Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Start Here...

Would you start something if you knew there was a high likelihood you wouldn't finish it? Could you get halfway through a seven hundred page book, put it down, but still feel satisfied? Could you knit half a sweater, put it away in a drawer and still smile that your stitching was neat and even? If you're a commitment phobe that might be the very definition of ecstasy, but if you grew up in a generation that was the iteration of 'finish your plate,' then starting and not finishing is equivalent to blasphemy.

I had lunch with a friend last week and we were wondering if the journey was enough. Was the journey only valid if you reached your goal, or was it O.K. to do something just for the hell of it? We decided that starting three different projects, even if none of them got finished was fine because at our stage in life the very act of starting something new was the goal.

Let me just put it out there that I grew up with the mindset that you never quit anything. Ever. Oh, you hate guitar lessons? But you signed up for the year. Sleep away camp not for you? You'll come home when the summer is over. Yes, I was a dogged finisher of things. I stayed with boring books, friends whose friendships were less than satisfying, and slogged through my last semester of college highly pregnant for fear if I took off a semester, I might never finish. 

I encouraged my children to complete their projects, give their piano, saxophone, and ballet lessons a chance, and to think carefully before undertaking something new that had failure built-in. But I did let them quit their music lessons when they felt they had enough, and we did bring one child home from sleep away camp a week early. Yes, we made certain all our children finished school and they are responsible adults who hold down jobs, but sadly, none of them play instruments or can draw or perform ballet. But at least they had the opportunity to try those activities out and decide for themselves. 

And we have a half-painted shed in the backyard that is a victim of some apparent miscommunication. Every time I look at the shed, drunk in its slapdash coloration it annoys and amuses me, much like the child who was a supreme starter of things.  

In economics, throwing bad money after good is called sunk cost. Having been an economics major in college, a really long time ago, it was an idea that had never resonated with me. Until now. I had always figured I just needed to stick with it and magic would happen. Having spent most of my adult life finishing things, I have now embraced the not finishing of them. It is incredibly freeing and fertile for the creative mind to allow the process to serve as satisfaction.  Yes, it's hard to walk away from a project that has consumed you and taken a part of your sanity with it, but it can be energizing too. 

Now, I find myself sometimes reading two books at a time, and depending on my mood, I might or might not finish them. I took a screenwriting course because it seemed a fresh way to work on my  book and attended only the first eight sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed them and got as much out of them as I thought I would. An old advertising slogan motto comes to mind, "Try it--you'll like it." And if you don't like it, that's fine too. At least you gave it a chance.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Next Chapter

Anna Quindlen was a friend of mine twenty-five years ago when I was a young working mother raising my growing family in Brooklyn. The former New York Times columnist penned a weekly missive in the Metropolitan section of the paper chronicling the stresses of trying to juggle the ever-changing needs of a young family while holding down a demanding job.  During a period of my life when I was too harried to find time for actual friendships, my virtual one with Ms Quindlen, whose life seemed to mirror my own, got me through most days. Although she had ten years on me and was a devout Catholic raising three boys, we seemed to be living parallel lives. Except, I didn’t have a dog. Or a Pulitzer prize. Her column was refreshingly candid, heartwarming and a lifesaver. And it was the first inkling I’d noted that perhaps the liberated woman of the hard-won sixties movement might not be able to have it all. The two of us, Anna and I were each sinking under the crushing pressure and guilt of trying to be everything to everyone and losing ourselves in the process.   

Although I felt saddened when she left the Times to write a novel, my need for the weekly pep talk had waned since at that point I had already stopped working. Shortly after that, my husband and I moved out to the suburbs. My older children were in school, leaving me with a baby I could spend all day cooing at without looking at my watch. It was time to reconnect with myself, yet I had no idea how exactly to do that. And frankly, I was bored. A friend suggested I get a babysitter so I could shop in peace, meet friends for lunch, volunteer, or even go back to school. I was aghast. Was that allowed? I’d stopped working so I could catch my breath, and stop feeling guilty about rushing everyone around as we danced to our well-orchestrated morning and evening ballet. Here now was this new guilt about focusing on myself.

It took me a long time to embrace the idea, but when I finally did, I discovered something I’d long forgotten—me. As it turns out, taking a coffee break with a good friend is as beneficial to your health as taking a brisk walk or eating dark chocolate (just not the whole bar). It seems that our blood pressure lowers and endorphins flood our system when we connect in a way that only a dear friend can.

As my children reached high school, I realized it was okay to factor my needs into the mix, allowing my voice equal sway in the family dynamic. Not that anyone had stopped me from doing that before, well, except for me. Oh, and I stopped apologizing.

There’s a reason the flight attendant tells you to put on your oxygen mask before your child’s in the event of an accident. You’re of no use to anyone if you can’t function.  And barely holding it together is not functioning. I use this piece of advice as a battle cry to remind the women in my life that I love and care about to stop apologizing for their messy house, the missed appointment, or the cake they forgot to bake for the school function. This concept, of NOT being able to do it all is a hard one to internalize. We’ll do everything in our power to fool ourselves into believing that the word No is something other people say.  But if we always say Yes, trust me, something will give, something will crack, and most of the time, it will be us. One of the traits I most admire about women is our ability to adapt to new situations, to think on our feet, to multi-task. We are able to do six things seemingly at once, but it doesn’t mean that all six are being done well. It is up to you to decide what works for you and to speak up when it doesn’t.   

Yes, you count, and it is very important to remember that and advocate for yourself, because no one wants a resentful spouse, mother or daughter. And you know what? If you say No once in a while, you’ll enjoy saying Yes, even more. You’ll be doing everyone in your life a big favor by reaching for your oxygen mask first. It is actually the least selfish thing you could do.  Accepting a friend’s offer of help when you really need it is another liberating move. It doesn’t make you weak or any less capable, and if the roles were reversed you would be running over in a second to lend a hand. After so many years of giving, it is okay to take—really.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recently wrote a book entitled Lean In, an inspirational and at times, divisive book advising high-profile women in the workplace how to reach the corner office. This Harvard educated woman urges her fellow women that yes, you can earn yourself a “seat at the table,” meaning, you can empower yourself to reach that glass-ceiling level to make a change in the system. The book is a fascinating read that is impactful for the woman working at the corporate level as well as for the woman who has decided to make her job of raising her family a full-time one. I want to highlight one point of many she makes that resonated with me.

Ms Sandberg takes women to task for not advocating for themselves in the work arena. Her most outspoken critics claim she is blaming the victim for not furthering herself, rather than the institution for not allowing the opportunity. She disagrees with this point, citing fear as the reason women are afraid to speak up and take credit for their accomplishments, while their male counterparts fly past them up the corporate ladder.  Girls are taught to be obedient and are praised in the classroom when they raise their hands before speaking. Boys have learned that calling out in class gets them heard and are willing to trade obedience for opportunity. Girls politely wait their turn, often in frustrated silence while boys speak out and sail by without censure. Girls willingly trade likeability for success. When women make the subconscious decision that they will swallow their needs to keep the boat steady, they lose, and everyone else does in the process.

Ms. Sandberg’s introduction in her book highlights the time when she was working at Google and had to hoist her highly-pregnant self across a very full parking lot, fighting fatigue, nausea and swollen ankles to get to an executive meeting. She recounted the ordeal to her husband that night at dinner and he told her that at Yahoo, where he was employed, there were specially-assigned spots for expectant mothers. She marched into the Google founders’ offices the next morning to demand the same parking privileges for their employees; they readily agreed. Surely there were other pregnant women in the company who had the same challenge as herself, and she wondered why they chose to suffer in silence.

Yes, she spoke up—she wasn’t afraid, but first she had to have a “seat at the table” in order to have her voice heard.  Ms. Sandberg highlights this point of the female standing by and not advocating for herself. A woman would rather be liked than heard, she states, while allowing herself to be labeled bossy from a young age, rather than assertive. This needs to be changed.  She stresses that not all women want careers, not all women want children, not all women want both. That is each woman’s choice, but if she wants a “seat at the table,” she’d best speak up and have her voice heard.

She asks the same question that got me wondering fifteen years ago, what would I do if I wasn’t afraid…what could I do if fear was not part of the equation. I already had a Bachelors in Economics (although I wasn’t exactly sure why), so I went back to school and studied Interior Design, something that had always fascinated me. Then I opened my own business, taking only the jobs that intrigued me, while trying very hard to factor in all the other pulls on my time. 

As our lives develop and grow more complicated, there will be varying sets of demands and obligations as our roles keep getting redefined. It’s an opportunity to challenge ourselves, even if we’re scared doing it. For those women who find work fulfilling and enjoyable, or simply need the second income, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay up all night hand decorating twenty-six cupcakes for your five-year olds birthday party. A lot of us gave up our most productive work years that could have bettered our careers, opting to stay home and raise a family. For those of us who did, it was an active decision—a real sacrifice, and one, hopefully, whose rewards will be reaped for many years to come. But what about now? What happens when everyone leaves the theater after the second act and you are left alone in the thundering silence of a once bustling household that bustles only a couple of times a year? You can fear the quiet or revel in it. You decide.

Four years ago, when my business slowed down due to the economy, I had some free time on my hands. One day I sat down at my computer and wrote some ideas that had been rolling around in mind for a while. I didn’t really analyze what I was doing; I just did it. About a year or so later, I had the foundation of a novel on my laptop. I’d always loved to write, but I can’t say I ever felt I had the Great American novel locked away in the recesses of my mind trying to get out. Or maybe I did, and the noise in my life had drowned it out.

 I’ve since written two more books, and I’ve never had more fun. I do it for pure pleasure, and when I stopped being shy about it, did a little self-promoting and managed to develop a readership. It’s opened a whole new world for me and I’ve met compelling people in the writing classes I’ve taken and the conferences I’ve attended. And I’ve discovered that everyone has a story to tell, something that is uniquely their own. And so do you. It’s time to write your story, and don’t worry about the ending, it’s the journey that counts. And if you find yourself looking at an empty page, don’t feel guilty—go out for a walk and get some air or call up a friend and meet for coffee.

 It’s your turn.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Happened to the Chorus?

Having grown up before this enhanced digital age, or any digital age, for that matter, there was always an understood hierarchy of things. There was the standout performer who stood alone in the spotlight backed happily by a strong chorus. The chorus enjoyed the shadows, keenly aware that the only way to remain on stage was to offer support to the most talented and charismatic one--The Star. On occasion, a member of the chorus made the leap to center stage through hard work and determination and a bit of serendipity in the form of a broken leg or strained vocal chords. 

In today's world of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, excessive self-promotion has assured everyone a spot on center stage. The spotlight has become a floodlight and the shadows of the chorus are all but non-existent. Everyone is singing their solo at the same time, in different keys, and the result is a screeching cacophony of sounds.

Social media's relentless hype toward self-promotion has made everyone into a star, whether they deserve the title or not.  Simply shout louder and more frequently than the person next to you, and voila--instant name recognition.

I agree that social media has a place and its advent can be extremely helpful in highlighting undiscovered talent. It has value. It's a great voice for the people to be heard and create a dialogue about what matters. A tweet that shares a wry observation on a relatable topic is a welcome respite from the mundane. But just because someone has figured out a way to shout louder than everyone else doesn't mean they are worth listening to. To wit, it's also important to remember that a world without social media would be a world without the runaway hit of Shades of Grey or Occupy Wall Street. Take that any way you want....But the point is that quantity of followers doesn't always translate into deserving success. 

We used to disdain the person calling attention to themselves as desperate and cheap, like the girl in class who waved her hand excitedly as if to compel the teacher to 'pick her! pick her!' Interestingly enough, that girl didn't always have the right answers. Oftentimes the correct answer was given by the girl sitting just behind her who was obscured by the overeager student. 

But if there is so much self-promotion and self-interest, can the most self-absorbed amongst us be trusted to notice anyone else? It takes an awful lot of energy to shout "Look at me! Look at me!" the result being that there is little time to look at anyone else.

And that's a pity.

Yes, social media definitely has a place. We just have to figure out where that is, exactly.

Yes, many of us have succumbed to the vast, uncharted territory of cyberspace, but I believe weariness is beginning to set in.  Mozart never had a facebook page or a twitter account and neither did Hemingway or Sinatra, well, you get the point. 

So you over there, the one flailing your arms wildly, please remember to use your inside voice and could you just take two steps to your left?

There's someone right behind you that I've been interested in meeting.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Am Woman Hear me...Whisper

Last week, a random sampling of five women from my neighborhood met up for lunch and a swim before saying a final farewell to summer. The hostess extended the invitation to a couple of friends and basically whoever had been standing within earshot. I had been standing within earshot and decided on a whim to join.

I had never been to the hostess' house. She was a mild acquaintance, but her invitation seemed sincere. I had a great time. The next morning, before eight, I got a text from a close friend who wasn't at the lunch/swim asking me how it was, with ample excuses as to why she couldn't be there. The purpose of the text was to put me on notice that she too had been invited, lest I think poorly of her social standing. 

I hadn't asked who had been invited--didn't care. And my close friend knows deep down that I don't care and never take attendance at events. But still, she had to make sure I knew she had been invited. I couldn't fathom why.  We've long since left high school, even our youngest children have  long since left high school, where social standing is the currency of life. I'm perplexed as to why a woman who runs her own thriving business and has successful children and a wonderful marriage cares what I or anyone else thinks about them? By all accounts, she should have been a lot more self-confident.

It got me wondering. Had the women's movement sputtered out somewhere around the 2000's? Was the "stand by your man" mentality of Kathie Lee Gifford, Hillary, Huma and Silda Spitzer a symptom of the times or a harbinger of times to come?

Sex and the City has been running on a loop on basic cable for the past year or so and lately I've been setting my DVR to catch up with the "ladies." As much as I've been enjoying watching them, I have to admit to being shocked. Not by their open-minded approach to sex or their fearless approach to any topic, for that matter, but by the way they fiercely protect their independence in a confident do-not-mess-with-me-honey kind of way. To coin an outdated, oft-used phrase of the seventies, with the exception of Charlotte, these women were "ball-busters." They have too much self-respect to allow themselves to be treated disrespectfully or to have their achievements undermined.

Frankly, I'd forgotten women could be like that. 

Many women in power, at least to me, seem so...apologetic. From Sheryl Sandberg to Uma, even to Hillary, the tone isn't the strident voice of the seventies I grew up hearing, its more like yeah, OK, I'm smart, but I need you not to feel threatened by that. And truly the tone today doesn't need to be tough or divisive to further women's empowerment, but it does need to be sure and unwavering. It needs to be confident. Yes, we've made tremendous inroads, but it feels as if we've hit a road bump. Hillary does, on occasion, lob a couple of phrases into the atmosphere about female empowerment so as not to completely lose the women's vote, but it always feels...staged. Too bad on you, Hillary, I'm too smart to be played.

I watched and enjoyed Ms. Sandberg's TED talk. I took away a lot of interesting tidbits, but it was a pretty passive presentation. In Yiddish words, we'd say she was pareve--bland. There was no passion or urgency to her message. She basically implored, no, begged women to reach for what should be rightfully theirs. Huh?

I cut my teeth on Helen Reddy's trailblazing song, I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar, now, it seems that women are too aware of how others are perceiving them and are taking great pains not to come on too strong and offend anyone. Pooh that.

As Ms. Sandberg says, most women still feel its too important to "be liked." 

Yes, I'm aware Lady Gaga sings a message of some sort, but frankly sometimes its hard to discern that message is actually from a woman, so elaborate are her stage get-ups. Yes, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, they do speak up, and that's a good thing, but for the most part, too many women have taken a step back and prefer to apologize or stammer and wonder too often how they're regarded by others. Even Lena Dunham, a highly-accomplished and successful writer and producer always seems to cave into herself as she whines her way through her titular show Girls. I tried to watch it, but could barely get through an episode. Lena, where's your self-confidence?

Note to Lena: set your DVR to old SATC reruns.

Sure, there are powerful women, but the interesting thing to me is how politely politically correct they are. I grew up hearing and watching women like Bella Abzug(I'm truly dating myself) wear whatever they wanted and say whatever they wanted. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, real women who  frankly would have had a diminished impact if they were concerned with what other people were thinking about them. If they cared overly much about being polite.

Here's the takeaway.

If you want to blaze a trail, you have to look forward, not over your shoulder, wondering what the people behind you are saying. 

And why would you care anyway? 

They are behind you.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

We Hate Liars...

...because they force us to face the truth about ourselves.

And the truth is we all lie. Everyone does it, so why are we so outraged when we're lied to? Could it be because we pinned our hopes on someone, let ourselves trust them, let ourselves trust IN them and then found out they were human? Where is all the self-righteous indignation coming from?

Here's the real truth.

We welcome the lie. We probably couldn't cope if everyone always told the truth. Remember that hilarious movie starring Jim Carrey called Liar, Liar? Jim Carrey plays a lawyer named Fletcher who is suddenly seized by the need to say exactly what's on his mind, no filter at all. Here's a small example:
Jane: Do you like my new dress?
Fletcher: What ever takes the focus off your head!

Of course there's a difference between a white lie and a whopper, the difference being, one we welcome and the other we spurn. But how do we know when the white lie has transcended the next level?

Last week I heard Dr. Laura weighing in on the Anthony Weiner scandal. She ran through the whole litany of what most people, women especially, were thinking about him...he's a liar, untrustworthy, a skank...and the list went on. But here's the interesting part, just the week before she had given a caller some very un-Dr. Laura-like advice. The caller, a female, said she had cheated on her husband once, had realized the mistake immediately, and had never done it again. She wanted to come clean about it to her husband.

And Dr. Laura said, "Don't."

Excuse me? Dr. Laura was advocating lying? What about the trust between spouses? She felt it would only serve to clear the wife's conscience and do nothing for the relationship, except ruin it. 'Forget about it and move on, and try your best to deal with the guilt because the harm would be pointlessly irreparable.'

At first I was shocked, but then I sorta got it.

It's OK to lie...as long as no one ever uncovers the truth.

We all loved Alex Rodriguez...before...but really, we all sorta knew he was using steroids, but we chose to ignore that and embrace his victories, his amazing at bats, his lock-in for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Why did the commission have to go and ruin it all for us? And now, the cheers at the stadium have turned to boos. And guess what, the lying goes on as Arod continues to lie to himself and his fans by appealing the commission's findings instead of gracefully admitting he was doping as did the other penalized players.

We're mad because he let us down after we chose to believe in him. That's right, we're mad because we chose wrong.  What's really happening here is that we're mad at ourselves...but we're not being honest about that.

We choose to turn a blind eye to things that are too hurtful to truly know about. We lie to ourselves and we lie to others. We have all done it; we will all continue to do it. It's called self-preservation. It isn't pretty, but the fact is we pick and choose which lies we choose to believe and which ones we allow to outrage us. And that's OK...let's just be honest about it. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Huma, Huma, Where Art thou, Huma?

...Or shall I say, the wife of  Carlos Danger?

Cue the Zorro music...how fifteen-year-old pubescent a name is that? How incredibly, unbelievably, undeniably pathetic is this Abbott and Costello routine?  Anthony and Huma, I can't tell anymore who the straight man is supposed to be. At least when we laughed at Costello we were sorta hoping he'd get a clue and figure things out at some point...we were rooting for him. But with this pathetic Mayor-wanna-be of the Super Ego, it is sad, so very, very sad. Actually, maybe that's the name he should have emblazoned onto his cape...Captain Super Ego. Huma, start stitching, after all, isn't your role supposed to be...well, whatever Anthony decides it should be?

Huma, Huma, where have you gone?

Let me tell you what I think a good spouse's role ought to be.

A good spouse is a sounding board, available to rein in juvenile behavior, or less than stellar judgment.
A good spouse is the sane voice, the voice of reason when the other half is about to act ridiculous.
A good spouse will let you know if your bright new idea is really the next big thing, or a harebrained scheme.
A good spouse is supposed to stop their other half from attending a best friend's engagement party in shorts when the invite calls for formal wear.
And in the event that the spouse is still hell-bent on acting like a moron, a smart spouse will say, 'You know what, dear? You can wear purple shorts to the New York Hilton for Simon's engagement party--but I won't be going with you.'

Huma, why have you joined Anthony at the party?

A functioning marriage that is built on respect, mutual love and admiration, is one where you are encouraged to be the best you can be; where you feel comfortable taking a chance to spread your wings and challenge your skills to their fullest while your spouse is standing in the "Amen" corner.
A good spouse in a functioning relationship looks out for you and never knowingly puts you in an awkward position.

A good spouse is supposed to tell your when you have spinach in your teeth, or you're trailing toilet paper on your heel.
A good spouse is supposed to stop you from acting foolish.

In this regard the Weiners have failed each other. The Anthony and Huma show is like a Saturday Night Live sketch that has gone on too long.

Huma, I don't know what this smarmy guy has over you, but he has twisted you so far that you aren't functioning as the thinking, intelligent woman I'm assuming you to be.  If you are hanging in for your son, let me tell you, a man who disrespects women on the grand and public scale that your husband has is no role model.

Huma, take your dignity and grace and leave him. Your husband doesn't respect you, but please, regain your own self-respect. Think of your child's future, and your political one, which will be a lot stronger if you stay hitched to Hillary than to Anthony. Take your ambitions and your smarts and reclaim yourself.

Do it for your child.
Do it for yourself.
Do it for women everywhere. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ten Items or Less.....

Sass met wearied indifference at the express lane... and guess who won?

 In the midst of a hectic week of Passover cooking, serving, and cleaning up after a houseful of guests...o.k., my married children and their adorable offspring, my garbage pail up and died. I was rocking two other garbage pails at strategic locations in the kitchen and truthfully, the foot lever on the main garbage had declared itself on strike months ago, but it seems as if the Passover strain was getting to everyone. So off I went to the store that in a wink to the universe, rhymes with smart. Every time I enter the hallowed halls of the 'smart' store, I swear on my pinkie finger never to step a toe in there again. My experience last week was no exception. 

I raced down the appropriate aisles until I saw the trash receptacles (even garbage cans choose to be politically correct). I tried the foot lever, it seemed sturdy and the front panel had a large sticker on it boasting of a one-year warranty. Grabbing the large round cylinder in my arms, I was good to go, until I saw the checkout lines snaking toward me, daring me to choose one of them while knowing full well that the one I would select would having a delay resulting in a call to the manager who would be in a meeting...I stood frozen in indecision until I saw the express lane. Success! I waddled my unwieldly package over and plopped it down on the floor to wait my turn. And wait I did.

The woman in front of me began to unload her cart and was still unloading after she reached item ten. Item eleven began to make its way onto the conveyor belt when the cashier made a half-hearted attempt at stopping her:

"You can't buy that, you got maw than ten."
"I AM buying it, and this, and this, and this..."

She continued to unload the REST of the wagon. Didn't even look in my direction. Didn't even acknowledge that in a free and democratic society we have all agreed to abide by the clearly written and unwritten law of the frequent shopper, Thou Shalt Not Desecrate the Ten Items or Less line. There is a special Hell reserved for people who do, and in a more upscale shopping establishment appropriate steps would have been taken. I knew I would be alone in my protestation of her flagrant disobeyance of the law and since there was no one on line behind me to rabble-rouse, I sucked it in and remained silent.

Another feeble attempt by the cashier who seemed to be taking a nap in between scanning each item:

"You're not supposed to buy maw than ten things on this line."
"Well, I am!"

And she did. I was fascinated. She packed up her purchases, no manager was called over, no sheepish apologies were offered about running late to get the kids from school or that she'd left a pot cooking on the stove, just a moment of freewheeling unabashed political incorrectness.

I thought about her on the ride home and wondered what I was always apologizing about, what we, collectively as a nation, was always apologizing about. Every word we say nowadays is parsed. The President can't even compliment a female attorney general without an immediate outraged response from the media and watchdog groups whose existence is predicated upon catching people being human and saying stupid things, sometimes.

Don't you dare call the woman serving soda at ten thousand feet a stewardess, she's a flight attendant...the person on the phone whose accent and poor connection makes them sound as if they're speaking underwater is not someone in India (who's being paid half of what an American would be paid) she  is a service care coordinator...seriously, what does that even mean? A fireman....nope, don't even think about it, it's firefighter to you, thank you very much. Be afraid to speak, be very afraid.

And here I had just stood in line behind a woman who is probably a fair representation of the collective mentality of many Americans who are simply trying to get through their day, make some purchases and basically keep their focus primarily on themselves, not about what's happening anywhere else, in other countries, other states, even what's happening right behind them. She had exactly one goal in mind, to service herself in any damned way she pleased, disregarding anyone and everyone that might get in her way. It was so the antithesis of liberal America and the rhetoric spewed by the talking heads on TV and in the papers that I actually found it refreshing and mildly amusing, even if I was the recipient of her lack of largesse, the unwitting victim of her general disdain.

I came into my kitchen filled with my children sitting around the table, enjoying each others' company and with a sigh of satisfaction set down my new purchase.

My son jumped up, "Great! A garbage pail (political correctness only goes so far, even from a liberal college freshman) that finally works!" He pumped the foot lever a few times and I was glad to put the whole episode from my mind. As I headed to the laundry to search for some clean linen I heard him call after me.

"Ma, the bottom of the garbage pail is cracked. You're probably going to have to return it if you don't want garbage leaking all over the floor."

I hid my smile and poked my head around the door, "I think I'll send you to do the return."

Perhaps it was time for the college liberal to get a civics lesson into the mind of middle America.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day...feh

Valentine's Day is tomorrow.  Although I don't subscribe to the commercialized Hallmark/Godiva-chocolated notion of love and actually feel sorry for the poor sots who will find their efforts deemed subpar by their supposed love ones, I want to weigh in with a thought about finding love.

Tuesday's Science Times reports on the effectiveness of the algorithm behind the matchmaking site eHarmony. This site makes the choice for the client based upon their answers to the extensive 200 questions that they need to answer and forwards the site's computer-generated selections, rather than forwarding an array of available  mates for the client to choose from themselves. I find this distinction especially interesting because I do something similar when I attempt to set up singles at the local "matchmaking" group I volunteer at.

 Let me explain. Along with Patti Stanger, the Millionaire Matchmaker, but at a much lower pay grade, I set up marriage-minded couples who would not have met on their own and hope they date successfully, resulting in a match. I have noticed that when I present a boy/girl (I deal primarily with young professionals in their late twenties) with ONE selection and sell the hell out of it, I stand a better shot at a successful meeting and if I'm any good at this, many more dates and possibly a marriage proposal.  If I offer three or four ideas and leave the choice up to them I find it leads to the shmorgasboard effect. You know how it is at a sumptuous buffet. Everything looks delicious and is enticingly presented. The vast array of selections available is tempting and even if your plate is full and you are chewing away on a gastronomical delight, your eye is still roaming the room looking for more. 

The first thing eHarmony has going for it is that anyone willing to spend the time answering 200 questions, 180 of which are pointless, is either very serious about getting married and knows it takes effort to make a relationship successful or is out of work and has nothing better to do with their day than answer questions. Hence a successful weeding out process right there. According to the article in The Times, there are many factors that translate into an easy match: level of agreeableness, level of willingness to experience new things, spirituality, general optimism...the list goes on. These things can be matched easily through a dating website and actually offer a firm foundation for seeking a like-minded mate. And I would tender the theory that these matches have a certain predictable solidity and staying power to them.

But what about the well-known law of "opposites attract?"

My theory on opposites attracting is that the exact thing that you found so cute about your partner at the six-month point is the same thing you have to gnash your teeth at ten years down the road. I believe a more subtle version of the opposites attract tenet leads to greater satisfaction. A couple that complements each other and thereby creates a whole by contributing their half of the equation--he has great ideas but lacks the follow through and along comes a very organized woman who is lacking in creativity but has great organizational skills. These two halves are opposite but not necessarily completely opposing. These two halves equal the whole and hopefully the sum total is greater than the parts. This, I believe, is something less jarring and has staying power.

Ultimately, you have to know yourself and what works for you. Every person is unique and every couple has their own dynamic that might be easily predicted by a computer, or not, but I also like to rely on that elusive element known as "Kismet" or "Bashert"--which is a Yiddish work for it. We are hopeful there is that extra plus of Fate that leads us to the person of our dreams and pray that we look for ways to make it all work out rather than look for ways to complicate it.  

And if you find yourself alone on Valentine's Day, really, who cares, it's just a day and the good thing is there are 364 more of them to find someone before next year's February 14th rolls around.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

What is up with all the lying? Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o, Susan Rice, every politician who has ever stood in front of a microphone…what happened to the antiquated notion that most of us grew up with—Honesty is the best policy?  Who cares anymore about integrity and honesty? Frankly, the truth seems to be beside the point, a notion reserved for people from a different generation. As a concept, it leaves a lot to be desired, but notoriety, now that's an idea with bite.

I don’t follow football, but being the mother of two avid fans, I can claim a middling ability to recognize some names. I’ve heard of Mark Sanchez, Drew Brees, Tim Tebow, Peyton and Eli, Tom Brady and a couple more names that escape me at the moment. Owing to the latest firestorm of incredulity at the whopper of a story delivered by the Notre Dame Heisman almost, the name Manti Te’o is now a household name—so, mission accomplished, I guess.
But if we’re all going to find out the truth anyway, what could be the point of lying? 

My guess is that it’s Ego—the insecure need to feed it, the belief that some people are above the truth, that their awesomeness can transcend it. It can be as simple as that. Either we won’t catch them because they’re that good at covering their tracks, or we’ll be so enamored of them anyway that we’ll forgive them. Maybe it simply never occurred to these liars that they would be held accountable for their actions. That takes a strong helping of ego, and I believe that is the common denominator here. 

All of this denial while the public is watching the cringe-worthy protestations allows these lying, slippery, snakes (sorry) to dig in deep after being found out, continuing the charade until it becomes a living breathing thing, at which point it is time for the 'sit down interview' with whoever lobbied hardest for the ‘get’.   
Lance Armstrong chose Oprah who showed the interview on her cable station OWN that no one can find (which would have been a great idea, Lance, in the days before ‘you tube’). 

Nevertheless, this was a brilliant move on Lance’s part for another reason. We all know what happened when James Frey lied to Oprah about what we now know is a highly fictionalized account of his memoir about his struggle with addiction, A Million Little Pieces. She was furious that she and her millions of followers were all duped into believing his fabrication of events. Knowing of her integrity and gravitas, Lance and his people probably figured he would give his redemptive interview to her in a last attempt at salvaging his tainted reputation. Oprah was well aware that she would be giving a platform to a known liar and scrupulously had the 112 points he made during the interview thoroughly checked, finding them to be factual. Imagine her shock at having been fooled again when 60 Minutes released their story a couple of days ago that the chief of the USADA claims Lance lied to Oprah during his interview.

If I wasn’t dizzy trying to keep track of all the lies by our reigning whopper champs, Lance and Manti, I’d be truly entertained. But as it is, I'm just sad.

My cleaning lady, who is paid an hourly wage, told me she left an hour and a half early last week, having forgotten to tell me about a doctor appointment. I had paid her for the day before I left, and there was no reason for her to be honest about the missing hours except for her own innate integrity and conscience. And because I always despised those teachers who would take off the two points you discovered when you added up your test score rather than leave the grade intact for your honesty, I’m not docking her pay. Her admission was refreshing rather than distressing. I appreciate her having been adult enough to do what others who have been propped up by our society aren’t man enough to do--speak the truth and take a chance on the fallout.

 It is truly a sobering day when someone we have allowed to represent our country in a worldwide sport, a multi-millionaire, a spokesman for charities, sports equipment and a myriad of products has less integrity and a whole heck of a lot less grace than a maid who takes pride in her work and herself.