School pictures are not positive things no matter how you look at them.  The process is traumatic, the preparation is painstaking, and nine times out of ten they do not turn out as you expected.  If school pictures were medical cases, they would have the lowest survival rate of any case.  In a way, I think school pictures are preparing students everywhere to accept the fact that one day they will be equally badly photographed as adults.

If you think about it, school pictures are the most pivotal moment of the year of the teenager.  You prepare for Picture Day with the best clothes you own and practice smiling in front of the mirror.  This would be frowned upon in any other circumstance, but any onlooker would surely understand the significance of Picture Day and not judge you.  The home preparation is only half of the battle, however, because once you leave the controlled environment of home, you then enter the arena in which you must maintain the perfected appearance until it is time to snap the actual picture.  This is the tough part.  This was especially difficult depending on the kind of classes you had before your school picture, like for me in seventh grade when my school picture was scheduled directly after wood shop where we would be staining benches.  Naturally, I could not manage to maintain my perfected appearance and ended up taking my seventh grade school picture with, among other calamities that befell it, a stain on my floral patterned shirt from wood shop class.

Taking the school picture is not any easier.  You wait in a line, usually in some order that reflects your last name, and when it is your turn you go and sit on a terribly uncomfortable stool.  I used to look quickly at the background and wonder why anyone though it was natural to be before a blue sky.  When I take pictures outside, there is always land behind me, I’m not in a hot air balloon floating over everything.  Yet my picture is not about what is natural, and which is made evident by my “trying too hard” practiced smile.  In my fated seventh grade school picture, I had the unfortunate disadvantage of braces, which were an even greater disadvantage because I had decided to adorn them is with blue and yellow rubber bands as a nod to my school colors, which in turn yielded the impression of yellow teeth. Oh actually let me take that back, just ONE yellow front tooth.

The guy who takes our photos in school probably wanted to be a real photographer and experienced a rather shocking crash into reality.  I think he knows we hate everything about school picture day, and bears the weight of much disappointment as he knows there is no way we will like our picture.

Finally, there is the day when the pictures finally arrive.  It is a judgment day of sorts, and truly separates the lucky from the unlucky ones.  We wait an exorbitant amount of time for these pictures we will surely want to trash, and when they finally come there, is absolutely no patience among school-age students.  We want our packages and we want them now.  Nothing can get in our way.  I still remember that day in 7th grade when I opened up my school picture to see the tragic disappointment that lay before me.  When I brought that picture home to my mother, I remember her shrugging and saying “well, it’s going on the piano.”

To this day I am terrified of floral patterned shirts.

School pictures are surely a right of passage, a necessary teenage evil which promises to haunt us for days, or in my case, years to come.

When I was in first grade, my father took me to a baseball game for my birthday.  By all appearances, it looked like a Hallmark commercial.  But, as my father likes to say, I didn’t last more than two innings before having finished my hotdog and soda, I begged to be taken home.  My father, taking compassion upon me, left the game with me in tow and as we pushed past strangers on our way out of the stadium, my father says two men looked at him with pity and said: “next time, bring your son instead.”

And that brings me to tonight’s blog.  I sometimes watch my friends’ three-year-old daughter whom I’ve known for about a year.  We have what I would say is a decent relationship, as good as one can have with a three-year-old, and when I saw that Beauty and the Beast was being remarketed as a 3D movie, I thought perhaps she would be an ideal companion for this outing.  Yes, I sincerely wanted to go myself, but thought perhaps the magic would be renewed in my own heart seeing it through the eyes of a child.  My intentions were good.

I picked Lila up at 6:15, this gave us more than enough time to make 6:45 showing and acquire the necessary snacks that make the childhood movie-going experience.  I myself have many happy memories of sneaking Chinese chicken into theaters for my father, but that is a story for another time.  We got our 3D glasses and little popcorn and drink combo boxes. We then made our way into the theater with me balancing both snack boxes in my arms while trying to get the door.  The theater was empty, which I found odd.  We attempted to settle in to a seat, but I discovered quickly that Lila was actually too light to keep the seat from folding up with her in it, a discovery that was terrifying to her.  To preempt the tears which I could see coming, I set the down the snack boxes and picked her out of the folding seat and set her down, assuring her she could enjoy the movie seated on my lap, which calmed her down.  It was then that one of the snack boxes tipped over and spilled popcorn and soda all over the seat.  Noticing the popcorn but not the soda, I grabbed Lila and sat down on a pile of ice.  Although disappointed, I was determined not to let this ruin our movie-going experience.  This was about the time I realized something else was not right.

I had not seen Beauty and the Beast in quite a few years, but I was fairly certain that the movie did not begin with the sentimental dance in the yellow dress and spruced up beast to the song sung by the Angela Lansbury-tea pot.  Checking the time, I realized that somehow, we’d ended up in the 5:20 showing rather than the intended 6:45.  Feeling rather like I wanted something to go right tonight, I went back out to the ticket counter and explained the mix-up to the cashier, who said, confused: “There is no 6:45, just a 5:20 and 7:45.”  It was now my turn to be confused, and glancing from the cashier to the theater to Lila who was picking popcorn kernals from the surviving snack box, I thought, “Well, she’s three years old.  Does she really grasp the concept of this?  We could watch this movie until the end and go home and she’d probably be fine.”  The cashier asked if I wanted to stay in the theater to catch the beginning of the next showing, and I thought this a good compromise.

By the time we returned to the theater and repositioned ourselves comfortably in the empty theater with Lila’s popcorn and drink, and this was about the time that the customary semi-violent climactic scene was taking place.  As the muscly Gaston approached the despondent beast with a knife and a blazing torch, Lila became understandably disturbed.  My assurances that it would all be over soon did no good, and soon I had a crying little girl in an empty theater next to spilled popcorn and soda in a movie we’d walked in to twenty minutes from the resolution.

“Let’s go outside while it’s scary.”  I urged, and we took the popcorn outside and watched amusing iPhone videos as I listened to hear that the violent scene was ending.  Lila was happily eating popcorn watching videos at this point, and was not game for my suggestion that we “go back in and watch as they all become humans again.”  She was probably not game because she had no idea the furniture was even under any kind of spell, and looked up at me and said “Can we go home now?”  I reflected upon the evening, upon whether or not this was about me or her, and knowing the answer nodded my head that yes, we were indeed going home.  And it was then that out of the mouth of a babe came wisdom as Lila chirped:

“I’m too tiny for this.”

“Tiny?” I responded, “Perhaps, but I think it is more that Rachel was too ambitious.”  She giggled at this, and told me she liked dolphins.

I returned to the ticket counter feeling the cold wetness of my soda-soaked jeans and Lila’s now clammy hand in my own.

“Is everything ok, Miss?” The cashier asked.

“You know what the problem is with the 5:20 show?” I began, which was probably already more than he wanted to know “It means that this kid has to watch a climactic fight scene with no emotional attachment to the characters to cushion the conflict.”  The cashier looked at me blankly.

“She’s scared out of her mind.”  I offered, trying to quell the English teacher within.

“Would you like to stay for the 7:45?”  He asked.

“No, I think a refund is the way to go.” I said, to which he aptly complied.  When he asked if there was anything else he could do for me, anything at all, I turned around and said

“Sir, when I was six years old, I begged my dad to take me home from a baseball game two innings into it.  So I’m pretty sure that I just got what was coming to me twenty years later.”

He laughed.  Lila told me once again that she liked dolphins.

It was a great night.

 

Sometimes I sit around wondering about things.  Tonight I am writing this blog with a horrendous headache and in a state of utter exhaustion.  In other words, I’m regretting the 30 day commitment and could not be more excited for when creative energy can stop being something I force by the skin of my teeth.  Right now this begrudged blog is the only thing standing between me and watching the BBC show “Sherlock” with a gluten free brownie and a glass of cold almond milk, so I’m rather eager to pound it out.  If this attitude bothers you, then I apologize.

I don’t really understand fake fruit as a decorative pursuit.  If you want people to think you have food in your home, have real food.  There is nothing charming about fake fruit any more than those who decorate with fake pies.  It’s a tease.  I also don’t like it when people decorate with chickens in their kitchen.  How does a chicken communicate the sense of being at home?  Moreover, why is the chicken the chosen calling card of country living simply because it is so widely consumed?  Perhaps we should decorate our homes with hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup.  I think it would be just as cute.  One time in Marshalls I saw a decorative chicken that was actually made OF fake fruit, and I stood stupefied that everything I dislike about home decor had come together in that monstrosity.

I find crop tops very confusing and mostly I’m irritated that they have returned as a fashion trend because they look terrible on me.  I don’t think they look nice of anybody.  And yet we are all victims to changing trends, which means we must embrace on some level the new things that become popular and/or patiently wait for the things we like to return to the kingdom of current style.  I myself don’t care for fashion.  When I was working as a substitute teacher I wore the exact same outfit every day because I didn’t see the same people twice.  Now I am expected to come up with original outfits daily, and I feel this is a completely unfair expectation which I have more than once silently protested against by repeating my sweaters on top of different camisoles.  We all stick it to the man in different ways, I guess.

The best way to identify a product that is unnecessary is when the person using it in the commercial is doing something no one does.  Super sharp knives that cut through pennies?  When will I ever have to do something like that?  The US Mint seems to have things under control, yet as I lay awake watching television at 2:00am I see someone in a bad sweater trying to sell me a knife that says otherwise.  I feel the same way when I see car commercials and the driver is trekking through a dessert or what appear to be the Swiss Alps.  I don’t think people get trapped in the dessert with all-terrain tires.  I think the kinds of situations that end with being trapped in the dessert (being a character in a movie where time travel goes wrong) do not happen to ordinary people, especially those with the foresight to prepare for it.  if you’re trapped in the dessert, chances are you’re on foot and are looking desperately for your camel.  A car will not help you unless you can sell it to repay your drug debts.  But perhaps I’m too hard on commercials because I can’t for the life of me get my iPhone to read text messages to me like that guy on the commercial.

Sunscreen confuses me, especially when the numbers get really high or low.  I can’t imagine SPF 4 is doing anything, and I’m pretty sure SPF 100 is also known as “staying inside the house”.  I understand the middle ground, although I am reasonably skeptical of anything that promises to harass and tame the rays of the sun for $4.99 a bottle.  I just can’t imagine we can have that much power for so little money.

If I can think of any other confusing things, I will be sure to write again.  But this was what was on my mind right now.

I am still working on my extensive blog, but in the meantime I might as well throw bones to my readers.      Some days it is not easy to put something out there simply because of the lack of time in the day to develop something really good.  Tonight I am writing from the bed of my teenage years as I am spending the night at my mother’s house.  I am not exactly sure at what time in our lives the houses we live in during our childhoods cease to be ours and begin to be “my mom’s place”.  I would imagine this transition to come at about the same time we start calling our present dwellings “home”.  I never called college home, mostly because I couldn’t consider a place where I shared one single room with another girl and the amassment of our belongings (which equals that of a small village) “home”.  And yet my present digs feels like home to me as I have come into my own and began my own version of homemaking.  This consists of the following things in my house:

-Two pieces of wall art that my cousin made me buy to cover up my stark white walls.  I strategically placed them where the previous owner had put nails.

-A framed article of the one thing I ever had published in my college newspaper.  I put it up because it’s where I found a third nail.

-A painting of a log cabin and trees on butcher paper held up by blue painter’s tape which my friend made as a decoration for a lumberjack party we had at my house a few weeks ago.

-A gaggle of unfolded dish towels by my bedside which I’ve been meaning to fold for over two weeks.

-A bedroom where the only discernible order is the fact that my books are organized on the shelves by genre.

-A sectional sofa (rejected from my mother’s house), an area rug (rejected from a friend’s house), a lamp (which is my roommate’s who is currently moving out, meaning I must get a new lamp), a table lamp (rejected from another friend’s house) and an end table which my mother also did not want.  The only thing that is new is the television and the stand it is on.  I am proud of this.

-Kitchen gadgets: despite having a sparsely decorated home and mostly rejected furniture, I have wonderful kitchen gadgets.  Considering that my other dearly loved habit (besides mediocre blogging) is cooking, I must be prepared for that.

That is the place I call home, where I rest my head at the end of the day of work, where I sometimes entertain guests but mostly see as a respite from the company of others.  Home may mean other things to other people, but for me, it is mostly a place of respite and refuge, a place where I can manage to hide away a little bit, even though every undesired catalogue in the world seems to find its way to my door.  But that’s okay, because it’s not uncommon at all for me to use junk mail as a napkin.

Sometimes I peruse the internet for craft ideas.  Please don’t stop reading this blog after reading that sentence.  Although this is precisely the type of behavior I would normally mock, I must say that I have fallen victim to the “I can make that” feeling that occurs to many of us in the aisles of our local WalMart.  But, like many of us have discovered, does not always turn out quite like we had imagined.

Whenever I think about doing something myself, I immediately have flashbacks to my eight grade “Home and Careers” class.  Previously called “Home Economics” by more tolerant generations, my “Home and Careers” class was where we went hoping to eat something halfway decent.  This of course, usually meant we had to make something halfway decent, which was not as easy as one might think.  Our teacher, Mary Stewart, was a constant whispered joke because our schedules ironically said “M. Stewart” at a time when Martha Stewart was at her height of popularity (before the whole prison thing).  I don’t think Mrs. Stewart found this humorous, or anything humorous for that matter.  One day we were slated to make donuts, which sounded exciting at first.  We were presented with giant pots of boiling oil and dough.  My group rolled dough into balls and dropped them in the oil as instructed by Mrs. Stewart, who was at this point standing, arms crossed in the corner of the room, saying nothing.  Ordinarily we would have had enough time to deep fry the dough, leave the balls to dry and roll them in powdered sugar for a delightful finished product.  But as the class period came to a close, we found we had to skip steps and began plunging the piping hot dough balls directly into the plastic bag of powdered sugar.  It didn’t take us long to figure out that hot dough balls and plastic didn’t mix, although it did take the melted plastic bag to clue us in.  It seemed a terrible amount of trouble for donuts.

There are times when I do something myself and feel as though it’s a terrible amount of trouble.  As a child my cousin and I decided to make our own toothpaste by mixing together all the toothpaste in the house.  This, of course, was no trouble.  But when I look up recipes for making my own face lotion and body scrub, then I start feel differently.  And yet at the same time, there is something slightly empowering about being able to make something yourself.  I suppose in the end that is all I really seek, the ability to choose whether to something myself or not, and perhaps make the more empowered choice to not.  I’d love to say “Of course I can sew my own clothes” but I choose to buy instead.  But every once in a while, it’s good to make cookies or cupcakes from scratch instead.

*Although this was a two part blog, I just added on to the original one to keep continuity of thought.  So I’m not cheating on my 30 Day Challenge, everyone :)*

I have been watching television since “The Adventures of Dink the Dinosaur” appeared on the 12-inch Panasonic in my parents’ living room.  I also remember watching a trailer for the gangster movie classic “Juice” which looking back is a very odd trailer to appear during a Saturday morning cartoon.

Years have passed since the days I would build Lego kingdoms while watching Dink conquer the prehistoric world (yes, I assure you, I was a little girl), and yet television, I would venture, has not changed very much at all.  Our entertainment industry, though its venues and mediums have grown increasingly refined and expensive, remains governed by the same basic archetypes.

The Medical Drama

It comes on at about 9:00pm Eastern Standard Time.  Actually it might come on at 8:00. To be utterly vulnerable with my readers, I have no idea what to do when the shows are advertised as “at 8/9 Central”. For me, it’s a crapshoot.  But back to my point: The Medical Drama will never die, which is not meant to be a terrible pun.  The Medical Drama will reinvent itself, probably on ABC, and will most assuredly consist of a woman with a past and a man with an accent whose wild ways need to be tamed.  The Medical Drama is a rare hybrid of the soap opera and the “freak of the week” template, which demands its protagonist to solve a complex and rare medical problem while maintaining unresolved romantic tension and some killer hair.  Again, no pun is intended.  The Medical Drama will run a few years until its writers run out of DSM symptoms and handsome actors/actresses begin movie careers.

Warning: Possible side effects of The Medical Drama include a false sense of medical knowledge and the growing concern that you have whatever rare disorder you see misrepresented on the show.  Additional warning: WebMD is not an acceptable diagnostic tool in these instances, as turning off your television is far more effective. 

The Family Sitcom

Immensely popular for many years, the Family Sitcom has recently changed forms but not substance.  For years we watched as families “just like us” plus of course, an unwelcome and strange neighbor/cousin/nephew/handyman faced the challenges of life with laughter, love, and theme music.  I think it might have disillusioned us to how quickly things could be solved in fact, as we silently wished for our own laugh track when dropping a carton of eggs on the freshly mopped floor.  In recent years, we stopped wanting to be told when to laugh and the guiding track was dropped from modern sitcoms such as in the aptly named “Modern Family.”  It was, in this case, replaced by the interview-style mockumentary format. But the neatly packaged lessons remain firmly intact, and will hopefully inspire generations to come to solve all their problems in 30 minutes.

The Talk Show

Mark my words and mark them now, as long as boredom exists, talk shows will flourish.  As long as television and movie personalities are washed up against the shore of old age and irrelevance, cable talk shows will provide them a way to accept the changes with grace.  As long attractive people with interesting signs stand outside television studios, audiences will be needed to fill the stadium seating.  As long as raising starlets need to be clothed, designers need to be publicized and desks need to be seated at, I say unto you they will be clothed publicized and filled. The American Talk Show will never die so long as we have ears to hear.  Forever and ever, amen.

The Teenage Dramedy

It’s the launching pad for many young actors and actresses before they go on to develop a publicized drug addiction, an even more publicized rehab stint and a tattoo in the shape of a butterfly, which is real fame.  Cable networks will air a teenager with a quirky best friend, a friendly neighbor boy who isn’t attractive until the fourth season when he gets contact lenses, and completely clueless parents.  A malicious sibling or schoolyard nemesis provides the needed conflict and there is inevitably a theme song sequence that includes cartoons of some kind.  The hero/heroine of the Teenage Dramedy contemplates life lessons and faces issues that will be solved quickly and forgotten about in all subsequent episodes.  The Teenage Dramedy is a staple of young adulthood that we all watch it far longer than we’d dare admit.

The Political Agenda-Driven Cop Shows *AKA Attractive Lawyers*

If you’re not into the soap opera of The Medical Drama and you’re in for some grittier than The Family Sitcom and absolutely love non-subtle political agendas, then this is your show.  The weekly topics mirror our own headlines to the point of being considered dramatized versions of the news itself, yet in this world we have a near guarantee of justice at the hands of a lawyer, cop, detective or judge who is easy on the eyes.  One interesting calling card of this television genre is the frequent use of a flawed character that we like, but is rough around the edges or prone to a destructive habit, which makes them both admirable but relatable at the same time.  The bad side effect of watching these shows in excess is a false sense of law knowledge and may make you feel over-qualified for jury duty, which I and every real cop/lawyer/detective/judge out there will assure you is not remotely the case.

Reality Television and Game Shows

If there be anything that hints at the death of television as we know it, it would be these recently evolved beasts.  While scripted television has not exactly decreased, scripted television of a different kind has been enjoying a steady rise to the top.  The Reality Show satisfies both the audience’s appetite for drama and the human’s desire for superiority.  Looking for a hot mess against which to compare yourself and feel better?  Reality Television provides the perfect canvas.  Watch, and feel smarter than those who, as you watch, may in fact be making you dumber.  It’s a fascinating paradox.  The formula for a reality show is simple.  Find a group of people who possess detestable/admirable/unique qualities and fix/showcase/challenge them before an audience.  I would imagine these shows to be relatively low budget and easy to produce since crazy people, their unifying trait, can be found everywhere.  Reality Television, in this humble blogger’s opinion, has just gotten started.  After all, there are only so many different stories that the other fictive shows can embody, whereas human ridiculousness exists in infinite quantities and forms.

I realize there are more shows I have not yet mentioned and more worth mentioning.  But I wanted to go through some of the basics if for no other reason than to point out that there is, as Solomon said, nothing truly new under the sun.  Television, from Dink the Dinosaur to the Real Housewives of New Jersey to House MD, will continue to shine brightly in millions of living rooms, inventing and reinventing itself with the times so long as welcome it, and even (as the Jersey Shore proves) when we do not.


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