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Monday, June 26, 2017

The Cos

I feel like someone being interviewed on the local news after a neighbor is arrested for a particularly violent crime: "I just don't get it. He was a good neighbor who made us all laugh.  I can't believe this is the same person."

Bill Cosby's work (and his local roots) made him feel known, trusted.  His alleged deviant behavior in which over 60 women - 60!! - accused him of drugging them and subsequently either assaulting, harassing, or abusing them, brings one word to mind - power.  

Power is used to get whatever results the person wielding it wants.  Cosby's power was on trial this month and it proved successful in the result of a judge declaring a mistrial after jurors could not come to a consensus about his innocence or guilt of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004.

I believe the power within his popularity and mega success kept the other 59 women silent for so long that they ran out of time to charge him with a crime. Let's face it - who the heck is going to go after Cliff Huxtable's twisted alter ego?  

Cosby's 1965 television show, "I Spy," in which he co-starred with the late Robert Culp, was my introduction to the actor/comedian.  The popular show is what spurred my folks to buy Cosby's album "I Started Out as a Child" in the mid-sixties.  I listened to it often as a pre-teen and teen.  It made me laugh even after hearing it over and over when every joke, turn of phrase, and funny voice became predictable.  One line that stuck was his description of neighborhood friend Rudy, who could run so fast in his new sneakers that he could, "stop on a dime (pause) and give you nine cents change."  It tore me up every time. 

Now I am torn up with knowing the private side of Cosby.  Understanding that he has not been proven guilty or innocent, it has been telling to read some comments offered by some of the 7 men and 5 women jurors.  Questions about Ms. Constand's "waiting so long" to take him to court rings a familiar tone in re-victimizing the accuser.  A male juror noted that Cosby's 2005 deposition in which he "openly admitted he gave the pills"  to women. The juror continued, "he was very, very honest.  He was believable.  She (Ms. Constand) was not."

Cosby's ludicrous, abusive behavior was believable, yet not convictible. That's some power.

And when it came to keeping the lines blurred between his adored Dr. Huxtable character and the real Bill Cosby, Cosby plucked his youngest television daughter, Keisha Knight Pulliam, now 38 years old,  to escort him into court (as opposed to one of his real life daughters.)  That is bald faced showmanship.   

His use of another Cosby character - Fat Albert - and his signature greeting of "Hey! Hey! Hey!" as he entered the Norristown PA courtroom was as tasteless as the sweaters he wore on The Cosby Show.  Yet supporters supped it up.  It reassured something familiar instead of the real, abusive behavior on trial.  

Why do we lionize people?  No one is 100 percent good all the time - no one. Why do we allow ourselves to be bamboozled by what we want to believe instead of what we are shown to be true?  Why do we hand over our power of discernment so we can feel more comfortable with what is being served up?

If someone would have told my 1986 self about the abusive Bill Cosby, I would have fought the notion as preposterous. This protective phenomenon could be called being "Huxtabled."

Even Cosby's efforts to call out young black men to hoist up their pants in his now famous 2004 speech at an NAACP event launched a newfound podium for him to decry the black community's failure to raise its children properly.  Cosby spoke unapologetically for the next decade about black behavior. His remarks, now ironic, are painfully inauthentic. The adage "empty barrels make the most noise" comes to mind.  Or in the case of the make believe Dr. Huxtable, the proverb "physician, heal thyself" is apropos. 

In his NY Times article about the Cosby trial, author Wesley Morris concludes with sentiments that capture how I feel: "Mr. Cosby's courthouse behavior acknowledged an additional trial: the one going on in our hearts.  I don't need a jury to know that this trial has worn mine out.  For at least a half an hour, "The Cosby Show" kept at bay the tide of bad news from the outside world while never skimping on the glories and hassles of being alive.  The show became an oasis we needed.  But real trouble has intruded.  And now the oasis is condemned."

The only power that matters is the one that informs us to always hold two things simultaneously: being skeptical while being impressed.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love is a Verb

I work in an elementary school.  A few months ago a favorite younger student who bursts into every moment with exhausting clarity impulsively kissed his best buddy on the cheek during lunch.  The buddy wasn't sure about this and told myself and a few other adults.

We followed the predictable path of talking with each child, having them talk to each other and explain how they saw/felt about what had happened, giving consequences etc.  But the delicious part came when the kissy boy offered his reason for smooching his friend. "I love him!" 

I confirmed that loving our friends is a good thing, but we shouldn't kiss them in school (keep hands and lips to ourselves.)  He went back to his seat for ten seconds and bounced back up with a eureka moment. "I know why I love so much!" he shrieked in discovery. "It's because my birthday is Valentine's Day!" 

I defy a judge or jury to convict after that solid elementary argument.

We may not need to have February 14th as our birthday to express love.  We are free to express it anytime, anywhere.  Yet this day holds so much weight or baggage depending on where you sit with its meaning. 

My twenty something self used to wretch at the thought of people getting engaged on Valentine's Day (some even punctuating the saccharin with a heart shaped engagement ring - don't get me started.)   So when my husband popped the question on 2/14/89, what did I do?  I dove into the deep end of Valentine's Day.  Suddenly, it became a top ten best "holiday." 

It moved from the list of obligation days which includes New Year's Eve, Mothers Day AND Father's Day, to a revered moment in time.  After 27 1/2 years of marriage, it continues to thrill and vex me.  It always gives me cause for reflection.  

Writer Sarah Hepola offered a gorgeous commentary at the end of NPR's Fresh Air show yesterday with a piece about honoring love that goes past this red heart February day.

In it she notes that the lilt of new love is unsustainable especially when we are bombarded with messages of giggly, bubbly, cute love when we are younger.  It's a start for certain, but she notes, "the majority of life is not spent with weak knees or's only the beginning."  Enduring love is work.  It can be exhausting.  It is often confusing.  And it is often worth it.                                  

Ms. Hepola shares, "Back in ancient times people would never have married for love. They considered it too unstable.  They married for money.  They married for land."   It was a most pragmatic proposition.  My romantic self growls at the prospect but, gosh, that formula seems easier to figure out.

In her closing thoughts, Ms. Hepola celebrates the variety of love she finds herself surrounded by in connecting with friends and family in all types of circumstances - not just the champagne popping times.  She quotes writer Olivia Laing from her novel The Lonely City:  "Loneliness, longing does not mean one has failed, but simply that one is living."

Love is a verb. Living means action in all of its colors.  Bubblegum pink and cloudy gray serve our senses nobly and distinctly as we take on each day.   My wish for all this day is to acknowledge love in its active state because that is, I believe, how we experience our true lives.   

Love is a verb.  Feel it less. Live it more.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Things I Learned in 2016

~ America made a colossal mistake on November 8. 

~ Even in the windy, pouring down rain, I can run the Broad Street Run ever so slowly.

~ Smartwool socks are everything. 

~  Half of the effort with running really is mental.  (My brain must remember this as I train for a 15K in April and the Broad Street in May) 

~ In my imaginary world, I can sing "I'm Here" exactly like Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple. 

~ I like Instagram much more than Facebook.

~ Amy Shumer's The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo is a feminist treatise in her comedic voice - brilliant! 

~ Officiating at my niece's gorgeous wedding in July shows me just how incredibly brave she and her husband are.

~ Parenting and marriage confound me most every day.  

~  Being a concert goer continues to be one of my greatest pleasures.

~  Music connects us regardless of how we are wired or how old the wiring is.

~  Hearing Chance the Rapper (and the thousands attending Made In America in Philly) sing Blessings filled me up.  "Are you ready for your blessings?"

~  I miss Bill Cunningham's well curated photos for On the Street. 

~ Crock pot liners are my best dinner clean up friends. 

~  I will become a Great Aunt in 2017. 

~ Turning 60 felt like turning 30 i.e. I hated the thought of it until I had to try it on. 

~ I can almost keep the tempo singing "Satisfied" from the Hamilton soundtrack.  Next up is the Lafayette rap in "Guns and Ships" at 6.3 words per second - yikes!  

~ Using the words "rap" and "I" in the same thought makes me chuckle.

~  I sing in my car a lot.

~ Strange and unexpected sum up my favorite book club selection and subsequent discussion this year - Drew Magary's The Hike.

Quotable from 2016

"This future you live in . . . would I like it?” “Honestly, it’s probably not that different from the world you know. Some people are happy. Some people are angry. There are wars. I don’t know if time makes much of a difference. The world changes, but people act the way people always do.”  ~ Drew Magary The Hike

"And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams." ~ Hillary Clinton, 11/9/16

"Got my eyes, though they don't see as far now.  They see more 'bout how things really are now." Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell, Allee Willis The Color Purple 

Thank you for reading this blog - 2016 was a sporadic year for posting, so if you are looking at this, your kind attention is even more appreciated.  Here's to what 2017 has in store. May it be gentle and satisfying. 

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 used by the Towson Honors College student : Go to YouTube and enter "video of little boy being vaccinated" in the search box - the first video shown is the one referenced in this post.  

Article link:

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. 


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

Link to "Ode to The iPod Classic:

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 his name 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.  

"It's as true today as it ever was: he who seeks beauty will find it." 
Bill Cunningham accepting the Officier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres award by the French Ministry of Culture in 2008. 

Blog photo credits:  Alison Weltman  

Bill Cunningham's last On The Street video "Duality" - June 2016

Bill Cunningham obituary

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:

Link to letters re: article:

Link to Eddy VanCalster's video "Her Love Is Still There:"