June 30th, 2015 · Comments Off on “I don’t know where I’m going to be on July 11”
When I was a little girl, a sentence like this would have made no sense to anyone in my family. We all knew exactly where we were going to be, just about every day–waking up in our own bedrooms in our own house with our own family all around us.
My sister and brothers and I also knew, just about any day in the future, what we would be doing. Each day moved through a series of stylized programs almost as predictable as (later on in my childhood) a TV schedule. Getting up. Getting clean. Getting dressed. Getting breakfast (mostly bacon plus eggs in various shapes.) A lot of this “getting” by children and my father was the result of “giving” and “doing” by my mother, something we never thought about then, when it was happening.
Today, Frank and I live in such a different world. We’re not little children, or parents of little children, so our lives are full of enormously varied choices, many quite appealing. Our friendship groups link us to time zones around the world, so Skype meetings get scheduled via with friends in China online at 11 p.m., friends in Boston online at 11 a.m., while here in Sweden we’re in the middle at 5 p.m.
We just spent a month living in a hotel in Sweden, where having a private meal by ourselves requires more work than just going out to a restaurant. Our summer is going to be similarly peculiar, because Frank has a new book coming out July 14 (A Beautiful Question, wonderful book if I say so myself.)
The quote that gave me a title from this blogpost is from a friend who is similarly location-challenged… but who DOES know where he will be on July 9, viz. “On July 9, I’ll be stuck in JFK airport for 5 hours, so that would be a good time for a Skype conversation.” How astounded my childhood self would have been by such dislocations!
Our grown-up rootlessness, our freedom to travel and adventure, is both sweet and bitter. It is sweet because our freedom comes not only from financial and personal privilege, but also from a sense that whenever Frank and I are somewhere together, we’re safe inside “family.” (This wouldn’t work, of course, if we weren’t confident that a few weeks will bring us back into connection with actual family back home.)
It is bitter because for us both, the “home” where we set our roots back in our childhoods… those homes are gone. The jolly family dinners that seemed so eternal as they repeated year after year… the houses of grandparents, aunts, uncles, multiple feisty cousins, almost as familiar as our own childhood bedrooms… if we could even find those houses now, strangers live there.
So, I also don’t know where I’ll be on July 11. Sometimes, I’m not even really sure where I am right this very moment.
Both these songs remind me of my brother Mark Devine (who died in 1998) — Mark never quite found a place on Earth that welcomed his big heart and maybe-too-bouncy spirit. Very, very early his imagination took off for some outer-space world of his own — only my mother’s hard work kept him still earth-connected as long as he stayed among us. It was not very long.
Mark, I have not forgotten you. So much that is best in me is what was best in you. So much that is worst in me is exactly what made you so angry with yourself so much too often.
Check ignition, and may God’s love be with you. Mine certainly is.
Frank and I were recently in China, where by contrast the government eagerly invests in universities and academic research. It hasn’t happened yet, but I think countries like China (and Sweden, etc.) are on the brink of inheriting the educational wealth of the United States as young people who want to do science become economic exiles.
January 18th, 2015 · Comments Off on Hotel fun, fun, fun till Daddy took the microwave popcorn away
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a time when @frankwilczek was on sabbatical, so that the Marriott Residence Inn of Tempe AZ became our temporary home.
We spent fun time with our children in the Marriott Residence Inn of Austin, TX, over Christmas break. Contrary to what your image may be of Texas, this was a smaller location with smaller rooms and a much less useful kitchen (no actual oven, and double beds rather than queen size.) Still the presence of children makes up for a lot, and the nearby-ness of Austin’s amazing Drafthouse Ritz Cinema makes up for almost as much.
But I digress. The point of this blogpost is that the delicious hotel-provided free microwave popcorn here needs to cook for about 5 or 10 seconds less than the Popcorn setting on the admirable hotel-provided microwave oven. So that tonight, we ended up setting off our smoke alarm, which is very very loud. And which predictably caused the nice people at the front desk to call the Tempe fire department.
If you should experience this exciting event, here is my advice. Drench the smoking bag of popcorn under your faucet asap. This stops it from making new billows of black popcorn smoke.
Call the front desk (or send someone down there) to alert Tempe’s Fire Department that nothing is currently on fire in your hotel room. Turn on the fan of the microwave. Prop open the door to the hallway with one chair or even two. Open some windows. And the hideously noisy alarm will stop making noise.
Then you can smile quite complacently and write a blogpost…
I almost left out the best part! When I went downstairs to the front desk with my dripping, formerly smoking bag of popcorn, the very sweet people behind the desk (besides calling the Tempe Fire Department, etc.) asked me, “Would you like another bag of popcorn?”
I love you, Tempe Downtown Marriott Residence Inn!
October 29th, 2014 · Comments Off on Technology and progress: Past and present
My mother could remember when an electric iron and central heating were huge tech novelties.
I can remember my first pocket calculator (which cost a fortune!), and I remember how long I kept using my CRC handbook and sliderule anyway, not the new toy. I remember my first VHS, the freedom of time-shifting or just re-watching good movies. And my first home computer! But all those were commonplace items to my two daughters.
My daughters remember a time before there was an Internet; a time before smartphones, Siri, ubiquitous constant connection via the “cloud.” To their children, all those will be unremarkable facts, as commonplace as deliveries from the coal man and the ice man were to my mother’s household in the 1920s.
My mother was 8 years old when women got the vote. Soon thereafter, her aunts daringly drove from Northampton to Springfield in order to have their long hair “bobbed” by a barber. Oh, the freedom of not spending hours every day maintaining long hair — and oh, the wonderful freedom of owning a car!
All new technology pokes and prods our shared culture. Even despite some nostalgia, most of us would be reluctant to give up our latest new tech freedoms.
Here’s hoping the book that inspired these thoughts (The Second Machine Age, by Erik Bryniolfsson and Andrew McAfee) will provide more answers than I can now see by myself.
April 26th, 2014 · Comments Off on Non-apology apology Bingo, with a hat tip to #DonaldSterling
Coming soon to a PR debacle near you… the carefully crafted non-apology apology that admits no guilt or liability for whatever it is that upset a whole lot of people but instead works to show the (alleged) wrongdoer is in fact the victim here, and anybody who judges said (alleged) wrongdoer is just as bad as the whistleblower(s) who made (alleged) misdeeds public. Or, in other words, worse than H****r.
Note the Creative Commons license that I pasted right on the bingo card, Internet people. Because it is mine and I made it. So don’t you go be worse than H****r because I am counting on Google to buy this from me for a million gazillion dollars.
Because Google might not need this Bingo card yet, but in the long run, Google, you’ll need it.
Comments Off on Non-apology apology Bingo, with a hat tip to #DonaldSterlingTags:Wide wonderful world
What a Wonderful World, sung by Eva Cassidy
When I listen to Eva Cassidy, already diagnosed with the metastatic cancer that would be killing her, singing at her final concert “What a Wonderful World,” my tears are not so much, or at least not only for young Eva Cassidy, but for all of us, so ready to love and create and be generous (if our early lives don’t take those hopes out of our hearts) but instead shunted off into harder and lesser and more painful lives than our childhoods imagined. And even then, our hearts keep hoping and dreaming of love and fulfillment. They keep looking for chances to give joy to people we love.
I have to say, if I were god, it would never in ten million years occur to me to create any hell to punish my people. Instead, my heart would be breaking daily to witness their courage, their generosity, their imagination. Instead of plotting dark hells for the people who did not worship me in exactly the right way, I would be knocking myself out to figure out how my god-powers could be used to stop suffering and to make people more kind and more joyful. But of course, this is me, Betsy, oldest of four children, who can advise even gods! (I still think I’m right though.)