Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow Warnings vs. Crying Wolf

Everyone has different experiences with snow. Growing up in Utah, I became quite familiar with not only snow, but how it impacts day-to-day activities. It was rather simple: when it snowed, you stayed off the road as much as possible. If you did have to go out, you drove slowly and carefully.

I’ve lived in North Carolina for over six years now. Snow is rare. We may get a little about once a year. When we do, everything shuts down. If you’ve lived in a part of the world where snow is more common, this may seem strange—even to the point of over-reacting.

But consider the following: warmer areas, like North Carolina, simply don’t have the resources to handle the snow because it isn’t common. In addition, people who live where snow is rare aren’t experienced enough to know how to handle it. That’s not a criticism, that’s human nature.

I write this blog on the third day of school being closed. The forecast called for below freezing temperatures and up to four inches of snow to come in on Tuesday afternoon. Our local school district canceled school on Tuesday, even though the storm wasn’t supposed to come until the afternoon.

Some people (myself included) may scratch their heads and wonder why cancel so early for something that might happen later in the day. Here are two things I should have remembered from all my years of working in TV news:

First: weather is very unpredictable.

Second: weather can be dangerous.

Just a few years ago, a tornado touched down a few miles away from us. Here’s a picture of what it did to a sign in the area:

Now consider what happened in Atlanta during this recent storm. According to media reports, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm alert for Atlanta at 3:38 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 hours before the worst of the traffic set in.

It can be argued that officials didn’t take it as seriously as they could have. What happened? People were jammed on the roads for hours. School children were stuck in school buses, and some students even had to spend the night at schools. 
Photo courtesy of ABC News
Here, in North Carolina, they took the warning more seriously and we avoided many of the same issues Atlanta faced.

But I say there is room for improvement. I was, and am, openly critical of Wake County Public Schools for waiting until after 9 pm on Tuesday to announce that schools were going to be closed on Wednesday.

Why? Well, when the National Weather Service “cried wolf,” meaning a storm may be coming, the school district acted cautiously—and I agree with what they did. People’s safety should come first.

However, once the storm hit, meaning the wolf was actually at the door, the school district waited until their scheduled meeting time of 9 pm to make the decision.

When school is canceled, it often requires parents to adjust their plans to make sure their kids are taken care of.

Here’s a not so humble suggestion: when the wolf is at your door, don’t wait for a pre-scheduled time in the future to decide what to do about it. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

But, I didn’t like it

While taking my third daughter to school recently, she said to me, “Ug. I have a test in Language Arts today. We have to read poems and then try to guess what the poet meant. I hate that. What if I like the poem for a different reason than the poet intended?”

When she said this, I wanted to cheer. Does that sound like a strange reaction to you? Let me explain.

As I’ve studied literature, I’ve discovered that there are two basic schools of thought.

First, there are those who are convinced that the only way to truly appreciate a poem or story or work of art of any kind is to learn about the person who created it, there social-economic conditions, their political views, what they had for breakfast, their favorite day of the week, and which toe on their left foot they find most adorable.

Second, there are those who experience art (by reading, listening, viewing, or a combination of any of the senses) and then determine for themselves whether or not they like it. Often, the reason someone likes or doesn’t like something is based on their personal experiences at the moment they experience the art.

I’m firmly in the second camp.

Here’s an example of why: A person can play for me a rap song that is widely acknowledged as being influential and even revolutionary. I can learn about the rapper and what drove him to create the work. I can study how this particular song impacted not only other rappers, but also people of a certain culture. I’m pretty darn sure at the end of all of this, I’m still not going to like the song. I don’t like rap music. Period.

Okay, still not convinced? How about a true example. I read the book 1984 by George Orwell. It’s considered a classic. It is studied in schools. Papers have been written about the book’s importance. From an intellectual and academic point of view, I recognize how 1984 is significant in the history of literature. But, I didn’t like it.

Keep in mind that I noted that whether or not a person likes something can be influenced by their personal experiences. And guess what? People gain more experiences as they get older.

What this means to me is that there are things I loved when I was younger that I don’t like now and vice-versa.

The most evident of these is music. There were certain songs I hated in the 1980’s, but now when I hear them, I find that I like them. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s maturity. Maybe I’ve finally gotten enough experiences to appreciate music I didn’t like before.

In the end, I told my daughter, “In real life, you don’t win a prize if you can guess what a person meant when they created art. If you connect with it on an emotional, spiritual, or even an intellectual level, and it means something to you, then who cares what the person meant?” 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Creative Curse

I have a creative mind. I’ve grown to understand that fact and embrace it as I’ve gotten older. Perhaps the word “curse” is wrong. Maybe I should use “blessing”—but then “The Creative Blessing” doesn’t sound as cool.

For whatever reason, as I live and observe the world around me, ideas pop into my head. Often they are “Why are things this way?” or “What if…” To that end, my mind seems to dwell on these thoughts to the point where I’m driven to do something to express this creativity.

Here’s an example from last night: I was sitting on the couch with my daughter Emily. We were doing something called Family Home Evening. It’s a time on Monday nights when we get together as a family and do various activities. On the couch next to me was a stuffed animal known in our household as “Bear Bear.” (It’s a name my youngest daughter Stephanie gave him.)

I was goofing around with Bear Bear, pretending he was peeking at Emily from behind different things like pillows and her leg and shoulder. Then the idea came to me: What if Bear Bear were to slowly come out from behind a hiding place to the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey?

So, after Family Home Evening was done, with the help from Emily and Stephanie, we recorded some video of Bear Bear doing just that. I added the music later. When I uploaded it to YouTube, I realized the video was turned on its side, but I don’t have the software to change that. And for some reason, I liked it better this way.

In the end, this was the result:

I think it’s funny. I don’t know why, but I just do.

Of course, most of the time, flex my creative muscles by writing books and story stories. Yet every once in a while, I’ll create weird graphics or images that I find funny, even if no one else does.

Here’s an example:

I am severely allergic to cats. I don’t like them. Thankfully, neither does my wife. To that end, I decided to have a little fun at their expense. I came up with the idea of “Cat is not amused.” It’s a serious of jokes told from Dog to Cat in a tormenting sort of way. (Note! I do not condone cruelty to animals! Not even cats!)

Here’s an example of one of these “Cat is not amused” jokes:

To see all of them, click here.

Some people would say I’m wasting my time in doing this. To that I answer, “Yeah? Try living in my head for a while and then tell me that.”