Archive | October, 2012

NAMB: Good Grief, Great Pumpkin

31 Oct

Not Another Mom Blog is a regular satirical feature exploring all the vital, life-saving, keeping-your-child-from-growing-old-alone advice out there. NAMB: Because every mother needs something else to worry about.

Ready to destroy your child’s innocence

Never have I felt so justified in my decision to not let my child watch television until he’s 13.

This article opened my eyes to a real-life Halloween horror: Charlie Brown cartoons. Until this gentleman-scholar Buzz reminded me, I’d forgotten that the 1960s are over. The only thing that decade’s televised iconatry has to offer is a whiff of nostalgia for Gen X-ers, a.k.a old fogies. But for our tender youth, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is nothing but a manifesto for bullying. And we aren’t going to take it anymore.

Blockhead. Stupid. Dumb. These sharp words cut like knives into the precious skin of our precious, precious children. Don’t believe it? Talk to any second grader the morning after watching this monstrosity of “special programming.” They’ll tell you of the nightmares—sparsely-haired kids eating nothing but PB sandwiches and biplane-flying beagles. I doubt the “It Gets Better” project would have even had to exist if our youth hadn’t been exposed to this pop culture DDT.

I’d also like to point out that the story doesn’t even have a happy ending. Dealing with  disappointment and having blind faith are not appropriate lessons for children. And how you can call a movie “family entertainment” without a wedding, trophy, or beloved-pet-homecoming at the end is beyond me.

The only sensible option is to ban it from the airwaves entirely and in perpetuity. I hear you offering your silly suggestion to simply not let your 3-year old watch it. That’s not a choice, because as everyone knows: if it’s a cartoon, it’s for kids, and if it comes on primetime it’s mandatory.

Dumbphone

25 Oct

On the heels of the announcement that Newsweek is going all digital, Andrew Sullivan wrote this piece in which he called print magazines “horses and carriages” in an age of automobiles. The autos in this not-exactly-apt metaphor are data devices, i.e. smart phones and tablets. He also called for an abrupt and immediate shift to pure digital media—essentially asteroid-bombing the printed word into extinction. He called tablet subscriptions “the only viable way forward,” implying that people who read magazines like Newsweek, of  course, already own tablets.

I resemble that remark.

Newsweek is allowed to do whatever makes business sense for their company; I don’t take issue with their decision. But–not asking rhetorically here–where is this assumption coming from that everyone owns a smart phone and a tablet? More importantly, why is it implied that people who do are somehow smarter and more sophisticated consumers of current events? And is our sudden and heavy reliance on mobile technology a pure, or a mixed blessing?

I wanted to investigate, so I found a study from March of this year that showed 46% of adult Americans own a smartphone. Among the 88% of adults who own a cell phone of any kind, the ratio is even higher—about three in five say their phone is smart. What about tablets?  A Pew survey right after the 2011 Holiday season found that 29% of Americans own a tablet or e-reader–nearly one third of the population. These numbers are expected to increase dramatically over the next two years.

Pretty compelling stats. But I really didn’t need convincing that me and my library-card-toting, slide-phone using, glossy-magazine-subscribing ass is behind the times.  It’s the tone that gets me. I’m an intelligent, involved, under-30 person who likes to read things in print form. Also: I can’t afford a $400 tablet. So how am I supposed to take this statement from the same piece?:

And the tablet is so obviously a more varied, portable, simple vehicle […] than paper, print and staples. Why the fuck do [magazines] exist at all, except as lingering objects of nostalgia?

The stance seems a little aggressive (hello, F-bomb?). One reader sheepishly admitted to enjoying reading magazines in waiting rooms, to which Sullivan simply responded “read it on your phone.”

This is the problem I have with many smartphone owners. There’s a sense of smugness and self-satisfaction like that of the Star-bellied Sneetches, with an additional element of cultish recruiting. The logical fallacy presented (usually in a condescending tone like the above) is that cultured, discerning, up-to-date people have smartphones. Therefore, it follows that people who do not have smart phones must be none of those things. Why is this a fallacy? Because there are still 54% of us that don’t have that kind of phone. If you think those people fall into the category of nostalgic fogies that just can’t be made to care about the world…well, I know a theory about 47% of Americans you might find interesting.

There’s no point in fighting the inevitable decline of physical media, but allowing it to occur organically is the best course. Calling for an abrupt stopping of the presses is like saying “well, there are only 60 ring-horned rut pigs left in the wild, but since their environment will be destroyed in five years we should just kill them all now.”

Plus, there’s something sadder than usual about this particular cultural transition, which is widely acknowledged as the most rapid in history (certainly faster than the one from horses to cars). A little mourning wouldn’t be amiss. After all, it’s not much of a leap from pen and paper to flesh and blood.

Case in point: I recently hung out with a friend who spent the entire day with her nose in her iPhone. She has a job that requires constant connectivity, but I hadn’t seen her in a long time, and we were good friends. In the past that would have meant a long, chatty tete a tete—now I realized I’d have a better chance at a real conversation with her if I texted her from across the table. I could have felt miffed, but I mostly felt sad. I couldn’t blame my friend, because this is, inevitably, where we’re all headed.

Coincidentally, I read an interview this morning with psychologist Sherry Turkle, who studies technology and self at MIT. She has published a book on this very subject called Alone Together. She explained the wildfire spread of social technology (like texting) as a function of our deep-seated need for approval.

It used to be that people had a way of dealing with the world that was basically, ‘I have a feeling, I want to make a call.’ Now I would capture a way of dealing with the world, which is: ‘I want to have a feeling, I need to send a text.’ That is, with this immediate ability to connect and almost pressure to … because you’re holding your phone, you’re constantly with your phone, it’s almost like you don’t know your thoughts and feelings until you connect. (Emphasis added).

Hey, it’s the way of the future. Newsweek is making a smart choice, and others will quickly follow suit. Technology will get cheaper and consequently more accessible, and one day everyone really will own a tablet. Even I, one of the last non-senior citizen holdouts of the old guard, am asking for a Kindle this Christmas. I’m only saying there’s more at stake than just “paper and staples”–there’s a human element that can’t be ignored, and can’t be chalked up to mere nostalgia. The steps are few between eradicating bookstores and proposing marriage via text. I’m only proposing that at print’s graveside, we bury the past with a solemn salute instead of a condescending crow.

And is it totally trivial if I say that reading on a screen for a long time hurts my eyes?

Facets

23 Oct

Hey Hey! You may have noticed that I used to post every day, and now I don’t. That was a calculated move on my part, calculated with your entertainment and my sanity in mind (I see you in the peanut gallery saying you’re entertained by my insanity–trust me, it’s the opposite of interesting). Topmost and foremost, I am focusing on quality over quantity as an overall blog strategy. But also, let us not forget that I run this ride entirely in my spare time.

I work full time (I’ve got the annual United Way campaign coming up, which I chair), have a baby at home, and then of course there’s Tenny* (just kidding, P ;). I teach a dance class every week and am always making playlists, lesson plans, and choreography for that. I make a huge effort to spend quality (as in non-virtual) time with both husband and friends on a regular basis. All 457 books I’ve been on the waiting list for at the public library decided to become available at once, so I’ve been reading like crazy. I’m preparing to take a few resume-enhancing courses (HTML: I will bust you) while helping P prepare to take quite a few more when he goes back to finish his BA. Following the presidential race, working on Halloween costumes/plans, nursing a terrible cough and cold that’s making its way through everyone in the house, a dog with a slipped disk, and a washing machine and dryer that both broke in the same week round out my current working-on list. Facets!

But I don’t mean to complain. Things are going pretty great! (Well, besides the washer and dryer…curse you, BrandsMart). In fact, I’m so so excited to be resurrecting one of the most prominent facets of my personality over the next few weeks: performing! I have been cast in the musical Cabaret, which will be my first onstage appearance (unless you count the flash mob) since Steel Magnolias a.k.a. The Sticky Baby Dust Play two years ago. It’s a dance-heavy show too, my favorite!

Confession: I’ve been to several auditions since T was born, and haven’t been cast or even called back for any of them. I was in a dark place for a while, wondering if I still had it in me to act, whether it was selfish to spend the time away from my family anyway. After the last rejection I seriously considered quitting permanently.  Since I’ve spent the majority of my life pursuing the stage in some capacity, it was a gut-wrenching prospect, akin to contemplating losing a limb. There is very little else I’m good at or interested in, and although there’s probably a special spot for me in the terrible-mother Hell for saying so, work and family life aren’t enough to fulfill me. I felt like a total failure, compounded by the feeling that I was a failure for feeling like a failure over something as [comparatively] insignificant as community theatre.

But P talked me into going to this last audition, and I threw everything I had into it. And thank God I listened to him, because now not only am I doing a show, I feel a renewed vigor and interest in the whole process, which it must be confessed I had somewhat soured on in the last few productions I did. If you happen to be in the Atlanta area in December, I so hope you’ll come out. We had our first cast meeting last night to go over the vision, and it’s going to be great! Here’s a snipet from the revival that our production will be modeled after–I’ll be playing the chick in the hat (don’t bring the little ones, folks, this one’s rated R).

So I’ll be really busy the next few weeks, but no worries, I’m not neglecting the blog. I’m constantly thinking of new ideas for Cushion Cut, not only topics but broadening and enhancing my online social presence (still getting to know Twitter and Polyvore). And I’ve been writing a TON lately, much of it just hasn’t been published yet (working on that quality!). I’ve also been working on some exciting cross-blog prospects that I hope to tell you about soon!

*big drama on the daycare front, by the way…I see another NAMB post in the future

The Secret Tree: A Personal Essay

18 Oct

My grandparents both passed away in the month of September, three years apart. This past September marked the end of the first year without either of them, and it put me in a melancholy and commemorative mood.

For 50 years Granny and Pop lived on a farm in McDonough; my dad and uncle grew up there, and my brother and I were half-raised there ourselves. Although the farm had mostly ceased to operate as such before I was born, there were still cows in the leased-out pasture and a tiny orchard that bore figs, pears, tomatoes, and muscadines. My brother and I loved to run around in the “Field”–a postage stamp-sized piece of fallow crop land–and dance on the “Stage”–a rusting flat-bed. Our favorite place to play was The Secret Tree. It was at the corner of the property in a little stretch of woods by the creek that my dad used to dam in the summer for swimming as a child. Split by lightning, half the tree had crashed completely to the ground, but by some miracle of nature it continued to grow and bloom, year after year.

But the years wore differently on the human inhabitants of the land. Granny and Pop became overwhelmed by the upkeep of the place. When I was in college they sold it to a nearby church to turn it into a youth recreation center and lived the rest of their days in Peachtree City.

I didn’t go to the dedication of the farm to the church, even when Pop asked me especially. I had a rehearsal for something, but more than that, I was sore and sad about the demise of the farm that held so many childhood memories. I didn’t want to bear witness.

“I made them promise,” Pop said, when he was telling me about the sale. “I said: now, I’ll give you this land on one condition. Don’t you cut down The Secret Tree. That’s where Pop’s punkin and pal play.” My throat tightened. What did The Secret Tree matter when the farm was lost to us? I thought.

Not going to the dedication is one of my only real regrets in life. I have a picture in my wallet of my grandparents taken on that day in front of their soon-to-be demolished house, beaming ear to ear in the sunshine.  Pop proudly threw the first pitch on the baseball field. Whatever I may have felt, they were obviously happy.

I didn’t meet my husband until long after the move to Peachtree City, and I always lamented that he had never had a chance to see the farm.  I didn’t even know the last time I’d been there–like so many lasts, I hadn’t known it to recognize it. I’d also never revisited my grandparents’ graves, which were nearby. This, at least, didn’t have to become a regret: McDonough is less than an hour away. I could show my husband and son the land that had once been the farm, reminisce a bit, and put flowers on the tombstones.

So on a Saturday afternoon, we loaded up the diaper bag and made the trip south. The ride was pleasant enough, but soon we realized we didn’t know exactly how to get there. I had no idea what it looked like now, if the address was still the same, if you could drive straight to it. Eventually we found the church itself, and the massive spread of fields rolling away from it. Not knowing in exactly which direction the old farm-land lay, we parked and started walking, relying on impressions stamped in my memory rather than any true sense of direction.

We walked on, dowsing rod-like, past a playground and several ball fields. It was extremely hot, as September often is here, and the red clay dust lay all around. Bugs found us. P and T didn’t complain, but I knew this was hardly impressive. What’s more, it didn’t feel right. I hadn’t been here in a long time, but nothing was the same. Could it really have changed so much that I didn’t even recognize it? Most of the land was designated for parking. I thought of the Field, of a family of rabbits I’d once seen there. They’d let me creep close enough to see the trembling of their whiskers. I felt in my heart they hadn’t kept their promise to save the Secret Tree.

At the edge of the parking fields was a stand of scrubby pine, and around the base of it, leading left, a sort of dirt path that had been hidden by a crest of land. The very hot and tired P and T waited while I ran round the curve to see if anything was on the other side.  The path bent out of sight of my family and fell into shade. All was still and quiet as I stepped out of the green, leafy tunnel and stopped short.

Directly in front of me was the Field. The orchard was gone, but the land stood as it always had. Beyond it was the avenue! Not much more than a driveway in reality, the tree lined,  pine straw-covered dirt track led from the road to the house. How I loved driving down the avenue as a child, watching my reflection fly through the trees in the window of my mom’s little white Honda, anticipating my grandparent’s bear hugs and another fun visit. To the right I saw the barn where the tractor was kept, and directly beyond, the carport and the house, looking as if they had been plucked straight from my head. They hadn’t torn it down. It was all here! Just the way it had always been!

I felt unsteady, like time was folding in on itself, or perhaps stopping entirely. But then I saw my husband, following the sound of my voice round the bend, and my little boy, who had only just begun to walk, toddling toward me from through the pines. I scooped him up and breathed in his baby smell, a lump in my throat thinking that my Pop, so central in my own young life, wasn’t here to see this, that he would never know my son, that T would never know this place as I had known it, that my own father who had once held me like this was now this child’s Pop, at the sheer and dizzying magnitude of the march of time.

The place was deserted, so we took our time exploring. I was sorry to find that the house was locked, but through the window I could see it was being used as a bread kitchen–a long table set up in front of the stone fireplace, the orange shag carpet with the burn spots replaced by tile. Granny and Pop would have loved the sign affixed to the barn-style door: Pray for those who enter this place.

The barbed wire fence enclosing the pasture was gone, as was a dilapidated barn, but I was happy to see the horse arena restored to its former glory as a pair of little league-sized baseball diamonds. The arena was abandoned in my time–Granny had warned us to stay away due to snakes. But she’d told us of the many years she’d spent there with the 4-H Club, when my dad was my age and a champion horseback rider. The concession stand was set up as it must have been then; I imagined a young and beautiful Granny–perhaps the age I am now!–behind the counter setting out hot dogs and sodas for the boys.

P and T were taking it all in. They followed me, and I followed my feet, which seemed to remember better than my brain the way to the Secret Tree. I was no longer afraid it would be gone. And I wasn’t disappointed. It was both smaller and bigger than I remembered, the branches still lush in the Indian Summer, the gaping wound in its trunk yawning at us sleepily in the afternoon light. I held T up to the tree and he slowly reached out his little hand, ran it along the rough bark. I expected to feel time stand still for a moment, but instead I was overwhelmed with a feeling that it was flowing fast–past me and over me and around me like a stream, never the same and impossible to hold. Things would keep changing. I’ll never see my grandparents again in this life. The farm will never be our home again, even though I know I can visit it now whenever I choose. My baby will grow into a man, and one day have his own little boy who he might bring here, to a home that will be ancestral by then. The Secret Tree, unchanged save by the seasons, bears witness to it all.

I discovered Polyvore

16 Oct
Summer dress transitioned to fall
I hated paper dolls when I was a kid. The appeal of putting together different outfits was overshadowed by the requirement of cutting things precisely with scissors, which we already know is beyond my capabilities. So when I finally decided to investigate Polyvore, the source of many a fashion Pin, I was immediately drawn in. Like paper dolls, you get to clip and put together outfits, but UNLIKE paper dolls, the clothes are real and you can imagine them on yourself instead of Queen Victoria.
I made this outfit around the dress, which I pinned on Pinterest in the summer, imagining how I could wear it in cooler weather. I feel an addiction coming on.

7 Word Stories

12 Oct

Researching mental fitness for the Wellness Campaign, I stumbled across this brain teaser that purportedly strengthens verbal reasoning: write a short story using only seven words. Evidently it boosts creativity and the ability to communicate concisely.

I have a little problem with brevity in the written word–not sure if you knew–so I decided to give it a try. Assuming the story had to be exactly seven words, not more or less, I made these feeble attempts.

I like potatoes, but not French fries.
Cats steal your breath in the mornings.
We work Wednesdays, not Saturdays, you idiot.
You need a beginning, middle, and end.

I got stumped on the last sentence. Not because I can’t think of any more seven word sentences–sad fact: I could do that all day–but because I think that’s what a true story should have: a beginning, middle, and end. Easy if I had seven sentences, but in seven words? Er…

The chick that stalked me got arrested.
He left me and I almost died.
Dinosaurs once lived here, but they exploded.

Hmm. There’s a little more action, but it seems like there’s still only a beginning and an end. How can I fit in a middle? Also: Now I’m kinda depressed.

I studied, graduated, and found a job.

OK, now I’m really depressed. But at least there’s a middle. Hey! Do hyphenated words count as one?

Sausage-eating monkeys broke wind and broke free.

Doesn’t that paint a picture? But I’m still not quite sure that counts. Ah! I’ve got it. The only real short story is love, non?

He smiled, I winked, now we’re married.

What’s your seven word story?

 

Tweet Tweet!

9 Oct

I finally took the plunge and opened a Twitter account today. I’m still getting acquainted, so it may be a while before the tide of wit starts rolling. But meanwhile…I’ll follow you if you follow me (snicker snicker). @itsmejanielee