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Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

What’s your definition of “manly”?

In behavior, blogging, culture, domestic life, life, love, men, women on March 31, 2012 at 12:21 am
Lewis Hine Power house mechanic working on ste...

Lewis Hine Power house mechanic working on steam pump. (1920) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an interesting post by one of my favorite bloggers, a fellow Torontonian named Josh Bowman, about his struggle to define “manly”:

There is something to be said for ‘Masculinity’ (with a capital ‘M’). It’s dirty, sweaty, tough, honest. As we enter another Hollywood blockbuster season, where tough leading men will formulaic-ly beat the crap out of aliens, monsters, and other assorted baddies, I can’t help but be reflective and a bit jealous. You see, I’m a young, white collar, politically liberal, pro-feminist, university educated man. I have sensitive skin, and work in theatre. I have lots of emotions, I joke around, and I suck at confrontation. I haven’t been in a physical fight since elementary school, really (I’ve been close from time to time, but I’ve cleverly and diplomatically avoided fighting for most of my life).

The thing is, I rightly or wrongly associate hyper-masculine men with all kinds of values and beliefs that I find politically and socially abhorrent: misogyny, homophobia, conservative politics (or no political beliefs at all), being mean jocks, and liking Nickleback. I’m also kind of afraid to get into a fight. I have no interest in being stabbed, shot, or beaten to a pulp over somebody stepping on my shoes or being rude on a streetcar. At its worst, I see hyper-masculinity leading to near psychopathic behaviour. Then again…

I’m often deeply jealous of those guys who seem so at ease with their identities as men…

I find his dichotomy interesting, if false.

Having done a lot of dating — I married for the first time at 37, then was single again for another four years after my divorce — I’ve closely observed the behavior of a fairly wide swath of men. The super macho guys in black leather with tats and callused hands were never my set. I go more for a guy with really good shoes, who wears (small, elegant) cufflinks and who can choose an excellent bottle of wine.

But, having said that, I did once, briefly, date a Serb who wore black leather trousers. Why, yes I did. “I vill be unfaithful,” he warned me. I laughed. He was right.

Then there was a veddy proper British television executive.  The boy with a handlebar mustache who spoke Russian. The 6’4″ would-be Olympic rower who sent me a bouquet of roses so enormous that when I opened my front door I couldn’t see the person holding them. The blue-eyed engineer working in Khartoum who whisked me off to Wales.

I’ve even met a real, working cowboy — a fantastic man named Bill, who in his 70s, strapped on his worn leather chaps and rode off across the Texas dirt each day. He taught his wife how to shoot a handgun, which saved her life the day she was alone and (seriously) a rabid bobcat leaped for her throat. That’s manly in my book! (I tell her amazing story in my first book, about women and guns.)

I bet every man I’ve met considers himself pretty manly. It’s not as though there’s some standard, objective measure…

So what is manly?

Is it a guy ready to bust his knuckles against someone’s cheek for me? Not necessarily, although a sense of protectiveness is, to me, extremely alluring. I’ve traveled the world alone and now appreciate any help I can get. I like a guy who knows what he wants and will fight hard to get and keep it — especially if it’s for a good cause, not just his latest car.

The qualities I find most appealing in a man are often the same I like best in women:

kindness, intelligence, curiosity, a great sense of humor, an insane work ethic, optimism, someone with clearly thought-through principles who sticks to them, loyal, discreet. Someone who’s just great company.

The quality I probably most admire in a man is integrity. I don’t care if he’s rich or powerful or handsome — if he can’t make and keep his promises, he’s a loser in my book.

How about you?

Ladies, what’s “manly” to you?

Gentlemen, do you face any of the confusion Josh does?

Libraries Matter!

In beauty, books, culture, design, news, urban life on March 29, 2012 at 1:48 am
English: A panorama of a research room taken a...

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If you’ve never visited the magnificent 101-year-old library building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42d Street, the one whose wide entrance is guarded by two enormous stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, you’ve missed one of the world’s most beautiful spaces devoted to  books, reading and learning.

The library is going to get a $1 billion facelift thanks to British architect Norman Foster:

With the expansion the main branch will become the largest circulating library in the United States, Mr. Marx said, with publicly accessible stacks. “We need to provide the opportunity to browse for books at a time when bookstores are closing,” he said, adding that “scholars and researchers should be able to enjoy the serendipity of what they find on the shelf.”

But some patrons fear crowding at the main branch, where annual attendance is expected to rise to perhaps 4 million, from 1.5 million. “It won’t be O.K.,” said Donald Jones, 55, a Manhattan resident who uses the computers at the Mid-Manhattan branch several times a week. “One problem I already have is crowding with the computers.”

The plan also calls for turning second-floor offices in the main branch into workspace for as many as 400 writers and researchers and for keeping the library open until 11 some nights. (The latest it stays open now is 8 p.m. two days a week.) “We want this to be Writing Central for New York,” Mr. Marx said.

I confess, I haven’t spent a lot of time there, mostly because I work from home (as a writer) in our suburban apartment; I can’t justify the $15 trainfare and two lost hours commuting to go sit there, although it is truly a spectacular space.

I did spend a week or so there a few years ago working on a specific, fascinating and highly unusual research project for a fellow writer. He had discovered an amazing true story on a remote and distant Pacific island, Mangareva, about a crazy French priest who subjugated the natives and created a bizarre and highly punitive penal system using his own religious followers as his enforcers. Seriously.

My role? To translate original French documents — stored in Australia — into English so we could re-create and understand this story. It was utterly extraordinary. Reading the 150-year-old reports felt like opening a reporter’s notebook, so filled with specific details they were — from the narrow, muddy paths across the island to the huge piles of coconuts stacked aboard their vessel while in port. It was riveting reading and one of the most fun freelance jobs I’ve ever had.

Day after day, I’d settle into my seat at one of those long wooden tables in the glorious Rose reading room, my dictionary and laptop close at hand, disappearing for hours into a world thousands of miles away and decades distant. By day’s end, weary, I’d share my head, as if awakening from a delicious dream, walk down those wide marble steps and re-enter the riparian sidewalk on Fifth Avenue.

Here’s a fantastic trend already in 28 American states and worldwide, small boxes that resemble birdhouses or mailboxes called Little Free Libraries. The idea is to spread a love of books and community:

The idea has mushroomed.  Bol now encourages people to visit his website for suggestions on how to build their own library.

Today there are Little Free Libraries in at least 28 states and six countries including Ghana, Australia and Afghanistan. And people from more than a dozen other countries have expressed interest, Bol said.

On Bol’s website he offers suggestions on how to build the libraries and sells kits for a fee starting around $100. Money donated to his non-profit helps build libraries in needy communities and developing countries. The website says, “If you need help let us know.  Don’t let money get in the way.”

You can find the little libraries not just in front of homes, but also outside of health centers, coffee shops, bike paths, bus stops and store fronts.   People are encouraged to send in a picture of their library so it can be posted on the website.  In return they get a “Little Free Library. Take a Book, Return a Book” sign to post on what they’ve built, as well as a Little Free Library Charter number.

Do you have a Little Free Library near you?

Do you use (and love) your public libraries?

How Dads help raise brave women

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, men, news, parenting, women on March 27, 2012 at 12:55 am
Sexism is a crime against humanity!

Sexism is a crime against humanity! (Photo credit: ЯAFIK ♋ BERLIN)

Loved this recent piece in Time magazine, written by two men, fathers of two daughters:

 The need for fathers to help empower daughters is clear, since we still live in a world where some powerful men throw sexual slurs at adult women and girls are being sexualized and objectified at a younger and younger age. As dads of a combined 4 daughters (ranging in age from 1 to 21,) these recent events have made us pause and reflect on how to best encourage our daughters to combat these tendencies in our society.

But how do we do this as fathers? One of the most important ways is to break down the old stereotypes that men are rational and logical while women are emotional. We can free our daughters from the burden of that myth by expressing our own feelings and by respecting the intelligence, decisions, and leadership abilities of women. When they see us opening up and talking, they learn to do the same and to not remain silent when something doesn’t feel right. A father’s influence can help a girl find her own strong voice. We also need to listen to our daughters more instead of trying to always impart a lesson. Listening paves the way for girls to discover what they want to say and the inner strength to say it.

The other big thing dads can do is treat women the way we would want a partner to treat our daughters. We wish that it went without saying that daughters need their fathers to reject treating women as objects through sexist jokes, stares and comments on the street, and pornography….

The need for fathers to help empower daughters is clear, since we still live in a world where some powerful men throw sexual slurs at adult women and girls are being sexualized and objectified at a younger and younger age. As dads of a combined 4 daughters (ranging in age from 1 to 21,) these recent events have made us pause and reflect on how to best encourage our daughters to combat these tendencies in our society.

It’s a hopeless task — and completely unfair — to ask only girls and women to defend themselves from the culturally toxic stew in which they’re raised.

Especially in the United States, where being thin/pretty/blond/materialist/popular/wealthy/famous is held up as the ultimate goal. And when legislators are ruthlessly determined to strip women of every possible reproductive right, whether access to abortion, birth control or a safe, private pregnancy; 39 states (!) have recently passed or are considering passing such laws.

It is a really lousy time to be female in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, as “America the Beautiful” so romantically opines. If there was ever a time for young women to be reminded how much their voices matter to their political and economic future, that time is now.

A seminal study was done in the 1970s of women who later went on to significant success in the corporate world. The key? Their Dads played sports with them when they were teenagers.

Seems pretty simple, but as someone who also had this experience, it’s not.

When your father very clearly values your company and you’re a young woman, he is teaching you an important lesson. His focus on your brain and your heart, your character — not just your perky figure — teaches you that these matter.

When you spend a day together skating or skiing or hiking or fishing, you learn to share skills and enjoyment with a man who’s enjoying your company, not your sexual allure.

When he consistently values your intelligence, competitiveness, physical strength, agility and stamina — just some of the attributes needed for most sports — you’re more likely to emerge from the potential hell of female adolescence, if you’re lucky, with a solid base of self-confidence.

What greater gift can a Dad can give you?

If you’re a father, how did you help your daughter(s) become self-confident?

If your Dad did a terrific job — (or a poor one) — of helping you feel great about yourself, how does that play out for you today?

My life in 10 objects

In antiques, art, beauty, culture, design, History, life on March 25, 2012 at 1:44 am

Have you heard BBC Radio’s The History of the World in 100 Objects?

I’m addicted!

It’s based on 100 objects in the enormous collection of the British Museum, and I’ve so far heard the fascinating backstories of a Mayan lintel, an Anglo-Saxon helmet and a Korean roof tile; you can download all of them from the link above.

If you’re as much a fan of history, global culture and design as I am, you’ll love it.

This series also made me wonder which 10 objects might somehow sum up my life so far, and how they have shaped or reflected my own history. These are not the only ones, certainly, but each reveals a facet of my character and what matters most to me in life..

1964

Olympic badges from Tokyo

My father went to Japan to make several documentaries and brought me back some cloth badges from the Olympics. I was only seven, but seeing them made concepts like foreign travel, Japan and the Olympics alluringly real to me. It also piqued my  insatiable curiosity about the rest of the world — the hallmark of the rest of my life, really. (I still haven’t made it to an Olympics or to Japan though.)

1966

My Canadian passport

I was maybe seven or eight when I first recall using my own passport, and my first solo trip I remember was flying from Toronto to Antigua. I love being able to move freely between countries.

1960s

Two bears and a bunny

And yes, I still have them…photo of two of them above! The bunny was a gift from my maternal grandmother one Easter and his battered remnants are in the back of my closet. He was so stitched and repaired by the end he was practically transparent. He saw me through some tough times as an only child with no sibs to commiserate with.

The tiny bear is perfectly pocket-sized and kept me lucid and sane through yet another boarding school church service. The larger white bear looks a lot like (!?) my paternal grandmother. Don’t ask me how. He just does. He’s been all over the world with me, even in recent years, and is a very good travel companion. I imagine he has much amused TSA agents and chambermaids.

1970

Acoustic guitar

I attended summer camp in northern Ontario and every Sunday we put on a talent show that anyone brave enough to step onto the stage — in front of the whole (all girls) camp — was welcome to try. Thanks to my guitar and some crazy self-confidence, I did it often and sang songs I’d written. The welcome I received taught me to not be so scared to try new things or in front of a crowd.

1974

Pentax SLR camera

Loaned to me by a friend of my father who knew I had a budding and passionate interest in photography. I sold three color images of the city — one of our garage! — to Toronto Calendar magazine, a monthly — while still in high school for $300, a fortune in 1975 and still a pile ‘o dough. Discovering so young that my work had some commercial value gave me the courage to start freelancing as a (self-taught) shooter and I sold a photo to Time Canada when I was still in college.

1982

Carte de sejour

This little pink piece of cardboard, the official French document allowing me the legal right to live there for a while, was my ticket to the best year of my life, on a journalism fellowship based in Paris. I spent eight months living, learning and traveling on their dime (or franc!) and studied with 27 peers, all of us aged 25 to 35, from 19 countries, from Japan to Brazil to New Zealand. I’m still in touch with a few of them. That year taught me the true meaning of one of my favorite words — se debrouiller (to be resourceful, to figure it out on your own.)

1988

Green card

As the then unmarried child of an American citizen, my mother, I was able to apply for, and get, a “green card”, also known as an alien registration card.  I am a registered alien. That card gives me the legal right to live and work (although not vote) in the U.S.

2002

Softball glove

I started playing softball with a local group of fellow suburbanites, men and women ages 18 to 70-something, which includes a cantor, several psychiatrists, college professors, an orthopedic surgeon, a pastry chef and a retired ironworker. These people know me better than almost anyone here in New York. I usually play second base and can hit to the outfield.

I love having an activity that’s outdoors, social, athletic, fun, builds skills and is competitive enough to be energizing but mellow enough to be enjoyable.

Here’s my New York Times essay about my gang.

2009

A pink and orange polka-dot apron

I love to cook and to entertain and a big, pretty apron is a must! I bought this one, in such deliciously French colors, at one of my favorite Paris stores, BHV. If you visit Paris, check it out.

If you were to select a few items that could explain your life to those who don’t know you personally, what would they be and why?

Life – Pain = Euphoria!

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, Health, life, Medicine, women on March 23, 2012 at 12:07 am
Example of an American grocery store aisle.

Scary no more!! Image via Wikipedia

So many people are telling me how different I look since I had my hip replaced Feb. 6.

Not only that I can now walk standing upright without lurching scarily from side to side.

But I smile more. I look people in the eye. I’m once more able — after two years — to focus on details beyond howgoddamnfarisittogettowhereIhavetogo?

It could have been the agonizing journey the entire length of a grocery store aisle for a forgotten (cursed) gallon of milk. Or the hotel entrance closed on one Manhattan block forcing me to round the corner, sweating and resentful from the additional exertion.

I feel like a new person, someone back in the world.

For the first few weeks, I felt I was rebounding off a trampoline, so high was I flying — emotional energy, physical stamina, intellectual curiosity restored.

(A doctor friend explained this was a neurochemical high as my endorphins were in overdrive for years.They did eventually subside.)

Chronic pain drains your battery, and leaches color from everyday life in so many ways. When every step hurts, you dread…everything: grocery-shopping, visiting a museum, exploring a new city, buying clothes or shoes or anything in a store.

It also drains you mentally — something I hadn’t considered, so automatic had it become — as you constantly calculate how much is this going to hurt before doing even the simplest things.

I chose the anterior method, a less common procedure, which from the day of surgery has made my life better. Since my three days in the hospital, I’ve needed only one dose of major painkiller and a dozen Tylenol.

I’ve gone from being Eeeyore to Tigger, both Winnie the Pooh characters; “Bouncing is what Tiggers do best!”

I’ve even (yayyyyyy!) started to lose weight. I’ve realized, to my chagrin, that my nightly cocktail had become, essentially, liquid painkiller — I’d been self-medicating in a pretty high-calorie way. Add to that the double whammy of a slowed metabolism due to my age and my body’s growing inability to handle truly vigorous cardio workouts…

I fly to San Francisco next week to report a story, which is so fun — being able to travel without dreading every step; exploring one of my favorites cities again for the first time since 1998; seeing three friends out there; having an editor sufficiently confident to send me.

But more than anything, I now have the energy and enthusiasm for all of it.

My husband is a bit overwhelmed, although thrilled, by the new ebullient me.  “You’re happy!” he said the other day.

Why, yes I am.

It’s my body and I’ll change it any way I like

In aging, beauty, behavior, Fashion, life, Style, women on March 21, 2012 at 2:14 am
English: An ethnic Adivasi woman from the Kuti...

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Loved this piece in The New York Times about women going seriously blond after chemotherapy:

A decade ago, the women who came to see Ms. Dorram, then at John Frieda, after chemo or radiation therapy did so furtively. They removed their wigs in the bathroom or booked early morning appointments so they didn’t have to be in a room with healthy clients.

“You feel vulnerable,” said Ms. Kreek, who met Ms. Dorram at John Frieda, when she returned to blond after her first round of chemotherapy in 2003. “You don’t want to come into a room with ladies with tons of hair, going, ‘I liked it when you did that last time.’ It’s like, ‘Shut up.’ ”

Now, for many women who have lost hair during cancer treatments, dyeing is empowering — and doing it in an open, chatty session makes it all the better. “They’re feeling good again,” said Alexis Antonellis, a colorist at Oscar Blandi who often sees clients who want hair colored after chemotherapy. “They want to go back to who they were. They’re so excited to sit back in the chair and get their life back. It’s really nice. You’ve got to see the smiles.”

I decided in December 2011 it was time to finally replace my arthritic left hip. I was, frankly, terrified of the whole thing. Four kinds of anesthetic? Three days in the hospital? A six-inch scar? Shriek.

A whole parade of strangers would soon be all over, and inside, my body. For a control freak like me, this was a little much.

So, after 20+ years as a (highlighted) blond, I went back to being a redhead — again. The last time I’d been red was in the 1980s, at the end of my crazy, fun-filled 20s.

Going decisively and suddenly red was also empowering.

I needed the surgery but I wanted a new look. When you’re about to face, or have just faced, a whole pile of medical intervention you really crave  doing something to your own body that’s fun and painless – and totally of your choosing.

(I’m not one for tattoos or piercings, so what else was left?)

I’m loving the new color, and have had nothing but compliments on it; a photo of me/it is on the “welcome” and “about” pages here.

Have you ever made a radical change to your appearance as a way to take charge — maybe at a shaky time in your life?

Did it help?

The death of an ordinary woman — justly celebrated

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on March 19, 2012 at 12:09 am

One of my close friends works at The Toronto Star, and tipped me off to this extraordinary piece of journalism, about a single, childless, non-celebrity 55-year-old Toronto woman named Shelagh Gordon.

The story came about the way the very best stories often do, when a reporter’s curiosity was piqued by an obituary privately submitted to the newspaper.

Shelagh was quirky, generous, fun, clumsy. She was not rich or well-known or politically powerful. Her husband and children — she had neither — had not carved out fame and fortune in the world.

Yet The Star decided to devote some of its most experienced career writers to chronicle this woman’s life.

She was, like many of us, simply a private citizen whose love for, and devotion to, the people in her private world brightened many lives for decades.

I’ve included a short excerpt here from this exceptional story.

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The Star dedicated unprecedented coverage to the funeral of 55-year-old Shelagh Gordon – interviewing more than 100 of her friends and family – to show how a modest life can have a huge impact.

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By Catherine Porter Columnist

I met Shelagh Gordon at her funeral.

She was soap-and-water beautiful, vital, unassuming and funny without trying to be. I could feel her spirit tripping over a purse in the funeral hall and then laughing from the floor.

She was both alone and crowded by love. In another era, she’d have been considered a spinster — no husband, no kids. But her home teemed with dogs, sisters, nieces, nephews and her “life partner” —a gay man — who would pass summer nights reading books in bed beside her wearing matching reading glasses.

Her relationships were as rich as the chocolate pudding pies she’d whip together.

She raced through ravines, airports and wine glasses (breaking them, that is). She dashed off dozens of text messages and emails and Facebook postings a day, usually mistyping words in her rush to connect.

Then, every afternoon, she’d soak for an hour in the bath while eating cut-up oranges and carrots and flipping the damp pages of a novel.

She called herself a “freak,” at first self-consciously and, later, proudly.

But my sharpest impression of Shelagh that day, as mourners in black pressed around me, was of her breathtaking kindness. Shelagh was freshly-in-love thoughtful.

I love this article and the rare journalistic commitment — in an era of celebrity fawning and faux fame — to celebrating an ordinary woman. I love its depth, detail, intimacy and humanity.

I hope you’ll make the time to read it in full, and share it through your own blogs and other social media.

Even better, please email or write to The Star, (whose editor in chief I’ve worked with twice before), to let him know how great this is. His name is Michael Cooke, 1 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1E5,Canada.

Without trust, we’re toast. Guess what? We’re toast.

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, news on March 17, 2012 at 1:14 am
Česky: Foxconn Pardubice, GPS: 50°1'28.591&quo...

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There are few moments more nausea-inducing than realizing you have placed your trust and faith in the wrong person/place/institution.

I recently blogged, favorably, about a performance artist named Mike Daisey, whose one-man show about malfeasance at Foxconn, a Chinese manufacturing giant that makes computers for Apple, Dell and many others, was a huge hit here in the U.S., and received national attention and acclaim on This American Life, a respected and smart radio show.

Now it seems he made some of it up:

“Numerous fabrications” have been found in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” the much-heralded story by Mike Daisey about dangerous and exploitative conditions in the Apple company’s Chinese factories.

Recent fact-checking about the story, which was first presented on Jan. 6, 2012 over National Public Radio outlets as an episode on Ira Glass’ show, “This American Life,” and subsequently performed as a critically acclaimed monologue at the New York Public Theatre (where it is scheduled to close Sunday after a much-extended run), has turned up inaccuracies involving facts both large and small, including the fabrication of several characters.

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was to be performed by Daisey at the Chicago Theatre on April 7. That performance has been cancelled. And tonight, NPR affiliate WBEZ, 91.5 FM, will air a segment about the Daisey controversy on “Marketplace” (which begins at 6:30 p.m.), followed by a full hourlong investigation of the issues on “This American Life” (beginning at 7 p.m.).

The show is set to complete its runs at New York’s Public Theatre this Sunday. The theater, which does not plan to cancel the final performances, issued this statement:

“In the theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth — that’s what a storyteller does, that’s what a dramatist does. ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ reveals, as Mike’s other monologues have, human truths in story form.

And….cue dominoes falling.

This is the nature of journalism, for better and for worse. I now feel stupid and gullible for believing his “story form” — (WTF is that?) — and promoting his work.

But I also loathe, and want to expose, crummy and exploitative labor practices, some of which I wrote about in Malled, my book about retail work — in which I also detailed the eleven Foxconn worker suicides of May 2010. There have since been more.

I’m writing this on an Apple computer. I use an Ipad and an Apple laptop. My hands, morally speaking, are dirty!

Here’s the problem.

We want to work with people whose opinions, education, work ethic and principles we share and trust. Without the basic underpinning of trust — “Why, yes, I do believe your story” -- we can’t function culturally, socially, politically or financially.

We also all need to remain awake, skeptical, critical and questioning.

But the media — and I’ve been a journalist since 1980 — are also prey to “pack journalism”, rushing headlong to embrace the trope-of-the-day lest they look slow, stupid, uncool or lazy in front of their peers and bosses and readers and listeners.

And there are stories we want to believe. There are stories that are virtually impossible to report firsthand and when someone brings home the goods, we sigh in relief and hand them a laurel wreath for doing what we could not or did not or never would do ourselves.

Here’s yet another cheerful story this week of deception and broken trust — an Amish man who took $17 million from his co-religionists in 29 states and invested it improperly.

And an op-ed in this week’s New York Times called out some pretty ugly behaviors (gasp!) behind the doors of Goldman Sachs, where fat cat bankers call their clients “muppets”.

Wrote Greg Smith, 33, a GS banker who thus burned his bridges to his former employer:

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

Such a world we live in!

Do you trust what you read and hear?

From which source(s) and why?

Is “Help!” a four-letter word for you?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, Health, life, seniors, women on March 15, 2012 at 12:07 am
English: "A Helping Hand". 1881 pain...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve just experienced the most dependent month of my adult life.

Having had full hip replacement, returning home bruised, swollen and sore, I needed daily — even multiple times a day — help to do the simplest of things: eat, dress, pull socks, stocking and shoes on and off, get in and out of bed, bathe.

I left my parents’ home at 19 and lived much of my life after that alone. I’d been sick as hell alone in my apartment or traveling far away where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language, in places like Venice or Istanbul. My family has never been close emotionally or physically — it was made very clear to me what, pretty much whatever happened to me, physically, financially, emotionally, it was up to me to figure out, and cope with it.

I hated being weak, needy and vulnerable. Surprise!

I finally drove this week — and showered (alone!) and tied my sneakers (unaided!) — for the first time in a month. I went by train into Manhattan, our nearest city, and saw a movie with a friend and did some clothes shopping. It was all deliciously new and deeply pleasant.

But I didn’t, as everyone expected, sigh with relief at finally regaining my cherished independence.

I loved having Jose home, to chat with and bring me breakfast in bed. Friends drove an hour to visit, bringing home-cooked meals and fresh cheer. Two close friends were kind enough to chauffeur me to physical therapy a few times, otherwise a $20 cab ride each way.

I’d never been so fussed over or cared for, and it was lovely. Our front door is covered in get-well cards. We ate dinners for three weeks cooked and delivered by members of our church.

As I’ve been walking our apartment property in spring sunshine, I’ve run into a neighbor, a single woman my age who is fighting cancer for the third time. She’s reluctant to ask for help, but she needs it from time to time.

We all do.

We are, even in our vigorous 20s or 30s, as likely to be felled by a vicious flu or a broken arm or a sprained ankle.

We need help, whether writing a better resume or finding the perfect wedding dress or learning how to refinish furniture or bathe a baby. But, for some reason, we’re supposed to shoo away a helping hand.

No, I’m, fine, really, we insist. Even when we’re really not at all fine and would kill for a helping hand or two.

Maybe we’re afraid no one will step up and be reliable and do the hard work, even for a while. As someone who took decades here in New York to make lasting friendships, this offered a huge and powerful lesson for me. We’re loved!

Do you find it difficult to ask others for help?

When you ask, do you receive it?

Aaaaah,that feels better….nothing like a good fight!

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love, men, women on March 12, 2012 at 11:07 pm
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As opposed to a bad fight.

I know, I know, some people never fight.

Hah! Not me.

I grew up in a family of people with six-guns for tongues, and it wasn’t a great education. I certainly learned how to shout, rail and rant. I can slam a door with the best of them.

But…resolve conflict? Discuss an issue in a civil tone? Negotiate?

Hmmmmm.

So when Jose and I recently finally had a fight, after wayyyyyy too many weeks of peaceful, loving cooperation, it actually felt a little more normal.

We both agreed it felt a bit more “us” than all the (lovely) sentimentality we’d been living for a while. Because, like many people, there are still some unresolved issues driving us both crazy that just get buried under the day-to-day stuff. They’re still there and, until we have the time or energy to unearth them, they fester.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wild about arguing, or shouting, or angry words. But having survived a first marriage where we never seemed to resolve anything, (hence the words first marriage), at least in this one, 12 years in, we actually try to wrangle our demons, both shared and individual.

One of the toughest parts of an intimate relationship of any duration is figuring out how (when, if) to fight. What do you say and what’s taboo? Who apologizes first and who really means it? What happens if you just can’t find common ground or a compromise?

It took us several grim years for him to accept that you can love the hell out of someone and still be really angry at them. Our first fights were at least 30 percent worse because of the added catalyst of disbelief and dismay on his part that we even were fighting. In my family, it was pretty standard operating procedure.

Now, maybe because we’re been together for so long and have mellowed and/or matured and/or accepted some of the behaviors we once railed against in one another — or maybe we’re just pooped — we don’t fight much at all.

Do you fight with your loved one(s)?

How does it usually turn out?

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