samedi, mai 28, 2011

Is it all about "me?"

A few nights ago I was out running the track at our local elementary school. I was about a half mile away from the driveway when the sky darkened ominously and the wind picked up, and the tree branches began to move faster and faster. Lightning flickered to the north.

I quickened my pace. Then, recalling the recent and ghastly tornadoes in the Midwest, I raced across the grass, down the driveway and a road I normally don't use to the safety of my house. I went from "moderately fit" to "extremely fit" (NYTimes) in about a half a mile.

Later I heard that indeed funnel clouds had been seen in Northeastern Philadelphia and that there was a tornado watch in the Poconos.

When did we here in the Northeast have to watch out for tornadoes? When were entire communities in the Midwest torn apart by them?

Why are we having catastrophic floods on the Mississippi every seven or eight years? What's going to happen when the 25 feet of snow in the Rockies melts? Yes, there have been historical events -- decades or centuries ago.

But the point is that catastrophic weather is becoming the new norm.

As time has gone on, I've noticed that even my climate skeptic friends (many, but not all) have begun to believe in the evidence.

What I haven't seen is most of us make significant lifestyle changes. That includes me, local climate Cassandra. Building our greener house will have an impact, but it won't be huge.

What is it that keeps our eyes focused on our own problems, even when our way of life, health and happiness may be threatened?

Is it because as humans we're narcissists, unable to reach beyond our issues to think of the common good?

It has occurred to me that we are innately selfish. And I find narcissism, an extension of selfishness, a fascinating personality disorder. For years I've observed someone (a public figure) tear apart organizations and divide people because (my analysis) he lacks empathy. See the Mayo Clinic's definition of narcissistic personality disorder here. As a species, many of us do seem to lack empathy -- all you have to do is look what happened on Wall Street with the mortgage crisis to realize that some folks didn't give a hoot what happened to the people they were supposed to be helping.

But I don't think all of us are narcissists. And certainly, while self-interest is adaptive, selfishness isn't. With climate change, we face the possibility that the genie we have unleashed has gotten out of our hands.

We can't expect our elected officials to be our consciences -- they are reflections of ourselves. We can't seem to get international agreements. And in America our Congress, by and large, can't seem to get creative about a pro-business and pro-environment model.

Why don't we have the outcry over climate change that we have over, say Medicare? Is it only our older citizens who are capable of raising hell?

I don't think so. As a mother, I have a stake in the future for my children, and for yours.

And yet, no one talks about the ongoing impact. We attend our baseball games 20 miles away, drive our old or big cars, worry about children's fights and relational crises. And we do nothing.

Yet you better bet they are wondering what to do in Joplin, and New Orleans, and Alabama. With any luck, we'll start figuring it out here, too -- before we have to.

In the meantime -- run, baby, run.

vendredi, mai 27, 2011

Seeing again, for the first time

This morning my son and I drove out to Phoenixville from our little Glenmoore village. A sprawling community, it embraces not only a formerly gritty, now diverse town (that retains a lot of its working-class members), but also a number of swanky developments. That's where some of my daughter's kindergarten pals lived -- and if you've seen one of these developments, you've seen most of 'em.

I knew Phoenixville near the cemetery, where those not caught up in its gentrification lived (I had visited parishioners there), Phoenixville the suburb, and Phoenixville, home of middle-class professionals and hipsters.

In fact, though I have been to the town many times, I regularly get lost leaving it. And today, I got lost once more.

But until I hit the "bridge out" sign on its backroads today, I didn't know Phoenixville, with its tree farms, and horse corrals and winding back roads. I hadn't seen the farms, the tiny roads that hadn't been paved since Roosevelt was President, or the red-roofed 19th-century houses. Familiar with some of the beauty on the other side of bisecting Route 113, I hadn't taken the time before to explore these Chester County lanes.

Running, or biking on the roads we drove down today might yield some of those moments of tranquility my soul craves with regularity.

It got me thinking of what else I'm missing. What is it that I don't take the time to see, intent on getting from Point B to Point A in the shortest number of minutes? What people do I race past, because the person next to them is more important to me? When do I pay attention? When do I hide? When don't I care enough to be present?

We're always pushing towards the future -- when the present has so many riches. I'm glad I got lost on the way to our future. Otherwise, I never would have stopped, and seen the "now" -- and remembered it for next time.

jeudi, mai 26, 2011

Shall the meek inherit? Not this earth

I wish I could do a social experiment. Just be a mean, nasty "slut" (take THAT, Ed Schultz) for a day, and see if it gets me anywhere.

Let me walk you into my head -- well, the part of my mind that is currently public territory.

You really don't want to come in past the atrium -- spring cleaning this year is a little late.

I've already owned up to being nice -- looking for the best in others, worrying if I have inadvertently offended someone, trying to be the first to make amends. I can't decide if this is a virtue or sheer gutlessness.

Sometimes I think it is both. Sometimes if you expect the best of people, they perform up to your expectations, because it's just so freaking embarrassing not to do that.

But what I've asked myself a lot recently is -- does it confer some kind of evolutionary advantage to be trample on other people's feelings? Aren't those the people who get ahead in this world? Until they push it too far, like Newt Gingrich and John Edwards, and are tripped up by their own selfishness.

Of course, this is a question, going back at least to the author of the Psalms, that has no good answer.

And I don't have one either -- so you are seeking answers, you need read no further.

My son has a friend...let me put that word in quotes.


Yes, that looks better.

He and Mr. C are in the same classes. He's good at baseball, my son at chess. They are both smart, successful, and generally funny kids. They share a posse.

But this teenage torturer tells my son he's fat (since Mr. C had a stomach problem last year, he's been too thin). He calls the boy stupid. Somehow my son ends up as the butt of numerous class jokes instigated by his "friend."

Let me say right off that I don't know if the torment goes both ways -- the tables may be turned, and often. Who the heck knows?

And it doesn't seem to bug Mr. C., who reports it with a good-natured attitude that is almost admiring.

It only bothers me when he refers to himself as fat.

I worry that I've passed my inborn faith in our capacity to "rise above" on to him -- and that he's going to be screwed by it.

My daughter, on the other hand, while equally polite, is excellent at working the odds in her favor. While she isn't a "mean girl," she has discovered how to punch the right buttons, both at home and in school.

Equally smart, she has pitched so many stories to school officials and therapists that professionals with years of experience often have a dazed look when they share her latest homework or classwork excuse in parent's meetings.

Not doing her homework isn't going to help her in the long run, though.

On the other hand, this kind of canny behavior may convey an evolutionary advantage. She might become a lawyer -- or a politician.

I just wish she had better role models.

It probably does help if you are a little tough around the edge. Not so hard and hypocritical, though, as to abuse campaign funds to support your mistress -- or so incredibly stupid as to have a $500,00 revolving line of credit at expensive jewelry stores.

There! How am I doing? There's more where that came from.

But let me apologize first.

mercredi, mai 25, 2011

"A complete package?" LMAO!

Recently I've exchanged a few emails with a guy I "met" on an online dating site. We've been exchanging the usual information, with some of the normal "blanks" left out for now.

No "less liberal than thou" disclosure. No sports teams confessions. No bondage fetish.

Eh, no more embroidery for now. Sometimes I go a little over the top.

Today this gentleman told me that I sounded like (because of a strange quirk we share), "a complete package."

I haven't written him back yet. He sounds like a genuine person, and so he deserves an honest response, doesn't he? Those of you who know me well know that whether he deserves it or not, that's what he's going to get.

When I write to him, I'll tell him that, franchment, I don't believe in "complete packages." I don't believe in Cupid, god of love, either.

Gentle readers, let me count my atheistic ways.

No one can meet all of another person's needs. That's why, even middle school, boys and girls move from one guy or girl to another. Hopefully, by the time we reach middle age, we've figured out how to adapt and widen our circle.

Go back to my post on the need for transcendence for some clues as to why we all seem to seek the One.

Secondly, I happen to know that I'm scarred, broken and generally imperfect -- that once you get past the surface (and heck, you don't have to look that closely) I'm far from anyone's idealized female.

Third of all, I happen to appreciate imperfection -- I want to know how you've gotten those scars, and I want to hear what you learned while you were bleeding. I don't want you to just get to a good plastic surgeon. Some of the places where healing has occurred are what make us more fascinating, particularly as we age.

Finally, I know he'd find out, quite soon, that I'm still in search of growth, learning and change -- it happens, whether we seek it out or we don't.

As I've said, recently, I'm not ready for a "relationship." I don't even know what that means. But I do know that communication begins with honesty, and humor, and a decorous vulnerability.

I guess this is as good a place to start as any.

I'll turn it over to this anime version of Sara Evan's "Saints and Angels" a song that speaks to this kind of brokenness.

mardi, mai 24, 2011

Missing him -- already

Here's a question often posed to women that I've never heard asked of a guy: do you identify yourself more as a spouse/partner or as a mother?

This dual role conundrum (add career into the mix, and you have a guilt trifecta) has provoked really heated debate.

I'm unattached right now, and so I put most of my energy into motherhood. But it troubles me when women (who can be tougher on each other than the men who love them) make a totem out of it -- and then set up standards, and compete to see who can do it better.

I have tried to opt out of the mommy wars, more or less successfully -- but I know this -- being a parent shapes my life, and gives it constant meaning. Though circumstances meant I didn't become a mother until around a decade after most couples had begun their families, it is one place in my life where I am not ambivalent.

Today I feel a minor, but persistent ache, as though a slice of wood had gotten under the skin of my foot. I limp a little.

Last night I went for a walk with my youngest child, the young man who is already inches taller than me. Walks are our time to catch up, an opportunity for him to share what's on his mind. Sometimes he'll tell me about friends, often about what he is learning in history class, and occasionally about girls.

He still wants my hugs, the glass of water when he gets into bed, my presence right before he falls asleep. Since he was small, he's had a higher need for touch then my 16-year-old girl. His dad isn't big on physical contact, but our boy told me last night he's "doing better." On evenings Mr. C is at his house, they go upstairs-- seated on a bed, they share tomorrow's schedule (guys!!!) and then a hug.

That seems to make both of them happy.

Sometimes something profound comes out unexpectedly.

A few nights ago we were coming home from youth group, all of us tired, knowing that morning would come fast. Not a time for deep insights. But the boy told me he'd been thinking about my brother, who died, many years ago, aged 29. Jonathan deserved to be remembered, and his nephew wondered what he would have done, or been.

Imagine how you would have felt.

He's only away on a three-day trip to Boston. He was excited, enthusiastic, anticipating sharing a room with his best friend.

Together, with three other boys, they try to uphold their status as class wiseacres. He'll have much opportunity as he and his pals view Lexington, attend a concert, and see the mill town, Lowell -- the trip is expensive (and yes, this is public school), and very tightly structured.

I dropped him off at 4:45 by the sidedoor. At home, as he suggested, we'd already done our "formal" goodbye--a hug in the kitchen. Quickly he opened the car door, and was gone through the pre-sunrise fog.

Driving past the main parking lot, I saw the buses, and a number of cars. I supposed I could have sat in my car, and waited for them to take off. But as I turned left onto the street, trying to get up enough energy to wake up another sleeping child, I thought -- what is it going to be like to say goodbye when he goes to college?

A lot of parenting is about learning to let go, and mature enough so that you do it with grace.

Thank God I have, hmmm, more than five years to find out. I still have a lot of growing up to do.

lundi, mai 23, 2011

So about these orgies?

Own up -- there's some part of you that would love to have been present at an orgy, whether as a spectator or as a participant.

Given the men that I spoke with while in the journalistic phase (article fodder) of online dating, I know something about swinging and sex parties. I'll share, out of concern for the common good.

But if you want the skinny, you have to talk to an orgy enthusiast.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn -- I bet he's got some amazing orgy stories.

But can you imagine going to bed with him? I don't think I could get drunk enough to make that possible.

And before you tell me that he would not be interested, men and women with sex addictions really don't care that much about age or even body type. They want satisfaction -- which lasts about a minute.

As I reflect on the whole orgy idea (c'mon, don't you ever think about them?), it seems to have several potential problems, ugly older white men being just one of them.

A few posts back, I told you about the swinger who educated me about double lives, lying, cheating -- all that good stuff.

But he did have some moral fiber left in the bottom of his cereal box.

Group sex is like a prom. The plain girls and boys get left out (and let's not talk about single guys, pariahs in the swinger communities), he said.

If you can't be equal when you are all naked, well...who needs to return to high school?

The only solution is to be stoned out of your mind. And if you have to be high to enjoy the experience, it might be better just to hop on a plane to California and hang out in Berkeley for a few days. Great atmosphere, nice people, whole foods....

Upon reflection, I'm not seeing much upside to this whole orgy idea.

I'm returning my invite.

And I hope I've talked you out of going, too.