Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Self Esteem and the Reality-Based Community

I once gave what I still consider to be good advice to a friend who shall not be named. The advice was to pretend that she lived in the reality-based community.

This friend did not think very highly of herself, but pretty much the rest of the world thought she was the cat's meow. Generally, if most people think a thing is true, it is (OK, that statement is so wrong, I don't even know where to begin--creationism? the musical value of Britney Spears?--but I need it to write this post, so can I just leave it?) (Except, oh no, what if it disqualifies the whole post? Shit. Well, I'm in now, so I might as well keep going; we'll reevaluate at the end.). Anyway, I argued that, rather than wallowing in her own negative self-image, she should pretend that the rest of the world was correct in their assessment of her--she didn't need to actually believe that she was the cat's meow; she just needed to operate as if she believed it, and that in turn would stop the negative self-image from being such an obstacle for her.

Hmm, I never asked her if this advice worked. Man, maybe I should just give up on this post, instead of digging myself in even deeper. No, I am intrepid, I am confessional, I shall go on.

Advice is much easier to give than to follow.

I recently lost a big chunk of my work for complicated reasons that have not so much to do with me and much to do with the circumstances of the work. Hmm, that sounds like a layoff. It's not a layoff; it's a distinct rejection of me, complete with rationalizations and underlying motives, but the bottom line is that I am great at this work, and I was prevented from doing the job effectively, and other people have issues, and I am being replaced. Oh dear, that sounds like I am rationalizing, but you'll have to take my word for it: on the facts of my no longer having this work, I am very much a member of the reality-based community, and a somewhat indignant but also relieved one at that, because, really, doing this work, which should have been perfect for me, sucked a lot, because of the circumstances. As for the consequences, my other major client is thrilled that I now have more availability and is determined to pounce on me for lots more hours, so I am likely to live happily ever after, or at least as happily as one can live when one has no idea what one wants to do with one's life in the worst recession of one's lifetime.

OK, blah blah, very nice, what's the problem?

The problem is that even though the entire world, basically, is rallying behind me in indignation, I still feel, sometimes, that basically I do totally suck, I have never succeeded in much of anything, and this really was my fault. Believe me, I have the evidence. And I spiral spin down into doldrums of bleakness, and hate myself, and think all those people who think I'm great at what I do must either be wrong or lying. And then I hate myself for being so dependent on other people's opinions of me that I can hate myself for losing work I didn't even want, and decide I am worthless because other people must be lying about my worth.

At those moments, the reality-based community seems a faraway figment of someone else's imagination.

But here's the good thing about this current intermittent bout of self-loathing. It is, in its intermittency, mercifully short-lived. I had a bad period this morning, after an unpleasant interaction, and I wrote the first three paragraphs of this post. Then I went on with my day, and eventually I felt fine again, which, thankfully, is what seems to be happening most of the time (which is kind of unusual for me: generally I do bad with occasional bouts of good, so I am quite thrilled by fine with occasional bouts of bad, except during the bad).

Hmm, how do I wrap this up? I think, now that I am fine again, that I stand by my contention about the reality-based community. If, overall, one has gotten highly positive validation on most fronts, one should accept the value. However, the problem of judging one's worth on the basis of the judgement of others remains, and that, I think, is one of my biggest problems, and I just have no idea how to get away from it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Evil Stepmothers: Myth and Reality

Between us, the people in my innermost circle have had five stepmothers and one stepfather. The stepmothers have been, to a woman, difficult at best, appalling at worst.

My stepfather, on the other hand, is a paragon. He is loving, supportive, and unobtrusive, always delighted to welcome my mother's children and grandchildren, never intrusive or difficult, with regard to us or my mother. This stems in part from his personality: he is loving, supportive, and unobtrusive.

But our ease with him (now--I hated him for years, but that was about me, not him) also stems, I'm quite sure, from the way he and my mother set up their relationship. Coming together when their children were grown, or nearly so, they each kept responsibility (financial, emotional) for their own. I have never asked my stepfather for anything (significant--I'm sure I've asked him to pass the salad), and he has never told me what to do.

As importantly, my mother has always been financially independent--her own salary, pension, bank accounts--and, aside from the house they bought together, their finances are separate. Perhaps it is not coincidental, then, that she appears to be a stepmother as benign as my stepfather.

Yesterday, when I started thinking about a post on stepmothers (stimulated by current events in other people's lives, not my own), I was thinking along the lines of a disappointed rant against evil stepmothers who live up to their stereotypes, thus betraying the feminist cause. And, don't get me wrong, there are some serious bitch stepmothers out there. But I also know, though not from personal experience, that there are some godawful stepfathers. So why the hate on stepmothers?

All of the stepmothers I'm intimately involved with came along, like my stepfather, when we were adults, so issues of childrearing, authority, etc., were less salient. Money, on the other hand, has been highly salient, and this is where I need to pull in the materialist feminist analysis.

You're older; you haven't worked, or haven't worked in a while, or haven't worked enough; you've been married to this man for some time now; perhaps he's ailing and you need to care for him; perhaps you're ailing and wondering who will care for you; the house and bank accounts may be in his name; you have lots of reasons to wonder what will become of you...it makes perfect sense, then, that you would try to secure your financial future, and get your own needs met, regardless of his children, whom you've only known as adults. And those children...they place demands on your husband, they pull him from you, they are entitled, when you are the one who lives with him day to day, who care for him, who makes his home (this is, for now at least, surely a generational argument).

Stepfathers, in general, do not face these challenges. They are, largely, financially independent, and often, if they are of their generation, emotionally independent as well. They are free, thus, to be independent of our emotions.

Stepmothers get the short end of the stick, so I can understand why they throw that stick back at us. Still, I wish they wouldn't.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why I Paid No Attention to Earth Hour

Because I don't think it will make a difference in either energy consumption or energy policy.

Because my family has spent plenty of time without electricity (hello, we lived in a tent), so I feel no need to raise our consciousnesses.

Because I'm kind of over symbolic action.

Because I don't listen to NPR.

Because it never crossed my mind to pay attention to it.

Because whenever I get dozens of tweets and Facebooks telling to do something (or telling me that everyone is doing something), I feel compelled to be ornery.

Because, after a Saturday of two parents at work and two children outside all day with babysitter, we were in various stages of incipient to fullblown crankiness, and a Project Runway episode seemed like the perfect occupation to generate familial harmony.

Because I'm sure I'm going straight to hell for various other sins of political incorrectness, not to mention general ill temper and evil doing, so I might as well just go.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bat Mitzvah Chronicles

Between now and the bat mitzvah, I have three deadlines, S and I each have two benefits, and E is in a play. The first two benefits are on the same night; my second benefit is on the first night of E's play, and S's is on the second night. Did I mention that the bat mitzvah is three weeks from tomorrow?

Last week I had a horrifyingly realistic bat mitzvah anxiety dream. The party was in a hotel, in the kind of big open space that hotel restaurants and bars tend to occupy, and strangers kept wandering in and hanging out and eating our food. There were all these weird small and square tables, instead of the big round tables we are supposed to have. There were pink paper tablecloths on top of the teal and purple cloth tablecloths we're supposed to use. There were sandwiches, but no bagels, like we're supposed to have. The DJ had been placed in another room, and we could barely hear him. Then he was scrambling to find a place to put his equipment in our room, and trying to DJ at the same time. I was completely freaking out, and S kept saying "Don't worry, it will be fine" (which is what he really will say if any of this really does happen).

The weirdest real life aspect of the bat mitzvah is the postcards. The invitation included purple reply postcards with bright tropical fruit postcard stamps. A rush of them arrived right after we sent the invitations, and now there are one or two each day. But here's the weird thing: we have been receiving postcards we've already received, again, in our mailbox. First we received J and M's from No Longer Red State for the second time, then Lucy's, and today the M-F family's. At first I thought maybe J and M had gotten two invitations, but it had the exact same note. As did the others. They are really the same card, and somehow they are getting from my desk back into the mail. Very weird.

M is almost ready. She just has to write her dvar, and she has it outlined.

I suppose we are pretty ready. Really, I would still say that doing a bat mitzvah is not such a big deal. It has not taken over our lives, we are not consumed by it, perhaps because we also have deadlines and benefits and plays (M's play was last weekend). Then again, there's the matter of my to do list.

Last week, I freaked out and announced to M and S that we were making a to do list right now this very minute. Funny: they didn't have much to put on the list. But I did. Here's the list, with the things that I've done crossed out, just as they are in my datebook:

OK, no crossouts, as I can't figure out how to do that in Blogger, so here is the list with asterisks next to the things that are done:

M - sweater, shoes*
B - shoes*
S - dry cleaner
table seating
oneg for Friday night
Chinese restaurant for Friday night
cupcake papers
poems for service
slide show
screen & projector
dessert transportation
gluten-free something

Haven't gotten too far, have I? Some of these things are not so much as they sound--deli and desserts are pretty set, we just need to check in. I've started the program, and actually sketched out the seating, in a moment when I felt like I had to do something. If we don't do the slide show, it doesn't happen. But, uh, still, there are some things to do.

And then there's the other list, on the other side of the page, which is the non-bat mitzvah to do list, but which includes some things that need to happen before the bat mitzvah, like dealing with the 20-odd boxes of books we've just retrieved from Grown-Up E's house, since Grown-Up E has decided to sell her house, and needs our boxes out.

So, yeah, the bat mitzvah is coming up.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seeking the Spotlight

I have this idea that, back in the day, Gloria Allred was an impressive and reputable feminist lawyer, and I was going to write a brief, sarcastic post about her publicity-hounding Octomom hounding. Then I went to her Wikipedia listing (because her own website was down, though now it's back up), and discovered that it's more complicated than that. On the one hand, she's done a lot of awesome work for women and gays and lesbians; on the other hand, she's also been stirring the celebrity pot for a long time.

I suppose I should get it--she's in LA, publicity is the currency of our time, fame is a drug--but I just don't. You could have a reputable and lucrative career for yourself, and instead you're keeping someone in the news who should be allowed to fade out and cope with the chaos of her own life--not that the Octomom isn't equally culpable, but what is to be gained by reporting her for child abuse, besides your own name in the paper (on TV, all over the internet...). Then again, maybe this is why I'm not rich and famous.

(But ethical I am. Damn ethical. Wasting away on all my ethics.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Good Deeds

This essay made me happy. It's a delightful read, and I love both the story, and the moral, overtly stated in the third-to-last sentence. I especially liked reading it today, because yesterday I helped an elderly woman who fell in Downtown Town--helped her up, drove her home, helped her find a friend to take her to the emergency room for what seemed like a dislocated shoulder--and it was such a good feeling to help someone for no reason except that she needed help, and I was there to give it to her. Life should be more like that.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Re: Sentence of the Day

Just need to make sure you all know that my husband announced yesterday that he wanted to see this Thai martial arts movie he read about. Yes, he too responded to that review, and now you can see the difference between us (the only one? I think not!) (yes, he went; I stayed home and stressed out about summer camp).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Technology and Autonomy

I think I've figured out why Twitter doesn't work for me, and it's the same reason chat/IM/AIM doesn't work for me (except with you, M--don't worry, I'll keep it on).

I am undoubtedly an internet addict. I spend way too much work time, leisure time, and stupid time online. I blog, I Facebook, I read, I watch, I surf, I email incessantly. I text too, a lot. But what characterizes all those activities is that I do them on my own time. I control them (or, at least, I let myself think I do).

An interesting thing about different cybermodalities is that they have different norms, even if they are enacted with the same technology. For instance, now that I have my Blackberry, I am often texting and emailing with the same keyboard, i.e. the same capacity, yet I punctuate and capitalize correctly when I email, and I don't worry about it when I text.

The norm for email is that you reply when you are ready. The norm for chatting is that you reply as soon as you receive.

I hate that. I don't like being interrupted. I don't like feeling guilty if I don't respond immediately. I don't want to have a conversation when I don't want to (this is why I often don't answer the phone).

I used to have little indicators that showed when I had an email or a post on my reader. I turned them off. Even though I check my email and reader frequently. I check when I want to, not when they want me to.

The point of Twitter is to get it all in real time, ideally streaming down the side of your screen. At least I think that's the point, because I don't do it. I don't want other people's thoughts streaming down the side of my screen, when I'm trying to put my own thoughts together. So, although I catch up on the few Twitters I follow every day or so, it's just not my priority.

On the other hand, I am loving my Blackberry, which seems kind of counter-intuitive, given that it forces all my cyberactivity in my face all the time. But here's the thing: with the Blackberry, I know what's there, and I can get it when I want; the counter-intuitive response is that I no longer have this feeling that something may be happening, and I may be missing it, so I need to check, now.

When I was a freshman in college, my best friend and I used to pick up the silent phone to see if anyone was there, we were so desperate for something interesting to happen. It never did, of course. Just like my hours on the internet rarely turn up anything I really want.

Yes, it all comes back to Lacan, as it always does.

Since I got the Blackberry, I have spent much less time online. I don't turn on the computer to check my email, and then surf around, habitually, to see what's there, finding nothing. I just check the necessities on the Blackberry, put it down, and go on with my life.

I like it.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A New Era

Look! I can blog from my blackberry!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Grandmas and Kids

Look! It's another NY Times trend story with no legs. Does Jack Shafer do the mommy beat?

Apparently some moms are pissed off that their own mothers do not help take care of their grandchildren. The story quotes four moms, an academic (gender studies), and a psychiatrist. The closest it comes to quantitative data is a report from the senior product manager of Urban Baby that "complaints about uninvolved grandparents are a recurring theme," and the claim that "They are also a theme among certain of Dr. Saltz’s patients." The only concession that there might be another side? "Many young parents, of course, complain of smothering attention from grandparents who won’t leave them or their children alone."

Mmm, I'm convinced.

Of course, happy families make bad press. Lots of us have loving grandparents who are around when we need them and when they want to be, even if there are occasional glitches and conflicts. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a half dozen families in Town alone where grandparents regularly hang with grandchildren, to everyone's benefit. And, hey, where you have no statistics, my anecdotes are as good as yours!

But two things trouble me about the article, besides the pathetic journalism.

1) It's all about bashing the maternal sex. The grandmothers are selfish; the moms are demanding; they all suck. The dads and grandfathers? Nowhere to be found, but presumably aloof and saintly.

2) I suppose, living in our confessional culture, I shouldn't be, but I continue to be surprised and, honestly, a little shocked, that people would be so angry at their mothers that they would go on the record about it in a major newspaper. I mean, if your mother embezzled your life savings, or prostituted you to buy crack, sure, plaster her sins on billboards over the world. But you think she doesn't help enough with the kids? Isn't that for you and her to deal with? Or you and your partner? Or you and your shrink? Or you and your friends (because what are friends for, if not complaining about your family)? But the NY Times? Get over yourselves. Besides, why would you want someone around your kids who didn't want to be there? (Like I said: your shrink would be a good place to go with that one.)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


A very long time ago, I became the boss. Just as I started in my new role, I had a conversation with another boss that I've never forgotten. "I love my job," he said, "because I get to spend all day helping people do what they want to do." Wow, I remember thinking, what a great way to think about this position, and that's how I thought of it, the whole time I did it. (You can probably tell, from this anecdote, that I do not work in realms where the job of the boss is to make as much money as possible, but I'm guessing that you already knew that.)

So I did that job for a while, and it was my favorite job ever, and I was very sad when I had to leave it for inescapable reasons. But that concept has always stuck with me. In fact, I think that one of the things I am truly best at is helping other people do what they want to do. I do some other things well too, but that's one of my strongest skills. It's what I've spent a lot of my career doing--or at least how I've conceptualized a lot of what I've done throughout my career--and it's quite central to a lot of different pieces of my work right now (not just the obvious piece, for those of you who know what I do).

Basically, as a consultant, that's what I do: help people do things better. And here's the thing: it is fabulous work. When I show up, people are ecstatic. They know that I am going to solve their problems, or help them work more effectively, or get them what they need to do their work, or, often, just listen to them, and make them feel better about their work (which, in turn, helps them do their work better). It's amazing, really, how much people love being helped. You'd think they might be defensive, or anxious, or fearful of the consequences, but that has not been my experience at all.

I think that, as adults, we rarely have people pay full attention to us. I mean, there's therapy, and some people pay for life coaches, but at work, you're often on your own (or badly supervised--don't get me started on bad supervision), and to have support from someone else who is not going to judge you--positively or negatively--but is just going to help you...well, that's an incredible luxury, even a gift, and people love it.

And I get the incredible pleasure of seeing people smile every time I walk in the room; of having people say "I never saw it like that," or "Wow, you've helped me so much," or "Now I feel like I can do it." I get to make people feel better, and do better.

These days the big picture of my work is pretty stressful. I think most people are stressed about work these days--just about everyone I know has too much or not enough. I have too much right now, but I'm terrified of ending up with none. I have had a string of killer deadlines, and I'm starting to think that string may be endless. I'm also dealing with some difficult people--not many, just three, and there are a lot of wonderful people in my work world, really, quite a lot, but those three are pretty central and can be pretty difficult. So it's important for me to remember that I'm doing something I'm really good at, that's really worth doing, and that makes other people really happy. And makes them smile!

(How's that for a positive post?! Did I karmically cancel out all those whiny Facebook status updates?)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Cat News Flash!

Turns out Johnny is Junie and Junie is Johnny.

S took a close look, and figured out that the cat we have been callling Junie on the assumption that she is a three-year-old female is in fact a male, and the cat we have been calling Johnny, believing him to be a one-year-old male is...female. We've gone back into the paperwork, and the mistake was perhaps made by the shelter, but could hinge on interpretation of terms like calico and tiger, given that they are both basically white cats with yellow splotches.

However, given that they have been neutered, and we have bonded with them as is, and they seem to be getting to know their names...we are now the owners of a one-year-old male cat named June Carter and a three-year-old female cat named Johnny Cash.

In other cat news, they are definitely out from under the bed, roaming the house, and quite snuggly. However, Junie has just started to scratch the sofa, which makes me not so happy. But S is getting a scratching post today (and I am trying not to think about the fact that our last cats disdained the scratching post and preferred the shelves of records, which is why all our records have shredded spines).

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Modern Love Scores!

Actually, I can't really evaluate the quality of the essay, because I've read the book. The essay is pieced together from a couple of different passages in the book, so I don't know if it stands alone. But the book is phenomenal. I wasn't going to blog about it till it comes out in a few weeks, but I figured I might as well put in a plug now, especially because you know how I usually feel about Modern Love...

Anyway, it's another memoir by a writer--as opposed to memoir by a celebrity or someone picking up the pen for the first time to tell their amazing story. But she does have a pretty amazing story. When she was four or five, her parents met another couple, and the two couples, who had daughters the same ages, split up and married each other, leaving each set of daughters with the other girls' father. There's a lot more to it than that, plotwise, but what's truly amazing about The Sisters Antipodes is the writing and thinking. Jane Alison is just a stunning writer, whether she's writing about the Australian landscape, missing her father, or how a child tries to unravel the nature of thought--as someone who was once a child trying to unravel the nature of thought, I can vouch that she gets it exactly right. She also gets real life in Washington D.C. just right, not to mention alienation in the Ivy League. Really, it's just a remarkable book (read at a moment when I'd just finished or abandoned a string of mediocre books, making it even more of a jolt of pleasure).

In other reading news, we received a shipment of British magazines yesterday, via the traveling relatives conduit, and I must affirm once again the great superiority of the British Sunday newspaper magazine, which is snarky, edgy, and entertaining, rather than...well, rather than boring, self-important, and expensive (expensive in the sense of catering to an expensive life, rather than costing a lot), like the Sunday newspaper magazines we usually read around here.

We also have our very own copy of Issue 1 of Love Magazine, with naked Beth Ditto on the cover, along with Courtney Love, Iggy Pop, and the same luxe ads we've already seen this month in the Michelle Obama Vogue (love love love the Michelle/Queen Rania/Carla Bruni articles) and various other magazines (it's been a big magazine month around here). So, yes, the fashion/celebrity media machine is fundamentally the same in its capitalist underpinnings, but, still, the British versions have that edge that Americans simply never achieve, even--or especially--when they try.

(M thinks I should write something about her in this post.) (E says, "And me!")