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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Because I Said So, That’s Why

There is now legislation (in New Jersey) to combat bullying.  In schools.

I know, I too would be ready to cheer from the rooftops if we, as a people, had decreed that picking on persons or groups perceived as weaker than one’s own is an abomination.  What a world, what a world.

But no, the legislation I reference is only about schoolchildren.  There is nothing magical in the legislation.  It is exactly the kind of rules, forms, standards and bureaucracy one would expect.  There will be training for personnel, awareness campaigns, et cetera.  I am less interested in the minutia of legalizing common sense than looking down the road that led us to this point.

Why is bullying such an issue today?  (I am making the leap that bullying is in fact an “issue” as why else would people need to legislate?)  I think we can all agree that not much has changed about the physiological development of children over the past, say, 50 years?  Children have not turned into little Rambo like creatures fortified by steroid rich lunchables.  If anything, national childhood obesity rates would suggest that children have become less physically threatening in recent years (we are not including the threat of sitting on someone smaller than oneself.)  It is safe to assume that any change, on the part of the children, is psychological/emotional.

There is a traditional dichotomy that has been continuously eroding over past recent years: grown-ups were in charge, and all children were not gifted.

No doubt we all agree that children are not little adults.  They are not mentally or physically equipped to be mini-adults.  In fact, that is why parents were invented.  Minimally, parents help guide young minds in impulse control, decision making and the like.  Good parents help children grow into responsible and compassionate adults.

The child factor in this equation is far more troubling to me.  Passive or narcissistic parenting can be changed or augmented with positive interactions with aunts, uncles, teachers and the like.  But teaching a child that they are the center of the universe is cruel.  Not only does this perspective do nothing to help a child learn the skills necessary to be a functioning adult, it is just mean.  It is false advertising, plain and simple.  Not only is it not possible for any person to actually be the center of the universe, but what do you think will happen when he/she inevitably discovers the truth?  Is there any wonder that mental health services are at their breaking point in colleges and universities across the nation?

When we have to legislate adults to intervene when they see children misbehaving, we have a problem.  When did it get so scary for adults to embrace their own (innate) authority?  When did we decide that raising emotional terrorists is good parenting?  When exactly did we decide that the most ill-equipped of our society are in charge?  Legislating in loco parentis in the schools?  This is only the tip of the iceberg.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Childhood

 

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Living Alone

Have you heard that the most coveted metropolitan apartments are those with 3 or more bedrooms?  If so, did you, like me, conjure images of bloated blended families, bedrooms crammed with same gender minors?  How quaint you and I are.  The bedroom explosion is not due to excessive procreation or bunches of newly made families.  This new real estate holy grail’s raison d’etre is so that no child should ever have to share a room.  There are a handful of very legitimate reasons that children should have separate rooms (ex., gender differences, disabilities, etc.) but we’re not talking about those right now. We are talking about small people who do not share a bedroom and sometimes not even a bathroom(!) with others.

Ordinarily I care not how people choose to fritter away their resources.  I do care however, when I can connect the dots between those choices and how they will/do affect society at large.

A wonderful piece was written today about college roommate selection.  The author mourns the loss of randomness of the process and bemoans the new (internet generated) self selection of like-minded roommates.  I share with him the loss of no longer leaving room for serendipity in one’s (young) life.  I have observed what I consider even more troubling, and that is the rise of the “single.”  When I was a freshman, our (cave) dorms were populated with doubles and triples.  I think there might have been a handful of singles, available at a premium, stashed in some undesirable old-people (a.k.a. upperclassmen) dorm.  Some people came to college with a friend from high school.  Those duos seemed to be equally split between choosing to room together and choosing to take their spin at the wheel.  Eight of us shared a living area, 20+ of us shared a common area and 100+ of us shared a television room.  And to any reader under 25, YES, we had indoor plumbing.

The last time I was on a college campus (much more recently than is normative) there was communal gathering, but no actual communing that I could discern.  Not surprising, the parallel play runs amok on campus.  Walking, and eating together still occurs, but all while the participants (electronically) communicate with others.  Single rooms are no longer the outliers, and there are more “grab and go” food stalls than dining rooms.  I have no issue with progress (technical or otherwise) but I do have an issue with isolationism.

Bert and Ernie have been negotiating shared space since the dawn of (children’s television workshop) time.  They compromised on lights-out among other grave points of conflict.  I wonder if the recent (abhorrent) discourse about the sexual orientation of (non-genital equipped puppet) characters, is a sign of the times.  Do we no longer even recognize the intent of these characters? Is sharing of space so foreign we must assign romantic intent?  What are we now teaching our toddler by giving them their own room?  What lowered social expectation do we have for our college bound adolescent when we approve a single?

Are these then the young people who enter the workforce (via the subway where they have sat with their legs splayed or stood at the door) to play their music audibly, eat (pungent) foods at their desk, and emanate noise through their attire and scent through their health and beauty aides?  Do they grow up to view public space as private, demonstrating this belief system by; crinkling plastic bags in theatres, strolling down the middle of sidewalks with double-wide strollers, driving without burden of directional signals, etc.?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps I am making a flawed leap of logic.  But leaping aside, I am at a loss how not teaching children/adolescents to live well with others is progress.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Childhood

 

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The Audacity of Dopes

Reports of bad human behavior are nothing new, particularly here.  But once in awhile there are behaviors so novel, so compelling, they really do warrant a tale.

Picture if you will a 250 year old inn, nestled in the Berkshires.  It is a grand home festooned with an expansive porch, (blessedly outfitted daily with afternoon tea.)  The cultivated gardens burst forth under the watchful eye of a colonial era church, which adorably bongs out the hour.  Inside, there is an extensive library and dozens of board games and puzzles lining the walls of an enormous living room.

There is a sitting room at the entrance to the dining room.  Guests gather after a groggy trip to the coffee bar.  They await their gourmet 3-course breakfast while perusing the inn’s newspapers.  There is a very quiet rustic elegance to the inn.  Guests are quiet yet friendly.

So there I was, coffee in hand, alone in the sitting room, looking fruitlessly for the front section of the paper.  (For those who are not familiar with news delivered on “paper” the front section is the meat of the issue.)  I looked high, I looked low.  The inn manager was engaged in the search as well.  An hour and three cups of coffee later, I had made my way through every other section of the New York paper, the entirety of the local paper, 2 catalogs of cotton drapey clothes and successfully ignored the towering stack of Gourmet magazines.  By this time I was joined by others looking for the paper as well.  It was then that a woman walked out of the dining room (with her companion) holding what looked suspiciously like the front section of the newspaper under her arm.  I called out a modulated; “excuse me, is that the front section of the paper?”  Her answer?  “Yes, I’m not done with it.”  My look must have expressed what my sputtering brain could not.  She looked at me and with just a hint of sarcasm (yet, no apparent irony) said; “why?  is it yours?”  She then went upstairs to her room.  With the communal paper.

Now I admit, I didn’t even consider using my indoor voice when commenting with my fellow aghast guests.  I think I might have even been a wee snide.

Look, we all want what we want when we want it.  That is the human condition.  But sometimes those impulses erode into truly antisocial behavior (like hiding a newspaper at your breakfast table so that no one but you can have it and you’ll be assured your private bedroom date with it after your repast.) But I have to ask myself, if one is that anti-social or anti-communal, what is one doing in an inn?  Surely there are 5-star hotels or campers which would better serve.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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Romeo and Juliet – Review

I just love a theatre festival, a wonderful alchemy of “theatre” and of “festival.”  The most fabulous of these happenings occur somewhere that is lovely all on its own (ex.: Niagra on the Lake, the Berkshires, etc.)  Add to this an actual company of creative artists and a laid back simulated outdoor performance (note: I do not enjoy theatre in the actual outdoors as I find it inconducive to subtlety) and you have the making of a very special experience.  I have seen wonderful new works premiered at festivals as well as unique interpretations of traditional works.  Directors have more artistic leeway off of the great white way, and the audience is often the beneficiary of this freedom of expression.

Last night I was mesmerized by Daniela Varon’s (dir.) interpretation of Rome and Juliet at Shakespeare & Co. (Lenox, MA.)  I don’t know if I’ve every seen a fully staged professional live production of this work.  This would explain why, for the first 30 minutes or so, I kept thinking; “This Shakespeare fellow does a wonderful interpretation of West Side Story.”

A thrust stage and a balcony (not for what you would think) were used within an inch of their life.  Many of the younger characters wove in and around the audience at times.  This device was used lightly and brilliantly and never felt contrived or desperate (in that “stand-up comic using the audience for material way.”)  Set in a non-specific time, with no video, and very minimal audio, the audience was free to project their own framework onto the story.  The costumes aided in that they were predominately all white.  The white cotton costuming provided a perfect canvas for all of the bleeding as well.  There was a colossal burst of color and extraordinary costuming for the dance at the gym masquerade ball scene.

I am hesitant to single out any of the performances as there were so many riveting and enjoyable actors.  I do feel compelled to mention that I simply could not take my eyes off of Riff Mercutio.  He was very funny and physical and flat out magnetic.  Ms. Varon directed this R&J in such a fresh and exciting manner.  I had no idea this play could be so funny.  Yes, of course it’s tragic, but some of the dialogue is extremely amusing.  I particularly enjoyed directing Juliet (Susanna Millonzi) to periodically act just like a 14 year old!

Now dear reader, if you will permit me to get meta for a moment.  I have always been schooled to understand R&J as a tale of the ultimate tragedy of warring families.  Minimally, the play is a cautionary tale of why we should not try to keep our teenagers from dating those we find undesirable.  Well call me practical penguin, but I’m now thinking it is a cautionary tale about mis-communication.  Those kids didn’t die because their families didn’t get along.  They died because Doc the friar did not get the message to Romeo in time.

Oh, and in Romeo and Juliet?  Chino dies.

Note: I found it telling that there were at least a dozen children in the audience, some barely at the multiplication table age, who sat silent and spellbound throughout the three hours.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Theatre

 

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What Would Miss Cleo Say?

The good state of Florida is pressing charges against a psychic and her family.  For what, you ask?  Excessive broad statements that could apply to 90% of humans?  Nope.  Offensive decor and ubiquitous scented gizmos?  Oh, no.  For bilking money out of clients.  That’s right.  Confused?  So am I.

My rudimentary understanding of the “psychic experience”, if you will, is that it involves the client giving money to the (often) questionably costumed psychic.  In exchange, the client receives a monologue of sorts, often the bulk of which consists of broad statements issued to achieve credibility (ex. “Oh my G-d, there IS someone in my past!!!!!!)  After the intense rapport has been established, the psychic moves on to the prediction phase of things (I’m guessing.)

Now I’m no district attorney, but I would think that if any crime has been committed it might be in the success rate of the predictions, no?  Alas no.  Florida is aggrieved by the amount of money the psychic was paid.  Evidently there is a secret rate chart for psychics?  Probably not.  But then how in the world does one determine how much is too much to charge or pay for psychic services?

Personally that sum is equal to what I would pay to engage in gambling.  But how in the world does a state decide when the fun stops and the deceit starts?  A state, which is arguably most famous for bringing us the “happiest place on earth” no less.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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