I was sharing with a contemporary a couple of experiences from our childhoods. On Valentine’s Day each student had a box on her desk to collect valentine cards from fellow pupils. We would count up our cards at the end of the day and would be regularly sad that we had fewer cards than students we knew were more popular. In gym class, two of the most athletic girls would be chosen as team captains by the teacher. Then in turn each girl would pick members from the remaining girls. I was nearly always chosen last.
A much younger(by fifty years!) gym member said “They don’t do any of that now.” When questioned, he told us that for Valentine’s Day each student has to either bring no cards or one card for each student. Teams are no longer picked by student team captains, but assembled by the gym teacher. He went on to tell us that in soccer leagues each player received a trophy. Also in Boy Scouts each boy who made a pine derby car got a trophy. Apparently it was important no one left with “negative” feelings. We used to call these feelings “disappointment.”
I was indeed disappointed to receive fewer cards than more popular girls. However, I did know I was not one of the “in” crowd, so I wasn’t particularly surprised. In a similar way, I knew that I was the smallest and least athletic girl in my class. I wouldn’t have put me on a team either. I had feelings about both instances, but I never expected that everything in life would be fair.
So I went into life with the ability to deal with disappointment. It would have been easier if my parents had helped me with that, but they didn’t. Neither did many parents in the 1950’s, most of whom figured we had to learn to be disappointed on our own. I asked a mental health professional about the things the young person told me. She said that in fact all that cushioning from disappointment has a very negative effect. She said by preventing children from maneuvering challenging situations, adults send kids into the world unequipped to deal with the real ones they will encounter. She said, in fact, that many of those “treated all the same” kids fall apart in college when such accommodations are no longer made.
A child in my life really wanted to win the science fair. She didn’t. She was very disappointed. She didn’t get a trophy for trying, though, since her school doesn’t operate that way. We have felt her disappointment with her, but we haven’t taken it away. As the Rolling Stones once put it so crudely,”You can’t always get what you want.” It’s a good thing to know how to handle.
Continuing on with more thoughts on censorship from the self appointed culture police. Today I was speaking with a young man who worked in catering at a large university while he was in school there. A campus conservative group invited a speaker to address them. The young man had to help prepare the room where the speech would take place. One of his tasks was to fasten the 400 seats to one another with zip ties. Why?
It turns out that another campus group didn’t want the speaker to come to the campus. When their efforts failed to prevent another campus group from having its own agenda, they ramped up their protest. Not by standing outside the talk. Instead they came in and tried shouting down the guest. In past encounters, they had thrown chairs. Hence the need for the worker to zip tie them in place.
I am not sure when it was determined that universities were no longer the place for an exchange of views–even widely differing ones. In my mind the behavior of the protestors, rather than discounting the views, seemed to suggest the ideas were very powerful. So powerful that merely hearing them would cause damage. Fascism on either end of the spectrum looks remarkably similar, doesn’t it.
When I was a child, the library wouldn’t carry Nancy Drew mystery books because the librarians had determined that they weren’t “literature.” At the same time Joyce and D.H. Lawrence writings were banned in the United States. School boards continue to decide what books are and aren’t appropriate for children, though what is appropriate seems to differ vastly across the country. But I thought that once I was an adult I could choose to read what I wished and would be free of the “reader police.”
Sadly a whole new group has sprung up to caution me about what I might read. At the moment the furor is over the book pictured above, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. This is a NOVEL. It is FICTION. It is a creation of the writer’s IMAGINATION. The story features a woman who escapes a Mexican gang that has killed all of her family except her son. She and her son make the arduous dangerous passage to the United States. The author is not a Mexican woman who escaped a gang and made her way to the United States with her son. This apparently should make me ignore the novel. In fact, according to the “reader police” it ought not to have published.
This new criteria seems to suggest that only one who has been through exactly a situation portrayed in a novel should be allowed to write one. The genre for writing about one’s personal experience, however, is not called a novel. It is called a MEMOIR. I have had fun thinking about how many novels should not have been written if this is the criteria for authors. I just finished a NOVEL narrated by an Italian nun. Sadly the author was an American man. I guess I shouldn’t have found it as compelling as I did.
Empathy comes from the ability to imagine what another is feeling and experiencing. Many novelists are gifted with the art of imagining their way into other people, other places and even other historic times. Some of them do a great job, some do a poor job. But they all have the right to imagine and write. And I have the right to continue to distinguish fiction from reporting.
She was a lovely little sister, born when I was 5, left this earth when I was 70. You don’t expect to outlive a younger sibling. Patsy had the sweetest heart of the four of us, quick to laugh, slow to disagree. Her life was filled with many tragedies, but she really did keep that same smile she showed as a very big(nearly 10 pounds) baby.
Thinking of you Sis. Loving you from this plane to the one you now joyfully inhabit.
I was struck by a response to my post about aging and the Cover Girl model. The writer suggested that the image had been Photoshopped. That seems very likely. Much has been written recently about how the widespread photoshopped images of women throughout the media have convinced ordinary women that there is something ugly about them. While that is disturbing, at least many of us have become aware of that practice.
More upsetting, however, is the kind of photo manipulation now prevalent in many arenas. Most recently the National Archives of the United States mounted an exhibit about women’s suffrage. In the first image they displayed they had altered the image to remove, among others, mentions of Trump, the word vagina and the word pussy. They defended this travesty with the excuse that they wanted to be nonpolitical and not offend children. How can an exhibit about women’s suffrage be nonpolitical? And what American child over the age of 6 hasn’t heard the words vagina and pussy?
Fortunately a sharp eyed reporter noticed something odd about the image and confronted the National Archives. After the lame excuses, they took the photo down and replaced it with the original unaltered picture. But if a place created to store an archive of American history feels free to manipulate images, there is no stopping others with more nefarious intents.
Sadly most adults past middle age had no training in manipulated photos. In fact, if we wanted to change a photo we had to use a pair of scissors. I have seen photo albums with holes where the face of a disgraced person once appeared. Now the person can be deftly removed from the photo as if he had never been there. But someone can easily be swayed by the “evidence” presented.
The media will be filled with manipulated images in the months leading to the national election here. May we be alert and not fall victim to the trap of “seeing is believing.”
I keep running into the face on the left featured in ads for Cover Girl makeup. The woman pictured is in her 60’s and apparently it is “ground breaking” to feature a woman of her “advanced” age in a makeup commercial. When I first saw this photo filling a whole page in a magazine I shuddered. To me she looked frightening, not appealing. I felt immediately that I was supposed to be delighted that an older woman was a “Cover Girl,” but I felt anything but delighted. If the look was supposed to entice me to purchase makeup it failed. I have no desire to look anything like the woman(who, as it turns out, is Elon Musk’s mother.)
I found the image on the right at the website “unsplash,” which another blogger suggested as a site for royalty free images. The woman seems to be about the same age as the model, but to me she looks inviting and welcoming. Her wrinkles show the ways her face has aged, her brown spots reveal past sun exposure, her lips lack filler, her face is free of Botox, and her eyebrows show the thinning that comes with age. In other words she looks her age, and in this case I found her lovely not off putting. If she had been featured by Cover Girl how might I have responded? For one, I might like to know the color of her lipstick. It flatters her, rather than seeming at odds with her face.
Millions of older women in the United States have a little disposable income. Some of it could go to cosmetics, especially if they seemed aimed at how we actually look. Instead most ads seem addressed either at young women or women in their 40’s who apparently are terrified of looking “aged.” This so-called groundbreaking ad won’t reassure them.
And as a final thought. Which woman would you rather have as your grandmother? I know I am clear!
As I watched the garbage truck pause by our house, extend a motorized claw, pick up our trash can and dump its contents into the truck I thought of a poem I wrote some years ago. While it is posted on a another part of this site, I wanted to copy it here for those who never saw it. As a child I admired the rough men who picked up the cans, lifted them to their shoulders and dumped them into the open bed of the truck. I couldn’t find an image that shows this earliest method, but at least the picture on the left shows a man lifting a can. The photo on the right shows the extended arm and trash bin similar to those in our neighborhood.
Many jobs used to require quite a lot of physical strength and stamina. In my childhood the garbage men seemed to all be short, strong Italian men. Since my father and his friends were all professionals, the garbage men intrigued me. This poem honors those workers in my childhood viewed out my window but never spoken to.
I miss them
Those muscled men who
Hoisted the cans up and over the truck edge.
Their arms first grew slack
Merely tipping into the compressor bed.
Then, finally, biceps smoothed altogether
Replaced by mechanical limbs
Reaching disgracefully over and up.
Contemplating a soup can(I know that I need a life!) I saw that once again designers had found a way to complicate something. Instead of opening it with a can opener, the new design features a pull-top. One of the places I have lost some strength is in my hands. My mother, at my age, invested in an electric can opener to compensate for this issue. This new packaging presents a similar challenge, one I failed. Apparently I was to “pull back slowly” and the lid would come off. On a soda can this was easier because the tin was quite thin. The soup can, however, is made of sterner stuff and doesn’t yield so easily. The tab broke off, the soup still safely ensconced. Fortunately the can opener still worked on it.
A few years ago I faced a similar challenge trying to extract tempting looking salad greens from their plastic enclosure. No matter how I turned it, poked at it, pulled at it, stared at it and spoke less than kindly to it, the greens stayed safely away from my fork. Finally a cafeteria worker came over and quickly opened it. Unfortunately she opened it so fast that I didn’t see how she did it. The next day I ordered something not so cleverly contained. When I looked on-line for an image of the confounding packaging, I found a similar item pictured on the left above. Apparently it is to make the food “tamper proof.” It would certainly do that!
My life seems full of feats to be performed for which my previous 72 years of life left me sadly unprepared. From operating my phone, to turning on the television, using the rest room, and opening food containers I have learned that I need a class on surviving ordinary life. It’s an entrepreneurial opportunity just waiting to be taken up.
The other day I was at our local library and went to wash my hands in the restroom. No water came out of the faucet no matter how I tried to move my hands in front of what I thought was the sensor. (Even this ability was fairly new to me. My granddaughter has had to teach me how to make various fixtures in restrooms operate.) When I still failed to get any water I went to tell the librarian. She calmly replied, “Oh yes. It needs a new battery.”
I stopped to wonder what persuasive sales people had taken over the fairly standard fixtures in public restrooms. Clearly different pitches appealed to different buyers, so there is no standard. Some faucets go on as soon as something is set on the rim of the sink. I learned this when I rested my purse there! Others need one to wave one’s hands in some sort of pattern. When the water comes out, there is no way to change its temperature or the length of time it flows. Somewhere somebody has made those decisions for the fixture, ignoring the various demands of users.
The biggest con has been the substitution of high speed air machines for paper towels. Knowing that users don’t like them, there are frequently signs touting their “environmental advantages.” They leave off the fact that they distribute germs from the room onto your hands as they circulate the air. And they are useless for washing off a toddler’s face or dabbing a new stain on clothing.
What towel machines still exist seem to have fallen victim to the “automatic” versions. They each have an idiosyncratic way of operating from waving to holding to staring dumbfoundedly until a grandchild takes over. Fortunately they also sport signs saying “if no towel comes out, roll the gear on the side.” I guess even their inventors don’t trust the reliability of the technology.
I never thought I would wax nostalgic for the faucets and towel dispensers of my youth. But it appears that I am.
My husband, knowing I love both hawks and crows, has given me one of each. The stained glass hawk hangs on the inside of my office door. The door opens out onto a little porch, and a rusted scrap metal crow sits perched on its railing overlooking the yard. For the moment at least, separated by the French door, they are at peace with each other!