Thursday, March 29, 2007

My mother was a Chinese trapeze artist.

What is wrong with our country's parents?

Today, I was reading the NYTimes, and the following headline caught my eye: Child Wants Cellphone; Reception is Mixed. Unable to help myself, I started reading the article. It begins with the testimonial of a woman who bought her 8 year-old daughter a cellphone, after the kid begged for two years. When the article got to statistics stating that, out of 20 million American kids in the 8-12 age group, 6.6 million of those kids have cell phones, I stopped reading and started ranting.

I cannot believe that anyone finds it appropriate to buy such an expensive, maintenance-oriented toy for their children. What is wrong with people? What possible need does an 8 year-old child have for their own personal phone? It makes me sick. When I was younger, and even through my teen years, the ease of my parents at saying "no" infuriated me constantly. Now, I read things like this, and I am so grateful that when I was 8, there were no cell phones in my stocking.

Yes, technology has changed, and this affects expectations on all counts. But I still can't see the rationale in the way parents give their children everything. What kind of adults do these kids grow up to be? They grow up to senselessly burn fossil fuel, to isolate themselves from others with (unnecessarily) big houses in cookie-cutter suburbs, to contribute to a culture of waste that is massive by global standards. These people think nothing of their impact in the world, environmentally or ethically, because they were taught that things would be given, that everything is an entitlement.

Here's a great story my roommate overheard at a coffee shop in Prairie Village:

A woman (Erin calls them Country Club Moms, or CCMs) was telling her fellow CCMs about dropping her son off at day care. Apparently, the son threw a massive temper tantrum upon being dropped off. One of his teachers suggested to his mother that she try bringing a favorite stuffed animal next time, to make the kid feel more at ease. The mother looks at the teacher and says,

"Do you have any kids?"
"No, I don't. I'm a nun," replies the teacher.
"That's what I thought, so you don't know what you're talking about." And scene.

I wonder why the kid was having a temper tantrum in the first place.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Another week, another letter

Friday afternoon, I was on my way home when I suddenly realized something important: as of this time next year, my car will be paid off. The extra $200 a month could be put to good use.

I called Stef with this information, and announced that if I saved this extra money, she and I could plan a trip to Europe. She treated these plans with the utmost of seriousness ("Uh, ok"), and we hung up.

I flurried in the door, shouting to Erin as I knew by the radio and the fumes that she was painting the kitchen. I dropped my bags ( how do I accumulate bags during the work day?) and stopped to chat for a minute, debating whether or not to take a Friday night disco nap.

I went to check the mail for my insurance billing, and found two envelopes of regular size. I flipped past the bank statement to reveal a DePaul envelope. So soon?! I frowned at its size and yelled at Erin to announce its arrival.

I carried it to my room, realizing that although it was only a standard-measuring envelope, it held more than one piece of paper: very positive. I opened it and read, shocked, that the English department had recommended me for DePaul's Master of Arts in Writing. I screamed. Erin screamed.

I rushed into the kitchen to stare at her, standing on a step ladder, grey paint on her leg. "Erin! I got in!" "I know, I'm so excited for you!" "But Erin, I had plans! Plans..." I thought about the call to Stef, the comfortable money and living situation I found myself in and pursuing, the ideas I'd been forming about teaching. I thought about living in Chicago, about uprooting and buying things like dishes and beds, about massive debts and eating Ramen noodles.

Then, I thought again about living in Chicago, about seeing concerts and seeing art. I thought about public transit and outdoor festivals. I thought about being in school again, about living for the sole purpose of learning and writing. Plans change.

I went on to a night full of NCAA basketball and Pale Ale. On my way home, I realized something. "Hey, my writing got in." I smiled, alone in my car. Not me, my writing. I'd be fine.

Entirely unrelated:
Read more from the NYTimes about pop music. This article? Discusses what they hail as "the end of the album." To my mind, the album will never die. Nothing can replicate the feeling of listening to one artist's idea of the way an hour should unfold. Listen to OK Computer, then tell me the album is dead.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The events of yesterday

I finally made it home last night after seven. As I opened my front door, I was relieved to find it unlocked. I dragged my good-sized purse, my over-sized yoga tote, and my two plastic shopping bags into the house along with the hooded sweatshirt I no longer needed. Warm air pervaded and my feet marveled at the feeling of cheap Old Navy flip-flops worrying the space between my first and second toes. I used the two fingers of the hand holding my Chipotle take-out to pick up the letter with my formal name on it as I breathed “Oh shit.”

I dropped the shopping bags and purses on the floor in front of my bed, and made a break for the kitchen with my food and the envelope I knew was too thin to hold anything of comfort. You want packets, you never want letters. I put it all on the counter top, and opened the envelope the way I always open envelopes, lifting only a corner of the flap and using my thumb to rip one of the short sides, the side next to the return address: University of Minnesota.

Dear Helen, we regret to inform you…Nearly 250 applicants…Rigorous competition…only 13 accepted.

I simultaneously started shoving Chipotle in my face and dialing Emmy’s number. As I listened to it ring, I realized how gentle the jolt had been. Had I really stayed true to what I’d been telling everyone – I honestly didn’t believe I would get it? What’s worse, the rejection itself, or my numb acceptance?

After I told her, Emmy sounded more destroyed than I did. I continued to pile steak, rice, green peppers and salsa into my mouth. Emmy offered to come over; I told her to stay home and rest. I replaced phone with TV, flip flip flipping through the channels. I watched chefs – all male – compete in the World Pastry Championship. They constructed beautiful, delicate sculpture out of sugar and fake sugar, sugar substitute, all melted and poured, bubbly, into six-foot molds. The translucent colors and stark shapes impressed me. They brought chocolate to the correct temperature and kept it there, at that precise temperature perfect for molding and sheen. I hardly realized that chocolate could have a sheen.

Allison called, having received a similar letter that day. I listened to her, listened to her true feelings of rejection and disappointment. Her helpless fury did nothing to awaken my quiet. I continued to feel dull, dull, dull.

France won the pastry competition. The US took third. I sat, eating Chipotle, craving honey cake from Prague. The US cake was made of beautiful, rich layers of golden brown. It looked like honey cake, and I wanted more than anything to be sitting with my friends in their borrowed life, drinking champagne and eating cake in the middle of a Sunday. What a tactile memory – the creamy middle, the light airiness of cake that I’d never had before. I went to Prague to eat cake that I’d never had before, and last night I sat in my basement to eat, and watch TV, and feel completely cut off from anything I’d ever thought to be my essence.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Glorious Patti Smith

I found this article in the NYTimes today. If memory serves me, Patti Smith used to write music reviews before she started her delicious career of making music. Read this outstanding reflection on rock and laurels:

What an interesting reflection on one's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is why Smith is an artist, and I for one am excited that she's being honored. I could bemoan the lack of true artists on today's rock and roll scene (see my senior seminar paper), but I'm too busy discovering the world of Elvis Costello, and celebrating the fact that I heard The Thermals on KC radio today (96.5, who knew??).

ps - I think the link should work, but if not, it's in the Opinion section.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing

One of the duties that I've accrued in my time at the Foundation on Aging is the Payroll Conversion Specialist. I guess, when our payroll converts this Thursday, you can consider my far-reaching talents to have danced into the arena of HR. It's amazing the ambitions that keep popping up which I had never even dreamed of.

I've been working personally with a representative of our new payroll server, Erik. Erik with a K and I have communicated primarily via email, though I've had to phone him a couple of times to clear up some basic problems. After the past couple of weeks, I've realized something: he's a moron. I emailed him today, after he requested a reminder for our training time. I wrote him back to remind him that, though I had asked for one last Monday, we had not yet scheduled a training time. I told him that I was available all week. He wrote back and said "Please just let me know when is a good time? I am available all week." Is there an e-echo? No, he had just repeated what I told him.

I wrote back and requested a meeting at 11am. I clarified this to say 11am Central time, because Erik works on the East Coast. Minutes later, he sent me the official link for our web training, occurring at 10am Eastern time. Now, my degree may be in English, but last time I checked, you had to be able to tell time to be employed as a professional in any field.

I wrote back to Erik with the following: 10am Eastern time is 9am Central. If this is the only time you have available, that’s OK, but I’d prefer to do it at 11am Central time (12pm Eastern) so that my coworker, Jane Wilson, can join me.

Nice? I hope so, because in copying that text from the email, I realized that I spelled his name "Eric." Whoops. Who's the moron now?