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Saturday, January 29, 2011

If You're Happy and You Know It then ask Oprah

So I've just taken Oprah's Happiness Quiz, and, according to her, and guest Goldie Hahn, I'm happy enough, but I could be doing so much better. One of the questions was do you think that happiness is genetic? According to Oprah, 50% of our happiness is genetic. Does anyone else find that a troubling statistic?

My dad is the high priest of pessimism. Got a new job, Dad will worry over how long you'll keep it. Got a promotion at work? Dad will wonder how long before the stress from all of that work will kill you. So are my genetics my destiny? Well, the good news, for me at least, is that my Mom is little miss sunshine. Got a new job? Wonderful, let's celebrate and figure out what you're going to wear!! Just got that promotion you've been working so hard for? Awesome, let's celebrate some more and figure out where you're going to invest all of that extra money!! Two parents, two different takes on the same event - it's like my own personal Rashomon effect! If 50% of my happiness is genetic, then what portion of that 50% comes from Dad and which from Mom?

As for the other 50% of my happiness, well, according to Oprah and Goldie, having children may or may not make me happy, having sex definitely will make me happy, knowing my neighbors will make me feel happier and safer (although I think it all depends on who those neighbors are), and having time alone every day will "CHANGE MY LIFE!!" (that's my Oprah voice, but la Goldie readily agreed so it must be true).

Now I don't mean to sound snarky, and I think it's sweet and lovely of Oprah and Goldie to show me that, even without their Emmy Awards and millions of dollars, there are ways for me to, as Oprah says, "up your joy" (that sounds slightly naughty, doesn't it?).  But my spirit guides usually aren't sporting Cartier rings and LV bags, and so it's a little hard to take when Oprah tells me how much money I need to be happy (hint: its a figure much lower than her personal worth).

The one pearl that I gained from Oprah and la Goldie was what happiness comes through our connections to one another, so that no matter how much of a Debbie Downer my Dad can be, our connection to each other brings him some happiness, and that makes me happy, too:)

I'm just saying.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Marriage-Proof Your Friendships

They were there for you when you dated what's-his-name, and when you dumped what's-his-name. They leaped for joy when you got The Big Job and crossed their fingers when you went for The Big Promotion. They ooh-ed and ah-ed when he put a ring on it, and they bustled your big white dress before you took to the floor for your first married dance. These are your friends, and while they survived through thick and through thin, they sometimes bite it after "to have and to hold." So what gives?

Numerous studies have talked about the health benefits of coupling and the stability that a legal union brings, but the negative toll that marital bliss takes on friendships can be measured in more emotional ways. Want proof? If you're married, take a look at the people who were your bridesmaids and your groomsmen and ask yourself when was the last time that you talked to them, had a meal with them, shared a confidence with them.

If you're not pleased with the results of this walk down memory lane, you're not alone. A lot of us, both married and single, received bad advice. Newlyweds are expected to be sequestered in connubial bliss for the first year of marriage. Writing thank-you notes, finding a home for all of the wedding loot, and, of course, making mad, passionate love are what you're supposed to do. If you come out of your love den to attend the odd family event, you're greeted with knowing smiles and snickers, especially when asked "so, what have you two been up to?" You almost expect to see Benny Hill pop up and deliver a "hello, hello" in his best Cockney accent!

After the Honeymoon Year, the married couple continues to settle down, maybe buying a new home or beginning home improvement projects to the home they already own. I call years 2-5 The Project Years, which can include redoing a kitchen, a bathroom, an entire house. There will be many hours spent at Home Depot or Lowe's, as well as Benjamin Moore, and your kitchen table will become a repository for paint samples, floor and tile samples, and an Ikea catalogue, in case you scrap the whole DIY thing altogether.You're also supposed to be making mad, passionate love, but this is part of another project - making babies.

By the end of year 5, if you've successfully completed The Project Years, then it's time to raise your children with that newly remodeled kitchen/bathroom, or, if you haven't done so already, move into a more child-friendly home and/or neighborhood. Now it's at this point that you will meet other parents or parents-to-be, either in the neighborhood or at yoga class, and you'll become friends.

By now you should be asking, "But what happened to my old friends?"

The answer to that is complicated. If you had an amazing sense of timing, then you and your friends went through this cycle of engagement and marriage around the same time. But, if you're like most people, then while you were in the Honeymoon Year, your old friends, who were also following bad advice, were giving you your space.

Space. Let's think about that word. When people are in a romantic relationship and they say they need their "space", you don't have to be Phi Beta Kappa to know that you're at the end of the line. So if you say that you're giving your newlywed friend space, does that mean you're throwing in the towel on your friendship?

Well, sort of.

Let me explain. As the old friend, I am supposed to be understanding of the needs of my newlywed friends, and I'm supposed to amend my expectations for our friendship lest I be called "needy" and, worse, jealous of their coupled happiness. As the old friend, my job is to be undemanding, which means tossing out the unwritten rules of what friendship actually means. Phone calls, lunches, dinners, trips to museums, trips to the movies/flea market/shopping mall - these are all optional now. Don't get me wrong, these activities were optional before marriage, too, but they didn't feel optional. They felt vital. And at some point, your old friend finds a new friend - someone whom they can call without guilt or reservation. In essence, they hit the "delete" button on your friendship before you do.

Some friendships limp along with interactions confined to group dinners or holiday open houses with sprawling guest lists, and the quality of the friendship declines. Once the children begin to arrive, along with a move further out to the bigger home, then you're down to holiday cards and occasional telephone calls. But it doesn't have to be this way and here are some tips to help your friendships survive the marriage trap:

  1. Leave the Significant Other at home (or, "Guess Who's NOT Coming to Dinner) - You love your spouse, and your spouse knows that, so you don't have to spend every moment with them, and neither does your friend. Going out to dinner sans spouse might seem odd, at first, but if you want your friendships to grow and deepen, then you must provide for the ability of your friend to share new and fun experiences with you alone. I'm not saying that you can't invite your friend to a family dinner, too, but if you make that your only interaction, then you're making a mistake.
  2. Zip the lip (or, "Put it in the vault") -  I've never bought into the bunk that says that spouses must share everything with each other, including their friends' personal business. Why? Because, guess what, YOU'RE  MY FRIEND, NOT YOUR SPOUSE! A friendship is an intimate relationship which means it involves trust. If I know that you're blabbing away to your husband about what I've told you in confidence, then I'm not telling you anything more.
  3. Phone NOT Facebook (or, Don't "Friend" Me, Just be my Friend) - Facebook has made lots of things more efficient, but true friendship is more than efficiency. While you may post about your new car, don't forget to call your best buddy during the whole car-buying process. Think that something like that's too trivial to call and tell your friend about? Well, you just posted it for hundreds of other pairs of eyes - think about it!
  4. Let Your Friend Play Hostess (or, Su Casa, Not Mi Casa) - So you've got all of the pieces to your wedding china, as well as that Tiffany's serving dish and you can't wait to show them off, but if you want to keep your friendship from becoming a perpetual "away game" for your friend, then do them the courtesy of visiting them at their home. They love their home as much as you love yours. They have favorite recipes they'd love to cook for you. Let them, and love them for seeking to share this most personal part of who they are - their home.
It may not be easy, at first. Instead of giving each other space, think, instead, of redefining the space of your friendship.

I'm just saying:)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Dinner Dance

As I speed towards the fourth decade of my life, I've become increasingly obsessed with the everyday rituals of life. The trivial things, such as when I sleep, when I wake up, and when I eat, and what I eat, are all suddenly important. I never gave these things much attention when I was growing up, mostly because I didn't have much choice. Bedtime was set by Mom, as was the morning alarm. Mealtimes were set by Grandma, who lived with us and was our family's executive chef, and the menu was a balance of meat, vegetables, and a starch, all consumed at the dining room table once Mom arrived home from the office. Once in a while, we kids could make a special request for hamburger night, but that was all of the input we were allowed. And life was good, uncomplicated and good.

Now, it seems like that kind of approach is no longer the norm. I know of families where the dinner table is a constant battlefield, where kids refuse the food on offer, and the parents throw up the white dinner napkin of surrender and settle on a feast of take-out pizza and fast food. I've dined at one home where a picky 6 year old refused to eat the homemade dinner and was then served the fried bologna sandwich he requested. Have it your way? Hell to the NO!! I've even had people show up to our home for Thanksgiving dinner armed with microwave corn dogs (you know who you are!) because their kids are so used to processed foods that real turkey and vegetables aren't to their liking - HUH??!!

So what gives?

While I could write chapter and verse on the need for discipline in the parent-child relationship, the real issue is our over-reliance on fast food and dining out and how it's changed our perceptions of taste and of time. This is one of those chicken vs. egg type arguments. Cooking at home requires a lot of steps - research recipes, plan meals, make a shopping list, go to the grocery store, cook the meals. Trips to the grocery store are time-consuming and meal prep times can vary between 20 minutes to several hours. Compare that to the 30 minutes it takes to get a pizza delivered to your home, or the 5 minutes waiting at the drive-through for a bucket of fried bliss and it's clear that in the home cooking vs. fast food time challenge that fast food emerges the winner.

But what about taste? Well, fast food has some advantages, but they're all unfair advantages. Fast food companies have an army of chemists and taste-testers at their disposal making sure that their food products achieve the highest level of yummy to appeal to the majority of taste buds. I'm convinced that the more you eat fast food, the more acclimatized you become to the taste so that you crave that food and that taste.

So why should I even make dinner? Why fight against the tide of golden arches or the oily scrumptiousness of a $1 taco allegedly comprised of less than 30% of actual beef?

While the obvious answer is for the sake of better health and nutrition, the better answer is that the whole exercise of making our meals and eating them together creates a sense of community and family. It feels good to watch people enjoy something that you cook - it's like you're giving them a gift. Even on those nights when a dish isn't as successful, all is not lost because the act of preparing a meal for others generates those same good feelings. Now, I'm not ignorant to how busy and fast life is these days, and I'm not advocating a return to the days of high-heeled, crinolined skirt wearing ladies of the house cheerfully whiling away the day in the kitchen. But there are ways to have a more convenient style of home cooking. My Grandma used to prepare the largest meal on Sundays, portioning and freezing or refrigerating the leftovers which would be used for meals throughout the week. Sunday's whole-roasted chicken became Monday's chicken legs and vegetable, Tuesday's chicken thighs and dumplings, Wednesday's chicken stew, and Thursday's chicken pot pie.

And while my Grandma had more than 60 years of recipes in her head, today there are all sorts of online resources, like my favorite, Recipe.com, as well as websites for The Food Network and its' shows. Epicurious.com is another great place to get inspiration for menu planning.

Now, if you're observant, you'll notice something missing from this discussion, and that's dear old dad. While this may be 2011, I suspect that the steady march toward fast food and delivery food was created from a sense of frustration on the part of the wives and moms who were saddled with the lions share of menu planning and preparation, and dads and husbands who wanted a way out of feeling guilty for that imbalance. But, that's a discussion for a different time! I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Search of Civility: Say Goodbye to "Hello"?

Running errands the other morning, I encountered a pair of Bieber-haired youngsters - maybe 16 years old. The two boys, in the uniform befitting their age - hoodies, skinnyish man jeans, iPhones, and 1980's-inspired terry cloth wristbands - were making their way past me in the grocery store parking lot, and so I said "hello" to them. One of the boys barely raised his eyes to mine, seeming to grunt an acknowledgement of my greeting, while his companion responded with a sheepish "hello" minus eye contact. They continued on their way, but as I got into my car, I was put off.

As an actual, native Washingtonian, I've watched the steady decline of friendliness in this area during my lifetime. And now I've found that my personal observations are now being supported by hard fact - well, if you call Travel + Leisure magazine's annual survey of America's Favorite Cities "hard fact", which I do. While we have great classical music, wonderful historical sites and monuments, and excellent theatre (take that, NYC!!), we're not doing so well in the friendly locals department. In fact, out of the top 20 rudest cities, the DMV is ranked as No. 5. Ouch!

So why are we so unfriendly? Well, I've got my theories:

  1. Tourists - The White House, the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court. There aren't too many places where you can experience so much history and on such a grand scale and all located within blocks from each other. Add to that our clean and easy to use Metro and it's little wonder that we are a tourist town. But we're also a town of bureaucrats who happen to work in those historical landmarks, and who are running down the out-of-order Metro escalator steps two-by-two to get that last train home so we can pick up our child at day-care before we're charged extra and who, then, can be forgiven for throwing you a nasty look and some attitude whilst you and your tourist family are blocking the bottom of said Metro escalator as you attempt to read the signs to figure out on which side of the platform you should wait.
  2. Very Important People - Right now as I write this I'm sure that in some hotel bar or at some restaurant, some poor, hard-working hostess is getting a version of "but, don't you know who I am" from some political appointee or wunderkind of the lobbying crowd. You can't drop a Congressional Quarterly off of a roof without hitting some undersecretary of X or assistant deputy Y, or Senator So-and-So. We have more "The Honorables" per square mile than there are "Smiths" in all of Virginia. To throw a dinner party in town, you need to have your own equivalent of the White House Social Secretary. Very Important People are very demanding and, not always, very nice. So what's worse than Very Important People? That's easy - the people who work for Very Important People. They'll mow you down as they speedwalk past you nervously thumbing away on their Blackberry. And no, don't expect them to hold the door open for you as they race into Starbuck's for the Very Important Person's morning/afternoon latte.
  3. Blame it on the Beltway - Ah, the Capital Beltway, that majestic 64-mile stretch of highway encircling Washington, DC like a belt, a thorny belt. Almost everyone living in and around the Nation's Capitol will have at least one bad Beltway story. It'll usually start something like this, "So I was on my way to[work/church/the mall] and then the traffic stopped for [10 minutes/30 minutes/60 minutes]." Try having a good morning or a good evening when you know that it can be ruined by the inevitable snarl on the Beltway.
Just think of it - in just one second you can make someone feel special, feel good, feel valued by simply greeting them with "Hello." and maybe we can get Washington, DC back on the Friendly list while we're at it - I'm just saying!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Quick Check-up on those New Year's Resolutions

Every New Year's Eve, I make up my mind to take on some new challenge for the next 365 days. And, to help cheer me on in my efforts, I create a motto - something catchy, easy to remember, that encapsulates the mental and physical journey upon which I'm about to embark. One year it was, "clear the clutter," which meant attacking the over-stuffed backroom in the basement, as well as emptying the contents of my former, thinner self crammed into my guest bedroom closets! "Clear the clutter" became so popular that soon it was extended to cover interpersonal relationships that were no longer working out - fringe friendships, unhealthy relationships all got the ax during this magical year.

Another year the motto was "put on your shoes," though my sister-in-law deserves the credit for that one. We were all trying to jump start an exercise routine and that four-word motto came in handy when I wasn't in the mood to be physically fit.

So far, we're almost 30 days into 2011 and I'm still motto-less. I mean people have finally stopped saying "Happy New Year" so I've got to get cracking. What's a kicky way to say, "go to bed earlier and eat more vegetables/less McDonald's"? I could, in the spirit of going green, simply recycle mottos from previous years, but that seems a bit lazy, like wearing the same dress to the Oscar's 2 years in a row!

Maybe, the issue is one of inspiration. Like those prophetic musical sages, The Brady Bunch, once sang, "when it's time to change you'll know it's time to change." It could be that my current, motto-less state means that I'm happy with my life, or that I'm just settling for what is, without any hope of change. My lack of a motto could be my surrender to the Fates, or I could be afraid to even dare to dream anymore. How sad that would be:(

I think I've just had one of those Oprah "aha!" moments!! I now have my 2011 motto (drum roll, please....):

Be inspired

That's it! It's short, simple. It has applicability over a wide field of subject matter. I can be inspired in my career. I can be inspired in my relationships with others. I can even be inspired in my coffee ordering - no more dopio espressos for me, nope, I'm going to try a tea I've never tasted. I'm going to listen to bands I've never heard. I'll visit states in the union that I've never visited and countries I've never seen.

Finally, the New Year may begin:)

I'm just saying!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Do Sisters Have to be Friends?

While I usually love the "Real Housewives" franchise for its botoxed vixens, flaxen weaves, and scandalous feuds, I've been particularly fascinated with this season's Beverly Hills edition because of the relationship between two of the ladies - Kyle and Kim. The two are sisters and their love/hate relationship teeters towards hate more often than not. Kim is the mercurial former child, teen, and young adult film and TV star who harbors deep-seated feelings of resentment towards being the family's meal ticket. And Kyle is the younger sister who feels saddled by her co-dependent older sister. Their interactions with each other are painful to watch. They're sisters, after all, so shouldn't they be expected to "get over" their issues and just be there for each other?

It's not always that easy. While some may have a relationship with their sisters that's reminiscent of that wonderful old show tune, "Sisters", where the two sisters sing of their devotion and care for one another, some of us relate to our sisters more like Jan from "The Brady Bunch" relates to Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!! Some sisters may even take the voyage to Hater-ville, going after each other like Tanya Harding went after Nancy Kerrigan. So what gives?

The simple and ugly truth is that sometimes, sisters don't like each other. Sound harsh? Well, the truth isn't pretty, that's why it's got such an ugly name! We don't choose our siblings. In the workplace that is our family, siblings are the co-workers placed in the office opposite ours, or, heaven forbid, in the same cubicle! And older siblings are even worse, getting all of the perks, including the bigger office, and, when they turn 16, a company car!

So who's to blame? Well, we can always blame our parents, and sometimes, that's actually the case. Mom and Dad can sometimes, unwittingly, create tension between siblings - overly praising the so-called "perfect" sibling, while constantly criticizing the not-so-perfect sibling. But, really, it's just simple chemistry. I hate to refute you, Rodney King, but sometimes, we can't all just get along.

I think it's time to let us off the hook, so here goes:

Just because you're sisters doesn't mean that you have to be each other's intimate other.

Any relationship that has an assumption of intimacy is doomed to failure. If your parents said that because you're sisters you have to get along, then they were wrong. Relationships are constructed of not just shared experiences, but also trust and a concern for another person that is freely given.

So, what if you're raising your daughters right now and you want to make these sisters into friends? Some sisters will naturally bond with each other and be each other's best friend for the rest of their lives. But some will need to have the space to build a relationship on their own terms. As parents, it may not be the ideal that you dreamt about, but it will be authentic.

I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Congratulations, You're One of US Now!

When a newly-slim Ricky Gervais took to the stage on Sunday night's Golden Globes telecast, he gave new meaning to the phrase, "lean and mean." To be fair, Gervais has always packed a nasty bite. The characters that he played in his mocumentaries, "The Office" and "Extras", were pathetic everymen whose fleshy outsides held a bottomless pit of inner-loathing that extended to everyone they encountered. And if his contempt for his fellow man was detectable, then his offense at the cult of celebrity was at fever pitch. In "The Office", his inept, blundering alter-ego - the fictional David Brent - had dreams of celebrity that far exceeded his talents. With "Extras", Gervais inhabited another celebrity-seeking character, Andy Millman, a "background actor" who, in between takes, nursed an out sized ego and dreams of coming out of the cast of extras and into the lead. In the series, Millman gets a taste of the fame and celebrity he's long sought, only it's as an appalling, dim plant manager sporting late-1980s Elton John eyeglass frames and a fright wig in a broadly-written comedic series in the "Our You Being Served" vain. For Andy Millman, even fame and celebrity don't bring him the joy and respect he'd hope they would.

For Ricky Gervais, maybe life and art have fused together to form a reality where neither Gervais nor the fictions that he creates for himself are very happy. It's easy to see, then, why his verbal jabs at the other celebrities in the room Sunday night were so vicious. At the outset of the evening, as he sauntered on-stage with his ever-ready pint of ale in hand, he spoke these words, "I warned 'em." But, maybe, now it's time for someone to tap Ricky on the shoulder and let him know that he is now, officially, "one of 'em" himself.

I'm just saying!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mother May I or The Eye of the Chinese Tiger Mother

So here's three words I'd never thought to put together - Chinese Tiger Mother. But it seems that Yale professor Amy Chua's memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has really touched a nerve! Once more, motherhood is being dissected and the battle lines have formed hard and quickly. Everyone from the hosts of The View, to the hosts of The Talk (CBS' The View-lite) to NBC Nightly News are debating the finer points of Chua's book. While Chua herself has even said that this book wasn't intended as a hardass' guide to good parenting, message boards are chock-o-block with angry comments directed at the author. The more salacious highlights of the book are a list of things Chua didn't allow her two daughters to do:

  1. Attend sleepovers
  2. Have a playdate
  3. Be in a school play
  4. Watch TV or play video games
  5. Get any grade lower than an A
I didn't grow up with a Chinese mother, but, looking at that list, I'm beginning to have my suspicions! I'll call my mom Dr. Hell No. Here is a short version of her "Hell No" how to:

  1. Girl Scouts: Selling cookies door-to-door to strangers and camping outside where I can catch cold or be attacked? HELL NO.
  2. Summer camp: Sleeping away from home for multiple nights with unsupervised boys trying to take advantage of her baby girl's virtue? HELL NO.
  3. Car dates with boys:  Her baby girl with some pimple-faced teen aged Lothario? HELL NO.
  4. Eating dinner at my friends' homes: You can never tell how dirty someone's kitchen is, and what about that leering teenage brother just waiting to take advantage of her baby girl's virtue?? HELL NO.
  5. No telephone calls on school nights: As far as my mom was concerned, if I wanted to reach out and touch someone, as the old ad campaign went, then I could do it on the weekend. No exceptions! Since the only telephones in the house were located in her bedroom, in the kitchen, and in the family room, good luck sneaking in a few moments on Ma Bell. HELL NO.
Needless to say, I lived a sheltered life at home. I made excellent grades and never gave my mom any cause for concern. I also had a pretty awful social life, but I'm sure there's a texting teen in 2011 who thinks their dreadful social life is the fault of their parents. It's all relative, isn't it? And besides, for all that I was deprived of, I received a great gift in return - the gift of spin, the ability to locate that silver lining:

  • No Girl Scouts meant that I didn't have to hawk boxes of cookies once a year and I had my after-school and weekends free!
  • No summer camp meant a summer of kicking back, sans mosquito bites and un-air conditioned bunk-bed style living with a bunch of other girls and no private bathroom. Thanks Mom!!
  • No car dates with boys?? Awesome, that saves me having to eat like a bird in front of some guy, and no dealing with the awkward kiss goodnight.
  • No eating dinner at my friends' homes? Perfect! I really didn't want to miss "The Love Boat."
  • No telephone calls on school nights?? Really?? Seriously, who am I talking to??
Hmm, it would seem that my attempts to spin this situation have failed. Gosh, my childhood kinda sucked. Maybe that's the whole moral of the story, that moms will always do the best that they can to raise healthy, happy, good children. Sometimes they'll fail, sometimes they'll soar, but the best moms will always keep trying, and the best children will love them for that.

I'm just saying:)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Superhero Love Story

I hate to admit it, but I love listening to a little Top 40 radio, and one song that's in heavy rotation these days is a sweet little ballade with the not so sweet title of "Grenade." A love song named after an exploding weapon (or a person to whom one is not physically attracted if you're a "Jersey Shore" fan)? OK, not my first choice, but the song's got a lot of heart, especially as sung by the adorable Bruno Mars. Here's a sample from the chorus:

I'd catch a grenade for ya
Throw my hand on a blade for ya
I'd jump in front of a train for ya
You know I'd do anything for ya

I can already hear the ear-piercing screams from the legion of tween girls when they hear this because for them, it's the ultimate love story. It's a superhero love story, in fact, and for young girls, and boys, for whom romantic love is a mystery that they're trying to unfurl, this song rings true. The tween world largely consists of fantasy with avatars, video games, over-merchandised Iron Man/Spider Man movie franchises, and teen idols like Miley and Katy Perry occupying a neon-colored, candy-coated universe to which parents are not invited!

I'm at a point in my life where I don't want my husband to catch a grenade for me, but I'd love it if he made the run to Pet Smart for more cat litter. Maybe, instead of throwing a hand on a blade for you, your honey could put that hand on some garbage bags and take the trash out (this is gender neutral, people, I'm a proud hauler of the family garbage, thank you!!). I know this doesn't make for a very romantic radio-friendly song, but I'm a realist. Sure, the Superhero may be a help when you're in imminent danger from a speeding train, a blade, or a grenade, but a guy like that obviously has impulse control issues, and who needs that??

I'm just saying!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The University of Run-DMC

One of my best friends growing up was my highly cherished Sony boom-box with detachable speakers. My she was yar! Little Sony Boom-Boom arrived after a summer of hard work at the Burger King, and she occupied a treasured spot atop the chest of drawers in my pretty pink bedroom. I kept that single cassette player working overtime with everything from MC Lyte to Duran Duran, and Boogie Down Productions to Bach organ music, but my favorite was Run-DMC. The rap duo, along with DJ Jam Master J, strung together raps over synth-drum beats that offered slice of life tales from their point of view. And while there was the usual posturing in their raps, they also taught valuable lessons, sort of like a hip-hop tinged School House Rock.

In one rap, they railed against the rampant consumerism that was already inserting itself into youth culture:

Calvin Klein is no friend of mine,
Don't want nobody's name on my behind

It was genius, heck, even my mom and dad liked that one!

In another rap, titled, "You Talk Too Much", Run-DMC tackles a topic that most are familiar with - the annoying gossip who should maybe show some verbal restraint. Herewith, a lyric:

You're always spreading rumors, whether bad or good
You're the damn Walter Cronkite of the neighborhood
The Barbara Walters, and the Howard Cosell
You always come around, with a story to tell

You talk too much And then you never shut up
I said you talk too much Homeboy you never SHUT UP!!!


OK, so maybe the Walter Cronkite and Howard Cosell references are a bit dated, but the lessons endure.

I learned a lot from Run-DMC, and on their oft-overlooked rap, "Wake Up", I learned of their vision of a world made whole. Here's a sample:

When I woke up this morning and got out the bed
I had some really fresh thoughts going through my head
they were thoughts that came from a wonderful dream
it was the vision of a world working as a team

Unemployment was at a record low
and the presidents were chillin at our show
listening to the things that we had to say
and trying to create a new and brighter day


A peaceable kingdom set to a back beat, and I'm not playing, that is all from I'm Just Saying:)

Big

The other night, I watched a very uncomfortable exchange. Let me set the scene. It was the Late Show with David Letterman during his interview with actor/comic Kevin James. James was on the movie tour grind promoting his latest movie, "The Dilemma", and Letterman, apparently, was on his own voyage to the land of Jackhole as he savaged James at every turn about his larger-than-most body. Each question was like jamming a fork into the thigh - violent, rude, and intrusive. Did you have to shop at a big and tall shop? Did you know you were so fat? What the hell??? That the former "King of Queens" star didn't haul off and slap Letterman should settle the matter of whether we larger folks have self-discipline once and for all!

While the statistics continue to tell the story of how we, as a country, are becoming larger, with the constant deluge of hurtful remarks aimed at the obese, I figure that we must be a country of chunky self-loathers! That same night of the Kevin James interview, a quick trip up and down the cable box yielded even more fat fodder, including George Lopez whose opening monologue was especially nasty. All that was missing was the Kirstie Alley reference, but I'm sure somewhere, someone was on it!

As the country is taking a pause to clean up the chorus of coarseness in political discourse, maybe we can take a beat and lay off of the fat jokes. Heck, even the term, "fat joke" is intentionally dehumanizing because that ridicule is an exercise in the hatred of fat people. I feel like Charlton Heston screaming about Soylent Green - it's people!!

Now, I realize that for some of you it's a hard habit to break - either making fun of larger people or laughing at jokes told by others about us lovely large folk. And you're not helped by some larger folk who use self-deprecating humor to cover up their own insecurity about their bodies. Humor, after all, is supposed to help people feel comfortable. But, you see, the math doesn't add up: if a larger person uses self-hating humor about their bodies to make other people feel better, nobody actually wins here. The larger person has just reinforced their own feelings of lack of self worth, and their thinner conversation partner only feels awkward at being in the presence of someone who obviously dislikes themselves. So let's just stop!

While we're at it, here are several more changes that may help end the siege on my more Botticelli-esque brothers and sisters:

  1. Eliminate the B-roll fatties! - If you've ever watched a news program, then surely you've seen the B-roll fatties. You may have even been one yourself! Whenever there's a story to be covered on dieting, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc., et al, you can count on seeing video images of bodies captured from the shoulders down walking down crowded city sidewalks, or down grocery store aisles. These faceless bodies will be plus-sized and if the cameraman can get the prize package of one of these people struggling up a flight of steps then SCOREEEEEEEE!!! It's like a silent movie, but the soundtrack is the voiceover from a 115-pound news anchor tossing to commercial with the insistent news music bed playing underneath. Enough!! News producers, if you're doing a story about fat people, don't stalk us like it's friggin' Wild Kingdom. Man up and actually interview a larger person. Talk to us! Yes, you'll get some "no" responses, but you'll eventually get a yes.
  2. End the Airline Injustice - The friendly skies declared war on the plus-sized decades ago, as far as I'm concerned, when they designed those damn bathrooms. But they took the war to new heights with the introduction of the "second seat" requirement for more shapely passengers. Let's be real, if airlines hadn't been so greedy - smaller seats and smaller seating radius to insure max numbers of passengers and max profits - we wouldn't have that guy from those Jay and Silent Bob movies suing major air carriers for violating the civil rights of larger citizens! 
  3. Hollywood, Come out of the Husky Closet!! - Were you as shocked as I was when uber-manscaped Ryan Seacrest made public the photos of his former plus-sized self?? There he was, a chubby child, and look at him now. In fact, I should have been tipped off that he was a former big guy. He has an astonishing amount of discipline and energy and he always seems like he's not really at ease with people. I want to know about the other Ryan Seacrests because maybe hearing their story will help a larger person who's feeling nervous about setting a healthy weight loss goal. And no, Renee Zellweger, this does not mean that we want to hear you wax philosophical on you force-feeding yourself so that you could pack on some curves for those Bridget Jones movies. Watching you play "fat" was as grating on my nerves as hearing your faux-Brit accent  must've been for my British peeps.   
I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Forget the Fake, Let's Get Real

Tomas Maier may not be a household name, but as designer for luxury goods maker Bottega Veneta, his legendary bags have been popular prey for the designer knock-off industry. In a recent interview with The New Yorker, Maier caused a small stir when he denied that his goods were too expensive for middle class people to afford. In fact, he said that the middle class has "simply been trained to want too much stuff."

That last line really hit me, especially as I peruse Purse Mountain in my closet! We women of a certain age have all imagined ourselves, once or even twice, as a local Carrie Bradshaw knock-off, substituting her substantial sample-sized overstuffed wardrobes and Cosmopolitans for our hot-off-the-street fake Fendi bag and an asiago cheese bagel at Panera. And I'm sure one of us has spent a bit too long in the handbag haven that is T.J. Maxx - although I do stop short of calling myself a "Maxxinista", that's a little too close to Sandinista for my taste!

If I'm to follow the advice of Tomas Maier, then instead of dropping a few hundred dollars in a year on knock-off products that smell just a bit weird and that end up discarded, then I should, instead, save for the one I want the most and, once purchased, enjoy it.

I know, the men out there are rolling their eyes and wondering what's the big deal, I mean, it's a freakin' purse! But it's more than that. If I want something real but settle for something less, who's to say that this stops at purses?

Well, you have the final say!

If you settle for what you can get, but don't wait for what you really want, then ask yourself "why". Do you fear that no matter how hard you work, you'll never get to that mythical, magical land of "there."? Do you think that you're not worth it? Are you afraid that once you have that precious thing that it will be taken away from you, or destroyed, like Smeagol from "Lord of the Rings"?

I think that our purses are a metaphor for our lives. Does the inside of your purse resemble Fred Sanford's junkyard? Are movie ticket stubs from 1999 through 2010 living at the bottom of your handbag? Are you carrying a big bundle of backache in your overstuffed bag? Is there a Misfit Land of Purses festering at the bottom of your wardrobe?

Here's your assignment: take a voyage of discovery through your purses. Look at all of the purses that you own - inside and outside. You'll find forgotten treasures, as well as some highlights and low lights of your fashionable self, but the point of this is to ask yourself why you bought each of those bags, how you felt when you got it, and how it makes you feel now when you carry it (if you still carry it). Maybe Tomas Maier was right and we have been trained to want too much stuff. So forget the fake - it's time to get real!

I'm just saying:)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The State of This Union

In a couple of weeks, the President will deliver his State of the Union address from the House chamber. And while I'm sure that his speechwriters are working overtime in preparation, I suspect that there are some topics that won't be covered. So, here, now, is the I'm Just Saying edition of the State of our earthly Union:

  • We are a world without turn signals, doing what we want when we want, and changing direction without thought to those around us;
  • We are a world where we ask forgiveness and not permission;
  • We are a world for whom it is always our turn;
  • We are a world where it's always about me - unless, of course it's a criticism, in which case it's either wrong or it's meant for someone else;
  • We are a world in which we've abandoned "please" and "thank you" and eye contact and kind greetings to passersby on sidewalks/subway cars/supermarket aisles;
  • We are a world where we all save seats, but never give up seats for someone in need of one;
  • We are a world of tiny, little tribes shouting "me! me! me!" from the granite counter islands of our perfect kitchens;
  • We are a world where WTF and LMAO are considered witty banter;
  • We are a world where the thumbs are mightier than the pen;
  • We are a world where plasma isn't just blood, and where a tablet isn't a pill to be swallowed, but a handheld electronic entertainment multiplex;
  • We are a world where weaponized words are used to draw blood, and are then surprised when actual blood is shed;
  • We are a world of bravery where ordinary people stand up to people with guns;
  • We are a world of goodness where we nurse the injured, heal the sick, and hold the hands of the dying;
  • We are a world of abundance where we share what we have with those in need, no matter how little we may have;
  • We are a world of comfort, even to strangers, in times of sorrow.
In short, we are a world imperfect and on the brink, but on the brink of what? A world on the brink of war can also be on the brink of peace. A world on the brink of violence can right itself and turn towards logic and compassion. If you believe that evil roams this Earth, then you must also believe that goodness strides beside it. The state of this union can only be as good as we strive to be, but you can't just hope that it's good, you have to work to make it good.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Right and wrong

I found myself doing something atypical for a Saturday night - watching the news. I also found myself wondering about what's happening in our world, in our country, on the corner. I thought about that William Butler Yeats poem that I had to read back in high school, "The Second Coming." The poem was published at the close of World War I, and its striking, graphic and violent apocalyptic imagery grips most readers who encounter it. Yeats' intention in writing this poem was not to provide a sense of peace and an "all is well" calm. There is a chaos, a twitchiness in this poem that borders on hopelessness at the state a world that can no longer be navigated by reason as it explodes into violence. In this realm, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

We saw the "worst" in a supermarket parking lot in Tuscon, Arizona on Saturday, and by tomorrow morning, odds are that someone else will experience the "worst" in an unalterable way. For Yeats, there is no comfort, and there is no way to make sense of it all. How do you reason with a madman with a gun who is convinced of the rightness of his cause?  How do you agree to disagree when to disagree carries the threat of violence and death?

I'm just saying.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Parable of the Lottery Winner

Well, it's done. Jim McCullar, age 68, and the winner of one half of the $380 million Mega Millions jackpot stepped in front of television cameras, with his wife of 41 years, Carolyn, by his side, and told their tale of lottery luck. After weeks of office-place lottery pools, fueled by "Take This Job and Shove It" fantasies, the winner is a man who lives a quiet life in Small Town USA, a heart attack survivor who delivers turkeys to families having a hard time! What gives???

Look, I hate to profile, but this story is so common in the annals of lottery winners that it's almost cliche: lottery winners are people of modest means. There's the mother of 3 who works 4 jobs and living in a tiny apartment who hits the jackpot; or the man who escaped from Vietnam with his family who would live the lottery fairytale along with his co-workers in a meatpacking plant in Lincoln, Nebraska.

You get a sense that these lottery winners are somehow predestined, that they paid into the karma pool and came out with a winning ticket! I think that these stories of lottery winners are such feel-good stories because they fulfill our desire for justice in this world. That the "have-nots" will become the "haves"; that those who are hungry and desperate will find relief. This is a swift justice, not that far-off stuff we talk about in church.

There's a thunderous Gospel tune, the first line of which is, "He may not come when you want him, but he's right on time." The "he" refers to Jesus, and this line taps into a central human experience, that of people who have weathered hard times and may have sometimes felt as if their prayers and pleading to God had not been heard, only to have felt God's intervention in the nick of time. The lottery stories have become the modern equivalent of a parable in the lives of both the winners and the ever-faithful who hope one day to "hit the number." The belief is not just that the money will make right all that is wrong in their lives, but that the winning of that money is really God showing mercy, and exercising justice. The meek inherit the earth with one giant cardboard check!

But like any parable, there is the "turn". After the uplifting stories of those who have hit the lottery, there are  countless tales of those for whom their mega millions have become their personal nightmare. One man was murdered after winning $31 million, another man was the intended victim of a murder-for-hire scheme, and the crop of newly-bankrupted former lottery winners grows every year.  Just this past summer, HBO premiered its documentary, "Lucky", that followed the lives of several lottery winners. Some lost their great fortunes through bad investments, others retained their fortunes but lost friendships. They all, though, found something more profound - they found an appreciation for what was truly important in their lives.

I'm just saying:)   

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Farewell to the "B" Side

Somewhere between my rash experimentation with the Jeri Curl and my addiction to my Blackberry, the whole world changed. In the span of those two decades, the universe flipped from Beta Max to NetFlix, and, while I dearly love the ability to fit every album that I own on a device that's slightly longer than a credit card, I've found myself missing something - the "B" side.

Surely, all of my Gen. X and older folks (as well as some of you hipper-than-thou vinyl enthusiasts) remember the time when an album described a physical, two-sided object. Side one had all of the goodies, including those several cuts that got major radio airplay. It had the song that you couldn't wait to hear, that had you running into the house and stripping the record of its Waxie-Maxie bag and cardboard jacket before throwing it onto the record player.

But the "B" side - well, it was a place of hidden gems, those songs that may not have made you jump off of your sofa and bust a move. The "B" sides were places for experimentation, a special place beyond market testing and focus groups. Part of the joy of the "B" side was the joy of discovering what other listeners didn't have the stamina or patience to hear.

Today, there is no "B" side. The development of auto-reverse on cassette tapes and its continuous loop spelled doom for the "B" side, and with the CD, the drums beat ever louder. Now, thanks to Pandora and iTunes, you can't even hold the music physically in your hand. Every cut is a prime cut - ranked and qualified by other listeners and purchasers for other listeners and purchasers. Not sure what the track sounds like? No need to await its airing on a terrestrial signal - you can just click and listen to a snippet.

All of these changes have made music selection and purchase a far more efficient operation, but I'm not so sure what it's done for music appreciation. If all that you hear is what you want to hear, then how do tastes grow and deepen? If there's never any exposure to new sounds that challenge the ear, and that introduce new shades of complexity, then are we doomed to remain in a static, sonic wonderland? Well, not if I have anything to do about it, and you can do your part, too. So here's my pledge to stop the "B" side banishment (you can use it, too):
  • I pledge to purchase an entire CD (even when buying on iTunes)
  • I pledge to listen to every track, all of the way through on the CD (not just snippets)
  • I pledge that in cases when I'm compelled to purchase only one song from an album that I will then purchase several additional tracks by the same artist from different albums
  • I pledge to ignore ratings and rankings, and, instead, take a chance that I may discover something completely awesome by simply listening
  • I pledge that when I go to a concert to hear an artist perform that I will NOT wander off to the t-shirt stand when they start playing "new material"
Will this grand experiment work? Well, I don't know. But if it does, well then there's a bright shiny sliver of hope, and heck, maybe we'll even get liner notes back!

I'm just saying:)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Leave it to Bieber

If the latest tabloid reports are to be believed, then tween pop crush Justin Bieber got a stocking full of something naughty and nice during the Christmas holiday. Grainy photos of the shirtless sixteen-year old Bieber and the eighteen-year old Selena Gomez on an island romp made the rounds just after New Year's and the universe of Bieber fanatics have lit up Twitterville voicing their anger, disgust, and, apparently their blood lust.

That a pack of wild, texting 13-year-olds would be miffed at a Hollywood starlet for "stealing" their imaginary boyfriend is understandable, I mean when I heard that my beloved LL Cool J was pushing up on some weaved-up Jezebel back in the day, I got it twisted, too. But the Bieberites have taken things too far - issuing threats of bodily harm and even death to this young woman.

I don't get it! Not their love for Bieber - his questionable hair grooming choices, notwithstanding, it's a free world and whatever rocks your boat is fine with me. No, what I don't understand is why little girls texting messages of physical violence to a national audience is considered a prank from a lovelorn fan and not as a foreshadowing of future bad behavior. I didn't grow up in Mayberry U.S.A., so I know what can happen to a woman scorned. And even if you did grow up in your version of Mayberry, clicking on your TV will produce a daily supply of women acting more like thugs than like reasonable human beings. Heck, I'll lay down odds that the young Bieber bandits watch a lot of that reality TV - seeing a tawdry parade of women scratching, slapping, and punching each other over stolen boyfriends or baby-mama-drama!

We talk a lot about a culture of violence that seems to pervade society of late, but I wonder if you asked any one of these tweeting twerps the reason behind their angry words what they would answer. Would they even have an answer? Were their words misinterpreted? Does "I'm going to beat you up" have a different translation for the 12-16 year old demographic? I've heard all of the science behind the alleged adolescent mind, and its inability to process the consequences of its actions, but, right now, I'm experiencing a world where even adults seem to be working with the same teen aged grey matter and "acting out", so help me out.

My grandmother taught me that people choose violence when they can't think of any other solution to a problem. So let me help all of those whose hearts are breaking or have been broken by some unattainable teen idol: one day, maybe 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, you're going to see your teen idol, but he/she won't be a teen anymore. You'll pass them as you page through an Us Weekly and will say to yourself, "Wow, they [gained weight, lost too much weight, lost their hair, lost their teeth, lost their six-pack abs]; Whatever did I see in them?"  And you'll smile at how much you used to love them, and how happy you are that you've moved on to become a happy well-adjusted adult.

I'm just saying!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Re-Entry

As the ball dropped, or the Snooki, if you were so inclined, kicking 2010 out into the cold, a lot of us also said goodbye to that end of the year oasis called the holidays. Those two weeks have become our salvation - a time for sleep, catching up with friends, and taking things more slowly. But, as I lay staring at yet another awful '80s movie playing on cable, I knew not only that every day put me one day closer to the end of my vacation, but that, in a way, I was looking forward to the return of my routine. Now, I'm not a masochist by nature, but an excess of anything pleasurable can be, well, excessive!

During my typical work week, there's a ritualistic order to everything - make coffee, read emails, meet with clients, do conference calls, complete projects. It all zips along at a comfortable and familiar hum until I look up and the day is done! But the days during vacation seem to be made of taffy - stretching out, and seeming to lengthen beyond their 24 hours. In place of checking things off of my to-do list, I found myself in a state of indecision and confusion at 11am in my pyjamas as Hoda and Kathie Lee were signing off, wondering what the day's date was and having an internal negotiation as to whether showering before breakfast could be called "optional."

So now, here I am, Day One of my return to work and to a reality filled, once again, with a continuous loop of email messages, church meetings, volunteer commitments, and me, wondering, once again, just when, exactly, the next vacation will be!

I'm just saying!