Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A sign of aging

For most generations, there has been a technology cut-off point at which time a person decides they are no longer interested or willing to take on the latest and greatest; simply put - they are happier with what they know than having to approach the learning curve and replace existing machinery. For example, my mom does not send emails. My parents-in-law have never used their DVD player.

There are always exceptions - people who are happier to learn new things rather than hold on to the comfort of what they know and are familiar with. I had always assumed that I was one of these people - I would happily adapt to life as it came at me, exploring all the great new things that are invented over the years.

There have been a few instances over the past few years in which I have not bought into the hype of certain technological advancements. For example, I never liked Facebook. I felt like it represented all the worst parts of junior high. I reluctantly used it when my husband set up an account for our daughter, and posted all our pictures there. And while I can appreciate the significance of the social networking revolution, I still believe that 'making friends' is sacred.

At Christmas, I was given a Kindle, and I started off buying all sorts of books, reading in bed with the very cool little light attached to the green cover. But for some reason or another, I have yet to finish any single book that I have purchased on the Kindle. I have managed to finish one textbook on the Kindle app on my desktop, but something about me reading in bed with that little mechanism hasn't quite caught on. I need to turn the page with my fingers. I like to fold the pages back and write all sorts of notes to myself in the margin. Reading in my private space is sacred.

Before I moved to Ireland, I use to get the Sunday paper delivered to my house and I would read it start to cover. In Ireland, I had to resort to the digital version of the New York Times, and I always swore it wasn't the same. Now that I am back living in the States, I get the Sunday paper delivered. There has been more than one Sunday when the paper has remained in its plastic cover for days, only to be placed in the recycling bin. I have discovered that I don't really like trying to read an article over multiple pages, having to fold back the cumbersome paper, searching everywhere for something I want to read (or finishing reading). Over the years, I have gotten use to reading the news online and I prefer it.

For the longest time, I didn't want a mobile phone as I didn't like being contactable at all times and locations. When technology made it possible for me to get email on my phone, I started to use it regularly. I still don't answer all my calls all the time, but I like being able to read and respond to mail, have access to the internet, and be able to figure out where I am going. While I love my iPod, I am not in love with the iPad. Both my husband and my daughter use it all the time. Whenever I use it, I feel like I am being silenced, as there isn't a proper keyboard to communicate what I want to say quickly and in a seamless fashion. Yes, I know, I could carry around a keyboard and attach it to the device, but is that using it the way it should be used? Surely this is a sign of aging since most techies I know love their tablets.

Last but not least, the game of Scrabble. Over vacation with a group of friends, there were many games going on among varying groups on multiple iPads. For those of you who haven't played the Scrabble application - the default rules are not the same as the 'traditional' rules. For starters, you can use a dictionary to look up words. You can also do a quick check for two-letter possibilities. The game won't let you put down a word that isn't real and you can happily remove it and replace it without being challenged by a different player. And the craziest option yet - you can ask the game to give you the best word (there is a little icon which tells the other players that you have done this).

For days I tried to argue that the Scrabble application has turned the game into one more about luck than skill. But then Julie said to me that this new way of playing is a great way to learn new words, much better than relying on the knowledge of other players using the traditional game board. And she is right - a few days playing the game, I have a much wider vocabulary and a better arsenal to work with. I am still feeling ambivalent about this - the reliance on a dictionary and a machine to do the 'thinking' for you still doesn't feel right to me.

Someday I will live up to the dream of being a 'cool-granny' (imagining myself with spiked hair, blue jeans, and a very hip vintage tee-shirt). I won't be the slighted bit nervous to own a flying vehicle, head off into outer-space, or live in the depths of the ocean. But I have a feeling when it comes to gadgets, there will be a fine line between letting go of the sacred and embracing the latest trend.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sandy sheets

My husband is an incredibly conscientious person. He has always lived his life in this way - that as you take on new responsibilities, you must make sure that the existing ones are met first, and only after careful consideration can you let go of one responsibility in order to fill a more important one. I have always admired this about him and have tried to emulate his way of life. But what I am starting to realize is that this way of life is incredibly difficult to lead in families where both parents are passionate about their work.

In my husband's family, his father went to work for the civil service, had lots of vacation time, a long lunch every day, and came home at 5 each day. His mother had to give up her career as soon as she was married. She spent her life raising five children (all of whom have turned out to be great people). Each night when Paddy came home, he would take the children so that Nora could make the dinner in peace. After dinner, he would do the dishes with the children, while Nora could do something else on her own, like listening to the news and ironing the clothes. There was a balance to this life, a security that meant that everything would get done at a certain pace in a very predictable manner.

The women in my family have always worked. They have also raised the children mostly on their own. I am not by any means like these women. I have a supportive husband who gives all that he can to me and Amelia. But still, there is something tricky about juggling the two passions of home and career that seem to be capable of 'bumping' into each other at any given moment. And lately I have been trying to uncover that magical equation that enabled the women in my family to juggle so much more than seemingly possible.

Yesterday morning, waking up with my daughter asleep on my head, I had this flashback to my grandmother's house, that sensation of climbing into any given bed at any given time (we often rotated depending on who was living and/or visiting the house), and that strange sensation of rolling sand as your feet made their way down to the bottom of the covers. Sandy sheets. My grandmother rarely, if ever, changed the sheets in the various bedrooms. All through the summer, the sheets were covered in sand. The memories are so vivid, the smell of ivory soap mixed with ocean, sand, and the many heads that laid on that same pillow in any given summer month.

In the modern family, we try and keep everything ticking along by formulating some sort of 'priority' system - almost like our own in-house bug tracking system. Critical bugs are taken care-of immediately, like a sick child or a family crisis. High bugs get sorted in service packs (almost seasonal) - like work deadlines, school transitions. Maintenance tasks that we take on at the end of the day, washing the dishes, taking out the trash, and cleaning the sheets. I have often found great satisfaction in those things labeled as 'maintenance' - the assurance that no matter what else was left undone, I could successfully clean the kitchen. But when things seem to get squished, it is the maintenance tasks that annoy me the most. And there is something comforting in observing the cracks in the domestic space of the women in my life - their ability to push against a priority system in their worlds that did not match the way they wanted to (or perhaps were able to) live their own lives.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Brute force approach

This morning I put on my running clothes, as the probability of me heading out for a run greatly increases when I am already dressed for it. And after three hours of coding, interrupted by every sort of family member calling on a Sunday, I decided it was time to throw myself out the door.

The first few steps into the run, I started thinking about how my ability to code has gotten a lot better in the last couple of days. I like decomposition - it suits me. My brain likes to break things up into smaller parts and see the relationships between things.

In the next stage of the run, I thought about the irony, that as I seemed to be getting the hang of this coding thing, I seemed to be applying the 'brute force' approach to many other aspects of my life. And in the true spirit of stream-of-consciousness, I wondered if there was some way to logically decompose the other aspects in my life so that I could accomplish more tasks with less work.

Another half-mile, and I realized that there was something fundamentally difficult about this challenge - I couldn't seem to assign a priority to any one task over the other, or find a natural way to use one task to move another along - they all seem to meld into one 'big ball of mud'.

On the last half mile towards home, I let myself take a deep breath and appreciate the beauty of 'brute force'. While it might not be the most elegant approach, it has meant that I am still keeping things ticking along. My house is a mess, my family are feeling a little neglected, my runs are more like a slog than a jog, I haven't cooked a healthy, homemade dinner in a long while, and I could really use a make-over.

But we are fed, we are sleeping (perhaps less than we would like), we are welcoming and sending off visitors who all seem to be flocking to San Francisco at the same time as the rest of life is converging to a point, and I feel strong in what I am trying to do, even if I fall flat on my face.

Coming into the homestretch, the Indigo Girls', Galileo came on, and I felt a sense of warmth about sometime in the future, when Amelia is trying to juggle lots of things in her life, and she asks me for advice on which approach to take, I can smile and tell her that in certain times in our life, there is nothing wrong with taking the 'brute force' approach.