All posts by Janet Coburn

Holiday Mash-Up

Quick quiz: What do Jesus and the poop emoji have in common? They both are associated with Easter, silly!

Don’t believe me? Just go to the Easter display in your local store. There you can find cross-shaped tins of candy with the saying “Jesus Saves” and the offer “Jesus Jelly Bean Prayer Inside.” Then there’s the ever-so-seasonal pastel plastic poop emoji that, well, poops candy. (It also has whimsical bunny ears. As you can see.)

Now I don’t mind the mash-up of Christian Easter with its pagan roots. That practice has been around long enough to make it into a tradition. The pagan symbols of Easter are relatively easily adapted from their earlier symbolism of fertility and renewal to their Christian identification with resurrection. New life, and all of that. Eggs. Lambs. Chicks. Even bunnies, that most suggestive of symbols for burgeoning life.

But lately, there’s something … odd about the merchandise that’s offered for consumption on Easter. It’s not just that the pagan roots are showing. It’s more like Easter is getting confused with Christmas. Or maybe Halloween. Easter is getting to be yet another occasion for retailers to make a buck in the name of wretched excess. 

Look at the Easter displays in your local supermarket or department store. You’ll find baskets, all right, but many of them look more like trick-or-treat pails than things a seasonal rabbit would deliver. Now you can find them shaped like a Troll head or Mickey Mouse, and adorned with Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman, Despicable Me Minions, Spiderman, and other characters more often associated with Halloween costumes. There are even felt “baskets” adorned with pictures of dinosaurs and volcanos.

(Dinosaurs have theological implications, of course, as reminders of evolution. When pressed, some Christians will claim that dinosaur bones were put into rocks by Satan, to test the belief of the faithful. But I digress.)

Obviously, these assorted characters are meant to appeal to media-obsessed kids, and so are the trinkets the Easter baskets are loaded with. Barbies. Water guns. Chocolate soccer eggs. Posters and stickers and PJ Masks toys. Any gimcrack fancy that can pull in a few bucks, whether or not it’s related to Jesus or Oestre.

When did superhero, sports, and other fashionable toys become symbols of Easter? Back in the day, we got plush rabbits. Of course, we also had a limited choice of sweets – jelly beans, gum drops, and chocolate bunnies (which occasioned the eternal question of whether to bite off the ears or the tail first). Christmas candy consisted largely of candy canes and “books” of Life-Savers. Halloween candy was much more varied. 

Halloween has already surrendered its place as a Christian celebration (the eve of All Saints’ Day) to being a childhood ritual of door-to-door sugar-laden extortion. Sugar skulls for Día de Los Muertos may be gaining on fun-size Snickers.

Now both the commercialism of Christmas and the pop culture iconography of Halloween have made their way into children’s Easter baskets. The hell of it (sorry not sorry) is that it’s most likely too late to turn back now.

Mash-ups of Christian and pagan holidays are par for the course. We get the Druidic Christmas trees and the Coke-ified Santa (originally a Christian Saint Nicholas) and the exchange of gifts on Saturnalia melded with of the celebration of a quiet birth.

I’m not saying that cultural mash-ups aren’t fun or happy or festive. I’m just saying it’s all gotten a little out of hand. We now have the ubiquitous image of Santa kneeling at the manger. How long until we have Mickey Mouse rolling away the stone?

 

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Looking at the People of Walmart

Yes, I know. We’ve all seen the pictures. Fat people. Poor people. Poorly dressed people. Disabled people. Photos taken secretly at unflattering angles and then posted on the Internet for others to share and mock.

Doesn’t sound so funny when you say it like that, does it? Don’t try to tell me it’s all in fun. It’s not fun for people who see their own pictures being posted. If you wouldn’t point and comment and laugh at a person IRL – and I’d like to think no one over the mental age of 13 would – why is it okay to do it online?

It’s not that I’m a fan of Walmart. I’m not. I won’t shop there myself, and not just because I’m afraid of seeing a picture of my ass when I bend over to get something off the bottom shelf displayed on my Facebook feed.

But some people have no other realistic choices. People who live in rural areas, for example. Walmart may be the only grocery store/department store within miles of where they live. It’s the same for people in small towns (once Walmart has run all the Mom-n-Pop shops away). I live in a nice suburban area with lots of shopping choices, but I know people who don’t. For them, making a monthly or weekly trip to “Wally World” is a necessity.

Other people shop at Walmart simply because they can’t afford to shop anywhere else. Walmart may not be known for high-quality products or an appealing selection, but they are known for low prices.

Do these people really need to add potential humiliation to the struggles of their everyday lives? Or do they deserve respect like other human beings?

It’s also worth giving a thought to the people who work at Walmart, which is not known as a kind and sensitive, or high-paying, employer. Many a Walmart worker gets so little income from their labor that they are receiving SNAP benefits (as food stamps are now called). It’s been pointed out that when employees have to rely on food stamps and the employers don’t pay a living wage – and get government tax breaks – it is actually corporate welfare.

Finding reasons to hate Walmart is easy enough. Marketwatch once published a story, “Four Reasons Walmart Is the Most Hated Retailer in America.” AlterNet reported that Walmart and its managers treat workers “like dirt, including low wages, no benefits, irregular schedules, and unreliable hours,” as well as disrespect such as forcing workers to do heavy-duty work despite medical conditions and pregnancies. Recently Walmart took a hit when it reclassified a disabled greeter’s job so it required him to be able to lift 40 pounds. (Public outcry caused them to walk back the decision.) Walmart also has a bad record with regard to settling employee grievances and labor organizing.

So as far as I’m concerned, say what you will about Walmart the company. Bitch all you want to about their merchandise, their checkout lines, and their corporate management. But leave their greeters and other employees out of it. They have it rough enough. They deserve respect, too.

And before you post a picture titled “People of Walmart,” think twice. The fact that the photos are taken and shared without the subjects’ permission may mean they are technically legal since they are taken in a public place. But honestly, don’t we have better things to do than appearance-shaming people who shop there – or any people, for that matter? Show some class, people. Don’t share the photos.

And I Thought Placenta Cream Was Weird!

Of course, I was right. Placenta cream is weird. But not that long ago, it was touted as the latest beauty secret and sold to millions of women (skin care for men was not a thing back then). Made from the placentas of sheep, horses, or oceanic creatures, the products were available as skin creams, hair gels or conditioners, and facial masks.

Why placentas? Wisegeek reports: “Sheep placenta has been used for many years to promote general health. It is also typically used by consumers to produce clear and healthy skin, free of wrinkles and blemishes.” They add: “Every placenta produced by pregnant mammals contains vitamins and nutrients, but sheep placentas tend to be more accessible and more nutrient-rich.” Personally, I don’t want to think about that “accessible” part, although I suppose they are, compared to horse placentas.

Women have also been advised to eat their placentas, much as cats and other animals do. Well, not exactly as animals do. Humans tend to dry their placentas, grind them up (preferably not in the coffee grinder that they use for, say, coffee), and put them in capsules before they ingest them. Top Chef host and judge Padma Lakshmi did this, but I’m not sure that’s much of a recommendation.

In recent years, charcoal has been touted as the miracle beauty product. I’m pretty sure putting charcoal on your face for any reason other than skin care is nowadays considered offensive and likely to get you kicked out of any political office you might hold. But it seems that if you rinse it off before anyone sees you, it’s okay.

Beautifying charcoal comes in many forms: masks, toothpaste and toothbrushes, acne treatments, and various anti-aging products. It appears on every shelf of the health-and-beauty sections of your local drugstore. Some health effects are real: Charcoal has long been used in hospitals to treat cases of poisoning and by overindulgers to treat hangovers. But how charcoal is supposed to whiten your teeth remains one of the unsolved mysteries of the universe, at least to me. It’s counterintuitive at the very least.

The most horrifying recent beauty trend, though, is snail gel, which is better known as snail slime or mucus, except not on product labels. Let’s think about that for a moment. There’s a trail of slime that snails leave everywhere they go about their little snail business and now women are supposed to rub it on their faces.

(A lot of people think that eating snails is gross, so they call them escargot. I can report from experience that escargot have the texture of a chicken gizzard and are usually served cooked in garlic butter. Think of them as gizzard scampi and you’ve got the right idea. I ate them once at a business dinner and did not disgrace myself. But I digress.)

Apparently, the snail slime beauty trend started when snail breeders (that’s a real job) noticed how wonderfully soft the skin on their hands became. The appeal of snail mucus seems to be that it holds moisture in the skin, presumably by providing a slimy layer to trap it. Talk all you want about the glycoproteins, hyaluronic acid, and glycolic acid in snail mucus, but the main idea is that it makes your skin look dewy by hydrating you, something that can also be accomplished by drinking several glasses of water a day. But evidently holding the moisture right next to your skin with gastropod mucus is somehow preferable.

As beauty trends go, the one I get is exfoliation. Dead skin cells on the face and body are not a good look. My skin regimen (which I’m told every woman should have) consists of rubbing my face with a rough towel, washing my face, then drying it with another rough towel. I like to think my skin glows afterward.

Axe Throwing Is the New Darts

Lots of bars have darts leagues. But increasingly, a number of establishments are devoted to throwing axes at wooden targets instead. Beer is served there. What could possibly go wrong?

My experience with axe-throwing is admittedly limited. I have watch Forged in Fire, where they sometimes make axes and test the weapons’ strength and sharpness by throwing them at targets. But that’s on TV and not being done in my immediate vicinity. (Full disclosure: I have thrown knives as part of a martial arts class. No beer was involved. But I digress.)

I don’t know if this is just a Thing in the Midwest (and Canada, where it started), but here in my hometown, plans are being made for an axe-throwing bar to be built. I would have braved the danger and checked it out myself, but it is only in the planning stages and I’m too lazy to drive to the one a couple of counties over. My derring-do has geographical limits.

Wild Axe Throwing (an inauspicious name if ever there was one) will be built approximately two miles from my house, in a retail area that features restaurants, car dealers, and the like. “My main goal is to provide entertainment to the city that I love,” says one of the owners.

Here’s how a local paper described the attraction: “The urban axe-throwing fun starts with an ‘axepert’ providing an introductory safety lesson, then guests aiming a two-pound axe toward a bulls-eye 14 feet away in several rounds of competitive games in a quest for the ‘Lumber Lord’ title, an honor that gets stamped in ink anywhere on the winner’s body.” Presumably, one can then retire to the nearest tattoo studio and have the symbol of victory made permanent, if one wishes. (Reputable tattoo businesses will not work on anyone who has been drinking, so the Lumber Lord might have to wait until the next day.)

What is the point of all this, aside from the fact that axe-throwing is just good, clean, All-American (or Canadian) fun? Some people claim that neurochemicals like adrenaline, serotonin, dopamines, and endorphins flood your brain and body when you throw axes. Adrenaline hikes up the fight-or-flight response and endorphins help mitigate sensations of pain. Throw in alcohol and a sharp weapon and I’d just as soon not stand too close.

The activity is touted as a family fun outing and also “an option for birthday and bachelorette parties.” Call me old-fashioned, but I miss the days when bachelorette parties featured hunky “policemen” who ripped off their clothes to music. Another suggestion is that axe throwing would make a fine corporate team building activity. Let’s just say that this could go badly wrong if someone had just been passed over for promotion.

Although it seems to resemble darts in some bizarre respects, there are also reasons to compare axe throwing to bowling. For one, axe throwers are in lanes separated from one another. (Being hit by a neighboring bowler’s ball is seldom a problem, but the axes weigh only two pounds and are thrown with rather more fervor than 16-pound balls are rolled.) Plus there is a state league and even a world organization.

And where does the alcohol come into it? Again, much like bowling, each throwing lane will have its own table and the establishment that will be two miles away will offer a small assortment of beer and wine. The beer I sort of understand, but I can’t really imagine a date beginning, “Hey, honey, let’s go out for a little wine and some axe throwing.”

Bowling isn’t shown on TV much anymore but I think it only a matter of time until axe throwing is. But it’s pretty sad when one has nostalgia for darts and bowling, not to mention laser tag and paintball, as actual sporting events.

I don’t know. Maybe if I try it, I’ll like it. The throwing knives thing was pretty fun.

The Drinking O’ the Green

I’ve been to Ireland twice and the funny thing is that no one hit me with a shillelagh or offered me a green beer. The only shamrocks I saw were on t-shirts in tourist shops. None of the Irish people I met wore one. No one insisted I kiss them because they were Irish. (There were at least two gentlemen who wanted to kiss me, but not for that reason. But I digress.)

But those are all things associated with St. Patrick’s Day, you exclaim. You’d never know it, but Saint Patrick was an actual saint. And he had nothing to do with drinking beer.

St. Pat (or Paddy, which is an insult) wasn’t even Irish. He was born in Britain when it was still a province of Rome. Then he was kidnapped by Irish pirates (kidnapped by pirates is good). During the six years he spent in Ireland he was a slave. Later he went back to Ireland to spread Christianity.

But all you’d guess about St. Patrick from his eponymous celebration is that he was a drunkard who wore shamrocks and wanted to be kissed. You’d never imagine that a proper celebration of the day actually involves going to church. (You might have also heard about him driving all the snakes out of Ireland, but that story’s unlikely and doesn’t much figure into the March 17 rowdiness.)

Mostly, these days, St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to get roaring drunk on either green beer or, if you’re classy, Irish whiskey; wear green; pinch or kiss other people; and puke in the gutter.

You’d think that actual Irish-Americans would be appalled at this sort of thing, playing as it does on stereotypes of the Irish as belligerent over-indulgers who have a thing for clovers. They may claim that they’re celebrating their admittedly noble heritage, but if you were celebrating your heritage, are those the traits you’d want to emphasize?

Columbus Day is increasingly being reevaluated and associated more with indigenous peoples than with Italian-Americans. People don’t get excessively inebriated on wine and eat antipasti on Columbus Day. College students don’t get drunk and rowdy and require the calling in of police to frat row on Columbus Day. Non-Italian people don’t dress up in silly costumes. I don’t quite know how the Italians have avoided the rampant stereotyping, but there you have it.  St. Patrick’s Day gets off scot-free (sorry) in the reevaluating department.

The only other holiday that is even comparable in its stereotypical excesses is Cinco de Mayo. The words instantly conjure up visions of people wearing sombreros, serapes and fake mustaches; drinking beer, margaritas, and tequila; listening to bad imitation mariachi music; and puking in the gutter.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is an actual thing. Ask anyone in America what Cinco de Mayo is all about and they’re likely to say, “Mexican Independence Day.” But surprise! Mexican Independence Day actually is September 16th, recognizing the day that Mexico freed itself from Spanish rule. Cinco de Mayo was all about kicking the shit out of the French and is barely celebrated in Mexico except for some military parades. It’s like thinking that the Fourth of July commemorates the Battle of Gettysburg.

There’s been a lot of sensitivity (and maybe over-sensitivity) lately about cultural appropriation – taking over traditions and artistic expressions of another culture without insisting on authenticity. Examples would be buying “Navajo” rugs made in China, or wearing symbolic feathered headdresses as part of Halloween costumes.

St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are a lot like that, really. The Irish and Mexican cultures have much to celebrate – history and heroes and art and music and more. The way we celebrate them in the U.S. cheapens them. Let’s save getting blind drunk for Super Bowl Sunday – a truly American celebration and representative of our national culture, including beer-colored beer. And if anyone around the world tries to appropriate the team jerseys, painted faces, salty and fatty snack foods, and cheerleader outfits, I say, more power to them. It would only be fair.

Facebook, What Have You Done Now?

We all remember going to an amusement park or a store and seeing a rack of hats or keyrings emblazoned with people’s names. What a thrill it was for kids to find their own names, and how disappointing when your name didn’t appear or was spelled another way! (Now, of course, parents are wary of putting children’s names on their clothing because of potential kidnappers. But I digress.)

Custom printing can be a wonderful thing. It meant that I was able to order two t-shirts for my husband and me featuring the cover of my new book. (Shameless plug: Bipolar Me, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in bookstores.) Friends of mine have ordered multiple copies of shirts with screen prints of albums or book covers or business logos to give or sell as promotional “merch.”

But custom printing is also getting a little bit creepy. I’ve seen ads on my Facebook timeline recently for t-shirts that say: I May Live in Ohio But My Story Began in Kentucky. Now, this is true: I was born in Lexington, KY, and I now live in Ohio. But I can’t believe that some company has t-shirts that feature every combination of states in America and sells them to anyone who finds them appropriate. It would take 99 sets of shirts to account for former or current Ohioans alone. If my math is right (which I don’t guarantee), that would mean nearly 5000 shirts for every combination of possibilities. And I can’t believe that a t-shirt company routinely stocks thousands of differently worded shirts against the hope that someone will buy one.

No, these are targeted t-shirts. I’m guessing that Facebook has sold my birthplace and current address info to some company who has a template they fill in with Ohio and Kentucky, if I should be so inclined to buy one. Until or unless I do, that shirt may never actually exist.

But with all the brou-ha-ha about Facebook selling people’s information, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised. After all, I was silly enough to tell people where I was actually born and now live, just in case, ya know, someone wanted to make sure that I was the right Janet Coburn they wanted to contact, rather than the one born in Hawaii who now lives in Minnesota.

I don’t really mind when Facebook sends me ads for shirts featuring my favorite singers with a list of all their songs. I can believe that John Prine and Emmylou Harris have enough fans that might want t-shirts but can’t get to concerts. Someone could actually have pre-printed those shirts. But again, the fact that I liked them on Facebook sure seems as though the fact’s been plucked from my favorites listing and sold. I never get ads for shirts featuring Metallica’s greatest hits or songs by Justin Bieber.

So what else does Facebook apparently know about me? That I’m a science and science fiction geek and a literature lover and a word nerd and crazy cat lady. That info could easily be generated by the pass-alongs I pass along. So, of course, I get ads for Star Trek items and book-themed gifts and shirts about the Grammar Police and anything connected with cats.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I just saw an ad for cat book shoes. And I guess I’m fine with that too, although I wonder how much such companies pay Facebook for the use of their algorithms.

But the home state/current state shirts have me a little spooked. Am I going to start seeing ads with my high school’s name? My favorite quotations? My political associations (if I had been bold enough to list them)?

Frankly, I’d prefer to remain a little anonymous and just wear nightshirts that say I ❤ My Bed.

 

I Have a Thing for Older Men

cousteau.jpg (483×357)Settle down, now. That thing isn’t sexual attraction, though that now that I’m getting older myself, a mad crush might not be inappropriate.

No, the thing I have for older men is admiration. There are just some men who strike me as Cool Old Dudes. That “Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis commercials would be one if he were only real.

What are the qualifications for making my list of Cool Old Dudes? They don’t have to be hunky or even distinguished looking. But they do have to have had interesting lives. Done things. Gone the distance. Remained relevant. They are men who have impressed me with their depth and special qualities that count far more than looks.

Probably the first man who ever made my Cool Old Dudes list was Jacques Cousteau. The man invented SCUBA gear, for God’s sake, and then used it to explore “The Undersea World” and make all those extremely cool documentaries that I watched as a kid. As he got older, he just kept getting cooler, sailing the Calypso to somewhere new where there was something to discover. Long after you’d have thought he would have given it up, he kept strapping on the tanks and out-diving men half his age.

Patrick Stewart makes my list, too. From the time he played Jean-Luc Picard while eschewing a wig, he seemed cool to me. How many actors portraying leadership, non-comedic roles are willing to take that leap? Then he became even cooler when he championed causes like domestic violence, women’s rights, Amnesty International, and PTSD. There’s nothing like using your fame to support righteous works to make my list.

There’s also his friendship with Ian McKellan. It’s Cool to see Old Dudes just goofing around like that. Stewart’s Totally Cool video of him singing country and western songs for charity shows that though he’s an actor with numerous Shakespearean roles under his belt, he’s not so stuck up that he can’t be silly on occasion.

One of my personal heroes, Willie Nelson is a Cool Old Dude. Starting at a time when Nashville just didn’t understand his kind of music, he kept doing it his way until finally the rest of the world caught up with him. One of the Coolest things about him is that he’ll sing and play with literally anyone, from Keb’ Mo to Julio Iglesias. Over the years he’s put out albums of blues, reggae, old standards, and tributes to everyone from Lefty Frizzell to Frank Sinatra.

Add to that his work for Farm Aid, even after all these years; his movie and TV career; his appearance on Steven Colbert’s Christmas special; and his membership in the country supergroup The Highwaymen, and you’ve got a non-stop Cool Old Dude who’s also known in Democratic circles for his liberal politics.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama, also makes my list, not just because he is a religious leader, but because of his world travels, his many appearances promoting peace, his support for Tibet, and his beautiful smile. He lives as a refugee in India and promotes the welfare of Tibetans,  as well as speaking about the environment, economics, women’s rights, non-violence, interfaith dialogue, physics, astronomy, Buddhism and science, cognitive neuroscience, reproductive health, and sexuality. Hardly anyone, young or old, is that completely Cool.

Bob Keeshan, perhaps better known as Captain Kangaroo, was also a Cool Old Dude. Nearly everyone (at least those my age) remembers him from his children’s show, which offered nonviolent, engaging content for youngsters. Outside of his show, Keeshan was a tireless and passionate supporter of and speaker on children’s causes, including abused and neglected children and violent ads shown during children’s programming. He’s also one of my Cool Old Dudes that I met in person, when I interviewed him for Early Childhood News.

And no list of Cool Old Dudes would be complete without former president Jimmy Carter. As a president, he gave up control of his peanut farm to avoid conflict of interest. As a former president, he is still living his faith and working – actual physical work into his 90s – building homes with Habitat for Humanity. He continues to speak out on issues such as torture, women’s rights, and reform within the Southern Baptist Church.

There are other Cool Old Dudes out there, in private life as well as in public. Do you have someone to add to the list?

 

Projects: The Back Burner

Even regarding a life-long passion, I think a person can be too devoted to something. Note I said “something,” not “someone.” I’m not here to deny that kind of passion. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I just think that, sometimes, being too devoted can get in the way of accomplishing anything.

Take projects, for example. I know many a crafter or artist who has a back room filled with fabric, yarn, beads, canvas, clay, or patterns, but nothing at all in a state of completion. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the muse refuses to cooperate, it helps to have a backup plan. There’s always a different pillow to stuff, doll to repair, painting to start, song to write, or sweater to knit.

I’ve had my share of unfinished needlepoint, counted-cross stitch, and latchhook projects, but they fell to the wayside as my eyesight has worsened.

I still have partial writing projects, though, simmering on the back burner.

I have recently had my first book published, but I’m here to tell you it’s far from the first one I wrote. I had more or less abandoned it and gone on to other projects when exactly the right publisher appeared, hungry for exactly the manuscript I had in the back of my drawer.

The fact that it was in the back of my proverbial drawer (actually a folder on my computer) may have meant that I had despaired of placing the manuscript, but not that I was done writing. All through my life, I’ve had several writing projects going, in various stages of completion. When one stalled, I would work on another.

I once wrote a murder mystery, a thinly disguised version of killing off my Rotten Ex-Boyfriend Who Almost Ruined My Life. I figured if that didn’t make me feel better, I could kill him off again in the sequel. But aside from a few positive comments on my “voice” and some great advice from Sue Grafton at a writers’ workshop, it went nowhere except to the back burner. And has stayed there ever since. Will I ever turn up the heat on it? I wouldn’t rule it out.

I tried again, with a nonfiction book this time about cartoon character Lisa Simpson. I ignored the fact that Fox would have a thing or two to say about a book based around one of their copyrighted characters. This time when I submitted a proposal to agents, I got back the one thing I never expected: not an acceptance, but a really great rejection letter. It was obvious from it that the person had done a thorough reading of my manuscript and thought about exactly why it wouldn’t fly.  Then she told me, in detail.

I abandoned that project (no back burner for that one, just lessons learned) and moved on to blogging. I had been blogging weekly for several years when it occurred to me that I had enough material for a book. A friend suggested that I give it a try. So off went proposals for Bipolar Me. Dozens of proposals, for several years. No dice. Eventually, I gave up. Back it went, on the burner or in the drawer, until an indie publisher swooped in and resurrected it. Now it’s available on Amazon, Nook, and Apple.

I haven’t completely given up the idea of fiction. I’ve got a new mystery that’s pretty close to being finished – if only I could figure out what needs to happen in that one pivotal chapter that still hasn’t come together. Right now, it’s on the back burner, waiting for a burst of creative fire to get me going on it again.

I’ve also got a number of humorous essays from this blog that I’m eager to turn into something. That’s what I’m working on now while I wait for the mystery to come together. And if neither one of them shows any forward motion, I’ve always got these blogs to write. I may never run out of manuscripts, circulating out in the world, stagnant on my hard drive, or on the back burner, just waiting to bubble.

At least they only clutter up my hard drive and not my whole study.

 

 

What a Hoot!

Owls are everywhere these days. I can think of at least four series of commercials that use owls as pitch-birds: ones for travel, eyeglasses, higher education, and decongestant. I almost understand the eyeglasses one, since owls have those big eyes, and I figure the university one is on pretty safe ground, given that owls are associated with wisdom. Geico even had an ad featuring an owl, but given that company’s other commercials, it scarcely fazed me. At least it wasn’t as nerve-shattering as the little piggy one.

But the travel advice bird and the one hawking allergy pills baffle me. Owls are not known for migrating, at least not like swallows and buzzards are. And I’ve never heard an owl sneeze, though I think it would be hilarious, except for the owl snot. As far as noncommercial representatives go, owls are also not well known as team mascots, except for the Temple University Owls. I’m told owls are the 17th most popular team mascot in the U.S., but I didn’t actually do the research. I certainly admire whoever did.

But I digress. At least the sinus relief commercial featuring not an owl but a bee with the voice of Antonio Banderas sort of made sense, since bees are associated with flowers, which can trigger allergies.  Although Banderas may not have been the wisest choice. I associate Spanish accents with deadly killer bees. And while I would never accuse Antonio B. of such a thing, the subtle note of aggression makes me twitchy.

But I digress again. The subject was owls. Owls have lately been making a comeback of sorts since they became the de facto messenger pigeons of the wizarding set. But in real life, owls are hardly the noble birds that CGI Hedwig portrays on film. While most owls are represented as giving a calm but inquisitive “whoo,” there are also screech owls, which didn’t get that name by being melodious singers. Encounter one of those at night on a camping trip and you’re more than likely to drop your s’mores.

And owls’ eating habits are not, shall we say, dainty. Not devotées of the backyard bird feeder, they like their meat and they like it still kicking. They don’t chew their food, either, like their mama owls should have taught them. Watching an owl chow down on a mouse, snake, or even a rabbit, is stomach-turning. For the owl too, apparently. Because they don’t have crops or gizzards like civilized birds such as chickens, owls pay the price for their gluttony by spitting up (to put it politely) the unpalatable bits – bones, fur, feathers, scales, and such – before they can eat again. Scientists find these “owl pellets” interesting, but they’re really just disgusting. And so are the owl pellets. Apparently, you can buy the repellent pellets on the internet for science classes or some other use I don’t care to contemplate.

Hedwig aside, owls tend to the creepy rather than the cuddly. They have that whole Exorcist thing going on where they can turn their heads backward, a consequence of their having more vertebrae than anyone except a giraffe deserves. Ohio humorist and professional curmudgeon James Thurber had it right when he said, “you could send an owl into my room, dressed only in the feathers it was born with, and no monkey business, and I would pull the covers over my head and scream.”

(He was discussing Gertrude Stein and her literarily famous pigeons on the grass. Evidently, owls had a profound effect on Thurber. He had a book titled The Owl in the Attic and also wrote a fable titled “The Owl Who Was God.” The moral was: You can fool too many of the people too much of the time. I recommend it to your attention. But I digress. You could probably tell by the parentheses.)

The only literary owl that I can view with any sort of affection is the one in Winnie-the-Pooh, who spells his own name Wol and can also spell HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY, which (in case you can’t tell) means “A very happy birthday with love from Pooh.”

When it comes to real-life owls, though, I prefer to keep my distance. And when it comes to TV commercials, I haven’t been able to stand talking animals ever since that damned gecko with the ambiguous accent. Even that picture of the owl with this post makes me feel like it knows just a little too much about my past and is particularly judgy about it. 

Good thing I have enough self-confidence to look that bird in the headlamps and say, “Who, me?”

Thanks-Giving

Why am I writing about Thanksgiving when it’s almost Valentine’s Day? Well, I’m not. Not that kind of thanks giving, anyway.

Nor am I going to write about Giving Thanks with capital letters, as one sometimes does around the dinner table or in church.

No, I want to talk about the simple act of saying, “Thank you” to each other.

Someone once observed that whenever my husband or I asked the other for a hug and got one, we said, “Thank you” afterward. It had never occurred to me that this was something unusual or weird, but this woman (a psychiatrist) seemed to think so. Though it happened years ago, I’ve been thinking about it recently.

Where did we ever get the idea that spouses don’t need to be polite to each other? It seems to me that when two people both love each other and live in close proximity to each other, their need for politeness and gratitude is greater rather than lesser. We often see each other at our worst. Surely a little civility is not out of place for the person who shares your life.

Maybe we take thanking others for granted. Sure, we’ll say thank you when someone gives us a present or when they compliment us. But what about all those daily opportunities to thank someone whom we don’t even know?

Admittedly, I probably take it a little too far at times. Servers in restaurants have a largely thankless job. I overcompensate by thanking the person who seats me, brings or takes away a menu or a glass of water, writes down my order, brings my food, and takes away my plate. I even thank the person who brings my check. All told, I can rarely get through a meal without six or seven “thank you’s.” Do I do it because it gets me better service? Well, I believe it does, but that’s not why. I’ve been a waitress.  That’s why.

Customer service is an even more thankless job. We vilify those who are surly or unable to help us. But when someone makes an effort and actually does help, how long does it take to say, “Thanks,” or even “I appreciate your taking the time to help me”? And while we’re at it, the customer service non-bot almost always gives her or his name at the outset of the call. Why not make the tiny mental effort to remember it and say, “Thanks, Chuck”? Imagine yourself getting snarled at all day and the lift it would give you to hear that.

Speaking of service, how many times do we tell veterans, “Thank you for your service” automatically, without thinking about what the words mean? I asked a friend of mine if that ever bothered her. She said that she didn’t care what motivated it and always replies, “It was my honor.”

My husband gives unexpected thank you’s. The last time we voted (in the mid-terms), he thanked the volunteers at the polling place for their time and their commitment in providing such a vital service. He even thanked the volunteer standing out in the rain handing out leaflets because no matter what party she belonged to, she was out there trying. He also thanks the cops who respond to the store where he works for looking out for them.

We teach children that “please” and “thank you” are “magic words,” but we let that sentiment go the way of the Tooth Fairy, as though it’s something we grow out of. Then we complain about young people who have “no respect.”

Of course, we know that “please” isn’t really a magic word. Just saying it will not get us anything we ask for. Even children eventually learn that. But does “thank you” have to fall by the wayside as well?

It’s hard to think of a situation in which saying “thanks” is inappropriate.