Reader Request #5: Jealousy

Question from Matthew Rider, and a nicely provocative one, as today just coincidentally happens to be Krissy’s and my 8th anniversary:

“Jealousy, and I guess as a part of that your relationship with your wife. You’ve recently mentioned ex-girlfriends a couple times and on indiecrit have mentioned that if you weren’t already with your wife you’d happily marry at least one of the artists (and have mentioned how others are hot). Are you jealous, is your wife jealous? Do you end up having a big discussion about the hot new artists you just reviewed (or maybe it never gets back to her if she doesn’t read the Whatever)?”

Well, Krissy definitely reads the Whatever, since she’s commented here a couple of times. I don’t think she reads IndieCrit, where the review in question was posted, but I know she knows about that particular review, since I told her about because I thought she might find it amusing.

Neither Krissy nor I am much of the jealous type for the very simple reason that jealousy implicitly threatens your relationship, and Krissy and I made the decision very early on to put a very high standard for the category of Things That Threaten the Relationship. What the particulars are for that category, of course, exist in the realm of None of Your Damn Business. But suffice to say that so far, neither of us have come close to getting over that bar. Specifically relating to jealousy, neither getting goofily moony after a hot musician or being friends with an ex-girlfriend is much of a trigger; in the former case, it’d be like her getting worried that I also think Angelina Jolie is kind of cute; in the latter case, well, the operative prefix there is “ex-“. People become “ex-” for a reason, you know.

Also, jealousy implies that one feels one’s relationship can be threatened by other people, and that’s just not the case here. It’s difficult for me to put into words how totally not concerned I am in this regard, so I won’t bother. This is not just a matter of believing that Krissy is so totally mine that others don’t enter the picture, but the other way around as well. I am so totally jazzed to be married to my wife that I don’t see why I would even want to be married to anyone else. Sure, on a theoretical level I can look at particular women and say, I could have married her, but as a practical matter that would mean not being married to whom I am married. And that’s just no good. No offense to all those perfectly wonderful women out there I could theoretically marry, but the marriage I’ve got is just way too fabulous.

So how do you get a relationship so superfabulous that there’s practically no jealousy involved at all? Well, I don’t know how it works with other people, but in our case it’s a few things:

1. We agree on nearly all critical things. This is not say we agree on superficial, pointless things, like music or fashion or favorite books and authors. Really, who cares about that crap. No, I’m talking about relationship and family stuff which we’re both in agreement with, right down the line. And we came into the relationship agreeing on almost all these things — i.e., are views were in line even before we met. So that’s helpful.

2. We understand each other. By and large, we get where each other are coming from, and that understanding informs how we work with each other in the relationship.

3. We talk (and listen) to each other — yes, yes, I know. We’re supposed to do this. Even so.

4. We’re honest with each other — and if you’re already doing one through three up there, doing this one is a lot easier.

As a consequence of all this, and as it relates to jealousy, Krissy’s never managed to do anything that triggers a jealous response in me, and vice-versa. So in that sense we don’t really have to deal with jealousy because it doesn’t come up, and we work on it (and all the other stuff about a relationship) so it continues not to be something that comes up. Inasmuch as we’ve been married eight years and together as a couple for 10 (wow!), we’re doing well so far. We’ll keep at it.

(Remember I’m still taking topic suggestions for Reader Appreciation Week! Make your suggestions in the message thread here.)


Reader Request #4: Testing Preschoolers

Reader Alina asks my opinion on a wacky thing they’re doing out there in New York City: Testing kids to get them accepted to elite preschools. She writes, in part:

“Basically, in New York City, three and four year olds take the ERB’s or, as I call them, Baby SAT’s, which you then submit to the private (and some public) schools of your choice. It is, of course, imperative to go to a private school, because the right pre-school puts you on the road to Harvard. The wrong one, I presume, leads to… um… Brown?

Now, my husband and I have a young lad who turns four next week. He is a fine young lad, to be sure (except for the whining and the food spilling and the general acting like an almost-four year old). But is he Harvard material? How the heck should I know! Not to mention the fact that, my feeling is, if he wants to go to Harvard, let him figure out his own road to getting there – isn’t that part of the fun?

So, I guess what I’m asking John is, not only how do you feel about testing the pre-school crowd, but the whole concept of parents wanting to give their kids ‘the best advantages.’ And what are those ‘best advantages,’ anyway?”

I feel sorry for the preschoolers being tested, basically. I’m a tremendous believer in the value of education, even and especially at an early age, but I also think this sort of thing is rather more about status than it is anything else, and that’s of course a big problem. Your average three or four year old is not going to lay awake nights wondering what the neighbors will think if he doesn’t get into a particular preschool — or if he does, his parents need to be taken out behind the brownstone and brained with a squash racquet. In many fundamental ways, one of the goals of parents should be to shield their egos from their children. If junior doesn’t get into a particular preschool his parents need him to go to for their own purposes, he’s going to know that his parents are disappointed in him, he just won’t be able to understand why. That’s a grand way to mess up your kid from an early age.

I’d also be worried that all this testing and competitive pre-school hoo-hah grinds into a child at a very early, critical age is that learning is work rather than fun. If you’re three and your parents are drilling you mercilessly with flash cards so you can pass a test you don’t understand for a goal that’s conceptually beyond your grasp, what’s going to be your takeaway from the whole learning experience? Primarily that it’s a pointless grind, and that’s it’s no fun. And somewhere along the way, the kid is going to wake up to the realization that he or she is expecting to pitch in to this pointless grind for another couple of decades. That’s not going to be a happy day for that kid. And what follows from there aren’t going to be happy days for the parents.

My daugher is four. She can read and write, she can add and subtract, she knows the name of all the planets and tell you a little bit about each of them and she’s known how to operate her own computer since the age of about sixteen months. She’s curious about the world and how and why things work and she asks a lot of questions and makes a lot of observations. There are a number of reasons why she’s as aware and engaged as she is, and I think one of them is the philosophy of her parents regarding her education at this point, which is: Offer but don’t insist. Encourage but don’t require. Make it fun, not work.

That’s the best advantage you can give your kids, really: The understanding that learning can be a pleasurable experience rather than just another chore to get through. Which is why even if I lived in New York City, I wouldn’t be bothering with having Athena tested to get accepted for preschool. It just doesn’t seem like it would be much fun for her. And anyway she’s got lots of time for standarized testing later. At age four, I’m happy just to let her play. This joy for life and learning will serve her later in life, as she’s blowing past all the people who ground away so long as kids that they never learned how to do much of anything else.

(Remember I’m still taking topic suggestions for Reader Appreciation Week! Make your suggestions in the message thread here.)


Reader Request #3: TV

Okay, here’s one from Wendell, who wants to know about my television habits. He writes:

You’ve written little about the beloved Idiot Box (TV) in your years on the Whatever (I Googled to make sure there wasn’t something I’d missed that you’d already done), awarding “The Simpsons” the title of Best TV Show of the Millennium, and declaring your “recent TV choices” 15 months ago as “Nickelodeon (for SpongeBob Squarepants), Cartoon Network, CNN Headline News, the Science Channel, and The West Wing.”

Anything to add?
What did you think of the season finale of West Wing and its future without Aaron Sorkin?
Ever seen “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, or what have you said/done to people who say “You ought to watch Buffy”?
Have you ever seen Alton Brown’s “Good Eats”, or will you find out which channel is ‘Food Network’ in order to watch Lileks’ guest appearance on Al Roker’s show?
What’s your favorite show on Cartoon Network?
Please please please explain the appeal of ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ (I have enjoyed many cartoons in my adult life, but NOT THAT ONE).
Can you name all the spin-offs of “Law & Order” and “CSI” (trick question)?
How would you use TiVo if you had it (I’m assuming you don’t but you know what it is)?
Is it possible to spend too much time online AND watch too much TV?

Last question first: Yes, of course, especially if one considers how little TV (or how little Internet) one truly and actually needs.

I don’t write about television much for the simple reason that I don’t watch a whole lot of it. I’m busy enough during the day (thank God) that I don’t get sucked into its vortex of glowing pixels, and during the evening it seems wrong to stare at a glassy box when one has family to stare at. Also, unlike most people, I don’t default to TV as a boredom cure; this is a combination of being a reading nut very early on and having the TV habit broken for me by my high school, which was a boarding school that did not allow the students to watch TV on a regular basis. There was this idea that we might have homework they need to do instread. I surely resented it at the time, but not so much now.

As I result there are lots of shows people like that I’ve never seen on TV, which include but are not limited to: CSI, Buffy, Seinfeld, American Idol, Survivor, Enterprise, Everybody Loves Raymond and The Osbournes (some of these I’ve seen in their DVD packages). I stopped watching West Wing last year because I sensed it was getting a little too loose with the writing — I blame the cocaine (nevertheless I think it’s not long for the world without Sorkin), and I stopped watching most NBC and FOX shows I used to watch — Friends, Fraiser, Malcolm in the Middle, even (sadly) The Simpsons — when I moved to Ohio, on account that I live too far out to get the broadcast signal for their channels, and yet the local affiliates won’t allow me to get their network alternates on satellite. I’m aware of all these shows, as I am on most pop culture — it freaks my wife out that I know who’s who on American Idol even though I’d rather rub my lips with splintery wood than to watch it — but with the exception of The Simpsons, I don’t feel like I’m missing out much.

This lack of concern about television does weird people out a bit. If you ever want to see a conversation come to a complete stop among certain age groups, simply note that you’ve never seen an episode of Seinfeld; people literally stop and stare like you’ve suddenly sprouted an arm straight out of your nose. Buffy-ites I have noticed will actively try to prostyitize and get you to watch; I visited by ex-girlfriend a couple of years ago and she sat me down with the intent of viewing an episode but I think we ended up taunting her cats instead (they were cute cats). I tend to short-circuit Buffy-ites early on by being agreeable as to the quality of the show and agreeing that just because the original movie stank (and it did) that didn’t mean the show couldn’t be brilliant. That usually calms them down.

My active TV watching these days is confined to Nickelodeon and CNN Headline News and in the morning, Disney Channel with Athena (she loves her the Rolie Polie Olie). Cartoon Network has fallen out of favor with me because it’s replaced most of its lineup with anime of varying quality, and while I appreciate good anime as much as any geek (I just got sent my copy of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie), there’s only so much of the stuff I can watch, and that amount is also fairly low. And with the exception of some of the Adult Swim bits, most of the new original shows from Cartoon Network are crap: Codename: Kids Next Door, for example, needs to be wiped from the planet (my favorite Cartoon Network series ever: Cartoon Planet, the sillier, gentler spinoff of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which I also love).

Nickelodeon’s series in general are also not fabulous: Rocket Power, Chalk Zone and especially Rugrats bother me. But the network has the early 21st century kid’s programming trifecta in Spongebob Squarepants, The Fairly Oddparents and Jimmy Neutron, all of which have the right mix of kid goofiness and sly adult toss-offs to make them enjoyable to watch for everyone. As for the unnerving popularity of Spongebob, well, it’s just the show’s time, like it was for the Powerpuff Girls a couple of years ago, and South Park before that (and Ren and Stimpy before that). The best way to understand the popularity of Spongebob, without being four or without being stoned, is simply to watch three complete episodes, which is the minimum required amount for an unaltered adult to get hooked by its charm. Fewer than that and your forebrain rebels at the pleasing colors and beguiling shapes. But then it gets you. Fairly Oddparents works on the same principle. As for Jimmy Neutron, the key to enjoying it is simple: Watch Sheen.

As it happens, I do have a TiVo, or more accurately, the Dish PVR, which despite the branding succeess of TiVo in becoming its own verb is actually the best-selling personal video recorder (it’s because it doubles as the satellite cable box). I don’t talk about my TiVo-ing adventures here, primarily because it’s already abundantly clear that I’m a yuppie tech dork with too many toys as it is, and I don’t want to be just another dweeb spooging about his TiVo. Yes, it’s like crack cocaine for your television viewing habits. But you already knew that.

A glimpse into the programs I’ve recorded on the PVR would show 13 hours of Spongebob, a couple hours of Fairly Oddparents, and an assortment of films that run in the wee hours of the night that I’ve recorded to view later: Currently these include The Anniversary Party, A Beautiful Mind, We Were Soldiers, and 48 Hours. Whether I’ll actually get around to watching any of these is another matter entirely; one of the dark secrets of being able to watch any show you choose at any time is that you end up not watching a lot of the stuff you idly record. The being the case, I make myself erase any film I’ve recorded that sits unwatched on the PVR for more than a month. Since erasing an unwatch movie feels vaguely akin to throwing out a book just because you haven’t got around to reading it, this is tougher to do than it seems. But our satellite TV setup has 50 movie channels. Sooner or later they all come back, so I can record and ignore them again. It’s the circle of life.

(Remember I’m still taking topic suggestions for Reader Appreciation Week! Make your suggestions in the message thread here.)

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