Thursday, December 27, 2007

Leonard Cohen "Anthem;" "Eat, Pray, Love"

I found the quote I was looking for! In an reader review for Eat, Pray, Love, a reader mentioned Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem," with the lyric:

There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

I find it highly ironic that Eat, Pray, Love indirectly led me to this lyric. I've struggled mightily with this book. Two of my favorite people (my husband and my aunt) found it highly meaningful, and gave it to me. I didn't really connect with Elizabeth Gilbert's journey or her writing. I found her writing to be strangely dispassionate for someone writing about a sensory/spiritual journey. Then again, I thought maybe everything that I didn't like about her was a projection of what I deep down don't like about myself. Maybe I am afraid that I am a whiny narcissist who thinks that the world revolves around my personal journey. (I hate to say it, but that was my primary response to Gilbert's story.) In that sense, it was reassuring that my husband really liked the book--he should be able to put up with me!

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Beyond "balance": "CEO of Me" book review

About a year ago I wrote one of my all-time favorite Mojo Mom blog posts, Work-life balance: Our ladder is up the wrong tree. My thesis was that work-life balance is the wrong goal, and that instead, sharing life work and developing extensive support systems should be our guiding principle.

So when I read the new book CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age, I felt a deep resonance with these authors, among the only others I've seen that both challenge our reliance on the work-life balance metaphor, and also embrace the concept of sustainability.

CEO of Me is most definitely a business book, written by two professors, Dr. Ellen Ernst Kossek and Dr. Brenda Lautsch, who consulted the latest research to come up with their own plan for flexible work strategies. What I like about CEO of Me is that it challenges us to look beyond our own impressions of the ideal work environment. Maybe we're just stuck in a rut and can learn from others. For me, I found that I have become too enamored with the idea that "flexibility is good" and that I would be more effective if I mixed flexibility and structure to make sure I get everything done.

After reading the book I am motivated to re-examine my Franklin Covey planning strategies, even though this is not specifically mentioned in CEO of Me.

The book suffers a bit from business-speak jargon (ex., I still don't really understand what "interpersonal capitalization" is), but it's worth sticking with the authors as they explore flexstyles. They emphasize the need to think consciously about one's strategies, and also acknowledge the destructive cycle that can be associated with any work style if it's not what someone wants: loss of control, leads to frustration, burnout, resentment.

CEO of Me includes tips for making any work style work better. I love the fact that it's presented in a broad, gender-neutral way. It's not just for women, or Moms, or even just people with families. The benefits of flexible work (and the tradeoffs, which are honestly examined) can potentially be extended to a wide variety of workers.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mojo Grannie is doing well; thanks for your suppport

My Mom's surgery was last Friday and she's done amazingly well with her recovery. She was up and about the next day, spent most of the weekend at our house, and then went back home. I am helping her with grocery shopping for a while just so she doesn't have to lift heavy bags, but she is quite self-sufficent.

We are not out of the woods, as we await follow-up test results, but I suppose the truth is that none of us is ever really out of the woods. It's just a matter of whether or not we have the luxury of choosing to live in denial of our mortality. The good news is that every day together is a gift.

I have managed to take pretty good care of myself over the Christmas break. The day of surgery was a full day at the hospital, 7:30 am to 9:00 pm. The surgery itself was about 3 hours long, but we had to do a test at 8 am and then wait until 1 pm to get called in for the surgery itself. And afterward it took several hours to move from the recovery room to the overnight "brief stay" suite. Mom was resting comfortably the whole time so I didn't worry too much about the delay, but I was eager to see her get settled so that I could get home before my daughter's bedtime.

I mention all this so that if you are ever the supporting family member or friend in this situation, you know to be prepared to wait all day if necessary, and arrange backup for yourself at home. While waiting I read a novel cover to cover, which I almost never do!

The next day I was bone-crushingly tired, feeling like I was coming off a hangover of stress hormones and cramped from sitting all day. We'd arranged a long playdate for our daughter so that we could get Grannie settled in, and that invitation from our friends turned out to be the best Christmas gift we could have gotten from anybody. Our daughter needed to play; the rest of us needed to rest.

Now we're on the post-Christmas recovery as well, chilling out at home on a cold, rainy day. "Chillaxing," as our daughter would say, a saying she thinks she made up, but when you Google it, it's out there in slang dictionaries.

It's strange to be here, waiting for life-altering test results yet to come down the pipeline, yet I am still worried about incredibly mundane issues like, are we watching too much TV over the school break? Do I really need to clean the house again? Why bother when it will just be totally messed up again in a few hours with all of us at home?

I am feeling a mixture of a little relief, a little melancholy, and part of me that is bracing against future developments. But I am here at the blog which I think is a good sign. I hope to get a 2007 Books with Mojo list posted by the end of the week.

Hope you all had good holidays and that you're not suffering from too much cabin fever yet!

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thank you for your kind wishes

I am about to sign off for a few days, but before I do, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has sent me messages of support in anticipation of my Mom's surgery.

Friends from the blog, near and far, have been very kind. I have a good support system in place, so we are in good shape as we prepare to face this head on.

It is interesting to see how a support system is necessarily an interconnected web. In order to support my Mom, I need my husband to take over many things I would normally do, and friends to help fill in the gaps. My Mom, over the past eight years, has provided priceless childcare for our daughter (not to mention the years she spent raising me....). We are happy to be able to help her now when she needs family to lean on. As I say in the dedication in my book, How can I ever say thank you?

So much for a Republican-style illusion of "Rugged American Individualism." None of us can do this alone.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Radio for a Tender Heart

Even Google can't help me find the quote I am trying to remember today. Something along the lines of:

Your heart has to crack wide open
to let the grace fall in

It looks like I'm going to have to rely on old-fashioned human intelligence. If any of my readers can help straighten me out on the exact quote and source I'd be mighty appreciative. (I love Google but I am secretly glad every time the human brain does something the search engine can't do.)

My heart has cracked open and then closed up again several times over the past few years, for reasons both joyous and grievous. I have shared some of these events with my blog readers but not all of them. I admire the honesty of good memoirists, and all I can think is that if I ever wrote a memoir it would have to be called Things I Don't Want You To Know. I think you have to be willing to tell the whole story; otherwise you're really just writing promotional copy about yourself.

So while you won't get my true confessions yet, I can point you to a radio show that will give you tender food for an open heart. I have been listening to This American Life since 1996. The first show I remember hearing was episode #14, Accidental Documentaries, and I'd like to recommend this week's show, #345, Ties that Bind.

I'm feeling particularly vulnerable right now as I await my Mom's mastectomy on Friday. I am resisting the temptation to ball up into a hard shell like I might typically do. But what can one really listen to, do, or watch in this state? So much of what is broadcast at us comes in the form of completely mindless, distracting, salty potato chip stories that feel satisfying going down, leaving no afterthought whatsoever except a vague feeling of anxiety or dissatisfaction with life.

This American Life is a show of real stories and ideas, with plenty of humor, emotion and true creativity. This week's show hit every note I can imagine, from a hilarious imagining of a fallout between Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble; to a story of a girl getting a heart transplant, and the family who had to lose their son to make her survival possible; to a story of a woman taking up a doctor on his casual, insincere offer, and realizing her dream of having a family. The show made me think about a close friendship that was revoked with no honest explanation, and reminded me to be grateful for every warm squeeze of my daughter's hand. It made the think of the times I have checked in on her during the night, in complete darkness, having to listen in stillness through the sound of my own heartbeat to hear her breathe.

This American Life is available by free podcast, so if you have missed the last 13 years of broadcast magnificence it's still all there for you to discover if you wish. I just sent in my donation today to help WBEZ cover their $152,000 cost of making the podcast available. But this is not a fundraising pitch from me, it's a listening pitch. And a thank you to Ira Glass and his production crew for giving us something that is so worth listening to when we are really listening.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Can baby gadgets worsen New Mom burnout?

This morning I wrote my most "Mojo Mom" post yet over on my CNET blog, asking whether the crazy marketing messages and promises of high-tech baby gadgets leave new Moms even more vulnerable to burnout, when their actual experience doesn't live up to the marketing hype. I'd be really interested to know what you think, either from a comment here or over at (parent.thesis).

Here is the ad for the BabyPlus "prenatal education system" that I am critiquing. I am sure you'll agree it gives us a lot to talk about:

It's been a real challenge to write over at CNET as well as Mojo Mom but I feel like I've hit my stride. Our CNET blog reached almost 100,000 people in November, which is a fantastic writing opportunity for me. I am enjoying the opportunity to talk about the social implications of tech developments under the umbrella of parenting and technology.

So what do you think? Is it any wonder that new parent develop unrealistic expectations after 9 months of exposure to marketing pitches like this one?

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Friday, December 14, 2007

When you see a cliff, put on the brakes

Most of the time my life is one big juggling act, always managing somehow to keep many balls in the air. As an author, my life is all about networking, outreach. My tree puts out new branches large and small.

But there are times that this just doesn't work anymore. I hate pruning back, and I have resisted it, but right now I have to face the fact that this is what I need to do. Both of my parents have had health challenges over the past couple of years. They are divorced, both live nearby, and I am their only child. Last week my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went in for a routine mammogram and the next thing we knew the whole process of testing and diagnosing was underway, like a whirlwind. We went from follow-up screening to biopsy to meeting with the surgeon in the course of three days. We are grateful to have access to such speedy medical care, but it's a shock to the system even in the best of circumstances. There is so much to internalize and process, from medical information to emotional turmoil. I wandered around for a week, feeling like someone had hit me on the head with a two by four. You know those cartoon characters who have googly eyes and planets and stars floating over their heads? That was me.

I started to come out of it a couple of days ago. My Mom's prognosis is likely to be pretty good, but she does need surgery, scheduled for next week. So I am reorganizing my priorities. A couple of days ago I had a major epiphany, which is that it is actually easier to keep it together than it is to fall apart. I have too many people who are depending on me, and falling apart takes a lot of energy and explaining. So my strategy is to pare back to the absolute essentials, get them done, and let everything else go for now.

My three priorities are: 1. Family, 2. Writing, and 3. Friends, fun and self-care. Everything else has to go on the back burner.

It's going to be an interesting discipline to stick to these, because I am usually very open to doing things for other people, and I am going to have to turn down some kind and worthy requests. I am mentally checking out of my office until mid-January. I do plan to keep writing here and on (parent.thesis) but I can't predict exactly how regularly I'll be able to blog.

One more thought to rattling around my head right now: As Mojo Mom I have struggled so hard to reconcile feminist ideals with my reality and the outlook for mothers at large. I see huge structural issues with motherhood, and I know it's not all about individual choice. But at the same time, I feel like we need something beyond feminism to help us as mothers cope with our reality. I've worked hard to build up my work identity as a writer, and now I have to lay it down. I don't know HOW I would fill a 9 to 5 job right now, and yet that's exactly what the majority of women in my situation need to do.

The feminist wave that began in the 1970's gave us the right to compete on the male playing field but we have so much unfinished business to address. Adopting the male model isn't working for me, and by the way, the Third Wave of feminism is speaking to me even less than the Second. I need a Caregiving Society to help me out. We have a quadruple-decker sandwich going on in my family--my parents each have a parent living. I need a society that allows me to work and take care of my family, and one that won't put the burden of caregiving only on the daughters and wives. Is it feminism, or something else, that will make this possible?

I am glad I've been involved with MomsRising because it is the one movement that offers me hope right now.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

This holiday: spare me the Webkinz

Today I had a chance to write a public service announcement on behalf of all parents on my CNET blog. I am finally truly into writing (parent.thesis) because it turns out that the topic of parenting and technology touches a number of very interesting issues. Privacy, safety--society evolving at the speed of light.

Today's post is called Memo to Santa: Ask parents before gifting tech toys.

I've successfully fought off the Webkinz onslaught so far but tears have been shed over it in the Tiemann household.

Are there any toys you are hoping will not show up as a surprise gift in you family's holiday selections?

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