Thursday, December 31, 2009

You Have a Lot to Say

After education comes application. If you have been on the job for a couple years, you've learned some valuable lessons on how book knowledge applies to real life. Experience counts. I bet you can think of a few things you wished you could have told your younger self. All of us could save this next generation so much heartache and waste, if they only knew what we know now.

Which gets to the next big lesson in life, how to be heard. The bible's King Solomon spoke of the folly of wisdom at Ecclesiastes 9:14-16. In Solomon's story, the poor wise man was heeded but then forgotten. Or take this blog for example. I write, but I do not have an audience. Then again, I haven't deliberately gone out to find one.

How do I speak up? It depends on how critical my information is, isn't it? There is some pleasure in watching our children make the same (little) mistakes we did. My daughter credits my advice on driving, to look at each near miss as a lesson, as helping her become a more confident driver. She says she no longer focuses on the mistake but rather what she can learn from it. If we shared all we knew, all the time, we deprive this generation the power of life lessons learned.

When I speak up can be just as important. When an issue is shared around the boardroom table, it pays to wait until everyone has shared their part of the whole. If a conclusion or solution is offered too soon, it may be drowned in the torrent of fact sharing.

A late lesson in life I have found that it can be just as important who said it. Shockingly, not everyone has pegged me as an expert. It pays once in a while to quote an expert in the field in order to make a point.

I've blogged before about the significance of children's literature as a cultural indicator. I am guessing that my inspiration came from Dr. Sandra Williams. In my last blog about children's literature I talked about Munsch's book, "Jonathan Cleaned Up..." There's another little known book by Dr. Seuss, and his last, "You're Only Old Once!" , a satire of hospitals and the geriatric lifestyle.

I dread a future of ill health, where my time and place are not of my choosing, where patience is the final virtue as I wait in waiting rooms for intrusive tests. Reviewing her book, "Life So Far" the other day, reminded me that Betty Friedan used her considerable research and observational skills to tackle old age. Her most obvious point is to avoid ill health in the first place. Have a vital old age. Keep the mind and body limber.

Good advice.

I'll keep blogging.

In the meantime, I intend to buy a couple of children's books to help make my point.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Iconography of Middle Age

At every stage of her life, mom took her cues from society on what she should be. We were raised on Dr. Spock. She followed her neighbour in to a lifetime of bird watching. As we grew, however, she swiftly floundered, and aged. Though our world understands and defines what a grandma is to be, there are few examples to follow for middle age.

Which got me thinking to the icons we use as a society to guide us through the phases of our lives. Few are as extreme as my mother, but I think it is no accident that the "crisis" happens at mid-life. Consider the images we are given from the media. We have our babies; so many cute and bubbly babies. Then the "terrible twos". When we hit the elementary years, Disney has provided us the fat kid, the genius, the jock, the bully, the popular schemer, the pretty girl, or if the child is very lucky, the protagonist with angst. Heaven help the child who does not fit a stereotype. That child is slotted in to "weird".

These images, or icons, are a kind of visual short-hand which help us swiftly categorize people and fit them in to a world view. Icons are comforting because they follow a pattern, are predictable. Icons are easy on the eye and the mind. Think Currier and Ives, and Thomas Kinkade.

Teen movies, college movies, and chick flicks follow. Singleness is a temporarily wild condition quickly remedied by marriage.

What icons are left for the adults? There's the parent, funky uncle, exciting career in emergency services, lawyer, law enforcement, media relations executive, and suburbanite.

Then we have grandma and grandpa. Freedom at 55. Golf, travel, buy a hog, and play with the grandchildren. Why are the images always of fit, pink-cheeked and silver-haired seniors? Where are the streaks of grey?

This leaves a huge vaccum of images for middle management, middle age. Even for those of us with greater flexibility than my mother, that shortage of images can leave us floundering. There's Jane Fonda working out. And we have The Office, an image of quiet desperation. I don't know about you, but I know I am no Jane Fonda. And I hope I am not half the fool that Steve Carrell plays so well.

What am I left to guide my way? Mid-life can be an opportunity for reflection. Though the dreams of youth may fall short, I also have a wealth of experience to share. I can revisit early dreams and now that the obligations of parenthood are over, start a second career. There's many years of middle-age to come; there are many more years than there used to be thanks to the advances in medical care.
One great model for ageing well is Betty Friedan in her book, "Life so Far". This astute woman pointed her sharp finger at the "Feminine Mystique" and the hollow promise of suburbia. Now she tackles old age with the same vigor. From her book, page 346, "All my research was showing that in age as in youth the important things are work and love. Not surprisingly, the longest-lived people were in professions in which there was no forced retirement, among them symphony conductors, Supreme Court justices, artists, and rabbis. "
Well, I think Supreme Court Justice and symphony conductor is out. But I am still left with my own way and "weird". Funky grandma. I like that.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Parenting is not for Cowards

So says Dobson in his book, "Parenting isn't for Cowards". I was reminded of this as hubby and I finished painting our bathroom last night. Wiping the sweat from his brow, hubby asked how long we would enjoy it. I told him we'd be noticing the flaws for years to come. Moaning, he asked why we bothered in the first place.

It came to me that the ability to look at flaws straight in the face is one of the rites of passage of parenting. I have raised two children. Hubby has not. Being a parent is a humbling experience. Even if you "everything right", each child grows in their own way. Then they hit puberty and they go through this delightful differentiation phase where they become their own people, separate and apart. You realize that all your hard work is only tiny part of who they have become. Even so, they bear the marks of every success and failure in their raising. Just like bumps in our painted wall, or the blob of excess caulking, the flaws show. Chances are, though, visitors won't notice.

I've seen parents take this reality with varying degrees of success. Some reject the flaws, refusing to accept the tarnished reflection they see in the face of their children. It takes a great deal of willpower to resist trying to always set it right. Once our children are adults, the rest of the road belongs to them. If we keep grabbing for the steering wheel, we will kill their confidence and possibly send them permanently off track.
If on the other hand, we can reconcile ourselves to an imperfect life, and even the beauty in nature's flaws, there can be peace. Our spruced up little bathroom is a testament to a hard days's work. If we remember that our bathrooms - and our children - are each beautiful in their own imperfect way, we can relax and enjoy them for what they are.
I've borrowed the picture from another blogger, Out-of-the-Way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bumping Places

In his book, Neighbor Power, Jim Diers speaks of "bumping places", those spots in a community where people meet. We get a sense of our larger community by greeting familiar faces in these places. This reminds me of family identities and the importance of seasonal gatherings and traditions to solidify, in our family, who we are and gives us identity.

I've been on the prowl for Clareview's bumping places.

  • Londonderry Mall. We don't have our own, so we go there.
  • In the mall is the Library, which hosts programs for tots, childrens and teens, toastmasters, and english language learning.
  • Also in the mall is the Tae Kwon Do facility. A crowd of proud parents gather outside the large glass wall.
  • In the mall there's a gathering place with leather seating and television monitors. There's a police information station. There's young folks and old. Why aren't the children in school?
  • The "Town Centre", touted by a Clareview Outline Plan. This is where we have the Superstore, the big box stores, strip malls, and Wal-Mart. Where in this "Town Centre" can people gather? That plan is beginning to depress me. It speaks of large developers, and land cheap for building affordable housing. Our community has been planned for "basic" from the very beginning. Are we understood?
  • The Belvedere station. I see a gang of young black men hanging out by the washrooms and impressing each other with their toughness.
  • The Belevedere heated shelter, which has the bus driver's rest stop. No-one in the shelter looks at each other.
  • Our own strip mall has the Mac's store. There's a new book exchange store, "Never without a Book." Farther down is a popular dance studio, Dance Theme. This place is swarming with parents on Saturday morning.
  • The hockey parents, I imagine, gather around the Clareview arena and Homesteader community league outdoor rink.
  • There's usually several bargain hunters gathered around the second hand drop off in the Giant Tiger strip mall. This is a very busy strip.
  • All the Tim Horton's are busy. The now defunct Conversations cafe is closed for lack of business. Why? Does name recognition carry that much weight?
  • The Belmont town centre has vacancies. The McDonald's is undergoing renovations. I do know children from the local school swarm the facility at lunch hour. The dollar store is closed. It had dire warnings to the children on the consequences of shoplifting.
  • I'm told we have a community garden. I must go see it.
  • We host the one of the big indoor soccer fields for the city.

Reading what I've written and observed, it seems that the natural bumping places are Timmy's, Londonderry, and the Giant Tiger lot. Hockey parents rule. Bargain hunters rule. This is a young family community These locations weren't identified on the community plan. Do we build up the natural gathering places, seeking to understand their popularity, or do we build assets within the "Town Centre" that was planned for us?

P.S. How could I forget? Movies 12. I see young couples arm in arm strolling along the grassy curb through industrial Belvedere, groups of friends, families, and caregivers with their charges, all off to the movies. Bollywood is making an appearance, a nod to our growing Indian community.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Frou Frou Flounces and Suits

In the spare corners of my mind, I've been tossing around how our generations will influence the future in fashion and design. I've learned a lot lately about the next big generation coming up, the Gen X and the Gen Y. Contrary to demographic prediction, the babies of the boomers are not a boomlet, but boom-bigger. Birth rates continue to rise. It turns out that boomers kept having children even as they've aged, and that Gen X started having families earlier.

So what is this newest generation? They are scheduled and watched over and cherished by helicopter parents. They run in packs. They dress alike. Think golf shirts, chinos and jeans.

Which got me to thinking about how this newest generation will influence fashion as they hit the work force.

There's another little nugget on how this generation will change us. The girls are continuing to secondary education in record numbers, and boys' attendance is dropping. It will be the girls running our corporations, not the boys. Where will our young men go? I predict they will go to the trades, where there will be flexibility and freedom. It will be the young fathers, I suspect, who will be picking up their children from school.

Another pondering in my crowded brain is the difference between frou frou flounces and suits. Why have men perfected an office uniform, while women continue to flit through the spectrum of color and design? I suspect it has to do with the gender biases regarding power and control. A man in a pack must establish his conformity and dominance early. This means a power suit, which exudes confidence, dominance, wealth, and intelligence. For a man in our current culture, these are attractive attributes. A woman in a severe suit, however, is mildly terrifying. I quote Marlo Thomas, "A man has to be Joe McCarthy to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on hold." So the woman's attire at the office is a little frillier, sillier, and impractical. The message here is that "I am harmless, creative, and sweet. You want to help me."

But this dynamic will change as women in packs start to take over the office. Power for a woman will be in her ability to work her team. As much as this makes me shudder, think Gossip Girl all grown up, strutting down the hallway with her posse.

So I predict that this next generation of women will dictate a new uniform for the office. It will be softer, it will be easy maintenance, but it will also be more alike. I'm thinking Chanel classics here. Not the latest stuff, but the suits of the fifties and sixties.

I cite two sources for my new-found knowledge, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation by Neil Howe, William Strauss, and R.J. Matson and a presentation by Bani Dheer, Futurist.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When Those We Admire Fall Short

There are people who achieve greatness, like Tiger Woods, who inspire our admiration. This is natural, considering the work and discipline it took to get where they are. It is natural, also, to assume that they are not only able in their area of expertise, but also capable of integrity and character.

So it is a shock to us all when Tiger Woods gets caught up in something silly this past week, and is obviously lying about it.

But does it follow that greatness in one area means greatness in all? I think of what I've learned from other greats, and I wonder. Perhaps for some, after achieving strengths in one field, they are either incapable or don't bother to be good at everything. Consider the diaper toting astronaut, Lisa Nowak, who resorted to extremes to try and get her lover back. Her calculation and intensity of purpose reminds me, chillingly, of the intensity required to be successful in her chosen career.

Then there's Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch. I'd always admired the man before that. Heck, I just admired looking at him. But his ignorant spurtings around that time, like his comments about Brooke Shields did it for me. He is no longer attractive. Looking back at his body of work, I wondered if I confused attractiveness and luck with achievement. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to hire a fantastic publicist.

Anecdotes about other greats have surprised me. The public persona of Bill Cosby as the lovable Dr. Huxtable, and his obvious comic genius is undenied. Comics by profession understand human nature. Great comics understand us greatly. How could someone with that degree of understanding, fail to be great in all areas? Yet I hear on set he can be remote and dismissive of newcomers. I wonder sometimes if my premise is flawed. That even for comic greats like Mr. Cosby, his achievement in one area does not necessarily follow in all others.

Heck, I have been accused of not listening, not caring. I know it comes from my analytic nature, which I resort to in times of stress. Approach me when I am in that state, and I will tell you exactly what I think. Or I might fall silent in deep reflection. When I am in that state, you might as well be wallpaper. I am not being dismissive or mean; this is just part of who I am. When I come out of that state, I may be fully engaged again. For those who don't know me well, might they assume that I am faking my interest?

As a postscript, Albert Schweitzer is on my list of heroes of all time. I hear that starry-eyed visitors were given short shrift if they didn't follow his instructions. Tourists suffering heat stroke were a distraction. Again, I suspect the visitors wrongly assumed that this man's generosity flowed in all directions. His achievement, I am guessing, was rather a result of his intensity of purpose than depth of his warm and fuzzies.