Almost Cut My Ethernet Cable

I feel like letting my freak flag fly, Cause I feel like I owe it to someone. —David Crosby, “Almost Cut My Hair” For years I’ve been “letting my geek flag fly,” but lately I have started to worry about some of my hyper-digital-multi-tasking habits. Especially when I look up from my side-by-side computer monitors to notice my son on the other side of the room. Via cell phone, he is texting his friends and sharing selfies on Instagram. With his laptop, he’s putting the finishing touches on his history essay (on Google Drive), participating in a physics study group with his classmates (on Skype), checking his NFL fantasy football standings and watching an episode of “Community” (on Hulu) that he has seen at least a dozen times. It’s a good thing he’s wearing those puffy purple headphones as he zooms through his after-school routine. Otherwise, Bruce Springsteen’s gravelly voice blasting from my Spotify might distract him. But I digress…which is what commonly happens when I’m trying to accomplish a half-dozen different tasks at once. Who has time to do just one thing? That would seem counterproductive. At the mall, I’m standing in line pecking at my phone, searching Groupon for a digital discount I can show the cashier when it’s my turn at the register. Waiting at the dentist’s office, I pull out my tablet to catch up on TED talks and “Walking Dead” conspiracy theories. After all these years, I’ve conditioned my brain to digital multi-tasking so well that I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve gained in the process…and what I’ve lost. Remember HAL, the supercomputer with the unnervingly calm voice in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? Sometimes I think we’re all turning into mini-HALs. At least I know I’m getting close. My neurons aren’t just sparking, they’re whirring! Uploading, downloading, buffering, unpacking data, dumping temporary...
Not All Giants Are Jolly

Not All Giants Are Jolly

“When you’re six feet tall in a 5’6” world, there’s no hiding place for you—you’re a FREAK…  Longing in vain to be loved but always rejected because you’re TOO TALL TO LOVE.” I’m glad I didn’t come upon this comic strip when it first appeared in 1972.  A freak?  Different in a way no girl should be?  That was me—on the verge of starting middle school and just barely under six feet tall. My elementary school graduation still haunts me as one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.  My classmates marched up to the stage in boy-girl pairs according to height.  The procession began with a diminutive couple who nearly pranced their way through the auditorium.  And so it went, adorable pair by pair, until all my classmates found their places on the stage. Except me.  At 5’11 (and three-quarters), I walked from the back of the auditorium to the stage steps alone.  I’ve never forgotten that experience.  As I took my place among the graduating sixth graders, I couldn’t help but realize that I lived above the throng, in rarified air—but not in the good way. In other words, a freak. In the years since then, my height has (forgive the pun) grown on me.  In my 20s, living in Manhattan, I learned to use my vertical advantage whenever I could:  to flag a taxi during rush hour…  as a straphanger on a subway or bus… and best of all, to enjoy free concerts on Central Park’s lawn without pushing my way to the front. Flash forward 30+ years.  This summer I let my 14-year-old son attend a standing-room-only concert at a local outdoor venue.  A big deal for a kid—and for his helicopter mom.  Our agreement was that he’d enjoy the show from up front near the stage, while I lurked far enough back not...
Story Time, Anyone?

Story Time, Anyone?

It has been years since I sat with my son on my lap, reading him story after story before bed.  One of parenthood’s most precious rituals.  Now we might call it “downtime” but back then it was so much more.  It was as magical as it was practical.  My toddler grew sleepy and I got to let my mind wander happily into worlds I thought I had outgrown. We read anything and everything (as long as it was colorful) but the old-school children’s books from the 1960s and 70s held a special place in my heart.  We came to love the cast of characters as well as the writers and illustrators who crafted these treasures.  Of course there was Dr. Seuss with Horton, Sam-I-Am, and dozens more unforgettable beings.  Leo Lionni’s Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse.  Mercer Mayer and his Little Critter series.  Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona.  Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  Anything by P.D. Eastman.  The long-suffering little brother in Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Even then, I knew those moments wouldn’t last long.  I knew I would look back and miss the intimacy of that room.  But I couldn’t have imagined how much I would miss those characters and the temporary escape from the humdrum they offered. These days my life is busy; I wear (and juggle) more hats than Esphyr Slobodkina’s traveling salesman in Caps for Sale.  There is a distinct absence of magic in this grown-up Muggles world.  I suspect I’m not the only adult who occasionally wanders into Barnes & Noble’s children’s section for the chance to re-enter that lost realm.  Feel free to join me there next time the mood strikes.  I’ll be the one dressed in red and white, just like my role model, Olivia.  (Thank you, Ian Falconer!) What children’s...
You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

There is a picture of my sister and brother carefully posed on our sofa. Together as a team, they are holding a squalling bundle that was me. My sister was ten, my brother was eight. They were both wincing with the effort of trying to look happy while not dropping me. Years later, it dawned on me that the true focus of this family portrait wasn’t me, it was my siblings. A Kodak moment that captured the dawning of their struggle to reinvent themselves in response to this attention-hogging new arrival. Possibly my sister got it. Her face glowed with enthusiasm, as if she had just hit the big sister jackpot. Someone else to boss around, yippee! But my brother’s expression told a different story. Had there been a thought bubble over his head, it would surely have read, “What the hell is THIS?” And so it began. Reinventing ourselves. Shelves full of books are dedicated to the subject, but do we really need a How-To manual in order to imagine ourselves differently? Don’t our self-images stretch and morph all the time? After all, life is about growing and, as a result, changing. I believe reinventing ourselves is a constant process—even when we are not aware of it. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a hybrid ballerina/nurse who danced her patients back to health. A few years later, after seeing Natalie Wood in Gypsy, I modified that goal. I still wanted to dance, but my healing talents were now transformed. I decided to become a stripper. I even had a stage name picked out: the Nudist Flutist. Tessie Tura and Miss Mazeppa sang “You gotta get a gimmick / if you want to get ahead!” and I was determined to follow their advice. Inevitably—and fortunately—as time went on, my ambitions took off (no pun intended)...