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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Agility isn't Just for Physical Phitness Anymore

Okay, there’s a book I’ve been avoiding: The Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler. It’s bright and yellow and friendly looking, and it’s been sitting on my shelf for a few months, but I’ve avoided it. You have to admit – or at least, I have to admit – the title is a little threatening. Sure, it’s catchy, and there’s that reference to Anna Karenina implied in it, but the thing is, my family is on the old side. The 9th grader is, well, in 9th grade, and the 5th grader is also no longer a small child. As for the partnership slash marriage slash union between the husband and me, that’s also in its teens. It’s not like we’re newlyweds, or just starting the kid process. What if everything we’ve been doing so far is, you know, wrong? 

Even scarier is the question that follows a book with that title, like night follows day and yin follows yang: What if I learn those secrets of happy families, and discover that our family doesn’t know them? What if my family isn’t happy?

I mean, is it? I mean, I think, objectively speaking, we’re a happy family. Or happy-ish. Within the bounds of love, we like one another. We laugh – and not only at one another. There’s some yelling and some pouting and some crying. That’s normal.


I’ll admit, I read a column Feiler wrote a couple of weeks ago that gave a little glimpse into the book. The column was about fighting well. Or, perhaps I should say, about resolving conflicts. There was a nifty bit about how if you need to have a difficult conversation with someone you should make sure everyone is sitting at the same level. Don’t have someone on a footstool and someone on a counter stool. The butts should be on the same level. Level playing field, so to speak.

There was another nifty bit about making sure, when discussing topics of potential conflict, such as curfew violations or other infractions, that you sit side by side with your child, because that position encourages collaboration and minimizes the confrontational aspect of your, uh, confrontation. Here, butts should rest on cushions, because flexibility under the butt contributes to flexibility in the head.

Very interesting.

What’s so threatening about that stuff, you wonder? Well, I’ll tell you.
Readers, there is always a chance that everything I have ever done as a mother, adult, person, embryo, and zygote has been a mistake. So I read that piece, and I thought, geez, we haven’t had many fights and arguments with the children. We’re not a big fighting arguing punishing family.

Is that wrong?

Maybe the children are just not old enough for that kind of problem and it’s comin’ down the pike. If so, I have now made note of all cushioned seating in the house and will be sure to use it. Maybe, though, something in our parenting style has squelched the children. I have enough amateur psychological knowledge to know that feelings is feelings and they don’t just vanish. Perhaps our style, the husband’s and mine, the rule-with-the-invisible-fear-of-invoking-our -displeasure style, which has so far SEEMED to serve us well, has created a system of stealth rebellion in the children. Maybe we have forced them to stuff their negative emotions. Maybe they are slowly simmering cauldrons of resentment, the kind that never boil over. Maybe this style will in turn drive them away from us and send them to the far pillars of the world, from which they will only return periodically, armed with spouses or partners, and never for more than three nights.

So I had a little fear about reading the book. Plus, a quick glance at other books Feiler has published revealed they skew religious. At least their titles do. Walking the Bible, Abraham, and Where God Was Born, for example. Which. Well, I’m wary of yet another book (or person) telling me I need to have some particular religious faith to flourish.  Also, a quick check of my search engine revealed that he’s already had four nonfiction bestsellers, has done a TED talk, has suffered from cancer, and is seven months younger than me, to the day. To top it all off, he has worked as a clown.

Despite these fears, aversions, skepticisms, and – let’s call ‘em what they are – jealousies, however, I cracked the book last night.

Not being at all competitive in any way - not that there’s anything wrong with being competitive, I have plenty of friends and relations who are competitive, it’s just that I am way above petty competitiveness - I wasn’t at all pleased to discover that the concept Bruce introduces in his first chapter, Agile development, is one I’ve learned already from my editing work on technology articles for a web content management company.

I’m calling him Bruce, now, because his book’s cover is after all so friendly yellow, and because it makes me feel more equal to him. Not that being equal matters. (See above, re: competitiveness.) Also, I was being ironic in that last paragraph, in case you weren’t reading with full attention to detail.

Anyhoo, yes, me and technology go way back. Back to high school, in fact; back to the Daisy wheel computer we had, with the password I just might have leaked to someone (a boy) at another school, thus causing an early hacking scandal.  I was never blamed for this, because apparently, someone else had also leaked the password to someone (a boy) at another school. She got caught, and I didn’t. So, my feelings of competence with technology were encouraged.

It occurs to me that this example is really something totally different than competence with technology. More like competence at lying low, a skill I honed, and which came in useful later in an episode involving several people (a boy) and Great Falls, Virginia, and some illegal substances. Which I actually hadn’t used, but I was there, it is true.

But I digress. I was trying to get to the story of how yesterday the 9th grader asked me how I would explain what a computer was to someone who had never heard of one. I asked her, “How would you explain it?” but she was having none of that kind of parent-answer that really turns the onus back on the questioner. So off I went on a ramble about code and ones and zeros, and was filled with fond remembrances of how I used to hang around with lots of MIT grads and how they could explain it to the 9th grader much better than I. But we got through it, somehow.

Anyway, Agile is a methodology, adopted from software developers, as an alternative to a traditional management approach to project development. Agile is based on a team model with lots of feedback and revisions at each step of the development process. It’s catching on in all kinds of enterprises, and it’s been quietly making a mark on family life. Says Bruce, “The core idea of agile development is that life is constantly changing, and we have to organize ourselves in ways to allow us to react to changes in real time. The centerpiece of the program is a weekly review session built on the principle of ‘inspect and adapt.’”  Thus, Bruce discusses establishing a weekly family meeting with a regular agenda of answering the following three questions: 1. What went well in the family that week 2. What things could be improved in the family? And 3., What will the family commit to in the next week?  The main benefit of the family meeting is that it provides a consistent slot for communication.

There are lots of other details, but this post is getting too long. And there’s a friendly yellow-covered book to read if you want to know more. It’s only one of Bruce’s many ideas, and it’s pretty interesting.  Not at all scary. I’m going to read on. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I was all set to post a new blog post about this picture, but I woke up yesterday to the Boston lockdown, and frankly, I was riveted. I, along with almost everyone else, was relieved and happy that Dzhokar Tsarnaev was taken alive into custody.

Considering the way the week has gone, with two people being terribly successful at doing bad things, it's ironic that my previous post was about the powerful connection between doing good and being successful. Although last week I poked fun at overachieving Adam Grant for the potentially pathological origins of his urge to help others, I am really very happy to believe that humans tend towards the good, biologically speaking. If scientists confirm the existence of the rumored "altruism gene," I will be delighted. I was one of the zillions of people who shared the Mr. Rogers quotation about looking for the helpers in times of tragedy, because they are always there.

I also recalled listening to the Dalai Lama talking about how the newsworthiness of terrible events like the marathon bombing is proof that humans are inherently good. These horrific events shock and anger us - not to mention, make front page news - because they are rare. They are not the norm. They are extraordinary. Ordinary people aim for the good.

Nevertheless, the mug pretty well sums up how I'm feeling. Despite the capture of the Marathon bombers, the fact remains that overall the news has been bad. Shitty, really. Bombs in Beantown, bums in the Senate. Booms in Texas. And my arms, from those allergy shots: They are swollen, hot, and itchy.

But I didn't just post this picture of Grumpy Cat because I'm grumpy. I posted it because the mug makes me smile. Everything in the picture makes me smile, as a matter of fact, and while it may seem a stretch at times of national strife, one thing I've learned is that if you want to feel better, you have to smile. You don't even have to FEEL the smile. You can just use your smile muscles. The Buddha said so, and so did Daniel Kahneman in his incredible book, Thinking Fast or Slow. Studies show that just holding a pencil between your teeth - which activates your smile muscles - will make you trend optimistic.

I'm not a Grumpy Cat fan. Grumpy Cat is a meme, and I know what a meme is because my children have told me. The mug makes me smile, though, because I won it. When I say I won it, I mean I won it in a random drawing on a funny blog I read, so that makes me smile. And the box next to it, and the vintage pin come from excellent friends who visited from Boston last weekend, so they make me smile, too. The box, by the way, holds a musical egg timer. You refrigerate the timer with your eggs, then put it in the pot when you hard boil them, and the egg, which is painted to look like mini Delft china because it's Dutch, plays the Dutch national anthem when the eggs are done. Supposedly. My eggs weren't as done as I would have liked, but that is probably because they are fat American eggs, not slim, Dutch bicycling eggs. Still, the whole business was very entertaining. Plus, all the instructions are in Dutch, which is funny to try to pronounce, if you're me.

I put all those things together because they remind me that despite the bad news, I notice myself straining to find something good. Straining is the right word, here, because effort is involved. I'm no Pollyanna, but I do want to find a way back to good when something terrible happens. I don't think I've always felt this way. There have been times when I have been overwhelmed by traumatic events and pretty much pummeled by them. Readers, I believe this trend towards optimism in me is a result of my struggle to define success. I've changed. I think it's all the reading I've done about success, motivation, positive thinking, intelligence, and happiness, and meditation. Possible simply due to meditation, if what I've been learning about meditation's effects on the brain is true.

Whatever has caused this change, I'm grateful for it. I feel more resilient. If I didn't have that sense of possibility inside me somewhere, I might not be able to see those helpers. Sure, they're in the paper. But I mean, if I didn't have the little light of optimism, I would probably be overwhelmed by a sense of the helpers' ultimate futility.

So I am grateful, so grateful not to feel that way, not to feel that bad. I'm as grateful for that as I am for the helpers.

Thursday morning, I went to my NIA class, and the teacher, who is a friend, told the group that that day, instead of a particular body focus, she wanted us to have a focus on gratitude. Because of the bombing in Boston, about which she felt so angry and sad, she felt it was important to be grateful for our legs and feet and bodies, for the chance to move them around at will. It made me cry. Then I danced.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Do Good and Succeed

The organizational psychologist Adam Grant argues that the key
You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.
to his own success – and yours too – is tirelessly helping others.”  - Susan Dominus, “The Saintly Way to Succeed.” New York Times Magazine, Sunday, March 31, 2013.

Well, I have to write about this one, don’t I? I’ve known my share of saints, or pseudo-saints. People who engage in activity, sometimes frenetic, that I’m tempted to label pathological. Let’s be honest: I do label it pathological. In fact, if I were to have titled this article, I would have called it, “The potentially pathological origin of success.”

When I was in my 20s, I used to hang around with a guy who became capital-S successful. This guy claimed to feel only two emotions: happy; and uncomfortable. We can argue about whether “uncomfortable” is an emotion; but I did that and got nowhere, so let’s not bother. What I am getting at, Readers, is that I had an annoying tendency to pick at people’s motives for how they lived. My modus operandi was pinpointing the thing they didn’t want to think about or feel and proving that that motivated them to work too hard or shut down emotion or whatever thing I considered a fault. A pathology.

My idea, I guess, was that once we all faced the things we were avoiding, we would all – do what? Sit around together, I guess, being real. And unemployed. But it would be an authentic real unemployment. Not some pathetic attempt to cover up our inadequacies with public recognition or a paycheck to spend on clothes, movies, and other entertainment to mask our inner selves. Or with actual accomplishments. Heavens.

So. While I set about to prove that this guy needed to EXAMINE his feelings and UNDERSTAND his motivations, and generally face his demons, he set about – well, I can’t tell you exactly because that would be too revealing. Let’s just say that he set about implementing a vision he had for improving the world through access to knowledge, a vision that involved changing technology for us - with the intention of improving the world.  Meanwhile, I EXAMINED my feelings and UNDERSTOOD my motivations, and did – well, nothing extraordinary. Years later, he’s still working on his vision, much of it in place, trying, as he told me not so long ago, to make things a little better for people.

I’ve found that the really successful people I’ve met all have this kind of annoying claim that success really stems from helping improve the world in whatever way you can.

Adam Grant, the focus of this piece, lives by a philosophy of helping others whenever and however he can, and he usually can. He’s a professor of organizational psychology at Wharton who studies happiness and success at work, among other things. Many other things. So many other things. This guy, in fact, is so busy with helpful acts that most people would collapse under the weight of them all. Aside from being the youngest tenured prof at Wharton, he’s Google’s go-to guy, just for starters, and he helps everyone and anyone else who asks.

Another annoying point most capital-S successful people make is that by focusing on doing good work, pettier concerns (like success?) fade in importance. Ironically, as you let go of seeking success, it comes to you, apparently. Like a cat. Along with happiness. Also like a cat. Adam Grant is further proof. Like on steroids.

According to Adam Grant, helping others increases productivity and creativity, keys to organizational success. Sometimes more than traditional reward systems, doing good motivates even people in tedious jobs like telemarketing. He did a study of how to increase hand-washing in hospital personnel and found that if there was a sign over the sink saying “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases”, people washed their hands longer than if the sign simply read “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.” So apparently we have this propensity for altruism built into us.

(Although maybe the outcome reflects our ability to use denial to our benefit. When only thinking of themselves catching diseases, people don’t wash their hands carefully because they assume they aren’t susceptible. It won’t happen to me.)

Research shows that people feel better about themselves and their lives when they give to others. Altruism makes the altruist feel good. This is the kind of truth that gets existentialist teens and early 20-somethings worked up about living virtuously: If even giving gives the giver something, then how can one ever live unselfishly?

Writing from the ripe old age of no longer 20-something, I ask, who the hell cares? Or, more insightfully – or at least less succinctly – why is it bad to feel good about something as Good as doing good? 

Readers, I now see the nobility in pursuing external work, even if it might be rooted in avoiding existential anxiety or fear or depression. At least it’s positive. At least it’s other-centered. At least it does some good for others, and some good for ourselves.

Yet, have I changed? After all, what I found most interesting about this article about Adam Grant was that Susan Dominus worried that motivation question, too. While he avoided getting into why he is the way he is by saying he’d simply inherited the “fix-it gene,” Dominus warmed the cockles of my heart by pressing on. She was into the potential pathology, too. So Grant has a book out, Give & Take or something, and he defines three kinds of people, because all experts have to make categories and lists: givers, matchers, and takers. The givers, the tireless givers like Grant, he says, are usually powered by dual motives – the desire to please, and its corollary, the fear of disappointing others.

I also learned this excellent term, “compensatory conviction,” which refers to the common situation where anxiety about one thing (the thing that evokes that “uncomfortable” emotion) motivates the pursuit of another. In Grant’s case, his pursuit is doing good.  Of his underlying anxiety Dominus writes, “Mortality, he said, was the one subject that gave him something like panic attacks.” It had been that way since he was a kid, and he had “lost days at a time to his anxiety.”

Panic? Anxiety? Fear of death? Read on, Macduff!

His solution was to notice that idleness allowed his anxiety to poke through, and to therefore eliminate idleness from his life. Doing good keeps him busy and makes him feel good the way altruism makes anyone feel good; but it also keeps him from feeling - uncomfortable. But at least he knows what his fear is, and even if, like my capital-S successful friend, he chooses not to navel-gaze, he is aware of his compensatory conviction. He just doesn’t have that need to confront it, that apparently I do. Susan Dominus does, too, so I am not alone. Maybe it’s a writer-thing.

So I say, hang onto your defense mechanisms, be powered by your existential fears, if they help you do your good in the world, Adam Grant, and everyone else.

Now, I’m thinking of sending him my book proposal and asking for some input. What do you think? He can’t say no.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Groundwork for Success. Or Just Groundwork.

Okay, this doesn't have much to do with success, but oh well. More on that to come - and that's a threat. Meanwhile, here are some of the reasons why I haven't been thinking all that much about success: Highlights of the last week, which overlapped with the end of school vacation:

Felt annoyed that unlike NYC, our city didn’t manage to plan for spring break to encompass both Passover and Easter, but only Easter, which left every lapsed reform Jew I know to have a seder on Good Friday or Saturday of Easter weekend, still technically Passover, but not the first or second night of it, as it should be.

Had my fourth round of venom immunotherapy. That's venom therapy for stinging insect allergy, to clarify - allergy shots, to the uninitiated. My arms didn’t go insane this time. Insane in this case means swelling up an entire sleeve size and itching so much I was afraid I’d turn into that woman who had a chronic itch in her head that was so constant that she actually scratched a hole into her skull. Yes, that is right. So, yes, they – the arms - did go insane the time before last, but last time, they only swelled up a bit, and they only itched for two and a half days, and with Allegra and Benadryl at night, and ice packs during the day, I was able to keep my arms.

Was gripped with awareness of impending loss of elder daughter, who will be going to college in three years (never too early to start mourning) and therefore insisted on a family trip to the smallest, sorriest butterfly house you can imagine, full of rotting fruit and grownups who disobeyed the only rule there: (Please) do not pick up the butterflies. There were more people than butterflies in this house, and all the grown up people were stumbling around with their fingers out, scooping up butterflies from rotting fruit. Ah, family outings.

Meditated several times without changing in any essential way.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to Be a Successful Woman: Be Human

Do you want to know the weirdest thing about Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, Readers? I relate to it.
That is weird. Why would I relate to a book about climbing the corporate ladder? Excuse me, climbing the corporate jungle gym, as Sandberg prefers to describe it. I’ve done everything I could to arrange my life so that I would have blocks of free time in the afternoon. This plan has led me as far away from corporate life as anything could have. I worked in an office right after college, and I discovered that it depressed the hell out of me. After ruining a perfectly swell linen skirt with grass stains on my lunch hour, I had to face it: I am not your corporate type. Whatever that is.

On the other hand, why wouldn’t I relate to a book about how a seemingly competent woman struggles with self-doubt and has to double think and analyze every step she makes? If I’d known I could do that on a stupendously large salary, I might have stayed on the professional path.

I’ve been kind of appalled by the responses to  Lean In. It’s too one-percenty. It’s about “clawing your way to the top.” It doesn’t consider the real problems of most working women, or of most women, or of other particular groups of women.  She was “lucky “ to have Important Male Mentors.

So what? Does every woman have to speak for every other woman to speak truth? To make a difference? Isn’t Sheryl Sandberg’s experience as valid as mine? Or yours? Or your cleaning lady’s? And frankly, it’s the one percent who can make some immediate policy changes just by being who they are at the top. Is this bad?

I have to admit that I was one of the people who read Sandberg’s Barnard commencement address a couple of years ago, and her profile in the New Yorker last year, with skepticism. I wanted to hate her. I wanted to find the flaw. If she’s a great business woman, then she must be a sucky mom, right? Or be divorced.  Or hate other women. When I really paid attention to her, however, I had to admire her words and recognize my own thwarted ambition.

A lot of people complain that she’s blaming the victim, telling women they have to fix themselves internally before structural change will occur. To them I say, have you actually read the book? She’s talking about the need for internal and external changes. Leaning in means not prematurely cutting yourself off from seeking promotions or taking on extra leadership roles just because you might want flexibility to have a personal life and children. She says it’s better to lean in to your goals and keep going towards them, and work out the details later; don’t cut off possibilities for yourself because you’re afraid you’ll have too much work or responsibility. When women do that – and they definitely do – then they often find themselves in lesser work that’s unfulfilling, and ultimately they may drop out of the workforce.

Sound familiar, anyone?

Her section on mentors is a little harsh. In short, she says there’s been too much emphasis on women finding mentors, as if a mentor is the secret key to success. She says, “We need to stop telling them [women], ‘Get a mentor and you will excel. Instead, we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.’”

Speaking as one of many women who has lamented her lack of mentors and looked at finding one as the deus ex machina necessary to success, let me say, “Ouch!” However, after rubbing that bruise, let me also say that her words echo the phrase, attributed to Buddha and familiar to habitués of yoga studios and meditation retreats everywhere, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Honestly, she’s just saying you’ve got to work hard. No one is going to get you there until you’ve proven yourself.

So, here’s what I like about this book:
1.     She’s honest about her self-doubts. Lean in also means learning to work with the negative, doubting voice in the brain and acting confident, even if you don’t feel it; it means, to quote a friend’s favorite phrase, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
2.     She’s honest about her intellect, her luck, and all the help she’s received from men, from women, from bosses, and from assistants.
3.     She’s honest about her mistakes, like the time she failed to see the raised hand of one of the few women in the room and called on man after man. At a talk on gender equality.
4.     She says she’s a feminist. If you think this is minor, just check with any female under forty and find out if she wants to identify herself as feminist, and then look at the other prominent women in business and notice how they distance themselves from the term, and from the “issues” that are “women’s.” Why do you think we haven’t had that final burst of change that would institute meaningful family leave policies, equal pay, paid sick leave, and flexible scheduling across all industries, businesses, jobs? Because women have had to distance themselves from these issues to get ahead. And once they do, like Melissa Mayer, Chief Yahoo at Yahoo, they pretend being a woman makes no difference in the world.

The feminism I grew up with taught that once women made it to the top, they were going to change things for everyone. Well, the movement stalled, didn’t it? As Sandberg says, women who made it found themselves adhering to a stereotype about what men are like, and men often have to do that, too. The point was supposed to be that when women gained equality, then men would have more options, too. Only it didn’t work out that way, because women at the top forgot that last step: speaking out to make change. Sheryl Sandberg didn’t. She says, “I believe that this will create a better world, one where half our institutions are run by women and half our homes are run by men.”
5.     She gives practical advice. She talks about how to negotiate salary. She talks about how to navigate the mentor-mentee relationship. She talks about how to handle negative criticism. In every instance she talks about challenges she overcame.

Yes, Sheryl Sandberg is different from most of us. She’s a corporate superstar, very bright, extremely ambitious, and powerful. She’s not a professional automaton, however; she’s a very human professional. By showing her humanness, she’s also in the vanguard of a changing working paradigm. This is what we were aiming for, back in the 1980s. She made it up there and now she wants to encourage more women and men to join her, and to be human about it. Maybe you don’t want to be part of her working world. Maybe your ambitions are totally different from hers. But I honestly believe that it’s people like Sheryl Sandberg who will help shape work life policy in a more equitable, family-friendly direction, and that will in turn make life better for all of us. She’s speaking her truth, and encouraging others to speak theirs. I say, applaud her for bringing the focus back to what a lot of us would like to think is old news: We’d like to think those feminist battles have been won, because they were exhausting. The battles were not won, however, and the movement, until very recently, had been beaten back into the tributaries of academia and radicalism. With Sheryl Sandberg, the women's movement, feminism, whatever you want to call the effort to achieve equality between women and men has moved back into the mainstream. Let’s lean in on that!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Climate, Economics, and Plywood

I was all set to write about Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, but then, OMG, Readers, did you read the New York Times Sunday? The Sunday Review? The Gigantic Lettered article, “Sundown in America” by David Stockman, to be specific? Because I did. And I haven’t emerged from underneath my dining room table yet. I haven’t yet emerged from underneath the slab of plywood perched atop the IKEA table that is my dining room table, to be specific. A slab of plywood, by the way, is perfect seating for twelve. Even fourteen, if your chairs are skinny. So most of the time, it is my desk cum repository of things that need to be returned to mail order catalogs cum missing scissors and books I am reviewing and so on. At Christmastime, though - and I mean Yuletide as only a secular Jew can mean it - the plywood lives up to its full potential. Sometimes at New Year’s Eve, too. But that’s on top of the table. Plywood. And this is April. And I am underneath. Because. Jaysus. Basically, according to President Reagan’s former budget director, the stock market is going to pop, the economy is going to drop, and we really are going to be in Mad Max land, before I even get to trade in my plywood and IKEA contraption for a grown up dining room table.

Did you see that movie “Contagion” about society collapsing in the face of a pandemic caused by Gwyneth Paltrow shaking hands with a famous chef somewhere in China? I did. I probably shouldn’t have, considering that I attempt to live my life without pharmaceutical aids. David Stockman’s article reminded me of that.

I am waiting for Paul Krugman to make me feel better. So you can see where this is going. The dog and I are going to cozy up under here. He doesn’t mind sharing his bed. Because Paul Krugman, while I love him, doesn’t offer much hope. He’s always saying, “Here’s what’s wrong with what Congress is doing, but it’ll be okay if Congress just changes things a wee bit.” Only then Congress doesn’t change, but still there’s the tantalizing possibility of change. However, compared to the obliterating vision of that article in the Sunday Review, Krugman’s just a tiny keylight of reason. Barely visible.

The husband, meanwhile, read the first two paragraphs of David Stockman’s piece and said, “He’s a conservative. I don’t need to bother.” Which is probably a healthier attitude than mine. Less open-minded, let’s be honest, but less likely to cause unrest.

That “Sundown in America” piece isn’t the only thing that’s been bothering me. Last week, returning from my allergy shot, I listened to some éminence grise from Yale about global warming, and when I got out of my gas guzzling vehicle, I couldn’t help but wonder what the point would be of continuing to examine success, when the planet is going to fail. This professor from ole Elay told the nice public radio host that only 16 percent of Americans are concerned and ready and willing to help avert climate disaster. 25 percent of us are concerned, but think the problem is sometime in the future no rush no bother we’ll figure it out eventually. Meanwhile, according to the professor, all reputable scientists agree that global warming is happening, and that while in the past, warming periods have happened spontaneously, this one is a result of human behavior. So why do we waste time arguing about the science, when the science has been proven?

Well, because 8 percent of us are climate change deniers. A very loud 8 percent. A politically active 8 percent, many of whom have ties to the petroleum industry. A small, vocal minority hijaking politics while the majority of us write blogs. Sounds distressingly like every other issue important to me. Guns. Reproductive rights. Equal pay. Marriage equality.

Splurggggghhhhhh. (Noise of despair discouragement face planted in dog’s bed.)
Then I thought, well, okay. I will say my piece. I want to try to make the planet healthy. I want to make the economy better. I am even entertaining strange thoughts about getting politically involved. Which  would really be a disaster, since I am decidedly lacking in politesse, or tact, or strategic thinking skills.

And then I thought, well, okay. I’m in the 16 percent, and I will do what I can. But also, in the meantime, I should continue my inquiries into success, which is really an examination of how I think it best to live. After all, what are we going to do? Totally give up? Meals still need to be made. The children still need teaching. They are our only hope. This is not so much fiddling while Rome burns as it is being part of the band playing while the Titanic sinks. A little bit futile, a little bit foolish, a little bit noble. Making art of life, knowing it’s going to end, but still hoping to see that rescue ship pulling up alongside at the last moment.

So if I’ve been silent on the blog for a while, that’s why, in part. Also, I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book. And I will comment on that next. Promise.