Imaginary Lover

Who
could have foreseen that a 70s song could so aptly foreshadow 21st century
relationships? Imaginary lovers never
disagree. They always care. They’re always there when you need, satisfaction
guaranteed.

Can
it really be so shocking, then, that Manti Te’o opted for imagination over
reality? In fact, maybe it’s more surprising that his peers aren’t doing the
same.
 

Or
maybe they are.
 

For
all the accurate images of college life picked up and portrayed by the media, a
foot-on-the-ground stroll across an American college campus might be more
telling. Particularly if you get the full tour. Weekdays and weekends included.
 

From
my mini-view on my little campus, the numbers from the studies seem sound:
three-quarters are hooking up. The boys with more partners than the girls, but
the ladies are nonetheless hot on their heels.
 

The
weekends are wild, with the majority of students pretty willing to lay themselves
naked -just not metaphorically so. When it comes to weekdays and daylight,
there’s much less of laying themselves bare.
 

In
Monday morning classrooms, they interact not with one another, but with smart
phones and laptops. Avoiding eye contact is its own art form and they’ve got it
nailed. Their eyes are glued instead to their screens, tapping and texting, but
not talking.
 

When
my students share stories—and they always do—I often have to interrupt. So was
this an actual conversation or a
cyber chat? They rarely differentiate. But as they relate their tales, they
include an ascribed tone and intent for the sender. My suggestions that they
may be misreading their text readings are usually soundly dismissed. They heed
my interpretive warnings only with regard to student-professor correspondence.
 

Of
course it’s generational.  I get that
they communicate differently than we do. But it seems not to be just a
different means of a communication, but 
a
lack of one. Rather than face-to-face interaction, with real-time dialogue,
they’re texting and waiting, and filling in the spaces. They read between the
lines and create gaps where there are none, mistaking humor for insult, lust
for love, a casual friendship for a meaningful relationship.
 

I’d
like to support my kids and this written word connection of theirs, but they
seem to have it all wrong. In the brevity that allows them to leave out so much
out, they’re missing out on too much. Then, when they do share—often alcohol
fueled and impulsively sent—it’s too much with too many. They’ve jumped in the deep
end with no arm band floaties.
 

And
then too there’s that other part of human connection –the actual connection. Eyeball-to-eyeball,
hand-to-hand. You can’t read body language in a Tweet; words can’t replace touch,
and in spite of the emoticons to the contrary, you really cannot send a hug via
text.

 

 

Brand Loyalty

coffinMy friend’s dad passed away recently. Sad, but at 84, he’d lived a good, full life and leaves a legacy of family, friends and service. 

At the bottom of a lengthy obituary, I read that the wake would not be held at the local funeral home with which we’re all most familiar. I asked my friend –why not? After all, her parents had called our town home for nearly 50 years. They were both public school teachers, avid churchgoers, active in their community. And this other funeral home was in a town to which they had no affiliation or allegiance, no connection. 

But for one. 

See, the funeral home was owned by Lou’s friend. A childhood friend. 

Nuf said. 

Her dad and mine grew up in Eastie, stood on different street corners of the same small neighborhood of a big city. Graduated from East Boston High, married Eastie women. Had Eastie friends. And they took a piece of that culture with them wherever they went. 

They went far. 

Both sets of parents quite literally travelled the world. 

But home was still home and roots were set deeply. And friendships were forever. Just like family. 

So of course Lou would honor his friend by choosing the alternate location. Fully his decision, it made total sense to anyone who knew him or men of his generation. 

I hate when people make sweeping generalities. 

But I’m about to. 

The generation of young adults with whom I deal every day cannot comprehend that kind of loyalty and they never will. 

They may be members of teams, schools, and communities, but those connections never become as intrinsically a part of who they are as it did for the generations before them. My parents’, and even my own. 

I’ve asked my students and my own kids if they think I’m giving their generation short shift here. They don’t. Even those who quickly vouch for the genuineness of their own friendships are still reluctant to say that their peers and they have anything resembling what I and my parents have had –friendships which have lasted a lifetime. Relationships with people who can revel in your successes at the same time that they put you in your place. People who will stand by you regardless of the missteps you make. People who have your back. 

Sure, these kids haven’t lived as long as we have. Only time can truly test my premise. 

But then time may also be the culprit at the crux of where the roads of allegiances diverge. 

From the time our children were impatiently interrupting our phone conversations—and we allowed it—these kids have demanded immediate gratification. And as parents we enabled this warp-speed mentality by enlisting them in every sport, club, activity, that came along. 

And then came the internet -making the world smaller, while at the same time exacerbating isolation. 

When they spend hours faux-chatting with people they don’t acknowledge in daylight; when they can “unlike” someone by the click of a mouse; when more of their relationships occur online than in-person, it’s easy to see why their interpersonal skills might be underdeveloped. 

I frequently drive by bus stops, or walk by kids on campus who have their eyes glued to handhelds, intensely involved in their cyber-relationships, while ignoring the real people in their lives and by their sides. 

Maybe they’ve got something there. Maybe fast and furious is an easier path. After all, face-to-face requires effort and planning and interaction. It’s time consuming. It can be difficult and messy –and it can’t be ignored. 

On the other hand, no lol comes close to belly laughs shared with longtime friends; L can’t replace tears, and nothing feels quite like a hug.

 

Learning New Tricks

A long
ago traveling companion became a lifelong—hers, not mine—pen pal of mine and I
looked forward to her annual Christmas notes with the same sort of relish that I
have for those catch-up conversations I share with close friends. Her Christmas
letters didn’t at all resemble the photocopied family newsletters which often flutter
to floors from cards sent out en masse to friends and strangers, alike. Rather
her notes, often squeezed within the confines of the greeting card itself, consisted
of hand scripted prose that first asked after me and my family and then told of
her latest adventure.

Each year
she recounted global travels which beckoned of worlds beyond my reach. It was
as if I had a firsthand correspondent bringing to life the travel pages of newspapers
and magazines which I was reading with longing. Often inviting a grandchild or
two along on her trips, Bea embraced the other countries and cultures she
visited. She seemed gloriously sure that there would always be something new
and wonderful just around the next bend.

Even when
it was only her own city she was exploring, there seemed within her an unquenchable
thirst for knowledge. Into her 90s, Bea took a class at NYU and wrote to me
that any day she learned something new was a good one.

What a
wonderful life philosophy.

Because I
work in a college environment, I have ample opportunity to test the premise.
Although I’ve yet to sit in on a catalogued course, I often read what my
students are reading, watch what they’re watching. I look at professorial
Powerpoints, consider rubric specifications, flesh out and interpret
assignments, follow their progression. I ask a lot of questions; seek out answers
for my students and myself.

But the
real learning often comes in other forms.

Sometimes—being
the digital natives that they are—my students do some unknowing teaching of
their own, guiding me from Facebook to Foursquare, Twitter to Prezi.

In other
ways though, they teach me even more.

They are
twenty-something in the 21st century.

They
serve as a sort of guide to a world to which I’d be privy only as a parent, but
for the access they grant me.

That’s
mostly rewarding –sometimes disappointing.

I wish my
students were less entitled, more impassioned.

I wish
that of the other kids I know, as well.

On the
other hand, they’re happy and funny, honest and resilient. They may not have
passion for the sorts of things their parents and professors deem important,
but many of them are nonetheless passionate. For a boy or a girl, quite often.

But sometimes,
for something more.

On
occasion, I see a flicker, that other spark –of interest. In something beyond
themselves.

I’ve
enjoyed the vicarious ride I get to take with the kids in my life. In the best
of days, I see something good and real. I see the glimmer of a future. Not just
theirs, but ours as a country and a world. I see hope.

Even on
days that disappoint, though, I take something from our encounters. I learn a
little something.

And any day I
learn something new, is a good one.



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.

Go to Start


    It isn’t usually about a student’s learning style or a professor’s eccentricities. It’s generally unconnected to too much work or too little resources. And it often has little to do with a student’s inability or an assignment’s difficulty.
 
    
When my students fail to complete their assignments or don’t do them well, the one commonality at its root can be summarized in a single word: procrastination.  

    
That isn’t to say that there’s not often a whole lot of other stuff that gets in the way of their start-to-finish. The roadblocks to the boys I know often come by way of a party; with the girls, it’s the drama.

    But for all of them, they get caught up in it. And often to the exclusion of all else.

    
Instead of buying the supplies or starting the research or making the phone call or doing the interview or drafting the outline, or any of those many tiny steps that could set them on go –they don’t. They stay still. 

    
Well, not still exactly.

    They’re generally moving, just not in the direction of the project or the paper.

    They’re battling in video worlds or chatting on Facebook walls. They’re making it to Zumba class and Wings Night. They’re taking road trips and pizza runs and pit stops to the mall. Going out to lunch or dinner. Heading to the gym, going for a run, cleaning their rooms. They’re helping friends through crises. Taking time with families.

    But in all that doing, what they’re not doing is that small pile of work relegated to the back corner of their desks or hidden in untapped files on their computers. And the longer they tap past it, the more the pile grows. Until eventually it seems to expand with the rate of a Youtube post gone viral. Out-of-control and unavoidable.

    And so they finally begin the assignment in crisis mode. 

    Not the best way to do one’s best.

    There’s a price to be paid for the putting-it-off. Not just in a ditched assignment, shoddy work, or a bad grade. There’s actually a point to most of the work their professors assign. And they’re missing it.
 
    T
hat isn’t to say that sometimes it’s not worth it. That in the throes of  procrastination, they might not discover rewards of another kind.

    My student may better remember the time she had with her friends than she will any real-world benefit she got from that one botched Research Methods paper.

    But then, maybe not. I’m not sure how much she actually remembers from that particular  night.

    That’s not the point.

    The point is that they procrastinate at the peril of their accomplishments.

    But we all do it.

    I’m doing it right now. I post to this site at the sacrifice of the should-dos and have-tos in my real-world life. And that’s a bad thing.

    But.

    In another way, I’m doing what I am supposed to do. This is an exercise of sorts. A means of keeping a finger in a craft where my whole hand should be. Because at least it’s a finger.

    But I am doing this instead of a whole lot of other stuff. Like my students.

    Many years ago I took a pause from my to-do list to join my uncle on his boat pulling lobster traps from Boston Harbor. The crazy cousin who regales with his stories and spends with a generosity that contradicts his ability to pay offered a philosophical take on the day. 

    This is the kind of day that is immeasurable in its value. You couldn’t give me a million dollars to take a pass on it.

    For all its aura of inaction, sometimes procrastination is exactly the right action to take.

    And the pile grows.

Bridging Divides


    My son has a girlfriend. And I like her.

    
Which is probably okay with Michael. More likely, my input on his love life falls to the apathy pit of his emotion with regard to anything parent-related. An actual objection from him would indicate that he cared. Or noticed.

    
Way too much effort.

    
What he may not be as comfortable with, though, is that she seems to like me, too.




    And I can’t imagine that notion fits well into a world where the parent-child divide spans like the width of Grand Canyon.

    
Ah, the Grand Canyon. 

    
The family vacation which my husband still refers to as the time I tried to kill him. (He’s not much of an adventurer.)



    And which I call the trip-of-a-lifetime.

    
Because it was.

    
Not only for the photo-stop memories that set three generations against a backdrop unlike any other on the planet.

    
But also for that slice of nine-year-old boy that seems such a juxtaposition against the 17-year-old near-man with whom we now live.

    
Hard to believe that Michael is the same boy who mom and dad protectively shuffled to the boat’s rear as we settled in. Showed how much we knew about whitewater rafting and inflatable boats –we had positioned him most decidedly at the craft’s bow, the best place to enjoy the ride. And also to be swallowed whole by the mammoth rapids we would encounter. Go figure.

    
And then again, warned of an impending day of wet, wild, and frosty rapids coming our way, we wrapped Michael in a blue rubber suit that would have fitted better if he were first mate to Captain Ahab. Sure, the water was cold, but temperatures hit 116 degrees that day. The poor kid was at the mercy of his parents’ pitiful effort at protection.




    And, to some extent, he still is.
 
    
Unfortunately, today there are no guides creeping alongside the rapid-riding youngster to assure his safety from plummeting conditions. And we’ve got no trusted adult giving Michael a parental reprieve and lessons on the right way to get up close to a rattlesnake (Dad still maintains there is no right way).

    
One of my students refers to me as her life coach. Apparently, calling myself that actually would require some sort of education and certification. What I am, more likely, is a sort of bridge between her generation and my own. I get to “coach” her not by benefit of school degree, but rather by life degree. And span the chasm that could separate us by offering up a rope of knowledge without placing too much expectation upon her. Or judgment. 

    
As parents, we expect, and too often –we judge.  To some extent, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. After all, we’re the ones who brought them into this world. And we will be judged by what impact they make upon it. But we should, perhaps, let the judgments fall away.  Our own, but more importantly, our concern for others’, as well.
 
    
Our kids would certainly appreciate that.




    Because they’re judged enough by their peers. 

    
In Michael’s case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite his ill-fit to the world-at-large, he seems a good fit to most of his friends. His girlfriend seems to like him. More importantly, she thinks he’s a good person. And with a maturity that contradicts her age, she says she understands my own frustration at the path he’s been heading down recently. She maintains, though, that he will find his way to the other side. I could lay off her faith in Michael on the love-is-blind foundation of young relationships or simple naiveté. Or I could attribute it to optimism, as yet unjaded by time.

    
But instead, I want to trust that this girl has insight, which I may have lost, into the young man I am still trying to raise. I also want to believe that for every guide in Michael’s life now who is introducing him to rattlesnakes, there are others still showing him how to keep a proper grip on life so he doesn’t fall too far off balance.

Ch-ch-ch-changes


    Michael didn’t transition terribly well as a child. Little things, like leaving my arms to go to another’s, getting in the tub, getting out of the tub –took actual planning . When we visited Disney with him as a toddler, he decided, pretty adamantly, that seeing Mickey simply wasn’t worth the price of not sleeping in his own bed. He staged an escape from the hotel room sometime after midnight.

    
Alex, on the other hand, slipped from day-to-day, calamity-to-calamity with little pause. With regard to travel, I may have set the stage for a bit of that non-drama because in an effort to shield her from the what-ifs of a canceled trip, I rarely informed her of plans until they were set in motion. On more than one occasion, my little girl woke in the morning with no notion that by evening she’d be airplane-delivered to a new destination. In hindsight, that bit of parental protection had its own cost. We rarely enjoyed together the fun of planning a trip. There was no anticipation –only action. But then again, that may have well-suited my always-ready-to-go kid. Transitions were no problem for Alexandra.

    
Until now.

    
Are you looking forward to graduation? is the new question with which Alex is greeted by most every adult she encounters these days. To which she gives an honest reply: no.

    
And she’s not kidding. In fact, the simple word understates the passion it belies.




    Her no is pretty resounding. It speaks to her honesty (see previous post) and contradicts her resilience (see previous post). 

    
But it really isn’t that hard to understand.




    She’s happy. Happy where she is, with what she’s doing, and most importantly with who she is.

    
Alexa (her choice of name-change, not mine) is a beautiful 21-year-old college senior. She has a good group of friends, a couple of part-time jobs, a family who loves and supports her. 

    
Life is good.




    But it hasn’t always been.




    For big reasons and little ones, Alexa has suffered her share of life’s disappointments. But she’s reached the other side of a whole lot of them, now. And the view from this end of the tunnel is pretty good. 

    
What’s damn scary, though, is what comes next.




    Mostly because she doesn’t know what that is.




    And it’s the not knowing that’s pulling her through the stages of grief she recently posted as her Facebook status. Not knowing is scary. But by now, there’s a whole lot of stuff she should know.

    
Someone should tell her.




    Oh God, that someone’s probably me.




    Sweetie, you should know, and more importantly believe, what I’ve always told you: that every day you do something that makes me proud.
 
    
You should know that, although she’s still inside you, you are not the third-grader who had to suffer the torment of other girls. You no longer have to temper your exuberance to the expectations of others; you’re not bound by their constraints. The women in your life now seem to get you and I think, love you in part, because of the very spirit that you’ve sometimes tried to hide.




    I am so glad that you believe your sisters have your back. But long before they came into your life, you had a HUGE family who would do anything for you. You got that free, had it from the get-go. 

    
All the other stuff, you earned –big time.

    
You deserve the diploma, but also a whole lot of accolades that go along with it. Not only because of who you are, but also because of who you have become.




    You are an amazing young woman. You are savvy and sure and resilient, but also warm and passionate and caring. You have a depth of emotions, and you shouldn’t fear the weight of their pull. You’re strong enough now to weather the tide and the turbulence. Literally, from the day you were born, you were fighting a battle. But you’ve always won. And you always will.




    That I believe this should count for something. I still think I know you better than anyone. That I believe in you should count for more.




    Trust me.




    Or better still, trust yourself.