Thursday, March 27, 2008

March 27, 2008

Dedicated multitasker vows to hang up while driving

by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
March 27, 2008

A carmaker recently ran an advertisement that touted the benefits of single-tasking. I read the ad twice. I had to think about it: single-tasking. What is single-tasking?

The car maker was encouraging consumers to once again enjoy the pleasure of driving with two hands on the steering wheel and a foot on the floor. A subtle reminder to stop doing all the extra things we do while driving, notably talking on the phone. I, like many of us, am guilty of multi-tasking while driving around town.

No one single-tasks too much any more: We drive; we talk; we e-mail; we watch TV; we cook; we talk on the phone. I often return e-mails while waiting for someone to pick up the phone. I try to squeeze as much meaningful activity into my waking hours as I can. I use drive-through services whenever possible. I avoid lines in grocery stores at all costs, and yes, I use my cell phone while driving.

I remember when we brought our new baby home from the hospital 10 years ago. We installed a car seat and strapped him in carefully; he seemed so new and fragile.

My husband and I took a vow to protect this lovely human at all costs. My husband made a proclamation that we would never use cell phones while driving. I readily agreed.

Then we got used to him. We felt comfortable loading him in and out of the car. Our baby gained strength, and the proclamation faded away. Using a cell phone while driving a car became a habit that for busy mothers and fathers is difficult to break.

The other day, as I was driving somewhere in town and using my phone, a man drove across my path, and as he was driving, turned to face me and was obviously yelling at me.

The windows were closed, but by the look on his face, he was angry and yelling obscenities. There was no mistaking that I was the object of his wrath, and in the five seconds that we shared together, about the only thing I could decide that I had done wrong was use my phone.

That sort of vitriolic anger while driving is probably not the safest way to drive either by the way, but I took his emotion to heart.

According to the Web site Drive and Stay Alive (, the Harvard University Center for Risk Analysis estimates that there are as many as 1.5 million crashes annually in the United States leading to 560,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths because of phone use in moving vehicles.

I am like many of you. I am a working parent who has much to do. One of the easiest ways for me to multitask is to pull out my cell phone on my way home from work and order dinner, return a friend’s phone call or call a repair service. I have confused appropriate times for multitasking and single-tasking. Driving should be a single-task.

So, to the angry man in the roundabout outside Renwick, and to my son who is now 10 years old and needs a better example set, and to my fellow community members who must drive on the roads with me every day, I am going to challenge myself to hang up my cell phone and focus on the task at hand — driving.

If you are a cell-phone user who has already made this decision and stuck to it, I applaud you.

If you are a cell-phone user, and like me, you routinely multitask by using your phone while driving, I would like to encourage you to join me in this project of learning how to single-task while driving.

Let’s try to make the roads in Monroe County safer without having to pass legislation to do it.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Old Favorite From April 2007

Birthdays come and go, and so, sadly, do some friendships

by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
April 12, 2007

In college, my roommate and I shared the same birth month. Every year, as the calendar flipped from March to April, we began to plan the events that marked our collective birthday. We had parties for each other. We took out ads in the college daily, made banners to hang on the main campus sidewalk, arranged special dates for each other and made gifts. We went into the city for improv and out to dance clubs. We invited everyone we knew into our dorm room for gin and tonics. We reveled in our celebratory month. No birthday celebration before or after those giddy days in college would ever be the same.

Though I still celebrate birthdays, I no longer celebrate them with the intensity I did back then. The remembrance is bittersweet because my roommate and I — who sustained each other through exams and breakups and crushes and hangovers — ended our friendship several years after college. Like a bad marriage where every day ends in fighting, we also seemed to spend a lot of time being unhappy with each other.

Years after the ink was dry on the divorce decree of our friendship, I still don’t really understand what happened. It occurred to me as I flipped the calendar this month that I have not been friends with this person for longer than we were actually friends; yet because we were friends at a critical time, my memories of our coming of age together influence much of what I say and do, even 20 years later.

I recently read a novel where the main character ended a lifelong friendship because the friend did something truly despicable to her. Books nowadays have linked Web sites so you can interact with the author, and when you log on to the Web site for this novel, there is space to write about the true friend you made and lost. I read these stories for hours one afternoon. I discovered losing deep friendship is a universal experience.

Of course my college roommate is not the only friendship I have lost. There are dozens more people that I have known for brief periods of time that have left my life; most of those fall under the heading of “losing touch.” As everyone eventually discovers, there is not enough time in our lives to nurture every friendship, remember every birthday and still cook a nice dinner for our family. Losing touch and ending relationships is something that we all must do again and again.

Dear Abby used to write about an annual “mending fences day” in which she urged readers to pick up the phone and try to make amends with estranged friends and family. I have tried to do that once or twice with my old roommate, but the friendship has gone so long in need of maintenance that it is beyond repair. I gracefully accept that this relationship is over.

I am grateful, of course, for my many friends in Bloomington and beyond. I have a rich array of witty, caring, talented friends I am lucky to know and count as part of my extended family. I still have college mates I see now and again and with whom I exchange e-mails and phone calls. Birthdays are usually happy days spent in the company of my family and friends. The weather is generally good by April, and I can enjoy a bike ride or a tea party, but there is always this loose thread of longing running through the month. As much as I needed to end that friendship, I still miss her very much.

So join me, will you? Pull up a chair and have a gin and tonic and toast to friendships gone by. And wherever you are in this world, old roommate, know that I am thinking of you as our birthday month drifts by.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Thursday, March 13, 2008

March 13, 2008

Anniversary of war recalls reason not to celebrate

by Amy L. Cornell Community columnist |
March 13, 2008

March of 2003. I am in my hometown in Ohio for spring vacation, and I am in a loud neighborhood pub where I sit at the bar and become riveted by the five televisions blaring Fox News for the world to see. It is a big news day. You see, the USA is about to invade the sovereign nation of Iraq.

The bar celebrates the occasion. A handwritten sign behind the bar says free beer for anyone wearing a military uniform. The crowd is drawn to the televisions full of live action and up-to-the minute reporting. It’s hard to decide just which iteration of Fox News to watch. The garish graphics help promote the circus-like atmosphere in this bar. As Fox News announces that it is one more hour until the invasion, the crowd lifts their glasses for a cheer. Is it my imagination or did someone just brag about going and getting some “towel heads”? My head swivels back and forth between old friends in the bar and all the television screens. I am sure what I am witnessing is somehow an optical illusion. If I could just look at it properly, it would seem not so much like the carnival that it is.

I suddenly feel ill. I look backwards over my shoulder at the door wishing I could leave. I keep my anti-war opinions to myself here in this hometown of mine.

I overhear someone say, “He can’t wait until his unit is called up and he can go over there and get started.”

“Thirty minutes till invasion,” the news announcer says, “and the tanks are starting to roll.” I feel like they are rolling down the street outside this bar.

My eyes are fixated on the screens. Like a bad traffic accident, I can’t look away. The words and images are becoming jumbled in my head. Are we really sending people to war while a bar cheers? If news in this format had been around after the invasion of Pearl Harbor would this scene have happened?

I have broken into a cold sweat. I can think of absolutely nothing to say to my friends who I once knew so well. I can only look at them and then watch the alert banner which says “20 minutes till invasion” reflect in their eyeglasses.

I excuse myself and go into the bathroom and throw up. I look at myself in the mirror for a long time. This is my home I say to myself, and these are my friends. I am still somehow a part of the sour beer and the drums beating on Fox News and the buzz of patrons cheering and whispering about victory. I shudder a bit as I rinse off my face.

Back at the bar, I watch the embedded journalists describe every thought and feeling as the guns and bombs begin to fly. I debate whether to bolt and run — back to the safety of my car and my new hometown in the hills of southern Indiana. I realize sadly that this is not the only bar in the U.S. where this exact scene is playing.

Like we all remember where we were when those planes hit the World Trade Center, I will always remember where I was the night the U.S. invaded Iraq.

March 19, 2008, will mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion. May we all be mindful of our neighbors, friends and family serving the USA in the armed forces and of their families who wait for them at home. May this war and the occupation come to a swift conclusion, and may the Iraqi people know peace as well.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Monday, March 10, 2008

OLD FAVORITE From March 2007

Homeland insecurities rise like a kite on National Mall

by Amy L. CornellCommunity columnist |
March 29, 2007

Last spring break, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. The post 9-11 ethos of our nation’s capitol alarmed us a bit. Park police, capitol police, armed guards with big shiny badges and holsters make up the new population of D.C.

If you enter a building anywhere on the National Mall, you are searched, wanded, metal-detected and patted down. Nail-clippers, keys, loose change and in one case a Yu-Gi-Oh key chain were checked at the door. Tour guides issued long lists of forbidden actions followed by stern warnings of imprisonment and fines for the disobedient. Our nation has a meaner, nastier capital city. All of us T-shirt-clad, camera-wielding, snack-carrying, kid-herding visitors constantly balanced coats and backpacks and cell phones to make sure we weren’t acting like terrorists in the city.

One sunny, windy day, I carried a kite with us to the National Mall. I hoped flying a kite on the most famous stretch of green space in the country would be something the kids would always remember. I led them out onto the grass and they gathered around me to break the wind and watch as I assembled the kite.

“This can’t be legal.” My husband Geoff’s voice is stern. “This can’t be allowed. Look around you. Don’t even try this.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “How can kite flying be illegal?”

“You know it will pose some kind of threat to someone,” he said. “This isn’t the beach. This is Washington, D.C. We shouldn’t take any chances. Especially not with kids around.”

Could this be true? Could we be the evening’s headline on CNN? Hoosier woman sent to Guantanamo for flying a kite on the nation’s mall.

I teased him, “You really think that flying a kite on the mall of the nation’s capital is illegal? I’d like to see someone stop me.”

Our son spoke, “Mom, we want to fly the kite.”

“Of course, we are going to fly the kite, honey. It’s not illegal to fly a kite,” I said, as a mother says to children. But in the back of my mind I think, “Or is it?”

The kids and I took the kite out to a grassy patch of mall, and Geoff endured some minutes of me showing the kids how to launch a kite.

“Let some string out,” I yelled over the rushing wind and laughter.

As the kids got the hang of it and the kite climbed higher into the sky Geoff admonished, “Not too high. Not too much string.” The kids listened and kept the kite low. Consequently, the kite crashed to the ground again and again.

Geoff paced and frowned. The sun and the playful kids and the fact the armed guards had not gunned us down did not warm his heart. “Pull it in, pull it in,” he said, again and again. “You’ll hit someone.”

Finally, my husband could endure no more, and dragged the kids away to see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archive. I was alone at last with the kite, which I allowed to sail as high as it would go. My purple kite against the blue sky and the Capitol building made a lifetime memory for me.

Tourists pointed. A father with a baby said to me as I passed his way, “My baby loves your kite.” Two young men stopped to watch and take pictures of me.

Finally, the wind changed direction and yanked my beautiful kite out of the sky. She fell hard and quick, and like a balloon losing its air, picked a man walking on the path around the mall and hit him on the head. I am happy to report to you that I did not get arrested that day.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at