An Advice Column: Social Media And Your Parents

News Flash For Adult Children: Your parents are going to discover the wonders of communicating through electronic media.

It will happen.

It’s inevitable.

I still remember the first text message I received from my mother. I was at our alma mater’s first home football game of the year, and I suddenly felt my pocket buzzing. Being there with four friends, I thought I was already there with the only people who knew me who would think to send me a text message. (I didn’t even text all that much at the time seeing as how it was such an arduous process to punch the keys four or five times to enter the desired letter or number.) I opened up my flip phone (again, this has been a few years), and proceeded to exchange a few short messages filling her in on the score.

I then turned to show my friends that my mother had figured out how to text.

It was, to me, akin to how she must have felt the first time I figured out how to get out of my crib on my own…albeit on a much smaller scale. (Or something like that. I really wouldn’t know. I’m just speculating.)

In the years that followed, social media began to explode–exponentially–and she eventually discovered it as well.

She’s become quite handy at using at the Facebooks…the social media outlet of choice for parents.

Now, before you go thinking that this is a post about how retirees have comically embraced the digital age with amusing results, just calm down and have some milk and cookies. It’s already been done. They know…trust me.

Trust me. They know. (Image from weknowmemes Above Promotions Company Tampa FL 2013)
They know. Trust me. (Image from weknowmemes Above Promotions Company Tampa FL 2013)

No, this post is more about what you–the adult child–can do to ease the transition for yourself.

Here are a few pieces of advice that will help you in the long run.

1. Don’t help your parent (or other parent-like relative) set up a social media account over the phone. It’s a tedious process that could drive a wedge into your relationship. I’m talking about the potential for permanent damage here.

Think about it. If you’re trying to talk someone through a setup process on the phone and you don’t work in tech support for a living, something will go wrong and your Aunt Mabel may think the entire internet just ended up with her credit card number. She receives her next credit card bill and, unbeknownst to her, your Uncle Mortimer had just bought her surprise Christmas gift with the card. However, she doesn’t know that you don’t use a credit card to set up a free social media account. She just knows that you sent her name out into that mysterious cyberspace and now she has a mysterious charge on her card–mysteriously–from her favorite jeweler. Awfully personal information. Who else could have known that she wanted that gold bracelet with the engraved initials? You become Public Enemy No. 1.

No, just go visit her when she says she wants to set up the Facebooks. Do it for her. She watched your school plays when you were nine. You can do this much for her.

(Okay…maybe this post will be a little bit about how retirees have comically embraced the digital age with amusing results. However, I have my mother’s permission. I promise.)

2. Briefly explain social media etiquette. I’m not talking about the “ALL-CAPS-EQUALS-SHOUTING” rules or warning them of the dangers of autocorrect. No, tell them to keep away from two things if they want to keep their new “friends”: politics and religion. (That’s actually good advice for everyone.) A post or share once in a while is okay–moderation is good–but sharing every photo and un-vetted meme from questionable news sources will end their social media experience before it even starts. Then they start calling to wonder why their friend count is shrinking and why Cousin Doris doesn’t even appear on their list anymore.

(Honestly, this is just turning into a catch-all advice column for ANYONE who uses the internets.)

3. Along those same lines, the “like” button needs some ‘splaining. Remind them to use it sparingly, and only on items that they actually like. If they “like” that status about how Uncle Mortimer woke up to a flat tire, six inches of water in the living room due to a burst pipe, and a kidney stone, they might have some trouble at the next face-to-face family function.

These are just a few pieces of advice to make your electronic lives easier. I’m sure there are others, but these will get you started.

And, yes, I do have my mother’s permission to write this.

A Tangible Hobby: Knitting

Several years ago, I decided I needed to take up some kind of hobby that would result in actual products being…produced.

Thinking, a lifelong hobby that has given me years of satisfaction, doesn’t have the luxury of creating anything other than pure abstraction. Thoughts are well and good, but you can’t really show them off at the family Christmas party. Besides, it seemed like everyone I knew could make something. Wreaths, pies, children…you know, stuff.

I had tried knitting in college and it didn’t quite stick. Part of the problem was the process by which I was learning. I bought knitting kits and tried to read the instructions, most of which were highlighted by illustrations of a particular motion with the needles. Trying to follow the pictures did nothing for me. I needed to see the actual motion. YouTube didn’t exist then, and knitting was still an “old lady” hobby, so I refused to sign up for classes or suffer the indignity of renting an instructional video.

After a few years, the passage of time clarified a few things for me and I decided to give the hobby another try. For starters, it had begun to become a “hip” and “trendy” way to pass the time instead of the stereotypical mark of a spinster sitting at home on a Friday night with her sixteen cats. Also, any number of instructors on the internet had begun to make videos for everything, and I could sit in front of my laptop and slowly begin to learn–step-by-step–the process of creating pretty knots from a ball of yarn.

The first video I watched was about how to make a scarf using a basic garter stitch. First, however, you had to learn something called “casting on,” a process that frustrated me more in the beginning than the actual knit stitch itself. In time, my determination saw me through the rocky start, and by Christmas, I had created a scarf that ended up in my mom’s stocking. It was a little crooked in places…after all, I had dropped and added a few stitches here and there, but I was able to give away something tangible as a gift.

I started to perfect my abilities with different stitches. Purl? No problem. Rib stitch patterns? Stretchy. I can handle that.

Squares and rectangles were no problem.

A whole blanket. Very geometrically sound.
A whole blanket. Very geometrically sound.

When I began the process of knitting in the round, that’s where the trouble started.

Seeing as how you can only do so much with squares and rectangles, I thought it would be wise to learn how to make something round, like a hat. In my first attempts, I decided to search for any kind of pattern that would keep me from having to join in the round, because I just knew that was beyond my abilities. After a while, though, it was limiting, and the top of my head was getting cold.

My first attempt at knitting a hat in the round didn’t turn out like I had hoped. I thought I had done everything I was supposed to do. I followed the pattern, I managed to successfully join everything together, and I didn’t drop any stitches.

The hat looked great.

All was well and good until I went to try it on.

But, I read the instructions!
But, I read the instructions!

This was the day I learned about gauge, something I still struggle with due to my marginal math skills. (I’m a musician; therefore, counting to four was all I thought I needed to know.)

Alas, I’m still better at squares and rectangles, but I did start to learn more about gauge the more I worked at it.

There. That's better.
There. That’s better.

While I still have many more scarves and blankets in my stockpile than hats, I suppose the moral of the story is that perseverance eventually pays off…and, if it doesn’t, I have some interesting tangible abstract art to go along with that intangible abstract thought hobby I once thought was useless.

A State Of Af-Fairs: Major Awards

Well, I suppose I can call myself an award-winning writer now!

About a month ago, I decided to enter a couple of photographs in some Arkansas State Fair competitions. Almost by accident, I discovered that they also have a short story category. After spending time and money having the photographs printed and matted, I decided to print off one of my short stories to add to my pile of entries.

The entries almost didn’t make it to Little Rock.

I was exhausted. Completely and totally exhausted. My brother’s wedding had taken place the weekend before, I felt like I was working 25 hours a day to catch back up with everything, and the last thing I wanted to do was drive to Little Rock on a Saturday that I could have used for rest.

Let’s face it…it was a level of exhaustion that can best be portrayed through interpretive sleep.

However, I figured I’d regret not trying, so I promised myself a reward in the form of a stop at the Bulldog Cafe in Bald Knob in order to justify the trip. (Good stuff, folks. Worth the drive.)

The photos received their own special place in the passenger’s side of the car, away from any potentially disfiguring objects. I angled the air vents towards them using a combination of mathematical calculations ranging from the Pythagorean theorem to Avogadro’s number…or something like that.

I almost left the short story in the living room as I walked out the door. I had placed it in an unmarked manila file folder. I ran back in the house and grabbed the folder, cramming it under the sun visor in the car.

The photos didn’t place.

The short story won a blue ribbon and BEST IN SHOW honors!

I never thought I'd win anything with the word "livestock" in the title. Never say never.
Best in Show! Short Story Category! I never thought I’d win a ribbon with the word “livestock” in the title.

I wanted to wait until I had collected my ribbons–and my Bulldog Cafe meal–before I posted the story online. I haven’t cashed in my prize money yet either, but that thirteen dollars will sure come in handy for…something.

And…here’s the story.


Dangerous and Armed

The copier jammed for the third time in five minutes. Office equipment is my kryptonite. I could have done the sensible thing…call the front office and put in a work request.

Stubborn won this one-sided argument.

I reached over from my desk chair to remove Tray 1. Tray 1 is infamous. Tray 1 has the ability to jam the copier even while it’s empty. If strategically placed, Tray 1 could jam traffic.

The space vacated by Tray 1 was only three inches wide, but my arms are thin. I knew I could reach in as far as my shoulder to clear the jam. I started to roll up my right sleeve, stood up from my chair, and got down on my knees to take a closer look inside the belly of the beast. Tray 1 was banished to the floor, where I just know it started thinking about double-knotting my shoelaces.

I could see the piece of paper…crumpled into a contemptuous wad, its edges knotted into fan-like folds, reminding me that I have no influence over office equipment whatsoever.

Teacher face won’t work here.

I’d been suffering from a nasty head cold all week and the last thing I wanted was to pick a fight with the copier. However, I didn’t start the fight. I only asked the machine to do its job. I wouldn’t tolerate insubordination from anyone or anything in my classroom.

I looked back at the piece of paper. Its brow was wrinkled in a permanent state of defiance.

The copier was just as indignant.

“Yeah, look at me,” the copier thought. “What are YOU gonna do about this? You’re the one who asked for fifty copies of a letter at 9:15 in the morning. And you were whistling.”

No, sir, copier. Not today. This teacher is going to teach you a lesson.

As the piece of paper continued to taunt me from deep within the copier, I reached for it.

All the way to my shoulder.

For the longest second in existence, my thin little arm was stuck.

For the longest second in existence, an elaborate scenario began to play out in my head.

I’m on the floor, on my knees, and too far away from the phone to reach around with my free arm to call the office for help. The next class doesn’t come in for another thirty minutes. I could hang out here for thirty minutes, except…

…the outside doors locked behind me. Curiosity probably won’t get the best of this group, either. The weather’s too nice. They’ll stand outside. I could yell at the top of my lungs, but my office is in the back of the building. They’ll be talking. They’ll never hear me. My car is in front of the building, but they’ll just decide it’s Friday instead of Thursday. They don’t have band on Friday.

“Ms. G. is here. There’s her car. Wait…isn’t today Friday?”

“I thought it was Thursday.”

“No, it’s Friday. We’re supposed to be in the gym.”

“Are you sure? It was Wednesday yesterday.”

“She would have opened the door by now.”

“Yeah. Okay, it’s Friday.”

This thing does have wheels, though. I can just unplug it, roll over to the phone, and call the office for help…

…but I’ve just remembered this nasty head cold has resulted in the complete and total loss of my voice.

Now that I think about it…why did I even come to work today?

Stop it. That doesn’t help anything right now.

Wheels. Go with that.

Unplug and roll out into the band room…to the security camera. Wave like crazy. Someone will definitely see that on the security camera…

…the security camera that’s down for repairs right now.

This really is the longest second in existence.

I guess the sidewalk’s the limit.

I pulled my arm out of the copier, without the piece of paper.

I looked at my shoes. Tray 1 hadn’t had enough time to make its move.

I decided it was time to take complete control of the situation.

I sat down at my computer to email my letter.

A Perspective: Don’t Look Down (Unless It’s For The Sake Of Tourism and Photography)

My old pal Webster defines acrophobia as “an abnormal dread of being at a great height.” Of course, “great height” is quite subjective, seeing as how I sometimes find that being a mere three feet off the ground is outside of my comfort zone.

However, as a child, I tried to force myself into situations that would help me overcome that fear. I pretended to enjoy roller coasters as long as I could…and as long as someone was sitting next to me that would help hold me in the seat. I was proud of myself for riding the Judge Roy Scream at Six Flags Over Texas when I was eight and even more proud of myself for tackling Splash Mountain in high school (even if the words I shouted at my friends on the way down the final drop suggested otherwise), but as I grew older, my mind began to formulate more possibilities of what could happen at those heights. Therefore, I all but stopped riding roller coasters in my early twenties and merely tolerated glass elevators.

Elevators are another story altogether. I was stuck in one briefly when I was ten years old and developed some semi-annual recurring nightmares about being in one that was tipping over or falling, so I’m also not too crazy about that mode of transportation. Granted, my ankles and knees prefer the elevator, but my brain seems to like the stairs.

I think “The Price is Right” has long been providing the perfect representation of how I feel on an elevator.

Four years ago, I was in Chicago when a friend suggested we go to the top of the Sears/Willis/Whatever-It’s-Called-Now-Tower for a stunning view of the city. I’ll admit, I wanted to do it to start marking more items off of my Ferris Bueller Bucket List.

The Cameron pose.
I’d already taken care of the Cameron pose.

The thought of the elevator ride made me a little nervous. Well, the elevator ride turned out to be sixty seconds with no outside views, so it really ended up being a non-issue. I could handle one minute, although the feeling of my ears popping was a bit unnerving.

Once we made it to the observation area, I was very impressed with the views. However, another attraction was available that no one told me about, and once I saw it, I couldn’t believe it was there.

The Skydeck.

Yes, this is a perfectly natural way to observe your surroundings. What reasons could I possibly have to be absolutely, completely, 100% terrified? Oh,'s PLEXIGLASS.
What reasons could I possibly have to be absolutely, completely, 100% terrified? Oh, right. Chicago’s about a thousand feet below me…and I’m standing on PLEXIGLASS.

A professional photographer pulled us aside and asked us to take a step back for a picture. I looked at her and said, “You take a step back!” In the end, I managed to muster up enough courage to step out twice. The first time was for the terrifying look you see above, and the second one was to plaster on a smile for my friend so that we could have documentation of our little adventure. (Yes, a copy of that photo exists, but the one you see here more fully captures the sheer terror of my experience.)

This weekend, I decided it was time to tackle both of those fears again in the name of tourism and photography. Bass Pro Shops recently opened its beautiful new facility at the Pyramid in Memphis, and I really did want to take some photos. Ten dollars pays for your trip up the elevator to the top, and while it’s not a tremendous height, the elevator does offer a view…spectacular to some, slightly terrifying to me.

As soon as I stepped on the elevator, someone who had apparently ridden it about twenty times that day stepped on with a bag of greasy food. I’m one of those people who gets queasy when I get nervous about something, and the aroma of fried anything wasn’t really helping. Thankfully, the ride was relatively short, and the doors opened to the restaurant atop the Pyramid.

I really did love the views from the windows, but my real test was actually stepping outside to the observation deck for my photos. After all, I had to take few selfies to prove that I did it, and a few landscapes to feed my photography addiction.

Once again, I found myself in a situation that falls under the “Nobody Told Me About This” category.

Pyramid Feet
That first step is a doozy.

I’m not sure if the people who plan these things think that we don’t realize that the ground is down there, but they sure seem to be obsessed with giving us every opportunity to look down and see just how far off the ground we are standing.

Two older ladies were out on the deck and we immediately struck up a conversation about acrophobia.

“Oh,” one of them said, “I’ve also been up the Sears Tower, and I was stretched out all over that Skydeck thing. My friend here hates this stuff!”

Her friend had found a nice corner by the door.

“I’m not coming out there!” she yelled.

Her friend laughed like crazy.

“I made her come up here.”

“Well, I’m not too crazy about this myself,” I said. “But I really want to take some pictures. Here goes.”

“LOOK!” she yelled to her friend as I took a deep breath and stepped closer to the railing. The wind was gustier than I’d hoped it would be. “SHE DID IT! SHE’S OUT THERE!”

I immediately started snapping pictures.

The "New" Bridge view towards Arkansas.
The “new bridge” view back towards Arkansas.
Sometimes, the view looking up is just as impressive as the view looking down.
Sometimes, the view looking up is just as impressive as the view looking down.
Yep, I actually went out there.
Yep, I actually went out there.

Fifteen minutes later, I’d had enough, and I found myself back on the elevator for the trip back. So had my new friends. One of the ladies stepped on the elevator and walked over to the corner nearest the doors.

“There. I’m in my corner!” she exclaimed.

I was a little irritated that she had claimed it already, and her friend turned her attention to me.

“You need to look! It’s not like we’re gonna fall or anything!”

Bad choice of words.

But, I did force myself to look, and it wasn’t unpleasant…just not really my cup of tea. The decor is very nice. I just preferred looking at it from the ground.

I doubt I’ll be dancing a jig on top of a high-rise anytime soon, but I’m okay with taking a few trips to new heights once in a while.

Once in a great while.

A Brief Observation: “Awards” Shows

I did not watch the VMAs last night…or whatever “awards” show it was that graced the television sets of America. I heard plenty about it, though.

And that’s EXACTLY why I don’t watch “awards” shows.

These shows have NOTHING to do with music anymore. The “M” in MTV is like the “S” in Harry S. Truman. It’s there, but it doesn’t stand for anything. 

The first headlines I saw online this morning all had to do with the “controversy” created by Miley Cyrus and an interesting wardrobe that we honestly knew was within the realm of possibility for her. I also brushed up on my political news in hearing about Kanye West’s apparent declaration for the presidency in 2020.

I haven’t really seen any kind of “awards” show in years that hasn’t been “upstaged” by its own participants.

(If you think I’m using quotation marks quite a bit right now, it’s because I am.)

Here’s a news flash (kids, take notes): Miley Cyrus is NOT creating “controversy.” She’s seeking media attention.

(Whoops. I guess I just gave her some media attention, albeit on a very minor scale. I’ll try not to do that anymore.)

Kanye West is NOT going to be sitting in the Oval Office anytime soon. He’s trying to sell his product.

Their products are NOT music.

Their names are the products.

Marketing is the last remaining art form available for mass public consumption. Think about that the next time you decide not to tip a truly talented performer singing in a club to earn enough money for a meal or two.

Caveat emptor.