Thursday, December 17, 2009

Guest Blog

My friend Myron Boyajian wanted to post this as a comment but space doesn't permit it, so I am giving him full rein. All italics are mine. Here's what he had to say:

Your December 9, 2009 post hit home with me. I have seen the erosion of civility and I am disturbed by it. True civility and respect for another person have been replaced by slovenly manners, dress, speech, and thinking. We see this on TV sitcoms with a 10 year old kid with a 30 year old mouth spouting double entendres and remarks that ridicule adults, or in our public life, a swinging door closed in one's face because the person ahead was too inconsiderate to give a backward glance, and, well, the list just goes on. We see how lost courtesy extends to our social interaction with fellow humans. For example, we see honest, forthright verbal exchanges replaced by cutesy one-liners and snide comments. If one speaker believes there may be a chance for financial or social gain from the other speaker, than we see a verbal barrage of insincere oily commentary and flattery flow like a Niagara.

This behavior has not only increased naturally, but is actively being taught! For example a recent article in the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum magazine reported that the University of Potsdam actually teaches a kind of "Flattery 101." The course was planned for engineering undergraduates. My thoughts noted below are my response to the Spectrum article, but are applicable to any profession or social position. They are:

Forget flirting--a more valuable learning experience for EEs (or any other engineer, for that matter) should include:

Learn to use basic engineering knowledge in technical problem-solving.

Learn and use written and spoken language skills that include proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Develop a good work ethic. Don't depend on someone else in the "team" to do your work.

Learn good personal habits, including basics like bathing, grooming, brushing your teeth, and wearing clean (not necessarily new or expensive) clothes.

If you are going to be a professional, then act, speak, dress, and work like one. If you carry yourself well, good social and professional intercourse will follow. The aura you project will do all the flirting for you.

If you want to slouch your way through life acting, looking, and thinking like the classic grungy, impecunious undergraduate, then do so, but don’t expect flirting skills to cover for you.
Thanks for letting me rant,


As always, I welcome your comments below. I expect Myron will be interested too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

We wish all the blessings of the season, whether it be Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, the Solstice, or whatever. In order to be green, we are posting our Christmas Letter.


Inauguration Day

We attended an Inauguration Celebration at Flavor with a lot of friends. “Say it loud: post-racial and proud!” (From our lips to God's ears!)

We also celebrated the anniversary of Bill’s broken ankle. He decided he hates to shave and quit. Ann made no comment although she didn’t like his prickliness.


Valentine’s Day

Happiness came to live with us along with her brother Ozzie and her mistress Shannon. Shannon sat with her laptop and posted our grammatical corrections of television shows to her Facebook page just for laughs.


Lenten Fasts

We loved having four dogs live with us and we didn’t stop vacuuming nor did we burn out the motor. We did take the vacuum in for cleaning.


Easter and Shakespeare’s birthday. Ann gave Bill an ultimatum: Either start using the health club or we were going to cancel the monthly fee. Bill started walking in the pool and achieved a 45 minute mile. Ann is up to 180 crunches. That’s per visit, not total.


Memorial Day

We found cheap seeds at a local hardware store and planted the garden to our own peculiar tastes: beans, beets, eggplant, fennel, lettuce, okra, tomatoes. Most things didn’t come up and we replanted. Next year we'll order from reputable seed companies.


The First Day of Summer

Clockhouse Writer’s Conference and Retreat: Bill went to Vermont for a week, but Ann enjoyed the retreat part. She didn’t have extra laundry, she could cook and eat what and when she wanted. And she tended the garden and pulled weeds.


Happy Independence Day!

With Travel Buddies Ted and Carol we went to the Olympic Peninsula for a week and spent a day in Victoria, B.C., at beautiful Butchart Gardens. The town of Forks, on the Peninsula, is the setting for the improbable Twilight vampire series. We read the first 128 pages of the first book aloud while we travelled, adding our own off color comments, of course.

Ann returned to Homewood, but Bill stayed for another week at the Centrum Writers’ Conference in Port Townsend and studied with incredible Chris Abani.


Our 42nd Anniversary.

Ann reprised my role of resident gimp from a couple of Januaries ago when she had a stress fracture to her ankle. She had a boot for six weeks. Ugh!

Derek and JoAnn had a beautiful little girl on the eleventh. Ginger haired Ella is adorable, indescribable, beautiful . . . in short, all the things a granddaughter ought to be.

Grandson David went to Quito, Ecuador, for his first semester of his junior year in college. We Skype and email occasionally, but miss him a lot. He’ll be home for New Year’s.


Labor Day

Ann had a quiet birthday surrounded by loving friends and family. The best part? In a year we can ditch our VERY expensive health insurance and go on Medicare.

We don’t celebrate Labor Day the way we used to since neither of us is working outside the home. Bill continues to write and Ann picks up after Bill.

Our painting class at the Park District Center began again with our marvelous instructor Carol.


Columbus Day

We are in love! We went to Denver to see Ella. She’s even better in person than in photos, and she’s pretty impressive in photos. Derek and Jo are learning to be Ella’s parents rather than people in their own right, roles they will continue until the beautiful baby is out of the nest.

Grandson Jonathan organized a Quidditch Tournament at his high school. The school didn’t sanction it, but eight teams signed up and it too the better part of three weekends. The Golden Snitch, a cross country runner dressed in yellow, ran through the neighborhood until someone made a goal, and then the GS was fair game. It was great fun to watch, and the players enjoyed themselves too. Jonathan got himself a bullhorn and directed the whole thing. We suspect he had the best time of all.

Bill shaved. Ann was relieved. She, of course, had smooth legs for the entire year.



We joined Bill’s seat mates Gary and Maryanne at the opera for dinner before performances, a habit we have enjoyed for a couple of seasons, now. Gounod’s Faust was beautiful.

We enjoyed a quiet Thanksgiving with art instructor Carol and her husband Myron, and Shannon and Ray, her boyfriend.


St. Nicholas Day, Christmas

Bill celebrated his birthday with lunch attended by cousin Rochelle, jazz singer Joan Collaso, Our Furry Godmother Ray and Sherry who walk our dogs, and Gwen and JoAnne, who walk a mile with Bill in the health club pool three times a week.

We’re looking forward to Christmas Eve with Tim and Karen, Greyson and Alexa, and to Christmas Day, which Shannon is hosting. We will spend time with David and Jonathan on New Year’s Day after they get back from their Christmas trip with their mom to the Galapagos Islands. And Derek, Jo, and the best baby in the world Ella are coming in early January.

This has been a pretty good year for us. We extend our best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

As always, feel free to comment below.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A New Civility

I think it’s time we started a New Civility.

Rudeness and incivility have been the standard for politics for the last few decades. Who can forget the George H. W. Bush ad that used Willy Horton to terrify the middle class? He wasn’t the first candidate who used scare tactics, of course, but he was one of the most effective. And it got him elected. Since then, politics has become more and more discourteous.

I suspect this lack of civility began when I was in high school. John F. Kennedy was the first president to go without a hat, and after that wedge things just went downhill from there. No longer were jeans considered cowboy gear. People began to wear them everywhere. High schools did away with dress codes when courts ruled that costumes were a part of freedom of expression - freedom of speech.

When I began teaching in the late 1960’s, boys were required to wear belts and have their hair cut at least an inch from their eyebrows and collars. They could not wear jeans because the rivets at the pockets scratched the largely wooden furniture then. Girls could not wear slacks, but I’m not sure why. And no one could wear boots. Perhaps their feet got too hot. Who knows?

When I started teaching, teachers were prohibited from having facial hair, and were required to wear ties. I don’t know whether it helped or not, but I had few discipline problems.

When we flew, which was both expensive and infrequent, we dressed up with suits and ties for males and nice dresses for females.

All that is past. I don’t mourn it, although I still believe that dress codes have a place, and the way you dress somewhat shows the degree of respect and esteem you give to an event or person.

On the other hand I don’t dress up much. I just don’t own the clothes any more. I wore a tie twice this year, once was to a wedding. I went to only one funeral, thank goodness. I try to be neat and clean for church, but I wear pretty crummy clothes to the dog park because I know that various dogs are going to jump on me.

The way we dress is frequently an outward and visible sign of inward attitudes and beliefs, it seems to me. But maybe not. On the political front, clothing didn’t stop the then President of the Senate Dick Cheney from telling a senator to perform an impossible sexual act, or more recently from another congressman yelling, “Liar!” to President Obama during a speech to the Congress. Bad form both. Both in suits and ties.

Recently on facebook, several friends have said they started giving a thumbs up and a smile to people they felt like flipping the bird to. I don’t know whether this will keep things civil because the recipient is likely to become more enraged. But it’s worth a try.

This call for civility is personal, of course. I’m tired of clerks talking over my head with each other or on the cell while they’re waiting on me. Last month when the totally expressionless clerk told me I couldn’t return something because it wasn’t store policy. She didn’t smile or look at me. She didn’t say she was sorry. She was a robot, and perhaps that’s because the retailer treats its employees in that manner, but I don’t think so. Other employees are far more pleasant.

Yesterday at Dick’s Sporting Goods (I know, not the place you think about seeing me. I can be ironic about myself without being passive aggressive, of course) we stood in line for a very long time and they finally opened up a second register. When they called for the next person in line - us - the man behind us made a scene. “Don’t you want to take my money?” he growled. The clerk, who was not a flatliner, explained that he wanted to wait on everyone - in turn. I could have given the impatient customer a thumbs up and a smile, but I'm not sure it would have helped.

I’m also tired of people who think being passive aggressive is a substitute for humor. I was introduced to a man in the recent past whose first complete sentence to me was the question, “What does it feel like to be a failed writer?” I was taken aback and shocked because someone has fed him misinformation about me and he had the chutzpah to ask. My gracious reply was that I don’t know how it feels.

(My first novel didn’t become a best seller by any means. In fact at its best it ranked about 150,000th on Amazon. But it sold close to a thousand copies, which is pretty normal for a first novel, and I was pleased. After two years it went out of print. So be it.)

The failed writer query, however, ranks right up there with one I saw on KDKA-TV out of Pittsburgh several years ago. A completely insensitive and thoughtless reporter asked a woman whose three children all were burned to death in a house fire how she felt. What a stupid question! If the woman were lucky, she was totally numb, not functioning. After the death of a child, God gives that gift to bereaved parents. It doesn’t last long enough.

Every movement starts with one person, so my resolution for next year is to be civil to everyone. I invite you to join me.

And feel free to comment below.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Life is Messy

I had a birthday yesterday. It wasn’t a milestone although the older I get, the more I believe that every birthday is a mile stone.

Our former daughter in law had a tradition of asking the rapidly aging person at dinner, “What wisdom have you learned, now that you are a year older?”

No one asked that yesterday, but I still thought about it. Here’s my wisdom after my close to six and a half decades:

If you do it right, life is messy.

I had a student once, Missy, an accomplished harp player who married the son of a super star of music, who told me that you can’t know what’s good unless you have some bad, and conversely, you can’t know what’s bad unless you have good in your life.

I had never thought about life that way, but it makes a lot of sense.

We have great joy in our life because we experienced - and still experience on occasion - great sadness. When our son Daniel died, we thought it was the end of our world, and on occasion we wished devoutly that our world would indeed end. It didn’t, obviously. Instead, we were given chosen family: two grandsons at first, David and Jonathan. Then came Alexa and Greyson and more recently the beauteous Ella. Derek and Shannon chose me their dad and the grandson’s dad put us in the same category as did another former student whose father is a giant jerk. Then the lovely Rochelle named me her cousin. For all of these wonderful people I am extremely grateful.

We survived a messy time, and on occasion our lives continue to be messy. We have made a couple of moves, a house that is six plus years later worth far less than we put into it. We have had broken ankles and dogs that chew things and poop all over the yard. Both major and minor messiness, but all messy just the same.

We have been through friends’ and relatives’ divorces - and remarriages. We have seen our kids’ significant others come and go. We loved all of them because our kids loved them, and we mourned their loss.

Yesterday was messy, but in a different way. My prerogative on my birthday is to do what I please. So we had lunch for some friends - only six because our table seats only eight and I no longer split people up. My cousin Rochelle and a great jazz singer we know through her, Joan Collaso, came for lunch yesterday. They joined our Furry Godmother - the couple who take care of our dogs when we need them to - and the two lovely ladies I regularly walk a mile in the pool with at the health club, Gwen and Joann. It was a no-presents party, but I got some funny birthday cards. The theme of the cards seemed to be wearing thongs, usually backwards, and we laughed and had a great time.

What was messy was that we cooked. Ann made dessert - Christmas pudding with hard sauce, my request - and I did the rest. I made pumpkin soup with kilbasa, and fresh bread. It was pretty simple, but after I baked I also vacuumed because we have two dogs. Apropos of nothing, I love the word vacuum because it has a double U, but not a W.

And in a further digression, since we no longer have a cleaning lady, I’m the downstairs cleaner. I was going to clean the bathrooms, but Ann beat me to it, a nice birthday present.

Then Jonathan and his dad came for dinner as they do every Wednesday, and I made sloppy joes, and Ann and I worked together on potatoes. She did the cauliflower and we had left over pudding. But the focus is not the food, it’s the company.

By the end of the day we were tired. It was a messy day, but a day full of joy. Which is the way life should be.

Please feel free to comment below.