Tuesday, November 9, 2010

...On Rings and Bling and Real Things

Celebrity status is habitually defined by its influence on society's average Joe. The lower echelons deify the upper, and the upper echelons dutifully perform for continued deification. Vicious cycle and tax bracket differentials aside, who doesn’t welcome a little adoration now and again? Still, it amazes me how obnoxiously we follow our celebrities. I have no idea why I’m amazed by this given the human herd mentality, but I am. We ogle paparazzi shots, maliciously gossip over tabloid fodder and Twitter profusely about celebrities – their lives, their loves, their families, fashions and foibles. But, there’s a problem with this superfluous adulation. It fosters totally unrealistic, real-world expectations. We want what they got whether we can afford it or not. (Hmmm…shades of Obamanomics, but that’s a whole other topic.)

Recent case in point: St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, Brad Penny proposed to his Dancing With The Stars girlfriend, Karina Smirnoff. She’s a professional dancer on the highest ranked popularity contest in the country. He’s got a multi-million dollar contract so, of course, he can afford to drop $95K on a platinum-set boulder. While I sincerely wish the couple a lifetime of happiness (really, I do), it galls me that Smirnoff is sporting ice worth half my mortgage value. (Notice, I said mortgage value, not home value.)  I suppose that’s my fault for marrying poor and divorcing poorer. Twice.

But I digress. Here’s my real beef. How many OMG-tweeting girls out there just itching for a hitching will be dropping Karina’s bling as a most unsubtle hint to their steady beaus? How many of those hapless, shell-shocked guys will be shuttling their IRAs into off-shore accounts and heading for the far reaches of the galaxy to avoid their over-expectant girlfriends?  Worse yet, how many of these poor schmoes will plunge themselves into lifelong financial ruin in a futile attempt not to disappoint their bridezilla-to-be?

Exactly what expectations are being established between a couple – blatantly or subliminally, celebrity or not – when two bedrooms and a bath are weighing down her left hand and his wallet?  First comes the overpriced ring, then the over-the-top wedding, then the overinflated mortgage followed by the overindulged 2.3 kids…and a dog. All that’s the “for better” stuff. What will you expect from him – from each other – when the “or for worse” stuff arrives? Hmmm?

Since the early 1200's, Western tradition dictates that a man offer a gift, often a ring, to a woman in exchange for her promise to marry him. Nice tradition for claiming property and only slightly less proprietary than the feudal bride price. Reminds me of branding cattle. Anyway, according to my web search, this whole ring thing began in Rome. Not until the late 19th century were gem-bearing rings popularized as contractual engagment symbols. Diamonds didn’t outgun other gems until the 1930’s when they were purchased, primarily, as depression-era investments.  The family dower, if you will.  Before that, engagement gifts were exchanged by both parties and could have been anything; jewelry, cutlery, or even a pair of blue satin Manolos.

Puritanical lovebirds opted for a sewing thimble as the betrothal gift of choice. How romantic and practical, too! Branding by subservience! Historically, premarital expectations were established by religious dogma and were, well, reasonable. My feminist friends are probably dry-heaving about now, but remember; life, love and relationships were much, much different before diamonds were a girl’s best friend.

Look, kiddies, take it from one who knows. Marriage is hard enough without burdening entry into the union with undue debt, especially now.

My recommendation?  Celebs, since you are forced role models, be so in all aspects of life, not just on the ball field or dance floor. Stinking rich or not, at least try. Commoners, forego the celebrity-sized expense and keep your two bedrooms and a bath. Settle for a carport and drop a garage’s worth on her finger to start. You can always upgrade to the condo-sized rock later after you can actually afford a stone equal in value to real estate. Come to think of it, in today’s post-meltdown economy, that doesn’t really amount to much, does it.

Try this.  If your paramour truly-ooley is “The One”, recycle grandma’s diamonds. It’s an ecologically sound option.  It's far less costly. And you have no politically incorrect, “conflict diamond” consternation. All of grandma's gems were conflict-born and the statute of limitations has expired. Besides, it just might instill a deeper sense of commitment between the two of you because of its family heirloom status.

If it seems like this hopeful romantic is waxing romantically ambivalent, I am. Still, I suppose something precious should be exchanged when popping the question. Truth be told, I really do prefer jewelry. Face it, chicks like bling and I am a chick.  Jewelry is a nice deal sealer. But remember: Bling is pretty. Bling is shiny. Bling temporarily blinds us to the true reality of marriage.

Friday, August 13, 2010

On Lights and ends of tunnels...

Friday the 13th. It's been an ominous date ever since Philip IV of France ordered his unholy rout of the Knights Templar back in 1307. A bankrupt king declares war on his creditors, arresting, torturing and executing virtually the entire Holy Order and bullying the Pope to disband the remnants.

Hmmm.... Sounds a bit like the medieval precursor to the AIG bailout. Absolution of debts without all that messy inquisition nonsense or charred flesh.

My Friday the 13th is not nearly as onerous as the original, though it does smack of financial tumult. I awoke this morning with the dread and apprehension of one as overextended as King Philip.

I graduate from college this month.Technically, my degree confers on August 31st after final grades post and I sweat over tenths of percentages to maintain my magna cum laude status. It will be a rather unceremonious event, a trembling peek at a website followed by either a ridiculously embarrassing happy dance mid-office, or a mad dash down the hall to hide the tears. Yes, GPA is that important to me. After that I'll get a large piece of paper in the mail - no robes or mortarboards or Pomp and Circumstance, just that coveted piece of parchment.

After three very long undergraduate years at Rollins, I will finally have my very belated Bachelor of Arts degree. (Side note to anyone thinking of going back to school, but feels they're too old to - just do it - sorry, Nike.) I've achieved this milestone through sheer stubbornness (more on that in a later blog) and by amassing twice my annual salary in student loans.

Friends, family, colleagues and co-workers are all so excited and proud of me for finishing school. "Congratualtions!" and "Way To Go!" and "Great Job!" and "Knew You Could Do It!" pepper my e-mail and my Facebook wall. And I am truly grateful for all the moral support so generously bestowed upon me. I really do have some of the bestest friends in the whole wide world. (I know it's not a word, but I'm an English major. I can say "bestest" if I want to.) They have been encouraging and helpful, always reminding me that "there's a light at the end of the tunnel."  ...I wonder.

I am proud of me. I have achieved a very self-fulfilling personal milestone. I applaud myself for not giving in to the temptation of quitting and settling for just getting by in life. I believe in myself and I know that life holds more for me now than it would have before completing my degree.

The all-consuming question is, will I be able to afford my life when the student loans come due without a major lifestyle overhaul. I'm coming under some serious financial fire these days, as are we all. I find myself arrested by collector's phone calls, tortured by the monthly vaciliation between payments to either Peter or Paul, never both, and executing my monthly budget diligently, much to the chagrin of my pantry and gas tank. I wish I had a rich uncle in Washington. But, alas, I am bereft of benefactors, which is probably just as well - they love flaying their pounds of flesh as much as ol' Philip.

My grandparents worked for the railroad so I have a long and endearing history with that light and tunnel analogy, but I think my grandmother said it best. "Of course there's a light at the end of the tunnel, the question is: is it daylight or another train."

My degree confers the end of August.
The invoice arrives in February.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On My Long Absence...

I just realized how long it's been since I've posted anything. Did you miss me? This will be a short-but-sweet update post. I don't want any of you, dear Followers, to think I've forgotten you.

These past few months I've been burning copious amounts of midnight oil to finish my too long procrastinated bachelors degree. Seems an odd thing to covet, especially at my age, but if anything is worth coveting, it is one's education. Anyway, August 2010 is the golden month of my deliverance from oddly opinionated hack to fully accredited literary academic. Between now and then, though, I still have to finish writing a fairy tale, an academic paper and a marketing case study or two, as well as suffer through two finals and compile my writing portfolio. (Whew! Just typing that list exhausted me!) Needless to say, first thing on my agenda after my last final is haunting the Holt School website until grades post immediately followed by a bottle of wine and nap. Then, with luck and a generous contribution to my travel fund, a long hike somewhere. Sedona sounds good. (Now to find a wealthy benefactor...)

Watch for my celebratory graduation post in late August, and please stay tuned for more regularly scheduled posts on heaven only knows what.

Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable summer!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

On My Bohemian Baby...

I hate my daughter.

No I don’t. I love her to bits, and I'm dreadfully, terribly, obnoxiously proud of her. But I hate her nonetheless. Why? Well, folks, the reasons are numerous and are firmly rooted in my own, very personal, feelings of regret, but for the sake of argument, let’s just focus on the top four.

First of all, my Bohemian baby is taller and more slender than I ever was in either my first flush of youth, or as a dancer and competitive gymnast. Second, she has a ready openness and an entirely personable, c'est la vie attitude that, try as I might, I shall never attain. I happen to be as totally guarded and anxiety-ridden as the rest of my matriarchy. Third, she is as intelligent as she is beautiful. You can accuse me of motherly conceit here, but she is a former model who consistently earned academic honors throughout her high school and college careers. And fourth and most importantly, she is flat out, talented! My daughter is
(as my waistline will attest) a sinfully delicious pastry chef, a provocative, budding artist, a not-half-bad karaoke singer, and a thoroughly distinctive writer.

"What?" you exclaim in feigned surprise knowing full well that the apple rarely falls far from the tree, "She's a writer just like her mother?"

No. She's better.

While I sit stewing over characterizations, plot lines, and the sticky 'K' on my keyboard, she opens her notebook, hits 'repeat' on her iPod, clicks her Bic, and starts scribbling. Her words flow like the Niagara, plummeting onto the page in a cool, showering rainbow mist of literary brilliance ... and I sincerely hate her for that.

As a parent, I have always encouraged my children’s interests. Always. Like my maternal forebears, I firmly espoused the “you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to” adage during her formative years. I still believe in that, as should we all. Am I jealous much? Not really. Honestly, I have nothing to be jealous of. I'm just patently amazed and, perhaps, a tad more than mildly envious of her talent. Simply put, my daughter, Danielle, astounds me!

My daughter first shared her writing with me one day when she “was bored,” as she puts it. She sat at my computer and pounded out her brainwaves. She typed furiously for less than 10 minutes, printed the page off, and said, “Mommy,” (it’s always ‘Mommy’ when they want something), “could you proofread this for me, please?” Other than a missing comma or two, I was rewarded with 525 words of unadulterated brilliance, and I’m not exaggerating or “mommy-boasting.”
I was just so got! At age 22, she possesses an insight that I still strive for at age 50.

Now, I have always known my daughter is an astonishing creature (that is a "proud mommy” statement), but, until recently, I never realized how readily her talents flow. This last Friday, she and her best friend from high school - an equally talented and stunning young woman, and one of my surrogate progeny - surprised me at my office. The three of us caught up over a light lunch-cum-gabfest, and my daughter explained her literary process. She really does put a song on 'repeat' and listens until it fades into nothingness. Then she opens her notebook, writes down her predetermined first sentence, her prompt, and allows whatever else is in her brain to spew forth. She calls this "Word Vomit." (If you ever happen across that title in your favorite book store, BUY IT! And remember you heard it here first, folks.). Right now, Danielle’s pieces are short, more of the flash fiction genre, but they are concise, full-bodied, and easily relatable, leaving a tangy warmth on your soul. Sort of the same way a really good chardonnay finishes in your mouth.

I suppose what enflames my little green monster is how wholly original and fluid my daughter’s voice is. Perhaps it has something to do with how liberally her mind works. There is an eclecticness in today’s youth that is, often, sorely lacking within my pseudo-diversified generation. My writing is, sometimes, forced and a little rigid, just like my synapses, although my workshop colleagues might argue that point with you. I even have professorial attestation to my “unique, disarming, and brutally honest” writing. But Danielle is a force majeure.

One of the foremost lessons I absorbed growing up is that the really good parents always harbor “better-than-me” aspirations for their children. By this I mean that, as a mother, I hope and pray that my children will be fabulously happy and financially more solvent in their lifetimes than I have been in mine. However, we parents never seriously consider
whether or not our children will a) follow in our footsteps, b) exceed even our own expectations for us or for themselves, or c) ignite inter-generational, hypothalamic envy, angst or competition. Personally, I find it rather disarming that, with no actual intention, my daughter far surpasses the artistic goals that I have set for myself. And she does so with zero premeditation. It just happens.

Trust me when I say that I am fully aware that my own writing is nothing if not genuinely impactful. I know that I am possessed of my own unique and wholly original voice, every writer is. But it’s the genetic predisposition that truly flabbergasts me. My mother is a Christian writer with a book deal pending. I am an aspiring novelist with three short stories in process while working on submissions for upcoming masters classes. My son is a poet, lyricist and amateur rapper. But my daughter? My daughter is a canon-worthy, naturally born literary artist.

Did I mention that I hate that girl?