Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Depressions, Recessions and Dow Points - Oh my!

Seriously? When are we going to quit this already? I've grown weary of the down. No need to practice our worry and fret. It's been at its best for a while now. Let's do something different, shall we?

Yesterday, I was all about the gladness that the wrestlemania version of opposition conversation seemed to be showing battle fatigue. When I got home, I found out that my giddiness should have been twice its volume (as if in my case that would ever be possible) because the Dow had done an upward dance and, for the time being, rightness had returned to the world.

That was the economic lifetime equivalent of a nooner. Because by today, the giddy had to make way for the somber again. The sun hid all day. The clouds loomed. And the whisper of news around the office was that the Dow had once again taken a skinny.

Yesterday, the gals around here were smiling and chatting, the fellows were semi-strutting and doing that man-brag thing about nothing in particular, it was shiny and bright all 'round. Today, boo-hoo, we're all the conversational equivalents of muted tones - beige and grey, beige and grey.

Oh BLABBERSHMABBER. I've had it with that!. Could we string two pink days together in a row? Please? Today's not so different from yesterday. We all still have our relative health. We are strong and beautiful and smart and funny. Some of us are incredibly charming. Others... not so much... but I'm off-topic.

I firmly believe we're responsible for establishing our own sense of happiness. Haven't you seen those documentaries where people living in the most degrading and despicable conditions are smiling and laughing and loving one another? We don't have nearly the problems we invent in our own minds so why, why, why must we be so morose all the time? Is that the new American spirit - woe is me? No way. Not for me.

I'm excited. I'm awake. I'm at it. Granted, I'm on my 2nd diet cola and I did have some coffee this morning but that's not the point. The point is, we have to get our acts together and resolve to get happy. Get positive. Get up and dance!

The Wizard of Oz dealt with some pretty weighty subjects - natural disasters, bad shoe choices, the relative loneliness of homosexual lions - but the end result was a happy one. We're dealing with some pretty hefty themes in real life right now. But we can find some happiness, something to sing about, some joy to bring us to the other side.

So get happy. Please. Or I'm going to start singing and y'all just don't want that.

Monday, March 23, 2009

That Train is So Far Gone

I was watching 'This Week' with my good-haired friend George Stephanopolous yesterday and was struck by a certain something. The initial discussion was about AIG and the budget. It included the gal from Maine with the lisp - not Snow; some guy Conrad, from the Senate budget committee (never saw him before in my life); Mike Pence from Indiana, and one of Biden's advisors - can't remember his name. The players are important because they ostensibly represent so many different points of view - men, women, farmers, city dwellers, money-makers, beuaurocrats, conservatives, liberals, and so on. So the conversation should have been pretty interesting and broad ranging, with lots to chew on for all different kinds of viewers. And it was. Except for one thing.

Mike Pence was caught up in a one-note tune that has lost its appeal. Like a Top 40 hit that's been played to death and becomes eye-rollingly tedious rather than toe-tappingly good to hear he was the only person to make a point of drilling 'the Democrats' every time he was in disagreement with something. It was very noticeable because finally, thankfully, that tactic has all but lost its presence in public discourse. Think about it. In recent weeks, the conversations have been almost entirely issues-oriented and the party-to-party concerns have been offshoots of the debates, rather than the main topics.

When I realized this I was delighted. This guy's single-minded, dogged pursuit of 'the Democrats' was almost freakishly out of place in the discussion. Great! Then? Bonus! I was pleased to see how the other members of the panel responded. They gave him nothing. Like a kid who keeps repeating 'let's play legos. let's play legos. let's play legos.' when no one else wants to play. Eventually, that kid just ends up playing by himself and everyone else moves on.

But then, I got nervous. The last few years have left me politically wincing. I want to believe we're over it - that we've moved past the 6th grade schoolyard conversation - 'you're stupid' 'no you're stupid' - and that we're now allowing the grownups to run the asylum, for whatever that's worth. But as Pence drummed on and on about 'the Democrats' I kept waiting for someone else to pick up the beat. It's happened so many times before when I thought it wouldn't. I waited and waited, but no one did join in. He was alone. We had gotten over it and Mike Pence had not.

So when the segment was done and George grinned his way off to commercial, I turned off the t.v. for a sec and let it soak in. The train Pence was looking for had left the station without him. It was clear out of sight and he was standing on the platform straining over the edge, hoping by sheer will he could bring it back and jump on. But he couldn't. On this day, at this time, it was long gone and he was left alone to play with his legos companionless.

And man, did that feel good.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lime Sucking, Penny Counting Grandmothers

My daughter was excited to read the wedding invitation we received from a friend this morning.

"Yeah! I love weddings," she said. "When are we going?" She scanned the invite.

"Uh. You're not going," I deflated her balloon.

"What?!?" she gawked at me like only a tweenie baby can do.

"It's only for grown-ups," I lied smoothly.

"Great. Who's it going to be?" she demanded, brow neatly furrowed.

"It's Karen. My friend, Karen. She's getting married,"

I looked at her oddly. She was, after all, holding the invitation in her hands. It seemed rather obvious who was getting married.

"No, no," she humpfed impatiently, "Who's watching us?"

"Oh!" I got it. Then, thinking I could do the whole frown upside down thing, I said, "Pick a grandmother. You decide. Gamma or Iggy?" I was smiling, pleased with myself. Short lived.

"Jeez!" She didn't look happy. Minor stomping and huffing followed. Not enough to get in trouble, but enough to get the piont across.

"Why does it always have to be the lime sucking, penny counting grandmothers?? Why can't it be someone else?"

I tried to contain myself, as all good parents do when their children say something insolent. But honestly, this took me so off my guard. Plus - I couldn't quickly assess whether describing the grandmothers as either lime sucking or penny counting was actually bad.

So I stood there with, what I can only imagine was, a priceless expression on my face - mildly preterbed but mostly dying to laugh out loud.

Here's what came out: "What?" guffaw/snort. "What do you mean by that, Lucy?" sternness recaptured and then again swallowed by a gurgly noise.

Whereafter my lovely daughter, who in every respect is delicious and delightful, went on to describe the goings-on at my house when either one or the other grandmother babysits. Stories of indoor tag and marathon food fests were peppered with annecdotes concerning the hunt for hidden limes (which explains the citrus smell in the dining room) and creative math lessons using the coins in my coin bowl (which explains the otherwise unexplainable lack of any food particles or paper clips in said bowl). I wasn't totally surprised, but it was a little stalling to hear the details. And while my son was enthusiastically backing up her rendition, Lucy's telling left no doubt that she was mildly, to say the least, displeased with the idea of another episode of the Lime Sucking, Penny Counting Grandmothers Gone Wild.

As an aside, I was also bemused, thinking of the last few lines in the Dr. Seuss classic The Cat In The Hat, where the narrator asks whether you'd tell your mother the truth about what had gone on while she was away at work. As if a gal who would leave a fish in charge of her small children should have anything to complain about... but I digress.

After she completed her rant, I racked my brain for the right thing to say. What does one say to a well-rehearsed complaint about lime-sucking, penny-counting grandmothers? I believe my first reaction was, "Uhhhhh," followed by, "so which one do you want?"

And therein, my friends, was the key to successful parenting. I did the best I could with what I had. When confronted with a problem, I gathered as much information as I could, I allowed my child the opportunity to express herself, and then I firmly took hold of the situation, redirected my child toward the path leading to good health and happiness, and didn't look back.

Or at least, that's what I told myself I was doing while I waited for my blinking, disgusted child to answer.

Score! She bought it. I regained control of the situation and began humming 'we are the champions' in my head. She was left with no choice but to shrug and move on.

My victory in full-view, I measured the future. I'm sure these conversations are going to become lengthier and more complex as the years move us away from tween to teen and beyond. Humming will probably become grumbling and, knowing me, will eventually lead to significant fuming.

But for now, the simplicity of it all was perfectly satisfying. I felt like a good mommy all morning and there's no better feeling than that.

As for the grandmothers - which one did she pick? The penny-counter. Apparently the lime-sucker ran her ragged last time and she wanted to take it easy. The more I think about it, the more I'm considering getting a fish.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Thrill of it All

Oh Glory. Oh Joy. Oh Newsprint! You just wouldn't believe how giddy I've been for the past five days. I simply can't erase the smile on my face. I went, for the first time in my life, to visit the Chicago Tribune. Imagine that? Invited by an editor to sit in on what they call a "Page 1 Meeting", I had the chance to be in a room where all the paper's editors hashed out the day's events and decided upon those items important enough to grace the next day's front page.

Truth be told, the front of the Trib has not met with much grace lately, as the paper transitions from the staid, conservative standard it once wore to the more modern and approachable tabloid veneer it now sports. In fact, grace is sorely lacking. I'm sure the editors heard.

That's not why I was there. I was there because I had written to tell them something else. I had written to tell them I was glad they were trying. The Chicago Tribune of my childhood, delivered in muted newsy tones to stately addresses and carried in neat folds under the arms of the blue-suits downtown, has had to make way. Make way for the jeans-wearing, coffee-trained, i-pod-plugged-in speed junkies who, today, make up the greater percentage of readers the Tribune must reach. However sad for those of us who enjoyed the news being spoken instead of shouted, the change has been necessary.

Sure - its garish in places. And, yes, I agree, the 'news' seems to have gotten a severe crew cut. Its easy to concede that it stinks to have to make this change. But then, I rather liked my pound-as-you-go typewriter until I got used to the IBM Selectric. And it would be embarrassing to describe my treatment of the IBM AT that unceremoniously replaced the Selectric on my desk. I was verbally abusive. Let's leave it at that.

Change is hard. Those of us who love newspapers and recognize their irreplaceable value are worried about the changes at the Trib. That's natural. But we've got to let go and see that this change is important not for us - we already read - but for people who may tend away from muted tones and soft-spoken words in favor of blips and blurbs on a screen. Ultimately, we have a vested interest in making them readers. The more they read the better for us all.

And let's not pretend that it's all 'them' either. We, too, have cheated on our long-winded, deliberate newspaper in favor of a quick grab online, just to catch up. We have and we do.

So instead of behaving like oversized three-year-olds - insisting on wearing our favorite shoes when we know they don't fit anymore - let's get on board with some change. Where constructive, let's offer our ideas for making this a successful transition. Our newspaper is reaching out to to us, trying to recapture our attention, reinvigorate readers and find new readers it hasn't been able to reach yet. Let's be a part of that process.

The people around that Page 1 meeting table were all thoughtful, intelligent and fair-minded. Their debates were engaged, lively, relevant - just what you'd imagine - and not what you might think. I honestly got blurry taking it all in.

Still, today, I am feeling the effects. I am overjoyed they are trying so hard to save my beloved newspaper. I am excited and hopeful that they will find new readers and new ways to reach more readers. I am glad, beyond measure, that I had the chance to see for myself, in person, that the people in charge of this effort really get the magnitude of it all. They do.

And I am still grinning, ear-to-ear, from the sheer thrill of it all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Springing Forward Not as Easy as it Seems

Sounds innocent enough. Just set your clocks ahead one hour and then thrill in the extra daylight that little effort brings. Mmmmm. Sunshine on my face. Love it!

It's been two days and my eyelids are so mad at me they've packed their things and are heading south. My back is in permanent revolt and for some reason, my appetite is taking it out on my thighs. A gal just can't win.

What's more - it's been cloudy and stormy here ever since the time change. The scant moments of sunshine we've experienced have been overwhelmed by long periods of grey, grey gloom. It's the climate equivalent of celebrating the inauguration for one night and then being Chinese-water-torture-method-ed with six long weeks and dozens of tawdry cable stations drip-dropping proclamations of doom. Enough already!

I'm longing to 'spring'. There're tulips in my heart, truly. I'm feeling very pastel-colory and I'd like to wear something peach without looking like the 'you are here' symbol on a mall map in any crowd. It's bad enough my hair stands out like the coif equivalent of one of those electricity balls that you put your hands on in Sharper Image or Brookstone. (Are either of those still around??)

So why is Mother Nature making the joyous leap towards spring so difficult? My guess - she's miffed with her friend, The Economy, for taking all the shine off of her latest production, "Global Climate Change" - the sequel to the best-selling "Global Warming". The thing about The Economy is that he's just so garish about it - drowning banks and dumping jobs by the hundreds of thousands. No finesse in that. Try melting an ice cap over thousands of years... now that! That takes talent. And then there's always the need to compete with The War for attention. He's one heckuva survivor. You'd think false premises and no moral justification would have ended him but - no! What's a sister got to do, for heaven's sake? I mean - when a tsunami doesn't get and keep your attention for more than a season - a Mother just has to shake her head.

So I understand her frustration. And despite the mud and mire in which my 'spring forward' has found itself, I'm going to do everything I can to help Mother Nature fully reach and enjoy her bloom-to-be. Today, I'm wearing beige and black - tomorrow? Peach baby. I'm going to pull the leaves out of my flower bed so the tulips can rise again. I'm going to decorate for Easter early - just so I can put pink paper flowers in my windows. And I'm going to relish the rain that will green the grass and grow trees and bear fruits.

Spring is, indeed, in the air. I guess it just depends on how you look at it. Now if I could just get my eyes to stay open.