Tuesday, November 1, 2011

IN DEFENSE OF SOCIAL NETWORKING

I often wonder what my mother would have thought of this era of social networking. Technology was never her strong suit. She vehemently resisted getting a computer because “they are just so ugly.” Even when email became standard mode of communication, Mom never got the hang of it. She probably sent a total of four emails in her lifetime. And I’m being generous. I once tried to convince her to email me a recipe. Within about five minutes, she was on the phone with her index card in hand, muttering, “It’s such a waste of time, writing on that computer.”

But the phone…Ah, my mother had a lifelong love affair with the phone. She would call me during commercial breaks of her favorite shows to analyze, say, the inner workings of Party of Five or Seinfeld. Like a 21st Century texter, Mom had an annoying habit of picking up the phone mid-conversation to include another friend in our chat. It was infuriating.

So, while Mom may have been a technophobe, she possessed the multitasking mind of a true social networker. Most importantly, she loved to connect with people. All of her people. Even if she hadn’t gotten on Facebook or Twitter, I can just imagine Mom marveling at the people such tools unearthed. She would have loved to hear about what happened to old classmates, former colleagues, and family members. Best of all, she would have adored how her blog –her blog!-- brought me closer to her family, a group she loved more than any other.

Mom was the youngest of six boisterous, opinionated children. Born eight years after her closest brother, an entire generation divided Mom from her siblings. She was their baby girl, more like a niece than a sister. By age ten, Mom also became an aunt to my cousin Alice Ann, whose three other siblings were born in rapid succession. Mom talked about spending much of her teenage years with these kids, honing her babysitting/parenting skills at an early age. She even knit her first sweaters for them. “They were hemlock green, so cute,” Mom would tell me.

One of the downsides to being a member of a large extended family –I am one of seventeen first cousins— is that it’s nearly impossible to be close with everyone. Some members fade away as familiar names who you see once every few years. I always believed that would be the fate of my relationship with Alice Ann. Thirteen years my elder, Alice Ann’s family moved to Ohio when I was very small. Since then she has lived everywhere from Washington D.C. to Christchurch, New Zealand. With her family currently settled in Seattle, my chances of getting to know Alice Ann seemed slim.

Then we became “friends” on Facebook. As I posted prolifically, Alice Ann would loyally respond in a voice that was oddly familiar. Dry, witty, and warm, she is yet another woman who loves to putter about the house while watching football on TV. An avid Buckeye football fan, she never seems to miss a game. Also, strong opinions seem to flow easily from Alice Ann’s keyboard –be it on sports, politics, or daily life. I instantly recognized her as one of my own.

Last year,when I posted a blog entry, Wonder Woman I Am Not, confessing to buying the kids’ trashy Halloween costumes, Alice Ann –a skilled seamstress—kindly offered to make costumes the following year. Sure enough, come September, I received a note from Alice Ann reminding me of her promise and wondering what the kids’ wanted to be. From there, we began a wonderful process of chatting regularly about the progression of Batman and the black cat.

Last week, Alice Ann’s husband, Mark, took time out from a business trip to New York to hand-deliver the kids their handmade costumes. "Delighted" does not begin to describe my son’s reaction when he first donned the commanding black cape. Mark then stayed for dinner, where we sat around the table chatting like the family that we are. Life has come full circle.

Every day, we pound out our life’s rhythm –the stream of laughter, complaints, and tears. When we truly connect with someone --be it in person or online-- our rhythms correspond with other people's beats, creating a richer, more nuanced life. If social media enables people like me to forge such connections more easily, than perhaps there's a poetry hidden within the OMGs and LOLs.

Of course, Mom mastered the art of human connection long ago. If it hadn't been for that teenage aunt fawning over her nieces, my children never would have shared Halloween --virtually-- with their cousin Alice Ann.

I’ve been playing around with Melissa Clark’s latest cookbook, Cook This Now. It’s a fabulous cookbook; I absolutely love it. Just as she demonstrates in her NY Times’ column A Good Appetite, Clark has a knack for creating seasonal recipes that are easy –embarrassingly easy. Take her idea for roasting cauliflower with cumin seeds. It’s just cutting up some cauliflower, tossing with olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin seeds, and leaving it in the over at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or so. Why didn’t I think of that? Well, I didn’t and that’s why I love Clark’s book.

Also, I have never deconstructed a cookbook so thoroughly. I am systematically cooking my way through the book, determining what works for me and what doesn’t. In the spirit of celebrating social media, I’ve even tweeted Clark some of my thoughts. Lucky her.

OK, I’ve got to know. Cooking With Jeanne’s blog traffic report shows two rather constant visitors: One from Russian and another from the blog, Proud Book Nerd. Who are you? Reveal yourselves, please!

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