samedi, mai 14, 2011

Online on the dark side

As you can see from previous posts this past week, I'm doing my usual wrestling with the way the Internet can help us communicate -- and amplify our flaws. Sometimes, having instant and easy access can definitely bring out the worst in us.

I've had people say things to me online that they would never have the "cojones" to say in real life. I've heard people confess to writing emails to others that they come to regret. I've had instant message conversations that went to places I certainly didn't intend going.

Haven't you been wounded by someone's harsh language or temper tantrum while chatting? It doesn't feel less real because it's happening monitor-to-monitor. It's so easy to misread someone's intent...or to read it too well.

Recently, I've been trying to figure out how to cope with another situation that threatens to turn ugly. Only this one involves my son.

Someone at his school created a fake page under the name of another student. While I haven't seen the actual profile, I am aware that there's some odd and maybe a little risque (for middle school) stuff being posted on the page.

And the kids at school are blaming it on my seventh-grader. Any questions I might have had about whether he had anything to do with it or not were torched last week when my son posted a message on Facebook, and the "Jimmy" page called it "gay."

Given that we taught our kids not to use the word gay in a way that is derogatory, and that the first message was a sweet Mother's Day 'thank-you', I'm positive that the creator wasn't him. In an online confrontation my daughter had with the voice behind the page, it emerged that it had some connection to a boy from my son's elementary school -- already known as a seasoned hacker in fifth grade. But he's not the creator.

But my boy is being blamed. A boy who thinks the best of everyone is being, candidly, bullied. Taunted online for posting the page, he's also aroused the enmity of the boy who was the original butt. At the same time, more and more kids are "friending" the fake page of a real boy who isn't allowed on Facebook.

I have no idea what to do about it. It's not really a school issue, though I may call the school. It's more of a drip, drip, drip issue -- and I worry that, if I turn my attention to something else, it may get worse.

Adults should know better -- and often we learn from our errors. Often.

But what do we do if the kids, so much better at the technology, have no idea of the power they wield -- to build up and encourage, or tear down and harm? It would be nice if they learned a useful lesson in kindness now -- before they go out and mess around on a larger playground.

Beyond the stereotypes: An introduction to Paganism

Recently, thanks in part to a new friend, and in part to my own journalistic fascination with "other" faiths, I've begun to look at the landscape of pre-Christian faith in America.

As a historian's daughter, I look for patterns and trends -- heterodoxy doesn't scare me -- and it's all over the place in American religious life!

Take a look at the evolving landscape...and remember that, as pagan journalist Jason Pitzl-Waters reminded me, growing the fastest is the category of those who say they have "no faith." I haven't been able to figure out how to map that category, but I'm working on it!

vendredi, mai 13, 2011


No more attempts at "relationships" for me. I am so done.

It's the tears I hate. I can be almost anywhere, and my eyes will fill up. It's fine when I am alone, and the water can flow uninterrupted -- or when I am on a walk, and can hide behind huge sunglasses.

But it happened at the mall tonight, as I was waiting for my daughter and her friend. Horrible timing.

Pretending to read (at least the book was right side up) I sat there struggling to regain my composure, exposed on every side, but ignored (happily).

But I wouldn't give in. I couldn't give in. Surrounded by teenagers and families enjoying (if one can use that term) the best fast food Exton can offer, I swept my hair back from my face fiercely, channeling every tough heroine I knew.

Still, it's a challenge when you are in the middle of a conversation about something, and suddenly it's a struggle to articulate the words because your throat has tightened and you start to feel not only pitiable, but pitiful. It stinks.

And then, of course, there are the feelings I closeted while in the thick of things, but am only now allowing myself to experience -- those will remain private.

I used to be very happy to be by myself -- too happy, I believed. Now I'm not happy alone, but don't think I can risk hope once more.

Of course, there are those other factors -- there is another facet, facts behind the feelings. There are so many reasons not to accept my current version of reality, my perspective, and even my gloom about my future hopes.

But right now, as in so many quarters, emotions rule.

They will, apparently, have their day - or their dark night.

In the daylight, things may look different. But I'm not much good at waiting. Or escaping. Or denying.

I am, however, an expert at looking like I'm about to burst into tears.

Too bad you can't make a career out of it.

A special readers note (or a reader's special note)

I hardly know what to say. It's rare that this inconsequential little blog gets such devoted, if perhaps fleeting, attention.

And really, why should the meditations of an exurban mother of two be worthy of anybody's scrutiny?

Little League mom. Boy Scout mom. A person who spends much of her day chauffeuring kids to after- school activities and the movies? Could anything be more boring to someone I have never met?

I seem to show a shocking lack of principle -- someone who roots both for the Phillies and the Yankees must be totally namby-pamby. I don't know one end of a football from the other. I live out here among Republicans and hunters -- and some of them are even my friends.

Then there is the matter of my belief in God -- I must be, as it were, thoroughly irredeemable. So unsophisticated.

If I didn't have a good friend with a condo in Utah, I'd never get out of Pennsylvania.

Even my vices, ordering PG Tips and Ribena in cases from the U.K., are rather pedestrian.

And let's not even talk about my lack of culture -- out here in the rural fastnesses of Chester County, my idea of a good time is a long walk through the cornfields.

Tedious, really. Rather a cow. Not to milk the metaphor, but I'm udderly beneath your notice.

I'll do my best to find little snippets that may be amusing for you -- but I make no promises.

So long for now -- I've got some gardening to do -- and the laundry to take in.

jeudi, mai 12, 2011

Back from the edge

"I don't care if you ever dated me, or were my friend, you don't know me and you have no right to judge me. I know who my friends are, so don't even pretend" writes my daughter on her Facebook wall.

A few updates back, she muses on how her life, since her 16th birthday, has gotten progressively worse.

I sigh. Or I grin. Or, when there is some revelation I consider particularly inappropriate, likely to cause problems for her, I call her dad and ask him whether we need to impose some consequence.

But in the case of adults like me, we are the only ones who can impose the consequence.

Technological toys like Facebook and Twitter can be such wonderful instruments for spreading news, creating more open societies, and promoting one's work.

No wonder dictators move to choke off revolutions by shutting down Facebook and Twitter.

Most of the time, I am a placid user.

As someone who has profited by sharing snippets of her life story as a commentator, I am happy to have the additional forum.

But I've found that I am not always a wiser consumer -- at least not recently. There have been occasions on which I have veered too far over that invisible line I chart for my daughter. And that's a big red flag.

Most of my friends and followers are smart about the way they access social technology.

If you met them in real life, you'd recognize them from their online persona's. Most of them are wary about how much personal information they divulge -- they do it if it will edify, not humiliate or embarrass.

I want to be one of those people. I choose to be one of those people.

A few changes are in order.

I am taking a break from personal tweeting, unless it concerns news or posts from articles (or my blog), until I am better at maintaining the boundaries I have set.

I apply the "will you regret having said this in three months test" when I put personal information on Facebook.

I will try to spread light, and not darkness.

And mostly, I'm going to try to be the person online that I am offline.

We'll see how well I do.

How about you, readers? Do you sometimes fall into the red zone when it comes to self-disclosure? What are your zones of privacy? Comment, please.

mercredi, mai 11, 2011

Inflate me: did I really earn that A?

I just checked my spring grades. Relief -- and unbelief.

I've had occasion to think about grades and how they are handed out recently -- something I didn't care about a lot the first time around.

In seminary, my grades reflected my interest in a topic -- barely respectable (well, actually horrible) in the introductory courses, gold stars in the doctoral-level English courses at Princeton University. Yes, I find reading the poet Andrew Marvell more interesting than John Calvin.

But this time around, on my third master's degree (and my second in the secular arena), I've noticed something. I could probably hand in a paper in Swahili and still keep that shiny GPA.

This past semester, I KNOW that the professor curved a test score.

I don't think it's my extraordinary academic ability. Instead, it seems to reflect some kind of bias on the part of graduate schools.

My second degree, at Rosemont, I came really close to a perfect grade point average. And I still recall the teacher who gave me a B+ (or maybe it was a B). He said something like: "you really didn't get all the nuances of this topic (ugggh, project management) but you compensated with enthusiasm."

I can tell you right now, he (and my classmates) were the only things I liked about the topic.

His grade may have been the most authentic thing about the degree.

Which doesn't mean that I wasn't disappointed when I didn't get an award at graduation. Particularly with my spotty academic history in college and at Princeton Theological Seminary, I don't mind imitating a fantastic student.

I've only taken four courses towards my counseling degree -- very possibly, the more advanced classes will be harder. Also, the professors, who were forgiving about style, will feel freer to hit me on my shaky command of APA style.

But I still wonder -- why do the grades I felt I really earned in college seem to come so easily now? I really doubt it has anything to do with me, or my classmates.

I have the sense that I'll find out -- and whether I like the answer, or not, I'm still going to be questioning.

dimanche, mai 08, 2011

Do 'nice girls' finish last?

Year ago I interviewed a famous Bible scholar (really kind to me, by the way). Asked about another, more liberal and popular (at the time) scholar, he labeled the man "terminally nice."

Snarky, but clever enough for me to remember with a twisted grin every time that man's name comes up.

I'm afraid I fall into the "nice girl" category. And trust me, I 'm not saying it as a compliment to myself.

I listen to other people's woes -- and not solely when someone is paying me to do it.

I apologize to them, sometimes unnecessarily. If I hurt a friend, it can keep me up at night.

I feel their pain, often before they feel it.

But it's more what I don't do that probably separates me from another type, the femme fatale.

I don't seduce. Heck, I'm not even that good at innuendo.

Rock a strapless dress? You gotta be kidding.

Drama is something I try to avoid at all costs.

Minor temper tantrums aside, I generally prefer an even keel.

Not that I am saintly, by any means -- I can do catty. I can attempt sexy, before I lose my nerve. I know lots of feminine wiles, ways to get under a man's guard. I'm just not very good at using them, so I tend to fall back on that old standby -- nice.

And we "nice girls"? We can spot other ones a mile away. I know I can trust my "nice" girlfriends.

But I have to admit, I like to make friends with women who have a bit of a "mean streak" -- it makes for better girl's nights out.

But nice isn't exciting, is it? Nice doesn't provide those wonderful ups and downs many of us (male and female) learned to associate with romance in high school? Nice is what you want when you are living in the nursing home, not in business, or friendship, or love.

And underneath all of this self-mockery, I suppose that I accept that I don't really have a choice -- I'm just going to hope that someday a guy will come along who will appreciate steadfastness, and not be bored with it.

In the meantime, I "get" you, Taylor! Here's to all the people standing on stage as Kanye, or some other dude, grabs the mike out of their hands -- speechless, incredulous, and right out of the spotlight.