Sunday, February 28, 2016

ignorance, fast food, and screen time

When I became a parent, I found myself hungry for advice. In an effort to stave the encroaching panic about my lack of fatherhood skills, I hunted down suggestions from every possible source. Me and my wife, for instance, purchased more than one of the books from the What to Expect When You're Expecting series. We scoured over them. Prior preparation prevents poor performance, right?

As it turned out, after about ten months, most of these books went by the wayside, never to be opened again. What was the issue? On one hand, since every child develops differently, the advice they contain requires so much interpretation, it's not funny. Worried your kid is slow learning to do something? Consult the book...only to find that while many children acquire the skill at this age, many others do so either earlier or later in their development cycle. It only takes a few of these instances to begin to see said books for what they are: the parental equivalent of junk food...nice every so often, but no substitute for actual food.

Lots of the advice also tends to be common sense stuff.  There is one important condition to this, however: the parent cannot be an idiot. Any section on proper nutrition works as a good example. If you need to be told not to feed your eight month old McDonald's hamburgers, no amount of outside advice is going to really help your parenting skills.

One bit of advice I saw more than once was to make sure you limit your child's screen time. Watching too much television, the books claim, can hinder emotional and mental development, thus possibly turning your child into a slithering moron. No more than three hours per day, many of them recommend. Others suggested one hour as a maximum. Still others said no television at all. Of course, they also suggested that you move out to a grassland and become a homesteader, gathering your own food from the surrounding take that as you will.

On one hand, I can kind of understand this advice. There is a lot of junk on know, the visual equivalent of that McDonald's hamburger. After all, no one on Earth needs to be exposed to any more Barney or Calliou than absolutely necessary. However, I trained as a media scholar, and as a result, I'm innately suspicious of any claim about the medium overall. It reminds me of those academics who brag that they don't even own a television. I suspect it's more an issue of perceived class than a matter of actual science.

So, with our child, we don't put too many limits on screen time. We try to encourage good shows, and  we try to help her find stuff with some value. That, however, is about it. I feel that my daughter still watches an awful lot of garbage. My wife says I only think this stuff because I'm a bitter person. She also says that I need to let my standards go and remember that it's only kid's programming. Of course I disagree. For example, why on Earth would the Bubble Guppies, who live under water, be flying on an airplane? Of course this drives me crazy, so of course, this is a stupid show.

The thing is, my wife might (shudder) very well be right...because my daughter does seem to become a whole lot smarter as a result of the television shows she watches.

On Wednesday, we were (after a heavy morning of playing and artwork), vegetating and watching television. Well, my daughter was watching while I was playing gin rummy on my phone. She had on something I'd rather ignore, so I was ignoring it. The show must've been something about space, because she said to me, "Daddy, is that true? Is the Earth really a big ball?"

"Yes it is, darling."

"...and if we jumped up and down really hard, could we make the Earth bounce around the room?"

She had my attention. "No, honey. The Earth is really big. It would take a whole lot to move it. You'd have to be a really big giant to have any effect at all."

She thought it over. "A really big giant? Would it work if you were a proboscis monkey?"

And this is why I'm completely rethinking my relationship with media...and, for that matter, with fast food.

crushing expectations

The coolest thing about being allowed to teach a poetry class is to be able to move away from the sleepwalk/recycle mode that I've been in with my other classes. Don't get me wrong; it's not that I don't care about my other classes. However, I have a slate of four different classes I teach, and I've been doing them for over a decade, so they are definitely not surprising me in any way. Moreover, I have them down to where they work, and if they're working, why change? So they require very little creativity on my part.

My poetry class, though? I'm having to think out of the box every time I plan anything. Very little from my previous classes transfers. And while this does mean I have to work a lot harder than normal, it also means that I can be creative...which is something the other classes do not require.

Last Thursday, for instance, we were covering comedy and satire poetry. We got into a discussion of how comedy is contextual, and I started talking about the international versions of "what is funny." I told them some Romanian jokes as an example of black humor. We discussed how lots of British humor seems based on discomfort. I then mentioned Canadian humor, but for some reason, none of my students had never experienced any Canadian comedy. Since we're only two hours away from the border, this confused me. One person asked for an example, so, in a fit of inspiration, I showed them this:

This, my dear readers, is why I love my job so much.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

the best thing you will see today, 2/27/16

One of the best things about the interwub is that if you search long enough and are very lucky, you can find the coolest things. For instance, I just found an article (with a video clip) about a sketch on the Richard Pryor Show which had Pryor as a bartender in a Star Wars bar.

You're welcome.

what is and how things should be

A couple of weeks ago, my favorite diner had a fire. It was pretty badly damaged and will have to be gutted and reconstructed. Luckily, my wife and I ate there a few days before, but it seems that ever since, I've had at least four instances of, "Man, I really want to go to the Corner Grill tonight." And ,of course, that's something I can't now do. Sometimes, that's just how life is.

One of the bartenders at my favorite bar loves my favorite diner as much as do I, so by the end of the week of the fire, she had already started planning a benefit show for the diner's employees. I contacted her as soon as I heard and volunteered my services. As much as I miss their food, I also miss the people. Everyone who works at the Grill is awesome. They made my daughter her first hamburger and her first pancake...and most of the times we go, she gets either a chocolate chip smiley face on her pancake, or the cook makes the pancake into a special design (several past favorites have included pancake as cat and pancake as snowman). My daughter has a special relationship with their evening guy, Steve (aka Kilt guy), and they banter regularly. So of course I wanted to help these people. That is how life should work...we should at least take care of our own.

So I was scheduled to play the benefit, which was great. I don't have the next generation of my band ready yet, so I was playing as an acoustic act...just me, six strings, and a kazoo. Of course, I get scheduled to go right after a really heavy, grungy area band. Furthermore, I couldn't get anyone to play with me (my trombonist couldn't get off work), so I'd be facing a crowd of people who just had their ears blasted, and I'd be doing so alone. Further furthermore, no one I knew was able to come and support me. I try to be optimistic (really, I do), but I had grandiose visions of the room clearing before I got to the first chorus of the first song...because sometimes, that's just how life goes.

So after the very cool Casket Company plays and breaks down their massive amplifiers, I mount the stage with acoustic and kazoo. I start playing, and rather than fleeing, most of the crowd stays. I get applause. I get "woos." My Miley Cyrus cover gets a good wave of claps...and in general, it was one of the best received solo performances I've done. After I get off the stage, a few people go out of their way to thank me and to tell me they liked my stuff. That's how my life goes when get really, really lucky.

After my set, I got a chance to hang out with the very cool Dick Pretzel, who was MCing the event. Dick is a stand-up comedian who's been a fan of my music from several bands, and it was great to see a friendly face. I talked to a few of the Corner Grill staff and owner. I had some magnificent vegetarian gumbo. I heard some great tunes. I got to talk to the amazing Justin Payne and hear his set. Sometimes, life can just be good.

While I loved being out, I was beginning to miss my I decided to head home. Only problem was that my car had been towed. It was parked in the same lot I'd been using throughout the last six years of playing at the bar. Apparently someone different than the bar now owns the back 30 feet of the lot, and they just decided to start towing people. So I had to get a ride and pay $100 dollars to get my own car back. Sometimes, that's just how life is.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Slice of life, 2/22/15

So me and my girl were leaving the grocery store, and she was yelling, dancing, and generally aging as usual, in other words. We got to our car, and we had to wait for the person in the next car to get out. The woman exiting the passenger side saw Sylvia and said, "it looks like someone is a singer."

"And a dancer," my daughter added.

I offered my take: "Or maybe you're just crazy."

"No. I am an artist," my daughter said as she climbed into her seat...and I had to remind myself she's only four and a half..

Friday, February 12, 2016

my Onion Horoscope, 2/12

"Remember: Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. Barricade the door to your goddamn basement before it arrives"

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

chew on this

Last night, I had a dream that I was on some college campus, beset by some vague difficulty (it was vague in the dream). As I was trying to solve whatever was going on, I started to chew some gum. Then I tried to spit out some of said gum, but a certain portion of it stuck in my mouth. I spent the rest of the dream torn between solving whatever problem and prying the gum out of my mouth, bit by bit.

While the bit about being on some campus was relatively new, I have actually dreamed about the stubborn gum...about a month ago, I think. But I am no stranger to recurring dreams. As a kid, I used to dream about driving (and sometimes walking) across giant bridges suspended impossibly high over a river-divided city...only about half of the time, significant portions of the bridges in question would crumble or, even worse, be missing altogether. And I have been dreaming of being back at Little Caesars for well over a decade.

The literary part of my mind wonders what the gum dream could mean. I've read my Freud, but this one seems to be beyond Freudian interpretation. At any rate, I'm sure that Freudian dream analysis has probably been proven obsolete by the psychology community...knowing my luck, that is.

Maybe I'll ask my therapist. He'll probably tell me dreams are random brain misfires. But who knows? He has, during our last few sessions, said that pessimists have a more accurate view of reality, come to the defense of escapism, and used a Terminator 2 metaphor. Maybe he'll surprise me again.

My personal future with the gum industry depends on it.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

pickles in the morning

Mornings do strange things to us DuBoses. Today? My daughter's first words upon waking: "Daddy? You're a pickle bow. That means you are really good at eating pickles. Hey, wanna hear a joke? Why did the pickle cross the road? To get to the other coffee! You can tell that to your students if you wanna."