Friday, July 27, 2012

Some Like It Hot

Oh. My. God.  It has been hot this summer.  If you believe in global warming, you are likely having such a "I told you so" moment it's sickening, but I tend to have another theory.  I tend to think there is so much hot air coming out of Washington this election year that it is just permeating the entire east coast.  I was so excited by the process four years ago.  I'm just sort of disheartened this go round.  Not because I believe in my particular candidate any less.  On the contrary, I believe in him with all my heart.  Sincerely, completely, absolutely.  Am I naive?  No, I don't really think so (of course, who of us ever does?).  I realize he is not perfect.  I realize that the system is very far from perfect and that hampers him.  But, do I think he is an honorable man, I believe what I said the other day, which is that he has my best interests at heart everyday.  That's what I think of him in my heart.  What my head tells me is that he is the smart candidate for me, my family and our circumstances.

Here's the thing:  I tend to think the Other Guy isn't so horrible of a human being either.  Granted, that whole dog on top of the car made me really upset.  I've done some bad pet owner things in my day with nothing but the best of intents, so maybe who am I to judge?  Do I like what he stands for?  Heck no.  Do I think he knows the first thing about foreign diplomacy?  Not really.  Do I think he's so rich he could really care less about me and my neighbors, let alone a single African American mother in Homewood?  He might try and tell me differently, but I have my suspicions.  Do I think he flip flops on the issues?  Yep, totally.  And do I think he's beholden to people who would tear down what my candidate has worked so hard on over the last four years?  Yes, completely.  Therefore, I think it is a critical election and worth the fight, but do we have to fight so dirty?  Because at the end of the day, he's not evil.  He is, in my opinion, just wrong on a number of issues.  So, he doesn't have my vote or my support.  But, that doesn't mean I have to trash him as a human being.

Yet, civility seems to have taken a serious nose dive.  The person who annoys me the most is Rush Limbaugh.  He acts like such a buffoon and some of the stuff he spouts is so outrageous that you know (or tend to assume anyway) he knows it is a crock, but he says it anyway.  The scary thing is that people listen.  I wonder how many may actually believe him.  But, he's like a clown so it's hard to take him seriously.  Some of the other people who spout hateful rhetoric are supposedly more serious figures in American politics.  Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump to name just a few.  I know Democrats do it too.  Shoot, I guess I just did it by the hyperlinks I chose.  There are few clean hands here I guess.

The whole Birther thing is getting pretty old.  It's a distraction, or an attempted distraction, from real issues.  It's dribble and I'm sure the people who espouse it know it.  I guess it plays to a certain crowd.  But it's the "normal" folk that get really off the hook and have lost all sense of decorum.  I came across a blog today stating that "Barack Obama Is Not Only a Bad President; He's a Bad Person."  I found another blogger who was listing the five top things President Obama has done wrong.  He began by criticizing the stimulus packet, but he said right off he hasn't read the bill.  Okay, so you're going to trash something you're not educated on.  Brilliant.  Maybe not a good example of being mean spirited I guess; it is just ignorant.  For the record, I didn't read it either.  But I also didn't author a blog post about it.  On the flip side of the coin, there is a blog entitled "Romney is a Fraud".

It occurred to me that some of the incivility that I'm bristling about is a direct result of people like myself who keep blogs.  We're exercising our First Amendment rights with very little checks and balances, so we get to spew whatever unchecked, unfiltered and unfettered emesis we can come up with.  People pick it up, spread it and it goes viral.  What a Wonderful World Wide Web we live in.

Let me try and put this out there - not that I think it's going to fly really - let's behave ourselves.  Let's debate the issues vigorously.  But, let's not denigrate the candidates nor one another in the process.  Can we do it?  Can we prove that we still respect the office of the President, the democratic process and one another?  I'm not holding out much hope, but please let's give it a try.

Do this:  think first, write second.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dark Day

First of all, let me begin by saying that my sincerest sympathies are with the victims and their families of the theatre shooting in Colorado.  I have thought of very little else since Greg woke me up yesterday morning to tell me he had bad news.  For a person who is rarely lost for words, I find there are no good words here.

When Greg woke me at 7:00 yesterday morning, I had been in bed a little less than three and a half hours after coming home from my own Dark Knight experience, which was the polar opposite of those poor people in Colorado.  My eyes slid over to my jewelry chest, where the souvenir lanyard my fellow movies goers and I all got to wear during our marathon session of all three movies lay after I had stripped it off on my way to the bed.  I was still wearing my new Batman t-shirt, having decided I was too tired to even change and just crawled under the covers to catch a few hours before a full day of work. But, it had been a happy tired.  Maybe that makes my shock and sorrow worse, I'm not sure.  I'd like to think I'd be in shock and saddened over the event regardless, but there was the added component that I feel so involved with these films.  All of Pittsburgh feels that way to an extent about the new film.  The anticipation had been building here all week.  This was a big deal for the city, which has been featured in a lot of other movies before, but never with anything of this stature.  We were all anxious to be showcased to the world in a movie with the chops this one promised to have, and for those of us who had been lucky enough to be involved in the actual film as extras, that excitement was heightened a little more.  But, I am so enamored of The Dark Knight, holding it up as one of the best movies I have ever seen, which has never wavered in all the many times I have seen it, I had been like a kid waiting for Christmas for weeks now.

Marissa and I had shared a wonderful time.  For us, this has been a complicated summer, and I have not spent a lot of time with her, so in the hours before the first film rolled, we were able to catch up a little and we actually talked, both buoyed up by the heady anticipation of seeing the movie we literally had a lot of sweat equity in.  The theatre management had the process down for us.  One of the managers came in several times before and during our almost ten hour long experience to tell us what to expect, how long we'd have between films, where we could find restrooms, places for smoke breaks and how best to get additional concessions without long lines. The lanyards were our identification tags so we could get discounts on concessions as the long night wore on and so we could come and go without hassle, but it also serves as a souvenir that we can keep as a reminder of the event.  It's a slick marketing idea.  And of course, the crowd was absolutely pumped to be there, so it was a like a party atmosphere.  Some people were dressed up, others, like myself, just had Batman or Dark Knight t-shirts, and of course there was the not uncommon sighting of Hines Ward jerseys, since he is the player who runs across the field as it blows up.

The huge amount of greasy popcorn we ate is messing with my stomach still, my head is throbbing due to lack of sleep (on the day of my family reunion no less), and I'm exhausted, but it would be a good exhaustion if not for what I woke up to the next morning.  Now I realize the movie will forever - or for a long time anyway - be tainted by the tragedy at the Colorado movie theatre.  I know, I know.  That is hardly important in comparison to the real-life tragedy of the people whose lives have been torn apart and forever changed as a result.  But, I'd be completely lying if I told you I didn't regret the fact that, if this was somehow fated to happen, it revolved around a movie franchise I love so much.  And my own very happy experience with the rolling out of the movie just seems to spotlight the horror a little more.

The debate will ensue, I have no doubt, over the role violence in movies played in the massacre.  I saw comments online yesterday about some of the young victims, asking what were they even doing there.  I confess, I had some of the same thoughts.  In addition to the simple fact that taking your infant to a midnight show is not a great idea and it's rude to your fellow movie-goers, this is not a film that a young child should see.  He's called the Dark Knight for a reason people.  And that reason has nothing to do with the outfit being black.  I remember walking out of the second film for the first time feeling a little stunned actually by how dark a film it was.  Then I realized I loved that fact about it.  Well, this final installment is darker.  A lot darker.  A nine-year-old cannot appreciate the complexities of the themes being touched on in the trilogy.  But, at the same time, of course a nine-year-boy wants to see a movie about a comic book hero.  I see the conundrum - it's not a kids' movie, but it's heavily marketed, and when you sell bat masks on the toy aisles at Walmart, what do you expect to have happen?  So, does that mean that we're setting our society up for more James Holmes'?  Maybe, but consider this.  What would you attribute the killing of six million Jews to?  Adolf Hitler certainly had some help leading the world into a world-wide conflict that saw a concentrated effort to wipe out an entire ethnic group, and there was no Spiderman or Batman to point fingers to then.

No, there was some sort of catalyst there that so tragically set him off, but he was a disaster waiting to happen regardless of this movie.  We have to look at what it is about individuals like John Shick, the Western Psych shooter here in Pittsburgh and this young man, both brilliant, but deeply troubled, and see how we can identify and help them before they become household names for the wrong reasons and rob others of their chance at life.  But, it's a cop-out to blame the movie for the deep dark of that young man's mind.

Maybe you are wondering if I will go to the movie again.  I had to think about that myself briefly.  The idea that somebody might pull a copycat crime, particularly in one of the cities where it was filmed, definitely crossed my mind.  But, the answer is absolutely yes.  Just as soon as I possibly can.  Here's what I finally decided:  I can get hit by a car walking the dog.  I can drop dead of a heart attack doing the same thing.  Life is uncertain.  I'm not going to stop living it just because of that fact.  I am going to place my faith in the basic goodness of humanity and accept that this is a tragedy, a horrible, horrible tragedy, but an isolated one.

The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Brother Studios, 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Defending the Ordinary Life (or Be Careful What You Wish For)

IT SEEMS LIKE A LIFETIME AGO — which of course it was, all that and more. For a boy, life on the farm was idyllic, but for the young man I became, that very peace and predictability were stifling, unbearable. I had big dreams, and needed a big place to explore them: the whole wide world.

Near our village of Barrel Arbor, the steamliners touched down and traveled on rails along the Winding Pinion River toward Crown City. Watching them pass in the night, how I prayed to get away . . .
- Neil Peart
Clockwork Angels

Like a lot of people, I sometimes think back on the opinions I held and the things I thought when I was in my early 20's and cringe.  It's not so much that I had opinions that time has eroded or changed, it was the vehemence with which I professed those opinions, as if I had the wisdom of the ages on my side.  I think if I were to meet my younger self in some sort of weird time travel warp, I'd have to take her by the shoulders, shake her really hard and tell her to wake the hell up and smell the real coffee.  Think about it.  Wouldn't you have a pearl or two of wisdom to pass along to a younger you?

It's not really that I'm so different at the core.  There are still aspects of me that have always been and always will be.  What's really different is the colors have changed from black and white to various hues of grey (absolutely no reference to that book series that I haven't read and don't intend to).  Like a lot of people in their twenties, only maybe a little more so, I used to see things as very absolute.  I'd take my time forming an opinion about something, but once I did I was all in - my way or the highway.  I've mellowed considerably, with a few exceptions, in that regard.  But more than that, I had certain expectations for myself that, if met, would define my success.  If not met, I would consider myself a failure.  And I'm not talking about parenting, because that was in my future and not in my self-definition at the time, but strictly in how I would judge my own life and career.  Looking around me now, living in a tiny little cottage in suburban Pennsylvania, having never been to Europe or even Alaska, not owning a company or having published anything more substantial than my two blogs, I would have not lived up to my own expectations.  I realize I'm okay with that.  I'm really okay with who I am.  What I want now is to impart to anyone else living in a little box house wondering how they compromised on their goals so completely to feel that way too because, I'm here to tell you, living an adventurous life isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

On the eve of my wedding, contemplating that I was marrying into the All American Family (two sons, two daughters - all glowingly healthy, bright and energetic - college professor dad and nurse mom), I figured I had sold out on the exotic life I had once envisioned for myself in place of the perceived security I was marrying into.  I prayed that night that I would still manage to find adventure and be saved from being ordinary.  Be oh so careful what you wish for!  Nothing about our lives has been ordinary.  Now, with a full decade of turmoil in my rear view mirror, I wake up everyday and hope for peace and quiet.  I think I'd be absolutely fine living a simply ordinary life from here on out.

Let me extol it's virtues:  yes, my kitchen is small and pretty plain.  I don't know how old my stove is, but my guess is, if stoves could drink, it would be allowed into the local bar.  But, everything works, I've managed to find room for all my kitchen paraphernalia and Greg does most of the cooking anyway, and he's resigned himself to it long ago.  Really, I could ask for more, but what more do I really need?  I've already got a main room we rarely use, it's more for show than anything else.  Sometimes I sit in my living room and read for a bit just to say I use it, so overall, as long as I don't manage to recollect the level of junk I had in Texas, why pay taxes on unoccupied space just to say I can?

I'm learning to appreciate the smaller pleasures in life.  The other day one of the neighborhood ducks came waddling straight up to me demanding to be fed.  She gave me a good chuckle in the morning, I gave her a good breakfast.  Win-win.  Maybe it's not as exotic as visiting Notre Dame or the Tower of London, but maybe it is just as precious and a whole lot cheaper.

More than anything, it's the ability to have some head space.  Room to think, room to breathe without the weight of heavy expectations on my shoulders.  I was so busy when I was younger trying to chase the next big experience that I forgot to properly savor the ones I was having.

I'm not saying life is perfect, it's certainly not.  Even taking away the largest imperfection of them all.  I get tired of worrying about money.  I get tired of working when I'm not sure I can see the fruits of my labor pay off.  I worry over the surviving members of our little family.   But, what I know now is that there is no life free from worry.  If I wasn't worried about the bills I am juggling, I'd have to be worried about something else.

Nor am I saying I'm closed off to life's grand experiences.  I most certainly am not.  I have my bucket list.  I fully intend on working through it.  I still have dreams and aspirations.  But, I can now step back to appreciate and savor exactly what I have at this moment.  That is the gift that time - and perhaps the experience of great sorrow - has given me.

Whatever path your life is on, even if it is narrower than you intended, walk it with your head high.  There is no disgrace in living what some might call an ordinary life.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

President Obama Comes to Town

I survived seeing the President of the United States speak in person.  There are maybe a handful of people in the world I would have put myself through yesterday for.  Christopher Nolan is obviously one, since not only did I sit outside last summer for twelve grueling hours, I did it wearing wool.  President Obama is another.  I don't even think the Steelers or the Penguins could have drug me out in such brutal conditions - although maybe, but that's it, not even David Cook would entice me.  But, I did it, and now I can always say I saw him.  Let me tell you about it.

Let me give you the backdrop first:  for the past ten days the eastern part of the United States has been blasted with a heat wave that has cooked everything exposed to it:  grass, flowers, pets and people.  My friends back in Texas have had a chuckle or two at my whining, but one thing you cannot say about heat in the area is that it is a dry heat.  As a matter of fact, I'm always a little fascinated with the weather radar because, no matter what the skies look like outside, it registers moisture in the air that makes it look a bomb is going off and radiating out from the city center.  Those three rivers are cool and all until you are trying to do two things:  navigate around them and survive the height of the summer.  It has been unusually dry this summer, but the last few days have seen some summer storms roll in with stunning violence, which means that my grass is returning to a semblance of green instead of brown, but the humidity levels just make the heat more physical.  When you walk outside you are immediately blanketed with a layer of sticky moist that feels like it just added ten pounds of insulation on top of you.

With that setting, the President was scheduled to make a campaign stop at Carnegie Mellon University.  Outside.  Greg and I received invitations to attend.  At first it looked like we were going to be thwarted when Greg couldn't pick up our tickets on Tuesday.  I was able to get mine, however, on Wednesday and they still had his on Thursday morning, so all was well.  We were both set to go, thinking we knew what we were facing with the heat after all that time in Texas.

Wow, I have been wrong about any number of things in my life, but this ranks right up there.  Long story short, it was brutal.  The day dawned hot.  At least the mornings had still been pleasant, but by 6:00 when I walked the dogs, it was already crazy hot and humid.  They had told us we could take umbrellas, but would need to leave them outside the gates for security.  Because this is no ordinary situation and there is obviously a high amount of security logistics, the organizers told us to get there at 10:30 for gates to open at 12:00.  The President was not slated to speak until 2:10, but they kept that on the QT until that day, so most of us had no idea when to actually expect him.  About 3,000 tickets were available, and there were some bleacher seating in the back, but most of us, myself included, wanted to be up closer, so we crowded up to get our spots, our collective body heat adding to the 97 degrees with no shade and we settled in to wait.

We were allowed to bring water in and they had lots of water there, plus they were sending around volunteers with pesticide sprayers filled with water to try and spritz us, but it was like spitting into a hurricane.  The crowd was an eclectic mix of old and very young, all colors and sizes.  One father and son standing next to me had come all the way from North Carolina to see the President.  Other individuals clearly had two decades on me.  These are people who lived through times fraught with racism I can only imagine.  I wondered how many of them had been active in the civil rights movement of the 60's and what it must mean to be waiting to see a man like Barack Obama.  It must be a validation of everything they lived through and fought for.  But, they are no longer young, some of them with canes, a few even in wheelchairs.  As the hours passed, people started to feel the effects.  We saw one young girl in the VIP section throwing up into a box a volunteer had found for her (for obvious security reasons, there aren't trash cans any where near the speaker's podium).  Many had to back out from the crowd for a minute, get some air and then fight their way back to their friends.   The young boy from North Carolina finally had to be taken out of the crowd only minutes before the President finally came on.  They never made it back up to our position.  I only hope he at least got to hear the speech.  One of the women I had been wondering about made it most of the way through the speech but then finally succumbed to the heat, throwing up and then having to be helped back out of the mass.  Others were collapsing.  I know at least two ambulances were called to the scene.  Medics were making their way through the crowd trying to help the individuals who were struggling.  The woman standing next to me and I were comparing notes.  We were both a little faint and dizzy, both holding onto the bars of the wheelchair in front of us - thank God for that old veteran being there so we could lean on it or I might have been one of the fallen.  I was pouring water down the front of my t-shirt, not really caring what I was exposing.  Today I look a little like a lobster, but Greg is worse.  He forgot a hat, so he had my Terrible Towel draped over his head, but he looked like he was being boiled alive at one point.  He was also tired which didn't help, having not been able to sleep after his route, and he finally had to be one of the ones who backed out of the crowd and listened to the speech from further out.

But at last we were rewarded for this punishment and there stood the man we had come to see, looking crisp in a starched light shirt and slacks.  He was clearly hot too, but he never faltered.  He's an amazing speaker.  He didn't actually say anything I hadn't heard before or didn't already know, but I just like hearing him say it.  I know that among my friends I have a mixture of political views, ranging from left of me to Tea Partiers, so I know full well that some of you dislike his politics, but accept my absolute heartfelt sincerity when I tell you that I never, ever doubt that he absolutely has my interests at heart in everything he does, even though he and I likely will never meet.  He's one of us, the people.  He's a father, a husband, a dog owner, a businessman.  I admire him completely.  I'm glad he's in my corner.  I'll fight to keep him there.  Hopefully our presence yesterday - which did turn out some great photo ops, that sea of people crowding in a semi-circle around him - helped a little toward that goal.  But, please, Mr. President, next time you come to town, can we all go somewhere indoors?

(Ironically, the heat is supposed to break tonight and the high predicted for tomorrow is an extremely bearable 82 degrees.  Go figure.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Should Dreams Ever Die?

"A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams." - John Barrymore 
I have to scramble to write three posts a week spread out over two blogs these days since I accepted the invitation to write for Football Tickets Online, and they get two posts a week under my pseudonym Steelerfanmom.  So I have to come up with interesting topics during the offseason with limited time and no patience for a lot of research, work full-time, care for a sixty year old house, manage the expenses, deal with the pets and so on.  Not to make it sound like my husband doesn't contribute, he does, but I will tell you, just viewing it from my perspective, I've got the more loaded plate.  And it's all my own fault.  Because no one ever said I had to do even one blog, let alone two and all for free.

Truth be told, I've had some self-doubt over the football blog.  My gender is showing in comparison to my fellow contributors, who are submitting much more fact-oriented pieces as opposed to my mainly sentimental dribble about being a fan.  When it comes to sports, I confess to a certain level of sexual discrimination.  It's not that I think women feel less for their favorite teams - maybe the opposite is true - but they feel it differently.  It's like a relationship for us, it's more emotionally based than statistically based.  I can't tell you Ben Roethlisberger's QB rating without looking, and I can't do the algebra to compare it equitably to, say, a Michael Vick who has been with more than one team and had an interruption in his career to boot.  I can debate who had the larger moral lapses off the field until the cows come home (Vick - because dogs don't have any choice in the matter, and I'm a dog person besides), but I'm not sure most male readers really care one way or the other.  They're focused on x's and o's.  So I feel like a fish out of water as a result and sometimes wonder if I ought to throw in the Terrible Towel before the football season actually gets started.  But, I did it to begin with because it was a chance to write and that was what I grew up seeing myself as doing.  What I really wanted to be doing.  So here I am, at a rather advanced age, trying to hang on to a childhood dream.  I'm not sure if that's noble or pathetic.  The answers I've come up with have varied depending upon my mood or how stressed I happen to be with other real-life issues.

Therefore, the question for the rest of you is:  how crazy is it to keep on pursuing a dream into one's twilight?  Not that I'm actually quite in my twilight years (that I know of), but I am without doubt on the wrong side of midlife.  Like most people with childhood ambitions, they derailed for me early on in the simple scramble to keep a roof over my head.  One thing led to another, and while I wrote for fun, it wasn't keeping the rent paid, so I spent more time at work than at fun.  Eventually I added a husband then a family to the mix and writing was a luxury - a rare one.  I got to trot it out in my work, so it's not like it was a skill set I never used, but the vision of writing the next great fantasy trilogy was a fast fading ambition.  Do I regret it?  I'm a little sad, but it's silly to regret such things.  Life is what life is.  My road went another direction and there is no reset button, so why worry about it?  The only blank pages are the ones in front of me.

My question becomes, what do I do with those blank pages of my life yet to be filled in?  Do I try and become a published writer now?  Well, bills still have to be paid.  I've got others who rely on me for support to boot.  It's not a simple choice that involves only just me.  And what sort of career could I truly hope to have at this point?  And what would I write?  That fantasy trilogy I dreamed about as a girl (hint:  unicorns were involved) or something more along the lines of a self-help book (the bad parenting book bounces around my head a lot - I've even got a structure and semi-outline in mind)?  But, as I pointed out to a friend recently, I've never gained a particularly wide audience for this blog, so I don't know that I'd be successful with it.

One of my actual Pittsburgh friends recently celebrated the release of her first CD.  She is who I think of a lot when I debate such things with myself.  She never gave up the dream.  Maybe she'll never be a household name like Britney Spears, but, hey, who really wants to be Britney Spears these days?  Maybe Lindsay Lohan does.  I'm not dissatisfied being me.  I think my friend is pretty happy being herself too.  But she now has earned the privilege of expanding her definition of who she is to include recording artist.  Now, can I be me and a published author too?  Well, I'm not sure, but while I was writing this, @Steelers_Fan picked up my latest football post and tweeted it.  Mike Tomlin follows that Twitter account.  Maybe that's 15 seconds of my 15 minutes worth of fame.  Whatever it is, it's pretty cool.  Cool enough to keep me scrambling after the dream just a little while longer.