Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flu Shots

I think I got my first flu shot when I was in the Army. As the member of a medical unit, our commander ordered everyone who wasn’t allergic to eggs, to get one. It seemed reasonable enough at the time. When you’re stacked four to a room in the barracks, you become very cognizant of contagion. So after three years of such conditioning it always seemed to be a given: after October 15th the uniform is sleeves down and a small band aide on the spot where you got your shot. I continued the precaution after I left the medical unit, and into civilian life. It just became a given. The one year I skipped it, caught the flu, and was on my back for almost 3 weeks, so suffice it to say, I learned my lesson.

This year, Flu Season has finally gained magna status in the news cycle. The H1N1 strain has caught our attention. To date, as many as 5000 people have succumbed to this infection, and it seems that children are the most vulnerable among us. It’s actually not uncommon for people to die of Flu, but normally it’s the elderly or those who were somehow weakened to begin with who fall victim to the viral killer.
Although the cynical side of me would say, “yeah sure, it’s only a problem when cute people die,” the reality is that we may very well have a pandemic on our hands. So, go ahead and pass over that hand sanitizer.

On October 24th, the President made if official. The 2009 Flu season is officially a National Emergency. This move was apparently to ensure that communities could get any support needed from the feds if things start to get out of hand. I have to admit. It had the desired effect. Monday morning I took my kids to our health care provider for their shot. We arrived forty minutes early, only to line up behind approximately 50 who had gotten there before us. Many were like me, the parents of school-aged children, a disproportionate amount of which wore uniforms or some other indicator of private school. This made me wonder if private schools were making the flu shot a requirement, or if this observation was more indicative of which families have access to health care. By the time a friendly young medical assistant started handing out clipboards with questionnaires, the number of people waiting had increased two fold.

As my children grew more and more anxious over thoughts of needles, I answered basic medical questions about allergies, age, medical conditions and pregnancy status. The latter was a resounding no on all three questionnaires. And then the line began to move towards the temporary tents set up in the hospital’s parking garage. Nurses in brightly patterned scrubs checked paperwork and medical cards, placed indicative stickers on paperwork and pointed patients in the towards the tents, adults on the right, families on the left.

At this point my kids are mock debating over who should go first. “Well you’re the first-born,” my younger one says. “But I put my brother’s welfare ahead of my own,” the older one replies. The nurse actually seemed amused. It turned out I was asked to go first, to show the kids how it’s done.

But before I did, I actually got questioned, “Why do you need the H1N1?”

“Um…because I have kids,” I answered. “Plus I commute on public transit!” I quickly added. That seemed to be the right answer, because I was promptly poked with two needles.

The 14-year-old was next. He immediately started talking rapidly to stall. “How much do I really need this?” He asked.

“Well,” I said. “You can get a flu shot or I can describe sexually transmitted diseases to you again.” With that his sleeve immediately went up. When it was over, he said he didn’t even feel it.

The 11-year-old mimicked his brother by stalling, but I knew better. Of the two, it’s the younger one that has the high pain threshold. A quick poke and a staccato “YOUCH!” later and we were done.

Leaving the tent, I was relieved that neither the process nor the immunizations were particularly painful, and I took note at how lucky our family is to be able to prepare for such things. And although the line was now easily 200 people long, I didn’t doubt that most of those waiting would have the same feeling when they were done as well.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blogging and Community Dialogue in Real Life

Thanks to the current era of communication and technology, blogs, social networking and websites have created new facets of what we call community. And although this often takes place in the ether world, more and more, online communities are meeting up in person to talk about the ways they communicate and how to enhance the messages that are shared.

Blogger Beast is such an event that I'm currently blogging from in Oakland. This meet up/workshop/camp is part of the programming of the Public Media Collaborative (PMC) a collection of folks and projects that focus on community based journalism and media projects. I first became associated with this group about 9 months ago. Everyone involved is interested in discovering new ways to to use the internet as a soapbox or megaphone.

It seems that in many ways the internet and the self-publish culture that it cultivates has produced an entire nation of people anxious to articulate. After generations of participating in passive communication propagated by radio and television, we have embraced this new medium in which we are no longer required to simply be docile receivers. We are now in fact creators of words, pictures, videos and our own stories. The previously squelched repertory tradition of tales and legends have been revived with a click of the share button. There are quite literally millions of blogs, hundreds if not thousands of blogging tools and seemingly no end to blogging subjects. Who knew we had so much to say? But, this begs the question: What are we really saying, and does it make a difference?

Apparently it does. More and more journalism outlets look to the "non-traditional" blogosphere for source material. In fact some blogging sites have become news outlets themselves. Huffington Post comes to mind and so does a new sight that some peers at PMC launched this week, . This project is a new media hybrid hyper-local news site that also includes community resources and organizations, and links to other community blogs. It's intended to be a jumping off point for all things Oakland.

The difference between and traditional news sites is that embraces the whole community real and online by linking it's readers to brick and mortar community organizations as well as online commentary written by those on the ground. They also produce top notch news content written by seasoned journalists many of whom were discharged by print publications that clearly value profit over quality of content.

Yes, this is a site created by friends, but even if it weren't I would still consider the model they have created to be cohesive, elegant and cognoscente of the era we live in: a new hybrid of the ether and empirical world. I believe it will be the new trend in community dialogue. It's at least one of the reasons 100+ bloggers show up on a Saturday to meet each other in real life.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thoughts that take me back to the playa

At some point you realize that your all grown up and in the midst of life. I had that realization as I made my way through former classmates at our 20 year class reunion. Despite my perceived unpopularity, many more people remembered me than I anticipated. And recounting life since high school wasn't quite as traumatic as I thought it would be. Some actually knew what I'd been up to. They read the bio I sent in. And the curious asked, "What's Burning Man like?"

"Amazing." Was my typical response. Explaining what it's like on the playa to those who have only vaguely heard of it was invigorating. "It's a festival of self expression," I would say. "We have a gift economy, there's no selling or buying of anything, our ethos is radical self reliance, radical self expression, and leave no trace." My favorite part is when I tell people I take my kids. The disbelief is palpable, and I can see the inner struggle people have in deciding whether or not this ia a good thing. I do my best to assure them it is.

But this year was my kid-free burn. Despite that, I still maintained many of my mit-kinder behaviors. On the day of the Burn I went to visit the Temple. If there is any place on the playa that's sacred, the temple is that place...and we burn that too. The temple is always beautiful, always emotional and always a safe place to cry. People bring their remembrances of lost love ones, of lost ideals, and lost causes. Many write messages on the temple itself to the dearly departed, or sometimes to the not so dearly departed. Sometimes people take things there that they want to let go. I heard one woman nailed her wedding dress to the temple this year to symbolize the freedom gained in a rather messy divorce.

I stayed at the temple a while, but needed someplace else to hang so I could eat lunch. It didn't feel right to lay out my spread there. So, I got on my bike and headed aimlessly onto the playa following a recently made road that obviously led somewhere. What it lead to was this art installation made up of cardboard mailing tubes that stuck out at all angles. Within the piece was an area with carpets and cushions...the perfect chill spot.

As I sat eating my lunch of nuts, dried fruit, wasa bread and carrots, others came in and joined me. We talked about our day, our lives, the temple and the playa. The overall consensus was that it was a very mellow year and that this was preferable. I got more playa hugs and after a while headed out to see more art.

When I got back to camp I decided to take a nap. I knew from experience that to make it to the burn I would need some rest. It was a heavy sleep in my warm van and the only cover I had was the sound of houling wind creating scattered white outs all over the playa.

When I finally forced myself to get up the wind was at full strength and the playa was in white out. I dressed and supplied myself appropriately, and headed out on foot this time, having had enough of trying to ride my bike on what was now very loose powdery playa. Walking through the white out, I sensed a shared expectation that this was the night we burn the man. People were bustling all over the city, putting on their finest regalia, make up, and glow lights. This was it. This was the night we came here for.

The dust was thick from the relentless wind. I decided to head to Earth Guardians to sit it out. Besides they always had good intellegence on when the man would burn. Earth Guardians are on the playa to educate the city about their impact as we celebrate. They encourage people to pick up MOOP, and make as little of a foot print as possible. And most importantly to Leave No Trace when we leave.

I found my friend Lokie in their bar and sat down to wait with the others. Every year it seems, the same thing happens. There is a horrendous dust storm on Saturday before the burn, and rumors circulate on whether or not the man will burn. He always does. Those of us who know this sit among friends in a sheltered place and imbibe.

As soon as the wind stops everyone heads towards the man. I hesitate. Waiting for the man to Burn can seem eternal, and tiring. I tend to stay back from the crowd so I have a better view. Once I do head out toward the man I avoid the throngs of revelers and instead find a spot where I can sit leaned up against an art piece. My view is great, and I am left to my thoughts as I wait.

My thoughts recount the week, the month, and the year since the last time I sat waiting for this symbol of what I haven't decided to make it's fantastic demise. So much has happened since then, I think. Deep in thought I only scarcely acknowledge others who come by and nod in acknowledgment.

Finally my thoughts are interrupted as the fireworks begin shooting off around the man. The crowd roars and I sit back to watch the show. Fireworks shoot off from behind the man, from his arms and into the dark sky above. Everyone is cheering, but I just sit back and observe and try to take well timed pictures. Then, seemingly out of know where there's a giant explosion. When the ball of fire clears, the man stands before us on fire. Now we wait has his demise is fueled by a light breeze. Every time another piece of the man falls to what I imagine is a growing pile of charred wood below him, the crowd cheers. This man, is exceptionally resilient. It's a good 45 minutes before his torso falls and all that's left of him are a strange triangle that were once his legs.

As the crowd begins to disperse to celebrate, I move closer in. I want to get close enough to feel the warmth of the fire. I manage to get all the way up to the barrier and look pensively at the fire that slowly eats away at the reason we all came. When I've had my fill of thought I turn and head directly to Jazz Cafe, where I stay with great comfort listening to musicians covered in dust play to their heart's content.