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Thursday, May 18, 2017

News and Tidbits

Hello, Readers. It’s taking a monumental amount of willpower to avoid the big, combed-over elephant in the room. The news has been riveting. But I am not writing about that. And I’m trying to marinate in it less overall. What this means is a short and scattered blog post. 

Tidbits and News:

Following my own advice from last week’s post on dealing with distraction, I have tried, somewhat successfully, to limit my exposure to the media, both formal and social, and to focus on my writing. That advice really came from the example of my friend C, mentioned last week, who has found the months since November 9th to be some of the most productive of her career. I tried to follow her example and to forge ahead. The result is that I do have a rough draft of approximately 90,000 words. All written last week. 

No, not really. That’s about 240 pages. Not possible for me to amass in one week. But the draft did start to coalesce over the last week. I read a little of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird every night to inspire me. In case anyone in the world hasn’t read that book, the title refers to advice her father gave her brother when he had a report on birds to write from scratch and it was due the next day. Take it bird by bird, was the advice, extrapolated to any writing and by larger and further effort to any daunting endeavor. Bird by bird. A way to get one’s writer self into the chair. 

Turning off the web browser is another crucial element I employed last week. 

In other news, the dog is afraid of the kitchen. I think he’s actually afraid of bees, but more specifically of things that buzz, including but not limited to bees, and by extension he is afraid of the places where things that buzz have recently been buzzing. That would be the kitchen. 
Now I’m not going to have any of that. He needs more grit, does that dog. And also he needs to be reprogrammed to like the kitchen again. I am hopeful that a little play therapy with him in the kitchen every day will work magic. I started out with one of the puzzles I bought him during a phase when I felt extremely guilty for his under stimulating life. And he does love the puzzles, which he solves with nose and paws, and which reward him with treats. 
Anxious dog


The college student is home for the summer! I picked her up on Saturday at noon, and I am happy to report that she was all packed up and ready to load the car. This kid is no snowflake. This kid has grit. What she doesn’t have is a job. She thought she had one, but it fell through. So she has been looking, along with every other recently arrived home college student who didn’t get a job over spring break. Which she did. But I guess not really. 

I read Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saundersand I liked it. I didn't love or lurv it, but I did like it. I liked its Buddhist elements, such as how life is full of suffering people and how we all need to be compassionate towards one another - and towards ourselves.


That’s about all. I think all that writing while trying to avoid getting sucked all the way into the news used up my available willpower and I’m depleted. That happens with willpower. It’s something that can be strengthened, according to Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, but it also has limits. Like a muscle, it can grow stronger by use, but it can also fail from overuse. However, overuse, like a vigorous workout, will lead to strength. Unless of course you tear something. I haven’t torn anything, but I have worn out my willpower muscle. So keep me away from the cookies and the chocolate. And please consider this post a gentle limbering exercise.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Using the Scaffolding to Deal with Distraction

Current events are inconveniencing me, Readers. They are preventing me from splashing happily in my bath. They are keeping me from focusing with laser-like concentration on the frivolous, like the new makeup I bought Monday, after attending my high school reunion. 
Why after and not before, you might ask? Well, you might, except I’m not writing about it, due to my obsession with current events. 

Yeah, current events are jamming me up. I have to keep refreshing my Twitter feed because the conspiracy types are really getting me wound up. And the ones who are convinced we’ve become an autocracy on the way to full dictatorship are amping me up, too. Then I have to check in with Fox News to see what they’re saying, and then over to the failing New York Times and the Washington Post. It’s exhausting. All this energy expended in the mistaken, neurotic obsession, in the magical thinking that somehow, if I stay on top of new developments I will prevent something even more terrible from happening, or perhaps even solve our problems. 

All of which leads me to this grand point. Handling distraction - or not - is key to success. The latest news is today’s distraction. Tomorrow it might be something else. Please let it be something else, like buying makeup after my high school reunion, which was Monday’s distraction. That’s a much more relaxing distraction than worrying about the firing of the head of the FBI. 

Luckily, my scaffolding of success helped me out here. That is the point of the scaffolding. It helps you build success by providing you a structure to support yourself while doing so. 

Specifically, my like-minded others helped me out. We had our monthly conference call today. At the outset, my friend C (as in, we met in college) said to E and me that we could not discuss the elephant in the room, otherwise it would take up our whole time. But E and I both admitted that the elephant in the room had been gobbling up our attention. While we agreed not to talk about specifics, I suggested that discussing how to handle distraction seemed like a good topic. 

C responded that she had, in fact, not been distracted by this latest development. And indeed, when we three summarized our activities viz-a-vis our goals set at the end of our last conversation, of the three of us, only C had fully accomplished hers. Her secret to success? Simple. She had decided to stay focused with pockets of productivity. And the secret to those pockets of productivity was that she committed to using her better energy - during the day - for her work, and saving her checking in on the news for the evening. 

Talking to my like-minded others got me focused on my work today, and helped me resolve to use my better energy for my work, too. Talking to my like-minded others, a.k.a. my loving mirrors, helped me activate another plank in my scaffolding of success: getting centered. Talking about using energy wisely reminded me that focusing on what I can actually do, as opposed to things about which I can do nothing, is the best approach to life. Worrying about what I cannot control is unhelpful. As Stephen Covey states in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, your circle of influence is smaller than your circle of concern, but is contained within it. I have provided a handy graphic for you in the photo below. Yes, I realize the text is flipped. That's a technical by-product of using my laptop camera. The point is the concentric circles. By focusing on what I can do, I can, over time, expand my circle of influence within my circle of concern. This does not mean withdrawing from current events, however. It just means allocating time appropriately. Making calls to my government representatives can happen in my low-energy periods. Meanwhile, I can focus my better energy on my work. Starting tomorrow, of course. Now, I have to check the news. 

I'm your loving mirror, Readers. That's why the writing is wackbirds.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Annals of Successful Parenting & Life

"It turned out that this man worked for the Dalai Lama. And he said - gently - that they believe when a lot of things start going wrong all at one, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born - and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible."  - Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott

I’m reading Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. It’s part of my required reading for my book - reading other memoirs, or memoir-type books that might be kind of like mine. Of course we are all unique and different and individuals and all that jazz, but still, we are links in a chain. Maybe it’s odd to be a secular, mostly atheist Jew with Buddhist tendencies who relates to Anne Lamott. Anne Lamott is a born-again Christian with neurotic tendencies and a sense of humor. Well, then I’m odd. So there you go. She’s funny and honest and upfront about her shortcomings and in that way I think the Venn Diagram of our writing overlaps.

If that is not being too bold.

Which it is not, I hasten to add.

Although I don’t exactly believe my own words.

And so it goes. Welcome to the mind of moi, Hope Perlman.

So what I wanted to say was, Hello, Readers, I am just coming off the two week visit of our French “exchange” student. The visit involved so much more field tripping and spending time around other humans than I usually want that upon delivering her to the grotty and miserable bus station in Albany at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning - yes, the 4 a.m. that is before the crack of dawn; the four a.m. that is the time of infinite night terrors; the 4 a.m. of insomnia — and then finding that the bus had been overbooked, and then standing around with fifteen or was it twenty or was it two hundred other bleary and annoyed parents delivering other visiting French students, and also with our own children, who promptly passed the ensuing hour sitting on the filthy floor of the station and playing hand games with their friends and crying and hugging until the new bus arrived at 5:15 am - I promptly came down with a fever, aches, weird stomach pains and postnasal drip. I had so very much else to do that day of the 4 a.m. delivery that I didn’t really admit to illness until it was all done and night had come. One of the first things, by the way, that I did, was to instruct the 9th grader to deposit the clothes she had been wearing when sitting upon the station floor into the laundry. Then I was on to other fry.

But yesterday there was no denying the illness, and so I spent a day doing what my body needed. It was a wonderful relief, Readers. I recommend it.

One of the benefits of having our “exchange” student (please see previous post to understand why I use quotation marks) was that I finally had that coffee with a mom friend that we’d been planning for a long time. I hadn’t seen her since before the election, and in fact, I was kind of afraid to. Not because we are on different political sides, but because I was afraid the thin gauze of optimism I have managed to enshroud myself with would disintegrate with a good old political discussion. But we had more immediate things to discuss, like how in hell to entertain French teenagers in Albany for two weeks. So we met and brainstormed, and my mom friend, who is more pessimistic than I am, even though my thin gauze of optimism is so very thin and gauzy, and I came up with some good activities.

I felt a little like country mouse and city mouse with my mom friend, by the way, since she’s a leggy ectomorph who dresses entirely in fleece and hiking gear and, well, I am not. But anyway, that was fun. But one of the ways our conversation got a little sharp and threatening to my gauzy wrap was our discussion of incivility and how rampant it is and how awful the things we hear on the news are that people say about one another and the partisan divide and the gap between the blah and the blah. And so on. And it was distressing to go over it all. And it is distressing.

And so I was distressed when I left our coffee. But then later I thought about this incivility, and I thought about where I see it. On Facebook, on Twitter, on snippets of the news that I watch on Facebook and Twitter. Of course on comments in the failing New York Times, but everyone knows better than to read those. And then I thought about my regular life, and I thought about incivility there, and you know what? I didn’t find a lot. I found mostly people being nice. Even the ones that might have voted for You Know Who. Like the retired guy down the street who mows his not very big lawn on a riding mower in a sleeveless undershirt. Always been downright civil to me, obviously a liberal feminist with a fancy dog. He’s the guy who once suggested that I “get a couple a frozen meatballs, put ‘em in a dog bag, throw ‘em in the freezer. When you go for your walk, take the bag out of the freezer, and there you go. Cop sees you. You got a bag. Smells a lot better.” See what I mean? Civil. And probably votes for You Know Who.

And then there’s me. I mentioned this before, but it remains true. I still feel this gentle little careful spot inside me that I am tending. It’s me being nice to people I encounter. Nicer, I should say. And it’s a result of the hammering my guts took by the election. It’s an awareness there are a lot of angry, miserable people out there, and I might as well try to not increase their reasons for their anger and misery. I’m thinking if I feel that way, a lot of other people feel that way, too, because I’m not so special or different. I’m not particularly mean or kind. And so that makes a lot of us trying to be nicer to everyone, and therefore increasing civility.

Today I came across this little nugget in Anne Lamott’s book. According to a guy she met who worked for the Dalai Lama, the Buddhists - or maybe the Dalai Lama and his workers - believe that when lots of things are going wrong all around us, it’s to make room for something beautiful to be born.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mental Contrasting and Ganesh for Success

Just a quick note this week. We have had a French exchange student with us since last Wednesday. Things are going well. She’s a very polite and quiet exchange student. The only thing I really don’t get about her is that she has left home without a book. This is a mystery to me. And it presents a bit of a dilemma for the 9th grader, who needs her down time, and would like to spend some of it companionably with our visitor reading. 

Alors. 

I say exchange student, by the way, but there is no exchange involved, unfortunately. This is because our school district no longer allows our students to stay with host families abroad. Our French teachers argued for it to no avail. 

Oy. 

Anyway, to entertain the visiting students, some of us got together for a day trip to Woodstock. Woodstock is not actually very near where Woodstock occured, but it is a very groovy town full of vintage clothiers, flea markets, incense, Tibetan flags, Indian prints, and all manner of yoga-related symbols, as well as expensive comfortable clothing and shoes - and good food. It was a win-win. I got into the spirit of things in one of these shops and decided I needed something Ganesh-related. In case you were wondering why, Ganesh is the Hindu god of success or of removing obstacles, which is apparently the same thing. 

I agree they are related. And Ganesh abounded in this shop. I chose a cool postcard with an image of Ganesh on it and went to buy it, only to be told by the cashier that the side of the shop where I got it was owned by someone else, and since my postcard had no price tag, she couldn’t ring it up on her register. 

Ganesh was an obstacle in this instance. And that, Readers, is ironic. 

However, for reasons of who knows what - maybe kindness, perhaps amusement - the husband liked this story and also thought I needed a Ganesh, so he ordered one for me from Amazon. It arrived today. 

I’m not entirely sure which obstacle I hope Ganesh removes. I hope that’s not a problem. However, it may be problematic, since I’ve learned that setting specific intentions is a potent way to get things rolling in the right direction. A general wish is kind of wishy-washy, if you will. What if Ganesh removes all obstacles? That could be mayhem. Some obstacles should remain in place. For example, red lights and stop signs and some kinds of inhibition. Let’s assume the idea is Ganesh removes obstacles to success. So, what success am I aiming for ?

I think we all know it. 

But while I like my little Ganesh, the more useful method of removing obstacles to success is mental contrasting. Mental contrasting is a method of visualizing yourself achieving a goal, then considering carefully the obstacles to it that you might encounter. Once you identify an obstacle, visualize yourself overcoming it and how you will do it. Then visualize your goal and another obstacle and so on. Thus you merge a positive mindset with the knowledge that you will have to work to achieve it, as well as that you have the ability and grit to do so. Recipe for removing obstacles. 


So my little Ganesh will sit by my computer as I write and will remind me that I have the power to remove obstacles to success. And also, perhaps, my little Ganesh will work some magic over the things I cannot control. 
A bird house in Woodstock, NY

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Find the Hidden Success Tip

I’m dialed up to “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhrrrrhhhhhh” on the stress meter today, Readers. Why? Well. PC Various. PC Various, as I like to say, is library lingo from back in the days when I worked for the Harvard College Library. It’s a holdover from the old cataloging system they used before switching to LC (Library of Congress) cataloging and automating. That was where I came in - applying barcodes to books while they got the automated circulation system, well, circulating. 

It was a stimulating job. I often took a snoozle over the keyboard of an afternoon. But I did get in a lot of reading. All three volumes of Bowlby on Attachment and Loss, for example. Somehow, despite my non-Protestant work ethic, the library did get online, where it remains. PC Various is a vestigial category my library friends and I toss around with one another.

And today, for no good reason at all, I have shared it with you, Readers. 

So one of the various reasons I’m stressed is that we are having a French exchange student come to stay with us for the next twelve days. Only some of us speak decent French and I’m not one of us. Zut alors! What shall we do? Keep Google Translate open on my phone at all times, for one thing.

Another reason is the salty taste I have in my mouth, which according to the interwebs could be due to post nasal drip or IMMINENT DEATH. I’m the worst kind of hypochondriac. I’m the kind that doesn’t actually ever want to go to the doctor, because if the doctor suggests some kind of test, out of an abundance of caution or to actually get to the bottom of something, I am possibly more afraid of that than IMMINENT DEATH. So now I have to get a blood test to check my thyroid. I didn’t even go to the doctor. I just called her. She hasn’t even checked my sinuses. She thinks it’s probably hormonal related to perimenopause. 

So I was right. IMMINENT DEATH.

Anyhoo, on the plus side, I made yogurt. The husband and the 9th grader got into it. We started adding things to those cunning little jars, things like maple syrup, vanilla, honey, and Ovaltine. Then they decided not to eat them. So I have to eat the sweetened ones, even though I’ve cut out a lot of sugar. Why? Why cut out sugar? Well, a couple of reasons. PC Various reasons, if I may. 

One: Goal contagion. Yes, remember Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD? Goals can actually be contagious. That’s why who you hang out with is very important, right? So in January I read in the failing NY Times about quitting sugar for a month. Then a couple of friends of mine tried it. Next thing I knew, I was trying it. And so, if you want to stay motivated to achieve some goal, find other people who are also trying to achieve it. It helps. 

Two: Willpower. I decided to try cutting out sugar for one month (except for birthdays) also because somehow the rise of Rump made me concerned about my ability to withstand, say, a long trek over the mountains to Canada to escape the Gestapo. I felt that under terrible duress, I might just collapse without my daily sugar. This seemed weak and foolish. I needed to prove I am not those things. Perhaps I have just proven that I am. Well. What can I say? 

Anyhoo, today as I opened my cunning little jar and scooped some yogurt onto my healthy mixture of cereals and nuts that I eat every morning to stave off IMMINENT DEATH, I felt a little sadness and stress in my heart over having to eat a sweetened yogurt, as if it would bring me one step closer to weakness and foolishness. 

Also on the plus side, along with that one little tip for success tucked into this strange piece of writing, I offer you another cool thing I love, that isn’t causing me stress: 

My Swedish dish cloth. 



It is biodegradable, dish-washerable, and totally adorbs. Also it works well. 


Now I must frantically try to organize my house for our French guest. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Envy and Healthy Discontent

Note the cunning little jars?
Readers, I was away last week and didn’t have time to write a blog post. I was busy traveling to see the college student perform and then taking her to Washington to see family during her spring break. Aside from that, I was busy being consumed with envy and dealing with it. Yes, I know. Embarrassing stuff, admitting to envy. Here’s the thing. It happens. Maybe not to you, but to me. Envy. This time it came from visiting some old friends I hadn’t seen in years who have amazing careers, amazing awards, and an amazing house in Cambridge. Also they are amazingly nice. Let’s call them He and She. 

What did I envy? Did I envy their jobs? Not exactly. They are so not me. But I envied their career success. Did I envy where they lived? Uh, hells to the yes. In a vibrant neighborhood outside Harvard Square. Just a couple of blocks from a neato retro shop where I bought a Swedish dish cloth, made of cellulose and cotton, dishwasher safe and biodegradable. Did I envy their Mies van der Rohe chairs and their renovated Victorian house? You betcha. Did I envy their homemade yogurt? Yes. Yes, I did. How could She have the great career, the great house, the great kids, and have time to make yogurt? Readers, this yogurt thing preyed on me. She had made it in these cunning little glass jars that she put on the table amongst the croissants and the fruit salad.

And where did all this envy get me? Into a funk, of course. Because I started to compare myself and my life, my town, my house, my professional success, my spouse to theirs. I confided my envy to my friend, let’s call her The Source of All Things, but I think she was perplexed that I would be so envious when I have so much good in my life. I confided my envy to another friend, let’s call her A. And she said, "OH Hope, you go into these downward spirals sometimes." Which is true. I do. And she spent a little time bucking me up. Spiraling me up, I suppose I should say. Talking about the things I know are true: that we all make different choices for different reasons, and one is not more valid than another. It’s not more valid to have an amazing professional career than it is to be a stay-at-home mother who fits in writing when she can. It’s not more valid to have a beautifully renovated Victorian house in Cambridge than a lovely home in the rather cloudy valley that is Albany County.

I also told my therapist, who said this was about whether I am enough. Which, let me tell you, depressed the hell out of me, because of course it is true, envy is about whether I am enough, and because it’s such an old story I thought maybe with all the seeking I've done behind me I might have reached the end of that one by now. And because I know the lesson, the rule, the central idea behind therapy and Buddhism and Judeo-Christian religions, is to accept myself, warts and all, as they say. You have to start where you are, as they say.

Fortuituously, a podcast on this very topic appeared on my phone, just in time. Gil Fronsdal spoke on contentment and discontent and stressed this very idea. Start where you are. Find a little something to feel good about. Maybe just that you have a few minutes to yourself to meditate. Maybe that you’re alive and breathing. Maybe that you have a full range of emotions to access. Accept them all, even the ugly ones. From acceptance springs contentment, or at least the opportunity for it. From this seat of self-acceptance you will then be able to assess the discontent you feel and decide if it is healthy or unhealthy. Are you discontented with your house or your job or your spouse for real reasons? If so, you will be much more able to act to change what doesn’t work if you do so from groundedness.

When I thought about the roots of my envy, I realized it was pointing me towards my work. I needed to focus on it more and move it towards a conclusion. So that was positive. Envy was a kick in the butt, in a way. I knew that if I focused on the work I was meant to do, I would reconnect with a central element of myself that brought contentment.

So when we returned from our visit to our amazing friends, I wrote a thank-you email. In it I asked for the yogurt recipe. My friend wrote back the next day. The yogurt, she said, is so easy. She bought a yogurt maker on Amazon for twenty-five dollars. She included the link, which I immediately clicked on, of course. There was this machine. There were the cunning little glass jars, included. So, Readers, I bought it. I haven’t yet used it, because I’ve been writing. When I get to it, I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Self-Transcendent Moi

Before I interrupted myself on self-actualization with my self-flagellating blog post of last week, I was writing about Maslow. The husband did not care for that post, by the way. Not sure why. I suppose I could ask him, but that would remove the mystery and the fun of conjecturing. Well, in fact I did ask him and his response was something about the psychology part being kind of dense. Was it too dense? I dunno. That was what I think he said, but I didn’t hear him clearly because I have a hard time with criticism and so you know, I would prefer not to. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a speech somewhere at some time (I came across a snippet of this on Facebook, as I come across so much drivel and dross and RBG, too) in a marriage sometimes it is useful to be a little hard of hearing. According to RBG, this rule applies to work, too. There’s a good tidbit for you, Readers, making your journey down the page (screen) today worthwhile, I hope. 


I think perhaps that post was a wee bit detailed and only the types like moi who like psychology - we psychologists manqués - are interested in all those deets about Maslow and his theory. They led to one of the more fascinating aspects of our culture - the counter-culture. I was speaking to a new reader just the other day about all the modalities of self-help and self-actualization that came out of the 1960s and 1970s with their emphasis on transpersonal psychology and peak experiences. There was EST and Primal scream therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Transactional Psychology, and — here’s one I had forgotten —Rebirthing. Rebirthing involved climbing naked inside sensory deprivation tanks and floating in the dark on salt water, in silence, which sounds terrifying, especially for people who don’t like to be out of control. In case you know any of those. I know I do. That counter-culture pop psych stuff was all very groovy and mind-expanding. Being a good liberal, I think that groovy and mind-expanding are good things. Frankly, if you think about it, modern psychology itself grew out of the counter-culture. There was Mesmer in the 1700s with his "animal magnetism" and hypnotism, and séances, and Freud and Jung. They were all counter-cultural in some respect. 

So anyway, did I mention that Maslow built his psychological theory on his interpretation of the lives of 17 people he considered exemplars of self-actualization? Like Abraham Lincoln. He did. His whole theory rests upon his subjective interpretation of the biographies of 17 people, mostly men. And upon this, in part, rests all of Positive Psychology. Gives one pause, does it not? Examine your sources, Readers. 

Also gives one inspiration, does it not? Take those risks and put out those ideas, Readers. You may be on to something significant. 

Speaking of taking risks, one of the characteristics of the self-actualized, self-transcendent person is willingness to try new things. Well, guess what? I tried a new thing. This might mean I am self-actualized - except probably another of the characteristics of a self-actualized person is that they don’t send emails in anger and then have to apologize. So. One step forward, one step back. In the same spot as before, I guess. 

Anyhoo, indeed I did recently try something new. I danced in a live performance on a stage. Nine (ten?) of us in our 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s spent six months rehearsing a dance choreographed by a dancer friend of mine who teaches NIA (Non-Impact Aerobics). Most of us came from the NIA class, but didn’t really know one another. It was a kind of what-the-hell decision that I have to say turned into one of my best choices. It was great. There was the dancing, which was really fun and challenging. There was the added physical exertion in my life that actually energized rather than depleted me. All that moving brought up memories of me as a young kid, eight or nine years old, which was a time when I felt like a dancer and very competent in my body. Those feelings were still inside and they came back. 

And there were the other women. It was really wonderful to get to know these ladies in a very particular way, starting with the physical. We had to get in each other’s space to practice and perform. We had to - weird - touch one another to do this. It was strange at first, and awkward, but by the end, I felt totally at ease. We had to try all kinds of movements and risk looking idiotic. But we made a safe community and gradually began to know one another. Our performance, which I had dreaded, turned out to be exhilarating. We had quite a large turnout for our show. The experience was a definite highlight. I think I can fairly describe it as self-transcendent; Maslow says creating art is an example of self-transcendence. As is motherhood, by the by, but that's a topic for another day.


So, am I self-actualized? Self-transcendent? Who knows. I guess it’s something to shoot for, or it’s an impulse that goads me onward and keeps life interesting. Yeah.