Darts of Contempt

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We gather our tribes, define our borders, and set our pikes pointing outward, determined to keep away the scourge others try to bring to our door.
All the while, self-created viruses are capturing parts of our hearts and souls, turning our humanity grey, then black, as it dies an ugly and needless death.
That scourge is as simple as a differing viewpoint.

A Good Book

I remember when I was a kid, someone gave my mother a small book of writings by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. The book, bound with a tartan plaid cover and printed on a beautiful stock, drew me in. I didn’t fully grasp the meaning behind his words. The job of understanding was made more difficult by the traditional language of the time and what I have come to appreciate as sardonic wit wrapped around scathing commentary on the mores of the age in which he lived.
I inked notes in that book, selfishly unconcerned that I was defacing and damaging what was not mine to damage. When my parents saw what I had done they shared more words, not ambiguous and definitely timeless in their meaning. The words of poet and parent still affect me.
I occasionally seek out works by Mr. Burns and find new meanings and new applications for the verses written centuries ago. A few I can remember and recite from memory, burned into my mind fifty years back.

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Ye true “Loyal Natives” attend to my song
In uproar and riot rejoice the night long;
From Envy and Hatred your corps is exempt,
But where is your shield from the darts of Contempt!

Loyal

What defines “a native” in today’s world, in this country, in this town? And to who or what is that native supposed to be loyal?
Are we loyal to an individual because he or she is a friend?
Are we loyal to an individual because they think as we think?
Are we loyal to an individual because we have great animosity towards another?
Are we loyal to an ideal?
Is our loyalty locked in place regardless of changing circumstances?

Symptoms

As we careen down the last straightaway to November 3rd, there are a lot of opportunities to visit those questions.
The local election cycle is less about spirited dialog and strong advocacy and more about personal animosity and the diminution of individuals. It seems like the strategy of the day is destruction and debasement.
It feels like ideals, convictions, and engagement have given way to character assassination, fallacious arguments, and ugly demands to engage on terms absent a sense of fairness.
We have become entirely comfortable with disregarding what was said in favor of what was “really meant.” It is not a question of having misheard, it is a strategy of misrepresentation.

But..

All may not be lost. We will see after we vote if the choices we made will move us ahead. The goal of any election, be it average or extraordinary, is to have an outcome that guides us forward. Not total agreement, not chaos. We won’t all be happy, but hopefully, we won’t all be permanently enraged. There will still be plenty of things left to disagree about if we can survive our current pandemic of personal destruction.

Pragmatic Patriot

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I am finally able to put a name to my feelings about my country. I declare myself a pragmatic patriot.
I have always been pretty positive about the United States of America. The good and the terrible, things in transition, and things in stasis. We have sent people to the moon, and we have sent people to their deaths in pursuit of noble aspiration and misguided conquest. For every act of aggression, there are acts of generosity and resilience that define the best of what America can be.
Yet here we are in 2020. We watch astronauts go to space and come back to earth, live on television, while at the same time we are told it is too risky to vote by mail.
“WTF???”
Here, in 2020, we witness brave Americans coming before us, testifying under oath to the terrible, illegal, and immoral acts of our most senior elected official and his cronies. Yet nothing changes, except that the truth-tellers lose their jobs, have their reputations brutalized by criminals and sycophants, while millions of fellow citizens cheer and jeer at their pillorying.
Again, “WTF????”
Some will argue that “it has always been this way.” Some posit, “this is nothing new, and it used to be worse.” I can’t remember when, in my lifetime, so many bonfires have been burning, using our most sacred and vital principles as fuel.
Tribalism has grown worse. Ugliness is exacerbated by conspiracy theory and amplified by a willingness – even eagerness – to make all manner of accusations against our neighbors. We seem to have abandoned education in favor of indoctrination.
Has the time passed for the dream that is America?

Books

Our home is filled with books, many of them biographies of past American leaders: Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington. They serve as valuable resources and lessons on how we have faced crisis and triumphed over crushing odds. They also serve as a reminder that leaders aren’t always great, or perfect. The ones we remember, those who have shaped history, managed to find themselves when the world most needed them.
The table next to my bed has a small shelf on the bottom that holds a collection of books. Among them are three that tell a story: the past, the warning, the result.
The first, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, examines the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Goodwin details the major historical events faced by each of these American Presidents, and how their leadership and vision propelled the country and, arguably, the world forward towards a more just and moral state.
The second book, which paints a decidedly different picture of a man who would become an American President, is “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History” by journalist Katy Tur. This recounting of her experience covering the 2016 Republican candidate demonstrates the rot and ugliness of the man who would eventually succeed in becoming the nation’s 45th President. Tur’s reporting shows a person with the exact opposite qualities and morality of the four men covered in Goodwin’s book.
The third book is “A Very Stable Genius” by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, both veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who have covered American politics for years. Their effort chronicles the realities of an administration led by the candidate described by Tur. An administration headed by a person whose lack of leadership, morality and courage stands on the opposite pole from the men described by Goodwin.
I struggled to finish each of these books. Goodwin’s work, because it was painful to realize how far we have fallen from the standards these four Presidents set for leadership and moral courage. Tur’s, because I knew how it ended, and I did not want to be gut-punched again. And finally, the work of Rucker and Leonnig, for it exposes the realities we now suffer – the manifestation of all the warnings that did not matter to enough of us to avert this American nightmare.

Shaken

Of all the sobering and frightening warnings about the potential end of our grand experiment in self-government, one that shook me deeply came from historian and author Jon Meacham.
Mr. Meacham has devoted his life to studying and chronicling the many roads that have taken America from feisty dreams to magnificent reality. As our leadership careens into chaos, destroying everything good and noble built over our very few centuries, Meacham would most often calmly assess it all and put it in the context of history.
This implacable, scholarly observer found himself at a crossroads. He had wondered, if he lived in a time and place of existential crisis, what he would do.
Mr. Meacham recognized it is no longer an academic exercise. Now is such a time. He spoke, not from his tomes but his heart. His words, while measured, revealed the depth of his conviction and the angst he felt as he spoke, not as a historian, but as a citizen, and said:

With our voices and our votes, let us now write the next chapter of the American story. One of hope, of love, of justice. If we do so, we might just save our country, and our souls.

His act of conviction gives me, not hope, but a sense that justice still matters, and good people will choose to take principled stands.

Our Better Angels

Many more historians, journalists, teachers, politicians, doctors, soldiers, religious leaders, and ordinary people here in America and around the world are raising their hands and speaking from their convictions. We need to listen.
I am not writing because I believe I am right. I am writing because I believe our current direction is horribly wrong. I know we can always be better. America must be better.
I am a pragmatic patriot.

YOU Decide

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I can’t believe it’s “destroy your neighbor’s political yard signs ” season already. Where did the time go?

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From reading local posts and roasts, one might think multiple evil twins are running for the three Cambria Community Services District board seats. (From Wikipedia – “The evil twin is an antagonist found in many different fictional genres. The twin is physically nearly identical to the protagonist, but with a radically inverted morality.”

For every positive endorsement of an individual, there is an equal number that declare the candidate a disaster. It is Amazing how many Kreskins live around here, and how confidently they predict each twin’s exact agenda for the future. Spooky!

kreskin2

The Good

Cambrians are fortunate to have four well-known and qualified candidates competing for three seats. Each individual is deeply involved in the community, serving in both elected and appointed roles.

Incumbents David Pierson and Harry Farmer are both seeking re-election. Director Amanda Rice has decided to step back for a while. I hold Amanda in high regard when we agree and when we disagree. She is pragmatic and passionate, always does her homework, and values data, facts, and solid reasoning. As a keeper of the community’s trust, Amanda embraces challenging issues with compassion and a drive for social justice. Thank you for your leadership, Amanda.

Now, back to the election.

Incumbents

Harry Farmer and David Pierson have both served as Board President and chaired District Standing/Advisory Committees. Both serve with non-CCSD organizations such as the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group, Friends of The Fiscalini Ranch, American Legion, and Greenspace. Both men have demonstrated their values, influences, and approaches while serving as Board members. 

Harry and David have name recognition and a catalog of service. Those who follow the CCSD have a good idea of who they are and what they believe.

(The other Harry and David, in case you need a nosh while researching.)

Pierson

David Pierson is a mature, moderating force on the Board. He offers civility and collaboration to what has often been contentious and partisan governance. David’s life-long devotion to leadership continues to be a great asset to the board and to each committee and community group he leads. His extensive engineering and management experience make him uniquely qualified to understand the intersections of technology and process as it relates to the critical issues that face the community. He is always calm, polite, and practical.

The “no he isn’t” contingent tag him as relentlessly pro-growth with little regard for fire safety, failing infrastructure, and the ratepayer pocketbook. All that leadership of the FireSafe Focus Group is just a cover for his true plot to build the town to within an inch of the ocean.

Five minutes with David should put a rest to those ridiculous assertions.

Oy Vey!

Farmer

Harry Farmer has been a consistent advocate for fiscal responsibility, environmental awareness, and preservation of Cambria’s small-town community essence. He does constant outreach to the community and the district employees, looking to better understand the needs and concerns of the different parts that make the community what it is. He is not an experienced manager or public official, so his approaches don’t conform to usual practices seen on many boards. Over his four year term, he has become more familiar with the technical aspects of budgets, infrastructure programs and practices, and employee relationships. 

 Harry’s evil twin has all of the same characteristics, positioned as negatives rather than positives. Torch-bearing townsfolk see his behaviors as disruptive, uninformed, and regressive, with an unhealthy tilt towards a subset of the overall community and a significant disdain for Cambrians on the other side of the issues. 

Harry Farmer is Harry Farmer – he speaks his mind, and what you see is what you get. I appreciate the consistency and transparency of his service. 

Talk with him at the Farmer’s Market – you’ll find him deep in discussion with his fellow citizens. He’s a good man.

Non-Incumbents

Karen Dean and Tom Gray also have long records of service to the community. Both have served on the North Coast Advisory Council and CCSD standing committees. Karen and Tom each stepped up and offered to serve as appointed Directors during the last go-around of Board vacancies.

Dean

When I look to gain a wider perspective on how our community is managed, Karen always welcomes a conversation around the challenging and divisive issues plaguing Cambria. These discussions are always respectful and factual, and regardless of disagreement often end in the sharing of some of her awesome home-baked cookies.

But wait, say her detractors! Her deep concern and environmental activism make her suspect in the eyes of some. Her “evil twin,” according to her doubters, is violently anti-SWF and anti-growth, and is easily swayed by more vocal and aggressive partisans.

I have yet to meet that twin and don’t believe she exists.

Karen Dean walks the walk, humbly.

Gray

Tom Gray has deep knowledge of the issues that impact Cambria’s quality of life. He engages in public service from a sense of obligation and perhaps a smidgen of hubris. We differ significantly on a few key issues, and have exchanged some heated comments while representing our positions. Regardless of differences, Tom’s education, experience, and work ethic can add value and substance to the efforts to keep Cambria in good health. 

Meanwhile, Tom’s evil twin wants to enable his coven of secret developers so they may turn a sleepy coastal community into a hellscape of mansions and swimming pools. His work as the Public Information Officer for the District during the development of the Emergency Water Supply project is all the proof one needs to convict him of everything, and then some.

Ay, Caramba!

This, of course, is silly, though it is not unusual thinking in a place where people’s character and motivation are suspect based on their professional associations.

Ask Them!

My recommendation to all who have questions, or who struggle to decide which twin is which, is to actively participate in the process. Each candidate has made it clear that they are accessible and eager to engage in positive dialog with anyone – though I would personally disengage from the rude, the bullying, and the abusive, like those who steal campaign signs. Visit the websites, call the numbers, send an email, and make your assessment on who will best serve the entire community.

Here’s a good place to start – 

LOWV

Listen. Learn, Question, Debate. Decide.
VOTE.

The Owl

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We adapt because we must. The unbelievable darkness brought by a raging pandemic has changed the way we live and work within our home. Artificial intimacies keep us connected to the rest of our world. Outside, communities also adjusted, some with grace and acceptance, others with fear and anger. It had become a familiar and  numbing routine.

Then the owl appeared.

We have spent the past few months engaging with the world through the looking glass of laptops, cellphones, and tablets. In the forty years we have been together, this is the longest time where it has been just us: no kids, no shows, no bands. No career grind, no months away from home, no fifteen hundred-mile separations. Just us, finding our spaces together.

Jan was at her piano, working through a complex arrangement of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” a classic song that features the wistful lyric “Where happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow…”

A riot of screaming scrub jays interrupted the music. These little bluebirds were not the happy variety. They bounded from branch to branch, aggressively vocalized their objection to an outsider visiting their neighborhood. An equally persistent group of smaller birds sang backup, fueling a constant screed. Their message was angry, unrelenting, and unmistakable. You are not welcome here.

Jan spotted the owl perched atop a rain gutter that runs down along timg_0935.jpghe outer chimney wall. The chosen spot sits under an eave, about three feet to the right of the dining room window. To see him, you need to tilt your head slightly to the left.

The visitor closed his eyes for minutes at a time, while the jays railed and the humans angled cellphones to capture a perfect picture of the unusual guest.

The owl opened his yellow eyes wide, turned towards us, and slowly blinked. “Hello,” we said, fully expecting that he would understand us and feel comfortable staying for a while.

The jays continued their assault but to no real effect. The owl – I suspect he is a bit of a badass – just looked calmly at them and, in a splendid display of serene composure, began blinking in time to the blue jay’s cries. 

This unexpected visitor energized us. Jan grabbed her bird book – one of the very few thoughtful, unexpected gifts I had given her over the years. She thumbed through the pages, some of which have broken free from the binding, and found the owl section. We deduced it was a young Western Screech Owl.

The owl left for the evening, undoubtedly looking for a meal from the bounty all around us. We kept checking, wondering if he took off for good.

Ben and River

Wanting to share this close encounter, we tried unsuccessfully to connect with our grandchildren. We did the next best thing and sent them pictures and videos.

Two-year-old Ben is the youngest of our three grandkids. On the last, pre-pandemic visit, we spent a bit of time with a book that featured pictures of various animals. Ben would point at an illustration and make the sound the animal makes. Cows, ducks, horses were all covered. Then came the owl. Ben quickly began hooting softly, as expected. I decided to see if he could say the word “owl.” After a few tries, he did get it out. Owww- lll. Oww-ll. Ow—l. We were so excited by his accomplishment that the family spent the rest of the visit saying, “Ben, say owl!!!” And he did, every time. Two syllables, but still, the word is now in his forever vocabulary. He immediately knew what the pictures revealed.

 River, the four-year-old philosopher, said, “There’s an owl at Nana’s house? She should keep it, but not in a cage. Birds should be free.” River can confound, confuse, and converse at a level way beyond her four short years. She is a bulldog when she wants to know something, and doesn’t settle for glib answers. You need to be nimble when you engage with her.

Hello Again

The owl returned the next day to the excited jibber-jabber of the neurotic jays. Jan was thrilled and immediately started talking and waving to him through the closed window. When the owl rotated its head, Jan did the same. When it preened, she preened. When it twisted about, in the way owls do, she followed along. It was funny, sweet, and a bit weird.

Jan suddenly left the room, returning a few minutes later with a gift for our visitor. This small, lovely object is a beautifully smooth stone, hand-painted with an exact representation of the owl perched on the other side of the glass. The totem had appeared a few weeks earlier, fallen out of a box during a friend’s move. It was safely sheltered in Jan’s creative space, ready to be returned after the dismal time of distancing and separation ended. 

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Jan carefully set the stone on the window frame, balanced between the upper and lower panes, a perfect line between woman, stone, and owl. She spoke conversationally, introducing the idol to the subject. Later, she retrieved Windex, paper towels, and a squeegee, cleaning the windows so everyone could see clearly.

These efforts made her very happy. I have a million thoughts as to why; some of them might be correct.

Chloe

We picked up the iPad and succeeded in connecting with our oldest granddaughter, Chloe. After a few short moments, the picture came into focus, and Chloe saw the beautiful bird, blinking back at her. We watched her watching the owl.

 In that distant moment, I saw all of her lifetimes at once. An infant’s innocence, a toddler’s curiosity, an adolescent’s puzzlement, and an awareness and intelligence that hints what is still to come. It shook me, I admit, and made me realize how much of her life- all their lives – we are missing as we wait out this plague.

Until Next Time

The owl left us again for what we believe to be the last time. The painted one still sits on the windowsill, ready to restart the discussion should the living one decide to come back for a visit. Jan and I both look out the window towards the perch several times a day, hoping for another blessing. The jays come by every few hours, posturing like treetop bullies, spitting their dire warnings should anyone dare encroach on their turf. So far, the only interlopers are the squirrels that had been making a mess of the plants on the back deck, before the owl showed up. Somehow, the rock-faced replica does not seem to intimidate them as much as the living predator.  

We know that this painful time of separation will end. We will hold our children and their children again. The painted owl will find its way back to the rightful owner, and we two will be stronger friends and partners for having survived this time together.

A Last Long Look

We were gifted one last surprise, wrapped in a spectacular rainbow of a fiery summer sunset. We watched from the front deck as the sky turned in the evening hour. As the sun slid down into the ocean, a magnificent bird glided gracefully above the tree line. We followed its flight path, thinking it was a hawk. It landed atop a Monterrey pine a distance away. It sat tall and still, then slowly rotated its head, coming into focus through the binoculars we keep next to the french doors.

The big, majestic owl looked at us for a short while, and then, he too was gone.owlintree

 

 

 

End Times

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Well, it is here. The cataclysmic events presaged in countless movies, books, and television shows have arrived. Driven by a mutant virus, rapidly spreading through a combination of bad luck and bad behaviors, fueled by a resistance to reality and a sense of invincibility, and enabled by babbling baboons that somehow have taken over the circus.

The world waits for the latest bug to just disappear, like a miracle. Do miracles disappear? Or is the disappearing the miracle? Either way, miracles are getting a bad name. I expect a malevolent rebel to sneak up under cover of an N95 mask and rewrite the whole MIRACLE Wikipedia page.

Here, in beautiful Cambria, our community’s governmental gatherings have migrated online; reduced to small clusters of like-minded folks who connect from a safe distance under the control of one known as “the Host.” In my mind’s eye, “The Host” sits surrounded by computer screens, telephones, sheaves of official-looking documents, a cup of tepid herbal tea, and two cats who invariably step on the right key when an outraged citizen raises a virtual hand to speak.

Like most evolution, it initially went unnoticed. At first, it was just a board meeting or two. Soon, that wasn’t enough. The lure of the standing committees drew me in. Hunger grew. I soon found myself scouring the CCSD website event calendar, searching for the next meeting. Finance, Infrastructure, it didn’t matter. I knew I had a problem when I clicked the link for the third leg of the trinity. Yes, I am talking about the Policy Committee. Then came Parks, Recreation, and Open Space. I could not stop. I attempted to access the legendary FireSafe Focus meeting, but, like a lapsed Catholic, sat in the purgatory of the virtual lobby, waiting for “the Host” to grant me entry. That entry never came. I suppose I will have to make do with the minutes.

Not to be too indelicate, but my office chair is telling me we are reaching the end. The squeaks and groans grow louder as the cushion grows flatter. The tilt is more forward, and the distance from seat to screen shortens. The dents in my forearms from the laptop frame have inched towards my elbows, and my sedentary body’s stiffness now covers a whole lot more real estate.  Eyedrop consumption rises as visual acuity falls. I cling desperately to my razor, for surely growing a white beard would be the final sign of surrender.

Yes, the end is near. I am squinting straight into the new reality.

The Zoombie Apocalypse has arrived.

Not So Great?

A man has three daughters-in-law.
One, British born and raised. One Portuguese born and raised. One, American born and raised.
There is no way to know their lineage until they speak. Then you hear it.
English, Portuguese, American.

If seen, but not heard, which one would likely cause a narrowed eye or a tightened jaw?
The one born under the Stars and Stripes, in a state rich in names that reflect her heritage and the history of those here first. The one with brown American skin.
It is the difference between being uncomfortable with today’s America and being uncomfortable in today’s America.

Cow Boy

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A few ‘Stay at Home Sundays” back, Jan and I headed out to enjoy a beautiful, socially responsible afternoon. Our plan, we agreed, would be a visit to the Elephant Seal rookery. 

We headed out and immediately noticed the heavy traffic flowing in both directions. Moonstone Beach Drive was packed with cars, vans, campers, and bodies. We continued up the road to San Simeon, where the narrow road leading to the pier sat clotted with vehicles parked on every inch of the roadside. 

Okay, new plan. We turned around and headed back towards town, deciding to mosey up Santa Rosa Creek Road.

To those readers not familiar with beautiful Cambria, Santa Rosa Creek Road is about nine hundred and seventy-two miles long, goes pretty much straight up, and at its widest is maybe thirty-seven inches. Cars pass so tightly that they are required to wear masks. My math might be a bit off; perhaps Mike Broadhurst can sharpen up the numbers for me.

The road takes you past Coast Union High School – go Broncos! – and ascends past farms, ranches, vineyards, and homesteads. Farm machinery and farm animals share the soundscape with the call of birds, the rustle of swaying trees, and the gurgle of water from the namesake Santa Rosa Creek that winds alongside the roadway, feeding the farms and fields and nourishing the wildlife as it makes its way to the ocean. It is stunning, beautiful, and for those of us who seldom make the drive, it can be white-knuckle inducing. (Full disclosure – I am a terrible driver, even under the best of conditions. I am the chagrined recipient of numerous “STOP TALKING AND FOCUS ON THE ROAD” awards.)

As we motored along, we encountered a few cars, a motorcycle or two, and several bicyclists laboring up and gliding down the road. I maintained a forward speed of at least thirteen miles per hour as a courtesy to those who had the misfortune of following behind. I assume the confident and occasionally impatient drivers were residents who know every twist, bump, and divot along the route.

The sound of a vocalizing cow cut through the air. As a city boy, this sound was not something I’d often heard in person. Rather than the gentle mooing of a TV cow, or the more enthusiastic proclamations from the animatronic cow at Stew Leonard’s, this sound had both a volume and sharpness that got my attention. The surrounding rocks, trees, and hills amplified the tone as it bounced around, making it hard to locate where it originated. A nearby herd soon joined in, creating a bovine dialog that filled the early summer air.

As we reached the upper section of the road, a beautiful scene unfolded in front of us. Headed downhill came three massive black cows being gently managed by a young man of perhaps thirty, who guided the herd with a quiet voice and a small stick. The trio headed toward a pasture where a cluster of fellow cud chewers grazed, lolled, and lowed. And that is the extent of my cow terminology. Standing beside the open gate that led to the pasture was a young boy of about six or seven. His job, which he was taking very seriously, was to control traffic, and then steer the cattle through the open gate. He waved us to a stop, then turned to his next task.

Now, this may seem like a “so what?” moment to those familiar with cows and such. For me, it was inspiring. 

Here is this young boy, facing several thousand pounds of animals headed right towards him. He didn’t even have a stick! Yet he stood his post, ready to turn the herd when they reached him. He held a little too close to the gate, so the man (his father? his brother?) quietly directed him to take a few steps back to give the cows all the room they required. The boy never took his eyes off the animals as he repositioned himself. The cows made the turn through the open gate and into the pasture. Their arrival set off another round of mooing, like a bovine version of Norm entering Cheers. The boy closed the gate and received a measured “good job” from his mentor.

So, a young boy facing and controlling three beasts hundreds of sizes bigger than him. A calm, focused adult giving quiet, confident directions to both the animals and the youngster waiting for the hand-off. No fear, no yelling, no big deal. Just two generations who were working together to accomplish what looked to be an intimidating and challenging task to the uneducated. As we resumed our drive, we offered our own “good job” to the two cowboys, who nodded their acceptance and went on with their work.

For those of us struggling through these unsettling times, perhaps there is a lesson to be found up on Santa Rosa Creek Road.

Surface scratched

There is good and bad everywhere, it is said.

So where then should we live?

Here, we thought. This place is full of good.

Then we became home bound

physical bodies sitting around virtual tables

reading words without the cover of a smile or the nuance of inflection.

Just the words.

Ugly words.

Those people

Animals

Stay away from here.

Don’t kill us with your breathing

Don’t kill us with your rage.

We have enough of our own.

Label them.

Racist, anarchist, terrorist.

Only twelve percent

Whoop their ass.

Sick of them not knowing history

the way we wrote it.

We took care of slavery

quickly.

Just a few hundred years.

If you believe it is over.

All Words Matter.

Thoughts From The Back of the Zoom

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As we enter year twenty-seven of the Corona Quarantine, Cambrians are doing a pretty good job of adapting to our new reality. Happiness begins at home!

Upstairs Downstairs

My wife and I have separate workspaces where we can write, play our instruments, and goof off. We have a few regular check-ins each day – morning coffee, lunch, afternoon coffee, and Jeopardy.

Her office is set up with an integrated desk for her computer and a cabinet that holds everything; pens, pencils, notepaper, stamps, paper clips, 3×5 index cards, and what I think is either one of the Dead Sea Scrolls or a yellowed press clipping from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Across the room, her digital piano is set up in the closet, so she can move from the PC keyboard to piano keyboard in a few short steps. Her biggest weapon is her grand piano, which lives upstairs and gets daily vigorous workouts that range from Chopin and Mendelssohn to Lennon and McCartney.

My office is set up in what was a walk-in closet attached to the guest room. It contains a work desk I built to take advantage of a recess in the wall. In addition to my PC and associated devices, I am surrounded by my own musical tools. Most are kept in cases, but one or two are left out within easy reach should the muse strike. Behind me, a curtain conceals a couple of amps that allow me my own vigorous musical-ish workout. It’s mainly about the loud!

Going Digital

Our use of digital technology to keep in contact with the world has expanded. We have mastered Facetime through frequent sessions with the grandkids. It fills part of the void, but nothing replaces reading a book or playing the piano and guitar together. Sitting at the dinner table helps us all learn new scientific facts, like how far pasta can fly before sticking to a sibling’s ear. I miss those zany kids!

We have extended our virtual world to include work, worship, and writing.

Small Adjustments

As a home-based content creator, I have gotten comfortable with social distancing. My weekly sessions with my publisher, as well as client interviews, have been done over Zoom for quite some time. Seeing and hearing the people I’m writing about adds another dimension to the process of building compelling stories.

During a recent interview with the owner of a long-established printing and data management firm, I was struck by the impact the ongoing pandemic was having. On the day we spoke, he sounded exhausted, worried, and determined to keep his business open and delivering for his clients as COVID-19 cut his staff by almost half.

Even in a business with automated workflows, intelligent, data-driven systems, and process-bound operations, the reduction in well-trained, experienced employees was determining whether this family-owned, multi-generational concern could continue to operate.

It is all about people.

Big Adjustments

Jan’s routine has adjusted to the new realities. She has suspended her teaching practice, believing vocal and piano lessons wouldn’t be as useful over the web. Lyra, a woman’s vocal group featuring talented singers from Cambria, has not been able to maintain weekly sessions, leaving a musical and emotional gap in her Wednesday afternoons. The weekly writer’s group she participates in has adopted an virtual meeting format, using Google Hangouts. They gather online to share their works in progress, offer critiques and suggestions, and, most importantly, support each other as writers, artists, and connected creators.

Spiritual Connections

Sunday services are another part of Jan’s evolving routine. The process of moving what had been an in-person communal gathering, with a set flow, into an environment of multiple remote participants, was not trivial.  The switch required both simple and complex changes to use online tools to deliver the service and enable congregant participation.

As a contributing musician, figuring out everything from audio levels to synchronization of sound was quite a hill to climb.  Fortunately, this community is rich in talented, experienced members with backgrounds in the creative and technical arts. After multiple rehearsals and tech run-throughs, the service is again open to the congregation. People are able to come together as a community. The spirit is willing, and the flesh can wear sweatpants.

Local Government

California’s Brown Act sets the rules for government meetings to ensure transparency and accountability. As the pandemic widened, in-person public gatherings became at first impractical, and then impossible as shelter in place orders were enacted. The Brown Act rules were adjusted to allow for agencies to conduct the people’s business through virtual meetings.

The Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) and the Cambria Community Healthcare District (CCHD) quickly adjusted, conducting web-based meetings to ensure the public’s ability to participate in the process of government. These sessions are accessible through the internet, over the telephone, and, in the case of CCSD, the existing livestream and public access television.

Is This Thing On?

As the CCSD Board and staff work through different processes to hold online meetings, we get to experience every variant of the memes poking fun at web-based sessions.

You’re muted…YOUR MUTED!!!!…UNMUTE YOURSELF!!!!!!!!  Sorry, can you hear me? (CROSSTALK) Can you hear me now??? WHY ARE YOU WAVING AT ME????? WHO IS PLAYING THE BACKSTREET BOYS ???? I CAN”T HEAR ANYONE!!! DEAR GOD, IS THAT MY HAIR????? Oh, That’s better. Haley, any public comment? (I learned that you can actually hear and see eye rolls in high definition.)

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Familiar

Remote meetings offer Board members and staff the chance to mispronounce regular participants’ names in a whole new forum. Perhaps the abundant stay-at-home time presents the perfect opportunity to learn how to pronounce them correctly. It’s not like they aren’t called two or eight times a meeting! And for goodness sake, if “Elizabeth Bettenhausen” just rolls off the tongue, surely we can manage to put the “T” in the vice-president’s name! Say it with me now – Cindy Siedel…uh, Cindy Seitel, uh, Cindy Steidel – yeah, that’s it!

Hopefully, more Cambrians will find their way to the Zoom Room. Perhaps an inviting graphic might draw some regulars back. How about a pre-roll package featuring a perky, upbeat theme song and an announcer introducing the cast, super-imposed against the backdrop of various Cambria landmarks?  “From the beautiful central coast of California, it’s time for CCSD LIVE!!! (canned muttering and grumbling, chairs scraping and agendas rustling.) “And here’s your host, President Harry Farmer!!!!!” (Shot of the blue beetle pulling up and Harry entering the frame from his home.)

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Hear Me Roar!

On a more serious note, the current webinar format used by the CCSD has a lot of positives and a few negatives. The ability to participate in the meeting is there, though not in a way that allows citizens to “speak” in their own voice. Instead, public comments are submitted to the Deputy Clerk via email. She then reads them into the public record. A serious objection was raised by a citizen who felt this process was an impediment to full public participation. I understand this objection, though I don’t agree that it blocks engagement. It might feel like voices are being muzzled; however, the words are communicated as they are written.  As the need for these virtual meetings continues, the opportunity exists to try different ways of including public comment in its native tongue.

Words Matter

As both a comment-er and a silent observer, I found myself intrigued by hearing public comment read aloud by a neutral party. People generally have a speaking style that is unique to them, and over time it can lull this listener into less than a fully attentive state. At the last meeting, I found myself paying closer attention to the words rather than the delivery. It was a bit disconcerting to hear how harsh many of the comments were. I found myself reacting viscerally and felt less open to understanding the stated points of view.

I had a similar moment of disquiet on last month’s CCHD web meeting when the new Director was sworn in using an extended version of the Oath of Office. The first part was familiar – it is the oath sworn by officials ranging from our CCSD board, our School District board, and even the Governor of California. The second part, however, made me sit up and say, “huh?”

“And I do further swear (or affirm) that I do not advocate, nor am I a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that now advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means; that within the five years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocated the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means except as follows:
_____ (If no affiliations, write in the words “No Exceptions”) _____
and that during such time as I hold the office of _____ (name of office) _____
I will not advocate nor become a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means.”

I checked with the District Administrator to make sure I heard the words correctly. He pointed me to the State of California Constitution. Further examination showed this section was added in the early 1950’s – during the time of the second “Red Scare.” Sound judgment has eliminated the paragraph from current oaths, and hopefully, it won’t make a reappearance in future swearing-in ceremonies.

Beautiful Cambria

Throughout this uncertain time, Cambria’s essential services continue to be delivered by the men and women who keep the water flowing, the ambulances running, and the open spaces available to us to clear our minds and stretch our legs (six feet apart.)

Our grocery stores are doing vital work, keeping shelves stocked with the food, medicines, and consumables we need to keep body and soul together. Thanks!

Our restaurants are adapting to the new reality, transitioning from sit-down establishments to pickup and delivery models. This fills some of the gaps for both the businesses and the residents who support them. Thanks, and hang in there!

Most impressively, the true spirit of Cambria is on display everywhere. Individual citizens and community organizations are shining brightly. Raising money, operating food banks, looking after the kids who depend on school lunches to survive. Making masks and keeping regular communication going out to the community on the many Cambria and San Simeon social media sites. The scope of this beautiful generosity is too great to capture in one paragraph, but the efforts are humbling and heroic.

Beautiful Cambria. Beautiful Cambrians.

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Everybody Knows That!!!

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Johnny Carson used to say “I did not know that!” Was he the last honest man?

A major insurance company has revived a series of television ads featuring a “fractured fairy tales” approach to classic characters. The setup of “everybody knows that” is followed by a “well, did you know…” leading to an absurd premise. My favorite spot features Pinocchio as a failed motivational speaker. Everything from the concept to the actors is note-perfect. I particularly love the facial expressions – first, the kid’s reaction to his father’s assertion that the fictional boy lacked sales skills, to the crestfallen response from the seminar attendee who sees the wooden wonder’s nose betraying his words that “you have potential…”
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If you pay attention, you might see similar looks on the faces of fellow Cambrians as they ingest information from different sources in and around town.

ZAP!

A short while back, an incident occurred where power lines fell across the only legal access road into and out of one of our neighborhoods. Cambria Fire and CalFire responded to the event and followed emergency protocols. Safety first. They took up positions to keep people from coming in contact with the still-charged lines.

According to the Cambria Fire crew that responded, there was a real danger. Active fire impacted the poles on either end of the cable run. The lines that fell into the street were charged and arcing. Yet, even with this crazy and highly visible danger, people were driving and walking around the firetrucks, ignoring the orders to stop. Dumb and dangerous to the citizens and the first responders.

Why?

With the road blocked, residents were not able to get out of the neighborhood. This blockage presented some real headaches, as folks needed to get to work, or school, or to a big pro-or- anti -swimming pool meeting. An inconvenience, to be sure.

A citizen approached the firefighters and asked if they could open the gates at the emergency fire road that traverses the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. The crew declined, saying they didn’t have the resources to spare.

So, here’s where the false premise of “everybody knows that” comes in. Grumblings began that the firefighters “didn’t have the resources” – which translated into “they didn’t have a key to the gates.” Which turned into “nobody knows who has the key to the gates.” which became “if this were an evacuation scenario, nobody would know how to open the gates.” And on and on it grew.

Eventually, a community member in possession of a key unlocked the gates at either end of the emergency road, and people were able to use it to exit the neighborhood.

Begats

A legitimate emergency – downed power lines -begat an inconvenient situation – no exit from the neighborhood – which begat irresponsible actions – driving and walking around the emergency vehicles and through the danger – which begat a questionable use of an emergency road across a protected preserve – which begat a series of assertions about emergency response preparedness.

Not Everybody Knows That!

The reality is that there are plans to handle emergencies and facilitate evacuations if needed. There are protocols in place, including communications plans, multiple agencies and civilian responders with assigned duties, and plenty of keys to go around.
All of this information has been published, shared, mailed, reported out on, posted, and promoted for citizens to read and absorb. There was a major town hall meeting this past June 29, 2019, focused on fire safety and emergency response plans. Hundreds attended. It was even on the TV.
In January of this year, there was a second town hall meeting hosted by the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group. The Vet’s Hall was packed. Representatives from Highway Patrol, SLO Sheriff’s office, CalFire, Cambria Fire, Caltrans, and SLO County’s office of Emergency Response shared their emergency response plans. Each presenter engaged in Q&A with the attendees. Printed material, websites, and contact information were given out.
But still, in this contained, limited event, things spun out, with people demanding answers and making statements that were more from annoyance and ignorance of the facts than anything else.
So what would happen in a real emergency? Who will respond, and how?

For a quick and helpful primer, go to the FireSafe Focus Group/Cambria Fire website.

Says Who?

Cambria’s agencies work hard to make as much factual information and data available. Public meetings provide the opportunity to see and hear what is going on. Yet, these meetings are often sparsely attended. Citizen engagement often means the same small handful of folks trooping to the podium to express the same small handful of opinions and grievances, with an occasional “atta boy” for a well-done job or a significant individual accomplishment. Of course, there are also a fair amount of thoughtful, probing, and important questions raised that drive action and greater community awareness.

What is more remembered, the protestation, or the response?

Who Has That Kind Of Time?

Public meetings are often long, sometimes confusing, and regardless of the time of day, difficult for many to attend. There have been honest efforts to try different schedules to drive more attendance, but the result has been the same. So how else do citizens and interested parties get their information?

LIVE!

Community Services meetings are live-streamed as they occur, and broadcast on local public access television. The recorded sessions are archived and accessible within a few days so that interested people can watch the sessions at their convenience. These services come with a price – a rough estimate of the fees charged to facilitate these channels come in around $1K per session – costs increase when the meetings go over the scheduled time. With two meetings per month, plus additional special meetings that might be broadcast, the amount spent adds up.

AGP

Excerpt from Feb 20, 2020 Board Packet

Anybody Home?

I was curious as to how effective this process is – how many people watch or listen remotely? I reached out to AGP to gather some data. After some back and forth, they told me they only provide that information to the agencies they serve. I followed up with CCSD staff who returned the following stats. It appears these hits were not previously tracked, so I was only able to get one month’s numbers. They provide limited information, but something worth monitoring over time.

Here’s AGP’s statistics for January 2020 CCSD meetings, provided through a public records request.

CCSD 1.16.20:  LIVE: 16

CCSD 1.22.20:  LIVE: 22

CCSD Archive views for the month of January to date: 82

It seems like a lot of money for a little return.

Hosted Websites

The Services District and the Healthcare District host websites that contain information about what goes on in each organization, as well as legal, regulatory, and organizational details that support many of the district policies and practices.

The CCSD site has been recently overhauled and has become more user-friendly. According to the data collected by Google Analytics and provided through the Public Records Request process (accessible through the website,) a good number of people use this tool to gather information and seek answers to ongoing puzzlements.

From January 20, 2019, through January 26, 2020, the Cambria Community Services District website was accessed 87,690 times, with 68,394 unique page views. That is a pretty good amount of traffic, though the top pages were a bit of a surprise.CSDWEBTRAFFIC

The complete list of results can be found in the following link:

CCSD_CombinedWeb

The Healthcare District website is currently undergoing a redesign, with the goal of making it both user and administration friendly. The work is being done by an active District employee, often in his free time, so it might take a while before it is ready for publication.

Widen The Lens

There has been a sporadic outcry around CCSD directors and staff using electronic devices during meetings, with the subtle and occasional direct accusation that all manner of nefarious communication was happening between board members and mysterious influencers and special interests.

Rather than rail against the perceived downside of electronic communication, why not embrace the potential and expand its use? Open a web channel to the meeting that would allow viewers to submit questions or comments to the presiding clerk, have the item read out loud, and have the written/electronic dialog entered into the minutes. Viewers who wish can ask their questions or make comments through the microphones on their computer, tablet, or smartphone. Brave citizens having a good hair day can turn on their camera for their allotted three minutes. More people will have the opportunity to “speak” to the board, staff, and community without the challenges of having to physically be “in the room where it sometimes happens.” Caller number five could win a toaster!

Businesses engage with clients all around the world in this fashion, using video and audio to make personal connections that increase understanding and decrease uncertainty. Participants can make “eye contact” through video, exchange written comments and conduct Q&A through chat/messaging features, upload documents for review and comment in real-time. Tone, tenor, facial expression, body language – all contribute to a complete dialog.

But..but…Cambria has old people who don’t use computers!

Really? Take a look at local social media sites and get back to me!

Let’s try it!

Shot Clock

Public commenters are limited to three minutes per item, with the board President controlling the clock and having some discretion with the time.

I suggest the same (or even shorter) time limits should apply to each board member who wishes to speak on a topic. Yes, the dialog between the members is essential and should happen freely. It is sometimes the case, however, where a director will go on a ramble. That suggests a lack of preparation.

Put together a compelling thought and present it in a manner not requiring a map, a compass, a dictionary, and some of that free coffee from the back counter. Each director should prepare their thoughts in advance and know what points/questions/positions they wish to share. Write it down. Read it back. Time it. Edit. Repeat. Speed up the meetings and reduce much of the frustration of fellow directors, staff, and the public who are trying to follow along. It may seem like this would limit dialog, but in my view is it would make dialog more effective and drive better results.

Takeaways

Even with all the efforts to communicate critical information throughout the community, there are, and will always be, gaps in our collective knowledge. Information is everywhere, we just need to look, ask and at times suggest better ways to share what we know, and what we would like to know. This community is blessed to have a good number of people who help all of us stay smart and safe. But as we are often reminded, we are each responsible for our own well-being.

Just because we may not know something, that doesn’t mean it’s unknowable. As Pinocchio tells us – we all have potential!