Tennis, Anyone? (Part Two)

As I wrote in my last post, my love of tennis has returned and much of that is due to a young woman from Australia named Samantha Stosur. Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard, she defeated Serena Williams handily in the U.S. Open final yesterday, 6-2, 6-3. Sam became the first Australian woman since Margaret Court in 1973 to win the U.S. Open. While this is great cause for celebration for Australia and Australian tennis, it’s great for anyone who values champions with class.

There was some controversy at the beginning of the second set that almost tilted the momentum to Serena Williams. The umpire deemed Serena’s celebratory scream after she struck a ball before the point was over as as a violation of the Hindrance Rule and awarded Sam the point, which gave her the game. Serena then behaved like a petulant brat and unfortunately the crowd started pulling for her.

This situation reminded me just how much I dislike the idea of rooting for someone simply because he or she is from your country. I support a player because I like him or her not because he or she is an American. An acquaintance on Twitter took offense at my characterization of the crowd as jingoistic yet she basically admitted that she was rooting for Serena simply because of her citizenship. This is not the Olympics or the World Cup where supporting your country is natural and appropriate.

Add to this mix the emotions of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and this could have gotten really ugly. Luckily for Stosur and for the game of tennis, she remained composed and let her playing do the talking for her. I hope that when people look back on this match, they’ll give Stosur the credit she deserves for her high-quality play and her grace under pressure. What we don’t need is any whining about a bad call (which it was not) or excuses for Serena’s lackluster performance. Serena Williams is an incredibly talented player who will go down as one of the greatest to have ever played. On Sunday, however, a 27 year-old from Down Under was better.

What’s the Big Idea?

In this article by Neal Gabler in the August 13, 2011 New York Times, the author discusses his belief that ideas just aren’t what they used to be. In fact, he states,


“In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world –
a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t
instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that
fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are
disseminating them, the Internet, notwithstanding.
Bold ideas are almost passé.”

I think Gabler is onto something here. Just take a look at television programming. Now, I’m not about to get on some high-brow horse and lament the decline of television because of reality shows, blowhard pundits and the like. There have always been clowns on television, literally and figuratively. What we used to see more of, however, was programming that also appealed to the intellect. Even with the hundreds of channels available today, how much intellectual stimulation do you find around the dial?

As a pre-teen, in addition to heavy doses of reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS, I was often riveted to Firing Line. (Yes, I was a precocious child.) For any of you too young to remember it, Firing Line was hosted by conservative writer and thinker William F. Buckley, Jr., and it featured Buckley debating the issues of the day with leading intellectuals, politicians and other public figures. The pace was slow, the atmosphere, polite. Listening to, let alone reading Buckley, virtually required doing so with a dictionary in your hands.

Yes, I realize that Firing Line was on PBS and not network television, but still, I don’t believe it would even work on PBS today. No one in the public sphere seems to be interested in discussion and dissemination of ideas. Civility seems to be like some outdated Victorian notion. It’s all about the sound bite and one-upsmanship. Watch any news show anywhere on television tonight and listen for the raised voices, the constant interruption of one speaker by another, and the vitriol.

The Information Age has given us access to endless amounts of data, but that doesn’t translate into necessarily understanding that data. In essence, we possess trivia that makes for useful cocktail party conversation or 140 character tweet-sized bites. This isn’t inherently bad, mind you; it’s just ultimately unsatisfying if that’s where the inquiry end. It’s fast food information.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media and I love that when some inane trivia question wakes me up in the middle of the night (Don’t laugh. This happens.), I’m almost 100% certain that with a few keystrokes, I can find the answer. But, aside from helping me go back to sleep, did learning the answer to that question add any tangible value to my life? Most likely, the answer is “no”. As Gabler concludes,

What the future portends is more and more information –
Everests of it. There won’t be anything we won’t know. But
       there will be no one thinking about it. Think about that.”

I intend to think about it. What about you?

Prepare Yourself

The scout’s motto is “Be Prepared”. Well, I’d be a horrible scout and not just because I recoil from group activities and the great outdoors. I would suck at scouting because I’m ill prepared. I don’t mean that my checkbook is overdrawn or that I fail to pay my bills. No, I’m talking about preparation for natural disasters. I can’t even find a flashlight at the moment.

While watching Hurricane Irene prowl up the East Coast, I was reminded once again that I have no plan or preparations in the event of an earthquake. Yes, you heard me correctly. I, Kelly Reiterman, a native Californian and 4th generation San Franciscan, no less, have no earthquake plan. It’s my sense that transplants to California do seem to have a plan and all the gear ready. It’s those of us who grew up feeling earthquake after earthquake who aren’t prepared.

My grandmother was nine years old when the 1906 earthquake and fire hit and burned her family out of their flat on Clementina Street in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco. She was understandably terrified of earthquakes for the rest of her life but not enough to prepare for the next one. Her preparation consisted of praying at her home altar.

Little earthquakes happen all the time. You learn to discern between one that “shakes” and one that “rolls” and you’re just not fazed by them. If you were, you’d be on anti-anxiety drugs all the time. Sometimes, though, when an earthquake lasts a little longer than usual, a native has a conversation with himself or herself. It goes something like this:

I wonder if I should get up and go under the door frame.
Wait. Didn’t I hear that we shouldn’t go under
door frames any more? I wish they’d make up their minds.

And before the dilemma can be resolved, the earthquake is over and the native goes back to what he or she was doing before.

I didn’t feel the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake because I was on a bus rounding a corner downtown (not too far from good old Clementina Street) and with the usual bus shaking, there was no way to tell an earthquake had happened. That is, not until I got up to Market Street and saw hunks of buildings in the street.

I did feel the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles. I was shaken awake in my little studio apartment in West Hollywood and it wasn’t from my neighbor’s Madonna CD. I heard wine glasses falling in the kitchen area and I do remember saying out loud, “This can stop now!” Yet even after that, I never thought of preparing myself for “The Big One”.

I’m now thinking about getting more prepared. I’ve been scouring websites that offer earthquake survival kits and comparing them. I’ve gotten as far as this:

Hmm. This one has a whistle but no wrench. Do I need a whistle?
Dammit! Why didn’t I ever learn to whistle?!

Scoff if you must, but at least it’s a start. Hell, I even found my flashlight! Now all I have to do is find batteries…

Love At First Type

“Do you believe in love at first sight?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Do you believe in love before that?”

These two lines sum up the question at the heart of Attachments, the debut novel by Rainbow Rowell. It’s set in 1999 at a Midwestern newspaper in the midst of the Y2K madness. Co-workers Beth and Jennifer spend good portions of their day sending each other messages about very personal details of their lives despite knowing that their email is being monitored. The person monitoring their email is Lincoln, and he doesn’t have the heart to send them a warning.

You see, through their messages, Lincoln has come to enjoy Beth and Jennifer’s interactions immensely. Before he realizes it, he has fallen for Beth but can’t imagine how he would ever introduce himself. Quite a dilemma, isn’t it?

I discovered Attachments after seeing it chosen for the Barnes & Noble Summer 2011 Discover Great New Writers program and the subject matter really resonated with me. Why, you may ask? Well, I’m a veteran of falling for someone online. The most important relationships I’ve had began by reading someone’s words and being drawn to them and the person behind those words. When you love words and feel comfortable using them, I think it’s natural to fall for someone via the written word. If you’ve ever written or received a love letter, you know how powerful it can be to share intense emotions through language. You keep those letters and re-read them over and over and the feelings that get stirred up don’t diminish with each reading. They grow.

If you’re getting to know someone online, it’s easy to put your best foot forward, as it were. You can take time to say exactly what you want to say. There is no stuttering or fumbling over words. You aren’t distracted by the physical presence of the person with whom you’re talking. All you have are your words.

Can this be problematic? Certainly. For example, I know that I can come across much more self-assured online than I normally do in real life. This doesn’t mean that I’m lying about who I am. It just means that I’m presenting my best self, who I am internally, and who I want to be more of, externally.

I must confess that I don’t read much fiction anymore. I don’t know exactly why or when this happened but if you looked at my bookshelves, you’d find mainly nonfiction: biographies, how-to books, philosophy, etc. So, for a book of fiction to grab me, it must be something special.

The subject matter of Attachments may have lured me in, but it was (big surprise), the words that kept me reading. Rainbow Rowell fills her novel with pop culture references to songs, movies and my personal favorite, “Dungeons and Dragons”. (I was a devoted D&D geek in the mid-to-late 1980s). But the quality that most impresses me is her dialogue. Rowell’s dialogue is crisp and punchy, much like the best movie or television dialogue you’ve ever heard.

So I highly recommend Attachments to anyone who loves snappy dialogue and a captivating and unconventional love story. Despite the fact that my previous forays into online love haven’t led to “happily ever after”, I’m not discouraged. To answer the questions that began this post, I not only believe in love at first sight. I believe in love at first type.

Welcome to Bizarro World

In my never-ending quest to not just entertain, but to enlighten you, I came across this interesting article today. Apparently, British theoretical physicists are attempting to find evidence of multiple alternative universes, aka, “multiverses”. You science fiction and comic book readers are very familiar with the idea of a multiverse. (See DC Comics Infinite Crisis and 52, for just two examples.)

In essence, the thought is that we live in a multiverse in which new universes form each time they collide with each other. What really piqued my interest was the theory that these universes could possibly not adhere to the laws of nature with which we’re familiar. For example, time could move backward instead of forward. Freaky, right?

This is just like Bizarro World. For the uninitiated, Bizarro World, aka, Htrae, is a fictional planet in the DC Comics universe. In Bizarro World, society lives by the Bizarro Code in which everything is done the opposite way it’s done on Earth. I had a dream that I woke up in Bizarro World.

Someone named “Snooki” who inhabits Jersey Shore, supposedly makes $100,000 an episode. According to a website called PayScale, high school teachers in New Jersey earn between $35,269 – $73,705 per year. Snooki must be doing something really impressive.

Then, I hear a creepy disembodied voice talking to me. I’ve heard it before but I have a hard time placing it at first. I realize that it’s Michele Bachmann.

Suddenly, I wake up shaking and covered in sweat.

“Good thing that world isn’t real,” I mumble. But then, I turn on the television and see:

“No, no, no!” I scream. “This can’t be happening. It must be Bizarro World!”

I hear another voice, this time emanating from inside my own head. The voice says, “Kelly, this is your world, for better or worse. Just because it’s not Bizarro World doesn’t mean it’s not bizarre.”

Keep the PJs on the QT

Even though I sometimes think I am, I’m really not that old. I’m turning 46 a week from today. But, there are times like this morning when I feel old. No, it wasn’t because of an achy back or shoulders that felt as hard as Jillian Michael’s abs. (Not that I’d know anything about her abs personally.) I felt old because of flannel pajamas. These were not my flannel pajamas, mind you. They were on a woman going into Walgreen’s yesterday morning. Yes, you heard that right. A GROWN WOMAN THOUGHT IT WAS OKAY TO WEAR HER PAJAMAS IN PUBLIC.

When did this become okay? I’ve never been so tired, hung over or lazy to feel that being seen in public in sleepy-time plaid was appropriate. As I watched Van Winkle (my nickname for our Walgreen’s shopper) lock her car door and walk slowly into the store, a couple of questions popped into my mind:

1.     Did she think these were actual pants and not pajamas? If that’s the case, I shudder at the thought of what she thinks is “appropriate work attire”.

2.     Did she not think anyone would notice? How do you convince yourself to leave the house in your pajamas? I imagine the conversation with herself would go something like this:

 “It’s early. There probably won’t be anyone out.” (It was 9 A.M., at a mall, just outside San Francisco. It’s not like she was in Amish country without a horse and buggy.)

“So what if I’m in my pajamas? You know what passes for clothing at the Pride parade. At least I’m not bare-assed in chaps!” (Pride is in June in San Francisco. This is Daly City in August. There is no rainbow flag and you, honey, are not a leather man.)

 3.     Did she not have anyone in her life who could dissuade her? If I ever even momentarily toyed with the idea of “SWP” (aka, “Shopping While PJ’d”), one of the following people would have shamed me out of it:

Mother: This is a woman who once designed an outfit around underwear and had to buy everything else to match and coordinate. Do you think she’d let me out of the house in my pajamas? Not even if I was wearing matching slippers, I’ll tell you that!

Gay Male Friend: Many women, straight or gay, have or have had gay men in their lives. And these men would never let you out of the house in pajamas, especially flannel. There are some lesbian friends who might. (Insert “lesbian wearing flannel joke” HERE.) I can hear the voice of a friend from college named Freddie right now: “Girl, don’t even think about it. Those pajamas make my eyebrows hurt. Get back in the damn house and change!”

I was tempted to follow Van Winkle around Walgreen’s and observe her to see if she exhibited any other signs of inappropriate behavior. I decided against it because (a) That’s kind of stalkerish and it would be embarrassing to be arrested for stalking someone wearing pajamas in public; and (b) I looked down and noticed her feet. She was wearing flip-flops. This is another pet peeve. Unless you’re going to the beach, put some damn shoes on.

So, I lost sight of Van Winkle and waited in line in the pharmacy department. In front of me was a woman with actual pants on. All is not lost! There is hope for civilization! But then, I noticed her feet. She was wearing slippers. Nooooooo! But you know what was even worse? They totally clashed with her pants. Oh, the humanity!

The Costco Commentary

I have a love/hate relationship with Costco. What’s not to love about 36 rolls of toilet paper and ginormous jars of peanut butter? But what I hate are my fellow shoppers. Whether I’m at Costco or anywhere else, I shop like a man. I don’t stroll. I have a list and a purpose. Get in, get out of my way, and go home.

One key to surviving a trip to Costco is to get there early. By doing this, you can avoid the masses clogging every aisle desperate to get a sample of some food or another. Are you really that hungry? I mean, if you can afford Costco, you can afford to buy some damn food, you mooch! Besides, if you’ve had one kebab, you’ve had them all.

I’m beginning to think that Costco is the new “hip” place for retirees to mingle. Aside from gathering around the communal sample trough, you can find senior citizens chatting with old pals in the pharmacy department. Whether it’s commiserating over colonoscopies or harping about heartburn, Costco is the place to be and be bitchy for the over 70 set.

Costco is like other places in the summer when it comes to children. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE AND THEY ARE IN YOUR WAY. I think Costco could make a fortune if they offered on-site daycare. Stop those little rugrats from screaming and running down the aisles and stick them in a room with some books and toys you couldn’t sell and everybody’s happy. Hey, you can feed the kids the damn food samples!

My most recent pilgrimage to the Church of Costco wasn’t too bad on the whole, aside from the damage to my checking account. I didn’t hit anyone in the shins with my cart (though it was very tempting) and surprisingly, there wasn’t a long line to pay. I did wonder where everyone was, however. Then I remembered. They were gulping down gouda and goldfish crackers in aisle five.

You Play to Win the Game

Back in 2002 when he was the head coach of the New York Jets, Herman Edwards uttered this line and his sentiment really resonated with me in light of the coverage of the defeat of the U.S. Women’s National Team in the World Cup Final. I was puzzled and annoyed by the coverage of their loss mainly because it seemed patronizing. The fact that the U.S. team failed to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities in the first half, lost a lead twice, committed sloppy errors that led to Japan’s scores and totally broke down during penalty kicks was absent in the coverage. It was all hearts and flowers about their wins over Brazil and France. Don’t get me wrong. Those were great wins and there is no doubt that the U.S. team did wonders for women’s sports, especially soccer, here in the U.S. All you have to do is look at the ratings.

But, if the goal of playing is winning, they failed. Why are people so afraid to say that? I think it’s because no one, especially men, wants to be accused of being a sexist. The fastest, easiest way to shut down debate is to call someone either (a) racist, (b) homophobic, or (c) sexist. By pointing out that they failed to win the game doesn’t mean that they are failures as human beings or that their run in the tournament was a failure. Anyone with common sense knows that. Are female athletes so fragile that they need protection from criticism? Hardly. Female athletes are strong in body, mind and spirit, just like their male counterparts and they deserve to be praised and criticized by the same standards.

Finally, someone said just this very thing. On the July 19, 2011 episode of Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, host Bryant Gumbel delivered a spot-on commentary. I don’t always agree with Mr. Gumbel, but he said everything I was thinking after the World Cup Final. I applaud him for facing the slings and arrows he’s sure to receive for daring not to parrot the politically correct party line.

Nutella It Like It Is

Every once in awhile, a commercial comes along that annoys me beyond words. Well, maybe not beyond words, since I’m now blogging about it. But, you get the idea. This Nutella commercial is the current target of my advertising angst. We see a harried Mom of three oozing gratitude that Nutella came into her life. Now she can give her family “a breakfast they’ll want to eat” and she can feel good “that they’re ready to tackle the day”. Really? You popped toast in the toaster, slathered chocolate and hazelnut on it and threw it in front of your kids. Wow, you are SO getting the mother of the year award!

I don’t have kids and have no idea how difficult it is to get them fed, clothed and out the door every day. But, still, is this what we’ve devolved into? I can tell you this, if my mother had sent me out the door with toast and a spread for my “nutritious” breakfast, the neighbors would have called Child Protective Services.

But, you know, maybe I need to not take things so seriously. It’s just a commercial after all. I should look for the lighter side of life. Like this. Ah, parody always makes me feel so much better.

Mastery versus Mollycoddling

This article in the July 18, 2011 New York Times posits the idea that today’s “safety first” playgrounds harm children more in the long run than any injuries they could suffer if the playgrounds were less safe. As someone who wrote a paper in college defending cartoons and by extension, their violence, as important to a child’s development, it shouldn’t surprise you that I agree with the conclusion by Norwegian psychologists Dr. Ellen Sandseter and Dr. Leif Kennair.

I’ve noticed a dramatic change when in comes to kids and sports since my early school days in the 1970s. The playgrounds of my youth were full of metal slides that baked in the afternoon sun, monkey bars that were either placed over concrete or if there was sand, you had to watch out for the hypodermic needles lurking just below the surface. Today’s playgrounds are all rounded edges and plastic. Sure, the kids don’t get a boo boo, but what is this protectionism setting them up for?

 Ask this same question about the trend in youth sports to give every kid a trophy just for participating. I’m sorry, but the main purpose of engaging in sports is not to falsely build self-esteem. It’s to provide an opportunity for mastery. Yes, you want kids to have fun and feel good about themselves, but does that mean that disappointment or defeat should be banned from their experience? If a child never learns how to handle defeat and disappointment, how is little Johnny or Jane supposed to deal with criticism from a boss?

A clue may be found in this piece from the Wall Street Journal in 2008. When little Johnny and Jane enter the workforce, they often feel entitled and expect praise from the get-go. These “Millennials”, who were generally born between 1980 and 2001, were pampered and indulged by their Baby Boomer parents from birth. If this isn’t karmic irony, I don’t know what is. To this early Generation X’er (born in 1965), the Baby Boomers can come across as spoiled, ungrateful brats who took all the goodies their Greatest Generation parents gave them and threw it in their faces. To now complain about working with the Millennials they spawned is disingenuous, albeit amusing.

Granted, not every Millennial is an entitled slacker, not every Baby Boomer is a spoiled whiner, and not every Gen X’er is as insightful (or humble!) as yours truly. But, the overall point about whether we are cultivating a culture of healthy empowered individuals or one of coddled, over-protected wimps is worthy of discussion.