“You Just Might Have To Hardnose The Highway”

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 4:51 p.m.
On the way to the shopping centre today, I put on Van Morrison’s album, Hardnose the Highway on the car stereo. As the chorus came in on Snow in San Anselmo, I was instantly transported back to our living room in Lachine in the 1970’s. You were in it as soon as you opened the door. Five steps later, you’d be in our kitchen with the oil furnace to your left and the stairs going up to the bedroom and bathroom. On cold days, I’d have my coat off and I would practically hug the furnace with my dog, Shy-Ann, at my heels and three other cats meowing for food or an open door to get back out of the house.

Hardnose the Highway brings back my university days when Richard worked at the furniture factory next door and I would take the 191 and 78 buses to McGill, working on my B.A. in Sociology. On warm days, we would drink our coffee on our front steps and feud with the new neighbour across the street who had the audacity to cut down all the beautiful lilac trees that old Mrs. Murray kept by the white picket fence.

Our original neighbour, Mrs. Murray, was the quintessential sweet little old lady who had a romantic and old fashioned garden in her backyard and who fed every cat in the neighbourhood, including ours. We could barely keep them home. Her yard was like a scene from a 1940s movie. Mrs. Murray sold the place and our new neighbour was an extremely obese woman with a very ugly and perpetually barking Chihuahua. Her sons tore down the lilac trees and parked their cars which were the size of great whacking boats on the lawn. Along with her excessive weight, this woman distinguished herself by yelling out in the whiniest of tones “Taber-n-a-a-a-c!” at all times of day or night. It didn’t take long for us to imitate her.

Needless to say, she and her family had done everything possible to make us detest them but we kept our distance. It was a small dead end street and life could be made much worse by fighting with the people who live right across from you. Dogs and cats, however, have very different ideas when it comes to neighbourly relations. The animal kingdom knows nothing about mutual tolerance. The first conflict arose when our street-wise cat, Peg-Leg was hanging out on a summer day…and now the story is put on hold as I give you a description of the inimitable Peg-Leg.

Peg-Leg moved in with Richard as a kitten and it was weeks before I met the two of them. He had one paw in which he couldn’t control his claws. When he walked on carpet, you would hear pad-pad-pad-rip and that rip would be poor Peg-Leg pulling his claws out of the threads of the carpet. He had been in innumerable cat fights so that his face was a mass of scars and his ears were completely chewed up. He was very affectionate with people and I have seen quite a few of my friends taken aback when this massively ugly black cat jumped in his or her lap and began to purr loudly with much mucous resonating in his nose. Repulsion was the most usual reaction. Richard and I adored that cat and though we have had many wonderful cats over the last twenty-five years, Peg-Leg was a standout for his heroic personality.

So back to that summer day in what might be 1975 or ’76. Peg-Leg strayed out into the middle of the street with a kind of lazy I-own-the-street swagger. All of a sudden the neighbour’s Chihuahua zipped out of their yard after Peg-Leg. That’s when our dog Shy-Ann sprang into action. Shy-Ann was a small German Shepherd mix and towered over the little mongrel. She grabbed the Chihuahua by the neck and began to shake him left and right so that the Chihuahua was swinging in the air. She shook him like a dirty wet rag. Peg-Leg escaped unharmed.

The usual “Taber-na-a-ac” rang out from her neighbour with a torrent of curses and threats to call the police. Richard quickly broke up the dog fight but our gargantuan neighbour continued to abuse him. Well! We gave back as good as she did and we threatened to call the police because her dog attacked our cat. Anybody who was around was out on the street watching the show. It was like being back in New York City!!

Finally, both sides retreated to their respective porches with their respective pets none the worse for wear. The stony silence remained and within another year, we packed up and went off to Europe and one of our friends bought the house that we rented and the adjoining one too, turning it into a sprawling home.

It takes only a few lines of Van Morrison’s Snow in San Anselmo to make me think of those days when we were in our twenties and our life seemed to be stretching out before us. Some people say that scent revives memory. Agatha Christie used that device in her mysteries all the time but for me, it’s music. Play a certain album and the movie replays in my mind. It’s a blessing and unfortunately, it’s a curse too.

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Facebook Nation Says Give Us Back Our Stuff!

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:32 a.m.
Boys and Girls: We've just discovered that Facebook Nation is the sixth largest country in the world, 175 million strong. Yes, there are 175 million of us who have nothing better to do than upload gossip, photos, and play with ridiculously silly applications that give mysterious companies around the world all the personal data that we put up on Facebook. Think of it - 175 million people with nothing better to do. No wonder we are in a serious recession; we’re all playing on freaking Facebook!

Yet along comes the news that Facebook has changed something that we pay no attention to (my media source said “quietly changed” which makes Facebook sound ve-e-ry sneaky) Facebook changed its user policy so that we don’t have exclusive rights to the text, photos and other miscellanea that we put on Facebook. Kaboom! Big to-do! The response was apparently furious enough to make Facebook have a re-think and to inspire the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to prepare a federal complaint against Facebook:

“It appears that the major thrust of EPIC's--and many others' anger--at Facebook stems from new language in the privacy policy that grants the company seemingly perpetual control over content users post there:

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings....” (Webware, http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-10166290-2.html?tag=mncol;txt February 17, 2009)

Here I am, blissfully blogging away as the attention-seeking little writer that I am, completely ignorant of the fact that Facebook could have all legal rights to what I write simply because I upload my Somebody’s Mother rants on Facebook. That is just not kosher!

A few years back, Billy Bragg (British folksinger, author and political activist) launched a similar onslaught against MySpace. Young musicians often put their work on MySpace so that people can see and listen to them. It’s a great way for Indie Rock to spread the word about new artists. The problem was, of course, that with such a policy, young composers would lose the rights to their music. Who in their right mind would put their music on MySpace knowing that?

MySpace retracted this policy and I haven’t heard much about it since. Facebook has done much the same thing. Apparently tens of thousands of Facebook users went on the Facebook blog and protested the changes in the terms of service, urging Facebook to go back to its old policy. Most of you Facebook-ers must have seen the notice the other day at the top of the screen that Facebook has done just that, gone back to its old policy but the post did say that they will be examining the Terms of Service and that changes will be coming up again.

I think that this is a big wake-up call to all of us about being careful on the Internet. Personally, I believe in the strength and anonymity of numbers. Why the hell Facebook needs my texts and photos is beyond me. Yet for others, I could see big problems. If Facebook sites can be used as legal evidence in a criminal case, you have no recourse. They own it, the government asks for it and Facebook will happily hand it over, pure and simple.

If someday, I want to write a book of all my Somebody’s Mother columns and blogs, is Facebook going to get the profits? Maybe it isn’t me who will from suffer this ambiguity about ownership. Maybe it will be a far more talented writer than me.

The Internet has been around for awhile but it’s apparent that it’s still frontier territory when it comes to who owns what. We’ve all been leery of having the Internet legislated into a bland approximation of what television is. So meanwhile, it’s back to the old “Buyer, Beware.”

Facebook is free for now but if there’s a way to make more money off our backs, you can be sure that Facebook will be on it like bears on honey. It’s up to us to keep from getting stung.

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You sure that web cam is off?

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 6:32 p.m.

Another week has gone by and as I write this, there is a web cam staring at me. I can only assume that it springs to life when I tell it to...as in when I fire up my newly downloaded Skype to talk with a friend or relative down the road in Montreal or across the Atlantic, in England or Italy. It's pretty nifty but I get the impression that it might all be a plot and the little gadget is secretly broadcasting me typing away with furrowed brow and tongue in cheek. It’s not a pretty picture and that will only get uglier if I decide some summer evening to type up my musings in my underwear. No, no, I’ll have to unplug the thing just to be on the safe side.

Any of my ex-sociology students will vaguely remember me teaching them the term, “Future Shock” that Alvin Toffler coined years ago. Now it’s the Baby Boomers who have become the techno-idiots and feel so very futuristic as we make video calls on Skype and feel like it’s straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oh, man, I was supposed to be living on a moon colony by now. What the hell happened to the future? It’s so mundane.

One of my biggest shocks is this lack of privacy that we’re getting so very cavalier about. I’ve had discussions with teachers in both the public and private systems who are very gung-ho towards the computer software that allow a teacher to go into any kid’s computer and see whether he or she is on task or bouncing around the netherworlds of the Internet. What’s more interesting: typing up that English poem or exploring the cyber-underbelly of humanity? Maybe I’m overdramatizing, more likely little Suzie is getting the latest gossip about who’s going out with that GUY. Shouldn’t the teacher be able to zoom into Suzie’s computer with a warning, GET OFF MSN AND GET BACK TO WORK!!

After all, Suzie should be prepared for the computerized workplace where there is no privacy and the administration could swoop down on her at the first sign of inattention. Suzie should be prepared for street corners where TV cameras check for crime, terrorists and anyone who might jaywalk or drop a gum wrapper. In the interests of civil order, Suzie should be prepared to give up a modicum of civil liberties for everyone’s safety.

I don’t know about you but if Suzie was my daughter, this would not be the kind of education that I would want her to have nor is it the kind of world that I want her to inherit. Suzie should have a strong sense of her own personal space and the right to her own world and that includes her computer. If Suzie doesn’t get her poem done, then she should suffer any and all of the consequences that not doing her work brings. Flunk her, keep her in after school…better yet, watch the kids’ faces as they work; you can usually tell who’s working and who’s not. The smiles give it away.

What I don’t want is a paranoid 1984 world that seems to be coming up on us, thick and fast. If Facebook says that they can ensure my privacy to a reasonable degree through their security systems and options for setting up Friends then I want them to do that. By the same token, it’s my responsibility and Suzie’s responsibility to be aware that the Internet is public space and that stupid pictures and stupid comments have a way of finding themselves in the hands of the people that we least want to have them.

As I write, I’m very careful about what I say. If I want total freedom to write, I can write on my own computer or in the security of my writing group who understand very well that the narrator isn’t always me; often it’s a fictional personality.

If we want our civil liberties, we have to use them responsibly but more importantly, we have to defend them. If we forfeit these liberties in our schools, I think that it’s a hop, skip and a jump to adapting to a lack of privacy that will make us more likely to give up these rights in later life. It really isn’t worth it and it worries me that others don’t see it. We’ve come a long way in how we cherish civil liberties. It’s a shame to think that as technology grows more sophisticated, it threatens these liberties that people have fought to preserve.

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25 things or how Facebook brings out my wishy washy tendencies

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 11:28 a.m.
Rose tagged me and those tagged must follow these instructions: post 25 things about you, then tag 25 more people. Yes, you too can make a nuisance of yourself to 25 people so get tagging. Here’s all the stuff you never need to know about me.

1. I never knew do chain letters. My husband is disgusted with me.

2. Cranberry is my favourite colour; it’s a step up from pink…but I love wearing black.

3. Growing up, I always wanted to have dogs and cats but Stuyvesant Town (a development in Manhattan) wouldn’t let us. Now I have too many dogs and cats.

4. Good coffee, good wine and good beer are essential to my well-being. I refuse to joke about these things.

5. I love my husband and children so much that it makes me look stupid.

6. I worry.

7. I talk a lot in a New York accent tempered with many years in Canada and my hair is not as curly as it was once. People define me by these things. I’m used to it.

8. If I could, I would travel much more than I do and if I could, I would choose Baldwin’s Mills to be my home base. But if I were filthy stinking rich, I would have condos in Montreal, NYC and Venice.

9. I miss playing guitar and singing. I almost got good at both.

10. I love watching my plays performed. I love seeing my writing in print. I love these things almost as much as I love my family.

11. I still can’t understand why people treat each other so badly and why the world’s resources can’t be shared more equitably. I seriously don’t get it.

12. I never should have read 1984; rodents scare the hell out of me.

13. Star Trek is an escape, books are an escape. I really like going somewhere else cheaply. Picard was the best captain and I don’t care what anyone says.

14. I have a love/hate relationship with New York City. I wish I had a British accent.

15. I have a love hate relationship with t.v; it makes me happy but keeps me from writing.

16. I love my friends - they put up with me.

17. I have no fashion sense whatsoever and I hate make-over shows. Kill the fashion fascists!

18. Certain people have been ejected from my universe and they don’t know who they are.

19. I believe all commercials. Commercials have happy endings. Why isn’t life like commercials?

20. I hate the cold. I wanted to marry a Floridian. I didn’t. Now I wear snow pants for 5 minute drives to work.

21. I love taking pictures and looking at photos. I would love to take serious photography and printing courses.

22. Sometimes I listen to music that my husband and children don’t like…I live with

23. I love my little library and I love teaching sociology to teenagers. This continually surprises me.

24. I’m not as funny as I’d like to be - I wish this list was funnier.

25. An employer or work colleague may see this list so I can’t say what should have been 24 and 25. Oh yeah, also, I’m inconsistent. Please see point #1.

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Thursday's Child is Sunday's Clown

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 9:02 a.m.
Nico lives
There are actually goldfinches at my feeder this morning, very exciting. No, it’s not the same as walking around Times Square in a crowd of tourists shepherding 12 excited kids to Broadway shows. Still, as I contemplate a mountain of snow and four days off work ahead of me, I’m glad of the break, even mildly excited for a break. I loved the atmosphere yesterday. Everybody was walking around with a slightly wider grin and a bit of spring in their steps because at 12:30, the buses would be leaving and freedom was beckoning.

It’s confession time on the ranch and I’m going to share a rather silly secret with you: years ago, I stopped going to see Broadway shows because they made me feel like such a failure. I wasn’t one of the brightest lights at the High School of Performing Arts and seeing shows simply reminded me that I wasn’t in the shows. Sour grapes are very bad for the soul.

Luckily, this trip was redemptive and a liberation from all that nonsense. I love writing plays, I love participating in school and community theatre and I just love theatre in general. If anything this trip renewed my passion for theatre. How can you not be excited and re-energized by theatre where skill, imagination, and budget seem limitless?

This might be the part of the silly confession where I swoon about the sets, the lighting, the technical wizardry, voices, dance and acting. Trust me - they were ‘way beyond what I remember from the Broadway shows that I saw as a teenager. I was mesmerized for two hours. Now I understand why Vaudeville and Burlesque were so important in the Thirties. During my time in the theatre, I almost forgot who I was. All my problems were gone. Watching Equus, I was drawn into Dysart’s struggle to make his way through the complexity of Alan Strang’s personality and Dysart’s own personality. The horses’ movements were literally chilling. Billy Elliott flattened me to my seat. The music and dance, the lyrics, the sets flying out of the ground were just breathtaking.

When both shows were over, I wanted them to start all over again. I wanted to catch things that I might have missed. (Believe me, if orchestra seats weren’t over $120.00 a pop, I’d be back in a flash to do just that.) This is really what theatre should be about; it’s an opportunity to be in the same space with living people who re-enact a play, almost a religious ritual that gives the audience a transcendent experience.

I’m so glad that I have a break now to rest up from all yesterday’s parties because that’s what the trip was to me. Two plays that reminded me what big theatre is all about, seeing my family (my dad looked great), and walking by the building that used to be the High School of Performing Arts. They seem to be renovating the outside now but they can’t get rid of the ghosts.

Those ghosts haunt me less now. I have a less silly confession, kind of a happy one. Things went better than they should have. I found other stages to play on and though they weren’t on Broadway, they suited me better and they gave me joy. This is when I knock on wood (I just did) and move on to find those other stages that I can take up space on so that I don’t “cry behind the door.” I have to keep reminding myself in the next weeks and months that closed doors usually open windows and when you scrape through those windows, there’s the hope of finding yourself in an even better place.

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