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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Success and the Ooze of Life

Time is out of joint
Scene: Kitchen. Three women, two on the passenger side of a kitchen island. One on the cockpit side, deveining shrimp. All three are mothers. One is a professor, one is a painter of the visual artist variety, not the interior/exterior house variety, and the third is a writer. The professor is cooking. The other two are her guests. What I left out of those job descriptions is that two of the three have “and stay-at-home-mom” appended to them. Can you guess which two? That’s correct, the painter and the writer. The professor, although also a mother, doesn’t have any explanatory appendage to her job description.

What does this mean? Does it mean that being a mother isn’t part of her job? Her only job is the academic post? 

Does it mean that the painting and the writing don’t equal “real” jobs? Or that they are part-time? Maybe that, huh? 

The painter says, “I still hold myself to that Nineteen-fifties ideal.” 
I think about this. Donna Reed’s famous New Look dress and coiffed hair comes up in the brain register automatically. But is that what the painter means? She’s younger than I, and I am too young, actually, to have watched Donna Reed. Yet I know her as shorthand for 1950s housewife, cook, ever-pleasant, perfect-house, homemade-everything Mom.

The point here is that after a second, I thought maybe I needed to clarify that we were all talking about the perfect housewife, cook, cleaner, child-minder. Because this painter doesn’t look at all like Donna Reed. I'm pretty sure she's not secretly longing to change her jeans for a pouffy circle skirt and set hair, but I want to make sure she’s talking Ideal Mother. The mother who is put together herself, and keeps the whole house together and never raises her voice. Now, in the 21st Century.

Yes, the painter says, that is what she meant. And by holding herself up to that standard, she is failing: because she likes to be with her children, to take them to the park and the playground. That means she gets tired with them, and when she gets home, there is all the rest of that Ideal Mother crap to deal with. With which to deal. However, she doesn’t “really” do it. The house is messy and the meals are thrown together. So the housework is not a priority; and cooking square meals isn’t either. But still the idea that it should be hovers. She feels guilty that she’s not doing more. As if minding the children isn’t enough - well, to be exact, as if minding the children and painting isn’t enough. 

And like the writer, the painter finds it really hard to make time for painting, since the nature of childcare is that it oozes to fill all spaces. Like spray insulation. Or Silly Foam. So there is guilt about not painting enough, and guilt about not houseworking and cooking enough. And general frustration, too. Very familiar to me. 

Meanwhile, the professor. When we turn to her I say, Well at least you know if everything goes south - if your husband dies  or loses his job - you can provide for your family. I am totally dependent on mine, financially. 

Yes, says the painter. That’s another way we feel like 1950s housewives. There is tremendous guilt and inadequacy around not earning money. As good feminists, we object to this dependent status. As artists we need it, especially since were we to take on jobs, most likely teaching or something else not particularly lucrative, we would spend our non-kid hours doing work that was secondary to what we wanted to do, spend our tired hours with our kids, and turn over most of our paychecks to childcare. 

The professor says she does feel that her work is very creative and fulfilling; but it is overwhelming and nonstop, even when she comes home. So she feels stretched thin as a parent and as if she is barely getting that done. Guilt, guilt, and more guilt.

Seems to me that because her job is paid and she is accountable to others, her students and her department, that work starts to ooze around the family life that she also wants to have. So she feels overwhelmed by the demands of her work. Whereas the painter and I feel overwhelmed by the demands of the parenting work and our desire to do our personal, creative work. Because we are accountable to ourselves to do that personal work, it’s very hard to enforce the boundaries; therefore, that creative work often gets short changed. There are questions of legitimacy relating to money and to self-confidence in valuing what we do when we do it for nothing and no one for a lot of the time. That applies to the creative “work” we do as well as to the other creative stuff we do called raising children. We can’t call it work, except amongst ourselves, because it’s not considered legitimate “work” unless we earn something tangible from it like money. Or prestige. Prestige counts sometimes, too, intangible though it is. As Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in her new book, (haven’t read) and in this interview (have read), one of the major issues we face societally is that we devalue childcare, or care of any kind. So those of us who spend much of our days doing that kind of work feel crappy about ourselves. Therefore, we insist we have to also fit in a full-throttle creative kind of work, like writing or painting. Then we feel crappy about ourselves because really, caring for young children is full time work and there is just not a lot left over to do the so-called “work.” 

Bottom line: We are all stretched thin, “working” and “not-working.”  We each need to be able to institute boundaries around our time, so we can do that thing we’re supposed to do - have it all. We all need it, but life as currently structured makes it too hard to do that satisfactorily. It’s not sufficient to say we can have it all, just not at the same time; because the teeter-totter nature of balance is, well, kind of stressful.

The state of women. Is this how we want life to be? 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

5 Pieces of Advice on Success, Among Other Stuff.

Hi Readers, 

A few things on my mind this week.

1.  Take a look at my study. It’s a disaster area. Waiting for missing parts to arrive before the husband gets my new shelves up and I can finally organize my stuff. Not that I’m going to be a neatnik. It’s not in my genetics. I like some mess. But I like it organized. Organized mess.  
It's disaster, not organized mess, just mess. Dislike. 

2. I listened to a podcast called "Becoming Your Best” about success, by a father-son team of business consultants on leadership excellence or something. I think they’re Mormon, as are so many famous business coaches. I’m thinking of Stephen Covey and Clayton Christiansen in particular.  

Anyway, “Success is a mindset,” they said. And I agree. Then they trotted out 5 ways of creating a good mindset for success. I shall summarize as follows:

  1. What a blessing!  Even if you step in dog poop and track it all over your floor, say to yourself, “What a blessing.” And figure out how to make something good out of it. For example, “Now I get to practice my cleaning skills AND my patience AND my kindness towards my little beastie kick-dog.”
  2. Smile and be nice. This is simple and simpleminded. And hard to do. Be pleasant and kind, even when you want to kick someone, or your little beastie kick-dog. Because you never know where help might come from in return.
  3. Affirmations. “I’m smart, I’m healthy, and I feel terrific.” Or similar.
  4. Positive self-talk. Related to affirmations, but more in depth, talking yourself out of negativity and giving encouragement. Duh. 
  5. Delete critical or negative thoughts. Gee, thanks, I never thought of that. Poof! They are gone.

So nothing new here. In fact, most of it you’ll find in Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People,. This, I may have mentioned (I have) is one of the original success books, from the 1920s. If you add in Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, you’ll definitely get all that advice, and that was written before 1960. 

Is this repetitive advice-giving a problem? Well, the lack of attribution bothers the hell - bothers the heck out of - bothers me. On the other hand, maybe this advice counts as general knowledge by now and so attribution is unnecessary. After all, I do agree that success is a mindset and therefore, the next step is to achieve that mindset. And I agree because I have read it about a bazillion times as well as have experienced it myself. And these five things do help create a positive mindset, and a positive mindset helps to create positive results. Furthermore, if you’re in a snit or stressed out, and you have to perform, i.e. interact with people, either on stage, at work, at home, out in public, then you do sometimes need to have a few tricks ready to psych yourself up and put that snit aside. 

However, these five pieces of advice don’t work all the time. And they smack of feelings-stuffing. Feelings-stuffing leads to internal emotional bleeding, depression, divorce, and internal ticking time-bombs. I do not advocate feelings-stuffing as a lifestyle choice. How could I, product of as much psychotherapy as I am? Feelings-stuffing is not the healthy, long-term way of working with your mindset. However, if you’re frustrated because you’re running late for a speaking engagement, get pulled over for speeding, and get stuck with a big fat ticket and you get grumpy, feelings-stuffing is just fine, to get you ready to march out there and give your speech. 

Then you need to go home and no, you may not pop a Valium or drink a tumbler of scotch. You need to debrief and get acquainted with your stuffed feelings. Deal with them more thoroughly. Acknowledge them and scratch them behind their little ears. Then they will sleep peacefully at your feet and you will have cleared some space for your mindset to improve. And you won’t want to kick them.

By the way, I described this podcast to the 12th Grader, and she said, “They sound like the kind of people you would avoid at a party.” Which I thought was accurate. And I hadn’t even mentioned how they both punctuated everything they said with fake laughter. 

3. The husband wants us to get rid of our land line phone. I am attached to the land line phone. Something about having a single number to reach the family. Something about remembering being on Martha’s Vineyard when Agnew resigned and the house where we stayed had a party line. A party line. Readers, do you remember party lines? Where you might pick up your handset and discover that someone else was on the phone, someone in another house, someone you didn’t know? And you could listen in on both sides of the conversation? Rock Hudson and Doris Day fell in love because of one, in “Pillow Talk”. It’s a cute film, and not entirely sexist because Doris Day is a successful business woman who is more than equal to flibbertigibbet Rock. Nevertheless, I don’t miss party lines. But I do miss my copper wire land line. I could always depend on it to work, even during a power outage. Like most everyone now, we get almost no calls except sales calls on our land line, and we pay a fortune for it, along with Internet and TV. In fact, it’s not actually a land line anymore, since its a fiber optic cable line and therefore subject to the same interruptions in service as our Internet. This means that my old feeling of security that we can always count on our land line to work is a false feeling of security. 

In short, I have few if any rational reasons to hang onto the land line. And then yesterday, I left my cellphone somewhere, and I used my house phone to call my cell phone and located it between the seats of my car, thereby providing me with one last reasonable excuse for having the house line. The other excuse, which I’m not sure is reasonable, is that the idea that each person gets his or her separate calls on his or her cell phone makes me feel all sad and splintery. Further disintegration of the nuclear family and so forth. Plus, how can a mom maintain effective nosiness if all phone calls go to personal cell phones? Not that kids actually speak on the phone much. Most of their conversations already go to their individual devices via texts. So this is just another way of holding on to something outmoded. And paying dearly for it. 

4. Finally, I bought a selfie-stick for the iPhone. This has been the cause of much put-upon sighing by my teens, and I don’t really know why. What is so wrong with a selfie-stick, I ask you? After all, I’m of a certain age, the Blanche Dubois age, when I look better in soft light - and at a longer distance than my own arm’s length. This is something about which they know naught. Poor things. 
Another view of my chaotic, transitional office. And hair. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

2 to 4 Tips for Handling Fear of Failure or Success: Plus the Lipizzaner Leap

I realized I have more to say about fear of failure or success or whatever it is I fear. Whether it’s fear of failure or fear of success I am dealing with - or you, Readers, are dealing with - there is a strategy  to help you cope. I think of it as dads' words of wisdom. That's "dads" plural, because I'm thinking of   my father-in-law (FIL), who once said to me, “This too shall pass.” This was in response to my unmitigated despair over some annoying toddler phase of my firstborn child. "This too shall pass" is not only a saying, it's also a cliché. These clichéd sayings slip by you unnoticed, or they did me, until at some point, all at once, they seemed to have real meaning. For instance, when my FIL said that, it struck with the full force of its meaning. Cuz you know clichés, they have a grain of truth - that old cliché. Well, all of a sudden, sproing! there was the truth, and it was less of a grain and more of a diamond. This, too, shall pass. God, was that comforting. 

So apply that one to your situation, if you’re afraid of failure. If you’re waiting for something to happen, like an editor to buy your proposal, apply it like a salve to your vivid imaginings of failure: there you are - failed - again - at some unspecified time in the future. You are humiliated, depressed, despairing. But it will pass. It shall pass. Therefore, be not afraid.

Don't like that one? Well how ‘bout this dad-ism: You’re putting the cart before the horse. This saying I attribute to my dad. It might be useful applied to fear of success. Now, I can’t actually recall a situation in which my dad said this, but he implied it often. It’s one of those, “Whoa, whoa, slow down kid, don’t get carried away with any great expectations” kind of statements, which I think he did make. Too many times, actually. But whatever. That’s why there is therapy. But my point, Readers, is that in this situation of waiting, fearing failure or success or whatever it is you might be fearing, remember that you are thinking about something that hasn’t happened. You haven’t yet succeeded. Nor, as in the previous worrying scenario, have you yet failed. You are simply putting the cart before the horse, which is stupid and will get you nowhere. Although if the horse is smart, she’ll make a Lipizzaner side-step and get the heck out of there. But that’s another story, about horses, not about carts and worries. 

Now’s the time to get all philosophical. If I’m not supposed to put the cart before the horse, and I’m supposed to remember that this, too, shall pass, how do I spend my time while waiting? My philosophy skews Buddhist, but I’m not going to tell you to meditate. No, this bit of advice is straight out of Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.  Here’s the trick.  “Shut the iron doors on the past and the future. Live in Day-tight compartments.”  He says this right in chapter one.

Live in day-tight compartments. That’s self-explanatory, don’t you think? Focus on today, now, not what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. 

But I will go on. Because I think that living in day-tight compartments is easier said than done (cliche). What if, like me, you manage to shut a few worries in with you in your day-tight compartment? And they're buzzing around you like bees at a picnic? Well, be like Heraclitus and remember that you never step in the same river twice. Every moment is different. Remember this too shall pass, do not put that cart before that horse, and - remember that this is the only moment over which you have any control. So focus on this moment. This moment. Oops. That moment is now gone. Focus on this moment. The present moment. Over and over and over again. What are you doing right in this present moment? That is all that matters. The rest takes care of itself. 

So, once again, I believe I have touched on fear and anxiety and worry once or twice on this blog, and at least several times in this single post. But that is okay. I'm okay, and you're okay. I also think I've offered three tips for handling fear of failure, success, or life in general so far. And I'm not finished! More tips ahead!

Let's get back to that side-stepping Lipizzaner for a second. If the iron clad, day-tight compartments and the dad-isms don’t work for you, try side-stepping your worry. Distract yourself. Do something that keeps you busy and preoccupied and stops you from thinking about your worry. Write a blog post on a worry related to your worry, but less worrisome to discuss than your actual worry. This may or may not be a strategy I'm employing RIGHT NOW. 

Ahem. College. Daughter. Applications. Future. 

Now, in case you’re concerned about my worrying, Readers, do not be. I am now fully embracing my inner (and outer) worrier because the fact of my worrying proves I am a creative genius. According to this article:  

Okay, “proves” might be too strong a word. “Suggests” or “indicates” or “correlates with the possibility” or “somewhat points towards the possibility that” I am a creative genius. So that’s something, right? We'll get to that another day. I've been reading a lot about creativity of late. Meantime, here are some pretty, distracting horses:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What's a Title Going to Do For You?

Think of headlines as promises; they're meant to draw in prospective readers so that they can access information that is of some benefit to them, whether it's entertaining, instructional, helpful, or insightful. Catchy headlines allow you to deliver on a promise and impress your readers. If your content delivers on a promise in your headline, you'll create loyal readers out of casual browsers. - (Bloglovin Blog 10/7/15)

I read that this morning on one of my social media conglomeration sites with helpful tips on “growing your blog” and “writing catchy headlines.” 

Headlines and titles. I really suck at writing them. I must. Otherwise, wouldn’t my blog have thousands of subscribers by now? I mean, hello? My content is entertaining and one could derive some instruction from it. Sometimes. If one tried and was able to read between the lines. Giving away stuff via blogs is very big. You've got to give to get is one of those mantras you see repeated on social media expert’s blogs. Headlines and titles are supposed to, apparently, suggest just what it is you the writer might be giving the reader. Well, headlines and titles are bugbears for me. 

1. Write Great HeadlinesOne of the best (and first) things you can do to increase clicks to your post is to create engaging headlines that draw in readers. Your headline is the forefront to your post, and therefore the first thing readers will see when scrolling by. You could create the absolute best blog post in the world, but not get any views if your headline doesn't fit the part. Your headline should answer two big questions for readers: "what is the post about?" and more importantly, "how does this benefit me?" Here are some headline strategies that work: Starting with "how to" / How to Grow Your Followers Faster Starting with a number / 4 Recipes You Need to Try Caps for emphasis / DON'T Read This Post Talking to your reader directly / You Need to See This Asking a question / Are You Doing This?  Positive and negative superlatives Positives: best, greatest, do / The Best Meal You'll Ever Eat Negatives: worst, least, don't / Don't Travel Without These 5 Essentials   Here are some examples of effective headlines: The Key to Living a Happier Life 4 Ways To Wake Up With Perfect Hair The Minimal Wardrobe: Developing Personal Style One Simple Thing Anyone Can Do to Have a Better Day 50 Books Everyone Should Read (Also from Bloglovin Blog 10/7/15)
In short, a good headline or title should suggest that your content will be at least one of the following: 
  • entertaining
  • insightful
  • instructional
  • helpful
And, a good title or headline will do the following:
  • answer: what is this post about AND how will it benefit reader?

My most popular posts, according to Google Analytics, are “My Mayan Apocalypse Blog Post,”  “Featuring My Voice on the Huffington Post,” and running a distant third, “Einstein’s Definition of Success.”  

Let's look at my most popular post. "My Mayan Apocalypse Blog Post" must fit some of these criteria. Or at least one. Look closely. Does this title suggest the post will be:

Helpful? Perhaps readers might think it will be. (It will not be, of course.) 
Insightful? Absolutely, yes, sure, uh-huh. (Actually, I can’t remember.) 
Instructional? That title definitely contains no suggestion that it might be. Although, who knows? Maybe people desperately afraid of the Mayan Apocalypse are desperate enough to look anywhere for help. (Again, not intentionally instructional, just as it’s not intentionally helpful). 
Which leaves Entertaining. Perhaps it is suggestive of being entertaining. (I hope it is.) 

You know, I can’t understand the continued popularity of this post, considering that the Mayan Apocalypse was scheduled for December 2012. That was nearly three years ago. Go figure. 

Anyway, there was some kind of magic in that headline, Readers, and I would love to snag it for all my headlines. 

For example, this recent post has a terrible headline: “Willpower and Success: Yom Kippur Fast.” 
That is really bad. I mean, it’s clear, which is good. And it relates to the content of the piece, which is also good. I guess. But it is boring, isn't it? Furthermore, this title tells the reader nothing about what reading this post will do for him or her.  

After some consideration, I think a better title would be

Try Fasting to Increase Willpower: Yom Kippur as a Key to Success.


How is Yom Kippur Your Key to Success? 

Or how about 

What Can Judaism Do For You?

This says nothing about success, though. Let’s toss that one out. After all, what CAN Judaism do for you? I don’t know.

How about

1 Simple Way Yom Kippur Can Help You Succeed

After another read-through of my post, I think another option would be:

Harnessing Sibling Rivalry, Redemption, and Competition to Strengthen Willpower 

Or, how about this one: 

What a Little Harmless Competition with Your Teenaged Daughters Can do for YOU 

What do you guys think? 

I also read that every post should have a great photo. So here is one: 
Image by PRPA 2015