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culture snob part deux

5 Dec

I probably alienated you all with my anti-television post.  But now that I am in my forties, I am trying to state my opinions unapologetically.  They aren’t facts necessarily, but they are facts about me, and while they could change, it’s been forty years, and well, who am I kidding?  I am not exactly becoming more tolerant as I age.  If you are my real friend, I hope that you love me (or tolerate me) anyway, and if you were just referred by someone, I am so sorry you missed me in my younger years.  I was a lot easier to get along with then.  From what I can remember through the rose-colored haze of time.

Back to television and my snobbery.  I have had a grand, extended cable package and so, my choice of options was wide.  But nothing ever really held my attention.  The real problem may be the Attention Deficit Disorder that I am convinced I suffer from (probably like all mothers).   It is not in my nature to sit down and tune in.  There are bills that are late; there are clothes in the dryer from last week; dogs want to be walked and fed; children who want to be read to or at least listened to, maybe even bathed;  school pictures to be ordered, the kitchen should be swept; my bed isn’t visible anymore under the pile of books that I am reading; light bulbs need to be changed; coats hung up; closets cleaned; floors vacuumed!  I am becoming stressed out just writing about all this.  When I become stressed, I can hardly concentrate on some show about housewives more desperate than I.  They may all be having affairs and high drama in their neighborhoods, but their houses are so clean!  Where do they find the time?

I am just not suited for television.  Whether it’s a vestige of  my television-impoverished childhood or a product of my temperament, I just can’t do it.  Someone once gave me a book called 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  I wonder if he imagined the pressure that caused?  I have that book on my shelf, but I haven’t opened it because I know that I will be a failure.  I don’t even know how long I will live, but what if it less than 1001 days?  Even if I read a classic a day, I would fail.  And who has time to read a classic a day anyway?  War and Peace?  That has, like, a million pages.  There’s just no way to get it all done!

And for every hour that I spend watching television, it’s an hour that I am not even doing the things I want to do – like write my grandmother or re-read Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.  Not to mention the Faulkner that feels required by virtue of my Mississippianism and love of literature.  I have read a lot of Faulkner, and let me tell you – those novels require some concentration!  But I still want to re-visit them and appreciate what makes them great.

You see, it’s not television, it’s me.  I have had a relationship with TV.  It just didn’t work out.  I have a fear of commitment that is perhaps pathological.  I’m just afraid of the opportunity costs.  What am I trading in for that hour of “relaxation”, which you see by now, isn’t the least bit relaxing to me?

If I do decide to commit to something, I want it to be something critically acclaimed; enriching; deep; that leaves me enthralled and impressed.  The Ken Burns National Parks series on PBS did that, and I was glad to have seen it, but my mother forced me to watch it.  She was right – it was great.  I don’t mind having a television for occasions like that, but I know myself by now – it’s been forty years, after all, and without someone actively saying “sit down – watch this,” I just am not going to do it.

So, please, be patient with my lack of knowledge of current events or Black Friday sales or this season’s American Idol.  And I don’t know how Snookie wears her hair or why Celebrity matchmaker kicked that girl out of her office.  I trust that y’all will tell me if it’s imperative that I know.  Thank you.

the eternal question

4 Dec

Am I or am I not a snob?

It might be time for me to just go with “yes.  I am a snob.”  because then I can stop justifying myself and just say “I disagree with you – as you know, I am a snob.” and we can all just move forward.  It would save me (and by virtue of this blog, YOU) a lot of time and soul-searching.

Yesterday I was seeing my stylist, Mr. Bruce, and he asked me if I had seen the most recent episode of Glee (note to the snobs who raised me – that’s a TV show).  Exasperated, I set aside his copy of Elle Decor that I had been perusing and salivating over, and said “Mr. Bruce, you know I don’t watch television.  How many times do we have to discuss this?”  He said “but it is so good and you HAVE to see it.  What would it take to get you to watch just one episode?” and then, as I sighed, he answered his own question: “two broken legs and traction?” 

And I said “only if I didn’t have a book and the remote control was stuck on play.”

I hate television.  Hate it.  There.  I said it.  You can watch it all day long and I won’t judge you for it (very harshly, to your face), but me?  I hate it.  And yes, I know that hate is a strong word.

When I was growing up, my parents would often go out on Friday and Saturday nights and have a babysitter come in to stay with Walker and me.  This happened a lot.  Imagine Mary Rose’s horror to learn that she had an eight year-old who had become addicted to Dallas, Dynasty, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.  I can imagine it clearly, because I have an eight year-old daughter, and I freak out over her level of interest in the Disney Channel.  Although Hannah Montana in 2010 and Dallas in 1978 are probably fairly similar in terms of theme and adult content.  And certainly language.  What kind of culture are we who have decided that “ass”, “bitch” and “bastard” are suitable for all audiences?  I’m becoming nostalgic for hell and damn, but I digress…

So my mom took steps to limit our television-watching.  We were each afforded a maximum television allowance of 1.5 hours of TV per day.  We protested, but in my house, children were not in charge, and our plaintive cries went unheeded.  It wasn’t long – maybe 3 months at most? before that 90 minutes a day was reduced to 60 minutes per WEEK.  that’s right.  One hour of television a week, and if you were a girl in the late 1970’s, you used up that 60 minutes on Monday nights with Little House on the Prairie.  Which left an awfully long week to endure with no further television entertainment.  I was forced to find my viewing pleasure elsewhere.

And I did find pleasure elsewhere.  I rode horses, I took lessons in ballet and gymnastics, I read like there was no tomorrow, and I played kickball with all the other turned-outside children in the neighborhood.  We rode our bikes, I visited my grandmother, I walked downtown to the library, I went roller-skating, I played ball with our dog.  I took piano and art lessons. 

The other smart thing that my parents did was to de-emphasize the television set itself.  We had one tiny 13 inch television, and it was set in the bottom cabinet of a corner hutch.  I have vivid memories of sitting cross-legged on the floor, 3 feet away from the TV trying to make out what was being depicted.  The DVD screen in my minivan is bigger than our main TV was.  My dad’s friends would bring binoculars when they came over to watch the game at our house.  I am not making this up.  Believe what you will about me, I am just not that imaginative.

Once I went to college, we watched the occasional TV show – in the commons room, with a group, and that was fun, but it was a social event, and I am always game for a party.  And of course, when I was married, the children’s father and I would occasionally become tuned in to a series.  Or we would watch the NBA finals back when Michael Jordan was playing and the Bulls were legendary.  Sometimes I would watch a documentary, if it was beautiful, or if I was pregnant and it was about the high-risk maternity ward.  There’s nothing like the combination of pregnancy hormones, fear, anxiety, and visuals of babies born in precarious circumstances to really make you cry, and thus, achieve exhausted catharsis, culminating in nightmare-ridden sleep.  (Ahhh, pregnancy – those were good times.)

Now that I run a single-parent household, I just don’t have time to sit down and watch television.  The minute the children are settled and quiet, I can’t stand to hear another minute of inane conversation or information or arguing (this means you, fox”news”).  I don’t care to see CSI or Law and Order.  I deal with that kind of human tragedy and law-enforcement heroics every day.  I also know that we don’t wrap up our dna-fingerprint cases in an hour, and that we can’t always find a suspect, and I become frustrated with their neat wrap-ups and cavalier treatment of what are very real frustrations and challenges in my day job.  (Oh my.  I am suddenly feeling a little testy.  This is why I don’t watch TV.  It upsets my serenity.)

The time and competing-interests involved are the fodder for another blog.  But I hope that this little narrative helps you understand why I am so uninformed and out-of-the-loop on news and current culture.  But please, understand, I like it this way, and I really don’t intend to change.

Ode to Mary Rose

17 Nov

Today is my mother’s birthday.  On this occasion, I would like to thank her for being the perfect mother for me and for being unflinchingly and stalwartly supportive of my (nearly) every endeavour.  Her career as my number one supporter began in February, 1970, at a hospital in New Orleans.  My dad wasn’t even there to hold her hand when I was born.  He was out somewhere having a sandwich, and apparently he didn’t even bring us home from the hospital — a friend of hers drove us.  From the photographs, he appears quite fond of me as a baby, but I have to give all credit for keeping me alive and healthy and happy to my mother.  I have seen her with my own babies and I have seen my dad with my babies, and there is no question that I would not be around today were it not for the tireless efforts of my mother.

She is a unique individual.  She was not like the other mothers.  Classmates would say “I saw your mother on Grand Boulevard taking signs off the trees this morning.”  She didn’t appreciate people nailing their garage sale signs into the hundred year-old water oaks.  She was like the Lorax – she spoke for the trees.  I wanted to die of embarrassment.

She wasn’t a cupcake-baking mother or a PTA mother or room mother.  She was the mother who would come into your class with slideshows of her trip to Africa or exotic birds or water lilies.  She was the mother who flew airplanes.  She was the mother who picked up stray dogs and found their owners.  She also might come in on career day and talk about being a newspaper photographer/journalist.  She always made it clear that she was a photographer first and a writer second.  She probably made them put that in her contract.

She was the mother who warned me when I was leaving for camp in Maine “Don’t let them think you are stupid just because you come from Mississippi,” and when I went to boarding school: “There will be some girls there who fly to the Caribbean for Easter.  Remember, we are not that kind of people.” 

She was the mother who forced her children to attend the art movie series at the public library.  She ordered Picnic at Hanging Rock; Babette’s feast; Black Orpheus…I know there were more, but my indignant, horrified, teenaged brain repressed them. 

While other families went to Destin for vacation, she and my dad took us to Mexico and Belize and forced us to ride the train to Chicago.  I resented her for making us stand in line in the wind and snow and slush to see a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the National Gallery.  All my friends were probably at the beach.  We were forced to listen to opera and classical music.  Other mothers were cooler than mine.  Other moms drew their daughters out about the high school gossip and current teen romances.  My mom seemed to think all that was silly and ridiculous.  She only seemed to care that we were educated and exposed to more culture than just what Greenwood, Mississippi, offered.

We were only allowed to watch an hour of television per week.  I was always out of the loop on the latest in pop culture.  She forbade me to wear makeup until high school.  She said all that blue eyeshadow made me look like a streetwalker.  She advised my friends and me not to “make ourselves available” to boys.  Whatever that means.

When I wanted to leave college and come home because I was homesick, she seemed sympathetic, but she still said no.  I was merciless.  I called her daily to tell her how miserable I was and how much I hated it there.  I did the same thing to her when I was in law school. 

From this vantage, I can see that she was in the trenches with my brother and me every single day.  We saw her as impossible and only interested in herself and my dad having a good time, while we unlucky children were just dragged along on these cultural excursions and family outings.  “Everybody else” could watch TV and listen to popular music and lounge around the house eating sugary cereals in their pajamas all day, and we were expected to DO SOMETHING.  Read something, write something, make something, think about something, be something.  We were convinced that she just didn’t want us to have a good time.  Ever.

When my marriage ended last August, my mother gave me the best advice I have ever, ever received – before or since.  She said simply: “He has made his plans.  It is time for you to make yours.”

She has always made her own plans.  She obtained her master’s degree and her pilot’s license after having children.  She almost went to law school at age 40.  She had her name legally changed back to her maiden name even though she was still married to my dad and had taken his name 20 years before.  She is a great role model for never losing your own identity just because you are married and have children.  There is never a time when she isn’t working on a big project.  

I have never stopped being homesick and she has never stopped being encouraging and supportive.  When asked why I am a certain way: how I learned to love dogs more than people, how I have been so secure through a separation and divorce that rocked us, why I don’t watch television, why I have such an appetite for shoes, I realize that it’s all because of having Mary Rose as a mother.

I hereby offer a public apology for thinking you weren’t cool.  I knew you were the prettiest mom, but I couldn’t see the value of your uniqueness when I was a child.  Now that I am learning who I am and how I came to be this way, I think I am the luckiest child ever born to have you as a mother.  Happy Birthday.