Yeah. What I was thinking.

This Jezebel post articulates some of the very thoughts I have had, not just since the election, but before.


Spreading the word

My friend Kathy posted this video of Sir Ken Robinson on Education at the TED conference a while ago on her blog, and I’m reposting it on mine (she asked me today if I had seen it yet – I admitted I hadn’t – and was so glad she reminded me to actually watch it).  In her intro, Kathy said that Sir Ken is funnier than most comedians – I would concur, except that the way his brain works reminds me very much of an un-profane version of Eddie Izzard (frex, imagining Shakespeare as a kid in someone’s English class):

What he has to say is more than mind-bendingly, gobsmackingly true – as I watched it, I realized that many of the things he has to say relate to the reasons I decided to take my career on a 90-degree bend into libraries.  One of the interesting things about the field (and if you are one of my friends already in the field, please excuse my foray into novice, goggle-eyed optimism and enthusiasm) is that it is well aware of the fact that it needs to change and adapt in order to remain relevant.  Creative solutions are recognized as being necessary, and are being talked about and adopted.  This energizes me to absolutely no end, and it is so wonderful to be able to get excited about what I am doing.

ETA, pulled from the comments, a two-part interview with Sir Ken about his work and new book:

Thanks to Lianne , who alerted me to these!

Online classes and the commentaholic

Classes have started, the Trapper Keeper is shiny, the pencils are still sharp.  And I am here to report that online classes are as fascinating as a good comment thread – which for me is very fascinating.

I can tell already that I’m going to have to schedule my online class time rigorously.  Otherwise, I’ll go down another online rabbit hole, my husband will never see me again, and I will get to a stage of weapons-grade insufferability.

Seriously, though – this is a good exercise for me in thinking twice before I open a comment window and express an opinion, and I intend to take it seriously as a tool for personal growth.


I got a call from a friend yesterday, chiding me on my lack of posting.  All I could say was, "Yeah – John’s been riding me about that too."  What can I say?  It’s been hot and humid, I’ve been unwell, and while I’m back pretty close to normal, I’m still not 100%.  The heat, humidity, and unwell-ness have meant 0 running since mid-month, so that’s another reason for glum, cranky, no-writing-ness.

So, what can I do but a rerun?  I was reminded of the post below the other day, which originally ran on March 29, 2004 and was called "Manning the Ramparts."  Enjoy.


I’ve been a bit cranky lately ["A bit?!" I hear my husband cry. Okay, very cranky]. Only this morning do I have a specific, topical and timely excuse (you clean coffee out of an iBook keyboard at seven in the morning and see how cheery you are). The rest of it has been a lingering malaise which I vaguely attribute to the cause: Don’t Have A Job Yet. But an e-mail from my mother about this site gives another possible cause. She writes, "The only thing I find scary about these musings of yours is that it’s a pretty coherent picture of a culture gone mad–or perhaps more accurately, gone stupid." In all modesty I would substitute the word "consistent" for "coherent" in that statement – otherwise, I’m not sure I can argue with it.

I hate it when I do or say something stupid (cf. coffee on the keyboard). But what is really maddening is when our culture allows us to defend our stupidity – letting us love it and hug it and call it George. There are whole sections of the culture who look upon intelligence and erudition with suspicion, and there is a particularly insidious way of manning the Ramparts of Stupidity: the mislabeled "opinion."

Consider this quote from a music-loving woman in a Wal-Mart for a story about the store’s new music download service . Neda Ulaby of All Things Considered asked her if she would use Wal-Mart’s new online music purchasing system, and she replied, "In a way, I think that’s stealing. And I feel that anything that is downloaded off the computer from anywhere is stealing. So if I come here and buy it then I’ve paid for it and I’m getting what I paid for. So. That’s how I feel."

So, in this woman’s mind, purchasing is not defined as an exchange of goods or services for money – it’s all about the delivery method. Ulaby blames this woman’s thinking (or lack thereof) on the music industry’s virulent anti-piracy media campaign. But take a closer look at what the woman actually said. She starts out by saying she "thinks" it is stealing, softening it by prefacing her statement with, "In a way…". But then she goes on to defend her position that it is stealing by saying it’s what she "feels." In other words, it’s what she believes – it’s her opinion. So she stands on a factually indefensible position and mans the ramparts by retreating to the language of belief.

Someone (sorry – I have been unable to find a source) said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not everyone is entitled to their own facts." But our society reflexively retreats from arguing with people who use the words believe, feel, opinion, etc. It’s a conversational "home base" from which the factually deficient can say, "Neener, neener, you can’t get me." Opinions are so sacred that they cause us to retreat from argument, even when those "opinions" are really factual inaccuracies in disguise. On second thought, perhaps my mother was right the first time – it is a culture gone mad. And you don’t argue with the clinically insane.

Later on in the segment, the aforementioned music-lover in Wal-Mart does say that she will probably use the download service. If she still believes she’s stealing can she get arrested by the thought police?

She’s BACK!

my mom, I mean. And boy, do I love to read her voice again (even though we talk on the phone several times a week – you can only revisit those conversations in your mind – you can’t go back and re-read them and find new and wonderful things, because memories tend to fade.  Writing lasts).

My mother and I are both terrified of snakes.  It’s an atavistic, irrational, overpowering thing.  I remember one time in a drama scene study class, a classmate brought her friend’s pet boa (a wee thing, really) in to play the part of Cleopatra’s asp in her scene.  As she was being critiqued, another classmate played with the critter, letting it crawl around him.  He was sitting several seats away from me, and I tried to stay where I was by sheer force of will and logic.

It’s feet away from you.

It is harmless.

You have nothing to fear.

And suddenly, my mental monologue was interrupted, and I found myself at the other side of the room – as far away from the snake as I could get and not leave the class.  The strength of my will and the force of logic were suddenly swamped by my deep and subconscious need to get away from That Thing.  Okay , said the subconscious, That Thing is dangerous, and if you – Ms. Rational – aren’t going to take care of us, I will. And boing – I was teleported to the other side of the room.

And yet, as much as I fear the things, I don’t hate them.  My being afraid of them isn’t about hate – so I love Mom’s conjuring up a herpetological cocktail party.  I can imagine the snakes, their tails coiled delicately around the stems of wine glasses, giving serious advice to the poor soul who had his leisurely crawl through the grass interrupted rudely by some marauding giant.  And I can imagine that snake’s inner monologue:

It’s feet away from you.

It is harmless.

You have nothing to fear.

And suddenly – he is rearing up and doing his best to imitate one of his dangerous cousins, without even realizing it.  His subconscious takes over, you see.  They do that.

There goes my baby, she knows how to rock and roll

Mom and I were talking about "our" words a while back.  It’s something Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in Eat Pray Love – if I recall correctly, she has a friend who believes that every city and every person has a word that describes them or sums them up.  It’s "their" word.  Mom asked me what my word was, and it just popped out:


Now, that may seem like a pretty lame word to be one’s all-encompassing, but anyone who’s ever heard me talk has heard this word many, many times out of me.  And it’s not because I’m overly accommodating (stop laughing, Ma, John, everyone else).  It just happens to be a word that I find infinitely flexible.  A lot has to do with intonation.

Bridging: "Hey Jill – here’s something you absolutely disagree with!"  "Um… okay.  So let’s think about this…"

Happiness: "Jill – something fun!"  "Okay!"

Processing:  "Jill – bad news."  "…Oh-kay …"


But it’s that last example I am talking about here.  I’m unemployed.  I’ve been unemployed for about a month now (I wanted to take some time before I talked about it here).  I was unemployed when I started this blog , back in 2004.  So we’ve come full circle, and not in a way I would have wanted.

Oh-kay .

However, so far so good – at least emotionally.  I’ve kept up with my running.  I’ve kept up with Tosh’s training.  I’ve kept going with the job search and the networking and the stuff that goes along with it.  I haven’t gotten too freaked out.  In fact, coming back from my run today, I was shuffling and dancing down the forest path near our house (yes positively jitterbugging – jazz hands may have been involved, I’m just saying).  Hey – you try to stay still when "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" comes onto your iPod.  Let me know how that works out for you.

I don’t think anyone saw me (except poor Tosh, who clearly knew in his doggy way that Mommy had completely lost her marbles).  And you know what?  If someone did, I don’t care.


You know what there aren’t a lot of?

Female movie reviewers.

I admit to a certain fondness for reading movie reviews, especially for movies I may never see.  I’m an unabashed fan of Roger Ebert’s, and generally appreciate his insights.  That being said, however, I predicted that his first words on the "Sex and the City" movie would be something to the effect of, "I’m not the target market for this movie."

Bingo .

Curious, I scanned the Google roundup page for reviews of the movie.  It seems that there’s a definite gender split between the men and women – women mostly appreciating the movie for all the things the show brought us: witty dialogue, a return visit to characters we had grown to love, and a hefty dollop of high-fashion wish-fulfillment.  The men mostly found it shallow (that word shows up a lot) and admitted that since they hadn’t been viewers of the show, they weren’t privy to the back story.  I may be reading too much into the reviews I have read, but there seems to be a sense of unease in those writers – the sense that manliness has had to take its fingers out of its ears and stop singing, "Lalalalala – I don’t hear you!!" and listen to girly stuff that might… Do Something to them.  I don’t know what, exactly: make bits fall off?

Should I mention that I am the target market for this movie?  Need I mention that I have watched every episode of the series (and on afternoons, home with flu and feeling low, watched again) and enjoyed the series through its ups and downs, its storytelling strengths and weaknesses, the outfits I wouldn’t be caught dead in, and its nuanced and touching portrayals of female friendships?  I don’t know.  I do know the constant obsessions with shoes and labels always seemed to be more of a running joke in the series than anything else, and yet that is what is deemed "shallow" by so many critics.

So, let’s review.  Shoes/fashion: shallow.  Cars/guns/robots/spaceships: serious.  Besides, what is meant by the label "shallow"?  You could also possibly describe these same things as "light" or "entertaining."  But those are positive adjectives – ones that the reviewer might use to say, "Hey – go see it.  It’s fun!"  Instead, we get an adjective that says, "Save your money – this is unserious content, unworthy of your notice or money."

Shallow implies waste.  And waste implies guilt.  And woe be to you who enjoy such frivolity.

My friend Jacob has gone to town on the term "guilty pleasure" and excoriates it in a way that I have been chewing on ever since I first read it:

I hate that phrase "guilty pleasure" more than anything, because it’s a contradiction in terms and seems really self-hating and self-defeating to me, but more than that, I think the one thing you will always get crapped on for is honestly loving — much less rigorously reading — something that’s so heavily feminized, because to be blunt, we devalue women’s experience.

Yes.  Yes, we do.  Women will never be criticized for enjoying a "Die Hard" movie (heck, the first one has Alan Rickman in it – who am I to cavil at enjoying that?), but the term "chick flick" is a derogatory one, and not one a man wants to be associated with.  It’s a hoary cliche, and it’s frustrating.

So we’re back to the split: the ones who enjoy are women.  The ones who don’t are men.  And unfortunately, it seems that there are a lot more men who get paid to watch and opine than women (need I wait while you recover from your shock?).  Do the male reviewers have to like it?  Heck no – I don’t know if I will like it.  But the tediously predictable reasons for why they don’t like it is disturbing, and it saddens me.

As for me, I haven’t seen the movie yet (see here for why).  Will I?  Pass the popcorn.

Required reading

Ever have someone who articulates things you have been thinking about forever?  Ever have someone who does this on a fairly regular basis in an incredibly eloquent way that puts your own thoughts on the subject to shame at the same time as you sigh with relief and say to yourself, “Ahhh – yes.  Exactly.”?

Marissa Lingen is one of those people for me.  I’ve directed my readers to her previously on the subject of only children.  In her latest post, she discusses the high school experience, advice from adults on dealing with same, and how navigating the difficult waters of adolescence might not just produce a happier teenager, but a more sane, happy, whole adult.

I’ll include a few gems to whet your appetite, but if you like what you see here, please go read the whole thing.  First:

Of course it’s useful if you can simply not care whether people around you are being hostile and nasty. But really, how many of us as adults can, by sheer force of will, make it totally not matter that we’re spending forty hours a week with people who are willing to be as unpleasant as they can get away with? Not many.*


The win condition is that you can only remember the names of the ones who were kind and/or interesting to you. The win condition is that when you get news of something terrible happening to someone who smeared Ben Gay all over your friend’s locker or pushed another friend down the stairs or any of the other lovely things that happened in high school, you are not glad. Because you’re not just a bigger and better person than that, you’re so much bigger and better and have moved on with your life so far that you had to stop and think why that name sounded familiar. That’s what winning looks like.

and last:

But sitting down and thinking to yourself, “What would be interesting to me apart from graduation requirements and college applications and dodging the jerks at school? What do I want to be able to do?” might be a good start. Everyone has to build a life that’s irrelevant of the structures of high school eventually. Everyone has to find an identity that doesn’t involve where your locker is or who you sit with in the cafeteria. No reason not to start as soon as you can.

I was pretty lucky – I didn’t have to deal with the kind of toxic jackassery that Marissa details (in high school, at least.  Middle school was another issue).  But her advice and musings are instructive beyond the adolescent experience, beyond the confines of school and work.  They reach to the core of a human being’s need for dignity and individual identity.  I don’t know if I would have been smart enough to heed her advice then.  I know I will at least try now.

*I would actually extend that statement beyond “people who are willing to be as unpleasant as they can get away with,” to a much lower bar of “people who can’t be bothered to extend the barest minimum of basic human courtesies.”

Channeling Marie

Okay – after a really cold March, April arrives and BLAM – it’s 74 freakin’ degrees.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful evening, but for purposes of running?  Going from the high 30’s to the mid 70’s makes for some insta-fatigue.  But anyway, I was going to tell you about how I channeled Marie today.

Marie, for those who don’t know her (and that would probably be most of you) is one of my dearest (and among my oldest) friends.  Neither of us suffer fools gladly (“or at all,” I hear my mother saying), but Marie has what I consider to be a truly admirable way of dealing with the dimwittery of total strangers, particularly children and adolescents (which is good, because she’s a Teen Services Librarian).  Her manner combines a sort of brisk, almost military, no-nonsense forcefulness, with just enough politeness to allow people room to respond with good grace.  By the time I’m ticked off enough to handle a stranger’s wilful (or witless) dumbassery, I’m usually not so diplomatic.  The reactions I get often range from defensive and hostile to frightened and cowed.

This evening during my run, as I got to the little wooden bridge that spans a small stream behind our house, I nearly tripped over a scooter lying on its side.  A girl – probably around ten years old – was down by the water, inspecting the stream.  “Might want to move that,” I yelled as I went by.  She looked up at me and either didn’t hear or didn’t register what I had said (she had a look I remember from being that age – she was on a different planet in her preadolescent head: it’s springtime, she’s outside, cabin fever is over).

When I came back, the scooter was still there, and she was still crouched by the water.  I walked over, took a deep breath, thought, “How would Marie handle this?” and said, “Excuse me, is that your scooter?”  She nodded.  “Would you please move it so it’s not in other people’s way?”

She scrambled up the bank, trying to explain why she had left it there, and I said (still managing to not lose it or take an impolite tone), “I really don’t care why you left it just there, but it’s in the way and it doesn’t have to be.”

“Okay.  Thank you,” she said as she positioned it away from the path.

“Thank you,” I said.

Now, Jill – was that so hard?

Point of View

I mentioned in my last post that I had been watching a lot of Dog Whisperer.  I always hate it when I jump on a bandwagon – I tend to object on principle to buying wholesale into someone else’s world-view.  I also get a little irritated with the people who breathlessly gasp about Cesar Millan’s “miraculous” transformation of their dog’s behavior.  Even though he doesn’t seem to buy into their assessment, it’s hard to separate the man’s competence from the aura other people ascribe to him of being some sort of demigod.

However, facts are facts: the man’s really good with dogs.  It is amazing to watch him analyze the behavior of some hard case pit bull or neurotic mutt and come out on the other end with a dog that is more comfortable in his or her own furry skin.  And every single time, it boils down to one thing: the dog is, in fact, a dog.  No matter what happens, the dog is going to look at the world through doggy eyes and assess it with a doggy brain.  I don’t care how smart your pooch is, he’s never going to evaluate the world with a human’s perspective.

For someone who prides herself on nuance, this seems overly simplistic – and immediately, I’m down the rabbit hole again: this isn’t international diplomacy or literary criticism.  It’s a dog’s brain.  A dog’s brain is not, in fact, terribly complicated.  But it is different.  And while a dog’s brain isn’t capable of human-style analysis, a human can change their point of view to see what their dog is seeing.

Having taken a lot of Millan’s methodology on board in dealing with Tosh, I had a dramatic example of how well this stuff works the other day.  Tosh and I were at the end of a run.  He had been leashed in to heel for almost the entire time, with a few approved sniff-breaks.  He was behaving beautifully: attentive, calm, submissive. 

Out of another trail came two guys with three big labrador mixes: big, shaggy beasts, each at least half again as big as Tosh.  They were ranging around off leash, and they may be part of a big pack that lives just off of the trail – the kind of house you avoid if you see big furry shapes in the yard, because this is a pack that whips itself into a frenzy at a moment’s notice, and if they get over the fence, there could be trouble. 

Two of them split off of from the group, and deaf to the yelling of their owner, came bounding at Tosh.  Without thinking, I pulled Tosh behind me and drew myself up, throwing out my free arm and spitting a loud, “TCSHHHHHHT!”  These big dogs, who had previously been focusing entirely on Tosh, looked at me, startled, then started to look back down at Tosh.  I repeated the sound and the movement.  They gave me their full attention, ignoring Tosh, and focused on the Instant Pack-Leader.  I stomped toward them, telling them, “Git,” and they bolted back to their owner (who was standing about 20 yards away and yelling like a complete fool instead of actually coming over and trying to take charge of his dogs). 

This dog behavior stuff?  It just works.  You just have to think like a dog.