Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Youngstown Cash Mob!

I hope you can join us for quesadillas and birthday cake Sat. 23 Feb. at Santa Fe Southwestern Grill. This new restaurant on Mahoning Ave. near Schenley is bright and cheerful with booths, orange walls and lots of natural light. The food is tasty and there are healthful options.

Youngstown Cash Mob
Sat. 23 Feb., 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
2626 Mahoning Ave.
Burritos, Tacos, Quesadillas for Meat Lovers and Vegetarians


The Youngstown Cash Mob will be marking its 12th consecutive monthly event at Santa Fe, and that calls for a celebration! Thanks so much to Ellen from Clarencedale Cake for a beautifully designed tiered cake – I can’t wait to see it. Stop by the Cash Mob table for your slice, and a free raffle ticket for a gift certificate at Second Time Around Consignment Shop (also on Mahoning). Congratulations to Ed Gurney, Jr. who won a gift certificate for the Hubbard Ohio Gift Shop while we were at Greyland Gallery in January.

We had a wonderful year, visiting Dorian Books, Touch the Moon Candy Saloon, Arthur Treacher's, Clarencedale Cakes, Mahoning Valley Vacuum, Youngstown Nation, Northside Farmer's Market, Rak's Nearly New, Encore Shop, Artists of the Mahoning Commons and Greyland Gallery. We met some amazing business owners, and I met many of you. I've gotten a new cookbook, vacuum, sweater, boots, earrings, Christmas presents for family members, and even a lovely, gently used couch from Greyland, as well as yummy meals and treats. We've heard stories about the hard work and commitment it takes to own a small business, and the rewards and dreams. And we've all shared news about our favorite shops and restaurants all over the region. Once I've heard of a place, I'm more likely to stop there and see what they've got, and then I'm more likely to return.

Congratulations to Pretty Plus Shop, a consignment shop for plus-sized clothing in Struthers, for winning the March cash mob. Owner Teah Rosemary Keshock-Crew’s on a mission. "My store is not just a clothing store, it is a place of community. Women meet on a monthly basis for a women's gathering, to share our lives and to laugh and cry with one another. We quarterly go on a Shop Hop, perusing other 'pennywise' shops. Last time we hit 15 resale shops in an 8 hour day! We get together to attend live theater, do book readings, and go dancing. My customers, who once were called tubbies and fatso, have started calling themselves 'the pretties.'" Teah is adding men's clothing to her line, in time for our visit on Sat. 16 March.

A new cash mob is born! The Shenango Valley Cash Mob will hold its first event Wed. 5:30 - 6:30 at Wholesome Fare, a health foods store, at 1780 Pine Hollow Blvd. in Hermitage. (Their event will be a surprise for the owners, so they are asking us to keep it a secret until that night.)

It’s thrilling to see another group spring up that’s dedicated to talking up our locally owned businesses. And it’s good for us – a thriving, diverse economy that’s invested in our region is healthy and stable. The owner-employee ratio of a small business is low, and that makes for more meaningful jobs. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how the way we spend our money helps shape our economic reality, and I put a lot of stock in that.

And we can’t forget our small, local farms! A new coalition, 30 Mile Meal, Lake to River OH/PA, will help connect consumers of food – like families and restaurants – with fresh produce, meat and dairy within a 30 mile radius. This will ensure local farmers earn a fair price for their work, and along with training programs, will encourage new growers to try their hand at farming. Buying locally raised food reduces energy consumption – the average piece of produce travels 1500 miles to a U.S. customer! And as with any locally owned business, it helps keep our money circulating here. Last August, the cash mob visited the Northside Farmer's Market, and we're glad to see an indoor winter market thriving on Saturdays at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at Wick Park.

In May, we will be traveling outside of Youngstown, within Mahoning or Trumbull Counties. We’ve had to turn down many worthy nominations because they fell outside our geographical range. My hope is that new cash mobs will pop up in Warren, Columbiana County, and all around us. I worry that trying to hit every community ourselves would spread us too thin, but we don’t want to ignore our good business neighbors. So as the weather warms up we’ll hit the road. Other special cash mobs in 2013 will be an activity cash mob in July (putt-putt? pedal boats in Mill Creek? bowling? local theater?), a visit to a black-owned business in September, and to a non-profit in November.

I hope to see you Sat. at Santa Fe. Stop by the cash mob table and say hello, even if birthday cake isn’t your gig.

Thanks for helping us spread the word!
Cash mob: like flash mob, only the singing is optional.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Our Fracking Logic

Youngstowners are rightfully outraged over the deliberate dumping of fracking oil, brine and mud, up to a quarter of a million gallons, into a storm drain that emptied into tributary of the Mahoning River. As journalists dig deeper into the story, we are learning that the dumper is a local hooligan with a box full of shell companies and a stack of prior violations. It was his injection well that caused a series of earthquakes here in a city that’s been rattled by just about everything else.

But don’t get us wrong – we’re mad about the dumping, but we’re madly in love with fracking. That’s the strange disconnect. Activists are circulating a petition to put a city charter amendment on the spring ballot asserting that citizens of Youngstown have a right to clean air and water, and polls show it going down in flames.

I’m sensing that the general opinion around here is that Ben Lupo, this crazy dumper, is a law breaker and has nothing to do with the safe and regulated world of fracking. I’ve seen more discussion over what medieval punishments would be delicious revenge for him than discussion on what to do now with this river that is a source of drinking water for local communities. And of course the river doesn’t stay here – it meanders along until it joins the Ohio River, along with the waters running past Pittsburgh that we now know are testing positive for radiation from the fracking activity that’s turned that state into a Superfund Site.

Just for the sake of the argument, let’s say that the deliberate and accidental spills all over this country aren’t happening. Let’s say that the gas and oil industry is in perfect control, and every well with its fancy casing keeps everything where it’s supposed to be. The fracking fluid goes down, clean natural gas comes up. Energy independence. Affordable heat. Royalties for landowners. Local economies rescued. State coffers replenished. Or state income taxes reduced.

There’s still a question. When we take trillions of gallons of clean water and put the solvents in it that make fracking possible, then it comes out of the ground with added heavy metals and radiation, how do we safely dispose of it? The answer is: there is no answer. Injection wells pose more risk than earthquakes: there are thousands of abandoned mines and wells that aren’t on any map. It’s all loose down there, and anything can migrate – that’s what makes fracking work, the movement of fluid and gas. It’s too toxic to store above ground. And for the love of god, why is it legal to pour on roads as deicer? Right now Ohio is taking the fracking waste of Pennsylvania because our neighbor’s geography isn’t quite as good as ours for toxic waste disposal.

This is enough to keep me up at night, but it still misses the point. When we take that fresh water and add the chemicals to it, step one, the damage is done. We can never use that water again. Never. We’ve been drinking the same water since we were we and water was water. My morning coffee has had more past lives than Elizabeth Taylor. And that’s all the fresh water we have. Right now there are seven billion people on the planet. In 2050, when my kids are grandparents, there will be nine billion. What are they going to do for water? We are already in short supply.

What are we using this water for – something essential that will keep us alive, like, drinking it? No. We are using it up to create energy that is burned once and then is gone forever, or turned into plastics that will pile up in landfills.

Of course it’s a lot worse than that. So many of us will end up sick, our water unusable, the life in our streams and rivers dead, our properties worthless, our planet even hotter. And that’s bad enough. But we will be the generation that stood by while our water was poisoned. Let the record show that some of us were screaming. But most of us were cheering.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wick Poetry Center 2012 Open Chapbook Competition

My dad used to say ‘Super!’ – I suppose he stole it from the hipsters of his day, and once your cool word is co-opted by the p-units, it’s not as shiny. But somehow that word has made it into our jargon du jour, and there’s so much reason to use it.

Thank you Kent State Press and judge Kathleen Flenniken for selecting my prose poem manuscript [working title] I Left My Wings on a Chair. It is a huge honor to be in such prestigious company of writers, and I so look forward to meeting Judge Kathleen. The chap will be in hand in spring 2013.  

As if that weren’t enough happiness, the reading for this contest will coincide with Wick Poetry Center’s 30th anniversary in fall 2014, including three days of poetry by past judges and authors, and next year’s contest judge Mark Doty. Since I went through the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts, I know many of the good people who run this wonderful foundation, and I’m thrilled they’ve been turning the wheel for thirty years. During my MFA, I was awarded a Wick fellowship to Bisbee, Arizona, where we were hosted by sculptor and benefactor Bob Wick. Through workshops, scholarships, fellowships, publications and readings, the Wick program is a place where poetry connects with the message of peace, and the idea that we’re all in this together. That poetry matters.

I also want to thank Conte for including my poem "My Song Springs" in their latest issue, available here. Check out the whole issue, and past issues too. It’s a delight, and I’m so happy to be in it.

And while I have you on the line, if you’re anywhere near Cleveland, I hope you can make it to see Vaughn Wascovich’s incredible images of the bridges of Cleveland at the new Transformer Station. The building itself is a lesson in repurposing and protecting historical structures, right in the heart of vibrant Ohio City, in the thick of reinventing itself. Award winning Wascovich took the images with a pin hole camera he made, and then he messed around with the developing process so they’re visually textured and so beautiful. Open-mouth beautiful. 

It was great to see Vaughn, whom I met at Texas A&M-Commerce when I was there a few years ago as a visiting writer. He’s one of those guys who laughs like he means it, and he’s a professional hugger, too. He’s a local boy, originally, and we’re all proud. His friends are a kick; we all hung out over draughts of Guinness at one of those great old bars on W. 25th.

On top of all that, last night’s terrific discussion with poet Karen Kotrba on her collected She Who is Like a Mare, and tomorrow’s classroom visit with poet Nin Andrews. I would have to say this week is super. Just super.