Don’t let the magic die: Commentary on Bunmi Laditan’s HuffPost Parents blog post

swing

I had an extremely magical childhood.

I was homeschooled, so my adolescence consisted largely of hanging out with my mom and sister and other homeschool friends. We would go to museums, create science experiments and art, learn fractions by helping mom in the kitchen and doubling recipes, spend countless hours outdoors in our backyard in the redwood forest, hunting for buried treasure, running around with the livestock and pets we owned, and devising elaborate spy routes to check up on the few neighbors we had. When we studied Ancient Rome, my mom, dad, sister and I went to see the Coliseum in person. My mom would spend rainy days reading Paddington Bear books to my sister and I while we worked on our Christmas ornament craft business. We sold at local craft faires and local stores in Santa Cruz, learning responsibility and how to work for rewards, using the money to go up to Tahoe and to buy a video game console we wanted.

I spent countless hours at the beach, hiking in the redwoods, exploring different coastal terrains, learning artisanal crafts like weaving, spinning wool, baking bread, quilting, making apple cider, and beekeeping. I learned to care for livestock, spent time staring at the clouds finding various animals and shapes, and creating my own creation stories after learning about the Native American myths and legends and visiting the Grand Canyon.

Redwood Forest

I know I am very lucky, and am very grateful for all those experiences.

I read Bunmi Laditan’s article “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical” on the HuffPost Parents blog recently. Her premise is that parents done have to worry about a kid’s childhood being perfect, filled with Martha Stewart like craft projects and designer cupcakes and extravagantly planned birthday parties with perfectly coordinated napkins and hats, because the sheer experience of being a kid and discovering the world is pretty magical in and of itself.

As she writes:

“Parents do not make childhood magical. Abuse and gross neglect can mar it, of course, but for the average child, the magic is something inherent to the age. Seeing the world through innocent eyes is magical. Experiencing winter and playing in the snow as a 5-year-old is magical. Getting lost in your toys on the floor of your family room is magical. Collecting rocks and keeping them in your pockets is magical. Walking with a branch is magical.

It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis.”

I do agree with this point. However, I think the key to successful parenting is striking the right balance.

I remember my mother always having art supplies around, so when we felt like painting or coloring, we could take a hike out to the woods and draw and identify the various plants we saw. I remember my parents allowing me to pursue any interest I had, so that they exposed me to a wide variety of experiences, and let me choose which ones resonated. I remember my uncle taking my sister and I hiking in Alum Rock Park in the San Jose foothills, exploring caves and digging up for Joaquin Murietta, the legendary Spanish bandito’s treasure. I remember my grandma, who was blind and in a wheelchair, talk me through how to do the foxtrot. I remember my dad quizzing me on math, my mom quizzing me on state capitals, and having my whole childhood pulsate with the idea that learning was fun.

imagesCA777BJ4

I also remember my mom spending late nights creating elaborate Halloween costumes for my sister and I each year, driving us for years every week to Irish Step Dancing practice, taking us to feisanna around California after spending hours setting our hair in curlers for the competitions. I remember her creating a perfect Strawberry Shortcake-shaped birthday cake, as well as hosting teddybear tea parties for my sister and I for our birthday, buying us the theme party decorations, or putting out the supplies so we could make our own decorations. I remember her driving us to all the different classes we had: piano, violin, art classes, science camp, horseback riding, 4H club, junior lifeguards. When I wanted to be a Girl Scout but there was no troop for my age group in the area, she started a troop and became the troop leader, just so I could have that experience.

tea party

Are these the kind of things that Laditan says are unnecessary to a magical childhood? Quite possibly. Do I think they added immense value to my childhood? Most definitely.

And here is why: Every time I told my mom I was into a new thing, or wanted a certain Halloween costume, she signed me up for a class, or bought a book, or made that costume (within reason). It was this belief that my parents cared that was important. They heard me, and believed in me, and nourished that desire to learn and create and experience.

I agree with Laditan that kids don’t need the “ridiculously expensive themed birthday parties that have do-it-yourself cupcake stations with 18 types of toppings and over-the-top gifts.” She talks about getting caught up in the “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” parenting model, being in competition with perfect strangers and posting the photographic evidence to Pinterest or twitter.

And that seems to be the real issue she is driving at. When it suddenly becomes about proving something about your parenting ability through cupcakes to a perfect stranger, there is a problem. I don’t think there is anything wrong with making the cupcake station, but parents should be doing it because they think it will add value to their child’s life, not because they are proving anything to anybody.

angry birds

I asked my mom what she thought about the article. Her response:

I agree with the author that the lives of children can get over programmed. Grandma knew that the constant planned activities thwarted the imagination. Hence her advice to let the kids have plenty of time to “watch ants”. This meant that children should get bored enough that they had to create their own activities and observe the world around them.

One of the more productive homeschooling strategies for me was to introduce you to something and then let it go and see what developed. For instance, Dad and I took you and Chrissy to see the artists in residence program for Santa Cruz County. You and Chrissy appeared to be totally uninterested in the art work and would rather wander in the yards or sit in the car. “Oh well, I guess the kids weren’t into it”. Next thing I know, you and Chrissy had produced dozens of pieces or art and went door to door selling them. Guess you “got it” after all!

Well, I guess my parents “got it” too.

 

Candy Crush is the worst thing that has ever happened [to me]

heres-proof-that-candy-crush-influences-everything--including-religion
Alright, I might be exaggerating just a little bit. It isn’t the WORST thing that has ever happened to me. The worst thing that has ever happened to me might be the time I was dropped off on the side of the road with no car, cell phone reception, or money after my friends and I got in a fight and they kicked me out of our vacation cabin we were staying at near Yosemite when I was 18. I ended up leaving a voice mail on my sister’s cell phone after begging a hotel to let me use their phone, telling her where I was and hoping she would get the message and she and her boyfriend at the time would come rescue me. They did. Six hours later. Thank God. Or the worst thing that has ever happened to me might have been when I lost my job, got dumped, and didn’t have a place to live last year, leading to me depressed and couch surfing at my sister’s for several months. Or, it could have been when I got dumped on my birthday a couple years ago, to later find out that the guy had been cheating on me and everyone else knew because of the pictures up on Facebook that he had blocked me from seeing.

But this isn’t a sob story. And it took me a minute to even recollect those things, because honestly, I probably couldn’t or wouldn’t have done anything differently in the circumstances that led to them happening, so I don’t think of them as defining moments in my overall life. Sure they sucked at the time, hard, but as they say, time is the best medicine, and difficult situations are how we grow and emerge triumphant. I look back on those moments as ones where you realize who your true friends are, and what kind of stuff you are made of.

It’s interesting to make the distinction between “the worst thing that has ever happened” and “the worst thing that has ever happened TO me.” The latter implies that I had no part or influence in the thing that was happening. The former leaves open the possibility that your actions somehow played a role in the circumstances.

Despite the notion that all of my worst moments happened “to me,” they really didn’t. I played a role in the outcome. Maybe I should or would have done things differently if I had known how shitty I would feel in the end, but most likely, I wouldn’t have. All we can do is use our best judgement and make an educated decision on how to act and react based on current circumstances, and live with the outcome.

Very few things just “happen” to us, without our decisions having a meaningful effect. Earthquakes happen TO us. Tornadoes happen TO us. Genetic-based diseases happens TO us.

Shitty relationships “happen.” It takes two to tango, people.

I started out writing this blog post thinking I was going to write something meaningful about Candy Crush, addiction, and neurology. Something about how the game plays into our dopamine receptors, triggering positive feelings that are reinforced after every “Awesome!” “Excellent!” or “Sweet!” that plays across the screen when you reach a new level or get a lot of points by matching the candy.

130627_TECH_CandyCrush.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

I was going to write about how horrible it is that it ties straight into your Amazon account, so with one click of button, one swipe across the screen, you are paying for more lives. It’s like a needle straight in the vein, without nearly as much effort.

I was just reminded of the song by John Prine, “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where the money goes.”

"Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism." - Bob Dylan

“Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism.” – Bob Dylan

But I digress.

Instead, I realize that Candy Crush isn’t something that happened TO me. I consciously chose to download the “free” app on my Kindle, despite my friends’ warnings about how much time I would waste, and how addictive it is. (Kind of the same thing when you make the decision to start smoking cigarettes, and then “mysteriously” end up with lung cancer…. Crazy!)

I’m an adult. I know the risks. I know there must be a reason that Candy Crush is so popular. I just choose to play ostrich with its head in the sand and ignore the risks.

I spent the afternoon today playing Candy Crush, despite it being a gorgeous day outside and my plans on working on my novel. I just kept telling myself, “one more level, one more set of lives.” Several hours later, I haven’t left the house, and there are a handful of .99 cent charges for more lives from Amazon on my bank statement. I did manage to download a couple pictures of actors who would play the characters in my novel….That’s progress, right?

A young Jason Priestly as a brooding heartthrob

A young Jason Priestly as a brooding heartthrob

Do I regret today? Maybe. Would I have done anything different? Probably not.

I’m up to level 65! Weeeee!

 

Go ahead, eat the marshmallow

mallow

I’m pretty sure if I were four years old, I would fail the marshmallow test.

While I do remember being a pretty “with it” and smart kid, who I like to think would have exhibited “grit” and “patience,” I (being a 29 year old woman) did come into work this morning and beeline for the bagels and donuts they put out for us every Friday, when I had told myself I was going to cut down on carbs. (I’m pretty sure I have some sort of mini monster in my brain that shortcircuits my memory of planning on juicing and eating kale, so that when I see a donut I just go “CARBS!” and stuff them in my mouth).

carb monster

In case you aren’t familiar with the marshmallow test, it is a study developed in the 1970s at Stanford that tests delayed gratification by tempting four year olds with a marshmallow. The kids are offered a choice between eating the marshmallow right away, or waiting 10 or 15 minutes and then receiving two marshmallows to eat. In follow-up studies, researchers found correlations between preschoolers who had the ability to delay gratification and their later successes in life, such as higher SAT scores.

If you haven’t ever watched the videos of the experiment, you should. It’s pretty frikken funny. The kids sit in the room just staring at the marshmallow and smelling it and picking it up. Some kids get creative and lick it, or try to distract themselves by pounding their head against the table. It reminds me of when a dog is fixated on something, like a treat or a ball. Everything else in the world fades away so that all the attention is on getting that object. I actually feel kind of bad for the kids, being tortured like that and then looked at later as failures if they ate the marshmallow.

The movie The Five Year Engagement had a similar study in it, where the Emily Blunt’s character creates an experiment to test impulse-control problems for her PhD in psychology. In the study, adults were left with a box full of stale donuts, and were told that a fresh box would be coming in 20 minutes. Her character is horrified when her fiancé, (played by Jason Segel) eats the stale donuts, adding to the eventual demise of their relationship.

giphy

Side note: This is why you should never conduct psychology experiments on your significant other. Or your children, for that matter, you sadists. Serves you right that you end up with a kid who entirely lacks motivation and discipline and ends up living in your basement until their 40s, unemployed. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy if you think they will be unsuccessful later in life.

Double side note: There is an exception to performing pyschology studies on kids, and that’s if your kid is like torturing animals or something. Then you test that little sociopath stat.

I think it would be interesting to see the results of this experiment and how it ties in to the economic and sociopolitical culture of the country. I bet, when I was four in 1989, I would have been able to delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow. My world was secure! I had loving parents and grandparents, cookies and naptime, a baby sister to play with and from whom learned how to share. Life was pretty great! And I knew that two marshmallows are better than one marshmallow, so I would have waited. If I was four in this day and age, knowing what I know, I don’t know if I would be able to. Or at least my 29 year old brain overlaid on my four year old brain thinks I wouldn’t.

Researchers in 2012 conducted the experiment again, but tweaked it, finding that the results of the original experiment were incomplete and inconclusive of a person’s success because it failed to account for one thing: trust. Did the kids trust the adult’s word that they would get two marshmallows if they waited? The new test primed the kids into believing the researchers were reliable or unreliable. First, the kids were told to color and were handed crayons and a small sticker. Then they were told that they could use crayons and small sticker or wait for better art supplies, and bigger stickers. For half the kids, the researchers kept their promise and returned with markers and big stickers. For the other half of the kids, the researchers returned and said there were no other art supplies and no more stickers.

After, the kids were given the marshmallow test. Nine out of 14 kids in the reliable condition held out for the second marshmallow, while only one of the 14 kids in the unreliable condition held out. Clearly, the kids’ ability to trust and their world-view on whether or not they would actually get a marshmallow if they held out, played a big role in whether or not they would wait. They had to believe that there was something worth waiting for at the end.

Other researchers have done studies on the effect of the stability of the economy and culture, and young people’s ability and desire to save for retirement and their optimism for the future. When everything about the future is uncertain and you can’t trust anything, how are you supposed to save? Especially after the apocalyptic doom of 2012, the recent mortgage and financial crisis, earthquakes everywhere, missing airplanes… maybe why my 29-year old brain overlaid on my 4-year old brain says “grab everything you can right now!”

Side note: That’s my 29 year old brain overlayed on the 4 year old brain. My 29 year old self is much more responsible and is saving 15% into my IRA each paycheck. It will either be the best decision I’ve ever made, or the world will blow up and I will think back on how it would have been nice to have that extra money every month.

Double side note: I asked my mom if she ever performed the marshmallow experiment on me and she said she didn’t per se, but that life was one big marshmallow test with all the responsibilities we have. Do you play outside and blow off your homework, or do you stay inside and study for the test? Do you not clean up after yourself and cause an ant problem, or do you take the take to clean and put away the dishes? I guess despite my donut snafu this morning, I turned out pretty successful.

In The Five Year Engagement, Jason Segel tries to defend himself for eating the stale donut.
“It’s still a perfectly good donut!” he yells.  At least the one I ate today was fresh. That has to count for something. I have some discipline, after all. It’s not like I’m Miranda in Sex in the City picking cake out of the trash. (And that’s only because I have the foresight to pour dishwashing detergent on it everytime I try to refrain so I don’t end up picking through the trash.)

hqdefault

In the end, we have to figure out if the payoff is worth the discipline. I’m going to go ahead and eat the marshmallow, but go dancing later.

As the great Miss Peggy Lee sang,

Is that all there is? Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing!
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball!
If that’s all there is.

I Betcha I Can Balance an Egg on Its End

egg balanced

Apparently some people believe today is the one day out of the year you can balance an egg on its end without it falling because of how gravity works around the Vernal Equinox.

I actually have managed to miss this misconception my entire life, or possibly heard it and thought, “that’s stupid,” and dismissed it without too much thought. But according to Bad Astronomy, ” Every year, without fail, some TV station  broadcasts a news segment showing local  schoolchildren standing eggs on end on the first day of spring.”

My first thought was, “Why on earth would you perpetuate a myth that is just bad science?”

But then my second thought was, “Oh, that’s cute to have kids try that. Kind of like how we tell them the Tooth Fairy or Santa or the Easter Bunny exists.”

santa

My third thought was, “Wait, what if the teachers actually believe that you can stand an egg on its end because they think there is some sort of balance of the Earth’s gravitational field with the Sun’s that allows for that?  Like how I had to breed fruit flies to teach me about recessive genes, or create pond cultures to learn about bacteria and evolution? What if they actually think that balancing an egg on its end will teach the kids how the Earth’s gravitational field works?”

My fourth thought was, “Go Aggies!” (I am watching the New Mexico State basketball game with my boyfriend Sam).

aggies

My fifth thought was  a sense of smug satisfaction mixed superiority that at least I know the difference between something ridiculous like the idea that the Earth’s gravitational field changes with the seasons and real science.

Side note: I had that same sense of smug satisfaction this morning when I read an article about how some woman who was stranded on a desert island for seven years was saved by a kid who saw her “SOS” message in the sand on Google Earth, and I immediately thought “BULLSHIT!” and Snoped that. Boom.

Double side note: Verbing things is the best.

Verbing

My sixth thought was a sense of sadness for humanity that so many people perpetuate things that are so clearly false and contrary to “Science” (with a capital S).

My seventh thought was, “Well, clearly that’s what religion, belief in God is. We perpetuate all sorts of beliefs that are contrary to Science.”

My eighth thought was, “Well, what about Faith (with a capital F)? That’s the point of Faith – there are things that Science cannot prove, nor disprove (like God). It’s different than telling kids that the Sun’s gravity can align with the Earth and eggs will balance. That is clearly disproven.

leap

Or not disproven, I guess, depending on how much you adhere to any belief one way or the other.

My ninth thought was, “Fuck it. Might as well try to balance an egg on its end just to see if I can do it.”

balance eggs

And then my head exploded under the weight of too much back and forth analysis on the entire socio/economic/cultural/historical/technological/physics meaning to the fact elementary school children try to balance eggs on their end.

exploding-head1

But seriously, I betcha I can do it.

Liz weighs in on the missing Malaysia Air flight… because, why not?

malaysia-airlines-boeing-777

So everyone and their brother seems to be weighing in on the missing Malaysia Air flight. So I figure I should throw in my two cents. I am an expert after all.

Aha! See how I did that? I didn’t say what I was an expert of! I’m sure if I nuanced something down enough, I would be an expert on it. Like how I am an expert in licking the backs of gummy bears and sticking them together before deftly biting the two heads off. Or how I am an expert in sucking up soda through a straw while rolling my tongue. We are masters of our own universe, after all.

And apparently, in this day and age, anyone can just proclaim themselves an expert. Like the expert in this CNN article, Jeff Kagan, who is apparently one of the leading tech analysts in the media. (Ok, lots of other people say he is an expert too, but that’s not my point). I stalked his Twitter feed, and his tweets say things like, ” Phantom Phone Theory Debunked By Experts,” with the link to the article, or “Industry Analyst Jeff Kagan on XYZ.” But that’s totally weird be HE is the expert. He should just say “I debunked the phantom phone theory” and leave it at that. It’s like me going Liz decides to write a blog post full of her expert theories. Oh wait….)

New things keep happening in this story, so I’m sure my theories will be quickly outdated and supplanted with new developments and evidence. However, at the time of writing this, I have distilled the mountain of evidence down into five distinct theories on what happened to the plane, ranked from most probable to least probable. They also happen to be ranked most boring to most sensational. See how that works?

Side note: I am really bad at gambling. Or maybe I’m really good. Depends on how you look at it. Like when I play roulette, I bet both red and black. And even and odd. And maybe a few of my favorite numbers, and maybe the 00. But scattering buckshot like that across the board means you are bound to hit something. And then you can say you were right all along! (I think I’ve figured out this journalism thing here).

Side note part 2: I originally wrote this and said craps instead of roulette. The boyfriend made me change it, shaking his head and laughing in disbelief that I don’t know the difference between craps and roulette. I told you I am bad at gambling.

Theory Number One: The plane crashed in the ocean. Possibly the Indian Ocean. We haven’t found it because the ocean is really frikken huge. This theory is the safest because 1) if it turns out to be true, you can poo-poo all those “conspiracy theorists” with the smug satisfaction that you saw right through all that nonsense, and 2) if something more interesting than this happened, you can shrug and proclaim, “well who would have thought that the TV show Lost actually could happened!”

Note: When I started writing this post, this was still the most probable answer based on evidence. But now, midway through writing this post, they are saying that the plane was hijacked, probably by the pilots. (I told you this story keeps changing by the hour). I’m still leaving this as theory number one. Because its my post and I decided that’s what I should do.

Theory Number Two: Someone hijacked the plane and secretly landed it somewhere to use for a later plot. Probably the pilots themselves, one or both of whom are actually terrorists. (Goddamn, I’m smart – that buckshot method sure pays off!) They flew the plane 4 hours kinda in the area of China after the air tower lost contact with them because of that report that said that the engine was still pinging some other piece of equipment. Possibly its called a transponder. I may have made up that word.

Theory Number Three: The Chinese. Enough said.

Theory Number Four: Reality is being invaded by fantasy. The TV series Lost has somehow bled into our reality, and the plane disappeared into some sort of alternate reality where the passengers on flight MH370 are all stuck on a mysterious desert island, forced to eat coconuts and battle love triangles. 

Theory Number Five: Choose your own whack-job-theory adventure. Possible endings include: pulverizing atomic bombs that create miniature black holes, alien abductions, the Illuminati, and my favorite: government advanced weapons testing for invisibility cloaks.

Which one do you think is the winner? I’m betting on all of them.

I am too happy for the DMV

Matthew Diffee, The New Yorker

Matthew Diffee, The New Yorker

I was standing in line at the DMV the other day, and some guy told me I “was too happy” to be there.

Let me explain.

I had to renew my driver’s license and update my address, since my license was expiring in two weeks, and I just moved in with my boyfriend. I had a dentist appointment in the late morning, so I took the morning off from work to deal with all these life-maintence things that tend to pile up when you ignore them. I had a late start that morning, realizing how nice it is to have a few extra minutes to sip coffee in bed and get ready for your day, instead of the mad, mis-matched socks rush that I usually call morning.

I get to the DMV near my house and it’s 15 minutes before the doors even open, and there is already a line around the building. I started mentally calculating how late I was going to be for the rest of my day.

I’m a friendly person. Probably to a fault. I must have that “look” where I look friendly and like I won’t act like a total bitch. So naturally, people talk to me.

I ended up talking to several people in line, including a tour guide who needed a California driver’s license because, although Washington state law provided reciprocity for driving tests, the California DMV computer system doesn’t have a function to process out of state tests. So he had to fly in from Washington just to get his California license. He had tried the day before, but the DMV’s computer systems were down all day, so he was back that morning to try again. That’s California government effeciency for you.

I noticed he was reading The Kite Runner. I told him that it was one of the few books that made me cry. Hard. (Just wrote a blog post on that, actually… synchronicity?)

Later, I was sitting next to some kid who had lost his wallet, including his ID and his social security card. Apparently he had spent 5 hours at the social security card office, and after those 5 hours, he finally gets to talk to a person instead of stand in line, they told him he needed to have his ID first. So he was at the DMV trying to get his ID so he could go back and spend 5 hours again trying to get his social security card. (Another example of government efficiency!) Everyone seems to have some sort of government agency horror story they like to tell, sort of like how war vets swap stories of being in the trenches. Jalopnik.com has a list of “The Ten Scariest DMV Horror Stories!” (cue scary music).

KeefeM20050512

The kid and I chatted a bit, and he told me he wanted to be a writer. I encouraged him to submit to literary journals and he told me he didn’t even know how, or where to find one. I told him to go to the library. (This made an elderly gentlemen who had been not-so-subtly eavesdropping to my left chuckle).

At some point I said something about it not being too bad waiting for my number to be called at the DMV. That it was actually kind of fun hanging out and talking to people that maybe I would never normally talk to.  At this, the elderly gentlemen to the left of the poetic street kid leaned over and told me I was “too happy and optimistic to be at the DMV.”

I laughed in one of those ways where you don’t really know how else to react.

And then my number was next, and I was up at the counter. I did my paperwork, paid my fee, snapped a picture, took a thumbprint, and then my slew of “bureaucratic bullshit” was over. The lady at the window even called me “Hon.” I escaped quickly back to my car, and was only 10 minutes late for my dentist appointment.

But then after, I wondered what the old man meant that I was “too happy.” I mean, we are all stuck there, random groupings of people, not dependent on class, race, social status, wealth, or any of those ways we artificially differentiate each other. It’s not too bad. I’m not like doing manual labor or something. I’m just waiting around. It’s actually pretty good people watching… a bit of an adventure away from my normal routine of commuting to BigLaw, and coming home to my house in my cute neighborhood in San Francisco. Is it so wrong of me to try to make the best of being next to another human being and making a connection by talking to them? I actually don’t really mind doing things like going to the DMV. Sure, it isn’t the ideal way to spend your time, but I always carry a book with me, or have plenty of distraction from the entire internet in the palm of my hand on my iphone. It’s a nice break to sit and do nothing for once, when my every day is just go, go, go from the start.

I brought this up at my dentist appointment I had later that morning and my dental hygienist told me she thought it was a “European thing.” She and her husband had spent a signficant amount of time in Europe and she had noticed that strangers there do not really talk to one another if they can avoid it. She thought that people in America were much more likely to strike up a conversation with people they don’t know in situations like the DMV.

I think this is partially true. I don’t really like being talked to when I ride public transportation. If you ride BART, you know what I mean. You are praying to God that dirty weirdo squinting at you, shifting from foot to foot and muttering profanities in the corner won’t engage you in conversation. But although I don’t want to be Chatty Cathy with people,  I also want to be recognized as a human being. I would ride the Metro in France when I studied in Bordeaux and people would not make eye contact with me. It would drive me insane. I just don’t understand how I can be pressed like sardines next to people, be practically in some French guy’s armpit, and he still wouldn’t make eye contact or recognize me as anything more than something that keeps bumping into him when the tram was jostled.

A lot of people say they hate the DMV because of the unfriendliness of the window people. Well, I would probably be unfriendly and disgruntled I knew everyone coming into to the DMV was going to be pissed off and hate me from the get-go.  That’s what the DMV employee profiled in this interview on Marketplace.org’s “You Hate My Job” describes. People come in angry and are ready to fight. It causes a feedback loop of bad energy that builds upon itself until the energy of the place is just pulsing negativity.

In NLP, one of the techniques we use is “mirroring,” where you are able to build rapport through coping gestures and tone. People do it naturally, without realizing it. If you go up to the DMV window with a friendly “Hello!” (not too friendly… you don’t want to seem psychotic… it IS the DMV after all!) and a cheerful, polite attitude, chances are the employee at the window will somewhat mimic your tone. (If they have faced a wrath of anger and abuse for several hours, then maybe not so much… but it’s worth a shot). But if you stomp up to the window, glaring, and are all snappy after you loudly bitched with the other people in line about the incompetence of the people that work there, they probably won’t be too pleasant, and might lose your paperwork because you acted like an ass.

So, in sum. Be nice to people. Even people at the DMV. It’s good for you in the long run.

A Little Parenthesis in Eternity

sand mandala

I watched the documentary SAMSARA last night on Netflix with best friend Leflora. We both were tired, and wanted to watch something that didn’t require a ton of thinking We tried to go for romcom, but decided we wanted a bit more thinking than that. We lucked out finding a documentary that is entirely nonverbal. This lack of dialogue allowed us to pretty much talk the entire movie about what we were seeing, without feeling like we were missing anything.

Side note: I hate when people talk in movies. I find it utterly obnoxious. But I sure as hell will scream at the TV in the comfort of my own home, or ask my boyfriend Sam a million questions about what the characters are doing. Tonight’s questions (about the show Les Revenants) included “wait, what’s going on?” and “I don’t get it. Why did they disappear for so long?” His response: “I’m pretty sure figuring that out is the premise of the TV show” and “I know as much as you do right now.”  He’s a patient soul.

Anyways, from the website on the movie SAMSARA:

“SAMSARA is a Sanskrit word that means “the ever turning wheel of life” and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives.  Filmed over a period of almost five years and in twenty-five countries, SAMSARA transports us to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites, and natural wonders.  By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, SAMSARA subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary, instead encouraging our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses the ancient with the modern.”

I have to admit, watching and debating with your best friend the meaning behind visually-stunning footage that “illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet,” all while curled up on the couch eating Neapolitan ice cream and drinking chamomile tea is not a bad way to pass a Tuesday evening. The movie is apparently a nonverbal, guided meditation, but I was happy to find deeper meaning by comparing my own thoughts on what we were watching with hers.

The filmmakers liked to have these shots of people just staring at the camera, unsmiling. I found it rather unnerving. I kept wondering how they got all these people to just sit there and stare at the camera, without doing anything.

At one point I turned to Leflora and commented on how odd that was, but then figured that unsmiling, dead-eyed look is probably what we all look like in front of the computer, and maybe it was a commentary on that. A few minutes later the footage cut to that lifeless, unsmiling look on several different Asian people before it panned out to hundreds and hundreds of people typing away on computers in cubicles in a giant warehouse. Am I smart, or am I smart? :-D

The filmmakers used that same film shot on an American family, each member holding a shotgun (the young girl’s shotgun was pink). I don’t know what was more unnerving: the image of a girl from the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia glaring at the camera with white clay on her face, or the quiet defiance of the American tween holding a pink shotgun.

samsara-clip

I think what was so unsettling about each person staring at the camera is that they were unflinching, their eyes unwavering. It is so rare to have extended eye contact with anyone, let alone people from all over the world who are so different. Even though I was in my living room just watching a movie, I felt like those people were looking at me.

There is often this object/subject dichotomy in documentaries, where people in documentaries are subjected to the filmmakers/observers/audiences’ objectification. We often see some sort of  residual postcolonial gaze in a lot of the footage we see, the movies showcasing indigenous basketweaving or children playing with footballs or running around barefoot with livestock. Side note: I did a lot of running around barefoot with livestock as a child, but no one filmed me. They just told me to put on shoes.

In SAMSARA though, the gaze turns to the audience, creating a whole new statement on how we are all interconnected. There is a sense of prolonged, uncomfortable eyecontact, and you start to feel that in a way, you are part of the documentary as well. And you are. Having the gaze turn back on the audience is a different type of interactive art, where the viewer is suddenly aware of participating in the visual meditation. We are all part of the cycle of life, however small or fleeting, whether we are aware of it or not.

The movie opens and closes with a sand mandala. At the end of the movie, the mandala that the monks had painstakingly created is swept away and destroyed, symbolizing the transitory nature of material life. I felt a pang of sadness at watching the beautiful work of art be destroyed.

dissolution551 (1)

It reminded me of a quote from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman:

“I like the stars. It’s the illusion of permanence, I think. I mean, they’re always flaring up and caving in and going out. But from here, I can pretend…I can pretend that things last. I can pretend that lives last longer than moments. Gods come, and gods go. Mortals flicker and flash and fade. Worlds don’t last; and stars and galaxies are transient, fleeting things that twinkle like fireflies and vanish into cold and dust. But I can pretend…”

Like with watching SAMSARA, we are connected by you reading this. So thank you, as Paulo Coelho puts it, for stopping for a moment to encounter each other.