Holidays 2018 have been characterized by disorganization on my part. The tree just got put up yesterday (December 22). The stockings will (hopefully) get put up tonight. I have precisely two more hours (possibly) into which I need to squeeze the rest of my shopping.
My son’s gift was airfare for the trip he is currently on. My daughter’s requests had to do mostly with practical choices rather than things that will go under the tree. I have been pushing myself to finish some commitments that resulted in late nights at the keyboard instead of leisurely early evenings decorating. (Oh, and the cards just got mailed yesterday too. Some of my usual recipients are going to have to get New Year’s cards instead.)
Therefore, when my sweet friend asked if I could get coffee today, my first inclination was to beg off, citing all of the “not done” items on my list. One of those items? Spending an hour(ish) doing my blog (since I rarely miss a Sunday).
But you know what? The keyboard, the screen, and my opinions will be here 365/24/7 as 2019 rolls around. Time with good friends is fleeting. I spent last Christmas Eve in the ICU wondering if my mom would survive (she ultimately didn’t, and passed away the following February). That experience brought home the importance of prioritizing those who are most important to us.
I’m off to have coffee with Sandy. Blogging can wait.
“The first thing you learn when you’re blogging is that people are one click away from leaving you” is a quote attributed to Alex Tabarrok. Through more than a decade of blogging weekly and trying to keep people from clicking away until fully digesting what I’ve had to share, these are the lessons I’ve learned.
I have repeated Scott Ginsburg’s advice that led me to blog every Sunday, whether I felt inspired or not, often because it is so true. “Make a date with the page,” he said. He was right. I may have missed five Sundays out of the ten years, max. Scott’s advice made me discipline myself and overcome the mythical idea that it takes a magical shot of brilliant insight to get words from the brain, through the fingers, and onto the page. It takes dogged determination to keep at it. Period.
People are going to be insulted and hurt
Honestly, I can’t think of a topic so neutral that someone won’t object. Although my blog topic started off as something pretty specific (being a back of the pack runner), it expanded. I write what I think, and I sometimes write to spark dialogue between people. I try to do so respectfully, factually and clearly. But the online world is not a place where everyone agrees, and a blogger can’t fully control her message. One of my personal principles is to ask myself “is this something you would say in person?” This is especially true with questions that have local ties, such as the student who threatened to sue because she wasn’t selected to the cheerleading squad at my daughter’s alma mater.
Likewise, it still bothers me every day that a Facebook “friend” shared my post about gender reveals with one of her groups, that the group then raked me over the coals as I sat there, diplomatically responding to every single barb and attack, then unfriended me. I know I’m the one with the thin skin to still be bothered by it. But I stand behind what I wrote and am the kind of person who takes it to heart when I can’t come to some sort of reconciliation following a conflict. (Of course it was the attack about my writing that irritated me the most, almost more than the multiple ones about how “insensitive” I am and the fact that I must have some deep-rooted psychological issue.)
Some things are better said face to face (or not at all)
This is a bit of an offshoot of “people will be hurt and insulted,” but it involves a different nuance, I think. While I can’t think of a post that would have been better delivered face to face, I do think the things I write may be perceived differently by people who don’t know me personally than by those who have a different sense of how I conduct myself in person.
I am a freak about accuracy, but write more than 1,000 posts and you’re going to make mistakes. Fortunately, there is an “edit” function and mistakes can be rectified, but it’s much more pleasing to get things right from the outset.
I think way too often of the error I made on this 2012 post about the opening of Jason’s Deli. The restaurant was built on a site that had housed a previous restaurant. Having driven by the vacant building almost daily, in my head it had been several things, so I wrote it as “a location that had seen a parade of short-lived establishments.”
One of the comments (from an anonymous commenter) was:
A “Parade of short lived establishments” in that location? Umm… There was ONE short-lived establishment: Helen’s Diner. The previous occupant, Banjo’s BBQ had been there for decades. One short-lived tenant does not a parade make.
I immediately added an author’s note to respond to that comment, acknowledging that I was unable to document the “parade.” What bothers me is that I’m pretty sure I know who the commenter is. If so, it’s one of two people with whom I still interact frequently and I just wish we could talk it out!
I know I need to make like Elsa and “let it go.” It has been six years after all, but it bugs me!
The other error that sticks with me is one from this blog I wrote as a reflection on a New York Times “Modern Love” column. The column responded to a letter from a reader who had started a relationship with a man, and who wrote about how the man’s former wife was supportive of the relationship. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a former wife choosing to be supportive of a relationship, but this woman didn’t convince me with her account of how she fell in love with the guy while he was still married to his wife.
I did some very amateurish poking around on social media that led me to the inaccurate conclusion about the wrong individual, and made a few unfair and distinctly wrong leaps of “discovery” about the author’s mental health. This is not good because I consider myself a mental health advocate. Once I came to my senses (and my facts), I corrected the post and wrote a clarification. Unfortunately this all came after I had shared a link to my post in the comments of the New York Times article. Lesson learned several times over.
Our positions change
Ten years is a long time to be on this earth. And pretty much anyone, if they are dedicated to personal growth and keeping an open mind, may come to a different conclusion over time compared to what they originally said (or wrote). That said, I can’t think of many posts I look back on and think “how could I have ever felt that way?”
One of the major shifts, though, probably has to do with how I look at disabilities and how I am (hopefully) doing less “othering.” I was heavily involved in Autism Speaks around 2012. There has been quite a bit of movement among many former supporters of that organization. I think specifically of my friends Matt and Jess, who I met in 2012 when I ran a half marathon for Autism Speaks. Although I still feel strongly about supporting people with autism and their families, and especially about making sure there are options for adults with autism to have meaningful work and the opportunity to function as independently as possible, I view autism less from the perspective of “something to be fixed” now and more from the angle of “a different set of features and life skills.” I still can’t adequately address this, but Jess of Diary of a Mom can, and did so here.
Success at blogging requires more than blogging
This depends on your goals, of course. I started blogging to “flex my writing muscle,” but quickly started wanting more: more interaction with readers, more opportunities to do sponsored posts and make some money from blogging, more “community.”
If you want your blog to be more than words on a screen, you have to share it (even though being self-promotional can feel awkward). You also need to share it in other forms (such as video), because people prefer to receive information in other ways. For example, this is a video I did to support my blog about dress codes at internships.
Everyone needs feedback about their writing
Hopefully this goes without saying, but writing is one of those areas where we all need to seek (and act on) feedback. We are our own worst editors. I am thankful to Randi Atwood, who taught a fantastic writing course earlier this year, and who has helped me shape my theater reviews (and opinion pieces) for the Tallahassee Democrat.
People are reading, even if they don’t comment or tell you
While I know the proportion of people who comment on blogs is small relative to the number of people who read, it still surprises me when someone tells me they read my blog. I’m glad (very), and I know commenting is a pain, but I suppose I wish I could hear more about what people think after reading what I have written. My favorite was a conversation with a friend/reader and the turn the conversation took when we began talking about grocery dividers. It makes me laugh a little bit that people think about me when they are at the conveyor belt (thanks, guys). More importantly, I hope the post makes people recognize microaggressions and resolve to be more aware of them.
I still love writing
A love of writing is the main thing that propelled me down the road of being a blogger. It’s nice to interact with others. It’s really nice to make money occasionally from blogging. Most importantly, it’s rewarding to try to help people be aware of causes for which they can advocate and social problems they can help resolve — to try to help people have a broader perspective that hopefully helps them contribute more fully to the world around them.
If none of that happens, though, I usually walk away from the keyboard happy because words are so enjoyable.
If cooking is your thing, think about the last delicacy you chose, shopped for, prepared and served. Each step differed, yet was an important component of the process.
Choosing a recipe involves deciding whether the ingredients and preparation method will lead to an enjoyable dining experience.
Shopping for recipe ingredients involves envisioning the final product and the enjoyment of those I’m serving it to. Preparing food is work, but anything we choose to do typically involves labor.
Now, imagine that instead of presenting the dish to customers, friends or loved ones, you leave it sitting on the kitchen counter. Eventually, it will cool off. Cheese will congeal. If it’s a soufflé, it (does anyone actually make soufflés anymore?) If it’s our house, the cats will decide the humans lost interest and will make a mess.
Whatever the case, if you work that hard to select, shop for and prepare a dish, it’s a loss to all involved to stop short of sharing it. Two things are at play here: 1) you won’t get the closure of seeing all your hard work pay off in others’ enjoyment and 2) your customers/friends/loved ones won’t get to enjoy a gustatory sensation.
Why creativity matters
Several friends posted I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life recently. The people who posted it are among the people I trust the most to sense insight when they find it, and the comments to THEIR posts hinted at the idea that the piece filled a need, so I read it. And I, too, shared it.
I suspect each of us who posted “broke and friendless” got something different out of it. Maybe that’s the hallmark of a good piece of writing. Maybe, with this essay, the lesson a reader takes from it has a whole lot to do with where they are at personally in their lives.
More than the examination of shame and its role, though, the piece immediately led me to think about what it takes for us to have the courage to share the things we have created, whether they be blog posts, newspaper articles, speeches, songs or pieces of art. Why do we hesitate, assuming it’s somehow presumptuous of us to share or that what we have created may not be “enough”?
Here are the ingredients I hope you’ll consider putting into your “creativity soufflé.”
Change how you see your creation
Sankin Speech Improvement’s Public Speaking | How Can You Reduce the Stress? has a section I shared with my Toastmasters mentee to help her prepare mentally for one of her first speeches. The section is titled “change your internal conversation.” This principle applies to so many things, but especially to that voice in your head that asks “is this really worthy of sharing?” “am I being too self promotional?” “who do you think you are anyway?” prior to putting whatever you have done out into the world. Here’s what it says:
Instead of saying “I am so nervous that I think I will be sick”, say “I think I can really help these people with the information that I am going to share”. The goal of your presentation is to have a positive impact on your listeners such that they leave your presentation with new information that they can implement in their lives.
Honor your own hard work
For several years, one of my tasks at the Lead Change Group was compiling the monthly Leadership Development Carnival. This task was such a pleasure because I had the opportunity to read so much excellent writing on the topic of leadership. I often walked away frustrated, though, because there were so few comments, even to the posts that had the strongest potential to help people turn the tables when their leadership struggles threatened to get the best of them.
Comments aren’t the only indicator of blog success, of course. I can tell from my own Google Analytics (and from people who tell me they’ve read my blog) that many more people click on a post than comment. But there is something validating to the fact that someone took the time to comment on something you’ve written. At the beginning of my time compiling the carnival, I would try to comment on each post, but eventually I stopped (I wasn’t getting paid to spend all that time commenting, and authors rarely acknowledged the comments (pro tip: acknowledging your comments builds engagement)). Yet I still wondered who was reading these great posts and why they didn’t engage more people in dialogue. It seemed like a loss all around.
To get comments, you have to do a certain amount of sharing of content (unless you’re that rare superstar that people flock to no matter whether you put yourself out there or not). They won’t know it’s there if you don’t give them the option to read it (and maybe a smidgen of encouragement to do so).
Accepting compliments and responding to naysayers comes with taking any risk
The receipt of compliments sounds simple enough. Who wouldn’t want to hear positive responses? For many of us, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Shonda Rhimes wrote an entire chapter in Year of Yes about how hard it was to learn to accept compliments graciously. She especially emphasized the need to do so without minimizing the complimenter’s intentions. If someone makes the effort to say they like your dress, for example, “thank you” is the best response. Not “this old thing? I got it on consignment.”
Why rain on people’s good intentions? Many of us grew up being conditioned to be deferential and to not be full of ourselves. There’s a difference between simply acknowledging someone’s generosity of spirit and being arrogant. But you can’t enter the compliment quandary if you don’t share what you’ve done. Do it. Then practice by repeating after me: “thank you.” Period. End of sentence.
Naysayers are a different challenge, and I can’t say my skin has been particularly thick about this over the decade I’ve been blogging. In my new job, I also have the task of responding to reader feedback. Shockingly, it isn’t all of the “that was the best thing I ever read” nature. But they’re reading, and they’re willing to talk to me about it. That’s more of an opening than a closing, for sure. There’s a saying in the fitness community when someone hems and haws about whether the mile (or whatever) they ran was enough that goes along the lines of, “you did better than someone on the couch.” I’m usually a little annoyed by that, honestly, but the part of it that rings true is the fact that the person who ran the mile did burn the calories, condition their muscles and generate the endorphins even if it wasn’t star-athlete quality. Trying matters. The opinion of the people on the couch, for this purpose, don’t matter.
This “Broke and Friendless” post resonated deeply with me. My thoughts in this post have only scratched the surface. However, the topics addressed in “Broke and Friendless” are so varied from each other (even though they relate, of course): shame, doing satisfying work, making something of your life, that trying to squeeze it all into one response would defeat the purpose.
I feel strongly that there are many of you with whom I interact, either in person, on social media, or some other way in blogworld, who need to be reminded and/or encouraged to serve the creativity soufflé before it falls.
Please. I’ve already taken my seat at your table and I know you’ve worked so hard.
It’s year five of my taking the Grateful Challenge! Inspired by Spin Sucks, the goal is to set a timer for 10 minutes and try to list 99 things you’re grateful for. (Here are the previous installments: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014.)
All the time I spent as a freelancer at my new job, before becoming a full-time employee
Everyone at my job who has taken the time to explain things to me, support me, help me figure out the ropes
All the freelancers who I now work with
Backing up to the “mom” section — all the time we had with her between her initial hospitalization in early December 2017 and her death in February — just sitting in a hospital room, time that obviously was a gift (in retrospect)
My house — the memories we have here as we prepare to move out
All the lessons I learned from three years of caregiving
All the lessons I learned between leaving Healthy Kids in May 2014 and starting my full-time job in September 2018 — freelancing for different places
Toastmasters — even though I’m not active now, using the lessons from it every day
People who take the time to give me specific feedback about how to improve (at work and in the broader world)
A great therapist, the opportunity to have help working through things
Coffee dates with friends
Not that it’s a “good” thing, but the fact that working through a less-than-optimal credit rating has made me hustle harder (and hopefully will lead to my kids being freakishly careful about money)
If “success” is reaching 99 items, then this year is a bust! Maybe it’s a function of being in survival mode for much of the year. Maybe I’m writing this while tired. I tend to think it’s more a function of this year falling into a few huge chunks of “life” instead of many small fragments.
What I know, but didn’t necessarily convey in the 38 items listed, is that I am so fortunate … to be doing work I love and to have the opportunity to work from home. To have celebrated a 26th wedding anniversary and to have spent this evening with my two grown children, reassured by them to an extent that they feel pretty good about their childhoods.
I know I have probably left people out, but I guess the beautiful thing is that I can make it a point to express my gratitude in person, in writing, or with a phone call any time I choose.
Want to Join?
It’s never too late to spend ten minutes focusing on gratitude! Let me know if you do the challenge!
I haven’t been on a true “vacation” since Wayne and I went to his Aunt Mary’s 90th birthday in April 2017. I haven’t been on a “vacation” where I didn’t have to simultaneously stress about losing freelance income in four years (I recently took a full-time job, so that particular stressor is gone at last). And although the itinerary of my trip to Chicago for the Type A Conference was a little end-loaded with stress because I arrived on Wednesday and didn’t present until Saturday (the day I left … sigh), it was still the most vacation-related period of time I have had in years.
Okay – stay with me here – Paula (city lover!) in Chicago (a particular fave) with a few chunks of time in which to explore and do city-specific things. So many options beckoned:
For a period of about six months, I had a part in helping put together a tolling industry newsletter.* One topic that was covered several times was the fact that Illinois’ tollway oases (structures that cross the tollway, allowing travelers going opposite directions to access snacks, leg-stretching time, restrooms and more) are going away, partially to make room for road expansions and partially for safety reasons.
The Illinois Tollway system began building oases in 1958, with the number eventually growing to seven. The Des Plaines Oasis was the first to be inactivated (in 2014). It did not go down without a fight and a significant amount of nostalgia, though.
“On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend in 1979, an engine fell off a DC-10 that was taking off from O’Hare airport (American Airlines Flight 191). The plane crashed in a field about 1/4 mile from the DesPlaines Oasis, between Touhy Ave and the Tollway. The runway points almost directly toward the Oasis. The plane was headed for Los Angeles, and had a full load of fuel.” Via Panix.
“Two movies have scenes that were filmed at the oases. “The Blues Brothers” has a scene that takes place in the parking lot of the DesPlaines Oasis (with Carrie Fisher and the flamethrower). “Thief”, starring James Caan, has a scene that is supposed to take place in the dining room of the O’Hare Oasis (it was actually filmed in the hallway on the opposite side of the building, next to the windows).” Via Panix.
But Still, an Oasis instead of a Museum or the Theater?
Here’s the thing … every time I would read one of these stories to include it in the newsletter, I would think about my handful of trips to Chicago, and driving under the oases in a taxi or rental car, and wondering about what exactly happened up there.
(I know, I know — what “happens” is junk food, going to the restroom and stocking up on snacks, but it seemed like a big mystery from my perspective as someone else’s passenger, looking up.)
Being able to get help with tolling issues (if I had had any, of course!) from a real bona fide human being instead of having to try to connect through a screen and a keyboard felt a little more … real.
Digging Deeper Matters
It has been a bit of a blessing and a curse throughout my career that I get so fascinated by the topics with which I work (because it is easy to lose sight of the big picture by focusing too intently on the minutiae). But trying to picture yourself in the shoes of the people living the things you write about matters, in my opinion (although please for the love of all things holy let’s exempt that whole conception story…).
It’s why I went to (and wrote about) a Farmers’ Roundtable when I had a role in an agricultural newsletter.* It made a difference to be seated five feet from the Congressman whose name I typed weekly. More importantly, it made a difference to hear farmers expand on the topics discussed in the newsletter, and to hear how their livelihoods were affected by policy changes.
And as to my curiosity about the oases, they touch on some sentiment about how travel has changed since my childhood. Oases once had sit-down restaurants.
Back in the day, when folks took Sunday drives, it was a destination point for suburbanites with a Fred Harvey sit-down restaurant. The Daily Herald
I think it’s somehow about yet another loss of an opportunity to slow down, along with a nod to the mesmerizing nature of travel (sorry this video is vertical – I blame Snapchat!).
I doubt I’ll pay another (cough cough amount not disclosed) amount of Uber fees to get to and from an Oasis again. But I don’t regret the choice for a minute. It’s a fortunate thing to like your work enough to do more than the minimum.
Now if there were only a “Broadway plays” newsletter!
I wrote this post in response to a Kat Bouska prompt: Write a blog post inspired by the word: change.
*This blog is purely my opinion; I don’t represent either organization.
“Procrasticleaning” is not something I can recall ever experiencing:
However, I procrastinate in other ways. We all have the activities we turn to when avoiding life’s bigger and more intimidating projects.
A weekly prompt from the Poets & Writers site references a Philip Roth quote:
Now I can have a glass of orange juice in the morning and read the newspaper.
Apparently Roth wrote this upon his retirement as a fiction writer. The prompt directs the writers to, “Write a personal essay about the simple, everyday things you wish you had more time to do, that are often sacrificed to a busy schedule,” and asks, “How are these activities enticing in a way that is different from the excitement of grander plans?”
Let the orange juice flow; here are my thoughts on the intersection of putting things off and finding alternate rewards along the way.
As I formally wrap up more than four years as a freelancer (more on that toward the end of this post), it would be easy to reflect on the things I could have done better or more efficiently.
The year after my father-in-law died, especially, was free of many of the distractions (logistical and emotional) that came with being part of a marriage in which both of us were primary caregivers to my father-in-law.
With different time management, I could potentially have:
-Used the roughly 52,000 words I have written in weekly Sunday blog posts and weekly Five Minute Friday posts to make progress on the book about Camp Gordon Johnston I have been saying for years I plan to write
-Helped the family bottom line more by ramping up pitches for paid freelance writing
-Helped the family bottom line even more by becoming a transcriber earlier and buckling down to accumulate more hours of paid transcription
My procrastination that got in the way of those types of things was characterized mostly by time on social media that didn’t have an immediately obvious positive effect on my pocketbook, productivity or general outlook on life. I sure didn’t (as mentioned at the top) clean house better.
However, there is a certain amount of processing involved in adjusting once a loved one is gone, and once all the responsibilities and constant vigilance of taking care of someone with short-term memory disorder (and two occurrences of cancer) involves. We also became a true empty nest when my son moved out to go to school, which also was an adjustment. I am choosing to give myself grace for that.
If Time Were No Object
Since the prompt asked, here are the small(ish) things I could make a higher priority and why they matter to me.
Let’s just get this one out of the way. I wish I could be one of those people who say, “I had a sponsored post due at 5 p.m. yesterday, so of course my floors were sparkling and there wasn’t a speck of dust in the house by 3:55.” I’m not that type of human, as I’ve discussed previously. It does matter, though, because I hate living in a cluttered, untidy house as much as the next person.
Such a mixed bag here. I don’t need to make it a higher priority. If anything, it is too high now. I do wish I had time to delve deeper into some people’s shares. I know I owe people in some of my groups a thorough reading of their posts, a sharing of their content, and a thoughtful comment. They’ve certainly done that for me without much reciprocity on my end. Social media is one of my primary outlets for connecting, especially since I work from home. I think the key is using it more judiciously, not necessarily making a drastic cut in the quantity of time I spend there.
The last counted cross stitch project I did took roughly three years to complete! However, every time I touched it, I was reminded of the comforting rhythm of doing something you can hold in your hands (that isn’t a smartphone). I also realized why my mom said “it just bothers my eyes” as she got older. The tiny work is not as much fun as it used to be for me, either. But the repetitive nature, seeing a design come together, knowing the project is a way to convey my affection for the recipient — those are all positives.
This doesn’t showcase the incredible job the framer did; I forgot to take a pic before it was packaged. Also: Censored for being NSFW — it’s a bit of an inside joke!
I have finally gotten back into an exercise groove (yay), but I am still fitting in what to me is a bare minimum. I would love to find a new/different class, walk a different route, join a friend for some type of fitness experiment.
Coffee With Friends
This isn’t really that small in the long run, but I sure could happily put off some things in favor of time spent chatting with friends over coffee (or wine — I’m flexible!). I know that I have tended to say what I really mean through my writing more than my voice in recent years — and I need the real-time reactions and thoughts of people who know me well. I also need to give back to them by being a sounding board. It works differently eye to eye than it does in Facebook messenger.
Get Lost in a Project
I feel a little ridiculous admitting how much relaxation and joy I got from creating things with Smarties. I love the candy itself but I also really love gluing it together to design an image.
I guess Smarties Art kind of ties in to some of the other things I mentioned above — doing projects with my hands, seeing a vision come to life (even if it’s silly chickens!), spending time away from a screen, giving people conversation starters.
I think that was Philip Roth’s point: each individual would probably choose something different if time were not constrained. The prompt asks about the small things, not the big bucket list things. I’ve always felt that less monumental actions and conversations are the adhesive that binds our lives together (I especially feel that way about parenting), and this is what I would do with mine.
How about you?
Here’s How Things are Changing for Me
My period of time working solely as a freelancer is coming to a close, as I mentioned above. This may leave less time for needlework, Smarties Art and cleaning (um…not a worry!), but this is a welcome change and a career transition that allows me to be a bigger part of an organization that has grown in significance to me, both its product and its people, since I began as a freelancer in January 2017.
I will be a full-time editor at SmartBrief starting tomorrow, editing email newsletters such as the Social Work SmartBrief. Please visit the main site here and subscribe to any of the newsletters that appeal to you (there’s something for everyone).
Full disclosure before you read more: this is a curmudgeon post, not my usual sunshine and rainbows. It’s just how I feel. I support everyone’s choices (okay, maybe not the one with the live alligator, but I’m getting ahead of myself…)
9 Reasons Gender Reveals Make Me Uneasy
Many of them involve contraptions that emit pink or blue smoke. It’s dramatic (which is cool and makes for great pictures) but (and I realize this is a bit of an optical illusion) it appears to suffocate all the celebrants.
The “shooting” imagery weirds me out. This is often part of the “smoke” gender reveals (but also part of the “confetti” gender reveals). Sometimes, the father-to-be is pointing the shooting mechanism that is going to emit the smoke or the confetti at the pregnant woman. What’s up with that?
The sharp objects involved are so … evil-looking. Especially with those ubiquitous black balloons filled with pink or blue mini-balloons, someone has to wield a sharp object to pop the thing. It’s strange to me. (Related: one gender reveal I saw had a complicated (and, honestly, very cool-looking) balloon creation that replicated the mother. The gender reveal was done by inserting a sharp object into the balloon “belly,” which then released the gender-disclosing balloons. It was seriously disturbing to watch the real mom plunge the sharp implement into the balloon belly.)
They are pretentious. Not all gender reveals are pretentious. Some are simple and elegant at the same time. But the extravagant productions make me scratch my head. Some are so over the top.
They freak the siblings out. I have seen multiple gender reveal videos where a toddler is totally intimidated by the smoke, the general hullabaloo, or the sight of their parents jumping around like lunatics in celebration. (While, of course, the photographer hired to document the occasion tries to capture the picture-perfect shot that captures the family’s bliss and glee.)
Something could go wrong. Granted, this is just the way I think about the world (despite my Optimism Light persona). But what if the vendor packed pink balloons instead of blue? What if someone is allergic to tinted smoke? What if the sharp implement slips? What if the car with the special burnout packet designed to emit tinted smoke has an accident or runs into a participant? My list goes on and on. In addition, unless people get a chromosomal analysis, ultrasounds have been wrong.
“Flaming balls”? There’s a particular type of firework that emits “flaming balls.” Here’s an example I saw on Instagram.
“Shoots flaming balls.” What could possibly go wrong?
The mixed messages are off-putting. I love a good theme as much as the next person, but some of the messages (and the way they are implemented) make me want to wash my hands). Specifically, there’s an entire genre of “here for the sex” products and themes. One Gender Reveal video I saw showed the mom, dad and a sibling who appeared to be around 9 years old cutting into an “I’m here for the sex” cake. How did they explain what “here for the sex” means?
Our society is at a different place about gender norms. A few popular themes include “quarterback or cheerleader,” “boots or bows,” “staches or lashes” and “cupcake or stud muffin.” You can peruse many more through this link. It would be dishonest of me to say that my expectations during my pregnancies didn’t align pretty much with traditional “pink or blue” and “ballerina or ball player” thoughts. My kids are both cisgender and my daughter is a ballerina while my son is a car guy, but something about these themes seems at odds with an increasing awareness of intersectionality and the growing acknowledgement in society that many people don’t identify as strictly male or female. I suppose it’s a topic for a different post (or, honestly, coffee in person — gender fluidity is something that takes nuance and diplomacy, in my opinion) but I suppose ultimately what I would rather a reveal predict is “this kid is going to be an amazing, compassionate, capable human being who makes the world a better place!”
I’m going to pull myself out of curmudgeon land for a moment to say this: Sometimes a gender reveal is the right thing to do and brings joy to everyone around. I may differ on how people choose to share details as their pregnancies progress (one wish I have regarding mine is that I had waited to be surprised regarding the gender of one of my children, honestly), but ultimately whether someone finds out at all, chooses to share the information, posts a simple picture to Instagram or puts on a lavish party, a new baby brings hope. The biggest thing a Gender Reveal shows is that we can all put aside the pessimism so predominant in our world today for a moment to celebrate new beginnings.
Here’s one that doesn’t get a complete curmudgeon vote from me. I admire this family for finding a way to celebrate their new arrival even though they are physically separated*:
*And I acknowledge that this gender reveal leaves some people (including me) with a not-so-great feeling because it implies the gender (male) is what the dad prefers. Otherwise, it makes me happy.
What did you do the summer after you graduated from high school? Take a vacation? Go to summer school? Work a summer job?
I spent the summer hours away from home, serving as a Southern Baptist Convention summer missionary. I was 17 and felt called to save the world*.
Here are some things (from the perspective of 35 years later) that I no longer am:
A recent high school graduate
As a 53-year-old with a few more degrees and a certificate (somewhere) verifying I am a confirmed Episcopalian, this is what that summer looks in retrospect:
Door-to-door is an introvert’s worst nightmare
First, let me say that I think the definition of “introvert” has become a bit contorted as it has taken hold in the public mindset (although I trust most everything Jennifer Kahnweiler has written about it). For me, the most salient part is the fact that I recharge more by being alone than I do with being in room full of people (this is the case with my husband — ask me how it works out when two people in a marriage recharge in different ways!).
Despite the fact that my religious beliefs at the time and my concern for my fellow man led me to apply to be a summer missionary and to accept an assignment in Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie, FL (hours from home), that hunger to serve did not make it any easier to knock on strangers’ doors and try to get them to accept the gospel.
I would stand there at the door, playing mental games with myself (“If they don’t answer by the time I count to 10, I can leave” … that kind of thing).
Staying at host homes is an eye opener
Staying in host homes was probably a burden for the homes (and a joy, I know), but it was one of the most growth-inducing parts of this summer experience for me. I had a lot of growing up to do, and figuring out how to function in other people’s homes helped with that.
I’ve lost touch with most of my hosts, but am still in touch to this day with one. Her daughter was 3 then and she has her own kids now. Time moves on.
Lack of clarity about roles
Something happened during my summer as a missionary that has repeated itself in other areas of my life subsequently.
One of the churches (we moved around — I think we were at 5 churches in 10 weeks — also 5 different host homes) was sending its puppet ministry to a workshop in Orlando. I asked if we could go. I am pretty sure they hadn’t budgeted to send two summer missionaries to this workshop, but they let us go.
We weren’t *this* creative but here is an example Christian puppetry at its finest — in the form of BETHLEHEMian Rhapsody:
The reason I say this repeated itself later is … I was presenting to our board at Healthy Kids once. I was situating the screen so the presentation’s graphics could be shown and I was angling it toward the audience. Our Executive Director somewhat dramatically indicated that the screen needed to face the BOARD not the audience of hangers-on there to observe the meeting.
One of the biggest memories of that summer has to do with a day that we were out knocking on doors (sigh…) with a minister. I think this particular home visit consisted of the minister, another missionary and me. We talked at length with a woman, discussing her life and her spiritual needs.
She said she had a void in her life, and the minister walked her though confessing her faith in Christ and accepting Him as her savior. (The follow-up steps would ostensibly be her seeking out a local church and following through with baptism.)
When we got to the car — no lie — this minister pumped his fist and said (paraphrasing a bit — it was 35+ years ago!) “YES! IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME!” It became clear that he was keeping count and (more importantly) that as a minister he felt there was some type of quota he was expected to reach.
Now that I have more life experience behind me, I see in that woman’s “void” something maybe a little less spiritual and a little more human — she was a woman isolated in a suburb of Orlando (because yes we had driven to Orlando to expand our soul-saving activities), needing someone to talk to. We offered companionship and a promise of more warm fuzzies, not to mention eternal security.
I can’t say denominations don’t hold their clergy and evangelists to “scoreboards.” Any business, even the business of providing religious support/education/worship, runs on metrics. But something about that moment in time —- he was more excited to have another tick mark than to know that she had had a genuine change that would benefit her —- has always stuck in my head.
I have peeked into some deeper evangelical things and …. I’m glad my path went a different direction
I can’t say that the things I was exposed to this summer were the first time I experienced some of the activities that are more aligned with expressions of evangelicalism like speaking in tongues, talk of demonic influence and being afraid of secular influences. I still can’t listen to “My Sweet Lord” without hearing the hour-long audio lecture I heard in a high-school Bible Study about backmasking and that “My Sweet Lord’s” insidious Hare Krishna messages.
We went skating once — most of the summer missionaries and the children of our host family — just to have the mom come back about half an hour later to make us leave early, “convicted” that the secular music we were listening to at the rink was somehow corrupting us and leading us astray.
That summer was the first time I saw the fear of demons be manifested in an actual demon exorcism (picture a middle class living room and a chair, not anything you’ve seen in movies).
And although I think this actually tracks back to some camp I went to, and not my summer missionary experience, that time in my life definitely carried a heavy (very) set of messaging around purity. Even “fingerprints” (ahem) were to be avoided (more about how I evolved past that particular phobia here).
Faith evolves…and did I mention there’s no scoreboard?
There’s also no script.
Don’t get me wrong…I know there are “scoreboards.”
And I know there are scripts. I scored a 100 on my “Certified Witness Training” test (this was after the summer missionary period, to be clear) that demonstrated I knew exactly what to say to try to get someone to recognize their “void,” the verses to parrot to help them know Jesus is what they needed to fill the “void,” and the steps to take to notch another score on the “scoreboard.”
However, I have evolved as a human and a person of faith.
In a nutshell, at this point I think the way I live my life — including trying to work my way out of messes and mistakes and the times I’ve offended others — says more than any script I’ve ever memorized. God will choose whether that added to His (or Her) scoreboard, not me.
Does faith ever call for a pause?
This is a bit of an abrupt diversion from talking about me (but YAY LET’S PLEASE MOVE ON FROM ME…..).
The #CallToPause was created by Lisa Sharon Harper. Among other things it posits that, “Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination poses grave danger to the rights and protections of historically marginalized communities.” This is what Sarah writes about it:
Dozens of high-profile evangelical leaders have joined the #CalltoPause. And hundreds of others have signed the #PledgetoPause, committing to fasting and praying for American Christians to return to what God’s called us to: kindness, mercy, compassion and love.
While I don’t plan to sign the pledge (I’m too pro-choice to be comfortable doing that), I have to admire the people who are. They may have spent a lifetime in the environment I encountered during my 17-year-old summer, telling people there was only one way to avoid a life of damnation and being scared that a note of music or pursuing any hint of personal pleasure was a failing. And yet they are willing to confront “why the right-wing culture wars began in the first place: racism.”
In my opinion, talking to each other about a middle ground and placing more emphasis on “kindness, mercy, compassion and love” is the kind of thing where it would be fine to keep score, as long as the scoreboard goes to infinity.
I have linked this post with the Kat Bouska prompt “Who needs a vacation when you can spend your summer doing this…”
*I suppose some would argue I still feel compelled to save the world. Hopefully my attempts these days are a little less heavy-handed.
Here’s something that is hazy in my future plan that needs to be much, much clearer: the status of the book I haven’t written.
Here’s something that was crystal clear when I was talking about that stalled dream when talking with Caytha Jentis and Artist Thornton about disrupting myths about aging (for example: at a certain age you shouldn’t bother trying to write a book): the way they vigorously shook their heads in disagreement that it is too late. (See for yourself at the 0:22 mark in this video.)
Besides the incredible bond the three of us developed over a few emails/Facebook messages/test videos and the actual video here, I gained several takeaways that apply both to my book-writing goal and to this stage of my life in general.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Curiosity
Curiosity is one of the qualities Caytha mentioned during our talk. She’s right. I’m sure that’s one of the factors that led her to produce movies and create The Other F Word (check it out on The Girlfriend!).
One of the mental barriers I have had (ridiculous as it is) to writing this book is this: I envision it as an Unbroken-type book: meticulously researched yet beautifully told. I doubt my research skills (but feel I could take a crack at the beautiful telling part….). My internal dialogue has been for years “but you can’t do it like Laura Hillenbrand.”
A bit of reading led me to find out that (voila!) Laura Hillenbrand has succeeded wildly as a writer by being curious, even though her health limitations made it difficult to do field study of her topics. A Flavorwire article about her approach, How ‘Unbroken’s’ Laura Hillenbrand Writes Her Epic Nonfiction, says this:
What you need is endless curiosity…
Rejection is Inevitable, But How Crazy is it When We Reject Ourselves?
Caytha has experienced her share of rejection in the challenging world of production. Artist is making a go of it in a competitive New York restaurant scene with his place, SpaHa Soul. Neither industry is exactly gentle on dreamers.
“If you don’t try, you already have rejection,” said Caytha (i.e., what do you have to lose from trying?). That led me to say “you’re essentially rejecting yourself.” I’ve done my share of that and I don’t recommend it, people.
Cry, then move on
One of my favorite parts of our conversation was the segment about overcoming obstacles. When I asked Caytha about that, I expected her to say something along the lines of “I overcame them because I’m a badass!” yet her first response was “I cry.”
I can’t say I cry over rejection but I do something equally destructive and insidious: tell myself “of course you didn’t [insert goal here] because clearly the other people who do that are better. Really, why did you even try?”
However, beyond the crying is the boxing match. You heard me right: the boxing match.
Embrace rejection and look at it as a boxing match, Caytha said: go the full round. Not every idea is to be executed — that’s valid. I had a business plan and had to be crafty and find ways to make things happen. Once I went to midlife bloggers, figured out there was an audience, learned how to engage them and tapped into the power of working together as entrepreneurs, it’s like we become part of a larger thing — squaring not doubling – it’s how we become strong and viable.
This is my personal soapbox and I will espouse this viewpoint/approach, always (even though I execute it imperfectly). During our discussion on Facebook live, we talked about how we tend to be more generous by this stage in our lives; we have figured out that is where the true power lies.
I will admit this is a struggle for me, because my competitive nature is always right under the surface, sometimes undetectable, and the insecurities that plague many of us lead me to worry about losing out on many opportunities, employment-wise and life-wise, I know that ultimately lifting others up always lifts us up too.
(The Facebook Live I share above is a perfect example of that. I sought out many other people in the process of looking for someone to participate in a FB live about midlife and busting myths. I specifically wanted to make sure LGBT issues were addressed. While I certainly accept the fact that some people just didn’t get back to me at all — we are all bombarded with “opportunities” and can’t do everything, I am giddy with happiness that Caytha and Artist said yes, even though it was a little crazy figure out how to get three people on a FB live at once (thank you, BeLive.tv, for making it happen). These are the people I was meant to do this with, and their generosity of spirit showed throughout the whole thing.)
Back to Laura Hillenbrand
I’m glad I found the article I referenced above, which links to a longer New York Times Magazine piece. Reading about Laura Hillenbrand helps me realize that there is no “one perfect way” to write a book. When her illness forced her to stay home almost exclusively, she had items brought to her so she could understand them (such as World War II bombing artifacts).
I love the idea in the Flavorwire article that Hillenbrand “excels in a particular sort of intimacy, and that intimacy drags you into the story.” It’s certainly one of the many qualities that led me to love Seabiscuit and (primarily) Unbroken — which tied in my love of the running community and Louis Zamperini’s heroic story as well as the World War II theme.
She wrote her book. Her way. With intensive effort and creative workarounds. Maybe this is possible for me also.
Keep Dreams Alive
Throughout my post and Facebook Live about Disrupting Myths, I’ve used the “keep dreams alive” idea consistently but there’s something about it that never sat perfectly with me. For me, it’s not that the dreams need to be kept alive (because they just won’t die….) but that I need to give my dream (the book) structure and priority.
Although I went to great pains in my last blog post on this topic to convince myself that I don’t have to be Laura Hillenbrand to do this (that, in fact, the more important thing is to be *me* with my passion about Camp Gordon Johnston), I was struck by this comment by Jonathan Karp, who bought the rights to Seabiscuit for $100,000 when he was with Random House (extreme diversion to a barely related side note here — I spent a few years as a freelance proofreader for Ballantine Books, which was the Random House paperback imprint at the time).
Anyway, Karp said this: “I keep waiting for somebody to do what Laura did.”
Although doing “what Laura did” needs to be done with my individual touch, maybe once the haze clears, it’ll be me.
I linked this post to the Kat Bouska site for the prompt “write a blog post based on the word ‘hazy.'”
The Facebook Live that led to the video I embedded here was done in conjunction with Women Online and AARP. All opinions are my own.
I only know of one way to physically become younger. Sorry to break it to you all, but it’s pretty complicated, involves significant risk, entails a significant selection process, and only happens to people named Scott Kelly.
I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to let small ideas erode our sense of wellbeing nudge that perceived age upwards. The thing is, some of these small ideas that grow into large threats are not even true! They are myths, and they deserve to be busted.
Here are a few examples, courtesy of the bloggers participating in the #DisruptAging campaign:
What if you have a big (really big!) dream? Is it too late?
Many of you who know me or have read the blog know that I want to write a book about Camp Gordon Johnston. I’ll admit to the voices in my head nibbling away at my confidence about that (they mainly say “you’re no Laura Hillenbrand” (I love her writing and research)) while I know that the world doesn’t need another Laura Hillenbrand. The world (and the legacy of Camp Gordon Johnston) needs me (okay that sounds egotistical — but my point is other people besides Laura Hillenbrand can do this story justice. She should be my model, not my barrier.