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Saturday, October 5, 2013

I'm Just Saying: "You're Not as Cute as You Think You Are"

I'm Just Saying: "You're Not as Cute as You Think You Are": On a recent episode of HBO's series, "The Newsroom," Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), tells his executive producer/former...

I'm Just Saying: Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News: A Field Guide t...

I'm Just Saying: Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News: A Field Guide t...: The other night - it was a Sunday night after a grand and glorious weekend of fun with my husband, mom, aunt, and nephews - my mother called...

I'm Just Saying: Shutdown Showdown: Why social media + political di...

I'm Just Saying: Shutdown Showdown: Why social media + political di...: This week, the world was reintroduced to the dysfunctional family which is the U.S. government. And while both sides of our elected official...

Shutdown Showdown: Why social media + political discourse = "unfriending"

This week, the world was reintroduced to the dysfunctional family which is the U.S. government. And while both sides of our elected officials took to their talking points (and allegedly to their office minibars) and the airwaves to make their case, we, the people, hashed it out with #hashtags and Facebook rants. Political discourse is vital to any democracy, but the unmediated world of social media, much like the online comments sections, is clearly punching above its weight. 

So how did we get here? It's obvious that the seeds of hostile political discourse were sown long before this latest government shutdown. Some would point to March 19, 1979 when the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (more commonly known as C-SPAN) began cablecasting the U.S. House of Representatives live to 3.5 million households. Before that, the deal making and House floor across-the-aisle negotiations that made legislative history were covered by the reporters who were in the chamber. But something happens when the words of your two-minute floor speech flow, unfiltered, to the voters in your congressional district. It's a little like giving a toddler a baseball bat and a 5-lb bag of sugar and walking away, confident that all will end well! With C-SPAN, not only can you hear one Congressman address an opposing Congressman as "my friend", but you can also see the tight-lipped sneer on his face as he's saying it! At times, it becomes the political equivalent of the comic actor Norman Fell's "Three's Company" breaking of the fourth wall, also known as "Ropering", when he would deliver a line to the character "Jack Tripper" and then gaze directly into the camera at us with that sly smile on his face! Some days I'd watch the congressional shenanigans on C-SPAN and I'd laugh to myself and say, "Classic Roper!!"

And then, on June 1, 1980, CNN had it's first broadcast. Soon, other 24-hour cable TV news channels joined them, and then came the Internet, bloggers and the death of print journalism. We have been re-wired to want things faster and, with the arrival of Twitter, shorter, and so it's little wonder that talking points have replaced thoughtful deliberation. Talking points are the Cliff's Notes of politics, and they have become a crutch for politicians. We have elected officials who think that they don't have time to read the bills they vote for or vote against, so they choose, instead, to read the talking points on the bill. These same talking points will then be used in the press release that their office will release shortly after the member makes their floor speech (also prepared using the talking points) ahead of their colleagues so that the national media spotlight will fall on them first, which will (fingers crossed) get them invited to do a two-minute live interview from some cramped studio in a congressional press gallery. This interview, really, is just another recitation of the talking points. And waiting in the wings, like Mama Rose, is the member's press secretary, Tweeting out to the masses the 140-character version of the talking points as well as a heads up on when the interview will air. And there we sit, watching the interview, listening to the recitation of the talking points, and off we go to Facebook where we go off on each other.

Ask yourself this question: Is it worth it? Is it worth the time and the tension and the trouble to turn the virtual space that's usually reserved for the exchange of cute kid pics and updates on what you ate for dinner into a segment of "Hardball"? If the fires of political engagement burn so hotly within you then read the legislation, learn the voting record of your elected officials, and volunteer with your party for get-out-the-vote and election day activities. This government shutdown has many human faces who are living on the financial margins, so donate time, money and food to your local food pantry. Facebook and Twitter may create virtual community, but we humans who use these tools must create real community. So let's leave the talking points to the talking heads - we've got more important things to do.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News: A Field Guide to Aging Parents, Sickness, Health and Other Everyday Occurences

The other night - it was a Sunday night after a grand and glorious weekend of fun with my husband, mom, aunt, and nephews - my mother called. It was around 8:30pm, after a lazy Sunday of church in the morning, a breakfast picnic, my epic post-picnic 60-minute walk followed by an equally epic living room nap. I could tell by the tone in her voice that the reason for her call wasn't going to be fun, and I was right. I'd like to say that this was my mom's first nocturnal data dump, but it's always been her SOP. When I was a little girl, Mom and Grandma would recite the list of injured and infirm from among family and friends. When I went away to college, the dinner recitations became late night phone calls to the hall phone in my dorm. Mom's streak continued while I was in grad school, so much so that I was rendered a nervous wreck anytime the phone rang after 8pm.

After grad school I got my very first cellular phone which I thought would thwart her, but it didn't. It just encouraged her to leave two post-sundown messages of doom - one on my house phone and the other on my cell. When I took a job that required shift work that put me on overnights, the telephone would ring at 7am, when she knew I'd just be getting home. I don't know which ticked me off more - the insensitivity on my mom's part or the fact that she always happily chirped a "sleep well" into the phone after dropping her bomb.

And then I got married and the calls stopped. It was the happiest of times. I mean Mom and I still talked and met up for lunch and  shopping, but the nightly tales of trauma stopped. Well, at least for the first few years. And then, wouldn't you know it? Everyone started getting old, including, apparently, my mom. Soon, she was back working the night shift and telling me all of the ghoulish details of this one's MRI and that one's CAT Scan. So, when my husband suggested that we activate the Caller ID on our home phone, I gladly said "hell yes!!" And then I hugged him. And then I slept, like a baby.

I had quite the call-screening operation going until my sister, who had studied at the feet of the master we call "Mom", discovered texting and soon her stressed-out texts filled my phone inbox with cryptic texted tomes of "Call me!!!!" or "Emergency!!!" that covered everything from a broken down car to a nephew at the hospital ER with a sinus infection/allergy attack/school yard scrape.

So then there were two and there was no safe place.

And then Dad got sick and soon I couldn't switch off the family switchboard. After his death, the floodgates opened and every Mom-call was answered, even the after-8pm calls. But, it's been a struggle. Every time the phone rings after 8pm, all I can hear going through my head is that song from The Wiz - "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News". Not familiar with this little ditty, where's here's a verse:

When you're talking to me
Don't be cryin' the blues
'Cause don't nobody bring me no bad news
You can verbalize and vocalize
But just bring me the clues

But don't nobody bring me no bad news!

Maybe this is my punishment for being the good girl growing up, being the one Mom could always talk to about everything. Maybe it's time for me to be as open and honest with my mom as she always has been and continues to be with me, even when I want her to stop. Maybe I can create some sort of Mom shorthand or Morse Code that lets me know that all's clear and it's safe to talk to Mom. Or maybe I can finally provide Mom with a one-word data dump of my own: Stop!! Well, actually, Stop PLEASE!! I mean she is my mother, after all and I'm no fool!  I can't change her, but maybe I can get her to change the subject once in a while.