Monday, January 24, 2005

Ageism at home and abroad

Although this is supposed to be a blog about "middle-age" (there's got to be a better phrase), sometimes weeks go by and the issue doesn't really come up. Then, it seems to come up again incessantly.
Yesterday, I was talking with a fun, pretty, talented friend/relative of mine, and she talked about being in church yesterday, and they announced there would be a Valentine's Day dance. She thought that sounded like a lot of fun and that she and her husband might go, until the rest of the announcement explained that this was for people in their 20's and 30's. She stated that this was the first time she ever felt "old." I think many of us have this moment, and often, it is foisted upon us by outside forces.
Her husband is 39, and I asked her about using this "technicality." Sounding dejected, she said that it felt pretty clear that they meant 35ish as an upper limit.
Later, I recalled having a similar situation several years ago when I was in my 30's. Again, this is an event I wanted to attend, but my husband was in his 40's. Where did we fit in?
I thought at that time about challenging the situation and forcing the issue of people who didn't fit neatly into a category, but didn't have the gumption, energy, or whatever. I just remember feeling annoyed.
Another issue was that earlier this week, the issue of age (as an outgrowth of vocabulary about food, health, nutrition) came up in my class. A Korean student reported being very surprised to see older people working at Wal-Mart and other places. An elderly person just wouldn't be allowed to work in his country, regardless of his/her preference. Reteirement is mandatory. That one made me feel good about being an American, because, regardless of one's feelings about Wal-Mart and other such places, it's nice to know that if you want (or need) to be in the workplace in some way, you can.
Finally, the AARP magazine has been reporting on a class action suit, that, although initially dismissed, has been readmitted into the courts. A group of writers has brought a class-action suit against several studios for blatant age discrimination. Many of them were either fired or not hired to work on television programs, despite lists of successes and awards for their work. The prevailing idea is that studios wanted TV shows for young demographics, such as Friends, written by young writers. The writers claimed it is ludicrous that older (and in Hollywood, "older" starts pretty young) couldn't write for young audiences. One writer stated that Shakespeare wasn't 15 years old when he wrote Romeo and Juliet. That's a bit of a stretch of a comparison, but makes the point. Also, older people have been young, but younger people have not been older. Perhaps that accounts for some of the stereotypical, offensive crap regarding age which I have noticed on some sitcoms lately.
To that end, I am going to start taking out my frustrations out on this blog when I see offensive images/comments/stereotypes in various media. Although I like to avoid that kind of negativity because I feel when you always go looking for trouble you will inevitably find it, I think it's important. I will also try to notice positive images and activity as well.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Charlie and Jack: Better than Prozac

Yesterday as I went to church, I was really feeling the need for comfort and inspiration. In the past several weeks, several things have occurred which affect my life, but I have no real control over (at best, I might have influence, but ultimately no control). These are all things with consequences I will have to deal with sooner or later. I have been losing sleep, and while I'm trying to maintain a positive attitude, it's not easy.
However, during church, there were baptisms scheduled, as there often are every few weeks. Two families had babies, and one family had an 11 -month- old baby and two older kids, 6 and 7, I think. After the first baby baptism, the pastor moved on to 11-month-old Charlie. As the pastor was anointing/sprinkling him and saying, "Charlie, I baptize you in the Name of the Father..." Charlie looked him right in the eye and started strumming his lower lip and making that know, like bbb bbb bbb. The kid's comic timing was perfect, and I wish I could communicate the perfection of his delivery. The whole church broke up for about three minutes; when the laughter finally started to die down, the pastor said, "What you didn't hear was his brother Jack proudly say, 'I taught him that.' " There was almost as much laughter as before.
During the remainder of the service, during the sermon (a pretty serious one about dealing with the unfairness of life) and the subsequent prayers, I kept trying to suppress chuckles every time I thought about Jack and Charlie's show. I don't know their parents, but they must be very cool, first for producing such funny kids, and second, for naming those little guys Jack and Charlie.
I feel a lot better now. I don't know if anything has changed changed, but something about their performance seemed to put everything in perspective for me.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Aging Baby Boomer prattle

So I'm feeling very aging Baby Boomer today. I wasn't until I was reading the "Source" section of the newspaper, in which it was reported that "aging baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964" had certain preferences in house designs. (The only one I strongly agreed with was good lighting, but I have been wearing corrective eyewear since I was four years old; good lighting is essential, and yes, even more so with age, it turns out.)
Also, I was reading that the film Meet the Fockers is doing well because it has something for everyone: Streisand and Hoffman for we old folks, and Ben Stiller for the young'uns. I haven't seen it, but it is true that I like Dustin Hoffman. However, I have also liked Ben Stiller ever since I saw him on a little-noticed comedy sketch show he had (I can't recall the name) that also featured Janeane Garafalo.
It turns out that Laura Bush is a Ben Stiller fan, too. I read it yesterday in Vogue. Now for anyone who knows me, it definitely seems incongruous for me to have a Vogue subscription, and it is. However, I got a card that offered it for $1.00 an issue, and you could get a free red bag if you paid with your order. Well, I love free stuff (and red stuff), and I will read anything. I read like The Count on Sesame Street counts. It is compulsive and frequently non-discerning. Vogue also features pretty, shiny pictures of pretty, shiny people.
Anyway, I read Vogue like I watch exercise shows or Fit TV--curled up on the couch (until recently, with a bag of chips) and saying "Huh."
The aging Baby Boomer feeling is also a by-product of too much time off, I think. I stayed pretty busy through the holiday season, but now I know I need to go back to work. It's almost 1:00 and I'm still in my PJ's, I have started to get interested in one or two storylines on All My Children, and I've been stopping way too long on Jerry Springer when I flip through the channels.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Lexiconic Archaeology: Time to Buy a New Dictionary

Who would have thought that a casual glance at the back of my paperback dictionary would cause me to think its time to look into retirement centers? I keep a couple of dictionaries at my desk, but the big hardback one is too cumbersome to take down from the shelf when I'm preparing vocabulary tests or attempting to prove a family member wrong about their pronunciation of a word. When I got this dictionary, it was fake leather-bound and had a matching thesaurus and came in a little case. It was a wedding gift from the owner of the answering service (another clue to its vintage) where I worked at that time. It has long since been liberated from its "leather" prison, but for some reason I never read the back until yesterday.
It boasts:
*The only paperback dictionary based on the up-to-date, continuously maintained Webster's New World citation file. Many entries, including those below, do not yet appear in any other paperback dictionary:
bait-and-switch laid-back sleaze
beefcake lithium carbonate soaper
biorhythm magnet school streetwise
blow-dry motocross stir-fry
blue flu nerd Sunbelt
blusher paralegal tank top
chemosurgery parenting videodisc
DWI prioritize off the wall
glitzy scuzzy whirlpool bath
health food out of sight wing it
househusband slammer zit

At least that explains some of my moral failings. During my childhood, parenting and health food had not yet been invented, nor was I able to prioritize. Interestingly, despite the absence of zits, I was still able to develop a good many of them. I'm afraid I was a nerd: just ahead of my time, I guess. And wouldn't you know; just as I was getting married, beefcake appeared on the scene.
I also know now why I waited until middle-age to take paralegal courses. And because I am a good English teacher, here is my source: Guralink, David B. (ed.). Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language. Fawcett Popular Library: New York, 1979.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Ghettoizing the rebels

As a secondary substitute teacher, I have had the opportunity to spend time in four different school districts. I'm amazed by kids in general and teachers in general. There is a lot of creativity and intelligence out there, which I find encouraging. However, in some places I find a bit of an undercurrent which I can't quite think of a word or phrase to describe, and it alarms me.
I was subbing in one particular suburban school district (in which I have been employed in the past as an adult education teacher and a summer school teacher, in addition to some contact with its alternative high school). During the plan period of the teacher I was subbing for, I was asked to go assist a teacher in another classroom. I was informed that it was a classroom for kids with mild "special needs." (That particular phrase, along with "high-risk students" is one that could use some re-thinking.)
It soon became apparent to me that this was an "attitude adjustment" class. As I looked at the way kids were dressed, and their comportment, I felt that they probably were not "fitting in" quite right with this formerly rural, increasingly suburban, McMansion- sprouting community. I listened to one young lady read aloud from an article about using language that helps us take personal responsibility for our reactions ("I felt angry" as opposed to "It made me mad.") Really, I support this kind of thing, but as I listened her reading fluently and expressively, I wondered how she ended up in this class.
A little later, we watched two videos about people who began work at entry level jobs (the first at Six Flags and the second one at a commercial bakery) and ended up having satisfying jobs in management. (Yeah, life works that way in general, I thought.) Having taught a Career Exploration class in Adult Ed and having shown such videos myself, it wasn't really so much the videos themselves that bothered me. Somebody has to manage Six Flags and the bakery, and I sincerely believe there is pride in all work. I love patronizing any business where things go smoothly and employees are well-trained and fairly compensated. (Full disclosure:I also patronize businesses where that does not happen, something I might want to work on.)
Then there was a follow-up essay to the article, in which the kids had to personalize the strategies suggested. The girl who had impressed me earlier said, "I really hate that Mrs. X (the absent teacher) keeps giving us these assignments where we have to change our attitude. I like my bad attitude! I like my good attitude!" I wanted to scoop her up and take her off to an art or music or writing class.
I don't want to be unfair. Having worked in several situations with difficult students, I understand they can be disruptive to everyone and just a pain in the ass in general. However, some of them are extremely creative and funnier than hell (My particular favorite was a summer school student who made a pop-up, pull-out book in response to "The Miller's Tale", which I kept and was advised not to show to anybody) and ask questions that deserve to be asked. Should we really be "socializing" everybody? This particular school district seems to do an especially efficient job of ghettoizing the rebels, and I don't think that's good for either the students with a tendency to conform or the ones who are inclined to challenge everything.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Some New Year's resolutions I can actually keep (if I have the stomach for it)

Keeping in mind that it has become too difficult to beat them, I will take the path of least resistance and join them:
* Even though I despise bullet points, I will use them as much as possible.
* I will say things like, "Give it to Bob or myself."
* I'll talk about my friends "out of Detroit." They are all out of Detroit, literally, now, so it will be true and obnoxious at the same time.
* I'll use semicolons quite frequently; and my use of them will be inappropriate and pretentious because a comma would be more appropriate. I will say it is "journalistic." (I will also continue to use quotation marks in a sardonic manner [but only in writing], because that's just fun. I will, however, quit using air quotes.) I will also continue to overstate points in order to accommodate my OCD.
* I will use the word parenthetically in conversation as much as possible.
* I will use the verb to vet whenever possible, and I will finally find out where and when that word originated. I understand that to say investigate is just too many syllables in these complicated times.
Finally, just for personal pleasure, not to "join them," ( because they generally don't do it) I will work the phrase "patriarchal hegemony" into as many conversations as I can, no matter how inappropriate or irrelevant.