It’s Not Just a Ball Dropping

Once again, New Year’s Eve is upon us.  Some see it as a reason to celebrate the end of a year. Others, especially the seasoned partiers among us, call it “Amateur Night.”  Still others view it only as an excuse to stay up late to watch Anderson Cooper get picked on and the ball drop in Times Square. In its simplest form, it’s a day that marks the completion of a specific period of time, and while that sounds boring, it’s not really. We celebrate the fact that after 365 days, 6 hours, 8 minutes and 38.4 seconds, this large chunk of rock and water travelling at 67,000 mph (yes, that’s faster than a speeding bullet) we call Earth, has arrived at the same spot in the universe it left 12 months ago without hitting something and spiraling wildly off into space killing us all. Hmmm, I guess that’s a pretty good reason to celebrate.  Before I go on, let me take my Neil deGrasse Tyson hat off (and hope that the smarter ones among us, I’m looking at you Paul, don’t end up correcting me on my figures – I worked hard on that).

As we complete each year, New Year’s Eve holds a special place in my heart. And while I’m not big on the whole resolution thing, it’s always been a moment of self-reflection. New Year’s Eve, especially this year, is for me a confluence of emotions that bring back a lot of memories and presents thoughts about what might lie ahead for me as I make plans for some serious changes in the coming year. I know, heavy, right?

This year, I’m celebrating my own version of the ancient Roman holiday of Carmentalia. It was a festival celebrated around this time of year in honor of the goddess Carmenta. She had the power of looking back into the past, and looking forward into the future based on what she learned from the past. Pretty nifty gift if you ask me, and don’t we all wish we had that power? The power of using what we’ve learned from the past wisely.

I feel that I should take a moment to explain. The time around New Year’s Eve always represented a personal trifecta for me. I was born on December 30th, a last-minute tax deduction for my father. I won’t say what year it was, just know that the AARP has me in their membership sights. Discounts at Denny’s are great, but yeah, not yet. Of course, there is the “normal” reason for celebrating.  I made it through another year without blowing anything up, or getting sued for anything I’ve written here. And miraculously, my kids and animals are all still alive, as is the one plant I’ve laid claim to. Go me! And this December 31st would have been my 19th wedding anniversary. I say “would have been” because my divorce was final this past January, hard on the heels of my 18th anniversary.  Believe me, that was a positive event despite also being a disappointing one. And since then, the dating world opened up in front of me in all of its anxiety-inducing glory. I know, it’s weird, right? Glorious and exciting, but weird nonetheless.

Anyway, as I said, I’ve decided that I’m going to celebrate Carmentalia. And I’m going to have a little chat with Carmenta herself. I need answers. Where have I been, where am I going, just what the hell is up with Tinder?

I have big plans for the coming year and life changing events are on the horizon. It’s a thrilling and good-scary time, and long-overdue. Ever the realist though, the raging introvert in me shouts, “Yeah, okay, so you’re starting a new adventure in 2018, but let’s not go overboard, okay?” I guess I do have a New Year’s resolution after all. And that’s to put my hands over my ears shouting “la-la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you!”

In the meantime, placating the introvert in me actually sounds like a peaceful way to usher in the New Year and ready myself for what’s sure to be a wild ride. So, this New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will find me ensconced on my sofa – with some equally introverted company, grazing on leftovers and sipping on a lovely Moscato a friend gifted to me, while the TV alternates between a 24-hour marathon of “Psych” and the showing of all 6 “Thin Man” movies. I know, I know, it won’t be the chaos that is Times Square when the ball drops. But, hey, it’s not like I can completely disregard who I am after all. And why would I want to? Plus, this will no doubt ease my mind and prepare me for the next 67,000 mph race around the sun.

Bring it on 2018 and Carmenta. I’m ready.

Perchance to Dream

Many years ago, too many to count or even admit to, I used to listen to a radio show called America’s Top 40, hosted by Casey Kasem. His sign off phrase was, “Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.” This is good advice. Dream big, but stay somewhat practical.

Sadly, as children and even well into adulthood, we are often discouraged to dream at all. Sometimes we are discouraged by people who don’t support or believe in our dreams, and sometimes we’re knocked down just by pure circumstance. Perhaps, however, the reason we’re afraid to dream is because we are afraid to fail, or maybe, just maybe, we’re afraid to succeed. Whatever causes the death of our dreams, I just know it doesn’t have to be that way.

Balance is of course a healthy part of life. It’s good to be smart about life, to be grounded, and of course I always say to have a “Plan B.” And “C.” And even a “D.” Believe me, I’m not telling you to throw your life away in pursuit of foolishness. I’m not telling you to quit your job, sell your stuff, and backpack around Tibet. Unless of course, that’s something you really want to do. Then I’m all for it. Send me a postcard!

The young dream big, don’t they?  I mean, they can dream like we adults can’t even dream of dreaming. So who are we to snuff that out? Don’t we know that one of the cruelest things a person can endure is when someone they love can’t support their dreams? In a sense we’re saying we don’t believe in them. We don’t mean to. We’re just trying to protect them from the hurt we may have endured ourselves.

Plus, we think we know it all. We’re adults, right? We’re supposed to know it all. What we have to realize is that it’s better to let go and pursue our dreams rather than to always live with the ache of what could have been. I for one don’t want to be responsible for that in my life or the lives of my children.

What about us older folks? Those of middle-age and beyond. Do we think we’re too old good to dream? Our dreams are what move us to accomplish greatness and gift the universe with our brilliance… or maybe they just allow us to get through each day as we struggle with overwhelming mediocrity.  I will digress here for a moment to point out that Grandma Moses, pretty much a household name now, didn’t start painting until she was 78.  She painted right up until her death at 101. 101!  Her favorite quote, which indeed seems to tell her own personal tale, was “Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” Words to live by indeed.

Bram Stoker didn’t create Dracula until he was 50 (Stoker, not Dracula). I mean, seriously, where would the vampire genre be without him?

Donald Ray Pollock received quite a bit of attention for his debut novel, The Devil All the Time, but did you know that he dropped out of high school to work at a meatpacking plant for many years before moving on to a paper mill where he worked for 32 years as a laborer and truck driver?  The same year he turned 55, he took the leap and published a book of short stories – just a year before graduating Ohio University by the way.  Three years later, in 2011, along came The Devil All the Time which won him the Guggenheim Fellowship.  Talk about following a dream.

To digress even further (thanks for your patience!), Laura Ingalls Wilder… well, there’s another one. Even though she was a columnist at the age of 44 and doing fairly well, her Little House books made her a household name, and she didn’t publish those until she was the ripe age of 64.

After the death of her second husband, Mary Delany began creating amazingly intricate paper cut-outs of flowers to help her deal with her grief. She was 68. She created more than 1,700 pieces of this unique form of art and continued with her artwork until she was 88. Her pieces were so delicate and so incredibly beautiful that they now reside in the British Museum’s collection.

My point is, dreams shouldn’t be snuffed out… not in children, and certainly not just because a person has mastered the aging process. If anything, aging gives our dreams greater meaning. Life may throw us curve-balls or set us on a different path than we ever expected to be on, but dreams…dreams can set us free and put a new life in motion.

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Or Achievin’

Is dreaming just for the young? How about following your dreams? Can we rebuild our lives – or build a new life –even when we are most definitely smack in the throes of middle age or…ahem…leaning towards the outer edges of it?

When I was younger, I had no qualms about trying something new, going on an adventure – whether that was a career, a move to a new home, a new town, an experience, what have you.

But now…

Whether it was growing up (ahhh…adulthood, not all it’s cracked up to be, I must say), growing old, or simply being stuck for years with someone else’s criticisms eating away at my brain, my heart, and my self-esteem that did me in, I have found myself more timid – quite indecisive actually – when it comes to making decisions that would take me out of my comfort zone, even when it would be in my best interest.

Recently I have been catching sight of that person that I used to be, that plucky, spirited individual willing to take risks, lurking around corners, trying to come out from the shadows (Hello there! Long time no see!) – and now I’m pondering – is dreaming just for the young?  Can older lives be torn down and rebuilt the way we want them to be?  Or do dreams have a shelf life?

I have dreams just like anyone else and I want to make those happen.  Sometimes I think it’s just too late. I’m just too old. The world is obsessed with youth. Everything – advertising, TV shows, movies – even news – all seem aimed at teenagers and twenty-somethings…thirty-somethings at the outside.

Is it any wonder that middle-aged folks might think that their best years have passed them by…that if they were going to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be, they’d have done it already? We’ve been indoctrinated to think so.

But then I think, surely I don’t have to be stuck here, in this part of my life, if I don’t want to be. If I can oust this echoing voice in my head…the one I’ve been listening to for too many years…the one that makes me doubt myself…then certainly I can do something with my life, to make my dreams a reality.  Something that’s meant for me.

Historically speaking, it’s not unheard of – this rethinking of one’s life at middle age or beyond.  Grandma Moses comes to mind. She was 78 when she started painting – 78! Prior to that she’d spent decades embroidering, but when arthritis made that too painful, she took up painting, and within a couple of years became a household name.

Or how about Julia Child? She was 40 years old when she started to learn French cooking, and 50 years old when she started her cooking show!

Ever hear of Phyllis Diller? She was 37 years old when she became a stand-up comedian.

Then there’s an author named Elizabeth Jolley. One year she got 39 rejection slips! How many people give up their attempt to write after that first awful rejection – and she kept going and going and going until finally, at the age of 56, her first novel was published. The rest is history.

If they can do it, so can I.  So can anyone.  Right?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to become a household name.  I want freedom, not fame.

The world cannot be just for the young. It simply cannot work that way. I’ve had dreams sitting on a shelf for some time, and it’s high time I started looking forward, not back.  At this point, there’s nothing holding me back but me.

My Future

I have a strong feeling that my demise will come about by my being sarcastic in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  I don’t have a crystal ball or anything, but let’s just say it wouldn’t be a big surprise if my obituary were to read: passed suddenly after a brief confrontation in which she just could not keep her smart-ass comments to herself.

 

Smartphones are Eating your Brain — Or, Ode to “The Feeling of Power”

I was thinking today as I was out doing my round of errands…what did people do before smartphones?

Did they come out of a grocery store pushing their cart full of groceries, paying attention to their little children and not letting them run around willy-nilly wherever they wanted? Especially, let’s say, directly in front of another person’s cart causing that person to stop quickly or else run them over thereby tossing their precariously perched milk into the parking lot. I’m sure parents would’ve noticed this prior to smartphone days don’t you think?  Maybe?

Since their attention would not be riveted on a small square screen, did these non-smartphone owning parents put their groceries in the trunk of their car, while at the same time keeping track of the aforementioned little children so that they weren’t at risk of being flattened by cars driving up and down the aisle-ways (or whatever the technical term is for the driveway between the rows of cars)?

Did they put their children in car seats then take their cart all the way to a cart corral so it wouldn’t block someone else’s access to a parking spot or roll back into the aisle-way? Would they then get in their car, look in their rear-view mirror both ways before backing out of the spot, and then drive carefully out of the parking lot?  (You can sort of tell what kind of experience I had at the grocery store I suppose.)

Well, the answer to those riveting questions is no!  Ha! Surprised you there, didn’t I!?

The same people who are careless today with their smartphones are the same people who were careless even when they didn’t have smartphones to occupy their attention. Smartphones just make it worse.

Even without smartphones, grocery store parking lots (and grocery stores themselves) have always been hazardous and annoying places because of inconsiderate and/or oblivious patrons. And don’t even get me started on those people who leave their shopping cart in the middle of an adjacent parking spot, instead of pushing it all of ten feet into a cart corral! (I’m not joking. I can understand people who don’t want to walk 10 yards or so to a cart corral, but when it’s literally ten feet away and they can’t be bothered? What’s up with that!?)

So, smartphones are just another way for people who are already inconsiderate and careless about personal space to be even more inconsiderate and careless on many levels.

But there’s more to the insidious nature of smartphones than that…I’ve been considering this for a while.

There’s a rather famous Isaac Asimov short story – well, it’s famous if you’re a science fiction fan, anyway – called “The Feeling of Power,” about a society where people have forgotten to do math in their heads, because they always use calculators. (I don’t want to go into the whole story…suffice it to say that it takes place in a dystopian future where people have been supplanted by intelligent robots — of course, being Asimov).

In his autobiography, Asimov says that one of the magazine editors who read this story (he wrote it in 1958) scoffed at the idea that mankind could ever possibly forget how to do simple math in their head.

Well…in 2014 is there any doubt about it? It used to be calculators were never allowed in classrooms – students had to do all the math by themselves. By the 1990s, students were allowed to take math tests with their handy-dandy calculators by their side.

And it’s only gotten worse.

There are no calculators in classrooms these days, I don’t think… because they have been supplanted by phones which have calculators, cameras, and of course, the ability to text to people. And if students are asked not to bring their phones to school and text in class while the teacher is trying to actually teach, there is such an uproar that you would not believe it!

I admit – I personally can’t remember new phone numbers anymore. I don’t need to. They’re all programmed into my phone. People in general don’t need to keep anything in their heads anymore – it’s all in their phones.

And it’s amazing how many people are connected to their electronics as if they’re life giving umbilical cords.  If something ever happened to their phones, I think these people would end up staring glassy-eyed into the distance, drooling, not knowing what to do.

Asimov predicted this in 1958….but he was ignored.  I imagine that not too long into the future we’ll not only be amazed by anyone who can remember how to do simple arithmetic or recall a phone number on command, but perhaps going further, we’ll have a Wall-E kind of existence. Just sitting on floating barca-loungers, computer screens planted right smack in front of our faces with no idea whatsoever of what’s going on around us.

Read Mr. Asimov's short story here

Read Isaac Asimov’s short story here

 

Wall-E

Wall-E

Future Plans

When you watch movies or read books about the future it normally falls into one of two categories. Either a) everything’s awesome and we’ve mastered technology to make life a carefree playground (e.g.: The Jetsons) or b) everything sucks because we’ve depleted all of our natural resources and are forced to regress back to Neanderthalic aggression for our survival. That’s all our entertaining prophecies seem to come up with: amazing or horrible.

Unfortunately, I think we’re veering more and more towards that unsavory post-apocalyptic Mad Max, Book of Eli, Terminator: Salvation sort of scenario. Sometimes I get a glimpse of something super cool, like it jumped out of a Doctor Who episode (for example, the driver-less car Google is testing on real highways, cell phones that track your eye movements so it can pause YouTube videos when it knows you’re not looking at the screen, TVs that respond to voice commands, and freakin’ Siri). Those are great and tell me that we have the minds to create things that can positively influence the progress of society.

But those are just glimpses. More often than not when I involuntarily think of the future I’m just reminded of Masters of Horrors: Dance of the Dead or Blade Runner. The greyness, the polluted rain, the morbidity as everyone on the planet knows that they got screwed by their ancestors. Or worse yet, and probably more accurately, Idiocracy. The fact that the Jackass movies always earn the top spot on their opening weekend is evidence enough of that.