Archive for October, 2007

Perspective

On Saturday, bomb blasts shook our house all day as the nearby military base “practiced.” Thoughts of daily life for people in Iraq or Israel or other violence-entrenched nations across the world reminded us of how peaceful our existence here is.

Today, fires rage and burn homes and land in communities around us. We’re locked in our home, together, windows closed and air purifier blasting. We’re fine. We’re packed just in case. Once again, we see how fortunate we are.

Nothing else matters but our health and safety — and being with the people we love. At the bottom line, there is no such thing as success without these elements.

* Addendum: We are leaving town.  Good thoughts to everyone in SoCal and a thousand thank you’s to the firefighters!!

October 23, 2007 at 3:55 am 3 comments

On Friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friendship, and how much it plays into my idea of success and fulfillment in my life. As a woman in my mid-30’s and a new mother, I am finding myself in major transition with some of the friendships I’ve had for years.

For some of us, our lives are taking us in very different directions. For others, we are seemingly going in the same direction, but that seems to draw out even more differences in how we are approaching certain life choices. And then there’s this phenomenon of making new friends, which we all do throughout our lives, and gauging which are the temporary or situational ones and which may stick around until we’re old ladies in purple hats together (both kinds being OK).

I’m realizing that successful friendships don’t necessarily have anything to do with whether two people (in my case, usually two women) are the same age or marital status or whether or not we both have children. Some of my single friends are closer to me than ever, while others have all but disappeared; and some of my mom friends and I can talk about everything still, while walls are being built with others. And I’m just beginning to make new potential friends in vastly different life stages and situations.

So, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what, then, seems to be the “sticking factor” — that intangible connection that allows a friendship to really survive through years and changes. I still don’t have a real answer, but I’ve come up with a few thoughts:

1. Commitment to the Friendship — What I’m seeing is that when two friends have equal commitment to a friendship, it can usually work no matter what differences arise. This commitment could manifest vastly differently with different friendships, but the key is that it is in balance.

For instance, balance could mean two friends are equally committed to talking once every few months, and have a lovely conversation catching up and reminiscing, then are fine with not hearing from one another until the seasons turn again. Or, it could mean two friends who are there for each other through thick and thin, dealing with the everyday details and the life traumas, talking often and going after one another to see what’s up if there hasn’t been contact in a given week. Either scenario can work, but if there’s one friend who wants a holiday card relationship and the other who wants the BFF relationship, that’s where things fall apart.

2. Basic Values — The most successful friendships I have and have seen are between people who share a set of basic values in common. Now, this certainly doesn’t mean they agree on everything (how boring would that be?), but at core there is a shared understanding of foundational values, such as how we treat people, how we view honesty, loyalty, life purpose, etc. It’s not about whether two friends share the same pastimes or favorite books that matters, but these fundamental values. When they are out of line I think it’s harder to stay connected.

3. Willingness to Face the Unpretty Stuff — Recently, a friend told me that a friend of hers (who I don’t know) said women who argue with their friends are “wierd.” In our culture, it seems that it is more acceptable for women to disagree with, argue with, or break up messily with men than it is for these normal occurrences to happen between women. It’s part of what Oprah calls “the disease to please” among women, the need for us to be so nice that we would rather let a friendship silently fade away than deal with an issue that may be less than pleasant to take it to the next level.

I think the deep, evolving friendships that stand a chance for the long haul (this may not apply for the holiday card friends) must have moments of disagreement, or bad behavior, and then the getting through it. Pretending everything is always pretty, in my book, is a recipe for denial and distance. This isn’t to say I argue often with my friends, or enjoy the ugly stuff, but I think the friends that last tacitly agree that we take the good, bad, and the ugly of one another, and talk about it.

***

Losing friendships can be heartbreaking, and finding new ones challenging. But, the joy I get out of the friendships that stick — and even the ones that fade away mutually after their purpose has been served — is one of the best parts of life for me. I can’t imagine calling myself “successful” without close friends whom I can really be myself with. After all, if we can’t share it, where’s the fun in it?

This somewhat convoluted train of thought will continue; there’s way more to say on this topic. In the meantime, though, I’d love to hear your thoughts about “sticking factors” that make friendships last.

October 20, 2007 at 5:57 am 2 comments

MotherTalk Review: The Reincarnationist

I dig a book that makes me eager for free moments so I can sneak pages, and The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose, my second MotherTalk review book, was one of those. I opted to review it not because I’m a big suspense reader (I’m not) but because I find the topic of reincarnation fascinating, and this novel promised a juicy plot about this topic.

Here’s how I tie it to the bigger questions of this blog: Is this life “enough”?!  And if there’s more to our karma than meets the present-tense eye, wouldn’t that tie into our notions of success?

Back to the novel, M.J. Rose combines her own experience and research with reincarnation, some in-depth historical research, and her obvious flair for sizzling, lusty plotlines to create a 400-plus-page book that I gobbled up in three days.  I appreciated the authenticity in the experiences of the characters, and I found myself wishing I could see people’s auras through my camera lens the way main character Josh Ryder could.  Is there more to our souls’ journeys that we could understand now?  I like that this book made me wonder.

Now, this is not to say I didn’t have some problems with the book, which I did. The hero, Josh Ryder/Julius, is torn between lives in the present and in ancient Rome. This dichotomy is well-developed, but I must say I wish Rose had connected certain plot pieces in the end that she did not. (I’m not looking for a pat ending, but I tend to go by the filmmaking theory that if you show the viewer a purple shoe, then you later need to follow up with the purple shoe.)  In other words, there were a few things that begged to be connected in the end that were not. (Is she planning a sequel, perhaps? I’d pick that up.)

Then there is another storyline of Percy, Josh/Julius’ reincarnation in the 1800’s, which doesn’t quite mesh with the otherwise well-woven plot until the very end.  This 1800’s plotline felt a bit like that tacked-on “gag” story they always had on Friends or Seinfeld (yes, I went to college in the early 90’s!) – there wasn’t much meat there.  It answered some key questions late in the book (so hang in there with it), but it felt as if chunks of it had to be left on the cutting room floor, or else it wasn’t fully developed.

Still, despite those minor frustrations, I kept turning the pages because I wanted to know what happened to these characters. That, to me, is a successful read.  And, of course, I appreciated Rose delving into the topic of reincarnation in a novel, and the fact that she made me think again about those moments in life that I’ve said to myself, “I know this person” when we’d barely met, or “I’ve been here before” in places I hadn’t visited in my conscious memory.

Any book that pushes beyond our narrow understanding of life has the potential to open our eyes to things we haven’t noticed before.  I’ll be watching for auras when I next tote my Nikon around — looking for more than I’ve seen before in my viewfinder — and I’ll be paying more attention to deja vus.  For me, that’s “enough” to make this novel worth the three-day read.

October 17, 2007 at 3:04 am 2 comments

A Good Laugh

For me, all is right in those moments when I get to share a real, hearty laugh with someone I love.

Last night, DH and I were brushing our teeth. He handed me a new booklight he had picked up for me at the store. I looked at the package and nearly spit out my toothpaste laughing. I showed him and he did the same.

We laughed for a good five minutes, toothbrushes in mouths and out, bending over as our tummies ached, and continuing to laugh sporadically for some time after.

The booklight package said: “Enjoy your book while sleeping.”

October 15, 2007 at 1:46 am 2 comments

Green Halloween & Two Americas?

So, I read this article recently about a mother in Seattle who started a movement she calls Green Halloween, the idea being that we can still have a fun holiday without being completely junked-out on unhealthy, corporate candy.

She offers alternatives to candy, alternative candies (better for our bodies, from companies that treat Earth better), and ideas for good, old-fashioned party games that don’t revolve around junk food. (Remember pumpkin-carving, bobbing for apples?) Anyone can print out a Green Halloween logo, and communities are encouraged to have parties or neighborhood participation in this healthier (but still fun) version of the beloved holiday.

I thought, this is great! We’re a long-time healthy-eating and green family, with a child who has serious food allergies on top of that, so the M&M/Mars version of Halloween is not something we happily anticipate. And, yet, I’ve always loved Halloween for the costumes, community and lore. So, I sent the links about Green Halloween to two online groups I participate in, thinking that everyone would see its brilliance.

The first group, our natural parenting playgroup, didn’t react much online. But when we got to our park meet-up last week, many of the moms commented on how great it was. And one brave mom has offered to host the Green Halloween party for our gang, as an alternative to mass trick-or-treating. (We can still do our immediate neighbors, for the experience, if we choose, which is really plenty. They are only toddlers after all!) Anyway, ideas to action, very cool!

Interestingly, though, the other group I posted on, a group for families with food-allergic children, responded enthusiastically online — against the idea of Green Halloween. More interestingly, they made it clear that they hadn’t even read the article. They wanted their kids to have Skittles (which are apparently allergen-free) and knock on every door, and anyone telling them anything otherwise could dance off the roof. One poster said she bets kids will run the other way if they see a Green Halloween sign on a house.

Wow. In my little bubble, I thought, who could hate this idea? Healthy for our kids, healthy for the planet. But I forget that the M&M/Mars version of Halloween is held tightly by many, many Americans. To stoke change, even healthier change, often incites anger (really, fear) and resistance.

The playgroup parents are already searching for healthier alternatives — I suppose you could call us “alternative” as a group, in fact. The food allergy group, I am learning, tends to be more representative of mainstream America. There’s a lot of talk about which fast food joints are allergy-safe. (In my world, none, but not just for allergy reasons!) There’s a clinging to “traditional” foods (yes, trans fats, the great American tradition!) and fitting in.

It was good for me to remember these particular “two Americas,” I think. To remember that we still have a long way to go for a healthier nation and world. We can sometimes live in our like-minded circles and forget others think so drastically differently.

I will continue to promote movements like Green Halloween, that focus on health and the environment. These issues should transcend political, religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. And, yet, I know well that they don’t always. I know well that Green Halloween targets a specific (and privileged) group of us who have the time and ability to make this level of change, and are not just trying to survive.

However, there is a group out there who are more than surviving, and who can make these changes, but are unwilling. I learned in my feminist studies days that it is often most effective to target the “next” group over (for example, targeting people within our generation on feminist issues, rather than trying to change our grandparents’ generation, more set in their ways).

So, I think I will use this theory here. And the food allergy group may need to hear from me again. This Green Halloween thing, and the ideas behind it, could infiltrate there. There’s an opening, as they care about their kids’ health enough to be there. (And I know there are some green/healthy-eating parents on there, too — they just didn’t pipe in on my post!)

I just need an a-ha in their language. I’ll keep thinking. I mean, haven’t we had enough M&M/Mars holidays? Do we really need our kids hoarding junky candy? (No, that’s definitely not the angle to take!) Can’t we all just get a little green?

October 10, 2007 at 9:55 pm 3 comments

Conscious Consumer Meme

I’ve been “tagged” by Elrena Evans, the co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Mama, Ph.D. (in which I contribute an essay) for a meme called Conscious Consumer.

Allow me to explain this meme, which, as a relatively new blogger, I had to learn from Elrena is a blogging game. The following rules I copy from Elrena:

Here’s how it works: post the directions on your blog, tell everyone who tagged you, answer the questions, and tag five or more people. That’s it! And if you want to grab the graphic to put on your blog as well, feel free.

The purpose of this meme is to inspire some reflection about how we shop and what we purchase. The idea isn’t that consumption itself is somehow bad, but that we all could probably stand to put a little bit more thought into what we buy. And, of course, it’s supposed to be fun.

So here goes! Pick a recent shopping trip — for clothes, shoes, groceries, doesn’t matter. The only guideline is that it will be easier to play if you purchased at least a few things.

Now tell us, about your purchases:

1. What are you proud of?
2. What are you embarrassed by?
3. What do think you couldn’t live without?
4. What did you most enjoy purchasing?
5. What were you most tempted by? (This last one may or may not be an actual purchase!)

About the only thing I shop for “live” nowadays is food. And I only shop for food at four stores (mom-n-pop natural grocery, Trader Joe’s, and two corporate natural groceries) or farmer’s markets.

As a whole foods/vegetarian cook (not a great cook, but I cook so in our house I am a cook), I used to be very organized in my menu-planning and food shopping. But with a toddler, it’s a bit more catch-as-catch-can, go when she’s in the mood and grab what looks good. This means our grocery bills are climbing in a crazy way, so this topic is a good one as I think about getting back on track with my food-buying budget.

So, I’ll answer these questions using our latest trek to the mom-n-pop natural grocery, my daughter’s favorite place ever:

1. What are you proud of?
Lots of fresh, organic vegetables and fruits: kale, leeks, yams, avocados, berries, cantaloupe, zucchini, onions, bananas, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower…

2. What are you embarrassed by?
The bag of grain-sweetened dark chocolate chips. Only because it was over four bucks and I ate the whole bag myself in handfuls, often in the early mornings, within a few days.

3. What do think you couldn’t live without?
See above question. Major dark chocolate-oholic.

4. What did you most enjoy purchasing?
For sure the veggies and fruits — the colors and textures and smells, and knowing I am feeding my family this healthy stuff. Also I liked buying bulk lentils; fun to pull the lever!

5. What were you most tempted by? (This last one may or may not be an actual purchase!)
I always want to try all kinds of natural supplements — the latest “green” powder or homeopathic remedy — these are not cheap, and are more tempting when I’m list-less (in both senses)! (This has replaced my teenage desire to try all kinds of cosmetics.) I didn’t buy any of those products at the mom-n-pop store, but I did buy some (for less, I swear!) from our monthly co-op.

And that’s the meme! OK, I’m tagging More Than You Ever Wanted to Know, The Spice Choir, Dreaming About Water, Gravy Days, and Managing the Motherload. Have Fun!

If you’re reading this and not tagged, please feel free to answer the questions as a Comment, too!

October 10, 2007 at 8:55 pm 1 comment

Helen Keller on Success

I get a newsletter called Funds for Writers, and its publisher, Hope Clark, included this quote in the October edition:

WORDS OF SUCCESS

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.
Only through experience of trial and suffering
can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared,
ambition inspired, and success achieved.
~ Helen Keller

It’s a great, thought-provoking quote, and it is by Helen Keller, whom I have always found one of the most intriguing figures in modern life. In fact, I got a bit obsessed with her in high school. I went to a performing arts magnet school, where we put on elaborate plays and musicals. I lobbied for The Miracle Worker, the story of Keller and her amazing teacher Annie Sullivan, for some time (alas, to no avail) .

I wrote my senior AP English capstone project about Helen Keller. I read all of her books (there are many — a great start is her The Story of My Life) and wrote a play about an incident in which she was accused of plagiarizing a children’ s story. In her writing, Keller referred to this plagiarism accusation as the worst thing that ever happened to her.

This is a woman who was deaf and blind. And being accused of dishonesty, when she sincerely did not believe she had committed the offense, was way worse to her than any of her so-called disabilities. What does this say to us about Keller’s approach to life, her attitude?

To me, what has always been so intriguing about Helen Keller is that she took what so many of us would see as impossible obstacles in stride. She did not find them as important as bigger issues in our times and among people. And she based her idea of success in life not around her disabilities, but around her relationships with others. The more I read of her writings, the more I understood the power of this.

Many who have not read her deeply may think of Helen Keller only as a champion for the blind and deaf. Which she was, of course. But in her mind that did not nearly define her. What defined her was her character, particularly in relation to the people in her life. And when her integrity and character were questioned by one of those people, she found that way worse than any external “problem” she ever had.

A lot of times, when women in particular prioritize relationships over some other external aspect of success we are considered “weak.” Yet, I think Keller’s approach to life is the strongest, most powerful way to live. If we focus on our connections with one another — attempting to grow and learn together, to give and take, to become deeper and more compassionate people through our relationships — how much more can we accomplish than if we try to live in our own little boxes and think only of #1?

If anyone can give power to this idea it is Helen Keller. She did live in a figurative box, with no sight or sound at a time when people truly believed this meant no life. She found ways to communicate and to love — with the help of others, of course. And at the end of her days, she saw those deep connections with others as the highest testament to who she was — her greatest successes.

It’s not easy to be interconnected as we are, to communicate clearly, to understand one another’s intentions. But, taking a lesson from one of my long-time heroes, for me, the greatest successes in my life revolve more around my deep connections with the people in it — and thus a deeper connection with myself and with something way bigger than me — than any independent accomplishment I could name.

October 6, 2007 at 12:53 pm 6 comments

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To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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