Archive for January, 2010

How Long Is a Year?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

One year ago IEP was about 6 weeks old.  He could barely hold up his head.  He woke every three hours to eat overnight.  He couldn’t sit, crawl, pick up a toy, eat a Cheerio, point, wave, talk, or walk.  Today he is a vastly different baby.  (GAP claims he’s a toddler now, which is probably fair, but I’m not yet ready to concede that baby-hood is behind us.)  In just a year he has changed in nearly innumerable ways.  I, too, am different than I was a year ago, but not on the scale that he is.

My vocabulary is about the same.  I’m the same size.  I have the same number of teeth (thankfully…)  My physical abilities aren’t much different (although I can now prepare most of a meal with a baby on one hip, and I couldn’t do that a year ago).  I’m not particularly smarter or stronger.  A year is long enough for a tiny little lump of a baby to become a walking, talking, actual person.  Yet I am essentially the same.  But why?

This causes me to think about the way a child approaches the world.  All that children want is to know more, understand more, and do more.  To be bigger, smarter, faster, and funnier tomorrow than they were today.  To read their first “chapter” book, or make their first three-pointer, or be invited to the grown-up table during holiday dinners.  They question.  They wonder.  Toddlers ask “why?” until the answer has to do either with physics, God, or both and we don’t know what to say in response.  When was the last time that your curiosity was so unquenchable?  For me, at least, it’s been a while.

As adults we are so prone to approach life on a need-to-know basis.  Whether it’s the distribution of TARP funds, or the merits of last year’s round of Nobel laureates, or the moral grey area that surrounds our food supply, we only want to know as much as we need to get by.  To some extent this is a survival mechanism.  How are we supposed to keep track of careers, mortgage payments, birthdays, college savings funds, and whether or not we’re out of dog food if we’re wrapped up in things that don’t immediately or ultimately affect us?         

But it’s also a bit lazy, don’t you think?  Because the thing is that, while perhaps not immediately, ultimately most of those things do affect us.  Why shouldn’t we all have a basic understanding of how our government is spending our donated tax dollars, or what worthwhile books were written last year, or where our food comes from?  Perhaps not all of these things pique my interest enough to spend limited personal time exploring them in depth.  I should, however, have a cursory understanding of them.

And on a personal level why am I not more curious or motivated to continue developing?  A year from now I could be much different than I am today.  I could be in better shape.  I could be better read.  I could speak another language.  I could be better traveled.  I could interact with a broader range of people.

If a year is long enough for my son to go from a swaddled newborn to an active toddler, it’s also long enough for me to make some strides of my own.  My mind should be a playground, not a fallow field. Watching IEP fiend for knowledge and understanding has inspired me to do the same.


Monday, January 4th, 2010

Get out your protractors, ladies and gents, because it’s time to dust off your geometry skills!
Okay, not really.  (Although I must confess, I did love geometry.)  Today’s congruence is of a different stripe.  This comes courtesy of my mother who, many years ago, took the time to explain her version of the concept to me.  She referred neither to length of sides nor measure of angles, but to another kind of sameness.  I’m sure she worded it more eloquently than this, but what it boils down to is: when your external behavior accurately reflects your internal beliefs and values.
As an example, throughout the holiday season I felt guilty every time I walked past the Salvation Army ringer outside my grocery store and didn’t donate.  I value charitable giving and believe it’s something I should do.  But I never carry cash and so I just walked past the pot as quickly as possible avoiding the ringer’s eye at nearly any cost.  My mind said one thing and my body did something different, and it didn’t feel good.  Similarly, at a company Christmas party I went through a receiving line wherein I was forced to smile and shake hands with someone who played a big part in getting a friend of mine fired for petty reasons over a year ago.  It also felt wretched.
So, there you have it: congruence as theorized by Gale’s mother.  And somehow that kernel of psychological theory actually seeped into my teenaged mind and managed to stay there for umpteen years.  So she must have been onto something.  But there’s one hole in this theory that I want to explore.  And that hole is:
You feel good when you look good.
You all know what I’m talking about: That fancy-pants feeling you get when you’ve just had your hair styled, or put on a stunning new piece of clothing, or lost a few pounds.  It’s why we dress up for interviews and first dates (first impressions aside).  We love to look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I look good!”  I started thinking about this a couple of weeks ago when I spent a lunch hour cruising the Bobbi Brown counter at Nordstrom.  As I walked back to my car utterly smitten with my new lip gloss I started questioning why that perfect shade of heathery beige makes me feel any better about myself than I did before I slid my credit card across the counter. 
According to a recent study this phenomenon is a legitimate factor in people’s psychological well-being.  Perhaps not surprisingly, good-looking people have more social relationships than less attractive people.  But what does this say about us, that physical beauty is such a big determinant of our interpersonal experiences?  My level of physical attractiveness is a genetic lottery.  It’s not something I can very well control.  But the type of person I am – whether I am kind, generous, spiteful, acerbic, supportive, or cynical – is something I choose.     
And so I’m prone to wonder…  Shouldn’t it only matter that I’ve got my act together internally?  That I’m tackling challenging ideas and broadening my mind?  That I understand why I believe what I believe?  That I can articulate my priorities and values and live my life in accordance with them?  That I’m a good and honest person doing right by the world and its citizens?  If all those things are true then how on earth could new lip gloss make me feel any better?  But yet it does.  And what does that say about me?
Am I shallow?  Do I value my appearance more than I should?  Ought I have spent that lunch hour reviewing my beliefs system for holes and inconsistencies?  I’m sure there are people in this world for whom this phenomenon doesn’t seem to exist.  (Think of your unkempt-but-brilliant college professor.)  Are they morally superior?  Or do they just not understand how much better they might feel with a tucked-in shirt and a little hair product?  
If I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I’ll surmise that the lip gloss-induced happiness is a by-product of my desire to have the meaningful social relationships that purportedly result from being attractive.  (It’s probably also a by-product of living in a society that values physical beauty to a fault, but that’s a discussion for another post.)  But if I want to hold my own feet to the fire I’ll admit that maybe I worry about my looks more than I should.  Maybe I should spend a little more time worrying about what’s going on inside my head.  Because no matter how good I look in it, if I know my internal house is a wreck, my new lip gloss won’t hide the truth for very long.


Friday, January 1st, 2010

Here we are.  The very beginning.  I will welcome you to this blog, and then we will get on with it, okay?


Welcome to this blog.

Okay, fine, I’ll add a bit to that… We (my blog and I, clearly) are excited to be here and we hope you are too.  Don’t get too comfortable, though, because this blog is not meant to be a virtual club chair, upholstered in chintz and scattered with pillows.  This blog is meant to be uncomfortable.  Not shoes-too-tight uncomfortable.  Rather, perhaps, shoes-too-big uncomfortable; the kind of uncomfortable that reminds you (and me) that we have room to grow and that we should do just that.  And so, with that in mind, I will be writing about topics that will challenge me, stretch my mind, and prompt me to think about things in new ways.  As I work to challenge myself, I hope to challenge you too. And I hope that you, in turn, will challenge me back.  It’s a two-way street, this blogging thing…

Now that we’ve dispensed with introductions, I’m moving along.

New Year’s Day has always been one of my favorites. I suppose this is because it’s a holiday with nothing to do. No large meals to prepare, no presents to open, no eggs to hide, fireworks to ignite, or costumes to don. And while I love those other holidays and their pre-ordained activities, there’s something soothing about a holiday that arrives without an agenda.

Of course, what do we do with this perfectly empty holiday?  We ruin it with resolutions. We make long lists and craft complex self-improvement programs.  We quit smoking. We quit drinking.  We quit cursing.  We work out.  We make vows. We will pray more, thank more, praise more, hug more, forgive more, love more. We will quit watching reality television and start reading Pulitzer-Prize-winning novels. We will cook from scratch. We will drink 76 glasses of water a day. And on, and on, and on.

And so I am prone to wonder.  What do I want for this year? In what ways do I hope I will be different when the doors of 2010 close?

They are compelling questions, and questions that I haven’t answered in several years; at least not in the form of a list of resolutions.  Why?  Not because I have no room for improvement.  Certainly not.  I suppose it’s because to me resolutions beg us to define ourselves as a set of faults.  These are the things that are wrong with me.  And I think that’s rather a sad way to start a new year.

But yet, anything less somehow seems like a cop out.  I have decided that resolutions are negative and sad, and so I will not make them. Cheater!  Hardly in line with the aforementioned purpose of this blog.  Perhaps there is a middle ground.  But as I consider what that middle ground might be, every option I weigh seems like a watered down version of a resolution.

And so, if I am setting out this day to commence a year of challenging myself, then I see no option save for a return to the classic list of resolutions.  I will almost certainly fail at some of them.  But perhaps I will find some victories as well.  And perhaps I will have made strides that I’m proud of at the end of this year.  One thing I know for certain, I will not have any accomplishments under my belt if I don’t have any goals.  With that, this year I resolve to:

  1. Challenge myself mentally by considering new ideas and by more frequently thinking about things broader in reach than the confines of my daily life.
  2. Read more non-fiction.
  3. Meet new people who challenge my preconceived notions about the world.
  4. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  5. Travel to interesting places; some new adventures and some old favorites.

Now that we’ve got that covered I imagine I will spend the rest of this day idle (perhaps while munching on fruits and vegetables).  Because despite my goals for the year, today is a day for taking it easy (and recovering from whatever it is you did last night).

 I have high hopes for this year and for this blog. And I hope you do too.