More Than One Thing

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lastblackman1.0The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a quiet movie that is playing at only a handful of select theaters. Most critical reviews are focused on its treatment of San Francisco and the woes of long-time residents displaced by gentrification. But I took something else away from the film.

In a scene towards the end of the movie, the main character Jimmie Fails gets up to speak at a showing of his best friend’s improvisational play that has turned into a de facto memorial service for a neighbor recently shot dead. In describing his complicated relationship with the man, Kofi, Jimmie says, “Everybody is not just one thing.” That line stayed with me long after the movie ended.

Everybody is not just one thing. We tend to categorize people and judge them by superficial characteristics: looks, clothing, manner, speech. In Last Black Man, a group of young men in the neighborhood stand around swearing and insulting each other, pushing each other around, acting the tough guy. But when Kofi dies, the most belligerent of the group collapses into the arms of the very same man (Jimmie’s best friend) whom he has relentlessly mocked in the past.

In our increasingly polarized society, we need to remember that people are complex. Take Donald Trump, for instance. I myself have had very little good to say about our current president. And I don’t feel like he’s a good man. But I do not know Donald Trump personally. He may be a loving husband and father. He may be a good friend. His public persona is not the whole of Mr. Trump or of any of us. So it would behoove us to think carefully about labeling and name calling and ascribing hateful titles to people, something that, ironically, Mr. Trump does on a regular basis.

We should also hesitate to paint all members of a group with the same broad brush, whether they be Wall Street bankers or migrants at our border.

All of us are afflicted with the same infuriating, confusing, and glorious infirmity: the human condition. The Last Black Man in San Francisco portrays this reality beautifully. There are no clear villains or heroes in the movie. Instead, we get an up close portrait of a friendship and of the life of two young men navigating the new realities of their beloved city and trying to find their own place in it.

Let’s remember that we are all many things and afford each other the respect deserved by all human beings.

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What a Hassle!

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3_730x410In my advanced middle age (read: “old”), I have come to realize that most of my time consists of avoiding hassles. I’m forever commenting about potential activities, “That seems like a hassle.”

I love that word: “hassle.” My dictionary app says that the word comes from a Southeastern United States expression meaning, “to pant, as from exertion.” Or it could derive from the British meaning: “to hack at, saw away at with a blunt blade.”

Yep. That’s how it feels when something is a hassle. Not long ago, our friends were telling us about the day spent getting their boat ready for sailing on Lake Michigan. They described a long, dirty ordeal that just seems like too much work.

Many people’s avocations seem to involve too much hassle: gardening, wood-working, restoring furniture, and most DIY household projects. And many sports are equipment-heavy and time-consuming just to prepare for: football, hockey, golf, waterskiing, snow skiing, among others.

I remember when my son started playing tackle football the summer before fifth grade. He came home with a huge bag full of equipment that I had to somehow help him assemble onto himself. A friend whose son was also starting football that year hosted a get together whose main purpose was helping each other figure out how to suit up our boys like gladiators for battle. What a hassle!

I’ve also seen fit over the years to complain about school projects with many moving parts and expeditions involving long drives, packed coolers, and other hassles. Even getting the kids ready to go to the local pool – finding their suits, packing towels and goggles, slathering sunscreen on wriggling bodies – sometimes made me weary.

On the other hand, tell me you need two dozen baked goods for the school bake sale, and I’m all over it. There will be nary a complaint about buying, assembling, and prepping ingredients for cookies, cupcakes, or other sweet treats. No exasperation at counters covered in flour and colored sprinkles. No whining about hassles.

I guess when you truly enjoy something, you have the patience and sustained interest to plough through without feeling hassled. For me, cleaning up the house and the kids after a beach expedition: hassle. But three hours on the couch reading book after book to my little ones? Pure joy.

I guess a hassle is in the eye of the beholder.

Bad News on Bingeing

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2016-11-28-1480351093-5664005-themarysue_gilmoregirls-656x353For some reason, I find summertime to be a great season for binge-watching my favorite shows. During the school year while my kids are busy with their full schedules, lounging around and watching TV seems too decadent. I try to be as productive on the home front as they are at school. But in the summer, while they oil themselves up and head to the pool, I’m happy to revisit my favorite series Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time.

But today I read some distressing news. Studies are revealing the adverse health effects of bingeing on video content. Spending hours in front of screens can lead to vision and sleep problems, deep vein thrombosis, and obesity from all the sitting and eating. Nothing in the report was all that shocking, yet seeing it in black and white brought home to me how damaging my habit can actually be.

Ironically, summer is also when the weather is often fine and suitable for more active pursuits. I have increased the frequency and duration of my daily walks lately. And the summer sun brings cheer that makes me more energetic about household tasks.

Medical experts suggest that if you want to binge watch a show, you should get up often to take breaks, stretch, throw in a load of laundry, walk the dog. You should also prepare healthy snacks to eat while bingeing, such as cut up vegetables and air-popped popcorn. Luckily for me, I still have one child at home, so I’m regularly getting up to help her find missing items, trudge upstairs to wake her up, or do her mountains of sweaty soccer-related laundry.

My husband is fond of saying, “Sitting is the new smoking.” It’s a good reminder that as much as I’d like to hang out with Lorelai and Rory Gilmore all day, I need to be active and productive. That way, at the end of the day, I can feel tired and accomplished and feel justified in enjoying a couple of episodes of my favorite show. Those Gilmore girls aren’t going anywhere, after all.

 

Does Dad Need Some Daditude?

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Does your father or husband like to chuckle and/or laugh out loud occasionally? Do you need a last minute Father’s Day gift?

I’ve been listening to a wry, humorous, and heartwarming book of essays titled Daditude by Chris Erskine. Erskine is a Los Angeles Times writer whose columns are syndicated in my hometown Chicago Tribune under the title “The Middle Ages.” I’ve followed Erskine’s musings for a number of years now, and the man is great with a turn of phrase.

Erskine writes about the trials, tribulations, and joys of family, friends, and growing older. His tales about his brood of four kids and his long-suffering wife alternate with stories about a group of incorrigible drinking buddies. In Daditude, though, he has culled a selection of former columns about his family: rites of passage, holidays, childhood memories.

The tone of these essays is always one of tender bemusement. As much as he mocks some of his kids’ excesses (In one story, he claims his younger daughter renamed herself VISA, with a dollar sign for the “S.”), its clear how much he adores his kids and worships his wife, whom he affectionately calls “Posh” in his writing.

In descriptions of Christmases past and summers in LA, of dropping his oldest daughter off at college, and of shopping for the perfect valentine, Erskine notes the details – the little nuances of nature and human nature that many of us miss. For instance, he describes dressing his newborn son: “I can’t seem to thread this kid’s tiny hand through a shirt hole the size of a nostril.” Or the first cool day of fall: “The cool feels good. Like brushing your teeth. Like a snowy kiss.”

Some of the stories are even more poignant in retrospect, as the twin losses of his son and wife in the past two years had not yet happened. The book was published as Erskine’s wife was going through cancer treatment. Even in those columns that described Posh’s illness, Erskine retains some of the gentle humor and wry sense of the world that no doubt has helped him through such tragedy.

I highly recommend Daditude for fathers and mothers and anyone with a heart, really. As Erskine himself says in the foreword of the book, “I hope you devour this book shamelessly, like no one’s watching, like a big gooey pizza at midnight.”

 

Good News

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These days the simple act of picking up and reading the daily newspaper can be distressing. The headlines blare with all the dysfunction, disorder, and violence that has occurred since only yesterday. Some days I just avoid it altogether.

But today I bravely unfolded my Chicago Tribune and found, to my delight, two wonderful stories on pages two and three of the paper.

The first was told by Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens, about a young boy on the autism spectrum who was having difficulty facing the last day of school. When the boy’s teacher found out his parents couldn’t get him to budge to make the short walk to school, she got involved by FaceTiming him to persuade him. Ultimately, the school principal himself agreed to walk down to the boy’s house and escort him for his last day. The boy was so excited by his VIP escort, and the two chatted amiably all the way.

In other news, the city of Chicago was saved from evil by a new superhero, Galacto, who is really a young boy battling a rare immune system disorder. The real superheroes at Make-a-Wish Foundation – along with Chicago police and firefighters, the mayor, and the costume designers at Columbia College – had made this dream come true for a young boy with an uncertain future.

These heartwarming stories made my day. And it’s only 8 am! It’s great to be reminded that there are so many courageous, generous, and kind people in the world whose only goal is to help others. The school principal, Jonathan Ellwanger, who is one year shy of retirement, said, “For all of us, little things are big things. This is a little thing, but it’s what we do and, hopefully, describes what we are trying to be about as a school.” (Heidi Stevens, “Principal helps 1st-grader with autism face last day of school,” Chicago Tribune, Monday, June 10, 2019) I want to work for that guy!

Here’s to those who are trying to make the world a better place, in large ways and small. They are my superheroes.

BBT Had the Best Nerds

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An ad for a web-branding company recommends, “Hire better nerds.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek sales pitch and a sign of the times. Since the advent of Silicon Valley dominance, never before has it been so hip to be square. You can find tech gurus in matching t-shirts at the Genius Bar in the Apple store. And Best Buy sends out its Geek Squad to troubleshoot on all things tech. Revenge of the Nerds indeed.

But my favorite nerds are the ones who have populated the beloved sitcom Big Bang Theory for the past 12 years. BBT recently aired its final episode, and I have to say it was one of the most satisfying final episodes of a series that I have ever seen. (Don’t worry. No spoilers in this post!)

For all these years, audiences have grown to love the socially awkward, atrociously dressed foursome of Cal Tech scientists, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj – and Penny, the hot girl across the hall who helps them come out of their shells and teaches them a few street smarts. Later love interests Bernadette and Amy add female camaraderie to the tech bro culture of the guys.

The guys’ (and Amy’s) nerdiness is the major source of humor in the show. But being smart is also celebrated throughout the series, and the scientists’ real intellectual concerns are taken seriously. Recurring cameos by real life scientists such as Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and the great Stephen Hawking show that the series creators appreciate science and admire scientists, even the socially inept four who form the nucleus of the show. Mayim Bialik, who plays Sheldon’s wife Amy, is herself a well-regarded neuroscientist.

The character of Sheldon is arguably the most fascinating and beloved of the characters that populated The Big Bang Theory. His many personality quirks and slow development of more socially-accepted behaviors make his interactions with the other characters more interesting. We root for Sheldon because many of us also have idiosyncrasies and insecurities around social situations ourselves. Sheldon’s trajectory gives us hope that ultimately, we can be accepted and loved just the way we are.

Luckily for fans of Sheldon, his young self lives on in the aptly named series Young Sheldon. An interesting note is that Zoe Perry, who plays Sheldon’s mom on Young Sheldon, is the real life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays his mom on BBT.

I will miss the lovable misfits of The Big Bang Theory. Their foibles gave me lots of laughs. And their love for one another gave me all the feels, as they say. Most importantly, the series confirmed that it’s cool to be smart and best to be yourself. And it all started with a big bang – BANG!

 

 

 

Stupid Things To Do In Summer

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Screen_Shot_2017_07_03_at_1.34.23_PM.0.pngWith Memorial Day around the corner, our fancy turns to all things summer. In the spirit of the upcoming season, I’m happy to provide a PSA on what NOT to do this summer. You’re welcome.

This summer, please don’t:

  1. Leave children or pets in hot cars.
  2. Take kids tubing on a lake without a spotter to watch them constantly.
  3. Go out into the woods without being covered in DEET.
  4. Go outside after dark without being covered in DEET.
  5. Leave anyone in a hot car.
  6. Go on a diet during barbecue/ice cream season.
  7. Drink and go boating.
  8. Drink and drive.
  9. Drink and slice watermelon.
  10. Leave mayonnaise-laden foods outside for long periods of time.
  11. Leave children unattended in any body of water.
  12. Play with fireworks.
  13. Go out in the sun without sunscreen.
  14. Fail to hydrate.
  15. Touch any three-leaf patterned plants.

I’m sure there are other potential hazards looking to spoil our summer fun. Lawn mowing, for instance, can be extremely dangerous, especially if you do it in flip flops. Sports related injuries also increase in the summer as the warm weather encourages weekend warriors to get out and run, bike, swim, rollerblade and play frisbee.

With a little common sense, though, we can fully enjoy the glory of long, warm summer days, balmy evenings roasting marshmallows by the fire, and time spent outdoors with family and friends.

So break out your white shorts and start summering it up this Memorial Day! (Safely, please)