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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Practice Perspective--Practice Perspective

Today is Yom Kippur. I went to services last night, because I’m a High Holidays Jew, which means I go to the synagogue twice a year, at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which in case you are wondering, are the most important Jewish holidays. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, which, in case you're wondering, in the Hebrew calender, is 5773 this year. Rosh Hashanah kicks off ten Days of Awe that wrap up with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Also, in case you’re wondering, Jewish holidays start the evening before they appear on the regular calendar. Something to do with Genesis saying, “It was evening and it was morning,” in the description of the creation of the earth, not "It was morning and it was evening." On Yom Kippur you’re supposed to fast from the time you go to services in the evening until sundown the next day. You’re supposed to spend that whole day in services, and then have a large meal and possibly a party, called the break fast.

Only I started this blog post at 10 a.m., and I’d already eaten some piecrust. And I don’t even like pie, really, except for strawberry rubarb. In general, I feel that sweet calories that don’t contain chocolate are a waste. And I’m in my pajamas, not at temple. So that’s the kind of Jew I am. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Successful Transvestite

Stephen Burt, Green Acres Alumnus

Here’s something I can’t get out of my head. It's a news item about motivational speaker/success guru/ positive-thinking proponent Tony Robbins. You've probably heard of him. As part of one of his motivational retreats he took people fire-walking. Fire-walking involves burning coals and bare feet. It is one of those extreme sports formerly undertaken only by shamans and other wise men. Now it’s an activity undertaken by anyone who pays Tony Robbins. Seventeen of the participants on the retreat ended up in the hospital with severe burns. I suppose the fire walking was the grand finale, meant to show them how much confidence they’d gained—see, I can walk on fire, Ma!  So, oops.

I am sorry to say that I did laugh when I read this little news item. Why am I telling you this? Not just because I have a compulsion to confess my foibles to everyone, even to strangers, probably in some twisted unconscious attempt to fend off any criticisms that I might think at all well of myself, and thus be asking for a sledgehammer from on high to crush me, but also because. Well, I just don’t know.

I learned something about fire-walking, however. It is that the fire from coals isn’t as hot as the fire from other burning things, so learning to walk across them is in fact possible for anyone. You just have to do it really fast. Obviously, psyching yourself up to do it is part of the message Tony Robbins teaches. You have to build up courage and self-confidence. But you also have to know the trick. 

‘Course sometimes you still get burned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Dough Followed the Bread!

The first full week of school finds me a little calmer than last week. The refrigerator is here—or most of it. There’s just a toe plate missing, but hey, did you expect the whole thing to arrive at once? I didn’t. The thing works, and the produce is now in the humidity-controlled produce bins and not crammed amongst the milk bottles. The 9th grader has found people with whom to eat lunch, and one of them is even named “Silken,” so that’s good. The 5th grader has exchanged gifts with her “boyfriend,” so that’s good. (?) And I’ve triumphed over bureaucracy, too. The transportation people listened to my suggestion about the bus route and are implementing it, starting tomorrow.  Yay, me!  I’ve only had one unnecessary visit to the doctor, who very gently told me that armpit pain and fatigue don’t fit the rubric for West Nile Virus as much as for, uh, muscular pain brought on by too many Sun Salutations, and fatigue because of, possibly, too little vitamin D or sleep, or just because of life.  So, you know, overall, things are better. Although who can be sure it’s not something worse than West Nile Virus? I mean, besides the doctor? No one, I tell you. No one. But I’m fine, readers, really.

And then there was the baker I interviewed for the food co-op newsletter. An Amazon of a woman, mother of three, who is piloting the new bread program at the co-op. She works four nights a week from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. or something insane, then goes home and sees her children off to school, and tries to sleep.  When I interviewed her, she’d been up all night, but she was so enthusiastic about her bread and all the beautiful details she puts into it, and how she studies the customers’ buying patterns to determine what sells and how she lovingly arranges her loaves in a display with accompanying greens, that she practically blew me off my chair. So I asked her how she was managing the scheduling, and she said that becoming a baker was a recent career choice, and that before she’d had kids, she’d worked in healthcare and started nursing school, and now that her kids are in middle school and high school she felt like she could look at her professional life again. She decided that even though nursing would be a more practical choice, she was going to go for what she loved to do. And then, as if she were a living testimonial ripped from the pages of Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, she said that after she went to culinary school, she spent several months figuring out how to get a job as a baker. One day she came to the co-op and just decided, on a whim, to ask if they needed one. It turned out they'd just decided to start the bread program, so she had a job. Then, on top of that, she said that because she was doing what she loved to do, the hard parts, like working nights, and like feeling like getting three whole hours of sleep in one twenty-four hour period was “wow,” things were going to fall into place. 

"When you do what you love," she said (with no prompting from me), "things shift." You work with a "different purpose," and the inconveniences are not problems. "I know in future everything will fall into place," she said. 

As I listened to her rapid-fire speech and considered her shiny, bright-eyed, sleep-deprived face, the thought--drugs-- did occur to me. But that was uncharitable. This dame was powered by pure satisfaction.  Could I have asked for a more serendipitous interview? 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Do Wha....We Need to Do

"Any talent we are born with eventually surfaces as a need." --Marsha Sinetar, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.

I'm a day late for my weekly post. A day late, and a dollar short. At least a dollar, but more on that below.

Anyway, I apologize. If you're not bothered, readers, I apologize to myself, because, after all, I am trying to increase my self-control by small steps, and sticking to my blog schedule is part of my routine. Also, increasing self-control increases the ability to reach goals, and well, you all know that's part of my underlying concern in this exploration of the flip side of failure.

I've had a hard time focusing on this week's blog post because it's back to school week. Also, the refrigerator has become untenable. The produce freezes in the produce bins, and if I turn down the temperature, the milk spoils. I've been storing the jars of things and various grains in the produce bins, so there are a half a dozen different slowly wilting greens crammed onto the other shelves and wedged between the milk and the oj. It had to stop. Naturally, because we bought a fancy house, with a once-top-of-the-line kitchen, whose appliances are now crapping out--to use the scientific term--the refrigerator, which is fifteen years old, is a built-in. "Built-in" is a euphemism for "twice as expensive to replace" as a regular fridge. So it goes. Everything we have in our kitchen is a built-in. This is our penance for refreshing our eyes on our fancy house after years of Manhattan rentals with roach-repellent-gel-stained walls. And undersized refrigerators. We had to replace the fridge this weekend. It took a fair amount of psychic energy (that is a fancy way of describing hyperventilating over the prices of built-in refrigerators) and time and money to purchase a replacement.

Then school began. For the 5th grader, it was an easy start. For the 9th grader, however, it's been a different story. We've switched her from her tiny private school to our town's public high school, for PC Various reasons,* money among them, but also to broaden her opportunities and social life. And so we can afford to replace the semi-broken appliances before they are totally broken. We've been cooking on three burners since we moved in, and I mean that literally as well as metaphorically.

So that transition to high school has been rough. Day two, today, was better than day one, and that is about all we can hope for in this life. (Reference to Eloise, by Kay Thompson.)

Meanwhile, I've been digging into Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar, which is so Eighties you wouldn't believe it. Words like "synergy" appear. There is much talk of Jung. Jung was big in the Eighties. Especially his idea about our shadow selves, the darker sides of our personalities. As in, even the most optimistic among us have moments of despair, and that causes us shame, which we cover up with even more optimism. But don't get me started on Jung....

The most Eighties aspect of the book is the role of self-esteem. Self-esteem is the bedrock upon which our right livelihood must be founded. Clever readers, you noticed "right livelihood" as a Buddhist term, didn't you? And so does Marsha Marsha Marsha, the author of Do Wha.  She refers to Zen master Shunryu Suzuki's book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. I have that somewhere in my fancy house. I bought it in the Eighties.

But I digress. I'm allowed. Self-acceptance is part of the platform, according to Marsha Marsha Marsha. Accept all aspects of yourself, even the shadow parts. You can do this quietly. You don't have to stand at the window and shout out, "I'm neurotic, I'm anxious, and I have low self-esteem, but that's OKAY." You can stand in the corner and whisper it to yourself. Then you can begin to Do Wha.

So that quote at the top of this post really caught my eye. I mean, I started out loving reading, writing, and drawing, and after many years of training, believed they were false roads to success. Well, don't you know that the minute I let myself do these things again, the better I felt.

Since I've got a need to soul search, as well as to write, I felt kind of vindicated by that sentence. Also, after listening to Michelle Obama circle back to her children being the center of her life in her speech at the Democratic National Convention, I am reading it with my own two daughters in mind. I'm taking note of the things they love now--dancing and writing and figuring things out for the 9th grader, reading and drawing and writing for the 5th grader. That way, if they spend several soul crushing years conforming to the way they think they "should" be, and forget them, I will, hopefully, remember that sentence above and remind them, and trust they'll find livelihoods that encompass those talents and needs and not waste a lot of time, like I did.

*"PC Various" is a shout-out to any Harvard librarians or library assistants who might be reading this blog. Sorry. Couldn't resist.