Monday, December 31, 2007

Phoenixville Rising; Or, Press 5 for Transformational Character Arc

in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni — “We enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire.”

This is the annual post in which I write about how cool my local community is, how a group of “culture creators” is reimagining a former steel town, and how a sense of genuine pride is spreading throughout the land. The Firebird Festival is a big part of Phoenixville’s renewal, perhaps the most crucial part, because it is a gathering that points to a bright future and the artistry already present.

This year the event held a special meaning for Jenifer and me since we’d come to know some of the chief architects of the project. Artist Mia Bosna gave the invocation and led the procession down Bridge Street with her Drumming for Sanity ensemble. Lynn Miller, who recently played at Jenifer’s Friday night class, sang jazz to the burning of the ’bird. And Henrik Stubbe Teglbjaerg, one of the Firebird’s builders (see if you can spot him in the pic), will be playing singing bowls in a future class.

Other highlights included the Great Quentini, a performance artist who stomped like an oversized Micronaut Acroyear in front of the Firebird; buskers singing, telling stories, and twirling fire; a didgeridoo and singing bowl ensemble; and at the Colonial Theature the continuing adventures of Fumblefingers the Elf (on vacation in the Caribbean, so I’m told) . . .

As I sit at the dining room table, reflecting on these good feelings, the phone rings. I dash upstairs. The phone is not on the hook. Where is it? It’s still ringing. Back downstairs.

I scramble around the living room. From the bedroom, a smooth corporate voice explains that U.S. Representative Jim has decided to hold his town hall meeting in households throughout the region. He’s here! Live! In my house!

Before Representative Jim begins, however, the velvety robot continues, intoning, “Press 2 if you would like to be placed on our do-not-call list.” I would if I could find the phone, oh, yes, how I would.

There it is!—on the coffee table. I press 2, but the unit is dead. It’s been lying in this state since yesterday. I press 2 many times anyway, because that is how any grown man solves an insoluble problem. It’s the intensity of the repetition that will assure success, I’m sure of it.

But then Representative Jim begins his Live! interruption, welcoming me and all my compatriots in such a friendly, political way. “Hey, Mister,” I manage to cough out, having reached my lactate threshold, “I’m writing, Eivør is singing, and together we are creating culture in our little corner of Montgomery County—”

But Representative Jim rambles on in his down-homey way, deaf to my consternation.

Back upstairs, where I place the handheld unit on the receiver. I watch the little red recharge light blink on and try to come to terms with the sober reality that it is probably I who represent the half of my household that is telecommunicationally challenged. Indeed, when actually placing a call I am usually praying to the lords of electricity that I have enough phone points or whatever activating mechanism the consortium of Comcast, Dr. Who, and the ghost of Alexander Graham Bell has decided is required to carry my voice through the space-time continuum. I just thank my lucky stars Representative Jim didn’t have my cell phone number, or I would have lost precious time scouring the house for the orchestra playing in my pocket.

But then a new thought occurs. What kind of resources, I wonder, would it take to call all the houses in the area so that I could read my blog to them LIVE!? No, not my blog, the week’s pages. Yes, that’s it. I could set up an easy and convenient telephonic survey to gather metrics on my progress (these people, after all, being future audience members).


ME: Sir, on a scale of one to five, with one being lowest and five being highest, how would you rate the scene you just heard in terms of structure?

SIR: Uh . . . two?

ME: I’ll put that down as a five.


Maybe I should call Representative Jim back. With his understanding of the sprawling matrix of digitality and my penchant for oiling the engines of social change (it’s on my résumé), why, we could skip the focus groups and go straight to the source. Take the pages to the street and get honest reactions, pure and simple. And, why not? Any pages rated three or lower get sent up in that big bright ’bird.

Happy New Year!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"You Create Your Own Access": A Glimpse at The Paper

Last night I happened to catch The Paper, an engaging new documentary by filmmaker Aaron Matthews. Now playing on PBS’s Independent Lens, The Paper covers a school year in the life of staff members of The Daily Collegian, the student newspaper of Penn State University. I haven’t been on campus in several years (I did my graduate work there), so returning virtually was fun, but I was most intrigued by the students themselves, the reporters and editors who somehow manage to put out a paper on a daily basis.

The film’s narrative follows the students’ efforts to reverse the paper’s dwindling circulation, the lowest in years. In striving to generate an interested readership, they confront the broader, basic questions of what to report and how to report it, struggling to balance coverage of the big “events” with the significant issues on campus, such as persistent homophobia, sexual assault, and the cones of silence apparently enveloping the football team and the school’s administration.

I was struck by the students’ sheer competence. These are journalists in the making, and it was exciting to witness them in action. They were diligent and articulate, concerned and passionate, sometimes overwhelmed and worn out, but ultimately persistent in their pursuit of the story. I couldn’t help but pull for them and wish them the best as they enter the work force.

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