Friday, July 19, 2013

A Seat at the Table

The past couple weeks have been rough.  After typing this I looked at the calendar and realized that is has been just six days since George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin.  It feels a lot longer than that.  Maybe because at the core of this is something that goes back longer than any of us can possibly comprehend.  But it is comprehension and understanding that is needed right now.  And, sadly, I am realizing there are aspects to this I can never understand, or so I am told, because I am white. I don't disagree.

I have never, ever had to tell my sons anything about the police other than they should respect police officers and run to them if they ever needed help.  The only instructions I have ever given my boys about their behavior in public has been "remember, please and thank you and use your inside voice."  Hearing people talk about the discussions they have with their black sons is heart-breaking.  It's like they literally live in a different world than I do.  I can't listen to those accounts and shrug and go on my merry way. Two worlds separated by thick, smoky glass.  You think you know what is on the other side but you are not really sure.

I consider myself a pretty open minded person.  But I guess I am not the best judge of that - kind of like describing yourself as a good singer - really? Says who?  But I know I try.  I want to be get better and be better at living in this world.  I put a quote from Stevie Wonder's "As" here but I deleted it.  Was afraid it would look disingenuous.  That fear of being misunderstood is why I am here typing in the first place.

I want to talk. And I want to talk about race.  But the thought of talking about race terrifies me because, frankly, I don't know what the hell I am talking about, let's be honest.  I know more about being a world-class chef than I know about being black in America - and I hate to cook for God's sake.  Someone once described me as "exceedingly white."  OK. Not sure if that was a comment about my pigmentation or a judgment of my personality, or (God help me) an indictment of my attitude. I was not insulted as much as I was puzzled. That was about seven years ago and I think about it often.  I think I am trying to understand what it means - at least from the perspective of people who aren't white.  If I am going to be realy honest it was the first time I was aware that someone was seeing the color of my skin.  It knocked me off center.  Race matters, it shouldn't, but I guess it does.

As I have stated before, Barack Obama's election to the highest office in our nation turned the world upside down for a lot of people.  And instead of ushering in a new day in a sunny post-racial America, it pulled the curtain back and revealed hatred and bigotry that is simply mind-blowing.  I don't know what is more shocking - the severity or the extent of the hatred.  I cannot relate to hating someone that much based on anything, let alone the color of their skin.

This "conversation" about race that we so desperately need to have is a minefield.  It is littered with so many chances for the well-meaning white people at the table to say the wrong thing or say the right thing in the wrong way.  There are racist aspects of every white person. It is almost impossible to grow up in white America and not have parts of you that, when you honestly look closely enough, you realize are wrong. I guess the difference among white people is - do you want to have those racists views/perceptions or not.  If you do, go along your merry way and stay out of ours.  If you don't, then slide on up to the table and speak your mind.  Let's just promise each other that if we say something stupid we will know it comes from ignorance and not malice.

Trayvon Benjamin Martin did not get justice from this verdict, but maybe we can give him justice from our revolution.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Good Bye Email

I have written a lot of "Good Bye" emails in my career.  I have moved around a lot.  I wish I had kept all of them, you know, those "it has been nice working with you all... I will miss you....etc." messages you send to coworkers as you move on to another opportunity. I am getting ready to leave a company I have been with longer than any other.  I have never seen a company go through more changes and grow as much as this one has.  And never before have I been able to say I had the chance to be part of so much change and growth and I am grateful to have had that opportunity.

But what I am most grateful for is the incredibly talented and hard working people I got to work with every day.  Who would ever think that people who see each other once a year at the most could feel so connected?  I am not sure I will ever be part of such a special group of people.  A company is greater than the sum of its parts and those parts are its people, regardless of the services it provides or the products it makes: a company is nothing without its people.  Having said that, it's not easy to make a virtual company work, but we do. Working from home makes your life easier (sometimes) but your work harder (sometimes.)  You can't stand up and lean over the cubicle wall to ask a question.  You can't gather in a conference room with a white board.  Your can't have cake in the break room. You have to communicate at a very different level and you learn to work together, but alone. And we do it. And I think we do it well.  Many times we communicate in just the subject line of  an  email and it is amazing how much information you can convey in the file name of an Excel spreadsheet. Working from home is an amazing feat to say the least.

When I started here my youngest was just 6 months old.  Now he starts Kindergarten in the fall.  I think I have had 5 relatives die since I have been here.  I have watched my co-workers, my friends, go through some really hard times.  "It's just a job" is what we say to mitigate stress but the right company, the right people, can make you feel like what you are doing matters and that you are building something together, and that is what is important.  It does become like a family and perhaps it should.

So as I move on to another opportunity I will say this - it is never really good bye. Paths cross and then detour in opposite directions all the time.  But one thing is for sure, they always cross again. So, I'll see ya all later.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

He Was Random So I Will Be Sincere

I wonder when it will be.  When will women finally stop being obsessed with their appearance, specifically with the changes in their appearance as they steamroll through life?  2014 and beyond shall be an amazing time in the timeline of the country and for women, cuz you know my girl's gonna run.  And inevitably her appearance will be a factor and topic of discussion - the bullshit "Hillary through the years" slideshows.  

I supported Obama in 2008 and 2012.  I chose him over Hillary because I felt there was a predestined order to it all - not order as in hierarchy but order as in sequence.  I felt he had to go first. I have also over these years redefined my definition of "ready."  Ready doesn't mean we can handle it but it means we need it. And yes, our sorry asses, need a woman to be President.  Sorry Joe, be VP again and history will remember you as the guy that stepped aside for love of country.

So this is how I arrived at this post.  I was insulted today by someone I (thought I) respected. An insult was leveled at my appearance in a picture taken while I was out for the day with my kids.  So boom.  You didn't look good.  I work my ass off full time (as an aside his wife stays home with the kids) and take care of house and home and kids, but let me throw a punch at you and remind you that despite all you try to accomplish - you didn't look so good in this picture.  Two steps forward, three steps back.  It wasn't just the insult or said it but it was the cold realization that I suppose it will always be about what we look like.  Oh and for the record I look damn good for 41 and two kids. But who the fuck cares? With that one comment from someone that hasn't been part of my life for close to twenty years nothing else mattered for just that brief moment.

The insult was random but my response to it is sincere. After I let the sting wear off I remembered - no one can make you feel inferior without your permission. We all know that quote - I think it is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt.  We've heard it a million times.  But do we really live by it? Let's not give them permission.  Women (and non misogynistic males) are going to need to lock arms tightly over the next 4 years and beyond.  There is a fight of a generation coming and it has to be the only close up we are all ready for.

So thanks for the insult - it made me write.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Twas the Night Before the Iraq War....

In the lead up to the Iraq War I had dinner with my dad.  Among other things you can always count on my dad for consistent, steady, every-man sensibility with frequent flashes of brilliance that out-pace his education or experience.  He just gets it.

Knowing this, I asked him what he thought about the prospect of getting into a war.  He paused and thought for a moment.  He then said "If these guys think that this guy has these weapons then we have no choice."  I agreed.  To a point.  I responded, "But Dad, I don't think these guys have even thought about how we are going to get out.  This will be another Vietnam."  No lie.  That is what I said.  They should have called me.  Maybe I should have called them.

You see we never had a plan for how to get out.  "You break it you own it" was apparently too esoteric for President Asshat.  There was no plan to get out. No plan to aid the troops when they got home. Hell there was no plan to aid them while they were there,  you know, the troops "we had, not the troops we needed."

Those troops, this nation, the Iraqi people could have used an OUNCE of the outrage spilled over Benghazi.  Why is it that our outrage is always misdirected?  You want to see a Congressional hearing convene in record time?  Have some flash a nipple at the Super Bowl.  Have a bunch of overpaid athletes juice up.  Orchestrate a fake war that kills and maims  hundreds of thousand of people and the silence will be deafening.

Just when we started to step beyond the shame and atrocities of the Vietnam War - we jumped right back into a quagmire.  On the surface it just looks like self-flagellation but it is really all about the money.  The only economic power the wealthy in this country possess lies in their ability to wage never ending war.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Never Forget Who You Are

I live in the same county where I grew up.  Delaware County, just south east of Philadelphia.  Like any other part of the country (yes including the so-called mythical Main Line) there are areas that are nicer than others - places you would love to live, places you wouldn't want to be alone at night and, yes, areas where I wouldn't take a house for free - yes, just like on the Main Line.

I am proud of where I grew up.  Upper Darby High School has always had a bad reputation for tough kids and drugs - I was there for four years and never saw any of either.  I was too busy working my butt off in classes that were part of a top notch honors program.  Three of my teachers in high school had Doctorates.  But people in Radnor and Lower Merion seemed to love to look down on us as "Upper Dump." I never understood it but I do now probably more than ever.  People like to pretend.  They pretend they are more important than they are and pretend they have more than they do.  Everyone is trying to be something they're not.  The saddest part is what they are trying to be ain't all that great.

I recently had someone take a jab at where I live and it hurt. They do not think highly of the community in which my family resides.  Not high-brow enough. Not affluent enough.  Too "working class" perhaps.  They apparently view it as low class - or perhaps it's just that they have a very high opinion of where their family lives. But I am OK with that I suppose.  They can have it - I'll stay where I am.  People can think what they want and view things how they see fit. As my grandmother would say "that's why they make chocolate and vanilla."

If you remember around Christmas time, in the wake of Sandy Hook, people were doing "26 Random Acts of Kindness."   I knew I wasn't going to be able to swing 26 so I decided to do just one.  I delivered a Christmas cactus and some chocolates to the doorstep of the house where I grew up in Upper Darby.  My parents moved away many years ago.  The neighborhood is much different now.  The houses aren't maintained the way they used to be and the lawns are no longer manicured.  The community of two and three bedroom row homes was never a rich neighborhood by any measure - I just never remember "poor" being a word you would use to describe it.  I certainly never felt poor.  Poor might be a word I would use to describe it now.  As I placed the gift on the doorstep and walked away - I felt sadness - not shame - but real sadness. Many people have it hard - harder than I can possibly imagine.  I also felt a sense of relief that my parents had been able to move away to a bigger house with a garden for mom and a shed for dad.

I also felt a sense of pride to know that no matter what happens I will never allow myself to get so far away from there that I fool myself into thinking I am something I am not.  I guess all I can hope for is to surround myself with like-minded people that understand: it's not about what you have, it's about who you are.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Best Thing To Ever Happen To You

The single most important decision a woman (yes a woman - sorry guys but it just isn't the same for you) can make is whether or not to have a child. Read that again - notice I did not say that having a child is the most important thing a woman man will ever do.  Because I do not believe that.  But the decision itself places a woman on one path versus the other.  It literally changes, no, forever alters, the trajectory of her life. As much as we want to think that we can "do it all" and "have it all" - we can't and it is irresponsible, even self destructive, for us to think we can, whether we have children or not. 

Among women that are contemplating having or not having children there is the recurring theme of "regret." "Will I get to the end of my life and regret not having children?"  Does it matter?  If you live your life the right way there should be a heaping pile of things you regret, a big list of things you never got the chance to do.  Those piles have to be big, those lists have to be long - if they are not then you never fully embraced the possibilities and opportunities that abound. If you get to the end and somehow convince yourself that you "did it all" I'm sorry but you are kidding yourself...or your bucket list sucked. If you get to the end without regrets you didn't try hard enough.  If you get to the end without enemies then you probably never stood up for anything either. In that case who cares if you had kids or not?

There are two main paths in life for a woman - one with children and one without.  And each is peppered with feelings of happiness and joy and pain and loneliness and, yes, regret.  There are plenty of  "couldas" and "shouldas" on both paths. Plenty of time will be spent envying women on the other path but most of the time you will not be able to imagine your life on any path but the one you are on. It's your path. No one else's.

I once had a friend say to me "Isn't being a mother the most wonderful thing in the world?"  I paused and thought "Seriously?  I want to blow my brains out most of the time." So I forced a smile and said "Oh isn't it just great?" Bleh - I was faking it and, honestly, she probably was too.  You see there is this  strange competition among mothers - no one talks about it so this is all on deep background. We are all trying to see who can make it look effortless. It's not. Anyone who does make it look effortless is medicated, heavily. 

Is this where I have to say that I love my children and can't imagine my life without them?  I love them.  They make me crazy. And no I can't imagine my life without them - primarily because I can't remember my life without them. So there, in case you were about to call child protective services.

When are we going to stop thinking that women were put here to reproduce? And for God's sake when are the mommies going to stop making women without children feel like they are missing out on "the best thing that could ever happen to them?" What, if you don't have kids then, sorry!  No best thing ever for you!  Bullshit. Small aspirations from small-minded people. If I have children am I now prohibited from searching for the best thing that will ever happen to me - does it have to be my children?  If I keep searching for things that make me happy and make me feel fulfilled does that mean I don't love my children?  If I happen to go on to cure cancer do I still have to say that my children are my greatest accomplishment in order to satisfy some silly Mommy archetype?  That is flawed and holds us all back.

So here is the big reveal.  Motherhood is not, and never was, the answer to anything. Don't think a child is going to give your life meaning.  You give your life meaning and purpose. Never stop looking for all the greatest things that will ever happen to you - collect as many as you possibly can.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nobody Likes a Cheater. Or Do We?

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of ambivalent is "simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action." I did not need to look up cheat.  Unlike Armstrong, I was already quite certain of the definition.  I really hope I never find myself searching for a semantic loophole to slip through in that definition.

I am not very passionate about sports. I can't say there has ever been an athlete I looked up to the way it seems people seem to worship (worshipped?) Lance Armstrong.  Perhaps Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias. Babe never doped. At the time of her death at the age of 45, from cancer, she was the top-ranked female golfer.  If you would like to delouse yourself from this Lance Armstrong thing, read about Babe, read about Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, read about Jesse Owens. Read how the Basque Steeple Chase runner alerted the Kenya runner that he had mistaken the finish line and was not actually finished the race. Google it. I have never been an athlete but I have always known that "sport" is more about spirit than framed jerseys or endorsements.

I usually have opinions about things - ill-conceived or too rooted in emotion they may often be. There are few topics I was more ambivalent about than Lance Armstrong. Then I watched the Oprah interview and saw the 60 Minutes Sports piece.  People have been worshipping a bully.  A narcissistic, remorseless bully. It's not the cheating, it's the threats and intimidation that are chilling.

When I was in my 20s I worked for a man who was lying about everything. His education, his certifications, his work history - he even claimed to have played for a professional hockey team.  He too was a bully and loved to threaten people. As the corporate powers that be closed in on his charade he became uglier and uglier.  Being within arm's length of such a desperate person is something I hope I never experience again.  In a very tiny way I can relate to what Emma O'Reilly and Betsy Andreu experienced - a very tiny way.  Desperate people are dangerous. His actions toward innocent people are unforgivable.

I can't think of a longer, harder, more deserving fall from grace.  So many people seem to be at a loss for what to do now that the source of their inspiration was a mere mirage. Ah but that's just it isn't it? It's always a mirage.  All we ever see in other people is what we choose to see.  People are our mirror.  When we see good things in them, we are seeing the good things we see in ourselves. When we vilify someone we recognize something in them with which we (would rather not) identify.

I am not sure what the future holds for Lance Armstrong.  But this I do know.  Personally, what I love more than a victor is a Phoenix that rises from the ashes. So...we shall see.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Truth is Often the First Casualty of Outrage

As much as I tried to resist it I have to admit that my experiences on Twitter have been incredibly rewarding.  As an aspiring "writer" there is no greater exercise for the mind than to be forced to make your point in 140 characters or less.  And let's be honest, those opinions, at least for me, are never about the weather.  They are about the big things - or at least I think they are big things.  The election.  The economy. A murdered teen in Sanford, FL. A massacre in an elementary school. A brutal rape in Steubenville.

The downside of communicating in such short, impassioned spurts is we can become snappy, jumpy, punchy.  I recently had a disagreement with a coworker via email and as I typed my response I realized (before hitting send, thankfully) that my response closely resembled one of my biting responses to a right wing troll accusing the President of being a perpetually vacationing Communist.  Yikes.

Take a breath, take a step back and think before you type, genius.  Easier said than done when you get caught in the wave of (mis) information.  Add in the shameful need to be retweeted - to gain followers.  Since nothing feels better sometimes than kudos for your 140 character weigh-in on the crisis du jour.

I don't tweet about what I am eating or what I am wearing.  I like being in the middle of the fire storm.  It is just social media of course and the best way I can describe Twitter is an enormous circle jerk.  There is a circle jerk going on among those on the left and there is another one going on among those on the right.  Lots of words - lots.  With some isolated examples there really is little to no action.  But along the way we do learn something despite the 140 character limit.

The crisis in Steubenville is a prime example.  I just had an exchange with someone (from, God help me) who seems to be trying to counter a lot of misinformation.  The exchange made a light go on.  The volume on this case has been turned up - way up.  The involvement of the Anonymous movement has pushed this case into the spotlight - that's a good thing and perhaps a bad thing.  The video. That video.  It's almost impossible to watch.  If Sandy Hook was our gun crisis wake up call - the Steubenville video could very well be the light we needed to shine on our culture of violence against women.

Is the video horrific? Without a doubt.  Is it evidence of guilt?  That really can't be determined. Certainly not by non-lawyer me or social media.  So here is the risk.  If the details of this case are blown out of proportion the real case, the real truth, will be dismissed and forgotten.  "Wait, you mean she wasn't in the next room when that video was made?" "The guys that made the video may have had no contact with her?" And the crime that was committed, and the victim, will be pushed aside. Somehow if the most outrageous details prove to be misleading then it will be like the whole thing never happened. That is the risk. It wasn't as bad as we thought so it must have been just dandy.

Everyone knows that the danger in the old "rush to judgment" is that someone will be wrongly accused, or worse, convicted. But the overlooked danger of a rush to judgment and blowing things out of proportion is that the real horror of what happened could be lost.

Something horrible happened in Steubenville. How bad does it need to be to keep our attention?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

This Thing Called New Year's

I have never been a big fan of the dreaded "New Year's resolution."  Too much pressure. Too much judgment.  Too much expectation to be extra-ordinary - not with the veracity of the follow through, necessarily - just with the content of the resolution itself.  A "mine is better than yours" childish pissing contest that I tend to tire of very easily - no matter the subject matter.

I remember being mocked by someone for my response to the inane "what's your New Year's resolution?" question.  Like anyone that ever asked that gave a crap what the answer was.  Especially this particular time.  I was working for a small PR firm and an insufferable colleague of my equally insufferable boss asked me what my New Year's resolution was.  So I replied with what I felt was a very sincere response - much too personal for the complete tool I was talking to but I was feeling magnanimous.  "I don't actually believe in New Year's resolutions.  I believe if you want to make a significant change in your life - do it - regardless of the date on the calendar."  His tiny brain had trouble grasping this but I frankly didn't care.  I took the ridicule from him as I had on several other occasions - as part of the crappy $6 an hour job.

I still feel the same way.  Don't wait for January 1st to change the tide of your life. Don't think because January has come and gone that the window to start your own personal revolution has closed.  We really only get to do this once.  Live the life you'd go see if it were a movie, or read if it were a book.  After all you are the author.

Do great things....