SMH!!!!!

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In one of the opening episodes of the HBO series The Newsroom, a young intern is tasked with sending flowers to a staff member who recently lost a loved one. Her boss confronts her about the message she had included with the flowers: “So sorry for your loss. LOL????”

“I thought it meant ‘Lots of Love,'” the intern explains apologetically. Mind you, one would think a Millennial would be more well versed in the latest slang: textspeak. Since the invention of texting in the 1990s, the popularity of communicating by cellphone text has exploded. In fact, my kids will rarely answer if I call their cellphones. But they will answer right away if I text them. And no, they are not unable to speak because they are in the Situation Room dealing with a crisis in the Middle East.

Along with the convenience of texting came the inevitable abbreviations that make texting quicker – but also more confusing. I’ve had to ask people (mostly my kids) the meaning of such shorthand as “LMK,” “IDK,” and “SMH.” Textspeak has started to feel like a special lingo for the young – with nuances we old fogeys can barely grasp.

For instance, I was unaware that if a person texted me an invitation to do something and I simply responded, “Sure,” that would mean that I was only begrudgingly willing to do so. Similarly, in an attempt to seem cooler than I actually am, I once answered my daughter’s request with a simple “K” for “okay.” Little did I know that just typing “K” implied that I was mad at her. Ditto for using “…” as an ellipsis for one’s thoughts.

Who knew that simple abbreviations and punctuation use (or the lack thereof) could carry such emotional weight in communication? I find myself peppering my texts with hundreds of exclamation points like an overly peppy high school cheerleader passing notes in English class – rather than the sober-minded woman who qualifies for the senior citizen discount at the movie theater.

Emoji use is also fraught with the potential for misunderstandings. Is that a smile or a grimace on that round yellow face? Should I use this winking emoji, or will that come off as flirting? What if I accidentally select the vomiting or poop emoji and send it to a friend?

For millennia, the younger generation has found ways of separating itself from the older one. They develop unique tastes in music and fashion. And they create their own special language to bond with their tribe while remaining opaque to the elders they are leaving in the dust.

The problem is that we Baby Boomers still think of ourselves as the younger generation. We try to stay young with our skinny jeans and skinny lattes. And we will continue to butcher the new language of the young – textspeak – as long as we have the use of our opposable thumbs and our everlasting urge to be:

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Homecoming Dated

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Everyday Life of Students of Eastern Kentucky University in the 1960s (17)This past weekend was my daughter’s Homecoming dance. As always, I was on hand with the other parental paparazzi to take pre-dinner/dance photos.

I am always amazed at how mature our teenagers look when they are dressed up in snazzy dresses, heels, suits and ties. Still, they have their kid personalities, and it’s almost as if they’re playing at being grownups. The boys congregate to one side while the girls chat on the other, and it’s up to the loudest parent to corral them into groups for the requisite photos.

What struck me the other evening, though, was how the kids glittered and glowed while we parents looked a bit schlubby in our casual clothes and lack of makeup or hairstyling. Of course, there were some parents who’d made an effort and looked pretty put together in a casual yet chic way. But for the most part, we parents were on the sidelines, our own sense of youth dimmed by the dazzling display around us.

That’s one of the things that happens when you become a parent. I remember being a new mother and bemoaning the soft new “mom bod” I had developed. Late nights and breastfeeding and clothes covered with spit-up didn’t quite exude youthful sexiness.

But that feeling of being a young person in an old fogey’s body really heightens as the children near adulthood. It’s hard to remember the thoughts and feelings you had as a little kid. But it’s easy to remember your high school and college years, a time when you failed to appreciate your youthful vibrance and energy. With adolescent freshness all around you, it’s natural to feel a bit wistful about the days when you were the belle of the ball.

To our kids, we are hopelessly outdated, clueless about our smartphones, and generally relegated to coexistence with the dinosaurs. After Homecoming photos, my daughter dismissed me with a quick smile and a toss of her glossy black mane. I went home to takeout and TV with my equally ancient hubby. But on the car ride home, I couldn’t help smiling as I remembered the shiny, baby blue halter dress I wore while dancing with my date to “Precious and Few” at a Homecoming in the distant past.

The Millenials and iGen-ers may be taking over. But they can’t take away the memories of our own shining youth and the knowledge that back in the day, we were pretty cool ourselves.

The Nature of Comedy

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2000px-Emojione_1F602.svgI’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes something funny. In a previous post, I extolled the comic genius of John Mulaney, a stand-up comic and former writer at Saturday Night Live, whose shows have had me in stitches. But when I shared one of Mulaney’s comedy specials with my husband, he barely laughed. Clearly, he and I have different ideas about what makes something – or someone – funny.

Then the other day, I decided to read the comics in my local newspaper. As a child, I liked to check out the “Peanuts” comic strip and “Family Circus.” I also spent my hard-earned allowance money on “Archie” comic books. But I find that the humor in comic strips is more understated. In my recent perusal of the “funnies,” I didn’t laugh or even chuckle once reading the likes of “Dilbert,” “Peanuts,” or “Baby Blues.” Comic strips are more wry social commentary than entertainment designed to make you laugh out loud.

The comedy I love most is the kind that revolves around family life. Whether it’s the zany and unpredictable relationship between Lorelai and Rory on The Gilmore Girls, the antics of the Pritchett clan on Modern Family, or the challenges of being an upper middle class family that’s only Black-ish, the everyday ups and downs of family life make me laugh with rueful recognition.

That is the secret of my favorite comedians as well. Both Mulaney and Jerry Seinfeld mine their childhoods as well as their current relationships for laughs. Ditto with Chris Rock, whose short-lived but hilarious series Everybody Hates Chris detailed the daily humiliations and deprivations of Rock’s childhood.

I often wonder what comedians’ families think about their using their intimate relationships to get laughs. In the wonderful new series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the main character achieves success in stand-up through her no-holds-barred description of everything that is happening to her in her personal life. When her horrified husband, an aspiring comic himself, catches her stand-up act, it’s clear that there will be no “happy ever after” for this couple.

I admire comedians, comic actors, and humor writers. They don’t get a lot of respect as artists. For instance, what full-blown comedy has ever won a Best Picture Oscar? Yet comedy, which is fraught with political incorrectness and subject to the variable tastes of audiences, can be much edgier and make more pointed social commentary than many other genres. There’s something more palatable about biting criticism when it goes down with a hearty laugh.

I think what makes something funny is that embarrassed recognition of our own human insecurities, prejudices, and foibles in the words and actions of someone who is not afraid to “go there.” It’s a way of laughing at ourselves but not at our own expense. I don’t envy the life of a comic. It’s a tall order to follow the dictate of Donald O’Connor in Singin’ in the Rain: “Make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh!”

 

 

Gen X Comic Gets the Laughs

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My stomach still hurts. Last night I watched two stand-up comedy specials on Netflix featuring the up and comer John Mulaney. Full disclosure here: I know John’s parents. So it was with a certain knowing glee that I listened to his loving but biting anecdotes about being raised by his stern, devoutly Catholic parents.

John Mulaney has some serious comedy cred. He was a writer for Saturday Night Live for many years and had a short-lived TV series cleverly named Mulaney. And nowadays, he can fill the Chicago Theatre and Radio City Music Hall for his hilarious observations about modern life as well as his reminiscences from the distant Eighties.

I think the secret to Mulaney’s success, besides some clever voice impersonations and a certain controlled mania, is his ability to straddle the generations in appeal. Mulaney, 35, is still young, and he is clearly immersed in the present. For instance, he makes an off-hand joke about how in college, everything is just your own opinion, a knowing mockery of today’s coddled university student. And he even wades into politics in his Radio City Music Hall special “Kid Gorgeous” with a hilarious and extended comparison of Donald Trump in the White House to a horse in a hospital.

But for my money, his funniest and most endearing stories involve his childhood, which seem to echo my own years as a young Baby Boomer with Depression-era, hard-line parents. He describes sitting on a sofa with his mother and eating Triscuits in dead silence. And he horrifies the youngsters in the audience by describing how his cold-hearted dad could go through a McDonalds drive-thru and pick up only a coffee for himself. (The irony in his jabs at his father are that, physically, John is a Chip off the old block.)

The helpless and trapped nature of childhood are a theme in Mulaney’s comedy, including the description of a “stranger danger” assembly that served to scar a generation of young kids for life. Or the adult size XXL t-shirt he was forced to wear as a nightshirt.

Many of Mulaney’s references speak directly to the generation known as Gen X. He riffs on the plots of such movies as  The Fugitive and Back to the Future. He references his Aladdin wallet. And most memorably, he reminisces about meeting the future president Bill Clinton in 1992.

I’m sure the Yale-educated lawyers who raised John Mulaney are bemused by his choice of careers. But I would say that those of us seeking some comic relief in these troubled times are lucky to have Mulaney’s irreverent, witty, and hilarious take on life to make us laugh.

My stomach still hurts.

Dropping Out of the Digital Age

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I’ve decided to drop out of this century. I realized I am hopelessly out of date today when I completed a survey for my local library. When asked about digital materials and library resources, not only did I have no use for them, I’d never even heard of most of them. No, dear library, I don’t want ebooks or audiobooks or apps on my phone. Just give me an old-fashioned paperbound book and a cup of tea, please.

Then I noticed articles in my newspaper about the gig economy, and I don’t even know what that is. Also, states like Alaska and Vermont are offering to pay people just to move there and work remotely for a company in another state. What is that? Whatever happened to the kind of job where you get up, get dressed, and drive or take the train or bus to an office/school/restaurant/store and work there for 8 hours?

My daughter’s schools and camps now insist that all documents be scanned and uploaded to their websites. No more mailing or even faxing! No wonder my postal carrier looks glum these days. Online classes and bill payments, electronic grade reports, medical MyCharts. Sure, I feel totally secure having all my personal medical information on the web -NOT!

There is some evidence that I’m not alone in my discomfort with runaway technological progress. A recent report indicates that a large majority of people aren’t comfortable with the idea of owning or riding in a driverless vehicle. Ironically, all the titans of tech in Silicon Valley send their kids to schools where use of technology is verboten.

I admit that I like the convenience of ordering online, Googling, and even playing games on my phone in doctors’ waiting rooms. The digital age has even made it possible for me to share these curmudgeonly thoughts with a wide audience.

But I lament all that has been lost as we focus on our phones and other electronic devices. Face to face conversation, cursive handwriting, letter writing – they all seem to be facing obsolescence. Let’s face it. Anyone under 40 is incapable of balancing their checkbook by hand. (My kids don’t even know what balancing a checkbook is.) Call me crazy, but I would rather order my broccoli cheddar soup from the Panera cashier than punch a bunch of buttons on a machine and make my lonely way to a table, where soon, no doubt, a robot will deposit my food.

So I am dropping out of the digital age. You will find me at the library reading real books and writing in my paper journal with a pen. And if you see me, please stop by for a face to face chat. I’m still doing those.

 

You’ve Been Bullied, Charlie Brown

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The other night I watched back-to-back Charlie Brown Valentine’s Day specials. It had been years since I had watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with my kids, and I was in the mood for a bit of nostalgia. Imagine my surprise when I found myself slightly disturbed by the stories in “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Valentine.”

The gist of the plot in “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” is that Charlie never gets any valentines from friends or classmates. He sits forlornly by his mailbox waiting for the impossible: that someone will like him enough to send him a heart-shaped missive. I’ve always known, of course, that the whole persona of Charlie Brown from Charles M. Schultz’s comic strip and TV specials is that of an unpopular loser. His classmates openly make fun of his attempts to direct a Christmas play and his choice of a spindly little tree that is like a kindred spirit to Charlie. He’s clumsy and glum and never seems to catch a break.

But something in these Valentine’s Day specials really struck me as hard and mean-spirited. First of all, from today’s perspective, it is horrifying that kids would be allowed to bring to school valentines for some, but not all, of the children in their classes. Charlie stands there empty-handed while Schroeder publicly hands out all the valentines. Of course, there are none for Charlie Brown.

On top of the humiliation regularly heaped upon Charlie Brown in these cartoons, the other kids are openly hostile to each other. When Charlie’s little sister Sally pesters Linus about getting candy or a card from him, he shouts at her and tells her he’s not getting her anything. Ditto with the exasperated Schroeder dealing with the ever-persistent Lucy. Even Charlie himself is no Galahad as he spurns the advances of both Marcie and Peppermint Patty in “A Charlie Brown Valentine.”

The world of Charlie Brown is perhaps meant to signify the meanness of adults as seen through the eyes of children. Or maybe modern society has evolved into insisting that children treat each other better, at least on the surface. Imagine a modern elementary school that would allow kids to openly exclude another child from a valentine or an invitation to a birthday party. Maybe we have turned into a kinder, gentler society after all.

My sense of nostalgia definitely was not awakened as I watched the lovelorn world of a Charlie Brown Valentine’s Day special. When you really think about these stories, an apter title for them all would be “You’re a loser, Charlie Brown.” Next time I’m in the mood for nostalgia, I’ll pick something more wholesome, such as “Psycho.”

The Disney Experience

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My husband, daughter, and I just returned from a weekend soccer event at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida. It was a warm, sunny weekend, our daughter’s team played well, and a good time was had by all. My only regret was not having time to visit one of the many theme parks that make up the World according to Disney.

Being close to the “happiest place on Earth,” however, reminded me of the many times we have taken our children to visit Disneyland and Disney World over the years. While I am an unabashed fan of all things Disney, my husband has always been a grudging participant in our visits.

On one of our first trips to Disneyland in California, we were in line waiting for a ride when we overheard a child in full meltdown, red-faced and wailing. My husband turned to me and drily quipped, “That’s the Disney experience.” From that time on, we referred to the many tantrums and outbursts that are an inevitable part of dragging young children around a theme park in the sun as “the Disney experience.”

The world created by Walt Disney and his successors is a strange one indeed. There is a certain Stepford Wives quality to the perfection of an imaginary Main Street and the many other fantastical settings created within the parks. Everyone acts as if it’s normal to line up behind a figure in a giant costume and wait to get Mickey Mouse’s autograph. Mind you, these are not just children jostling to get close to the world’s most famous rodent.

Within the world of Disney, unseen voices sweetly, if a bit eerily, encourage guests to “please move to the center of the row” in a given attraction over and over again – to the unthinking and perfect compliance of the guests. And inside these dimly lit fantasy worlds, animatronic figures go about their business in a not-quite-lifelike manner.

There is an entire unseen, underground apparatus that runs the Disney theme parks. When I learned this, I imagined cartoonish jail cells where unruly guests might be confined for, say, throwing their jumbo drink cup on the ground or taking cuts in line. One gets the sense while at Disney that there is no possibility of allowing misbehavior to go unchecked.

In fact, that’s one of the things I love about the Disney experience. It’s unreal, true. But we all get enough reality in our day to day lives. It’s nice to go somewhere where everything is shiny and perfect and have some good old fashioned fun. The jokes are corny and the songs sometimes a bit saccharine. But there’s no denying the sense of magic in the Magic Kingdom.

And notwithstanding the toddler meltdowns that are part of “the Disney experience,” it may just be the happiest place on Earth.