Monday, May 23, 2016
I’m almost officially old. Almost, but not quite. I have a lot of youthful mischief, so people are often surprised when they learn my actual age. They can tell I’m not the 21 years that I claim to be, but they’re often cautious about guessing the true number out of fear of being impolite.
While I might not always act my age (whatever that may be), I have learned a few things over the years. Creating your path takes a lifetime and the work to do so is what shapes a person, but the more we learn early in life, the better off we’ll be. This is true for everyone, but it's particularly important to women because we face certain challenges and social expectations to which men aren't subjected. That said, here's my advice for the next generation of women:
1. You will face double standards because of your gender, and these may not be blatantly obvious. Know that these exist, but don't ever let them hold you back.
2. No one will look out for you better than you can. This includes lawyers, doctors, husbands, wives, and other professionals - so make sure that you fully understand all advice that you're being given and never delegate your decisions to someone else because of their expertise or position of authority. Those individuals may be knowledgeable within their fields, but they don't know you. You'll make better life choices if you participate in those decisions actively.
3. If you see a man treating someone badly because he thinks that person deserves it, that means that there are circumstances under which he will treat you the same way. Just because he approves of you at the moment doesn't mean that things won't change. If you're in any type of relationship with someone like this, it's only a matter of time. There are women who are like this also, so learn to set boundaries. Then stick with them to protect yourself.
4. No one knows what you’re capable of doing or becoming. Not even you. Figuring out who you are is a lifelong journey. There’s trial and error involved. Mistakes are not only good, they’re important because without them you’ll never know what roads not to take in the future.
5. When you do make mistakes (because you will), it's not the end of the world. No one does the right thing in every situation because there will be times when you only have part of the information and you'll think that you're doing the right thing. It could be days or years later when you finally get all the facts. You can always pick yourself up and start moving forward again, even if it's at a slower pace. The important thing is to keep moving.
6. Expanding on the point above: never hide from your mistakes. They're written in stone and can't be erased, but that doesn't mean that you can't reshape the stone to work those blemishes into something better. If you hurt anyone you should do your best to resolve the situation, no matter how much time has passed. If you can't find the person, look for someone else to help so that your mistake makes life better for someone else because of what you've learned. Own your mistakes, and also own the corrections. It's part of being true to who you are.
7. Your value is not determined by the person you’re with at the moment. Not your boyfriend or husband. Not your father or family. Not your friends. Your value is in being you, so as soon as you rely on any of these other things to feel your worth, you're actually devaluing yourself.
8. The people around you can color your thoughts, so surround yourself with the colors that are best for you. These are not necessarily the colors that make you more comfortable - they’re the ones that make you grow. Thoughts, opinions, attitudes and lifestyles are all colors that paint the picture of your life. Allow room for people who are different from you and your life will be filled with beautiful things.
9. You don’t have to be thin or fat. You just have to be you. Thin and fat are relative. So get over these definitions, especially since they vary by culture and time periods. You will never be beautiful if you let the prevailing cultural definitions of beauty define you.
10. Don’t worry about what others think about you. When we’re younger we spend way too much time worrying about how others will perceive us. A sign of maturity is understanding that other people’s opinions of you are based more on themselves than on you.
11. Change yourself for the right reasons, and never compromise for the wrong ones. If someone wants to be with you to change you, then you probably don’t want to be with that person.
12. Your career is over when you want it to be over. You’ll have setbacks. People will lie about you to advance themselves (more times than you’ll ever be aware). These situations aren’t fair, but they’re also not the end. No matter how bad things look at any time, it’s only the end when you want it to be.
13. There will be times when you're discriminated against for being a woman. You might not be aware of all of them, but it will happen (and probably already has). Try not to be angry or bitter, even though it may be difficult. Bitterness never advanced any cause, it only sets things back. Look for ways to deal with these situations as constructively as possible, and also remember those times when you see discrimination in any form. If you see someone being discriminated against for any reason (regardless of gender) and you're in a position to do something, don't be idle. Do something. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to speak up to make a difference, and that voice usually has to come from someone other than the person being discriminated against.
14. Kindness is free but one of the most valuable resources on earth. You have no idea what anyone else is going through and taking a moment to hold a door for a mother struggling with a stroller or being patient when getting bad service in a restaurant can make a huge difference to another person. Try to be kind as much as possible, and (as the Dali Llama says) it is always possible.
15. Moving forward is not always moving up. You can benefit a lot from those times when life appears to go backwards because you didn’t move in the direction that appeared the most advantageous. Maybe you didn’t get the promotion, but that larger salary may have come with a large price tag on other areas of your life. In addition, lateral (or slightly downward) career moves can build different skills that can help you later in life.
This is a long list, and I could make it even longer - but I think I've made my point. The bottom line: never delegate your happiness or success to anyone else. If you do, you'll never have either of those things.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
This past weekend I went to go see the new movie about Miles Davis starring Don Cheadle. The movie, called Miles Ahead, utilizes creative license and mixes fact with fiction in order to get at the truth a little more clearly than facts alone.
It may sound absurd to those who segregate information into discrete categories such as fact and fiction or truth and lies, but people are far more complex than most binary categories can yield. One of the advantages of this movie is that it drives this point. It addresses the complexity of Miles as an aging creative force in a world that sees art as a revenue source. It also explores the precarious dependency between artist and those who monetize art.
Miles was a master of improvisation, and given the way he interpreted music I think he would enjoy this interpretation of his life. After all, if we only look at something from beginning to end, we miss some of the larger themes that get buried in the day to day events. This movie realigns time and abruptly jumps from one time period to another in a series of cycles. The technique reveals the leitmotifs within the life of Miles Davis.
Don’t see this movie if you’re looking for a biography of Miles Davis. While some events in the movie are accurate, this is not a historical retelling of his life.
Go see the movie if you’re interested in an interpretation of the essence of Miles. One of the reasons I suspect that Miles would prefer this movie to a factual chronological biography is because, like his music, it tells us more about Miles than the events in his life could.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
My kids are nearly grown now (crossing fingers here). But I have to confess that there were times when I took an unconventional approach to raising them. Let's face it: parenting is more or less a survival game, and if you let the kids win you're doomed. I admit that I made it through by using some unconventional tactics in my strategy, but I'm willing to share my dark secrets in the hope that these will bring other parents through this journey (mostly) unscathed.
Dark Secret #1:
The Broccoli Emporium isn’t actually my favorite restaurant because it isn’t a real place at all.
Whenever we were on road trips I told my kids The Broccoli Emporium was my favorite restaurant and we would stop there for our next meal if they didn’t behave in the car.
“Is everything made out of broccoli there?”
“Yes. Even the milkshakes.”
Worked like a charm. No regrets on that one.
Note: this technique works best on small children before they can actually read billboards.
Dark Secret #2:
When she was about three my daughter loved watching the child catcher scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so I let her.
Apparently she thought the rest of the movie was boring, so I played that scene over and over for her while she snacked on goldfish. If a kid finds terror entertaining, I don't feel that we, as parents, should restrict them and deny them what they crave. After all, an electronic babysitter is only as good as the content. BTW - Now she’s in college and enjoys reading HP Lovecraft, so I obviously did something right.
Dark Secret #3: More than once I’ve thought about texting one of my kids and saying, “Please don’t come home until I figure out how to dispose of your body.”
They were teenagers. Need I say more?
The point is I never sent those texts. At least not on purpose, anyway.
But even if I sent them, the kids learned that everyone has limits, even "sweet mommy."
Dark Secret #4: I let my children watch all kinds of TV shows and movies that more conservative parents frowned upon.
I made it a rule that my kids could watch anything as long as I watched it with them, and I did. I asked just enough dumb questions to keep them from renting anything they didn’t want to have to explain to me. There's nothing like pure embarrassment for behavior modification.
Of course, I wouldn't do that now because they learned from the best and I'm sure they'd put in a movie that made me very uncomfortable and enjoy asking me questions about it.
Free parenting tip: stop while you're ahead and learn to anticipate potential revenge situations.
Dark Secret #5: The Internet in my house magically stopped working whenever anyone had a big test the next day.
Actually, that wasn’t me. Comcast is simply unreliable. My Internet stopped working all the time for no reason, but I like to think that subscribing to Comcast was part of my nefarious plan to keep the kids focused on their schoolwork.
Let's face it, we're all going to be scarred by our parenting experiences, but at least my children's therapists won't be bored during those decades of counseling ahead.