Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ummmm ...

I can't think. I spent the day furiously writing various pieces of text for memos and faculty senate position papers and class assignments, and failed to write at least one recommendation letter that I had promised. I performed twice -- once at a instructional development luncheon for faculty led by the Honors College, and then six hours later at the annual "best movies of the year" presentation Noel and I give to the students. We both have contracted numbing colds, and one of our bathrooms has developed disturbing plumbing projects. It looks like the digital broadcast of Lost from our local ABC station, which we TiVoed during our movie lecture, is pixelated and scrambled beyond all recognition, which is going to make it difficult for Noel to blog the show for the T.V. Club.

Snow is falling outside, and I'm all out of words. I think I'll fold some laundry, and try to figure out whether I would like school to be closed tomorrow or not. And hoping that all the good health and stuff-going-right vibes have moved up to Chicago for the duration, so that my dear friend can welcome his first baby into the world, sometime today or tomorrow, with nothing but joy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Finder of lost jewelry

It has suddenly become the Month of Lost Earrings around here. I tend to prefer earrings without fancy clasps -- just beads on a U-wire -- and that means that I lose them fairly regularly. Over the last year I lost two that Ali made for me, ones that were just to my taste, too. I search for them in my clothes and bedding and so forth (sometimes I wake up in the morning with only one earring on, having forgotten to take them off the night before), and when they don't turn up I resign myself to their loss.

But since I am a packrat, I never get rid of the other half of the pair. As of two weeks ago, I consolidated all the single earrings in my collection into one pocket in my hanging jewelry holder, having grown tired of seeing them all hanging out one by one in their own pockets, forlornly -- or perhaps accusingly -- reminding me of my negligence.

And then as soon as I did that, the lost earrings started turning up. First up was one that Ali made me out of beads Dave brought back from Peru. I was standing at the receptionist's desk in the department when I suddenly glanced down and saw the other earring. Who knows how long it had been sitting there? I lost it months ago, and somebody found it -- either then or much later -- and turned it in at the office. Bingo -- one pair reunited.

Then tonight I was clearing off the sofa after the kids went to bed, and I overturned a teacup that Cady Gray had filled with loose change ("cat food"). Digging change out of the cushions, I came up with an earring I lost even longer ago -- maybe as much as a year. Time to pluck its mate from the Pocket of Mismatched Baubles and restore the pair to dignity.

I hope the other three still languishing there benefit from this run of luck. A couple of my favorites are in there -- the elegant antiqued silver and red beads that Libby got me a few Christmases ago, the wooden blocks I brought back from Korea. Probably what triggered the wayward sheep to return to the fold, though, is that I finally broke down and bought earrings from awesome Etsy seller 579 Jewelry (co-owner Sarah knitblogs here) to replenish my stash. They share my taste for non-ostentatious pendant-style beaded earrings (even if a lot of theirs are a bit too long for me), and man, the price is right (everything's $5, $7, or $9 -- shipping included!).

Having received my three pair last week ($11!), and reunited another two pair (both gifts -- free!), it's almost like I doubled my earring inventory without even trying. Easy to do at these prices.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Of football and feminism fatale

Time once again for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Letter Of The Week! Today's installment: Let us learn the lessons of Tony Romo before it is too late for our country.

More than game at risk

The recent Cowboy loss is all the more fitting and ironic amid the Jessica Simpson controversy as America’s team falls victim to the distraction concept.
To whatever degree one believes this factored in their defeat, or did not, two things stand out. One is that while with her, Tony Romo’s mind was not on the game. Two, she put her career above his. Both these smack of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s, now in its second generation.
All this comes as we prepare to elect the first woman president, born of the same era. We have since then elevated and promoted the influence of women. I saw in the Dallas-New York Giants game how that can affect events, and this has far more reach than the sports arena as alluded to earlier.
We are headed in the same direction and, in my view, with the same results, with social balance at stake instead of a playoff game.


Monday, January 28, 2008

It's sweater weather

Today's post celebrating unstuckness is at Toxophily. Check out my new TV Club entries on the rather exciting AMC series Breaking Bad, too. If that's not enough reading to hold you for one day, I'm going to have to direct you to Noel's mammoth B volume Popless essay this week (The Beatles! Belle and Sebastian! The Beautiful South! Beck! The Beach Boys!), and ask you to please check in tomorrow, by which time I hope to have restocked.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Requiescat in pace

Less than a week after Noel returned to us, he's off again -- and this time on a somber errand. His stepfather's father died last night after a short hospitalization. The memorial service is Wednesday in Nashville.

Alexander McDowell Smith, a retired stockbroker and an avid follower of the markets, was gracious enough to welcome me and our children into his extended family. He and his wife had no biological grandchildren, and so they embraced the children of their son's wife. They were generous always. I'm glad I got to know them in the years before illness began to claim their vitality.

Archer's middle name is Alexander, after Noel's stepfather, Alexander McDowell Smith, Jr. -- and therefore after his stepgrandfather as well. We were proud to carry on that name for them. This is a picture of the three generations of Alexanders, taken at Christmastime 2001. We'll miss you, Pops.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Moments out of time

The Skandies are upon us. This is the third 2007 critic's poll for me, but it's the one that takes the most effort and therefore has the most interesting results. Every category must have ten entrants, and each entrant has to be awarded some share of a hundred point total. Because of this weighting, the results break down into interesting statistics beyond the tabulated totals -- check out this bewildering array of numbers.

But the best part of the Skandies is the best scene category. Here's my ballot for this year:

  • "Pop! Goes My Heart" video, Music and Lyrics 15
  • "That's How You Know", Enchanted 15
  • "You Can't Stop The Beat", Hairspray 15
  • Confrontation at Funland, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters 15
  • On the beach, Atonement 10
  • Overwhelmed in the park, Paris je t'aime 10
  • "Epiphany", Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 5
  • "When Your Mind's Made Up", Once 5
  • Anton Ego's Proust moment, Ratatouille 5
  • Naked skateboarding, The Simpsons Movie 5
That's five musical numbers and five non-musical scenes. Think I enjoyed the musicals this year?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kindergarten, here we come

For about the last year, we've been lamenting a change in Arkansas law pushing back the age eligibility date for kindergarten enrollment in the public schools. We first heard about it in this news story (I quote the relevant section):
The House approved SB 217 by Sen. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann, which would raise the minimum age for students enrolling in kindergarten.

"This makes the children a little bit older and we feel a little more ready for kindergarten," said Rep. David Cook, D-Williford, who presented the bill to the House.

Under the legislation, a child would need to be at least 5 years old by Sept. 1, 2008, to enroll in kindergarten in the fall of 2008.

A child would have to reach the minimum age by Aug. 15, 2009, to enroll in kindergarten that year. Beginning in 2010, a child would have to be 5 years-old by Aug. 1 to enroll in kindergarten in the same year.
Cady Gray will turn five on August 25, 2009. As reported, she would not be eligible to enroll in kindergarten because she was still four on August 15, the cut-off date.

This was depressing news for us. In mid-March of last year, when we heard about it, Cady Gray was already beginning to read, although not yet to write or understand math. As the year went on and she entered preschool, she continued to make progress. Now at age 3 and a half, she can read books at what I would estimate to be (from the level of homework Archer brings home) at least a first grade level. (She's been reading Tales of Oliver Pig and Tales of Amanda Pig to me and to herself, fluidly with expression.) In other words, literacy-wise she's even more precocious than he was -- and her comprehension is better than he's able to achieve at age 6. She's started to be interested in math, too -- her standard "math fact," 1+2=3, was joined in her recitation this morning by 2+2=4 and 2+3=5 (confirmed by Archer as correct, to her great delight). I have no doubt that by August 2009, she's going to be more than ready to enter kindergarten, if not to skip right into first grade. But the state was going to send her to preschool one more year.

This morning was the registration day for the next year of her preschool at the university's early education demonstration program. I filled out the forms last night, reluctantly checking the box for the three-days-a-week, because she would need to be in position to move up to the five-day class the following year. Then another parent who teaches at the university called me this morning.

"What class are you going to put Cady Gray in?" she asked.

"The Monday-Wednesday-Friday one," I replied. "I hate to hold her back, but she needs to stay in preschool an extra year because she won't be 5 yet on the cutoff date."

"That's what I thought, too," she said. "But when I asked my son's teacher yesterday, she went and pulled out a form that showed that September 1 is be the cutoff date for 2009."

This was strange news -- the first I'd heard of it. If it were true, then Cady Gray could enter kindergarten on the exact same schedule as Archer. "Let me call Archer's school and ask if that's right," I said.

To my surprise, the office at the elementary school confirmed it -- with the caveat "unless the state changes it." Considering that as official a statement as I was likely to get, I quickly called Noel and told him to change Cady Gray's registration to the five-day class.

Googling around for some official notice of the change, I found this page from the Cabot school district. Their list moved the cutoff dates back, but on a schedule a year later than the House bill that was passed. So for 2009, the year Cady Gray turns five on August 25, students have to be five by September 1. For 2010, the date is August 15, and for 2011, it's August 1.

It looks like the Senate may have changed the bill to take effect a year later than originally planned. In any case, unless something else changes in between now and then, it looks like Cady Gray is going to slide into kindergarten right before the drawbridge goes up.

I was having trouble imagining what Cady Gray was going to do for the third year of preschool ... much less for the first year of kindergarten thereafter. I don't want to claim that she's so incredibly special that the rules should be suspended for her. If anything, I'm a proponent of following the rules even when they put you at a disadvantage, because I get frustrated with everybody thinking they're a special case. Others told us that we ought to investigate getting her tested so that she could enter early, but that idea rubbed me the wrong way.

So I'm relieved and happy that she's going to be moving on up into formal schooling in two years. She's going to be just as ready as Archer was academically, and far more ready socially. It feels today a little bit like she got escorted to the head of the line, and I feel like keeping her motivated and engaged will be much easier.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My Dinner With Michael

Paul C. tagged me for the My Dinner With _______ meme. Here are the rules:

1. Pick a single person past or present who works in the film industry you would like to have dinner with. And tell us why you chose this person.

2. Set the table for your dinner. What would you eat? Would it be in a home or at a restaurant? And what would you wear? Feel free to elaborate on the details.

3. List five thoughtful questions you would ask this person during dinner.

4. When all is said and done, select six bloggers to pass this Meme along to.

5. Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre, so people know the mastermind behind this Meme.

I hope Paul wasn't looking to be surprised, because my dinner guest choice isn't going to shock anyone.

  1. I'd invite Michael Powell, the filmmaker whom I came to know first through a used-bookstore purchase of the first volume of his autobiography, A Life In Movies. Entranced by his romantic, aspirational, art-for-art's-sake vision of film's purpose and possibilities, I devoured the movies he made with his collaborator Emeric Pressburger wherever and whenever I could find them. Ever since, he's represented to me the filmmaker's filmmaker, the director who pursued a singular vision with an incredible set of collaborators (including actor Roger Livesay and cinematographer Jack Cardiff) whom he fashioned into an instrument for transmitting his genius.

  2. Powell was an Englishman through and through. So I'd want to sit down with him at a cafe in a vacation spot like Bath, and have tea. Yep, a proper English tea with biscuits and cakes and such. And because I'm magnanimous like that, I'd invite his wife Thelma Schoonmaker to come along. Seems like she might have some stories to tell, too. Because I wouldn't want to be underdressed compared to my guests -- Powell was usually seen in a three-piece tweed suit -- I'd have to get myself a sharp but cozy fitted wool suit with a pencil skirt that falls just below the knee.

  3. Five thoughtful questions? Here we go:
    1. What filmmaker working in 2008 comes closest to achieving what you tried to achieve?
    2. If you were creating a film scored entirely to rock music, what musician or musicians would you like to employ?
    3. If you could adapt one novel for the screen, what would it be?
    4. What's your ideal for non-fiction film? What characteristics would you expect to find in the perfect documentary?
    5. You seemed to make movies for yourself first. What's your opinion of the movie-going public? Who is your ideal audience, and what consideration does a filmmaker need to give to his audience?

  4. Hey, following six people! Give us your version!
    1. Mark at Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema
    2. Keith at Candy Cigarettes
    3. Stevie at Keep It Like A Secret
    4. Whit at Voices From The Depths Of The Cultural Coil
    5. Victor at Rightwing Film Geek
    6. Bri at Have Goggles, Will Fly

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another milestone recorded

Archer lost his first tooth!

It's been wiggly for more than a week, and I was sure it would come out before Noel got back from Sundance. But, as he described it tonight after an anxious few moments in which we thought he'd swallowed it, "My tooth just came out after I took a big bite of my sandwich!"

You can't always count on such cogent communication from the little alien who lives among us. As an example, I offer another in a series of Postcards From Archer's Brain. This is what I found on his Scrabble board last Sunday after naptime:

"Order what you want ... Pepsi God ice." What do you think it means?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thank heaven Dad will be home soon*

At the Mexican restaurant, after I cut up Archer's quesadilla into four somewhat ragged pieces:

Archer: (quietly accusatory) Dad doos [does] a good job cutting up.

Me: (masochistically) What kind of job did I do?

Archer: (magnanimously) You can do better next time.

*Also because I will be forced to start writing actual entries again, instead of just Kid Updates. However, please see actual entry written during Sundance for counterpoint.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Coincidentally, I am knitting a sweater

Song Archer sang on the way home from our office-lunch-office-supply-store morning time filler:

I am trying to knit a sweater for my teddy bear
I am starting in 1976
I am fixing it, I am making it real good
I would be finished in 1996

Imaginary computer game dialogue Archer intoned while putting his pajamas on:

Icebergs do not eat people. However, in the game, they do.

You cannot buy the internet. The internet is free and not in the store. You still need the internet.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What I learned today

After Sunday school, a worship service, and the annual meeting that followed:

Archer: Mom, we stayed at church for four and a half hours. [An accurate accounting, by the way.]

After a trip to the indoor playground in which a child jumped on the merry-go-round while it was still moving:

Cady Gray: Mom, that little girl at Playworld did not wait her turn.

After the kids sat at the dinner table together while I was still bringing food and utensils to the table:

Archer: Mom, Cady Gray needs to stop telling me rules.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Save the date

Today's post -- glove and gift news -- is over at Toxophily. And check out Amanda's Archies list! Brief Archer anecdote follows.

It's happened before, but it's always somewhat alarming. When you have a boy who organizes his consciousness through numbers -- time, date, temperature, weight, height, Tetris score -- eventually he's going to say things like this:

"I died at October 19th, 2095."

Those who've heard Archer's halting attempts at original utterances will understand that it took him about thirty seconds of stopping, starting over, and pausing in the middle to get through that short sentence. And you can imagine how relieved I was when he finally got the year out.

I told him that date would be just fine.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Trying to be the antidote

As soon as I finished the title essay of George Saunders' collection The Braindead Megaphone, I knew that I wanted all my students to read it. I can't think of a more timely call to communicate well -- and to refuse to settle for the media status quo.

Saunders is one of my favorite writers. I rarely go a week without thinking about or saying the phrase "celebrating my preferences," the disturbing organizing principle of his stealth sci-fi short story "My Flamboyant Grandson." It's an example of Saunders' ability to encapsulate in a pithy, evocative concept aspects of our culture that are hard to describe -- in this case, the mandate from the advertising industry to define ourselves by our consumption -- and "The Braindead Megaphone" coins a phrase that's just as vital to understanding this early twenty-first century moment.

I gave the essay to two different groups of students this week, and asked them to identify Saunders' main points. The responses I got showed that his description of the sea of media in which they swim had hit a chord. "Media make us dumb," they said. "Journalistic responsibility is in decline. Truth is buried by trivia."

When I asked them if they were victims in this process, innocent bystanders, or part of the solution, they uniformly argued that they were part bystander, part antidote. They aren't fooled that Brittney Spears is actually important despite the tons of ink and airtime devoted to her, so they've escaped the trap; they're too busy as college students to watch much TV anyway, so they feel removed from the problem.

Yet when I inquired what it meant to be the antidote against what Saunders calls the "Megaphonic tendency" of the mass media -- its need to shout over any other substantive conversations that might be going on, to force us to respond to it against our will, to reduce all information to its entertainment and therefore monetary value, to move us as a population away from careful thought and toward anxiety and sloganeering -- the students were stumped. They had expended their attention agreeing that the media is in the toilet, and failed to notice (or perhaps preferred not to notice) that Saunders was expecting them to do something about it.

I directed their attention to the last page of the essay, and instructed them to bind these words upon their foreheads and their upper arms and their doorposts, to meditate on them day and night, as I have done since I read them, as I do every time I prepare for class or read student work, as I do every time I sit down to write in this blog, poor as it may be. And, I dare say, as you should do, dear reader, because you are somewhere and at some time a writer, a responder, a person with a keyboard connected to the greatest publishing apparatus ever built.
Every well-thought-out rebuttal to dogma, every scrap of intelligent logic, every absurdist reduction of some bullying stance is the antidote. Every request for the clarification of the vague, every poke at smug banality, every pen stroke in a document under revision is the antidote.
This battle, like any great moral battle, will be won, if won, not with some easy corrective tidal wave of Total Righteousness, but with small drops of specificity and aplomb and correct logic, delivered titrationally, by many of us all at once.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Keeping track

In case you want to know what a film critic does at the Sundance Film Festival, Noel's keeping a diary on the A.V. Club site. Short answer: trudge on frostbitten feet from press screening to press screening, pausing occasionally for a microbrew. More exciting, less truthful answer: rub elbows with the glitterati and wield godlike influence over the tastemakers of the nation. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, life at La Hacienda del Murray is still functioning smoothly, even as I flit anxiously from home to work and back again to fulfill all my duties and still relieve my mother-in-law of the childcare duties for a few hours a day. Archer got three good-as-gold stickers yesterday, a feat of which he was very proud, but today his shirt was devoid of gilt. I ascertained that he hadn't had to "change his card" (that is, he hadn't been given a demerit), but he wouldn't tell me why he didn't get any commendations. Sometimes, living with an autistic kid is like a preview of living with a teenager, communication-wise.

Still, we're glad to talk with him about anything he likes, which is usually some kind of measurement. The questions that drive Archer are: What is my score? What time is it? How many more minutes before the next thing happens? And lately: What is the temperature outside?

About a dozen times a day, we'll be bombarded with requests for the weather report and forecast. Merely local conditions do not suffice this week, however. The typical conversation with Archer goes like this. (Note: early in the morning after I've just watched the Weather Channel, my answers are fairly accurate, but they become wilder and wilder guesses as the day goes on.)

A: Mom, what is the temperature outside right now?
M: 35 degrees.
A: And what is the high temperature going to be today?
M: 41 degrees.
A: And what is the low temperature going to be tonight?
M: 25 degrees.
A: And what is the temperature in Utah? ... etc.

If he can get the numerical conditions that represent these key locations triangulated in his head, he says, "Okay!" with his inimitable delighted drawl, or perhaps a perky yelp. And his world is in order for another hour or so.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

She lives to dance

Note: While Noel is in Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, this blog will consist mainly of Cute Things The Kids Do, in order to make him feel maximum affection for the home he's left behind.

Who knows where kids pick up the conventions of their culture?

When I got home today, Archer and Cady Gray were (as has been their custom recently) planning a picnic in the kitchen. As soon as I arrived, Archer announced excitedly that there would be dancing at the picnic, and Cady Gray enthusiastically ordered us all back to her room for a dancing lesson.

She stood on her little stepstool and took on the role of teacher.

"Nahhhw claahhhhhhss," she intoned, elongating her mouth as much as she could, "the first daahhhnce move is twirling one tahhhhhme."

She was the very picture of an aristocratic, vaguely European dance teacher, all patrician accent and artistic temperament. Where she picked up that stereotype of a dance teacher, I can only guess -- some TV show she watched, no doubt.

I must admit that by the time I was being told to "raaahhhck it ten tahhhhhmes," the illusion had worn off just a bit. But there's still something charming about the perpetuation of a classic comic stereotype by a three-year-old girl. Perhaps our shared cultural heritage of character types will continue for another generation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cops no more

I read this quirky little article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sunday edition (1/13/08) with a delighted smile on my face. Tucked away on an inside page of the equivalent of the Metro section, it turns out not to be news at all, but a witty, compelling feature about the committee that decides whether to take away police officers' certification after they've screwed up.

I knew that we had a winner at this paragraph:
Listening to law-enforcement professionals talk about crimes and investigations to other law-enforcement professionals is a little like listening to police reports read aloud, verbatim. A lot of it is police-ese like “this particular individual” and “exited the vehicle” and “became aware during the course of our investigation” and “took an aggressive posture.”
Ahhhh ... a writer with an excellent grasp of the rhetorical power of the list of particulars, one of my favorite stylistic devices. (Plus I'm inordinately fascinated by exactly the kind of language he quotes, the kind that plaintiffs and defendants on those daytime syndicated court shows like Judge Judy throw around all the time because they think it sounds all legal and stuff.)

It's nice to find a hidden gem in the local paper, a story that's neither hard news nor soft feature but somehow fascinating in that neither-fish-nor-fowl way, written with verve and an eye for the telling detail. Check it out, and set up a Google alert for Jacob Quinn Sanders (apparently recently arrived from Portland) -- even if a lot of his assignments are generic police-beat fare, there are bound to be more offbeat wonders on the way.

Monday, January 14, 2008

On the verge

My life is logistics. Today I met with both my classes for the first time -- an occasion that always entails a pageful of scribbled notes about e-mails I need to send, rota I need to set up, schedules that need completion and clarification, and the odd student or two that just needs handholding to get going.

The next twenty-four hours will also be consumed with planning to make sure all the essential kid functions will continue as normal during Noel's absence. (He's leaving for Park City, Utah, to cover the Sundance film festival for the next week.)

So everything on my calendar I'm second-guessing: Am I prepared for this? Do I have childcare for that? The church's annual meeting is coming up this Sunday ... there's an evening event for sophomores that I would ordinarily attend ... and thanks to Noel's mom coming to visit for half of his absence, I'll have little trouble doing my usual gallivanting around to such things. It's probably good for me to spend a few weeks a year as a single mother, because it reminds me of how good I've got it with a husband who has my back as I take on all kinds of responsibilities outside the family.

Nevertheless, I never feel ready to go it alone. At the end of every day I'll be mentally reviewing to figure out what I missed, and creating checksheets to insure that nobody walks out the door without a peanut butter sandwich or a spare pair of underwear the next morning. Although I'm the person who gets that together on any normal day, it feels different with no backup -- nobody saying "did you remember to sign that" and "don't forget about the homework." I must admit, though, that getting it done at times like this, Toronto and Sundance and all the rest, makes me feel competent and productive. I'm looking forward to feeling that way on Thursday, January 24; until then, please forgive me not being able to look beyond a three-hour window around the present moment.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sibling therapy

A couple of years ago, I got assailed by some posters in the comments section of a newspaper's parenting blog for discussing our decision to have another child in the wake of Archer's diagnosis with autism. I mentioned that we felt that interaction with a brother or sister would be good for Archer's development, and in a parenthetical aside, revealed that some professionals we had talked to termed that strategy "sibling therapy."

Those who responded negatively felt that we were setting our second child not to be her own person, but to be a support system for her brother. They thought it was as unfair to have a second child for any reason other than to nurture her life for its own sake, as unethical in its way as having another child with the thought of providing a source of organs or bone marrow for an older sibling with a life-threatening illness.

I certainly see their point, but such an interpretation of our decision is bound to be an impoverished one. Anyone who has a sick or disabled child has to evaluate the choice to have more children in light of their impact on the disadvantaged one. Suggesting that part of the decision is whether this will be good or bad for the existing child is just realistic, not cold and calculating.

But I often have occasion to revisit that decision with joy. There's no doubt that Cady Gray has been immensely good for Archer (as well as a delight in and of herself). Here's a signal example.

This afternoon I arrived home from church a little bit after the rest of my family, having stayed behind to count the offering as part of my vestry duties. I picked up fast food on the way home, and when I got there, I sat at the table and ate it while the kids, who had finished their lunch before I arrived, played in the living room.

As I was eating, Cady Gray came up to me with a rubber ball and asked if I could roll it with her in the hall. She had already asked Archer and Dad, who both told her they were busy. I said that I was still eating my lunch, but I'd be happy to play with her after her naptime.

Her little face crumpled, and she began to wail. I felt bad that she'd been turned down by everyone, and tried to make a deal with her to play later, but she refused to be consoled, shaking her head despondently at each new suggestion.

Suddenly I realized that Archer had come up behind her. In a sympathetic, cheerful voice, he said, "I'll play ball with you, Cady Gray."

She immediately swallowed her sobs, and wiping away tears, followed him to the hall, where he directed her with enthusiasm. Noel and I made sure to praise him extravagantly, both immediately and afterwards, for being so nice to his little sister. But there's something special for us in that moment.

It's not that he hasn't been compassionate to her before. In fact, if anything, he overreacts to her being upset -- he tries to hug her and comfort her even if she's too mad to be touched. He wants to fix it and get past it -- nothing's more disturbing to him than a disrupted environment, so he tries to do what we're doing to stop the disturbance and get back to normalcy.

It's that he knew why she was upset, and initiated a social interaction that responded to that fact. I couldn't have been more astounded if he had suddenly begun talking with her about ballerinas. He was engaged with her perspective, and he acted out of that understanding rather than out of his own narrowly obsessive world.

Cady Gray is her own person, and Lord knows I love her for her own adorable self. But seeing what Archer's been able to do with the opportunity to constantly practice social skills with a child who is not far removed from his developmental level in many areas (and is ahead in several), I know that we made the right decision when we decided to have another child. Not only for her, but for him.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The fourth wall

Noel and I have a couple of TV season box sets to review this upcoming week, so during the kids' naps this afternoon we watched some of the special features on The Riches Season 1. We watched the show regularly on FX during its 2007 inaugural run, finding it often riveting.

But one particular featurette rubbed me the wrong way, and I realized that it's an example of a long-standing discomfort I feel with fiction television and the proliferation of behind-the-scenes footage. There's a snappily-edited blooper reel included on the DVD set, showing the actors getting their tongues twisted, forgetting their lines, improvising wacky bits of business, cracking each other up, and basically failing to stay in character. Now I know that blooper reels have been a staple of film and television (even radio, though mostly in the form of staged recreations of famous live flubs) from time immemorial. But they've always nagged at me. I always felt a bit ... offended by them.

And watching Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver falling back into their normal accents and clowning around really felt wrong to me. I realized that it's because the show is such an intense tightrope walk. The characters are always on the verge of being found out, of losing their ability to impersonate normal people, of falling off the wagon, of dropping one of the deadly fiery swords they are juggling. The show is almost constantly on the edge of everything breaking apart and the world as we know it ending.

Seeing the actors with their masks off almost feels like a betrayal of that tension. It communicates that nothing at all was ever at stake. It makes me feel like a fool for caring so much about what, after all, was just a job, just a set, just a script with lines that somebody had to memorize and often forgot.

Of course I always knew that behind the finished product is all this greasepaint and scenery, folks who punch the clock, professional actors who do their job and have a little fun in the process. I was never under the delusion that anything else was, at base, going on. But I find my desire to sink into the illusion of seamless story, of suspense, of impending and ongoing existential calamity somewhat ... mocked ... by a "special feature" that offers up this reality for my amusement.

I realize now that I've always had this problem with blooper reels for dramas, especially. (The opposite is to some extent true with comedies -- I feel vindicated that the actors find it all as hilarious as I do.) Perhaps it's related to a kind of purist streak I have about a number of things I love. I get offended when baseball stars don't care as much about baseball as I think they should, for example. If it's just a job to them -- rather than an all-consuming passion -- I take it as a personal affront.

All of us who work in somebody's else's (or our own) "dream job" are aware that we should not be caught grumbling about how hard our lives are. Oh, poor me, I have to spend the whole day watching television! or reading and talking about interesting ideas! or paging through advance copies of the hot new books! Maybe that's somehow related to my problem with breaking the illusion. I'm sure our readers would like to think that we do it all for the love, that we'd do it if there were no deadlines and no paychecks. I'd like to think that Minnie Driver cares as much about The Riches as I do -- heck, she probably cares more, just as I care more about my writing and my teaching than any of my readers or students.

So I don't know why my purist streak gets all huffy when she giggles at something happening off camera. It's like I can't allow her to have a life except in my fictional universe, because her stubborn refusal to stop existing when the director yells "cut" calls into question the value of the story she's telling (about which I care far more than I do about her essential humanity, whatever that might reveal about my topsy-turvy moral universe).

I take this storytelling business very seriously. It seems clearer to me with every passing day that we are built for stories, through and through; that that deepest truths (and lies) that we can absorb into our being are the ones that make narrative sense rather than propositional or logical sense; that the elegance and complexity that moves us most fundamentally is about character, plot, conflict, and resolution rather than factuality or reality.

The weakness in that position, however, is that you're vulnerable to the stories being deconstructed or exposed as fabrications. (Just look what happened to the students in my class on scripture this past semester, hurt and betrayed at the scholars knocking down the facade of the Bible's historical accuracy and even authorial integrity.) A simple change of perspective -- a move three feet backwards, behind the cameras, or a glimpse five seconds past the edit -- breaks the illusion and complicates the storyline. I'm still working on smoothly shifting between those modes. Meanwhile, I think I'll skip the blooper reel on Damages: The Complete First Season (which I'm reviewing next week) -- although I hope the set's producers weren't so tone-deaf as to "feature" one.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Real time

Today was the first real day of school for me (classes started on Thursday, but I have no Tuesday-Thursday classes). For anyone out there who wonders what an academic does all day, here's the blow-by-blow.

8:15 am Arrive at the office after the 10-minute walk from home, during which I realized that the freshmen hadn't been told that their class was meeting in the big auditorium rather than the seminar rooms listed on their class schedules.

8:30 am Hastily create fliers announcing that the class will meet in the auditorium. Deputize the secretary to go across campus to the freshman dorm to put them up on all the outside doors.

8:45 am Armed with a stack of fliers and a roll of Scotch tape, trudge around to the three buildings where the seminar rooms are located and put up a sign on each one. Worry that somehow, someone will miss them.

9:15 am Finally get a chance to sit down and check my e-mail. Realize that, despite all the work done over the past three days to get ready for the first meeting of the freshman class, the notes for my introductory talk have not prepared themselves.

9:55 am Notes in order. Time to take a break and fulfill my Ravelry Welcome Wagon duties.

10:15 am Take stock for the freshman class meeting in less than two hours. Need roll sheets for the students to pass around and sign. Print out roll sheets. Assemble class folder with examples of the four handouts, my seminar group's information sheet to be passed out after class, three copies of the roster, and my notes.

10:45 am Head down to the student center to pick up a quick sandwich before the noon class, since I have a student coming by at one, making this my only chance for lunch. Commiserate about kids growing up with food service working before paying for my Chick-Fil-A sandwich and bag of pita chips.

11:05 am Return to office and eat while reading A.V. Club comments.

11:30 am Pack the 170 copies of each handout into a paper box and lug them out of the building, around the library, and up to the health science center where the auditorium is.

11:40 am Wrangle the eight teaching assistants to help pass out papers as the students file in, greet last semester's students, answer questions from students and instructors about the complexities of the team-taught class.

12:00 noon Welcome back the 150 students, explain the materials, and conduct the first writing exercise of the semester.

12:40 pm Assemble my own group of 18 students and one teaching assistant, pass out information sheet, wish everyone a good weekend.

1:00 pm Walk back to the office with administrative colleague, discuss various issues regarding other colleagues. Concerns, hope expressed.

1:10 pm Check and answer e-mail. Assemble materials to write a letter for the tenure review of a faculty member at another university. Feel thirst.

1:50 pm Stroll to student center for a fountain beverage. On the way back, run into the student who was supposed to come see me at 1:00 pm. Take care of business while chatting on the sidewalk, exchange pleasantries during rest of walk back to the building.

2:00 pm Write three-page letter reviewing books and articles written by the faculty member applying for tenure.

3:15 pm Print letter and envelope, toss completed letter jauntily in secretary's outbox.

3:20 pm On the way out the door, get impromptu update from administrative assistant on student misadventures.

3:30 pm Walk across campus to gym.

3:40 pm All preferred machines full. Improvise on the stair-stepper for thirty minutes.

4:15 pm Walk home trying to fit in a few more pages of The Battle Over The Meaning Of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design, And A School Board In Dover, PA.

Not exactly a day spent contemplating my bust of Plato and composing deep thoughts, but not a day in the salt mines, either. For the record, this was a day when I felt I worked pretty hard (the running around to make sure the first class meeting went well, the composing of the tenure review letter). World probably unchanged, yet balls kept spinning confidently in the air and nobody, as far as I know, let down. Not too bad for a Friday.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A new dawn

If you noticed something special in the air today -- a certain ebullience, a feeling of liberation, let's say -- it might have been coming from our house.

Today we entered the orbit of TiVo HD.

We've put the days of our cable company's combination decoder box/DVR behind us. Someday we will remember navigating its ugly, difficult menus; trying to record an entire series and ending up with all the repeats as well; deleting series recordings when trying to cull repeat episodes from our queue; lacking the capacity to perform the simplest search for a show's title; and all the other quirks of its subutilitarian design, and we will laugh.

When I called to schedule a service call so that CableCards could be installed in our TiVo HD, the representative told me that the price of the cards had just been slashed by more than 1/3 with the start of the new year. When the representative came today to do the installation, he told us that we only needed one CableCard instead of two because he had just learned, much to his surprise, that the ones our cable company offer are multistream. And by the way, the service call occurred during the first half-hour of the four-hour window the company had provided. Clearly, something extraordinary was afoot in the universe.

When I got home from work this afternoon, our decoder box was done. The green light of the TiVo HD glowed confidently. Its distinctive "boop-boop" and "pip-POP!" was once again heard in the land. The pleasant, intuitive, cheerful interface seemed to take a task like recording all the first-run episodes of Project Runway, or any movie directed by Raoul Walsh, or programs with the word "Vegas" in the title or description, and shoulder the burden of interpreting the details and executing the complexities, like a butler murmuring, "no, no -- allow me, sir." Babysitters and visiting relatives will no longer need to read a two page handout to navigate our universal remote, on which the TV set's power button has been relegated to the CABLE page; we will hand them the TiVo remote, tell them to press power, channel up/down, and volume up/down, and they will smile in understanding.

Little wireless antennae glow as they transfer programs from our Series 2 box in the bedroom to the new HD box in the living room. If need be -- and you'd be amazed how often the need be, in this house -- we can record three shows at once: two on the dual tuner HD machine, and one on the old one, then watch them on whichever TV we like, whenever we like.

In short: food tastes better, beverages are more refreshing, and every passerby seems to have a song on his lips and a spring in his step today. The crazy plan worked, and we're giddy as schoolgirls. I look forward to filling up page after page of the Now Playing menu with HD goodness, while Noel can't wait until the queue is whittled down to a concise and manageable playlist. Right now two red lights decorate the TiVo's minimalist front panel; My Name Is Earl is recording on NBC, and last night's Daily Show/Colbert repeat is recording on Comedy Central. Everyone's a winner.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Open wide

I went to the dentist today for my semiannual cleaning. My dentist here is a jolly, efficient former football player, who spends an average of 60 seconds with me every six months. I spend the rest of the half hour chatting with Ruth Ann, the motherly woman who shows me pictures of her two new grandbabies.

My dental-care experience has changed a lot in the last ten years. I was deathly afraid of the dentist for my entire childhood. Indelibly etched upon my memory is the trip up the elevator to one of the top floors of the downtown medical building, the yellowish molded plastic furniture and Highlights magazines in the waiting room (every time I see Mary Richards' apartment on old episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I get flashbacks to the decor in that waiting room), and the tortures awaiting me in the back room.

I'm not sure why I was so afraid. I knew they were going to saw away at the plaque on my teeth with those little sharp implements, and I knew they were going to buzz ticklish areas of my palette uncomfortably with the tooth polisher. But because I inherited my dad's good teeth, I never had a cavity -- still haven't, as a matter of fact. So the horrors of the drill and the novocaine and so forth were unknown to me. Nevertheless, I dreaded the dentist. I never was all that conscientious about oral hygiene -- I was known from time to time to claim that I had brushed my teeth, when actually I'd simply run my toothbrush under the water in case Mom felt it to check -- and I hated being scolded about it by the hygienist.

I still recall as if it were yesterday the day that I was given red pills to chew, then presented with a mirror to examine my stained teeth. Supposedly the coloring marked where I wasn't brushing well. I had to watch a video about proper brushing on that visit, but its lessons stuck less well than the marvelous machine on which I watched it, one of those fantastic filmstrip projectors in a suitcase where the top half, propped up, became a screen, and the image was projected from behind while a cassette tape played the audio and automatically advanced the film. (To this day my gold standard for satisfying analog machine feedback is the heavy silver knob one turns to advance a filmstrip, with its satisfying yet softly padded click-into-place.)

In the nineties I mostly avoided dentists. When I had to venture into their offices, I finally learned the right way for me to brush; overly vigorous sawing back and forth actually wore concavities into my front teeth, little half-moons curving instead of out, necessitating the first dental work I ever had done besides wisdom tooth removal. Since then I've gradually overcome my fear of dentists, bit by bit. I no longer felt likely to be harangued by them for my tooth care failures. Today I found myself reclining comfortably in the chair, having my mouth poked in various places, my toes uncurled and my fists unclenched. When I notice just how relaxed I was, I wonder what changed between then and now. Is it just that I'm playing the role of adult to the hilt, trading stories about kids with my fellow adult Ruth Ann? Or is it that I'm no longer worried about what's going to happen to my teeth, since it's all certain to be downhill from here?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

No one's bloody laughing

Part of me loves the writers' strike. Free from the need to keep up with midseason replacements and ongoing shows, free from the slight undercurrent of stress unique to those whose livelihood depends on being in the know -- the fear that you're missing something -- we drink deep from the season sets on DVD that have been sitting on our shelves for months. Big Love season two. The Wire season two. Extras series two -- which means we finally get to see in context the celebrated David Bowie sequence, probably the funniest three minutes of television produced in this millennium.

Last night we watched (and Noel blogged) the writerless return of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to late night. It's cruel to put anyone, even someone with the well-honed improvisational skills of a Stephen Colbert, on television for 22 minutes these days with nothing on the teleprompter. Maybe a host with the affability and genuine interest in his guest of a Johnny Carson could thrive without written material, but when you do a fake news show on the fly, what you tend to get, over time, is Dennis Miller forgetting that he's supposed to be sarcastic.

My biggest worry over the absence of scripted television (and awards shows) is that we have nothing to bring America together. I tend to appreciate mass culture for creating a glue, however mushy and bland, that holds together many disparate American communities and classes. We intellectuals like to scoff at its lowest-common-denominator mediocrity, but what else can create common ground at the water cooler? Not music anymore. Not books. Movies and television, the gathering places of our mass media, limited in number and parceled out week by week, month by month, in the ever-changing menu at the only diner in town.

I'll be glad when the strike is over and I can go back to sharing a nightly experience with folks holed up in their respective living rooms all over the country. Meanwhile, I can at least stop feeling guilty about a few shows I failed to watch in real time in the last few years -- a pleasant penance, if a belated one.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Eight eight eight eight

When I was a kid, I had a cheap green paperback, probably picked up at a library sale somewhere, called Salted Peanuts. It was 100 pages or so of what we now call factoids -- little nuggets of interesting or surprising information. Although I can't recall any of them off the top of my head thirty years on, I'll bet that some of the random information stuffed in the crannies of my brain originated in its pages. I read it over and over. (On its Amazon page, a reviewer shares some of the less PC entries: "A housewife can order a left-handed measuring cup if she so desires," "An Eskimo and his wife can build an igloo in an hour," "Over 85 percent of Negros are Southern Baptist," etc. I wondered where I got that Eskimo igloo-building estimate I've always used as a rule of thumb.)

The other day, Noel received an advance copy of Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac in the mail. Just before bedtime, I cracked it open and took a look.

And then 45 minutes later, after several "just one mores," we reluctantly closed it and went to sleep.

If you like cleverly constructed quizzes full of random yet fascinating information -- and if you don't, sir, you are no friend of mine -- then you need to buy this squarish doorstop as soon as it is released, one week from today. Ken Jennings (our virtual best friend and all-around right-thinking person) has two or three trivia quizzes for every single day of the year. Just through January 6, we got:
  • Match this movie with the milestone it represents in film history (first featuring Dolby sound? first edited on the Avid digital platform?).
  • Take a book, movie, or TV show titled with first names, change it to the character's last names -- now see if you can name the work (e.g. "DeFazio and Feeney").
  • Name the only two Republican presidents who ascended to the Oval Office after serving two full terms as vice president.
... and so on, for page after addicting page -- the title of this post alludes to the 8,888 questions promised on the cover. (I mention the last bullet point because I am hopeless at understanding anything related to the succession of presidents, as well as at puzzling out what year something must have happened in history, so Noel had a good chuckle at my expense as I tried to narrow it down. Also I hope I am remembering correctly that there were only two. Please check my work.)

I always remember the little blurb on the back of that tattered paperback that explained the title. Salted peanuts, it said, are something you can't have just one of; you find yourself reaching for another, and another, and another. Restricting ourselves to one day's allotment of these quizzes at a time is going to be like passing up another handful of salted peanuts.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Archer employs conversational gambits

Gambit #1

The setting: A family restaurant where we are meeting two other families with young children for dinner. Archer is seated at one end of the long table, next to Griffin's mom. Griffin is down at the other end, out of earshot.

Griffin's mom turns to Archer.

Griffin's mom: So Archer, how was your Christmas?
Archer: Very good.
Archer: (with studied yet casual adult inflection) So, what's Griffin been up to?

Gambit #2

Ten minutes later. Griffin has moved over to sit between his mom and Archer.

Griffin: I got this and that and the other thing, and we went to see my grandma and grandpa, etc. etc.
(Pause. It's Archer's turn to propose a topic.)
Archer: What are the factors of thirty?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The light comes on

Adamanthenes asked, lo these many months ago:
Is it ever disillusioning to you as a professor, who teaches to enlighten, when your students reject what you are saying and then, without thought, reject you? If so, how disillusioning is it? If not, why isn't it?
I certainly started my teaching career a decade or so ago "teaching to enlighten." My eyes had been opened by great teachers, and I wanted nothing more than to open the eyes of others as blind now as I had been then.

Probably I still fall into that teacher-as-missionary mode fairly often. But I've come to see teaching somewhat differently over the years. It's a frustrating and disillusioning experience, this business of having a mission, as your question correctly assumes. If you're trying to enlighten people, you're going to fail more often than you succeed -- a lot more often. Some of us redefine our standard of success way downward: a single student reached, or a couple of students who leave the class thinking differently from how they came in. We no longer try to reach the masses, but concentrate our efforts on the few who seem receptive.

I'm not willing to take that tack. Seems to me that it requires me to distinguish between teachable and unteachable students, and to lead the former toward my destination while abandoning the rest to their own devices. That's not the kind of divided classroom in which I want to spend my time.

So my solution has been to stop teaching to enlighten. Sure, I still have ideas to impart that I think have the potential to change minds and lives, as they changed mine. But I don't think it's my job as a teacher to try to make the change happen. I don't even think it's my primary job to impart the ideas. The product that students are buying in my classroom, to put it another way, is not information, and my role is not a purveyor of information. (Heck, all the information is out there for free; I'd be fleecing the customers if I pretended they had to pay to get it from me.)

I see myself as a process facilitator. I bring some information that I've found enlightening and useful, some structure, some tasks to the table. The students themselves will provide the rest of the information, structure, and tasks. What I'm interested in doing is seeing what the students make out of the stack of materials we've collected. I'm able to guide them away from unpromising tacks and toward more rigorous procedures that are likely to be successful at making sense out of what we've got. But I have very little interest in seeing them come to my conclusions. Why have we -- especially me -- gone through all this, if the only goal is to replicate what I already know and already think?

So success becomes not the students becoming enlightened in the model of the teacher, but the teacher discovering something she didn't know through the work of the students.

Is it disillusioning when students reject the information I bring to the table, reject its importance for their understanding and their future, and in the process reject me, the person who believes it's crucial? A lot less than it used to be, when I was trying to change a bunch of lives. Now I'm trying to provide a place where students can change their own lives. The disillusionment comes less often from a rejection of my vision of the world, than a refusal to seize that opportunity and make the most of it. And I can almost understand that -- and rather than disappointment, feel pity -- because there's not that many places in education where students are really invited to do that. It's a lot harder than telling the teacher what she wants to hear, I think.

Thanks to that shift, though, I find myself more hopeful and excited about teaching as the years go on, rather than fretful over the many students who rejected me. That's a good reminder for myself, as a new semester begins next week, actually; so thanks, my dear, for the chance to think and write about it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Aw honey honey

Tonight's post (even though it was posted early in the morning tomorrow, as it were, once Noel and I got back from our National Treasure 2/Charlie Wilson's War double-feature) is at Toxophily -- join the Hatsies!

Meanwhile, the Archies lists are continuing to arrive at a furious trickle. Check 'em out!
  • Meeshell listed hers in reverse order. Suspenseful!
  • The Secret Knitter opted for a tidy alphabetical approach, placing the numerals thoughtfully before "A." (Can you guess what numerical item occupies the top spot?)
Read, comment, learn, and then scribble a few more items on your own Archies scratch pad. I'll be expecting your report by the end of January. Take your time, but hurry up already.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Greg expressed some skepticism about the Amazon Kindle's prominent position on my Archies list. I'll admit that I wasn't entirely enthusiastic about the device when it was announced. I read the middling reviews, and sniffed at the uncool design.

But that all changed when I spent four days in the same house with one over Christmas. My older brother, a former Amazon employee and notorious early adopter, brought his Kindle down to the house the family shared in St. Simons. We passed it around curiously.

First impressions: It's lighter than it looks, about the same heft and dimensions as a trade paperback (although thinner when outside its carrying case. The unlit e-ink screen is sharp and very easy on the eyes -- just as good for long-term reading as the printed page, judging by the length of comfortable time various family members spent reading it. And the screen is readable even when turned nearly edge-on to the eye. You can change the font: bigger for presbyopteric eyes, smaller to minimize page turns. Dwayne had about three list-view pages of full books, sample chapters, and other materials loaded onto the machine, and soon Dad was reading Losers: The Road To Everywhere But The White House whenever he could sneak in some time with the Kindle.

But the best features of the Kindle weren't apparent at first glance. On Christmas afternoon, I casually mentioned that I was looking forward to reading Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power Of The New Digital Disorder, a book that sounded right up my alley. Dwayne pulled out his Kindle. We had no internet access in the house. But the Kindle isn't a computer accessory; you don't hook up to a laptop or an internet connection to get content. Anywhere there is a Sprint cell phone signal -- and that's 90% of everywhere you're going to be -- the Kindle can get new content. No connection fees, no cell phone plans. Turn it on, browse for what you want, and get it. A whole book in less than a minute, a sample chapter -- for free -- in seconds.

Dwayne got the first chapter of Everything Is Miscellaneous instantly. He read it and decided he wanted the whole book. Bingo -- he had it. And by the end of the visit, he had finished the book and was saying it was the best book he'd read in quite a while.

Most Kindle books cost $9.95, not much more than half the cost of the trade paperback. I came to really appreciate the hardware scrolling device -- a dedicated "gutter," separate from the reading screen, where a selection dot is controlled by a wheel. At first glance it's not sleek and integrated. It looks clunky. But what the designers have done here is to decomputerize the machine. All feedback does not need to come through the screen. There's a wonderful analog feel to clicking the wheel and moving the selector, and it's always there -- it doesn't need to be accessed through moving a cursor or finding the scroll bar on the screen.

I became so appreciative of the Kindle's ability to access e-books instantly, deliver them efficiently, and make them pleasurable and intuitive to page through, that I began to covet the device. How's this for another feature? Upload your Word docs and images to your Kindle account and put them on your reader. Anybody can upload a Word document to the Kindle store, set a price for it ($.49 cents is the minimum), and make it available to any buyer. Imagine educators harnessing that distribution channel to get texts to students. Imagine self-publishers putting a polished product on the market without any physical infrastructure.

When we got home, Noel was exclaiming over all the cool features of his iPod Touch, and I let it be known that I'd love to have one, too. "Would you rather have that, or the Kindle?" he asked. And I hesitated. I couldn't choose. I still can't. I can see so much potential for both devices. If the Kindle is as attractive to me as the legendary Apple design and innovation that I have loved for years, then I think it's already accomplished something pretty astounding.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Lists lists and additional lists

Today's minimalist post, just for variety's sake, is at The Kniterati -- an invitation to reflect on new skills learned.

If you crave more stimulation than therein provided, might I direct you to the many fine Archies lists that have been posted as the year turns?
  • Steph enjoys many food items
  • Paul had to make an extra list just for movie stuff
  • Greg appreciates music
  • Petunia Town Girl brings the commentary and the copious links
  • Eric overachieved with four separate posts of 2007 stuff to contemplate (a technical violation, but I'll allow it)
  • Update! I don't think Amelie has ever read this blog, but she prospectively gets into the spirit of the Archies here, in her own inimitable Hateriffic fashion, of course.
And that's not to mention the folks that left theirs in the comments or posted them on private blogs. Don't you want to join the fun? You have until the end of the month, but why not get out your ol' list-making pencil, lick the tip in a businesslike fashion, and commence a-listin'?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What's new pussycat

New year, fresh start? Doesn't feel that way. I'm still scrambling after projects started long ago, and now growing urgent. When they reach a stopping place, there'll be others clamoring for attention.

Kind of like your Archies list is eating away at you right now, you know? Best thing to do is just get it out and onto your blog, in my experience.

Which makes it a good time to address one of those leftover questions from The Great NaBloPoMo Topic Solicitation of Ought Seven. (Remember how I promised to answer all of them before the year ran out? Good, I was hoping nobody noticed.)

Eric writes:
Is it really possible to be a responsible parent and not become some brainless zombie ala Dawn of the Dead?

Sorry, was that not the answer you wanted? It might require some qualifications , but I'm afraid that it's not inaccurate as a short answer.

Because parenting -- any kind, not just the responsible version -- is mostly about reacting. Mom proposes, child disposes. Your plans and limits and philosophies are all very well and good, and I recommend you have them (e.g., employ time out rather than spanking, praise liberally and criticize sparingly, read for twenty minutes every day). But those are just the scaffolding -- or in some cases, the guard rails -- for your relationship with your child. Most of what fills up the space you share is the child learning to be itself, and you figuring out how to respond to that.

And that's what zombies do. They just respond. They don't have plans or creativity or free will. They act on instinct.

Most of parenting is like that. Sometimes your instincts will be good and productive. Sometimes you will luck into children that entertain themselves occasionally, giving you space to be your own person. Everything else is a series of instantaneous decisions on how to respond to the stimulus being provided by your child at that moment.

Does that mean that you can't be thoughtful, engaged with the world, entrepreneurial, free -- all the things we value about being adults? I'm constantly amazed at how much adult stuff most parents seem to get accomplished -- they start businesses and blog and write books and learn new skills and volunteer and all the rest. So of course they have some part of their lives where they're not zombies.

But I'll submit that 85% of the time spent in direct contact with one's children is zombie time. There's a silver lining to that cloud, though -- one that provides most of the joy that parents are constantly asserting they get from their relationship with their kids. A lot of what you're reacting to is really amazing, and the zombie response is delight and wonder. Doesn't mean it's any less of a brainless reflex -- but it's one, like the drive to satisfy hunger, desire, and curiosity, that makes life seem absolutely worth all the hassle.