Why I don’t shop at Amazon.com

Reading, good. Amazon, bad. image courtesy of flickr user Derrick Coetzee

I recently learned that Eileen Straiton, Valarie Budayr and Joy Blaser have created a virtual book club.  The innaugural read is Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto.

I like books.  I especially like books about education.  I especially especially like books about alternative education.  And I LOVE discussing books with other smart, insightful, and interesting people.  So,I  joined the Facebook page.

If you head over there you will see that discussion has begun.  But last week most people were still in the book-obtainment stage.  There was a lot of “I ordered from Amazon today” and “My library doesn’t carry it so I’m going to get it from Amazon right now”.  I a little bit wanted to scream and rend garments.

Admittedly, that may be a touch dramatic.  But seriously – I wanted to comment on everyone’s status updates with something like, “Don’t you people KNOW that Amazon is evil?”  Since that might constitute harassment and get me kicked out of the group, I am going to write about it here instead.  Because it’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

My own book buying habits are as follows, for what it’s worth:  I rarely buy actual books.  I love my public library, and if there is a book I can’t get or want to own I buy it from Better World Books.  BWB is an amazing organization that sells used and new books and donates the proceeds to literacy projects.  However, at least 95% of my reading is on my Nook.  In fact, if I can’t get a book on my Nook I am not likely to read it.  I have significantly increased my reading since having gotten it – the conveniences are numerous, and a topic for another post.

Certainly, Barnes & Noble is a far cry from a local, independent bookseller.  But my rationalization thinking is that I am supporting authors and no trees had to die on my behalf.

And….it’s not Amazon.

People LOVE Amazon.  You can get anything – out of print books, vacuums, gluten-free bread, patio furniture – at rock bottom prices and often with free shipping.  It’s convenient.  Good for consumers.

But HOW do they do this?  Possibly by using their size to negotiate low prices from suppliers and absorb losses that smaller businesses cannot sustain.  Given that they have tried to get out of charging sales tax and have offered discounts to customers who scanned products in stores with their smart phones, it is not difficult to see that forcing local businesses to close is part of their strategy.

But here’s my bottom line:  The circulation of books, and by extension of ideas, is vital to our development, maybe even our survival, as a species.  The growth of self-publishing has made it fast and easy to get books to market, which is mostly good except insofar as a flooded makes it more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Of course, the Internet has reduced the importance of books as a vehicle for sharing and developing ideas, but they are still an element of the equation.

But Amazon is using its considerable weight to gain increasingly more control over book publishing and distribution.  They have opened their own publishing house, and it doesn’t take a Harvard-educated economist to know that they will market their own books at the expense of other worthwhile titles.  They have demanded that print on demand (POD) publishers use Amazon’s service, called Create Space (formerly Book Surge), and many POD publishers succumbed to the pressure.  The word “monopoly” has been bandied about.

And from where I sit, any time one company has that much control over the distribution of ideas and information – that’s bad.  Very, very bad.

What I’m reading: The Monster Within

This is a book review that I wrote and posted in the MOTHERS Book Bag group on Good Reads.  I’m happy to have you read and discuss here, but really, you should head on over and join!  It’s where all the cool moms hang out.  Tell them I sent you!

In The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood, psychoanalyst Barbara Almond takes an in-depth look at the issue of maternal ambivalence. Drawing from personal experience, her work with patients, and literary examples, she examines the range of ways mothers deal with their feelings towards their children and about motherhood.

While Almond’s prose is less than artistic and the psycho-babble can become a bit tedious, the overall message is profound and important. Ambivalence (defined as “both loving and hating feelings for the same person”) towards one’s progeny, and towards the condition of motherhood and all that it entails, is normal. It is universal. It is to be expected. It is not a problem. Ambivalence “characterizes all [emphasis the author’s] human relationships, not just that of mother and child.”

Problems arise when a mother denies her ambivalence, which is becoming increasingly common in today’s culture of competitive parenting. “Modern ‘maternally correct’ mothers are literally driving themselves and their offspring crazy in their quest for maternal perfection, which can only be proven by the perfection of their offspring.” Those are pretty strong words, to be sure – but they can hardly be seen as anything other than truth.

The book describes patients who, either consciously or unconsciously, were unable to resolve their ambivalence and remained childless, and others who had children but struggled to reconcile their conflicting emotions. These women suffered psychological maladies which brought them to therapy, including depression and crippling anxiety. In several chapters, the author delves into some extreme examples of über bad parenting, including “vampiric mothering” whereby a narcissistic mother uses her child to obtain gratification – think Toddlers in Tiaras, super-size – and even child murder. It is easy to look at these disturbing case studies and to feel smugly secure in the knowledge that we are not like these mothers. But…are we? Are these women simply the “identified patient”?

Of course, most of us are able to negotiate the terrain of child-rearing and emerge intact, having raised relatively healthy children. But at what cost? Do we all suffer to some degree with “the effect of rigid social expectations of ‘correct’ child rearing on a mother’s capacity to be confident and flexible with her child?” In reading this book, I was often reminded of the discomfort our society feels regarding negative emotion in general, and negative emotion towards children in particular. It is the fictional parent who never feels any frustration or anger towards her child, but a search of Mommy Blogs implies that the world is replete with such mothers. You know the ones: they blissfully homeschool their ten children while sewing their own clothes, installing geothermal power systems in their log cabins with their own two hands, and singing a happy tune as they make stew from the chickens they raised and slaughtered in their backyards.

I, and Barbara Almond, are here to tell you this: these mothers, the ones who portray their lives as unendingly happy, feel ambivalent. Even if they don’t admit it to you or even to themselves, some days they hate having to wash the eleventy-millionth load of handmade f*&#ing clothes this week. What it all comes down to is this: “Being able to tolerate both kinds of feelings, at different times, without having one feeling destroy the other, is a sign of good mental health [emphasis mine]. Having to deny or suppress either love or hate leads to depleted and rigid relationships in which the other person is not experienced in his or her emotional reality.”

So I say: Viva l’ambivalence!

Weekend Links

What? Cars don't have tea parties at your house?

Some things I read this week that were pretty cool, or interesting, or inspiring:

Helicopter? Tiger? Just a plain old worried mom

I miss this smile

Bess is still having some difficulties in school.  The problem, in a nutshell, is this: we have raised her to be respectful and kind in her dealings with others, and to resolve conflicts by seeking compromise and taking everyone’s needs into consideration.

As it turns out, not all children are raised this way.  My daughter is finding it very difficult to deal with people whose interpersonal skills are, shall we say, less evolved.

Her teacher is an amazing like-minded woman (I first met her when she joined my Attachment Parenting group a few years ago), and I know that she is supporting my daughter’s efforts to affably relate to her classmates.  But there is only so much that can be done.  After all, it’s half-day kindergarten ; they are only there for 2 1/2 hours a day.  She can’t control what her students learn in the other 21 1/2 hours.  Plus weekends.  Plus the previous five years of their lives, give or take.  Not to mention the bus.  Ugh, the bus.

Since September, there has been a marked difference in Bess.  She is becoming increasingly withdrawn and socially anxious, and is electing (begging) to forego many of her favorite activities in favor of staying home with us.  And this, with a gentle and devoted teacher, in a kindergarten classroom.  It is difficult to imagine the situation improving very much in the coming years.

And thus…we are seriously thinking of homeschooling Bess next year, and for the foreseeable future.  I was apprehensive about public school to start with, and I am underwhelmed by the outcome to date.  Bess has always loved being around lots of other people, and was thrilled with the prospect of having lots of new potential friends, all of whom live close enough for impromptu playdates (as opposed to her friends at her previous school, who all lived at least 45 minutes away).  Even she is coming to see homeschooling as a viable, even desirable, alternative.

But am I being “that mom”?

Am I being overprotective, sheltering her ?

Is this about me not wanting my daughter to grow up and go out into the world without me?

Are the changes I am seeing just part of normal growing up, or something more?

What are the risks of allowing things to go on this way, and are those risks acceptable to me?

By permitting her to stay in an environment that is not working for her, am I implying that I think what goes on there is okay?

Is there anything wrong with giving her more time to be a child, to grow up a little more before she has to learn to function in the cold, cruel world?

Wouldn’t she benefit from a little more time spent learning the values and interpersonal skills I want her to have?

Doesn’t my daughter deserve to live in a world where she is treated with respect and kindness, at least most of the time?

Is it fair for me to expect her to treat other people with consideration, and then send her out into a world where she will not be treated in kind?

Won’t she better be able to cope with the range of personalities that exists in the world when she is a little older, more mature, more confident, stronger?

Would I be depriving her of the opportunity to learn how to deal with all sorts of other people by picking and choosing the people with whom she spends time?

 Is it so bad that I have a different vision of the world I want for my child than most of the rest of the world seems to have?

Isn’t it my right as her mother – my prerogative, indeed my responsibility – to do everything I can to create the kind of world in which I want her to live?

Am I even asking the right questions?  Do these questions even have answers?

Twinkle, my little star! (a thinly veiled excuse to brag about my daughter)

She is posing for a picture here, this is not proper violin posture!

When I was in graduate school working on my M.Ed., I had a professor who was enchanted with the Suzuki Method.  Briefly: Shinichi Suzuki was a Japanese violinist who developed a unique approach to teaching children to play violin, and the technique has since been expanded and is now used to teach a number of other instruments as well.  You can read all about this amazing teacher and humanitarian in his book Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education.

The element of the Suzuki Method that appealed so much to my teacher was his emphasis on encouragement.  Dr. Suzuki believed that by giving attention to what you want to nurture in a child, those parts of the child will naturally grow and unwanted behaviors, ignored, will wither.

She liked to tell the story of how Dr. Suzuki’s students would observe him working with a particularly difficult or unskilled student and would wonder what positive feedback he would offer.  One time, he was instructing a young child who wasn’t doing anything right – the child had bad tone, had bad tempo, a bad bow hold, the whole nine yards.  The students laughed among themselves, convinced that this time, the Master would not be able to find a single positive thing to say.  But he did.  He told the child, “I really like the way you held your left foot.”  The child was positively aglow.  “Really?!?!?!  That’s exactly what I’ve been working on all week!”

(I must admit that before we started violin lessons, this story made little sense to me.  WHY on Earth would anyone care about someone’s left foot?  But now I know that posture is an important element of playing the violin, so this makes perfect sense.)

Dr. Suzuki called his method the “mother-tongue approach”.  Children learn to talk at their own pace by hearing people use language around them; similarly, the best way to learn music is not by reading music or being drilled on isolated skills.  Children taught using the Suzuki Method learn by listening to music and then playing the songs they hear, learning the technical skills required to play the instrument within that context.  Parents attend lessons and group classes (social learning is another important element of the method) and act as home teachers, guiding the child’s practice and maintaining a fun learning environment.

So, all this to say that my daughter, who has been studying violin for just under a year, had her first recital this past weekend, and she did great!  In case you want to see how she did – and you know you do – here is the video.  It’s short, just a minute.  Surely you can spare a minute, can’t you?

Who, me? The Versatile Blogger Award

I have been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award by Kimberly over at A Little Crunchy!

And to think that I often wonder if anyone is reading…

I hope you will head on over and check her blog out (if you aren’t already a follower), as well as the other blogs she listed.  I am humbled and grateful to be counted among those who “question the sheeple”!

Recipients of this award are asked to:

  • Thank the person that nominated their blog for the award with a backlink to them.
  • List 7 things about themselves.
  • Award 15 newly discovered blogs with the award and notify them of the award.

So without further ado…seven interesting, or even marginally interesting, things about me?  That one is a toughie.

  1. I used to have two rescued lab rats named Bunsen and Beaker.
  2. I am addicted to the TV show Bones.
  3. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school.
  4. I didn’t know that Harry Truman’s wife was named Bess until after I had already named my kids Harry and Bess.
  5. I have read every word ever published by Lynn Andrews.
  6. I successfully complete the Monday NYT crossword about 99% of the time; Tuesday about 50% of the time; and I’ve only finished the Wednesday puzzle once.
  7. My favorite vegetable is Brussels sprouts.

And for my fifteen new fave blogs:

Head on over to check them all out!

Motherhood as an act of creativity

I made these people. From scratch.

Please go check out my guest post at Laundry Line Divine’s Out of the Mouths of Babes series.

Through the experience of being a mother, I have finally recovered that creative part of myself that I gave up all those years ago. It may be clichéd, but that is because it is true: having children is the most profoundly and inherently creative thing that we, as humans, can do. We make a whole new person pretty much from scratch, and then we create a home and a family for that person, and we ultimately help that person to create a life for herself. The act of committing my stories to paper (or screen) and looking at them in the light of day, pulling them apart, turning them over, putting them back together, and hearing what other people think about them makes me better able to create the experiences I want for my children and for myself as their mother.

It is so important for women to claim and own and revel in that part of themselves that is creative and life-giving.  Even if we choose not to become biological mothers, or are unable to, our bodies still contain the power of life-giving love.  We need to bring that out into the world and share it, use it to nurture ourselves, the people around us, and the planet we all share.  Especially on this day, my birthday, the day that I was given life, I want to encourage women everywhere to share their unique and special gifts!

Why I don’t do the resolution thing

Baby, it's cold outside! (Or, gratuitous Harry photo)

I seem to be the only person who is unmoved by the apparently universal urge to bid farewell to the past and look expectantly towards the future during this time of the year.  People are making resolutions, setting goals, taking stock, evaluating their lives.  They are full of hope, relief maybe, expectation, motivation.

To me, the turning of one year to another seems such an arbitrary and artificial time for marshaling such intent.  I’ve never been particularly compelled by the turning of a calendar page; my moments of resolve have always come from personal revelations that have engaged my will and demanded a change of course.  Often – no, always – this has coincided with a period of pain and personal struggle, when my natural inclination towards holding an even keel and avoiding conflict and upheaval is overwhelmed by the undeniable realization that things can no longer go on as they are.

On the other hand, perhaps there is some deep wisdom in assigning the task of introspection and self-improvement to the month of January.  The whirlwind of holiday parties and family togetherness has past, and graduations and barbecues and pool parties are still months away.  Where I live, the long dark nights and cold grey days, the swirling frigid winds that chill to the bone make it unlikely that I will be heading out of my house more than is absolutely necessary.  I’d much rather stoke the fire, put on some warm socks and a nice big sweater, and curl up with a cozy blanket and a good book.

Just as the ground that begot sunflowers which towered over my head and sported blossoms that could easily have fed a flock of ravenous cardinals now lies fallow in preparation for the work of spring, perhaps this is the perfect time for me, too, to rest and prepare.

Still, though, I am unable to imagine this as a beginning.  Perhaps while I take the time to read, reflect, and journal I will begin to think different thoughts in different ways.  But the concept of “beginning” that implies a crispness of edges as if one thing stops here and another starts there, this does not exist in the world, or at least does not exist in my experience of the world.  When a moment of clarity occurs, or an experience or opportunity presents itself, there is a sense of newness about it.  But this simply represents a bend in the road that takes me away from the direction in which I was headed, an exit ramp taking me from Route 80 to Route 46.  I am still moving right along, though the destination may have changed or become unclear.

A river may seem to start from a trickle of snow melt in the mountains and end in a vast delta as it empties into the sea, but of course this is not true.  The snow falls from clouds full of water that evaporated from the ocean, and back to the ocean they return.  The molecules of hydrogen and oxygen never change; they held buoyant the earliest microbes, they nourished the dinosaurs, they watered the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat, they kept Cleopatra’s barge afloat and they baptized Mother Teresa.  It’s a cycle; we may perceive a place of beginning and end but that is simply our interpretation.

I feel an urge to lighten things up a bit here; to inject a rousing chorus of “Circle of Life” or maybe break out the guitar that Santa brought my daughter last month and lead a rendition of “Turn, Turn, Turn”.  I won’t, because the kids are sleeping and I would rather sit here bogged down in my thoughts like shoes stuck to hot tar than risk a request for water or for the comfort of Mommy snuggles in the cramped twin bed.  Even while my thoughts lack direction and purpose, I am enjoying the freedom to muse in my office, alone, on this snowy night.

Disney Corporation: Yoo hoo!

Not Harry's finest smile...

Today I have a guest post over at Humane Connection describing some of my observations from a recent trip to Walt Disney World:

I know, I know.  Disney, the the embodiment of what ails us as a society and a species.  It’s not my favorite place, but it holds fond memories for my husband, my kids enjoy it, and their grandmother lives in Orlando.  And so we go.

As a student of humane education, I found abundant opportunities for considering all sorts of issues and for practicing critical thinking with my kids; an entire book could be (and has been, many times over) written about the company.  For the purposes of creating a blog post of reasonable length, I’ve decided to focus on four popular rides that could use some tweaks – minor ones, really – in order to truly “weave the importance of diversity and inclusiveness” into guests’ experiences.

Go check it out (please), and add your own ideas!