Sunday, September 27, 2009

Friend of Bill G. (or is it Al G.?)

Thursday night, I left my happy home to spend a weekend in Oak Brook, Illinois, at the Illinois Speech and Theatre Association annual convention. ISTA is a tremendous opportunity for speech and theatre teachers like myself to connect, share resources, find new ideas, and even just have a good time. In addition to packing the usual stuff like, oh, clothes and shampoo, I also made sure to pack up my trusty ol' laptop. I figured that there would surely be some downtime during the convention (I remembered that being the case when I had gone before) when I could deal with e-mail and get some work done in terms of lesson planning, for which I would need the Internet. Surely the hotel would have WiFi, I thought, remembering the lovely hotel I visited for State last February and the hours I spent on Facebook one evening. We reached the very lovely Oak Brook Marriott (located conveniently right across the street from the Oak Brook Place mall) a little bit before 8:00, so I checked in and headed upstairs to get settled in. The first thing I did was sit down at the desk and plug in my laptop.

And that's when my world fell apart.

At first, my computer quickly located a network connection and I began my attempt to navigate my way to Hotmail, thinking I might spend a little time working on my farm in Facebook after checking my e-mail. Suddenly, my browser took me away from Hotmail and off to a site asking me to select my payment method. I found out that, if I wanted to use the Internet at this hotel, I would have to pony up $15 a night for the honor. Ummmmmmm, nooooo. $30 seemed a bit excessive, particularly since a large part of what I wanted to do on the Internet involved work. I was not going to PAY to do my JOB.

And so began the longest 48 hours of my life. While I managed to function without the Internet for those two days in Oak Brook (and it probably helped that Friday was so busy that I was utterly exhausted that evening and fell asleep within seconds of stating my intention to do so), the first thing I did when I walked through the door of my house was get the laptop out and get online. In that moment, I realized how integral the Internet has become in my life. It's how I communicate, get information, entertain myself, and even do my job. Fifteen years ago, I didn't even know it existed, and now, I have a hard time existing without it. Addiction may be a bit strong of a word to use, but it may be the closest to describing how I felt in that moment last night when I finally let out a huge sigh of relief as I checked email, harvested my crops, and downloaded a couple Phish shows. While I recognize the addiction, the problem is that I'm more than happy to wallow in that addiction because I also realized this weekend that life can get a little boring without the beautiful distraction of the Internet.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fare Thee Well . . . For Now

While my summer has pretty much officially been over for about three weeks since my return to the hallowed halls of the high school, today it suddenly kind of dawned on me that the end really is just about here. As I've done every single Saturday all summer, I woke up this morning and headed downtown to go to the Farmer's Market. Our market here attracts a lot of vendors offering a variety of products -- produce, flowers, fresh jams, homemade pies and cookies. It's an amazing selection and a definite benefit of living in an area surrounded by farms. All summer long we've been feasting on homemade salsa, corn on the cob, homemade tomato and basil pizza, shish kabobs, peach and strawberry pie -- all made with fresh, locally grown produce. I have one vendor in particular that I always make sure to visit. It's a family farm that's located about 6 miles outside of Galesburg. They offer an amazing variety of produce and are always so friendly and helpful. And I will second what Nicki of Grin and Baer It says -- homegrown produce just tastes better. I swear I'd never really tasted a cucumber until I had one from the Farmer's Market.

As I strolled through the parking lot that becomes the market each Saturday, I started to feel a little melancholy as I realized that this would probably be one of my last weekends at the market. Already, selections are starting to get a bit slimmer (although the tomatoes I bought today were still huge and amazing looking!). I don't look forward to a winter of doing the best I can with whatever the local grocery store has to offer and know I'll be counting the days until I can return to reap the benefits of the local harvests once more.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Idol Me This

I spent a good portion of this evening trying to first verify and then figure out how I felt about the news that Ellen Degeneres has been named the newest judge on American Idol, replacing my hero, Paula Abdul.

On the one hand, I love Ellen. My love of Ellen goes waaaaaaaaaaaaay back to the mid 1980's when I happened to catch her on an HBO Young Comedian's Special. She was the only female comedian on the special, and I can remember sitting and just laughing my ass off at her wry humor. So, yes, I loved Ellen before she was gay! I was a fan of her sitcom. I paid money to see Mr. Wrong. (I did!) While I haven't spent a tremendous amount of time watching her talk show, that mostly stems from the fact that I am working when it's on and, to be quite honest about it, I'm just not that big of a fan of talk shows. I've caught some of it here and there and have consistently found her charming, and I wish I liked talk shows more so that I could watch her.

Ellen is a charming woman -- engaging, funny, and intelligent. She is inspiring in her strength and passion. I've often said that, if I were a lesbian, she would be my absolute dream woman (well, Ellen or Queen Latifah -- I have quite a girl crush on Queen Latifah). She has found a way to be funny and sarcastic while still maintaining a level of respect and empathy that is quite remarkable and rare in most comedians.

So that's the one hand......

But here's the other. Ellen is a comedian. She's not a singer or a musician. The biggest claim to musical fame she has is her goofy dancing. So what exactly does she bring to the judge's table on a show designed to judge musical talent? I mean, isn't this really just like asking, say, me to be the fourth judge? And if that's the case, why didn't Fox just ask ME? I mean, seriously! I bet I'm a helluva lot cheaper than Ellen, and I suspect that my ability to judge music is akin to hers. Okay, Ellen will probably have an easier time controlling herself sitting next to Simon (I think he's dreamy, so sue me!). And Ellen will probably be able to keep herself from bitch slapping Randy Jackson when he says for the 999th time in one episode, "Dude, you can sing." (We know, Jackass. That's why they're on the damn show!) So maybe she's a slightly better choice than I would be.

As incoherent and rambling and enabling as Paula could be (God love her), the fact of the matter still remains that she was able, every once in awhile, to give a legitimate, technical critique. (I felt like she really stepped up her game this past season.) And aren't there at least a few other washed up 80s/90s songstresses who would be willing to shepherd along the next generation of stars of VH1's "Where Are They Now?" I personally was dreaming of Cyndi Lauper and her neon orange hair sitting there between Simon and Kara. Or what about Taylor Dayne? Jody Watley? Deborah Gibson? Tiffany? Robin Sparkles?

At this point, I'm curious enough to be excited and yet still a bit wary that my beloved Idol may have jumped the shark so hard that it's about to crash into the lifeguard tower. And when it does crash, where am I suppoed to get my blog fodder come January-May? Huh? Ponder that, Ginger Fans!!

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Monday, September 7, 2009

Just for the Record

This is what the conservative right is calling fascist propaganda. I will confess that the speech made me cry in its beauty and hopefulness -- and cry for the direction of our country when such a beautiful speech is subject to such reactionary censorship. We, as a nation, should be ashamed.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Oh, Those Liberals and Their Nasty Conspiracies

Over the course of the past couple days, I have been flabbergasted by media events -- primarily the uproar over President Obama's plan to address the nation's schoolchildren on Tuesday. From all that I've been able to glean, Obama's speech includes encouraging children to stay in school and study hard. Conservatives are accusing Obama as using this speech to push liberal "propaganda". I have to admit I am completely at a loss here.

First of all, since when is a message about staying in school and working hard liberal propaganda. Do conservatives really take issue with the idea that we might want kids to actually, you know, learn? I know that conservatives like to attack liberals over their elitism and intellectualism. Only in America would we demonize intelligence. Only in America would intelligence be deemed a weakness in seeking office. And now, our hatred of intelligence has gone so far that we don't want to even set it up as a goal to which we want our children to aspire. I won't even begin to list the issues I have with that.

Secondly, do people honestly think that President Obama is going to use this speech as a campaign opportunity? Most likely, roughly 75% of those children exposed to his speech on Tuesday will never, ever have the opportunity to vote for him. What real good does it do to campaign to these children? Can a kindergartener really grasp the complexities of, say, health care reform? (I'm 37, and I struggle to wrap my brain around the everchanging plans that have been proposed) And if he/she can, what good does that do Obama? Do conservatives think that these kids are going to go home and try to convert their parents to Obama's nefarious beliefs? Having grown up a liberal child in a conservative home, I can tell you that it doesn't work. I spent years trying to convince my parents to vote Democrat. I begged and cried and fought with my parents in 1988 when they adamantly refused to see the merits of voting for Michael Dukakis. Even my charming little "Jimmy Carter is Great" song that I wrote in 1976 couldn't sway my parents. One speech from a president is not going to create a nation full of little liberal children, and the fear of our kids being brainwashed by President Obama reeks of fearmongering at best, racism at worst. (Yeah, I said it. It's racist!)

Critics of the President's plan target a proposed "lesson plan" released by the Department of Education. The lesson plan encourages activities like the teacher taking notes during the speech on the board to help students understand the message or having students make note of what they are being asked to do and what they are being challenged to consider. Those bastards! Not only do they want to speak, but they want us to get something from it. Who do they think they are?? I will remind you, once again, that the speech is about staying in school and working hard. I really just have no choice but to shake my head at the fearmongering and paranoia at play here.

As I read more and more this weekend, I was left in a state of shock, depression, and fear. The extremes to which certain elements of the conservative right will go to to discredit our president leave me absolutely stunned. The fact of the matter is that the man is our president. He is not some evil genius out to take over the hearts and minds of American schoolchildren. He is simply the leader that 53% of the people in this country chose to be our leader. For the past nine months, he has lived under a microscope where every single decision he makes is scrutinized, attacked, and lambasted. He goes out for a burger, and he's jumped on. He takes his wife out for a date, and he's jumped on. He is labeled a Nazi, a Socialist, and Communist. Has any president ever faced this level of open hostility? For all the issues I had with George W. Bush, my dislike never reached such a feverish level of outright hatred that Obama has had to deal with from day one (and even before).

Here's the big secret, folks: Barack Obama is not Hitler, Satan, or whatever pejorative label you want to stick on him. He's a man who decided to tackle what is the hardest job on the face of this earth. He is a man who wants to help this nation by reaching out to those often left behind -- the poor, the uninsured, the struggling, the children. He wants to help insure the future of our nation by encouraging those who will eventually rise up to lead us to, well, make sure they have the skills to rise up and lead us. As much as a large portion of our country seems to disdain education, the fact of the matter is that we need educated people to lead us, to teach us, to care for us. President Obama believes, as I do, that a part of governing is caring for the people and preparing the nation for what lies ahead. While I do not blindly believe everything he does, I also believe that he operates out of a desire to make this country a better place. And what better way to make this country a better place than to reach out to our children, to let them know that their president believes in them, and encourage them to reach for their own stars and make this country a better place.

ADDENDUM: An interesting (and terrifying) article I just stumbled across on the HuffPo makes me think I'm not overreacting in my fear here.