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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Annals of Successful Parenting: Writing

The 10th grader is annoyed with her English teacher, Mrs. Bombadoodle. Annoyed is perhaps too mild a descriptor. She’s been fulminating against Mrs. Bombadoodle. Mrs. B is requiring from her a five paragraph essay of 800 words, comparing and contrasting The Odyssey and The Wizard of Oz (the movie). She’s been complaining about how she can never write only eight hundred words and how unreasonable that is. And she can’t get started. She had to write one paragraph for homework the other night. Then she has the weekend to finish the draft of the essay. Then she will have to rewrite it and hand it in. This job feels impossible to her. 

This is one of those parenting moments when my desire to be Supportive Parent runs alongside my Beleagured Writer. Supportive Parent would listen and say, “Oh my. My, my. You can do it.” Beleagured Writer would say, “Uh, yeah. That’s called drafting, revising, and editing. That’s called writing.” Educators call this “the writing process.” They would, wouldn't they? 

It just so happens I am reading Draft No. 4 by John McPhee, which is about writing. Honestly, I have been mostly a fiction writer, and John McPhee is a famous nonfiction essayist whose work has been often in the New Yorker. By which I mean, in a roundabout, indirect, and therefore perhaps poorly executed way, to say that I haven't read all of his work. However, he is a professor of writing, and he's written a book about his writing process. I have been struggling with my writing, and when I struggle, I dip into inspiration via other writers’ books on writing. The eponymous essay has a great section on writer’s block and self-doubt. In short, the message is that he suffers from it, mostly during the time when he’s trying to write the first draft. Best of all, for this Beleagured Writer, he says that anyone who doesn’t is not to be trusted. I would insert a quotation here, but I’m writing from an undisclosed location apart from my book. Namely, from my father’s apartment. Furthermore, I smell like rancid body lotion, which is not pleasant. While packing, I tossed into my suitcase a hotel bottle from my stash. Apparently, it turned. 

McPhee also says that writing is all about revising. This is my truth, too. Once something is on the page, it is much less frightening and daunting to work with. But getting started. Oh my word. 

And then he has a great passage about trying to write and not being able to, and so writing Dear Mom, and then complaining all about what you’re trying to write but can’t. And then cutting out the “Dear Mom”.

That made me laugh, because he wrote it funny, and it is funny and well-written. Also, it reminded me of probably the best writing advice I got in college. Perhaps ironically, this advice came not from a professor, but from a classmate in my dorm, Darlene. One day, I was whinging about having trouble starting a paper, and Darlene, who was from some place in South America, and had creamy skin and soft brown eyes and hair with bangs that fell over her eybrows, and long limbs and delicate fingers, but whom I had never thought of as any kind of writer, said to me that she just wrote her papers in the first person. “What?” I gasped. I had never considered anything so informal, schooled as I had been in the thesis, supporting statements, conclusion five paragraph essay format. The ten commandments of school essays. First person and flow and informality in an academic paper? What about topic sentence, quotations, and references? 

“There aren’t as many “I’s” as you think,” she told me. “You can just take them out afterwards.” 

Darlene wore pleated jeans. They were fashionable back then. We agreed that our desert island makeup would be mascara, definitely. Darlene had a handsome boyfriend named Peter, who also had dark hair and eyes. I believe they got married. 

When a professor later told me I wrote well and my essays had a nice intuitive flow, it was because of Darlene. 

As for which part of me wins the race with the 10th Grader, Supportive Parent or Beleagured Writer, let’s just say I offered the comment that being forced to write with limits can be helpful.

I added, “It’s all about revision,” which was not what she wanted to hear. So it made me feel better to learn from John McPhee that he told his daughters the same thing. It is all about revision.

And where I am I with my book’s revision? I’m at the stage of avoidance. John McPhee also cops to it in his book, thanks God (as my sister the psychoanalyst says). And he told his daughter to put her draft away for a little while and then go back to it. That is what I told the 10th Grader. She listened, although I must admit that she had already decided to take a break. “These things need to sit for a while,” I said. She was halfway up the stairs by then. 

They need to marinate. I believe in steeping, the subconscious, the unconscious. I believe, as John McPhee says in his book, that while I’m not writing, the work is still percolating in the background, maybe even working itself out. 

And I said it first. 

At least in my life. 

The tenth grader turned in 900 words. We shall see how strict Mrs. Bombadoodle is. Writing is about rules, as so much of life is, and also about knowing when and how to break them. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Annals of Successful Parenting: Humility

I’m going to come right out and say that this past week I hit a low. I was humbled. A good friend’s mother died, and instead of being able to help her out by picking up her son from school, I was at the vet with our fancy dog. As it happened, what I thought was a matter of some urgency, namely ticks on the belly that I was unable to remove, was something else. 

So, the back story on this is that the husband and I left the 10th grader home over the weekend, while we went to visit the college student for her 19th birthday. Said college student had arranged sufficient buffers between herself and us that our presence on her birthday was acceptable to her. The 10th grader had PSATs to take and the Homecoming dance to attend, so being the freewheeling parents we are, we left her to her own devices. 

Actually, she was well-armed with emergency phone numbers, and had a friend to go to the dance with, who would come and sleep over with her to keep her company. I knew my neighbor, E, would let me know if there was some kind of wild party happening. So all was in hand.

She said, not at all defensively. 

We took the college student to lunch, and then dropped her off at her college and spent the evening with our Yankee friends. Sunday morning, we walked around the lake on campus and fed the college student again. While we were heading home, the 10th grader discovered a tick on the dog’s head and texted us. We were able to guide her through the tick’s removal via speakerphone, while driving on the Mass Pike, thus confirming her interest in becoming a veterinarian. Then, the next day, frolicking in the the yard, I saw these inflamed spots on the dog's belly. Ticks. More ticks. And clearly Deer ticks, vectors of horrid disease, judging by their size and color. So I tried to remove them. With tweezers. With a special tick-removal spoon. I am very good at removing ticks, usually. But these suckers were not budging. And the dog was whining. So to the vet. 

Where I learned that these were not what I feared.

“These are nipples,” said the vet. 

Nipples! I thought of the tweezers.

“And these are skin tags.” 

Skin tags! I thought of the tweezers again. 

The vet looked at me. I thought, My, this veterinarian is young. 

“This happens more often than you might think, so don’t feel bad,” she said. 

Don’t feel bad! I thought of the tweezers. I tried to remove my dog’s skin tags and nipples with my Tweezerman tweezers. Those are serious tweezers. 

I mean, really, I know about the dog’s nipples. I have seen the dog’s nipples many times. So how could this have happened? I ask myself this more often than is probably healthy. Fortunately, our fancy dog isn’t long on memory and he has moved on. I can only attribute this lapse to the category 5 cold that was collecting in my head. A category 5 cold that moved in and blocked out a great deal. Certainly my powers of reason and my knowledge of dog anatomy. 

So I hunkered down and watched many episodes of “Lady Dynamite.” I’m not sure I recommend the show, so don’t blame me if you don’t like it. And now I feel better. 

Speaking of attempting to remove my dog’s nipples, I’ve been thinking about humility. Humility and success. In one of our recent accountability conference calls, my friends C and E and I were talking about self-promotion. I’m terrible at self-promotion. I can hardly convince myself to post my blog posts. And every week I wonder if I dare bother people on my mailing list with yet another blog post, whose only dubious (if any) benefit might be to reassure the reader that she has never done anything as dumb as trying to remove her dog’s nipples with tweezers. Anyway, at some point in our conversation about self-promotion, C said she was sick of self-promotion. She was going back to humility. It had always worked for her in the past. This made me think of the list of positive character traits I posted on the fridge a few years ago. It’s still there. Humility is one of them. 

Synchronously, I happened to be rereading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. I came upon the chapter in which he describes how he developed a list of virtues for himself. Along with each virtue, he created “Precepts” for maintaining them. Many of these precepts have stuck with us, because not only were they essential molecules of wisdom, but also he wrote them such that they stuck as aphorisms. For example, his number one virtue is Temperance. The precepts under temperance are, “Eat not to dulness. Drink not to elevation.” 
Then, to help ingrain these virtues in himself, he devised his famous virtues chart. At least I think it’s famous. Is it? Have you heard of it? He set up this chart in a notebook, devoting a page to each virtue. On each page, he put the virtue at the top, then a chart with the days of the week across the top and the list of virtues (abbreviated to first initial) down the side. “I determined to give a Week’s strict Attention to each of the Virtues successively. Thus in the first Week my great Guard was to avoid every the least Offence against Temperance, leaving the other Virtues to their ordinary Chance, only marking every Evening the faults of the Day.” So each night he would mark by any of his virtues that he failed to uphold, with a goal of having no marks all week along the line of the virtue he had chosen as the focus that week. By running through his set of virtues several times in a year, he hoped to succeed in having no marks at all to indicate failings by the end. 
This is all very admirable, and accounts for Benjamin Franklin being hailed as the original American self-help guru. But what was amusing was that originally, he had come up with twelve virtues. It was the suggestion of “a Quaker Friend having kindly inform’d me that I was generally thought proud,” that caused him to add a thirteenth virtue, humility.*
You didn't ask, but in case you were wondering, I think he should have added a fourteenth virtue: Generosity. After reading Jill Lepore’s fascinating Book of Ages about Benjamin’s sister,  who struggled financially her entire life, I was left wondering why her wealthy big brother didn’t give her more money. How hard could it have been? So, he's not perfect. And perhaps lack of generosity is worse than trying to tweeze the nipples off of your dog. 
But I digress. I agree with his Quaker friend about humility. Caroline Adams Miller talks about the importance of humility in developing grit in her book. "People who are humble are open to self-improvement and are willing to seek out feedback to become better," she says. So I guess that Benjy Franklin did have it. You might as well have it, too. Because one way or another, we all get humbled. It might hurt less if we can embrace it. 
I know, I used this photo before, but Milo didn't want to show his nipples. 

*Precept: Imitate Jesus and Socrates. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tips from a Master Coach: Self-Esteem and Success

Hi Readers. Want to try an exercise with me? I spoke to a professional coach yesterday. Her name is Fran Fisher, and I found her via the website Caroline Adams Miller referred me to, the International Coach Federation. Fran mostly coaches coaches these days, but she did spend some time with me and offered me some interesting tidbits. One of them is this exercise in what she calls self-acknowledgement. 

Now, my ears pricked up at the term, self-acknowledgement, because, in case you missed it, I’ve been examining what makes me feel successful and passing that information to you, in hope that you will find it helpful, or at least entertaining. 

And one element is feeling recognized. This is fundamental to feeling successful. Sad as it may seem to admit this, I need it. And heck, you need it, too. As good old Dale Carnegie, of How to Win Friends and Influence People says,“The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals.” 

Mankind with animal-mankind combo made by mankind


And the Martha Stewart of Happiness, Gretchen Rubin, talks about the need for “gold stars.” As in, “I spent twenty minutes talking to this pest named Hope and now she refers to me as the Martha Stewart of Happiness. I deserve a gold star.” 

So, gold stars. Importance. Recognition. Feeling recognized. Acknowledged is a good word, too. These are part of Permission, one of the planks in my scaffolding of success. 

Now, I have a teensie problem with self-esteem. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it. I hope you haven’t. I’m going to pretend you don’t know and are now reading this, mouth agape in shock. “Hope has a problem with self-esteem? Surely not! She is a pillar of confidence and self-regard. Absolutely!”

Well, there you have it. My self-esteem is sometimes low. It’s really not a pillar. More like a—oh, I don’t know. A speck. And it does get buffeted by the tides of life.

Oh, my word, I have capsized over my clichés. My point is that I mentioned to Fran Fischer the coach that I have some problems with self-esteem. As in locating it, and when I do manage to locate it, hanging onto it. So she recommended this self-acknowledgement exercise. Which made good sense to me. After all, we can’t always be expecting those moments of recognition, those gold stars from others. Others have their own troubles and don’t always have time for the amount of shoring up that, speaking just for myself here, I need. 

What is this exercise? It is very simple. It is to keep a little list going throughout your day, preferably a hand-written one, but if you prefer to use the computer, make it with fun fonts and colors so that you’ll pay attention to what you’re putting on it. And what you’re putting on it is about ten (10) instances when you did something you feel good about. Little things. Such as being a good listener for a friend, or holding the door open for someone, or skipping the second helping of dessert, or following through on an annoying phone call. Whatever it is, capture it and write it down. 

This is different than a gratitude journal, Fran says. Gratitude is very popular. I am all for gratitude. Gratitude can certainly lift my spirits. Noting what is going well, noting what one appreciates boosts the mood. I often think of two things for which I am grateful before I get out of bed in the morning, and it puts me in a good frame of mind. It’s always helpful to remember to appreciate what you have. However, this exercise is different. This is self-recognition, self-appreciation. And the point of writing this stuff down is to etch into your head moments when you actually meet your expectations for yourself. You behave in line with what is important to you. By taking the time to write it down, you use kinesthetics and somatization to make it sink in.  

Here’s what Fran says. She has adapted this from something developed by MMS Institute (

How to write your self-acknowledgements:

ï Make them short
ï Use verbs/ sentences and feeling words whenever possible
ï Remember the little things... so many things happen in a day... that can be recorded
ï Find ten... even if they seem simple or stupid
ï Feel them as you write them - bring them back in your mind's eye
ï Elaborate on the ones you have written after you have your ten, (if you want to express more)
ï Include meetings/ events/ to-dos/ mails/ calls/ out of the blue occurrences -  magical moments
ï Keep them next to your bed so you can review them before you sleep
ï Write them in your own handwriting or make pc entries but make them special (i.e. add color) no cut and paste!!!

ï If you get stuck, send them to a friend for support - have fun with them

Why Self-Acknowledgements Work:

  • Seeing it in front of me – on paper – that something meaningful has happened
  • Experiencing the positive events that happened today; in my head, in my heart and again as I write them down
  • Seeing/hearing them internally; the experience is being stored so I can revisit it at any time
  • Recording my emotional well-being through the weeks; the entries are a vivid timeline
  • Choosing a moment where I was winning and build on that same moment. Pin-pointing the times where I feel lost/go off track and am able to work towards getting back on center 
  • Helping remind myself of the times when all was going well; Bringing these positive experiences back simply by reading them
  • Creating a list of 10 positive experiences/events every day; because every day there are things that work for me
  • Shining the light on the positive and not dramatizing the negative
  • Choosing to give up inner critic thinking 
  • Proving to myself that life works
  • Validating evidence of my self-worth

The point of writing them is that you re-experience them. You think about it. You have the kinesthetic experience of writing about it. You feel it again in your body. I’m going to infer from what Fran said, that this will help build self-esteem. Self-esteem is a sense of self-worth. It’s how you feel about yourself as a person with value. Noting instances where you acted, or didn’t act, in ways that you feel good about has got to help that feeling. 

I’m going to give it a try. You can, too. 

*                 *                 *                  *                    *

Okay, so I wrote that yesterday. Today, I have this to report:

I acknowledge that I buckled down and called the gas company about a leak the energy audit guy discovered last week, instead of putting it off again. 

That was easier than I thought. Only 9 more to go. Unfortunately, it’s already well into the afternoon. I don’t know how much more I’ll find. 

If you enjoyed this post, please leave me a comment. Please feel free to share it with your friends on social media.  

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Self-Efficacy and Success

Hello, Readers. Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with Caroline Adams Miller (CAM) of Getting Grit, which I look forward to sharing with you in detail soon. Today, I’ll share a snippet that I particularly enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed it, I must admit, because it supported one of my planks of success, the importance of like-minded others to success.

In her book, CAM writes, “How can anyone say they are self-made.” We spoke about the importance of Mastermind groups to help people define, act on, and be accountable for their goals. So I told her that I considered this one of the essential planks in my scaffolding of success, the plank of loving mirrors or like minded others to help us succeed. I told her I had felt this was important, but I had come across the term loving mirrors in a very poppy pop-psychology book, so I wasn’t sure it was an officially sanctioned Term of Usage.

Well, as soon as I described this term to her, CAM said, “Oh, that’s Self-Efficacy Theory” by Albert Bandura. She suggested I listen to an interview he gave recently on a podcast , and so I did.

Who is Albert Bandura and where has he been all my life, you ask? Well, he’s my father’s age, ninety-two, and so, he’s actually been here. Since 1925. While he lives in the US, and taught most recently at Stanford, he hails from Canada. Of course. He came to the US decades ago, however, and he has been ever since doing psychology. and racking up star points in the firmament of psychology. People claim he’s up there in importance with Freud, Jung, and Adler.

Who knew? CAM knew, for one. And now we all do.

What first made Bandura famous was his social learning theory that human behavior is transactional. In other words, motivations don’t all come from within, which was what the prevailing Freudian (libido) and Adlerian (power) view of psychology was when he began to study. We are influenced by our environment, by other people, and by what is in our heads, and we influence those things. The experience is transactional. It is what he called triadic.

This reminds me of an incident with the plumber the other week. The husband tried to snake the tub drain, but to no avail. So I called the plumber. You know plumbers. They charge you $100 to step over the threshold, and it goes up from there.

Well, the plumber arrived. We chatted for a few moments. He was particularly talkative. School, kids, dogs all came up. Then he mentioned that he liked my bumper sticker. 

He said, “Now I’m not going to get political, but I just want to say I hate those nasty bumper stickers.”

I agreed. I said, “I don’t mind a positive bumper sticker, but a negative, hostile one - no thanks.”

He said, “Yeah. I mean, maybe you don’t like the guy, but he’s the President, so you know.”

I said (to myself), Oh, he voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named. Out loud I said, “The negativity is just not helpful.”

Then the plumber spent a good twenty minutes snaking the tub. I spent a good twenty minutes scrolling through my social media feeds and otherwise being feckless.  When I heard him come downstairs, I returned to the front hall with my checkbook. He was halfway out the door.

“All done,” he said. He waved his hand at the checkbook. “Don’t worry about it. It was such a small job.”

Now, I’m not saying this was social learning theory in action, but I suspect that something in the environment (my bumper sticker) changed the equation with the plumber. So maybe that’s exactly what I am saying.

The idea behind self-efficacy theory is that self-efficacy is what allows us to succeed. This is a tautology as I have written it. Efficacy is the ability to make an effect, to make things happen. Self-efficacy is the ability to do that for yourself. It’s the ability to move with agency through life toward one’s goals.  According to Albert Bandura, there are four pillars of self-efficacy. Two of them rely on input from other people. They are as follows:

  • Mastery Experiences
  • Social Modeling
  • Social Persuasion
  • Physiological States

Mastery experiences are things we learn, obstacles we overcome, goals we achieve, skills we acquire. They are directly responsible for self-efficacy, because they are accomplishments. They are indirectly responsible for it by building confidence.

Physiological states are what goes on in our brains. Thoughts, feelings, brain workings. 

Social modeling is about observing role models succeed and thereby being motivated. It’s also about learning by watching. There’s one kind of need for help from others. 

Social persuasion is likely the source of Noah St. John’s term loving mirrors. It’s the idea that one’s environment affects one, and environment includes other people. Other people who believe in you, have confidence in you, can help you overcome doubt and fear when facing challenges.

So there you have it, official word from on high in the world of psychology. Success comes with help from other people. It turns out this is not just my wishful thinking, kumbaya crap, or some kind of purple, womanist pseudo-psychology.

CAM also brought up something called the Michelangelo Phenomenon*.  This is another Term of Usage that relates to the importance of input from others. The idea is that our close relationships with others sculpt us. You know, because Michelangelo was a sculptor.

Now, this phenomenon is not the commonly noted one that partners over time come to look like one another. Nor is it about how dog owners and their dogs often bear some similarities in appearance. 

Our eyes are different colors, but something about the hair, don't you think?

This is about internal shaping. It’s about how, when we have partners that help us towards our ideals, we have increased ability to achieve them. Likewise, if people close to us tear us down, rather than support us, we are more likely to fall short of those ideals. There are a lot of reasons behind this, including the fact that moods are contagious. But another key is that when others think confidently about us, we can take that confidence they have in us and apply it to ourselves.

So, check around you. Who are your loving mirrors? Who is sculpting you? And how are you sculpting those close to you?


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Exercises for Grit: When Are You at Your Best?

Last week I did not write a blog post. You may ask why not, and I would tell you if I remembered. Something came up. Or went down. Something got in the way, directionally speaking. Or, perhaps I was just too tired. As I recall, the first part of the week was taken up with back to school shopping. There was rain involved. The rain led to me leaving the car’s lights on while in the mall, and returning to discover the battery had died. Again. I must have the last car without automatic lights in the entire United States. 

Fortunately, because I have been meditating regularly, or perhaps just because I’m more chill in my 50s, I did not get into a snit. I simply called AAA, and the 10th grader and I repaired to the Happy Cappuccino to wait. I will admit to feeling some dismay, and to having some level of willpower sapped by the previous hour spent pawing through racks of teenagers’ clothing, as evidenced by the gigantic chocolate chocolate chip muffin I devoured with the daughter. 

Because of the meditation, let us note, I was aware of what I was doing. Id est: comforting myself with food. Which worked. Success!

Today started out as one of those days, too. You know the days. You have your plan, and then the dog’s eye is oozing. Now you know your plan to write your blog post is going to go out the proverbial window because you have to take the dog to the vet. This story has a happy ending, though, so buckle up. Now, since this was the dog’s oozing eye and not my child’s, I went ahead to the gym. 

I know, I'm a mean dog mommy. The dog was acting just fine, people. If he had not been, this would have been a different story. 

When I got back, I checked the eye. Still oozing. But there was a little, half-inch long small, thin, twig-like thing on the dog’s face, under his eye. Near the ooze. So I removed the twigish thing and washed the area with a little water and applied a smidge of antibiotic ointment. Then I let a few hours pass and worked on my writing. Hours later, no ooze! And so I have a blog post for you this week.
Milo wants to get grit, too.

Now, over the weekend, I had the house to myself — PARTY! The husband was visiting his mother for her birthday, and the 10th grader was away for an orchestra retreat and needed to be picked up at a particular time on Sunday. Anyway, Friday night, I had my friend and neighbor E over. And we got to talking. She was feeling a bit down and directionless, as I mentioned. I, being a pill, started talking about Getting Grit, by Caroline Adams Miller (CAM).

So the subtitle of Getting Grit is “The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose.” I went down one of those rabbit holes called philosophic introspection about the term “evidence-based approach,” but let’s not go there. It’s the three P’s I’m getting at. Perseverance, Passion, and Purpose. CAM’s definition of grit contains all three.

Perseverance we can all understand. Grit and its synonyms imply perseverance. Hanging on. But CAM doesn’t want us to hang on just for the sake of hanging on. Sometimes, in fact, we might need to quit. There are negative types of grit, she says. Among them are Stubborn Grit, the kind of grit that gets you up Mount Everest even if you’re not that well-prepared and costs the lives of Sherpas, and Faux Grit, claiming to have grit when actually you cheat, for having which she calls out Lance Armstrong (drugs and lies) and Donald Trump (lies and lies).

But we’re interested in authentic grit, and Authentic Grit has those three P’s. So, in the pursuit of grit, it’s important, says CAM, to identify and develop them. She has some writing exercises to help identify passions and purpose. I being a writer, and also a self-improvement junkie, read them over. The first is to write about when you are at your best. As in, describe “a time when all of your top five strengths were used in a transformational moment or a time in your life when you were ‘at your best.’” 


Readers, I read this instruction and went blank. Totally. Even though I had taken not one, not two, but three VIA quizzes to determine my top strengths. I just had no idea. Have I EVER used my top strengths all together in a transformational moment? 

Fortunately--or actually, as you will see, unfortunately-- I did have an opportunity to use some strengths recently. I wasn’t going to write about this, but then the other night, as I said, I was hanging out with my friend and neighbor, E, having some prosecco. And she was sounding a little down and blah about life and so I was telling her about these exercises to develop purpose and passion and I described the one I just described for you. And you know what? E had the exact same reaction to that prompt that I did. Or at least in essence. I think her exact reaction was to flop backwards on the couch and say, “My god. I have NO idea.” 

Her reaction made me feel better about my reaction, but also I wanted to make us feel better so I described the second exercise, which is definitely more appealing. I was going to say easier, but really, it’s not easy. It is more appealing though. And it is to write about your best possible self. You spend 20 minutes a day for three days writing about “life ten years from now as if everything has gone as well as possible.” There are lots of questions you can consider to write this answer. And of course, the point of it is not empty daydreaming. The point is not to be Walter Mitty. The point is to stimulate your imagination and rev up your sense of passion. AND THEN you have to use mental contrasting to set goals now to achieve the things you want ten years from now. You know, develop your purpose. So, all in all, not easy. Grit required. 

But anyway, we did not engage in that exercise. We had another glass of prosecco, and then E told me she was a little disappointed not to read in my blog about what happened to her a couple of weeks ago. 

As I said, I was not going to mention it, but since she brought it up, I am now. I hate for E to be disappointed, after all. 

This post is getting so long. If I were Charles Dickens, I would sign off now, with a cliffhanger that you would have to tune into next week the resolution of which to discover. (That was an awkward sentence, wasn’t it? It is grammatical, though.)
No ooze!

Anyway, what happened is that the afternoon of the eclipse, I got a phone call from my friend and neighbor E. She started out sounding fine. “I need to ask a favor of you,” she said. She said she had been stung by a wasp a few minutes ago. “And I’m kind of itchy,” she said. “And I’m starting to feel…….” At which point her voice went funny. And I said, “OHMYGODI’LLBERIGHTTHERE!” Apparently, I yelled to the soon-to-be 10th grader that E sounded weird, and I stopped by my bag, grabbed my epipen (generic brand*) and ran across the street. Her front door was open and I ran right in and found her on the kitchen floor, her daughter beside her. E was woozy and bleeding under her lip. She looked grey, except for the hives on her body. Of course my instinct was to remain as calm as humanly possible because her daughter was right there, but I was freaking out. E was conscious, and she struggled to sit up when I came in. I wasn’t sure if I should use the epipen or not, but I decided it was better to use it (was told by paramedics that was the right thing to do, FYI). In fact, I have never used it, even though I carry it because I am allergic to bee stings.

Now, for a middle-aged person to try to read the directions on a small object she is holding in her hands when her hands are shaking like egg beaters is quite the challenge, but I managed to get all of the caps and safeties and whatnot off the dang thing and then put it against her thigh, as trained by my allergist, and pressed on the proper end and heard the click as the needle extended. And then I had her daughter call 911 and give the phone to me. And then we made sure E lay back down and got an icepack for her cut and a pillow for her head and I answered the dispatcher’s questions and flagged down the ambulance and took notes for the EMTs and reassured her daughter she would be fine and helped collect her things to take to the hospital and so forth. Everything turned out fine, and now E has her own epinephrine injector. 

That was then, and now here was E on my couch, drinking prosecco with me. I could easily have not been home when she called that afternoon. I could easily not have thought to bring my epipen. However, I was and I did. Furthermore, I managed to respond with clarity appropriately in an emergency. I may have saved a life. So I have to say, it did occur to me that perhaps that disaster was a transformational moment when I was at my best, even though perhaps I would like my best not to include as much adrenaline, terror, and peril as it did. 

* When I called my doctor a couple of days later to get a new prescription for an epinephrine injector, I told the nurse that the generic had been really hard to use, and I requested the name brand Epipen. I’m pretty sure that’s what led to the insurer to cover it. I spoke up about the difficulty I had using the generic. I have the new Epipen now, and I’ve made sure the husband and the tenth grader know how to use it.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Authentic Grit and How to Get It

It feels important to let you know that the other day I spent quite a bit of time picking burrs out of the dog’s butt. That was my reward for taking him on a walk in nature as opposed to along the sidewalks and streets of our neighborhood. 

After I picked out the burrs, I deposited them in the trashcan in the study. Later, I discovered the dog, Milo, investigating that selfsame trashcan. “Get out,” I told him. He obeyed my command with an attitude similar to one I have seen from my children when told to do something they are not that excited to do. Like empty the dishwasher or remove their socks from the kitchen counter. 
Socks and ukulele on the counter, what else?

A few hours later, I noticed his muzzle fur had a funny whorl. He gets those sometimes when he sleeps in his cushy dog bed. A few hours after that, I said, “Milo, what’s with the whorl?” And I went over to him and felt it. What did I discover there?

I know you’re all quick, Readers, so you know the answer already. Those burrs. The ones I had painstakingly removed from his butt. Yes, they were now in his muzzle. 

Life feels like that sometimes. I have to admit it. It’s not always a forward progression. Sometimes it’s circular. 

This simple anecdote should suffice to convey the tenor of my week. It was one of those weeks when thing after thing happens that makes me feel like I’m barely above water. One of those weeks that throws me off track in my personal pursuits. 

That is why grit comes in handy. 

I finished Caroline Adams Miller’s book, Getting Grit. Now I know how to build grit. "Building grit" is an oxymoron, isn’t it? After all, grit is what remains after rock has worn down. Grit is what’s left. Grit is sand. (See last week’s post.) I think we can all agree that grit is good. It helps us keep on treading water when the side view mirror needs to be replaced because someone who shall remain nameless, one of the three drivers in the family, knocked it beyond askew; when the other car goes in for regular maintenance and comes out with a definitely unnatural knocking sound that turns out to be a broken bolt in the brakes; when the dryer breaks, and so on. "So on" in this case means I forgot to mention that when we returned from the beach, we blithely drove into our garage, forgetting that there was a large luggage container on the roof of the car and damaging the garage. 

And there was more in the last week, but I was letting the dog’s muzzle whorl stand in for it all. That went well, didn't it? 

Anyway. There’s grit and there’s grit. The kind we want, Readers, is “authentic grit.” Authentic Grit is not the same as persevering at all cost. Authentic grit is “the passionate pursuit of hard goals that awes and inspires others to become better people, flourish emotionally, take positive risks, and live their best lives.” Grit is positive, she says, only if it is a force for good. 

Welp. I feel cowed. That is a tall order. Especially when so often my life is about burrs in muzzles. Metaphorically and literally. Nevertheless, I persist. 


So. How to develop authentic grit? Well, developing grit depends on, as CAM says, “experimenting with” the several qualities she mentions in part two, working on each of them. These are the ingredients of what she calls the “Grit Cake.” And working with each of the ingredients, over time, will help us evolve “from a cook who masters one behavior at a time to a master chef who blends them all.”  

So, here they are:

  • Passion. As in, identify your passion, or even better, two of 'em, because they help give you energy and purpose.
  • Happiness. Work on upping that because happy people are better at maintaining the other qualities that grit requires. Also, being happy feels good.
  • Goal Setting. Challenging but not unrealistic goals, people. We've been over this.
  • Self-Regulation. Resist the marshmallow!
  • Risk-Taking. This does not have to be harrowing, but taking risks feels exhilarating. And when you survive, you get a big confidence boost. 
  • Humility. Benjamin Franklin added this to his list of virtues after a friend or two told him he was a little too full of himself. 
  • Perseverance. Goes without saying, doesn't it? Gotta keep on keeping on. 
  • Patience. Achieving goals takes time and maintaining focus and energy over time takes patience. 

Of course all of these qualities are multi-faceted. Each is a lifetime’s pursuit on its own. For example, passion. Developing passion sounds easy. But there’s passion and there’s passion. Passion can be obsessive (not so healthy) or harmonious (healthy), and managing that can take skill. And passion can be challenging to identify, if you’ve spend a lot time taking care of others’ needs at the expense of your own. Or happiness. There’s a broad subject full of complexity. For this reason, CAM suggests starting with one quality you think you most need help building and work from there. 

The good news is, focusing on these things is synonymous with living a really full and fulfilling life. Developing passion and directing it towards a goal, challenging yourself by taking risks, building happiness and self-control, and learning to play the long game are all about, as the almost 10th grader likes to say, “living your best life.” She says it ironically, but never mind. I am not being ironic. Sometimes it is important to be earnest.