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Friday, December 11, 2015

Pulling the Plug on "Perfect"

A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. Well, maybe not an epiphany, but it was a moment where I actually paid attention to the words coming out of my mouth at the exact moment I was uttering them. I had met up for dinner with an old friend and since I was on his turf I asked him to pick the place. We walked around the neighborhood near my hotel and while I was tapping away on Yelp my friend stopped in front of a restaurant that, as luck would have it, he'd been wanting to try for quite some time. So I put my phone in my pocket and declared, "perfect!" before heading inside and motioning for him to follow. Once inside I didn't need Yelp to tell me that this was a happening place - it was packed, so packed that two would-be diners who, like us, had walked in off of the mean streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, were quoted a wait time of 40 minutes. My friend looked worried but then the twosome ahead of us decided that this was too much of a scene and they folded like an over-the-knee boot sitting in your closet. At their departure, I exclaimed, "perfect!", and then headed for the bar after giving the hostess our name. At the bar, adorned with mixologist gear of almost fetishtistic proportions and complexity, we ordered our fancy drinks served by our over-pierced, over-tatted, over-mustached drink specialists (apparently "bartender" is so basic) to which I responded, "perfect!". Soon, I realized that I was vomiting perfection all over the place to the servers, to busboys, to the doorman at my hotel after dinner. This was distressing, but the worst was yet to come, because later that night as my husband and I were settling into our hotel bed and going over plans for the next day, I noticed that our conversation was being carpet-bombed by "perfects" - and we'll leave and get coffee by 8am? PERFECT!...then we can get back here, pack, and grab lunch? PERFECT!...and we have cash to tip the maids already. PERFECT!!

Just what the hell is going on?? 

I needed to trace this contagion back to its source, but that's easier said than done. But, I had to do something because this outbreak was almost as bad as the "at the end of the day" bug that spread from think-tanks, to boardrooms, to bad reality TV shows faster than you can say "PERFECT"!  So I began stalking "perfect" and what I found was enlightening and a bit scary. I started by laying a trap - I told my husband that he had to stop using "perfect." He was puzzled why I should have a problem with such a nifty word, but he played along, in as much as every time he said "PERFECT!" he held his hands up to his mouth like a 5 year old who'd been caught saying a bad word. This little experiment resulted in him noticing just how "PERFECT!" he had been making things verbally. As far as I could tell, when he was talking to me or any other close relative, he seemed to use the P-word as a means of saying, "I hear you - no, I really hear you," but also as a means to stop all further conversations about a topic, so that "perfect" meant, "we're done here so stop over thinking things." So was he using the p-word to pacify or to give assurance or both?

I also made a mental inventory of my own personal p-word use. I always use it at work, but I also become a heavy user of the p-word when I'm planning anything with my family. I use "perfect" as a means of moving things along as my family can take a looooong while to get it together so when we're on our annual family vacation,  things like selecting a restaurant for lunch or deciding whether or not to take my nephews to the pool before or after breakfast become bogged down in indecisiveness. Growing up in this atmosphere was bad enough but as an adult I've lost the ability to function according to the rules of my family's dysfunction so I plan everything and then verbally pound them with "PERFECT!" as I lay out the plan for the days. When I clench my teeth and say, "PERFECT!" that's the equivalent of the airline captain and crew doing cross checks before take-off, so sit in your seat and buckle up because this plane is taking off!

But, what's so wrong with being "perfect"? First, we're humans so it's impossible to be perfect. Secondly, striving for perfection might be great when you're running a marathon, but most of life involves working in groups and demanding perfection always leaves you some pretty thin margins for things like forgiveness and perspective.

So, I'm going on a "PERFECT!" cleanse, and what a great time to start this since I haven't started my Christmas shopping yet nor have I written one Christmas card!  I don't know how long it will last and I don't know what I'll discover on the other side of perfection, but I have a feeling I'll like it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Getting to Know You: How to Relate to Your Relatives During the Holidays

Well, the great Thanksgiving pilgrimage has begun and as you head over the river and through the woods to your relatives, some of you may be dreading a turkey day that comes with judgmental relatives, healthy servings of shade, and conversations that rarely progress beyond "can you believe how hot/cold/icy/snowy it is today?" But, I think there's a deeper issue - how little we know our relatives. Whether you're breaking the wishbone with your blood relatives or your in-laws, it's a sure bet that you don't know as much about each other as you assume you do. And I'm not talking about your hopes and dreams and fears, I mean basic stuff like favorite food, favorite color, favorite movie. 

For blood relatives who've known each other for most of their lives, the Thanksgiving table turns into a session of Mad Libs: The "remember that time..." edition. There are certain stories that make up the family mythology and the ritualistic retelling of these tales further cements the familial bond - or something like that! But, these stories sometimes don't allow for the telling of new stories and the family becomes frozen in a narrative loop that doesn't allow the characters in these stories to develop an interior life and to progress. 

Crazy Uncle Duck who accidentally blew up the family barn when he was 12 years old while deep frying a turkey will always be that character, even when he's 20 and in college, when he's 27 and doing his medical school residency, and when he's 45 and is tops in his field as an orthopedic surgeon. There is comfort in hearing this story and in telling this story. But, Uncle Duck - who now goes by Ben - might hate this story, and he might wonder why the family seems disinterested in who he has become and the journey he's taken to get there. 

In studying Biblical literature, the phrase "closed text" is used to describe a list of scriptural books considered to be authoritative, to which nothing more may be added. For instance, the books that comprise the Torah. In our family lives, we can become the human equivalent of "closed texts", not allowing space for the natural evolution that happens in human beings, and greeting these changes at the holiday table with scorn, disgust, derision, or dismissal. 

Years ago, when I was in grad school - broke and hundreds of miles away from home - I had the best Thanksgiving of my life. It was at the Westin Copley Place with a dozen or so other grad students, a couple of whom were my friends and the rest of whom were strangers. We laughed, we talked, we ate too much and over the course of several hours we got to know each other. We were genuinely interested in learning about each other and by the end of the night new friendships were forged and established friendships were deepened. 

So, starting this Thanksgiving, get to know your families. Ask them the who/what/why/where/how questions that a reporter or a stranger in an airport bar would ask. Bypass the family shorthand and truly engage with your family. If you're with your in-laws, don't let them cut their long stories short, assuming that your significant other has given you a pre-dinner briefing about who begat who and whom divorced whom. And if you're the one bringing your significant other into the family fold, let them get to know your family members one on one. Seat them next to a favorite aunt and let the two of them have a dialogue and get to know one another. It's better for your relatives to experience first-hand how wonderful your partner is and not hear about it from you. In short, don't talk about each other, rather talk to each other. The holidays are annual opportunities to check in with each other - don't miss your chance.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Oh Dear God, Not Another Talk About Racism: Dispatches from the Post-Racial Era

These were the words running through my mind at a recent brunch with some old friends as the subject of racism came up - well, actually, it didn't start off as a discussion about racism, it started off as a discussion about the possible lynching of Sandra Bland and why I don't take long-distance solo drives through certain areas of the United States, so really, it was a discussion about logistics and the shortcomings of GPS maps that may give you turn-by-turn directions, but are silent as to whether or not persons of color, like myself, might want to bypass certain routes in order to arrive at our final destinations ALIVE! Come to think of it, I guess it WAS a discussion about racism. 

The friends are a married couple and the wife and I met while in college. The husband was a later edition. My friend and I are like sisters. We've been there for each through the questionable hair decisions of our college days, job searches, still more questionable hair decisions, boyfriends, marriage, parental illness and death, and the birth of children. When our husbands are with us, she and I still talk a thousand miles a minute as our spouses try to get a word in, here and there. On issues of religion and social justice, she and I are in sync, but her husband is more conservative in his stance on certain issues. While he and I don't always agree, I was shocked when he responded to my fears and concerns around traveling to certain potentially hostile places with the following statement: I don't see it. The "it" he was referring to was racism. And that, my friends, was when the "it" hit the fan!

Let me walk you through his argument: Racism exists now because we (meaning minorities) keep talking about it. If we stopped talking about our differences, then we'd all just get along and racism would end.

But, there's more: The nine African-American church members murdered in Charleston, SC died not because of the actions of the racist shooter, but because minorities keep talking about racism and the media continues to cover minorities talking about racism, so much so that WE minorities have created the construct that fueled the racial hatred in the shooter. Oh, and, of course, President Obama is responsible for everything that's wrong in this country.

So there you have it - finally, I now know how to eliminate racism from this country. Dr. King must be shouting Hallelujah in that heavenly kingdom: let's just stop talking about it! Who knew it was all so easy!!

Racism is like your childhood imaginary friend, I guess. Like that movie "Drop Dead Fred" where the heroine reunites with her imaginary friend as a psychological crutch as she navigates the tough stuff of adulthood, including her divorce from a philandering husband. I'm so glad that I got whitemalesplained about racism before it was too late. Maybe, if talking about racism only perpetuates racism and NOT talking about racism ends racism, then maybe we should stop talking about rape or about suicide or about genocide. Don't you all feel great now that these burdens have been lifted from our shoulders??

I was offended, as you can tell. The intellectual in me was offended. This college educated professional whose own Italian American family had dealt with racism when they first came to this country seemed to be either ignoring or ignorant of how racism affected his own family. But the emotional side of me was just plain hurt. After almost 20 years of friendship, I was blown away by his inability to empathize with his friend sitting across from him. I wanted to cry because "I don't see it" means that he doesn't see ME. 

It's hard when your friends disappoint you, and it's harder, still, to forgive them. But the hard way is, unfortunately, the only way to break through someone's ignorance. I'd love for racism to die, but its death won't just happen because we've silenced the conversations about it. It's disheartening to think that Trayvon, Charleston, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner haven't been enough to move this man into "seeing" racism.  But, maybe the issue here is scale. It's easy to push platitudes and axioms pulled from political talking points and applied to large-scale stories that have grabbed international headlines. It's an easy thing to debate the issues, but how do you deal with an actual someone and not a some thing? This is the hard work and it can only be done one person at a time, and one conversation at a time. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies: Why "The Bachelorette" Makes Me Mad, Not Sad

Every season "The Bachelorette" seems like it goes on waaaaaay longer than it should. With this year's "Bachelorette", Kaitlyn, the producers must be beside themselves with glee. She's the whole package: weirdly-spelled first name, bobble-head body, baby talk voice with an old-man belly laugh, overly-large teeth, she can cry with the snap of a finger, she likes to be "goofy", oh, and she likes sex. Finally, they can put to bed the delicate metaphors like "fantasy suite" and "overnights" (you know, like they're a bunch of 12 year old girls having a sleepover, complete with popcorn and Taylor Swift on the radio), and all of the other linguistic gymnastics that the writers' room agonized over for lo these many years in order to avoid directly addressing the simple chemistry when hordes of telegenic young singles combine in dreamy exotic locations supplied with liquor, hot tubs, and cameras. But this "Bachelorette" is a monster of reality TV's own making. The reality TV universe has finally turned the corner and produced its own spawn!!

Cue the scary music and the clap of thunder!

That's right, Dr. Frankenstein has been hard at work because Kaitlyn isn't real. Sure, she looks like she's made of flesh, blood and bone, but her brain was swapped out long ago for a processing system that runs on bottle caps and lip gloss. Think about it - is she really such a cool girl who is down for anything? Who's idea of a great first date involves sloppy burgers and beer in a bottle? She came to the show's producers fully-formed. She'd probably already sketched out some notes as to who her character "Kaitlyn" would be - what motivates her, what angers her, who her enemies are and what the arc of her storyline would be. I wouldn't be surprised if she was running lines with her girlfriends every night after she got home from her day job in the weeks leading up to the submission of her audition tape. 

And it's not just "Kaitlyn" that's not real, just take a look at the bachelors. There's The Soulful One, The Moody One, The One Who Picks a Fight Before the Rose Ceremony, The One Who Rats Out The One Who is a Liar Who is Then Sent Home, The One Who Fools The Bachelorette But Not America - all of whom know how to cause the dreaded "drama" and all of whom think that every romantic cliche thrown up to them as a date is "amazing" as they "follow their heart" on this "journey" to, you know, "find love" and, when not handed a rose, spend their limo drive into the sunset wondering how they'll "process what's just happened." ENOUGH!! 

Look, there was a time when reality TV was authentic. They called them documentaries and they were unflinching and real. The first season of MTV's "Real World" reads more like a documentary in that it makes you deeply uncomfortable because it's so real with all of the awkwardness and that feeling when you're stuck on a full flight with a couple who are having the worst argument of their marriage, like way worse than Elaine Benes and David Putty on that episode of "Seinfeld" and minus the comedic genius of Larry David. 

But now reality TV is stocked with heroes and villains who arrive fully-formed and aren't created by post-production slight of hand in the editing suite. Slowly, we, the general public, have become characters in our own reality shows. Creation of the alter ego usually begins with creating your first social media account. The profile questions - favorite films, favorite music, hobbies/interests - are all opportunities to create yourself, or recreate yourself. Some of us bring these cyber ids off of the screen and into the four dimensional world and then boomerang back to the screen - at least that's what I think Instagram is for, right? I mean if you've described yourself as a foodie then eating at a fancy restaurant having a great meal is your THANG, but it doesn't really count until you take a photo of the meal at the fancy restaurant, Instagram it out to your followers, and then tag the heck out of it so that the fancy restaurant knows that you're eating there and loving it because you're a foodie, that's what you do! We've become wedded to the weird internal storyline that appears to be guiding our lives, and we have become insistent on maintaining a narrative consistency with the characters we've created. We've made existence boring and predictable and that makes me mad - not disappointed, not sad, not angry, just MAD. 

So, let's mix it up a little bit. Stop trying to be "The [fill in the blank]" and just BE. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Make It Stop: When Did TV Become So Demanding?

When I was growing up, Friday nights meant Mom, Grandma, my sister and I sitting in the basement with the television tuned to CBS and the strains of the "The Dukes of Hazzard" theme music emanating from the console color TV's mono speakers. After the theme song came the commercial break, during which snacks were retrieved from the kitchen, conversations were had among us family members, and an occasional phone call from friends or extended family was taken. By the time the citizens of Hazzard had survived whatever misadventure the writers had managed to throw at them in the span of an hour, the closing credits would roll and another commercial break, during which we made bathroom runs, and then the opening credits and theme song of the next show would begin. It was a kindlier, gentler time for lovers of TV. 

Nowadays, though, TV has become a fully immersive process, with theme songs scrapped for cold opens that thrust the viewer immediately into the action, and closing credits that bleed seamlessly into the next show, leaving a viewer barely able to digest whatever dramatic action just occurred. And don't get me started on what happens within the show with non-linear narratives that circle and bend so much that they've yielded a new phrase: "twisty." 

Screenwriter Shonda Rhimes - the talented mind behind "Grey's Anatomy", "Private Practice", "Scandal" and "How to Get Away with Murder" - is the Queen of Twisty, with plotlines that send a viewer to the edge of their seats in the opening seconds of a show and then grab you by the collar, pulling you onto your feet and up onto your tippy-toes before hurling you against a wall and kicking you in the gut after you've dropped to the floor. That's "twisty". "Twisty" could also be used to describe the level of physical gore that Ms. Rhimes manages to pump into, or, maybe more accurately, out of, her characters. So violent is the imagery that she puts onto the television screen that I'm forced to look away frequently with the mute button on until my husband yells "all clear"! Television has literally become all-consuming with a "don't-look-away-or-you'll-miss-it" attitude that's becoming a turn-off. I was three-episodes into "How to Get Away with Murder" before I realized what the hell was going on and by the end of the season I was glad for the summer hiatus.

And if the plotlines don't exhaust you, trying to stay caught up on your favorite shows on Hulu, OnDemand, and TiVo will. If you have any sort of a life and can't watch your favorite show during its first run, then you're doomed to schedule an alternate time to watch your shows. A work change forced me to watch an entire season of a show via OnDemand. I felt like I was handed a homework assignment. My adjusted viewing schedule also meant that I had to avoid all social media, since people love sharing plotline reveals as if they had some juicy gossip! Another thing I avoid is Netflix (sorry, not sorry) and the binge-watching trap. The idea of being tethered to my TV for a day and a night because I have to watch the entirety of a season's episodes of  "House of Cards" is astounding to me, especially when there's not a blizzard or I'm not recovering from a really awful flu that forces me onto my sofa for a 48-hour period.

Do we need this generation's version of former First Lady Nancy Reagan telling us to "just say no" to being consumed by television? Does current First Lady Michelle Obama have to personally come into our living rooms to say, "let's move", in order for us to step away from the flatscreen? I don't know what the answer is, but I know that the producers and writers and directors of TV aren't going to solve this problem, especially when they created the problem. They took the passive TV viewers of past generations and made them into active participants generating their own content based on the shows we watch. We tweet, we Facebook, we Instagram our way through these shows - sharing our reactions with the world, or just that little corner of our world where other fans of this particular show join in virtual community with each other. Who has time for snacks or the bathroom when there's breaking news about a character who was killed/not killed/kidnapped that has to be shared with your social media followers? 

You know, I'm starting to think that maybe TV hasn't become more demanding - maybe we've become more demanding and TV is just trying to catch up with us! Maybe we need to create a community for ourselves that stretches beyond our lonely couches and out into the world. Maybe we need television to consume us because we no longer allow ourselves to be consumed by things that really matter anymore. I mean I can always count on Shondaland to serve up twists and turns every Thursday night, but can I deliver the same high when I'm the screenwriter of my own life? 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

OMG! Not Another Kim and Kanye Headline!

March is National Women's Month and the theme is "Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives". And, in a strange twist of fate, as we honor women like Delilah L. Beasley (1867-1934), the first African American woman to be regularly published in a major metropolitan newspaper, the rest of the world seems to be celebrating another woman who is, also, regularly featured in every major metropolitan newspaper around the globe - Kim Kardashian.  Kim and her husband, Kanye, have topped the headlines almost daily since New York Fashion Week when her daughter, North West, had a meltdown front row at a fashion show while seated next to Anna Wintour. And the Ides of March have only increased the Kimye Krazy factor as they took their show across the Atlantic. And maybe it was jet lag, or too much sugar from those United Airlines ice cream sundaes they serve in business and first class (so good), but there's been even more of a frenzy: Look!! Kim's dyed her hair blond like that kid from "Harry Potter"!! Kim and Kanye are at the center of a photographer scrum at the Louis Vuitton show during Paris Fashion Week!! OMG, Kanye's written a song called, "Awesome" that's dedicated to Kim which includes lines such as these: 

You look too good to be at work/ You feel too good to ever hurt/I hope you ready for tonight/I'm gon cook, you'll be dessert.

And let's not forget the visuals to accompany this love story, including video footage of Kanye casing his wife's scantily clad form as she stepped out to greet her public in a sheer bodysuit and plunging bra, as well as a photo of Kanye with a death grip on his wife's posterior while they walked. 

I get it, Kimye - you're a married couple with a young child and you're feeling frisky and trying for a second one. That's your business. But, what's troubling is that the family business also involves your wife's body,or, specifically, one piece of her anatomy, and there's a name for that and it rhymes with "flooring" or "ostitution" (OK, that second word isn't even a word, sorry).  Every piece of video footage, every rap lyric, every photograph - these become part of a larger story, of our larger story as women. I'm troubled that Kim doesn't see that her individual choices have a larger impact, and not just because she is a public figure. She has the financial means to dress herself in a way that highlights her beauty, but she chooses, instead, to squeeze into latex dresses that hug her bottom, see-through body-stockings, and visible G-strings to keep the cameras flashing and keep the money flowing. There are young girls in this world being savagely beaten just because they dare to learn to read and seek an education while Kim brags on-camera about sneaking off-set at a fashion shoot (where she's clad in ridiculously expensive designer duds) to have a quickie with her husband! 

Look, I don't want to slut-shame Kim K. She can wear what she wants - it's her body, after all. But, I think we should dumb-shame her. That's right - dumb-shaming, because she should know better. She was raised in privilege and given an education that most of us are still paying off, and yet she refuses to engage in higher-level thought. To put it simply, she should not only know better, but she should act better. As women, if the stories of our individual lives are truly woven together, then as little North West grows into her womanhood, how will her mom's story affect her? 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Microphone Check: On NPR, Race, and Code-Switching

When my husband emailed the link to an NPR news story last week, I rolled my eyes, as I usually do when he shares all things NPR with me. I'm not a fan of NPR. And it's not because I worked on commercial radio in a market where the local NPR station was competition for us. OK, it's not just because of that. No, NPR has always irritated me because of the vocal delivery of the on-air hosts and reporters. Their measured, vibrato-less speech, the vocal equivalent of wrapping oneself in a warm, but not too warm, blanket for a nap in your perfectly shabby-chic fixer Craftsman house with the assurance that everything is alright. The NPR voice has always been, for me, the voice of smugness. And so, I've rejected the NPR worldview as they report from war-torn ports of call around the globe while putting a reassuring hand on your tummy, rubbing gently and cooing, "There, there. It's OK."

So, back to the link forwarded to me by my husband. Well, the title sounded promising - "Challenging the Whiteness of Public Radio".  The author, Chenjerai Kumanyika, an African American man who is an assistant professor at Clemson University, had been putting the finishing touches on the script for a piece he'd done about fishermen, but as he was doing a final review of the piece before he recorded it, the only voice he could hear internally was what he considered to be the kind of white voice typically heard on public radio: "Without being directly told, people like me learn that our way of speaking isn't professional. And you start to imitate the standard or even hide the distinctive features of your own voice."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Throughout my life, I've been ridiculed by other African Americans for "talking white." My mom had always "talked proper", which I think was code back in the day for "talking white." Mom had been a studious child, and a voracious reader at one of the top schools in the area during segregation. Mom had occupied the hours of her childhood taking piano lessons, and watching great Hollywood movies, or visiting with her school teacher aunt who loved reading out loud. By second grade, I had transferred to a predominately white school and was also spending my free time at the piano, reading, and watching old movies with my grandmother. And so like other children, my vocal patterns mimicked my environment. 

So I wasn't aware that there was a problem until high school. My high school was about 70 percent African American. This was the first time since first grade that I was in an environment where most of the people looked like me. But, not everybody sounded like me, and so I learned that this could be a problem. I became socially isolated. It was a small school so you knew everybody, but friendships were rare for me. Mom was still over-protective and I wasn't allowed to socialize with anyone beyond the school day. So no parties, no Friday nights at the movies with my girlfriends, and definitely no sleepovers. I was missing out on first-person interactions with black culture. I relied on cable TV to educate me, with shows like "Rap City" and "Yo!MTV Raps." There were the trips to the beauty parlor and the ready supply of Ebony, Jet, Essence and Black Enterprise magazines. But even among the black women gathered for our relaxers and press and curls, my manner of speaking was either cause for laughter or alarm, though they all seemed to excuse me when they saw one of my textbooks tucked under my plastic cape, and then they'd all cluck that I was getting my education and so "talking white" was just a way of getting by and getting ahead. 

By the time I'd made it to undergrad, at another predominately white school where I was a super-minority, my fluidity in "talking white" was more muscle memory and no one made mention of it, not even the ladies at the hairdresser. All was well until just a few years after grad school when I took a job at a classical music radio station and listened to my voice on my first aircheck tape. In my head, my voice sounded deep and assertive but on-tape, it sounded leaden and overly formal. My boss coached me to smile more, get conversational and more friendly, to sound like the other women DJs on my station. Did I mention that those other women were white? What he failed to understand was that part of my on-air problem was a continual inner dialogue on race that I was having every time I opened the mic: Did I sound too black? Would the white listeners reject me for sounding black? And so I dug in, trying to hone my voice into a listener-friendly level of whiteness. This, in the days before we talked about things like code-switching. 

In the end, I failed. Anonymous listeners posted nasty comments about me, wondering if I was black and, if I was, what I was doing on a classical music station. The constant anxiety of trying to keep my black from showing distracted me from loving my job. Scrubbing every script so that my cultural references weren't too...exotic. Carefully crafting on-air smalltalk that embodied the smug familiarity of public radio. I had enough!
I remember one conversation with my former boss before we called it a day, where he was critiquing my on-air performance. He wanted me to get more comfortable, more relatable, to share my authentic self with the listeners. I didn't have an answer for him that day, but I do now. It's hard to give your authentic self when you've been suppressing so much of it for so long. I don't actually know what I really sound like. Writing this makes me so sad because that part of me - my voice - is gone and I can never reclaim it. Maybe that's why I don't listen to NPR. Maybe it's the realization that one of those highly-educated people of color reporting across the airwaves had to black-check themselves before they did their job. Maybe it's knowing that there is a cost to that behavior. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Branding Your Brand New Year

Around this time, several years ago, as we were hauling the Christmas tree out to the curb and enjoying the last of the pumpkin pies, my husband and I got to talking about resolutions for the New Year. He shared with me a resolution that he and his sister had made some years before in order to jump start their fitness and exercise plans for the New Year. It was simple, yet effective: "Put the sneakers on." Those words fueled their actions. Had a tough day at work and don't feel like going to the gym for the day's workout? Well, just put the sneakers on. These were words that went beyond the vagary of most resolutions, and went into a direct action. Put the sneakers on. It was, and it is, still, pure genius.

Over the years, we've continued this tradition of branding the brand New Year. One year it was "clear the clutter," and that issued in a top to bottom effort to organize our household stuff. Another year it was "purge the circle" - ridding ourselves of toxic relationships that were dragging us down and not lifting us up. This was a hard one to execute, but the results were tremendously freeing and soul-satisfying. So what's on tap for 2015? Maybe "read more books," although Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has already claimed that with his New Year's promise to read a new book every other week, and Arianna Huffington has also pledged to read more good books. I like soup, so maybe our 2015 brand could be EAT MORE SOUP. Although that sounds more like a Campbell's Soup advertisement. "Just do it" has been done to death.

There were some years where the theme just presented itself, but this year, it's a bit of a jumble. We're being pushed and pulled into so many different directions with aging parents, our own aging bodies, and work, work, work. Never have we needed spiritual, mental and physical rejuvenation more, and never have we had so little time to achieve it. For now, though, I'll be content to stop, take a slow and deep breath, and hold onto the brief stillness of this brand new, unbranded New Year, like freshly fallen snow.