Department of Thanksgiving Hangover
Yet another thing for which to be thankful – a spate of recent crisp,  clear mornings late last/early this week, when I could see the moon as I walked at dawn.
Department of My Irrelevance
Medical doctors are trained in the importance of pain assessment , including how to differentiate between the many and problematically subjective human experiences of pain. Current thought on the matter is that storytelling, via descriptive prompts from doctor to patient, is a valuable lead-in to pain assessment.
Tell me about your pain. Would you describe it as:
burning, shooting, tingling, radiating, lancinating, or numbness
or achy, throbbing, or dull;
or squeezing, pressure, cramping, distention, dull, deep, and stretching
The pain I felt on Tuesday morning began as a burning in my ears. The sensation quickly radiated up the auditory nerve to my auditory cortex, where it translated into a deep, throbbing ache. It was all I could do not to jerk out my earbuds and fling my iphone to the ground.
Lay translation: the podcast I was listening to made my brain hurt.
This American Life , the mahvelous weekly journalistic radio show, follows a distinctive format. Each show has a theme, and uses a combination of essays, first person narratives and interviews, archival sound recordings and sometimes even short fiction to explore and illustrate their show’s themes, in segments of up to three or four “acts.” TAL’s themes range from current events and popular culture to particular aspects of human nature. The one that made my brain hurt was This American Life #573: Status Update.
“Most of the time, the updates we share about our lives are small and inconsequential. This week, status updates that interrupt daily life.”
I had to force myself to finish listening to the first act – the ominously  titled, Finding the Self in Selfie. TAL host Ira Glass interviewed three teenage girls on the complex and constantly changing social media map that is primarily distributed and maintained via their cellphones. The interview consisted of the girls (Julia, Ella, Jane) explaining why they feel they must constantly tell their friends they are beautiful on Instagram and other social media sites, as well as post pictures of themselves on the same sites, which are in turn subject to commentary.
There are complicated and unwritten – yet widely known and seemingly accepted  – “rules” for such social media interaction. And listening to the girls explain it made me want to puke.
Navigating the social strictures of high school was hard enough in The Olden Days, ® when your social status rose and fell via lunch table and locker room gossip. Now, kids have to obsess about their “relevance” – they use that term, I kid you not – as per their peers’ reactions to their social media presence, a relevance (read: social ranking) both ephemeral and life-altering, which can change in minutes, even seconds.
And even as the girls complained about or acknowledged the shallowness behind the obligation of social media, they admitted to voluntarily and rabidly participating in the same.
(excerpt from a transcript of the episode)
Ira Glass: I have to say…oh my god, this is such a job.
Julia: It’s like I’m– I’m a brand, and I am like–
Ella: You’re trying to promote yourself.
Julia: The brand. I’m the director of the–
Ira Glass: And you’re the product.
Jane: You’re definitely trying to promote yourself.
Julia: To stay relevant, you have to–
Jane: You have to work hard.
Ella: Relevance is a big term right now.
Ira Glass: Are you guys relevant?
Ella: Um, I’m so relevant.
Jane: In middle school. In middle school, we were definitely really relevant.
Ella: (SARCASTICALLY) We were so relevant.
Jane: Because everything was established. But now, in the beginning of high school, you can’t really tell who’s relevant.
Ira Glass: Yeah. And what does relevant mean?
Jane: Relevant means that people care about what you’re posting on Instagram. People–
Julia: Care about you.
Listening to the story, I felt…I’m not sure how to describe it. I felt like some kind of Amish anti-tech/media advocate.
Of course, those seemingly benign Amish can get downright nasty when it comes to their community’s insular social status, and shun their own who fail to toe the line. But the threat of ostracizing, bullying or relevance banishment seems so much more pervasive in today’s all-knowing, all-reporting world of social media.
I wanted to slap some sense into those girls and envelop them in a mama bear hug, all at once.
It’s like I’m– I’m a brand…
…and you’re the product.
I wish feminism came in a can, like Red Bull, that girls and young women could chug. I wish there was a “product” to rev up their perception metabolism, a formula that would make them want to stop shoring up the system that perpetuates looksism and a bajillion-hundred other insecurities and forms of disempowerment.
* * *
Department of Holiday Hell
A recurrent seasonal nightmare of mine involves having a friend who participates in That Most Fiendish Holiday Of Events © . This friend invites me to attend said event, and in a moment of weakness truth-telling I blurt out that I would rather dive face first into a vat of eggnog-laced hyena feces than attend a Singing Christmas Tree show.
* * *
Department of Holiday What The Hell
Every time the traveling company for the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon has come to Portland I’ve tried to get tickets, and every time I have failed. I did succeed in convincing MH and our son, K, in accompanying me to the next best thing: a matinee performance of The Book of Merman, which we saw last Sunday.
The Book of Merman is the story of what happens when two novice Mormon missionaries unexpectedly encounter “the undisputed first lady of the musical comedy stage.” (Well, of course it is).
I tried to make our outing as multicultural as possible. When one thinks of Mormons and/or Ethel Merman, the cuisine that naturally comes to mind is something Ricky Ricardo would appreciate. Thus, we dined before the show at Portland’s best Cuban café,  Pambiche,
BTW, you should know that Ethel Merman did one of the all-time great movie cameo appearances, in Airplane!
* * *
Department of Don’t Make Me Say It
Is it December, already?
I thought I advised you not to make me say it.
And while I religiously dodge Singing Christmas Tree invitations I do enjoy a seasonal song or two. There is no shortage of good Christmas carols for atheists,  including, White Christmas, Sleigh Bells, Deck the Halls, Rudolph…and I’d say almost any tune by Tim Minchin qualifies, especially the lovely, cheeky and yet sentimental, White Wine in the Sun. A new-old favorite of mine is I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas.  And please, get you and yo mama some seasonal spirit by singling along with the greatest rap Yule tune of all time, Christmas In Hollis.
* * *
May your unexpected encounters be Merman-esque;
may you be emotionally healthy enough to not give a flying flounder’s flatulence about your social media relevance;
and may the holiday hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
 Not exactly thrilled about the 20˚ temps…but the moon is worth it.
 For someone my age who loathes selfies.
 At least, by the teenagers involved.
 Well, it’s the best Cuban restaurant – Perdóneme, el mejor café Cubano – I’ve been to in Portland (okay, so there are, like, maybe three).