Is TV All Out of Happy Endings?


“You ain’t ready.”

“No one is safe.”

“You’ll never be the same after this one.”

This is now common lingo in promos and previews for a lot of television shows, at least the dramatic ones. As viewers, we’re no longer invited to come along on an adventure, or to become invested in something deep and meaningful. We’re basically warned…no it’s even more blasé than that, we’re informed, that the brown stuff will be hitting the proverbial fan. Again. This time for serious. No really, not kidding. It’s no longer a plot twist to have someone die (usually for ridiculous reasons), to see lives ruined and to generally have the world crumble into a big steaming heap. It’s just par for the course in television these days.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m by no means Little Susie Sunshine when it comes to what I watch. Syrupy sweet, cartoony endings make me throw up in my mouth a little. I despise when I’m moved/manipulated into happy tears when everything works out just right. I like conflict. I can take a little darkness in my entertainment. I am, however, worried that some producers (and maybe some viewers too) have abandoned the notion of a happy ending. It feels like one has to dig pretty far into a plot in order to find even a tiny nugget of hope, and even then, one must resign one’s self to the fact that said nugget will probably get stomped on as well.

Here’s why I think, even in the midst of ennui and malaise, television can’t be all corpses and thunderstorms:

  • People watch shows, at least partially, because of the characters. We see ourselves in them, even when they’re fighting zombies, developing telekinesis, or performing the world’s first brain transplant. We like them, and we get attached. The minute an audience starts to assume that their favourite personage could have a piano dropped on them at any second, the deal is off. If I’ve got one precious hour of quiet to spend on a show, I’m going to go for one in which players I care about are likely to be there again next week.
  • The whole issue of desensitizing people to violence thing-yeah, that. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t even watch fight scenes or gratuitous violence anymore, and it’s not because I can’t take them. It’s because it’s been done and it’s boring. I’m an adult with a pretty decent set of critical thinking skills, and a more than acceptable level of empathy, and I’ve still gotten to the point where someone getting blown up, run through, or squashed is just background noise to me. In real life, I’m appalled by human cruelty and misery, but on television, it doesn’t even register. I know I’m not alone in this, and it’s not only an unfortunate side effect of having the worst things happen in shows, but it’s a dangerous mindset to develop.
  • I’m not convinced that having everything go wrong is all that realistic. Admittedly, I’ve lived kind of a charmed life, one in which my safety and well-being isn’t up for debate on a regular basis. But even when I’ve spoken to people who’ve experienced thirty-one flavours of hell, they’ve still had stories to tell about things going right, about laughter and celebration, and hope. Perhaps life really is cruel, and we’re just wired to see rays of light because we need to get out of bed in the morning, but so what? If that’s what life is really like, if that’s how human beings function, then shouldn’t television plotlines reflect that?

In truth, the way people consume media is shifting constantly, and with things like alternative broadcasting, online viewing, and binge watching, television is becoming a meritocracy. Our behaviour as viewers is telling showrunners that we’re not willing to wait a week or sit through commercials unless there’s a really compelling story to be found. In my mind, the “everything is going to go wrong” approach to storytelling is not much more than a series of cheap parlour tricks. It’s using shock instead of creativity and careful planning. Really, it’s just sloppy and lazy, and I’m kind of done with it. My eyeballs shall be reserved for programming in which, just every so often, my favourite character isn’t used for target practice, not everything goes to hell in a handbasket, and once in a while, something interestingly nice happens.

All Hail The Bots!

retro robot

Anyone else visit Tomorrowland at Disney as a kid? Anyone else a little disappointed that, contrary to predictions, we are not currently zooming around in flying cars, chowing down on food pills, and plugging our brains in to our computers at work? Okay, maybe I’m not so disappointed that the last one didn’t happen, but I distinctly remember being excited at the notion that technology would one day make life idyllic. I was an adolescent when I made the pilgrimage to this magical place, and menial labour was about as appealing to me as dental surgery. I couldn’t imagine any human being turning down an offer to have something else take care of all the stuff we couldn’t or didn’t want to do. I had rosy visions of Rosie from the Jetsons, squeaky-wheeling around my house, with her marvelous New York accent and her purely-decorative apron.

Decades later, I still wouldn’t complain if someone told me I didn’t have to clean, lift, manufacture, maintain, or venture into anything I didn’t want to. And yet, on a regular basis, I read things like “Robots are taking our jobs!” My fellow humans are terrified of being usurped by machines, of being unceremoniously bumped from their place on the planet by gadgets of their own creation. How deliciously Frankenstinian, and a perfect opportunity to ask why robots make us so very uncomfortable. Yes, let’s, shall we?

I have several thoughts on the presence of our future robotic overlords:

  • Robots are cool, shiny and slick. Humans are sweaty and awkward. Robots aren’t whiny, argumentative, or entitled like humans are. Robots not only do all kinds of stuff that we usually do, but they look awesomely composed doing it. And herein lies the rub, or at least part of it. They make us look pretty inept. What’s more confidence-ruining than having someone shine a big ole’ spotlight on our derpiness? They do things faster, more accurately, and in the process, they make work look good. Sigh.
  • Those menial things we want robots to do might mean a lot more to us than we originally thought. In our primeval, larval stage (like, when we’re kids), we revel in dirt and activity. It feels really good to do stuff. The other day, I hauled about 10 wheelbarrow loads of dirt into the back yard. And I kind of liked it. I also like getting to the bottom of a basket of laundry, and assembling sensible, Swedish-made bookshelves (please, please don’t judge me). What if physical exertion and general hard work are a bigger part of who and what we are than we originally thought? Are we giving up something essential in having machines exert themselves on our behalf? Might we actually miss doing things for ourselves?
  • With robots doing the menial, dangerous stuff we don’t want to or can’t do, we’re forced to find something bigger to do with our new excess of spare time. With our hands now free from toil, we might be expected to be inventive, creative, or perish the thought, rational. We might be required to use more of our brains. Scary.
  • With robots taking over physical labour, we no longer get to put a stigma on humans who do it. Okay, we can still look down our noses at machines, but in truth, they give very little in the way of a satisfying reaction to our air of superiority. In the presence of worker bots, humans who still choose to work with their hands may become recognized as artisans, craftspeople, and historians.  We already praise things that are “hand-crafted” or “hand-made”, so why not admire “hand-shoveled”, “hand-driven” or “hand-scrubbed”? Maybe robots will remind us to value all kinds of effort, all kinds of work.
  • Ever noticed that a lot of the robots who do our physical work aren’t built to look human? I’m not sure we could bear having them pick up after us if they actually looked like us. We’re assured over and over again that robots don’t have thoughts or feelings of their own, but what if we’re afraid they might someday evolve to have these things? Can you imagine becoming dependent on an automated workforce for just about everything, only to have it turn around and give us the finger for making it do our dirty work? How deliciously robo-marxist!

I’d like to close with something that should go without saying. As cool and shiny and pervasive as robots may be, we do still have the power to say no to them, at least in our everyday lives. Okay, maybe we can’t personally fire the ones making our cars or scanning the bottom of the ocean, but it’s not to late to eschew things like automated coffee makers and the little hubcap-shaped dudes who clean the floor. Perhaps our nail biting over robots taking human jobs is largely because their presence reminds us of what we have that they do not- free will. We make robots. We put them there. If we don’t like the idea of them taking over our jobs, we can stop being apprehensive about them and choose to not have them there. We won’t even hurt their feelings if we make them go away. In the end, robots are things we create and use to make our lives easier, better. Believe it or not, this is kind of the point of most technology. If having robots work for us just ain’t working for us, we have the power to just say no. There’s probably even find a robot who’d do that for us too.


Living On Spec: Why Don’t We Like To Pay Artists?


There isn’t a creative type on the planet who hasn’t heard at least one of the following:

  • “It’s a hobby, right? So, what’s your real job?”
  • “If you’re so passionate about it, then why does it matter if you get paid?”
  • “Why don’t you do a sample for free, and if I like it, I’ll pay you for the next one.”
  • “Aren’t artists supposed to be starving? Isn’t the romantic part of it?”
  •  “How do you put an hourly rate on creativity?”
  • “We’ll pay you in sample copies.”
  • “Isn’t exposure enough of a reward?”

Yup, this is going to be another whiny blog post from an artist who would like to be financially compensated for her work. If you’d really rather look at pictures of kittens, or read about the latest antics of a reality TV family, feel free to click off (that sounded ruder than I expected). But I’ve got a few decent points I’d like to make, if you can spare a few minutes. This one’s on the house.

Here are a few reasons why we don’t like to think about paying artists:

1. We don’t see artists as having skills. Being able to put someone’s guts back together in surgery involves skills. Doing someone’s taxes  involves skills. Building a basement rec room involves skills. However, when it comes to creative stuff, not so much. Let me tell you first-hand that creative work does not get produced by chance. Artists go to school. They train. They learn from mentors. They practice (oh, do they practice), and they produce a lot of crap in the process of perfecting their craft. Are there crummy artists? Well, yeah, but there are also crummy surgeons, crummy accountants, and crummy contractors. Whether you wield a pen, a paintbrush or an instrument, it takes skill to produce anything good.

2. Along similar lines, we think anyone can produce art. Okay, this one involves a lengthy philosophical discussion about what art actually is, but seriously, have you ever watched the audition rounds of a talent show on television? It’s pretty clear that some are better at it than others, and wanting to “be a star” is not sufficient. We wouldn’t expect that just anyone could be a scuba instructor, sushi chef, mathematician, or zookeeper. Whether it’s because of a lack of natural talent, inclination or training, I don’t think I have any of these careers in me, and I praise those who do. I hope that those who aren’t adept with language will show similar respect to my writing.

3. We think all artists want to be rich and famous, and maybe the ones who are don’t always set the right example. I like not being recognized at the grocery store. I’m cool with not being asked to headline at festivals. Don’t get me wrong, I love knowing that people read my work once in a while. It’s thrilling to share ideas, and I don’t care if my work gets me a villa in Tuscany or a bronze statue somewhere. “Steady” is a word I would like to associate with my paycheque, not “gargantuan.” If, by some stroke of cosmic luck, I someday make a lot of money from my art, I promise I’ll behave myself and do something useful with it.

4. We’re really not sure what we get when we pay for art. You go to a baker, and you get bread. You go to a salon and you get your nails done. You go to a mechanic, and your car run stops making noise. Art is a little more slippery, a little less tangible. What do I take home after a concert (besides a souvenir t-shirt)? When I’m finished with a book, is it really just a wad of paper that lingers? What do I point to after I’ve left an exhibit? Art is a business of producing ideas and experiences, of calling forth emotion and memory. It’s much more difficult to box up and sell, and we can’t return it if it bugs us. From a product standpoint, it is admittedly ethereal, but we have to keep in mind that everything we love that’s artistic, from the music on our devices to the pretty shoes on our feet, had to come from somewhere, with a creative, talented person putting themselves out there.

5. We think artists have chosen a lifestyle that involves poverty. We think they secretly enjoy it. Nope. This wordy, idea-ish stuff happens to be what I’m good at (most days). I’m also good at eating, and would like to be able to pay for that. I’m good not living in the rain, and would like to have a roof over my head. I’m good at leaving my house and going out into the world, and I’d like to be able to afford a little of that too. Okay, you could say art is my calling, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make a living from it, and let me tell you, between time and supplies, it ain’t free.

6. We see art as a luxury, something we don’t need or deserve. If there was ever a time when art wasn’t a luxury, it’s now. We’re in a little bit of pickle these days (thanks a lot, 2016), and while booze, weapons, and other distractions may provide some sort of outlet for our angst, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that whether you’re an artist or an art appreciator, there isn’t anything else that helps a human being deal more effectively and productively than art. It’s our collective soul. It’s universal. It’s primal. My human friends, we all deserve art. It’s not amusing or adorable. It’s freakin’ important.

Okay, now’s the part where I’m supposed to come up with a plan for how we should pay artists, who should pony up the dough, and I’m so sorry, but I’m still working on this. Could it be considered a civil service job, with the government footing the bill? Should we take a tip from Shakespeare and get wealthy patrons on our side? Do we just go on strike, and leave the world a little uglier and more dull until we get our point across?

My guess is that art needs to undergo a massive re-branding. We need to put our assumptions about art and the people who make it through the ringer. Before making one of the comments mentioned above, perhaps ask yourself “Would I say that to a lawyer, or a school custodian, or a daycare provider?” If the answer is no, and you feel guilty (or if the answer is yes, and you don’t feel guilty), consider paying some creative type for their hard work, even if it’s just giving a busker the price of your morning latte, going to see an indie film, or buying something locally-made to hang over your sofa. Don’t ask your musician friend to perform at your wedding as a favour, don’t ask a graphic designer to give you a freebie, and don’t balk at shelling out a few bucks for an eBook when you’re reading it on a $200 device. The more an artist is able to actually live off their art, the more time they’ll have to devote to it, and the better it’ll get.

What I’ve Learned From Spam (Both Kinds)


There was a time when Spam was just gross, pre-chewed meat in a can. It was survival food, something to be tolerated and consumed almost against one’s will. Okay, in discussing this version of Spam, I’m revealing that I’m older than the internet, but stay with me. I’m working on a metaphor here.

Enter internet/email spam. The more platforms and new forms of media we’ve created, the more different kinds of spam have oozed in. Like its canned predecessor, internet spam is disgusting, devoid of taste or class, an eyesore among meatier, more nutritious options. However, like my predecessors, who made peace with having to co-exist with protein that jiggles, I am choosing to take my spam in the form of teachable moments. Just as said predecessors would have preferred to have steak or rack of lamb, I would much prefer to have real comments on my blog (hint, hint), and real messages in my inbox. Just as spam-sufferers of the past dressed up their mess of pre-chewed meat with pineapple, fried eggs, and various condiments, I am making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear (see what I did with the pork theme?).

Here are suggestions for deep thoughts that one may glean from online sludge:

  • I will not send my bank account information to an exiled prince in a faraway nation. I will, however, take note of the fact that there are others in need of my help, both in faraway nations, and in my own backyard.
  • I am not in the market for a mail-order bride or questionable photos of underage women. Nonetheless, I will remind myself that even in 2016, my fellow females are still considered by many to be property to be sold and traded.
  • I do not need knock-off athletic shoes in mass quantities. But I do need to put the runners sitting idly in the front hallway on my feet, and walk my desk-chair-decrepit body around the block more often.
  • I will not be requiring assistance in monetizing my social media feeds. Regardless, I will remember that what I do for a living has value, and that I deserve to derive benefit from the hours I put into my work.
  • I shall not absentmindedly hit delete or block, even though the vast majority of what rolls in isn’t even generated by another human being. Instead, I will seek the useful needles in the haystack, the small bits that actually mean something. Doing so will make me a more critical, discerning thinker, and man, will it ever train me to scan effectively!

When you think about it, Spam is actually kind of funny, sublime in its ridiculousness. The canned stuff seems to be the rubber chicken, hand-buzzer, whoopie cushion version of nutrition. The online stuff is also pretty much clown shoes, a reminder of the great stupidity of which human beings are capable when handed a useful tool. Just imagine what future civilizations will think of us when they did up our email accounts thousands of years from now.

Perhaps spam, whether in canned form, or as electronic pestering, is the universe’s way of asking us to be patient. We turn the key on the ham substitute with the hope that better days with real ham will follow. Online, we sigh as we empty our trash folder, or banish an unwanted message with deletion, in the hopes that an actual message, one intended just for us, will fill its spot.

Emojis and Our Return to the Cave Wall

cave drawing

Every so often, a new crop of emojiis is released, and there are typically two reactions:

1. Hooray! Finally, I can express my love of giant squid, while telling the world I’m craving tacos and that I have a cramp in my big toe, all without typing a flippin’ word!

2. What is the world coming to? Are we so lazy that we can’t use real language to express ourselves? I mean, I know texting isn’t supposed to be long and verbose, but seriously? Are we witnessing the death of language as we know it?

I’m not exactly on board with reaction #1 (I still use punctuation-based emoticons, dusty relic that I am), but I want to address reaction #2.  I’m decidedly old school when it comes to language. Even in texts, I still try to spell things correctly (although auto-correct seems to work against me), I still use full sentences, and I do try to avoid major slang or short forms. When I heard that “LOL” and “YOLO” were on their way out, I wasn’t all that disappointed. I maintain that it won’t kill us to think carefully about the words we choose when we’re on our devices, and to express ourselves in language of which our 9th grade English teachers would approve. I don’t, however, think the ubiquitous presence of emojis is reason to pull a Chicken Little. Here’s why:

  • Humans like language. We’re kind of fueled by our inability to shut up. How we communicate has changed over and over again since we climbed out of the trees, but the fact that we like to chat hasn’t. I’m not sure that emojis will ever satisfy our need to blab.
  • Communication through gadgets is limiting. Short forms may be time-efficient, but they make it very difficult to convey the deeper stuff. Seriously, how many times have you been offended or shocked by a badly-worded text that really wasn’t intended to be nasty? I can live with a little smiley face or cartoon critter at the end of a message, if it means it’s less likely that someone will misunderstand.
  • Not all humans are verbal thinkers. I live to flap my gums and wave my pen, but I recognize and even enjoy the fact that there are those who rely on visuals. If emojis ring true with these kinds of brains, then so be it.
  • You’ve probably noticed this, but emojiis aren’t exactly new, at least as a concept. Remember neolithic cave paintings? Hieroglyphics? Runes? Yeah, we started using visuals quite a while ago. You’ve probably also noticed little pictures of people on washroom doors, pictures with lines through them in no-smoking sections, along with arrows, squiggles and hand signals on road signs. Is working them into our texts and social media really such a coup?

What if our fascination with emojiis is a symptom of something bigger (as these things usually are)? Modern mainstream media presents us with a lot of information, bite after bite of words and ideas, and even if you’re a wordy person like me, it gets overwhelming. There’s a lot more to read than there used to be, a lot more to process. Can you blame us for wanting to go back to something a little more simple and direct, back to the scribbles on the cave walls that told us food was here and danger was there? I’m by no means advocating for doing away with complex thoughts expressed in words, but what if emojis are merely representations of our need to take a little breather now and again? Is civilization really going to come to a grinding halt because of cartoon poops or a little thumb’s up? At the very least, we should take comfort in the fact that these ready-made cartoon doodles are meant to convey emotion (it’s kind of in their name). In an age of virtual communication and geographic distance, we’re still trying to tell each other how we feel. We’ve just run out of cave walls.

Winky face, high-five, octopus, everyone.

Another Post About Gorillas, Zoos, And Children Falling Into Exhibits…Sort Of

gorilla hand and foot

I’ve read the recent news reports, and a healthy number of reactions from different camps, and yeah, the fact that an endangered animal who was basically minding his own business had to die makes me feel sick. There’s nothing about that story that makes me feel okay, no possible (or realistic) outcome that wasn’t going to be awful. There was one aspect of it that made me think, though, and given that it’s World Environment Week, I thought I might share.

A certain percentage of those who responded to the incident were outraged because Harambe the gorilla was killed despite the fact that he seemed to be holding the little boy’s hands, as if to comfort him, or at least assure him that he meant no harm. The folks involved seemed to anticipate the worst from him. I know almost nothing about gorilla behaviour, and I certainly have no idea what went on in the mind of that particular animal at that particular time. I can’t say one way or another if his intentions were peaceful. What fascinates me is that human beings would assume that Harambe, or any other wild animal for that matter, would want to be friendly to a human.

We hear stories about animals extending olive branches to people all the time. There are dolphins who rescue lost swimmers, lions who rescue children from kidnappers, pigs who warn farmers of violent storms, and others. Maybe the stories are true, maybe they’re exaggerated, but for the most part, I think they might be wishful thinking. Do I think animals aren’t smart enough to show us deliberate kindness? I think they are. Despite our use of tools and linguistic capabilities, there are many instances in which animal brains seem to think circles around ours. Do I think that all animals are mean, or maybe not as nice as humans? Hard nope. I cling to the notion that there are creatures nicer than humans. Let’s be honest, when it comes to niceness, humans don’t set the bar very high. An animal wouldn’t have to try very hard to demonstrate moral superiority. 

And this, fellow jerky homosapiens, is why I can’t just take for granted that Harambe, or any other animal in his situation, would act in the best interest of a human being, even an innocent young human. Quite franky, I don’t see what reason they would have to do so. We humans assume they will. We even expect it. This is the worst form of hubris. We’re bullies. We’re litterbugs. We’re loud, we’re destructive, and we probably even smell horrible, and yet we assume that non-human portion of life on the planet will put out tea and cookies whenever we decide to show up. On a regular basis, we dump all over other creatures, and we want them to like us for it. 

In my second year of university, we were assigned a novel called “Wacousta”. In one chapter, there’s an epic battle in the forest, with settlers battling native populations, blood and gore and general horribleness, a stellar example of our signature human inhumanity. Amidst the carnage, however, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the local workings of nature continue their daily routine as per usual. As hard as it was to read, that scene stuck with me- nature likely doesn’t care about us, not much, anyway. I’m reminded of it every time a tree branch comes down on a car in a storm, or someone gets swarmed by bees. I remember the story whenever I think of environmental philosopher Val Plumwood’s “Being Prey”, in which she forgives a crocodile for attacking and nearly killing her. There’s a reason why pathetic fallacy is a fallacy

It’s been an awfully long time since we gave any part of nature good reason to be nice to us. When stories like Harambe’s come up, we shouldn’t assume that there are good intentions at work, not because there can’t be, but because we don’t deserve them. Happy stories of goodwill between our species and others need to be earned, and we’d better hope that other animals are much better at letting go of grudges than we are.

RIP, proud gorilla. I hope we can do better. 

These Four Walls…And Then Those Four Walls


About a week ago, I realized I was in mourning. The ink was barely dry on the real estate papers, and we were buzzing with excitement at the prospect of more space, and nice space at that. I was explaining to my little nipper that it was okay to be excited and sad simultaneously, and my husband walked by, smiled and said something like “Are you trying to convince the kid, or yourself?” Deciding to move automatically makes a home less yours. Staging it with all sorts of things that are way fancier than yours and leaving it half-empty certainly helps to cut the cord. Rationally, and maybe even emotionally, I know this house won’t be ours for much longer, but I know when the time comes, there’s still going to be part of me that will think “I live here. You can’t have my key.”

I know what it’s like to live in a house that doesn’t want you there. The last one was infested with carnivorous weeds. Bits of lost toys from previous owners would mysteriously pop out of dark corners. There was a dent in one of the doors that look liked it had been put there by an angry fist. Food never tasted quite right in that kitchen and laundry always came out a little grungy. We often had the distinct impression that our neighbours were whispering about us behind our backs. Okay, I’ve frosted this with a bit of poetic license (just a bit), but it was clear from very early on with that house that we’d landed somewhere we didn’t belong.

At no point was this more clear than when we moved to another house, the one I’m presently struggling to leave. It’s not as if it was perfect when we bought it. The kitchen was coated in cow wallpaper three inches thick (only exaggerating a little), and the cupboards were lined with paper doilies. There was a shallow, metal tub that made bathing feel like sitting in a sink full of cold dishwater. It needed paint and flooring that wasn’t linoleum. We redid the kitchen- twice. Regardless, it still felt like the house missed us when we went away on vacation. It buzzed happily when we threw parties, and hummed quietly on lazy Sundays. It lovingly enveloped our dogs and our kid, and the back yard bloomed with wild abandon in the spring.

And then one evening, when we finally admitted that our tiny kingdom wasn’t quite big enough to hold the life we’d built for ourselves anymore, the house seemed sympathetic, maybe even a little apologetic.

So, how does one say goodbye to a house? Do we do what people in cheesy 80’s movies do, and throw one last, righteous bash? Is there enough burning sage to smudge 10 years of my life out of this place? Which wall is the one I hug or high five when the movers lug out the last box?

Maybe a new house is just a reminder from the universe that when all is said and done, modern humans are still nomads, albeit very, very slow-moving ones. There’s no dwelling capable of accommodating an entire lifetime. We grow, we shrink, we grow again, and we’re forever trying on a different home that suits who we are at the moment. Houses are containers, and in a few weeks, we’ll carefully pour ourselves into a bigger one and enjoy the sensation of having more room to slosh around. I’m cautiously optimistic that our next container will welcome us as readily as the present one has.

Stand in the place where you live. Now face north. Think about direction, wonder why you haven’t before. (R.E.M.)


How Big A Leap Is It?


Adrenaline junkies. You know a few of these people, right? They’re the sort of brave souls who like to skydive and hang glide and swim with things that could chomp them in half. They dangle from cliffs and crawl through caves. On a slow day, they’ll strap themselves into the biggest roller coaster and eat stuff that might be poisonous. There are entire industries set up to cater to thrill seekers like these, genres of books, video games and movies established to draw them in. The buzz that comes with this lifestyles isn’t all that mysterious. Call it embracing the id, revisiting one’s inner cave person, or just taking an extreme vacation from the monotony of modern existence. Sometimes life feels a little more special when one plays nicky nine doors with death. I get it. There’s no way in hell anyone would ever catch me doing anything like this, but I get it.

I’d like to suggest, however, that when we think of taking risks, making leaps, being brave, this shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a certain amount (maybe even a lot) of gumption required to do any of the things mentioned above, but I’d wager that it takes a lot more guts to do other things, things that don’t necessarily involve staring into the jaws of death.

Let’s start with being a stranger in a strange land. I’ve never done this one either (except for vacations), but I’ve known and taught a whole lot of people who have. I can say without hesitation that learning a new language, and committing to speak it, requires a person to “grow a pair” in ways that adventure seekers may never appreciate. To do it properly, a person has to accept that they’re going to look stupid (really, really stupid) on a regular basis. They’re going to be misunderstood, maybe even inadvertently get people angry at them. They’re going to be lonely, and wish there were more people with whom they could share their innermost thoughts without the aid of a phrasebook or a translator. Pretty gutsy stuff, non?

What about being an artist? All those ideas you think people will find silly or obnoxious, perhaps even incendiary? They’re going to come out in the work you produce, be it music, painting, writing, dance or drama. Whether your work is well-received or widely-ridiculed, whenever something creative makes its way out into the world, the creator risks looking stupid. It’s part of the job description, a gamble at best, and perhaps the mark of a good artist is the ability to make educated guesses about risk versus reward, to be able to say with confidence that the product of one’s busy brain is worth being made to feel foolish. Also gutsy.

The list of risky ventures doesn’t end there. We take incredible leaps when we fall in love, become a parent, take up public speaking, or start a business. In each case, there’s a very real possibility that we’ll have our pride mushed up and served to us on toast. So why is it that we oooh and ahh over those who willingly take on physical danger, but other acts of bravery, like the ones I’ve listed here, fade into the noise? What’s the difference, anyway?

Well, the first kind of risk-taking, if everything goes wrong, results in being a blurry splatter somewhere, or at least spending a great deal of time in traction. I’m not denying that it takes a fair helping of gumption to climb a rock face or crawl through caves. The other kind of risky activities, however, require that you actually live with the results. If everything goes wrong, there’s pride, self-confidence, and relationships on the line. What’s worse, one might be required to give it another try, to risk screwing up again, and again…and again. These kinds of risks are undertaken without the promise of an immediate endorphin buzz. There’s no line of gear to purchase, no electrolyte drink to replenish one’s energy mid-task. Some adventures can’t be captured with a GoPro.

Still a rush, nonetheless. Here’s to all kinds of bravery, and to the thrill of the leap, whether it be over a cliff, into the deep, or somewhere a little more metaphorical.


Motherhood: Career or Calling?


Parenting is the hardest job in the world. It calls for long hours and pays absolute zero. Instead of an interview, you’re initiated into it through series of “sink or swim” incidents. There are no promotions, and many who choose to enter this line of work have to hold down another job (possibly two) in order to make ends meet. Although workload does tend to decrease at some point, there really isn’t such a thing as retirement.

Sweet Mother of Pearl, I hate this analogy. Calling parenthood a job makes it seem like you can get a substitute to stand in for you, that one person is more qualified than another. It leads us to patronizingly call loving, devoted fathers “babysitters” when they’re caring for their own children. It makes children, who are marvelous, complex, fluid beings, into projects that need to be completed, like human check lists. It presupposes that there is training available (hands up anyone who’s had to unlearn everything they thought they knew), that there are objective measures of success and failure. Worst of all, it leans heavily toward the notion that if you’re female, and you’re able to do this kind of work, you should. I don’t like or agree with any part of this “parenting as work” stuff. Hard pass on this.

Okay, so maybe parenting is a calling, a deep-seated, cosmic longing that begs to be fulfilled. I have to admit, there is a little something primal about it. I swoon at the pleasant, squishy cuteness of an infant, the toy-like giggle of a preschooler, even the endearing awkwardness of someone about to hit teendom. I too have felt the impulse to unleash my wrath on anyone who threatens my cub. I’ve swelled with an uncontrollable pride upon seeing my progeny master a new skill or say something miraculously clever. I have, however, like many parents, had days when I wished there could be an hour or two without noise and interruption. I’ve been covered in poop and barf, I’ve had to function with cartoon mayhem in the background, and I’ve had to explain (or try to explain) why life isn’t fair. Sometimes it kind of sucks, and I think it’s extremely dangerous to assume that anyone would automatically feel inclined to take this on, that they’d be “called” to do this. Hard pass on this angle too.

So is parenting a hobby, then? Maybe it’s a way to test your own mettle, like a rite of passage? Something that just happens? A series of existential tests that help us to figure out what it means to be human?

Huh. Maybe the last one. Strip away all the work stuff, the feeding, the cleaning, the driving someone back and forth to this and that. Strip away the thing about it being a calling to be answered, a natural inclination. When I think of what parenting has been for me, the essential, core nuggets of it, what comes to mind are the rare and amazing moments of quiet when I get to look at my child and think, “Holy crap, you’re real! How did you get here and who the heck are you?” I think of the conversations I have with her in which I learn new things about myself, life, and the universe, things that could have been left undiscovered if she weren’t here to pull them out of me. I think of how my views have changed, on the passage of time, on human nature, on relationships, on beauty and truth and self. When I chose to be a parent, it was because I wanted to watch all of this happen, to be part of a something becoming a someone. I’ve been exhausted, I’ve been frustrated, and I’ve been filthy, but with this as my end goal, I’ve never been disappointed.

Not a career. Not a calling. But one hell of a wild ride, and one for which I’m glad I bought a ticket.

Why I Find the Riveter So Riveting


Serious question: Is there any icon cooler than Rosie the Riveter? Perhaps it’s the combining of jaunty, red head covering with serious pipes. It could be the knowing, confident look on her lovely face. Maybe it’s the reassuring can-do message that splashes across the bright yellow behind her. With just a flex of her bicep and a gleam in her eye, she tells all who look upon her “Don’t mess with me. I know how do use industrial equipment.” It’s really not difficult to see why she’s spoken to generations of women, called upon them tap into their inner power. I get it, and I like all this about her too.

But my admiration for Rosie goes deeper than this. Actually, admiration might be the wrong word.  Recognition might be more accurate. When I look at the amazing woman on the poster, I don’t just see everything I aspire to be. I see the family of “Rosies” with which I grew up. I won’t embarrass anyone in particular by naming names, but in my lifetime, I’ve seen an octogenarian family member break her arm while tossing around cement blocks. I’ve listened as someone explained how they spontaneously sledgehammered a wall because they wanted a bigger work space. There are tales of hardwood flooring being hammered into place by someone with a baby strapped to her back. The females of my clan squish their own spiders, throw their backs out shoving furniture from one room to another, and are quite happy in plaid flannel. I’m probably the biggest wimp in our corner of the gene pool, and I still swing a frickin’ hammer like Thor. If ever there was a bunch of females who exemplified the “human doing over human being” philosophy, it would be us.

Rosie the Riveter walks the walk. She isn’t interested in sitting around, making abstract plans or playing wait and see. The poster doesn’t say “We can talk about it.” or “We can dream, can’t we?” She’s all about action, decisiveness, and forward momentum. I’m biased because I was spawned by others of her ilk, but I think this sort of drive is declining in 21st century females. We talk about being independent, self-reliant, and capable, but there’s still a pretty substantial pay gap for us. We occupy a sad minority of positions of power. We’re always apologizing for taking charge and speaking our minds. We still steer our little girls away from anything that isn’t pink and frilly (steam escapes from my ears as I write this). There isn’t space in a blog post like this to go through the chicken-and-egg scenarios behind it all.

Decades ago, Rosie told us we could do it, and I don’t think she meant women exclusively either. I think it’s pretty clear that we haven’t done it. In fact, I think we un-did it.

I’m lucky that I had Rosies to look up to as I fumbled my way into womanhood. I could say that Rosiness is genetic, that the trailblazers in my family and the generations that will follow me have been and will be fueled by an inborn desire to accomplish things, that we’re just lucky that way. I’m not, however, willing to pull genetic determinism out as a cover. Whatever little Rosie spark makes the women in my family feel they need to chop wood, haul dirt around, and just generally git-r-done, I’m sure it’s in every human female. Rosie’s overalls are one-size-fits-all, the red in her polka-dotted kerchief a beautiful compliment to any face. The brilliant, vibrant, strong woman on the poster is right. We can do it- all of us can. What I want to know is, when will we?