Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Promotion and Oppression

I woke up at 3:33 this morning. I don't know what that means. At this hour, I don't know what anything means. I am up, though, my brain humming, so as I might as well get out of bed, be useful. I might be okay for the day, to remember and to get ready to atone for all my sins this Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, cause I crashed early, after the curry my friend made for dinner sent me home in a hurry, to lie prostrate, in pain. It was good going down but...If I ever get to India, I'm going to have to bring my own food or go hungry, otherwise I might die in the street. It kills me that I can't eat Indian, cause I love it. But it doesn't love me. It is going to have to be, forever, an unrequited love. I hate those, but there it is.

Yesterday, before the curry felled me, I had an amazing day. I have decided in earnest to more vigorously promote my blog, not that I know how. I've started, though, with my own guerrilla marketing, hitting the streets even harder than usual without a hint of shyness, ramping up the gold star giveaways, writing down the blog name for people who take them excitedly.

Sick of having to dig out a pen, to make my writing legible enough to read, I in desperation designed a slap-dash business card with newly-mustached Win at 7th Avenue Copy Shop. He patiently but proddingly moved me through the various fonts until I found one that fit me. As I've said before on these pages, I don't make decisions easily. The line of customers waiting, sighing, around me made me go more quickly than usual with my instinct, with the one whose name had made me laugh the most. As it turned out, I loved it. "Yummy Apology" it is called, who knows why. But it's swirly and, indeed, yummy. I'd love to meet the people who design fonts, who name them. They definitely deserve gold stars.

The great thing is that, in my newfound aggressiveness, I have noticed so many deserving people. In fact, it is hard not to just stand on a street corner, like the hawkers of the new sports drinks or energy bars I wrote about at Advertising Age for so long, and hand stars out to whomever I see. I could easily stand in front of Methodist Hospital and give stars to all the doctors and nurses and technicians and janitors. I'm going to say it straight up: aesthetically, as a daily office environment, hospitals suck. I can only hope that the idea of doing good work saves these people from focusing on the depressing lighting, the strong anaseptic smell masking the stink of the sick. It is a far cry from Anthropology, let's just say that.

But I don't just use scrubs as a reasoning, even if I should. I walk past the hospital without stopping. I shy away from giving out stars willy nilly because they have to be given out for a specific act, in a specific moment to really work, to really resonate. And, anyway, I only have so much energy to expend, so many stories of people's lives that I can take in, that you can take in. I think that, as witty and insightful as I try to be, there is a small catchment zone between the tipping point and jumping the shark. I must navigate carefully. Readers, even readers of blogs, have lives. So, ostensibly, do I, though mine has been ignored during my push. The breakfast dishes from yesterday, with now-dried apple slices and remnants of Life cereal, stare at me from across the table as a reminder that I have been remiss at my housewifely duties, so too the empty-of-all-but-rotting-food refrigerator and the disgustingly dirty white-painted-wood kitchen floor. My super was right during the renovation, painting this floor white was completely ill-conceived.

But enough about me. Yesterday's star receivers were an amazing lot. First, there was the woman who I heard from behind me in Red Horse Cafe thanking another woman profusely for the seat she was giving up, the one that the gracious thanker had been "coveting forever." I laughed and turned around.

"Really?" I said. "How long has it been that you've been wanting to sit there?"

She smiled, "Weeks," she said, shifting her computer from the high counter, herself from a backless stool onto the coveted corner table and chair, respectively.

She was cool, I could tell. She proffered something about how getting the seat she wanted was a good sign for the day, an otherwise bad-omen day that she called something I didn't recognize, can't remember, some universal sign she said, "I used to not believe in, but now I do..."

I got it. I feel the exact same way as I age, holding greater and greater stock in theories I once dismissed, explanations that seemed too strange to be true that I now pray could shed light on at least some of the things I can't understand.

I gave her a gold star and one to the woman who had given her the precious place to do her work, sans backache.

She loved her star, touched it appreciatively, and, siezing the opportunity, in full promotion mode, I told her about the blog.

"Oh, good, can you write about my movie?" she asked enthusiastically in a fabulous English accent. I have to get used to this barter of services, this tit for tat. With people and things I believe in, it shouldn't be hard. I don't know anything about the movie, but I'm willing to believe, based on her seeming savvy, that it's good.

"Sure," I said, "what's it called?"

"It's called 'As Good as Dead'," she said. "We're going to have some secret screenings, to get reviews, to get the word out."

I just shook my head, frustrated. It's crazy. I am amazed in my travels, in talking to the tons and tons of talented artistic people in my neighborhood, in Park Slope, that I hear every day how hard it is to promote one's art, even when you're a somewhat known quantity, even when, as in this case, your film has a big star, Andie McDowell.

My gold star recipient was a producer of the movie, she said, with an Israeli partner. I had noticed the kafia she wore, the scarf that symbolizes, to many, support of the Palestinian plight.

"Did you say your partner was Israeli?" I asked.

"Yes, so is my husband," she said.

"Aaah...Well, I noticed your scarf?!" I questioned hesitantly, but she didn't skip a beat.

"Yes," she said, "I wore it today because I'm angry at both of them."

I died laughing, wishing in that moment, I told her, that I'd waited to give her her gold star til now. Hilarious. I think often of my Lebanese friend, his mother a Palestinian, who came back to New York after a vacation in Beirut to deal with his faltering band and its Israeli leader, wearing a kafia. I always say that politics are incredibly personal and it is proven to me again and again.

We exchanged information, my new friend and I, e-mailing one another from our side-by-side tables, and both went back to our respective efforts to promote our work.

Strangely enough, although it's hardly strange to me anymore, this crazy kizmet I have to think about someone and then see them (my small neighborhood helps), I next ran into my temple's Hebrew School coordinator, a beautiful girl, bright-eyed in every sense of the phrase, who recently returned from Israel's West Bank where she was working on The Palestine Education Project, an organization of educators and artists from New York, Beirut and Ramallah that develop interactive workshops for high school students and youth groups using hip hop and other creative ways to raise awareness of the Palestinian struggle and connect it to the similar struggles of oppressed communities in the U.S. This summer, she had told me, she brought a group of Native Americans with her to Gaza to connect them with Palestinian refugees. Amazing. Big gold star to her (actual) and all involved (virtual). These are not easy tasks, solving world hatred and oppression, no walk in the park. Though walks in the park with people from the opposing side might very well help...

The clock reads 5:55 now, right as I look at it. I don't know what that means. Hopefully you are not as tired and bleary as I. I guess if you were, you'd have stopped reading this incredibly long blog entry by now. But I don't digress. This was all in a day's work. I will end on the last gold star of the day, given to a stressed-out first-time mom who I saw standing, ordering, at the counter at Hanco's, a new place I'd gone for a Vietnamese sandwich. The fact that there are not one but two Vietnamese sandwich places that have sprung up recently within blocks of my apartment when I looked for years for one near my office, googling "Vietnamese sandwich New York" in vain on many days when I suddenly thought of its fresh pork and cilantro flavor, is, again, a matter of kizmet I now take for granted. But I do digress here, away from the panicked new mother.

As I watched this woman, bouncing, as I used to do, on her feet to keep her dangling baby happy in her Baby Bjorn, the Vietnamese girl behind the counter said to her, with a smile, "Your baby, she looks so angry!"

I could hear in the mother's response how the comment wrecked her, "But I always hear how happy she looks..." she faltered, questioning. I put my head in my hands. Really? Really? Even if you're young, even if you don't have kids, even if you're not from this country, you should know better than to tell a new, angst-ridden mom that her baby, facing forward so she can't see her, looks "angry." With force, I jumped out of my seat with a star.

Quiet, quiet as I can be, so as not to insult the insulter, I handed her the star to counter the counter-girl's upsetting remark and offered up what I hoped were comforting words.

"I am SURE your baby isn't angry," I said. "She is adorable."

As the woman turned to directly face me, gratitude in her worried eyes, I had to stop myself from laughing. The baby's downturned pout did, indeed, look slightly angry. But I'm sure she wasn't. She is too young to understand all the things she should be angry about.

The mother placed the star right in the middle of the Baby Bjorn, right within baby-finger-grabbing distance.

"Um, maybe you should put the star somewhere else, so she doesn't put it in her mouth?" I suggested gently. I didn't want to kill the kid before she had her chance to be angry.

The mom looked down, thanked me for the idea, moved the star. She shook her head.

"There is so much you don't even know about to think about," she said.

"I know," I said, "Oh, I know." All we can do is try.

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