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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Real Men Smile

The video shows a universal event in the world of parenting.

An adorable toddler who is about to be vaccinated twice is totally unaware of what is to come.  The mix of his dad's gentle voice and the toddler's sweet replies is heartwarming.  After the needles are seamlessly given the little boy slowly comes to the reality of what just happened.  There is much congratulating and requests for high fives to assuage the youngster as his happy face morphs into  sadness and tears. 

And then the words spill out: "Don't cry!....Aw, big boy!  High five, high five!  Say you're a man!"

What does "Say you're a man" mean to a toddler?  

I recall waiting with other parents for our kids to emerge from our local library's beloved story time one summer afternoon.  The session was about half over when a little boy came out holding hands with the librarian.  He was crying and wanted to go home. It was his first story time experience.   His dad crouched down and took his son's hand, quickly tried to comfort him, and the wording went like this: "Aw, little man, go back in.  It's okay.  You'll have fun.  Go ahead.  C'mon, boys don't cry.  Boys don't cry."  The little boy continued to cry.  His dad gently picked him up,  kissed him, and said once more "Boys don't cry" and left.  

Everything the dad did was loving, supportive but the words didn't match.  Why don't boys cry?  They have tear ducts and emotions just like girls.  Why "don't" they cry?

In his NYTimes article, titled "The Masculine Mystique: Teaching Students to Look Beyond Die-Hard Stereotypes," professor Andrew Reiner assists students with tracing emotional honesty in men and what the influences are that can develop or stifle it.

The vaccine video was submitted by a student in the Towson University's Honors College seminar as an example of how boys are often taught to redirect their emotions.  Instead of saying, "I know that hurts," "I see you are in pain,"  "I'm sorry that makes you sad," as a way to empathize with the child, the inference to "be a man" is often the default.  

This is not a criticism of the parent.  It is an example of what we thoughtlessly reach for when trying to help a child in distress.  It shows that our default language often is at odds with our intention.  I believe the dad wants to help his son in every way.  I also believe he is influencing the boy's emotional learning to be more about toughness than about how to handle pain.  

As noted in Reiner's article, the video ends with "the whimpering toddler screwing up his face in anger and pounding his chest.  'I'm a man!' he barks through tears and gritted teeth."  Teaching our boys how to handle emotion through anger lays the groundwork for a sad detachment that harms not only males, but the females who are part of their lives. 

If we are detached from our emotions, then we don't have to deal with them.  Regardless of gender, this is where the train of human connection gets derailed.  If our toddlers are taught to substitute bravado for feeling true feelings, how does this serve them as human beings?  Reiner notes colleges are attempting to teach men how to "think beyond their own stereotypes" as national trends show males gradually falling behind in studies as they age.

The professor cites a report based on a book titled, "The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools,"  in which sociologists Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann observe: "Boys' under-performance in school has more to do with society's norms about masculinity than with anatomy, hormones or brain structure."   Reiner adds his thoughts, "By the time many young men do reach college, a deep-seeded gender stereotype has taken root that feeds into the stories they have heard about themselves as learners  Better to earn your Man Card than to succeed like a girl, all in the name of having to prove an identity to your self and others." 

This trend, like all trends, is not a blanket statement but a focus on the direction of male tough guy stereotyping.  It mirrors the "princess behavior" stereotype girls are often handed.  

As the summer Olympics wind down, we have received eyefuls of powerful, intense, kind, graceful, athleticism in sports alongside thoughtless, arrogant behavior outside of the competition.  How are the seeds of these behaviors nurtured?  The physical training is paramount but what sort of emotional training, if any, is taking place and when? 

"Be a man." 

"Boys don't cry."  

Instead, let's lead with,"It's okay to be human."  




Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMxzEUrWaKM

Article link:  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/education/edlife/teaching-men-to-be-emotionally-honest.html?_r=0

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Olympic Fantasy

I have this Olympic fantasy.

It's not what you may think.  I don't wonder about running the fastest race or swimming the speediest laps or diving the most perfect dive.  (Though daydreaming about standing on that podium is pretty real.)

It is a much simpler thought.  When athletes wait in their warm up gear far away from the crowds prior to competing, they are often seen with earbuds in place, listening to whatever psychs them up for their moment. Michael Phelps immediately comes to mind. And while I often ponder what they are listening to, it is secondary to a much bigger question, which is:

What device are they using?


Is it a phone? An iPod Shuffle, Nano, Classic, iTouch, or iPod 'something else?' Maybe another brand of MP3 player or perhaps some spiffier version of one that I don't know about? (A very real possibility.) 

I have been an iPod Classic girl for eight years and before that, an iPod Mini girl.  Yep, in the world of high tech options, this girl has happily stayed the outdated course.  


My beloved iPod Classic
There is so much to love about it.  The smooth click wheel advancing to many musical options, playlists of my own design, sorting music by genre, album, artist.  Being my own DJ to suit a mood, a running time, gardening time, sewing time, at work, or background music when cooking in the kitchen.  And with no interrupting ads.

So when my device stopped working, a google search for "iPod Classic Repair" reaped a result equivalent to Hamlet's lament, "To die, to sleep no more."   The Classic is no more. 

What?  

This is astonishing! Especially since it happened almost TWO YEARS ago. Pining about this to my music savvy oldest daughter, she took pity on me and emailed an article which both laments and appreciates the magical MP3 player.   In her "Ode to the iPod Classic," author Lindsay Zoladz (a millennial) captures the pure joy of the device and touches on the larger issue of choice.  

It seems the open ended choices offered by music streaming services can result in a feeling of inertia for the listener.  Sometimes too much is too much.  Zoladz offers what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the "paradox of choice." He states that when we are presented with seemingly limitless choices, we struggle more than if the choices were limited. "Too much choice can leave us feeling paralyzed and anxiety-ridden and with so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all." Take that Apple Music and Tidal! 


My first iPod - a mini! 
Another surprising factoid is that, unlike Apple's premeditated obsolescence with its other products, the cessation of the Classic was a matter of fewer buyers and too much engineering.  CEO Tim Cook explained in the same article, "It wasn't a matter of me swinging the ax, saying 'what can I kill today?' The engineering work was massive and the number of people who wanted it, very small." 

A quick eBay search offers a glimpse into where the Classic resale market is right now. At the high end is a "collector's set" of three 1st generation devices never opened from their factory sealed packaging for the sum of $50,000!  On the low end, once you get past the sad junkyard of Classics being sold for parts, the cost varies by generation and storage.  A used 7th generation, 120GB lists for $228.00.  

I brought my device to the nearby Apple store to confer with a "genius" (oh that hyperbolic job description.) It felt like attending the wake of a doddering old uncle. Taking pity on me, the Apple employee did his best to let me down easy.  Sensing my pain, he set me up for a phone conference with another Apple tech person who could walk through how the device responded (or not) as it was connected to iTunes. Again, no juice. 

In a most sweet gesture, my daughter who admitted she remembers a time when she thought she'd never part with her Classic, has long moved on to a music streaming service and bestowed her device to me.  A fitting safety net for my iPod grief.  

For now, victory is mine and I feel like a gold medal winner.  Classic. 

Link to Barry Schwartz's 2005 TED Talk re: choice https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice?language=en

Link to "Ode to The iPod Classic:
https://theringer.com/an-ode-to-the-ipod-classic-629e89681c6e#.jsk8vyk06

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Gentle Man

I am in the vacation bubble.  Sort of.

My family is on 'data lockdown' as we turn off cellular service until the start of the next billing cycle.  In the meantime we capriciously breeze in and out of Wi-Fi as the Wi-Fi gods deem fit.  The television is ignored.

But the violent news of this week cannot be ignored.  Anger, frustration, pain circle in repeated cycles as lives are senselessly cut down.  It's a kick to the gut and sadly makes me wish for more of the political campaign baloney.  

So, I turn to reading since beach time is 'catching up on reading' time. And, after devouring Ron Chernow's tome Alexander Hamilton and Emma Straub's breezy Modern Lovers, Emma Cline's premier effort, The Girls is the last book standing.  Not for long. It is a fiction loosely based on the 1969 Tate/LaBianca murders focusing on how a young girl is recruited into the novel's Manson-like cult.  Not the best topic in this week of men, guns, violence.
Bergdorf's window and shadow homage to Bill C.
I am, however, finding comfort in news items about a gentle man, Bill Cunningham, the New York Times fashion photographer who died on June 25.  His "On The Street" pieces in the paper's style section were curated so even a middle aged suburbanite woman could relate to their form, color, intention.  He ensured that trends, anomalies, expressions went reported because they were important.

Not important as in a snooty high fashion format, but in a rather wondrous discovery - eureka fashion moments.  His work simply celebrated expression.  Every Sunday I would savor those street views because Bill invited us to marvel with him.  At 87 years young, he daringly tooled around midtown Manhattan on a bike to find the fashion.  He was (said in his Boston accent) Mah-velous.  

After reading "On The Street" I would seek out the Times video online in which Bill narrated the piece with no script usually in one take.  Hearing him delineate what the street showed him that week and his irrepressible wonder at it all made me giddy.  Every chuckle and turned up vowel sound pulled me into his orbit.  
57th & 5th: Bill's "outdoor office" 

"The main thing I love about street photography is that you find the answers you don't see at the fashion shows.  You find information for readers so they can visualize themselves."   He literally provided the lens so we could see.

I think I took Bill for granted.  I never googled him to find out more about Bill, The Person but anticipated Bill, The Photographer's work with fervor.   So when I read his obituary and saw that a 2010 documentary existed, titled, Bill Cunningham New York, it was a must see. My daughter and I watched it and, yes, "mah-velled" at his work ethic, fashion zeal, and most importantly, his enduring kindness.

He hunted trends, not trendsetters.  Every interaction was respectful and interested wrapped in his one of a kind laughter.  Kindness.  In a most demanding city, within a most volatile industry, within a most prestigious news outlet, Bill consistently showed kindness to whomever he came upon.  

Kindness. It is behind every click of the shutter.

This week's violence has us searching for answers, cures, change.  I keep seeking social media for relief in the Bill Cunningham reflections from around the world.  I realize his life's work teaches us how to behave.  

It begins with kindness.  

Blog photo credits:  Alison Weltman  

Bill Cunningham's last On The Street video "Duality" - June 2016
http://www.nytimes.com/video/fashion/100000004452497/bill-cunningham-duality.html

Bill Cunningham obituary
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/style/bill-cunningham-legendary-times-fashion-photographer-dies-at-87.html

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Life, Death, and Things (Un)Said

It's the season of new life, so let's talk about death.

Or more euphemistically, about the end of life.

In her recent NYTimes article titled, "Dying, With Nothing To Say," author Katie Roiphe considers things said and unsaid when faced with a loved one dying. We either look for idealized last life moments where clarity sparkles or we yearn for what could have been said.

When it comes to death, I believe we like our ends all neatly tied up. In reality, however, the clear finish rarely arrives. 

Ms. Roiphe's father died suddenly late in life. She wasn't with him.  She admits there were no unanswered issues between them when she notes, "He knew I adored him. So what was there for either of us to say?"  And yet, she wonders.  I think most of us wonder as well. 

When someone dies a sudden death, the chance to share final thoughts is stolen.  Wondering is all that is left.  So it would seem to follow, that a protracted illness offers the chance to share ourselves freely and not hold back.  Yet, Ms. Roiphe finds this is the place for unexpected irony.

She continues, "We have an idea that when someone is dying, a new, honest, generous space opens up; that in the harrowing awfulness of dying there is a directness, an expansiveness, a loosening of inhibitions, the potential for things to be said that could not be said before. But if one does actually manage to pull off a last conversation, what can it be but a few words in a lifetime of talk? How can it be enough?"

Famous deathbed scenes in plays, movies, poems offer a soundness that usually closes the circle of unfinished business.  Shakespeare wrote many heroic, expansive death scenes where closure ruled, yet his own death remains a mystery.  The Bard's literary deaths which have been performed for hundreds of years offer a glimpse into the his sense of story, but we are left empty handed about his own last hours.  

Roiphe chose to research the last moments of famous authors for her book titled: The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End.  Her findings show, "Even the writers I was researching — people who lived in structure, plots, words — mostly did not find their way to conversations that offered a satisfying ending. They left things messy, unresolved, dangling."  Sort of like life. 

Eddy Van Calster's wife of 31 years, Fabienne, worked at the airline ticket counter at the Brussels airport.  She was killed in the recent terrorist bombings.  His quiet reflection cuts deep as he clarifies what is lost and what cannot be lost in death. "In killing the body, they don't change anything. Nothing is changed.  Her love is still there and my love is still there.  The love of loving people you can't touch."  A lifetime of love supersedes the facts of Fabienne's death. 

I have limited experience in deathbed conversations, but it's enough. I believe any time spent at the side of someone leaving this world places us half here, half there.  It is sacred. Both parties know a life is ending.  How we use the time comes down to who we have been all along. This truth echoed when I heard a dear friend say "I'm ready to die" hours before she did. It was brave and blunt - two of her defining traits. 

I think the bigness of death inflates our emotions.  We may show a heightened version of ourselves, or retreat in awe.  But the person dying is having the raw experience and there's no map for how they walk that path. Someone who lives life in quiet reticence isn't necessarily going to be gregarious at the end.  We are who we are, especially under inevitable death. 

A NYTimes reader, who is a health psychologist, commented on Ms. Roiphe's piece with this grounded reply: "Dying, like giving birth, is a biological event. Giving birth does not instantly turn women into excellent mothers any more than dying turns one into a wise Buddha."  

We are all dying. The pressing question really becomes, how are we living? Is it satisfying? Frustrating? Mindful?  The final days aren't a summary. They are the last lines of the last chapter of a short story or epic novel.  Life is messy, complicated, joy-filled, sorrow laden.  Why would death be any different?  

No wonder the gift in death has to be living our fullest life. 

                                                                  ~~~~~~
Link to Katie Roiphe's  NYTimes article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/28/opinion/at-the-end-of-life-too-few-words.html?mabReward=CTM&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine

Link to letters re: article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/opinion/sunday/dying-with-nothing-to-say.html

Link to Eddy VanCalster's video "Her Love Is Still There:"
http://www.nytimes.com/video/world/europe/100000004302940/her-love-is-still-there.html

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Stella and Lou

Terror used to be a word saved for make believe movies that made our skin turn into chicken skin.

Then it became the everyday and all too real word for unthinkable hatred for a country and its citizens.

Last night, I watched terror reveal itself for 75 minutes at People's Light and Theatre Company.  It was neither the movie or the hatred kind.

It was the "love kind" and our paralyzing fear of it.

"Stella and Lou" sits the audience down in a South Philly taproom, appropriately called Lou's (the arch rival to The Shamrock Bar) and lets us listen in on the wee hour conversation between a divorced, fun loving, ER nurse, Stella, and a bar owner/bartender, widower Lou, both in the second half of their lives. 

As they meander through all too familiar territory of small talk, they cha-cha back and forth, slowly turning over delicate feelings.  Lou's adeptness at turning those emotions back over does not thwart Stella, but he is like a frozen tundra of emotion, and she, a matchbook being lit, and relit against it, relentlessly. 

A third voice, Donnie, younger, newly engaged, tipsy, bursts in and out of the bar (and men's room) acting out overwhelmed feelings regarding the upcoming plans for his overdone wedding.  Lastly, a fourth, ghost character is longtime bar patron, Reilly, at whose funeral the show kicks off as Donnie sweats and struggles through the eulogy he does not want to give.

I don't know local playwright Bruce Graham, but he sure knows me - or, rather, us - as he offers up these characters to reveal the inner terror of exposing our hearts.  He manages to accomplish this mostly through humor.  But as middle of the night conversations often reveal, when the real feelings come out, the powerful quiet sobers us up. 

Actors Marcia Saunders, Tom Teti, and Scott Greer make us trust them immediately as we sit bar-side all the while laughing and aching with/for them. Like hopping off the high dive, we jump with hope, fear, eyes squeezed shut as we consider giving ourselves to someone else.  What will be the consequences?  Can I handle the consequences? And most importantly, I am afraid to be hurt- again!

I felt this same way when I saw another Graham play - the one man show - "The Philly Fan" with Tom McCarthy.  We are invited to open our hearts with these characters, yet we are safe in our seats. We are hopeful those on stage will also land gently by the evening's end. It's always a leap worth taking. http://asubjectforconsideration.blogspot.com/2011/11/nature-of-sports-dreams.html

 I am a Graham fan and look forward to seeing more of his many offerings.  He knows joy, pain, pathos and he's unafraid of the cocktail they create.  

So, head down the street to Lou's and listen in on the conversation.  It's a terrifying hoot!

"Stella and Lou" performances run at People's Light through 8/23/15  http://peopleslight.org/

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sorry For What?

When Sir Elton John croons, "Sorry seems to be the hardest word," I agree that, for some, it is.

(Photo by Stuart Miles.
www.Freedigitalphotos.com)
But have you ever noticed how much more girls/women use the word "sorry" even when they are being wronged?  It flows almost unnoticed.  "I'm sorry, there's a problem with my meal" instead of, "Excuse me, there's a problem with my meal."

It's a preface mindlessly used.  But somewhere along the way a decision to kick start our sentences with this overused intro is made, even when it makes no sense.  

"I'm sorry, did you call me?" 
"I'm sorry, what time should we meet?"
"I'm sorry, you gave me the wrong color."

I am pro-politeness but this isn't about being polite. This goes deeper. Why do we atone when we are simply making a statement? "Excuse me" is polite; "Pardon me" is polite.  "I'm sorry" lives in another neighborhood. Inserting "Excuse me" or "Pardon me" in place of "I'm sorry" gets the job done.

A recent NYTimes Op-Ed writer searches for why women apologize too much.  Sloane Crosley writes, "For so many women, myself included, apologies are inexorably linked with our conception of politeness. Somehow, as we grew into adults, “sorry” became an entry point to basic affirmative sentences." http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/23/opinion/when-an-apology-is-anything-but.html

Men are also users of this apologetic intro, Ms. Crosley adds with humor, "but they are mostly British." 

Ms. Crosley goes further in her reasoning for the overuse of "I'm sorry" by stating it is a passive way of nudging the other person to apologize.  She writes that the phrase is "employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologizing."

I wrote the word "sorry" on an index card and kept it with me one day.  It was to remind me to avoid using the apology when not apologizing.  Here's what I found: this little phrase gets a lot of air time.

While on the phone jotting down information from a health professional my pen ran out of ink, and I instinctively said, "I'm sorry, I need to get another pen."  I could have just as easily said, "Could you please hold on for a sec while I get another pen?  Thanks!"

When I was unknowingly blocking someone in the aisle at the supermarket, the woman said to me, "I'm sorry, could I get by?" to which I replied, "Sure, I'm sorry!"  A double dip of sorry!  Here is how it would play out in a more aware state:  Woman: " Pardon me, could I get by?" Me: "Sure!" 

It's not that "sorry" is offensive but it is being overused when no atonement is needed.  Using it in this way reduces the speaker a little bit each time.  What good is that? 

As a solution, Ms. Crosley suggests going cold turkey: "So we should stop. It’s not what we’re saying that’s the problem, it’s what we’re not saying. The sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want."

Be kind.  Be aware.  Be thoughtful. 

As for the useless sorry - let it be.

Here is the link to Sloane Crosley's interview on CBS This Morning re: the Op-Ed piece.  It includes the very smart Amy Schumer's bit on women apologizing. http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/dont-be-sorry-why-women-are-quick-to-apologize/

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Things I Learned in 2014

Whether it is the battery in your car key fob or in your car, these items should not be ignored.

Raising young children takes a specific set of parenting tools; adult children require a different set of tools that have very little to do with parenting. 

Shucking oysters is even more of a skill than shucking clams.  Both make me feel accomplished.

Human suffering has very long tentacles as does human kindness, however, I am afraid the suffering is winning.

Having your car towed is a bad experience.  Toss in the fact that you are traveling with your friend who just had chemo and her teenage daughters from whom you have to bum money to pay for the late night towing, and, well, it just takes bad to a new dimension.

Friendship's grace really shows up when you are towed.

Metallic tattoos are fun, temporary jewelry.

A three day music festival with your music savvy daughter is bliss.

I have an FM voice.

First and second graders give you a reason to smile every darn day.

I didn't hate reading a book on Kindle (but still prefer the real thing)

The front row movie seat is no longer awful thanks to reclining movie theater seats.

"No Parking" signs in any US city may as well be written in Greek.  Wait, they already are.

Apparently Instagramming one photo a day is appropriate.  I am Instagram inappropriate.

The Serial podcast has me transfixed (I am late to the listening and am currently "binge listening" - is that even a thing?)

J. Roddy Walston and The Business made me like heavy metal music.

I talk aloud to myself when home alone (also when not home alone, as pointed out by both of my daughters)

Paris + Autumn = more bliss.

My family agrees on this one thing - we are beach people.

 
Thanks so much for indulging me in this vanity project by reading this blog - you are most generous.  I hope 2015 returns your generosity in every way!