Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Facebook (So-Called) Friends

I have been on FB since before it exploded among “regular” people. And I must say it’s interesting to see its evolution.

I first registered on the site I when one of my editors realized we needed to reach some students for a story we were working on. For those on FB, you could only contact them through FB if you were a member. Problem was, I was not a student. I had to contact my alumni office for a valid school email address.

I didn’t spend a lot of time stalking students for quotes. But I had a space. I was sort of parked there.

Soon, I was friended by someone I used to work with. They hardly needed an introduction. This person is a friend. One I know well. Then there was another and another and another. The friend requests came like a barrage and I began friending people like mad myself.

Most of my early FB friends were people I used to work with, all highly adept at digital technology and, hence, early adopters of the online social network. And for a good year or so most of my friends were in the digital business, people who are online a lot, use the internet for work or are just young.

I’ve even friended some people I have never met but had a connection with, either through mutual friends or business.

I will say that for every one of those people — those I’ve never met or who do not know me — I have always — repeat, always — sent them a message of introduction or explanation of why I was friending them. That just makes sense to me.

So what I find odd — and I’ll admit, a little annoying — is that I’ve been getting friend requests from more and more people I sort of know, or used to know, or met once, or knew in grade school or college and never ever speak to or have not spoken to for years and barely recognize their name.

And they put no note. Nothing. Not even a: “Hi, did used to go to XYZ school? I recognized your name…” or “Hi, I found you on FB and would love to keep in touch – my name is now XYZ but you remember me as ABC. How are you???”


I find this odd. It annoys me, as I already said. I mean, one childhood friend added me recently, which I guess was her way of saying “Hello.” Maybe I need to just lighten up here but she didn’t put so much as a, “Hi, what are you doing and where do you live?” even after I accepted her friend request and wrote a quick hello on her Wall saying she needs to fill me in on her life. I’ve still never heard from her. That must have been two or three weeks ago.


So what do I do with these people? I am not sure I really even care to have them back in my life. I’ve done just fine without them. Not that there is anything wrong with them. Maybe I’m just in a different place.

Maybe I need a reason to re-connect. Maybe we need a kind of FB date. A little back and forth to stimulate my interest beyond the kind of connection you make at a school reunion. When you are happy to see the person, get caught up and then go on about your life and do not see them again until the next reunion. Or ever.

I guess I have only so much energy for my friends, FB included.

I certainly have no time for someone who doesn’t even make a tiny effort to communicate once we are “friends.” Again, I'm referring to people I barely know now. And have no professional connection with. They are simply someone from my past. I expect a little something from someone I once knew relatively well.

I’m not planning to delete these people but I do feel slightly exposed. So what I do is engage my privacy preferences. At least until they show me a little of themselves. I mean, so what if we hung out in grade school. I really have no idea who you are today. You know?

So my attitude is this: If you want to eavesdrop on my life, please, just drop me a line.

Some have. I do not need to talk to them all the time. For them I say: Feel free to hang out. Say or post something interesting, I might pipe in. I appreciate being in on the conversation.

That’s what is nice about FB. Connecting.

Why don’t some people get that?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Duck Duck

I seem to write a lot about animals. I guess when you have a lot of them in your life, you have a lot of stories.

One story ended yesterday.

My mother was choking back tears when she called to tell my dad and me that the duck was dying. She was home with him all afternoon, cradling him in her lap. I think she just wanted to tell us. To reach out a little.

The duck, who we always called Ducky or Duck Duck, came into my mother’s home about 10 years ago when no one wanted him. Certainly not the woman who handed him over to her one day when my mother was doing surveys for the Department of Agriculture. This woman had gotten some baby ducks for her children and as they grew, it was soon apparent this white duck, with pigeon-toed feet that kept stepping over each other when he tried to walk, was just not fitting in.

“You want him? He’s yours,” she told my mother.

My mother, who's done wildlife rehab over the years, has a kind of open-door policy when it comes to unwanted animals. She didn't hesitate to take him home with her.

He was really quite beautiful. Just handicapped. His home was a large wire cage in a heated breezeway. It was lined it with newspaper and shredded paper. He always had water and duck food from the local pet store.

In the warmer months, we’d fill a tub with water from the hose and he’d swim around like the most normal looking duck you’d ever seen, quacking and paddling away.

Then we’d take him out and set him on a grassy area under a tree where he was within view from a kitchen window. He’d groom himself as he bathed in the sun and when he got hot, he’d waddle as best he could to the shade. He could get around but not well. It was hardly a normal life for a duck. But my mother gave him life anyway.

In the colder months, she’d bring him inside the house and place him in the laundry room tub, which she'd fill with warm water. It was a funny sight to peek into the laundry room, past the washer and dryer, to see this white duck’s head sticking up and paddling around as he quacked.

Often at night, my mother brought him inside to just hang out. She’d cover a few feet square with newspapers and set him down in the expansive kitchen area next to a sofa where she likes to sit. We didn’t pay too much attention to him, we just let him be. I suppose he enjoyed being inside. Life must have been pretty boring for him stuck in a cage and not able to wander around all day.

For that reason, my mother often wondered if she should have found him a home with other ducks. But who knows? Other ducks might have attacked him or simply rejected him, as animals sometimes do to the weak among them.

No, I think he had a pretty good life.

Last night my mother, who always feels guilty when an animal of hers dies, wondered again if she did the right thing, this time about not getting him to vet to be euthanized. She told me she'd been thinking of taking him there after realizing how bad he was — that he’d been acting funny for a day or so but it was clear something was very wrong yesterday. And then he died. He was in her arms.

I told her maybe it was for the best that way. That a trip to the vet might have been even more stressful, even traumatizing.

"It never gets easier,” she said. Her face filled with pain and she looked like she wanted to cry again. “People like me shouldn’t have animals. It’s too hard.”

“No mom,” I said, “For the animals’ sake, people like you should have pets."

I don’t know that Ducky had the best life. But I know he had a good life. And he was loved.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Mom: The Neo-Luddite

My mother is a Luddite. A neo-Luddite to be exact.

If they had a club, she’d be a proud card carrying member.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Luddites were a group who opposed technological and scientific innovations during the Industrial Revolution. These early 19th century English workmen went so far as to destroy laborsaving machinery as a protest.

Now it’s not that my mother is really opposed to progress. She’s not. She likes her electric garage door opener and knows how to set the home security system. And while her car has no CD player or cruise control or electric seats, that's more because she’s frugal. She enjoys things like cable channels and even owns a cell phone and uses the microwave oven.

No, I think my mom’s real issue is fear of technology, which translates into her being rather angry about technology.

After all, she is a bright woman — one who holds a master's degree in social work and nearly finished a second master's degree in fine art. She's just not tech smart.

Let me share some examples:

She has learned to use the universal remote on the TV, which is kind of unbelievable as sometimes I can’t even figure it out. But she’s really just learned the process of “always push this then that” without understanding what she’s doing. Hence, if something is awry, she’s clueless. That’s when she calls to my dad:

“I’m just pushing buttons. Just pushing buttons,” she’ll say loudly, the remote in her one hand as the other dramatically taps away at one button after the other until my father comes running in, aghast and frustrated: “What are you doing? Give me that.”

Of course, she’s a smart woman. He does it for her, which is what she wanted in the first place.

But then begins the explanation of the remote. It’s an act of futility. I can literally see her eyes glazing over as my father or I try to get her to understand the way it works.

“See, you have to turn the cable on first. You hit the cable button, then power, then you hit the TV then power, then go back to cable to be in that mode…”

“But I don’t want to watch cable,” she’ll say. In a twisted way, she makes sense. She wants to watch the network news.

“But mom, it’s all cable, the networks come through the cable.”

I can totally tell she’s not getting it. She doesn’t care. She just wants to watch the damn news. Sometimes it’s just easier for us to do it for her.

Oh, there are many examples like this. She pretty much treats the microwave the same way, pushing buttons, rather clueless to how it works but somehow getting things heated. It drives my dad crazy.

Then there is the issue of the computer and email. She gives people my dad’s email address so they can contact her. She has no idea of how to work the computer or access email. So he has to set it up for her and tell her to sit down, showing her each time how to go from one email to another.

And then of course, rather than compose a Letter to the Editor or other correspondence on the computer, she writes things up long hand. I’ll usually end up retyping it for her.

Then there is the mystery of digital photography, which she cannot seem to grasp. She is an artist accustomed to submitting her work for juried exhibitions on slides. Now that more and more shows are requesting CDs with jpeg files, she’s practically considering giving up showing.

“Can you make a jpeg?” she’ll ask me.

“Yes, I have a digital camera. I can take them and send them via email or put them on a disc.”

“Okay, let me know and I’ll pay for the film,” she says. I don’t even know how to begin the explanation that there is no film, but I tell her that anyway.

Now most of the time these instances are not a terrible problem — just sometimes a little frustrating.

But it can be problematic. I mean, I’d laugh if the ramifications were not so serious sometimes. For instance, she was put on a drug called Coumadin, a blood thinner. It can be a dangerous drug. People take it to avoid forming life-threatening clots. If you take too much, you could bleed to death from a fall or have numerous complications from internal bleeding.

Basically, people get a loading dose followed by a smaller daily dose that gets altered weekly depending on how much of the drug is in your system, which is monitored via weekly blood draws. You need to be in a therapeutic range. Not too high, not too low. Too low means you are not protected and there is no sense even being on the drug.

When my mom's cardiologist suggested she go on this drug recently, my dad decided against it, agreeing with a couple of her other doctors that it was not worth the risk. But my mother got concerned and decided to go ahead and get the prescription and take it.

So I asked her the other night: “How much did you take today?”

“I took half a pill. Dad didn’t want me on it so I thought I’d just take half.”

“Mom, what is your prescription? What does the bottle say?”

“One pill a day.”

“Mom, you have to follow the prescription. It doesn’t work like that….”

I tried to explain how it works. I could see her eyes glazing over soon into the explanation. I chose to see it as a challenge and continued a good five to ten minutes, using analogies and making hand gestures to portray a range as if on a chart, thinking: “I can win her over, I just know it.”

A few days later she informed she’d taken half a pill “because dad doesn’t want me on it.”

I guess it’s better than her taking too much. And she’s too smart to do that.

The other big problem is her cell phone. Oh, this makes my father and I crazy. Insane.

She has no idea how to access her voice mail, use her address book, change her ring style or adjust the volume. None of that. It’s all too complicated.

In her defense, there is way more stuff on these phones than most of us need or even use. Even I have to read the book sometimes. But as a regular technology user, I have a basic understanding she doesn’t possess.

So I’ll call her and she’ll pick up, then immediately hang up. This happens so often I’ve asked what she is doing.

“There’s something wrong with this phone,” she insists.

“Mom, nothing is wrong with the phone. You’re doing something.”

“No, there’s something wrong with this phone,” she insists again. "This phone is crazy."

I think I figured it out once in the car with her when she got a call. That she has it set to answer on open, and hang up on close, and when she’s driving and fumbles the phone she hangs up inadvertently. Or something like that.

More maddening, she somehow manages to turn her phone onto silent without realizing it and, thus, has no clue you are trying to reach her. This is a real problem if we don’t know where she is and are worried, or need to reach her for something important.

Other times the volume mysteriously goes down. If I call, she will yell:

"What? I can't hear you."

Then I scream into the phone: "Turn the volume up."

"What?" she'll yell back, even though I can hear her fine.

"Your volume. Turn it up."

Then, just as I feel thankful that I got her to answer her phone, she'll say, "I'm in traffic. I can't hear you. I'll call you back."


So far, thankfully, nothing horrible has happened through all this. And while I do think my mother would be happy if she easily grasped all of these gadgets and technology, it never was her way of thinking anyway.

And deep down — and this is why I call her a Luddite — I think she likes it this way.

I mean, I feel enslaved by technology sometimes. It would be nice to opt out now and then. Not have to read a manual for everything. Turn off the email and cell phone. Just have a few TV channels. Life might be simpler.

But, mom. Pick up the phone now and then, would you?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Not Quite the End

It was New Year’s Eve when I realized it might finally be over. You let me down. I burned with pain. But I endured the night with a smile. I wouldn’t let anyone know that I couldn’t take it any more.

I didn’t want it to end. But I needed a break.

For so many years you lifted me up. Literally. You made me feel tall, beautiful, confident. So grown up. So fabulous.

You in all your incarnations through every season, always there to raise me up when I needed it.

But the punishment took its toll.

I spent too many years ignoring this hurt and that. Not wanting to give you up. Not wanting to admit that you were simply not good for me.

I’d see all those other women, so happy. If they could have that, why not me?

So I didn’t want to admit it just might not be working out. I still don’t want to admit it. I don’t want it to be over. I would do anything to keep you in my life.

I remember being too young for you, dreaming of the day I could finally have you. We’ve had many blissful years since. Sure, I've felt pain now and then. But the pain never lasted too long. I always got through it.

Now, though, it’s gotten to be too much. Dare I say — and I don’t want to say it — you scare me. I’m a little afraid of you. And that’s the hardest thing of all to admit.

I just knew if didn’t make a break, something terrible and irreversible might happen.

So there we are. I miss you, terribly. So many reminders of you everywhere only makes it harder.

Quite simply, I can't imagine life without you. I don't think I could take that. I refuse to accept it.

But the break has been good. I'm taking care of myself and the pain has subsided.

I now feel ready to try again, just baby steps, to see if we can make another go of it.

Last night was wonderful. If only for a few hours. Oh I felt a little sting now and then but you were pretty good to me.

I will see you again. I just know it.

Because I cannot imagine life without you.

(Well, maybe I could live without you four-inch heels.)

(By the way: That gorgeous illustration above is available here: