Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trip Down Memory Lane

As Bean was going to sleep tonight, he asked me if we had had ice boxes instead of refrigerators when I was a kid. "No," I told him. "Grandpa had ice boxes, but we had refrigerators." "Did you have electricity?" he wanted to know. "Yes, we had electricity," I said. "You know, Bean, when Grandpa was a kid it was very, very different than when I was a kid. They didn't have television, they had ice boxes, they didn't have the same kinds of heat in their houses that we do. But when I was a kid, it really wasn't very different from the way it is now. We had television - ours was black and white, but there were color televisions then. We had telephones, but they were rotary dial phones" ("I know!" he said - "that is a very popular style for toy phones!"). "We had record players, not cds or mp3 players, and we didn't have computers."

"WHAT?!" he exclaimed. "No computers? How did you send email?"

"We didn't," I said. "We called people on the phone, and we wrote letters. If someone wasn't home, we called back later. Most people didn't have answering machines."

"How did you skype?!" he asked, floored that there was ever a time without instant and constant communication.

I didn't have the heart to tell him yet about Pong.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Black Hawk Down, Imperialism, and Shoe Shopping

I stopped by the shoe store yesterday because I had a 20% off coupon and because my feet have been uncomfortable now that the summer has ended and I haven't been able to slip on my Tevas or Keenes every time I leave the house. While I was looking, mostly in vain, for a size 11 in just about anything, I overheard the younger clerk talking to a customer he knew about a paper he'd written for school. Apparently, his professor was "lying" to him and was "ignorant". The professor had apparently told this student that "there was imperialism in Black Hawk Down". The student "looked it up, and there wasn't."

I have to pause here for a moment. Had the student said, "I looked it up, and it was kind of complicated, and it was boring" - that would have been less bothersome to me. The idea that someone would think that this kind of question is one that they could look up and find an answer to easily, especially someone who is in college, is just sad, because it means that they (or their parents) are paying for an education that they don't even know they aren't participating in. And not *participating* in an education means not *getting* one.

Meanwhile, this guy went on to say that he had told this to his professor, and the professor had told him that he had to look for it in order to see it. He was so irritated that the professor was apparently lying to him and didn't know what he was talking about that he wrote a paper about how people are ignorant about imperialism. And got an A minus.

He went on to talk about an upcoming audition for a reality show, and getting an agent, and so on - his dreams beyond that shoe store, dreams that clearly, in his mind, were unrelated to college. So, when I went up to the counter to purchase my shoes, fully intending to give him a lecture about what research really entailed, I told him that I had overheard him talking about his paper and asked him where he went to school. It was one of the community colleges, he told me - "pretty boring," he said, with a lazy, confident smile. And I decided, as the other clerk and customer were watching me curiously, not to be that person, and not to make that scene. All I could muster was, "that's too bad," in my mother's voice. But he didn't understand that I meant it was too bad that he was not applying himself and taking advantage of his education, that it was too bad that he thought that research questions all had simple answers, that it was too bad that he saw a flaw in his professor's education but not in his own. He mostly thought that I thought it was too bad that his classes were boring, though the smile wavered a bit.

And I left the shoe store and gave Bean a version of my lecture, telling him that, while he would very likely have teachers and professors who were wrong, he shouldn't immediately assume that they were wrong if he found information that challenged what they said. Instead, he should first try to figure out if perhaps it was a more complicated subject than he had first thought.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


This post prompted the following response, which I was going to post as a comment until I realized that it had become a blog post.

I think that what we understand 'cool' to be changes as we get older. I used to think extreme hair was cool until I met an asshole with extreme hair (who wouldn't talk to us because we didn't look cool, apparently) and a wiser friend said, "it's sad when someone's entire personality is their hair." I also used to think that people who went to things like Burning Man were cool, until I realized that attending an event does not make someone cool and that lots of people go to this kind of thing in the hopes that it will make them cool.

Most of the time, 'cool' seems to be about external things - hair, clothes, the kind of music someone listens to, maybe the kind of job someone has, etc. At the ripe age of 42, I've realized that cool, for me, is more about what someone *thinks* and what kind of person they are than what they look like and what they do. Of course, these things are more abstract and are not attached to specific acts or looks of 'coolness,' like smoking a cigarette or wearing black. But it makes sense that coolness should be abstract - it should be something you have to look for, something that you need to patiently discover in unusual places, rather than something you can buy at the mall, see at Burning Man, or find on Facebook or on television.