Saturday, February 27, 2010

For Chile

To all our friends in Chile, and to all those who have friends and family there as well, we send our hope and our sympathy and our prayers. Because, yes, prayers of any kind are needed now. - Janet

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Violence and Women

I'm not talking about the horrendous act of violence against women. I'm talking about the violent acts perpetrated by women that, too often, our gender (and the media) assume are infrequent. Because, unfortunately, it's not actually infrequent at all.
Awhile ago several women wrote both The New York Times and The Oregonian about how they 'simply couldn't believe' women could be suicide bombers, as the Christmas Day Pants Bomber (we need a better name don't we?) warned.
Yet they can be and they are. There have been female suicide bombers, acting as martyrs, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. And of course before that, for at least dozens of years. We can read about them online, watch them on TV, read report after report. But perhaps we don't want to, because it screws with our idealistic view that 'If women ruled the world, there'd be no war.' Again, it's pretty to think so. But reality, well, it bites.
What is about us that wants to believe women, and girls, are incapable of horrible acts like this? Why do we want to idealize ourselves in this way? Yes women commit far less violent acts than men do: a fact. But we've always been capable of it, and quite often act on our impulses. We're human and therefore culpable of terrible things. I think accepting, and demanding, absolute equality means refusing to think we're better, greater, deeper than an entire gender. The male one.
There is a terrific article about Amy Bishop right now in the NY Times - She's the neuroscientist who just killed three colleagues and injured three others in a rampage that everyone should have seen coming. To read about how she murdered her 18 year old brother in 1986, and yet served no time, is honestly chilling.
Women. We're wonderful, we're amazing, we create gorgeous art and bear children and advocate for peace and hold families together. We can do anything. We can even be Medea when we want to be. - Janet

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Signs of Spring

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.
Someone said that to me on the phone this morning, and as it's a line from one of the best holiday films of all time, I immediately agreed. Agreed even though this man works in a business where faith seems patently counter-intuitive (the stock market) and that I've had an awful lot of dumb, blind faith lately for someone who works in advertising, faith that's jumped all over me like some sadistic heavyweight boxer with a grudge.
But after all, what does common sense actually get us?
It tells us not to talk to strangers. And then we miss things like true love. Or that soul mate Charlotte spoke of.
Or some honestly terrific conversation once we discover he/she/the stranger isn't as creepy as we originally thought.
It tells us not to judge a book by it's cover. And when the cover is inordinately well-designed, that's just idiotic.
It tells us to stand in the shorter line when history tells us the shorter line is always going to get slower the moment
we join it.
It makes us surly and boring and common, common sense does, and no fun at parties.
And it tells us we can't make a difference in this world. A difference of twenty dollars to a cause we believe in. A difference of taking a working vacation and volunteering while we travel. A difference of saying no sometimes when we mean no, and yes when we believe yes, taking a chance, being who we wish to be. A difference of rescuing just one animal who desperately needs a home. Not all of them. Just one. One child, one person, one animal, one difference.
It may feel like the least we can do; sometimes it's actually the most.
I don't believe in God, not at all, not even a little. Although every time a fox hole comes up, I say the words out loud.
In case I'm wrong and somebody is listening. In case even the stars pay attention now and then.
Faith doesn't require anyone listening at all. That's pretty much the beautiful thing about it.
- Janet

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Live as if you were younger.

This just in from Anna H. via email: a fascinating article by the BBC about psychologist Ellen Langer and her experiments to demonstrate, if not scientifically "prove", that living and thinking younger actually reap observable physical benefits.

In 1979 she conducted an experiment in which she asked a group of elderly men to re-live, well, actually to live, as if it were still in the 1950s. They spoke about all things 50s in the present tense, imagining that they still inhabited those halcyon days of their own youth. No one cooked for them, lifted heavy luggage for them, clutched their elbows as they went up and down stairs. They were asked to take care of themselves, live for themselves, all the while imagining that they were young.

The results were astonishing. One man, by the end of the trial, abandoned his walking cane. Blood pressures dropped. Participants were judged by witnesses to look and appear younger than before. Langer even adds that such youthful thought staves of dementia.

I believe it. Never having purposefully conducted this experiment on my own, I can say that I have proven it to be true over and over again without being aware: never do I feel older than when for some crackpot reason I am actually telling myself I am old. And never do I feel younger than when I am cruising around town on my bicycle from yoga to shopping to the post office to work.

I invite you to read the article, and check out the video, whippersnapper.

(Thanks Anna.)


Friday, February 05, 2010

Soulmate. Schmoulmate.

Well, here I am back on the marriage bandwagon. It's a fascinating topic and one that seemingly occupies a large portion of my gray matter. But it's not really marriage I want to talk about, it's this notion fed by the media and, unfortunately often by our own best friends, that our soulmate is out there—somewhere. If we just wait long enough, look hard enough, bend ourselves into the right positions—eventually we will find, attract, and hold in an everlasting and perfect embrace "the one." The one that was meant for us.

I hate to say it, but what a bunch of crap. It simply doesn't happen like that. And expecting that it will or even should probably impedes the possibility of something much less glamorous but much more viable and fulfilling actually ever happening.

As often occurs, I've run across the topic out of the blue in two very different media sources just this week. The first time was in an Italian psychological monthly. The second was in the book, Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love), which I can easily, even happily, recommend. Both recount as a departure point the mythic allegory presented by Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium. He tells us that "humans originally consisted of four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces, but Zeus feared their power and split them all in half, condemning them to spend their lives searching for the other half to complete them." (Wikipedia, "Soulmate.") Thus, here we are today, many of us, in perpetual search of the Mr. Right who just happens to be looking for us, Ms. Right. Hmmm. When you put it like that, it just doesn't seem like such an intelligent way to spend your time does it?

In Committed, Gilbert conducts fairly exhaustive, though admittedly purely personal and non-academic, research into the the marriage rites, rituals and raisons d'etre of many (often far flung) cultures. Places where being man are wife are more or less job descriptions. Places where marriages are conducted by arrangement. Places where divorce is all but unheard of. Places where the notion of your husband being Mr. Right is laughed right out of the grass hut...because it's just such an inconceivably inconceivable notion. (Do you think maybe if they'd read Plato's Symposium they wouldn't laugh so much?)

The funny part is this: no one disputes that your spouse or life partner can become your soul mate, in a sense. What's disputable is the notion that a couple can instantly click without the benefit of: maturation, sticking together, living and working side by side, tolerating each other's faults, being honest about their own, hurting each other, misunderstanding each other, irritating each other, etc. And I'm sorry, but the part where the other person "completes" you will forever and always remain a myth to be brutally debunked. Our task in life is to complete ourselves.

And so, it is with a heavy heart, that I say that there are women I love and respect and about whom I care deeply who continue, despite their intelligence and their talent and their otherwise brilliant insights, to look for the one headed, two-armed, two-legged creature that completes them and their soul. It is painful, really, to witness. If they could just visit the right country, go to the right cocktail party at the right time, go to the right book-signing of the right debonair writer, be in the right vegetable aisle at the right organic grocery store at the right hour of the right man's day...


I don't want to bruise their already bruisy hearts, but I want to tell them as lovingly as possible to stop. Not stop as in give up hoping for love. But stop as in stop looking for that kind of love. I want to tell them to shut their minds to the soul mate and open their hearts to the flesh-and-blood guy who's likely right in front of them. Right there. The one buying non-organic white bread. (Ick, bad choice of bread...but maybe he just needs someone to gently set him straight...or not...for the rest of his loving life.) See what I mean?


Monday, February 01, 2010

With Love and Squalor

Because perfect sentences are a kind of prayer, I offer these of Salinger's:

She was sixteen, and beautiful in an immediate yet perfectly slow way. She had immense eyes that always seemed in danger of capsizing in their own innocence. Her hands were very pale brown, with slender, actionless fingers. When she sat down, she did the only sensible thing with her beautiful hands there was to be done: she placed them on her lap and left them there. In brief, she was probably the first appreciable thing of beauty I had seen that struck me as wholly legitimate.

She wasn't doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.

I don't really feel that anyone needs an airtight reason for quoting from the works of writers he loves, but it's always nice, I'll grant you, if he has one.

And I have one.

-- Janet