Sunday, December 11, 2011

No Major Spoilers Here...Just Another Nanny

Now that finals are over, I have time to return to this blog and the very serious business bad Dexter is this season. But while other reviews and comment feeds are focused on plot developments with the villain and the main characters, I am fascinated and frustrated by a new minor character, Jamie. She is Angel Batista's sister, Dexter's new nanny, and Louis the lab intern's girlfriend. Notice a pattern there, people? Her interactions with other women are few and mostly negative - as when she and Debra fought over Deb's influence on Harrison - and even though she's uttered the phrase "my dissertation" once or twice, no way is that girl in school. I do not say that because she is coded as attractive, young, and happy and therefore we should interpret her as dumb or something but because we never see her near a non-picture book. Yes, when you are a nanny your focus should be on the child, but if you worked the kind of hours Jamie works AND you were getting a PhD, you would bring some of your own work to your job...because the kid naps, and what do you do then? Just prance around waiting for your boss to return...only to ask you to stay and work, oh, I don't know, 5 more unscheduled hours? You would be saying no even if you had no date to go on because you have to study and write and other schooly stuff.

A former nanny myself (and a current student), I realize I'm sensitive to this kind of thing, and in a show like Dexter it probably seems funny to single out this aspect as ridiculous. But c'mon. You don't get to have a female character as incredibly self-sacrificing as Jamie and still present your main character like this (from an interview with Executive Producer Sara Colleton in The Daily Best - emphasis mine):

This season, the producers and writers decided it was time for him to explore faith—and his lack thereof—as he raised his baby boy, Harrison, by himself and wondered what code he should teach him.

No disrespect to actress Aimee Garcia, but Jamie is a prop that gets less official credit for her work on the show than the mannequin hand of the Ice Truck Killer. Nice work, Showtime.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Old Home Week

Hi! Long time no write here! Thanks for returning with me...can't say how often I'll post now that I'm in school again, but I hope to be at least as prolific as I was in 2010 :)

One of my new professors is an alum of the same college as I, the University of Chicago. I knew this because I read his bio, and at the new student/faculty potluck, I bounded over to him to, well, basically interview him about his experience there and regale him, unsolicited, with mine. (I was there for undergrad, '97-'01; he was there for a PhD, '98-'05). Despite my eagerness/earnestness about meeting a fellow U of C-er (Alumni Association, take note: I REFUSE to refer to this school as "Chicago," the way you would like us to in your recent-ish re-branding campaign. Chicago, to quote Sandburg, is big-shouldered. You U of C, wonderful and flawed as you are, really aren't that wide), I think I comported myself reasonably well.

But as I was leaving his office hours today, I couldn't resist asking, "Were you there when Homi Bhabha and Toni Morrison got stuck in the Classics building elevator?" Homi Bhabha was (still is, but he decamped to Harvard not long after the elevator incident) a renowned theorist. My friend Katherine liked to say his name and wave her hands around to show what a big deal he other people who actually, you know, had read him or taken classes with him (I don't know if he even taught undergrads). And Toni Morrison was a visiting professor one quarter and was similarly unreachable to us. So this elevator snafu was a minor amazement for Katherine and me, that two such luminaries could be so...stymied. I think I might have even saved the little blurb that ran about it in the campus paper.

Maybe it wasn't the most professional way to exit a professor's office. But
there's just so few people in the world I can ask that of! And fewer still who will answer with a satisfying, "Yes." I couldn't resist the chance to combine history, nerdiness, and inside-baseball glee. There should really be a name for alumni connections that, however trivial, are so precise as to make you feel like yes, I really was there. A lifetime ago, I was a student there.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ten Years Later: Seattle Shout-Outs, Metro Edition

On August 27, 2001, I flew from New York City to Seattle. I moved, sight unseen (site unseen!), to a duplex across the street from I-5, with 3 gals I'd never met, one of whom was also going to be in my AmeriCorps program. I'll barely celebrate my 10th anniversary in Seattle when it will be time to move again, this time for grad school.

These upcoming events - the anniversary and the move - as well as a friend's recent post about her one-year anniversary here - have put me in a contemplative mood. And the recent announcement that a 17 percent cut to Metro bus service will be averted has me in a thank-you-public-transit frame of mind. So, born of that mix:

To the other downtown-bound Metro riders at the corner of Eastlake and Lynn on the morning of September 11, 2001: I still think about you sometimes and am grateful for your combination of sobriety, sympathy, and dark humor, and the way, when the bus finally arrived, we all sat at the back, strangers compelled to stay together.

To the Metro driver whose sign read Ryerson Base but who stopped at the Ballard Bridge and picked me and a man up anyway, drove us downtown, and deposited us exactly where we wanted to go even though those places weren't bus stops: you are awesome.

To the driver who spontaneously let my friends and me turn your 44 into a party bus, complete with flashing interior lights, dancing in the aisles, and Right Said Fred accompaniment on the PA: you are even awesomer.

To every driver who saw me in their rear view mirror, running and running late, and stopped: your ordinary kindness makes the world a better place.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Harry Potter and the Audacious Author

Over (non-butter)beers the other night, a friend and I discussed the recent ending of the "Harry Potter" franchise and sundry related topics, including J.K. Rowling's 2007 outing of her Dumbledore character as gay. I remember that at the time I was outraged that an author would impose a vision of a character retroactively; if it wasn't explicit in the book, I railed to my roommates (designated innocent bystanders to my rants, 2002-2007), it by definition couldn't be declared true. A gay Dumbledore was a legitimate interpretation, based on the text, but nothing more.

Reading Edward Rothstein's appraisal of the situation made me feel instantly calmer; I wasn't alone (and he thought of perspectives I hadn't considered). For example:

The pure-bloods here are blinded by their pride, but Harry and his friends see something more profound, a threat that goes beyond self-interest and identity. This is why Dumbledore’s supposed gayness is ultimately as unimportant as Ron’s shabby clothes. These wounded outsiders recognize the nature of evil, and finally that is what matters.

Whatever you think of Rowling's statement, it does feel like a particularly noticeable piece of a larger picture. Now not only do authors add to their works by producing new books, but between those there are infinite opportunities (and, some would argue, necessities) for self-promotion and production: multi-media interviews, articles, columns, blog posts, and more. And sure it helps to be a Rowling if you want people to pay attention, but anyone can seek (and find) an audience, however small. And if your job (as mine is about to be) is to analyze a work, how much of this extra information do you incorporate - or leave aside? If your assignment is a book published in 2009 and you find a blog entry by that author from last week - is that relevant?

One of the nice things about a series ending is that you can look back on it, whole, and see patterns and themes and know it's complete. You can talk about it as an entity in a way you can't while it's still in progress. Even with a single work, editors can insert new or restore old material into it in later versions and those can both inform and exist separately from the earlier editions. (You see this in everything from E.T.'s 20th anniversary edition replacing police officer's guns with walkie-talkies to the 1995 edition of The Diary of a Young Girl restoring entries dealing with sexuality that Otto Frank had omitted from the original). But when an author says after publication, "My character is X," well, what should we call that? Pulling a Rowling?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Who Steals a Tree?

The title of this post, minus an expletive, is courtesy of my friend Wes. This was his reaction when he found out that a magnolia sapling, used in my wedding ceremony, was stolen from our front courtyard yesterday. The tree is not much taller than a foot inside its orange plastic pot. Did I mention that the pot is plastic? Lots of value there.

Feeling an odd mix of dorky and enraged, I fliered our neighborhood this morning with "Missing Plants" signs. (The thieves also took a daisy and a shamrock). I doubt anything will come of this, but I can't do nothing.

The double injury here is that we had just taken it to Swanson's nursery four days before for a primer on how to better care for it. We're garden novices, but the helpful woman at the Info desk showed us how to trim dead leaves, told us how often to water, advised us to get fertilizer for it, recommended when we should put it in the ground, etc.

Apparently plant theft in Seattle is not uncommon. Which brings me to my phenomenon: dark aspects of a city that you won't hear about from the Chamber of Commerce. In my first ignorant years here, I thought hills, traffic, and gentrification were Seattle's biggest issues. I don't want to suggest that plant theft is more problematic than gentrification. Um, no. But learning firsthand about Seattle's rat problem at our old place, and now this...I feel like there should be a name for going from total ignorance of some piece of your city one day to unwanted club membership the next.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

That Bird Has Flown

The upstairs neighbors are in the process of moving away. Background: I live in a duplex, so when I say neighbors I mean, "The only other people living in this house, who make noise at all hours." Yes, they are night owls and my husband and I are early birds. And we are not, like, best friends with them. But we have been cordial when we see each other. We have exchanged stories of weddings, plant waterings, and car fires. You know. The normal stuff.

I knew they ran a business out of their place, so I became suspicious a few weeks ago when both their cars sported For Sale signs. Um, how are you supposed to drive to the post office with loads of boxes if you have zero cars? I'm not a math major, but that seems difficult. Then, just as my suspicion was cresting, bam! A giant U-Haul truck in the driveway yesterday. And tonight, when I got home - no bird cage in their living room window. I peered in, emboldened. Yup: a few boxes, a TV, and nothing else.

We basement dwellers are moving soon too. And I hadn't anticipated informing our upstairs neighbors. So why that tickle of surprise that *they* didn't inform *us*? And what would you call that sliver of indignation when you're not notified of something you wouldn't notify others of, given the chance?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

All the News...

Tomorrow is the last day that a paper copy of the New York Times will arrive at my house.

I give that sentence its very own paragraph to underscore what a profound change this will be for me (and, well, to add some theatricality to the whole thing). For the last ten years, my father has given me a subscription as a gift - a long time to give any gift to anyone, let alone such an expensive gift, let alone to your, er, adult child. So. I completely understand that this had to end; in the past year, as he's moved from a job at the NYT itself to a copy editor position at a small paper in Rhode Island, I've reminded him several times that he no longer has to foot this bill.

But this is a man who has been a journalist his whole adult life, who has news paper ingrained in him the way some people have the union ethos or lighthouse keeping (OK, maybe that last one is a stretch). When he's on a trip, he buys the local newspaper, even if it's the Wretched City Urinal, even if the headline writing kills him, even if he finds the thing loaded with, insult of insults, "non-stories." It's as much a testament to his traditional view of how one ideally gets the news as to his love for me that he held out on cancellation for so long.

And it's an ideal that he passed on to me. If I were a typical early-30-something, I would have preferred to access my news digitally all along. But I'm an outlier. I do read websites, I have listened to podcasts, I pay some bills electronically, I write - gasp! - a blog. But I'm also that person on the bus who's filling out her rent check while trying to keep the Arts and Business sections from sliding off her lap to the floor.

It would be one thing if I were just embracing my inner grandma. But I find that looking at a screen for too long or listening to the radio without having an activity to do irritates me. And when there's technology that I don't understand, I'm just as liable to abandon it as I am to try to adapt to it. (My friend calls this falling into an Amish black hole...which is maybe name enough for this phenomenon. She is the funniest). Case in point: my laptop "died" three years ago. Why do I put died in quotes? Because I never actually brought the thing in to get diagnosed. For all I know the light is dead and the motherboard is fine.

So I'm nervous about staying as informed through the radio and Internet, but instead of, oh I don't know, swiping the neighbors' copy from their driveway on my way to work, I'm going to try to change my habits. I've already been checking the Seattle Times and other news websites almost daily for (ahem) a few months - I can add one more (though only to the tune of 20 articles a month for now). And when I move to a college town for grad school soon, I'm going to look into delivery rates for the local paper.

I don't have to completely reject being my father's daughter.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Perks of Being a Pedestrian

A few months ago I saw a former boss with whom I hadn't interacted in awhile.

"I see you every day," he said by way of hello, "walking down the street as I drive to work."

"Yeah," I agreed, a little thrown off and not sure how to respond, "I'm a pedestrian."

Over the last few days I've done a lot of walking, and it has reminded me of this conversation, the eerie fact that just because you don't see someone doesn't me they haven't seen you, and that odd gap between what you notice as a walker and what you see as a driver. As Mr. Redanz told us repeatedly in Drivers' Ed (when he wasn't proclaiming that he wanted to start an organization called Fathers Against Radical Teenagers, or FART), you do 90 percent of driving with your eyes. Of course my old boss notices me: I live near where he works, and it's his job while driving to be alert to his surroundings.

In some ways, bus riding is more closely related to walking than driving. Sure, it's hard to read, write or sleep while walking, but you get to do the pedestrian equivalents: pause to check out a band poster on a telephone pole, stop and smell the roses (seriously - they're in bloom everywhere right now!), or zone out because you can, because you walk those sidewalks every day and don't need to pay attention.

And I will admit to a less noble reason why I like the discrepancy between what drivers and pedestrians see: I like the idea that certain individuals might be forced to see me occasionally and remember how they wronged me (in my scenario, of course, they never feel righteous about their own perspectives, only chagrined). I like to think that they've even had to grant me right of way in a crosswalk once or twice, powerless before traffic law.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

North Seattle vs. North Seattle

Last December, Dani Shapiro reviewed "Poser," Claire Dederer's memoir of regaining her life through yoga, for the New York Times's Sunday Book Review. I have not read the book but plan to if only to tease out for myself what is tongue-in-cheek and what is earnest. For instance, this paragraph (from Shapiro's review; italics mine):

“We were a generation of hollow-eyed women, chasing virtue,” she tells us. “We, the mothers of North Seattle, were consumed with trying to do everything right.” North Seattle — a first cousin of Park Slope, the Upper West Side, Berkeley and dozens of other such enclaves around the country — was a place where attachment parenting was all the rage. Kids weren’t weaned until they spoke in full sentences. Families all slept in the same bed; ate the same organic, locally produced food; and lived in an enriching environment safe from the dangers of plastic toys and disposable diapers.
Is Dederer making fun of the idea that all mothers in one section of a city could be monolithic? Or is she subscribing to that very idea? Furthermore, is Shapiro echoing Dederer when she lumps North Seattle in with other stereotyped areas - or is this her own take on the situation? The word "affluence" never appears in this paragraph. But it doesn't have to.

Homonyms are words that look and sound the same but have different meanings. The phenomenon I want a name for today is the sense of dislocation one feels when one encounters an unexpected homonym; North Seattle, in the quotation from the book and in the review, is that for me. The North Seattle I know does encompass the wide-stroller-wielding, latte-sipping women of Dederer's Green Lake. But it also includes the mom headed to the new DSHS offices at North Seattle Community College for food or work assistance and the women, some mothers themselves, caring for a gaggle of preschoolers, many of whom have mothers who must go to work, at Lake City library's story time.

Satirical or earnest, my hope for "Poser" is that it doesn't commit the sin of omission, of erasing those other mothers of North Seattle. I'll report back after I've read the book.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Once an Obit Writer...

At a restaurant during a recent family visit, my mother looked up from her salmon and said to me, "Maybe you should write my obituary."

"Mom," I said quickly, with a sternness that surprised me, "I don't want to talk about this now."

What brought this on? Not a known illness or the impending hereditary likelihood of one, but a conversation she'd had a week before with friends of a similar age (early to late-60s). My brother saved the moment by chiming in, "The headline could be 'Moderate Drinker Says Farewell.'"

We all laughed. "How do you remember that?" my mom asked him. It was the title of her last column for The Minot Daily News before we moved across the country when I was 7.

My mother wasn't that off base in asking me to write her obit; it was my first job, after all. When I was 17 and a senior in high school, I wrote obituaries on Sundays for a Connecticut newspaper. When I told her about my job, my best friend Sam said, not unkindly, "It sounds depressing." In contrast, she had a gig cleaning up our school's hardly-mobbed plaster cast museum. "It's the definition of 'sinecure,'" she joked. (Some of our friends were unabashed history or physics nerds; we were English nerds).

Obit writing could be depressing, but most of the time it was just fascinating to peer into - and arrange on a page - one version of the story of a person's life. And most of the time the departed were old enough that, from the perspective of a teenager, their deaths seemed timely; I remember a lot of WWII veterans.

Maybe it's the residual effect of losing two close friends, one of them Sam, by the time I was 23, but sometimes phrases for an obit or eulogy pop into my head. I'll be getting ready for work, and all of a sudden I'll think of something I want to say or write for a still-living friend or family member. The surprise - and depressing element - of the moment, like when my mother turned to me at dinner, makes me want to shake it off. But then I try to fight that reflex: as long as I don't dwell too long in farewell mode, it's good to pay attention. It's never too early for appreciation.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Iowa Imposter

Today I wore my IOWA t-shirt, a gift from a friend who grew up there and knows without being told that the black and gold of my shirt are Hawkeyes' colors. As I neared the hub that is my local post office, an elderly gentleman walking past me said, "Go Iowa!"

"What?" I called back, not sure if I'd heard him correctly.

"I grew up in Nebraska," he explained, "right next to Iowa."

"Nice!" I said, because I like pleasant interactions with fellow pedestrians even when they turn into unsolicited educational moments, and turned back toward the post office.

This conversation was another example of quietly letting someone - usually a stranger, usually during what promises to be only a brief exchange - assume something about you that you know to be incorrect. I was born in North Dakota, grew up in Connecticut, went to college in Illinois, and have lived in Washington for almost 10 years; I've barely even visited Iowa. But I didn't yell this to the man in front of the post office; I let him believe that we were former state-neighbors.

Nannies and babysitters have a lot of these moments, and the challenge is in deciding when to tell that complimentary or chummy mom on the playground that this kid? Not mine. Sometimes it's clear-cut, as when a woman trailing behind me and a toddler-age charge announced, as we all entered the bathroom of a fancy restaurant, "These years go by so fast! Mine are teenagers now."

I smiled and said, "I'm the babysitter," and that was that. But other times it's not so clear what anyone is thinking, and it can feel awkward to halt the flow of a conversation to vocalize a distinction that might change everything - or, conversely, nothing - for the other person.

The best-worst example of this for me was on a playground two years ago. I was hovering near the little girl I nannied for, and a woman said, "I love her haircut."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Her mother did a great job."

"Her mother?" the woman asked, clearly confused. "You're not her mother?"

"No, I'm her nanny," I said, in a tone I hoped sounded cheerful.

"But you're so good with her!" the woman exclaimed.

Well. You can be good to a kid without being his or her parent. And strangers - and even family and friends - don't need to know everything about you. Go Hawkeyes!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tornadoes and Census Figures

My friend Sasha and her husband live in Springfield, MA, the site of recent freak tornadoes. They are both fine; while their building was heavily damaged in places, they got lucky: other than broken windows and lots of dust and dirt, their apartment is OK.

Like many people, I have friends in pockets around the country, and the world feels especially small when headline news happens to one of their regions.

But are other forces making our world larger? The percentage of people moving to other counties is at its lowest since 1947, a fact that is largely attributed to the recession. So if the economy doesn't improve significantly over the next few years, I wonder if our lowered mobility will lead to a collective personal lessening of these small-world feelings? Or will the pace of social networking overshadow any physical-world limitations?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Great Nanny Crop-Out

Babysitting the other night, after the tyke fell asleep I leafed through two celebrity-focused magazines belonging to the mom. Each had a photo that struck me as surprisingly creepy: in one, Heidi Klum, her kids, and another woman are walking down a street. But the woman, who trails the others, has her head neatly a box of text. In the second, Sarah Jessica Parker is described as walking with her twins. But she holds the hand of only one; the other is holding hands with a woman who walks behind the actress, and while most of the woman's face is obscured by Parker's head, she looks into the camera with her left eye.

The editors' choice to crop out nannies from celebrity photographs - and for many celebrity moms to present their lives as child care-free - has been written about well in other places. What interests me is the pervasive psychology of breezily commenting on the famous person's every move while not acknowledging the visible presence of the woman in the background.

A head eclipsed by words, a lone, staring eye: these would be strange (or comical) editing choices in any publication. But in a celebrity magazine, where all that matters is the famous person, the nanny (or other accidentally photographed staff) is viewed as so inconsequential that hastily or mostly cropping her out is considered good enough. Who's looking at her anyway?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

If You Don't Like This Word...

I get together with friends every two weeks to talk about art: pieces we're working on, questions we're grappling with, etc. Last night, one of my friends told us that he's reading Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way but that he was initially uncertain if he would read it because the word "God" is used frequently, and he wasn't sure if he was comfortable with that. He decided to keep going after reading the introduction; in it, Cameron suggests that people uncomfortable with "God" substitute any other word that means creative spirit or force.

I heard similar instructions a few years ago when attending someone's exit interview from in-patient rehab. I asked the counselor essentially, "How are they supposed to go to AA if they don't believe in God?" I was told that it could stand for "Good Orderly Direction" and that AA is a spiritual, not religious, organization.

Sometimes pushing past or reconfiguring meanings in order to learn skills or receive larger messages is understandable. Sometimes re-framing the debate makes politics clearer (or at least more entrenched)! And I don't want to dismiss the power of groups reclaiming names that previously were only uttered as invective. Language is amazing, people! But when other than with "God" do we need such thorough contextualizing and explaining for a broader way of seeing, whether it's Cameron's creative force, Alice Walker's ecospirituality, or many Unitarian Universalist sermons? When else are we told, "Oh, just think of another word for that"?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What's in a Religious Name?

I attend University Unitarian Church and have been doing so since 2002. I was not raised UU, and my comfort with labeling myself a UU has varied over the years. One of UU's guiding principles is the "free and responsible search for truth and meaning," and, well, sometimes it seems like my search is free, responsible, and endless.

In the latest issue of our church newsletter, there's an article by the Youth Program Coordinator about upcoming program changes. One section in particular stands out for me:

In spite of being raised all their lives in the church, the high school youth I work with struggle in talking about their faith and they are jealous of their Christian and Jewish counterparts who have seemingly easy religious answers. Unfortunately, our ambivalence about religion keeps us from giving our kids what they want and need. My fear is that if we don't meet this need, we will lose them to other faiths or, worse, to no faith at all.

For those who aren't familiar with Unitarian Universalism, it is a non-creedal religion that is incredibly welcoming. Like I mentioned above, we have guiding principles - not doctrines. Indeed, the "About Unitarian Universalism" page of UUC's website acknowledges a spectrum of belief: "Some UUs consider themselves Christian. Many UUs would also describe themselves as Buddhist or Jewish. Other members are attuned to earth-centered spirituality and religion. UUs may also use the terms humanist or atheist to describe themselves."

But when you invite so many different beliefs under the same tent, there are bound to be tensions. Can we name ourselves any way we wish as long as we come to church? If, like the newsletter article says, it's "worse" to have "no faith," are Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Pagan or Humanist-UUs all better than Atheist-UUs?

And about those teenagers. I have volunteered in one way or another with UU youth since 2004, and I have seen the kind of children a UU church (and its "ambivalence") raises: compassionate, curious, joyful, humorous, intelligent ones with a wide range of personal beliefs. Could we practice more unified beliefs and traditions so that any UU, of any age, would "struggle" less when discussing the UU faith? Yes...but how do you go about choosing among the strands? "We seek wisdom from all sources" - again, the "About UU" page
" - contemporary and ancient poets, the Bible, Buddhist texts, Native American religion, and many other practices and faiths."

Of course some of the high school students are "jealous" of "seemingly easy answers" - it is difficult to concisely explain UU's plurality, especially in a sound bite-loving age. And if the answers we speak of aren't to questions like, "What is UU?" but instead, "What happens when we die?" then this jealousy is all the more understandable; injustice and loss and simply being a thinking person are hard work. But easy answers are often untrue, and the UU youth are smart and know that.

Last fall I attended a meeting at which one of our ministers asked someone, "If you don't identify as a UU, why are you here?" It might sound obvious when written, but it was jarring to hear. I'm here because this is my community, and I thought I was welcomed on my search for truth and meaning. I didn't know that the labels in my mind would be policed as I explored.

In my congregation, it sometimes feels like we are politely at war over our direction. We should always keep in mind principle # 5, "The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregation and in society at large." Whichever ways we go, we have to trust our youth - even when they choose no faith at all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Facebook Monopoly

Yesterday I was reading the Seattle P-I website when I noticed an article titled, "Has Facebook killed your urge to attend a school reunion?" (The headline did not capitalize all the letters, so neither do I :). At the end of the piece you could share your thoughts on the matter by voting. Choices include, "No way! I'm organizing a reunion right now on Facebook!" and "Yes, because I've already seen how weird my classmates became!" But among the six choices there was no option to say, "No, because I am not on Facebook."

And that is how I would have voted.

I was on Facebook, relatively briefly: once, in 2007 or 2008, for a few months, and again from July 2009 until May 31 of last year. I decided to leave - and not just to leave but to join others on the official Quit Facebook Day - because I didn't like the time I was wasting; I disagreed with how privacy decisions were handled; and I didn't like the vaguely stalker-ish impulses it could breed. But the biggest reason I left was that I didn't actually feel more connected with anyone other than very nice or funny acquaintances. The act of widely broadcasting my emotions - and reading other people's broadcasts - made me feel distant from actual friends and family. Even when people weren't trying to perform their relationships, the interface often gave them the look of performance. Very little was personal; I felt like a circumstantial audience member, not an intentionally selected recipient of information.

I do miss my friends' baby photos sometimes, but that's about it.

Lately though it feels like there are wider-reaching participatory repercussions to my decision to leave than just being the last to see the new kid's picture. It's not just that not being on Facebook is apparently inconceivable to some, as in the P-I article. For some businesses, organizations, or events, the only way to place an order, contact someone, or make your voice heard now is via Facebook. You can't even vote on a name for the Woodland Park Zoo's new reticulated python without going to Facebook.

I'm all for Facebook as a choice. But if you're operating in the public sphere, it seems short-sighted at best to limit in any way the number of people who can give you their money, time, or opinions.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Casting Couch in My Mind

I am unable to read a short story or novel without imagining the characters as real people. In a newspaper article, I can read about Dr. X from institution Y without pausing, but in a book I would have to decide she was Alfre Woodard before I could continue.

Many times a character is introduced before he or she is fully described; then I have to cast as best as I can, sometimes stopping later on to re-envision. But sometimes I just ignore elements of the author's description if I feel that my choice captures the essence of the character. For instance, in my favorite book from 2010, A Visit from the Goon Squad, I cast Gillian Jacobs (best known as Britta on Community) as one of the central characters, Sasha, even though the character has red hair and the actress doesn't. Can I just dye the actress's hair in my mind? Um, no - not unless I've seen her in a role with red hair.

This process might sound cumbersome - or crazy! - but usually takes less than a minute and isn't confined to famous people; if a friend, co-worker or family member fits the part best, that person gets the role. When I worked at an after school program, those kids populated any stories with children. And now that I don't know as many kids, well, let's just say that the girls from "Nurse Jackie" have had lots of work.

I've found articles and blog posts fiercely debating the casting choices for a beloved book-turned-movie. (See "The Hunger Games" for a recent example). But I'm not finding picks for books with no immediate film plans, which makes me wonder: is this visualization practice common, but we only hear, "I always saw Robert Downey Jr. in the role," when Hollywood gets involved? Or is it relatively rare?

There are teacher guides and scholarly articles commending visualization as a reading comprehension tool. But those count "visualization" as imagining anything in the text, from setting to vocabulary. The need for actual people to populate stories isn't involuntary, so it's not synesthesia. But what is it?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Six Degrees of I Know Someone Famous

I took a creative writing class in college with this guy. I had an adolescent correspondence with a becoming-famous author. And, creme de la creme, something I said (or my boisterous laugh) made this person swivel on his stool and smile at me in a Dean and Deluca.

And that's just me: a friend took a cooking class with a Hughesian actress; my parents inherited a garden plot from the wife of this Munster; and my mother's ex-husband's wife once went on a date with this new retiree.

None of those stories even involved getting on the Internet! Don't get me wrong - it's thrilling when an author or an actor answers my emails. But do we still rank highest the sightings, shared courses and chance interactions with famous people?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Good Old 1995

My parents have been mailing me boxes of my stuff from high school and college on and off for almost a year now; they moved back to Connecticut in June 2010 and, though they now have a huge basement, still (understandably) would like me to take possession of that which is mine. So. Boxes.

I have unearthed some treasures: articles from Parade magazine on the "cyberspace" fight to save "My So-Called Life" from cancellation; a beloved cassette tape, "TV Hits Vol. II" from the Meadowbrook Pops Orchestra, featuring classic '80s shows (who doesn't want to listen to the theme song from "Murder, She Wrote" on demand?); and my first pair of glasses (huge frames!) But the overwhelming majority of space is filled with letters.

I attended the University of Virginia's Young Writers Workshop in Charlottesville in the summers of 1994 and 1995, and, in those early-email days, it was natural to write to new friends through the trusty U.S. Postal Service. I was 14 and 15 and prolific, and so were my friends from Pittsburgh; St. Petersburg, FL; Brookline, MA; Ridgewood, NJ; and beyond. We may have only spent 3 weeks together in the same space, but some of us wrote to one another for years.

I love those letters now, both for their often-quirky, handmade, collaged envelopes and for the high school obsessions detailed within, but it also makes me sad to read them. A lot hadn't happened yet in 1995, including the deaths of two close friends and three of my grandparents. I'm no longer in as frequent or meaningful of contact with any of those people: college, significant others, jobs and new friends intervened. And in many cases we've just grown apart.

I'm not sure what you call it when you keep lots of things, pages and pages, that you can't bear to look at for very long, but that's what I'm doing. I'm an archivist, and I want to be able to remember Bug and Chris and Emily and Dave and everyone else, as they were.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Forgetful Children

It happened again last week: I was openly snubbed in public. But this wasn't someone I actively dislike; this was a middle school-aged boy on the Metro who looked straight into my eyes and smiling face and showed no sign of recognition. Thanks, Carl!

Some background: five years ago, I finished a four year run as an activity counselor at a Boys and Girls Club after school program. This equaled three hours each day and eight during winter, spring and summer breaks. Modestly, I estimate that I spent hundreds of hours a year with many of those kids - helping with homework, reading Captain Underpants books, playing tag, and comforting them when they were frustrated, lonely or hurt.

When I left the Club, Carl made a Mad Lib about *me* as a going away present - one of the best gifts I've ever received from a kid. But he was maybe eight then, and now he's basketball player-tall, probably 13, and that was a long time ago. I wasn't disappointed or even surprised last week when he didn't know who I was; I've seen the same blank expression on other buses, in parks, and in stores in the years since I stopped working with those kids. I know a lot of other people have entered and exited their lives since they last saw me. And I know there are exceptions, ones who remember my face and sometimes even my name.

Still I never stop feeling amazed at how all those hours of drawing, snacking, and playing kickball were wiped away for many of them. Old people have Alzheimer's; what do we call this particularly young affliction?