Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Monday's Horrible Football Referee Call That Ruined Green Bay's Life Forever

In case you hadn't heard: apparently, on Monday night the replacements did their worst ever refereeing and stole a game from the Green Bay Packers and basically ruined life as we know it and brought down the wrath of the universe upon all mankind, or maybe all footballkind. Or, maybe, they made a call based on the rules that other people couldn't see or understand, and it was devastating but in fact correct. Whichever the case, we know this much: U.S. citizens are ANGRY! I mean, is it possible to declare war on NFL refs? 'Cause we'll do it, oh yes, we will! What could we invade? (And is there any oil under there?) 

I wasn't watching the game in question. As it happens, I was at an entirely different football game, specifically, a fĂștbol game (you might say "soccer") here in Mexico. But when I got home and innocently did a little Facebook check before bedtime, there it was, all over my News Feed: the outrage! the horror! Could we invade Seattle, maybe?

I actually have nothing to say about the call in question because 1)I didn't see it 2)I don't care. But here's what I think is interesting: the ease with which we comment on how others do their jobs.

I don't just mean sports. I mean everything. Sports are definitely where this happens frequently: we, the masses, feel fully entitled to comment and judge what the players, refs, coaches, and managers decide on a daily or even minute-by-minute basis. OK, fair enough, we are spectators who, in a way, make the events possible. You could say the same for movies or books or performing or visual arts. But I'm talking about other jobs, too. Like customer service. Many of us feel super-entitled to comment on how the customer service agent did his/her job. Now I, like many, have worked in customer service, and when I comment on customer service, I try to explain specifically what the person failed to do (usually, it's that they failed to offer what they can do and persisted in telling me what they can't do, which was, like, the first lesson I always taught my Borders traineers: don't say "No"/"I can't"/"We don't have that." Tell them what you do have! So simple.)  But I hear a lot of people tell the story quite differently: "She was a jerk" "He was terrible" "I was pissed" "That sucked" and so on.

Teachers. Lots of people think they know how teachers should do their jobs. Politicians and parents are the two main culprits there. But why aren't we listening to the critical analysis of other teachers?

We even do this to doctors, sometimes. I think doctors are pretty sick of patients who have smugly diagnosed themselves using WebMD and a Google search or two. I know they are sick of patients demanding antibiotics for viruses.

I'm just so curious as to why we all feel totally comfortable declaring what some professionals should or should not have done,  but we rarely ask the other professionals in that profession to weigh in.

I think that I am qualified to comment upon how to do the following jobs: writer, editor, ESL teacher, legal intern, corporate trainer, bookseller, merchandising/inventory supervisor, public radio editorial or production assistant, customer service/reservations phone agent, Disneyland cast member, babysitter, paper carrier. But how many other jobs do I weigh in on?

OK, granted, you could also be a qualified hobbyist. So, I can comment a little bit on: theater (acting and directing), gymnastics, yoga, softball, novel writing, poetry, a handful of musical instruments, choir singing, etc. But still, I really have no place to dictate how a yoga teacher "should" teach, because I am not certified or as advanced in my practice. And a few poetry slam prizes don't really mean I should lord it over the Poet Laureate.

I just think it is interesting to ponder how very much we think we know about how other people should do their jobs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Consider Cat Stevens

Today I thought quite a bit about Cat Stevens. I don't want to end up like him. Allow me to explain.

So, like, Cat Stevens is awesomely talented, and he made a huge contribution to the world with his music, not to mention his charitable, social, etc. contributions that came after his pop star days.  I mean, let's just take Tea for the Tillerman. That is an incredible album. It is so easily a desert island disc. It is in fact such a desert island disc, such a masterpiece, that I can't imagine anyone not liking it. There are some albums I would bring to my desert island that I recognize might not go to everybody's desert island, but this one? No, this one is sheer musical truth. If someone were to listen to Tea for the Tillerman and not like it, I would really, seriously ask that person what the hell is wrong with him or her.

And by the way, to explain that it contains "Wild World," "Sad Lisa," "Miles from Nowhere," "Where Do the Children Play?" and "Father and Son," among other amazing songs, does not even do it justice, because it is an album album, to be listened to as such, in one big flowing fell swoop. It will move your soul, if you listen.

OK, so then on top of that Cat Stevens has a million other musical hits, AND he has collaborated with loads of great stars, AND then he quit the music industry to go soul-searching, AND he has tried to make the world a better place, AND, of course, there's the whole fact that he is not even named Cat Stevens anymore -- well, I mean, he never was, as that was a stage name, but now he is Yusuf Islam -- and he is all about his personal spiritual journey.

And despite all this, you know that in his obituary in The New York Times and wherever else, they're going to hit on the "Salman Rushdie controversy" within a few paragraphs.  (Note: it's ironic that I'm totally having a Cat Stevens moment in my heart and on my MP3 player this week, because literature-wise I am having a Salman Rushdie moment this week -- what's up with that, universe?)  I mean, you can decide for yourself whether or not Cat Stevens was misunderstood and whether or not he actually ever "supported" even in theory the idea of the fatwa against Rushdie, but the bottom line is that he's in the mix. He's associated with it. People burned his albums. (Record albums!!! Remember those? How could the kids today ever even protest a recording artist so fervently? No wonder Chris Brown has got off so easily in the public eye--what are the kids supposed to do, a mass deletion of his song from their iTunes? Not the same effect, I'd say.) Designing Women referenced the burning of his albums as the epitome of free speech mental gymnastics in one episode. The Cat Stevens-Salman Rushdie controversy is famous, famous, famous. I personally don't really think all that entirely much about it, because 1.)I do think he was partly misunderstood 2.)I think all religious fervor is f****d and more attention should be paid to all of it, not just highlighted examples in famous people and 3.)as I mentioned, when I listen to Tea for the Tillerman, I am transported to a higher plane, regardless of subsequent actions of the man who recorded it.

Even so, someone who also likes the Cat Stevens music asked me on Monday, "Do you know much about his life?" and I said, "Yeah, some" and I found myself talking about the alleged support of the Rushdie fatwa within a few sentences. What gives?!  This is why I know it will come up in any and all Cat Stevens remembrances. It's just such a pop culture touchstone.

And that is why I say that I don't want to end up like Cat Stevens. Not because I don't want to end up Muslim (well, that either) but because I don't want to end up with this one random incident always being brought up about me. I want my contributions to be diverse and far-reaching and not overshadowed by any one thing, especially one thing that might be a foolish mistake. I mean, it's like Bill Clinton, who could have been a truly great contributor to the world but will always have Monica Lewinsky haunting him...some things just will not go away. I think one of my goals is to get my art and self and creations out there in the universe without ever having that one unfortunate disrupting incident.

Now, as for a series of rebellious and crazy incidents over the years? This is definitely on the table.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's the stupid economy

I'm not really sure when we turned the job of President of the United States into the job of Man in Charge of the Economy. (And no, it should not be a job description with "man" in the title, but that's how the powers that be like it. It should not be a man in the White House now, and it should not have been a man that won the Democratic nomination in 2008, but none of this is the point of this particular blog entry, so let's focus.) We are obsessed, it would seem, with the economy, and more importantly with the idea that it is the president's job to manage/control/"fix"/be blamed for the economy. I'm curious about this.

I mean, for example, there's the Constitution. That's a good place to check for presidential job duties. In that document, the prez is more of a foreign powers/treaties guy, who should make recommendations to Congress. Obviously, the federal budget and the national economy are great subjects about which to make said recommendations, but that would simply mean hundreds of People in Charge of the Economy, not one.

I'm not saying that this is a new problem. Grover Cleveland, James Buchanan, and Martin Van Buren are just a few of the presidents who were blamed for dire economic circumstances during the 19th century.But why? What happened? When did we decide that one guy (guy, ugh) is in charge of it all? It's not as if he is called the Economist in Chief, even.

I'm also curious about the way the self-styled conservatives, specifically, talk about this right now. Their general discourse seems to be that Mitt Romney is the better candidate to "handle" the economy. (Notice there is no question as to whether it's the president's job to do this.)  But I also hear most of these small-government fiscal conservatives talk a lot about individual responsibility. They like to perpetuate the idea that every man (and sometimes, if we're lucky, every woman too) has the same opportunities to make money, start a business (as if all of us want to/are meant to start businesses), go from rags to riches, "build that," be successful, and maybe even get his own reality TV show one day. Personal responsibility, individual responsibility, freedom, liberty, and don't let those commie-liberals get their hands on my money! Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility, that's the rallying cry. Oh, except the economy sucks. So we need someone to fix it for us.This is what I hear them say: We don't want so-called big government to take away our money/guns/freedom or give too many services to anyone else, because we totally believe that we should be individually responsible. But, the president is In Charge of the Economy.

Doesn't that seem a little bit hypocritical?

Thursday, September 06, 2012


I don't always cross post my recent Literary Supplement updates here on my "main" blog....

...but when I do, there are copious amounts of beer involved and the story kind of usurps the book that was supposed to be the point of the blog entry. Yee-haw!