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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boddhisatva or What? S. Covey's Habit #2, Continued

The ham was delicious. And huge. It weighed several pounds more than I was led to believe it would when I ordered it, and for a germaphobe vegetarian-at-heart like myself who has a touch-and-go relationship with meat, it presented a challenge. I did purchase it from a regionally famous butcher pre-cooked, cured, smoked, and shot through with some preservative that kept it looking pink. I probably could have gnawed on it in the back of the car.

Nevertheless, I was nervous about cooking it through. Or heating it through, to be precise. We were feeding a lot of people, including children, who were sleeping over. I didn't want any vomiting. So while everyone seemed to enjoy it, I really only fully appreciated it the morning after Christmas, when I woke up, and said my first words to the husband: "That ham was delicious, because nobody got sick." Happy Boxing Day.
Back to Effective slash Successful People's habits.
Still splashing around in Stephen Covey's Habit #2, Start with the End in Mind, I've avoided describing my funeral only to run smack into the instruction to write a mission statement for my life, so that I can direct myself towards those things that are in accord with my deepest principles.

Oy vey. Is that overwhelming or what? I decided to put off the task again.

So I took the dog for a walk, and decided to listen to a Zencast, which I hadn't done in a long time, on my brand new iPhone4S. Zencast was a talk by Jack Kornfield. Jack Kornfield was one of the first Americans to popularize Buddhism in the West starting in the 1970s. He's got a nasal voice, but he tells good stories. I like his talks, although he does repeat himself. Then again, so do I. Lo and behold, Jack started out talking about success. What it isn't: avoiding difficulties and suffering in life. As if experiencing these things is somehow shameful. Which is actually true. We do feel ashamed of our misfortunes, don't we?

And of course, he talked about meditation as a way to understand the nature of the suffering and misfortunes of life, as well as our reactions to them (avoidance), which often increase our suffering. But what he was really talking about was the purpose of meditation. First, to quiet the mind. To allow yourself to understand what's going on, in your own head, and in the world around you. To observe and understand that suffering and bad stuff happens as part of life, and so does plenty of good stuff.

Second, after understanding by observing your own mind, moving out into the world. That is, forming intentions. Am I in a funhouse or what? All these gurus keep telling me the same things. Anyway, he was speaking of intentions both micro and macro. Micro being taking a slight pause and observing your anger at your 4th grader for losing her purse with her cute panda wallet and fifty dollars, and also observing her quivering chin, before deciding how to respond. Macro being, you guessed it, understanding what's most important to you in life, your core values, your principles, so you can act in accordance to them.

Sound familiar?

And as he went along he mentioned that if you're meditating, you are on the path to enlightenment. Even if, I suppose, you're only doing it to lower your blood pressure and keep your stress at bay, you're at least on the path. And somewhere along the path, some people take the Boddhisatva vow, which is to strive for enlightenment for the purpose of helping other sentient beings become enlightened.

Which brings Jack, and me, and you, my tens of readers, right back into the stream of finding the purpose and motivating principles of our lives.  "Wherever you go, there you are," as Buckaroo Bonzai said.

Why does it seem so hard? That I listen to Zencast and read these books and take an interest in these questions of purpose and principles shows me something. A couple of things. One, I know I'm not so unique in these interests. There are lots of people like me who want to consider these deeper questions, at least on some level; but we're just as happy talking to Siri on our new iPhone4s or rushing to the outlets on December 26th with the MIL and the SIL for some major bargains.

Another thing I begin to see is that my reluctance isn't about some hangup in myself about facing my deeper values. It's about a sense I have that this is a shameful or embarrassing activity. That there's something silly or New Age or creepy clammy-handed about being interested in a greater purpose.  And if I think that, lots of other people do, too. So while we all might have this hankering for a deeper understanding, we also have this reluctance to say it out loud.

Why is it more embarrassing to say I'd like to cultivate my understanding, compassion, and wisdom so I can make choices that improve the world, starting with my nearest and dearest relations, through my good intentions, than to say that my iPhone4s makes me happy?  Which it certainly does.

Maybe you can answer that question, my tens of readers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's Success Got to Do With It?

Honestly, I’m far too scattered to share anything profound.  I'm thinking in lists, not paragraphs, in small units, not abstractions. Hanukkah, Christmas--Christhanakwanzika, as the DJs on 92.3 FM refer to the festivities that have engulfed me—have engulfed me. 

What’s a nice Jewish girl to do? Drive two hours for a ham, what else?

And an hour for the 8th grader to spend some quality time with her bestest friend, which is what happens if your child goes to private school and not to the local public school.

And soak the glasses, mugs and cutlery in a vinegar-dishsoap-water mixture to remove the hard-water rime from them.

And go to CVS three times, each time forgetting the annual Toblerone for the husband’s stocking.

And hand-grate the potatoes for the latkes because the grater attachment for the Cuisinart is broken—which I forgot, since the only time I use that attachment is to make latkes, and the only time I make latkes is once a year.

Last year, I made so many latkes it was wondrous. And then, two weeks after Hanukkah, which must have been Christmas, I opened up the oven to put in something (the goose?) and discovered a full platter of gorgeously browned two week old latkes.

Reader, I ate them.

Okay, no, I didn’t. But it hurt to throw them out.

This is a week for scaling back the idea of success to small goals:
            Do a few minutes of yoga every morning so you don’t turn into a two week old latke that crumbles instead of bends.
            Remember the Toblerone.
            Remember the new Aerobed.
            Remember the needy (and I’m not speaking of myself here, my tens of readers)
            Drive the Prius to the ham and the bestest friend and use the time for some isometric abdominal exercises, since there is no time for the gym. 
            Walk the dog for some nice, fresh, suburban air and wonder, dispassionately, if this will be the year the tree falls over. It's listing to the left, just a little.

And let me pass on my accountant’s take on success, since she shared it with me and the husband yesterday: That success is doing what makes you happy.

What are your scaled back goals for the holiday season?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guess What Stephen Covey Suggests?
Okay, I hate to beat a point home, but I've gotta take this one on. Last week, I wrote about visualizing your funeral, one of the first excercises to develop Stephen Covey's Habit #2 of Highly Effective People.

After you do that, he's got another "little" exercise -writing a mission statement for your life. For your life, people. Or for your corporation, if you're a honcho. Or for your family. A mission statement is something like a personal constitution, laying out your ground rules for a PC life. (Remember, that's principle-centered, not politically correct.) It's a bit challenging, to say the least, which is why I'm on page 144 of the book, and I've only gotten through two habits.

There's a lot of humdededumdee and howdydo in this chapter about proper principles and so on, and many examples of fine mission statements written by people who have a lot of time and ability to think deep thoughts. (This book came out in the mid-nineties, by the way, when we apparently were able to think a little more deeply and a little more linearly than we are now, in these multi-tasking days.)

I won't bore you with the mission statement details. At least not today. Because my attention was caught by this subsection: Visualization and Affirmation.

Yes, my tens of readers, affirmation and visualization.  As in using positive language and imagery to imagnine attaining your goals. Where have I read this before?  Where have I not read this in my exhaustive scan of the success literature?

Now, Mr. Covey is clear that there's a big difference between his use of affirmations and its use by  other self-helpers. They buy into the "Personality Ethic" of transformation, while he espouses the "Character Ethic."

Personality Ethic types are "outside in" believers, like Dale Carnegie.* You act like you wanna feel, and soon you get yourself into the habit.

Character Ethic types are--well, Mr. Covey puts himself into a different class than everyone else. Of course he does, because he's deeply invested in his point of view--and he has some books to sell and speeches to make for which he wants some compensation.  But anyhoo, his idea is to change yourself from the inside-out.  Working from your principles.

And here we run into our little overlap. So he suggests engaging your creativity in figuring out your deepest principles and how to put them into words.

And he suggests using affirmations. His are different--of course they are (!)  But they are still affirmations. A good affirmation contains 5 components: it's personal; it's positive; it's present tense; it's visual; and it's emotional.

So here's the thing. While Covey says that affirmations are a very strong and useful tool for transformation when used to "become more congruent with my deeper values in my daily life," and while he suggests than anyone who uses affirmations for the crude and valueless purpose of attaining riches is misusing them, he doesn't say it doesn't work to use affirmations and visualization to do so. He just suggests his readers would be above using positive visualization and affirmations to accrue said riches.
A nod to my former stompin' grounds via

And then I checked my Twitter feed and found this article from It's about research "testing the mettle of self-help platitudes." Apparently positive visualization can actually trick your brain into thinking you've succeeded, causing you to relax, and your ambition to abate.  Which is a bummer,  because it says right out that "the more pressing the need to succeed, the more deflating positive visualization becomes." Not only that, but it makes you less energetic, at a time when you need energy to fuel your ambition. You'd in fact be just as well off daydreaming.

But fear not, my tens of readers! There is a plus side here. Positive visualization works wonders for relaxing you and calming you down. So you don't have to feel so sucky about your failures.

There is also a caveat. Yes, really! The researchers says that "critical evaluation" may do the trick. Instead of visualizing the moment you win the Noble Prize, for example, visualize problems you may encounter along the way and visualize overcoming them.

And now I have to admit that that is exactly (okay, not exactly, but similar to) what Mr. Covey says. Use your affirmation, which you've crafted with care, and then visualize situations where you might need help. Like dealing with a difficult child. Or a troubling situation at work.

Or turning down those vats of money that you ordered up in your previous, poorly-chosen affirmations.

* See, now Buddha was a bit of an "outside in" kind of guy. He suggested that if you're feeling blue, try smiling, because the act of moving your muscles into the smile will remind your brain about those happier emotions connected with smiling. And research has born this out. And anyway, who is going to impugn Buddha? He knew a thing or two.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Habit #2 Might Kill You; But if it Doesn't, You'll Be Stronger
You're at a funeral. You're looking at a satin-lined box. It's open, or it's closed. Inside is a body made up to look like a facsimile of the living person it once was. Or maybe you're looking at an urn, or some kind of black box, filled with cremated remains. 

The funeral home is filled. The service hasn't begun. You listen in on conversations. Vague murmurs begin to disturb you. You hear a familiar name. An organ begins to play. Family files in. You know these people. The minister or rabbi or imam or funeral home presider assumes position. You have a strange, disembodied feeling, and then you understand. 

It's your funeral. 

Yep, that's right. Stephen Covey wants you to imagine your own funeral.

Habit #2 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Begin with the End in Mind.

Your end.

Macabre? Perhaps. Oddly satisfying? Maybe. Disquieting? Uh-huh, sure.

But to achieve Habit #2, you gotta.

He wants you to not only picture your funeral, but also to imagine each speaker.

Pick a family member, a friend, someone from work, and someone from a religious or community organization with which you're involved and imagine the things each of these people say about you.

Write your own freakin' eulogy, even.

Now, I'm not going to tell you about my funeral. Not that I'm shy, exactly. Not even that I'm aware it would be extremely boring to read. But because shades of my junior year abroad at Oxford waft over me. I actually did imagine my funeral. Or close to it--my death bed, with all my bestest buddies and some family ranged around me, all telling me they loved me and being generally devasted by my demise.

Just a little depressive, okay possibly suicidal, reaction to leaving my familiar terrain, all my friends, and a boyfriend so that I could live in a basement room and write essays about English Lit.

Actually, the year was great overall. That first term, though. Ugh.

Why do this? 

Well, my tens of readers, the reason is that by so doing, by engaging your imagination and your conscience in this exercise, you will uncover the values and principles that matter most to you.

And also because Stephen Covey says that if you do this, you will have defined success. He says it right on p. 98. "If you carefully consider what you wanted to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success."

I am telling you, I may not get through this step. I mean, shouldn't I just look for a job?

But wait. If I do this exercise, I will get something much better than a job. I will get a PC life.

That's right. A PC life. PC as in "principle-centered," not as in "politically correct." And a PC life is much better than your basic money-seeking, self-centered life.

According to Stephen Covey.

And here may be the root of my problem. I suspect that I don't have any values or principles.

Also, I have a certain skepticism about what people say at funerals being the unvarnished truth about the deceased. I mean, it's usually pretty varnished. I mean, think of Tom Sawyer and how he got talked about at his faux funeral. Everyone in town suddenly weeping all over themselves when just days before all they wanted was to hide and tan a little piece of that rapscallion. How could I trust my imaginary funeral-goers to tell the truth? Wouldn't they be varnishing me? And since it is all in my mind anyway, wouldn't I be varnishing myself?

Um. Yes, I do see my flawed logic.

Okay, look, having spoken to various professionals at various times in my life, I am aware that I am avoiding something here that might actually be fruitful.

So if you'll do it, I'll do it. At any rate, I'll keep on trucking through Covey's book. Because, gosh darn it, I want to be "effective."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Habit #1 in Action: Read My Lips

Last Year's Song: Walking On Sunshine Glee Mash-Up
The 4th grader's school has a lip sync concert every year.

Yes, I agree, it's like some weird caricature of suburbia: a lip sync concert; but it happens. 

This is our third year here, and our third concert. I wasn't going to let the 4th grader be in it this year because the last two, the concert happened on the same night (of course) as her older sister's Science and Learning Fair at her totally different school, and which was a much more worthwhile endeavor (shhh, don't tell the 4th grader.) Plus also, as Junie B. Jones might say, there were like three months of rehearsing the lip sync routines, which was a nightmare of coordination. 

But this year, they've moved the concert up to the end of January, making rehearsal time much shorter, and eliminating the conflict with the 8th grader's  Learning Fair. 

So I let her do it. 

Which means the wrangling over song choice began for her. Oh, and the ducking of responsibility/refusing to be the parent rep for me. 

I think I mentioned that the 4th grader has this friend, a sort-of minx-in-training, a queen bee wanna be? Anyway, the kid is pushy, not just with her friends, but with adults, too. This gets on my nerves. She was in a different class than my child last year, and we didn't see her much, but they ended up together this year, and the merriment began again. I've decided that the best way to cement this friendship would be to admit to any negative feelings about the kid, so I suck it up and wait for time to take its course. 

Anyhoo, the wrangling over song choice involved my 4th grader and Pushy Girl canvassing others in the group about their choices. Everyone agreed on something called "Bang, Bang, Bang," except one girl. I was already up to the neck hearing about the ins and outs of the songs by then, but they agreed that since one girl didn't like the song, they'd pick another one. I was pretty sure "Bang, Bang, Bang," was going to turn out to be inappropriate (just a hunch, based on, gee, I'm not sure what?--the title?) anyway, but I would let the parent rep, whoever she might be (I heard rumors it was my neighbor) put the kibosh on it. 

I said, Why don't make up a ballot with your top few choices, have everyone get together at recess, and vote?

I then had to explain what a ballot is--even though she'd come with me to vote in our recent town elections-- but hey, teachable moment. I didn't mention chads. 

The 4th grader thought this was a good idea, and told Pushy Girl. This was on a Friday. 

On Monday or Tuesday evening, Pushy Girl called. I hear the 4th grader saying, "Oh, okay. Uh-huh," etc. Not sounding happy. She hangs up and reports, "I guess the song is Price Tag."

Well, I rather like "Price Tag," but clearly the developing red eye rims and puckering chin on the 4th grader indicated she was not so happy with that choice. She said that, according to Pushy Girl, all the other girls had decided on that song, so that was the song. 

Have I mentioned I'm an Aries? 

Have I mentioned that I find Pushy Girl annoying?

The husband and I looked at each other. 

I said something along the lines of, Well, if you don't like the song, why don't you speak up? After all, when that other girl didn't like the song, you all chose another one? 

Shrugs. Fatalistic commentary like, They all chose this one and so that's the one they want to do. Tears. The 4th grader is not one to express her emotions unless under duress; she's a swallower, not a blurter, so the tears were particularly heart-wringing. 

Me: You have a couple choices here. You can go along with the song. You can quit Lip Sync. Or you can speak up for yourself and say you don't like the song, that you thought you were going to vote on the song, and that it hurt your feelings that they made this decision without you.

Lots of talk ensued, with the husband and I convincing her it was right to speak up.  Most important, I felt, was that she tell Pushy Girl that she didn't like being treated this way--going behind her back, not listening to her suggestion about the ballot, etc. So this took a fair amount of time. Several minutes. Several looonnnngggg minutes. 

Finally the 4th grader, definitely nervous, got a piece of paper and wrote down what she wanted to say. Then she called up Pushy Girl and said her piece. 

I'd like to say that everything went swimmingly. At first, the 4th grader sounded a little wobbly; but when she met some resistance, she restated herself loudly and clearly. Not fair to decide without her. Wanted to do a ballot vote on Monday after Thanksgiving. If "Price Tag" won by ballot vote, she would go along with it.

Of course, Pushy Girl doesn't like to be talked back to. In truth, neither does the 4th Grader. The conversation settled into a rut: vote by ballot vs. "Price Tag" by fiat. 

After about ten minutes, maybe fifteen, I decided enough was enough. Trench warfare wasn't required. Parental intervention was. I asked to speak to Pushy Girl's mother. I said that the girls were having a tough time deciding on the song, that my child was suggesting they vote with a ballot on Monday, etc, etc. Pushy Girl's mom agreed readily. End of conversation. 

Then I contacted the mom I thought had agreed to be the parent in charge of the lip sync group. She confirmed, and said she'd already nixed all the girls' song choices because of bad language or raunchy content, that she was going through Disney songs on YouTube, and the girls could listen to a couple of them, and vote by ballot on Monday after Thanksgiving. 

On Monday morning, the 4th grader wrote up her ballot, including the songs suggested by the parent rep. 

Monday afternoon, she came home, delighted to note that they'd voted, and that NO ONE had voted for "Price Tag." (If the significance of this escapes you, my tens of readers,  don't worry; it took me a minute to note she thought this meant a score for her against Pushy Girl.) I said nothing. I think that was wise. I thought it might be a score for Disney. 

So they'll be performing to "Dancing Crazy" by Miranda Cosgrove on Jan. 27th at the town middle school. 

I don't feel so bad about the concert now, since the 4th Grader has had a Learning Experience. That's as worthwhile as the 8th Grader's Learning Fair. I'm just going to buy whatever costume I'm told to buy for her, insert ear plugs, sit back, and enjoy the show.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Highly Effective Habit # 1: Be Proactive

After my last post, I was all set to make fun of my next book's title, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey, because, who is he kidding? He's saying "effective," but meaning "Successful," and success means.....etc., etc., etc. Please see my previous post, etc, etc, and we are simply talking in euphemisms.

That was going to be the gist of my argument. Except a couple of my tens of readers, the husband and my faithful reader Scrollwork,* commented that I seemed to have overlooked a wee part of the dictionary's definition of success. The part of the definition that says that success, n., is the achievement of intention; the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.

Hmm. Well, yes, now that I look a little more closely, I have to admit they are right. And that this definition does not actually have anything to do with wealth, status, or money per se. That I overlooked this aspect of the definition says a lot more about my mindset than anything else, I suppose. Or about my reading comprehension skills.

So I am forced to face up to Stephen R. Covey and his 7 Habits  and not make fun of his so-called euphemism. I am forced to admit that Effective can actually be a synonym for Successful. And I am forced to examine more than the title of this book, which several reputable people who aren't at all pretentious have recommended to me.

Why make fun of it in the first place, you might ask? It is an international bestsellar, after all. 

Why? Because I'm intimidated, of course. 

This is one of those daunting books that say, Look, here are 7 simple rules for being successful, and all you have to do is all this scary stuff about evaluating yourself and your behavior and your values and your principles, your goals, your motivations, your psychological hangups, and pretty much everything else that your life has been carefully constructed to obscure -- and you have no chance of really understanding without therapy.

But it costs about $16 plus tax, and one session with a paid professional is at least 10 times that, so--might as well give it a shot.

Habit #1: Be Proactive

Be pro-active, as opposed to re-active. Take charge of your behavior. Don't let things happen to you because you are passive.

This habit is about concentric circles...

Your circle of concern is all the stuff that is on your mind, and the smaller circle is the stuff over which you  have some control. So you worry about global warming, but you can't control that. What you can do is drive less and walk more. Or you worry that you're going to get all flabby and old and wrinkly and then die; but what you can do is starve yourself, get Botox, and exercise like hell. And eventually die.

So focus on today (Geesh, this sounds familiar), and what you can do today to further your goals. Like make that appointment for that Botox.

Some things within your Circle of Influence: yourself; being happy; being a good listener; admitting mistakes; setting goals and following through.

Some things within your Circle of Concern: the weather; mistakes; other people's flaws and annoying habits.

Covey has a nice coda to his chapter, a little lesson about a stick. On p.21 he says, "'When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other.'"  He means that you can choose your response to a situation, but you can't choose the consequence. The consequence is outside our Circle of Influence. There's no way around this, he says. If you cut off the end of the stick, you've still got two ends, the one you're holding, and the other one, the consequence, that you can't control.

So this is a nice way to try to deal with control: that which you can control, that which you can't. The truth is that there's not too much you can actually control, beyond your own responses. (And some of those are involuntary.) Which realization is quite anxiety-provoking, don't you think? 

And anxiety is at the root of it all, whether you're a nail-biter or a control freak. Anxiety is just another way of trying to control the uncontrollable, through such magical thinking as, If I worry obsessively about every single thing that could go wrong, then nothing will go wrong. But if I forget just one little thing, all bets are off. 

So I'm afraid to say it, but the best thing to do here is to take deep breath and try to relax, then make a choice, and then another breath and another choice. That is within your Circle of Influence.

The good news, according to Covey, is that the more proactive you are in your life, the larger your Circle of Influence becomes.

And also, if you have a dog, you can toss the stick to him, and he'll chew it to bits.

*Scrollwork, by the way, has an Etsy shop where she sells fantastical, "upcycled" clothes that, if I were 25 years younger and lived farther east, or south, or definitely west, I'd be happy to pair with some Dr. Martens and wear dancing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Success, n.

Let’s be honest, I’ve gone over to the namby-pamby side of things, where success is called abundance and is defined in much the same way we talk about happiness or contentment. You know, success is whatever makes you feel good. Wealth is friends, family, feeling a little buzz about your place in the world. It’s been a little New-Age-y around here. A little sticky. 

What is it with all this garbage about happiness and contentment? These are consolation prizes, people, for if you happen to notice that while you’re meditating and chanting “ommmm” and smiling at people and giving them candy (did I say that? Is THAT what I want? Candy?) and everything, you haven’t actually gotten rich or famous or become highly prestigious.

These are the kinds of helpful thoughts that buzz around my head when I try to meditate. Or to work.

For some clarity, I  headed to the dictionary. Did I mention I used to work in a library? That’s right. Even considered library school, which has become way cooler over the last 20 years than it was when I took one course and decided no, thanks. Still, I’m all about the reference books.

Besides, as any writer knows, when defining terms, you might as well start at the dictionary.

So I started with my actual dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969) that I seem to have lifted from the cooperative house I lived in for five-and-a-half years in my 20s. No, that wasn’t the 1920s, that was MY 20s.

Success, n. 1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted. 2.a. The gaining of fame or prosperity. b. The extent of such gain. 3. One that is successful. 4. Obsolete. Any result or outcome.

I ended up online, of course, where I looked up "success" in 30 dictionaries.  Thirty dictionaries, which all said pretty much the same thing, so I’ll quote you the Mirriam-Webster online definition, since we know and trust the Mirriam-Webster name (although maybe not so much if you’ve taken Reference Librarianship and know things like the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica was an extraordinary achievement, whereas the 15th was not.)
            Success, n. 1. (obsolete) Outcome, result.
            2.a. a degree or measure of succeeding. b. favorable or desired outcome; also the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.
3. One that succeeds.

 For thoroughness, I looked up succeed: 
Succeed, intransitive verb.
1.a. to come next after another in office or position or in possession of an estate. b. to follow after another in order.
2.a. to turn out well. b. to attain a desired object or end.
Transitive verb.
1. To follow in sequence and especially immediately.
 2. Come after as heir of successor.

Guess what? Not a single mention of abundance. All this talk about “wealth” and “abundance” meaning something other than having money and achieving concrete stuff notwithstanding, the dictionary offers a pretty darn depressing reality check. Success means having money and achieving things that other people have noticed you have achieved. I could have started and ended this post with the Word tools dictionary:
1. Achievement of intention. 
2. Attainment of fame, wealth, or power. 
3. Something that turns out well. 
4. Somebody successful.

Bummer for me.  

Can thirty dictionaries be wrong? I mean, is there a way around those key words like fame, wealth, power, achievement?
Well, my tens of readers, of course there is. There has to be. And I think--yes, I think I'm pulling out of my slough of despond--and I can see it. 

The dictionary is concerned with the standard definition of success, but most of the successful people I've talked to don't concern themselves with that one. They are, all of them, much more concerned with the day-to-day pursuit of their goals than with the glorious proofs of their attainment. They're more about quality of life, and about purpose than about the fruits of their labors. And if that's how the obviously successful people define success, why should poor slobs like me be any different?

And that brings me back to where I began, really: finding out what makes people feel successful.  After all, as my sister the psychoanalyst told me, you can be one of those people who achieves a great deal, but who, because of your psychology, is incapable of feeling good about any of it. 

Who wants to live like that

Phew, that was a close call. I almost had to shut down this whole operation. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Navel Gazing to Find Success

Immersing myself in all these books about Success has actually been helpful in some ways. All their talk about wishes and desires and intentions has freed me from a certain amount of guilt.  They’ve allowed me to pursue some things I was already sort-of pursuing in a guilt-ridden because-they’re-not –leading-to-employment-and-money-earning-half-assed-way. 

Like napping.  Just 20 minute catnaps. I’ve always taken those, since college. Even at my library job. My colleagues more than once caught me with keyboard impressions on my cheeks some time in the early afternoon.

Or like meditating, which I’ve mentioned before.

But one thing keeps coming up in these books that  I’ve really had a hard time wrapping my mind around. It's this whole asking God or the universe or your subconscious for what you want phenomenon. Whether it’s affirmations or afformations or writing a list of your intentions and desires, I just can’t quite get my mind around it.

First, how specific should this list be? Is this list meant to include new headphones for my iPod? Because I do need those. I can only hear Pink from one speaker, and that’s not cutting it at the gym.

Second, is the list meant to be abstract, in which case it ought to be wholly altruistic? Peaceloveandunderstanding and all that. 

Third, there are complexities to the whole wishing/desiring/intention thing. 

For example, is there a zero-sum calculation at work here where if I wish to publish an article in a major magazine, then one of my children will be hit by a car. Because I DIDN’T wish for my family’s health and happiness? 

What about wishing for something that has ramifications you don’t understand at the time? Think Sibyl of Cumae: she wished for immortality, but forgot to wish to stay young forever; so she shriveled up into an ever more wrinkly and elderly old woman; furthermore, she was doomed to constantly lose her loved ones because she forgot to wish for their immortality, too.

I used to wish for wisdom. Yep. That was me, the practical-minded teenager. I wanted wisdom. I wanted to be one of those old people at whose knee young people sit and ask for advice. Later, I thought, why did I waste time wishing for that? I ought to simply have wished for health and happiness. Those make for a more comfortable life.

So the wishing/desiring/intention-planting becomes this thing. Like a birthday wish.  You know, make a wish and blow out the candles. It seems simple.

But what if you don’t blow out all the candles and you wished for something specific and particular that you really, really want, like David Bowie to kiss you, and then you have to face your disappointment? (Okay, that was a loo—oo-nng time ago.) You don't want to risk that. 

So then you wish anodyne wishes: you wish for world peace, say. Something faultless but also impossible. If your wish comes true, then great, you helped; but if it doesn't, no one will blame you.  Meanwhile, you get brownie points (with whom, you might ask, since I’m pretty much an atheist—but I never claim to be rational) for your benevolence towards humanity. 

Fourth, what do all these lists have to do with success? By now I've forgotten, caught up in this rather self-serving exploration. Luckily, one of my successful old friends hasn't, and he contacted me, and suggested that perhaps my entire line of reasoning here has been misguided.

Okay, he didn't actually say that. What he did suggest is that success is about setting an impossible goal, a goal that has nothing to do with personal enrichment but with doing something or making something that improves the world a little bit. 

Damn idealists. They always make you look up from your navel.  

His is an interesting suggestion, though. To make sure you always have something to strive for, to inspire you, to occupy your time (and to prevent excessive navel-gazing), choose a goal you can never fully achieve. Even though you'll know you’re never going to succeed, you’ll always be able to place stumbles and achievements in perspective. Best of all, you'll always have something to occupy you.

Besides your navel, my tens of reader, as fascinating as it is. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Don't F**k With a Bus and Other Rules for Successful Living

In high school one of my best friends, Maude, taught me two rules for driving that I've never forgotten. The first is self-explanatory, or it should be. It's the second that interests me today.

1. Don't f**k with a bus.
2. Look where you want to go, and you will automatically steer the car there.

Maude, as a few of my tens of readers know, was (is) delicate, small-boned, had the neatest cursive for a lefty and possibly ever, and a mouth like a sailor.

Maude's father taught her to drive, and she passed this one on to me. (#1 was entirely her own, I hasten to add.) Which was good, because my father taught me to drive, too. This meant we went over to the Walt Whitman High School parking lot and I drove around in circles while my dad white-knuckled both the door armrest and the back of the seat. After completing a few circuits, he congratulated me, and I, who was unused to praise of any kind, forthwith drove into the chainlink fence.

After that, I went to driving school. 

Look where you want to go, and you will automatically steer the car there.

Miraculously, this works. 

If you concentrate on the nose of your car, you can't see anything else. If you focus on the road right in front of the nose of your car, you become over-aware of the micro-adjustments you need to make to steer, which can scare you with the unpleasant realization that you're operating a potential weapon of destruction and you can't possibly imagine you can make it do what you want. You might freeze. Or drive into a fence.

However, if you look ahead, towards the curve you're approaching, not too far, but not too close, your hands know how to get the wheel in the right position. Your brain takes over and your hands respond. All those things you need kick in, like depth perception, and the sense of the road, and the instinct for when to apply the brake and when to let up, and you just flow. 

Hey, this is the United States of America, where car and road metaphors have a long and prominent precedent.  

And this is my homily for today.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Implementing Chopra's Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

Okay, so last post I reached the unspoken word count limit and I promised I'd give you the rundown on how to implement Deepak Chopra's seven laws next time.

  • Meditate, spend time in silence daily, commune with nature.
  • Focus on the moment, let go of worry.  How? Meditate, spend time in silence daily, commune with nature.
  • Give people stuff, particularly stuff you want. (!)
  • Make a list of your desires and intentions and keep it in mind, but remember not to micro-manage their implementation. Affirmations, anyone? 
  • Find your dharma: ask yourself, Self, what would I do if I didn't have to worry about getting paid? And, Self, how can I do that thing such that it helps people?

I assume one can construe that last answer broadly. For example, a blog, perhaps, might be of help to some people. It's not necessarily that you have to help little old ladies cross the street, or cure diabetes.

Okay, got it? Easy-peasy?

The thing is, all this talk about success or abundance notwithstanding, what Deepak Chopra, and a lot of these other people I've been reading, are really talking about is How to Live.

I mean, if you do everything Chopra suggests-- meditate for 30 minutes TWICE A DAY; spend ONE HOUR in silence, which you multitaskers can combine with COMMUNING WITH THE NATURAL WORLD; figure out WHAT YOU CAN GIVE to people you encounter, even something as small as a flower (and, this writer wonders if perhaps her presence might count on occasion as a gift?); DISCOVERING YOUR DHARMA & it's BENEFIT TO HUMANKIND-- you don't really have time for much else. Like worrying.  Like noticing that you've not received a paycheck recently. Like making sure your children have brushed their teeth. Your day, my tens of readers, is full. 

The thing is, I've been meditating off and on for over a decade now, and I have to say that when I'm in a meditating phase, I feel much happier than when I'm not. I don't know why exactly. There's something about being in a state of panic because you think your fridge is broken and you just spent your last penny on a house, for example, and then you sit down and make yourself focus on breathing in and out and you're able to notice, for maybe a second, that while you're sitting there, with your fancy Australian Labradoodle perplexed beside you, nothing has exploded, flooded, or collapsed on or near you, and for at least this inhalation and that exhalation, you and your loved ones are okay.

So, inner eye on the future, planting your wish list, outer eye on the moment and breathing. Heck, my tens of readers, success is really easy to obtain. Even I have it, on occasion, for a moment.

 Get busy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Deepak Chopra Tells Us How to Succeed

Deepak Chopra's written a lot of books, given a lot of talks, and he tweets a lot, too. He's an active purveyor of the secrets of Abundance (aka, success, wealth, and happiness). Before he became this guru, however, he was a long time student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, better known as the dude who started Transcendental Meditation. And he was once a doctor, too, although since he's  acquired so much Abundance, I doubt he practices medicine anymore. 

According to his website, Dr. Deepak Chopra has written over 60 books. I've read one,  The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,  which turned out to be a condensed version of a different book of his, so I feel totally confident that I have a full understanding of his teachings. Which I will pass along to you, my tens of readers.

Why? Well, I actually found his book quite compelling.

I'd have to characterize it as Buddhism Lite--or Hinduism Lite, since he was born in Delhi, or was it New Delhi? Or maybe it's just New Age. Anyway, at the very least it's well-written, even if he does crib from Florence Scovel Shinn.

 In brief, the 7 Laws are:

  • Underneath it all, we are pure consciousness or "pure potentiality," 
    • so if we get in touch with that universal energy, we can channel it for our purposes. 
  • Giving. 
    • This is pretty clear. Have to give to get. Give and take keeps abundance circulating. And, the kicker--you have to give what you want to receive. So, you want money? Got to give to get, baby. 
  •  Karma, or cause and effect. 
    • Your choices affect you and those around you, so make them for their benefit as well as your own and you create good karma. 
    • What to do if you've inherited a lot of bad luck (karma)? Well, learn from the bad stuff and try to make good choices as mentioned in previous sentence, so that you nullify the bad effects of previous bad, um, effects.
  • Least Effort. 
    • Meaning to stop struggling against yourself or the world. When you live "in harmony," your efforts flow and so does good old abundance. 
  • Intention and Desire. 
    • I've talked about this in a previous post. The idea is you plant your seed of intention in your mind (in your pure consciousness, that is), and let it sprout and bloom. 
    • This is right out of Buddhist dharma talks I've read in Thich Nat Han and others: that our minds possess the seeds of all possible emotions, and that the ones we water with our attention are the ones that grow. 
    • So if you're all negative and grumpy and water those seeds, you develop your negativity and grumpiness; but if you cultivate happiness and gratitude, then, well then you become an annoying Pollyanna. But I've seen that movie, and really, she was so hard to take, because life really laid the s**t on her. 
Sorry, I digressed.
  •  Detachment. 
    • This is actually also very fundamental to Buddhism. It means here that you plant your seed of your intent: for success at whatever your endeavor is--and then you let go of trying to control the way it comes about. 
    • No micro-managing allowed. You must plant your wish, then allow it to come to fruition at the right time in the right way. Breathe. 
And finally,
  • Dharma. Which here means purpose in life. 
    • Which here means that once you listen to your true self (how to do that follows) and discover what your unique talent is, you pursue that.
    •  And according to Deepak Chopra, we each have a special and unique something. So we find that something, and align it with our deepest wish. And all will be well and abundance will flow.

Wait, I forgot to mention one thing: this dharma has to be used in service to others in order to create real  abundance in your life.

Wow. that's a lot of info there, my tens of readers. And I didn't even get to it all. Like how to implement these laws. Phew. Tune in next time, when I add my three cents to my two cents. And get: Abundcents.


Monday, October 17, 2011

How We Do It with Success

One of my high school classmates told me, "You have to talk about the unspoken working mother--at home mother divide." This classmate starred in a couple of movies, then focused on raising kids, while staying behind the scenes and helping her husband's company in the entertainment industry. She said it's prevalent or conspicuous in her childrens' schools. Who's available to volunteer for the PTA, and who's not? Who donates money to the school and who logs hours?

It's something I've noticed myself. There's this feeling--animosity might be too harsh a word--between the groups. The at-home moms assume the working moms feel tormented about leaving their children; yet we get the sense the working moms view us stay-at-home moms as a step above domestic servants, certainly as traitors to feminism, and above all, as idiots for ensnaring ourselves in financial dependency on our wage-earning spouses.

Doth I project too much?

The point is, as Motherlode recently mentioned, in an article about a movie I have no hope of seeing until it is streamed by Netflix, working parents are overstressed. The article says,  "The picture of mother as superwoman, however, is not simply a personal hand-knitted hair shirt. We’re struggling against not just our own guilt but an entire mind-set about mothers, backed by “research.” We no longer question the idea that mothers are “naturally” better parents, and that a good mother is one who satisfies the child’s every need." (Motherlode)

On the other hand, if we ignore how much a child really needs to become a functioning concerned citizen, we diminish motherhood itself. Or parenthood.

What no one is saying is that taking care of children is a full time job. Maybe it is true that mothers are "naturally" better; but isn't it possible that with so many families forced to have two wage earners, there is no one left to carry on the feminist fight? I mean, do you have time to march on Washington when every third day from the moment your children enters school until they're 7 or 8, one of them is home sick? and then you get sick? And then you have to go to work sick? I mean, if you have two or three children, you are physically depleted for a decade or more. Who's got the energy?

Sure, I'd like to think the best thing for my kids is that I, Mommy, am here for them. I mean, whatever sense of accomplishment I can eke out from the mostly thankless work of raising children depends somewhat on that belief. If there's no way to even know if what I'm doing is going to turn out well, then, yes, I like to think that what I do is important. Which kind of puts me at odds with the moms who are working outside the home AND doing the mom stuff. I mean, by saying kids need their mom at home, what am I implicitly saying about moms who aren't there?

I know one stay at home dad. Like me, he was a teacher and his spouse is a doctor. They needed someone to take care of their kids. He made less. He stayed home. Someone needs to be there for kids. They're more than afterthoughts, after all. They take a lot of creative energy and endurance to raise.

Which is why I think we've run aground on progress towards equality. At least in part. So I'd like to bridge the divide. Wouldn't it be nice if every societal role involved with children were valued, because children were valued? I mean, if you choose to specialize in anything in medicine involving children, you will earn less than you would in that specialty treating adults. And teachers? Well, I value the hell out of them, but our message as a society certainly runs the other way. And don't even get me started on how we treat at-home moms. Or nannies. Or daycare teachers. Where do they rank on the ladder of respect?

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to earn Social Security for all the years you spent lolling about on the divan eating bon-bons and, oh, right, raising the children?

And I am totally open to the idea of dads being as good primary caregivers as moms. Just that not too many do it. And until someone can watch our kids, we can't get out to change that.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Admit When You're Wrong- Rule of Success
Okay, I might owe an apology to Norman Vincent Peale, because in a previous post, I wrote that Peale expects people to be Christians to reap the benefits of faith (i.e., success.) According to Matthew Syed, who wrote a totally fascinating book Bounce: the Science of Success, which is worth a whole post of its own, N.V. Peale advocated faith in any god--not only in Jesus Christ. Syed talks a lot about success in the sporting world, and he addresses the power of faith and its role in success. (More on that later).

I figured if this bestselling author pronounces N.V. Peale as non-prescriptive about which religion, just as long as it is some kind of religion, he must know. And I admit when I'm wrong.

Admitting when you're wrong is one of the crucial underpinnings of Dale Carnegie's philosophy, by the way. It just might be the only one that comes naturally to me. Smile, admit when you're wrong, make decisions and don't look back, focus on Now. No, yes, no, and nope, can't do it.

So, worried that my tens of readers might be led astray by foolish and weakly-researched statements by yours truly, I reread N. V. Peale's book, The Power of Positive Thinking.

Thing is, I can't find any place where he says You Can Be Any Religion You Want. I mean, he's got one anecdote about a Jewish woman who, by reciting every morning, "I believe, I believe, I believe," changes her whole tale of woe into a tale of, well, WHOA!  And he's got one paragraph about a religious magazine called Guideposts that he was involved with that is "interfaith"-- by which I think he means all kinds of Christianity, from Catholicism to Episcopalianism.

So I'm not sure how Matthew Syed arrived at this conclusion. Maybe it was reading between the lines. After all, there's no mention in Power of trying to convert the Jewish woman. Or maybe N. V. Peale relaxed his standards later on, and I haven't read that book. I just don't know.

Which is why I might owe him an apology. And I might not. But Yom Kippur starts at sundown tonight, and it is the Jewish Day of Atonement, so I'm hedging my bets.

This feels a little bit like getting back in touch with my compulsive-superstitious childhood self. In sixth grade -- okay, seventh-- I went through a phase. You know the saying, "See a pin, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck; see a pin, let it lay, and bad luck is here to stay?" Well, I must have been looking down a lot, because almost every frickin' day I found a pin. Naturally wanting to avoid bad and ensure good luck, I had to pick it up. And then at night, when I emptied my pockets, I'd put the pins on my dresser. And then in the morning, when I woke up, there were the pins from the previous day on the dresser. So I had to pick them up. Until finally I was pinning a large collection of safety pins to -- oh, heck, why not admit it--to my underwear. Which I had to unpin every night...

I made it to adulthood. Really. With just a little help from paid professionals. I promise it's not contagious. And I don't do it anymore. In fact, I don't even know where the closest safety pin is.

While I'm not entirely sure I owe an apology to Norman Vincent Peale, I am pretty sure I do owe one to the Husband. Yesterday was our anniversary. It's kind of a big one. I got him a watch, which is the so-called official gift for the fifteenth. So maybe I was just a little less than overwhelmed by the flowers he brought me. He's been very busy lately, on call fifty percent of the time, so it's a lot easier for me to shop since I'm un(der)-employed.

So why complain? The flowers are gorgeous, and they came in a vase. Crystal is another traditional gift for the fifteenth anniversary, after all. On the other hand, the vase is glass, not crystal. Jesus.

Which is why it's important for even the most secular Jew to go to synagogue once in a while.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Abundance Redundance
Last week, after spending two long hours taking care of my car's regularly scheduled maintenance plus unexpected fitting with new tires, I treated myself to a visit to our local cafe. While sipping my decaf, I felt suddenly light-headed. I immediately assumed brain cancer, at which thought my heart began pounding at high anxiety and I began feeling over-warm; reason soon suggested perimenopause. Occam's razor and all that.

Needing air, I wandered outside and down the block to Peaceful Inspirations. I don't think I need to explain what kind of store it is. But it is interesting that my little town center has, besides the coffee shop and pizza places, and a nice book and gift shop, an integrative medicine center, yoga and Pilate's studios, and Peaceful Inspirations. It's like a microcosm of Berkeley, or Cambridge, MA, places I hold dear.

And you thought Upstate New York was conservative...

Anyhoo. I wandered into the new age store, and discovered a bookshelf devoted to success. Only in this store, it's Abundance. Abundance is the mystical-spiritual term for Success. I scanned the shelf and found many of the usual suspects; but I also found a book by a woman, Florence Scovel Shinn.  Written in 1925. Twelve years before Dale Carnegie began winning friends and influencing people.

So natch, I bought Florence's book, The Game of Life and How to Play It. Because she wrote it a long time ago, and because I'd never heard of her. And because she was a woman. Unlike Dale Carnegie, of whom I have heard, and who was a man.

The other reason I had to buy it was that when I opened it up to the table of contents, I saw this:

And I had just begun reading Deepak Chopra's book from 1993, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, whose table of contents is this:

Which one of those was written first? Which one have I heard of? And which was written by a man?

So either Deepak Chopra owes a debt to Florence Scovel Shinn, or I haven't read deeply enough in his books to learn that he has indeed credited her with inspiration.

A third possibility is that Chopra and his ilk and Shinn and hers, arrived at similar conclusions independently, coming from Eastern spiritual philosophy and Western respectively. The so-called Wisdom Traditions, which is the semi-academic name given to these books that all seem to suggest the same types of spiritual practices as the key to success--excuse me, my tens of readers, I mean abundance--is a general public-domain type deal. In other words, everyone who draws on it, is drawing from such an established and understood pool of ancient wisdom that, you know, copyright isn't necessary to be observed.

There's not a single book I've mentioned lately that doesn't mention meditation, relaxation exercises, and positive thoughts as keys to success. This hodge-podge cross-fertilization of Hindu- Buddhist and Judeo-Christian ideas has been around for a long time. It blended into a strange mix of new ideas in 19th Century America.

William James, psychologist, philosopher, brother of Henry, and a dabbler in spiritualism himself, if memory serves, described Shinn's precursors as Mind Cure people. They called themselves members of the New Thought movement. Whatever they were called, they believed that through proper prayer and thought one could cure any physical or mental ailment.

Through prayer and thought, did I say? Yes, I did. That would be through AFFIRMATIONS. Shinn's books are chock full of miraculous cures for everything, especially poverty (she wrote from the 1920s through the 1940s) using prayers and affirmations in the name of JESUS.

The corollary being not so kind to the sufferers of chronic or acute illness or emotional problems, or the unemployed. Blame the victim anyone?

But I digress. And I haven't even gotten to Deepak. Another time. I've reached the maximum acceptable word count for blog posts.

Besides, I've got to meditate. And review my affirmations.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Success & Recognition, Actual & Virtual

It's incumbent upon me to report on success on my blog about success. Don't you think? I do. So please don't think I'm tooting my own horn just for the sake of it, my tens of readers, when I report to you that I've received a special mention AND a blogger award in the last few days.

The blog-o-sphere, which is still a huge, amorphous tangle to me, is full of very supportive people giving each other awards. These tend to be from bloggers with not enormous lists of followers to other bloggers with miniscule ones, so we know that we aren't all standing on different mountaintops spitting into the wind. We're actually spitting onto each other.

Okay, poor analogy. On to the recognition part. 

First, I was  listed as a Funnarchist blogger by my faithful and definitely-not-related-to-me commenter Scrollwork on her blog. Once my head deflated enough to fit back inside the house, I realized I wanted to thank her. But just as I was preparing to do that, I received the following award from Andrea S. Michaels, all the way from her blog  Wordy Living in Belfast, Ireland.  That was pretty cool. Especially since I love Tana French novels.

So this award comes with some rules. Here they are: 

  1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.  
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Pass this Award along to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know about it.
I bristle at rules, but I'll give it a go. 

Thanks and thanks again! 

I'm a lapsed reform jew with Buddhist tendencies; I'm short and short-tempered; I eat something chocolate every day; I love a good Spoonerism; and everything else you need to know about me is in my blog--and quite a bit more.

Rule three poses a problem. I don't have a list of fifteen blogs to recommend, so I will work on that. I've got a good start from Rachel Harrie's Writer's Platform Building Campaign. I don't even know how I stumbled upon that one, but I did.  In the meantime, I can pass this on to two bloggers who are friends, Lena Roy, who is sharing her experiences as a first time YA novelist and writing teacher on her blog at; and Reyna E. for her recent post at her blog Quickly and Slowly

So, thanks, readers! I will continue to strive to deserve recognition. Recognition is a hallmark of success. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scofflaws, Karma, and Success

I've been reading about karma a lot lately. The mystical-spiritual success folks like Deepak Chopra and Florence Skovel Shinn (more on her later) are big on it.

One aspect they're particularly keen on is choosing your words carefully, so you create good karma. Right speech, in case my tens of readers aren't up on Hinduism and Buddhism, is part of the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. For Chopra this is all about creating an intention that can then grow into the perfect success you crave. He suggests writing a list of your desires, which you look at before meditating, before turning in for the night, and first thing in the morning. Stating what you want plants the seed. Time, and your rapt and focused attention on the present, takes care of the growth and blooming.

Shinn is more about getting the right prayer to Jesus Christ (oy) and having your wish granted out there in the world right now. For example, she talks about a client who was broke at Christmas time and who needed cashish. F. S. Shinn told this woman to act as if she would have the money by buying wrapping paper and ribbon, meanwhile saying a prayer. Dubious, the woman left. She did as she was told, and that very evening, upon returning home, discovered a check in the mail from a distant relative.

Deepak Chopra is a little less definitive about wish-granting. He clearly has a thorough knowledge of karma. In fact, he cautions that once you plant your intention, you have to let go of trying to control how and when your wish will be granted. This is his escape clause to his otherwise pretty astonishing assertions of our personal power to attract "abundance" to ourselves. Karma may cause this abundance to occur in a profoundly different way than we might have intended. Or at a different time.

Say, in another life?

So how bad is it that I lost my temper on the phone when some poor telemarketing person interrupted me, deep into my list of desires, to ask for the scofflaw who used to have my home phone number? I didn't mean to. It was just that I was so deeply concentrating that the call really got to me. In fact, the number of calls I receive for this debt-ridden, possibly ill and elderly man named Joseph Addario (this is a common name, so I mention it without pointing a finger at a particular scofflaw) has dwindled from several a day, two years ago, to one or two a month, usually.

You may ask why I didn't change my number two years ago. And I considered it, but when I learned that phone numbers become available for reuse after only 30 days, I figured I'd be just as likely to end up with a different scofflaw's former number, so I stuck with the scofflaw I knew.

Yesterday I recognized the number on caller id as one that had been calling for a few days, annoying me. So this time I answered, preparing to give my long-winded explanation and ask them to remove me from their call list; but I just wasn't as nice as I could have been. I asked them to remove my number a little louder than I meant to. As I mentioned, I was deep in thought. I was considering the implication of adding "screened porch" to my list. Should I ask to be able to add it on to my house? Or would it be better to simply ask for a screened porch -- once I relinquish my attachment to the way in which my intention for a screen porch manifests (Chopra word), I will be able to see the good, perhaps, when I am forced to sell my current house and move to a small shack--with a spacious screened porch attached.

I hope Joseph Addario is having a good day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Many Heads, Much Success

I really enjoyed making fun of Noah St. John last week, but there was something original he said that made me think. At least I think it's original. I haven't come across this exact thing anywhere else yet.

He points out that all the success lit and inspirational speakers tell you you've got to believe in yourself first, before you can succeed.  You have to trust yourself, you have to believe in your goals, you have to think postively about your abilities, and then everything good and wonderful will rain down upon you. This is frustrating, St.John says, because many people have the hardest time of all believing in themselves. If you're in a crappy job, or an abusive relationship, or you want to change careers and become a movie star, you're probably feeling pretty bad about yourself as your starting point.

What you need, he says, is a couple people who believe in you. He calls them "loving mirrors" and "safe havens" because they reflect the good they see in you back at you. You need them in your personal life, just to know you're a decent person with a right to have dreams (loving mirrors); and you need them professionally, where they know what you're capable of and urge you on, despite your efforts to undermine yourself (safe havens).

If you find a couple of these people, whose judgement you trust, then you can believe in them. And finally, after you believe in them and their belief in you, you can believe in yourself.

It now occurs to me that once I attended a lecture about literature and psychology. The speaker talked about the Hero's Journey, as described (long before Noah St. John) by Joseph Campbell. A crucial part of the journey is meeting a mirror for yourself. Someone who believes in you and helps equip you for the trials ahead. And actually, the best thing about this lecture was that the speaker told us that the movie Strictly Ballroom depicts this journey, so we watched it afterwards. If you've never seen it, you should, you really should.

But I digress. St. John's point is apt, as far as I'm concerned, even if it is cribbed from Joseph Campbell. We need other people to help us do our best work. And actually, when you put it like that, then everyone else I've read agrees. Benjamin Franklin started his Junta so he'd have a group of people to bounce ideas off of. Dale Carnegie says that Thomas Edison had a coterie of gentlemen who helped one another develop their ideas. Napolean Hill goes so far as to explain the phenomenon that two heads are better than one using the analogy of radio waves and our brains as receivers.

Or, as Ruth, a lovely older lady I once worked with, shocked us all one day by singing, in the middle of Technical Services at Cabot Science Library, "People, who need people, are the luckiest people in the world." Ah, Ruth. She loved to treat herself to a pizza at the Cambridge House of Pizza, and she always asked them to bake it extra long so it would be really crisp.

So, when one of my friends from college who seems to believe in me, suggested forming a monthly group with another woman, so we can be accountable for our writing projects, I leapt at the arrangement.

Do you have any loving mirrors or safe havens?