A new view on Pride and Prejudice

I’ve always really liked the story of Pride and Prejudice, but heretofore reading it was a little ambitious for me. With it’s stilted phrasing and long, looong speeches, I never could quite seem to read it all before moving on to a Western or a Star Trek novel.

I only got a good sense of the story from the old movie with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Well casted and well acted, it’s in the top 10 of my favorite films. Also, PBS recently ran a new version during its Jane Austen film series. I don’t know the actors, but it was very good as well and had a little more depth than the 1939 version.

Well, I finally found a way to READ and enjoy Pride and Prejudice recently. There’s an online service called Booklit that allows you to read a book by e-mail. Each weekday, they send another portion of the book equivalent to what one can read in about five minutes. Perfect for my easily distracted brain.

A moment ago, I finished reading the 77th installment in a series of 149. Halfway through! Reflecting on these last couple of installments, I found myself enjoying them a lot more … almost savoring them. Granted, they were the emotional scenes when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, against his better judgment, to which Elizabeth replies “get lost.” But there was more color there. I could hear their voices. Imagine the setting.

Without my realizing it, just BEING here among the streets and accents and structures here in London made small parts of the story suddenly explode with color in my mind.

It’s interesting to consider how important a sense of time and place are to a story. Indeed, my most favorite books feature those concepts as uncredited characters. But there must be something about being present in those settings that enlivens the story so much more.

I think that’s why heritage values are so important to me. All of our lives are stories. And when I see or touch something that has managed to stretch through and beyond the lives of us mere mortals, it’s some sort of affirmation that’s beyond my thinking to define.

I’m thinking objects but books definitely fit that category as well. Pride and Prejudice was written how long ago? And yet, someone like me can still experience it thanks to the talent of a writer and the value a society placed on preserving its context. Maybe I’ll have to put together a travel guide based on my favorite book list!

NA-deee-NAA!

After calling Nadina and subsequently dropping off my bag at her flat, I decided to wander a bit (with my map, of course!) until she got off work. Instead of the hoped-for bookstore, the path led to the fashion district. Fish out of water indeed. The phone rings. It’s Nadina. She asks where I am.

“Walking past Hugo Boss toward Sloane Park.”

“DON’T MOVE. I be there in five minutes!”

So there I stood. The short, fat American in front of 20 ft. window posters of European male models in bikini briefs. I made it three minutes on the busy sidewalk and then eased on over to an empty bench in Sloane Park.

“JCheff!” I finally hear, as she bounds over and practically leaps into my arms. I had visions of Tigger and Pooh.  Just like old times. We hug for about a minute before she takes my arm and starts dragging me down the street, peppering me with questions about ElizaBeth, Kaleigh and gossip about Natchitoches. My, my do we really have three years to catch up on? When she left Natchitoches, EBeth was about 7 months pregnant. So much has happened since then.

Before long, we see a beautiful older couple walking toward us. Nadina gestures wildly. “This is what I will look like when I get old,” she says. “We should all be so lucky,” I said.

The couple turns out to be her parents, who arrived in London from Argentina about a half-day earlier than me. They are the kind of folks you meet and instantly know they are good, loving people. We know where Nadina gets it now.

Back to the flat now, the ladies are making a spaghetti supper while Mr. Reussman and I–two men with accents AND auditory perception disorders–have been trying to converse. Luckily, Nadina’s friend Rob has been here. He’s a conservator here in England and knows a little Spanish. It’s a fun evening.

Stepping into a new reality

After finally tracking down a ticket agent and getting my oyster card, it was off to the tube, Picadilly Line to Knightsbridge. The ride is about 45 minutes, with stovepipes and roofs flashing by. Emerging from the station at Knightsbridge is like walking into a Harry Potter movie. The energy really is magical for someone who rarely explores big cities. Adding to this is the fact that Herrod’s is right next to the station gate and boy is it massive. Tons of people from every nationality. Wherever I look, EVERYTHING is impressive and obviously very old.

For some reason, the trip made me ravenous. Stepping out of Knightsbridge, what should I see, but a McDonald’s sign. A very sensible British license plate version of it, mind you, but a McDonald’s sign nonetheless. Yes, my first meal in London is at McDonald’s (they have free WiFi, even). What an American I am!

Now that my cholesterol about four points higher, I’m about to take the advice of Norman Weiss (hmm, N.W. should start a conservation blog with that title). There’s a Carphone store across the street, so my plan is to buy the cheapest phone they have and get it “topped up” with however many minutes 15 pounds gets you. I need to call ElizaBeth to tell her I made it, and Nadina to find out where they heck her flat is.

Arrival at Heathrow

I must admit, nine hours of attempted sleep on an airplane tends to dampen one’s excitement about travel. But the ride was uneventful and the flight was light enough that most of us had two or more seats to rest on. Don’t think I’ve ever been on a flight that provided breakfast and dinner, three drink runs, AND blankets, pillows and headphones that they encourage you to keep.

Heathrow is a little wild an really, really dirty. Trash is all over the floor. Except in the bathroom, which is pristine. The immigration line was a mile long and I’ve learned a valuable travel tip: the less information you volunteer about your trip, the better your experience will be with the immigration officer. He asked everything but the color of my toenails: “Yes, Future of Web Design is a real conference. Yes I can prove it. Yes I’m married. No, I’m staying with Nadina because she’s an old friend, not because I’m having an affair.”

Nadina said to buy an oyster card and take the tube to Knightsbridge. Except there’s no one at the ticket booth(?)!

Taking off for London

At the Houston airport, waiting to board the flight to Heathrow. With the monthlong saga of the board report and meeting over, I am finally allowing myself to feel some excitement about the trip. One track mind, that’s me.

Traffic here and in Shreveport is as light as I’ve seen in a long time. On the flight from Shreveport, it was me and about ten other guys. We all had to sit in the back because there was not enough luggage to balance the plane’s weight. The FEMALE captain joked they probably wouldn’t have had that problem if 11 women had been on the flight instead.

No travel problems at all. Just that peaceful, easy feeling.

I just bought two travel guides: First was Frommer’s guide to London because it had a fold-out map. Then I ran across Rick Steve’s London 2008. I’ve been a Ricknik since my early twenties, when I’d watch his show and dream about being a world traveler. His guides are for folks who want to immerse themselves in the culture. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time here, so the purchase was largely symbolic.

Already overwhelmed, but looking forward to the new experiences.

Fast times at WordCamp Dallas

My wife took this picture. Does that make it a three-way?
This is what happens when you ask to take a picture with the magnificent Lorelle

I know just enough code to be dangerous, and my wife has never even heard of WordPress. So it was with equal amounts of faith and trepidation that we loaded up the truck last weekend and moseyed over to Dallas for WordCamp 2008.

Now, I’m a communicator and my wife is an educator. Both geeks in our chosen fields. But how would we hold up in a room of 150 pro bloggers? Between talk of php, sql, seo and “link love” would we understand anything being said? Did we even want to?

My descent into social media madness will likely be detailed in another post. For now, the relevant fact is that I’m attempting to build the elusive social media newsroom for the federal organization with which I work. I chose WordPress as my platform because it’s a content management system that regular folks can figure out. It’s also Web 2.0 saavy, with a plug-in and widget for every flavor, nationality and orientation of social media. I’m a big fan of it, which brings me back to WordCamp.

I’ve been jonesing for professional development in social media in the worst way. But federal travel cutbacks, the insane cost of conferences these days, and the rural location of my hometown has limited my training to webinars. Then I subscribed to the WordPress podcast a few weeks ago. Hosts Charles Stricklin and Jonathan Bailey were talking about WordCamp Dallas. Dallas?! Four hours away. I can do that! Just 20 bucks? You’re kidding me. A T-shirt and lunches too? Then the kicker: Charles lives an hour north of me and Jonathan a few hours south, in the Big Easy. The stars were aligned. I had to go.

Continue reading Fast times at WordCamp Dallas

Thanks for the Legacy

Last week, I spoke to a local historic preservation group about how to use social media to advocate preservation causes. Considering the vast majority of the audience were retired people, the doubtful expressions were expected. There was one face, however, that was encouraging and attentive.

But then again, attention to the needs of preservation and people has always been Saidee Newell’s trademark.

Although I didn’t know “Ms. Saidee” all that well, the loss I felt on hearing of her death Easter Sunday was very real. It’s the same loss being felt by preservation folk all around the world.

Saidee was good at figuring out people’s talents and calling on them when a need arose. It’s how she got so much done, and why she had such a wide circle of friends.

Occasionally, she would call on me to promote some cause or another. I’d jokingly ask her what “hat” she was wearing at the time. The world may never know how many boards, memberships, consultancies, etc., she was actively involved in. One thing you could be sure of is that she was guarding cultural heritage in some form.

As a fellow native on Saidee’s hometown, Natchitoches, La., I wonder if an obsession with protecting heritage is hardwired into our DNA. There’s so much to be proud of. And still so much to do. She knew that. She may not have heard of social media before my presentation but, judging from her questions afterward, her mind was clicking on its potential to get younger generations involved in preservation.

So in launching a site featuring heritage journalism, our first blog post dedicates this endeavor to Saidee’s legacy–a legacy that is still tangible because of her efforts. And one we hope to continue.

PR + Web 2.0 + Teaching equals one real mashup

In January, I took over as an adjunct instructor in the capstone “Campaigns” course for PR majors at the local university. Three hours, one night a week. Piece of cake.

After all, I had 15 years in the PR practice since graduating from that same university with a journalism degree. Lots of experiences to pass on to these pliable young minds. My plan: make the class exciting with a cool social media spin. I’d be brilliant (thumbs in suspenders). It’d be fun.

Who could have known the extent to which a social media focus would challenge the traditional PR pedagogy. When I talked to faculty, the conversation took on a “oh how cute” sheen. The students scarcely had a conception of what “social media” was, and OMG, you mean we have to, like, APPLY it in REAL LIFE PR?!!! After the first two classes, I would have settled for Second Life.

We all persevered, hopeful that the team-based nature of the class would inspire the ol’ Higher Order Thinking Skills to kick in. Then I started seeing it–those moments when a face would light up, expression intent on my stumbling monologue. A raised hand. An honest-to-god social media “connection.” And one-by-one, I’ve witnessed those moments on each face.

But then I look at them and know the field they are going into is much different than the one I faced in the mid-1990s, back when a lot of the internet was still text-based. In the last couple of years, the learning curve has steepened within a rapidly changing spectrum.

Continue reading PR + Web 2.0 + Teaching equals one real mashup