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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year and Other Foibles

Well, the sticky knobs on all the drawers and cabinets have been wiped clean after all the baking and eating and, dare I say, drinking of the last couple of weeks. And when I say they have been wiped clean, I mean that I have wiped them clean. They have not wiped themselves.

That sounds vaguely gross.

Also, it’s disingenuous, suggesting that I have done all the work over the holidays. This is untrue and to prove it, here’s a picture of a gorgeous tarte soleil the husband and our Yankee friend Tom made for New Year’s:
Recipe from www.smittenkitchen.com 


Anyway, 2018 is gone, no point in regrets. 2019 is upon me, no point trying to deny the march of time. That’s pretty much the way life goes, isn’t it? If I can free myself of regret and fear, well, then I will be golden.

Failing that, if I can accept regret and fear, then I’ll be pretty good.  Silver, I suppose. 

I’m not big on resolutions, at least not this year. I’m big on carrying on with the things I’m doing that do some good and cutting back on things I’m doing that are less helpful.

One thing I would like to stop doing is calling the garage door man. I keep calling him—this has now happened three times—and he keeps coming over and discovering that the garage door works absolutely fine. He’s very nice about it. He doesn’t even charge me for it. He just points out what stupidity has prevented me from understanding why the door isn’t going up. Or down. Depending on which you want it to do. It’s kind of like a toddler; it goes up when it ought to go down and vice versa, and it’s always when you’re running late. Last time this happened, right before the dawn of this new year in which I will be more aware of the garage door mechanism, the issue was that somehow someone had pushed the lock option on the garage door button.

This is a public service announcement to those of you who live in suburbs and have garages: if you push the lock option on your wall button, the car button attached to your car’s visor will not operate. The button on the wall of the garage will still work, however, and this will cause you much confusion. Also annoyance. Also, potentially amusing moments of playing chicken with the garage doors, running into the garage to press the button, then running out forgetting the safety mechanism in the overhead door that causes it to go up if it detects anything under it. Anything being, for example, a frustrated driver rushing to get a late child to school. Neither of you will be amused that the door has flown upward again. That's why I said "potentially" amusing. Because it won't be amusing. Next you’re playing a whole song and dance with the other garage door and the button in the car that does work the other side of the garage. It’s a whole fandango. 


Now you know. You are welcome. However, I cannot help you figure out if you have pushed the lock option. Because somehow, mysteriously, I, or the husband, or someone else in my house, did this, and we did not know. Fortunately, the garage door man did know. And was more amused than peeved to be called over on yet another bootless run to our neocolonial revival.

So, I would like to do less of that shit in 2019.


Eventually, I will fully understand the garage door, and then the garage door will finally break and I’ll have to learn a whole new fandango. But that’s sounding a bit Bombeckian for the start of a new year, so let’s back away from the cynicism.

Instead, let’s aim for this Tibetan proverb:

To live well and longer
Eat half
Walk double
Laugh triple
And love without measure



I don’t know if that’s actually Tibetan or a proverb, but I like it. I saw it shared on Facebook by a friend from college.

Readers, here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy 2019.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Light in Darkness, Motes and Planks, Specks and Beams

It’s holiday time, as in American Christmas holiday time, not as in American Jewish holiday time, which is High Holiday time. It’s holiday time, and all the lights are up and I love it. I love it because I can find my street now. I mean, it’s dark in our suburb. Not for nothing did the children dub it The Dark Divisions of Delmar when we moved here. No streetlights. Dark, dark, dark. So I'm always happy this time of year, especially for our neighbors the Bs, who light up a whole forest of pines, right on the corner of our street. I am serious when I say I love it because I can find the street.



I also love it this year because it means I made it through a semester teaching college first years how to write. I turned in my last grade yesterday. What a relief, at least for a moment. Now I have to write the syllabus for next semester. Oy veh. I nervously await their course evaluations.

In other news, my email newsletter distribution list keeps growing. I find this odd, because I’ve been posting less often than I used to. Fewer posts—more people sign up. What does it mean? They like what I’m not saying. Will they like it when I do say something?

Probably not. Who wants advice?

I follow lots of advice. So much it gets confusing. Eat no carbs. Eat no meat. Eat no fat. Eat only fat. Eat only carbs. Exercise before you eat. Eat before you exercise. Don’t do a shoulder stand if you have your period. Go ahead, stand on your head. Drink coffee. Coffee is the devil. Coffee protects against Alzheimer’s. Put butter in your coffee. You know the drill.

I would never—never—put butter in my coffee. But people do recommend it. Some people. They are currently hospitalized with clogged arteries and can no longer speak of this obscenity, but I promise you, they did.

But one topic of advice is pretty consistent: sleep hygiene. Sleep advice is never changing. Speaking of sleep hygiene. I just have to say that almost every woman I know over a certain age has gone for a sleep study. I have not gone for a sleep study, nor do I intend to; however, sleep is sometimes a challenge. I do all the things you’re supposed to do. I like advice.

Correction: I KNOW all the things I’m supposed to do—use the bedroom for sleeping and nookie only. Don’t read in bed or lounge in bed or watch TV or eat in bed. Keep to regular hours. Stay up until you’re ready to go to sleep, get in your pajamas or your altogether, whichever you prefer, perform your ablutions; then get in bed, turn out the light. Make your room really dark. Put an Auntie Mame sleep mask on if you want to—and I want to. And then you sleep.

Theoretically. This is what my father does, and he is 93. As far back as I can remember, he has sat up reading and listening to music until about 11 pm, then gone to bed and slept like a stone until 7 a.m. He seems to have got that right, and he’s doing just fine.

Anyway, I have my procedures.They involve my Auntie Mame sleep mask, and not drinking any liquids after 8 pm, except for the tiny sips of water to swallow my tinctures of motherwort and chickweed, and room darkening shades and all that jazz. Yet the best sleep I’ve had recently? Was after a huge dinner, late, a glass of wine, a large glass of water, in a hotel bed after watching late night TV in said hotel bed. Then I did it again, only at home. Up late after a large meal and wine. Slept like a baby.

So, screw advice.

But I am going to tell you something. A little story. A little story about how the husband, I noticed, had a thing about closing cabinet doors. I’d be in the kitchen with him and he’s be walking past a cabinet and he’d, you know, close the door. And, Readers, this irked me. I extrapolated all kinds of psychological metaphors from this behavior. He is uptight. He is closing doors around me. He is closing doors for me.

Get it? He is closing doors for me. Closing doors. On me.

Very dark interpretation. I was feeling hemmed in. Hard to breathe. Walls closing in. The star of my very own 1970s feminist awakening film.

Also, it was irksome behavior. And I was about to call him out on it. I was about to talk about the metaphoric implications, not to mention the more literal ones, such as the husband is type A, a control freak, whatever.

Then I noticed that he wasn’t just pressing on closed doors. That would be—what’s that word?—cuckoo. He was actually closing cabinet doors that were open. And when he wasn’t around, I noticed that I was —are you ready?—leaving cabinet doors open.

Not exactly gaping wide open. Ajar. I was leaving them ajar. Like all the time.

Now, I have a perfectly good reason for leaving doors ajar. Really I do. The reason is that usually both my hands are full—and sometimes my armpits are, too—so I can only get so much leverage to fling the door closed. My hands are usually full because I’m doing more than one thing at a time, such as carrying too many things so I only have to walk around the kitchen once, or trying not to trip because one foot is caught in the other pant leg because I am doing too many things at once because I am in a rush, frantic, a woman.

So, you know that old adage, that proverb? The mote and plank one?* Because there I was, about to unload my irritation on the husband, when he was probably irritated by me. And was shutting the doors on it, figuratively. I say probably irritated, because he didn’t show it. He just shut the door.

Just think about that one during this holiday season. I wouldn’t call that advice, because nobody listens to advice, and nobody really wants advice. But a story. That’s a different thing.

Happy Holidays.

*Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? —Matthew 7:3, Bible, New International Version

OR:::::::

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? — King James Version

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Benjamin Franklin, Kelly Ripa, and Me

So, I’m not going to pussyfoot: Since the election, one of my sphincters has relaxed. I'm not going to say which one. There are several, and none of them bears too much scrutiny. And anyway, I am still vigilant. Uptight, even. But, a smidge less than I was. Of course, life has brought other challenges, as it is wont to do, and they are not helpful in the relaxation arena. Things are precarious, as they always are, but a little less discouraging than they were.

When there’s so much news, personal and political, to occupy my brain, and when this news seems to require constant vigilance, it’s hard to get anything done but worry, perseverate, and mull. Usually at three a.m.

It’s important, this mulling, perseverating, and worrying. It’s apparently essential, according to my psyche, to aid in holding up the world and the people in it whom I love. If I were to relax, the whole thing might implode.

This is called magical thinking. FYI.

In times like these, thinking about Benjamin Franklin may be instructive. I recently spent a whole day on Benj F with my college students. An entire eighty minutes to cover his career.

Ample time, don’t you think?

Oh, you don’t? Well, neither do I. But that was all the time I had to point out some of the ways and reasons Benjamin Franklin’s legacy lives two hundred twenty-eight years after his death.
To that end, my students watched an hour biography of BF and read selections from his writings and we talked about how many different things he did and accomplished. The lesson being that  I am truly inadequate. That is my takeaway. IF Ben Franklin was successful because of his rigorous discipline, habits of mind, and efficient use of every fruggin moment of his day, then, then.

Well, I don’t exactly know what my point is, except that then I ought to understand exactly why it is that Benj F is known over centuries and across borders and I

am
not.

Oh, sure, it’s too soon to tell. Kind of you to say, Readers, but based on output alone, I am well behind on benchmarks for sustainable, world-wide, century-spanning success. I don’t think I even want that. The good news is that I, secular Jewish denizen of New York State, a woman with Buddhist tendencies and low-self-esteem, along with millions of others, am happy to look to his life for tips on achieving success.

So, once again, life lessons from Ben Franklin. He exemplifies using the scaffolding of success very nicely.

One, permission—Ben Franklin permitted himself to try new things. From the get-go, he gave himself permission. He permitted himself to pull out of his apprenticeship with his brother the printer, to move to a different city (Philadelphia from Boston), to impregnate a woman and then to take on his child born out of wedlock; to experiment with oil and water, with electricity, with stoves, with ocean currents; to take on various posts, found a university, a library, a fire department, to write anonymous letters and publish an almanack— the list goes on. The man did so much. From inventing a flexible urinary catheter to editing Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the declaration of independence (and making it more pithy). Permission.

Two, goals. The guy was goal-oriented. And his goals were always growing and changing, challenging and yet not impossible, ranging from personal development, such as his plan to achieve moral perfection, to trying to convince the British parliament to allow the Colonies to have a voting representative, he set goals.

Three, help from others. From inspiration for his project for self-improvement, which he took from Cotton Mather, who apparently was all for that sort of self-work, to sharing ideas with the gentlemen in his regular mastermind group he called the Junto, to serendipitous connections with government officials who wrote letters for him, BF relied on help from others to accomplish his goals and succeed. He helped others, too. Indeed, he wrote that asking others for favors endears you to them, probably because it allows them to feel that they are beneficent and also powerful, at least powerful enough to help you.

Four, centering activity. He spent time in contemplation, sometimes at religious services, focusing his attention on what he intended to do.

Five, managing the mind by various strategies. First of all, he was an auto-didact. Second of all, he believed in continual self-improvement by developing the virtues he thought most essential to being a good person in the world. He set intentions to focus his mind and work —every morning he asked himself, “What good shall I do today?” and every evening he asked, “What good did I do today?” which speaks to the final, and also perhaps the fundamental plank in the scaffolding of success

Six, basing his work on deep values and purpose. BF believed his role in society was to be of service. Public service was a deep value he held, and that value fueled his sense of purpose and buoyed his energy when he might have retired, but instead worked on the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Lasting success depends on knowing your deep values and purpose and aligning your life with them. They may change over time, but keying action to purpose and values keeps motivation strong.

Here’s a phrase I hate: At the end of the day. Everyone says it. At the end of the day. At the end of the day, I am not Ben Franklin. My motivation is shot. I’m not using every moment to express my intellectual curiosity. I’m eating almonds and watching TV, scrolling Twitter and Facebook and sometimes Instagram. Correcting essays and fielding emails from students who didn’t plan far enough ahead to get the reading material due for the next class and who think they have reasonable excuses.

I don’t even have gout.
Off to teach, gout-free. For now.


Here’s more good news, though. My guilty pleasure, watching “Live with Kelly and Ryan” came through. Just this morning, I leaped up from reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (any students who may read this, yes, you will be assigned chapter one very, very soon), when I realized Kelly and Ryan were on. Kelly was wearing a lovely dress, a print—prints are in, people. I turned it on a little late, thanks to Annie Dillard, but just in time to hear Kelly offer some wisdom, which I now offer to you. If you’re feeling bad about not being Benjamin Franklin level great—and I do get down on myself about that, from time to time—remember that, as Kelly put it, “Greatness at any level isn’t probable, which is why we should be fine, just fine, with the way we are.”

Perhaps the most I can get done during sphincter-tightening times is the minimum requirements: the teaching, which is engrossing and demanding; the perseverating, which comes unbidden; and the relaxing and thinking about print dresses, which comes naturally.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Nuanced Tips for Success

My hairstylist, let’s call her Donna because that’s what I called her last time*, just yesterday said, “Age gracefully.”
“Ok”, I said. “And how do you do that?”
And she said, “Don’t look in the mirror.”
And I said, “Man, just when I can finally afford some decent clothes you tell me I’m not allowed to look in the mirror?”

So we can see where things are headed with me: graceless aging.

On the way back from Donna’s, I stopped to pick up a couple of things I had altered. Since I’m not exactly standard size—and really, who is?—I often need legs and arms shortened. On clothes, I hasten to clarify. I’m not a criminal. In this case, I needed the torso shortened on a sleeveless blouse. This was a wrap blouse, which was finally ready, after a couple of weeks and one vain effort to pick it up the other day. N, the alterationist, is kind of busy these days. She has to hack her way to the front of her shop through a stand of wedding and bridesmaid dresses like she’s hacking her way through Spanish moss and vines in the Dismal Swamp.

Anyway, I took home my altered items only to discover that N had not only made the correct alteration on the armholes of the blouse, but had also made an additional alteration. She had sewed shut the slit in the side that allows the sash to wrap around the waist. Well, early blog readers might recall an altercation I had with a different tailor over a pair of improperly hemmed pants.

But I have since learned a few things, Readers. Namely, to inspect my altered items soon after picking them up, rather than after throwing away the receipt. Also, that life is really so much more than an accidentally sewed-up seam slit. Really, how big a deal is it? I mean, considering everything else that I’m not writing about on my blog.


Nary a seam slit.

So, I gave N a call. N of course said the slit was right there, in the seam. And I, holding the receiver to my ear, took another look at the garment. I ran my hands over every inch of it. I pushed my glasses up my nose to double-check. No seam slit. So I said, and I am giving myself credit where due, “N, I see where there was a slit, and I see that it has been sewn up by mistake, so I will have to bring it back to you so you can fix it.” And she said she would be there Saturday, and so did I.

Then the phone call ended. No gaskets blown. This is the thing for which I give myself credit: no blown gaskets. I mean, really, is it necessary? And would it be helpful in getting the proper seam slit in my blouse?

So, I don’t know, maybe some of my aging might be graceful, after all.

**
This reminds me of when I was bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding. Her life was all wedding plans and roses, and I was in therapy, loveless, and dissatisfied with my life. After every time I went with my friend to do something wedding-related, I bought myself a present. I was going broke, which I complained about to my therapist, since my job situation was part of my problem. To my great surprise, she did not make me feel like a spendthrift fool drowning my sorrows in retail therapy; she simply suggested that I buy myself less expensive presents. Instead of a new Benetton sweater—this wedding was a looooonnnnnng time ago—maybe a book or a lipstick.

I am not getting political here, but I am suggesting that my therapist once suggested to me that a little self-care in times of stress is not a bad thing. I say she suggested it, since she did not outright state this maxim. The psychotherapeutic relationship is not built on offering specific advice. You don’t pay for advice. You pay for nuance. Just remember that. Nuance is much more expensive than advice, by the way. However, studies show that we can tolerate and even incorporate nuance more easily than advice.

So, what have I suggested to you in this silly post? At least two, if not three pieces of advice. All free, let me add. What do you think they are?

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Annals of Libtard Life


It’s a confusing time for your white American woman of a certain age and class (somewhere in the upper middle, anxiously hanging on.) Here are some things running through my mind in this particular time. 

My next door neighbor is weed-wacking my across-the-street neighbor’s yard, as I walk towards home with the labradoodle Milo. It’s a bazillion degrees out and two bazillion percent humidity, and honey, I moved north to escape this kind of semi-tropical shit I grew up with in Washington, DC. And here it is. 

Will my next-door neighbor weed-wack my yard next? I almost hope so, because I sure as hell won’t, but also I fear it; even as I know that if he doesn’t, it will only be because he has forebearance, and not because our yard is weed free. In particular, the patch that runs between my house and his is a riot, and I feel terribly guilty not weeding it. I fully intend to weed it. I could do it, a few minutes a day, but we’re in the middle of a heat spell. I realize this hasn’t stopped my neighbor from putting on his straw fedora and sweating through his t-shirt, but it has stopped me.

There are some recent asylum-seeking immigrants detained at the Albany County Jail, and some may be children and all should not be in a prison or jail and I’m beside myself. 

Also, I looked at my knees today. That was a mistake. I wore a skort to work out at the gym and there they were, my knees, looking exactly their age. 

We are supposed to wear white to protest the detainees and #familyseparationpolicy. My white jeans are shot, and also too heavy to wear in the heat. So, am I supposed to go shopping before I protest? Or can I wear another color? 

Trump may be re-elected and this is so upsetting that I want to leave the country. This gives me a deeper insight into the bravery of all those who do leave their known environments and I wonder if I have what it takes. I think working out is probably a good idea, in case we need to walk to Canada and leave our things behind. In Canada, temperatures will be favorable for pants most of the year, which will be a plus. (Knees.)

The highlights in my hair are a little too streaky and stripey and I worry that it looks awful and fake. You don’t really want people commenting, Oh, I like your hair color. You just want them to say, You look great. Did you do something? So then you can say, Oh, no, it’s just a good night’s sleep is all. 

I bought a book called How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks For Big Success in Relationships. I immediately flipped to number 92, of course, and now I’m encouraging people to gravitate towards me by showing them my wrists, the soft undersides of them, and palms, never my knuckles. Wrists and palms. I don’t really get it, but I suppose showing wrists and palms denotes openness, a subliminal message of willingness to embrace. Perhaps not literally, but perhaps literally. 

We have a RESIST HOPE LOVE CHANGE yard sign in our yard. Our neighbors down the block, a widower with twin daughters and his new wife just put in a really serious sign: Martin Niemöller 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Interesting tidbit about this quotation, which has been modified over the years to start with Muslims and Communists and other groups. Niemöller was calling out those Germans complicit through inaction in the mistreatment of others, but he was an anti-semite until the war.

So the good news is that people can change their attitudes, or at least counter them with appropriate behavior. The bad news is it took ovens and six million deaths of mostly Jews, with a bunch of Catholics and homosexuals and others thrown in, to change his mind. 

The college student is in Rome for the weekend and I want to be in Europe. She’ll be returning to her internship at CERN via overnight bus, which sounds like hell. I really want to be in Europe but we bought a bed instead. I guess that was optimistic: sleep might actually be a possibility, and it will be hard to carry across the border. (More pushups?)

Another neighbor slash friend told me that the family on the main road by us who has a sign saying in English, Spanish, Arabic, and something else I don’t recognize that all are welcome had their mailbox demolished twice. This is scary. 

Someone has chomped off the tops of all my turtlehead and now the back garden is destroyed. I know it’s not the bunnies, who have nibbled everything at ankle-level. I know who it is. The deer. Very annoying. On the plus side, I saw an opossum in the yard, which means fewer ticks. 

Someone spray-painted anti-semitic graffiti on a building near the rail trail in town. The town supervisor went out and painted over it himself. That was, you know, very nice of him, but really brought the tenor of the times into my bones with a chill. 

There is a lot of upset and confusion around, but my daily concerns continue unabated. Why do I have ridges on my nails? I forgot to ask my docter at my annual physical, so I asked Mo, who was giving me my summer pedicure. Is it some sort of vitamin deficiency? I hate to say it, said Mo, But it’s just, you know, getting older. Oh, I said. Just part of the whole drying up and turning into a dessicated locust shell called aging? Yeah, she said. 

So that’s great. Another thing to work on accepting. Some things you just have to accept, otherwise you make yourself miserable. 

Some things you should never accept, though. The other day, the Fourth of July, to be exact, the husband and I made a sign and went to stand on a street corner with about a dozen other people. Women, of course, as this political movement has fallen under the umbrella of women’s work, for the most part, the husband excepted on this day. Keep Families Together. Families Belong Together. It’s Not Illegal to Seek Asylum. And ours, Make America Humane Again. People mostly honked and waved and gave us friendly hoots as they drove by. Thumbs ups were common and heartening. There were the one or two cars full of white men in caps who yelled at us that we were losers and should go home. We kept standing. Some of the other women yelled back at the naysayers. We all waved at the supporters. In between chatting with a mom in her 60s and her two daughters, who were up from the city, I thought about who might argue with the word “again” on our sign. Idle thoughts about getting gunned down presented themselves. Happy Fourth of July in America the beautiful. 

I’ve taken out books from the library on developing charisma, conversational skills, and making people like me. I can’t help think there is some connection between the political situation and my curiousity. I’m hoping that this represents that ever-wise Stephen Covey habit of focusing on my circle of influence. It might just be an all-too-human tendency towards self-centeredness. I turn my wrists and palms upward and outward, hoping to draw something to me that will give answers. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Success Scaffolding: Goals & Wishes


Hello, Readers, here’s what’s been happening. I went to the hair salon. I love going there. I love my stylist, Donna, and the whole place.  It's her place, and it’s just nice. Everyone is close there. For example, I walked in and Donna was finishing with a client and she said hello to me and I saw that her eyebrows were covered in dark smudges. Then I saw that the other stylist had dark smudges on her eyebrows, too, and that she was touching up the roots of the manicure-pedicurist. Everyone was dying her hair and eyebrows. Rinsing and dousing in between clients. A perfect ballet of personal care. Now, I have not dyed my eyebrows nor my hair, but I do get highlights. As I said to my friend the other day, I’m just another Jewish woman slowly going blond. Donna takes good care of me.  

Anyway, I told Donna that I finished my manuscript and sent it to Agent. I told her that I hope Agent is still my agent, and that I’m not sanguine about that. Then I started twirling off into the wings about whether Agent is really going to pull through and be Agent for me, or if I will have to find a new agent. And Donna put her hands up. Whoa, whoa, she said. Let’s take a moment to celebrate. 

About completing my manuscript, she meant. Did you open the champagne? To which I said, Not yet, because I don’t know what Agent is going to say about or do with it. So Donna says, But celebrate. You wrote it!

This was true, and also true was that I had done nothing in particular to commemorate it. I finished my manuscript draft. I pushed send. I pushed send on an email with an attachment. The attachment was my manuscript, well, the rest of manuscript. Ninety thousand words. Sent. I texted the husband who was counseling the family of a stroke victim and texted back, Congratulations. I got a little electronic confetti. 

But, but, but…. I said, thinking of all the things left to do and all the possible ways I can be rejected, shot down, and made miserable about this sent manuscript.  And also about admitting to it in public, for example, here on my blog. 

And then Donna said that I need to stop with the negativity.  This is a nice thought, of course, stopping with the negativity. However, the debate is still open whether this is the dog of negativity, or negativity’s litter mate, pragmatic hedging. 

Now, pragmatic hedging is a term I have made up. Therefore, I am on that side of the debate. Pragmatic hedging descends from the superstition, common among the Jews I know, of mitigating all good fortune or even hopes and dreams of good fortune with a muttered, “God willing.” It’s like spitting over your shoulder or whatever. I don’t actually think it’s a Jewish thing. It’s a human thing-- for the neurotic human. It’s making sure that the God you don’t even believe in won’t smite you for daring to have a less than humble aspiration or a modicum of good fortune. It’s a kind of reflexive self-humbling so the Universe doesn’t decide to squish you.

But Donna had the scissors and I was in the chair. Her eyebrows, by the way, were by now rinsed. She said, because she is a big Deepak Chopra fan, Here’s what you’re going to do. You are going to manifest what you want to happen. 

Sounds great, I said, my pragmatic hedging ready to intrude immediately. I shushed it. 

Here’s how you do it, she said. You think about what you want. You imagine that publisher calling about the book. You picture it. Then, you imagine how you will feel when it happens, really feel it. Then you feel it. Give yourself over to it. 

Okay, I said. As I mentioned, she had the scissors. I had the pragmatic hedging in a down-stay. 

Now, I have written much about visualization in this blog, and some about abundance theory, also known as the Law of Attraction. This is the stuff of Deepak Chopra. He’s one of a long line of peddlers of this theory that if you want to achieve something, you think positively about it and attract it to you. That’s the theory. 

Also known as hooey, flim-flam, and bunk. Sorry, you Law of Attraction believers. BUT. Visualization can be an excellent tool. Visualizing a positive outcome can be helpful. It can prime you to work harder, because you’re primed to be a bit more optimistic than, uh, pragmatic. And there is a more complex form of visualization that is also helpful. It is called mental contrasting. Mental contrasting is visualizing one’s goal and also visualizing the obstacles one is likely to encounter when striving for said goal and how to overcome them. Mental contrasting helps in setting appropriate goals, because once you envision your ultimate goal, you then lay out a series of smaller goals you need to accomplish on the way there. 

This is a lot of work. Trust me, I have been doing it for a long time with this book. First a first draft, shitty a la Anne Lamott. Then another draft. And another. Then the proposal and the agent and the editor and publisher and the--- I have overcome multiple obstacles. The book, she is done. I mean, she needs polishing and revising, but her essential organs are intact. At this point, things are out of my hands. I have sent the book out. So manifesting—what harm can it do? 

Donna is not a nut. I would not let a nut take scissors to my head. What she also said was that I had to let go of how this wish manifests and just focus on the wish. I took that to mean I have to drop the reins of worry for awhile, while I wait to see what Agent says or—my big fear being that Agent doesn’t respond at all—doesn’t say. Then, I can act further. Find a different agent or whatever. Meanwhile, I can think happy thoughts about the day the publisher calls and says, I love this book! Let’s get it out on the shelves. 

Pragmatic hedging, by the way, is a relative of mental contrasting. Mental contrasting is all about being pessimistic—or realistic—in goal-setting. It’s about figuring out the contingencies that might make reaching a goal difficult and then getting around those. This is turning a goal into a series of small goals or steps. All in the head, mind you. It’s a form of proactive positive thinking. It’s positive, because you visualize your goal. And it’s negative because you visualize obstacles; that turns out to be positive, though, because you visualize obliterating those obstacles. Fortunately, Unfortunately. Anyone remember that children’s book? Fortunately, I got the last seat on the airplane. Unfortunately, the plane exploded. Fortunately, I did not die. Unfortunately, I was thrown from the plane. Fortunately, the plane had parachutes. Unfortunately, the parachute did not open. Fortunately, there was a haystack. Unfortunately, the haystack had a pitchfork in it. Fortunately, I missed the pitchfork. Unfortunately, I missed the haystack. 

And so on. Here is someone reading it aloud, in case you missed it in your elementary school education: 


Tangential to this hair styling situation, was the dharma talk I listened to while walking the dog the other day. The actual dog, on a teaching about putting the burden down. Buddha said to put down all the things we carry with us, including—according to Gil Fronsdal, the teacher—the search for Nirvana. The spiritual search can be a burden, too. Anything we struggle with represents an attachment. The idea is to somehow exist with those things WITHOUT struggle. 

Putting down the burden. That is the appeal of manifesting. That was the appeal the other day. To just let go of all the pragmatic hedging. To let go of all the caveats to the wishes and to just imagine having a simple form of wish granted, to imagine how that would feel. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Just World Hypothesis, and Annals of Successful Parenting

Hi Readers,

Chitchat about the weather, etc. So much has been going on. I’ve been turning the heat off, then on, then off, then on. Fan in the window. Fan out. Window closed. Birds too loud. Birds on the pillows. (Well, so it sounds.) Rain, then sun, then clouds, clouds, clouds. Sweaters packed away in lavender for summer. Sweaters needed. That’s spring in the Northeast. Flowers and rain. Hot at night, cold in the day.

I’ve finished my book draft and reread it all, making notes for revision. This is the good kind of writing, the making it better kind, not the figuring out what I’m trying to say kind. That part sucks.

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about. It’s the Just World Hypothesis. This is a theory developed by a social psychologist Melvin Lerner that says that humans have a powerful intuition that people get what they deserve. I.e., the world is essentially just. If good things happen to you, then that proves you’re good; if bad things happen, well, you deserved them. This is where blaming the victim comes from. In a just world, and here I am extrapolating, if something awful happens to someone else, that awful thing suggests the person is sub par somehow. And if something good happens, then they are being rewarded for being good.

I was reading about this in a very interesting book about fear-based parenting. Fear-based parenting is what most of us parents are doing these days, to one degree or another, according to the book. The Just World Hypothesis is a cognitive bias that colors our perception of events. It’s part of what makes us fearful. We want to prevent bad things from happening to our children, who are, let’s be clear, offshoots of us, because a bad thing happening has an associated taint on our virtue.

I couldn’t help thinking about how this bias relates to our culture’s extolling of wealth and fame and prestige and all those trappings of success. You can draw a straight line from there to there.  And those trappings of success relate to greed and materialism. The need to prove we are successful is powered by fear that unless we amass some amount of these things, we won’t know that we’re good people. We must scramble to amass amass amass to show ourselves and others that in this Just World, we are the Good.

In recent years, I have become acquainted with some purported Christian teachings called the Prosperity Gospels and Dominionism. These teachings are the Just World Hypothesis in Sheep’s clothing. If you have wealth and so forth, it is because you are godly. This by the way, according to Stephen Cope, a writer and yogi and generally wise guy, is also an association you find in Hindu mythology. The equating of godly with goldlyness.

It’s really an endless cycle of misery we step into when we buy into this cognitive bias. And of course we would much prefer that there is a Just World than that there isn’t one.

Yet it was not always so.

Reading about this bias made me think of Boethius. I heard about Boethius during my Junior year at Oxford, where I took a tutorial on Chaucer. My teacher—don, in Oxbridge talk—was an unfriendly woman who was unimpressed by my grasp of Middle English. Her attitude was opposite to that of my main don, who offered me Earl Grey tea and told me I had a nice, intuitive approach to essay writing.

Anyway, Boethius, wrote in about the 6th Century C.E. One of his most successful tracts was a letter from jail. He went on trial for something—heresy, perhaps—because he was a Hellenist and Christian mix. He wrote this philosophical treatise in which he talks to Lady Philosophy about his misery and bad breaks and losses of fortune and material wealth and all the trappings of success. Lady Philosophy tells him that the Wheel of Fortune rules the world. We all ride on it. Sometimes we’re up, and sometimes we’re down, and it’s really nothing about us. We don’t add blame and shame to the burden we carry if things don’t go our way. Failure says nothing about our virtue. Furthermore, because we can’t count on Fortune providing all those external signs of success, we need to live in accordance with more abstract and noble values, such as virtue. That will make us happy.

This wheel of fortune idea, which predated Boethius, became known as The Boethian Wheel of History, and this book, called The Consolation of Philosophy became a best seller in late Ancient and early Middle Ages. Chaucer talks about it, which is why scary don lady had me read Boethius.

Boethius was executed, by the way, for whatever he did to piss off whomever he served in the late Roman Empire. Nevertheless, and most appropriately, his words lived on.


Somewhere along the way came this shift to the idea that dominates our culture now. That if something good happens to you, it means you deserve it. And if something bad happens to someone else, then they deserved that, too.

With an attitude like that, no wonder we’re all anxious and stressed out.

Here’s something I’ve been doing. I spent three days at training for my upcoming job teaching writing to first year students in college. That’s going to be exciting, and maybe the pay will cover the new outfit I bought to attend the training. But, hey, it’s a job, and it will count on a resumé, and at this point, with two teenagers in my house, it seems appealing to know I’ll have 18 other teenagers captive to me starting shortly after Labor Day. They’ll have to listen to me, or they’ll fail.


Here are things that have been happening. The other day the 19-year-old came home for a brief visit before she heads off for a ten week summer internship in particle physics. When we arrived home we discovered the 16-year-old in a tree. With a boy. Or, to be more specific, two bikes were in the driveway, and after a brief look, we saw four legs dangling from the maple tree.

The boy soon rode off on his bicycle, which was when I realized he was biking without a helmet. This caused me to yell after him and generally embarrass the 16-year-old. Then I discovered that she had biked with him without her helmet. This occasioned further yelling. Dignified yelling, I hasten to add. Yelling that sounded jokey but wasn’t. You know, things like, “Sure, it feels good. Until your brain is smushed by a passing car.” And, “Yeah, a helmet flattens your hair, and you look dorky; an accident could flatten your head and then you’ll really look stupid.” That kind of thing.

I told her that unless she wore her helmet, I did not want her to bike with the boy again.

She says she won’t.


I choose to believe her. I have no choice.

Anyway, I suggested she invite this fellow over for dinner, along with some of her other friends. We’d have a nice, friendly dinner, lots of fun. In the background, I would have a couple screens set up, you know, just casual, playing videos, since videos catch the attention. Videos about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, drugs, alcohol, bike safety, vaping, juuling. That kind of thing. Maybe some Beyoncé or Childish Gambino thrown in to break things up.  I thought it sounded nice, welcoming, and friendly. Also laid-back.

Did I forget anything? Please alert me in the comments. Thank you.

Now the 19-year-old is gone. I am left to experience the inexorability of time. It’s a cliché, and also true. Boethius might talk about wheels of fortune that have a kind of inexorable randomness, but the wheel is a reassuring thing, promising return. Whereas time is just moving forward, moving forward.  Time moves in linearity, never mind what those physicists say. That’s why it’s inexorable. Whether I am tied to the track like a damsel in distress, with tight Kewpie doll curls and mouth moving out of alignment with the subtitles, or watching in horror from inside it, makes no difference to the inexorable train of time.

So, you know. I’m feeling as if I need to find a way to make a mark, to be of use to people. To be needed. It’s not all over, the being needed by the children. It’s just moved into a phase where they don’t know they need me. And I really, really like it when they know it. However, time and all that. Change occurs and one must adjust. I’m needed now to keep an eagle eye on bike helmets and legs in trees. I take what I can get.

I wonder if there is a way to incorporate bike safety into my first year seminar with my captive audience. Will it fit with the Franciscan themes I am required to teach: heritage; natural world; diversity; and social justice? I will find a way.