Don’t Pet My Peeves

Before anyone gets the bright idea that this is a nicely gift-wrapped manual for how to get under my skin, I will preface this post with a declaration that not all of these little peculiarities are my own. I have gleaned from conversations with friends and colleagues a few of the little things that really bug them, and I’ve added some of my own. As it is, I believe it presents an interesting collection of quirks that range in response from rolled eyes to grinding teeth. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’m sure there are a good many others that could be added, but to capture them all might break the internet.

Pet peeves are those little things that bother us just enough to irritate, but never so much as to excite rage. Generally, they are insignificant behaviors or aspects of life that other people around us may not even notice, or at the very least find perfectly acceptable. The first use of the term seems to have originated in the turn of the last century. It allegedly is derived from the word peevish or annoyed. The point being that whatever the occurrence in question, the response was less explosive than seething.

And on with the show…

1. The “correct” way to hang toilet paper:

So, I’ve seen this over and over. There are polls and memes and you-name-it all over the internet debating the right or wrong way to hang the toilet paper roll on the holder. By this, of course, we are talking about whether the loose end goes over the top and comes to the front or if it goes back towards the wall and pulls from underneath the roll.

Seriously, people. I will admit that my preference has always been the towards-the-front application, but I strongly suspect that was instilled by my mother who always went the extra step of folding the end into a neat little triangle before guests arrived (don’t even ask). Truth be told, I don’t very well understand getting all that torqued over the perspective of the loose end of something with which I am going to wipe my bum. Generally, I am just thrilled when people actually think to put a new roll on the holder when the old one is spent.

2. I have an ideal. Axe me something about nucular strategery, irregardless of the previous topic, ekcetera:

We’ve all heard them, right? Those colloquial pronunciations that don’t quite match the spelling or Oxfordian English presentation of the vernacular. People will generally notice if it is a public figure making a general ass of himself or herself before the camera lens of publicity, especially if it also makes said individual look to have the verbal IQ of a mollusk. For the most part, however, people will usually overlook the occasional misquoted, poorly articulated presentation of the SAT wordlist. I do have to say, that there is some small nerve in my spinal cord that jumps every time people put that extra consonant on the word “idea” to make the concept into the superlative or place a ‘k’ in the Latin word to indicate “and so on”. It is worse when the speaker is supposed to be not only educated but also holds a professional role of some prominence and representative of my own field, institution, or position. While, I am aware that I may be the only person hearing it; it does make me concerned that the audience will tar me with the same brush of incompetence that could be construed by their ignorance of the English language (even if it is just a frequently used Latin term).

3. The recently much-abused Oxford comma:

This particular grammatical functionary has received way more attention in the “interwebs” of late than I ever would have suspected possible. For those who might not even understand the term to which I refer, the Oxford or serial comma is used when listing more than two items in a phrase or sentence. I found out in the process of editing my dissertation that this particular particle of punctuation is now considered optional. Um… optional? Really? When I was but a wee lass learning to actually compose sentences on paper (yes, sometime around the invention of written language, I know), we were taught about things like subjects, predicates, nouns, and verbs… (see what I did there?) AND the comma in a serial list of objects, people, entities, and ideas was always used before the conjunction (and, or, nor, but, etc.). This was so that you didn’t group the last two items in the list as one entity.

However, this small, insignificant punctuation mark has apparently gone the way of the dodo and is now considered unnecessary. It came as a complete shock to me, I can tell you. However, this seems to be the way of the new world in which we live. I read an article just yesterday about the new punctuation and how our use of texting and social media has changed how we punctuate due to implied emotional content. This goes back to my “Antisocial Media” article and some of the discussions I have had recently about what technology has done to our language and learning. I caution my readers (all three of you now, I think) not to give into this new lackadaisical application of the traditional grammatical forms. Punctuation is important, people! Just think:

It’s time to eat Grandma! vs It’s time to eat, Grandma!

Punctuation saves lives.

4. BTW, txt b4 omw:

While the above is probably an exaggeration, one of the things that appalls me in our current society is the all too frequent use of the “text speak” in what I might consider formal publications. Now, I am not suggesting that the editors of all the scholarly journals on the planet have suddenly decided to take a powder and leave off their duties as grammar police and guardians of comprehensive communication. I have not yet found any glaring incidents of seeing the ridiculous acronyms and abbreviations used for the character and time limited formats of the text environment; BUT sadly, I have seen too many of these used in emails, sometimes those of an alleged professional nature. This is truly a travesty in a world of informality that we cannot at least keep some professionalism with regards, say… formal memorandum sent to an entire department or company sector, correspondents between academic department heads, emails to professional colleagues, or official event fliers in the workplace. I know you are probably thinking, “She’s exaggerating again. Surely professionals wouldn’t do that!” Sorry… I’ve seen it. What people fail to consider (at least those used to communicating in that immediately gratifying way of technology and the speed of electronic transfer) is that when you send something across the internet, there is the very distinct possibility that the document (albeit brief) has the potential longevity to be there in perpetuity and be displayed to an entirely different audience than originally intended. I have found some of them truly amusing, in part because I know that the writer is not nearly as unprofessional as they appear in print. However, to the potential unknown reader, what might the impression be? I can appreciate the convenience of the acronym and abbreviation. I can even support the use of some of these expressions as an almost secret code-like communication, but for the love of all that is sacred to your dignity, please use language in its full beauty when composing communication that might be seen by a broader audience or presented as professional correspondence.

5. Uggs:

Let’s depart for a moment from the intellectual and academic arguments of things that make one peevish. Instead we shall briefly delve into the realm of fashion.

People who know me would tell you, I am not a fashionista, and I am not one to sacrifice comfort or large portions of my bank balance for the latest trends. That being said, the fashion in footwear called Uggs just perplexes me. I can only assume that the name comes from the word ugly. As far as I can tell, these foot coverings were created to look like something that should never leave the house and were designed with the intent to make the leg look as short and wide as possible. Apparently, the origin of these heinous things is actually Australia, where they were actually designed to keep the feet of surfers warm when out of the water. I can see how they might actually be effective in that capacity. I understand that they are warm and comfortable. My problem is that they have become the height of fashion and they can cost as much as $200. If I spend a couple of Benjamins on a set of footwear, they better make me look like the winner of America’s Top Model. Instead, what I generally see is young girls wearing these hideous things on their feet accompanying a miniskirt or leggings and a long sweater or possibly even skinny jeans (and that is a whole other discourse). The effect is incredible. Even if said gal was remarkably well-formed and legs that went from the ground to the sky, what this choice of wardrobe does is cut her off horizontally to produce a wider and shorter silhouette. Why would someone want to do this? Anyhow, out of curiosity, I looked up ugg boots to see what it was all about and found something I found both humorous and interesting:

THE Canadian Inuit call them mukluks, the Native American Indians call them moccasins, and here in Australia we just call them uggies — but no matter what you call them, no matter what part of the world you come from, the fur or wool-lined soft-leather winter boot will always be associated with daggy fashion sense, bogan behaviour, and the outer suburbs.” (Katz, 2006)

Now, anyone need a translation? Daggy and bogan are Australian slang terms that mean unfashionable, ugly, what we Stateside folk might call “the people of Walmart” (no offense to people who just choose to shop from that entity). The author actually states that the ugliest boots on the planet are warm and comfortable, but fashionable… not so much.

6. Uncomfortable non-silence:

Ever met those people who just seem completely unable to stand silence? I expect that going to a library would be pure torture for them. I don’t particularly mind the traditional chatterbox. They are lively people with a lot on their minds and have no apparent internal monologue as they tend to have a running commentary on everything that comes to their notice. It can be entertaining. It is not really these types that are the focus of disapprobation. Instead, I refer you to the random (and sometimes not so random) individuals who in an atmosphere of conversational lull have to fill the lack of speech, to ease their own discomfort, with a plethora of banalities that serve no purpose save to make noise.

Sitting with silence is not always easy. It is one of the most difficult skills that my own profession needs to cultivate before embarking on the path of providing counsel to those in need. I have found myself feeling a bit discomfited by the client who sits for a half-hour span without so much as a word spoken aloud. Sometimes, those are the most revealing and healing moments, however, and I have found my own Herculean effort to remain silent rewarded surprisingly by clients who have said that having a “calm, safe space” was the best therapy they have ever had.

7. Autocorrect hell:

The advent of the autocorrect function for most people have saved time and provided clarity of commonly used verbiage. On the flip side of that argument, I have seen some of the most ridiculous gaffs and blunders created by my own phone that assumes that it knows better than I what it was I was trying to impart. I am certain that you all have enjoyed some of the more spectacular failures of the autocorrect function. Personally, I have spent inordinate amounts of time perusing the damnyouautocorrect site and laughing uproariously at some of the unintended hilarity there.

That being said, I get somewhat aggravated when I am trying to type something in my text frame (or other electronic media) and the suggested words available are not even related to what I was going to say. Combined with the autopopulate feature, it usually takes twice the normal amount of time spent backing up and retyping my original word. Sometimes, I am genuinely baffled by the suggestions. At other times, I want to hurl the phone sharply against the most convenient hard surface because it will not accept that perhaps I know what I am saying and continues trying to convince me of my error by inserting the wrong word over, and over, and over again. Too many of us have become reliant upon our spellcheck and autocorrect for everything from spelling to punctuation and grammar. Sadly, these marvels of modern technology are not perfection and will sometimes substitute extraordinary things into our typed correspondence. So, my public service advisory for this item would be to always proof read rather than rely upon your technology to represent your thoughts in the way you intended.

And last one, for now…

8. The thing that does the thing with the thing:

We’ve all been there; that moment when someone asks you something believing you to be the source of knowledge on which they could rely, and you draw a beautiful blank from your internal repository of related facts on the topic of your supposed expertise. I admit, not gladly but truthfully, that I am ignorant of a good many subjects in this big, wide world in which we live. I get accused of being a know-it-all on occasion, but the more accurate assessment would be that I know just enough to be dangerous about too many things. I am Jill of all trades and master of not-so-much. I’ve always been curious. Hearing a smattering of conversation about something that I’ve never heard before will usually provoke me to look up anything I can find on the topic for my own edification. This way lays the evil of the Wikipedia rabbit hole and other such sources. It tends to make me annoying in a game of Trivial Pursuit and probably even more so in social conversations that range an extensive breadth of topics. I cannot, therefore, be terribly irritated by others of my ilk that have the same general bent about what used to be called “general knowledge” in a different academic age. There are the people out there, though, that don’t fall into the same category. In fact, these folk are so common that they have been canonized frequently in various entertainment genres. Think for a moment (those of you who remember) of Cliff Clavin, played by John Ratzenberger or of the seagull friend of Ariel, Scuttle, played by Buddy Hackett. These poor souls rely on and take pride in their reputations as the sagely sources of knowledge. The humor comes in when they don’t have all the verifiable facts and confabulate, sometimes even to the extent of creating new words to describe, explain, and elucidate their expertise in all things. We laugh at these caricatures of people that exist out in the real world, but when it comes to the ones we actually meet or experience in the course of our lives, it’s different. Nothing is more frustrating, or embarrassing, than having something explained (say a technical problem with some sort of technology at work) by someone who allegedly gets paid for knowing the problem only to be laughed at by those with real knowledge when you repeat what you were told. As difficult as it is to admit, sometimes it truly is better to admit you do not know something and appear ignorant than to blather on in a sea of confabulation to mislead others and appear an even larger jackass than would have been the case with acknowledgment of ignorance.

And that concludes the list for now. I am sure there are some other entertaining peeves out there for people to share. Be my guest. Some of them are amusing to others, though annoying to us. I dare say I can commiserate with a few of your own submissions, if not more. The point is, these are insignificant blips in the course of our daily lives, probably not even worthy of concern; but perhaps, if we avoid committing some of them ourselves, we can make someone’s life a little less annoying by not petting their peeves.

Katz, D. (2006). The uggly side of life. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/news/danny-katz/the-uggly-side-of-life/2006/09/27/1159337216912.html

Antisocial Media? Human Contact in a Technological World

Stone Soup by Jan Eliot

Once again, my train of thought has been derailed. I promise to try getting back on track for next week. I had an idea for my post this week, but other events led me to reconsider that in favor of a little commentary on something that we all spend a large portion of our energy doing. I am talking about technology assisted socialization.

This is texting, emailing, mobile phone communication, and social media. These days, one or more of these methods make up the majority of our communication with our social group. I actually spent a large portion of my time in the past five years examining the phenomenon, and if any of you are having trouble sleeping, I’ll let you read the 200+ pages of my dissertation about it. However, I suspect that you would be more inclined to read something a little less dry.

So, as I said, about five years ago, I was out with a group of friends at one of our regular haunts for a night of social interaction and liquid refreshment. I was actually discussing with one of my companions the dilemma I was having. This dilemma was what topic I should choose for the focus of my doctoral dissertation. As she and I continued to discuss the problem talking about different interests and perplexing situations in the current events,  we both noticed silence from the others at our table punctuated by the occasional bark of laughter or “Check this one out.” We turned to observe our fellow occupants of the table to see one and all of them on some form of electronic device (phone, tablet, laptop) and each of them was busily typing and clicking. What?!? As we watched, we suddenly realized they were texting and sending things to each other. Was this what socializing with friends had become? They were not only in the same room, but actually at the same table completely absorbed in their devices! And thus, a dissertation was born. I won’t go into all the magnitude of research, testing, and analysis that was done. However, what I did find was that there are benefits and detriments to the electronic tethers we have fashioned for ourselves, and there are significant differences in the personalities of people who choose to socialize via their devices rather than through direct contact with their fellow humans. It was fascinating to me, and there were some considerable applications for my chosen field of psychology that came of this scientific exploration. I won’t bore my readers with the details. Instead I am going to type a bit on the subject of benefits and limitations of electronic socialization.

The miracle of technology has provided the ability to connect and communicate despite the impediment of geographic distance. Additionally, all the communication can take place in “real time” without the lengthy time delays of some of the other methods in history. The internet and mobile technology have provided an instant gratification scenario for social interaction at a distance. This has provided families separated by miles, continents, and oceans the ability to remain connected and share in the lives of their loved ones. The convenience of texts and mobile phones means that the forgotten item from the grocery list sent with your significant other need not be a problem. Crowds or loud environments need not be an obstacle to conversation. Compromised immune systems are no longer a source of complete isolation from human interaction. In short, social interaction is no longer limited to physical proximity or time-delayed methods.

The down side… Social interaction is no longer limited to physical proximity or time-delayed methods. Yep. I repeated myself, because one of the benefits of our modern technology has also provided some interesting detriments. The instantaneous conveyance of information across distances no longer provides the opportunity for thought and consideration put into responses. We don’t sit with writing implements considering all the best ways to put our thoughts and emotions into the prose on the page. In responding to correspondence, we no longer have the enforced delay of writing and mailing providing excellent opportunity to rethink what we just said and possibly take it back before sending it through the hands of postal workers to the person at the other end. Now, unfortunately, all that happens with the blink of an eye, blinding speed of fingers on keys, processing speeds of voice recognition software, and our knee-jerk reaction now wends its way towards the recipient with one click of the “Send” button. No take-backsies. There are delete buttons and even some ways that you can retrieve emails, but they don’t always have success in preventing a misstated comment from reaching the target.

Taking the immediacy into account, it is astounding the things that people are quite willing to say or do via electronic media that they might hesitate or even refrain from were they to find their communication companion in their physical presence. The relative anonymity of the internet has the dubious ability of making people extraordinarily unguarded in the things that they say to each other. Being unable to observe the consequences of what is said, people feel free to “flame,” berate, disparage, vilify, slander/libel, and humiliate the target. While it may seem silly or childish to be impacted by words appearing on an electronic screen, words can be powerful, sometimes more powerful that we expect or realize. Words have swayed populations of individuals who, though not inherently bad, were persuaded to follow leaders who advocated horrific deeds. On a singular level, the “cyber-bullying” of one young girl that took the form of a fictional relationship created to humiliate her resulted in her suicide. The impact of “friending” and “de-friending” has also been examined due to recent events receiving media attention, including a murder perpetrated by a teen on her parents who had removed her from their Facebook friends list.

Conversely, only about 20% of communication is conveyed by the words we use. That means that the rest of the 80% comes through body language, facial expression, vocal tone, and eye contact. The majority of our electronic communication and social interaction lacks the capability of translating these elements. I know. We have webcams and face time and teleconferencing software that lets you look at the people you are talking to, but it still misses some of the important nuances that are observable while sharing the same space with the person to whom you are speaking.

There have been any number of new social rules that have spawned from the misconstrued messages of the unwary. This “netiquette” as it is termed has provided some guidelines and methods of trying to add back into the text only format a bit of the nuances of in vivo communication. So, we know that all caps is yelling or putting particular influence on a word. For venues that allow it, there is also font changes that can lend mood or tone to the prose presented. There are also collections of letters that abbreviate phrases to take sting out of something that could be considered harsh. BUT… even with all the emoticons and acronyms the “interwebs” have to offer, in the end, all emotional content of a text-based communication is entirely in the head of the recipient. People forget that when they read something that someone has put into words that the tone and intent comes from the reader, not always the intended impact or emotional content of the writer.

Another adverse side effect of technology assisted socialization is how it has changed face to face social interaction. Once upon a time, I read a science fiction novel that was set on a planet where all the inhabitants wore masks. To not wear a mask was the equivalent of going naked in public. The upshot to this cultural evolution was that society at large had lost the ability to read facial expression or even to guard their own expressions. For outsiders, lying was incredibly easy, because no one had the ability to read microexpressions or sense dissembling. This seems to be part of the problem with our modern obsession with technological social interaction. People have lost their powers of observation. They fail to see discomfort, offense, interest, and pain. They also fail to measure and moderate their own physical (facial and body language) responses. In short, people appear to have forgotten how to be civil and have lost any sense of good manners. For all the “netiquette” that has been designed, we seem to have lost the etiquette of good manners.

From all of this, you may get the impression that I am anti-technology. That is not accurate. I truly believe that the advances we have made in technology have been and will be incredible for communication, keeping in touch with family and friends, commerce and business, and for the medical and therapy fields. The opportunities are enormous for geographically or physically isolated individuals to receive services previously unavailable. Thoughts and ideas shared across a wider expanse of people and geography has the benefit of spreading understanding and letting individuals separated by continents walk in the virtual shoes of their fellow human. Aside from that, it is just more convenient and downright fun to be able to text, talk, Facebook, etc. from wherever you happen to be and whatever you happen to be doing. I love feeling that I am sharing experiences with my loved ones who are many miles away. So, I would be the last person to toss the baby out with the bathwater. I do like my tech. You are reading my ‘blog, of course. As with anything, moderation appears to be the key.

So, all that said… things to remember:

  • Moderate your electronic socialization with actual face to face socialization when possible.
  • Try to take a break from your phone and/or computer for a couple of waking hours during every 24 hour cycle (they don’t necessarily have to be sequential hours).
  • Try an “off the grid” day or even a weekend, where you do not use any technology.
  • When engaging in face to face socialization, pay attention to the people, not the gadgets.
  • Remember that what you type has power and potentially greater longevity than the words spoken aloud (minus recording equipment).
  • Remember that anything you put out there on the internet has the potential of reaching an audience you never intended and may be out there for review for a long, long… long time.
  • The emotion you read into a text, post, email, etc. may not be what the writer intended.
  • Before responding to any electronic communication, take a moment to engage in some thought and consider how what you choose to put into words might be interpreted and whether the emotional response from any reader would be precisely what you were hoping to gain.

The internet and other electronic methods of engagement are tools for  social interaction. Remember that. Be wary of allowing these tools to become the primary interaction partners in your life instead of the humans who are your fellow inhabitants of the planet. And now we return you to your regularly scheduled texting, instant messaging, posting, and tweeting.

Stone Soup is a comic by Jan Eliot. For more http://www.gocomics.com/stonesoup/

Mirror, Mirror…

http://www.wordsoverpixels.com/warning-reflections-in-this-mirror-may-be-distorte/17226193f6cedc90e1bb046a369a0004.html

So… this entry started out with one inspiration, and got hit by another…

What is wrong with our self-esteem? And by us, I am talking primarily to my own gender, but guys, you are also impacted by external judgment on your physical appearance and actions in a way that can plummet your self-concept into the whirling abyss of self-loathing. It just seems that women are the most frequent and common victims in the rape of our pride in self.

I actually got into a discussion today with a friend about this very issue. He had posted an image on his Facebook timeline that illustrated the way society has changed in the image of female beauty, and I liked, commented, and shared. Yes, I did. What sparked the conversation was my comment, which was “Guilty as charged…” or something along those lines. My friend was baffled by my comment and incredulous to the verity and instant messaged me to say so. What transpired was as follows…

He never understood how I could possibly not see myself as attractive. I remember his frustrations from years before when he would give me a compliment, and I, in the traditional female fashion, would brush it aside with a “No, I’m not.” It wasn’t a fishing-for-more-compliments situation. I actually never saw myself as pretty, beautiful, attractive, or any of the other typical adjectives used to describe the female form and face. I have never had any false vanity about my appearance. Neither was I a proponent of false modesty. I am not Quasimodo, but I do not particularly fit the modern mold of the beautiful woman. For decades (I will not reveal how many), I have been aware that my best attributes would not be found by visual assessment. I knew this as well from years of observation and witnessing the females found to be irresistible by the males of my acquaintance. I looked nothing like them, and I certainly did not have to beat suitors off with a stick. Casting aside the theories of charisma and pheromones, the bottom line is that I am as susceptible as the next woman to the brainwashing of the popular media.

This is not a terribly new phenomenon. The popular conception of attractiveness and beauty has changed and evolved more than our actual DNA through the ages. What we, in the modern world, consider to be attractive and beautiful qualities would have been seen in earlier times when having a little meat on the bones meant you had the money to actually buy food to sustain yourself to be unattractive and too skinny, a truly poor choice of mate, and it might even have been assumed that the individual in question carried disease or was in some other way unhealthy. In truth, even today there are cultures that do not find the thin supermodel physique to be feminine or beautiful and prefer healthy or even Rubenesque form to be more attractive. However the popular Western concept of the ideal female comes closer to resembling Barbie than any form found in nature. Definitely not attractive qualities. That being said, there were a host of other fashion dictates in previous centuries that were not terribly healthy, including using arsenic to whiten the skin and the evils of the various corsets that could, with enough use, actually derange the organs into unnatural positions. And as for unnatural, the fact that there are people out there addicted to plastic surgery should be telling us something about the negative impact of externalized conceptions of esthetic acceptableness in physical appearance. Beauty has never really been left up to nature. However, the further we have strayed from the concept of “natural health = beauty” the more we have embraced the ideal qualities of beauty that some people give up their health to attain.

No matter how intelligent we become or believe ourselves to be, bombardment through every sense with the popular images and descriptions of the day will have an impact. I know that the advertisers of the world are just doing their jobs to make various products desirable to the market. However, it is important to remember that their consistent appeals to our vanity and self-esteem to be slimmer, prettier, sexier, and in all other ways more appealing are merely marketing strategies to make the public feel that they cannot be a whole being without purchasing the product touted as the miracle, without which you will be a pariah among your fellow humans. The problem is that subliminally, we all absorb the underlying message rather than merely what they are saying. Not so much that we have to purchase the product in question but that we are not good enough, not pretty enough, and in short… just not enough to live happily or to attain humanity’s programmed directive of being fruitful and multiplying.

Sadly, no amount of CIA-level programming can undo the years and years of impact that the media has played upon our cerebral cortexes to embed the message that we are fat, ugly, and stupid. It seems that there are individuals in the world that are immune to such things. These enviable few are sometimes looked upon negatively by their peers because they truly believe they are the hottest thing since the sun rose, but this reaction to those happy few is probably envy, envy that they have the confidence and attributes that allow them to like themselves as they are. In truth, sometimes the cause is sufficient for their self-approbation. However, at other times, it is not entirely obvious as to why these bastions of self-esteem have not succumbed to the same negative propaganda that the rest of us have failed to repel. If I could figure out the trick and bottle it, I could retire wealthier than all the producers of the products spawning the unrealistic media image of the perfect human. Alas, it doesn’t seem to have any perceivable direct cause for the positive self-image that provides immunity to the inferiority complex plaguing the rest of us.

On the other side of the argument is that women who have confidence in their physical appearance and character are often misinterpreted, poorly understood, and generally labeled with unflattering titles and damaging assumptions. What is wrong with people?!? And why does it seem to be the desire of much of the world to control the image and aspects of feminine body, spirit… oh, and reproductive functions (can’t forget those). Are we really that scary? (The males in my family are not allowed to answer that). If we don’t follow the fashion and body image trends of the current societal expectations, we are somehow inferior. However, if we do… we are vain, immoral, and ask for unwanted attention. How confusing is that? It is no wonder that women in the world today cannot get a solid grasp of self-esteem and hold onto it. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I am not saying that all people are judgmental asses with no sense of empathy or beauty in all forms, but… ok, yeah, I am probably saying that there are a greater number of people that fall into that category than otherwise, and that is a sad statement. Women (and men, too) should be able to appreciate and fulfill what is healthy for them. They should be able to enjoy their style and express it as long as it is not negatively impacting others who have the same rights. A woman should be able to be healthy, happy, and feel beautiful without having to conform to identical shapes of some adolescent, exaggerated fantasy of sexy. Additionally, we should be able to feel sexy and good about our appearances without the unwelcome assumptions that we are open to any sexual advance. Is that a double standard and confusing? Perhaps, and now you know how we feel trying to make sure that we look good enough without looking too good, and failing on both counts. Wow, did I write myself into a corner! I know that there have been some efforts in promoting healthy images for female and male ideals, but we still seem to be a long way from truly representing healthy human beauty in all the forms it takes.

As the years have progressed, I find that I am less subject to the media-fueled misrepresentations of beauty. Part of this is possibly that my brain has accepted that I am no longer part of the “breeder” group and no longer am I fighting to obtain and retain a mate. However, I prefer to see it as a maturity that eventually comes to most of us: If I am healthy and making choices that allow me to feel good and participate in the activities I enjoy, then screw a bunch of other people with their expectations of how I should look while doing so…! I wish I were really that confident. In actuality, I find that while for the majority of the time I don’t really think about my appearance or compare it to the other examples of feminine grace around me; I am on occasion still a victim of the mirror. I still want to feel pretty and look, if not appealing at least inoffensive to the rest of the humanity around me. I am more apt to find the flaws of age and nature than perhaps someone less familiar with the image I see every day while brushing my teeth. Familiarity breeds contempt, and never is that more true than when you are looking at yourself in the mirror trying to get ready for work and hoping to appear to your best advantage before peers, employers, employees, customers, or even that social acquaintance that caught your eye. I think that I will start practicing more acceptance in my own self-esteem regimen. Baby-steps… I’ll start looking for the things that I like about myself instead of looking for the flaws. Perhaps I can even give myself a little “Not too shabby” affirmation on occasion. Who knows? I might see some of what my friend always tried to tell me.

Instead of tearing down those around you who might appear to your eye to have what you do not in order to make yourself feel better, try appreciating the positives and differences between individuals to recognize that uniqueness makes the world much more interesting than a multitude of carbon copies. We aren’t all of a pattern. So, no one should try forcing us into the same molds, not even we ourselves.

Title image retrieved from http://www.wordsoverpixels.com/warning-reflections-in-this-mirror-may-be-distorte/17226193f6cedc90e1bb046a369a0004.html

Memoirs of a Former Button-Pusher

Back in the days of my existence as a particularly unpleasant species of teenager (shortly after dinosaurs roamed the earth), I found that I had the extraordinary superpower of button pushing. And this was well before the days of Nintendo and Xbox and whatever other gaming systems exist out there with their controllers that require two hands and several tentacles to find the sequence of down-down-left-right-up to unlock a secret ninja move (FINISH HIM!!!). I can assure you that buttons exist within every person on the planet, and I had all the cheat codes.

Granted that teenagers are generally a misery to themselves and everyone else, I was just a prodigy at the skill of pissing everyone off. Misery loves company, and there is no doubt in my mind that I was as miserable a teenager as they come. The unwilling and pitiable recipient of my mad skills of manipulation was my mother. It wasn’t that she was worthy of such ill treatment, but as is common in the parent-child relationship; she presented a ready target for my adolescent angst. It is not a chapter of my life that I look upon with pride or pleasure.

My mum is pretty awesome generally. She has a touch of the Mary Poppins thing going on, but she is loving and supportive, if somewhat overprotective. I still am not quite certain what she did in a former life to be saddled with me as a daughter, but there it is. Some have “greatness” thrust upon them, and so I was my mother’s particular burden to bear. On the down side, my mother has a hair-trigger emotional response system. This isn’t entirely negative. She never was one to scream and yell, though the sound of my full given name is still a bit of an issue for me. However, she would cry for almost any emotional extreme. I am talking about happy, angry, sad, touched, proud… you name it. If there was an emotion involved, mum’s tear ducts got a workout. This was the particular facet of her personality that prompted my sadistic teenage prowess. I found that if I pushed all the right buttons, the tears would flow. Right-up-up-down-left… and cue tears. I win! Evil, right? I was a horrible child. I am well aware of it. I suppose that somewhere in the cockles of my consciousness I was aware of it even then, but as is the way of the self-centered adult in forming, I never let that awareness get in the way of me trying my superpower on my most convenient victim.

Karma, as they say, is a bitch. That being said, my years of torturing my mother’s tear production led apparently to a career path rife with the angst of teens and their conflicts with parental units. No one likes being reminded of their less than stellar moments, and I had chosen a field that put the mirror of my flagrantly ungrateful and malicious emotional manipulation front and foremost during the majority of my waking hours.

I recall one particularly dreary evening in the emergency room. I was not entirely certain if the reason for the parents bringing the child to the ER was due to her behavior or due to something else and the behavioral issues were just a bonus. Whatever the scenario, I was called in due to the excessive emotional conflict that ensued. I should have been warned by the looks on the faces of doctors and nurses alike in the ambulatory ward. This would have immediately prepared me for the onslaught of vexatious personality that was to greet me, but as usual, in the rush of my normal working life, I was primarily focused on task and failed to see the rolled eyes and looks of consternation on the faces of my colleagues.

I entered the room to witness a full blown stand-off worthy of a spaghetti western. Adult female on one side of the room; smaller and younger version of same on the other side sporting the makeup and clothing that appeared for all the world that a gang of Marilyn Manson groupies had attacked her with charcoal and chalk. The glares were palpable, the silence deafening and deadly. I immediately reassessed and took stock of my surroundings, noting every potential weapon (or shield) available in the room. Now was my cue. I broke the tableau by announcing my name and role. The mother had a momentary response of relaxing shoulders and look of relief. Here was someone to fix her problem child and relieve her of the parenting burden! The response from her antagonist was a narrowing of black-rimmed eyes and a visual assessment of my person, tinged with a soupçon of curiosity.

Much of what I did back in the day was a form of diplomatic negotiation. I assessed the situation, heard both sides, and attempted to reach détente between the warring parties. Occasionally, this was not possible and other arrangements had to be made. Primarily, though, my job was to keep the battle off the hospital grounds and avoid collateral damage. In this particular case, it appeared that the issues at hand were that the mother was completely ignorant of the latest trends without which life was not worth living in the social circles of middle school. Mother’s issue was that her child looked like she was playing as an extra on a new sequel of The Crow. There was much maneuvering by each party to get me to take their respective sides. I valiantly parried their advances to remain in neutral. However, it was a vain attempt. I really should have known better. As an adult, with no apparent fashion sense, I had been clearly relegated to the tribe of “THEM” in this pitched battle of wills. I witnessed the mother take a few shots of vituperative spleen and her eyes filled. As I attempted redirection, I received “What do you know?!? You’re just taking her side, and you obviously don’t care what you look like!” It really got no better after that. I did manage to gain some concessions on both sides. I convinced the young diva that perhaps she might try using less than half the cosmetics aisle at the Walgreen’s during the daylight hours of school, and I attempted to sooth the mother’s feelings with some tried and true wisdom about this being a developmental phase and was her daughter’s attempt to define herself as an individual. This too would pass… or else she would be authorizing us to lock her up in a tower until she reached her majority. Thus is the plight of the parent. I’m not sure any of my efforts actually resulted in relational improvement, but it kept down shrapnel and both parties were escorted from the unit sniffing and huffing with reddened eyes to make their way home.

I sat in an emotionally exhausted heap behind the nurses’ station to complete my charting. Beside me was the obligatory 17 billion line phone that is the norm in hospital settings. I stared at it for a few moments before picking up the receiver. Without thinking, I dialed the number to my parents’ home. It was not so late in the evening that it would register alarm, and my mother answered on the second ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi, mum. I am sorry I was ever 13.” Click. I would have given some excessive sums of money to have seen the look on her face. It was likely a mixture of bafflement and awe. That was the first of my apologies throughout the years. Over the course of many long hours in emergency services and working with children and adolescents, I have now apologized for every year of my life from age 10 to age 21. I’m pretty certain that there are a few questionable choices and actions that I made outside that general span of years, but I figure I have caught the majority of the glaring errors of my ways. Perhaps with the years have come a little wisdom, and perhaps, if I show true remorse, my mother will never regret not drowning me at birth.

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” ~ quote attributed to Mark Twain but never verified

The Ins and Outs

First, let me start by saying that this is a blog, not a doctoral dissertation on the psychological concept of the personality. Despite the prevalence of alleged personality surveys and quizzes available on the internet, it is not so easy to define the different personality factors, nor is it easy to define the profile of any given individual. While it is fun to find out which Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Disney Princess character you may arbitrarily match via the bubble gum magic of the various Cosmo-quizzes available… These do not constitute an accurate measure of personality and certainly do not enable the responder to suddenly understand with brilliant insight the complex workings of the human brain and personality. As this is far too brief a venue for the purposes of elucidating readers to the complexity of psychological development, and I’m certainly not claiming to explain it all either; I will attempt to steer clear of the more in depth discussion of human development and neurochemistry. However, I will address some misimpressions about one of the personality factors and what it actually means.

Probably the most familiar form of personality assessment is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It has been probably one of the most abused tests in the history of personality assessment. Having the dubious privilege of being one of the most user-friendly assessments, it is the one usually latched onto by human resources, professional trainers, online dating sites, and sadly, the makers of magazine and internet quizzes flooding the popular media. So, you access the point and click online survey, and after answering a bunch of forced-choice (yes or no) questions, you are assigned a “personality type” that defines your character in four easy letters… or descriptive types and characters reflecting said factor combinations. Would that it were just that easy.

The thing is, it’s not that easy. While the original Myer-Briggs was a great boon to the counseling (and especially the career counseling) field, this was not really meant for the lay person to grab up and start attributing characteristics to their friends and family. The profiles that come from taking this particular personality instrument allow you to identify parts of your own personality that clarify why you interact in certain ways and what situations and scenarios might be more your style. The point is that personality factors and profiles are not restricted to this particular theoretical perspective. There are a metric @#$%-ton (yep, clinical term) of personality theories and instruments that assess and develop unique personality profiles. I could actually write a dissertation on that (and have done), but this is not the place or time (and probably not the audience, unless you are suffering from insomnia and looking for a non-pharmaceutical cure) for that discussion. So, for now, I will restrain myself to the popular MBTI.

And now with all of that out of the way, you will find that the MBTI addresses personality from the perspective that there are four main factors that contribute to a personality type. This was founded on the concept of psychological preferences extrapolated from Jung’s theory of personality. Jung focused on the dichotomy of the personality as it addressed the rational and irrational functions. The original authors of the MBTI initially studied personality factors during the second world war. The first of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator survey was published in the early 1960’s. The MBTI addresses preferences. This is the most likely way that an individual will respond to particular situations. Truth is, it is not what we in the psychology field like to call a predictive or projective measure. It mainly indicates a preference on the continuum of the factors. It also does not tell the person interpreting the test whether someone is more or less of one factor or another than any other individual on the same scale. It just  indicates the tested individual’s presence within the aspects of their own preferences and personality. The four factor continuums are as follows:

  • Introversion vs. Extraversion (I vs E)
  • Intuition vs. Sensory (N vs S)
  • Thinking vs. Feeling (T vs F)
  • Judging vs. Perceiving (J vs P)

While all these spectrums are interesting in their own right, and the combination of traits are what give the reader the actual personality profiles; the spectrum that is the focus of this particular post is the Introversion-Extraversion scale. Perhaps, at a later date, I may actually address the whole bloody mess; but for this moment, the I vs. E will be the focus.

Introversion vs. Extroversion addresses the aspects of personality that impact how the individual deals with their environment, including socialization… on an energy level. This is what people primarily misunderstand. The immediate response when someone hears “I’m and introvert” or “I’m and extrovert” is the amount of time and energy that any individual spends interacting with their fellow humans, often in a noisy and raucous manner, or determined by the size of the crowd in which the individual could be found at any given time. A lot of people assume that introversion means something to the tune of say… Howard Hughes, and conversely attributes to the extrovert the personality of Charlie Sheen on a binge. WRONG!

The scale is a spectrum, not a switch with an “on” and “off” position. Introversion and extraversion are descriptive analyses of the energy the individual acquires from interacting with the world. Introverts are energized by thought and contemplation. The typical introvert primarily obtains their energy from being alone. They expend energy by action and need down time to recharge from the day to day brush and bump with the world at large. Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized from their contact with the rest of the human race and need the constant interaction of society to power their processes. Extraverts obtain and draw their energy from action. They act first, then evaluate the outcomes, and act again. At their extremes, these two very different types seek alternate means of maintaining their processes by arranging their circumstances to suit their preferences. This has fueled the assumption that individuals on the introversion end of the scale are reclusive types that avoid all social interaction and the extroverts of the world cannot exist in a vacuum, removed from the atmosphere of constant society.

In truth, few people can guess who is an introvert and who is an extrovert by pure observation. Training gives some insight, but most people exist not on the extreme ends but instead fall somewhere along the spectrum with varying degrees of intensity and magnitude. Contrary to the belief that they are antisocial or pathologically shy, introverts can often be found socializing with friends and having a decent time doing so. And similarly, even the most extroverted individual will occasionally seek out the solace of some alone time. However, primarily these two different types generally seek to recharge in their own very different ways, true to their natures. There is nothing maladaptive or wrong about either method.

Where the fly gets into the ointment and one of the main conflicts that I have observed (and experienced) is when an introvert and extrovert have close interaction or enter into a relationship of some intimacy (not necessarily physical intimacy). The introvert will need to retreat into their cave of solitude and the extrovert, not understanding why anyone would ever seek to have so much time in silence or loneliness, will assume an emotional content to that lack of interaction, conversation, or response. Negative emotional content at that. Much confusion and conflict can result from such assumptions, and unfortunately, a lot of frustration and eventual explosive discharge from the introvert who, like a cornered animal, may lash out to make everyone leave them hell alone. The introverts come across to their counterparts as cold, distant, or moody. Conversely, the poor extrovert may be perceived as a needy, clingy, self-centered, spotlight whore who cannot be still. It is an inaccurate description, a very poor profile for either to carry around with them, and is unworthy of their true natures.

As odd as it may seem to the extroverts out there, it is entirely possible to be content and live well without human contact or conversation, including communication via non-face-to-face media. When an introvert has retreated to the cave for recharge, this does not mean it is time to repeatedly ask what is wrong, if there is something that they need, or to send supportive texts to bolster their spirits. What they need is peace and quiet. When do they want it? NOW! Leave them alone. They will eventually come out of their caves, or off the top of their mountain, or whatever metaphor works best. They will reenter the world of social interaction after their recharge and be better for their time away to collect themselves.

Similarly baffling to the introvert is the seeming inability of an extroverted individual to be at peace. To be still and silent for any amount of time appears an alien concept to the extrovert worthy of Close Encounters. They may spend some time without human companionship, but they will fill the social void with phone, text, social media, or any other form of communication that will give an outlet of to their need for human contact in any form available. Lack of interaction and enforced solitude frequently results in bouts of depression exacerbating the extrovert’s attempts to resolve the situation by reaching out to any and every person they know by whatever media available. It is often helpful for the healthy, happy extrovert to have a large pool of natural supports from which to draw their energizing social contact so as not to overtax the introverts among their friends.

The upshot of all this rambling discussion is that people are different (Really Columbo? What was your first clue?). Not everyone participates in this game we call life in the same way or with the same strategy, and there are no prizes, not even for first place. What matters is that we understand that all individuals tick in their own way and at their own pace, and no one is a piece with another (even identical twins can present remarkably different personality profiles). How we interact with each other is the important part. Additionally, while the concept of personality is that there is a constellation of consistent traits that make up the identity of the person, and that these traits are reliable and unchanging over time; research has found that personality factors do change, subtly, but they change. Traits moderate and shift with age, with events, and sometimes even week to week due to chemical and hormonal changes experienced by the individual. Generally, these changes are not drastic enough to completely change one person from an introvert to an extrovert or vice versa. Changes on the spectrum usually are within the same side of the scale but with greater or less intensity to make someone more introverted as they get older or just maybe less extroverted.

I suppose the actual point that I was trying to make is that your choice to take one of the personality profiling tests should be to understand more about yourself  and is entirely a matter for fun or self-exploration. That is admirable. If you take one of the full surveys and find your type, read up on it and think about how that works for you or might present obstacles in your path. Use it to your best advantage by doing what you need to recharge and enhance your daily interactions. Avoid making assumptions about how in applies to others, because, in truth, it probably doesn’t. Personality profiles are not absolute. People are unique. If you want to use personality profiles or even any projective measure, use it to understand yourself and what you need from your own interaction with this world and the other inhabitants of it instead of trying to profile those around you. Our first and most difficult battle always begins within our own mind and body, and the only personal actions we can truly control with any amount of accuracy is our own.

The author is an INTJ.

Snow Day

There is something different in the air when you expect a snow. Living in the south, we do not get the opportunity to enjoy the experience of a covering of white very often. The memories are still with me, though. When I was a child…

Mom was a school teacher. It worked well for all of us as a family, because her schedule matched mine. I went to school in the same county, though not the same school (that would have been too much for my independent ego to have my mother in the same building). That meant that our daily schedules during the school year were pretty close to the same, and during the summers, she was home while I was out of school. The benefits of the arrangement extended to snow days.

Snow days were magic. From sometime towards the end of November through March, there was the expectation that there might be some of the glorious precipitation we call snow. People would start counting the fogs in August and watching the wooly bear caterpillars to engage in the age-old art of weather witchery and predictions determining whether we would have a gray and brown season of cold or a winter wonderland. During the cold months, each evening would bring the prognostications and questions of whether someone’s elbow ached or the “snow headache” were present to give the hope of something wondrous in the morning. Sometimes, it wasn’t necessary to rely upon the divinatory infirmities to provide the weather watch. You could smell it in the air and feel in on your skin, that cold with the moisture that said “Snow!”

Nothing compared to waking before dawn and turning on the radio to listen for the school closings. Crossing fingers in anticipation that the radio meteorologist would proclaim that Washington County schools would be closed (not on a two hour delay). The joy of hearing those words buzzed through the house, and unable to return to bed, I would gaze out of the window observing the familiar landscape brilliantly covered with a dense white icing that soften the familiar features of the neighborhood and even seemed to muffle any sounds to make the world silent and mysterious.

Snow days were not like any other day. Sick days, while allowing absence from daily activities, required bed rest and ginger ale. There was no fun in that. Planned days off involved an agenda and a “to do” list of chores that filled every moment, and then some, often resulting in the feeling that there were not enough hours in the day and going back to work or school was a relief. But snow days… those were different. By definition, they were unplanned, a gift of nature to slow down the frantic pace of our everyday lives. Snow stopped time and the world stood still for a day. The beautiful, white icing made driving treacherous. So, no errands, no fieldtrips, no rushing about was possible. We were effectively captive in our forced day of inactivity. Let the fun begin!

Without fail, there would be bundling up in layers upon layers of socks, thermal underwear, clothing, and overcoats so that for all intents and purposes, I frequently appeared a more colorful version of the Michelin tire mascot. The old wooden sled with metal runners would be dragged out to act as a magic carpet as I flew down the driveway and the circle, carving thin lines in the unblemished surface of the snow. Snow angels and sculptures of all kinds decorated the yard and soaked me to the bones with the damp cold. Eventually, I had to return inside, despite my protests, cheeks and nose brilliant red from the cold and extremities numb. We stomped off the packed snow from boots and attempted to dust of the worst of the frozen encrustation from our gloves and outer clothing. Without fail, some of it would cling tenaciously to come with us into the house. There by the wall register, we would remove the soaked coats, scarves, hats, gloves, boots, socks, and even pants to drape by the heat to dry and warm, filling the air with a damp steam as the clothing dried.

Invariably, lunch would be grilled cheese and cream of tomato soup. It warmed all the way down to get rid of the last of the chill clinging from expeditions out of doors. The afternoon might include more play in the snow, but there were also books to read, sometimes together aloud, and sometimes alone by the heat registers. At some point, it would become necessary to bake cookies, as well. Piling into the kitchen, I would do my part measuring and stirring with the oven providing additional warmth to the house. Before sunset, I always went back out in the snow. The afternoon light shining off the surface made me squint painfully with the brightness, but I wanted to drag those moments out for as long as I could, because the next day might mean the roads were once again clear and the magic would be gone. Life would resume its normal pace, and there would be no more time to spend together away from the rest of the world. I could feel the spell breaking with the melting snow, and time started again.

Today, the modern technological conveniences have made this scenario of a snow day haven from the world less possible. Telecommuting and access to online classrooms and emailed assignments don’t give the opportunity for time to stop. The pace of life has changed, making all the more poignant the memory of our snow days of the past.

Hello Boy, Why Are You Crying?

“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”  ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Everyone has heard of “Peter Pan Syndrome”. It is generally used in a derogatory way to describe a man (or woman) that is stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence or childhood, neglecting responsibilities and focused only on having a good time. We’ve all seen it. There is always the friend or associate from our earlier years who continue to party like they are still in high school or college, trying to recapture their glory days. They call, text, instant message to say they are going to the club, the bar, the party and may or may not ask you to come along. They seem genuinely baffled when you decline citing work, family, lack of funds, or just plain fatigue. They feel betrayed by your failure to hold onto the pleasures and good times of childhood. They go through their years planning spring break getaways and purchase games and toys, though the prices have increased with their chronological years in a way their maturity just did not. They seem to genuinely be able to shake off or ignore the cares and worries that plague the rest of the world. Fear for the future appears to be an alien concept, and instead, these blithe souls shift through their time on the planet expecting that all things will work out just fine, bills will miraculously get paid regardless, and relationships will work themselves out… or not, and it matters little as long as a good time is had by all (or at least them).

This is the alleged profile of the perpetual child who never grew up. I always wonder whether I am jealous of these perennial children with their life given solely to the pursuits of pleasure and play; or am I genuinely sorry for them as they distance themselves from their associates of childhood, their contemporaries, and potential colleagues, while continually seeking the companionship of strangers as their play groups grow in maturity yet they remain stuck in their eternal childhood with lack of understanding or desire for the adult world of distress and eustress?

That being said, I do not believe that everyone out there is susceptible to the Peter Pan Syndrome. In fact, there are some people that appear to be “born old men/women”. These are the people that always seemed to be thinking ahead, even as actual children. No risks taken in the passion of youth, because it just wouldn’t be prudent or contribute to the solid plan for their responsible life and future; always avoiding the idea of a good time if it might be unplanned and go against the blueprint of stability. However, for the rest of us, there is another category. I’ll call us Wendy, because Wendy grew up. It isn’t an actual desire for maturity or a regret that it happens. It just happens. At some point, like Wendy, we leave Neverland and stay in the real world to go on with our lives. We cannot go back, because when you live and grow up in the real world, you lose the innocence and lack of fear and worry that allows you to experience great adventures.

The truth is, being a grown up isn’t all bad. There are a good many physical and emotional experiences that just cannot be appreciated to the same degree as a child. Certain aspects of life and accomplishment seem to mean more as we have a greater understanding and closer communion with the eventuality that greets us all in the end. Additionally, the experience of parenting with the joys and not so joyful experiences are not something that the child should be required to experience (though some have, I know). It is still possible to have fun as an adult. It doesn’t have to be all work and no play, as evidenced by the number of people who manage to hold down careers, family interaction, and have a decent time in their recreational pursuits. Not to sound like the cliché, but with power of choice and responsibility for the choices made comes some not small satisfaction and joy when those choices result in success and happiness. There is still some envy towards those who have that childlike faith that all things will be just fine, even if the reins are dropped for a while just to enjoy the wild ride; and there is also some resentment that the Wendys of the world must carry the responsibility for all the Peter Pans who can’t be bothered to worry about the future.

Sadly, I think that somehow Peter has gotten a bad rap over the years. Everyone gets stuck on the whole perpetual childhood thing as a lack of maturity and responsibility, but they forget the more important part of what Barrie wrote into Peter Pan: The simplicity and innocence that allows the child enjoyment and play but that eludes adults and is lost with increasing years to never be captured again. Yet Peter needed Wendy to be the “mother” for all the lost boys. Without Wendy to tuck them in and sing the songs of comfort, perhaps even the perpetual childhood of Neverland might have been too harrowing an adventure to be truly enjoyed, and without Peter, Wendy would never have learned to fly.

Hello boy, my name is Wendy. No need to cry. I’ll sew your shadow back for you, and you can fly away to have many grand adventures.

Hollywood: I Have A Bone To Pick With You

I am going to rant for a bit. I was on a long hiatus from entertainment, specifically television and movies. I finally broke my movie fast and started on a somewhat extensive list of flicks that I had been recommended over the hiatus by friends and family with varying degrees of vehemence.

I will say that I have now caught up on plethora of various  entertainment offerings of many different television and movie production that have provided me with a good deal of validation for my self-imposed fast from the movie theater based entertainment. Not that everything I watched was bad. There were a good many movies that were actually entertaining and a pleasant way to enjoy an evening in from the cold. However, that being said, I have a bone to pick with the Hollywood soul-eating machine.

1. Why can no one seem to come up with an original concept?

Seriously. I saw several movies that were released within the same season. At least one of every two movies of the same genre had the exact same plot. Only the names were changed (of the actors) and occasionally minute details in the story (frequently fictionally dramatized details), but the gist of the stories and the overall plots were identical. Back in school, we got in trouble for cheating off each other’s tests, people.

2. How many times will Hollywood like to piss on my childhood?

This actually ties in with #1. The new thing in the Hollywood, money-grubbing machine appears to be “take a popular television show, and make it into a full length feature.” While this is not all bad, I have been sorely disappointed by some of the efforts made while completely getting many important details so very, very wrong. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the directors who say “I’ve never actually seen the original. I have my own vision, and I do not want to be influenced…” Um, what?!? That being said, if one approaches some of these with the attitude of seeing the movie as a movie unconnected with anything you formerly loved, you might be ok. Otherwise, it really feels a bit like someone has taken your most beloved security person or item from your childhood and peed all over it. Again, I was actually pleased with some of the efforts. For instance, I actually liked the A-Team movie. I was a huge fan of the original series (at least the first few seasons). While the movie diverted from the original with some of the details, I thought it was great. I loved the casting choices, and I thought that the actors chosen did a magnificent job with the characters. I had great hopes for a second movie (unusual for me, as I typically dread sequels), but apparently my feelings were not echoed by critics or box office returns; although, I did hear that the box office was more impacted by the opening of the moving coinciding with the World Cup.

3. How come an author can write one book (and some people skip past parts in it) but it takes three @#$%ing movies to tell the same story?!?

This is one of my biggest peeves of recent movie production, direction, etc. While, I can appreciate the effort to be true to a story and the accompanying details, and I absolutely appreciate that the days of Gone With The Wind and the mid-movie intermission are over… THREE movies to tell one story?!? That is ridiculous. They are only doing this to get more of those $17 admission fees. Yes, I am a little bitter. Once upon a time, going to a movie was actually something that young people who were not particularly wealthy did on a date. Now, unless it is the dollar theater, I’m not independently wealthy… we’ll be going Dutch or renting from the Redbox! I would actually say that the increasing cost of tickets has as much to do with my avoidance of the theater as any of my time constraints. I don’t know how anyone affords going to the movies these days, unless they go to the dollar theater.

4. What ever happened to traditional animation?

It really isn’t that I do not appreciate CGI. I honestly am amazed and astounded by the new developments that have been brought to the big (and small) screen. I still have a soft spot in my heart for models and stop action animation, but I do appreciate the greater smoothness and realism of the new 3-D animation techniques and motion capture technology. That being said, some of the old school  2-D animation was true artwork that actually made efforts to capture features and characteristics of performers and integrate them with the respective items, animals, and characters for the stories presented. The artistry is somehow missing with the computerized versions. On the other hand, there are still cartoons out there being produced in the 2-D medium. My problem with these more recent offerings is that they still lack the depth and artistry of the old fashioned studio versions. I am just not entertained by the generic anime appearance that seems so prevalent with television and movie versions. Nothing against anime. Many people like it. I’m just not one of them.

5. Why can’t you geniuses make some of the movies I really want to see?

Sticking with the animation and technological advances available in the movie industry these days, I’m going to finally get to what prompted this particular rant. For years (YEARS! I tell you), I have been waiting for someone to make the Dragonriders of Pern into a series of movies. Not only are there multiple novels and side stories that are part of the Pern universe, they provide multiple era/genre interests (space travel, fantasy creatures, feudal society, psychic phenomena, love interests, spy intrigue, time travel). Anne McCaffrey was an author that captured my imagination and my heart. I wanted to ride a dragon! We have waited all these years for the technology to catch up to the imagination. We now have the ability to design and artistically present the dragons in a fluid and realistic (yes, I know they are not real) manner. Rumors abound on the internet that there are talks, screen plays being written, and production to start… two years ago?!? And yet, no movement. It saddens me that while we have this glorious ability to render extraordinarily realistic images through computer generation to the extent of full feature films, this is primarily wasted redoing the stories done before or pulling half-assed plots onto a shaky frame of a first person shooter video game. Really?!? With all the stories and imagination available in the world, the Hollywood machine once again focuses on the almighty dollar and seeks to draw in mouth-breathers to come experience (without interactive ability) the same basic imagery and minimal plot that they have already spent weeks without showering or eating real food to play for hours on end. At least with the gaming, they were actually contributing some movement or brain activity (albeit minimal) to the action on screen. When you take this onto the big screen, all they really have left is to stare and drool. Surely, there is something better to divert production dollars towards? But, wait, this doesn’t have the marketing options for gaming and cosplay and … um, hello, you sure about that? Maybe not first-person shooters, but I could imagine some significant story-based RPG options, and check out one of the Cons (Comic-, Dragon-, Gen-, etc.), the McCaffrey tracks still get an awful lot of interest.

Another series of books that I could see transformed to the big screen would be Robert Lynn Asprin’s Myth Adventures (or even Phule’s Company). In that case, costume and make-up design might play a bigger part than the CGI, but still… It would make a very nice option. There are several books in the series, and that would provide plenty of material for sequels, prequels, and the like without even breaking up each individual book into three parts. In fact, I could see Joss Whedon take on the characters of these series with a great deal of acumen. His style and ability to bring humor, witty dialogue, and dark twists would be brilliant to bring the members of M.Y.T.H. Inc. to life in Technicolor (or whoever we reference these days). So, I realize is an unrealistic dream, but a girl has to have some dreams that don’t have to end with a cold sweat and screaming.

I realize that I’m not really the viewer demographic that the producers and money-makers are trying to target. Middle-aged, professional, workaholic, female doesn’t really seem to be anyone’s desired market share. However, I just think it would be nice to see something previewed or advertised that I might get excited about seeing. Is that too much to ask? Anyhow, that ends my rant for today. My apologies. Verbal, written rants are not really my preferred method of communication, and it is a very different entry for my blog, but I needed to get that out. Very cathartic! Thank you for your patience. Smile

A Rose By Any Other name

Recently, I made a post to Facebook about family and what defines that term. A response to that post made me think about what being a family actually means. I am not alone in my contemplation. The question of who can claim the rights and privilege of relation has been considered not only by individuals seeking to enter into affairs of the heart, contracts defined by legal or religious terms, custody agreements, financial institutions, and even state and federal government.

In terms of history, the term family (from the Latin familia) designated a particular tie through genetic bloodlines that pertained to parentage and relatedness of birth. I suspect this came in handy in terms of evolution when humans pretty much existed in isolated clumps of social interaction and minimal population. The family group identified individuals that belonged to the same genetic line. When you think about the purpose of evolution, mutation and recombination of genetic material to encourage the improvement of the species would be significantly helped by knowing who might share too much DNA to make a blending beneficial to the resultant offspring. As we know from modern science, the mating of individuals who share too close a profile allows for recessive genetic traits to manifest more often. For some of the more maladaptive traits, this does not work out so well for the continued vigor of the species. The ancient Egyptians, for all their seemingly advanced knowledge, never quite got that point (as evidenced by the pharaonic practice of married siblings… if you can’t keep it in the pants, keep it in the family). Defining the family as those of the same bloodlines served its purpose by indicating appropriate people to reproduce with or not as the case may be. This also led to ideas of good and bad blood, or even pure and not so pure lines.

As populations expanded, travel increased, cultures spread across geography, and generations were fruitful and multiplied. Interaction and interbreeding brought humanity new genetic material, new practices, new traditions, and new knowledge. Family grew to be “extended” and associated constellation and extended family groups became clans or tribes. So the spread of humanity across the span of continents and the globe extended to bring various groups together into different municipal and societal organizations for safety, convenience, and commerce. Unfortunately, the closeness of interaction paired with some questionable hygiene practices made a playground for various diseases that at various points in time decimated populations to near extinction. In fact, whole communities and towns were erased from existence by such epidemics as the Black Death. Events led to distrust and fear which set back the intermingling a bit. People pulled back into the idea of loyalty to the blood. Trust only within your own genetic clan, tribe, or family.

But that time is past. The population continued to recover and expand. People eased up on the “stick with your own kind” crap. Well, sorta; if we ignore all the racism, sexism, and all the other ‘isms that divide people from each other. The nostalgic days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries when there were rife with images of family time around hearth or table, brought the warmth of affection and family connection to the standard that would lead the charge against the evils of materialism and other distractions of the secular world. All of these heartwarming sentiments easily whitewashing the poverty and hardship of the majority of working and lower classes and painting a much prettier picture of what was going on than the more harsh realities of the time.

With the first and second World Wars, the role of the family and the idealization of the family image became something to improve moral of the troops and give the boys “something worth fighting for.” Of course we had the Third Reich and their own take on purity of the species that put a whole different slant on the idea of family as a way to improve the overall genetic strain of the population. Ignoring the science of survival of the fittest and the improvement of genetics with wider combination of genetic profiles, the scientists of that philosophy focused on identifying the superior race and trying to achieve that through selective breeding, eugenics, and genocide. Not a high point in human evolution.

The 1950’s brought a greater influence of the new-fangled technology of television. Shows like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver painted the ideal picture of the American family emphasizing the patriarchal pattern where the man is head of the house and all females and children submit to his greater wisdom and intellect. Personally, it makes me a bit nauseous, but I understand where the premise arose. All the men back from the great wars found that the women folk had done just fine without them. Amazing, right? The “weaker sex” had rolled up her sleeves and donned Rosie the Riveter scarves to take on the more traditional roles of the men. When Johnny came marching home, not all the Marys and Janes waiting were so ready to go back to their submissive roles. And… cue Hollywood and its influence upon the masses.

However, time and societal evolution threw another wrench in the mix. Suddenly, the idea of family wasn’t quite fitting into the tidy mold. We had single parents, blended families, children raised by someone other than parents (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, My Three Sons, Mayberry RFD, Family Affair, The Partridge Family, One Day at a Time, The Brady Bunch). Still, for the most part, the family image involved blood connections, but that didn’t quite fit everyone.

We’ve expanded again, but now technology allows us to defy the boundaries of geography to connect with people all around the world. It is a boon for families that have been separated and scattered as diaspora across the globe. Communication on an almost instantaneous media allows for people to remain close emotionally, even when they may not come within physical proximity for decades. So, what does that do to the meaning of “family”? Does that reinforce the concept of family as only that with genetic link? Certainly the number of advertisements and subsequent amateur genealogists point to the curiosity and desire to know and understand our own biological origins, but does that mean that we are bound only to those with whom we share the blood tie?

Definitions of “family” that I have found:

  • a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head  – doesn’t really say anything about genetic connections there
  • a group of persons of common ancestry  – how far back are we going?
  • a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock – again, is there a time or quantifiable limitation on this? I’ve got common stock with 80% of the planet, and don’t get me started about shared DNA with our ape population
  • a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation – aha! no bloodlines discussed again
  • the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also : any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family – and there it is… that TRADITIONAL definition

Now, in addition to all of these, there is a whole realm of other definitions that relate to chemical and biological science, and more interesting in the dramatic sense the term used to define branches of particular criminal syndicates.

For my own experience, I have been particularly lucky to have had a substantial number of biological family members when I came into this world. At one family reunion, I recall something along the lines of 200 people showing up, and that was just the local representation. This was when I was younger. As the years have passed, so have a good many members of the prior generations. As the various progenitors departed this mortal coil, their progeny moved away, spreading to far geographic provinces. The family gatherings dwindled in number and attendance. My own family moved far away from the proximity of blood relatives even before the dwindling started. Gallivanting about (not entirely at my own whims) I didn’t have the consistency of extended family or even of a particular long term consistent social group at all. This is the lot of military or contract “brat”. We move with the assignments, and while the benefits can be great, there is a tendency to be unstuck in the world and feeling a bit unanchored. The phrase “there’s no place like home” doesn’t always have as much meaning. What many of those in my situation found is that we needed the human contact and interaction to fulfill something in our hearts. Instead of holiday gatherings with blood kin, we gathered in groups of friends with shared interests and experiences, drawn together by circumstance, but over the years developing closer ties and emotional connections than the tenuous ones to biological family so geographically distant (many of whom had never been seen, much less engage with through interaction enough to develop affinity of shared experience). I developed from style of life the idea that family was not defined by what flows through the blood vessels and tissues of the body but something that was more greatly defined by the emotional ties of shared experiences and friendship.

Many years have passed since that first epiphany. I still have some close relationships with those who are related to me by genetic lineage. I dearly love many of my genetic family and have great affection and care for them no matter the years or miles that separate us. However, I have developed significant and truly meaningful relationships with those to whom I have no biological connection except as we share the same species. I have occasionally been ridiculed or even chastised for referring to this group as “the family” as they have no biological ties. To distinguish between those of blood and those of heart, many of us have referred to this second category as “chosen family” or “sworn family.” This is not a designation that indicates hierarchy or importance, but merely a nomenclature that lets people know that while there is no shared genetics, the affection and loyalty is there.

A friend commented on my post that his mother does not believe in the concept of “chosen family”. Apparently the lady believes only in the progeny of the loins as the connection to which any can have love or connection. So, here is my argument:

If family is only that which is connected by ties of blood, what is the status of the legally adopted or those fostered for long enough terms that they mature into adulthood as one of the household? Does this mean that the parents who find it within their hearts to provide and care for children who have been bereft of this affiliation or care cannot claim the privilege of family? And those children, are they unable to feel the affection and loyalty to those who have taken them in? Are they less important and less children of the family than those born biologically?

And what of the biological family that has abused, neglected, or disavowed a child, an elderly parent, the disabled (mentally or physically), or the individual who does not fit particularly into their ideology, philosophy, or social sphere? Is that family more worthy of loyalty and love from the victim of their cruelty or neglect than others who accept them and have affection for them regardless?

How about these strict biology adherents who have a Judeo-Christian (and any of the resulting sects or denominations) religious bent? I have heard their strictures that family is one man, one woman and the progeny of their mating, but in the very next breath they talk about their “church family”. Not that the Judeo-Christian faith has a corner on the market for this ideology, but they appear to be the loudest proponents. If we run some genetic testing, how many of them are going to share DNA? I have seen the cruelty (physical, mental, and psychological) inflicted on people by others who claim familial ties. No one can harm us like those who claim the nearest relation and are supposed to stand for us and with us against the world or at least in support of the trials we face. Is that betrayal and harm so deserving of the title of family over and above people who provide support (emotional or material), stand with us against those who wish to harm, and share emotional times across the breadth of affect spectrum?

I say it is not. I believe that there are people who, without their chosen or sworn family would be bereft of any ties. They could spend their time alone during the days when family is celebrated. Others who have been harshly treated by those of their own blood would be condemned to believe they deserve the ill treatment or at least submit to said treatment. Instead, would it not be preferable to have people interact and associate with people who would positively impact their life?

I am sure that there are many who would disagree, and there are many that have their own beliefs about family and who qualify for the “honor” of membership. However, my bottom line is that my chosen and sworn family is no less real in my heart than those who claim kinship by blood. I would and have been known to do as much for them as I would for those born to the same genetic line. I cannot honestly say that all of them would feel the same, but I do not believe that it is the right of anyone else to define for you who family is in your own understanding. To all the families out there, in all the different configurations, thank you for being there for each other.

Hi-jacked In to technology

Life Before Computers

This is the way the world ends and the machines take over.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I need a complete intervention and detoxification from the technology of our society. However, I fear the damage is already done and irreversible. Not that I have gone completely Borg or anything. I’m still pretty old school, enough to the point that I still have a wall calendar and a desk planner. It hurts me a little, tiny bit to kill trees for these small reminders of being mere mortal and human, but there it is. In many other ways, I have become so completely integrated with the electronics in my life that I fail to notice how dependent I have become.

This blatantly terrifies me, by the way. It isn’t that I believe we are destined to become jacked into a virtual reality meant to absorb our neural energy for the powering of our electronic overlords, society beholden to and at the mercy of Skynet, a collective of cyborg beings assimilating other species to enhance our own, helplessly clinical and isolated from normal human experience by extreme fear of contagion or violence, or a cowering mass of biological beings unable to be trusted with their own safety and must have robotic overlords adhering to the three laws (Extra points for any of you who caught all the references). I’m not quite sold on the apocalyptic futures painted in science fiction (though I have to admit that Phillip K. Dicks actually spooks me a bit). I’m just completely appalled that my brain has gone soft and squishy in my dependence on the tools we have been provided to make life easier and more efficient, resulting in my brain’s inability to remember or think for itself, it seems.

Once upon a time (in truth, it doesn’t seem all that long ago), I think I had a pretty phenomenal recall ability, especially when it came to numbers; but in general, I could remember almost anything I saw, and definitely anything I heard. I have been known to freak people out, be called a “walking phone book”, encouraged to apply for a spot on Jeopardy, be considered an encyclopedia of worthless facts, and to never forget special days (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). I never had to write something down. I never forgot appointments. It came in pretty handy. I always knew any phone digits I needed to call, and I was a whiz at games like Simon where long patterns had to be recalled. It was useful in school, too, but the older I got, the less rote memorization was required and critical thinking was allegedly encouraged (I have my doubts on that, but THAT would be a topic for another day). The point is, I never developed the skills or mnemonic techniques to serve as backup or trigger recall.

Now, I haven’t a clue what day of the week, time of the day, what I’ve eaten, IF I’ve eaten, or what my name is on any given day. It is a pathetic travesty of the once impressive memory that resided somewhere (so neurobiologists suspect) within my temporal lobes and hippocampus. If I do not have my collection of electronic babysitters around me to tell me what time it is, when I have an appointment, and social media to remind me it is someone’s birthday, I’m libel to just run around perpetually clueless and miss anything and everything of importance.

I heard someone say that all of these labor saving and efficiency improving devices free up our brain from the tedium of every day existence so that we can ponder the more significant philosophical and deeper meanings of our purpose and development of human kind upon the planet. Um… BAH!!! Who knew that Angry Birds and Candy Crush were such lofty concepts. I’ve got any number of silicon chipped helpers dancing around trying to tell me everything from my next appointment to my next bathroom break and my mind is still chasing itself in circles, unable to properly focus on anything of importance. I refer to this as “the shiny squirrels that dance in my office to distract me.” The other occupation of my mind is usually frantic, scrambling panic that I have forgotten something important and assuming that my electronic guardians have maliciously mislaid the appointment slip, event reminder, or outlook calendar item.

Today was the classic example. The schedule was completely packed, and by this, I mean truly packed to the point I think I scheduled a bathroom break sometime tonight before bed… and that was as soon as I could squeeze it in (see what I did there?). Somewhere between meeting number three and conference call number eight, I looked at the calendar to see the fast approach of February on the horizon. My poor temporal lobes that sadly believe they still hold some sway in my life triggered the anxiety reflex that indicated there was something important I’d forgotten. This time, I was pretty certain it was a medical appointment . “Quick, look at your electronic pacifier to see when that appointment is!!!” And obeying the original overlords of my neuroticism, I checked my “smart phone” calendar. In a side note, apparently the phones are getting smarter and conversely I appear to be losing intellect daily. So, checking my appendage, I find that there are no appointments on the calendar for the next month. My natural distrust of the machines reared its head, and I began to panic, assuming the phone had eaten the appointment and I hadn’t the first clue when the appointment might be. I found an old, lint-encrusted appointment card from last year with the office number, and shamefully called the number, ready to throw myself on the mercy of the receptionist who would probably know what an idiot I had been.

The extraordinarily kind lady on the other end of the line did not ridicule me for being clueless. She verified my identity as per federal law, and politely informed me that contrary to my mistaken assumptions, my appointment was not until the following month. She really was very sweet as she slowly and clearly gave me the date and time. Thankfully, due to the nature of this particular doctor’s office, they are used to people having cognitive lapses (chemo brain) and take it all in stride. Bless all beneficent forces that allowed the exchange to be telephonic so that my mortification and blushing shame were invisible to my conversational companion. After hanging up, I went back to my technological tether, and sure enough, there was the appointment, all safe and sound. It was my brain that failed on this occasion, not the technology.

Perhaps, it isn’t so far-fetched that we, as humans, become completely dependent on the faster processing, greater logic, and tighter precision of the mechanical and technological tools of our society. Perhaps we are not so good on our own. However, to avoid the inevitable atrophy of my brain, I will endeavor to keep my mental faculties sharp and clear by exposure to knowledge and practice of intellectual exercise. To that end, I should go find one of those websites that claims to exercise the brain using games (instead of using the brain on the normal activities of life to keep it sharp). So glad that my adherence to electronics is freeing up my mind for the more important facets of life! Ironic that the electronics that free us from the mundane cognitive functions have fostered the dependency further to technology to sharpen the wits that we should be exercising on deeper thoughts, complex theories, higher functions, and personal principles. Thank heavens for the humor that allows us to laugh at our foibles and appreciate the ridiculousness of using technology based stimuli to undo the intellectual lassitude encouraged by same.