Angelica Dass photo project I HAVE NOT POSTED HERE (A Discriminating Voice) for 3 years and while not many people have noticed my absence—I have yet to build a following that could actually be recognized as traffic—I have felt the loss. So out of nowhere, in a burst of new inspiration, today I am writing here again, and vow to myself at least to get back into the writing groove.

Coincidentally, it’s been 3 years since I started working at Mother Jones, a magazine job that I like very much and a place I am very proud to work. Great journalism surrounds me and I work with creative, smart people every day. I do not write for the magazine, though I always feel pleased when people make that assumption, I am part of the creative team and manage the production process. I have held similar positions at other publications over the last twenty-five years. You can imagine how the job has changed over 3 decades and that is one of the topics that I intend to turn to in these posts from time to time. How did I get here? What did I learn along the way? What has gotten better for me and what has gotten left behind that perhaps we may not actually want to lose?

As a production director, I have learned each new technology advancement, suffered through software upgrades, and diligently mastered each new creative tool that has saved the publisher time and money. Learning to adapt has been an important part of my career survival, but my role has also been surprisingly very consistent. I help facilitate the creative process and guide a dedicated team, who put words and pictures together on pages into a book, a print magazine that is distributed to hundreds of thousands of readers. Others write and design, but I handle much that is not visible so that a very talented team can pull off an amazing collaborative effort. I organize for a smooth workflow, undertake the prepress tasks, link the technical and mechanical underpinnings of printing on web presses with process colors, on publication paper, to be bound together so that all of us can do it over again, next issue. And of course it is not just a print magazine anymore, in fact, it hasn’t really been a “just” for some time now. The complexity of producing content for today’s readers and viewers has increased, precisely as the tools and technologies have increased the capacity of even one individual (me) to accomplish and control much much more, and do so, much faster than ever before.

One of my favorite opportunities on the job is to participate in the training of the half dozen editorial interns that join Mother Jones twice a year for a 6 month term. In one hour I try to explain the breadth of duties and skills that are now condensed into my job to give context to the process that at the beginning of my career required at least 5 people and countless others from third-party vendors. Not all of the jobs lost in our economy have been to globalization, clearly many have been lost to the productivity of new technology.

I always get something back from the effort to share what I know, to be able to demonstrate a little about the miracle that is the printing process, and reveal some of the science behind four-color reproduction and the other almost lost skilled crafts. I feel satisfaction when I help those new to the industry learn something about the history of our industry.  After my last presentation, I heard back from Azeen Ghorayshi, one of our very talented interns, who was invited to stay on for some additional time as a fellow, and is now handling a number of Mother Jones‘ social media roles, shared this Tumblr page with me, that I, in turn, want to share with you (my so-called traffic.) It is startling, this new use of Pantone color. Angelica Dass, from Rio de Janeiro beautifully displays her photographic images in a project “to record and catalog all possible human skin tones.” Her Tumblr page is, not surprisingly, called humanae. The project brings humanity into closer focus. Indeed, that is exactly the goal I wish to achieve with my own writing projects.

Plastic Bag (2009)

short film by Ramin Bahrani

Plastic bag film posterThe Maker is a Lady, a beautiful young shopper who is a responsible and even persistent re-cycler of one ratty grocery bag. In this short film the Maker gives the protagonist his first breath, and the Plastic Bag never forgets. The filmmaker, Ramin Bahrani, seduces the viewer to accept the self-conscious bag using the voice of Werner Herzog. Bahrani captures beautiful moments of floating, flying, and swirling landscapes that reveal the plastic bag’s worldview, a life both lonely and disturbing.

You can almost forgive the absurd romanticism in the story since the filmmaker compensates with moody visual delights, setting you free to enjoy this angst-ridden journey, a futuristic tale of one grateful, moving, translucent plastic bag that glistens in the sky and muses upon itself, after seeing his shadow on the earth.

The film reveals little of the real horrors of the oceanic plastic vortex, but may spur  people towards one obvious solution for stemming the growth of the floating Pacific Garbage Patch.  Myself, for the record, I want to know more about the Bag Lady, the Maker, who looks more like me.

FUTURESTATES is a series of groundbreaking digital shorts. Each episode presents a different filmmaker’s vision of American society in the not-too-distant future, fusing an exploration of social issues with elements of speculative and science fiction.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, the American writer, lecturer, and feminist social reformer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) began publishing a monthly journal called, The Forerunner. Written entirely by herself, she wrote on a range of topics that revolved around a central theme–social and human development was hampered by sexism and only when women were perceived and treated as human beings would we make progress as a species.


I first became aware of Charlotte Perkins Gilman while browsing the Minneapolis Public Library as a student in the 1970’s. I happened upon a reference to Gilman’s utopian novel, Herland, which depicts an all-female world where men are unnecessary, even for reproduction. I was startled to uncover a writer with such radical ideas. I read several of her other works with great interest. Reading about the life of this courageous reformer propelled my interest in American history and broadened my understanding of women’s struggle.

Gilman was a prolific writer and a single mother who tried many strategies throughout her life to earn her own living when options were limited. She wrote on many topics illuminating how women’s practical, economic and social conditions might change for the better. She traveled frequently as an invited lecturer speaking to audiences at women’s clubs, town halls, and churches.

Gilman offered perspectives on major issues of gender with which we still grapple; the origins of women’s subjugation, the struggle to achieve both autonomy and intimacy in human relationships; and new strategies for rearing and educating future generations by creating a humane and nurturing environment.

The more she developed her ideas the less she was able to sell her stories to publishers. She was advised by author and editor Theodore Dreiser “to consider more what the editors want”  at which point, Gilman resolved she must publish her own writings.

The Forerunner, written, edited and published by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was in print from 1909 to 1916 and featured short fiction, serialized novels, essays, articles, book reviews, poems and a personal advice column. Indeed, some of the published works of this prolific author; both fiction and non-fiction were originally serialized in The Forerunner. She reveals the mission for her journal with the poem “Then This” which appeared in the premier issue  in November 1909.

Then This

The news-stands bloom with magazines,
–They flame, they blaze indeed;
So bright the cover-colors glow,
So clear the startling stories show,
So vivid their pictorial scenes,
–That he who runs may read.

Then This: It strives in prose and verse,
–Thought, fancy, fact and fun,
To tell the things we ought to know,
To point the way we ought to go,
So audibly to bless and curse,
–That he who reads may run.

She cared about the precarious conditions for women and children and often drew attention to the connection between human society and nature. A list titled, “Reasonable Resolutions”  was published in January 1910. Here, Gilman wrote:

Let us collectively resolve:
That we will stop wasting our soil and our forests and our labor!
That we will stop poisoning and clogging our rivers and harbors.
That we will stop building combustible houses
That we will now–this year–begin in good earnest to prevent all preventable diseases.
That we will do our duty by our children and young people, as a wise Society should, and cut off the crop of criminals by not making them.

The Forerunner sold for ten cents and one dollar for a year’s subscription. At its peak the magazine had nearly 1,500 subscribers from the United States and from Europe, India, and Australia. After seven years, the cost to continue publishing became prohibitive for Gilman, and the magazine was discontinued at the end of 1916.

The Forerunner

The Forerunner

Recently, I obtained the full text download of volume one of The Forerunner from Project Gutenberg, one of many public access collections of eBooks available today online as part of the World Public Library. Again, I am enthralled by literary discovery.

Feminist researchers in the 1970’s rescued the works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and republished many of her most important contributions. Today’s scholars have more access to original published works, but the challenge continues to protect our print and digital collections and preserve the full breadth of our cultural heritage.

It takes the sustained efforts of many dedicated librarians, archivists, historians and publishers to preserve the past and future works in our digital collections. In this movement to digitize and preserve the fragile and rare, as well as the well-documented and commercial works we hedge our bets against the calamities such as fire and neglect that have plagued librarians for centuries.

I have learned a great deal from history and specifically from Gilman’s determination to publish her ideas and seek long term support for the societal changes she thought necessary for women’s economic freedom.

I am grateful to the efforts of many who consider the critical strategies necessary to preserve historical documents. Forward thinking organizations including the Library of Congress, and the Internet Archive, work to address the tremendous challenges of building a digital library with public access to the world’s knowledge.

Yet, I am troubled when considering the question of how fragile human culture is. What will survive in our digital age of hyper-publishing on devises destined to be obsolete? Will the essential voices of today rise above the clutter of the ephemeral cloud? Will we inspire social reformers in another hundred years with tales of brave actions and perspectives that offer new hope?

Golden, Catherine, Joanna S. Zangrando, “The Mixed Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman”
Knight, Denise. “The Forerunner”. The Literary Encyclopedia. 8 January 2001.
Lane, Ann, “To Herland and Beyond”

word cloud created at

My word cloud created at

Yesterday Stephanie Condon posted her thoughts on the political blog, CBS News Political Hotsheet comparing the words in President Obama’s speech on national security which focused on the closing of the Guantanamo prison with those of Dick Cheney’s speech on the same day. In a picture there are a thousand words. That is literally true in the word clouds created from each speech.

It is not difficult to tell I am fond of word clouds. (see previous post) So I went to and had a go at it myself. I have been writing a business plan recently and after going on and on for 15 pages, I wonder if my word cloud may not say it better?

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