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Friday, May 21, 2021

Annals of Social Work and Life

Did I mention that the husband and I acquired two puppies? Maybe not, because there have been moments of sincere regret about that decision, and I don't know about you, Readers, but when I regret a decision, I also feel ashamed and embarrassed. Fortunately, those moments are becoming more widely separated than they were, and the puppies are growing up. Also, I have completed my first year of my Master's in Social Work and have the summer mostly off. 

   School is on my mind, still. Here's my latest post for Psychology Today. Please click below and read it so my editor there will promote my piece! 

Have We Resolved Social Work's Identity Crisis? 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Annals of Pandemic Life--The Paterfamilias and a New Post on Psychology Today

 Hello, Readers. I have been behind on my blog. The reasons are various, including being busy, busy with school and overwhelmed with housebreaking two puppies—what was I thinking? I was thinking about how fun it will be when they’re trained, and not about how much work is involved in training them AND going to graduate school at the same time. 

Also, I have been avoiding writing because I have to put in words the sad truth that the Paterfamilias is no more. He died on December 29th, of old age and complications of COVID-19. I am grieving. Of course I am. The anger over how he died—alone in the hospital, very hard to reach by phone or Zoom, is with me. What can I say about a 95-year-old man who died other than he had a long life, a mostly good life, a life with some tragedy and much joy, and he was my father. I am now an orphan. 

It’s not a tragedy that he died. We all must die, and he did not die before his time. That would be a tragedy. But how he died was tragic. Alone, isolated, frustrated, and afraid, as so many people have had to die this year. Even when loved ones were nearby and prepared, they couldn’t reach their hospitalized ones. They were trying, like me and my sister the psychoanalyst, to reach their parent by phone, by Zoom, and finding themselves baffled at every turn by difficulty communicating, even if we did manage to get through. That was tragic, to not be with the paterfamilias in the hospital to hold his hand and keep him company. 

Nevertheless, there it is. He is not. Life is going on, and I have a new blog post up on Psychology Today that I am sharing with you here. It’s about finding my identity in a profession that is having an identity crisis. Ah, the irony. Please click the link below to finish reading it on the Psychology Today website. The more views the editors see my post get, the better for me. Please continue reading below and click on the highlighted text to finish to post. 

Social Work's Identity Crisis--And Mine

I began writing this blog to help me figure how to define myself as a successful person when I had experienced very little of what the world considers success for an individual. And by world I mean my own part of the world, the world of educated professionals. I was not a professional, despite my education, and this ate at me most fiercely. I washed up on the shores of Regret and Should’ve, questioning my focus on writing novels and on being a mother. Worthy endeavors, but I couldn’t see them that way, because they didn’t amount to resumé entries. They were not professional success. I became something of a psychologist-manque, reading up on success and flourishing and goals, steeping in the tea of Positive Psychology and serving it up to you, entertaining myself and others with my forays. 

Please click here to continue reading

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Tips from Pantone on Optimism and Strength: Success in Tunnel and Out

Did you know every year there is an official color? Indeed there is, and the announcement is met with some fanfare in the world of design. The Pantone Color Institute picks it and names it. This year’s color of the year is actually two colors, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. That’s grey and yellow to you and me. The colors were chosen together because they create contrast and balance. Things being what they are, I guess even paint company employees are looking for answers to our current predicament. “The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one,” said Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, in a press release.*

Readers, I never thought I’d be passing on success tips from Pantone, but I find inspiration where I must. Optimism and strength are “two characteristics that are needed as we enter the new year,” according to the author, Nicoletta Richardson, of Pantone's colors.* Because things right now are very hard and dark. You know, we’re in it. The days have a ways to go to the shortest one, so we’re still tunneling down and we can’t expect that little upturn that means we’re going to make it out to sunlight again until then. The too short, too dark, too cloudy days. We know they’re going to get longer soon, though, and that does bolster the mood. However, as Kate McKinnon said on “Saturday Night Live Weekend Update” last weekend, it’s well and good to see the light at the end of the tunnel,“It’s just that the light at the end of the tunnel has shown us how stinky and bad the tunnel is.” What’s in my tunnel right now, aside from the wider world of politics and incomprehensibly stupid people, is the paterfamilias with COVID-19, alone in the hospital, in a city far away. Not that distance matters at the moment, because visitors aren’t allowed. 

On the side of Count Your Blessings is that he has a bed, he doesn’t need a ventilator, and he has enough energy to complain. On the side of Life is Infuriating, Hard, and Scary is the government’s murderous response to this pandemic means my 95 year old father is alone in the hospital with a disease he never needed to have. 

Okay, so what do we do? We gotta get through the tunnel. This blog is about success, at least putatively. Success is sometimes just plodding along. Indeed, often it is just taking that next step. How’re you doing, I would ask my stepmother, as she descended from sharp-witted lawyer to demented old woman. Oh, still putting one foot in front of the other, she would say. It’s what we have to do. 

But what can I do? Anne Lamott would say, do what we do: tend to the sick; feed the hungry; cheer the sad; practice self-care. My social work professors are big on self-care, too. What do you do for self-care, they all ask. Perhaps they know something. Perhaps we should listen. 

Of course, in times of stress, self-care gets de-prioritized. Okay, so here’s a tip. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Just promise to practice it more when things are better. That way, you’ll establish your practice, whatever it may be, and if it’s a habit, you might stick to it the next time a crisis rolls around. Or not. It’s not perfect. You’re not perfect. Meanwhile, whenever you remember to practice self-care, do so. 

Meanwhile, what to do about the outrage? That’s a good one. The answer, of course, is feel it if you feel it. Feel it if you feel it, and try not to get caught up in it. 

Because I’m only passing on wisdom, not generating it, at least not at this time, I offer this tidbit from Professor Bonnie Duran of the Schools of Social Work and Public Health at University of Washington, who offers a six word mantra to get you through a bad day: Not perfect, not permanent, not personal. (

Let that sink in for a moment. You can apply it to many things, but if you’re one to get caught up in the political moment, or to get whipped into a frenzy by covid numbers, or to wring your hands because the reforms you want aren’t happening fast enough or in the right way, just take a breath and remember, nothing is perfect, it’s not personal, and it’s not permanent. 

These people who are so incomprehensible to me, they make sense to themselves. It’s not about you; for them it’s about them. It’s not personal. As far as perfect, nothing is perfect. So remember that your idea for fixing the world may be great, but it’s not perfect. Nor is the world perfect. So all solutions once we get out of the tunnel will be imperfect. It’s not personal that everyone else doesn’t immediately grasp your great idea as the best solution. It’s just inevitable. Machinery as klunky as the human cooperative society is never going to move smoothly in one direction. Move it does, however. Remember, it’s not permanent. Now the more Fred Flintstone feet we get moving in the same direction, the more definite the direction and the movement will be, but still, there will always be other feet walking at a different pace or in a different direction. Maybe it's going a direction you like, and maybe it's not. Either way, it’s not permanent. 

This brings me to the next point. We can’t give up. Just because life is hard, doesn’t mean we give up. When it comes time to give inspiration, I can’t turn to faith. Sure, humor, sure wisdom (sometimes), sure honesty—I can do those. Faith, though? Faith in humanity I have to some degree. I tend to skew towards faith that people overall are good, that most want to be good and do good.  

What I can put faith in is the power of purpose. I get that from Viktor Frankl. In Man’s Search For Meaning he drives home that to survive an existential crisis, a person must find a meaning and purpose to her life. Sometimes the purpose is simply to endure suffering. Bleak as it sounds, it is also a testament to hope. As Frankl worked himself nearly to death at Auschwitz, he told himself his job was to endure the suffering he confronted. We are close to the end of the tunnel, but we know that the light outside is pretty dim, and there’s a lot of scary stuff out there, too, with which we’re going to have to cope. Not perfect, not personal, not permanent helps with suffering, too. 

Maybe this post doesn’t seem that optimistic. Maybe there’s a paucity of Illuminating, or is it Ultimate Gray? I guess to that point I say this: it takes both strength and optimism to face the tunnel. “It is possible to practice the art of living, even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent,” says Viktor Frankl, and he should know. 

It takes strength and optimism to crawl forward in the dark and believe in the light at the end, and it takes strength and optimism to look at what’s in the tunnel, too. Here's Frankl once more, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Sometimes the most optimistic thing I can muster is the knowledge that I will feel it once again. 

It’s what I have, today, Readers. That’s it.


Frankl, Viktor. Man's Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006. (1959).

Friday, October 23, 2020

Annals of Pandemic Life: Mere Days Before the Election

Where is everyone? And by Everyone I mean all the wonderful bloggers who used to have joyful or irreverent or informative-but-on-rather-privileged-subjects blogs.  Like fashion. Happiness. Shit like that. 

Oh, I know where they are. Under their beds. They're trying to figure out if they can write a post about something unserious during these serious days. 

And what serious days these are.

The state of things is this way. To wit, I wake up with a new toothache every day. I been clenching at night. M’jaw. Mostly on the left side, because it’s always m’left side with me. Traveling ache from top to bottom, way back to partially back. 

I always wonder the same things: have I cracked a tooth yet? Should I call the dentist and complete my transformation to middle age with a mouth guard? I wish I had more teeth. Why oh why did the orthodontists back in my childhood like to pull out s’many g’damn teeth? If Rump is re-elected, I am going to need a full set of implant chompers. 

Then I proceed through my day. 

But, listen, I have to be honest. Glennon Doyle, in her wonderful and inspiring latest memoir, Untamed, emphasizes the need to be honest with oneself and with others, so I am being honest. Here it is. Often I wake up and discover that not just m’jaw is clenched, m’whole body is rigid. Like absolutely rigid with tension. My hands are clenched in fists, my entire torso like it has rigor mortis. 

It is fortunate that I have over twenty years’ meditation and yoga experience to help me 

  1. become mindful of this rigidity, and 
  2. relax m’musculature so that I can get out of bed. 

I would love to get a massage, but—COVID. I would love to go out for a leisurely lunch with friends, but--COVID. 

As long as we’re being honest, let me add that waking up rigid with tension requires sleeping, and sleeping is something I do only every so often these days. 

Meanwhile, I am thankful for the distraction of GRADUATE SCHOOL. Readers, graduate school is a lot of work. For this I am (mostly) grateful. The workload does add to m'tension, though. 

*    *    *    *    *

I have tears drying on my cheeks. Why? Gloria Steinem. There she was, via video, on Live with Kelly and Ryan. It wasn’t just her presence. It was what she said. She said in her lifetime, she has seen that the issues that concerned her and a few social justice activists when she began are now supported by the majority of the country. One third of the country wants to hold on to the old order, she said, but two thirds are with her. With us. Tears just seeped out. Tears of sorrow, but also of gratitude and of relief. I think it’s also because I have felt so split off from everyone, and have seen so much awfulness out of the current administration, and so much isolation from the pandemic, that I have lost track of the unifying ideas so many of us share. It's a relief to remember that most people and I think along the same lines. 

The last Parkland, Florida, student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will graduate this year. Only staff who were present will be there to remember. Think about it. Those kids who have become activists because of that disaster are now in college, or are about to be, and they are going to make things happen in our political system. 

To all the progressives and the young, cynical, disaffected voting-age people out there, I want to say something. Change will happen, because change is always happening. Unless you participate in the political process, it may not be the change you want. That’s the lesson I learned the hard way. So it’s okay to want AOC and the Green New Deal and to be annoyed with Old Man Biden. It is not okay to give up because change isn’t happening on your timetable or in your preferred way. Keep at it. Keep at it. 

Some dude took the time to criticize me for criticizing our current administration on a blog post I wrote three years ago. He said he really loved what I was writing and was finding it helpful, until, until, until I “dumped on” my president. Then he didn't want to read any further. This dude said he was Australian, and therefore not even a voter in the USA, by the way. He told me he thought, essentially, that I would catch more flies with honey if I had steered away from politics. I gave the matter a few seconds' consideration. 

Well, hell with that. I’m not trying to catch flies. I’m trying to stay sane and maybe help m’readers with that mission. 

Speaking of flies, I did not watch the Vice Presidential debate, but I certainly heard about the fly. What a perfect living metaphor for the putrid, rotting body of this administration. The husband commented that the fly is a symbol of Beelzebub, and everyone knows from the movie "Beetlejuice" who Beelzebub is, and so we have a double metaphor. Surely VP Pence and Mother had a hard time shaking that off when they settled in to pray. One hopes.

That’s the stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning. 

*    *    *    *

By the way, I recently read that shopping and materialism are manifestations of aggression. (This is the sort of stuff I get to read sometimes for school.) At first I was like, Whut? Whut are you talking about, PhD author of peer-reviewed journal article? I've been letting that idea settle. I ordered a couple of items online and monitored myself. Was I feeling aggressive? Combative? Was I slamming and jamming those keyboard keys as I typed my credit card information into the virtual checkout cart? Perhaps. I considered the multitude of items I have considered or have actually purchased over the last six months. I'm not saying I totally agree with this PhD author of peer-reviewed journal; I'm not disagreeing either. Am I containing a lot of aggression and hostility in my body? 

You betcha. I'm gonna proudly wear it on my feet when my new shoes arrive. Unless they don't fit, because, you know, I bought 'em online without trying them on. In which case, I may just hurl them through someone's window. Possibly my own, but I hope not. 

So, hey, this is the lightheartedest I can be at the moment. I imagine many of you can relate. It is what it is, to quote a (in)famous politician. I would dearly like him out of my psyche. Let's work on that, shall we?

Be well, Readers. I promise to be a much more measured, perspicacious therapist when I get my degree and my license than I am a blogger. 

Don't forget to VOTE!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Recollecting Impermanence

Hello, Readers. Since last I wrote, the beloved pooch has died. This is terribly sad, and I notice his absence everywhere, for example when I wake up and no longer have to step over a large, sleeping dog. Or when I peel a carrot, and I realize he is not waiting patiently on the doormat for me to toss him the ends. It’s sad and we are all grieving, and yet it was inevitable that we would outlive him, barring unforseen circumstances.To avoid this situation, I would have had to adopt a tortoise, I suppose, but they’re not much good for midday walks. 

Impermanence has, therefore, been on my mind. The truth of impermanence is one of those truths to which we pay lip service. We know life is short, and that change is the only certainty in life, but we usually only know it theoretically, or intellectually, not in a bone-deep way. Yet knowing the deep truth of impermanence is key to appreciating what’s happening right now. Understanding impermanence is the doorway to wisdom, so they say. They, in this case, being Buddhist teachers. 

Buddhist philosophy feels impermanence is so important that everyone, layperson or monk, should contemplate it daily in the form of the five daily remembrances. They are as follows:

  1. Just like everybody, I am of the nature to experience illness. I cannot avoid sickness
  2. Just like everybody, I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot avoid aging. 
  3. Just like everybody, I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death. 
  4. I am the owner of and heir to all my actions. 
  5. I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
Those last two are listed in different order, depending on the translation.

—Upajjhatthana Sutta 

I’m not going to lie, these seem like a bummer. Number five is really hard to take, these days. I lost an earring down the bathroom sink the other day. I swear that thing committed harakiri, because otherwise there is no explanation. Unless it is that my ear holes have stretched and sagged along with everything else on my person? But I mean maybe the earring disappeared to get me to pay attention to the blog post I’ve delayed writing for days. Was this not karma showing me the truth of this contemplation? Really, it’s very sad, this truth. In the way I understand the practice, by facing this idea daily, I am to become less grasping after stasis and more accepting of the true nature of life, that it is transitory, from the briefest mental image or thought, from the strongest emotion to the longest life. Once I accept this, I suppose, I am free from a layer of sadness and anxiety about the inevitable changes, and this extra space allows me to appreciate what is before me more fully than I do when I am worried about something or someone slipping away. Earring. Dog. Daughters. Life. 

I may be a little tender on this reflection, considering the dog, considering that we’ve just dropped the younger daughter at college for the first time. The elder daughter will soon decamp from our comfortable pandemic bubble for a job in Boston. My sister the psychoanalyst is one year older today, which means I am, too. And none of your “she’s only one day older than she was yesterday” folderol. Sometimes the milestones hit you. 

Here’s a secret. I’ve found that when I contemplate these five remembrances, I feel a bit of relief. It’s just the teensiest bit of relief, more of a minute relaxation deep in my gut. I think it has to do with letting go of some of the struggle to collect and keep everyone and everything dear near. I think it has to do with releasing some shame around aging, illness, death, responsibility, and loss. I think there is shame around these things sometimes. We feel that if we experience them, it is our fault for not managing well enough in the world. We didn’t exercise enough, or eat the right food in the right amounts. We didn’t appreciate the gravity of our choices at the time and could have chosen better. Maybe you don’t feel that way, Readers. If so, I am glad for you. For me, I have found it so. Which means, that counterintuitive as it seems for me, these recollections do help me be more comfortable. 

I was informed that my earring, a thing I hold dear, was most likely retrievable from the trap under the bathroom sink. I marshaled my resources to figure that out—by which I mean I texted the husband, who said he would do it when he got home from work.

The husband did indeed find my earring. So what does that mean? It means that sometimes things from which we are separated come back to us. As Sting told us, back in the early 1980s, “If you love something, set it free, free, free.”

Sting’s lyric doesn’t exactly apply to losing an earring. It might apply, however, to letting your child leave for college, and your other no-longer-a-child child leave for a new phase of life as a college graduate working for peanuts and trying to make the world a bit better. By "letting your child" I don't suggest I have any choice in these things. The letting is internal.

However, because of the covid, the new college student will indeed be coming back to us. Her college is only allowing the first years one semester on campus. The rest of the academic year will be remote learning, so that the older students can have a semester there. Oy. Such is the ever-changing nature of things. 

Meanwhile, Readers, I started full time graduate school for social work this week. At the ripe old age of one thousand and ten, I am returning to school for a master’s degree, with a plan to become a therapist. I don’t know if this is wisdom or foolishness, embracing of life, or denial of time passing. Nevertheless, I go forward. I cannot escape illness, death, or aging. I cannot avoid responsibility for my choices or letting go of all I love. Okay. So be it. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Success in Stasis: Dealing with the Doldrums

I was working my way towards something inspirational and success-related for you, Readers, but then the doggo was sick all night, and I got no sleep. So it seems like a time to remind myself and you that sometimes success is simply hanging on. Progress is not always an option. Sometimes there’s stasis. Sometimes there’s downward plunging. Sometimes there’s circling the drain. What’s that word for when you’re sailing and the wind dies? I would probably remember it if I weren’t so tired. Oh yeah, the doldrums. Sometimes it’s the doldrums. Don’t have a lot of control over that. Sometimes the wind just dies. Meaning you’re sailing along and heading somewhere, the wind ruffling your hair, and you’re feeling all windblown and healthy and looking towards the horizon. Sometimes, though, there’s no breeze, just nothing and humidity and your hair is frizzy and stuck to your cheeks and you’re suddenly hyper aware of your damp bathing suit and how unpleasant it feels. Of course, you are also gripped by the anxiety that this state will never change, that you’ll be bobbing along in the current with no control over the sails ever again. This anxiety that the doldrums will last forever is called catastrophizing, and it comes with the territory. It is, by the way, never helpful. 

Why the sailing metaphor, you may well ask. Well, before the doldrums hit, aka, the dog having a terrible night, I was enjoying my weekend thoroughly, sitting on a warm rock and dangling my feet into a lake, watching a sailboat race of little sunfish sailboats. It was a truly lovely time, involving lovely sailboats moving in the breeze, despite many sad things going on in the world and within my circle of influence. Today, though, I am just trying to get through the day. It helps to remember that just a day ago, the mood was much better, because the next step is a plunge into catastrophizing, which I just told you is never helpful, despite being a regular occurrence. 

Eventually, the wind will shift because you’ve drifted along in the current just enough to get to a slightly different place. Then you’ll be able to fill your sails and start moving again. Until then, well, you are stuck with where and who you are, so you might as well accept that. Self-acceptance. Acknowledging what is right now, and acknowledging that what is right now is not what will be forever. Radical self-acceptance. That might just be the very thing that gets the wind moving again. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Annals of Pandemic Life: What is Success When the World is Full of Suffering?

Readers, my eye has been twitching for days. Lower lid twitch. It’s a minor annoyance. I think my eyes are tired of everything they’re seeing. Plague, protests. Racism, authoritarianism, cynicism, pessimism. Climate change. The paterfamilias is suffering from frailty and isolation. The doggo needs surgery for a fast spreading cancer and yes, he is going to get it, but will it be in time? It was damn hard to get an appointment for him, because the surgeon veterinarians are all booked up, now that they’ve reopened. My circle of concern is on fire, and my circle of influence seems about the size of a pinprick.

What does success mean when the world is full of suffering? What does it mean to be successful in a world like ours? Can there be any success when so many people have no chance for it? There are moments when continuing to address the single-focused need to self-actualize seems too small.

“How do you want to be changed?” Gil Fronsdal asks in his dharma talk about the protests in response to the murder by police of George Floyd.

How do I want to be changed? Essentially. That’s how. I want to operate from that place, and I want to make things better for Black people. That will make things better for all people. So helping to eliminate racism is key.

How does that relate to success? Well, the scrabble after accumulating material goods and money that so often defines success seems to be accentuated by the recognition that the world is so much about about haves and have nots. In other words, the drive for material success is powered by fear of becoming a have-not. So helping eliminate the have-nots is one key. By “eliminate”, I do not mean genocide. People, do not quote me out of context! I mean eliminate the have-nots by eliminating their state of want. If the worst-off in society had basic needs met, had health care, had housing, had education, had food and clothing and community, then the fear would abate, and the scramble for accumulating maximum resources would abate, too. And the racism would abate, too. Or so it seems to me.

So what do I do when my circle of concern is ever-expanding and my circle of influence seems like a pinhead? Well, a pinhead can be just enough space. This reminds me of the cute townie boy I used to chat with in the second hand store in Oxford, my junior year abroad. I could tell he was half-annoyed by me, because I was a privileged gownie, but also half interested in me because I was, well, cute and American. Anyway, I digress. The point is that one time he told me that Oxford had many elements. “It’s the whole world on the head of a pin,” he said. He was really cute. Did I mention that? I don’t know how broadly he had traveled, but nevermind. He meant I should look beyond the spires of the university. There were layers and problems right there. So it may be small, a circle of influence the size of a pinhead, but it’s still a circle of influence.

So, what can I do? Well, turn to the teachers, of course, because teachers are focused on creating the next generation. And before we say what my graduates have been hearing, over and over, that they are the future and our hope, that they have to fix the mess they’re inheriting, let’s realize what the husband said the other night: We don’t have to hand it all over to them and wait for them to fix things. We can fix things right now.

Some of the teachers at the high school posted videos for the seniors with their two cents. Since I don’t have any cents to pass on these days, I am once again and always beholden to the amazing, dedicated educators who have taught my children. Teaching is a truly noble profession, and teachers have really stepped up during the pandemic.

From beloved math teacher, Mrs. Mahmood., came her famous, or infamous, acronym “RODH to success”. To succeed, she said, you need to focus on the following four values: Responsibility; Organization; Discipline; and Honesty. These are solid traits to develop, for sure. I think what she said by way of greeting, however, is equally important, and chosen with intent. “To the loving, caring, cute class of 2020” she began, and I couldn’t help notice those values either. She teaches  Calculus and Math 3/Linear Algebra, so focusing on achievement might be what you would assume is most important to her. However, she focuses on character, and on love and caring. I think that’s telling.

R Responsibility
O Organization
D Discipline
H Honesty

Bear witness.
Protest racism.
Make phone calls to the veterinarian.
Make phone calls to the paterfamilias and to my sister the psychoanalyst.
Bear witness. It’s a choice, bearing witness. The other option is to distract myself or turn away. So, yeah. Bear witness.
Argue for fairer policy and law. Educate myself (more bearing witness).
And of course, vote.
Thank you, Mrs. Mahmood.