Pages

Follow Me on Twitter

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Update on Success and Happiness Talk with Gretchen Rubin

Hello, Readers, how the heck are you? I’m here to say that I did have my meeting with Gretchen Rubin (GR) on Sunday. Indeed I did. And I look forward to getting into what we talked about, because it was quite interesting. But I have yet to transcribe my recording, and I have yet to send my piece to GR for approval (I offered, she didn’t ask it of me), so I’m going to save the main bits for another time. I'm aiming for next week. 

Meanwhile, suffice it to say that I had no time to transcribe because I only returned home Monday night and there was “Downton Abbey” to watch, and then Tuesday I was busy all day, most of that busyness revolving around the Capital Region Spelling Bee. The 8th grader was representing her middle school, along with 4 other students, at the regionals. Boy did it take a long time. It took hours, literally. First there was an hour of written testing. Then there were two rounds of onstage bee. With over 150 kids, each of whom was able to ask for pronunciations, definitions, and usage in a sentence of each word, it took a long time. After that, there was elimination down to twenty-five spots, and the semi-finals began. I kept screaming (in my head, mind you, not aloud), “Auntie Mame, fall off! Fall off!” 

Since it’s likely you aren’t as interested in “Auntie Mame” as I, and since it’s even likelier that you don’t consider it a filmic instruction manual for life, as I do, you won’t know that this reference means, “Just flub your way out of this terrible situation.” Which is what Little Patrick Dennis urges Auntie Mame to do when she finds herself having to ride to hounds - side-saddle, no less, even though nobody rides side-saddle anymore— on a horse the town veterinarian has ordered put down, a task she seems likely to fail at most miserably. She doesn’t fall off, in the end, and neither did the 8th grader, until well into the 7th hour.

But you wanted to know about my meeting with GR. Well, I was doubtful it would come through, because I’m something of a pessimist, even if I’m overall an optimist. I insist. But the meeting did come about. I shouldn’t have doubted, actually, come to think of it, because GR is what she calls an Upholder. That means she meets inner and outer expectations, so if she agrees to do something, do it she does. And did. 

It happened in Washington, where I was visiting my father, and where she happened to be giving a book talk and signing at Politics and Prose Bookstore Sunday night to promote her newest book, Better Than Before. When I emailed to confirm, we arranged to meet at the bookstore before she gave her talk. With my friend C (as in met her in college) to support me, and to save me a seat, I met GR in the store’s office and recorded our twenty-or-so minute conversation. 

She was engaged and engaging. In fact, I seem to recall doing a distressing amount of the talking. She was good at drawing me out. Was I amazingly articulate and charming? I can’t say. I haven’t yet listened to the recording. But contrary to my usual self-deprecation, I’m going to mention that I had recently completed some online personality test like the Myers-Briggs but called something else, and the results said I am a charming and charismatic person. So, let’s go with yes. Because online quizzes don’t lie.


Anyway, the conversation went on until it was time for GR to go out and speak, so I considered that a success. I joined C in the crowd. There I marvelled at how GR worked the room. She was quite funny, fast-talking, and smart, and she took a lot of questions at the end. Meanwhile, I became worried that I might accidentally delete my voice memo recording, on the sort of impulse that makes you think you might pitch yourself over the railing of a high balcony or drive into oncoming headlights. (This is a documented impulse, by the way). So I saved it every which way I could think of, including email, Evernote, and text message. Afterwards, I had a nice spanikopita with C and my father. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Annals of Successful Parenting: Submarine Parenting

So I have exciting news! On Sunday, I’m going to meet Gretchen Rubin. That’s right, Readers. This is the scoop I had for you. Me, moi, I’m going to meet her and talk to her for a few minutes about success and happiness. The Venn Diagram of these two subjects has a big overlap. 

Happiness is Gretchen Rubin’s bailiwick. She’s the Martha Stewart of Happiness. I don’t know how she would feel about that nickname, but it’s apt. She’s all about the practical application of everything there is to know about happiness, just as Martha is all about the practical ways to make yourself live the Good Life. GR’s all about taking what research has shown about happiness and showing us how to make our lives happier. She’s written several books, in case you didn’t know: The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and her newest one, Better Than Before. She’s been on Oprah’s show “Super Soul Sunday,” and now she has a podcast, “Happier,” with her sister. She tells you all about it on her website.

In other news, blergh. I have a skin cancer on my neck that I have to get removed. It’s not serious, but finding out did throw me for a few hours. Make sure you get those weird moles and skin tags checked out, Readers. Especially ones that suddenly sprout. 

That was a little public service announcement for you, Readers. Now, on to more Annals of Successful Parenting: 

If I’m not supposed to be a Helicopter Parent, and I’m not a Free Range Parent, then what am I supposed to be? A Submarine Parent, says Marie Schwartz, CEO of Teen Life. Who is she and what is that, you ask? Well, I had this unusual experience. A few weeks ago, after I posted a piece in the Huffington Post about being neither a helicopter or a free range parent, someone contacted me through Twitter and said, “you mean like a Submarine Parent?” Next thing I knew, she was suggesting I interview her client for my blog. My first impulse was, “Who me? I’m not qualified. I’m not a journalist. I’m a humorist.” But then I thought, heck, why not interview this person? She’s got something to say about success and parenting, after all. And I’m going to lean in. Also, what is Submarine Parenting? 

So I did. And she was really nice. Very gracious. Her name is Marie Schwartz, and she started her company TeenLife in 2006. She worked full time outside the home and was looking for summer activities for her teens. They had outgrown their summer camps, but they needed something to do. So she researched all kinds of programs, academic, community services, arts programs, and came up with a list. This list she shared with other parents she knew, and the rest is history.  After a couple of years of running this list part-time, she decided to make it her full time job. Now TeenLife operates in most major cities in the US, and is getting interest from other countries as well. Pretty impressive. The listings are available free for students, parents, and educators. Check it out. www.teenlife.com.  

Eventually, I asked her about Submarine Parenting. “Raising kids is like building a boat and then launching it,” she said. So if the kid is the boat, the parents are the submarine: the submarine is there, under the surface. The kid knows it’s there - that is crucial - but the submarine stays out of sight and out of the way unless there’s a distress signal. 

This philosophy underlies Teen Life. She thinks that to raise successful kids, parents should provide opportunities for them to experience things that take them “out of their comfort zone.” Ideally, before leaving for college, students should have “at least two weeks” away from home. The goal is to help them prepare emotionally for life when they go away to college and beyond. According to the Jed Report, 60% of college students wish they had been better prepared emotionally. That means giving them opportunities where they have to deal with other people’s negative emotions (and their own) and advocate for themselves. Opportunities that help them feel confident that they are competent. 

So what do you think, Readers? Submarine Parenting? Is that the solution? I like it. I like the term. I discoverd that Marie Schwartz didn’t invent it. It seems to belong to Silvana Clark http://www.silvanaclark.com and dates to 2010. Anyway, it’s a Millenial term. I think it is a synonym for "intuitive parenting," another supposed Millenial parenting style.
http://orig03.deviantart.net/63c8/f/2014/085/c/1/periscope_by_makahilahila-d7bsp7b.png
I like it, although I can see the point my friends have that it has a creepy, lurking feel to it. 

I’m all for sending the kids away for at least two weeks. I think it takes at least that long for them to adjust to being away from home for the first time. Both my children have been away. The senior has been away for five weeks every summer since the summer after 6th grade. The 8th grader has been away twice. The first was somewhat disastrous, as she sees it. She went to a rustic camp during a particularly rainy summer, and spent three and a half weeks slogging around mud and using outhouses. I remember cringing when other kids would talk about their summer camps - how they went water-skiing and sailing - and she talked about swimming in the lake and the rain, picking vegetables, and digging trenches. 

But even though she now says it was awful, she was so proud of herself when we arrived to pick her up that I felt it was worth it. Since then, she has been away to a less rustic camp, a theater camp, with electricity and plumbing - and she’s going back this summer. 

Anyway, since I had a very competent entrepreneur on the horn with me, I pressed her on the subject of successful children and successful parents. Marie Schwartz weighed in to say she feels successful, “if I have a kid who’s really passionate and motivated about what they are doing.” What they are doing, she adds, should pay “a living wage.”  They should also know how to manage their own money and have good relationships in their lives. 

For herself, she defines success as “doing what makes you a better person.” She also thinks success is being a good role model for living with “passion and drive.” Agreed. “If your kids want to hang out with you , you’ve done something right.”


Amen, sister. Time will tell. Right now, I’m not so sure how I'm doing in regard to this definition of success. But I do like a periscope.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Annals of Successful Parenting: The Null Set

In my Annals of Successful Parenting posts, I’ve danced around the topic of successful parenting, but I’ve never tackled head-on what successful parenting might be. Except to point out the two facts of parenting that I know for sure: 
  1. Children are exquisite instruments of torture, fine-tuned to each parent. Just a couple examples: Say you’re an introvert with social anxiety; your child will be an extrovert who is miserable every time you stay home; or, just to pull up another random case, you are one of those people with a (completely rational, mind you) terror of vomit. In that case, your child will be a spewer.  One of those kids that gets a stomach virus once a month and regurgitates every forty-five minutes for twelve hours straight - all of them at night. I don’t think I need go on. You all know exactly of what I speak. In fact, why don’t you tell me how your children have morphed to torture YOU?
  2. Parenting never ends, is largely unrewarded, is considered both very important by anyone who is a parent, yet completely worthless by our existing social structure; and so it seems as if the intersection of parenting and success must be nil. Or null. I’m talking Venn Diagram here.

This is no way to live. We need recognition. I learned that from Mr. Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People. At what point can you declare your parenting has been successful? When the child graduates from high school? When he graduates from college? Which college? When he gets a job? What job? When she produces grandchildren for you? Where’s her partner in this? When those grandchildren graduate from something? You see where I’m going here? Meanwhile, until some societally sanctioned outcome occurs, are parents to labor totally in the dark as to their children? 

The answer to that last one is, in short, yes. Of course. I mean, the labor the parent undergoes to bring a child up to that first societally sanctioned endpoint is gargantuan, takes about eighteen years, costs nearly three-quarter of a million dollars, and is largely unrewarded. 

Unless you look at successful parenting another way. Which, as I mentioned recently, regarding definitions that appear definite, I’m very happy to do. And really must do. Parenting is a terrific example of how success is both an outcome and a process. Parenting never ends, so if success is simply a particular outcome, such as getting into college, that is, as I’ve said, a very long time to wait to feel successful. But if success is a process as well as an outcome, then there are many ways to feel successful as a parent. And I’m not just talking report cards and roles in school plays and things like that. Those are also achievements of a singular, granular nature, gratifying but fleetingly so. No, I’m talking about something else. 

Now the other thing wrong with all those examples listed above is that they have much to do with the parent feeling successful because the child has achieved something tangible - but very little to do with whether the child feels successful. And that’s what really counts, isn’t it? Isn’t it? People? Am I right?

So, you want to feel successful along the way, while you raise the child. Otherwise you are in danger of projecting all kinds of goals onto them that are really YOUR goals. To avoid this fate, success can’t be about outcome only. It has to be about process. What is the process by which you are a successful parent? More important, what is the process by which you raise a successful child? I’d say it’s by helping your child handle life. 

Because really, what do we (and here I will revert to “I”, because I’m not going to try to speak for you, Readers) actually want for our children? I want my children to discover a passion, to find a way to work related to that passion that pays them money. I want them to be resilient, to be good citizens, to have well-balanced mental states, to accept disappointment without being crushed, needing extensive therapy or meds long-term, and to have several deep, meaningful relations with others. I’d love for them to fix the environment, or the political system, or to make great art, but I’m trying to be realistic. Today. I’d also like them to produce grandchildren and live near me and want to keep in touch. Not to mention to eventually rue the tight-mouthed way some of them have to speak to me nowadays - you know what I mean, don’t you? The speaking only when spoken to and answering by moving the lips as little as possible. Yes, I would like them to rue that.  

So then, how to achieve this ambitious list? Helicoptering? That keeps them close - at least for awhile. It could backfire, though, and send them reeling as far away as possible. Free range? That encourages their independence, which could actually work in your favor, via reverse-psychology, and encourage them to settle close by. 

Tune in next week, when I tackle this question, with a little help from a professional. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Success is Like Light

Readers, I had an epiphany. I'll get to that. I also had a break. A break as in a piece of good luck, not a psychotic break. I know you were thinking either one was possible. Put away your schadenfreude, people. I’m still sane. 

First the break. To say it was luck is misleading. It wasn’t luck at all, actually. It was the result of an effort I made. I took a risk. It would be irresponsible to suggest otherwise. Key to success in reaching a goal is setting smaller goals along the way and proactively pursuing them. That involves putting yourself out there, a.k.a., risking rejection.

So, I approached a person who is well-known, and I asked if I could interview her for my blog. And she said yes. Now, I’m not going to say who it is. This in part stems from superstition. I don’t want to jinx anything. Until it happens, I’m not going to really believe it happened. This is also in part my attempt to get you all curious and to keep you coming back to my blog to find out more. I'm not a natural self-promoter, but I know this is something self-promoters do. So I’m just going to say for now that this meeting will happen in the next month, in person, and I am thrilled.

“What are you going to ask?” the husband said. That part is easy. I can ask many questions about success. But his question got me thinking - imagining - picturing how the conversation would go. This person is a direct person. This person is a talkative person. This person - I pictured this person asking me, “Hope, how do YOU define success?”  

Here’s where the epiphany comes in. Because when I imagined answering this question, I pictured myself all too realistically; that is, I pictured myself hemming and hawing and tongue-tied and stumbling over how to reduce this topic, which I have complexified (see last week’s post for the etymology of this word. I am so James Joycean) beyond comprehension, to a few, clear sentences. Readers, I knew I would look like a total idiot if I didn’t have a blurbable definition. 

Then it came to me. In my mind, I was sitting at a little table with my interviewee who was also now my interviewer. There was a brick wall as a backdrop. I had my iPhone mic on to record this interlude. What is success? It’s not so complicated to sum up after all. Ready?

Success is like light. It has more than one form, depending on the situation. Success is an outcome and it is also a process. 

To me, this sums it up. My struggle has always been to find a definition of success that allows me to feel successful even when there is nothing tangible to point to as an obvious achievement. So much of life is working towards a goal; but only feeling successful at that goal’s achievement is awfully harsh. Often, especially in writing, the achievement is out of the writer's control. Furthermore, we all know that the good feeling of accomplishment at a job well-done is lovely - but fleeting. So my definition recognizes the achievement of an overarching goal, as well as a way of life that makes you feel successful. In this process, success is the byproduct: meaningful work, autonomy, mastery, purpose, mindfulness, connection. If you’ve got the process going, at any point you could take a snapshot and look at yourself and feel successful, even without obvious achievement to point to, because you are engaged in this process. 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Wave-particle.jpg
I'll have more to say on this anon. Meantime, give this cool image a second look. Particle? Wave? Both. 


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sibling Rivalry, Self-Help, and Success

It's folly to measure your success in money or fame. 
Success is measured only by your ability to say yes to these two questions:

Did I do the work I needed to do?
Did I give it everything I had?
-Cheryl Strayed


Got myself a little book by Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough. It’s a collection of inspirational tidbits lifted from all of her writings. I like it. I also feel that I should be producing uplifting, hardscrabble inspirational quotes in my writing. I don’t think of myself as an uplifting, inspirational writer, though. I need those inspirational uplifters myself. No, I’m more of a scrabble-around-in-the-mess kind of writer. 

Self-help gurus have the ability to make the complex simple. Worried about your self-esteem? Tell yourself “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Having trouble understanding the opposite sex? Simple, just remember, some are from Mars, some are from Venus. Cheryl Strayed seems to be on the way to becoming one of them. Thus, the inspirational quotes. 

I seem to possess the opposite - I won’t say “gift” - quality. I make the simple complex. I like to complexify things. Or rather, I don’t like to complexify things, but I do. The more I look at things, the complexer they look. And look at what I did right there. Complexify. That’s not a word. It expresses what I mean, though, so why not add it to the vocab? Sure, “complicate” works; but that’s exactly my point. There’s a nuance to complexify that I prefer for this scenario. 

Take my blog, for example. Success. It really should be a simple concept. Yet I’ve got nearly 300 posts related to it. And I STILL struggle. 

Or take something no doubt much simpler - sibling rivalry. We understand about that, right? Siblings rival one another for brattiest in attempting to win parents’ attention away from the other and on to them. Sibling rivalry is straightforward. Maybe the older kid wants to kill her sister, say. Maybe she even goes so far as to hold her sister’s nose (while her sister is an infant in a high chair, let’s say). What is the reason? Sibling rivalry, of course. The older hates the younger for usurping her spot in the family. Simple. 

But wait just a second. See, there’s also love. The older loves the younger, too. Was very excited to see her when she came home from the hospital and loves to hold her. Longed for her birth. Often plays wonderfully with her. Loves her. 

So why try to kill her? Well, let’s put it this way. It’s not exactly that she hates her sister. That’s not why she holds her nose. It’s that she hates the feelings her sister’s presence brings out in her. The jealousy, in particular. It’s intolerable. She feels awful to feel so awful, plus her parents tell her she’s awful for feeling that way - because they tell her to make nice with the baby and not to bean her with a stuffed animal - or hold her little nostrils together. And that makes her feel awful, too. Therefore, with a certain logic, she tries to kill those feelings by getting rid of the sister. Ta-da! Love and hate and ambivalence all wrapped up together. 

This might or might not be a true story. And the younger sister might or might not now be a successful psychoanalyst. Finally, that career choice might or might not have any connection to the sibling thing. But I think I’ll take credit for it. 

In any case, my point, Readers, is that things are usually more complex than simple. At least to me. 

Which leads to the conclusion that I am no self-help guru. I’m not sure what kind of writer I am. Novelist in the past. Memoirist in the present. Humorist? Hmmmm. 

If I have something to offer via writing, I hope it is duo-fold (like that really great underwear from the late 80s), two-ply, or if you prefer, layered. 
  • First, I hope to entertain. 
  • Second, I hope to reassure. 


These two goals are intertwined and mixed up, as is most of what I write. By scrabbling around in the land of ambivalence, turning over this stone and lifting up that log and seeing what runs out - and how it tends to squiggle around in conflicting and confused directions that overlap and tangle and don’t necessarily lead to a clear destination - I hope to show that my confusion of dreams, fear, anxiety, hope, optimism, and despair is pretty much the same as everyone else’s. I hope to reassure that we all have mixed feelings about life, and negative feelings that we would like to bludgeon with an axe (sorry, I just read Crime and Punishment, which features such an act). No petty emotion is too petty for recognition. No lofty one is completely free of hints of baser ones. That’s what I know. That’s what I offer. It’s not definitive, is it? But it’s true. I think that facing what’s true in ourselves, even those unpleasant nuanced truths, is the only way to grow.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

It's a Wonderful Failure!

“Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

This is a final piece of advice from Clarence the bubble-nosed aspiring angel to George Bailey in that old classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that the film is like a Rorschach Test for your psychological state. The first time I considered this was when my stepmother saw what I was watching on TV, rolled her eyes, and totally harshed on my happy with a bitter, “I can’t stand that saccharine creation.” 

Thanks, mom (step). 

Since then, I’ve watched the movie many times - “Mr. Martini, How about some wine!?!” Sometimes I think it’s, well, wonderful; sometimes, it makes me want to kill myself. 

Poor George. He’s gone deaf in one ear from an infection, and has been left behind in Bedford Falls, when all he ever wanted to do was go out and explore the world. He has plans. He’s going to college, then he's going to build things. He doesn’t want to be “cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office.” He wants to do something “big and important.” He’s going to “shake the dust of this crummy little town off of my wings.” Alas, his father wants him to come back and work in the family business, the Bailey Savings and Loan. It's possible he knows he's about to keel over from a stroke.  Instead, George's younger brother Harry gets to college and beyond, while George gets stuck with a drunk, incompetent uncle, a failing bank, and a shambles of a house, along with a passel of kids and a wife (who is undoubtedly pretty, but looks aren’t everything. Lucky she’s got the good stiff upper lip thing, too.) He feels like a colossal failure. And then when Clarence (Angel, Second Class, lacking wings) comes along to help him see how good his life is, well, sometimes, Readers, I can’t buy it. Because the only way George can come to see his life is wonderful is by giving up on his dreams and accepting his reality. This sounds like a meme: The secret to success is wanting what you have. 

Sometimes, Readers, I don’t want to hear that message. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I most certainly do not. 

But, I am happy to report, this is one of the years that I find this movie sweet and inspiring. 
And I love the final lesson:

It is certainly true. I'd be nuthin' and no one without my friends, and I feel that you, Readers, are among them. 

I hope you have a happy new year, surrounded by friends.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reach, Target, and Safety Goals

Hello, Readers, I am just writing a quick post this week, as this evening marks the start of the Season’s Festivities around here and I have a frittata and a soup to cook. 

It’s been a blergh week. That means no news on the book front, and lots of work on the parenting front: the Senior danced her final Nutcrackers. Much emotion involved in that. Following that came assessment of the school work she needed to complete, as well as the college applications. She’s working up to the deadline on those things. It’s not how I wanted it, but that’s how it is. Since before Thanksgiving, she’s been dancing all weekend, every weekend, in different cities around Massachusetts and Vermont, on top of her regular classes - oh, and school, too! So there wasn’t any time for essays. Or sleep, actually. (I can practically see Frank Bruni flexing his writing hand for another Op Ed piece on over-achieving children and their terrible parents.) What can I say? Some kids want to overachieve. You really can’t stop ‘em. 

On the plus side, I got some good advice during my monthly conference call with E and C. I told them I’m in a waiting mode, and it’s frustrating. Waiting and rejection are also wearing at my noives. (Say that with a New Jersey - Joizy - accent.) I’m starting to say self-deprecating things in front of my children, which they hear with dismay. Not healthy. E told me to try to find some activities that boost my self esteem that aren’t related to publishing. Good advice. My old NYC therapist gave me that advice, too.

C told me to take Seth Godin’s advice and “pick yourself.” Stop waiting for permission. That resonated, since giving yourself permission is definitely one of the keys to success I identified. Once again, therefore, I must remind myself I do have permission to undertake this goal - or whatever goal is important to me. So while in this waiting period, waiting to hear from publishers, I should choose myself, which means write the dang book, get immersed. Get excited. Do it for me. Keep moving and going. 


Maybe I should look at my situation in college parlance. After all, around this house, we’ve been thinking in those terms for months. Okay, sure. My Reach goal is publication by a traditional imprint, with an editor and all that. My Target goal is self publication. And my Safety goal is getting that book written, which will achieve a few things: get it done; provide me with new material to blog on and for articles; allow me to see the next project. As in the college search, it is wise to find your safety options appealing. You want to be happy with yourself and where you are, even if you fall short of your reach. 

Happy Seasons Greetings Holidays!