Monday, July 21, 2014

Facebook Activism—or Why I Liked Your Post But Didn’t Share It

Anymore, I see Facebook as a microcosm of the Internet—which ever stories are big on or Reddit inevitably show up on Facebook. Some of this is because I follow several pages. Some of it is because friends and relatives will share stories about what happened in Gaza in the past week or a thoughtful editorial about the Hobby Lobby decision.

And sometimes what people share is smart-asses political commentary or “turn your status this color because” links. Most of my friends share my political sensibilities, so I often like what they post—for real and with mouse-clicks. But in general I try not to re-share most of it even if I agree with it. Why is that? For one, I don’t like having arguments on the Internet. I don’t like having arguments, period. I’ve said in the past that I’m only willing to argue if someone is paying me to do it. For another thing, I think that discourse online gets, for lack of a better phrase, flattened. There are no nuances; no tone and no verbal or facial cues that would let you see how the author of a comment felt (angry, sarcastic, unsure.) As a result, everyone sounds more strident online than they would in real life.

This is not new—in 2000 I got a flaming e-mail from my boss because I asked the staff what kind of sodas I should order without consulting her first. If she’d delivered the same rebuke in person it wouldn’t have stung nearly as much. Because e-mail has no tone, some things come out sharper than you intend. The same thing is true of Facebook or Reddit posts. 

The other main reason I don’t often repost the political stuff is that I believe that with a few exceptions*, posting something on Facebook doesn’t actually entail doing something to further the cause you want to support. It makes you feel good—especially when your friends  like it. But it doesn’t make Net Neutrality any more likely and it doesn’t convince your Republican relatives of the error of their ways. I am skeptical to what extent people can change each other’s minds about these things, but I’ve seen it happen, so I know it’s possible. But I’m pretty sure it took more than a snarky Facebook post to change my conservative, Catholic, Ex-Army Uncle’s mind about gay marriage (for example.)

So, this may be a little extreme, but I don’t generally repost political memes, because that would make me feel I was actually doing something about the problem/issue in question and I’m not. Yes, I suppose you could argue that I was raising awareness of an issue, but if said issue is all over the Internet and 3 people from my group of friends have shared it, what am I adding to the conversation? Do I really think my conservative cousins from GA are suddenly going to start caring about Net Neutrality because I posted it?

So while I agree that Hobby Lobby is hypocritical for investing in birth control while denying it to their staff, and that the number of shootings we’ve had since the school shooting in Connecticut is disgusting, and that Israel should stop killing people in Gaza,  and states should stop making it so hard to get an abortion if you need one, I’m not going to repost. We all know the same people—so I’m not adding to the discussion.

*share this to show you stand with rape victim x/Trayvon Martin are exceptions in my mind.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Reading certain books in public invites commentary from strangers. Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon is one such book. Stephen King’s It is another.

I have been wanting to revisit It since my mom sent me a copy of 11/22/63—Stephen King’s novel about a man who goes back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination--for my birthday last year. Thiswas the first Stephen King book I’d read in at least a decade and I enjoyed it immensely. I had been looking for It in bookstores for a few months. I found it last weekend in a book pile (the kind you leave in front of your house hoping people will take them) in front of a house on Lothrop Street while I was walking my dog. It wasn’t a first edition, but it was a hardcover with the original cover—a picture of a drain with a claw coming out of it.

In 1989 or 1992 this was not a book that made people feel they had to talk to you on the subway. Apparently it is in 2014. The lady on the commuter rail train said it gave her nightmares. The guy in the convenience store said the clown scared him to death. The guy eating breakfast next to me at the Ugly Mug in Salem said they’re making another movie about it. All of them loved it. But no one had anything interesting to say (with the possible exception of the convenience store guy. He read it in the 3rd grade--what parent lets their kid read It in the 3rd grade?)

When I was in high school I ate everything Steven King had written. It I remember the transition from reading Lois Duncan and other YA supernatural authors to Stephen King. I remember being in 7th grade or so and asking a bookish boy if he read Stephen King’s books. He said that he loved them and he recommended IT—specifically because of Pennywise the clown. Someone had finally written a book about how creepy clowns are and he recommended I read it.

I tried to read Firestarter in 8th grade but couldn’t get through it. Not because of the length—for a Stephen King book it’s pretty short—less than an inch thick. I was bothered by the, for lack of a better phrase “adult content.” I don’t even remember if there’s any sex in the book, but it made me uncomfortable. While I was a bright kid with a big vocabulary, I was a late-bloomer and I was not very well socialized—so I found the book uncomfortable.

A year or so later, I found the Eyes of The Dragon in the Stuyvesant High School Library. Even though I hadn’t cared for the first Stephen King book I read, I decided to try this one. I loved it. I proceeded to read every other Stephen King book in the school library. The copy of the Shining I borrowed was missing 50 pages in the middle of it. I didn’t discover this until I got home for the night—I was incredibly frustrated. I ran to the library the first thing the next morning and got another copy—verifying that all it’s pages were there before checking it out.

Eventually I’d read all of the Stephen King in the library and I had to start buying my own books—by saving my allowance or using baby-sitting money. Salem’s Lot was my favorite for a long time because it was about vampires. I remember when I brought to Tommyknockers home my Dad joked that I only read “cubic books” these days. My parents were paying my younger sister for every book she read. I asked why they wouldn’t pay me for every book I read. My mom, eyeing the green and black cover of the Tommyknockers said they were considering charging me for every book I read.

It’s not like I didn’t read other books—my dad went through an Ivan Doig phase, so I went through an Ivan Doig phase. When we read Beowulf in school, my parents suggested I read Grendel—so I went through a John Gardner phase.* My love of Stephen King’s prose continued into my 20s. My parents and friends, while not understanding my interest, acknowledged it by getting me Stephen King books as presents. When the Wizard and Glass came out I was working at the Strand. I begged the new fiction guy, who went to the main store once a week, to pull me a copy of it—maybe an ARC copy. He succeeded. I read it, sent it to my boyfriend at the time and demanded he send it back when done so that my sister could read it too.

I tried other adult writers of the horror genre—none were as good. All their monsters always came down to the government or space aliens. That’s boring. I didn’t allow myself to discover SciFi and Fantasy until I was in college, but the horror genre appealed to me not just because it was scary, but because it suggested that there “are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”

But there is more appeal to Stephen King than his ability to scare you shitless, or his prolific imagination. He has a very good voice, in my opinion. He also does a good job of portraying kids. In my opinion, he may be the Charles Dickens of the 20th century—a popular writer, dismissed for being popular who actually writes well enough that people want to read him after he’s no longer around. I’ll never know—I don’t expect to live to 120 but I’ve read a lot of books and I still think he’s a good story teller

I gave Stephen King up in my 20s. I don’t remember if this is before or after I actually met the man. I gave him up because of Dreamcatcher. I bought the book dutifully, but the story seemed recycled—bits of It mixed up with the Tommyknockers. I thought he’d finally run out of ideas, so I stopped buying his books.

Now, I’m revisiting them. I picked up Dr. Sleep (sequel to the Shining) and found it interesting. I re-read the Shining and found it as compelling as ever. But not so much It. The book I re-read about 12 times as a teenager seems flat to me now. There are still good parts to it, but it no longer seems like The Best Book Ever.

*This, incidentally was how I discovered I don’t like short stories. My dad gave me a book of John Gardner short stories and I read the whole book in a day. At the end of it, I discovered I could only remember the first one and the last one—which seemed unfair as I’d liked them all. It was like I’d gotten a Whitman’s sampler and eaten the whole box in one sitting.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


 I moved into my current house in 2012. When I did so, many Beverlonians urged me to go to Ikea in Stoughton to get some good, cheap furniture. I told them I wouldn’t go—because I’d been there a lot in the summer of 2009—which was an un-fun time to be me.

In the summer of 2009, my boyfriend Sean and I were clearly about to breakup. Meanwhile, Irving Liss—owner of Hilton’s Tent City and honorary Jewish Grandfather to all of us Hilton’s kids was dying of brain cancer. There were a few other things going on, none of them pleasant but it didn’t matter because these two—especially Irving’s dying—were the main events for the summer of 2009.

Meanwhile, the mattress that Sean and I had been sleeping on was clearly on its last legs. We’d tried the Sleepy’s in Central Square and found it too rich for our blood—so we were off to Ikea. In hindsight it seems ridiculous—we were barely sleeping on the same mattress as it was.

We bought a bed and a mattress and then had to go back to return the mattress. Even falling apart as we were, we still enjoyed Ikea and laughed about how we’d somehow collected lots of  $1.00 glassware and $3.00 cushions when we were supposed to be there for a bed and later, in the assembly phase, how Ikea’s instructions were just fine as long as you had a friend with a pencil behind his ear.

I remember driving down to return the mattress on the Friday night after my birthday. Instead of taking the directions off of Sean’s iPhone we were taking them off of mine—because my phone and my iPod had died at the same time a week before my birthday. Neither of us joked much on the ride down to return the mattress. The next day we talked about it with Irving and Joan at Irving’s rest home as if all was well between the two of us—oy vey! What a pain it is to find a new bed! It was the last time I saw Irving alive. A few days later Sean broke up with me. Part of the break-up conversation included discussing Irving and his hope that I’d be his “date” to Irving’s funeral. I was very hurt and upset but I believe my response was  “well of course.”

It’s safe to say I have issues with Ikea. When my current boyfriend suggested we go there to get some furniture, I mentioned these issues. I told him I was scared that if we went there together to buy furniture, we’d break up in a few weeks—not because it was rational—just because that had been my experience.

Tonight one of my friends talked about renovation she wants to do on Facebook. She recommended that I go to Ikea and get one of the prefab kitchen designs because it would be just right for my kitchen. Besides, she was sure I knew a handy dude who could install it (that would be my current boyfriend.) When she mentioned Ikea, she touched a sore spot on me, but I suddenly realized two things—1) the soreness was more about my friend Irving dying than about the ending of my last relationship 2) The right thing to do is to..well.. get over it. Ikea didn’t hurt me—people did. I should go down there with my current sweetheart and buy a bed big enough for both of us the Labrador and anything else that catches our fancy—be it kitchen islands, cheap glassware, or bizarrely named Swedish chairs.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What to do about the Magic Flute?

Apparently, Kenneth Branagh directed a beautiful movie version of the Magic Flute that came out in 2006. I found this out recently, because I’d had Bergman’s Magic Flute in my Netflix DVD queue and, through some technical error on Netflix behalf, it became Branagh’s Magic Flute (and available for streaming!)

Branagh’s version of the opera is set in WWI—the dragon pursuing Tamino is chlorine gas, the three ladies are nurses, the Queen of the Night shows up on a tank and Sarastro is running a refugee camp. It’s beautiful—as well acted as possible with such a ridiculous libretto and well sung. But the story is still racist, classist and sexist.

Manastatos is evil just because his skin is black. The queen and her ladies are evil simply because they’re ladies--not gentlemen. Sarastro has kidnapped Pamina, the queen’s daughter to save her from her mother. Papageno is cowardly and fails all his trials because he’s the comic servant. No one points out the fact that he’s the one who got into Sarastro’s palace and saved Pamina from the (equally cowardly) Manastatos while Tamino was playing around with the three spirits.

In act two, as part of the men’s trials Pamina can see Tamino, but he may not speak to her. This wouldn’t be so bad if someone had told Pamina about this in the first place. But, as she has not been informed that this is part of the plan, she runs off to kill herself because Tamino no longer loves her.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice these things. There are other plot problems as well.  For example, all the choruses to songs seem to be trite sayings such as  “A man whose spirit is not weak will weigh his words before he speaks. For some reason the “isms” bother me more than the trite lyrics*

And in spite of all of these things, I love Mozart’s last opera. Not just for the music—for the dragon, the birdman, the magic flute and glockenspiel and the queen of the night. As my dad said when I discussed this with him recently—“It’s a Star Wars kind of Opera” and I’m a Syfy and Fantasy kind of girl.

The theatre group my dad was involved with when I was a kid put on a production of the Magic Flute. I got to be a dancing savage beast. At the time I loved the fact that I got to watch most of the opera again and again as much as the fact that I got to appear in it. Am I syfy geek because I saw the Magic Flute at an impressionable age, or did I love it so because I would one day be a geek? Who knows? I do remember that even though I was only in 2nd(?) or 3rd (grade) I noticed the sexism of the piece—Man=good. Woman=Bad.

And, yes, I know that literature and art are the products of the culture of the time and that 18th century Vienna was probably not a particularly enlightened place by the standards of 2014. It would also be wrong to change the story to be less sexist/classist/racist.

So why do we continue to watch this opera? It’s probably mostly because the music is beautiful but that’s not it entirely. With all its flaws it’s still a good story—the same way that Star Wars is still a good story.

*The opera is in German, which I don’t speak. But I’ve seen several translations and in all of them suffer from this problem so I blame the librettist Schikaneder the librettist and not the translators.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day weekend 2014

It is Memorial Day. I'm sitting on the back porch and looking at my yard. My dog Hawkeye is sitting next to me.

Mom and Dad came up for the weekend to spend time with me and my boyfriend and to meet my dog. Mom and Dad had met Christian, my boyfriend, at Christmas and seemed to get along with him. But that was a brief period (and half of my family was sick with the flu) so I was glad for them to come up and spend more time with him and me.

They had not met Hawkeye before, and while he's a sweet friendly lab (and the dog we had growing up was an undemonstrative doberman) I wasn't sure how this was going to go--would Mom object to being jumped on? I shouldn't have worried. Whether because Hawkeye is a "Charmeh" or because they have mellowed in their old age they both loved him.

It was a very fun weekend--but tiring. I'm glad (for now) to be at home with the dog and no one else. We went to Gloucester, we went to Home Depot, we ate seafood, we walked the dog--and we gardened!

I don't know why--maybe I've learned that life's too short to worry about this kind of thing--but I felt at home with Christian and my parents this weekend. It's true not everybody knew all the same stories--but that was okay. Well known stories were retold with relish (a new audience!)--How my Uncle Kent had decided in the middle of Thanksgiving Dinner that my parents' large mirror was going to fall out of its frame and they needed to move it this instant (!) how the couple "3 years older than G_d" could not remember what to order in Wendy's, etc.

We did lots of things that I do most weekends--go to the shoe store in Gloucester and the bookstore in Gloucester--but this time with parents. There's always something fun about that--going to the stores where they know me and saying "well, this time I've brought my Dad."

Today was the best day this weekend though. I invited my parents to my place for breakfast--I had bought eggs and potatoes and ham steak to feed them. I wanted to cook for them and this was a low pressure way to do so (it's hard to screw up breakfast.) They came over and we gave them coffee while we finished cooking. Dad decided we should eat outdoors, so he and I cleared a table off and set chairs up.

We had a tasty breakfast and then Mom and I walked Hawkeye while Dad and Christian went back to Home Depot to replace a part he'd bought for the toilet. Christian had a list of things he planned to do around the house today. He calls this list his "Honey Do" list, but while I do make a few requests, the list is mostly comprised of things he has decided need doing to my house (we need a dehumidifier?) The list included planting all the tomato plants as well as all the herb plants we bought at Home Depot this weekend.

As Mom and I sat on the back porch drinking seltzer after walking the dog, she said "You know, if Christian is going to plant, we should weed first.  I can start weeding--but I don't want to do that in these pants." I lent Mom a pair of pants, and before I knew it she had graduated from weeding to planting. Dad and Christian got back from Home Depot, and Dad insisted on putting a plate on the light switch in the downstairs bathroom (he bought one for this.) I asked Dad to bring the lawnmower up from the basement (meaning to ply it myself) and then went upstairs to move laundry to the dryer. I came back downstairs because Hawkeye was barking--why were Christian, Mom and Dad letting him bark?  Because he was barking at my (non-motorized) lawn mower.  Not just barking at--attacking the tires! Perhaps (said Dad) he's alarmed because it is a creature from the basement (which he is not allowed to visit.)

Mom and Dad not only planted all my tomato plants and helped week/mow my back yard but Dad also trimmed back the dead parts of my Hydrangea--all while Christian fixed various pieces of plumbing and I ran around between parties looking for this and that, offering fertilizer, garbage bags, beer, seltzer or tools.

Mom and Dad and I drove Christian to the airport. Then I had dinner with Mom and Dad. Returned to my own house, I pick up their coffee cups and water glasses and put them in the dish washer. I sit and look at my back yard and the work they have done there and feel loved.