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|Tuesday, March 29th, 2016|
|Why I'm not rushing to see Batman Vs Superman....
Bad reviews? Don't be silly. Many reviewers don't value the things I value--and often value things I don't, so a negative review, even a lot of negative reviews, may be irrelevant. To see Tars Tarkas? To hear Bianca Castafiore sing? Priceless.
So why the disinterest from someone who is fond of superheroes and comics? Here is my insight:
I am not into hierarchy.
I think of hierarchy as being mostly a guy thing, and pitting one superhero against another is certainly an appealing and oft indulged in device in comics. Bracketology is nothing but a drawn out hierarchical methodology. Everything has to "fight" everything else to establish a clear pecking order. But I don't enjoy this constant creation of winners and losers.
It is unappealing to me, even a bit depressing, as I often feel bad for the loser.
As Deborah Tannen notes in You Just Don't Understand, male conversational styles default slightly to autonomy, sensitive to hierarchy. Women default to connection, team. This perhaps helps me understand why I love most of the Avengers films, where the initial challenge is assembling a reluctant team, bound by a mutual threat/need. Not to mention The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, Hoosiers, or The Replacements (you get the drift).
These stories demonstrate the difficulty of compromise, the need to be respectful--indeed, appreciative--of differences, the development of trust. And ultimately the powerful visual of how the team can (and will) succeed in ways that no one individual, however skilled, could ever have managed alone.
While Good Vs Evil is OK, I don't usually enjoy the winners and losers trope, though it's clearly appealing to many. Interestingly, team sports combine the value of team with hierarchy. And when we see a team, perhaps lacking in star power, win against the odds through their ability to work together, I think the delight we feel taps into that value.
There's an African proverb: You can go faster alone. But you go farther together.
|Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015|
|How do you read?
I was discussing a book with a friend and commented that I still read like a 12-year-old. Then realized that comment might need a bit of explanation! For me, that means that my reading experience—even after all these years and all the books—is one of total immersion, utter commitment to the characters and story. I beieve in the characters—they are people to me—and I enter the space they inhabit for the duration of the story. I see authors and their work—or really any creator/creative act, whether it's creating a story, a painting, a piece of music, a song—as having a similar relationship as a parent might have in creating a child. Sure, you've created it. And yes, you have significant responsibilities towards it, and a deep connection with it. But it is not you. You do not own it. It has the right to self actualize in the best way it can. Your job as a creator is to enable it to be the best it can be. Not just on your terms—though your role is a significant one—but to achieve the three part balance: of what you have to offer, what the creation itself needs, and what is needed to enable it to survive in "the world." So to all the author/creators that incorporate helpful feedback—sometimes painful to hear—a giant thank you for your dedication to making your "child" the best it can be. For setting aside your ego for the sake of the work. And the same in my experience goes for editors: for not bringing personal preferences and agendas to the experience, but appreciating that your shared role is to enable that "child" to be the best it can be and face a challenging world with strength, self confidence, and the ability to withstand "The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks That Flesh is heir to" (to quote Hamlet). There should be a balance that is ego free for parent/creator, for editor/teacher, to be open to delivering, hearing and incorporating what is best for the child/work. This perception has helped me understand and believe in the value of the role of an intelligent external opinion in the development of a work, and thus the external party's 'right' to challenge the creator's vision if it doesn't feel right, doesn't feel like it is best serving the work. But my understanding of my reading style has also has helped me understand my own often quite passionate dislike of a story! Yes, I am sorry to say the offending work is often a very well reviewed, award-winning literary 'masterpiece.' I realize that in 'literary' or groundbreaking stories authors can have a goal, a point of view, something they wish to illustrate or challenge. And they have chosen the compelling medium of storytelling to express that point. Their characters and plot serve the author's vision. The character's lives, their actions and reactions, the events that occur in the story may at any point in time be subordinated to that Vision. Manipulated to do their creator's bidding. The character's integrity, consistency, their very selves are just a pawn to the author's desire to present an idea, to illustrate a point, to surprise, to break new ground. I know my horror and sense of betrayal is...well, perhaps naive. One could argue that the author created these characters; surely he or she can do whatever she likes to them? But for me, those characters are real, and they are not being respected. It's like watching parents force their musical child to play competitive sports, or harp on marriage for career minded one—or vice versa! Luckily some stories deliver on both—offering profound insights, breaking new ground, opening minds and hearts to a new perception though the humanity and vivid evocation of their characters and the believability of their story. Those are the stories I treasure. So just saying my recent foray into Pulitzer prize-winning fiction has not been a very successful reading experience for me! But this realization has also helped me understand why a good friend can totally adore a story that I have found emotionally bankrupt—and enabled me to stop thinking that my friend is an idiot! I now realize that we read differently and derive sustenance and delight from different things. And that's not a bad thing.
|Monday, August 24th, 2015|
|Some sweeping generalizations and celebrating stereotypes:
Copy line on movie ad (no, I can't remember the title) with armed woman: Wife. Mother. Hero.
Why is a women defined by her relation to others? Would any man be described as Husband. Father. Hero.? I don't think so. More like: Explorer. Visionary. Hero.
It's all about what he does, who he is. Hers is about who she is connected to. That's why women traditionally have an honorific that links them to their male partner: Mrs. Or lack of partner: Miss. Vs men, who are just Mr. Their status as a partner is deemed irrelevant.
For instance: a man does not need to be reminded to put his oxygen mask on first. His default is to think of himself first, others later. And he expects others to think the same way—
to first take care of themselves, then perhaps consider others. That may be why he doesn't thank you (you female person) for your selfless act. He thinks you're crazy. Or stupid. Or both. Or maybe just trying to ingratiate yourself with him, as he tends to think hierarchically, so sees favors in a transactional manner. Not that a man isn't capable of a selfless act, it's just an unlikely part of his daily routine.
Women often think of others first, themselves last. For many that's their default (yes, even if they're not mothers). And they expect others to think the same way
. And of course they (female people) take it personally (perhaps with a long-suffering sigh) when they discover there's no parity, and they're not very high on anyone else's list. Perhaps even more irritatingly, they may be thought of as being an idiot for taking care of others and not bothering to take care of themselves.
Each sex is 'modeling' behavior that the other guy just isn't picking up. Neither is exactly right, but not entirely wrong, either. And it doesn't align.
Men tend to see things hierarchically, competitively, with winners and losers, while women tend to be more collegial and consensus driven, focusing on making something work. (Hey, my title promised "Some sweeping generalizations and celebrating stereotypes," don't say I don't deliver!). Deborah Tannen's Talking 9 to 5
offers some great stories of how these different basic assumptions can create miscommunication, misunderstanding and problems.
In many cultures, women traditionally have had little to no direct power and have had to work with indirect power: influence, relationships, connections, being liked, finding people to partner with. For a woman, helping others, doing favors, etc. is often a way of establishing friendship and usually inspires thanks, gratitude and likely a return favor in response—if the recipient is a woman.
But if the recipient is man, he may well see the gift as an effort to curry favor, confirming his status as the superior: the one to whom gifts and honor are due. Thanks are not necessary and no return gift would ever be given, as that would mean Giver and Givee were on the same level, which is not
an acceptable idea when a hierarchy has just been established to Givee's satisfaction!
Women may view support as a circular, mutually beneficial experience. For men, it is likely more linear, a bottom up effort to propitiate and curry favor of the leaders—
who may then have an obligation to protect their underlings. Like a feudal lord getting his due from his dependents, he will have to try to stave off the barbarian hordes if they show up, or build a walled city to protect them, but he's not partners with his serfs.
You can see how misunderstandings and disappointments might abound!
|Tuesday, February 24th, 2015|
Did you know that Emerson's saying
is "A foolish
consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," not
, as I had heard for many years (and found very confusing), 'Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.'
I understand that rigid adherence to consistency can be problematic—
following the letter Vs the spirit of a law or requirement can be absurd.
But in general some level of consistency seems like a good thing. Inconsistency can be unfair. It's untrustworthy, can be arbitrary and impossible to work with or depend on.
So when someone is strongly endorsing some belief and presenting the profound rightness of their opinion and the unbelievable wrongness of alternative positions—when they demand that others change their minds and believe whatever the speaker believes, it begs the question whether that declared "truth" is adhered to consistently across the board by its passionate advocate.
That only seems fair, right?
Some people are convinced that their belief trumps all others. And that everyone that believes differently is wrong,
bad, indeed evil. They believe that any action to convert or convince others of the error of their ways is justified, and if unconvinced, exterminating the unbelievers is a justifiable solution (figuratively or literally).
Unfortunately, that applies to many early versions of present religions—
I'm thinking the Crusades and the Inquisition, for example—
and for some, this attitude remains true to this day.
Bullies and bullying are not just in playgrounds or schools, they are all around us. And like those bullied children, we rarely have the courage to stand up to them or call them out. In fact, we can be complicit. For even as we cheer at watching a triumph-of-the-underdog story, we delightedly click on some over-the-top hate-filled rant, or pillory someone for a politically incorrect faux pas.
Indeed bullies seeking the public eye often gravitate towards a position that is on the moral high ground, so they are given a pass on their bullying behavior. They are "saving" some unarguably sympathetic element that cannot speak for itself—
and thus cannot reject its self-appointed "savior" as a self-serving, manipulative bully (e.g. animals, children, environment, etc.). Their statements of caring are specious and inconsistent—
they talk and talk, but do not walk the walk.
If they truly cared about what they so passionately claim, what other behaviors might we reasonably expect them to exhibit? What are they actually doing to meaningfully help those they are the alleged advocates and supporters of?
For the most part they just like to dictate to others how to live their lives. But no matter how many flags they wrap themselves in, or selfie halos they snap on, they are bullies, and there is no practice to their preaching.
Just how consistent are they? Really, that's not a foolish question.
|Tuesday, June 24th, 2014|
|Wonder: Toilet Seats
Isn't that a remarkable word?
I was sitting with a writer friend--a literary type--and we were talking about things in general, delving into personalities, actions, motives, assumptions...speculating on scenarios. And in the midst, she noted, "Perhaps I wonder too much."
Hmmmm. Well for her, in many ways wondering was her job, as it is for most writers.
And I have to admit, I wonder too. Life is filled with so many mysteries, so many different perspectives, so many different layers of truth. Such richness. Indeed, such wonder. Can there be too much?
Well...it depends how much time you have to spare wondering. Because it can be a fairly time consuming habit! Indeed, it can expand to encompass all time.
Here's my most recent wondering experience (alas, not a nice one):
Yesterday, I had the unpleasant--I think almost entirely female experience--of going to the Womens' Room in a restaurant and sitting on a wet toilet seat (lighting was low).
Now I have spent years wondering why a woman who clearly is overly obsessed (in my opinion) about GERMS would decide the right thing to do is urinate all over the toilet seat such that someone else may sit on a seat they have fouled.
Really? You couldn't lift the seat with your foot and hover over the bowl? It's excellent for tightening those flabby thigh muscles! Or just use the often available toilet seat cover?
The good news is that urine is almost always sterile, so as disgusting an experience as it is, the likelihood of any harm (aside of rather strange wet spots on the back of one's pant legs) is minuscule.
But the hypocrisy of this germ-phobic human dumping her waste so that others may sit in it just boggles my mind.
Perhaps it's an aggressive act? Like a hacker sending a computer virus just for the fun of messing up strangers' lives? That at least offers me some logic. Perhaps the world is filled with angry souls, acting out in small ways. Perhaps, as I wipe myself, I should send a silent pitying prayer to the offender, rather than a not-so-silent curse! Perhaps....
Though I have to admit, I am, in general, very pro-germ. If I pause to reflect (yes, OK, wonder) on where obsessive cleanliness will get you, it is not a place I want to be. I want my body trained--like an athlete--to handle germs easily, without breaking a sweat.
Hey, I eat things I've dropped on the floor, and I'm still alive. No, I'm not allergic to anything--my body is a finely tuned germ-ingesting instrument! For me, the germ phobia road leads to a version of becoming David, the bubble baby.
I celebrate a world filled with good things and bad things. And I wonder....
|Saturday, May 24th, 2014|
|What changes, you or it?
How do you fall in love? What is it based on? How can you change how you feel? a friend was asking as she was seeing someone who seemed to be more attracted to her than she was to him. Yet she liked him, enjoyed him, and wished she could reciprocate.
Except it's not an intellectual exercise is it? There's a reason that traditionally Cupid is blind. Logic and reason often don't have much to do with feelings.
And our feelings can change. We have fallen in love with people we've known for years. We have fallen out of love with people we have loved for years. Though—on consideration—falling out of love seems to have a lot more intellectual and factual aspects to it than falling in love!
It's pretty hard to describe what exactly is the change that suddenly transformed 'someone' into something beloved. Sometimes there's an action, a look, an understanding, but it's pretty ineffable.
Trying to understand the hows and whys that cause us to fall in love with a person seems too complex and big a challenge to wrap our arms around. So let's consider smaller things.
Can you remember an instance where your attitude changed? Some occurrence that switched your opinion, changed your mind, opened a door, gave you a new perspective, readjusted your thinking, caused you to reframe your perception and realign your judgement?
No? OK, here's one from my files.
Some of you may remember the early days of Clint Eastwood films (directed by Sergio Leone, A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, etc.). I would declaim to anyone that would listen how unbelievably boring and stupid the films were! They just consisted of Clint Eastwood...
1) Walking onto the screen
2) Obliterating everyone
3) Walking off the screen
4) Walking onto a new screen
5) Obliterating everyone
6) Walking off the screen
Many would agree. But what stuck in my mind was the one person who looked at me and said, slightly sorrowfully, as if speaking to a somewhat retarded person:
"But...that's the point."
Well, the scales fell from my eyes and I was able to utterly reassess my conclusions, realign my expectations and realize—and appreciate—the poetry in motion that this metaphoric Western ballet depicted. Indeed, all Westerns celebrated. Reader, I loved them. Yes, all of them.
Example two, further illustrating my point on how much things—feelings, beliefs, opinions—depend on how you are looking, not actually what you are looking at. So when people say (with a myriad of quotes) 'you can only change yourself,' know that you probably change yourself constantly, often easily, and that it has the power to instantly open new worlds.
I remember first moving to NYC and asking, "What is an egg cream?" and always getting the answer, "It's an ice cream soda, without the ice cream."
Are you with me here? Huh? Why would anyone ever want an ice-creamless ice cream soda? I mean, Hello? WTFP? (What's The F**king Point?). Given that the point of having an ice cream soda, is, in fact THE ICE-CREAM. That's why it's the lead!
I wandered through Manhattan really feeling pretty sad about New York and their delight in creating and ordering an ice cream soda...hold the ice cream. Indeed, I—I admit it—would occasionally indulge in a little rant about the cosmic stupidity of the concept.
Until finally someone said—slightly sorrowfully, as if speaking to a developmentally disabled person: "It's not an ice cream soda without the ice cream. It's an enhanced Coke™."
The scales fell from my eyes and I was able to reassess my conclusions, realign my expectations and realize—and appreciate—the nectar of the gods this delightful fizzy fresh and thirst quenching ambrosia offered. Reader, I loved them.
And consider all these challenges to reread books you've read in the past—Practical Classics and others I can't immediately locate with search, or numerous articles over the years all illustrate how you, not "it" changes, and how amazing that is, because the world we see changes as we do, endlessly new, never entirely known.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky (though time changes us, even if we stay).
|Monday, March 24th, 2014|
|Why I buy organic milk
I buy organic milk. There. I've said it. And it's true.
But I do not buy organic milk because it's organic.
I do not buy organic milk because of its lack of pesticides.
Nor do I buy it because it's fashionable and others will admire me for my thoughtful and responsible choices.
In addition, I do not purchase it because I know that my milk choice will, in some small way, Save The World.
In fact, let me say this right up front: there is only one thing I really am interested in with anything ingestible: Does it taste good? Well, actually, the question really is 'do I like it,' because "goodness" is clearly self-defined.
And in terms of self-definition, I have little taste memory, so my assessments use the scientific A/B method on everything—that is I taste things back-to-back to try to determine which I like better, or indeed, if I can tell any difference at all.
I also need to confess that I am a tea drinker and have both milk and sugar in my tea.
Thus I must have milk available every day, and it has to last. It is inexpressibly sad to see a kelp bed of white curdled milk streamers appear at the top of your mug as you milk-up first thing.
And I like fat milk, a creamy taste. I call it Boy Milk, i.e. whole milk, Vs Girl Milk, which is skim (as I child I thought was called 'skinned milk.' Really not too far off).
I was initially intrigued by organic milk by the remarkable sell-by date—often a month away. Given the issues around the allowed sell-by date (in New York City, the allowed date migrated to 5 days later, so milk that used to last for a week past the sell by date expired in two days, totally messing up my arithmetic) this swath of time was seductive. I was seduced.
Then an odd thing happened. I found the organic milk not only lasted longer, but tasted better, sweeter, creamier, I could have 2% and it tasted as good to me as regular whole milk (yes, I verified this in an A/B taste test).
There's a fair bit of information out there as to the whys and wherefores, but the most compelling explanation for me was in Scientific American. The article's focus is on the long shelf life of organic milk. It notes that organic milk processing is different from regular milk, as it is heated to a higher temperature (UHT), which kills more bacteria and enables it to last longer and hence travel further. There are fewer organic farms and the product ships longer distances. The high temperatures slightly caramelize the trace sugar in the milk, giving it a sweeter taste. Yum.
I have not found non-organic UHT milk, and do not care for the taste of Parmalat, so I'm just paying the price.
And happy to.
Do you have things you do or buy for all the "wrong" reasons?
|Sunday, February 23rd, 2014|
|The bigness of small talk
OK, maybe not all small talk. But if you are having a business meeting with someone you haven't met or don't know well, it's big.
The convention that the American businessperson (or whomever) who wants to cut to the chase and avoid the traditional chit-chat—sometimes a trait associated with non-American cultures and can be seen as a 'waste of time'—is surprisingly short sighted.
Here's my example and my insight:
I recently overheard a half of a phone call between a manager and his freelance hire on a project. (Yes, the intimacy of cellphones in public spaces). They knew each other, but not well; it seemed early in the project. And they spent about 10 minutes of their opening conversation before "getting down to business," going over the Superbowl, which had just occurred.
And I realized how illuminating these oblique conversations could be, how revealing, how much information was presented. You found out how each one presented their ideas, responded to the other's comments, explored issues, shared information. You got a sense for how they spoke, how they listened, how they addressed problems—in conversation as well as the ones on the field.
It's how you say what you say, how you respond. How you judge, work, think—your 'general cognitive ability,' beautifully expressed in this article about what Google looks for in hiring. In the article, the head of hiring tries to articulate what's important, noting that credentials, grades, honors are all trying to be markers for something within, not things in themselves. They aren't the point, they're the product, and are meaningless without the 'beef.'
Within publishing, writers sometimes ask if awards help sell a book. Well, yes they can—but I also want to say, "You have it backwards."
Things (books, people, films, whatever) often get an award because they are exceptional. So an exceptional, fabulous story may get an award, but it doesn't get bought because it got an award, it gets bought because it's fabulous.
That's also why some stories can get awards, but not get sold—because the judges may have wanted to reward or acknowledge something exceptional, perhaps something groundbreaking, or courageous.
But by virtue of its very exceptionalness, it may not be very commercial.
So it can be worthwhile to listen between the lines.
|Sunday, December 1st, 2013|
No, no, not that one!
I'm talking about manly housework tools...
For example, it's the season of leaf blowers for those of us that live in a world with trees. For me, they are one of the more seasonally irritating aspects of urban dwelling. Leaf blowers create an environment where your day is spent listening to a constant whine or roar that goes on for hours as some guy blows leaves from one bit of the pavement to...why, yes, to the next bit of the pavement and so on, ad infinitum.
Mostly, leaf blowers are used where a broom or rake would work fine, and rarely involve actually collecting the leaves and placing them into a receptacle to be removed. Mostly, they just get blown into the neighbor's yard, the sidewalk, the street. Where, naturally, they can just get blown back to wherever. Progress!
In fairness, there are places where a broom or rake won't work—plantings, or fragile growth areas that might need to be de-leafed in the fall. But for that, there are leaf suckers—yes, they do exist—that vacuum the leaves into a bag, so they are active a small fraction of the time leaf blowers are on (because they actually remove the leaves).
So I'm thinking: Why?
And the realization strikes that no self-respecting guy would want to take a broom to the sidewalk. Women's work! But when it comes to marching about with a giant dongle waving about in front of you (nearly reaching the ground! How cool is that?) and making a lot of noise, it's acceptable. Even desirable and fun.
Think about the creativity that has gone into lawn mowing equipment—the advent of the riding mower transformed cutting the lawn into a macho experience. What male wouldn't like to sit on a big, vibrating, noisy machine that gets driven around the Indy 500 track of your front yard? Beautiful.
So for those women who wish men might contribute a bit more to household chores, the solution is simple: guy-ify the appliances.
Imagine if the dishwasher had a starter switch like a outboard motor pull! Ideally it would be a bit fussy, perhaps requiring a certain weight within the dishwasher (like, there have to be some dishes in there and soap). A couple of strong yanks, a loud whirr, and they're off! There would not be a dirty dish in the house.
And how about a washing machine set close to the ceiling, where clothes have to 'make' the basket? The floor around could be weight sensitive and a robo voice (like the self-help supermarket monitors) would make rude remarks about their skill, forcing them to pick up misses. Now detergent comes in little tossable balls too, so that could work well. Another outboard pull or perhaps some drumming patterns that activates the starter. I think it's viable.
So instead of trying to reverse Henry Higgins famous line: Why can't a man be more like a woman? we need to re-engineer our attitude and create the ultimate housekeeping video game...
Vive la différence!
|Wednesday, September 25th, 2013|
|Greatest Asset = Greatest Liability
I have a theory that every one's greatest asset is also, conversely, their greatest liability. Think about it—it's just the flip side of the same coin. The dark side. Too much of a good thing.
It's one of the reasons we can't get rid of our weakness—because they are part of what is best about us.
You are thinking, no, actually, that's not true. But that's just because you haven't really thought about it. So pause for a minute and work with me here.
What do you think is one of your best qualities? Something that you are simply better at than most people around. It isn't necessarily anything specific (your great tennis backhand, for example) but something more broad. An ability, a power. I think that like a Pokémon character, we all have both specific abilities and also hidden abilities. And that as we mature, we go through many steps to accomplish cycles and become (hopefully) better defended, more powerful, with greater capacity to succeed.
So in terms of your abilities, or hidden abilities, (for example) perhaps you are remarkably bright and have an analytical and mathematical mind and are gifted with the ability to assess numerous data points and crunch remarkable amounts of information?
Maybe you have an intense desire to find the best answer, to be great—not just good, to succeed at the highest level, never settle?
Or you are a "doer," action-oriented, goal-focused, get it done and plow through all obstacles?
Possibly your strength is in the ability to intuit others' perspectives and you can access ways to interpret and inspire others, creating paths of communication and understanding between different personalities, businesses, perspectives, cultures.
But for each of those remarkable gift, there is a challenge, a weakness, a dark side.
For the analytically gifted who offer a deep understanding of issues in all their complexity, sifting all the information in the universe can be very time consuming. It is sometimes hard to stop analyzing, make a determination and move forward. There is always more to assess. There are always downsides and risks to be considered. Finding why you can't do something can sometimes overwhelm the goal of figuring out how you can.
The aspirational vision of the perfectionist demands a higher level of performance, often inspiring step-out accomplishments, demonstrating we can successfully stretch beyond our assumed limits. But it too can be time consuming, demanding, never satisfied, and that can burn people out and create a sense of ongoing failure in always reaching for the next step, crushing excitement and delight.
A "doer" (often 180 degrees from an analyzer) creates powerful energy with their goal focus and 'can-do' attitude. But doers can forget to listen, can overwhelm sometimes valid concerns and objections, and can lose the support and buy-in of the team, becoming a dictator rather than a leader.
Intuition can cause those with the gift of that special knowledge to intermediate themselves overmuch between conflicted parties, and be overwhelmed in working to find a common ground. In trying to please all, they may please none—and be resented for their efforts.
So your greatest asset can also be your greatest liability.
But remember, too, that your greatest weakness also can also be a powerful strength!
Oblivious and inconsiderate? You may cheerfully march to your own drum and break new ground for those limited by their fear of what others will think.
Outspoken and obnoxious? You could be a lighting rod, articulating issues others are afraid to voice—and you will have the strength to brush off the criticism and the challenging headwinds you may face.
Quiet and withdrawn? You may see more than others, gain insights, see patterns, and find better pathways to a solution than the loud speakers.
Finding the balance—which is constantly shifting in response to the context—it the challenge and the key.
I don't know how to surf, but that is my visual and my metaphor.
|Sunday, June 23rd, 2013|
|The Make An Effort Diet
I only used the word "diet" to lure you in.
MAE is not
Diets are depressing. The very word makes me feel sad, deprived of things desireable, filled with a rebellious fervor to go out and eat something—
MAE is an attitude adjustment, challenging and changing one's perspective both outwardly and inwardly.
Diets demonize and bless things we eat. They work within a familiar—
and for many a comfortable—
framework of sin and redemption. The promised land is reached (or at least visited) through privation, guilt and self-flaggelation. And these actions offer us a sense of moral superiority. We look at not eating/eating as demonstrating moral fibre (or moral turpitude).
The dieting activity involves self-recrimination as well as self-congratualation, and frequently involves purchasing material—
books, magazines, programs, special meals, "diet" foods, etc. Because—
cue in Steve Martin's paradigm altering realization in The Jerk—
"It's a profit deal!
No purchase is necessary for Make An Effort. The only requirement is to...you guessed it! To make an effort.
And that effort is real. You have to actually PAY ATTENTION. You have to think about:
- Whether you are actually hungry
- What does the food you are eating taste like?
- When you are no longer hungry
You have to make an effort to eat with intention and enjoyment and only what you really need to fill yourself, so eat slowly and allow your stomach to catch up with your mouth.
So for example, you do not
need to eat the entire bag of potato chips. The first one or two are delicious, the rest are a repetitive and compulsive waste. Don't even go there.
The MAE could be seen as portion control--you will be making an effort to eat less, to enjoy what you are eating more, to avoid very fattening foods.
But you should never deprive yourself. If you want a cookie, or ice-cream or whatever, you need to challenge yourself: Are you being frivolous? Is it anxious eating? Boredom? Already full and just want more? If yes, then make an effort and avoid.
But if it is special, if you are really feeling a bit hollow, or just have a craving, of course help yourself. Just enough, but not more. No penalties, no recrimination, just really savor it, think about it and enjoy it to the fullest.
Go ahead. Make an effort....
|Thursday, January 24th, 2013|
|Learning a new language...
I was thinking I should learn a new language.
You know what they say, keep the mind active, learning, getting exercised. Maybe Spanish? My year of Spanish in 8th grade was a hazy memory, and learning Spanish through the advertisements on the New York Subway had not been a successful foray in effective communication....
Cucarachas? Mandelos a un Motel!
Not the best way to win friends and influence people (unless, of course, they are Spanish speaking cockroaches).
But then as I struggled with vocabulary words, grammar and syntax, I realized I was already in the middle of learning a new language: Tech.
When people (of a certain age) say they find technology confusing, daunting, that they're not good at it, I don't think they've taken on board that Tech is a new language. Would you expect to be able to speak a new language fluently after an hour's class?
I didn't think so.
If anyone complained that even after many hours of learning French they were unable to read a novel, watch TV, or that they were unable to speak quickly and fluently, articulating their every nuanced point, most people would think: Huh? It takes more than a few hours to become fluent in a new language!
This point is not to discourage non techfluent types, but just a request that everyone realign their self expectations to a more reasonable level. To stop beating up on themselves because they are harboring absurdly high expectations of fluency, and appreciate learning tech, like learning a new language, is a process.
And the language metaphor doesn't stop there. As countless childhood development research statistics have indicated, when we are young, our ability to acquire new languages is remarkable. Thus everyone that has grown up learning the language of Tech has internalized it fairly effortlessly.
I can recall my horror and distress when I came across my first French child, a six year old, and I could not fathom how it could have learned French so well at the age of six, when I was still struggling at the age of 21 after years of classes.
Thus many of those that have grown up speaking Tech and are now explaining it to you may find your struggles incomprehensible. It's easy. It's natural. It's intuitive. It's obvious. Sure different dialects (games, new programs, operating systems, upgrades) can present a challenge, but for many, the challenge is fun to overcome. Just like people enjoy learning new languages, or new vocabularies, or new accents and idioms. But it's often not so easy for a non-native speaker.
And as it's a new language, it is constantly changing, adding new words, sprouting new dialects right and left, even the basics changing and morphing to fit this brave new world. It is going to take all my efforts to build my vocabulary and figure out how to effectively communicate and make myself understood.
Oui! Un petit peu....
|Tuesday, October 16th, 2012|
I majored in English in college—I have always loved stories. I can't even remember now what my period of interest was—maybe 19th century English & French literature? That sounds reasonable. I read a fair number of novels, plays and...poetry. Yes, I fondly recall a seminar in French symbolist & surrealist poetry.
Homework was reading poetry, and I remember how first I'd just read an assigned poem. Then I'd go back & look up all the words I didn't know or understand and translate it. Then I'd read my crude translation to try to understand the sense of the individual words and the vision of the poem. Read it again trying to internalize the meaning of the words as I read them. Read it again out loud to hear the language. It took hours to read a few lines of text on a page!
While I was wrestling with this class, I remember going to some event and chatting to two somewhat inebriated English graduate students and explaining that really, I just didn't get all the hoopla about poetry. And having them earnestly explain that poetry was it. The pinnacle. The point. The Ultimate in the pantheon of literature....
I didn't buy it. I figure they just liked to lord it over us lowly undergraduates & needed to pick something obscure and difficult (indeed often impenetrable) and pretend they understood the secret language, and others lacked the refined ear and were not worthy of the key to unlock this treasure. ENC (Emperor's New Clothes) I thought. Nothing there.
Flash forward several years. Had broken up with my college/post college boyfriend, moved to New York, gotten a job. But I was still connected with our collective friends when I found out from other sources that he was getting married to a woman who had banned all of his former friends (our friends) as a pre-condition. He had to give them all up for her--and he did.
I felt compelled to write to him. It couldn't be any kind of lengthy explanation of my disappointment in his actions: his willingness to betray long term friends to satisfy an utterly inappropriate perception of threat. To roll over and allow for such bad behavior. To not stand up for himself. To be so utterly lacking in integrity. No. No explanations.
It had to be brief--no more than 3 sentences. Expressive. Dignified. Ruthless.
I wrestled with words. Wrote and rewrote. Crafted my note. Every word had to have resonance, had to have it's own integrity and then when juxtaposed to another, and another, create a new and nuanced meaning. I flashed back to my conversation on Poetry and realized...
Poetry is it.
It is the challenge of packing the world in a thimble, of making each word do double, triple duty or more. Of creating a multifaceted object that you can turn and turn again, see through it, see yourself in it, see other dimensions within it. Within yourself.
|Thursday, June 28th, 2012|
|The Burden of Specialness...
Did you catch the David McCullough Jr (son of) "You are not special" graduation speech?
In some follow up interviews he speaks about his goals in taking his position that resonated with me: the burden of specialness.
Watching friends who—perhaps compensating for the lack of desired adulation from their own parents—lavish their offspring with encouragement and praise, and are resentful towards anyone (teachers, employers, friends) who are critical.
Their goal is to inspire and empower their children. But these aspirational goals, this barrage of belief their progeny's exceptionalness, is a heavy burden.
It can make every success a failure, because it can never be remarkable enough. If there ever is something exceptional, then really, it's just what is expected—nothing remarkable about that! It makes failure unacceptable, a betrayal of their parent's faith, something to hide, to be ashamed of. Not good.
For all those who were dumped on and discouraged in their formative years, rethink your resentments. If you were strong enough, motivated enough to defy assumptions, to fight for your own dreams, than every step was a triumph. The desire to "show" others how wrong they were about you may have lead you to excell in remarkable ways. Your victories are your own, fought for and won in the teeth of opposition.
Perhaps it is logical to think that it would be easier to achieve success if those barriers were eliminated, but the barriers are what buids and ensures the strength and the motivation to succeed. The challenges we face and overcome in the race to win are the cause of our success. Not what prevents success.
Consider it in physical terms—no one trains successfully to win a race by having their coach move the finish line closer to the start.
The word "burden" reminds me of Pilgrim's Progress, read many years ago. Our burdens can indeed sink us into the Slough of Despond. And a positive burden can be just as heavy as a negative one.
Let them go and find your own path....
Isabel Swift (somewhat special—in her own special way)
|Sunday, May 20th, 2012|
|What Is It About Virginity?
No, not just that kind. I'm thinking of all kinds of firsts, any first.
While virginity in other areas don't get nearly the play that sexual innocence/experience gets (why is that?), many firsts are paradigm-altering experiences.
In youth, life starts with non-stop firsts. Everything is a first—first breath, first cry, first word, first smile, first tooth, first food, first step. Of course the proportions change over time—from 100% firsts in those intial hours, dropping to a still demanding percentage of firsts Vs familiar: first school, first friend, first fight, first love, first job, and so on.
As we explore, experiment and stake out our ground, we often build a life around the familiar, shrinking that percentage of demanding firsts we have to experience. We've found our sweet spot, our comfort zone, our wheelhouse.
Yes, we understand our job as parents and mentors: we must push children, students, trainees to expand their horizons, open their eyes and minds to a world of possibilities, but hey, we've BTDT (Been There, Done That). We don't need to do it again. It's exhausting, time consuming, scary, disappointing, uncomfortable. Something we encourage others to do, extolling the benefits of remaining open to new ideas, continuous learning, etc.
So I was wondering—what makes it hard to try something new?
And I realized that when you are a virgin/newbie approaching any new situation, you maintain a constant 360º scan of the situation, holding all potential options (given the lack of prior experience) open and possible. Depending on your personality (some types listed below) or level of experience in related areas, your need to maintain a high-gain assessment of all information may vary, but the constant data flow can be significant and challenging to process.
Powering that constant scan consumes energy—you are not only trying to assess all the possibilities, but may (if more compulsive, or if this is a value-laden or important first) do some scenario building off of that 360 degrees of possibility, increasing the amount of information that has to stay active and running on your "screen."
When that 360º energy-intensive radar goes on for anyone who feels compelled to think ahead, it is tiring. However if we are frequently trying new things, we can get used to it. Like daily exercise, our mental muscles adjust and accommodate. But for those who aren't in shape, the learning curve of newness can feel very daunting, a steep hill to climb. We may give up, forgetting how quickly that initial learning curve can pass with minimal experience, narrowing that 360º circle into an ever smaller and more focused slice of the pie, enabling us to rapidly eliminate and jettison inappropriate options or scenarios.
Learning can be a heady experience, as we offload unecessary information that has been cluttering our mind, like cleaning house.
In general, I have observed three broad attitudes/approaches—perhaps you have experienced others...
The Laissez Faire: So if you're not so compulsive or caring, and something new comes up, you might not switch into high gear. You're in the "Whatever" school that believes in minimum-to-no-effort and deal with it (or abandon it) if things blow up. Relatively low increased energy required for approaching something new.
The Go For Its: Another mindset falls in the toss-it-in-the-air-and-See-If-It-Sticks (SIIS) school. Simultaneously adventurous and lazy, this group is afraid to pre-think much, as that may lead to a never-ending list of what-ifs that would require additional research, effort and more thinking, which might result in inaction and depression. For them, there's often some kind of mental mechanism that kicks in while they are dithering which launches them into the challenge willy-nilly. They, closing their eyes, take the leap and deal real-time with the possible consequences of unthought-through actions. Energy only required if things go awry!
I Am, Therefore I Think: The third group are the pre-thinkers, sometimes so good at their job that no action is ever able to be taken! The wide spectrum of this group can range from the thoughtful plan-aheader to the truly obsessive I-must-think-of-everything-or-else-there-will-be-a-break-in-the-Force-and-the-world-will-end. Required energy can be medium, to high...to off the charts. For the extremists in this segment, seemingly "simple" tasks or decisions can be overwhelming. To illustrate this, consider taking a small number, say 2, but then saying you have to think of it to the tenth power. The complexity increases exponentially.
Of course, there's always the straightforward fear of looking like an idiot, which is always a disincentive to trying something new. Get over it. Try something new. Don't expect yourself to be perfect from the start.
Embrace failure, for without it, there is no learning. And remember that something not working out the way you had planned ("failure") may be a door that opens a new direction, insight, opportunity.
Isabel Swift (learning to knit…)
|Sunday, April 22nd, 2012|
|If you haven't read it, you should….
I’ve just finished re-reading Deborah Tannen’s early work (1990), You Just Don’t Understand. She’s a linguistic professor who has published some bestselling titles (That’s Not What I Meant, Talking 9-5). I’d read it ages ago, when it first came out & found it both interesting and helpful. Rereading it offered new insights.
If you’re a romance reader or writer, I expect you’ve heard the comment, “The whole story was just based on a misunderstanding! A five minute conversation would have cleared everything up on page two…!”
Well, spending five minutes with YJDU will clarify that communication between the sexes is rife with misunderstanding. That males and females—from the very beginning—bring quite different assumptions to conversations (both speaking and listening) and those assumptions can create significant misinterpretation, misunderstanding, frustration, anger, unhappiness, alienation and disappointment. A better understanding of the underlying assumptions on both sides can really help realign expectations and diminish misinterpretation. Additionally, the stories and research offer reassurance that you are not alone in your confusion, hurt, and frustration.
Before I became a romance editor and made my living on the differences between the sexes, I remember having a conversation with the father of a woman who had finally announced her engagement to her long-time partner. The couple hadn’t gotten married because their respective families didn’t approve of the relationships due to their being from different races or religions (can’t recall the issue).
The parent was earnestly explaining to me that he wasn’t racist (or whatever) but that building a successful marriage was so hard, and if the two parties came from totally different cultures, different upbringings, different experiences, that it would be that much harder to find the common ground needed to create a strong partnership.
As I listened, I sympathized—all his concerns were valid. And then I looked him in the eye and said, you know, I have never heard such a compelling treatise on the benefits of homosexual marriage. I mean with heterosexual relationships, you are asking people of the opposite sex to figure out a way to live together. Not easy! There’s a reason it’s called the opposite sex….
Yes, when you think about building a strong partnership between two people who are different sexes, have totally different bodies, bring different assumptions, expectations and world view, have different conversational styles (in some ways a different language), and were raised differently, it’s clear heterosexual marriage is not easy. That challenge has fueled countless stories, poems, songs and is often one of the central challenges of our lives.
It’s not easy to understand the opposite sex, but YJDU does give some helpful insights. Tannen opens with a perspective that had a lot of resonance for me: that all conversation has two diametrically opposed goals.
One is to connect, to reach out, to feel a bond with another, to feel part of the greater whole of humankind.
The other is the desire to maintain your sense of self, your autonomy, your uniqueness, your individuality and separateness.
Tannen indicates (my interpretation) that these simultaneous and opposite goals are present in every conversational interaction for both men and women. But she notes that men often have a slight default to autonomy in that 180 degree spread. And that women often have a slight default to connection. And that slight difference can and often does create a significant communication gap between the sexes.
If you think about it, much of “politeness” (which can vary significantly in different cultures) has been created to enable people to communicate and connect in a non-threatening way. To enable others to feel ‘safe’ in connecting, reassured that they are not being asked to lose their autonomy or sense of self.
Romances are all about the puzzle of how to be both an individual and be part of a team. And many address the challenge of having the woman need to nurture her sense of self, validate her right to her own individuality and needs in order to balance her natural tendency to compromise for others. And additionally presenting the flip side: of having the man appreciate that there are appropriate and necessary compromises that he must make to be part of a team, and to learn to appreciate the unique gifts that that connection will bring.
So if you haven't read it yet, check it out. And vive la différence!
|Saturday, January 21st, 2012|
|Charting the points...
A highly rational friend recently noted with some surprise that sometimes just saying a problem out loud helped him figure it out.
And why was that?
Have you ever been struggling with something, felt a lack of clarity on which direction to go in, or even understand how you felt about an issue?
Have you written about it in an email, a letter, a journal and gotten an insight from the act of writing? Or talked to someone about it, and gotten a better perspective, even though the person you were talking to hadn't said anything? Or even just bounced something out loud into an empty room, and found an answer rebound back to you?
I expect many have. Most likely everyone has just accepted that experience as being just a strange exercise that for unknown reasons simply seems to work.
But for my rational friend, achieving that insight through those means was a surprise. For him, there hadn't seemed to be any point in talking or writing about the same information or questions that were in his head—what difference would it make? The information was already in his head, it wouldn't change from being said out loud or written down. So it got me thinking—well, why does it help?
And I came up with this analogy:
Do you remember math problems where you would be given a sequence of numbers and asked to figure out what the next number in the sequence was supposed to be? Well, the more numbers you were given in the sequence, the clearer the underlying formula was. So if you were only given one number, correctly guessing the next would be impossible—too many options. If you were given two numbers, then your chances were better, but still had a very high level of uncertainty.
For example 2 doesn't give you much to go on. 2, 4, gives you a lot more, but not enough. The sequence could be 2,4,6 or 2,4,8. So with three data points, you can be far more confident of perceiving a pattern, making an assumption, getting clarity.
So my theory is that when you have a problem/issue in your head, that's one data point. But when you say it out loud, so you are knowing it, thinking it, saying it and hearing it, or additionally writing it and reading it, you are adding more data points and increasing your ability to make a more accurate assumption, to chart a more solid course. And agreed, some of these point only offer a tiny bit of new information--a slightly richer or more detailed appreciation, a new perspective, but it's something; it helps.
In one of those Malcolm Gladwell books, he talks about how you can have a group of two or three friends, but if it expands to four or five, the group often falls apart. He noted that one more person isn't just an addition of one, but an addition for everyone in the group, so the increase is exponential. Everyone is managing not only their own relationship to each person in the group, but observing & incorporating each permutation of every element of each member of the group.
So if you have a group of three, A, B, C, you need to maintain awareness of the relationships between A/B, A/C, B/A, C/A, B/C, C/B and ABC. If you add D, it goes from 7 separate relationships to 16 (A/B, A/C, A/D, B/A, B/C, B/D, C/A, C/B, C/D, D/A, D/B, D/C, ABC, ABD, BCD, ACD). Yes, OK, I may not have all the math right, but you get the point.
The more points you can chart or the more ways you allow your brain and intuition to process information, the better it will be able to build a viable theory, or chart a hypothetical direction to consider.
Also, it's very hard to lie to yourself when you are writing in a journal. Much easier to wrap yourself in denial and not go there if it's just in your head, or even talking. And in fairness, sometimes you don't even know you are lying to yourself until you write something down. Reading it, you think...well, no, that's not quite right, and start thinking about what is actually true.
It is helpful to get an external perspective on things—that's why editors were invented. But if you don't have an editor or critique group, or a boss or anyone to be a sounding board, try putting it out there & using yourself.
You'll have a point. Maybe more than one....
Get your sextant out!Isabel Swift
|Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011|
|Lessons learned from Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer
Some years ago I did a post on Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer
. It's a song that always troubled me, as it seemed so out of keeping with the general aspirational holiday cheer.Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer
is such a straightforward statement that if you are or look different, others will ridicule, shun, humiliate and reject you. As you may recall, the other reindeer "laugh and call him names/They never let poor Rudolph/join in any reindeer games."
That is his life until everyone suddenly discovers that the very thing that made him different will in fact deliver a unique and crucial skill that will overcome what had been an insurmountable obstacle. Of course, "Then all the reindeer loved him/as they shouted out with glee,/Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,/you'll go down in history!"
Clearly, for some people, anyone that is different is seen as a threat.
Perhaps some people assume if something is different it must be an enemy (?)
Perhaps some people think that, since they are perfect, anyone that doesn't resemble them is less than perfect, and must be eliminated (?)
Perhaps some people think they are perfect, thus everyone else must also
are perfect, so their differences are in conflict, and are an alarming threat to some people's own belief system, sense of self-satisfaction and comfort (?)
But some people appreciate differences in others.
Perhaps they respond to the fact that evolutionary theory rewards those species that have variety, as it gives them more options for species survival to respond more effectively to a changing world. If a species becomes too uniform, then one problem can wipe out the entire species, because all are equally vulnerable (?)
Perhaps they realize that variety enhances survival because not everyone wants the same thing at the same time, diminishing competition and allowing peaceful coexistence (?)
Perhaps they have internalized the Rudolf lesson, that the very things that make someone different may offer key skills to the team and make the sum far greater than each individual part—a central theme in romances (?)
And clearly, the trial by fire that so many live through in environments that penalize differences can forge powerful, creative and remarkable human beings.
But it is hard on the young. For the lessons we learn in Kindergarten are not pretty and many live their whole lives trying to overcome or find forgiveness for what happened then.
In an effort to prevent teen suicides among kids with gender and sexuality issues there are resources. It gets better.org
or The Trevor Project
The focus there is gender, but the basic issue is the same. Being different may not be an easy road, but it gets better—even for Rudolf. And adults have only to pause for an instant to think of all the people who were "different" that have transformed their lives and the world around them and value and support the gift of being different.
Here's hoping that the coming season gives us all things to be thankful for—the gift of accepting—indeed of celebrating our differences. For therein lies our strength.
|Wednesday, August 24th, 2011|
|Ask a Busy Person
You know the aphorism: "if you want to get something done, ask a busy person." ?
Well, I am here to say: "So True!"
"Let me explain!"
Because why is it true? Why is asking a not-busy person--a seemingly obvious choice--so challenging and problematic?
Well, let me walk you through it. Let's just say you have nothing to do and someone (a spouse with a full time job, perhaps) approaches you with a task: a request to pick up some dry-cleaning. Because hey, you're not doing anything, right?
"Honey, could you pick up the dry-cleaning? I have a million things I have to do & don't have the time," they'd ask.
What has just happened?
Well, your workload has just increased...one hundred percent
You're laughing, but that is exactly what it feels like.
Because what is not appreciated is that in addition to a massive workload increase (and the sense that a steaming turd has been laid in the center of your delightful and bucolic world), by taking on that task, numerous other tasks will have to join it. It can be overwhelming.
Because now you have to...
- get up, take off your pajamas, take a shower
- dry off, select and put on clothes, do makeup, brush hair
- find the laundry ticket, money, the dry cleaner's address
- figure out how to get there: drive, walk, bus, etc., figure out when to leave
- research the route, or figure to park,
- mentally prepare yourself to encounter numerous strangers and unpredictable people, respond to questions
- gather articles, transact business, carry everything back & put everything away
It's exhausting to think about.
Whereas if you had a hundred things to do, one more is only 1/100th. Often, that's what it feels like. And likely it seems like you're wading through crap all day--what's another bit?
And while everyone has an upper limit, usually one more thing is nothing. You're already up, showered, shaved and out the door. Depending on location, there are a number of slots that picking up the dry cleaning would fit into--on the way to work, at lunch, on the way back; it's just a brief detour, no trouble at all, really!
Somewhat frighteningly, often the less you do, the less you can do. And the more you do, the more you can do.
So lighten your load with care, or nothing will get done.
|Saturday, July 23rd, 2011|
|Control Vs Lack of Control
Holding on. Letting go.
Just met a photographer at a two hour batik/dye class who said she was there because she wanted to push herself creatively in areas where she wasn't—and couldn't be—in control. Because she knew she relished and enjoyed the control she exercised over her photographic images—it was aligned with her natural inclinations. And she knew as an artist, she needed to challenge her comfort zone on occasion.
She did watercolor for the same reason. You can't "fix" a "mistake" with water color. You have to listen to the medium and figure out how to reimagine your vision to work with whatever happened. Which can sometimes mean heading off in new, unexpected and eye-opening directions.
Then some years ago, walking into a group of office crafters—knitting, crochet—it seemed a homogeneous gathering of like-minded souls. But mention the word "felting" and the room divides, half enthusiastic, half appalled. Because for some, knitting is about choice and control of all the variables—patterns, colors, materials, tools and talent. And felting, with its 'lets-just-toss-that-thing-in-the-washin
g-machine-and-see-what-happens' attitude is utterly antithetical to what they do, what they enjoy. Because it's out of their control. And for others, that's the point and the fun.
Of course people aren't all one way or another—they usually have areas where they want and need control, and other areas where they are totally laissez-faire. Though some can be judgemental about another's excessive (or shocking lack of) control in whatever area they differ on! But I will have to explain the Janci Curve in another post....
Do you have areas that you think are too tightly wrapped and could benefit from some loosening or experimentation? Or areas where you're a little too experimental and need some focus and discipline?
My answer is...all of the above!