I’ll admit it. I was a major grump when Pokémon Go exploded onto the scene in early July. The graphics confused me, hearing the word “Jigglypuff” during bathing suit season made me sad, it was draining all our data, and I read that hapless hunters were being lured into unpopulated areas and getting mugged. Plus like all the other moms in the universe, I feel under constant siege by Phones and Snapchat and YouTube and all the other iThings that have sapped the ability of everyone under 18 to look anyone in the eye.
What is it about human nature that compels us to see every issue as a zero-sum game? The most demoralizing example of this phenomenon is on display this week. Angry partisans have staked out unenlightened corners of the internet, convinced of an inherent conflict between renouncing senseless violence at the hands of the police and renouncing senseless violence toward the police. You’re either “pro-law enforcement” and “anti-#blacklivesmatter” or the reverse. And if you’re not on ‘my’ side, you’re a barely human, simpering excuse for a misinformed Neanderthal.
I’ve always been a sucker for the overly simplistic dichotomy. Lover or fighter? Boxers or briefs? Fox or Hedgehog? An all-time favorite is the exercise of declaring people and their life philosophies either optimists or pessimists: is someone a ‘glass half full-er’ or ‘glass half empty-er’?
Cut to a couple of days ago. I was pondering why Piedmont’s July 4th celebration is so profoundly moving and absurdly sweet. Beyond the toddlers in their red-white-and-blue Baby Gap finest and those strangely compelling inner tube sailor dudes, there’s the sheer hubris of throwing an exuberant, raucous birthday party for a nation that we’re all quite happy to gripe about throughout the other 364 days of the year. What’s up? The juxtaposition of criticism and celebration doesn’t cause us a bit of confusion, because we’re convinced there’s a reason to celebrate. Our country, despite its flaws, is the best one out there, and we’re all going to make it better. Here’s the thing: Americans are nothing if not optimistic.
Though it’s probably unwise to admit this publicly with so many years of carpooling still ahead of me, here it is: I’m a below-average driver. It’s something I came to terms with years ago. I don’t really like driving, and also I’m not very good at it. While learning to drive last year, my daughter was quick to confirm my self-evaluation. Now that she’s licensed I have officially dropped to third on the list of family drivers.
You like to think you would have been on the right side of history on the painfully obvious moral questions of the ages. You’d help hide Jews in Nazi Germany; you’d actively rebel against the horrors of slavery. You certainly wouldn’t tut tut about how awful it all is, then go back to raising your family amid such injustice and danger, securing your own comfort and achievements without much thought to others’ suffering.
The PHS Parents’ Club held its December meeting at Mulberry’s Home on “Giving Tuesday,” and it was an opportune time to feel thankful about the focus of all of our Parents’ Clubs. As Principal Daniels pointed out, we’re not in the position of other Bay Area districts forced to talk about escalating violence on campus, or an emotionally stifling, pressure-cooker academic atmosphere. Instead, we discussed professional development for the World Language department and the ongoing evolution of the math curriculum.
Like that sad, neglected dish of creamed onions we feel compelled to make every year, this column has become a Thanksgiving tradition I can’t shake. I didn’t submit it last year and got some grief from folks on the trot that they missed it, so I decided to give it a record fourth airing. When you bow your head this year before your feast, please join me in giving thanks to the professional turkey ‘stimulators’ who have made your entrée possible.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. A common Mulberry’s Thanksgiving question (second only to “where’s your bathroom?” post-Turkey Trot) is whether we’ll be selling turkeys this year. We’d love to. We’ve looked into it, too, but realized that the logistics aren’t on our side. Turkeys are enormous. There’s space for approximately 4 ½ turkeys in our walk-in. So you see, we couldn’t have much of a program.
Have you heard the term ‘slackivism’? Coined in the era of Stop Kony and #BringBackOurGirls, it’s a negative-leaning term used to describe political or philanthropic actions some suspect provide more comfort and utility to the giver than to the intended recipient. It encompasses everything from temporarily filtering your Facebook profile photo to demonstrate your solidarity with marriage equality or Paris, to those websites my mom finds where you can click to send a daily bowl of rice to an impoverished child.
But here’s the thing. As Nicholas Kristof famously pointed out, armchair slactivism is a whole lot better than armchair apathy. And some of the initiatives dubbed ‘feel good’ by the cynics have produced tangible results on the exact issue they were intended to impact.
For most families, listening to an older relative opine on the good old days is as much a part of Thanksgiving as pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. This year, NPR’s StoryCorps has seized upon what’s already happening to unveil an audaciously ambitious goal: to preserve the voices and stories of an entire generation of Americans over one holiday weekend. And we can all help.
If you’re not already a fan of Story Corps, some day when you have a few minutes, visit their webpage and browse through the stories of ordinary peoples’ lives, dreams, and experiences. From the mother who hugged her son’s murderer, to the 85-year-old lox slicer, to the man who tracked down the third grade teacher who comforted him 50 years earlier at his mother’s funeral, it’s a far more satisfying procrastination break than Facebook. Or even, dare I say it, Amy Schumer videos.
At boot camp this Monday, it was clearly a banner day for the ducks. We campers spent the whole rainy morning watching them frolic in Lake Merritt. But even if they were the species most visibly enjoying the downpour, I daresay every creature on earth was pretty damn happy about it.
The sight of the delighted ducks reminded me of an insightful college list from this season. But first – do we all agree that the list thing has gotten completely out of control? It used to be that US News & World Report (does it still even exist as a magazine?) had the lock on the ridiculous rankings. Their longstanding, tyrannical “Best of” list is the one all the cool kids try to climb, despite the fact that it might as well be calculated by multiplying the number of volumes in the library by the liters of frozen yogurt dispensed at the main campus café, divided by the difference in membership between the marching band and the intercollegiate croquet team. Or something equally meaningless to true educational quality.