Friday, October 24, 2014

A digital cautionary tale

While looking at the iPhone in the Apple store one day several years ago, I was wondering about how one might post to their FB status from this curious new smart device. So I logged in to browse and did what seemed like the most intuitive way to close out; I hit the home button. Unknowingly, idiotically, I had left my Facebook account logged in on a public device.

I remember how wonderful my day at the beach was afterwards, and how much I enjoyed the long blissful summer day with my mom and kids, completely oblivious. As I look back on this, of course, the sheer stupidity makes me cringe, but I had no idea what I had done until I returned home and heard the messages on my answering machine. An old friend from junior high had seen a rather unusual post, assumed I'd been hacked and tracked me down right away. When I logged on, the physical sensation of shame was immediate and all-encompassing as I read "my" status. We at Blicky Kitty like to keep it PG as I do on FB, so won't repeat it. I can say with full confidence that my digital interloper was an adolescent boy, however. It must have seemed too good to be true, and maybe he'd gleefully called a few friends over. "Hey check this out! Some stupid lady left her FB account open on here." During that entire summer day any of my Facebook friends–friends from church, second cousins, professional aquaintances, ministers, old friends, blogging buddies, colleagues of my husband, in-laws and school friends who might have logged in would have read that I am big *&^#*% who likes to take big *%@&$#*'s in my @#$%&. Not only did it provide a brilliant retort to all the Apple Store utopia, which still reliably mesmerizes me, but the pure, unadulterated shame of the experience was so tremendous, almost lovely in it's perfection. It's not like I would ever judge someone  if they chose to be a big *&^#*%, or that I would find anything about *%@&$#*'s inherently shameful, it's just that few would expect a person to discuss them so publicly and with such poorly-inarticulated nuance.

I deleted the post and sent out an apology (pointing out that if I were to disclose something like that to everyone I know, I like to think that I would at least choose to phrase it more artfully) and left it at that. But the range of reactions was truly fascinating. My first impulse was to go running to the Mister, who barely even looked up. Having no connection to social media, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Oh well, don't let it ruin your day." The following morning was church. I sought out one of the ministers who always seems to know the perfect words to comfort: "Oh I know, I saw that and it was so obvious that wasn't you. I felt so sorry for you right away!" My younger, hip cousins were thoroughly entertained. One had gleefully captured a screen shot of it so we could all have a good laugh at the next family gathering–and we did. There was one person who posted a shocked, "Laurel!" under the status, thinking that I had indeed been its author. I deleted the status too quickly to have remembered who it was, but I often amuse myself by wondering. For the most part, my younger acquaintances were more amused than horrified and saw it as a frightening, yet screamingly funny fact of contemporary life. My friends who were closest to my age showed a mixture of empathy and dread. In the end, I guess I just concluded that being open to shame is a trade-off I am willing to make for being open to others in a medium that we still struggle collectively to define.

There is certainly no shortage of articles weighing in on the relative benefits and drawbacks of social media; Facebook in particular. Stephen Marche posited in his article for the Atlantic that, for all of our interconnectedness, and new types of interactions, we are becoming lonelier. Others feel that FB is an artificial window into the lives of others and that comparing ourselves to others makes us feel as though we're missing out. There is no question that as a medium, Facebook is fraught with pitfalls and the ever-looming specter of public shame. I have learned this lesson, not just once, but several times over during the process of learning the medium.

Facebook is a medium, and like any other, if you put dumb and negative things into it, that's exactly what you get in return. There is nothing about Facebook, chat apps, email or skype however, that define our connections to other people in any real sense. If we approach the medium in ignorance we risk not only shame, but feeling hurt, left out, inadequate, or lonely. As my eldest daughter has started to define her own relationship to digital media I have tried to step up my own literacy and my own wisdom on the subject. Here is my stab at a few ground rules that I hope are healthful and helpful for even those who have been less catastrophically careless as I have.

Be as courteous as you are offline
Some days I feel like if I see one more 12-year-old girl on my kid's Instagram feed sticking her lips and tongue out, my head will explode. Would you sit before yout teachers and do that, or would stick out your bum and bend over while you are visiting your grandmother? One truly hopes not, because it might seem a little odd at best. Kids, I say this with love and and respect: please refrain from saying anything online that they would not willingly announce to everyone you know. Something you write during a fleeting moment of poor judgement is potentially permanent if you say it online, so unless you would stand up during assembly, or in a hallway and shout it in a loud voice, you should not be typing it online.

Be as kind as you are offline
I often wonder if people who leave cruel screeds in online comments say things like this to members of their family, or friends. Maybe so. Interacting through a screen removes us from the ability to perceive subtle expressions on the human face. Adolescents need time away from screens to learn how to treat each other with kindness before they start spending large amounts of time online. I know, this is counter-cultural and I am a mean, mean parent for limiting time online.

Be as wise as you are offline
I...umm...can offer no guidance in this area.

Use social media to find wisdom and beauty in others
I know it sounds nerdy, but I think the reason I keep coming back to FB despite moments of abject shame and public mocking is that I am inspired and awed by the amazing things that people do and the insights they post online. People disappoint us, yes, but people are also amazing and they often astound us with their talent, their brilliance and their goodness. Amanda Palmer's TED talk nails this aspect of modern social media interaction. When we give ourselves over to the kindness of others there is a way that people rise to our high expectations. 

Use social media to enrich the connections you already have
It's no substitute, but if you have five minutes a year to talk to your third cousin who might even live on another continent. It's really cool to know they they also love the tUnE-yArDs, or that they are planning a trip to an Italian city where you once lived, or even if they have had an illness in the family. Perhaps the interaction you end up sharing will be more direct and more authentic as a result.

Cultivate the art of being away from a screen

I am not convinced I love the term "unplugging" because it implies a physical dependence on social media that is somehow at the core of our nature. Being social is in our nature. But nature is also in our nature, and we will all unwind far more if we take a walk outdoors, get a little bored, let our minds process our day by conjuring up the random little thoughts that float through our fatigued grey matter like clouds. My own mind needs to experience things like the pungent odor of decomposing fall leaves interspersed with the cloying scent of ripening wild grapes, the sight of migrating birds, stopping for a rest and the sound of something other than chimes and alerts to feel truly centered and real.

That's all I have to offer today, gentle readers. I'm off to go *%@&$#*.

I'll leave you with this offering of mandatory fun:

Friday, November 15, 2013

You're Going Down.....Dog

As I was listening to the latest instructor in the long string of dvds I have acquired with the aim of identifying my favorite style of yoga, I breathed dutifully into the movement, relaxing into each posture as he intoned, "Feel the movement balanced all over you body instead of staying in one place." Then he proceeded to tell me to take my foot, wrap it like five times around my head and spin like a top while yelling "toy boat, toy boat" ten times fast. At least that's the way I remember it. Then, to cheer us on, he said, "Remember….long pregnant pause….it's not a contest." I may or may not have been lying in a heap on the floor and laughing at that point, but all I could think was, "What if it was?"

I know it's heresy, but wouldn't it be kind of funny if they made yoga into a competitive sport? Then you could say things like, "After the fourth vinyasa, you're going down!" I thought I had stumbled upon some crazy good new business idea–like "hey you got peanut butter in my chocolate"–until I realized there actually is competitive yoga. So, alas, my dream went up in smoke. I would have transformed the practice with XFL style commentary:

"Sri Shankar Richardson is really ticked off now, he thought he was going to end Sunray Rainbow Whittmore's chances at a win today during the scorpion pose. What's this? Sunray is taunting him now. 'See this crow pose? Yeah, I'm rocking it and you're going to break your nose if you even try. You might as well just go home and cry into your Koshumba, loser.'"

You could bring in the veteran yogi for commentary too, like Shiva Rea:
"Bob, just look at the way he brings the energy of the entire cosmos into his body. He is really going to wipe the yoga mat with his opponent today."
"Shiva what is that printed on the back of his spandex action suit? Does that say 'I H8 He?'"
"Yes Bob that is a clear response to Whittmore's jacket last week that said, "Just Stay in Child's Pose, LUsR."

It would impact all of the arts that have been nurtured by the spirit of the discipline. Krishna Das would start climbing the charts with his new singles, "Suck my mat," and "Namaste, You're Going Down."

Gradually, the trend would trickle down into everyone's practice, translating into a wonderful judgement-laden discipline for us all. At the end of class, while instructors announced the class winners they could offer helpful advice so people could gain a competitive edge; "Pssst, when we say be gentle and ease into it? Yeah, we're just kidding. You've gotta really rock that pose or just go home, " or "Wow, man, looks like you never really found that drishti, Either that, or you have some serious inner ear condition, because I'm surprised you can even walk straight. Why don't you skip class for a couple of weeks, in fact, and practice walking with books on your head like Marcia Brady?"

Namaste, suckers here's your mandatory fun:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Emerging Market

As unemployment takes center stage as the nation's most pressing issue, I feel grateful that I always have something to fall back on in times of trouble. And no, I don't mean blogging for Blicky.

My back-up career is stand-up comedy for the 6 and under set. I know what you're thinking, gentle reader. Hey, who would pay you money to do something that easy? Isn't that like offering family planning for pandas, running anger management classes for Tibetan monks, or teaching tail-wagging and steak eating to dogs? Comedy for kids? All you have to do is say the word "poop" and call it a day. I understand your thinking, and I realize that I will need to demonstrate my gift in order to give people an understanding of the rigors and complexity involved.

For a limited time, I will share these free tricks that are guaranteed to kill -- I mean absolutely slay the members of the wrinkle-free-midget persuasion.

#1 One joke that never fails at drop-off even though they might hear it 180 days out of the school year: "Now remember, kids, DON'T HAVE FUN." But beware -- if you can't do a decent deadpan, you're out of your league and should stop here. At the very least, that line guarantees a sea of gleeful smiles and sing-song choruses of, "We're having fuuunnnn!"

#2 Persons of the curly-haired-dimpled persuasion absolutely LOVE anarchy. We grownups get a little nervous when the center cannot hold and the falcon cannot hear the falconer and all of that, but for the 6 and unders? Bring it onnn, baby! Any humor that contains anarchy is guaranteed to kill. K-I-L-L kill. One caveat, don't try to make jokes about political libertarian theory or make references to famous anarchists. It falls dangerously flat. For example, I would strongly advise against the following: "Hey guys, ever hear the one about Lysander Spooner and his thoughts about acts of initiatory coercion against individuals and their property?" Unless you're prepared to resort to a pathetic and desperate display of gas passing humor coupled with dancing (and such moves are frowned upon in juvenile comedic circles), you're toast.

#3 Persons-of-limited-vintage are none the wiser when you "borrow" your material. I have this running joke going in the kindergarten this year about Justin Bieber and how it would be really funny if he were the tooth fairy. So of course I had to come up with a reasonably good quality falsetto song that he might sing if he came to your house to get your teeth, "Oh baby baby, just give me your wiggly tooth…" They have no idea that my falsetto bears an eerie resemblance to Jimmy Fallon's parody of Barry Gibb because they can't stay up late and watch SNL or see it on anyone's Facebook. For that matter, they really don't care if you have no idea what Justin Bieber even sounds like. btw They don't get tired of the same joke either, so the next day, Justin Bieber might be a baby carrot who's going to jump out of their lunchboxes, start wiggling his little orange hips and sing, "Never say never." (again sounding eerily like Barry Gibb).

#4 They delight in any suggestions that the grownups in their lives might have a secret identity, "Who said your mom is actually a ninja? I didn't say that! No she really goes to yoga just like she says she does and is definitely not involved in secret training or missions of any kind."

That should be enough to get you started. And now for your mandatory fun, a bit of the real thing for those of us of the more energy-challenged, anile, vintage persuasion:

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Gift of Time

I recently had great lesson passed along to me. I was late for a lunch date with my friend and instead of looking annoyed or impatient she seemed so serene. She's a Buddhist and I've long suspected them of being a little too happy, but I listened to her anyway. She said that time is a gift to be enjoyed and instead of being impatient, the way to look at it is to be thankful. If she was being ironic, she masked it pretty deftly as she said, "Thank you for the gift of time."

Lately, I think of time as a playful, flexible entity that changes its shape, texture and form as we change, and our relationship to time evolves. When you're a kid, time is either annoying and endless (lectures, Christmas Eve, and the last hour of school before summer break) or non-existent (amount of playtime between dinner and bed). There are moments in our lives when we don't even think about the passage of time. We are so absorbed in what we are doing, it vanishes and ceases to matter. Sometimes time can be irascible and petulant, playing tricks on you and taunting (when you have to stay up late for an exam). The busier we get, the more minuscule each moment seems. There are fewer and fewer of those 'annoying' and endless moments as we begin to work harder on the things that matter to us. But what if we look at those moments differently -- the bank line, traffic, the doctor's office, airport security -- the remaining ones that seem frustrating and long?

This was an epiphany to me because Blicky Kitty has a real problem with this. His wrath augments with every minute he is forced to wait. This poses a problem when we are out shopping, like we were just last week:

Blicky was getting a few supplies -- litter, salted cod, paper towels, caviar, batteries, plutonium -- and he got behind a family at the checkout. Immediately, I recognized the telltale eye-tick. I knew he was struggling to maintain his composure, and inwardly he was scrutinizing their every action and thinking. "How can you be so slow? How can anyone be that slow... and stupid. How long does it take to get your stupid credit card out. Why are you talking to the stupid checkout lady? Who cares how she's doing? You stupid, stupid nice lady...." Yes, outwardly Blick looks like your typical, sweet and cuddly bipedal cat, but he's not always nice about stuff.

The alarm bells ringing in his central nervous system were almost audible at that point. For Blick, it gets really extreme, so if you are a particularly gentle, gentle-reader, kindly avert your eyes and send the children away:

I'm sorry, I know.

I wish Blicky could just change his mindset. If you see me waiting in a line these days, I'm the one with the placid expression on my face (and quite possibly a homicidal feline in line behind me). How often do we just get to stand around and do nothing? For those blissful 5 minutes (usually less) there are no plates to clean up, kittens to cook for, work deadlines, and no obligations. All I have to do is just stand there and be. It is that precious moment of stasis between rushing to grab what I need, racking my brains to menu plan, and hauling 50+ pounds of groceries to and from the car. That, for me, is a gift.

Here is your mandatory fun:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Explaining the Birds

I know what you're thinking. We haven't seen Blicky Kitty for a long, long time. The reasons for that are subtle and varied:
a) My new career in door-to-door interpretive dance has suddenly and inexplicably taken off, leaving little time for Blicky reportage,
b) Blicky took off in his Hummer, went deep undercover for many, many months, and I had no idea of his whereabouts,
c) and the fact that his disappearance coincided with me getting a track pad instead of a mouse was pure coincidence.

The real reason for his disappearance is that Blicky is starting to rethink his former ways and is starting consider to the many problems facing the environment on a global scale. He used to cough up furballs every time I mentioned my concern about dwindling frog and honey bee populations. I tried explaining to him that bees are vital to food production and that some 52 of the world's 112 leading crops -- from apples and soybeans to cocoa and almonds -- rely on pollination. There are still many questions, but researchers have identified some probable causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD), including blood-feeding parasites, bee viruses, fungi, pesticide exposure and decreased plant diversity causing poor nutrition for honeybees. He seemed to get it, but I think his primary concern was how embarrassing it would be for future generations of parents if they had to sit down and only be able to "explain the birds" to their clowder of kittens. He felt it would lead to some strange mating behavior if young people everywhere thought they were literally supposed to act like birds rather than grasp it as a metaphor for the fecundity of nature.

Your mandatory fun here:

Well I guess I just can't discuss this with Blicky. Yes these problems that face us are depressing and scary. They seem insurmountable at times, but for me doing things like buying organic food (or growing it), keeping woods instead of a lawn, writing to my congressional delegation and finding out the little ways I can help makes me feel better.

Sylvia Plath 1932-1963

This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife's extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat's eyes in the wine cellar,

Wintering in a dark without window
At the heart of the house
Next to the last tenants rancid jam
and the bottles of empty glitters ....
Sir So-and-So's gin.

This is the room I have never been in
This is the room I could never breathe in.
The black bunched in there like a bat,
No light
But the torch and its faint

Chinese yellow on appalling objects ....
Black asininity. Decay.
It is they who own me.
Neither cruel nor indifferent,

Only ignorant.
This is the time of hanging on for the bees...the bees
so slow I hardly know them,
Filing like soldiers
To the syrup tin

To make up the honey I've taken.
Tate and Lyle keeps them going,
The refined snow.
It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers.
They take it. The cold sets in.

Now they ball in a mass,
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

The blunt, clumpsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women ....
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanish walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year ?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses ?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528)
Adam and Eve, 1504


by George Bilgere

Someone's taken a bite
from my laptop's glowing apple,
the damaged fruit of our disobedience,
of which we must constantly be reminded.

There's the fatal crescent,
the dark smile
of Eve, who never dreamed of a laptop,
who, in fact, didn't even have clothes,
or anything else for that matter,

which was probably the nicest thing
about the Garden, I'm thinking,
as I sit here in the café
with my expensive computer,
afraid to get up even for a minute
in order to go to the bathroom
because someone might steal it

in this fallen world she invented
with a single bite
of an apple nobody, and I mean
was going to tell her not to eat.

Mandatory fun, gentle bloggy friends:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Blick Friday

N.B. Gentle readers, drawing BK on a mouse pad makes him look like he's been through the dishwasher (again).

At first I wondered why Blicky left the Thanksgiving table so abruptly, but then it dawned on me; this week is Black Friday. Our cherished tradition on Thanksgiving is devoted to appreciating our bounty, our many blessings both as a nation and individuals, savoring the comforts that living in this rich nation has given us -- such as a warm homes and adequate clothing for ourselves and our children. The more fortunate among us have many defenses against illness both in access to high quality medical care, and protection from financial havoc it can wreak. Those of us with healthy families can count ourselves among the truly blessed. Although it rarely seems like it, we all live in a relatively stable social system.

It's so important to remember those things because when we're struggling through each week, measuring little professional victories, trying to squeeze in each little errand, and remember each thing on our do-to lists. The opportunity to stop, look around, and appreciate the immense beauty of what we've been given becomes a moment of mindfulness, love and bliss.

Things I am grateful for this week:
  • A comfortable home
  • A well stocked supply of tea, red wine and sugared ginger
  • My amazing kittens (the younger of whom just applied a sparkly layer of Hello Kitty "pol-nailish" to my nails, and kitten-the-elder is decorating an elaborate little room for her doll)
  • The woodpecker family that is nesting in the wall outside our kitchen
  • Good health
  • The giant pine trees outside my home
  • An inspiring and brilliant extended family
  • Fleece socks
After marking all of life's gifts, great and small, what better activity for the day afterward? Waiting in line all night so that we can stampede in and battle for the last toy on sale, thus saving a whole dollar or two? Yes, gloating at the crestfallen look of our competitors/friends when we tell them how little we paid for this season's "it" toy, getting back in touch with our inner greed monster are the things that truly mean something in this shared Black Friday ritual of ours.

I for one intend to hop off the computer, grab a run in the crisp autumn weather (once this "pol-nailish" dries), get my home nice and clean so we can think about the upcoming Christmas plans and remain thankful for my precious clowder of kittens.

Thankfully we live in an age where we can share great new music with relative ease. As always, this fun is mandatory: