Friday, February 29, 2008

Choosing hope over fear

I've been thinking a lot about the politics of fear versus the politics of hope lately.

Conservatives have kept the Amerian public on a short leash for years by controlling us with fear. Do it our way....or you and your children will get blown up (by the Russians, Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda....).

I have noticed that Hillary Clinton is adopting the fear angle in her campaign as she sarcastically decries Obama's message of hope. It's not working well for her. On Tuesday, Jon Stewart made fun of Clinton's pessimism: join me in the chant now, "NO, WE CAN'T." It is a strange platform for a Democrat to run on.

Today Clinton has a new alarming ad out that I would have sworn was a John McCain ad until the final reveal:

This message perfectly illustrates what cognitive scientist George Lakoff said the other day about Clinton: she is actually using the conservative framework. She tries to win over "swing voters" by moving to the right or using the fear approach. Obama appeals to that group of people by identifying common ground that they share with progresssives and inviting them to work together on those issues.

The Democrat-in-Conservative-clothing approach is no longer working for me, and I don't think it can be effective in November. The people who want a Hawk candidate will already be voting for John McCain. On a practical and philosophical level I am yearing to see our country give Hope a chance.

I do not for a minute think that a hopeful stance will be an easy way out of our difficulties. On the contrary, it will demand a lot more participation and individual change (ie conserving oil) than the Bush approach. But after the last seven years we've been subjected to, aren't we as citizens willing to grow up and take responsibility for our government, rather than remaining scared and obedient little sheep?

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Obama/Clinton through a cognitive scientist's eyes

Political linguist/cognitive scientist George Lakoff is brilliant. I've been a fan of his for a few years now, and I'm going to get to hear him speak at a sold out event in the Triangle this weekend.

But you can hear him right now, interviewed on WUNC radio's program The State of Things. Lakoff talks about politics in a unique way, discussing frameworks, values, and how progressives and convervatives have failed or succeeded in getting their point across.

In the final third of the half hour segment, Lakoff lays out the essential differences between Obama and Clinton's political approaches.

Lakoff's specialty is putting into words what we may have felt in our hearts but not been able to articulate. I recommended this interview to a friend earlier today and he emailed back, "Thank you for that, it was the best 30 minutes I will spend this week."

This segment is a must-listen. The Obama-Clinton comparison is in the last third of the 30-minute segment. If you have ever wondered why Obama is really the change candidate, rather than Clinton, you owe it to yourself to listen to this segment.

You can listen for free through your computer or download to an MP3 player:

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Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oscars + my TiVO = pretty entertaining

The Academy Awards show would be unbearable without TiVO, but with extensive fast-forwarding the program was actually entertaining last night. I am willing to take the chance of missing something interesting to speed past the 80% of the show that is boring or redundant. I love Jon Stewart, so any time he hosts I am already having a good time.

With so much celebrity trash spewing from the media these days, it was wonderful to see everyone looking so classy. Here are a few thoughts on the show:

Stars I'd most like to meet: Cate Blanchett and George Clooney. And Harrison Ford, since I'd had a crush on him since 1980 (though now that he's actually dating someone my age that seems pretty odd.)

Star I'd most aspire to be like someday: Helen Mirren. She is the coolest ever.

Many of my thoughts about the show centered around the Best Song category, one I almost never care about. But last night was a big exception:

I loved the gospel choir from August Rush. Their performance was enough to make me want to rent the film, even though it's supposed to be sappy and cloying.

Enchanted was a cute movie that deserved one nomination for "That's How You Know," but why oh why oh why did Enchanted get three nominated songs when the far superior Hairspray received none? Hairspray suffered the biggest snub of the year, getting no nominations at all. John Travolta presented the award for this category, which I thought was ironic, and gracious of him considering that he had starred as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.

Speaking of "That's How You Know," if the wonderful Amy Adams performed one song in the show, why didn't she get to sing the second? Kristin Chenoweth is a talented performer but she's not Giselle. It was weird seeing another actress sing her showstopper song when you knew that Amy Adams was in the house.

Given the nominees, the most important thing to me was that "Falling Slowly" from the Irish indie film Once actually won! This little gem deserved the recognition for its brilliance that stemmed from the music and performances by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. If you haven't seen Once, and you like music, or independent films, or romance, or Ireland, you definitely need to watch the DVD.

But....then....the duo got up to accept their Oscars, and after Glen gave his short remarks, Marketa got totally dissed when she was immediately cut off by the orchestra!

Jon Stewart saved the day by bringing Marketa back out to give her eloquent thanks. As far as I can tell, this move was unprecedented in Oscar history, but well-deserved, and saved the Academy from one of the most insulting faux pas ever. This wasn't twelve people getting up and droning was a songwriting, singing and acting duo standing up to take credit for their partnership. I don't know whether the producers or Stewart himself made the decision to bring Marketa back out, but, bottom line--you go, Marketa and Glen, and Jon Stewart, could I love you even more????

Finally, I'm going to bestow an award for the Ultimate Movie Mojo Mom of 2007. I've never even thought of doing that before, but there was one actress this year who played a mother so full of courage, joy, and mojo that she inspired a shout-out. The winner is....Queen Latifah, for her role as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray.

Congratulations, Queen Latifah! Stop by for lunch sometime and I'll find a gold statue to give you.


What did you think of the Oscars? A really big show, or a really big snooze? Which of the nominated films did you actually see? I'll add Michael Clayton to my list of must-see movies. I wanted George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson to win their categories. I enjoyed seeing all the Europeans win, but I have to admit there is a slim to none chance I'll go see There Will be Blood or No Country for Old Men unless I hear from you that they are worth wading through their darkness.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

The reason why Obama is the change we've been waiting for

Do you ever have one of those moments where the world doesn't change in an instant, but rather you change your perspective 180 degrees and see things from a totally new angle? I had one of those radical moments today, coming after weeks studying the Obama-Clinton matchup. I've been supporting Obama since John Edwards dropped out of the race, and my enthusiasm for Obama has kept growing. Today I could see why Obama is literally "the change we have been waiting for," and why Clinton's campaign is failing to catch fire with young people.

Obama is creating a movement toward participatory government, one that will require much more of its citizens. It's crazy that this has not already happened. We waged war against a major oil-producing country, and yet we have not been asked to conserve in any meaningful way. In the face of environmental crisis, war, and poverty, our main civic duties have been to keep spending like greedy little consumers, and not ask too many questions.

That's been about Bush. Obama or Clinton would mark a significant change from Bush, and don't disagree that much on policy issues. So what is the difference between them? Boomer women see Hillary as the change they have been working toward for years. 1970's Feminists get angry with younger women who support Obama, and question whether we have ignored the lessons of Feminism. Don't we get it that our hard-fought rights are still under fire? How could we turn our back on the opportunity to elect a female President? Are we gender traitors, ungrateful, ignorant, or suffering from false consciousness?

I vote for None of the Above. As of today, for the first time I feel like Feminism is no longer the movement we need to drive social change. This is hard for me to even write. Although I majored in neuroscience rather than women's studies, I have always proudly called myself a Feminist. I still believe in the core values and and principles of Feminism, but here's the switch in perspective: I pulled my friend Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner's book The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy off the shelf this morning. Kristin writes about young women being active in their communities, informed about issues, and yet turning out to vote at very low levels. Only about one third of women ages 18 to 24 voted in 2000, compared to 65% of women over age 44. I have read her book before, and in the past, I have always interpreted that to mean that there was something wrong with young women, and we should try to find new ways to bring them in to the Feminist movement. But now I am have come to believe that the Second Wave, 1070's Feminist movement was an effort rooted in a particular place and time in American history, and that it is the movement that needs to change, and politics that needs to change, to resonate with young people.

Hillary Clinton is the logical culmination of Boomer Feminists' march toward success. I can understand why they are frustrated that just as they think their/her moment has come, the younger generations are not getting on board. But growing up in the aftermath of the battles of the 1970's is very different than being on the front lines. We do take some of our rights for granted. Is this a success or failure of Feminism? I call it a success, though I realize the absolute danger of complacency.

There are many tough challenges ahead, but I don't think we need a new "wave" of Feminism to tackle them. I would like to see women and men working toward gender justice, and people of all races working toward racial justice. This is what I see in Obama's campaign. Of course Clinton cares about these issues, but Boomer Feminists have alienated us by insisting that we draw political lines based on gender.

Clinton is qualified to be President, but in my opinion she is not the best choice because of the Dynasty issue (20 years of Bushes and Clintons, do we really want it to be 24 or 28?). Politics as usual is fueled by loyalty above all and we have created loyalty gridlock by handing the Presidency back and forth between these two families for twenty years. In addition, there is residual resentment toward Bill and his shenanigans, even among Democrats, and every time he shows up in the campaign it's a 1990's flashback. Clinton surrogates struck dischord every time they acted like she was entitled to win. A co-chair of Clinton's campaign in Michigan said, "Superdelegates are not second-class delegates," says Joel Ferguson, who will be a superdelegate if Michigan is seated. "The real second-class delegates are the delegates that are picked in red-state caucuses that are never going to vote Democratic." Way to give up on and practically disenfranchise those of us in the so-called "Red" states. (Guess the Clinton campaign didn't learn from Howard Dean's successful 50-state strategy in 2006.) I know that Obama will be competing for North Carolina in the general election, should he become the nominee.

It would be a huge milestone to have a women fill the role of President, but Hillary is ultimately an insider, not the change candidate. Obama is poised to reach the benchmark of a million people contributing to his campaign, many small donors who chip in $10 or $25. At the same time, a pro-Hillary 527 group is trying to raise $10 million--$100,000 each from 100 donors. Which campaign, and resulting Presidency, would be "owned" by the people?

These thoughts are a work in progress, and I am sure my Feminist elders would not be pleased by my change of heart. My bottom line is that it is not us who needs to change to conform to a movement, but it is the movement--Feminism, Humanism, Participatory Democracy, Grassroots Wildfire--that needs to change to draw us in.

I am working to support Obama,, Lillian's List of North Carolina, and Women for Women International, among other causes. If my worldview doesn't make sense to older Feminists, maybe they should try looking at things from a new perspective.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Marrying Expectation to Reality

Happy Valentine's Day! My husband Michael and I went on our first date 14 years ago. Awww, how sweet, isn't it? His friend was playing guitar at a restaurant, and Michael was pretty self-conscious about the fact that this was a first date on Valentine's Day, especially when it turned out to be a fancy roses-and-champagne special meal. When the waiter said, "So how is everyone's Valentine's Day tonight?" Michael choked out, "It feels more like just another Monday to me."

It worked out though!

So what's our hot date tonight? Glad you asked. We're going to the After-School Program Family Potluck...Woo Hoo!...which brings us to the theme of today's blog post, the Marriage of Expectation and Reality.

I keep thinking about Lori Gottlieb's article Marry Him about setting down with a nice guy rather than waiting for Mr. Perfect to show up, and realized that I have some Mojo Mom advice for single women who want to get married. They're not exactly the main audience for this blog, but hey, it's the internet, we're all connected.

I have said about motherhood that it's not the reality of family life that leaves us frustrated and disappointed, as much as it is the gap between expectation and reality. I feel the same way about marriage. If we all toned down our fantasies we'd be better equipped to deal with family life as it is: messy, demanding, not always fair. Now we didn't come to these fantasies on our own. They are being heavily marketed to each of us. That's more of a topic for another day, but I want to acknowledge that we are not just each individually deluded on this issue.

I really relate to the kernel of wisdom at the heart of Lori's commentary, that you should choose your deal breakers carefully. Beware of issuing ridiculously restraining ultimatums your partner. There are some things you should not compromise on or expect the other person to change, like whether you want to have kids. But beyond that, realize that life is already going to involve so many compromises that you shouldn't throw away a good relationship because it isn't perfect.

I myself issued an overly certain ultimatum that Michael fortunately put in perspective. I had been traumatized by a boss' unfriendly dog in the workplace so I really didn't like dogs when Michael and I got engaged. At one point I said "You really shouldn't marry me if you need to have a dog." (He had grown up with a household full of Shelties.) I was certain at the time that I just couldn't live with a dog. But after we got married, we went to Japan and I fell in love with the Shiba Inu breed--one of the most smart/stubborn-headed, rambunctious breeds on the planet. So I ended up convincing Michael that we should get this puppy even though it made no sense on a practical level. So much for my ultimatum. Ten years later we still have Kiba, our hyper-crazy fuzzball of love. This didn't even involve compromise with his wishes, but a 180 degree turn of my own thinking. But in retrospect, giving in to Michael's wish to have a dog, even if it wasn't my first choice, would have been worth it if it made him happy.

Second issue: On the flip side, if you are in a relationship with deal breakers that are broken, then get out. Don't waste your time trying to make over someone who has major issues of obvious incompatibility. He has a drinking or drug problem that he's not quite ready to address? Lies, steals, belittles or blames you for everything? Pushes your boundaries to see what he can get away with and then chides you for being too sensitive? Lives with his mother and can't imagine leaving her? Is not only broke, but financially irresponsible? He's not sure that he is really that into you, even though you've been together for years? Those are deal breakers in my book.

You have the right to honestly choose your own deal breakers, even if they don't mean that the other person is bad or wrong, or portray you in the most saintly light. I once had a big warning bell go off in the following situation: My longtime boyfriend's father was chronically ill and progressively disabled. Just as my boyfriend and I were reaching the point where we might get engaged, his mother pressed me to read a book about being a family caregiver. This completely freaked me out because she was going directly to me, the girlfriend, with this information rather than giving it to her son. This told me that the women in the family were expected to be the go-to people on caregiving. My boyfriend and I were on shaky ground anyway, and this incident really made me think about what I might be signing up for as a member of this family. It is not specifically why we broke up, but it put me on notice that at age 22 I was far from ready to make a permanent family commitment, including marriage.

So once you run into a true, significant deal breaker, act on it. You are wasting your time sticking with something comfortable that just won't work in the long run. I have seen friends get hung up here because the discomfort or risk of being alone is too painful.

Finally, it is really important to make sure that your actions are aligned with your truest, most authentic goals and values. Do a reality check: if you really want to get married, then do things that support that goal. I don't want this to devolve into a whole lot of retro advice about "stop going for the quick hook-up if you want to find a real relationship." That's pretty obvious. But if you say you want a real relationship but keep pairing up with guys who are chock full of deal breakers, or are unattainable in some way ("He's my soulmate but there's only one problem, he's a priest...), then it's time to re-examine what you really want, and how to accomplish that. Maybe you don't want to be married or in a long-term relationship. That doesn't matter to me. But if you say you want to be married, but keep getting caught up in relationships that are incompatible with that goal, then it's time to have a heart to heart with friends, family, or a good therapist. Above all, be honest with yourself.

What are your thoughts on deal breakers, compromises, and how you know whether you are being true to yourself? Please share your comments!

A Valentine's Day coda. The After-School Potluck isn't our only anniversary celebration. Tomorrow night we're going out on a romantic date, that Michael arranged, babysitter and all. We've still got it.

(This post was slightly edited on February 15)

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Single Mom asks the 'Settling' question

Writer Lori Gottlieb is making waves with her new Atlantic Monthly article, Marry Him!

I hate the title (which she probably didn't pick) but I agreed with much of what she said. Her premise is that if women keep holding out for Mr. Perfect, they may end up alone:

My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year. (It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)

I've met Lori and she is wickedly funny, endearing and an incredible writer. You've probably heard her NPR commentaries (and she did one on this topic). I had a chance to hear her do stand-up about the fact that she had a tube of donor sperm banked and was deciding whether to use it. The next year I heard that she had a son, so apparently her stand up hit closer to home than your typical comedy routine.

So Lori is writing this piece from personal experience, as a single Mom over 40 who would like to find a partner, not as a "smug married" who is speaking hypothetically. The other day Lori was on The Today Show paired up with a married matchmaker for a counterpoint, and the matchmaker's optimism that there is a soulmate out there for everyone fell flat against Lori's candid pragmatism.

This knotty issue resonated with me on the level that we are sold so many fantasies about marriage and babies. We know how different the reality of motherhood is compared to our unrealistic fantasies. Marriage and (especially) raising kids are entirely different than the fantasy you see on something like The Bachelor. I loved Lori's description of marriage:

It sounds obvious now, but I didn’t fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.

Lori is not saying that women should marry someone they don't love, but rather not to disqualify guys so quickly, for example by turning down a second date because there's "no chemistry." She describes women's declining choices as they get older while men's options stay largely the same. The age trap.

I used to be the biggest romantic but as I get older I do appreciate the pragmatic aspects of marriage. I read or watch Pride and Prejudice every few years, and while I still cheer that Jane married her highly improbable soulmate Darcy, I now see how reckless she was, and how precarious her family's financial situation was, when she turned down the obsequious Reverend Mr. Collins.

Now I don't think Lori would endorse marrying Mr. Collins, but in real life the choices aren't usually so stark. We should at least give Mr. Nice Guy a chance. If we insist on holding out for Mr. Darcy, we may end up chasing an illusion to our own detriment.

Lori is getting some pushback from young single women who have read her commentary, but I am really interested in getting feedback from the Mojo Mom audience.

Read Lori's article and let me know what you think. Do women expect too much from marriage as their ultimate fulfilling experience? Where is the line between settling in and selling out?

Lori, I am rooting for your happy ending. If the married matchmaker wants to make her point, then she should help you out!

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Mojo Mom Podcast: Lady of the Snakes author Rachel Pastan

I fell in love with Rachel Pastan's novel Lady of the Snakes, so I invited her on this week's Mojo Mom Podcast. Both podcast segments this week feature literary discussions for busy Moms. You can learn more about Rachel's work and find a Lady of the Snakes readers' guide at

To my delight, Rachel also shared a list of recommended books she created just for our Mojo Mom audience:

First, here are some of my favorite novels about the experience of living with
small children:

The Lucky Ones by Rachel Cusk. This is a smart, wonderfully written ensemble
piece about very different characters with various children in their lives, and how their lives are affected by that.

The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison. This book captures my experience as the
mother of an infant better than any I’ve read. The tenderness and the
ambivalence. It’s also a wonderful novel about friendship between women, and
it has a great historical element. This is the only novel I know in which a female protagonist is referred to by her last name.

The Brambles by Eliza Minot. The mother in this book is less ambivalent than
the ones in mine or Mattison’s. The texture of suburban life with children is gorgeously rendered.

Other books:

Possession by A.S. Byatt. The ultimate literary mystery story, and a fabulous Romance. Unputdownable.

The Fountain Overflows
by Rebecca West. A British novel from the thirties that no one reads anymore and which deserves renewed attention. It’s about two musical twins growing up in an impoverished family in which their untalented older sister gets all the attention. It’s funny, charming, sometimes eerie,
and always compelling.



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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Join me for a Girls' Night Out on Feb. 24

If you are in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, I hope you'll join me on the February 24 for a Girls' Night Out at Nordstrom (Streets of Southpoint) to benefit Girls on the Run of the Triangle.

I'm the guest speaker and will do a book signing at this event to benefit a worthy organization. Girls on the Run uses the power of running to change the way girls see themselves and their opportunities, connecting a healthy lifestyle with a strong sense of self.

I will give a short talk sharing my strategies designed to get your mojo revved up for spring. There are many connections between Girls on the Run and Mojo Mom. After all, what they are doing for girls, I am trying to do for Moms through my work.

Event details:

On February 24, Nordstrom will open the store at 7:30 pm just for us for this special event -- the closest we'll get to "Night at the Museum" for Moms! (You certainly don't have to be a Mom to come, but it is being marketed as a Girls' Night Out. I had to tell my Dad that even though he's a proud Papa, this wasn't the event for him.)

Nordstrom donates staff time and refreshments, so your ticket purchase goes to benefit Girls on the Run.

Knowing the cool women who are already planning to attend, I daresay that this will be a good networking event as well as a fun party.

Tickets are $30 each and the entire ticket price goes to benefit Girls on the Run of the Triangle. I will also be donating 20% of book sales that evening to support the cause. You can buy tickets online now.

There are more than 120 Girls on the Run councils in the United States and Canada, so visit the Girls on the Run International website to learn more.

Getting to know GOTR has given me new respect my own sport. I am an avid tennis player, but it's always seemed like a bit of a guilty indulgence to me. Now I have come to see that it is a chance for fun, a healthy activity, and really my best chance for meditation all rolled into one. The ball tells you whether you are in the moment with each stroke.

What role do sports play in your life? Do you keep up the games you played as a girl? If you do play a sport, what does it mean to you? If you don't, do you wish you could get involved?

I wish "Soccer Moms" meant Moms playing soccer rather than just organizing the games for kids. How can we get on the field as well? I'd love to hear your ideas.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Got inspiration? 'Yes We Can'

It's been an interesting process to decide how political to be on the Mojo Mom blog. In 2004 my blog was still new, and while I wrote a "get out the vote" post, that was bout it.

This year I am not going to sit on the sidelines. I am proud to endorse Barack Obama for President. The Democratic party is blessed with two qualified candidates, but only Senator Obama inspires the kind of excitement for change that could have produced a supporter-generated video like the following, the "Yes We Can" song by of the Black Eyed Peas.

All respectful opinions will be welcome on this blog, even if I do not agree with you. I will be writing about the election from time to time here on Mojo Mom. If it starts to overwhelm my entire train of thought I'll post to my MotherVoice08 blog.

I have a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton, but for me the Dynasty problem is impossible to overcome when I have such a promising, visionary choice in Obama. All new 18-year old voters have only known a Bush or Clinton in the White House in their lifetimes. I embrace the argument that it's time to look ahead rather than back to the 1990's.

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