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The Relevance I’m Not Maintaining

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Department of Thanksgiving Hangover

Yet another thing for which to be thankful – a spate of recent crisp, [1] clear mornings late last/early this week, when I could see the moon as I walked at dawn.

dawnmoon

 

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 [2] 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.

 

socialm

 

There are complicated and unwritten – yet widely known and seemingly accepted [3] –  “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.

Girls: Yeah.

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. 

 

There be no more Snapchat for thee, young ladies!

There be no more Snapchat for thee, young lady!

 

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.

 

wecandoit

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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.

 

Santa, shoot me now.

Santa, shoot me now.

*   *   *

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, [4] Pambiche,

BTW, you should know that Ethel Merman did one of the all-time great movie cameo appearances, in Airplane!

 

 

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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, [5] 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. [6]  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!

 

 

[1] Not exactly thrilled about the 20˚ temps…but the moon is worth it.

[2] For someone my age who loathes selfies.

[3] At least, by the teenagers involved.

[4] Well, it’s the best Cuban restaurant – Perdóneme, el mejor café CubanoI’ve been to in Portland (okay, so there are, like, maybe three).

[5] “Good” is defined as songs that do not mention deities. And it’s funny, when you do the research, to find out how many Christmas songs were written by atheists and agnostics…and Jews.

[6] Of course, some godless nitpicker will point out that hippo gods were worshiped in ancient Egypt.

The Best -Of Lists I’m Not Making

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My annual Ladies Lefse Party was this past Wednesday.  I’ve been hosting the LLPs on the second Wednesday in December for…a long time.  LAH, SCM and daughter P, Belle, JWW and I had a grand time, and SCM graciously left behind her homemade pumpkin whole wheat soy milk cranberry biscotti [1] to torture me the following morning.  Stalwart attendees SS, RB and JR were not able to attend this year, due to pressing other engagements, respectively, a son’s band concert, jury duty, and a husband’s laparoscopic cholecystectomy . [2]  Besides her joi de vivre and take-no-prisoners wit, JR is known for her festive, self-made millinery, which was much missed – my Bieber Meets Santa Pez creation of a few years back was a poor stand-in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While cleaning up after the party I was reminded of the late [3] great, dear friend and neighbor Glenda Jones.  Seventeen years ago, back in The Old Neighborhood (Jackson School Neighborhood of Hillsboro), Glenda had been tickled pickled beet pink when I brought lefse to one of her parties.  Being of Norski stock herself Glenda expressed something akin to shame at never having made lefse, and asked me for detailed written instructions, which I gladly provided.  A few weeks later, I received a frantic/embarrassed phone call from Glenda one Saturday night:

“I’m following your instructions exactly….and…uh…
there’s flour ALL OVER the kitchen.”

I assured Glenda she must be doing it right.

Here is a copy of the party invitation, just so y’all won’t feel left out.  Even though you were.

*   *   *

Mark your calendars and set your e-minders:
Here comes the second Wednesday in December…. 

Which this year, 2013, falls on December 11.  Yes, there are only 20 days remaining
ntil 2014 rears its nagging head

and demands you account for the past 365 days. 

Notable events on past December 11s include:

*1688:  James II of England abdicated the throne by throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames (my guess is the great seal smelled like lutefisk.).
* 1941: Germany and Italy declare war on the United States, following the U.S.A.’s declaration of war on Japan (the Ladies’ Lefse Lovers Society’s “Make Lefse, not War” slogan was for naught in those troubled times.)
* 1962: Convicted murderer Arthur Lucas is the last person to be executed in Canada (in an unusual punitive snit, prison officials denied Lucas’ last meal request for lefse).

 Royal peeves; war, execution…let’s redeem December 11.
Hold on to your fruitcakes; it’s time for the annual 

Ladies Lefse Party
Wednesday December 11, 2012, 6:30 pm 

As always, your high-minded hosts will provide lefse preparing accoutrements and serve lefse and Norwegian meatcakes for supper, in a festive, Gangnam style-free environment. 

Ladies hosting:
-Robyn Parnell & Belle 

Ladies Likely to make an appearance:
– why, you, of course 

Ladies Unlikely to make an appearance (but we can dream, can’t we?):
Lady Marmalade 

♫ Gitchi Gitchi ya ya lefse…♫

♫ Gitchi Gitchi ya ya lefse…♫

*   *   *

In an interview with Parade magazine, producer-writer-comic-actor Mindy Kaling made a brilliant point about the assumptions we make about women. “I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but it’s pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?'”
(The 28 Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2013, Moment #8) [4]

 Favorite albums; best song parody; the year’s tops in food, art, journalism, political boners, drone strikes – it’s that time of the year, when pundits both significant and who-the-F-is-that –worthy trot out their Best of The Year ® lists.

 I already know my best of the Best of Lists—it’s going to be difficult to top The 28 Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2013 .  They’re all kick-ass, and I love that the Heavy Issues Moments (Malala Yousafzai Speaks at United Nations, Wendy Davis’s Tex-ass fililbuster) are balanced by more light-hearted but nonetheless significant moments, such  as Tina Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s hosting the Golden Globe Awards.

AMY

 Be sure to check out # 17: the Awesome Rape Prevention Video Parody From India that Traveled ‘Round the World.

*   *   *

Here’s my vote for Best Shortest Best of List:  Best Holiday Rap Song, of any year:

Along with Run D.M.C., I wish that you may be chilling and coolin’ just like a snowman, and thus the hijinks will surely ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Recipe, please?

[2] If I had a dime for every time I heard that excuse….

[3] Glenda died in a motorcycle accident in August 1997.

[4] Best of 2013 footnotes: this did not make the list.