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A Whole New World

world

Life is not smooth sailing. In fact, if it’s to be the least bit interesting or meaningful, there’s going to be wind, rain and perhaps a perfect storm. If we survive the storms we’re usually left wondering; “what next?” Even if we’re not naturally inclined to ask such a question it is imposed upon us. Clergy, counselors, family and friends will sprinkle their cooing and nodding with talk of whole new worlds (which to me simply conjured Aladdin and/or karaoke.) There are oodles of talk and text that focus on “finding our place in the world.” Can you imagine anything more daunting? Finding my place in the world? That’s a lot of terrain to navigate. My guess is that like most platitudes, it’s best to extract the gist. I come to this assumption after a lifetime of being literal to a fault. In the past when my ship has been brutally thrown off course I have looked to straighten it from the outside. This is nautically impossible of course unless you’re Poseidon. My response to catastrophe has always been “Alright then, now what?” I think of it as a “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again” approach. And it works. It does. If you put one foot in front of the other you soon will be walking out the door. But is that really the point? Is there nothing more to gain from life than learning how to get from point A to point B?

At the risk of tooting my own foghorn, I’ve survived more than one perfect storm. Being “strong” (I swear to G-d if one more person calls me that I’m going to show them exactly how right they are with a swift kick,) is nothing more than survival instict. During my darkest days I got out of bed and showered, every. single. day. There wasn’t a fiber of my being that didn’t want to stay wrapped in the sheets that still smelled of my husband but I never felt that was an option for me. I distinctly remember my indignation upon viewing Lady Mary still in bed at Downton Abbey SIX MONTHS after her husband was killed in an accident. I believe I actually snorted; “aristocracy, what a bunch of p*&%ies!” Man up Lady Mary, man up! She did eventually get out of bed and like this viewer, heeded all the advice to find her place in the world. She did so by embracing her newfound wealth and power and insinuated herself into the running of the family business. I looked for a job. I had no interest in working but felt that was one way to be part of the world. I felt that the whole world was watching (okay maybe just the Facebook world) how I was going to emerge from the ashes. Finding a way to visibly demonstrate that life was more than simply a series of sh*tstorms felt like my charge. I needed to prove in the most visible of ways that it isn’t all just viciously senseless. So I took the job that got the greatest audience response and was freaking miserable. I hadn’t cried at work since 1987 when I got the call my niece was born. But there I was, a grown woman crying in the bathroom. My boss had raging outbursts about a dozen times a day. He would recover with seemingly no recollection of having cursed, shook, turned red, pounded the desk and thrown things. The man was a dry drunk. He also wasn’t terribly good at his job. So I left after 6 weeks, feeling battered, disillusioned and like a failure. It took another 6 weeks to get over that. I then embarked on a romance and the audience sighed. It was only after it ended cataclysmically that it occurred to me perhaps I was being a smidge too literal about finding my place in the world.

I’ve always been averse to anything that even hints of mysticism or spiritualism. I am a pragmatist and was force-fed far too many chakras and auras as a child. Anything involving remedies (unless it’s from those sisters on The Waltons,) smudge sticks, crystals (The Women and Dynasty characters excepted,) or astrological charts are out. Keep your “energies” to yourself please. The only people I’d ever known that indulged in such things eschewed the world I embraced. I had never known any city dwelling, champagne swilling, theatre going, four-inch heel wearing yurt dwellers. I did once meet a city dweller who embraced her connection to the earth by menstruating directly into the forest. Of course this meant she was outta the city and into the woods every 28 days for 3-5 days. So forgive me for having a permanently raised eyebrow. During the past few months however, it began to dawn on me that my life is too external for my comfort. I craved, dare I say, (gulp) a spiritual component. Through cautious trial and error I’ve discovered that there is a way to embrace spiritual elements while wearing heels and jewelry. I dipped my polished toe into the water with the purchase of a small set of wind chimes (I’m all about set design.) I’ve since bellied up to the buffet and filled my plate with little bits of this and that. I have discovered a dance class that makes my spirit soar while making me feel wonderfully grounded. I have learned that massage isn’t only for the fancy or bored, but when done by a mindful therapist can be transcendent. I have found teachers and practitioners wiser and more insightful than I ever knew possible. I am beginning to see that my place in the world has nothing to do with external hallmarks and everything to do with how I feel and understand. It is an incredibly liberating realization and for me it truly is a whole new world. I am choosing not to dwell on the fact that it’s taken me so many decades to come to this place. I suppose this time my ship set ground on a shore I was ready to explore.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Well-Being

 

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Mom and Pop Cop

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Nobody wants to (or can) police his or her child. From the moment they’re born children discover how to manipulate the world around them. The first thing a human discovers is that crying often results in having one’s belly filled. As children get older they (hopefully) learn more sophisticated means to get what they want. From a very young age they determine which parent is good for which needs. They also learn what information to hide to avoid unwanted repercussions. It is a very useful and normal developmental process. However it takes a crafty and confident parent to oversee such goings on. Children should be allowed their privacy and some secrets. It is only when there are signs of harm to self or others that all bets are off.

Hiding dangerous behavior is normal but not acceptable. Kids wrestling with eating disorders will go to great lengths to hide the effects and the behavior. Rarely will a kid come home and announce; “Guess what new drug I tried today?!” The same is true for proclamations of; “I totally humiliated a kid in gym today!” No, as we discussed above, kids are pretty savvy in getting what they want. And what most of them want is to not get in trouble. There’s no kid in the world (save a diagnosed sociopath) who does not know that being mean is bad. But kids are human and adults in training and as such are very susceptible to temptation. That is why they will drink (at all or too much), engage in dangerous stunts, sniff household products, develop food issues, etc. The world can feel out of control and very big to a child. Engaging in myopic behaviors is a way to gain control and shrink one’s world. Bullying is one harmful way to do just that. Bullying, unlike other alarming behaviors is not about self-harm. Bullying is a means of controlling one’s world. The bully lords over a created contained reality. There are leaders, followers and victims; and the players often change roles with lightning speed. There is no way that all parents can know what their children are doing at all times. Even parents glued to the side of their child cannot know what is going on inside their little heart and soul. No teacher or school administrator can know what is going on with every child at every moment. The first step is simply to accept this.

However once an adult does know what is going on it is the adult’s problem. Quite simply preventing a child from harming him or herself or others is one of the reasons parents (or guardians) were invented. By now we’ve all heard stories of parents of bullies or bullied who knew what was happening and did not take draconian measures. No doubt they intervened in some manner, but they did not stop it. The most glaring examples are those that involve cyber bullying. To not confiscate devices and disable accounts is tantamount to doing nothing. A Florida sheriff agrees, in theory, with this premise. Sheriff Judd did a little arresting. He grew so outraged that the parents of two bullies did not confiscate devices but instead insisted that their children’s accounts had been hacked, that he arrested them; the children that is. And that’s where Sheriff Judd and I would disagree. I’m not sure anyone in this very tragic case (the bullied killed herself) should be arrested. But if anyone should be legally held accountable it should be the adults who knew of the behavior and tried to cover it up. It’s a bit blithe to declare that “kids will be kids,” but there is some serious truth to that adage. It is not an excuse it is an explanation. Children do really stupid things, it’s how they learn and grow. It is also why they are assigned adults.

There is something terribly chilling about the long arm of the law stepping in for lax parenting. Maybe there is an explanation as to why these girls were allowed to be typing vitriolic Facebook posts taking credit for their (7th grade) classmate’s suicide. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t exist. The sheriff was not interested in any explanation (understandably.) His primary concern was the of the children’s lack of remorse and their potential ability to continue victimizing. He rushed into arresting the (12 and 14 year-old) girls before completing the investigation. It is a very unfortunate means to an end. What these kids need is some empathy training based counseling and aggressive parenting. Neither of which is going to happen while locked up. Couldn’t a more sophisticated penal system order the parents to confiscate all devices and accounts and attend parenting classes? A judge could threaten parents with incarceration if they did not comply. Arresting children is rarely a solution for anything. They’ve been charged with stalking which would suggest that the parents of bullied children everywhere should/could be filing restraining orders and accusing bullies of stalking. I don’t know if anyone wants that to happen, but it’s good to have options. There is a mighty fine line to not cross when it comes to blaming parents for their children’s behavior. But there are also very clear-cut cases of parents being complicit in their children’s wrongdoing. We are sophisticated enough to discern between the two. Kids will be kids and hopefully parents will be adults.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Childhood, Well-Being

 

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All aTwitter

comicbooks

There are two (polar opposite) views of modernity. There are the early adopters who froth and queue up for new and shiny gizmos and gewgaws and then there are the progress curmudgeons. These curmudgeons sit on their metaphorical porches and attribute the downfall of society to; ‘those dadgum moving picture shows.’ Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two opposing views. The early adopters aren’t a new concept (please don’t tell them that it would just kill them) people have been running to buy what’s being sold since the first wheel kiosk opened. It’s the progress curmudgeons that are far more fascinating. Nobody is born a progress curmudgeon. Every kid is intrigued by something newer, faster, and shinier. No, a curmudgeon must be created. They must find a time in history and stick with it. Any and all things that came after these glory days must not be trusted.

This is not an entirely irrational perspective; some things simply aren’t made as well as they once were. For instance clothes used to be made to last a lifetime, although who would want to wear the same clothes for their entire life alludes me. Cars were far less disposable, but they were also lethal (both for riders and for anyone in the car’s path.) Certainly items were easier to use once upon a time. Picking up the phone and asking the operator to connect you was easier than…pushing a speed dial button? Well a typewriter was certainly easier to use than a computer. You only need insert a ribbon (use lye to remove the ink from your fingers,) insert paper, reinsert paper after you realize the lye missed some spots and ink has leached onto the paper, insert paper again with carbon paper (use lye to remove carbon from fingers) commence typing, commence searching for white-out, miraculously finish letter, try and type address onto envelope, give up and handwrite envelope, find stamp, walk to mailbox, repeat. Fine, communication is easier but what about music. Don’t you miss records? You remember records don’t you? There were those paradoxically highly fragile yet extremely heavy items you had to lug around with you through life. They crackled and skipped and sounded nothing like the real thing.

I think we can all agree that progress is just that; progress. We don’t have to like it and we don’t have to adopt it, but we cannot argue with the fact that it is progress. No one wants to feel left behind or to have his/her rituals upended. But discounting progress, or worse imbuing progress with negative consequences is misguided. How many times have you heard people blaming modern movies and videos for increased violence (as if silent movies weren’t horrifically violent)? And what of this notion that social media is to blame for increased bullying. It’s not lax parenting, or the soul crushing experience of a Kindergarten graduation ceremony that leads to the self-esteem issue that is always at the root of bullying. Nope, it’s social media that is to blame. The same social media that allows for positive reinforcement that simply does not exist in any other domain of the real world with the exception of group therapy. Before the advent of (social media) Linkedin did anyone ever publicly endorse your skills? Whether it is a meaningful gesture or has any validity at all is beside the point. It is a public attaboy that simply did not exist in the past. Before we tweeted, did we publicly support other’s views or endeavors? Do we even remember a life before Facebook and the villages it’s created? When, beside a reunion (family or class) did we ever cheer accomplishments, offer sympathies and coo over baby pictures?

Expanding our sense of community is always a good thing. It reinforces our attachment and obligation to the larger world. Humans despite their many differences are at their core the same; they need to be connected to other people. It is not the gaming or chatting that encourages antisocial behavior; it’s the fact that people are using these outlets to avoid social behavior. In that sense the video game is no more detrimental than the comic book (which was also decried as the downfall of civilization.) The progress doesn’t create maladjusted people, it’s that maladjusted people still crave human interaction, simulated or not. Banning or demonizing the tangible is always more tempting than dealing with the elusive. The only way to reach troubled people is to reach out to troubled people. Blaming something we don’t care for or don’t understand is distracting and disingenuous. Social media, comic books, dime novels or pool do not create trouble. Troubled people are drawn to things that make them feel less alone.

 

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The Kids Are Alright

 

Wailing about kids today is a wholesome and robust tradition. Contrast and comparison is also a very effective way to understand one’s own self. “Parent Orientation!; my father slowed the car down when we got to campus!” when spoken out loud might expand one’s understanding of one’s own self-reliance. About two generations now have been grumbling and pontificating about the self-absorbed populace planted and sowed after 1980. Those in the earliest crop are now parenting themselves. Many born before 1980 or raised outside of the family-friendly entertainment industry/my child is an honor student/kindergarten graduation influence, find themselves wondering what will become of all these kids when they reach adulthood and discover there is no audience? Don’t worry; it’s not gonna happen.

No one grows up and enters their elder’s world anymore. In the 21st century our industry is ideas (via technology.) We are not building cities, roads and bridges. We are not harvesting national resources and building empires. Most of our cultural institutions and landmark buildings are just that; institutions and landmarks. There are not many young men and women going into the business of their parents’. Even if the ‘business’ goes by the same name, it probably looks quite different day-to-day. If dad went into his dad’s profession of banking, the work wouldn’t have varied that much. Sure dad would now be working with or for women, and maybe there would be no smoking, but the actual work; money in, profits out, wouldn’t have changed all that much. But by the time junior comes along the business is international and technology is king. Junior and his cohorts have never heard the term “banker’s hours” and if they did would assume it refers to 24/7. There are very few paths left where one could actually follow footsteps. Each generation now machetes their way through.

Nowhere is this more evident than in media and technology. Reality show proliferation doesn’t happen by accident. Dozens of channels specializing in ‘Queen for a Day” programming is calculated. It’s calculated by the television staff whose orientation to the world renders a “Look At Me!” premise totally plausible and laudable. It’s calculated by a television staff who also knows (or projects onto) its audience; “Who doesn’t want to be the center of attention?” And social media is not the result of a whole lot of leftover parts. Slowly but surely developers discovered that there was an insatiable appetite to ‘be seen.’ Certainly social media sites such as Facebook are a wonderful tool for connecting and reconnecting with friends. But it’s also an easy way to create a familiar and familial sense of importance. Status updates are filled with information that only a (helicopter) parent could possibly find interesting. Twitter is possibly one of the greatest ‘democratizer’ of our time; allowing for personal curation and access to previously unattainable information. But it’s also a way to type incessantly (and perhaps inanely) in the pursuit of attention.

Media and marketing have become so linked as to often be indistinguishable from one another. There is nothing surprising about this evolution. It is the natural by-product of generations who would not see a value in doing anything without an audience. All entertainment media now integrates Twitter and Facebook into their production. Try to even find a television program without a hash tag prompt on the lower left corner or a promo to “Like” the show on Facebook. Much of this marketing is relatively noninvasive and at times even informative. It’s nothing to shirk or even bemoan, but it is quite telling.

There are lots of real things to worry about. We can wring our hands over K-12 curriculum or childhood obesity. We can worry about higher education accessibility for our ‘best snack providers.” But we needn’t worry about how these kids will fare once the camcorders are turned off. As long as there are iPhones (or their yet to be born offspring) and mirrors, they’ll be just fine.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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Take Back The Workday

 

In one week I was asked three times if I was available for a meeting after 5:30 PM. These meetings were not involving that business we call show, or in the hospitality or health care arena. There is nothing 24-hour or evening hours about this particular business. If anything this organization follows a somewhat academic rhythm with employees starting between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning. There was no crisis, no deadline, no urgency. These were run-of-the-mill everyday “we meet because we meet” meetings.

If it was one request, it might go without notice; but three times in one week is worthy of note. You would have to be living under a rock to not know that everyone is “stressed” and “has no time.” Articles and on-air segments tell us that people are having it all and doing everything and scheduling physical relations. We are led to believe that business is busy and people are doing far too much. But is it true? Is it really true?

How many times in the past week have you seen any of the following?

  • Police officers texting on duty
  • Cashiers texting on duty
  • Anyone texting on duty
  • Non-work related tweeting, Facebooking, surfing, commenting (now let’s be honest, unless the whole damn world is unemployed, working people have got to be contributing to the daytime noise)

Now think back to how many meaningless emails you’ve received and meetings you’ve attended in the past week. Could it be when the workplace was more formal (and not just in the “no flip-flops” way) time was more formal and structured as well? When communication has to go from your head, out your mouth into a secretary’s ear, through his/her fingers, into a mimeograph machine, prepared for the mailroom, delivered, opened and read; you might think twice about how and when you express yourself.

In addition to the immediacy of an outlet for our brain dump is the fact that boundaries aren’t what they once were. (Need we discuss how many times you’ve been subjected to a full blown account of someone’s medical test or birth control choices while riding a bus or elevator?) People ask you to meet at 5:30 on a Friday because there’s a chance you might say yes. They will email you on Sunday night because there’s a chance you might respond. Certainly there are professions and industries that demand being “on” all the time. But the rest of us needn’t be so available or feel so anxious. Let’s be frank, we answer (or g-d forbid send) that Sunday night email because a) we can b) we want it off of our minds and c) because we want to appear to be working.

The appearance of working is not technically the same as working. Getting coffee, having lunch, touching base, celebrating milestones with mini-cupcakes? Not really working. Meetings at which people show up late, no one is in charge, and everyone is texting? Not really working. A little austerity could go a long way in giving us back some hours. Starting today when an off-hour request occurs ask yourself:

  • Is anything on fire
  • Is anyone bleeding
  • Is a project in danger of becoming completely, utterly, irreparably derailed

If the most dramatic response you can muster (to these questions) is a “well”, say no. There are those who work for unreasonable people and feel they simply have no choice (if they want to eat.) That’s a dreadful and hopefully temporary situation. But for everyone else it’s just a matter of changing the cultural climate. Yes, the most direct way to do that is top down, but that would take a rather evolved leader, no? We can all slowly and incrementally change the way we respond to requests of our time. It demands we stay present and not reactionary. It means keeping our eye on the prize (or our work/project goals.) There’s no doubt if we can stay focused during our work day we’ll actually accomplish more, and after-hours can resume its rightful title; “happy hour.”

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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