Thursday, January 31, 2008

Harumph

I love snow. Really. I know it makes getting around difficult. So what. At this point in time, the only thing that can literally stop us in our tracks is foul weather, and I'm all for it. But in the case of snow, there is an unmatched beauty. A sense of calm. People are nicer to one another, not in a shared misery kind of way, but a more buoyant spirit, genuine camaraderie.

Thus far, the winter of 2007/2008 has been very disappointing in the New York Metropolitan Area. It is the first time since the 1930s that we have not had but a trace of snow during the month of January. According to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) Central Park has kept weather records for 134 years. The average annual snowfall is reported to be 28.4 inches with 7.5 in January, 8.5 in February, 5 in March, 1 in April and November and 5.5 in December. So far, we have had a trace in November, December and January. Only once, maybe twice did grassy surfaces look white. The plows have stayed safely parked. Stockpiles of salt and sand relatively untouched. No overtime for the local sanitation crews, that's for sure.

We Gothamites, whether we admit it or not, need snow. Sure, there are plenty who will complain about it...my back, the cold, the inconvenience....blah, blah, blah. But we move at the speed of light in this town. Anything, barring mass destruction, that can slow us down is a good thing. Anything that can make just a percentage of us stop and admire beauty for its own sake, smile openly at one another, take a day off cannot be bad. It is required for a healthy soul. Watching snow fall in the evening is particularly beautiful, turning the sky a gorgeous shade of periwinkle. Sunrise over a snowy street is breathtaking. The sound of children shrieking and giggling as they sail down a snowy hillside is sheer joy.

A good snowfall. Yep, that's what we need. It gives us the opportunity to reconnect with each other, and our natural world, even in the Concrete Canyons of this great City. For those of you in parts of the country that have been inundated with snow this year, send some this way, will ya?

r.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Stolen Meme...

I didn't have much to say today, so here's a meme from Soul Survivor that I liked...I edited it, though.

1. At what age do you wish to/did you marry?
I got married when I was 24. It'll be 18 years in October of this year, and it is mostly good. That said, I probably should have waited. Maybe 26?

2. If there is something you’d like to change about yourself (whether physically or emotionally), what would it be?
Well, what I wanted to change physically I have. The rest I guess I would need a money tree and a good plastic surgeon to deal with ;) . Emotionally, maybe I'd change my fear of confrontation with those I love. I worry too much about addressing real concerns for fear of losing the relationship. That and fear of abandonment.

3. If you were stranded on a desert island, who are the 3 blog buddies you would take with you? Why?
Hmmm. Probably Marty...she has such wonderful stories to tell, full history, knowledge, intelligence and warmth. Maria, because I'd like to meet her and have a glass or three of wine with her, Bing and Liv. And Kate. Funny, smart, quite a mouth on her, liberal and quite an athlete.

4. Where do you most want to travel?
I want to go to Alaska. I want to go back to Maine. I want to go to places with thick woods and beaches not too far away. It doesn't have to be tropical, it does have to be uncrowded.

5. If there is one fear inside you that you hope to be able to face and conquer, what would that be?
I know it sounds silly, but my fear of heights. There are others less silly, however....

5A. Soul's Question: what is the the riskiest/most selfless thing you have done to help a friend?
Opened my home to them and their pets for however long it took...

6. What is the best compliment you've ever received?
Best complement? Oy. Ummmm. Professionally: our largest client is still our client because my company employed me. Personally: I didn't recognize you (you should see my driver's license picture).

7. What are you most afraid to lose?
My family...my son in particular. Hands down.

8. If you won $1 million, what would you do?
Travel, buy a house or three, invest, give a bunch away to family, pay off all debt.

9. If you meet someone that you love, would you confess to him/her?
I'm married. But I have learned to let all those in my life know how I feel.

11. What are the most important qualities for you in a significant other?
He has to have a sense of humor, be intelligent and compassionate. Strong. We don't have to agree on everything, but we have to be able to talk about it. Thank you, Brian.

12. Which type of person do you hate the most?
Hate is a very strong word. The quality I most dislike in a person is hypocrisy. God, I hope that doesn't make me guilty of it...

13. What is your ambition?
To learn what really constitutes a happy life, to raise a well adjusted child. And on a lighter note, accomplish a few of the trickier yoga poses with more, um, shall we say, dignity.

14. What is the thing that will make you think he/she is bad?
No one is all bad, but again, hypocrisy or disloyalty.

16. What do you think is the most important thing in your life?
My family, friends, good health.

17. Are you a shopaholic or no?
Nope. I do enjoy shopping though. I didn't used to, but now that clothes FIT, it is much more pleasurable :) And a day spent in a book store is bliss. Or a hardware store. Or a kitchen gadget store....I don't need to buy, but I do love to browse what interests me. It was sheer brilliance to put coffee outlets in book stores :P

18. Which actress or actor would you like to be?
None. Have you seen the recent train wrecks? Damn!

20. Do you have any plans for tomorrow?
Yep. Going to work, then going home. No gym. No Yoga. No school activity. Nada. Oh, yeah, laundry.

r.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The REAL Golden Rule

Both the current political debate, especially in the GOP, and events in my own little world have prompted me to think more about religion and human behavior than I ordinarily might. What has been brought to the fore is the disconnect between faith and religion as an institution. Between faith/religion and actual human behavior. In a word, hypocrisy.

Last Sunday, The Monsignor of my parish celebrated his final mass. It was a huge ceremony, complete with priests from all over, the Knights of Columbus in full regalia, Alter servers from way back, every Lector, Eucharistic Minister, usher, etc. who had ever served during Monsignor's 22 year tenure. Our Monsignor was and is a divisive character in the parish, excoriating parents who show up to meetings and mass in his anger at those who do not. He is a very conservative man, who brings his politics to the pulpit. I disagree with him vehemently, and discuss it freely with my son so that he may have a more rounded view.

Following Monsignor's final mass was a catered affair put on by his nephew. It was donated in its entirety. The nephew's catering company provided all food, soft drinks, decorations, wait staff, and serving sets. Monsignor's nephew is as gay as they come. But I know by the sincerity of the event that the nephew was loved and accepted by his uncle--I cannot believe that anyone would have put out so much for someone who mistreats him. It is the only truly Christian, meaning Christ-like, thing I have ever seen of Monsignor.

The golden rule to life, in my opinion, is "Don't be an asshole." It is one by which I try hard to live my life, and being human, it is one of which I run afoul. It is the lowest common denominator of The Ten Commandments. It is a further distillation of George Carlin's version of the commandments. If we want to clean it up a bit for the younger set we can say, "Don't be a jerk."

For those of you thinking, hmm, this sounds an awful lot like "Do unto others..." I'd have to agree. The problem I have with falling back on this version of the Golden Rule is the source. There have been, and continue to be too many wars waged and blood spilled (in and) for the Bible, and the religions that claim it wholly or in part. In order to address all those who have a stake in the Bible or disdain it utterly, we can remove that aspect of the Golden Rule. Too much left open for interpretation.

It is the interpretation where we run into trouble. Interpretation of God's thoughts or words by man is inherently impossible. There are those who believe that God spoke to various and sundry people throughout time, as do I. The problem is that we don't have their journal entries; we lack a primary source. What we do have is an abundance of second and third party documentation. That means, a third party's spin, no matter the Testament. Disagreements abound, even within the Bible.

Even if we assume that all interpretation is accurate and honest, there is the problem applying millennia old interpretation to a modern world. While the reasoning for certain behaviors or restrictions may have been valid two, three or five thousand years ago, too much has changed for full applicability in the present.

If we say, "Don't be an asshole" we can remove God from the equation, and have less to fight over. Most of us can agree on what is good and bad behavior. Most of us can get behind the importance of honesty, respect and fidelity. Coveting is a part of human nature that will probably never be fully eradicated. It is not the coveting that is the problem; it is how one deals with it. Most of us can live with the notion that it is wrong to kill someone. The argument here again is definition and degree based on interpretation of God's will or words.

Since I was raised Catholic, a sect of Christianity, I was taught the belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God, born of the sinless Virgin Mary, walked the face of this earth preaching and healing. That he was crucified, died and rose again on the third day, all of this for the redemption of all mankind. I was also taught that the preaching, healing and redeeming was irrespective of the audience's origin or predilections. That Christ healed equally the Jew, the Gentile, The Samaritan. That he forgave all manner sin committed by all manner of people. How then, can any Christian be any more discerning?

More fundamentally, how can any religion at all presume that it, and only it, is the only true path to God? Is that not the height of hubris? I am educated enough to know that the Nicene Creed is basically a mission statement of the Catholic Church. A credo set down by a bunch of men sitting in a room in Nicea who decided it was politically advantageous and financially prudent to declare Christ divine. It is no different than the mission statement of any other brand: Ours is the best, only toothpaste to prevent cavities, and get you the girl/guy of your dreams. Does that statement by, say, Proctor & Gamble incite anyone to kill anyone who uses a Colgate/Palmolive product? Is it not the same sense of hype or hyperbole? Why is it, then, glommed onto with such fervor? I understand brand loyalty. It boils down to I prefer X, not I'll kill you in the name of X for having the audacity to prefer Y.

If you prefer your religion, fine. I have no issue with that whatsoever. Just, don't be an asshole about it.

r.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Letter to Me

Along with Brad Paisley, Maria is the inspiration for this entry. I really do wish there was a way to go back and give just a little encouragement, or at least a heads up, to that person I was. I think maybe some parents perform this function, and some kids are able to hear them and steer accordingly. I did not have that parent, nor was I inclined to listen. So, here is what I would like to tell my seventeen year old self...

Dear Rebecca, aged 17,

First, let me tell you, good job turning yourself around. The last year or two have been hell, but you hung there. Good job. Now, keep your eyes on the prize. You're right, college is your ticket out. Keep plugging away.

When you get to Maine, relax. You can more than handle the workload. Concentrate on that. Your penchant for getting attention using your sexuality will backfire. Girls won't thank you for it, guys will use you for it and you'll wind up miserable.

Be sure to thank Ed for dumping you, so that you found Michael. Great guy, but probably not THE ONE. He'll graduate before you, and go back to MA. Don't fall apart. He didn't reject you, he graduated. If you know this going in, you can avoid a lot of pain and embarrassment.

Whatever you do, do NOT transfer to SUNY Purchase. Go to the moon if you have to, but stay the hell away from Purchase. Your mother will decide to attend that school, and you will share classes with her. She will be unsympathetic when your heart is broken. Even though you live on campus, you will not escape her, and wasn't that what you were looking for when you shaped up in 11 grade?

Partly due to tension between you and mom, you are going to reconnect with your father. Make it count. Forgive him and yourself for your years apart. Make the most of what time you have, he will die when you are 37. You might not think so now, but trust me, you will be devastated.

You are going to go through a doozy of a transition at the age of 22. You're going to feel scared and alone. You WILL get through it. You will discover your own strength, determination and will. Don't let your fear of being alone convince you to settle for a relationship that is not completely satisfying. Take the time you need to discover who you are as a person and as a woman. Live alone for a while. Spend some quiet time. Heal. Then you will know what you need, and go after it in a healthy way.

Your relationship with your mother will come together and fall apart several times until your 30s. Let it go. You will never measure up to what she wanted, don't try. It isn't your issue, it's hers. The effect, however, is toxic to you. And really, you always knew the day would come. The best you can do is learn from what happened, and make sure your son (yep, you'll have a son one day) never feels the way you did.

A few more notes:

• Be careful with your choice of words and tone of voice. Your command of language and inflection can be devastating. Sarcasm is a weapon, use with considerable care. It isn't cool, it's mean.

• Your appetite will outstrip your metabolism in a few short years. Save yourself some horrible self esteem and body image issues by reining it in now.

• Be sure to give as much or more than you take.

• Learn now to deal with things head on. Hiding doesn't work and you can't run forever. You will lose some of the most important relationships of your life if you don't.

• Be gentler with yourself. Quiet the critic within. If you are less harsh with yourself, then you will be less harsh with others, and they with you. It is ok not to be perfect. No one expects it, nor do they want it expected of them. A corollary: It is completely ok to ask for help if you need it. You want to be there for others, and they want to be there for you, so don't shut them out.

You're a bright, strong, lovable and loving woman. Remember that. Keep your head up. You hold the key to set yourself free any time you choose to use it. Don't wait too long.

Love,
Rebecca, aged 41

17 was really a pivotal year in my life. I think I always knew that, but it helps to actually write about it. But man, it would have been easier to have learned and employed some of the life lessons earlier than I did...

r.

My Little Brother Turned Forty!

I had no issue with my fortieth birthday. But my younger brother turning forty is quite another matter. I don't think it bothers me for my own sake. I think it is more that HE'S forty, and not taking very good care of himself.

I called Charles yesterday morning to wish him a happy birthday. He sounded completely wired at 9:30am Eastern, or 8:30 Central, his time zone. He told me he called out of work for the past two days because his milestone birthday was coming up, and he wanted to party. Was nothing, he said. Just drank a bit, smoked some grass and did some drugs. Ah, shit. His drug of choice is crystal meth. Note to Charlie: you are no longer twenty. You can't party like a rock star anymore. He swears it was a one time thing to celebrate. That he has no intention of going down the addiction, sell all he has for it road again. God, I hope so. For his sake. For the sake of his three children and his wife. Lord knows I am no saint. I love a glass of wine too many on occasion. But I don't get this...

r.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tripping Over Each Other

For the past year or so, my husband has worked through the dinner hour six days a week. That left me in charge of the household in many ways. It was a challenging balancing act, but one that I managed to deal with fairly well on most occasions. I really enjoyed preparing good meals for the family, tending to the chores, helping Chris with his homework. Brian would come home to a hot meal and a clean house. It fed my ego well to pull it off every night, and manage to get to the gym and take care of myself. A regular June Cleaver.

Earlier this month, Brian quit his job. He is now home before I am in the evenings. He is also home all weekend long. This is a good thing, right? Right. Then why do I find myself a little resentful and out of sorts?

It isn't easy to give up what you've taken over. I can't ask my husband who spent years as a cook not to make supper. He has the ego, desire and time to do it. It makes no sense whatsoever to wait until I get home to start the process. Even though I am convinced I serve healthier food. And I definitely am neater in the kitchen. I think we are going to have to sit down and talk about this so that we both feel like we are moving in the same direction.

All summer long I missed having Brian around. We couldn't go on family road trips as we had every other summer. But I became accustomed to doing whatever struck my and Christopher's fancy. We fulfilled all the required duties such as grocery shopping, chores, errands and the like. Then we were free to venture into the city to browse, go to museums or Central Park. Now, I have to consider what Brian wants to do. Or, as is more the case, doesn't want to do. I could pretty much MAKE Christopher move around. I cannot do that with Brian. So, I wind up getting irritated about sitting around, and guilty doing things without him. GRRR.

I know this is not rational or healthy. I also know that I need to wrap myself around the fact that we are a family unit, with all members accounted for. I actually am glad for that. The year or more that Brian worked odd hours, there weren't that many days that we were all home together at the same time long enough to enjoy each other's company. By the time Brian came home, Christopher was either in bed or getting ready for bed. Brian would have supper, talk for a few minutes, then fall asleep. So while I ruled the roost, I was also a bit lonely. It's like when your spouse goes on a business trip or something. You stretch out and take up the entire bed. Then they come home, and you have to retreat to just your own side. Takes some getting used to, in both directions. But over time, one can't imagine how it was before. For the control freak (did I mention that is a personality quirk of mine?) the transition is never easy. Sigh.

r.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sunset over Manhattan, and Other Tid Bits

Have you noticed? The days are getting longer already! The solstice is not quite a month old, and the amount of daylight gained is already noticeable. That means I can again see the setting sun when I emerge from the East River Tunnel of the N train. The view is from the Queens side of the East River, looking at the East side of Manhattan. The sun sets behind the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, forming a gorgeous silhouette of the still mighty skyline.

• Bill Richardson dropped out of the presidential race after a 4th place showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire. I would have liked to hear more from him, as his experience in government is vast. Along with his stint as governor of New Mexico, he was a congressman, energy secretary and ambassador to the UN. He is clearly intelligent, but in the debates in New Hampshire, he almost looked bored. Maybe that isn't the right term...not fully engaged, perhaps. I think, even if he couldn't win, he could have influenced the dialog. But I think this will be another "It's The Economy, Stupid" election that got the first Clinton in the White House. Not saying Hillary will win, but I think that the economy will be the deciding issue.

• I took a day trip with my boss up to New Hampshire to visit our biggest client. I think they are happy with us a vendor, they just wanted to pressure us on cost. So, for the second time in two years, we adjusted our pricing downward, contingent on them giving us more business. We'll see. But having your biggest client sing your praises to your boss right before review time does not suck!

And let me tell you, not all rental cars are created equal! We would up driving into a snow squall and found out that our windshield wipers were HORRIBLE. The car went from not bad to a freaking hazard in no time!

• I just read a very interesting article from a link on the msn.com site: How She Learned to Stop Hating Her Mother. Good article, though I wish it was longer. The story seemed too encapsulated to be completely satisfying. That said, it slowed me down a little. One day I will write an entry about my experience with my mother.

• A good friend of mine was scratched by his cat recently. She is a playful beastie, but she doesn't realize that her claws are rather sharp. Trav didn't think much of the scratch at the time, other than to angrily shoo the cat away. Turns out that the scratch gave him a case of sepsis. After some research, I found out that cat scratches can cause this along with meningitis and encephalitis. YIKES. I've owned cats my entire life, and like Travis, thought nothing of getting scratched. I will certainly make sure to wash up and treat any and all nicks from this point forward.

r.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Major's Epitaph

When I lost my job in October of 2005, I subscribed to the Media Bistro Web site mostly for their job listings, but also for their daily newsletter which aggregates the leading news of the media and publishing industries. I still receive and scan it every day. Yesterday's edition had this as the third item down, under NBC's snit over the Golden Globes and CBS's Morning Show revamp:

In Blog, a Military Man Writes About His Own Death (NYT)
Andrew Olmsted, a United States Army major who wrote an online blog for The Rocky Mountain News, prepared for the possibility of his death by writing a 3,000-word piece. "I'm dead," he wrote in July 2007 as he arrived in Iraq for an 18-month tour of duty. "But if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact." Rocky Mountain News: "The news is devastating," said Rocky editor John Temple. "The major was a brave man who obviously thrived on sharing his experiences and thoughts on his blog. He provided a perspective on Iraq that would have been impossible for a journalist."

The headline alone is enough to stop me in my tracks. I immediately followed the link to the New York Times Web site. I have trusted this paper all of my adult life to give the news, though many will argue it has too liberal a slant, and has endured its share of controversy. So have all the other papers, so he who is without sin, cast the first stone. Then I read the blog entry. It made me want to read every word Major Olmsted ever posted. His strength, intelligence and wit are readily apparent. Though I never knew the man, I mourn his passing, and am reminded of the 3,000+ passings that have preceded his.

What strikes me most about his man is that he doesn't seem be blinded by his mission. He might have had misgivings or disagreements with the war in Iraq--I'm not sure, as I haven't yet read his other opinions. He also had an overarching sense of duty. That he is thoughtful and thought provoking is unquestionable. I am comforted by the fact that the good Major is at peace. I wish peace to his widow, friends and family. I wish peace to our nation and to our world. The poem below was left as a comment and tribute to Major Olmsted on one of the many blogs now carrying the story, and allowing comments.

"I give you this one thought to keep~
I am with you still, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not think of me as gone~
I am with you still, in each new dawn."

Native American poem

It is a beautiful remembrance. I am not evolved enough as a person to accept this as an adequate substitute for the corporeal being of a person--their face, their smell, the sound of their voice, the feel of a hug. But it does remind me to quiet myself for a moment so that I might feel my loved one's spirit surrounding me.

To Major Olmsted, my father, USMC Staff Sergeant Charles R. Shields, my cousin Mike, USMC, all those who served and continue to serve, Thank You.

r.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Must Be a New Year

I just spend a blissful eight days away form the office. I slept past 6am every day. Worked only a little. Enjoyed time with my son, went to a nigh on empty gym, and did some last minute shopping. It was wonderful.

Yesterday was my first day back to reality. Seems the rest of the world is back in force, too. Gone are the short lines in Starbucks, the (relatively) uncrowded subway cars, the nearly empty gym. Sigh. My poor son went back to school, and came home inundated with assignments. He got enough of them done to allow him to go to his weekly Boy Scouts meeting, and I went to the gym. Last night, I walked into the locker room and found very few available. That should have been my first clue. I then found every single elliptical, treadmill and bike were taken. There were 2 old rickety cross-trainingesque machines available, and that's it. I hopped on one until another, more desirable machine opened up.

The power of New Year's Resolutions was very much on display. January is the time to turn over a new leaf in one's life book. Some will resolve to get in shape and/or lose a few pounds. To market to that segment, my gym is sponsoring a "Biggest Loser" competition. Others will try to quite smoking, get organized or land a new job. Maybe others will try to save some money or pay down debt. What it all boils down to is trying to curtail self defeating habits or behaviors.

I haven't made my resolutions yet. It's not for a lack of self defeating habits, it's that I worry about setting myself up for failure. I know that even if I do admit to a resolution or three, I would have to start out slow and steady, not charge from the gate. But charging from the gate is what I'm particularly good at, except in rare cases. When I quit smoking over 2 years ago, then started losing weight shortly thereafter, it was definitely not a charge but steady pace. That said, those life changes seemed to have come about nearly on their own. No actual decision, ceremony, discussion or deliberation. Last year I resolved to take better care of myself. To that end, I scheduled all medical checkups last January, and did so again just yesterday

Okay, so being doomed to failure as an argument against making New Year's resolutions doesn't seem to hold up. So, what can I decide to improve upon for 2008 and beyond? Maybe I can start by picking up the phone once a week and making one phone call to one person. Then maybe pick up the pace. That way, I will have a fuller life with those I love. Or at least they'd be aware in a concrete way that I love them. I think over the next few years I will try to resolve to unlearn some behaviors that have cost me dearly, and better learn from those that have taught me well. One at a time. Slowly. That should take some of the the pressure off to do everything right all the time. For a perfectionist like me, that is key.

r.