Monday, March 29, 2010

Mac kills the TV...

Video may have killed the radio star, but Mac killed TV, at least in my house. Unlike most Americans I don’t own a television: I think I fit into that one-to-two national percentile.  

Before I left Atlanta to move out West I sold a lot of stuff, including a fairly new television. It wouldn’t fit in my car and I was told it wouldn’t survive in a storage pod during the hot summer months. So it was buh-bye TV. I figured I’d get another one when I finally settled. But that didn’t happen. Upon arriving in Portland I stayed with a friend who didn’t own a television.  

I thought, “How can you not have TV?”  

But this situation sent me into the arms of my Mac computer. It was with Mac that I really got to know Hulu and started to watch popular shows on network websites, shows I might never watch before like, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Modern Family,” even “Cougar Town.” By the time I moved into my own place I didn’t need TV. I had Mac. And I was saving hundreds of dollars in cable fees along the way.  

Lately, though, things have changed. It seems I’ve consumed more television in the last month than I have in the last year.  

This includes watching the finale of “The Bachelor” on a big screen with three straight guys. The experience was surreal and hilarious as I listened to them critique the women’s hair, eyes, and even the color of one woman’s dress.  

Then, this week, while pet sitting for friends, I found myself staring at a television with more than 1000 channels. Seriously. At first, it was intimidating and confusing. Yet within 48 hours I had become expert at conquering this television. I was recording TV shows and watching them back. I was fast-forwarding through commercials. I could rewind if I missed something. Mostly, I was very impressed with myself.  

But TV time had to come to an end. I returned to my quiet house and realized all these months spent away from TV has meant more time spent on me. I find myself writing more, reading more, even cleaning more.  

I’m not saying I won’t ever have television again, but I know I can live without it. Instead, I’m enjoying my time with Mac, which is almost like my pacemaker these days. Instead of killing brain cells, I’m killing nerve cells in my fingers. And I’m sure I fit into some national percentile for that, too. 

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Head Trips & Happy Places

Your head can be a dangerous place. And being inside my head for an extended period of time can be one trippy ride. I have a friend who compares her own overthinking to hopping on board the crazy train. Sometimes, she says, she even brings some friends along. While I was far from jumping on any crazy train this week I did check out the train schedule. 

While I have a tendency to overthink things, I’m certainly not alone. I think everyone at some point has analyzed something to death. But from my past experiences I’ve noticed that when I begin descending into that crazy, head-spinning spiral of racing thoughts and wild conclusions, what I most fear comes true. It’s as if I can manifest the worst by imagining it happening. But this week I decided to stop the cycle, to stop overthinking the issues that were spinning my brain around like a top. I decided I’d fight my way out of my brain and instead refocus and replace it with something different … like eating a Bacon Maple Bar from Voodoo Doughnuts in downtown Portland.  

That’s where my friend Helen and I ended up at 1:30 a.m. after a night of dancing to some seriously good funk music. The tiny shop was filled with late-night partiers who eagerly paid cash for the chance to sink their teeth into some spongy, sugar-coated bliss.  

I’d heard about Voodoo Doughnuts when I’d first arrived in Portland, and I’d made a mental note never to eat there for fear of clogging up my arteries and dropping dead. I mean, this popular establishment once offered up such FDA-defying fare as the NyQuil Glazed doughnut and the Vanilla Pepto Crushed Tums doughnut before health officials put a quick end to that. As we stood in line, Helen casually mentioned that the shop isn’t known for its hygienic standards and that there’d been rumors of salmonella poisoning. 

“The doughnuts are well worth the risk,” she added without hesitation as she pulled cash out of her pocket.

Really, Helen? I thought to myself, Never!  

But as is usually the case when I say never: I end up eating my words.  

As I took my first bite of Voodoo’s famous Bacon Maple Bar, I couldn’t help but notice the parallel between this doughnut and my week. When I finally stopped overthinking my problems and quelled the raging voodoo dance in my head, I could enjoy some of life’s special delights. And if I’d dropped dead during this indulgence it would’ve been okay because at least I was facing certain fears and finding there’s really nothing to be afraid of -- just a yummy, gooey maple doughnut topped with crispy bacon.  

Good thing you can’t order that on the crazy train.

((please click play button as won't post video thumbnail))

Monday, March 15, 2010

Impolite Apes and the Civility Card

I remember a long time ago watching a television show about civility and society. It focused on how people interact with one another in person, on the roads, pretty much anywhere we’re thrown together. My memory of this story is sketchy, but what struck me was how the show documented our mounting impatience with each other, with long lines, with traffic, even with patience itself.  

For instance, I was driving in Ohio last week and stopped several yards from a stoplight to allow a driver to merge. It was instinctive and it’s something I often see in Portland. But within seconds I heard a tell-tale honk from somewhere and noticed the guy behind me inching his white Toyota Corrola within inches of my bumper. From his angry reaction to my small gesture of civility, you’d have thought I’d parked my car in the middle of a bustling intersection and played Chinese Fire Drill.  

While I’m sure civility is still very much alive, sometimes it’s hard to see, especially when it involves those we know best. This week, I found myself in a miscommunication with someone I know very well, and what began as a minor misunderstanding between family members quickly morphed into an epic skirmish. Civility was nowhere to be found. Both of us swore the other was wrong, and who knows? But I think how you treat each other during these uncivil moments is often more important than who’s right.  

Just when I’d nearly thrown up my hands and declared the world a barbarous jungle populated with impolite apes, my faith in civility was restored. On a plane ride back to Portland, I found myself knitting across the aisle from a woman who was doing the same. As our fingers were occupied with yarn and needles, we struck up a pleasant conversation about all kinds of things, including the latest exercise craze: pole dancing. It’s something this mother of three does when she can. She said if Martha Stewart does it must be okay. Later, as we were disembarking from the plane, she presented me with a little knitted coaster as a gift. In the middle of our crazy urban jungle gym, a complete stranger had crafted a gift for someone she’d most likely never see again. This small, lovely gesture filled me with hope that civility and kindness still thrive in the dark corners of our fast-paced, impatient world.  Maybe I just hadn’t been looking in the right nooks and crannies. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oh Mama...

After my mother took a fall recently and had to be hospitalized, I immediately bought a ticket home to Ohio. I knew I wanted to be there to help her around the house once she was allowed to go home. But, I also knew this visit would be a bit of a challenge, not just for me but for my mom, too. 

My mom and I are opposites. She drives a Jag. I drive a 12-year-old Subaru. She likes Couture. I like Old Navy. She wears Oscar De La Renta sunglasses. Mine come from The Dollar Store. While challenging, I figured the trip would help us bond in ways we hadn’t before.

But less than 24 hours after my arrival home it was clear this was going to be a trying experience for me. I learned there’d be a dinner party at the house with about fifteen guests, all paying their regards to my Mom. In Lebanese terms this means I was expected to put on my nicest outfit and snaz up my hairdo. Coming from Portland, the nicest outfit I’d brought with me was a pair of jeans and a cool red jacket decorated with zippers and belts. From the look on my mom’s face I knew I’d have to make a trip to the mall to search for a dinner party dress. 

It’s been about 20 years since I left home for college and the real world, and it had been a bit of a scandal that I was allowed to do such a thing. Traditionally, a Lebanese girl stays home until she marries. But not this Lebanese girl. I wanted to experience life, and thankfully I had parents who supported this spirit of mine. But as I waited for my mother’s guests to arrive I braced myself for that question that always pops up: “Why aren’t you married yet?” It didn’t take long. One woman, about my age, asked me, in front of everyone, when they would see me in a white dress.’ 

        “I had one on a couple of hours ago at Dillard’s. It was a cute little cocktail dress that I thought would look awesome with my long black boots,” I answered quickly and honestly.

A part of me was glad that this question, and questions like “Why do you always live so far away?” don’t really faze me. As time passes and I live farther away from home, the more I appreciate my culture, my people, and all our quirks. And while the differences between my mother and I still exist and will probably never fade, it occurs to me that the very differences that used to rankle my mother and me are now the traits that we admire about each other. I think my mom admires my dogged determination to live life on my own terms, eschewing the more traditional path my life could’ve taken. And I admire my mother’s sense of style and polish.

So there was more than a little irony when I discovered my mom lounging around in her silk PJ’s while I drove around doing her errands in her shiny silver Jaguar and wearing her Oscar de la Renta sunglasses. And, hey, that’s one role reversal I’m happy to live with.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What I learned from a Kleenex Box

A former CNN colleague and good friend of mine once said she’d learned more after leaving the network than during the 15 years she’d worked there. At the time I wasn’t sure what she meant, but after leaving corporate America, I get it now. 

When you work along hundreds of talented people, there’s always someone who’s more of an expert than you and who can do the job better. As a producer at a big company I could call on one of my team members to go out and shoot video on a tiny gadget or edit video off their laptops. To some degree all this technology made me a little uncomfortable since I never used it directly. But as the sole member of Lila Eidi Productions, I don’t have the ability to boss anyone around except myself. And that’s not much fun. So when I recently took on freelance work with a new online startup company based in Portland, I sensed the time had come to learn the technical tasks I had always delegated to others.

My first story was about doctors who Twitter. I decided I would borrow a friend’s flip video camera to conduct an interview with a local doctor. But I didn’t anticipate needing a tripod, and found myself floundering around trying to interview and shoot at the same time. Some quick thinking, and a sudden need to blow my nose, gave me an answer to my problem: a box of tissues. I propped my camera up on the Kleenex box, lined up the shot in view panel, and, voila!, I was rolling on the interview.  

The next interview I had to conduct was with a doctor who lives in New York City. Since there was no camera crew to hire and send out to her office, I decided to talk with her through Skype, which is a program that lets users talk face to face over the Internet. Easy peasy. What I was clueless about was how to record the interview. I started to stress about it. I made a few phone calls only to learn there’s a program you can download to record skype video. So easy! Within minutes we were set up and Skyping. There I was, in my dining room, talking with a leading child obesity expert who loves to twitter professionally. I felt like the Wonder Woman of the digital age.

What’s amazing is that I’m finally learning that when you have no one else to depend on but yourself to get a job done, the technological barriers seem to fall down without much of a push. And I find it a little ironic that the technology I once feared is now integral to helping me make a living. It’s definitely something that makes my inner boss very happy.