Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Miracle of YouTube and Flash Mobs: God Bless Us, Every One

Office potlucks. Family gatherings. Dinners with friends you only see once or twice a year. During the holidays, we’re often thrown together with a variety of people, many of whom have different ideas, dreams and ways of looking at the world than we do.

The holidays are also a time to celebrate the best of what we have to offer as human beings. I think Frank Cross, Bill Murray's character in one of my all-time favorite holiday movies, "Scrooged," says it best: “It's Christmas Eve. It's the one night that we act a little nicer. We smile a little easier. We cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped that we would be.”

Earlier this month, I came across these two videos that I think embody the ways people are trying to be the people we always hoped we would be. Whether it is staying hip to the young folks and doing a flash mob for our grandchildren to giggle about later on YouTube or dancing our hearts out in tightly fitted red leotards, God bless us every one, and the ways we want to bring joy to the world.

Happy holidays! Here are some songs to help you deck your halls with boughs of holly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Telling Time

I finally broke down and added Facebook's Timeline to my Facebook Profile last week. I like the billboard branding... or should I say, buzzwordishly, the personal branding possibilities ... of the larger-than-life cover photo. I’m enjoying the bigger, brighter compartmentalized sections that Facebook has created for all of us to review and admire about ourselves and our friends. What I’m struggling with is the tidy little bar on the right, the one beginning with “Now” and ending with when you were “Born.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like that easy swoosh of scrolling down years and remembering things that happened through what people shared on Facebook. That’s conveniently nostalgic and interesting. What I’m struggling with is the assumption that Facebook is where we should store and document every aspect of our lives, even before we were on Facebook--even before Facebook was invented. It indicates we should do some sort of exhaustive digital scrapbooking. It seems to presume that Facebook is not only taking over the Internet, but our personal pasts that happened before its invention and relentless inventory.

After exploring Timeline and all of its bells and whistles, I found myself wanting to remember the other ways we measure our lives by time. So I did what a lot of writers do ... I conducted an informal poll with my friends on Facebook:

Doing some writing and have a question for everyone: How do you measure and keep track of time? Perhaps a better way to put this would be: How do you know time is passing ... how do you measure your life by time? Would love to hear everyone's thoughts. Thanks.

One artist friend said he knew time was passing when he saw trees he had planted, and how much they had grown. He has a tiny studio that’s nestled in a meadow off a winding road in Western Maryland. A dedicated mom of two I know said she told time by “the increase of grey in my hair, the height of my children versus the height of the kitchen counter, and by the increasing discrepancy between the weight on my drivers license and my actual weight.”

“Now (telling time) is in the development of Samuel. Before him, I didn't really notice. Am I not still 28?” wondered one friend of mine who is a proud dad. “For about the last 8 months, I've measured time by the size of my belly,” said another friend, who is expecting her first child.

For the dedicated educators I know, the passage of time was marked by pop cultural references their students could no longer relate to and watching students go on to have kids and pursue graduate degrees. “Time passes? I thought I was living the same term over and over again,” one joked.

Books proved to be another source for keeping track of how years were passing by. “Rediscovering my notes from a book I've read some time ago and reading it again and discovering other things in it,” responded a professor friend. “Coffee spoons (literally),” said a poet I know, wryly citing T.S. Eliot and revealing her one-pot-a-day caffeine addiction. “People I have spooned with,” added my artist friend.

No matter how we spend time, measure it, mythologize it and reexamine it through digital documentation, the most unexplainably beautiful, memorable moments are perhaps best experienced when we’re living in the present, and reaching out and holding onto them with both hands. Stopping to notice and acknowledge them and realize they are not permanent.

Time has been transformed, and we have changed; it has advanced and set us in motion; it has unveiled its face, inspiring us with bewilderment and exhilaration. - Khalil Gibran

NEW FEATURE: Starting today, I'm going to create a Spotify playlist for each new blog post. Here's the one for Telling Time.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reading Between the Lines in the Waiting Room

Tablets. They’re not just for first graders learning handwriting anymore, but for people who want to read on the go. With no heavy lifting required, but instead that sense of confidence that comes from having the world in your hands, in a slim electronic package.

I was in my doctor’s waiting room the other day and I noticed a woman who was calmly reading her Kindle, while the rest of us grumbled about our practitioner running late. So I started talking to her about it, as I’ve been thinking about getting my husband one for Christmas. Her name was Pat and as it turned out, she teaches writing to inmates at a nearby federal prison.

Pat told me she loved her Kindle. Her current reading selection, which she chose because Kindle recommended it: Darcie Chan’s mystery “The Mill River Recluse.” I asked her about the Nook, which is what my mother-in-law has and loves, and she told me people buy the Nook for the color. “But if you just read, you don’t need Nook’s color,” she told me.

Pat’s whole family had Kindles, and they all subscribed to each other’s digital reads online and shared and downloaded books together. Like me, her husband was a bookworm, and had a Kindle but missed the smell of books, she said, and finding out what people were reading by happenstance, like when he glanced at their book covers in subways. “You can see people are holding a Kindle, but you don’t see the title of whatever it is they’re reading,” she said.

A 30-something-year-old guy was sitting a few chairs down from us, and he chimed in: “I’m thinking about getting my daughter a Kindle.” We found out he was a plumber whose company had him drive two and half hours to Washington, D.C., and back every day. “They pay for my gas, though. ... and there’s not much local work in this area for the unions.” He told us how he and several other guys he knew were working around the clock to finish the plumbing for this elementary school that had burned down and was being rebuilt. “We want to get it done by Christmas,” he said. Like Pat, his girlfriend had a Kindle, he owned one, and now he wanted to make sure he got his daughter one. “She just loves to read,” he said.

I told them about how the first time I had seen a Kindle was when I was traveling to China for work and one of my colleagues showed me how his Kindle was wrapped in an medieval-looking leather binding. That leather cover made me think of Melissa Bank’s “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” whose heroine said hugging her non-committal boyfriend was like embracing the surrogate wire mothers in the rhesus-monkey experiments, “more like the idea of a hug than the real thing.”

But here we all were, killing time in the waiting room, the perfect opportunity to read, and all Pat had to do was pull out her Kindle and let the distractions and stresses of everyday life fade away as she lost herself in a great book. A popular mystery recommended by Kindle readers that she would probably eventually share with her daughter through a download. A story that might help shape an idea to pass along to her inmate pupils, who were struggling to find the words to rewrite their own stories.

However we choose to read these days, it makes me so happy to see people, young and old, love books, want to talk about books and want to see their kids and friends and loved ones read books. That rules. : )