Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

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Tara was born in 1986, yet her memoir conjures up enough survivalism to fill a John Steinbeck novel. This was not at all what I expected. She explores relationships with her family, the abuse and neglect she experienced as the daughter growing up in a radical Mormon sect, as well as the mental illness that perpetuated the abuse. Her story was mesmerizing. I share some similarities to Tara. I am close to her in age. I was homeschooled, never took an official exam until the ACT, and grew up on a homestead milking goats and breaking horses amidst a bevy of siblings.

But that is where the similarities end.

While my own parents purchased some crates of seeds in preparation for Y2K, Tara’s dug an entire cellar under the hill for gasoline and created an armory for the End of Times. Tara was never registered with a birth certificate, and never given any vaccinations. Insurance payments were stopped. Her father was the powering force behind the mistrust of the government.

“My father was not a tall man but he was able to command a room. He had a presence about him, the solemnity of an oracle. His hands were thick and leathery—the hands of a man who’d been hard at work all his life—and they grasped the Bible firmly.”

Her mother was a lay midwife who would charge $500 a delivery. She embraced the natural world and claimed that modern medicine was evil, so blood pressure was treated with hawthorne and st john’s wort treated preterm contractions.

Cloistered away at Buck’s Peak mountain in rural Idaho, Tara would help her mother mix cloudy mixtures and measure oils, or assist her father sorting scrap in a junkyard.

It seemed that every chapter was filled with an encounter with a near death injury. Multiple car accidents, bruised and bleeding brains, severe third degree burns, a 26 week baby delivered at home. All treated at home with a grim determination because of a pernicious view of the medical establishment.

This story is inspiring as we witness Tara’s ultimate decision to leave her family in order to develop an education. Her words have a rawness as she details her intellectual epiphanies as she navigates the outside world.

At BYU, she tells of how she innocently asked what the Holocaust was during a lecture in art class. Everyone was appalled, misunderstanding her ignorance for that of a Holocaust-denier.
After that horrific misunderstanding, she resolved to never let her ignorance get the better of her, and she continued to read and read.

I loved her passages where she details her awe for learning different concepts. Passion inspires passion, and I’m inspired to teach myself more from authors I formerly hadn’t navigated based upon her assessment of the lessons they impart.

“I’d come to BYU to study music, so that one day I could direct a church choir. But that semester—the fall of my junior year—I didn’t enroll in a single music course. I couldn’t have explained why I dropped advanced music theory in favor of geography and comparative politics, or gave up sight-singing to take History of the Jews. But when I’d seen those courses in the catalog, and read their titles aloud, I had felt something infinite, and I wanted a taste of that infinity.”

A taste of that infinity.

She was recommended by a professor to apply for a program at Cambridge, and she was accepted.

“The first time I saw King’s College, Cambridge, I didn’t think I was dreaming, but only because my imagination had never produced anything so grand.”

“I attended a seminary on Wednesday afternoons, where I noticed two women, Katrina and Sophie, who nearly always sat together. I never spoke to them until one afternoon a few weeks before Christmas, when they asked if I’d like to get a coffee. I’d never “gotten a coffee” before—I’d never even tasted coffee, because it is forbidden by the church—but I followed them across the street and into a café. The cashier was impatient so I chose at random. She passed me a doll-sized cup with a tablespoon of mud-colored liquid in it, and I looked longingly at the foamy mugs Katrina and Sophie carried to our table. They debated concepts from the lecture; I debated whether to drink my coffee. They used complex phrases with ease. Some of them, like “the second wave,” I’d heard before even if I didn’t know what they meant; others, like “the hegemonic masculinity,” I couldn’t get my tongue around let alone my mind. I’d taken several sips of the grainy, acrid fluid before I understood that they were talking about feminism. I stared at them as if they were behind glass. I’d never heard anyone use the word “feminism” as anything but a reprimand. At BYU, “You sound like a feminist” signaled the end of the argument. It also signaled that I had lost. I left the café and went to the library. After five minutes online and a few trips to the stacks, I was sitting in my usual place with a large pile of books written by what I now understood to be second-wave writers—Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir. I slammed them shut. I returned to the Internet and then to the shelves, where I exchanged the books of the second wave for those that preceded the first—Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill. I read through the afternoon and into the evening, developing for the first time a vocabulary for the uneasiness I’d felt since childhood. From the moment I had first understood that my brother Richard was a boy and I was a girl, I had wanted to exchange his future for mine. My future was motherhood; his, fatherhood. They sounded similar but they were not. To be one was to be a decider. To preside. To call the family to order. To be the other was to be among those called. I knew my yearning was unnatural. This knowledge, like so much of my self-knowledge, had come to me in the voice of people I knew, people I loved. All through the years that voice had been with me, whispering, wondering, worrying. That I was not right. That my dreams were perversions. That voice had many timbres, many tones. Sometimes it was my father’s voice; more often it was my own. I carried the books to my room and read through the night. I loved the fiery pages of Mary Wollstonecraft, but there was a single line written by John Stuart Mill that, when I read it, moved the world: “It is a subject on which nothing final can be known.” The subject Mill had in mind was the nature of women. Mill claimed that women have been coaxed, cajoled, shoved and squashed into a series of feminine contortions for so many centuries, that it is now quite impossible to define their natural abilities or aspirations. Blood rushed to my brain; I felt…”

And onward she goes, emboldened in her pursuit of knowledge.

Then she was able to get into Harvard. Her gritty determination to succeed in acquiring a doctorate is a force to be reckoned with.

“I began to read—Hume, Rousseau, Smith, Godwin, Wollstonecraft and Mill. I lost myself in the world they had lived in, the problems they had tried to solve. I became obsessed with their ideas about the family—with how a person ought to weigh their special obligations to kin against their obligations to society as a whole. Then I began to write, weaving the strands I’d found in Hume’s Principles of Morals with filaments from Mill’s The Subjection of Women. It was good work, I knew it even as I wrote it, and when I’d finished I set it aside. It was the first chapter of my PhD.”

Throughout the book, you keep hoping for her to find reconciliation with her family. But that hope was not realized, and only time will tell if she ever does.

I readily confess that I found her book captivating. I’m not surprised that she was heavily recommended by Oprah, Bill Gates, and Michelle Obama. Since her book lacked pictures, I admit I was seized with a curiosity to look her up online and put a image to her face. I came across an interview she had with Ellen Degeneres. Her eloquence and poise made for an impactful talk show segment. It hearkened home for me the desperate fact that we need more authors and book featured on talk shows, so we as a culture can help better navigate the narratives that drive our society.

I look forward to seeing what she creates next in the literary world.

 

when linguistics matter

Mitigated conversation is something I never thought about in depth until I learned how it relates to plane crashes. Yes, you read that correctly. Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker, discusses this social construct in his book Outliers. It’s the chapter called, “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes,” and it is definitely a chapter you should skip if you’re on a plane.

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Gladwell approaches the “black box” transcripts of some of the devastating accidents that occurred. One airline in particular, Korean Air, was under scrutiny as the planes were crashing so often that US Army personnel were forbidden from flying on the airline. The US Federal Aviation Administration were considering revoking its landing privileges. And yet, this airline was able to turn itself around and become a member in good standing with the prestigious SkyTeam alliance.

 

What changed? How did they get past their sordid crash history and revitalize the integrity of the airline? Professional crash theorists were able to establish an improvement plan based off analyzing the transcripts from the “black box” recordings. A black box is the recording of an airplane’s final moments. They showed that the most deciding factor that led to disasters were not, as commonly thought, problems with deficient knowledge or flying skill, but rather teamwork and communication.

 

Korea is a culture that honors those in authority with hallowed deference. While there are many positive attributes to this cultural legacy, one negative takeaway is that underlings hesitate when correcting their leader.  In nearly all the Korean Air crashes, the copilot was not clear and direct in his communication of an impending disaster. For example, when Korean Air Flight 801 plummeted into a hill as it approached an airport in Guam in 1997, killing 223 people, there were several conditions that set the tone for a disaster. A sleep deprived pilot, poor visibility due to storms, and an alert system that reported errors had been temporarily suspended.

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The following transcript is between 42-year old Captain Park-Yung Chul and 40 year old Song Kyung-Ho. Chul had over 9000 flight experience and Kyung-Ho over 4000.  Beginning of the last communication was the captain mumbling about his fatigue.

 

Pilot: “They make us work to maximum.” “Eh. Really. Sleepy.”

 

Copilot: “Of course.” “Captain, Guam condition is no good.”

 

Copilot: “Uh, it rains a lot.” “Request 20 miles deviation later on.” “Yes, to the left we are descending.”

 

(somone chuckling.)

 

Copilot: “Don’t you think it rains more? In this area here?”

 

Pilot: “Left, request deviation.” “Yes.”

 

Copilot: “Request one zero mile.”

 

Control tower acknowledges their approach.

 

A few more technical exchanges among the flight crew about the approach.

 

Copilot: “Today, weather radar has helped us a lot.”

 

Pilot: “Yes, they are useful.”

 

The Captain doesn’t take the hint. He proceeds through their landing checklist. Altitude alarms

 

are beginning to sound. Copilot, voice tense, suggests the neutral, “let’s make a missed

 

approach.”

 

Pilot: “Go around.”

 

GPWS counts the distance down. 100. 50.40.30.20.

 

Sound of tone.

 

One of the few survivors said the crash happened so quickly, people didn’t even have time to scream.

 

 

Training courses evolved following the analysis of these black box recordings. Pilots and copilots alike were shown examples of mitigated speech like this and how it must be avoided when manning aircraft. If a copilot thinks something has gone terribly awry– specific, abrupt phrases need to be utilized to flag the situation. “Captain, I’m concerned about…” Then, “Captain, I’m uncomfortable with…” And if the captain still doesn’t respond, “Captain, I believe the situation is unsafe.”  You can’t assume the pilot will be able to pick apart your neutral phrases. The copilot in the Guam crash tried to bring to the pilot’s attention that the weather conditions were wrong for the descent, but through a series of vague references.

 

This concept of mitigated speech relates to all industries that handle life and death. As a registered nurse on a labor and delivery floor, I can’t help but think how this relates to the healthcare industry. While it’s generally a wonderfully, exciting time for families welcoming new life, there are times where things can get dark, really, really fast. Nurses have to be ready for any emergency.  Since they remain on the floor, they are the eyes and ears to the physicians. For example,  the nurse is receiving a patient in triage on a night shift at 0200. Since she is awaking that physician from dead sleep, she has to use the proper assessment skills and relate all the pertinent information back to that physician in a concise and clear manner. Their treatment decisions are relayed back, all without laying eyes on that patient.

 

Just a few weeks ago, I was taking a refresher course with some of my colleagues on obstetric emergencies. Our instructor reviewed a concept that brought to mind the concept of mitigated speech from Gladwell’s book. She said it is impossible to be a good OB nurse and not be assertive. Truth be told, you need a different profession if you are unable to be an aggressive advocate for one’s patient. She gave an example where a physician was too lackadaisical in treating a sinusoidal fetal monitoring strip that the nurse was highly concerned about. (Sinusoidal is an undulating, wave like appearance on the fetal heartbeat monitor that can be indicative of a fetal-maternal hemorrhage and a subsequent ominous outcome if immediate decisions aren’t made.)

 

When the physician remarked that he was going to see, “a few more patients,” up in his office before coming over to round, she responded with, “which partner can I call to come immediately, because this is unsafe and I am very concerned.”

 

Unsafe. Very concerned. Don’t take no for an answer. Make sure to use the language of the profession to prick the ears of your superiors.

 

A medical podcast that came out last year, Wonderly’s Dr Death, gives us another glimpse into cultural hierarchy and how hesitance can lead to disastrous outcomes. Dr Death is the media’s nickname for the bewildering tale of neurosurgeon, Dr Christopher Duntsch. His case stunned not only the medical community, but the community-at-large as it was unprecedented in the courtroom. It was the first of its kind in the state of Texas: a surgeon was being prosecuted for his work done in the OR. Work that was ultimately deemed malevolent and not just a case of medical malpractice. Dr Duntsch managed to graduate a prestigious medical school, sweep through residency, start a company called discgenics, and work at multiple hospitals before he was investigated. Investigated for the over 30 paralyzed and dead patients left in his wake. The podcast, created by medical investigative journalist, is an intricate expose of the medical community’s failure to report a dangerous surgeon who was intentionally doing wrong.

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After reviewing the concept of mitigated speech and the importance of being assertive in the medical field, one should also assess the environment in which a physician was able to get away with multiple crimes. Dr Duntsch would show up to surgeries with constricted pupils, scrubs that had been worn for three days, and yet the staff would let him continue with the procedure. Counts were wrong. A lap was left in a patient’s neck. Yet the case was allowed to be closed and the patient rolled out of the operating room without a 2ndphysician called in. Why didn’t the nursing staff speak up? Did this make them complicit in the crime? I work in the OR circulating c sections. Every case we cover has a strict policy on keeping track of all equipment used. It requires a minimum of 4 counts, with the first before the initial incision is made and before each body cavity is closed as well as completion of procedure. Surely the staff were aware of this problem, and yet they allowed him to continue with moving onto the next case.  He consistently failed to show up for drug screenings. None of the many hospitals he worked at reported him to the medical board for fear of retaliation. They were aware of criminal activity, and they protected themselves by releasing him from their own campus, but they did not pursue the minimal measures in place set to protect the general public and to keep him from just going on to the next unsuspecting hospital or clinic.

 

There were contributing factors. His drug use. His email to a colleague where he blatantly prided himself on being a, “cold-hearted killer.” But could this situation, the consistently botched operations, much like the plane crashes from Korean Air, been curtailed or even prevented by aggressive staff who acted promptly and used concise language when reporting him to administration?

 

Absolutely. Nurses and anesthesiologists who worked alongside the physician spoke in depth about their concerns they noticed in the operating room in the podcast. But all of this was unveiled, as far as I can tell, AFTER he had been put away. Did the hierarchal framework within the hospital impede some from approaching the manner? Too afraid to use non-mitigated speech, not only in addressing the physician, but his superiors?

 

I can’t describe in detail as to what was all reported through the appropriate channels. There are nuances in the case that can’t be adequately covered in a sensational podcast. But it is a reminder for me as well as anyone working in a profession that potentially deals with life and death– whether that be in the cockpit or operating room–that we should be extremely vigilant of what our words mean, and the level of assertiveness we execute to make our concerns known.

 

 

the last one leaves the nest

Alex Haley, author of the American saga Roots, once said that “in every conceivable manner, the family is a link to the past, a bridge to the future.”

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I am tremendously blessed in my life to have a tightly knit, large family. With one older sister and four younger brothers, life was delightfully chaotic. We have so many shared memories of growing up on our homestead, inaptly named Quiet Creek, a hundred-acre plot of former plantation and Louisiana swamp in 1998. The moniker pitifully denied the reality of how LOUD six kids can get.

 

Now that I have two children of my own, I marvel at the grace, patience, and generosity my parents carried through all those years.

 

It’s now the end of an era, in a sense. The youngest of our clan, Johnny, turns 18 today and graduates in a week.

 

At the risk of being that annoyingly proud, big sister, I have to share photos from his senior session that I took back in February as we ambled over the Quiet Creek property.

 

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Happy 18th, baby brother!

Hiking the Azalea Trail

 

 

I love the outdoors. As followers of Charlotte Mason’s teachings, we try and spend at least an hour outside every day. The Vitamin D therapy, the gentle breeze, the panoply of birds and lizards scrambling up and down trees and the footprints that get left behind as we tread the muddy undertow of leaf bits and pinecone shreds.  Two months ago I took the family camping on a trip with our church. It was a trifle insane. Two in diapers, one adult to the tent, and no sleep for the one night that we huddled under blankets. But the weather was divine and the company so refreshing. They played their little hearts out running up and down dirt mounds and investigating critters. I would take them every month if it were not for the part where you have to endure the night time. Oh, the blessing that is a 1900 curfew when you are a champion for littles.

 

All that being said, one of my personal goals this month was to go on a long hike. Sans pitter patter of little feet. John took the children for the morning on Wednesday and gave me his blessing, to do just so.  With the days rapidly ticking away to my brother’s start day for medical school, I wanted to ask him to accompany so we could have some sibling bonding time.

 

Tim is always up for an adventure!

 

I woke up at 5am, whipped up some coffee, rummaged around for a backpack in which to store the requisite hiking items. (No fancy Camelbak backpacks with a drinking tube or trekking pole for this newb.) I met my brother at a gas station at 6, and I watched him buy a Snickers bar and sunflower seeds for his hiking “snack.” I had roasted peanuts, almonds, and peanut butter crackers in my Ziploc.

 

We drove to point B, left his car, and then we joined up in my car to drive to the beginning trailhead. (Such a funny concept, let’s drive and waste gas to get you to this point, backtrack, and then WALK the distance, only to return again? Our great-great grandparents in their crank cars would shake their heads in disbelief.

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The morning sun was starting its ascent. We slapped on sunscreen, did some sweeping motions with bug spray while holding our breaths, and confirmed our predicted water intake needs in oz per mile. With our backpacks sufficiently stuffed and straps adjusted, we set off.

 

About a mile in, once the sunlight was starting to stream through the trees, we came upon this intriguing monument to yesteryear.

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“Where did you come from, where did you go, Cotton-Eyed Joe?” Ah, to have seen it in its former glory. What was the story behind its abandonment?

 

 

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Moss covered oak trees and an ocean of ferns provide a perfect haven for the soul. For the entire 13 miles, our phones stayed on airplane mode while we basked in the pristine sounds of red-wing blackbirds and wrens in their outdoor sanctuary. And we talked. Of our college years at different schools, of family near and far, of childhood friends, of government, of boys scouts and of shared memories growing up.

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About 7 miles in, the downpour started. It was glorious. That rainfall in the forest warmed the corners of my heart while simultaneously cooling off the sweat on my brow. I had a childlike moment when I looked up to the sky and felt the rush of water onto my upturned face. After climbing the stair steps of hills with tangled roots, it was a welcome relief.

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We came across a herd of skittish, wild horses, ate huckleberries, and tore at the root of the sassafrass. Around mile 11, we came across this deliciously cold creek. We kicked off our sweaty, dirt laden shoes and reveled in the silky, clear water. After we hit 13 miles (with my stairs count goal on my watch buzzing 3x over!), it was a welcome sight to see the lil mini coop car we had parked at point B. After the journey, I showed my preschooler all what I had documented so he could experience it second hand. He tells me he can’t wait to go “when he is older.” I look forward to taking the littles when the time comes.

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Incredibles 2

 

My first movie I remember seeing AT THE MOVIES was The Lion King. It was my birthday. I had just turned four years old. I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t push the seat all the way down to properly sit in it, that it kept folding up in on me.

But then that chorus started.

 

That iconic, SEARING, anthem, “nants ingonyama bagithi baba.”  I was hooked. None of that audience was fluent in Zulu, but the immediacy of the world of The Lion King captivated us and sent us into a tailspin of movie magic.

 

To this day, whenever I hear any of Hans Zimmer’s music from that movie, I’m whisked into immediate nostalgia and my eyes turn misty.

 

My last movie I saw in theaters was Star Wars: A Force Awakens. It was a very memorable event! I was 39 weeks pregnant, my sister dressed up in her cosplay Leia costume (which has accompanied her on many a con event and won costume awards) and all my five siblings and parents were in attendance with me.

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I had a feeling it would be my last film to see in theatres for a looong while. Which I’m fine with, albeit also looking forward to my eventual return to the experience of cinema…because…

 

I have yet to take my brood of kids into a movie theatre. I know it isn’t an impossible feat. I have other mom friends with multiple kids under the age of 3 who have managed and survived and continue to return. Suffice it to say the movie theatre is not a territory I want to cross at this stage in parenting. Maybe one day, when I know my children will sit quietly through an entire feature film, OR when the price of tickets and popcorn and drinks is not half the price of a week’s worth of groceries!

 

 

I really, really considered a return this year for a special film I had been looking forward to for…oh…14 years. Incredibles 2! It’s opening was on my birthday, June 15, which seemed all the more fortuitous. But that same week, Titus decided certain loud noises were devastatingly scary, so I didn’t want to risk scaring him and opted out to wait until it came out for streaming.

 

 

When we finally watched it last week, it was everything I could have hoped for in a sequel.

 

The first Incredibles came out in 2004. George Bush Jr was still president. I was in the summer of 14, about to turn 15. Going to NCFCA speech and debate tournaments and milking goats in the morning and evenings and helping with our local homeschool 4-H club. After I watched it, it quickly entered the list of my top three favorite PIXAR movies, the other two being Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo.

 

I have eagerly anticipated it after seeing the preview that came out in 2016. The opening credits rushed you right back to where the last movie ended, where the Supers were being faced with yet another challenge, the Underminer. Talk about a wave of nostalgia. Fourteen years later, I felt like no time had passed at all and I once again reconnected with the Parr family.

Michael Giacchino, composer extraordinaire of such PIXAR classics as UP and Ratatouille, nailed the soundtrack. It hearkened back to a mix of film noir and that head-rush of a jazzy James Bond. The score that thrummed during the ambassador’s helicopter rescue was particularly memorable for me. So many dizzying builds of anticipation, little brassy accents, and rushes of character motifs endlessly dotted the landscape.

(Titus is entranced by the soundtrack. He is asking for it every day. Before that it was a rabid obsession with Blippi songs. I will take brass and intricate scoring over, “monster trucks are big, monster trucks are loud!” repeated 5000x.)

The villain, while pretty apparent from the beginning, was still interesting enough to me to not roll my eyes at the reveal.

 

The whole concept of the Screenslaver was super creepy and a apropos commentary to our time. The narrative that unfolded as Elastigirl zipped her way through buildings was compelling. I mean, who the heck in that studio wrote it??

 

 

“Superheroes are part of your brainless desire to replace true experience with simulation…Every meaningful experience must be packaged and delivered to you to watch at a distance so that you can remain ever sheltered, ever ravenous consumers.”

Those glowing screen goggles and the accompanying flat effects of the slaves were easily some of the creepiest animations I’ve ever seen created within a PIXAR world. That snarl that Frozone gives the kids when they clip the glasses onto him…NOPE.

 

I once read that the creators of the Incredibles universe were big Johnny Quest fans. I love how everything is pulled right out of that era, and yet the characters have an immediacy to them that smoothly fit into our present day struggles. My one issue with the world of Incredibles are those bizarre human animal hybrids that crop up. They are inconsistent with the rest of the world’s feel and are never explained. Where do they come from? Genetic experiment gone awry? The owl superhero? The reflux frog guy? And even the Underminder from the first installment? They provide comic relief, but their silent inclusion thwarts the overall feel of the world when humans are the norm and any semblance of superpowers is illegal. Not to mention I found them unnecessarily creepy. Just me?

 

I though Violet’s character this go-round was particularly strong. Her initial condemnation of the family’s lifestyle, by attempting to flush her superhero suit down the sink incinerator drain, was a hilarious bit of animation. Especially since it was used as a nod to Edna Mode’s superior durability costume designs in comparison to Alexander Galbaki when Elastigirl’s “broody” suit easily rips after one fight scene. Violet’s fight with Void near the film’s end was a satisfying departure from her reluctance to be a super hero, although stupefying when she failed TO REMOVE VOID’S SCREENSLAVER GLASSES while the character was knocked out cold.

 

 

The commentary by the animators was particularly enjoyable. The decision to feature the animators themselves on the commentary and not the director and producer was out of an effort to recognize a different aspect of film making that isn’t normally appreciated. You could feel their passion for establishing character and personality seep through the screen. They expressed how certain animators on their team would vie for particular scenes, and scenes that involved textile on textile, was always a unique challenge. But the tech has improved vastly since the first Inc movie. For example, one of the head honchos has as a rule in the film world that an animated character can never have a symmetrical smile, because that is not reflective of reality. I LOVED that.

 

And lastly, the short that accompanied Incredibles 2 was…odd. While paying homage to the endless level of creativity that usually accompanies a PIXAR short, it had psychological undertones that made it less child friendly than expected. When she swallowed the dumpling boy I was repulsed. It wasn’t until her real life son is introduced that you realize, “oh, the dumpling boy is a metaphor for her obsessive devotion to her real son. She is always protecting him to the point of smothering him. And when he decided to leave and make his own family, she destroyed her relationship with her son by “ending” the dumpling boy.”

It was just so, so heavy. And depressing. But in the end, there is a glimmer of hope when the son and his mom both show initiative to reconnect.

I finally concluded that the short’s target audience was the generation of kids that grew up enthralled with the first Incredibles. I was 14 when it first came out. So that being said, the theme of establishing one’s identity separate from parents, and connecting with them after establishing a family, is extremely applicable to that (My) generation.

 

What were your thoughts on Incredibles 2? Did it fulfill your long awaited expectations? What was your first experience at the cinema?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

defined by a paycheck

“A challenging career suddenly seemed more productive to me because I could measure the results of my work. These precious little ones had endless needs. They were busy little sinful creatures who demanded all of my body, time, life, emotions, and attention! As much as I loved my children, I often felt like a failure. Surely someone else could do a better job with these precious ones than I. And what exactly was I supposed to be accomplishing anyway? Was I wasting my time?”

Sally Clarkson The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child’s Heart for Eternity

 

 

Yesterday I was at the park, enjoying the spirited wind and shaded trees. My son clambering over the playground, my baby girl nestled in my arms in sweet slumber. I was glad for the opportunity to be out of the house. My free hand held my newest Ron Paul book acquisition, my finger wedged in between the pages as a temporary bookmark. He was going on about libertarian philosophy and schools. That revolution is not possible without revolution within education, and that education begins with the family. This education should center on the student recognizing responsibility for his actions. That an increase in liberty runs parallel with an increase in personal responsibility, and that unfortunately the public school system teaches an opposite standard via textbooks that “tell students that the federal government must intervene in the affairs of hundreds of millions of individuals because these individuals are not capable of making their own decisions.”

 

But back to the park.

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It was a glorious day, not uncomfortably hot. A group of mom friends had circled by, and we started some conversation

 

After going over our kids’ names and which kid belonged to which parent, we then proceeded into an interesting discussion that included the topic of transitioning from “having a job” to being a stay at home and our place in society.

 

We admitted struggling with anxiety over the labels, especially in the light of how our society tends to regard our calling.

 

Our culture teaches that your identity and worth to society is tied to how much income you generate. Since access to the workplace was limited for women until the recent century, this previous male dominated territory of being defined by a paycheck is now applicable to women.

 

Now that we have been blessed by opportunities to work out of the home, we are suddenly plagued with the backlash that occurs when we carefully balance work and home life; or worse, leave the coveted promotion to raise children at home.

 

“Fathers and mothers, if you have children, they must come first. You must read to your children and you must hug your children and you must love your children. Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your home”

Barbara Bush

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It’s a heart wrenching paradox. The influence we hold over our children is so, so important, and yet society undermines it by leaving all the accolades and fame for the careers that are in the spotlight.

 

With the same token, keep in mind I am not elevating blasting stay at home moms as the epitome of the honest mother. ABSOLUTELY NOT. For example, at my PRN job as an OB nurse, I work with some amazing moms who are physicians and maintain crazy hours, and their love to their family is in no way diminutive in comparison to a mom who has multiple degrees but chooses to work entirely at home. My issue here is how society loves to pigeon hole stay at home moms and diminish their value—SIMPLY because it does not reap a paycheck.

 

That very word, STAY AT HOME, is problematic for me. It suggests a passive lifestyle, lounging around on a couch, one hand sifting through some Doritos and the other lazily clicking ahead to the next Netflix special.

 

I prefer the term…homemaker. It’s far more encompassing, plus it includes all mothers who happen to also work outside the home.Image result for homemaker

 

It’s a truth I have to remind myself of…in those moments of cutting my son’s pb&j into mini triangles, helping him brush his teeth by pretending the toothbrush is a fighter jet, hunting down baby socks that are 1000x more adept at losing their mates in the laundry than adult socks are… I am their world for now. My time at home may feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I wouldn’t be lying if I didn’t join the chorus of every single parent who occasionally missed the ability to whip in and out of the grocery store without a thought. Or catch a leisurely nap or bubble bath on a day off from work. Or not panic because you neglected to bring another change of clothes when your baby just had a unexpected (but, SURELY premeditated) blow-out on your way to the doctor’s appointment.

 

The days are long, but the years are short.Image result for norman rockwell

 

So maybe we are not garnering an impressive salary in our work at home. But we are investing in souls.

 

 

These tiny, helpless, passionate, curious, extraordinary souls.

 

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Photo by Wayne Evans on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Excellence or Inauthenticity?

I learned something recently that boggled my mind. I’m sure you are familiar with auto-tune, the technology used to filter over recorded voices and bring them closer to an ideal pitch. Some have noticed a disconnect when listening to their favorite artist live versus in studio, because the singer is unable to replicate their sound since they rely so much on technology to reign their voice in into the correct key. To counter this, lip-synching became popular among many celebrities to maintain that studio feel. No doubt you have seen clips online of artists that have used this as a crutch, and then failed to entirely convince the audience of the ruse going on, because their mouth might be closed during an obvious lyric on the track. So many viral clips exist of artists getting exposed on their lip syncing, some to their complete mortification.

 

Now lip synching has its place, I’m sure. It’s exhausting to perform a intricate dance routine, for example, and maintain the necessary breath support required for singing. Maybe you’re performing concerts back to back, and need to give your voice a rest on certain songs.

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My concern is this notion that we absolutely MUST reach this state of perfection in order to share our self with the rest of the world.  When we rely on technology to accomplish this, it’s not REAL. It’s a façade that captivates, but then normalizes perfect appearances to the point where we stand baffled when we can’t accomplish the same. We’re humans, not robots.

 

And as technology evolves, the manipulation gets even more tricky.

 

I was shocked to learn that there is now an auto-tune system available that corrects pitch during the ACTUAL performance.

 

 

Here is Tristan, a vocal coach on YouTube with a mass following, giving multiple examples of this happening. {Language warning advisory. }

 

“When you do this, you are losing the authenticity of the performance. Sometimes leaving the mistakes in there gives us a better sense of humanity.”

 

Fixing every error with a computer program leaves a metallic sheen and erases the humanity of it.

The more we surround ourselves with artificial perfection, the more we undermine our own potential and discourage ourselves from expressing ourselves.

 

Moving from auditory to visual, we can look at sophisticated programs of photoshop and how it has affected the psyche of many.  Our sense of what an ideal body is has been reduced to a smattering of digital tools that can alter the appearance of cellulite and chisel away fat pads in mere seconds. The prevalence is so common that it’s considered a freakish occasion when a celebrity is spotted without makeup, and the evidence is frozen in time with a scathing subtext for all to see.  How DARE they not meet up to our artificial expectations! Let us chronicle this moment with a broadcast to the world, important enough to splash it above the starving children in Somalia or the immigrant crisis in Honduras on the whirling news media.

 

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that small minds discuss people–and while the totality of that quote is not entirely congruent with my thinking–that is the first thing I think of when I see online rags or magazines harp on the physical appearance.

 

The irony of it all is how we love to ignore that many times it’s our imperfections that make us endearing and interesting to the world around us. My eleven month old daughter, Verity, has a perfectly placed dimple on her right cheek. It is a carbon copy of the dimple that was placed on my sister’s cheek at birth. You cannot deny genetics. Everyone always comments upon it and admires it from a far. And yet, a dimple is a birth defect. Did you know? It is a mistake that occurs in the mass of a muscle. But it is uniquely her and a wondrous expression that results when she is tickled by the world around her. If we are trying to reach a state of absolute synchrony in societal defined beauty, then by definition dimples would have to go. But…no. That’s what makes life interesting! We are quick to assume that teeth should be as bone white as possible, and eyebrows should be thick, but never hairy with errant strands. The standard of what is considered beautiful changes briskly through the decades, and it’s inconveniently what is the most unattainable. For example, in a era where food is scarce to come by, moderately plump women were the ideal. From an American standpoint, with food in plentiful abundance, I can’t say that is the case anymore. Why do we do this to ourselves? We make ourselves unhappy simply by claiming that we aren’t meeting these arbitrary ideals.

 

Whether you chose not to sing because you’re painfully aware you will never be a Streisand or a David Phelps, or whether you don’t want to wear that red dress because you won’t have a size 2 on the tag, you are doing yourself a HUGE disservice. And worse, you are perpetuating these very same ideals that have hidden you away.

 

Be bold. Strive for excellence in all things, and don’t let media’s obsession with fake perfection dishearten your pursuit.

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