Category Archives: Living

A Good Lesson To Learn

There was this town where they had a monster that was causing the people a lot of worry. It’s not that the monster was doing very much, but the people worried about it a lot. The people of the village had the average IQ of a zucchini, so they put an ad in the paper that they needed a hero to come slay the terrible monster.

After the ad runs for a couple of Sundays this hero shows up, brass cojones and all. He heads off to slay the monster, cojones going clackity-clack. The hero rounds the corner and sees a watermelon patch. He looks all over, but he can’t see any monster, so he clackity-clacks back to the village square and says something like, “Uhhh, where’s da monster?”

MonsterThe villagers take him back to the watermelon patch and show him a truly huge, vicious-looking watermelon. “There’s the monster,” they say.

The hero looks at the people and says, “You yo-yos! That’s not a monster, it’s just a big watermelon!” Whereupon the people pick up rocks and sticks and beat the hell out of the hero.

The ad runs again, and lo and behold, another hero shows up. This one’s smarter than the first, so when he sees what the people are talking about, he backs up and says, “Wow! That’s a mean one, but I’ve dealt with these things before.” So he rounds the people up and distributes nets and knives and clubs, and off they go. At the end of the fight, the score is villagers one, watermelon nothing. They pay off the hero with a sack of gold and many slaps on the back and he wanders off to find a bar in some other village.

Take away whatever you want from this story, but remember the bottom line: if people don’t want to know about something, be careful how you tell them. If all they do is grab the closest rock, your message won’t accomplish much.

[After an old Hindu teaching]



I imagine just about every household back in the 1950’s and before had their collection of old bits of string, saved in a ball for future use. I know we always did. Things weren’t wasted around our house, hardly ever. The folks made it through the Great Depression, but we pretty much stayed poor.

It’s hard for anyone who has lived in this period of relative plenty to even begin to appreciate what things were like, back before the second half of the 20th century. I know absolutely that the past half century was the best period in human history, at least for those of us fortunate enough to have been born in countries with the power to amass riches and hang on to it. Today, even the poorest of Americans has a standard of living greater than many of their forebears back in pre- and early post-war days. World War II brought us out of the depression, but most farmers and other country folks took a good deal longer to find a place on the prosperity train.

We were farm folks. Although there were power lines that ran through our property, we didn’t get electricity on the farm until I was about to enter the first grade or maybe even the second, around 1950. My mother made most of her own clothes, many of them out of material salvaged from flour sacks. Manufacturers made their products attractive in different ways back then.  For one thing, they were designed to be useful, not throwaway. People who made their living hand to mouth and weren’t exposed to the propaganda of television advertising looked for maximum value in their purchases, and the ladies chose flour brands quite as much for the patterns and color of the material in the sacks as for the contents.

Mom always had a ball of string, in either a kitchen drawer, a drawer of her old pedal-operated sewing machine, or both. The twine mostly came from the closures of the various sacks, which were sewn in such a way that they could be opened by pulling on the end of the string and unraveling it in one long piece. Other things that came in bags, such as fertilizer, were closed in the same way, so there was usually a pretty steady supply of twine to add to the ball, mostly white, but sometimes other colors that kept the ball of string interesting.

First Nations woman with cat's cradle

Cat’s Cradle

String was far more important in those days. It’s probably possible for a kid to grow to adulthood today without learning to tie anything but her sneakers, but before the days of ubiquitous plastic tape and other modern implements of security, we tied things. Twine held packages closed, pulled loose teeth, held together and provided guidance for kites, strung our toy bows, and held feathers on the arrows. It fastened the rubber strips from old tire inner tubes onto our slingshots (catapults, to my British readers) and provided amusement for a series of kittens. Kids strung it around their fingers in intricate games of cat’s cradle, Jacob’s ladder, and a variety of others — mostly limited by imagination — that probably date back to the first hunter-gatherer who twisted together some strips of bark fiber.  It was part and parcel — as well as part of the parcels — of our lives.

My mom kept a ball of twine for many years after she had an adequate supply of life’s necessities. Like other old habits she hung on to, I think it gave her a feeling of security. I never kept one myself (although I’m sure my older sister does). but I still find it hard to toss a piece of string.  Just doesn’t seem right, somehow.

Our Tiny Dancer Is A Digital Native

Most of you older readers will think I’m nuts when you read the next paragraph.  The somewhat younger ones will get it, to a degree.  Everyone under 25 will have no problem.  Everyone under fifteen will be like, “duh!”  I’ve been thinking about that, and a few other related things, for the past several months.

Tiny DancerMy wife, older daughter and her husband and I gave Selina, our 10-year-old granddaughter and niece, a smartphone for Christmas.  Not just any smartphone.  Because of the oddities of year-end merchandising, it was cheaper to get her a top-end device rather than a lesser one — one cent on Amazon, in fact, added to our family plan.  I have the current state-of-the art model, a Galaxy S III.  While I love it, I discovered after setting hers up, checking out the camera and apps, etc., that I could be quite happy with her Droid Razr M myself.

But why give a 10-year-old a phone of any kind?  Simple.  She needs it.  Whaaaaat, you say.  Are you nuts?

Attendez-moi.  There are two reasons she needs a phone.  The first is safety.  Selina is a dancer.  She’s been dancing since she was three, loves it, and takes it seriously.  She has after school lessons and other activities away from home to which she can’t be accompanied by an adult all the time, and has sleepovers with other girls where, for one reason or another, she can’t always be reached.  For those and other reasons, she needs to be able to communicate with family members pretty much 24/7.  In addition to that, she’s tall for her age, with a dancer’s grace and figure, and is beautiful.  She attracts a lot of attention.  With her phone, she has access to family all the time, 9-1-1 if she needs it, and through Verizon’s Child Locator system we can track her to within a few feet any time we need to.  Other apps provide back up to that ability.

The other reason is more complex, and social in a way that us oldsters have trouble understanding.  Selina and her peers are true digital natives.  They have never lived in a wired world. (Many, if not most, of today’s college students have never owned a cassette tape.)  Electronic communication on demand is such a normal thing in their lives that they literally cannot imagine any other way to live.

Digital immigrants, like Grandpa, have other frames of reference.  We still remember looking for pay phones when we needed to make a call away from home.  Those as old as I remember hand-delivered telegrams and party lines.   Those things are as alien and incomprehensible to today’s teens, tweens and their younger siblings as communication by jungle drums would have been to a “modern” citizen of the 1950’s.seleyes  More so, in fact, because we could at least understand the reasons for them in parts of the world that lacked modern communication.  These days, cell phones are a common facet of life in the most remote and impoverished parts of the world.  In parts of Africa, they are the basis of a bush economy that functions by using cell phone minutes — easily transferable from place to place — as a form of currency.  There literally are no reasons for other communication, anywhere in the world.  Digital communication of various kinds is the backbone of civilization nowadays, whether we like it or not.  It facilitates the world economy and every aspect of our lives from news to medical technology and information, to food production, transportation and distribution, to keeping track of our microchipped pets.  It has supplanted letters sent by snail mail, and to a great degree has displaced greeting cards.  My car contains 17 different computers that drive everything from its fuel injection and ignition to the satellite radio.  Even the transmission is shifted by a computer.  I just think I’m in charge.

This is the world our Tiny Dancer was born into and, beyond a certain point, being unwired (“unwirelessed,” really) actually stifles her ability to function within it.  Our kids are different from us in ways unlike any in human history.  Their digital environment has even affected the way their brains work, measurable and — surprisingly — superior in some ways to how ours clunk along.  A handheld computer/phone is merely her next step into the world that we have left for her to live in.  Like it or not, it’s simply part of her nature.