Archive for August, 2010

Late Summer Ladies With Attitude

Friday, August 27th, 2010 © by Susan Swartz

Some poetically grieve for the last rose of summer, but I say bring on the Naked Ladies.

I first started noticing the flashy pink lily, technically a type of Amaryllis known as the Belladonna lily, on a hike down the Mendocino and Sonoma coasts. Some women hikers suddenly whooped and ran into a field to each emerge with a single bubblegum-colored bloom stuck in their hats. And the other hikers cried, “Here come the Naked Ladies.”

From then on I was smitten by the spirit and the name. A favorite late summer Northern California image is of a flash of pink in a brown field with a swath of blue ocean for a backdrop.

Standing there in the sun, balanced on a tall thin stalk, reaching up on tiptoe, demanding attention, the Naked Lady tosses her tendrils after so many of the pretties in the garden have given up.

Named for its absence of leaves, the Naked Lady pops up around late August. A teacher friend said she always dreaded seeing them arrive because it meant school would soon start and her summer was over.

The Ladies returned this year about on time. I worried that they’d be off schedule like the tomatoes and every growing thing due to our chilly, gray summer. But the Naked Ladies expose their flesh no matter the temperature.

Confident, resilient beauties full of attitude, they are like so many ladies of late summer.

You see them standing in a row across a hill, the surviving residents of a one-time garden next to a one-time farmhouse. Whoever planted them has moved on, but the Ladies just keep on.

Sometimes you’ll see them in a chorus line, all leaning to one side, like they are ready to do a group shuffle-tap. Then there are the rogue Ladies, who just decided to show up in front of a cattle fence or pose next to a pile of rocks.

Certainly they’re not everyone’s favorite flower. Some find them quite gaudy and simply too bare without any foliage. And their perfume can be a problem. Sugary and cloying, the Naked Lady scent is best left outdoors to blow in the wind. Bring them in the house and the smell is as overwhelming as too much talcum in a hot yoga class.

But the sight of them is sweet. This week I stopped to admire one regal bloom on a bluff above Bodega Bay. It was a rare clear day and she waved to me from her perch in the brown grass. A fog horn wailed to say that darned old chilly marine layer is probably coming back.

But a lady, if she’s wise, knows to live in the moment.

Who You Calling an Elder Blogger?

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 © by Susan Swartz

I was at the BlogHer conference in New York when one of the panelists commented that “even” her own mother blogs. She called her mother “one of those elder bloggers.” Meaning, she said, “anyone over 50 who blogs.”

I pried my gnarled fingers off my Underwood, slammed down my Ensure and quaked, “Say, what, girlie?” That’s a joke. I would never say anything so ageist, but I did gulp and turned to my daughter to ask, “Might she be talking about moi?”

I am well over 50 and my daughter is well under and yet, blogging wise, she is the senior one. Someone might call her a hottie blogger. She probably wouldn’t object.

But elder blogger really pushed my buttons. Is Maya Angelou an elder poet? Is Annie Leibovitz an elder photographer. Is Madonna an elder rock star?

Not surprisingly, the blogging world is dominated by youngish people. A story in the New York Times said that 53 percent of bloggers are between the ages of 21 to 35. Only about 7 percent of bloggers are over 51. In the world of blogging the young are old hands, the old are newbies.

At the BlogHer conference there were more than 2,400 women bloggers and certainly the under-50 demo outnumbered the over-50. And over 60, like me.

It could be worse, I guess. They might have called us “geezer geeks.”

I asked Beth Blakely from the website Vibrant Nation, which is for women age 50 and over and has a number of regular bloggers ,what she thinks of the term. Beth says it can be helpful to identify a blogger by her subject just as you would any writer with a particular focus. But the general tag of elder blogger doesn’t work for her.

My friend and contemporary Michele blogs about food and wine and some might call her a foodie blogger. But elder blogger? Never. She colors her hair egglplant and hula dances. I can’t imagine she will ever be an elder anything.

The problem is the word. In some cultures “elder” is a sign of respect, as it was once in our own and might some day be again. But in our mainstream youth-happy world it creaks.

I will embrace my gray hair, my funky sore back and that I know most Beatles lyrics. But elder is a description I am not ready or brave enough to own. It makes me feel old. Blogging makes me feel like a player.

Pattie Heiser has the website 50 Fabulous and doesn’t consider herself an elder blogger. “It gives me hives to think of it.” She has the same problem with the word. “Our culture does not revere our elderly and to be so means that you will be disregarded and discarded.”

On the other side, Joan Price is fine with elder. Joan writes books about sex after 60 and blogs about it at In her mid-60s, Joan calls herself a senior and considers her audience boomers, seniors and, yes, elders. She credits her late husband with putting the right spin on elder, as someone who had “the wisdom of a lifetime of experiences.”

Were elder to deliver such a strong, respectful vibe it would be something to aspire to. It would be a designation that you earned, not something automatically granted when you become a certain age, like Medicare and movie discounts.

Then, if someone called me an elder, meaning that I was experienced, wise and worldly, I would flaunt it like a new Pashmina.

But elder as in elder blogger? No, in the blogging world I’m pretty much a juvenile.

Blog At Your Own Risk

Thursday, August 12th, 2010 © by Susan Swartz

The blogger from Afghanistan, hair covered in a plain dark Muslim scarf, asked that no one take her photograph. As did the blogger from Bahrain who appeared in skinny jeans and attitude. Their words appear regularly on the internet, for all the world to see. But not their faces.

The two were part of a group of international activists honored by BlogHer, a community of women bloggers who fill the internet with their thoughts on everything from becoming an entrepreneur to surviving teenagers. More than 2400 women bloggers assembled last week in New York but the outspoken activists were the most impressive. These are not women who can twiddle on their laptops in the kitchen when inspiration strikes. They live in places where opinions are illegal. Before they hit the post button they look over their shoulders. Some of them live where “people are raped and killed just for their faith,” said the woman from Bahrain.

I was in New York to find out more about this new media. I’m old media, a long time print journalist and a real baby in the blogging world. Make that even a skeptic, until now. Like many, I’ve been resistant to adding some stranger’s journaling to my pile of reading material and found it easy to dismiss much of the blogosphere as bloated with self indulgent silliness and malicious unfound gossip.

But there are articulate, smart, necessary voices out there too which can make you finally appreciate what an inclusive, essential tool this blogging stuff can be. Even a life support.

I found women who openly share the terrors of post partum depression and crack each other up with shared humor about their disabilities. But the brave activists, especially those who live where ideas and women are routinely silenced, are the real heroines of the blogging world.

Freshta Basij-Rasikh writes for a site called the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

In New York she softly read from her poem “My Red Eyes.” Blood, she said, has replaced the tears she cries for her country. “Cry for your land which is like a ball that everyone kicks, that everyone plays with,” she wrote. “Cry for the country which has rich mineral deposits but great poverty…Cry for its war which won’t stop.”

Esra’a Al Shafei, from Bahrain, blogs for Mideast Youth which links the voices of young people who live in places where she says, “If you don’t have a history of killing someone you are probably planning on killing someone.”

She and others on her site use all the latest techy stuff combined with video, cartoons and plain good writing. Esra was threatened along with her family after appearing on Al Jazeera TV in a rally for an imprisoned blogger who called the president of Egypt a dictator. She said her goal is “to piss off as many dictators as possible.”

Dushi Pillai, a journalist from Sri Lanka in silk yellow tunic and pants, showed us her photo essay for the webste, Humanity Ashore, of a prosthetics factory where war victims go to be fitted for new hands and feet to replace what was ripped from their bodies by land mines.

Marie Trigona writes out of Buenos Aires for Mujeres Libres. One of her goals is to remind the world of the brutal purge of political enemies that happened 30 years ago in South America which she does by telling the stories of tens of thousands tortured and killed by the military and police.

People were killed back then for daring to advocate for fairness and justice, just like these digital dissidents are doing today. The internet brings us their stories. And visa versa. It’s like what Freshta from Afghanistan said about the internet. “You are my eyes. Without you I can’t see the world.”