Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Have you ever Googled yourself? I strongly recommend it. Go ahead, just for fun: put your name in the Google search engine. I'll wait.

Wasn't that educational? What did you learn about yourself? Trust me, there's something you did that you've forgotten — but the Internet hasn't.

There's always been something around similar to the Internet, previously referred to as "the people who will mention to your grandmother what you've been up to — so watch it!" The Internet is just the most modern tool to remind you of your human foibles.

I learned a few things about myself when Googled — things I wouldn't think would be public, and yet manage to pop up on the World Wide Web. Thankfully, my grandmother was aware of them all, such as my athletic activities, as well as my intellectual pursuits and community presence.

First of all, I used to complain about my running times a decade or so ago. What was I thinking? According to the race times, I wasn't that terrible. These days, I'd dance a jig if I could claim those times. Even the slow ones from the last decade are far cooler than those I have clocked lately. Oh, the speed of youth.

Then there was my presence in social networking and communication sites. I joined a couple of those sites because I was advised to do so by people more savvy than I — and garnered a couple more hits on the Web as a result. (I also get to have regular conversations with Valerie, which is the real reason I signed up in the first place). Thankfully, I've treated these as though my stepchildren could see them — which they can — so aside from evidence of a few bad hair days, there's (hopefully) little cringe-worthy material on there.

I knew I was not alone, but the Internet provides a nice reminder of this fact. I was re-introduced to a person of the same name in London (medical services, a laudable field) and as a public safety official in Pennsylvania.

Incidental uses of my name came up in ways I never expected. I am identified as a poetry lover on the BBC Web site — in a conversation I participated in nine years ago. I Tweet. I Flickr. My foray into British hedgehogs is featured in at least two feature articles across the pond. And who knew my family name could be used for such (blush) interesting acronyms?

Then there was me. Lots of me. Real me. Of course, being a member of my alumni association and condominium board of directors, as well as spokesperson for at least one popular public annual event, has the result of putting one in the limelight.

Mostly, I'm identified through my profession and the very public nature of my work activities. (Yes, I'm a rock star. And you thought you knew me!) I am grateful to know my profile is respectable enough to keep me from blushing too brightly in the spotlight.

Fortunately, there are no YouTube videos of me practicing any Miss South Carolina-esque faux pas. (That is, of which I am aware — though in my youth, we shunned those newfangled "lightbox" contraptions because the little painters in them were thought to capture our souls.)

In the end, the Internet proves the old axiom that remains as true in my dotterage as it did in my youth: all you have is your name and your reputation, so don't do anything that would embarrass your grandmother. If you ever forget that fact, the Internet is there to remind you — and in a very public way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Poetry, Past and Present

Watch Elizabeth Alexander read her poem during the 2009 Presidential Inauguration.

While you're at it, go a little further back.

Read Maya Angelou's poem read at the 1993 Presidential Inauguration, and watch her read it.

Read Miller Williams' inaugural poem.

Read the story of Robert Frost's poem read (or not) during the 1961 Presidential Inauguration. Then read the poem.

And while you're at it, check out this video about the Henry Ransom Center. Very cool. (It has nothing to do with Inaugural Poetry, but it's still very interesting.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Celebration and Poetry

Here is a poem by the poet Elizabeth Alexander, chosen by President-Elect Barack Obama to help celebrate his inauguration. I hope you will join me in listening to her reveal it on the steps of the Capitol during the Inauguration event (or you can purchase a chapbook of it from Greywolf Press, which I encourage).

No matter what you think of the incoming or outgoing administration, celebrate the arts — and poetry — with gusto. Read, listen, enjoy.

Turn to the arts, to poetry, to celebrate, mourn, whatever your mood.

Poetry is waiting for you. Go to it.


Filene's department store
near nineteen-fifty-three:
An Aunt Jemima floor
display. Red bandanna,

Apron holding white rolls
of black fat fast against
the bubbling pancakes, bowls
and bowls of pale batter.

This is what Donna sees,
across the "Cookwares" floor,
and hears "Donnessa?" Please,
This can not be my aunt.

Father's long-gone sister,
nineteen-fifty-three. "Girl?"
Had they lost her, missed her?
This is not the question.

This must not be my aunt.
Jemima? Pays the rent.
Family mirrors haunt
their own reflections.

Ladders. Sisters. Nieces.
As soon as a live Jemima
as a buck-eyed rhesus
monkey. Girl? Answer me.

by Elizabeth Alexander
From The Venus Hottentot. Copyright © 2004 by Elizabeth Alexander.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chris' Top Five Time Spenders — er, Web Sites

The following Web sites have no real redeeming qualities.

Having said that, I have been known to spend hours there. In fact, I'm sure I could have written the Great American Novel (had I been so inclined) in the time I have spent at these sites. I share them with you so you also can spend hours pursuing amusement on the Internet.

1. Best of Craigslist
These are for real. Honest-to-goodness people wrote these, probably not with the intention of them winding up on this site — but thank heavens they did. Read them aloud, if you can. Frankly, I'm too busy gasping and laughing to finish a sentence. It gives me inspiration.

2. List Universe
I cannot read just one. (Thanks, JFrater!) Nope, I open multiple tabs with multiple lists, then choose more lists from the "suggested lists" at the end of the lists. Lost yet? You will be, in wonder, when you visit this site. Don't say I didn't warn you!

3. Lord of the Peeps: Fellowship of the Peeps
I don't eat Peeps. They amuse me and remind me of my friends, the Strolling Peeps. And I am a Lord of the Rings fanatic. Put these together and you have a site that amazes me how adults spend time with dioramas and marshmallow treats.

4. CuteOverload
I tamed a roomful of possible enemy combatants with the photos and videos of kittens, puppies and, yes, hedgehogs on this Web site. (Where do you think the obsession started?) This site has added many words to my lexicon, including nom, Caturday, 'tocks and Bunday. There are some days when I leave this Web site visible on the South Monitor at work because I need dabs of cuteness during the day. I also "borrow" many of the photos for screensavers — and like watching the faces of people in a meeting as they look over my shoulder at some of the cutest photos on the planet popping up on my monitors. Thanks, Meg!

5. YouTube
I know I am not alone in this obsession. How else can a woman of the '80s watch music videos? Nickelback and Weird Al Yankovic post their videos on this site, and I am eternally grateful. (So do Britney Spears and Fergie, but they're my secret indulgences — shhhh!) And yet it's so much more. I have watched Miss South Carolina 2007 embarrass herself, I have watched Matt dance in front of the Taj Mahal and dance with tribesmen in Papau, New Guinea, I have watched Jordan dance in my hometown (in tribute to Matt), I have watched Uni the Hedgehog. I could go on and on, but you get the gist. Type in any word and there's a video for it. Go ahead and try it.

What are some of your favorite sites?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Fear in the Air

On New Year's Day, a few passengers sitting in an airplane on the tarmac wondered aloud, while awaiting takeoff, where the safest seats were on their airplane.

Sound familiar? That's one of my regular conversations when sitting down in my seat on an airplane. (The other is making David close his eyes and tell me where the two nearest exits are.)

Well, the passengers above were thrown off the plane, and AirTran refused to rebook them. The entire family was removed from the plane and left at the airport.

Are you horrified? Indignant? Looking for a pen to write letters to the airline and your local newspaper editor?

I forgot to mention: the "suspects" were Muslims. Most of the family members were of South Asian descent; the women donned headscarves and the men were bearded.

Does that change your reaction?

I hope not. It didn't change mine. In fact, it made me even angrier.

My family has been in the airline business since long before I was born. I have been on planes my entire life. My family members are the pilots, flight attendants and airline mechanics, so I trust the workers in that industry. No plane crash, hijacking or other unfortunate event, intentional or accidental, has deterred my use of airplanes. In fact, the only time I decided to change my travel plans and stay off planes was in late September 2001 — and not for the reason you would expect.

I wasn't afraid of terrorists. Heck, I figured they were long gone by then, leaving us to clutch our hearts, keen and be afraid of the airline industry — and making ridiculous procedures such as allowing only one ounce of shampoo in our carry-on bags and making us use plastic "sporks" (which could be used as weapons, but we weren't going to be as uncivilized as to require people to eat with their fingers).

I chose to return my ticket and skip my high school reunion because I was afraid of cowboys. Americans were frightened enough to mistake me for a northern Afghani when I wasn't frightened enough as a passenger.

In the years following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, America has worn its fear like a hairshirt and has taken liberties that it would denounce others for even considering. We have allowed our leadership to imprison people without due process, representation, or even a trial date. We have allowed spying and torture. We have allowed violations to our civil liberties because we are terribly, terribly afraid.

Frankly, I'm more afraid of our government than I am of the terrorists. Heck, I know terrorists are out to get me. The government, on the other hand, should be trying to protect what I hold dear, rather than take away something as silly as civil liberties.

We also have given ourselves and our government permission to be racial profilers. We have forgotten Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the rubble and anguish of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. We have forgotten Dr. Theodore John Kaczynski. We have forgotten about Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt. We have forgotten that Americans can be terrorists, too, no matter their religion or ethnicity.

We have forgotten that fear is a bigger threat than human beings from any country or any religion.

I am not so naïve as to believe that there are no Middle Eastern terrorists. I know some Muslims engage in terrorist activities against the United States and other countries, including their own. Some of them may even appear to be a traveling family with members as young as four years old. I understand exercising caution.

However, I refuse to be so afraid that my sense (I won't call it common) abandons me. If it is my undoing, then let it be so. I will not be pushed into bullying.

As Americans, as humans, we should expect no less from others.