I get home from the business trip after dark. It’s been two solid days of planes, trains and automobiles – doing the security line striptease, breaking nails on suitcase latches, schlepping from one client meeting to the next with bloodshot eyes from fitful hotel sleep and not enough Visine. I’m thrilled to be home but as usual, my return disrupts the fragile balance my stay-at-home husband has established with our son in my absence.
Enter Mommy, exit discipline. I realize as I lurch into the kitchen lugging suitcase and laptop bag that I’ve interrupted dinner. I’ve distracted my son during the all-important first course, by which I mean the plateful of vegetables he must finish before getting mac-and-cheese. He’ll eat veggies but like pulling off a bandaid, it’s best when it happens all at once, without interruption. I’ve shot his concentration and he’s now wrapped himself around me with the freakish strength 6 year olds can muster when it comes to bear hugs and marathon tickle sessions. I breathe him in. I haven’t seen him in two days.
My husband indulges the reunion for a while, then tries to coax our boy back to finish dinner. It’s swim team practice night which means dinner is served later and everyone’s exhausted. Bed time is minutes away and we’re not even through the carrots yet. My son ignores his father’s pleas to finish the meal, having run off to the TV room to find a drawing he needs to show me RIGHT NOW. He’s got two days of catching up to do with me and in his mind, carrots – and bedtime – can wait. On cue, my husband explodes.
The battle of wills between the 42 year old and the first grader is fierce. Testosterone flies fast and furious, both sides hell-bent on making sure the other knows “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.”
Normally I’d intervene. Mediate and bargain. Make the peace. Tonight, something switches on in my brain. I realize, “I can’t fix this.” It occurs to me the men in my family will never figure out how to deal with one another productively as long as I’m in the ring refereeing.
So I leave. I pull my coat back on knowing full well this will trigger a fresh outburst of wailing from my son.
I tell him as calmly as I can that I’m going to take a walk so that he and his dad can make friends again. That they need to work it out themselves, that I love them both and I’ll be back in a little bit.
I walk out into the cool night air, willing myself not to look back at the house. I know I’ll see my son plastered against the living room window, yelling for me to come back. I am tired from my trip, tired of the drama, tired of undermining my husband in his parenting efforts.
It’s humid for December and a light fog has settled on and around the houses on my block. I pause at the end of the street and look at all the houses along our town’s main drag, decked out in friendly competition with a bright array of Christmas lights. I breathe slowly and deliberately, in and out, in and out. This grounds me in the here and now, because I refuse to project myself into a future where my husband and son can’t settle their differences, come to blows, stop loving each other.
I’m touched by the sight of these houses lined up side by side in the night, lit up as far as the eye can see, all the way down to where our town’s main street intersects with the highway. The houses get smaller and a little more ragtag down there, but they have been decorated with care and tonight they are luminous.
Why do we hang lights at Christmas? To evoke the star of Bethlehem and the nativity? Keep up with the Joneses? Celebrate the Solstice and the return of the sun’s light? Me, I love Christmas lights for reasons so complex and emotionally intertwined it’s tough to peel apart. They are beacons that fill my heart with optimism that this Christmas will be different – no holiday dysfunction, no missed connections, no New Year’s resolutions made and abandoned. Hope that this year, things will be better.
I turn and make my way back down the block to our little blue house. I’ve only been gone ten minutes but I’m guessing things have diffused inside. I notice the lights have gone out on the evergreen garland I’ve twisted around the lamp pole in our front yard and though it’s dark, am able to correct the setting on the automatic timer. The strands of fairy lights nestled in the pine blaze brilliantly back to life. I look up to see my husband and son silhouetted in the front window, waiting for me together. I climb the porch stairs and go back inside, out of the mist and into the light.
Note: I was inspired to write this post by the brilliant women of Blog Nosh Magazine who are hosting a blogging carnival to celebrate hope during the holiday season. They’re doing this to help raise awareness of a charity program called Loads of Hope which I am obliged to tell you was created by my agency’s client Tide. I assure you, I would support both Blog Nosh and Tide Loads of Hope regardless of the client relationship because good people and programs deserve to be promoted. My clients don’t know I wrote this but if they read it, I hope they like it. (You, too.)
Please visit Blog Nosh to learn about the carnival and the campaign.
It’s Day 1 of the World Business Forum. I’m tucked comfortably into my puffy velvet seat on Radio City Music Hall’s third mezzanine. Despite some wi-fi challenges (what conference is complete without them?) it’s been smooth sailing for the 50 or so of us who are here as part of the official Blogger Hub. Two levels below, the orchestra seats are steadily filling to the accompaniment of the Lite FM-ish smooth jazz flowing through the sound system (you were expecting Lady GaGa?) Despite the stated “business casual” dress code, it’s a sea of gray suits down there. I’m in standard issue PR girl black head-to-toe, with gold flats and crystal drop earrings. (This is my business casual.)
Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton takes the stage to open the conference, and something he says sets the tone for all the speakers who follow: “When you ride through hell, you don’t stop.” It’s an old cowboy saying, but pretty apt right now. No denying things have been pretty hellish for the past 12 months. It’s a common refrain with nearly every speaker – unemployment up, GDP down. American small business dying on the vine. We may technically be out of the recession, but the hard work of recovery has just begun. And there’s the question of sustainability and whether economic recovery will happen at the expense of a planet which, as speaker Jeffrey Sachs reminds us, “is bursting at the seams.”
How appropriate that climate-related disaster metaphors are a recurring conference theme: it’s Katrina, a cyclone, a tsunami. Cataclysmic. The eye of the hurricane is past but the challenges left in the aftermath are monumental. Hellish indeed. But as Hinton says, this is no time to stop riding. It’s simple in business: Grow. Do. Wherever the market goes next, we must focus on growing. Innovation brings good fortune. It’s always time for ideas.
There is no shortage of ideas coming from the Radio City Music Hall stage. My head and laptop are swimming with them. I look down at my notes in between speakers and am amazed I can keep up at all (Thank you 10th grade typing teacher. Name: forgotten. Impact on my professional life: priceless.) Themes emerge from speaker to speaker and begin to coalesce on my monitor; here are the two that resonate most powerfully for me:
Truth: Saatchi and Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts tells us the truth is ugly. Don’t be afraid to face it. Bill Conaty, former HR chief of GE, describes “truth and candor” as pillars of a performance culture. Management guru Bill George cautions against denial, says leaders willing to face organizational and personal realities free up their companies to move forward. Or make tough but crucial decisions like, as Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld suggests, killing your company’s sacred cows in times of crisis.
Creativity: Needless to say, there is much to absorb from the event’s most high profile speakers George Lucas and Bill Clinton. In both cases it takes me a minute to get my star-struck fingers typing, once I do I find my notes coming back consistently to creativity. The Lucas Q&A with film critic Ben Mankiewicz is billed as “The Future of Cinema” but feels more to me like a blast from the past. In a good way, considering how forward-looking Lucas’ past actually was. It’s easy to get so caught up in his role of father of the “Star Wars” mythos that I forget the boldness of Lucas’ business innovations. Small action figure movie tie-ins didn’t exist before Lucas pioneered the model with Kenner and forever altered the movie merchandising landscape. And when he couldn’t find a production shop able to make the visual effects needed for “Star Wars,” he created Industrial Light and Magic. I have no idea what enables a human being to have the courage and means to look into a void and simply invent what’s needed. Where others would see a yawning chasm, Lucas saw opportunity.
As for Clinton, creativity as well as collaboration are recurring themes in his speech. He cites interdependence – not globalism – as the word he believes best describes the century we live in. According to Clinton, it is not just about the movement of money around the world, but the flow of diverse people and ideas. And in his view, there is no such thing as a personal rainstorm. The problems of the 21st century – terrorism, poverty, famine, diseases – will be solved only by cross-border creativity and collaboration. And while there is hope embedded in that message – of people and organizations putting aside individual agendas for a common good – there is a grave warning, too: “We have to find a world where we can all win, otherwise, none of us will.”
Go here for more blog coverage of the World Business Forum.
This started out as a Wordless Wednesday post, but I love the picture so much I had to Use My Words. Making this Wordy Wednesday.
This is our firepit up in the country. You can just make out my husband’s profile off to the left and though you can’t see it I recall that my son is curled at his feet, mesmerized by the flames. My 17-year old nephew took the picture and me, I’m just out of frame doing not much of anything at all.
The Catskills house has a pacifying effect on this family. We don’t bicker up there. I don’t know if it’s something magical in the air or well water, or maybe the mountain view changes our collective seratonin uptake. Whatever — I’m not complaining.
I was looking for a poem about campfires to accompany the post because poets haz pretty words and I needed backup. Happily, I discovered Linda Parsons Marion. Her poem is technically about a homefire but close enough. I love it.
I’ve learned where the lines are drawn
and keep the privet well trimmed.
I left one house with toys on the floor
for another with quiet rugs
and a bed where the moon comes in…
Home where I sit in the glider, knowing it needs oil,
like my own rusty joints. Where I coax blackberry to dogwood
and winter to harvest, where my table is clothed in light.
Home where I walk out on the thin page
of night, without waving or giving myself away,
and return with my words burning like fire in the grate.
At the tender age of 14, I met a much older Russian man in the wilds of the Catskill Mountains who filled the long, sultry afternoons of my summer with passionate music and beautiful dance.
(Got your attention?)
Wish I could tell you it was my Lolita summer. It wasn’t. I’ve never had any kind of Lolita-esque experience but I’m not complaining – that being statutory rape and all. No, I was just studying at a ballet camp run by a respectable gentleman named Ivan Rabovsky. I don’t remember exactly where the camp was, or even what Mr. Rabovsky’s dance credentials were (other than being Russian of course). All I know is he worked our butts off that July and by the end of the session I managed to get myself up en pointe. I also fell hard for the unruly, unspoiled world of the Catskill Mountains.
Many summers later, I’ve consummated my love affair both with these mountains and with Russians. I married one (a Russian, not a mountain…obviously), and two years ago became the happy mistress of a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in Greene County, NY. This is me on closing day, staring at the mountains out back and pinching myself that this sweet little farmhouse was actually ours.
I spun into high gear those first few weeks in a frenzy to get everything JUST RIGHT. I had a very specific vision for this house – it would be a mix of country styles that reflected both my and my husband’s passions. Think classic American farmhouse meets Carl Larsson meets Russian dacha. We were a flurry of productivity and thanks to IKEA and the hard work of my husband’s buddies (free paint and carpentry in exchange for vodka and permission to hunt mushrooms on our property – which Russian men take extremely seriously, do not come become them and their gribs), we got the little house in great shape. Depending on the season, we ski or swim or grill or just sit around looking at the stars and listening to the roar of the creek coming down off the mountain behind us. We are blessed to have this refuge.
Whether you lead a country lifestyle full-time, part-time, or only in your dreams – these books will provide many hours of inspiration and enjoyment. They certainly did for me.
Influential Country Styles by Judith Miller
Catskills Country Style by Steve Gross
Creating the Look: Swedish Style by Katrin Cargill
(I’m too lazy to hyperlink every picture. Sorry, it’s late and I’m long overdue at home. Bad Blogger, bad. If you can’t find these books on Amazon, I promise you can find them on Amazon UK.)
As many of you know, I am obsessed with Sharpies. They are much more than pens to me. They are self-expression accessories, if you will. They bring color, boldness and clarity to my life — both my lives, actually. Professional Life and Private (Mom) Life. I think with Sharpie, I create with Sharpie, I edit with Sharpie, I doodle with Sharpie, I label with Sharpie, I define with Sharpie.
Yes, I think Sharpie is fine. Ultra-fine! (Heh.) I also think Sharpie is smart, smart, smart. I’ve gushed about the brand blog before, I still hold it up as a model for powerful branded presence in the social media space. The presentation below (from SlideShare) provides a fabulous glimpse at how the Sharpie team does what they do. Kudos to Susan Wassel — or SharpieSusan, as she is known to her Twitter followers — who’s been the tireless force behind this work.
I feel a moral obligation to post a BlogHer recap that does not mention any of the following: Swag, swag whore, swag bag, swag hag, Croc-bribing, over-imbibing, baby elbowing, baby hating, sponsor hating, Nikon-Gating, vibrator sampling, crowds trampling…I discussed some of that stuff already but I wonder if perhaps we should turn the page now.
Next topic. I’m not positive but I heard a rumor there were some sessions at BlogHer where people got together to discuss things like….dammit, if only I could think of the word.
Writing, that’s it.
Far away from the sponsored Expo Hall, bloggers got together to talk about writing – about race, serious illnesses, topics other than parenting, political commentary, food, pop culture and, in my favorite session of the weekend, humor.
Here’s who sat on the panel, emcee’d by Deb Rox (@debontherocks)
Wendi Aarons (@waarons)
Jessica Bern (@bernthis)
Kelcey Kinter (@Mamabirddiaries)
Jenny Lawson (@TheBloggess)
Anna Lefler (@annalefler)
Not that I’m complaining, but the room was like seven sizes too small. With the previous panel having been standing room only, we walked into a soggy chamber of sogginess where every seat was already taken because none of the previous session’s attendees were budging. It’s not their fault, you’d be a chair hog too if you had a chance to get within petting distance of The Bloggess.
So I shoehorned myself into a cozy spot on the floor in the middle of the center aisle to commence sweating and live tweeting. Unfortunately, Tweet Deck kept punting me off thanks to the Sheraton’s state-of-the-art wi-fi (which tauntingly worked on the side of the room where I was not, the side where people had chairs and iced coffees and smug expressions.)
So I closed up the laptop and admired my neighbors’ cute shoes and pedicures from my unique floor-level vantage point. Then I listened to six brilliant women talking about the art of Blogging While Funny. Here is what I learned:
1. BlogHer attendees are awfully bi-curious. I can’t tell you how many tweets I saw before my wi-fi died about people hoping to get a peek up The Bloggess’ dress.
2. From a distance, if you blur your eyes, Anna Lefler looks a little like Ann Coulter, by which I mean tall, blonde and lanky. The resemblance would be even closer if Ann Coulter were a) attractive or b) a member of the human race.
3. I’m not sure Jessica Bern knows what a twitter hashtag is. This strikes me as funny.
4. Putting words together that don’t belong is funny. Like Rita Arens’ suggestion from the audience that a baby is like a flesh purse, at which point a fellow floor-squatter murmured, “My flesh purse doesn’t hold nearly as much as my Coach purse.”
5. Horrible things like death can be funny (cf: The Bloggess here) and yes, catharctic (not just for the writer.)
6. Rhythm is important. Read your posts out loud to see if the words flow optimally for bringing the funny (no one on the panel actually said “bringing the funny,” I did. Funny people don’t say “bringing the funny.”)
7. Humor pisses people off. The panelists agreed they often leave angry comments up on their blogs because they themselves are quite funny (especially spelling-challenged commenters saying “your retarded.”)
I really wanted to share ten lessons, not seven, but here’s what happened. About thirty minutes into the session my legs fell asleep and I started to black out ever so slightly from the heat. I’m afraid this is the best I can do. In the meantime, if you’d like to see more love for bringing the funny on BlogHer, lobby the good ladies in San Francisco for a dedicated BlogHer Humor channel. If you’re on Twitter, check out the conversation at #blogherhumor (a hashtag I’m pretty sure Jessica Bern did not invent.)