Saturday, April 09, 2011

Why Did You Do That?

I've gone on and on and on about the need for Pagans to be prepared before they speak to the media. I'm really encouraged to see a recent
trend of Pagans engaging in some self-reflective criticism of their media appearances. That can only help the rest of the community. Rather than repeat the points that I've made many times before, let me emphasize a few maybe-more-subtle points.

First, the reporter from your local paper or tv station doesn't have a contacts list full of prominent Pagans. Really. As in, they may never have heard of Starhawk. If you were listed as the contact person for last Fall's Pagan Pride Day or if your name shows up in a Google search for, say, "D.C. Pagans," then there's a chance you may get a phone call when a local cemetery is desecrated or there's a controversy over putting a pentacle on town hall grounds along with a Christian nativity scene. So it's a good idea to decide ahead of time, aka, now how you want to respond to a phone call asking you for an interview.

Second, when making that decision, here are just a few questions you can consider. Are you a good public speaker? Are you willing to do the preparation required (often on short notice) for a media appearance? What would you wear for that interview (this will be determined by your answer to the question: Which objectives of yours will an interview meet)? Where will you insist that the interview be conducted and are you prepared to set up, for example, your altar, desk, book display wherever? Are you willing to develop a basic handout with information about yourself ("Willa Witch is a member of a Celtic Reconstructionist coven in Our Town. She is a nurse practitioner and a graduate of Our Town U, where she received her MS in Nursing. Willa lives with her family in an historic home in Our Town, originally built by her great grandfather, William Witch. She can be reached at") Have you developed a short (two or three sentence) statement (for yourself) of your own objectives that you can consult when approached by the media? This can be crucial in helping you to decide whether or not to talk to this reporter on this topic. It's always OK to say, "Thank you for the request, but I'm not interested." If you can, you may always add, "Let me refer you to X, who is an expert on this topic." (This is followed up with an email to X telling hir, "I just got a call from media person Y looking for an interview on topic Z. I referred hir to you. Please let me know if you have any questions.")

Third, and this is the point I want to emphasize, it is completely OK -- and quite important -- for you to ask the reporter questions and to negotiate the terms of the interview. Really. They'll complain, but they'll respect you far more in the morning. Trust me. Most Pagans have, as have most Americans, little experience in dealing directly with members of the media. The reporter calling you, on the other hand, deals with people like you every day. The reporter knows that those people are flustered, flattered, eager to help, and already imagining themselves calling their mom to tell her to watch them on the evening news.

In other words, there's a big power differential here, something with which Witches and magic workers are, if they'll stop for a moment and think about it, familiar. We have techniques for dealing with that. In the case of dealing with the media, those techniques involve beginning to even out the disparity. Keep in mind that your ultimate power is the power to say, "No thanks," which will send the reporter back to Google and under even more time pressure. Don't imagine that if you don't talk to the reporter, no Pagan will. If they want a Pagan, they'll find one. The entire burden of representing modern Pagandom is not entirely upon your shoulders. Honest. At the very least, say you'll call back in 10 minutes. Ground and center. Consult Tarot. Find that still, quiet point within you that does not need media attention to be important. Call back acting from your power.

Ask the reporter about hir background in religion, reporting on Paganism, interest in esoteric subjects, etc. Can they send you links to other articles they've written/interviews they've done? This might, as Markarios pointed out in comments to one of my earlier posts, have been helpful to Star, when she was asked to appear before a phalanx of ultra-Christian interviewers. Most of them have done other interviews and have enough of an on-line presence to give an indication of their biases. There's no reason to walk into the arena unaware of who's asking you to go there. And there's no reason to take on insurmountable odds. (See also the excellent comments by Medusa and Teacats.)

If they're calling you because of a recent incident, get enough information about that incident to determine whether you have anything worthwhile to add. This would have been helpful to Rev. Heron, who, when she was interviewed:
was not told that the person was a Santero, or the nature of what [the police found, allegedly human remains, during a search of a home], only that there were "occult or pagan symbols" associated with an arrest, and that they were seeking someone with knowledge of the occult. The footage that you saw of me seeing the photos was my first glance at the photo evidence. I did not claim to be an expert on anything, and only agreed to be interviewed so that I could MAYBE shed some non-freakout light over the situation, whatever it was.

To emphasize, when told that she was to be interviewed about occult or Pagan symbols associated with an arrest, Rev. Heron could have said, "I'm unfamiliar with this incident. If you'll send me a few links, I'll call you back in 15 minutes and tell you whether I think I can do an interview or if I can refer you to someone who can." When she realized that the incident involved a Pagan religion with which she was unfamiliar, Rev. Heron could have said, "Sorry. Interviewing me about that would be like interviewing a Baptist about a Catholic rite. I'm not qualified to discuss that." If she had a good referral, she could have offered it. THAT'S OK. You don't have to talk to every reporter who calls you.

You can (and should) also negotiate whether you'll get a transcript of the interview, whether you'll get editing rights, etc. Even when appearing remotely, as Star was, you can negotiate over whether they'll film you in a studio or your home. And you should always say that you plan to tape the interview yourself on your own handheld tape recorder. If you don't have one, you're not ready to do the interview. If the reporter objects, you don't want to deal with hir. Say, "Sorry, I'd prefer not to do this interview. Thanks for calling me. Have a very nice day." Having your own record of the interview will, at the very least, allow you to post your own accurate version of the conversation and to demand corrections for blatant misquotes. I've never known a credible reporter to object to this negotiation point. All you're saying is you will make an recording of the interview. If the reporter is uncomfortable about that, you need to ask yourself why.

Even in the middle of the interview, it's ok to say, "I don't know enough about this topic to answer your question." You can add that you'll be happy to get back to the reporter after you've done some research or if you can locate a person who is an expert, but it's not the case that your only choice is to say, "No comment" or to try and answer a question that you're not ready to answer. Saying, "No comment," can sound defensive, but saying, "I don't know enough about this topic to answer your question," is always an option and can only make you look honest and sincere. When talking to the media, you need to be constantly aware that if you answer a question by saying, "I'm not really an expert on this subject, but my best guess is that . . . ." your disclaimer is likely to get cut off and all that you'll see on the evening news is your speculation. That's why it's important to say, "I don't know enough about this topic to answer your question," and to then shut up and wait for the next question. You can practice this over and over with a friend who has video on hir iPhone. And you should. Get comfortable with the practice of allowing even several minutes of silence to pass; if you can't do this, you shouldn't be doing interviews. Letting silence build up is a reporter's most basic tool for getting you to start blathering.

Finally, while there is a difference between lobbying and speaking to the media, I think that the points that Literata makes here concerning the need for preparation when lobbying can be applied, pretty easily, to talking to the media. Her experience is definitely worth a read.

I'm going to keep posting about this topic because it matters. (And because, apparently, my frequent posts on framing aren't getting through. Check the final paragraph of this article.)

Picture found here

Friday, April 08, 2011

Where I Stand

There's something incredibly comforting to me, as a lawyer, about seeing your opponent unable -- finally -- to hide hir objective. I welcome what's happened all day today in DC as Republicans have made clear that, no, preventing abortion is NOT their main goal. Their main goal is hurting women. Women who've been daring for decades now to not act as second-class citizens. In their world, that MUST be punished. In mine, it MUST go on. Come on out in the open, my enemy. Come on out into the light.

hat tip/ Thorn Coyle on Twitter.

Staying in One Place

I have friends who are world travelers; there's so much that's wonderful about ranging all over this perfect planet and experiencing as much of it as possible. I used to wish that I were a better traveler, that I'd managed to travel to more places, that I enjoyed travel as much as I enjoy hearing about my friends' expeditions. And, then, finally, in my forties, I realized that, with the defenses that travel requires my boundary-challenged Sun in Pisces to maintain, and with my Moon in lazy-comfort-loving Taurus, I'm never going to be much of a traveler and that's just going to have to be ok this incarnation.

There are also many rewards of staying in one place, and I've been thinking about one of those this Spring. When you live in one place for a number of years, you develop a relationship with that place. I've lived in this tiny cottage for almost eight years, and nearly all of the plants here are ones that I put into the ground myself. When the snowdrops show up in February, I think that I have a glimmer of understanding of the statement that those who had experienced the Eleusinian Mysteries had no fear of death. It's as if the very ground beneath my feet conspired to send up tiny white messages to me saying, "We will keep our pact. Winter will not last forever. All that dies is reborn." And I breathe in, and I breathe out, and my very being expands a little into the sunlight and down into the warming soil, the soil full of the roots of plants that I have planted.

I had another reminder yesterday when I caught a glimpse of my beloved, old brown rabbit. I absolutely did not expect her to survive the Winter, but there she was, and I know that it's her by that big chunk missing from her ear. Miracle of miracles, the local hawk didn't get her, and my fox didn't sup on her, and the cold and hunger didn't do her in. She's long in the haunch, but still able to show up and enjoy the newly-mown grass and, unless I miss my guess, she's managed one last priestessing of Great Rite and is now gravid with the results.

And immediately I am in that place that we Witches call "Between the World," although, for me, it's often more a case of being "Deep Within This World, The One That's Crammed With Mystical Myst." All Winter while I huddled inside, not wanting to slip and re-break the old ankle -- while I bundled up in sweaters, socks, afghans, and gloves, while I lit fires and glanced out at early sunsets, and fed myself with soups and stews -- all that time my dear friend was cowering inside her form, slowly burning the carrot tops I'd given her and waiting, as I waited, for Spring. And then, one old woman setting an example for another, she emerged as soon as possible and gave herself to the Great Rite, as simply as I give myself to the task of starting seedlings, of clearing the herb bed for new seedlings, of cleaning my altar for Spring. Well, really, her surrender to Life is larger and more unstinting than mine -- and she and I both know that. And this morning, adding my coffee grounds to the soil around the Kleim's Hardy Gardenia jasminoides, I scan the yard for her, grateful to have lived here long enough to have received her lesson of participation and surrender. I am who I am because I am in relationship with her. She is who she is because she allows herself to be fed by me. We are both who we are because our roots are here, in this bit of Earth. She is the old rabbit of this place; I am the Witch of this place. We are both each other.

Picture found here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

It's As If He Wants to Lose

On, Wisconsin!

Yesterday, it was sunny and warm here in Columbia's district and I raced home from work, past the beautiful Potomac and the fey-thronged Spout Run, to sit in my woodland garden and on my porch. One of my friends who's been center-front in the struggle for workers' rights in Wisconsin called me on his cell phone so I could hear the crowd around Jesse Jackson singing Amazing Grace. We had a great chat (he, on the front lines and I on my porch, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) and then I went to my ritual room and lit incense for today's election. I'm so proud of D and S and R and J and all of my other friends in Wisconsin. I feel gifted to know them.

I had a "complicated" relationship with my dad, who, much as he wanted to be a man of words, was seldom able to articulate why he loved the things that he loved. And that made him (inexplicably, to a kid) angry. I was sitting directly behind him, in the family station wagon, when the radio announced that Dr. King had been killed advocating the rights of union workers. My dad, who spent his life in the union movement, slumped in the front seat and then yelled at me for something; I don't remember what. What I do remember was knowing that he felt an unrecoverable loss at that moment. I think he understood why it was that Dr. King could challenge almost anything except the refusal to pay Americans a living wage. One of my most treasured pictures is one of him -- a few days later, trying hard to recover himself, outside a neon-sign Memphis church -- taken when he went to cover Dr. King's funeral for his union. Whenever I'm tempted to be angry at him for the way that he raised me, I remember that picture and focus on what was great about him. He came from almost nothing and spent a lot of his life doing what he could for the highest cause he'd found. I don't think that cause was fathering a feminist, but that's (many years later, after a lot of shadow work, turned out to be kind of) ok.

So maybe it's understandable that this video, which brings together my present and my past, through the lens of my dad and my friends, makes me cry.

When I grew up and moved away from home, one of the few ways that my dad and I managed to connect was through my critiques of his writing (and his grudging support of mine). He was still editing a lot of union magazines and newsletters at that point, and I kept pushing him to make them less sexist. (Me: Dad, would this joke be funny if it were about black people? Dad: Well, no. Me: Ok, then why is it funny about women? Dad: OK, you write a better joke. Me: OK . . . .) So the irony of the sexist signs carried in this video, often above a logo that Dad designed, isn't lost on me.

To balance that, and just for my dad, who would have cried at reading it, I'll add this:
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman? ~S. Truth

Women and men need a victory tonight in Wisconsin.

hat tip/ First Draft

Tuesday Poetry Blogging

To a Skylark
~Wm. Wordsworth

Ethereal minstrel! pilgrim of the sky!
Dost thou despise the earth where cares abound?
Or, while the wings aspire, are heart and eye
Both with thy nest upon the dewy ground?
Thy nest which thou canst drop into at will,
Those quivering wings composed, that music still!

Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
A privacy of glorious light is thine;
Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood
Of harmony, with instinct more divine;
Type of the wise who soar, but never roam;
True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Listening to the Land

In the district dedicated to Columbia, the weather can turn on a dime. (OK, you have to go back to the 1800s to find Columbia on a dime and, even then, she's called by her nickname: Freedom. But you know what I mean.) Just last week, I was out in the bitter cold, covering up tender plants; today we had sunny weather and temps in the 80s. I've known it to pretty much skip Spring weather here and go directly from Winter to Summer.

Today's sun and warmth have literally been working magic on my tiny bit of Earth. Jack-in-the-pulpits that were not there yesterday evening when I took Hecate's deipnon out to the altar are now several inches high. My neighbor's deciduous magnolia is a waving magnificence of creamy pink. The tiny horns of hosta have poked through the Earth, looking for all the world like an invasion of some underground alien species.

I've known Witches who don't feel the need for a daily practice, but I find that I really need one. And a big part of my practice is communing with my bit of Earth, with Spout Run and the Potomac River, with my landbase and watershed. I need to be in touch with them to help me understand who I am. Because I am not separate from them. I am all wrapped up in the water level of the Potomac, the migrating birds hanging out on the Three Sisters as the sculling teams from Georgetown skim by. A part of who I am is the day upon which the fiddleheads (today, in the sunnier spots!) emerge from the soil and begin to gently dance open, a reverse Spiral Dance that moves within my own soul as much as it moves out in the woodland garden. I find out how trustworthy and gentle I am from the squirrels, and peanut-eating crows, and bluejays; I learn how much I truly believe in both the light and the dark when I watch the giant hawk perusing the morning doves at my feeder the way a hungry teen eyes the all-you-can-eat buffet. I need my fox to show up once in a while to re-enchant my garden. My own health is somehow bound up in the health of "my" homeless vet at the TR Bridge. And the weather that moves through Columbia's district moves through my moods and into my thoughts.

What speaks most to you in your landbase? How do you connect with it? How have you learned to listen to yourself by listening to it? If not today, when?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Invoking Air.

Video clips at Ustream
How does this change us? How does it change the eagles? How does it change the very element of Air, itself?

I know that I will never invoke it in exactly the same way, ever again.

I sent the link to G/Son via email.

Mercury may be retrograde, but this is v cool.

Sunday Ballet Blogging

Hail, Kore!