Cyberspace and the Single (Conservative) Girl, Part Two

Published by Parcbench on March 18, 2010:

As I discussed in Part One, while it’s easy to blame the internet for the plethora of dishonest players, the truth is, it is simply another vehicle through which to play the serial dating game. In the 21st Century, technology has provided an efficient method for both the upstanding and not-so-upstanding among us to either genuinely seek out a meaningful relationship, or secure the next superficial fling in a relentless hunt for a sexier, prettier, hotter version of the previous week’s hook-up.

Case in point: last summer. To make a long story short, a gentleman (ahem) unexpectedly contacted me via email, after coming across my website in cyberspace. For the next two weeks, we engaged in regular communication in the form of email and telephone conversations. Seemingly holding much in common, including a desire to save the United States from ruination, it seemed a logical conclusion that we meet in person to determine if there was any potential for a real relationship.

Granted, geographical distance between the man and the woman does present a unique challenge, as does older age. Unlike the America of the past where families tended to live together in the same geographical area, and the daters in question tended to be much younger (most folks in their 30s and above having already been joined in the bonds of marriage), today the “safety net” of having a man pick up a woman at her parent’s home is almost non-existent. In this example, my suitor would have to drive about six hours just to meet me. An inconvenience? Possibly, but also a fact of life in the contemporary dating scene.

For obvious reasons, including my own personal safety, I’d set the expectations well in advance: the man who desired to make my acquaintance in order to determine if we had a corresponding physical “spark” to accompany the intellectual one, would have to stay at a nearby hotel. Over the phone, he appeared quite understanding about the arrangement. I’d also informed a few close friends and family of his name, hometown and location of our get-together, simply as a precaution. And since the suitor in question was a self-described “old-fashioned kind of guy from Texas,” it never occurred to me he’d take issue with buying me a $20 entrée at a mom-and-pop establishment by the beach.

Admittedly, along the way I’d ignored some serious warning signs such as his distasteful tendency to divulge intimate details of previous relationships, his confession that the only photo he’d sent was over 12 years-old and the fact that (on his way over in the car!) he phoned to alert me that the birth date on his Facebook profile was indeed, false. In actuality, he was much older than the posted birth year would suggest. And in spite of my inquiries, he begged me to keep an open mind and wait for the answer until I met him in person. I chalked it up to nervousness and decided to give the guy the benefit of the doubt; after all, he was taking some time and expense to meet me. I could cut him some slack.

Note to self: never do that again!

When at last we met face-to-face, I was a bit disappointed inasmuch as he did not remotely resemble his photo. However, being an open-minded person, I determined to spend the next few hours listening and talking, understanding that the heart and soul within supercedes the exterior package. And yes, while I do believe in “chemistry,” I don’t simply base it upon the first two minutes of a physical interaction involving a friendly hug and a warm greeting. Sure, in many instances, it does develop within a matter of seconds; however, in my experience, this isn’t always the case.

This man and I went on to have dinner, although his reluctance to do so should’ve provided another clue. Unknown to me, “Zack” had already determined back at the Comfort Inn parking lot that the elusive “spark” he was seeking was nowhere to be found in Deerfield Beach—at least not with me. And as I mentioned, the feeling was mutual, although I was willing to give the guy a chance. As we sat at the dining table, he mentioned how “full” he was from lunch, having been treated to the Cheesecake Factory earlier in the day by a client. Undaunted and hungry (it was dinnertime after all), I ordered a chicken entrée, which came with a side of unwanted pasta, a dish I willingly gave him once the waiter arrived with the home-cooked food.

After he paid for our meal (the water-with-lemon was free as far as I know), we proceeded to walk along the beach, talk and even dance for the next several hours. If Zack wasn’t feeling the “spark” he must’ve been desperately trying to create one because at various points throughout the evening, he’d put his arm around me and even rub my bare feet and place his head on my thigh as we sat by the sand. Alas, these efforts were in vain as he later announced in no uncertain terms back at the hotel parking lot that he just wasn’t that into me.

Fair enough, especially considering the feeling was mutual; however, for him the disappointment ran so deep he didn’t even want to meet for breakfast the next morning. And although I am no psychic, I picked up on a subtle vibe that my crestfallen date truly resented having to sacrifice any gas, time and money for a girl he’d only ever regard as a friend. For him, no initial spark = Dutch treat; it also meant he’d be hitting the highway first thing in the morning, rather than spend any quality time with a new platonic relationship. Too bad he hadn’t enumerated his ground rules from the start to this “old fashioned kind of girl.” When I inquired about attending a free concert as buddies the next evening he protested, “But what if I see a girl there I am interested in? I won’t be able to talk to her because I’ll be with you!”

Needless to say, that was my cue to leave in spite of his protests to “talk it out” some more. This unfortunate interaction led to a few emails back and forth, including this little gem, so eloquently written without the benefit of proper grammar and punctuation (bold emphasis mine):

its more than just me paying for ur dinner…First of all, we were not in the “dating routine”…I had never even met u before so i would hardly say we were dating…Secondly, i expended money, time, gas and personal committment to drive there and meet you…Dont u think the least u could have done is take ME out to dinner, split the bill, or found me free acomodations??…I think it highly presumptuous of you to just assume things that had not even matured yet….Once again, u are over assuming…my coming to see you was not a “date” as in romance or after having established more between us…What it was was to see if there might be a spark where a romantic relationship could grow…Obviously it wasnt there…Apparently from ur reply letter, you considered this a date and as such the man should be responsible to pay for everything…Im sorry for that assumed delusion…Maybe u should grow up a little and understand that when someone (whom u dont know) has invited u to meet them for the first time, it is proper etiquette to split monetary charges between the two and to even extend accomodations to the weary traveler…If we had already established a romantic interest in each other prior to this weekend, then everything u said in this email would be correct, but that simply is not the case…Even u yourself said i knew what the ground rules were before i came; meaning no sex or intimacy…That being the case, how could u expect to have received more than what u got..Daria, when i go out with my female friends (of whom i have no romantic interest) we always split evenly all things we do….Why couldnt u have extended the same graciuosness to me until the two of us decided whether or not there was a romantic spark to further the relationship along into something more that just friends??…You are stil a very sweet girl and I wish u the best in all you do…

Silly me! I should have realized from the start that the fact I wasn’t planning to put out would automatically transform my evening from a “first date” with a guy I met online to an actual audition, whereby if my mere presence didn’t generate those elusive fireworks within his entire being, I would immediately lose all rights to the hotly contested $20 dinner.

Rather than complain about this modest output of cash, good ol’ Zack ought to thank his lucky stars that I am not a Boca Babe, or he’d have been out a heckuva lot more money. Oh how I sometimes wish I had time machine to transport me back to the Fifties! In spite of the benefits of modern technology, in a culture gone to extremes, a good man is still hard to find.

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The Mother Characters in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

The Mother Characters in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

I dedicate this post to an analysis of the moms in Water Signs, Monica Rose and Paula Lockheart.

The character of Monica is based on my own mother, for whom I am more grateful to God with every passing day. The older I get, the more I realize how rare and precious it is to have had the experience of growing up with a mother who was dedicated to her children’s emotional needs, educational success, spiritual foundation and moral upbringing. While there is no perfect human and certainly no perfect mother (as is evident in my novel), my siblings and I never had to doubt her love and dedication.

The early days: Mom and Dad with my older brothers Ralph (on mom’s lap) and Mark.

This is a remarkable woman who, at the age of 28, gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome (her second child) and in response to highly suspect and astonishingly cruel medical advice (i.e. put the “stigma” in an institution), promptly ordered the attending physician to “stay away from me and stay away from my baby”. Then with her characteristic strength and determination, she devoted herself (with the support of her husband and family) to Ralph’s development, tenacious in her desire to see him reach his full potential. She also had the faith and courage to give birth to three more children — my sister Carolyn, my brother Paul and me, ultimately raising all five of us (brother Mark is the first-born) with the same amount of love, care and attention.

Paula Lockheart in the novel is based on a woman I’ve never actually met, but knew about through her son. Based on my remembrances of conversations we’d had, I created her be to be the warm, supportive and loving parental presence in Ken’s life — and a counterbalance to the aloofness of his father (although their relationship is renewed by novel’s end).

Ken and Madeline’s mothers are both strong influences in their lives, possibly due to that fact they they are the “babies” of their families, though in Ken’s case, much of that also stems from his innate passion for life, and his willingness to do whatever necessary to create a new and different existence for himself than the one laid out for him by his father and pursued obediently by his three older brothers.

The DiGiovanni Family at my brother Mark’s wedding, 1993.

When the story opens, we learn that two of the adult Rose children — Greg and Lori — are simultaneously leaving the nest to start their own families, following in the footsteps of youngest son Damian, who’d already taken a wife and settled into another state. Madeline has just been through a horrific break-up with a guy, and has relied on the ones closest to her for strength and comfort to work through the stages of grief.

As a mother, Monica wants nothing more than for her offspring to find happiness with the right spouses, yet at the same time she experiences the bittersweet reality of the children to whom she’s dedicated her life, leaving the nest. And when her “baby” Maddy appears to be moving too quickly with the new man who has entered the picture, it’s almost too much to bear. Yes, she wants her daughter to be happy. And no, she doesn’t want to let go just yet. So while outwardly, Ken’s lack of a college degree is the initial objection she expresses to her daughter’s suitor, deep within, the real struggle has to do with the acceptance of a new phase of life — one that involves adjusting to a home with fewer offspring occupants.

This is the portrayal I attempted to make when basing Monica on my own mother. Some have stated their intense dislike for the character, at least after reading that portion of the book, but my intention was not to place blame or hold onto resentment. Was my mom wrong to pressure me to end things based on such an inconsequential criteria? Yes. But it’s not that simple. While I couldn’t grasp it at the time, years later, I understood her motivations. She’d watched me over the years experience all kinds of hurts — from mean kids in grade school who teased me about my weight to stupid teen-aged boys in high school who were, well, stupid teen-aged boys.

My mother silently witnessed my first boyfriend says things like, “Yes, you do look kind of bloated today,” and prayed hard for the relationship to mercifully end. She never interfered, but would often tell me I was worthy of so much more than he was capable of offering. And the protective “Mama Bear” in her often stated in no uncertain terms, her utter disgust with the man known as Jake in the novel. So it’s only natural she’d want to shield me from further pain.

[Perhaps looking back, my mother’s intuition was also telling her that something wasn’t quite right with this new guy; perhaps she sensed he would eventually break my heart. Who knows? Even after everything that’s transpired, I still question his motives and wonder about his sincerity, although I prefer to believe that, in the moment at least, he meant the things he said].

But just as with Monica and Maddy, in the aftermath of my initial break-up with “Ken”, my mom also saw my downward spiral. Unlike in the book where Maddy at least has a full-time job to keep her busy, at the time I couldn’t seem to get any career traction and had been doing temp work as a result of a challenging economy. Having “Ken” in my life was a breath of fresh air, as he always made me feel good about myself and seemed to think that everything I did was wonderful. Once that was gone, I’d temporarily lost my own zest for living. So just like Maddy, the activities that previously had given me joy, i.e. dancing, had completely lost their appeal. And like the character based on me, I accepted my mother’s genuine, heartfelt apology.

As for Ken, Paula remains the one person he can turn to when he needs advice and a comforting presence. While she prays for father and son to eventually mend their differences, Paula manages to walk the line between being a good mother to her son and a supportive wife to her husband. She’s able to see both sides of the coin, though she thoroughly admires and respects her son for making the difficult choice to join the Navy and forge new territory in the Lockheart family. When Ken is torn between the two women he loves, she never tells him what to do; only listens and promises to be there for him whenever he needs her. And when father and son at last come to a new understanding and embark upon a revitalized relationship, it’s her fondest wish come true.

With Mom and my nieces Sophia and Julianna.

I will delve more into the motherly relationships in terms of the theme of reconciliation in another post, but will end by noting that as an author, in order for your characters to experience a joyous renewal of their relationships, you must take them through some of the lows of human behavior. Otherwise, what’s the point? When I borrowed from real life in retelling the story of my mother’s influence on my relationship with “Ken”, it was not done to hurt her, nor to tell the world I had a bad mother. Rather, it was created as a testament to the power of love, understanding and forgiveness.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for my mother, the one person who has always loved me unconditionally. I am also incredibly thankful for her continued good health and presence in my life. I know how blessed I am, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for being a woman of faith and character, a worthy role-model and most of all, an endless source of emotional support through all of life’s ups and downs.

Preview and purchase Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal on Amazon.com.

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The Nashville Flood, Self-Reliance and the Mainstream Media

Published by Parcbench, May 7, 2010:

Judging by the inexcusable lack of coverage of one of the most devastating non-hurricane weather events in American history, the mainstream media apparently rates self-reliance, the quintessential American virtue celebrated in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay, somewhere between capitalism and Christian on their list of most despised things about the United States. What else can explain the paltry 15 minutes of reporting about a storm that killed several people and caused billions of dollars in damage?

If not for the fact that one of my brothers is a longtime resident of Music City, along with his wife and four children, I might not even have known about the 500-year flood as it unleashed its devastation in real-time. And as I followed his reportage in links and photos posted on Facebook, I read and saw the unimaginable: Famous landmarks, including The Grand Old Opry and the Opryland Hotel (site of Paul and Angela’s wedding reception) were basically ruined. Motorists died in their cars sitting in traffic on the interstate.  Entire areas of the city were underwater. And yet, barely a peep from those self-ordained purveyors of all the news that’s fit to print or broadcast.

So why exactly is that?

Well, as this excellent We Are Nashville post so eloquently explains, middle Tennessee residents are a resilient sort, embodying the characteristics that have helped shaped this nation. Rather than whine about the unfairness of Mother Nature or point the finger of blame at the White House or any government entity, they channeled their inner American Pioneer. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Neighbors helped neighbors. Volunteers flooded the Hands On Nashville phone lines to sign up to help with emergency food-relief efforts (when Paul called to offer his services, he was asked to call back, as all slots had been filled).

What didn’t happen?

Unlike what transpired in another southern city hit by a crippling storm a few years back — a city deemed by the media as worthy of ad nauseam coverage — there was no crime spree. In the aftermath of heart-wrenching destruction and chaos, there were zero reports of looting, assault or rape. Oh, and neither the mayor, nor any elected official in either Nashville or Davidson Counties got on national television and shrieked about how it was all Barack Obama’s fault (although the least the President of the United States could’ve done was issue a statement of support). They were too busy actually doing their jobs and fulfilling their responsibilities to the locals who elected them.

Funny, but the residents of middle Tennessee bear a striking resemblance to Louisiana’s neighbors, Mississippi and Alabama. Parts of those states were hit just as hard as New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, yet they barely merited any mention on the nightly news either. And instead of looking for a scapegoat, these American citizens also went to work. Side-by-side, neighbors of all colors, races and creeds rebuilt their homes and their lives. They also had competent governors who executed well-planned disaster recovery procedures, in fulfillment of their obligations and responsibilities as CEOs of a state.  And in stark contrast to the myth perpetrated in the media and in pop culture, southerners proved that they are for the most part, decent, caring, generous folks — not wild-eyed, Bible-thumping, card-carrying KKK racists.

All things considered, it’s no wonder why Nashville’s unprecedented flood went purposely unnoticed in the mainstream media. Because if it’s one thing they cannot abide, it’s the American spirit  of resilience, generosity and self-reliance in action — particularly when demonstrated by Christians who happen to live in the land of Dixie.

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Is Professionalism Passe in Cyberspace?

Published by Parcbench, April 18, 2010:

Alright, so this is not a necessarily a political rant (although there are a few thinly veiled references to the current White House occupant), but nevertheless a topic of cultural import in the age of social media marketing. It’s something that has been bothering me for quite some time, after having read some pretty idiotic twitter updates and blog posts from allegedly professional, busy and successful members of the business community. It doesn’t seem to matter how educated, knowledgeable or hard-working some people are; in their minds technology, unlike real life, simply does not demand a certain set of standards.

For example, why is it that we’d never purposely spell a word incorrectly in a business correspondence, personal letter or even an email, yet some of us think it’s cute (or worse, cool, as if middle-aged men should still be concerned with such things) to do so in a 140-word character status? I am not quibbling with the necessary use of abbreviations when limited to such a low word-count — I am talking about deliberately misspelling common words.

For example, a guy whom I know for a fact to be a full-grown adult, constantly uses werkin instead of working to describe what he’s doing at that specific point in time.

Perhaps he’s attempting to be humorous; perhaps he’s going through a mid-life crisis, but whatever the case, it’s not an appealing use of language. Why not abbreviate as workin if hard-pressed for characters, instead of presenting yourself as an immature surfer dude pretending to be a formidable businessman? Maybe it’s the English Major in me, but in an age when we’re already dealing with the consequences of a dumbed-down electorate, the least intelligent people can do is set a good example.

Which leads me to another quibble with another supposed grown-up, a woman who describes herself as an advertising professional and award-winning graphic designer. While I understand the valid point she’s attempting to make when discussing the importance of a logo for branding purposes, somehow titling a post “Don’t Screw with the Logo” seems to negate her purpose and detract from her character. Why not something along the lines of “Don’t Mess with the Logo”? It makes the same point without being crude and insulting.

But judging from the lengthy tirade she launches against a competitor in the body of her post, perhaps that was her intention. While the author of the blog probably believes otherwise (and I do credit her for not actually naming the competition), she comes across as petty and petulant — hardly someone with which any reputable organization would want to do business. There’s a fine line between promoting one’s own talent and skill, and presenting oneself as an entitled recipient of clients, based solely on one’s own subjective opinion. Thus, the legitimacy of her premise is an unintended casualty of the snarky tone of her piece.

Or is it just me?

I had a discussion with another adult professional, a friend for over 15 years, who told me about the use of the word “dude” in a marketing email she’d received. Since the product had been aimed at both a male and female demographic, she took issue with being addressed with a term typically reserved for males. When I questioned the credibility of “dude” for marketing purposes even for males over a certain age, she felt it was still appropriate, that her only problem with it was the gender factor. I respectfully disagree, believing that “dude” is a juvenile title best reserved for kids under the age of eighteen. It’s also a symptom of the larger cultural problem of an over-extended adolescence. No wonder style trumped substance in the 2008 presidential election!

Other inane twitter updates I’ve seen include such gems as “getting ready to strangle mom in law” (wonder how that went over with the wife?), descriptions of the number of times an owner’s dog did his business during a walk and the urgent need for holding a beer in one hand while grilling with the other. Ok, the latter two are lame attempts at humor, but really, the mother-in-law comment? Very bad taste, no matter how justified (if at all) the author might be.

And in an especially egregious status update given the state of the economy, a small business owner with pressing deadlines laments about being summoned for jury duty when so many others are unemployed, implying that those “lucky” souls should be the ones inconvenienced by civic responsibility, not important people like her. Pardon me, but if you’re a  busy entrepreneur during a difficult recession in which nearly 10% of Americans are out of work, I’d say a little gratitude — not to mention tact — is in order. Yes, jury duty can be a detriment to the bottom line, but creating a status update bemoaning a minor obstacle and simultaneously taking a potshot at others in retaliation is just plain rude and insensitive.  As is the case with real life, there are times when silence — or in the case of modern technology — a silent keyboard, is golden.

Or is professionalism passé in the world of social media?

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