That spending the morning with my Californian cousins will highlight just how Canadian I really am.
I guess you know it’s been a good Christmas day when you finally get to settle into the couch at eleven o’clock at night, with just an hour left until midnight, and all that you can really recall of the day is that you ate a lot, drank to match, played some games, talked a bunch, ate some more, watched bad movies, read, relaxed, and otherwise did nothing resembling work. That said, I think I’ll keep the best details for myself. Now, where did I leave my eggnog?
a mash-up of television & cooperation
A number of years ago we were one of those families who helped decide what television shows lived or died. Sure, it was just one little vote in a vast sea opinions. But each night we’d plug our little electronic monitors into their phone-terminals and they would transmit our day’s watching habits back to the ratings mother-ship to be added to the collection of metrics.
We stopped participating because it was a hassle. Yet, it occurs to me again that not only would my participation in such an ongoing data gathering exercise be virtually worthless, but also that the time we spend watching our screens today is gathering that exact data (and likely so much more) without the need to wear a little electronic gadget on my belt.
It has probably occurred to nearly everyone who subscribes to streaming media services (such as Netflix) that someone or something cares about what we watch. My role in this process is little more than that of a consumer –or perhaps, a data point– yet I think it would be naive to assume that the metrics that I leave in my wake from what I watch, when I watch, and the exact point when I stop watching whatever it was I was watching, that these data are ignored by the corporation serving me that content.
a mash-up of breaking (families) & fashion
I’m firmly middle class. Let’s just get that settled, disclosed, admitted, whatever… up front.
Now, about an hour ago I bought something. I don’t buy a lot of things, at least my perception is that I don’t buy a lot of things. I spend money. I shop, occasionally. And I acquire the occasional so-called toys mostly in the form of electronics or entertainment devices that allow me to spend my free time slouching on the couch and zoning out. But an hour ago I went out and bought something quite expensive: I bought, off contract, a top of the line brand new iPhone.
Why? Partially, it’s because my (up-until-this-morning) current phone was getting rather sluggish but, more importantly (at least for the topic of this essay) because the gap between my expectations for how it should be performing and how it was performing had reached a perceptible gap for which I was unhappy.
I’ll admit, a significant part of the reason was just because I wanted something better. I wanted to keep up the appearance (if no where else but in my own mind) that I was “keeping up appearances” as the saying goes.
Now, I can afford it. As I said previously, middle class: I have a steady job, expenses that are in check, and (other than occasionally splurging a thousand dollars on, say, a shiny new phone) I don’t spend a lot of money.
I can see how such a purchase would lead to marital troubles if one didn’t have that kind of cash in the bank: some has suggested that data shows “at least one-half of the 41% Canadian divorce rate – or about 1 in 5 of our divorces – are caused primarily by money?”  That’s a big toll.
But it strikes me as a point worth exploring –and not from the “gee-whiz, couples who live outside their budgets must fight with each other a lot more” perspective, which has probably been explored to death– but rather the topic which I tended to agree with when I heard it discussed in a podcast the other day: that (to paraphrase) the ideas that fit into the same genre as “keeping up appearances” and thinking we deserve to have cool toys for no other reason than sheer “want” is creating a kind of gap between what we as average people expect to have and what we can actually afford to have.
a mash-up of marriage & media
“Doomed? You mean doomed? Doomed? He means, that they’re doomed, right?”
Not exactly. So, why?
First, subscription styles are changing.
Or, in other words, not slumping. Despite popular perception, and the sky-is-falling reporting that seems to accompany both topics, the numbers are showing that it’s not a matter of less participation, but a changing style of participation.
Twenty-Fifteen: I’m doing something I’ve been putting off for far too long. I’m getting serious about reading, again. I’ve dusted off my paperbacks and charged up my Kindle. It’s time to take the time to feed my poor television-adled brain with a selection of healthy, nourishing fiction. So, read on, little brain. Read on. We’re going Book to the Future!
As part of this effort to work my way through the over-sized stacks of unread books cluttering my bookshelves, fiction I would not normally have squeezed into my tightly packed reading agenda has offered up both (a) an example and (b) a metaphor for the context around a curious question: the question of what classic literature teaches us about modern marriages.
In particular, the Russian novelist has been filling my time with a tale of the late-nineteenth century aristocratic confusion that precluded the revolution there and the realist portrayal of gender roles and social perceptions surrounding infidelity in the marriage of one young socialite named Anna Karenina. There is much complexity in the story, the interwoven threads of narrative sweeping between multiple character viewpoints, but each of those viewpoints targetting towards the growth of those characters in understanding the role and purpose of marriage in their lives. For some it is about love, others security, religion, status, or pursuit of family.
Notably, however, and with the caveat that I am merely half way through reading the novel, these goals are all seemingly pursued in isolation. Independent characters seem very aware of the designs of their spouses (or intended) with respect to their unions, but the concept of a mutually beneficial relationship seems as though it is a topic that is an unspoken topic lacking clarity or focus.
Perhaps this is a theme that will resolve itself in the second half: but I’m not sure. And at the very least, it has not escaped my notice that (like a bad television sit-com where you scratch your head at the obvious miscommunication) the characters in Anna Karenina seem as though they simply need to cooperate a little more actively towards their relative pursuits to ultimately resolve the plot.
The metaphoric linkage back to my own life, on the other hand, stems directly back from my previous allusion that nineteenth-century romantic period novels don’t normally fit into my diet of speculative science fiction and Tolkien-esque fantasy novels. In fact, I have learned to appreciate these fictional tropes with much keener interest for the simple reason that the pursuit of marital cooperation has offered me the opportunity to share in my wife’s taste for novels and television dramas stemming from the works of Jane Austin and her ilk, watching a seemingly endless parade of public television broadcast period pieces, and actually learning to appreciate them.
In other words, classic literature and the pursuit of a happy marriage have prompted me to appreciate my spouse’s interest in the same, and our mutual cooperation in the enjoyment of our entertainment time has grown as a result.
If only Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin had figured that out a little sooner.
a mash-up of medicine & breaking (families)
In this age of digital social media sharing, Tweet’ing every aspect of our lives and Facebook’ing every detail of our day-to-days, is there a realm of personal disclosure that pushes the limits of appropriateness and risks fracturing familiar relationships as a result?
The question emerged recently in a family discussion, and with no intended offense to the parties involved (who may someday read this essay) here is a summary of what happened: Relative A was in the hospital. Relative B went to visit, took a photo on their phone, and posted said photo to the Internet. Relatives C through Z (and likely a few others) viewed the photo.
a mash-up of private (communication) & (family) building
Listening to the radio the other day I was taken aback at the topic being discussed. Weekly, the morning show features a family therapist segment, a pleasant young mother with some professional credentials, who talks about parenting and family issues. Usually it’s a fairly banal routine encompassing words of wisdom on concepts such as balancing playtime with screentime or coping with too many extra-curricular activities — those typical twenty-first century, culture-of-abundance issues that plague modern parents, the kind with enough time to listen to the radio on a weekday morning while their are bustling their kids towards school.
On this particular iteration of the segment, however, the topic seemed a little odd to me. Yes, odd. Odd, not because I didn’t believe it was legitimate topic, nor because I doubted that it was an important message. It seemed odd to me because, I suppose, I was a little surprised that it was something that parents needed to be told. It was odd because I actually, aloud said… “really?”
The message was simply that parents need to hug their kids more. Not just hug, but hug until they let go, and more often.
I get it. And I agree.
I don’t know if I have science or data on my side, but something tells me this isn’t an issue that I’d be open to debating, not even if the value of hugs were published by debunked by a thousand peer-reviewed journals. No one is going to stop me from hugging my kid, not that way at least.
But parents… why is this an issue? Why is this perceived as enough of a problem that a family therapist found it a worthy topic to bring to five minute segment on a morning radio programme? That’s where I’m puzzling, I guess.
Why are we afraid of showing affection to our kids? And more importantly, what is the consequence of that for both them… and us?
a mash-up of design & siblings
Let’s just get it out on the table right now: I’ve got siblings, but I’m not a twin. Also, I’m a parent, but she is an only child. In fact, I’m neither closely related to twins, nor do I have any friends who (at least as far as I’m aware, are twins.)
I would like to, however, think that I’m able to sympathize with the joys and frustrations of twin-ness.
Being a sibling, for example, is a challenge in and of itself. It is a status marked by a life-long relationship with a generational contemporary, more often than not raised under identical conditions with at least one shared parent, and while doing so competing for finite household resources. It is an ever-evolving relationship that shifts into balancing divergent lives with the looming responsibilities that come with adult responsibility and aging parents.
As a parent, likewise, being handled a single child after nine months of anticipation and preparation is a gargantuan challenge. I can only imagine what it would be like to suddenly be the charge of two infants, demanding equal love, attention, resources and care. It is an effort that would be measured by an increase of factors of difficulty, not just a doubling. What follows infancy is an exponential increase in the demand on one’s time and wallet, with an equal increase in the heaviness of heart that comes with discharging of the parental trust.
So, it occurs that one might consider, or that one would almost think there would be a big opportunity to design something that eases life for twins and their parents, whatever mysterious challenges present themselves therein.
My own searches for such products resulted in a few items: links to cute-ish matching baby clothing, or strollers with two seats rather than one. There are also, of course, books and websites chock full of advice and more. But that’s about where it seems to end.
Or am I missing something?
Is there a secret underground market for twin products to solve problems unique to being twins or raising twins? Is there an untapped opportunity lurking in the double shadows of the world? Or, is this non-twin-associated guy inventing a problem that doesn’t actually exist?
a mash-up of mechanisms & in-laws
…or, why the relatives only care about megapixels but don’t want to see the slideshow.
Every holiday season I face a family tradition that without fail raises my ire and kindles my frustration. In these cases, among relatives of good humor and generous intelligence, I am met with the all-too-frequent and always-mind-numbing questions on the technical specifications of my camera.
I take photos. I take photos for my personal enjoyment, working with near-professional quality equipment that looks impressive and feels expensive. This is for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is impressive and it is expensive.
And, upon pulling said equipment from it’s bag and scuttling around the room taking photos (as amateur photographers are often likened to do) I am approached by random uncles or stray cousins or other curious in-laws who ask the most mundane questions.
“Where did you buy your camera?”
“How many megapixels does it have?”
“Are you using one big memory card or do you carry multiple smaller ones?”
And but of course, I politely entertain these folks with vague replies and amicable explanations. I demonstrate, however briefly. Or sometimes, I poke or prod in showcase style explanation. Always, however, I ache and hurt a little more inside, that the ordeal has taken place at all.
“Why the frustration?” A curious and sympathetic reader may inquire.
Alas, as any pursuer of any endeavor can attest –and the anecdote herein will attempt to transcend the example of the author and his camera– a creator is more often wont desiring to speak of his creation and remiss to expound upon the tools themselves. A carpenter would show you her finely crafted chair, not the hammer she used to build it. A baker would have you taste his pastries and would be unlikely to enjoy demonstrating the curvature on the tines of his whisk.
But in meeting with relatives my own personal experience is that there is a hesitation in small talk to explore the result of the creation, and a certain comfort in querying the gadget that helped create it. My relatives are endlessly (if only perhaps politely) curious about my camera, yet rarely ask to see the photos it produces… at least save for those in which they feature.
My analysis of this phenomenon is also it’s justification and defense. Or rather, it is the product of the kinds of relationships we nurture with extended families, folks with whom our paths cross often enough that those relations must remain positive, but infrequently enough that any depth of mutual acquaintance is complicated by many factors.
In essence, we are related: we must be nice, polite, and interested… but to breach topics that may be more heartfelt is a delicate path to tread upon. In a way, each of us it seems would rather offend by indifference than offend by heartfelt critique and this unspoken rule ensures that everyone finds the time to gather at the next holiday party or birthday celebration or family reunion, in-betwixt gathering enough trivial knowledge of hammers and whisks and cameras to play the modestly-interested in-law role once more.
Happy but very, very tired.
I mentioned in an earlier post that we have a bit of a tradition around our families: jigsaw puzzled during the holidays.
Over the last two days we’ve been hosting both sets of families at our house and (having mopped up the first one thousand piece puzzle I bought earlier this month before anyone even showed up) I ordered a three thousand piece jigsaw earlier this week, and had it shipped to arrive on Christmas Eve.
It became something of a centerpiece for the last couple days, from my two-year-old nephew playing the puzzle-cruncher to my sister-in-law obsessing over her contribution even as her husband dragged her out of the door at the end of the evening, earlier tonight.
Three thousand pieces is a bit overwhelming, something up at the upper edge of sensible to be attempted only when you are hosting a puzzled bunch of relatives for two solid days and need a perfect distraction.