Places We Like: The Back Room, Berkeley, CA

I missed the whole 1960s-hippies-coffeehouse-folk music thing. For me, the 1960s was learning to tie my shoes (some day I’ll tell you my penny loafer story, but let’s just say it wasn’t easy to learn shoe tying when one parent was right-handed and the other was left-handed), reading, playing with my dog and trying to “fly up” from Brownie to Girl Scout.  Weird my parents might have been, but they weren’t going to let their five-year-old hang out with the hippies at the coffee house. I saw that stuff on tv and in movies.

But guess what? If, like me, you missed out on the 60s or you were there and you’re nostalgic, or you just like seeing music in small venues where you can actually hear and nobody’s blocking your view by standing on a chair, you’re in luck, if you can get to Berkeley, CA. Next time you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, make time to go to a show at The Back Room.

It’s got that funky, comfortable feeling, brick walls, sofas (they also have some tables and chairs in the back). It’s “intimate,” both in the usual way that word is used to describe a venue (small) and in a real, accessible, welcoming way. My friend Janice and I saw James Lee Stanley there (and James Lee Stanley is a whole separate post, or will be), and it was all kinds of fun. The overall feeling is of seeing a performer at a house party. In the case of James, he chatted with the audience, asked for (and got) requests… it felt more like watching a friend perform in his living room than, say, an arena show. You feel like an insider.

This is a venue that, based on our visit, deserves to thrive. It’s fairly new, so I’m hoping people get the word and try it, so it continues. If you live in the area, you’re in luck. If not, but you want to visit San Francisco in the future, make sure you bookmark their website, which is here: backroommusic.com

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Love Bead Safe Harbor Pin Project: Finding Your Tribe

This project is about human interaction and conscious choices.

You’ve found a project you’re passionate about. You think you’d be good at it. You’re excited! You tell your friends and family and… pfffft, the air goes out of the balloon. Nobody’s interested. What now?

This has happened to me more than once over the years, so I feel you. The natural feeling, when you’re excited about something, is that the people around you will see how great it is and get excited about it, too. Or at least be excited for you. You’re hoping for encouragement, for someone else to be excited for you, happy that you’re happy. If you run headfirst into a wall of indifference, it can bring your momentum to a halt. There you stand, looking around, baffled and hurt — why doesn’t anybody seem to give a fig? Don’t they care about you?

I used to let that stop me. If the people around me weren’t interested, then ( so I thought) either (1) whatever I was excited about wasn’t important, or not “worthy,” or (2) I wasn’t important or worthy. That is not true, and here’s why.

People who like you like you. They may or may not like your work, or be interested in the same things you are. They may enjoy your company and think you’re great and still not get your work. I have a couple of really good friends who, so far as I can tell, don’t get what I do. Everything isn’t for everyone, just as every person isn’t for everyone. I don’t much care for cauliflower, or the paintings of Jackson Pollock. This doesn’t mean that cauliflower is bad, or that Jackson Pollock’s paintings aren’t “worthy.” It means that neither does much for me.

Yet I might have liked Jackson Pollock, and I can like someone who is passionate about the paintings of Jackson Pollock (a passion for cauliflower might be harder to take. I really don’t like the smell). The people who like you have found something they enjoy, or admire, or both, in you. But they might look at your painting, or whatever your project is, and be mystified, or disinterested. It doesn’t move them — you do.

The flip side of this is that you shouldn’t let their reactions determine how you view your project. Get it out there and let your work find its tribe. Chances are there will be someone who will look at it and know just what you were trying to do, and be excited about it. Just as you have your tribe, so will your work.

Case in point… I put together an art show for a local radio station. Eight artists were involved (including me). It was, by design, a range of styles, disciplines and media. Everything from painting and sculpting to jewelry and clothing. The reception was a crush, a great crowd, many of them very enthusiastic. But there was one man, nicely-dressed, who looked over the gallery and asked, “Why jewelry? Why clothes? I understand why you’d include sculpture and painting, but,” and here he actually sniffed in disdain, “why would you include crafts?” And he said “crafts” with great condescension.

The inclusion of jewelry and clothing was deliberate, I explained. Personal ornamentation is one of the oldest forms of art, possibly the oldest. Most major museums have collections of jewelry and clothing. He wasn’t convinced, but said that it did offer “the uneducated” something they could “understand,” which was “probably clever” on my part. (*sigh*). So he clearly didn’t get it. That didn’t make my choices wrong. Most of the people at the show didn’t even question the “why” of that, and enjoyed the show.

My latest project, the Love Bead Safe Harbor Pin Project? Most people who know me could not possibly care less about it. They like me, but they aren’t interested in my work or this project. But over 500 people so far are. They get it. They understand that those little pins are a symbol of an important idea. They think the pins are fun. They get that the pins start conversations. They like the idea of deciding, consciously, to try to treat other people, even people they might not understand or approve of, with respect. They are my project’s “tribe.”

The “Access To Health Care” Pin

The acceptance rate for the pins is about 91%. Nine out of ten people offered pins accepted them. Their reactions range from mildly pleased to very enthusiastic. I get to have interesting, challenging, enjoyable conversations with so many people about respect, who we give it to and why, what it means… all because of a pair of little, beaded safety pins in a packet. Another artist said she thought this was “the most important work of social art” she had heard of in years, and I’m still dumbfounded by that. People hug me. They tell me their stories. Parents talk to their kids about respect. It has been amazing — and had I not put it out there, I’d have missed it.

Yes, you might put your work out there and it might prove hard to find its tribe. But for sure you won’t find that tribe if you don’t try. People can’t want what they can’t conceive of, and they can’t conceive of your project before you put it out there. If the people in your life don’t get it, accept that and keep moving.

The people who like you, but don’t get your work? Appreciate the role they play in your life, even if it’s just to enjoy your company. You need them. It’s great to have people like your work… but it’s just as great to have people like you as a person. On days when the work just won’t cooperate, you’ll be glad to have someone who, independent of your work, looks forward to talking to you, to seeing you.

And when you do find people who get your work, listen to them! Let the opinions of people who have experienced what you’re trying to do weigh more than those who haven’t. When I would get discouraged, my husband Mark kept saying, “Listen to  the people who have experienced what you’re doing and told you that it meant something to them. They know what you’re doing.” They are my project’s tribe, and I wouldn’t have found them if I hadn’t taken a chance that they might be out there.

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Pin Tales: The Waitress

This project is about human interaction — how we choose to treat other people.

With thanks to Janice Jow, who suggested writing down and sharing the stories of The Love Bead Safe Harbor Pin Project.

This is the story of The Waitress.

My friend and I went out for brunch one Sunday. My friend is learning to drive  (which is badass when you never planned to learn and didn’t especially want to, but you just got a job you like and they want you to drive).  When we go out now, she drives at least part of the time, and we stop to eat.

We went to a diner, ate, caught up on what was going on in our lives, and laughed.  I approached the register, making my way through the crowd.

The waitress who had pulled cash register duty was young, maybe mid-20s, with big, serious eyes and dark hair pulled into a ponytail, which is close to being the Universal Waitress Hairdo (I used to be a waitress, years ago, and almost all of the younger waitresses wore their hair that way. It’s a practical thing). She glanced at the Love Bead Safe Harbor pin on my blouse. “I really like that,” she said quietly.

She wasn’t familiar with Safe Harbor pins (most people I meet aren’t), but said she really liked the idea. I offered her a set of pins, holding out several types. I explained that one was Civil Rights and Social Justice, one was Women’s Rights, and the rainbow set was LGBTQI Rights. She bent closer and pointed to the rainbow set. “I’d like to have those, please.” Her voice was almost a whisper.

I get it. You have to be careful when you work with the public. Some people feel it is their bound duty to give you their unsolicited opinions about how you live your life (instead of, say, keeping their opinions to themselves and going about their own lives. Whenever people do that, I want to ask for all the details about their lives so I can pass judgement on them. I should get to have fun, too).

She took the pins, met my eyes, and said, “Thank you.”

My friend and I left the restaurant. Not everyone is in a position to bravely trumpet their beliefs everywhere they go. If putting food on the table, or paying for school, or other necessities of life depend on not offending people, your march is harder than that of someone who won’t lose much by standing up. Which means that standing up is all the more important for anyone who can, because then you’re standing up for yourself, and for someone not so fortunate.

She picked those pins, making her public commitment to the importance of people treating each other with true respect, in a time and place when it wasn’t easy for her to do that. Sometimes heroics are quiet, life-affirming acts taken by people for whom standing up at all is hard.

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Love Bead Safe Harbor Pin Project: Moving Forward

Love Bead Safe Harbor Pin set honoring “girl geeks” and “maker mamas!”

The big push is done (the large-scale pin giveaways) after three cities, but LBSHPP is far from over.  Here’s what’s in the works (so far):

  • A free workshop at a charity in Sacramento. Date and time TBA, but probably in July;
  • Pins for Progress, a fundraiser. We’ll be offering sets of pins in our Etsy shop (which is under construction right now). You can buy a set of pins *and* make a donation to charity! Each pin set will be $10, with 25% being split between Opening Doors, a charity helping refugees resettle in their new homes, and Mustard Seed School, helping kids from homeless families. One note — we can ship up to 8 sets in one envelope for one shipping price ($5 in the USA, message for the shipping rates outside the US) and more in a box (message for shipping rate). Date TBA, but within the next few weeks;
  • A video showing how to make your own set of pins. Date TBA, probably by the end of the summer;
  • We’ll continue to carry a few sets with us, so if you meet us, ask for a set of pins!

In the first phase of the project, we gave away over 1,000 pins (wow… it became larger than I ever expected), but the project was largely self-funded, so we had to look at how we could continue. This way, we can keep helping others and spreading the word!

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Field Guide to Love Bead Safe Harbor Pins: The Women’s Rights Pin

A Field Guide To The Love Bead Safe Harbor Pin

If you’re new to the Love Bead Safe Harbor Pin and you see one “in the wild,” on someone on the street, in a restaurant, at school, at work, or any of the places you might find cool people, you might wonder if there’s any significance to the color, or the charm hanging from the pin. The answer? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

The safety pin is what makes it a “safe harbor” pin. So no matter the color or decoration, it’s still a Safe Harbor Pin. The rest is about standing up for a special cause that is close to your heart. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about anything else, just that this particular cause is one you’re especially passionate about, or is especially relevant to your life, or in the lives of people you know.

The Women’s Rights Pin:

I’ve really never understood why some people think being a feminist is a bad thing. I keep hearing women say, “Oh, I’m not a feminist!,” as though to assure other people they aren’t dangerous, or contagious. One day, I engaged a young woman in conversation, just asking what it was about feminism she didn’t like. This was only a couple of years ago, mind you. She said something like, “Well, I like men!”

I nodded. “So do I, the nice ones, anyway.” I asked her if she thought people should be paid for doing the same work, about as well. “Sure!” But, I protested, men have to support families. Women don’t. “What?,” she protested. “There are a lot of women who have kids and aren’t married, you know.”  Yes, I admitted, I suppose that’s true. But what about child care? Women should be home taking care of their kids, right? “Most women can’t,” she said. “They have to work.”  And some might want to work, I added. “Right.” But it doesn’t matter much what child care you use or how expensive it is. She looked at me like I was nuts. I had to laugh. “You’re a feminist,” I told her.

She really didn’t know. You might think everyone knows this stuff by now, but a lot of people don’t. They don’t know that at its base, feminism is about women being treated not like men, but on an equal basis with men. That how you are treated and what your options are shouldn’t be determined by your gender, whether you are male or female, in your personal or your professional life. The only two jobs I can think of that are gender-specific are sperm donor and surrogate mother.

There are, however, problems that are either unique to one gender or the other, or far more common for one gender or the other. You are far, far more likely to be raped if you’re female, for example. Breast cancer can hit either sex but is more common in women. Ovarian cancer? Women, obviously. So while feminism is really for any reasonable person, there are a few “women’s issues.” Women still lag behind men in pay for the same jobs, and you can debate how much the disparity is, but that’s not the important issue. It’s that women are paid less, not how much less.

Health care? An issue for everyone, but there are certain things that strike women more. Lack of access to contraceptives. Prenatal care. Lack of access to screenings like pap smears and mammograms that can catch disease when it’s early and treatable.  By the way… Planned Parenthood? Its most common services, by far, are health checks for women who either can’t afford or don’t have access to other sources of health care. So defunding  Planned Parenthood sentences a lot of women with low incomes to illness and death.

Rape? Do I even need to spell this one out, with the slap-on-the-wrist trial of a college athlete who dragged an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and raped her fresh in our minds? Yep, “She was asking for it because she (went there at all/wore what she was wearing/danced/you name it)” is still alive and well. Women are being held accountable for men’s choices. If I said, “I bashed him on the head, but it’s his fault because he walked past me dressed (fill in the blank) and he had a head,” I’d be sent to jail so fast my own head would spin. But rape kits expire untested and judges give offensively mild sentences and the justification is always that the victim was responsible for the choices of her attacker.

Child care? Women still get tasked with the bulk of the responsibility for child care, but this is an issue everybody can rally around . For most women, not working isn’t an option. The family needs their income. So access to affordable, quality child care is an issue that hits women, men, children, employers, everyone. Remember, we will live in the world those kids run. We need them sane, healthy, educated and safe. Employers need those women on the job, not taking off work because they can’t find child care. Any man worth the name wants his kids safe and healthy. Even if you don’t have kids, you can get behind this one.

Childhood education and nutrition? Another “everybody in/everybody wins” issue. We will grow old in the world that these kids will grow up to run. And once they reach young adulthood, our economy will count on them being employable, and employed. Which means we all need those kids educated, healthy and ready to work. Think you don’t need to worry about this because you have no kids, or you have money so your kids are okay? What planet will you be living on where you don’t need other people to do things? When I’m older, I want to be surrounded by people who are educated, healthy, employed and don’t have any reason to clobber me and steal my purse.

There’s probably at least one issue on that list that you can get behind, which would make you… take a deep breath… a feminist.

That’s why we have a “Women’s Rights” pin. So women and men who really do like women (not just want them) can say that they believe a woman’s life is as valuable as a man’s, and women shouldn’t suffer or be penalized for being female. Sounds pretty “Well, duh, of course!,” but it’s still a problem.

 

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