Category Archives: glamorous

My Glamorous Life

No Ken Do (Musketeer Barbie Saves the Prince)

I WATCHED dozens of Barbie videos hundreds of times when my daughter was three and four years old. I can’t praise their animation, dialog, or other cinematic and literary qualities, but this I can say in their favor: every Barbie video we watched was feminist and empowering in its messaging.

This was not the Barbie my girl cousin grew up with, wondering which outfit she should wear to please Ken. This Barbie kicked ass.

In one video, set in 18th Century France, Barbie and her roommates overcame sexism to become Musketeers. They exposed a conspiracy, beat male villains at swordplay, and more than once saved the life of the kingdom’s rather ineffectual prince. (The downside of the Barbie videos’ crude but seemingly heartfelt feminism was that they tended to portray men as wimps or scumbags. Women are strong in the Barbie videos; good men are not.)

In another video, Barbie was an actor who became a film director when the director of the picture in which she was starring tried to patronize her. In Fairytopia, the first and worst animated of the videos, Barbie went on a Lord-of-the-Rings-style quest and saved an entire kingdom from ruin. In A Fashion Fairytale, she saved her aunt’s business from bankruptcy by an evil (woman) competitor, and then helped that competitor turn from the dark side to the light. In other words, she kicked ass but also nurtured and forgave. Assertive and supportive. A fighter and a hugger.

I watched these videos over and over, because children aged three to four thrive on repetition. I got familiar enough that I could quote the dialog as easily as I quote from Rushmore or North By Northwest. I was relieved when my daughter outgrew Barbie, because my mind craved something a little more grown-up in the film narrative department. But I never once worried that the videos were telling my daughter she could be anything but awesome. I never watched a single Barbie video that told girls life was about finding and pleasing anyone besides yourself.

This was also the time in my daughter’s development when we bought Barbie reading books and Barbie dolls. When I was three, Barbie had a thousand ways to look beautiful. When my daughter was three, Barbie had a thousand ways to earn a living.

You can find fault with Barbie. For one thing, she still promotes a vision of the world in which caucasian features set the beauty standard—a world in which, even if there are variously ethnic friends in the mix, the main character is always white. Then there are her unrealistic physical dimensions, which have been tied to self-loathing and eating disorders in girls and women. (Not that Barbie’s is the only unrealistic physique girls contend with—they’re bombarded with the stuff from birth.) The Barbie stories never question the established social order. They inspire girls to achieve, but obviously they don’t address male/female pay discrepancy or other serious social issues.

Musketeer Barbie saves the prince; she doesn’t ask why do we need a prince? Shouldn’t we invent representative democracy? And how about letting a woman run things?

Barbie won’t save us. But she’s not as bad as all that.

For young girls who have just begun seeing the world through the filter of gender, today’s Barbie does some good. Barbie videos were some of the only stories we watched back then that didn’t require me to immediately explain, apologize for, and caution against believing, one or more horrifying biases. Viewed a classic Disney film lately?

The internet feeds on outrage and cat gifs. And the recent outing of a Barbie story that appears to conform to 1950s-Barbie-thinking made perfect fodder. But it might simply be a book that teaches children how different professionals work together to create the digital games they enjoy playing. A designer is part of the mix; so are developers and other professionals, whose complementary skills support each other. That’s how it works when I design stuff. In my work, almost every day, there are things that go wrong that oblige me to call someone else to fix them. I notice a problem on a server; I reach out to a sysadmin. It isn’t because I’m a boy and boys are dumb. It’s because designers aren’t sysadmins.

All right. Fair enough. It was a terrible error for the illustrator to make all the technical people male. That sends an awful message—one lots of us have been working to fight. It’s disturbing that nobody at the publishing house realized the inferences that could be drawn from this mistake. And if this were my only exposure to Barbie in the past ten years, I’d be drawing those inferences and storming the barricades (i.e. retweeting) with the rest of my peeps.

But honestly? I spent two long years with the Barbie franchise. I think the women running it today are serious about girl power. Maybe the unfortunately timed illustration error reveals a deep sexist conspiracy. Or maybe it’s just one of those things nobody thought about while rushing a cheap book to print.

A Sickroom With a View

CHICAGO is a dynamite town, but it may not be the best place to recover from a cold. Since I arrived, my virus has gone from a 4 to an 11. There’s a spectacular view out my hotel window, which I’ve spent the day ignoring by sleeping. I have several nice friends in this town who I’m similarly ignoring, having canceled plans with them today because of this fershlugginer cold. I was flat on my back, sleeping, my phone like a cat on my chest, when my dad called this afternoon to recommend gargling with a three percent peroxide solution. My trainer texted a moment later to ixnay the peroxide. She recommended going back to bed to finish sweating it out, and that looks like my plan for the next twelve hours, give or take a hot bath.

I brought a heap of work with me to Chicago, planning to tackle it between visits with Chicagoland friends, but the cold has pushed all chance of work aside. I got one sentence written for an Ask Dr Web column—the easiest task on my plate—and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t so much write that sentence as copy and paste it from a reader’s email. Come to think of it, it wasn’t even a sentence. It was a question, which the column I was going to write was supposed to answer. So the sum total of my work today consisted of selecting and copying a question and pasting it into a blank piece of digital paper. Also answering the phone, and removing the Do Not Disturb sign from my door just long enough to admit Room Service.

I get colds a lot. My daughter brings them home from school to visit, and when they see my lungs they move in for the winter. And who can blame them? I’ve got great lungs. All the years I smoked cigarettes, I never caught colds, go figure. There’s a message in that, or maybe not. Maybe I just never caught cold when I was young and had no kid, but time has corrected both of those things.

It’s nice to be awake for a few minutes, listening to the inane chatter that passes for my consciousness and sharing it with you. Thank you for reading. And thank you, Chicago, for your marathon winds. I thought New York was a tough town. New York ain’t nothing to this.

One Hug

JUST WEEKS ago, my daughter’s mother moved out of state. The kid’s been having a tough time with it, and with school, and with her upcoming tenth birthday, which won’t work out the way she hoped. And then, over the weekend, her laptop and mine both broke—hers by cat-and-ginger-ale misfortune, mine by gravity abetted by my stupidity.

To lighten the mood, this morning broke grey, pounding rain. We pulled on our hoodies, scooped up our bodega umbrellas, and shrugged on our backpacks—hers heavy with school books, mine with gym clothes, a camera, and two busted laptops.

We were standing by the elevator when an apartment door burst open and Ava’s best friend in the world sprinted down the hall to hug her good morning. The two girls embraced until the elevator arrived.

The whole dark wet walk to school, my child hummed happily to herself.

#1hug

The Color Purple

WHEN my daughter was little, she used to ask me my favorite color. I was a grownup, and could only supply a grownup’s answer: “I love the way light looks in late afternoon,” I might say. Or, “Red and black can make powerful statements in graphic design.” Grownups don’t have favorite colors. But children do.

Rebecca Meyer had a favorite color. It was purple. A color that might be expressed in the hexadecimal language of web design as #663399.

As many of you know, Eric and Kat Meyer lost their daughter Rebecca to cancer on Saturday. Rebecca Alison Meyer was a ray of light. She was six years, eleven and a half hours old when she died.

Some of us know Eric through his two decades of work on behalf of web development and web standards. Some of us know Eric and Kat as friends. Some of us only know of the Meyerses because of Rebecca’s story, as her parents courageously and with unyielding clarity shared it over the internet day after day during the past year.

All the caring and all the medicine, all the prayers and all the love from friends and strangers, could not stop this cancer from claiming this child. Caught between horror and hope, all of us watched as the Meyer family fought to save their beautiful middle child’s life. They did everything that could be done to save Rebecca. Then they did more.

Now it’s time to do something for them. Some little, heartbreakingly inadequate thing for a girl who got dragged into a fight no one could win, and stayed a pure, brave spirit to the end.

Rebecca will be buried this Thursday, 12 June. On that day, let us celebrate Rebecca by calling the internet’s attention to her. In the words of Matt Robin, who came up with the idea, “let’s get #663399Becca trending for Thursday 12th.”

It’s so easy to do, there’s no reason not to. Go to Twitter on 12 June and post the hashtag #663399Becca along with any additional words or pictures you feel moved to share. Or just share the hashtag. It will not be enough. Nothing will ever be enough. But it will be something.

(The family requests that charitable donations be made in Rebecca’s name to the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House or the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.)

I Cry Inside

MY DAUGHTER cries and begs me not to leave on my business trip. I hold her and tell her I will return soon.

My grandfather died in a plane crash between New York and California. My mother, who was eleven, had begged him not to leave. He lied and told her he would cancel the trip. I never lie to my daughter.

I always thought my grandfather died on a business trip. Two years ago I finally learned he was actually flying to California to divorce my grandmother. My mother never told me.

My grandmother never told her children their father was dead. They figured it out gradually.

When my mother was a young adult, her fiancée died in a plane crash.

My mother was never able to be happy, to feel safe, to trust the world.

One of my jobs is to help my daughter learn to be happy, to feel safe, to trust the world.

It is hard for any parent. Harder when you are divorced. My daughter is sensitive, creative, and has a learning disability. She feels different from other kids. Family is everything to her.

My daughter is everything to me. To support her, I do several jobs. Jobs I love, working with people I love and trust. One of my jobs requires me to travel frequently, staying away for up to a week at a time.

My father worked twelve hours a day to support his family. We grew up in his absence and long shadow.

I am grateful for my daughter’s life and my ability to spend so much time with her. She knows her parents love her and will always be there for her.

But when I leave, she cries, and I cry inside.

The Gory Details

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SO MY DAD had another seizure—it’s been about six months since the last one; nobody knows what causes them or how to prevent them. It was 4:00 AM Monday morning. He fell heavily, like a sack of bricks, and cracked open his skull above his right eye. There was blood everywhere on the tiled floor of his bathroom, his wife Catherine says.

Catherine called 911. She couldn’t do it from the phone in the bedroom; she went running through the house looking for a working portable phone. The ambulance came fast and he was rushed to Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he stayed overnight.

The hospital wanted to keep him an extra day for fear that the blood floating around inside his skull could clot and kill him or damage his brain. But he demanded to be released. Got so caught up arguing with his nurse that he forgot he and I were on the telephone.

He may have feared that he would never leave that hospital if he didn’t exit immediately. I get that.

The hospital relented, and he and Catherine drove home, where he called me via FaceTime. His face is horribly bruised and cracked—he resembles the De Niro version of Frankenstein’s monster. But he seems to be all right. His mind and character are what they always were.