Scaring Myself Out Of—and Back Into—Writing

Miss Kowalik had curly salt-and-pepper hair that was beautiful to my eight-year-old eyes. She gave us half-sheets of blue-lined paper, that kind that shredded under the slightest pressure from a pink eraser, and told us to write a paragraph just describing something using the five senses. “Don’t exaggerate, just describe,” she instructed. My first creative writing assignment.

I put my pencil to the paper and entered the Zone. I loved it.

And I also loved the praise I got for my writing. I was the shortest kid in class, the perpetual “new kid” because we moved so often, and my mom made me wear little flowered dresses every single day of school. It was a relief to have something I could do that made me stand out in a good way.

All the way through college, I wrote frequently and I wrote recklessly, tossing words onto the page and leaving no corner of my life secret to anyone who happened to read my writing. I felt nervous, sure, but I also felt courageous and capable. The zone was always there for me, and I always loved being there.

In the years since college, the nervousness has achieved more of a foothold, and I rarely feel courageous and capable about anything anymore. I held onto a writing community for a while, but moving and motherhood provided convenient excuses to let the fear get the upper hand. For a long time, I stopped writing except for my journals and our annual Christmas newsletter.

Then I started blogging. Blogging didn’t involve much fear for me because it didn’t mean much to me. I was just talking, and I didn’t care much whether people were reading or not. It actually feels comforting that I’m  small potatoes. I like my solid following of thoughtful readers. According to Gertrude Stein, Picasso once said of young artists, “even after everybody knows they are good not any more people really like them than they did when only a few knew they were good.” I’d like to be good, but fame doesn’t necessarily mean the writing’s any good.

But blogging doesn’t give me that Zen-like calm that writing’s always given me, and blogging—or at least the way I’ve been blogging—isn’t really helping me to improve my writing, either.

So, I decided that I was going to get serious about my writing. I would take it to the next level. No time like the present. I’m not getting any younger. Go big or go home. Fish or cut bait. I recited to myself all kinds of motivating slogans.

And then I froze.

CIMG3359Writers talk about the paralysis they feel when faced with a blank page/screen. I’m familiar with that terror, but this wasn’t it. This was a fear of trying, not because trying is inherently scary but because trying makes failing hurt worse, and failing is always scary, even when it’s for the best.

While I was just kind of “La, la! I’m blogging about today’s lunch!” it didn’t really matter whether my writing was good or not. But here I was thinking about really, truly trying, putting my neck out there and saying, “Here, World! Here’s the best I’ve got!” and waiting for the World’s reaction. Bad reviews would be bad, but the most likely reaction would be silence, and that might well be worse. As Oscar Wilde writes in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

In the week since I froze, I’ve thought up a plan to help me to write more, write better, and to support me through the scary bits:

1. Trade r-selected blogging for K-selected blogging.

I’m good at writing lots of posts, but that involves lots of writing and very little editing. In order to do my best writing, I need to edit. So, I plan to publish a lot more selectively and put more time into each post.

2. Embrace prompts.

When I feel scared about writing, prompts help me get back in the zone. The two I’m planning to employ for blogging are the now-monthly Remember the Time Blog Hop and WordPress’s always-weekly Weekly Writing Challenge. I won’t always publish the posts I write from those prompts because I don’t want to encourage my habit of just posting to have something to post whether it’s my best work or not, but I do plan on playing around with the prompts and if something good comes out of it, I’ll put it here. I’ve also got a shelf and a half devoted to books about writing. There are plenty of prompts there to keep me busy in my non-blog writing, too.

3. Be judged.

I’ll be looking for writing communities, both online and off, so I can get used to writing my best stuff and requesting feedback, which I’ve not done for quite a long time. I’m not ready to make a plan for submitting my writing for publication in literary journals, but this is a baby step in that direction.

4. Find a writing mentor.

I’ve always loved singing, but I’ve also always been terrified of singing in front of people, so when I joined our church choir last year, I also made the leap and started taking voice lessons. Now I’m still terrified of singing but I’ve got a professional helping me along. Christina gives me challenges tailored to my voice. She gives me labeled praise and constructive criticism, most of which I think is gentle, but it’s hard to tell because really, even the gentlest criticism stings a little. But I don’t mind the sting because I can see my progress, and that’s enough encouragement to keep me working.

I want the same thing for my writing. I want someone who will listen to my writing voice, identify my strengths and weaknesses, and help me figure out how to make it better. I want specific, personal suggestions from someone who knows about writing and knows about all of the emotional blah that goes along with writing. I’m on the lookout.

Do you ever frighten yourself out of doing things that you love to do? How do you work through the fear?

A Glutton for Punishment: Classics Spin

I’ve not participated in a Classics Club Spin before, but now that The History of England, Volume V is done (DONE!), I’m feeling bold and ready to take on another reading challenge…in addition to the Ulysses read-along.

No, bold isn’t the right word. Crazy? Unrealistic? Masochistic? Any of those is probably more accurate.

Whatever the adjective, here are the rules for the Spin from The Classics Club:

List your choice of any twenty books you’ve left to read from your Classics Club list – in a separate post.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books in November & December. So, try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

Next Monday, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by January 1.

My 20 from my Cavalcade of Classics list, in fairly random order since I discovered that after the Hume and with Ulysses on deck, I’m basically dreading all of the books on my list:

  1. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
  2. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  4. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  5. The Confessions by Augustine
  6. Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
  7. Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  8. The Histories by Herodotus
  9. The Social Contract by Jean-Jeacques Rousseau
  10. The City of God by Augustine
  11. Lives by Plutarch
  12. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
  13. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
  14. The Castle by Franz Kafka
  15. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  16. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  17. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  18. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  19. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  20. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Monday’s the day. I’m hoping for a Bronte. Or one of the two by Rousseau. Stay tuned!

New Age, New England-Style

I spent much of today at the Natural Living Expo, “New England’s largest holistic expo,” according to their website. It was the first of this kind of thing I’ve attended since I left the western half of the United States, and while much of it was as I expected, I noticed a few regional differences.

In the exhibit hall, I met up with the usual cadre of persistent purveyors of various cure-alls and my clothes and hair became (predictably) infused with nag champa. In the workshops, I saw a past-life regression therapist with awesome sideburns and another therapist who asked a volunteer from the audience what issues her stomach wanted them to address today. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen someone ask another person to give voice to a normally nonverbal body part, but it was the first time I’d heard the question asked with a Massachusetts accent.

Aside from the difference in accent, the main differences I saw between this expo and similar events I attended in California were that the one here included less flowing clothing and fewer dreadlocks but more smokers lurking outside the exit doors. And no one once said “namaste” to me, which I found I didn’t really mind that much.

My favorite part of the expo today was the keynote by Marilyn Taylor entitled “‘Crazy Busy’ Cure.” Marilyn is a certified life coach, a licensed massage therapist, and the author of 10 Practices of Personal Sustainability: The Savvy Person’s Guide to Conscious Living. In her talk today Marilyn shared six of the ten practices in the book: listen and cultivate awareness, get clear about what you value, increase sustaining activities (and decrease draining ones), take on projects with a focus on completing them, and work with the natural patterns of your mind (e.g, if you think most clearly in the evening but are foggy in the morning, save your intellectual pursuits for the later hours of the day and do something active during your less lucid time).

I liked her talk, and it came at an opportune time in my life, when I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and trying to find a system for figuring out how to prioritize the different activities in my life and jettison the ones that don’t fit for me right now.  December brings the annual reevaluation of our homeschooling and extracurriculars schedule, and I have high hopes that with awareness and reflection, I can maybe get adequate sleep this winter and spring without dropping all of my responsibilities.

I’m a little scared that my plan to read James Joyce’s Ulysses this December might not fit with this goal, but we’ll see what happens.

Friday Free-for-All

Just a quickie post for this Friday evening with a few things I found interesting this week:

1) To the Best of Our Knowledge, my favorite radio show (well, one of my three favorite radio shows along with This American Life and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me), had a couple of great shows recently.

One is called “Forgiving” and includes some thought-provoking discussion about the nature and difficulties of the practice of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a thorny issue for me, and this show came at it from a direction that I found interesting, insightful, and non-preachy. Interviews include a Canadian woman who was taken hostage by Somali kidnappers, an author who interviewed Japanese war criminals, and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul in New York who talks about reinterpreting Yom Kippur as a Day of Forgiveness.

The second TTBOOK show I really enjoyed was “Albert Camus,” a show discussing Camus’ writing in celebration of his 100th birthday. It’s all great, but I particularly liked hearing from Jennifer Hecht who uses the works of Camus and others to offer a philosophical argument against suicide.

2) For my birth-loving friends: “The Impact of Birth on Lifelong Wellbeing,” the keynote presentation of the 2013 GOLD  Perinatal Care Online Conference, is available to the general public until November 18. In this presentation, Sarah Buckley—researcher, former GP, and author of the book Gentle Birth, Gentle Parenting—talks about the long-term positive hormonal, psychological, and microbiological effects of the normal process of childbirth on both mothers and babies. She includes a review of existing literature and shares some of the results of her own research.

I like that it focuses on the positive effects of physiologic birth rather than the negative effects of birth interventions. Also, Sarah Buckley is from Brisbane, so if you like hearing Australian accents AND birth, then you’re in luck with this presentation.

It’s intended for health professionals, but I find it quite accessible, and anyone interested in human birth is likely to find the presentation interesting. (Two notes: the handout mentioned in the presentation does not appear to be available with the publicly available presentation, and RCT = Randomized Controlled Trial.)

********************

Now I’m going to pop some popcorn and read the last chapter of David Hume’s 18th-century classic, The History of England, Volume V. Because it’s Friday night and I am a party animal.

Hobbies

I had my first visit with a new doctor today. He asked me a lot of questions, including this one:

“I know you’re homeschooling two children, so you probably don’t have a lot of extra time, but I ask everyone this question: What are your hobbies?”

I thought for a second. The first thing that popped into my head was “woodworking.” This despite the fact that the only things remotely woodworking-related I’ve done since I made a bookshelf in junior high wood shop is assembling Ikea furniture and little pine kits I get for my kids. I just think woodworking sounds like a good, utilitarian hobby to have. I also like the idea of working on model trains, but that’s another one that I’ve never really done. I went for the only two things I could think of that I do that aren’t directly related to childrearing, homeschooling, or housecleaning.

“Well,” I answered, “I read and I blog.”

“What was that?” he asked, leaning forward and turning his left ear toward me.

“I…read? And I blog?” I answered, unsure whether he asked me to repeat because he hadn’t heard me, because he didn’t understand me, or because those are such lame hobbies he needed to hear me say them again. “I mean,” I clarified, “I do other things, too.” Pause. “Those are just the ones that I do, like…regularly.”

Yes, I’m one month shy of my 37th birthday, and I said, “like” to my doctor.

On the drive home we got stuck in traffic (because we always get stuck in traffic on the way home), which gave me plenty of time to think about what things I do that could be classified as “hobbies.”

I knit and crochet, but one or two projects a year doesn’t seem like enough to make it a hobby. I take photos, but I think to make photography a hobby, I’d have to have more interest in it than just keeping my point-and-shoot charged and in my diaper bag (the fact that I still carry a diaper bag even though my youngest has been out of diapers for 2+ years is a separate issue). I’d have to have a good camera or have used PhotoShop sometime in my life or have taken a class.

I did actually take a black-and-white photography class in high school. This was in the days before digital cameras, and we worked in a darkroom and spooled our film onto metal reels with our hands inside light-proof bags. We developed and fixed and washed and then hung our negatives to dry until it was time to cut them and take them over to the enlarger and see if this long process yielded anything worth a passing grade. My teacher clearly didn’t think I had much aptitude for photography. I would ask her questions about how to stop the film from sticking to itself on the reel or exactly how to keep bubbles from forming in the developing solution, but she was always too busy working with the students who actually had promise in the field of photography to help me.

So, photography isn’t really a hobby, it’s just something I do.

I have this sense that something isn’t a hobby unless I immerse myself in it like I see other people do, but I think maybe that’s too strict a definition of “hobby.”

The All-Knowing Wikipedia says a hobby is just something done for fun and relaxation, “typically…during one’s leisure time.” So maybe writing can be my hobby even if I don’t seek out the company of writers or attend workshops or even write every day. I can include singing in my list of hobbies even though I don’t go out to vocal performances or listen to showtunes or operas or choral pieces while I’m cooking meals or driving down the highway (although I do take weekly voice lessons and sing in the church choir). I don’t need to frequent Williams-Sonoma or own a Le Creuset pot to classify cooking as one of my hobbies, and I don’t need to go backpacking every weekend—or ever—to say that hiking is one of my hobbies.

So, next time I see the doctor, I’ll tell him that my hobbies include not only reading and blogging, but knitting, crocheting, hiking, cooking, photography, singing, writing, learning Latin, seeking spiritual growth in a group setting, cross-country road trips, and amateur birding.

And while I know that “worldbuilding,” which is included in Wikipedia’s list of hobbies, is some kind of gaming/sci-fi thing, I might add that to the list, too, just because it sounds really cool if you don’t quite know what it is.

My doctor will cock his head and say, “What was that last one on the list?” and I’ll say, “Worldbuilding. I’m not just raising children; I’m building a world.”

Yes, I like the sound of that.

Discovering The Avett Brothers

CIMG3012I learn about new music (i.e., music made since 1999) from one of three sources: My spouse, NPR, or the local college radio station.

In the case of The Avett Brothers, I first heard their music on WERS, the Emerson College radio station that just barely comes in where I live. I can listen to it only in my car because it won’t come in inside my house.

I heard their song “February Seven” several times on the radio and really enjoyed it. I remembered the title of the song because it’s my mom’s birthday. (They’re also from the town in North Carolina where my mom graduated high school, which seemed kind of like a sign. And Scott Avett was born the same year I was! How’s that for a sign?) I initially decided to check out the album it’s on—The Carpenter—from my library because I thought maybe I’d buy it for my mom’s next birthday. After listening to the lyrics a few more times, I’ve decided against sending it to my mom, but I’m still glad I picked up the album.

Everyone in my family enjoys listening to it, which is something of a rarity. I admit, usually I’m the limiting factor. My kids enjoy listening to Led Zeppelin with their dad, while I only tolerate it. The kids actively request Vampire Weekend, and my spouse is happy to oblige…when I’m not in the car. And while I know that my spouse plays AC/DC for the kids, I choose to ignore that reality.

But we can all agree on The Avett Brothers.

Except for two songs towards the end of the album, the songs on this album have a rolling folk-music feel, with the addition of a cello or a saw (which I thought at first was a theremin) that adds a bit of surprise and a richness that I really like.

“February Seven” is still my favorite, with its dark but hopeful lyrics. My daughter and I sing along with it together.

I also love the first track on the album, “The Once and Future Carpenter.” The lyrics reflect my habit of moving from here to there every few years.

The chorus:

Forever I will move

Like the world that turns beneath me

And when I lose my direction

I look up to the sky

And when the black dress drags upon the ground

I’ll be ready to surrender

And remember we’re all in this together

If I live the life I’m given I won’t be scared to die

My spouse was a little surprised that I like the album so much since the lyrics can be a little cliched and almost cheesy; usually I have a very low tolerance for cheesiness. But there’s something about this I don’t mind. There’s a special place in my heart for cheese, if the music underneath it works. Pleasant vocals, nice harmonies, and that cello just really work for me.

“Winter in My Heart” is a song of especially cheesy lyrics, but, while I wouldn’t say it’s an objectively great song, I find myself singing it to myself on my dark and frigid morning walks around the neighborhood, where it’s actually more winter outside and and spring or summer in my heart, so I’m not really sure why the song comes to mind so often. I think the rhythm of the words and the sing-song way they sing the line, “They say flowers bloom in spring,” really appeals to me.

Another favorite of mine is “A Father’s First Spring,” which appears to be about the way a father feels after his first child is born.

When I’m in the sweet daughter’s eyes

My heart is now ruined for the rest of all time

There’s no part of it left to give

I feel a lot of license to interpret songs however I want to, regardless of what the lyricist intends, but this really sounds like a new parent to me. The lyrics pretty much nail the way it feels to love someone so deeply and thoroughly, to surrender one’s heart to a being in a way that’s totally new and unexpected, no matter how much you’ve anticipated it.

And “Down with the Shine” could just about be the theme song for my blog. “Down with the shine, the perfect shine/That poisons the well, and ruins my mind”. Sing it, Avett Brothers.

The Avett Brothers released a new album last month called Magpie and the Dandelion. I’ve heard one track from the new album—“Another is Waiting”—and it sounds pretty good. The song reminds me a little of a band from the 90’s, but I’m not sure who. I think I’ll be picking up the album soon to hear some more. And who knows…maybe if they do a show nearby, I’ll try to see them live, even though I have mixed feelings about going to see live music. But that’s a topic for another post.

My Very Dull Competitive Edge

This morning I was doing breakfast dishes while my four-year-old was agitating for me to quit my task and read him I Drive a Bulldozer yet again.

“Mom, I don’t like you when you’re busy, but I like you when you’re not busy.”

“Oh, yeah?” I said, not turning around from the soapy water.

“Yes. Because I love love from Mommy.”

“And I love love from you, Sweet Pea.”

And of course I kept doing the dishes and of course I felt awful because this was not the first time this morning that I’d put off my kid, it was just the first time I’d put him off when I wasn’t at the computer.

A month or so ago, I started posting for the weekly Remember the Time Blog Hop and then quickly added the yeah write weekly writing challenge. The yeah write challenge involves not only writing a blog post which follows their guidelines and represents my best work, but also reading  about 30 blog posts every week, analyzing them for adherence to the yeah write guidelines, and then voting for the five that I think adhere best and most artfully to these guidelines. On top of both of these blog events, I decided to do BlogHer’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) for November.

I figured NaBloPoMo wouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Between the writing challenge and the blog hop and WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge and my book reviews, I was already posting most every day anyway. And I’d completed the Post-a-Day Challenge back in 2011, posting every single day through my spouse’s layoff and job search, our cross-country move, our six weeks living in a hotel, and our introduction to New England, which included a hurricane and a freak October snow storm that knocked out the electricity for a week. I think I missed maybe two days out of 365 that year. Thirty days of posting would be a cinch.

For some reason, though, it has not been a cinch, and I spend a lot of time sitting at my computer  (or standing, if I have my laptop on the kitchen counter so I can blog while I’m supposed to be cooking dinner, like I’m doing now) with my son begging for my attention. Add to this all of the other times he has to beg for my attention—like when I’m doing household chores or doing homeschool with his sister or sleeping—and the poor kid spends a huge amount of time talking to my back.

I don’t think I need to spend every moment paying attention to my kids, but it’s starting to seem like the only attention I give them anymore they have to share with the internet. And that doesn’t feel awesome.

So, something has to give and since we need clean dishes, I think it’s got to be the yeah write weekly writing challenge. Because that’s not been feeling awesome to me, either. I’d hoped it would be a pleasant writing community for me, but it feels like the regulars there have a nice community going, and just like when I go to a party in real life, I feel like I’m  standing on the outskirts of an animated conversation, never really knowing how to break in. Occasionally people pat my shoulder on their way to the bathroom and say, “Awesome party, isn’t it?” and I smile and say, “Yeah! It’s great!” as they walk away. I’m just not good at parties.

Another reason this particular party’s not awesome is that don’t do well with competition. I took one class with my future spouse when we were in college. It was Calculus II. I’d taken both Calc I and Calc II in high school, but didn’t have the money to take the AP exams so I didn’t place out of them for college. I took them again in college because my being an English major wasn’t a done-deal freshman year, and I wanted to keep the possibility of a scientific major open. So, I took Calc I and got an A, and then I took Calc II with my future spouse making wagers with me on every test, and I got a C.

Same thing happens in sports. If I play racquetball and have a third-party keep score and not tell me how I’m doing, I do better than when I know the score. I could probably blame this on societal programming intended to keep me as the female from out-competing my male counterparts, but I tend to think it’s just my own anxiety. I get in a competitive situation and the adrenaline and cortisol flood my brain, and it shuts off.

And even though I know this is going to happen, and I know that it doesn’t have any bearing on my worth as a human being, my thoughts go full-on existential the moment I’m not in the winners circle. Not that I’m often in the winners circle.

My spouse thinks that maybe if I compete long enough I’ll stop getting so anxious about it, and I can break the cycle, but that’s probably because he does not have this problem and so he’s kind of jerk for thinking he has the answer to my problem. (Okay, so my spouse isn’t a jerk. He’s just solutions-oriented, which just seems jerky when the solution he offers doesn’t match the problem.)

I think the solution is avoidance. It’s worked for me so far. The first time I had a post make Freshly Pressed, I didn’t even know what Freshly Pressed was. Sticking my head in the sand and avoiding direct competition worked for me then. Not that the post was great writing, because it wasn’t. It was just a great title on a recipe post. But I got featured without trying to be, and that seems to be the key for me.

They say you’re more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than with a sharp one, and with as dull as my competitive edge is, it’s probably safer to go back to competing only with myself.

Hopefully taking a break from competitive blogging will help me spend less time mired in existential angst and more time with my kids in front of me and the computer screen at my back. At the very least, it will significantly reduce the number of blog posts I read each week, and that should buy me some time.

Blackbirds Rising

Saturday morning, my son and I took a walk through our neighborhood. Hand in mittened hand, we tromped through the soggy fallen leaves to the top of the hill by our house.

As we walked, we heard gunfire from the outdoor range about a half-mile away. It seemed louder this morning, and earlier than I usually heard it. I imagined that the shots came from larger guns, but being inexperienced with firearms—the only time I’ve fired a gun was this past summer—I couldn’t decide if it was loud enough to be from a shotgun. Gun culture isn’t something I associated with Massachusetts before we moved here, but it seems to be pretty big, at least out where we live.

As the shots died away, we heard the chatter of a lot of birds ahead of us and towards the right. As we turned the corner at the top of the hill, we saw the source of the noise. In the street, dozens of blackbirds congregated. We crossed the street and stopped at the corner to watch them.

“I wonder if they’re gathering to migrate,” I said.

We both noticed that there were even more birds in the trees and on the ground between the trees.

“The birds are getting their breakfast!” my son exclaimed.

“Maybe they’re fueling up for a long flight,” I said. “How many do you think there are?”

“Too many to count,” he answered. Just then we heard a car approaching. The birds rose up and moved in a cloud over to the cross street where they settled again, chittering and chattering to one another as they pecked at the ground.

We heard gunfire again, and even though the shots were in the distance, they alarmed the birds, which rose up into the air and moved their cloud farther up the street before settling down again.

I thought that it seemed strange that someone was out shooting at 7:00 on a Saturday morning. Usually I heard increased gunfire only when there had been a recent school shooting or other gun violence in the country. Could this still be in response to the shooting at a Nevada middle school that happened almost two weeks ago? Or maybe it was in response to the murder of the teacher in Danvers; although that didn’t involve a firearm, since it was so local, maybe it got people thinking about other kinds of violence in the schools.

My son and I finished our walk. We talked about skunks when we smelled signs of one. My son suggested that the golden retriever we saw walking with its owner was migrating like the birds, and he noted with glee the spray-painted markings the utility companies had left on the sidewalks and streets (“Look, Mommy! An ‘H’! And an arrow! And an ‘H’ with arrows on it!”).

After lunch, I was playing around online when I saw the reports of the LAX shooting on Friday. I didn’t consume much media on Friday, so I totally missed this news until Saturday afternoon. The shots we heard on our morning walk took on new significance when I read about this incident.

When I think I hear an increase in shooting from the range, I second-guess myself, thinking that maybe they’re not shooting more at all, I’m just noticing it more because reports of gun violence make my ears more attuned to the sounds of the range.  But this time, I’d noticed the increased firing-range use before I’d heard about the most recent shooting. It’s unscientific, but it seems like a connection to me.

Assuming I’m not making up the connection, why would people go to a firing range more after reports of gun-related violence? I’ve read that gun and ammunition sales go up after shootings, presumably because people worry that we might actually pass some gun-control legislation this time and they want to stock up on weapons that might be restricted. Could people also want to go practice shooting for the same reasons?

Or maybe I’m totally off-base. If they were shooting more and bigger and earlier this morning, maybe it was just because fall hunting season started recently, and hunters are doing target practice before going after the rabbits, pheasants, and turkeys they can hunt now.

Whatever it is, while I’m grateful that the sound of discharging firearms is from the firing range and not the neighborhood itself, I’d prefer if the background sounds for my morning walk with my four-year-old consisted only of bird chatter.

Regional Differences

The front-desk lady at the dance studio made my daughter cry.

I was in the back observing ten minutes of a dance class I’m considering for our son (yes, this is the same son who wears a sports bra; that’s a different post), and my spouse was with our kids in the waiting area. He tells the story like this:

Our daughter asked, “Can I go back and watch the class with my mom?”

The lady answered. “No. That’s just for your mom.”

Our daughter started crying.

“Why did she cry? Was the woman angry with her?” I asked.

“I couldn’t tell,” he said. “She might have been angry, or it might just have been the accent.” Read More

On Keeping My Dumb Phone

My spouse decided this week to take advantage of a work discount program and get a smartphone, and I don’t like it.

My phone has an animation of an aquarium. What does your phone have?

My phone has an animation of an aquarium. What does your phone have?

I have the Sanyo Katana flip phone I got for free in 2006. I know how to use it, and I know how to forget about it in my purse so that whenever I need it it’s gone dead and I have to plug it into the car charger in order to use it. And this is on a phone that holds a charge for a week. If I had a smartphone, I’d have to devote an entire to-do-list line item to remembering to recharge it.

In addition, smartphones…

Promote antisocial tendencies.

I’m not even talking about the way everyone’s face is stuck in a screen every moment their eyes aren’t actively engaged in seeing something else. I’m talking about how no one’s allowed to just have a conversation anymore. When someone says, “Who’s the guy who did the painting of the apple in front of the guy’s face?” there’s no more, “Oh, isn’t that Miró? A friend sent me a postcard with that painting on it one time, and she was really into Miró at the time.” There’s no more, “No, I think it’s Manet. I watched a t.v. documentary about him back in the late 90’s.”

There’s no more of that kind of exchange because someone’s always got a smartphone to fact-check. I have nothing against facts, but really, the point isn’t who the heck painted the picture of the apple-face guy (Magritte, for those of you without smartphones), it’s the discussion, the human connection that’s destroyed by a hand-held smart(ass)phone.

Discourage research and forward-planning.

Now that everyone can just e-mail or text each other all the time and look up restaurants on the fly, people just head out with only the barest skeleton of a plan. Chaos and anarchy just don’t work for me. I want to know where we’re going and when we plan to get there, and I want a half-dozen paper maps to consult if plans go awry.

But on the flip side, smart phones also…

Discourage independent discovery.

My spouse was making a beer run this weekend in an unfamiliar town in Maine, so he borrowed our friend’s smartphone to find the beer store our friend had looked up. Turns out he didn’t need the phone because there’s a little beer store right on the main road on the way to the other beer place, which he’d have figured out even without the phone.

But even if smartphones weren’t evil, I wouldn’t want one because I have no willpower. I have lots of willpower in other areas of my life. I can rock an elimination diet like nobody’s business, but I can’t help but check my e-mail during every remotely spare moment I have and jump down every rabbit hole I encounter along the way. And this is just with my laptop. If I had a smartphone, I would spend my entire life in Alice in Wonderland. Within two weeks, I’d be sitting on a giant mushroom smoking a hookah and giving passersby tangential Wikipedia-inspired responses to their direct questions.

And where would that leave my children?

Wherever it is, I know they’ll end up there eventually because it’s clear to me that smartphones are as inevitable as they are evil. Chances are, my face will be bathed in the bluish glow of a tiny screen by next summer. Until then, I’ll just keep complaining.

Written as part of the yeah write weekly challenge.