Sunday, July 29, 2012

When I Sometimes Have to SMH

     Like many of the people around the nation I was shocked and appalled at the tragic loss of lives in Aurora, Colorado. To be innocently watching a film on opening night and to be senselessly gunned down, any one of us could have been there. Like the mall shooting in Arizona, the shootings at Virginia Tech, we are struck so deeply by these tragedies because these are normal places for people to gather, they are not war zones or crime-ridden backlots, so to encounter such violence in so unexpected a place, and for it to be perpetrated by the "one lone gunman", these are things we simply cannot wrap our heads around. As I was reading the various media coverage of the movie theatre shootings, there was one site that listed Tweets that were pouring in from celebrities, as well as the people in the movie theatre and I was intrigued by some textspeak I had not encountered before: SMH. Which, if I can trust Urban Dictionary and the like, means something like "shake my head", used to express that emotion when you just can't seem to find the words and you just have to shake your head in disbelief. Words like flabbergasted or appalled would take up too many characters in a Tweet, for sure, but I think SMH encompasses so much more than those words, anyway. Mostly because if you cannot find words to express your shock, then SMH is more accurate than settling for a word, because it expresses an action. I'm not in love with textspeak, I think the ubiquitous LOL is meaningless, and I prefer to write "Ha!"-- laughing out loud does produce a sound which can be expressed in text, and Ha! has just the same amount of characters so LOL is stupid. WTF is fine, but people who start to transfer their textspeak to regular oral speech and actually say the letters "wtf" when they could just say the whole phrase are missing the whole point of the fricative nature of the F-word. If I say "eff" now I've lost the power of the "K" sound and it's wholly dissatisfying. But there's something rhythmic that works with "SMH". Like you can shake your head and say "SMH" and it conveys that same feeling of "I do not know where the logic or order of things in the world has gone but it certainly has no presence in this situation."
     As an example Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado said that stricter gun laws would not have prevented James Holmes from perpetrating his massacre. Holmes with his "diabolical" mind would have come up with a way to create a bomb or something and still perpetrate this evil. Ok, I can agree that sicko minds who want to kill, will certainly use whatever means are at their disposal, Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City proved that. But  if we had stricter laws regarding not only stockpiling weapons and ammunition but also purchase of explosive making products even if it is just household cleaning products, if we had a more central system monitored by the same kind of investigators and algorithms that credit card companies employ, wouldn't that serve to at least get authorities a headstart? I mean why is it possible for Mastercard to call me the moment my credit card is used in a strange way "Were you in Pennsylvania this afternoon ma'am because your credit card was used there and in New Jersey almost at the same time?" Or when my grandmother, 92 at the time, started to book a trip to Italy, the credit card company was on such alert that they shut her card off until they spoke with her. But there isn't a system whereby any kind of alert goes off when a person buys an assault weapon? And why are civilians allowed to have automatic, multi-round weapons? I'm quite sure that "the right to bear arms" did not translate to "the right to have any equipment the military uses" as I don't imagine the founding fathers meant it would be just fine for you to have a cannon in your front yard. Ok, so all that has made me SMH for a long time, because I really think the smart minds in our country can come up with a system whereby local authorities might get some kind of little alert that a PhD neuroscience student had just ordered 1000's of rounds of ammunition on the internet. I don't want to live in a police state where the government is privy to all my purchases, but seriously, ordering ammunition over the internet? SMH.
     Further in the SMH department, however, was the news that applications for gun permits shot up across the nation following the Aurora massacre. Now, I can admire the vigilante mentality that if one good guy had just had his gun on him, there would have been less people killed in the movie theatre. This good guy would have taken out the gunman immediately. Right? Probably not, because there would have been a good ol' shoot-out in a crowded gas-filled room and now Good Guy with his legal concealed weapon quite likely would have hit some innocent bystander in his zeal to get the shooter who was wearing kevlar anyway so Good Guy's little pistol would have had little to no effect. I need only say "Trayvon Martin" and the magnitude of the lack of logic of getting guns into the hands of more "upstanding" citizens for our nation to feel safer should be cause for a little SMH-ing.
     The logic that more guns on the street is safe for anyone is frightening. The logic that any non-military individual should have need for an automatic assault rifle is mind-boggling. The fact that any individual, crazy or not, can order 1000s of rounds of ammunition over the internet and no kind of alert kicks in to local authorities seems unconscionable. Would stricter gun laws stop crazies from carrying out acts of mass murder, maybe not. The intelligent diabolical mind is never thwarted by things like laws either of government or laws of logic or humanity. However, if you look at the death rate by guns in this country and that in Japan (where citizens cannot legally have any weapons, not even Samurai swords) it doesn't take a master statistician to figure out, that more guns equal more gun deaths. SMH.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why I Probably Won't Read E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey This Summer

I have a confession: last week I almost purchased the "mommy porn" literary craze Fifty Shades of Grey. On my Nook, of course, because it's the most titillating piece of fiction since, I don't know, Doctor Zhiavago, Sophie's Choice, or something else I probably haven't read, as well. I mean I wouldn't want to be SEEN reading it. I was even a little anxious about putting it on the Nook because my teen daughter commandeers the device on a daily basis, and is also a very internet savvy young woman. She KNOWS what Fifty Shades of Grey is all about. In any case, I was only seconds away from giving in to the hype, almost even got the bundle package for the full trilogy. Although, I was very hesitant about forking over $30 instead of just $10 because the other day at the library while I was checking out "How the Crocodile Got Its Tears" for my seven-year old daughter, the librarian was holding a copy of Fifty. . . and discreetly calling another patron on the phone saying, "If you could please, just tell your wife the book she had on hold is in." I remarked that it was wise she didn't leave the title name with the husband. And she laughed, saying there was a waiting list of about fifteen other patrons for that same title, "But, oddly," the librarian quipped, "no one is checking out the other two books." I kind of laughed and said, "Probably because after reading the first one they know how much it sucks."

Now I'm not exactly a literary snob. I'm just a pop culture snob. If the majority of Americans like it, wear it, eat it, listen to it, read it--- I find myself intrigued, certainly, wanting to investigate the worthiness of said "artistic" achievement, but the pure "everybody's doing it" nature of the event or product always gives me pause. I thank my father for this maverick attitude. At the age of ten I very much wanted pierced ears, "Why," my father asked. "Because everyone has their ears pierced." Wrong answer. And good ol' Dad continued throughout my adolescence doing his duty to make sure I grew into a strong-minded young woman who examined her wants and needs with personal conviction, fortitude, and confidence.

So there I was, just about to press the "purchase" button on the shadowy grey necktie when I noticed a little essay called "A Million Shades of Green" by Sean Black also for sale at the Nook Store. Mmmm? What's this, I thought. Already treatises against the worldwide puerile best-seller? I just had to investigate. And while, author Sean Black does seem to have an axe to grind about E. L. James' unprecedented skyrocket to instant literary fame, his premise alone gave me just the right pause to forgo some Fifty. Basically, Black, with a great deal of research and support to back up all his claims, exposes Fifty Shades of Grey as a slick re-edit of a wildly popular piece of "alternate universe" Twilight fan-fiction by Snowqueens Icedragon called Master of the Universe. Erika Leonard (a.k.a. "Snowqueens" and E.L. James) has since openly embraced the origins of her wildly top selling book, but that wasn't until the book was raking in numbers that would make Christian Grey quite proud. But that little essay was all it took for me to say, "Eww. No."

I will be the first to admit that I read every Harry Potter book. In fact, I could write a lovely blog post about how the first three books literally kept me sane and hopeful in the midst of a painful separation and impending (but not imminent) divorce. I also read every book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Because Katniss is badass and her love for Peeta remains complex and ambiguous, even to the end. But back when the Twilight craze hit the stores my thought was this,  "There are so many, many amazing books out there in the world, and I have read so very few of them, I really cannot spend my precious reading time on thousands of pages of romance shlock." I will leave that to teen girls.  I mean, I suppose I don't read Jane Austen for similar reasons in terms of sappy love stories. It's just not my genre of choice. Not even when I was a teen girl. Dickens and Twain were my favorites, so I guess that says something about me.

But here's my thing, if Edward and Bella are already flat and one-dimensional, then what are Christian and Ana? 1/2 dimensional? I mean, aside from Shakespeare, I can't really think of an example of fan fiction that could really improve upon the literary quality of the original. And I just am not interested in flat characters with flat lives, even if those lives include more sex toys than you can find in the Adult Playtime Boutique.

I also don't necessarily read to escape reality. I read to understand humanity and draw parallels to my own life. It's an occupational hazard both as a theatre and English teacher, but that's how I'm wired. And when a young virgin college student somehow stumbles upon the most handsome and rich man in the world and spends the rest of her life having three orgasms a day, well I kind of don't feel like wasting my time with a character like that because she's too flat, her relationship is too contrived.

I love fiction. Complicated fiction, fiction that asks me to think AND feel complex feelings, not just cheap vibrations. I love fiction that uses words to paint a complex story in complex poetic ways. If I'm in the mood for erotica I certainly don't need 1500 pages! I'll turn to Anais Nin's Little Birds a slim 168 pages of erotic vignettes, written in fabulous complex language.

I've boiled it down to three main reasons I'm not going to read Fifty Shades of Grey and feel just fine about it. I must qualify here that I don't really care if other people read it. I'm not advocating a ban or anything. If that was the case, then I would HAVE to read the whole damn trilogy to make my claims credible.  I've just made this choice for myself. (Although I'm totally buying The Portable Anais Nin as soon as I finish this post.)

Reasons Why I Won't Be Reading Fifty Shades Of Grey This Summer:
  • I've eschewed all junk food from my diet, and there are way too many more fortifying books in this world to feast on.
  • I will not capitulate to advertising and media wizards no matter how hard they try to make me feel like I'm missing out on something culturally necessary to my demographic.
  • I'd rather just go ahead and spend the summer having amazing sex than reading about it.
Stay Tuned for the things I have been reading and watching this summer in the next post. . . . 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Why I Love Snow, Even In April

 ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON 3/31/11 Don't Know Why I didn't Post . . . .

There is a moment of joy I have when waking in the morning and pulling up the shade to reveal snow. And I really don't care if it is November or April, that moment is still exciting and welcome. I understand the general weariness of most people. It has been a pretty long snowy winter and there is something to be said for the warm sun and daffodils. But more and more, each winter, I find myself longing for the snow to stay. And come back. It's illogical. Generally when people are older, and, yes, I'm going to have to admit that I am-- "older" now. There is less tolerance for snow and the accoutrements of winter. But I feel my best, my most "me" when I am wearing boots and a thick wool sweater. Cold makes my blood move, it keeps the lines in the atmosphere crisp and defined. The snow crunching under my boots is the sound possibility, of wonder, of mystery-- to me. Rodgers and Hammerstein must have felt this way to include "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes" as a favorite thing. I know the feeling-- that is one of my favorite things as well-- that cool diaphanous breath of flakes on an already chilled cheek. Snow, I know that many people around here wish you wouldn't be here. But me-- I say bring it on.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Greenland and Flipflops

(After a challenge given by A. S. King at Purnell School's 10th Annual Night of Creativity to write at least a 10-line poem using Greenland and flipflops as subjects-- in the span of about an hour-- here are the results)

I used to wonder why Greenland had that name
Floating near the Arctic, How green could it ever be?
It's a misnomer.
Like calling a fat guy, Slim
Or a tall guy, Shorty
But I think Greenland may be hearkening for a moniker of truth

I bought three awesome pairs of boots this winter
With a blizzard in October I was sure we would be crunching through snow
In our Easter dresses like we did in 2011
But global warming has confused my wardrobe
And the new footwear for Christmas in the Northeast
Has apparently become flipflops.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Tribute To One of My Momma Heroes: My Friend Peggy

This afternoon I had a cell phone message from my mom. "Call me when you have a chance." Now, with my mom that could mean she wants to tell me that she saw my first grade teacher at the supermarket and she wanted to say hi, or that a friend of mine was in the local newspaper and did I want her to send me the clip. But there was something in the "call me" that seemed ominous. And while my grandmother is now approaching 101 years old, I spoke with her hearty sassy self just yesterday so I was not thinking the dread had to do with her. But indeed, there was dreadful news-- our very good family friend, Margaret "Peggy" Secor had passed away.

Now to gain some perspective on why I almost needed to pull over because stupid me was driving at the time, even though I was worried about a dreaded message--- but Peggy was not just a "family friend" she was FAMILY. My heart sank the way it did when I learned my Aunt Kitty had passed. That sense of a presence suddenly being ripped from your life, someone who just was supposed to "always be there" because they had always been there, providing strength and laughter and joy.

Peggy and her very large family were my parents' next door neighbors when they were living in Arkansas when my dad was in the Air Force. I don't know if I had been born yet when the Secors moved, because I do know they were replaced with equally awesome neighbors, The Beatty's with whom we still keep in contact-- but I do know my memories of Peggy and her brood start when I'm about in fifth grade or so and we went to visit her family in California. She had divorced her husband Gene at that point. And lived with four daughters and one son, and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever in Coronado, California, an island just off the coast of San Diego. What I remember that first encounter was playing Perfection and Boggle all night long. My mother is Peggy's youngest daughter, Andrea's godmother, and Peggy's son, Dan is my sister, Christie's, godfather, and I am Dan's son's godmother. So I guess we were always related in the Spirit.

Peggy's son, Dan, went to the USNavalAcademy (graduating in 1980) and adopted our family as his East Coast family, attending holidays with us, and essentially became the big brother I always wanted, for 4+ years-- shoot, I still kind of think of him as my older brother.  When I went to USC in 1984, it was only fitting that Peggy became my California Mom, then.

I visited Coronado every chance I could, not only to hang with Peggy who always made me feel so comfortable and at home, but also because that is clearly one of the most beautiful places on earth. One time she even let me bring 4 of my friends down with me, even though her little cottage couldn't really handle that many people. Peggy was just the right kind of "suck it up"-- "here give me hug" when my friend Janet stepped on a sting ray, receiving a bleeding sting that left her foot numb for hours. We all learned the "Coronado Shuffle" after that, that's for sure. I remember helping Peggy in her small backyard garden. Going to the carousel in San Diego. Looking admiringly at the painting she had by the artist who did the backgrounds for Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I bought my first pair of non-stud earrings with her in a street market in San Diego. She helped me pick them out. I loved them because the earring was all one fluid shape. Some artsy Swedish guy made them. I wore those earrings for 20+ years until they recently broke, and I still kept them. Because they reminded me of Peggy.
The first earrings I bought (aside from my studs). I was with Peggy at a street fair in San Diego. A Swedish craftsman made these and they were so unique. I wore them until they broke!! And then saved them, because I loved them and they reminded me of Peggy and all the fun times I had in Coronado.

I remember my senior year driving with my boyfriend at the time, John, in my friend Gail's car, and her brakes died. He wanted to turn around because we had some massive hills to go down to get into Coronado-- and I was like, No Way-- I have to see Peggy.  Even when I was a freshman in college, I called her "my friend Peggy"--- not "my parents' friend Peggy"--- she was my friend. Peggy had that amazing joi de vivre that allows a person to be ageless. She treated everyone as peers and if you were interesting enough and willing to walk long distances---she was fine by you. I've always tried to emulate that open age policy on my friends. Age does not determine intelligence, interest, curiosity-- so even though she was my mom's contemporary, she was "my friend Peggy."
In looking for some kind of photos of those California Mom days, I found an old notebook from my awful Philosophy of Time class. Clearly, indicated from the notes and doodles all over the notebook, I didn't pay much attention to the class. This was me and my friends planning a getaway weekend to Coronado at "my friend Peggy's"

When Peggy retired from working for the IRS (I always thought that was so funny that she worked for such a hated agency-- because she was one of the nicest people I ever knew) she decided to move to England!! I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. She loved the country, loved its history, so she just moved there. I was so privileged to visit her twice in Holmfirth. The first time was in the summer of 1996 when I was studying at Oxford for a summer program. I hung out with Peggy for several days and grew to love, love, love her awesome border collie, Moss. We went on long walks in the woods and fields and from that day forward, I knew I could only have a border collie'esque dog with a one syllable name.  And my dogs Patch (1996-2010) and Jax (current) are testaments to the impact Mr. Moss had on me. Peggy loved museums and cathedrals and she knew a whole lot about architecture so much so that she even became a docent at the York cathedral not far from her home. On that trip I remember we both were tired from walking all day, so we thought we'd eat in, but then realized the pickings were slim. But we ate beets and cheddar cheese and discovered that was a delicious combo. I still eat that sometimes.

In the summer of 2000 I visited Peggy again with my 18-month old baby, Mari. We only saw each other for a day, but it was lovely and we sat in a park and watched Mari pick up cigarette butts and put them in the trash. It was hilarious.

I saw Peggy a couple of other times, on visits to my parents, but because of the distance to England, and the fact that all her kids lived in opposite directions from NJ, we really didn't have the chance to see too much of her. When I was separated from my husband in 2001, Peggy was a source of strength for me. I looked to her as one of the strongest, most amazingly alive people I had ever known, and the prospect of being husbandless, did not daunt me having her as a shining example of a strong independent woman.

Peggy recently returned from England after a bad fall and some problems with her legs. She went to live in Northern California, and that is where she suddenly passed. My mom got to talk to her last week and Peggy said that she was feeling down and depressed-- and my mom knew that was a bad sign. Because Peggy loved life and lived it every day.

A Print from Russia Peggy gave me, she knew I studied Russian and said she thought of me while she was travelling there.
A Kells Plate from Peggy, She knew I loved Ireland and Religion
Peggy, I am so sad I was not able to say good bye and thank you, and I love you. I know you knew that, but I really wish I had the opportunity to say it. I looked today for any kind of photos I might have of you and I and the adventures that meant so much to me. I'm sure there are some, somewhere, but they remained elusive today. So I leave the tribute of the artifacts that will keep you with me always. You were one heck of a lady, and I will miss you so very much. I hope that since we were always family in "spirit"-- that you visit in spirit when you can. Although, I think you may have already done that. In Spring cleaning my room, I came across a hummingbird pin I bought for you something like five or six years ago, but never sent. Hummingbirds always reminded me of you, so I would buy things on occasion and send them to you, but it seemed kind of a silly little pin to send all the way to England without something else. Now, I suppose I will keep that pin as a reminder of you and your free and energetic spirit.

I bought this hummingbird pin to send to Peggy. But I never did. Hummingbirds were her favorite-- next to Border Collies, though, They were definitely her favorite.

Peggy always sent Christmas cards from the Musician's Benevolent Fund, they were so gorgeous, I always saved them because they have pictures that span the full length of the card. I will miss getting these this year for sure.
Peggy, you will be forever a piece of who I am. I will always want to have a border collie to walk with. I will love beets and cheddar cheese. I will appreciate the art and history of many cultures. I will live life to the very fullest no matter my age. Rest in peace beautiful, strong lady.