Friday, December 17, 2010

What Brand Are You?

I've finally posted What Brand Are You? to the world wide web. Dubbed “a visual rollercoaster through the dizzying world of pop-culture,” and “investigative journalism on party drugs,” by The Sydney Morning Herald’s arts writer Tracey Clement, What Brand Are You? is a 30 minute hybrid documentary that merges MTV music video with broadcast journalism to explore personal happiness in a consumer society and our emotional relationship with brands.

What Brand Are You? from Marlo McKenzie on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pennies Add Up

I was riding on Bart, and in the aisle next to my seat, there were two shiny pennies on the floor. I noticed, but it didn't cross my mind that I might just reach down and pluck them, essentially making myself 2 cents richer, for nothing other than the fact that I noticed and bothered to scoop them up. Just as I was contemplating the discarded pennies, a man wearing a Bart uniform swooped down and picked them up. Maybe he caught the startled look on my face, I'm not sure what made him stop, but he did. He stopped and told me his penny story.

I ride Bart all the time, San Francisco's "bay area rapid transportation." One thing I've noticed is that in Bart stations and on the trains themselves,  somehow people seem to drop or lose or discard their pennies. I'm not saying Bart is swimming in pennies, but there are enough pennies around that I've noticed. The man said that once he found a row of pennies. He laid his recent catch of pennies onto the empty seat next to mine, spreading them out as if they were a deck of cards. There were four or five pennies just sitting there on the seat, like someone was just picking them out of their wallet because they were in the way. I pick them all up he said. I put them in a jar at home.  He smiled, he had a beautiful smile, dimples, bright eyes, a handsome man. And then he wrapped his fingers tight around his pennies and said, "they add up," and continued on.

His message sunk in, maybe not the way he intended it, but I knew that each of the pennies he picked up was more than a penny, it was a symbol for something much bigger. It was a symbol for the way each of our small acts add up. Sometimes we have a dream, and even though we're taking steps toward it, it feels too slow, or we get lost and in the worst case, even think about giving up. But we shouldn't give up, because if we keep working on our dream — gathering the pennies — one by one, in time we'll notice our jar is almost full and what we've set out to do is almost realized, or if it's an ongoing project, we'll see that we have really made a lot of progress and that such a satisfying feeling.

So the moral of the story is, even though they're small, pennies add up. I hope that you, have the courage and strength to continue to pick up your pennies and happy holidays to you!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fire in San Bruno

At 6:30pm today, as far as I knew, a plane had crashed into my home in San Bruno. Michael and I heard that news from our landlord's panicked call as we were driving home from San Francisco, and for a long minute we were horrified until we realized it was clearly just a prank. (A rather mean prank). I felt huge relief at that thought, until Michael pointed out that our landlord Tina, had NEVER pranked us, in the two years we've lived at our first floor in-law. Our faces then turned back into horror, Michael stepped on the gas, I thought I might pass out and the smoke billowed over San Bruno hill, just tempting enough for us to nearly COLLIDE with another car, though Michael quickly adjusted his eyes to the road. We both screamed, an inner wail of, what if, it's true? What if I just lost every "thing" I own and the roof over my head?

I pulled up SFGate on my phone but it had NO news. Then we were both like, DUH, twitter IS the breaking NEWS. Right? Of course, twitter requires some filtering. It had conflicting news. The fire was either caused by a plane, or it wasn't caused by a plane. I refreshed and CBS5 had tweeted, it is NOT a plane. (And it turns out a natural gas line ruptured.) I navigated to their site and found the exact streets where the fire is.

It IS burning just down the hill from my home. Our local grocery, Lunardi's was turned into a temporary parking lot for every police car, ambulance vehicle and firetruck in what looked like the ENTIRE Bay area.

San Bruno has been a very interesting place to live regarding a disaster now and then. A plume of black smoke erupted over the airport not too long ago. Fires broke out over the San Bruno mountains just last summer. I can already feel the bad jokes about an earthquake being next.

ABC 7 news on the web reports that about 45 homes may be affected. It reminds you how fragile life can be and how there is no excuse not to respect, love, enjoy and honor every single minute of it!

The sky is dark now and the fire is burning low. The planes have stopped circling, though the firetrucks continue to work below. The ABC is sharing news about the people who have lost their homes and I am thinking of them now, their lives altered, may they find some hope in the wreckage.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Styrofoam Spill

I'm facing a moral and environmental dilemma and I'm not sure what to do.
Earlier today I was ready to march up to my landlord's door, (let's call him Russell) and um, and, yes I would...well, and my plan got stuck there at inception because what would I do?
Berate him for cutting squares of Styrofoam into rounded shapes with such abandon that the Styrofoam coated the backyard, making it look as if a fake snow had just fallen? Should I point out that it's not good for his son to inhale Styrofoam? (Because, it wasn't Russell, who cut the Styrofoam, but his 16 year old son, who regularly breathes in all of those tiny Styrofoam balls into his young body as he shapes piece after piece.) Was I to cry about my small garden patch that now has Styrofoam pieces littering it? Was I to hand him facts about Styrofoam (one word: TOXIC) and suggest Styrofoam alternatives? Then ask if I could borrow one of his (many!) tools to fix something? Hi you morally bankrupt Styrofoam spilling MONSTER, can I borrow your handy box of tools?

Watch the video evidence here:

Russell owns a flower shop and he cuts A LOT of Styrofoam ALL the time, usually indoors where it flies all over the garage or his own living room and I have had enough. Enough with the Styrofoam! Isn’t there a law that bans Styrofoam or at least, only allows for one Styrofoam encounter per family, per year? Did you order take out Chinese? They gave you Styrofoam? That’s it friends!! No more Styrofoam or you will face the Styrofoam nay-sayers. Yes, they will boo and hiss at you until you decide you will not use Styrofoam anymore, or face eternal unpopularity.
After I exhausted all avenues of how best to approach Russell about his regular Styrofoam spills,  I digressed into thoughts of all of my own Styrofoam sins, including but not limited to, buying packages on Ebay that contain a mother-load of Styrofoam peanuts (which I reuse by mailing them to someone else but still), the veggie tempura “bird’s nests” I purchase at Trader Joes  are packaged in Styrofoam. I have heated noodles packaged in Styrofoam cups and accepted Styrofoam plates and cups of coffee in my lifetime. I remember that! Guilty! AND to think, if I only had an ecoguru to guide me, to intervene and say, dear, no more Trader Joe’s bird nest’s. I know you like them, but you’ve got to give them up!!! I would be appreciative, but would everyone feel the same?

My moral dilemma is exactly that, is it my obligation to say something? Anything? To play ecoguru?   Or just shut up because it’s none of my business? What do we do? Everyday, in our little quiet lives we have small moments where we can act on behalf of our earth, and perhaps completely alienate ourselves to our human friends, or remain silent and perhaps miss out on encouraging another to protect the earth?
I found myself asking myself, WWAGD, (what would Al Gore do); the earth evangelist who rose up like a great light, to lead the way! I also wondered why environmentalists, or regular folks like me who just feel a responsibility towards the earth, don’t act more like Jehovah’s witnesses or Christian missionaries? Aren’t we living in drastic times that require drastic measures? Couldn’t we send fervent tree huggers door to door to ask, not, have you embraced Jesus, but have you embraced that you are a creature of the earth? Perhaps ecoheads and envirowarriors could create environmental “churches” that sprout up across the globe, where they preach the good news but it looks more like, how to garden, how to avoid toxics, how to recycle, and for businesses, and designers, how to design a future where every item manufactured  has been made with recycling, reuse or biodegradability in mind. Shouldn’t each city have an eco church or community center if you prefer? Shouldn’t we be standing on corners next to the raving guys with signs that say JESUS SAVES! with signs that say, THE EARTH LIVES! or something much more clever?
If the earth could speak, I imagine she would like to have these sorts of fervent
missionaries work on her behalf. But perhaps we should all just mind our own business?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Historic Month for Women Despite Colbertian Gender Blindness

In March, women made film history. How apropos as it's women's history month. Kathryn Bigelow landed an Oscar for best director after 30 years in the business. In its 82 year history, the Oscars had never voted a woman as best director and have only nominated four (Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, Lina Wertmuller and Ms. Bigelow). She also took home the Director's Guild of American prize, the first woman to do so in its 60 year history.

The recognition she gained made me stop and take notice, to test the wind; has something changed? Are we moving into a new era? Has the measuring stick moved? Perhaps something in 2010 is different?

No sooner than thinking it, I heard a BBC radio debate/discussion that popped with energy and emotion, the reason? A blog titled “A Rant About Women” by Clay Shirky, an NYU professor. To recap his thesis, he says that “not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks,” and women need more “role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead.”

I am pretty sure that despite his wish for more females that behave like Bernie Madoff to pave the way for other successful women (what?), Mr. Shirky’s rant intends for women to gain more of what they want.

What his blog does very well is brush all the little bugs we don’t get to talk about much, out from under the carpet. Which bugs? Well, we’re actually quite familiar with these bugs. Perhaps the most difficult one to squash is the way we measure what success is, and which traits are considered desirable in a job applicant. For positions with any sort of power, hiring tends to lean towards aggressive, narcissistic and self-promoting types, traits more often discovered in males than females. For supporting positions, hiring leans towards those with less ambition who are cooperative and even meek. (Mostly associated with females.) Another bug swept from under the carpet is that white males actually hold most power positions (in film only 17% of directors are female), and they tend to hire folks that remind them of themselves (because they love themselves very much).
All fine and well, so women and people of color should just be more aggressive, more like (white) men right? Well, in the case of women, we know that often backfires. Bitchy women are bitches who should not be in power. Bitchy men are strong leaders, to be rewarded. If you take the example of just three men, often referred to in articles as jerks, Steve JobsJames Cameron and Donald Trump, we have three prime examples of “successful leaders” who are um, also jerks, which is totally OK since they all have a schlong.
I also ran into a well intentioned blog titled: “16 People You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business.” In a blog posting only days later, the author, Timothy Hurst poked fun at himself pointing out that his first posting overlooked any women (not for lack of great female led green businesses) but a sort of “Colbertian inability to see gender.”
I think he has pegged the nail on the head. Many, (not all), of our male friends in power positions have a terrible, terrible condition. I worry for their health and their spirit. Not only are they sufferers of “Colbertian gender blindness” and unable to recognize talent across gender lines, they are blind to color and even to recognizing those with different Alma maters. In some extremely successful white males, the disease is terminal and they are unable to see past their supremely awesome meee-ness, (because it’s all about me) and can only see or hiremini-me’s. (You know who you are.)
I call upon all males who may have a touch of this disease, to take a remedy immediately. I suggest working as a secretary under a male boss for two weeks. That should be enough to shock a bit of sensitivity into most. Repeat therapy with stints as a nurse, a waitress at a restaurant like HOOTERS and as a grocery store stock person will also help. Wearing fake breasts and pantyhose is recommended to enhance the experience.
While I call upon males to be responsible, I also call upon females to create their own businesses and forge their way outside of the system. Let us lead the way with integrity, seeing across gender, color, sexuality and religion.
While we’re at it forging new paths, it doesn’t hurt to take a bit of Mr. Shirky’s advice and shamelessly promote ourselves, maybe, errrr, if it seems to be a good idea, or not.
Ok, well, if we can’t muster the nerve to promote ourselves, perhaps we can get up the gumption to recognize those woman who have inspired us, and promote them. So here it goes. This is my shout out to all the women who have inspired me along the way as an emerging filmmaker. There have been many men as well, but I will take this moment, in this month, to thank the women and shine a spotlight on their work.
To one of my professors at Michigan State, Mrs. Lisa Lorraine Whiting Dobson, until I met you I had no real evidence that woman DID work in film. It was all hearsay up until that point. You are an intuitive and inspiring teacher.
To Amanda Micheli, San Francisco’s darling for her amazing body of work.
To Sascha Ettinger-Epstein, my friend and fellow filmmaker who I am in total awe of. Your work is amazing, gritty, sensitive and desperately needed.
For the movie Jabe Babe by Janet Merewether, which is brilliant, funny and creative. It’s everything I wished I had done in a documentary, but haven’t…yet.
For the movie Entre Nos, that I saw at the Traverse City Film Festival directed by Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza, I thank you. You made an AMAAAAZING indie film that is elegant, well written, well produced and powerful.
To Maya Deren, whose haunting experimental works stay with you for a lifetime.
To Mira Nair, who spotlights strong female characters in her films Vanity Fair and Amelia, known for her excellent film Monsoon Wedding.
To Julie Delpy, actress but also director. Her films are intelligent, sexy, comic and feminine.
To Jane Campion, my long time hero, director of Sweetie, The Piano and In the Cut.
To Lynn Hershman Leeson, far out, cutting-edge and awesome.
For The Corporation, one of my all time favorite documentary films, and Jennifer Abbott, who is one of three directors.
And of course, to Kathryn Bigelow who has inspired us all.
For all of the filmmakers out there who I know and don’t know, from all walks of life, those who are established or dreaming of breaking out and getting a chance, I encourage you. If you can imagine it, with determination, there is a way for you to do it. Keep up the great work!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Is Memory Obsolete? Or is this a crisis of National Memory Failure?

Google recently announced that in three years time the desktop will be obsolete. Perhaps we are just steps away from all memory stored outside of the Internet being obsolete? Why can't I just plug my brain into the Internet and skip all of this gadgetry nonsense anyway?

We haven't figured out how to do that yet, (though scientist are working on it) and until then we are plugged in through our technical interfaces like, laptops, iPhones and Palm's etc...

In fact, we are so plugged in, that our brains are rewiring in very mysterious ways.

 don’t know about you, but I have noticed some unusual patterns in my regular habits that I question:
First, I have a long distance friend who I adore and was very close to at one time, a real friend. Yet, I have trouble visualizing her face, however, I am able to recall her last three Facebook pictures (at least). I do not feel good about this.
Second, after I meet with friends, I absentmindedly forget half of what we talked about because I know that any significant event (and all the insignificant ones too) will be posted on Facebook and/or tweeted, and because I use tweetdeck (among other programs) I won’t miss it in the thunder of status updates.
Third, birthday reminders, I forget those too because they all come through Facebook. I can hardly remember the last time I received a hard copy birthday card from friends my age anyway (except this one friend…hmmm what is up with her?).
Fourth, I don’t know phone numbers because I’ve programmed everyone on speed dial, 1, 2 or 3 and so on, or, I can just type names in.
Fifth, there are lots of words that I will know if they are used in a sentence, but if you ask me directly, what is “dystopia,” I may get confused and not be totally sure. I don’t remember ever feeling that way about words before, it just crept up on me. I’ll see a word and it will fail to totally connect, but I’ll have the presence of mind to type, define:”dystopia” into Google, after which, I’ll feel much better and be much the wiser.
So it seems, Google, social media and hi-tech gadgetry has replaced the need for me to have a memory of any concrete or impressive depth in perhaps too many instances. (Small note: I know what you’re thinking, I am not a genius, but I am not a doofus either, so go easy on the wise cracks!) The point is, being wired constantly allows us, indeed encourages us, to remember how to find information yet not ingest the actual information, less still, analyze the information we have just read or heard. Thank God so many of us are wired everywhere.
Right? Or is this really creepy.
I think it might be creepy.
Now lets examine the question of memory in the digital age on a wider sphere, a macrosphere if you will. Headline news, you may recall, used to be something that happened once a day – in the morning when you read your paper. Then, TV came in and there could be breaking news in the morning, at lunch and while you’re eating dinner and listening to Katie Couric. Now, there’s Twitter!! (Cue drumroll and flashy music please.) Twitter is a great tool in many ways, but it seems reporters are tripping all over themselves to be the first to find a headline, anyheadline and be the first to tweet it. Important events must happen every hour throughout the day, every single day on Twitter, thus in news outlets. This cycle of never ending drama or false drama, leads consumers into a state of confusion about what is really important and contributes to a sort of national memory failure (NMF). In the past, our national memories failed to recall key events (eg: that we wiped out Native Americans) but the memory spantoday is MUCH more narrow. We are forgetting sometimes crucial information in record time:
The banks are doing exactly what they did BEFORE the financial collapse (roughly one year ago). This is clearly some sort of digital amnesia on the part of the banks, AND the people who have their money in these banks otherwise action would be taken. (Right?)
- Workers who have jobs fearfully forget that it’s four hours past the time they should have gone home, or that it’s the weekend or that they are on holiday and respond to urgent emails, letters or notices at all hours.
- With one of the world’s strongest earthquakes hitting Chile, Haiti has been obliterated from our minds.
- In our worry about finance, health and some miscalculation in the science labs we have forgotten there is a global climate change issue or just generally that we might not want to trash the place we live in. (Must be that NMF).
- We were just thinking about Ed McMahon when Jeff Goldblum AND Farah Fawcett died,which we promptly forgot about because Michael Jackson died. Of course it turned out Jeff Goldblum was not really dead, though I’m certain some people still think he is.
- Not that this is any of our business, but it has been reported as news, (shrug) and I challenge anyone to try to remember all of Tiger Woods mistresses (though I doubt he could either).
- Many of us watched Food Inc. decided not to eat meat the next day, then promptly forgot why we decided that in the first place.
- We have collectively forgotten how to grow food in lieu of knowing how to tweet using programs like Bit.lyTweetdeck and Twhirl. Most of us have forgotten how to cook, REALLY cook, and make fresh bread, yogurt, pasta, cheese etc… Many of us can barely cook a casserole. We know take out, microwave, or prepackaged in 10 minutes or less with instructions.
In our absence of memory (NMF), we the people not only increasingly rely on gadgets and technology but we also rely on “EXPERTS” to tell us what we would like to do with our life, how best to live it, and what stuff to fill it with. These same experts seem to be doing very well with million dollar bonuses while the we are losing our homes and facing 30% unemployment.
That is a bit creepy eh? I would conjecture that we do indeed have a bug, a sort of memory virus and it’s gaining strength.
It makes me think of the recent power outage at my apartment. The world suddenly felt so quiet. No whine of the computer, no hum of the fridge, soft candlelight glow, no need to check email because I physically couldn’t, (except on my phone but I resisted). And I felt my body instantly relax. The tension I didn’t know I had, unfurled from my forehead. I concentrated on my breath. I felt Fanfrickintastic! Wonderful! Amazing!
And then the power came back on. To my dismay.
In that story lies what I think is the cure for our bug – good old fashioned discipline! We have the ability to unplug, so that we remember at least a few of the most essential things. (Yes, it might be nice to put the Blackberry down while talking with your child.) We have the power! Lets do it! We can do it! We can restore our memory and take steps to shape a better world.
But, let me just send this one more tweet before I do that….

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Want Money Part II - Local Currencies

As Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan hand out lucrative bonuses worth millions there are men, woman and children living on the streets who have to beg for a dollar. The fact that one man is hailed as a leader because he has more greenbacks and the other derided as a failure because he has none, speaks to me as evidence that our monetary system and the values that give it power, is where the true failure lies. I don't think we need "financial experts" to sniff out when something is in need of fixing, and local currencies might just be the answer.
This blog is a follow up to my earlier posting, "I want more money - seeking the holy grail," where I question why we empower money with our worship and essentially direct our lives towards the ultimate goal of obtaining more money. Certainly, it's not the money we want, it's the value money buys us: status, power, identity, and objects that mean more status and improved identity or power. As it is constructed presently, money, our system of trade is a scarcity based system of exchange that serves to divide communities because its value (the majority of it) is stored in and belongs to banks, creating a debtors society. Some folks have taken money matters into their own hands recognizing other systems of value that can be represented by money such as local trade and these are ideas worth fanning a flame over, although they've been around for a while perhaps their time is now, perhaps something bigger will ignite:

Local currencies with high velocity rates of exchange are active around the world but most documented in the Chiemgauer district of Bavaria, Germany and the Berkshire region of Massachusetts, USA. As Judith D. Schwartz reported in Yes, Magazine the local currency models keep spending local and bring communities together. For instance the Chiemgauer is issued in exchange for Euros, 1 Chiemgauer is 1 Euro. The Chiemgauer runs by a different set of rules, however, which are decided by the community. It depreciates overtime to encourage spending, retailers who accept Chiemgauer for marketing purposes and to encourage business, redeem them for 95% of their value, with 2% going to students for administration of the currency and the remaining 3% going to charities. Since there is incentive to use the money rather than store it, local businesses are stimulated, non-profit and charity work increases and jobs stay in town. About a dozen local communities or more in the US employ alternative currencies, check out this CNN video.

Another example is "Life Dollars," which are employed at Fourth Corner exchange based in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Life Dollars are an electronic currency, and at their heart, is that there "are always as many Time Dollars as members need to complete the trades they require." Members can access a database that lists out needs and offers, through that members can exchange good and services. Founder Francis Ayley bought his car and pays his rent in Life Dollars!

Time based currency is the easiest concept to get; created by Edgar Cahn, to receive time based dollars you may join a time bank where members give something of value, such as help with cleaning out a member's garage or yard and receives time dollars in return, which s/he may then exchange for help with creating a website or editing a story and so on. This gives value to skills that may not be marketable and also connects communities in a circle of giving. A list of time banks can be found here.

Ven is the currency traded by members of Hub Culture for goods, services, collaborations and knowledge. It springs out of social media models of engagement and in Andy Jordan's video for the Wall Street Journal, members report gaining Ven by offering good advice or connecting two parties together.

I've just mentioned a few alternative models here and some of the most successful. I feel like these really need much more attention than they have received and that this is the key to reshaping the unequal system of economics we run today. I encourage you to share your comments and knowledge about this here, the time for taking the leap is now. I plan to join the Fourth Corner Exchange, I'll report back on how that goes!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I want more money - seeking the holy grail

It always boils down to money.

If you scan the hive mind, blogs, twitter, facebook et al. there's a deep sense of the public being wronged - whatever side you vote for, and what it boils down to is money.

The Supreme Court just sanctioned restrictions on corporate spending on federal campaigns, the very rich are getting even richer and throwing in a million dollar bonus on top, bailout money is disappearing through the cracks as we the people lose our homes, our jobs, our identity, as we are laid off, filing for bankruptcy, unable to afford health care or medical bills and it all comes down to money.

So I asked myself why this green papery thing is the centerpiece of our modern lives? What is it's mystery quality that entrances us? Why is money our holy grail - the thing all of us wish to have, and push ourselves onwards in the hopes that one day we too may be just like the people who have it. Why?

I am the first to admit that I play the lotto and envision the house on the beach from which I would sip hot cocoa and use my piles of green to cast good deeds about the world. This sentiment is so striking because no doubt it (I want more money) is a thought that the vast majority of us share.

We ALL want more money. Some want to be mega rich, others want to be comfortable, others have more defined goals -- to buy a house or to put your child through college, but we all want it and we think if we work MORE, work HARDER, we will be WORTHY of this SACRED object. If we do find ourselves in the position of inheriting or winning or earning more money, we still find it's not enough.

In 2010 we stand at a rather good vantage point for assessing what this collective thought (I want more money) has created - extreme poverty next to lavish wealth, degradation of the land in favor of corporate interest, anointing those who have more of this green papery stuff with special place in our society, a place that allows them freedom to trample and destroy as they see fit.

So I wondered what would happen if we abandoned the delusions the rich rely on us to have? Now THAT is a heavy thought.

What if we changed our thoughts? What if we chose a new collective holy grail? What if we just decided one day, that our goal in life - which our entire existence would center around would be to nurture as many friendships as we could, to care for the earth and to cause joy for each person we meet?

What if?

Ok, I admit, that's not going to happen. So what are some other options, some other ideas to mitigate the destructiveness of our money worship. THAT I will explore in my next blog. I am eager to hear your thoughts.