An Open Letter to The Afghan Whigs

Dear Guys,

Everyone who loves music, and especially everyone who loves live music (which I have come to realize is not everyone) has that band. We own all the music, wear the t-shirts, watch the videos, stalk the set lists. We have the band or artist we will go out of our way to see.

For me, that band is you.

And, after making my second trip to Cincinnati to see you play a live show, I just have to drop you a note of thanks. If logistics allowed, I would take in more than one show per tour, and maybe next tour I will get that lucky. But this tour, I only got one show.

Thanks for leaving it all out on the stage.

Since I discovered you, which by most accounting is fairly late (cough*2014*cough), you have been my obsession and my catharsis, my chemical and my comfort. Especially, of course, in frontman Greg Dulli, who speaks to darkness not in order to banish it, but instead to show us that we are not alone in the darkness.

For better or worse.

I bought a VIP ticket to the show in Cincy because it was the only one I could attend, which in addition to admission to the show also got me a t-shirt, a tote, a poster that you all signed, and admission to the sound check. Thanks for doing “Demon in Profile,” with Greg on vocals. Nothing against Har Mar; he’s got a great set of pipes. But I’m glad I got your take on it.

I just want to thank you, pretty much for everything you do. Thank you, first of all, for letting us into your grief for Dave Rosser. He is sorely missed by your fans, and I can only imagine the way you all are grieving him.

And thank you, most of all, for giving everything you have, during every show that you perform. The night I saw you, you came out of the gate on fire, and you didn’t let up. I was the barrier chick in the gold lame, dancing and singing to every. damn. song. (John Curley saw me.)

Patrick is a beast on drums – some might say, an animal – and has a rare smile that is real and warm when it appears.

Jon Skibic has serious chops, and a lean guitar player aesthetic that is widely appreciated.

Rick is immensely, immeasurably talented. And has the most beautiful eyes.

John Curley anchors the Whigs with his solid bass playing. I have encountered Curley offstage at each of the three shows I have attended, and he has been the sweetest, loveliest man.

Me and Curley
Ladies and gentlemen, John Curley.

And, of course, our muse, our main man, our savior of misbehavior Greg Dulli. Thank you for doing what you do, and please continue to prowl the stage in all your virile glory.

++

We have to take these times, these events, these days to celebrate what we love. When each day can bring news like we got early yesterday morning, when each day can take our heroes from us (R.I.P. Tom Petty), it’s especially important to show our appreciation.

Thank you, Afghan Whigs, for being that band, not just for me, but for all your fans. Thanks for continuing to make music and go on tour.

We’ll be there. I’ll be there, as often as I can be.

Love,
rpm

Football player taking a knee

Take A Knee

I know why I’m not blogging — it’s because I have too much to say, not that I don’t have enough.

Plus, some of the issues I am dealing with, especially with my two girls, are more private in nature.

In the good news column: Michael got a bicycle, and has been on it every day since Saturday. He’s even taken a couple of spills, and STILL jumps on it at the first opportunity.

The thing that’s been driving me insane this week is the national conversation about the protests at NFL games.

It’s not an anthem protest.
It’s not a flag protest.
It’s not a protest of the military.
It’s not even a T*ump protest. Is the President wrong tweeting that the NFL should fire players that kneel? Yes, yes, he is. (I am hard pressed to think of ONE THING the current President is right about, though, so YMMV.) Should people “boycott” the NFL over players that take a knee?? I mean, sure, go ahead.

I started “boycotting” the NFL years ago, after a slow process of disillusionment. So don’t act like boycotting the NFL over protests is admirable. It’s not.

Colin Kapernick started kneeling during the anthem last year (here’s a timeline). He did it to protest the treatment of people of color in America. To quote:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said, via NFL.com. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

And that’s what the media should cover, and what we should be talking about. Instead of counting heads — who knelt, who stood, who stayed in the locker room or tunnel (hi, I’m looking at you, Pittsburgh Steelers) — instead of talking about who has the right to say what, and who is allowed to protest and how, we need to return to the conversation.

Maybe instead of showing up in a sports bar and asking patrons what they think of the NFL or the protests, we need to ask harder questions. What do you think of racial oppression in this country? What do you think of white officers shooting black men, and getting acquitted? What do you think of white supremacists?

I could go on.

I have respect for those decide to protest something, especially something as wrong and as pervasive as racial inequality. Kapernick put his livelihood on the line to make a point.

We need to talk about WHY Kapernick and other players are protesting. The protests are not the news. We need to have more difficult conversations about race in America. It’s not going away. I don’t know that it’s a solvable problem, but if we don’t start talking about it, we’ll never know.

Copyright for featured image: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo

White Like Me, Part II

When I was in my mid-20s, I was working full-time and freelancing. My full-time job was at the University of Pittsburgh, and I was struggling to be a successful freelance writer and editor. I placed a small advertisement — in a paper newspaper, no less — for my copy editing services.

I received a call from the New Pittsburgh Courier. The New Pittsburgh Courier (and its predecessor, simply Pittsburgh Courier) is an African-American owned-and-operated newspaper, based in Pittsburgh. I think it’s the longest running African-American focused publication in the United States, if you go back to the original 1907 date. (More information here. It has a fascinating history.)

The New Pittsburgh Courier was looking for a copy editor who could come twice a week, in the evenings, to proofread the paper before it went to print. I interviewed with the man who is still the editor and publisher, Rod Doss. I got the job.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I would take myself down to the Courier offices from about 6 p.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. I was mostly just looking for typos in the pages that were already laid out. My biggest task was to rewrite press releases for the Features department. I was usually there with then City Editor Sonya Toler (look her up; she works for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto now), Mr. Doss, and three women in the graphic design department.

The graphic designers were Terra, who was black; Deb, who was white; and a third woman, whose name I don’t recall now, who was also black.

I enjoyed the job very much. The copy in the news section was usually pretty clean, but I would catch one or two things. I had to get used to a couple of unique style notes the newspaper had — for example, when referring to people, Black was always capitalized.

The graphic designers gave me a hard time about re-writing press releases, but otherwise they would simply reproduce them as-is, with attendant CAPS LOCK and high praise for whatever film or book was coming out. Sometimes, the press releases would capitalize the names of the movie or actor through-out. “THE COLOR PURPLE starring OPRAH WINFREY will be in theaters this weekend. THE COLOR PURPLE tells the story of…. THE COLOR PURPLE is adapted from the novel of the same name by ALICE WALKER.”

You get the idea.

Now, because I don’t understand racism, I have to tell you I didn’t stand around in the NPC offices thinking, “I am working with black people.” Like, it literally didn’t occur to me to dwell on. And I don’t mean it in an “I was colorblind” way. I just didn’t feel one way or another about it. Not intimidated or worried about it.

Along with differences in our skin color, there were age, religion, marital status, parenthood, and educational differences. I think I was more aware that I was working with mothers than I was that I was working with black women. Does that make sense?

The newspaper covered issues and stories that impacted the black population more than, say, the Post-Gazette did. Almost all of the writers and editors were people of color. I thought they were providing a public service to the black population, not just of Pittsburgh, but of their national service area. I understood that news I read and followed wasn’t necessarily balanced to show the perspective of people of color. I understood the NPC fulfilled a need for a population that I wasn’t intimately familiar with. I didn’t feel threatened by the idea that black people had access to news and views that affected them. “White journalism” wasn’t endangered.

When I first started working there, Terra had long, braided hair. One evening, after I had been there a few months, I came in, and Terra’s hair was short.

“Oh, Terra!” I exclaimed. “You got your hair cut.”

Terra leveled a long look at me. Then, turning back to her computer she said, “Deb, tell Dawn how black hair works.”

This is when I learned about weaving.

I honestly did not have the first clue.

Deb explained the process, and that Terra hadn’t gotten her hair cut, she had simply had the braids removed. I was the object of some good-natured ribbing that evening, that’s for sure. I hope I took it in stride and with graceful good humor.

++

The gulfs that separate black and white people are bigger than just not knowing about hair weaves. And they are fully on display in our country: the wounds of slavery and the Civil War; the impotent anger of the white supremacist movement now finding its footing; the inability of the men in power to denounce the evil that only exists ON ONE SIDE.

It’s not up to us to declare any kind of victory (because “we” elected a black man President, or because “we” enacted civil rights). And it’s not up to black people to educate us. It’s not up to them to fight the fight alone anymore. We white people have to step up to the front lines and join our voices to those who have been aware of what’s been going on for decades.

How My Journalism Degree Supports My Marketing Career

I posted this on LinkedIn, and I’m proud of the writing, so I’m posting it here, too.

I’m sure degrees in content management and digital marketing exist. However, way back in 1992 when I graduated from college, the internet was barely a thing.

My BA is in *print* journalism, and while that may sound quaint in this digital age, journalism is the foundation on which I’ve built my current career track.

Journalism taught me how to write short, relevant copy, backed up with supporting facts, and delivered with clean text (with one space after a period!). It taught me that proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are all important, and that fact-checking is not optional.

1. Style

My journalism professor Clark Edwards, God rest his soul, taught an entire semester-long class on the AP Stylebook. I had had a good grasp of grammar and punctuation rules upon entering college; English was my favorite subject in high school, and I already knew I wanted to be a writer. But AP style addressed the very specific needs of the newspaper publishing industry, answering questions about spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, as well as issues regarding libel and media law.

The AP Stylebook is published each year with updates and clarifications. Above all, AP style strives for consistency, clarity, and professionalism. With the exception of the Oxford comma (in which I default to the Chicago Manual of Style), the AP Stylebook is my source for writing standards.

2. Research

Any good news story starts with the right question(s), and then uses supporting facts to answer the questions. It’s important to know how to find the right answers. Journalism taught me about how to decide if a source is reliable, and how to report on facts. Digital marketing, like journalistic reporting, is less about selling or sensationalism. It’s about being a trusted source for information – and telling good stories.

3. Make it interesting

Blog posts are meant to be short and informative. The most important information goes into the first paragraph. Especially now, the way people take in information online, the lede has to immediately prove to be relevant. News writing taught me the reverse pyramid structure: Put the most relevant information (who, why, where, what, how) in the opening paragraph. The following paragraphs should contain important details to support the lede. Ideally, a blog post will be short and to the point, using subheads and numbered or bulleted lists instead of blocks of text, but the delivery structure is the same.

4. Meeting deadlines

Most of the deadlines in digital marketing are self-imposed. We have a social media and blog posting schedule that we have created as a department. But even a self-imposed deadline is a deadline, and as someone who has worked on actual print newspapers, I find deadlines compelling and helpful.

Digital Is Different

All that being said, digital marketing does expand on the basics of journalism and good writing in different ways than contributing to a news site would. The biggest challenge for me as a marketer who uses social media is making the goal to write for people, not for bots. Yes, SEO is important in digital marketing. But if you fill your article with lots of keywords to show up on Google, and make the headline read like clickbait, you aren’t doing your readers a service. [My work blog] isn’t purely meant as a sales tool. It’s about bringing news to our customers, and making them aware that we know and care about the issues that affect them.

Waiting IS the Hardest Part

Writing a book isn’t easy.

It takes a lot of time, and a big commitment to putting in that time. Spending an hour or two a night in front of a computer, trying to get my characters on paper — after spending eight hours at work, and taking care of my family in those other daytime hours — that was HUGE.

But once I did commit, and I had support from my husband and family, I did it. I sat down daily and got the words on the page. Except for Thanksgiving vacation, I mostly wrote at night, sometimes starting as late as 9 p.m.

Part of my 2015 NaNoWriMo experience was spent in Wilmington, NC, for Thanksgiving vacation with my family. My sister had just had a baby, so we were there for that. It was Thanksgiving, so we were there for that. My parents, my brother and his wife and children, my sister and her family, who live in the area, Dan and our children.

And every day — including THANKSGIVING DAY — this group of people LET ME WRITE. I mostly wrote in the mornings that week, with a cup of coffee or two.

That November, I wrote 50,000 words. In the next three months, I added roughly another 20,000.

Then I put the book (working title: Lone Wolf) away for a few months.

The rest I have mentioned here: second draft, line edits, beta readers. Both my beta readers had helpful feedback AND were very kind, so much thanks to them (Cari and Trista). Third draft.

And now it’s the hardest part: querying and waiting.

So: thing I learned about publishing last year at my very first writers conference: an agent, if you do not plan on self-publishing, is a necessary step. An agent is the one who is going to take your book and help you do the final shaping for publication. One does not send to publishers, one queries agents.

One needs a query letter to do that — I have learned a lot about queries, synopses, and pitching in general.

Yeah, I didn’t know that stuff before I wrote a book. It’s actually good I didn’t know too much about the process, because I would have overthought it.

Of course, as I go forward, I have to work very hard not to overthink it.

At this time, I have a handful of (very nice, very polite, and VERY encouraging) rejections under my belt. Rejections are good, it has been pointed out to me; it means I’m doing something. And, they have, to an email, been encouraging, as I said. The gist being: Thank you for querying; this isn’t for us at this time; keep going because someone is going to love it and pick it up.

Yeah, it could just be a form letter, but it’s better than 1. Being ignored and 2. Being told I stink and should throw in the towel.

Speaking of throwing things, I decided to throw my hat in the ring for Pitch Wars as well. In short, Pitch Wars gives writers the opportunity to work with a published author (mentors) to polish a manuscript. Mentors each pick a mentee from the submissions they get, they spend two months shaping the MS, and then there is an agent round.

If you’d like to watch me and other writers freak out about #PitchWars on Twitter, you can go check out that hashtag. Its both fun and masochistic at the same time.

Pitch Wars closes on August 6, and mentees are announced August 24. At this point, I have subbed to three mentors and one mentor team. They get the query and Chapter 1. I am *trying* to not obsessively track the #PWTeaser(s) on Twitter, but sometimes I just have to give in for a few minutes.

It’s out of my control, now: whether I get a mentor, whether I get an agent, whether I get published. And that is a difficult thing to sit with. If I don’t get a mentor, I will just continue querying agents. I gave myself a year, and I started this process in May.

In the meantime, time to get back to that *other* WPI (work in process), another few weeks of 9 p.m. computer time.

No matter what happens, I have written I book. I am working on another book, and I have yet a third in my brain. I can do this part.

And I can wait. I just don’t have to like it.

Is waiting the hardest part for you, too?

Letter to Congress: Health Care, Yet AGAIN


I drafted this letter before the ridiculous vote in the Senate last week. I was on vacation when I tried to publish this, and a little bit behind. But a version of this did get to Senator Toomey, and a thank you to Senator Casey. 

Dear Senator Toomey,
I am writing regarding the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the healthcare bill from the Senate, and about the Senate’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare in general.

Just, stop it.

The BCRA is a disaster of a bill that will hurt Pennsylvanians, not just those who have been able to get healthcare under the ACA. The ACA increased the number of Pennsylvanians who were able to get health insurance, financial security for low-income people, and access to treatment for opioid addiction and mental health issues.

The BCRA is worse than the House bill, the American Health Care Act, which is impression, because the AHCA is pretty terrible. Here is what the BCRA does worse:

  • Kills Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania, leaving the state to cover, over the next three years, 90 percent of the cost of people added to the program. This creates a $3 billion annual funding gap, which would effectively lead our state to dropping the Medicaid expansion program — leading to sick people unable to get care.
  • Reduces funding overall to Medicaid. States will have to make up the difference with their own funds; cut programs by reducing the number of people they serve or the number or health benefits they receive; cut payment rates to providers. This will reduce access to health care for low-income populations.
  • Makes insurance subsidies less generous. This would most affect older, lower-income citizens. A silver plan for seniors under the ACA (with seniors defined as 64 or older) costs $6750 a year in premiums. Under BCRA, that cost nearly triples to $18,250 per year.
  • Consumer protection: BCRA allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions more. It also ends certain essential health benefits at the insurer’s discretion, ending things like maternity care, prescription drug benefits, and addiction treatment.

Don’t pass this bill. Vote no. The President, the leader of your party, has the lowest approval rating of any President, and he’s only six months into his term. Why would you give him a victory at the cost of the people in your state depending on you? You can be a hero, Senator Toomey.

I strongly urge you to vote NO on Trumpcare, and NO on “repeal now and replace later.” Work with your colleagues in the Congress, both moderate Republicans and Democrats, to shore up the ACA, and make it continue to work for the American people, especially the most vulnerable populations, including children, the disabled, and seniors.

Thank you for your time.

Your constituent,
rpm

Source

Give Me Your Money!

Just kidding.

Give the Congenital Heart Walk your money, via my page.

I am walking to raise money. My friends Katrina and Kevin had a little boy who was born with ToF. You can read more about him here. They are pretty great, he is pretty great, and I’d like to do something to help.

Thanks!

ETA: I met my goal! Thanks to all who contributed, especially my father, who donated so much, I actually upped my goal. 😉

Letters to Congress: Health Care, Again

Dear Senator Toomey,
I am contacing you today to ask you to vote AGAINST Trumpcare. It will hurt so many people, including my family. You should work with Senate Democrats to address the weaknesses in Obamacare, instead of trying to ram through this terrible and harmful bill.

Specifically, what I am asking is the following:

  • Vote against any bill that results in anyone losing healthcare coverage
  • Commit to voting against any bill that does not protect people with pre-existing conditions from higher premiums
  • Vote against any bill that eliminates ANY funding for Medicaid

The Republican health care bill that was passed in the House takes health care away from 777,000 Pennsylvanians. More than 300,000 Pennsylvanians will lose Medicaid coverage, and average premiums will increase by more than $1000. This is all unacceptable.
It is time for you to choose your constituents over your party. Pennsylvanians will lose if the ACA is repealed. You could do even more if you would strengthen the ACA, rather than try to get rid of it wholesale.

Dear Senator Casey,
First of all, I want to thank you for all you have done to protect the people of Pennsylvania from the T*ump administration. I’m sure sometimes it feels like an uphill battle. Please know how grateful I am that someone is on our side, rather than rubber-stamping the President’s agenda.

As the Senate Republicans strive to pass their version of the deeply damaging ACHA, I hope we can count on you again to oppose them. What I would like to see from the Democrats in the Senate is the following:

  • Please withhold consent on all Senate business until Republicans hold a public hearing on Trumpcare.

While Obamacare improved coverage for millions of Americans, it does have its weaknesses. Democrats should work on addressing the weaknesses in the law, as well as look at ways to create a single-payer healthcare system. It turns out that Americans like health care! And certainly more Americans approve of Obamacare in its current form that approve of the T*ump administration.

Please continue to resist. We are grateful to you.

H/T to Indivisibleguide.com for giving me the talking points for these communications.

Why I’m Talking About This

On my last blog post, I was challenged. “What gain did you have by posting this?”

I’m pretty sure I was being scolded, but whatever. This is why I blogged about this issue.

1. The most obvious reason: LGTBQ rights are under assault from the right/GOP/fundamentalist Christians, from the top (T*ump administration) on down (parents in my community). Hence,

2. I want LGBTQ children in my life and my children’s lives to know that they have an ally in me.

3. To start discussions, primarily in my household and in my community, about LGBTQ rights and risks.

4. To let parents of LGBTQ children know that I see them.

5. Pursuant to #4, so they know they have an ally who is a fellow parent who cares about their children.
5b. Also pursuant to #4, so they maybe remember that their children have value, regardless of their sexuality or gender. Maybe these parents just need a reminder to think about what it means to accept and support their children, and how best to do that.

6. So my children understand what our role is in the world: to love one another, to show that love, and to treat people with kindness.

7. So my children know I will love and support them no matter what. I have their backs.

(I can safely say that Dan is on board with all of this, especially #7, as well.)

Our children just want to our love and acceptance. I posted “Safe Space” so if children I know don’t find that at home, they know that I see them, I support them, and they can come be in a space without question or judgement.

So to answer the original question: I, personally, don’t have anything to gain. I don’t intend to gain, I intend to give.

Safe Space

Pursuant to our discussion about her hair, Flora also talked about some difficulties some of her friends are having. She says three of her friends have come out to her – and they have also come out to their families, with very discouraging results.

According to Flora, one of her friends came out as bisexual. Her parents have forbidden her to even speak about it at home, and her older sister calls her a schizophrenic. When Flora told me this, I felt like my head was going to catch on fire.

“You tell your friend,” I said, emphatically stabbing the table with my index finger, “that she can come over ANY TIME. Our house is a safe space for her.”

“Yeah, Mom, I already told her,” Flora responded.

Okay then.

I do not understand how a parent can reject a child. Especially on the basis of sexuality or gender identity — not just at this age, but at any age. Don’t they remember how scary this time was in their own lives? Trying to figure out who they were and who they wanted to be? The constant fear of not fitting in, of being rejected, of being alone?

In these years between puberty and adulthood, our children have more questions and insecurities, and do more exploration than they did since they were toddlers. (Apparently, a child learns more between birth and age 3 than for the rest of his/her/their life.) Tweens and teens are seeking their identities, independence, and acceptance. And even though they are pulling away from us parents, they still need us!

  • LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for dating violence and rape
  • LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts, behavior, attempts, and suicide
  • LGBTQ youth report higher rates of bullying and substance abuse
  • LGBTQ youth are at greater risk for homelessness
  • (Source)

If a child at this stage feels unloved, unsupported, and unheard, how much do you bet these risks and behaviors increase?

It will not stand, people. Not as long as I have a roof over my head.

I’m going to need a bigger house.

Copyright for feature image: badboo / 123RF Stock Photo