it.
A love that worries
it may be forgotten; insecure and shaking
Like a child beneath a table.
A love that licks its wounds,
Self-preserving, destined to betray itself.
So many hidden, gentler loves,
The ones that laugh and speak and whisper
Names.

If all the pure love in my heart
Were to roll against itself and become a wheel –
It would travel smoothly to your own,
And gently invade your soul.
Because, my love, you do inspire
The purest love that comes from me.
And in this carousel of love-
There is the sacred, life-giving love;
One so beautiful that it could only be for you.
Accept
This offering.
I share my life and all the wonderful, wicked parts of my heart –

With you.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

time-lapse

Justin's time-lapse equipment


At the center of good art, there is a person who understands and elevates a culture to a level of beauty.  The artist can take us to a peephole that previously only they have seen through and show us something that takes our breath away.

This happened to me this morning.  I sorted through email and found a link sent to me by my fabulous husband.  “So you love Sacramento?  Okay, Babe… check this out….”

Mario is a man of few words.  First of all he knows I love Sacramento.  Second of all, he knows I’ll check out anything he tells me to (especially when he calls me babe).  What I saw took my breath away. 

It was a time-lapse video of scenes of Sacramento.  The technique is when film frames are captured of a subject slowly over time.  When played at normal speed time appears to be moving faster – a flower unfolds before our eyes.  

This particular  vimeo link was a time lapse montage of our unsung city (Sacramento is not just second city in California, it’s fourth or fifth) capturing urban, suburban and country views with beautifully  smooth day-to-night transitions.   

Below the vimeo link was  Justin Majeczky’s (the multi-media specialist) synopsis:
Justin and his wife, Cady

“Two years ago my wife and I relocated to Sacramento, California so she could attend school. While here, I have learned to love the vast ethnic and scenic diversity of the area. California's capital may not be best known for scenic beauty, but you may beg to differ after seeing this video! I personally love the quiet fields of agriculture that lay just outside the bustling city. Sacramento certainly has its own unmistakable flare and charm! This is my exploration of different timelapse methods while using motion control gear provided by eMotimo (emotimo.com), Dynamic Perception (dynamicperception.com), and some homemade equipment. Over 20,000 individual photographs and 18 months of hard work went into creating this timelapse journey around the Sacramento area. I hope you enjoy!”

Immediately I loved him.  I love when artists move to our city and elevate us.  I had to write about this, but to do so, I wanted to talk to him.  I emailed him, and he graciously consented to an interview.  Of course I wasn’t the first asking this of him. 

“It was funny,” Justin said on the phone.  “The first day I posted the time-lapse I had maybe 1200 views.  The following day, Tuesday, I woke up and saw that it was a vimeo staff pick and I had 30,000 views.”

Vimeo is the videographer’s way to be seen and staff picks don’t come along every day.  When they do, the top-notch video gets the “staff-pick” seal on the cover, and lots and lots and lots of views.  At this writing, Justin had worldwide reposts, not to mention shares on sites like Daily Picks and Flicks,  facebook and twitter.
Justin 





“It’s hard to know how I feel about it,” Justin said, thoughtfully.  “Once it went viral, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback.  Still, it hasn’t sunk in, it’s almost like I’m dreaming.” 

Justin and his wife moved to Lake Tahoe from Pennsylvania, falling in love with the area only to be uprooted and planted in Sacramento where his wife started school. 

“I started shooting photos anytime I could,” Justin said.  “When I wasn’t working; anytime I had extra time.  About two years ago I started doing time-lapse, before a lot of people were doing it.”

I asked him if he used a tripod, since the video was steady and seamless.  This question led to the answers that soared over my head.  “Sometimes I used a tripod.  I used an eMotimo  motion control pan tilt.  I’d combine that with a Dynamic Perception slider platform and use them together.”

Cricket.  Cricket.

“Oh,” I said, nonplussed.  After I hung up, I researched.  I found the equipment that Justin was talking about, and suddenly understood the great expense taken to produce something so beautiful.  I was grateful, and impressed that his craft meant so much to him.

Justin, like all artists, has heroes.  “Old school, I’d say Ansel Adams is my favorite.  New school, like right now, I admire a guy named Michael Shainblum.  He has really beautiful stuff.” 


“Usually people come to me with a project idea.  We talk about it and I’ll give them some ideas and we see how we can work together on it.  I have a great producer, Karl Alexander from Kinetic Illusions.”


I’ve watched it about ten times now;  I can’t stop watching it.  I told Justin at the end of our interview that it would go super-viral.  All things this beautiful go super-viral.




Sacramento Timelapse from Justin Majeczky on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

heroes

Alex                                                                                                    Flannery


I grew up in the eighties, which means that I cut my teeth watching eighties movies, listening to eighties music and wearing every eighties hairstyle there was.  I have the pictures to prove it and the children who won’t let me forget it.

I must have seen Flashdance six or seven times, jealous of the svelte bodies of all the dancers – even though they were strippers in a seedy nightclub (when you’re young that stuff doesn’t matter).  The plot of the story was simple: Alex, a steel town girl (on a Saturday night looking for the fight of her life) welds by day, strips at night.  In between, she wears cute leg warmers and sloppy sweatshirts and dreams of being a ballerina.  She has a dog, good friends, and a rich man lusting after her. 

At the end of the movie, that rich man is her boyfriend and actually accuses her of being afraid of her dream: to dance for the prestigious Pittsburgh Dance and Repertory Company.

At the end of the movie, Alex actually tries out for the company, even though she has no formal training.  She rocks the audition, promptly going out to the sidewalk where her rich man is waiting for her with a dozen roses. 

It only occurred to me later (when I was married with children) that the film never said if Alex made it in to the company.  In a way, it didn’t matter if she did.  The celebration and joy at the end of the movie was because her happiness came from dancing – and she danced.  She wouldn’t be defined by the rules, which implied that formal dance training was required to audition.  She faced her fear and gave it everything she had. 

All of us uneducated girls with dreams loved Alex for that dance at the end.  It was a “fuck you” to the establishment – the ones saying silently that we weren’t good enough to even try.

I have to do my dance in a couple of weeks. 

I’m untrained, unschooled and – by all .edu standards –unqualified to enter a writing contest named after one of my heroes: Flannery O’Connor.

I met her when I was 22, reading a collection of short stories from Oxford that was a selection of the Book of the Month Club.  “Parker’s Back” was her story, a haunting gripping tale of a tattooed man who inexplicably gets tangled up with a stoic fundamentalist Christian wife with no empathy for him.  

While I read, I smelled the grace of God – a precious thing that people long for.  Even the Bible says “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” (Psalm 42:1)  The story wasn’t religious by any stretch – in fact, the reverse.  It made a mockery of religion while gently alluding to Parker's longing for acceptance and love from God.  His wife was adamant he would never receive it.

Over the years, I have read and re-read everything she’s written.  Each story is perfect – in mechanics and theme.  Each story whispers of God and redemption.  Each is special, memorable, occupying a place in my heart so sacred that they are like friends.

Haunting.

Greusome.

Grace-filled. 

Organic.

Lovely.

Flannery O’Connor is the best writer I have ever read, including James Joyce or Leo Tolstoy.  I return to her like a trusted friend, even though she died two years after I was born.  As a writer, I have to admit that I seek to emulate her. 

The prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction is open, with a deadline of May 30.  Writers are invited to submit a collection of short stories or novellas (40,000 – 80,000 words) to submit to a board that will review their work.  Most of the members of the review board have at one time won this prestigious award. 

Established by the University of Georgia (Flannery is from Georgia), the prize was established to encourage gifted emerging writers by bringing their work to a national readership. Winners are selected through this annual competition that attracts as many as three hundred manuscripts. The winner receives a publication of their submitted manuscript from the University of Georgia Press. 

The competition scares the heck out of me.

As I get my submission together I liken it to a crayon drawing of stick figures drawn on recycled paper.  In my trembling hands, I bring my drawing to a Dutch Master who paints flawlessly with oils.  I am afraid he will laugh and pat me on the head for my effort. 

It’s then I remember Alex. 

So what if I’m uneducated?  So what if I’m an unpublished wannabe?  Hell with you all, I’m doin’ it – my way.  My stories.  My voice, influenced (like Flannery’s) by my heavenly father who loves me. 

Start that music!  Hand me my leg warmers…

Here I go.


Pray for me.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Marlene


Marlene at her 50th Anniversary party

There is a place off of Richard’s Boulevard called the Union Gospel Mission, a homeless shelter that feeds men and women every night after a church service.  I met Marlene Vance there when she and her husband, Tom were leading worship and Mario and I were volunteering .

“What are we singing tonight?” I asked Marlene, trying to strike up conversation.

Marlene looked at me and smiled, “We’ll see.”  Instead of winking at me, she closed both eyes, like a double wink.  I liked her immediately.

It turned out that “We’ll see” meant that Tom and Marlene took requests from the men who came in off the streets.  Tom had a hymnal and the hungry men and women knew that anything they wanted to request from the hymnal we would sing.  Marlene could play anything on the piano – it turned out she had taught herself years before.

Today I visited her as she lay in a hospital bed next to her own baby grand piano.  The setting was her living room, a warm place she had called home for years.  I had been gone all weekend and came home last night to find out that Marlene had suffered a massive stroke, after an operation she had last Friday.

“She can hear everything you say,” Corlis (Marlene’s daughter-in-law)  told me as soon as I arrived. 

“Okay,” I said. 

“Just talk to her, just enjoy your time with her.” 

“Okay, I will.”

I walked toward her, and there she was, asleep or very close to it. 

“Marlene?”  I came over and stroked her head like she was my daughter, in bed with a fever.  “It’s me, Janet…”

She inhaled deeply and that’s when I started talking.  I shared so much; I talked for a very long time and I felt her listening.  When I finished telling her all of the things I had to say, I asked if she wanted me to sing.  

Since she didn’t object, I did.  As I did, I remembered….

We had moved from a small town in the mountains called Arnold to the urban jungle of Sacramento.  In Arnold we had a close-knit community and the first church home we ever knew.  We came to Sacramento Vineyard almost by accident and were baptized into a great family, a family that had many standout leaders.  Marlene and her husband, Tom, were part of the leadership.  

We are still (for the most part) part of that big church family.  Many of the members of our church have moved on and our church is no longer called Sacramento Vineyard.  Still, its members are like any family that has grown up and carried on with life, often times going separate ways.   At least that’s the way I like to tell it.

Tom and Marlene Vance became to Mario and me what they were for much of the church already – a spiritual Father and Mother.   They weren't the kind of people that dispensed advice or clever wisdom every time we got near them.   Instead, they were the couple that had an open home and even wider open hearts.

It may be why their house was open to visitors coming to say goodbye today.  They don’t know how much longer she will be here; I’m sure she’s ready to go to heaven.  Part of me thinks Marlene would go if we all just stopped visiting.

I was conflicted today as I saw her.  So much of the visit I told her what she meant to me.  I thanked her for being who she is; thanked her for living her faith in front of me.  It made me remember a conversation we had when we both attended a funeral for a mutual friend’s mother.

“You’d never get this many people at my funeral,” she smiled at me.  We had been serving food to the people who were there.

“Give me a break, Marlene,” I said.  “We’ll have to rent Arco Arena for your funeral.”

I don’t remember why we were talking like that; I just remember our conversation being light hearted and fun.  Today I wondered as I was there why it would matter…

I think it would have mattered to Marlene, which is why I went to see her today.  She is the kind of woman who values friendships and made special time for it – drinking  tea from china cups.  She loved private conversations with people one-on-one, making you feel like you were the only person in the world as you sat with her.  BUT she loved parties and being part of a big group as well.  She remembers everyone’s name and their kids’ names.  She would always ask me how Vince was doing; how Alicia and the girls were.  She made an effort to visit us each time we came back from South Africa and made it clear that she missed us; that we were missed. 


Today as I thanked her for she is to me, I started to cry.  It was important that I tell her because she is worth it.  She is the only woman – besides my own mother – that I ever professed wanting to be like.  Life in this world is easier to live because she is here.

Then I sang to her.  The song I chose was one we used to sing at the Union Gospel Mission together.  It’s called “Just As I Am” – a wonderful admission that can’t approach God thinking we are perfect or good enough.  In fact, the only reason we can come to Him is because of Jesus, the one who is perfect for us.  It is an old fashioned hymn that brings me to a humble place immediately.  It is filled with the substance of what I had to talk about with Marlene – where she is going and where I’ll be meeting her one day.

There I was, with one of my spiritual mentors, telling her that I would see her there and we would be together again. 


I said goodbye, but as I did, I said “I’ll see you there.”  

Tonight, as I type this, I encourage you to know where you will go after you die.  I have no doubt I will see Marlene again.  I'd invite you to get to that humble place and come - just as you are- to God.  THEN get to church... regardless of what you think of it, it is God's plan for building us up.  

Just think, you could meet a Tom and Marlene there.  




Thursday, March 27, 2014

selfie


The kind of selfie I like...


This month has been the month of no-makeup selfies on twitter and facebook, helping to raise over 8,000,000 British pounds (roughly 13,000,000 dollars) for Cancer Research UK.  I’ve seen my stunning girlfriends show themselves barefaced,  scrubbed clean to send a message: beauty is not just skin deep.

At a glance, the cause is noble.  What could be more noble than funding cancer research?  In reality, the group it profits has benefitted from an idea-gone-viral and raised much more money for research than they ever imagined they would.  WHY?  Truth is, we like to post pictures of ourselves on facebook and twitter.  It's even better when we can say “This isn’t just for me, it’s for a good cause. 

Cancer Research UK is a well-organized, well-presented network that, by its own definition, is “A number of bodies that work together to ensure that we make the best use of the funds we receive and continue to carry out world-class research.”  They fund research positions and projects in many labs, universities, hospitals and institutions in the UK.  
Laura Lippman's #nomakeupselfie on twitter, March 5
Laura Lippman, a 55-year-old novelist, began the trend on March 5, sharing a scrub-faced pic of  herself to show  solidarity with  Kim Novak, who was beaten by the press and viewers after her  Oscars appearance at the beginning of the March.  Lippman challenged readers to share bare-faced photographs of themselves after reading an article the following day about Novak's "shocking" appearance at the Oscars.
"I looked at her photo and thought, 'Well, damned if you do, damned if you don't' … all I could think was, God love you, Kim Novak. We criticise women for aging. We criticize women for not aging. We criticize women's bodies. We criticise women for bad plastic surgery,"
Twitter lit up with empathy, and slapped a hashtag #cancerawareness on it, spurring many to donate to cancer research.  Because it was an easy paypal charity to contribute to, women dared one another to post a #nomakeupselfie with a 5L (five pound) contribution to Cancer Research UK. 

After noticing the trend, the charity that was benifitting sent out a tweet saying: “We’re loving your #cancerawareness #nomakeupselfie pics! The campaign isn’t ours but every £ helps #beatcancersooner.”

While we can get cynical and jaded and say that the selfies do nothing to spread cancer awareness, the truth is, every little bit helps.  We also see that our outward appearance, however shocking to us (Am I that old?  I look like my mother!  No Way!! Am I ever posting that…) is a vulnerable thing.  It is a very vulnerable, scary thing to have cancer.  Your outward beauty is drained and you have to rely on people’s kindness as they walk alongside of you and take care of you.

In truth, most women photo-shop, duck face and/or position the camera for the best angle to produce the best selfie. 
And it’s never the first selfie we post.... 
Today I post this with a dare. 

I dare you to not only post a selfie, but to find a Cancer charity you believe in and donate to them.  After some research and a good deal of word of mouth, I have chosen ICAN (International Cancer Advocacy Network) a Phoenix based charity that my sister-in-law, Shirley worked for and that I believe in.  Their website actually shows where contributions are used.  Check it out here.

#mynomakeupselfie

And so, to jump on this bandwagon, here is my selfie, with a confession: This is scary for me to post.  

Cancer research is important.  SO is cancer awareness...  Eight million pounds?  That's nothing to sniff at. Shoot, it's what DeMarcus Ware makes in a year...(BUT that's a whole other blog.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

scam


Thank you to Dylan Does for this image
It used to be easy to recognize a scam.  They would come in the email, from a Nigerian princess who had been somehow disconnected with her family fortune.  Or else they would be selling a gel made of “snail gel slime” that was proven to noticeably reduce the signs of aging.

Now scams are different – they seek information more frequently than they do money.  They come to us as programs, designed to collect data about what makes us click – like – or share.  Facebook is full of them. 

The absolute JOY of facebook is that you can have quick contact to see how everyone’s doing.  Now and then, there’s a great pic of a nephew with a trophy or a tree in the front yard.  Those are private pics that you are seeing and may or may not have permission to share. 

A MEME is an internet idea or picture that spreads quickly through sharing.  The word MEME  literally means ‘non-organic imitation’, and is usually a picture or video that has been made and then re-made and then circulated because of a charming popularity.  Most modern internet memes come from a host (or a generator).  They have a huge range: most are humor-centered (my favorite is the  Numa Numa Dance).  Then there are political memes (Michelle Bachman’ Queen of Rage; Obama’s Jedi mind tricks), angry memes (alltheragefaces) and animal  shock-value ones (shocking images of animals in cages, being starved, etc…)  In a few cases, a meme can start with bored and useless viral clicking (“click this to see what happens!”). 

They’re brilliant marketing strategies, but they’re still junk mail, chain letters, and scams.  Here’s how to spot them and how to react (or not react). 

1.  My Daughter is the Most Amazing Survivor and We are Best Friends!!   Share if you love your daughter.
I love my daughter ( I love all of my kids).  I love her so much that I want her to know that I can pick up the phone and call her to tell her I love her.   The little picture with flowers and hearts is  designed for one purpose: to be shared and to count how many times it is shared. 

When you SHARE A MEME – remember that it probably doesn’t come from a reliable news or entertainment source.   You might want to check out the site before you share it.  While there, check out the ads on that page. 

Most of the time, memes are generated with the intention of compiling statistics, a computer program whose job is to count how many times this silly little something goes around your viral world. 

2.  LIKE if you want this free car, iphone or salon makeover

The Facebook “like” button is a powerful thing.  It captures data (information) each time  you click the button on the page.

“Liking” you Uncle’s party pics with your Aunt’s side of the family is not the same as “liking” a stereo company to win a free giveaway!  The free giveaway used to be known in the USA.  My father used to smirk and say “How much is free?”

Free tablets, a gift card, the chance of winning a super-smart - fancy phones… with only one condition. You have to give the "company" your information – or say they have access to facebook data.   Sometimes they tell you (once you’re already in) that you should download something if you want to qualify.

Beware these scams, especially when they ask for contact information.   Entering your phone number often leads to phishing or unknown charges that might appear on your phone bill.

Some companies do give away free stuff through Facebook, but when they do it's usually on their  official Facebook page.  Most of the time they will steer you toward a website that tells more about the company, contact information, a list of rules for contestants, etc.   Scammers like to make their websites look like the real company, but the FCC forbids them to use the real company’s logo. 

Nothing is free.  There, I said it – now you know.


3.  This boy with cancer want to see if this can circulate the globe – click share to make his dream come true!

There is most likely some truth in the story, but if you want to know the whole truth, do a google search.  Back out of facebook  for a second and google the kids’ name. 

Usually (if it’s real) the child (or person) has a website.  Even so, beware.  This scam is one of the oldest in the book and people fall for it (sadly) because they have hearts of compassion. 


4.  These animals are abused and mistreated.  SHARE if you have a heart – DELETE if you are cold hearted and agree with them.

I have enough guilt trips in my life without having to log on to facebook to be slapped with them.  I am always amazed by people who share these.  Good people who obviously care for animals, but without thinking that these animals are being exploited twice. 

Want to bring awareness?  Go to a reputable site, like World Wildlife Fund, and share a page from their website.  If someone else shares this, it is now something that has been well-researched and has truth in it. 
The sensational  and deceptive pictures that are used by the people who are trying to count your clicks are nothing more than exploitation.

Know this and move on.


Here’s 3 rules of thumb when you’re sharing on twitter, facebook, google plus, etc.

  • ·         SHARE only reputable sites – you’ll know them by their advertisements.
  • ·         DON’T click  – if you like a picture or video, find it  on the web, and then share it. 
  • ·         SHARE responsibly!!  Every photo you share (if you haven’t taken it) has to have some kind of photo credit.  Make sure you share what you have permission to share!


That’s my two cents, anyway.
Oh, and share this blog.  ;)