Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It is because I love you that I tell you this


Ping, grand chancellor (Bass), Pang, grand purveyor (Tenor), and Pong, grand cook (Tenor) from Act 2 Scene 1 of the opera Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, This is from the 2002 coproduction of the Mariinski Theatre St. Petersburg and the Festpielhaus Baden-Baden. In my youth, the only ping was table tennis or Puccini's opera.

One simple word to show my deep, abiding and loyal love for you:

Ping-O-Matic

When you post, please ping. I know Technorati is a fickle mistress, so I understand your disdain and distrust. (However, they assure me via impersonal note that they are "upgrading spiders" tonight.)

But Ping-O-Matic...this is a third party, and hits multiple spiders.

If you post then ping? I get an adorable little notice, almost as cute as You've Got Mail!

I know, it's not all about me, but this benefits far and beyond me, honestly.

Con mucho gusto, Julio Down By the Schoolyard


copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

School Supplies for disadvantaged kids...and the Supah Stah Sell Out Club

Help out disadvantaged kids by buying extra school supplies

It's that time of the year...for some lucky people. School is back in session! Except, not here. We have one more entire month to go. God help me.

Nevertheless, we are purchasing our supplies.

I love buying school supplies. Notebooks, folders, pencil cases, pencils, crayons...the lot. Selecting styles, quantities, colors.

But most of all, I love pens. In fact, one might say I have a pen fetish. In Cambridge, across from Harvard, there is this stationary shop that has rows and rows and rows of pens. On days when my friend and I were stressed (which was often) we'd skip across the street to this shop and test out hundreds of pens, finally selecting The One, and leaving happily. Retail therapy. But I digress.

Not everyone has the same ability to purchase or access necessary school supplies.

So when you are out shopping, and buying school supplies for your family, or if you already bought them but pass a row in a store (in every single solitary store---taunting me, teasing me, making me think about the kids in school, an event that is one entire month away)...

Grab a few extra or double up on your list, and donate the extras to disadvantaged kids in your area.

Your local school probably accepts extra supplies for kids who attend with your kids. Keep it anonymous. Nobody wants to bow to Lady Bountiful, hat in hand, finger to forelock.

If your local school doesn't have a program, try your school district or your local news station. They usually have a program or information about a program.

It's a simple and easy thing to do...reasonably inexpensive.

Also, consider packing the supplies in an old backpack---if you have one---that your kids no longer use.

Thanks!

Double thanks if you already did this. :)

****

It's coming, they're coming...ADS! AAAARRRRRR


That's right. I've sold out. ;)

In the near future, my blog will begin running select BlogHer ads as well as the discreet little Google AdSense ads I've had up for a long time. I've also been accepted into several affiliate programs (although one beloved store where I frequently shop turned me down...said I didn't reach their market, they are nuts I tell you, nuts. My readers buy furniture and home accents! And my grasping little heart is broken). So I'll have ads for my affiliates, and will review and recommend items on my blogs dedicated to that.

I realize it means I'm turning full frontal capitalist.

But a girl's gotta eat.

This won't buy me a new pair of shoes---even if it earns that much---because this is not done flippantly for pin money. I'm doing this to earn necessary income.

That's why I want to mention something that I know is wicked controversial but I've mulled it over for weeks and just decided to join: Jo from Life with Heathens---"I'm a 32 year old wife and mother who happens to have cancer. Thanks to 3 heathens, 2 cats, and the Hubby Guy... I laugh more than I cry!"---started Mad Click Monday.

Now, I'm going to do my best so that my ads don't intrude on my content.

And you are welcome to do your best to ignore them. Fair enough.

But, I'm also going to ask you to ponder this Mad Click Monday idea. With this, instead of always ignoring the ads, one day a week you pay attention, and if one can benefit you, click it. I tried it for the first time yesterday.

Ads aren't always selling products. Sometimes, they are offering information.

For example, yesterday, I found a traffic tracker---for free---that I far prefer to Sitemeter. I found it by scanning an ad on a blog I regularly read. So I clicked the ad and got myself a good new tool. Also, I read a study---for free---from the Pew Charitable Trust that I found by clicking an ad. Lastly, I bought a towel rack. I know, money spent. However, I have been seeking a towel rack for a year in the kitchen (which has none) and haven't found one that was the right price. This one? $5, with shipping, still made it half as much as the ones I've seen like it in stores.

I don't---and wouldn't ask---people to click ads just because.

But.

If you decide to pay attention every now and again, and see if anything there is of interest or benefit to you...then thank you.

And if anybody wants to join my club (it's unofficial, being silly---dig?) you are welcome!

****

Personal Update

You'll notice I am blogging. It's not from prison, I'm happy to report (but blogging from prison? That's an upcoming post...) Hat in hand, no excuses other than, "I blew it," I pleaded my case to the judge, or rather, to his assistant, which I think actually means I pleaded my case to the court, but I'm no lawyer (which might have been in my favor, actually). They were lenient on me; if I pay exorbitant amounts of money (in my opinion) I can take defensive driving---where I will learn that driving 7 miles over the sped limit, I kid you not---is illegal. I'm aiming for a comedy one. For the record, I still pay a fine to the court in addition to paying the defensive driving course fee. If the judge is reading this, I'm grateful. Truly. I appreciate that our legal system allows some wiggle room for stupid people.

Also, in more good-ish news about the tree...my neighbor and friend is doing it for me for about hmmm $2000 less than any big tree firm has quoted to me. Yes, I called my insurance company. Actually, I had already called before even posting. I'm sadly used to catastrophes, and familiar with protocol...but thank you guys for loving me enough to make good suggestions. No, I'm not asking my neighbors to chip in even though (a) it is largely on their property and according to the laws (at least the laws of insurance) not my responsibility, and (b) there is no fault to a tree suddenly toppling. It's my tree, though, that originated on my property and therefore in my mind my responsibility. I also want to retain Good Neighbor We Like status.

In children news...the Kindness Campaign hit a great spot yesterday, then dropped viciously, then came back up again. I expect this, I suppose. The great news is that it is clearly on all our minds, this being nice, kind, courteous and respectful thing. Persistence did drive me to drink yesterday (what a shock!) with a variety of ingeniously disastrous things. I console myself by saying she'll be three soon, at which point it's the mouth I have to concern myself with more than the getting into every bloody thing.

Don't forget Hump Day Hmm tomorrow...too much of a good thing.

I think that's all!

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Monday, July 30, 2007

Hump Day Hmm for August 1: Too much of a good thing

Emily kindly suggested some future Hump Day Hmm topics.

For this Wednesday, August 1 (and I know, I know...I'm late late late, sorry!) the topic is:

(A) Too much of a good thing

and/or

(B) Continuation of the PC topic from last week for those who have more to say or who asked for a raincheck.

Don't miss my post below! Even if you already read it...by request, I added in the "Rules" of the Kindness Campaign game.

Thanks!

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Empathic failure and the advent of the Kindness Campaign


Last night, after shutting off our computers, my husband and I dragged ourselves into the messy kitchen for a good cleaning. It was late, we were tired and it had been a trying day with the kids.

As I scrubbed the dinner dishes, and he scrubbed the table and counters, instead of talking about the big stuff (read: the children), I vented about a writing project I am working on.

My husband offered several suggestions, to which I said nothing.

Finally he said, exasperated, "Well, of course, I've given up you taking any advice from me. I'm not even sure why you ask."

And somehow my irritating situation had shifted focus, turned into something else, and got lost completely.

I said, "You know what? When I talk to you? I think there is a misunderstanding about what I want."

He said, "Sometimes I think all you want is sympathy."

I said, "You say that as if it is a bad thing."

Empathic failure. In the above conversation, you could so easily switch our roles. I'm equally guilty of empathic failure at times. We all do it with varying degrees of frequency.

Why are we so convinced sympathy leads to weakness and wallowing?

Why are we all so eager to fix it and get ourselves and those around us quickly back on track, moved on?

Why is it so wrong to let someone have a period of negative emotion, infused with the faith that once processed, will move on?

In fact, sometimes I wonder if the moving on bit gets flummoxed because we don't know---and thus don't teach our children---how to handle the negative emotions, how to have them, process them and carry forth after forgiving and letting go. Perhaps we also get mired in too much or too little sympathy, and spin in a cycle of frustration and irritation.

I can say I've noticed sympathy is often out of balance these days: it is either distractedly unconditional without end, or frustratedly eager to hit resolution and cease.

And perhaps that means time is the issue.

In any given moment there are at least two things I am doing, and five or so behind me needing doing but not getting gotten to.

I am often distracted and overly busy. I realize this, and bemoan it nearly daily. It's easy for my mind to chant: it's in your control to change it. It's much harder to try and figure out what gets dropped. Quit doing laundry? Stop cleaning the house? Quit working? Every option explored has negative repercussions that are thus far unacceptable.

I tell myself things will get easier in the fall when the children return to school. And I know this is true. I can constrain working time to childcare times, do chores quickly on either end, and use the rest to interact in a quality way with the kids.

It's not a little ironic that in the summer---with no commitments or schedule to keep---I feel like we have less time than during the school year when time is so scripted and conscripted.

I remain steadfast in my refusal to complicate our lives any more with any additional obligations. I limit the children to one, maximum two, activities, and thus far it is under my control to not select the time intensive ones, such as swim team, which requires almost daily commitment. At 5. Competitive swim team daily. (Yes, I am shaking my head.)

And yet, we are still too busy.

I often feel the need to chuck it all and move with my family to a tent in the wilderness. What are we all working so hard for, if the cost is our relations to one another?

Sympathy and empathy are still out of balance. Knowing is one thing, being and doing quite another level altogether.

Sometimes, I simply sit and listen when I ought to prod. Sometimes, I prod when I ought to simply sit and listen. I know on my end, when I feel frustrated or angry, it is due to my expectations:

Why can't she just hear what I'm saying?

Why does he always have to try and solve it?

I wish she would quit trying to play devil's advocate!

Can he just tell me he understands?


Once I said to my husband that I had actually not been looking for a solution (yet) just a sympathetic ear, he switched gears.

Perhaps we need to provide roadmaps to our needs. Perhaps if we get lost on the way trying to meet another's needs we need to say simply, I'm sorry, and switch gears.

This week, after reading a post by Slouching Mom, our family started a Kindness Campaign. We're all meant to slow down, pay attention to road signs in the ones we love, and enjoy the journey together, with kindness. We're using paper clips in plastic cups (one for each member of the family) to mark where we've been and done. In the center of our cups is the Forfeit cup. It's meant to be empty at the end of the week, and our other cups full. We're trying to earn a big fun family outing. I don't have a back-up plan because failure isn't an option. The only option is to extend the game another week, and try again.

Hopefully, we will arrive soon at our destination, where failure of empathy, sympathy and kindness are infrequent. The exception, rather than the rule.

And once this is ingrained and familiar to my children, perhaps they will see (and give) it out more often in the world.

Balance of concern. Respect. Courtesy. Kindness.

ETA: Intriguingly, Ceclilieaux has written about empathic failure, as failed friendships.

ADDITION: Explaining the Kindness Campaign

In the photo at the top of this post, you can see the cups we use for the Kindness Campaign. Here is how it works:

One cup for every family member (Parents too!)
One cup for forfeit
Large supply of common household item (we used paperclips)

Put 10 paperclips in each cup (including forfeit cup)

RULE: Use kind words in kind voice, courtesy, consideration and respect towards one another. Catch one another being nice!

GOAL: Empty forfeit cup at end of week

REWARD: Special family outing!

LOSE one paperclip for breaking with kindness (put lost paperclip in forfeit cup)

GAIN one paperclip for being kind, random act of kindness (get from forfeit cup)

If at the end of the week the forfeit cup isn't empty, keep going until it is. Then enjoy the reward!

Also, there isn't to be a comparison of who has more or less paperclips. The only thing evaluated is forfeit cup.

Make sure to involve children when setting up and playing the game.

Note: I don't reward gratuitous kindness that come from a "gain a paperclip" motivation. I just say thanks.

Let me know if you have any more questions! :)

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Comparative Analysis of BlogHer vs. My Weekend

A Friday night at BlogHer in Chicago:


Some lucky people---not me!---on Friday, at BlogHer. Doesn't it look so fun? Lovely and sophisticated? I bet not one person there started a flood or fire, whined, or came down with the croup! Photo blatantly and repentantly stolen from Jenny
.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...an ill wind blew...


This photo needs no caption. But just in case a picture isn't worth a thousand words, I included a thousand word post below for your edification and enjoyment.


Friday:

BlogHer Bloggers---Attendees at BlogHer begin the exciting socialization, networking and learning the conference uniquely offers bloggers, except for me. Blogosphere friends and fans (and maybe foes, who knows) come together in corporeal life...sometimes with shocking results. There is much gabbing, some yakking, a bit of thinking and discussion, and many intriguing panels. Allegedly there is much eating and even more drinking. All in all, tremendous levels of fun and enrichment.

Me---Awoke at 3:30 a.m. in cold sweat of horror. My tree fell! On my neighbors' lawn! There is a great gaping hole in my tree line and in the ground where the toppling giant yanked out a hunk of earth. Recalled today is my court date for that *&%^ ticket I got, for what, about 5 mph over the speed limit. Console self with realization that today I get my hair cut with Mark and the eye brow wax, both desperately needed. Children are with a sitter!

6:30 a.m. Quiet dozing on couch to now-forgotten TV show interrupted by the sound of a barking seal coming down the stairs. Great, the baby has gone croupy. A cough hacky older sister soon follows her. Dad has conveniently already left for work. In my car. because it is flooding. Again. It's not even 7 a.m. and I am stuck in the house with two sick children who are cranky as all get out.

I tried to pretend that the day was going to go as planned. After a flurry of getting ready activities with sickly reluctant and whining children, I finally sat back down on the sofa in a paroxysm of defeat at 8:00.

I steeled myself to call and cancel the sitter and all appointments.

Patience inquires: Why are you sitting down, Mom?

Persistence: barks like seal

Me: Because you two are sick and it is clear we are going nowhere today. Oh well, I have to call 800 arborists about removing the tree. (try to choke back sobs)

I determined to make the most of being at home and tried to clean the downstairs. While I was vacuuming the kitchen, Persistence sneaked into the downstairs bath and locked the door.

Patience: MOM! MOM! Persy is in the potty and won't open the door and I need to go!

Me: Did you knock.

Patience, hopping from foot to foot: YES!

Me: There are two other bathrooms in this house, why not use one of those.

Patience: Mooooooommm, I want to use that potty!

Patience, back at bathroom door with me behind her: Persy! Persy! You open this door right this minute or...or...NO MORE TISSY HUGS!

Me, suspiciously, hearing odd noise: Shhhhhhh!

Patience: But...

Me: SHUSH IT NOW!

(listens closely to sound of running water...no...not just hitting the sink...yes, sound of water cascading some distance and hitting tile)

Me, panicked: Persy! Persy listen sweetie baby honey it's Mommy, it's Mommy out here, I've got food, won't you please open this door?

(singing from inside ceases, moment of quiet reflection) Persistence: Nope! I's habing-a fun!

Me: Persy, sweetie baby honey really, not a choice, open the door, just open the door right now baby no consequences, I promise.

Persistence, cheerfully: Nope!

I endeavor to use the key. No luck. It's jammed.

(Here's where you all need to bow down and praise the miracle that is Tae Bo, and decide to never, ever mess with me...)

I lift my leg, calculate and with one swift yet powerful kick...break down the door.

Children freeze in stunned amazement.

Patience, quietly awed tone: Mom just kicked down the door!

Persistence, laugh turns into seal barking.

I race, Valkyrie-like, into the bathroom. The sink (not the potty for once) is stuffed full of toilet paper, blocking both drains. Thanks to a swift kick, the flood is not yet too bad. I switch off the water, clean up the soggy paper, and mop the water.

It is 8:30 a.m.

I handle the children (you know, with cat-o-nine in one hand and chair in the other) and decide to search the Internet for any tree trimming company with the words "quality" and "cheap" in their name.

Except...I have no Internet. The storm has once again knocked out all means of communication.

I resume mommy duties. More fun and excitement, best left to your imagination (which I promise you, pales in comparison to reality).

6:00 p.m. While the BlogHer bloggers meet for dinner and merriment, I prepare for my own dinner and merriment. My fun friend Cindy is hosting Bunco tonight at her place. With my husband finally home, I can get ready in peace.

HA!

Famous last words!

My husband kept forgetting the "parent the children away from Mom so she can get ready" part of the bargain. First, he decided to climb along the tree trunk into our neighbors yard to survey the damage. Next, he considered himself "disgusting" after aforementioned adventure so he needed a shower. Him! Staying home him! Needed a shower right then.

In revenge, I added in the children to the shower. In resignation, he converted his shower into a bath for the children and pulled a Houdini.

I was at the bathroom vanity applying blusher to my cheekbones (visible once again thanks to Weight Watchers) when the screaming in my bath began.

I whipped around to find Persistence bleeding profusely.

Dad left them in the tub with the razors in reach. I would have said something but...you know glass houses and broken downstairs doors and flooded floors and all that...

Although both children claim total ignorance as to what happened, the evidence tells the tale for them: the razor in question has a chunk of skin matching the missing portion of Persistence's ear stuck in the blade. The razor blade cover was appropriately back on and the razor was back in its rightful position, all taken care of while Persistence clutched her bleeding ear to her head. Methinks there was a different culprit, one who lied to our faces, extremely convincingly. Luckily her dad and I both have younger siblings and are naturally suspicious of Perfectly Innocent older siblings who saw nothing, but manage to Perfectly Innocently suggest, "Maybe somehow she got next to a razor and it sliced her ear..."

30 minutes later we have the situation handled and I am fifteen minutes late to my party, already. I finished getting ready and took careful leave of upset family, arriving at party half an hour late.

Friend Cindy takes one look and sets me up with a lovely Pimm's.

Other friends offer me suggestions for cheap tree removal, cheap tree replacement (including, I kid you not, an environmental fundraiser I am totally going to do!), several ideas for Out of the House and Away from the Kids outings in the coming month, and even an offer of a new school for Patience that is ecstatic to take Creative and Imaginative Special children like her.

Nobody even groaned or sniffed when I won a prize in a roll off.

Home and in bed by 10:00 p.m. Nobody is interested enough to pull any stunts, decorate, or photograph me. This is probably fortunate because I likely slept with a scowl and gritted teeth. And may have reflex Tae Bo kicked anybody who approached.

Saturday:

3:30 a.m. I awake in cold sweat of terror and horror. Holy mother of God. In all the excitement of storms, falling trees, and pestilence of Biblical proportion, I forgot my court date. There is so totally a warrant out for my arrest now. I am doomed. Doomed! I can't believe I did this. Nobody else forgets something like this. I must have a death wish.

8:00 a.m. During all of the usual morning melee, I hid in bed with the covers over my face, in the hopes that this means the Police Will Not Find Me, hardened criminal case that I am. My head still echoes with the Judge calling my name over and over with no response, a la Ferris Bueller. Nausea twists in my stomach.

8:00 a.m. Meanwhile, back in Chicago...Keynote breakfast with experts! BlogHer attendees continue the excitement and merriment. A few even deign to email me with encouragement and news. Bloggers post session recaps that I scour with great interest.

I choke back all the comments I didn't get to make because I wasn't there.

Especially the, "How lucky are you that you are getting to miss your kids right about now!"

Instead of expanding my universe with topics about politics and blogging, silenced communities, and the politics of inclusion and exclusion, I tidy up the house for the 4,568th time in less than 48 hours; clean up; run a load of laundry; zip through accumulated mail with husband; redirect, yell, or threaten misbehaving children; read stories with children; admire incredibly clever camp set up older child created; and shuffle family out the door to run errands.

After usual highly humiliating experience out with Curious and Creative Children, return home.

Mysteriously, Dad's computer is no longer working. This happened between arrival at home and unpacking of groceries.

I just cannot wait for Sunday!

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Friday, July 27, 2007

Live Oak Dead: An Arboreal Tragedy

If a tree falls in a yard, will anyone look up from their Harry Potter books to see it?

I really hadn't intended a botanical series this week, but the theme has been chosen for me.

Yesterday, a tragedy occurred here. It may sound silly but I am devastated about what has happened. Let me back up and tell this from the beginning, in photos.

I may have mentioned the incessant, unceasing, neverending, beyond Biblical rain we've had here. I may have mentioned it is every day, and has been, for months.


This is a dreadful photo, one I had never planned to do anything with other than keep for history. It's from about a week ago, on a day when my children---all of us sick with cabin fever---decided to suit up and go play in the rain. Can you see much? This is the back half of our yard. The small pink object is Persistence, standing shin deep in water. The yard had drained off earlier that day, but then we were hit with a storm and pounding of rain so fierce that about five inches of rain just stood on top of the already over-saturated ground.

The children went to the back with toy fishing poles and pretended they were in a lake fly fishing. It didn't take much imagination.



Another poor quality photo, but one that shows Persistence running through the rain, back from the "lake."

Look behind her to see the play set, and the tree line. Note the base of a large oak shade tree, at least 50 years old, not even a quarter of a way into its life span.

Note my use of the past tense.

Yesterday evening, while my husband was outside grilling dinner, there was a loud crack and then a terrible sight and sound.





It had poured rain, again, yesterday. It poured before the tree fell, it poured after the tree fell, it has continued raining over night...and it predicted to keep raining all day today.

I fear for the rest of my trees now, in standing water. Two hurricanes took the front yard trees. One replacement is in early adolescence and is big enough now to provide some shade and visual interest. The other is a mere child.

We'll plant a new tree, but my children will be long-grown and gone before it shades anything.

There is such a hole in the back now.

I admit it: I cried. Cried for the loss of the tree and all it provided. Cried for the tragedy, for the need to cut an over 50 ft tree into little bits. Cried for the complication and the cost.

I can't even be funny, creative or clever about this.

Of all the trees.

Of all the things.

I'm so tired of rain. Nothing is good in excess.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Things you need to know about this world we live in

Let me tell you a funny story.

Moving down here is like moving into the subtropics. Oh, or, wait, it's not like it, it is moving to the subtropics. It's an adjustment as I learn about new and different timing for seasons, plant care, different sorts of plants (all of which appear to be some variety of weed/allergen or hibiscus, oh except for the plethora of azaleas).

My husband and I have always believed in xeriscaping and water conservation, which is no problem here where it rains every day during the growing season and everything grows really well, almost jungle like. It's a daily battle to keep the vegetation from taking over, actually.

We have a very large lot. The first half of the backyard is lovely flat grass---St. Augustine, God Help Me---a perfect soccer field. Halfway back the tree line begins and the rest of the yard vanishes into dense growth. Last fall I noticed all of my neighbors doing something called cutting back. This is where you trim things back to nubs. Despite joining a gardening club and going to master gardener lectures, I still know nothing about this whole gardening business and regularly manage to kill everything I plant.

I contrived to hire a neighbor with a green thumb. He has a landscaping business and regularly clicked his tongue at my yard. He named a price to fix everything, I accepted, and he got to work.

We chatted off and on as he did the job. I explained how since moving here my allergies are so bad I rarely go out of doors, but at this house, it seems even worse. I said I couldn't stand to be out back.

"It stinks," I said, "And it makes my sinuses burn."

"Do you think," he asked, "That it could have anything to do with the large crop of ragweed you are growing near the back fence?"

"Isn't that Ambrosia?" I asked, suddenly fearing the lovely, rich, lush, full bushes I had so admired with their ball-like yellow blossoms.

"Ambrosia is common ragweed!" he laughed at me.

That's the trouble with everything down here: it has two names, and one makes it seem benign and lovely.

After that story and the previous photo, I imagine you look at this lovely plant to the left and probably think of ragweed and allergies. No, not ragweed, but it's much, much worse.

This beautiful flower is actually an orchid. It's unique to Yosemite National Park.

And it smells like dirty, stinky feet.

I know...you want to rush out and get one for your home right now.

On CNN, I learned

Botanist Alison Colwell said the species' minute, tennis-ball yellow flowers weren't what first led her to it, but rather the smell of sweaty feet that the Yosemite bog-orchid emits to attract pollinators.

"I was out surveying clovers one afternoon, and I started smelling something. I was like, 'Eew, what's that?"' said Colwell, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey in El Portal. "It smelled like a horse corral on a hot afternoon."

The plant, which is the only known orchid species endemic to California's Sierra Nevada range, grows in spring-fed areas between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, Colwell said.

The plant was first collected in 1923 and recently was identified as a distinct species.

Now the greatest fear is that it will be trampled.

I think the smell ought to deter most curious people, if not a short sign:

Step on this and people will think it's you who smells.

I felt compelled to share this in case anyone was going hiking in Yosemite soon. A PSA because I like you.

Further---also in the event that you are hiking in a national park---you have a greater chance of seeing a bald eagle. The birds are now officially off the endangered species list.

The danger to the species was first noted in 1963 when only 417 breeding pairs were found in the US. Today, that number is up to 9,789. Apparently, exactly.

The recovery of the bird is attributed to the ban of DDT in 1972.

Silly wildlife, always getting into chemicals that are bad for them. Listen up woodland creatures: just say no!

In all seriousness, I am really glad that the bald eagle is healthy and hale again. I'm also glad that they will remain a protected species. This doesn't, however, protect their habitat. Landowners are even happier about the change in status because now many---who have waited for years---will be able to develop their land.

Maybe they'll plant Platanthera yosemitensis (the orchid) and ambrosia.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Trepidation: The Hump Day Hmm for July 25, 2007

Edited to add caveat and clarification:

1. I want to be clear that by challenging the notion of political correctness, I am not advocating saying whatever one wants however, whenever and wherever one wants. That's not what PC is in my mind. Perhaps I ought to define what it is in my mind better than I have. There is judiciousness and wisdom in speech---which is weighing what one thinks and wants to say against the other people involved and the situation at hand. There is courtesy in selecting how one approaches a topic and addresses it with others. I'm a big fan of this, of respect and consideration. Then there is PC, which includes empty and meaningless buzzwords; the idea that by editing language we have cured the problem; and a culture of conformity and repercussion for nonconformity of not just words, but ideas. That's PC and that's what I am challenging.

2. I want to be clear that I do not mean to harangue anyone about not participating. If you are busy, or this isn't your cup of tea...then that's what I meant about choosing by preference and I understand. My point mostly reflects when someone feels "gagged" and wants to speak, but is too concerned to do so. On that count, see point #1 above...and why I am challenging PC.

3. I haven't arrived at any conclusions yet. Right now, I'm simply identifying and processing through a sense of discomfort with a barrier to individualism within thought and language---of expression---that is prompting me to explore a concept thoroughly so I can decide what I think and how I'd like to go forward.

The other posts are great explorations of this topic, and the comments so far (and anticipating further ones) are as well.

*****

Original Post:

This week is the first week since the beginning that I feel any trepidation about the Hump Day Hmm. Initially, I felt anxious that I'd set up this roundtable and nobody would come. Then we got an awesome regular thing going that blew my mind every week and I gained confidence. People were not just interested in the topics as writers, but also a readers. Even better, participants began sending in ideas for topics. I became comfortable expressing my views on the topics, confident that I was extremely fortunate in my readers: intelligent, open-minded and articulate as you are.

But this week, I may have overstepped my bounds.

I asked people to discuss political correctness and its societal, cultural, and communication implications.

I think this topic is uncomfortable to some.

And so I worried it's going to be just me. That's okay. But I also felt better when Snoskred e-mailed me a link to a post. Not just because it can feel a little funny standing by oneself in an empty room intended for a crowd, but because I really do want to hear what people think; even if it is an explanation of how they prefer to not be controversial (although I'm not actually asking anyone to be controversial or say anything provocative, just discuss how and why they communicate in this PC-age). Even if they think I'm nuts.

I'm open to different opinions. I even consider them. I think they are necessary to measure our ideas against for strength and durability, or for change, if needed.

We've lived inside the PC box for a really long time. We've carefully culled our language. But we haven't culled our ideas.

I still hear racism, only instead of using objectionable terms such as the n-word, people are more PC about it now and use the more appropriate African-American to say things such as, "Yeah, you know how those African Americans are...always blah blah (insert ignorant blanket statement here)."

People whisper it more quietly, are more subversive about it...hide it better, use more rational sounding language.

I think that makes it harder to fight.

But aside from bigotry, considerate people, kind people, people who want to be courteous and respectful are caught in an ambiguity of language due to political correctness. I think there are multiple sides to this: the silenced side and the vocal minority.

Consider what Mark Schmidt wrote in his paper, "The Orwellian Language of Big Government"

The state of American politics has become increasingly Orwellian. At the national level in particular, elected positions are dominated by career-minded officials who repeat empty and often deliberately misleading or untruthful slogans. Consider the two most recent Presidential campaigns. After "reinventing government," we "crossed a bridge to the twenty-first century" to a place where "no child is left behind," thanks to the wonders of "compassionate conservatism."[3] As Orwell understood, such vacuity strips political communication of any concrete meaning. The absurd end result was captured by President Clinton's niggling over what the meaning of "is" is. If this trend continues, our language will ultimately be useless to express the ideas that form the basis of rational political discourse in a healthy republic.

Language is at the root of political consciousness. We can only know what we understand, and our understanding is limited by the words and phrases used to frame an issue. The constant repetition of imprecise, politically correct language is sure to have a cumulative effect upon a target audience -- eventually we begin to accept what we are told. Indeed, the main goal of political correctness, like Orwell's Newspeak, is to diminish the choice of words and thereby reduce the range of thought.


This reinforces a quote I had in my last post from Wikipedia:

Conservative critics of political correctness, argue that it is a form of coercion rooted in the assumption that in a political context, power refers to the dominion of some men over others, or the human control of human life. Ultimately, it means force or compulsion.[22] Correctness in this context is subjective, and corresponds to the sponsored view of the government, minority, or special interest group. By silencing contradiction, political correctness entrenches the view as orthodox. Eventually, it is accepted as true, as freedom of thought requires the ability to choose between more than one viewpoint.[23][24] Some conservatives refer to Political Correctness as "The Scourge of Our Times."


(Emphasis mine.)

Right now, politics is the major issue, especially in these increasingly black and white times, before a major election.

You might like to read Mark Schmidt's article. He discusses specific terms, such as "Voluntary Compliance" for taxes, "Big Government," "Compassionate Conservatism," and "Equal Opportunity." It is from an opinion. It's not unbiased. You might agree, or disagree.

Just...have your own opinion. That's all I hope for. Even if you keep it to yourself, although you know me, I hope you'll say it.

I realize my approach to this tackles largely controversial elements. I don't think this discussion has to do that. That's me, the Queen of Provocative. That doesn't have to be you. You might even support PC, or parts of it. I don't think it's all bad. There are certainly derogatory terms no longer commonly said, and I don't miss them. That's good. But I do think it hasn't achieved the original goal and has created a nasty side-effect that comes out at times: silence and compliance, or worse, repercussions to those who don't observe strict silence and compliance.

Amazing voices that I know...are quiet. They don't want the vocal or vituperative special interests to bring down Thor's Hammer on them if they speak up or out, reflect their views, which might be unique or outside the accepted and sponsored view. Some have experienced it, some have learned through witnessing.

In my opinion, it's one thing if a person simply chooses---for example, in blogging---to stay on the sunny side of the street, the light and fluffy topics, out of personal preference, or preferred tone, etc.

It's quite another if someone has something to say, that is strong inside them, but bites their tongue or stills their fingers to prevent backlash.

I understand it, but it causes me to feel very critical of this culture (not of the person), of the contributing factor (political correctness, in my opinion), and generates a desire to tackle and bring down these walls between us.

I also understand the idea of picking one's battles, or more importantly, picking one's battleground. There is a time and place for everything...and the blogging and written medium may or may not be it. I comprehend that this doesn't mean this is absent from elsewhere. I know that a blog doesn't per se reflect the whole of a person or person's life. I was very intrigued by some comments when I posted the idea for this week's Hump Day Hmm. It's fascinating to hear how and why people chose the tone they did for their blog, how they select topics and subject, approaches. I love how diverse it is. I appreciate that I can come here and be as political as I wish, and someone else can be as light-hearted and humorous as they wish.

I hope you guys have posts (email them to me and I'll add them in) or comments. I do accept anonymous comments here, as well.

And in other reading:

Snoskred Political Correctness - The Hump Day Hmmm..

Julie at Learning and Laughter wrote Uncomfortably Correct

Chani wrote Deconstructing the impossible

Sephyroth wrote PC Paralysis

The Queen wrote Just underneath the surface

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blog Makeover: Very, very geeky post

As I get more sophisticated, I get more tempted to get more complicated templates and then GASP! recode them to my own specs.

I know.

Get a life.

LOL

So this is the new look...so far. What do you think?

I have a few links and kinks to work out.

And a few words:

1. Clicking on the tabs will move you to a new site. I'd rather it default open a new window or tab, so I have to work on that. But for now, if you want to click, right-click and open new window or tab manually. Sorry to ask you to work.

2. One of the tabs (About Me) isn't working. I'll have to muck about to figure out why and fix it. I'm sure it's obvious and I'm just tired.

3. There are more bells and whistles that I will slowly add.

4. Fair warning: I may be moving my blog to my own domain. Summer seems to be a good time to do this as numbers and stats are running a bit lower than usual.

5. Some of the linked sites, such as Awards, are a little quick and dirty. It's a make-do for now. My sidebar is going to get very cluttered if I keep adding stuff in. I tried a three column template but remained unsatisfied. I like this solution. I like a one quick clean glance elsewhere for awards (rather than blinging you out on the sidebar) and the like.

6. I just love love love organizing and tidying up. Now there will be a place for everything and everything in its place. Sigh. All is right with the world.

Hope this is good for you, too. :)

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Monday, July 23, 2007

We can't all be the American Idol, and few of us have a Fairy Godmother

Forethought: I've been working on many drafts (so far) of blog posts about blogging, the value therein, community, rights, obligations, limits, etc. These ideas are all gelling in my mind in a way that I'll be working out in posts. Some of these topics are being covered at BlogRhet by other bloggers who are fabulous, so check it out. Others are being worked out in upcoming Hump Day Hmm topics. Don't forget this Wednesday's Hump Day Hmm topic is political correctness and communication, outlined in more detail in this post. I've had some excellent topic suggestions so I'll create and post a schedule soon.



I recently finished reading Nick Hornby's latest novel, A Long Way Down. It's a dark comedy about four suicidal strangers who meet on the top of a building, where each had gone to jump. Their impulse to save each other forces them to realize their own self-preservation instinct. After walking down, the four bond into an unlikely band of friends.

'If Camus had written a grown up version of The Breakfast Club, the result might have had more than a little in commmon with [A Long Way Down] ... a brave and absorbing book. It's a thrill to watch a writer as talented as Hornby take on the grimmest of subjects without flinching, and somehow make it funny and surprising at the same time'

Tom Perotta, Publishers Weekly

JJ, described as a "tall, cool, American, looks like a rock-star (was, in fact, a rock-star before his band split) - who's weighed down with a heap of problems and pizza," was the character who most struck me. At an adult developmental leap point in life, he's trying to decide whether he can choose to leap forward, or if he ought to just leap off.

Early on he's explaining his story, how he ended up on the roof, and references it all back to when his band, Big Yellow, split up:

When Big Yellow played live, it was like some kind of Pentecostal service; instead of applause and whistles and hoots, there'd be tears and teeth-grinding and speaking in tongues. We saved souls.
...

But we used to have these messages boards up on our Web site, and I'd read them every now and again, and I could tell that people felt the same way we did; and I looked at other people's boards, too, and they didn't have the same kind of fans. I mean, everyone has fans who love what they do, otherwise they wouldn't be fans, right? But I could tell from reading the other boards that our guys walked out of our shows feeling something special. We could feel it and they could feel it. It's just that there weren't enough of them, I guess. Anyway.

Sometimes, I look at my traffic stats and comment numbers and compare them to other blogs. Not healthy, I know. Old habits. Habits for a good reason, which is to say, for an understandable reason.

Writing is (and I count blogging in this) a competitive and nepotistic field. For every one job, you know there are at least a dozen (more, usually) people who want it. Reputation and reader reception outscore talent and technical ability nine times out of ten.

If you want a job, first you have to prove that people want to read you. You can't prove that until you get a chance to get your pieces published. What a tricky wicket.

If you do manage to get published, you need the equivalent of good ratings. Otherwise, why use you again? The whole point of publishing your piece was to interest readers and convert them to buyers.

It's all about the benjamins.

JJ's band had a large number of shows and produced two critically acclaimed albums...neither of which sold well enough to generate revenue that made it worth anyone's while to bother further with the band. So one day, after a show, the leader said, basically, "Well, I guess that's it, then."

JJ decided then and there that clearly music was not his future. He'd given it a go, and it hadn't panned out. He fell into a space that was "too small, too dark and airless and fucking hopeless," as he contemplated his very limited future options.

The trouble with my generation is that we all think we're fucking geniuses. Making something isn't good enough for us, and neither is selling something or teaching something, or even just doing something; we have to be something. It's our inalienable right, as citizens of the twenty-first century. If Christina Aguilera or Britney or some American Idol jerk can be something, then why can't I? Where's mine, huh?

This idea is everywhere; it floods the television. People are chosen to get new houses, makeovers, new wardrobes, voted best dancer, favorite singer, etc. They aren't just sudden celebrities put in front of us; we see the entire process from "nobody" to "somebody." We know these are just Average Joes, just like us, or so we are primed to believe.

They aren't though, not really, not average at all. The ones we see on the shows were culled from very large herds of actual average people---people who didn't rate as much better than good enough (or worse).

The curse of mediocrity.

Growing up we all heard, "Everyone is special in some way...we all have different gifts." We watched kids get special attention and awards/rewards for being the Smartest, Cutest, Most Charismatic, and so forth and the rest of us bided our time, waiting our turn...anticipating our fifteen seconds.

And sometimes, we really aren't good enough to achieve our dreams.

Life Manifesto #1: You can't be anything there is to be. We are all born with certain potential and into limits. You don't have the right, you aren't entitled, to be rich, famous, or the best. But you can do your best at what you can do. And who knows where that may take you...

You want to shoot me right now, don't you?

So how do I reconcile this broadly promoted and aggressively pushed idea that we all ought to pursue our dreams? And how do we not end up like Walter Mitty, living exclusively in our imaginations to the detriment of our real life?

I think it's fine to learn, practice, work, and try but then we need to have enough wisdom to know our own limitations, and achieve our personal best within the bounds of reason. Or else we might end up on the ledge of a tall building, looking at the long way down---metaphorically, or literally.

I know I've had to overcome---err, know I must learn how to overcome---the knowledge of my own personal limitations as a writer. In my fantasies, someone reads a piece I wrote and thinks, WOW! this writer ROCKS! she's the next best thing...I must sign her up for [insert dream project.]

It's the geek version of the starlet getting discovered in the soda shop.

But that never actually happens. In fact, when I pursue jobs, I not only face a tremendous amount of rejection, it's much worse; I'm frequently ignored.

I look at other writers at those publications. I read their work. And I wonder, what makes them the guy, but not me? I can't tell...and nobody ever explains. Damn uppity editors! (that's self-deprecating humor) Am I the Big Doofus making an ass of myself, like the one kid on American Idol, or that other kid on SYTYCD?

Do I think I am better than I actually am?

And I think hard. I have worked hard at this blog. I have goals. I've achieved my personal blog goals: write frequently, write honestly, write meaningfully...work towards deadlines, try different styles and methods of content delivery, hone your craft, keep up the writing muscles.

Like JJ's band, I have found a small but interactive community. As on his Web site, my own blog reflects that people appreciate a certain something in what I write and how I write. But also like JJ, there just aren't that many.

My blog is fairly static, actually.

I watch other blogs come up behind me and then rapidly overtake me, bypassing me entirely.

Does that make what I do worthless? Not good enough?

I keep thinking about how maybe it's true: someone with my experience, education, intelligence, ability, etc. ought to have accomplished more by now. I keep thinking about this mug my younger sister-in-law gave my husband on his thirtieth birthday; it read, "I'm 30, seems like I should have more money by now."

We're so cruel, sometimes, to people in the middle and lower. We're so harsh, actually, about the middle itself. "Those who can't do, teach." "Well, he couldn't make it as an actor so now he directs." "Yeah, her copywriting career flopped so these days she's editing."

When did the top become the only place that matters? Are the bottom 90% failures?

My grandparents' generation seems to have---in my recollection---lived by a very modest credo, "It doesn't matter what you do as long as you do your best."

They may have limited themselves unecessarily at times, not reaching for the stars, but perhaps we do the same thing, often thinking the real accomplishment is catching the stars.

I don't know what my dream is, now. I have to reassess.

If I set aside the messages that culture, society, and childhood drummed into my head that it is my obligation to reach for the stars, follow my dream, fulfill my potential...then what do I think I need and want to do, knowing who and how I am, what I know I can and can't do?

I suppose if Hollywood made my life into a movie my story would have to have a fairytale twist with a fairy godmother sort swooping in to provide magical bestselling novel success. I suppose if Hollywood made Nick Hornby's book into a movie JJ's band would reunite, and with new depth to their music from this experience, would become wildly successful (or maybe not...they didn't massacre his other two books too badly). I like the way Nick Hornby ended it (and no, I'm not going to say...just go read the book).

I'm not sure why we all need to see the wildly successful and happily ever after ending so badly. I say this as one who adores this sort of tied-up-with-a-bow perfection.

But I do wish more things showed people---after not being the ultimate winner---finding joy in mediocrity.

I think Gwen initially planted this seed in my mind with a post she wrote a while back, and followed up with more recently with her post, What to expect. She wrote

It’s tempting to tell our children they’re extraordinary and special. But empirically speaking, from a superficial performance perspective, that extraordinariness is not going to last for most of them. My daughter may be especially, hmm, let’s say kind right now, in her very very small elementary school pond. But as she grows up, that pool is going to grow and her spot of specialness is going to slip. It’s simple mathematics. Not everyone can truly be extraordinary, in that externally apparent way. This is what we learned from The Incredibles: if everyone is special, no one is special.

Nobody ever told me I was extraordinary, but certainly they did focus on my youthful potential. I was bright, I ought to go far. In reality, though, we are limited by many things, not all of which are in our control, and at least one of which might be our tragic flaw. I'm bright and a decent writer. But more importantly, I enjoy it. it has value because I value it.

So I keep blogging. I have discovered a common happiness in achieving my personal goals and have rediscovered a feeling of pride in what I do accomplish, which happens to be making something and being something, even if it isn't the top dog. Plus, the community I have found is outstanding.

Thus, at the end of the day, it seems that each of us is extraordinary in some way, we do all have special gifts. Just not quite in the way I think most of our youthful minds interpreted it to mean. It doesn't promise top tier success, fame, or fortune. It does promise, though, that in life, if we stop and listen, we'll find extraordinary in something and enjoy our special gifts.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Political Corrrectness: The Hump Day Hmm topic for Wednesday, July 25, 2007



When I was in college, a sensitivity movement began...a movement that has developed into a new overlayer in our culture.

The idea began in the 1970s, my childhood, my development years. Its origin is allegedly Marxist-Leninist, intended to support the party line.

In 1991, President Bush I issued a serious warning against this movement during a commencement address at the University of Michigan.

By 1992, the year I graduated college, it had deteriorated into satire.

Now, in 2007, it has only escalated in authority, tying our tongues.

The movement is political correctness.

In Wikipedia, I learned a little more about the history:

The often quoted earliest cited usage of the term (in the form "not politically correct") comes from the U.S. Supreme Court decision Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), where it clearly means that the statement it refers to is not literally correct, owing to the political status of the United States as it was understood at that time.

Not correct due to the political status as it is understood at the time.

In the 1990s, the term became part of a conservative challenge to curriculum and teaching methods on college campuses in the United States (D'Souza 1991; Berman 1992; Schultz 1993; Messer Davidow 1993, 1994; Scatamburlo 1998)

We're so afraid to speak---for fear of being incorrect---that conversation has, I believe, deteriorated. In fact, although it is overall a linguistic concept, I believe it has larger cultural implications.

I'm not alone; other critics decry that it is:

* a limit to free speech

* an attempt to derail feminism

* useless and misses sensitivity by providing euphemisms that hide the ongoing bigotry

Liberals call it a conservative tool of controlling, and the insult is returned

Conservative critics of political correctness, argue that it is a form of coercion rooted in the assumption that in a political context, power refers to the dominion of some men over others, or the human control of human life. Ultimately, it means force or compulsion.[22] Correctness in this context is subjective, and corresponds to the sponsored view of the government, minority, or special interest group. By silencing contradiction, political correctness entrenches the view as orthodox. Eventually, it is accepted as true, as freedom of thought requires the ability to choose between more than one viewpoint.[23][24] Some conservatives refer to Political Correctness as "The Scourge of Our Times."

Even its existence is debated; but not by me. I believe this movement really happened because I've watched, as an adult, the shift in how we think and speak---in how we learn and teach. I agree with the concept that this is simply a pretty cloth covering a scarred society. We can change our language, and the images presented to us but this doesn't fix the real issue. Consider how we've trained our eyes to expect to see artificially contrived images of togetherness that is not a true reflection of society: Benetton ads, advertisements with careful constructs of mixed races and genders, and so forth. I remember how once these stood out to me, and now they seem normal.

I believe, in fact, that this movement has so censored us that we have come to believe that any sort of disagreement or discord is unacceptable. In fact, we revile as politically incorrect any person, situation, or statement that doesn't automatically validate every point of view.

I initially believed in this movement, trusted and supported the basic ideology behind it. But I believe the unfortunate situation Bush I warned about has come to pass: we've become so safe (so scared) that our communication is near death.

Aliki described people so plugged in to technology that they couldn't converse during her trip on a train.

Chani discussed unrealistic expectations that erect barriers to truth and honesty, genuine interaction.

And I expressed my frustration with being limited to unfulfilling generic, light conversations about safe topics only.

What I didn't describe in that post was the palpable discomfort in the room when I politely expressed that I was not okay with group endorsement of a book I considered offensive and controversial (the Secret, for the record). I left out how one person said---in so many words---that disagreeing wasn't really cool, we needed to support every point of view: if one person likes it, we need to accept it.

I was politically incorrect.

I just didn't catch that until a number of commenters alluded to or directly mentioned political correctness.

It was then that the idea for next week's Hump Day Hmm came to me: discuss the implications and effect of the political correctness movement. Any approach is welcome: in general, in your life, with a single situation, from a historical POV, defend it, highlight its positives or attack or criticize it, and so forth. Agree with my assessment or disagree with me. Pick apart the PC advertisements and the role of minorities in media; explain how the roles depicted still keep minorities in a certain place, a safe place. Whatever you approach strikes you. Take a risk...more than anything, in this topic, I want people to feel free to be honest.

You may have already written about it. That's fine...it doesn't have to be a new post. Or write a follow-up and I'll link to both. I don't see this as a short, one week topic, actually.

I see this as a Big Thing, and maybe something we need to reframe.

I hope a lot of you participate; I think we can start something good here.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nebraska...that's a joke, right?

Somebody from Nebraska's board/department of tourism hired the Jay Leno advertising agency to attract people to their state this summer.

Ummm...??????

I see their plan: let's draw all those tourist dollars to Nebraska.

I mean, after all, how many times can you go to hotshot destinations like Orlando and Williamsburg? So...might as well go to Nebraska!

I get it, and I know there are lovely parts of Nebraska.

But tell me...does this commercial draw you in?



I still feel a wee bit suspicious, like someone is having me on at my expense.

While on the topic of nothing much whatsoever...

And after weighting this blog down with the unbearable heaviness of being all week, I have some bloggy business to take care of that is much lighter.

About a month ago my buddy Roz tagged me for a meme, and since things are a little heavy there now too, this is one silly thing I can do in support of Roz.

1. What were you doing ten years ago today?

Today exactly? July 20? Uhhh...??? How about generally?

Let's see, 1997...we'd been married 4 years, were living in Belmont, MA, and I was working in Cambridge (Central Sq.).

2. What were you doing one year ago?

We had just moved to this house and then barely a month later drove up northeast to visit with my sister. We'd just gotten back around this time so I was probably frantically trying to unpack and get ready for the start of school.

3. Name five snacks you enjoy:


I don't really snack these days, but I do like:

avocado, on its own or with chips a la guacamole
fruit
crackers and cheese (something soft or super sharp cheddar)
Weight Watchers 1 pt snack cakes or popsicles (for those sweet urges)
Black olive tapenade

4. Name five songs you know all the lyrics to:

Okay wow, this is requiring some painful levels of thought!

Girl from Ipanema
Blackbird
Put Your Records On
Floodin' Down in Texas
A Little Bit is Better than Nada

5. Name five things you would do if you were a millionaire:

* Move back to Boston (That's all. I'm pretty sure that would take a million dollars right there.)
* I would like to start a charitable organization. (But again, I'm pretty sure that would take the whole million. Not necessarily, though, if you got other pledges. I've always wanted to start this thing called My Grandmother's House, as a sort of refuge for women and children in need.)
* College funds for kids and savings.
* Something for my extended family.
* Tour the world for a year, the entire family.

6. Name five bad habits:

Short-tempered
Potty mouth
Fidgeting with hair, nails, getting itches etc. when nervous
Thinking eating or buying something will solve a problem
Running late

7. Name five things you like doing:

Reading
Writing
Organizing and tidying
Getting my hair done
Getting a massage

8. Five things you would never wear again:

LEGGINGS! Except to yoga, and those aren't the same.
Lime green polyester
Bandana shirts
Big chunk belts at my hips
Hair bows

9: Name five favorite toys:
(from childhood, I assume? or now? Either way, these are still myfavorite things to do with kids)

Barbies
Books
Lincoln Logs
Legos
Art supplies

10: Now for the tagging:

People who read here
People who comment here
People in my favorites (and that's expanded people, so know you are in it!)
People on that 'desperately-needs-to-be-updated-and-WTF-is-wrong-with-BlogRolling-these-days' list
Anyone who wants to do this

Also, the other week, Snoskred did a big passing along awards post, and I was the humbly happy recipient of the Blogging Community Involvement Award. Since you all know how important the blogging community is to me, this one means a lot. Thanks Snoskred! And in a further burst of generosity, I got the Rockin' Girl Blogger...the nice thing here is that I now know I can ROCK! Thanks a second time!





Now, in all sincerity, if I have you in my Technorati Favorites, it is because I think you rock out loud (cut your eyes back over here...do NOT look at the BlogRolling list, that's not anything I use and I just need to fix it, update it or cut it).

So what I am going to do is wait for Izzy to finish her Rockin Reader award setup (right? Izzy?) and then I'm going to pass along these awards.

For now, despite my dislike of naming names, I am going to pass along the Blogging Community Involvement Award. There are some people who have done quite a bit towards understanding and building community in the blogosphere, a group I am honored and humbled to be a part of.

BlogRhet

If you haven't been to BlogRhet, give it a visit. What is it? You can read more about that here, but briefly:

This blog is intended as a discussion space that reflects on the practice of blogging itself, especially as it pertains to questions of community, citizenship, and identity. Its contributors are women from many walks of life, academics, teachers, SAHMs, writers, mothers, and grandmothers. All of us author personal blogs and all of us are intrigued by what blogging might mean in a broader context.


Her Bad Mother and Gingajoy are the co-founders, so I leave them in charge of this award, but it goes to every single one of the contributors. Congrats all!

P.S. I am responding to your comments in past posts, so check down, especially to the Rebel without a cause one (my next destination). Many thanks to all of you...and my sister, who, as usual, phoned in her comment---but who has agreed to do a Dueling Banjos co-post or guest post for this blog.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Rebel without a cause

I recently had one of those days. You know, the sort that the next day you wake up with Big Mouth Regret.

First, a bit of honesty: I have a sad inclination at times to not trust people very much when it comes to me. This ties back to the Hump Day Hmm theme this week of letting go, which---when it comes to believing that people can and will accept me as I am---I haven't done. I haven't let go of all those times I wasn't. Times, by the way, that are not in the past, which is probably why the letting go bit is so hard.

I have learned that people are generally more comfortable with me when I put on the Facade, you know, the old "scarf over the lightbulb to dim the wattage" trick. I'm not fooling them; people aren't stupid. They can tell I am a wolf in sheep's clothing. But as long as I act like a sheep rather than a wolf, we can all be okay.

I make it sound like I think that's a bad thing---it's not, and I don't. We all do a degree of masking in order to respect the boundaries of individuals, groups, and situations.

Every person you pass who says, "Hi! How are you?" doesn't want a thirty minute verbal expository essay. And neither do most of us when we ask.

We can all tell usually when the interest is genuine and the time is right for more depth, honesty, soul-baring.

But what if that moment hasn't come in a long time, too long?

That's me, and that's why I did what I did. I got to a point of feeling inside a bit like a candle under a bush that set the bush afire. The Julie bit said, let me out or the bush is toast! I needed to be more than Patience's mom, Persistence's mom. Sometimes I wonder if that is why I blog so infrequently about my kids. This is my space, the Julie space. I even use my name here.

Behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz was a man. Behind the stained shirt, overly large bag bulging with un poco de todo, annoyingly directive voice, the mom is still a woman.

We all say this, but do we know it?

When you meet a mom for the first time, or after a while, are you more likely to leap into a discussion of headlines or parenting? Ask about her views on whether religion is a factor in the presidential race for 2008, or ask what her kids have been up to?

And that, my friends, is why I recently had one of those days: it's been the latter, and the latter, and the latter again for me.

I want to tell you what I think about religion as a factor in the presidential race, and I shall, here on my blog...it's already written up, waiting in drafts.

But I also want that in my corporeal life, not per se that exact conversation, but the sorts of conversations I have on my blog. I want that, out here, too.

However, I don't feel like I have that channel available to me out here. I tried getting involved in a political group...but didn't click and anyway, they were all wary of me since they couldn't understand why I'd move here from Massachusetts. I tried finding a book club. Unsuccessful. I did find a great discussion group for religious issues for a while, but it sort of washed out a bit; the meaty discussions moved more towards parenting chit chat. Again.

One day it disturbed me to realize that the only people I have to talk to about my meaty issues are...online.

Thanks goodness for the Internet, and what would I do without it, I'm immensely grateful and enjoy my community here, but...

* what's it mean that I don't feel like I have one person around me who is interested in my interests and issues?

* what's it mean that I pour the weight of me into the Internet?

* what's it mean that this is where I turn to find the things that matter a lot to me?

Is this the common plight of the SAHM? Of moms in general? Is this why there are so many of us online, discussing these sorts of things...issues beyond parenting?

It made me feel a little weary, that. I felt a degree of---potentially false---superficiality to my life, and my corporeal relationships.

Even my husband, once my favorite issue discussing partner, and I focus on the kids when we talk.

So what happened was...one day I decided to trust the people around me---trepidatiously, more of a mental decision to trust more than an actual feeling of trust---and be honest and say what I really think. Politely. I'm not saying turn into some Jim Carey character and blab everything on my mind. I just mean: be polite and honest.

Let's say...maybe it didn't go so well, maybe it did---it remains to be seen, I suppose. But I did wake up the next day with a pretty bad case of Big Mouth Regret. I'm hoping that eases soon.

The true source of my Big Mouth Regret is not so much that I did open my mouth and say what I think, nor is it really about how I said what I said; it's more why I said it: fatigue with masking and a 'selfish' need to reveal what I really think.

If I can get past the anxiety about revealing myself through truth and the guilt about being who I needed to be instead of who I think others need me to be, I'll see that this might not need regret.

So what do I think the outcome is, that makes me feel some regret?

I think some people think I am insane. Maybe I am. I think some people are a little miffed, and I'm not sure whether it is because I broke the rules (just nod, smile and go along to get along) or because I, someone they always trusted to agree with them and be on their side, expressed a difference of opinion. I think some people were glad to have some truths out in the open. Some things helped, other things fell flat.

I don't know where it is going to go---will it lead to more openness? More discussions beyond parenting? meaningful discussions beyond parenting?

I still don't think, while at a playdate, I'm going to begin pouring my thoughts and views about the function of historical winner's rhetoric in modern xenophobic culture.

I still don't think---despite a high level of intelligence in most people I know---that many people are terribly interested right now in the unbearable lightness of being. I think most of the time most people feel pretty heavy under the weight of being: being parent, worker, spouse, friend, child, self, etc.

In this case, I'm not too sure, though, whether this is my lack of trust resurfacing or a solid gut instinct that would serve me well to listen to.

I do think that it might have opened a door, though, so if someone does want weight and meat beyond what you get in parenting, they know I'm open for business.

P.S. I had another entry to the Hump Day Hmm: Mary-LUE's The Things They Carried: A Hump Day Hmm-er Double Header

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Never Let Me Go: Hump Day Hmmm

Kazuo Ishiguro, I've noticed, always incorporates elements of letting go, self-sacrifice, and sense of self in his books. He usually explores the line of where one person ends and another begins by creating dysfunction and imbalance in both the situation and in the characters, who usually are in a position of serving others to the point of near or total self-loss---although, that might be a misunderstanding, perhaps instead it is our issue of trying to understand how a person can be whole when his or her identity is formed through serving another/others.

He continues that theme in his book, Never Let Me Go (Random House, 2004).

Reviewers describe this book with terms like, "devastating," "quiet desperation," "deceptively simple," "existential crisis," and "emotionally shattering."

The book doesn't hide anything from you. It opens with the main character, Kathy H., telling the story of her life. She states the facts in the first sentence: she is 31, grew up in a school called Hailsham raised by a slew of guardians, and has been a carer---one of the best---of donors for more than eleven years. Upfront Ishiguro has revealed that this is a book of horror, for all that it is about a compelling story of a love and friendship triangle between Kathy and her two friends Ruth and Tommy. But you are so drawn in to the people and their relationships that it takes time to process that these people were created to serve as organ donors for the rest of the population.

In my post a few days ago, I begged for someone to email me who had read this book because it was burning a hole in my mind and soul. Thankfully, Mary-LUE was willing and able. We both found that this story grew and grew, more and more, the horror dawned on us increasingly after we had read the last page and closed the book. It takes a few days for it to all sink in. For me, it was the next day as I was driving on the highway. I glanced to the person in the car next to me, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by humanity, and I choked up thinking about it, and about the book.

It is devastating. But also gorgeous, moving, enthralling, and enlightening.

It's horror, a parable, science fiction, a mystery, as well as a tale of characters growing and evolving---probably, believe it or not, the most compelling part of the book. It's a story that is thick and rich, so dense you might normally read a couple of chapters and set it down to process, but you can't because the story---the mystery and suspense---makes it a "read it all in one sitting page turner."

I haven't provided any spoilers.

You know where this book and its characters are headed from the opening line of the first page.

But you can't accept it. You can't let them go.

Or, at least I can't.

But then again, I'm not terribly good at letting go of people or situations, especially if there is a sense of incompleteness (which is a little ironic, considering in the book characters "complete" rather than "die," which exposes how they are thought of: as a purpose more than a person---another Ishiguro theme).

I am the sort who is first to the party of emotional investing and last to leave. I think, believe it or not, that it's because I think so much, and need to process through, versus a big emotional rush and dump and run. You might say I don't transition well.

I recognized this, actually, after becoming a parent, after I had read Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's book about spirited children. I might have realized it sooner, but I had no vocabulary for it and wasn't conscious of it.

If I apply Kurcinka's practical advice to situations for my children, endings are fairly painless. If I apply them to myself, they can be less painful.

"Needing time to transition" is much nicer than saying "not very adapatable."

But at heart, that's a little of what it is.

Like my children, I don't attach to objects. I don't have a cluttered house, and I don't like clutter. I can purge with no trouble. The only time I hit a stumbling block on this is if the object is emotionally attached to a person or situation I haven't been able to let go of yet. I imagine this is the issue for all cluttering, but it's rare that I so affix emotion to an object. I'm more likely to attach to---invest in---people, and our dynamic through which we relate.

It takes me a while to realize that I have been spaced out, or moved beyond. Sometimes it even takes me a while to realize that I have moved beyond. Nevertheless, change, transition and endings are an inevitable process, and one I need to accept. Moreover, I need to achieve constructive letting go in order to have peace and well-being in my life.

Sylvia Clare wrote

"Letting go is simply making a decision to no longer allow something from the past to influence your life now or to reduce your inner sense of peace and well-being. So all we need to do is to let go of the beliefs and attitudes that prevent us from experiencing the joy of the moment. The problem comes in identifying exactly what that means; we have so many beliefs that prevent us from being in the here and now, from being content and peaceful within."

I'm not sure why I am so expectant of loss, or why letting go means loss to me. I expect I'll figure it out since I'm asking. I imagine, to some degree, it is because of the type of person I am, and the type of life I've lead, which seems to ask for a lot of letting go. If I were to turn this blog into a reminiscence---and sometimes I have, such as with the infertility stories that are such a lesson in letting go---I could explore the many times I've hit an ending or change before I was ready, and how hard it was to let go, and move on. I do often turn this blog into a soapbox, which is very much about injustice, a very hard thing to let go of.

When it comes to this type of letting go, Clare says

We should have no values, no judgements, no morals, no criticisms, no ideas of what is or should or shouldn't be. None at all. Because if we have an idea of what is or what should or shouldn't be we are making a judgement on something that is as it is, as God or as the Universe intended. It is as it is, and it is perfect as it is for the people who are involved in that scenario.

I don't quite agree. I believe that perhaps things might be as they should be, for one reason or another, but I also believe that we ought to evaluate. Sometimes things need to change. Clare concedes this, but somehow implies that one can be moved to act without judgment, or ought to, anyway.

Unlike Clare, I think it's okay to invest emotion, energy, and values into a situation (and person).

Like Clare, I think that when it is time, we need to recognize when to let go and accept change.

That's hard for people like me---the planners and organizers, with plans and backups, all situations thought carefully through and prepared for the to best of our ability. It's not a matter of feeling that something happens "to" us, but is instead an over-recognition of things happening "from" us.

Finding the balance and letting go is tough, but necessary.

So I work on my mindfulness, my processing, and incorporate Sheedy Kurcinka's plan of "get enough sleep-pay attention-give fair warning-then walk through letting go and moving on to the next thing" to assist with successful transition.

For the children, for example, if we're leaving the park, we say goodbye piece by piece, and thank the playground for all the fun we had.

For me, for example, I say goodbye, piece by piece, and then thank the person or situation (at least mentally) for all it/they have brought to me.

So how about you?

What do you think of Clare's idea about letting go?

What's your idea of letting go? Your process.

To see what others said, check out

What Emily Got for Her Fourth Birthday

Snoskred's Letting Go

Kaliroz's Letting Go

Andrea's Doors, Open and Shut

Fluttercraft's How to Let It Go

Catherine's babbling, rushing stream

Chani's Liturgy of the Hours

I'm open to suggestions for next week's topic, and remember, if you want the button, just ask. :)

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P.S. The book? It's not so much fiction. Is it? Don't we currently enable an organ donor black market, where desperately poor people become donors so their families can eat?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dealing with autism: A mom who gives them something to think about

About a decade ago or so, my husband and I stepped trepidatiously into the land of infertility.

We'd been married about five years when we decide to try to conceive. This was, actually, a master plan. While my husband and I were still dating I went to my friend Julie's sister's wedding shower and she shared her master plan for marriage. I thought Holly was about as cool as it got, so I paid attention to every word she said, and logged it in my head like gold.

Later, my husband liked the five year plan: play for five, then settle down.

And it's true: for five years we played...and played...and played.

One day, it felt like time.

Let's have a baby.

Only it didn't at all work out that way. I've gone through it before, the infertility saga, a la Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. The latest installment I haven't shared because...well, I am still processing. I want to, though, because sharing is what got me through infertility, and I feel like sharing might help someone else. So I'm working my way up to it.

But at the beginning, I was scared, ashamed, overwhelmed, confused. Oh the jokes about how we must not be doing it right abounded. Ha freaking ha. Nobody I knew dealt with an inability to conceive. My sister got pregnant simply by thinking about it and it seemed everybody I knew was the same. Where could I turn?

At the time, a newish Web site called iVillage was just gaining momentum. They had acquired a site called ParentsPlace which hosted a fantastic forum for people trying to conceive and those having trouble conceiving. A lot of us didn't admit, yet, to infertility. I was adopted by twin sisters and introduced to their circle, who welcomed me with open arms. Eventually, I became a board leader, and even more eventually, I moved on to the Infertility Forum, where a sadly large number of my new friends still were.

We were simultaneously happy to be with one another even while we grieved at multiple failures and losses. A grief cycle compressed into 30 days. You live that way. For years. Talk about PTSD.

The upside is that a number of us became close and a decade later are still good friends. In some way, we have all created families. Two remained childfree, not by choice, but by chance, and have moved forward. Several adopted. Others of us managed to conceive and make it to a live birth. When you go through infertility, you learn two lines don't make a baby.

The other thing that infertility teaches you is that nothing is a sure thing and there are no happily ever afters. Those of us who bonded as Bitter Infertile Women knew that life doesn't always go as planned, and you have to make a way within it anyway. We know you have to take your happy times and enjoy them, and deal with the rest.

One mom, a good friend, one who has been there through thick and thin, has proved that and more.

When her precious, wanted more than you can describe son finally arrived, we all exclaimed over his beauty. He is seriously one of the most beautiful children you have ever seen. And smart, too. At a get-together one time, her son wowed Patience with his ability to sit at the window and count cars. Patience, a little younger, was still trying to figure out colors, and this kid was using addition to quickly figure out a sum of vehicles.

"I like Elmo," Patience said.

"That makes 22!" M cried triumphantly. Patience looked impressed.

Still, set them side by side, and something was different, beyond personalities.

Before M was even 2, my friend began wondering aloud, "Is this normal?"

We all went back and forth between, "kids are so different" and "follow your gut."

She did. And it wasn't too much longer (in my time, time outside the testing track) that she got a Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) diagnosis. In layman's terms, that's autism, high functioning autism. It's a spectrum, you know.

She hit the ground running, gathering treatments and information like a pro. We all said, "He's so lucky to have a mom like you!"

She said, "What do you mean? I'm his mom! It's my job!"

But we all knew she was extraordinary.

That's why, when one day she was saying, "I'm tired of other parents not getting it. Telling me my son needs discipline, telling me how to parent, acting like we have some communicable disease..." I told her, "You ought to write a book."

And do you know...she did.

She wrote an awesome book. In fact, it was so great, I offered to publish it.

Now, that book---a moving story about a boy with autism, told from his sister's point of view, and full of real information about autism, including a resource section in the back---is out.

And she started a blog.

She just began, it's new. But she's chronicling---as I have long encouraged her to do, because her writing is fresh, honest, true and emotional, even if she thinks it's not good, it is---her journey into autism. Edited to say, no, actually, it's about their journey through and beyond autism.

If you know anyone who is touched by autism---and seriously, most of us do know more than one---and even if you don't, check out her blog.

And if you want, buy her book.

We can all talk about motherhood as we wish. It is a different experience for each of us.

I have to say, though, in all honesty, whenever I get too far into my own case of pity---replete with Whine, Cheese, and Violins---I remember how Gina is as a mom. In my lowest time, when I was worried about moving from one child to two, she donated countless hours of friendly shoulder and advice.

She is practical, on top of it, creative, remembers to laugh, occasionally tired and frustrated, but at the end of the day, loving. Her kids know they are loved.

She's a mom. And she gives us all a lot to think about.

Also, if I may be so bold, here are some other wonderful old pals (just a few who happen to blog):

Syd at Forever Young

Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor at Breastfeeding 1-2-3

Mamacate, whose description is so rockin' I have to share it:
A blog to serve the needs of the infertile lesbian fiber arts breastfeeding parents of twins community, particularly those who are left-leaning democrats employed in research and education. Don't all comment at once, we don't want to crash the server.

Are you even close to that cool?

And who says online friendships aren't real!

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert