Sally Saves Christmas

Some of the readers of this site will know that this story is the original piece of material behind Candlelight Stories. Back in 1994, I sat at a very flimsy folding table in a Los Angeles apartment with a box of pastels, crayons and ballpoint pens to scratch out a pile of illustrations that vaguely added up to some kind of Christmas tale. I still have all those original drawings in a big department store box. The interesting thing about the illustrations for me is the series of actions that they caused which led me directly into the various skills and technologies that I have used and made a living from ever since. After finishing the illustrations and creating a large bound book to give as a Christmas gift, I scanned the pictures and decided to try to put them into a slide show. I had an early version of the Mosaic web browser and soon realized that I could use my AOL account to post things in a folder that could be accessed by the web browser. Having done that and been very impressed with myself I showed it to my non-technical friends and received some half-hearted congratulations and was asked how I could ever hope to make any money that way. Within a few months I received a letter in the actual mail from the USA Today newspaper requesting permission to put an illustration and a web link in a listing of good things on the web. So I said they could and they printed their thing. So I began to add new things to the web site as I could.

It’s pretty much the same today. You just make a little thing and stick it on the web to see who likes it. But back then it was a little like magic. My web experiment grew quickly and when the higher-speed DSL technology first came into Los Angeles I jumped on it and got myself a Digital Alpha server and put it at the end of a DSL line in my own home to serve the web site. According to the company which was the first one up and running in L.A., I was the first person to attempt running a web server over the DSL technology in Southern California! They gave me totally free ISP service for several years in exchange for a little advertising. I’d actually have late night conversations with their engineers – sometimes from their cars as they made their way to hubs and switches in the dead of night to fix something. Imagine that kind of technical support today with your blog host! Won’t happen! This all worked well for a time. But then the DSL technology began to fail and I quickly realized it was a dead-end technology with too many players involved on the back end who could not adequately maintain the service without blaming each other for failures. But my point is that during that time, with that kind of approach, one could really get a sense of being visited by the world. I could watch the lights blink as people came onto the server to visit. There were times, during serious outages of some sort or other, when I’d throw the big Alpha server into my car and drive it to some other location for a temporary connection. Amazing. Fun.

It’s still fun today. That’s why I still post this odd little story every Christmas. It’s the original first thing of this site.

Sally Saves Christmas

Some of the readers of this site will know that this story is the original piece of material behind Candlelight Stories. Back in 1994, I sat at a very flimsy folding table in a Los Angeles apartment with a box of pastels, crayons and ballpoint pens to scratch out a pile of illustrations that vaguely added up to some kind of Christmas tale. I still have all those original drawings in a big department store box.
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Haiti Disaster and Web Responsibility – Or Lack of It

Yesterday, after cruising around the Web to visit my favorite literature, poetry, film and animation web sites and blogs, I went into a profound snit about how some of our most established and respected blogs have totally ignored a major catastrophe that has and is still killing tens of thousands of people in Haiti.  It is an event that makes 9/11 seem almost totally irrelevant.  We, as a nation, spend a great deal of time thinking and talking about 9/11 and its terrorist masterminds – what their plans might be and how to stop them.  But we spend very little time thinking about the events that wipe 50,000 people out of existence within 30 seconds time.  Airport scanners.  Border security.  Laptop searches.  Photographer’s rights.  AT&T/government eavesdropping.  All of these are important, yes.  But we live in a world where people die because the earth simply shrugs them off and buries them in a pile of dirt.  That is truly frightening.  That’s something we should be working to avoid.  We should be thinking more about how to build an earthquake-resistant building than how to take nude pictures of people getting on airplanes because we’re afraid they might have a baggy-bomb shoved up under their crotch.

But what peeved me off yesterday was realizing that some well-established blogs and sites have not even so much as mentioned the Haiti disaster.  No pleas and links for donations.  No blog entries.  No pictures.  Nothing.  Not a peep.  Profound and blissful silence.  As if the tragic events of the world have no place in the literary or artistic sphere.

Some of the major blogs I read have, up to this moment, not made a single mention of the humanitarian crisis going on in Haiti (auto-served ad boxes don’t count in my estimation).  And there’s literary site, The Millions, that has seen fit to mention a video about Haiti in its ‘Curiosities’ section!  Curiosities!  The Haiti event is enormous.  Simply shocking.  Not a ‘curiosity.’  I fully understand that it is not the business of every blog or site to be conveying the news.  Sure, every blogger has his or her focus.  But the Web is the tool they are using and I think they should use it for what it’s good at in a time of crisis.  We are not on the Web to isolate, but rather to connect.  That’s why its called ‘The Web.’  It’s a very simple matter to put a link to an aid organization’s donation page on your site and it truly does help.  The proliferation of those links in times of disaster is actually one of the historic and most marvelous things about the Internet.  In fact, that use of the Internet may be the single greatest possible use behind its existence.  The ability to instantly channel financial assistance to the place where it is most needed cannot be matched by any other possible use of the worldwide network.  If you ignore this use, you have abandoned your simplest duty as a node on the network.

Contrast the behavior of these sites with a site like The Rumpus, which has been featuring Haiti information in its sidebar for days now.  Marvelous and responsible.  The Rumpus is a literary and cultural site that digs deep into some of our best writing, filmmaking, painting and music.  But they also behave as if they are looking at reality.  Someone over there saw a pile of dead people in Haiti and millions more wandering around looking for food and thought it might be a good idea to offer a little of the kind of assistance that the Internet is good at.  Two more sites that show some awareness of what’s going on are Amazon and Powell’s Books.  Two e-commerce sites!  Amazon is the crook in the room for so many literary people and publishers, but they know how to use the Internet, don’t they?  They ask for donations to help the victims of an awful world-changing event.  I am now a big fan of Amazon and of Powell’s.  Contrast the behavior of the listed sites (I have removed the list of sites that angered me – no point in pointing – just need to make the general point) to a site like Boing Boing, which consistently updates its reporting on Haiti with links and videos.  Simple, obvious and responsible Web behavior.

Of course I know that I’m leaving many good sites out.  But I’m writing here about the little circle of sites that I tend to hit on a daily basis.  And I’m mad as hell.  I’m so mad that I would delete those sites off their servers right now had I the button to do so.

Not every crisis in the world can or should be instantly covered by every blog on the Internet.  That would probably be impossible.  But when something wipes out 50,000 people at a stroke and a possible three million more are injured and six million are without food and water, well, you’ve simply got to do the least you can do which is to mention it and put a link to the Red Cross on your bloody home page.  It’s the least you can do.  Get it?

I’ve been trying to enjoy the world of literature and poetry and animation on the Web recently.  I’ve linked to articles here and there on some of these sites.  I’ve tried to make sense of some of the more esoteric and subtle thought processes that go on, especially in the world of poetry.  I think poetry is experiencing some kind of magical flourishing on the Web that is unmatched in its entire history.  But poetry that doesn’t see the pile of dead bodies in the room is written on paper that’s on fire.  Up in smoke.

You want to know how easy it is to help with your blog?  Here you go:

You can donate to the Red Cross International Response Fund.  Also, giving blood is always one of the very best things you can do because it fills the blood banks and can be used almost anywhere.

You can also donate to Doctors Without Borders, which is putting medical personnel on the ground in Haiti to assist in saving lives.

See that?  Now go get your houses in order, because if you don’t, I’m never coming to your damned blogs again.

Interrupt your reading to have a look: