There is no room for literacy at my local pub…

Sadly, my local pub is apparently among those that prefer idiocy and ignorance to intelligence and education. Gladly, I don’t care if  anyone’s feelings are hurt that I honestly share my experience in coming to this conclusion. If you’re ever in California, don’t waste your time at Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant (Camarillo, CA) if you think reading is important. Because there is no room for literacy at my local pub…

Some time ago, I was terribly disheartened by my own experience as a writer trying to seek out publication, and as an avid reader desperately searching for like-minded people who love books as much as I do. To say “I love books” is probably understating it. I am obsessed with books. I read all the time. The only thing that I love more than books are words, which always gets weird looks when I tell people this. I think a word is one of the most beautiful things in existence, and no one can ever take them away from you. So when I was disheartened a while back, I did some research and learned some startling statistics, which I reported on this blog. Among the most startling of things I learned when writing that blog was that as many as 33% of people that graduate from high school never read another book again after graduation, with 42% of the remaining never reading past college. Additionally, on a daily basis the Pew Report estimated that Americans spend an average of 4 hours watching television, 3 hours listening to radio or music, and no more than 14 minutes reading (usually in a magazine or news online). Every, single day – no more than 14 minutes. I came to the conclusion that in a world like this, there is no room for good literature.

But then you have a rare event promoting literacy, such as happened today across the country – an event that lifts your spirits and gives you hope amidst all the statistics and stupidity. Last year in Europe a movement began called World Book Night, which spread to the United States this year and created an unprecedented movement of people encouraging others to read. The idea was that the 501(c)3 would get (through contributions from individuals, organizations, and publishing houses) 30 books distributed in large amounts to volunteers who would then give the books away for free to members of the community. You could give them away anywhere – the mall, senior centers, the library, the grocery store, restaurants, bars … whatever you wanted, you just had to give them away for the event, and for free.

So I signed up and got my first choice for books – The Poisonwood Bible. I got twenty copies, specially printed with a letter on the cover about World Book Night and a list of all the contributors that made the event such a success. A book club I’m in had some ladies that were interested in participating as well, so we organized a meet up at the local watering hole to give away the book (and other used ones we had collected) to passers-by.

When I walked in, the hostesses at the front door welcomed me and my box of books with open arms. They each took one and said they were so excited we would be there. We had communicated with the place about the event, so this seemed only natural. The others in our group showed, we ordered drinks, and set out the books on the two tables we occupied. We gave out a few more books. We snapped a photograph. Then I saw our waitress talking to the bartender and looking at us, and as she walked over I knew things were going to go downhill. The conversation went something like this:

Cocktail waitress: “So, what exactly are you guys doing?”

Us: “We’re participating in World Book Night. It’s a national event where we have been given free books to distribute to people in our community at local hang outs.”

Cocktail waitress: “Hmmmmmm… who did you speak to about doing this? Did you talk to Chuck?”

Us: “We sent an email and also communicated on your Facebook page.”

Cocktail waitress: “Huh. I’m trying to figure out how to say this without being rude. We really can’t have you approaching people to solicit them.”

Us: “Okay, can we stay seated here with our books on the table?”

Cocktail waitress: “Oh sure, you are welcome to stay and drink but you can’t approach people.”

Us: “Can we move somewhere that more people will see this.”

Cocktail waitress: “I’m really just trying to say this without being rude, but no – you see none of us even know what the book is about, having never read it. If someone walks by and asks what you have on the table, you are welcome to give those away.”

She came back a few minutes later to make it clear that we could still give people the books if they walked by and asked, and when we asked if we could put up a handmade sign she said “no.” That was the end of our World Book Night as we thought it would be. Disappointing, but we had to move on.

After finishing our drinks and getting out of there, we ended up walking around the rest of the mall and distributing the books (mostly) to employees of the other shops and fast food restaurants in the area. Some of them were very appreciative, a few looked like they just wanted us to leave. One guy acted surprised that people were giving out books and actually acknowledged that illiteracy in our country is a big problem that things like this will really help fix. In the end, we successfully got all of our World Book Night books distributed and had a good time, but that really isn’t the point.

Had my local pub not been in a complex with other places, they could have ruined our efforts for the night. I get not wanting people to bother their patrons. I get not knowing what the book is about and being worried we might represent something they don’t believe in. But had they taken the time to look into it, or had they considered even just letting us set the books up in such a way that passers-by could see and inquire, this wouldn’t have made me so mad. Instead of doing that, though, Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant let us show up and order drinks, only to shoot us down. Because the people working tonight had never read the book. Maybe they’ve never read any books, or they don’t believe that reading is as important as making money and discouraging anything but drinking at their establishment. Do I really believe that it was some grand conspiracy theory on the part of the place to actively discourage intellectualism? No. But it still is true that if their patrons decided to read more, they’d likely spend less time glued to the bar stool with their eyes on the many big screen TVs that cover the place.

In the end, it’s just a big disappointment in a locally owned restaurant and bar, and a reminder that for the majority of our present society, there really is no room for good literature. We weren’t selling things. We weren’t trying to convert people to any religious or cult-like groups. We weren’t interrupting people’s meals or breaking up their attempts at love. We just wanted people to see what we had to offer, and to have an opportunity to read and expand their minds.

It’s too bad that there is no room for literacy at my local pub… is there room for literacy anywhere anymore?

Dirty Thirty, Dirty Thirty

You all recall I’ll be turning the big three-OH in less than six months; on April 15th to be precise.  Thirty is a huge deal to me, although it remains to be seen exactly why.

For years I had a huge and overtly unrealistic list of things I wanted to do by the time I turned thirty, of which not one thing on the list was completed.  Not a one.  So for my 100th blog post, I went ahead and recreated my list with some things I thought were a little more realistic.  To review, that list in short was:

1) Finish 40 books for the calendar year 2011 and get a good start on 40 for 2012

2) Go on a date with Wolf Blitzer

3) Prove to myself once and for all that I am going to stop letting what other people say influence me so much

4) Buy a plane ticket to take a trip home in 2012

5) Take a road trip to northern California to visit the John Steinbeck museum

6) Eat sushi

In hindsight, though, faithful blog followers, short of #2 inspiring me to Photoshop a picture of myself with Wolf Blitzer, that list was pretty lame.  There were no typical-Heather crazy times on there.  There was nothing too terribly difficult or lofty.  (I mean, seriously … eat sushi?)  In the end, I think I was just trying to cop out so that I could hit thirty and say that I had actually done the things I wanted to do before turning thirty.  Well, I’m still months out and have accomplished almost all of those things already.  I’ve almost finished my forty books for the calendar year and have stacked up my pile for next year.  I had happy times in Photoshop Land with Wolf.  Recently I decided to ignore the majority of the comments made by a group of writers I previously allowed influence my writing to the last period, thus proving to myself that I actually can overcome uninhibited influence of others.  I ate sushi (albeit just a taste) and I have planned a trip to the Steinbeck museum as well as booked my trip home (in fact, that very trip is happening a few weeks before the dirty thirty hits).

So it’s time for a revision.  Here’s my new list of things to do before I turn thirty on April 15th … this time, please tell me if it’s lame:

Meet an author that actually inspires me

I’m not talking about the people that write that glitter puke crap like Twilight or Harry Potter; I’m talking about a real author.  Someone that has made me cry when I read their poetics, or that has given me the hope and courage to move forward with my own writing.  In graduate school, I always wished I had been in a situation to had the opportunity to meet the likes of Bertrand Russell or Plato; Nietzsche, Sartre, or Simone de Beauvoir.  Now that I spend hours and hours a day reading, I salivate at what it would have been like to meet some of the American greats – many of whom I missed by only a few decades.  So goal #1 is to meet an author alive today that actually inspires me.

Finish my manuscript, once and for all

A few months ago, I finished the manuscript of my first book only to turn myself around a few weeks later and start the entire thing over from pieces of the original.  Since then, I have thrown away more writing than I have ever thrown away – in all of my years writing professionally as well as academically.  I have learned so much about myself during this time, mainly that I have self-confidence issues when it comes to my writing, that I let myself get caught up in what others want rather than what I know is good, quality writing, and that I lack the focus to stay on track sometimes.  So you see, in meeting this goal by dirty thirty I will have done a lot of other personal growth in the process.

Go for a full week without dropping the f bomb

… or the s bomb, the d bomb, the GD bomb … you get the point.  I swear a lot.  I know, I know, faithful blog followers – perhaps I’m being too hard on myself.  But seriously, I curse worse than some of the sailors I know.  I am sure I can go for a day or two without dropping any of the bombs mentioned above, but a whole week?  That is quite a challenge.  This isn’t to say that after the week is over I will swear less, just that it would be nice (I’m sure) for the people around me to not have to hear my potty mouth for a week.

Finally get up the courage to delete dysfunctional family from Facebook

We all have at least a couple dysfunctional family members – many of us have more than a few.  The difference between you and me, though, is that I can admit that they are dysfunctional and I also know that no line of blood, nor obligations of “contributing to my existence,” require me to associate with them when they’re that messed up.  The first step to mentally freeing myself from the psychological discord that accompanies every family holiday?  Deleting those psychos from my Facebook friends list.  I’ve hemmed and hawed over this one for months, it’s time to give them the ax.

Begin turning my cell phone off for three hours every day, and stick with it

I feel overly connected.  Everyone can reach me at all times – be it over email, cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, you name it.  It’s frustrating because with such accessibility it seems that people now expect to get a response immediately.  This really hit home for me last week when a woman I met at a conference called me to ask a question about Facebook, then called me three more times and emailed me twice upset because I had not returned her phone call right away.  Effective immediately, my phone is going off from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm PST.  Let’s see how long it lasts…

Start a new trend like owling, planking, or tebowing, only with some sort of a purpose or message.  You know planking was so stupid and had no message.  Then owling and tebowing – both stupid.  But there’s also something to be said for the impact of an Internet sensation and the potential to actually carry a message.  So I want to start a new Internet trend with a purpose.  Sure, probably five people will participate … but five is better than none.

So, faithful blog followers – do you think I can do it all?