What the @@*! is the economy for anyway? (the 1%, perhaps?)


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Authors de Graaf and Batker take an unconventional look at how we tie ourselves into knots of anxiety over concepts that add little value to our lives. Their new book What’s the Economy For, Anyway?: Why It’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness dovetails with current Occupy efforts—this is a time to question not only where we are, but how we got here and de Graaf and Batker are up to the challenge—they address themes of consumption, economics and the pursuit of happiness in an America boosting over 14 million unemployed with vast wealth being held by 1% of the population.

What’s the Economy For, Anyway? Why It’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness gives a broad ranging perspective on the history behind Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product as economic measures, themes of global development and the steady decrease in quality of life ratings for American citizens.

A well-researched tome which pulls insights from economists like Jeremy Bentham, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen as well as politicians Senator Robert F. Kennedy and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who contribute policy suggestions that seem essential alongside necessary changes recognized by such strongholds of capitalism as the World Bank. Mix in a bit of John Muir and Michael Moore and here is a cuppa thought brewed from our very own daily grind. de Graaf and Batker’s “What’s the Economy For Anyway?” has been named “Best Business Book for Fall 2011” by Publishers Weekly. de Graaf also was a featured speaker at Bioneers this year.

de Graaf and Batker establish an outline for the solution to America’ economic woes by way of a pamphlet written by Gifford Pinchot in 1905. Pinchot, the first chief of the United States Forest Service was a Republican Yale Graduate, forward thinking perhaps, radical, absolutely not.  The pamphlet asserts a systematic approach to the very beginning of forestry and conservation—a way to do the job he had been hired to do, managing the public forests of America. He identified three key ideas, which de Graff and Batker utilize in their proposal for amending not just the economy, but also America’s attitude toward the economy. Pinchot wrote the basis of forest management should be to achieve “the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest run.” This trinity, Pinchot’s mandate, can be seen as “What’s the Economy for, Anyway’?” foundation thesis.

But it is not just attitude and policy that de Graaf and Batker’s book addresses. They take us around the world to see what works where and ask some hard questions about why. Most importantly, the authors build a convincing picture of the United States’ poor report card on quality of life standards and discusses working models and comparative societal traits in detail. For instance, a World Health Organization study done in 2000 ranked the United States 37th in the quality of its health care.

They write, “You might be surprised to know that by 2012, we Americans will be spending nearly $9,000 per person per year on our medical system, almost 18 percent of our whopping GDP. We’re already spending $2.5 trillion a year on health care. Soon, if present trends continue, we’ll be spending one dollar out of every five on health, or rather, sickness, care alone.” Or consider that the United States is one of only a handful of countries that mandate no vacation time at all for workers (alongside Guyana, Suriname, Nepal, and Myanmar).

Faced with a depressed economic climate, the Netherlands developed the Working Hours Adjustment Act, which allows for reduced hours while preserving jobs, benefits, and productive workplaces. This act has led the Netherlands to the world’s highest percentage (46 percent) of part-time workers, with benefits and without the stigma that accompanies part-time workers in the U.S. Germany has adopted a similar law.

What do top countries have in common? According to a 2009 Forbes magazine ranking quoted by de Graaf: “They are highly egalitarian, having among the world’s smallest gaps between rich and poor; they pay great attention to work-life balance, having some of the world’s shortest average working hours; and they pay some of the world’s highest taxes.”

De Graaf and Batker propose many recommendations for moving America forward. Some of the best actions draw on successful models like New Deal-era WPA projects and new approaches employed in European cities. While looking at policy, immediate local adjustments in day to day choices are included, such as time spent engaging with others while walking during shopping at farmers markets and a natural flow of cultural orientation that urban planners, social anthropologists, and economists are increasingly recognizing as significant factors in thriving communities. Jennifer Lail, a University of Washington graduate student quoted in the book, observed the Danish attention to social connection while she was studying in Copenhagen.

“People can stop to rest and chat awhile with friends or strangers. Before I came to Copenhagen, I thought I knew what livability was, but I didn’t.”

De Graaf cultivates a thesis-like structure for his outlook, which is great in terms of organization, building a case and laying out an argument. He is an engaging writer with an unusual perspective, reminding the reader that if, instead of looking straight on, you squint your eyes and cock your head (like a viewer would at those graphics with hidden images), sure enough something new and unexpected pops up. An entire section on solutions concludes the book, leaving this reader to return to earlier discussions. An alternate approach of offering solutions sprinkled more topically could improve accessibility of this highly readable, mind-shifting book.

This is a book for inquiring minds that do not stop asking at the first sign of a question mark and are not afraid to engage openly in an examination of American values.

(See also Seattle talk dates)


Searching for Radical Pragmatism


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Bill McKibben describes Tzeporah Berman as ‘a modern environmental hero.’ I like to think of her as a radical pragmatist. “This Crazy Time” is an autobiographical memoir of an effective eco-campaigner who has spent the past 18 years evolving from a student practicing civil disobedience to a key negotiator, leveraging vital policies and agreements with global corporations, government and environmental allies. Berman has been recognized by Utne Reader as one of 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World. This spring she assumed Greenpeace International’s co-head of the climate and energy campaign.

“This Crazy Time” is a direct and personal no-holds bar account, beginning with Vancouver Island’s Clayoquot Sound Blockades of 1993—a tipping point in Canada’s environmental movement. Berman was charged with 837 counts of adding and abetting, a formal entre perhaps for a path that is still blazing change today. After years of work on the part of many allied organizations and individuals, over 12 million acres of endangered Canadian rainforest are protected today.

“This Crazy Time” has value just a good read, but it is also equal parts Northwestern Coastal history and activist training guide, as Berman describes in detail the development of her chain-supply research, understanding power dynamics and methodical goal setting. An effective negotiator who sometimes upsets folks on both sides of the fence, Tzeporah frankly states,

“If you’re going to campaign, and protest, and blockade, and do direct actions, you have to be willing to talk to all the players and work out solutions. Otherwise that’s not campaigning, it’s just complaining.”

It is a good ride, from the shores of Clayoquot Sound to the Hollywood Red Carpet Premiere of Leonardo Di Caprio’s environmental documentary “11th Hour”, which included Tzeporah as an expert, on to board rooms of some of the largest lumber companies in North America and to disappointing Copenhagen 2010.

Berman also reports on her direct experience at the Bali Climate Talks, where Canada was voted as the country doing the most to hurt the potential for progress in fighting climate change. Impassioned and practical Berman reminds readers

“We need to remember that a problem without a solution is a tragedy. A problem with a solution that is not being implemented is not a tragedy, it’s a scandal.”

Someday will we reflect ‘on this crazy time’ before we came to terms with creating a global economy which is not based on resource depletion? This vision seems part wistfulness and part hope, but all heart.

See also at crosscut.com

Towards Understanding Urbanism


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About 5 years ago I had my first run-in with urbanism–a word I had rarely encountered and seldom really considered. A new community was being proposed, and the developer hired some leading planners to discuss the benefits of walkable communities, with moderate density and local economies. Near this time I became familiar with Chuck Durrett and Katie McCamant’s great work in planning cohousing communities. Cohousing combines private homes with common facilities. Proponents are quick to describe cohousing’s energy, efficiency and quality of life benefits.

My head was further turned as I looked at examples of auto-driven suburbs transformed into friendly neighborhoods, with small business storefronts, bicycles and mass transit.  I was delighted this spring to find David Sucher and his book, City Comforts, an everyman  guide for pedestrian-friendly urbanism.

I had long noted that once a building is up, it stays up–the energy, costs and time seem to produce a kind of intertia, making it all the more important to consider what is built. Grieving over antiquated strip malls, I had not considered the inverse of this–city parks can almost perpetually reserve green space.

This summer I took the circular stairs up to the very top of the Water Tower in Volunteer Park Seattle. What I found was a detailed, historical overview of the Olmstead Brothers greenbelt design for Seattle in the early years of the twentieth century. Lining the walls of the Water Tower, these displays were offset by a fine view of downtown Seattle. Just like stripmalls, it turns out that parks tend to stay. Today there are more than 40 or so parks in the Greater Seattle area that were planned by Olmstead’s offices.

Interviewing environmental activist Tzeporah Berman this week, I asked her about how it was to move from Vancouver BC to Amsterdam, where she recently assumed Greenpeace International’s post as Climate and Energy program Co-director. Here is a taste of her response:

“As I look out my window this morning I think a big part of it has to do with the way our cities are designed. Many European cities were simply designed with people in mind and not cars. In Amsterdam despite the streets being so cute and narrow the majority of the space is dedicated to pedestrians, trams and cyclists. The occasional car looks out of place as it tries to awkwardly maneuver through the city.  Walking through the city every five minutes you come upon a square or ‘plein’ filled with cafes, children playing and musicians. To be clear I know little about urban design but after a year in Amsterdam I have a new appreciation for how a city that is not designed around the automobile creates community and fosters relationships.  Living without a car encourages you to shop close to home and frequently. On the way to work in the morning with the thousands of other people on their bikes I would frequently stop off at my local bakery. On the way home I would mingle with fleets of cyclists in suits balancing their briefcases on their handlebars while they picked up their kids (the number of family members that the Dutch can balance on one bike with special seats, wooden buckets for toddlers or perched on the back tire rack is simply amazing) and stopped at the local cheese/meat/veggie shop. There is simply much more human interaction when we are not in our little metal boxes shuttling from our big box stores to our garages.” (read entire post)

As the season shifts more deeply into Autumn, I hope you find a park to walk in, a local street to stroll along and think for just a moment about everyday urbanism.

Disclaimer: McCamant & Durrett and David Sucher are clients of Pamela Biery. Watch for a future interview with Tzeporah Berman, whose new book, This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge has just been  published by Random House/Knopf Canada.

A Tone Poem for California


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 New California Writing 2011

Edited by Gayle Wattawa

Paperback, 320 pages, June 2011

Reviewed by Pamela Biery

Editor Gayle Wattawa sounds a note full of depth, resonance and diversity in “New California Writing” Heyday Books new anthology series. From Michael Chabon’s musings on everyday family life in “Manhood for Amateurs” or Rebecca Solnit’s enlightening description of bluebelly lizards, on through to the very last page, there is much to ponder, embrace and recognize as the great golden State of California.

Think of this book as a snapshot of a single moment, captured simultaneously by distant cousins who have never met—viewing these vignettes shifts the reader’s perspective, informing subtly, as the best writing does.

“New California Writing” shows us a California that may be accurately characterized for its multi-culturalism and rich geography. Included are well-known authors alongside emerging writers. Expect luminous portraits of people and places, from the Projects to pastures, poems and essays to haunt and edify with lingering images. Some of America’s best literary and news publications are blended in the mix—Copper Canyon Press, Three-Penny Review and the LA Times—fueling contrast rather than distracting.

For those readers tempted to dive right in and bypass the introduction, resisting the rush will be rewarded with a wonderful commentary by Malcolm Margolin, Heyday Books founder and author. Margolin sends this new series off with this fine sentiment “After you read this collection I hope you will conclude that the best of California literature is like the best of American literature, only more so.”

For me, it is the pervasive hope of perseverance and Solnit’s portrait of a bluebellied lizard, doing push-ups on a hot granite boulder by the Yuba River forever in my mind, which remains.

About the Editor

Gayle Wattawa is the founding editor of the New California Writing series and currently serves as Heyday’s acquisitions and editorial director, contributing to the shaping of a number of collections. She is also the editor of Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire.

About the Reviewer

Pamela Biery is a freelance writer and communications professional who divides her time between California and the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in regional and national publications. She maintains a website at http://www.PamelaB.com.

Where have all the hippies gone? Still off the grid after all these years


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In 1988, a filmmaker stumbled on a group of people sticking to their hippie values in Eastern Washington. Fast forward to the new century, and he finds that they are still keeping on keepin’ on.

In 1988, a young Seattle filmmaker took a road trip and along the way found what then seemed like a nearly extinct breed: flower children. Director Kevin Tomlinson had wandered into the “Healing Gathering,” an annual campout and get-together in the backcountry of Eastern Washington.

Twenty years after Woodstock, here was a group of individuals dedicated to living off the grid, growing their own food, seeking values that had little to do with income. They were blissed out, and Tomlinson was smitten with his discovery, but when he screened the footage with friends back in 1988, it seemed cliché and strangely out of sync. So the idyllic scenes lay in boxes, composting slowly in Tomlinson’s basement. Still, even though he wasn’t sure where to go with the footage, he could not quite let go of the ephemeral images captured on those sunny, pastoral slopes.

In 2005, while contemplating a new project with producer Judy Kaplan, Tomlinson revisited the footage with Kaplan. They were both captivated with the notion of trying to find some of the original members of 1988’s Healing Gathering to learn what had happened to these dedicated, hard-core hippies. Their message now seemed prescient — the notions of reducing consumerism, growing food, and investing in grassroots, holistic communities were all top of mind. Did these hippie values stand the test of time or did they just fold right back into the cultural fabric? Tomlinson and Kaplan wanted to see all that remains after two long decades of American change.

They took a new road trip, beginning in Tonasket, where Tomlinson first saw the ’88 Healing Gathering flyer. This put them in touch with Jerry Bartels, one of those originally interviewed. Bartels welcomed the idea for a second interview and suggested Tomlinson and Kaplan attend the 2006 Barter Faire, where others would be attending.

They ended up with a film, Back to the Garden: Flower power comes full circle, that tells a great deal about people in America who have stayed committed to the values of their youth through changing times. Indeed, the film is a portrayal of just one of what are many groups of likeminded people who have put down roots in various parts of the country. And this group’s hold on their values ended up impressing the moviemakers.

The 2006 Barter Faire was the opening door for Tomlinson and Kaplan, who unexpectedly found themselves in the midst of an unconventional reunion, connecting the original members with their own pasts, and spontaneously sharing these nearly 20-year-old “home-movies” with their children. Tomlinson comments,

“I found strong, articulate, engaged community-minded men and women who defy the perceived mass media stereotype. I found grass roots activism. I found thriving families and an organized, cohesive, alternative community….As a group I found them to be role models for choosing to live by the strength of their convictions: self-reliant, fallible yet determined … striving to live with purpose. Their love and dedication to defend an imperiled Mother Earth should resonate with many of us, given today’s global challenges.”

Tomlinson brought with him 20 additional years of filmmaking experience when he returned to the Methow Valley in 2006. His perspective as a seasoned producer, director and cinematographer lends a deftness of hand and fluidity that contributes to the sensibility of Back to the Garden.

When Tomlinson is asked about the individuals profiled in Back to the Garden, he responds, “They offer a reminder that there are other choices to the mainstream. They’ve shown that opting out of the dominant culture can succeed. They’ve walked their talk for over 30 some years. … This community of people I met somehow stuck it out, assimilated into their small, rural, and conservative communities. They have become respected role models as organic farmers, teachers, community organizers, and political activists.”

Not mentioned in this film are countless other communities of like-minded individuals throughout America, who thrive under the radar, often live below baseline poverty and consistently contribute to social good with minimal impact on the planet. There are no numbers, only hints — this near-invisibility is by design. Back to the Garden sheds light on lessons to be learned from those building lives off the grid with a closer look at the emotional rewards and costs rather than any focus on fine details of functionality. As for where the producer and director’s sensibilities reside, it is worth noting that producer Kaplan and director Tomlinson now own property in the Eastern Washington region.

Back to the Garden is certainly more than just magic buses and teepees in a meadow filled with beaded flower children communing with nature. It is a heartfelt and poignant examination of past values that are relevant to present needs. It is about where these lives went and what we may each take ‘back to the garden.’

If you want to see it: Back to the Garden, Flower Power Comes Full Circle, Heaven Scent Films, 2009, Documentary, 70 minutes. Available at Indieflix, Green Planet Films, or by ordering at www.backtothegardenfilm.com.


The Evolution of Digital: Era of Curation


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A Discussion at the Hamptons Institute, July 16, 2011
Presented by Guild Hall in Collaboration with the Roosevelt Institute

Televised on CSPAN and available online at YouTube, this conversation  between new media leaders includes some worthy perceptions and conclusions about the long arc of digital technology. The forum’s focus delves into how consumers and brands are connecting through new platforms and looks at what may be next in digital media.

In discussion are Christine Cook, SVP Advertising Sales of The Daily, David Steward, President and COO of 20×200/Jen Bekman Projects, Michael Kelley, Chief Marketing Officer of AdGenesis, Anthony Risicotto, General Manager, Tremor Media and moderator Michael Gutkowski of Hearst Corporation.  Each of these panelists has invested more than a decade as executives in key technology roles for multiple corporations—each are contributing innovations and tools that are advancing the digital conversation.

Panelists have come together at the Long Island Summer Colony of The Hamptons with the shared perception that digital is evolving, and that this evolution is occurring over a long continuum, through time. After rapid growth, we have arrived at the age of digital curation. Curation indicates selectivity, discrimination and the understanding of right-matching tools for tasks. Curation presents new opportunities for social change and economic growth.

Michael Gutkowski, President & General Manager of LMK Mobile at The Hearst Corporation, starts the conversation off by noting that there are currently 750 million people are on Facebook. For perspective, if this were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world. While the positive impacts sail on, Gutkowski voices concern that there is a lack of understanding of Facebook’s privacy policies in general, and specifically how often the policies change. For instance, Facebook has permissions to use your photos for ads in other places. (As a Facebook user, when the policies change, users by default, agree.) The conversation repeatedly returned to the need for education concerning technology impacts, especially where privacy and right-matching messages to intended audiences really matters—as in that post from a bar that may cost you the next promotion, or worse.

Michael Kelley, CMO of Adgenesis, previously a partner of Pricewaterhouse-Coopers’s digital media practice, has his eye on what the tweens and teens in his family are up to. Kelley is interested in teaching appropriate behavior and protecting privacy with new policies, including family networking protections, not unlike the tiered freedoms given to new drivers. Kelley’s point being that young people are engaging in social media without awareness or education on consequences–both in circles of friends and the workplace–

“Old laws are being broken in new ways.” —Michael Kelley, AdGenesis

On the business side, AdGenesis is designing new ways to acquire  information about users, looking not at what users have purchased already (think Amazon), but what they would like to purchase in the future. Currently 99.5% of banner ads do not receive click-throughs. According to Kelley, AdGenesis is getting about an 11% click-through rate in their customized programs. Kelley suggests that for people who care about content, this is really important as it points the way to successful financial business models for emerging technologies and the opportunity to stimulate the economy with new revenue streams.

David Steward’s leadership in managing multiple digital offerings includes past tenure as CEO of F+W Media, a $200M private-equity backed niche consumer media company. Steward was also instrumental in building/ redeveloping three of America’s top media brands: People Magazine, Martha Stewart Living and TV Guide. As  President / COO of 20×200 he has a broadly stated  goal of bringing art down to affordable prices, with integrated services, brands and marketing [at 20×200.com]. Steward’s efforts include leveraging authentic word of mouth marketing and viral distribution. Like other panelists, Steward sees Google+ as much more reflective of the way we live than Facebook—what we discuss to our friends, family and workplace are differentiated. Facebook doesn’t really mirror the way we speak to others because at Facebook, we talk to everyone in the same way. As humans, this isn’t typical of our lives. What remains to be seen is whether Google+ can reach the critical mass Facebook has at the moment.

Christine Cook held a front row seat at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, as SVP Digital Sales—arguably one of the fastest growing mash-ups of media, consumer marketing, and products fueled by technology. Today she is SVP for  Rupert Murdoch’s ‘The Daily,’ a news publication created expressly for the iPad, launched in February 2011. Cook sees Google + as leading forward by communicating with select audiences. In her view, Google has a long history of being successful with sophisticated technology underpinnings. As for digital media in general Cook feels there is a mixture of beautiful, automated communication, but enough care is not being taken to address the stumbling blocks. The core technologies are evolving so quickly, it is an exciting time, but is also a time when users are particularly exposed.

Beyond this, Cook points out that an increasingly digital world, means having a world that is no longer is dependent on shrinking environmental resources—information is stored in the Cloud, news does not require trees for paper or trucks to deliver physical goods. There was  fear at one time was that TV would displace books, but in fact books are being read more and are actually now more accessible due to digital.

Anthony Risicotto brings his background with multiple media and video brands to Tremor Media, the largest independent online video advertising company. To his eye, the way we consume media has changed: there is distinct flattening of the manner in which we communicate, because messages are treated as equally important. But as fascinating is observing the radical changes in how the human tribe collects information—it is how we now consume media that captivates Risicotto. We are not clustered around the television watching news, but are harvesting information in all sorts of individual ways, continuously, from our smartphones, to billboards, to the side of a coffee cup. The next 10 years will be a tremendous sea change as information sharing and acquisition changes the social moirés of human communication.

During the Q&A, a member of the audience observed that with all the many benefits of digital media, there are significant trade-offs, including limiting the relationship to self; relationship to others and relationship to nature. When engaged with technology one is no longer alone with one’s thoughts and feelings. Virtual exchanges can displace actual, direct relationships in time and space (think of being in a restaurant where friends are all on their smartphones—not with each other fully). The termnature deficit disorder’ is starting to be used  to describe what we miss in the natural world while constantly engaged with technology.

There are many conversations occurring constantly about digital media, almost all somewhat glibly discuss the remarkable progress, successes and excitement of finding new ways to relate to each other and the world. Few seem as clear-eyed and willing to frankly address the mixed gains and losses as this collective think tank hosted at The Hamptons.

About Pamela Biery

Pamela Biery is a freelance writer and communications professional living in Seattle. She has no affiliation with any person or company mentioned in this blog post.


“Longing for the Light” provides poetic start to summer


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It finally felt like summer, with light and sun pouring in as Seattle’s ACT Theatre quickly filled for “Longing for the Light,” Copper Canyon Press’ Summer Solstice Reading, the devoted audience leaving the balmy evening for a dark urbane interior.

Poet Heather McHugh

Notable poets from distant corners of the U.S. filled the stage, bringing with them considerable light and a summation of wordful colors.

Portland native Michael Dickman, a Hodder Fellow at the University of Princeton, winner of the 2010 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets for his most recent book, Flies, was on hand. His grants, fellowships and residencies include The Michener Center for Writers, The Vermont Studio Center, the Fine Arts Work Center, and the Lannan Foundation.

Sarah Lindsay, a Lannan Fellow, National Book Award nominee and recipient of the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize from the Poetry Foundation flew in from North Carolina. Lindsay’s three books include Primate Behaviour, Mount Clutter, and Twigs and Knucklebones — each receiving high praise.

Heather McHugh is the Milliman Writer-In-Residence at the University of Washington. McHugh brought her bright wit and regard for other poets. Numerous awards and accolades include the 2009 MacArthur Fellowship, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. She is the author of 13 books of poetry, translation, and literary essays.

Alberto Rios, recipient of six Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and fiction, the Arizona Governor’s Arts Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, traveled from Tempe, Arizona, where he holds the post of Regents’ professor of English at Arizona State University.

Together they laughed, read and waxed serious about language and how words can mean something bigger and brighter than the thing they themselves describe. Copper Canyon Press’s imprint is composed of the two Chinese characters that together stand for poetry — word and temple. The event title was borrowed from the first line of another poem, Vicente Aleixandre’s “A Longing for the Light,” and this reading’s emotive fluidity created a special space for the light of language.

Dickman read from his collection Flies alongside tales of his offbeat dreams of book shopping at Powell’s, while Lindsay treated attendees to a poem evoked by witnessing a squid orgy. McHugh took us around the world, with some favorite poems written by others, sharing a work in progress and the lasting image of a still swing.

Alberto Rios spoke of a time in Arizona when the (then) governor asked him to compose and read a poem to Vicente Fox, then president of Mexico. Rios’ span and perspective encompassed the Southwest and the divisive war there on multiculturalism. From politics to folklore and imagination, poetry was the light, spilling out into the last glimmerings of the year’s longest day as the audience lingered over book signings and conversation.

More on these poets, including poems, reading and interviews:

Heather McHugh was featured in a KUOW morning interview. Listen here.

Read Alberto Rios’ “Refugio’s Hair” here.

Find excerpts from Sarah Lindsay’s “Twigs and Knucklebones”  here.

See Michael Dickman read from Flies (at an earlier event) here.

Ann Patchett resists the flirtation of a new idea….


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…which invariably arrives as she is just coming to critical point in a book half completed. These ideas appear coy and bright, bringing out the charm of a new flame, urging her to dump the tired out book she has been working on for oh however long. But Ann Patchett resists, finishes work in progress and lets this new idea languish for a bit, perhaps to see if it is really worthy. Such was the case with State of Wonder.

State of Wonder is not and never will be Bel Canto,  perhaps her watermark novel. But Ann Patchett is still Ann Patchett and reads a spell-binding, evocative tale from State of Wonder leaving the audience amazed at the real-life adventures Patchett encountered while in the Amazon doing research for this latest novel. After all, few among us know the stench of an attacking Anaconda or the sounds of a jungle river, less still where the machete is found on a river guide’s boat.

State of Wonder is a wonderful blend of magical realism, modern fiction and mythic archetypes. It is a book for those who love language and who wish to be carried by the flow of words into new realms, albeit on known rivers.

At Town Hall Seattle, Ann Patchett described her books as basically all the same—involving a group of strangers trapped together through circumstances beyond their control, creating a new community. And she admits, for whatever reason, characters in her books usually keep their clothes on and don’t have much sex.

She describes her process as one of staying loosely engaged, but often not actively working on writing—letting ideas come together while cleaning house or busy with other things. Once done, Patchett prescribes to a ritual of having close friends, who coincidentally are mostly famous authors, act as early copy editors. After sharing the first draft of State of Wonder, Liz Gilbert instructed Patchett to keep all actions in the first portion of the book the same, but to remove 75 pages by omitting words, which she did.

During the Q&A, a guest who had just finished the book found herself haunted by one of the book’s characters, the boy Easter. Asked about this, Patchett said she was not troubled and did not see herself writing a sequel. She explained that the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction is that commercial fiction puts the reader in a car and drives everyone to the same place. Literary fiction is part author and part reader, making decisions about the destination—the reader is part of the equation.

The real trick of it is to come up with an idea. Writing itself is about practice and work.—Ann Patchett

Seattle Arts & Lectures season passes for 2011-12 are now on sale. Single event tickets will be available July 1, 2011.

Pull is the New Push


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The best thing about talking to many people from different places is that all manner of things find their way into conversation, allowing me to discover what I know…sometimes my opinions have changed and I may not have quite caught up myself.

Case in point: I recently was discussing growth plans with a small manufacturer and taking a look at their structure, I saw they were really pushing their products out in a traditional way, with on the ground reps seeking just the right places to sell merchandise. Yes, they have social media, yes they have other marketing in place. After this examination and conversation I realized that I don’t see a future in ‘pushing’ products—so much points to ‘pulling’ buyers or prospects or clients to an organization. Of note also is that over the last decade I have witnessed the almost complete abandonment of on the ground sales forces, driven by lots of complex factors, but still concluding with the same simple reality.

In marketing, ‘Push’ here means traditional sales from on the ground rep to trade shows to big glossy ads showcasing products or services. ‘Pushing’ means bringing a product or service with an offer in front of a prospect. I define ‘Pull’ as activities that are around building relationships, like social media, corporate social responsibility initiatives, contests and engaged interaction. ‘Pull’ is based on attraction, with prospects seeking a company or service out because they have learned about their product, action or service through a non-sales effort. Call it public relations, call it social media, call it engaged marketing–it is part of the broader shift fueled by technology and information.

Old school push strategy puts the marketer in total control of the message. An evolving pull strategy reflects the shift of control from advertisers to information users and shapers, consumers.

This realization will lead me to read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, but the reality is that this concept is so much in the air around me that my thinking has thoroughly shifted, I just hadn’t taken a moment to recognize the change.

Pull allows each of us to find and access people and resources when we need them, while attracting to us the people and resources that are relevant and valuable, even if we were not even aware before that they existed. —John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison

This may not be as simple as it sounds, since there is a great deal of art to presenting, organizing and orchestrating the elements of pull or atttraction—in other words there is a soft ‘push’ of information that makes ‘pull’ possible, and this will be a topic of a future conversation.

Green Teams and New Dreams


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I was invited by EcoMaven Alex Steele to participate in U2’s Green Team–Seattle was the 5th city on the concert tour to implement an on ground crew to encourage recycling and educate on green initiatives designed to reduce the U2 tour carbon footprint.  Effect Partners, a Minneapolis, Minnesota company that is occupying the unique space of turning intentions into actions, orchestrated the U2 Green Team effort. Other Effect Partners projects include making recycled plastic shirts for the Black-Eyed Peas, “So Much to Save” initiative for the Dave Matthews Band and Jack Johnson’s “All at Once” encouraging individual action. Bono and U2 were even better than the real thing.

It was inspiring to see everyone ready to carry the banner, or in this case, recycling bags, for the cause. The crowd seemed to appreciate the opportunity to learn more and re-use the empty bottles they were allowed to enter the stadium with or make sure they got recycled. I look forward to hearing the numbers for recycling at the end of the tour.  As Jim from Effect Partners pointed out, ‘the size of the effort needed cannot prevent us from beginning.’