Thursday, March 31, 2011

Topic 136: People Who Make-Believe

History Repeats Itself, Costumes and All
Last weekend I spent time with my three-year old great-niece.  Friday, she dressed as   a princess. The next day she arrived at a family party in a clown costume with a fabric birthday cake perched atop her tow head. How happily she grabs a costume each day and enters the world of imagination. Costumes and make-believe aren’t just for children, and they aren’t just for Halloween. Serious make-believe makes for serious history. 
Visit Colonial Williamsburg, and you are transported into one of the most exciting periods in American history. This 301-acre historic area recreates in authentic detail both the life and the spirit of 18th America: “The Colonial Williamsburg story of a revolutionary city tells how diverse peoples, having different and sometimes conflicting ambitions, evolved into a society that valued liberty and equality” (Source: Colonial Williamsburg official website).
Williamsburg Cobbler Shop
I didn’t fall in love with Williamsburg for its historical significance. I was 10 years old the first time I walked up The Duke of Gloucester Street and saw costumed people promenading, working in shops, tipping hats as they passed by. After we watched the cobbler pound  heels on a worn leather boot, I begged my parents to go into the Post Office, which also housed the Printing Office and Book Bindery.  I had a little money, so I bought hand-made stationery, a stamp and sealing wax.  At Bruton Parish Church, I sat in a pew close to where Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry would worship while they were planning for Revolution.  I knew I wanted to come back to Williamsburg, but not as a visitor. I wanted to BE one of those people who got to make-believe every day at Williamsburg.
I did go back to historic Virginia, this time on our cross-country motorhome trip. The experience  lived up to my childhood memories, and I still imagined  coming back someday as a volunteer, living a make-believe character I had created and researched myself. Of course, Megan and her brother don’t remember that trip, but I like to think a little bit of the fun of make-believe mixed with history rubbed off.
Agoura Renaissance Festival
Several years later, I took them to the Renaissance Festival in Apache Junction. I had spent several weeks combing the local thrift stores and sewing costumes for the four of us. It was no fun going without costumes, and it was more fun if we could dress as nobility. Years earlier, I had taken my students from a Shakespeare class to the Festival in Agoura, California and we learned the etiquette of social class. Dressed as a  cook  with wooden utensils hanging from my belt, I had been obliged to do a lot of bowing and kow-towing.  In Apache Junction, let the peasants do that to us. Did we have fun? Absolutely.  But, I was the only one in the family who was ready to trade in my day job for a career in costume.
Marshall and Megan, dressed for the Faire
Planning a trip, with or without kids? Thinking about hitting some of the big name, big bucks theme parks (D-Land, 6-Flags, etc.)? Try something a little different. Visit a living history museum instead. Walk the dirt compound of Old Jamestown.  Stick your head into Iron-maker’s foundry at the Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum.  Buy a newspaper at the Williamsburg  Printer’s Shop on Duke of Gloucester Street. Just look for me. I’ll be the older gray-haired lady with the ink-stained fingers and the food stains on the bib of my blue gown.
Image: A recreation workshop on Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg. Wikipedia. 
Image:  Main Stage at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Agoura, CA 1986. Wikipedia.

People Who Can't Control the Make-Believe

As we’ve established before,  I have a very active imagination.  When mixed with a certain amount of insecurity (the normal amount, I think), there sometimes results  a weird sort of paranoia.  For example, last night I noticed that my friend Kelly had mis-dated our year of graduation from college. I commented on it, implying she’d made a mistake, but for the 15 minutes it took for her to respond, I questioned our friendship.

Had she, I wondered, quietly failed a class without telling anyone? Had the college agreed to let her walk at graduation on the condition that she complete the missing credits over the summer? Had it taken longer than she planned and when they finally printed out her diploma it had 2005 instead of 2004? All of this did happened to our roommate who had some health problems, but we’d all known about it. Was that the reason Kelly didn’t have her college diploma hanging on the wall at her office? Was this a Kelly-conspiracy going back years and years? And if so, did it mean our friendship wasn’t as strong as I’d believed?

So, when she said it was a typo and quickly corrected it, I was relieved, but my rapid descent into over-imaginative paranoia still leaves me a bit suspicious. It was just so real.

But it doesn’t just work with insecurity. If you mix an active imagination with delusions of grandeur, suddenly a celebrity death becomes your big break. Last week, Elizabeth Taylor died and we experienced an unprecedented spike in visitors at The Daily Theme.

Before I say what happened, let me explain a little about our regular readers according to what the in-built (and inconsistent) Blogger statistics tell us. We have a core group of regular and devoted readers who most likely know either my mother or me in person.  I know this because most visitors follow the links I post on Facebook  (which makes them my real-life friends), or they search for us by name. 

We have another group of visitors who probably only come once, but they all come for the same reason – they are looking to steal an essay. We get a lot of searches for “essay on making excuses” or “essay on childhood” or “Chinese bound feet.” My guess is these are high school kids, who quickly realize that the only essays worth stealing were written by my mother and she’s way above the high school level. Plus all she ever talks about is history, retirement and genealogy (I love you, mom).

But then Elizabeth Taylor died. Our numbers spike actually started the day before she died, so maybe there were some news articles about her children rushing to her side, because “Elizabeth Taylor’s children” became the only search term showing up in our stats. I was curious, so I searched our site for pictures or reference and found way back in our essays about chickens, mom had used those 3 words together when talking about one of her movies. The children referred to where the ones in the movie, not her real life kids. But no one knows that until after they click through the link, and suddenly The Curiosity of Chickens is our most popular post.

Instead of having some perspective that these new visitors were all gawkers, wanting to see pictures of Ms. Taylor’s grieving children, and who probably left our site frustrated by the chicken talk -- I thought this was our big break. These visitors would become regular readers, and then! agents and publishers would be calling! with book deals! and we would be famous! And out of gratitude, we would dedicate the book to all our loyal readers (like you!) and also to Elizabeth Taylor whose final act would have been to shed some light on our little corner of the Internet.

Cuz things like that happen all the time.

Anyway, the stats have settled back down now. But I still have the graph that proves it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Topic 135: Running on Low Gear


Women’s Ways of Wheeling
 I haven’t been on a bicycle in a long time, except for the stationary bicycle in our basement used intermittently when the weather was bad. The last time I was on a road bike, I was mocked by younger family members who felt I was going too slow and flustered by a husband yelling, “Shift into a lower gear. Shift down.” He assured me that it was easier to climb hills by pedaling faster and using the lowest gears, saving the high gears for speed on the flat. I never really tested this advice because, as I said, that was my final road trip. I can, however, envision the value of knowing when to apply bicycle principles of gearing up and gearing down to life situations. Apparently, 19th century women thought the same way.
 Frances Willard, a founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, was  a strong advocate for women’s rights and  education/career opportunities for young girls. Her book titles show her dedication to female empowerment: How To Win: A Book for Girls (Funk & Wagnalls, 1888), Woman in the Pulpit (Lothrop, 1888), Occupations for Women. A Book of Practical Suggestions for the Material Advancement, the Mental and Physical Development, and the Moral and Spiritual Uplift of Women (Success Co, 1897). Hefty titles on weighty matters for 19th century feminists.

But there, right in the middle of that list of Willard’s publications, is a little book called A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I learned to Ride the Bicycle (WCTU 1895). Somehow in between the writing, the speaking engagements, and the suffragist marches, Frances Willard learned to ride a bike at the age of 53. Describing her personal struggles  in mastering the two-wheeler, she crafted a life lesson about endurance, change, and action. She recounts how her first attempts at riding a bicycle around the town square resulted in a fall because, out of vanity, she pushed herself too quickly and on a third go-around; “the left hand played me false, turning at an acute angle, away I went sidelong, machine and all, into the gutter…” (qtd in History Matters). She then slowed down to practice, instead, daily for about fifteen minutes at a time until she had perfected the individual skills (pedaling, turning, dismounting, mounting).

Suffragist Susan B. Anthony knew Frances Willard, had stood on countless stages with her. Perhaps she had read A Wheel Within a Wheel or watched as Willard learned to ride. Or, maybe she observed how the increasing popularity of the bicycle was changing women’s fashion and liberating them from both the corset and the lengthy skirt. In 1896, Anthony  wrote:
Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood. (source: Wikipedia)

For the women’s movement, the ultimate goal was about earning the rights to a “free, untrammelled” life. Any goal, whether learning to ride a bicycle or winning the right to vote, requires the ability to achieve balance and self-confidence.  It also requires that we learn how to shift gears, When faced with an uphill battle, instead of jumping off and giving up, Frances Willard and my husband  would  urge us on  to “Shift down. Run on low gear. Slow and steady wins the race.” 
Frances Willard. Excerpt from A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the
1895. History Matters.
Wikipedia: History of the Bicycle.

Cars have Gears, right?
Although we have a lot of cars, we are not car people. When I moved back to Arizona last summer, my mother gave me her 98 Nissan Maxima and took my father’s 2000 VW Passat. Dad had already bought an Altima Hybrid for business reasons, but he doesn’t drive it. None of us are allowed to drive it. He drives a truck or his motorcycle. For as long as I can remember, we’ve had at least one more vehicle than driver in the house. We have a lot of cars, but when something goes wrong with one of them, we can’t fix it. Sometimes we aren’t even sure if something is wrong.

When I moved back, I actually had a choice between the Maxima and the truck. But when I got in the truck, the driver’s seat was jammed and I couldn’t reach the pedals. I don’t like the truck anyway, so that made an easy decision easier.  One of the first things I noticed about the Maxima was that the Check Engine light was blinking, usually whenever the car accelerated. I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but I think I assumed they already knew. Aside from that, and occasionally popping out of gear when I braked, the car drove fine.

I even managed to almost document a major milestone. At the crucial moment, my attention wandered.

Then, Dad took the car in for a service and was informed that the transmission fluid was leaking all over the place, but that it would cost over a $1000 to fix. He decided not to fix it and that instead, we would “keep an eye on it” and occasionally add fluid. This is in addition to the oil leak the car has had for years, which he solved simply by parking on the dirt so it wouldn’t ruin the driveway.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that I was having a hard time getting the car to change from a resting position to a moving one. I put it into gear, and the engine would rev much higher was necessary for the speed I was going (the speed being 0). I also noticed that once I got going, the clutch no longer seemed like a useful part of the shifting process. I still pressed  it down out of habit, but it didn’t seem to matter.

 I know I told my mom because I spend more time with her. I may have mentioned it to my father too. The problem with both of my parents is that you have to maintain their eye contact if you want them to remember what you are saying. This used to only be true with my father, but since my mother became so involved in, her mind is usually running through the connections she’s made that day, trying to sort out the most interesting one to share because we only let her tell us one genealogical fact a day.

Anyway, I’m  pretty sure I mentioned it. But last week, Dad took my car to Costco to fill it up and then called from the road wanting to know why no one had told him that the clutch was gone. He got another estimate, also in the thousands of dollars, and the car has been sitting useless in the drive way while we argue about what to do.

We have also had more fights about who has to drive which vehicle. Three of the four belong to him, but he still insists on taking my mother’s car when he needs to go any kind of distance.  And I refuse to drive the truck, even though we found the nickel that was jamming the seat. And as I mentioned, I’m not allowed to drive the hybrid or the motorcycle. I want him to get me a new car that I can buy from him when I find a job. He wants to fix the Maxima because it’s “a joy to drive.” Even though he doesn’t drive it.

Today he has taken it for a final estimation – to see how much it would cost to fix every single thing that’s wrong with it. I doubt the mechanic is going to do anything about the interior damage, the holes worn through the carpet, or the missing chunk of back seat that Milo ate.  But keeping this car is probably the best case scenario for me, as I’d rather not start a new job with car payments. Plus I like the color.
After I ran over a dead skunk, I had to let it air out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Topic 134: Faces and Masks

Who is that Masked Man?
 The other night PBS showed a 25th anniversary tribute to Les Miserables.  Watching the program on television couldn’t capture  the magic of attending a live performance. That sense of collective experience enhances the power of live theater. We are watching and hearing artifice, yet our emotions —fear, joy, sorrow, anger, frustration, pity-- are nevertheless authentic.  For two or three hours, the line between actor and  character, the “face”   and the “mask,” disappears. Theater is metamorphosis.
Theater’s  universal symbol  is the two masks of tragedy and comedy. In ancient Greece, the works of such great playwrights as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were performed in large outdoor theaters to audiences of up to 14,000 people. Everything about the staging had to be large, so the actors not only wore boots that elevated their height but they also wore giant masks with fixed, exaggerated expressions  that  could be seen from the furthest seats of the theater. The shape of the mask also helped amplify sound although the theaters of Greece were masterpieces of acoustic engineering.

 Another convention of Greek theater was the Chorus, which in early performances might be a group of 50 people but later was whittled down to 12. The Chorus represented a single voice or character, and they all wore identical masks. Individual actors often took several parts, so the masks allowed them to hide—mask—their real identities  as they re-entered the stage in a new role. An actor would also use several masks for the same character to represent a change. For example, the mask for the confident and proud young Oedipus would later be exchanged to represent the bloodied, blind and suffering King.
In Ancient Greece, the conventions of tragedy and comedy were distinct and the two genres separate, thus the stylized representation of the two faces of Theater as joy and sorrow. The notion of tragicomedy and melodrama are modern concepts. Theatrical conventions evolved over the centuries as performances moved indoors and became more intimate, masks were replaced with make-up and wigs, acoustics and lighting enhanced with modern technologies.
In modern performances, the mask serves a specific purpose. For example, a mask may hide the identity of one character from another rather than hide the identity of an actor from the audience.  The love story of Romeo and Juliet is set in motion at a masked ball. Romeo hides his face from the rival Capulets with a mask and is able to move around the party undetected.  As he becomes increasingly captivated by the masked Juliet, only the audience knows both their true identities and the dramatic effect becomes not only romantic but tragic. The power of the audience’s emotions is not in the least diminished by their familiarity with the outcome of a story about “star-crossed” lovers.
The most famous mask in modern theater hides a secret. Neither the young lovers Christine and Raoul  nor the audience knows what form that secret takes, creating a different kind of dramatic tension—a more complex combination of the seductive and the sinister. 
Ironically, the secret face behind the mask -- amplified by the collective imagination of the audience – becomes so horrific that when the Phantom is finally  unmasked and the “truth” revealed, the secret of the face itself is an anti-climax.
Theater, it’s about the audience. And, it’s about the mask.

“Theater of Ancient Greece.” Wikipedia. 
Image credit for Phantom mask:  Phantom.jpg‎ (250 × 363 pixels, file size: 13 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)
Beauty and the Mask

I’ve written before about my semi-reluctant relationship with make-up.  For as long as I’ve been wearing it, it’s felt like a mask. Makeup has just never felt natural to me. When I first started wearing it, my father tried to discourage me by saying that if people got used to seeing me made up they might think I was ugly on the days I didn’t wear it. His point was not that I was ugly, but that I was misrepresenting myself. In high school, I once left my makeup bag at a friend’s house and I panicked realizing that I wouldn’t have time to get it back before school. I asked my friend to meet me early so that I could apply it in the bathroom before my first class. I still remember the walk from the car to the bathroom, believing that everyone saw me naked and ugly.

I grew out of that.  In college, I often went to class on Monday with the residue of makeup from the Friday before. Since leaving my teens, I’ve had fairly clear skin. By clear, I mean no zits, although between the freckles, sun damage and overly pink cheeks and ginormous veins, I’m hardly a model for skin care.

Now, I occasionally I get a free sample of face-wash, or I put on one of those peel-off cucumber masks which supposedly clears your pores. The latter is fun because it peels off in one piece. It hurts but feels refreshing at the same time. The mask documents every line and imperfection – from the odd “mole” thing on my cheek to the scar where I once fainted and hit my chin on a grocery counter, to the mostly closed piercings in my nose and ears. I spend more time scrutinizing this facsimile of my face than applying makeup to the real thing.

I enjoy putting on makeup. I like the ritual, just like I enjoy coloring and styling my hair. When I was working, I used to schedule my time carefully to make sure I had the time and energy to adhere to my beauty regimen. But my interest fluctuated depending on whether I had a meeting (this was a prison after all, I wasn’t trying to impress my regular patrons). I often went in with wet hair in a bun or a braid, because it takes more than an hour to blow-dry my hair and even longer to straighten or curl it. If you ever see me in real life and think to yourself that my hair looks amazing… well, that’s true. It does look amazing. It also took at least 2 hours of continuous, physical labor.

Most of the time, I go around with slightly damp frizzy hair and almost no makeup, because what’s the point? When I was little I tried to save time by sleeping in the clothes I planned to wear the next day so that I could sleep a little longer. It didn’t work because of wrinkles and sweat (especially when I put them on UNDER my pajamas so my parents wouldn’t know). And as I learned in college, applying makeup the night before didn’t work either.

Still, I do enjoy the ritual of making myself up. I don’t know where it comes from, but it seems bred into us. On Friday, I babysat my cousin’s (nearly) 3 year old daughter. The child was determined that I paint her fingernails.  I remember asking my grandmother to paint my nails and she placated me with one swipe of the brush for each nail. She didn’t take me seriously and I noticed. And I did the same thing to my tiny cousin and she noticed too. We also had an argument about whether or not the polish was dry.  She attempted to prove me wrong by licking her nails. Turns out I was right, and the polish was still wet.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Topic 133: Dream Adventures

Our House is a Very, Very Fine House

I’m not by nature an adrenaline junkie—that’s the term, right? I don’t go for those X-sports like bungie jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge or flying on a zip cord through the canopy of a Brazilian rainforest.  Once Marc signed up for an X-Treme Day Tour in Costa Rica; he came back to the hotel exhilarated but stinking from his soak in a volcanic mud bath. I had opted to stay behind and read Bel Canto on the hotel balcony.  When I imagine a dream adventure, it is almost always about traveling somewhere distant, isolated and beautiful where I can have Un-ventures .

After my year of study abroad in France, I would often dream about returning someday to rent a little apartment overlooking the Cote D’Azur, maybe in Antibes.  I had seen a woman there once, standing on the small balcony of just such a place, enjoying the breeze on her face and watching the people below stroll along the stone promenade above the rocky shore. The image of her white shirt and sun-tanned face next to the faded turquoise shutters of the balcony door is still vivid in my mind after 40 years. I wanted to be that woman…in that place. I still do.

The Antibes Dream
 My imagination adjusted to the reality of getting married, having a job and moving to southern California. I started dreaming about having a cabin somewhere in Mexico.  I was a fan of Jack Smith’s columns in the LA Times, and he would often write about his ongoing, frustrating but comical experiences building a little beach house in Baja California.  He eventually turned it into God and Mr. Gomez, a 1974 book that Marc gave me as a gift, signed by the author after a lengthy wait. Jack Smith’s detailed catalogue of mishaps and delays did not deflate my dream of my own little beach casita with turquoise shutters.
When we actually traveled to Baja California in 1986, on several occasions we pulled our old motorhome into isolated beaches along the Sea of Cortez The only other signs of life were  the sand crab trails leading down to the water and  the sound of lowing cattle behind a sand dune. Just watching the fish jump out of the water and listening to the waves was enough to make me feel content. 

After years of 10 years of living within easy distance of the Pacific Ocean, we moved inland to the Arizona high desert.  We bought a small plane and started taking trips down to the Bahia San Carlos on the opposite side of the Sea of Cortez. Although we found an affordable hotel with its own protected beach, I still dreamed about having our own tiny little house away from the tourist areas where the condos were bunched together and noisy.  I took a little peek at the real estate ads this morning. Apparently, the Mexican government designated  the Sea of Cortez and the “Mayan Riveria”  to become  “the axis on which the country’s tourist development would hinge… and will consolidate the Sea of Cortez as a world-class tourist destination” (Source: Mi Casa-Su Casa Realty Group). So much for my dream of a little retirement casita in Mexico.
The Mexico Dream
I haven’t totally given up on the idea of my dream adventure.  With my husband inching towards retirement, building our own little get-away home sounds even more appealing. And, I have found the perfect place already.  A small house, durable materials, low-maintenance yard, privacy wall. Now if we can just find exactly the right piece of property, nothing large mind you.
The Retirement Reality


In my more dramatic moments, I tell people that the reason I quit the job in the prison was because I felt like the evil was seeping into me.
I had that idea – that the “evil was seeping in” -- a few different times while I worked there – and it sort of became an excuse in my mind for some of the ways I found to cope with the stress. Anyone who has worked in that sort of environment – high stress and dangerous – whether it is a prison, or the military, or juvenile detention, or law enforcement – there comes a point where you think the only people who understand are the people you work with. And the only way to cope with too much stress, too much danger, is to act too much in other ways – too much drinking, too much exercise (never my problem) too much anger, too much sleep. 

I mentioned to one of my library officers about my fear, but she was offended by the idea. “If you feel this way after 3 years, what does that mean for me? I’ve been here 10.” And there were others who had been there for 20 or 30 years, had spent the majority of their lives in prison, on purpose, doing a job that no one appreciates and no one understands.

But, unlike me,  they had lives outside of work, spouses and interests unrelated. In social situations, they were used to lying about their jobs  -- claiming to be an electrician, or the accurate but vague “civil servant.”   I could say, “I’m a librarian.” But I had the feeling that there was an unspoken just in there – I’m JUST a librarian. So, I always followed it with the qualifier, “at the prison” because it was novel, because it was interesting, and because I felt like I was owed some sort of recognition for working in such a miserable environment.

But what I didn’t mention was that it was my dream job. That because my supervisors didn’t have the same clearances that I did, they rarely came into the prison. That I was on my own, in charge by myself, isolated yes, but this was MY LIBRARY and to this day, the idea that I have been replaced grates on me. By the end, I was so ready to leave, so exhausted and used up and sick of it all. But even now, nearly 10 months later, I still have dreams about MY LIBRARY --  the way I did when I began working there.

A couple times in the past few weeks I have a thought – it’s the end of the financial year, I hope they remember to…  don’t forget the… what are the stats like? Has attendence increased or decreased? Is it inappropriate to ask that them to send me a copy of the end of year report? I’m unemployed now, but despite the "evil," I did some good there – made quantifiable, justifiable progress. I want to know if it held up. I want to know how it’s going. And sometimes, even though I wake up in Arizona, with Milo curled into my back, I still have a moment while still half asleep and I’m planning the day – planning what needs to be done in MY LIBRARY .

Friday, March 25, 2011

Topic 132: By-Products of Church Attendance


Church: Not Just Good for the Soul     
I’m not   going to write about the obvious reasons people attend church (saving one’s soul, receiving spiritual nourishment, obedience to church rules, fellowship, etc.). And I’m not even going to write about the not-so-obvious reasons because somebody has already written a book on that. It’s called 52 (Good) Reasons to go to Church) Besides the Obvious Ones, a 2004 publication of  ACTA.
ACTA is a “religious” publishing house, that is you won’t find 52 Ways to Leave Your Lover on its catalogue list. You will find materials for “those attempting to live out the Christian faith in their daily lives, on their jobs, with their families, and in their communities” (source: ACTA website). Although there is a heavy emphasis on Catholic publications, ACTA has branched out to attract a more ecumenical audience . You may be wondering why I appear to be plugging ACTA and its book. I guess I’m interested for the one of the same reasons I like to go to church—curiosity about who people are, how they got there.

Okay, so I was hoping for a quick way out today…my overnight company left at 7 a.m. and my niece is dropping off a 3-year old kidlet for me to babysit in half an hour. My time is a little short today. What happened on the way to looking for a quick out? My usual curiosity that leads to quirky research trails.I got to the website because I googled our topic. The publisher’s blurb  describes 52 (Good)Reasons to go to Church as a “fun” book with “scientifically corroborated” benefits for attending church regularly. 
I couldn’t  read the book without ordering it. The price is right ($5.95) and it sounds interesting, but it didn’t meet the “I need it right now” part. I decided to find out more about the authors, of which there are four: Paul McFate, J. Daniel Dymski, Melvin L. Farrell, and Alaric Lewis. Clicking on the authors’ names gets a brief biography, which really hooked me. Alaric Lewis has published several books and seems to focus on grief counseling and music therapy. His bio says he lives and teaches in Rome. Not to give them short shrift, but Dymski is Father Daniel (diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania) and Farrell appears to be Father Melvin, both of whom have published books on the Catholic faith.  I imagine a “fun little book” about going to church is a light respite from their usual writing interests.
What about Paul McFate? If you want to know more about him, you can look at his Facebook page, or his Linkedin page, or subscribe to his Twitter, or you can visit his blog  “As McFate Would Have it.” This guy is a 21st century communicator. And his bio shows why. He is a communications specialist for the Latter Day Saints Foundation   in Provo, Utah.  Sounds like he provides the “ecumenical” breadth that ACTA refers to. A brief “nibble” at his website shows, for example, a breezy, funny side to having a root canal and just enough self-deprecation to make me consider buying their book.

In the meantime, what can I find out on my own about “scientific corroboration” before my babysitting duties commence? Regular church attendance (sorry, you Easter and Christmas drop-ins):
•    Reduces blood pressure (source: Gillum and Ingram)
•    Increases longevity (source: NPR)
•    Raises GPA of your children (source: Britt )
Well, I hear a sweet little voice downstairs and I need to finish this essay so that I can join the fun.  I don’t need to tell you about the by-products of hanging out with small children, do I?

ACTA homepage. About Us.
Britt, Robert Roy. “Church Attendance Boosts Student GPA’s.” 2008 
Gillum, R. Frank, and Deborah D. Ingram. “Frequency of Attendance at Religious Services…” 2006
McFate et al. 52 (Good) Reasons to Go to Church.
Paul McFate blog, “As McFate Would Have It” 
NPR. “Study Links Church Attendance and Longevity.” 12 July 2004)

Although Mom was telling the truth when she said that SHE volunteered to babysit , I am still going to use the child as MY excuse not to write today. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Topic 131: The Heritage of the Youngest Child

Baby Sister Tells All
Youngest children typically acquire wonderful social skills because of their interactions with older siblings. They are generally charming, playful, and sometimes a little absent-minded. Research seems to indicate that youngest children tend to be attracted to vocations that are people-oriented, such as sales and teaching. (Source: Birth Order and Space)
Megan and I both were grumbling a bit as we drew T131 out of the basket yesterday. Daughter said she didn’t know what to write about since she isn’t a Youngest Child.   Mother said she didn’t know what to write about since she is a Youngest Child and  didn’t want to badmouth her siblings…wait a minute, I could tell a few stories. . .  in a charming, playful sort of way. If I can remember. Sometimes I am a wee bit absent-minded.
I agree that it’s a bit simplistic to think that all the torture and teasing I went through as a child was the direct consequence of my being Youngest Child (born June 7).  It didn’t help that I was also the youngest grandchild and the only girl.  Oh, sure. My brothers will unwind some kind of whiny sob story about how spoiled I was and how I didn’t have to wear hand-me-downs like they did or play chauffeur to a bratty little sister like they did. They probably think I should be grateful that I acquired wonderful social skills because of my interactions with them. Perhaps I do owe them something for playing a part in the shaping of my personality. 
Oldest Brother (born June 9) taught me to be respectful and enterprising. He started college the same year I began kindergarten, so my childhood recollections of him are a bit fuzzy. But, he looked really impressive when he came home from College wearing his full ROTC uniform with knee-high boots. Even the time he arrived with a bleached stripe through his hair that made him look like a skunk.  If I was really good, he would reward me by letting me pull off his boots for him.  He later joined the Air Force and became a pilot. But, he was always working on something else, whether art or writing or starting up a new entrepreneurial venture with Middle Brother.  He might not be surprised to hear that 21 of the 23 first astronauts and 2/3 of entrepreneurs are first born children (source: Samantha Murphy).
Middle Brother (born June 11) was starting junior high school when I was in kindergarten. He taught me how to be resilient and competitive. I didn’t cry hardly at all when he told me our cocker Taffy had chewed up my favorite doll. How did I know it was April Fool’s Day? I think I got over the nightmares pretty quickly after that babysitting incident when he pretended to be the “Five-fingered monster” from the Peter Lorre movie. And I long ago forgave him for cheating when we played Clue (and who knows how many other times at cards or Scrabble). That “win at all costs” attitude toughened me up, and I attribute my superior gamesmanship skills as an adult to him.  Middle Brother’s career path meets many of the strengths attributed to his place in the birth order. He has negotiated between management and employees, has a knack for advertising and sales, and prefers to work at his own pace as his own boss (source: Samantha Murphy).
Current studies on birth order poo-poo the idea that birth order affects personality in a statistically significant way. They liken it to the science behind astrology. Hey, Oldest Brother, Middle Brother. Did you read our horoscope today? It says “Heed the wisdom of a younger sibling.”


Birth Order and Spacing - Effects Of Birth Order Discovered, Birth Order Characteristics, The Importance Of Spacing, Criticisms, Birth Order Today 
Murphy, Samantha, “The Effects of Birth Order on Personality.”


I’m not sure when I first heard that there might be a link between birth order and personality, but if you Google it, you’ll find thousands of articles, websites and books on the topic.

The top result (which means it is the site most often clicked on and linked to) is  According to this site, first born children are either compliant or aggressive. Based on the traits listed, I have a compliant personality as I am reliable, conscientious and crave approval. I also like having things my way though, and that is an aggressive trait. (But, who out there doesn’t want things their way? Who goes through life and thinks I will only find fulfillment if I am thwarted at every turn?) It also says that I should pick law or medicine as a career, because I am uncomfortable with creative projects.

This same site describes my brother, as a last born, as a risk taker, idealist, good sense of humor, hard working, immature, attention seeking, secretive and sensitive. Some of those attributes are undoubtedly true, but some of them apply to me as well. My brother has been having a difficult time finding a job too, so I know he will be pleased to learn that he is best suited for a job in corporate sales.
But maybe this website isn’t the best resource, despite being the highest ranked on the search results. My highly-skilled librarian eye picked up several indicators, including misspelled words, broken links and a total lack of scientific references, all of which suggest that the site is unreliable.  So, let’s move on to another.

The second result is an article from Scientific American, which maintains that for the most part, scientific data does not support general assumptions about likelihood of becoming an astronaut (first borns) or engaging is risky behavior (latter borns). I think being an astronaut is kind of a risky job, so don’t those two cancel out?

Anyway, the article, which was published in January 2010, says that several recent studies have shown a correlation between birth order and IQ, and personality but that other factors also contribute, including the size of the family, and education and financial stability of the parents.  A 2007 Norwegian study concluded that in larger families, the younger children have lower IQ’s. But why is that? Is it because the parents have less time to divide among their children?  Less time to devote to the development of the younger children?

The article also references a study (conducted by the author) which concludes that “birth order influences whom we choose as friends and spouses. Firstborns are more likely to associate with firstborns… etc.” Based on my experience, this doesn’t ring true, but of course my experience is limited. In my family, my father is a first-born and my mother is a last-born, both from families of 3 children. My mother’s two older brothers both married only children. I have seven cousins and I do not know the birth orders of all their spouses and partners, but some of them married only children, some of them married younger children. As far as I know, not one of them partnered within their own birth-order rank.

And as far as I can tell, birth order has had little affect on who my friends are. Growing up in a small town, going to a tiny school, there wasn’t a lot of choice. But of my 5 closest friends from Prescott, 2 are first-borns, 2 are middle-borns and 1 is an only child. In college, where I may have had more choice, my closest friends are 2 first-borns, 1 last-born, and 1 of a pair of twins.  What conclusions can we draw from that? Nothing. 

What does all this have to do with the topic? Nothing really. I don’t know what it’s like to be the youngest child and I got distracted by an errant thought. So there you go, birth order may or may not affect your personality, your IQ, your career, your friendships and your spouse. It may or may not depend on the birth order of your parents, or how wealthy your parents were. Birth order may or may not positively or negatively affect your entire life. Let’s not worry about it anymore.


The Effects of Birth Order on Personality  
Scientific American. How Birth Order Affects Your Personality
By Joshua K. Hartshorne  | January 11, 2010

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Topic 130: On Nursing a Grievance

For reasons that may later be obvious, I am posting today's essays in reverse order.


On Nursing a Grievance

To be honest, if I’d been able to think of something to say about this topic yesterday, I would have written the essay before the interview (which went ok, I think). But ever since we pulled the topic out of the Wicker Basket of Possibilities (hereafter known by it’s rapper name: W-BOP), I’ve been wandering around thinking smugly about how I don’t hold grudges.  And then, as we’re driving to the movie (Limitless – not great),  my mother turns to me and says, as if she’d been reading my mind, “Don’t you think there is a difference between a Grievance and a Grudge?”

Immediately, I saw that there was a big difference. A grievance is a genuine complaint of being hurt – physically, emotionally or mentally. A grudge is a ball of resentment you carry in your chest and stomach where the  hurt has been converted to anger and bitterness. Maybe she talks about this is in her essay, which she has still not finished. But by now she should understand the rules. The first rule of The Daily Theme is that we do not talk about The Daily Theme until after we have finished it. Otherwise, ideas might get stolen.

But as we established, a grievance is not the same as a grudge. And this topic is about nursing it –which can either mean healing it, or feeding it. In this context the meaning is unclear. If you are trying to heal it, then addressing the problem directly is important. It’s not always possible to confront the person or situation that hurt you,  so again, you (the hypothetical you) need to find a way to get some peace. Hurt feelings, legitimate or not, are irrational and fleeting. But if you feed the hurt, encourage it, that’s when the grudge will form.

Anyway, my inability to hold a grudge is something of a novelty in my family. I think I’ve mentioned this before. It’s not that I don’t get hurt or angry or resent anyone, I just don’t like holding onto those feelings. So, either it explodes out of me right away, or if I am in a public or professional environment, I hold it until I am alone.  Which does not mean I scream and yell. I write it out. I talk to people. I listen to loud music with the windows rolled down. And then it’s gone. 

So, you just gotta find your own way to deal.
I should give up librarianship and write inspirational bumper stickers.

And now I am off to deal with my mother and her repeated flaunting of the second rule of The Daily Theme, which is “Essays must be submitted to the web master (me!)  in a timely fashion.” I could be passive aggressive about it. I could post my essay alone and tell her “too bad, you missed the deadline.” I could accuse her of having no respect for my time. But the truth is, I know she’s just trying to write the best essay she can – and half the time I’m only trying to fill the page. So, instead, I’m going to stand behind her and say “Are you done yet? Are you done yet?” over and over until she blows up and sends me whatever she’s got at that point.  And then I will make fun of her typos.  Because that is how I deal.
Dear Carrie
“If I get killed, I shall go to a better world than this…if I die, Carrie, I hope we will meet again in fairer scenes than these! Where there will be no more warring, no more bloodshed, no more hatred or confusion.” (Hiram T Holt 1863 letter to his wife)
For the last few weeks, the physical cataclysms have seemed to mirror the political …earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, landslides.  I’m not trying to be flip, but I am trying to look for stories that aren’t about nursing  grievances.  I have spent the past week hiding in the 19th century, trying to put together family stories, letters and statistics from census and military records.  Ironic that I should look for peace and quiet in the remnants of one of the most tragic periods in American History. Ironic too that I would find in the Civil War a love story.
War was declared with the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861 to the armies of the newly formed Confederate States.   A teacher from  Alabama  enlisted in the first Confederate company organized in Clarke County. Hiram Talbert Holt was one of many soldiers in gray or blue who  struggled with fear, hunger and homesickness during a war that eventually sent 3 million men into battle and cost the lives of 600,000 Americans (source:  “The Crossroads of our Being”).   
Soldier's Dream

 Talbert Holt was never a hero, but he was a man of religious conviction and strong love for family.  We see that in 138 letters he wrote between April, 1861 and February 1864. They record his fatigue and frustrations, his grief, and his devotion to God and Carrie.
They seemed like an unlikely couple.  Caroline “Carrie” DeWitt was the daughter of an illiterate Baptist minister who preached with fervor to congregations around Clarke County.  Talbert Holt was Carrie’s teacher, but not the kind you would expect for a school near the town of Choctaw Corner.  He signed on to teach not only Latin and philosophy but nine other basic subjects. Talbert was 24 years old and Carrie only 17 when they married in 1859. She was 19 when he joined the Confederate Army.
Talbert’s letters often encouraged Carrie to continue reading and learning.   He often passed on news of loved ones; four of Carrie’s older brothers and four of her DeWitt cousins were also fighting with Alabama regiments. He also wrote to encourage his young wife: “Ma, how does our little girl? Is she getting well? I hope so. Keep nothing back from me, neither good or bad. Kiss the baby. Give my regards to all. While I remain your devoted Husband” (Sept 8, 1862). He later wrote with grief when their baby Carrie died in early 1864.
As the war continued, Talbert   wrote with strengthening conviction about his faith in a loving God and kingdom of peace. His last letter was dated Feb. 2, 1864. He died on Feb. 24 after a skirmish in Dalton, Georgia. Carrie never remarried. She became a teacher and died at the age of 97. Hiram Talbert Holt’s grave is unmarked, but we know it is in the family plot at Bassett Creek Cemetery, somewhere near the grave of his Dear Carrie.

Note on Sources: 
Sometime in the 1930’s Carrie’s grand-daughter Alma Alfredia DeWitt carried a bag crammed full of letters to history professor Robert Partin, who preserved them, wrote about them, and donated them to Auburn University. In the 1970’s retired Baptist minister Irvin DeWitt and his wife Avis travelled the country tracing the family roots, collecting stories and memorabilia for her book. The information in this essay came primarily from these family sources. Carrie’s brother Lewis Lee DeWitt Jr survived the Civil War and relocated his family to Texas in the 1880’s. He too lived into his 90’s, and his obituary was pasted into a scrapbook by his grand-daughter Mamie DeWitt Scott, my grand-mother.
Auburn University Special Collections. Guide to the Robert Partin Papers.
“The Crossroads of Our Being,” Ken Burns series The Civil War. PBS.
 DeWitt, Avis Williams. “DeWitt-Duett—Roots and Shoots.” 1984: The Gregath Co.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Service Interruption

I had a phone interview this morning and prepared for that instead of writing today's essay. Mom has been working on her essay for 1.5 days and still cannot finish. She had "5 minutes left" over an hour ago, and I have no doubt that this time tomorrow she will still need 5 more minutes.

So, you'll have to wait until tomorrow to for "Nursing a Grievance." Any guesses what mine's going to be about?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Topic 129: Penalties of Success

Go to the Penalty Box           
One of our friends from college  was always looking for the best deals.  One summer Russ came back from Mexico bragging about all the stuff he had bought. He pulled up his sleeve to show his proudest purchase. “Guys, can you believe I only paid $30 for this Omega watch? Take a look.”  As Russ  pulled the watch off his wrist, the little gold horseshoe on the clock face came loose and dislodged in the hands of the watch.  Imitation may be flattering, but it is also costly. Consumer Reports estimates that legitimate businesses lose nearly 250 billion dollars a year in sales to counterfeit merchandisers.
If one penalty of success is unwanted imitation, another is notoriety. Successful people have little privacy. The missteps of famous celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson make money for “entertainment” magazines and talk-show hosts, but successful people are rarely portrayed with compassion or insight. Nor are their family members, who then become “collateral damage” through the media attention.  Take, for example, the son of Bernie Madoff—the most successful of Ponzi schemers, at least until he got caught.  Forty-six-year old Mark Madoff committed suicide on the 2nd anniversary of his father’s arrest. According to Madoff’s lawyer, “Mark was an innocent victim of his father’s monstrous crime” (source: Reuters).
Successful people may seek fame regardless of the loss of privacy. But, they may not anticipate all the consequences of courting the public eye. The penalty for James Frey put him in a league of his own. Frey is the author of A Million Little Pieces, whose critical reviews  sent him on the Oprah Show, was “outed” for fabricating parts of his so-called memoirs. Random House settled a law-suit by disgruntled book buyers at a cost of 2.35 million dollars. The damage to his reputation wasn’t permanent;  he may make a million little dollars on the success of his book turned teen-age science-fiction film I am Number Four. Don’t look for his name on the book, however. He and collaborator Jobie Hughes publish under a pen name, Pittacus Lore (source: Wikipedia).
Of course, plenty of people are successful without being famous. Do the successful folk in our own families pay the price for being good at what they do?   My son  son taught me a lesson about success when he was in high school. Because he had shown a strong aptitude for mathematics, we pushed him into accelerating his math studies to include a college calculus class at the same time he was working part-time, playing guitar in a band, and taking a full course-load at the high school.  When I applied a little pressure to work harder in the college class, he remarked “Just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I like it.” Duh—I have thought about that comment often.
Closer at hand, my writing co-conspirator  pays the penalty for being the most proficient “techie” in our household.  Yesterday, I decided to reconfigure my workspace and started moving everything around without unplugging the computer, the modem, the printer, or the screen.  The penalty of that hasty, lazy whim was that I pulled some wires loose.  Megan was not pleased to be rooting underneath my desk reconfiguring a tangled mess of wires by flashlight.
Everybody knows how Megan’s cartoons really add just the note of humor to The Daily Theme essays. I can only imagine what she would have come up with today. I asked her if she had the time, but she said no. I guess I’m in the penalty box now.


James Frey. Wikipedia.
 Mark Madoff death.
“Real or Fake? Counterfeit Merchandise can Threaten Your Safety and Fund Crime.” Consumer Report  Jan 2008. 

Penalties of Celebrity
I bet celebrities are counting on there being a special place in hell for the paparazzi . But those photographers wouldn’t be taking the pictures if there wasn’t a market for them. Tabloid magazines and websites wouldn’t buy them if there wasn’t an audience eagerly waiting for the next picture of Suri Cruise, Brangelina, or the Twilight kids. I have always been a part of this audience, but recently I’ve started to feel uncomfortable about the role I play in supporting this part of the industry.

As I’ve mentioned before, I see almost every mainstream movie that comes out (I like Independent films too, but they hardly ever make it to my local cinema). Naturally, I have a curiosity about the actors who star in these movies. One of my favorite TV shows is Inside the Actor’s Studio, and although I was not previously a fan of his work, the interview the Dave Chappelle changed how I thought of Hollywood. In the interview, he was speaking of Martin Lawrence, Mariah Carey and his own public “breakdown” when he left his show at the height of its popularity and went to Africa:
What is happening in Hollywood? Nobody knows. The worst thing to call someone is crazy. It’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person. So they’re crazy. That’s bullshit. These people are not crazy. They are strong people. Maybe the environment is a little sick.

Since he gave this interview in 2006, we have watched Britney Spears shave her head, Joaquin Phoenix freak out in a very elaborate hoax, and now we are watching Charlie Sheen implode. If there was ever a reason for not doing drugs – aside from their illegality – look at what they do to the people who otherwise have everything going for them. 

For every Charlie Sheen, you have dozens of actors who aren’t wasted on live television, who aren’t modeling for the paparazzi every night in front of nightclubs, who remember to put on their underwear. Because there are so many examples of celebrities who are able to cope with their fame, it is easier to put the blame on the ones who can’t, the ones on drugs.

But I think it’s more than drugs.  I think the condition of celebrity will eventually be studied in college psychology classes. I don’t think a person can withstand that much scrutiny, such a loss of privacy without it having some sort of negative affect on their mental landscape. Sometime last year, Kristen Stewart compared the effect of the paparazzi with rape – an analogy that drew derision from the public and the Internet. But maybe she was just using the only other word for such persistent violation that she knew. 

Sure, there are financial compensations… these people live in mansions, can travel the world, and have trainers and personal chefs and nannies for their kids.  But they aren’t famous because they are rich – there are CEO’s who make more money, who can walk down the street without getting mobbed by fans and photographers. Celebrities are famous because we recognize them; we can pick them out of a crowd, like we could a family member or a friend. But we treat our family and friends with more respect.

Inside the Actors Studio: Dave Chappelle 2006.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Topic 128: Cast-Off Enthusiasms

Long Live the Queen
I have never cast off my enthusiasm for things British, which started when I was  13 and moved to Canada.  That summer I immersed myself in Austen and the Brontes while  learning the words to two national anthems.  Every sporting event, every musical event,  every public event  Canada began “O Canada” followed by “God Save the Queen.” 

Britain’s National Anthem  was originally a patriotic song, first performed in public in 1745 at the Theatre Royal in London as a show of support for King George II, who was under attack from the Jacobite supporters of the Stuarts. The practice spread through other theaters and became custom. By the beginning of the 19th century, it had been designated as the official national anthem, just in time for the spreading of British imperialism around the globe. Back then, of course, they were singing “God Save the King (source: British Monarchy).
Back in the 1530’s Henry VIII took extreme measures ensure that a King succeed him on the throne. Royal marriages were predicated, not on love, but on carefully negotiated foreign policy, and Henry VIII was an astute strategist. He knew that neither England nor the Tudor lineage was yet robust enough to fight off  potential power plays should a weak female heir marry a strong European Royal.  Securing succession through a male heir became an obsession.  At the time he was completely besotted with Anne Boleyn, but he was also in desperate want of a legitimate son.
Katharine of Aragon 1503
Popular novels and films tend to overlook Henry VIII’s first wife in their enchantment with the younger, more exciting Anne Boleyn.  So, it is easy to forget that Henry had been married to Katharine of Aragon for over 20 years when he met the much younger Anne. He  married Katharine when he was 18 and she, 23. He was handsome and athletic; she was described as a beauty. He was  an eloquent and passionate “Defender of the [Roman Catholic] Faith”; she was a devout, obedient follower of the Church. Henry demanded loyalty; she gave it, choosing duty to her husband over support for her father, King Ferdinand of Spain. Katharine of Aragon endured at least six pregnancies, with only her daughter Princess Mary to survive.  By the time Henry became enamored of Anne Boleyn, Katharine’s efforts to provide a male heir had worn her out and taken her beauty.
Henry and Anne cavorting.
In 1526 Henry arranged Anne Boleyn’s appointment as a maid of honor at Court—to Katharine of Aragon. It was a turning point in their relationship, a sign of his increasing regard for the sister of his earlier Mistress—now cast off—Mary Boleyn.  In a 1526 letter, Anne writes that the appointment to Court “induces me to think that your majesty has some regard for me, since it gives me means of seeing you oftener…”(source:
It would take almost seven years to legitimize their relationship.  The King’s thwarted attempts to obtain an annulment and Katharine’s refusal to back down led to a complete break with the Holy See in Rome. When Henry and Anne finally married in 1533, she couldn’t have imagined that she too would be cast off for a lady in waiting. In 1536, Anne was executed as Jane Seymour stood in line to be the next Queen of England.
What of Katharine of Aragon, beloved by the people of England if not by their King?  She was exiled from Court and died the same year as Anne, lonely and in exile, buried far from Henry at Peterborough Cathedral. But she kept her head about it. 

The National Anthem.The Official website of The British Monarchy.

Cast Iron Enthusiasms

I just  tried to get out of writing today. I suggested it to Mom and she insists she’s got only one paragraph left to do and doesn’t want to take the day off. She said, “Are you saying that you have 'cast off' your enthusiasm for writing on this topic?”  And then I rolled my eyes so hard I could see my brain.  I bet I can write this whole thing before she finishes that paragraph.

It’s not that I’m losing interest in the project – if anything, I’ve been more into it the past few weeks. But I hosted a dinner party last night, which felt like such a Friday thing that I was ready to start the weekend early. Plus the movies changed today and I want to go see Paul.

Movies are an enthusiasm which I will never cast off.  As are reading, and writing in my journals. But there are a few things I used to do, things I was good at,  that I have lost the inclination to do:

Art. –When I moved to England, I sent my oil paints to a friend and haven’t bothered rebuilding the collection because it’s expensive and I don’t feel like painting. Painting and drawing used to be a compulsion – images would pop into my mind fully formed.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided I wanted to do some scratch board drawing, so I bought all the supplies, and in the space of about 3 days I’d gone through all of my materials, produced 3 pieces which are hanging around in my room.  I have no interest to do it anymore. I don’t know why. 

I used the pattern that comes with the board.

Knitting and crochet- my grandmother taught me how to do that, as well as to embroider and I like telling people that if my life were an Austen novel, I might be considered an accomplished young woman (or possibly a spinster). I can’t say I ever had a lot of enthusiasm for these handicrafts, but the two blankets I knitted for myself while I was in England did keep me warm.

Sports – as a child all the way through college, I participated in a variety of sports and always eventually quit for the same reason. I am not a competitive person. I did gymnastics and then the swim team, basketball and volleyball. In college I was on the crew team my freshman year. I hated the competitions, and the sounds of people encouraging me, shouting from the sidelines, always has the opposite of the desired effect. I find it embarassing to be cheered (but only in sports. I accept praise in all other situations).

Anyway, I don’t think it's important what you lose interest in. When my brother was 12 or 13, my parents bought him a guitar. I remember saying that he would quit in a couple of weeks, just like he did with everything else. Now, I have no idea what the “everything else” was – but after 15 years, he still plays the guitar every day. Someone told me once that it's important to like your job since that’s what you’ll spend most of your life doing. I think it’s even more important to spend your free time doing things you enjoy. What holds your interest – what you consider worth your time – that’s what matters. 
I still like Dragonflies

PS: I was right. She still hadn’t finished her essay.