Friday, June 29, 2012

twitter haze

There is a fine line between social networking
and wasting your fucking life.
--Andy Borowitz

Where Have I been?

On Twitter. 


I signed up in January—but I didn’t “get it.”  My account languished with 2 tweets and four followers (husband, sister, friend, weird stranger). 

Then a little over a month ago, I figured it out.   

Now my life is divided into the sweet years before I turned 45, and the tweet years after. 

Holiday, weekend, middle of the night, it doesn’t matter.  Someone, (it feels like everyone) is always on, tweeting about the latest events.

“Don’t these people have lives?” I wonder as I stare, mesmerized into the soft glow of the screen.  The words “10 new Tweets” reflect eerily in my dilated pupils.  With their thousands (yes thousands) of followers and tens of thousands of tweets, these twificionados make me feel inadequate—like I’ve been dilly dallying.    

I tell myself I’ve got to start dinner, but then I think: “it’s just 5 new Tweets.  It’ll only take a sec to check them.  Maybe there’s something good?  Oh, there’s a new article in Nature about climate.  Better check that out.”  And I’m off.  By the time I get back from Nature, there are “45 new Tweets.”  If I dare to get up to use the bathroom, another 30.  And dinner? If I have the gall to embark on that lengthy distraction:  hundreds.  And I’m small potatoes—in a big way. 

After years of admonishing my kids about the threat of screen-induced “jelly brain,” suddenly I am the culprit.  I am the jelly-brain.   

How can that be?

Obsessed with what’s new, whose following, who replied, who retweeted, I find myself caught up in a world of twitter inspired subterfuge: sneaking to my computer before breakfast or pretending to check email when I’m really connecting with these new cyber friends who I’ve never met but who share my obsession.   

My kids are on to me.  They see me on the computer and accuse:  “You’re on Twitter again!” 

“No I’m not!” I object, closing my laptop with an indignant snap.  “I’m just shutting down!”

When Steve heads off to bed at around 11pm he asks, “You coming?” 

“Yeah.  In one minute,” I respond.  He nods knowingly.

The house falls silent, and like a teenager who sneaks out the window when her parents fall asleep, I log on. My home screen comes up, the glow comes over me, and I swear, angels start singing. 

Hours later, I slip furtively into bed, hoping not to wake Steve.   Inevitably, he stirs and asks with incredulity, “what time is it?!” 

“Um.  I don’t know.  One?  Two?” 

“Your kidding!” as he rises to check the clock, I cave. 


Oh, the shame. 

“What?! What were you doing?!”

“Twitter,”  I admit in my tiniest voice, covering my face with the pillow.

“You’re crazy!” he admonishes.  “You’re going to be so tired in the morning!”

“I know, I know.  But I can’t stop!”  

What a shock to get sucked in so quickly.  I always thought I understood the lure of the Xbox, the Wii, the iTouch—the things that capture the minds of our children and entice them away from books, free play, and the outdoors.

It had just never happened to me.

I know I will get over my twypnosis.  In fact, I’m already growing a bit weary of it.   But it makes me think about the kids and this great dilemma of their generation.  If I can be made to feel almost helpless in the grip of a cyber-info-maelstrom, how do they feel?  And how can I best support them in the face of it? 

I don’t have a silver-bullet answer for this, but I do know that confessing my brief Twitter obsession will be part of the plan.  They can laugh (and learn) if I suffer Twitter jitters during my recovery.

In the meantime, should I tell you to follow me @smallhousedeb?  Don’t.  I wouldn’t want to make a twombie out of you!  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

don't legislate! tolerate!

Remember that bumper sticker conservatives loved after 9/11 that said “Freedom isn’t Free!?” When it came to justifying the cost of war, Republicans were all about freedom and the high price we should be willing to pay, both in dollars and in lives, to preserve it. 

I never put much credence in that argument, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the party willing to pay so dearly for freedom currently has its righteous nose pressed against my liberties at every turn.  The examples keep rolling in, fast and furious:

-Rick Santorum doesn’t think I should be allowed to use birth control

-The Republican Legislators in my state of VA don’t think I can manage my personhood and pregnancy at the same time

-Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson doesn’t think I should be allowed to vote

-Wisconsin’s Governor Walker doesn’t think hard working public servants should be allowed to bargain together for fair wages

-The north Carolina legislature doesn’t think scientists should be allowed to practice their professions and publish inconvenient data on climate change

-Lawmakers in Arizona don’t think students should read books by or about Mexicans or Native Americans. 

-Lawmakers in Florida don’t think all registered voters should vote

-Conservatives across the country don’t think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry —with some, such as those most recently in North Carolina, using their state constitutions to deny rather than confer rights to citizens 

-Michigan lawmakers join a long list of state legislators who don’t think women should have autonomy over their own bodies, pregnant or not   

-And just for some comic relief, squirmy Michigan legislators would prefer if we didn’t say the word “vagina” in their presence 

 I guess vagina is the new Voldemort – that which shall not be named. 

 Are those men in kindergarten? 

How ironic Republicans fault Democrats for running a Nanny state. As self-appointed babysitters, they’ve cornered the market on regulating personal conduct, fussing like old ninnies over our every move.

Here’s the problem: I’m all grown up, and in the process, I grew a moral conscience of my own.  With it, I can make all these decisions for myself. 

I bet you can too.

The issue here is not whether a person particularly likes Native American Literature, agrees with the threat of rising sea level, supports gay marriage or a woman’s right to choose; the question is about who gets to decide an individual’s actions as they pertain to these issues. Legislative babysitters? Or individual citizens?

We need to do a better job of separating what might be a rule in one person’s family from what should be a law in everyone’s nation.  With this clear separation, you can more easily see that one person’s right to read a book, or enter into a same sex marriage, or terminate a pregnancy, does not mean everyone else has to do it too.  My right to exercise a freedom does not infringe on your right to abstain from it, disapprove of it, or even condemn it.   

In other words, you don’t have to do it, but you do have to tolerate it. 

And that’s the true price of freedom: tolerance. 

I read a Republican slogan today that said, “Annoy a Democrat, love your country!”  Republicans are great at waving the flag and professing their love for America, but they’re not so great at loving Americans.  No.  Not so great at all. I don’t think it’s enough to love your country if you can’t tolerate the people in it.

All of this legislative babysitting is an attempt to make us all the same.  They want us to restrict immigration so we’ll all look and talk the same; censor books and science so we’ll all think the same; purge voter rolls so we’ll all vote the same; restrict marriage so our families will all be shaped the same; restrict reproductive rights so that all women will choose the same. 

That's a lot of time wasted protecting conservatives' fear of difference! 

But conservatives are right about one thing:  freedom isn’t free. They’re just wrong about the price.  Instead of paying in dollars, or in soldiers’ precious lives, we need to pay by electing officials who trust and respect Americans enough to let us choose, let us vote, let us read, let us debate, let us marry, let us control our own destinies. 

We need to pay in tolerance.   

My message for conservatives:  Don’t legislate! Tolerate! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

mishandled mocha 'inspires' how?

I didn’t have the best morning.  I went swimming, but I felt like a wet towel in the water. Not a great workout. Then I went to the fraudodontist where I wrote a big fat painful check to ensure Olivia can go through life equipped with an inexplicably necessary, beautiful straight smile. 

As consolation for the morning's questionable expenditure of so much energy and money, I treated myself to a coffee: large decaf skim mocha WITH whip.  What’s four more frivolous dollars? 

I savored it—hardly drinking any in the car.  I planned to write all morning and I do enjoy the ritual of having an extravagant drink to keep me company at the task. 

When I got home, I made my way in the door while juggling my purse over one shoulder, my swim bag over the other, the paperwork from the fraudodontist under my arm (slipping, slipping!), some miscellaneous trash in one hand, and my coffee in the other.  To be sure I didn’t spill it, I set my coffee on the shoe rack and kicked off my sandals. 

In came my wiggly 80lb dog for a meet and greet.  As she crowded happily into the small space, she knocked clumsily into me and my coffee.  All that beautiful creamy cake-in-a cup I’d been anticipating splashed down between my toes, splattered up my ankles, soaked my sandals, pooled against the step to my kitchen, seeped under the shoe rack, and continued to spread, collecting all the dog hair it could find in a sugary river of fur (doesn’t anyone vacuum around here?), that flowed towards the door.

Really?!  I could not belieeeeeve the mess.

Aaargh.  I make terrible coffee, and no way could I buy more. Who spends nearly $10 on coffee in one day? 

I cursed my small house with its cramped entryway, I cursed my dog with her clutsy 80lbs and her globs of shedding fur; I cursed my empty paper towel holder.  And as I looked at my sopping shoes that would never dry on this damp humid day, I cursed my aversion to air conditioning.  Why couldn’t I just be a normal person?!

The real clincher: I was coming home with my luxurious coffee to sit down and write a blog post thanking my blogger friend Thalassa for awarding me the Inspiring Blog Award!   Me, with my incessant cursing and my sticky, dog-hair covered feet, inspiring blogger extraordinaire!  

Clearly, I just needed to get over it (the mess, I mean).  No sense crying over spilled coffee, right? 

So my first order of business (after cleaning up the mess quite easily with an old t-shirt and some soapy water--no paper towels needed J), is to say a word about Thalassa and to thank her for the award. 

Thank you, Thalassa! 

Thalassa writes a blog called Musings of a Kitchen Witch: thoughts on parenting, paganism, witchcraft, nature, cooking, crafting and life by the sea.  She blogs about her faith and family in an open and inclusive way.  Her website is a virtual enclyclopedia of information about herbs, paganism and parenting.  She inspired and instructed me on my no poo journey, and I’m very flattered that she finds my blog inspiring as well!

As part of the deal, I am also supposed to tell you a few new things about me.  So here goes:

-        I love the color purple—not the soft lavender kind, the real kind.  I painted our main living area purple years ago.  I thought it would be a phase, like going Goth, or shaving my head (I never did either of those), but I don’t seem to be growing out of it. 
-        Despite my commitment to the environment, I am guilty of repeated acts of houseplanticide. 
-        I have a Ph.d. in English, but I forget nearly everything I read.
-        I eat chocolate chips out of the bag when the kids are at school.
-        I am trying to publish a memoir about my past experiences as both a graduate student and an adjunct professor of English.
-       I know the Meg Ryan movie, French Kiss, by heart.

OK – and for the last part, I need to share the bloggy love.   I want to nominate my blogger friend Jennifer and her blog, 1 Voice 4 Peace for the Inspiring Blog Award.  Jennifer will not shock you with foul language or dramatic tales of the circus we call parenthood.  Rather, Jennifer writes a quiet and mindful blog about peace that inspires me to be a better person and to see the world as a better place.  She even has a playlist that you can listen to while you read.  So cool, Jennifer!

Technically, I don’t think I can officially nominate either of these next two because they have more than 200 readers, but I want to mention them because they are also inspiring blogs that I read regularly. 

The first is An Inch of Gray by Anna See.  I have been reading Anna’s blog since she lost her 12 year old son in an accident last fall.  She inspires just by having the courage to sit down to the computer and share.  That she does it with such beauty and honesty amazes me. 

The second is the spirit of the river by Meredith Winn.  Meredith is a photographer who lives with her family in a yurt in Maine.  Need I say more?  Meredith photographs and writes about her life in haunting and inspiring ways.  I find her pictures captivating.

There you have it.  If you can, take a second to check out some or all of these inspiring blogs! 

Meanwhile, I’m off to walk barefoot around my floor to see if the dog did a decent job of licking up the puddles of mocha I may have missed in my clean up!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

backward looking birthday

I overheard an older woman at the gym this morning lament her age to a friend.  The friend said, “yup, there’s nothing good about it.”  Well, they had at least 20 years on me, so who am I to talk?  But after celebrating my birthday last week, I think there is something good about it.   

My ninety-nine year old grandmother died peacefully in her bed one night.  Just two weeks prior, she’d been well enough to play bridge with her friends.  She suffered no debilitating disease, no extended pain or suffering, no tragedy.  When I tell people this, they say, “that’s the way to go.”  

I agree.  But if that’s so, why do we have such a problem with birthdays and aging?  As far as I can tell, there’s no express elevator that will take you straight from 25 to 99.  You have to get old before age can claim you quietly in the night.  You have to do the time—if you’re lucky enough to get it. 

When I celebrated my birthday last week, it looked the same:  luscious lopsided coconut cake, loud family members all talking at the same time, presents.  But it felt different.  Not because I was turning 45 and that’s half way to 50, or to 90 (depending on your perspective).  It felt different because I have changed.

My grandmother’s funeral is not the only one I've gone to in recent years.  In fact, despite my grief at her loss, I felt such a sense of relief at her service because her passing made sense.  Ninety-nine years makes a generous life in anybody’s book.  The other funerals I attended, however, did not make sense.  They all bore the unbearable and nonsensical weight of tragedy: my daughter's 6 year old friend, lost in a car accident.  My own childhood friend, also lost in a car accident, along with her husband.  A plane crash.  Cancer.

To drive the point of life’s fragility home, I had three occasions to get a close look at the face of my own mortality during these years.  I endured a dog attack, a cycling accident and most recently, a car accident.    

After the car accident, I didn’t know if the other driver would live.  I could feel death mulling around at the scene, peering in the window of the other car, breathing heavily on the back of my neck. The police patted my knee and marveled at my luck.  When I got home, I took stock.  The trappings of my own life looked distant, as if I were a ghost in my own house.  What had I last written in my journal?  Had I left food in the fridge?  How dirty were the bathrooms? 

As I’d seen happen with others, the details of the smallest instant had made a difference of unfathomable proportion.  Except this time the instant had turned in my favor.

In the context of tragic grief and loss, birthdays aren’t such a bad thing.  When we celebrate them, we tend to look forward, counting how many years might be left, seeing the additional candle on the cake as the mark of yet another year taken away. 

But why not see the candle as another year given?   If death is walking along beside us every day, then our proximity to it isn’t so closely related to our age as it is to our luck.  In that sense, birthdays don’t bring us closer to death; they simply bring us closer to oldness and the privilege of dying quietly in our beds. 

So this year on my birthday, instead of looking forward to the supposedly diminished number of years on my docket, I turned around and looked backward. 

45 years!  That’s 16,425 days, and in not one of them did I want for food or shelter (unless you count that time 20 years ago when a friend and I drove to Dewy Beach mistakenly expecting party acquaintances to put us up on their couch).

45 years!  A birthday I could easily have missed, and one that others I know will miss, did miss.  The only way I know to respect that loss is to celebrate, appreciate.  Otherwise, you’re standing there having eaten half a pie complaining that half the pie is gone when you should be raving gratefully about how good it was. 

During her final years, my grandmother told me that she always surprised herself when she woke up in the mornings.  Not sure of when the end might come, she’d open her eyes and say, “Oh! I’m still here!  Well, I may as well get out of bed!”   That’s a living in the NOW that would probably be hard for the rest of us spring chickens to replicate, but perhaps we can manage it once a year, when we celebrate another year given, on our backward looking birthdays.