Tag Archives: rant

Fall In!

One time I was interviewed on TV. My husband and I were at the Arboretum, chilling and talking to another nature-lover. A disgusted-looking reporter approached us and said that he was doing a segment on the first day of fall. (No doubt that was why he looked disgusted.) He asked us about our thoughts regarding fall. The nature-lover gave the standard answer about the color of fall leaves.

Dan and I were not so predictable. He said fall made him sad because he couldn’t plant flowers anymore. I said that I always thought of September as the first month of school and that I had mixed feelings because I was no longer in education. The reporter looked even more disgusted, packed up, and went away. When we watched the news, we discovered that we were the only people he interviewed.

(The next day I told my boss that I had been on TV. “The bank robbery?” he said. He had a dry sense of humor, which I loved. But I digress.)

I actually do have mixed feelings about fall, in addition to the education thing. The fall colors are beautiful, though they’re really only impressive when weather conditions during the summer are perfect. And this year, they were far from perfect.

Then there’s Halloween. I’ve written before about how much I dislike it (https://butidigress.blog/2019/10/27/halloween-bah-humbug/). For those of you who want the Reader’s Digest Condensed version, I hate handing out candy. There’s the lack of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood, the amount of leftover candy we have as a consequence, and the door-darting cat. There are also the Halloween episodes of nearly every TV show, although they’re not as annoying as the Christmas episodes of every show. There’s no Halloween music except for “Monster Mash,” which gets played ad nauseum. This year, I plan to hide in the bedroom at the back of the house with the lights off (including the porch light) and read by the light of my e-reader.

One thing I do love about the fall is pumpkin and specifically pumpkin pie spice. I’m not one of those who hates on pumpkin pie spice lattes and similar inventions. I seldom drink coffee, so I’m not usually around those. No, what I love are the actual spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. I love the smell of them. I love the taste of them. I love them so much that I’m often disappointed by the small amount of them that most people use in their pumpkin pie. We’ve tried to make our own. This year I’m even going to look up a recipe.

(I saw a recipe online for two-ingredient pumpkin muffins – spice cake mix and canned pumpkin. Of course, I’d have to bump up the spices. I always do when I make my own spice cake. But I digress again.)

Another thing I love about fall is the clothing. Sweaters. I have a large collection of sweaters, including those knee-length cardigans that are probably out of style now, not that I care. I also have a number of sweatshirts and cozy lap blankets. Flannel pajamas, too. I love wrapping up in them. It’s like a fabric hug.

I can’t say I love the Peanuts special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but I usually watch it just for the line about never discussing politics, religion, or the Great Pumpkin. I do, however, love the pumpkins Calvin carves in the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. And the Wallace and Grommit animated movie Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And Young Frankenstein. I can even take it when Dan binge-watches The Addams Family.

Of course, when it comes to things I really like about autumn, I recently saw a sweatshirt that says, “My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy.” I may just have to get that.

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Teachers Under Fire

I was going to say that the title of this post was metaphorical, but anymore, it may not be.

Putting that aside for now, however, teachers today face any number of other difficulties they don’t deserve, some of which have existed for decades and others that have come to the forefront in recent times.

My respect for teachers is immense. I wanted to be a teacher when I was a child. My father, though, wanted me to be an engineer. My mother finally got him to stop trying to channel me away from teaching, but by that time he already had. Not that I ever became an engineer, however. (I might have been able to become one, but I think I would have been a very unhappy engineer.)

Still, even though I never became a teacher (unless you include two years of teaching English to first-year college students while going to grad school), I became involved with education throughout much of my life as a writer. I worked for magazines that included Today’s Catholic Teacher, Early Childhood News, Private School Administrator, School Planning and Management, and Technology and Learning. I edited textbooks on religion, English, and social studies. Education was in front of me at every turn.

The obstacles that teachers face these days, though, can’t be alleviated by articles on classroom decoration tips or advice on self-care (important as that is).

Teachers put up with low pay and out-of-pocket expenses for supplies that they shouldn’t have to buy. They put up with crumbling schools that lack basic necessities like heating and air conditioning. They put up with old textbooks or newer ones that are prescribed by committees who have few choices, thanks to the power of states like California, New York, and Texas. They have to teach in school buildings that may have lead in the drinking water or lack ADA-compliant facilities. (Two years ago, a report said that 2/3 of US schools weren’t up to ADA standards.)

Not enough people going into education – and why would they? The pay is low (and staying low) and respect is not a given. The general public does not understand the process of education, or they think that the way it was in their day is the way it should always be. They place too much emphasis on test scores, meaning that teachers must “teach to the test” instead of allowing children to learn in more fruitful, organic ways such as project-based learning.

There is scientific evidence that small class sizes are better for student learning, but finding the money and the number of educators required for that is not forthcoming. In fact, subjects that aren’t considered “academic” enough, such as art, music, and drama, are being sacrificed. Even recess for grade-school children is no longer guaranteed in order to spend more time in the classroom, despite the fact that physical activity is vital to a child’s health and development.

Many of the difficulties facing teachers were recently highlighted when approximately 4,500 teachers, librarians, counselors, school nurses, and other support personnel in Columbus, Ohio, went on strike. It was the first time since 1975 – nearly 50 years – that they had done so. The teachers’ demands included pay raises of 8% (they were granted only 4%, despite a much higher rate of inflation). But many of the issues they brought forward related to infrastructure issues such as the lack of functioning heating and cooling systems in the schools, particularly since the weather has been so hot and continues to be. And the teachers went back to school after a week on strike, despite the fact that only a “conceptual agreement” was reached. It included no promises of spending on infrastructure, though that was the cause that received the most complaints and publicity.

And what were the repercussions of the strike? The district hired 600 substitute teachers to replace the 4,000 or so teachers and fill in for online classes. In addition, the movement to allow public, taxpayer-supported funds to be used for private school tuition was enhanced, which would leave even fewer dollars in the public system to effect changes. An official for the Center for Christian Virtue, which placed billboards around Columbus promoting private schools, castigated the striking teachers: “These schools are hitting kids while they are down. After all kids have been through, being blocked out of their schools for years [a reference to the COVID crisis], and having just failed attempts at remote teaching, the fact that they would strike now is the ultimate blow to kids,” Baer said.

The Twitterverse reacted as well. While many tweets supported the strike, there were also ones that decidedly didn’t. “For the 2nd time in 3 years, Columbus City Schools athletics have been paused for all Fall sports. Both sets of soccer teams looking to have off campus workouts while the teachers are on strike. Pray for all CCS students and athletics during this difficult time” was one opinion. Another said, “Give them 48 hours and fire them. Their PR is mindless, the kids would rather be in school and their extracurricular activities. If the teachers cared about the kids, they’d still be teaching.”

Nor is Columbus the only place where these battles are playing out. New York City is engaged in a court case over proposed slashed budgets advocated by the mayor, who is a proponent of charter schools that sap funds from the public schools.

I could also mention the flack that teachers are now receiving from lawmakers and parents who want to control what teachers teach, what books they have in their libraries, and even what they’re allowed to say. And don’t get me started on the let’s-arm-the-teachers thing. There’s not enough room here for my outrage. Maybe another time.

So, here’s the bottom line. Teachers have continued to work with purpose, care, intelligence, and dedication. They have also continued to be underpaid, overworked, under-respected, and over-criticized. That they have continued to do so is a tribute to their strength and resilience. But how long must we expect them to do so? Sure, our kids deserve better than what they are getting through our broken education system – but our teachers deserve better too. When teachers get what they need to do their jobs as well as they are able, it’s a win-win. I don’t know why that should be controversial.

As John Steinbeck said, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”

Teachers are indeed the artists and architects of the future. We owe them a little more slack and a lot more support.

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Trek vs. Wars: Which Is Better?

In some circles, either answer will result in heated rebuttals, not to say ostracism. I don’t want to get in the middle of those who adore Star Trek and those who are captivated by Star Wars. I will not even get into the tempest over who was the better captain, Kirk or Picard. I will say, though it may seem like sacrilege to both sides, that both have their flaws and their triumphs. And they have some distinct similarities.

I was introduced to Star Trek in 1966, when it first came out. (Yes, I’m that old.) I watched it avidly, even in reruns at 2:00 a.m. I became a Trekkie, accumulating such Star Trek merchandise as was available at the time. (There wasn’t much back then. I did get Spock’s medallion, the IDIC, which stood for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” a concept I hold by to this day. And of course, I had my mother make tribbles. But I digress.)

The first time I saw Star Wars was on the big screen, in the summer of 1977, when it first came out. I saw the film numerous times, dragging friends who had not yet seen it to the theater. I didn’t get t-shirts or pins or anything like that. At the time, there wasn’t much Star Wars merch available either. That really revved up later, including Lego versions of everything.

Both television and film franchises have similar themes – good versus evil. Star Trek addressed these, because of its origin on episodic television, in a way that featured increments toward a vision of a more hopeful, more just society. Star Wars was a more traditional battle between big-g Good and big-e Evil, with little to no middle ground. (Once someone asked me why I liked Star Wars so much despite its lack of literary depth and nuance. I replied that it does have a deeper message: “Let the Wookie win.” I was being only half-facetious. But I digress again.)

I gradually lost interest in both of them after being exposed to a number of incarnations of them. I liked Star Trek: Next Generation and the first series of movies (or at least the even-numbered ones). I liked the first three Star Wars movies, the other six much less so, until I finally got to where I was disinterested in the last, most recent trilogy. I’m heartily sick of all the various continuations of both of them on TV and most of the movies. I used to watch Star Trek: Discovery and Picard weekly, but have lately fallen away. And I never got into the many spinoffs of Star Wars, featuring many lower-interest characters such as Boba Fett and baby Yoda. I know the franchises are huge money-makers, but I think they’ve reached past the point where it continues to be worthwhile for viewers, or at least for me.

Along that line, there have been some real clunkers in both series. The original Star Trek was uneven in the quality of the episodes, both from a production and writing standpoint. The lowest point came with an episode called “Spock’s Brain.” With a title like that, one can envision any number of truly compelling scenarios, but no. They may have gone for comedy, but ended up with unpalatable farce. And Next Generation had an episode that I can never remember the title of, but should have been called “The Nintendo That Ate Their Brains.”

Star Wars had its low points as well, the primary one being the introduction of the character Jar Jar Binks, a buffoon with a speech pattern that was by turns irritating and insulting. He appeared in the first movie of the second trilogy that was made, which is the first trilogy in terms of the plot line, if you can follow that, but by the end of it, rather inexplicably, he became a Senator.

There was a significant backlash to one Star Trek character as well – Wesley Crusher, a teenager working his way up to greater responsibility on the Enterprise. I thought his character was what every fanboy’s dreams were made of. But I was informed that he was just too goody-goody for some people’s liking. There were even bulletin boards devoted to “Ways to Kill Off Wesley Crusher.” (This was painful to Wil Wheaton, the teenage actor who played Wesley. Later he revealed his bouts with depression and abuse at the hands of his stage-managing parents. That he is still acting and doing well is a credit to his perseverance. But I digress yet again.)

So, when it comes right down to it, which do I prefer – Star Trek or Star Wars? I guess I would have to say Star Trek, based on how often I watch reruns of it, as opposed to how often I watch reruns of Star Wars. But for different reasons, both still hold places in my heart. Now if we could only rein in all the franchises and develop some new science fiction shows with good, original ideas, characters, and plots, that would make me truly happy. In the meantime, I’ll keep jonesing for new episodes of The Orville and Resident Alien.

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A Tattoo? At My Age?

Recently I read a question online from a man who was asking whether he was too old to get a tattoo – at age 40! Every comment I saw reassured him that he wasn’t too old at all. (And that it both costs less and hurts less than he had imagined.)

I found this discussion particularly interesting because my husband and I both waited until we were over 60 to get tattoos. I started getting mine (I have three) approximately seven years ago. Dan got his first one just this month. My tattoos are two punctuation tattoos that are linked to mental health issues and one that represents my lifelong love of books. Dan’s is a bear paw, which represents his “spirit guide.”

(I know that non-native people who say they have spirit guides is problematic, as they are part of Native Americans’ spiritual beliefs and religious practices, which shouldn’t be appropriated by outsiders. I discussed this with my husband, and he said that he considers the bear his spirit guide because of a dream he had in which a bear literally led him out of danger. But I digress.)

Both of us are considering at least one more tattoo – a peace sign with doves for him and a compass rose or a yellow rose for me. Tattoos are sort of addictive. I never expected to get another tattoo after my first one, but here I am.

I’ve heard various theories about why people get tattoos. Some say it’s a form of self-mutilation that flouts God’s law of respect for the human body. Some see it as one point in a spectrum of “body modifications” that include piercings and whatever those things that stretch earlobes are called. Others say tattooing is a practice that indicates membership in a “tribe” – bikers or chefs, for instance. Still others see tattoos as a sign of rebellion – a statement of defiance against social mores. (This claim is particularly often voiced when the tattoo-ee is a young person.) Then there are those who believe that a tattoo is an outward sign of an interior belief – love for God or for one’s mother, for example.

What’s the motivation for me? Aside from the punctuation tattoos, which have a specific meaning related to mental health, I consider my book tattoo purely decorative (although I guess it also proclaims my membership in the tribe of bibliophiles and writers). Dan’s is more of the interior-belief sort, a reminder of an experience that was deeply meaningful to him.

Some people scoff at tattoos because of aging. They say that tattoos acquired in the heedlessness of youth will be regretted when the skin becomes distorted by age, and elastic and crepey skin. But I don’t mind. The aging of my skin is a fact of life, one that I am not fighting off with expensive creams and lotions. That the tattoos will change too is a given. Neither of these facts is something to be mourned, however, at least not by me. In fact, the reality of change is a part of every life and I would be foolish to think it wouldn’t affect my skin art. Since I got my tattoos late in life, that also means that they have less time to fade than ones acquired at a younger age would.

But so what if my tattoos age? My stack of books will crinkle like the pages of an old book. That’s appropriate. And not enough reason not to get tattoos.

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What Good Is Fiction?

Nonfiction has purpose. It informs, educates, and illuminates. What does fiction do? Nothing but provide escape.

And what’s wrong with that? Nothing, as far as I can see. If there’s any time when people need escape, it’s now. I don’t have to detail the current political, social, and news situations to know that’s true. At times like these, who doesn’t want to escape to a desert island or another planet?

Actually, escapism has never been a bad thing. There are always things in life that need escaping from. At least there have been in my life. Misunderstanding, bullying, depression, loneliness – fiction helped me escape from these, from Green Eggs and Ham to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to A Wrinkle in Time to The Lord of the Rings.

Nor do you need high-brow fiction to provide escapism, though that is there as well. I’ve found escape in Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax books, a cozy mystery/adventure series with included travelogues. In fact, mystery books still provide an escape for me. And science fiction and fantasy, perhaps the ultimate escapist literature, still fill many spots on my to-be-read list, as well as my to-be-reread list. (The fact that I am friends with several sf writers is also a factor.)

I’ve had my innings with classic literature, it’s true, particularly in college, when I was an English major – though one of my favorite courses was children’s literature (aka kiddie lit). If you look at my e-reader, you’ll find Shakespeare and Cervantes along with Grafton, Heinlein, Dumas, and others.

Fiction, like nonfiction, can inform, educate, and illuminate as well – spark thought and inspire to action.

Take Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that book, it’s poetry (another “useless” pursuit) that helps the protagonist understand the value of literature and the futility of trying to suppress it. It’s still extremely relevant, considering all the book bannings lately. Or take Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as appallingly relevant as the day it was first written. Or The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, which has the first contact with an alien civilization being made by Jesuits. If that’s not thought-provoking, I don’t know what is.

There’s also historical fiction, which, while not always totally accurate (we have nonfiction biographies and autobiographies for that), speculates about the inner workings of famous people’s psyches and posits reasons for how they lived. Melanie Benjamin’s The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb and The Aviator’s Wife, about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, are two examples.

Then there is fiction about fiction and books that provide escape for the mind that cannot be found anywhere else. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is one such. John Irving’s The World According to Garp is another famous example. With books like these, one can delve into the mind of the creative person who provides escape for others.

Of course, nonfiction can be escapist as well. Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars provides an entertaining history of the space program, but also NASA’s current exploration of the possibilities of, well, going to Mars. Now that’s escapism – but not fiction. Histories can whisk us away to another time and place with explorers who climbed Mount Everest or charted the Amazon. Ernest Shackleton’s diaries can take me right out of a sweltering day and make me feel the freezing air and hear the buffeting wind of Antarctica.

I will admit that there’s a lot of nonfiction on my e-reader – including true crime, science, biographies, adventure travel, language, and mental health. But it’s fiction I return to again and again. I recently read a beloved novel that I hadn’t read in at least 40 years, and I still remembered not only the plot but also lines of dialogue. And I’ve tried my hand at writing fiction too, which provided mental escape of a different sort.

So, what good is fiction? Even if it’s only escapism, it’s extremely valuable and not to be sneered at. At its best, fiction can make one’s interior world more vibrant, more fascinating, and more meaningful; and the world around us more wondrous, more exciting, and more entertaining. That’s enough of a recommendation for me.

Help me satisfy my reading jones!

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The Thighs Have It

From chub rub to thigh gap, there’s nothing a woman can do to win. Apparently, there’s no perfect body out there and, also apparently, everyone wants to have one. But what there is, is lots of body-shaming.

I didn’t even know what “chub rub” was until I saw an ad for a product that was supposed to fix it. This was what we used to call a foundation garment but is now known as “shapewear.” Chub rub is what happens to your inner thighs when they, well, rub together. (Full (possibly TMI) disclosure: I have worn a foundation garment exactly once, when I was planning to don a tight Halloween costume (a slinky devil). It didn’t work the way it was supposed to. But I digress.)

I happen to know that men get chub rub too. More than one gentleman of my acquaintance has had it. But with men, it doesn’t get called chub rub and they don’t get special garments to combat it, just powder. (“If I could walk that way, I wouldn’t need the talcum powder,” as the old joke goes.) I think the world would be much more entertaining if men had to try to wriggle into shapewear.

These days, even thin women can’t win. To be truly visually acceptable, they must have what’s known as a “thigh gap.” This means that when a woman stands straight with her feet together, there should be, well, a gap between her thighs. You have to be able to see daylight between them. I haven’t seen shapewear advertised that will produce a thigh gap, but it’s only a matter of time, I suspect.

And of course, thigh gap isn’t even a desirable look for men. Once they have their six-pack abs in place, only one thing below the waist matters. And there’s no shapewear for that, that I know of.

Fashions in size and weight for women come and go, generally depending on what the upper classes think is fashionable. When thinness was a sign of poverty and famine, a well-padded figure was the ideal for Victorian ladies. (Queen Victoria may have had something to do with it too.) When heftiness was a sign of a peasant’s starchy potato diet, suddenly slim was in. Slim or even skinny has stayed in for seemingly ever.

Societal pressure tries to force (or entice) women to conform to whatever the current version of “perfect” is. Fashion models become role models. And fashion designers’ idea of perfect sizes ranges from zero (!) to four, tops (and bottoms).

But lately, there has been some pushback on this notion. Runway models are increasingly required to have a certain, non-zero, amount of body fat before they can walk the catwalk. And Sports Illustrated made a splash (sorry not sorry) when their Swimsuit Issue cover model was unashamedly plus-size and very curvy.

(I remember the days when model Kate Moss was praised for her “heroin chic” look, featuring an emaciated body and pasty, sallow skin. It wasn’t a look I liked and I’m glad it’s gone. If that makes me guilty of body-shaming, I’ll have to own it. Also, I can’t explain the fashion trends of super-plump lips or bushy eyebrows, any more than I can explain the dress-up geese trend from years past. But I digress again.)

Anyway, I don’t plan to do anything about my thighs, even if I do occasionally get chub rub (usually only when I wear dresses, which I try never to do except for nightdresses). And I’m learning to cut out body-shaming, especially fat-shaming, from my thoughts and words. I really need to. I’m fat, after all.

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Whose Daughter? Whose Wife?

Emily St. John Mandel noticed back in 2012 that there were many, many books with titles that related to someone’s daughter. “No trend that I’ve ever noticed has seemed quite so pervasive as the daughter phenomenon,” she said. “Seriously, once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. A recent issue of Shelf Awareness had ads for both The Sausage Maker’s Daughters and The Witch’s Daughter. I’m Facebook friends with the authors of The Hummingbird’s DaughterThe Baker’s DaughterThe Calligrapher’s Daughter, and The Murderer’s Daughters, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.” She actually made a spreadsheet of the number of daughter books and came up with over 530. “I don’t mean to suggest that 530 represents the total number of these books,” she added. “Five hundred and thirty was just the arbitrary point where I decided to stop counting, because the project was starting to take too much time. I was only on page 88 of 200 pages of search results.”

Well, I took over her mission and recorded still more daughters that were the subject of books. One of the best known is The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Among the others I found were the President’s, General’s, Senator’s, Governor’s, Admiral’s, Colonel’s, Judge’s, and Sheriff’s. And the Bishop’s, Apostate’s, and Vicar’s. Not to mention the Alchemist’s, Apothecary’s, Taxi Driver’s, Merchant’s, Outlaw’s, and Killer’s. There were even ones that recognized that sometimes women had daughters as well: the Harlot’s, the Mistress’s, and the Book Woman’s daughters all came up on the search.

But the phenomenon doesn’t stop there. I also found a plethora of books devoted to various people’s wives. The most recent and popular was The Time-Traveler’s Wife, but there are plenty of others. Some I found particularly interesting: Zookeeper’s and Tiger’s (two separate books), Nazi Officer’s, Traitor’s, Lightning God’s, Liar’s, Shape-Changer’s, Dopeman’s, Conqueror’s, and Dark Overlord’s. Lobotomist’s (I think I need to read that one) and Anatomist’s and Knife Thrower’s. Lots of occupational ones – Shoemaker’s, Pilot’s (and Aviator’s), Headmaster’s, Optician’s, Woodcutter’s, Centurion’s, Mapmaker’s (a fascinating book that I’ve actually read), Tea Planter’s, Clockmaker’s, Chocolate Maker’s, Restaurant Critic’s, Runaway Pastor’s (no, that’s one, not two), Penmaker’s, and Banker’s wives were all featured. And some that are just puzzling: Salaryman’s, Janitor’s, Centaur’s wife.

That’s where I stopped recording them. I’m not a big fan of spreadsheets.

The reason I bring all this up (there actually is a reason) is that I’m always annoyed (not to say pissed off) when there’s a campaign that defines a woman in terms of her relationship with someone else: Breast cancer could happen to your wife or your mother. Being attacked on the street at night could happen to your daughter, your fiance, your niece. Abortion, stalking, mental and other illnesses – all could happen to a person related to you.

It’s not that you shouldn’t be aware of how these tragedies and distressing situations can affect those around you – loved ones, relatives, neighbors. And it’s not like there aren’t a few similar things that could be said about husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers, or male friends (killed in war or suffering from prostate cancer, usually).

What gets to me is that the afflictions are said to be visited on women in relation to someone else. Isn’t it bad enough when a woman is raped or gets cervical cancer strictly as herself? Why do we have to define her as someone’s something in order for her to deserve our attention?

Even the sisters and the daughters are encouraged to think, “It could be my mother or grandmother. It could be my best friend.” I guess “It could happen to any woman” isn’t specific enough. There has to be an emotional connection to make them worth caring about.

But there are plenty of women without family or community connections who are subject to diseases and disasters – the homeless woman, the one who has always lived on her own, the widow with no children. Why can’t we care about, have sympathy for, and work toward the health and happiness of them too?

Or are they only worthwhile and interesting when they’re daughters or wives?

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What the Cool Kids Do

Playing Wordle is the newest obsession among the cool kids. And I have never been a cool kid.

Let me say first that I am not in. This screenshot is taken from a friend’s Facebook feed. He tried nobly to resist the lure of Wordle, but ultimately gave in and got in.

For those not in the know, Wordle is the newest internet craze, a word game (almost certainly a portmanteau of “word” and “puzzle”) that asks you to guess letters and determine what the target words actually are. To me, it’s sort of like Wheel of Fortune combined with Hangman. It’s supposed to improve your general brain health.

Every day there is a new puzzle, and people post their scores on the internet. (Not everyone is happy about this. I have heard complaints from friends about the number of Wordle scores clogging up their news feeds. It does seem an awful lot like bragging, at least when their scores are low. Another friend is hoping to see “floccinaucinihilipilification” show up as one of the daily words, which seems unlikely, as the words are only five letters long. Perhaps eventually they will have a 29-letter version. But I digress.)

It’s not like I haven’t had my clickie game addictions. I used to be a devotée of Candy Crush, Pet Rescue, and Bingo Blitz. I’d play several games of each nearly every day. My husband would ask me, “When are you going to be off the computer?” I would answer, “After I lose the next game.” I never bought any of the “power-ups” that cost actual money, though, which is probably why I kept losing.

I don’t know if Wordle sells hints or letters or power-ups or whatever. I didn’t know how the game designers made their money at all. I thought maybe they were selling users’ info to data mining sites or Russian trolls or something. Then I found out. The New York Times bought Wordle. I don’t need to ask how they’re going to monetize it. I used to solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle regularly, which did cost money to play. I had forgotten that I had a subscription to it, which you can get without subscribing to the actual New York Times. I only recently remembered that I had a subscription to it and started playing again, though it happens that I like the acrostics more than the actual crosswords.

(I once worked at a place where they came down on me pretty hard for solving crosswords during working hours. I justified it on the grounds that I don’t smoke and never took a cigarette break. I thought taking a puzzle break was therefore justified. The powers-that-were didn’t agree. But I digress. Again.)

In addition to the aforementioned clickie games, I have dabbled in other online games that I felt were a cut above the run-of-the-mill inane ones, ones that ask a player to build a hypothetical theme park or solve a not-so-hidden objects puzzle. Once I played a lot of Words With Friends, back when that was the thing the cool kids did. I’m a word nerd, so I did pretty well, but I learned that people who were skilled at hitting the double letter and triple word score squares could take me down.

Will I continue to be unattracted by the admittedly fascinating lure of Wordle? Or will I be like my friend and eventually say, “I’m in”?

I’ve generally reveled in my not-a-cool-kid status. Why should I give it up for Wordle? It’s not like I need another time-sink. Facebook already serves me too well at that. And I don’t need to get rid of all those game addictions only to succumb to yet another. If I want to improve my mind, I’ll just read a book.

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Watch Out! Phone In!

My husband is the last person in the universe who still doesn’t have a smartphone. He says it’s because he doesn’t want a phone smarter than he is. Personally, I think it’s because he likes to flip it open and yell, “Beam me up, Scotty!” just to confuse the telemarketers.

Not that he gets calls from telemarketers. He always gives my phone number when asked for his, making me effectively his secretary. Confirm a doctor’s appointment? The mechanic says the car is ready? Someone from work? I take a message. Sometimes it’s his own mother who calls me, if Dan’s not answering his phone (he usually isn’t) or she can’t leave a voicemail (he doesn’t know how to retrieve them).

But, as usual, I digress. I meant to talk about the evolution of watches and what we call them.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, it was simple. There were watches. You kept them in a pocket, usually attached by some sort of chain. Then someone invented a watch you wore on your wrist, so someone else had to coin the terms “pocket watch” and “wristwatch,” just in case you couldn’t tell from context which kind was meant.

Watch technology was far from reaching its zenith, however. The next innovation was the digital watch, which lit up numbers the way your bedside clock does (at least until we got rid of the ones that had numbers on little cards that fell over as the minutes and hours changed). Some bright person realized we needed a way to tell that kind of watch from the kind with hands. Thus were born the “digital watch” (which has sort of died out) and the “analog watch,” the kind with hands that people under a certain age can’t read. Neither of the new watches made that comforting ticking sound.

Next came the mobile phone, which were actually really phones, not watches, except you could use them to call the time and temperature line, which still existed. At first, a mobile phone was a rich person’s toy, anchored somewhere in the car to impress passengers. Then completely mobile phones were invented. They began as big, blocky things with an antenna sticking out, which you can sometimes still see in old movies or episodes of Ab Fab. They got tinier and tinier, until they could fit in your pocket (assuming you were a man and had pockets in your good clothes).

That’s when watches began to morph into phones. Flip phones, such as my husband has, featured the time on the outside panel. Watches were on the way out. Larger watches still existed, aimed at teens. These were in bright colors and were called “Swatches.”

Suddenly, watches were obsolete. Everything now is done by phone. We’re up to smartphones, which everyone except my husband has, and which can tell you not just the time, but the weather in Istanbul, how to say “What’s the weather in Istanbul?” in Turkish, “What’s the best restaurant in Istanbul?” and how to get there. Unfortunately, smartphones can no longer fit in a pocket (unless you’re a man in a suit). Women have to carry them in their purses, where it’s almost impossible to hear them ring, unless you’re sitting near them in a restaurant. Fortunately, these phones take messages for those who, unlike Dan, know how to use that function. (To be fair, I hardly ever look to see if I have voice messages, which I guess makes me little better than Dan on that point. But I digress. Again.)

Now, however, there’s an even newer kind of watch, which you wear on your wrist (how retro!). I suppose it will tell you the time, if you ask it nicely, but its main function is to keep track of your bodily processes as you jog, walk, sleep, or whatever. It keeps track of your heart rate, your breathing, your oxygen sats, the quality of your sleep, your body mass index, your blood sugar, your exact position on planet Earth, and how much you’d weigh on the moon. (And probably some other parameters I don’t know – and don’t wish to know – about.)

I think these are called fitwatches, by analogy with fitbits, a trend from ages past (last month, I think).

But I call them snitchwatches. And I’m not getting one. I swear.

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What’s Wrong With Introverts? Nothing!

So I sit in the corner at parties, eat lunch by myself, and keep my nose in a book. That doesn’t mean I’m an introvert or unworthy of human company. I just prefer socialization on my own terms.

Introverts have gotten a bad rap over the years. They’re said to be shy, uncommunicative, anxiety-prone, fearful of crowds, friendless, and alone (except for the occasional cat). They don’t go out much or talk much. They have boring hobbies like knitting and reading and stamp collecting. Some people even believe introverts are suffering from a mental illness.

Extroversion is touted as the norm. Extroverts, it’s said, have more friends and better conversations. They go out more and have social calendars, or in some cases, social secretaries. They have exciting careers in business or law or politics. (They’re also known to have “Type A” personalities, prone to stress-related illnesses – or giving them to others.) Extroverts are widely admired for their accomplishments. They “blow their own horn” instead of fading into the background. They’re people-persons (though not always people-pleasers).

There are lots of books about overcoming introversion, as if it’s a thing to be conquered or cured. They purport to change introverts’ communication styles so they can get along with “normal” people or even with extroverts.

I’m not saying that it’s bad to be an extrovert. I’m just asking why introverts are so discounted in society. Where are the books that teach extroverts to be more introverted? Where are the seminars? The podcasts?

Introversion doesn’t mean the person is a hermit. It doesn’t mean introverts are unhappy being the way they are. It doesn’t mean a person is lacking in intelligence or afraid of relationships or dull to speak to. In fact, those are qualities that can be found in extroverts as well. Extroverts can be unhappy if their relationships are superficial. They can have trouble toning down their enthusiasm in order to have a private, meaningful conversation. And they can certainly be dull to listen to.

Get inside an introvert’s head, however, and you may find a rich and interesting place. Those hobbies and interests that extroverts consider boring have subtleties that an introvert can unlock. An introvert can be extremely knowledgeable on a variety of topics – some seemingly useless, like the complexities of poetry. Others may be more broadly interesting, such as how language affects business or political behavior. And some of their hidden interests can just be fun, like which amusement parks have the best rollercoasters.

Introverts may seem hard to get to know, especially at parties. But there are secret passwords that can unlock their vitality. Read any good books lately? is a good, reliable one. What’s the weirdest movie you’ve ever seen? Are cats better than dogs and why? What’s your idea of the perfect vacation? If you’re an extrovert, you can probably think of ways to work these into conversations – for example, when you’re talking about your recent fabulous vacation or when your kids want to get a dog.

When you hit on a topic that an introvert knows or cares about, you can see their eyes light up and their faces become more animated. Their voices change from dull and quiet to enthusiastic and interested. They may even venture a question about your favorite author or childhood pet or dream vacation. Once you get an introvert started on a conversation, it can be as interesting, vibrant, and knowledgeable as anyone else’s.

You may even make a friend or find a resource. If you ever need to know something about journalism or psychology or model trains, you have a person to turn to – and maybe even a budding friendship.

The trick is not to automatically assume that an introvert is dull or has a one-track mind. An introvert may be into both gardening and archaeology, or both blues music and what the best restaurants in town are. Include an introvert in a group outing. He or she may say nothing at first, but can really open up with a few well-chosen questions or comments and follow-ups. (I studied that in college, but I never really understood XYZ. My friend says that movies are all about superheroes these days – why is that? My kids want me to take them hiking. What’s a good place to do that? What should I wear to a winter wedding? Which should I get – a PC or a Mac?)

Above all, do not assume that introverts are all alike. They’re as varied as extroverts. They may take a little more time to get to know, but in the end, it’s worth it.

And if you are an introvert, don’t despair. You don’t have to turn yourself into an extrovert to be worthwhile. You’re fine just the way you are!

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