My Outrage Detox

I’ve been a lazy blogger. But this one, I think, is worth revisiting right now.

Narrowback Slacker

I joined Facebook in the midst of the 2008 presidential election. It was super fun, especially for a work-at-home parent of young children who was craving a little water cooler conversation. I could chat with my carefully curated group of 25 or so friends, mocking this or that candidate mercilessly, and catch up with my old college buddies and former colleagues at the same time.

Over the past decade, Facebook has grown and changed, chipping away at the privacy rules (remember when you could hide yourself from “friends of friends”?) and connecting us to everyone and anyone we could possibly be connected too. That has value—it’s like an interactive white pages, really—but it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a wall of separation between different groups of people. Yes, you can (and should) create private groups for specific interests and conversations. But I found that my main feed had started to resemble a bar at four a.m., full of drunks…

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Birthday Gifts to Myself

My people don’t really bother with birthdays all that much. My siblings and I are just un-birthdayers, and my husband totally jumped on the bandwagon when he joined our tribe. I live in awe of those families who pull together elaborate themed parties for the kids, with craft tables and homemade cakes and invitations and, oh God, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

This is the birthday dynamic I grew up with: When you’re little, you get a cake and a couple of games in the yard with just the neighbors on the street, and once you turn, say, 11 or 12, birthdays just aren’t a big deal anymore. As an adult, I get a little eye-rolly over full grown people who annually celebrate their own birthdays, and kind of defensive when full grown people remember mine (oh-my-god am I supposed to remember YOURS now?). I’m not a monster: The kids get a birthday gift and a cake at home; I call my siblings and try to remember to text my grown up nephews on theirs; I buy presents for my young niece on hers. Spouse and I might eat out (or not) on ours. But there is little planning or fanfare involved in any of it. I did manage to pull off one birthday party in the backyard for each of them when they were little. I’m still recovering from it. Most years, we just told the kids, “I picked up a cake, and I’ll take you and a couple of friends to the movies.” They were invited to lots of fun parties that we never reciprocated. They can work this out in therapy when they get older.

Anywho, when I turned 40, I didn’t make much of it, other than to notice how easy it had suddenly become to gain weight (Seriously! It’s like you don’t even have to eat!) and that I gave even less of a shit what people thought than I did the year before. But as that year rolled on, I realized something else: after four decades on God’s green earth, you are kind of an adult whether you like it or not. You can actually decide what you want to do and what you don’t want to do, within reason. I mean, I can’t decide that I am a wizard or that I no longer wish to pay my taxes. But I digress. The point is, a few weeks after I turned 40 I decided–without realizing it–that I no longer had to go to parties.

In case my birthday party lameness was not hint enough: I do not enjoy parties. I hate mingling, I don’t like going out at night in general, and I really dislike large crowds, especially non-anonymous crowds. I can enjoy a rock show, for example, but I detest being in rooms full of people I sort of know chitting and chatting and celebrating. Of course, one’s twenties and thirties are filled with obligatory parties—weddings and christenings and wakes and all sorts of rights of passage that I’ve never shied away from, and most of which I really enjoyed (even the wakes). But “parties,” like, regular parties thrown for no apparent reason (or for an adult’s birthday–come on, you’re an ADULT!) where you have mingle with strangers and meet your friends’ other friends and be out after dark or even (ugh) wear a costume or whatever? Just no. So, when a good and kind friend said to me one warm summer night in my 41st year, with all goodness and kindess, “we are having a party tonight; you should stop by,” it finally struck me that I could say “Thank you for inviting me, but I don’t like parties. See you on the beach tomorrow!” And I did.

What an immensely freeing moment it was. The friend wasn’t insulted, and I wasn’t lying, and I wasn’t dragging my even more introverted husband out to chat with people he doesn’t know, and the next day, I had had a nice rest and plenty of social energy to expend mingling and chatting with people I ran into on the beach. All was right with the world. Quite accidentally, I had given myself a gift, and that gift was simply permission to decline invitations. I sometimes go to parties, but not just because I feel like I should.

I have determined that the best perk of getting older is that you can give yourself gifts like this. You don’t need to keep up with twentysomethings anymore, you don’t need to impress the neighbors. You can let go of the hang ups that plagued your younger self, and you can start to accept your own limitations (that’s my motto!) and just live your life. I don’t really have/want/need a “bucket list,” so much as a “reality check” framework. If I stay within it, I find myself to be more productive and happy.

So now, each year, usually in the months leading up to or after my my birthday, I try to figure out what it was I have unconsciously decided to do or not to do over the course of the past year. Here’s a rundown.

I was almost 41 by the time I fully recognized the value of the “you can decline party invitations” gift. It’s still one of my favorite presents ever. Five years in, my closest buddies always couch their invitations with, “I know you don’t like parties, but…” And most know that I am more up for a party if it it is within walking distance of home, and over by 6pm.

The year I turned 42, I gave myself permission to suck at stuff. It sounds like a not so big deal, but by admitting that I was never going to be very good at certain things, I was able to let myself try them. That was the year I started dieting and exercising and eventually running.  I started with couch to 5k, and never really got much further than that. I sucked. I still suck. In fact, I still mostly walk. But it beats standing still, and even if I did finish a 5k race behind a 90-year-old man (that actually happened), at least I finished it. I fell off the exercise/diet wagon over the last cold NY winter, and gained back a bunch of the weight I lost. So, now I am once again allowing myself to suck at it in order to “Just Do It.” Memo to Nike: You’d get a lot more traction with that slogan if you acknowledged that you can still do it if you suck. Just ask Jake the Dog:

Adventure Time wisdom.

The year I turned 43, I gave myself permission to be 43. That is, I stopped dying my hair. It was hard, the whole growing-out of it, but not that hard for a lazy and not-so-primpy sort like myself.  It took a lot of explaining to my lady friends of a similar age, but I had full support of the spouse (who’d been telling me to stop for years) and the kids, who were quite sure I would come out looking like an X-man. I was assisted by a new stylist who, being in her 20s, had no dog in the “but you’re too young to be gray!” fight. Also helpful were the fact that I work from home, and the arrival of a national disaster that lowered everyone’s expectations for me looking halfway decent for about a year. I also wore a lot of hats. I went from a dyed chocolate brown to a funky salt mixed in with my natural pepper, with a wicked white streak up front. I have no regrets at all–especially as it allows me to continue to dress like a teenager (alas, more of a teenaged boy than a teenaged girl) without making myself look like a middle-aged lady who wants to look like a teenager. (Memo to youngsters dying their hair that trendy granny-chic gray: Step off. That territory is spoken for. You have to earn gray hair).

I stopped dying my hair just as Herself started dying hers.

Flying our freak flags:   I stopped dying my hair just as Herself started dying hers.

The year I turned 44, I decided that I am allowed to call anyone younger than me “Sweetheart” or “Hon.” I’m old enough for it not to be creepy (another benefit of gray hair) and it saves me the trouble of remembering all my kids’ classmates’ names. And there’s no sense in trying to pretend I’m part of the barista’s cohort anyway, right?

At 45,  I came  to terms with the fact that I am utterly unable to multitask, and that what little ability I had to pay attention to something when there is noise or other distraction is rapidly diminishing as I get older. So, I’ve stopped trying. I focus on only one thing at a time now, and when someone interrupts or talks or calls on the phone while I’m trying to concentrate, I simply tell them about my, ahem, disability, and that I can’t drive/write/type/cook/clean when anyone is talking (and that includes myself and all the friendly voices  at NPR). I’m not an asshole about it; it’s my problem, not theirs, after all. But dude, if I want The Thing Done I need to do nothing else at all for a little while. It has unfortunately cut into the time I can spend chatting on the phone with my extended family, but I think it’s likely I did that too much before, anyway.

Please stop talking while I….wait, what did you say? FROM someecards.com

I turned 46 this week. I’m not sure what this year’s gift will be. It’s not something I plan or decide on (I told you, I’m a bad birthday person and a poor birthday planner). It’s something that happens, and that I’ve learned to embrace. I’ll let you know what it turns out to be next July.

Perhaps I will become a wizard.

Slacker Hack: Macaroni and Real Actual Cheese

A while back I posted about how we are trying to limit processed junk in our house. Inspired my children’s absolute favorite comfort food, spaghetti carbonara (I swear by Lidia Bastianich’s recipe, although I use diced pancetta instead of regular bacon), we came up with a quick and dirty version that has made those blue boxes of mac & cheese a distant, uncomfortable memory in our house. I thought it might be helpful for families who can never sneak an egg into their kids’ diet. It’s just pasta with butter and cheese, but you add an egg yolk (protein!) while the pot is still hot enough to cook it. Basically:

  • Throw some pasta (any shape) into boiling water to cook.
  • While the pasta is cooking, separate an egg yolk (or two, if you’re doing a lot of pasta) and get some butter ready (diced into small, easy-melting pieces). You’ll also need shredded parmesan cheese.
  • Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and immediately return it to the hot pot.
  • Quickly stir in some butter.
  • Quickly toss in an egg yolk (or two, if it’s a lot of pasta) and stir; the heat from the pot should be enough to cook it.
  • Toss in a handful of shredded parmesan cheese.
  • Serve.

My kids gobble this up;Iit’s much richer than plain old buttered noodles, and assuming you keep a big old jar of shredded parm in fridge like we do, there’s virtually no prep. I haven’t tried it with cheddar or other kinds of cheese.

It’s Paddy, Not Patty… and Other Thoughts for St. Patrick’s Day

It’s my Blogday! That’s a word I invented for Blog Birthday: I posted my very first dispatch, “What is a Narrowback Slacker?” on this site exactly one year ago today. I had written it as sort of a St. Patrick’s Day Post, figuring it was as good a time as any to explain what I was calling myself, and why.

Obviously, when I was growing up, St. Patrick’s Day was a pretty big deal. But it wasn’t a Hallmark card sort of holiday, nor was it the bacchanal you’ll see in the pubs throughout this month. It was a mostly formal and kind of solemn but at the same time festive affair. There were dances held throughout the month, at various local halls, with live music and dancing. My parents went to them all; we kids often had to work, serving pitchers of beer and corned beef. On March 17, we’d start the day with an Irish breakfast and then go to church, and finish up by marching in the parade, we kids with the local Irish American marching band, and my parents with the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

These lovely traditions still persist among immigrants and second generation Irish Americans, but they are largely eclipsed by the antics of the crowds watching the parades from the sidelines and crowding the bars before and after. The juxtaposition of parade participants (decked out in their Sunday best and marching with their home counties) with the parade revelers (many of them drunk at 11:00 am and wearing green plastic bowlers) offers a snapshot study of the Irish American generational experience. The immigrant puts on a suit and tie and a green-white-and-gold sash, and celebrates the feast day of his homeland’s patron saint. The immigrant’s amadán grandson wears a totally offensive t-shirt, drinks green beer, and starts a fight.

Our parents and grandparents headed here to become American, but it takes a few generations for that to really happen. I worry that we lose something important along the way: the music, the history, the work ethic. The narrowback generation is the one that sort of straddles both sides. It’s our responsibility to make sure these kids of ours don’t become too American. I suspect that most immigrant families, no matter where they are from, struggle with the same feeling.

Anyway, here’s a list of observations from one New York City narrowback.

Twenty Signs That You Are a Narrowback

1. In all the lullabies that your parents sang to you as a baby, somebody died.

2. Even if you haven’t gone to mass in years, you bless yourself every time you drive by a church.

3. Your “starter house” is also the house that you plan to die in.

4. There are two types of wakes: Good Wakes and Sad Wakes. You will laugh at least a little during—and have a few drinks at the pub after—both of them.

5. At some point in your life, you have walked into a “Good Wake” and thought to yourself, “Maybe I’ll meet someone.”

6. You have danced the “Siege of Ennis” many times. Extra points if   you spent some portion of your life thinking it was called “The Siege of Venice” and wondering if the Irish had ever invaded Italy.

7. You don’t write out your check to the bride and groom until you see if they have hired a band or a DJ.

8. In the event of the zombie apocalypse, you will be armed with a hurley.

9. You know and love  countless traditional songs. “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” is not one of them.

10. “Irish Football” has nothing to do with the University of Notre Dame.

It's kind of like Quidditch, without brooms or English people.

It’s kind of like Quidditch, with no brooms or English people.

11.  “Irish Food” is always breakfast food. Double points if you admit that you actually like blood pudding.

12. You never really understood why the Pogues were considered punk.

I guess the Irish INVENTED punk, then? Because this sound existed long before the 1970s. 

13. You feel like a leech on society if you send your kids to public school.

14. “Going to” the St. Patrick’s Day Parade means you are going to march in it.

15. It’s Paddy, not Patty.

16. You were a teenager before you ate a vegetable that wasn’t boiled beyond recognition.

17. You have at least one relative who talks about recent immigrants exactly the same way that nativists talked about the Irish in the nineteenth century.

The one element that just won't mix. From Puck Magazine,  1889.

The one element that just won’t mix.From Puck, 1889.

18. You have a thing in your kitchen drawer that you call a “potato peeler.” You may not realize that almost everyone else in America calls it a “vegetable peeler.”

19. It’s acceptable to drink hard, so long as you work harder.

20. You will damned well go to college, but if you cop an attitude that in any way suggests that you think you are smarter than the parents who worked their asses off to send you there, there will be hell to pay.

I could go on all day, but I’ll cut myself off here. Consider it a polite Irish Exit.

My Outrage Detox

I joined Facebook in the midst of the 2008 presidential election. It was super fun, especially for a work-at-home parent of young children who was craving a little water cooler conversation. I could chat with my carefully curated group of 25 or so friends, mocking this or that candidate mercilessly, and catch up with my old college buddies and former colleagues at the same time.

Over the past decade, Facebook has grown and changed, chipping away at the privacy rules (remember when you could hide yourself from “friends of friends”?) and connecting us to everyone and anyone we could possibly be connected too. That has value—it’s like an interactive white pages, really—but it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a wall of separation between different groups of people. Yes, you can (and should) create private groups for specific interests and conversations. But I found that my main feed had started to resemble a bar at four a.m., full of drunks picking fights, and I think I may have been one of the drunks. It was time to shut up and go home.

Barfight

The Internet is a perpetual outrage machine. It’s like all these years of 24 hour cable news monster-shoutery has led us to believe that being engaged means injecting our opinions into every conversation, shaming those who think differently, or proving our superior intellect and belief system at every opportunity. And Facebook has given us this forum in which we can do that quickly, thoughtlessly, and without having to look anyone in the eye. We post, we share, we reprimand, we tally up “likes.” And I felt like I was part of it, boiling my opinions down to pithy (and in my defense, usually quite witty) little comments geared toward schooling everyone else in The Way I Think Things Ought to Be. Anyone who feels that their opinions are being attacked is just going to  hold on to them even tighter, even more irrationally. Even worse, those who feel conflicted on these issues feel irritated, angry, or hurt when other people disrupt their Facebook feeds with things they really don’t want to think about at the moment.

You can spare me your thoughts on Congress.  ©narrowbackslacker

You can spare me your thoughts on Congress.
©narrowbackslacker

At the same time, I was finding that some of the crap people posted was making my blood boil. Articles that made me mad because they were wrong. Articles that made me mad because they were right. Urban myths and unverified claims. Monster shouting.

IMG_2549

So, I stopped.

I started thinking about any post that annoyed me, and decided not to put up posts like that. I tapped out on all political conversations on Facebook.

I call it the Outrage Detox. It’s a multi-step program. Every time I log in to Facebook, I try to remind myself to do following things:

1. Clarify your context. Facebook may have felt like an intimate cafe where you could trade barbs with like-minded friends in 2008, but by 2012 it was more like a crowded auditorium full of people you kind of know. Those are two very different contexts. And as I am constantly reminding my kids, context matters. If I want to rant, or read rants, there are other venues (like Twitter, or private forums, or actual face-to-face conversations) that are more appropriate. Facebook is a room full of people with whom I am sometimes only loosely connected; it  should be a polite and friendly place. I wouldn’t launch into politics or religion at a PTA meeting or on line at the grocery store, so I shouldn’t do that on Facebook either.

2. Mind your manners. There are nanas and children in the room. Be polite. I admit, I still embrace sentence enhancers; my people (and hopefully anyone who reads this blog) has learned to live with my potty mouth. But I do try to think about what I’m actually saying, and wheter it is something that might to hurt someone’s feelings, or put them on the defensive. I don’t care if people hide/unfriend me, but I don’t want to actively accost anyone with nonsense that will do little more than put them in a bad mood.

3. Filter your feed. This is America. People have a right to say whatever they want, with very few limitations. I’m all for it. But we also have a right not to listen to them. So, while I firmly—no, make that fiercely—believe that Charlie Hebdo has a right to publish any cartoon they want, I also would never read or buy a magazine as mean spirited as Charlie Hebdo appears to be. In the same way, I can just hide the opinions of people on Facebook who appear to be mean or stupid or wrong. In fact, it’s my responsibility to do that as a consumer in the marketplace of ideas.

4. Do not engage. We all know how annoying subway preachers are, and how sometimes you are just stuck on a train with no choice other than to hear them. But on Facebook, you can shut people out, if not necessarily down, but just hitting a button. I started hiding “friends” who annoy me and I bite my tongue when someone posts something that offends me (and even when it’s something that I wholeheartedly agree with, to tell the truth).

5. Take your politics (and/or religion) elsewhere.  If I want to rant, I can write a letter to a newspaper or congressperson or post on a moderated or private forum. I can contribute to a cause or work for one. I can tweet my thoughts to those who are actually interested in them.  I can discuss things with people in person. I’ve done all of these things. We can be politically engaged without hitting people with a virtual baseball bat while they’re trying to enjoy their morning coffee. If I want to support a cause on Facebook, a silent show of solidarity (like quietly changing a profile pic) shows where I stand without pressuring others to take any stand at all.

6. You don’t need to unfriend people. Just because I think someone is a wing nut doesn’t mean I won’t pick their kid up from daycare in a pinch or keep them in my thoughts and prayers when they’re dealing with a loss or health crisis. Facebook is a useful tool for keeping in touch with a large community in important and non-intrusive ways. People can get in touch with me without knowing my phone number or private email address, and that’s a good thing.

7. Refine your media diet. Facebook is not the only culprit in the perpetual outrage machine. I’ve had to unfollow monster shouters on twitter, and avoid 24 hour cable news AT ALL COSTS. Seriously, whether you’re a Maddow or an O’Reilly, that shit is no good for your soul. Block it from your TV and only allow yourself news sources that do actual reporting (not just commentary) and at least try to be objective (Don’t worry, you can still catch the best bits via the Internet). And for God’s sake, unless you are truly destitute, be willing to pay at least a little for your Internet news. “News” sources that are financed entirely by clicks are, by design, going to be more monster shouty than those that are paid for by actual customer sales or member contributions.

8. Use Facebook for what it does best. I have considered cutting Facebook loose, but ultimately determined that just can’t quit it. But now I use it for what I feel like it does best: It’s such a simple way to keep in touch with far-flung friends and family in almost real time, and it’s a great channel for following hyperlocal or niche news. Oh, and #ThrowbackThursday is a great way to share memories with old friends while decluttering your house.

9. Never, ever, ever read the comments. Especially when looking at unmoderated feeds—do not give monster shouters, haters, or mean people an audience.

1o. Get back to work (or life). For me, the worst thing about the Interwebs is that it is is just a huge distraction. All that hamster-wheeling over things that, yes, do matter (like government and crime and just mean people) is actually sucking time and energy away from things that  really, really, really matter to me in a much more immediate way. Sure, I need to be an informed citizen/voter, but other things—like spending time with my kids, or earning a living so I can feed/clothe them—are a bit more important in terms of my hierarchy of needs.

For the record,  I do think that in the aggregate, the Internet will prove to be a game changer for democracy, in a good way. I just think that right now, we are in the midst of social media’s awkward adolescence, and we need to teach it how to be an adult. That means verifying information before we repeat (or repost) it. It means taking the time to consider alternative information before we form an opinion. And more often than not, I think it means—or should mean—keeping our opinions to ourselves and respecting not necessarily the opinions of others, but their right to have those opinions. But it also means we have the right to say that we do not want to hear those opinions, and politely shutting down (or ignoring) monster shouting talking heads.

Anyway, I’ve been at this Outrage Detox business for about six months. It’s been gradual, and I’m not saying I haven’t slipped up.  Like anyone in a program, I take it one day at a time and repeat the Serenity Prayer when I find myself wanting to throat punch a troll.

Photos from Rockaway Beach, 1988

#TBT: A few images of Rockaway Beach from the dark days.

Oceanus 11693

In 1988, I took a few pictures of places around the neighborhood because I was bummed that I hadn’t taken any of Playland before they tore it down. They are not particularly good photos, but I thought people might like to see them for a wee stroll down memory lane. I do miss Boggiano’s hot dogs, but I can’t say I miss the sad state of Rockaway Beach in the 1980s.

You can see the empty lot where Playland used to stand reflected in the glass.  ©narrowbackslacker  You can see the empty lot where Playland used to stand reflected in the glass. ©narrowbackslacker

Here are a couple from the Cross Bay Bridge. Courthouse hasn’t changed (other than to further deteriorate) but the restaurants on the Bay sure have.

View from the Cross Bay Bridge, 1988. There's the old Pier 92 (now Bungalow Bar) and Bridge Cafe (now Thai Rock). View from the Cross Bay Bridge, 1988. There’s the old Pier 92 (now Bungalow Bar) and Bridge Cafe (now Thai Rock). ©narrowbackslacker

Bait and Booze: The old Bridge Cafe, 1988. I did my underaged drinking there, but don't blame the owners. My fake ID was excellent. ©narrowbackslacker Bait and Booze: The old Bridge Cafe, 1988. I did my underaged drinking there, but don’t blame…

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