I don’t watch a lot of TV these days. I even get the majority of my news online, and thus, “normal” people always look at me a bit oddly as I am taken aback by such announcement as the outlet malls will be opening at Midnight for shopping on “Black Friday”, and the local Mall will be open at 3 am.
I view this as consumer overkill in the extreme. I have never, once, in my entire life, been up at 2- 2:30 in the morning and said to myself “You know what I would love to do? I would love to go to the mall.” I have always looked at Black Friday as a kind on consumer insanity- while there may be some deals to be had, the crowds are usually so insane as to make the very thought of driving near a mall on Black Friday gives me claustrophobia and chilblains.
I know people who have a “shopping strategy”. They spend days in advance of the event, figuring out where to start and where to end, pouring over ads and getting “battle plans” together that frankly are the envy of invading armies everywhere. I understand havng a plan, and I understand the “get in, buy, get out” plan, but unless they are handing out free Mac Book Pros at the Apple Store, you will not see me at the Mall at 3 am. I don’t care how good the deals are- they can’t be good enough for this craziness.
If I want to go shopping in my Jammies, if I want to participate in Black Friday madness, it will be through Think Geek, Amazon.Com and other online merchants.
If someone out there can explain to me why this Black Friday voracious consumerism is important and a thrill, I would love to know. I know it’s important to retailers, but why should we as consumers care? Everytime we participate in the idiocy of Midnight Madness, we encourage retailers to do more of this silliness. And what sense does it make to put something on ridiculous sale for an hour, and then jack the price up two hours later? What is this, airline tickets? Ebay?
Have fun out there, shopping ’til you drop. I’ll be at home, (sleeping!) and then having a cup of tea and enjoying the quiet.
The Holidays- Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s (and I’ll toss in my birthday since it’s on Jan. 2nd) are often incredibly busy and incredibly stressful. There’s family gatherings, enormous banquet sized meals to be prepared, parties to host and attend, gifts to be chosen, purchased, wrapped, shipped and then remembering to than those who did the same for you…an endless number of additional “tasks”. Yet this is supposed to be the happy, fluffy, cozy and warm time of the year. Sometimes it sounds and feels like boot camp instead.
One of the things I’ve started to do is spend some time around the holidays being a bit more reflective. I miss my Dad and Grandma at this time of year, but I try to think of how proud they would be of the children, of me, of what we’re doing. I make an effort to count my blessings and all the wonderful things going right in my life, instead of enumerating the faults, failings, shortcomings, stress, and other negative things that it’s so easy to focus on. The process of taking stock and concentrating on the positive helps center me. It helps me remember how truly fortunate I am, and continue to see my glass as more than half full, instead of focusing on the “more”.
This doesn’t mean settling. I set new goals, look ahead, but also try to keep things within the range of what can be accomplished. Dreamscapes are important, but pathways to these dreams are even more critical. The path is often a more relevant focal point than the horizon. The horizon will get nearer and nearer the more I tend to the immediate steps on the path, rather than focusing on a point that sometimes can seem like it never gets much closer.
I get as much out of writing posts like the last one, reflecting on the wonderful people in my life, (people like Steve Sherlock and Dave LaMorte, And Sooz who I forgot to thank before) as anyone I write about gets out of hearing how terrific I think they are. I feel better for having acknowledged how important they are to me, and it helps bring more kindness into the world. I think we spend too much time evaluating how the world falls short of our expectations, rather than appreciating the good fortune that comes our way.
Sure, I complain and whine as much as the next person. But I have made it a policy to acknowledge the good- good service in a restaurant, pleasant people, anything that exceeds my expectations. Like the guy at the local coffee shop who makes every latte with a design- he even did a pumpkin on my last latte, making the act of getting coffee seem just special and fun- this is something to appreciate and remark on. It is my personal purple cow.
And the deep dark secret here is when you start looking and acknowledging the good instead of the imperfections, your life is a lot more pleasant. You still have yucky days from time to time, but on the whole, the undercurrent of negativity begins to go away and you are left feeling much more satisfied, less stressed, and a whole lot happier than ever before.
So to me, the secret of happiness at the busiest and most stessful time of the year is to take those moments and count the blessings. Make an effort to thank people who do a little something extra or thoughtful. They’re more likely to do it again for you or someone else if they feel their actions are appreciated, and you will feel beter having helped make someone’s day. Spreading joy is so much better than spreading misery, and to me, this is what the holidays should really be about.
My family is coming to join us for Thanksgiving. While my “blood” family is important to me, my internet family is also important. Before things get totally crazed, I thought I’d give thanks to the blessings of this past year:
I know I forgot some people- it is not intentional. I’ll have to post more soon. But I wanted to take a first pass at thanking everyone for being part of a truly great year, and to tell you in this semi-public way that I am thankful for each and every experience over the past year, and to count you among my friends.
My friend, Linda Mills and I got a chance to talk yesterday, and we talked about how many women are having problems balancing home and career these days.
Growing up in the 70′s and 80′s (I graduated highschool in 1983), there was this kind of post-feminist, “You can do whatever you want” feeling, like there were no longer any serious barriers to a woman’s success. However, the caveat to the “You can have it all” was the small print, “but not all at the same time.”
Women want to have families and careers. Those that put career first in the agenda are sometimes finding starting a family is not as easy as they thought, trying to conceive after age 30, and much harder and riskier if they wait even longer, until they turn 40. If you have that high powered career, it becomes hard to leave it for the hearth and family; having both concurrently means outsourcing part of the job by necessity.
Mostly, for women I know who are doctors and lawyers, this means nannies and au pairs to take on household duties. Yet, these moms still feel tons of guilt for not making every school play, but they are torn between clients and patients needing their attention, and hoping their children will forgive them for not seeing them in the Thanksgiving pagent, having instead to watch it with Grandparents on video tape.
Men have it rough too, but there is not as much pressure from their peers to be the perfect Dad and the perfect Professional. They can be the perfect dad by being the perfect professional, and they aren’t measured by their peers on the basis of the bake sale items sent in, or how the kids are dressed in the morning, the same way moms are.
The Mom Mafia judges the choices you make harshly. How is your child doing in school? How are they dressed? Did you make every karate tournament? What did you contribute to the bake sale? Did you order your share for the school fund raisers? Do you have dishes in your sink? It’s largely stupid stuff, but the Mom Mafia has high standards.
I have developed a series of acceptable short cuts to cut out some of the guilt factor, and to allow myself time to have a life of my own beyond my roles as wife and mom. For Thanksgiving, we are limiting the ridiculous number of side dishes. I am making stuff ahead. We are having only one dessert. And this is okay. It may not quite be the blow out of year’s past, but everyone will still eat well, without needing weeks of therapy for the stress, either.
What do you do to cut the stress? How do you balance home and career? And are there larger societal effects we haven’t even considered?
In particular, I have seen a number of professional women move to part time schedules so they can balance home and career more effectively. Yet work creep starts to pull them into more work than they agreed to at the start; Doctors can’t always limit their schedules to comply with the demands of patients who don’t get sick on a schedule (surprise- neither do our kids….) lawyers have co-workers and clients who don’t care what your home life is and they want things done when they want them.
This means evenings spent working along side your children as they do homework as you try deperately to meet the demands of your two employers- home and career.
Career men wonder why their women partners don’t seem to work as hard as they do, or seem to be out of the office so much, and then this creates an impression that as a business person, you are not as serious or dedicated to the job, limiting promotions and steps up the rungs of the ladder, so to speak.
I do think women are more “trapped” by their biology and sociology in the balance between work and home. I think we just have to accept that we may be able to have homes and careers, but look at them as overlapping, sequential, not always concurrent things in our lives.
Trying to do it all leaves you hearing the voice of Yoda in the back of your head- “Do or Do Not. There is no try.” There is no one right answer to any of this- infinite shades of gray and how we work it out for ourselves and our situations.
But I think it is important to realize the promise of “having it all” was somewhat illusory and failed to take into account there are still only 24 hours in a day. And I think it’s a brave person who says “You know what? I can’t do it all, so I am going to intentionally pick my battles and be happy with those choices.” I am doing my best to accept my limitations and boundaries and imperfections. And I hope I can do the same with others as well.
Having it all is an illusion. But how I wish it were true.
For an upcoming episode of the LD Podcast, I got to talk to Dr. Steve Graham of Vanderbilt University, one of the leading authorities on the development of writing skills and teaching writing to students in the country. In the course of our conversation, we spoke about the importance of writing in the thought process.
Basically, and at the most elementary level, writing involves getting an idea, translating that idea into words or pictures, and transcribing it in some form, typing, handwriting a note, drawing, painting, etc. into another format. I added the pictorial forms to Dr. Graham’s thoughts, because while it is not strictly writing- taking pictures or painting, drawing cartoons or storyboards are equally valid ways of expressing an idea so others can interact with it.
I asked him whether the very process of writing the words made the thoughts more real and concrete, and if this is what made critique of our work so much harder to take sometimes- you have taken the personal and private and made it public. He thought that was probably very true, and I think it would be fascinating, now that technology has come so far, to do functional MRI’s of people during the creative process, and see how much of the sensory and emotional centers of the brain are activated.
Writing here on the blog, or even emails to people I care about, make me express feelings and ideas in a more concrete way. It makes me take the idea or feeling, play with it, and figure out the best way to convey the feeling or message to another, hoping they receive it in the manner in which I intended it. It makes this stuff personal and often more thoughtful and meaningful than just talking.
I think this is also why we feel plagiarism and hijacking the ideas of others without credit as such an affront. Ideas are cheap until they are executed on, and are just thoughts, but once they are expressed and shared with others, they are yours and you have some ownership of them. When you take someone’s idea and change it, elaborate on it, take it a step further- you then make it your own. When you outline an idea to a friend, the last thing you want to see is a friend taking your ideas and passing them off as their own. You might not have had a chance to execute on it, it might be a great idea, but you own it, at least as far as those you have communicated it to directly. If someone else has a similar idea, but you haven’t talked with them about it first, then there’s no issue. If you have spoken with them about it, and they take your thoughts and words and present it to others as their latest and greatest thing, then that’s dishonest.
Writing is something that’s a craft, and we each have our own style and ways of expressing ourselves. Riffing on the ideas of others is great, but I think even on the big web, we should credit when we can, where the ideas start, because that is simple honesty.
The web in a small community. It’s an insular community. And even if you think all ideas are up for grabs, you better be cautious from whom you borrow, because it may come to haunt you in the future.
I was reading some of the positions on issues of political candidates, including the internet darling, Ron Paul. One of the bellweathers for me is education, and how we fund it in this country. So I thought it was high time to discuss this openly, and hear what you think on the issue.
In most States, education is funded by a property tax system. Usually it’s a millage system or something similar. This means if you live in a community with expensive real estate, the school district will have more funds; if you live in a less costly area, there will be less money for the schools. Cities can have it hard as well, since things like Hospitals and Churches are often exempt from these taxes. Sometimes businesses get tax preferences, and this also can throw off the tax base to pay for education.
If we assume better funding means better resources, and then in turn, more competition for the teacher positions, you may also get “better” teachers as well in these resource rich schools. Better salaries, better facilities, more money available for special projects, etc. This means that, on average, you get better schools, in theory, where the more “expensive” homes are, and thus suburbs tend to have better funded schools than cities, allegedly making them more attractive, feeding the cycle of people moving away from cities and into the suburbs. (We can talk about sprawl and environmental impact on another post.)
Many political candidates, usually middle to upper class folks, support vouchers. This would mean you could take some money, perhaps a portion of your tax dollars for education, and apply it towards tuition at private or parochial schools. This is looked at as providing public schools with incentive to improve, so they compete in a free market for students. This sounds great to many people, but I have some major probelms with this including:
1. Education is not a commodity like pork bellies. While we may go out there and purchase education at independent private schools, education is not a truly competitive marketplace, like Ebay. For one, we are just starting to scratch the surface on what a “quality education” means, and we have, at best, weak markers for success. In interviewing kids for the University of Pennsylvania as an alumni, I see college bound teens from public and private schools, and can tell you there are gems and duds in both categories. The school alone does not make the student. It’s far more complex than that. What the school probably does do is afford more or less opportunities for exposure to different experiences, but much of that also comes from a student’s home life.
2. Education is less like a widget, and more like long term R & D. Human development is a linear process. Learning to read, write and do math are part of our system, but we don’t see the outcome of tweeks in a system or a curriculum immediately, or within the next quarter. We do see outcomes often several years after the fact.
Take the old Whole Language versus Phonics debate. It turned out that many of the kids that learned to read by the “whole language” only approach ended up having real problems in Middle School and beyond, versus kids who learned to read through an integrated program and approach. In fact, there are “special” reading programs like Wilson Reading that’s used at Landmark College to take students from reading at a seventh grade level up to college level in a very short period of time. That begs the question why we don’t use this approach in every school across the land to teach reading to everyone, but that is a debate we can have another day as well.
As a long term investment, education gives you sporadic results, inconsistent results, and we shouldn’t be surprised, because we are producing people, not widgets. The long term results matter, and the minute by minute measurements don’t tell you alot about the bigger picture.
3. The Education System takes Everybody. Just like most hospitals, the education system takes everyone who loves in the area. They have to. There’s no options. This means schools have to adapt to the changing demographic patterns of its area, changing economic tides- they are a microcosm of the bigger community. Public education has to take and teach, by federal and state law, every child regardless of disability, need, race, economic status- every single child, from the most capable to the most disabled. This means funds have to go to educate all children, and some children are more costly than others. Take kids with disabilities or learning disabilities. They often require more one on one or smaller ratio instruction. Some children need a full time aide.
And even more interesting, people are starting to move into areas where the school districts provide better services. A friend reports this year alone, families from Texas, Georgia and even Kenya have moved to Delaware so their children can be part of the Delaware Autism Program, one of the better programs out there for kids with austism spectrum disorders. This program is run by the public schools, but it is serving a higher proportion of kids with autism than might occur naturally within the State, because the services it provides is a rarity.
Naturally, this means the State of Delaware is paying more money to educate these children on a per child basis as well, but they also profit from the parent’s tax money and talents. But the State does not have the option to impose a usage tax, nor dissuade parents from doing what lawyers might call “forum shopping” for education. Delaware must take all eligible students, and if someone moves to the area with an eligile student, even if it’s for that reason alone, they get services.
4. Public Education Talent Drain. Another interesting historical fact about Delaware is that it had a long nasty issue with bussing. This lead to the development of a huge number of privateand parochial schools within the State, much more per capita than you would expect in a State this size. Often this means that if you live in Delaware or over the border in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and have the means to do so, you send your kids to private school. Not always, but frequently. This means a disproportionate number of the kids from a higher socio-economic class go to private school, leaving the less fortunate kids, and often more troubled kids in public school.
While studies show that kids from both high and low socioeconomic status are more likely to have problems with substance abuse (and less in the middle- see below)* it’s not just the drug problem in each school that’s an issue- you are often chopping off the righ-side of the bell curve- the kids who “need a more competitive environment” or enrichment that get pulled out of the public school system.
Encouraging this “opt out” option with public tax dollars will only serve to exacerbate the current problem and make it worse. Dollars will drain out of the public schools and into the private ones, while letting private schools pick and choose their pupils, leaving only the most difficult students in the public schools.
We need to fix education, and fix it’s funding. Decent public education is an infrastructure issue, and it will be what keeps us competitive in global economy. But since it is very muchlong term R & D, if we don’t address issues now, we will pay for them dearly in the long term.
One last example: Steve Graham, from Vanderbilt University has stated that based on 2002 educational testing, 69% of eighth graders and 77% of high school sniors cannot write well enough to keep up with the demands of the curriculum, and American Business spends over $3.1 Billion a year in remediating writing deficits. So, we can pay for educatin early on, or pass it on to busines later on. I don’t think it’s something we can afford to pay for on the back end, if we want to stay competitive as a nation.
What do you think? I think this has to be one of the most critical political issues of our time, as decisions today will haunt us for years in the future.
* From PubMed- recent journal article about the correlation of substance abuse problems in kids with ADHD, showing it is often those in the lowest and highest socioeconomic status that have the biggest issues with substance abuse.
Am J Addict. 2007 Sep-Oct;16(5):403-9.
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA. email@example.com
The relationship between social class and substance use problems is unclear. We aimed to clarify this association in a sample of young adult males with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We included 69 ADHD and 78 control subjects. Substance use problems were measured with the Drug Use Screening Inventory-Revised (DUSI). Among ADHD subjects, we found a U-shaped association, with elevated risk for substance-related problems at both ends of the SES spectrum. No significant association was found in controls. These findings indicate that substance use risk in ADHD subjects is especially vulnerable to social class.
PMID: 17882612 [PubMed - in process]
I have a problem with passive aggression. The way some people avoid issues, allegedly to avoid hurting feelings, but the indefinite nature of the response breeds nothing but frustration. While thinking about this, I came up with a new concept all together, Passion Aggression, for all the new media folk I know.
Passion aggression is when you are full out pursuing your dreams, even when there is significant risk that you may come up short. It is swinging for the fences, and enjoying the rush. It is riding the out of control roller coaster, where things move faster than you’d like, but there’s no brake or even slowing down in sight.
I love the passion and energy new media folk have. They are, by far, the most energetic and enthusiastic people around. Talk to someone like Julien Smith, CC Chapman, Kathryn Jones, Chris Brogan, ChelPixie, Chris Penn, Andrea Ross, Bob Goyetche, Mark Blevis, Paige and Gretchen from Mommycast, John Havens, Eric Skiff, Howard Greenstein, Alex Hillman, Amber Rhea, and so very many others, and you immediately sense their aliveness.
In every day circles, you see many people who are merely phoning it in at their job or at home- they aren’t engaged or energized by what they’re doing. Not the new media people. If anything, these are the folks who have so much they want to accomplish in any one day, they would gladly clone themselves or even better, lobby for 40 hour long days, just to have the time to see their ideas come alive.
I feel so lucky to be a part of this world, and to know these people with such boundless energy. People like Meg Hatch, Stu Mark, Tammy Munson, and Wendy Cooper, who all make their passions come alive for them.
New media is so full of these type of passionate people- it’s the reason why I love it so much, and I am sure it’s why you are reading blogs in the first place.
Thanks to all the Passion Aggressive people I know, and for making my life exciting each and every day.
This morning, I woke up to find I was tagged by my good friend, CC Chapman, in the latest blog tag meme. As I can easily be classified a bibliophile, this one’s right up my alley.
The Protocol: Answer 5 questions. Tag 5 booklovers.
1) How many books do you own?
2) What was the last book you read?
3) What was the last book you purchased?
4) What five books are most meaningful to you?
5) What is your most obscure favorite book? Or, favorite most obscure book?
So here are the answers:
1)How many books do you own? Research shows kids with over 100 books in their home tend to do better in school that those with fewer. If this was the only determining factor of intelligence, my kids would be unequivocal Einsteins. There are books in just about every room in our house. The net number has got to be in the thousands, easily.
2) What was the last book you read? Well, I have a couple going at the moment. The Bill of Wrongs, by Molly Ivins, The Intellectual Devotional, and No Mind Left Behind- Understanding and fostering executive control- the eight essential brain skills every child needs to thrive, by Adam Cox, PhD.
3) What was the last book you purchased? New- The Self-Disciplined Child- Dr. Robert Brooks and Dr. Sam Goldstein. Used- The Literary History of the United States.
4) What five books are most meaningful to you? The books that have made the biggest difference in the past few years have included Made to Stick; Now, Discover You Strengths by Marcus Buckingham, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford; and Why We Buy by Paco Underhill. For my favorite literary books, I always go back to Illusions by Richard Bach, most of Jane Austen’s books, I loved the Great Brain series of books by John Fitzgerald as a kid, and have loved discovering them again with my kids, Last Chance to See, about animals on the brink of extinction by Douglas Adams, and all of the books by Douglas Adams. Well, and the Harry Potter books.
5) What is your most obscure favorite book? Or, favorite most obscure book? Oooh, this is also hard. I love the Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl, and I’ll confess, I kinda like Public Assembly Facility Law, by Turner Madden et. al. because I helped write it and am second author. Doesn’t get a whole lot more obscure than that.
In return, I tag: Chris Brogan, Vivian Vasquez, Megin Hatch, Dave LaMorte, and Bill Rowland. I have to also add Mark Blevis and Andrea Ross from Just One More Book podcast. The hardest part of the meme is not tagging everyone I know.