Follow Me on Twitter

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Tips from Pantone on Optimism and Strength: Success in Tunnel and Out

Did you know every year there is an official color? Indeed there is, and the announcement is met with some fanfare in the world of design. The Pantone Color Institute picks it and names it. This year’s color of the year is actually two colors, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. That’s grey and yellow to you and me. The colors were chosen together because they create contrast and balance. Things being what they are, I guess even paint company employees are looking for answers to our current predicament. “The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one,” said Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, in a press release.*

Readers, I never thought I’d be passing on success tips from Pantone, but I find inspiration where I must. Optimism and strength are “two characteristics that are needed as we enter the new year,” according to the author, Nicoletta Richardson, of Pantone's colors.* Because things right now are very hard and dark. You know, we’re in it. The days have a ways to go to the shortest one, so we’re still tunneling down and we can’t expect that little upturn that means we’re going to make it out to sunlight again until then. The too short, too dark, too cloudy days. We know they’re going to get longer soon, though, and that does bolster the mood. However, as Kate McKinnon said on “Saturday Night Live Weekend Update” last weekend, it’s well and good to see the light at the end of the tunnel,“It’s just that the light at the end of the tunnel has shown us how stinky and bad the tunnel is.” What’s in my tunnel right now, aside from the wider world of politics and incomprehensibly stupid people, is the paterfamilias with COVID-19, alone in the hospital, in a city far away. Not that distance matters at the moment, because visitors aren’t allowed. 

On the side of Count Your Blessings is that he has a bed, he doesn’t need a ventilator, and he has enough energy to complain. On the side of Life is Infuriating, Hard, and Scary is the government’s murderous response to this pandemic means my 95 year old father is alone in the hospital with a disease he never needed to have. 

Okay, so what do we do? We gotta get through the tunnel. This blog is about success, at least putatively. Success is sometimes just plodding along. Indeed, often it is just taking that next step. How’re you doing, I would ask my stepmother, as she descended from sharp-witted lawyer to demented old woman. Oh, still putting one foot in front of the other, she would say. It’s what we have to do. 

But what can I do? Anne Lamott would say, do what we do: tend to the sick; feed the hungry; cheer the sad; practice self-care. My social work professors are big on self-care, too. What do you do for self-care, they all ask. Perhaps they know something. Perhaps we should listen. 

Of course, in times of stress, self-care gets de-prioritized. Okay, so here’s a tip. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Just promise to practice it more when things are better. That way, you’ll establish your practice, whatever it may be, and if it’s a habit, you might stick to it the next time a crisis rolls around. Or not. It’s not perfect. You’re not perfect. Meanwhile, whenever you remember to practice self-care, do so. 

Meanwhile, what to do about the outrage? That’s a good one. The answer, of course, is feel it if you feel it. Feel it if you feel it, and try not to get caught up in it. 

Because I’m only passing on wisdom, not generating it, at least not at this time, I offer this tidbit from Professor Bonnie Duran of the Schools of Social Work and Public Health at University of Washington, who offers a six word mantra to get you through a bad day: Not perfect, not permanent, not personal. (

Let that sink in for a moment. You can apply it to many things, but if you’re one to get caught up in the political moment, or to get whipped into a frenzy by covid numbers, or to wring your hands because the reforms you want aren’t happening fast enough or in the right way, just take a breath and remember, nothing is perfect, it’s not personal, and it’s not permanent. 

These people who are so incomprehensible to me, they make sense to themselves. It’s not about you; for them it’s about them. It’s not personal. As far as perfect, nothing is perfect. So remember that your idea for fixing the world may be great, but it’s not perfect. Nor is the world perfect. So all solutions once we get out of the tunnel will be imperfect. It’s not personal that everyone else doesn’t immediately grasp your great idea as the best solution. It’s just inevitable. Machinery as klunky as the human cooperative society is never going to move smoothly in one direction. Move it does, however. Remember, it’s not permanent. Now the more Fred Flintstone feet we get moving in the same direction, the more definite the direction and the movement will be, but still, there will always be other feet walking at a different pace or in a different direction. Maybe it's going a direction you like, and maybe it's not. Either way, it’s not permanent. 

This brings me to the next point. We can’t give up. Just because life is hard, doesn’t mean we give up. When it comes time to give inspiration, I can’t turn to faith. Sure, humor, sure wisdom (sometimes), sure honesty—I can do those. Faith, though? Faith in humanity I have to some degree. I tend to skew towards faith that people overall are good, that most want to be good and do good.  

What I can put faith in is the power of purpose. I get that from Viktor Frankl. In Man’s Search For Meaning he drives home that to survive an existential crisis, a person must find a meaning and purpose to her life. Sometimes the purpose is simply to endure suffering. Bleak as it sounds, it is also a testament to hope. As Frankl worked himself nearly to death at Auschwitz, he told himself his job was to endure the suffering he confronted. We are close to the end of the tunnel, but we know that the light outside is pretty dim, and there’s a lot of scary stuff out there, too, with which we’re going to have to cope. Not perfect, not personal, not permanent helps with suffering, too. 

Maybe this post doesn’t seem that optimistic. Maybe there’s a paucity of Illuminating, or is it Ultimate Gray? I guess to that point I say this: it takes both strength and optimism to face the tunnel. “It is possible to practice the art of living, even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent,” says Viktor Frankl, and he should know. 

It takes strength and optimism to crawl forward in the dark and believe in the light at the end, and it takes strength and optimism to look at what’s in the tunnel, too. Here's Frankl once more, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Sometimes the most optimistic thing I can muster is the knowledge that I will feel it once again. 

It’s what I have, today, Readers. That’s it.


Frankl, Viktor. Man's Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006. (1959).

Friday, October 23, 2020

Annals of Pandemic Life: Mere Days Before the Election

Where is everyone? And by Everyone I mean all the wonderful bloggers who used to have joyful or irreverent or informative-but-on-rather-privileged-subjects blogs.  Like fashion. Happiness. Shit like that. 

Oh, I know where they are. Under their beds. They're trying to figure out if they can write a post about something unserious during these serious days. 

And what serious days these are.

The state of things is this way. To wit, I wake up with a new toothache every day. I been clenching at night. M’jaw. Mostly on the left side, because it’s always m’left side with me. Traveling ache from top to bottom, way back to partially back. 

I always wonder the same things: have I cracked a tooth yet? Should I call the dentist and complete my transformation to middle age with a mouth guard? I wish I had more teeth. Why oh why did the orthodontists back in my childhood like to pull out s’many g’damn teeth? If Rump is re-elected, I am going to need a full set of implant chompers. 

Then I proceed through my day. 

But, listen, I have to be honest. Glennon Doyle, in her wonderful and inspiring latest memoir, Untamed, emphasizes the need to be honest with oneself and with others, so I am being honest. Here it is. Often I wake up and discover that not just m’jaw is clenched, m’whole body is rigid. Like absolutely rigid with tension. My hands are clenched in fists, my entire torso like it has rigor mortis. 

It is fortunate that I have over twenty years’ meditation and yoga experience to help me 

  1. become mindful of this rigidity, and 
  2. relax m’musculature so that I can get out of bed. 

I would love to get a massage, but—COVID. I would love to go out for a leisurely lunch with friends, but--COVID. 

As long as we’re being honest, let me add that waking up rigid with tension requires sleeping, and sleeping is something I do only every so often these days. 

Meanwhile, I am thankful for the distraction of GRADUATE SCHOOL. Readers, graduate school is a lot of work. For this I am (mostly) grateful. The workload does add to m'tension, though. 

*    *    *    *    *

I have tears drying on my cheeks. Why? Gloria Steinem. There she was, via video, on Live with Kelly and Ryan. It wasn’t just her presence. It was what she said. She said in her lifetime, she has seen that the issues that concerned her and a few social justice activists when she began are now supported by the majority of the country. One third of the country wants to hold on to the old order, she said, but two thirds are with her. With us. Tears just seeped out. Tears of sorrow, but also of gratitude and of relief. I think it’s also because I have felt so split off from everyone, and have seen so much awfulness out of the current administration, and so much isolation from the pandemic, that I have lost track of the unifying ideas so many of us share. It's a relief to remember that most people and I think along the same lines. 

The last Parkland, Florida, student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will graduate this year. Only staff who were present will be there to remember. Think about it. Those kids who have become activists because of that disaster are now in college, or are about to be, and they are going to make things happen in our political system. 

To all the progressives and the young, cynical, disaffected voting-age people out there, I want to say something. Change will happen, because change is always happening. Unless you participate in the political process, it may not be the change you want. That’s the lesson I learned the hard way. So it’s okay to want AOC and the Green New Deal and to be annoyed with Old Man Biden. It is not okay to give up because change isn’t happening on your timetable or in your preferred way. Keep at it. Keep at it. 

Some dude took the time to criticize me for criticizing our current administration on a blog post I wrote three years ago. He said he really loved what I was writing and was finding it helpful, until, until, until I “dumped on” my president. Then he didn't want to read any further. This dude said he was Australian, and therefore not even a voter in the USA, by the way. He told me he thought, essentially, that I would catch more flies with honey if I had steered away from politics. I gave the matter a few seconds' consideration. 

Well, hell with that. I’m not trying to catch flies. I’m trying to stay sane and maybe help m’readers with that mission. 

Speaking of flies, I did not watch the Vice Presidential debate, but I certainly heard about the fly. What a perfect living metaphor for the putrid, rotting body of this administration. The husband commented that the fly is a symbol of Beelzebub, and everyone knows from the movie "Beetlejuice" who Beelzebub is, and so we have a double metaphor. Surely VP Pence and Mother had a hard time shaking that off when they settled in to pray. One hopes.

That’s the stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning. 

*    *    *    *

By the way, I recently read that shopping and materialism are manifestations of aggression. (This is the sort of stuff I get to read sometimes for school.) At first I was like, Whut? Whut are you talking about, PhD author of peer-reviewed journal article? I've been letting that idea settle. I ordered a couple of items online and monitored myself. Was I feeling aggressive? Combative? Was I slamming and jamming those keyboard keys as I typed my credit card information into the virtual checkout cart? Perhaps. I considered the multitude of items I have considered or have actually purchased over the last six months. I'm not saying I totally agree with this PhD author of peer-reviewed journal; I'm not disagreeing either. Am I containing a lot of aggression and hostility in my body? 

You betcha. I'm gonna proudly wear it on my feet when my new shoes arrive. Unless they don't fit, because, you know, I bought 'em online without trying them on. In which case, I may just hurl them through someone's window. Possibly my own, but I hope not. 

So, hey, this is the lightheartedest I can be at the moment. I imagine many of you can relate. It is what it is, to quote a (in)famous politician. I would dearly like him out of my psyche. Let's work on that, shall we?

Be well, Readers. I promise to be a much more measured, perspicacious therapist when I get my degree and my license than I am a blogger. 

Don't forget to VOTE!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Recollecting Impermanence

Hello, Readers. Since last I wrote, the beloved pooch has died. This is terribly sad, and I notice his absence everywhere, for example when I wake up and no longer have to step over a large, sleeping dog. Or when I peel a carrot, and I realize he is not waiting patiently on the doormat for me to toss him the ends. It’s sad and we are all grieving, and yet it was inevitable that we would outlive him, barring unforseen circumstances.To avoid this situation, I would have had to adopt a tortoise, I suppose, but they’re not much good for midday walks. 

Impermanence has, therefore, been on my mind. The truth of impermanence is one of those truths to which we pay lip service. We know life is short, and that change is the only certainty in life, but we usually only know it theoretically, or intellectually, not in a bone-deep way. Yet knowing the deep truth of impermanence is key to appreciating what’s happening right now. Understanding impermanence is the doorway to wisdom, so they say. They, in this case, being Buddhist teachers. 

Buddhist philosophy feels impermanence is so important that everyone, layperson or monk, should contemplate it daily in the form of the five daily remembrances. They are as follows:

  1. Just like everybody, I am of the nature to experience illness. I cannot avoid sickness
  2. Just like everybody, I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot avoid aging. 
  3. Just like everybody, I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death. 
  4. I am the owner of and heir to all my actions. 
  5. I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
Those last two are listed in different order, depending on the translation.

—Upajjhatthana Sutta 

I’m not going to lie, these seem like a bummer. Number five is really hard to take, these days. I lost an earring down the bathroom sink the other day. I swear that thing committed harakiri, because otherwise there is no explanation. Unless it is that my ear holes have stretched and sagged along with everything else on my person? But I mean maybe the earring disappeared to get me to pay attention to the blog post I’ve delayed writing for days. Was this not karma showing me the truth of this contemplation? Really, it’s very sad, this truth. In the way I understand the practice, by facing this idea daily, I am to become less grasping after stasis and more accepting of the true nature of life, that it is transitory, from the briefest mental image or thought, from the strongest emotion to the longest life. Once I accept this, I suppose, I am free from a layer of sadness and anxiety about the inevitable changes, and this extra space allows me to appreciate what is before me more fully than I do when I am worried about something or someone slipping away. Earring. Dog. Daughters. Life. 

I may be a little tender on this reflection, considering the dog, considering that we’ve just dropped the younger daughter at college for the first time. The elder daughter will soon decamp from our comfortable pandemic bubble for a job in Boston. My sister the psychoanalyst is one year older today, which means I am, too. And none of your “she’s only one day older than she was yesterday” folderol. Sometimes the milestones hit you. 

Here’s a secret. I’ve found that when I contemplate these five remembrances, I feel a bit of relief. It’s just the teensiest bit of relief, more of a minute relaxation deep in my gut. I think it has to do with letting go of some of the struggle to collect and keep everyone and everything dear near. I think it has to do with releasing some shame around aging, illness, death, responsibility, and loss. I think there is shame around these things sometimes. We feel that if we experience them, it is our fault for not managing well enough in the world. We didn’t exercise enough, or eat the right food in the right amounts. We didn’t appreciate the gravity of our choices at the time and could have chosen better. Maybe you don’t feel that way, Readers. If so, I am glad for you. For me, I have found it so. Which means, that counterintuitive as it seems for me, these recollections do help me be more comfortable. 

I was informed that my earring, a thing I hold dear, was most likely retrievable from the trap under the bathroom sink. I marshaled my resources to figure that out—by which I mean I texted the husband, who said he would do it when he got home from work.

The husband did indeed find my earring. So what does that mean? It means that sometimes things from which we are separated come back to us. As Sting told us, back in the early 1980s, “If you love something, set it free, free, free.”

Sting’s lyric doesn’t exactly apply to losing an earring. It might apply, however, to letting your child leave for college, and your other no-longer-a-child child leave for a new phase of life as a college graduate working for peanuts and trying to make the world a bit better. By "letting your child" I don't suggest I have any choice in these things. The letting is internal.

However, because of the covid, the new college student will indeed be coming back to us. Her college is only allowing the first years one semester on campus. The rest of the academic year will be remote learning, so that the older students can have a semester there. Oy. Such is the ever-changing nature of things. 

Meanwhile, Readers, I started full time graduate school for social work this week. At the ripe old age of one thousand and ten, I am returning to school for a master’s degree, with a plan to become a therapist. I don’t know if this is wisdom or foolishness, embracing of life, or denial of time passing. Nevertheless, I go forward. I cannot escape illness, death, or aging. I cannot avoid responsibility for my choices or letting go of all I love. Okay. So be it. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Success in Stasis: Dealing with the Doldrums

I was working my way towards something inspirational and success-related for you, Readers, but then the doggo was sick all night, and I got no sleep. So it seems like a time to remind myself and you that sometimes success is simply hanging on. Progress is not always an option. Sometimes there’s stasis. Sometimes there’s downward plunging. Sometimes there’s circling the drain. What’s that word for when you’re sailing and the wind dies? I would probably remember it if I weren’t so tired. Oh yeah, the doldrums. Sometimes it’s the doldrums. Don’t have a lot of control over that. Sometimes the wind just dies. Meaning you’re sailing along and heading somewhere, the wind ruffling your hair, and you’re feeling all windblown and healthy and looking towards the horizon. Sometimes, though, there’s no breeze, just nothing and humidity and your hair is frizzy and stuck to your cheeks and you’re suddenly hyper aware of your damp bathing suit and how unpleasant it feels. Of course, you are also gripped by the anxiety that this state will never change, that you’ll be bobbing along in the current with no control over the sails ever again. This anxiety that the doldrums will last forever is called catastrophizing, and it comes with the territory. It is, by the way, never helpful. 

Why the sailing metaphor, you may well ask. Well, before the doldrums hit, aka, the dog having a terrible night, I was enjoying my weekend thoroughly, sitting on a warm rock and dangling my feet into a lake, watching a sailboat race of little sunfish sailboats. It was a truly lovely time, involving lovely sailboats moving in the breeze, despite many sad things going on in the world and within my circle of influence. Today, though, I am just trying to get through the day. It helps to remember that just a day ago, the mood was much better, because the next step is a plunge into catastrophizing, which I just told you is never helpful, despite being a regular occurrence. 

Eventually, the wind will shift because you’ve drifted along in the current just enough to get to a slightly different place. Then you’ll be able to fill your sails and start moving again. Until then, well, you are stuck with where and who you are, so you might as well accept that. Self-acceptance. Acknowledging what is right now, and acknowledging that what is right now is not what will be forever. Radical self-acceptance. That might just be the very thing that gets the wind moving again. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Annals of Pandemic Life: What is Success When the World is Full of Suffering?

Readers, my eye has been twitching for days. Lower lid twitch. It’s a minor annoyance. I think my eyes are tired of everything they’re seeing. Plague, protests. Racism, authoritarianism, cynicism, pessimism. Climate change. The paterfamilias is suffering from frailty and isolation. The doggo needs surgery for a fast spreading cancer and yes, he is going to get it, but will it be in time? It was damn hard to get an appointment for him, because the surgeon veterinarians are all booked up, now that they’ve reopened. My circle of concern is on fire, and my circle of influence seems about the size of a pinprick.

What does success mean when the world is full of suffering? What does it mean to be successful in a world like ours? Can there be any success when so many people have no chance for it? There are moments when continuing to address the single-focused need to self-actualize seems too small.

“How do you want to be changed?” Gil Fronsdal asks in his dharma talk about the protests in response to the murder by police of George Floyd.

How do I want to be changed? Essentially. That’s how. I want to operate from that place, and I want to make things better for Black people. That will make things better for all people. So helping to eliminate racism is key.

How does that relate to success? Well, the scrabble after accumulating material goods and money that so often defines success seems to be accentuated by the recognition that the world is so much about about haves and have nots. In other words, the drive for material success is powered by fear of becoming a have-not. So helping eliminate the have-nots is one key. By “eliminate”, I do not mean genocide. People, do not quote me out of context! I mean eliminate the have-nots by eliminating their state of want. If the worst-off in society had basic needs met, had health care, had housing, had education, had food and clothing and community, then the fear would abate, and the scramble for accumulating maximum resources would abate, too. And the racism would abate, too. Or so it seems to me.

So what do I do when my circle of concern is ever-expanding and my circle of influence seems like a pinhead? Well, a pinhead can be just enough space. This reminds me of the cute townie boy I used to chat with in the second hand store in Oxford, my junior year abroad. I could tell he was half-annoyed by me, because I was a privileged gownie, but also half interested in me because I was, well, cute and American. Anyway, I digress. The point is that one time he told me that Oxford had many elements. “It’s the whole world on the head of a pin,” he said. He was really cute. Did I mention that? I don’t know how broadly he had traveled, but nevermind. He meant I should look beyond the spires of the university. There were layers and problems right there. So it may be small, a circle of influence the size of a pinhead, but it’s still a circle of influence.

So, what can I do? Well, turn to the teachers, of course, because teachers are focused on creating the next generation. And before we say what my graduates have been hearing, over and over, that they are the future and our hope, that they have to fix the mess they’re inheriting, let’s realize what the husband said the other night: We don’t have to hand it all over to them and wait for them to fix things. We can fix things right now.

Some of the teachers at the high school posted videos for the seniors with their two cents. Since I don’t have any cents to pass on these days, I am once again and always beholden to the amazing, dedicated educators who have taught my children. Teaching is a truly noble profession, and teachers have really stepped up during the pandemic.

From beloved math teacher, Mrs. Mahmood., came her famous, or infamous, acronym “RODH to success”. To succeed, she said, you need to focus on the following four values: Responsibility; Organization; Discipline; and Honesty. These are solid traits to develop, for sure. I think what she said by way of greeting, however, is equally important, and chosen with intent. “To the loving, caring, cute class of 2020” she began, and I couldn’t help notice those values either. She teaches  Calculus and Math 3/Linear Algebra, so focusing on achievement might be what you would assume is most important to her. However, she focuses on character, and on love and caring. I think that’s telling.

R Responsibility
O Organization
D Discipline
H Honesty

Bear witness.
Protest racism.
Make phone calls to the veterinarian.
Make phone calls to the paterfamilias and to my sister the psychoanalyst.
Bear witness. It’s a choice, bearing witness. The other option is to distract myself or turn away. So, yeah. Bear witness.
Argue for fairer policy and law. Educate myself (more bearing witness).
And of course, vote.
Thank you, Mrs. Mahmood.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Annals of Pandemic Life: Journaling Through

Dear Readers,

Lacking a coherent idea, I am sharing some thoughts from the last few days. Sure, I could wait and try to distill this into something more polished, but I think that might take too long. Perhaps the theme is see-saw: up and down, good and bad, plus and minus, happy and sad.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Time for a blog post.
What I am thinking about.

Okay, so we all know by now that unless we are essential workers, who have to show up at their workplaces as usual, or teachers, who are expected to teach all day via the interwebs, we have time now to think about Things. We have time to spend with our families, or perhaps with ourselves, with only our image in the mirror for company. I have been taking advantage of this opportunity, Readers, to really notice things.

For example, one of the things I have noticed is that one of my ears is lower than the other one.

Is this deep and important? Well, it is to me. I mean, what the heck? You know how they say if you have a very asymmetrical face, the asymmetry is indicative of some kind of twisted evil inside you? Well, does that apply to ear level?

I’m serious. After five-plus decades of life, is my inner evil, twisted landscape finally manifesting in some asymmetry that’s going to become more and more obvious as the next decades (God willing) go by?

Such are the thoughts of which isolation is made.

Friday, May 15, 2020

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.  Toni Morrison.

My friend, writer Catherine Goldhammer, posted that quotation on her Facebook page and it was the perfect thing to read. The words pierced through the haze, the scrim, the plaque on the teeth of daily life that I seem to be encountering. Of course, the next thought I had was a little slonk on my virtual kneecaps*: What you write, a blog? That ain’t art. That ain’t books. Not literature. That’s nothing. You’re not an artist. Not an artist-artist.

Setting aside the question of what makes an artist, I responded to that quotation because I did recognize myself in it. Artists examining the world and trying to make sense of it is an aspect of what I do, even in my lowly blog. One may recognize that one is engaged in Important Work, even if one is not engaged in the Most Important Work.

There is art to that, Readers.

That said, what can I tell you? It’s Friday, and every time Friday whips around, I can’t believe it means another week has gone by in Coronavirus isolation. It seems so fast, even though during the other seven days, time seems to stretch and stretch, the days jumbled and somewhat indistinguisable. The husband still goes to work at the hospital, so in fact, our schedule still has weekends. I am thankful for that.

When this shut down began, I was dismayed that my guilty pleasure, the weekday morning talk show “Live With Kelly and Ryan”, was running old episodes. I didn’t want reruns. Reruns seemed so hopelessly outdated when everyone was talking about the new world order. I didn’t want to see the studio audience, when now I knew there was none. So I was relieved when, a few days later, Kelly and Ryan appeared via Skype to do the show live once again. The quality of the broadcast was about as good as it could be via video feed, and that was okay. It was a comfort to see Kelly and Ryan, one holed up in her (probably vast triplex) appartment in New York, the other in his (probably vast) house in Los Angeles. We need to see how others are coping. How others are carrying on right now. We need to remember that the mundane and the frivolous continue, even amid chaos.

Entertainment is essential work, too. We are all depending on the entertainment industrial complex to divert us from the coronacrisis.

*    *     *    *   

I put on a 95th birthday party for the paterfamilias on Zoom this week. Well, when I say “the paterfamilias” I mean the paterfamilias of my family of origin. The husband might take exception to the term if not applied to him in the family we created. Anyway, I was almost as stressed out by this event as if it were an in-person party. Wrangling Zoom boxes full of people who want to talk is a nightmare waiting to happen. Well, it happened. Thanks to the mute button and the stealth and tech savvy of the college senior and the high school senior, the event passed rather well. I had invited everyone to share a memory of the paterfamilias, and to decorate their Zoom rooms if they wished. People had balloons and party hats and banners. We all sang “Happy Birthday” in our little boxes. It was fun. And, not to overdo the silver lining blather, I will say this. If we had met in person, it would have been a bigger party, but some of the people who Zoomed in might not have been able to attend in person. Furthermore, at an in-person party, people would be clustered in their little groups, and it would be very unlikely that everyone there would have the time or ability to listen carefully to what each guest had to say about the guest of honor. So, yes, that was nice.

Monday, May 18, 2020

President Obama gave a televised address to high school seniors. Don’t ask me when, because the days are melting together. All I know is that he spoke, and we in this household listened. Some of us needed Kleenex. One of us, to be exact. Obama was brief, coherent, and inspiring.

Brief, coherent, inspiring. Let that sink in, if you will. National addresses of late have been none of those.

Anyway, his message was simple: do not be afraid of the future; do what you know is the right thing to do, even if it is not the easy choice; and build community.

It was a lot to ask, but it came out simple. Do not be afraid of the future. The United States has gone through terrible times before and has come out stronger. Despite all the bad that’s evident in the country right now, there is no doubt we are better off than before. Well, is that true? I think so. It’s better that all that awful stuff is out in the open. It’s disheartening to realize how much hatred and anger is all around, but if we don’t see it, we can’t address it. Even if it's not true that we are better off now than we were before, now is where we are. The future can be better. So, really, what is the point of fearing the future? We have to meet it, afraid or not, so it’s better to accept that and move forward without fear. That way it will be easier to see the next right thing to do.

I am trying to write a blog post and it’s hard. It’s hard to think of something to write when the most exciting thing we did this weekend was go to Target and then to our lawyer’s house to sign wills, powers of attorney, and health care proxies on her back deck.

It is true. That was the most exciting thing. I put on hard pants** and a belt and a blazer. Yes, I said blazer. It wasn’t a tweed blazer, it was made of denim. I also put on my very cute slides with bows that I got last spring. Very impractical shoes. Perfect for a ride in the car and quick run to Target and to walk around to the back of the lawyer’s house. The eighteen year old and the twenty-one year old had the same impulse to dress for the occasion, I might add. I am adding. Their versions of dressing were different from each other’s and from mine, but the effort was there. This reminds me of a phase through which the twenty-one-year old passed in high school. She and her friends would discuss how many “efforts” they put into their outfits that day. Clothes, hair, makeup, shoes were all part of the count. So for me, I would say, for this excursion I put in about five efforts. Out of ten, shall we say? The eighteen-year-old put on a skirt and some platform jelly shoes, and mascara. She did her hair. Eight efforts?

My shoes

The high school senior's shoes

We went to Target first. The husband and I went in. The other two, despite their efforts, “efforts”, stayed in the car, listening to music. I am not lying. They were being respectful of the Coronavirus guidelines. After that, we drove to the lawyer’s house, conducted our signing business on her back deck, wearing masks while she spoke to us through her screen door. Then we went home. The masks went in the laundry and the cute shoes scattered across the mudroom floor. Cooking dinner seemed exhausting, so we ordered pizza.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The eighteen-year-old has baked the most delicious chocolate chip muffins. I think my muffin top would agree I don’t need to eat any of them. I should probably opt for enjoying their aroma, which is so wondrous it might just spirit the twenty-one-year-old out of her room. However, I have opted to also eat. Screw vicarious pleasure! So, here’s to muffins and to muffin-tops.

The part of me that meditates, the part that is propelling me towards becoming a therapist, is somewhat stymied by the part of me that is guarded, barbed, sarcastic, and self-conscious. There is a part of me that wants to get down to the truth in a mushy, serious, loving, helpful way, to be Glennon Doyle Meltonish in my sharing and encouraging of others. Or Brene Brownish. But there is this other part of me that just can’t let go. It’s because I feel embarrassed. Or maybe ashamed. Or unworthy. What would I say if I weren’t afraid or inhibited? I would say that this pandemic isolation period is a time to really connect and knit together down low, completely. Some of us are knitting together, stitching together over the top of a split. Knitting together is good, but knitting together from down low, where a split happened is much deeper and more thorough. This opportunity comes from a place of privilege, it’s a positive, it’s a golden opportunity, and it’s available to me and to mine because we are lucky not to have to risk our lives to earn a living. We are not, like one of my students, working full time at Trader Joe’s while trying to finish a full time semester of college because we’re the only person in our immediate family with a job. We are not like another of my students whose family situation has made attending virtual classes so challenging that now her grades are too low for her to receive her financial aid money for next semester. We are home, worrying about our muffin tops and our misaligned ears and enjoying, despite the anxiety and ennui and depression we sometimes feel, bonus time with our spouses and children.

Not gonna lie. There’s some bathos and some pathos to the situation. I felt it when I shut the door in the Target parking lot and left the kids in the car. All dressed up and nowhere to go. Zooming for a milestone like a 95th birthday instead of being there to share the same cake. However, there is some grace, too. It was wonderful to see my far-flung cousins and their partners on Zoom. It was heartening to remember that Barack Obama is out there in the world. It is heartening to remember the future will come, whether we fear it or no. It is heartening to know that my children and my friends’ children are graduating into that future, and they will remember how this time affected them, and they will shape things to make them better. It’s a lot to ask of them, but in my experience, it’s good to have things asked of you. We rise to expectations. All rise!

*      *      *        *

*”Slonk on the kneecaps” is a literary reference. That’s a lie. It’s a children’s literature reference. Twenty points to the person who knows what book I’m referencing.

** “Hard pants” are pants with a non-elastic waist. I just heard that term for the first time last week, but the college student already knew it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Flattening the Pollyanna Curve--It's OKAY

Hello, Readers. What’s new? I know,  nothing much. Truly. Come to think of it, that’s a wonderful thing to be able to say. Nothing is new. We are still here. Still safe. Still healthy. Yes, it’s tedious, but also, isn’t it just a joy? Isn't it just wonderful? Isn't it just the silverest of silver lingings?

Too much? Too zesty? Too Pollyanna? Have you ever seen the movie about Pollyanna? I believe it is called “Pollyanna”and stars Hayley Mills. Boy, is she annoying in the film. I don’t recall all the details, but by golly if she doesn’t make the best of just about everything. Every shitty thing that happens to her. Her leg breaks? Bummer, but she’s got lots of time to read, now! And so on.

You know the type.

The other day, I was Zooming with some friends and we all agreed that whatever initiative and enthusiasm with which we had initially approached this stay home business had dissipated.

Dare I say has flattened? The curve of initiative?

You know, after the initial disbelief that this was really happening, then being floored, we all decided we were going to learn Spanish or clean out our closets or finish up our projects in a frenzy. We were going to empty those junk drawers and learn to subsist entirely on almost-expired foods in our pantries and be better for it. We were going to darn those socks and hem those pants and write those novels. We were going to work out like demons and emerge from quarantine as sleek as dolphins.

Well, it turns it, many of us are not. We are just existing. Sure, my friend A is working her way through her unfinished projects, but honestly, she was project-based all along. Another acquaintance is planning to finish all her unfinished quilts and is posting photos of them on Instagram. So we shall see. I believe they are the exceptions. A few days of over-filled trash and recycling bins followed by several exhortations from sanitation workers not to overwhelm the trash collectors, because they were just trying to stay safe themselves, were enough to convince me. I heeded such pleas. I put aside the idea of going through the closet with all the old pool noodles—no, I do not have a pool—and Ogosports sans balls and ten year old sidewalk chalk nubbins.  It was only my civic duty to leave the mess where it is for now.
This junk stays

Stay inefficient. Flatten the curve. The Pollyanna curve.

What I have done instead is I’ve been downloading TV apps with their free trials, knowing full well I’m never going to remember to cancel them when the free part ends. Since then, I have churned through season one of “Agatha Raisin” on Acorn TV. Life in a beautiful town in the Cotswolds with an amateur detective woman of a certain age with humorous sidekicks is just the thing, it turns out, to defray an anxiety attack.

Actually, what with all the fabulous free meditations and dharma talks the senior Buddhist teachers are giving every day, I am feeling pretty good, anxiety-wise.

In other news, I have responded to all of my students’ emails, but have not graded a single essay. I’m thinking of just giving everyone an A and flattening another curve. Partly, because I think they’re all shell-shocked and should be put on a pass/fail basis this semester, but their college disagrees, and partly because, as someone rough from the Cotswolds might say, I can’t be arsed.

Truly, I cannot be arsed.

Oh, and in other news, I scraped my thumb. (It happened two days after I cut the tip of my index finger with the chef’s knife. That was just a teensy cut, and we were having a tomato sauce that night anyway.) But then I scraped my thumb and it was just in the exact place to keep opening up and bleeding for the next thirty hours or so (But who’s counting?) and I have to say, this little injury, which was really minor, pretty much brought me to tears constantly. Tears of rage. Tears of self-pity. My water table is just that high. I mean, sure, those niggling minor injuries always cause a burst of fury, and they often prove so much more painful than they should be. However, this one caused such an extra response from me. I chalk it up to having a very low threshold for upset these days.Or an over-active trigger point. These things take energy, too, you know. Flatten the curve of upset.

Speaking of chalk, chalk was one of the the things in that spare closet that I was going to chuck. Decade-old sidewalk chalk stubs. Who needs ‘em? However, am I glad I have them still, because I can go out and chalk the driveway with a big ole S. O. S., so maybe a Scandinavian airliner flying overhead can send down a rescue basket and whisk us off to a better-run country than ours.

Too negative? Sorry, I should have said we can use the chalk to chalk a big ole rainbow on the driveway when the weather warms up. Solidarity and all that.

I am glad my kids are older now. They can take care of themselves. They can bake, I probably mentioned. And sometimes they can walk the dog or empty the dishwasher. As I told my beloved cousin L, I wish I could be the quirky fun mom and come up with great reasons to hang around me and stick together during this, but what I really want to do is flop on the couch and watch another episode of "Agatha Raisin". Sometimes they sit with me and scroll through their phones at the same time. That counts as togetherness and fun activities, don't you think?

Which reminds me, here’s another thing I’ve been doing.  I have been eating lots of delicious, homemade goodies. So there’s a curve I won’t be flattening, and it’s on me.

Sometimes success is about knowing how to let go.

Yup, that’s about it for me, Readers. How’s things with you?

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Annal of a Pandemic: Success is about What We Can Control

The other day, I saw an article by memoirist and writing teacher Marion Roach Smith about writing list memoirs, if writing a full one seems overwhelming. And times, they do seem a bit overwhelming, so I am taking MRS’s advice, which is to lower the bar and offer a few snippets of things happening in my life.

1/ In attempting to teach online, I have learned to lower the bar. Lower the bar, by the way, is a good catchphrase for the era of the virus. Especially if you’re a teacher, as I am, thrust into online teaching, as I have been. There’s much talk of trying to manage to connect with students as best we all can. Scaling back. Simplifying. As my mentor teacher says, take it a week at a time. Also my friend Diane offered that suggestion. And really, readers, I don’t need to be told twice. Lowering the bar is a specialty. So, my goal for my first online class is to take attendance and see if everyone makes it online, if they can hear me and we can hear each other, and ask them how things are going. That’s about it for today.

2/ I made the decision to skip most of the news and it’s going well. So here’s another tip, Readers: ignore things you don’t want to read. There is a lot out there that’s not strictly necessary, especially on social media, and guess what? I don’t have to read it. Neither do you. What a relief! When I ignore the scary graphs and the misinformation and the contradictory advice about masks, I am left with being at home, with a blank page, with my daughters, with a house full of books and old movies, and the ability to breathe, move my body through space, and eat baked goods. As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in Full Catastrophe Living, if you're breathing, more is right with you than wrong.

3/The college senior found an unopened box of matzoh in the cupboard. Just in time for this year’s Passover, she is finishing last Passover’s matzoh by turning it into chocolate caramel matzoh.

4/The other day, in the spirit of lowering the bar, I skipped my morning workout and spent a lot of time in my bathrobe. Then I decided this won’t do, as I feel that lowering the bar below getting dressed is too low. One must keep up appearances.

5/Reading a five volume family saga set in Great Britain before, during, and right after World War Two turns out to be just the thing for enduring privation. I mean, they didn’t have things like gourmet cheese, or disinfecting wipes. They had those dreadful rations for years after the war, and everyone went about in old suits and darned socks. They barely had heat, for heaven’s sake. Coal rations. So, they practiced ingenuity in confronting scarcity. Also, just reading about learning to eat tinned beans on toast and saving clothing coupons to be able to buy a new outfit, makes me feel plucky. We’ll get through, as the Brits did. And maybe we’ll end up with a better, more equitable healthcare and social safety net, too. What’s the book? The Cazalet Chronicles, by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

6/ In re: number 4/ above—I don’t know about your house, but mine is full of bakers. They’re baking desserts at a terrific pace. It’s nice and all, but I have a terrible sweet tooth, so I’m lobbing suggestions for minty desserts, because I don’t like minty desserts. As I write this, I am trying to help bring butter quickly from freezer temperature to room temperature by holding it in my armpits.

Too much information?

Desperate times and all that jazz…

7/I in no way intend to  make light of the current pandemic, by the way. It’s just that it feels important right now to focus on what I can control. This is Stephen Covey’s first habit of highly effective people. Remember that old chestnut? Seems like the perfect time to revisit the concept of the circle of influence versus the circle of concern.

To refresh your memory, here’s what the diagram represents. The yellow circle is your Circle of Influence. This is the stuff over which you have some control. The blue outer circle is your Circle of Concern. This is the stuff that you’re thinking about, worrying about, fretting over, perseverating about, but really can’t control. So, to bring it down to the current situation, I can control whether I eat one of the Rosie’s Bakery Noah Bedoahs currently getting whipped up in the kitchen, but I cannot control whether they get baked. Apparently. I mean, sure, theoretically, I am the parent, and I could put my foot down. However, both bakers are of age, 18 and 21, and the broader question of how much control I can exert over them comes down on the side of having to hide the flour if I really don’t want them to bake. If you see what I mean. 

So, what can I do? I can eat or not eat a cookie. I can wash my hands before I do that. I can limit my trips to the grocery store. I can stay home. I can enjoy my children being with me. There is so much out of my control, all I can do is try to accept my limits and work within them.

The good news, according to Stephen Covey, is that as you focus on your Circle of Influence, it actually begins to expand towards the edges of the Circle of Concern. In short, if you focus on what you can control, the area that you can affect expands.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Not Every Post is Pithy: Part Two

I am taking a break from washing my hands to update you on my life. Isn’t that what you all want to know about? There’s nothing else going on to think about, is there? Did I miss something? Are not we all focused on my big decision: which graduate school should I choose?

Since you asked, Readers, I chose the more convenient, less expensive, less prestigious, more flexible one. And I feel good about it. Many of you chimed in to offer opinions, as I requested, and the preponderance of opinion was that choice. If I were aiming for an academic post, or if I were twenty years younger, I would choose the more prestigious program. But, as many of you said, people understand that when you’re older, you choose what works best for your whole family.

I attended a Q & A event for the program last Thursday evening—online, I hasten to add. I didn’t get to meet and greet the entering members of my class, but I saw some of their names on the chat sidebar and I am sure they’re a wonderful cohort.

I hope I get to meet them eventually.

As it slowly dawns on all of us that we need to practice social distancing, the memories of chance interactions with strangers become sweet.

Recently, I had the mixed pleasure of traveling via aeroplane to visit my father. My aged p (pronounce “age-ed pee” please). Flying during a pandemic had a throwback feel. Half empty planes. Two seats to myself. Extra snacks. I used some of my precious hand sanitzer and hunkered by the window.

While in Washington, I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my aged p. This was a surreal experience, in the age of pandemic. The place was empty. There was another woman waiting for her medicine and she got to chatting with me. Chatting at me would be a more accurate description, but I responded, as a fellow venturer into the weirdly quiet streets. She told me she had flown over from the UK a couple weeks earlier on a jumbo jet with forty people on it. This reminded me of the olden days when a person might buy a coach ticket and get a center row of four or five seats to herself to stretch out upon.

When the medicine was ready, the cashier said she needed to update the profile for this prescription. “Date of birth?” She asked. I told her, “May Eleventh, Nineteen Twenty-Five.”

Readers, the look she gave me, head half-cocked and twisted towards me to take a closer look, crease between her eyebrows making her look quizzical and dubious, was priceless.  It took me half a second. Then I said, “I know. It’s amazing. My secret is Botox, Fraxel Laser, and Pilates.”

We all had a laugh. Tonic for the times, for sure. By the way, of the three things mentioned above, the only one I have used is Pilates.

Yesterday, en route to pick up the college senior from her shut down college, I stopped at an almost deserted rest area on the Mass Pike. I opened the door with my hand in my coat pocket, using the edge of my coat like a potholder. A man walking at least six feet behind me said, “Yup, that’s how I was going to do it.” I felt compelled to say, and did, that I have been opening doors that way for years.  “Me, too,” he said. Solidarity among the germaphobes. It reminded me of a dinner out with friends at an Ethiopian restaurant in Cambridge years ago. Ethiopian food, you may know, is eaten with the hands, off of a communal platter. Before we ate, we each went off to the bathroom to wash hands. The restroom was in a hallway separated from the restaurant by a closed door. This meant there was an extra door to open between the bathroom and the restaurant. This was a door with a regular knob, which meant that on the way back, you had to find a way to twist the knob without getting your clean hands dirty. Knowing my friends as I did—each was decidedly on the “phobe” side of germ—just for fun, I asked the table, “So what did you use to get through the door?” I don’t remember what I used, probably the bottom of my shirt, but I do remember my rock climbing, dear departed friend Steve, said he used his foot. He lifted his leg to demonstrate how he could maneuver a doorknob with a sneaker-clad foot. Impressive.

Also proves the point that one should always open a door with hand protection. You never know whose dirty foot has been on the knob.

Now it is time to figure out how to teach online, and to do laundry.

Before I go, however, here is a picture of a panda:
By Tamarocochinop* - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Because not all words that begin with "PAND" are bad. (Credit to Frances for her joke about hating all words that begin with "PAND" these days.)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Not Every Post is Pithy: Professional Success Decision

Hello, Readers. I have to make a decision. I dislike decision-making. Deciding means giving up something while embracing something else. Deciding means change. Change means scary.

Change is also inevitable and good. Repeat twenty times a day until believed.

I have been accepted to both graduate MSW programs. Now I am deciding between them. What’s an MSW, you may ask. It’s a Masters of Social Work. A do-gooding, pay-nothing professional degree. I want to become a psychotherapist. The goal is to help traumatized children and the worried well. Maybe a sub-speciality of bereaved children. Why? Because I was one. I relate to them. My little neighbors down the street are bereaved twins. Their mother died when they were just two. Now they have a step-mom and they seem to be thriving. I hope they do. It’s a permanent loss, death. Therapy is most likely a must to cope, at least at some point.

Anyway, the decision to go to graduate school in middle age is not one I take lightly. But my definition of success contains the professional element. As in, I don’t feel successful without having a profession. Writing has not worked out as well as I would have liked. Meaning that I haven’t attained enough professional success with it to be able to call that my profession. To have that be my professional leg of the success chair. Other legs being health, family, friends. And, Readers, something in me is pushing me outward. My children are leaving home. I am confident the high school senior will get in to one of the nine colleges to which she has applied and she will leave, just as the college senior has left. We have entered a new phase, one of continual leaving and visiting and leaving and it’s never living together again.

This is sad. So very sad. It’s also what parenting success is. The fledglings fledge. They flit, they float, they fleetly, fleetly fly, leaving the momma bird to her middle age spread, hypochondria, and a big choice: how to deal with the next portion of life. The answer for me is to become something else, now that being mom is not a 24/7 physical, mental, and emotional full time job.

I have a friend around my age who keeps saying she is dying. She's actually very fit and healthy, and when she says it, she's not being a hypochondriac, she's being pragmatic. I think she’s preparing herself for the eventuality. I admire her willingness to stare at that old Death right in the punim and prepare herself by saying, yeah, I’m coming, eventually. But the other day, when she said it, I said, You’re no more dying today than you were ten years ago. After all, we’re always dying, if you want to look at it that way; but if you look at it that way, then just because you’re a particular age, say fifty-five, doesn’t mean you’re dying more than you were.

Is that crazy of me to say? I know that the longer I’ve lived, the more years I have eluded death, the more inevitable death becomes. But the whole idea of coasting downhill I reject. We are alive until we are not, and that has been true since the moment I was born, yanked out of my mother’s body by forceps, I believe. This is why my head is so misshapen. I hope I never lose my hair.

The point is, I know myself too well to think I can spend the next quarter of my life at home, being introspective, without developing some serious hypochondria worthy of a Jane Austen character. (The husband and I just reread Persuasion for our book group.) I need to get out in the world, and out of myself. I need to do something that helps others. Something that is definitely a profession, so when people ask me what I do, do being italicized, I can answer with something that makes me proud.

I guess it came down to how much I want to work on myself. I could continue to try to accept myself just as I am and to work at feeling I have done enough. I could continue to meditate on and rationalize that success does not have to mean success as a professional woman, and that the problem and solution lie within my attitude towards myself. If I can just accept myself as being enough, then all will be well.

Or I could say, well, a professional identity is important to me. I’m a Gen X woman, bred to be a multi-tasking superwoman, and I don’t have to struggle to let go of that aspect anymore. I can embrace the desire for a professional identity now. I can accept myself AND I can move into something else for this stage of life.

There's another facet to this gem. The whole hierarchy of needs developed by Maslow*. He theorized that we are all born with a motivation to self-actualization, meaning to develop our full potentials.
Image result for maslow's hierarchy of needs images creative commons
Later, he updated his theory to say that we're motivated to a step beyond self-actualization, to self-transcendence.
Image result for maslow's expanded hierarchy of needs images creative commons

This stage is characterized by a desire to take one's accumulated knowledge and share it with others for their benefit. Perhaps Maslow had it right. Maybe I am at that stage.

So now I choose: the more prestigious, more expensive, much more inconvenient program with a more ideal curriculum, or the close to home, less expensive program with the adequate curriculum.


* Here is a good summary, with visual aids, of Maslow's theories:

Monday, February 3, 2020

Success in the time of Rump

Readers, since everything old is new again, always and forever, perhaps it’s time for a review of one key strategy for success. I am talking about Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I have my college students read this book. I have them do an exercise from it. The exercise is to visualize your funeral. I know that I immediately think of the made for TV movie, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” whenever the idea of attending my own funeral comes up. How often is that, you might ask? Well, at least once a year, when I tell my students to do Covey’s visualization. It’s in the chapter about Habit 2, “Starting With the End in Mind.” This habit focuses on living according to deep values, rather than shallow ones like power, money, and prestige. This exercise is about getting your priorities straight by imagining how you would want to be remembered. You’re supposed to visualize four speakers’ eulogies, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, and a person who knows you from the service work you do. The idea, obviously, is to look at all realms of your life, not just professional, where we tend to focus our evaluations of whether we are successful. The other idea, obviously, is to get you to distill your life to what’s really important. Ideally, you will discover that what matters is not how much money you made, or what rank you achieved, but how well-rounded you were, that you were of service to others, that you worked hard, and that you had a web of friends and family love supporting you. And that you should incorporate service into your life. Service for others. A worthy ideal.

Do you think our leaders in the  U.S. Senate should do this exercise? I do. I mean, there are several whose funerals I would happily visualize, but my eulogies for them would probably not jibe with what they’d like to be remembered as being. It’s probably too late for course-correction, but perhaps not. Hope springs eternal, as Alexander Pope wrote approximately three hundred years ago. The rest of that couplet is not often quoted, as it’s less optimistic than those words suggest. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blessed.” I believe Adam Schiff will be happy with his eulogies. Sadly, I imagine Mitch McConnell would also be satisfied with what he would imagine his eulogies to be. Ain’t it just the truth that people don’t think they’re the bad guy, even when everyone else knows they are?

Moving on. This is not a political blog.

Now the thing I forgot when I gave this assignment to my students this year, was that Stephen Covey tells readers to visualize their funerals three years from now. Try reading eighteen essays by eighteen-year-olds about their funerals three years from now. It’s jarring. They would be seniors in college. Nobody wants to think about seniors in college dying. It’s bad enough thinking about senior citizens dying. Once you get past that, though, what they write is really touching. They come across as nice people. Like, they want to do good, whether for strangers or by being supportive of friends and family. How can the future be bleak when so many young people want to be good?

A couple of weeks ago, I read an opinion piece in the New York Times. In case you didn’t know it, this year is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Apparently in schools, Holocaust education has been lumped together with anti-bullying education, and students are told that they should stand up to bullies. “Don’t be a bystander,” they are told. “Be an Upstander.” The high school senior confirmed that she has received this message. So did many of my college students. This article, though, titled, “The Road to Auschwitz Wasn’t Paved With Indifference,”** takes a contrarian stance. The gist: most people are not capable of acting heroically and that’s okay. The Holocaust wouldn’t have happened if more people were simply not doing bad stuff. You don’t have to be an “upstander” to badness to save the badness from taking over. You just have to not engage in the badness. In fact, says this author, promoting the idea that everyone has to be an upstander—standing up to the badness at risk to life and limb or livelihood or mere convenience—is counterproductive. It creates a sense of helplessness, since most of us know we’re not heroic. She writes, “It’s hard to be a hero, to risk your safety and personal commitments in order to help a stranger. That’s a big ask. And by asking people too much, we make being moral too hard — which, paradoxically, can make immorality too easy. “Clearly, being moral is too hard, I’m no hero! Forget it!” we can imagine people thinking.

The author continues, “The truth about how massive moral crimes occur is both unsettling and comforting. It’s unsettling to accept how many people participated in appalling moral crimes but comforting to realize that we don’t have to be heroes to avoid genocides. We just have to make sure not to help them along.” In other words, don’t join in. If everyone doesn’t join in with the bad seeds, then the bad seeds won’t take over. Now, if only the Senate Republicans were listening to their inner voices clamoring for them to do the long-term right thing, the thing that would make them proud at their funerals.

Oops, veering into the political again. It is honestly hard to avoid, although avoid politics I do try.

In my attempt to avoid politics, I came across this font of wisdom, “8 More Habits of People Who Always Have a Clean Home.” I figured—no, more correct to say I hoped— to learn something to help me have a neater home. My home, you see, is rather untidy. I defy you to tell me it’s dirty. But I cop to mess. Particularly to mess created by books and magazines and newspapers. On every single horizontal surface. Dirty, though? Not so much, thanks to the wonderful woman who cleans the house. Still, every so often I hope to become more magazine-spread friendly. Thus, I read the article. But what did I learn? I’ll tell you, to save you the trouble of clicking on this article that got published even though so many of mine have not. Guess what those habits are? Of people who have a clean home? Guess what they do to have a clean home? They put away their dishes. They wipe their counters. They have places to put things. They vacuum. They tidy. Plus three more ways people who have clean homes manage to have clean homes.

Oh my Gawd. They clean.
I'd be lying if I said this was atypical. 

Look, if you want real advice, do that funeral visualization. Think of what you want people to say about you at your funeral. Do you want them to say, “She always had clean counters and an amazing centerpiece?” I know I do. So, I shall have to act accordingly. That is my lesson to you. It is clear, I have my priorities in order, just like those Senators. Now all I have to do is clean up my act.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Annals of Adulthood: All Things Are Delicately Interconnected

T-shirt from Mass MoCA. Saying by Jenny Holzer. Message from universal wisdom.

Perhaps you are wondering why I am writing again so soon. Perhaps you think I have something to suggest about current events. I do not. Perhaps, however, I can offer a diversion from the news, and from videos of burnt koalas and the dauntless people rescuing them.

Readers, here’s a thing that happened. I went to the gym of a Saturday morning, to participate in a much-ballyhooed cardiokick class. I was a little nervous about taking this class. Rumor reports it is the hardest cardio class at the Y. I had “missed it” by accident multiple times, but that day, I had no reason not to go. The husband was riding his new exercise bike. What was I supposed to do, nothing? Allow him to throw my personal motto—“It’s almost always better to exercise”—back at me? So I decided this was the morning I was going to make it to this class. In other words, it was a relief when I arrived to discover that the class had been cancelled.


I decided to use the empty studio to do some yoga and stretching. Mid-sun salutation, the door flang open and a woman strode in. She had the purposeful stride of a mom with limited time away from her kids. She was wearing thingys for music in her ears and did not acknowledge me.

Now, I had set up in a corner of the room. It was a back corner, away from the mirror and from the door. Unobtrusive, and out of sight of people who might press their faces to the door to see what was going on in the studio. It was also near the rack with dumbbells. Please note there are two racks of dumbbells in the studio, the one near where I was developing my positive prana energy, and the other across the vast empty space where no cardiokick was underway.

You can guess where this is going. After she flang open the door, this woman strode in to the nearest rack for some dumbbells. I would’ve gone there, too, the rack being nearest the door. What I would not have done, however, is proceed through my barbell routine, including lots of squats, right beside the rack. Why not? Because there would have been another person in the giant room who had been there already and who was nearby. So nearby that if I squatted I would have my derriere practically hanging over her mat.

I kid you not.

This harshed on my mellow. I tried in best yogic fashion to let it go, but really, when her a** began to cantilever over my head, I felt the ole blood boil.

What did I do, Readers? Did I give her an old New York talking-to? Of course not. I am now much more enlightened (see previous post). I considered how her a** in my face was possibly more my problem then hers. I considered whether I wanted to ruin both our workouts by having a direct conflict. I decided yes to one and no to the other. So I got up and moved my mat about ten feet away. In a pointed manner, I must admit. You know, in a vigorous way. As if to say, You probably should have moved your cantilevered a** about ten feet away from me, Lady. In case you did not notice I was there.

But I did not say it. And, to be honest, I think she did not notice. She finished her workout and left.

What can I say about this?

I took from this interaction an intention to try not to be as oblivious as Cantilevered A** Lady. I realize I may be misinterpreting her actions. It is possible she was not oblivious. She might have been a hundred percent 'blivious, as far as I know. She might have been an intentionally rude person. But I chose then and choose now to believe that she was not intentionally rude. She was distracted. Or concentrated. Or both.

And I have been that way at times myself. Times when I am upset. Maybe to the outside observer I have seemed normal while inside my thoughts were circling, swooping, screeching and creating an almost unbearable cacophony that kept me from seeing much beyond my immediate space. Maybe I have symbolically cantilevered my a** into someone else’s space and never even known I did it. Maybe because the person I annoyed was kind enough to let it go.

Am I kind enough to let it go? (See previous post about enlightenment.)

Yes. I did. I said nothing to her.

No. Here I am, days later, telling everyone about it.


Sometimes the important thing is what you say or don’t say, or do or don’t do in the moment.

So maybe this is just an apology, too late, of course, to anyone I’ve cantilevered my a** over without awareness. I am going to try, going forward, to do my literal and figurative exercise out of the way.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Annals of a Type B Guru

Jan 1, 2020

Happy New Year, Readers! Happy 2020.

It may not be hard to remember to write 2020. It flies off the fingers easily. Twenty-twenty. 20-20. Let’s hope the whole year is easy. Let’s hope, as my friend A said, that when it comes time to vote, everyone has 20/20 vision this year. Let’s hope that we can all apply a little clear-eyed hindsight to our future visions.

This blog post is not going to lay out any resolutions. Nor is it going to contain a recap of the highs and lows of last year. I am annoyed at myself for posting less often than I want to, and there are many reasons for this. Father in hospital being a big one over the last month. The high school student performing in the All-State Symphony and filling out college applications being another. Grading the end of semester papers a third. Those are excuses, however. I realize part of why I haven’t been blogging as often as I used to is that I am suffering from perfectionism. Or at least my Type B personality version of perfection. In short, I want everything I put out there for you, Readers, to be pithy, or at least witty. Maybe I am letting perfect be the enemy of good, as the saying goes.

Or perhaps perfection is too lofty a term. As I mentioned, I am a Type B personality, and we Type Bs are not known for perfectionism (and certainly not for perfection). That’s the stuff of the Type As. Type Bs are likely to make a quilt, for example, that ends up with one strip that is an inch longer than all the others. This would never happen to a Type A. So then Type B has to rejigger the strip, maybe rip out a quilt block and trim it or turn it or something. You know, adapt it and make it work better. By the way, this quilt is another reason I haven’t been blogging as often as I like. But, still it’s another excuse.

Even if perfection isn’t my aim, better is the enemy of good, as writer Amy Halloran (  put it at our holiday gathering of local writers. Better can be the enemy of good, too. Because even if you’re wise enough to know perfection is impossible, better is always possible. I truly believe in better. My life has been all about being better. Sometimes, however, good is best. Sometimes good is better than better. Apportioning effort is also necessary for survival, even for success.

While walking the dog the other year, I was listening to a Gil Fronsdal podcast called “Caring for Yourself and Caring for Others.” The other year. Yesterday, to be exact. Yesteryear, one might even say. He was discussing a Buddhist sutra that talks about how to be happy. One way to care for yourself is to live ethically—abide by the precepts like Do No Harm, (is that the Buddhist precept, or is that a medical precept? Who knows, I am tired. Last night was New Years Eve and it was a late night.)  Another aspect of happiness is that caring for others develops your own happiness. The idea is that by developing kindness towards others, you make yourself happy. This taps the philosophical question whether altruism is really altruistic if it makes the do-gooder feel good. According to Buddhist philosophy, the overlap between altruism and happiness is natural and inevitable. There doesn’t have to be a separation between the two. Just because altruism makes you feel better doesn’t mean it’s not altruism.

Gil Fronsdal mentioned during this talk that at some point in the Buddha's life, he had about 60 enlightened followers. It struck me that I would never imagine that I could be capital-E Enlightened. Yet the Buddha had 60 guys who were enlightened during his life. Perhaps he was just that good at teaching. But that is not the point. The point is, I had a thought. I thought, what if I am enlightened? I mean, think about it. I’ve been meditating off and on for twenty years. I’ve had lots of therapy. I’m introspective and I’m planning to become a therapist (I.e., to help people deal with their emotions and life challenges). What if I am enlightened? How would that make things different? Consider that enlightenment is often described as coming in a flash, an epiphany. Which means enlightenment might not be a permanent state, existing off on an astral plane, unbothered by anything human, being just a floating protoplasm of wisdom, tantalizing mere mortals who want to to tap that.

What would it mean if I were enlightened? Maybe enlightenment just means something simpler and more down-to-earth. Maybe this is it, that’s all there is, that’s all she wrote. Maybe enlightenment means that I know I have ups and downs and arounds of emotions, that I don’t like some of those emotions and wished they would go away and that I could be this amazing, placid, font of light and whatnot. Wisdom. Love. Positive energy. Peace. Meanwhile, at the same time that I wish to be that avatar of goodness, I’m embarrassed to say so, and that’s just the way it is to be me.  Maybe enlightenment is going about the daily rounds understanding that sometimes you’re up, sometimes down, and that it’s always changing. That love is sometimes encrusted under resentment, or tucked away from harsh feelings, or even hidden from your own view.

And that it’s exactly the same way for everyone. So, cut them some slack. Or at least have empathy, even if you cannot excuse their behavior (not right action) or their nasty words (not right speech).

Isn’t all this just a way to say maybe it’s okay to say I’m okay as I am. I don’t have to be other than what I am, my imperfect self, my wabi-sabi self, my kintsugi self. Maybe there is no better than that. Maybe good is better.

Maybe enlightenment is that moment you understand something important —an epiphany, possibly an ineffable one—and then it slips away. Maybe the slipping away part is part of the enlightenment, too. You know it’s coming at moments, in flashes, or phases. And other times you’re just a bitch driving a car and flipping off an old lady who’s driving too slowly in the left hand lane.

Here's a final thought for the new year. since I am supposed to dispense advice and tips on how to live successfully.  As Jon Kabat Zinn writes in Full Catastrophe Living, “As long as you’re breathing, more is going right for you than wrong.” Or something like that.