This is a real deviation from how I typically write. Last winter I was thinking about how complicated communication is–interpersonally, professionally, and on grand platforms.
I considered the things that happen when I (or we, but I tried not to let myself off the hook) confuse putting out words with communication; or when I neglect to consider the role my open ears and quiet mind should play in conversation. I squeamishly made myself think about confirmation bias, self-affirmation, confusing “I” and “we”, or drowning out the very voices we invite to speak up.
A caricature scenario was emerging in my head, and almost on accident I drafted a lineup of easily-made offenses that tank even the best intentions of communicating. I decided to conjure up a well-intended voice and have it invite communication only to step in the traps I had just thought about.
Though I can apply it accusatorially, either to that person who annoys me by doing some or all of those things or by calling out its relevance to social or mass media, I’d rather think of it as a cautionary tale for well-intended but human communicators like myself, who are susceptible to such missteps.
How many times did you consider touching that hot stove after your first experience of its extreme heat on your bare hand? Fortunately, the immediate lesson is of great value in shaping your approach the next time you encounter a stove. It’s great to learn all we can from our life experiences. But without allowing room for possibilities beyond our own experience we see a lot of things clearly without really knowing what they are.
Oh, no! Someone poked a hole in the sun, and now it’s leaking right into the ocean! (Image is by mintaka.sdsu.edu and can be found at aa.usno.navy.mil/graphics.sun2b.jpg)
But experiences can be convincing. So very convincing.
I have a story that’s a staple of my childhood recollections. For years I had this story mentally filed under the topic, “Funny childhood things related to my eyes.” Some people don’t have a file for that. I do because I had lazy eye, a resulting eye surgery, and glasses before age two.
There’s no drama here. None of this was traumatic for me in any way. In fact, it was a gift for this story teller, creating a lot of material. It’s always been fun for me to share tales of broken glasses, twice-daily eye exercises, weekly trips to the eye doctor, and wearing an adhesive eye patch through the first years of elementary school.
I’ve never insisted these tales have a valuable point, and most don’t. But now, after all this time and some new ways of looking at things, a point has come clearly into focus with one of these stories. Props to the adage about hindsight being 20/20. It’s totally applicable here.
For several years as a child I saw the eye doctor weekly, at around 10:00 or 10:30 on Saturday mornings. I liked the whole eye doctor experience a lot. I liked looking at Highlights magazine with my mom, and Ranger Rick by myself. My first eye doctor’s office was on right side of the office’s waiting room. I loved getting called back for my turn.
In his office he would cover one of my eyes with his smooth, black plastic eye-coverer and I would look at the chart with the uncovered eye. I looked at what I now know is the Tumbling E chart, with capital letter Es lined up in rows, but facing in all directions. So acrobatic, those Es! I pointed my finger in the direction that the Es faced, moving down the rows until I could no longer detect direction.
When I got old enough to reliably identify the letters of the alphabet, we celebrated that I moved to the letter chart and I named letters instead. I felt so mature when I got the letter chart.
Progress with my eyes was made, measured and celebrated. Eventually I switched from the doctor whose office was on the right side of the office to another (also wonderful) doctor on the left side of the office. This was significant and due to progress, but I elevated this significance to design–literally, of the office–and tied it to my own experience. I assumed that the switch from right office to left office was related to my weak right eye and the strong left one.
Yep. I assumed the doctor’s office was somehow set up to represent my face, my situation and my progress.
Do you see this? Experience can be very convincing!
Is that clear? Or not? Look more closely. Use your strong eye!
See it? That’s it, right there. Experience can distort your view just as easily it can sharpen it.
Still not clear? Time to go back to the eye doctor.
We’ve all laughed about eye doctors asking, “This…?” (click click) “…or this…?” when, at first, you can’t tell a difference.
The first one you see seems fine. But the eye doc keeps nagging you with comparisons that seem indistinguishable. Eventually you get more finely tuned. Often at the end it turns out that the “clarity” you thought you had walking in did not prevail. Only through a series of comparisons–you know, for perspective–could you really land on that which is most clear. And then all those nagging questions, “This…or this?” have paid off.
Ohhh, I see it! These eye doctors. What they do for the way we can see the world!
The thing about eye doctors is that sometimes they take vacations.
Such was the case one weekend for my doctor, so there was no appointment for me that Saturday. I slept over at a friend’s house on Friday night. My cancelled appointment allowed me to linger at her house in the morning, when usually I would have been picked up early to get to the eye doc.
My friend, Tracy, and I spent the morning like we had spent all night long–giggling and talking. But by about 9:00 AM I was getting antsy because we were leisurely playing but I was certain she should be getting dressed and ready to go. She was in her jammies, teeth not brushed, hair not brushed. She was making no progress and not one person in her home was mentioning it.
Finally I told her she needed to get moving. She asked why. My assumption was that she had to go to the eye doctor. After all, didn’t everyone go to the eye doctor on Saturday mornings? So I told her: you have to get ready for your eye doctor appointment! And I meant it.
Tracy didn’t go to the eye doctor every Saturday.
But she had been to an eye doctor in her life. My mention of her appointment went unquestioned, so we now shared the assumption that she had an eye doctor appointment that morning. I thought it was “just another Saturday appointment” for her, and she probably figured it was just “that appointment that comes out of nowhere once a year” (when your eyes aren’t an issue).
But seriously, why the hell was her mom not making any strides to get anyone out the door? I could not figure this out. Finally, Tracy yelled downstairs to her mom. “Mom, what time is my eye doctor appointment?” Cheryl responded in an even tone, “Tracy, you don’t have an eye doctor appointment.”
What a coincidence that she didn’t have an appointment that morning, either! So weird. This coincidence gave me pause, and then I landed on my conclusion.
I’m sure you know where this is going, right?
My only conclusion, based so heavily on my own experience, was that Tracy’s eye doctor was taking a vacation at the same time mine was! “Maybe they are friends,” I thought, “and they went together.”
It’s funny–but I’m not kidding. That was my assumption because I could not escape my own experience. I was convinced.
Our experiences are our experiences. For better or worse, they are our memories, our learning, our triumphs, our tragedies, our frustration, our redemption, our stories.
Rightly, they are the basis of our truth. Naturally, they frame how we see things and then how (sometimes creatively) we interpret contradicting information to conform to our truth.
Not rightly, we sometimes try to assert our truth as the truth.
Therein lies the harmless misunderstanding of this story. Therein also lies much, much more and potentially harmful tendency to mistake our experience for the unquestioned truth. And now it’s time for the point to come into focus.
With my 20/20 hindsight and 40+ more years of life behind me, I am amazed by how much evidence I discounted before I ever considered that I might be off-base in my assumption that just because I always had an eye appointment, so did Tracy. It never dawned on me that Tracy’s circumstance was not the same as mine even though evidence hit me over the head.
When it was finally spoken in so many words that Tracy did not have an eye doctor appointment, I processed that contradictory information still within the limited view of my own experience. I concluded her eye doctor must be on vacation, and on that I built the story that her eye doc was probably on a beach with mine, and I moved on (with mind blown).
I could chalk this up to being a kid, but I would diminish a worthy lesson.
Its good to learn from experience and let it inform the way we see things. But being informed by one’s own experience is different than being convinced by it.
Outside our direct experience a different lens is needed, even when we think we see things clearly.
No single lens provides a clear view in all scenarios, no matter how progressive the lens or its wearer.
Life’s curious moments don’t always come with a back story. Unfortunately that does not quench my thirst for one. There are just some things in life that need supplemental narrative, and I frequently–and without effort–produce this when it doesn’t avail itself. Such was the case last week in Target. Yes, the same location at which the event in a previous post called, “Pretty Girl? Depends.” took place.
Maybe Target’s next tag-line will be, “Affordable. Adorable. Bloggable.” I know, totally beside the point. But the best stuff I get from Target is free. It’s the stories.
I’m going to save a thousand words here and just show you the picture that is crying–and I mean ugly, snorting, wailing kind of crying–for a back story. It’s so absurd and curious that my head started bursting with possible scenarios as soon as I saw it.
Curious, right? The Up&Up Pregnancy Test nestled in with the cell phone wrist strap-purse thingies at Target.
WTF, right? In the midst of the cell phone wrist strap purse-thingies was a discarded “Up & Up” (store brand) Pregnancy Test.
First, I do realize there could be serious (or sad) stories behind this, but I’m going to explore the not serious ones since this is all made up and inconsequential to the real circumstance. Believe me, if I could fulfill someone’s desire to be pregnant, or desire NOT to be pregnant, by writing the right scenario, then I’d sacrifice storyline to be their hero. Alas, I do not have that power. I will write with abandon, knowing not one uterus is any more full or empty because of it.
Don’t you wonder what happened? What prompted the person who picked up the test earlier in the store to opt out of buying it? As I said, the possibilities are endless, but I’m just going to share a few. I don’t want to hog all the good story lines before you get a chance to imagine one or two of your own. Feel free to share the stories that write themselves in your head. I’d love to know the company I’m in.
Perhaps she mildly believed she may be pregnant, but has a hard time tracking her period precisely. So she grabbed a test while she was in the store–in case her level of suspicion raised in the next week or so. Then she bought some mascara and throw pillows that don’t really match her couch. She walked by the pickles and it sort of made her heart race. She made herself think of something else, and in that intentional diversion she remembered to grab coffee filters. This prompted a craving for a latte. On her way to the Starbucks corner she suddenly got her period. Oh, and you just know she was wearing white pants, poor thing. With that, she ditched the pregnancy test and proceeded to Starbucks where she was thrilled not to order a decaf.
Same woman: Maybe she just got cramps rather than her period, but figured she’d let it play out before investing $14.99. She ditched the Up&Up and bought Advil and a new wrist strap purse-thingy for her cell phone.
Or, she only brought $20 cash and came to Target for a pregnancy test only. For once she was only gonna buy one item at Target. But those wrist-purses were so convincing. Oh, she still left with only one item. Just not the one she came for.
Now, think outside the box of pregnancy (test). What if this is unrelated to pregnancy? Is there a chance that the discarded pregnancy test is the work of a clever Target employee who treats herself once per shift to moving one random item from the store to an unrelated section? Does she thrill in leaving curios combinations for curious minds to ponder? If so, well played. Your work has been noted, appreciated and blogged.
Admittedly that one is a bit of an after school special. I’m going to end this one in prime time, with a more mature cast and plot. Maybe the Up&Up box back story is a complex tale of waning marriage, elicit affair and a nosy neighbor. Maybe she (let’s call her Gwen) and her husband (obviously, Greg) are done with children. Maybe Greg has had a vasectomy for years. As happens with friends in middle age, I bet Greg got his vasectomy around the time the neighbor guy did, both men building off of each other’s bravado. They’re the sort of men who swapped “frozen peas on my crotch” stories over beers one night and made trite jokes about shooting blanks. At the end of the night both couples toasted a cheers to the end of needing birth control. Yadda, yadda, yadda and now Gwen is having a torrid affair with Martin from Accounts Payable. Martin has never had a vasectomy. Gwen is, ahem, late and more than a tad nervous. Today’s the day she’s going to find out, so she stops in at Target and is going to buy the test. She’s almost made it to check-out when chatty neighbor Marie–you know, Marie, with whom Gwen and Greg had toasted about no more pregnancy worries–shows up in the store calling out, “What’re you here for neighbor?” As Marie walks to her, Gwen realizes with horror that she cannot be seen with a pregnancy test in her cart. So there goes the “Up & Up.” It was up, up and away…and right into the strap-purse thingies where it would remain until the moment it was seen and photographed by me. (It was later re-shelved where it belongs by a red-shirted Target employee too tired to even consider the back story.) Having ditched the pregnancy test just in time, Gwen thinks she’s playing it cool and casual as Marie approaches. She discovers otherwise when she hears herself answer Marie’s nosy question with a honking voice and just a bit too loudly.”TAMPONS! I’M HERE FOR TAMPONS!“
Right now we are driving, as a family foursome, to the Colorado Rocky Mountains. At fourteen hours it’s an easy drive, but long enough to require governance by our family’s road trip manual. This includes a rule that addresses bathroom attempts by both kids at each gas stop that we designate a pee stop.
This road trip is now in session.
Because I’m certain that you wonder what constitutes an “attempt” I’ll pull from the informal (not yet hard cover) manual, which states in Chapter Three that, “If a minor-age passenger fails to produce either urine or its solid counterpart at any stop designated by parent as a pee stop, he may seek credit for the attempt if he can satisfy the standard that his penis was pointed directly at the toilet for five or more seconds. ”
We call it “the point rule.”
I hate to brag, but by now we are so good at car trips and urination that the street language version of the point rule is barked out at each stop mostly in jest. Hey, every family has their brand of humor and tradition, right? This is as on-brand as you can get. We’re the Temples.
So yes. I’m excited for our family’s first trip to the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Neither Brad nor I can figure out why it has taken us this long to choose it as our summer vacation destination until now, when Ry and Zach are 14 and nine, respectively.
The idea of “us” was conceived in Rocky Mountain National Park, in an idealistic tent positioned strangely between a Family Therapy Camp and what seemed like the set of a low-budget, high-altitude porn movie. I promise, I will explain that later. I also promise that neither of our kids was conceived in a tent Rocky Mountain National Park.
The point is that Colorado is the place from our past in which the prediction of our future took place.
It’s all getting clearer. Or less clear. It’s so hard to tell!
Twenty-two years ago Brad and I, all wonky in love and three months into our dating, made a road trip to Estes Park, CO and spent a week camping. We hiked by day and cooked basic meals over a fire by night. We talked and talked. It was in that week that we realized we were likely headed to marriage.
In Colorado we envisioned our respective adult lives, including sizes of cities, what we might want from careers, and how we would both be proud to walk out of a meeting to make it to a kid event. It turned out that we both wanted to live in an older neighborhood. We both agreed that if we ever parented a child who was gay or lesbian, it would be good because we knew they would never be questioned or loved less for it by their parents. We agreed that, between us, we could run a household responsibly and would take pride building a stable but not extravagant financial life. It happened about like that. Our discussion went from, “I see myself…” to, “Don’t you think we would be good at…?”
Damn, we thought we had it all figured out. It never really dawned on us that we might not ever have the choice of whether or how or how many kids we might have. And admittedly, we took a lot of things for granted about careers, financial life and ability to avoid or recover disaster. Another time I’ll talk about the privileges that laced that conversation, but it’s not lost on me and it even wasn’t even lost on us at the time.
This photo of Tang is on another wordpressblog called, “Larry Gross Online” which you will find at larry5154.wordpress.com
Our tent site was comically positioned between camping occupants that represented two extremes. To one side of us was a family that we smugly referred to as either, “Family Therapy” or “Hot TANG.” Much too early each morning, the awkward (deliberate, desperate and overcompensating, we said) dad would call out every item he was cooking on the Coleman camp stove, but to no response from his family. To this day we die laughing over the Goddamned laundry list of available food and then the calling out of myriad drink options.The list of drink options included the last choice, “…or TANG, hot or cold?”
I’d like to be on record with my “No thanks!” to Tang at any temperature, but I throw an especially emphatic “No fucking way!” out to the idea of hot TANG.
This is an undeniably convenient segue to describing the neighbors on the other side of us.
The tent on the other side of us was a steamy, nylon love shack for a middle-aged couple with Louisiana plates on their Saab. Each morning they drove away in nothing like hiking or camping clothes. They never returned to their site until the wee hours of the night, drunk and ready to begin a seemingly endless round of loud, moaning, juicy, fake-sounding sex. They blared the same instrumental saxophone and guitar music each night, which did not mask their love-racket in any way. It was like a soundtrack to their porn. It was Kenny G or something. I swear to God it’s true.
At our camp site we looked to our left and said, “Well, that’s a bit too much!” We looked to our right and even though we laughed at them, we agreed that we could fathom partaking in family therapy in our future much more than we could fathom ever consuming hot TANG or sexing with such indiscretion in such tight quarters with others.
We passed on both options and then looked at our place in between and declared, “We got this. This is us.” Then we stopped looking sideways and instead looked ahead. We were pretty sure we would be successful marrieds until the happily ever after because, after all, we had carefully and earnestly covered all of the topics that seemed important. We screened ourselves carefully and passed our own test.
But Colorado air is so thin and we were so young.
It’s been 22 years since the camping trip of 1993, and we just celebrated 20 years of marriage. We can both admit that we thought being married for the duration would be easier than it has been. We thought we could talk and plan our way to the happily ever after we envisioned. In truth, there probably is no happily ever after—and if there is, then you are probably more likely to stumble on it than you are to talk or plan your way to it.
But we keep talking anyway, much like we did back then. It’s just that we’re no longer naïve enough to believe we are somehow conversing our way to happily ever after. We are more focused on enjoying most of the todays and fondly remembering the mountain of accumulated yesterdays. It’s not like we neglect tomorrow, but taking care of today goes a long way toward securing tomorrow.
We lost our family photo of us in front of our car and therefore had to borrow this image from thinkgeek.com.
All of this explains why it’s special for us that we loaded up the car (see above, a Hybrid of sorts) and headed back to our future, this time with kids in tow. As I write we are arriving in the mountains. The kids are enjoying the views and having fun asking and talking about what they see. Our car isn’t a Saab with Louisiana plates, and actually, it’s not the DeLorean as you think it is.
I don’t think we’ll toast our first Rocky Mountain Sunrise with TANG, hot or cold. I’ll skip the obvious joke about whether or how we could honor the tent site on our other side.
It’s plain but it stands out. Thank God Ryan doesn’t play for Team Camouflage!
I’ve mentioned that I have this kid, the thirteener who is soon to be a fourteener, named Ryan. Well, this guy, Ry, has a Dickensian effect on our home. He brings us the best of times and the worst of times. I chalk most of this Dickens business up to his teendom. Or is it teenagerdom?
Excuse me, but I need an aside about words. Did you realize that, when typed, both “teendom” and “teenagerdom” generate squiggly red lines underneath them? This means I have either misspelled or invented a word. I ask with the voice of a million adults, “Have we been a species that frequently lives past age twelve for this long and still not dedicated a ‘-dom’ word for the state of being a teenager?” Stardom is the state of being a star. That got a word. What the hell gives with no “teendom”? Maybe I’ll find that it exists if I try something that sounds the same but is spelled differently.
I’ll be damned. It generates a squiggly line, too. I guess I’ll just have to select my own preferred spelling for this new, handy word I’ve invented. Really not sure which way I’ll go on this, teendom or teendumb. It’s two really good options. I’ll need some time to think. You call Vegas and start calculating the odds of my selection of one versus the other.
In the meantime, a story. Settle in.
Recently we lived a chapter of Ryan’s teendom/teendumb, and I dub this chapter, “The Hunt for the Red Hat.”
Ry is a baseball guy. He loves it. He’s fine at it. We love to watch him and his teammates play. Through baseball we’ve met family after family that we really enjoy. Our experience with this youth sport runs counter to every media horror story that would lead you to believe that parents in sports are assholes, pardon, and their kids are little…whatever falls from them and lands nearby. (<–I’ll admit that didn’t come out so well.)
To the contrary, the parents we’ve met are like pleasant trees and their apple-kids don’t fall far from them. These great families will cheer for your kid, chat with you in the bleachers, share rides willingly, and, as I recently learned, assure you that the craziness you are going through looks a lot like the craziness they are going through as well. Trees, not A-holes.
On the day we lived the hunt for the red hat there was a 4:30 weeknight baseball game. This creates a real time crunch for Ryan and his many after-school needs. To top it off, he discovered as he prepped to leave that…horrors…his hat was M.I.A.
He “looked” in his room, the basement, his baseball bag, etc. He quickly became frantic and furious. I’ll be honest, I knew he had to poop. Knowing this, my tolerance level was uncharacteristically high. (I’ve learned from other middle school parents that after school poop time is a thing for nearly all of them, not just my guy Ry.)
Then, out it came! His frustration and teendumb, that is. Not his poop. I’m not writing about that because, believe it or not, I do have my limits. No, what came out of Ry was a series of logic-lacking orders, fueled by nerves over being late. He squawked at me to start looking with him. Except, everywhere I attempted to look he yelled, “It’s not there!” He was huffing. He was groaning. All ten of his eyes were rolling like the marbles that were simultaneously falling out of my head. Apparently I was getting it all wrong–what with my looking and…you know…trying to find the hat. I’d go to look somewhere else and he’d yell, “I already looked there!”
At the risk of sounding defensive, I looked while being squawked at. I had to skip the sort of obvious places because he was CERTAIN that he had already searched them. I was left with looking in the backs of drawers, even removing one. I was looking on top of his closet shelf. I even put.my.head.under.his.bed.
No red hat.
Finally, someone had to call off the hunt for the red hat. I emailed the team to see if anyone had a spare, told Ry to grab an alternate hat and then we were just going to get the eff to the ball fields where everything is better. At the ball fields there are, like, flowers and butterflies and rainbows and ferries (but no dogs or peanuts)!
Once there, with him skipping over to join the team and me sitting in the stands among parents, it felt like someone was piping this over the PA system:
Edvard Grieg, you composed the soundtrack of my peace. Ball fields, you are an oasis!
Hey! Back to the story. You’ll recall that prior to leaving for the fields I had emailed team parents to see if anyone had a spare hat. In my email to parents I waved the white flag and asked if anyone could bail us out. I gave a snippet of the scene. It did not produce a hat for the night, but it generated something I needed even more: understanding and camaraderie.
It was a gift to discover that so many parents related to the email that went out. I had an offer of a red hat for the weekend if it was still needed, plus several notes from parents saying they were checking their hat vault. There were also notes to say the email was appreciated because…the same scene could have played out at their home on any given night.
Do you hear it? It’s Grieg again!
It turns out that other homes and others’ teens experience the same brand of kooky at times. Yet, I see these kids at games and such, and they seem nothing like morons to me. And it turns out my kid doesn’t seem like a moron to the other parents, or so they say. How very reassuring to me. All of it.
As long as there are teens and there is teendumb (okay, teendom since I’m feeling all pastoral from the music) we parents have got to remember to give each other the uplift of support. How good to know that the crazy tale of our kids in “the moment” is a lot like everyone’s story, only with a twist. And the kids will all be okay. We will all be okay. It is actually okay right now. Honestly!
That’s the point here. But I don’t call this “Many Pointed Things” for nothing. I’ll go beside the point and make another. I know there are Verns who want to know about the hat. (The Vern reference will make sense if you read my December post, entitled, “Good Question, Vern” which can be found at Continue reading →
One of Zach’s friends got dropped off at our house this morning before school. I had forgotten he was coming over since the plan had happened in a quick text exchange with his mom while I was between sessions at an event last night. Throwing kids from one house to another is just so not a big deal that at times it can barely register. It works.
This morning Zach finished breakfast and came upstairs to our room where he became enraptured by the two mirrors parallel to (facing) one another in a little cove. Technically the two mirrors must be just off of parallel to one another, because each successive reflection shifts a bit toward the edge and eventually falls off of the mirror. It’s cool to see and think about reflections of reflections of reflections of reflections… And then the imperceptible angle to the mirrors is probably a blessing. Without it the reflections could go on forever. I could get lost in that shit.
The mirrors facing one another is leftover decorating from the previous owner. We’re not decorating go-getters, so the pair of reflecting glasses could be there forever. Alternately, we might decide one day it’s the day they go. Who can say? Or, they might just one day fall off the wall. But that would feel ominous for those of us that sort of like symbolism and superstitious things, as I do. But only to a point.
I’ll say this: What “two-mirrors-facing-each-other” decorating lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in its ability to blow the mind with its repetitive, if not unending, reflections. Zach jumped in this morning and was checking himself–err, himselves–out, making different faces. He loved how many of him there were. Then he turned sideways and began rolling his arms like you might in the song, “This Old Man.” He was entertained to see his arms again and again, rolling and rolling. He wanted me to stick my arms out over his head to add to the visual interest, and he gave me specific instructions on where he wanted me to stand and how my arms should move compared to his. So there we were at 7:25 working an infinitely awesome orchestration of our four (and four and four…) arms together making different moves–on and on and on and then eventually off the mirror. It was one of those moments where I and my child were equally into the activity. It had occurred naturally. I wasn’t secretly getting bored with it or nervously consulting the clock. I didn’t even think about interrupting the dreaminess to ask if Zach had brushed his teeth. How long could that moment last? Like the images on the not-perfectly-parallel mirrors it could go on for awhile, but not forever. And it didn’t.
End of scene.
Action moved to the next scene of the morning. In the kitchen.
I entered and saw everything Zach used at breakfast still on the counter, including the milk. Brad was there, too, and equally miffed. We yelled for Zach to “get here NOW!” Zach walked into the kitchen and immediately took a defensive tone. He muttered that it’s no big deal, and in fact it’s stupid that we care. This familiar tune is not our favorite. In response he got a chorus of Brad and I in his ear. It was coming together as the less pleasant audio version of the mirror routine from upstairs. Both parents took a different, though complementary, tone. It went a little something like this:
(five, six, seven, eight) We were squawking at Zach. Zach was rebutting sassily. This caused us to respond to the sass, prompting him to chirp back. Squawks begat squawks. There was no telling how long that could have gone on. Then…
Such a sweet and subtle percussion part in contrast to our coarse kitchen chorus.
I remembered. Lewis. (Lewis either is or isn’t this kid’s real name.)
I called out, “Come on in, Lewis!” Zach was baffled. In walked Lewis.
Lewis is always unaffected. He’s nine going on a thousand. He is wry and super smart. He calls it as he sees it. He’s not on anyone’s side by default. For example, sometimes he’ll tell my kids that our dinner is good while they’re complaining about it. He doesn’t utter the company line. He makes his own calls and that’s just…it. I totally enjoy this friend of my son’s.
As he entered I acknowledged that he had just walked into yelling, and apologized for that. He gave a dismissive “no big deal” remark in his deadpan tone, and just like that none of us had another refrain.
End of scene.
A few minutes later I could hear Zach and Lewis upstairs in Zach’s room. Given Zach’s tone it was clear they were discussing something awesome. Zach must have grabbed the Magic 8 Ball, because he announced animatedly that they should ask it. I get the sense he and Lewis had different answers in mind, but I honestly don’t know what the question was. I couldn’t hear it when Zach asked it.
If you’ve ever entrusted important stuff to the Magic 8 Ball (who hasn’t?) you know that you approach it with a soft volume and reverent tone. And you should, because it knows. It’s the final word–inarguable like the laws of physics. Although you might sometimes challenge or test it (or fudge it) by asking, “Were you telling the truth when you said, ‘NO’ last time?” you never outright doubt the answer it gives you. You just don’t.
So Zach asked their pressing question with quiet, reverent intensity. Then he exploded with the answer, which must have played to Zach’s favor. He laugh/yelled in his characteristic voice, “Oh, ho-ho! It said ‘without a doubt!'” Of the supposedly magic response, Lewis stated dismissively, “Well, that’s just its opinion.”
Zach’s fervent reaction reflected the magnitude of his belief in the magic of the 8 Ball. Lewis’s, on the other hand, proved that he had the balls to speak disbelief. I’ll admit, this was an angle I had never conceived.
Their reactions to the 8 Ball’s response were absolutely not aligned. As with our not-quite-parallel mirrors, they really didn’t need to be. In this matter, and others as well, Zach and Lewis can bounce things between them long enough for it to simply work for them.
It’s been a funny day. I’ve had the usual breadth of topics on my mind, building thoughts, plans, actions, jokes, questions, and Google searches on all of the following (and more):
Jobs, career and job search
Sustainability of educational models
What if my son’s self-described “mildly” dog-allergic friend were to eat the dog we are considering adopting? Would this step up the level of concern or reaction to dangerous (for the child)?
I like the variety of things that occupy my mind. It reflects my multiplicity. All of us “are” a lot of different things! I think it’s cool that people can see themselves as various things, depending on the moment. I certainly do. I have a little Avatar character in my head for most of the things I am.
After spending adequate time in thought I made a Target run. Enough thinking, researching or networking. It was time to focus on the things that represent an input/output, productive life–like laundry detergent, paper towels, toilet paper, and a new broom. (Floor—not Quiddich.)
I certainly never dreamed I’d be blogging my Target list. Stay with me.
I offer you the contents of my Target list because they stand in notable contrast to the thinking and planning of earlier in the morning. Even the switch from one to the other seemed like life itself. Thought. Function. Thought. Function.
At Target I bought a cartful of the aforementioned functional stuff and then headed toward the checkout, making a brief diversion when my eye was caught by a beautiful decoration that I liked but had no intent to buy. I left my cart just outside of the aisle I’d been in, putting it out of the way so the broom handle wouldn’t knock anything off the shelf or get in anyone’s way. I then went a few aisles over to see the item that had caught my eye. After a quick look I was back on track, so I grabbed my cart and walked away from the decorations.
I had already started thinking about the next productive thing and was on a beeline toward checkout. Not entirely oblivious to the world around me, I caught eyes with an older gentleman pushing a cart. He had on a red hat and red pullover, sort of sporty and academic at once. He was striking, like the decoration I had already once changed course to see. His sparkling eyes beneath the cap brim said he had a question, so I knew I was about to become an ambassador. That’s another thing I am. I very much see myself as such. That Avatar has a little name badge even.
He asked if there was any chance I could direct him to the pillows. Before I could get the words, “Decorative, or sleeping kind?” out of my mouth, he put his hand to his forehead and pointed out with a laugh that, never mind…bed pillows are right there. My ambassador mooted, I became a comedienne (I’m her, too) and said, “Well, dang. Now I don’t get to be your hero!” He responded by saying, friendly and gentlemanly, “It’s okay. I still got to see a pretty girl.” I laughed. Me the comedienne loves repartee–and what a quick response he had for this. I asked, “So can I still consider myself a hero then?” He responded in the affirmative as we walked away, both smiling.
Then I was thinking, “Pretty girl.” I wonder how many women my age would fixate on the girl versus woman question, or even be offended at having been noted as pretty rather than helpful or friendly. I will readily admit that I was both flattered and taken aback at the idea of it—girl, woman, or lady notwithstanding. The pretty part struck me because I’ve got no Avatar for that. I’m a lot of things, but that is not one of them.
Discussion of whether or not this is true is nowhere near the point, and I can’t stress that enough! The point is my discovery that for all, all, all of the things that I have a little character for in my head, pretty is not one of them. So it was funny that he chose THAT as his friendly end to our conversation.
I considered that there were people who would let the compliment go unfelt on the basis of “girl” as opposed to “woman,” or on the basis that their looks didn’t matter one little bit in that exchange. But you know what? My looks did matter. He saw friendly in me. Friendly might just be my Alpha Avatar, and I know this is what he saw and responded so delightfully to. Friendly IS pretty. So I guess it’s high time I think myself an Avatar that I regard as pretty, and then not stuff her away or think of her as a second class citizen in my lineup of identities.
Hang on, though. That’s not the end of the story. Remember how I said it had been a funny day? There’s not been humor yet. You know I can do better. Didn’t I use “comedienne” two times up above? I did.
I got to the checkout and got in line. As I started to unload my cart the broom handle did not hit me. The end. It’s my existentialist comedienne humor. How do you like it?
I noted the absence of the broom handle when I reached into the card because I had worked around it the whole time I was in the store. Shoulda bought it last. Note to self the next time I buy a broom, in my next lifetime or if I finally make the Quiddich team. After not getting hit by the broom I reached in and grabbed the dish soap next to the little box of tissues, only to recall that I had not bought any dish soap.
Plus, what the hell…? Where are the rest of my things? You know where this is going, right? I had grabbed the wrong cart in my exit from the decorations diversion. Mine had been loaded down with family-sized paper goods and a broom. The cart I was about to unload had only one measly box of tissues, some dish liquid and Depends undergarments.
Depends undergarments. I don’t have an Avatar that needs them. Yet.
Laughing at myself as a cart stealer, I headed back to where I had left my cart. Then I saw a slightly older woman walking without a cart. I wanted to ask if this was her cart and confess to the inadvertent cart jacking. If it was hers she must have wondered where it had gone, right?
But I was absolutely at a loss for how certain you have to be to ask someone, “Is this your cart?” when the only items are tissues, dish soap and supplies for incontinence. After some thought I concluded that it’s a question you ask after you have asked when the baby is due. Long after.
Zach and I really sunk our teeth into political conversation as we headed toward the polls yesterday.
Tuesday was election day. Our local ballot featured an array of races and questions for consideration, including a school funding referendum, judge and school board races, and even a state constitutional amendment. But Zach, age 9, was focused on the Mayoral election.
Practically first thing in the morning he asked who we were voting for. I could NOT figure out why he wanted so desperately for Mayor Paul Soglin to beat challenger Scott Resnick. Turns out he was confused, and under the belief that the challenger he knew only as, “Scott” was “Scott Walker.” Even upon clarification, and armed with the new understanding there was no conceivable way to vote against Governor Walker in this election, his interest was still high.
He asked me to tell him about being mayor.
Iowa State University Men’s Basketball Coach Fred Hoiberg is known as The Mayor.
(Sorry, but I can’t take another round of phone calls and emails from Hoiberg and his people begging for him to appear in Many Pointed Things.)
ANYWAY…on the way to our polling place I explained what being a mayor is. I tried to balance the glamorous stuff like police, fire, garbage and streets with the mundane things he wouldn’t understand. Admittedly, I may have stepped on City Council toes–I’m not sure.
Zach asked how people decide who to vote for. I said candidates run because they have a strong belief in how things can run well. Sure, there were asterisks and ironic voices flying around like popcorn in my head, but I kept it clinical rather than cynical.
I then said that voters ask the candidates to share their beliefs and their priorities of things that they would like to improve. I added that there is always a choice to make as a voter; whether you want to vote for someone who would serve your own needs or the needs of more people than you, because they’re not always the same. I furtherexplainedthatcandidatesalsohavetodecidewhethertheyvaluethingsmostfortheirown needsorservingthebestforthegreatestnumber,or…
I was beginning to flirt with that alluring hottie that hangs out in the corner or my mind. The one I find so hard to resist. I have a name for him. I call him “Lecture.” It took all my strength to avoid his advances in this should-be-simple conversation with Zach. To avoid Lecture I quickly gave the floor to Zach by asking, “Does this make any sense?”
Zach announced right then and there, and with an official sounding tone, that he wanted to run for something like mayor. The “something like” became operative as he outlined his vision. He wanted his opponent to be none other than (older brother) Ryan. The responsibility of the position, he said, is to be the decision-maker at home when parents are gone. He justified the urgency of his candidacy by stating, “Sometimes we have problems.” He asked, “How would I get that job?”
He seemed earnest. He seemed eager. He was having an exceptionally good hair day.
I wondered if this could possibly stem from a degree of powerlessness he feels as the younger citizen in the two person society of our home when Brad and I are gone. Then I turned that thought away because it seemed unnecessarily melodramatic, and I’m not like that.
I considered instead whether he was really trying to serve the good of the order, or whether I was witnessing the origin of an unquenchable
Thankfully, Zach’s initials are ZT. Not a tremendous liability.
He had questions about how to get elected. I explained the process of a campaign. He ventured into a fantasy where he and Ryan would have an election to be identified as “in charge” when they are home and parents are gone. Offhandedly I wondered whether Animal Farm or Lord of the Flies was on the 3rd grade reading list. I asked, “Who are the voters in your election?” and was told, “Only you and dad can vote.”
I said if campaigning for the role of being in charge they would be asked to identify what they think is most important in our household when we’re gone. I suggested actual issues of promoting equity between them and keeping themselves/each other safe in our absence. I said that, for example, one of them might say they would replace all the smoke alarm batteries and make sure reasonably healthy foods were eaten. The other of them might never mention smoke detectors, but instead might outline a more detailed plan for how to avoid or solve conflicts between them, or how to determine screen time and sharing. I added that those are the things that candidates should be running for–not just so they could have the power to stay up late, dominate the XBOX, and have the last Klondike bar to himself. He laughed. He got it. (I was speaking to the wrong candidate.)
Slickly, he proclaimed that he likes fire safety and fairness/sharing between him and Ryan. (I guess I never knew Smokey the Bear and Eddie Haskell had mated and produced a baby.) I said that sounded a bit too good to be true, like maybe he was saying what he thought I wanted to hear a little bit. We talked about how it’s natural to crave the ability to just plain “be in charge.” Zach and Ry are pretty fantastic, but I have a hard time envisioning them slicing a Klondike bar in half for sharing in our absence.
This lent to the conversation about being careful about what he would tell us in order to get our votes, because if elected by his parents he would have to make good on the things he talks about as important. Otherwise…
This image is used by the Sierra Club in their “Show Big Coal How it’s Done” campaign. SInce I’m using the photo, I’ll give you link: http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/show-big-coal-how-its-done-sierra-clubs-liar-liar-pants-on-fire-campaign.html
Our discussion ended with our arrival at the polling place, which was perfect. I believe if it had kept going I would have somehow let my eye wander back to that aforementioned hottie (Lecture) that so often calls to me. It was best to have had just enough of the conversation to pique his interest in elections and voting and then let the volunteer pollsters give him a sticker.
I briefly wondered if he was actually thinking about ever running for office, and what it would be like to have your kid enter politics. No more than an hour later Zach saw a car with a bumper sticker which he read to me because he didn’t really get it, but was intrigued by it. It said, “Walker isn’t a Badger. He’s a weasel.”
I thought, “Alllllrighty then, Zach. Let’s scrap the idea of ever running for office and just focus on excellent citizenry.” But that’s not right. I mean, really, someone’s gotta run and someone’s gotta serve.
It dawned on me that Zach’s suck-up campaign platform about fire safety and sharing with his brother might actually be the stuff of which winning elections are made. I wondered, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?”
Were you ever a tournament bracket pool organizer in the days that predated online bracket managers? It was a different animal back then when it was all done on paper. Pool organizers had their work cut out for them! They earned the right to be called “Commissioner,” although it was technically bad form to actually ask people to refer to you as such.
Scoring the sheets back then meant copiously sifting through a huge stack of 8.5 x11 papers with copies of participants’ brackets. Unbelievably, at least one person per year chose to copy their clearly horizontally-oriented brackets onto a vertically-oriented sheet of paper. Hopefully this was not so for the office’s engineers or graphic designers.
Lacking uniformity notwithstanding, Commishes went through each participant’s sheet and, for each game, they hand-scored (red circles for correct, and black strike-throughs for wrong) the guesswork. Afterward, Commissioners took info from all the individual sheets and recorded it onto a separate pool standings sheet.
The Standings sheet was found taped crookedly to the frame of the office doorway first thing Monday morning at work.
Were you a commissioner back then?Do you remember all the times you had to perform handwriting analysis in your living room, wondering which moron coworker of yours forgot to put a name on her or his bracket sheet?
Do you remember trying to read John’s goddamned chicken scratch handwriting that somehow made it impossible to tell whether he had written “THE Ohio State University” or “Duke”?
Do you remember wondering why the hell Karen bothered to abbreviate Kentucky by writing “Kent’cky”?
Oh, and how much did you deeeeeee-sssssssssspiiiiiiiiiiise Carl for using his bracket sheet to show off his knowledge of non-major mascots? As in, noting the “‘Jacks” would win their first round game rather than writing SF Austin, Austin, or even just SFA. Cute, Carl, but I’m scoring about 45 of these friggin’ sheets by hand and the more uniformly they are filled out the better chance I will get this round’s results posted before you sashay into my office and ask, “Heyyyy! You got the results done yet? How’d I do?”
It was often the Carls of the bracket universe whose brackets were copied on a vertical sheet of paper.
Commissioners from back then, how much did you loooooooooooove it when Carl had way more misses in the first rounds than both Mark and Marcia, the office’s notoriously, gloriously good-natured non-sports fans who picked their winners based on “places I’d like to travel” and “how much I liked the team colors,” respectively.
Shortly after Selection Sunday this year I saw that there are now calculations of the amount of money lost in businesses due to the tournament (worker time off, workers watching or bracketing on work time, etc.), and it is given in billions. I don’t doubt it.
However, I would like to offer a tiny offset to the cost in worker time/attention by mentioning that back in the 1990’s, participation in tournament pools actually made some of us better employees. I am certain that there were many who finally committed to learning how to use their office copy machine’s extra features just because of the tournament. I don’t just mean the copy feature. I mean the resize feature, because they needed to reduce the HUGE image of the brackets that came out in the center spread of the sports page. After much reduction and recopying, one could make it fit on regular paper (sideways, please, Carl).
Long after the tournament champs were crowned, employees retained their copier skills and confidence. This was long before paperless was an option, let alone a goal. I believe copy machine proficiency may have been a resume item back then. It was probably acceptable to include impeccable Commissioneering among the skills you could contribute to a workplace. And actually, back then there were real skills involved, and skills developed. It was a project. It had an audience, firm deadlines, communication and calculation involved. It may or may not have involved cash dollars.
By way of personal example I’ll admit that the reason I got comfortable and creative writing spreadsheet formulas was to calculate scoring for the office pool I ran in 1997.
As for the here and now: If you organized an NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball bracket pool this year, in 2015, you are a funmaker. Good job for taking initiative to channel the fun of the tournament into something you could enjoy with others.
You originated a pool online somewhere and invited folks to join. Maybe you included your father-in-law whose alma mater will never see round two anywhere except on his sheet. Maybe you included Margie from the office who cares not about basketball but absolutely loves just being included in anything. By the way, please include her more often.
Once your participants created an online account and a cool, funny or faux-badass username they were good to go, and frankly, so were you. The site or app has maintained the whole thing, from scoring to reporting standings, which is AWESOME!
I congratulate you on using the tournament to build some fun and community in your office, but let me beat you to the, “Awww, shucks, it was no big deal.” Because awwww, shucks, man, compared to the days before online bracket managers, it really was no big deal.
Oh, NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, what you do to me.
The calculations that you make me do. Not probability of wins or losses, although there’s that as well. But you put me in a position to calculate the opportunity cost of time spent on you.
#7 seeded “Time” versus #10 seeded “Basketball Viewing” should be a helluva matchup. You know how these 7-10’s go.
I was once unquestioning in my dedication of time to you. Now I consider and reconsider the amount of time spent seated indoors enjoying your real drama, but aware that I am suffering through your made-up drama.
As I think about the hours I could invest in your games, it is not lost on this upper Midwesterner that these…these…are the days I’ve been yearning for since November.
You probably thought that yearning was about you, didn’t you? Didn’t you? Sorry. While my yearning has indeed been for greater exposure to an orange gas-filled sphere, I’m yearning for the one that really is the center of the universe–for all twelve months of the year. And yet your tiny, bouncy, non-fireball of an orange sphere beckons me back inside to the indoors from which I couldn’t wait to escape for three months.
#2 seeded “The Sun” should be a clear-cut first round winner over #15 “Tiny Bouncy Non-Fireball of an Orange Sphere,” but stay tuned, because TBNFOS might have brought some dancing shoes.
Yes, what you do to me…
The overthinking! Is it possible that the completion of my bracket sheet could impact the fate of my Badgers? If so, what’s the relationship? Is it a jinx to send them far? (See below if you’re Verning on this.)
Or, might fate possibly give them brownie points if I “predict” a premature exit on my sheet, and then willingly cheer against my own bracket? I’ll do that if it will help.
This is the mythic, Ajax, falling on his own sword, not me. I have way less facial hair…and stuff.
Stop the madness!
Madness. Speaking of which, NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, there was a time when your catchy, time-appropriate, alliterative (and much-needed) nickname was pretty cool. It felt like a reflection of the series of highs and lows we experience because we were so engrossed in it all. Now it feels concocted and gross. I won’t use your nickname in my speaking or even in writing here, even knowing that doing so would save me 26 keystrokes, not counting spaces, as opposed to writing NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.
I once loved you unquestioningly! And I still do like you very much. You yourself, that is. With your games, your teams and the passion! And those kid/man-children who are so very intensely living in their…ohhhhhh, shit…one shining moment. I really hoped to avoid that. Fine. Slam dunk for you, right over me.
Basketball games, you yourself are more than welcome into my living room and into my heart. I am even willing to hurt when certain realities (almost inevitably) come to fruition. So what’s the problem? It’s your entourage. I don’t like ’em.
It’s the game callers, who are caricatures of their formerly unique/interesting selves–and who attempt to become a source of entertainment unto themselves, rather than simply serving to frame the events.
It’s the superlative over-users, who think it’s okay to abuse “…-est” if you precede it, ironically, by saying, “one of the…” .
It’s the ones who make wildly, ridiculously non-committal statements using the exact same intonation that would be used to say something truly bold.
It’s the interviewers who begin their “question” by telling the adrenaline-fueled athletes how they assume they must be feeling, and then finally “ask” them the “question” in the form of a command to, “Tell me how you must be feeling.”
I say all of this as a self-avowed, though clearly washed-up and somewhat burned-out sports fan. I say this as someone who sunk to amazing depths of embarrassing sports fandom back in my hay day. I am, after all, the woman who had a poster of ESPN’s Chris Berman as “The Bermanator” on her dorm room wall in college.
Shout out, mid-1990’s are in the house.
Seeing it now, 21 years later, I can barely believe I owned it and had it on my dorm wall. But I did.
I had that on my wall. Yes. I. Did.
My good friends’ rooms had Marilyn Monroe, or that picture of the sailor kissing a woman in New York. Or posters of the Louvre, or Depeche Mode, or peace symbols, or…you know…photos of friends and family. I had the Bermanator. I’ve never really considered until now how funny that is–especially knowing how annoying Berman has become in the intervening years. Dying here. Where’s my sword?
I can redeem myself. For my first two college years I had hot, hot Kevin Costner on a poster as Crash Davis from Bull Durham.
Though the Bermanator made it in, Kevin Costner (as Crash Davis) was the #1 seeded poster in my college dorm rooms.
Yes, it had excerpts from the “I Believe” speech paraphrased on it. Apparently, even though I was in love with Costner, I also had some self respect as a sports fan. This poster allowed me to have my cake and eat it, too. (Do yourself a favor. Just look at the poster here but do not go find the clip of the speech online. It’s awful.)
I mention and show these not just to humor all of us, but as evidence that I am not immune to the cheese-effect of sports. Or, I use them as evidence of how far I’ve fallen. Or how far I’ve come. Or how far it has all fallen. Must I pick one?
That song, “One Shining Moment” used to make me well up with tears. It conveyed the myriad emotions of the whole tournament–upsets; early departures; breakout performances; seeing players with arms linked on the bench, swaying in unison trying to contain themselves in the last moments of their tournament or career. That song used to feel just right. Now, honestly, it makes me want to gag.
What’s the deal? Is it me? It’s me, isn’t it? Or is it that the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament has become strangely and simultaneously time-worn and too much “of today”?
Ladies and gentlemen, fifth-seeded “It’s me” might have their hands full against number twelve seed, “Simultaneously time-worn and too much ‘of today'”.
Maybe let’s get back to 1990’s Meredith.
I am the woman whose pleasure reading right after college graduation included this:
“Fab Five” by Mitch Albom. I read it in one day/night on a work trip. I plowed through many chapters while eating dinner alone in an Applebee’s in Johnson County, Kansas.
…which was published right in sync with my college grad year of 1994. And this absolute gem from 1999:
“A March to Madness” by John Feinstein. It was an awesome gift from my husband the year it came out. It’s a perfect Feinstein-like look at recruiting and life in the ACC in the 1990’s. A super good read.
Please pardon the whoring out of my outdated street cred with mid-to-late 1990’s basketball love. But it’s important to make clear that at one time I was truly a lover, and not a questioner, of all this craziness. Now I love and I question.
What will my opportunity cost calculations of time versus viewing basketball lead me to do? I can’t answer that with certainty. Any sports fan knows the ol’ “any given day” rule, and I suppose it’s fitting that it applies to me, too. It all depends on which me shows up.
THE END. Cue the Music, but not “One Shining Moment” please.
FOR THE VERNS: I gave the Badgers two rounds of wins, but then got nervous wondering about the jinx possibility. What if my pencil is as mighty as a sword? I fell on it, and would happily cheer myself to bracket death if it means my guys would live to fight another round.