Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bad Parenting as Reality TV

What is up with the Heene family and their hot air balloon stunt? I am trying to imagine a man so desperate for attention, so desperate to become famous and make millions, that he would jeopardize his family and the psychological well-being of his own children. Where once musicians, artists, writers, dancers, and actors dreamed of recognition and the opportunity to use their gifts to advance the evolution of humankind; now un-evolved ordinary individuals with no apparent creative ability seek fame and fortune through exposure on reality TV. After seeing so many tabloid headlines about the Gosselins, watching part of an episode of that Nanny Show at a diner one night, hearing about the Wife Swap show, and then reading with horror about the Heenes, I am beginning to wonder if reality TV is pretty much all about bad parenting and child abuse. I think I’m going to start a reality TV show called Worst Parents Get Spanked.

When the media tried to interview Falcon Heene about his day hiding in the attic, he threw up. Twice. It doesn’t take a child psychologist to figure out that having his dad expect him to lie on national TV made Falcon sick to his stomach. Thank goodness for him and his own conscience that he finally said “We did it for the show.” (Anyone remember that 1999 Peter Weir movie with Jim Carrey called “The Truman Show” about the guy who grew up on a reality TV show without realizing it?) While real artists and celebrities who earned their fame with sweat, blood, and guts work hard to protect the privacy of their family life and to give their children a wholesome childhood, reality TV chasers do whatever it takes to exploit their children for profit. The upshot for the Heenes may be that their children are taken from them by Child Protective Services. And I have to ask myself if the Heene boys are better off in the system or with their whacked parents, who believe in aliens and that the world will end in 2012. Usually, I would say with the parents. In this case? Run, Heene boys, run.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Life Without TV

When we moved to the Ranch in 1991, we could get only 3 TV stations and the reception was so bad that usually all we could see was snow. I was, of course, delighted. As a writer, I have always considered the TV my arch enemy. We rented a lot of movies and watched them as a family. There were a heap of favorites that we watched repeatedly. My children played outdoors and engaged in creative pursuits. It is not surprising that they grew up to be writers, musicians, and artists.

We did get satellite service after about 10 years out in the boonies. But we discontinued the TV service every year in April during Turn Off Your TV Week and we didn’t turn it on again until September when the football season started. No laying around on the couch in the summer and watching TV for my children. And when we did have satellite TV service, during the winter, we had rules about how much TV was allowed per day and per week. We still watched a lot of rented movies. That TV is a time suck. I can’t understand how people can leave the TV on all day as background. What a lot of inane racket. I would always tell my children to turn the thing off and read a book, play music, or draw a picture. TV is the antithesis of creativity. To this day, I still think that my children watched too much TV. In reality, we had far less TV in our home than in most.

Last week I emailed Sudi to ask if he had watched a TV show that his sister recommended as being pretty funny. I was astonished when Sudi replied that he doesn’t watch much TV, doesn’t care for it, and is happy that we had little of it when he was growing up. Wow. Sudi is not much of a reader, but he went on to say he was looking forward to reading a book he had selected for his English class at college. He warned me not to get too excited. (“It’s just one book, Mom.”) Nevertheless, I’m still trying to wipe this sappy grin off my face.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

10,000 Hours to Success

What are you an expert at? In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about what factors contribute to the success of wildly successful people, like Bill Gates. One of the crucial elements contributing to success according to Gladwell is 10,000 hours invested in doing. He attempts to prove that this is the threshold of time needed for practice and/or experience that tips the balance. For example, he describes how, in the early 60s, the Beatles played all night every night at a night club in Hamburg, Germany so that by the time they returned to Liverpool, they had played together for over 10,000 hours. They were pros. Gladwell shows where Bill Gates got his 10,000 hours of computer programming experience by the time he was in his early twenties. Doing the math, to get the 10,000 you’d need to do about 20 hours per week for 10 years or 40 hours for 5 years (hope I got that right—I’ve only put in six and a half hours at math).

Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory is compelling. He cites a study done with musicians. Those who became brilliant professional pianists had put in the 10,000 hours at a fairly young age, while those who were teaching music or playing for pleasure while holding down another job had not met the 10,000-hour threshold.

If we buy Gladwell’s theory that to become an expert in something we need to have 10,000 hours of experience, I find it interesting to consider what that makes me an expert at. There are not many things I have spent 10,000 hours doing. Sleeping. Reading. Doing laundry perhaps. (I may have put in 10,000 hours laundering diapers back in the day.) Seriously, I would say I’ve invested that 10,000 in writing, and also in grant writing as a separate expertise, and definitely in active parenting (I mean real parenting, not just being a parent). Ron has put in the 10,000 studying music, more specifically R&B and Soul. What about you? Where have you invested your 10,000 hours?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Write a Comforting Sympathy Card

[I published this article in another venue and it seems to be so helpful to people that I’m reprinting it on my blog so it can be searched by a wider audience. It will also automatically post to my Facebook.]

When someone dies, we naturally want to comfort those left behind, but we often feel helpless to make them feel better. What can we possibly say to relieve the pain of loss they are feeling? Actually, even a few words, carefully chosen, can provide surprisingly strong comfort.

When we lose someone we love, we want to know that they are remembered and we want to believe that their spirit continues on some level. It is important for us to see that the person so dear to us touched the lives of other people. It is also helpful to know that others are thinking of us in our time of grief and that we are not alone.

A well-written sympathy card will contain all the above elements. Start off by saying how sad you were to hear of the death. Let the recipient know that you will always remember the person who died. If you are inclined, you can briefly relate a special memory of the person who died. Hearing new stories about someone who died provides new experiences of that person, which helps us transcend the death. Let the recipient know that the person who died touched you in a personal way and made a difference in your life. If you did not know the person who died, then let the recipient know that s/he is special to you and that was what prompted you to write.

If you believe in the ongoing life of the spirit, make reference to what you imagine the spirit of the deceased is doing or thinking in the “spirit world.” Be sensitive to the religious and spiritual beliefs of the person receiving your card. If you share their religion, then you will be able to say something of a spiritual nature that is in exact harmony with your religious beliefs. If you don’t believe in an ongoing life of the spirit or you are irreligious, make reference to the ongoing impact the deceased will have in the world based on what s/he did in life. Remember that those left behind will be comforted to know that others recognize the difference in the world that was made by the person who has died, that s/he accomplished something worth remembering.

Finish your message by letting the recipient know that you will continue to hold them in your thoughts (and prayers if appropriate) and that they and the one they have lost to death are not forgotten. If you feel certain that you can follow through, then offer to help in any way you can and put your phone number to show that you are serious.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mistaken Identity

For the second time in recent months, my name was slapped on something I didn’t write in our little synagogue newsletter, which is not owned by Hearst, yet it bothers me. The newsletter only goes to about 200 people and I would wager that few of them read it cover to cover. But the ones who do read it are probably puzzled as to why I, of all people, would write a haiku about “the G-word” (quoted from the published haiku), since I am a known atheist, who actually stood up in front of the congregation and read a piece that I DID write about not believing in god (small cap, spelled out) last year, at Yom Kippur services no less.

Only a few months ago my name was attached to a piece in the same newsletter written about a workshop that took place that I not only did not plan but did not even participate in. The woman who did do all the work for it, and did write the article, was not acknowledged at all. So I had people coming up to me and asking about the workshop, which was on a topic that frankly does not interest me.

What really irks me about all this silliness? I am a professional writer. I choose my words, content, and genres with care. For better or worse, I define myself as a writer. Writing is at the core of my identity. It is my gift. It is the work of my hands in this life. So when my name appears on material that I did not write (especially second-rate material), I cringe. Let me explain how it feels. If you saw the movie The Naked Gun then you will recall a hilarious scene in which Leslie Nielsen sneaks his way onto the baseball field by kidnapping the opera singer who was supposed to sing the National Anthem. The opera singer, bound and gagged, is seen watching Nielsen sing, and butcher, the National Anthem in his stead on national TV. While Nielsen is screeching the bombs bursting in air, the opera singer’s name appears at the bottom of the TV screen, identifying him as the singer for all the world. I am that bound and gagged opera singer.