Monthly Archives: February 2010

E-Venting

Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen wrote a book about how men and women have different communication styles.  First published back in 1991, the book You Just Don’t Understand is about how women prefer to make emotional connections when they communicate and men just like to share knowledge.  The book is filled with plenty of caveats about how she’s not stereotyping but is speaking in generalizations and she has plenty of research and studies to back it all up.

I loved the book and found it to be both believable and credible.  It certainly fits the bill with myself.  I can’t seem to let anything come out of my mouth without a bit of sentiment or emotion attached to it.  Perhaps it’s a good thing Sgt. Joe Friday never had to question me.  Just the facts?  What fun is there in that?  What do facts tell you?

One of Tannen’s areas of focus concerns complaining.  She claims that often when women complain about a problem, they do so as a cathartic means to an end:  they are venting simply to get it off their chests.  Most women will respond with understanding and even with empathetic examples to show how they understand the pain and aggravation.  Most men, on the other hand, will respond with ways to solve the problem whether or not the woman asked for a solution. 

I think it would be interesting if Prof. Tannen followed up her seminal work with one on email dialogue.  There is a definite line drawn in the sand distinguishing the emails written by women from those written by men, particularly when it comes to complaining and venting. I have never had a man send a complaint or a vent to me for any reason.  Ever.  But I have loads from women.  Not complaining about me.  Just complaining.

In fact, on a daily basis I have a couple of friends from whom I often get just one line, maybe two.  Just a quick phrase that if anyone were reading over my shoulder, they’d think the rest of the email was lost or that the “sent” button was clicked in haste and the email was unfinished.  I know better, as I’ve shot similar emails to those same people. 

Perhaps we’re creating a new phenomena:  e-venting.  Sometimes we do it because a thought popped into our heads and it feels like we’ll explode unless we let it out.  Sometimes we do it for comic relief because it’s hard to believe the loonier experiences in our lives.  Sometimes we do it to make sure we are indeed sane, because only sane people would feel that way, right?  And sometimes it’s because it just feels like someone’s listening and if you have children at home you know there are times when all you want, all you need, is to know that someone actually recognizes your attempts to communicate and understands what you’re saying.

In essence, we do it for the detoxification benefits.  As long as we’re careful about checking the “to” box, there’s always a momentary pause in the chaos of our lives when we click “send.”  We relax in the knowledge that the universe has taken away our angst. We’ve sent the negativity that was bundled up inside ourselves out into the electronic ethers. And miracle of miracles, our stress levels drop.  Until we’re given more fodder.

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Change doesn’t always do you good.

I understand evolutionary theory.  I realize your standard run-of-the-mill tortoise couldn’t survive on the Galapagos Islands.  I watch the West Minster dog show every year and I get it why the beagle’s tail is so white and wide.

And I realize civilizations generally die off if they remain unchanged.  I nodded and agreed with Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It only made sense, after all.

I’m savvy enough to know that if we stop at prototypes, we’ll never realize the full extent of our capacities and abilities.  So I’m sure the new and improved, new and improved, new and improved Tide detergent works better on today’s stains than the original did back in the 1940’s when it was invented.

Survival requires adaptation.  Progress requires change.  Advancement requires motion. Improvement sometimes requires a rearrangement.                                                                                                                               

But good God, Target! Did you really have to revamp the whole freaking store?  You’ve  been done for over a month and I still can’t find the Zip Loc Bags!

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Midlife ain’t so bad

It may be too early to say this, but I think my generation may have discovered the preventative cure for mid-life crises.  I say this because I’m surrounded by people in their forties who, despite the fact that they’re living in a country at war during an economic downturn, are just fine with their lives.  I don’t know of one man with a jones for a new, hot red sports car, or who just got his ear pierced, or who is ready to leave his wife for the first sweet young thing to look his way.  Likewise, I don’t know of one single woman who is ready to follow-up with her ogling of the bag boys at Whole Foods, who is designing the perfect first tattoo, or who is ready to leave her husband for another female.

So why are we so emotionally stable with our age?  I believe it’s because we’re all a little surprised we’re still alive and kicking. 

Just about everyone in my generation grew up expecting die sometime shortly after their 30th birthday. They may never have thought about it consciously, though many of us did, but I can guarantee you the thought was always percolating in a hidden recess of our brains at all times.  It started in Kindergarten when we learned how to prepare for fire, tornadoes and Cold War bombs whose existence demanded we die.  (Am I the only one who wondered, while curled in fetal position on the floor during a bomb raid drill, why they didn’t just build everything out of the same metal and wood that they made the desks we had to cower under?) The follow up began when we started watching TV.  News coverage proved the previous generation’s motto of Sex, Drugs & Rock-and-Roll was really warning us of new causes for our natural end.  We watched, spellbound, as the footage of dead-via-over-dose celebrities, suffering AIDS patients, and the horror of being trampled to death at a Who concert streamed before us.  Religion didn’t offer much comfort.  All the Southern Baptists in my geographical area were convinced the world would end in 1980 because some kid born somewhere had some mark on him and there was some building that symbolized some beast that rose out of some sea.  After they were proved wrong, they were replaced by New Agers meditating at Lake Eola park telling us the Earth would be destroyed when the planets aligned in 1988.  During junior high our science teachers, the first Global Warming preachers, taught a curriculum detailing how the entire history of mankind only served to create an environment too toxic for the earth to survive.  We’d leave the lab and stumble down the down the hall only to read Alas Babylon in English class.  Who knew Argentina would be a world leader after the US and Soviet Union were destroyed?  No wonder they keep saying we should learn to speak Spanish.  And meanwhile, Y2K loomed ever closer.

Thirty?  Who was gonna live to thirty?

Us! And we did!  But we did it a little differently than our predecessors. 

Perhaps it was a natural inclination toward a joie de vivre in the face of death.  We insisted on having a good time while we waited for the killer asteroid to hit (no, that wasn’t a new fear from the early 2000’s; we started it back in ’86 with rumors about the real reason the space shuttle Challenger exploded).  We never gave up our fast cars; we had one in the garage alongside the family sedan—or better yet, we had two sexy SUVs.  We never thought we’d work only one job that would burn us out.  In fact, if you had only one company on your resume you looked like you had no experience.  So we bounced around from company to company, industry to industry.  Many of us waited until we were in our thirties to get married and start a family, and our kids only help us maintain our juvenile habits.  We ski on the Wii with our children and we buy them sodas to drink while we sip on cocktails at our favorite restaurants.    We teach them how to tail gate at rock concerts and foot ball games.  And when the kids aren’t around, we still act like we did when we were barely out of high school.  We’ll tuck our babes in bed and head down stairs to indulge the frat-boy mentality that still resides in both sexes as we watch Entourage or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  We said to hell with social conservative customs and jeans are now accepted everywhere, even in high-end dining establishments.  Our president says “it’s all cool” and we’re buying Lego sets to ease our stress.

Maybe it’s all Jimmy Buffett’s fault.  He did give us the line “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”  Or maybe it was Prince’s dictate to “Party Like It’s 1999.”  Whatever it was, we never disconnected ourselves from our youthful appetites, never questioned the validity of our desires, never censored our tastes.  So instead of arriving at mid-life in anger and fear, feeling unfulfilled and resentful because we’re missing out on something as we age, we seem to be mildly amused. Already pierced, tattooed and in possession of a drawer full of current concert T-shirts, we go out to dinner with friends when inevitably someone says something like “have you noticed how impatient you’re getting as you get older?” And we laugh because we realize we’re becoming crotchety old fools and it’s no big deal.

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Baby It’s Cold Outside

The wrens and juncos in the area know that when God’s dandruff covers the ground, there’s a chubby blonde woman in the brown house at the edge of the woods who will throw out seed for them.  I have a tough time remembering to keep feeders filled in the summer, but I always throw seed out the back door when it snows.  And this el Nino winter has me tossing it out like mad.  We’ve just had too much snow this season.

And I’m not a cold-loving kind of person.  I hate winter in fact.  I hate how I can’t seem to warm up.  I hate how my lips are always chapped and my skin always dry.  I hate dressing in layers.  I REALLY hate the static shocks I get from my car door and super market shelves.  I hate the claustrophobic feeling of being snow bound.  I hate being expected to participate in cold weather sports.  I hate stocking up on emergency supplies. . . the list could go on and on.  In fact, up until this morning, the only thing I enjoyed about a northern winter was sipping a Baily’s on the rocks beside a fire after the kids had gone to bed. 

Up until this morning.  Up until I opened the back door to scatter seed for my little friends and experienced one of those moments in life that changes your soul.

It had snowed all night, but had stopped for a brief respite.  My little feathered friends were hopping about on the snow-covered patio, waiting for fresh food.  I opened the door and they flew off in a panic.  It happens all the time, but I never take it personally.  They always come back. I’m just not sure if they fly away because the seed hurts when it hits them, or if they’re still afraid of me for some reason.

Anyway, I tossed the seed and started to curse the cold, when I looked up and realized how very beautiful it all was.  How the silence of a deep snow smothers in a most elegant style.  How the hush and still made the world seem pristine, pure, innocent.  How the sparkling white balanced out the harsh black of the tree branches. And I knew without question, that even if I didn’t understand what the hell was going on, that the world made sense.  That everything is in balance, in harmony.  And that all is right in the universe.

It was not unlike a moment I experienced when my son was an infant, shortly after he’d mastered the art of sitting upright unassisted.  I had given him a bath and sat him on a towel on the floor of the steamy bathroom.  With his beautiful posture he sat and marveled at his water-wrinkled little feet.  He was in awe of their incredibleness: his eyes big, his mouth agape, his hands grasping his feet like they were cradling gold and diamonds.  And there was a beauty in the purity and innocence of the moment that made me realize regardless of the shit in the world, my life is pretty damned good.  

I was one lucky little wench back then and still am.

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It’s a Germed World After All

Recently there was a commercial on television about a toilet bowl cleaner that keeps the inside of your toilet bowl germ free for a week.  A week!  A whole bleeping week with a germ-free toilet bowl.  It’s amazing, isn’t it?

 I haven’t gone out to buy any yet.  I’m still trying to figure out why I need to worry about germs on the inside of my toilet bowl.  I mean, even back in the day, when Senor Cuervo and I would spend too much time together and I’d end up hugging said bowl, I’m pretty sure I never touched the inside of one. 

I just don’t get all the fear and paranoia people have over germs.  I don’t know a single person my age who even knew what hand sanitizer was, let alone used any when we were growing up.  Yet it hangs in all the classrooms at my kids’ school, most moms I know keep some in their purses, and Purel has gone from a brand name to a common noun in some circles.  If I remember correctly, we washed our hands before we ate and then when we bathed.  Any other time was bonus.  And we all seem to be OK now and, I think, healthier than our kids seem to be.

I’m not alone in that opinion.  Recently I heard an Obstetrician on a talk radio show.  She was saying that back in her day (many years before my day with Jose) when she delivered a baby, immediately she’d put it on the mother’s belly where it would become exposed to the germs of its home environment.  No one asked if Mom had taken a shower before giving birth.  Nowhere in baby care instructions were parents told to scrub and scour while singing “Happy Birthday” twice before touching the baby and we certainly didn’t have Purel anywhere in the house.  She believes that kids were healthier back then, their immune systems stronger against colds and flus, that they had fewer allergies, and far fewer cases of asthma.  She worries about today’s youth who are not given the benefit of proper germ exposure.

She didn’t mention it, but it sounded like the good doctor believes in the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” that has many microbiologists a little worried.  First posited back in 1989, the Hygiene Hypothesis originally explained the increasing numbers of children with allergies and eczema.  It has since grown to incorporate the idea that we are losing the evolutionary gains we made against germs due to our increased usage of soaps and sanitizers.  People who follow the HH believe that a child’s developing immune system must be exposed to infectious agents, symbiotic bacteria, and parasites in order to adequately develop regulatory T cells, without which as adults those children will be more susceptible to autoimmune diseases and allergic diseases. 

Yet, no one seems to care much about the HH.  Perhaps it’s just harder to write ad campaigns for products boasting their ability to encourage germ growth inside your toilet.  Or maybe people pay more attention when they’re told to buy something or else germs will attack.  I don’t know.

I do know my house must be teeming with germs.  I clean with environmentally-friendly products, not solutions with labels boasting their germ-killing capacity.  The result?  My daughter is home from school today with a slight fever.  It’s nothing major and it’s only her second day of missing school this year (aside from vacation).  She had no sick days last year (missing again, only for vacation), so I’m thinking it’s ok for germs to grow in my toilet.

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Peter Pan’s on the news tonight

I just got the latest run down of the school-day events from my elementary-school daughter and I realized she could have been an anchor for CNN.  Really, her reporting isn’t too different from what I’m finding on TV these days.  I’m beginning to think all the world is Not a stage, but instead a giant playground.  And all the players just children, some of whom are learning to play nice and pick up after themselves and some of whom are continuing to break the rules and misbehave.

Look at China.  China refuses to talk with Pres. Obama if he meets with the Dalai Lama.  I’ve heard something similar before.  I think it came from an 8-year old saying “she said she wouldn’t be my friend if I was So-and-So’s friend.”

There’s trash messying up the ocean, making areas in the Pacific and now the Atlantic look like my son’s corner of the playroom with his Legos and “inventions” strewn about.  Oh yes, and let’s not forget the military armaments washing up on Israel’s shores–looks like someone forgot to put away his toys, again.

And remember the passive-aggressive classroom bully who somehow always looked like a victim at the expense of another student?  He was found on Larry King the other night in the form of Dennis Praeger when he tried to make ManCrunch look like the big, green meany.  Really, his objeciton to the ad is because he’s against homosexuality, but instead of acting like an adult and standing up or what he believed,  he hid behind a “what about the children” stance. (He claimed the ad shouldn’t be put on TV because it would be too difficult and embarrassing for parents to have to explain what it was about if their children should ask questions.  Now tell me, where has he been all this long while when I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain Cialis and Viagara commercials?  I find those to be much more embarrassing and difficult than gay relationships!)

Even the media is stuck in playing childhood games.  There is a constant barage of complaints about how biased the other channels and news outlets are–which reminds me of the “well, he started it” line of reasoning. 

It’s just staggering to me.  Mind blowing, really.  I find it laughable, yet at the same time depressing as hell.

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