I Don’t Want to Grow Up…

I was saddened to learn that Toys R Us would be closing 180 stores in the United States, including one I frequently visit. Like Borders and Circuit City, retail stores dedicated to one category are finding it harder and harder to compete with Walmart and Amazon.

It’s not just how toys are sold that’s causing trouble for the retailer; toys themselves aren’t what they used to be. One of my other favorite toy stores buys, sells, and trades in toys from the past; everything from Lego to Transformers to Cabbage Patch Kids. People my age have a great deal of nostalgia where our childhood toys are concerned. Somehow I can’t imagine kids of today being nostalgic for their toys when they grow up.

When I was young, there were very few “screens” in my house. There was only one family TV and coming from a large family, there was a lot of competition for it. While I did spend time watching Saturday morning cartoons and Disney Afternoon, most of my time was spent in my room playing with a myriad of toys. I didn’t have a lot of toys but I played the heck out of the ones I did have. My sister and I would sit for hours with our Cabbage Patch dolls and our Teddy Ruxpin, listening to stories and creating our own.

As I’ve watched my nieces and nephews grow up, I’ve seen how different the toy world has become. While Lego, Transformers, action figures and dolls are still around, they don’t get played with for the hours on end of my childhood. Once the novelty of a new toy has worn off, they’re tossed in a bin and eventually taken to Good Will. That novelty period seems to be growing shorter and shorter with the increase in screen time.

Toys R Us doesn’t just have to compete with the likes of Walmart and Amazon, they have to compete with the changing world of how kids spend their free time. Instead of building with actual blocks, its applications on a tablet monopolizing free time. Computer and video games have taken over the time previously spent on building with Lego and imaginative play with action figures. If I were to give my nephew a choice between a play house and a new game for his Nintendo, Mario wins every time. To be fair, he’ll play the heck out of his Mario game so in that regard it would be money well spent.

Toy manufacturers are also feeling the squeeze. When kids want screens and apps instead of blocks and dolls, why continue to push physical products? I realize things like film and video rental stores will never return as our society moves into the future. But I believe the toy industry is something worth hanging onto. Physical interactive and imaginative play as a child is fundamental to development. Among other things it teaches social and problem solving skills in a way a screen can’t.

I don’t see digital entertainment going away anytime soon and that’s fine. As an adult I can use screens and devices as they were intended, a tool. I can set the phone or tablet down and go outside for a walk. I can put aside technology and spend a weekend camping with friends and family. I can do this because I didn’t grow up with a screen in my hand so I know how to put it away.

The time in our lives we spend as children is precious and the ability to play and enjoy physical toys shouldn’t be taken for granted. Kids today should learn from experiences in the real physical world and interact with it. When they eventually grow up, as we all do, they can retreat into the digital world knowing it’s not the only thing out there.

“I don’t want to grow up cuz if I did, I couldn’t be a Toys R Us kid!”

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Forward March!

Last year I had the privilege of marching with thousands of women on a peaceful January day in Seattle. It was empowering to see so many women gathered together seeking rights, freedom and justice for all.

This year when the women marched I watched from home for reasons that are unimportant. As I watched the live stream I read some of the comments and it struck me how many of them were negative. I could see how men might not understand the plight of women but many if not the majority of negativity I was seeing was coming from other women. While this doesn’t surprise me, it does get me frustrated.

One comment stated all those people were wasting their time and if they really wanted to help they should be volunteering somewhere and not marching and leaving garbage behind. Another said women should be grateful for the rights they already have rather than asking for more. I shook my head and scrolled on.

I understood why they marched, for the same reasons I marched a year ago. The right for women to vote didn’t come from writing letters to politicians and asking nicely. Civil rights didn’t come about by holding rallies in churches where outsiders weren’t disturbed. Making signs and taking to the streets is the most peaceful and effective way to demonstrate the need for change. To make it known to the public that change needs to happen, the people must go out and make noise, be inconvenient until change happens. It is not only our right but our responsibility to demand a fair shot and for our elected representatives to truly represent what we the people want, women included. For me and the millions that marched over the last two years, that means not only wanting a voice but wanting our voices to be heard loud and clear. Women’s rights are human rights, equal pay for equal work, and my body my choice.

Yet there are those voices who don’t want things to change, voices fine with the status quo because change is hard and we are “close enough”. I have struggled with figuring out why these women feel as they do. Are they women in abusive relationships who submit to their partner? Were they raised in a deeply religious environment where the patriarchy was the basis of everything? Have they been taught that women are second to men and simply don’t believe they can have better? If you are a woman reading this and you don’t believe in things like equal rights and equal pay, please comment and tell me why!

Close enough isn’t good enough, not for me, not for my sisters and nieces; we deserve a fair shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While I wasn’t at the march on Saturday this year in person, I was there in spirit. I will continue to write letters and engage with people who think and feel differently than I do so I may seek to understand, to find common ground upon which we all can build a better future.

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Yes We Can

In the 24th century there is no poverty on Earth, everyone has the healthcare they need and all the education they could ever want. The acquisition of wealth is no longer a driving force for mankind. Instead humans work to better themselves through knowledge and the exploration of human potential. At least that was Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future.

Last week as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, a post from a friend I haven’t seen since elementary school popped out. This guy tends to rant when he posts and where politics are concerned, he picks on everyone so while I don’t usually agree with everything he says, I like to look for the common ground. This particular post started out with opinions I don’t believe are supported by facts saying the President doesn’t care what people say about him (I’d argue that’s about the only thing he cares about!). He goes on to say that liberals want free stuff and to be lazy, that America is a dying nation full of stupid people, and that we will never have things like universal healthcare, fair wages, and an affordable education.

Usually by this point, I’ve scrolled on as I generally don’t like reading all that negativity but for some reason, his words gave me pause. In my mind I went back to the 1700s, to colonial America. If Facebook were a thing back then I’d imagine his post would read something like, America will always be subject to British rule, we will never have taxation with representation, and freedom is a pipedream. If you were to ask a slave before the civil war about freedom, he’d tell you it will never happen. If you asked a woman during the revolution about going to college or starting her own business, she’d no doubt laugh at you. But slavery in this country was abolished and opportunities for women have expanded. Have we reached the finish line? Hell no but we’re a heck of a lot closer than when we started.

I believe we can have things like fair wages, affordable education and universal healthcare. I think those things in particular would make our country not only great but strong. A healthy, well educated people capable of earning a living without help doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. I realize it won’t happen overnight but to say it will never happen is grossly shortsighted in my opinion.

We the people get to decide what is important and where to place our priorities. We tell our elected officials what we want and if they can’t make it happen, we get to elect ones that can. It is folly to think we are incapable of moving forward. Just look at how far we’ve already come. I’m not convinced the future Gene Roddenberry imagines for the 24th century will ever become a reality, I think elements of human nature can’t be reconciled by then. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

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Sorry, not sorry

I have many personal heroes; unfortunately most of them live in the realms of books, movies, and television. It’s no secret I was a huge Star Trek fan growing up and Jean-Luc Picard taught me so much about integrity and standing up for the truth even when the consequences could be devastating.

I remember watching Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fifth season episode “The First Duty” and being disappointed at how long it took Wesley to admit he and his team lied about the circumstances surrounding a fellow cadet’s death. For those who aren’t familiar with this episode, Cadet Wesley Crusher and his academy flight squadron were engaging in a flight maneuver strictly banned by the institution. If they successfully pulled off this maneuver they would be lauded as heroes by their fellow trainees. Unfortunately for Wesley and his squadron, during practice something went wrong and his friend was killed as a result. His team tried to cover it up but as the saying goes, the truth will out. Picard invites Wesley to his ready room where he explains “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth!”

As I’ve grown and garnered more life experience, I can sympathize with young Cadet Crusher more than I did as a teenager. While I think the death of his friend should have been more than sufficient circumstances to compel him to tell the truth from the start, I can understand how remaining loyal to his squadron commander and his friends, lying to protect them as it were, could create a difficult choice. In the end Wesley does the right thing to honor his friend who died. He tells the truth and willingly faces the consequences. He owned his mistake.

While I can’t say this episode alone taught me this lesson, it certainly reinforced concepts I had learned growing up. There have been times I’ve made mistakes or taken a shortcut for the sake of expediency. Most of the time those situations worked out but on the occasion they didn’t, I didn’t lie. I owned my failures and faced the consequences. I’ve learned that when you own up to your mistakes, admit wrong doing and make the effort to correct them, the disappointment by others is balanced by a level of respect for making it right.

Lately I’ve seen an unfortunate trend in American culture when a wrong is committed. The offending individual is quick to place blame elsewhere, often at the feet of the person they just victimized! Our instinct is one of self-preservation and when someone is caught doing something wrong, whether embarrassed, entitled, or ignorant the offender generally refused to own up.

You say something you shouldn’t and it hurts someone. Do you deny you said it? Downplay and dismiss the context in which it was said? Tell the person you hurt they are too sensitive and to get over it? Or do you own it and apologize? Would it really be so bad to just admit you made a mistake and apologize for it?

What happens to a society when the people chosen to lead said society are incapable of owning their mistakes? When our leaders are unwilling and unable to say “I’m sorry,” can we really expect the rest of the country to do the right thing when they’ve done something wrong? Why is admitting you’ve made a mistake perceived as weakness? We all make mistakes; every single one of us is flawed and prone to error. A quick apology can defuse a situation but denying wrong doing only exacerbates the issue turning a minor offense into a major ordeal.

I am grateful for Picard and other fictional heroes who have taught me so well. I’ll stick with them instead of the lessons many current real life leaders would have me learn instead.

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The Nuclear Option

Anything relating to “nuclear” tends to strike fear in the hearts of most people. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of what “nuclear” means and human nature is to fear what isn’t understood. As someone who has worked at length in the nuclear power industry, I have a very healthy respect for the awesome power nuclear energy can provide. I also have an understanding of the devastation that power can cause when turned into a weapon. Yes, like most people, I fear nuclear war. My fear is not based on ignorance however; it’s based on knowledge available to anyone willing to seek it.

If there is one singular thing leaders of nations with a nuclear arsenal can never joke about, it’s the use of that arsenal. I am not exaggerating when I say these weapons can end civilization as we know it and there is nothing funny about that. In my opinion, any leader who makes light of using such weapons of mass destruction is wholly unfit to lead.

Let’s put some things into perspective. I think we can all agree the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II were pretty powerful and extremely devastating. The explosive yield of Little Boy, the bomb used on Hiroshima was about 15 thousand tons or 0.015 megatons. Fat Man, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was a little bigger at about 21,000 tons or 0.021 megatons. Little Boy killed about 80,000 people instantly and more than 100,000 additional lives were lost in the aftermath. These two bombs decisively ended the war in Japan.

This was all back in 1945 and if there’s one thing Americans are really good at, it’s making things bigger! Today’s nuclear weapons yield an explosion anywhere from 1 kiloton to 1.2 megatons. These weapons are substantially larger and more powerful that those used on Japan and we have almost seven thousand of them!

When an atomic weapon detonates, its destructive capability isn’t limited to just the physical devastation resulting from the force of the blast. Nuclear weapons blast dust and particulates into the atmosphere and leave behind plumes of radioactive material. The radioactive plume can be carried on the wind and deposited hundreds or thousands of miles away. The dust can stay in the upper atmosphere and drive down temperatures on the Earth’s surface (not a realistic solution to the end of global warming in my opinion). If enough atomic bombs are detonated, it could devastate crops by blocking the sun and plunging the planet into a near ice age. There’s also that whole radiation sickness to contend with. When the dust finally settles, it won’t matter who started it, there won’t be a civilization left to pick up the pieces.

A nuclear war isn’t just a war between two sides. A nuclear war is global and no single nation however great has the right to decide the fate of the world.

“Except for fools and madmen, everyone knows that nuclear war would be an unprecedented human catastrophe.” – Carl Sagan

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Happy Birthday to…me?

Today marks the anniversary of yet another trip around the sun for this lowly human. That’s right, it’s my birthday! I’m not a fan of birthdays anymore and were it not for the fact my birthday falls right after New Year’s Day, I would likely forget it most years. It’s not that I hate birthdays in general or that I don’t like celebrating my own, I just never considered surviving a trip around the sun as especially remarkable after the age of about ten.

However, this year I feel a change in attitude about the day of my birth. I am reminded today and every day really at how fast time seems to move as I age. There are things I want to do in life, things I want to see and experience and some of those things will only get harder as my human form grows older (unless my friend George solves that whole aging thing).

As I look back over my life to this point I can see dozens of roads not taken. I never imagined I’d be where I am today and I often wonder where I would be had I made different choices. I can say honestly that I’m happy and that’s precious. I have a wonderful husband, some really great friends, an awesome board game collection, and time to pursue interests and hobbies. I have my family close by, a great church community, and really good internet speeds for streaming! That is definitely something!

In the coming days, months, and years I want to travel more within the United States but it’s not cities I want to see. I want to see lakes and rivers and mountains. I want to walk through caves, stargaze where there’s no light pollution, and beachcomb where there’s no human garbage left behind. I want to see monuments and museums. I want to touch the places where human civilization made significant turning points. Of course I also want to travel among the stars and visit alien planets but I’ll have to save that for another life!

I also want to leave some kind of legacy behind. It doesn’t have to be grand and life changing for a lot of people but some kind of mark to show that I was here, that I, J.A. McLendon, lived a good and happy life on Earth. I want my time here to have meant something to the people that matter to me. When my time comes to leave this place, this existence, I want to leave it better than I found it.

Most importantly, moving forward with what I hope to be many more trips around the sun, I want to be deliberate in the everyday choices that I make, to consider how even the smallest simplest gestures can change a moment in someone else’s life. My cumulative effect may not be much but on the off chance it sparks others to do the same, ripples can turn into waves and maybe together we can all change the world. That would be something!

Happy Birthday to me!

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