Freedom on Freemont Street

A couple of weeks ago I visited Las Vegas with my husband. It was my third or fourth trip, and I always approach the city with mixed feelings. On the one hand, you can’t beat the place for glitzy distraction — who can feel anxious or annoyed when watching strings of water shoot through the air in time to “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” at the fountain in front of the Bellagio Hotel? Who can’t feel a certain weird admiration at the giant slot machine on Freemont Street and its attached zip lines high above where people fly through the air like super heroes?

IMG_7745On the other hand, the discrepancy between the ridiculous wealth on “The Strip” and the bone-crushing poverty in other areas of the city, such as the streets surrounding Freemont (the “old” strip) is pretty hard to take. While tourists dine at the all-you-can-eat lobster buffet at Caesar’s Palace, Vietnam Veterans make roses out of palm leafs to sell for around $2. I felt really depressed as we drove down one downtown street, where abandoned motels stood gated and decrepit, their windows boarded with ply wood or painted black. Every now and then someone pushing a shopping cart full of clothes and blankets would appear at an intersection, waiting to cross the street. “You get the feeling that people really struggle in Vegas,” said my husband.

But when I visited Container Park, which is just down the road from Freemont, I felt a little bit more hopefull. Created from repurposed shipping containers and locally-made “Xtreme Cubes,” the shopping center is only about two years old. I went into “Art Box,” a store selling creations by local artists, and bought a Dr. Who-inspired necklace for my mum made by the owner’s wife (Kellie Kroplinski).

Outside Container Park is a metal heart covered with locks (likely inspired by the Paris bridge) by artist Nova May.


And in front of Container Park is a giant praying mantis that can shoot fire:


And in the surrounding streets, I discovered a bunch of really interesting murals. I haven’t been able to find out much about who painted them or why, but I believe they are part of the Las Vegas Centennial celebration of 2005, which invited public and private businesses to host murals throughout the city. Here are a few of my favorites…

Las Vegas mural     Las Vegas mural

Las Vegas mural     Las Vegas mural

These murals and Container Park really saved Vegas for me, adding another layer to an otherwise pretty obvious city. If Las Vegas can create art as beautiful and wacky as the murals and a place as unique as Art Box, it must have something pretty special going for it!

Would you, or wouldn’t you?

Happy New Year! I hope 2015 is off to a good start for you, with lots of creativity flowing in all your ventures!

A writer friend and I were talking this morning about how easy it is to create a pseudonym if you are publishing via Amazon. Anyone who has ever signed up for Amazon to review a product or book can pick a Pen Name, or the name they want the public to see, just by going to his/her public profile page. (Here’s mine as an example.) To add a pen name or alter your public name, just click on  “Edit Activity Settings,” and a box will pop up. Your real name will still be used for anonymous settings like bank accounts and payment information.

I haven’t tried it, personally, with my books because I want my name to be associated with them! But my friend has contemplated using a pen name with a romance novel she’s working on. Having the option of a pseudonym does seem to open up possibilities if you’ve ever felt awkward about working on something “risqué” like a romance or erotic novel. Perhaps you have young children and don’t want them reading it one day because you’d feel embarrassed. Or maybe you’re a public figure in the church or in politics, and it would cause a scandal! Or maybe you’re writing a self-help book about how to deal with the in-laws but don’t want your in-laws associating it with you. Who knows?

There are plenty of self assured writers who use their real names and feel perfectly comfortable writing whatever comes naturally to them. But for those writers who feel the need to be anonymous, a pen name is a great option. Look at George Eliot, who ditched her female name to be taken more seriously as an author. And there are writers who, alternatively, go by just their initials to avoid being assigned a gender (or even ethnicity!). What do you think? Would you ever use a pseudonym?

High school newspaper fights sexism, stigma against depression!

Hats off to The Communicator, the student-run online and print newspaper at Community High in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The staff are not afraid to print controversial articles about dress codes that discriminate against young women and recently penned an op-ed piece in The New York Times, detailing their fight to help end the stigma against depression. This talented group also write about local and global issues, more than just the prom (which was what we mainly covered in my school newspaper!), although they write about that, too! They also raise the money to print the newspaper by holding fundraisers.

I am so impressed with these students because I know how hard it can be just to get a student-run newspaper off the ground. I was on the newspaper staff (back in the 1990s!), and when our high school switched principals, he decided to cancel funding for the school newspaper. A dedicated teacher somehow managed to wrangle a deal in which she could still teach the class (an elective), and we would raise the money ourselves for the newspaper. So, we did. We asked local businesses to buy ads in our paper, and we sold our issues for 50 cents each (if memory serves). We managed to pull together a monthly paper — of course, only print back then! — and I have always been proud to have been part of that effort.

Another reason I think The Communicator and the students at Community High deserve praise is because of their efforts to end the stigma against depression and other “controversial” forms of mental illness. As an adult with chronic depression, I know how hard it is to even tell a family member that I have the illness. As soon as I say, “I was diagnosed with depression back in 2007,” an ambiguous look comes over most people’s faces, a mixture of surprise, sadness, and (am I imagining this?) disbelief. Regardless of what they are thinking, it doesn’t compare to the thoughts racing through MY head — “They think I’m weird, they think I’m being melodramatic, I just want to take pills and make everything okay, I’m looking for an easy answer, I’m going to freak out and throw myself under a bus…” The fact that I feel ashamed and secretive about my depression, that I have these assumptions at all, shows me just how ingrained the stigma is against it — never mind bipolar disorder or, heaven-forbid, an eating disorder!

So, I know how much courage it takes to admit you have a mental illness — AND to be willing to do it when you’re in high school and to your peers AND strangers who would undoubtedly have read the issue, that takes sheer guts! My hat is off to all the students at Community High who are willing to put themselves on the line and take a stand!

P.S. This is a great website to help you find a counselor in your area if you just need someone neutral to talk to about how you’re feeling.


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