Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Video Games & Winning Summer Battles

As I strolled through campus for a short afternoon break accompanied by triple digit weather I pondered my summer thus far. Power outages, not to mention the heat output of our gaming systems and television have driven us into the pool and me to reading even more books. I have been reading my share of guilty pleasure vampire novels and also finishing up updated version of James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Gee articulates well that the games to impact development but not always in a bad way as they are often framed.

It has been a busy summer, the zombies on my Ipad proved unworthy adversaries for my plant armies and me. The US Supreme Court upheld video games first amendment protection and I got interviewed by local public radio station about it.


My only disappointment was that the interview was defensive rather than a dialogue about games. As James Paul Gee, Jane McGonigal, Henry Jenkins and myself all point out there are many elements that make new media not evil. Yup, I am conceited and I just listed myself with all the authors I am reading right now, but I do agree with them. Though some battles are being won for video games this summer, we need to take a more offensive strategy soon if we want to win the war.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Birthday Letter to Joanne Hudson

Sixteen year ago, during a hot Bakersfield summer afternoon I was sweating in the East Bakersfield High School gym with dozens of other hopeful girls auditioning to be an EB Blades cheerleader. The first day of practice a girl with a genuine smile and infectiously positive demeanor introduced herself and I can say even to this day Joanne Hudson is the nicest person I have ever met.

My sister, Joanne and I were among the precious few who made the team. I would soon discover I did not have the spirit and dedication to be a career cheerleader but I did learn many important lessons and make friends that I still have until this day. Four years later, the day after graduation I forwent joining my sister on a celebratory trip to Disneyland with my peers and instead traveled to Hume Lake Christian camp to begin a summer of manual labor for God.

Isolated from anyone I knew, working at Hume changed my life. This was before everyone owned a cell phone, updated their facebook status or tweeted. On my eighteenth birthday, without a single person wishing me happy birthday, I sat cleaning a clogged bathroom stall thinking that life could only get better. The next morning the most beautiful letter arrived from Joanne, she had no idea about my birthday, but sent me a letter to tell me how inspired she was by my journey to the camp and to keep the faith.

After college and a few jobs later, Joanne and I found ourselves back in Bakersfield. Moving back to your hometown is like cutting off your hair, you run your finger over the ghost of what you knew only to find it changed. Bakersfield and I are both different now but my friendship with Joanne is unchanged. Even though we are only minutes away from one another or she could just post on my facebook wall, Joanne still sends out her beautiful letters.

A friend once remarked that the one thing they miss about Bakersfield is Smith's smiley-face cookies and of course Joanne makes sure they receive one every birthday: because that is what she does, she sends smiles and joy via the US postal service. As we embark on our thirties this year I cannot be more elated to see what life holds in store and what new treasures will arrive in my mailbox.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gray Hair and a Grandmothers Legacy

My great-grandmother had a full head of gray hair by the time she turned thirty and every I regularly visit my gifted hairdresser to resist this genetic certainty. This gray haired woman’s name was Virginia Jiron and she was a proud Latina woman who worked her entire life. Committed to her faith, she was a leader in the Catholic Daughters and Rosary societies. 

I was only seven when she passed but as I have gotten older she has become dear to me because of our shared locks. As children, we traveled to Los Angeles from Bakersfield to visit my great-grandparents and I was always antsy from the long drive but the Virgin Mary statue in the garden made me enter reverently. 

My fondest memories include: a kitchen that smelled of lemon cleaner filled with collectable spoons and exotic candy, a bedroom with squeaky metal twin beds and pictures from around the world. This place contained the magic of a strong woman. In 2011 for my thirtieth birthday, my grandfather gave me a silver bracelet with the Mayan calendar for my birthday. As soon as I opened the box and before anyone told me, I knew the treasure belonged to my great-grandmother Virginia. It emanated her magic. Every time I need to be brave I wear this bracelet and think of her legacy. Today, to celebrate all mothers I wanted to re-post this message to remind us all to carry with us the legacy our amazing madres and abuelas left behind. 

* photo one is my Mom (Gina Hertz) and Grandma Virginia at Honey Cruz's kitchen table *photo two is our first holy communion with my Pops & Great Grandma Virginia

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Shocked by Bakersfield Relay for Life

If someone told me this weekend that I would be hip checked over a chair in a midnight version of musical chairs; would walk in a crowd of hundreds wearing a borrowed pink snuggy; stop in mid stride and burst into impromptu line dancing with strangers I would never believe them. This weekend I had my first over night encounter with Bakersfield Relay for Life and left the event shocked by many things, the least of which is the record 2.4 million dollars that the event earned. The one thing that astounded me was the events ongoing nightlong festivities.

During the day Relay for Life is a spectacle as thousands of people visit booths that pay tribute to those who have been touched by cancer. There are quilts, photos, crafts and baked goods galore. Every participant is there because they want to help stop cancer and no matter how small your role, as a spectator or organizer you sense the power of the Bakersfield community to come together.

The new relay location is outside the city limits and without sound ordinances the DJ kept the party at relay going all night long. After I got my exaughsted four-year-old zipped into a sleeping bag I emerged from the tent to help with cleanup and say my good nights. The Kern county probation relay team needed one more board game player and asked me to join as they wait for midnight pizza delivery. With over 400 sites at the event, I was intrigued by the promise of pizza delivered at midnight right to our table. Rusty’s pizza showed up almost exactly on time with hot cheese pizza not just at our site but also throughout the event.

After we each shared a slice the cold set in and my sleeping bag was calling. The DJ announced that a musical chairs is a great way to burn calories and warm up, so invigorated by my pizza surprise I joined in and made it through with only one major bruise. Each hour there are different themes with an incredible eighties cover band the first few hours and then a series of random themes that include everything from sports teams to glow hour.

The reason we stay up all night is not just to punish our bodies but because the “relay” or walking of the track keeps going all 24 hours of the event. It is not easy to keep walking, even in shifts, on a cold night away from civilization and so everyone helps keep each other motivated. While we walked the track in the middle of the night we stopped on high school row at the West High schools booth for free smores. We saw dozens of folks watching the twilight movies while waiting for their hour to keep the walk going.

For the last few years my twin sister has pleaded with me to experience the overnight part of relay and I must admit that she was astoundingly correct, there is nothing like it. Thank you team Probation for allowing my daughter and I to stand beside you in this fight because it truly changed our lives; if you have never been to Relay or only stopped by to “check it out” you are missing out, I know I cannot wait to do the chicken dance at 4 am in a snuggy again next year.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What is a Snooki?

Watching Wrestlemania live was wonderful, but I did miss the nuances of commentators and dialogue to help the flow of the stories. For me the litmus test of a great wrestling match is not just impressive bravado and physical skill, but also the ability to surprise me with interesting reversals and maneuvers; Wrestlemania XXVII did not disappoint in that respect with the Del Rio vs. Christian match and Undertaker vs. HHH. The show was filled with surprises, but I will list the best and worst.

I titled this entry “What is a Snooki?” because last year in my public speaking student class a student asked to do a speech on the topic “Snooki”. I said, "What is a Snooki?" This is important because she made it as number one on my list.



1. Snooki/Trish Stratus fight- I have never seen an episode of the show Jersey Shore, but I think Snooki is awesome. Trish Stratus flipping backward off the top ropes to the outside of the ring and in every other way showed amazing technical skill. Snooki ended the fight with surprising energy and a great move. Overall I expected this match to be long, boring and uneventful. It blew me away.

2. HHH intro- The Game totally brought it with his entrance. He played Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and he was flanked by marching Vikings as he entered the arena. It was spectacular to watch, hear and remember.

3. Pee-Wee Herman- Pee Wee Herman and The Rock made fun of Cena…nuff said.

4. John Cena Intro- Cena had a full church choir. The lead singer had amazing pipes, and almost brought the audience to tears. Enter the prayer from DMX's second album. I was almost ready to join Cenation.

5. Glass Booth - When The Undertaker and HHH took the fight out of the ring I knew they would go for the Spanish commentators' booth first thing. I did not expect them to completely tear down a Plexiglas booth as they wrestled. That booth looked pretty steady while The King scaled it about an hour earlier.

6. Captain America- I loved Rey Mysterio dressed as Captain America. Wrestlemania should have fun costumes that the audience reacts to - for better or worse - and Mysterio is keeping up the HBK tradition of bringing the flare.

7. Stone Cold- No matter what he did - and much to the dismay of the mother seated in front of me 0 I was going to scream and flip the bird when Steve Austin came out at Wrestlemania. I did not expect "Stone Cold" to enter on a quad and send Michael Cole running like a little girl to hide in the Plexiglas booth. This moment had me cackling with laughter and it was a great surprise.


1. HBK- The number one worst surprise for me was how small of a role Shawn Michaels had in the show. A lot of reviewers are complaining about the direction for the show, the ends of matches and the role of The Rock and Stone Cold. My biggest disappointment was that The Heartbreak Kid never intervened in the HHH and Undertaker match, even to help The Undertaker from the ring, rather than allowing him to be carted off.

2. Crying Kids- Leaving the arena I saw hundreds of adorable children in their parents' arms crying after Cena’s loss. I have been at funerals with less tears. I am not a huge Cena fan but it was surprising to me how devastating the loss was and that the WWE would allow so many kids to walk out early and leave Wrestlemania depressed.

3. HHH- HHH tapping out in his match was devastating to me. I was not surprised that he lost. For me, it was the fact that he would actually give up.

4. Sheamus Shafted- The US Title lumberjack match was horrible. Sheamus was misrepresented in the show program as a Wrestlemania performer, but his match actually became a pre-show debacle that turned a cluster$*k of a battle royal, and ended without either of the scheduled wrestlers standing victorious. It was horrible to watch in a stadium, and television viewers did not even get a chance to watch it.

5. DMX- Cena used a new intro with a gospel choir and a prayer by DMX. Since it is Wrestlemania and Cena’s hip hop/rap music have been a topic recently hyped by The Rock, I thought DMX or even Snoop Dogg might emerge and perform as a surprise… Nope. It was just a clip from DMX's second CD, and wasted what could have been an amazing television moment.

6. The King Match- I love The King but his match was way too long. While other matches were filled with technical skill and surprises, this match was long, boring and unskilled. There were funny moments but by the end I was completely bored, which is shocking because Stone Cold was there.

7. Undertaker Angle- I don’t hate The Undertaker angle but I was surprised how helpless and old they made The Undertaker seem. Being evacuated from the stage by paramedics made him seem like a broken old man, even after he had just performed such an awesome match.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What Not to Wear: Wrestlemania XXVII

I received an email two days ago reminding me to wear business casual attire to the WWE Hall of Fame Awards. I had already packed basing my wardrobe choice on photos from last year's event. Panicked, I called the venue and asked if I should wear “cocktail casual” or “business casual?” Without hesitation the woman politely informed me that she received dozen of calls from fans and the general consensus was jeans. I could never wear the top I had brought to work and was relieved that my choice was appropriate.

The efforts by WWE to make this event more classy are admirable, but cheering in athletics bleachers seems at odds with an upscale aesthetic. The email had varying effect and made people-watching a joy. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin embodied this paradox in a tailored three piece suit accessorized with a few beer cans. Other than the VIP on camera I only counted about two dozen women in heels. I expected the outrageous, but what surprised me was that female WWE fans really took the email to heart and honored the occasion with beautiful party dresses.

Like women’s attire at the event, the occasion itself was a mixed bag. Here are my highlights of the night's awards.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan -The crowd chanted constantly “U.S.A.” and “Hoooooooo” as Hacksaw shared the story of how he got his trademark persona and 2x4.

Bullet Bob Armstrong-"Road Dog" and Armstrong's two other sons introduced him and he entered with his trademark dance, keeping the fans on their feet.

Sunny- A farce that cheapened women’s role in the WWE as Diva’s made annoying faces and didn’t break character to present. They introduce legendary personality Sunny.

Abdullah the Butcher
-“I have been forked by Abdullah in every state in the union.” -- Terry Funk

RoadWarriors- Rhodes told moving stories, Animal rambled and Paul Ellering was confusing. The overall effect was a long yawn.

Drew Carey- “I am skinny, rich and on TV. Go ahead and boo!” - -Drew

Shawn Michaels
- I cried during the promo video, laughed during HHH’s roast and was on my feet instantly during the surprise reunion of The Klique.

Getting to see and hear the honorees recognize God, wives and children was really special. Watching HBK jump off the stage to embrace his adorable red-haired daughter made my night. Just like the outfits there were some duds, but the great ones made up for the rest.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

From Bakersfield to Wrestlemania XXVII

Making final preparations for our big trip to Wrestlemania I have received many quizzical looks and cynical comments. The effect reminds me of a saying born in one of my most memorable classes that has become a popular phrase for my family.

My students were not sure how to react to an online interview where I proclaimed myself a proud feminist. Without reading anything but the title of the article, one student inquired "how I fit flannel boxers under my lovely dress?" As the class held their breathe, I retorted that the student should "be careful, your Bakersfield is showing." Such was born a phrase that encompasses the inevitable awkward moments of our central valley culture. After yesterdays mixed and uncomfortable replies to my vacation destination I cannot help but feel like my Bakersfield is showing.

Wrestlemania is without argument an unrivaled entertainment spectacle but this is not at the root why I, like millions of others, am a dedicated fan. The WWE artfully performs a bi-weekly parody of American culture. It borrow characters like Snooki and Pee-Wee Herman from "real life" as it spins a web of villains/heroes and stereotypes and realities. Some dismiss wrestling as muscled men in underwear and surgically enhanced women promoting violence. Anyone who has attended a live event would never make this claim, they would attest to the artistry of six and seven feet tall men orchestrating aerial feats that rival circ de soleil . All without injury, only to get up and do it all again the next day in another city. I have only been to three previous live shows, but each I held my breathe, screamed in excitement and was swept away with the fervor of the crowd. Even though I have been an estranged fan, the transition back to high school television habits has been a delight.

Those of us born and raised in Kern county acquire our own unique ways, tastes and beliefs. Arriving safe in Atlanta we emerged up the escalator to be greeted by a banner welcoming us to Wrestlemania at that moment I realized the WWE will always have a place in my heart and you cannot beat the Bakersfield out of me with a stick.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Romance of Wrestlemania XXVII

The movie When Harry Met Sally posits that men and women can never just be friends. My husband was seated next to me through junior high school and became my close friend while dissecting a frog together at East Bakersfield high school. Worried about how I would react to pulling out organs, this introverted guy chatted endlessly about professional wrestling and Metal Gear Solid and we became instant lifelong friends.

We ate lunch together, played video games, I complained about my dating troubles and we watched wrestling. Three years post frog incident we remained close and completely plutonic. Watching Monday night Raw on February 8th 1999 our relationship changed forever, when John reached across the sofa and held my hand.

Married over eight years with two children my husband is still my best friend. A few months ago my friend Henry who lives in Atlanta called and pitched the idea of attending Wrestlemania at the Georgia Dome. We resumed our high school television habits, scrimped and saved, begged our cynical loved ones to watch our little ones and are all set to attend Wrestlemania XXVII.

My excitement has escalated because my favorite wrestling personalities from a decade ago, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock, have reemerged in show storylines. To you as a reader, professional wrestling may be fake and corny but to me it is a time machine transporting me back to my teens to remember the first touch of his fingertips that changed everything I had known. To my husband, if you are reading this I plan to hold your hand through entire the main even. As time passes we forget how small moments shaped the course of our lives, we must cease every opportunity to rekindle the feelings that brought us to where we are today.