A Community Comes Together

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I’ve lived in Derry, New Hampshire since 1984 – almost a half of my life now.  I’ve complained about this community often.  It was a rapidly growing town that was not really a suburb of anywhere but was on the northern end of an exurban corridor that ran from Boston to Manchester NH. Because of it’s location and close proximity to Route 93, Derry became a mecca for people fleeing the more heavily populated and expensive towns in Massachusetts for the benefits that “tax free” rural New Hampshire had to offer.  Derry became a bedroom community.  People came here to sleep, and send their children to school, but they left to go to work, visit family, and recreate.  Our tax rates went up; our local businesses shut down, and people didn’t know their neighbors.  No one really cared much what happened here.

Rolling against the tide, which was always my way, I became involved in the local library friends group,organized book groups, served on the playground committee, became a member of the local Exchange Club, worked with theater group etc.  But when you are one of a dozen people or less who get involved, the work piles up and there is no appreciation to be found.  A small group of us seemed to be involved in many things, and some of us simply burned out.  For me, it wasn’t burn-out as much as it was a lifestyle change.  This college dropout returned to school full time.  A bachelor’s in English, a master’s degree, and 16 years of adjunct teaching have following, leaving me with little time to even consider becoming active again in my community.  Besides, no on ever seemed to care.

Then, a strange thing happened.  One woman started a local Facebook group.  People joined.  I joined, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it until…

A proposed tax cut grabbed the attention of many of the residents of the town.  Police, Fire, other essential services would be cut. How dare they?  This one woman and her Facebook page served to rally the troops.  People started to really communicate with each other.  They argued with each other.  They banded together for a common purpose.  They became a force that signed petitions, went to court, and eventually forced a special election that pulled more voters to the polls than the town had ever seen.  The tax cuts were reversed.

You’d think that would be the end of the story. But it’s not.  In the several months since this special election, the community spirit in this town has grown more than I would have ever imagined.  Two very successful children’s Halloween events were held; two community movie events drew unanticipated participation, local businesses started seeing their businesses grow; people are walking the main street in town again.  A book group is taking shape, and there is talk of a knitting group as well.  People are buying coffee for the folks in the car behind them; strangers are helping others in times of need; people are volunteering.  I am in awe of this town.  I am in awe of one woman whose vision and unending energy has brought life to a town I thought would never be a community again.  She has been “Bringing Derry Together.”

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What Was Wrong with Us in High School?

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Thank you to social media for teaching me what an idiot many of us were in high school.  Recently, through Facebook, I was able to connect with a gentleman who was in my high school class.  Indeed, he was in my homeroom.  I remember him well, but, in truth, I may never have spoken to him – at least I don’t remember speaking to him.  Why?  Well, he just wasn’t in the same clique I was in, or maybe I wasn’t in his.  

Cliques – those horrible discriminatory groups that supposedly gave us both friends and status, but that, in the long run, stood for nothing.  If you were a cheelreader, majorette, or jock in my school, you thought you were cool, and, indeed, you probably were – at least we all looked up to you, wished we were you, or at least hoped we could one day clean the dirt off the bottom of your shoes.  If you were in none of the above categories, your group consisted of people like you:  nerds (who were NOT cool back then), or that huge group with various names that all translated to be some level of “losers.”  

My friend Shirley and I were talking about this, this morning, and Shirley offered the opinion (and I think she’s right) that our parents were largely to blame for this social segregation we practiced.  We were told / taught not to hang out with certain kinds of kids, and those kids were judged more on looks than anything else.  When I think back to what Shirley said, I remember our days in Catholic elementary school – good old St Rita’s.  Because we all wore uniforms and basically looked the same, were the same religion, and came from the same type of nuclear families, we weren’t as divided into cliques as we were later on in high school.  We were divided more by where we lived and what church we went to on Sundays.  

My first real experience with being an “outsider” came when one day, my 8th grade homeroom nun decided to go around the room and ask us all where we were going to go to high school.  Most if not all the boys were going to Central Catholic, the regional boys school.  The girls were divided depending on whether they were going to St Mary’s High School (which was part of the same parish conglomerate as St Rita’s) or the fairly recently built and socially superior Presentation of Mary Academy, which just happened to be down the street from our house.  Sister smiled as each boy and girl named the Catholic school s/he would attend.  She smiled until she got to me, and I answered that I was going to Tenney High School – the public high school in my town.  

That was the last time Sister spoke to me that academic year.  For the next six months, the four nuns we had in rotation for classes each day opted to strike me from their consciousness.  No matter how many times I raised my hand, I was ignored.  I was only spoken to when it was absolutely necessary – like when I earned the highest grade average in my class at graduation.  

So off I went to public high school knowing absolutely no one.  The first girl I met was another Catholic school girl who had gone to a different elementary school and felt as lost as I did.  But fourteen-year olds learn quickly that in order to be accepted, you had to fit the mold of the people you wanted to be accepted by, and so groups form and cliques are born based on who wore what and other criteria I can’t even name right now.  

In truth, I have always been a loner and have never had many friends – fewer have been good friends – and long-standing good friends who are still in my life number….two?  three? I never made it INTO a clique, but I wasn’t completely ignored. Some people said “hi” in the hall, and I wasn’t bullied or made fun of.  I was grateful.

It’s now 45 years since I graduated from high school and thanks to things like Facebook, I’m finding some of those people with whom I didn’t have real friendships or perhaps didn’t know much at all, maybe never even talked to, and you know what?  I was an idiot.  These are nice people.  They are interesting, intelligent, and worth knowing and possibly having as friends, and I’m very pleased that at this late time in my life, I’m finding them one by one and getting to know them better.  

Maybe there is an equalizer now that we are all over 60, few of us look like we could grace the cover of a magazine (except for Beth who will ALWAYS look INCREDIBLE), and many of us will only don a bathing suit at a convention for the visually challenged.  We have taken our knocks, domestically, financially, medically, and emotionally, and we have come to find out that when the proverbial chips are down, we’re all pretty equal.  So who cares who’s got the biggest house, took the most trips, or married the handsomest jock (probably divorced anyway).  We’re all headed in the same direction (Some sadly have already preceded us.) and now it’s time to find each other and support each other. We’re not in high school any more

Writing for My Most Important Audience

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I just completed writing an article for the magazine on which my daughter is the editor.  That means my daughter is my boss.  Now, as a Literature / Composition/ Writing adjunct professor, I’ve written everything from long academic papers to marginalia.  I’ve written short stories, poems, letters to penpals, Facebook status lines, Tweets, condolence notes, and newsletter blurbs.  I’ve written blogs and had articles published in the U.S. and in Poland.  I’ve written on deadline, needed to submit first drafts because I was on short time, and never gave it a thought….until I was asked by my daughter to write an article for her magazine.

 

There’s something about working for your child that just takes the natural order of things and upends it.  Suddenly you’re the one looking for the approval, not giving it.  Like an eager puppy with a damp chew toy and a wagging tail, you are hoping for a pat on the head and an indication that you did a “good job.”  The task itself was, for me, an easy assignment.  I was going to be writing an article about a young woman – a former student of mine – whom I admire greatly.  I know her fairly well, and we get along fine, so that I knew it would be easy for me to get the information I needed to flesh out a 2000 word article.

 

It was the longest 2000 words I’ve ever written.

 

Sentence by sentence, I kept wondering if the article would be good enough, if it is what her readership will want and find relevant, if it was reportorial and unbiased, if the sentence structure and language usage is appropriate, if all the facts are accurate, if my daughter will like it, if it will embarrass her in any way, if I will live up to the standards she might have for me.  I procrastinated for a month before I even started to put material together.  Prior to writing a single word, I spent more than one morning letting the shower water run out as I tried to construct in my mind a suitable outline.  I tried to remember everything I try to teach my writing students about article writing, but blanked on what that really is.  I nearly drove myself crazy.

 

But, as the deadline was approaching, I opened up my word processing program and wrote the first paragraph – at least five times.  By the end of the first 200-300 words, I was hitting my stride.  My usual writing method regarding things of this nature is to write the first draft complete one day, sleep on it, shower on it, and then make some revisions.  I’m a pretty strong first-draft writer, so I don’t often make major revisions in a short piece, and I didn’t this time.  I did have some additional information I needed to get from my source, but once that was done, it was a quick brush up and conclusion.

 

Then it was time to upload the article to my editor.  It wasn’t easy hitting that “enter” key after attaching the document to an e-mail.  But I took a deep breath and did it.  Of course, I sent it at the end of the week and had to wait three days for a reply, but when the reply came it came by Facebook message:  “I love your story.”  That was all I had to read.  It made my day.  I’ve just pleased the most important audience in my life.

Where Have I Been All My Life?

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I do really love to write.  Writing has been a part of my life since the first time I was asked to write an essay in school – probably third grade.  Telling a story about myself, or making up a story or a poem about someone or something else was never a problem.  Ask me to do it, and I was in my glory.  It was never a chore; it was never a task I dreaded like so many of my fellow students.  By the age of twelve, I discovered the joys of pen-pals.  This, of course, was back in the day of pretty stationary, inexpensive stamps, and magazines for teens which included columns dedicated to “pen-pals wanted” where you would send you name, age, address, and short list of interests.  Not only did I answer a number of these listings, I entered my own.  Day after day, the mailman would drop envelopes of various sizes and colors into the mail slot cut into our front door.  Return addresses indicated big cities, small towns, and nearly every state in the Union.  I answered them all, and many of these pen-pals became like sisters to me.

I wrote letters every day.  I wrote them by hand even after my uncle bought me an Olympia portable typewriter for my 8th grade graduation.  I had boxes of stationary – some of it from the Five and Dime downtown, much of it from card shops – beautiful stationery with delicate flowers and lined envelopes with the Hallmark stamp on the flap.  I would ask for new stationery every birthday and Christmas, and my mother lovingly obliged.  Even after school work and three hours of piano practicing each day, I found time to keep up with my correspondence.  And I didn’t just write notes; I wrote 8-10 page letters (both sides) filled with news of school, family, weather, friends, accomplishments, and disappointments.  I addressed every point my pen-pals made in their letters as well.  Because I had so many pen-pals, I often wrote the same things over and over again and kept meticulous records regarding to whom I had written and when, so I wouldn’t repeat myself.  If I didn’t hear from someone in a certain period of time, I picked up the pen, selected stationery, and wrote again, picking up from where my last letter left off.

I pen-palled through high school, college, my young married years, and my young mother years.  Most of my pen-pals slipped away as they became busier with their school obligations, first jobs, marriages, and children. We all know how that is.  And, of course, communication has changed.  We use e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.  The long letters have become two sentences status lines.  But for some reason, letter writing never really translated to e-mail for me.  It just wasn’t the same.  I stopped writing.

And then came THE BLOG.  Ahhh, what a wonderful opportunity to write again.  So I decided to write a blog.  The only problem is that I can’t seem to sustain this, and I don’t know why.  It’s not because I don’t have anything to say.  Ask my friends.  Ask my family.  I’m never at a loss for words or opinions.  But for some reason, I can’t seem to sustain a blog.  Am I busy?  Yes.  Actually, I’ve been quite busy, going back to college, graduate school, teaching as an adjunct professor of English, grading student papers, and trying to keep up with all that teaching entails, but I’ve been busy before, and I managed always to find time to write.

So here, I am – nearly 7 months after my last blog post, wondering where have I been that I haven’t been able to get back to this blog.  And that leads me to the bigger question:  Where have I been all my life that with all my writing, there is little left to show for it except a partially written revisionist biography of Charles Chesnutt, a few short stories, a half dozen poems, some academic papers presented at conferences, a guest blog for Ploughshares, and thousands upon thousands of unread lines of commentaries on student essays that have since been tossed into the trash or deleted from computers.

Well, I’m semi-retired now, so perhaps I’ll give this all another try.  After all, I still love to write.  I just haven’t done it.

Ruminations on "The Newsroom" Opening

“America is not the greatest country in the world” states Aaron Sorkin through the mouth of Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in the HBO series The Newsroom.  I won’t reiterate the reasons why Sorkin/McAvoy believes that America is not the greatest country in the world.  You can watch it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h__uutzcQXc&feature=related.  And maybe you’ll agree, or maybe you’ll disagree vehemently and respond to that knee jerk reactionwith the belief that I must be a liberal and a commie and an ungrateful, unpatriotic person who does not deserve to be an American.  That is as far away from the truth as you can get.  I love my country, but I don’t love it blindly.

Sorkin/McAvoy point out that the United States is not number one in much of anything anymore, and we are not the only country that guarantees freedoms for our citizens.  We don’t hear about those countries. We only hear about the ones who don’t.  According to Sorkin’s info (and he does do his research), we are #1 in defense spending and the number of incarcerated individuals per capita in our jails.  But we are “4th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality” and the list goes on.  Granted figures never lie, and liars figure as the old saying goes, and some of these numbers may have changed since the script was written.  But the truth is that after six decades of growing up and living in America, I have seen how we have ceased to be the land of my childhood, and in ways that these figures don’t reveal.

We had to rely on the Supreme Court for a ruling that would make it mandatory that people in this country have basic health care.  Imagine.  People have been fighting over people’s right to “life.”  Hey,  is that one of the tenets of our Declaration of Independence?  Is not one of the key principles of our founding the right to “life,” and doesn’t that right include keeping our lives intact for as long as possible, given whatever means are at our disposal?  Does that also not give us the right to end our lives when they are too difficult to bear?  Yet, we fight the issue of medical marijuana because ‘big pharma” can’t make a nickel from it, and we have forbidden people the right to elect physician assisted suicide when their pain and suffering is unremitting and unbearable in cases of terminal illness.  We argue that every embryo from the point of conception is a life that must be saved and then limit women’s access to free or low-cost health care to maintain the wellness of these unborn children.  We use religion as a way to restrict a woman’s freedom to choose to have a child, but we see nothing wrong with taking ending a person’s life through capital punishment.  How many innocent people have died, even with DNA testing because of poor representation or unreliable witnesses or irresponsible and biased juries?  When I was a child, the family doctor came to our house.  If we went to the office, it cost us $7.  He didn’t have a fancy reception area, and he didn’t order unnecessary tests because he was afraid of malpractice suits.  He treated you according to his education, skill, expience, and, often gut-feeling, and he got my family through some pretty difficult issues.  We didn’t have for-profit hospitals (Which Einstein thought THAT was a good idea?)

We don’t let our kids play outside because we fear that they will be abducted or sexually molested, yet two recent court cases have shown that our children are more at risk from the adults we entrust them to than to strangers.  Yet we care more that our kids can play Little League than that they actually learn something about the world around them.  When I was a child – no older than 8 or 9, my mother would give me some money – maybe a dollar or two- and let me walk two miles “downtown” to the local Five and Dime to buy my school supplies.  I was able to pick and choose what I needed, learn that money was something real that once spent was gone, and learn from some of the wrong choices I might have made. (A pen with a flower on top had less ink than the plain pen and cost more.)  If I spent wisely, I had money for an ice cream or a candy bar.  If I didn’t, I had to forego the treat.  Now kids think that if you whip out plastic, every item in the store is yours.  Money?  They never see it.  It’s become an intangible.  Even to our government, money is an intangible, backed up by promises and not the gold it used to be.

We have stopped making progress.  There is little if any forward motion in our country.  We are at a dead stop.  We are pushing out college graduates, yet have no jobs for them.  It’s been like this on the graduate school level for years – the one reason I didn’t get a PhD was because the only guaranteed job at the end of ten years of college and a ton of student loans was “unemployed” or adjunct work.  Now, many of my first -year college students will find themselves in the same position – either unemployed or clerking at the local convenience store, finally learning that their $60K in student loans does represent real money, as does their rent, car payments, insurance payments, and food.  By then, Mom and Dad will be unable, for the most part, to continue to support them.  We are heading to be a nation of strugglers – not people who “knew” that the next generation would have it better than we did because America was the best country in the world – a land of opportunity.

Yes, there are opportunities for some.  But how many Steve Jobs and Steve Zuckerbergs are out there?  Andy many of our biggest success stories are foreign born individuals who don’t take what we have for granted.  We live in a country where intellectual property is our main production, and yet those same intellectual property pursuits by one erode the profit making of the intellectual property pursuits by others.  Trying to become a published author who can make a living from the written word in an era of free blogs, cheap news, and self-publishing that profits only those who sponsor them,  is getting to be nearly impossible.

How much do you pay for your cable TV bill or your cell phone?  How about gas for your car, electricity for your home?  How much did your last illness cost?  When was the last time your elected officials put their heads together and came up with an idea that was actually helpful for all Americans? We have virtually no space program left; the food we eat is poorly monitored, and all anyone thinks about is what is in it for him or her.  What happened to neighborhood watch programs, knowing who your neighbors are and looking after the elderly in your community?  Why don’t we have safe sidewalks for walking, even though we have a growing obese population?  Why do we try to legislate the size of soda purchases, yet allow growers to sell us genetically modified foods that are developed to create their own insecticides!  Why do we spend good money after bad punishing crime instead of paying people decent wages so that parents can be home with their children more?  My mother was home when I got home from school.  Every day there was a fresh baked brownie, cake, or cookies waiting for me.  And I wasn’t fat because I walked three miles round trip to school.  I learned to watch out for strangers and had exercise daily in all sorts of weather.  Now I see mothers in pajamas and robes drive their kids to the bus stop?  Huh?  Why don’t we see kids in playgrounds without their mothers keeping eagle-eyes, and what happened to not letting teachers call out grades as they returned papers?  It sure made a lot of us study harder.  Having your teacher say, “Tina – this is the highest grade in the class” was more motivation than anything I can think of.  Consequently, the teacher who told me she had no idea what I’d drawn, made it clear that a career in art was not in my future.  I then looked for those areas in which I excelled and concentrated my efforts there.

No, Sorkin through the voice of Will McAvoy is right. We are not the greatest country in the world, but we can be.  We can stop being greedy and complacent and think about others for awhile.  What good is leaving a healthy planet behind if the society that lives on it isn’t healthy in mind, body, and spirit.  It’s not enough to be independent on the Fourth of July.  It’s not enough to be “free.”  We need to be responsible, and we need to strive to not sit back and wait for others to pass us by.  Look in the rear view mirror.  China’s coming.

And One Day It Hits You

It’s six months today that I was hit with a pain that basically landed me in a fetal position, trying desperately to tell my husband to find me Tylenol, Advil, ice, the heating pad, anything that might help.  The pain started in the right side of my neck as I was talking to my cousin on the phone.  I’d had similar pain before.  The doctor and I had pretty much agreed, though it was basically a default diagnosis, that I had a gland in that area that was causing me trouble.  Lately, however, I had been having more pain and the complexion of that pain was changing.  On New Year’s Day of this year, I got the full brunt of it.


The pain quickly became severe, encompassed my right ear, the front of my neck all the way to the other (my left) side, my left ear, and radiated into my chest and back.  My face felt hot, and my neck was bright red.  I rode it out and 45 minutes later it was gone…for then.  I could write a book about the progression of symptoms that kept me pretty much confined to my husband’s recliner for the next two weeks until I was able to talk my doctor into a prescription for percocet which barely took the edge of the pain.  Thus started a round of doctors, tests, blood work, etc with an ultimate diagnosis of Graves Disease, and lots of pain.    


I’m now under the care of a Nurse Practitioner in what is considered a good Thyroid-centered practice, but I’m still not well, and I never will be.  Today, as I sit and write this, I’m distracted by the discomfort right in the area of my thyroid.  Pretend someone is pushing a baseball into the middle of your throat.  That would come close.  The last six months has been a roller coaster of medications, suggestions of radiation treatments to shrink my thyroid, surgery to remove it, more and less pain, lots of needle sticks for blood work, a pile of lab bills, a bunch of prescriptions filled.  It goes on and goes on.


And one day it hits you.  You aren’t getting well.  Graves Disease does not go away.  It is never cured – not with medication, not with RAI, not with surgery.  It is an autoimmune disease that will always need treatment and one that the patient (in this case, I) has to live life around.  Somehow, I managed to get through the semester carrying a full load of courses online and face-to-face.  I took pain killers around my class schedule; my husband drove me to and from school and carried my books to classes, while I struggled to make it the 140 feet from the car to the classroom.  I often had to stop and rest on my grandfather’s cane, which I took from the place I lovingly keep it as a reminder of him.  His love helped me through childhood.  His cane is what I lean on now.  


I have more questions than answers about Graves Disease.  Every forum I’m a part of gives me more information that reminds me that this disease is different from person to person.  The answer for one is the problem for the next person.  I do know that from here on in, I will have to live my life around this disease.  There will be many canceled plans, days spent in front of the TV screen or in the hammock with a book, times my husband will have to pick up the slack with everything from laundry to errand-running.  


I do complain, but my complaints are not about the disease.  At my age, my mother had colon cancer, surgery, and weekly chemotherapy, followed by a strangulated intestine that almost resulted in her death from gangrene.  My disease, if managed properly, is not fatal.  What is difficult for me to live with is the realization that everything will be different from now on, and I have little – perhaps no – control over any of it.  


Yes, one day it just hits you.  

Yes, I Do Iron

Mary Schmich, in a column in today’s Chicago Tribune, asks whether people still iron.  According to her, an ironing board is as difficult to find as the people who use them.  She claims that “rumpled is more fashionable than starched” and contends that we live in a polyester world where advanced technology in the manufacture of clothes dryers have removed the requirement to iron.  


My ironing board is permanently open and set up in the basement in the laundry area.  The iron and bottled water to fill its reservoir are close by, as are hangers and a hanging rod.  I iron almost every day.  No, I don’t iron sheets, my husband’s underwear, or other incidental items, and I do have my share of polyester, which is completely wrinkle-free even if you roll it in a ball, tie it up with string and bat it around with with a tennis racket.  


But then there’s cotton.  My t-shirts are cotton; my husband’s chinos are cotton; and there are some blends that still wrinkle – stubborn ugly wrinkles that resist any iron made unless you use your spray of steam copiously.  Even then, you’ll put that blouse on and find a wrinkled area right down the front.  


I’m not a size four, tall, and gorgeous.  I need my clothes to make me look as well as I can look.  Yes, my t-shirt may wrinkle as I wear it, but it’s a different type of wrinkle than the ones that result from sitting in the dryer or being folded on the top of the closet.  Nothing makes a big person look like a slob than a wrinkled look.  And call it “rumpled,” if you will, but it’s still wrinkled, and it’s sloppy and shows you don’t care.


I have seen some of my college students show up in clothes that are adorable, stylish, and look like they have been slept in for a week.  By no one’s standards can this possibly be considered stylish.  Ironing hasn’t gone out of style because we don’t need to iron or because Vogue is showing wrinkled clothes in high-fashion shots.  People don’t iron because it takes time, and it takes skill.  Many young people just can’t iron.  


I remember watching my mother iron back in the time of sprinkling.  My mother had an old brown beer bottle that she kept filled with water and on top was a sprinkler top – something you could buy in your local hardware store.  My father wore heavy white cotton pants and shorts to work and used heavy cotton aprons.  Steam irons just couldn’t handle this material, so my mother would lay out these items on the kitchen table and sprinkle them with her sprinkler bottle.  She’d then fold and roll these items, sprinkling each new layer as it was folded.  When she was done rolling, she would put the items in a plastic bag, close it tight, and store it in the refrigerator until the next day.  The storage was so that the article would be uniformly damp; the refrigeration was to eliminate any mold possibilities.  


The next day, the iron came out and all the dampened clothes would be ironed and hung.  Some items, like my father’s work pants were starched in the laundry process.  At other times, my mother would use spray starch on collars and cuffs of otherwise permanent press items.  In high school, I loved those large crisp collars on my blouses.  


As a child, I was given handkerchiefs to iron (Yes, who uses those these days?) and other simple items like A-line skirts.  It didn’t take long to graduate to everything else, including puffy sleeves and box pleats.  Once I started to sew, I realized how valuable the skill of ironing was.  Being able to iron a dart properly made a big difference in the finished product.  (Does anyone still sew?) 


I iron because I care how I look, and I’m not sure that people care about that as much.  We have spent so much time telling our children that they are perfect just the way they are that we have made them think that paying attention to clothes, hair, and other grooming issues is unimportant and a waste of time.  Love me; love my wrinkles.  I marvel at how much time some teens spend in the mall, how much money they spend on clothes, and how they then go out looking as if they dressed themselves out of the discard bin at the Salvation Army.  Has pride in presentation of the self gone the way of the 45 RPM record?  According to the way some of my students come to class, I think so.  


You can read Schmich’s column here:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-062612schmich,0,7889565.column 

"Wouldn’t It Be Nice"

Lately, I’ve been listening to songs of the 1950’s and 60’s on Sirius XM radio – a perk in the car I recently bought.  I’ve come across so many one-hit wonders and short-lived performers.  Songwriters housed in the Brill Building had offices near to music publishers, agents, and others who moved and shook the music world.  By 1962, this building located at 1619 Broadway housed 165 music businesses.  Songwriters we remember like Lieber and Stoller, Mann and Weil, Goffen and King (yes, Carole King) had offices there and produced hit after hit.  Who sang these hits was of little consequence.  If you could carry a tune, you could be tapped to turn one of these songs into a hit.  If you were lucky, you had a successful album around that hit.  A few vocal groups and teen idols (Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vee, The Platters,  etc) had careers that actually spanned a few years, but pop music was pretty much a revolving door for teen-aged artists.  Until…


The British Invasion hit.  I remember hearing my first Beatles song on the radio.  It was “I Want to Hold Your Hand, and I heard it on my mother’s table top black bakelite AM radio.  What was this?  It was a revolutionary happy sound that made you want to get up and jump around.  As a “rate-a-record” teen on American Bandstand might have said, “It has a great beat and I can dance to it.”  The Beatles took the U.S. music industry by storm, and in that storm came the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Kinks, Zombies, and …well, the beat goes on. The music of the Beatles changed and grew.  We changed and (maybe) grew.  By the latter part of the 60’s, the mantra of youth embracing the hippie idea of people power, free love, and following nature was “don’t trust people over 30.”  Those old fogies and farts had no clue what was going on.  All they knew was how to make guns and send boys over to Viet Nam to be killed.  “All You Need is Love,” don’t you know.  We were happy living in “Strawberry Fields Forever.”  


And we have been.  An editorial cartoon on the op-ed pages of The Boston Globe shows a bubble with lyrics from the Beatles’ song “Help” and two medical professionals looking down at the floor.  One says to the other, “McCartney’s fallen again.”  Yes, Paul McCartney is 70.  Not only is he 70, he’s still singing, and unlike some of the throwback artists who are touring today, he never stopped.  Also unlike the sign hanging in the cartoon, he’s not living in an assisted living facility.  He’s touring and entertaining and still writing songs.  And we are still listening, attending concerts, and buying McCartney’s music.  The life span of the musical artist has now become nearly infinite.  Bands like The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith sell out in minutes. So does Barry Manilow.   Bon Jovi, can fill football stadiums, and Bruce Springsteen has added a second night to his appearance at Boston’s Fenway Park.  These artists are not just getting older, they are getting better, producing new material and still surprising us with their ability to entertain with energetic, engaging shows.  


We may not have trusted anyone over 30 (which ended when WE turned 30, 40…) but out kids and their kids are listening to and enjoying these artists who made their debuts before many of our kids were born.  My daughter was born in the “Mandy” era and is as big a Manilow fan as I am.  We go to concerts and see multiple generations of families coming together, all smiling and singing along.  Everyone knows the words.  One of my most incredible and uplifting experiences was seeing 11,000 people of all ages standing up and singing “Philadelphia Freedom” at an Elton John concert a few years ago.  I thought the roof was going to come off the place.  


Observe, though, that these artists all share something in common – something I believe has led to their longevity.  They are all songwriters.  They are no longer just picked off the street to be commodified by putting their voices to something someone else wrote and conceived.  They have put their hearts and souls into creating the music they deliver.  So while I love the songs written by all those Brill Building writers, thank them from bringing pop music to the forefront, and enjoy re-experiencing the better parts of my youth by singing along with the 50’s on 5 and 60’s on 6, it’s even better to tune into Rhapsody and hear the brand new album by The Beach Boys!  After 50 years, three of the original members of the band have put out one of their best albums ever and selling out concerts as fast as they can book them.  If you haven’t yet listened to That’s Why God Made the Radio, put on your flip-flops, grab a tall cold one, settle into your favorite hammock or Adirondack chair, and “turn on, tune in, and drop out” for a while.  

Stay Away from My Soda!

According to a story by Fox 25, Boston, the mayor of Cambridge MA would like to restrict the size of sodas that can be sold in restaurants.  No, I didn’t read much further than this.  I thought it was ludicrous when New York City Mayor Bloomberg proposed a similar restriction on patrons buying soft drinks at restaurants, arenas, and other public venues.  Now the mayor of Cambridge MA is jumping on the band wagon of making people healthy by imposing more “nanny” legislation.  


Are too many Americans obese?  Do we often eat the wrong foods in the wrong quantities?  Of course we do, but the answer lies someplace other than restricting adults from buying soft drinks in certain size containers.  If people want to drown themselves in sodas, iced teas, or other high calorie drinks, limiting the portion size isn’t going to stop them.  Unless you restrict the sale of these beverages altogether, people will go back for more or ask for seconds.  I’m sure restaurants will be glad to refill your cola beverage to keep you as a customer.  Or will the soft drink police be there to slap the cuffs on some miscreant waitress.  


And how do you measure a soft drink anyway?  Do you measure it with ice or without.  That can make a big difference.  While many restaurants serve a soft drink in a 20-ounce glass, the actual measure of soda may be only 1/3 that.  


To me there are several issues that the introduction of stupid legislation brings up.  The first is what’s next?  Where does nanny legislation stop?  Will burger size be monitored?  How about how many fries can be put in a serving?  How about the 5-cheese omelet I order at my local breakfast restaurant?  I’m sure that the breakfast special of eggs, meats, pancakes, and toast, served with syrup and butter can pack on more pounds than a soda.  Will restaurants be restricted to 500 calorie meals?  What about supermarkets?  Will the 12-pack fridge pack be banned?  Maybe I’ll need to buy my favorite beverage in single serving cans – one to a customer.  And what will happen to the sale of candy bars?  We allow people over age 18 to buy as many cigarettes as they want and those over 21 to buy as many bottles of alcohol as they can carry, but we think that restricting the size of sugar-laden beverages is a smart idea.  


The second issue is one of personal freedom.  Believe it or not, we do have the right to kill ourselves in the U.S.  We are allowed to smoke and drink.  We sell cars that can go much faster than roads in this country allow.  We allow people to bicycle down busy roadways, text while walking, bungee jump, breathe in carbon monoxide as they (healthfully) jog down the sides of busy roads, skip year physicals because they can’t afford the doctor or insurance, sleep outside because they can’t afford shelter, and do all sorts of crazy things that can result in injury and death.  We even pay athletes big money to get out there on the football field and slam into each other – an activity that has been shown to result in the long term after-effects of concussion. In New Hampshire, we do not even require adults to wear motorcycle helmets.  You are free to be a vegetable for the rest of your life in order to feel the wind in your hair.  But people need to have their soft drinks limited.  Go figure.  


Another issue is the one concerning sugar substitutes.  It is my understanding that legislation proposed by the mayor of Cambridge does not pertain to items sweetened with sugar substitutes.  Scientists have argued the issues of non-nutritive sweeteners since saccharin was introduced.  The issues surrounding many sugar substitutes range from cancer to migraine headaches to diarrhea.  We have an entire generation that has grown up on sugar substitutes.  (Could there be a connection with issues such as autism there I wonder?) We’re fed information that leads us to believe that these items are natural, harmless, and actually good for us, but the latest studies suggest that the use of certain artificial sweeteners can actually elevate our desire for sweets.  Now I’m not a fan of high-fructose corn syrup either, as it is largely made from genetically modified corn, so if I’m going to drink a soda, it contains 100% sugar.  It appears that lawmakers have no problem filling children and adults with chemicals, but sugar is a problem.  


Let’s face it; there’s more going on regarding obesity in America than soda sizes. Often households with children have only one parent or two parents both working, so there is more processed food being served.  Organic and healthy food is more expensive than the cheaper prepared food choices.  You can feed a whole family on a can of ravioli and bread and butter on much less cost (and time) than a chef salad prepared at home with organic veggies and leans meats and cheeses.  People don’t walk.  Frankly, there is nowhere to walk in many cases unless you drive to the local health club and pay for a membership.  On my street, a pedestrian takes a chance on losing his / her life.  Sidewalks are available only in the the very hearts of communities (and not all of them), and we have discouraged children from walking by filling them and ourselves) with the fear of predators lurking around every corner.  Bicycling is worse.  With people texting, eating, and putting on make-up as they drive, even those who aren’t impaired are often a menace to bicyclists.  Roads are narrow and trying to get around a bicyclist with traffic in both lanes can be a challenge even for the most careful driver.  


We are a fat society because our entire lifestyle has changed.  We work longer; we sit more (working behind computers); we walk less, we have less recreation time (when was the last time you played a game of anything?); we eat on the run; we eat what’s quick and handy.  That’s why we are unhealthy.  If the government would like to make us healthier, they can 1) put physical education and active recess back in schools, 2) provide paved sidewalks and designated bicycle trails, 3) make provisions for health insurance rebates for exercise classes, or workout hours, 4) create better opportunities for people to buy wholesome natural and organic products close to home, 5) provide incentives for companies whose employees have sit-down jobs to provide on-site workout rooms that can be used before and after work, as well as during lunch and breaks, and 6) provide income tax credits for people who remain in normal weight ranges as determined by their doctors.  Then you’d see some real results. In the meantime, hand me that two-liter soda on the top shelf….





Nuts to You.

We all know that nut allergies are on the rise, and I feel truly sorry for children who have to learn at a very young age that food is not all pleasure.  Certain foods can make you very sick or even kill you.  I saw my friend’s daughter grow up with allergies that often landed her in the hospital.  She quickly learned to live with it and look out for her own welfare because she had to.  While people in whose care she was entrusted knew of her food allergies, ultimately the responsibility for keeping her safe rested with her parents and eventually with her.


It appears that things have changed.  Not only do we need an entire “village to raise a child,” we expect the entire community to change the way it functions to protect the child.  In this particular case, the danger is nuts, and the medium for this message is the front page of the June 17, 2012, Sunday Eagle Tribune (Lawrence MA) in a story entitled “Parents:  Schools Aren’t Protecting Allergic Son from Nuts.”  In short, a nine year-old fourth grader has found himself hospitalized seven times due to a severe reactions to nuts, which his parents say he was exposed to in school.  


The parents stated that the school has complied with the provisions of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for those with disabilities.  Among those disabilities are food allergies, and the parents were told that their child’s classroom would be “nut-free.”  The parents claim that on two different instances teaches themselves brought in contaminated foods and that at one other time, a classmate brought in a nut-containing food and when the nut-allergic child brought the item to the teacher, the teacher allegedly told the child that he (the child) was not be act like the “nut police.”  While the parents may have a legitimate complaint about the three reported instances as they did occur in the classroom itself, the article states that the child had seven trips to the hospital and often the allergic reaction does not show up for twelve hours after exposure.  


I believe schools need to keep children safe:  from bullies, from predatory teachers, from sun-stroke on the athletic field, and (most importantly) poor education.  I also believe that since there are Federal Disabilities Acts in place, schools need to abide by them.  But here is a child who appears to be so allergic to nuts that nut residue on a person’s clothing could set off a reaction, and that nut residue can be carried into the classroom unknowingly.  I also must assume that this child is not confined to the classroom during every moment of the school day.  He may come in contact with other teachers, students, and surfaces.  How accountable can we hold a school community and how many people’s lives do we disrupt because of one child?  My understanding as a post-secondary educator is that “reasonable accommodations” are what is expected of a school or teacher in the event of a disability. 


Teachers are only human, and with budget cuts in almost all communities, public school classrooms are busy places where the teacher’s attention is fragmented by his/her need to meet the needs of each student under the “No Child Left Behind” statutes.  Expecting a teacher to make sure that no child brings in a cookie with nuts (or processed in a facility that processes nuts) is a near impossibility.  Kids break rules.  If you tell a child, this is a nut-free zone, that child may either forget or disregard that rule.  Most children have not seen a person in extreme respiratory distress.  We shield our children from those realities – and maybe to their detriment – the the idea of someone being severely allergic to nuts is something most young children just don’t get.  


It appears from the article itself that the school system is doing the best it can to help this boy deal with his individual and particular health issue, but the responsibility is with the parents.  Perhaps it is time for them to explore home-schooling or tutoring that will keep the child in his own protective atmosphere and where the parents can more closely monitor his exposure until such time as he can take more responsibility for monitoring his own.  I’m sure that parents would have many reasons for why their child should be treated as a normal child in a normal social atmosphere.  But, face it, this child, given this extreme allergy to nuts, will never be able to do that.  There will always be accommodations that will need to be made for him as long as he is in a place where governmental laws apply.  But he will not always be in that type of place.  


This child will have difficulty going to ball games, participating in camping trips, scouting, lunches with friends, etc.  His parents need to teach him how to keep himself as safe as possible, what do to when he is exposed and has a reaction, and how to advocate for himself in the future.  Until then, he is their responsibility and not the school’s.  It is not “reasonable” to expect teachers, students, and administrators to police themselves each and every day and to feel totally responsible for this child’s welfare.