Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Big Waste of Time

I've written about my favorite poet, John Keats, in an earlier post. Because Keats died so young, he thought he wouldn't make a name for himself and that everything he had done would not be remembered. He even left the epitaph for his tombstone which says, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."

Even though Keats thought his life was nothing, he put more into his short 26 years than most of us. His life wasn't wasted, and he left many great works of literature to prove it.

Everywhere today, I see people, myself included, throwing away our short lives by wasting time. I sit and watch a stupid television show whose plot I can't remember the next morning. I read silly books that do nothing to increase my knowledge. I sit at the computer too many hours, checking emails and searching for future projects that I probably won't complete. I use my phone too many times a day to check Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. 

Smart phones are like an IV pouring life's blood into our bodies: we can't live without them. Several times, I have had a student refuse to put away his phone in class. When I ask for it, he refused which is automatically a 3-day suspension. A teen would rather be suspended 3 days than be separated from his phone. That's a problem.

Anyway, I set off to find out how much time we spend/waste on various tasks. The US Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics shows some fascinating charts and graphs about all kinds of data. There are charts that show how much time is spent taking care of elderly people and children, spent working in and out of the home, and also how much is spent sleeping. One chart shows that women spend twice as much time as men performing household activities. Imagine that?

Here's another one about high school students and the amount they put into various events:

You can check out more charts here: Bureau of Labor Statistics Charts

Now back to the problem with electronics and the amount of time they consume. The above chart shows that high school students spend around 3 hours daily in leisure time. How much of that do you think is spent on social media? A study by BI Intelligence found the following information:

·      Social is now the top Internet activity: Americans spend an average of 37 minutes daily on social media, a higher time-spend than any other major Internet activity, including email.
·      Social-mobile rules: 60% or so of social media time is spent not on desktop computers but on smartphones and tablets. 
·      Facebook has a monster lead in engagement: Facebook is a terrific absorber of audiences' time and attention, 114 billion minutes a month in the U.S. alone, on desktop PCs and smartphones. By comparison, Instagram commands 8 billion minutes a month, and Twitter just 5.3 billion. 
·      Facebook attracts roughly seven times the engagement that Twitter does, when looking at both smartphone and PC usage, in per-user terms
·      Snapchat is a smaller network than WhatsApp, but outpaces it in terms of time-spend per user
·      Pinterest, Tumblr and LinkedIn have made major successful pushes in 2013 to increase engagement on their mobile sites and apps. 

I have to say that much of this information about time spent on social media didn't surprise me. As I stated earlier, I'm just as guilty of SMO -- Social Media Overload. I'm trying to limit myself by leaving my phone in my purse during the day, but I’ve got a long way to go. I definitely need to stop wasting time and be more like Keats so my name doesn’t disappear.
How much time do you spend on social media? What's your biggest waste-of-time activity?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Big Influence

We are influenced by so many people, whether they are people we know or ones that we only wish we knew. I can't begin to count the people who have impacted my life to help me get where I am. 

This week, Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people was announced. I perused the list and found it contained some very unusual names. I wondered why certain people (Vladimir Puiten, Kim Jong Un, Miley Cryus) made the list and also what criteria were used to make the selections.

The editors of the magazine, relying on their journalists and former members of the list, select the new members. They made an interesting statement about the difference between power and influence which answered my question about Putin and Jong Un:

Power, as we’ve seen this year, can be crude and implacable, from Vladimir Putin’s mugging of Crimea to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s summary execution of his uncle and mentor Jang Song Thaek. Those men made our list, but they are the outliers, and not just because we generally seek to celebrate the best work of the human spirit. The vast majority of this year’s roster reveals that while power is certain, influence is subtle. Power is a tool, influence is a skill; one is a fist, the other a fingertip. You don’t lead by hitting people over the head, Dwight Eisenhower used to say. That’s “assault, not leadership.”

Another note about the article is the writers: most of them are influential people, too. For example, Hilary Clinton wrote about John Kerry. I guess she's qualified to write about him since he took her job. Barack Obama wrote about Pope Francis, Dolly Parton about Miley Cyrus, and DWayne Wade about Serena Williams. The winner of the magazine cover is my favorite singer ever, Queen Beyonce.

You can check out the list here:  TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People 2014

Time's list made me consider the many people who have had an impact on me. There are thousands, and they may not even know the impact they made because their influence was so subtle. Also, some of the people taught me by non-example, showing me the ways not to be.  We all have these people in our lives, so I'm not going into what I learned from them. 

Although teachers, friends, celebrities, etc., have a powerful influence over us, I think family has the greatest impact. Whether we like our families or not, we are kind of stuck with them. How many of us have said, "I'm not going to do that when I'm a parent" and then grow up to hear our parents' voices come out of our own adult mouths? This is influence by example, and I think it's just a toss of the coin if you get a good set of parents. Individual members of a family may be in that toxic column that you have to divorce in order to have peace. 

The positive influences of family can be phenomenal. One of the most prominent family members to me was my grandmother, Bubba, who taught me to sew, one of the greatest skills I ever learned. She was so patient, marking and pinning to show me the right path to take with a needle and thread but also in life. When I began teaching my own granddaughter how to sew, I remembered how Bubba taught me and try to be just as patient. She was a very generous person, too. She cut the timber on her property to help send me to college, and I don't recall her ever saying no to me. Her influence, especially during my teenage years, was my constant, guiding force. Every person who had/has a prominent, positive family member like Bubba should consider himself blessed.

Drew, Bubba and Kelsey approx. 1997
Sometimes I think we should take a few minutes to consider how and why we are where we are and who pushed us along the way. Who has influenced you? 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What can you accomplish in 30 days?

"We are what we repeatedly do,"  Aristotle proclaimed.
When I found the 30-Day Blog Challenge, I also came upon several other 30-day challenges. These common plans led me on another time-consuming research project to see what other types of 30-Day Challenges there are. Here are some of my favorites:

The idea behind the 30-Day Facebook Coffee Prayer Challenge is simple: pray before you do something that is already a daily habit. For example, if Facebook is a daily habit, commit yourself to praying for a targeted amount of time before you allow yourself to go on Facebook. There are lots more prayer-type challenges encouraging you can pray for your husband/wife/child/boss/government/world. The lazy person in me wishes there were just one prayer to cover all of the problems. Maybe that's the Lord's Prayer. 

For the artistic/creative person, there are numerous challenges for photography, drawing, art, poems, etc. Several of my students use the drawing and photography ones. I think they are attracted to these challenges because they are sick of writing in my class. In their minds, school should be over.  

The 30 Day Full Body KILLER Workout is one of the many programs geared toward fitness. There's a 30-day workout for arms, butt, stomach, wall squats, push ups, and on and on. I started this month doing the push-up challenge. It lasted a week and then I just forgot to do it for several days. When I remembered it, I figured I had already failed this month so I'll start over next month.

All of these 30-day challenges made me wonder why everything is in 30-day intervals. Why not 21, 28, or 40 days? Twenty-one days makes a good, solid three weeks which seems like a long enough time to accomplish something. In teaching, I find that if I have a unit of study that lasts longer than three weeks, my students are bored to death and frankly, so am I. Alcohol rehab programs are 28 days, but that's probably to make for convenient billing -- four, seven-day weeks. 

The Bible uses 40 days frequently -- Moses talked to God, Lent is 40 days before Easter, Noah waited 40 days before opening the Ark, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. So why do we use 30 days now? Is it because of the Western Calendar in which our months are mostly 30 days? Is it so that we can check off an accomplishment and build strength to move on to the next 30 days? One researcher said that 21 days is long enough to begin a habit, but not to break one. Another study found that it took 66 days until a habit was formed. 

Personally, I don't think that there's a perfect number of days for starting a program that will make a person better, will teach something, or will creativity to shine. For example, I didn't finish the entire month of push-ups, but I did make the attempt. I started this blog thinking I would write for 30 consecutive days; however, quality is better than quantity. Nevertheless, the challenge did make me start.

Matt Cutts, a computer scientist at Google, tells about the many 30-day challenges he has completed. He makes some really good points that I hope will inspire you to at least make an attempt. Check out his Ted Talks video below. Time will pass anyway, so you might as well start.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What's in a Name?

One of the 30-Day Blog Challenge topics is to write about how your blog's title/name was selected. Choosing a blog name was almost as hard as choosing names for my children.  I deliberated about a name for several weeks. All of the advice I read said to choose something that would tell something about me and would be catchy enough for people to remember. The name would be my brand, as if I were a cow. 

I played around with different arrangements. Should I name it something like Pam's Pennings (alliteration), Facing a Change (who cares?), Pam's Blog (to the point) or some other nonsense. None of these seemed to be what I'd want burned into my flesh.

Finally, I decided that I wanted to use the word honey in the title. My granddaughter Cloee calls me Honey instead of the conventional names for a grandmother. I picked the name Honey because I didn't want to end up with one of those horrible names like Big Momma, Bipsy, etc. My mom chose Sug as her grandmother name, so I stayed with the sweet angle and chose Honey.

I couldn't decide on a phrase to use with honey so I turned to the internet for help. I found websites whose purpose is to help choose a blog name. NameRobot, Wordoid, and Panabee are blog name generators; you put in a couple of key words and the site comes up with a title. This high-tech name search was kind of fun but also offered too many choices.  I put in a word or two pertaining to the blog, and the generator shared several selected phrases which didn't seem to work. For example, I got passhony, pazthehoni, ipassthehoney. getpastthehoni. I decided that I didn't care for the name generator and would go it on my own. An English teachers can't use "cutsie" misspellings; it's just not right.

So, I decided on Pass the Honey. I guess I am passing into a new chapter in life (retirement) so I am passing Honey on to new opportunities. I think it's a unique brand. I am trying to create a logo for the blog which might become an easy tattoo design. That's a joke: I am anti-tatt.

As a postscript, I've decided to begin collecting antique honey pots. I would love to have a display like the one below, but I've not been able to find affordable antique pots. I also want only pots with bees, no bears, on them. I may be too picky, but I know what I want.  It's something that I'll search for at estate sales and eBay. Wish me luck, and if you know where I might purchase an antique honey pot featuring bees, please let me know.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

This blog stuff is WORK!

When I started this blog a little over a month ago, I was definitely on a new path. As I said before, I have read hundreds, maybe even thousands, of blog entries from all over the world, and I didn't know how I could make mine different so as to attract readers. One of my goals was to perhaps grow this into a blog that would attract sponsors/income for my retirement. I had this idea that bloggers put their words/pictures out on the internet, and, I wasn't sure how it happened, ads got on their pages and money started rolling in. 

I was wrong, again. Blogging is a lot of work, and it's not just about the writing. Here's what I found out:

1.  I need to keep my audience involved. My husband is my best critic, so he reads my posts first from the Everyman point of view of helping me improve all of my accounts. He's very critical about the "boring" factor. He said my post about The Goldfinch, a book I loved,  was written for people who had already read the book or who would maybe pick it up. It didn't do anything for him because he's not going to read it. The post wasn't a big favorite with readers, so I have to think he's right. However, I love the book and wanted to share how I felt; therefore, I wrote about it. I can't please everyone.

2.  I've learned to look at the numbers -- statistics. has a feature that lets me track views of my blog by day, week, month, forever. It's exciting to see a blog when a post has a high readership; it's deflating to see a post bomb. The ego takes a hit. I can also see where in the world my blog is being read. So far, I've had someone in Germany reading it quite consistently. I've also had one reader in the UK, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. I'd really like to know who these people are, but better than that, I'd like for them to share my blog so I can become the international superstar that's forever been hiding inside me. 

3.  I have to study -- hard! I have read everything I can find on blogging. Some of the topics of articles and books are "How to Help Readers 'Get' Your Blog Posts," "600 Brilliant Blog Post Ideas," and "Nine Ways Bloggers Are Like Drunk People." I have posted over 250 "pins" on Pinterest about blogging that I plan to investigate thoroughly this summer. Through all of this study, I decided that I need to take this endeavor slower than I thought at first.

4.  I have to research -- a lot! I try to end each of my posts with something entertaining, like a video clip, picture, or quote. These items require me to question if what I think is funny will also entertain my readers. Most of the time, I get carried away and spend too much time enjoying the research of the humorous items I'm searching for so that the endeavor becomes a huge time suck. It's a fun time suck, though.

5.  I'm not a bad writer. I have never written much because I've had to grade so many essays over the years, I was turned off by writing my own words. However, now I find that I really enjoy putting into practice what I've always taught others to do. I relish using colons, semicolons, and commas correctly. I edit my posts several times to make sure my verb tenses are correct and that my pronouns agree with their antecedents. Writing has made me love those English grammar/mechanics/usage rules even more! 

My education about blogging has been fast and furious. The sponsors may or may not come so that I can fund retirement. However, I'll continue to learn and write, and I hope that you will continue to read, laugh and share.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Change is Inevitable

Recently, I took a trip home to Alabama. In addition to visiting family, I took my husband to a place I worked for several summers while in high school and college, The State of Alabama Archives and History Department in Montgomery. At this museum, people can learn about the history of the state, but it also houses military and genealogical records.

The State of Alabama Department of Archives and History

My job there fit my personality because I got paid to smile and talk to people. As a docent, I told people about the Alabama Indians, the Civil War, Hank Williams, and George Wallace. Forty years later, I expected to walk into the building  to see it just the way I left it.

I was wrong. The whole place was remodeled into an interactive display of Alabama from original Indians to present. Here was another example of technology taking over human jobs, just like the self-checkout lines in many stores. I was impressed but also a little disappointed. I wanted my husband to see part of my past.

The displays at the Alabama Dept. of Archives and History

One change that I really appreciated, however, was a lecture hall dedicated Milo B. Howard, Jr., the former director. Mr. Howard was the epitome of chivalry. With his calm manner, he made all the female employees feel at ease and appreciated. He had an under-the-radar way of helping people, too. I know this because he was responsible for helping me finish college. 

Milo B. Howard, Jr.

I was a junior at Troy State University when my mom lost her job, and I didn't know if I'd be able to afford my last year of school. Word got to Mr. Howard about my situation, and he told me that he was the chairman of an unknown academic fund. Named the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund, this account held over $25,000, and I was the first person to borrow from it. Mr. Howard said the organization would loan me money at no interest. I could also set my own payback schedule and amount. All I had to do was write a research paper on Stonewall Jackson -- easy money for an English major.

My last time working at the Archives and History Department was in December 1979. I graduated in June 1980 and began teaching in August. Milo B. Howard, Jr. died in 1981. Without his help, I may not have had the career that I have.

I paid the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund back $60 per month for the next couple of years. I won't ever be able to repay the kindness of Milo B. Howard, Jr.

My visit to the museum was enjoyable and educational; it just wasn't the same. 

To quote Robert C. Gallagher, "Change is inevitable -- except from a vending machine."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Truly Great Book -- The Goldfinch

As a bibliophile, I have read many books. Some I sped through and couldn't tell you anything about them now. Others were like a bad job -- I forced myself through them. And finally, there are books that stick with me forever, the ones that capture me and make me actually feel for the characters, the ones that make me cry, and the ones that I will read again. One of these is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

What makes this book a great one? If you were buying it by the pound, you'd get your money's worth: it's a hefty 755 pages. There are not many likable characters in the book. The main character, Theodore Decker, isn't likable, even to himself. But the writing in this book is magnificent. The author amazes me with her way of telling her story. She leaves nothing out. Her descriptions of even the smallest event or scene astound me. It's a book that makes me feel dumb because I have to look up the definitions of many words but finishing it makes me feel proud. Oh, it also won a Pulitzer Prize this week, so other people must think it's great, too.

I will admit that I had to take a two-week break from reading it. I was troubled because Theo just couldn't get a break; everyone/everything seemed to be against him. His mother is killed in a terrorist bombing, his absent father returns to take him to Las Vegas where he has to fend for himself, and many more discouraging events that made me actually worry about him. I figured something good had to start happening or no one would read this huge book. I was right, and I was totally satisfied with how it ends.

If you want a challenging book that will teach you about art, drugs, antiques, and the meaning of life, read The Goldfinch. Truly, it is remarkable.     

Saturday, April 12, 2014

These are Taxing Times

April -- what a beautiful month! All of the flowers are in full bloom. Showers have washed away all of the pollen. Most days are the perfect temperature -- 76 degrees. It's just a glorious time, except for that one issue that happens every April that can bring an adult to his knees -- Income Tax Day.

When I got my first real job working for the State of Alabama during summer after 10th grade, my mom advised me to claim no one on my W2 form. That way, she said, I'd get back all of the money I paid in. I was cool with that and kept her advice in mind over the next few years of summer and part-time jobs. It seemed like a good deal -- let the government hold my money for me until May or June. Then I'd have some savings. 

Over my years of real employment, I have been pretty lucky with taxes. I never had to pay because I always deducted enough to get a refund. Then three years ago, I remarried and tax crisis hit. I used trusty Turbo Tax that year and discussed everything with my husband about all of the deductions and credits. We got back a huge refund. I thought financially (and every other way, too) my marriage was wonderful. About three months later, we got a letter from the IRS stating that I had made a couple of little mistakes that totaled over $5,000. Goodbye Turbo Tax, hello CPA. 

That year I began to have a total dislike for the Internal Revenue Service and all of its secrets. It's like they have a language all their own that the average, educated person can't understand. Now, I'm not good with numbers which is why I teach English; however, I'm not a stupid person, but the IRS can make me feel stupid. And to insult me more, they made us pay a fine because of my ignorance. 

I love this country. When I traveled to Europe, I loved this country even more. When I see how terrible third world countries have it, I appreciate all that I have. When I watch the news and see those Syrian children who are starving and living in horrible conditions, I am grateful for all I could do for my children and that I don't have to experience civil war.

However, sometimes I feel that we are all controlled by Big Brother, especially now with such advanced technology. When I hear how the government can monitor my cell phone conversations and I see my house pictured on Google Earth, I get a little paranoid. Do I trust all that the government does? No way, but what choice do I have? Do I think the government spends the money we send them each year wisely? Hell, no! There are too many people in Washington deciding for everyone. Is this the best way to run a country? I don't know. 

I hear people point out health-care and education systems in other countries as being superior to the US. I'm sure they are right because there's a lot wrong with our systems. A big problem with us, however, is our resistance to change. We don't like what we have but are comfortable with it so we accept it. There are many people who work for change and betterment, but many are just in the deep rut of paying our dues and depending on someone else to speak/do for us.

I don't have a solution to government mis-spending. I don't have a way to make the health-care and education systems the best in the world. I have no clue how to cut defense spending except to stop all wars. What I do know is that on April 15, my husband and I will email to the IRS our 1040 form with all the attachments and probably a sizable check to go toward keeping me fat, happy, and ignorant. And because I live in a country that allows free speech, I can continue to voice my opinions. 

Maybe that in itself is enough to satisfy me about sending 20% of my income to Washington.

Good luck to everyone on April 15. I hope you have huge refunds and no penalties or audits.To end this post on a happy note, here is something to make you laugh:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When I Have Fears

One of my favorite poets is John Keats. I like all of his poetry, but one poem that I love is "When I Have Fears." 

When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pil├Ęd books, in charactery,
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

This poem seems a bit hard to understand at first because of some of the words like charactery and faery, but it's a really simple sonnet. The touching story behind this poem is that Keats wrote it because he knew that he wouldn't live long: he had tuberculosis. He feared that his early death would stop him from writing all of the great poems, from charting the heavens, and from being with the woman he loved. 

Ok, that's enough of the English teacher stuff. Here's what I think about the poem:

Keats was right. No matter how old you are or how much fame and recognition you have, your life is never long enough. The older I get, I seem to be content with having less. I tend to value time more and work at making memories for my friends and family, mostly so that I will be remembered. And I have fears, that all that I want to do, whether it makes me famous or not, I won't have time to complete. I won't get to express my love and gratitude to all the people I want to tell or find my purpose, not just my existence, in retirement.

Presently, I consider consequences of my actions more than ever, probably so that I can have a longer life. Cut back on salt, exercise, drive carefully, take your meds, etc. -- all of this I should have been doing throughout my life, but I realize their importance the closer I get to the end. 

John Keats is a famous poet, but not because he lived a long time. He died at age 26. Maybe because he knew he was going to die young, he crammed the most he could into accomplishing what he wanted.

I have accomplished a lot in my life, but it's not enough. I don't want the end of my life to be "stand[ing] alone, ... Till love and fame to nothingness do sink." I'd rather follow the instructions of another poet, Dylan Thomas, who said we should "not go gentle into that good night," but "rage, rage against the dying of the light." 

So, rage on like Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes. Toowanda!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"You're Such a Good Mom"

There’s an ongoing joke among my group of mothers of special needs adults. Whenever one of us does something to volunteer our time and effort, we say, “You’re such a good mom.” I mean it when I say this. I tell them when I notice that they bring water for our athletes, are in charge of a sport, or take their kids across town in the freezing weather to play flag football for an hour. I tell them this because I am far from one of these good moms when it comes to giving of my time.

When Drew was born almost 27 years ago, I became an expert on Down syndrome. I went to early intervention, to therapies (speech, physical, occupational), and to doctors. I even returned to college and got certified in Specific Learning Disabilities to learn more about special education. Inclusion was the buzzword in education, so we included Drew in community t-ball, church activities, and other “typical” events. During his first ten or so years, I had lots of enthusiasm and desire.

A young volunteer at Special Olympics tennis on Apr. 5, 2014
While on my journey, I met some very generous people -- volunteers. These people gave up their Saturdays to coach a kid who may never hit a tennis ball or get a ball in a basket. They spent their entire weekend taking kids on camping trips, and these volunteers kept coming back. They organized the book fair, Mother’s Day tea, and dances. These people are truly gifts from God.

When Drew was young, I wanted to be one of these people so I volunteered. I worked with little devils during Bible school; taught Sunday school; and sold candy, magazines, and wrapping paper. I rallied the troops by getting my high school students to volunteer at fall festivals and Special Olympics.

I was a good volunteer but definitely not a great one. I always felt lacking compared to some of the awesome ones I dealt with. When Drew was about 15 or so, I figured out why I wasn’t a great volunteer – I was tired. I realized that many of the volunteers usually helped with only one sport a year, one prom, or one or two Bible schools.  Because I had a special needs child, these activities continued for a longer time. For example, Drew started going to the annual prom when he was 16. Since he stayed in school until he was 22, he went to six proms. He is still invited to his school’s prom until he’s 30. Most typical kids are lucky if they go to one prom.

Drew with his gold medal for Special Olympics state
tennis competition in 2013.  This is one of approximately
 30 medals he has won in the past 15+ years.
Drew is a natural athlete and loves sports. Through Special Olympics, he is involved throughout the year in bowling, basketball, and tennis and has been since he was 9. Through the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association, he plays baseball and basketball during the fall and summer. I am proud of my son because he is passionate about sports and has won many ribbons and medals, and I take him to all of these events; therefore, I have been a soccer mom for almost 20 years.

For better or worse, I have learned to limit my involvement. I am never in charge of anything, but I’ll do something if asked. I don’t volunteer to organize a social event, but they can have it at my house. I sit in my car during most sporting events grading papers or taking a nap, and we usually leave before ribbons are given out.

I admire all of the volunteers. I never leave an event without thanking them. I never complain about the way one of these people organizes an event because I know that I don’t want his or her job. I also respect the other moms because of their love and commitment for their child. 

I used to feel guilty about not being a good mom or a great volunteer, but I rationalized it by telling myself that I had a job, other kids at home, a house to clean, etc. Now, I tell myself that I’ll give more of my time and talents when I retire, but I’m not sure if I will.  I accept that I am ok with not being one of these good moms or great volunteers. I’m the best one I can or want to be, and that seems to be good enough for Drew.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Same Old Story

One topic of the 30-Day Challenge is to write about my favorite TV show. I  don't watch much TV, but I've heard a lot of talk about the Netflix series House of Cards (HOC) so I gave it a try. Well, there went my weekend: I watched the entire first season in two days. 
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey)
 in House of Cards

This show is thrilling, mainly because of its villain Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, one of my favorite actors. Underwood is a U.S. Congressman who gets passed over for the Secretary of State position by the newly elected president. After experiencing that disappointment and embarrassment, he begins his quest of total manipulation of all involved. He is a man with a strong determination who is aided by his equally conniving wife Claire, played by Robin Wright. This marriage is based on getting even and getting ahead at all costs. 

During my TV binge over the weekend, it occurred to me that this story is not new, just like most TV show and movie plots. HOC is the newest twist on an oldie-but-goody, classic Shakespearean play Othello with a little of Macbeth thrown in for good measure. Maybe this thought came to me because I'm presently teaching Othello, but it wasn't hard to see the similarities between the villains. 

Iago (top left) with Othello and Desdemona
In case you don't remember your Shakespeare from high school, Othello is about a Moor who is a general in the Venetian army. He does not promote one of his top soldiers, Iago, to be his lieutenant but instead chooses  another soldier, Cassio. This angers Iago, so he plots to kill Cassio and to bring about the downfall of Othello. Macbeth is about a couple, Lord and Lady M., who work tirelessly on their plan to kill the king so that Macbeth can claim the throne. 

Some of the obvious similarities between Frank Underwood and Iago are their labels as being honest men. Throughout Othello, the characters often call him "honest Iago." Underwood is an old-time, seemingly extremely loyal member of the Democratic Party who appears to be trusted by everyone. Neither of these villains has a problem killing people or getting people to do the killing for them. In the opening scene of HOC, Underwood, with his bare hands, euthanizes a dog that has been hit by a car. Underwood then tells the audience that he has no patience for useless things. In the following episodes, he brings about the downfall and/or death of many people who don't serve his purpose.

One obvious trick from Shakespeare is his use of asides, or speaking directly to the audience, in his plays. In Iago's many asides, he tells the audience his reasoning and his plans. Underwood is amazing in his asides to the audience. He looks straight into the camera and tells us exactly what he is thinking or plotting while the the action continues around him. 

The connection to Macbeth is with the wives. Lady Macbeth had to spur her husband on to get him to continue on their evil path. She had to hide the daggers, incriminate other people in the king's murder, and keep pushing on. Claire Underwood needs no urging to do evil. She seems as villainous as her husband, but like the Macbeths, the Underwoods too have a true partnership in achieving their plan. Both women have blood on their hands. (Remember the line “out, out, damned spot” spoken by Lady M.?)

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in House of Cards.

Lady Macbeth

highly recommend House of Cards if you love watching a villain work his cruelty while at the same time hoping he gets what he deserves. There's is too much sex and nudity in it for me, but on Netflix I can fast forward through it.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a comparison/contrast essay, but I guess I did it anyway. I simply couldn’t help myself. Maybe it’s just the way English teachers think about plot: it’s all the same old story.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What's So Funny?

One of my all-time favorite and fun activities is laughing. My laugh is like a pistol with the trigger cocked -- I'm always ready. My friends tell me the reason they keep me around is because I make them laugh so much. 

Why not laugh? Why spend my day stressing over unchangeable events, obsessing about toxic people, or wondering why people don't think the way I do (which, of course, is the right way to think)? Why worry about tomorrow when the Bible says to take care of today? All of this sounds like my days are full of joy, which is sometimes far from the truth. What is true, however, is that I can usually find something to laugh about, and the internet is a great place to start.

Pre-internet days, Walgreens and CVS were the best places to find a laugh. No, it wasn't the drugs inside: it was the greeting cards aisle.  I would stand in that aisle reading those cards, laughing my head off. I don't mean a little snicker or a ha-ha. No, I would guffaw. Several times, employees and other patrons came over  to see what was happening. Was I embarrassed? No, not at all! I suggested they try reading a few.

Nowadays, the I don't have to leave my home to get a good laugh going. I just look on Pinterest at some of the memes, ecards, photos, etc. that people pin. All of these remind me of people I know, of how I felt during a time, or of what I'd like to say to people. Some of them are truly hilarious.

Here's one I'm going to put on my classroom wall because this is so true about teenagers:

One of my many excuses not to exercise:

Perfect birthday greeting for my politically active friends, or maybe Rep. Steve Southerland. He was one of my students, and he would probably laugh at it.

Excuse the language, but tone in email is difficult to infer:

So true:

And I swear, I am going to do this on a test next year:

I could post many more of these, but you can check them out for yourself. I hope you got a chuckle. I did, and I didn't have to go to Walgreens or CVS to do it.