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Friday, December 23, 2016

Power, Money, and Prestige

Readers, I want to be clear about something. I have nothing against power, money, and prestige (PM&P). To be honest, I admit that I feel around exemplars of PM&P similar to the way I feel around celebrities. That is, I don’t want to show that I’m super excited to see them. I don’t want to show anyone around me, nor do I want to show myself, either. 

That had to be said. I mean, really. Who can resist PM&P completely? And why should they be resisted? We all probably agree that some combination of PM&P, if not all three, is a recognizable type of success. However, here’s the thing. PM&P is not to be courted directly. Not for real, lasting success. PM&P are all very well, but not as ends in themselves. They’re okay as offshoots. Like ATP in the Krebs Cycle. Or happiness. Happiness is another thing you can’t really seek directly. It’s a byproduct of worthwhile activity and general life choices and mindset. Same with PM&P. Don’t take it from me, though. Take it from people with PM&P. To a one they’ll tell ya they weren’t gunning for that stuff. They were pursuing their interests, interests that also aligned with benefiting others, usually, and weren’t at all hung up on success, or PM&P. 

I realize you are actually “taking it from me” even though I say not to. Because you are reading my words. But presumably you get my drift. I could name a couple people I know who have PM&P and tell you what they’ve made or done and why. And it wasn’t simply because they wanted to win, or to have everyone think they are the greatest, or to have enough money to smother Kellyann Conway. They earned it by being invested in work that was meaningful to them, and by excelling at that work. Adam Grant talks about this in Give and Take, which is still on my mind. While both givers and takers can amass PM&P, the takers often go down in a tremendous fall. Grant talks about Enron Corporation and its disgraced head Jeffrey Skilling being a big taker. He certainly amassed PM&P, but then it all fell apart and he was left with notoriety. Food for thought these days, no?

Related to this, although at this moment I can’t remember why, is my conversation with my friend A. It was all so clear while I was walking the dog. Then I lived out the rest of my day, with shopping and driving people places and an a senseless political argument on Facebook with an obdurate and rude person who I unfriended, and now I’ve lost the sense of what I wanted to say. Anyway, A and I were talking about dealing with competitive feelings. It’s easy to get into a state, when comparing yourself with others, by assuming their lives are much better than yours and that somehow they have some secret to handling life that you are desperate to get in on - and at the same time are desperate to avoid letting them know you feel desperate about that. However, A said, that moment you allow yourself to talk openly to a friend and you learn that she is just as concerned about her child’s strange behavior as you are about yours, you realize you are not the only one with those uncomfortable feelings. You realize we are all just trying to make it through, and we all have our challenges.  

Which reminds me of a conversation with the college student about the book The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas. This book is about the pressure everyone, especially teenagers, feels to present a happy, polished self on social media. Then, because they all read everyone else’s social media feeds, they feel bad because their lives don’t feel as happy as their friends’ curated online lives make them out to be. 

I pointed out that this is an old problem - or a natural tendency - the tendency to show different selves to different people and in different situations. The difference now is that those things are made concrete on social media. 

The cure is honesty. Focusing on meaning and purpose. Forgetting about PM&P. Anne Lamott might call it “radical honesty.” I'm not that touchy-feely, though. That phrase - blech. However, the point is, recognizing that we don’t have to go around bleeding on just everyone, but that we do need a few close friends and family members who we feel comfortable dripping on every now and then. When we let them bleed on us, too, then we can face those things that make us insecure, the things that make us long for PM&P. Because let's be real. That hankering after those things is about insecurity. Even though we can all look around and see a shining example of a person with PM&P who, nevertheless, needs to trash the people around him, we still too easily delude ourselves into thinking if we had just a bit more, we wouldn't worry so much. For most of us, that's just not true. 

In closing, I would like to offer the following ideas about success, courtesy of a young person. Then I will dismount my high horse. 

  • Success is about achieving goals. But it is also about more than that. 
  • Success is about being happy. But maybe that’s not exactly true.
  • Success is filling the void with friends. 

Add to those my maxim, “It is almost always better to exercise.” 
Eat in moderation. 

You (and by you I mean me) are now well set up to enjoy the holidays. See you in 2017. May it be a better year than 2016.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

It Takes More Than a Dollar to Save a Dollar

So. I bought these new boots a couple of months ago. Just this week, I finally got around to buying some of that waterproofing spray for them. At the shoe establishment - a national chain - DSW - I found not one but two kinds of waterproofing spray. One can was large and fat and cost $5.99. One can was slender and shorter and cost $12.99.

 “What’s the difference?” I asked the cashier, who was both tall and slender, and he said, “That one’s better. It lasts longer.” 

Which one do you think he pointed out?  That’s right, the more expensive one. So I picked it up. Yes, I was about to buy it. But then something broke through in my brain. A little voice inside me doubted. A little voice inside me said, Hope, don't fall for the fake news. So I picked up the cheaper spray and read the label. No warning about reapplying frequently or anything like that. Just a cocktail of noxious chemicals. Just like the ones the more expensive bottle promised to spray into the air. 

Reader, I bought it. I bought the cheaper spray. There's lesson in there for all of us. Something along the lines of how much harder it is to save a dollar than to spend one. That’s because it takes more than a dollar to save a dollar. Unless you’re a kid who gets an allowance. But to earn enough money to save a dollar can take a lot of money. So don’t waste it. Something like that. 

In other news -
It’s hard, but I’m breaking my social media habit. Things got a bit too compulsive with me and Twitter over the last couple of weeks. I got into a thing with a couple of trolls. This led to a long conversation with a conservative man that caused me to spend a lot of time researching facts to combat his fake news take on things. In the end, the conversation was overtaking my brain, and while the arguing and the research were helpful to me because they forced me to express myself clearly - not to mention to read the news closely - ultimately, it was a waste of time. He went his way, I went mine. Nobody changes anybody's mind unless they're ready to change. And I decided I need to get off Twitter. 

One of things this guy said was that he read a couple of my blog pieces. After he read a couple of my blog posts, he said he recommended I call what I’m defining something other than success. According to him, I’m not talking about success as much as I’m talking about love or something else. He pointed me to some guy with some theory about levels of love. I ignored it, because he was being very unloving about immigrants and I was busy sending him links to Pew Research articles. 

I suppose this guy was trying to be helpful. I suppose he meant it as a nice gesture, but I couldn’t help thinking that this guy totally missed the point. If I call what I’m defining something other than success then I’m no longer redefining success. Now, he was a commercial real estate developer, which means - and I here stereotype freely - that he has that traditional, old-school, money+ power +prestige definition of success. You know, the one that was crushing me until I figured out a way to feel successful without those things. At least some of the time. But I do see what he means. 

I’ve certainly thought about the issue. Am I actually really talking about success, or am I talking about improving quality of life, or creating meaning or happiness? Well, I’m talking about all of those things. But I am also talking about success. As in, a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of purposefulness, a methodology for pursuing goals and a system of living that contributes to all of those things. And here’s the thing. Even if I’m a canary in the coal mine of the dark and murky future, I know it’s more important than ever to sing my little song. 

So. Let’s tawk, Readers, about the key to success of having like-minded others who act as loving mirrors for you. I mentioned this in passing last week, when talking about Adam Grant and how he focuses on collaboration and other skills that lead to the greatest success. Collaboration is actually different than having loving mirrors. Collaboration means working together towards a common goal. Cultivating like-minded others means accepting help from others to help you reach your goal, and doing that for others in return. 

One thing that works quite often is establishing a regular gathering of these like-minded others. Entrepreneurs do this. Benjamin Franklin did this. Napoleon Hill recommended (men) start Mastermind groups. As I’ve mentioned, I have a monthly conference call with a couple of like-minded women. We have been meeting over the fiber optic cables for over five years now. Each of us has her individual goals, and we report on them to one another, offer each other support, suggestions, pep-talks, or ideas as needed. As you know, I’ve been through ups and downs. Well, we all have. 

Today, our conversation started out down. We were all down. But by the end, we were all up and inspired. My friend C (as in, Met Her in College), said, after a few minutes of rumination on current events, that we have to make sure we take care of ourselves and continue to work towards our goals. We cannot allow ourselves to become demoralized and immobilized. We have to strengthen ourselves so that we can come back strong. This was heartening and inspirational. 

But we are more than inspired. We are successful! Take E. She started out with an idea she wasn’t sure how she wanted to develop. Over the past five years, she tried writing a book, had an agent, lost the agent, gave up on the book, considered a podcast, felt discouraged, started a website, hosted a gathering based on her project, and from that gathering got the idea of a new way to work with her material. She’s turning it into a stage production with help from people she met at the gathering she hosted because of the idea she had five years ago. In between, there were times when she wanted to give up her project entirely, but we, her loving mirrors, convinced her it was important and worthwhile to pursue. And now she feels she has the right format for her idea, and she has a director and an actor and writer to help her bring it into production. 

That is the value of meeting with a group of like-minded others. They act as loving mirrors who reflect your possibilities back at you, give you courage when you lack it, and show you a better you. 

I call that inspiring. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Give and Take by Adam Grant

Readers, the husband thought my last post was super-depressing. That came as a shock. I had thought I had managed to convey something positive by taking us back to classical values. Well. I am moving on. I don’t want to depress the husband. Also my father told me to. Specifically, he said, you are not alone in being upset, but we all have to move on. After he said that, he also said, “It’s a little bit like building a bridge over the river while the banks are eroding.” This might not sound like the most positive statement. It might actually sound like a pretty depressing assessment of the current situation. But then I took a broader view of things. That’s life, after all, isn’t it? Building a bridge over the river while the banks erode? I mean that’s just life. Or exercise and the race against decrepitude. 

Oy, that’s depressing, too. Hell. I was trying to be funny. 

Anyway, I am not going political this week at all. Instead, I am relating the following items.

Item: This text message exchange happened (during the middle of a school day)
9th Grader: What’s Nai-Nai’s number? Everyone’s texting their grandparents.
Me (after sending the number): Why are they?
9th Grader: We’re talking about Confucianism. 

Which I found very sweet, very funny, and a possibly appropriate use of technology during Global History Class.

Item: After talking to my dad, I picked up a book about success and managed to get engrossed in it. I moved on. So that’s what I’m writing about today. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, by Adam Grant. 

Adam Grant, who should not be confused with Adam Ant, the New Romantic musician of the 1980s with a flair for a ruffled shirt and a flowered lappet, is a professor of Organizational Psychology at Wharton School of Business. He has some interesting things to say about success.
First of all, he says there are three kinds of people. Now, a lot of people say there are two kinds of people, and then they tell you what kinds. They are the kind of people who do something, and the kind of people who do not do it. Well, Adam Grant not Ant says there are three kinds of people - and then he tells you what kinds. Which means he is not one of those kinds of people who say there are two kinds of people. He's the other kind. 

Anyhoo, those three kinds are these:

  • Givers- give more than take
  • Takers- bend reciprocity in their favor (take more than give)
  • Matchers - operate on principle of fairness and try to preserve equal balance of giving and getting.

Okay, if you're at all like me, already you want to know which type is the best type to be. You want to quiz yourself and skew the answers so that you'll come out as that type. Well, I'll get there in a sec. (Think Polonius - "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Then remember that Polonius is a fool.) Now, Grant’s talking about the business realm, as are so many writers about success. In the personal realm, he says most people are givers. But the business realm is where many people look when they think about success. So I ran with it. These three types are styles of interaction in the work world. All three types can succeed, says Grant. However, givers are special. They tend to be at both the very bottom and the very top of the “success ladder.” Matchers and takers tend to “land in the middle.”  He then goes on to explain his theory, with lots of anecdotes about famous givers and takers. For example, Kenneth Lay of Enron. Big taker. Frank Lloyd Wright? Also a taker. Famous givers? Jack Welch of General Electric. Abraham Lincoln. But a lot of very successful givers remain in the shadows, not known outside their fields, because of their natural style - to give freely of their time, of their help, of their ideas, and to not worry about repayment. Eventually they do get repaid, big time, but they tend to be a little more shadowed. He mentions George Meyer, who was a major shaper of “The Simpsons” television show, and several others with very interesting careers as engineers, venture capitalists, and researchers. 

Key to success for givers? Knowing when to receive help and always being open to repaying it later. Not keeping score when helping someone, because you never know when they might help you out later. And - networking really, really well, so when they do need help, they can attract the most talented helpers, who come willingly to their teams. 

Speaking of teams, these givers are universally team players. They are not concerned with being the one who gets all the credit. They put the good of the project above all else. By behaving in this way, others who work with them don’t feel competitive with them. They gain “idiosyncrasy credits,” which apparently is a real term - positive impressions generated in a person by the generous behavior of an individual towards a team. The giver exhibits “expedition behavior,” a term coined by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to define the best mountaineering practices: “putting the group’s goals and mission first, and showing the same amount of concern for others as you do for yourself.” 

Underlying givers’ success, says Grant, is a fact about success that gets overlooked. That fact is that success always involves team effort. Even though the public tends to look at achievement as a solo act, all achievement comes from group effort. That's what made Grant choose relational style as a defining characteristic of success. So, people who can motivate a team to put the mission ahead of themselves are bound to do better work than people who are either concerned with making themselves appear to be the best, or with keeping everything even-Steven. Grant goes into the ways in which teams help one another succeed. It sounds a lot like my success scaffolding plank of like-minded others. Givers tend to recognize and expect high potential and achievement from others - and they get it. This is acting like a loving mirror, reflecting at their team members what they believe they can achieve and by doing so, empowering them to achieve it. 

So. Be a giver. But - there's always a but - there are two kinds of givers. Selfless and otherish. There are the successful givers, who are mega-successful. And there are the unsuccessful givers, who are failures.

Here's the good news. The givers who fail, fail because they are too selfless and burn out. Sadly for them, because they're just trying to be really nice. And nice guys apparently do finish last. Luckily, they also finish first. And they get to enjoy themselves. That's because the givers who succeed are self-interested as well as giving. They are called otherish. They're motived by two engines, the engine of self-concern and the engine of advancing others' goals. That's the kind you want to be. 

Food for thought. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Aristotle, Buddha, Success

Confession: I saw “Hamilton” after Thanksgiving. Like everyone else, I was blown away by it. Of course, I’ve been steeped in the soundtrack for a year, thanks to my kids, so I was able to follow the lyrics  - and they are terrific lyrics. Ahead of time, I was worried that the show might be an anticlimax, but I have to say, it was better than expected. It was great. But I’m not here to add yet another rave review to the pile. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius, no doubt - and like the most successful geniuses, he has a team of like-minded others, also known as collaborators, to work with and to egg him on to success. But I don’t really want to talk about that right now, either. 

Here’s the thing I want to say. Before I saw“Hamilton,” just the soundtrack made me cry a little - his life cut short by that duel with Aaron Burr, his potential wasted - but watching it in our current political climate, I cried a lot. Of course a show about the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution and ideals and sacrifice is bound to stir up patriotism. Well, mine was stirred. It may have fallen out of fashion, patriotism, but I have a deep well of it. So comparing the heroism and bravado of what went into founding a country with the country we have today led me to some sorry, sad tears. What we have now, Trump and his merry band of bankrupters, is an embarrassment. I’m pretty sure the country will survive; but it will take a lot of time and collective recalibrating of ideals to make it flourish. 

Speaking of ideals brings me to the magazine I bought recently, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. I bought it because I was waiting in line at the Honest Weight Food Coop and it was that or a homeopathic tablet for relieving anxiety. Anxiety? Who’s feeling anxious? 

Anyway, the cover article was about living an authentic life, which reminds me of another plank in my scaffolding of success: live according to what you value. But the article that most interested me was about the intermingling of Buddhist and Western ethics in our culture. Ethics, if I recall correctly, being a code of behavior. "Principles of right conduct," says my American Heritage Dictionary. Heady stuff, I know, but bear with me. Western ethics equals Aristotelian, according to the author of this article. Let’s not debate the guy (and yes, the author is a guy, bien sur, c’mom, womens, let’s get heard more MORE more. But I digress) let’s grant him that, even if it's reductionist. He’s talking about Aristotle’s eudaimonia, or human flourishing, the principle of living so that one expresses and develops oneself to the fullest potential. This is apparently Aristotle’s Good. Kind of like a Martha Stewart Good Thing, in the ethical realm as opposed to in the household management realm. I’m up for it. Or down for it. Yes, more down. I’ve been feeling kind of down. Which is repetitive, but it does tie into my theme.

As I was saying, the article says “the general Aristotelian notion that a life dedicated to the cultivation of virtue and the contemplation of wisdom is the best and happiest kind of human life is one that has been readily transplanted into Buddhism.” Western ethics have infused into Buddhist ethics so that we have replaced the ideal of living in a manner that will lead to “surcease” of suffering and the end of reincarnation with the ideal of eudaimonia, or human flourishing. In other words, the Aristotelian idea of human flourishing is an idea “so pervasive in Western culture that Westerners are often unaware of its source.” 

Indeed. I thought it was Buddhist. But it was Aristotle, brought to me by a bunch of Jewish seekers who went to India in the late 1960s to study Buddhism and returned to awaken the masses in America. Everything old is new again and old again and circuitous again. But never mind. One thing I definitely value is eudaimonia. 

Another point of the article is that for Westerners - and for many, if not most, Easterners - the Buddhist ideal of attaining nirvana and ending the cycle of rebirth and suffering doesn’t stand up to modern science and other influences. This essential of the Eastern strand of Buddhism just doesn’t work for we cynics. We are not used to living in a caste society where our roles are defined for life. We are not accustomed to resignation about this life and to therefore work on our selves to prepare to come back in the next life as something a little more evolved on the spectrum of life. We are not into delayed gratification if the delay is of multiple lifetimes. Nope, that is definitely not Western. We are focused on this life. And many of us, whether we practice Buddhism or another kind of self-improvement, hope to achieve a quintessential Western ideal. Human flourishing. And we all assume that we all agree that the flourishing of all humans is the goal. 

Or at least we did, until we realized the Conservative movement has steadily, over the last thirty years, while we were improving ourselves, swept us all up into a giant burlap bag, and with this election, pulled tight and knotted the drawstring over our heads. We are now like a bunch of kittens stuck in a sack about to be heaved over the railing and drowned in the river of life by a bunch of white dudes who have apparently didn't agree with us that human flourishing is the greatest good. 

So maybe we need  to start believing in rebirth and so on. Because maybe there’s not much we can fix about this life. 

Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. Did that last paragraph skew too bleak? I’m trying to move away from politics. Politics, after all, is the rearranging of the deck chairs on the ship of state. It’s the trajectory of the ship we need to think about most. 

So what constitutes human flourishing? This is the big question. We keep thinking flourishing depends on ever-increasing piles of money. Yet we are proved wrong about that again and again. We do need enough money to feel like we’re flourishing, but it’s not as much as we think, and there are other things we need to flourish. We need to feel like we are helping others. We need to feel part of a community. We need to have ways to center ourselves. We need to have purpose. We need external supports, which is where government and community come in handy. We also, as a psychologist I recently spoke to said, need to do the inner work to improve our lives. 

And also, we need to call our elected representatives and let them know what we think about those deck chairs, and we need to try to arrange them so that everyone can have a good seat. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Dignity, Always Dignity

Hello, Readers. I really don’t want this to be a political blog. It’s really a personal thing. But politics has intruded of late, and try as I might, like my favorite fashion blogger, to put it all aside and focus on what really matters, in terms of the blog, I have found that hard to do. I'm too busy wondering which situation is more right: One, that we should all be panicking because our civil liberties are about to abridged and we might all be heading off in trains to the ovens; or two, that this is an unfortunate situation that we must endure, but that the much-cited moral arc is bending, just at a lesser angle than we would like it to. It's really hard to figure out. And when that gets too hard, I have been indulging in a little retail therapy. Today it was these: 
That's a chocolate covered graham cracker

All of which makes focusing on my 'lil blog seem pointless. After all, what does one person's ideas about success have to do with the fate of our country? 

Yet, really, if you think about it, this situation is all about how we define success. The larger discussion is how we define success as a nation. The smaller is how we define it as individuals. Yet the two are entwined. The wealthy who voted for Trump want to hang onto their wealth, because that is how they define success. The working class whites who seem to have decided the election for Trump by a small percentage that turned out to be definitive because of the electoral college are mad. Why? Because they do not feel successful. 

Seems to me that without being overtly political, I can say this. There are a lot of people in this country who feel like failures. From where I sit, on my East Coast liberal elite high horse, parsing success and failure, I wonder if what I’ve learned about success for myself can apply to those Rust Belt folks whose jobs have been usurped by automation and factory closings. Would centering activities help them? A little meditation, yoga, or if you like your centering to involve lots of sweat, HIIT classes or a good jog? Well, frankly, yes, I imagine those things would help, to a degree. But let’s talk about meaning and purpose. Let’s talk about work. Because that’s what they’re talking about. Jobs. Just before the election I read an op-ed piece in my preferred liberal propaganda machine, the NY Times. This particular piece was a joint effort by the Dalai Lama and some dude (Arthur C. Brooks) from the American Enterprise Institute, which is, I believe, considered a conservative think tank. This piece was prescient, it turns out. It talks about why there is so much anxiety and despair in our society, which overall, on the books, is actually doing pretty well. Overall, things are looking up. Hey, the stock market has been doing great. But also, you know, finally wages have started to go up. And a lot of people have health insurance. Hell, things have been going so well that we’ve been able to devote time - so much time, so much ink - to issues such as whether a person who looks like a female but is technically a male needs to pee in the mens’ or womens’ room, as opposed to whether its okay to cart off a certain segment of the society and burn them in ovens or something like that. 

And yet, as the Dalai Lama so wisely writes, “Refugees and migrants clamor for the chance to live in these safe, prosperous countries, but those who already live in those promised lands report great uneasiness about their own futures that seems to border on hopelessness.”  

This unease, he suggest, is because despite the overall progress, there are specific areas of the country where these benefits are not accruing. And where the things that make people thrive are  lacking. Again, according to the Dalai Lama, “Virtually all the world’s major religions teach that diligent work in the service of others is our highest nature and thus lies at the center of a happy life.”

And diligent work in the service of others is exactly what is missing from the lives of so many lower income people. I'm not just talking about those white people in the Rust Belt. I'm talking about poor people everywhere or every color. People who lack jobs and prospects, people who are scraping by, or not scraping by but still working hard, lack the three elements of meaningful work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.(Thanks Dan Pink for your book Drive, which introduced me to these ideas). Even if you’re working a low-skill job, if you feel that you are able, through your work, to gain some autonomy in your life, if you have the opportunity to master a small step towards a larger goal, then you can have a sense of purpose and motivation. 

Related to this idea is an op-ed in today’s liberal propaganda machine by Sherrod Brown, a senator from Ohio, titled, “When Work Loses Its Dignity”. Brown, by the way, starts out by saying this, “Cleveland — Start with this: When you call us the Rust Belt, you demean our work and diminish who we are.”

Oops. Guilty. I never thought about what Rust Belt means. But I get it. The idea of all the rusting, decaying defunct factories and machines scattered across the industrial Midwest is what “Rust Belt” implies. Yeah. Ouch. That isn’t very nice, is it?

Brown continues, “As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, all work has dignity and importance, whether done by a street sweeper, Michelangelo or Beethoven. People take pride in the things they make, in serving their communities in hospitals or schools, in making their contribution to society with a job well done.
But over the past 40 years, as people have worked harder for less pay and fewer benefits, the value of their work has eroded. When we devalue work, we threaten the pride and dignity that come from it.”  So he’s about raising the minimum wage and preserving the executive order President Obama signed mandating overtime pay. 

So, while the Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks recommend promoting both inner peace and outer security by teaching people they are not superfluous, Sherrod Brown suggests that paying them enough that they can feel like they’re going somewhere other than down, would go a long way towards restoring their dignity. People who feel they have dignity, who feel they are useful, who feel they have purpose, who are able to set goals for themselves and are able to consider things like inner peace, are people who feel successful. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Armistice Day, A Reminder of the Worthy

Warning: More expletives this week. Also, my high-horse has been mounted. This post is pretty off-topic, so feel free to skip it altogether. I promise to return to message next time. 

Well, I need tissues.

It’s a bone-chilling time and humor seems hard to come by. But Gail Collins managed it - sort of. And so I persevere in my noble aim. To wit, to consider something frivolous, like success and redefining it, in a new era, the era of President-Elect Rump.

Now, aside from the internalized misogyny that would allow any woman to vote for Trump, white women have a lot of explaining to do.

Really, was your bank account more important than electing a no-nothing sociopath with no ideals who used dangerous racist, sexist, xenophobic, hate-inciting rhetoric to whip up the public? Jewish women, did you tell yourselves that Israel was somehow threatened by Hillary Clinton? Explain that, please. Or, worse, did you rationalize Rump’s rhetoric by noting his Jewish son-in-law and figure you would be all right, so it didn’t matter? How do you explain the double-standard you applied to Hillary Clinton by voting for Rump?


What. The. Fuck. 

“What does this mean for women and success?” The husband asked.

Nothing good, is my answer. 

But that is rawther bleak of me. Let's move on.

Now some of you know that I went to Goodwill and bought myself a pantsuit to wear to the election. It was a bit old, and a bit polyester, and a bit dated. A pantsuit. Yuck. Putting on my Goodwill pantsuit took me back to the mid 1990s, when the last vestiges of a mainstream women’s movement were dealt the death blows of the backlash. So, there is much work to do to advance equality. 

Oops, that wasn’t moving on, was it? So sorry. 

Well, on the bright side, there is the moon, which is going to be very, very bright in a few days, the brightest moon in quite a long time. It will be a “Supermoon” because the moon will be the closest it has been to earth since 1948. And just in time to remind us that there is more to life than politics. 

There are also shoes, which I bought. Very nice ones. Short boots, actually. I indulged myself. 

And sweaters, which I bought. Again, I indulged myself. 

And pasta, which I intend to indulge myself with tonight. 

And so I have my boots to wear when I put one foot in front of another to move forward, and my sweater to counter the chill in the air, literal and figurative. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Inconsequential Stuff of Life

Warning: Expletives abound. According to recent reports, my use of expletives means that I am both highly intelligent and very creative. Or, alternatively, tired and lazy and unable to think of synonyms. 

Oh, my God, what a week! The things that go on! The frauds being perpetrated on we unsuspecting masses. Well, I will remove me and my ilk from “unsuspecting masses” since I am actually pretty much always suspecting fraud. But sometimes it happens so egregiously that I am taken aback.

I am talking about my electric toothbrush. What kind of world are we living in where I buy an electric toothbrush (at the recommendation of my dental hygienist) in February, and by November I can no longer buy replacement brush heads for it? Fuckwads. That’s what I have to say. Seriously. Now I have to try to bushwack my way through bureaucracy towards a refund. I still have my receipt, fuckwads. 

And then there is this. That I was standing in a store the other day, possibly CVS, I am blocking it out right now, because the experience I am about to relate was mildly traumatic, and also because I bought that damn electronic toothbrush from CVS - let the buyer beware - when some younger person approached me and asked if I had a tissue. I was startled, because this was not a shared tissue experience. For example, it wasn’t next week, and we weren’t both overwhelmed by joy that a woman had finally been elected president or something. We were both in a store for our separate reasons. And of all the other people nearby, this younger person asked me for a tissue. 

It has come to this, I thought. I appear to be a person who would have a tissue. That is, I am a woman of a certain age holding a substantial tote bag over her arm. Of course I did have a tissue, and for some reason, this made me feel ashamed for a second. 

Readers, I can’t totally explain this feeling. But it happened. 

Of course the thing about me is that I have pretty much always had a tissue. I mean, since I began carrying a purse or a bag or a pouch or a backpack or a messenger bag or a diaper bag, I have had tissues. Really, I am that kind of person. In fact, I can say with truth that if any of you has ever been with me when I haven’t had a tissue, it has been because I have just run out (in recent years, having children, and now total strangers, who depend upon my tissues) or because I have intentionally left home pretending to be devil-may-care and Butterflies-are-free-ish (in former times). So really it was not, perhaps, a reflection on my age, per se, that caused this younger woman to approach me. Perhaps she simply recognized that I am, essentially, kitted out with tissue. 

So I tell myself. 

And in other worrying news, I have discovered that members of my extended family, members who have always exhibited great compassion, members whom I have always loved, will be voting for a certain person for President next week, and I cannot understand this. Perhaps it is just that the world is going to shit. Or poop. Or poo. Or whatever you want to say. Actually, I don't really think so, or I wouldn’t be able to cope. I believe what Diane Cameron wrote about in the TU last week (, about a certain candidate and his supporters - the inhabitants of the basket of deplorables - being the Jungian shadow side of recent developments in our collective endeavor here in the US and in other Western democratic type countries. The shadow side of the push towards equality and away from racism is these deplorables. And a shadow is insubstantial, ultimately.

However it goes on Tuesday, I’m gonna need a tissue. And if you need one, I will have one for you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Success Lesson from Chipmunks

Readers, I forgot to write a blog post last week. Crazy, huh? But I was busy and I was frustrated with my book draft and as I said I was just plain busy and I forgot. Not totally forgot. I remembered too late, which is just about the same thing, except that I couldn’t do anything about it because I had to get in the car and drive to Cambridge to see the college student perform in a dance. In literally one dance. A three minute dance out of a program of ninety minutes. But that’s the kind of mother I am. Since the driving took about three hours, that was a pretty incredible ratio of driving to dance, wouldn’t you say? I’ll let you interpret “incredible” as you think best….
Hey, cut the eye-rolling. You would do the same thing. You know you would. 

Anyhoo, now to this week. Which has still been frustrating in some ways. It’s been one of those phases when every time I need a tissue, the box is empty; the toilet paper needs to be changed; I reach for a paper towel and am met with a cardboard tube. It’s always the last dregs of the soy milk when I’m making my coffee. You get the idea. Life is out to get me. 

I may be more attuned to these frustrations because of the difficulties with the writing. That can lower the threshold for total meltdown considerably. But no more. Today, things are better. Even though chipmunks destroyed the styrofoam cooler I set outside to get at the half bushel of apples we picked this weekend, I am nonplussed or plussed. Fine, in otherwords. They did not get to the apples. Perhaps they were scared away by our fierce dog. 
He's a terror. 

I simply swept up all the styrofoam crumbs while muttering, “Not this time, little beasties.” And turned their ubiquity and persistence into a lesson. Here it is: like a chipmunk, I have gnawed my way through the block with my manuscript and now I’m steadily eating away. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fasting and Awe, Flakiness and Gratitude

I’m hungry and want to cram food in my mouth. But it’s Yom Kippur and the 9th grader decided she wanted to “be Jewish” this year. Far be it from me to dissuade her from exploring her religion, so I took her to temple today. And since she wanted to fast, I am fasting, too. I’m drinking tea. I haven’t eaten a thing yet and it’s mid afternoon. Honestly, I don’t know how long I’m going to last. 

But I’ve had a sad realization about myself that I wish to disprove. I am kind of a flake. Yes, I have had to admit that. Last weekend, in fact, the sad truth obtruded into my life. I forgot that I was supposed to help someone at a table at the farmer’s market. First, I said I would - my first mistake, since I am a flake. I signed up on a sheet saying I would appear at 8:45 am. Then I put the information in my calendar. Then I forgot about it. Meanwhile, the husband had to go in to work, which left me to drive the 9th grader to her morning activity. This had to happen during the time I was to sit at the farmer’s market. However, since I am a flake, I had forgotten all about it. Not until my phone reminder popped up at 10 minutes 'til tee-off did I give it another thought. 

My table mate was a good sport about it, but I had to admit, at my ripe age, that I am a flake. And I should have known better than to sign up in the first place. Because - flake. 

Which is why I am trying this Yom Kippur to be as non-flakey as the daughter, who is fasting, in order to prove to her, and to my table mate, that I can follow-through. And also to myself. To prove that, yes, I may be kind of a flake, when it comes to things that aren’t that fun to do, like sit at the farmer’s market at a table handing out flyers for a good cause, but that I can overcome my flakiness. It’s good to know. 

Is it cheating to drink tea? Is it cheating to drink tea with cinnamon when you know that cinammon is supposed to suppress appetite? 

Let’s assume lapsed Reform Judaism isn’t too particular. Let's not delve into it, in case cinnamon tea is not, as they say, kosher. 

Anyhow. The service today was interesting. Or rather, the first two-and-a-half hours of it. Or rather, the first hour of it. Somehow, today, I learned something meaningful about my religion from the rabbi. This hasn’t always happened, although I like this rabbi. Today, though, I felt like she provided context to the prayers. And the context was kind of fascinating. There is a new prayer book in the Reform synagogue. Perhaps it was because of this new prayer book. And yet, I think perhaps it was just the rabbi being interesting. Or perhaps it was me being interested at this ripe age. 

When I gather strength in my famished body, I will ask the 9th grader if she noticed. Although she hasn’t had any interest in services for several years, so she’s not going to have a basis for comparison.

Anyway. I definitely learned this from the prayer book in a footnote to the opening prayer: That the Hebrew term chesed, which is "God’s abounding love" or something, stands for 
  • steadfast love
  • kindness
  • loyalty
  • responsibility
  • and care

I thought that was a nice definition of love - as I always do when reminded that the Jewish view of godliness is not all justice and revenge, although it’s often construed that way. An eye for an eye and all that. No, it’s about kindness and stuff that usually only Christianity gets credited for. 

So that was in the new prayer book.

But the context thing was this. The service starts with prayers of thanks for the body, mind, and soul. Apparently, this is meant to be a daily ritual, for people who observe daily, as opposed to twice a year Jews like me. The rabbi said that this sequence of prayers is to do first thing every day. Upon awaking, give thanks for the body, for being able to rise, for the mind, for being able to comprehend, and for the soul, for obvious reasons. Which is a facile way of glossing that I’ve forgotten that third prayer exactly. 

Fun fact, per the rabbi. The body blessing is meant to be said after going to the bathroom! 

The rabbi also said that as long we stood up at the appropriate times during the service, we should feel free to be "people of the book," and to flip through the book and read the commentary and footnotes (already done - check) and just think about whatever we want. Immediately, my mind began to wander. I remembered a memoir I once read about a woman who learned about being Jewish through cooking and how she realized that Judaism is all about about blessings and celebrations. 

Gratitude, in other words. Gratitude. Expressing it. But also cultivating it. This is something I’ve come across in so many books and articles about success and happiness. It's about developing a good attitude - right thinking in Buddhism - a success mindset. We are to cultivate gratitude to develop our potential. And there it is, right in the liturgy of my own religion, too. Thanks for waking up (again), soul intact. Thanks for having a body. Thanks for being able to read and study. Thanks for being able to enrich mind and (if you believe it) spirit. 

It’s kind of nice. Many paths, one mountain. (Buddha) Happiness is wanting what you have. (Inspirational meme). 

It’s five pm and I’m hungry! But I am not a flake!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

To Thine Own Self Be True

Nora Ephron’s voice reminds me of mine. It’s a lot stronger, more confident, more full of panache, but the inflections and repetitions are like mine. I was thinking this while reading Heartburn in my Nora Ephron reader instead of writing this morning. It’s a funny book. I was listening to the sounds in my head. It read like a movie script. It read like her essays. Her voice came through even in that novel, which I think was her only novel, published in 1983. She wrote most everything she became really famous for after that novel, for which she became famous, and which she published at 42, if Wikipedia is correct. I was lying in bed in my fuzzy bathrobe with my feet under the quilt thinking my writing sounds kind of like Nora’s. Then, before I could stop myself, I was also thinking about the article I glimpsed in the  Sunday paper but was too traumatized by to actually read. It was an article, probably in the Book Review, about an author who was a huge bestselling writer in the 1950s, a huge - yuuuuge - success in other words, but who is now forgotten. I’m sure it was about how often that kind of thing happens. The being forgotten part, I mean. It’s about what I aspire to, isn’t it? I mean, it would be foolish to aspire to more than being forgotten. I mean, no one thinks they’re going to be Jane Austen. Or Jane Jacobs. No Janes. The most people think about when they think about writing success is The New York Times Bestseller List. No one thinks beyond the list. Everyone wants to be on it. But how many people on it today will be remembered tomorrow? 

Just glimpsing that article and skimming the first paragraph was enough to trigger a total confidence meltdown and an upsurge in my sense of futility. This coincided with me coming across a job opening at a good non-profit company that does Important Work. They are looking for a manager of the communications department, which reminded me that perhaps I would have been and maybe still would be much better off with some kind of office job involving writing, no matter how boring, because I would be able to look people in the eye and say I was something and did something. And prove it. I could wave a pay stub at them. Or maybe an employee identification card of some kind. Plus I would see other human adults every day. And I would have to get dressed. Lately I am interested in both dressing nicely and also remaining attached to my fluffy bathrobe. When I say attached, I mean inside it. Like, wearing it. 

Why was I lying in my fluffy bathrobe on my already made bed instead of working on my book? Well might you ask, Readers. After all, I have had a discussion on a telephone involving an agent and an editor at a reputable publishing house that has resulted in an invitation to submit more work. So why am I not scrabbling and scrambling to pull together more work? 

Two reasons. One, I have an overly expansive view of time. I’m “taking a couple of days”, suggested by my agent, to think over the conversation with the publisher before fishing around in my book drafts for more material to revise. A couple of days from the conversation would have brought me to Saturday. Today is Wednesday following. See - expansive. But I don’t think my agent meant to include the weekend. I went away for the weekend to visit family in Washington. So how could the weekend count. So, really, it’s only been four days….

Two, I am procrastinating. 
Look how cute my dog is.

The shade of Steven Pressfield holding a copy of The War of Art in one hand and Do The Work in another is looming. I suppose this means there is a third reason why I’m bathrobe reading. It’s called resistance. This is Steven Pressfield’s big thing. His hook. His battering ram. Artists must battle the forces of resistance before creating art, and resistance takes many forms. Resistance is the obvious, the procrastination, for example, which bleeds into that overly expansive view of time that stretches a couple of days into several, then weeks, months, and years. Resistance, I’m sure Steven Pressfield would say, is also the sense of futility and the fear underlying the futility. So in a sense, there is only one reason I’m not working on the book. Resistance. It’s kind of the alpha and the omega of excuses. 

Maybe this is a good moment to mention the episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in which Titus gets back out there and goes on auditions for bit parts. Titus comes across an older actor, kind of his nemesis. Nemesis is the wrong word. This actor is the thing Titus fears turning into if he actually gets out there and tries. An actor whose most prominent roles have been as corpses on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. An actor who has been attending the same auditions for the same bit parts as Titus - for fifty years. Titus is depressed by this. As am I. 

This actor has attained kind of the level of success I have as a writer, in other words. Only this actor is pretty happy with his career and his life. He’s satisfied. 

And then he dies. And Titus goes to his funeral. And all the other bit actors on Law and Order are there, and Ice T, the rapper/actor gives a eulogy. Ice T says this guy, this older actor, had a full and happy life. Ice T says this actor was a success because “he was to his own self true.” Which brings me back to Nora Ephron and her voice. Which is really about me and my voice. Which is really about you and your voice. Voice here represents not just expressing yourself in writing, but expressing that thing that is most you. To do that - well, it’s a deceptively simple thing to do. It's also the thing that will fill you with purpose, and therefore, it is the thing you must do.

But to get back to me. In writing, the voice is the thing that brings readers. Nora Ephron found her voice and she expressed it in novels, essays, and on film. It’s a consistent voice - because it’s hers. And who the heck knows if anyone will remember any of it in fifty or a hundred years? The point is not to think about that. (She said, reminding herself.) The point is that if you need to express your voice, you gotta to thine own self be true. Forget about who said it (Polonius to Hamlet) and therefore whether it is actually good advice. Sadly, or happily, that is me. I’ve found my voice these last few years, through my blog. I have the need to be true to it. It’s similar to Nora’s (maybe), but also different, since it’s mine. Sadly, Nora isn’t here anymore to write in her funny, wise voice. I’m here, though. I’m available to write in mine. It’s a bit grandiose and presumptuous to think this - and yet, splayed on the bed holding the very thick compendium of her writings, which includes her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally, I did think that perhaps I can pick up her baton. Since she’s not here anymore, I mean. There’s room for my voice. I intend to use it to carry my book. There’s room for my voice. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Energy, the X-Factor

Hi Readers, I’m low on energy this week. Fortunately, I picked up this book, 50 Success Classics, which I do every so often;  When I’m not sure what to blog about, I open it at random and dip in. This week I opened at random to the chapter on Loehr & Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement. It turns out I have the whole book on my shelf, too; I haven’t read it yet. But this piques my interest. It’s about energy. Energy being the “x-factor” in success. Focus, purpose, and resilience. The key to success is managing your energy.  Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. More is better, energy-wise, but self-control is essential. 

I don’t have the energy to read their whole book right now. Possibly because I’ve allowed the presidential campaign to drain my emotional energy. 

The good news is that, “It is a very good plan every now and then to go away and have a little relaxation…”  This, by the way, is apparently a quotation from Leonardo da Vinci in A Treatise on Painting, another item I lack energy to read this week. Leonardo, I think no one will argue, was attuned to the creative cycle. He was savvy to it way before these guys, way before Julia Cameron told us to “fill our wells” and Stephen Covey to “sharpen our saws.” Even before I promulgated the 20-minute-snoozle as a major energy restoration technique. As well as a procrastination device….

Not that my book, 50 Success Classics, is the iChing or anything, but it does seem serendipitous and illuminating that I opened to this idea of energy in relation to success in the aftermath of the presidential debate. In case you couldn’t bring yourselves to watch, let me fill you in. The question of stamina arose - the question of which candidate has the stamina to be president. The answer was self-evident, although the questioner, it will be no surprise to anyone, disagreed with the evidence. 

In short, this is to say that, this week, Readers, I’m sharpening my well of energy. To mix a few metaphors. In short, here’s the update: 

  • The college student seems to be adjusting to college. This involves participating in an array of activities. This also involves tantalizing but insufficiently informative texts.

  • The 9th grader is well on her way to being overbooked. Tennis, music, acting, art, schoolwork, and keeping up her feminist Instagram account are cutting into her free time. Because she plays French Horn, and French Horns are apparently in short supply, she’s been recruited for an area orchestra, on top of the school band. Busy, busy. 

  • The husband continues his grueling work schedule, which he supplements with talking me down from hypochondria after I read books for the trade instrument for which I review them, such as the soon-to-be-released new book by a famous diet doctor about the evils of sugar. 
Me, after finishing the review: I’m thirsty. So thirsty. Do I have diabetes? Husband: No.Me: But why am I so thirsty? Maybe it’s metabolic syndrome? Husband. No. You're thirsty.

Then we watch Veep. That Julia Louis-Dreyfus is incredible as the reprehensible Selina Meyer. 

  • Read an article by Deborah Spar, President of Barnard, about the conflicting pressures of feminism and workplace success*. Specifically, the pressure on women of a certain age who are in leadership positions to have cosmetic interventions on their faces to keep them looking young. This article reminded me of the piece I published in the Motherlode about make-up and feminist guilt. It also reminded me of the episode of Veep in which Selina Meyer gets her eyes done, and as a result, can’t make a key speech during her campaign. 

  • Spoke to an editor at a publishing house about my book and now I have more work to do. Thus the pull back and the well sharpening and the energy replenishing. 

Maybe once my book is published, I’ll need to get a little work done. We all want to look somewhere between 40 and 60. As women we have authority at that point. 

And last, I read in The Washington Post that Hillary Clinton meditates - and has had contemplative thought leaders to the White House, so it’s not a new thing. A Google search revealed that this knowledge about her meditation and doing yoga has been out there for awhile. Well, it’s new to me. Probably contributes to her ability to withstand the bullying from T. It’s also a great way to enhance the x-factor in success - energy.