childhood, Uncategorized

Purple Indians, Red Cow, Golden Friends


Despite truly meaning it, when we say “we should get together” somehow life gets in the way and the weeks turn into years and the years turn to decades and it just doesn’t happen naturally to fall into place. There has to be some effort. Social media has been both a blessing and a curse to relationships. Some feel there isn’t really a need to gather physically because they “know” what is going on with someone based on occasional posts and photographs. Others feeling that perhaps when their own life somehow measures up to the vacations, grandchildren and celebrations of others, then the time will be right and they will feel worthy. Perhaps when they drop some weight, have a better hairstyle or update their wardrobe, that will be a good time to get together. If we wait until our lives are perfect, it simply will never occur.

Facebook has allowed my generation to locate people from our past in addition to seeing what our own kids, family members and social circle did over the weekend or are having for dinner tonight. One can get lost looking at friend lists of other friends and trying to decipher if that thin red-head was once the chubby brunet cheerleader who was hilarious in your English class; same first name, married, living on the west coast. Could be her, maybe not. It’s like winning the lottery when you locate someone from your past and reconnect, catch up and find yourselves much the same. There are the other scenarios when Facebook suggests that you “might know” someone and “Yes, you do” and you have been avoiding them at all costs because they are toxic and don’t need to know you “might” meet at Bunny’s for Wing Night next week.


Facebook has replaced Hallmark as the way to send a birthday greeting and makes a better source than a local paper for birth announcements, engagements and marriages, as well as obituaries. The arc of life, all happening in real-time and available via phone or computer. Though one is never truly alone anymore, the constant connectivity seemingly causes people to interact less with those around them. Lack of eye contact when checking out with a cashier, tapping on a desired menu item while simultaneously talking on the phone with someone not present or being part of an entire table updating their statuses but not really “experiencing” the company of those present or engaging in the event they are attending.

Yesterday I experienced what is the best of what social media can do, gather people for real social interaction. The only thing that could have made the gathering more like the childhoods we’d all shared would have been convening in the rocket at Linden Hills Park or all arriving by bike and leaving them pedals down on their sides on a grassy spot outside the restaurant (Red Cow) we chose to meet at. My use of technology was having this single picture taken before we ordered, others used their phones as photo albums and one table-mate ignored an incoming call but showed her phone because she was filling someone in on her brother and it happened to be him calling. The two-year age gap meant a couple of the older girls couldn’t place the youngest one, so she pulled up a picture from thirty years ago and got “Oh, I know that girl.” to which she responded “That’s me.” Beyond that, everyone present was truly present!

An initial Facebook invitation to neighborhood girls swelled into an unmanageable number of invitees and then settled back into a table-sized gathering that allowed for multiple simultaneous conversations but conveniently allowed for shared laughter as well. To an outsider (or our waitress for that matter) I imagine we looked like a group of ladies who meet monthly for lunch. The reality being that with six of the eight having been 1980 graduates from nearby Minneapolis Southwest (Purple Indians) we had not all been under the same roof since the Carter administration. We used to bike over to each others house and ring the doorbell to see if someone could play or call their house and hope the line wasn’t busy when we wanted to extend an invitation. With a Facebook invite our friend who has lived in Hawaii for three decades received the same information in real time.

As I pulled up, I saw Laurie arriving. I parked down the street and walked up, giving her time to put our name in for a table. The weather being nice we stood outside as the remaining five arrived and a sixth slid in once we were seated. Laurie and I had played on the badminton team together and she had played volleyball in high school as well as in college. Badminton was a spring sport and we often found ourselves walking home together in weather thirty degrees warmer than the temps of our morning walk. Wet sidewalks and muddy ally-ways, our route included a couple of blocks that had formerly been the path of the streetcar line, a mode of transportation abandoned before our births and replaced with MTC buses that shuttled us to Southdale, our suburban mall or downtown which was a grittier urban destination for us to find everything from magazines at Shinders to department stores, restaurants and where all sorts of options for teenage girls to make bad choices were available. Laurie stood in her overalls and dreadlocks and lamented the fact that she had not seen me since she’d graduated and then she simply said it “We’re old!” and we laughed about it, me realizing only later that I had only been sixteen the last time we had seen each other. When a neighbor girl arrived that I had more recently encountered at funerals over the last several years she hugged me, commented that I’d lost weight and looked great and I glanced over at Laurie and laughed again, “Lost weight, gained weight. All depends when you saw me last.” and the two of them laughed harder having seen each other a few years earlier and a few pounds lighter. Same struggles, different decade.

The majority of us had attended Lake Harriet Elementary school, most starting kindergarten in 1967, I started in 1968 and Doreen, the youngest attendee being a 1969 kindergartner who looked exactly like the little girl Buffy from the show Family Affair (with ringlet pigtails) when she started school. Though the school was physically gone by the time we entered high school, one of our lunch friends currently resides in the home she was raised in, located across the street from the massive brick structure my own grandmother had attended. Her renovated childhood home located diagonally from my block, the other two corners being where responsible sixth-graders stood as school safety patrols and lowered their flags to grant me safe passage on a daily basis.

There we were; infants of the sixties, school kids of the seventies and all having graduated on the cusp of the eighties. High school graduates before most of us had heard the word “aerobic” and at a time when Ayds was a dietary candy to be taken with a hot beverage, a half hour before meals and AIDS was not yet coined as the name for a sexually transmitted plague. We were a new generation of women with Title IX rights. In addition to Typing (later useful for keyboarding), Clothing (sewing) and Foods (cooking) classes we could take Metals, Woods and Electricity classes, once considered the trades classes for boys. Thirty-five years later all of these basic skills classes that provided one with the capacity to sew on a button and press a shirt before a job interview or prepare a nutritional meal on a budget, even classes that taught one how to simply follow directions to complete a basic task in an office or factory setting are gone. A multi-million-dollar renovation and addition to our 75 year-old Alma mater has added dance studios, put a greater emphasis on the arts and offers computer coding, now considered the skill that one might learn while a high school student that could lead to employment beyond graduation. Most of us did not touch a computer before we graduated, ditto for the majority of our teachers.

Teachers; we reminisced about the ones we loved, the ones we feared and the ones that reminded us that we were in fact skipping class when they encountered us in the hallway. There were the ones whose children were our classmates, the ones who coached us, the ones that encouraged us, the ones who prepared us for college, believed in us and were well suited to their careers. There were the ones who seemed miserable, hated their jobs, likely hated us and took pleasure in tormenting our classmates who really didn’t want to be there in the first place. My childhood neighbor shared an amusing anecdote about being a server at a country club and being invited to a coworkers home for drinks after work, only to realize that her coworkers “boyfriend” was actually a despised teacher.

We were a  mixed-bag of women, many of us the youngest (read “least supervised”) of our families. Some of us were involved in student activities, while others cut class frequently, hung out with older kids, pushed the envelope and took part in risky behavior. None of it mattered, then or now to us, we were kids with friendships forged in youth that treated each other kindly. One girl mentioned that she quit ordering yearbooks because of the unkind remarks other classmates wrote in them. When another asked for an example she tossed out “Titless Wonder” as one of the more repeatable torments, when asked who said that I realized he was the same guy that thought it appropriate to opine on my breast size (too big apparently) like some perverse male Goldilocks looking for “just right”. Neither of us realizing his Napoleon complex, his insecurity that he lost four inches whenever  he took off his Hockey Skates. I’m sad to say that he likely continues to take out his “shortcomings” as a Minneapolis Police Officer.

We discussed relationships; long marriages, divorces, remarriages, children, grandchildren, even Godchildren. We discussed death; former classmates, siblings, parents and God forbid those who had endured the loss of children. We inquired about our friends siblings and learned that not only relationships of choice sometimes end but even those of blood are sometimes severed when maintaining the bond is no longer healthy and amputation of a limb  of the family tree is the best option.  We talked about work, travel, moving, pets, concerts, camping and the ache that comes when children grow up, gain their independence, lead their own exciting lives and leave us with an empty space that we might lack the collagen to have close quickly and naturally and the choices we have about how to manually fill those open spaces. Nothing we said was shocking or judged or remotely evaluated. It simply was. We learned of those battling illness, those who we lost due to lifestyle choices, those who regained their footing after epic challenges, the wild youth who embraced sobriety as adults. We championed the triumphs of our peers and used each other to connect the dots and locate where some of our other lost childhood friends had landed. We confused names, described physical attributes and referenced addresses based on the family names of others who lived nearby. When I mentioned Kennesaw Drug and then said “It became Butler Drug” one of the women nodded “Where I got caught shoplifting.” I laughed recalling that my own dalmatian had entered the store one hot summer day and exited with an 8-pak of Snickers that had been on display in baskets along the lower shelves in the candy aisle. Kids and canines of the neighborhood all had some experience linked to the store. I remember my brother’s friend getting caught for stealing Hot Wheels it’s where shampoos and cosmetics we learned about from Teen magazine could be procured or you could sample perfumes. There was a pharmacy in the back and their delivery car was a Volkswagen beetle with a cartoon image of pharmacist “Herbie” on the side, it was across from the Tom Thumb “superette” where you could purchase milk in returnable jugs or purchase cigarettes with a note from your parents. Hell, it was an era where you pretty much could do anything with a note from your parents. One of the attendees took her little sister to Canada (while in high school) on a Greyhound bus and was reminded to “bring a note from your parents next time.” Hell, we could do nearly anything, including leave the country without a note from our parents.

Long before a TV show made a zip code synonymous with Beverly Hills, we were the women of Minneapolis 55410, we walked the same lake paths that Mary Tyler Moore immortalized during the opening credits of her TV show. We attended Story Hour in the iconic Carnegie-era Linden Hills Library, resplendent with leaded glass windows, built-in  benches and story-book tiled fireplace. We played SWAC sports at Linden Hills or Pershing Park and went to the Tastee Treet for cones afterwards  or the DQ (which we could see from our table) which closed in just the past couple of months, close enough to the high school to grab lunch at during the allotted half an hour, IF you were willing to eat while walking.

For over two hours, there was no lull in conversation, not even when the food came. We were noisy! We spoke loudly, we interrupted, interjected but mostly we laughed. We misheard, asked for clarifications, jumped conversations. We heard about wedding plans, impending grandchildren and retirement ideas. We agreed to not wait so long to get together again.

We were girls of the transistor radio era, we had listened to American Top 40 together while swatting mosquitoes. Later we tanned at Lake Harriet or skated to those same songs at the Roller Gardens in St. Louis Park, a suburb which provided many of my friends with their boyfriends. Sometimes they were older boys whose tastes in alcohol, music and muscle cars made them an appealing option.

We started our school careers as girls who wore dresses and being Minnesotans we wore pants under them to and from school during the coldest months. Our teachers were the edgy women  who marshaled in the revolutionary pantsuit which in the 1970’s did not consist of a jacket and pants at all but rather a dress that came with coordinating pants of the same fabric. Basically, these fashion monstrosities were the grown women rebelling by wearing pants under their dresses, just like the girls did on the the playground. We were exposed to lots of rebellion during our youth, with older siblings returning from Vietnam; boys grew their hair out, marijuana smoke wafted in public venues, music lyrics grew more graphic and the girls of Linden Hills mimicked the culture of our youth. Some of us followed the rules and some of us rebelled against rules, teachers, parents and laws.

We sat and talked about nearly everything but politics. A refreshing change of pace from a year of divisiveness. Some joked about their therapy. One is a full-time seminary student, having raised her kids and having finally found time for herself. While talking about the pro’s and cons of getting another dog, another joked that she hated to be cliche but she (a lesbian) owns two cats. While a divorcee with two adult children talked about her and her partner of three years going out for a birthday celebration another woman inquired “did you know in high school?” and before she could respond I jumped in “I don’t think that was really considered an option then.” to which she agreed. They talked about the other girls we grew up with whom they thought were likely lesbians as well. I marveled a bit that the last time I’d encountered these women the word “partner” had the singular connotation of being the person you were paired with for badminton or tennis.

We are no longer the little girls who went to school together, were antagonized by the same boys, who hung out at the same parks and venues.  We are all grown up and became the women we wanted to become. Not the ones that others had supposed us to be or shamed us into pretending we were. We’re the women who not only don’t wear pants under our dresses, we’re the women who don’t have to wear dresses if we don’t choose to, the women who could choose not to comb our hair if we don’t want to. We grew into the best versions of those sassy, silly, sneaky and snarky little girls and regardless of how different we are, we all have each others backs and appreciate each other for our shared beginnings. We have moved, we have traveled but we have in our DNA the water of Lake Harriet, the appreciation of the Indians who settled on the shores of Lake Calhoun and whom the original students of Southwest selected as their mascot and an abiding thankfulness that our parents opted to raise us in Minneapolis 55410. Hope to see you ladies all again soon (Golden Friends)!


Blogging, childhood, Uncategorized

Spoiler Alert! The Behind the Scenes of My Blog


It’s the first week of a new year and though it may not look like it, I cleaned my desk. Gone are the little scraps with notes on them, some even I could not decipher the significance of. I’ve discussed before both my disdain and obsession with numbers. Here I am on the 4th day of a new year, it is 0 (yep, not a typo, ZERO) degrees here in Bloomington Minnesota and you are reading my 100th blog post.

I started my blog as part of an online class in Social Media Strategy in January of 2014. I’d been out of work for a year and was looking for something to freshen up my resume and supplement my degrees in Communications. My first post was an assignment that involved creating a blog for a fictional business, the Big Round Tomato Company. After creating the page it made sense to me to maintain it on a somewhat sporadic basis. If this is your first visit, I’d love to know how you found me and if you have read my work before I appreciate you returning for more of my musings. I’ve enjoyed the process of blogging, unlike cooking you can’t burn it and dissimilar to gardening I can’t kill it even if I ignore it or give it too much of something.

While a great deal of my writing has been documenting memorable episodes from childhood and my experiences growing up in South Minneapolis, I have also delved into current issues, politics, parenting and relationships. I’m inspired to write by things that annoy and amuse me. I like to document the rituals of celebrations and holiday traditions. I’ve written about the anecdotes of marriage and reminisced about the deceased. Much of my work ties together things that to most people might seem unrelated but I find some sort of connection between. I also enjoy contrasting my parents lives with my own and those of my children. In my most recent New Year’s post I even predicted the future.

As an extrovert it might seem that blogging is too solitary of an activity for me to spend much time on. I have always been a storyteller and over the years people have encouraged me to retell favorite stories. Once at a wedding reception I met a bar tender who told me he’d made great tips over the years by retelling a particularly amusing story about my black lab and that though funny, until meeting me he had assumed it was an urban legend. A college friend used to request that I tell stories as she fell asleep after a night out. I would ask her what she wanted me to tell her about. A story about “when you were little” or “about your brothers” would be all of the prompting I required and we would lay awake and laugh over the escapades. I don’t think that my life was necessarily any funnier, tragic or entertaining than anyone else, I just oddly remember it in greater detail. My cousin will listen to stories from our teen years together and shake his head, acknowledging that he has no recollection of the events but also with the wisdom gained with age, he is thankful that we lived through it! With comments, “likes” and feedback, I have found the interaction with some of my readers fascinating. More on that later.

My writing space may not look that inspiring but I could likely write a blog about nearly any item pictured. There is my college diploma, a tile under my pen cup that I made in junior high art, a Mother’s Day project from my college senior that he made in kindergarten. My mouse-pad holds a picture of my kids with their cousins during a long ago visit at their grandparents. The photograph behind my laptop is of the door to my freshman dorm room, covered with inappropriate messages pieced together like a ransom note from magazine clippings. That frame traveled with me as I worked for over twenty years with college students on five campuses in three states. My permit to carry certification from 2007 hangs beneath my kids art from days gone by. Pins that once festooned my jean jacket a lifetime ago and Winnie the Pooh and Wizard of Oz memorabilia are all part of my life experience. Then there is the tape, scissors, pens and markers of a typical desk and organized folders of job search related  materials.

While Facebook, Instagram and Twitter garner more immediate social interaction, I have had some peculiar and rewarding contacts as a result of my WordPress account. After a rant on old country music and some childhood recollections about the juke box at Indian Creek Tavern (in a tiny unincorporated community in Wisconsin) I received a spelling correction on the name of a bartender from over forty years ago. Months after a posting about my parent’s best friends (after their passing) I got a message from their daughter’s long ago boyfriend who I’d last seen in the early 1970’s, when I was in elementary school and he was in his early twenties. I’ve had childhood friends who have told me that I brought them back to a simpler time and place. Strangers have told me that while they don’t agree with me on a topic, they like the approach I have taken. My favorite comments are when readers tell me that my observations have made them laugh.

As a little girl who grew up across the street from Linden Hills Library and devoured the contents of the children’s room before moving upstairs to biographies, autobiographies and paperbacks I kept hidden from my parents, I could not have imagined that people would someday have access to my writings. At the time my biggest fear was that someone would actually see what I had written in my diary that documented my unrequited crushes and  my suspicion that a nuclear holocaust would have me departing this planet a virgin. Good news, that didn’t happen. At least not the virgin part, those diaries got sold by an estate sale company when my mother moved out of my childhood home in the early nineties. I was busy with a one-year old and took what I could of my youth to our two bedroom apartment. Oddly, I guess that means if I had remained a virgin then my elementary school journal and high school diary wouldn’t be in the public domain.

As someone who obtained a college degree with only a manual typewriter, the idea I would ever master the use of a computer was inconceivable. Computers were the realm of the brainiac kids I went to Lake Harriet elementary and Southwest High School with, the ones I’d assumed would end up at NASA, which as a child of my era was the coolest employer for the brightest minds. I was fairly certain I’d get by fine with my Smith Corona and wasn’t cut out for computers. This can be verified by Martin Fritz who in 1988 was given the task of teaching Stevens Point grad Kim Moistner and I how to use our office computers as Hall Directors at UW-Stout. That might actually be decent material for a future blog!

The fact that my words are being seen by people I do not know and many of them in places I will never go is exciting. That I can share about what a Minnesota childhood was like with people who will never visit here is almost overwhelming. I’m sharing the picture of my space so you know I’m not in a snow bank on the frozen tundra but using my 2017 technology from my very 1950’s basement. While this is my one-hundredth post, there are also 27 “drafts”.  Some drafts were ideas that were fleeting, others are thoughts I’ll get to someday and nearly all of them are incomplete because I got distracted by life.

100 blog posts. Thirty of them generated in one month as part of a writing exercise. On Facebook I often respond to Six Word Short Story, an assignment that requires telling an entire story about a typically vague or unusual photograph using exactly six words. Sometimes that is more challenging than an entire blog because of the need to be succinct. I write like I talk, a lot. Growing up my brothers often teased me that I was a “veritable font of useless information” but now they actually encourage my writing and appreciate the little details I weave into my remembrances that are as familiar to them as they are to me. Last year for Christmas my brother gave me a subscription to Writer’s Digest and this year his wife gave me two books which they enjoyed that they hope will inspire me. I feel a bit like Justitia, blindfolded while holding the scales, one with reading to do and the other with writing to do. Both tasks difficult while wearing a blindfold but you get the picture. Just hoping to maintain some balance.

I will close this 100th post by acknowledging the countries where people have read my blog. As a child of the Cold War the fact that someone in Russia has read my writing is a mind blower.  I’ve had readers from places that did not exist on the globe I daydreamed about in my school classroom. Regardless of where you call home, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and encourage you to repost the link, share my words, follow me and I’d love it if you would comment about how you found me. I welcome the opportunity to share my ideas and bring laughter to even more locations throughout the world.


WordPress shows over 2000 readers from the following locations have read this blog: United States, Germany, Japan, Italy, Thailand, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Australia, Canada, Mexico, India, Malaysia, UK, Russia, Qatar, Singapore, Czech Republic, Norway, Brazil, New Zealand, Belarus, Antigua Barbuda, Hong Kong SAR China, Ireland, Austria, Netherlands, South Korea, Philippines, South Africa, Panama, France, Columbia, Jordan, Spain, Turkey and Romania


Half Full, Half Empty or Red? Social Media with Whip!

Cup 2012

When I look at this retro (2012) Starbucks Cup, I can’t help but think this snowman knew what was coming. His wink is a clear indicator that the entire coffee cup “War on Christianity” is laughable. Back in 2012 did people see a snowman as some religious symbol? Not one of the Wise Men had a carrot nose.

Social media, it is the easiest way to create enemies of strangers and make friends or receive affirmations from  people you’ll never know. It’s a quick way to voice your frustrations while also an efficient way to raise your blood pressure. It’s a means of spreading your love, your hate or your ridiculous ideas around the globe with little effort.

I remember when grocery shopping with my father as a child or while waiting for a bus with my mother, that they often engaged in small talk with other waiting strangers. In Minnesota weather is a nice entry-level conversation but current events and political topics were not off-limits with strangers. These interactions allowed people to share and exchange ideas. One didn’t need to agree to remain cordial and even with more heated debates I recall there was a mutual respect.

Conversations with strangers while waiting in line has been replaced with interactions with electronic gadgets. Rather than look a person in the eye and tell them why you disagree with their position on an issue, we now opt to tap out curt opinions on keyboards of various sizes. This anonymity tends to let things escalate in a more rapid fashion. I envision old silent movie footage capturing live interaction of what transpires online today and it looks like this; one person makes a statement, the other person angrily refutes it with exaggerated indignant gestures and the first person gives a roundhouse punch to the eye of the person they are interacting with. There is no question and answer, no nuance, a bold confidence they are right and the exchange is completed. Bystanders take sides and offer thumbs-ups to the party they agree with.

The news media falls into the trap by frequently wanting to be the fastest (as opposed to most accurate) news source, the first to share a piece of information or detail. They also recognize the power behind putting out information that forms opinions to those who don’t actually dig into the contents of an article or question what is being told to them. An example of this, is that this week rather than watching the Republican debate I opted to spend my time working on a volunteer committee at my former high school. The following day I noticed a posting from NBC that attributed an inflammatory historical phrase to a current candidate. In the posted story, it indicated in fact that the candidate never used that phrase at all. Based on the majority of the responses, it was clear that most had only read the headline and not the article. I posted a clarification and questioned the quality of a news agency that would falsely attribute this phrase to the candidate and commented that the other posters who were making harsh commentary based on this falsehood had “taken the bait”. While over 70 people had affirmed that they agreed with me, I was also called a bigot, was labeled a supporter of the candidate and as I continued to share facts was ultimately told I’d “better watch yourself”. I’m threatened because I think it’s only fair that all candidates be accurately reflected by the media?

This is the year where one of our most “important” social media discussions was over the color of a dress, which we could all see both ways when posted side by side. It was as interesting as posting two Mustangs side by side and asking if you see a red one or a yellow one? Lets be honest, nobody was going to wear that dress anyway. So what was the big deal?


There have been two relatively major social media topics garnering attention recently; the Starbucks Holiday cup and unrest at the University of Missouri campus with #prayforMizzou trending most of the week. Oddly, it seems that the Starbucks cup has received the most attention, much of it claiming it’s a ridiculous ploy for attention, while others have actually staged protests. Some have come up with creative ways to fund raise or see that charities benefit from the “brew ha ha”. It’s likely some factory in China is currently churning out 2016 Halloween costume versions of the “controversial” red cup.

Meanwhile back in Missouri, we have had a hunger strike, a football team boycott and a presidential resignation over an excrement swastika that nobody has seen, nobody cleaned up, which was not documented, reported or photographed. Beyond that, in the midst of the emotion on campus we have students who as communications majors are wishing to document the ongoing events and other students who wish to prevent documentation of what is taking place on campus (not recognizing apparently the correlation between their concerns being shared in the media with the eventual resignation of the University President, which was their objective). To make matters stranger, the student body president began a social media panic by claiming that the KKK had been confirmed on campus and that he was personally working with law enforcement to keep people safe. Later he acknowledged that he had shared erroneous information and apologized. I see marketing potential for a children’s book series with titles such as “The Boy Who Tweeted Wolf”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media! I’m sure there were growing pains when the press was first invented, making sure things are accurate should be a basic aspect of any form of communication, new or ancient. Civility should be maintained when people exchange thoughts and ideas. I am an opinionated person and in addition to that I am incredibly sarcastic. Sarcasm works better in person than it does in writing and garners the best interpretation from those who actually know me. Typically, I tease those I know personally and am in opposition with politically and they goad me back. We’ll correct misinformation or discuss our insights on various topics, knowing that in most areas we will simply agree to disagree. At the end of the day we still “like” each other as human beings and even enjoy each others company as friends and neighbors.

We have nearly a year until the next elections and social media will play an even bigger role in this one than the last. That’s over 300 cups of coffee, that I will need to decide where to source from. We owe it to ourselves to dig a little deeper than Facebook posts, Tweets and newspaper headlines when making important decisions. I predict there will be at least one opportunity per week to be sucked into the vortex of a non-issue that some will see as urgent during this next calendar.  It’s not even possible to pretend to know what will engage people during the coming year. A year ago you couldn’t have predicted that the amount of air in an NFL football would be a hot topic or conceived what cat video would be the next big thing.  For all that we don’t know, I am confident that I will certainly interact with over 140 characters online that will be rude, call me names and share inaccurate claims that they will assure me are facts. I in turn will annoy over 140 characters with my commentary, sarcasm and genuine opinions. Twitter may only allow 140 characters but I’m open-minded enough to handle more.


Social Media, Sarcasm and Schools: a toxic cocktail for students

I recently completed a six week class online in Social Media. The class is the reason I started a blog in the first place, my original posts here are for a fictional tomato company and were completed as part of an assignment. While I learned some new skills, what the class really encouraged me to do is think. The explosion of social media has happened at a rate that far exceeds the ability of businesses, organizations and individuals to respond to it in a consistent manner. I am fascinated by the sheer speed that anything from a cat video to a rumor can be spread. Part of that is terribly exciting and another aspect is terrifying.

A week ago in Minnesota a situation came to light in the more traditional media. On an unauthorized page used by students of an area high school someone had posted an inquiry as to whether a specific student had “made out” with a certain teacher. I put the quotes around the two words because that is how it has been written in all print media regarding the situation. In what he later claimed to be a sarcastic reply he responded “Yes, actually.”

After a parent reported the possible indiscretion the teacher was thoroughly questioned, as was the student. Each denied that any sort of inappropriate activity had occurred. She clearly had been at risk of losing her job and facing legal action and he ultimately was suspended for a period of time ranging from 7-10 weeks and ended up transferring to another school. The student had attempted to locate the teacher and offer an apology the next day, not realizing the severity of what had occurred and that she was not at school.

Numbers were way up at the school board meeting last night with many wishing to weigh-in on the punishment not fitting the crime for this scholar and student athlete whose flippant reply didn’t fit any of the traditional school policies. The student has garnered support from fellow students, parents and other community members and there is an even greater outpouring of sympathy for the 28-year old teacher who has not been identified. I have been surprised that the name and photographs of a 17 year old minor have been used on radio, TV and by news sources in print and online. It has been determined that he violated no law. The chief of police at one point had mistakenly indicated that he might be charged with a felony. The student has suffered panic attacks as a result of the turmoil he unsuspectingly brought upon himself. Rather than he or his parents attending the school board meeting last night, he was represented by one of his three attorneys.

I look back to my own youth in Minneapolis and know that my classmates and friends from neighboring schools could easily identify some teachers and even a school counselor who were engaged in inappropriate relationships with students. Some were relocated but most stayed put. I am in no way implying that our failure to address actual events in that era was a better way of handling things, I point it out as a dramatic example of how far the pendulum has swung in a single generation.

I think the school board could have taken this opportunity to address the issue and use it as a starting point to craft some school-related guidelines or work with the Minnesota State High School League to establish a standard expectation for the students whose activities they govern. I do understand those who believe it is important that the student grasp the severity of the situation. Yet, in an era of outsized concern over bullying, it seems ironic that it would be the school administration that for one non-violent act that included no weapon or alcohol/drug violation they have basically ended this students school and athletic participation for spring 2014. What if the student had not been a popular student with supportive parents? Even confident teens can be thrown off course when thrust into unexpected situations and it strikes me as irresponsible to push a child  in this way.  Those actions did nothing to benefit the teacher who is the unfortunate victim of innuendo for no other reason than the fact that she chose to become a teacher.

For the great amount of news coverage this has received locally there are a few things I am interested in knowing that have not been discussed. I want to know if the parent who first reported it to the school administrators wishes they had dealt with it differently. I want to know if the teacher and student would have been questioned about the accusation if he had posted no response. I would also like to know if the two words he had chosen had been “No comment.” whether he would have been punished the same. My final question that will likely remain unresolved is whether or not the student who initially asked the question, implying that perhaps there was something between the teacher and student was called in for questioning. My take on that is it was just a sarcastic query that resulted in a sarcastic response, the sort of thing that a catcher might say to a batter in the era of The Sandlot. The difference being that such a comment would simply drift away on a breeze but for Reid Sagehorn this story will follow him for as long as search engines allow, far beyond his 18th birthday.

This is what happens today to kids when they make a judgement error. All accounts mention Reid as a good student who was both a football and basketball captain. Obviously he is respected by his peers. The district has verified that a written apology was made to the teacher. His attorney pointed out last night that Reid was in fact the only party who had issued an apology in this situation.

My sensitivities after taking a social media class have helped me better grasp that immediate means of sharing a message call for immediate measures to be in place to address things when a situation goes awry. A sledgehammer is not needed to kill a fly but you need the right tools in place.