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Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Few More Tips Regarding Success

Once again I've produced one of those catch-all posts that really have nothing to do with success, but are illustrative of what is distracting me from actual, measurable, success. I probably shouldn't say that, especially not in the first sentence. I probably should let you read on a bit, trying to figure out what the hell plastic surgery, mono, and potting sheds have to do with success.

Answer? Well, if you're creative, then you can probably find some kind of connection. After all, aren't we all interconnected and breathing molecules of Einstein and all that jazz? Yes, yes, we are.

So. Now that I've gotten that out, here are a few thoughts on the week, or success, or whatever.

I finally understand about potting sheds. Given: They are quaint, and desirable in an Anglophiliac way. Well, apparently, they are also pertinent and useful. To plants, for sure, and also to me. Apparently, plants need to be repotted regularly. I did not know this because until recently, I hadn't successfully raised plants. Probably because I did not ever repot them. Then I acquired an excellent kitchen windowsill, and subsequently, several plants. And now I understand. I went to the adorable plant store in Troy to find a nice pot for my wandering jew, and the pots were so expensive that I paused to wonder to the nice guy behind the counter if there was a way to keep a plant from outgrowing its expensive pot. The nice guy told me that there was no way to stop a plant from growing - except a bonsai - so you have to repot them. The alternative is letting them starve in their nutrient-poor old soil and eventually keel over. And now I wish I had a potting shed, because I can see how one acquires a collection of pots and needs a place to store them and the soil and the spades and whatnot, someplace more picturesque and intentional than the edge of the patio next to a shrubbery. I left the store with no pot, by the way. I wondered, not for the first time, how such darling stores as this botanical store stay in business. Maybe it's because plants keep growing and you can always snip off a little bit and root it and sell it in a cute, teeny-tiny pot that is so irresistible that a guilt-ridden plant momma like me will start down a path from windowsill to potting shed and keep you going.

Clarification: I have no shed, no potting shed, and no plans for a potting shed. Just dreams....

In other news, here's a tip. Don't - I mean do not - ask a plastic surgeon what he thinks of your face. I really shouldn't have to tell you this. You really ought to know better. However, I did, but I did anyway, and now I pay the consequences. Because I cant' pay for the  treatments he suggested. So I'm performing a public service here by reminding you of what you already know, because I already knew it, but did it anyway, and saving you money. And face. Saving you face, too.

Just remind yourself that people like you, and some even love you and find you attractive, even with your sunken, aging eyes.

If you want to run a successful feminist Instagram account, you must make sure to find an administrator for it when you go away for three plus weeks to attend camp. That is what the 13-year-old did. First she started this account (@a.b.c.d.e.f.eminist) and it developed a lot of followers. Then she found an administrator. Curious as to how she managed this, and why she even knew how to do it -or knew TO do it, we asked. Most of our questions are unanswerable; rather, they are answerable by understanding that the youth internalize the social media rules by osmosis. But she could tell us how she found her administrator. She announced to her followers that she had to take a break and asked for people interested in being "the admin" to DM (that's direct-message) her their name, age, and why they want to be the admin.

The husband and I looked at each other. This is a child who doesn't put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder unless instructed.

So how old was your admin, we asked?
20, she said.
I cast a glance at the husband that said, "Who is this strangely self-assured child and can we take any credit for her. He cast a glance back at me that said, "My, my, my."
Do your followers know you are 13? we asked.
No, I keep that to myself, she said, and added, Being 13 and a feminist on the Internet you're not going to get that much respect.



Finally, because my self-esteem is reasonable these days, and I feel more like a successful person than a failure, I have withstood the following recent blows with only minor catastrophizing:

  • The 16-year-old's roommates at her dance program developing mono and going home.
  • The air conditioner in the car dying and needing $1,000.00 of repairs.
  • The dog showing evidence of exposure to Lyme Disease at his annual exam.
  • The mysterious appearance of water in one part of the garage at the same time as a leaking pipe in the basement AND a leaking shower head. 
Come to think of it, I don't think "catastrophizing" and "minor" belong in the same sentence. It is more accurate to say that I only briefly indulged in anxious catastrophizing. Then I righted myself. That is a sign of mental health. These things have all happened in the passage of a week - in the passage of three days for the majority of them. The week before our summer vacation, I might add. Which means I will spend the vacation observing the 16-year-old for symptoms of mono and waiting for the kennel to call to tell me the dog is sick. Ah, life.

On the plus side, I was shocked in a good way to learn that a friend of mine has pierced a part of her anatomy that I would never have expected ANYone to pierce. Any woman. A man couldn't. Ah, life. So what if the eyes are sunken and aging? We are lucky to grow old. I will remember that.

I leave you with that, Readers. I hope to entertain, if not edify.

Monday, July 27, 2015

What Matters: Success is Not a Zero-Sum Proposition

Hello, Readers, I am your typical white liberal, outraged by the latest news about police brutality. I’m also aware that all this media attention is revealing a longstanding problem, not a recent phenomenon. As upsetting as it is to face, I am grateful for the attention I’ve been forced to pay to structural racism. As a white woman, I don’t expect to be profiled by the police, except, perhaps, if there is a profile for white, suburban moms jacked up on anti-anxiolytics. This profile would be totally unfair, because I am not, at this time, jacked up on anything, although half a Xanax helped me through a dental ordeal just this morning. 

However, I do have plenty of concern that were I to be unfairly profiled and pulled over, I can expect condescending, one-upping treatment by the police. Uncivil treatment by civil servants who are probably underpaid and demoralized by their underpayment and cuts in benefits, and who are pretty tightly wound is the standard expectation. It happened to me the last time I encountered the police with my automobile. I was a teenager then, and when I said I wanted to speak to my parents, the cop in DC raised his voice and intimidated me. Still, I don’t drive around with that worry that I’ll be handcuffed and thrown on the ground and tased. Or killed. I can’t really wrap my mind around the horror of feeling that way all the time. It’s unforgivable that our culture accepts this. 

For this reason, the 13-year-old and I put a Black Lives Matter sign in our front yard. We live in a very white suburb, and it’s not entirely liberal, so I’m watching with interest to see what, if anything happens. I’m reporting this because I think it’s something I can do to register that I’m seeing the injustice that’s happening, and you can do it, too, Readers. I’m reporting it because I believe that lifting up the downtrodden helps all of us. Success is not a zero-sum proposition. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Mensch Theory of Success, College, Camp, and Death

So between last week and this week I have traversed a hilly winding road of ups and downs. There was the winding road North to Maine to pick up the 13-year-old from camp. This involved a fun dinner with the husband’s college friend and his wife and children, highlights of which included a brief explanation of Herodotus in relation to success and happiness. Then there was the reunion with the 13-year-old, who was happy to see us, but wanted to stay at camp. This was as I had hoped. I had prepared for utter dejection, because that was how I left camp every year, wallowing in misery over leaving my dear friends behind, tears streaming down my face as the Dodge Dart bumped along the camp’s dirt road and my father eyed me in the rear view mirror. The 13-year-old was much more self-contained (naturally). She reported a sob-fest had happened the night before, so what we witnessed was exhausted depression. She found her people at camp, and they are theater people. And now, according to her, she has nothing to look forward to at all this year, until camp next year. 

There was the decided down of visiting our accountant. This was an appointment I had dreaded for months, and the husband and I had to really get our budget on paper beforehand. The upshot is that we, like most people we know, are among the privileged group of folk who will be expected to pay the full tuition, room, and board at any private college our children wish to attend. And, like most of them, we can’t do that out of pocket. While our parents could swing it for us, we can’t do it for our children, and that feels like failure. If it is, however, then it is failure for the majority of Americans. So I think it’s something else. All that talk about stagnant wages and real income remaining about the same since the 1970s has come home to roost. The percentage of total income that a private college cost when I went to college was much smaller than it is now. Because I have spent most of my life not talking about money nor wanting to think about it, I don’t really understand why this is, but my suspicion is that public and economic policy has a lot to do with it. I’m hopeful that things will change by the time our children’s children want to go to college, but it won’t happen for my children. 

I have to admit I feel really embarrassed writing that last paragraph. Talking about money is something I was brought up to avoid. But this has been on my mind, and it’s on so many people’s minds, that I thought I’d dip a toe in the topic. 

Well, Readers, this post hasn’t been funny at all. I apologize. I’m off my meds. Or something. Maybe.

So let’s return up the winding road to that conversation over dinner in Maine. The husband’s friend is a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) with an interest in the Classics, married to a doctor, so he is in some ways my male counterpart. When I asked him how he defined success a few years ago, he referred to the following passage in Herodotus, which led me to derive my “mensch theory of success,” the basis of which is that if, when you die, people think you were a good person, then you are successful. On this visit we returned to the topic and I asked him where to find the story, since there are several volumes of Herodotus, and as much as I am interested in the classics, and as thankful as I am for the translations readily available through the Internet Archives, I had been a bit overwhelmed trying to find it by myself. 

So this is about King Croesus, who was very rich. You may have heard that phrase “rich as Croesus.” This is that guy. And he thought he had it pretty good. He was successful and happy. Until he met a wandering sage from Athens called Solon. After showing Solon all his store rooms of gold, which he could have used to help send many deserving children to the private colleges of their hearts’ desires, if such places existed in Ancient Greece, Croesus asks Solon, according to Herodotus, the following:

Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through many lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore to inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy?" This he asked because he thought himself the happiest of mortals: but Solon answered him without flattery, according to his true sentiments, "Tellus of Athens, sire." Full of astonishment at what he heard, Croesus demanded sharply, "And wherefore dost thou deem Tellus happiest?" To which the other replied, "First, because his country was flourishing in his days, and he himself had sons both beautiful and good, and he lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up; and further because, after a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbours near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours." 

Thus did Solon admonish Croesus by the example of Tellus, enumerating the manifold particulars of his happiness. When he had ended, Croesus inquired a second time, who after Tellus seemed to him the happiest, expecting that at any rate, he would be given the second place. "Cleobis and Bito," Solon answered; "they were of Argive race; their fortune was enough for their wants, and they were besides endowed with so much bodily strength that they had both gained prizes at the Games. Also this tale is told of them:- There was a great festival in honour of the goddess Juno at Argos, to which their mother must needs be taken in a car. Now the oxen did not come home from the field in time: so the youths, fearful of being too late, put the yoke on their own necks, and themselves drew the car in which their mother rode. Five and forty furlongs did they draw her, and stopped before the temple. This deed of theirs was witnessed by the whole assembly of worshippers, and then their life closed in the best possible way. Herein, too, God showed forth most evidently, how much better a thing for man death is than life. For the Argive men, who stood around the car, extolled the vast strength of the youths; and the Argive women extolled the mother who was blessed with such a pair of sons; and the mother herself, overjoyed at the deed and at the praises it had won, standing straight before the image, besought the goddess to bestow on Cleobis and Bito, the sons who had so mightily honoured her, the highest blessing to which mortals can attain. Her prayer ended, they offered sacrifice and partook of the holy banquet, after which the two youths fell asleep in the temple. They never woke more, but so passed from the earth. The Argives, looking on them as among the best of men, caused statues of them to be made, which they gave to the shrine at Delphi."  

So it looks to me like my Mensch Theory of Success needs some refining. From this passage we deduce that the happy person 
  • lives a good life, 
  • is a valiant warrior, 
  • has enough money to meet his or her needs, 
  • and dies a noble death. 

To these characteristics, I have to add one more. Since this passage is about happiness, but the husband's friend, the SAHD classicist, brought it up when I asked how he defined success, happiness is success.  

But you won't ever really know you've attained it because you won't attain it until you're dead. 

Have a nice weekend. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

#TBT - Times Flies and All That

Yesterday I stopped at the local health food store, but it had moved. It was only on the other side of the building it had been in, so I found it just fine. I walked in and there was the clear-skinned, gray-haired health food lady who is usually there. (Age indeterminate; skin fabulous. Lots of kale, presumably.) I greeted her and commented that I hadn’t been in the new location. “You must’ve just moved,” I said.  

“Actually, we’ve been in this location for a year.” She gave me the littlest of quizzical looks. A quizicallette look. 

A year? Jeezus.  I know that times flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana and here today gone tomorrow and all that jazz, but that is ridiculous. At that rate, my life will be over tomorrow. 

A year. It seems like just the other month I went in that store looking for eggs but they were out of them.  Well, it was another month, twelve months or so ago. 

Twelve months ago, where were you? Apparently, I was here. What was I doing? Well, here’s little window into my life exactly a year ago. 

The Lingerie of Success (July 16, 2014)

I’m having such a block about writing a blog post, Readers. I don’t know why. That’s not entirely true. I do know why, in part. Because of me. Me and my tendency to lock myself up in internal conflict. Which is why I began this success blog – to unlock myself. That I’m still prone to locked internal conflict these many months – okay, let’s be honest, years – later, is discouraging. To put it mildly. 

I’ve just come home from our local coffee house, the one with dozens of Dave Matthews Band posters framed along the walls, the one with the sunny back room and the darker, cooler front room, and the patio, with the music and the wifi and the mellow vibe. I had coffee there with a new acquaintance, let's call her Kay. Kay graduated a few years ahead of me from my alma mater. We met a few weeks ago at a local alumnae gathering. I was discussing whether I wanted to continue writing or go in a new direction, maybe back to school for a Ph.D in Positive Psychology, or an MSW, to become a therapist. And she invited me out for a coffee to talk about changing tracks, which she had done. She completed her Ph.D about four years ago. 

Her take on the Ph.D: don't do it unless you really need it. 

Do I really need it? No.

Of course, eventually, I asked her how she defines success. “To be happy where you are in your life,” she said. After a second, she added, “But I don’t think many people define it that way.”  She told me one of her classmates wouldn’t contribute to class notes for the alumnae magazine until she worked for the State Department, because she didn’t feel like her life had been worthy of note. When she got that State Department job, however, she began contributing. She wrote things like,“My husband and I travelled to Far Off Place with the State Department. Our daughter is in private school in New England.” While these things were technically true, they finessed a couple of important details. Such as, that this woman was a secretary at the State Department, not Under-Secretary of State. Such as, that the daughter did attend private school in New England, but it wasn’t a fancy prep school, it was a school for disturbed students. Minor details adjusted to make her life sound golden.

We mused on why our education did this to us – created this need to come across as successful in a particular way. We came to no conclusions. However, I did recently listen to a Philosophy Bites podcast about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social philosophy. Apparently Rousseau, writing back in the  mid 1700s, believed that to feel good about one’s self, one needed to have self-love (self-esteem) and the approval and admiration of others. Amour de soi and amour propre, to use Rousseau’s terminology. It’s French, after all, and you know how I’m into French Chic. So here’s an example of success chic, dating all the way back to before the Revolution. An eternal and classic definition of the underpinnings of success. The lingerie of success, one might even say. Amour de soi and amour propre. The French chic definition of success. Times and fashions may change, but this is eternal, apparently. Just like French style. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Day 2

Readers, I have a few things to get off my chest.

  • It’s raining. Again.
  • Something died in the wall between the mudroom/entry and the dining room. again. and the smell drifts up the laundry chute into our bedroom, which is located above the dining room. Again.
  • My hair is frizzing. AGAIN.
Meanwhile, the husband and I are waiting for the phone to ring. The 13-year-old is scheduled to call home from camp for a fifteen minute check in. We haven’t heard from her since she left a week ago, although we do see pictures of her on the camp’s website almost every day. 

Every day. Because, suddenly, I have so much free time. 

Speaking of reasons for which - last week after dropping off the 16-year-old at her summer dance intensive, I had dinner with some relatives who live nearby, my father’s first cousin, his son, and his grandson. My first cousin once-removed, my second cousin, and my second-cousin once removed, I think. 

Dad? Anyone? Bueller? 

They are living the life - and by The Life I mean the life where the family and extended family get along. In The Life they more than get along, they like each other and work together in a business. And live near one another. This closeness is something I’ve always wanted and never managed. My only hope, really, is my immediate family, the one I created, with the husband and the children and some friends. I hope the children will want to be near and close to us when they grow up and leave. 

I am going to ask my first cousin once removed and his wife for their advice the next time I see them, which will be soon, fortunately. They plan to attend the 16-year-old's performance at the end of the dance intensive.

Meantime, I have two more weeks to think about what it’s going to be like with an empty nest. Since this weekend, the husband and I and Milo the dog took a day trip that included a hike and a restaurant and sleeping in the car (Milo) and selfies, I am pretty sure it’s going to involve dogs in a way that might seem gross and annoying to non-dog lovers. (My second cousin, I noticed, has two dogs, now that his two children have grown up and moved out, even though his son lives near to him and works with him.) We felt proud of ourselves for filling our day without children.

But I digress. As I sat at dinner with the cousins, I found myself asked many questions about my life and my blog and my writing, and before I knew it, I was telling them - without embarrassment, without shame, and just in a regular sort of way, about my writing schedule, that I have an agent and a book proposal. This is big for me, I realized. I have admitted to having, first, a proposal, then an agent. I have admitted to having dreams, goals, and to putting effort towards realizing them. 

What this means is that I have actually succeeded in redefining success for myself - and living the redefinition. I have finally answered the question that started my whole success search. 

What was that question?  The question was whether I could unhook my definition of success from publication. That was the question my old therapist asked me. Threatened me with, actually. She said if I couldn't, I risked ruining my marriage, my children, and my life. 

So dramatic. Yes, but true. I was so single-pointed about success, like Tiger Woods, that nothing else seemed to register and I felt like a failure. 

At the time, that question seemed like her way of telling me I would never get published. Her way of trying to make me see the truth that she saw about my failure. But I interpret it differently now. Now that I think of success as process - that old jalopy built on several key parts: motherhood, marriage, community, friendship, volunteering, financial security, and so on- I feel successful as long as I'm moving. I still have that overarching goal of publication, but I am celebrating the small steps, the mini-goals I achieve. 

In the past, admitting to trying without knowing if I would succeed was just too embarrassing to contemplate. I felt like people would roll their eyes and snort in disdain if I dared to admit to this wish. I used to feel like I had to keep the big goal secret. The mini-steps, too. All that effort, which might end up with no result embarrassed me. I felt ashamed to admit to any of it. This amounted to stifling myself. And having nothing to talk about at dinner with relative strangers. 

In short, I had a very results-oriented approach to goals and success. I had a fixed-mindset about success, as opposed to what I have now, a growth mindset. (Thank you, Carol Dweck, for changing my mindset.) 

So, yes, I have found a way to feel successful without having a published book. And because of that, I can share my small victories. I appreciate them for themselves, and don't discount them because the ultimate goal is still uncertain. I appreciate that this moment and this smaller accomplishment is worth it in itself, because I’ve worked hard. And also, because, let’s face it, life is short and uncertain and today is the only day we have at hand. So I might as well appreciate it.