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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Quarterly Check-In, Part One

As tax day approaches, I am reminded of that old saw, The only things certain in life are death and taxes.  But nobody wants to talk about either of those things, so I thought, as this quarter draws to a close, it's time to check back in with you, Readers, about your New Year's resolutions and goals.

How are they going?

I don't really want to talk about that, either. I am here to brag. Why, you ask?

First of all, I won. Twice. I won a raffle. The prize is a massage, which I can redeem at the farmer's market when it opens.  I also won a gift certificate to a plant nursery by guessing the weight of a boulder. I was at a home show with my friend LL. I was very excited about this contest. I had a feeling when I dropped my estimate in the bowl that I was going to win. Don’t ask me why. I don’t even believe in that stuff. Still, I had a feeling. And I won. I won I won I won. My guess was pretty close—1,967 lbs to an actual weight of 1,948 lbs. In the interest of veracity, I must admit the lady who called burst my bubble a bit, if you can burst a bubble only a bit. Newsflash--you can’t. A bubble is either intact, or burst. So. More like a tire with a slow leak is the metaphor I seek. Leak and seek.

Anyway, she told me someone else had guessed a little closer, but every time they tried to contact this person, the person hung up on them before they could speak. This is the tenor of the times, isn’t it? So they moved on to the next closest guess, mine. Of course, I had screened the call, because most calls are not worth answering, then called them back. I am not above hanging up on intrusive calls.

Also in the interest of veracity, I must admit that I had to check with my friend LL about the weight of a ton before I could make my guess. But I was right.

I am thrilled. Now I can drive 75 minutes to spend $50 on a plant. Or a pot. Or something.

I also won by tackling admin. Admin is what gets me every time. Admin is the crap you just don't want to do, but you know you need to do. And life, I am sorry to say, is full of admin.

So, after delaying for several years, literally, I finally took the advice of the plumber and called Delta about our kitchen faucet. This required girding myself for hours on hold with customer service trying not to listen to their hold music and for frustrating questions about make and model when I couldn’t find the manual for the thing. And then I called. And miracle of modern miracle, all I needed to do was text a photo of the faucet to the man on the phone, and next thing I knew, he was promising me a replacement part, for free.

Still waiting on that, by the way.

But—done. Checked off the list. Weight lifted.

The ease of that admin left me a bit foolish feeling. I know I am writing backwards. My point is, this kind of detail, this annoying stuff of which life is full, is the kind of stuff I normally walk backwards around the earth in the opposite direction to avoid. The husband and I call this stuff “admin.” This is because I caught a segment of an interview with someone who has written a book about this stuff, which she calls “admin.” And she claims to have strategies to help all of us poor avoidant sods tackle our admin. Unfortunately, I don’t know her name or the name of her book, and while I could look them up by looking on the website of our local NPR radio station, or probably even by googling “book about admin”, I haven’t. So while this information might indeed be very useful for me, and for you, Readers, I do not have it for you. Because finding it is yet another piece of admin. And I used up all my willpower contacting Delta.

But, to be successful in life, one must figure out how to conquer admin. As well as how to increase willpower. Apparently, according to this author, some of us are better at admin than others. I am definitely others.

So, how to conquer admin?

There’s a great piece of advice bouncing around the self-help coaches: Eat the frog. I believe this phrase is attributed to Mark Twain. Again, I would have to look that up, and so I will just lamely assume it is a reference to something Mark Twain wrote. Or said. After all, it seems plausible. He wrote that short story about the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County. It’s called, “The Celebrated Jumping frog of Calaveras County.” so it seems plausible he said something about eating frogs. Or it’s plausible that our minds just connect that saying with Mark Twain because he wrote a story about jumping frogs. Frogs and frogs being linked. At least in my mind.

I digress. Now, the saying, “Eat the frog,” means to get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first. Off your to-do list. This makes sense. Eating the frog means getting it out of the way and off your chest and out of your mind and off your shoulders. It means you get to cross something off the to-do list. Something unpleasant.

However, there is also the advice to conserve your most productive time of the day for your most important tasks, such as your creative endeavors or other projects that require clarity of thought and a reserve of energy. And our most productive time of the day is usually first thing. And they recommend saving the admin stuff for later, when you’re not as primed for creative work. That way you don’t burn energy and therefore willpower on less important tasks.

So, which advice is better?

Dunno.

Of late, the husband and I have taken to calling everything we don’t much feel like doing, “admin.” Turns out that’s a lot of stuff. Shoveling snow. Changing light bulbs. Planning meals. Admin. Life is full of admin.

But I think a secret to happiness is embracing admin. I mean, there is no way around it. So. You know. If you can embrace, as in accept that fact, then you have a better chance at happiness. Admin is the frog.

The best scenario is that you partner with someone whose definition of frogs and admin is different than yours. Complements yours, ideally.

This is not the case in my home. We have overlapping definitions of admin. Vast, overlapping definitions. In fact, it’s a miracle anything gets done. I can’t tell you how many times the husband claims he’s going to put a letter in the mailbox on the way to work—our mailbox is across the street in a little mailbox house with other mailboxes belonging to the neighbors—and I find the envelope left behind.

You’d be surprised how hard it is to cross the street to mail a letter.
Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. What do I know. I’m just letting you in on the depth of our laziness chez nous.

This is probably a good time to remind myself of Stephen Covey’s Habit No. 3 of Highly Effective People, Put First Things First. Good old Stephen Covey. Such a fount of wisdom. I myself have always wanted to be a fount of wisdom—or it font, font of wisdom? Perhaps a step along the path to wisdom is being able to repeat the wisdom of others. Anyway, put first things first is Covey's chapter on time management, which boils down to the four quadrants of effectiveness. Or, how to deal with admin in a mature manner, rather than in a hair’s-on-fire manner. I’ve discussed this before on this blog, but it’s been a long time. (http://www.unmappedcountry.com/search/label/Habit%20%23%203) This about the four quadrants of decision- making)
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/7_habits_decision-making_matrix.png


So there are the four quadrants. Ideally, you spend most of your time in quadrant II, taking care of things important but not urgent. Here’s where you do your long-term planning, your self-evaluation, your strategizing how best to whatever. This is in the ideal world. In the real world, sometimes it’s all quadrant IV, mucking about with the unimportant and non-urgent stuff. That’s usually followed by a quick (and involuntary) switcheroo into quadrant I, the important and urgent stuff, the crises. After which you have definitely earned a trip back to Quadrant 4 (unimportant and not urgent; online shopping, playing trivia games, whatever.) Although, according to this handy chart cribbed from Stephen Covey, Quadrant IV should be ELIMINATED from your life.

I think not. We need Quadrant IV. Probably just a lot less time in it.

Honestly, I am not sure which quadrant is the frog-eating quadrant, and Stephen Covey is no longer around to clarify. What I know is that priority-setting, scheduling, and making a plan are three things that make me want to pull the covers over my head and forget.

So we can see why I am not a highly effective person.

Quadrant III is the quadrant we are supposed to delegate. That’s correct, we are to delegate the un-urgent but important things in Quadrant III to someone else who can take care of them. Hopefully this person will have an affinity for admin.

Sadly, since I don’t live in an office, I have no one to delegate things to. I suppose this must be the Eat the Frog quadrant. You have to eat it to get it over with. Unless you can delegate this task to someone else.


I’m thinking, which is the Eat the Frog Quadrant? And I’m thinking maybe I need to rename these quadrants.


URGENT NOT URGENT
IMPORTANT QI  Hair on Fire
Taxes due today
Q2  The place for the Big Boys and Big Girls with Brave Hearts and Minds.

Or- Research whom to bribe to get kid into Ivy. Also, which Ivy? 

NOT IMPORTANT Eat the Frog? Q3

Mixing advice is so dang hard.
Q4 Binge watch “Russian Doll”




After proving to you just how much I avoid admin, I am going to confound you by saying that I actually did google the NPR interview with the admin-coining expert. Here's why: Another handy tip for getting things done is to use your tendency to put off admin to your benefit. Put off something highly unpleasant by doing something less unpleasant that is also easy. Such as googling the author who coined the term “admin.”

Her name is Elizabeth Emens, and her book is Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More. Here’s a blog post about her general idea*. Summary: 4 approaches to admin: The Super Doer, the reluctant doer, the admin denier, and the admin avoider (moi).

So what was more unpleasant that I had to do? I'll never tell. Instead, I will report that I mailed three important letters this week, which balances out the rebate I failed to earn because I waited so long to send in the form that the offer had expired.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Annals of Parenting and Suburban Life: Stereotypes and Success

Big news: I am being interviewed for a podcast this weekend. I don’t yet know when it will be aired, or what it will be called, but hey, I might as well brag about this part because life is short, and you never know if you’ll be around to brag later. Or if later will ever come. I will certainly inform you all if later does arrive and there's a podcast for you to hear.

Small news: I have been busy teaching, and drinking and eating oat products. That’s correct. Oats and oat by-products.

Let me elaborate. There’s my morning and evening mug of oatstraw infusion—that’s a long-steeped herbal tea, or tisane, as they say in France. Supposed to keep me from drying up into a husk as I enter cronehood. So far, so good.

There’s my breakfast steel cut oats, my cold weather breakfast. We all know oatmeal is good for us. Keeps us regular. And also, it’s a vehicle for a bit of maple syrup.

And then there are my oatmilk lattés. More on that in a minute.

I am basically oats at this point.

Sometimes, while eating my oatmeal with walnuts, slivered almonds, cinnamon, sliced banana, and a spoonful of maple syrup, I gaze at something educational or informational on the Internet. Most of the time, what I gaze at on the Internet is neither of those.

Exhibit A: During her last visit home, the college junior showed me some YouTube videos of a young male comedian who dresses up as “Gayle Waters-Waters”, a high-strung suburban mom who’s on an edge as sharp as one of my new Japanese knives (thanks, MIL).* Those knives are sharp. Gayle is always in workout clothes, speedwalking while holding hand weights, cleaning in hyperdrive, or barking at her bland mom friends in their bookclub. She measures her drop cookie dough placement to ensure proper spacing on the cookie sheet, and she has a labradoodle accepted to Carnegie Mellon. And two kids who are constant disappointments.

I have a labradoodle.


And I was recently forcing the 11th grader to look at the Carnegie Mellon website. When I say “forcing” I mean “encouraging,” by the way. No one forces anyone to do anything in THIS family. We lovingly stimulate an intrinsic motivation. That is key to success, by the way. In case you were actually reading this blog post for some information on that topic.

The college student loves this series, and it is amusing, definitely. Gayle is everything to the max, as we used to say back in the ‘80s. But I couldn’t help think a couple things: One, that the college student must think I resemble this person; and two, how very much I don’t think so. And yet, sometimes it hits you just how much of a stereotype you are.

A recent morning, I got in the car to drive the carpool and my yoga mat was frozen.

Other news: I am over the moon about two things, and maybe these are just stereotypical suburban mom things, but still, I am transported. One, is that oatmilk has arrived in our café. Now, I’ve been waiting. I got on the oatmilk train a while ago, after reading an article about it in the NY Times, of course, about two years ago. I tried it almost a year ago in NYC when I went to a (very unstereotypical, people, seriously) writer’s conference in Chelsea. And then I began noodging our café about it. Like, seriously noodging; I stopped one of the owners and talked at him, sent newspaper articles, and asked every barrista if they had oat milk yet every time I ordered a coffee, and I have to say, they went from unaware, to aware and unable to procure, to having it.

Oat milk is in short supply. Or it was, for a while, because every lactose intolerant coffee drinker on the planet suddenly wanted it; whereas the Swedish, who invented it, have been drinking it for years.

And isn’t that irony? The Swedes, who with their fellow Northern Europeans, are among the few peoples who don’t tend to be lactose intolerant**, created the best milk substitute? I believe it is ironic. Really ironic, not Alanis Morrisette ironic. Alanis can have her rain on a sunny day. That is not ironic. It’s just unusual, and often means you can see a rainbow.

On the positive side, here is proof activism works. And now, I can have my morning oatmeal and follow that with a cafe au lait or latté with oatmilk.

You know what else is ironic? Here’s true irony. A long time ago, not long after the Berlin Wall came down, one of my housemates, who was from Texas, traveled across country and met an East German who was traveling around the USA, and brought him back to the big house where we all lived, and he moved in. Eventually they married, and eventually, they divorced, and along the way, he became a citizen and she, my heart-of-Texas-housemate, moved to Berlin, where she fell in love with a German and stayed.

That’s ironic.

I saw my former East German housemate last weekend, along with several other housemates and exes and friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen since the mid-nineties. It was a solid reminder that behind every dang stereotype is an individual. I mean, c’mon, did Gayle Waters-Waters ever dream of living with a bunch of MIT grads in a co-operative house? I think not.

I belong to two book clubs. So, sue me.

Okay, and the other thing about which I am suburbanly happy to a startling degree is that our town is building a sidewalk on my street.

Okay, I take that back. It’s not on my actual street, which is part of a tangle of curvilinear streets developed in the 1950s and 1960s, but it’s on the street you turn off of to get to my street. That street is unpleasant and dangerous to walk on in bad weather or at night and it makes it hard to get into town without a car. But now, we’re getting a sidewalk, and that means connection and walkability.

So doesn’t that prove that I am not a stereotypical suburban mom? Because I want to walk and bike into town. I can wear my yoga mat across my back like it’s a messenger bag.

In other news, one of my students informed me that I am mediocre. I mean, she didn’t say exactly that to me, but I learned it from her. You see, she was assigned, along with classmates, to give a short (3-5 minute) presentation on a topic related to success on which she might like to write her required research paper. So she chose the topic, habits, and from somewhere, she produced a chart, listing on the left, habits of “mediocre people” and on the right, habits of “successful people.”

This chart was not footnoted, no source was named—nor was “success” defined, by the way—so I conclude she drew it up. That is, produced it from herself. And she informed the class that one of the habits of mediocre people is watching TV at night.

Um.

Busted, as they say.

Of course, as I have mentioned here in this blog, sometimes I also watch TV during the morning, for fifteen minutes. What does that say about me?

Well, it’s good to have a college first year presenting an opinion as a fact with no source reference to teach me my place.

If only she’d told me this before I had lunch with a few of my high school classmates from our fancy high school a few weeks ago. We shared our confusion about the many messages about being achieving women with which we were inculturated, and how we have tried to fulfill them in our lives, and how that has left us feeling inadequate too often.

The message boiled down to a intensely flavored bone broth*** called, “Be a Superwoman and do it all, otherwise you are a failure.”

But apparently it’s not that Superwoman stock that was a problem. It was a propensity to love British detective series.

Goddam it, I am not a stereotype.

If you’ll excuse me, I have to drive my Prius to the food co-op to pick up some locally made kombucha.

Catch ya later. Xoxo.



References:

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdPdiQNWDeY
** https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22643754
*** bone broth, by the way, seems to be what used to be called, “soup stock.” But times have changed and now it’s oat milk and bone broth and keto diet and fasting for 16 hours and never watching TV.

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.