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In Defense of Miley Cyrus: Twerking Morphs into Free Publicity for MTV VMAs

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Oct 13, 2013    

The cacophony of hypocrisy still surrounding the Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke performance at the VMAs is deafening and one thing is for sure: Both Miley and MTV got what they wanted. 

See, it's really all and only about publicity, isn't' it? And this year, the "awards ceremony", got exactly what it could never pay for: Blaring, unfettered acrimony. Nectar of the music industry gods.

Let's face it; tawdriness is no stranger to this event. Performers court it; Madonna and Britney Spears can testify to that. This affair is not for the faint of heart…nor is it for children. Hear that Will Smith? Why so surprised? What did you expect your progeny to see and hear? The cast and theme song from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood?

Let us not forget, after all is said and done, that music is a business. No one, no matter how loudly they cry "artistic craftsmanship," is in it for anything but money, power and ego. Miley Cyrus, at the tender age of twenty knows that. Her twerking partner Robin Thicke, the author of the most mainstream pornographic music video of the year, knows that, too. And so do the producers of the VMAs. This was no spontaneous moment of creative inspiration. This was a costume-fitting, choreography-driven, well-rehearsed, orchestrated act. Duh? It's called the Video Music Awards because acting is as much a part of this industry as it is in the WWF. So, enough about Miley's shot at major league stardom; she grabbed what she could, both literally and figuratively. She stuck her tongue out and called the bluff of every seasoned veteran in the music industry in a deliberate, calculated strategy to forever imprint the collective memories of the viewing public, as well as those who never even heard of Miley Cyrus before that night. 

It was the twerk of the century.


Teaching in a University Setting Can Be an Education: My Advice Before You Begin

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Aug 16, 2013

There are nuances to teaching at the university level that most professors come to learn for themselves, through experience and, sometimes, by means of baptism by fire. While educating individuals in a college setting is rewarding, there are a few lessons to be learned beforehand. Nothing can be compared to firsthand knowledge, but some advice to the under-experienced might be useful. 

Be Prepared  

The Boy Scouts knew what they were talking about when they took these two words as their motto. Trust that your students will oft times find themselves unprepared; that will not do for their instructor. Make sure you always have a backup lesson awaiting, in case the internet is down and you cannot view the film you scheduled. 

Expect the Unexpected  

 You do not have control over everything; events will occur that are out of your scope of experience. Do not panic; nothing will damage your credibility more (well, some things, might) than acting like a rattled newbie. Students smell fear. Fear translates to weakness. Enough said.

Do Not Believe Everything You Hear 

Those cherubic faces may look naïve, but there may come a time when an excuse seems, well, fabricated. I always ask for truth; most times, that is what I receive. But, there is the occasional foray into fiction and just so many times the family canine mistakes a report for bacon. 

That being said…

Be Open  

Look, everyone at this level is an adult, but life can be complicated. Sometimes, students elect not to disclose personal information in an effort to embrace maturity. However, this may put you at a disadvantage when homework is not submitted, projects are late and presentations missed. Be open to the possibility that they may need help. You are, after all, a teacher and that carries a certain responsibility and duty.

Be Gracious  

You are the boss; if you are unsure, check the faculty name under the course. However, that does not mean to say you should be anything less than an educated and professional individual. This is academia; it is, in some ways a higher calling, a vocation, if you will allow me that comparison. Deport yourself with grace and dignity at all times; your students will learn from your behavior much more than you can ever imagine.   

And, finally…  

If I may be indulged a sixth and last bit of advice, I would recommend that you enjoy what you teach. The semester will go much quicker (you will not be as inclined to count the days until finals), if you take delight in the incredible opportunity to impart the knowledge you have acquired. It can be quite an adventure; that, I will promise you.


Growing Your Own Vegetables: A Personally Rewarding Experience

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Aug 8, 2013 

There is a certain joy that comes from gardening, and more specifically, growing your own vegetables. The process is inherently satisfying, and worth the wait from planting to harvest. Your piece of land does not have to be large; in fact, there are many different ways to undertake vegetable growing without any land at all. Many companies are offering the option to plant inside containers, pots or bags. All you have to do is summon up the interest, along with the necessary patience and perseverance. 

My own experience has been with a garden measuring about forty feet long and eight feet wide. Over the years, I found that this size can become a little burdensome, so I have reduced the number of plants in my care. Care, really is what all good gardening entails, so I recommend you start small and expand, if you find you enjoy the work. You do have to commit to the idea of nurturing, so be aware that the joy of harvest takes some physical labor first. 

After selecting healthy plants (sometimes you need a bit of luck, too), you will prepare the ground and soil, if that is the route you are taking. There are many worthy books written on the subject, which you can find at your library, but I always suggest speaking with a local expert, found at your most reputable garden center. I have also discussed the beginning experience (soil composition; best recommendations for my geographic location; use of fertilizers) with the faculty of the horticultural division of the nearest college. There are a myriad of resources for you to tap; area gardening clubs offer a wealth of information, too. And, some of my best reference material comes from the agricultural departments of universities specializing in the field, which I find easily on the internet.   

Once you have done your homework, bought your plants, and actually put them in the ground, don't forget that your investment requires careful watering, sun, pruning, and weeding. But, I promise you, it will be worth the work. Bypassing the produce section of your supermarket in favor of harvesting your own vegetables is satisfying, not only in monetary savings (have you seen the price of tomatoes?), but intangibly, as well. There is something very special about planting a small green vegetable sprout, tending to it, watching it grow and finally discovering its first gift to you. I actually took photos of the first squash I grew and sent them to friends and family. It was a rewarding and joyful moment, and I wanted to share that accomplishment. I also found that gardening can be a very spiritual experience, but I will leave that to another article. 

Now, go and decide what vegetables you want to plant for next season!


Jury Duty: Service Not Sentence Civic Duty Can Be Personally Fulfilling

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Jul 15, 2013

As soon as I saw the summons for jury duty, I choked; the last thing I needed was a call to serve. Even though I had worked closely with the academic aspect of the criminal justice system, I never thought the dreaded call to jury service could evolve into a meaningful and positive experience. I was stunned that it turned out to be one of the most personally rewarding events of my life. 

During the voir dire process, in which prospective jurors are selected, I was confident that my move to another county in the days immediately following my appearance, would excuse me from service. Not so. The judge listened thoughtfully to my story, but felt I could serve without exception. His exact words were, "We got you!" Although skeptical at first, I soon found myself enjoying the process and, ultimately, pleased to be chosen. This was my civic duty, an opportunity to be actively engaged in the system, and as corny as it may sound, it made me proud to be an American citizen. 

 I was lucky to be surrounded by court personnel who treated the seated jurors as their own flock. They shepherded us through each procedure, and attended to our needs. That included taking orders for lunch when we were sequestered, apologizing for the dismal accommodations and delivering our meals. We were always made to feel safe and felt secure, which was critical because this was a criminal trial.  

The case itself was a surprise. It also made me keenly aware that prejudgment could not be more wrong, and that one needed to be acutely objective and listen carefully to both sides of a story. Assuming anything was folly; nothing was clear-cut. At first, it seemed as though the prosecution had an airtight case against the defendant; however, as the witnesses appeared to testify, some reluctantly for immigration concerns, there was a marked, distinct and unassailable turn toward his innocence. It was a shocking twist, fraught with human drama and anxiety, which made for tense emotions and taut nerves. It also proved that no one should be deemed guilty until proven so, beyond a reasonable doubt. Though at first blush, most of the jurors felt the case indefensible, we were all astounded by our own reversal of decision. In the end, we found the defendant not guilty. After the trial, we met briefly with him, he thanked us for our verdict, and we wished him well. 

 I was also privileged to be intimately involved on a trial in which both the prosecutor and defense counsel were each trying their maiden cases. Watching and hearing the judge instruct them on proper procedure, all the while exercising considerable forbearance and patience, was far better than any fictional court drama. I had the opportunity to speak with them both after the verdict and answer the questions they poised about their legal performances; constructive criticism aside, it was an important personal moment of enlightenment for all of us.  

After I was released as a juror, and because I felt enormously grateful for this time-honored and authentic opportunity to exercise my right as a citizen, I contacted the Chief Judge, as well as the presiding Supreme Court Justice for the case, and his staff, to offer my thanks, and commend them for their professionalism. It was an unforgettable experience, and one I recommend highly. If you take jury service seriously, and you should, you will not be disappointed.  


Cote De Pablo Exits NCIS: Is it a Loss?

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Jul 16, 2013 

When Sasha Alexander exited NCIS after a brief, but memorable stay, I understood her reasoning; she had a new baby and the show demanded long hours, and extended periods away from her child. I accepted the notion that she had no idea production would take so long and be so grueling. (Gee, why didn't mother-in-law Sophia Loren clue her in?) Apparently, her life has changed, since she currently stars in the chick buddy series, Rizzoli and Isles. That being said, however, if I were her, I would probably still be kicking myself in the pants for leaving what is now one of the most popular and watched American crime dramas of all time.

 But, that's where I draw the line. Cote de Pablo's departure apparently has no such domestic origins, nor is she sharing her motives for leaving NCIS with the rest of the free world. (Money, money, money?) Why anyone would deliberately forgo a starring role on the hottest series on network TV, is beyond me. A nice steady paycheck, compelling storylines, the opportunity to work with Mark Harmon, and the sexiest half of the "Man from Uncle" team, the iconic David McCallum. (He was Illya Kuryakin, for God's sake!) What more could a girl want?

More, I guess.

Not that her loss is really all that devastating, truth be told. She never quite overcame that assassin attitude, her character's backstory was kind of muddled, her twisted English wore thin and that whole Michael Nouri father-thing made me queasy. She simply was not the type of character you could wrap your arms around, literally or figuratively; the rest of the cast may be idiosyncratic and quirky, but each individual remains perpetually lovable. Ziva David was never endearing; her attempts at collegiality and fraternity were lukewarm, at best. That her caustic character did not grow or develop in any way was a bright red flag; even the perfunctory DiNozzo flirtation seemed artificial and awkward, doomed to fizzle and fade. Their relationship was juvenile and orchestrated...and not in a good way. Whether that had anything to with Ms. de Pablo's talent remains to be seen, but, at the end of the day, I didn't care a whit about Ziva. And, should she happen to stand in the way of a bullet somewhere at the conclusion of her tenure on NCIS, it won't matter much to me.

Perhaps it is time for the nucleus of the cast to remain just that. Any extra DNA doesn't seem essential, necessary or warranted.


Grown Children Who Live at Home: The Infantilization of Adult Offspring

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Jul 15, 2013 

 This topic seems fairly apropos, in light of the recent Independence Day holiday; it may even be considered a dash ironic.

 From where I sit, a disturbing trend is overtaking our nation, and the future looks grim, at best, for our country's budding adults. Their parents, reluctant to allow them venture into the world unfettered, are tightening the bonds that keep them close, immature and emotionally undeveloped. Citing economic woes as the cause, it seems to be far more deep rooted than just that.  

 Case in point: A colleague of mine has purchased homes for each of his children. Truth be told, he actually bought them for himself and still holds rightful ownership, but he "magnanimously" (selfishly and happily is more likely), permits them to reside there. Since he visits quite often, in effect, they are still living at home. And he still, to some extent, controls their lives.

And they let him. Willingly. 

There seems to be a disconcerting attempt by baby boomers, now parents, to orchestrate their children's lives via economics. The notion that children leave home to go to college, and ultimately begin their own journey, is vanishing. The alarming fact, is that children are not leaving home once grown. And that is preeminently unhealthy. For everyone. Just what is the purpose of rearing children to adulthood, only to entice them to stay within the family compound? What good, solid psychological and emotional ground does that premise stand upon?

I know parents who gave nothing nor left anything to their progeny; it only served to make them more independent and autonomous people. They may have resented the lack of generosity by their parents, but they survived and developed into anything but dependent individuals. They grew into mature adults, able to exist, yes, actually survive in the world, through, by and using their own abilities. Bully, I say, for them, because lately, they are becoming an extremely endangered species.  

I recall a time when a friend's father offered to buy him a brand new shiny red Camaro (back in the days when they were lusted after), if only he would postpone getting his driver's license until age eighteen. He turned it down flat. While the proposal was tempting, he was more enamored of the adolescent freedom driving would bring, and rightly so, than he was of his indentured servitude, no matter what prize awaited two long years away. How many teenagers would do the same now? How many adult children living at home attempt independent living, when clothes are washed, dinner prepared and domiciles kept spotless for them? So what if Mom and Dad still keep them on a tight leash? So what if they have to check in with their parents when out for the evening, or, worse, abide by a curfew? Monetary support and comfort is worth the surveillance, right? Dependence appears to be the new normal and the order of the day.  

The character Howard Wolowitz on "The Big Bang Theory" aside, this is an unsettling trend to those of us passing the baton; as viewers know, Howard didn't even want to leave his mother when he got married.  

My advice? Adult children: Grow up and move out; it may be scary, but you'll survive. Parents: Loosen your grip. You grew your children, now let them go. With any luck, sometime soon your grandchildren will



Leroy Troy: Old Time Banjo Player Extraordinaire

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Jul 4, 2011

Leroy Troy is not only a consummate banjo player, he is a repository of the culture of generations before him, and a preservationist of traditional banjo music. If you don't know his name, it is probably because he is a modest man; his resume reads "Banjo player on the Marty Stuart Show", but he is so much more than that, as if that cast membership, in and of itself, were not a pretty remarkable accomplishment on its own. And, I assure you, it is, indeed, quite a feat. Marty Stuart is an iconic figure himself, who deems Leroy, "the most popular man in country music", on his show each week.

When Troy, born Troy Lee Boswell, began his career, it was at the knee of the legendary Roy Acuff, who appeared with other musical greats during impromptu shows at the local hardware store not far from Troy's home in Tennessee. Leroy schooled there with the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe, as well as the subject of his single songwriting tribute, Cordell Hill, learning his craft and honing his skills. Leroy became a kind of protégé of Acuff's, determining to keep the time-honored "claw hammer" style of playing his own. He studied with students of Uncle Dave Macon's and learned, firsthand, from Grandpa Jones. His extraordinary education began when he heard "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" from a recording his parents played when he was a child. He knew then he wanted to play music, and after a few attempts at the guitar, was drawn to his banjo destiny. He saved up enough money to buy one from an older gentleman at the Nashville flea market he attended with his family; Leroy, age thirteen or fourteen, watched "Peanuts" play using the claw-hammer style, bought a banjo from him and began a career that has consistently gained momentum through the decades. His journey through country music, specifically bluegrass, gained him awards and fame in that community, but his mainstream breakthrough was his weekly appearance on "Outsiders Inn" a funky, quirky, semi-reality show, starring Maureen McCormick and Carnie Wilson. He was a hit, with his country humor, rakish charm and amiable personality. The show found an audience and hooked it solidly, sorry only that it had a short lived eight-episode run. It did introduce Leroy to a whole other audience, though, and widened his fan base. The "Sultan of Goodlettsville" had hit his stride. 

Affectionately known in the business as "The Tennessee Slicker", Leroy continues to amuse and amaze with his signature style and banjo trickery, dazzling audiences around the world as he tours with his compadres in "The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band". He told me that he loves performing live, which is evident; he is an entertainer extraordinaire, bridging the gap between performer and audience handily and connecting personally with everyone who comes to see him play and hear him sing the history of country and bluegrass music. It is that immediate bond he establishes that welcomes and invites; he'll tell you story, twinkle in eye, make you laugh and want to sing right along with him. He's as down home and approachable as he is old school and old timey. No wonder he's the most popular man in country music.


Catholic Memories of Passover

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Apr 5, 2011

Although it might seem a bit unusual for a woman who grew up a Roman Catholic to write about her memories of Passover, it seems quite natural to me. You see, I was lucky enough to share my childhood with those who taught me firsthand about their faith and culture, and my personal history is entwined with theirs.

In my neighborhood, you were either Catholic or Jewish. I didn't even meet a Protestant until I was in my twenties; that's just the way it was in my town. We had as many synagogues as we had churches; my first dance with a boy was at his Bar Mitzvah. I knew what a mezuzah was and why it was placed on the door frame of a home. The neighbor who altered my clothes had a number tattooed on her arm; so did her husband. I knew about the Holocaust, and it made me unbearably sad. But, my Jewish friends went forward zealously, perhaps silently mourning their tragic past and suffering, but never really revealing anything outright. They knew we knew and that was enough.  

I was always drawn to the exotic foods served at holy days and holidays; after each traditional meal, our friends brought my family the leftovers. We did the same thing with ours; it was kind of an ecumenical food exchange. So, from the time I could chew, at Passover I had gefilte fish, herring in cream sauce with onions (naturally) and all the matzos I could carry. I grew up knowing how to slice lox and where to put the chicken liver. Our neighbors shared their meals, knowing they contained unique and savory delicacies, but they were sharing their culture, and their faith, too.  

My neighborhood had three delicatessens on one very long block. Three! Each was different; all were amazingly good. I stopped at the iconic bagel store every single day after school for a very hot, soft, fat bagel, always given to me properly, in a paper bag. I ate fresh rye bread as often as Italian, and knew an excellent corned beef when I saw (and smelled) one. I drank seltzer and snacked on macaroons and went to synagogue services when the occasion arose. I watched as the candles were lit on Friday nights; how sacred and reverent I thought that was. I sat shiva with families when there was a death and never questioned why the mirrors were covered; I grew up knowing because my friends shared so much.  

So, my memories of Passover are as real and genuine as they come; I remember the solemn religious rituals and Seder suppers because I was actually present. I felt as comfortable with my friends at Passover as I did with my family at Easter. My Passover memories are wonderful, warm and loving...just like my friends.


When to Quit a Job

 M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Apr 4, 2011 

To begin with, no one can advise anyone, with utter certitude, when to quit a job. What I propose, instead, is a look at some cautionary signs, which, if familiar, may initiate an internal conversation regarding your current career state. Individually, they may not cause much of a flutter for you; collectively, you may have a different notion all together.

In any career, especially if you work for a length of time, there may come a circumstance that dictates you scan the horizon for new opportunities. Frankly speaking, every employee should be on the alert for, if not actively seeking, a better position. Complacency was never in Jack Welch's dictionary and it has no place in yours. That being said, the following are my top five signals that might warrant the investigation of other avenues in your career:  

1. Boredom: If what you're doing becomes rote, you may need a different landscape. The ability to do your job in your sleep is not your resume; it may be time to reinvent yourself. If you do not, you will start performing sloppily and could damage your hard earned reputation. Consider this revelation a wake up call.  

2. The Intelligence Factor: Not only are you too smart to be in your current position, you recognize with keen awareness (and an objective eye), that you are a better manager, chef, attorney, than your boss. Whatever has brought you this knowledge, whether you have achieved an academic milestone, or watched others with less aptitude ascend the corporate ladder before you, will motivate/aid in your decision. Having been awarded several degrees, it suddenly occurred to me that not only was I doing my boss's job better than him, I was sorely undercompensated for my trouble. I was frustrated and my boss was threatened. It was time to collect my belongings.

3. Your career moves are blocked: Every effort you make to achieve is thwarted. Whether you attempt to sculpt a unique facet into your position, tweak its design to improve your condition and that of your department/company, or make recommendations you know will increase productivity, you meet apathy, or worse, obstruction. If you can't be the creative, imaginative individual you are, you risk losing that spark. 

4. There's too much drama: Nothing is worse than working in an atmosphere of criticism, blame, and downright ugliness you can't overcome or fix, no matter how hard you try. A well educated, highly successful college friend of mine dreaded going to work each day; the moment he put his hand on the handle of his office door, the pain started. It was a job he worked hard to get, but it was hurting him in too many ways. Not good. He found something else and slept better at night. 

5. The Silent Treatment: Your boss stops talking to you. One of the clearest indications that you need to consider moving on, is when your manager no longer communicates with you. You can take it to HR, but you probably won't want to stay after that anyway. If you can't sort it out, take your voice elsewhere.  

 Finally, these are tough, recessionary times and decisions cannot be made impulsively or indiscriminately. If you contemplate leaving your position, you must have alternatives/resources or risk economic disaster. In short, you leave a job because you can.  


The Top Five Qualities Every Effective Manager Needs

M.E. Garafolo, Yahoo Contributor Network Mar 30, 2011 

It seems corporate America is overrun with managers these days; they multiply overnight...and generally not in a good way. Simply because someone is given the title does not necessarily suggest they deserve the role. Effective, gifted managers are not a contrivance; they are groomed and educated to direct others. There should be nothing haphazard or indiscriminate about their ascendency.

 n my 30+ years of experience, most of it spent functioning in one managerial role or another, I have had ample opportunity to observe both good and bad characteristics of those in charge; I have also learned from employees in my care what talents elevate one to managerial excellence. It isn't rocket science, but it does entail some critical thought and the desire to actually want to make a difference. 

My wish list for all managers shakes out like this:   

Competency: Don't laugh; this is a quality scarcer than hen's teeth these days. With corporate restructuring occurring on a daily basis, management trainee programs are a rarity. Generally speaking, individuals are not mentored and nurtured into management positions, learning the job from the ground up, as they should. Very often, new managers are more or less tossed the job, even if they have no prior experience in the department, or as a boss. Do your homework; a learned, capable manager is on the way to being an effective one. 

Respect for employees: Great managers let professionals do their jobs and intervene when necessary. Unless absolute dolts, most people know what their job entails and how to do it. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but generally, people are hired for positions they know and can do well. Understanding the strengths of the folks that work with you makes your job a whole lot easier. And if you treat them like idiots, trust me, they will behave that way. Or worse.  

Discretion: One of the most glaring (and HR reportable) mistakes some managers make, is engaging in gossip. Employees are business associates, not drinking buddies. You can't call someone on the carpet you just karaokied with the night before. Good managers keep a friendly distance and their mouths closed. 

Confidence: Chicken Little would not make an effective manager; scaring employees into working harder/faster only makes them anxious. No good comes from keeping staff in a perpetual frenzy; it is always counterproductive in the long run.   

Pay well and reward good behavior: One of my former bosses taught me that if you resolve to offer competitive, satisfying salaries, you have better functioning, more loyal employees. You don't want your staff taking second jobs to survive. Recognize their worth and convey that monetarily. Paying decently and rewarding a meritorious work ethic keeps good people on staff. Money talks. 

Finally, I'm adding genuine inspiration and physical presence to my cart. Nothing compels people to achieve their best more than authenticity from their manager in both words and actions. But, you actually have to be present to do that; distance is not a hallmark of an effective, well respected manager. Live with your staff. Let them see who you are. The old managerial maxim about keeping your office door open is alive and well. Be available. 

Just remember, if you want a successful team, you have to be a vital, contributing member of it.


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