Thursday, January 19, 2012

Downton Abbey Is Not Downtown

After proudly proclaiming that I stoped posting to Facebook, I promptly linked my blog to...Facebook. O, sweet irony! Your shadow follows me everywhere.

Did the creators of Downton Abbey not anticipate the confusion they would cause? At least two people have asked me if I’ve watched the latest episode of Downtown Abbey. The drama is most certainly not set in a city. My husband, for one, was excited at the prospect of a “Downtown” abbey, imagining all kinds of sordid goings on in a bustling urban setting, albeit circa 1916. Instead, he was disappointed to discover that the abbey is set in the middle of the English countryside. The second tipoff that not much is going on here is the fact that an abbey is a residence for monks and nuns. All of the intrigue on this show is strictly for the chicks—banging Turkish diplomats to death, receiving upsetting letters, providing succor to sightless sexy soldiers. Hmmm, given these racy story lines, perhaps it doesn’t matter that the action takes place in the sleepy English countryside surrounded by farms and pubs. I still think that the producers should change the title to the aptly descriptive “Anxious British People.” Another question to ask oneself during pledge week: How is Downton Abbey different from Upstairs, Downstairs?
"Please excuse me; I'm about to receive a most distressing letter and need time to prepare my disheartened-yet-unflappable face."

"Do you girls see any crumpets on the horizon?"

On the home front, the great pet monkey debate rages on! An older student praised the merits of life with a monkey in spite of the obvious drawbacks: “Although your parents wouldn’t appreciate the mess that the monkey created, at least you have a little hairy servant to help you clean it all up.” He also noted that one’s friends would be rendered “wicked jealous,” thereby increasing one’s popularity.

Should English classes be divided by gender? I note that many boys just don’t relate to fiction unless something crashes or blows up. Do any “classics” fit this bill? Consider Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, in which a young boy finds himself stranded in the wilds of Alaska. The wilderness tales of Farley Mowat and the spare prose of Ernest Hemingway, whose characters fish, womanize, and bullfight—sometimes all at the same time.  Come to think of it, the English teacher favorite The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) is a male-centered work: privileged adolescent male rebels against the stifling conformity he encounters at home and in prep school; embarks on a city adventure in which he pays for sex, drinks at a hopping jazz club with a Black piano player (hey, it’s the 1940s), and revisits his former New York City haunts. What’s not to like? However, I asked one of my students what he would read in English class if given a choice, and he said he prefers action novels like The Bourne Identity and books about sports. High school English departments, however, seem reluctant to stray too far from the standard reading fare that has changed little since I graduated. They are now including contemporary novels with increasingly adult themes (e.g. Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic, anti-corporate work Oryx & Crake) and language. I’m not sure children are ready to process such mature themes. Then again, maybe I am underestimating the sophistication levels of today’s older students. Perhaps Atwood’s finely wrought vision, however improbable I deem it to be, disturbs me more than it does a jaded high school senior.
I won't bite.

And now I leave you with faintly creepy pictures taken with the Hipstamatic photo phone app. If you ever wanted your family photos to resemble movie stills of The Ring, this is the app for you!
Haunted biscuits.

Brooding husband.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I have temporarily stopped posting on Facebook because I do not know what this social network wants from me! It certainly does not help me connect with my friends; a phone call gets better results. Although it has satisfied my curiosity regarding former classmates, it has not changed my relationship with them for better or worse. Moreover, I am not a master of Facebook like a select few of my friends, whose posts are hilariously on target. A Facebook Master is funny without being snarky; an acute observer of human behavior; and not afraid to throw in the occasional, well placed curse word. I do try to post sparingly so that when I do share my items have maximum impact. It is better, then, to be underexposed rather than overexposed on Facebook. I’ve often contemplated writing a brief guide to Facebook that covers etiquette; analyzes Facebook archetypes (the angry young man; the drunk mom; the lover of small animals with human-like, adorable characteristics; the deranged marathon runner; the bitter politico). When will some enterprising individual start offering Facebook Mastery Seminars, in which all will be revealed?

In the meantime, I turn to my few students to explore life's pressing questions. As a private tutor, my multiple classrooms of one never fail to delight  and enlighten me. The other day I posed the following question to a 4th grader: “Do you think a monkey would make a good pet? Why or why not?” He wrote:

No because in real life monkeys are not pets. They have deseases and I do not no any vets who deal with monkeys and I dont no anybody who owns a monkey. And they are proboly dangerus.”
So cute, and yet so dangerus.

Upon further consideration, he added that a monkey might tear up your house or hurt you. Sage advice!  I reminded him, however, that the late Michael Jackson once had a pet monkey named Bubbles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t recall if Bubbles died, was removed from Jackson’s care, or if the pop superstar relinquished the chimp voluntarily. In our subsequent discussion, I noted that the question did not specify chimp or other monkey--your Squirrel monkeys, ring-tailed lemurs. The kind that steals your glasses while you are sightseeing in Costa Rica. These mischevious monkeys probably would not be open to learning sign language or watching “Sesame Street.”

I took the opposite approach in my response:

I think a monkey would make a great pet. First of all, monkeys are very smart.  I could teach it sign language and we could talk. Second, monkeys are very cute. [Perhaps my weakest argument] They have kind, brown eyes and lots of soft fur. Finally, monkeys do not need a lot of care. [Who am I kidding?] They can do many things, like feed themselves, without help. Monkeys also probably like to watch TV, so I could just plop mine there and have him watch ‘Sesame Street.’”

My approach to childcare and monkey tending are disturbingly similar.

After Christmas I put my sewing on hiatus to reacquaint myself with the preparation of real food, not simply opening a box of breaded whatever from Trader Joe’s. I suppose my motivation is part guilt, part inspiration. I used to enjoy cooking before I had children. Now I am cooking for them, in a short order chef sort of way. The dog is happy, because she’s getting three square meals per day plus dollops of Greek yogurt and any human food the kids throw on the floor. It’s good!
Next time, I lament the tragic loss of the ingredient that made junk food delicious--the much maligned trans fatty acid. We could still be enjoying the flaky greasy goodness it has to offer if it weren't for the fact that our government believes we cannot control ourselves around them. The experts may be right, but Cheeze-Its are simply not the same.  Also, my students help me launch a written campaign to bring back the trans fats!