Thursday, December 31, 2015

Facebook New Year's Resolutions


I was relatively late to social media. In my case, waiting was a good idea. I got to observe from the sidelines. I avoided learning some things the hard way.

When I finally joined Facebook I was ready. That's important to point out. 

That's why I was surprised and appalled to have had not one, but two, skin crawling, nauseatingly negative experiences on Facebook. One of them was a couple of years ago, but still smarts. The other one was a week ago. 

Both experiences made me feel badly on two levels. One was that my feelings were deeply hurt. Another was that there was something about the way they went down that, in retrospect, might have been prevented had I been a little more savvy or careful.

It is tempting to publicly describe what happened. As difficult as it is in the short run, I think I will be happier in the long run taking the high road. Another way of putting it is that I am keeping it classy. A third interpretation is that I am above such behavior. Putting myself on this social media pedestal is a very satisfying feeling at this juncture.

It was surprising to note that things that happen via social media can feel just as crappy as things that happen in "real life.”

Nasty Facebook events have not happened in a vacuum. I've been given an opportunity to learn from any mistakes I have made in my choice of Facebook company.

I've taken a long, hard look at my Facebook life. As a result, I've come up with some resolutions. I am calling these New Year’s resolutions, but, truthfully, I've put them into effect immediately.
I am hoping that by implementing these safeguards, awareness, and common sense measures, I might avoid feeling emotionally battered in the future. Maybe it will help you, too.

Remind Yourself That You Don't Have Your Entire Toolbox
When we meet a person face-to-face in real time, we are evaluating them on levels that we are not fully cognizant of in the moment. We use eye contact, body language, nuanced conversation, and social signaling. Even the quality of a handshake or a smile can tell us tons of information about a person. Is this person safe or a threat? How is our chemistry together? Am I looking to extend the conversation or politely exit? Are we laughing?

When we meet someone for the first time on social media, we are stripped of abilities that for most of us are so natural, so ingrained that we might not appreciate their full function. It behooves us to remind ourselves that when we make friends on Facebook, we are doing it with one metaphorical hand tied behind our backs.

Continuously Ask Yourself: Do I Like This Person? Do I Still Like This Person?
This may seem obvious. But when I was honest with myself about the living, breathing cautionary tales I call former Facebook friends, I came to a shocking conclusion. I didn't actually like these people in the first place.

Things change. Maybe the funny stoner you liked in high school casts a negative pall on your newsfeed. Maybe you liked someone two years ago, but don't like them anymore.

Or maybe you didn't think being Facebook friends was that big a deal.

If you wouldn't consider being real life friends with someone then consider why it's okay to be Facebook friends.

I took a spin through my current friends list. The vast majority of the people on it are people I like - a lot. A couple of people gave me pause. That brings me to the next pointer.

Quietly Un-Friend People Before It Turns Completely Toxic
Just unfriend. Don't private message people to tell them why. Don't call them out on your status updates. Take the high road. But do it.

If Things Have Already Turned Toxic, Block Them
If the person gives you the heebie jeebies or you just don't want to see their crappy stuff in your newsfeed, block them. Especially do this if they bother you with private messages.

Continuously Ask Yourself: Does This Friend Like Me?
I admit to not having thought of this much previously. But sometimes I like certain people more than they like me in my non-social media life. I tend to move on quickly if I sense the other person doesn't like me. This can and should apply to Facebook.

If I find that I'm the one dishing out encouragement, comments, and likes with nary an acknowledgement, I’m going to start looking at that.

If I find that I am not feeling included in certain discussions, am not fine art enough, bereaved enough, gay enough, snarky enough, gorgeous enough or just not enough, I'm going to start quietly unfriending. If people are cliquey I'm quietly unfriending. I'm 52 years old. I graduated from high school a long time ago.

Consider Unfollowing
This is a late discovery of mine. There are three possible ways I am planning to use this capability.

I am going to put some people on probation. They are showing me some red flags. It will be a stopgap measure between being their friend and not being their friend. I'll check in with their wall once in a while to see what I think. In any case, If I can use a break from their updates.

I will unfollow and then follow again depending on what is happening.

Then there are people whom I like and are positive people. But there are only so many cat, dog, or sports pictures I can see in one day. I plan to check in with their wall, see what their up to and if something changes about the tenor of the posts I'll follow again.

And finally, I may need to temporarily distance myself during September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, I felt under siege by the sheer numbers of posts. I lived childhood cancer and to some extent I still do. I do not need to be reminded of the ravages or risks to my surviving children all of the time.

Everyone is different. I have an unlimited interest in people's children. I enjoy seeing people's meals. But if you don't like these things, then unfollow.

I found this article helpful on the subject of unfollowing.

Be Careful About The Friend Requests You Accept In The First Place.
In my non-social media life, I am friendly but cautious. I am warm but not particularly initiating. This pattern extended to Facebook - at first. Most friend requests come from others.

But then I got a little sloppy. I accepted friend requests with the sole criteria that the person and I had some mutual Facebook friends. It's time to get a bit more discriminating. I need to vet people more carefully. And once I accept a request, I'll put that person on probation for a bit.

Read Between The Lines Of Your Facebook Friend's Non-Social Media Life
Who seems to have a healthy relationship with family and friends? Group pictures, being tagged, shared family gatherings, party pics, and evidence of breaking bread with others are a clue, however imperfect, to the person being capable of healthy relationships. If they have children, do they seem to take pride in them? There's another clue.

On the other hand, one of my train-wreck former Facebook friends once publicly unfriended her own sibling, and another seemed to be a loner, which seemed romantic and appealing at first, but then not so much.

If Facebook is someone's only form of social interaction it might mean that the person is elderly, fighting chronic illness, living in a rural area or recently relocated. It could also mean something more sinister, and, excuse my language, fucked up is going on.

The capability to maintain social ties in real life says something about a person's ability to be a good friend on social media.

Be Careful About Riding In On The White Horse
One of my best qualities is my ability to step in in a crisis, be a good listener, support people through life stressors, and reach out during times of tragedy.

If your real life friend is undergoing surgery, cancer treatment, a period of unemployment, a divorce or a diagnosis, and posts about their struggles on Facebook, by all means support them there. If they are using social media to seek kinship and encouragement that can be a healthy coping skill.

If your real life friend is going through these things also consider a phone call, visit, a casserole, or hug. But that's a subject for another blog post.

Any empathic person will be moved by a new Facebook friend's struggle with domestic abuse, a child's diagnosis, or a financial setback.

Deep friendships have been formed around struggle particularly if you yourself have experienced something similar.

But be careful about reaching out if you don't know the person well. I've learned the hard way that hardship does not always elevate an individual. I've been a virtual cheerleader, kept vigil through people's follow up scans, encouraged people to seek help, only to find out later that, sick or not, the person was essentially a jerk.

And as unsavory as this is to report, people will sometimes make up stuff and post it on Facebook just for attention. That is a serious mental illness in which you don't need to get mixed up.

Heed These Red Flags
Public unfriending and shaming
Micro-complaining takes up the majority of status updates
Black and white, rigid thinking
Combative questioning and comment style
Lack of healthy boundaries
Excessive attention seeking
Grossly non-reciprocal Facebook relationship
Excessive TMI
Threatens to leave Facebook but never does
Suspected lying or fabricating
Something doesn't "feel right" and you can't put your finger on why.

I Know My Wall Is Weird
I have 21 separate photography series I post on a weekly schedule. I also share this blog. For one entire year I took a photograph of my dinner and posted a description. These are artistic things. These are weird things. I get that.

I post these weird, artistic things in addition to the more usual stuff. Pictures of my family. An occasional selfie. My Christmas tree.

I share some political stuff.

It's a lot.

Here's the thing, though. I'm a generous Facebook friend. I share friends’ art, blogs, crowdfunding requests and petitions. I pray for people. I encourage people. I exclaim over people's kids, home renovations, and accomplishments. People who aren't freaks remember and appreciate this.

But even so, I know I'm sharing a lot of photography of weeds, trash, nearly dead flowers, odd parts of NYC and crumbling Mid-century modern architecture.

I won't apologize for it. But if it's a bit much for you, I invite you to unfollow me. You could even unfriend me. But if you do either of these things, please do it quietly. If I find out later you unfriended me, I will probably block you. Because if we aren't friends anymore, why in God's name would I want to see your posts anyway?

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Gift Basket Eating


Christmas eating is a lifestyle that starts the day after Thanksgiving and continues through New Year's Day. Although Christmas Day is indeed  over for now, we are only part of the way through Christmas eating season. That is why it is not too late to share my amassed wisdom now.

Besides, I can recycle this same post  again for next Christmas. 

I am planning to do some additional seasonal Christmas eating going forward. I am planning to eat traditional Haitian meat patties, home-baked Christmas cookies, Belgian waffles, and other delicacies. 

In terms of alcoholic beverages, I am planning to drink a creamy Haitian concoction called Cremasse.  I am going to ask Jeremy to make me a beverage incorporating some champagne he received from work. Jeremy does not like champagne but I happen to love it. I love it so much that it is hard to know when to stop. That is why Jeremy needs to make me a cocktail, where it is only one of the ingredients. That way I'll know when to say when.

This is in addition to the pecan pie I've already eaten, the Chinese Food I have consumed as a nod to Jeremy's Jewish heritage and some icing I ate while decorating cookies. 

Besides the regular Christmas eating that is done with family, extended family, and at Christmas parties, there is another kind of seasonal Christmas eating. It is called Christmas Gift Basket Eating.

Other names for this same phenomenon include Client Christmas Gift Eating, Harry and David Eating, Hickory Farms Eating, Artisinal Assorted Chocolates from Brooklyn Eating, Secret Santa Gourmet Gift Eating, Holiday School Fundraising, Silent Auction Winnings Eating, Someone's Mother's Friend's Christmas Cookie Eating,  Starbucks Gift Card Eating, Duty Free Shop Specialty Foods Eating and Leftover Conference Room Party Eating.

This is precisely the category of seasonal Christmas eating I strive to avoid. This is based on a seminal set of incidents that happened to me while standing  in our kitchen  during the Christmas season of 2014.

Jeremy and his colleagues received several Christmas Gift Baskets at work. As was customary, Jeremy and the colleagues divvied up the goods. The colleagues Jeremy works with do not like sweets at all. Don't ask me to explain it. That is what Jeremy told me and I have no other information.

Jeremy brought home all manner of confections. I was in no way tempted by the Biscotti. Those are very dry.

At first, I was fine when it came to the Kettle Corn, butter cookies, honey roasted nuts and Toffee.  But as the Christmas season got rolling, it stirred up a lot of feelings. Some of these feelings were difficult. Then I began to eat my feelings.

The Christmas gift basket foods  were there for me when it was time to eat my feelings.

I did this a couple of times. But here's the thing. I like to stay close to my ideal weight range even during the Christmas season. At the very least I don't want to yo-yo. If I kept eating salted caramel nut clusters I wasn't going to be able to do this.

That is when I asked Jeremy to hide the Christmas Basket Gifts. In addition, I told him to never bring home Christmas Gift Basket items again.

These foods  are an unnecessary test of my will power. I asked him to either consume what he wanted at work or put things in the conference room there. He was welcome to tell his non-sweet eating colleagues that this was my request.

This worked out beautifully in 2015. Something bad happened at work one day and Jeremy ate his feelings there by consuming several delectable sounding items from various gift baskets and eating some stuff from the conference room too, but it was only that one time.

I have escaped the Christmas Gift Baskets from Jeremy's workplace. But I am preparing to gather with extended family. Although I can't be sure, it is quite traditional for extended family members to bring all manner of Christmas Gift Basket items  to generously share with everyone, or to get it out of their own homes, depending on how you look at it. 

It is one thing to sample something an extended family member baked or prepared. It is one thing to home cook a special-occasion meal. It is one thing to indulge or even over indulge on these things.

But when it comes to what amounts to holiday food clutter, I am attempting to draw the line. 

I leave you with one memory that surfaced not long ago. I was a recent college graduate, having landed myself a plum job working as a studio manager for an excellent and rather glamorous established photographer.

The woman had exquisite taste. I did not but pretended that I did.

A messenger arrived with a client Christmas gift for my boss. I signed for the package. Inside was a large tin, divided into thirds. It contained plain buttered popcorn, caramel corn and cheddar corn.

This is hideous, my boss said to me. I agreed with her. The truth was, it looked pretty good. My boss placed the tin, festooned with a horse drawn carriage evoking the 19th century, on the counter.

By 3:00 that afternoon my boss and I were actively chowing down on the plain popcorn and caramel corn. Over the ensuing days, several stressful things happened at work, and we both ate our feelings from the tin every afternoon. 

Neither one of us particularly loved the cheesy flavor, but once we finished off our favorites, we made short work of that too.

I like to think nostalgically of this story because of the way a client Christmas gift no matter how impersonal, how tacky, or how initially unappreciated will eventually wear you down and win you over. I'm also thinking fondly of the days of yore, days when I was able to eat everything and anything without gaining so much as an ounce. 

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Modern Narcissus


Today it's you. There's always been you and others like you. Recently, and stretching way back.

I'm smart.  I've avoided some of you. They threw up red flags. Or I was paying better attention then. In other words, I don't fall for it every time.

When I'm savvy, I know which one of you is friend material and who is only good for some fun on social media or at a party. Because people like you are always fun.

I know who to make excuses with, whom not to be one-on-one with, who is charming with an edge. When I know I'm being manipulated, I'm immunized.

Then there are the other times. Maybe I get together with you when our mutual friends aren't around. We exchange email addresses. We take it up a notch.

We share some laughs and a confidence. There's two ways it goes bad.

There's the slow burn. Something doesn't feel right. It's a flower blooming, only ugly. It happens gradually and I never get to see the unfurl. I put the puzzle together as clues come in.

There's the quick scorch. I figure you out in a flash. Instead of the pieces connecting methodically over time, I'm hit over the head with you.

Once I have you figured out, whether it's the fast way or the slow way, the next few hours will feel like crap.

I'm pretty disappointed in myself for not heading it off before.  Here's what softens my critique.

One is that I picked it up when I did. I could just as easily be commenting on your post, meeting you at Shake Shack or giving out unilateral support. Now is infinitely better than never. Or later.

You have no shortage of friends, so it isn't just me.

Social media can make the sifting harder, but I'm getting wise to that. You and your brethren are putting up signposts.

You're good at what you do. It's easy for you. This is your stock and trade, your shining talent, your decathlon. Nature, nurture or a freak accident made you this way, and that's how you'll stay. I speculate then stop. It's useless.

I inventory what happened and say I'll know better next time. And often I do. It's important to mention that.

But there will be a next time. You're all cut from the same cloth but you come in a dizzying array. You're all viruses. You morph.

Still, I found out not long ago that there's a name for what you are. So I slap the label on you. It's not personal. It is what it is. And it helps.

That is when things turn cordial between you and me.

There is no fanfare. No recriminations. There's no conversation or long goodbye either.

I wait. I'm patient for the moment, an easy opportunity, predictable as rain. You become absorbed, rapt either in yourself, or someone else. I steal away, on tiptoe, the trained dancer that I am and the one I've become.

I've turned the tables.  You're the mark now. You'll never even know what happened.

If you could craft the words, you'd say you miss seeing your reflection in me. But if you were capable of that, I wouldn't have such  a problem with you.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Adrian


1977
I am 14 years old. I watch Rocky on TV because I'm not allowed to see it in the theater. My guess is that it had too many adult themes for my mother's liking. There isn't any explicit pre-marital sex in the movie, but it's implied. Grease is off limits for the same reason.

TV is more loosey-goosey at my house. I watch it there. That's all I remember of the circumstances.

Here's what I do recall, as clear as day.

I'm sucked in immediately. Some of it is over my head. Here's what's not.

I come from an Italian American family. I live in a nice suburb. I recognize the kind of neighborhood Rocky lives in. It's the kind of place my people pulled themselves out of a generation or two ago. And by hell or high water, they aren't going back.

Rocky is good looking, in a smoldering, rough around the edges, yet sensitive way. No one in my family or social circle could possibly be called The Italian Stallion. Fat man. Man of mixed ancestry with beard. Sullen man. But not Italian Stallion.

I remember Adrian, brilliantly played by Talia Shire. Nothing about Adrian is above my head. I identify immediately.

Adrian is nerdy. She works in a pet store. I surmise that she gets along better with animals than people.

Adrian wears cat glasses. No one wears cat glasses anymore except for grandmothers. They are audaciously out of style. I'm pained looking at them.

I know about the glasses trick. I've seen it in countless movies and TV shows. I know what will happen. But that doesn't make it any less interesting.

The glasses thing can only work if the rest of you looks good. And so it is with Adrian.

Rocky likes Adrian even though no other guys are interested. I'm getting the idea that whom you fall in love with is subjective. There are people that anyone would love. Then there are the rest of us. Love can transcend poverty, bad clothes, extreme shyness and almost anything else.

Back to the glasses scenario. One thing leads to another. Rocky is persistent. Adrian is really shy. I've met shy people. I've been a shy person, on and off again. But what I am seeing is off the charts.

One thing leads to another. Rocky is getting ready to kiss Adrian. But first he asks her to take off her glasses and her rather ratty hat. A scene I've seen played out everywhere from the Brady Bunch forward unfolds.

Once Adrian takes off the glasses and hat, she is pretty. Her hair is shiny and, in a lucky twist, loosely resembles Dorothy Hamill's. Her skin is clear. She manages to look both gamine and exotic. Naturally, they make out.

The make out scene is unlike anything I've seen before. This isn't soft focus Rock Hudson and Debbie Reynolds. It's not even Alan Alda. There's realism here. The camera is right up in there with them. I've got a front row seat, which is the closest I'm going to get to any of this action for quite some time.

The more time Adrian spends with Rocky the better looking she gets. She's also less shy as time goes on. She gets some new clothes and bright colors that are still a nod to what she used to wear, but her nightgowns resemble mine.

I take a mental note of what she's wearing. She's skinny and so am I. But I doubt my mother would agree to a red coat with fake fur around the collar and a beret.

The movie gives me a lot of hope.

The underdog doesn't win, but is triumphant anyway.

Love is transformative.

Hard work pays off even when you have no resources.

I'm in 8th grade and I have Study Hall. I go to the library and sit down at one of the listening stations. I insert a cassette in the 8-track player of the theme from Rocky. I already know I like it because it's all over the radio. I put on the giant headphones and listen again and again.

Rocky and Adrian have long-range influence. In the summer between 9th and 10th grade, I take up jogging. At first it's a disaster, but I work my way up. By the time school starts I'm in shape.

It's the first gym class of 10th grade. We are doing relay races. Team captains are selected by the teacher. The captains then select three teammates. An obese, uncoordinated girl and myself are chosen last.

The classmates on my team and off my team get something they aren't expecting that day. Their mouths hang open. They are incredulous. An athletic girl who made fun of me in previous gym classes approaches me in the locker room. You should really try out for track, she said.

* * * * *

2000
It's the weekend. I'm in my 30's and enormously pregnant with my third child. My due date is approaching. I feel some mild contractions. I lie down with a snack and a glass of water. The contractions calm down. Braxton Hicks.

Hannah is either napping or playing with Jeremy. I flip the channels. Rocky is on. I get sucked in.

I've had an arts-intensive college education, followed by full and part time jobs working for established photographers. I've been on my own as a freelance still life photographer for 14 years. I'm leading a highly aesthetic life.

I'm drawn in by the story. But I am equally amazed by the beauty and naturalism of the film. This is around the time when I realized that if I worked in film, I'd rather be the cinematographer than the director. That way people could say that the film sucks, but the cinematography is amazing.

The cinematography in Rocky is amazing.

I laugh a little at the Bicentennial references in Rocky. The 1970s have become funny.

I become distracted by the baby. Baby #3 has predictable patterns. When I am on my feet working, walking around or chasing his sister, he is calm, either resting or sleeping. When I lie down, he wakes up and becomes very active.

My attention draws further inward to the baby. I don't finish the movie.

Later the same week, I have insomnia. It's hard to find a comfortable position. The baby is moving around as much as he possibly can in his tight quarters. I watch Yentl.  Young Mandy Patinkin is dreamy. He's more my type than Sylvester Stallone.

Barbara Streisand as a boy wouldn't fool anyone but I suspend disbelief.

Once the baby is born, I see the same patterns on the outside as I do on the inside. To this day, the child is soothed by movement. You can learn a lot about someone during gestation.

* * * * *

2015
I'm watching Rocky with my husband and teenagers. We watch it in two installments because of people's schedules. The second viewing is done on Noah's laptop because the TVs are temporarily out of commission.

Once again I am sucked in. I am focused on Adrian.

It doesn't take me long to come to a pretty firm conclusion that Adrian is on the autism spectrum.

People with high functioning autism - also called Asperger's syndrome - have always lived among us. It isn't a new phenomenon.

Back in the day people who had autism but were less high functioning than Adrian were often misunderstood and institutionalized. People like Adrian did the best they could.

Watching Adrian feels familiar and relatable.

 I add Adrian to my Asperger’s list.

To make a long story short I am familiar with Asperger's syndrome and autism because of someone close to me. At around the same time, I developed ideas about other people in my life. I felt compelled to make a list of people.  Most of the people on the list are people I know. Some are Facebook friends. Some are famous. A few are fictional.

If I know you, you're on my Asperger’s list.

There are people with no autism whatsoever. I have these people on a definitely do not have autism list.

There are people who have some traits, but I believe do not fit the criteria for even the mildest form of autism. They're on a separate part of the list.

If I am still getting to know you but need more time to decide, then you are on my maybe list.

There are people who have not been evaluated formally but I believe have Asperger's syndrome. I have them on my probably list.

There are people who have been formally evaluated by someone more qualified than me. They self-identify as having autism. That's the list they are on.

There are the people whose autism is so obvious that there is nothing subtle about it. That's another sub-category.

This list is just for me. I've said this before when the going gets tough, the tough get reading. When the going gets tough, the tough also make lists.

If I know you, up you might want I ask me where you fall on my list. I'm not going to tell you. I'm not showing it to anyone. If you're concerned, have an evaluation.

Back to Adrian.

I noticed the traits of autism throughout the beginning of the movie. Researchers are studying the difference between how autism presents in males and females.  Adrian has what I've been unprofessionally calling Girl Asperger’s. Females can look and present differently than males.

The evidence mounts when a bad argument erupts between Adrian and her much older brother-slash-screwed-up-father-figure Paulie. Paulie loses his shit and starts spewing venom about how Adrian couldn't have lived on her own and has been a burden.

Once Adrian's relationship with Rocky starts, things soften. She seems more neurotypical as time goes on.

Some would conclude that entering a loving, sexual relationship with Rocky would not be enough to bring about this change in a person with true autism. But here's what they say. If you've met one person with Asperger's you've met one person with Asperger's. Also, it's a movie.

Adrian does not go into the arena for the big fight. Understandably, she does not want to watch Rocky get beat up. But I also think that the sounds, lights, crowds and chaotic atmosphere would have been too much for her sensory integration issues.

She must really must love Rocky because once he starts screaming Adrian she goes running through the mobs and noise to hug him even though he is all bloody and sweaty.

Back in the 1970s there would have been a lot of confusion about people like Adrian. There was no early intervention. She wouldn't have had an IEP. There were no books or understanding. Even if there were, poverty would have gotten in the way.

The words “dysfunctional family environment” were also not bandied about in 1976.

My third viewing of Rocky is a little more interesting than I anticipated. I keep my observations to myself. I also do a little Googling to see if anyone else is on the same page with the Adrian-autism connection. There are people on the same page. There are people having arguments about it, either yes or no. Some say definitely. Others are like, no, no, she's just really, really shy. Just like life offline.

One of my kids asks what's up with Rocky's eyes. He always looks like he just woke up. That's called bedroom eyes I say.

I wonder privately if my son is going to remark on the glasses.

Adrian allows the removal of the cat glasses. Then for the rest of the movie, she does not wear them. Perhaps she was fitted for contact lenses. Back in 1976, contact lenses were expensive. It doesn't quite fit with the socio-economic picture of this family.

Maybe Adrian was saving her money for a rainy day, and once she landed a boyfriend, decided to splurge on contacts and new clothes.

Or maybe it's one of those continuity glitches in the screenplay. Like I said before it's a movie.

My boy doesn't catch it, so I have nothing more to explain.


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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Venn Diagram


There are things I am not good at. There are things I do not enjoy. There are things that are difficult for me to learn.

I won't focus on the things I am not good at. Except for this. It is good to know whom to hire. It is good to know who to collaborate with, consult with, or delegate to.

There are the things I am good at. These things are extremely enjoyable. They are also easy for me. Oftentimes I find myself in a flow state doing these activities. That is how much I like them.

I like them so much that no one pays me to do these things. I do them for free.

I get a lot of compliments on the things I do well. I don't know how you do it! people say.

I know what they mean. I feel the same way about other people's talents. I'm delighted by good dancing. I'm in awe of people who can put together IKEA or don't get lost in new places. I wonder how musicians feel after writing a spectacular song. There's just too much to keep listing this way because it goes on and on like the infinity symbol.

It’s been a while since I’ve worked for a paycheck. But I work hard. I also work smart. I've assessed a lot of skills doing the things I do, reading the things I do and collaborating with other people.

I might want to monetize the skills I've been amassing. Getting paid for the stuff I am good at, the stuff I love to do and the stuff I've been doing for free while in a flow state is something I am interested in.

A couple of weeks ago it hit me. I've been attending a graduate school of sorts. I didn't know I was enrolling in it, but I have been enrolled. I won't have a diploma and graduation ceremony.  It won't have a beginning, middle and end. On the other hand, I have no tuition or student loans.

The people I've worked with and collaborated with have not realized that they've been running an internship. But that is exactly what they have been doing.

The graduate school thought put a fresh spin on things. Here's where my thinking took me. Maybe reading about me will help you too.

Stuff I will not attempt to monetize.
There are certain things that I do very well and enjoy very much. But many people also find it easy or enjoyable to do these things for themselves. It would be difficult to find people who would want to pay someone else to do these enjoyable activities. Even if they did, the market would be flooded with other individuals who are good at the same activities and hoping to make a living at it.

I will just keep on doing activities like this for free.

Stuff I might attempt to monetize with some caveats
There are things that I do very well that not a lot of other people do nearly as well. It is more of a rare talent. I enjoy these types of activities very much.

There are potential problems with getting paid to exercise these particular rare talents.

I can do these activities better than almost anyone. However, most people aren't very discriminating when it comes to these particular things. They might be able to perceive the difference between good and crappy. But having someone else with less rare talent do it cheaply or doing it themselves badly is deemed good enough for most purposes.

Also, there are many, many rarely talented people who are willing to be paid to engage in activities like this.  There are more people willing to be paid than there are people to pay. This is a problem for me when it comes to getting people to pay me to do activities.

That does not mean I rule out monetizing these enjoyable activities. However, I'd need to think of this as not the main gig. It could be a secondary gig.  If it looks like it could take off, then I could always re-evaluate my prospects.

Stuff I will probably attempt to monetize
This is what I am calling the sweet spot.

There are some other rare talents I have. It turns out that the activities surrounding these talents are both enjoyable and important in ways the previously mentioned activities are not. The activities and skills are also more high stakes.

There are not very many people who do these activities well. There are not very many people who really want to do these activities. I sense that people would rather not do these activities but do not feel that they have a choice. Sometimes they engage others to do these activities who are clearly not up to the task.

 With the right approach, I could find people to pay me to do these activities.

I would find the people who can see the value in what I offer. I would find the people who are self aware and interested in delegating these activities. I would find the people who could afford to pay me.

This is important. People who are interested but cannot afford to pay me are not my prospects.  People of means who do not see the value in what I offer are also not my prospects.

Monetizing the Sweet Spot.


#1 Represents activities that I enjoy, learn to do easily, am talented at, and am better at than the majority of people.

#2 Represents those activities that most other people find difficult (from the standpoint of time, skills, or both), confounding, and not enjoyable.

#3 Represents my monetizing sweet spot.

My Potential Customer


#1 People who are interested in what I do well, value what I do well, and are comfortable with collaborating and delegating.

#2 People who can afford to pay me to do these activities for them.

#3 My potential customer

The reasons I left the workforce are the same reasons I am staying out of the workforce for now. But I am thinking about the near and more distant future. I am seeing where I might fit in and what my sweet spot might be.

I love Venn diagrams. I think there could be more of them as I sort out the whole monetizing skills thing. I've been making Venn diagrams for a long time to help me sort stuff out. This is the first time I've shared any of them.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Stories I Tell Myself


I tell stories about things that have happened to me. I tell these stories to other people. I have short versions and long versions of my stories.

The stories range from funny to banal to extremely sad. This is the stuff my life is made of.

There are the stories I write. There are the stories I tell. There are the stories I don't write or tell but carry.

All three kinds of stories help me make sense of my life. They give it a narrative. They infuse it with something.

This is true for you too.

I think about the stories. Not the details. Not who survived, who died, who taught me by teaching, who taught me by betrayal, who helped raise me, who might have helped but didn't.

I don't think about the places I've lived, apartments still the same in my mind's eye. I don't think about 1993. I'm not thinking of the words that lifted me up and the words that still smart.

I think about the telling of stories and the story of stories.

These stories belong to me. I take ownership of them. Your stories are yours.

Feeling a deep attachment to the stories we tell ourselves is natural.

But now I think beyond that.

I think about the stories that are in my mind - especially those. There are some old stories.

I step outside of myself. What if the story of what happened is told a different way? What if Joyce Carol Oates told my story instead of me? Annie Dillard, Jane Smiley, Anne Lamott, Mary Karr?

Would they come to different conclusions? Imbue it with different meanings? They could skip over certain parts and turn the focus on others. I'm not saying they'd make stuff up. Their truth would just be different. The truth would be the truth through their lens.

What if Raymond Carver, Frank McCourt or JD Salinger weren't dead? Jodi Picoult would have a field day with some stuff that's happened to me.

Someone else might spend a page and a half describing the art on the walls the day I met Jeremy for the first time. Sure, I noticed the art.  But the way I remember it was that I was wearing a red and white striped double front and back V-neck shirt and this cute tall guy came over to say hi with a really big smile.

I also wonder how non-writers would tell this story or that.

I think about myself in the third person sometimes. Something crappy will happen. But then I'll work with that construct. I'll come up with some other way of looking at it. Social workers call this process re-framing. I'm good at it now.

I help others do that with their stories. Somebody says I screwed up. I say, no you didn't. You did great considering the hurricane, the diagnosis, the divorce. For the love of god. You were 14 years old and no one was minding you.

Sometimes, I'd like to write someone else's story my own way. Let's say you're telling a story. There's pathos. There's tragedy. There's betrayal. There are circumstances that work against you at every turn.

I can't tell you this. But I don't see it the same way.

If he hadn't left, you wouldn't be with this guy. If you weren't fired, shown the door, made to pack your desk in a cardboard box, you would have never started your own business. You can't play basketball anymore but you were accepted to graduate school. You were no Michael Jordan anyway.

The one that got away is the one that got away. This is the house you're supposed to live in. This is the child meant for you. The music business would have eaten you alive.

This isn't the life you planned. I've gone ahead and re-framed it. From where I sit it's looking pretty good.

Maybe you're in the middle of it. Live your way into different treatments of this material that is your life. Know that you don't know precisely where this is going, but try things on for size.

Sometimes things happen to you that are so bad that there's nothing to say except I'm sorry. There's no re-framing. I've got nothing.

There's this other thing that happens.  You tell me a story. The telling is sculptural in that you recount it from different sides. It's complex. It sparkles. Raconteur is the wrong word for what you are. Artist seems right.

You hold me rapt in the perfection of your narrative.  I eat out of the palm of your hand. I wouldn't change a thing. You should write a book, if you haven't already.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Circa 2015


I love the population density of NYC. I like people watching. Sometimes other women just stop me in my tracks.

I'm sitting in an outdoor cafe. This is not something I do often. A woman with dark hair walks by. Her hair is styled but not overdone. There is a name for this hair. It is called beachy waves. Magazines like to explain how to achieve these waves.

Some of her hair is its natural deep auburn color and some of it is dyed a rich forest green. It shouldn't work but it does. It's not haphazard. It’s not punky. It’s not garish. It is elegant. She is wearing an autumnal green coat that is darker than her hair. The effect gives me the same feeling I get looking at a beautiful painting.

This is a look I could not pull off. That is precisely what I love about seeing this woman. This would look good on very few people. She is one of them.

A middle-aged woman joins me on a subway platform. She's a style train wreck but there is one bright spot. She has this cloth tote. The construction and the luxe materials make me think that this is not a 5 or 10-dollar bag. My guess was that it sets you back 50 dollars. Maybe more.

It has a youthful whimsy that evokes the patterns of Marimekko if you mixed in a touch of Lily Pulitzer and Paul Rand.

This woman needs a total overhaul. Someone could help her match her bag. As it stands now, the bag would look better on me. In other words, I would like this bag.

I remember a woman from earlier in my life. A young social worker from a Jewish organization would visit us when our son Jacob was hospitalized. She was with us in some of our darkest moments. Jeremy and I discussed the support she gave us. But we also talked about her clothes.

She was a member of the orthodox Jewish community. She dressed modestly. Skirts had to fall well below the knee. Arms needed to be covered. You can't be flashing skin around if you're her.

She conformed to all of the rules and regulations that her culture asked of her. And then she totally rocked it.

The sweaters and skirts were chic. There was a little bit of irreverence to some of her choices. She'd be covered up but the fabric design would be fashion forward. Her pencil skirts didn't look frumpy. Something would be a little asymmetrical or there would be a flirty element in the sleeve detailing.

She brought to mind a modern version of Audrey Hepburn. And even though fashion was the last thing on my mind and I could wear whatever I damned well pleased, I borrowed elements of her look.

It's autumn. I stare at all of the shoes. I think that Cozy Mocs are over until I see this year's version. They are more streamlined and less bedroom-slipper-like. There isn't any fleece spilling out the sides. Indeed, the pair I have from 2014 are passé. This is where it's at now. I want a piece of this action.

Ultra shiny ballet flats that match the woman's skin tone exactly. Saturated coral lipstick on an otherwise subtle face. A young Columbia student wears too much makeup, but gets away with it.

A 50 year old with a long blond/gray braid without a hint of bright color on. She looks luminous rather than plain.

There is one man. His face, facial hair and man bun are perfect. He is the only man in the world who looks good in a man bun. There is a male fashion icon walking around the streets of NYC. It is he.

I jokingly think about women appropriating the man bun after men appropriated the man bun from women. Then I see a woman who is clearly doing this. It's incredible - no joke.

It's not the magazines or the runway shows that make me want to expand what I will wear, or at least try stuff on. It’s the streets and the subway. It's the hospital. It's Starbucks.

I'm on the A train now. A 70-year-old woman is sitting in front of me. She's wearing scrubs, Crocs, is carrying an out of style purse, and her glasses frames are neither here nor there. She has high cheekbones and gorgeous tawny colored skin. The right photographer and hair and makeup could turn her into a lifestyle model for AARP.

Her hair is thinning and is dyed bright magenta. I shouldn't like it, but I do.

I wonder if infinity scarves are still in style until I see a stunning young woman, sporting perfect mix of trendy and classic. She’s wearing one. Apparently infinity scarves are safe for one more season.

I'm obsessed with Ombré but don't want to try it myself. Same with matte lipstick and platform sneakers. I adore seeing this around. Just not on me.

I do buy myself a pair of multicolored winter boots.

I am a photographer. I rarely photograph people. I've been thinking about it though.

Last November, I was dining out with Jeremy and our willowy waitress was dressed entirely in shades of cream with a chunky sweater and thick infinity scarf. I went out of my comfort zone and asked if I could take her picture. She was awfully nice about it.

But because of my nervousness I worked too fast. That and the dim light made for a bad photograph.

I need to get ready.

I need to be ready to work quickly in less than ideal light. This shouldn't be too hard. I'm used to this with my non-human subjects.

I need to rehearse a polite and authentic script. I don't have to ask permission of the weeds and flowers and trash I photograph. I need to have a quick explanation as to why I'm doing this. I have some figuring out to do about that.

I need to anticipate a variety of responses. Some people are going to think I am crazy. Some people are going to say no. For people who say yes, I will have s small clipboard with forms where subjects can put their name and email address. I will have business cards so they can check out my work.

No matter how terrific someone rocks their handbag or outfit I won't stop them if they have that hurried look about them. I won't bother them if they're texting.
"One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation." - Arthur Ashe
I’m at a gathering. I had some fun getting ready. I’m engaged in an oft repeated, casual conversation with another woman. She admires my outfit and asks me where I got it.

I tell her that the top is from the 96th street Salvation Army, the skirt from Target, the tights and purse from Marshall’s and the ballet flats from Payless.

My companion looks incredulous and delighted. Before she asks me how I do it, I go ahead and tell her.

Most of the stuff you find in these places is crap, I say. What you’re looking for is the diamond in the rough.

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