Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pop Culture



As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, pop culture shaped a lot of who I am. Television programs ruled my schedule and the characters, storylines, and props associated with those shows were part of the fabric of my youth.



Last fall my husband and I took our children to Washington, D.C. In addition to monument gazing and Capitol touring, we spent a ton of time in the Smithsonian Institute museums. Each building held treasures to behold, but the National Museum of American History and the American Stories exhibition with its salute to pop culture dazzled me and the young girl who still lurks within me.



At the time we saw Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the 1939 classic movie The Wizard of Oz



In the past at that museum I’ve seen Fonzie’s iconic leather jacket from the nostalgic television hit Happy Days, and the familiar chair that acerbic Archie Bunker sat in for years on the ground-breaking All in the Family. These items presented behind glass delight and enthrall me, then as well as now.



It may seem silly, but clearly the Smithsonian curators recognize the power of movies’ and television’s power to unite and offer a celebrated unity. What keeps us cohesive in this ever divisive world is the creative art form offered in motion pictures and television’s most popular series.

Perhaps seeing Jeannie’s genie bottle, Hawkeye Pierce’s combat boots, or Olivia Newton-John’s black satin pants from Grease offer the throngs of people who shuffle through the museum a momentary feeling of nostalgia or even happiness.

As newer generations start their pilgrimage to the nation’s capital and file through the museums’ halls, the displays reflect more artifacts from a more recent age mixed with the relics of the past.

The vast landscape that television has become has diluted the shared and collective recognition of societal images. No longer does a program’s season or series finale command audiences to tune in in real time or at all. 



In the summer of 1980 the topic was, “Who shot JR (Ewing)?” from the popular nighttime soap opera Dallas. On the last day of February 1983, a record number of Americans watched the final episode of the 11 season epic television show M*A*S*H.






Today a handful of people tune in to see who The Bachelor gives his final rose or what zombie killed what series regular on The Walking Dead, but that is nowhere near as powerful or connecting as what used to be on the television landscape.



The times have changed, but the power of nostalgia for some of us is stronger than ever. And, one day, the youth of today will cram into the Smithsonian to gander at what their youthful images were. I hope it is as much as an impact for them as it is for me.




If you were a museum curator for a popular culture exhibition, what popular artifacts would you include from your youth? 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The 4 Cs of Dale Earnhardt By: Chief 187™



Sixteen years after Dale Earnhardt died I still remember him fondly daily, but especially on his birthday.

For those who never saw Earnhardt drive or be interviewed in their lifetime I’d like to explain, if possible, why Earnhardt’s mystique remains so potent so long after his departure.

As I pondered the question myself I came up with the Four Cs of Earnhardt, just like the 4 Cs of buying a diamond!

Because that’s what Earnhardt was, a diamond. Sometimes he was one in the rough, but in the later years Earnhardt was dazzling, rare, unique, and most precious.

And now, without further ado, are the Four Cs of Dale Earnhardt.

Charisma. A few definitions of the word charisma come from www.dictionary.com and are the following:

1.     1.   Theology. a divinely conferred gift or power.
2.      2.  a spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people.
3.     3.  the special virtue of an office, function, position, etc., that confers or is thought to confer on the person holding it an unusual ability for leadership, worthiness of veneration, or the like.

Earnhardt most certainly exuded charisma and definitely seemed to have been conferred a gift or power. His influence is so strong it has long outlasted his life on Earth. He was a leader and was and still is revered among a great many.

In addition, Earnhardt was a marketer’s dream. Tall, statuesque, strong physique, and with that ever-present signature mustache and twinkle in his eye, Earnhardt had that special something that led people to not only trust him but to like him, really like him.

People wanted to stand in a room with Earnhardt, be at his side when he was telling a story, and be the one he was hunting, fishing, boating, or partying. They wanted to wear what he wore, drive what he drove, fly his flag, and wear something with his colors, number, and signature.

Clever. In the world of NASCAR or racing of any kind, you have to be most clever to make a career. Earnhardt not only made a career but created an Empire for the Earnhardts.



Whether it was owning his signature and marketing it on everything from playing cards to nice jackets and everything in between, or grooming his son Dale Jr. to be in the same business, Earnhardt showed he was the cleverest in the garage.

Calculating. No doubt about it, Earnhardt was always figuring out how to use his racecar to win. That was the goal each and every week. I never remember Earnhardt talking about points unless his team was fixing the car in the garage and he was telling a reporter they were trying to get it back on the track to make up some points.

Earnhardt was about winning and doing anything and everything in his power to do so. He would scheme to find a way to use his car and his intimidation to his benefit.

Winning was important to Earnhardt. Winning poles, winning races, and, of course, winning championships, drove Earnhardt to stay focused and determined.

He finally won at the Daytona 500.



And, on the last day of his life, Earnhardt was calculating how to put his DEI drivers into Victory Lane at the Great American Race.



Character.  Earnhardt was, without a doubt, a character in the NASCAR community, in the world of sports, and simply in the universe. He was well-known, respected, feared, loved, and cherished by his family, friends, competitors, and fans.

There are some who still might malign the man’s actions on the track, but usually that’s because they rooted for the driver Earnhardt beat that week.

But the fact that Earnhardt’s memory is so palpable to so many, his claim on their hearts so strong and pure, proves that his character was and is immeasurable.



Many who knew him say that when Earnhardt put his arm around your shoulder you knew you were in for something – counseling, advice, constructive criticism, or maybe a joke or a good word.

If Earnhardt was mad at you, you were certain to make it right as soon as possible. The only thing more intimidating than The Intimidator was when The Intimidator had a beef with you.

But Earnhardt had a huge capacity for love, a reputation for true friendship, and modeled hard work paying off in spades.

Earnhardt’s character was unquestionably the reason folks from all around, from all walks of life, looked up to and cheered Earnhardt’s No. 3.




Monday, March 13, 2017

Weathering the Storm

On March 13, 1993 my new husband and I woke up in New Jersey to a Winter Wonderland, or Nightmare. 

You see, it was just over two months since we were married in Virginia on January 9th. We lived in Virginia and were married there in a small, intimate ceremony with just family, but agreed to have a wedding reception in New Jersey where our families still lived.

My parents, when initially planning the party with me, suggested we have the reception in June or July after I graduated college. I emphatically refused citing the “facts” that I may be employed by then and could not possibly plan a party away from home at that time of the year. I went on to argue that spring in New Jersey is a “perfect” time to have a wedding reception – our wedding reception. I mean, March is the month when spring begins, and spring in New Jersey is always warm and delightful with blooming flowers and showcasing green-budded trees, right?!

As our reception date neared we started hearing weather forecasts predicting a “sizable snow event”.

Seriously?!

So, as our date was upon us, most of the 129 people who sent RSVPs that they’d come and celebrate our nuptials, started cancelling because of the impending weather.

News updates started calling this snowstorm the “Storm of the Century”.



On March 13th we awoke to our surroundings covered in white with snow falling steadily. Our reception was a brunch and was scheduled to start at 12 noon.

The Blizzard of 1993
Storm of the Century

We showered and dressed in our wedding finery we had worn just two months previously to take our vows.

Rugged trucks were warming in the drive as we held our fine shoes and trudged in the snow in our boots.

The reception was decorated beautifully as the vendors did their best to bring in the flowers. The country club’s chefs provided a tasty spread, and the champagne, thankfully, was flowing.

As it turned out, only 29 people came to help celebrate our marriage, including 2 of the five member band hired to perform, the bassist and the pianist.

We danced, sang, laughed, admired the increasingly snow-covered golf course, ate, drank, smiled, and cheered our way through the four hour party.

Slowly revelers decided it was time to check the damage, dig out their cars, and pray they could get home safely.

I was feeling low at several points throughout the day, angry with myself for not listening to my mother, angry that my mother had been right (again), and so relieved that my parents never once said, “We told you so.” They were gracious, fabulous hosts, and loving parents.

Then, somebody said, “…at least you’re already married!”

Ryan and Candice Smith
Wedding Picture
January 9, 1993


So true.

Ryan and I have weathered a lot of storms since that 1993 Storm of the Century. Some were literal and others figurative but equally as ferocious.

But we survived and continue to thrive.

So, as my native New Jersey prepares for another mid-March storm that threatens to halt the world for a few days, I think about that reception 24 years ago. I think about it not with guilt but with love and affection.

I’m so very blessed that I’m already – and still - married.

Stay safe everyone!



Saturday, February 25, 2017

One Heartbeat, One Breath, One Stroke More

Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?*



He was tall, handsome, with a head full of gorgeous hair, a warm smile and eyes…that always belied a world of sadness since I’d known him.

Sparkle missing, Life snuffed out.

Ravaged by an acrimonious failed marriage, the loss of daily quality time with his two daughters, and a place in his home, Life was hard for him.

He’d burned through careers – teaching, sales – but nothing stuck, nothing stoked his inner vocational passions.

He was a caring father and good friend.

He loved the Lake, it soothed him.

He served his community, volunteering tirelessly. He gave of his time, talents, and money.

He filled his summers with swim team. First, when his daughters swam with the team, but even after they were finished he continued his volunteering with the swim club.

He always used humor to talk to the children, daring them to counter his assertion that, “Swimming is NOT fun!”



He was always bursting with pride in their improvements and accomplishments in their swimming lives and/or academic, athletic, or other pursuits.

He was larger than life and yet he was increasingly devoured by it

Disappointments washed into him, not over him. He was angry and wounded and unable to get past his worldly troubles.

But this doesn’t define the man.

He offers us a legacy of service, selflessness, kindness, humor, and volunteerism.

He taught by example to revel in your community’s successes, to value the children. He showed us to teach the children and ourselves to face life with humor and find the fun.

He teaches us – in losing his own personal battle in Hell – to make mental illness a recognized illness.

If diagnosed with cancer or heart disease one seeks medical treatment to save one’s life.

A bleeding wound or broken bone is a requisite trip to the ER.

But mental illness still has a stigma. Its insidious destruction keeps those inflicted from seeking satisfactory help.

The human brain like the oceans or deep space is still largely a mystery.

When actor Robin Williams took his life conversations were activated. For some it hit too close to home and incited compassion, whereas others refused to accept Williams’ illness claiming his was a cowardice move.

Many make the same move as Williams yearly, monthly, daily.

When I was a teacher one of my student’s mother took her life. It was, as you can imagine, devastating.

But for me it was a positive in some way.

I used the death to motivate myself to get help, because I could see how one day dark thoughts could rule my judgement.

Therapy helped me, but only because I was willing to dig deeply for my bravery and seek help for my mental illness.

If you hurt, are sad, entertain thoughts of ending it for whatever reason – wait.

STOP.

Seek help.

Fight for one more heartbeat, one more breath, one more stroke.

Keep going.

Fight, hold on, endure.

There is another option.

There is HOPE.

I won’t allow his legacy to be washed away. He deserves to be recognized for all he did to raise our children to the light.

And now for what he did to shine a light on the darkness he suffered.

I told my teenager this morning that this man he’d looked up to took his own life.

I did this so my son can fill his heart and mind with messages of hope, love, and acceptance. And I told him to educate him and dispel the myths of mental illness.

Once my son faces facts and accepts, he is equipped with more tools.

Because my son needs to know – I NEED him to know – that no matter how badly life tries to beat him down that LOVE can keep him present enough to fight for another heartbeat, another breath, another stroke.

That, my friends, is a lasting legacy.

Godspeed, Jim.

Thank you.



We'll teach them how to say goodbye,
You and I,
One last time.*

*Hamilton: An American Musical
Lin-Manuel Miranda c. 2015


Monday, January 23, 2017

Numbers



In August of this year I turn 45 years old. I hadn’t thought of it at all until the Inauguration coverage of the 45th President. This post is not about politics, the newly elected president, nor anything political. Like all of my blogs, it’s about me.

Numbers, I thought, didn’t have much meaning in my life. Until recently I didn’t make connections with numbers. But then I looked back and realized how much numbers have played a starring role in my decisions, comfort, and faith.

Since I was a small child the numbers three and five were always favorites. Being the third and last child in a family of five may have been a big reason why.

The Star Wars franchise has been a consistent thread in the fabric of my life. Seriously.  Remember the final scene of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope? Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia stood together. Three.

In fact, the Star Wars movies are always put out in Trilogies.

Leaping forward to my early adulthood I connected with the driver of the No. 3 car in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt. If you know me, you know my history with auto racing, Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, and the No. 3.

Fast forward to after Earnhardt’s death in 2001 when his son Dale Jr. was still driving the No. 8 car (three plus five). 

It was directly after Dale Jr. changed teams and car numbers to the No. 88 when I was signing my son up for Cub Scouts (2008). I asked the Cubmaster what the Pack number was and he replied, “88”. I then inquired what my son’s Den number to be was and was told, “3”. The decision was made on the spot.  We joined. And I became the No. 3 Den Leader.

The landmark Broadway musical Rent is another example of numbers. The hit song “Seasons of Love” starts with the number 525,600 being sung. Those are the minutes in a year. How do you measure a year? Myriad ways, but, like for so many, the number stuck and has resonated for nearly two decades. And, of course, it’s divisible by three and five.

I wear three diamonds in my engagement ring. I say I love symmetry, and I do, but that number three is sacred to me.

My wedding date was in 1993. All of the nines are divisible by three!

Like the family I come from I have three children, five people in the family.

I began Chief 187™Chatter in 2010, a year divisible by three and five.

I successfully ran for a seat on my local school board in 2015. The number 15 is divisible by three and five.

Now I’m turning 45, truly “middle-aged”. I love the number, divisible by three and five. I’m not feeling old or even finished. In fact, I’m feeling this number is going to be a fruitful one for me.

Why not? All it takes is action. By simply doing we are successful, right?

I mean, I have numbers on my side.