Tuesday, February 09, 2016

WOMAN FORCED TO ADMIT SHE RARELY USES HER PHONE AS A PHONE


Less than six weeks after purchasing her Motorola 3G android phone, Kingston mother of two Jeannie Prinsen has admitted she seldom uses her new phone as an actual phone.

"I upgraded from my old flip phone because I hated how people snorted derisively whenever I opened it," said Prinsen, seemingly oblivious to the fact that others were probably paying absolutely no attention to her. "I know Adele uses one in her 'Hello' video, but I assumed that was just because of her extremely long nails." 

Prinsen got her new smartphone in a post-Christmas Koodo sale and imagined herself using it to make frequent, lengthy telephone calls to family and friends. Instead, she has found herself using it mostly to go on Facebook, exchange witty Twitter quips with neighbours about the Super Bowl halftime show, send and receive texts, and check the weather forecast.

In fact, when pressed, she admitted that she had only used her new phone to make a single call: one afternoon she phoned her husband to tell him she was just leaving Staples and would be home in less than half an hour.

The revelation seemed to take Prinsen by surprise, as she said, "I'm an introvert! I hate talking on the phone! I don't know what I was thinking." Having finally admitted to rarely using her phone as a phone, she asked plaintively, "Does that make me a bad person?"

If it does, she's in good company. Studies show that of all current smartphone users, only 3-5% of them regularly make what we would call "telephone calls" on it. In fact, on condition of anonymity, a few users even confessed that they had not yet set up voicemail and were not entirely sure how to do so.

These "facts" seemed to reassure Prinsen. She even pointed out that she knew of other people who had objects which they used for purposes other than what they were originally intended for: "I know someone who uses their treadmill to hang wet laundry on. And I even heard of someone who used one of those nail polish dryers as a paperweight."

Prinsen said she would continue using her phone not as a phone and has decided to go easy on herself for this lapse. "My word for 2016 is 'forgive myself,'" she said. When reminded that that was actually TWO words, she replied that 2016 would be the year she broke all the rules. "I might even start using semicolons in places where a comma would actually be more appropriate," said the online writing instructor, with a conspiratorial wink.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Making the road safer: the power of words



A few weeks ago we had a speaker at our church, Ed Wilson from International Justice Mission, which is an organization devoted to rescuing and restoring victims of sex trafficking. Besides talking to us about IJM's work, he also spoke on the topic of "Who is my neighbour?" using the parable of the Good Samaritan. He pointed out that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, where the man in the parable was walking when he was robbed and beaten, was a dangerous road -- and he challenged us by asking us what dangerous road we could help make safer.

His talk got me thinking about an incident I experienced about ten years ago. I was reading a major Canadian women's magazine that I subscribed to. In it was an article by a well-known and often controversial journalist. She was lambasting our former prime minister -- something that lots of other people were doing (and still do), and which was totally within her rights.

But one sentence jumped off the page at me: she described him as having "an Asperger-like inability to understand human beings."

I was so angry. I didn't care what she said about the prime minister; he was a big boy and could defend himself. But I cared what she said about people with Asperger's because I know, from close personal experience, that people with Asperger's are not "unable to understand human beings." Her comment was not only unkind, it was unfair and inaccurate. It was as if she was looking around for some weapon to attack someone she hated and thought, "Here's an easy stereotype; I'll use it to insult the prime minister, and who cares if it insults someone else."

I wrote a letter to the magazine's editor, criticizing the journalist's use of this cruel comment. I said I had a daughter with Asperger's who was an empathetic and caring girl (she was that way at age 8 and still is). Then I said I would never read this magazine again (which I haven't), and I ended by saying that if the writer wanted to call me to apologize, here was my phone number.

Much to my surprise ... she called me.

I picked up the phone one afternoon and a quiet, intense voice said, "This is X. I read your letter, and I'm sorry."

She said that things like Asperger's would be treated as shameful secrets in her family, and she commended me for being open about this subject.

We talked for a couple of minutes, but I honestly can't remember much of what she said because I was so shocked that she had actually contacted me. Before ending the call she gave me her personal email address. I kept it for a little while but then discarded it, since I realized I had no reason or desire to stay in touch with her.

The magazine printed my letter, too, and a number of people -- some of them only acquaintances -- mentioned it to me.

This episode didn't turn me into a vocal autism or Asperger's advocate, but it taught me something. It brought home to me the power of words -- for both good and bad. One sentence can spread an unfair, ignorant stereotype ... and one sentence challenging that perspective can touch a heart and change a mind.

Of course, the outcome isn't always that positive or quick. Another writer, another magazine, might have just ignored me. Worse still, often when someone speaks out in defence of another person who's being treated unfairly, they end up being attacked themselves. I see that on social media way too often: a person of integrity is publicly vilified just because they stepped out and objected to what they were seeing or hearing.

I think our church speaker's question -- What road are we being called to make safer? -- is a good one. It reminds us that some battles may not be ours to fight; after all, sometimes those we rush to defend are perfectly capable of standing up for themselves and don't want or need a spokesperson.  

But if we feel that call to enter the fray, it probably means we should. Taking a stand on behalf of those who are being disparaged by someone with a platform may not make us popular. But it may make the road -- and the world -- feel a little bit safer to someone who's misunderstood, vulnerable, or marginalized.

Words are powerful. Let's use them well. 


(photo freeimages.co.uk)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Mind your P's



Several years ago I used to visit the parenting forums on the Today's Parent website; it was a good place to share ideas and ask for advice.

One day a woman posted to the "School-Age Children" forum. Her question went something like this:  

"My little boy can be pretty noisy at school.  Yesterday when he came home he told me that his teacher had told him to be quiet, and then she taped his mouth. He said she did it lightly -- but is she even allowed to do that? What should I do?"

Well, the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan, and so did the punctuation marks:

"OMG, are you serious??????"

"Call the principal RIGHT AWAY!!!!!"

"Call the school board and have her removed. No teacher should be allowed to do that to a child -- EVER!!!"

"Absolutely zero tolerance!  This person should not be allowed around children -- EVER!!!!"

"Call Children's Aid! That's abuse!!!!"

"I don't care if she taped his mouth 'lightly'; that's absolutely unacceptable.  If the school won't do anything, call the police!!!"

Then someone wrote, "She did WHAT? Like, with duct tape?"

The original poster wrote back: "No -- she reached out with her finger and taped him on the mouth."

"Uh ... what do you mean, 'with her finger'?"

"She taped him on the mouth, like she was saying 'Shhh, shhh,' trying to get him to be quiet. It was just light, but I don't know if she's actually even supposed to touch him at all."

"Ohhhhhh .. you mean she TAPPED his mouth."

And suddenly it was a whole different discussion.

Some mild disagreement followed about whether a teacher should ever touch a student, even gently, especially when attempting to exercise discipline -- and about whether it even made sense for a teacher to say "Shh" and touch a child's mouth rather than her own. These were valid points of debate, but the tone of the conversation had completely changed. Nobody seemed to doubt that TAPING a child's mouth and TAPPING a child's mouth were two very different things calling for drastically different responses.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this incident:

Small things can make a big difference -- as anyone knows who has tried to send an email message but has one wrong digit in the email address.

It's often a good idea to confirm and clarify before reacting emotionally.

 Two things that look very similar can actually be worlds apart. 

And finally -- knowing how to spell and to conjugate verbs is really important. It can save you and everyone else a lot of bother.

Friday, January 15, 2016

January "Quick Lit": off and reading in 2016


As I do on the 15th of most months, I'm joining Modern Mrs. Darcy for her "Quick Lit" linkup, in which we share short reviews of what we've been reading in the past month. (Disclaimer: my reviews may or may not actually be short.)


Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans, and Out of Sorts: Making Peace With An Evolving Faith, by Sarah Bessey, are two great books to read one after another, as I did, because of their overlapping subject matter yet different treatment. Each one explores the author's journey from a relatively simplistic belief system, through disillusionment and doubt, to a more authentic faith that puts Jesus at the centre yet still allows room for questions and uncertainty. These books are both excellent. I can't really do justice to them in such a brief review, but here's my attempt:

Evans's book is structured according to seven sacraments; each section contains several chapters that address both her own ongoing love-hate relationship with the evangelical church and other themes and stories about the church at large, past and present.  Her style is a beautiful combination of poetic description, thoughtful storytelling (with lots of humour, often at her own expense), and honest questions about the church and her place in it.  As I read, I felt like I was watching her weave a tapestry. But rather than hiding all the knots and mistakes on the back, Evans brings the knots to the front, struggles with them, and leaves them there to be acknowledged as part of the whole picture of the church. 

Bessey's book unpacks her own faith journey, showing how she has wrestled with topics like the person of Jesus, the Bible, the work of the Spirit, community, the Kingdom of God, and more. Bessey's writing style is that of a wise, safe friend. It's like she's sitting cross-legged on the floor with you, unpacking boxes, sorting through old possessions and traditions, and sharing her own story of the joys and disillusionments of faith -- and sometimes grasping your hands to exhort you ("God does not want to use you: God wants to be with you because he loves you") or pray over you.

Contrary to some online reviews which seem to have been written by people who didn't actually read the books, these books are absolutely NOT about "How I abandoned orthodox Christian teachings and created a whole new belief system that meets my needs." These are strong, faithful, articulate Christian women whose voices are well worth listening to.


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The Lake House is Kate Morton's latest novel. Like her other books, this one develops a complex mystery that spans decades. In 1933, an eleven-month-old baby boy disappears from his family's estate during a summer party. Seventy years later, a detective constable named Sadie stumbles upon the ruins of the estate and begins to investigate the unresolved case, enlisting the help of the missing boy's older sister Alice, who is now an elderly mystery novelist. 

Because I love Morton's work, I couldn't wait to devour this book -- and it was good, although I have to say I didn't like it as much as her previous two, The Distant Hours and The Secret Keeper. With the latter in particular, I became completely immersed in the story's atmosphere and found its final plot twist shocking yet believable and satisfying. With The Lake House, though, the "Sadie" plot line (detective gets suspended because of her mishandling of a sensitive case, goes away to sort things out, and stumbles upon a long-forgotten mystery) felt like a cliche; I kept wishing the book would stick to the past narrative rather than returning to the present-day one. Still, Morton again demonstrates her talent for weaving together different plot threads, building suspense, and showing how small incidents have ripple effects across generations. I wouldn't call it her best work, but I'd still recommend it to anyone who likes big, well-written novels that combine romance, history, and mystery.

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Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. This book is based on Strayed's "Dear Sugar" advice column, which she wrote anonymously in an online literary magazine for several years. (Strayed is the author of the bestselling memoir Wild, which is about her walk on the Pacific Crest Trail and which was made into a movie in 2014.)  The questions "Sugar" receives range from "Should I leave my husband?" to "What do you think about God?" to "Must I invite my father to my wedding?" to "Why am I so jealous?" etc. Strayed doesn't just dispense advice from a lofty mountaintop: she shares honest, often painful stories from her own past, challenges her questioners to face the truth and live out of it, and encourages them (with expressions like "sweet pea" as well as more, uh, colourful language) to dig deep and be their best selves. This is a really interesting, entertaining, insightful book.

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Have you read these, and if so, what did you think? And are you reading anything good so far in 2016? I'd love to hear your comments.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Just ducky: the end of the story




When I was a teenager, I was part of a Christian singing group. One of the group members was an older guy named Bill Andrews: he was a prolific songwriter who sang and played guitar, and he was the kind of person who seemed to travel wherever the wind took him. He was also a wood carver. At that time, one of his popular carvings was a potato-picker -- not the machine kind, but a figure of a man bending over to put potatoes into a basket. I bought one of these potato-picker carvings from him and gave it to my parents. It was fairly small -- the base of it was only about eight inches long -- so they set it on the window rail in the kitchen, above the blue couch. That's where it stayed ... for more than thirty years.

In August of 2014, my mom got sick and was diagnosed with liver cancer. While she was still in hospital, my dad moved to an apartment; she lived there with him for a couple of weeks before she died in September, but she never came back to the farm. 

During the time that the farmhouse was being emptied and cleaned, the potato-picker carving disappeared. It seemed strange that it could just vanish -- it had been in the same place for so many years, and many other knickknacks that had been around since forever seemed to have remained intact -- but it was also easy to imagine it being tossed out as garbage or lost in a pile of firewood. Nobody we mentioned it to had happened to see it, and it never did turn up. 

I knew it wasn't that important an item; after all, it had just sat there, mostly unattended to, for years, and its value was sentimental only. But I did feel a little sad that it was gone. I wished that I at least had some evidence of its existence, so I looked through the photos on my computer to see if there were any in which it appeared. This picture, from April 2012, is the only one I could find: the carving can be seen very faintly in the background, on the window rail above the heads of my niece and my dad.



A couple of weeks ago I got a Christmas card and note from my aunt (my mom's sister) in PEI. There was a little lump in the envelope, and when I opened it I found a one-and-a-half-inch-long carved wooden duck. 

My aunt told me in her note that she had happened to meet Bill Andrews, the maker of the original carving, on the street outside her house a few months earlier. She mentioned me, and Bill remembered me and how we had sung so many of his songs in our group. Then she told him about the potato-picker carving that had disappeared and asked him if he might happen to have one. "No, I make ducks now," he said. One day not long after, she found this duck in her mailbox, and she sent it to me.

I read her note to one of my brothers, and at the mention of the potato-picker he looked guiltily at his wife and said, "That was broken, so we threw it out" -- which made perfect sense. Probably it had fallen off the ledge once (or more than once) and got cracked; I could even envision my mom or dad just placing it back up there without even bothering to fix it. My brother probably had no idea of its origin, and the logical thing to do with a broken knickknack is to toss it out. 

When he said it was gone, I realized I didn't mind at all. I'm glad to know what happened to it. I'd actually rather know that it was actively discarded than wonder if it was languishing in a box somewhere or gathering dust on a shelf at Value Village. 

The little wooden duck is quaint, and I treasure it. It's not quite the same as having the potato-picker back, of course, but when I look at it, it sets into motion all the thoughts and memories that I've described here. And it carries its own touching associations: the fact that my aunt made a point of asking Bill about the potato-picker, that he made a point of returning to her house to put the duck in her mailbox, and that she sent it to me.

We've all heard accounts of people losing something and finding it again in the most unlikely way: "I happened to be strolling past a massive landfill and spotted something shiny, and there was my engagement ring!" Or "I was deep-sea diving in Florida and lo and behold, I found the glasses I lost ten years ago!"  This isn't one of those stories (sorry about that, if you were hoping for an unexpected twist at the end).  But it's still a nice one, isn't it?  A story can have a satisfying ending even if things don't turn out exactly the way we hoped.