Sunday, February 18, 2018

a love story

Do y'all have a Waffle House restaurant where you are?  Google says they're in 25 states in the US.  I know they started in Georgia, so I'm not sure if it's mostly a southern US thing or if it's an east coast thing or what.  If you have a Waffle House near you or if you've ever had the joy of eating in one, this will be a funny story.  If not, I guess you just need to know that Waffle House is a roadside diner/greasy spoon.  While the word "waffle" is in the name, I lived half my life before I witnessed anyone actually ordering a waffle in the restaurant.  When they did, I laughed out loud.  They specialize in breakfast plates, heavy on the grease and they used to brag that they sold more steaks than any other restaurant (think thin, flat and tough).  They're usually plopped beside almost every other interstate offramp and it's the kind of place you can expect to be called "honey", "sugar", "sweetie" or some other syrupy knickname while you're inside.  It's a dinner and a show kind of place, but the show is free.  One time years ago, our waitress told us the story of how she stabbed her ex husband while she served us and called us "sweetie".  

If you're unclear, we love it.  The food may not be healthy, but we love it.  And you know how we love to people watch.  In fact, the Waffle House is an important part of our family Christmas tradition.  They're open 24/7, 365.  

A couple of years back I remember walking out of our local Waffle House and seeing a pink piece of paper advertising a special Valentine's Day special and inviting customers to make plans to bring their date to the Waffle House.  I pointed it out and laughed with G about it.  Back in high school, the ironic kids would take their dates to the Waffle House to be funny and cool.  I assumed no one, ever, in the history of mankind would have taken their date to the Waffle House on purpose, for real.  

G and I don't really do anything big for Valentine's Day.  We've been married 20-something years and we're pretty much over it.  After about 10 years we stopped buying into the nonsense and started spending money like semi-responsible people.  This meant no more overpriced roses.  Grocery store roses or tulips were more economical and tulips could be planted.  G would rather have a pack of Hershey bars than any of the finest chocolates from Belgium anyway.  And once kids came along, we pretty much had constant 3rd and 4th wheels on our Valentine's dates.  

So last Wednesday on the 14th, G was tired and not in the mood to cook.  We considered our limited local options for food and quickly settled on Waffle House, figuring the other places could be more crowded for dinner on a big date night.  We rolled up one interstate exit and when we rounded the corner past the trees we saw the small parking lot full of cars.  That's when we remembered the little pink paper from a couple of years ago.   As we turned in and looked for a parking space, G and the kids were already running through a list of alternative restaurants.  But it was too late, I was interested.

The blinds were pulled down making it appear dark inside.  There were hearts and decorations all over the windows.  The place was packed and the people inside were dressed up.  No one dresses up for Waffle House.  The manager was inside with a black suit and his kid was working as the doorman also wearing a suit.  This was awesome.  I had to go inside.  I pulled the seatbelt off and looked at G.  She said, we're not waiting forever just to eat at Waffle House.  I argued we wouldn't have to wait long because there was only one family waiting in front of us.  She said, "We don't have reservations."  I laughed so hard.  The very idea of getting reservations to eat at Waffle House is still hilarious.  I was still laughing as the little kid opened the door and asked if I'd be dining with them this evening.  All I could think to say was "Look at you!".

I walked in and the manager approached me with a smile.  "Happy Valentine's Day, Sir!  Do you have a reservation?"

I didn't laugh in his face.  But I did laugh.  But y'all, all the lights were covered with pink paper for romantic lighting.  There were pink and white tablecloths on all the tables.  There was a red and white Christmas tree in the corner with red hearts hanging all over it.  There was a photobooth set up for couples.  I was going to eat there so I could take it all in.  

We waited about 15 minutes to sit down.  Without a doubt this is the longest I've ever waited to eat at a Waffle House.  Heck, I've had entire dining experiences there that didn't last that long.  But we waited and watched people.  People seemed to be eating salads, which we didn't know Waffle House served.  Some were getting desserts.  When couples would finish eating, the manager would walk them over to the backdrop and take their photo with one of those hipster instamatic cameras.  There was a youth group from a church.  There were several white haired couples.  There was a young couple who seemed just as surprised as us.  But everyone was smiling, laughing and happy.  

We were seated at the lower counter in four consecutive stools.  There was a white plastic tablecloth with lace hearts glued on it.  There was a candle romantically flickering for about 10 seconds before Blue blew it out.  They handed us special menus with salads, steaks and desserts.  Of course we opted for the traditional greasy breakfast but it was every bit as enjoyable as anything else.  With counter seats it's easier to watch the show as you overlook the open kitchen.  One of the waitresses and one of the cooks had a secret thing going on.  There were a couple of low key touches and brushes as they passed.  Not sure if this was a secret from the manager, so don't tell on them.  It seemed appropriate for the day.

The cool thing was, everyone was so happy.  It was like we were all in on the joke and no one was really the butt of the joke.  Waffle House knew it was quirky and weird and they went all in on it.  The patrons knew it was goofy and they dressed up and held hands and played it up.  Everyone was winning.  It was so great.  This was marketing genius.  This restaurant that truly suffered on one particular night of the year developed a goofball idea to bring in customers and it worked.  I was so proud of them!

When we got up to pay, we got the whole family in front of the backdrop for the instant photo.

The manager thanked us for coming and handed us our photo and we laughed all the way home.

Also, I bought G a pack of Hershey bars, so we're good.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

my brain is mushy

I've got critique brain.

If you don't teach studio art classes at the college level, that may not mean much to you.  What I mean is, in the last 24 hours I've critically analyzed and thoroughly discussed 30 projects in a critique setting.  

Critiques are fearsome events.  Students dread them for weeks.  This is the time when an art student turns in a project they've worked on for many weeks.  They've invested blood, sweat and tears to create what they hope is their newest masterpiece.  Then we gather as a class and look at each project one at a time.  The student artist will explain what they've done and how they've used the elements and principles of design to create an effective composition.  This is the manipulation of space that causes the viewer to want to look at the work of art.  The behind the scenes magic that designers use to influence your actions on large and small scales.  Once the design is presented, the group then provides feedback and analysis, breaking down each and every part of the design.  They make judgments based on visual evidence and suggest ways to make the designs more effective.  If there's a conceptual problem involved, the success or failure to communicate the concept is also discussed at length.  When all of the formal and conceptual qualities have been sufficiently analyzed and discussed, we move on to the next student's work.  

This can be a treacherous process for students.  After spending so much time creating your design, it can be difficult to separate yourself from the work of art.  Any negative comment about the work can sting on a personal level.  There can be frustration, anger and many, many tears.  Sometimes a student will be overcome with emotion and quietly leave the room in order to shed their tears in the privacy of the hallway or the bathroom.  Less often, the tears fall on the studio floor.  On the really interesting days, students can become offended and lash out at each other's artwork in personal ways.  While this act can be funny to me, I do try to stomp out those flames when they appear as this is not a helpful or professional characteristic of critique. 

The student is not completely off the hook after presenting their design and emotionally surviving the feedback.  Students are also expected to provide analysis and feedback to their peers.  Some offer more observations and feedback than others and their critique grades will reflect this participation.  

However frightful and energy depleting this may be for the students, I will argue that the teachers must give even more energy to the process. 

Let's take a second.  All my students just slammed their laptops down, tossed their phones across the room and whispered an obscenity as they left.

If you're still here, consider the plight of the studio art teacher in this process.  There's the obvious participation in the critique, of course.  We stand there in front of the work and break it down into the most basic components just like the students do.  We follow along, trying to understand each perspective offered and each suggestion, fact checking as we go in case someone is off base.  If so, we offer correction and keep things moving.  Then, when the students are finished talking about an individual work of art, the teacher speaks up to offer the more definitive feedback.  We take all the evidence into consideration and more or less offer a judgment for or against the work of art.  Then, taking it further, we may offer observation and feedback on the student's work ethic, attitude or potential...all things we've carefully observed and even more carefully worded right there on the spot.  At the end of the critique of the first student's artwork, the teacher's brain is warmed up and working just like everyone else's in the room.  

Then we do it again and again until the entire class has been properly critiqued.  That's what the students see.  When class is over I get the feeling they assume we retire to a teachers' lounge ensconced in velvet and drink champagne from our "best teacher ever" coffee mugs.

But they missed a few things.  What they didn't see was how carefully the teacher was also observing students and listening to comments during the critique.  See, those have to be graded, so the teacher has to be paying close attention and perhaps even making notes about each student.  And then instead of retiring to the posh teachers' lounge, we instead walk fast to our offices and answer 40 emailed questions, prepare for the 3 faculty meetings we have that week and when we get home after dark, we kiss our kids goodnight, eat a pop-tart over our computer while we enter grades and grade comments for each student's artwork.  Then we enter grades and grade comments for each student's participation in critique.  In a class of 12 students (the capacity for a space hogging 3D studio) that can take a few hours if you rush.  I currently have 3 classes of the same subject, so after doing this on a Monday, I get to do it again with even more students on a Tuesday.  This semester, my student total for this particular course is 31.  So for every one critique a student must suffer through, the teacher must do that 30 more times.  Then those next two classes must be graded as before and you know those students are going to expect that their grades be ready for them to question the next time class meets, right?  So you go home and yell at the dogs for barking and close the door to your studio so you cant hear the kids playing video games and you get it done.

Of course I can hear the scoffing of the lecture oriented professors from here.  "31 students?  Oh please, I have more than 31 students in each of my 4 or 5 classes!"  That's true but also misleading.  Because you spend 2 or 2.5 hours with those students each week.  I spend 6 hours face to face with my students in the studio each week.  And don't get me started about your little Scantron tests that are graded by a computer for you.  Or maybe you are really classy and you require essay questions on your tests.  That's cute.  You read those and check for accuracy and understanding.  We mentally and emotionally wrestle with each student in critique in order to figure out how to inspire and motivate each one on an individual level.  Really though, I only mock you out of respect.  I know you work hard in your teaching and grading as well.  I just have to take crap from people who still think all we do is sit around and draw little pictures, so I'm a little sensitive.  

My point is only that at the end of a critique/grading cycle I've solved more difficult problems than any one person should have to solve in a year.  I've had to think fast on my feet and come up with some really impressive ideas - ideas I've given over to a student and I'll never get to use for myself!  My brain feels like a wet sock that squishes water inside a shoe with every step you take.  

In spite of this small complaint and my slightly mushy brain, teaching is still the best job ever.  In some weird way, I get energized by the whole process.  I love critiques and how they can be the most effective ways to teach certain things to students.  I love watching students change their behavior in a critique and learn to really dig in and see all the mechanics at work in a design.  I love having them in a critique years later and hearing them still use some of the same language I helped to teach them.  I love it when they email me after 12 years and tell me they still hear my voice repeating critique lines.  I love being a small part of what they become.

But again, my brain is tired.  I'm not even sure those were complete sentences up there.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

can you meet for pizza?

Ali came through town last week.  Do y'all know Ali?  I met Ali about 8 years ago when she was introduced to me while she was applying to our MAT program.  She had a kid on her hip and she was quick to say it was not her kid.  The next year she became my student and served as my studio worker (Queen of Sculpture) for a good while.  She's good people.  We got to know each other pretty well during that time and then I shipped her off to grad school for a while.  Then she got married.  But every now and then she drives past Gwood and she'll text me to see if I'm free for pizza.  So last week I cleared an hour to catch up at Millhouse.  These kinds of chats can be so scattered as we have to catch up on everything that has happened since the last time the planets aligned.  In this case it was 7 or 8 months.  There are mutual friends to catch up on, people to make fun of, funny stories and general life updates.  

I have a couple of different topics for the blog open on my computer just gathering dust, waiting on the right mood to either finish them or share them.  But they're not ready yet.  And since things are still happening all around us, I thought about stealing the rambling life update approach from my conversation with Ali and using it here with y'all.  So maybe grab a coffee or a slice of pizza.

 I'm a parent.  Those are my kids hiding inside cabinets at either Lowe's or Home Depot.  I scratch my head in wonder every single day at this parenting thing.  Sometimes you feel like you're the king of all dads and your kids are saints.  Twelve seconds later you can feel like you're a miserable parenting failure.  Blue and Violet are happy kids and they're nice to people.  I'm going to consider that a win so far.

 When I get home each day from school I do a yoga based exercise called PiYo.  It's a combination of pilates and yoga.  I've tried several things for strength and cardio and this one seems to work best for me.  It feels right.  But it's hard and after the long days when I've been on my feet all day and I'm feeling my age, it's a struggle to exercise when I get home.  Then, I turn around and look behind me and find these lazy mutts asleep.  

 Both of these photos were taken at the end of a PiYo session.  I was tired and sweaty.  They were cozy and well rested.  Punks. 

 Ok, so a couple of weeks ago this delivery guy pulls up directly outside my windows at school.  That's him in the red shirt behind the stop sign.  It was either his first day on the job or it was his worst day ever.  He jack-knifed the truck trying to back it up and was delivering it in the wrong place.  The truck shook as he pinned the tires against the curb.  He got out of the truck already exasperated and it was still morning.  He thew up the back door to find the entire contents of the truck in a giant dog pile.  Boxes everywhere.  It was a mess.  Oh and this is a food delivery service.  Inside the boxes are fragile and perishable items being delivered to our restaurants on campus.  When he saw the mess he braced against the truck and hung his head.  Then he started muttering and cursing.  

At this point, I was hooked.  I pulled up a chair, told the students still in the room to gather and we prepared to watch the show.  He climbed into the truck and started to try to restack the boxes in some kind of order.  He set up his ramp for unloading and after throwing several things around pretty recklessly, he gathered himself enough to start packing the order on his cart.  But instead of using his hand trucks to roll the boxes down the very steel ramp a few at a time...safely...he opted to use a large cart which he then proceeded overload with very poorly stacked boxes of fragile, perishable food products.  Even while he was loading it, the boxes were on the verge of falling off the cart.

Our excitement was palpable.  When he started down the ramp with stacks of rocking boxes that were towering over his head, we started giggling.  To our amazement he made it to the bottom of the ramp without disaster.  But then...the moment the cart wheels hit the bottom all the weight shifted and the towers of boxes started falling in all directions.  The look on his face was unforgettable.  He grabbed at the boxes but it was far too late.  They crashed to the ground in heaps.  A couple of boxes ripped open.  Many more were crushed.  The best box erupted, spilling it's contents - large, gallon plastic containers of mayonnaise onto the sidewalk.  Some of those containers also gave up the ghost and exploded gobs of mayo onto the sidewalk and grass.  We were absolutely rolling with laughter.  

He cursed and threw his arms around in a fury.  Then he got himself together enough to restack the boxes on the cart.  He attempted to clean up some of the mess but his stacks of boxes fell another couple of times before he made it to the building doors.  There were several other small mishaps on his second and third trips inside, but the only one worth mentioning was when he split the butt of his pants.  Dude was having a very bad day.  He's been back a couple of times since and I'm happy to report he's gotten a little better and a little smarter each time.  He still blocks the entire road when he parks but he's dropping less food.  And Friday he even learned to use the brake on the cart after the fully loaded cart took off rolling down the sidewalk without him when he went to get something out of the cab of the truck.  

I am thankful for his contributions to our Fridays in class.  

 I'm working on finishing up the painting on a steel bowtie for a life sized rhinoceros.  While I was working on cutting out pieces of steel for that project, I happened across an idea and I think I'm going to have to steal away some time to sculpt soon.  After spending the vast majority of my studio time last year working on drawings, I'm suddenly excited about working on sculptures again. 

 Our students in the art department are exceptional in every way.  Each week it seems new people come out to slog with us.  Not only do we get to breathe fresh air and do something good for our bodies and our minds, but we also get to know each other during our slog chats.  I don't know of any other art department that has the kind of environment that we have.  It is a very intentional thing and we work hard to create it.  Best of all, it works.  It forms an atmosphere where the students can get the most out of their education.  I really like my students.  (That's Bolt, Jocelyn, Katherine, Cali and Yessica posing with my head)

Not only is Timmy lazy, he also sleeps like a human.  Most nights when I go to bed I'll find G under the covers with her head on her pillow.  Timmy will be asleep beside her, also under the covers with his head on my pillow.  Spoiled mutt.

 Thursday we had our annual celebration of our students' creative work, the Annual Juried Student Exhibit.  We make this event a big deal for our students by having tons of place awards, merit awards and purchase awards.  Jax thought I was taking that photo of her.  I don't want to get anyone in trouble so I wont say why I took it but I think it's funny.  

 Laura Brown took these photos and you can tell because they're actually great photos.  That's Jamea with her drawing.  Jamea is a quality human.  She will graduate in May and I will miss her.  She says she has never been mad at me and I'm sure any of my students would tell you that's a miracle.  

Adam won Best In Show.  That's Jimmy, jonny, Singletary, Adam, me and Esnipes.  Adam's family was present for the reception so his mom, grandma and aunt got to see him win this and another award.  There were tears.  It was great.  I'm happy for him and very proud.  But this photo....this photo is all about Esnipes the superhero.  Take a good look at the photo.  If you look carefully beside my left hand you'll see a tiny foot dangling from behind Esnipes.  What you can't see is the rest of the toddler body attached to that foot.  There's a whole tiny human hanging on to Esnipes' back while this photo is being taken.  Esnipes posed, smiled and completely hid the kid on her back for the official photo because she moms so hard.  It's a small visual reminder of the juggling acts our art faculty members all practice each day.  Parents, animal trainers, teachers, committee members, spouses, artists, public relations experts, agents and managers - we have to be all those things during any given day.  Esnipes makes it look easy.  It's not.

When Ali and I had that pizza lunch, I have to say that we managed to talk fast and eat our two pizzas without being totally disgusting.  She and I share a fondness for the movie "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" where one of the characters states that while he has the "gift of gab" he prefers a conversational hiatus while eating.  I think he said he finds talking while eating "vulgar and rude".  Maybe it was "course and rude", I forget.  I'm happy to report that we kept most of our food in our mouths.  If I had any in my beard she didn't tell me.  Hopefully we didn't gross anyone out.  Maybe next time we'll just get coffee.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

a snowday with kids

Some of you may not live in the South.  We have a bit of a reputation when it comes to the way we deal with winter weather and with our recent winter event I thought it might be a good time to tell you how it really is down here.

Usually when there's any mention of the word "snow" by a meteorologist, it generates a buzz among snowbirds.  This is what I call the people who still believe the forecasters when they call for snow.  These folks anticipate the snow.  They look forward to it.  They talk about it in every other sentence for a good week before it's supposed to happen.  I've learned to ignore these people.  Last week when the little snowflake icon showed up on the daily forecast several days out, I mentioned it to G, laughed and then moved on.  The next day the snowflake disappeared.  It appeared and disappeared several more times until it started to be talked about as a very real threat.  Two days out the forecast seemed a little more certain.  One day out they told us to expect accumulating snow.  They get very specific with these things now and they're wrong 99% of the time.  

Back in my day, calling off school was silly.  If there was an ice storm you might get a two hour delay.  If there was snow falling they'd tell us to come to school and if the roads got terrible before noon, they'd send us home on the bus.  I remember riding the bus home from school in a full-on snow storm.  Now that my kids are in school, if someone smells snow a day in advance they cancel school.  Many times since Blue and Violet have been in school they've called off school because of a sketchy forecast and the actual weather turned out to be sunny and nice.  True story.  

Last Tuesday afternoon the schools began to call off students for Wednesday.  I would imagine that at that time the local grocery stores sold out of milk and bread.  I'm not sure if y'all know about this phenomenon wherever you live, but down here when they tell us it's going to snow, we rush out and buy milk and bread.  In reality, we buy a lot more than that, but the midweek rush on the grocery store really puts a dent on the milk and bread supply.  There's honestly a good explanation for this.  Here in the upstate of South Carolina, we have a mostly normal climate.  Hot, humid summers, long springs and really great autumns, but what most people may not realize is that we have pretty decent winters too.  It get's cold here and once or twice each year we'll get a noticeable winter weather event.  Historically we've been unprepared for these in terms of road care and while we're stuck at home it really sucks to also lose power.  The snow we get is generally heavy, wet snow and when we get ice, it's usually a really heavy icing and both of these events bring down trees and power lines.  These storms often catch us by surprise in terms of their severity.  We may be told to expect a "dusting" of snow and get 10 inches.  That happened on a spring break back when I was in college.  After you go without power in a snow storm for half a week, you learn to hit the grocery store and stock up.  You're going to use the milk and bread anyway so it's not like it's wasted.  

We don't pay a lot of attention to the news in our house so it wasn't until the school cancelation that we started thinking about weather.  We had groceries and coffee, so we were good.  No milk and bread run for us.

The excitement in the house was something you could feel.  The kids were so hopeful.  A few weeks ago they got a snow day from school but only saw flurries.  Their school is a good bit north of us and we were just below the area of accumulation.  They had to listen to their friends talk about how much snow they received while they quietly brooded and blamed me for where we live.  The last forecast we heard this week indicated that the heaviest accumulation would be right over our house and that we would get more than their friends this time.  Of course that turned out to be incorrect, but it fueled their excitement.  I received word that my school was operating on a two hour delay which meant my only class was canceled.  Regardless of the actual precipitation, we were going to get a snow day.  Violet kissed me goodnight and voluntarily went to bed 15 minutes before bedtime.  She heard the weather dude say the snow would start at 5am so her plan was to get up super early to watch.  

Everyone was up when I woke up.  I heard the door open and close a couple of times and saw the glow coming in the blinds so I figured it was snowing.  The phone weather confirmed when I checked the temperature so I got up and put on the warm running clothes.  

 When Violet got up at 5:15, she looked out her window and it was not snowing.  She waited until she heard G get up after 6:00 and it still was not snowing.  It started just a few minutes before I got up which mixed more hope in with the excitement.

 The dogs were less excited.  They ran a little but as soon as business was taken care of, they hoofed it back inside to warm their paws.  

 Blue wasted no time.  He had his snowman built before the waffles were even started.  It was a little below freezing and that's him in a steady snow with no hat, only a sweatshirt, running shoes and thin gloves.  He had also laid completely down in the snow several times by this point and was pretty wet.

 He and Violet worked together on their snowperson and made the spitting image of some annoying character on Netflix called Miranda Sings.

 We are typically unprepared with our roads and also with our winter clothing.  While normal winter days here may start out in the 20s (F) the afternoon temperatures will climb to the 50s or 60s.  A light coat or jacket is usually good enough.  Gloves can be tough to find when it snows.  We may have to dig through closets and when we do find gloves they're not even close to being water resistant.  And with the fluctuation in temperatures, snow accumulations can be short lived.  We've learned that you don't wait until the snow stops falling if you want to play in it.  As soon as the waffles were gone, Blue, Violet and I headed outside.  G was home with us, which really never happens on a snow day.  Nurses have to go to work regardless.  But this time G had been growing some sort of sickness for a few days and she finally felt terrible enough Wednesday that she couldn't work.  So while she was home, she probably wished she wasn't.  She couldn't go out and enjoy it with us and she couldn't rest or sleep because we were making noise and running in and out all day.  

 I think we went out around 8am.  The kids were in and out looking for dry gloves and socks and thawing out their fingers.  I worked on the snow sculpture and stayed outside.  I rolled snowballs as large as I could and tried to stack them into a mass that I could carve.  

 The stack of snow started to remind me of the Woman of Villendorf, one of the oldest known sculptures.  It's a tiny little carving of a curvy lady or goddess.  I turned my snow lady into a modern icy version with a comical approach.  Blue wasn't a fan and he spent a lot of time trying to convince me to put a "bathing suit" on her.  

 Because we try to be prepared for anything around here, we actually had plastic sleds and didn't have to resort to using cardboard boxes.  Our small hills forced us to run full speed and then try to jump on the sleds without toppling over.  I won the distance contest, but mostly just because I was the heaviest.  Moments later Blue jumped on his sled and it shattered into pieces.  

 We made videos for Blue to use, made snow angels and against my better judgement the kids ate a lot of snow.  The Kool Aid juice they used for the red lips on their snowperson made them think of snowcones so they started scooping up snow and pouring juice or drinks over it.  Violet's lips are intensely red because of that.

 We stayed out until about 1:30pm before realizing that we needed to dry our clothes and thaw our bodies.  We let G rest for an hour or so before we headed back out to go exploring. 

 When you only see snow once or twice each year, it never looses it's magical appeal.  The quiet that falls over the snow always catches me off guard.  The white coating transforms every mundane object into something new.  We walked through the woods marveling at it all.

 Even the front yard took on a new appeal.  The final sled battle took place in our cold, wet clothes just before dark.  G had some warm chili and cornbread ready when we went inside.

 The kids' school announced they'd be closed Thursday as well.  My morning studio class was cancelled but I still had to go for the afternoon class.  That was good enough for me because I got to sleep until sunrise and run in the daylight.  The kids and the dogs played in the snow before I left for school and the kids apparently played outside all day while I was gone.  When I got back home both sleds were in pieces.  There were random pairs of wet gloves scattered across the yard.  The roads were clear around us but the schools quickly began canceling for Friday.  Every announcement built confidence with Blue and Violet that they'd get another day off.  Then came the devastating news:  the two hour delay.  They would get to sleep in a little, but they'd have to go to school.  

And just like that, the snow vacation was over.  We're still watching the snow creatures melt.  The last patch of shaded snow in the back yard melted today.  Looking back, the weather folks did ok.  They were at least close with their predictions.  The local power company has taken precautionary measures against trees falling on lines for the last several years, with a serious tree trimming operation each summer along the power lines.  Even the road crews were on the ball, pre-treating the roads with brine for days in advance of the storm.  That's not to say some people didn't lose power or that there weren't goofballs out driving like idiots on icy roads, but at least we're not the dumb hillbillies the rest of the country makes us out to be in the snow.  

If you're wondering what we do with all that milk and bread, I used my milk to make cappuccinos and my bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  

It's not likely we'll get another snow this year but that won't stop the kids from hoping.  As for me, I'm over winter.  I'm ready for the beach.

Friday, January 19, 2018

binge watching

Remember when TV was memorable?

I’m talking about a TV series that would offer season after season of half hour or hour-long entertainment.  There used to be shows that told stories and had jokes and maybe they weren’t the best quality stories or jokes, but you could remember them. 

I guess some of you are of an age that you know what I mean.  There may be a few of you here who have this new modern relationship with TV and you’ve forgotten how TV used to be.

Back in the day, TV networks would take a pilot show, a show introducing the characters and major idea of a potential series, and they’d decide it was worth a significant financial investment.  They’d contract with the writers and actors and make the changes they wanted.  All in the quest of making a weekly show that people would want to watch.  The shows aired once each week during the season, which more or less came down to fall through spring on the calendar.  You’d watch a show and you’d wait until the next week to watch it again.  A whopping seven days later!

I remember cartoons from childhood.  These were the good cartoons with Buggs Bunny, Tom and Jerry and maybe even the original Scooby Doo.  But I’m not even talking about those as a TV series because they were not really following the weekly TV show plan.  From my childhood there was Magnum PI, Dallas, Dynasty and Simon and Simon.  Again, I’m not arguing they were great shows, but I remember them.  More specifically, not only do I remember them in bits and pieces now, but I remembered them back then from episode to episode and season to season.  These were the days of the big cliffhanger episode as a season finale in the spring and you’d have to wait all summer to find out who shot JR or if your favorite character’s car was going to topple over that cliff.

Then they screwed up TV.  By “they” I mean Netflix.  And by “screwed up” I mean, they started breaking the rules and messing with the calendar.  Since Netflix wasn’t network TV and they had the ability to stream their own content directly into your home, they could release an entire season of a show all at once.  Perhaps at midnight.  Some dude would click a mouse and the entire season of writing and acting would just appear on your screen.  The whole season was there ready to be watched.  You’d turn on your Netflix the following day and boom, there it was.

I do suppose “they” could be us, though.  Or maybe you, not me.  Because what you and a lot of your friends did that following day is watch the entire season of a show.  All at once.  Sometimes without getting up.  Binge watching.

I am mostly innocent of this because I’m old.  And a bit hyper.  And my wife who happens to be my main TV watching partner is prone to falling asleep after one episode.  We’ve tried to binge watch and we can’t.  It just doesn’t work for us.  We have kids and jobs and hobbies.  After work there’s dinner to cook, dishes to clean, kids to force under a shower or into a tub, clothes and lunches to prepare, more work to do from home and then there’s that wonderful thing we like to call sleep.  All of those things conspire to give us very little time to watch TV.

Honestly, this doesn’t bother me very much.  Back in college I gave up TV watching completely for a year and a half.  I realized just how much more time I had because of not watching TV.  After college we mostly watched movies on our TV but we would watch an occasional series like Friends or Dawson’s Creek.  Then I went back to school and the rare movie was all I saw.  After that we moved out into the middle of nowhere and decided to stop throwing money away to have a million channels with nothing interesting to watch.  We ditched the dish and cable and got Netflix instead. 

I liked Netflix because it encouraged only intentional TV watching.  You have to sit down with something in mind or be lucky enough to scroll through and find something fast.  The best thing was getting the DVDs in the mail.  I could go through the library and set up a list of movies I wanted to see or classic movies I wanted to show the kids to help culture them properly.  But when the Netflix original shows started, I didn’t know how to react.  It seemed logical to me and most practical for our lives to watch the shows periodically when we had time.

But no one else did that.  Our friends would talk about watching an entire season of Stranger Things in a weekend.  I would hear someone say they stayed up all night to watch House of Cards in one sitting.  Some of our more normal friends will take a whole week to watch the new season of Orange is the New Black.  And you know how it is with shows like that.  Part of the fun is talking about it.  You have to talk through the story and the twists with your friends.  But when they come to us after two weeks, two months or even a couple of years…sometimes we’re still not finished with the 13 episodes. 

The real problem though is that when we hurry and try to watch the season as fast as we can, it goes faster than we can process fully.  A couple of weeks pass and we sit down with an extra hour and spend the first 15 minutes of the next episode trying to figure out what happened in the last one.  I know I’m old, but I don’t think this is just a problem with my memory.  Keep in mind, I can still remember those TV shows from childhood.

When you get through your season of the show, whether you binge watch it or just try to get it in during a couple of months, then you come to the realization that you don’t get another episode for almost an entire year.  Ten months for us slow people.  There’s no way you can remember what happened last year on that show that you rushed and watched in a few sittings.  I know people who re-watch the season just before the new season is released.  I will never have that kind of time to waste. 

This way of doing TV shows is no good.  When you binge watch a show, you forget it fast.  There’s no seven day waiting period between episodes for your to fully digest what has happened.  During that week you talk about the story line with your friends.  You consider how the story got to this point and where you think it may be going.  This allows for you to participate in some way with the show.  When you watch back-to-back episodes, you don’t need to think.  Your questions are answered in the next few minutes and you never have to really engage with the story.  It’s the fast food of the TV industry.  Instant gratification followed by regret and indigestion.

A month after watching the final episode, the story has faded.  You’ve moved on to the next series and you don’t think about that one again for another year. 

Just this morning I noticed something that indicates Netflix may be realizing this mistake.  David Letterman had a new show and Netflix will be releasing it one episode per week.  The article I read said something like “a show like this must be savored”.  Savored instead of devoured.  There are probably a lot of other, more important areas of our lives where this phrase could be helpful.  We do a lot of devouring.  I’d like to do more savoring.