What Is It About a New Year?

tomorrow-is-a-new-dayI ask myself this every time the calendar page turns and a new year is upon us. What is it about the ending of one year and the beginning of another that inspires the psyche so strongly? At turns, it has us infinitely hopeful about what’s ahead and similarly convinced that whatever didn’t go our way the previous year is well and truly behind us – close the door, turn the page, we can move on from that negative space and refill it with all the certain goodness of a new year. And even if the previous year was a good one, this one is bound to be great.

At no other time of the year, have we all agreed to this same delusion. Perhaps on someone’s birthday, we might momentarily embrace the idea, but then it’s just for the birthday boy or girl. At New Years though, we can all claim it.

Intellectually we know there’s nothing inherently magic about a new year, but emotionally we’re willing to believe. It’s the same leap-of-faith thinking that has us embrace egg-toting bunnies at Easter and delightfully charming bearded men at Christmas.

I’m not knocking it, by the way. In fact, I’m looking for a way to claim this optimism at will, at any point in the year when I think a little reframing or reinvention might be in order. For example, by the end of the first quarter of last year, family health issues had taken hold. Even months later, when things started to improve, it was hard not to think, “Well, there goes 2016.” One transformative event seemed to color the whole year. If we could just hold on till 2017, we could have another run at it.

Based on the above, you might imagine that I’m not much for New Years resolutions. And you’d be right. I want to only make one. My resolution is to adopt the idea that I can choose any day – all the days if I want – to start again. Any day will do for me to say, “Tomorrow will be better. Here’s why and here’s how.”

You with me?

Parenting Tips from the Childless

There’s nothing that hard-working, well-intentioned parents love more than listening to unsolicited parenting advice from the childless. Am I right, or am I right?

And yet, sometimes, certain things must be said.

While it’s true that I don’t have children, I was one for many years. Some might argue I still am, but that wrinkle aside, you learn a few things by walking around the block once or twice. I also had the great fortune (although I would’ve been reluctant to admit it at the time) of being raised by a pair of darn good parents. Come to find out, they were making it up as they went along much of the time – as most of us do throughout life – but they sure got it right far more often than they got it wrong.

Here are three quick tips. Do with them what you will.

  1. Exercise Boredom

    As a parent, you are neither court jester nor circus entertainer. Boredom isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your child. Not by a long shot. Boredom’s often the pathway to creativity, a pathway that gets cut off all too soon with the digital distractions and strange expectation that our entertainment and edification needs to be pushed to us these days, rather than growing organically from our own brains. Do you remember as a child staring at clouds and imagining what they were, or being stuck in a car with a sibling and making up silly games to play? I remember those moments and more quite fondly. They were energizing and fun. I’m pretty sure we can all use more of that.

  2. Exercise Responsibility

    Teaching a child responsibility seems like a no-brainer, and yet, we live in a time where the line between parent and friend is freakishly blurred. Sometimes we seem so focused on reducing any stress or hurt our child might feel, that we don’t give them a chance to grow. If we’re too quick to bail them out every time, we subtly send the message that they’re incapable of being resourceful or responsible – incapable of figuring things out on their own. Be the backup plan, not the first responder.

  3. Just Exercise!

    Please, please, please, show your child what it means to be outside, to play, to appreciate nature, appreciate movement and all the life-long benefits of being active. Your children don’t have to be athletes or adrenaline junkies to enjoy being outside. Put down all those electronic devices you think you can’t live without, and just get out there! And, no, you cannot take the selfie stick with you to document every move. Your memory will do just fine.

And, on that note, I’m going to take my own advice, finalize this post and get outside for a bit. Happy Parenting!

Coming Apart at the Seams

I wrote this in the first hour of hearing about the events in San Bernardino, before we know what we know now, not that it would have changed what I wrote. Whether it’s San Bernardino, or Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or gang violence in your own hometown, here are my thoughts.

____________________________

one-eyed-ted-aka-aloysius-55

When we were little my sister had a small teddy bear she cuddled with when she took naps. She held on to that stuffed animal for years. His fur was worn in several places, he’d long since lost one of his plastic ebony eyes, one ear had fallen off only to be reattached with a safety pin. Seams were splitting, stuffing came loose.

That’s us right now. We’re coming apart at the seams. Our stuffing is escaping, our fur is patchy, and we’re holding on to parts with safety pins. It happened slowly, over many years of wear and tear, and then all at once. We pick up guns against one another. Against those we don’t know, sometimes those we do, often those we only think we know. Those who represent something that hurts us or offends us or angers us. Or maybe we’re just having a bad day.

We have so much pent up energy manifesting as anger that somehow we convince ourselves the best course of action, perhaps the only course, lies at the end of an assault rifle, that we acquired legally or otherwise, for a purpose I can’t possibly imagine. Except that perhaps this was the purpose all along. To annihilate some strangers in such a manner that would surely lead to our own annihilation.

I’m not sure what the answer is. In fact, I’m still struggling to come up with what the real question is. When something like this happens – which, I hope we can agree, is too damn often – our dialog becomes hyper-polarized.

  • Get rid of all the guns.
  • If someone had been carrying a gun, this wouldn’t have happened.
  • It’s mental illness.
  • It’s the media.

To and fro, back and forth, like children on a seesaw in an abandoned playground. It doesn’t go anywhere. We pray, hold vigils, pour our hearts out to the victims and their families, update our profile pictures on Facebook. And once we’ve expressed enough good will, as though somehow these kind, heartfelt gestures will return the world’s sense of goodness back to balance, we resume our lives, including our old conversations that are safe and comfortable.

We lack the attention span to focus on difficult problems like this one. We can only hold one idea in tension at a time. We can only have one problem, and that one problem can only have one solution.

It seems we’ve lost the ability to have reasonable, effective discourse anymore. Conversations are fraught with attacks and accusations that all but ensure no action, compromise, fundamental change or progress will take place. The more important the issue is, the less capable we seem.

We cling to old ideas and old ways, just like my sister did with her bear. She hung on for so long, perhaps imagining him in better times when his eyes were shiny, fur full and fluffy. But no amount of imagining was to make it so.

When it Comes to Equal Pay…

Listen up, ladies, because I’m only going to say this once. If you don’t ASK for what you want, don’t blame others when you don’t get it. And don’t be so quick to pat yourself on the back if you get it without asking, because that’s just called luck.

For me, this idea can apply to a lot of different things, but the topic at the forefront of my mind is equal pay. I get it – on the whole, women are making 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Of course, the issue is much deeper than a single statistic, and certainly much deeper than a single platitude about asking for what you want. But for my money, it’s a damn good place to start.

Shortly after Jennifer Lawrence’s essay concerning wage inequity was published, I listened to a radio program where two women were discussing the topic. They mentioned a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Meredith was offered a chief position (by her female boss) but thought the salary was too low. One of the radio show hosts commented that female bosses should be looking out for female employees.

What a lovely idea; but it’s this kind of dependence on fairness and correctness being inherent in the hierarchy that has us sitting sweetly, waiting for our worth and value to be recognized. It’s like an aspiring model hoofing it around the mall hoping to be discovered – possible, but not likely.

We have legislation to protect us from these inequities – the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, to name a few. There’s no amount of legislation, however, that’s going to fundamentally change behavior. Behavior changes when attitudes change. Those are often long, slow rides; but work within your sphere of influence if nothing else. Educate yourself about the type of pay that’s typical for those in your industry, with your educational background, experience, and geography. For the most part this information is readily available on the internet, but start a conversation with your friends and colleagues in same or similar positions too. We need to demystify salaries and remove the taboos of talking about them. I’m not advocating for radical advertisement, by the way – no need to add your salary to your Facebook profile or get t-shirts printed, but we need to take it out of that growing bucket of things we’re too shy to talk about.

Know this – not all women are for you and not all men are against you. The most important thing is that you’re for you – and that starts by educating yourself about your own value and then voicing those expectations when the need arises.

Busy is the New Black

BusinessofBusy

Do you remember the days when a casual greeting to a friend or colleague went something like this?

You: Hi. How are you doing?

Friend: Oh, fine, fine. And you?

That was it. Short, sweet, drama free.

But things change and evolve and just get downright weird. The idea of the ‘simple greeting’ is mere nostalgia at this point. Nowadays, no conversation is complete without one or both parties lamenting the depth and breadth of their busy-ness.

Mind you, it’s often the same people claiming busy-ness who, in the next breath, tell you how they just finished binge-watching the last two seasons of “House of Cards” in preparation for the upcoming season premiere. Is it just possible that we’ve lost track, not only of the real meaning of busy, but also of our own role in the constant perception and sensation of feeling that way?

Many people seem to wear busy-ness like some badge of honor, a competition to see how much can be packed in to a day, a week, or more. A competition that – if you believe the time-crunched masses – measures worth and importance.

Early in my career, I worked with a guy who, almost on a weekly basis, would let me know how many hours he’d worked the previous week. It was often in the triple digits. He didn’t seem to know how to turn the tide and get out of the cycle. In the beginning, I listened attentively. It seemed like something he was genuinely trying to resolve. I tried to understand what was requiring so much of his time and attention. It certainly didn’t seem like a sustainable situation, so surely changes must be made.

He rebuffed any suggestion I made. He and I had similar roles, and while I routinely worked more than 40 hours a week, I couldn’t imagine how one could possibly approach triple digits. Was I not carrying my weight? Was I the reason he was having to put in so many hours?

Perhaps in a parallel universe, everything’s about me, but in this case, it certainly wasn’t. He was just “that guy”. The guy who wants to complain about his load, effort, and loyalty being greater than everyone else’s. The guy who says he doesn’t want things to be that way, but seems incapable of setting and following boundaries. The guy who, in the time he takes to detail all the ways in which he’s in over his head, could have knocked out at least three things on his burgeoning list.

The problem is that now every third person seems to be “that guy”. Whether it’s work, or kids, or even “House of Cards”, too many people are complaining about being busy. Through rigorous statistical analysis (well, perhaps not – I’m much too busy for that!), my guess is that at least half of these people choose to act busy, choose to fill their days and time with laundry lists of tasks, never stopping to let the dust settle.

Of course, sometimes we really are busy, and that’s just the way things are for a bit. Maybe you’re moving house, starting a new job, preparing for a baby, or planning a wedding. Those life changes will push the most balanced of us a bit off-kilter. But it’s temporary. We plan for it, suck it up, and move on.

When busy becomes a lifestyle, one that we complain about at the same time we’re perpetuating it, we’re heading toward dangerous territory. It’s almost hard to imagine what busy would have looked like in Socrates’ time. I mean, they didn’t have the power of flight or 24-hour fitness centers, much less the Internet. But he wasn’t wrong when he described a continually busy life as barren. It’s an uncontemplated life. Perhaps, it’s an impressive list of completed tasks, but all the meaning, importance, and value is sitting on our surfaces, waiting to be brushed off as we flit to the next thing on the list.

Breathe deep. Just sit for a minute and let your mind wander. “House of Cards” will wait.

In Defense of the Duggars

mirrorI don’t believe in much that the Duggars do. Their lifestyle in no way resembles mine. I’m single. I don’t have any kids, and while for a moment I might have considered one or two, I can’t rub enough brain cells together to make sense out of having 19. Which is all to say that I have no particular reason to empathize with their current situation.

And, yet, I do. Because their situation is all of ours.

Our collective nasty, vitriolic response to the parents’ actions says way more about us than it does them. I don’t doubt for a moment that their love for their children is real and that they’re doing the best they can, like most of us are. And also like most of us, they’re going to get it wrong sometimes. This situation with Josh and the girls is likely one of those times. If your child came to you with the news that Josh did, are you really so certain you would march him to the police station for his arrest? Would you demand he be labeled a sexual predator and sent to prison?

Or maybe, just maybe, you might seek the counsel of a religious leader. Or maybe you would speak to an acquaintance who’s in law enforcement And while, it’s true that later this acquaintance was sent to jail on child porn charges, you surely didn’t know that at the time. The discussion of it’s a distraction, a side note designed to make the situation seem seedier and more distant from our own lives.

But the brave thing to do would actually be to keep the cameras rolling. Follow the family, who is now real and raw, and see how they respond to this. Many families, too many for sure, are in similar situations. We all want to act like it’s not us. It’s always somebody else, but it’s so frequent, so pervasive, that it can’t always be somebody else. We won’t eradicate molestation or sexual assault by pushing it aside and acting like it’s the opposite of us. We won’t eradicate it by devaluing the comments of the girls who were molested, demanding their outrage be greater than or equal to ours. And we certainly won’t eradicate it by burying the stories, hiding them in the shadows in the same way the Duggar parents have for all these years. Our family members are the victims. Our family members are the perpetrators. It’s time we started acting like it so we can have a real dialogue.

To that end, TLC has partnered with the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) and Darkness to Light to produce a documentary designed to spark a national dialogue. It sounds like the Duggars will be a part of this too. Perhaps it can act as a new beginning instead of a fall from grace that will be forgotten all too soon.

Based on a True Story – (In other words, I made up the whole thing!)

Grain of SaltA long time ago, I recall a friend telling me she learned more about the Vietnam War from Danielle Steel than she had in school. It makes the mind reel, doesn’t it? It certainly seemed plausible though. There can be no argument that Danielle Steel is a much easier read than the average high school textbook. It’s also true that a history textbook might, among all the topics it’s expected to cover, spend no more than ten pages on a war that lingered for well over a decade (depending on what event you think marked the beginning) and continues to linger in the collective American psyche.

More recently, it seems we’re getting our historical education from movies. While this may be enjoyable, the problem is that we often leave the theater and store the information under the heading of “FACT”. It’s a disturbing trend, one that takes advantage of our increasingly addled, overloaded brains. We often have too many other distractions and interests to round out the information we receive at the movies. Saw “Schindler’s List”? That’s the Holocaust sorted. Watched “Selma”? Civil Rights understood! Rented “Born on the Fourth of July”? Check off the Vietnam War.

I remember a friend asking me if I had seen “The Monuments Men”, and I quipped that I hadn’t because I was tired of getting all my history from Hollywood. I eventually caved and saw the film. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to follow up by reading the book. Big mistake. Huge. I spent the first fifty or so pages just trying to figure out who the hell everyone was – which film character represented each real life person. But I couldn’t do it. I had too many characters and too few people. I eventually abandoned that quest in hopes of just enjoying the (presumably more factual) book. I kept waiting for Rose Valland to show romantic interest in Rorimer. I kept trying to make sense of the story surrounding Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges. I was incensed in a way that I hadn’t been before when faced with similar cinematic dupes. My mistake was two-fold: reading the book too close to the time of seeing the movie, and more importantly, assuming that there was any relevant meaning to the words “Based on a True Story”.  In my opinion, the movie was a complete re-imagining of the information presented in the book.

Well, of course it was, right??

While there are certainly indisputable facts in history, the discipline is largely interpretative analysis with a point of view. Historians can’t explain eras of history without interpretation. And Hollywood’s attempts to recreate any snapshot in history is yet another point of view. More cinematic than factual. More calculated drama and good lighting than reality. This is by design, which is what I failed to remember. We can’t expect two to three hours in the theater to constitute an education on any topic, but it can be a worthwhile introduction. Let those wonderful movie moments inspire you to read and research more about a topic. Don’t use it to check off the topic in your mind, assuming you now know the untold story.