Sunday, June 24, 2007

National Identity

I was just reading a post on my brother-in-law Nate's blog about what it means to be Chinese. Apparently, some mainlanders don't feel Hong Kong residents act truly Chinese, and yet the people of Hong Kong retain some holidays and traditional practices that were wiped out in most of China by the Cultural Revolution. So who is really "Chinese," and what does that term even mean these days?

Nate's questions reminded me of a similar debate going on in our own dear country. I studied history (primarily American) for my master's degree, and few things get me on a soapbox faster these days than someone complaining that immigrants in the good old days were far more willing to "Americanize" than those coming today. For the record, anyone who says that the European immigrants of yesteryear arrived eager to eat hot dogs, play baseball, and shoot off fireworks on July 4th doesn't know diddly about this country's history.

In the 1840s, American political cartoons depicted Irish and German immigrants as drunken gorillas, and natives worried these newcomers were dragging the country swiftly downhill by clinging to their old, un-American ways. Fifty years later those immigrants were as much a part of the American fabric as the British and Scots, but by golly those newly arrived Italians, Poles, and other "undesirables" that were flooding into the country were making all the old folks edgy. Each new ethnic group congregated in their own neighborhood, ate ethnic foods, spoke their native language, and many of them didn't even plan to stay in the U.S.; they were just working to send money back to their relatives, and many planned to moved back to the Old Country after a while.

Sounds kind of familiar doesn't it? The same story could be told about Japanese immigrants, Chinese immigrants, and on and on. As the years rolled by, these immigrants or their descendants were absorbed into American society until a last name like O'Neill or Caruso was the only clue to a person's pre-immigration heritage. Old traditions were either forgotten or absorbed into American culture until we forgot they were once "new." The Pilgrims never cooked spaghetti or tacos, but I'll bet your mom did. Those things have become as American as hamburgers (which weren't even invented here) or fortune cookies (which were - in San Francisco, if I remember right).

That's why I'm not too concerned when some people predict that today's immigrants will never become "American." True, some of them may never master English or trade old traditions for new; many of their European predecessors didn't, either. But their kids did. And their grandkids and great-grandkids often barely knew where they came from, much less spoke their ancestors language. I know of several Latino immigrants who wish they COULD get their children to speak Spanish. The trouble is that the TV speaks English, the movie screen speaks English, and their friends at school speak it, too. The proof of whether immigrant groups will "Americanize" is in the future generations.

And when it comes down to it, what does it really mean to be "American?" Does an American like fried chicken and NASCAR, or salad and yoga? Do Americans prefer to play baseball, soccer, Uno, or World of Warcraft on the internet? We know what to expect from an Italian or Mexican restaurant, but what does an American restaurant serve? What kind of accent does an American have?

There is no simple answer to these questions, so since America is such a diverse place, who is to say that a little more diversity is un-American, anyway?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

News Junkie

My name is Kimberly, and I am a news junkie.

Let me clarify - I don't watch evening news (and probably wouldn't, even if we owned a TV), nor do I subscribe to a newspaper. I occasionally skim through Google News, but I'm not as religious about it as my Kenya-dwelling brother. And much as I love NPR, I don't turn it on at home because I can't pay attention to it while I clean the house/nurture an infant/telecommute/study scriptures/etc. But once I get in the car . . .

Some people can't bear to travel without music (my husband is such a person--always wearing earphones on the train, etc.). I can't bear to drive without turning on KPCC to learn about local news, hear interviews of prominent authors, learn about various presidential candidates, and hear about such random things as musicals in India decrying the evils of soda pop. I love driving at 10am on Saturdays, simply because I get to hear a couple of mechanics on Car Talk make thigh-slapping jokes as they answer callers' questions about why their cars don't work.

That last fact alone should demonstrate how committed I am to that station (I am many things, but car-savvy is not one of them), but I didn't fully realize how hooked I was until KPCC held a fund drive recently. For those of you unfamiliar with public radio (which has virtually no commercials), a fund drive means the broadcasters spend roughly thirty minutes of every hour telling you why it's your moral obligation to contribute money to keep the station running. Whether you contribute or not, you spend a week or two getting half your usual news fix as the programs are repeatedly put on hold for another fund petition. Fortunately, this only happens once or twice a year.

At one point during KPCC's most recent drive, one of the broadcasters pointed out that the mere fact that I was listing to the station during a FUND DRIVE meant I was hooked on it and should lend it my support. The speaker called me and my kind "news junkies," and I couldn't very well take offense because by golly she was right. Four days into the drive I was sick to death of the interruptions, but did I switch to some classical, country, or smooth jazz station? Perish the thought--my brain craved info like a starving man craves an MLT.* And if I could only have half the usual serving, I'd just have to get by on that.

*MLT: Mutton, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean, and the tomatoes ripe. That's so perky; I love that.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Quote of the Day - "Stitched Together"

I just read a fitting follow-up to my last post:

"I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions." --Augusten Burroughs

I totally relate, Auggie.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Quote of the Day - "Little Faults"

"We confess our little faults to persuade people that we have no large ones." - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Why exactly do some people feel compelled to tell others their faults - that they drive too fast, they don't read their scriptures, or (ahem) their little apartment is ridiculously messy? Is it like Francois says, that we are trying to convince people we don't have other, bigger flaws (cuz, by golly, we would have told you about them by now)? Is it because we don't want people to think we're unaware that our shirt is wrinkled or our car is dirty? Or is it because we hope that they'll say it's OK and then we won't feel guilty about being imperfect?

And if it's the guilt option, what do we do with that reassurance? Does it lift our spirits a bit as we keep plugging away at our flaws, or do we let it lull us into complacence ("If everyone else is OK with this problem, why should I bother fixing it?").

Perhaps there is no universal answer, and it just depends on the person. For my part, I think my most common reason for confessing my flaws is that I don't want to look like I'm holding myself up as a perfect example to people. Come to think of it, that's probably why I threw in the messy apartment comment in the first paragraph. I suppose I wanted to demonstrate that I'm not a superior person with all the answers, just a curious one with lots of questions.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Laundry in the Crib

It's been a crazy week. I somehow managed to schedule every possible appointment into four consecutive days, and consequently my domestic to-do list is now a mile long. Our apartment looks like it was hit by two-and-a-half tornadoes. Remember that "Deal with It Tomorrow" pile? Yeah, it's still sitting there. Sigh.

By contrast, I attended a Father's Day gathering today at my Aunt Lindi's home. We dined upon dilled salmon and mascarpone tarts while we admired the simple-yet-elegant centerpieces. It seemed a world away from the semi-controlled chaos that is my life . . . that is, until I went upstairs to use her changing table. When I reached the nursery, I found a disorderly stack of papers on the bookshelf (which I can totally relate to), and a huge pile of dirty laundry in the crib. When Aunt Lindi came up to check on us, she apologized for the clothes, saying she just hadn't had time to take care of them yesterday.

No apology needed--that pile of laundry was one of the best parts of the visit for me. Much as I enjoyed the food and decor downstairs, I think what I needed most was the reminder that even domestic goddesses don't live effortlessly immaculate lives. We're all fighting the same battles against piles and messes, with mixed success.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Quote of the Day - "Educational TV"

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."

- Groucho Marx

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reflection on Six Months of Motherhood

At this time six months ago I was laying in a hospital bed, staring at a little, swaddled baby in the bassinet next to me. She had been part of my life for the last nine months, but I knew virtually nothing about her except that she seemed very curious about her new circumstances. As I watched her gaze intently around the room, I thought of a line from the Christmas carol Phillip and I sang at FHE the night before: "wondrous little stranger."

Truthfully, this new addition to our little family seemed like a stranger for the first few weeks. I'd never been one of those females that felt irresistibly drawn to anything in a onesie, and suddenly I found myself responsible for a little person I didn't know how to relate to. At first all she did was sleep (most of the day), cry (most of the night), eat (both), and dirty an astonishing number of diapers. Things that were formerly very simple, like running to the store for cereal, had now become prohibitively complicated. I still remember the time I went to Rite Aid and just carried her with me in one arm--no stroller, no car seat, no blanket to keep out the December chill, just some swiftly weakening new mom muscles. People looked at me like I was insane. I probably was.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Joy and I got to know each other, and I somehow evolved from an anxious, overwhelmed basket case into (of all things) a relatively capable mom. It's now hard for me to imagine a time when Joy was not part of our family. I've gotten used to my schedule revolving around hers, and to carrying two tons of baggage whenever we travel. I'm still amazed at how easily I learned to speak cutsie baby-talk and make an infinite variety of silly faces and sounds. I live for Joy's smiles and giggles, and I love lying on a blanket with her just watching the leaves sway in the breeze outside. When naptime is over, Phillip and
I sometimes have a hard time agreeing who gets to be first to go in and see her smile, and to give her a cuddle when we get her out of bed.

Joy may have seemed like a stranger to me when she arrived, but she's since become family in every sense. I feel so very grateful that the Lord sent such a sweet, patient little person to join our family. May we be as much a blessing to her as she has already been to us.

Joke of the Day - Zen Hot Dog

I heard this one on the radio today:

What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?

"Make me one with everything."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Spinning at Huntington

I own a spinning wheel. Lest you doubt my veracity, here's photographic evidence.

Before you pick yourselves up off the floor, I should probably also mention that I belong to a spinning guild. Yes, such things do exist in the 21st century. Crazy, huh?

Mostly we just gather at some member's house each month to spin, chat, and eat. Sometimes we also give educational demonstrations, and today was such a day.

Our guild was invited to the Huntington Library's Herb Garden for their annual Fiber Arts Day. There were weavers, dyers, and us spinners with our wheels.

I actually brought a little drop spindle instead of my wheel, partly because it was more portable, but also because I wanted to show how people around the world spun before the spinning wheel was invented between 500 and 1000AD.

Ironically, I love guild meetings even more now that I'm a mom and have less time to spin. Seeing all the fun projects my friends are working on inspires me to try to fit a little creative time in among all my tasks and responsibilities. It does the soul good to create something now and then, whether it be a scarf, a scrapbook, or (in Phillip's case) a database program.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Dad Cards

I was shopping for Father’s Day cards today, and was a little troubled that so many cards I saw portrayed fathers as lazy, flatulent beer guzzlers whose lives revolve around golfing or their TV remote. There were a few sentimentally wholesome cards, but the vast majority I saw were sort of insulting to fatherhood and men in general. They were kind of funny, but kind of not.

I wonder what Freud would say about those cardmakers' parent-child relationships.

Bizarrely, one of the few cards that was funny without being demeaning was a Father's Day card from the family dog (there were at least a dozen Father's Day cards from dogs or cats--no parrots, alas).

Monday, June 4, 2007

Me vs. The Piles

I sorted through a pile today.

Laugh if you will, but this was a major event for me. You see, I like to rationalize that if things are arranged in orderly piles, the area is clean. While order is, indeed, a step up from utter chaos, deep down I know that having stacks of stuff everywhere does not truly qualify as cleanliness. My guilt is apparent every time I move all the piles to the back room a few minutes before company arrives.

Tonight the pile problem reached critical mass, and I determined that the desk pile, at least, had to go. I shredded 5%, filed 50%, transferred 30% to another pile, and set the remaining 15% aside in a small "deal with this tomorrow" pile (that's allowed as long as you really DO deal with it tomorrow). So, instead of a big pile on the desk, I now have . . . a small pile on the floor and a previously existing pile that is now twice it's original size.

This pile thing must be some kind of mental ailment . . .