Strength and Vulnerability

My mom’s last words to me were: “You are strong.” Who knows what she meant as I was sixteen and not savvy enough to ask her what she meant by it. Maybe it was her way of telling me to “Be strong.” Or maybe it was to reinforce that she felt I was strong in my bones. I will never know, and maybe it does not even matter. It was the first line of my college entrance essay. I wish I still had a copy of it. I would be curious to know how I had processed the next two years of my life before writing about her to get into college. I think I wanted them to know that I was not just another number, that I had lived a life that many have not before they enter college. I wanted to somehow stand out. I needed to stand out as I had no Plan B. I applied to one college and luckily I got in.

I am rambling though. I recently came across this quote from Brenda Shaughnessy. She is an American poet and trust me, I do not follow her at all because somehow my brain and poetry just do not mix. I have never melded well with poetry or understood it. Sure there are poems that sink into my core and change the way that I look at the world, but most of the time I feel perplexed and wonder how they did it. In any case, I am definitely not into poetry because it took me this long to introduce this quote to you:

“I came to see that what constitutes strength is not just a muscle or will. It can also include the most desperate vulnerability, the saddest heartache, the lightest, sweetest laughter.”

I do not remember how, but this quote came into my inbox last week, and stuck with me. I had to share it. So often we think others are strong because they have been through so much (I get that from time to time based on my past). Sometimes we might think someone is strong because they consistently stick to a routine or a workout schedule. Maybe they get up at 4 am to ensure that they have the opportunity to push themselves and their bodies before the rest of their family wakes up and starts the day.

I have written quite a few posts on vulnerability. It is a word that energizes me. There is something about being vulnerable that gives an aura of strength. It says that person is not afraid to put oneself out there and be granted with whatever reaction is returned. Whether they share the scary parts of their life, their saddest and lowest parts, or as Shaughnessy says: the parts that bring laughter. I will give you an example.

A few weeks ago I was traveling with a colleague and my boss. We were walking through the airport to our gate and talking. I was following both of them (both are men) and as they each walked into the bathroom I started to follow them in, only to realize I was walking into the men’s restroom. Ooops. Luckily I caught myself in time, reversed course and moved on to the women’s bathroom. They both had a good laugh and via text it got back to my other co-workers. I could have either be completely embarrassed and devastated, or just rolled with it. I rolled with it and had a good laugh with them.

Sometimes being vulnerable brings us to our strength, whether through tears or laughter.

Are you into Orange?

We just finished Season 2 of “Orange is the New Black.” The show is clever, fascinating, complex, and while maybe you figure out the surprises, it still entertains. I remember after watching a few episodes of the first season, I point-blank say to Chris: “I never, ever want to go to prison.” What hell it must be. I am sure that every prison and jail is different, especially depending on its level of security. Regardless of whether it is maximum or lower, I want nothing of it.

“Orange is the New Black” showcases a women’s prison and I can only image what it is like to mix women and men that are locked up. Maybe that is not even possible, which tells you how much I know about prisons…but this blog is not about how much I know about the incarcerated. I did a stint in college for what we called “Community Service” with a local juvenile correctional facility. I facilitated poetry and writing courses with the young men that were in the facility. It was fine to me. I never really felt unsafe. I was definitely a minority, and most of us that frequented were white in a mostly black facility. These boys craved interaction, and having someone focus on them, and so most responded well and seemed quasi interested. Maybe they were just bored, or maybe they had never really been exposed to writing, poetry, and their feelings.

While I was at a fairly nice liberal arts college, the surrounding community was not as affluent, and mostly farming. I am not sure what access they had to literature or exposure to their own writing. Yet since they had plenty of time to themselves each day, writing might have been just what they needed to process their thoughts. And, maybe it was just a way to have interactions with individuals from outside the facility.

Back to the women’s only prison. “Orange is the New Black” was created by Jenji Kohan, the creator of “Weeds” and she is clever. She has taken a mostly unknown cast (with the exception of Jason Biggs, Michael Harney, Laura Prepon, and Pablo Schreiber). Taylor Schilling plays the main character and she has definitely made a name for herself.

If you have not seen it on Netflix, you will want to spend a weekend or two this summer watching both seasons. It will make you appreciate all that you have, your safety, and that being good is not without its benefits.

When life brings you moles

Have you ever seen a picture of a mole? Not the ones that show up on our body and are watched by dermatologists. I am talking about the ugly little suckers that bore holes in your yard. They look like rats, but with larger front paws, and they have poor eyesight. Can you believe they can be as little as 3 inches long, and weigh 3+ ounces? Those little suckers can make a major mess for being so little.

photo 2 (30)They are also annoying little suckers. Chris and I are in the process of overhauling our backyard, a little bit each weekend, and while it is nowhere near completion, we have been joined by a mole or moles (we are not sure yet).  It started at the perimeter of our yard and only in mulched areas where we could smash the dirt back down and then cover back up with mulch, but over the past week it started in our grass. First one then another hole. Chris filled the large holes with water, and added the pellets that are supposed to make them itch, but then it was obvious that they came right back up the same holes and then created another one each day last week, so now we have 6 new mole holes (see photo below).

From our research it sounds like we are not the only ones that are stumped and there seems to be a zillion options for handling a mole (see this list of ideas, some seem a bit far-fetched). photo 3 (19)

I am about to start my own version of “Whack a Mole” in my backyard. We are fed up. If I knew where they would be, (sorry mole lovers) I’d get a pitchfork and shovel and have some fun. Alas. Mister Catch-a-Mole Man is coming to visit us today. I hope it is his only visit and he catches this mole. When life brings you moles, you fight back.

Did you forget?

I subscribe to a multitude of email newsletters. Airline fare sales, inspirational newsletters, blogs I follow, shopping discounts, to name a few. However, recently I have noticed a rather annoying and frequent trend from retailers. I will tell you right now that I am not blind and it is not anything new, it just seems that in the past few months it has been blatantly excessive. Now, I know I can unsubscribe from the emails, the discounts, or sales, and that would be the easiest way to end my frustration.

I do not give up that easy. Let me give you a bit more context. I do not really ultimately care about the emails with deals, or the ones that say “hey did you know our new product line is in stores, and here is a bit of a reveal to what you will see.” That is actually enticing to me. What I have seen in the last few months is a true influx of pervasive emails reminding me what I have left in my cart, or reminding me of items I clicked into for more detail. Now I know that the items left in my cart are sitting in my cart, so it makes a bit of sense to get a reminder that they are still there. I mean gosh I wish that could happen for me in the grocery store when I leave and do not come back for a week. Maybe they too can suggest an item that I may like because of the item in my shopping cart. Joking. That would only deter me even more from going to the grocery store.

What I do not need is to be told multiple times each day that I have items in my cart. Once a day is enough. Last week, I had put a few items in my West Elm shopping cart so I could show Chris later. Each day last week I got a new email listing just one of the items in my shopping cart. I had four items in my cart, and rather than just sending me one reminder email listing all the items, I got four different emails one day after the other. Annoying and I feel like I am getting spammed. West Elm is not the only offender, Gap does the same thing and there are others.

What creeps me out the most (and yes I know about tracking cookies and websites knowing what you are looking at, but it still is creepy) is when I click into the detail of an item and potentially could do that on hundreds of items on a website, and then I get emails that say: “Take Another Look: [insert name of product].” There was a reason I did not put it in my shopping cart and I do not want to be reminded that I did not purchase the item.

If online retailers are not careful they will piss off their customers. No one wants to feel followed or tracked down. It is no different than going into a retail store and the person that greets you says hello, tells you about their sales, and then proceeds to follow and talk to you as you wander throughout the store. Sometimes (most of the time for me) we just want to be left alone to shop. Will this in your face online phase change?

What do you think?

Be FIRST

We grow up as kids not wanting to be last. When we stood in groups or lines in gym class, none of us wanted to be picked last. Everyone wanted to know they were wanted. Being last meant a lot of things, and different things to different people, but 99% of us did not want to be picked last (regardless of why). That does not mean that we all wanted to be first. We just knew we did not want to be last. Yet someone had to be last. Someone always has to be last.

You can decide though if you are first or last. A colleague told me recently to allow your work to direct your opportunity. So when I recently came across this short and sweet Seth Godin blog, I was inspired, and in case you are not Godin followers, I had to share. I’ve included the entire text (yes all of it) here:

Before you’re asked.

Before she asks for the memo, before the customer asks for a refund, before your co-worker asks for help.

Volunteer.

Offer.

Imagine what the other person needs, an exercise in empathy that might become a habit.

I remember so often growing up that my dad ingrained in me to think ahead, to figure out how I was going to approach something before I did it. The funny thing — my dad barely had a strategic bone in his body. Sure, as a contractor he had to strategize house plans and such, but other than that I did not gain my strategic mind from my dad. In any case, he did teach us to think ahead and be prepared BEFORE he got to us. Have our room clean before he lost it. Do our chores before we had to be reminded. Ask how we could further help. Whether I like it or not, he taught me to be proactive. I wonder if he truly knows that or if it was more about what he wanted.

Ah well, I will never know. I do so love and appreciate those that I interact with on a daily basis to volunteer, offer their help and support, and think about what another might need. Anticipate. Be available and helpful. I try to do it, and I love when those around me reflect the same behavior. Do we all have these skills? I am not sure. I think we all have them in some form. Some of us just elect to use them and others let them lie dormant.

Be first.