Saturday, December 8, 2012

Today's Good News: Thank You from a Neighbor

Lawson Valley Confidential co-conspirator Shelly--or rather her dog Xena--has been having some nasty run-ins with coyotes lately. After a recent pack attack, Warrior Xena has been even more intent on extracting her revenge, so when she spotted some coyotes while on a walk this morning, she took off, leash and all, to chase them. Thanks to several neighbors who were passing by, a possible tragedy was averted. Shelly's thank-you follows:

To the following compassionate people who took time out of their day on a Saturday morning to help us find our wayward dog, Xena, we wish to express our most heartfelt gratitude. 
To the man in the truck pulling the boat on Dirt Rudnick who stopped to give a ride to a frantic and desperate husband who must go home and admit to his wife that he has lost her dog: thank you, we are grateful. Much time would have been lost making the long walk home. We found her tangled up in the brush and caught fast by her leash, but she had not strangled because we found her in time. 
To the woman on the motorcycle who freely offered to go off-road into the brush, take the high point and scan until Xena was found: thank you, we are grateful for your kindness and generosity. It was a great comfort to have another set of eyes broaden the search. 
To the white truck that stopped in case assistance was required. Thank you for caring.
It is uplifting to know that there are good people in the world, but it fills our hearts to know that such people are our neighbors. Thank you. 
Shelly, Michael & Xena

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Response to Raftery's Far East Editorial

(Disclaimer: I have not read the book [though I did order it yesterday]; some of my photos are featured on the site and in the exhibit.)

It was with great disappointment that I read yesterday’s editorial about The Far East Project in Miriam Raftery’s East County Magazine. I have long been a supporter of Raftery’s work in this one-of-a-kind online publication, so it was with an especially heavy heart that I saw her dismiss another unique attempt to give East County a voice.

The Far East Project, headed by Justin Hudnall and funded through a small grant from the San Diego Foundation, resulted in a website, book, exhibit, and readings focused on East County. Hudnall hopes to continue the project (sans funding), expanding to oral histories and multimedia accounts from residents.

Raftery’s headline sums up her position: “FAR EAST PROJECT PRESENTS SKEWED AND OFFENSIVE VIEW OF EAST COUNTY.” You can read the other 3,000 words for yourself; I will attempt to reply with fewer.

The crux of Raftery’s argument is that the project is rife with East County stereotypes, that it is “filled with ugliness,” “devoid of inspirational value,” and “culturally insensitive,” among other sins. Since she refuses to link to the website or present more than a handful of carefully selected images, she also asks us to simply take her word for it.

What Raftery fails to mention is that every single contributor is a resident or former resident of East County. The Far East Project isn’t a case of outsiders bashing the region; it’s an attempt (albeit limited) to give first-person voice to some of the insiders. To that extent, Raftery is ridiculing the very population she claims to defend.

One gets the impression that Raftery went into the book and exhibit intent on that ridicule. She interprets every word, every image negatively. Mention a hooker? Oh, that’s bad! (Never mind the poetry of the writer adding dimension to a character that I guess Raftery would just as soon remain hidden.) A photograph intended to show the unanticipated beauty of a late-winter snowfall is described as “a deer with a broken-off antler.” First of all, it’s not a deer; it’s a fake plaster garden deer and just one element of the photograph—tellingly, the only element Raftery focuses on.

Raftery writes, “Efforts should have been made to reach out to local publishers and photographers to assure balance.” I’m not sure why Raftery thinks the views of publishers and established photographers are more legit than those of local residents, but the statement itself speaks to her misunderstanding of the project.

In addition, Raftery overlooks that Far East is a fledgling effort: it’s new, the organizers are young, there’s no template to follow, and they had only a year to complete the work. Was the project overambitious? Perhaps. Would we be better off had it not even been attempted? No way.

Raftery also glosses over the distinction between journalism and a creative endeavor such as the Far East Project.  Far East was intended to present individuals’ perspectives; by definition, such accounts are situated and limited. I’m guessing, but I doubt that anywhere in the proposal or other associated materials did the organizers suggest that this project would result in a comprehensive 360-view of the region. 

I do agree with Raftery on one key point: the quality and breadth of the project could have been enhanced with a broader range of submissions. Publicity of the project was thin. A resident of East County, I found out about it only through a friend who was on the mailing list for the San Diego Foundation. I don’t know what outreach attempts were made by project organizers—small ads in some local publications would have no doubt elicited a response that went beyond the arts community. 

However, I do know that as soon as I found out about the call for photographs back in September, I immediately posted about it on the Lawson Valley blog (which is probably read by all of three people) and contacted Raftery  (whose publication is probably read by thousands) to let her know. She indicated that she would definitely publicize the event. Unfortunately, that never happened.

I hope that Justin Hudnall and others who worked on the project, contributed submissions, or otherwise helped out will not be discouraged by this one negative response. Indeed, Raftery’s editorial suggests that more, not fewer, perspectives are needed in the region. Let’s get to work.

Correction: Although I searched East County Magazine for an announcement regarding the call for photos and didn't find it, that was my failure. Raftery did in fact run a story on the project: My sincere apologies for the oversight.

(Postscript: I attempted multiple times to post a version of this response in the comments for the article, but despite trying two different browsers, was unable to do so. Probably just a glitch.)