Monday, April 30, 2007

Practice and Reward

I've been watching little bits of Sesame Street with my son for the past few days in order to rid him of his Elmo (and general muppet) aversion. My feeling is, he doesn't have to like Elmo (or own the doll, for that matter), but he shouldn't be scared of Elmo. He shouldn't cry and run screaming from the room anytime he glimpses the little red guy.

It just so happens that the sort of moralistic thread through this particular episode of Sesame Street that we've been watching is that most things worth doing require practice. And of course you can't expect to do something perfectly the first time you do it. You have to work at it.

So Tully works on his cheer for the Grouch parade (consisting of drumming on his garbage can lid chest protector and yelling Grrrrrrrrouch! simultaneously) and a little girl in Mongolia has to learn how to do the aptly-named Mongolian bowl dance where, guess what, she has to balance bowls on her head.

As I watch this with my son, I am actively wondering what of this he gets. Does he follow these little equations? Does he store these little nuggets in his squirrel brain? If so, how does he see them as relevant to him? Or does he not... does he simply store most of what he encounters and then only index it later on as he has more experience which makes this knowledge appropriate or important?


Another thought about practice making perfect... My husband and I have been Tivo-ing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and watching 2 or 3 episodes on the weekend. Of course, this being too soon after the Virginia Tech shootings to make most jokes, Stewart instead focused on the media coverage, most of which I was happy to miss. Somehow seeing all the coverage put into his wry perspective cures me of the pain that it would have caused to actually watch it. One of the things he pointed out was that in order to fill dead airtime (and to make the whole thing more sensational and compelling, ick), the tv pundits and analysts were speculating as to what allowed this shooting to happen.

Apparently, it was guns, lack of parental involvement, xenophobia, violent movies and video games (not necessarily in that order).

Well, as far as the video games go, they may have been half right. That's not to say that every kid who plays violent video games will become violent, but it is to say that for whatever reason, as this Slate article discusses, there seems to be a correlation between kids who play violent video games being more violent themselves. Now, that's not to say that the video games cause the real-life violence, or whether kids who already have violent tendencies or traits self-select such games. Still, it seems to me that correlation should not be overlooked. Go read the article for yourself and see what you think.


So I was over at Feeding Time at the Zoo and N. was talking about money and about wanting so many things (as we, I suspect, all do). Since neither I nor most of the people I know are of infinite means, it seems we all have to develop some strategy to not constantly feel like we want to buy things.

I started to think about the coping mechanisms I've developed to quell my need to spend and to have (which, as a public service and in the name of truth in advertising, I will admit that, according to my DH, I'm not nearly consistent enough with).

Drumroll please...

I do my laundry. Yes, ladies and gents, that is coping mechanism #1. Many times when I feel like nothing in my closet fits or I am sick of everything I see, I simply have to wade through the veritable oceans of dirty clothes that never ever, despite my best efforts, are all clean at the same time. Most often I find some (or, ahem, many) long-lost and forgotten items that just so happen to fit and aren't so god-awful hideous.

I garden. (This of course really only works during the warmer months, but this one's a goodie). I don't know what it is about gardening that gets me off the comsumer treadmill. If I were totally idealistic, I would think that it's some loosey-goosey connection with God and the world, mother nature, etc. pp.

However, I suspect that more likely than not, it's a combination of other things: physical activity, sunlight, distraction. Weeding is an extremely cathartic activity which somehow seems to take care of the same obsessive activity needs that would otherwise require shopping or knitting or compulsive internet surfing. Also, I think gardening allows you to buy things with your eyes. You don't really own flowers or plants. They are somehow gracious and generous all at once. And let's face it, some colors just look much better in nature than on your ass in a pair of jeans.

I un-shop. I go into stores with specifically the caveat that I must leave empty-handed. Again, I shop with my eyes. I get ideas for things that I can make or do inspired by what I see. Now, granted, many times when I do that I pick up things along the way. I carry them around. I try and justify in my mind why I need a particular item. Then when I get up to the register, I abandon ship. Yes, I am the bane of every store clerk's existence.

The only thing I will say about this last method is that sometimes it has the unintended consequence that I actually feel guilty as though I did spend the money. (Try that one on for size, Herr Freud).

Still, in general, my best practices are the ones that keep me out of the stores, out of the market so-to-speak for temptation, self-improvement, vanity and bought fixes. In fact, I think most of my impulses to buy new things are actually signals to pay attention to myself, to take time out, to feel connected or indulged.

Now, that's not to say that one should never buy new things. Or, occasionally, expensive ones, even. It's just that most often, it's not really the solution to what ails me. Yes, I know, all this stuff is easier said than done. But, then again, as Tully says, Practice makes better.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Odd Ends

I'm a bit too loosey-goosey at the moment to put together a coherent narrative, yet I've got lots of material I'd like to pass on.

Like this article by Michael Pollan about why twinkies are cheaper than carrots. Frightening and fattening!

This article, also from the NYT dining section, about the joys of processed foods.

And also this article, about how you know if your dog likes you.

My speculation: Your dog would like you even better if you fed him twinkies. But not for long.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Call and Response

I don't need any excuses to fear the blank page. I am almost always (mostly at once):

1) Too tired
2) Too distracted
3) Feeling too guilty
4) Procrastinating
5) Having too much going on in my head that I'll eventually (on some perfect day) magically figure out and THEN write
6) Feeling like an imposter
7) Checking and rating celebrity fashion disasters
8) Trying to get the lyrics of a Raffi song about a guy with a ladle out of my head
9) Feeling overwhelmed by the disaster that is my home at the end of a toddler-filled day
10) Just wanting to cuddle up with my hubby and his laptop
11) Overwhelmed by the sorry state of affairs in this world (and especially this country!)
12) Doing NY Times crossword puzzles

Yes, it's the old blank page as an existential mirror routine. I seem to be at once too deep and too shallow for this world to communicate something, anything, of meaning.

Yet it seems like there are always these things-- events. Disasters. Crackpots and the media that stick their proverbial hoses into anything and pump it up like a big old fat bike tire. So many whack-a-doodle (good and bad) things that taunt me into the realm of words.

Of course this Va. Tech shooter thing is just one of them. I am so infuriated about needing to write about this! And about having to read about it everywhere. I guess it's the way I ended up feeling about Columbine, Timothy McVeigh, 9/11... I guess Katrina being the only exception... I don't think there's been enough about the aftermath and the failure upon failure upon failure to do anything right about it. But pretty much this thing ranks with me amongst the rankest moments of recent history, and the beastly media who, as my dad put it today, "Treat it like it's one big reality TV show".

At this point, I should mention that I DON'T EVEN WATCH TV. I never watch the evening news. I haven't since I left this country in 2000, and upon our return, a sage friend of mine said, "You'll be ok going back. Just whatever you do-- DON'T WATCH THE NEWS." And yet I still feel the media spinning and spinning like a Jackson Pollock painting, spewing out details here and there with hopes that one little bitty bit will grab you, shake you. Just for the sake of shaking you, not for some resolution, some better end.

Truth is, at this moment I am irate enough. I wish I could go back in time and BE that idiot kid's creative writing teacher and not only boot him the hell out of my class, but lock him up and throw away the key.

As a mom, I think about how much time and energy people put into their kids. Yes, even the parents who aren't perfect. Most people try and do the best job as parents that they can. They want their kids to be happy and succeed. They want their kids to make the world a better place. They nurture and save and send their kids off into this world with all that. And then this jackass comes in and thinks he can unravel the world... and does a pretty decent job of it.

Except, of course, that no one wants to let him have the last say. The problem is, that in our crazy mourning and disbelief, we start spinning tales around it. He was a sicko. He was mental. The system failed us. Guns are the problem. Someone should have known beforehand and done something. And none of that is enough or is right.

At this moment, the one thing that I can say is that, youth aside, someone should have nailed that kid to the door and not let him go. This kid was mentally aggressive and threatening to others from about as far back as anyone can remember. And somehow it was never enough to get him. We shouldn't have to wait until crackpots physically carry out on their threats. Hatred and intimidation are not tantamount to free speech.

I suppose, if anything, I can hope that what comes out of this is that people (that means me and you!) don't let aggression, be it pubescent, ideological, religious, political or otherwise, go unchecked. If someone is doing something to you personally or to us universally, nail the f*cker to the wall. Don't be afraid to stand up.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

For Looks

It's amazing to think of the proliferation of ways we males and females of this species work to make ourselves attractive. In fact, many people can put food on the table in this world simply because we're succeptible to the latest wrinkle cream, shade of blusher or hot rod. The thing is, it's not just about mating or attractiveness to a mate.

Behold, my Sunday afternoon: Head covered in brown goo to cover my ever-burgeoning grays, wearing an unflattering, too-tight button down shirt gapping between the buttons, eating a kosher bologna and mayo sandwich. Can you think of anything less attractive? I'm not sure that I can. The funny thing is, my husband always tells me to leave my hair alone already. He likes the little cruella gray streak that I've had since I hit 28 and he could care less about the vanity. So why do I do it? I guess I feel like I look better with my original hair color which was described to me by a friend's mom as "about as black as a white girl can get". It's not fear of aging per se-- I just feel like I look much more tired with grays. And looking tired makes me feel tired.

Still, the goofy things that we do for vanity (or, I suppose, attractiveness to the opposite sex) have nothing on the penguins. They're apparently really turned on by rocks. Simple rocks. Apparently at the Shedd Aquarium, they introduce them over a weeks' time and watch the birds get to it... building nests with the rocks, stealing particularly appealing rocks from others' nests.

I don't know enough about penguins (though I did see "March of the Penguins"), but perhaps the appearance of rocks in their displays (just where, do you suppose, the penguins think these rocks are coming from, I wonder?) signals springtime for the penguins because as ice and snow melt, more rocks should become apparent. And, truth be told, if you're going to lay some eggs, wouldn't you rather do it on rocks than on ice?

I guess similarly, having a well-appointed boudoir could be more inspirational than, say, staring at milk crates piled with graying socks.

Still, what about the penguin who prefers his mate a little pudgy around the edges? What of a female penguin that likes the guy with the small rocks because those big rocks are just way too hard to climb up?

In love as in life, there's just no telling.