Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Shut down but not out

Friday the 13th started the nightmare.

That was the last day of school for me and the girls. As of now, we're scheduled to remain out of the buildings and doing online school until May 4 — at least.

Of course, COVID-19 has infected our planet, and we are experiencing unprecedented shutdowns, illnesses, deaths, job losses and stock-market plummeting. Yet for me, on the daily, I have found my groove and feel OK.

I remain optimistic because love, hope and joy exist, despite the virus. Even in these uncharted times, I am sticking with my life's philosophy, to bank good days because a good life is the culmination of good days. However, with the troubles facing the world, it makes this plan much more difficult.

My heart goes out to everyone who is affected more than me. At this point, officially and globally 860,000 have been infected by COVID-19, and 42,000 have lost their lives. I can only pretend to imagine what their loved ones are going through, and so many others are taking other hits as well.

My loved ones are experiencing other issues, but not coronavirus. In Naples, Fla., my in-laws lost their best friend, Laurie, who went down a fatal path after complications from oral surgery. She was 68.

I know of several others who are experiencing serious health issues. Also, my beautiful wife, Dina, has had bronchitis for two weeks. Thank God, that finally appears on its way out.

OK, so, it's not a breeze, by any stretch. But my day-to-day activities remind me of "glamping."
My most stressful day probably was Monday, March 16, when my school district had teachers report to watch videos on how to do online school. The problem there was that I could sense major stress among the teachers, and, shoot, that stressed me out.

I also was stressed by playing the stock market for short-term gains, and a few times, it was easy because the market fluctuated so much. But it was a pressure cooker because I had to time the market right — to buy during a plummet and sell during a bounce back. At the end of the day, the profits weren't worth the hassle and stress.

Since then, I am banking good day after good day, even though the news is difficult to stomach. I have accepted coronavirus as part of our new reality and am hoping that the deaths go lower than estimates. I am doing my part to follow the guidelines and not contract or spread the disease.

I feel comfortable conducting online classes, but the key question remains: What is an appropriate workload for a high-school student during this difficult time?

I believe I have a good approach with that and am sensitive to potential problems students may face. In my house, we have daily educational festivals. I've applied my creativity to cooking and am making healthy, scrumptious dishes. With the gym closed, I have taken to bike rides, and I love them.

Love, hope and joy are alive indeed, and if a global pandemic can't damage my spirit, I don't believe anything can.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Self-tech knowledge

The only person's screen time that I'm in charge of is my own. Are parents really in charge of their kids' screen time? Are teachers in charge of their students'?

What I can say is that my digital detox has been one of the best things I've ever done. With my newfound time, I continue to work on my book, have picked up "elevated cooking" as a hobby and feel that I'm — finally — in control of my time. My brain cells are coming back.

My first step with this Renaissance was to "chart it up!" Most people have no clue how many times per day they touch their iPhone, iPad or whatever gadget that has them addicted. Do you?

Is it possible for you to understand how many times per day you look? Try counting.

Actually, there are apps that can do it. But I find that my Screen Time info. in Settings in the iPhone works better. Most people have double the screen time they think. For me, I feel like I'm hardly on the phone, but I still have about two hours of screen time each day.
I wonder how much screen time my students do per day and what the range is. If you are a student reading this blog, please comment on how much screen time you had last week and which app stole the most of your time. Also, is screen time a problem with you or not? The comments will show as "unknown" or "anonymous."

By the way, I just Googled it, and apparently, the average person touches his phone 2,617 times per day. The top 10 percent of users touch their phones more than 5,400 times per day.

Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Big Tech in general have taken us over so much that it may be hard to even consider 1) the value in limiting screen time and 2) how in the world to do that.

Now, first things first. These are the main things I hear when anybody is asked why they're on the phone so darn much:

No. 1: It's part of my job
No. 2: I need it for school.
No. 3: What if (important person) calls or texts?

OK. All of these reasons are reasons to not be on the phone so much. If it's for the workplace and school, then why are we on it during our downtime, too, and in the wee hours of the night? I realize that truly oppressed people do not realize they are oppressed. Is oppression too big of a word? Are we oppressed by Big Tech?
Even the most rabid phone addict must admit that understanding one's own screen time usage is important. Self-tech knowledge.

The value in getting off social media or limiting screen time has been huge for me. I just feel calmer, and I feel that I have better face-to-face conversations. It's a game changer to refuse to look up any factoid that might pop up in conversation. Is Mrs. Cunningham from "Happy Days" still living? Don't look it up. Don't look it up!

It's not just me, some 46-year-old Gen Xer, warning about screen time. It's an alarming issue. I actually ran across a lot of good coverage of user tech in USA Today. Feel free to check these articles on how phone addiction affects our brain and how parents model phone addiction. Monkey see, monkey do. If I'm on the phone a lot, won't my kids be, too?

Now, the big question is how to cut down on screen time in a world of screens. The best aha moment I experienced recently happened at my gym, Chuze Fitness, where I was pondering my digital detox and realized that there was a row of 10 TVs in front of me. Maybe, in a way, a "digital detox" is not even possible, but rather a "digital balance."

I must acknowledge that I watch about an hour or so of TV each night, but at least I'm pretty much off the phone and, instead, working on a revision of my nonfiction book on relationships during my downtime. My life feels better than ever, but I am questioning how digitally detoxed, or balanced, I actually am.

The other day, my 12-year-old daughter Chloe asked, "Dad, when you're typing on your laptop, isn't that screen time, too?"

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Mandalorian: An accurate male portrayal

I am not a huge fan of big-budget corporate movies. Explosions. Fake worlds. Thin plots. Superficial characters. Egads, save me!

But so many friends kept recommending The Mandalorian, so I checked it out and enjoyed it. Of course, it's nothing too deep, and I'm not a super fan. But Baby Yoda is cute, and in the words of a friend/colleague, "Mandalorian will save the Star Wars franchise."

Over the past few years, one of my many topics of study has been men's roles. I wrote about that here, discussing The Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes and other similar works.

I find The Mandalorian fascinating from a male's roles/masculinity perspective. Here's a warrior, defined by his work, and he literally wears a mask in front of people for his entire life. So of course, he does not show emotion, and he is an excellent replication of what modern-day masculinity is.

I guess the main character, Mando, is human. But is he really? Without a face, without emotion, is it safe to dub him human?

Many humane moments poke through as he takes care of Baby Yoda, even though he hardly shows an actual emotional connection to the baby. Yes, Mando does things for the baby. But I think he takes care of it more out of duty than emotions. Is that the reality of what motivates men in real life?
I must say that I define myself by my work to a certain extent. It matters to me that I am a writer and a teacher, and that's a big part of the equation with how I see myself.

The Mandalorian, like many males, appears to define himself solely by his work. He is dang good at his job — da best! — but then what really exists in his life? I fear many men have this same identity, and in the end, that contributes to a fruitless existence.

Many viewers and pop-culture critics consider Mando a refreshing hero. Really? Is the bar so low for men that by being an excellent bounty hunter and keeping alive a Baby Yoda make someone a hero?

To me, a male hero also connects with his babies, loses the mask and is an actual human being. I've always looked at science fiction as a genre that connects viewers with the present day and current culture and is more than a mere escape.

The Star Wars franchise hit it out of the park with replicating males roles with The Mandalorian, and a sad truth is that male roles have become so inhuman nowadays that we look at the robot man as a hero. It's too bad our boys will see this Mando and replicate his behavior.

We don't need more bounty hunters. We need more nurturing fathers and boys who embrace emotion. Oh, and I ended my Disney Plus after the week trial. I'm just not a fan of theme-park culture.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year ... from a casual fan

"They killed Star Wars. Heartbreaking, although it was dead awhile ago."

These words from my cousin reverberated through my inbox, and I was wondering why I had no desire to see "The New Star Wars."

Too corporate. Too much entertainment. Disney owns it now. Dang, the creators and audience have changed, and maybe I'm not a part of it any more.

I heard the movie was trash and would have avoided it, but my 14-year-old daughter Sophie wanted to see it. So I quietly said to myself, "Yes!"

The movie is better than I thought it would be. Chewbacca has major screen time, and faithful readers may know that I boast the most glorious Chewbacca collection known to man.

Of course, there are major plot and logic holes in the latest — and final — Star Wars. But so what? The movie sets the viewer up for that in the first minute, and the characters are relatively strong, especially for an action-adventure movie. So I enjoyed the movie.

I think one problem many Gen Xers have with Star Wars and other entertainment is that they just don't get Millennials. Strangely, I think I do. I continue to like some of the social progress I see in the world and in Star Wars and thought the the lead, Rey, with the two dudes and Chewie made a cool Millennial team.

But here's the deal. I'm a casual fan, and this Star Wars is such a big deal nowadays that I will remain a casual fan — and that's as much as I got.
It's wild how entertainment has shifted during the lifetime of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Of course, my daughters' generation, Gen Z or iGen, has only had iPhones in their lifetime. So they haven't weathered the tech explosion like us older folk.

I wonder how many Gen Xers are like me — amazed by Facebook at first, kind of addicted to Facebook and now hardly on it. It took a while, but I feel as if I've reclaimed my life by trading in tech use for exercise, reading and writing. I feel much more in tune with myself and the world around me.

I guess we live in a Super Bowl culture of constant spectacles, and so we have become dulled to spectacles. The bigger, the better? Nah, the more meaningful, the better. And what does that entail?

Some people say that what really matters in life might be when all is said and done, when we are taking our last breaths and, hopefully, surrounded by loved ones. I've often seen many lives given away for vacuous pursuits, and I like to think I actually have a meaningful life.

Within the past two weeks, I stumbled across two items about life and death that make me wonder about our place and time. First, I ran into the sonnet "When all the others were away at Mass" by Seamus Heaney (thank you, Valerie!). Then, I ran across "The Final Frontier" by Michael Chabon in The New Yorker.

Both have to do with parents on their deathbeds. In the sonnet, Heaney recounts peeling potatoes with his mother. In The New Yorker story, Chabon recounts he and his father's love and connection to Star Trek as his father lives his final days. I found both pieces moving for different reasons.

Maybe I'm old school. Maybe I just can't embrace pop culture like I used to. When the novelty wears off, where does that leave us? I bet a lot of us Gen Xers are finding ourselves with teenagers, eschewing our phones and pop culture and would be perfectly happy to just peel potatoes with our moms or children.

I'm worried that the moment has been highjacked by Big Tech, the entertainment world, our current culture or our image-trained minds. But at least we Gen Xers remember a time when it wasn't that way, when we had to wait for Saturday morning cartoons and we built memories with friends and family in real time.

Maybe that's my hope for this upcoming year, to forget about making "lasting" memories for the iCloud and make lasting memories in my actual memory.

Happy New Year — from a casual fan!