Book review: Maxed Out

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Writer, mom, consultant Katrina Alcorn wrote _Maxed Out_ after her own struggles with trying to do it all and be it all led her to personal maxing out.  I really appreciated this book on many levels but not least of which is Alcorn’s raw honesty about her struggles, her insecurities, her risks and her many failures.  It seems to me that we don’t hear enough about the nitty gritty that each of us moms face on a daily basis and –really important here- that we aren’t to blame.  The assumption is that if only we balance our time better, say “no” more often, cut corners on our own self-care, then it will all be okay.  No, it won’t, actually.  Alcorn clarifies why none of that works with this much needed book.

DeathtoStock_People7In each chapter, Alcorn niftily intertwines her own story with related hard facts.  For example, in the chapter about her maternity leave from her former company, she concludes her story with the American reality of the challenge that she faced.  In this case, a lack of paid family leave.  She uses hard, current facts that are clearly and persuasively stated to make her case.  Over and over, Alcorn makes the case that moms aren’t simply coming up short because of their own failings but because society at large has failed us.  And that’s the most important, timeliest message that all moms need to internalize.  Right now. We aren’t doing anything wrong.  We are doing the best that we can in a society that appears to value mothering but really when the rubber meets the road does next to nothing to support the mothers who do that mothering.

It has always been important to me to help women support other women.  I offer free groups to new and expecting moms as one way to do this and I also volunteer locally in a different capacity.  Alcorn delivers here too. After “practice saying no” In the afterward, #2 is “Be An Ally To Other Woman”.  #2 is just one more way to underscore the message of her book.  I think this is a crucial connection.  Yes, we all want paid leave (I think many people can agree on that) but less agreed upon is the need to band together, for women especially, to make these changes a reality.  That banding together involves supporting other women whose choices may not be your own i.e the decision to have a child or the decision not to have a child, for example.  A  conversation that should be focusing on how we can improve things for all of us becomes the sexy “Mommy Wars” crap instead.  Let’s place the blame, not on ourselves or each other, but on the society that we live in for failing women and families at every turn.

One of my favorite parts of _Maxed Out_was the afterword.  Alcorn gives the reader ten tips that she can do right now.  So many of these grim look-at-the-desperate-state-of-the-world-we-live-in books don’t offer any hope or ideas at the end for improvement.  Alcorn does.  Some of her tips take a bit more gumption than others (‘practice saying no’ and ‘tell your partner what you need’) but they are all smart, do-able and important for each mom to practice for a bit more sanity.  Alcorn also mentions Moms Rising, an advocacy organization that works on both grass roots and national levels to support moms.  Speaking of women supporting women! Alcorn encourages readers to sign up for Moms Rising and mentions that she is donating 10% of the proceeds of her book to the organization.  Wow, way to put your money with your mouth is.

As I finished the book, I couldn’t help think of Sheryl Sandberg and her take on what women need to get ahead.  _Lean In_ gets so many accolades for Sandberg’s false message of the key to success being women working harder and smarter. Alcorn on the other hand places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the real problem: the society we live in, not our lack of hard work or personal dedication.  Mothers everywhere have those qualities in spades.  Alcorn does and so does Sandberg of course. What we don’t have are systems that support families.  Women like Sandberg, however, are not only privileged enough to be able to buy the support that they need to raise a family: a nanny, housecleaner, personal assistants, daycare, etc. but are also more educated, higher up the corporate latter, etc. In short, they are very very fortunate. Women like Alcorn and I and perhaps you too, dear reader, cannot buy every success.  Not should we have to.

If you are a new mom or a soon-to-be mom, likely you will feel stuck in this place of no-win many, many times. I hope not of course.  But if you are, consider picking up _Maxed Out_ for a much needed reality check.  It’s worth your time and your precious sanity too.

This, this and THIS is Rape Culture

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I didn’t want to read the letter.  Not only do I (did I) really like Woody Allen movies and can easily name my favorites but on deeper level, I dreaded reading one more story about a survivor who had been failed by the system. It would seem that even if people inclined to blame the survivor in a domestic violence relationship (“why doesn’t she just leave?) would have to possess SOME iota of compassion and understanding for a child.  Right? I mean who doesn’t get that a child does not have the power or voice to escape? Sadly, however, after reading many troubling Tweets Saturday night as reaction to Dylan Farrow’s letter spread, I saw just that.

From comments about “the importance” of “a different point of view” to Cate Blanchett’s comment that the “situation” has been “obviously long and painful” and she hopes for “resolution” soon. I’m honestly not sure which comment made me more angry! These comments are indicative of the rape culture that we live in everyday, every minute. Where even if the survivor isn’t blamed, we find some way to excuse (ever heard of “boys will be boys”?) the perpetrator. Rape culture is so thick in our society that we see a survivor’s story of abuse at the hands of her father almost as an issue to be debated. We step gingerly around her story as if it were a pile of shit on the floor – not her heart in the world – and instead speak cautiously in lazy cliches that appease no one. After all, we can’t come right out and say “I believe her.” Can we?

Well, yes we can.  And we must.

Domestic violenceIf it’s not Dylan Farrow’s horrible, raw story of her years of abuse, it’s a story of a woman with HIV brutally attacked and later blamed for the attack when her rapist tested positive for HIV.  It’s in the protection of a man who everyone suspects has been abusing children, simply because he is affiliated with a major college football team.  It’s your local brewery “innocently” advertising their beer. It’s in the music that you listen to and the commercials at the half time show that are so eagerly anticipated. Rape culture is everywhere. Until we own up to rape culture existing, it will continue to be here and continue to be denied. And survivors like Dylan Farrow will continue to be blamed for abuse that happened to them as children.

It’s funny in sports, sometimes we root for the underdog.  And even in real life sometimes too.  Aren’t most of us cheered, for example, when we read the story of the waitress getting a huge tip (and some tuition money) when she least expected it? So why is it that we can’t support the person, usually a woman, who has lost so much due to abuse? And not even in a financial way.  Just with a simple show of faith using the simple words, “I believe you.” I’m not going to say “imagine if she were your sister or daughter…”. No. You should believe a survivor because s/he is a human being who is telling you that they have been badly hurt.  That should be enough.

So, why is it so hard for people to say that they believe a survivor? Maybe because just making that declaration says something about themselves as a person. Something that maybe they aren’t comfortable with. And that’s horrible and sad in its own way too.

Will I ever watch another Woody Allen movie? No. I cannot after knowing Dylan Farrow’s experience at the hands of her father, her abuser. I believe her.

“Her”…no love story here.

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Ah, the lows that we reach on a daily basis. The new movie, Her, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely man who “falls in love” with his computer, Samantha. And before I go on, let me ask how this sounds even remotely attractive as the plot of a movie to any thinking person?

It must, I guess, because people are seeing it.  And apparently because it’s a love story.  Here’s the problem though: Joaquin Phoenix’s character is in love with an artificial intelligence system.  Siri, basically.  In other words, SHE’S NOT REAL. DeathtoStock_People6And that’s what I’m angry about. Her is just one more example of how we’ve come to value disembodied women more than a real live one. You know, ones with a body. 

My daughter is under two years old. Thankfully she isn’t asking about Her but someone else’s daughter is.  What does that parent, indeed any thinking person say, to their child?  “Well, sweetie, the shitty society that we live in values the parts of a woman, particularly the sexy ones, more than the whole.  Now let’s sit back and watch the number this particular lesson does on your body image and self-worth.”

When we accept women’s bodies chopped into bits for advertising purposes or their disembodied voices in movies then we accept the fact that we are teaching our children, particularly our girls, that human contact is unimportant.  That speaking with someone face to face doesn’t matter.  That relationships aren’t valuable.  That personal connection is disposable. That empathy is over-rated.

I think Her is indeed a film “…about how we live now, and how we might live in the future,” as LA Times & NPR film critic Kenneth Turan says here.  And that’s the very problem…only not in the way that Turan and others seem to see it.  And maybe I’m the only one here learning a lesson. (It wouldn’t be the first time.) But next time my husband bursts into laughter at something he’s reading, I’m not going to complain that he’s disrupting my precious work.  I may just go in there and give him a kiss.  At least I’m not sleeping with my computer.

The face of your business

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A shop closed in our small city a few weeks ago.  It doesn’t matter as much what she sold exactly as much as the owner’s explanation for the close: “no one buys widgets anymore.” I thought about this today as I saw her wares at a pop-up Christmas market.  A woman I didn’t know was handling the booth.  The owner wasn’t there.  I didn’t expect her to be.

Perhaps it’s not that “no one buys widgets anymore”.  Instead, I think know that it’s that no one buys anything anymore.  We did once. But in today’s world when we can get everything we could ever want without even leaving home, we expect more.  We buy a connection, a feeling, a story, an emotion.  If you aren’t selling those, you’ll be out of business as quickly as Suzanne was.  Ironically, the products that Suzanne sold were stories; one of a kind pieces that essentially could sell themselves. But as inanimate objects, they need someone to speak for them.  Instead of being there to tell their story and make a sale, however, Suzanne was seldom present in her shop.  She had “interns” or friends in the shop who didn’t know the stories well nor had the passion that she did.  Interns or others represeting the shop were the ones who asked about hanging flyers for upcoming events. She seldom did.  Suzanne didn’t follow back those who followed her on social media, reTweet their Tweets or “like” their Facebook updates. What Suzanne did do was complain about the sad state of her business. To anyone who would listen.

Perhaps one of the reasons that we have so many thriving food stops here in Durham is not that we like to eat (although we do) but that food service people* tend to be the ones who get that connection is key.  View More: http://deathtothestockphoto.pass.us/brick-and-mortarWhy else would I spend $4.50 on an 8 oz coffee?  Because Leon or Areli grind the coffee by hand, while I watch fascinated and listen to them telling me about where the coffee comes from.  Because they always ask about Elisabeth by name.  Because when I told Leon almost a year ago that I wasn’t working full-time, he told me that I was because I was caring for Elisabeth.  Connection is everything.  And of course this is more important for small business that anyone else.

There are other shops who sell widgets in our city.  Quite a few actually.  Some have been around for decades.  None may be thriving but they appear to be doing okay.  [Additional, complimentary revenue streams help most balance widget sales and keep them in the black, is my guess.]  But I think some of them get it.  They are the face of their small business.  No one else.  They know that people like talking to the owner.  They seem to know that a story is essential to a sale.  They spend time in their own shop.

So, don’t complain that no one buys widget anymore and it happens to be what you sell. No one buys anything anymore.  We buy the inanimate feeling you give us when you tell us the story behind the widget.  And the widget?  It’s a memento of the feeling that we had when we talked to you.

For more on connecting with your customers via a story, see Bernadette Jiwa’s website, The Story of Telling. Her work taught me much of the language (and how to) behind connecting with customers.  Perhaps you too get why connecting is important but are less clear on how to do it?  Bernadette’s books (and website!) are the resource for you.

*Of which I have always been one, since age 16 when I was hired in a gourmet grocert story because I was old enough to work the slicer.

Your words need the right friends

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It’s so visually jarring for me when the art (illustrations, photos, any image) doesn’t match the words it’s paired with. Have you noticed this too?  I stop listening to the story and instead unconsciously begin to focus on the trainwreck of the art.  Ugh.

Older versions of classic children’s books are prime examples of this fail. Wondering what I was looking at when I thought of this post?  Here it is: _The Velveteen Rabbit_ board book c .2003.  It’s just…ugh.  And that story is so wonderful.  It was one of my absolute favorites as a little girl.

This is such an important lesson to be aware of: your story doesn’t connect with its intended audience (even if they’re just “kids”) if the images are unappealing. Or absent. That’s a huge miss. Your story should always have an image.  IMG_0573True for everyone but especially true if you are a solopreneur, small business wunderkind or other indy worker.  [Side note: these folks should also always have a blog and each post should always, always, have an image embedded in it.]  Unless you are someone like Seth Godin, so respected and in such demand, that it doesn’t matter what you do. (All the more incredible that Seth always walks his talk, isn’t it?) Look to online storytellers marvels like Catherine McCord & Allie Brosh. Their posts always have accompanying images, whether video or “art”, which absolutely MAKE the story.

Telling your story without complementary images is akin to teaching by lecture only. Add in visuals, guest speakers, small group discission and all of a sudden the lesson becomes rich, interesting and memorable.  Better yet, you’ve given the audience a gift that they’re more likely to remember.  And that’s the whole point anyway isn’t it?

“I Gotta Feeling”

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…that yesterday’s power walk, all 20 minutes of it, is the change that I have been needing.

That Black Eyed Peas song was humming in my ears as I hoofed it up North Street yesterday mid-day on my first real power walk in months.  I hate writing that.  I have always been a gym rat.  Exercise was huge for me. That is, until I got pregnant, and couldn’t muster energy to get up at 5:00 and head to the Y.  Which I used to do EVERY DAY (“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday…”) for five years.

Like many breastfeeding toddlers, my daughter wakes up 2-3 times a night.  I don’t usually get more than a few hours sleep at a time so getting up at 5:00 am is an impossibility.  But I’ve been out of sorts recently: anxious over small things, not sleeping well and feeling a lot of tight pain in my hips.  I always knew that my daily gym jaunts were key self-care (“I feel stress and I wanna let it go,”) but when you’re tired those past lessons learned sometimes slip from your memory like water in the hand.  After another poor night’s sleep, I resolved that I would start walking again.

(“Let’s do it and do it and do it, do it, do it…”) YES, I say to that sentiment.  Even as I listen to that song as I write this, my hamstrings feel tingly.  I love it.  It’s a feeling that I can almost taste.  The iPod music, my elliptical co-pilot, has resurfaced like an old friend at the airport.  Listening to those songs is like coming home, somehow.  Eyeglasses on Open BookComing home to some piece of me that has been missing, like eyeglasses that you somehow forgot that you wear.  When you put them on, the fuzzy black and white becomes a deliciously sharp sparkle of colors and shapes.

My goal is to walk every other day (usually when E. is sleeping and F. is home) and to take in at least one yoga class a week.  I’d like to get back to the gym in the New Year because I know that once I re-start, I get addicted fast.  That’s my assumption anyway. Will it be the reality 2+ years later?  Stick around and find out. You know I’ll tell you.

The real disappointment: mistaken assumptions

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Genevieve Paiemont-Jacobson’s piece in Salon trashing both her birth and post-partum doula has gotten a lot of attention.  Most of the comments following the article seem to blame Paiemont-Jacobson for the negative experience she had.  I agree in part but I think the bigger issue are the assumptions she had about her doulas-

First, most birth and post-partum doulas (because {smile} there are two kinds) are independent contractors.  They work for themselves which means that they do all their own marketing, vet their own clients, are themselves on hand for the job that they were hired for.  Except, of course, when they’re not.  Like other professionals, doulas have clients other than us.  And while I do think that many birth doulas tend to overbook themselves, it’s important to remember that there is still a customer and a provider here.  If Paiemont-Jacobson wasn’t comfortable with the possibility that her birth doula may be at another birth when you go into labor, she shouldn’t have booked that doula!

Secondly, birth doulas aren’t angels who, if on hand at your birth, ensure “smooth sailing and rainbows and unicorns”.  They are real people without magical powers. Yes, having a birth doula can reduce your chance of a C-section.  But it’s no guarantee against unexpected complications, such as the ones that arose at Paiemont-Jacobson’s birth.  Same for post-partum doulas.  shutterstock_55511725It seems to me that, expectations, (especially with her post-partum doula who should have provided a clear list of how she would and would not be of service) were not set.  That’s disappointing.  I can see why Paiemont-Jacobson feels she was “ripped off” but, honestly, some of the blame does rest with her for not getting the information she needed by asking the right questions. Pro tip: Both kinds of doulas are providers, like any other.  Interview carefully in advance to make sure you are hearing what you need to.

Thirdly, it sounds as if Paiemont-Jacobson assumed her birth doula was also a childbirth education expert. Whether she was misled by the birth doula or if she just connected these disparate dots doesn’t matter.  What’s disturbing is that Paiemont-Jacobson still remains misinformed about the role of a birth doula in childbirth.  My own birth doula recommended a wonderful CD to help with relaxation and visualization but my husband and I took childbirth classes with-you guessed it!- someone trained as a childbirth educator. Birth doulas are real people.  Pro tip: If a resource is recommended to you by your birth doula, check it out. But taking any recommendation as insurance isn’t smart.

Rachel Gurevich over at Womb Warrior made a good point in our Twitter exchange about this article: “more time to process would have helped,”  I appreciated hearing this from her because I didn’t think of it!  A natural place for processing your birth experience is with your post-partum doula.  But Paiemont-Jacobson’s experience with hers was so completely lacking that I imagine the processing piece was absent too. Which is a shame.  It is essential for women to process their birth experience (I wish I’d done this!) no matter what kind of birth they have.  And often that’s difficult to do, whether it is because of preconceived ideas about childbirth or because we lack someone with whom to speak frankly and emotionally about our birth experience.  {This is one of the reasons that I’ll offer a service with this idea in mind when my new business, Outside The Mom Box, debuts later this Fall.}

A lessons learned piece from Genevieve Piedmont-Jacobson instead of this cathartic purge would have not only served other pregnant women and informed the general public but gained her more sympathy for her experience and perhaps even greater respect for her writing.  Her anger isn’t the problem; her assumptions are.

Discrimination: an all or nothing issue

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Don’t split hairs with me.

Your assumption that Guido Barilla’s statement about keeping his pasta for the “traditional family” is fine because he doesn’t specifically say that he doesn’t support marriage equality, is totally ridiculous and yes, you are indeed splitting hairs.

The reality is discrimination is an all or nothing issue.  It doesn’t work to say that some homophobia is okay but some is not.  Would you make a similarly hypocritical statement about women or folks of a different color?  Statements about women being bad drivers are okay because it’s funny, or true, or however you want to spin it.  BUT statements about women not being allowed to drive are definitely sexist and WRONG.  Um, no.

Your cover is blown.  When you throw in the red herring of “free speech” (used by such scumbags as those in the $13 billion porn industry, no less) and “he didn’t go _____ but if he did I would definitely be on your side,” I see you for who you truly are: a homophobic bigot.  Or a racist asshole. Or a sexist pig.  And I’m willing to say so.  May others join me in calling people out on their shit instead of letting them shovel their half-baked drivel at us under the guise of being an ally.

I think that part of the problem is that some of us (yes, I’m looking at you Mr. White Male and yes, also you too Ms. White Lady)shutterstock_93056218 have a conflict supporting the all or nothingness of discrimination.  The conflict stems from the fact that you want to support a movement against discrimination (because it’s cool, you feel that it’s the “right” thing or because you’re a sociopath) but you can’t because parts of it cut a little too close.  Meaning, you’d need to re-think your own behavior and your own words.  So, you support some pieces, clinging to the “free speech” mantra as gun advocates cling to the 2nd amendment.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am.  I’ve developed a no-tolerance rule for people who claim to support something but when it comes right down to it, they can’t put their money where their big Facebook mouth is. You don’t get to pick and choose which arguments or situations work for you.  You either are an ally or you’re not.  The time to own that is now.  If not for your own sense of personal integrity, then for the sake of those fighting the good fight. Because your hypocrytical words hurt more than all the self-righteousness of the other side.  And they (your “friends”) deserve better than that.

Video

“Creativity requires TIME”

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Creativity requires TIME: http://youtu.be/VPbjSnZnWP0 via @youtube

I found this via rochellewilliams.com. Indeed, a sweet video which hopefully will help remind me that -
a) taking time is NOT wasting time
b) the first idea isn’t always the best idea;
c) “creativity is not inspired by the pressure of time.”

Aside

Are you hungry?

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An older man, standing in a parking space that normally would have held a car on a very busy day at the Farmer’s Market, asked E. and I for food.  He was unassuming and spoke so quietly, I tuned him out. It was only after I’d walked on for a few steps that I realized what he had said.  I was babywearing and had my hands full with bags and keys so we continued on to the car.  E. was tired and quiet herself after a full morning of swimming and the happy chaos of the market but I dropped the bags in the front seat anyway, searching quickly for one small white one and headed back to find him.

My daughter will never see me turn away someone who asks us for food.  I hope that she will never know what it is to be hungry but who knows?  Maybe she will.  But more likely is that she will take for granted, as I know I often do, the fact that our fridge has plenty of food in it.  That there is a special bowl in the kitchen with choices of organic fruit in it. She isn’t relegated to one wooden-tasting apple as he might be after a free dinner at a local shelter.  Even now, a toddler, she knows choice.

More so than simply not taking food for granted, I want E. to see her own privilege.  I want her to always do whatever she can (assuming she feels safe) to help someone else who is not as fortunate as she is.  The only way to make this happen is for me to show her.  She imitates me brushing my teeth and sniffing at the dog’s breath; she is ripe to see me give away a biscuit or a coffee to someone who is hungry.

She takes in everything, that kid!  E. hears anger now and while she still laughs at my tears, I think that we’re not far off from her feeling anxious or upset when I am too.  Soon she’ll also see my own anger, shame even at how poorly we treat people who are desperate, unlucky or just hungry.  But for us, there won’t be pointless frustration with no action.  What would it teach her if I just cursed our system and then drove home to munch homemade cookies and milk on the porch?  j0399227Nothing.  And how confusing! I always take the small step that I can: give something that I bought away.

This little insignificant action not only forces me to give something that I want/have to someone else who needs it more, it also forces me to confront my own discomfort.  Discomfort with my own privilege, horribly inadequate social services, callous disregard for those less fortunate than ourselves and the emotions behind someone else’s “ask”.

Is it more humiliating to ask for money or for food?  Asking for money, using a sign even and not even speaking a word, has a feel of familiarity in a way.  Everyone always wants more money.  This guy/gal on the street is no different, right?  Asking for food, though, shows just how desperate you really are.  You just want something to eat.  Not money…which could be used for any bad habit that the listener decides to foist on you before walking away to the own car or home, shaking their head.

The assumption is one person can’t ever really do anything to make a difference, to change a broken system.  The reality is that she can.  Even an action seemingly small is the difference between an aching belly and a fuller one.  Ask someone who’s hungry if that makes a difference.

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