Sunday, July 15, 2012

Blah, Blah, Blahgs, Bloghs, Blogs.....

Photo courtesy of Allison B.
I write this crap.  No one else I think would own up to it.  It was inspired by my current hellish life, my reading of  other’s blogs and the thought that I could do no worse than anyone else.  It also serves as an on-going creative journal for my children too.  I wish my own mother had done the same. Don’t worry, the real juicy stuff  never gets published nor thrown up on Facebook.

I read a lot of blogs.  Some have the best writing I have read in years.  On the other hand, some are the worst forms of narcissism I have ever encountered.   I saw one the other day ( don’t ask me why I searched it out) which included the author demonstrating her singing abilities-or lack thereof- with a video.  Thank goodness for keyboard volume control. I was tempted to post a video of my own eye-rolling as a comment but my own camera-shyness and lack of technical know-how prevented me.  Thank God for small favors.

There are,  of course, the Mommy blogs.  Stepford Connecticut is not fictional after all.  What planet do these women live on?  I actually signed up for one to just exercise my sarcasm until I got banned from the site even though I had a faithful following. What could be funnier than commenting on toilet training? Teenager's messy rooms?  Homework excuses?  How about my original recipe for pumpkin cookies for .....dogs?  They (the mommies, that is) ate it up. My dogs actually run from the site of pumpkin pulp.  After all, good moms don’t waste the pumpkin guts when the entire family gathers to carve pumpkins, sing “Kumbaya” and scare each other with those oh-so-scary but painfully true neighborhood murder-for-hire and self-immolation stories (actually true in my neighborhood).  Welcome to Suburbia. 

Boo.  And don't forget, ladies, to make jack-o-lanterns with those "o's"!

The Mommy blogs also include those militant home-schoolers. Some with touches of militant Christianity. Combine the two and you get discussions on:  Moses parting the Red Sea into Fractions,  Genesis Genetics, Invertebrate Bible Biology, Intelligent Design for Dummies, Baby Jesus Pediatrics,  St. Paul’s Letters to the Epidemiologists,  and the ever so popular,  St. Peter’s Guide to American History. 

I think I am giving the State of Texas textbook ideas.

I would be insane if I spent every waking hour with my children. In case you are wondering  (because there may be doubts)  I don't home-school.

Craft blogs. Crap blogs.  Same difference.  Who the hell has time or interest to make that hideous stuff? Does the world really need a toilet paper holder with a doll’s body?  It reminds me of those hideous color-coordinated bridesmaid dolls which were made as table centerpieces for the Polish weddings of my youth.  Who was lucky enough to win the raffle to take purple and chartreuse Godzilla home?

There are the political blogs.  I especially like Driftglass although I don’t dislike fellow University of Chicago classmate David Brooks that much.  I actually enjoyed Mr. Brooks' ( I can’t call him David since we never really had classes together) series of reader contributions on reflections on mid-life.  Granted he didn’t write them, but I thought the idea was superb. I learned a lot too. Yes, Driftglass,  Mr. Brooks is a centrist. So is Andrew Sullivan.  Centrism keeps the New York Times still in business to which I am eternally grateful.  Driftglass’s science fiction themed blog on returning home to Iowa was as good as anything in The New Yorker recently. Driftglass has earned more respect than just the lint in Ray Bradbury’s pockets.

Roger Ebert, the movie critic of the Chicago Tribune, posts another well-written blog. As a nod to the old-fashioned journal writing, it is simply titled "Roger Ebert's Journal."  Sure, it is dominated by his love of movies but, he also explores more current topics in very well-structured essays.  I have learned so much from his work.

The business blogs are a realm unto their own and I don't ever pay attention. I am business savvy  but not to the point where it really influences my financial portfolio to any great extent.  

When blogs meld into the newspaper realm as The Huffington Post has done, it’s a new era in writing and media.  I read the Huffington Post but when it "publishes"  things by napropaths and chiropractors in the health section, I have serious issues with its credibility. The Weird News section is always entertaining though.

So whoever (or whomever-I am desperate need of an editor) reads this blog among many others:  First,  I haven’t gone crazy.  In many ways this writing allows me to keep what little is left of my sanity. Secondly, yes I am going through a tough time but, like all true cynics, I am a deep-seated optimist. And finally, I am glad to give someone a bit of a laugh now and then, however ridiculous it may be.

After all, I have learned the hard way, that it’s really hard to cry when you make yourself laugh.

For those interested, toilet paper holders are available in your choice of dress colors, hair colors and ethnicity: $10.99 COD. Allow a lifetime for delivery. Toilet paper not included.  Free macaroni decorated box if you email by midnight.  Sarcasm, free, to the first ten customers.  This product is not recommended for anyone under the age of 150. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reeling in the Years

 The weekend at the college
Didn’t turn out as you planned
The things that passed for knowledge
I can’t understand

          - Reeling in the Years Steeley Dan

The clock has started. The college admission race is on and it seems we are running with the bulls.

We are visiting colleges this week.  I initially resisted this whole process of college shopping but I have girls who have perfected the art of whining, threatening and general needling to get what they want.  They have a good teacher.  They have witnessed similar sessions with my own late Dad but on other subjects.  It’s surprising what lessons are picked up from previous generations, both good and bad.

 I have endured endless conversations since last January that usually started with “M is flying to Stanford over Spring Break” and “M and J” are driving up to Providence this long weekend,” “Do you know that J has visited 20 colleges so far this year and we haven’t been to one… “ 

She wore me down.  I relented.  But not to waste an opportunity, I insisted my middle daughter come along.  She needs the inspiration just like I did when at age 14 I was sent to Boston to spend a weekend with my sister.

It was my first plane ride.  I was surprised it was even suggested by my provincial parents but I had few opportunities to escape so I went for it.  The Newark to Boston flight was short on Eastern Airlines, but it didn’t matter.  It was thrilling anyway. This was before the days of minimal age for flying alone, extensive airport screenings and the nickel and diming of passengers on everything from bags packed to $5.00 peanuts.

It was a great weekend. Conservative Catholic girl meets the Big Bang Theory.  Crazy dorm antics stood out the most which included a dorm hallway that was painted entirely black with overhead red lights, creative living arrangements of student couples, all night “philosophy” sessions and later than average mornings and the lounge blackboards filled with hieroglyphic equations. Some would say these things don’t necessarily pass for knowledge on the MIT campus, but that depends on the eye of the beholder.

It was just the inspiration needed to do well in high school and try to see the world beyond my city limits.

Speeding ahead to 2012 on the same Boston streets but a mere 36 years later:

My calves hurt from the near constant climbing of stairs on both Campus N and Campus B.  My recent exercise regimen had come to a grinding halt when the temps soared to over 100ºF anyway.  It was usually without such inclines and I felt it. We picked the right colleges to have a wide variety of experiences.  From College U where academics was knitted into the fabric of a rich urban campus to College E whose approach bordered on a trade school then onto to College B whose student panel answers shone through my blunt devil’s advocate questions. 

I also took my girls to MIT too.  We have already visited a college that morning and had the afternoon to waste.  Besides they wanted to see Harvard and I wanted to go back to MIT.  I have had minimal use for Harvard since I got a thin envelope back in 1979.  The MIT campus, like all things 36 years later was barely recognizable: saplings were now magnificent trees and many new buildings distorted the old familiar map in my head. I found my sister’s old dorm, East Campus.  Same buildings and same lack of security since the entry doors were wide open.  Some things never change. Despite the protests of my law abiding children, (I think I have done a good job) I entered the dorm.  I knew my sister would appreciate some pictures.  The black halls were still there but red lights were replaced by an ugly dropped ceiling.  The lounge blackboard, which once had the scribbles of some undecipherable math problem, was replaced by a large screen TV.  The smell was the same.  Illegal adjoining rooms were now nailed shut. The creative door paintings were the same.  The oak banisters in the dimly lit industrial stairwells five flights up felt the same too.

My iPhone came in handy for many pictures that were immediately texted to my sister.  I needed my older companion down this road of memory lane.

There was a noticeable attitude shift in my girls after that visit.  I could feel the swirling fog of college promotional crap lift.  This trip, like mine so many years ago, personalized and grounded the whole college experience.  The stories I told them about dormitories suddenly became real. It was no longer dry academics.  Maybe Mom does know what she’s talking about after all?  Although clearly sometimes not.

I should book a trip to Chicago too.

Anytime spent with a focused activity with your child is certainly not time wasted. Let it be camping, canoeing, horseback riding, discussing theology driving through relentless urban traffic with infinitely fallible GPS or climbing endless steps of a college that sits on a hill.  My eldest experienced the different academic gestalts.  My middle daughter I think got the inspiration she needed.

Both weekends at the colleges didn’t turn out as planned. 

They were better.  Far better.

Knowledge doesn’t necessarily come from books, online sites or dry lectures. Sometimes it has to be seen, smelled, touched, heard and tasted to be fully understood. Sometimes felt in aching calves, too.

I learn so much from the girls.

That includes you too, Sis.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Well Grounded

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you're carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life... you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV... the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home... I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office... and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.
                                                                                    Ryan Bigham “Up in the Air.”

After tearing up my third wall-to-wall carpet in the past year, and having the callouses, broken fingernails and lower back pain  to prove it, I needed candy.  Eye candy that is.  And what a better way to get it than a good George Clooney movie.  After downing my Naprosyn, putting up my feet and having a dog or two lie down on the couch with me,  I watched "Up in the Air". 

It’s a wonderful film about Ryan Bigham, a traveling “corporate downsizer," a person who is hired to fire people. He  lives out of his suitcase, traveling from coast to coast 270 days a year until a young recent college grad devises a way of performing the same horrendous task through videoconferencing. He is "grounded" as a result, discovering, for the first time, love for a similarly well-traveled woman and a connection to his family.

Yikes, we are our houses.

Not homes in the spiritual sense, but the physical things we live in and with.  The four walls, or in Mr. Bigham's  case, the lack thereof. I look around my own house, now without horrendous  pet ravaged wall-to-wall carpeting in the former basement office that will soon  “finally” be a media room.  It's a mess with boxes of things accumulated throughout the years:  my collection of wrought iron Snead bookends, my civil war arsenal (a legacy of my one part gambler one part history buff uncle), tons of photo albums, books ranging from out-of-date medical texts to a signed James Joyce novel, my homemade curtains, my self-refinished cabinet and a few pets just to make life even  more unpredictable.  They are all me.  Things I hold dear and will most likely outlive me. I laugh at these things sometimes.  Will my daughters keep everything as some legacy to their pack-rat mother?  How about grandchildren? Great grandchildren? Will they laugh, too, at my "Cheezus" book ( a book that takes a humorous look at Jesus images in ordinary objects) like I did when my daughter bought it for me?

I remember a long time ago, interviewing for a medical practice in the suburbs of Chicago.  I was impressed with the woman who founded the practice.  We had similar practice styles and personalities right down to our mates.   We talked for a great deal about what we wanted out of our jobs and our lives and negotiations went well.  For some reason that escapes me now, she asked me to stop by her house to pick up the final contract.  I was so glad I did.  The McMansion was lovely with a lovely manicured lawn and even a lovely wrought iron fence with a lovely intercom to announce a lovely visitor.  The house was lovely, too, of course, in a vacuous The Way We Were, "Your girl is lovely, Hubbell" kind-of way.  The nearly forty foot entry hall was a barn and I distinctly remember the odd echo as I was greeted.  Her husband never even came downstairs to see who had entered the home.  Something was wrong, I wasn't comfortable, it was too lovely, impersonal, and despite the great salary and welcoming office staff, I didn't join the practice.

In two short years she was single again and like so many physicians now, sold her practice to the local hospital.

I only partially heeded her unspoken domestic warnings.  

I am in transition now.  My house is a shambles.  My basement resembles a snow fort with so many white boxes piled up you almost have to tunnel through. If I were five, I would have a ball.  But at fifty, I just envision the bottles of Naprosyn and the heating pad I will inevitably have to use moving everything to the garage. No need to be doing those bicep curls for awhile.  The garage will be the snow fort soon so the new flooring can be installed.

In what has taken me a while others would have done long ago, but I "finally” gathered up the strength to tear up that carpet, move those boxes into safekeeping and put down new flooring.  New paint, a mix of old and new furniture will be next, then we will have our media room.  Finally.  My media room will definitely have its own message.

Afterall, my vintage “fifties” split-level is worth it. The foundation is solid. It is well-grounded. In real estate jargon, it has good “bones.” It needs a bit of renovation, retooling and certainly updating but it's still certified.  It's not a brand new house nor one that needs condemning. Its decorations reflect a mix of ethnicities.  It has good and often quirky qualities:  a roof that retains ice but melts with the slightest of sunshine,  the  black and white exterior that may have more than fifty shades of gray within, its sometimes dark corners but often bright and open rooms for the just the right guests, and its wonderful backyard which has always been open to many new gardening possibilities.

Good God, I have literally turned myself into a metaphor.

This writing stuff has gone to my....attic?

I’ll never fully be a swan nor a shark.  Unlike Ryan Bigham,  I don’t mind the weight of  backpacks whether they have mortgages or not.  Many have better character  loaded down with “Cheezus” books, a dog or two on the couch, screaming girls in the background, new flooring and many good, but not necessarily signed novels scattered about.

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like my home. 

I think I'll keep her.