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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Kindness as a Key to Success

The other day, I invited a guest speaker into my classroom. I wanted to teach my students about meditation and mindfulness. Now, I have practiced meditation, mindfulness meditation, off and on for nearly twenty years. I have read books, listened to countless talks, and even attended a couple of short, half-day meditation retreats on the topic, yet I wanted someone else to teach my students. So in came our guest, who was great, and she talked about how she came to her practice, and types of practicing, and she led a short meditation. I really enjoyed listening to her, and I really admired how she owned it. That’s why I wanted someone else to teach my students. It’s the owning it thing. I don’t. At least not easily. It's not easy to write about it here, as a matter of fact.

When I took an online survey that ranked my top twenty character traits that reflect my values, spirituality was number twenty, bottom of the list. I was not surprised, and yet I was. I know the quiz ranked the qualities we most value as well as those we most often lead with and use to interpret the world. I lead with humor, honesty, love of learning, judgment, and kindness, not with spirituality. And yet, I have two decades of practice at something many people connect to spirituality.

Maybe I am a really bad meditator. Or maybe I am just a closet spiritualist.

Spiritualist is the wrong word. I am definitely not a spiritualist.

But I was a little disappointed to find spirituality down at the bottom of that list. Almost as disappointed to find that there as I was surprised to find kindness in the top five. Judgment, sure. I reckon I’m pretty dang judgmental. Humor? Absolutely. As Jane Austen said in P & P, "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?" Honesty. Check. Love of learning--may I present this blog, a record of my foray into positive psychology and lord knows what else? Kind, though? Hmmm.

And yet. And yet. Perhaps there is a connection to the meditation practice and kindness. They say meditating helps you, but often you don’t know that it’s helping you. You just notice life is a little easier to handle. They also say that if you meditate, you develop compassion, aka kindness. Why is that so? Because once you take time to be mindful of what is going on inside you in the present moment, you realize that others are going through the same set of vicissitudes, also known as emotions, that you are. They’re not going through them at the same time you are, but they are going through the same ones. Thus, as you learn to be a little patient with yourself, you also learn a little patience with others, and a little compassion for everyone’s struggles, including your own. So maybe, just maybe, my stealth spirituality is reflected in my top five after all, via kindness.

And, if I am going to be kind to others, perhaps I can be kind to myself by reminding myself that judgment is not necessarily a pejorative characteristic. It’s an ability to see sides and facets and form an opinion based on discernment, rather than on pure reactivity.

I had my students take a quiz called the VIA Character Inventory. You can take it, too, for free.*  Quite a few of them had kindness in their top five. I found this surprising. Sure, they’re a nice bunch. Most of them are too quiet. Rendered speechless by the request to offer an opinion to the group, as a matter of fact and of deep annoyance to me. I feel quite judgmental about that reticence, and not in a kind way, if I’m honest, which according to the VIA character survey I usually am.

The relative preponderance of kindness in my classroom made me think that these kids might be reflecting a need they feel in our culture. Our popular culture, our news, our political leaders of late seem so far from kind that maybe our students, our kids, are presenting a collective need for it. I know that I have developed a real thirst for books about etiquette, and television shows that feature people behaving kindly and politely. The seventeen year old and I have been re-watching “Call the Midwife,” and one thing that show portrays is people in the poorest of circumstances behaving with politeness and dignity, even in the most undignified situations. I may start wearing a girdle soon I am so taken with the whole dignity of self-restraint thing. Give me a young, single gal dressed in a skirt, cardigan, and sensible shoes collapsing at a bus stop from an attempt at self-aborting a fetus over road rage and blatant insults on the nightly news any day.

Okay, not really. I don’t at all want to turn back the clock to illegal abortion and lack of contraception. I don’t want to turn back the clock at all. I want to move forward and beyond our current situation. But I recognize, and apparently so do many of my students, the need for kindness as we try to get there. I feel kind of hopeful about things, if kindness is a deep value for many of us. Kindness is not the sole property of the religious and spiritual. It’s available to all of us.

My students, or at least the two or three who do volunteer to speak, brought up the idea that kindness and politeness were two different things. That politeness is fake, or it can be. But I think they are related. Politeness might be fake—it certainly is fake, sometimes—but the adherence to it, particularly when you might not feel it, is truly kind. And when someone truly doesn’t deserve kindness, and no names will be named here, it’s a kindness to yourself to maintain dignity. Politeness, etiquette, allows that.

My children's elementary school principal taught us all this little self-reflection about kindness. I think it originated in the teachings of Buddha, but I am not sure. It's not a verse, it's more of a rubric for self-reflection, self-restraint, judgment in a positive sense, and kindness:

Before you speak, ask yourself, Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? 

I know that when I do this, I have to stifle some of my natural urges, which would answer those questions thus: Is it kind? Absolutely not, but it's clever. Is it necessary? Again, it is the opposite of necessary, it is superfluous, but possibly funny, at least to me. Is it helpful? Only if you want to add to the inanity around us all. Sometimes, Readers, that is what I want to do. Sometimes that is actually kind, helpful, and necessary. Sometimes we just need to take off the mental girdle. Sometimes a bit of unnecessary folderol is actually necessary. That's what keeps me going. That and, apparently, kindness.


*Here’s the link to the quiz. It takes about 15 minutes. You have to give an email address and after you take the quiz, scroll to the bottom of your screen and you’ll see the list of characteristics.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Annals of Successful Parenting: News and Confessions

Summer ended before I was ready. I know, officially it's still summer for a little while. But this summer ended too soon. It was full of fun things. One of the funnest was this, seen as we inched through traffic to the beach in August:

Look closely. This Harley-riding dog wears goggles. 

With stuff like that in my life, you can see why I wasn't fully prepared for the start of school. In fact, confession, I wore pajamas to school carpool drop off that day. That means I am fully a suburban mom. Better late than never. Readers, I have arrived.


Is this truly a wonderful thing? I don’t know. It’s not as if I have been up and dressed every morning at seven twenty-three for the mad dash to the high school. In fact, the only reason I haven’t done drop off more often in my pajamas is that the husband is the morning carpool driver. So while I may lord it over y’all that I haven’t dipped and lowered myself to driving to the high school in my pajams, it’s simply because I haven’t had to leave the house most mornings to do that drop off.

Until last Thursday. And I felt something slide into place. The last piece of the puzzle that is suburban motherhood.

A pause to contemplate all that means.

Car culture. Complacency. A measure of comfort. Also, rushed multitasking frenzy and a soupçon of guilt — the environment, consumption. The contradictions of modern life.

So the high school student is in her last year of high school, and the college student is in her last year of college. I have been a suburban mom for ten years. Mind. Blown. 🤯Before that, I was an urban mom. In many ways, I liked that better. My stroller was my wheels. This had downsides. There was no walking to school drop off in my pajamas. There was no driving to school in snow and rain. And when I needed an X-ray for what turned out to be pneumonia, I had to walk to the hospital.

Anyway, it took me ten years to do drop off in my pajamas. I take pride in that. And in my defense, drop off was at six forty-five that morning, because the high school senior plays trumpet in the pep band, and the pep band was to welcome the students to the new school year.

Speaking of new school year and students, I am into my second year of teaching first year students at a small college nearby. I have joined the ranks of adjuncts, which I feel is analogous to being a scab during a strike. I am working for an insultingly small amount of money. And I feel bad that I am called by the honorific, "Professor". What does this do to all those Ph.Ds looking for work in academia? How are they to succeed at their careers? This adjunct thing seems like yet another way our culture has succumbed to an economic, short-term, profit-based mindset, rather than a people-based one. Seems like key to failure as a society.

What am I teaching my students, you may wonder? I am teaching their required first year seminar on how to write at the college level. Or how to write at all, apparently. There are many sections of first year seminar, since every student is required to take the course. So each section has a theme and mine is Defining Success. It turns out that I have a lot to say on the subject. But of course, as a teacher, I aim not to do all the talking, but to lead my students to their own conclusions.

Anyway, in other news, I have been enjoying the sidewalk in our neighborhood. The Australian Labradoodle doesn’t. Well, he does sometimes, and sometimes he doesn’t. The times he doesn’t are those times I attempt to walk him on the sidewalk when he is expecting to walk on the other side of the street as we used to do, when we had to walk facing oncoming traffic. He only wants to walk towards oncoming traffic in other words. He is a rule-abiding dog. Now it's all gone to hell, from his perspective. We might be walking one direction. We might be walking another. Either way, it's the same side of the street. This is not how we do things, in dog brain. So many unsniffed scents and uneaten blobs of grass cuttings on the other side of the street that he can’t process in his own special ways.

It's tragic.

Sometimes I cross the street just to let him have his way.

I have a another confession. I put away my snow shovel yesterday. Are you temporarily dizzied trying to calibrate the season and the shovel? No, you are not crazy. Yes, my shovel has been on my porchlet (or is that porchette? porchini? covered entry?) since last winter. So sue me. My neighbors have had a Halloween skeleton hanging from their front door light for about eight years. At least I got my snow shovel stored before I need it again.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print right now.

Is any of this about success? You decide.

In case you missed my podcast interview, which is indeed all about success, here is the link:


And now, I am off to the Global Climate March, Albany site. 🌎

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Success About Failure Being Part of Success

I have written a lot about success and failure over the years, as I have learned and grown in my search to redefine success beyond power, prestige, and money. One of the most important things I've learned is that success is inseparable from failure, because success is about rising to challenges, and challenges require effort and practice to meet successfully. And what is practice, if it is not failing over and over again until you get it?

Another lesson learned is that success is about living life with meaningful work that is aligned with your deep values. Call them principles if you prefer. They are the deeper things that call to us when we are open to listening for them: the desire to help others, to create something, to grow and develop.

Underlying everything I have learned is this lesson: The framework from which you view your life is the most essential element of success. Call it frame of reference, or mindset, the message is that feeling successful depends in large part on having the the attitude that you can and will grow better and better with effort. Failing that, you are doomed to feel like a failure even when all external signs indicate otherwise.

I am proud to present to you a podcast interview featuring me. Me, me, me! Yes, I was contacted by the enterprising Paul Padmore, who read this blog post in Psychology Today and wanted to talk to me about failure and success. We talk about what I mention above, and more, so please listen. And subscribe to his podcast. Every one of his episodes is about the way people overcome what seems like failure and go on to find success.

Here's the podcast, when Paul Padmore interviews yours truly about failure and success:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Bag and Baggage

I had reason to weigh my handbag the other day. Well, someone else weighed it, after she took it from my arm, gasped at the weight, and strode over to a handy nearby scale. My bag weighed in at six pounds eight ounces, about the size of a small newborn human. This was a bit of a shock, but really more so was the gasp of the person who weighed my handbag, my purse, my satchel. Because I have been lugging this bag around — or a similar one—for quite a long time. My pelvic floor physical therapist (PT), who weighed it, suggested that carrying a heavy bag might contribute to pelvic misalignment, which might contribute to pelvic floor problems.

This is likely too much information for many of you readers, and not enough for some. Please feel free to contact me if you are among the latter. The rest of you, just compartmentalize or stuff all reactions, please. Thank you very much.

This isn’t really about handbags, or my pelvic floor. Sure, I could do a comic routine about the contents of the bag. (At weighing, there was an unopened lightening adapter cord for the cell phone to car connection and a book about day hikes around our area—very slim—among the usual four types of lipstick, two lip balms, and a chapstick. Those are still there, a week later, let me assure you. As well as reading glasses, non prescription sunglasses, and clip on sunglasses for my regular glasses in case I am wearing them instead of my contact lenses when a ray of sun hits my iris and I need instant protection.)

My PT suggested I just stow the bag in the car’s trunk and carry only what I need with me.

It was as if a vista suddenly appeared before me where there had only been fog. I saw from a distance the me I once was, who tripped about Boston and San Francisco with a bank card, an ID, and a bit of cash in a small zipper pouch. No extra underwear—again, probably too much information for some readers—no spare lightening cords or Caudalie lip balm.

The me I once was and the me I am—are we the same?

I took my PT’s suggestion, came home and put only the most essential items in a small(er) bag --credit card holder, a bit of cash, phone, keys, and sunglasses, and left the house. I immediately regretted this decision when I realized there was no hand sanitizer in case I touched something germy, and no lip balm for my now parched lips. And how would I read the menu at dinner? From arm’s length and tilted, it turned out.

Then I remembered my PT’s suggestion of putting the big bag in the trunk and only carrying what I needed with me from the car. Thus, creating the illusion of Holly Golightly fancy-free-ness whilst still having everything at the ready. And quite a bit more. Old receipts? Library cards from the New York Public Library and the 92nd Street Y? It’s been ten years since I left the city.
Italian leather bag, pleather baggie, and flip flop for scale. Intentionally blurred for artistic purposes. (I lie.) 

I am going to blame the children for my large bag. For decades I have been the repository of all the little objects they left the house carrying, plus extra snacks and books and pens and pads of paper for whiling away various units of time. Extra sweaters and plastic bags in case of who knows what? Purell and hand sanitizing wipes in little packets because why not duplicate and never worry? Latex gloves.

That’s right. Latex gloves. I would carry Latex-free gloves, too, in case someone has a Latex allergy, but that would be overkill.

I said I blame the children, but it’s disingenuous of me to do so. The large bag predates them. It predates the husband, too. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how often I tripped around town with only a small zipper pouch. It is possible that was only when I was heading out to a club to go dancing. Otherwise, bag. Schlep. Bag. Come to think of it, Holly Golightly was not exactly fancy-free. As I recall, she had her baggage, too. She was, if memory serves, married off to a much older man when she was about fourteen and trying to escape poverty. But, you know that party scene in the movie is the best.

I think, having had children, that we humans have a genetic desire to carry things. I say this because my children always left the house carrying something. Once they could grasp an object, they carried one with them. A small plush giraffe, or a board book, a plastic dragon, or a Polly Pocket doll. Something clutched in a little hand as they reclined in the stroller. Something to pitch over the edge, of course. A thing I would then pick up and stuff into my bag.

So, yes, we like to hold things. We like to be burdened. We like to be prepared. The bag is a hedge against the unexpected. We have a baggie for that, or a snack to stave off hunger. An after dinner mint to freshen the breath. The bag, by the way, allows for hands free movement. We may be laden with luggage, but our hands are still free.

Are we ever free of our burdens? Are we ever burdened by our freedom?

The answer to both questions is yes, at moments. At least according to Dr. Edith Egar, who wrote an amazing memoir called The Choice, which I recommend to everyone. I don’t know if I want to write about this book, because reading it was kind of traumatic. It’s a Holocaust survival story, but it’s more than that. It’s about living afterward, having survived, and how the trauma affected Egar’s life—and continues to. She’s in her nineties now, and healing from the trauma has taken all this time. It’s hard to think about the trauma experienced by young immigrant children separated from their parents, and how they may or may not fare as they go forward with living. Without professional help, how will they heal? Even with professional help, trauma is hard to heal. And we don’t have to have experienced a concentration camp to be traumatized. There are less extraordinary traumas of loss and assault on the self. And what does it mean to heal? Is it to be free of suffering? Not at all. It’s to experience moments of insight that bring relief, and to have scars. Scars, no matter how cleverly repaired, are permanent disfigurations you carry with you.

What am I saying? Who knows. Does it relate to success? Oh, absolutely. Edith Egar’s point is that people can be victimized by other people. However, victimhood is a choice. Meaning, learned helplessness, feeling defeated and overwhelmed are effects of victimization that we have to try to overcome, by choosing over and over, and over and over, to try.

Is that awfully put? It feels kind of judgy of those who have terrible after effects such as PTSD or depression. I guess the thing is that you can be knocked down, sometimes for quite a while, but you have to remember that in your own head you have the choice to protect yourself from forgetting who you were before the trauma. Sometimes that’s enough to carry you to the next day. Edith Egar lost her mother to Auschwitz’s gas chamber, but she carried her mother’s advice with her: no one can take away what you have in your head, and she used her memories of feeling her most empowered and vibrant to help her get through those moments when she was most debased, trapped, and near death.

Anyway, someone’s got to carry the purse, bag, tote, messenger bag, Birkin, backpack. Those rare few who manage without lean on the rest of us from time to time. I’m about to take a trip, which gives me a good reason to rummage through my big bag and remove some excess stuff. I’ll keep the undies in there, since I probably put them there the last time I traveled by aeroplane. Always good to have extra, in case of disaster, or really in case of delays. In case of disaster, none of it matters.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Soap and Prevention Goals Follow-Up

Readers, who knew that soap could produce so much lather?

My last post generated a few interesting responses that I thought you would enjoy.

Here’s one:

I just read your recent blog post. I especially enjoyed the bit about the soap because, as you could probably guess, we also like to use soap down to the last drop around here. But, who doesn't like a new bar? A co-worker told us a while back how to meld a soap end to a new bar of soap and we've been living in the best of worlds ever since. :)
Foam on!

Best of both worlds, indeed. Prevention and promotion goals. This soap meld solution is actually brilliant, if challenging. I’m not quite sure how to do it. The writer kept that secret. How much soap does it waste to get the one to meld to the other? Perhaps it’s only a matter of a simple wet-and-stick strategy. If I remember, I will try to meld. But the husband may foil me by tossing the soap sliver before getting the new bar.

And, as previously mentioned, I will be relieved.

Here’s a second:

I have an add-a-thought . . . those slivers escape fingers easily and create a slip-in the-tub hazard, providing the veteran, soap-saving pessimist good reason to toss the sliver and suds up with the optimist's big bar.

Safety first! This writer is prevention oriented, at least in this situation. But there is, again, the promotion-mindset: being aware of what you might gain.  With safety and optimism as priorities, I guarantee a happier life, and one that is probably more successful than just focusing on risk and prevention will create. This is another best of both worlds way of looking at the situation. Preventing slipping and promoting safety by ditching the soap splinter and opening the big bar.

Then there was this response, which really takes anxiety and guilt to a new level, and shows the dark side of being prevention-minded:

I think fear is compounded as you age. My sense of adventure has been stamped out by my sense of responsibility and general fear of every darn thing now…

Like, if you throw out that sliver of soap, you’ll start living a wasteful life and you’ll end up in old age with no financial security. What about THAT you ‘soap wasting optimists’?

I would like to tell you that I did not totally relate to this superstitious fear one thousand percent. But I did. And maybe some of you do, too. Waste not want not. Isn’t that one of our biblical proverbs? Of course it is. Disobey and invite the wrath of God. In fact, there are probably other rich veins of guilt running through my life that make me expect a punishment from above for some sort of minor transgression below. Or, as in this case, not a transgression at all, really.

So let’s not waste time on soap splinters and slivers. Unless, like my soap-melding friends above, you really want to. After all, if financial ruin can follow from throwing out a soap splinter, what disasters might develop from not eating all your dinner?

Oh. My. God. Is that why we have global warming?

Have I negated my point? Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. (Thank you, Walt Whitman, for another of my favorite quotations I like to use out of context.)

I am not here to give answers, Readers, merely to raise questions and suggest multiple ways of looking at things.

And so, let me continue on with this goals stuff.

These comments reveal their writers’ goal orientations: prevention primarily, but with some promotion thrown in. They also reveal how clever and amusing my readers are, I must say.

Another comment from the wrath of God writer was that fear had come to dominate decision making so that going on a vacation abroad, a thing she wanted to do, had become impossible. Too many things could go wrong: have a terrible time, bad travel experience, loss of money, injury, death.

This is prevention orientation to the extreme. Extreme risk aversion becomes paralysis. And it shows the danger of having too much of one kind of focus. Because after all, life is for living, not for hiding.

So prevention-focused individuals must learn where that focus is beneficial, and where it is harmful.  And remembering that we all need goals. And that not all goals are about risk prevention. Some goals are about gain.

It means making an effort, sometimes, to think about what you might gain from pursuing a goal. If you know you will unconsciously tend to consider the risks more weighty than the rewards of a decision, then you can counter this consciously. By making an effort to consider the gains. By finding someone who will put a new bar of soap in the soap dish for you.


And now it’s June.

Delights of June. And sun. 

Ouch, my pinkie hurts. I jammed it during YFit class today. On a medicine ball of all things. Throwing it against the wall. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect it would hurt to type.

So I am forcing myself to finish the blog post. It may be more disjointed than usual, but that's because my pinky is, too.

In other news, I find I have enrolled in a class—a graduate class for the MSW degree. I’m not enrolled in the program. Yet. But I am leaning that way. Prototyping my way through life, as recommended in Designing Your Life by Bill Burnet and Dave Evans. They are Stanford professors in the design department. Using principles of design to design a fulfilling life. In this case, trying out a possibility, and seeing how it goes. Developing a first attempt and then tweaking. That is prototyping. Prototyping is key to design, and therefore to life. It makes sense as a strategy. Keeps a person moving, which seems to be a built-in need: to feel like we are progressing. And then correcting as need be. So. I have prototyped my way into a group presentation due Monday on Domestic Violence, also know as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), and a 2-3 page paper based on an interview with a member of an older generation on a problem in social welfare. Dad, expect my call any moment. Topic: discrimination.

Now, I don’t like to wax spiritual-mystical woo-woo, but I am going to say this. A few weeks ago, feeling discouraged about writing overall, I wished consciously to myself for an opportunity to write something more for Publisher's Weekly, something beyond my short, unsigned reviews.

And then, yesterday, came an offer. I’m waiting for confirmation, but I have been asked to interview an author—for a byline!

So. Just leaving that out there. Is it a tip for success? Is it a plug for the Law of Attraction?

You decide.

Think of me working on my group presentation with two 22-year-olds and a sore pinkie while you enjoy your weekends, Readers.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Quarterly Check-In, Part Two. Goals, Again. And the Sphincter of Life.

The other day, when I wanted to write, I tried a computer program called Freedom that blocks access to the Internet. You set the amount of time you want to be free from it, and then a green screen pops up and says, “You Are Free.” I have to say that the moment that green screen popped up, I felt a little space open up in my chest. A little what? A space that relaxed? Like a hole? This reminds me of a sphincter. Sphincter is a word I like. It’s a great word. It’s such an evocative word, almost onomatopoetic.

Anyway, the sphincter in my chest relaxed. Yes, I am equating my heart with an asshole, because that is the sphincter that springs to mind when I see the word. There are other sphincters, but let’s be honest, they are not top of the list. Partly because butts are funny. Funny and gross. And because my sense of humor, another top quality, apparently, is on par with your average kindergartener’s. Also, because I don’t really know anatomy, so I don’t really know where those other sphincters are.

I just like writing that word. Sphincter.

Anyway, freedom from screendom with Freedom. When I sit down to write, or really any old time, I do spend too much time checking and scrolling and not writing. The phone affects me like a reflex. I just check and scroll, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email. email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You get it. You probably do it yourself. It’s a horror show. There is no space. No release. I was talking to another grown up person the other day—okay, it was my esthetician, Ruth, who is amazing, and everyone should have an esthetician and get facials. Just the facial massage is worth the time and money—anyway, we were talking about the way social media just squeezes your life. When we were growing up, we had freedom from peers that our children do not have, because they are always on social media. Back then, it was a relief to get away from the intensity and scrutiny of them by them. Sure, we had telephones. We were attached to these cords that were stuck to these things on the wall. and sometimes we didn’t even have those phones in our rooms. Maybe we could stretch the cord to the basement steps, or maybe there was an extension in the attic or whatever. But you could get away. There was a little space. A little relaxation. The sphincter of life released. Nowadays, it’s constant.

So then, later, I took a shower, and there was a fresh bar of soap in the soap dish. This gave me a new sense of release. And then guilt. And insight into my marriage and goal setting. Afterwords, I said to the husband, I hope you don’t get annoyed that you’re always the one who gets the new bar of soap for the shower. But the thing is, if I see a sliver of soap left, I am going to use it. Because I feel obligated to use every last bit of it.

Maybe my epigenetics were affected by my father growing up in the Depression, but whatever the reason, I am going to use up that last sliver of soap. So if the husband wants a fresh bar before the last sud is gone, he is going to have to get it.

And, secretly, I am relieved when he does, because it’s much nicer to soap up with a big bar of soap than a pebble sized one.

This is the way we complement one another. Or irritate the hell out of one another. Depends on the day.

I think I have to credit Gretchen Rubin with being my source for the research that shows that in couples, each partner usually overestimates the amount of work they contribute and underestimates the amount their partner contributes to the working of things.

So with that in mind, I let my guilt sphincter relax when there’s a new bar of soap in the shower, because I imagine the husband both resents me and also feels superior every time he gets a new bar. And then my guilt sphincter tightens right back up again, because that is the nature of a sphincter (and of me and guilt), because I suspect that while he might overestimate what he gives to the relationship, I know I must also do so, and therefore. Well. The point is that sometimes you have to work out stuff like this. By accepting that I am just not capable of giving myself (and thereby also) the husband a new bar of soap until the very last bit of the old one is gone. And there is a reason.

Here’s the thing about soap. It relates to goal-setting. According to Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D, (HGH, Ph.D) author of Succeed: How We can Reach Our Goals, and whose work I have discussed several times, people approach goals with one of two orientations, prevention or promotion. The prevention oriented person is focused on stopping bad things from happening: being taken advantage of; wastefulness; loss of money. The promotion oriented person is focused on potential benefits: improved efficiency; what you have to gain.

Now, the husband, when he steps into the shower, is about taking a nice, hot, sudsy shower. So for him, a fresh bar of soap fulfills his goal. Whereas I am always—always—going to use that bar of soap down to the last sud. There is no way Dove is going to get me to throw away perfectly good soap splinters. Left to my own devices, I am going to, in fact, collect soap splinters in a soap dish, mash them all together into a sort of soap mound and thereby eke out every last sud. And take that, Unilever. Suck it.

“Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage table.”

This is my favorite quotation from Hamlet. It’s about how quickly Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, shacked up with her husband’s brother after her husband’s demise. It’s a wonderful example of irony. I love to quote it, almost as much as I love to quote from “Auntie Mame.” And I use these words to point out that, thank goodness, I have the husband to get me a new bar of soap. Because let me assure you, it’s no fun to shower with a splinter. It’s a wonderful relief whenever I get in the shower and find a fresh bar of soap. That was not my decision, but I can benefit from it. Thank you, Husband. In this way, the sphincter of life releases a little.

But my point about goals is this. The tendency we have towards goals is one or the other of these.You guessed it, Clever Readers, these orientations are basically pessimistic and optimistic. This is good news and bad news, depending on the goal you have. Some goals lend themselves more to a prevention strategy, and some more to a promotion strategy. When you have a creative goal, for example, says HGH, Ph.D, you want to approach it with a promotion a goal—don’t worry about mistakes. However, when you need something to be perfect, say, a bridge you’re constructing, then you need to be prevention-focused. More good news is that we are not always either promotion or prevention focused, and we can adjust our thinking depending on the goal.

So, some goals are prevention goals. Some are promotion goals. Some can be looked at both ways. Like using soap. Or buying a car. Buying a car involves both promotion and prevention. The promotion part is getting a newer, more updated, more fun, prettier vehicle. The prevention part is getting a safer, more reliable, updated vehicle. And yes, the husband and I recently bought a new car. I was able to get over the loss of money in the bank, and the husband was able to achieve a new vehicle without having to test drive twelve different brands, as I intended, to make sure we had considered everything and weren’t being totally taken advantage of. Which I am sure we were, once we decided on a car we both liked. But now, we have it, and I can just enjoy it. Relief. Sphincter release.

Sadly, I am not the thoroughgoing optimist I would like to be. Because, honest and true, optimists have more fun, tend to see what they might gain from a situation, a goal, or a decision, rather than fester and fear what they might lose or miss, and get to enjoy a fresh bar of soap on the regular. On the other hand, they might overspend on a car and waste precious soap. They might possibly be cleaner than pessimists, thanks to all those suds, but I’ll take you to the mat on that one.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Quarterly Check-In, Part One

As tax day approaches, I am reminded of that old saw, The only things certain in life are death and taxes.  But nobody wants to talk about either of those things, so I thought, as this quarter draws to a close, it's time to check back in with you, Readers, about your New Year's resolutions and goals.

How are they going?

I don't really want to talk about that, either. I am here to brag. Why, you ask?

First of all, I won. Twice. I won a raffle. The prize is a massage, which I can redeem at the farmer's market when it opens.  I also won a gift certificate to a plant nursery by guessing the weight of a boulder. I was at a home show with my friend LL. I was very excited about this contest. I had a feeling when I dropped my estimate in the bowl that I was going to win. Don’t ask me why. I don’t even believe in that stuff. Still, I had a feeling. And I won. I won I won I won. My guess was pretty close—1,967 lbs to an actual weight of 1,948 lbs. In the interest of veracity, I must admit the lady who called burst my bubble a bit, if you can burst a bubble only a bit. Newsflash--you can’t. A bubble is either intact, or burst. So. More like a tire with a slow leak is the metaphor I seek. Leak and seek.

Anyway, she told me someone else had guessed a little closer, but every time they tried to contact this person, the person hung up on them before they could speak. This is the tenor of the times, isn’t it? So they moved on to the next closest guess, mine. Of course, I had screened the call, because most calls are not worth answering, then called them back. I am not above hanging up on intrusive calls.

Also in the interest of veracity, I must admit that I had to check with my friend LL about the weight of a ton before I could make my guess. But I was right.

I am thrilled. Now I can drive 75 minutes to spend $50 on a plant. Or a pot. Or something.

I also won by tackling admin. Admin is what gets me every time. Admin is the crap you just don't want to do, but you know you need to do. And life, I am sorry to say, is full of admin.

So, after delaying for several years, literally, I finally took the advice of the plumber and called Delta about our kitchen faucet. This required girding myself for hours on hold with customer service trying not to listen to their hold music and for frustrating questions about make and model when I couldn’t find the manual for the thing. And then I called. And miracle of modern miracle, all I needed to do was text a photo of the faucet to the man on the phone, and next thing I knew, he was promising me a replacement part, for free.

Still waiting on that, by the way.

But—done. Checked off the list. Weight lifted.

The ease of that admin left me a bit foolish feeling. I know I am writing backwards. My point is, this kind of detail, this annoying stuff of which life is full, is the kind of stuff I normally walk backwards around the earth in the opposite direction to avoid. The husband and I call this stuff “admin.” This is because I caught a segment of an interview with someone who has written a book about this stuff, which she calls “admin.” And she claims to have strategies to help all of us poor avoidant sods tackle our admin. Unfortunately, I don’t know her name or the name of her book, and while I could look them up by looking on the website of our local NPR radio station, or probably even by googling “book about admin”, I haven’t. So while this information might indeed be very useful for me, and for you, Readers, I do not have it for you. Because finding it is yet another piece of admin. And I used up all my willpower contacting Delta.

But, to be successful in life, one must figure out how to conquer admin. As well as how to increase willpower. Apparently, according to this author, some of us are better at admin than others. I am definitely others.

So, how to conquer admin?

There’s a great piece of advice bouncing around the self-help coaches: Eat the frog. I believe this phrase is attributed to Mark Twain. Again, I would have to look that up, and so I will just lamely assume it is a reference to something Mark Twain wrote. Or said. After all, it seems plausible. He wrote that short story about the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County. It’s called, “The Celebrated Jumping frog of Calaveras County.” so it seems plausible he said something about eating frogs. Or it’s plausible that our minds just connect that saying with Mark Twain because he wrote a story about jumping frogs. Frogs and frogs being linked. At least in my mind.

I digress. Now, the saying, “Eat the frog,” means to get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first. Off your to-do list. This makes sense. Eating the frog means getting it out of the way and off your chest and out of your mind and off your shoulders. It means you get to cross something off the to-do list. Something unpleasant.

However, there is also the advice to conserve your most productive time of the day for your most important tasks, such as your creative endeavors or other projects that require clarity of thought and a reserve of energy. And our most productive time of the day is usually first thing. And they recommend saving the admin stuff for later, when you’re not as primed for creative work. That way you don’t burn energy and therefore willpower on less important tasks.

So, which advice is better?


Of late, the husband and I have taken to calling everything we don’t much feel like doing, “admin.” Turns out that’s a lot of stuff. Shoveling snow. Changing light bulbs. Planning meals. Admin. Life is full of admin.

But I think a secret to happiness is embracing admin. I mean, there is no way around it. So. You know. If you can embrace, as in accept that fact, then you have a better chance at happiness. Admin is the frog.

The best scenario is that you partner with someone whose definition of frogs and admin is different than yours. Complements yours, ideally.

This is not the case in my home. We have overlapping definitions of admin. Vast, overlapping definitions. In fact, it’s a miracle anything gets done. I can’t tell you how many times the husband claims he’s going to put a letter in the mailbox on the way to work—our mailbox is across the street in a little mailbox house with other mailboxes belonging to the neighbors—and I find the envelope left behind.

You’d be surprised how hard it is to cross the street to mail a letter.
Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. What do I know. I’m just letting you in on the depth of our laziness chez nous.

This is probably a good time to remind myself of Stephen Covey’s Habit No. 3 of Highly Effective People, Put First Things First. Good old Stephen Covey. Such a fount of wisdom. I myself have always wanted to be a fount of wisdom—or it font, font of wisdom? Perhaps a step along the path to wisdom is being able to repeat the wisdom of others. Anyway, put first things first is Covey's chapter on time management, which boils down to the four quadrants of effectiveness. Or, how to deal with admin in a mature manner, rather than in a hair’s-on-fire manner. I’ve discussed this before on this blog, but it’s been a long time. ( This about the four quadrants of decision- making)

So there are the four quadrants. Ideally, you spend most of your time in quadrant II, taking care of things important but not urgent. Here’s where you do your long-term planning, your self-evaluation, your strategizing how best to whatever. This is in the ideal world. In the real world, sometimes it’s all quadrant IV, mucking about with the unimportant and non-urgent stuff. That’s usually followed by a quick (and involuntary) switcheroo into quadrant I, the important and urgent stuff, the crises. After which you have definitely earned a trip back to Quadrant 4 (unimportant and not urgent; online shopping, playing trivia games, whatever.) Although, according to this handy chart cribbed from Stephen Covey, Quadrant IV should be ELIMINATED from your life.

I think not. We need Quadrant IV. Probably just a lot less time in it.

Honestly, I am not sure which quadrant is the frog-eating quadrant, and Stephen Covey is no longer around to clarify. What I know is that priority-setting, scheduling, and making a plan are three things that make me want to pull the covers over my head and forget.

So we can see why I am not a highly effective person.

Quadrant III is the quadrant we are supposed to delegate. That’s correct, we are to delegate the un-urgent but important things in Quadrant III to someone else who can take care of them. Hopefully this person will have an affinity for admin.

Sadly, since I don’t live in an office, I have no one to delegate things to. I suppose this must be the Eat the Frog quadrant. You have to eat it to get it over with. Unless you can delegate this task to someone else.

I’m thinking, which is the Eat the Frog Quadrant? And I’m thinking maybe I need to rename these quadrants.

IMPORTANT QI  Hair on Fire
Taxes due today
Q2  The place for the Big Boys and Big Girls with Brave Hearts and Minds.

Or- Research whom to bribe to get kid into Ivy. Also, which Ivy? 

NOT IMPORTANT Eat the Frog? Q3

Mixing advice is so dang hard.
Q4 Binge watch “Russian Doll”

After proving to you just how much I avoid admin, I am going to confound you by saying that I actually did google the NPR interview with the admin-coining expert. Here's why: Another handy tip for getting things done is to use your tendency to put off admin to your benefit. Put off something highly unpleasant by doing something less unpleasant that is also easy. Such as googling the author who coined the term “admin.”

Her name is Elizabeth Emens, and her book is Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More. Here’s a blog post about her general idea*. Summary: 4 approaches to admin: The Super Doer, the reluctant doer, the admin denier, and the admin avoider (moi).

So what was more unpleasant that I had to do? I'll never tell. Instead, I will report that I mailed three important letters this week, which balances out the rebate I failed to earn because I waited so long to send in the form that the offer had expired.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Annals of Parenting and Suburban Life: Stereotypes and Success

Big news: I am being interviewed for a podcast this weekend. I don’t yet know when it will be aired, or what it will be called, but hey, I might as well brag about this part because life is short, and you never know if you’ll be around to brag later. Or if later will ever come. I will certainly inform you all if later does arrive and there's a podcast for you to hear.

Small news: I have been busy teaching, and drinking and eating oat products. That’s correct. Oats and oat by-products.

Let me elaborate. There’s my morning and evening mug of oatstraw infusion—that’s a long-steeped herbal tea, or tisane, as they say in France. Supposed to keep me from drying up into a husk as I enter cronehood. So far, so good.

There’s my breakfast steel cut oats, my cold weather breakfast. We all know oatmeal is good for us. Keeps us regular. And also, it’s a vehicle for a bit of maple syrup.

And then there are my oatmilk lattés. More on that in a minute.

I am basically oats at this point.

Sometimes, while eating my oatmeal with walnuts, slivered almonds, cinnamon, sliced banana, and a spoonful of maple syrup, I gaze at something educational or informational on the Internet. Most of the time, what I gaze at on the Internet is neither of those.

Exhibit A: During her last visit home, the college junior showed me some YouTube videos of a young male comedian who dresses up as “Gayle Waters-Waters”, a high-strung suburban mom who’s on an edge as sharp as one of my new Japanese knives (thanks, MIL).* Those knives are sharp. Gayle is always in workout clothes, speedwalking while holding hand weights, cleaning in hyperdrive, or barking at her bland mom friends in their bookclub. She measures her drop cookie dough placement to ensure proper spacing on the cookie sheet, and she has a labradoodle accepted to Carnegie Mellon. And two kids who are constant disappointments.

I have a labradoodle.

And I was recently forcing the 11th grader to look at the Carnegie Mellon website. When I say “forcing” I mean “encouraging,” by the way. No one forces anyone to do anything in THIS family. We lovingly stimulate an intrinsic motivation. That is key to success, by the way. In case you were actually reading this blog post for some information on that topic.

The college student loves this series, and it is amusing, definitely. Gayle is everything to the max, as we used to say back in the ‘80s. But I couldn’t help think a couple things: One, that the college student must think I resemble this person; and two, how very much I don’t think so. And yet, sometimes it hits you just how much of a stereotype you are.

A recent morning, I got in the car to drive the carpool and my yoga mat was frozen.

Other news: I am over the moon about two things, and maybe these are just stereotypical suburban mom things, but still, I am transported. One, is that oatmilk has arrived in our café. Now, I’ve been waiting. I got on the oatmilk train a while ago, after reading an article about it in the NY Times, of course, about two years ago. I tried it almost a year ago in NYC when I went to a (very unstereotypical, people, seriously) writer’s conference in Chelsea. And then I began noodging our café about it. Like, seriously noodging; I stopped one of the owners and talked at him, sent newspaper articles, and asked every barrista if they had oat milk yet every time I ordered a coffee, and I have to say, they went from unaware, to aware and unable to procure, to having it.

Oat milk is in short supply. Or it was, for a while, because every lactose intolerant coffee drinker on the planet suddenly wanted it; whereas the Swedish, who invented it, have been drinking it for years.

And isn’t that irony? The Swedes, who with their fellow Northern Europeans, are among the few peoples who don’t tend to be lactose intolerant**, created the best milk substitute? I believe it is ironic. Really ironic, not Alanis Morrisette ironic. Alanis can have her rain on a sunny day. That is not ironic. It’s just unusual, and often means you can see a rainbow.

On the positive side, here is proof activism works. And now, I can have my morning oatmeal and follow that with a cafe au lait or latté with oatmilk.

You know what else is ironic? Here’s true irony. A long time ago, not long after the Berlin Wall came down, one of my housemates, who was from Texas, traveled across country and met an East German who was traveling around the USA, and brought him back to the big house where we all lived, and he moved in. Eventually they married, and eventually, they divorced, and along the way, he became a citizen and she, my heart-of-Texas-housemate, moved to Berlin, where she fell in love with a German and stayed.

That’s ironic.

I saw my former East German housemate last weekend, along with several other housemates and exes and friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen since the mid-nineties. It was a solid reminder that behind every dang stereotype is an individual. I mean, c’mon, did Gayle Waters-Waters ever dream of living with a bunch of MIT grads in a co-operative house? I think not.

I belong to two book clubs. So, sue me.

Okay, and the other thing about which I am suburbanly happy to a startling degree is that our town is building a sidewalk on my street.

Okay, I take that back. It’s not on my actual street, which is part of a tangle of curvilinear streets developed in the 1950s and 1960s, but it’s on the street you turn off of to get to my street. That street is unpleasant and dangerous to walk on in bad weather or at night and it makes it hard to get into town without a car. But now, we’re getting a sidewalk, and that means connection and walkability.

So doesn’t that prove that I am not a stereotypical suburban mom? Because I want to walk and bike into town. I can wear my yoga mat across my back like it’s a messenger bag.

In other news, one of my students informed me that I am mediocre. I mean, she didn’t say exactly that to me, but I learned it from her. You see, she was assigned, along with classmates, to give a short (3-5 minute) presentation on a topic related to success on which she might like to write her required research paper. So she chose the topic, habits, and from somewhere, she produced a chart, listing on the left, habits of “mediocre people” and on the right, habits of “successful people.”

This chart was not footnoted, no source was named—nor was “success” defined, by the way—so I conclude she drew it up. That is, produced it from herself. And she informed the class that one of the habits of mediocre people is watching TV at night.


Busted, as they say.

Of course, as I have mentioned here in this blog, sometimes I also watch TV during the morning, for fifteen minutes. What does that say about me?

Well, it’s good to have a college first year presenting an opinion as a fact with no source reference to teach me my place.

If only she’d told me this before I had lunch with a few of my high school classmates from our fancy high school a few weeks ago. We shared our confusion about the many messages about being achieving women with which we were inculturated, and how we have tried to fulfill them in our lives, and how that has left us feeling inadequate too often.

The message boiled down to a intensely flavored bone broth*** called, “Be a Superwoman and do it all, otherwise you are a failure.”

But apparently it’s not that Superwoman stock that was a problem. It was a propensity to love British detective series.

Goddam it, I am not a stereotype.

If you’ll excuse me, I have to drive my Prius to the food co-op to pick up some locally made kombucha.

Catch ya later. Xoxo.


*** bone broth, by the way, seems to be what used to be called, “soup stock.” But times have changed and now it’s oat milk and bone broth and keto diet and fasting for 16 hours and never watching TV.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year and Other Foibles

Well, the sticky knobs on all the drawers and cabinets have been wiped clean after all the baking and eating and, dare I say, drinking of the last couple of weeks. And when I say they have been wiped clean, I mean that I have wiped them clean. They have not wiped themselves.

That sounds vaguely gross.

Also, it’s disingenuous, suggesting that I have done all the work over the holidays. This is untrue and to prove it, here’s a picture of a gorgeous tarte soleil the husband and our Yankee friend Tom made for New Year’s:
Recipe from 

Anyway, 2018 is gone, no point in regrets. 2019 is upon me, no point trying to deny the march of time. That’s pretty much the way life goes, isn’t it? If I can free myself of regret and fear, well, then I will be golden.

Failing that, if I can accept regret and fear, then I’ll be pretty good.  Silver, I suppose. 

I’m not big on resolutions, at least not this year. I’m big on carrying on with the things I’m doing that do some good and cutting back on things I’m doing that are less helpful.

One thing I would like to stop doing is calling the garage door man. I keep calling him—this has now happened three times—and he keeps coming over and discovering that the garage door works absolutely fine. He’s very nice about it. He doesn’t even charge me for it. He just points out what stupidity has prevented me from understanding why the door isn’t going up. Or down. Depending on which you want it to do. It’s kind of like a toddler; it goes up when it ought to go down and vice versa, and it’s always when you’re running late. Last time this happened, right before the dawn of this new year in which I will be more aware of the garage door mechanism, the issue was that somehow someone had pushed the lock option on the garage door button.

This is a public service announcement to those of you who live in suburbs and have garages: if you push the lock option on your wall button, the car button attached to your car’s visor will not operate. The button on the wall of the garage will still work, however, and this will cause you much confusion. Also annoyance. Also, potentially amusing moments of playing chicken with the garage doors, running into the garage to press the button, then running out forgetting the safety mechanism in the overhead door that causes it to go up if it detects anything under it. Anything being, for example, a frustrated driver rushing to get a late child to school. Neither of you will be amused that the door has flown upward again. That's why I said "potentially" amusing. Because it won't be amusing. Next you’re playing a whole song and dance with the other garage door and the button in the car that does work the other side of the garage. It’s a whole fandango. 

Now you know. You are welcome. However, I cannot help you figure out if you have pushed the lock option. Because somehow, mysteriously, I, or the husband, or someone else in my house, did this, and we did not know. Fortunately, the garage door man did know. And was more amused than peeved to be called over on yet another bootless run to our neocolonial revival.

So, I would like to do less of that shit in 2019.

Eventually, I will fully understand the garage door, and then the garage door will finally break and I’ll have to learn a whole new fandango. But that’s sounding a bit Bombeckian for the start of a new year, so let’s back away from the cynicism.

Instead, let’s aim for this Tibetan proverb:

To live well and longer
Eat half
Walk double
Laugh triple
And love without measure

I don’t know if that’s actually Tibetan or a proverb, but I like it. I saw it shared on Facebook by a friend from college.

Readers, here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy 2019.