Monday, November 30, 2009

Walk of Shame


In case you were wondering, Black Friday was a commercial success in the U.S. this year with shoppers lining up outside stores Thursday evening to get first dibs on Zhu Zhu the electronic hamster and Screature. Wal-mart was apparently having a special on toddlers, judging from the picture at right (look closely). This came from People of Wal-mart, a site featuring some of the unique flora and fauna spotted at my least favorite store, which you have to see to believe. 195 million people turned out to shop this weekend, 195 million being roughly the combined populations of England, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and... Dubai. Speaking of Dubai, it is apparently suffering some economic woes. Who knew that the market for $40,000/night hotel suites, ruby-encrusted yachts and martini-shaped islands would ever dry up? Perhaps Dubai would do well to adopt Thanksgiving so that they could have Black Friday sales too.

Co-workers are a funny breed. I had mentioned to several of them over the past month that I had started a blog. Most responded with something along the lines of: “Oh, yeah, I heard about that. I’ve been meaning to take a look at it. As soon as I finish filing my toenails/washing my electronic hamster/yawning/etc.” But somehow, over the Thanksgiving holiday (or more likely, on Monday morning, as they were easing their way back into the work week) everyone at the agency was suddenly overcome with a burning desire to read my blog. (If you read my post about what I did over my Thanksgiving break, you know that I ate more crow than turkey.) And when I came back to work I had to do the walk of shame (as Celeste dubbed it) down the long hallway to my office.

My boss was simply amused and rewarded me by making me the administrator of our new client database system. Perhaps rewarded isn’t the right word. Celeste is placing Corporate Credit Card Use Policy on the agenda for our management team meeting tomorrow just to see if I can discuss it with a straight face. I love Celeste. No really, I do.

I love Celeste because she pointed out to me today that I am actually a year younger than I thought I was. I’ve been going around for 4 months thinking that I was 46 when I’m actually only 45. She had to do the math on her adding machine to get me to believe this (despite the fact that my 7-year old daughter has been telling me the same thing). Just because I work in finance doesn’t mean I can do simple arithmetic (I was a liberal arts major, after all). I feel like I have a new lease on life! So even though I can no longer lord it over the staff about credit card policy, I’ve turned the clock back an entire year and this make me happy.

I'm also happy because I was not among the 195 million people who went shopping this weekend (unless you count the beer and donuts I bought at Wal-mart). Shopping ranks among my least favorite things to do (along with getting traffic citations). I'm not sure how I'm going to reclaim my once lofty reputation at the agency (stop laughing Celeste) but I'm okay with that too, because now I have another year to figure it out.


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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bad Cop Karma


Sunday was cold but we needed to get out of the house so we packed up the kids and took them to a local park. “Mommy! Someone’s written on here in marker!” Anna had apparently never encountered graffiti before. She began to read it out loud: “Cody sucks monster rocks.” Only it didn’t say rocks.  I was relieved she was not yet adept at reading Cholo script. She was less concerned about the content, however, than the unbelievable transgression of someone defiling play equipment with permanent marker, which saved me from having to provide much in the way of explanation.

Driving home through downtown Olathe I drove right by a motorcycle cop who had just finished writing up a car for speeding. He watched me drive by, hopped on his bike, pulled up behind me and turned on his lights. I was a bit nonplussed as I had been driving at what I considered to be a perfectly reasonable speed. Jim informed me however, that the speed limit on that particular stretch of road is 25, which is about the maximum speed achieved by geriatrics with walkers, and I had apparently been doing slightly more than that.

I need to pause here to explain that I have extremely good cop karma. I am rarely pulled over by cops and when I am, I am invariably allowed to go with just a warning. I believe this is because I view law enforcement as a force for good in the world, always out there to protect me and my fellow citizens from evil-doing minions, and they reward me in kind by allowing me leeway in minor transgressions like trifling traffic violations. It’s one big cosmic love fest.

A few months back I was driving on some of the country roads behind our house and I sort of ran a stop sign. A cop pulled me over and I explained that I hadn’t even seen it (as it turns out, it was brand new and lots of people were running it, hence the cop stationed out there). I apologized and we had a nice little chat, wherein the cop confessed that he even ran it now and then. By the end of it, we were great pals and he let me go without a ticket. That’s good cop karma.

Jim, on the other hand, has bad cop karma. He believes cops exist for the pure purpose of bullying law-abiding citizens, tazering kittens and fulfilling ticket quotas. And his expectations are generally fulfilled. And on this particular day, because he was in the car with me, his bad cop karma neutralized, nay, completely obliterated my good cop karma, and Officer Borkowsky of the Olathe Police Department gave me a ticket for $116 for doing 37 in a 25 zone.

My kids sat stock still in the back of the van while all of this was going on. They were beyond fascinated. In the past when we had passed cars that had been pulled over, I had explained to my children that the police were giving the adults a “time out” and this seemed to satisfy them. Being one who always sought a silver lining, I began to wonder if I could somehow turn this into 46 minutes of alone time for myself once we got home (the answer, sadly, is no).

Jim thinks I should contest the ticket. He says that if the officer doesn’t show up (and they rarely do) they drop the charges and it won’t go on my record (and he speaks as if he has experience in these matters). But I’m dubious. To contest the charges implies that I would have some sort of defense. Which would be what? That, really, I was only doing 36. That I respect law enforcement and generally have good cop karma. That Office Borkowsky is a big meanie and sucks monster rocks.

My court date is not for a while yet so I’m just going to file the ticket away for now until I decide what to do. In the mean time, I have suggested to Jim that we drive separate cars just, you know, as a safety precaution against any terrible accident befalling the two of us that might render our children wards of the state. He is dubious.


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Friday, November 27, 2009

%#$@! Blogcatalog (or what I did for my Thanksgiving Break)

I’m new to the world of blogging, having only started my site just under a month ago. Being the innocent neophyte that I am, I was excited when I stumbled across Blogcatalog, Google’s social network and directory of blogs where bloggers can list their site, meet other bloggers, friend them and join in discussions with like-minded souls (btw, if you don’t know by now that friend is a verb, you might as well start digging yourself a grave). So I set up my profile, listed my blog and joined in on some of the discussion threads. I visited some other personal blogs and people visited mine. Hey, this was fun!

People started sending me friend requests (kind of like on Facebook, except most of the time I had no idea who they were). But what the heck, I was feeling kind of popular! Some of them didn’t speak very good English. But that’s okay. Neither do most Americans. Some of them seemed to have nothing in common with me (come worship Jesus with me!!!). Well, I’m more into Buddha, but whatever. Some of them seemed to be intent on just collecting as many friends as possible. Some really wanted me to visit their blog so I might buy whatever they were selling. Then there was Cuteptaguy. He was all about being gay. But that’s okay. I’m gay-friendly. Every day he would send me 12 different “shouts” about different GLBT causes he wanted me to support, petitions to sign or blog posts he wanted me to check out (always his). Sorry, dude, I don’t even want to read about my own sexual interests that often. Unfriend. But there were also several interesting, literate writers with personal blogs that I liked to visit, many of whom are probably reading this post. And this is the vexation of Blogcatalog. You have to be willing to dig through a lot of dirt to get to the treasure.

But I was unprepared for Dr. James. He showed up following my blog one day. It took me a couple of weeks before I decided to check out his blog (I waited this long because his site was called something along the lines of www.thelivingchurchofjesusislove.com so I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to rock my world). Long story short, Dr. James was not a real person but a nasty virus and when I clicked on his site it took down my netbook.

Remember when you were in grade school and your English teachers were too lazy to come up with essay topics so you had to write about, “What I did over my summer/spring/Christmas break”? Well, my husband, Jim, blessed technical god that he is, spent the entire first evening of his Thanksgiving break trying to clear this malevolent virus off my netbook. This was made difficult by the fact that my netbook does not have a hard drive which can be removed and enslaved by another machine (don’t ask me what this means; it’s some geek speak I heard him say) and that this particular virus created a faux antivirus-looking popup called Antivirus System Pro that looked like it was cleaning your system but was in fact the virus itself.

I was concerned that people who visited my blog might see this Dr. James listed among my “followers” and click on him and infect their computers too. So, being the absolutely brilliant person that I am, while Jim was cleaning my netbook, I picked up my work laptop, logged into my blog and clicked on Dr. James so I could block him from following my site. And then this funny thing happened to my work laptop! It completely locked up and started acting like my netbook did when it became infected. (And Don, if you’re reading this, I’m really sorry.) So as I’m listening to my husband mutter obscenities from the dining room as he’s going into his fourth straight hour of trying to repair my netbook, I’m sinking slowly into the couch and trying to think of how I’m going to break this to him.

According to a report put out by Sophos last year, Blogspot won honors for the site Most Likely to Give You a Virus (Facebook ranked high, as well). But Blogspot accounted for 2% of all malware attacks, most the result of legitimate sites that were hacked by SQL injection (don’t ask me what that means – ask my husband).

I got up on Thanksgiving morning to discover that my netbook had been repaired while I slept (thank you dear!) but the turkey was still frozen. So I filled the sink with warm water and put the turkey in to thaw. When Jim awoke, bleary-eyed from a late night of virus-battling, he got busy with my work laptop. I made a big pot of coffee and tried to lay low. I cooked in the kitchen while he resumed obscenity-muttering in the dining room.

I realized I needed a couple of last minute items and broke with my policy of not-shopping-at-Walmart, given that it was the only store open on Thanksgiving. I bought milk and a baguette and, as a love offering for Jim, some good beer and chocolate donuts (if you’re thinking that Walmart couldn’t possibly make a good baguette, you would be correct). Only when I got up to the cash register I realized I didn’t have my purse with me. I went out to the car and realized it was not there either (at which point I had a sharp visual image of it sitting on the stairs at home). I did, however, have my corporate credit card in my car. But here’s my dilemma. While our organization used to be kind of lax about corporate credit card use, our new Finance Director sort of read everyone the riot act when she came on and rewrote the policy and there are now strict guidelines in place for what does and does not constitute appropriate use of credit cards. And I’m pretty sure that buying beer at Walmart for personal consumption isn’t in our policy. In fact, I know for certain that it isn’t because, you see, I am the Finance Director. But. I had nothing else to pay with. (And Don, if you’re reading this, I’m really, really sorry.)

When I returned, I noticed that several concerned friends had responded to my Facebook post about my frozen turkey and told me that whatever I did, I should not put it in warm water to thaw, as this would cause any bacteria present before it was frozen to flourish. Oops. When I confessed my sin one friend (the other Kristin) suggested I called the Butterball hotline (1-800-BUTTERBALL, in case you’re wondering). I did. A recording told me they were not able to take my call due to unusually high call volume. On Thanksgiving. Go figure. Kristin and her husband Maneesh googled. I googled. We all determined it was probably a risk to eat the turkey. I conferred with Jim and this is what we decided. We would make hot dogs for the kids but fuck it, we were eating turkey. What was life without a few brazen risks? We had already survived two virus attacks in the last 24 hours and come out shining. I uncorked a bottle of wine I had bought on my trip to Australia and had been saving for a special occasion (like toasting my friends at Blogcatalog).

But here’s the thing. I was so busy cursing Blogcatalog and making inappropriate purchases on my corporate credit card that I forgot to check on the turkey and it was just a little overcooked. It’s supposed to cook to a temperature of 170 F and when I stuck the thermometer in mine it kept going until it hit 203. Actually, it was inedible. This is probably a good time to point out that I make a killer pumpkin pie and I’m really cute.

We put on some traditional Thanksgiving music (The Cheiftans) and sat down to a splendid feast of vegetarian side dishes. We toasted our health, each other and the still generous bounty before us.

I’m a philosophical soul. Who knows? Maybe the turkey was riddled with salmonella after all and our good friends at the Living Church of Jesus is Love were sending us all these distractions in an attempt to keep our family out of the hospital. Just in case, I’m raising another glass to my friends at Blogcatalog.

There is a coyote that lives in the woods behind out house and on Friday I friended him with an 8-pound turkey breast.

Jim has requested that I steer clear of Blogcatalog for the remainder of the Thanksgiving break. He has some other projects he’d like to attend to during his time off.


On Monday my break is over and I go back to work with my squeaky clean laptop, where I will drop off a check for $28.55 to reimburse my agency for the beer and donuts I purchased at Walmart before going into a meeting with Don, my exceptionally understanding boss, where he’s seeking my input on implementing some new technology at our agency (the irony!). I return wiser than when I left five days earlier, having learned the following: there is such a thing as too many friends, Norton Antivirus sucks rocks, turkeys can take up to 3 days to thaw, and if Dr. James comes a knockin’-- run!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

House of Cards

Several months ago my daughter Anna, then 6, was in the back seat of my van belting out I don’t want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover, when it occurred to me that I probably should be more select about what I chose to listen to while driving. So I decided to put together a play list of kids’ songs on my mp3, which I did, and which they both greatly enjoyed. But there are only so many times I can listen to Rainbow Connection and forgo the urge to throw myself off a tall building, so eventually we came back around to Radiohead. My children, having an apparent broad range of musical tastes, were unfazed. “Mommy,” she said,” I don’t know what this song is called, so I just call it ‘Denial’”. That’s fine love, just don’t sing it at school, okay?

There was a time not so long ago when all I had to worry about was placing the medicine bottles on a high shelf and putting plastic guards in electrical outlets. My husband and I could spell out words not meant for little ears. Now Anna reads Facebook status updates over my shoulder. Like this one: “Bananagrams with wine and cleavage!” And thank you, Matthew, for the accompanying photo. Try explaining that to a 7-year-old. But I don’t have to explain it because my 4-year-old son has just emerged from my bedroom. “Mommy, what is this shaky thing?” Oh. My. That’s something mommy uses to massage her tired muscles.

Back before I had children I used to imagine that parenthood would consist of baking cupcakes with my kids and taking them on outings to the zoo – all bunnies and wholesome goodness. And of course I would also continue to enjoy the same pleasures and moderate vices of any adult. And, consummate organizer that I am, I would be able to effortlessly juggle my two worlds, slipping back and forth between them with ease (contain your laughter, please). While I love to bake with my kids and we do occasionally go look at caged animals, parenthood is nothing like the neatly-framed vignette I imagined. I was a fool to think my kids would be satisfied with having access to only a fraction of my life, even if it is the greater fraction. Nor did I realize that they would be blessed with powers of observation and intelligence and curiosity so insatiable it would bring me to my knees.

They hide behind the clothes in my closet, listen in on my private conversations, get into my lipstick, poke little fingers into my jars of lotion, go through the drawers in my office, take the mints out of my purse, count the coins in my wallet, try on my bras even. My world is their oyster!

The other day, as I struggled to open a bottle of cough medicine, Anna told me she knew how to open child safety caps. Really? “Yes,” she said. “Would you like me to show you?” I have now given myself over to the realization that I will never be prepared for my children’s precipitate curiosity. In the battle to stay one step ahead of them, my strategy has gone from one of averting casualties to simply hiding the bodies. So when Anna comes over and wants to know what I’m reading, I don’t try to think of a child-friendly response. I tell her, simply, that it’s between me and my diary. “What’s a diary?” she asks. It’s a place where people record their private thoughts. But it’s just a saying; I don’t actually keep a diary. “Yes you do. It’s under the pile of books by your bed.” Oy vey. Now I just have to keep her from discovering my blog.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Patience, Please

The other day I went to see the dermatologist for a routine procedure. He was very busy that day and his office kept calling to see if they could push back my appointment time, which was fine with me, as I was at work and my schedule was otherwise clear that afternoon. I think my appointment started out at noon and was pushed back two or three times until finally, I showed up at his office at 5:30. Even then, I was told, amidst several apologies, that I would have to wait another 90 minutes or so. I called my husband to tell him I’d be home late and settled in with a book.

There were several other people in the waiting room who had clearly been there for some time and all seemed to be taking the wait in stride, joking with each other about the unusually late hour. There was one woman who was especially talkative. She appeared to be in her 60’s and was there with her husband, who smiled occasionally though didn’t join in her banter. She engaged the other patients in the waiting room in conversation, one by one, then took her cell phone out of her purse and called someone to tell them, in a loud voice, about the wait. I began to get annoyed as I wanted nothing but to lose myself in my book.

Her husband was called in to see the doctor and the woman got up and moved closer to me. She picked up a copy of Readers Digest and began reading jokes out loud, then looking my way to gauge my reaction. I smiled politely. She read more jokes out loud. I fervently wished she would fall off the planet. Mercy finally arrived in the form of a nurse calling my name. By this time it was 7:00 p.m.

As I sat in the examination room in my paper gown (god I hate those gowns) I could hear the husband in the next room, talking with the doctor. When the doctor finally arrived he apologized for the cancelled appointments and the long wait. I told him that it wasn’t a problem and that I appreciated that he was able to see me at all on what was usually a surgery day for him. "Well," he said, "at least you haven’t been waiting as long as my last patient. The man I just saw is one of my melanoma patients. He had surgery at 7:00 this morning, but has been here all day because we’ve had some complications. Now, let’s have a look at your leg."

Throughout the procedure I thought of what I would say to the woman when I left. Perhaps I could make yet another joke about the long day or just give her a smile and wish her well. I tried to think of something that would be comforting, yet appropriate, given that I didn’t even know her. But of course, when I left, they were gone. The room was empty and the receptionist was locking up the office. I walked out into the night sat in my van for just a minute, before starting it up and heading home to my family.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy flippin' Anniversary, Darwin


Next week marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species and, in predictable fashion, the anti-evolutionists are coming out of the woodwork to make the most of it. Though I suppose its wishful thinking of my part to presume they’d ever vanished into the woodwork to begin with.

Living Waters, an evangelical Christian group, has altered more than 100,000 copies of Darwin’s famous book with their own introduction promoting Intelligent Design and defaming not only Darwin’s theory, but his character, apparently going so far as to make a connection between Darwin and Hitler. They plan to distribute the books on college campuses around the country. I suppose this would be akin to scientists trying to amend the Bible to include evolution-friendly passages in an effort to win over students. Assuming, of course, that evolution requires belief, which is doesn’t, any more than gravity requires belief.

What I fail to understand is this:

1) Why try to win followers through trickery? If you feel your worldview has merit, then let it stand on its own and don’t try to sell it as something it’s not.

2) If your whole philosophy is built on faith, why the need to manipulate science to support it?

3) Why do all Christian evangelicals have the same hair? Is there one stylist they all go to?

I know it’s pointless to ask these questions. I’ve seen too many drawn out debates on Intelligent Design vs. evolution that go on endlessly and ultimately go nowhere. In the end, no one is enlightened and no one is convinced of anything other than their own righteousness.

For a number of years I was fairly heavily involved in the movement to elect science-minded representatives to the Kansas State Board of Education (remember that debacle – when our fair state threatened to outlaw the teaching of evolution?). And while I suppose there is some sense of accomplishment in our state having tipped the balance of the board back in the direction of sanity, there is a sense of futility as well. For the battle continues to wage on every election cycle.

When I look at other democracies, I scratch my head. How is it that European nations have such a strong secular grounding while we are awash in holy-rollerhood? How is it that we can be such a wealthy country, built (ostensibly) on pluralism and individual freedoms, and yet be one breath away from theocracy (or so it seems, at times). I don’t get it.

Other than some mandatory excerpts in college, I’ve never actually read Origin of Species and probably never will. It’s a bit dry. I have read most of the Bible. While the plot line is dodgy in spots and the begats a little tedious, it’s a much more engaging read. But whatever your tastes, I don’t think it’s a good idea to mess with the classics.

Happy anniversary Charles, for what it's worth.


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Slow on the Uptake


One of the first decisions I had to make when starting a blog was whether to go with a free service, such as Blogger, that uses ready-made templates, or to build a site from scratch. The second option allows more freedom, but requires more work (and some programming knowledge). I decided to go with the former because I love instant gratification. But I’ve discovered that I don’t love working within the constraints of the limited design templates offered by Blogger. I want my blog to look a certain way and I’m frustrated that I can’t manipulate the templates to make that happen.

It’s been suggested that I can overwrite some of their code if I know enough HTML, and that perhaps I should take a class in HTML for this purpose. I think this is a bad idea for several reasons. 1) I have no free time. 2) I want to write in my no free time. 3) I hate HTML, and (4) I am married to a very talented programmer. If I need a little programming done, I just need to ask nicely. In all fairness, I’m sure it would never occur to my husband to take a class in nonprofit finance (and babe, if you ever need deferred grant funds allocated across eight different programs of unequal size, please don’t hesitate to ask).

But my husband, like me, has more work than free time and not a lot of leisure to dink around with side projects like this. While I can call upon him for something critical, I don’t want to have to interrupt him every other evening to help me figure out how to maneuver through some of the more trivial elements of the blog. So I decided to order a book on Google Blogger, hoping it would give me some insight into how to crack the system. I went onto Amazon and noted that Google Blogger for Dummies had 5 stars, and the Amazon star system never lies, so I ordered it.

When the book arrived I eagerly opened it to discover it included such helpful hints as: how to open a Blogger account (including a half page screen shot of the log in box), choosing a blog template (okay) and how to choose a topic to write on (not exactly what I was looking for, but thanks). It even showed me where to find such popular search engines as Google and Yahoo so that I could list my blog. Hey, thanks guys! I was beginning to think I should have at least ordered Blogger for the Moderately Intelligent. I set it aside. Here was a book, at the very least, that one could judge by its cover.

As I sighed loudly for the umpteenth time while looking at the limited elements of the Blogger layout, I remembered something that my husband had said the week before (after we tried for 20 minutes, to no avail, to alter the header template so that it would actually look like a header). Isn’t the whole purpose of this blog to write?

Oh. Yeah. I wanted to write.


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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Palin' in Comparison


Sarah Palin is pretty miffed at Newsweek for this cover picture, which she calls sexist. I have to agree. I would be upset if I went around posing for pictures in hot little shorts and then someone had the audacity to actually print them.

This isn’t the first time Palin has thrown out the S word. Or a number of other words that bespeak bias. She complained during the election that she was judged on everything but her political merit. And it’s true. For some reason, we all just love to lambaste her. Even though I had more in common with Sarah, seeing as I’m a white, female persuasion, forty-something mother who once won accolades in beauty pageants (I made up that last part), I broke from the fold and went with Obama.

But I think she brings up a valid point. Elections are about so much more than the issues. I would love to say that I voted on topical issues alone, but I have to admit that is not the case. True, Obama had clear-cut strategies on dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as a policy on negotiating with leaders of oppressive regimes. But Palin also had a lot of adjectives to say about foreign policy. But I have to be honest. In the end, I went with Obama because he was a rock star.

Palin was pretty cool herself, but she (and that old guy) never got the free pass that was handed to Obama. He was the bold passenger who waltzed undeterred through airport security with cocaine sewn into the band of his sweatpants, while she was stopped for trying to carry on a 3.5 oz. bottle of shampoo. We admired Obama’s athleticism on the basketball court, while Sarah is lampooned on the front of Newsweek in her short running shorts. We swooned when Obama paused, mid-interview with John Harwood, to swat a bothersome fly, yet she is ridiculed for posing with the bloody carcass of a moose. Poor Sarah, ever-maligned by our double-standards.

In the end, she has inspired me to turn the microscope on myself and consider my own biases. Alas, she has exposed me for what I am: a leftist, sexist, reverse-racist, anti-Alaskan (bloody Alaskans). But I’ve vowed to do better in 2012. Which is good news for Sarah, because it looks like she may be dusting off her running shoes and preparing to make a comeback. Perhaps this election cycle we’ll treat her with a little more respect. Perhaps this time, we’ll stop focusing on fluff and ask her the serious questions. Like this: Can she sink a 3-pointer from half court without breaking a sweat?


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Monday, November 16, 2009

Body Love

The other day the New York Times ran an article on the dubious practice of digitally altering fashion photos of models, already dangerously thin to begin with, to make them appear slimmer. The article featured a picture from a Ralph Lauren ad of a woman whose hips were smaller than her head (see picture, below). The next day a friend of mine posted a rant on her blog about such images (the specific image she was responding to was yet another photo-shopped Ralph Lauren ad showing a freakishly skinny woman posing in jeans, a shot that has raised considerable ire recently and drawn defensive remarks from Lauren lawyers). The model in both ads, Filippa Hamilton, was later fired by Lauren for being too fat. She is 5’10” and weighs 120 lbs. Being only a 1” shorter myself, I can say that I have never weighed this little in my adult life.

I think it goes without saying that the ideal that is being held up for us and our daughters is not only unhealthy, but it’s also unattainable because it doesn’t actually exist. It’s manufactured. And it’s sad on so many levels I hardly know how to address it. This is not a new debate, but one that has unfortunately been going on for decades, to little avail. And while I have the judgment to look at these images and reject them as ridiculous, what about someone who is eighteen? Or twelve? A woman I work with, Mary Beth, teaches a series of classes designed to educate young girls about positive body esteem in an effort to decrease the incidences of eating disorders among teens. She also counsels those who have already developed eating disorders. I’m so grateful that she is out there, educating our girls, and I think we need to clone her (indeed, her classes are in such demand that she has taught many others to lead them). Some of the big companies are beginning to grow a conscious as well. Dove is one of the few beauty companies to break from the fold. They have come out with a line of ads featuring real women with real bodies. To my knowledge, their sales have done just fine.

On the way home last Friday, with all of this nonsense swirling in my head, I stopped to pick up Anna from Y-care. She was working on a drawing when I arrived. It was the quintessential child’s picture – our family, hands clasped together, with a rainbow overhead. As I looked over her shoulder I was suddenly struck by the juxtaposition of her drawing, so innocent, and the distorted fashion images I had seen earlier in the day. Suddenly, the thought of Anna growing up to inherit this dangerous cultural legacy made me feel ill. Though she is only seven now, I know it won’t be long, a few years perhaps, before she, too, falls prey to this self-conscious body judgment.

I was naturally slim in my teens, but in my twenties I would obsess over an extra 10 or 15 pounds. I would diet with my friends and we would shop for clothes together, wondering whether they showed our figures in a flattering light. We looked upon ourselves with such a critical eye. Beneath all this was an undercurrent of fear – fear that somehow we would not measure up. I look at pictures from those younger days now and I think, my god, we were beautiful. And it makes me sad for all the young girls today who hate their bodies for not conforming to these ridiculous standards set by Lauren and others. I wish I could stand beside these girls and hand them the key that would unlock the door to this hall of distorted mirrors our media places them within, so they could step outside into the light and see themselves for what they really are, which is, of course, perfectly lovely.

But what can we tell our children that will have such a profound effect? We, as parents, know all too well that our children don’t value our wisdom and experience nearly as much as we do. At some point they boldly begin to make their own choices and live their own lives. We lament the fact that they refuse to listen to us. But what we often fail to realize is that they are watching and listening and absorbing to a staggering degree; and while they may not do as we tell them, in an ultimate act of devotion that we never intended, one day, they will become, more or less, who we are. While at times I feel prepared to impart to my children the wisdom I have gleaned over the years, I am in no way ready for this psychic transfer of my fears, biases, insecurities and other shortcomings to take place. I have so much healing yet to do. But such is life. It never waits for the starting gun.

And as I watch my daughter, poised on the cusp of innocence, unaware of this wave of media-whipped cultural debris that will come crashing down over her in a few years, I have to ask myself, have I done right by her? What have I left her to inherit? How well have I banished my own body demons?

I’m certainly more at ease with my body now than I was in my younger days. At some point, generally in our 30’s or 40’s, sometimes 50’s, we women seem to settle into the rhythm of our bodies. We discover it is not the enemy but, indeed, a powerful friend. My friends and I often joke that if we had the knowledge and confidence we have now and the bodies we had in our 20’s, we’d be quite a force to contend with (come to think of it, perhaps nature knew what she was doing when she assigned beauty to the young and insecure). But even so, the critic is still alive and well in me. When my husband looks at my body, he sees only beauty, but when I look in the mirror my eyes will come to rest on all the places that are a little too plump. I wish I could say I’ve outgrown this habit, but it isn’t so.

So what then to do with this crazy culture of thinness, this body Gestapo that infiltrates even the most stable and confident of our girls (and mothers)? It’s important for us to reject these images – write letters to the editor, boycott the most egregious designers, rage at Ralph Lauren if it helps – and it’s also important for us to continue to educate our daughters. Classes like Mary Beth’s are essential. They help to raise the awareness of young girls so that they can view these images within some context. But most importantly we, as mothers, need to look within and come clean with ourselves. This may be the least comfortable task of all. For inside each of us is that awkward young girl who felt stripped down and left in the cold by a world that could be pretty heartless. And believe me, railing at Ralph Lauren is a lot easier than standing quietly by that young girl and listening to what she might have to say. But as I see it, by not doing so, we lose an opportunity to heal not only ourselves, but perhaps hand our daughters the key to walk out of that crazy hall of mirrors.

When I look at the Ralph Lauren ads the women don’t really look all that sexy to me (I’m assuming sexy is what they were aiming for). A woman who is confident and at ease in her body, whether she is slender or on the heavy side, seems to exude more sex appeal, in my opinion. A body that is respected and honored is sexy and powerful and just plain hot. I would imagine it would be hard to honor your body while working in an industry that fires you for weighing 120 pounds. It’s hard enough for the rest of us. Who knows, perhaps they did Ms. Hamilton a favor by letting her go. At the very least, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a more caring employer.

I am, among other things, an eternal optimist. I do believe that the future will hold more positive images for all of us. Someday, this game has to stop. We, as a culture, will finally tire of chasing after ever elusive ideals. And Anna, on the off chance that you are listening, I want you to know that you are, and always will be, simply beautiful.




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Monday, November 9, 2009

E.S.L. -- English as a Silly Language


I was talking today with my friend’s sister, Dawn, who teaches English as a Second Language. It occurred to me that learning English as an adult must rank up there as one of life’s more difficult challenges, alongside passing the bar exam or scaling K2 or getting poetry published. Learning formal English is one thing. Learning all the idioms, slang and grammatical exceptions is quite another. I can empathize. I recently spent three weeks in Australia. I had enough trouble understanding the Australian language and it’s much more closely related to English than, say, Arabic or Chinese.

I have highlighted below some of the more difficult challenges I see facing today’s ESL students. In an effort to be helpful, I will try to translate complex passages (look for italics).

English has to be more full of idioms than any other language. Given that it’s the only language I speak, I should know. For instance, I could have an axe to grind, a stitch in time, turn on a dime, be fit to be tied, take you for a ride, throw caution to the wind, throw you a curve, throw in the towel or throw down the gauntlet. Translation: I could have a grievance, do it now, make a quick turn, be angry, fool you, take a risk, surprise you, give up, or issue a challenge.

And then there is slang. For instance, I could say to my BFF, “I know you want to go to Mickey-D’s because you’re jonesin for a Big n’ Tasty, but I’m afraid it’s going to give me a J-Lo.” (Clarification: I could say this. I never would. If I do, please shoot me.) Translation: Friend, I know you want to eat some dead cow at a fast food establishment, but I’m afraid doing so will give me a large butt.

Then there is the added complication that while foreigners have trouble speaking English, many Americans have difficulty as well, which only confuses those trying to learn the language. Take this quote: “One of the very difficult parts of the decision I made on the financial crisis was to use hardworking people's money to help prevent there to be a crisis." --George W. Bush. Translation: Obama 08!

So how about a shout out to Dawn and all of her students for attempting to acquire a language that many Americans, presidents even, still struggle to master. Nice work!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Intelligent Design


I received an invitation in the mail the other day to a party. I love parties! This one was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Kansas Citizens for Science, a group that has fought very hard for the right to teach science in science classrooms. I like this group. They are mostly middle-aged, mostly academic, ardently passionate science professors and other science types who get together to talk about science. They discuss the politics of evolutionary biology and make jokes about trilobites and nematodes. I generally have no idea what they are talking about.

I know a lot about them because I innocently showed up at a meeting one day with a friend and somehow ended up being their Board Treasurer. I didn’t participate in their sciencey discussions. I just made sure their books balanced. But I was pretty clear on a few things. They didn’t much care for the Kansas State Board of Education. They knew the difference between a theory as it is used in scientific terms to denote a body of principles and a theory as it is used by your Uncle Mo to conjecture that he can hit that squirrel by that thar stump with the heel of his boot. And they absolutely didn’t care for Intelligent Design.

While I was happy to concede on points one and two, I was a little perplexed by number three. When I look around me, I’m able to recognize intelligence at work in the design of many aspects of our world. Take, for instance, the human body. It’s a miracle of design. Some may argue that childbirth is not a particularly intelligent process. Every year millions of women suffer terribly as they try to force a baby, whose large head holds what has evolved to be a great big brain, through an opening that has never evolved to comfortably deliver said head. Many women die in the process. Us lucky ones only experience unbearable pain. Intelligent Design, you ask? Yes, I would argue. If we, as women, didn’t go through this process, how else could we fully appreciate the excruiating hell our male counterparts experience when passing a kidney stone?

Okay here’s another example of Intelligent Design. Gel bras. What a great idea. They look and feel like the real thing, you can increase you bust size by a full cup, and best of all, you can take them off at night and have natural boobies. Marvelous! I know, I know, they are designed by a company (Victoria’s Secret™), not a supreme being. But at one point in time, that company was created by a person. And that person (Roy Raymond™) was created by God! Ipso facto…

Alright, maybe I don’t really understand the whole Intelligent Design theory/conjecture. I told you I wasn’t really paying attention during all those science discussions. It’s probably best if you do your own research. Besides, what person with even a passing interest in science wouldn’t have a healthy appreciation for research? (Well, me.) For a good overview of the argument against Intelligent Design, visit the National Center for Science Education’s site, www.ncse.com. There you can find a number of links to other related sites. Probably the best pro Intelligent Design site I’ve found is this: www.venganza.org. It’s the site for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Actually, it’s not really about Intelligent Design. But like I said, I don’t like to do research. Whatever you do, make sure you visit www.kcfs.org, the site for Kansas Citizens for Science. It has nice colors, a sharp logo and some information on science, too. I haven’t been on their board for many years. When I had children, my free time evaporated (along with some of my intelligence, but that’s another post). However, I’m planning on crashing their big science party. And if they serve enough wine, I might even laugh at their nematode jokes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rooting for Hurricane Danny


I never paid much attention to hurricanes. In my estimation, if you could see a natural disaster coming several days in advance, how much fanfare did it really deserve? I grew up on a fault line in the San Francisco Bay Area. A natural disaster was something that hit without warning in the middle of the night. It knocked you out of bed and dropped oak beams on your head and cracked open freeways. There were no stern warnings from newscasters, three days beforehand, to board up your house and leave town. Anderson Cooper didn’t fly in and set up a camera crew on your street corner 24 hours before the fact.

So when hurricane season rolled around this past August and the alphabet soup of storms started making the evening news, I barely raised an eyebrow. Until Hurricane Danny, that is. Here was something interesting. You see, I have a 4-year old son named Danny; so it was with amusement that I began tracking its progress. But that wasn’t all I felt. And when my husband cocked an eyebrow at the CNN reports, I knew he felt it too. Pride. Our boy was making headlines.

At that point there was some debate about whether Danny was a tropical storm or a hurricane, but forecasters were warning that he could develop strength and have a devastating effect on the central and northeastern coasts. Suddenly, I had new respect for hurricanes. They became something fearsome and awe-inspiring. You didn’t want to mess with a hurricane. No sir. I liked the idea of my son sharing his name with this behemoth. Think of the street cred it would give him in kindergarten. Who would mess with him, knowing that he had flattened beachfront property, taken lives even? This was great.

As the storm threatened to make landfall, we were openly rooting for Hurricane Danny, my husband and I. Had they sold t-shirts, we would have bought them. So when Danny was downgraded to a tropical depression, we felt deflated. It’s like when you’re at a soccer game and your kid gets the ball and has an opening and oh-my-god-you-just-know-he’s-going-to-nail-it and, shit, he kind of trips over the ball instead. And you say, “That’s okay honey!” And it is okay, because he’s only four. But still.

I realize that some of you reading this may feel that I’m being insensitive. You or someone you love may have lived through a hurricane. You may feel that I’m making light of a serious situation. If that’s the case, feel free to email me and share your indignation. I’ll probably feel guilty for a while (I am, after all, a Cancer). However, I should let you know that while my son is only four now, someday he will be big and strapping. And if you live near a coast, one fine August, when you least expect it, I’m going to send him due east to strike down your righteous ass.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why Am I Doing This?


So what does a person do who has a rich and busy life that includes a full-time job (and another part-time job to boot) and two kids and a husband and several incredible friends, but also a creative spirit lurking within that needs expression? What if that person did a lot of writing once upon a time but the thought of trying to find a writing community and produce a series of short stories and essays and submit them for publication, on top of everything else that needs to get done in a day, just seems insurmountable? She starts blogging, of course.

I’ve only written a few pieces at this point, but it feels wonderful to be writing again. For me, writing is an act that gets the energy moving through my body again and brings everything back to life. Hopes, ideas, fears, inspirations, dreams. All that good life-affirming stuff. I hope that you find something here to enjoy. But most of all, I hope that you are inspired to do whatever it is that brings you to life.

In that vein, I dedicate this page to the greatest of all muses, the second chakra. The second chakra is the powerhouse of creativity. It is the seat of our emotions and passions, our sensuality and our pleasure. It is the place where we connect to our inner source of inspiration. Life is good. Enjoy!

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