April 28, 2010

The Power of the Internet

When television came on the scene, there were many who decried the time it would take from family and other such negatives. Fred Rogers was one of those who saw its potential. He spoke passionately about the possibilities for using television to reach many and educate them.

Society has a love/hate relationship with the media. We resent its intrusive, gossip-mongering aspects but rely on the information we get from it. The internet in particular has begun to impact daily life. Never before could people on opposite sides of the globe receive information seconds after it happened. This possibility (like television) is a two-sided sword. We all have seen negative aspects: misleading information and rumor that (in Chesterton's memorable phrase) goes 'round the world before the truth puts on its boots. It's harder to see the phenomenal possibilities of the internet bear fruit.

Then I read an article with a beautiful example.

Two male fans started a web site last January in hopes of getting a hug from Taylor Swift. She learned about it in March, and she issued some challenges to the two guys. Rather than ask for displays of slavish affection, she asked them to do good deeds (helping a little old lady across the street as the first one). The two collegiates responded with a video montage of them (and many others from around the world) helping people across the street as a result of Taylor's request. She challenged them to do some creative deeds involving the number thirteen (her lucky number). They responded on April 13 with a video of deeds like giving 13 roses to the woman they helped across the street, submitting 13 items each to a food pantry, picking up trash on 13th street, paying for $13 of gas for a stranger, and helping a small boy meet his favorite Auburn baseball player (who wears jersey #13). Two days ago Taylor Swift showed up at a karaoke session the guys were having in an auditorium on Auburn's campus to give each of the guys a hug--and gave each a kiss on the cheek plus a front-row ticket to one of her concerts. She capped it off by giving a short impromptu concert with the help of her band, who had come along with her.

Although I appreciate the kindness, integrity and positive character shown, what riveted me was the seized positive impact the internet had. Two friends had a wish, and out of that wish a number of people (many of them strangers to each other, since the guys requested viewers to submit videos of their own) were inspired to impact the world in many positive ways, without any expectation of reward or reimbursement other than a hug.

I marvel at the difference in generations, and the mobilization potential of the millennial generation (those born in early 1980s to early 2000s). They are not fazed by odds against outstanding success, and they intuitively grasp the power inherent in large groups of people. If only there were a consistent method of motivating the masses to such heights on a regular basis!

April 20, 2010


There are parts of being a mom that are delightful. I love hearing the random questions: "Mommy, do you like street hustling?" I love seeing the new lessons they learn about the world around them: books will not stick to the wall like magnets do to the fridge. I love experiencing the language development and translating their attempts: bah-bah means "bottle", a hand waggled side to side means "ball", etc. I love the hugs, the unself-conscious dancing to music, the unapologetic perspectives, and the full-bore enjoyment of living.

It's all of the repetitive tasks that drain me. Getting breakfast once (or even twice) is fun. Making it every morning for three people is not. By the time supper rolls around, I loathe the prospect of making any more decisions: what will we eat? What nutrients have we been lacking lately? Who will eat or can eat what I have in the house? Do I have time to make X or should I go with Y? Will it make enough for leftovers? Do I start before nap time ends, or do I wait and hope they'll play and keep each other occupied? Do I need to make a run to the store before supper (please, please, please let this be "no")? Do I aim for the family to eat all together, or do I plan on the kids eating before their dad gets home so they have time to play before bedtime?

Children do not add difficulty and confusion to daily tasks; they multiply it, and multiply it on an exponential scale. Doing laundry with a toddler's "help" adds physical obstacles, interrupting questions, instruction for how they might help, un-doing of incorrectly-done "help", increased restraint in the midst of rising frustration and impatience, and a greater supply of determination to see the task through to the end. My creativity gives out after finding five different ways to say, "Please bring the toy to me." My ears are tired after hearing some rendition of, "Mommy, is that a ____?" for the twelfth time. My patience gives out after a boundary is drawn and reinforced four times in as many minutes.

Motherhood often means needing space away from your kids, but being worried about what havoc they might create in your absence. Sometimes the child can be isolated (stuck in a crib, closeted in their room with toys and a closed door) and sometimes the mom needs to be isolated (locking herself in the bathroom or out in the car, for instance). Days immediately after a vacation or a visit from grandparents or a sleepover w/ a friend will always be more draining.

The number of times you will be interrupted are proportional to the importance of the task and inversely proportional to the available timeline. --And speaking of timelines, I should peel my child away from the computer and get him some lunch (more decision-making!). It's already 2 o'clock.

April 05, 2010

On Writing

I've kept a journal since grade school. If ever I want to know who I was then, I can dip back into words that the 13-yr-old wrote and be her and my present self in the same moment. Words can be a time machine.

My memories are strongly rooted in physical sensations: sight, sound, smell, feel and taste. When I record the sensations, the memories spring up of their own accord. Just the words 'Jovan musk' conjure up a hug from my grandmother. Words can recreate experience and make the dead live again.

Find the right word can be a struggle. "The difference between the right word and its second cousin," said Mark Twain, "is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug." It can physically hurt to find that right word. Sometimes a word is used to hold the place until you find the right word, but any writer can tell you which words fit their vision exactly and which ones still bother them. Words can be as finicky as finding the exact shade of oil for a portrait.

Words and language are a gift. No other method in our world allows one person to describe an idea, no matter how esoteric and ephemeral, to a person centuries later. The writer will never know the reader; the reader will never see the writer. Only the words exist -- and in all likelihood, the writer will never know that those particular words are what changed the reader's life for all time.

The realization of these things could effectively stifle any perfectionist from ever putting text to page. Who can live up to that sort of burden and expectation? Writers can write for the market, to sell copy and make money. Writers can write for the public, to stroke pleasurable spots and affirm people where they are. Writers can also write for the most difficult audience of all: their own muse, their passions.

I write to fill an ache, a question inside me that seeks an answer. When I see a lack in my life or lives around me, I try to meet some of that need with words. To solve a problem, any good diagnostician knows that correct identification of the problem is necessary.

For now, life is busy. Chores must be done and meals must be made. Parenting requires a lot of hands-on discipline and damage control. Sometimes words simmer inside until they escape in a rush, inarticulate in their need to be said or written. Sometimes I procrastinate because I don't have anything to say that feels necessary. As my mom used to say, "If you can't say something in seven words, for heaven's sake don't say it in fifteen." Obfuscation and wordiness are not writing.

In words of one syllable: I have not been good at word craft as a job. I am not -- I must go. The word smith must give way to the mom. Once more.