Sunday, January 3, 2016

Hello, 2016

This is going to be short and sweet, because the gist of my goals this year is to simplify. For the last several years, I have boxed in my goals. I have set numbers and measures, and that has been fantastic. However, some things can't be counted, and I think it's time to deal with some of those. These goals may seem vague compared to previous years, but I hope that by allowing myself some freedom I can actually reach further.

This year, my resolutions are simple.

1) I am going to work on my body and mindset towards exercise. I'm not just going to lose weight to look better or to help control my diabetes, I am going to become more active in general and let that drive other improvements. This year, my goal is to find 1-3 activities that I enjoy. I don't see me being a gym person, so I'm going to explore active things to do that are a better fit.

2) I am going to do as much good for my community as I can. I am going to help welcome refugees to the area and do everything I can to help them settle and flourish. I'm going to help the homeless and the hungry, and I will make as big of a difference as I can. No restrictions. No goals.

3) I am going to uncover three major things that the citizens of Springfield need to know. I have no idea what those things might be. I am going to research, look for clues, think creatively, and find stories that matter.

4) I am going to expand my writing into four new markets. They may not all be published in 2016, but to qualify they must be accepted in 2016 (I can't help that some people get articles 4-6 months in advance). I'm going to cold call and submit and branch out into new areas.

5) I am going to take one writer who wants my help and dedicate myself as a mentor. Rather than help coach 5-10 throughout the year, I'd like to take one person with great potential and help them realize their goals, and pay back to the craft that has made my life so wonderful.

Bonus Bucket List Wish: To perform such good work that I make a measurable and noticeable difference.

That's it. My challenge this year isn't to take it easy, but to take these wide open parameters and see how much good I can do when I have nothing driving me except positive results.

Goodbye, 2015

My God, where do I begin? This year kicked my ass sideways, and I put up one heck of a fight.

School was a mighty struggle this year. I put a lot of work in, but bit off more than I could chew. I had to drop a class and realign my priorities to get across the finish line. But I did.

This year, I had things happen that I never thought would be possible. I lost my temper and publicly lost my shit for about a month. People from all around the world showed their understanding and support. Through this I managed to change my career trajectory, quite by accident. I met people who are making our city better. I came across some amazing stories this year. I didn't ask for these stories, but when I started digging I realized I had come across some important things. I don't measure my success in number of hits, but I did manage to get my name out there.

There were surreal moments. When I found myself on a Facebook meme, I was hilariously and horribly amused. A lot of people hated me who didn't know me, but a lot of people liked me and got to know me, so in the end I managed to take every sour situation and turn it into a win. I got rape threats, violent threats, and was called the Whore of Springfield. I mean, really??  Yes, really. Most of the time I was able to either ignore it altogether or turn it into a joke. It was definitely an experience, one I am pretty sure I am going to repeat in 2016. I don't think my haters are going anywhere.

I made a major career decision in working transparently, a decision I will stick with and let it speak for my credibility and principles. Liars hide, I have no reason to, so unless there is a very good reason I operate in full public view. I learned that readers respect this, and many have gone so far as to offer suggestions. I have great communication with my readers, and this has given collective minds a place to ask questions and get involved. If I learned anything this year, it is that many people yearn to make a difference if they can only figure out how.

This was my most successful year yet. Despite an occasional false start or misstep, I made great professional strides. Not just who I write for or how much I get paid. I realized people came to me asking for words and I was filling a need. When I was blowing up Facebook and Twitter, women were thanking me left and right for giving them words to frame their arguments. I did what I thought was impossible- I occasionally won an argument on the Internet. I actually did change a few minds. Though I generally write to express my own thoughts, it was rewarding to see some people I respected stick with me and come to new conclusions. When I laid down the proof on GO:61 and their questionable practices, I backed it with enough evidence to stop an entire force cold. Crickets. I worked the entire case in the public eye, while they hid the best they could. I showed what independent journalism could do, and I feel like I tested myself to make sure this was what I felt called to do, and the answer was yes.

Though we had some challenges, we had more ups than downs this year. My husband got an official chef title, which is years ahead of schedule. I changed jobs and found a great fit that keeps me pleasantly challenged and with a lot of freedom. I miss my old coworkers but I love my new ones, and everyone is still in the same building. I have always liked my job, but now I am extra happy and feel like this is where I ought to be.

Though a lot happened this year, and the bulk of it went my way, I cannot help but feel it is a setup for a far busier year to come.


I did not finish my collection of essays, but I still made progress. I'm 2/3 done and should be ready to publish by summer, when I go back to school.

I did reorganize and completely develop my online office, all communication tools. I have my systems firmly switched over, and my office supplies runneth over. I have tested all of my changes and so far they've been great.

I did my random acts of kindness, one major one per month, and one minor one per week. I occasionally chose someone I knew but more often than not I would find a total stranger to help, and gave them a good deal of thought as to what would help the most.

I exceeded my writing goals, which makes me happy since I thought I was setting them pretty darned high. CBS Local has increased my assignments, and I am still freelance and set my own terms.

I ended the year at the weight I wanted. I didn't lose any more  than that, but I made it with one pound to spare.

So with one notable exception, I met or exceeded my resolutions. I'm going to call this year a tremendous win and hope my momentum launches me into a solid 2016.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why Was I So Angry? (Reflections on Springfield MO, Burnett and GO:61)

As the year begins to wind down, I'm looking back at what all has happened and drafting my end of the year post. A whole lot of crazy stuff has happened, for sure. A lot of people think I'm this raging activist and I swear I'm not. This year, however, I was angrier than I have ever been. Ever, in my whole life. And I'm still angry, it just burns deeper and makes coals that fuel what I do. Today, while time stood still in the waiting room from hell, I identified a core problem that has manifested itself in a thousand smaller problems. And one question I have never really answered was the one everyone asked: why are you so angry?

It wasn't ever about nipples. And for me personally, it was about so many things I had to really dig deep to puzzle it through. Today I had hours to kill today in a waiting room, so I finally had that kind of time. I mean, it wasn't blind rage, I had good reasons to be angry. But I had not taken my time to really work through the whole "tweets of fury" thing and analyze it to understand it thoroughly. This is only from the angle of why was I so angry. There will be "why were you so skeptical" and "why did you punch so hard" posts to come later that will tell it from those perspectives. Because this was only a tiny part of my problems with what went down in our local government and charities putting out unverified information. This is just about why I was so angry that it came off me in waves.

Ultimately, my rage comes back to this: I am furious because people want me to be afraid. On a small scale, I've been threatened this year alone with being raped into making sense, beaten into making sense, and being held against my will while someone coerced me into agreeing with them. On a bigger scale, the world wants me to be powerful but "ladylike" (a word whose definition changes from person to person so I'm encouraged to play it safe and not risk offending anyone), strong but not so strong I make anyone uncomfortable, and intelligent but not show up the wrong people by speaking my mind if I know better. I was supposed to sit in the back row, be quiet and courteous and if I played just right, maybe someone would listen to me if I followed all the subliminal cues and asked nicely.

Ain't nobody got time for that. And I found out the day my city voted against me as a full citizen and learned that Burnett was going to use this new tool to squash a legal protest, that I just gave my last fuck about what someone might think of me. I was going to say what I thought, and own the consequences. There came a point when I committed and decided I would rather go down fighting than stand by and do nothing. We were suddenly lesser people by our own city's law, and that could not go unchallenged. Women pay the same amount of taxes, but now we have to make sure we don't cause "affront or alarm" or we risked having our morals judged and sentenced on a whim. The fact that our rights were even being voted on was sickening to thousands of women who watched and hoped and were eventually let down. They literally created a fashion police to keep women obedient.

This understanding of trying to scare women into obedient submission is the root of a problem that has held us back for... well, since forever, since that conditioning starts in childhood. Then my city passed a law that said making people uncomfortable with my choices in dress was illegal. IF they decided to enforce it. The "if" was supposed to make "the right ones" feel better while "the bad women" had a lingering threat to keep them in line. Then Burnett recommended a half-baked charity that among its many claims stated that women could be ordered up like pizzas. Helpless women, stupid and needing rescued, those defenseless little things. Except they never produced a single woman who vouched for their service or the quality of help received. Still, women's credibility as capable beings took a ding while nearly everyone swallowed this load of bull without question. Though GO:61 has shown themselves to be cowards who consider questions like "how much money has been donated this year?" and "how much of that goes out in direct aid?" too aggressive. Well, no. I disagree. If someone is going to assert that 600 women are for sale like pizzas and that is double from the month before, that person had better be ready to show their math. They refused.

I had a good friend tell me when she spoke to her husband about discrimination she experiences, and he simply dismissed it with "no, you don't." That was it, subject closed. In his superior knowledge, he had the nerve to tell his life partner what her experiences are in a workplace he has never seen. Dismissed without a bit of thought about the possibility that she knew something he didn't about it. Because it was her own fucking story she was telling him, I'm just guessing she had some facts to impart. That kind of dismissal happens all the time. Each one hurts like hell. "I know something." "No, you don't. Go make me a sandwich." RInse and repeat and wonder why we get so emotional. More of that conditioning for you. And this was from a nice guy, I should mention. One of the good ones, so imagine what all the wives of average and subpar husbands deal with.

All of those things happened in a two week span. No. NO. Never, no, no fucking way.

I decided to fight back by refusing to give in. I am not afraid someone is going to scoop me up and take me away. I'm not afraid of some stupid flashing light on my cell phone and would never blame an innocent business for my hysteria. I refuse to be cowed and I will not back down. I'll call a bluff every time, because I have earned that right. I am competent, strong and a fully developed person in my own right. I don't owe the world my best outfit every day and a smile when I don't feel like it. I am held to the same standards as men, and therefore I demand the same rights. When my very own councilman tried to make me worry that my boobs might get me arrested, I had finally hit my limit. So I put it to the test.

I was (partly) right, too. The first thing that hit was a wall of intimidation. Threats by the gazillions flooded my Facebook inbox, where the bulk of this took place. Some came through my site, but the worst were always through Facebook. I didn't take it to heart, I just blocked them if they crossed crazy lines and went on. But I read every single one, because I feel obligated to read every word sent to me. It was hard as hell to not be afraid of that, especially when it was at its peak. But when I decided I wasn't going to be afraid and held it, they quickly ran out of ammo and faded away. And that was it. A flutter, a scream, and dead silence afterwards. Some tried to keep a banter going, but they were weeded out quickly.

So now I know what to do to combat the source of my rage. I'm going to wear whatever I want, say whatever I want, and I goddamn dare someone to try to stop me. Because if my mailbag had any themes in common, it was thanks for giving words to the ideas that many women were thinking, and secondly for standing up and saying "oh hell no." Women I've never met still write to me regularly, taking baby steps in standing up for themselves, and it all started with one little dipshit who can't understand the difference between scripture and law for all citizens of all types. After the ACLU is done with this, it will likely all be rolled back to how it was before. What will have changed is that there are new people paying attention to what goes on around here.

I guess I'll shut up and get back to it. When you find yourself waiting for hours, some people sleep and some people write the mother of all blog posts on their phones. But here's one that I feel I can answer and do it justice. This all happened so fast, and there were so many things I said I'd answer when I could take some time to do it right.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The "Journalism Style" Talk - Mission Statement

I have been spending a lot of time on Facebook, but I still post things over here (and will be doing even more soon!). I'm going to start parking several posts about my writing and online work for reference. For example, when I am about to write something I plan to link back to many times, like the cussing talk.  I have recently responded to many remarks about my style and my approach. I'm going to explain myself one more time, and try to say it all in one place. Not just for the people who are new to my feed, but for myself.

Let this suffice as my future mission statement and an explanation for why I write the way that I do.

I'm direct. I don't apologize, and I'm not going to start. It's how I am in real life, and it's going to be how I am online as well. There are enough perky blond fluffballs and serious old white men telling the news in the same polished tone of voice. I'm over it. I'm going to say it in my voice, and those who don't like it can simply tune in to a channel they prefer. I don't feel that it's my job to make information palatable or comfortable, and I'm relieved at how many responded positively to this. We're adults. Let's just fish out the facts first, then decide how we feel about them. When I write about my feelings - and I will - I will write it separately and make a point to better separate the two. My Facebook is where I write my thoughts. My articles are where I publish my findings. Those two have mingled poorly in the past when I have written about my thoughts and it be confused with my factual writing. This is one of many things I have noted and will correct.

I am not going to sugarcoat or sell anyone on what I do. Those who like it have stuck around, those who do not have moved on, and that's how it should be. I'm really happy to see how many have stuck around. I sorely miss some of those who have left, but I respect their decision.

Unlike the people I have been writing about lately, I want to point out that I work completely in public view. I don't hide what I do, and you are here to see every triumph and every mistake. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but this is the thing I am most proud of, for The Bon Project and for myself. It takes all the nerve I can muster to work in front of friends and readers I don't want to disappoint and critics I can never please all at the same time, and I've done okay so far. It has kept me honest and diligent and I like that. I believe in transparency, period.  I'm proactively living up to my ideals by putting my future career on the line. I walk an unconventional path and I wouldn't have it any other way. I've been rewarded with a lot of trust and love, and smacked with a lot of criticism. I've listened to both very carefully and I implement aspects of both. I do not chase approval, but I can tell when I've rightly been called out and I do my best to take that to heart.

The people who don't like my methods regarding GO:61 have to at least admit I have taken full responsibility of my every action, which is something they cannot say. I was bold, I asked questions, then I demanded answers when nothing added up. I don't feel it's my job to make them comfortable for failing to provide information they are legally obligated to provide or operate in such a way that their purpose and results are clear. Those who disagree have said their piece and were not censored. Unlike councilman Justin Burnett, I have left the entire record stand on my Facebook feed for public scrutiny. I have taken ownership of my words, and I stand behind every single one. When I made a statement I provided the evidence or full train of logic for comment. I did my homework, and thanks to tips and public support I got many leads to check out. That was a first for me, and it changed everything.

As I'm rather fond of pointing out, I'm an acquired taste. I'm not for everyone. However, I do promise to be myself at all times. I have been myself all along, as my friends can attest. My rage is real, when I'm angry. My sadness is deeply felt, when I write about some of the things we want to pretend don't exist. My happiness is genuine when I get to report something that tells us the world is doing something right. I do not get paid for my coverage of local events. I pay out of pocket for all of my costs, including upcoming Sunshine Law requests. If I ever write for conventional press, my editor will have a lot of say in what I write and how. This may be the only time I may ever truly own my voice. I'm going to use it for the ideals I support, and I'm not going to try to sound like everyone else. I'm going to write millions of words in my life. I want to come back to here and remember these days, when I worked full-time and was in school, not sleeping because there was one more thing to look up. This was when I fell in love with what I do and decided to go about it my own way. The flirtation became the lifelong commitment. Journalism, I love you, even when you're an asshole or make me get up before sunrise on my day off.

On a serious note, I'm not going to always write what people want to hear. Or get to write what I want to say. Sometimes I have to write the truth even when it sucks, and the work isn't very fun. But I get so many messages from people saying thank you for researching an issue, or for giving them the words they wanted to frame their own thoughts, that makes it worth it every time. I keep them all, and when I need to read some comfort I bring out the praise. When I worry I may be going down a path I don't like, I read my criticism and remember how the people who don't appreciate my particular style view me. It helps me be aware of what I can do better, and I feel like I can focus more on getting it right.

I've learned SO MUCH during this process. I had a lot of help and folks who helped me think things through, and this has given me insight I can use for the rest of my life. No classroom could prepare a person for the things I've seen.  One story at a time, I am going to find issues that matter, that affect people, and I am going to stick with it until it's done. I enjoy the narrow focus that lets me really work best. Even if there is no conclusion to be made, I will at least fully prepare and publish my work and have thoroughly checked it out. That's my mission. When there is an issue that nobody else will cover or want to dive into, let that be my groundwork. Let me learn from these so I can complete my education and do a good job going forward. When this wraps up and I take on my next project, I have a long list of things to do to help me do this better. If I had to boil this down to one lesson, I'll say this experience has taught me to ask every single question no matter how simple it might seem.

The thing that makes me the person I am has to add a few conditions. God help the person I catch harming another, because I will not hold back. I will have no mercy for the cruel or the people who take advantage of the helpless or the gullible. I will look down every path, even when I don't want to, and record my findings objectively and thoroughly. Then I will ponder what I find. Then I'm going to say what I think about it, evenif I don't like where the investigation has taken me, and whatever heat I take is not going to stop me. I will do all of those things every single time. Those who choose to disagree with my analysis are welcome to do so, but I hope my fact finding and sharing of resources also shows my dedication by letting people look at my work and grade it. Whatever path this takes me down, I will go gratefully and happily.

If you can take an occasional jag of cat pictures and an occasional (and by occasional I mean frequent) F bombs, I hope we can have a good time here on social media while I write what I feel compelled to say. But if you can't, I understand, and I wish you well on your journey.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Ode To The Arts

"You give out hope like it was candy in your pocket." This is a totally obscure quote from the movie The Postman, with Kevin Costner. I thought it was amazing, so much so that I remember pausing the movie all those years ago and giving that a thorough pondering. I decided I wanted to do that more than anything. That if I could pick a super power or a way to give back to the world, that would be my mission. Except I couldn't really give hope, because that wasn't within my scope. I could, however, try to make people happy in tiny but helpful ways. From jokes to being an ear or maybe helping quietly behind the scenes, I have cheered up many a person since that day in 1999. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's really really not.

And it saved me. People who knew me when I was young can tell you I did not speak often. When forced, and begrudgingly. I could go days without saying a word or stepping outside of my head during summer vacations from school. I had a lot to say, but I was scared to say it. I hadn't found my voice or courage yet. Through doing these things and writing and researching, I grew and friendships became easier. Toxic friendships ended because real ones grew and replaced them. And I really stepped out and started saying the things I was thinking, and learned other people were thinking them too and were also afraid to commit to an idea instead of an accepted theory. As a young adult I was looking for my place in the world and I was afraid to take the one that was right for me. Mainly because it was hard to explain to other people, and the loving consensus was that I should be more practical.

Every year since I made New Years goals of good deed quotas to hit and writing goals, and as I learned and improved, I got better at both. I've done some spiffy things overtly, anonymously, and usually to some degree of moderate success. One simple and relatively unnoticed line from a movie did that. It put my hopes and wants into a sentence and a coherent thought when I was much younger, and led to a lifetime of work and a mission statement that has affected many for the better. Myself included.

The arts are powerful. Math and science can change the world, but so can ideas. And through art, we can sometimes show someone just what they have been looking for. Some of us need a song, some of us a picture, and some of us just need the idea to echo in them and bring out something even better. This is why artists are so riddled with insecurity, because "helpful" people try to steer them to more tangible paths. Paths that make more money, but kill ideas. Careers that support luxury but reinforce greed and unhealthy living.

Stop doing that. Encourage your artists. They have a vision that can create even more good than they thought possible.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Her Name Is Mary

We walk with blinders on, ignoring the people around us. At the gas station today, there was a woman crying in utter defeat. She wasn't "working the crowd" because she was on the other side of the building where there are no doors. She was crazy skinny and I'm not going to lie, she smelled worse than she looked. She didn't ask me for a thing. I asked her what I could do to help. I can tell she's homeless or near it, and she starts to tell her Story because that's what homeless people do to placate those who only help the "worthy." I don't care if it's true or not, I do not want her to justify her need for my sake. I just told her it was okay, and please, just tell me what she needed.I didn't say it but she didn't have to be pitiful enough or sober enough or smart enough for me to help. She was standing in front of me, and that was enough.

All she asked for was a bag of chips, some salt to help her with the heat. I had originally stopped for a lottery ticket and a candy bar. I got her a big bag of chips, a huge water and a bag of M&Ms because they're portable and have raw calories.

When is the last time your situation was so dire you were prioritizing by raw calories? I thought so.

It's not even that hard to make a huge difference. You just have to look around, get off your high horse, and give a damn about the people standing right in front of you. They don't owe you anything, and you don't owe them. But don't for one second think you should be privy to and judge their Story. Either help them or don't. Live by the principles of doing good or don't. Use your gifts to make things better, that's why you were given gifts. Those who don't have money still have ways to help if they want to.

Serve your fellow man or don't. But don't tell me you can't. I'll call you a liar every time.

This is the one circumstance where I do not want to hear someone's life story. Not because I'm not interested, because it feels like they are sharing their pain in exchange for a few dollars and a little self-satisfied judgment in my look. I want them to know they've been helped because they're human and normal and I'd do it for anyone. I could grab the door for a businesswoman in $500 heels, and not feel I should ask her why she thought carrying so much crap was a good idea. In this case, I spent money I was going to throw away on a lottery ticket that wouldn't win and a candy bar I don't need, and someone has calories to make it until morning.

She says she is leaving town as soon as she gets bus money. I gave her my change and wished her well, and told her of a few places to go in town just in case. It's all you can do, but I would like to think someone would do it for me if I needed. And not because I had suffered enough for them, or lived my life by their still-flawed standards, but because I was a human standing in front of them.

I'm going to write here alongside the Dead Shuffle reboot (WOOHOO). I want to touch on a lot of things, how we view ourselves. The decisions we make when nobody is looking. The lies we tell when someone is. I want to talk about human nature and what we find acceptable. That's a mighty tall task for a zombie story, but that's what I want to do. I don't JUST want to scare people, the zombies can do that without me. I want to make people look at something and wonder what they would do, and what it would say about them.

Mary will be there.  Her story will be one of the best ones I'll write at the very beginning. I'm already working on it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Return of Dead Shuffle

Dead Shuffle was a learning project, a fiction blog that I started to see how it would work in reality. Then it got a small following and some loyal readers. Then it blew up because that's what learning projects do.

I'm pleased to announce that January 1, 2016 Dead Shuffle is coming back. And this time we're going to do it right. All of that previous work was not in vain, those lessons have been analyzed and applied to a final product that will launch.

This time, a small team of writers and creative people are on board from the beginning. Loyal people who stayed with us from the beginning will recognize some familiar faces, but this is a reboot and so everything could be subject to change to fit the new parameters.  A whole lot more will change than what has remained the same.  But all the same, you will recognize some people.

I might have little blurbs on my Facebook, but for the most part we're going to stay mum until everything is ready. I was just too excited to keep it quiet for any longer. Let's face it, that's just not my style.

I can't wait to write more soon, and fill in some details.