Thursday, July 9, 2015

Reality Bites

I’m a member of Generation X, which, it turns out, really sucks. Lots of articles have been making the rounds online explaining how Gen X got squeezed in between two bigger, more important generations—the Boomers and The Millennials. The Boomers, of course, got to buy houses and have pensions and all that fancy stuff before the economy tanked. And the Millennials are digital natives, they’re members of the most powerful demographic and they know it. In the middle there’s a tiny group of former slackers who all have at least one flannel shirt in the back of their closets and, no matter what kind of music they like, on some level appreciate “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.

We got screwed in lots of ways. I like to tell the story about how I took a test on how to use a library card catalogue in my senior year of high school only to arrive at college freshman year and attend the official burning of their card catalogue drawers because they were going digital. Even though I grew up with dinosaur computers I’ve gotta roll with the new technology, because I’m way too young to retire (and unlike the Boomers, I probably won’t get to do so before I’m seventy five).

The other way life isn’t fair for Gen-X: we were this close to the Youth Worship Revolution. But we missed it. When I was a kid, the people on the radio and on TV and with the coolest hair and clothes were all older than me. I genuinely thought that one day I too would get to dress like a grown-up, in, say, a stylish pastel suit with shoulder pads. But now that I actually am grown up, the only actual way to look cool is to be twenty-two. 
See how these mom-suits were actually cool in 1989?
There are also a lot of restrictions based on my age. I don’t know who makes these laws, but those posts are even more ubiquitous than the ones by us whining X-ers. Ladies, if you’re over thirty, I’m sure you are aware that any number of seemingly normal clothing and accessory items are now, sadly, forbidden. I recently decided to click one of those lists someone posted on Facebook, and was informed that I am no longer allowed to wear hoop earrings, blue eyeshadow, or graphic tees of any kind. Under this new tyranny I will also probably be arrested if I try to walk in the door of a Hot Topic or Forever 21.

Who makes these rules? Probably young Millennials who are tired of having their style co-opted by us oldsters. Of course, the Millennials will get older too--but at least they realize that their days of being cool are definitely numbered.  

I'm pretty sure we're the first generation to have to suffer the indignities of rules lists like these--probably because back in the day no one over thirty ever actually attempted to look like a teenager for any reason. And though I can understand the extremes (maybe halter tops are a bad idea at a certain age. Because: gravity). But, list-makers, be warned. You're going to have to pry my Nirvana t-shirt out of my hands--and I'm a kicker. I still have those work-boots somewhere. So don't test me. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Really Annoying Commercials, Part I

The ad’s for some kind of VW hybrid car, I don’t know which one, because I’m too busy being horrified by the image of three horrible little boys essentially vandalizing a quickie mart while their clueless mother pumps gas. I guess she’s been punished for her reliance on fossil fuels by having to bear the offspring of Satan three times. Which seem excessive, but I guess she is destroying the planet and everything.

While the gas and sip is being destroyed by these creatures who are drinking the Slurpees right from the fountain and covering the floor in Easy Cheese, a virtuous hybrid-driving woman drives blissfully by with her three angelic children sitting silently in the car.
This is not okay. 

I have a number of problems with this scenario, beyond the clearly fictional idea that three modern tween boys would be quiet without a tablet or smartphone and access to reliable wi-fi. First, this is a post-Bart Simpson era depiction of a world of powerless, stupid adults. Both the alleged mother of the hooligans and the store clerk stand by and watch, helpless and mute, as these monsters do whatever they want. This is just dumb. You are bigger than they are, and I hope to God smarter. End them.

Second, though this is related, is the implication here that children cannot possibly be controlled? Our only hope is to find a better way to outlast them—with, say, a more efficient fuel option that can prevent us from having to slow down and by doing so risk being sued by 7/11.

Finally, the song that plays is “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” These little creeps aren’t cowboys. Let’s not co-opt a cool American icon and turn it into a joke (to sell German cars). It’s not cool to make a giant mess and not clean it up. I demand a sequel featuring a big bucket of bleach followed by a time-out. Or maybe I'm wrong, maybe if you go hybrid your children really do turn into tiny angels who love to do housework, assisted by singing cartoon birdies. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#IReadYA Week: "Literary Merit"--Who Decides?

It’s #IReadYA week this week, and I’ve read a lot of tweets and posts about the general awesomeness of the YA genre, and that’s not surprising. Actually, what is surprising: given the brilliance of so many YA works, how is it that any of us still need to defend or explain YA—to anyone?

I write YA, but I’m also an English teacher; my students and I talk a lot about what constitutes a “serious” work of literature. On the AP Lit exam, there’s an “open” question—the third free response essay, which gives a fairly broad prompt, then suggests a list of works. Test-takers are directed to select one of these books OR “a work of similar literary merit.” We teachers learn in our training that more recent writers, and mostYA writers, are not considered by College Board to be of literary merit. This means, for example, that J.K. Rowling is not on the list. I always tell my students that she will be—if nothing else, age grants a work that status (consider a writer like Alexandre Dumas, whose work was not regarded as Serious Literature in its own time, but today, it is). 
How different, really, are The Catcher in the Rye and Looking for Alaska in terms of story and emotional resonance—and quality of writing? Yet my students can write about one on the AP exam, but not the other.
Who decides what’s “serious” literature anyway?--is one question my students always ask, and it’s a good one. Time is definitely part of the equation, but if we just look at books released in the past fifteen years, there’s definitely another layer of prejudice at work. Genre, for one: books set in the real world are often automatically viewed as more serious or literary. And the target audience is definitely another factor. Many adults dismiss books written for kids. Of course, many more do not. I have an annual pass to Universal Studios and I never get through the day without running into adults in full Harry Potter regalia. Maybe most YA is just too darn much fun for some folks?
There will always be people out there deciding what’s highbrow, what’s fancy, and what’s Serious Literature. And to me that’s part of what #IReadYA week is all about. It’s a time for those of us who get it—that it really doesn’t matter where a book is shelved—to share our love of not just YA but reading in general. I hope that someday we won't really need the hashtags anymore: #WeNeedDiverseBooks will be redundant, because we’ll already have loads of them. And like all good book nerds, I dream of a world when every day is simply #IRead day.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Does this Sock Spark Joy in Me? and Other Tough Questions About House Cleaning

A lot of folks have been posting lately about a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The article I read called it “a mysterious Japanese organizational manual.” The subtext here, of course, as with most self-help books is that the way you currently organize your life, by the way, is wrong.  I’m sure this is true for me—first, there’s nothing either Japanese OR mysterious about my organizational system.

Also, I learned from this article that according to Marie Kondo, the author of this inspiring tome, I am also bad at throwing things out. The way you’re supposed to do it is, find everything of one kind in your house (like every piece of clothing, for example), then put it in a giant pile, sit down and go through every single item, one at a time, and ask—does this item spark joy in me?

What?? I think it would be faster to just keep my dog and that one pair of Lucky jeans from the late nineties that I’m convinced are labeled with the wrong size—because literally nothing else sparks actual, like, joy. I mean, she’s not asking, does this item make you happy, or content—nope, the litmus test here is JOY. That's a lot to expect from a t-shirt or a spaghetti strainer or a wall sconce.

The system gets weirder, though—this Kondo person also suggests that if you do give an item away, you should first thank it for the role it’s played in your life.

What I want to know is, when did we get so chatty with our material possessions? When did it become socially acceptable to start a dialogue with our sock drawer? Kondo also suggests socks be stored flat, because they work so hard for us while they’re on our feet. I’ll bet if socks do talk, she’s their number one hero. Finally!—the socks will say. Marie Kondo is the Sock Advocate we’ve been waiting for!

It seems to me that all this personification of stuff is likely to lead to more issues, not less. I’ve seen a few of those hoarding shows, and those folks always have these mysterious (there’s that word again) relationships with their stuff. Everyone around them is screaming that they should throw away those National Geographic magazines from 1975 already. But the hoarder woman says, like-- no, I need to keep them, because my father loved lizards, and there’s a great gecko article in the July issue, or some such. 

Here's the thing. It’s just stuff. You don’t have to apologize to your castoffs before putting them in the Goodwill bag. I’m also going to make the radical claim that you don’t actually need to feel joy when looking at your kitchen utensils or your upstairs closet. When I look at probably eighty percent of what I own I think, wow, I’d really like to buy a new one of those. And that’s okay. It’s aspirational, even—right? Instead of digging through my closet looking for joy, you can probably find me shopping, which, if you ask me, is where the magic really happens.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club

I read this morning that this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most important movies of my life: The Breakfast Club. It turns out the film was actually released last month (plus thirty years) on February 15, 1985. In honor of the anniversary there will be a special Blu-Ray edition, and the movie will even be screened in a handful of much cooler places than the one where I currently live.

Why is this movie so important to me? For one, the me who lived in February of 1985 had just turned thirteen. Seventh grade...and boy does life suck. This girl hasn’t discovered contact lenses yet and her glasses are pretty grim. We’re talking oversized, round, with the lenses tinted brown. So that happened.

Though, come to think of it, 7th-grade me had to wait for this movie to come out on HBO…so we’re probably talking about 8th-grade me, who’s sadly not any cooler, and now staring down her first year of high school.  She’s got no idea how she’s going to play it. Could she reinvent herself in high school?

One fun game to play with this movie is to identify which character you are. It’s a pretty easy quiz:

Popular girl? =Claire
Popular jock boy?=Andrew
Nerd (either gender)?=Brian
Rule breaker/bad ass?=Bender
Weird outcast?=Allison
#@$%ing elephant was destroyed.
As much as I leaned nerd later in life, I have to say it was outcast-Allison that I always identified with. Probably because her story turned into a high school fairytale at the end when she hooked up with the cute jock.

Because that actually happens in real life.

But unrealistic endings aside, this movie’s awesome because it pulls five people out of their usual clique and forces them to interact. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was halfway tempted to blow up their shop project on the off chance they’d get assigned to Saturday detention with a cool bunch of folks. We’d dance and run through the halls and bond and make the one nerdy kid write our essay at the end of the day.

It’s a romantic view of high school, in a film made by adults who understood that you leave high school but it never completely leaves you. That’s why it’s so ironic when Allison announces “When you grow up, your heart dies.” At fourteen, I believed her—I thought I’d be all grown up someday, with a shiny Teflon skin that nothing could break through. That’s an even bigger lie than the idea that different social types  can genuinely get along (a notion later disproven by another important film of my life, Heathers).

But in the end it doesn’t matter if it’s true. I’ve never been to Saturday detention or given my earrings to a cute bad boy, but no one can ever take away my memories of the hours spent with my friends quoting this movie. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

That's When I Go to Goop

Sometimes I just feel a little bit too confident, a bit too content with all of my admittedly white-bread, middle American life choices. That’s when I go to Goop. is Gwenyth Paltrow’s answer to the question nobody was asking, “How can I be more of a stick goddess whose every decision is pure and healthy and filled with cosmic wonder?"

I last visited the site when writing a (quasi) review of Gwyn’s cookbook, which I’ll call I’m Better At Eating Than You. (Disclosure: I didn’t read the book, but it’s true: she is definitely much, much better at eating than me).

A brief trip to Goop offers many wonders. The main page offers a review of “clean” lip balms, which puzzles me, as I would not have thought a woman of Paltrow’s stature would have trouble finding a lip balm that hasn’t already been sampled. I have this trouble myself when trying to shop the discount bin at Ulta.
But I didn’t stop to investigate further, as my eye was drawn by the promise of learning how to make “Moon Juice.” The article begins with these enticing words: 

“Moon Juice is magic. Like, real magic.” 

Real magic? Like in Harry Potter? Count me IN! But as I continue reading I’m disappointed to learn that the “magic” apparently comes only from consuming exotic ingredients that no one’s ever heard of, like schisandra berry and mucuna (which could not have a less appetizing name).

The writer of this post then goes on to praise the magic juice maker (whose last name, ironically, is Bacon) saying that not only can she invent drinks with weird berries, “she is also other-worldly: She literally glows from within, making any encounter with her, an ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ moment.”

I now begin to understand the “real magic” mix-up from before, since the author does not know what the word literally means. I have been misled by bad grammar. Apparently even consuming only the juice of rare and incredibly expensive fruits does not ensure peak brain function. It seems even Moon Juice has its limits.