Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Incoming Call...Rejected!

On Friday, Nick and I were in the car when my mother called. Since my iPhone connects automatically to my car, the car's sound system automatically stops the music or radio, and talks to me when calls come through (like I can't hear the ringing through the speakers...duh).

"Incoming call! Incoming call!" the Voice of Mazda shouts.

Ordinarily, I simply ignore the calls and let them ring through to voicemail because I dislike driving and talking on the phone at the same time. I rarely look at the screen on my car when calls come through, but Nick, sitting in the front seat, read the caller ID and told me it was my mother. He noticed that two buttons appear on the touch screen when calls come through the car, and he wanted to touch one since, well, it's a screen, and teenagers must touch screens or they lose valuable life points.

Or something like that.

Anyway, he touched the "hang up" button, and the Voice of Mazda loudly and disapprovingly announced, "Incoming call...REJECTED! Incoming call...REJECTED!"

Oh, my gosh. I rejected my mother's call. How could I do such a thing!?!?

Nick and I giggled helplessly at the absurdity of automotive technology. When I told my mother about it, she laughed, too, and assured me she didn't feel rejected at all.

This got me thinking about how many calls we reject because of caller identification. Even though our home phone number is listed on the national do-not-call registry, we still get telemarketing calls regularly. I sometimes answer and immediately say, "We are on the do-not-call registry, Take us off your list and don't call again." This usually works, but you might remember my experience with "You People" at a magazine subscriber service.

Some calls come from organizations we actually do support. Wichita State University is particularly persistent, calling every single blessed night during dinner for two months until I accepted the call and promised my annual donation.

Any call that comes through when we're eating a meal gets ignored. The kids used to protest, but now, they know. No call is so important that it can't wait until we're finished eating our family meal.

Needless to say, I'm perfectly comfortable letting the phone ring, but many people find that strange or perhaps even deviant. "Are you crazy? The phone is MUST pick it up!"

No. No, I mustn't.

Technology has turned us into Pavlov's dogs. We start salivating every time our ringtone sounds. And the programming doesn't stop with ringtones. Our phones and computers allow us to set different noises for all the other ways people have of contacting us...texts, emails, private messages, FaceTime, Skype, and such. Each sound tells us we must, must, must respond, or the universe will end in a fiery maelstrom of lost opportunity.


One day, George complained that I didn't answer a text promptly, and I ranted: "Texts are the perfect form of communication because you can wait to answer them when it's convenient for you. When I text you, here's what I'm saying: I want you to know this, but I don't want to interrupt whatever you're doing or inconvenience you in any way. If I have a question for you and text it, that means it's low priority. Get to it when you can. The universe will not collapse on itself if I don't get an answer in thirty seconds. If it's an emergency, I'll CALL you and interrupt you."

He saw the sense it that, and hasn't complained about my not texting back immediately since. In fact, we have quite a lot of fun with texting sometimes, although when I "sexted" him, he was disappointed that it was just a shot of my fully-clothed chest as I sat in the cafe at Barnes and Noble.

Sexting request...REJECTED!

George was, by the way, not at all surprised.

Do you feel like a slave to ringtones and texts? While technology is no doubt helpful and useful, how have you learned to keep it from invading your life in unhealthy ways? 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Of Dreams and Snapped Fingers

When my sister and I were little, we watched our mom struggle to support us...and she succeeded. That was a powerful early lesson in having very little, working hard, and moving up. My sister applied it to her dream of being a professional ballerina. I applied it early in life to academic success. As adults, she and I have internalized that lesson and benefited from it enormously.

My own children, however, haven't seen their parents struggle much. About the closest they've come is watching their dad train for Ironman triathlons, which has taught them that their dad is, well, sort of crazy. They've also never scrimped and saved to buy clothes or searched for lunch money in the sofa.

One night, we were watching The Big Bang Theory, an episode that showed Sheldon's apartment in the early years. As with many young adult's apartments, the furniture had been purchased in the lawn-and-garden section of the home improvement store. Nick said, "I'm never going to live in a crappy place like that!"

George and I laughed out loud and assured him he most certainly would live in a place like that--if he was lucky--because we had lived in a place much worse when we were in college and in the immediate years after. Sheldon's place was palatial compared to our first apartment. We explained to him that's how most people start off.

He doesn't believe us yet. But he will.

Oh, yes. He will.

It's hard for parents to teach kids the importance of starting with nothing and working hard when the parents have already achieved a modicum of success. George and I had been married for thirteen years before we had Nick. Both boys have always had a comfortable home, well furnished and spacious, with ample food on the table. Abundance is taken for granted.

Nick is slowly learning that hard work pays off. The thrill of being in a musical last spring taught him that working hard to learn his songs, dances, and single line of dialog was worth it. He even admitted that he shouldn't have complained about hours of tedium in was all necessary for the end thrill. Now, he's got lines and two parts in the high-school musical and is joyfully applying himself. Academically, he's made the same commitment to hard work that I made. His last report card came up all A's.

Recently, Jack's band teacher told me that Jack wasn't playing at the same level as the other trumpet players. He didn't feel that Jack would be successful in the junior high school band, not without significant progress. This didn't surprise me because I've listened to the kid practice and it's, well, uncomfortable.

When I shared the band teacher's opinion with Jack, he said, "It's my dream to be in the 7th grade band." I explained he would have to make serious progress and work very, very hard if he wanted to make that dream come true. The next class with his private trumpet teacher went very well. "I think Jack has had a breakthrough," Jay said.

Surprisingly, Jack approached his school band teacher and told him about the dream. The teacher told him the same thing I told him: he has to work harder to achieve it.

A few nights ago, George and I listened to Jack practice and could actually identify most of the songs he played. That's a first! At dinner last night, Jack asked how he was doing, and we told him that he was playing better but needed to keep working hard.

George said, "You can't snap your fingers and be a great trumpet player."

Jack replied, "I can't snap my fingers at all." And he proceeded to demonstrate.

Idiom and autism rarely understand each other. Nevertheless, I hope Jack will stick with this dream and make it happen. Righteously practicing trumpet for 20 minutes a day is not exactly the same struggle as eating ramen noodles seven days a week or building end tables from cinder blocks, but it can't hurt. 

After all, he has a dream and literally can't snap his fingers to make it happen.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gratitude Journal #264

Today, I am grateful for sunshine and temps in the high 20s!

Today, I am grateful for handmade cards sent to me by friends.

Today, I am grateful for THIS ARTICLE in The Atlantic. I'm grateful people are starting to become aware of just how the Common Core has forgotten and neglected students with special needs.

Today, I am grateful for George's photography skills. He took all the following photos.

Jack at the Special Olympics Bowling

Nick and Snowman

Zen Puppy loves the snow. Ohmmmm.

Attack Puppy strikes!

"Aha! I got you!"

Revenge of the Boy

"No, no. Bad boy!"

Check out the ears.

It's all in good fun...

until someone gets hurt! (Just kidding.)

A Boy and His Dog

Don't you just love the look Daisy is shooting at Nick?
"I may be down, but I'm not out, Human!"

These pictures somehow make the long, cold winter of my discontent more tolerable. Thanks, sweetie!

What are YOU grateful for today?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Gratitude Journal #263

Today, I am grateful for Lent...even if we have to listen to fillet-of-fish sandwich advertisements until Easter. 

Today, I am grateful for the pretty snow we got last weekend. I am grateful that the kids have had a full week of school, with only one day of delayed start. I am grateful for blue skies, clear roads, and white lawns.

Today, I am grateful for Stephen Ministry, for the ready service of men and women with hearts full of compassion, mercy, and love who want to walk with others through their valleys.

Today, I am grateful for friends who know they can call me with their problems, even when their problems break my heart. What a privilege to have friends who trust me that much!

Today, I am grateful for my sister-in-law Angela, who is the best amateur travel agent EVER. Our vacation to Canada is going to be amazing!

Today, I am grateful for the humorous truth of this, especially during Lent, even if there are three errors in the caption. Self-control is often the hardest spiritual fruit to grow!


What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Literary Fiction Is Mostly Horrible

Studying literature for decades teaches a person two things:

1. REAL literature is often tragically depressing, sick with perversion and psychoses, and/or artistically bizarre. This is because REAL literature is written by authors who might possibly be depressed, mentally ill, and/or criminally quirky. You Edgar Allan Poe.

2. FUN literature never, ever makes it onto comprehensive-exam book lists or standardized tests unless it is comedy written by Shakespeare or Aristophanes.

Thank you, God, for Shakespeare and Aristophanes.

I've already confessed on this blog that I got hooked on literature because of Chaucer's Wife of Bath. Her irreverence gave me the courage to read whatever I want to read...which might be literary fiction or pure pabulum depending on what my hormones tell me to read on any given day. Having liberated myself from the morose snobbery of literary pretentiousness, I read what I want to read and apologize to no one for doing so.

That's why I picked Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore for our book club. The review blurbs on the back cover include this gem from NPR: "One of the most thoughtful and fun reading experiences you're likely to have this year.... There's so much largehearted magic in this book."

Fun? Largehearted? Largehearted isn't even a word. This book makes NPR spout warm, fuzzy, unnecessary neologisms. Or perhaps whoever proofread the cover simply forgot the hyphen. Who cares? I loved this book. It's funny in a laugh-out-loud way (proper hyphens!) and (spoiler alert) everything wraps up tidily in the end. There aren't even any psycho antagonists who mess with your sleep patterns or tragic situations that leave you curled in the fetal position with a box of tissues and your thumb in your mouth. Yes, The Fault in our Stars, I'm talking to you.

These days, I prefer largehearted to fetally depressing. That didn't keep me from enjoying Me before You by Jojo Moyes, a complex slog through the world of dysfunctional families and assisted suicide. It's not exactly literary fiction, but Moyes makes her readers think about these issues far more deeply than your average Oprah pick and the ending, though sad, is also uplifting.

When my son Nick took a practice PARCC exam a few weeks ago because that's all kids do in school these days is take practice exams to prepare for the real exams because all that matters in education is standardized test scores, but don't get me started....

Where was I?

Oh, right. So when Nick took a practice PARCC exam in English, he had to read "The Masque of the Red Death" by Poe and answer questions about it. The story is just as cheery as the name sounds.

It is by Poe. What does Nick expect?

My son, who reads dark comic books with psychopathic criminals and plays first-person-shooter video games, ranted about schools making kids read sick, extremely well-written stories by crazy dead white guys.

"Why do they only make us read the horrible stories? Why can't we read the happy ones?" he exclaimed.

"I know!" I exclaimed right back because I am a cool mom who validates her son's feelings.

The ancient Greeks strove for balance between tragedy and comedy, but as literary studies became professionalized in the early 20th century, something happened to the idea of great literature being fun. Serious things can't be fun, right? Literary scholars began privileging tragedy over comedy, even though authors have written quite a lot of literary comedy in the past two-and-a-half millennia. Very few literary greats whom teachers assign today--Jane Austen and Shakespeare, for instance--get away with happily-ever-after endings. In the "serious" literary canon, the best way to get the wedding at the end is to have the mad woman in the attic burn to death and the hero blinded. Yay, Jane Eyre! You won!

I've read enough serious literature to know that the stories we tell often reflect our angst and hang-ups, and occasionally, we'll stumble across a character who shows us how to cope, or more accurately, how NOT to cope, or even more accurately, how we are simply not in control of our lives and sometimes the Red Death wins, Molly cheats on Leopold, and something rotten in the state of Denmark leads to poisoning, stabbing, and suicide no matter how we agonize over it.

In the end, I think that's the reason so much literary fiction is horrible, to use Nick's word. It shows us we're not in control. Boy, do we want to be in control! We want justice and goodness and fairness to win, but the truth is, sometimes they lose...spectacularly.

What really matters is how we pick up the pieces and move forward after the bloody climax. Sometimes, literary fiction ends too soon, and we're left with the tragedy and no lesson on how to go on afterward. But we do go on, and sometimes, we go on quite well.

Lately, some sad events have touched people I love, which leaves me wanting to read more comedy to find some sort of balance. If I'm in need of levity, I like to take refuge in comedy of either the sarcastic or romantic kind. Recently, I read Sarah Addison Allen's The Peach Keeper (romance) and Jen Mann's People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges (sarcasm). Neither qualifies as literary fiction and both are delightful escapes.

The ancient Greeks got it right. We are stuck with both comedy and tragedy. Real life wears both dramatic masks, and we need to deal with both as Fortune's wheel turns.

But as Nick learned from Poe, if the red mask comes after you in the form of a standardized-test bubble form, you're sort of screwed.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gratitude Journal #262

Today, I am grateful for Special Olympics bowling because Jack sure loves it. The tournament was Saturday, and Jack had a wonderful time, even if he was disappointed in his finish. He said, "Next year, I will recapture my former glory!"

Jack is second from the right, front row.

Today, I am grateful for recapturing my former creativity...I made pretty things at my craft desk!

Today, I am grateful for Pastor Doug and his leadership of our Making Sense of the Bible class. This book, by United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton, is brilliant and insightful and making me feel much more informed on a number of issues in biblical reading. Plus, Hamilton writes really well, which I appreciate quite a lot.

Today, I am grateful for modern medicine and the good things it can do for friends and family who are hurting.

Today, I am grateful for the silly golden retriever who makes me laugh every single day.

What are you grateful for today?