When you’re really old, really in school and really don’t know where the bar is.

One of the big differences in being an adult in college — with kids, a mortgage and a goal of achieving something this time rather than just going to school to hide from the real world: you’re ticked when your class is cancelled for a day. Particularly when it happens on the first day of class.arizona-asphalt-beautiful-490466

This was my day 2. I had one class at the satellite campus that’s only about 25 minutes from my house (the real campus where I’m taking the rest of my classes is an hour 10 minutes away). I was excited to get to go the hometown branch. My adviser was thrilled that someone was taking this class. I jammed on my work for the day so I could wrap up everything that needed to happen for clients before class…and the instructor no shows.

If I had been a 19-year-old undergrad in Texas, I would have celebrated at happy hour. But I’m 52. And I’m in Utah. Which means I don’t even know where the bars are any more. K, that’s probably difference number two.

As an old person, I’m in class to learn. I’m not just doing time in my classes or jumping hoops — I save both of those for trips to the gym. I’m trying to get everything out of every last second and every last dime that I’m putting into this.

There are five other students in the class when I arrive. I’m two minutes late. No instructor. For the first few minutes, we all sit in silence. Then I start asking questions. Who are you? Why are you taking this class? What’s your major? Silence in public places freaks me out.

I learn that I’m the odd woman out in here – everyone else is studying elementary education, which I think would be cute and charming and utterly frustrating. Ask my kids: I’m not the sweet, motherly type. I still think the best part of their elementary years were the Cheezits I justified buying for their lunches.

“Mom, why do we never have Cheezits?”

“Shush, Mommy’s trying to zip her pants. I don’t know why they don’t fit anymore.”

I also learn that elementary ed students are on a super-tight track intended to ensure they graduate on time. Some of them need this class to happen at this very moment or they’ll be delayed another semester. They’ve bribed babysitters and workplaces to be here.

Finally someone tells us what’s happening, which amounts to “Go home. We don’t know where the instructor is.” I look the instructor up on LinkedIn and learn where he is right now: teaching at a local elementary school. I also find another section of the course that I can take, although it means I’ll be in class at the main campus, which is where I take most of my classes, even if it is approximately 1 hour away, for 10+ hours on Wednesdays. I almost sign up, but then have a change in heart. I’ll wait another day.

The next day, I ask the department what’s going on with the class at the satellite. They tell me they just found out that the time will have to change because the instructor can’t be there (I could have told them that yesterday). Oh and if I drop, they won’t have enough students to carry the class and all of the other students will have to find an alternative because no one wants to teach at the satellite campus.

So now it’s on me. I can stay with the class and when the hack instructor decides not to teach it or not to show up anymore, I get to be SOL (college makes me talk like it’s 1990), or I can take care of myself and sign up for a different section and those other five people will be SOL or get stuck driving an extra two hours to take this single class. Easy choice right? I should drop the class and ruin it for everyone. I get to be the asshole!

But I’m not cool with that.

Alright, if you were personally acquainted with me, you’d probably think, “Aren’t you normally an asshole?” Yeah, on the surface, I usually come across that way. I yell horrible things at dumbass drivers from the security of my SUV. I’m open and honest with my children, telling them that their shoes make them look like clowns or hookers or hooker clowns, remind them that they’re already a zit factory as they cram a candy bar down their gullets, make my son fold his laundry before he can rot his brain with video games (although Grand Theft Auto did teach him how to drive), tell my daughter that cats are already peeing on the towel she left on her bathroom floor. I create a stink until my cable TV provider gives me a discount, complain in stores when coupons aren’t added properly, once publicly outed a utility for an error in a promotional email because it was putting my $100 rebate at risk. I send hate mail and messages to politicians. And I think unicorns are dumb. I’m. An. Asshole.

But then you get to know me and you realize that it’s all show. Deep down, except for that unicorn thing, I really just want to see people be treated fairly (unicorns should be annihilated). If I forfeit my desired outcome because someone else’s seems more important, I just have to deal with it. I’d be the suckiest lawyer ever.

BTW, this kind of approach does nothing for your dreams of becoming a corporate executive. Back in my full-time marketing days — like two weeks ago — I watched people sprint up the corporate ladder with the help of lies and sketchy ethics. I knew I’d never make it to the top the day I told my boss at a late-stage tech startup that we had thousands of fake social media followers AND that someone had been creating fake websites that pointed to our site. When I reviewed his next presentation to the board touting our incredible social media growth and boost in Google search rankings, I realized he was the one purchasing all the fakes and that I’d never make it to the top if I kept approaching lies like a Boy Scout. I never even thought of making stuff up to make my work look better!

These are the kind of things that go through my head when I think I’m about to make an asshole move. I sweat the small stuff that I shouldn’t even be thinking about. Frequently that means I don’t decide anything.

This time, however, it’s different. I let my bank account and its abundance of zeros in all the wrong places, which cry of missed opportunity, make the decision. I drop the satellite class and enroll in the other one. Safe!

It’s empowering. I’m strong, invincible, capable of making a decision. All those “asshole” thoughts leave my head.

If only college had done this to me last time, I could be rich right about now.

Is this a bad call? Becoming a teacher after 50.

I’ve been out of class for longer than the person next to me has inhabited this earth. Welcome to my new existence.

For the next two years, I’m a teacher in training. During the first year — a.k.a., now — I’m learning everything I can about keeping my wits about me while standing in front of a group of 12-18 year olds trying to convince them to give a rat’s ass about any of the books or writing assignments we’ll cover. I can feel their excitement already. The second year: hands-on time. Student teaching. I’ll get there when I get there.

In the two classes I’ve been to today, I’ve learned the following:

-I fall somewhere between the age of my classmates’ moms and Nanas. I’m positive we’ll have lots to talk about.
-Free teaching labor starts early — I already need to commit to 20 hours of volunteer time, maybe more.
-Teacher classes come with free popcorn. I like that, although my hips and thighs aren’t so forgiving.
-I’m still not sure why I’m here, but I keep going through the motions anyway.

K, full disclosure: it’s not a life-long dream of mine to become a teacher. It IS something I’ve been thinking about for about 15 years or so. Maybe six or eight years ago, I decided I should end my career by switching to teaching.

But I’m full of shit and big ideas that lack follow through. Why should this time be different?

When my most recent career took a really unfortunate turn, I lost all motivation to keep slinging marketing swill for companies I never cared about. So I sat out for a while and worked freelance, all the while pretending to look for my next career move, while secretly and quietly figuring out what to do with my life.

A few months ago, I decided it was time. Running my own freelance business — the fallback of every writer ever — was unbelievably unfulfilling. The hours were great, the pay frequently dismal (I hate begging for clients), I still had to work with the occasional asshole (don’t kid yourself, even as a freelancer, you’re never really solo), and I was going nowhere. So I entertained a few ideas about what I could do next. Rockstar was out — I don’t do drugs so well anymore and I can’t sing, although I’m not convinced either is a prerequisite. I’m not funny enough to be a standup comedian. And if I haven’t written the great American novel or screenplay by now, it’s probably not happening.

So “teaching” is sort of where I landed. Mind you, my tuition bill has yet to be paid and late charges don’t hit for another week, so I’m still not fully committed.

This could be the biggest mistake of my life. I realize this as I’m on the shuttle bus from the parking lot to class and the guy sitting next to me with a skateboard asks if I know that the bus is going to campus. “Yeah,” I tell him. I can tell he’s confused because I’m not dressed like a professor. I’m expecting a lot of that.

After my first class, which was filled with the kind of people who make me want to jam sharp objects in my eyes to dull the pain of being near them, I quickly checked what it would take for me to get my Ph.D. in a useless subject instead. Years. Like I’d be 60 before I finished and still wouldn’t have a marketable skill that I didn’t already possess. And I’d probably just land in marketing again. But maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after all.

I’ll give it one more class.

Fortunately or fatefully, my second class is better. People seem normal. Smarter, stronger, more accepting. Someone asks the instructor what his favorite TV show is and I want him to respond “Welcome Back, Kotter,” but I’m probably the only one in this classroom who remembers that. Still, I’m sort of excited by the end of class and for a brief second, I’m positive this is what I want to do. I’m sure of it … until I check my voicemail and the dozen or so texts from my teens. Insurance company needs my mileage or should they’re remove my discount? Geriatric cat won’t take his thyroid medication and another cat threw up on the bed. Do I know where my son’s favorite coffee mug is? When will I be home? And is it okay if they open the Amazon box because someone already did. Do they need to do the dishes or can they just leave everything in the sink for me? (Why, yes, what a charming surprise!)

Shit.

Now I’m officially on the fence, which, yes, is an improvement. I go to my final class. I’m bribed with candy. The instructor starts to talk about doing hard things, which she presents as a true story that doesn’t actually pertain to me but I know what she’s doing. She mentions specifically that it’s easier to give up and the challenge lies in moving forward on your own volition. Personally, guilt works better than my own volition, and the guilt trip is coming down on me hard right now, especially since I’m pretty sure she’s saying all of this to and about me, regardless of what everyone else who’s in this classroom and staring down a future of $40k/yr believes.

So, yeah, for now I’ll stay. I haven’t paid tuition yet so what do I have to lose?

That Time YouTube Thought I Was a Racist …

Friday. I’m working on a how-to guide for a client, which means I’m poring over a dozen or so homegrown videos that their underpaid and over exploited college-student staff created. The videos are usually pretty dreadful, although this batch isn’t as bad as most, which makes me wonder if they brought in outside help. Really I don’t care. I just want the pain to be over.

Anyway, it’s no wonder I’m a tad more than half asleep when the final video ends. What wakes me is the collage of YouTube’s “watch next” videos, custom plucked from obscurity. Just for me.

  • Ann Coulter Owns Whoopi Goldberg on Race and White Guilt 

  • 12 Times Michelle Obama Looked Like a Tranny
  • Watch Rachel Maddow get that STUPID SMIRK wiped off her face by Trump’s Election

  • Ben Shapiro Takes Down Bill Maher On “Muslim Ban”

  • Revelation: Dawn of Global Government 2016

insane alt-right playlistI’m in marketing so I know what this means: YouTube thinks I’m racist and a masculist. Or maybe I’m being overly sensitive. Maybe it just thinks I’m an alt-right, narrow-minded, ultra conservative, anti-globalist, pig-headed asshole. Yeah, that’s probably it.

This, incidentally, offends me and not in a pretend “Why are they calling me this?” way. It’s not like a conversation I had a few months ago in which someone told me he wished everyone would stop accusing him of being racist simply because he supported Trump.

“Then why did you support Trump?” was my question.

Anyway, this is a big deal and I don’t like the passive-aggressive accusations YouTube is making about me. It’s wrong and I know it. So why doesn’t YouTube’s algorithm agree?

People will think what the algorithm tells them to think

Here’s the deal. I’ve spent most of the last four years trying to game search algorithms because I was in work situations where I needed to study the tricks that people use to get their pages to rank higher. Doing so gives you insight into how most search algorithms work.

For the uninitiated (consider yourself lucky, BTW), a search algorithm is a formula used to determine what you’re really looking for online. When you’re using a search engine like Google, this means you should receive search results that hit the mark. According to Google, their algorithms “rely on more than 200 unique signals or ‘clues’ that make it possible to guess what you might really be looking for.”

YouTube’s algorithm is going to be a little different. Because the universe of possible search results is smaller, it won’t need to be quite so complex, but it likely is more predictive. In my case, I wasn’t searching for results, I was looking at the collage of videos YouTube was sure I was going to want to watch next. These suggestions were based totally on predictions. Think of it as high-tech stereotyping.

I probably would have been fine living my life without ever caring about search algorithms had it not been for a former boss, one of the most pious AND corrupt VPs ever to grace a boardroom. Call him a snake in the grass, a liar or an essential member of your executive team, I still despised every minute I worked with him. But he did teach me a lot, like what a micromanager is, what Mormon priesthood meetings must be like (I have to assume they’re dull events in which some out of touch, old white guy drones on about something I care nothing about, which was the same way every team meeting we had would progress), and how search algorithms worked.

I learned the search part because Google’s search results were this VP’s nemesis. His goal was laudable — land our company’s website in the number one spot for every search term he could think of — and he tried all the tricks that Google hates to make it happen. Keyword stuffing (he spent his weekends counting every occurrence of a keyword in our posted blogs so we’d have a list of things to change on Monday mornings); ensuring headlines led with the target keyword and promised something that would earn clicks even if it wasn’t paid off in the article (who wouldn’t want to read “Data Warehouse Secrets You Need to Know — Or Else!” that was really just a take on some guy’s high school job at Burger King). He built fake sites that linked to our company’s web pages (if Google catches this, you’re done, or so I’m told), bought fans on Twitter (Google didn’t care about this but I like bringing it up anyway), and mandated every article exceed 800 words, which was great when you were dealing with a concept that warranted 50.

As is usually the case with incredibly corrupt people in business, Google didn’t notice, and the board of directors rewarded him with a promotion.

As for Google’s search algorithm, here’s what I learned: Google pays attention to what you do on the web and not because they’re spying on your shoe purchases for the government. Google wants this info because it uses your activity to predict your future activity, too. The better Google is at this, the more you’ll search. The more you search, the more likely you are to click on an ad and the more money Google can make by selling ads that target you. Plus, when your search results are exactly what you want to see, you’re downright giddy because you won’t have to wade through a pile of irrelevant shit to find out why your cat’s turds are suddenly burnt umber instead of their usual brown.

This is the an extreme oversimplification but you get the idea.

Google’s algorithm and YouTube’s predictions look through your previous searches, what you click on, and may consider how long you stay on a page, the specific search terms and phrases you use, your buying habits, what other people who searched those same terms were looking for, how your neighbors feel about the subject, etc. The algorithm digests all of this information — and plenty more — to decide exactly what it thinks you want to see because, you know, if you wanted a fact, you’d go to a library.

poop parasiteThis means your search for “burnt umber cat turd” turns up information on a fecal parasite that makes you randy. Yes, that’s a true story, you can read it here. Befittingly, it was #2 in my search results. According to Google, “Algorithms are computer programs that look for clues to give you back exactly what you want.” Apparently I want bacterial Viagra.

More often than not, these algorithms hit the mark. But what happens when you want something you wouldn’t normally be looking for? You know, when you’re trying to objectively research an opposing viewpoint? If the algorithm’s results reflect your normal internet tendencies, your easy-access answers, the first 10, 20, or 30 results, might only give you the side of the story you already know. The rest is up to you to eek out. You have 124,768 search results to dig through so grab a cup of coffee.

By the way, this is one of the problems that’s not discussed a lot, although it does influence the increasing bias in our country and elsewhere. When the low-hanging fruit simply confirms what we already believe, why in the world would we keep moving forward to page 2 of our search results … or page 22 … to get the take from the other side? This isn’t 1978. We want our information fast. And digested. Don’t expect us to work for it.

What Did I Do to Make YouTube Think I Was an A-hole?

Back to YouTube, I will admit I usually appreciate the recommendations it makes for me. On any given Saturday night when a sip too much of red wine, which means anything over a half-glass these days (damn age!), makes me think it’s a good idea to force my children to watch a Frankie Goes to Hollywood video, and then YouTube suggests Karma Chameleon, these recommendations are spot on. My children should be tortured by Culture Club (but not Simply Red — I don’t want DCFS knocking on my door).

But not this time. The algorithms on this Friday night are failing for some reason. Sure, I’ve been known to stare at my phone watching a video of ludicrously vile thoughts that froth out of Alex Jones. I hated Milo at least a year before my friends knew who he was, thanks to YouTube. I’ve watched some of the most absurd editing ever courtesy of Paul Joseph Watson, and I’ve even tuned in to see who Tomi Lahren was — and why. But I personally believe I’ve negated each of these instances with my zillions of hours spent with Mother Jones, Samantha Bee and Carpool Karaoke.

Search and prediction algorithms exist to bring you information. Information, by nature, should educate you. But biased results and recommendations don’t help. They just mean your ignorance to opposing views wins and nobody comes out ahead.

Now here’s the best part: when I try to replicate YouTube’s vile suggestions, I can’t. I play the exact same videos, fast-forwarding each to the end because I need to stay awake. I use the same computer, same browser, and even the same browser session because who shuts their computer down?

Nothing. My suggestions are normal. Stephen Colbert, SNL and cat videos.

So why did YouTube think I was a racist for an hour or two? I have my theories:

  1. The YouTube search algorithm had a temporary hiccup, and I was there to witness it. These things MUST happen, right? Any system built by humans is going to have flaws. Just look at democracy.
  2. Since I was viewer 4, 8, 13 on most of these videos, maybe my list was heavily influenced by the viewing habits of the people who had also watched these videos… which means my client. This option scares me.
  3. My suggestions were hacked by lizard men who control the government as a way to distract me so I couldn’t see them luring my children into the back yard where the demons who used to run our country could kidnap them and feed off their positive energy. I don’t buy this one at all — my kids are teenagers so they have no energy, positive or otherwise, and are too lazy to go into the backyard. I’m not even sure they remember where it is.

I’m hoping it’s just a temporarily flawed system. But deep down, I’m guessing it was door #2. I should probably blame viewers 1, 2 and 3. Maybe there’s something wrong with exploited college students in general. Maybe hatred is how the people who made these videos take out their frustrations over working for low wages in full-time positions so they can pay overpriced tuition (Bernie!!! Where are you when we need you?). Or maybe these are simply the kind of people who would work for a company that puts a higher value on keeping payroll low rather than rewarding professionalism and experience.

Or maybe, since these videos ARE notably better than previous ones, the recommendations are the result of an outside vendor who produced the videos. I like that theory best.

Regardless, I’ve learned my lesson. Unfortunately, it’s not to stop watching clips from the sideshow that is Alex Jones, although for a few days I do stay clear of anything alt-right. But eventually I remember that I need to know what’s going through other people’s heads and the only way for me to do this is by experiencing the world as they do. Not something I’d recommend for most people — watching Alex Jones, listening to Michael Savage or stomaching anything associated with Rush Limbaugh is maddening, mind-numbing and boring.

My takeaway is that Google, YouTube and every search algorithm around has inherent flaws. But maybe that’s not always a bad thing. Because if I can get a list that’s inundated by messages from the right, doesn’t that mean someone on the right can get suggestions that are peppered with lefty thoughts like mine, too? Especially if I put an effort into changing the predictions through my own viewing habits.

Looks like I’ve got some watching to do.

 

Equal rights call for equal sarcasm

Rebuttal letter to the editor. Honestly I had no idea how to address this guy’s archaic notions of women’s position in society so I went for sarcasm. You can read the original letter (the one I’m rebutting) by clicking the link in the text below.

I could not agree more with the sentiment behind James C. Green’s recent letter (“Equal Pay bill has a serious downside,The Park Record, Feb. 15, 2017) and want to applaud him for taking the approach that he did to such a sensitive topic — equal rights. But as a writer, I also wanted to coach him on how to make future arguments like this “work.” I’m concerned that people didn’t catch the sarcasm that was obviously influencing his essay. While his writing reminded me of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, I’m sure some people took Mr. Green’s essay at face value rather than tapping into its deeper motivation: to rally the opposition and remind people why equal rights are more important than ever

Tips Mr. Green should consider in the future:

  1. Make sarcasm more blatant. Remember Swift? He recommended Ireland’s poor sell their babies as food for the rich so the children wouldn’t burden their cash-strapped parents. Mr. Green could ramp up his fake arguments against equal rights by suggesting more ludicrous solutions. For example, maybe employers could drop men’s salaries to the wages of women’s. Or, truly innovative businesses might want to foot the bill for gender reassignment so the playing field is naturally leveled.
  2. Ensure arguments are relevant to today’s audience, not someone living 40 years in the past. When you delve into the world of Archie Bunker, you risk being written off as an obsolete dinosaur who doesn’t deserve the energy it takes to type a rebuttal. In fact, that was my initial reaction to Mr. Green’s piece — why waste my time on a narrow-minded relic whose glory days preceded the now obsolete fax machine when I could be performing tasks for which I’m fit, like beating laundry with rocks down by the river? Arguments that start “As more women enter the workforce” and “men will have an even harder time supporting their families” are OLDER than me — and I remember watching All in the Family in primetime. Want to rock the boat? Try something fresh that we haven’t already heard and mocked thousands of times before.
  3. Focus future essays on tenets of equal rights. According to the DOL, 47 percent of the U.S. labor force is female. It’s no doubt that our economy would collapse without the skills and contributions of women. And, while equal pay is a great intro to the topic (especially in the state with the highest gender wage gap), Mr. Green should ensure his future arguments also touch on fair treatment for all people regardless of gender identification, race, religion, age, or level of ignorance.
  4. Even when using sarcasm, base arguments in fact. Today more than ever, audiences need truth. Prove that you’ve done your research and aren’t just pulling thoughts from your rump. Back up assertions with fact from unbiased sources. Yes, those still exist and you can find them in journals, academia and often the mainstream media. Check the Wasatch County Library — the people who work there (a number of whom are women and would probably love to meet you) can help.

One more note, I want to commend the Wasatch County Republican Party for promoting innovative thinking like Mr. Green’s to leadership positions, and to fine institutions like UVU for keeping Mr. Green employed as an instructor (according to his LinkedIn profile that’s where he earns his not-competitive-with-a-woman’s-salary paycheck). Now when I hear catchy phrases like “Grand Old Party” and “Make America Great Again,” I’ll think of Mr. Green.

When the best words are 4-lettered (and your mom doesn’t approve)

My mother called me a few weeks ago to tell me she didn’t like the language used in a link I shared via Facebook yesterday. I believe her comments included “shocked” and “what would HER friends and relatives think?” Mind you, I’m 50 years old and connected to very few of her friends and relatives. I don’t do a lot on Facebook probably because I’m a reasonably private person but every once in a while I think there’s something that needs to be said or shared. Usually it’s pictures of baked goods I made. Occasionally it’s political.

Here’s my take on the whole thing: Facebook is social. But social isn’t all ice cream, unicorns and cat videos, you know? (Altho I love me some cat videos.) Sometimes you’re just pissed off about something and you spew that out socially too. Daily I hear people I know (and sometimes even like) say things I completely disagree with. And you know what? They have every right to say those things in the words that they choose.

Now here’s my right: I can either listen and respond, listen and move on or just ignore it. Whichever I choose to do, well, it’s up to me. Same thing goes to all of you. If you don’t like something someone shared or said or something someone else has said, then you’re free to ignore it. Nifty thing is Facebook allows you to ignore me or unfriend me entirely, too. Ahh the beauty of electronic friendship.

Censorship starts with the listener, not the writer. As a person who spends her days surrounded by words, I agree that any writer or speaker is free to say what he or she wants. I’ve even defended political candidates and nut-job pundits with this same argument. How we react to these thoughts as the audience, however, that’s what matters. And it’s going to be different for each of us because we all have our personal takes on just about any subject. Hopefully we all think about a subject, dig in and do a little research. Maybe we even get past the mechanics of the delivery, although that can be tough sometimes. If the words get in the way, then tune out.

I have yet to unfriend or hide someone because of their politics or social beliefs. It’s good to see what people are thinking and saying sometimes because if we rely on our own Google searches and media of choice for all of our news, we’ll just hear thoughts that preach to the choir – and how does that expand the mind? It’s also great to know that we’re not like everyone else in our thoughts and the ways we select to express ourselves. The world would be really dull if everyone were just like me (even I know I’m incredibly boring).

I try to teach my own children that words are a beautiful thing. Words have the ability to teach and express and evoke emotion in both the writer and the audience. They can affirm beliefs or change opinions. And sometimes even ones that aren’t “the best” words, aren’t pretty, sugarcoated or covered by a scared kitty cat meme deserve to be spoken and shared.

Ignorant son of a …

My son is a slacker. I’m not sure if that’s because he’s a boy or if it’s because he’s 14 or if it’s because of something we did wrong when raising him, but he’s always been this way. So last night, about 30 minute before I’d normally freak out about him not being in bed, he started working on homework that was probably due a week ago (why would a slacker do his homework, you ask – because his mother checked his grades).

He was working on an essay using the NPR theme, This I Believe, and he had half-assed it. His thoughts were scattered and unsupported. So we he got to the part of the assignment where one of his parents was to write a reflection based on what their student said in the essay, I told my son I couldn’t do that cuz he hadn’t said anything at all. So he fixed it.

His “belief” was that religion was the root of all evil and would eventually destroy society. Nothing surprising – both of my kids hate religion, likely a result of growing up in Utah. But what he was really getting at was ignorance. He mentioned in the essay a school mate who’s a flat-earther (WTF?), the ignorance that this kid spews, and how he (my son) doesn’t understand it. What my son missed, however, was the connection to his original thought: religion. And that the same ignorance that allows people to blindly buy stories that have no basis in reality (virgin birth anyone?) might also allow them to think you could fall off the side of the earth or that global warming isn’t real at all.

At 14, I couldn’t have taken that stand. I was brought up Catholic and forced to go to CCD like everyone else, learned the joys of skipping out early from mass (best if it was the Saturday afternoon folk mass). What I didn’t learn was to question what they were telling me. Full disclosure: I’m not sure I ever actually listened to what anyone was saying. But at age 14, I never really thought about the absurdity of a virgin birth, parting waters (Cecil B. DeMille, my favorite religion teacher, made it look so natural), resurrections and the like. I just nodded and kind of moved on to my own self-centered existence. Sometime after I stopped going to church, I came to realize these were all just fantastical stories with zero basis in reality, but it was never a conscious or conflicting effort.

Living in Utah, however, made me look at the ignorance associated with religion even more closely and realize that it’s never just tied to religion – it goes much deeper. Religion itself seems to require a willing suspension of disbelief. Tenets of most religions are laced with extra crazy talk and other-worldly locations and beings. For the thinking person, it seems like this would pose a challenge.

But who’s thinking?

We’ve become a society that demands instant answers – but really we’re not just looking for answers, we’re looking for a side to root for, a team to join. We pick a team that matches our opinions but we don’t spend a lot of time forming these any more. We just grab an opinion that kinda sounds good – especially if we trust the source. No reason to dig further. If it sounds convincing, it obviously is.

The irony to all of this is that it’s easier than ever to find all sides to an issue thanks to the internet. But we don’t look. Instead, we share the bias over social media, where it gets shared again and again and eventually no one knows where the thought came from. But most of us don’t bother to look it up, either.*

When was the last time you looked further into the facts that some friend dished out on Facebook? I’m as guilty as the next person of mistaking a shared claim for truth. Worst part: even when you do decide to search for the answer, you have to dig deeply, because odds are good your search results are skewed to reflect previous searches, which usually reflect your opinion. Yes, even Saint Google is preaching to the choir.

In truth, no message is ever truly objective (one of the things I remember from journalism classes in college). But years ago, audiences WOULD seek out all sides to an issue. Media outlets didn’t make me feel obligated to put quotation marks around the word “news” because they were truly attempting to report facts. Absolutely not the case any more.

I’d expect this from my son’s generation – the first to grow up with answers to everything imaginable fed to them in easily digestible bites. I’m appalled that my generation and the ones ahead of me are failing to look at the other side, too. We may be even worse offenders – older generations (45+) are the ones most likely to listen to the human equivalent of a bloated tic shovel volumes of bullshit into the airwaves. It’s so much easier to believe what you want to hear than to think for yourself, right? (FYI, millennials don’t get to skate by here blame-free: Fox News in 2015 was the top rated cable news outlet with viewers 25-54 [YIKES!] and the second highest rated cable channel with that demo overall. And here I thought everyone was watching Game of Thrones.)

My son’s essay eventually turned out okay and I was proud of him for being able to identify ignorance, even if he failed to apply it everywhere it fit.That will come in time – thinkers are by nature skeptics and he’s nothing if not skeptical of pretty much everything. As for his generation, eh, maybe there’s some hope there, too. If a self-centered, 14-year-old boy who readily tosses around penis jokes can pay enough attention to the world around him that he can spot ignorance and write about it, that’s gotta say something. Maybe when they’re my age, they’ll even be pissed off enough to do something more than blog about it, too.

*yes, I realize some people still like to look at all side of an issue and approach everything skeptically. Fortunately, since they’re mostly unemployed former journalists, they have all the time in the world to do this now.

 

 

You can have it all – but what are you going to do with it?

I realize now that I don’t want it all. Because if I had it all, I wouldn’t have time to do anything with it anyway.

And I’m serious about this. It’s just impossible as a woman or as any thinking, breathing, feeling human to have everything and do the right thing with all of it.

By everything, I mean all of the same old shit that every high-profile, highly successful 30- or 40-something-year-old woman and mother feels the need to write about and publish (and where do they find time to do that?). High-profile job, perfectly amazing and well-balanced kids, loving and supportive spouse, house, health, friends, social life. Unless you’re a crackhead, it just doesn’t work. I’ve tried. And I realize that to have what you want, you have to settle. Give a little, take a lot.

Now, in all fairness, I’m neither high-profile nor highly successful, but I do all right. I’ve never been the head of a company and, unless I create my own company (which, with two school-aged children at home and gobs of 8th-grade math homework to re-teach each night, I can’t find time to do), it’s probably not happening. Any time I could dream of giving to a C-Suite position is spent, well, dreaming, because a spare moment might mean a chance to catch up on sleep. Sort of.

Really, I wouldn’t care about what these delusional women who can’t seem to understand that there are two sides to any relationship (think about how 12 hour days affect kids, partners, even co-workers) says, but then some well-meaning dreamer shares another one of those annoying “I have it all and here’s how you can, too” blog posts with me and all of my suppressed annoyance wells up into a festering pile “NO YOU CAN’T” as soon as I read it.

The most recent one I read – written by a woman I kinda thought I respected until I learned that she’s in a field dependent upon analytics* but obviously can’t add – got me thinking tho. Maybe it’s not that these women can’t have everything they say they have, can’t do everything they say they do. Maybe it’s just that they have zero grasp on how much time they’re actually spending on any of these activities, how little attention they’re paying to everyone but themselves. And I’m, as usual, being a fool by telling the truth about what I do.

Here’s why I think I may be onto something – because I looked at what this woman said she had in terms of “it all” and I quite literally did the math. It doesn’t add up.

1. Company executive. The woman/author proclaimed that she’s working 60 hours per week. Let’s assume that takes place during only 5 days, so she’s working 12-hour days. To simplify calculations, I’m going to pretend she doesn’t take lunch and sits on her ass for 12 hours straight and has the worst case of secretary spread ever.

24 hours – 12 hours = 12 hours remaining

2. Commute. Not everyone has to commute to work but I know for a fact that this person does – her drive is 40+ minutes each way. For the sake of argument, I’ll say she only goes into the office an average of two days per week. That’s 2 hours 40 min per week or an average of 32 minutes a day. Maybe she drives fast – to keep calculations simple, I’ll just say she averages 30 minutes daily.

12 hours – 30 min = 11.5 hours remaining

3. Looking human. I’m not budging on this one. She works in an office, at least some of the time? Minimum 1 hour to get ready. I’m being generous. I don’t care if you wear sweats to work, you still have to shower, put on some semblance of makeup, brush your teeth, get rid of the rats’ nest in the back of your hair, drink coffee. Odds are good it takes longer on days she’s in the office than on days she’s not, which is why I’m sticking by an average of 1 hour day. Remember, sometimes even sweats look bad and you have to change.

11.5 hours – 1 hour = 10.5 hours remaining

4. Kids. Before you have sex, someone should warn you that, a.) if you conceive, eventually you’ll have to buy your child man shoes (unless he’s a girl and then she’ll be even more expensive), and b.) that kids suck up an enormous amount of time. Simply dragging their butts out of bed and then eventually convincing them to go back to bed later that same day can seem like a full time job – a really crappy one. But they also expect you to interact with them, be tortured at their extracurricular activities, help them with homework, be there for them (sort of – eventually they’re happiest when you’re not there). For the sake of argument, though, I’m going to assume that, just like her life, her children are perfect, so she doesn’t waste 30 minutes breaking up arguments, saves another 15 minutes or so because she doesn’t have to freak out about bad grades, only has to tell them once to brush their teeth, take a shower, and all that. She probably doesn’t have to race to the store with any of them to get the did-I mention-I have-a-project-due poster board and play-doh either (or maybe she has the most amazingly well-stocked craft cabinet ever). So, I’ll go easy on her – 20 min per day per kid (I’m laughing as I type this) – quality time in which she can ensure they’re dressed for school, have their backpacks packed, and help them on just one homework problem, maybe tuck them into bed, too. She’s off the hook for special school activities, sports and social lives. Since she claims to have three kids, that’s another hour checked off.

10.5 hours – 1 hour = 9.5 hours remaining

5. Spouse. Jesus, these things are worse than kids. Spouses are extremely time consuming. I have no idea how polygamists juggle more than one. But with a perfect life, you also get a perfect spouse (one that makes a huge paycheck and cleans up after himself. LOL – like those exist!). How about 15 min per day – enough time to kick his ass out of bed in the morning so you can get the whole thing to yourself and then tell him to have a good day. Granted the inevitable time she’ll spend with the divorce attorney will probably be pretty steep but that comes later, after the spouse realizes that she’s completely off her rocker with this “have it all” shit.

9.5 hours – 15 min = 9.25 hours remaining

6. Food. I’m adding this one because in this woman’s tell-all, she makes a point of saying that she loves to cook and it’s something she doesn’t forfeit in order to have it all. That’s good. I respect that. I do the same. Ninety+ percent of our food is completely from scratch. And it takes a fucking ton of time. You have to buy, plan, cook, serve, cleanup. Maybe the perfect spouse does all but the cooking and planning. Even so, you’ve still probably spent an hour making food on a daily basis, unless you’re a Rachel Ray devotee and consider canned foods mixed with something frozen a gourmet dining experience.

9.25 hours – 1 hour = 8.25 hours remaining

7. Exercise. Another thing she mentioned – she always gets her exercise in because she’s just a better person because of her 45 min. run. I agree – at least that I’m a better person if I exercise. So I cram it into my day, which means everything else gets moved around. More time pissed away! Yippee.

8.25 hours – 45 min = 7.5 hours remaining

8. All that other shit we do. In a perfect world, someone else pays the bills, cleans the house, pets the cat and feeds the dog, reads the mail, questions the neighbor, folds your laundry, talks to relatives, shops for everything, worries about the kids and gasses up the car. But even if you had the ability to pawn off all of these services, you still have to oversee how they’re being done (and ensure everyone you’re paying to do them actually gets paid). As someone who uses freelancers in my day job, I can tell you that you never reclaim 100% of your time by hiring out – and that goes for hiring out domestic tasks, too, even if you’re just getting a spouse or child to take them on. Plus, ask anyone with a maid who comes by on a weekly basis – on the night before, everyone in the house is straightening up stuff because the maid is coming. For most of the world, these tasks take time and a lot of it. It’s a guaranteed minimum of 1 hour per day.

7.5 hours – 1 hour = 6.5 hours remaining

9. Time to think. Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen. That’s why we commute and exercise – so 0 hours. Cuz thinking only happens if you’re multitasking.

6.5 hours – 0 hours = 6.5 hours remaining

10. Sleep. Oh yeah, there’s sleep to consider. Unless you’re cracked out, as I previously mentioned you might be, you probably need to rest. She has a little over 6 hours to do so. I can attest that’s not enough time but way more than I get on most weekdays so she’s probably good. Hopefully she doesn’t want to read anything tho or answer an email from a teacher. Then she’s the walking dead (wait, what if she wants to watch The Walking Dead? Shit, no time).

6.5 hours – 6.5 hours = 0 hours remaining

So maybe I’m wrong, maybe having it all is doable if you look at just the numbers. But there’s one more thing to factor in here: how having it all affects everyone around you. If you’re only spending 20 min per day with each child or 15 minutes with your spouse, what good are those relationships to anyone? If you’re really spending 12 hours per day working, are you a grumpy turd most  of the time as you see the best years of your life (which are any years you get to experience, right?) being pissed away working in some climate controlled environment? Do you have time to pursue things that you want to pursue or even think about the next chapter of your life, whatever that might be?

No.

Which means somewhere you have to compromise. You either give up the dream of having a good relationship with your family, of getting to know your spouse (wait, what’s his name again?) and your kids, of being an amazing home chef with a discernible waistline, or you give up the idea of having a big, powerful job and take one that allows you to focus your attention elsewhere sometimes – even if the career you land in is just good enough. Or you spend more time at the dentist’s office because your teeth are all falling out because you no longer need to sleep, thanks to all the meth. Your dealer thanks you too.

More simply put, if you really want to have it all, you have to fuck at least part of it up. In which case is it really worth the pain in the ass of trying to have everything?

(BTW, if you’re insanely wealthy or really bad at math and don’t realize that you only worked 8 hours instead of the 12 it feels like you worked, it’s likely none of this will pertain to you. Sorry to waste your time.)

*What is the root of the word “analytics”? Yup, “anal.”

 

 

Why think?

“… This whole thing is just a symptom of a larger problem: There’s a growing anti-intellectual strain in this country, and it may be the beginning of the end of our informed democracy,” Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the Nightly Show, January 26, 2016.

We’re talking – my husband and I – about carbohydrates the other day as I make a piece of toast. It’s one of my favorite topics lately, ever since my spouse was guilted (by me) into signing up for a Fattest Loser competition at our local rec center. It’s a combination class and competition. The competition part was what really made me want him to join, not because he’s competitive but because he’d somehow let the other attendees down if he didn’t lose (they’re on teams). It’s his reports of what happens in the class that get me.

Carbohydrates keep working their way into our conversations because until he started this class, I had no idea how hated carbs were. Day 1 he learned that he should fast for three days to shock his body into losing weight. Crazy since I thought all you had to do was eat fewer calories than you burned off if you wanted to lose weight but I guess that’s why I’m not the teacher. Day 2, the message was “you have to give up carbs. Forever.”

I love carbs. I eat old person baby food (a.k.a. oatmeal) 3+ times per week because it tastes amazing when it’s loaded with butter and brown sugar and walnuts and because it doesn’t require thought or effort for chewing. I think pasta – not that nasty cardboard-y whole wheat stuff – is amazing and versatile and one of the best fast dinners you can put together. I make all our own bread with wild harvested yeast from a starter that’ll turn 10 this year. My kids find pastries and desserts they want to try and put the recipes in front of me because they know I’m a sucker and I’ll make anything that seems like a challenge.

I know I’m not alone. Besides it’s impossible to give up carbohydrates unless you eat nothing but straight fat and straight protein. While I’d adore an all-butter diet, it’s not really something you can live on. Eventually you’re going to eat a carb. And then what?

So the thought that someone would be dumb enough to tell a classroom full of diet-challenged students – people she’s trying to motivate into making long-term lifestyle changes – that they could never eat carbs again really gets to me. Because it’s not that simple, it’s not the truth, it’s doing nothing to educate them. And one day someone is going to do just a tiny bit of research and find out exactly how wrong she is.

Which brings me to the conversation with my spouse, which we have as I’m waiting for my toast to pop. “Did she tell people all carbs or just simple carbs?” I ask.

“All,” he says.

“Did she explain that carbohydrates like pasta and oatmeal in moderation and with other foods would be okay? That you don’t really give them up but you may want to limit them somewhat or focus on adding more fiber into the diet?”

“No,” he says.

“Did she go into any detail about how the body breaks down food, why she’s hell bent on people shunning all carbs at breakfast, even though you and I both know that’s ludicrous?”

“No,” he says. I ask why not. His response: “People wouldn’t understand. They don’t want to know.”

It’s shit like this that gets me because I’m positive that if people did know and didn’t just take messages they hear for granted and dug into a subject a little more deeply, they’d get it. They’d understand that it’s okay to have a bowl of grape nuts but mix them with fruit and they’d work to avoid too many processed foods and sugars. They’d understand that it’s because your body burns off the carbohydrates you take in as food first before it gets around to burning off the fat sitting on your thighs. And they’d understand more about why she’s saying “no carbs” and how wrong that oversimplification really is.

“People don’t want to know all of that. They just want to hear something easy,” he says. I’m appalled. I know he gets it – he’s a scientist and understands how the body metabolizes food, even if he doesn’t bother to feed his body the right stuff, which is how he landed in this Fattest Loser experiment anyway. But everyone wants to learn, right?

I’m even more appalled when he says that marketers are the problem. I’m a marketer. And I’m appalled because in some sense he’s right.

The first thing you learn as a marketing writer is to focus on the benefits, not the features. Because consumers don’t want to know what, they want to know why – or so we’re told. So if you have a notebook with a yellow cover that makes people smile, it’s not the yellow that you focus on – you focus on the fact that the notebook makes you happy. I’d never really thought about why we do that in marketing before but listening to what my spouse says, I realize that as sellers, we don’t think people want to be bogged down with details because that would require people to think, to weigh options and to come to the conclusion of what’s right for them on their own. We really need to cut to the chase and tell consumers what’s right for them BECAUSE WE KNOW SO MUCH BETTER THAN THEY DO. A cheery notebook. That’s what they need. Yellow? Who cares.

I bring up the Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote when I realize I’m part of the problem. “So really,” I say,”I’m the reason people believe Rush Limbaugh and Fox News rather than looking at the facts for themselves. I’ve been contributing to the problem I complain about repeatedly for 25+ years. Because I’ve been force-feeding them the details about how things will make them feel rather than letting them figure this out on their own.”

“Nah,” he says. “Most people just don’t want to think about the details regardless of what you say.”

“Does that mean they wouldn’t even think about issues if no one told them how to think? Be happy for no reason except that they weren’t burdened with knowing the truth about anything beyond their line of site?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It’d be like Provo.”

That makes me very sad. Because Provo, Utah, while beautiful, is one of the most fucked up places ever. Where people live in their own world that doesn’t extend beyond church and family and church again. If you smile, you’re happy. Blissfully ignorant.

My toasts pops just then and my son walks into the room, obviously called by the toaster.

“That for me?” he asks.

“No,” I tell him. “Besides, carbohydrates will make your penis fall off.” It’s a test. I want to see if he’s a thinker.

“No, that’s gluten. And it doesn’t make your penis fall off. It’ll shoot off from your body like a rocket.”

I had no idea.

“I learned that from Southpark,” he says.

K, I can buy that. It’s about as reasonable as Fox News or giving up carbohydrates for life. Thankfully, though, I don’t have a penis.

3 things people hate (a.k.a., what I learned this week)

Gotta love it when you learn something new.  This week, I learned three new things that people hate. Here they are.

  1. Carbohydrates. Really, when I started looking into this, a slice of toast in hand, I felt painfully out of touch. But it turns out that carbohydrates are the root of all evil. Headaches? Overweight? Can’t sleep? Falling behind on your car payment? Apparently carbohydrates are to blame. My favorite lesson learned is that if you eat carbohydrates in the a.m., your body eats those instead of burning off fat, so you should eat protein instead. But then doesn’t your body start feeding off the protein instead of the fat it could be burning?
  2. Hillary. I listened to a pretty incredible NPR story and found out just how much people hate Hillary. Turns out she’s planning to do all sorts of awful things – take away their guns, force them to have healthcare, continue building on what Obama has done. It’s just plain scary. And – YIKES – she regularly sports a vagina. I understand she has it with her at all times, even at those rallies. A valid opinion AND a vagina? She must be some sort of super villain. No wonder they’re scared. Why isn’t she home cooking pot roast?
  3. Anything at the Sundance Film Festival. Having lived in and around Park City, Utah, for more than 20 years, I know that hating film fest is an annual tradition (rightfully so if you’ve ever been to A-hole Foods in town). Those bastards show up, pump money into the economy, use buses and bring 10 days worth of artsy culture with them. While I’ve seen the hatred wane considerably in the past two decades, people finally got their acts together again sufficiently to start hating again this year. I even heard at least half a dozen residents dredge up the old PIB (people in black) acronym again. Ah, yes, good times. Sadly I once again decided to attend some of the films – which makes me a traitor. I should know that my true place is sitting behind a limo at a traffic light, cursing.