Being Open To New Experiences: Not Everything Is A Lima Bean

November 30, 2009

I always tell my son not to pass judgment on anything before he’s tried it out. Whether it’s lima beans or cricket, he isn’t allowed to say that he doesn’t like something until he’s given it a fair shake.

Lately I’ve been telling myself this as well.

You may recall that a few months back, my son started a new school. And while I was very excited for *him* to make new friends…take new classes…heck, even to don that new pink (!) tie,I decided ex-ante that *I* didn’t need any new friends. Sure, I planned to attend all the parents’ evenings and concerts and do playdates and what have you, but for me it would all be strictly business. (Or possibly good blog material. Because, let’s be honest, it always is.) I just…Didn’t. Need. New. Friends. Damn it!

I’m not exactly sure where this militant anti-social attitude came from. After all, I’m an extrovert. I love meeting new people and will happily chat up just about anyone in just about any situation. My husband’s the same way. But somehow, when faced with a new social environment that was somewhat different from the one I’d been hanging (comfortably) in, I got all defensive…and judgmental…and uptight.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a wallflower. I went to a holiday party – and had a really good time.

Sure, as I wandered in and was blinded by all the glittery cocktail dresses, I realized that I was woefully under-dressed and should have consulted LPC about what to wear before I left. And I’m fairly certain that I was the only woman drinking beer.

But I had at least three or four conversations that I really enjoyed, including one with a Jewish guy – married to a fellow Shiksa. We jointly bemoaned how hard it is to find a synagogue in London that is truly open to “patrilineal” Jews – i.e., kids where only the father is Jewish and who thus don’t technically “count” as Jews. (FYI: Lately I’ve been eyeing the Gay and Lesbian synagogue here, despite being neither gay, nor lesbian, nor Jewish. But I’ll leave that for another blog post, speaking of material…)

Then I went to a birthday party over the weekend and had this same experience all over again. This time, I ended up talking to a couple with a child at the school for about 45 minutes. The husband was English but had grown up in the States. He and I bonded over how Americans take it for granted that you get involved in your children’s school, whether coaching (as he does) or raising money (as I do), whereas for the Brits that’s still largely anathema. The wife was Indian and she and I bonded over what it’s like to be a foreigner at a predominantly English school.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that even as adults, we need to be open to new experiences and “give them a go” as we say on this side of the pond. Not everything is a lima bean. New experiences can be fun. New people can be stimulating. And most importantly, as a friend of mine put it so succinctly: “Not everyone is an *&%hole.”

Hard to argue with that.

Image: Doc Marten Lima Beans by luluisforlovers via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

November 27, 2009

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere.

This week, however, I’m going to do things a bit differently. I’m still going to recommend some things for you to look at, but one’s a book, one’s a newspaper and one’s a radio program. (Every once in awhile it’s fun to shake things up…):

1. The Happiness Project (the book)- I’ve often mentioned Gretchen Rubin’s fantabulous blog, The Happiness Project here. Gretchen spent a year test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy. Now she’s producing a book on the same topic. The book will come out on December 29, but it can be pre-ordered here. I was lucky enough to read an early draft and I can’t say enough about it…it’s insightful, it’s funny, it’s incredibly wide-ranging and it’s also quite accessible. Plus, it’s a great holiday present for anyone looking to devise – or live up to – all those New Years Resolutions coming your way just around the corner. I know I’ve already got a list of people I plan on giving it to. Please go have a look.

2. San Francisco Panorama – Also on the list of “not-yet-out-must-reads” is Dave Eggers’ forthcoming, one-time-release San Francisco Panorama. Eggers will be familiar to many as the wunderkind who wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, his post-modern memoir of raising his little brother while still barely an adult himself. He’s also the founding editor of McSweeney’s, which will publish Panorama on December 8th. Panorama was inspired by Eggers’ belief that in the age of the internet, we are in serious danger of losing the newspaper as we know it. So as a paean to the broadsheet of yore, he has pulled together journalists, writers, comic strip artists…even kids to recreate that old-fashioned thing we call a newspaper, one more time with feeling. Pre-order here. (Hat Tip: Book Snob.)

3. A National Day of Listening – Finally, if you like family stories (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) you should check out Story Corps’ National Day of Listening. The idea behind this project was to get families talking to one another and to preserve those conversations on line for posterity’s sake. Stories will be aired starting today, and you can still go and download your own. As we used to say in radioland, have a listen! (Hat tip: Motherlode.)

*****

Finally, if you live in the U.K. and ever wonder whether Big Brother is watching you, he is. Read all about how the British police are now spying on protesters in my article at PoliticsDaily.com here

Follow Delia on Twitter.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Get On Top Of Your To-Do List

November 25, 2009

Every Wednesday I post tips for adulthood.

I got a status update from a friend on Facebook last night that read something like this: “The ironing pile just never goes away! I’ve tried not ironing…but I hate wrinkly clothes. And the pile just keeps growing!”

I know. I know. Your first thought is “Don’t iron!” but it’s clearly important to her. (She confessed later on that she even irons her kids’ undershirts…Wow!) And let’s face it. Taking four people’s clothes to a dry cleaner is both absurdly expensive…and just plain absurd. So instead, my friend irons – and irons – but the pile just keeps growing.

We all have our ironing piles. For some, it’s our email inbox. (Guilty!) For others, it’s the endless pile of bills to pay. And at this time of year, the number of piles just continues to mount: holiday presents…holiday cards…holiday recipes. Calgon, take me away!

As I learned two weeks ago while taking a self-imposed vacation, you never completely eradicate your to-do list. But here are some tips to help reduce your “laundry”:

1. Take control of one thing. As my life coach loves to remind me: “Stress occurs when you feel out of control.” There are lots of things in life that we don’t control:  an ill relative…how many friends your kid has in school. But there are some things we do control and our stress is greatly reduced when we seize one of those and manage it. I recently realized that I was really stressed out because I hadn’t yet purchased holiday gifts for the kids. So one night – even though the holidays were more than a month away – I sat down for 30 minutes, went through my mental list of what they wanted/needed/I could afford – and ordered a bunch of stuff on Amazon. I immediately felt calmer.

2. Divide your to-do list in half. I read about this tactic while sitting in a doctor’s office one day. (Yes, on occasion, those brochures are useful!) The idea is to separate your to-do list into long-term and short-term items. Each day, you tick off one item from the short-term list (see #1). Each week, you take a concrete step towards something on the long-term list. So even if your long-term list contains such seemingly amorphous tasks as “figure out your religion” (mine does!), you can still phone one synagogue and arrange to attend a bagel brunch. Done.

3. Take something off your plate. I once attended a productivity seminar that was run by a ridiculously enthusiastic management consultant. What I remember most from that experience – other than the skip in his stride – was his mantra to “Get it off your plate.” He maintained that the trick to a productive life lay in figuring out where to “send” something once it landed in your inbox. In my case, I like to think of this as finding a home for the things on your to-do list. It could be a physical home – a space for those single earrings/errant socks/stray Pokeman cards. Or it could be a virtual home. (My husband has a file called “history” where he stores all emails relating to landmark personal/family/professional events.) Whatever the strategy, when there is less clutter in and around your to-do list, you’ll feel more relaxed.

4. Eliminate the shoulds. I’ve posted before that many of the things populating our to-do lists are things we really don’t want to be doing, but feel we ought to be doing. And then we feel miserable that they don’t get done. So the trick here, my friends – (much easier to preach than to practice, I’ll grant you!) –  is to be honest with yourself about which items aren’t getting done because they are a “should.” Just the other day, an old friend confessed to me that she hadn’t yet sent out her – wait for it – holiday…cookies. What?? You send people cookies? I mean, what a lovely idea. And what a huge, annoying pain in the rear. “Do you like making cookies?” I asked her. She paused. “No. Not really,” she confessed. “But I like the idea of doing it.” Exhibit A.

5. Think in terms of weeks not days. This was one of the most helpful things my life coach ever suggested. She said that rather than trying to figure out which five things you can/will accomplish on any given day (and then despair when one or two fail to materialize), figure out what it is you’d like to have done by the end of the week. Then, if you miss the yoga class on Thursday morning because you have to attend a meeting, you can still reschedule it for Saturday and check that box. Try it!

*****

I’ve gotten a lot of flack for my post on Politics Daily about why I don’t think the new mammogram guidelines are so bad. Have a look…

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Image: A Man’s Tools by Bob AuBuchon via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.


Night At The Museum: Why I Hate Camping

November 23, 2009

I figured out something important about myself over the weekend. Or, more accurately, I figured it out again:  I’m not a camper.

This realization came to me whilst attending a sleepover at the British Museum on Saturday night with my 8 year-old son. He’s a “young friend” at the museum and as with all things, membership has its privileges. In this case, he was invited to attend an evening of workshops surrounding the current Montezuma exhibit, followed by a sleep-over and early morning access to the exhibit.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, a lot, actually. At least if you’re me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in awe of the quantity and quality of things that British museums – especially this one – do in the way of inspiring and educating children about art and history. It’s one of the things I love most about living over here. By way of example, in a mere four hours on Saturday night we decoded Mayan glyphs, made a Mexican headdress, chanted to some Aztec Gods and listened to a Day of the Dead Story teller. In short: brilliant.

But then there was the actual sleepover. And here I was less charmed. As I lay there around 2 a.m., wide awake on a cold, stone floor amid the Assyrian statuary…in a sleeping bag (graciously loaned by a neighbor)…with my 8 year-old son lying next to me, grinding his teeth…in a room full of snoring strangers….under the watchful eye of “A Winged Bull For Sennacherib’s Palace” I thought:  Right. This is why I hated camping all those years.

I know. I know. It’s not real wilderness-style camping. But it bears enough similarity to warrant the comparison. To wit:

*relative deprivation from creature comforts (e.g. bed, heating–those statues are cold!, shower, normal food)

*living in groups and listening to/participating in other people’s personal rituals (e.g. sleep, eating, teeth-brushing)

*that curious modern creation that is the sleeping bag

It probably would have helped if I’d had an air mattress instead of the yoga mat I brought to add an extra layer of comfort. (Not.)

It probably also would have helped if I were ten years younger and didn’t yet know the aches and pains of that pesky piriformis muscle that’s been acting up so much lately.

And – to be honest – it probably also would have helped if I were just a different person. I don’t know. Someone who really excelled at Girl Scouts, perhaps. Or didn’t find it really strange to brush my teeth in front of 20 other people.

But I’m not. And much as I love my son, I don’t think I’ll be repeating that exercise anytime soon.

But I’m happy to have learned all of this – again – about myself. Because at the end of the day, adulthood is about realizing who you are and what you enjoy in life.

I had the exact same realization the other day when looking at a friend’s vacation pictures on her computer. As I watched slide show after slide show of her recent family holidays, I realized that in every single one, she and her husband were engaged in some sort of “extreme sport” – whether it was kayaking or mountain climbing or windsurfing.

Whereas when my husband and I take a holiday,we tend to go to a lot of museums (in the daytime!), frequent cafés and catch up on The New Yorker.

Which is, I suppose, a long way of saying “to each his (or her) own.”

It’s also a long way of saying that the next time I spend a Night at The Museum, it will be on film.

Image: Night at the Museum by Frangipani via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

November 20, 2009

This Friday, I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Last week during all the hullabaloo surrounding the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I wrote a piece for PoliticsDaily.com about why East Germans feel somewhat differently about the Wall. Here’s a spectacular slide show on the Wall from The Guardian.

2. I was delighted to stumble across Wikipedia Files by some of my old colleagues at Chicago Public Radio’s sister site, Vocalo. It’s a show where the producers interview people about the accuracy of their Wikipedia files. Be sure to listen to the entry on John Hodgman.

3. If you’re a wordsmith, you’ll enjoy this zany brainteaser that lets you construct your own academic sentence. (Hat tip: @cmmayo). I also enjoyed this entry on the meaning of the new verb “Stupak” from Urban Dictionary. (Hat tip: Salon’s Broadsheet.)

4. Here’s an interesting analysis from the Christian Science Monitor about why voters’ age mattered so much in the latest elections.

5. I was also intrigued by this analysis in Forbes about why green jobs won’t save California’s economy.

6. Finally, if you’ve ever fantasized about tossing it all away and running off to start a commune, here’s one writer’s justification for doing just that in The Guardian.

Oh yes. And please do follow me on Twitter.

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Trends In Adulthood: Is Gift-Giving Obsolete?

November 19, 2009

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid or Festivus, I’ve got news for you: gift-giving is soooo ten minutes ago.

A series of initiatives, large and small, suggest that presents – at least in the wrapped with a bow, purchased in a store variety – are rapidly going the way of the Post Office.

Today I’m over at PoliticsDaily.com talking about why I’d really prefer it if you just gave me a goat this Christmas.

Have a look

Image: Gift Box by Weddingmusings via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: How To Make Time Off Productive

November 18, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week I took a self-imposed vacation from this blog in order to focus on marketing my novel. It was an unusual thing for me to do, but I’m so glad that I decided to do it. As the self-development guru Colleen Wainwright – a.k.a. Communicatrix – put it so well in a comment on that post:

“Hardest thing in the world, carving out time for the Not Immediately Necessary. But how else does the big stuff get done?”

How else, indeed?

So in this week’s tip list, I thought I’d share what I learned from that experience and, specifically, how to make “time off” (as in time off to carry out a specific project, as opposed to a vacation) productive:

1. Tell Other People What You Are Doing. Several people – including myself – noted that I wrote a blog post to announce that I wouldn’t be blogging for a week. Why not just…stop blogging for a week? But I did that for a reason. I knew that if I told readers what I was doing and gave myself a time-line, I’d be more inspired to hit my goal. And I did.

2. Cut Distractions. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. Much of the joy that comes from being a blogger doesn’t just come from writing posts, but from reading other people’s blogs, commenting on those blogs, sharing an interesting article on Twitter, etc. Doing all that is a big part of how I come up with my ideas. And while I didn’t stop reading my RSS feed last week (perish the thought!), I did dramatically reduce the amount of time I normally spend in the blogosphere.

3. Stay Focused. Another obvious suggestion, but which also bears repeating. Midway through the week, I realized that I could easily have devoted the entire week just to clearing out my inbox. And by “clearing out my inbox” I don’t mean deleting announcements about “What’s on at The National Theatre” or the latest cure for cancer in homeopathy.  I mean attending to really useful articles and websites I’ve flagged for myself about blogging, writing, publishing, etc. that I *really must read.* But then I reminded myself: Nope, that’s not what I’m doing this week. I”m working on the novel. But that insight did motivate me to take another, future SIV (that’s “self imposed vacation” as opposed to SUV, FYI..BTW..IMHO…ha!) that will just be about blogging best practices.

4. Recognize That You’ll Never Totally Clear Your Inbox. I think I had this fantasy that once I took this large, annoying monkey off my back (e.g. sending out the novel to agents), the sky would magically part and I’d be relaxed and in control of my to-do list. But taking time off also made me realize that, much as I’d like to, I’ll never completely reduce my “to do” list to zero. Because as soon as I take one thing off the list – like “send out novel to agents” – something else immediately moves in to take its place, like “blog promotion.” Sure, there’s all this stuff floating around out there about inbox zero and the Four Hour work week. What-ever. I think for most of us, it’s about reducing our to-do lists to a manageable level and then taking it one step at a time, accepting that whatever we prioritize comes at the expense of other things we’d also – genuinely – like to be doing. That’s just…life.

5. Remember that Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder. One of the best ways to appreciate something in your life is to take a break from it. Your feelings while your away will tell you how much you either totally love it or could actually live without it. Back when I was an academic, I took a year off to work for the United States Treasury Department, precisely in order to see whether I’d miss my life as a professor. I didn’t miss it at all and mailed in my resignation half way through the year. In a similar vein, last week while “not blogging” I realized how much I love this blog and missed both writing it and being part of this community.

And that was the best lesson of all.

*****

If you’re interested, here’s my piece in yesterday’s PoliticsDaily.com about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.K.


Image: Monkey On My Back by Mshai via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.