Binge and Purge


    My 14-year-old nephew has a Twitter account. He also has 1146 friends on Facebook. And apparently, quite a following on both. 

    
When it comes to social media, I’ll admit I’m a few steps behind. Matty might say light years –particularly after he offered a rudimentary tutorial on IPad usage and was receptacle to some pretty 20th century questions regarding a 21st century device. Suffice it to say, he’s there. We’re not.




    Still, I have dipped my toes into the social networking pond, if not its ocean. I’m on Facebook, I have a Twitter account (Okay, so I don’t actually remember my account name or login, but I do have one. Seriously though, how much of a following are my treks to the produce section of Market Basket likely to produce?). 

    
But obviously, I blog.

    
See, I’m almost cool.




    My son would disagree.




    And perhaps he’s right.




    Because, try as I might, there are aspects of the genre to which I still feel an ill fit. Although many of my peers have embraced the connectedness that Facebook offers, I have trouble with one of its most basic premises: friending.




    Now that I think of it, I didn’t foresee the word friend becoming a verb. I am old. Befriend make senses to me. I get to make a conscious choice to be someone’s friend: befriend. 

    
Friending is a whole other animal.




    And quite an aggressive one, sometimes.




    There’s pressure on both the requester and the requested friend. And therein oft lays my dilemma.




    The (poor) marketer in me knows FB is an excellent tool for self-promotion. I get that’s where I’m supposed to go; it’s just hard to get there from where I came. We were taught NOT to speak too well of ourselves. The “me” kids came just after us and we didn’t think much of them.

    
I’m also uneasy with how Facebook has devalued a word I hold in pretty high regard: Friend.

    
Matty can’t possible have 1148 (the number’s risen since I started writing) friends. Not in any sense of the word to which I can relate.

    
One of the sites for which I write recently urged me to join its network. A principal of the company suggested I “friend everyone in the beginning in order to build a following. (You can always ‘unfriend’ later, if need be.).”




    Good advice, I’m sure. But I like neither concept –making friends with strangers. Or unfriending them when I realize they’re wacko.

    
See, in spite of the stream-of-consciousness with which I post here, I’m actually a private person. I choose the people with whom I share my life pretty carefully. Facebook is the antithesis of that philosophy.




    I’m also basically a nice person. Unfriending someone doesn’t sound very nice to me.

    
But as I watch Matty’s friends accumulate, (1151, now)I’ve learned of another trend. Posts to Facebook abound stating more-or-less: if you can read this, you’re still my friend; consider yourself lucky.




    Hmmm.




    Mixed feelings again. It’s a strong ego that feels his/her friends are the lucky ones and not the other way around.




    On the other hand, Facebook purging makes sense when the binging has gone on for too long. Some of my students have shared with me when they’re unfriending their friends. Their decisions usually follow a sound trajectory. And while I might have advocated them choosing wisely from the get-go, I’m all for their newfound selectivity. 

    
Could this be another example of the maturity I’ve witnessed with them through their years at my school?




    Probably.




    While my 20-something students are rethinking who they’re willing to call friend, even on Facebook, Matty’s friend list is at now 1152.




    And climbing.

Team Spirit


    I play softball.


    Not often, or well. But I still play.


    Which means I’m part of a team.


    At this point in my life, that means something much different from what it once did.


    It’s also something different from the kind of teams to which my kids and neighbor’s kids have belonged over the years.


    For the obvious reasons, sure.


    My team likes to win, but we’re not too upset when we lose. This isn’t a competitive league. We’ve got no umps, we don’t keep stats.


    And an injury (or even the threat of one) pretty much trumps athletic effort. We don’t so much give it our all as we do just give it a go.


    But we play games, keep score, do try to round the bases. We have opponents we like to best, and others we cheer on with the same enthusiasm we offer to our own teammates.


    It’s touted as a friendly league. And it is.


    At one point or another, both my kids have been members of teams. They have been part of something bigger than just themselves, and have contributed. In very different ways, both have had an impact on their teams.


    And their teams have had an impact upon them. And for the good and bad of it, so have their coaches.


    The best of those coaches taught, supported, encouraged  -and still demanded. They loved the game and wanted to share their passion. They sent messages about camaraderie and sportsmanship, about how to treat one another and their opponents and about how to handle winning and losing, as a team.


    The worst of them also sent some pretty powerful messages. Like the good guys, they demanded a certain level of play from the kids, but their means were often warped. They taught the basics of the game –but just barely, assuming that the “real” players already knew the fundamentals- and worked more on strategies and tricks. Win-at-any cost attitudes filtered through to little kids feeling big pressure.
 
    Some of those coaches scolded, ranted, belittled. Some cheated. I saw coaches ignore any sense of fairness, keeping  “good” players in long past their due, then demean them when they didn’t perform as expected. They scouted their baby opponents and then gave their own team members a heads-up on weak links. These were big guys coaching little kids to beat their buddies, at whatever cost. I remember hearing one coach advise a 12-year old pitcher barely in control of his blazing fast ball to “brush ‘im off the plate.” And hearing another coach greet his top player as he stepped onto the game field by asking “Are you going to strike out again?”


    And that was the “coaching” offered to the good players.


    But on the sidelines, the worst of those coaches were praised. Parents jockeyed to get their kids under the tutelage of the guy with the winning record.


    Seriously?


    Why?


    We live in a small town. Think big fish-small pond analogy. I always wondered about the parents who couldn’t see what I thought was so obvious.


    Easy stuff, like –it’s supposed to be fun. And that winning really isn’t EVERYTHING.


    And that their kids weren’t going to make it to the pros.


    Turns out I didn’t really have to tell them that their kids weren’t getting athletic scholarships; a lot of those kids didn’t even make the high school cut.


    But I do wish someone had said something to a few of the raving lunatics on the sidelines and in the dugouts. Because too many kids were losing, for the sake of winning. In the name of hollow victory, they were missing all the good stuff that being part of a team can teach.


    Michael had a pair of coaches who believed pretty whole-heartedly that the kids on their team had to respect the game and one another. They coached and taught the kids to play with a sense of equity. Everyone played; no one was stuck in right field for the season.


    Funny thing about that team –they won. A lot.


    I like my team. We win, too. On and off the field. Because I measure the true success of our team by who we’ve become over a lot of years batting a ball around and playing a bit of catch.


    I only wish my kids and their friends had had the same opportunity as me to learn a bit more about what it can really mean to be part of a team.

A Not Guilty Jury


    The thing is –she’s guilty.


    But I get it, I really do.


    The jury foreman said that the State didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Juror number two further insisted that even though she and her fellow jurors didn’t put much credence in the defense counterarguments, the ultimate verdict wasn’t at all about the defense. It was about a lack of prosecutorial evidence.


    And so they had no choice but to acquit.


    A few years ago, I was on a jury.


    Before you offer your condolences or tips on how to evade service next time, I should be upfront: when I was tapped, I actually wanted to serve.


    Save your groans –my opinion has changed.


    However, back then I bought into the notion of jury duty as civic obligation. In that pre-jury service world I inhabited, it was a chance for me to be a real participant in the legal system, to see its inner workings, to contribute, hands-on.


    But jury duty jaded me –big time.


    First, our guy was guilty. Absolutely, no doubt in my mind -he not only raped her, but was damned sure he’d get away with it. He and his victim were in the country illegally and he probably figured she’d be too fearful of deportation to point a finger. He figured wrong. She pointed. He ran -out of country.


    Eleven years later, as a legal U.S. resident, she spotted her attacker back on a city street and yelled rape –again. This time, he couldn’t run. She demanded justice.


    Instead, she got us.


    I wish she hadn’t.


    At one point or another during deliberations, six or seven of us voted to convict.


    And then we deadlocked.


    The judge urged us to try again to render a verdict.


    In her entreaty to us, what struck a particular chord with me was the notion that if we were unable to do our job, somebody else would have to do it. Another set of twelve would go through what we were going through. Witnesses would be recalled, the defendant would likely be held while he awaited a new trial. And the victim would relive her ordeal yet again. None of that was okay.


    The underlying point that kept surfacing throughout our deliberations was that the State hadn’t fully proven its case.


    I didn’t care.


    We garnered quite a bit of backstory during our week of jury service and all that stuff we were supposed to ignore –I couldn’t. He did it and I didn’t care that the State hadn’t done its job well.


    I’ve always believed in the overall integrity of our judicial system. And in the principle that it’s better to let a guilty defendant go free than to imprison an innocent one.


    In theory.


    But then I was confronted with the reality of a young girl, new to the country, scared and alone. And all the black and white tenets of our legal system muddled to gray and seemed just an impediment to the truth. I wanted justice for this girl, punishment for her attacker.


    Our foreman kept reminding us that a not guilty verdict shouldn’t be construed as a finding of innocence.


    I’m sure that would have been of little solace to the victim.


    I wasn’t in the room during the Casey Anthony trial, but I can relate to the frustration the jurors must have felt. Still, I look to the sweet picture of a little girl and want justice for her –and punishment. I don’t blame the jury and I could never align myself with the nuts now threatening their lives. They had a job to do and I am certain they took seriously their obligations. But I, for one, would have quickly forgiven them had they ignored the letter-of-the-law and chosen, with that angel’s face in mind, to follow their hearts instead of their heads.

Rock and Roll Fever


    I’m probably too old to go to rock concerts. 

    I go anyway.

    
Not just to share the experience with my kid. He’d prefer I didn’t. And it isn’t to name myself at an in-vogue event. They are; I’m not.

    I actually go for the music.

    A gazillion years ago, some long-ago forebears of ours came out of their caves and started making noise. Most of them likely uttering guttural, pretty unpleasant sounds. Grunting –probably the root vocabulary of teenage boys. 

    But then there were the others. Emerging from those very same caves, sometime after the last hunting party had gone off for the day, they made their own sounds. I imagine upon their less-stressed entrance to the day, their attitude wasn’t so much ready-for-the kill, as ready-for-breakfast. And the tenor of their voices, less get-going and more get-down.

    
I imagine them humming. 

    
Against the grain of their tribesmen, against even the instinct of their survival, they heard –and listened to- the beat of a different drum.

    
I live with one of those.

    
Even on the worst of days, he still emerges from his own cave –with music. In his heart, in his hand, by way of an instrument, and in his hum.

    A
nd as much as he hates the possibility, he gets that from me.

    
Music is passion and even if I can never be its direct participant, I can connect to the notion of doing something you love –merely for the sake of doing it.

    
So I go to rock concerts. And often find myself too close to stoned and sweaty 20-somethings, singing along to lyrics I probably shouldn’t know. And I watch the guys on stage and live vicariously. The best of them are still shouting and strumming about the inequities of life. The youngest rail against the closest of their authority figures –parents, teachers. But those with a bit more depth take on other enemies of the day –big business, big government –the “man.” They’re burning with their own passion, but also trying to light a fire under those oft-apathetic kids in their audience banging their heads to the beat. Rockers try to send a message. With their music.

    
A long time ago, another generation did this with gusto. They built a genre around a war and made a difference.

    
It would be nice if Michael and his ilk could do the same. 

    
But it’s doubtful. 

    
It’s not that they lack talent or intelligence or even passion. What seems still missing among he and his bandmates are those other necessary components that enable one to reach a goal: a lot of work, sacrifice, follow-through. 

    
His dream is like a distant island. He’s more than willing to put his feet in the water, swim a few strokes in its general direction even. But a stray piece of driftwood, a rough sea, and he’s fully sent adrift. What he really needs is a good solid boat. Problem is, building one takes a whole lot of effort. Forethought, exertion, follow-through. Maybe even a bit of tutelage under a good boat builder.

    I go to rock concerts and hear the music. I get lost in the lyrics and sucked into the dreams. Because I still believe that dreams can come true. Not just for the guys on the stage fulfilling their own. But also in their dream of reaching the masses, getting a message through, making a difference.

    
One of Michael’s favorite bands is pretty intent on not just playing the music. The lead singer has the audacity to believe that he and his music can make the world a little better. But he’s not a kid anymore.

    
I wish Michael would listen to one of his heroes:

    “…I’m tired of living in the fable. A real sky I long to see. The journey must continue. It does not start or end with me….”

    
Michael needs to do more than put his feet in the water if he expects to make it to that island. He needs to build a boat.