Bracket Pool Organizers of Yesteryear: Do you Remember…?

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.

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Greatest Matchups Not Seen in Brackets: A Washed-up Superfan Explores the Madness of March Decisions

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.

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.

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 finger upon 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.

Though the Bermanator made it in, Kevin Costner (as Crash Davis) was the #1 seeded poster in my college dorm rooms.

Yesit 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.

“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.

“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.

Posted in Humor, March Madness, NCAA Basketball Brackets, Sports, Sports Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why Apostrophes Should Make Noise

I’ve noticed that a lot of my blog writing has taken the form of reflection. That’s probably appropriate because I’m a fairly reflective person. I realize that at a glance a blog reader might rightly wonder if Meredith M. Temple ever tells “just a story”–straight up, without meaning attached after the fact.

        Sheesh, live a little!

Sheesh, live a little!

I assure you, I am all about settling in and telling a story. I relish it. If you know me, you know this all too well. Circle up, readers. It’s time for me to tell you “just a story.” This one is culled right from my own family.

At summer’s end in 2011 we were getting ready to send Zach to Kindergarten, and Ryan was ready to start 5th grade. Most families with school-aged kids had been school shopping, but we Temples had not. It’s not that we were in jeopardy of sending anyone to school naked. Ry was covered and we knew Zach would probably wear something from “the bag” anyway. We have a few family friends with older sons that periodically pass along their sons’ favorite outgrown clothes to Zach, and then we all enjoy the clothes’ second life on Zach. He’s the kid who is sort of everyone’s little bro.

Zach loves to dig through a bag of used clothing from our family friends. He always makes an olfactory connection to each former owner. He’ll sniff a hooded sweatshirt and yell with excitement, “Ohhh! This smells like Max’s! (or Cam’s, or…)”  And he’s always right. It’s actually impeccable how he can name the home from which an item has come by smell alone. This is not a negative about the scent of anyone’s home. To the contrary, everything smells good in a way that causes me a bit of paranoia about my own home! I shudder to think what other people’s kids exclaim when they get hand-me-downs from our place.

This inheritance of clothing is awesome from the obvious standpoint of cost and convenience. On another level there are the pleasant memories of other people’s kids being small enough to wear those clothes themselves. Long after the clean, dryer-sheet fragrance that apparently characterizes everyone else’s home is overtaken by the unfortunate gassy, foot-odory, onions-and-garlic kind of smell that characterizes a day in the life of our home, we still associate the clothes with the original owner because we remember a friend’s son playing in them. Dreamy, right?

A little bit better.

A little bit better.

So there we were in 2011, about to send our babe off to kindergarten and thinking we could bypass shopping. Then we remembered he’d need shoes. I almost had to “mom up” and take him out myself, but I left town overnight for a funeral and Brad stepped in. This isn’t just a bail out for me. It really makes it more pleasant for everyone. I stink at it, and Brad makes it fun for the kids and enjoys it himself. I look for bargains, have no patience and manage to double the time spent while depleting the joy. Brad, on the other hand, skips the practical places and makes a pilgrimage to his and the boys’ Mecca, the mall anchor store known as Dick’s Sporting Goods.

I am aware that Brad does not save money with this choice, but if I’m not the one doing the shopping I wisely do not weigh in. Though Brad is not economical, he’s savvy about it in terms of making it palatable for the kids. He uses a plus-one buying plan where he buys everything they went to get, plus one unforeseen little purchase that is justifiable, but not necessary by my standards. On this fateful day Zach not only got a cool pair of sneaks, but a six-pack of super hero socks.

Fast forward to the first day of kindergarten.

Cute, Apostrophe, but I still can't hear you!

Cute, Apostrophe, but I still can’t hear you!

Kindergarten is one of the biggest milestones for both parent and child. I would have given anything to know how it was going for him. Was he nervous? Did he find his way? Did he help anyone or receive help himself? On top of that, he is in a dual language immersion program. This meant he would not hear even one word of English from his teacher–only Spanish, which he does not speak. I had a lot of questions that I wanted to puke at him the minute I saw him. Alas, l did not ask any of them.

I had to be strategic because info gathering is a major cat and mouse game. Unlike their mom, Ryan and Zach are not about telling every detail. Or any detail whatsoever. I simply could not ask the questions I so badly wanted to ask. It would be a huge tactical error to show an interest in any particular part of school that I might ever want to know about, because if he knew I was interested he would never speak of it.

I also knew I had to respect that his head must’ve been spinning. Even if he wanted to, he would not be able to produce an insightful answer on command. I knew I shouldn’t ask any heavy questions or suggest that anything would have been overwhelming–like, whether he made any friends, or whether the teacher was nice, or whether it freaked him the f**k out that he didn’t understand one word spoken by Maestra. All those questions were there, but they remained in my brain.

In my second-greatest parenting move of all time, I asked, “HEY!  How’d those shoes work out for you?” I got answers that said he did make it to recess and he ran fast.

Then we went to the living room and laid down on the floor and put our feet way high, above our heads. He took off the shoes for closer examination. I then noted how cool the Batman symbol was on the top of his sock. Big credit to Brad, of course. But also, credit to me! I was dying to know about the first day of kindergarten but instead I patiently let this conversation take the most natural and age-appropriate course. He took the sock off and, for whatever freakish reason, wadded it up and stuck it right up to his own nose and gave a deep inhale.

I was thinking how funny and gross that was. And I’ll admit it’s possible that I was still congratulating myself for not yet asking what he had done at school today. Then I heard him yell, “Ohhh! These socks smell like dicks!”

That’s what I heard because the apostrophe in Dick’s (Sporting Goods) is silent.

Until Zach’s first day of kindergarten I had never considered how unfortunate that was.

THIS ONE!  This is the one I needed that day. For God's sake, make yourself known, Apostrohe!

THIS ONE! This is the one I needed that day. For God’s sake, make yourself known, Apostrohe!

Posted in Funny Story, Mouths of babes | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

My Compliments

A few years ago I was given a compliment that was so unusual, out of the blue and powerful that it has bounced in my head since then and provided residual flattery. I actually do reflect on that moment from time to time and consider how great it was that the compliment giver made such a meaningful observation and chose to share it with me. Contributing to the impact of her words is the fact that I would never have expected a compliment about something of that nature—even though I wholeheartedly believe what she said is true.

Even though it’s not the point, I realize that unless I divulge the compliment itself you’ll miss the actual point of this whole thing. You’ll be distracted by your own silent debate about whether it’s my sweet rack or my shapely buns that elicited such praise. Incidentally, I maintain with an almost straight face that it could have been either of those two (technically, four) things that generated the praise. But it was neither buns nor bosoms.

She said, “I think you’re someone who acts with a lot of integrity.”

I chortled. Not as deprecation or denial, but out of surprise at the magnitude of the words. They were spoken in a random moment unrelated to personal ethics. Specifically, we had just arrived at a place where we were going to go cross-country skiing. Turns out, it was my pulling out of money to buy my trail pass at the self-serve buying post that prompted the integrity observation to be spoken. (Rarely are people there to check for passes, to the point that it feels a bit like an honor system even though signs make clear that a trail pass is required.) I should note that she, too, was buying a pass—so it’s not that she was feeling shown up in the honesty category and so accused me of being exceptional. Fact is, the compliment applies to her just as strongly. I could have honestly chanted, “I am rubber, you are glue. What you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

Instead, I made the obvious joke that a $20 trail pass does not a person of integrity make. (Wouldn’t that be a bargain?) It wasn’t my intent to deny the compliment, but my joke may have seemed a bit like, “Nahhhh, awww, shucks–tell me more.” My friend substantiated her claim by noting a few instances or conversations with me that led her to believe I am someone who acts with integrity.

I value it, and therefore I note it as well. I have written about the integrity of others in things like letters of recommendation or employee reviews. Even so, it’s not a typical topic of praise given in conversation. I’ll tell you, though, having those words spoken to me out of the blue showed me that there’s real impact in receiving such a tremendously thoughtful compliment in just that way. It inspired me to be aware of what I see in people that is notable or special, and to consider what’s beneath it that is worthy of praise. Everyone should be told once in awhile what another finds as a central, admirable quality in them.

I don’t want to create a case that all compliments should be the result of deep thoughts, or that all praise should be of this potency. It would water down the effect of praise big and small. Worse, it would call sincerity into question. I do not aspire to upgrade my praise-giving or vow to make an effort to “do the deep” more often.

I definitely believe in the impact of being thoughtful in compliments but you also can’t overthink them. I want to give and receive compliments with abandon. Big or small ones; all sizes, all varieties! (I swear, this is honestly not about bosoms or buns.) Seriously, when someone throws out a piece of verbal nicety that comes from the heart, only goodness should come from it–not the yearning or striving for a deeper form of praise.

There’s a time and a place for “You really throw a great party!” and there’s a time and a place for, “I”m amazed by your ability to make and share friendship with such ease. I appreciate how you are generous with your time and effort and…” All of it should spring from a desire to share genuine, positive thoughts when you have them. No calculating, no formulating. You can’t get so intent on going deep that you miss chances to simply emote from the heart right in a moment. The beauty of the integrity compliment was that it was so uncontrived.

Not long ago I enjoyed a surprise afternoon walk with the very friend who spoke the words that got this whole thing started. It was warm for a winter day in Wisconsin, but it was still a winter day in Wisconsin. Winter gear was worn, but it was so pleasant out. As we walked, something in the conversation reminded me of the cross-country ski day. I asked if she recalled saying “such and such” to me, and I told her those words about integrity were memorable/meaningful to me. I didn’t go into a whole long thing about being inspired to consider the impact of thoughtful praise. Not the time. Our attention was diverted by a laugh over the memory of an unusual thing that happened on our skiing day, and then we moved on to regular life talk.

I always enjoy conversation with her. She has a zest for life. She’s smart. She lives interestingly, then weaves big and small moments of life into awesome stories which she tells or writes with amazing wit. She’s also an excellent listener. She is focused and accomplished in her professional life, but not to the point that she can’t see the forest for the trees. She’s well-rounded.

As we parted I felt thankful that we stole an hour outside on a winter afternoon. I wasn’t thinking about all of the deeper qualities that make her so great. I was basking in the feeling of being in the company of good people. Waving goodbye I spoke the words that were in my heart at that moment. “You look cute in your hat!”

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Extreme Insecurity: A boyhair$2eyecat story

These days everyone has a story about boyhair$2eyecat. I’m telling mine. It’ll be therapeutic for me and I think you’ll relate.

Let’s start with this. I’m adequately confident and I rely on being a fairly quick thinker on my feet. For example, put me in front of a crowd to speak or moderate a panel and I’m good to go, even if things take an unexpected turn. Even under pressure words rarely fail me. That said, though, I’ve discovered one extreme restriction on my ability to work the language coolly in the heat of the moment. I am only quick and effective with words when I am able to draw on ones that really exist, and when I am allowed to use them in familiar sequences. If you don’t see the down side to this restriction, let me tell you this: it leaves me speechless in the act of creating passwords. It requires an alternate vocabulary that is simply not natural to me. While I do not excel at it, I do take seriously the task of creating secure passwords. But it’s sort of a deal. I have to psych myself up every single time.

I take a few deep breaths so as to calm my racing mind. I throw a few air punches to amp up the (false) bravado. I blow on my knuckles–and I really don’t even know why. I straighten a collar I am not even wearing. I reflect on all those dear, familiar words in my vocabulary, grateful for their service. But they are of no use to me in this moment. I dab a salty tear with a kerchief that mysteriously appears out of nowhere.

I then assume a perfect posture in front of the computer, which I know confuses my spinal column. I hover my arms and wrists just above the keyboard, as if I’m about to play Rachmaninoff at Carnegie Hall. Then it’s go time. I type a little nonsensical combination of letters, numbers and–eew–characters into the password field, hoping desperately to have this thing over with in one try. I close my eyes. I pray, “Deliver me from the act of password creation.” You know that prayer?

Then I hit I “submit” on my proposed password. I think about the word “submit” and how its meaning is perfect for this situation.

Then comes the result of my first attempt. It’s not good. The parameters are restated in red letters. They mock me. Even beyond the red letters, the look on the typeface of the restated of parameters is smug. It presents itself as direct and informative, but the subtext is, “You’re so stupid.”

So, what are these parameters within which my password must fall? The winning combo should be between 7-87 characters. It should use some uppercase letters, but not letters that are used at the beginning of any names. There should be no consonants. Or vowels. Further, you must throw in some non-alpha, non-numeric characters–like an ampersand or an exclamation point. If you ask nicely you can use a dollar sign. But for Christ’s sake, do not use a semicolon or else your proposed password will look like it’s winking.


Once you’ve failed, it’s surprising how hard it can be to bounce back for another attempt. This is true even though you knew going into the process that you were destined to go a few rounds. Maybe that’s why you blew on your knuckles. After the second fail your false bravado begins to wane and you take it personally. You hear the bullet-pointed set of rules speaking to you in a sarcastic voice. At first you just hear the voice saying, “I SAID password must…” before it repeats the list of parameters, condescendingly. Eventually it begins to sound like Kramer when he got flustered trying to pass himself off as Movie Phone.

“Why don’t you just TELL me the name of the movie you selected?”

Failed attempts are strangely embarrassing, even though you’re alone. In theory, no one even knows how many unsuccessful tries it took you to come up with a winning password, like boyhair$2eyecat. Once you (finally) pick a winning password you must bask in the glorious season that follows.

Depending on the stringency of the account, you have a long or surprisingly short stretch of time where that password is active and not in need of changing. During that glorious season you slowly shed the insecurity that overtook you on the day you sucked so badly at coming up with an acceptable password. In that time boyhair$2eyecat becomes so familiar to your neuromemory that you can type it without having to think too hard. You even stop thinking of it as the nonsense “word” that it is. You learn to say it out loud, but you’re careful not to use it in conversation too often for fear it might become a popular catch phrase. That would surely diminish its security rating, and you worked too friggin’ hard for that.

It’s easy to forget the bad times when you’re riding the high of an active password not in need of change.You remember how good it feels to think you are good enough and smart enough. Then one day you have a question about the business related to your account. You are cool with this, knowing competent people are not afraid to ask questions or confirm important information. Feeling resourceful, you call support thinking it’s just going to be a quick, easy confirmation of this or that. You don’t think to do so before you call, and before you know it you’re on the phone with a support person who is asking you please log in. You’re unbothered by this request because you and boyhair$2eyecat have sort of bonded over the fact that you’re both a little, you know, quirky.

Here’s the thing. Inexplicably, the act of typing in a familiar password is much more difficult when you’re on the line with a support person. I’ll admit to having been so stricken by password performance anxiety that I once mistyped boyhair$2eyecat three times in a row! And you know what that gets you, right? It gets you locked out. LOCKED OUT! Noticing a change in your breathing pattern, the understanding person on the other end of the line assures you she or he can get you back in, at which time “you’ll just need to create a new password.” Right there. On the fly. As if…

An account I used to have for work was ultimately tied to the Department of Homeland Security. Its parameters were understandably restrictive. For starters, you had to change your password very frequently, and there was no recycling any portion of a word that had been used in your history. Fine, fine. There are lots of words in the language. The kicker was that you couldn’t use the same two letters, numbers or characters back-to-back.

WeLL, you bet your swEEt a$$ that when it’s time to pick a pa$$word I fEEl like ALL the words I know have repeated leTTers. Oh, eFF!

You know, I’m competent and confident in a lot of ways, but I think a tiny piece of me dies every time I go through this.

In this day and age it’s hard to decide which is worse: having an insecure password or suffering from a bad case of password insecurity.

By the way, if you stopped paying attention midway through because you were thinking about the Seinfeld episode, I don’t blame you. Why don’t you just treat yourself to the clip?  And hey, thanks for reading Many Pointed Things.

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Thanks for Nothing, Rob Reiner!

Brad and I recently decided that our older son, Ryan, is a perfect age to watch the movie Stand by Me. I drew on some scenes from it in a recent blog post called, “Good Question, Vern.” I was motivated to think about the movie for Ry when I reminisced about it in that blog.

I saw Stand by Me in the theater when it was out in 1986. I was fifteen. I loved it and everything about it. It was a great story with great characters and it was a wonderful example of friendships at that age. As a teen I was drawn to such movies, books and stories that highlighted enduring, positive and/or complicated friendships. I graduated high school in 1990, which means I lived at the busy intersection of Judy Blume Boulevard and John Hughes Highway.

As a kid I had incredible friends. I experienced friendships that uplifted me and entertained me, and that helped me identify and reinforce what was important to me. Sure, I got plenty of that from home–where there was no shortage of pleasant parent talks, stereotypical parent lectures and suuuuper clear expectations set. Obviously this is the bedrock of my formation. But I do not discount the role that my friends played in fortifying it. As an adolescent I and my peers believed we had the power and even responsibility to help each other do well. I talked about meaty things with my friends, such as who (not just what) we really wanted to be, and what we believed could derail us. These were our conversations, not homework or parent-led lessons.

Now that my son is in his first year as a teenager, he and his pals should begin to cover more emotional territory together. To be honest, it is actually harder for me to believe he is emotionally ready for that than it is to believe he is the tallest in our family and just about to enter high school. Whether my son and his friends know it or not, they will need important things from each other. They’ll need direction, validation, moral support, interpretation of signs, etc. I desperately want my guy to be able to deliver this for others and get it for himself. I want him and his friends to understand the magnitude of what they can all do for (or alternately, to) one another.

As Brad and I watched Stand by Me with Ryan I watched his responses to the action-oriented plot points (the railroad bridge, the barf-o-rama, mailbox baseball, leeches). I began to anticipate his reactions to the emotional plot points as well. They cry in front of each other. They tell each other they are okay even though their parents either ignore them or treat them like absolute disappointments. In one scene the boys watch with compassionate horror as their barely-stable friend (Corey Feldman, playing Teddy) endures an angry man screaming at him, mercilessly targeting the fact that Teddy’s  father is “crazy.” That’s a hard scene to watch.

The boys in the movie are shining examples of emotional support and friendship for each other. They are physically affectionate, throwing arms around each other in several scenes. The two closest and most mature friends (Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix) literally lean into each other for support in many scenes. One puts his head on the other’s shoulder and cries. Hard.

Strong boys.

Strong boys.

I lost entire portions of the movie just thinking about how great it was for Ryan to see all this. I fantasized conversations where I could suggest he reach out to someone in this way or that. And then I confronted the hard truth. Brad and I don’t get to direct him into being the kind of friend we want him to be. We’re stuck with what direction we’ve given to date. We’ll try to show by example and set expectations for what constitutes being a good friend. Then I guess we will watch attentively, seeking evidence one way or the other. Yes, indeedy. The feature presentation is coming soon to my home. Scenes of my firstborn son’s teen life will play out in front of my eyes, and even more of it behind my back.

No matter how badly we would like to get called to the set, these scenes between Ryan and his peers will no longer be scripted, produced, directed or edited by anyone but them. Not me. Not Brad. Not even Rob Reiner.

Come on! Where the hell is Rob Reiner when you need him?

Look! Here he is.

Actor, writer, director, producer Rob Reiner. Though I give him much credit for his many works, and I have pulled greatly from his 1986 movie

Actor, writer, director, producer Rob Reiner. Though I give him much credit for his many works, and I have pulled greatly from his 1986 movie “Stand by Me” in this and one other post, he has not yet signed on for any role in raising either of my sons. Thanks for nothing.

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Simple Letters

This happened to me recently. One morning an image caught my eye and my brain. The image has colors and textures and a simultaneously natural and purposeful arrangement. I found a powerful message in the image. The meaning was deeper because I felt it represented the heart and intentions of the person who created it.

I was seeing a photograph of the creation itself. It was a photograph posted to Facebook on the wall of someone I know. Or someone I “know.” Or someone I knew? I’m getting all caught up in the qualifying of our friendship, and it probably doesn’t matter. Fact is, I know someone who made this beautiful art and it spoke to me. It also made me think more deeply about how much this art represented the person I know, or knew or… See? I keep getting stuck on this “knew” or “know” thing. Maybe it does matter, so I’m delving.

I worked with this woman for less than one year in another state. It was seventeen years ago. Hang on while I check my math, because it seems I am off by at least half. I feel like maybe it’s been eight or nine years. Pause while I calculate using fingers. And toes. From both feet. Oh, my stars. It’s been 17 years. I’m going to need a minute to take that in.

Okay, so we knew each other 17 years ago and then we recently added one anther as Facebook friends. Whoa, there. Hey! Seriously, do you mind…? Get your eyeballs out of your eyelids, please. They’re going to get stuck and you won’t be able to read my blog. Fine. I’ll admit that because I have thrown Facebook into the mix and also used the word “friend”, I need to characterize it. We are not strangers, stalkers, frenemies or sisters. She is someone I was so, so happy to reconnect with on FB and whom I care about in that utterly sincere, “I hope she is doing well because I always liked and respected her” way.

When we knew each other I was in my mid-twenties and within my first few years of post-college career. I was a childless newlywed. She was a married woman with a career, and a mother of two. I saw her as a warm, smart, deep-thinking and talented person. She had adult responsibilities to keep and balances to strike, but she never made conversations with me feel like an upset to her balance striking. I just knew she was a busy woman with clear priorities. You know how sometimes you can tell that the moments someone spends on (or with) you are clicking away like a ticker for them? Even if they’re glad to be spending those moments with you, the opportunity cost is subconsciously being calculated. This was never the case with her. I wouldn’t have known the word for it then, but I retroactively declare her as “present.”

I think I watched her carefully, maybe curiously, without knowing it back then. I knew she represented some version of wifehood, womanhood, professional life and regular life that was ahead for me to some extent or other. She had a child with recurring health needs and we worked in a startup business that was in its own infancy. She left our shared workplace, making a job change to preserve her ability to prioritize her children’s and family’s needs without being second-guessed. I specifically remember recognizing and respecting her conviction when she shared with me not just that she was leaving, but why. It was a clear cut choice she was making to preserve her priorities. It was eye-opening for me. It was the first time I considered that as you forge a career you should have some position on how you intend to dance with your work and anything else in your life that matters to you.

Seventeen years later I have moved to another state. I made, left,  and am currently in search of a new career. I am nearing 20 years of marriage and my husband and I have two kids. Meanwhile, Facebook has become a thing and this former coworker friend and I are now reconnected via that forum. Seeing this woman and her posts and pictures in my feed gives me a reason to enjoy her joys or think about how talented she is, or how her priorities still seem so clear.

Which brings me back to this…

Terri Inouye_ItsOkay
Photo and art credit to Terri Jorth Inouye

Wow, right? She made this. The photo was taken by her and was of a work created by her: Terri Jorth Inouye. Double credits to her—one for the work of art that is the subject of the photo, and one for the photo itself. Terri’s Facebook post accompanying this image said “#artjournaling on a cold winter night”. As I said, it caught my eye because of its colors and textures. Then it caught my brain and made me think about the message.

You can’t and shouldn’t remove the message from its source, so I considered how directly this talented and deeply spiritual woman seems to apply this message to her life. Her Facebook feed tells the story of someone devoted to her faith and her priority to be well. I can see that she strives to be an affirming presence for the people in her life. I recall this from when I knew her in person, and liked her creation even more because it reflected such a beautiful thing in her. And then I kept thinking. I thought about the simple letters “it’s okay” appearing from within the clutter—glorious as it is with its beautiful colors and texture—to send a more simple, peaceful message than it initially seems will be taken from the busy look of it. That’s by design, I’m sure.

I considered how “it’s okay” is a message for everyday life, but the use of festive wrapping paper makes it applicable to occasions or holidays–where it is easy to be caught in decorations and the look of things and the busy-ness and the business of it all. These simple letters with the profound message holding its own within the beautiful chaos made me think. I certainly know it can be hard to believe “it’s okay” sometimes—especially if there is chaos. Perhaps even more so if the chaos arises out of something good (like holidays or special occasions), but that gets out of balance and begins to undermine itself.

See? All the thinking. Oh dear goodness, the thinking. I’m talking about the thinking that can be good, but that can get out of balance and begin to undermine itself.

I continued to think until I was moved to write instead. In writing I realized that the real value of my time thinking and writing about all of this was to reflect on this person. Certainly I did not start my day in search of a reason to appreciate a relatively brief but apparently meaningful presence in my life from 17 years ago. But the simple words, “it’s okay” beautifully and expertly placed within a piece of art changed my course. And so I had the inspiration (and the luxury) to take the long and reflective route from chaos to beauty; to varieties of friendships and the uniqueness of people’s gifts.

Wah dang. Of course now I realize a little too late that this really should be a letter to Terri. It should be a letter of admiration. Maybe I’ll just do this thing a little out of order and unplanned, and I’ll turn this into a letter to Terri right now. Without overthinking the transition. I won’t worry that this is a little chaotic and busy and winding to suddenly become a letter. Instead…I think it’s okay. Now I’ll change this to a letter by adding these two simple words:

Dear Terri.

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