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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Annals of Pandemic Life: Journaling Through

Dear Readers,

Lacking a coherent idea, I am sharing some thoughts from the last few days. Sure, I could wait and try to distill this into something more polished, but I think that might take too long. Perhaps the theme is see-saw: up and down, good and bad, plus and minus, happy and sad.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Time for a blog post.
What I am thinking about.

Okay, so we all know by now that unless we are essential workers, who have to show up at their workplaces as usual, or teachers, who are expected to teach all day via the interwebs, we have time now to think about Things. We have time to spend with our families, or perhaps with ourselves, with only our image in the mirror for company. I have been taking advantage of this opportunity, Readers, to really notice things.

For example, one of the things I have noticed is that one of my ears is lower than the other one.

Is this deep and important? Well, it is to me. I mean, what the heck? You know how they say if you have a very asymmetrical face, the asymmetry is indicative of some kind of twisted evil inside you? Well, does that apply to ear level?

I’m serious. After five-plus decades of life, is my inner evil, twisted landscape finally manifesting in some asymmetry that’s going to become more and more obvious as the next decades (God willing) go by?

Such are the thoughts of which isolation is made.

Friday, May 15, 2020

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.  Toni Morrison.

My friend, writer Catherine Goldhammer, posted that quotation on her Facebook page and it was the perfect thing to read. The words pierced through the haze, the scrim, the plaque on the teeth of daily life that I seem to be encountering. Of course, the next thought I had was a little slonk on my virtual kneecaps*: What you write, a blog? That ain’t art. That ain’t books. Not literature. That’s nothing. You’re not an artist. Not an artist-artist.

Setting aside the question of what makes an artist, I responded to that quotation because I did recognize myself in it. Artists examining the world and trying to make sense of it is an aspect of what I do, even in my lowly blog. One may recognize that one is engaged in Important Work, even if one is not engaged in the Most Important Work.

There is art to that, Readers.

That said, what can I tell you? It’s Friday, and every time Friday whips around, I can’t believe it means another week has gone by in Coronavirus isolation. It seems so fast, even though during the other seven days, time seems to stretch and stretch, the days jumbled and somewhat indistinguisable. The husband still goes to work at the hospital, so in fact, our schedule still has weekends. I am thankful for that.

When this shut down began, I was dismayed that my guilty pleasure, the weekday morning talk show “Live With Kelly and Ryan”, was running old episodes. I didn’t want reruns. Reruns seemed so hopelessly outdated when everyone was talking about the new world order. I didn’t want to see the studio audience, when now I knew there was none. So I was relieved when, a few days later, Kelly and Ryan appeared via Skype to do the show live once again. The quality of the broadcast was about as good as it could be via video feed, and that was okay. It was a comfort to see Kelly and Ryan, one holed up in her (probably vast triplex) appartment in New York, the other in his (probably vast) house in Los Angeles. We need to see how others are coping. How others are carrying on right now. We need to remember that the mundane and the frivolous continue, even amid chaos.

Entertainment is essential work, too. We are all depending on the entertainment industrial complex to divert us from the coronacrisis.

*    *     *    *   

I put on a 95th birthday party for the paterfamilias on Zoom this week. Well, when I say “the paterfamilias” I mean the paterfamilias of my family of origin. The husband might take exception to the term if not applied to him in the family we created. Anyway, I was almost as stressed out by this event as if it were an in-person party. Wrangling Zoom boxes full of people who want to talk is a nightmare waiting to happen. Well, it happened. Thanks to the mute button and the stealth and tech savvy of the college senior and the high school senior, the event passed rather well. I had invited everyone to share a memory of the paterfamilias, and to decorate their Zoom rooms if they wished. People had balloons and party hats and banners. We all sang “Happy Birthday” in our little boxes. It was fun. And, not to overdo the silver lining blather, I will say this. If we had met in person, it would have been a bigger party, but some of the people who Zoomed in might not have been able to attend in person. Furthermore, at an in-person party, people would be clustered in their little groups, and it would be very unlikely that everyone there would have the time or ability to listen carefully to what each guest had to say about the guest of honor. So, yes, that was nice.

Monday, May 18, 2020


President Obama gave a televised address to high school seniors. Don’t ask me when, because the days are melting together. All I know is that he spoke, and we in this household listened. Some of us needed Kleenex. One of us, to be exact. Obama was brief, coherent, and inspiring.

Brief, coherent, inspiring. Let that sink in, if you will. National addresses of late have been none of those.

Anyway, his message was simple: do not be afraid of the future; do what you know is the right thing to do, even if it is not the easy choice; and build community.

It was a lot to ask, but it came out simple. Do not be afraid of the future. The United States has gone through terrible times before and has come out stronger. Despite all the bad that’s evident in the country right now, there is no doubt we are better off than before. Well, is that true? I think so. It’s better that all that awful stuff is out in the open. It’s disheartening to realize how much hatred and anger is all around, but if we don’t see it, we can’t address it. Even if it's not true that we are better off now than we were before, now is where we are. The future can be better. So, really, what is the point of fearing the future? We have to meet it, afraid or not, so it’s better to accept that and move forward without fear. That way it will be easier to see the next right thing to do.

*
I am trying to write a blog post and it’s hard. It’s hard to think of something to write when the most exciting thing we did this weekend was go to Target and then to our lawyer’s house to sign wills, powers of attorney, and health care proxies on her back deck.

It is true. That was the most exciting thing. I put on hard pants** and a belt and a blazer. Yes, I said blazer. It wasn’t a tweed blazer, it was made of denim. I also put on my very cute slides with bows that I got last spring. Very impractical shoes. Perfect for a ride in the car and quick run to Target and to walk around to the back of the lawyer’s house. The eighteen year old and the twenty-one year old had the same impulse to dress for the occasion, I might add. I am adding. Their versions of dressing were different from each other’s and from mine, but the effort was there. This reminds me of a phase through which the twenty-one-year old passed in high school. She and her friends would discuss how many “efforts” they put into their outfits that day. Clothes, hair, makeup, shoes were all part of the count. So for me, I would say, for this excursion I put in about five efforts. Out of ten, shall we say? The eighteen-year-old put on a skirt and some platform jelly shoes, and mascara. She did her hair. Eight efforts?

My shoes

The high school senior's shoes

We went to Target first. The husband and I went in. The other two, despite their efforts, “efforts”, stayed in the car, listening to music. I am not lying. They were being respectful of the Coronavirus guidelines. After that, we drove to the lawyer’s house, conducted our signing business on her back deck, wearing masks while she spoke to us through her screen door. Then we went home. The masks went in the laundry and the cute shoes scattered across the mudroom floor. Cooking dinner seemed exhausting, so we ordered pizza.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The eighteen-year-old has baked the most delicious chocolate chip muffins. I think my muffin top would agree I don’t need to eat any of them. I should probably opt for enjoying their aroma, which is so wondrous it might just spirit the twenty-one-year-old out of her room. However, I have opted to also eat. Screw vicarious pleasure! So, here’s to muffins and to muffin-tops.

The part of me that meditates, the part that is propelling me towards becoming a therapist, is somewhat stymied by the part of me that is guarded, barbed, sarcastic, and self-conscious. There is a part of me that wants to get down to the truth in a mushy, serious, loving, helpful way, to be Glennon Doyle Meltonish in my sharing and encouraging of others. Or Brene Brownish. But there is this other part of me that just can’t let go. It’s because I feel embarrassed. Or maybe ashamed. Or unworthy. What would I say if I weren’t afraid or inhibited? I would say that this pandemic isolation period is a time to really connect and knit together down low, completely. Some of us are knitting together, stitching together over the top of a split. Knitting together is good, but knitting together from down low, where a split happened is much deeper and more thorough. This opportunity comes from a place of privilege, it’s a positive, it’s a golden opportunity, and it’s available to me and to mine because we are lucky not to have to risk our lives to earn a living. We are not, like one of my students, working full time at Trader Joe’s while trying to finish a full time semester of college because we’re the only person in our immediate family with a job. We are not like another of my students whose family situation has made attending virtual classes so challenging that now her grades are too low for her to receive her financial aid money for next semester. We are home, worrying about our muffin tops and our misaligned ears and enjoying, despite the anxiety and ennui and depression we sometimes feel, bonus time with our spouses and children.

Not gonna lie. There’s some bathos and some pathos to the situation. I felt it when I shut the door in the Target parking lot and left the kids in the car. All dressed up and nowhere to go. Zooming for a milestone like a 95th birthday instead of being there to share the same cake. However, there is some grace, too. It was wonderful to see my far-flung cousins and their partners on Zoom. It was heartening to remember that Barack Obama is out there in the world. It is heartening to remember the future will come, whether we fear it or no. It is heartening to know that my children and my friends’ children are graduating into that future, and they will remember how this time affected them, and they will shape things to make them better. It’s a lot to ask of them, but in my experience, it’s good to have things asked of you. We rise to expectations. All rise!

*      *      *        *

*”Slonk on the kneecaps” is a literary reference. That’s a lie. It’s a children’s literature reference. Twenty points to the person who knows what book I’m referencing.

** “Hard pants” are pants with a non-elastic waist. I just heard that term for the first time last week, but the college student already knew it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Flattening the Pollyanna Curve--It's OKAY

Hello, Readers. What’s new? I know,  nothing much. Truly. Come to think of it, that’s a wonderful thing to be able to say. Nothing is new. We are still here. Still safe. Still healthy. Yes, it’s tedious, but also, isn’t it just a joy? Isn't it just wonderful? Isn't it just the silverest of silver lingings?

Too much? Too zesty? Too Pollyanna? Have you ever seen the movie about Pollyanna? I believe it is called “Pollyanna”and stars Hayley Mills. Boy, is she annoying in the film. I don’t recall all the details, but by golly if she doesn’t make the best of just about everything. Every shitty thing that happens to her. Her leg breaks? Bummer, but she’s got lots of time to read, now! And so on.

You know the type.

The other day, I was Zooming with some friends and we all agreed that whatever initiative and enthusiasm with which we had initially approached this stay home business had dissipated.

Dare I say has flattened? The curve of initiative?

You know, after the initial disbelief that this was really happening, then being floored, we all decided we were going to learn Spanish or clean out our closets or finish up our projects in a frenzy. We were going to empty those junk drawers and learn to subsist entirely on almost-expired foods in our pantries and be better for it. We were going to darn those socks and hem those pants and write those novels. We were going to work out like demons and emerge from quarantine as sleek as dolphins.

Well, it turns it, many of us are not. We are just existing. Sure, my friend A is working her way through her unfinished projects, but honestly, she was project-based all along. Another acquaintance is planning to finish all her unfinished quilts and is posting photos of them on Instagram. So we shall see. I believe they are the exceptions. A few days of over-filled trash and recycling bins followed by several exhortations from sanitation workers not to overwhelm the trash collectors, because they were just trying to stay safe themselves, were enough to convince me. I heeded such pleas. I put aside the idea of going through the closet with all the old pool noodles—no, I do not have a pool—and Ogosports sans balls and ten year old sidewalk chalk nubbins.  It was only my civic duty to leave the mess where it is for now.
This junk stays


Stay inefficient. Flatten the curve. The Pollyanna curve.

What I have done instead is I’ve been downloading TV apps with their free trials, knowing full well I’m never going to remember to cancel them when the free part ends. Since then, I have churned through season one of “Agatha Raisin” on Acorn TV. Life in a beautiful town in the Cotswolds with an amateur detective woman of a certain age with humorous sidekicks is just the thing, it turns out, to defray an anxiety attack.

Actually, what with all the fabulous free meditations and dharma talks the senior Buddhist teachers are giving every day, I am feeling pretty good, anxiety-wise.

In other news, I have responded to all of my students’ emails, but have not graded a single essay. I’m thinking of just giving everyone an A and flattening another curve. Partly, because I think they’re all shell-shocked and should be put on a pass/fail basis this semester, but their college disagrees, and partly because, as someone rough from the Cotswolds might say, I can’t be arsed.

Truly, I cannot be arsed.

Oh, and in other news, I scraped my thumb. (It happened two days after I cut the tip of my index finger with the chef’s knife. That was just a teensy cut, and we were having a tomato sauce that night anyway.) But then I scraped my thumb and it was just in the exact place to keep opening up and bleeding for the next thirty hours or so (But who’s counting?) and I have to say, this little injury, which was really minor, pretty much brought me to tears constantly. Tears of rage. Tears of self-pity. My water table is just that high. I mean, sure, those niggling minor injuries always cause a burst of fury, and they often prove so much more painful than they should be. However, this one caused such an extra response from me. I chalk it up to having a very low threshold for upset these days.Or an over-active trigger point. These things take energy, too, you know. Flatten the curve of upset.

Speaking of chalk, chalk was one of the the things in that spare closet that I was going to chuck. Decade-old sidewalk chalk stubs. Who needs ‘em? However, am I glad I have them still, because I can go out and chalk the driveway with a big ole S. O. S., so maybe a Scandinavian airliner flying overhead can send down a rescue basket and whisk us off to a better-run country than ours.

Too negative? Sorry, I should have said we can use the chalk to chalk a big ole rainbow on the driveway when the weather warms up. Solidarity and all that.

I am glad my kids are older now. They can take care of themselves. They can bake, I probably mentioned. And sometimes they can walk the dog or empty the dishwasher. As I told my beloved cousin L, I wish I could be the quirky fun mom and come up with great reasons to hang around me and stick together during this, but what I really want to do is flop on the couch and watch another episode of "Agatha Raisin". Sometimes they sit with me and scroll through their phones at the same time. That counts as togetherness and fun activities, don't you think?

Which reminds me, here’s another thing I’ve been doing.  I have been eating lots of delicious, homemade goodies. So there’s a curve I won’t be flattening, and it’s on me.



Sometimes success is about knowing how to let go.

Yup, that’s about it for me, Readers. How’s things with you?

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Annal of a Pandemic: Success is about What We Can Control

The other day, I saw an article by memoirist and writing teacher Marion Roach Smith about writing list memoirs, if writing a full one seems overwhelming. And times, they do seem a bit overwhelming, so I am taking MRS’s advice, which is to lower the bar and offer a few snippets of things happening in my life.

1/ In attempting to teach online, I have learned to lower the bar. Lower the bar, by the way, is a good catchphrase for the era of the virus. Especially if you’re a teacher, as I am, thrust into online teaching, as I have been. There’s much talk of trying to manage to connect with students as best we all can. Scaling back. Simplifying. As my mentor teacher says, take it a week at a time. Also my friend Diane offered that suggestion. And really, readers, I don’t need to be told twice. Lowering the bar is a specialty. So, my goal for my first online class is to take attendance and see if everyone makes it online, if they can hear me and we can hear each other, and ask them how things are going. That’s about it for today.

2/ I made the decision to skip most of the news and it’s going well. So here’s another tip, Readers: ignore things you don’t want to read. There is a lot out there that’s not strictly necessary, especially on social media, and guess what? I don’t have to read it. Neither do you. What a relief! When I ignore the scary graphs and the misinformation and the contradictory advice about masks, I am left with being at home, with a blank page, with my daughters, with a house full of books and old movies, and the ability to breathe, move my body through space, and eat baked goods. As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in Full Catastrophe Living, if you're breathing, more is right with you than wrong.

3/The college senior found an unopened box of matzoh in the cupboard. Just in time for this year’s Passover, she is finishing last Passover’s matzoh by turning it into chocolate caramel matzoh.

4/The other day, in the spirit of lowering the bar, I skipped my morning workout and spent a lot of time in my bathrobe. Then I decided this won’t do, as I feel that lowering the bar below getting dressed is too low. One must keep up appearances.

5/Reading a five volume family saga set in Great Britain before, during, and right after World War Two turns out to be just the thing for enduring privation. I mean, they didn’t have things like gourmet cheese, or disinfecting wipes. They had those dreadful rations for years after the war, and everyone went about in old suits and darned socks. They barely had heat, for heaven’s sake. Coal rations. So, they practiced ingenuity in confronting scarcity. Also, just reading about learning to eat tinned beans on toast and saving clothing coupons to be able to buy a new outfit, makes me feel plucky. We’ll get through, as the Brits did. And maybe we’ll end up with a better, more equitable healthcare and social safety net, too. What’s the book? The Cazalet Chronicles, by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

6/ In re: number 4/ above—I don’t know about your house, but mine is full of bakers. They’re baking desserts at a terrific pace. It’s nice and all, but I have a terrible sweet tooth, so I’m lobbing suggestions for minty desserts, because I don’t like minty desserts. As I write this, I am trying to help bring butter quickly from freezer temperature to room temperature by holding it in my armpits.

Too much information?

Desperate times and all that jazz…

7/I in no way intend to  make light of the current pandemic, by the way. It’s just that it feels important right now to focus on what I can control. This is Stephen Covey’s first habit of highly effective people. Remember that old chestnut? Seems like the perfect time to revisit the concept of the circle of influence versus the circle of concern.


To refresh your memory, here’s what the diagram represents. The yellow circle is your Circle of Influence. This is the stuff over which you have some control. The blue outer circle is your Circle of Concern. This is the stuff that you’re thinking about, worrying about, fretting over, perseverating about, but really can’t control. So, to bring it down to the current situation, I can control whether I eat one of the Rosie’s Bakery Noah Bedoahs currently getting whipped up in the kitchen, but I cannot control whether they get baked. Apparently. I mean, sure, theoretically, I am the parent, and I could put my foot down. However, both bakers are of age, 18 and 21, and the broader question of how much control I can exert over them comes down on the side of having to hide the flour if I really don’t want them to bake. If you see what I mean. 

So, what can I do? I can eat or not eat a cookie. I can wash my hands before I do that. I can limit my trips to the grocery store. I can stay home. I can enjoy my children being with me. There is so much out of my control, all I can do is try to accept my limits and work within them.

The good news, according to Stephen Covey, is that as you focus on your Circle of Influence, it actually begins to expand towards the edges of the Circle of Concern. In short, if you focus on what you can control, the area that you can affect expands.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Not Every Post is Pithy: Part Two

I am taking a break from washing my hands to update you on my life. Isn’t that what you all want to know about? There’s nothing else going on to think about, is there? Did I miss something? Are not we all focused on my big decision: which graduate school should I choose?

Since you asked, Readers, I chose the more convenient, less expensive, less prestigious, more flexible one. And I feel good about it. Many of you chimed in to offer opinions, as I requested, and the preponderance of opinion was that choice. If I were aiming for an academic post, or if I were twenty years younger, I would choose the more prestigious program. But, as many of you said, people understand that when you’re older, you choose what works best for your whole family.

I attended a Q & A event for the program last Thursday evening—online, I hasten to add. I didn’t get to meet and greet the entering members of my class, but I saw some of their names on the chat sidebar and I am sure they’re a wonderful cohort.

I hope I get to meet them eventually.

As it slowly dawns on all of us that we need to practice social distancing, the memories of chance interactions with strangers become sweet.

Recently, I had the mixed pleasure of traveling via aeroplane to visit my father. My aged p (pronounce “age-ed pee” please). Flying during a pandemic had a throwback feel. Half empty planes. Two seats to myself. Extra snacks. I used some of my precious hand sanitzer and hunkered by the window.


While in Washington, I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my aged p. This was a surreal experience, in the age of pandemic. The place was empty. There was another woman waiting for her medicine and she got to chatting with me. Chatting at me would be a more accurate description, but I responded, as a fellow venturer into the weirdly quiet streets. She told me she had flown over from the UK a couple weeks earlier on a jumbo jet with forty people on it. This reminded me of the olden days when a person might buy a coach ticket and get a center row of four or five seats to herself to stretch out upon.

When the medicine was ready, the cashier said she needed to update the profile for this prescription. “Date of birth?” She asked. I told her, “May Eleventh, Nineteen Twenty-Five.”

Readers, the look she gave me, head half-cocked and twisted towards me to take a closer look, crease between her eyebrows making her look quizzical and dubious, was priceless.  It took me half a second. Then I said, “I know. It’s amazing. My secret is Botox, Fraxel Laser, and Pilates.”

We all had a laugh. Tonic for the times, for sure. By the way, of the three things mentioned above, the only one I have used is Pilates.

Yesterday, en route to pick up the college senior from her shut down college, I stopped at an almost deserted rest area on the Mass Pike. I opened the door with my hand in my coat pocket, using the edge of my coat like a potholder. A man walking at least six feet behind me said, “Yup, that’s how I was going to do it.” I felt compelled to say, and did, that I have been opening doors that way for years.  “Me, too,” he said. Solidarity among the germaphobes. It reminded me of a dinner out with friends at an Ethiopian restaurant in Cambridge years ago. Ethiopian food, you may know, is eaten with the hands, off of a communal platter. Before we ate, we each went off to the bathroom to wash hands. The restroom was in a hallway separated from the restaurant by a closed door. This meant there was an extra door to open between the bathroom and the restaurant. This was a door with a regular knob, which meant that on the way back, you had to find a way to twist the knob without getting your clean hands dirty. Knowing my friends as I did—each was decidedly on the “phobe” side of germ—just for fun, I asked the table, “So what did you use to get through the door?” I don’t remember what I used, probably the bottom of my shirt, but I do remember my rock climbing, dear departed friend Steve, said he used his foot. He lifted his leg to demonstrate how he could maneuver a doorknob with a sneaker-clad foot. Impressive.

Also proves the point that one should always open a door with hand protection. You never know whose dirty foot has been on the knob.

Now it is time to figure out how to teach online, and to do laundry.

Before I go, however, here is a picture of a panda:
By Tamarocochinop* - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49327477

Because not all words that begin with "PAND" are bad. (Credit to Frances for her joke about hating all words that begin with "PAND" these days.)


Sunday, March 1, 2020

Not Every Post is Pithy: Professional Success Decision

Hello, Readers. I have to make a decision. I dislike decision-making. Deciding means giving up something while embracing something else. Deciding means change. Change means scary.

Change is also inevitable and good. Repeat twenty times a day until believed.

I have been accepted to both graduate MSW programs. Now I am deciding between them. What’s an MSW, you may ask. It’s a Masters of Social Work. A do-gooding, pay-nothing professional degree. I want to become a psychotherapist. The goal is to help traumatized children and the worried well. Maybe a sub-speciality of bereaved children. Why? Because I was one. I relate to them. My little neighbors down the street are bereaved twins. Their mother died when they were just two. Now they have a step-mom and they seem to be thriving. I hope they do. It’s a permanent loss, death. Therapy is most likely a must to cope, at least at some point.

Anyway, the decision to go to graduate school in middle age is not one I take lightly. But my definition of success contains the professional element. As in, I don’t feel successful without having a profession. Writing has not worked out as well as I would have liked. Meaning that I haven’t attained enough professional success with it to be able to call that my profession. To have that be my professional leg of the success chair. Other legs being health, family, friends. And, Readers, something in me is pushing me outward. My children are leaving home. I am confident the high school senior will get in to one of the nine colleges to which she has applied and she will leave, just as the college senior has left. We have entered a new phase, one of continual leaving and visiting and leaving and it’s never living together again.

This is sad. So very sad. It’s also what parenting success is. The fledglings fledge. They flit, they float, they fleetly, fleetly fly, leaving the momma bird to her middle age spread, hypochondria, and a big choice: how to deal with the next portion of life. The answer for me is to become something else, now that being mom is not a 24/7 physical, mental, and emotional full time job.

I have a friend around my age who keeps saying she is dying. She's actually very fit and healthy, and when she says it, she's not being a hypochondriac, she's being pragmatic. I think she’s preparing herself for the eventuality. I admire her willingness to stare at that old Death right in the punim and prepare herself by saying, yeah, I’m coming, eventually. But the other day, when she said it, I said, You’re no more dying today than you were ten years ago. After all, we’re always dying, if you want to look at it that way; but if you look at it that way, then just because you’re a particular age, say fifty-five, doesn’t mean you’re dying more than you were.

Is that crazy of me to say? I know that the longer I’ve lived, the more years I have eluded death, the more inevitable death becomes. But the whole idea of coasting downhill I reject. We are alive until we are not, and that has been true since the moment I was born, yanked out of my mother’s body by forceps, I believe. This is why my head is so misshapen. I hope I never lose my hair.

The point is, I know myself too well to think I can spend the next quarter of my life at home, being introspective, without developing some serious hypochondria worthy of a Jane Austen character. (The husband and I just reread Persuasion for our book group.) I need to get out in the world, and out of myself. I need to do something that helps others. Something that is definitely a profession, so when people ask me what I do, do being italicized, I can answer with something that makes me proud.

I guess it came down to how much I want to work on myself. I could continue to try to accept myself just as I am and to work at feeling I have done enough. I could continue to meditate on and rationalize that success does not have to mean success as a professional woman, and that the problem and solution lie within my attitude towards myself. If I can just accept myself as being enough, then all will be well.

Or I could say, well, a professional identity is important to me. I’m a Gen X woman, bred to be a multi-tasking superwoman, and I don’t have to struggle to let go of that aspect anymore. I can embrace the desire for a professional identity now. I can accept myself AND I can move into something else for this stage of life.

There's another facet to this gem. The whole hierarchy of needs developed by Maslow*. He theorized that we are all born with a motivation to self-actualization, meaning to develop our full potentials.
Image result for maslow's hierarchy of needs images creative commons
https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow-5.jpg
Later, he updated his theory to say that we're motivated to a step beyond self-actualization, to self-transcendence.
Image result for maslow's expanded hierarchy of needs images creative commons
https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn%3AANd9GcT73r0BDyaV9gaDr4gHn6koIMWAz_uOgBwf_jV6ABMIv3gkJDce

This stage is characterized by a desire to take one's accumulated knowledge and share it with others for their benefit. Perhaps Maslow had it right. Maybe I am at that stage.

So now I choose: the more prestigious, more expensive, much more inconvenient program with a more ideal curriculum, or the close to home, less expensive program with the adequate curriculum.

Thoughts?

* Here is a good summary, with visual aids, of Maslow's theories: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Monday, February 3, 2020

Success in the time of Rump

Readers, since everything old is new again, always and forever, perhaps it’s time for a review of one key strategy for success. I am talking about Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I have my college students read this book. I have them do an exercise from it. The exercise is to visualize your funeral. I know that I immediately think of the made for TV movie, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” whenever the idea of attending my own funeral comes up. How often is that, you might ask? Well, at least once a year, when I tell my students to do Covey’s visualization. It’s in the chapter about Habit 2, “Starting With the End in Mind.” This habit focuses on living according to deep values, rather than shallow ones like power, money, and prestige. This exercise is about getting your priorities straight by imagining how you would want to be remembered. You’re supposed to visualize four speakers’ eulogies, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, and a person who knows you from the service work you do. The idea, obviously, is to look at all realms of your life, not just professional, where we tend to focus our evaluations of whether we are successful. The other idea, obviously, is to get you to distill your life to what’s really important. Ideally, you will discover that what matters is not how much money you made, or what rank you achieved, but how well-rounded you were, that you were of service to others, that you worked hard, and that you had a web of friends and family love supporting you. And that you should incorporate service into your life. Service for others. A worthy ideal.

Do you think our leaders in the  U.S. Senate should do this exercise? I do. I mean, there are several whose funerals I would happily visualize, but my eulogies for them would probably not jibe with what they’d like to be remembered as being. It’s probably too late for course-correction, but perhaps not. Hope springs eternal, as Alexander Pope wrote approximately three hundred years ago. The rest of that couplet is not often quoted, as it’s less optimistic than those words suggest. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blessed.” I believe Adam Schiff will be happy with his eulogies. Sadly, I imagine Mitch McConnell would also be satisfied with what he would imagine his eulogies to be. Ain’t it just the truth that people don’t think they’re the bad guy, even when everyone else knows they are?

Moving on. This is not a political blog.

Now the thing I forgot when I gave this assignment to my students this year, was that Stephen Covey tells readers to visualize their funerals three years from now. Try reading eighteen essays by eighteen-year-olds about their funerals three years from now. It’s jarring. They would be seniors in college. Nobody wants to think about seniors in college dying. It’s bad enough thinking about senior citizens dying. Once you get past that, though, what they write is really touching. They come across as nice people. Like, they want to do good, whether for strangers or by being supportive of friends and family. How can the future be bleak when so many young people want to be good?

A couple of weeks ago, I read an opinion piece in the New York Times. In case you didn’t know it, this year is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Apparently in schools, Holocaust education has been lumped together with anti-bullying education, and students are told that they should stand up to bullies. “Don’t be a bystander,” they are told. “Be an Upstander.” The high school senior confirmed that she has received this message. So did many of my college students. This article, though, titled, “The Road to Auschwitz Wasn’t Paved With Indifference,”** takes a contrarian stance. The gist: most people are not capable of acting heroically and that’s okay. The Holocaust wouldn’t have happened if more people were simply not doing bad stuff. You don’t have to be an “upstander” to badness to save the badness from taking over. You just have to not engage in the badness. In fact, says this author, promoting the idea that everyone has to be an upstander—standing up to the badness at risk to life and limb or livelihood or mere convenience—is counterproductive. It creates a sense of helplessness, since most of us know we’re not heroic. She writes, “It’s hard to be a hero, to risk your safety and personal commitments in order to help a stranger. That’s a big ask. And by asking people too much, we make being moral too hard — which, paradoxically, can make immorality too easy. “Clearly, being moral is too hard, I’m no hero! Forget it!” we can imagine people thinking.

The author continues, “The truth about how massive moral crimes occur is both unsettling and comforting. It’s unsettling to accept how many people participated in appalling moral crimes but comforting to realize that we don’t have to be heroes to avoid genocides. We just have to make sure not to help them along.” In other words, don’t join in. If everyone doesn’t join in with the bad seeds, then the bad seeds won’t take over. Now, if only the Senate Republicans were listening to their inner voices clamoring for them to do the long-term right thing, the thing that would make them proud at their funerals.

Oops, veering into the political again. It is honestly hard to avoid, although avoid politics I do try.

In my attempt to avoid politics, I came across this font of wisdom, “8 More Habits of People Who Always Have a Clean Home.” I figured—no, more correct to say I hoped— to learn something to help me have a neater home. My home, you see, is rather untidy. I defy you to tell me it’s dirty. But I cop to mess. Particularly to mess created by books and magazines and newspapers. On every single horizontal surface. Dirty, though? Not so much, thanks to the wonderful woman who cleans the house. Still, every so often I hope to become more magazine-spread friendly. Thus, I read the article. But what did I learn? I’ll tell you, to save you the trouble of clicking on this article that got published even though so many of mine have not. Guess what those habits are? Of people who have a clean home? Guess what they do to have a clean home? They put away their dishes. They wipe their counters. They have places to put things. They vacuum. They tidy. Plus three more ways people who have clean homes manage to have clean homes.

Oh my Gawd. They clean.
I'd be lying if I said this was atypical. 

Look, if you want real advice, do that funeral visualization. Think of what you want people to say about you at your funeral. Do you want them to say, “She always had clean counters and an amazing centerpiece?” I know I do. So, I shall have to act accordingly. That is my lesson to you. It is clear, I have my priorities in order, just like those Senators. Now all I have to do is clean up my act.

*https://www.chasingfoxes.com/8-more-habits-of-people-who-always-have-a-clean-home/
** https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/21/opinion/auschwitz-bystander-theory.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Annals of Adulthood: All Things Are Delicately Interconnected

T-shirt from Mass MoCA. Saying by Jenny Holzer. Message from universal wisdom.
***

Perhaps you are wondering why I am writing again so soon. Perhaps you think I have something to suggest about current events. I do not. Perhaps, however, I can offer a diversion from the news, and from videos of burnt koalas and the dauntless people rescuing them.

Readers, here’s a thing that happened. I went to the gym of a Saturday morning, to participate in a much-ballyhooed cardiokick class. I was a little nervous about taking this class. Rumor reports it is the hardest cardio class at the Y. I had “missed it” by accident multiple times, but that day, I had no reason not to go. The husband was riding his new exercise bike. What was I supposed to do, nothing? Allow him to throw my personal motto—“It’s almost always better to exercise”—back at me? So I decided this was the morning I was going to make it to this class. In other words, it was a relief when I arrived to discover that the class had been cancelled.

Phew.

I decided to use the empty studio to do some yoga and stretching. Mid-sun salutation, the door flang open and a woman strode in. She had the purposeful stride of a mom with limited time away from her kids. She was wearing thingys for music in her ears and did not acknowledge me.

Now, I had set up in a corner of the room. It was a back corner, away from the mirror and from the door. Unobtrusive, and out of sight of people who might press their faces to the door to see what was going on in the studio. It was also near the rack with dumbbells. Please note there are two racks of dumbbells in the studio, the one near where I was developing my positive prana energy, and the other across the vast empty space where no cardiokick was underway.

You can guess where this is going. After she flang open the door, this woman strode in to the nearest rack for some dumbbells. I would’ve gone there, too, the rack being nearest the door. What I would not have done, however, is proceed through my barbell routine, including lots of squats, right beside the rack. Why not? Because there would have been another person in the giant room who had been there already and who was nearby. So nearby that if I squatted I would have my derriere practically hanging over her mat.

I kid you not.

This harshed on my mellow. I tried in best yogic fashion to let it go, but really, when her a** began to cantilever over my head, I felt the ole blood boil.

What did I do, Readers? Did I give her an old New York talking-to? Of course not. I am now much more enlightened (see previous post). I considered how her a** in my face was possibly more my problem then hers. I considered whether I wanted to ruin both our workouts by having a direct conflict. I decided yes to one and no to the other. So I got up and moved my mat about ten feet away. In a pointed manner, I must admit. You know, in a vigorous way. As if to say, You probably should have moved your cantilevered a** about ten feet away from me, Lady. In case you did not notice I was there.

But I did not say it. And, to be honest, I think she did not notice. She finished her workout and left.

What can I say about this?

I took from this interaction an intention to try not to be as oblivious as Cantilevered A** Lady. I realize I may be misinterpreting her actions. It is possible she was not oblivious. She might have been a hundred percent 'blivious, as far as I know. She might have been an intentionally rude person. But I chose then and choose now to believe that she was not intentionally rude. She was distracted. Or concentrated. Or both.

And I have been that way at times myself. Times when I am upset. Maybe to the outside observer I have seemed normal while inside my thoughts were circling, swooping, screeching and creating an almost unbearable cacophony that kept me from seeing much beyond my immediate space. Maybe I have symbolically cantilevered my a** into someone else’s space and never even known I did it. Maybe because the person I annoyed was kind enough to let it go.

Am I kind enough to let it go? (See previous post about enlightenment.)

Yes. I did. I said nothing to her.

No. Here I am, days later, telling everyone about it.

Sigh.

Sometimes the important thing is what you say or don’t say, or do or don’t do in the moment.

So maybe this is just an apology, too late, of course, to anyone I’ve cantilevered my a** over without awareness. I am going to try, going forward, to do my literal and figurative exercise out of the way.