Monday, April 28, 2014

The Hour That The Ship Comes In

So while we are on the subject of my recent and inappropriate enthusiasm for a certain reality show, I have more to say about the subject of its surrounding fanfiction. What I should be doing at the moment is straightening up the house, getting my car inspected, and making the animated computer version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm that I promised my grandson. Yes, I know there are many animated versions I can buy him, but I want to personalize it by inserting pictures of him into the animations. That’s a lot of painstaking work, however, and this is easier.

Before I launch into my comments on the subject at hand, however, I am going to give the cast of characters a whole new set of names, because I feel uncomfortable using the names of the real people whom I don’t even know to discuss the fictional representations of them out there in cyberspace. So we have Carl and Mavis, recent gold medal winners in the sport of ice dancing, and Tabitha, Carl’s long suffering love interest, who has until recently been shoved so far into the background that her clothing was starting to match the decor. More recently we have Mikhail, Mavis’ foreign born dance instructor, with his burly good looks and total lack of concept of personal space. Supposedly he has been nicknamed “sex on a stick”, but to me that sounds downright uncomfortable. Then we have Mikhail’s brother Vadim, and Carl’s dance instructor, Shirley, who may or may not make an appearance, depending on how far I get before the siren song of filing medical papers gets to me.

If we go back far enough, much of the fiction involves romantic relationships between Carl and Mavis, despite the fact that they have been pretty clear about their lack of interest in one another. The Problem of Tabitha is dealt with in several ways. The most popular one seems to be just disappearing her off the face of the earth. As far as I can figure, she was the victim of an accident involving the Large Hadron Collider, details of which are still highly classified. With no Tabitha around, dramatic tension must come from the tried and true trope of having both characters fall in love with each other, but be afraid to speak out because each thinks the other is not interested. In real life, this rarely happens, but in novels, it happens all the time. In my view, if two people are in love but can’t tell each other, it is just as well, because they really have no business breeding together. I find these plots the least interesting of all.

Then there are the ones where  we still have Carl and Mavis in love with each other, but Tabitha is Carl’s girlfriend. Yes, I know, you ask why he doesn’t break up with Tabitha and announce his love for Mavis if that is the case. Cake, snack, gone anyone? Or Tabitha is a lovely girl, and it would be a shame to hurt her (only in some of these stories, she and Carl get married, have a kid or two, and then get divorced, and wouldn’t it have been less hurtful to have dropped her like a hot rock before all that happened?) I wonder if the authors (who in many cases are good writers, in the technical sense) are aware of how much of a loser Mavis looks like in these stories. In real life, “Carl” has been with “Tabitha” for five years, more than enough time for Mavis to grieve a broken heart if she does have one, and then move on.

I wonder why none of our budding authors has come up with the obvious solution for the Tabitha problem - have Mikhail seduce her. He’s supposed to be good at that kind of thing. Then Mavis and Carl can bond over their mutual broken hearts. (No, I’m not writing it.)

There is also the little detail that Mavis had a boyfriend prior to and around the time of the Olympics. Then, around late February, even the briefest of references to him disappeared from her conversation and she and Mikhail are acting as though she is free as a bird. Maybe the BF, who does not have a name so lets call him Feliks, was the one who got disappeared in the Large Hadron Collider.

Or, there is the possible solution that I dreamed up for the first of my fanfic forays, the one in which Mikhail and Mavis get introduced online well before the Olympics, and he is the BF she refers to, until it becomes more politic to pretend that their first IRL meeting in the dance studio is their first meeting ever. It explains a lot: their immediate comfort level with each other, the boyfriend that was and then wasn’t, Mikhail’s proposal. Okay, it’s unlikely, but not as unlikely as two people who have known each other for a decade and a half falling in love but never bothering to mention it to each other, because plot.

And speaking of plots, I need to get back to Old MacDonald. That one, I understand.

(The title of this piece comes from this song, which has been stuck in my head for a while, but has nothing to do with the kind of ships that show up in fanfic.)


A few weeks ago, I turned the channel to ABC to watch Castle, and since I was a minute or two early, caught the very end of Dancing With the Stars. I had never before watched an episode of Dancing With the Stars, or of The Voice, America’s Got Talent, or American Idol. The reality TV shows I watch involve interior design, hoarders, or an occasional episode of Design Star when my husband happens to be watching. I did watch a whole season of The Bachelorette years ago with one of my AFS daughters, but couldn’t last through one episode of Survivor.

I did see enough of the Dancing With The Stars episode to find out that America’s favorite ice dancing couple, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were contestants, so I started looking for videos of their dances on YouTube, while using the first few Monday nights to follow the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, and of course the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final, or at least as much of it as I could stand before it became sadly evident that Kentucky was going down to UConn. 

That meant that it was not until two weeks ago, Disney night, that I actually sat through an entire episode of DWTS. However, I was up to speed on the prior weeks’ actions, gossip, scores, and innuendo through a network of fangirls posting on Tumblr, and the links they posted with regularity.

In addition to the actions, gossip, scores, and innuendo, I also found my way to a whole lot of fanfiction. I actually found my way to the fanfiction by googling “Meryl and Maks fanfiction”, much as it pains me to admit it. I mean, I am really too old for this stuff. I am especially too old to write the two examples of it that I did, and submitted to one of the fangirls I follow, who posts her own and others’ submissions on her blog. No, I won’t say where.

I can understand the allure of shipping for the young ladies whose Tumblr blogs I follow. Most of them are in their teens to twenties (hence, young enough to be my granddaughters), and for them, learning the nuances of personal interaction is a developmental task. That look that Maks gave Meryl? Is that the lingering gaze of love or just Maks being Maks? When Charlie smiles upon hearing praise for Meryl’s  chemistry with Maks, is that a real smile, or does it not make it all the way to his eyes? (Or is it Charlie thinking for the 35th time, “I wish they’d stop cutting to me every damn time Meryl dances”?) What does it mean if Meryl posts a picture of her and Charlie skating on Instagram? What does it mean if members of The Fam post “like” to pictures of Meryl and Charlie skating on Instagram?

I read these posts and think what they are really asking is “What does it mean when that guy in Chem class looks at me while the teacher is lecturing?” “Is that guy I friend zoned really just joking about us going to the prom together or is he hurt that I won’t date him?”
(Yes, I know that is not all that they are doing. The functions of fiction are too many and too complex to be summed up in one blog post, especially one of my blog posts, but this is the one that jumped out at me.)

And what does it mean that Coleslaw is pondering and writing about this stuff when she has ironing to finish and a house to clean before her brother shows up for his annual visit one week from today? (Thereby causing her to miss next week’s episode of DWTS, since we are taking him on an overnight to Natchez.)

I wrote once before about the strategies that people use both to conceal information that might be hurtful and to tease that exact information out of  the carefully phrased statements that other people make to hide it. There is an arms race going on between our need to fit harmoniously into a group and our need for information. The folk wisdom of “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” always clashes with “forewarned is forearmed”. So we study other people’s body posture, facial expressions, eye gaze, and gestures; parse their sentences for hidden meanings, and at the same time strive to keep our own faces neutral and our words tempered. As important as it is to do so in everyday interactions, or job interviews, or if, heaven forbid, ever dealing with the police, it is even more important to be able to do so in matters of the heart. There is a saying, “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve” for a reason, and that heart is not safe out there. 

So I would like to say that my reasons for obsessively looking for updates on the sites I am following are purely high minded, that I am exploring my fascination with the ways in which people communicate. I would like to say that, but who am I kidding? 

I don’t even know what my reasons are for following DWTS, except one. I’m a fangirl.

Friday, April 18, 2014

That's One Mystery Cleared Up

I’m feeling sad, queasy and perplexed. 

Last summer I came home from vacation to find a message from the Judicial Process Department of the sheriff’s office on my door. A long account can be found here, but the short version is that I was supposed to be served with a subpoena for a Dr. Coleslaw in a murder case, and after they had made three tries to deliver it, it was sent back to the originator per protocol. I’m not Dr. Anybody, I knew nothing about a murder, so the process server and I concluded it was all a mistake.

It occurred to me a few days later that while I honestly didn’t know anything specific about a murder, I had known someone who became a murder (and child abuse) victim, a child client of the place where I used to work. I wasn’t the child’s regular therapist, but a nagging voice in the back of my head reminded me that I may have done the child’s intake evaluation. I honestly couldn’t see how that would shed any light on the death itself, though, so I let it go.

Then the day before yesterday I heard the doorbell ring. And ring, and ring, and ring, because it was my husband ringing it, and he wanted to get back to cutting the grass before the light failed, and his leaning on the doorbell would of course make me able to exceed the speed of sound while getting to the door. I was not in a good mood when I flung it open, but cut off what I was about to say when my husband pointed to a gentleman next to him and said, “This man wants to talk to you,” before going back to the lawnmower.

I have finally trained hubby to protect me from sales calls, on the phone or in person, so I figured that wasn’t it. No, the gentleman, let’s call him Gabe*, was an investigator needing to talk to me about a murder case, specifically the case of the child I had been thinking about.

I can’t really go into any details because it involves confidential information. Let’s just say that Gabe works for the defense attorney, and his questions led me to suspect what defense strategy may be employed and why my assessment of the child’s language abilities may be pertinent to it.


I get that everyone is entitled to a defense in court. I wouldn’t want to live in a country where this was not true. I get that in a case where it is clear who committed the crime, the defense can only take the form of extenuating circumstances, and that may involve blaming the victim in some way. (That, or the “I didn’t know the gun was loaded” defense, which doesn’t work too well if you punched someone.)

But I still just want to cry, and then take a shower with steel wool, and then cry some more.

The mystery was intriguing and kind of fun.

The reality is, a child is dead.

*Gabe de Gator was the safety mascot of a company that my ex worked for years ago, so Gabe seems like a good name for an investigator. Hey, whimsey is a good coping mechanism right now.

Monday, April 14, 2014

You've Got a Friend

Saturday the St. Anonymous UMW went to Oak Alley for a tour and lunch. My good friend D was able to come with me. As I mentioned the one other time it was relevant to whatever story I was telling, D is African American, whereas I am of European (mostly Italian, with a little Yugoslavian thrown in) descent.

We had a good time touring the old mansion. The tour guide was very well-versed in the home’s history and had an infectious personality. (At the end of the tour, she told us she had quit teaching to take on the job, because she enjoyed talking to people who actually listen.) The original owner of the home had selected the property, which had belonged to his sister, for the alley of oak trees leading to the river. The house was oriented to the trees to take advantage of the breezes coming off the river. Mr. Roman had built the home in order to entice his wife, a city girl from New Orleans, to live out in the country, but she rarely stayed there because she had family members she needed to take care of back in New Orleans. It wasn’t until her husband’s death from tuberculosis that she moved to Oak Alley for good to run the plantation.

After the tour, we had a buffet lunch in one of the restaurants. Then we had more time available for walking around until our car pool driver needed to leave. D wanted to see the reconstructed slave quarters and exhibit, and I wanted to see the gift shop. We did a quick turn around the gift shop and went off the the cabins, which were quite close. 

The first cabin had a list of first names of all the slaves that had worked on the plantation, plus one unknown. One of the slaves had figured out a way to grow pecans with shells thin enough to crack easily, an innovation initially credited to his owner. There were displays showing the clothing slaves wore, restraints used to capture runaway slaves, and other aspects of slave life you wouldn’t pick up watching Gone With the Wind. 

As we left and got ready to look for our ride, D turned to me and said, “Aren’t you glad we didn’t live back then?” Well, yeah, I have often said I am glad I didn’t live back in the good old days. But for me, the worst that could happen was that I would have grown up an illiterate Italian peasant, a life that could have had its good side. For D, the difference two hundred years would have made would be huge. She may, with her ancestory, have been a free woman of color, but more likely she would have been a slave, working back breaking labor, having the chance of her children being sold away from her, maybe being beaten. So yeah, I’m sure she was glad that she didn’t live -

“Because then we couldn’t even have been friends,” D went on.

It took a minute for this to sink in, and then I stopped in my tracks and reached to give her a hug. In the process I managed to bump into her and snag her sweater on my engagment ring. My spontaneous gestures have their downside.

“What,” she started, as I said, “Of all the awful things that could have happened if you had lived back then, the first one that comes to your mind is that we couldn’t have been friends? That means so much to me.”

We said a few other mushy things and then went to find B to get our ride back to church.

I know I have said before how privileged I am. I was born with an extra helping of smarts, I was born in the US because my ancestors were brave enough to come here, I was born at the right time to get practically a free ride to college and graduate school, and graduated at the beginning of the second wave of feminism, which benefitted women of my generation tremendously. As I have frequently told my husband, my life has been like an automatic door: it opens up in front of me and closes behind me and I hardly have to worry about it.

Now I see I have one more piece of privilege that I have never considered. I have a friend.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I've Been Here Before

What with Monday, March 17th  being St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday the 15th was the day of our city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. The weather looked a little iffy, with dark clouds covering the sky, but my weather app assured us we were safe from actual rain until 1 PM at least, so John and I took our parade chairs and our chances and went to the parade. We left early, to find parking, which meant we were on the street for over an hour before the floats and bands got to where we were.

And as I have written before, the large crowds of people with little to do draw the people who hand out tracts. The first such gentleman I had seen before at the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade. He was wearing camouflage cargo pants and a matching shirt, and carrying a bullhorn. Last time I saw him, he was preaching through the bullhorn, too, but whatever he was saying was drowned out by the traffic helicopter buzzing overhead. I’m sure that in keeping with the spirit of the day, it was “eat, drink, and be merry”. 

As he passed by, I told my husband I’m surprised that he wasn’t carrying a gun to go with the camo outfit. John pointed out that the man had a backpack and who knows what he had in there. Best we didn’t argue with him. John and I politely turned down all offers of “something to read while you’re waiting” from him and the other proselytizers passing by. 

One man that came by alone was a little harder to deflect. He had been chatting with the people next to us, seeming honestly interested in what they had to say. Then he finished up his conversation and turned to us. Predictably enough, he asked if we wanted one of the tracts he held in his hand, to have something to read while we waited for the parade. I told him that I had already read that one, having been given one the year before. He seemed a little taken aback, but asked what I thought of it.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. He wanted a conversation, I would give him a conversation. “The St. Patrick’s Day parade is mostly a Catholic celebration. The theology in those pamphlets is, as near as I can tell, Baptist. So to me, this is just a matter of tribal infighting, and I find it off-putting, to tell you the truth.” His face fell, but I could tell he wasn’t surprised by my response, and actually seemed to be giving it some thought. 

“I’m not a Baptist, “ he replied. He belonged to a non-denominational church.

“Well, I’m a Methodist,” I said.

Somehow we got from there into a discussion of Lent. I told him that rather than give up something for Lent, I decided to act in the spirit of Isaiah 58:6,
 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

and donate money every Wednesday in Lent to organizations that do just that. My upcoming donation was to go to the Rolling Jubilee, and I explained to him what that was and how it related to the idea of the Jubilee year in the Bible.

It suddenly occurred to me I was doing a pretty passable job of sounding like a street preacher myself. This was not how I had intended to spend the day. I told him that I didn’t want to keep him any longer and said it had been nice talking to him. He went on down the street no doubt believing that I was bound for hell.

It turns out that donations for the Rolling Jubilee are now closed, so I gave the money to Amnesty International instead. I made seven donations in all:

1) Trafficking Hope, a local organization that helps victims of human trafficking
2) The rehab center where I used to work, which helps loose the bonds of children who are limited by physical and mental disabilities
3) Amnesty International
4) World Vision, when they announced they were broadening their spousal benefits to include same sex spouses. They then reverted to their original policy, but I figured the money I gave will still help someone.
5) A fund to help a woman who needs money to fight a defamation lawsuit from a man who sexually harrassed her
6) A fund to help a family who lost three children in a car wreck pay for funerals (that one strictly speaking didn’t fit the theme, but they were friends of a friend and needed the money).
7) Emily’s List (I’m sure that one would have gone over well with my tract bearing friend)

So that’s $700 in all. I wish I could say that I learned some valuable spiritual lesson from this, but I am actually feeling pretty grumpy by now. Giving up sodas or chocolate would have saved me money, I reflect. Still, I have to acknowledge how privileged I am. Giving up that money did not mean going without groceries, or heat, or medicine. I enjoy the power to be able to aid those who are doing work that I think needs doing. 

Still, like my chocolate and soda pop deprived friends, I think Easter can’t come soon enough. The end of Lent is taking just a little longer than the end of my career as a street preacher.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Story Time

I am the best grandmother in the whole wide world.

Okay, if you want to be picky, I am not really a grandmother. My son’s intended has a four year old son from a previous marriage, whom my son refers to as his “steppish” son. Little Ace calls me Nonna (and sometimes Nonnie) and seems to have accepted me, and my husband, and my son’s dad and stepmother, into his life without fuss. A few days ago I even got a package in the mail: artwork from his daycare that I could put on my refrigerator.

Okay, that’s what other grandmothers do, perfectly nice, loving grandmothers who bake cookies, and read bedtime stories and may even be raising their grandchildren for all I know. The world is filled with wonderful grandmothers.

But how many of them scan their grandkids artwork onto the computer and then use Hyperstudio to turn it into an interactive ebook with sound and animation? Probably more than I think, given that there are a lot of former and current teachers and therapists out there who are grandmas, but I digress. 

Since one of the pieces of art was a painted and cut-out boot, I made the storyline about a lonely boot who can’t find his other boot. A traced circle became the sun, a flower became a lot of flowers, and a painting of tall plants became a jungle that was home to a tiger who decided that the protagonist “tastes like an old boot”. The story has a happy ending of course.

I emailed it to my son and hoped for the best. 

Ace loves it! I got a call on FaceTime to thank me, and he insisted on reading it with me (my son reading while Ace described the pictures and made comments). Then he wanted to read it again. It’s becoming a bit of a problem because my son needs the computer to work on. So maybe I am not the best grandmother in the world after all.

The page first shows without the eyes and frown showing.
They pop up on a timer. They weren't on the original boot.

Ace had drawn an outline of a flower and the rough circle that became the sun.
I made multiples and added the colors.
There's an animated boot that crosses the page to the tune of "Boot Scoot Boogie"

The tiger says, "This tastes like an old boot" in a voice that sounds a lot like mine.

I don’t know where I get this compulsion to tinker with technology. Back when we first got a video camera where I worked, I set out to do a project called the WHY-ME TV News with all my little clients. Only 6 or 7 of them appeared in the video, but others got to help make backdrops while we all discussed the questions words “who, what, where, when, why, how” in lessons designed to improve grammar, practice target sounds, elicit expressive and receptive language, and for one child, practice using an augmentative device. The weather girl (whose segment was a description of what makes up weather) had a dad who had just returned from the first Gulf War, and he agreed to be interviewed for the news segment by a young man who was working on speech fluency. Other segments included a video game review, a health segment on the four food groups (which tells you how long ago this was), a sports report by a child who played baseball, and an “ad” for the center by our spokesmodel, who needed to practice her /s/ sounds.

I was prescient in choosing the call letters WHY-ME. But they all had fun, and to wrap up the project, my husband and I made everyone copies of the video and then took them out for pizza. A local motocross group had donated some old trophies, so everyone got one of those, too.

All those children are at least in their mid-twenties by now. I think of them often and hope they are doing well. I hope they learned something from the video project, not just how to roll their r’s and speak in correct sentences and speak fluently, but also how to elicit fun from the mundane tasks of everyday life.

As for me, I probably learned the most of all. Now my steppish grandbaby is getting some of the benefit.