Friday, April 26, 2013

I Will Beat Your Ass (True Confessions of a Competition Freak)

PREFACE: What follows is a rather long ramble that I will boil down for you in this preface. I am trying to win a contest. In order for this to happen, I need to get about 190 more unique views to THIS VIDEO by Sunday afternoon. (The link doesn’t work on mobile devices.) If I win, I go to London. For those of you with time to kill—the long version is below. It involves cocaine, Jello, Seasonal Affective Disorder, dysfunctional sex, and an inability to throw a game of Scrabble.

From time to time I stop to consider that I never did cocaine in my life, and I am filled with wonder, surprise, and more than a little relief. Consider that the 80s were my heyday and that I began my twenty-year stint as a drunk at age fourteen and that—though rather a late bloomer in the nicotine department—I was a chain smoker for a good period of time, and it really is amazing that I never hopped on the Blow Wagon (unless you count that time in the car with a band, whose name I now forget, the members of which were snorting some cheap shit and I ran my finger across the residue on the mirror and then across my front teeth in an experiment to see if I might numb them. Didn’t work.)

I actually have a theory about why I, an addict if ever there was one, skipped out on being a Snow Bunny. I think, buried deep in the recesses of my alcohol-saturated brain, but in bold enough type that even all the booze couldn’t totally obscure it, was a large sign that said in all caps: 


I really do still believe that if I’d done the stuff it would’ve been the end of me. I saw two distinct ways this might happen. The first: one line of coke would so hyper-exaggerate my pre-existing compulsion to talk rapidly and non-stop in the company of others due to extreme social anxiety that someone would’ve taken me out back and shot me just to get me to shut the fuck up. The second: I would’ve had a contest with myself and/or others to see just how much I could cram up my nose, a competition I would’ve won even if it meant I wouldn’t live to defend my title.

See, I am at heart one of the most competitive people I know. The way I best manage this streak is the same way I manage my unhealthy enthrallment with drinking and smoking— abstinence. However, whilst I have mastered the art (I say this in all humility and with mountains of gratitude) of no longer drinking and smoking, I do still occasionally take the competition bait.

Recent example— last week, Garreth texted me that he had a great idea for me. Garreth’s ideas are actually great much of the time, so I agreed to hear his scheme. He told me that at the sparsely populated Austin Auto Show there was a little contest going on. All I had to do to win a pair of tickets to London plus hotel was go down there, pay seven bucks to get in, sit in a MINI Cooper in front of a green screen and be silly for 30 seconds, and then get all my friends to watch the video.

Initially, I was skeptical. Was this a trick? A national competition beyond any hope of winning? An attempt to garner piles of personal information from my friends?

Garreth, who’d made a video himself and scrutinized the rules, assuaged my anxiety and shot down my conspiracy theories one by one. He showed me the website where some videos had already posted. The frontrunner had fewer than a hundred views, easy enough to beat. His argument was sound. I decided to enter.

Here's the link, bitches.
Hop into the Time Travel Machine now. It’s 1975 in Westville, NJ. School lunches are a brand new concept at Parkview Elementary School. These include little dessert cups of Jello cubes (sadly sans vodka). I’m about seven years away from becoming a vegetarian at this point, so the Jello ingredients do not bother me. In fact, I’m all about the Jello and the open-faced boiled ham and swiss cheese melts. John Logan and I decide to have a Jello competition. I weigh about 63 pounds soaking wet at this point, and John is, relatively, a good bit bigger. Still, I win. I eat Jello and more Jello and more Jello. John doubles over in pain. I do jumping jacks to rub my victory in his green face.

I believe it is also John against whom I run for student council president that same year. He wins and I am handed the consolation prize—Safety Patrol Captain (ironically, I jaywalk and am hit by a car, though at least I am off-duty at the time). I don’t love not winning. I hate it. I become more competitive. I take home a pile of essay contest awards. I am valedictorian of my sixth-grade class (actually, my mom fails to tell me this until I’m about forty, but still…).

And so the competitive streak goes for me. In high school I get all A’s and am student council president. At home I can eat faster than any of my eight siblings, guaranteeing that I will get seconds when it comes to the limited meatball supply. Looking back, I’m certain this is where my drive originates. When you are one of nine you must compete for time, attention, food, clothes, all of it. Step aside or I will EAT YOU UP.

Step back into the Time Travel Machine. Let’s skip ahead now twenty-two years. It is 1998. I am dating a total fucking loser. He, too, is competitive and insecure. Here is how it manifests: We play chess. We play Scrabble. He hates to lose. I also hate to lose, but I have finally met someone who hates to lose more than I do. I learn, early on, that if I beat him (rare, but it happens) he will withhold sex unless I agree to stay up for a post-coital rematch, because he is sure that he can beat me then and he cannot rest until he wins. For my part, I am far too competitive to throw the game.

I don’t enter contests very often anymore. Once in awhile, I get sucked in. Every time a DJ says, “I have a free pair of tickets to give away,” I have to remind myself I get free tickets all the time. I don’t need to call in. But there’s that split second when I think… Must Win.

Last December, when I was in the throes of a major depression and suffering from some PTSD issues, I got nominated to play the role of Mother Ginger in Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker. I hate Christmas. I hate The Nutcracker. I hate leaving the house when I am depressed. And yet… I loved being nominated. And so I was instantly In It to Win It. I bugged the shit out of everyone I know for weeks on end to pick me to play a part I had no true interest in, one that might find me onstage bawling my eyes out. (I did not win, which in itself was a sort of winning.) Because somewhere inside of – though she is fading more and more—remains the girl who wants the prize.

So now here I am. Competition girl has roared awake. Forty hours from now either I win the tickets to London or those harlots in gold lamé do. Can’t let that happen, ladies. Oh no. I WILL EAT YOU UP. I simply must.

Once again folks— Here’s The Link to the Video. Please watch it and pass it on and HELP ME WIN. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Save HausBar Farm & Save All Austin Urban Farms!

My backyard garden and flock, hugely inspired by HausBar Farm

An Open Letter to Austin's City Council,

I read an article in the Austin Chronicle recently about the surprise shutdown of HausBar Farms in East Austin. I've wanted to write to y'all about this since I heard the news, but have been debating the best approach. Pardon my self-indulgent tangent here, but let's stop for a moment and consider different possible tacks I might take. I could be all sweet-- more flies with honey and all that plus I think there's some nonsense about decorum when addressing politicians. Or I could go the opposite direction-- as is my wont-- and get all New Jersey on y'all and say WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? 

Striking a balance is not my strong suit. So pardon me if my chapped ass flavors tone here.

I will allow that I have not been to HausBar since the shutdown, nor have I spoken to Dorsey (I left her a phone message to try to set up an interview but I can only guess she is hard at work on the farm and unable to answer every call that comes in immediately). I have not spoken to the folks at PODER either. So yes, I am going by what was written in the article.

It turns my stomach that there is even a hint of race-card-playing here. By this, I am referring to the section of the Chron article that reads as follows:

PODER accused HausBar Farms of operating commercially in a residential zone and gentrifying the area surrounding the farm. According to PODER's Daniel Llanes, the activist group had to tackle the issue because other environmental groups wouldn't touch it: "HausBar Farms and the whole urban farm movement is generally a white movement, and so here's where it clashes. You don't see SOS [Save Our Springs] over here, or Sierra Club."

I think what Llanes might be saying is that HausBar is somehow "bad" because the owners are white and, by virtue of their whiteness, it can only mean they are trying to take over the land of East Austin and drive out folks of color. Is that right? How fucking preposterous. Dorsey has been a part of East Austin since the '80s when she opened Eastside Cafe. She is an active member of the community, she loves her neighbors and she is a real GIVER in Austin. 

It's one thing to say there are code violations or odors that need to be dealt with (and if you read the article it addresses how some so-called violations are due to confusion with city ordinances, not some blatant violations). But the race card must not be played-- that is playing dirty and opens up cans of worms that are not good for composting but only good for fostering bitterness and division that will last for a long time and be difficult or impossible to mitigate. If we want to trot out some accusation of land theft, let's go whole hog (pardon the pun) and see if we can have some Tribal Nation organizations shove PODER aside. I mean, whose land is it really? 

Here's a video report I did about HausBar Farms for my KUT series Whim City. And there is a related article here.

I've been to HausBar many times. I first met Dorsey when I wrote about the farm for Edible Austin magazine. I was so blown away by the project to bring farming into the city that I decided to follow HausBar's lead. I now have three raised beds in my backyard where I grow a lot of my own food, I've got a backyard flock of chickens (which, yes, I got from Dorsey) and a badass coop. 

Besides having my own food, here's what else I have: a beautiful yard I love to show off, so I use it for concerts and, soon, fundraisers. Folks come over, see my gardens, and ask for advice on how to start their own. Community is forged, we log off the fucking internet, we are a neighborhood. I also share the food I grow with others. I also take tremendous pleasure in looking at my garden and meditating on it and appreciating where food comes from. Oh, and I also hire LOCAL companies/individuals to help me with my garden, my coop, etc. So I'm putting money directly into the hands of locals as opposed to, say, buying eggs laid by stressed out chickens locked in tiny boxes in chicken death camps somewhere far away.

HausBar is being accused of running an operation which, as described by PODER, sounds like something out of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. That is pure bullshit. The place is sustainable, innovative, and a perfect combination of tried and true techniques and cutting edge techniques. HausBar is also being accused of gentrification, as if they're using the land to become wildly wealthy. 

Hello? Have any of you been to the farm? Have you seen Dorsey out there busting ass from dawn til dusk? Do you have any idea how not profitable an urban farm is?

I'm so disgusted that PODER is trying to permanently shut down HausBar. Do they not realize that prior to Dorsey taking over the site it was a bunch of illegally built crack houses, an eyesore and a crime magnet? Now it is a majestic, out-in-the-open model for ways we can live that don't involve constantly driving our SUVs to HEfuckingB to buy a bunch of GMO processed "food" that has been shipped in from filthy factories run by enormous profit-driven corporations.

I wrote another article for Edible Austin about a Smithville Judge Ronald Jones (who happens to be African-American, which seems to fly in the face of PODER's accusation that only white folk engage in urban farming) who has started a series of big in-town gardens in his small town. He actually sentences youth offenders to time working in the gardens to show them the value of gardening. He also works side-by-side with them. He also started a garden near the elementary school to show the kids that food does not originate on a grocery store shelf-- sadly there are countless Americans who seem to think this. 

By having the gardens in town, where folks can see them (and come by and help themselves to food) Jones is doing countless great services for his community. So is HausBar farms and all of our urban farms in Austin. 

According to the Chronicle article, there have been some zoning/permit questions, and these are due in part to confusion coming from the City of Austin. It is time for y'all to get your fucking ducks in a damn line, people, and get this straightened out. Our city is viewed with awe by so many people around the country and around the world. We have a reputation for being friendly, green, and smart. Let's keep it that way. 

Please, please, please, please do not delay on rewriting and clarifying the urban farm ordinance. And please, please, please do the right thing and encourage MORE urban farms. This is not about gentrification or racism. This is about learning-- and teaching others-- sustainable ways to live. 


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Take My Book-- Please! I'm Giving Away 200 Copies of The Maine Event!

Hey Y'all,
And I'm back. That was a hard couple of weeks-- if you missed the news I lost two dogs in six days. Thanks so much for all the condolences, the cards, the emails, the food, the love. I am so grateful and it has made my loss that much less unbearable.

I've been meaning for sometime now to push the marketing part of getting The Maine Event out there in the world. It's been slow going thanks to everything from health issues to an abundance of wedding work and to not wanting to feel like I'm constantly harassing y'all to buy the book. So I came up with this idea...

I'd like to give away TWO HUNDRED e-copies of The Maine Event. Info on how to claim yours is at the end of this note. First, let me clarify: This is not a trick. I'm not collecting data so I can add you to a mailing list and sell you photos of Rebound later. I'm not going to follow up and hound you for cash (already did that with my thanks-to-you successful KickStarter campaign). I am going to ask a couple of favors but bear in mind this is not quid pro quo. If you just want to take your free copy and that's the end of it, so be it, thanks for reading the book.

If you do want to help out a little-- you can do one or more of the following:

1. If you like the book and want to send a copy to a friend, you can send me $6 (a bargain) and I'll send an e-copy to your friend.

2. If you like the book a lot you can also please leave a review at Amazon. Hey, if you hate the book you can leave a review at Amazon because who ever believes that a writer only ever gets great reviews?

3. You can tell others about the book. My friend Michael made a beautiful website for it over at

4. If you know an indie bookstore that might carry some hard copies, please let me know. I only have a few hard copies left but would love to get them out there.

I'm giving away the book because I really, really want it to be out there in the world. I had no plans of trying to make a windfall when I wrote it. I am just so happy to have readers. So if you want your free copy, just email and please pass this on. Offer is good til I get 200 takers.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Meet the Amazing Molly Gipson-- Gold Award Candidate Extraordinaire!

I’ve known my friend Molly Gipson since she was a little kid. Now she’s a senior at LASA and she’s working on a project to get her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Here’s a Q&A I did with Molly to find out about the program she has developed to help young women prepare for independence. I wish I’d had a shot at this when I was her age. Thanks Molly—well done!

SG: You're currently working on a super cool project. Tell me about it.
MG: The gold award is basically where you assess a problem in your community and then propose a solution. The problem I have found is the lack of college readiness in the senior and junior girls at my school. There are some dangers and demands that we will all experience in college that we aren't quite prepared for.

I'm holding four successive workshops to alleviate the problem. I already had one last week where I asked an Austin self-defense instructor, Bart Brooks, to my school to teach a beginner class. The other three workshops are surrounding different ways to live healthily in college (socially, mentally, nutritionally and exercise wise), how to pick your major and get involved on campus, and how to stay safe at parties.

SG: Why are you doing this-- I mean, tell me about Gold Star and how that's a goal, but also what motivated you to choose this particular project?
MG: I came up with this idea over a year ago. I read a lot of news articles and heard a lot of stories about women getting attacked in Austin. I realized that it was a major issue and a lot of women don't know how to defend themselves, including me. So, I wanted it to be the basis of my Gold Award project and it evolved into not just self-defense but college readiness as well.

SG: How did you come up with the components for it? Did you talk to experts or base it on things you'd like to learn yourself? 
MG: I talked with my troop members and based it on things I also think I should learn more about.

SG: How did you recruit speakers?
MG: Well, I haven't recruited all the speakers I need yet. The main way I contact them is by calling them or emailing. My counselor at school helps a lot with ideas about who I could recruit to speak, which includes a lot of people from UT.

SG: What qualifies this as a success for you— I mean what were your goals heading in and how are they working out?
MG: My only goal was to improve myself and my classmates' readiness for the independence that college entails. So far it's working out wonderfully and the girls that attended the self-defense workshop learned a lot. 

SG: What are you going to do with your future? 
MG: I definitely plan on going to a four-year college starting in the fall, although I don't know where yet. I think I want to study psychology, more specifically social psychology, but not many college freshman let alone high school seniors really know what they want to do. In a way I do think this project connects with social psychology. There is a lot of human interaction happening within planning like contacting people or advertising my workshops. It will be intriguing to see which workshops are most interesting to the junior and senior girls and that definitely has to do with psychology.

SG: What else would you like to tell me?
MG: I guess I would like to say that this Gold Award project has been a lot harder than I anticipated, but I really think it will pay off in the end. I'm very excited to be wrapping it up. I hope I can reach out to the juniors and seniors at my school and help them feel at least a tad bit more ready for college next year.