Thursday, December 8, 2011

If Nobody's Perfect, Does That Mean I Don't Exist?

As a high school English teacher, some of the most basic lessons I teach are about the meaning and use of figurative language and rhetorical devices.  Nothing in my classroom gets met with more quizzical looks and questions than the concept of IRONY.

So what exactly is irony? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it as “the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning.”  This is the basic definition I try to impress upon my students.  But just to make things a bit more complicated, I also explore with my students the three basic forms of irony: Verbal, Situational, and Dramatic. 
Verbal Irony is the one we are most familiar with because it is often sarcastic and humorous, though it does not have to be either of those things.  It occurs when someone says something that is different from what they really mean, or different from what would be expected from someone in their situation.  In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet tells Paris that she loves him.  This is an example of (non-sarcastic) verbal irony because the “him” she is referring to is Romeo, but Paris thinks she means him (Paris). 
Situational irony occurs when the outcome of a situation is totally unexpected and not anticipated based on earlier events.  Continuing our use of Romeo and Juliet, in Act III Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished.  Juliet tells her mother that she wishes she could go to Romeo that night. This is situational irony because Juliet’s mother thinks that Juliet means to go to Romeo and kill him when, in fact, she wants to go to Romeo to be with him romantically.

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience or reader knows something that the characters do not, something which adds suspense or humor.  So in Act IV of Romeo and Juliet, we know that Juliet has taken a sleeping potion while all the other characters (except Friar Lawrence) think she is dead.

All of this is enough to confuse many high school students.  I admit, it is sometimes difficult to keep it all straight.  I often try to incorporate popular culture examples in my classes, so as to make the concepts a bit more accessible to the students.  When my students asked me to explain irony using the song “Ironic” by Alannis Morrisette, I cringed.  The only thing that is ironic about this song is that NONE of the situations that she presents in the song are, in fact, ironic.  
So why this 9th grade English lesson in a blog post? Well, it makes me INSANE when people misuse the term.  For example, as I was writing this post I popped on to Facebook for a moment and saw a picture of wet USPS mail posted by my husband’s cousin.  She explained in the caption of the photo that she had repeatedly asked her letter carrier to place her mail in her mailbox and to not just leave it on the ground.  She even went as far as showing the letter carrier where her mailbox was and how it opened so that her mail could be placed there.  However, her mail arrived wet and soggy because her letter carrier failed to place it in the mailbox and it happened to be raining that day.  This situation is ironic because she showed her letter carrier where her mail was supposed to be placed.  So the situation of her wet and soggy mail was not anticipated based on the earlier event of showing the letter carrier the mailbox.  Are you with me so far? Good.  There’s more.....
The wet mail and USPS letter
As part of the soggy mail, there was a letter from the USPS requesting that my husband’s cousin sign up to act as a “reporter” of sorts, providing the post office with details of her daily mail deliveries in an effort (I assume) to monitor and improve service.  Is that irony? While it is fortuitous, it is not ironic.  Now here comes my favorite part.....
I commented on this picture that I was writing this post about irony and that I was going to “steal” her story (which she gave me permission to do).  Another one of her friend ‘s commented after my comment: “talk about irony, that is funny!”  I couldn’t believe how “full circle” this had come.  THIS was the exact reason that I began writing this post.  My writing about irony and my husband’s cousin’s “wet mail incident” was simply a COINCIDENCE.  There is no element of irony there - unless you are Alannis Morrissette :)
It is a serious pet peeve of mine when vocabulary is misused.  As I always tell my students,  if you are unsure of a word’s meaning DON’T USE IT until you get clear on it.    I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who is upset by the improper grammar, punctuation (or lack thereof), and misuse of vocabulary that scrolls across the bottom of the television screen during the morning news.  I'll write more on the importance of good grammar later.  Check out this book - Eats, Shoots & Leaves - if you are interested now.  Now my husband will tell you that I’m just a psychotic English teacher and no one really cares about stuff like this.  To that I reply an emphatic (John McLaughlin style, for you old schoolers) WRONG!!!  The English language, while sometimes complicated, provides us with an amazing variety of words suitable to express anything and everything.  The key is knowing which words to use at which time.  I care about proper vocabulary use for two simple reasons:  first, other people will judge you based on the words that you use.  As unfair as it seems to (sort of) "judge a book by it's cover," it's true.  People will view you as more competent and intelligent when you speak with a good vocabulary.  Second, language and thought cannot be separated.  Try it.  Ask yourself a question and then try to think the answer without  thinking in words.  It's impossible.  Our brains use language to think.  So that means that a larger vocabulary gives our brain more tools.  In a way, a better vocabulary improves our ability to think.  

As you ponder my case for improving your vocabulary PROPERLY, and commit to memory the proper definition of irony, I leave you with some related pictures and stories.  Most are tragic, but all are ironic.

A very interesting book on this subject.  Though not apparent from the photo, the book is ironic because the title calls it a BIG book when, in fact, the book itself is small.  I also love the photo on the cover.

And, finally, a picture that should need no words.....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Move Over, Hot Sauce Mom!

“You do the best you know how.  And when you know better, you do better.”
~ Maya Angelou
This is one of my all-time favorite quotations.  It appeals to me because it has significance in an almost universal way.  I use this phrase often with my kids, in relation to their school work, friend situations, etc.  I’m sure they are sick of hearing it from me.  I think the reason it resonates with me, though, is because it implies that life is a continuous learning process.  My students often think that their education ends at graduation; but I know the truth is that graduation only represents the beginning.  
I have evolved as a wife and a mother.  Many of the truths that I held so dearly when I was pregnant almost sixteen years ago {GASP} with Allie, I have since abandoned.  Why? Because, at the time, I was doing the best that I knew how to do.  But when I learned a better way, or discovered a reason why I shouldn’t do “it” the way I was doing it, I changed it.  I knew better, so I did better.  I lived my life, gained experience from it, and adjusted my way of being and doing as a result.
I like to think of this quote when I think about my own upbringing.  Instead of thinking (as we all often do), “How could my parents do that to me???” I am now able to take comfort in the belief that my parents were simply doing the best they knew how to do.  They were not intentionally setting out to cause me pain or suffering, because I am confident that if they knew a better way to do it they certainly would have done so.

Here is great example:  My father is an accountant, the son of a couple of who lived through the depression, and, therefore, a great economist.  He is frugal, but in a quirky way.  As my brother likes to say, my father would be very willing to spend a million dollars on something that he perceived the value of to be in excess of a million dollars, but he will NOT spend a single dollar on something that he believes to be valued at only fifty cents.  The biggest sin you can commit, in my father’s eyes, is being wasteful.  When I was about seven years old, my favorite breakfast was my mother’s homemade waffles.  And while these waffles were delicious all alone, they were even more delicious covered in syrup.  Oodles and oodles of syrup, to be exact.  This was a thorn in my father’s side because, inevitably, there would be huge amounts of syrup left on my plate when I was finished eating.  So in my father’s infinite wisdom, he announced one day that I was welcome to continue taking as much syrup as I liked, as long as I used it all.  If there was any syrup left on my plate, I would be required to DRINK IT.  I chuckled at the thought, because, duh, he had to be kidding, right? Wrong.  The next weekend at breakfast, when I passed my syrup-ladened breakfast plate to be cleared from the table, my father called to my mother for a clean glass from the kitchen.  He proceeded to carefully pour all the excess syrup from my plate into the glass and then placed it in front of me saying, “Drink up!”  He was definitely NOT kidding.

I like to think that my father, in his own warped way, was trying to teach me a lesson in economics, and in living for that matter.  He probably did not intend to harm me emotionally in any way, which he did not.  However, only as an adult am I able to understand the lesson he was aiming for.  As a seven year old girl I simply thought he was mean and horrible.  Of course, when I bring it up now we both laugh about it.  I am hopeful that he is able to see that, while his intentions were good, his method was somewhat misguided.
That incident came to the forefront of my mind when I watched Dr. Phil on 11/17/10 and followed in the news the subsequent trial and conviction of Alaska mom Jessica Beagley, referred to in the media as “Hot Sauce Mom,” because of her forcing her son to pour hot sauce in his mouth as a method of discipline.  If you are not familiar with the show and/or case, here is a clip of the video that Beagley sent in to Dr. Phil.  Filming this video is one of her other five children, her 10 year old daughter.

The media has portrayed Beagley as a fame-seeking monster, who participated in such extreme discipline methods (she also forced the boy to take ice cold showers) in an effort to get on television.  But I prefer to liken her to my father (Waffle Syrup Dad???) and apply the Maya Angelou quote.  I like to think that this is a mother who was at the end of her rope, whose intention was good, who thought she was doing what was best for her son, but was misguided in her approach.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's The Thought That Counts

I posted on Facebook that I was working on a post about a “very controversial topic” and I meant it.  In asking questions of friends and family, never have I received more emphatic and emotionally charged responses than when I mentioned this topic: REGIFTING.

Merriam-Webster defines regift this way: “to give a gift that was previously received from someone else.” M-W also notes the first known use of the word in 1995, which is when “The Label Maker” episode of Seinfeld first aired (Season 6).  In this episode, Jerry is unable to use his two SuperBowl tickets so he gives them to Tim Whatley.  Tim sends Jerry a label maker as a thank you gift.  When Elaine sees the label maker at Jerry’s, she suspects that it is the same one she gave Whatley as a Christmas gift and calls him a “regifter.”

In these fiscally challenging times, regifting has gained some momentum.  The Emily Post “Etipedia” (a contraction of etiquette and encyclopedia) site says it is acceptable to regift under certain circumstances. Yet many people I spoke to remain VEHEMENTLY opposed to it.  They seem to feel that the regifter is thoughtless or cheap or both.

I asked my hairdresser about regifting while getting my hair done recently.  “You wanna know about regifting? Come here at Christmastime.  This shop is dead-end gift headquarters.”  She noted the odd and “mismatched” gifts she and her colleagues had received: giftcards (valid) but clearly leftover from other holidays (birthday themed, for example), food items past expiration dates, boxes with tiny remnants of the original gift-wrap visible, items in time-worn boxes, etc.
It’s interesting to note that many of the people in the salon that I questioned felt that receiving a re-gifted item, as long as it was new, in good condition, and not expired, was okay.  However, these same people swore that they themselves would NEVER regift something.
Here’s my take on re-gifting.....  I think it’s perfectly acceptable under certain circumstances:
  1. The gift is BRAND NEW and doesn’t look like it’s been sitting in your attic for years
  2. It’s something you think the recipient will really like (that is, you’re not giving it just for the sake of having something to give)
  3. It’s not something hand-crafted (a sweater knit by the original gifter) or personalized in any way (monogramed, for example)
  4. It is not expired in any way or otherwise outdated
I have regifted in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.  My family is very blessed.  Birthdays and Christmas often result in excessive amounts of “stuff” in my house.  “Stuff” that is of good quality, thoughtful, and age appropriate for my kids.  Why do I regift it? Because there are only so many board games my children can play with, only so many shirts or dresses they can wear, etc.  Regifting is forward-thinking, recycling.  It’s “green.”
Before you anti-regifters start shouting at me, consider this: how many times have you received a brand-new but inappropriate and thoughtless gift??? One Christmas my mother received a blouse as a gift.  It was brand new, tags attached, but not my mother’s taste. Thoughtfully enough, the gift-giver included a gift receipt.  My mother went to the store to return or exchange the blouse.  When she presented the clerk the gift receipt, she was informed that the value of the blouse was $1.99.  And that was WITH the gift receipt.  My mother is 65+ and the store the blouse was purchased from is frequented by women 25 - 40ish.  So the giver in this situation was both cheap and thoughtless and the gift was still brand new.
What do you think? What is your best/worst regifting story?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What's In A Name?

That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.  So says Juliet in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  In those two sentences, Juliet sums up the major struggle of the play.  But think about it, what really is in a name?  
Names are definitely important and some amount of thought is required when deciding on one..  Take Chevrolet, for example.  Widely considered a successful car company, the Chevy Nova stands out as one of the biggest flops in Latin American countries.  Why? Simple., it’s all in the name.  N-O-V-A, or in Spanish, “no va,” which translates to “it doesn’t go.”  Not exactly a stellar name for a car.
Those of us who have children will attest to the fact that picking a name for a baby can be a very daunting process.  There are all sorts of associations with names, positive and negative, that one must take into consideration.  If, like me, you are a teacher, there are only a limited number of names that you will not associate with a student, which can be both a blessing and a curse.  The usual process of naming a baby involves looking through lists of names (either in a book or on the internet) and making lists of the one’s that strike your fancy, including any family names, and then narrowing them down from there.  Or, I THOUGHT this was the normal process.....

Back in May, I blogged about the premiere episode of Pregnant in Heels, in which a young Manhattan couple came to terms with the arrival of their “life force sucking parasite,” later to be called Fox.  The second couple in that episode was even more ridiculous to me.  This couple, Samantha and Mitch, needed Rosie’s help in deciding on a name for their baby boy.  It turns out that Samantha is none other than Samantha Ettus, an author and personal branding expert who constantly referred to her baby’s name as “his brand.”  Since branding is sooooo important, she and Mitch did not want to take any chances in choosing the wrong name.
This was a new concept for me.  I’d never thought about a personal name as a “brand.”  Perhaps Cher, Sting, or Prince should come to mind, In all of those cases, though, the celebs themselves picked the name when they were older.  Then I picked up the 6/18/11 Wall Street Journal and read an article by Sameer Reddy entitled, “Branding the Baby.”  In this article, Reddy discusses the implications of high end adult designers producing lines of clothing made for children.  Burberry, Gucci, Fendi, and Lanvin have all launched children’s lines.  This December Donatella Versace will launch Young Versace.  Reddy states that “the temptation to see one’s child as an extension of one’s self is natural.....” (see my last blog post: Are You THAT Parent?)  Perhaps this is why Samantha was so concerned about naming her little guy. Maybe she was more concerned about what her baby’s name/brand meant for her than it did for him.
In fact, she was so concerned that she and hubby choose the right name for the baby that she had Rosie Pope convene a “dream team” of experts:  a baby name blogger, a linguistics expert, a poet, a Sr. Editor of “A Small World” network, and a Sr. Director of Landor (a branding company).  The purpose of this “think tank” was to come up with a list of names from which Samantha and Mitch would choose.  In addition, once the list of names was created, a focus group was convened to get people’s reactions to the list of favorites.  

A focus group??? Seriously??? Is this what people who have ridiculous amounts of money spend it on? And what kind of message does using a “think tank” and focus group send to a child?  I thought the message we are supposed to send our kids is “you are special because you are YOU.” Instead, Samantha and Mitch seem to be telling their son, “Hey, we aren’t too sure about you and your abilities, so we’re gonna try to give you a really great name to (possibly) cover up any flaws or deficiencies you might have.”  
What happens when this little boy asks how he got his name?  I can just imagine how that conversation might go:
Little Boy: Mom, how did you and Daddy decide on my name?
Samantha: Well, it was a name that the linguistics expert and
               poet both said would be strong and the focus group really
               responded well to it.
How touching! Am I crying yet?
I’m all for traditions when it comes to naming a baby.  In Jewish families, babies are often named after relatives who have passed on, and then they only use the first initial of the deceased relative.  So if Uncle Richard has passed on, a grandson might be named Reed in his honor.  Italian families (like mine) name after both living and deceased relatives.  It is considered a great honor to have a child (especially a grandchild) named for you.  
Coming up with a name for my little girl was one of the many joys associated with my last pregnancy.  My two older girls were old enough to participate in the process.  So the only “think tank” and focus group I employed were my children and husband.  Ultimately my daughter was named after my paternal grandmother, who is no longer with us.  The pride that I saw in my father’s eyes when we announced that his newest granddaughter would bear his mother’s name was priceless.
Ultimately Samantha and Mitch named their son Bowen.  It’s interesting to note that this name was one that they themselves came up with (not from the “think tank” and focus group) and that most everyone in the “think tank” and everyone in the focus group DISLIKED it.  Which begs the question, why did they even bother to go through the process (and waste the maternity concierge’s time) if they were going to go with their own idea anyway???
And if they really wanted to “brand” their baby, why not go with an established name with a solid history: Target and Fendi come to mind.  At least with a name like that they might be able to wangle some money for corporate sponsorship.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are You THAT Parent???

The Today Show was playing on my television set, as usual, while I made my bed this morning.  Also as usual, I paid only a bit of attention to it, here and there, as I was starting my day.  I turned to watch it when I heard Matt Lauer announce a segment about parents obsessing over their kids’ happiness.  This piqued my interest since I have kids and, of course, want them to be happy.  One of the guests was Lori Gottlieb, author of a very provocative article in The Atlantic entitled. “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.”  

In a nutshell, Gottlieb suggests that “by protecting our children from unhappiness as kids, we are depriving them of happiness as adults.”  An interesting premise, indeed.  Gottlieb presents an interesting argument, backed with logical and convincing support.  This got me thinking.... am I THAT parent? 
You know the kind I’m talking about, the parent who constantly praises their kid - even for the most ridiculous things (“I love the way you’re holding that book”), the one who signs their kid up for EVERY activity your school and/or community offer - regardless of the kid’s interest or ability, the one who defends their eight year old to the teacher who reports a fairly benign classroom incident, and states, “It seems to me that you just don’t like my son/daughter.”  This is the same parent who repeatedly “helps” their kid with important school projects (translation: completes the assignment for them), which can be confirmed by said kid bragging about such to classmates.  This boggles my mind.  Why do parents do this?  It just seems so crazy to me.  Do parents really want to save their kids from the unhappiness that would occur from failing? Or, do parents see their kids for as extensions of themselves and   are, therefore, unable to admit the faults of their kids because to do so would mean that they themselves are flawed? And, consequently, to have their kids experience unhappiness and disappointment results in their own unhappiness and disappointment.
immediately I thought of Janet Chiauzzi, the mother from Long Island who was recently arrested on stalking charges for threatening the coach of her son’s Little League team (and his wife and daughter) when her son failed to make the travel team.  Was she going WAY overboard in trying to prevent her eleven year old son from a little disappointment and unhappiness?  Could she be a mother with the best of intentions for her son, but clearly with a misguided sense of appropriate behavior? Or is she maybe she is just unable to admit that her son is not that good at baseball because to do so would be to admit that she herself is flawed in some way.  Clearly she’ll get no argument there.

As a high school English teacher I can confirm that most kids are not receptive to constructive criticism.  Many panic and “freak out” if their grade is not above a 90 on any assignment.  They complain that they don’t understand why they received the grade assigned, even when it is laid out for them in a grading rubric.  But the reaction of the parents is often worse than that of the student.  In fact, in my first year teaching, I had a student who was, shall we say, less than stellar.  She performed well when she put forth the effort, which was about 50% of the time.  Her mother “blew a gasket” when the grades coming home were less than she expected.  At parent-teacher conference night she confronted me, asking that I explain my grading process.  I pulled out several of her daughter’s pop quizzes.  These quizzes were designed to check if the student was completing the required reading assignments in that they asked only basic plot questions - no analysis.  Her daughter routinely scored a 1 out 5 on these quizzes.  This was meaningless to mom.  She insisted that her daughter was reading.  This mother was so upset with her daughter’s progress in my class that she call my assistant principal almost daily to complain about me.  I threw my hands in the air, baffled.
My very favorite story about a parent’s misguided defense of their kid comes from a retired college professor.  This professor assigned a research term paper to her freshman class.  Since this was back before the proliferation of the home computer and the internet (late 1980’s), she handed out a completed paper for the students to use as a sample of what she was looking for.  One of her students actually submitted THE SAME EXACT PAPER, retyped, as their own.  When the professor assigned a failing grade to the assignment, the student’s father called the professor to complain. The professor explained the situation (the fact that the student had copied the paper the professor handed out - CHEATED), Dad simply argued that he felt his son had gotten enough out of the assignment simply by reading and retyping the paper.  I kid you not, as the professor in this case is my mother.
I like to think that I’m not this kind of parent.  Sure, I tell my kids they do a good job when they tie their shoes, but only when they are first learning to tie them, not when they’re in high school.  Do I run to my kids when they fall? Of course I do.  I’m human.  However, I am well aware of what my kids are good at and what they’re not.  I don’t force activities that I prefer just because I like them.  I also don’t condone quitting midway through.  Case in point: when my daughter decided halfway through basketball season that she no longer enjoyed playing, she played through the end of the season, as her step-father and I reminded her that she made a commitment to the team and needed to to honor it.  We discussed it.  And to us, that is really the most important part.  We didn’t “make” her continue with basketball per say.  We did “strongly suggest” it, and we explained why.  She told us what she was upset and concerned about.  We discussed ways to deal with those feelings (not avoid them).  She understood why we felt it was important to honor her commitment and agreed.  The rest, as they say, is history.  

A wise friend once told me that it’s okay to feel a feeling; and just because you feel it doesn’t mean that you become it.  You may feel like a disappointment to your parents (and yourself), but that doesn’t make you an actual disappointment.  The feeling will pass, you will survive, and the world will not end.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Golden Girls Wisdom

This father's day made me think of these quotes from the Golden Girls, both uttered by the late Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak:
"Being a mother isn't easy.  If it were, father's would do it."
"That's what fathers do.....they yell and they barbecue.  That's what separates them from the apes." 
Happy Father's Day to all!

Friday, June 10, 2011

My (Failed) Clutter Experiment

I’ll admit it, I have a clutter problem - i HATE clutter.  But here’s the problem: I have a husband and three kids.  My youngest is just 16 months, so she gets a “pass” on being part of the problem.  Hubby and the older two, well there’s no nice way to say this, they are SLOBS.  The result is we are all often miserable.  Them, because I am constantly on them to pick up AND put away their belongings.  Me, because I am constantly running around my house picking up after everyone else, which is frustrating and time-consuming.

Why am I so obsessed with clutter? A few reasons.  First, I hate the way it looks.  As soon as a guest walks into my house, I begin to see my home through their eyes.  Piles of papers that seemed to blend into the background before, suddenly become a major focal point - and source of embarrassment for me. I like to see clean surfaces.  Second, clutter-free surfaces make me feel good.  A clear kitchen counter actually makes me happy.  It says “come be creative here,” or “why don’t you make an amazing meal for you family here,” to me. It’s inviting, it calls me to use it.  When my counter is covered with “crap,” it says, “don’t bother - just order in,” to me.  Third, clutter makes me feel stressed out.  It’s like a looming “to do” list.  Seeing piles of stuff everywhere reminds me of everything I have to do (like pay bills).  Finally, I learned that everything that I innately feel about clutter has roots in Feng Shui.

I found a simple definition for feng shui on’s “Feng Shui 101” page: “an ancient art and science developed over 3,000 years ago in China.  It is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure the health and good fortune of people inhabiting it.”  My husband is of the opinion that this is all BS, but I feel differently.  
About two years ago I enlisted the help of a professional Feng Shui consultant - Ann Bingley Gallops of Open Spaces Feng Shui.  Ann revealed to me that there is good reason for me to be so stressed out by clutter.  Clutter can make you feel stuck because it prevents the flow of “chi,” or energy. Together, Ann and I went over my space (home) in detail and discussed some of the nuances of Feng Shui and how they applied to my home and life.  Clearing clutter was a critical part of her suggestions, and not just paper clutter.  For example, in the soffit above my kitchen cabinets I had an extensive collection of wicker baskets.  Ann suggest I remove them.  Since they are made of wood they are easily burned by the fire element that is so strong in a kitchen.  I did remove them and the space instantly felt “lighter.”  Other suggestions Ann made included wall color selections (reds in our “fame and reputation area), removing books from the master bedroom (too much stimulation for what is supposed to be a serene and intimate sanctuary), and ways to disguise a staircase that runs through the center of the house (affects the health and finances of the family).

Anyway, clutter is a never-ending battle when you have kids (and a husband).  I am the one who constantly runs around picking up after everyone, trying to keep the clutter in check.  So as an experiment, I decided to stop picking up after everyone else, with the exception of the baby.  For three days, I picked up only my own things and those of the little munchkin and let everyone else’s clutter accumulate.  This was no small task.  It took every ounce of strength I had to fight the urge to “tidy up.”  My kitchen countertops became inundated with papers - school stuff, mail, junk.  I often had to leave the room in order to regain my composure and prevent myself from hyperventilating.  
After three days, I declared my experiment a complete and total failure.  Why? Because NO ONE noticed that I had stopped cleaning up.  Not one member of my household commented that things were looking out of control.  No one even tried to pick up their accumulated junk to get it out of the way.  72 hours was my maximum threshold for clutter accumulation - and probably also for my elevated blood pressure.  When I announced to my family that I had been conducting this experiment they looked at me, puzzled.  My eleven year old said, “Well, now I have room to do my homework in the kitchen again.”  Gee, thanks.....

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Who's More Foolish.....

.....the fool, or the fool who follows him?  This is one of my favorite movie quotes. In Star Wars: Episode IV, Han Solo calls Obi-wan Kenobi a “damn fool” and Obi-wan retorts with the quote, above.  This quote came to mind when I was thinking about this blog post simply because I am not sure which one I am - the fool or the fool who follows him.  The “him” in this case is Gary, of Gary’s Gutter Service in Congers, NY.

How did I come to know of Gary?  Here’s the first cable television commercial I saw:

My husband and I were hooked when we saw this.  First, we couldn’t help but notice the “homage” this spot gives to the sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Gary uses a similar font and similar style of rap.  Second, while we both literally “lol”ed, we also felt embarrassed for him, and as my daughter was quick to point out, his kids (if he has any).  Who came up with this “theme” for the commercial?  Probably the same guy who came up with this one:

What’s with the sitcom theme, Gary???

I wonder what the statistics are on new customer generation from these types of ads.  I can tell you that my HVAC contractor here on Staten Island had a commercial on cable (no singing or dancing - very respectable) and his secretary told me that they did not get a single new customer from it.  She said that many established customers called to say they saw it and how much they liked it, but no new customers. Maybe they would have gotten new customers if they followed Gary's lead.

These commercials remind me of the reason I watch American Idol: to see people make fools of themselves.  I rarely watch Idol to the end of the season.  I only enjoy watching the embarrassing lack of talent slowly eating up their fifteen minutes of fame.  I'm just wondering, though, what possesses people to do such things?  Is Gary's BFF sitting at his computer, watching these commercials and saying "Dude, these are awesome!  You are gonna get a ton of business from this!"  If so, Gary, you need to find different friends!  Maybe Gary is a guy with a sense of humor, the kinda guy who doesn't mind making a fool of himself.  Maybe he made these commercials DESPITE his wife and kids and BFF begging him not to expose them like that on television.  If so, then more power to you Gary! But either way, please keep these gems coming!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Forty IS Fabulous

There, I've said it.  I'm the big 4 - 0.  Yesterday was my fortieth birthday.  And I truly could not be happier.  I could be coy, and lie (maybe a little bit more each year) about my age, but that is not my truth.  The truth is, no matter how you slice it, whether you use "old math" or "new math," I am forty years old.

In having attained forty years, I have experienced my fair share of triumphs and tragedies.  But all that I have lived through has been the greatest learning experience.  Looking back on my twenties, I realize that I didn't know much at all about life - but I was a quick learner.  By the time I was thirty, I was certain that I had it all figured out.  But thirty-one through thirty-nine taught me that I had only reached the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  I can tell you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, now that I have reached forty, there is still plenty more to learn, to live, and to experience.  

According to the CDC, the average life expectancy for women in the US is just under 78 years of age - which means I'm more than half way there!  As I am now aware of the fact that there are more days behind than there are ahead, it is near impossible not to reflect back on my life.  Scanning through both major and minor events, I cannot help but think, "Has my life meant anything thus far?"  The following poem (often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, though some speculate that to be incorrect) has helped me to answer that question:

What Is Success?

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived,
This is to have succeeded.

At forty, I can declare myself a success based on Emerson's criteria.  Can you?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Is Your Truth?

I have started and stopped writing this post for the past four days.  At first, I wanted to write about accepting ourselves for who we are.  I planned to use my father as a prime example.  His hearing is not what it used to be.  In fact, it’s not even half as good as it used to be.  It has become so poor that he actually convinced my mother to celebrate Mother’s Day a week later this year so that when we had our usual dinner out in a restaurant, it would not be as loud and busy.  This actually backfired on Dad, as May is also communion “season,” and the restaurant we ate at had two parties running concurrently.  I planned to call that post “What Interferes With Your Quality of Life?”

Then, I was distracted by a custody battle a friend is currently going through.  This got me thinking even more about the concept of  “quality of life.”  I began to contemplate  how one goes about proving to a judge that one parent can provide a better quality of life for a child than the other parent can.  This can be a very sad situation, since essentially you participate in character annihilation of a person who you, presumably, once loved - or at least you thought you did.  So now you have to confront the choices you’ve made, and perhaps your lack of ability when it comes to such choices.  You do this, of course, to the mother/father of a child you adore and have to come to terms with the idea of hating this person, yet at the same time, putting on a happy face for the child or children involved.  Very few people can accomplish this.  Most of the time, the kids (depending on their ages) can tell you EXACTLY what caused the rift between their parents, and what each parent has said about the other  - both directly to them and to other adults when they thought the kids weren’t listening.  I was going to call that post, “How Do You Measure Your Quality of Life?”

Finally, I watched Oprah’s two part interview with author James Frey.  You’ll recall  that he is the author who was “disgraced” when it was revealed that his book, A Million Little Pieces was actually not the no-holds-barred memoir that it was published as, and was, in fact, a novel “based on” his own personal experiences but with many embellished details.  Many felt that this left Oprah with egg on her face, as she had chosen the book as one of her very popular “Oprah’s Book Club” selections.  The show featured clips of the original show, where Oprah had Frey on to discuss his memoir, as well as clips from the follow up show where Frey was taken to task for duping the American public.  Following Frey’s admission, subsequent copies of the book were printed with a “note to the reader” from Frey in which he clarifies the nature of the story he had written.  This got me thinking about the concept of  “truth” and managed to pull all of my ideas together.  

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines truth as “sincerity in action, character, and utterance; the state of being the case.”  In the case of James Frey, it can be argued that his book was NOT “the case.”  It can also be argued, however, that there was sincerity in its intention.  Frey explains in the “note” that the work is a “subjective truth, altered by the mind of a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.  Ultimately, it’s a story, and one that I could not have written without having lived the life I’ve lived.”

isn’t our entire existence on this planet part of our own subjective truth?  Ask three witnesses to a crime to describe the incident and you will probably end up with three different versions of the same story.  Since we constantly see life through the lens of our own life experiences, our position cannot be anything but subjective.  So my Dad’s creation of fake holidays helps him maintain his truth - that there is nothing wrong with his hearing.  Anyone involved in a custody battle is able to maintain their truth of being the “better parent,” even if it means picking apart the character of their former partner and manipulating details, because getting custody of the kids is what is important.  And Frey is able to maintain his truth, that while his book is not a 100% factual account of his experience, it is the reality of his addiction (as he told Larry King) and the message of the story is what is truly important.

We all play this game.  We tell ourselves: taking something from a retail store is not stealing when the cashier failed to ring it up properly at the register, adjusting the number of your age or weight is not lying when you look younger or thinner than the actual number reveals.  This is our truth, as we see it.  So think about it,  what “subjective truths” do you tell yourself?