Walmartians, Meet Targetians (aka: Subculture Expectations)

Marco!

*Tries again*

MARCO!

Now if my hunch is correct, every single one of you who grew up here in the United States just mentally responded to that call with one unified voice. POLO! The rest of you are scratching your heads, wondering why the heck we’re going on about an explorer.

Okay now, let’s play a game of hide-and-seek. Ready? One-two-three…

NOT IT!

Most of you fellow Americans, if I were to ask you to describe a 4th of July picnic, you’d probably spit back a list that included foods like watermelon, potato salad, barbecue chicken, and hot dogs. And a scoop or two of Aunt Millie’s homemade strawberry ice cream, for the hard core folk. We all know the words to the Happy Birthday Song. We know that we place a right hand over our hearts to salute the flag. And we know that if a group of 4ft. tall monsters knock on our door and say the magic words, “Trick or Treat!” We’d better drop a piece of candy in their bags. This is our shared culture.

Every nation has its own sets of standards and nuances shared by pretty much everyone else within that mainstream culture. They recite the lines and lyrics from their own pop media, observe holidays and traditions, and share group ideals and values that mark them as a people. In that way, we belong to our fellow citizens, streaks of gold running along the same vein.

But somewhere along the way, that straight track of homogeneity starts to branch off in multiple directions. These subculture tracks can be due to a lot of common factors — ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, region. In fact, just yesterday, I took a little day trip to the beach, which is what most Californians do when they want to get away, or relax, or think, or seek inspiration, or chase seagulls for a few hours. And afterwards, I ate the most Californian dinner possible — spicy fish tacos. With mangos. Not quite mainstream American culture, but as common here as opioid addiction is in the middle states. (Too much?)

Being immersed in a subculture that is not your own can be a very uncomfortable thing. You can be the most skilled classical ballet dancer in your studio. But when you venture into the world of hip hop dancers, your pointe shoes and pirouettes won’t help you to fit in.

The other day, I locked my comfort zone in the car and boldly entered a place that is like another planet to me. Walmart. Yes, the good-ol’ All-American retail store. I was in search of some inexpensive household items, and that is the store to save money on such things. However, it was with great trepidation that I wandered inside. Before you count me out as a middle-class snob, let me share a little history. Once, years ago, when I was minding my own business in a Walmart, I happened to catch a fellow shopper glaring at me. I mean, throwing sharp daggers with her eyes. I was taken aback. Clearly, I had committed some unknown faux-pas while strolling behind my shopping cart. I gave the woman an uncomfortable half-smile, then quickly got out of there.

Now, if that had been an isolated incident, I could have tolerated it just fine. A misinterpretation. Or maybe she was having a bad day. Who knows? But a few months later, the same thing occurred. A couple of women in a different Walmart gave me the stink eye. I was mystified. Was I pushing my cart too fast or slow? Had I inadvertently snagged the last box of Cheerios before they could get it? Were they somehow offended by my mom jeans and plain t-shirt? Clearly, there must be some rules or customs, some unspoken alien language shared among the Walmartian people which I don’t know. I felt like Elle Woods, dressed as a Playboy bunny at a conservative non-costume party. Or maybe it was the other way around.

So now, whenever I must mingle among the Walmartians, I am very, very careful. I make no eye contact. If an aisle is crowded, I go around the long way. I make my purchase quickly and get out of there. Now maybe that isn’t quite the right way to handle it. Maybe the best way to understand a subculture group is to spend some time among them. Study their ways. Learn their rules. Maybe I could learn the correct expression to wear on my face to ward off the stink-eye of the Walmartian women. Maybe I could invite a Walmartian into my Targetian world as a cultural exchange. We could browse the latest in home decor and kitchen accessories while sipping pumpkin spice chai lattes from the Target Starbucks.

Or maybe the answer doesn’t neccessarily lie in either immersing oneself in the subcultures of others, or by expecting others to adapt to our own. Maybe the thing that merges the tracks is to focus on our similarities. When we all show up at the same 4th of July picnic together, no one is thinking about whether you’re wearing Walmart jeans or a Target sundress. We just show up, and eat watermelon and ice cream. We come from different regions. We may have different accents, or different religious customs, or different cultural expectations for behavior. But if someone calls out, “MARCO!” We’re all going to answer back in the same voice.

POLO!

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Moolah (aka: A Love Letter from your Lord and Master)

MONEY.

That got your attention, right?

After all, most people love money. Worship it. Are loyal slaves to the Almighty Dollar. You love it so much, you even give it cutesy nicknames. Cash. Bucks. Dough. Dead Presidents (Okay, that one’s not so cute). You are cr-razy about money! And why? Because you’ve got to have:

Big houses, fast cars

luxurious treasures

Jewelry and fame

and all of life’s pleasures

That about sums it up. You humans are like a bunch of Sims. As your material collections grow, your happiness points increase, too. At least, until you begin to crave even more. The problem is, wanting more stuff means you need more and more and more cash. So many people are willing to do just about anything for cash. Don’t believe me? Just look at what you’ve done for money.

Poured coffee, shoveled snow

Asked, “Do you want that order to go?”

Mopped floors, cleaned up waste

Chased the cheese in the same rat race

You certainly didn’t do those things for the fun of it. You did it to pay the rent. You did it to buy that 52-inch smart TV with a voice-activated remote control. You did it to pay off the credit cards you maxed out when you traveled to Ireland last year. You still do it. Every morning, you drag your carcass out of bed before the sun is even awake, gulp down some of that expensive dark roast coffee you’re addicted to, then head off to work in your cubicle jungles, your retail stores, your banks and and booths and stations. To make the world a better place? Nope. You do it because Little Ethan needs to play on the best competitive youth soccer team. Because Little Sarah needs that expensive algebra tutor. Because you simply must own a home on the expensive side of town, so that Little Jack and Little Ava can attend the best schools.

And why do you spend money on sports, and tutors, and outstanding schools for the kiddos? So they can get into the best, most expensive colleges, of course! And why do you want them to go to the best colleges? So they can get jobs one day, and make lots of — let’s say it unison — MONEY!!

*Rolling my eyes*

You think that it’s going to end. That one day, you’ll look around and be satisfied with everything you acquired. You’ll be King or Queen of your own small kingdom, famous in your own small circle for all you’ve accomplished. Success! Or is it?

Hahaha, no way. It never ends. Because a cushy retirement takes money. Spoiling your grandkids takes money. That trip to Fiji you’ve been dreaming about takes money. Money is your master, and you are a servant for life. Money has owned your soul since the day you met me at the crossroads and signed on the dotted line. Don’t remember? Well, money also has a way of making your memories a little hazy. Pretty effective strategy, right?

So, Servants, go out into the world. Make transactions, place your bets, purchase those lottery tickets. Every quarter you insert into the slot makes you weaker, and me more powerful. Serve me as I deserve to be served, with passion, with devotion, with desperation for more. What, me — the root of all evil? Think again, humans. It’s the lack of money that drives you to commit atrocious acts. So go ahead — earn some more. Amass your fortunes. Quell that endless hunger that burns inside of you. Keep running, little rats.

Cha-ching! (I love that sound)

Sincerely,

Lord Moolah

The Rewatcher (aka: Again and Again and Again)

Since Twitter told me that today is #NationalBookLoversDay, I totally thought I would write a post about books. That makes sense, especially since I’ve read about five books per day since I was three years old. I could pretty much write your ears off about books.

But then I started thinking about how much I enjoy it when a book I’ve loved has been turned into a movie or TV series. It is a kind of magic to see the artistic interpretation of a beloved story, to watch it all unfold on the screen. Sometimes, the story becomes unrecognizable (*ahem* Ella Enchanted/A Little Princess/The Stepford Wives *ahem*). But sometimes, the result is just as wonderful — and occasionally better — than the book (The Lord of the Rings / Harry Potter 1-4 / Game of Thrones).

Then my thoughts took yet another twist. As I contemplated favorite titles of books and movies and TV shows, something important occurred to me. Here we are, living in the age of endless movies and TV shows at our fingertips. Just press a few keys, and you can stream one of thousands of titles. You never have to watch the same show twice! It is rather fitting for today’s disposable culture. Watched that series already? Move onto the next one. Tired of your stuff? Replace it all. Tired of your family, your friends? Toss them out, get new ones.

It is quite possibly my least favorite thing about modern American culture.

I am not fond of the disposable lifestyle, preferring, instead, to own few quality possessions, which I try to take care of. I rarely choose to dispose of friends or family, either, unless their presence in my life is harmful. People are too precious to be thrown away or forgotten.

My fondness for permanence spills over into my film and TV show selections, as well. Though I occasionally enjoy finding new series to binge on, or fun new movies to watch, I am, and have always been, a rewatcher. What’s a rewatcher? Someone who watches the same films and movies again and again and again, because she adores them and can’t get enough.

I have watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at least twice. Every episode of Friends at least three times. Every episode of Alias, The Office, Smallville at least twice. I latch onto the characters, await familiar scenes with anticipation, laugh yet again at their antics and cringe at their follies. And films? I can recite every line of The Goonies and Back to the Future. I have fallen in love with Noah and Allie’s romance again and again. I have memorized the charades of Will and Viola in Shakespeare in Love. And my favorite film of all time? I have watched Pride and Prejudice once every single year since it was released in 2005.

One might think that rewatching might lead to boredom. But not for me. Each time I watch, I learn something new about my favorite characters. I see a gleam in his eye that wasn’t there before, or hear a tone in her voice that changes the meaning of that scene. I find new things to appreciate — the camera angles, and how they added to the tension. The way the sunlight cast the perfect light and shadows to add to the mood. The timing. The costumes. The way the score consisted of the same song, played over and over, and yet, it works beautifully.

I find new reasons why this film, this character, became my favorite.

Books are the same way. I guess you might also call me an avid re-reader, too. Brave New World. The Harry Potter books. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Hunger Games. There will always be room for more books in my repertoire, and more films or TV shows on my screen. But every so often, the newness gets old. And I must return time and time again to the arms of the stories I treasure most.

A Bloody Good Topic (aka: A Conversation Stopper We Should All Be Talking About)

I guess I should bloody well dive into this topic.

Well…not literally. Because that’d be gross.

Today, I’m thinking about something that’s sometimes thick and oozy, like a milkshake, and sometimes drippy and wet, like a melted ice cream cone. It flows through all of us. And um…vampires love it. Oh, and it’s pretty much always red.

I guess I’m not making these clues very mysterious, am I? Maybe because the moment I started to write about it, my head began to feel all lightweight and spinney. Oof. I think I’ll just put my head down for a moment. That’s better.

That’s what I get for writing about blood.

But seriously, why is blood such a taboo topic? I mean, blood is so cool! Well, technically, it’s warm, but you get my meaning. Blood = life. It carries oxygen and nutrients and hormones and proteins to every part of our bodies. It fights off nasty infections. It’s one of the most important things about our bodies.

And yet, just mention the word, and half the people in a room will squirm with discomfort. Some will grow lightheaded, like me. A couple might even vomit, which is much ickier than blood, if you ask me. Mention how you sliced your arm open on the sharp edge of a barbecue grill and bled like a sacrificial lamb, and everyone in the room will make the same wince-face.

Blood is a conversation-stopper.

Unfortunately, in some cultures, blood is more than just a conversation-stopper. It’s downright verboten. Especially when it’s the blood that comes out of women’s bodies every month. Like lots of American women around my age, I learned all about menstruation from good ol’ Margaret and friends (Thanks, Judy Blume!). Also, from the drop-dead-embarrassing filmstrips they made us watch in school, and the little booklets the nurses handed out to every 10-12 year-old girl, filled with pre-teens who were for some reason super-excited about the idea of “becoming a woman.” Those of us with big sisters knew perfectly well that there was NOTHING exciting about getting monthly visits from Aunt Flo and wearing the equivalent of a diaper to keep from bleeding all over the place. Periods suck. If there was a special pill we could take to make them disappear, believe me, we’d all buy it.

But believe it or not, millions of young girls — you read that number right — millions of young girls around the globe are not taught anything about menstruation. They are not taught the difference between pantyliners for light days and the ultra-super-duper pads with wings for the heavy days. They are not taught how to insert a tampon without dying from pain (some of us still struggle with that part decades later). They are not shown any cutesy period commercials or handed any cutesy informational pamphlets. Basically, these girls are sentenced to a week of shame and humiliation every month, barred from schools and temples, and sometimes from their own homes. Millions of girls are told that their periods make them spiritually unclean. They must remain isolated from the rest of their families and communities and use whatever rags, grass, twigs, or paper they can find until Aunt Flo decides to pack it up and head home.

Now that’s an idea that should make us all squirm in discomfort.

We can all agree that periods suck. But they suck because they are inconvenient and a little messy. Because we might have to skip out on a morning swim, or sex, or wearing those cute white jeans for a few days. Not because society will shun us and treat us like filth because our bodies — our normal, healthy, female bodies, are doing something nature intends for them to do.

Today, I just read about Duchess Meghan Markle (yes, the wife on Prince Harry) and how she has been an outspoken supporter of the Myna Mahila Foundation, an Indian charity whose goal it is to provide the women of India with access to sanitary supplies and education about hygiene, and to end the long-held stigmas surrounding menstruation throughout the country. The more I read about how this charity and others like it are helping to change perceptions and the lives of so many girls and women, the more my eyes were opened. You might say my heart bled a little for the work they’re doing.

Oh, stop squirming. A little blood never killed anyone. Okay, fine, maybe it has. But mostly, blood is pretty good stuff. And no one should feel ashamed to talk about it. Period.

I Meant to Do That! (aka: Handling Klutziness With Grace)

One minute, I was a respectable, civilized human being, quietly scanning my groceries in the self-service lane. Then, I picked up a jar of dill pickles, and…

CRASH!

The jar slipped from my fingers, hit the edge of the shopping cart, and tumbled to the floor. Glass shattered. The air filled with a vinegary odor as pale green pickle juice puddled at my feet.

Oopsie. Butterfingers.

A hot blush of shame spread across my face as other supermarket patrons stared and store clerks went running for cleanup supplies. So embarrassing!

“Don’t worry about it.” A clerk tried to reassure me. “Happens to all of us.” I smiled, but my urge to do a humiliated Snoopy crawl out of the store didn’t fade. I also couldn’t help but notice that the clerk scanned the replacement jar of pickles for me, rather than risk a repeat offense.

To be fair, I’m not normally a klutz. But I don’t normally have mallet finger — a common ligament injury which means that the middle finger of my right hand is entombed in a clunky splint for 6-8 weeks. Which makes everything harder to do. I can’t sign my name. I manage a fork and spoon about as well as a toddler. I drop everything. Instant klutz. And plenty of embarrassment.

The clerk was right, though. Embarrassing things happen to all of us. Like discovering that you’ve left the house wearing two mismatched shoes. Like accidentally passing gas in the middle of yoga class. Like realizing that you made a ridiculous typo on a Tweet or Facebook post a day ago. Eep!

Knowing that billions of other people also make silly mistakes doesn’t always help when you’re in the middle of an embarrassing incident. What does help, however, is reminding yourself that the people around you aren’t judging you as hard as you are judging yourself if that moment. Most people don’t notice or even care that your ponytail looks less than perfect, or your lipstick has smudged a little, or that your dancing resembles Elaine’s less-than-graceful moves on Seinfeld. Who cares? Dance anyway. Let your smile be more noticeable than your lipstick. Own the moment, good or bad. Handle your klutziness with grace. When the crowd is staring and your cheeks are flushing bright red, take a sweeping bow, then repeat the wise words of PeeWee Herman. “I meant to do that.”

 

The LOOK (aka: Journeymom)

appreciation

2-4-6-8! Who do we appreciate?

Moms, that’s who!

Well, only since 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May to be a day to honor mothers. Before then, I guess mothers had to appreciate themselves. But now, we get to spend one dedicated day every year taking our mothers out for waffles and coffee, surprising them with bouquets of fresh flowers, and showing them how much we love and appreciate them.

Mother’s Day is not an easy day for everyone to celebrate. Many people no longer have their mothers in their lives. Some of us have tense, rocky relationships with our mothers, and finding things to appreciate about them is, well, a struggle. But even those of us who are lacking can use this holiday to be grateful for what positive lessons we once learned from our mothers, and to reflect on our own parenting choices.

As a mom to three teens, I kind of feel like I’ve reached the journeyman — er, journeymom phase of mothering. Instead of washing sticky handprints from the walls, or singing the Barney clean-up song to get them to put away their toys, I have mastered the LOOK. All moms know the LOOK. Just the right tilt of the head, just the right narrowing of the eyes, and those teenagers drop their cell phones and start scrubbing the house.

Okay fine, not really. But they’re supposed to.

Maybe I should go back to singing the Barney clean-up song. It would probably be more effective, since they hate the song so much and will do anything to get me to stop singing.

At this phase of mothering, I have to strike just the right balance between being my kids’ friend, one they’ll want to talk to and hang out with, and being the enforcer. The one who has to make sure they get their homework done, and stop tossing his dirty laundry on his brother’s bed, and finish all of the dishes, or else I’ll give them the LOOK. (Seriously, I need to come up with a better tool).

The other thing about this phase of parenting is this growing sensation that we are running out of time together. My baby birds have grown so big. They are testing their wings, finding their own worms. In four years, an alarm clock will ring, and my nest will be empty. I can only hope that they will return from time to time, to bring me flowers and take me out for waffles and coffee. I would really appreciate that.

Mothers Day Flowers

 

 

Get On Your Feet (aka: Training Your Tootsies)

Take a deep sniff. Smell that? No, it’s not a bag of stale Cheetos™.  It’s the oh-too familiar whiff of a very hard-working, under-rated part of our bodies.

That’s right. Our feet.

Most of us are born with two of these babies. Most of them have ten toes, sometimes long and skinny, like fingers, and sometimes short and stubby, like plump little balls. Some are flat and stompy, built to be encased in wide sneakers. Others have a delicate Barbie-arch that slides perfectly into high heeled shoes. Many are somewhere in between.

Do you ever think about how important feet are? Those of us who have them often take them for granted. We stuff them into cheap, too-tight shoes, then trudge through shopping malls, and across parking lots, and around the fields where our kids play sports. Then we complain when our poor tootsies get all swollen and blistered. Some of us torture our feet by making them run long distances on hard pavements. Many other people spend hours every day with their feet sitting on the floor beneath their desks, forgetting that feet, like dogs, need to take a walk, sometimes.

We put our feet through a lot.

Now some people, women especially, pay all kinds of attention to their feet. They worship their feet. They take them to spas and pamper them with professional massages and long, hot soaks. They have pedicures, getting their toenails all purtied up with bright coats of paint. They rub them with scented lotions, then dress them in cute, expensive shoes the way some people dress up their little frou-frou dogs.

I’ll bet feet love people like that.

One of my favorite things to do to nurture my feet is to let the experience nature. Undressed. Unshackled. Just the bare skin of my soles sinking into the warm sand at the beach. Letting the cool ocean waves wash over them. Getting them tickled by blades of grass at the park. Hearing them squelch as they’re sucked into gooey, oozy mud. My feet love that. Well, as long as I stay away from sharp rocks. And bees. And hot asphalt surfaces that make them sizzle like burgers on a grill.

Feet are marvelous things.

Did you know, that if you train them right, they can climb mountains? For real. They can also climb a few flights of stairs every day, if you let them. They can walk all over town, and the best part about that is that you get to see things you may have missed otherwise. Just yesterday, my feet took me along a river trail I’d never taken somewhere near the downtown office where I work. And do you know what I saw? Goats. Like, fifty goats, kids and all, chewing up the grass along the walkway. Right there, in a major metropolitan area. What the what? It was super weird, and a pretty cool sight. And I never would have seen it if not for my trusty feet. (Good girls). Unfortunately, my feet also led me to a coffee shop, where I wound up buying a delicious, fresh-baked cookie. So I guess they still need some more training.

Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes as you read this. The only thing you want to do with your feet is prop them up on an ottoman while you watch TV. I’m not judging, nor am I pointing any fingers at specific readers. But you know what they say — if the shoe fits…

All I want to do is remind you that, if you train your feet and treat them well, then they’ll reward you. They’ll show you new sights and take you to meet interesting people. They’ll work with your body to get it stronger, fitter, healthier. They’ll remind you that you have these two amazing things attached to your legs to be grateful for every morning. They might even get a little naughty and lead you to a coffee shop that sells yummy, fresh-baked cookies. You’ll never know unless you move them.

Where have your feet led you?