Sad Face
June 11th, 2013

Is there a part of the human experience that you could do without?  Is there some universal aspect of this life gig we’re all currently living that we would like to factor out of the equation?  I’m not talking about soy sauce bloat or improper use of the word “literally.”  I’m talking about the big and existential stuff.  Specifically, I’m talking about (brace yourself for the buzz kill) sadness.

A couple of Sundays ago GAP and I sat in church and listened to the priest give a sermon that was largely about death.  He commented that as modern-day people we’ve become adept at brushing death under the rug, and moving about in our daily lives pretending that it is not an undeniable fact of life.  His perspective was that we should be willing and able to come face to face with death because the fact of our salvation hinges on our dying first. 

Then, the next morning GAP sent me the link to this article which he thought (and I agree) was interesting in light of the sermon.  In it the author laments that tragedy has been sanitized out of much of modern Christianity.  (Don’t worry, I’m going to get this discussion out of the sanctuary and into the real world in just a sec.)  He takes exception to this because, “Only those who accept that they are going to die can begin to look with any hope to the resurrection.”  Uncannily similar to the message of the homily.  He goes on, though, to criticize the degree to which we have elminated death from our consciousness through all manner of distractions – that entertainment and distraction have become the primary purpose of our existence.  He quotes Pascal who once wrote, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. … Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”  And that got me thinking about whether or not the ability to distract ourselves from sadness is a good thing.

The fact remains that the certainty of death (and countless other tragedies) doesn’t change.  We will not beat it.  Ever.  Given that we must walk through life knowing the inevitability of our own death or fearing that of a loved one do we not somehow come out ahead if we can manage a way to get through each day thinking about something else?  I don’t dismiss the gravity of the tragic.  I hear about it every time I turn on the news or open my web browser.  Thankfully, that is usually the closest I come to tragedy.  I don’t live in the Middle East or an inner city.  I have a healthy husband and children and parents and siblings.  My life is far from tragic and yet I still feel the need to distract myself from some of the immense sadness in the world.  For people whose circumstances aren’t so privileged such distractions may be the only way they can manage to get dressed in the morning.

I wonder, though, if such distractions cause us merely to suppress sadness, rather than to eliminate it - to defer, rather than dismiss some key component of human existence.  If we prevent ourselves from feeling and truly experiencing sadness, is it actually a Get Out of Jail Free card, or do we just end up stockpiling unrecognized sadness at some unknown cost?  In one of the books we have recently aquired about adopting a child the author discusses the value of letting your child cry.  All toddlers are prone to crying jags, but adopted toddlers – who have experienced all kinds of emotional upheaval and yet have no articulate means to express it – are more prone than others.  The book suggests that all adults can understand the catharsis of a good cry.  Yet as parents we are constantly trying to get our children not to cry.  For most healthy toddlers in their biological homes this makes sense.  Crying is usually a function of a scraped knee, scant nap, or graham cracker deprivation.  But for the adopted toddler, who has lost the only home and family he’s ever known and has something he really needs to grieve, crying may play a more important role.  Quelling the crying may not always be the best course of action for the child.  He may need to feel that sadness in order to work his way through it.  And sometimes we may too.

Embracing sadness can be slippery slope, as can distraction from it.  Those of us who lean more towards it naturally may need to guard against wallowing.  We have to remember that embracing our sadness takes us inward.  And while such self-focus can be a very good thing, by its very nature it takes us away from the people around us.  We should look to our sadness to find whatever catharsis that we need, and then move on.  Those of us who are disinclined to experience sadness have to take care that our distractions do not become an end in themselves.  That we allow ourselves to feel the full range of emotions even though removing sadness from the equation might be appealing. 

Any Psych 101 student can tell you that the four basic human emotions are happiness, sadness, anger, and fear.  While I hope that happiness takes up the lion’s share of what I feel, I still want to leave room for the other three.

The Lunch Gods
June 4th, 2013

In a happy turn of events our good friend Robert* who used to work at the same company as GAP now works at the same company as I do.  Robert has been a friend of ours for many years, but as GAP’s colleague the two of them had spent significantly more time together and had developed a pretty finely tuned lunchtime routine.  Now that Robert and I are in the same neck of the woods we are finding a periodic lunch routine of our own.  However, Robert has some very specific ideas about when lunch should be scheduled and he is doing his best to train me.

I crossed some sort of invisible line a couple of times by IM-ing him at 11:25 asking, “Hey, do you have lunch plans?”  He always did and I was on my own.  No harm, no foul.  But he took the opportunity to explain to me that he “takes lunch seriously” and doesn’t plan it at the last minute.  So another time I messaged him for lunch “later in the week” and was confused when he said he didn’t want to commit to plans so far in advance.   I left all future lunch plans in Robert’s hands, as I was clearly not up to speed on his rules.

Then last week he explained to me how one should go about planning lunch.  (It’s a miracle I’ve made it this far in life…)  Per Robert’s Rules of Lunch, prime lunch-planning time is between 9:45 and 10:30.  You do your part to corral a group, and if the group doesn’t materialize then you don’t force it.  You have to leave it to the lunch gods.  On that particular day I was excited at the potential that GAP might join us for lunch and mentioned to Robert that I planned to call GAP to see if he would be able to make it.  I was shut down – instructed not to push it.  As it turned out, GAP was not able to make it and I was disappointed.  But Robert told me to trust in the lunch gods; that sometimes plans fall apart and you think you’ve been hung out to dry and then the lunch gods pull through with something better than you could have planned yourself.

The lunch gods pulled through.  I was still disappointed that GAP couldn’t come, but because he had to bail we also bailed on our plans to meet at the nearby Indian buffet.  This meant as we were driving to a nearby Five Guys we drove past a little dive-ish looking Thai place and Robert mentioned in passing was good.  ”I could go for some Thai,” I said, because good Thai can be hard to come by in this part of the country, so we flipped a U and went back.  And let me tell you, everything about that lunch hit the spot.  It was a gorgeous day and we were able to snag an outdoor table.  The service was good and my yellow curry was great.  Robert’s Pad Thai was also terrific.  We had great conversation, and it was a great outing.  Robert was quick to point out that the lunch gods had in fact pulled through.

This whole zen philosophy of the lunch gods does not necessarily prompt a paradigmatic shift in my approach to making plans, but it is a good reminder.  For someone who a planner by nature, there is something to be said for letting things unfold without manipulation.  There is something to be said for giving chance, fate, the lunch gods, what have you, to get a word in edgewise and turn the tables in unforeseen and delightful ways.

I’m sure the lunch gods won’t always pull through.  There will be plenty of days when I end up getting a veggie burger in the company cafeteria.  But if I give them the chance the lunch gods will show up from time to time, and I will be glad that Robert taught me how to listen for their call.

*Not his real name.

May 23rd, 2013

When I wrote and scheduled Tuesday’s post the tornadoes that gripped central Oklahoma on Monday afternoon had not yet hit.  We had no idea what was to come.  When my post went live on Tuesday morning and I gave it one final proofreading it felt inappropriate to be discussing such things as happiness when so many in my home state were completely devastated.  But the post was already written and at that point I wasn’t really able to process the magnitude of the catastrophe anyway.  I let the post stand.  And as I think about it now that a few days have passed all I can think is, “How lucky I am that I have the option to choose when I will fully process this catastrophe.”  The people who would most like to turn a blind eye to it are exactly the ones who must face it head on.

As I have intermittently followed the coverage of the tornado aftermath I came across this post by Jennifer Rowe Walters in which she candidly admits that Oklahoma is not known for much – one Broadway musical, one bombing of a federal building, a couple of Senators who are currently eating crow, and – for the truly ignorant – the impression of oil rigs and teepees on every corner.*  Having spent several years on the East coast Rowe Walters is all too familiar with the fact that people outside the region see her (my) home state as a collection of archetypes and disasters.  She knowingly foretells that this tornado will likely be added to that list.

I suspect that the accuracy of her prediction will be uncanny.  New Orleans is still known today predominantly for its post-Katrina existence, and it had a rich identity to begin with.  Oklahoma, which to many people who live elsewhere is quintessential flyover country, will forever struggle to be known outside of the region for more than the major moments (largely negative) which have periodically brought it to the forefront of the national conversation.**  The thing is, though, that Oklahoma does in fact have a culture all its own.  It is a culture that doesn’t really fit me as a person anymore, but there is a culture there.  And it is a culture that is valued and treasured by the people who live there.

Unfortunately, tornadoes are a big part of that culture.  Rowe Walters comments that there are no better armchair meteorologists in the world than in Oklahoma, and she’s right.  I know a wall cloud when I see one, and what does and does not classify as green and when talking about the color of a storm front.  She recalls, as I can, hunkering down in interior school hallways with our hands folded behind our heads during tornado drills.  I recall, as I’m sure she can, hearing sirens blare at noon on sunny Saturdays as the tornado alert system was tested.  I was carried to our basement in the middle of the night dozens of times as a little girl.  And somehow I’ve never truly been impacted by a tornado.

Perhaps this is why I’m having such a hard time coming face to face with the aftermath of this storm.  (Given the level of devastation it seems somehow dismissive that tornadoes aren’t named as hurricanes are.)  I have some guilt about it.  I have an incredible amount of gratitude – no one I know personally was impacted (although one more degree of separation changes that).  But I left Oklahoma more than a dozen years ago and in moments like this I feel a bit like a defector.

Absent the ability to go down and reconstruct buildings with my bare hands, I am doing what I can.  I changed my Facebook profile pic to the image above (largely irrelevant).  And I will make a donation to charitable organizations who are supporting the disaster relief (much more meaningful).  And if you have the means I would encourage you to do the same.  The following organizations (among others) are all taking donations:

Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma

Red Cross Disaster Relief

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Salvation Army

Most of the time I have mixed emotions about my home state.  But right now I feel nothing but sadness and sympathy for it.


*When I was a little girl my father once hosted a business client from the East coast.  While in Oklahoma he wanted to see two things, an Indian (his term…) and an oil rig.  Lovely.

**It’s too bad the Thunder are out of the NBA playoffs.  A national title, while trivial in the grand scheme of things, might do a lot to lift spirits.

As I ushered the little boys (as JDP and SSP have been termed in our family) out onto the church playground after collecting them from the nursery we approached two much older boys (probably nine or ten) who were playing some sort of game with a disconnected tether ball.  While we waited briefly for a break in their game to walk through I heard Boy #1 say to Boy #2, “You can be a skin doctor, or you can be a heart doctor.  You make a lot of money as a heart doctor.  You can buy a Rolls Royce if you’re a heart doctor.”  I cringed when I heard it and we quickly traipsed through their game. 

I find it sad to hear grade school kids already vying for careers that will put them in a particular tax bracket.  And yet, I know that by age ten I was well aware of who had money, who didn’t, and how its presence or lack thereof shook out in the playground pecking order.  So I don’t suppose I should have been surprised that these two boys (one of whose father is in fact a physician) would be just as aware of it as I was at the same age.  Money is an easy way for kids to measure the merits of a career.  Things like whether a job is engaging, challenging, rewarding, satisfying, or meaningful to the greater good are much harder to evaluate for yourself and to communicate to other people.  It’s much simpler just to make a lot of money and drive around in your Rolls Royce, isn’t it?

I thought about this moment again yesterday morning as my buddies at NPR told me that there is now a course in China for the offspring of billionaires and other very wealthy parents.  It is run by China Britain Financial Education, has been dubbed a “mini-MBA” and focuses on teaching these kids – who will likely never have to work – how to do things like raise money for charity.*  These children are clearly very aware of their privileged circumstances, as evidenced by one girl’s response to the question of what her ideal future would be.  She responded, “I want to become a princess. I want to have a castle, and I will have lots of servants. I won’t do anything, because I’ve got lots of money, so I just buy whatever I want.”

The NPR piece goes on to explain that large scale wealth (China now has the world’s second-highest number of billionaires after the U.S.) is a relatively new phenomenon, and that the incredible focus on money (described as the “be all and end all in modern day China”) has created something of a morality vacuum which is present at all points along the socioeconomic spectrum.    Paul Huang, head of R&D at China Britain Financial Education comments that “For the wealthy family, their problem is they don’t know and don’t care where money comes from, and they spend money in a disgusting way to other people.  For children from poor families, when they grow up, they try to do anything to get money. They don’t think it’s right or wrong. That’s another problem.” 

Presumably if you’re reading this blog you’re an adult.  And if you’re adult you probably know someone who is wealthy and miserable.  You probably also know someone who is scraping by and yet lives a full and happy life.  If you’re an adult you probably know well enough that money is not a one-way ticket to happiness.  I do not begin to deny that money can accomplish all sorts of wonderful things.  It can eliminate the incredible stress brought on by things like unpaid bills, cars that break down, lack of health insurance, or untended home repairs.  It can also add immense pleasure to life by enabling things like vacations, date nights, pedicures, or a new tube of lipstick even though you don’t need it.  So yes, money is certainly a big contributor to happiness.  But it is only one component of a happy life.  Other factors include meaningful work, physical health, satisfying friendships, a strong support network, and enriching interests and hobbies.  In actuality, this is a much taller order than mere wealth.   Kids don’t see that, though.  They see castles and servants and Rolls Royces. 

I would be lying if I said that earning potential wasn’t a factor in my choice of career.  (If it weren’t I’d probably be a horse trainer of some kind.)  But it wasn’t the only factor.  I also wanted a career that would allow me to help people in some way.  I wanted a career that would be intellectually stimulating.  And I wanted a career that would be compatible with my family life.  I have a career that meets all of those needs and I am grateful that I wake up every day in a life that makes me very happy.  I wouldn’t take a Rolls Royce today if one were parked in my driveway because I couldn’t fit all of my kids in it.    

Back to the boys on the church playground.  Someday my boys will be in that same position, bouncing a ball on a playground and puffing up their little chests about what they want to be when they grow up.  Right now they are four, two, and one.  The little boys have no concept of money whatsoever.  IEP’s conception of it is vague at best.  But I know that window is closing, and probably by first grade he will be well aware of the markers of money.  And when that day comes I will work to impart upon him (and the little boys in time) that money is just money, and the only thing that matters is what you do with it.  By and large, you will be happy when you decide to be, not when you have a Rolls Royce. 

*The great irony of this is, of course, that it bears absolutely no resemblance, even on a kiddie scale, to an actual MBA.

Bright, Shiny Moments
May 16th, 2013

Yesterday morning I boarded a flight for my first business trip in more than two-and-a-half years.  And while I was sad to leave my boys behind for a couple of days, there was a certain excitement about the fresh start implicit in this trip.  As I neared the end of the jetway I saw the sun glinting off of the silver body of the airplane, through the dingy window of the jetway, and straight into my eyes.  It seemed fitting for the moment.  I felt bright and shiny.

It made me think about my first flight.  I was eleven years old and we were flying to Southern California to visit my aunt and uncle, go to Disneyland, drive up the coast, and experience the wilds of  the coast.  My excitment for the trip was huge as there were near countless things to look forward to.  But my excitment for the flight was particularly intense.  Most of my friends had flown somehwere before, so there was the eagerness to shed my self-consciousness at not having done.  But in my mind, whether from movies or books or stories from somewhere, flying was a glamorous thing to do.  I wore a dress because I couldn’t stomach the thought of not dressing up for my flight.  And when we reached the gate area I ran into a friend from summer camp, making me feel very worldly, and our parents swapped seats so that she and I could sit together.  It was a big day.

As I made this little trip back in time it dawned on me that none of my sons will have any recollection of their first flight.  IEP and SSP were both roughly 10 weeks old when we flew to visit my parents during my maternity leaves.  JDP was just shy of his second birthday when he flew home from Korea.  They will never remember those moments.  Further, they will never remember a time when boarding a flight was something exciting (the flight itself, that is - not just the destination at the other end).  It made me a little sad.  But then, why should it?

I don’t remember my first ride in a car, and I feel no nostagic hole where that memory should go.  I’m sure that when I was about two days old I was loaded up into a car and driven home from the hospital.  And I’m sure that I’ve ridden in a car nearly every day since.  A car ride doesn’t need to be something exciting for me.  Perhaps the same is true of my kids and air travel.  Perhaps my sense of loss over a memory that will never exist for them is a bit like someone much older feeling regret that I don’t have memories of my first call on a touch-tone phone.  Some things don’t hold the same meaning for one generation as they did for an earlier geneartion.

When you get down to it I think the thing that matters is not the excitement for boarding a plane.  What matters is the excitement at a big moment in your life.  For me, because I was old enough to have built up a great amount of anticipation around that flight it was a big moment.  This morning, because I’m excited about my new job and the opportunity it holds, my first trip with this company was a big moment.  As long as my kids still get excited about big moments – anticipate them, relish in them, and never take them for granted –  then I think we’re probably doing okay.  For me, my first flight was a big moment.  For them it wasn’t.  But something else will be.

I will probably never learn to water ski.  My husband will probably never learn to snow ski.  There are some things you just learn to do as a child.  It’s not that I couldn’t learn to water ski or my husband couldn’t learn to snow ski.  But at this point we have settled into a life that includes neither and the chances are that absent some concerted intention we will never have cause or opportunity to change that.  We’re both okay with it.

But what if that thing – the thing we’d never learned to do as children – were something more, shall we say, essential? What if we’d never learned to swim?  What if we’d never learn to ride a bike?  Well, if we lived in Washington, D.C. I might have an easy answer for you.  The answer?  We would take a class.

As it is, I learned to ride a bike (a pink one with brown flowers and a banana seat) when I was six years old on our dead end street with my dad running behind me until my balance was sufficient for him to let go.  I have vague memories of it, but I’ve seen the pictures so many times that whatever holes were left by my memory have been filled in by photojournalism.  But for people who didn’t have a pink bike, brown flowers, banana seat, and eternally patient father, there is a class that teaches adults how to ride a bike.  I find the very premise of such a class inspiring.

Old dog/new trick clichés notwithstanding, there is something about learning to ride a bike as an adult that is surprising.  For most people is is something learned as a child, or not at all.  And yet there are apparently many adults (enough to sustain a class) who never learned as children, and are willing to subject themselves to the process of learning it now.  They start on balance bikes (no training wheels, no pedals, and propelled only by “kicking like a frog” with both feet) just the way little kids do today.  I have to imagine it’s not the most distinguished feeling.  And yet they want to learn and are willing to do so, regardless of however foolish they may feel in the process.

In thinking about this I find myself impressed and inspired.  I also find myself reminded of the fact that learning something new is typically not a graceful or glamourous process.  Whether it’s riding a bike, driving a car, playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language, cooking, or painting – in order to learn we must first admit that we don’t know what we’re doing.  We must make our shortcomings and inadequacies transparent to another person; a teacher.  And we must let that teacher point out everything we are doing wrong without defense, all in the name of learning.  Learning is not for the timid or the proud.

There are many things I don’t know how to do that I wish I could: speak French, crochet, grow another two to three inches.  And there are skills that I once learned but have since become rusty from disuse: playing the piano, playing golf, speaking Spanish.  But if I want to quash any of my inadequacies I will have to cop to them first.  My age is not really the thing that precludes me from this.  It’s the busy existence of a working mom with three little boys whose life doesn’t feel the least bit empty for the lack of these skills.  And perhaps that is exactly why the old dog/new tricks maxim so often rings true.  It’s not that we can’t learn as adults.  It’s just that we’ve built a life without something and so we don’t know what we’re missing.  This isn’t to say we must all learn everything as adults that we never learned as children.  It is only to say that we can.  If we want to, we can.  If we need to, we can.  Our ability to learn is as strong today as it was 20 or 30 years ago.  We have only to come to a place where our eagerness is as well.

No Duds
May 9th, 2013

I am finicky when it comes to chocolates.  I’m a big dessert person, but not a big candy person.  If I’m going to indulge in something so unabashedly rich and indulgent, I want to really love it.  If I bite into a chocolate and discover orange crème (ugh…) I throw it out.  Not worth it.  (Also, orange crème is kind of gross.)  My favorites are Russell Stover’s Roman Nougat and Teuscher Champagne Truffles.  Those I will eat until I hate myself.  Anything else gets a lukewarm response out of me.

IEP’s approach differs greatly from my own.  In his world it’s quite simple.  There are no duds.  Period.  All chocolates are wonderful.  All chocolates are treats.  No filling – not cherry caramel, not coconut, not even orange crème – yields disappointment.   

I first noticed this back in December when my mother included a one-pound box of assorted chocolates amongst IEP’s other Christmas gifts.  (And I was reminded of it again when she gave him a much smaller box on a recent visit.)  He eagerly made his way through the box (with some help, of course) without expressing a single concern about what he would find inside.  I’d never seen anyone pick chocolates out of a box without even asking about the filling.  It was a complete nonissue.  I was astounded.  Perhaps it was because in my family growing up finding sneaky (and always unsuccessful) ways to investigate fillings before committing to a chocolate was at least common practice if not full-throttle sport.  You did not want to bite into something without knowing first whether it was going to be good.  But in IEP’s brain there’s no reason to even ask what’s inside.  It’s candy.  Of course it’s going to be good.

It’s a mindset that many of us would do well to apply to our lives more often.  Many of us struggle to maintain such a strong sense of positivity and we too easily find what went wrong in a given situation, rather than what went right.  To a great extent we choose how we experience the world arround us.  Choosing to see the good can go a long way in our enjoyment of many things.  Sitting down to read a book is always a treat (even if we get interrupted).  Going out to a movie is always a treat (even if the show wasn’t that great).  Eating food that someone else prepared is always a treat (even if it wasn’t precisely what you were in the mood for).  Getting out for a nice long run is always a treat (even if you take more walk breaks than you wish you had).  And eating a chocolate is always a treat, even if there’s orange crème on the inside.

Optimism and positivity can also run amok.  When we constantly proclaim that everything is good, nothing is ever wrong, and we only see joy and happiness everywhere we look we cease to see the world honestly.  We must allow space for the real and genuine admissions of the things we find disappointing, hurtful, or lacking in some way.  But given how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole of all that goes wrong, I think that for many of us (myself included), a course correction to IEP’s “there are no duds” philosophy could be a very good thing.

I expect that someday my son’s approach to chocolates may become more conventional.  Someday he may develop preferences that lead him to poke a hole in the bottom, bite off a corner, or slice a chocolate completely in half before popping it into his mouth.  But in the meantime I will applaud his open-mindedness and optimism.  And I will try to adopt it myself.

Four Months Later…
May 7th, 2013

Did you think I’d totally forgotten about this blog?  I wouldn’t blame you if you did.  Four whole months ago I made a passing comment about extending my holiday blogging break due to some craziness in my professional life, and haven’t been heard from since.  Poof!  I was gone.

I’m really sorry about that.  I have a collection of loyal readers and I know that my absence here has been disappointing to many of you.  (Some of you have even flattered me by telling me so.)  And now that I am back I feel that I should provide a bit of explanation.  As you will read below, my head has not been entirely above water these past few months, and something had to give.  Actually, a few things had to give, and blogging was one of those things.  Sometimes real life steps in and demands to be lived rather than pondered.  This was one of those times.

So here’s how it all went down…  (Because I will not try to fully recap four months in one blog post, I’m giving it to you in bullets.)

  • Late November – Writing energy flags as my creativity is channeled into Christmas gift ideas, party planning, and other holiday merriment.
  • Early December – ADOPTION REFERRAL!!  We were matched with a child and spent the rest of the month scrambling to file immigration documents, referral acceptance paperwork, and many other forms which we hadn’t completed since we weren’t expecting to be matched until spring or summer.
  • Late December/Early January – Work demands ramp up to an incredible level.  I pull many 15+ hour days which are (if I’m being diplomatic) “unpleasant.”  Post-holiday blogging return gets postponed.
  • Mid-January – The flu hits our house and fells both GAP and me in consecutive bouts over the course of about 10 days.  We concurrently pester our adoption agency about our wait time to travel to Korea.
  • Late January – The mayhem of my work life continues.  I leave my job.  We continue to push our adoption agency to get our travel approval granted expeditiously.
  • Early February – I kick off a massive job search with the hope of uncovering as many opportunities as possible before we bring our new son home.
  • Late February – We travel to Korea for a week to get our son.  He is two years old, completely adorable, and will be known on this blog as JDP.
  • March – JDP works hard to overcome jet lag, learn English, learn sign language, adapt to life with brothers, make his peace with many new foods, accept discipline as a regular part of life now, and gain his footing in a completely new existence.  I interview with several companies.
  • Late March – I get a job offer!  I accept it!
  • April – I try to enjoy my final month of downtime at home, continue to help JDP settle in, and tie up many loose ends before returning to work.

And that brings us to today.  I am now back at work and trying hard to resume our normal routines.  Many of those routines have changed as we adjust to being a family of five, but we’re getting there.  And part of that return to normal includes a return to blogging for me.

Now that I’ve explained the reasons for my little disappearing act, I want to say that the past four months have impressed upon me that blogging is an incredible privilege.  The time, inclination, and resources (mental, emotional, etc.) to wax philosophical about the world around me are not available to everyone.  I am lucky that nine days out of ten they are available to me.  But since the start of 2013 they have not been, and that has prompted me to appreciate more than ever that blogging is – as I might tell my kids – a special treat.

I’ve had many ideas in the past four months of things I’d like to blog about – ideas that, sadly, have come and gone.  No matter.  There will be new ideas and new blog topics.  I plan to resume my twice weekly posting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I hope you will come back, resume reading, and offer your thoughts on anything I write.  The dialog, after all, is much of the reason I do.

I’ve missed being here.  And I’m very happy to be back.

All Work and No Play
January 6th, 2013

All work and no play makes Gale a lousy blogger.

I’d intended to get back to blogging this past week, but I’ve been drowning in work since New Year’s Eve.  I’m not sure that this week is going to be any better.  I wanted to stop by and let you know that I’m hoping to get back here soon.  Just having to delay things a bit.

Happy New Year!

Wicked Happy
December 20th, 2012

Happiness has been on my mind a great deal lately.  It was one of Momalom’s Five for Ten themes.  It is the sole subject matter of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which I’m currently devouring.  And it comes up on track 12 of the soundtrack from Wicked which has gotten significant airtime in my car since we returned from New York nearly three weeks ago.  While all three of these venues have addressed the topic admirably, it is the last one which has crawled into my mind and been poking at me with irritating regularity.

I’ll spare you the context for track 12 (which is properly entitled “Thank Goodness”) because for the purposes of this discussion it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that Glinda (“the good witch” as most of us know her) hits on an uncomfortable truth.  Gretchen Rubin would probably tell us that these lyrics address the “arrival fallacy” of happiness (p. 84 in THP, for those of you following along at home).  And she would be right.  But for me these lyrics hit me at more of a gut level than an academic one.  I care less about why they scare me, and more about the fact that they do so in the first place.

That’s why I couldn’t be happier
No, I couldn’t be happier
Though it is, I admit
The tiniest bit
Unlike I anticipated
But I couldn’t be happier
Simply couldn’t be happier
(spoken) Well – not “simply”:
’Cause getting your dreams
It’s strange, but it seems
A little – well – complicated
There’s a kind of a sort of… cost
There’s a couple of things get… lost
There are bridges you cross
You didn’t know you crossed
Until you’ve crossed
And if that joy, that thrill
Doesn’t thrill you like you think it will
Still – With this perfect finale
The cheers and ballyhoo
Who wouldn’t be happier?
So I couldn’t be happier
Because happy is what happens
When all your dreams come true
Well, isn’t it?
Happy is what happens
When your dreams come true!

So there you have it: the one minute of a four-ish-minute song that I’ve listened to over and over and over again for three weeks, trying to understand why it’s plaguing me.  After much head scratching I’ve come to the conclusion that these lyrics bother me because they are true.  Glinda addresses the fact that when we get what it is that we think we want, we may be surprised at how the experience isn’t just as we pictured it.  More bothersome still, Glinda’s approach to this truth – skittish and furtive – almost says more than the words themselves.  She almost goes there – to that place of full-bore disappointment – but stops short of it, not treading past the allusion.

This is a frightening truth to broach.  We want to believe that when we achieve whatever goal we have set for ourselves that happiness, pure and unadulterated, will pour forth into our lives.  Yet rarely is this the case.  My friend Aidan touched on this very phenomenon in a post of hers just last week, causing me to contemplate it further.  This whole premise feels much more frightening when someone you know personally (rather than a witch in a musical…) is experiencing it in real time.

I have goals and dreams and ideas about my future.  Naturally, in my head the attainment of said goals and dreams comes equipped with clouds parting, angels singing, cartoon birds sitting on my shoulder (a la (500) Days of Summer), and sickeningly sweet bliss at every turn.  With a finish line like that on the horizon, why wouldn’t I run full speed ahead toward my goals?  But understanding that actual finish line may be something more bittersweet I pause to think carefully about the goals I have set.

I turn back to Gretchen Rubin for a life-line.  She writes:

The challenge, therefore, is to take pleasure in the “atmosphere of growth,” in the gradual progress made toward a goal, in the present.  … the arrival fallacy doesn’t mean that pursuing goals isn’t a route to happiness.  To the contrary.  The goal is necessary, just as is the process toward the goal.  Friedrich Nietzshce explained it well: “The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the meolody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either.  A parable.”

And so it turns out that the means is the end.  Leave it to Nietzsche and Gretchen Rubin to explain this fearful premise in a way that makes me feel as though I’ve been handed a gift with a bow on top.  Now someone just needs to explain this to Glinda.  Perhaps it is the kind of philosophy that would resonate better with Elphaba.


GAP and I saw a traveling production of Wicked last night which got me thinking about this post which was originally published in June 2010.  Amidst all of the stress I’ve intermittently mentioned lately I’ve been giving thought to my goals and dreams, and thought this post was worth revisiting.  I will have one more new post to cap off the year sometime between now and Christmas, and will then take a bit of a break for the holidays.