Category Archives: Fear

On London, David Gergen and Our Basic Values

I was in London on July 23rd of this year. I lived in London for years. The riots have spread to the areas I lived in: the pubs I frequented, restaurants I ate in, theaters I watched movies at, and stores I shopped at are literally up in smoke. It makes me incredibly sad. My good friends, friends I dined with in the grey and ancient city on July 22nd, have sent me the most disturbing reports today, of teens running down their street in hoods and masks, breaking into local and family-owned businesses to steal puzzling items like Immodium AD as well as big ticket items like plasma TVs. These kids are throwing bricks into private homes, they are burning businesses global and local. MOST FRUSTRATING OF ALL: No one in America is covering this major story, which has wide repercussions globally.

Having lived in London, I think I can speak to a few socioeconomic factors: most of the city, with a few exceptions, is very integrated. What does this mean? In Notting Hill, where I lived, two doors down from multi-millionaires was a public housing block. A Richard Branson look-alike (maybe even the genuine article) would cruise our street in his blue Aston Martin. (In fact, he almost hit me one time and was completely without remorse, driving away and giving me the finger for daring to get in his way.) So, cheek to jowl, there was immense wealth and pretty serious poverty. And middle class earners like myself living in small, overpriced apartments.

Three weeks ago when I was there, I noticed how upmarket, built-up and frankly shiny so many areas of London were. A lot of the grit I remember was gone. I imagine some of that was the money spent on upgrading the city for the upcoming Olympics next year. I noticed on the street where I lived, again half a block from the massive tower of council housing, was parked a Porsche Cayenne, a Lamborghini and a number of Minis and BMWs. There is a lot of money in London, and a lot of no money. Having the two next to each other, in the midst of a serious recession, in the midst of many cutbacks in government services, I imagine, was like having kerosene next to a blazing fire. Am I excusing the rioters? Certainly not. They are stealing goods and services and destroying institutions that help local communities. They are lawless punks, destroying the fabric of society.

But what was their example? The wealthiest Londoners live large, dining in Spitalfields market (much gussied-up since the days of Jack the Ripper), they buy their underwear at Agent Provocateur, they drink the finest Malbec and Sancerres. They buy their fur coats and size 0 jeans at Joseph in the chicly refurbished neighborhood, where the inflated real estate has appreciated but not for the poorest, who still buy their lottery tickets and crisps and cigarettes at the local grocer next door. The rich, even in this economic disaster, maybe especially, in the catastrophe that we are living in daily, are getting richer. Visibly. And not just in London. In America as well. They buy their Range Rovers, join the 11-99 Foundation and pay less taxes than ever. Meanwhile, the average American has gotten poorer. The average American gets taxed more, whether through state trooper tickets, parking tickets, increased local and state taxes. Their homes have lost value. 62% of Americans think that the Debt Ceiling deal profits the richest.

I am not anti-capitalist. I think it is the only system that works. But not the current form of it. The richest .01% of the country should not be getting richer, while everyone else suffers. It’s not good for society as a whole. It’s not historically what we’ve done as a country. We are in deep shit, economically. EVERYONE should pay the price to dig all of us out of it.

“A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.” (University of California, Berkeley)

Let me tell you a story about my in-laws’ recent trip to Manhattan. They are the types who spend their money on expensive dinners when they travel, often staying at budget motels to finance their foodie extravaganzas. They are also very gregarious. They befriended a man and his wife in a fancy restaurant in Midtown. The man, in his 80s, collects watches. Watches are becoming an outdated technology, now that iPhones and the like provide us with the time. But this man had bid $250,000 on a rare watch. He did not obtain it, as it went for over a million in an auction.

DOES THIS SEEM LIKE A GOOD USE OF MONEY TO YOU? Of course it’s this guy’s money to spend as he likes. But this seems to be the choice of the super rich with their money. Buying ostentatious, outdated, useless items that don’t benefit the economy at large.

WHY shouldn’t they be taxed more?

There is a lot that is great about America. I am very proud to be an American. I recently read “Half Broke Horses”: that pioneer spirit of not wanting too much, not getting into debt, using what we have, saving, not being flashy – it’s in our nature. I know we as a people can do this. But we need to put away our selfish interests, like collecting rare watches, fancy cars, and silly material goods. I am just as guilty of this: I have bought ridiculous things. But the truth is: I am never going to be in the top .01% of the country. To buy goods to show others that I am not poor is stupid. Status is silly. And our obsession with it has gotten us into this mess.

During World War II, it was patriotic to be poor. Reusing and being frugal were virtues promoted at large. The richest were taxed at the same rate as the rest of us. We are in a crisis. We are a creative, hard-working people, united by our love of freedom and the belief that we are all equal.

“In 1945, households making a million dollars in non-investment income was 66%. Now, it is 32%.” The Tax Foundation

David Gergen, since you asked. We need to ALL contribute to pulling ourselves out of our debt mess. The richest among us can either pitch in, or move to Monaco in shame, their tails between their legs.

Or am I a foolish idealist? Tell me in the comments.

For more, go here.

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Day 49: Much Better and Mommy Wars

Darcy’s home for the weekend, thankfully. He leaves Sunday night for two more weeks, but today he made me stay in bed, took care of the twins, made me good, hearty food (steak, baked potatoes) and got me girl scout cookies. I feel loads better.

He rules.

On my enforced bedrest, I’ve been trying to read some parenting blogs. (I’m avoiding the term mommy blogs.) It’s a jungle out there! What’s up with the strident, controversy-provoking craziness out there? I’m referring to “The Stir”, “Feminist Breeder”, and other mommy war zones that I shall not name.

It all reminds me of a Chris Rock stand-up routine I once saw. He made the point that women are smarter, work harder and know much more than men, yet they don’t rule the world even though they should. Why? “Because women HATE other women!”

I’m going to provoke ire here, but I would never profess to have a one-size fits all philosophy on parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding and disciplining. Dr. Sears has caused much pain and suffering among some mothers who can’t physically or mentallly live up to the exacting demands of attachment parenting. Do I admire people who try? Sure! Do I hate people who are human and can’t do it? No. No, I do not.

Why all the hate? I think it’s cool you breastfed for two years. I ran out of supply at four months even after seeing the most devoted lactation consultant ever who was at my house three times a week at least, who after having me feed on demand every two hours, try special teas and herbs, a glass of beer, domperidone (which caused corrosive acid reflux I’m still dealing with), nipple shields, having me feed, then weighing the babies after, pumping, finally concluded “you have run out of supply.” Yes, I tried everything, no I didn’t want to fail. But I did. It happens. Why do you have to make people feel bad about it?

Arghhh. Women! But not you, beautiful readers 🙂

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Day 45: Digging in, Seeking Fortitude

It’s too bad I broke up with the stoics: I need some real, inner strength and am unsure where to get it. My husband will be traveling for the next three weeks, and I will be on my own completely with the twins. The family that lives nearby doesn’t do childcare on demand. (It’s a complex affair that demands planning weeks in advance, their dance cards are very full.) Now, on the eve of Darcy’s departure, I have fallen ill with something I fear is bronchitis. I have hypochondical tendencies, so hopefully it’s not, but on the other hand, I get bronchitis a lot. Last year, I had it five times.

I’m freaked, I don’t mind telling you. I wish I had one of those strong, iron, peasant constitutions like Ma Ingalls, who could endure starvation, hours and hours of manual labor and general hardship. Instead, I was built with the constitution of one of those stupid Victorian ladies, always ill, always needing to return to the fainting couch. It. Sucks.

I’m thinking about dipping into our meager savings and flying my mom out here. But it’s time to pull on my special super strong big girl pants, suck it up, and be strong.

It’s time to be stoical, I daresay?

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Day 43: Climb Every Mountain

Like many impressionable young American girls, I grew up watching The Sound of Music. My favorite song from the film was “Climb Every Mountain”. It was sung by the Mother Superior and the song’s lesson was to  face your fears, climb above your struggles, and when you do, you will be free. The song still gives me the chills 20 years later.

The song famously plays at the very end, when the Von Trapps are literally climbing for their very lives, in hopes of escaping the Nazis.

Today, there was snow upon our closet mountain. Snow only falls every 10 years or so, so we decided that we would climb the path to reach the snow. I envisioned us carrying children on shoulders to make it to the frozen ice. Instead, neither child wanted to walk in the snow, or wear their sweaters or coats, although it was 35 degrees out. So constant battles ensued until we finally had to turn around without seeing the full winterland of snow.

It was disappointing, and yet I’m proud we attempted it. As a family.

 

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Day 36: What To Do About the Girly Girls?

I finished Cinderella Ate My Daughter last night. I had already been fighting a battle to keep away the princess-y claptrap that seems to surround pre-school girls if possible. This has been an intuitive reaction on my part, with no real reason behind the emotion. My daughter seems to gravitate towards pink, tulle and flowers, which I do NOT push on her. The book was very alarming.

Before I begin my critique, here’s a pop quiz to take the pulse of how “girly” I am:

Which of the following are true?

A. I took ballet until I was 14.

B. In high school, I was a cheerleader.

C. On my wedding day, I walked down the aisle to the theme from “The Princess Bride”.

D. On my wedding day, I wore a tiara.

E. A and C.

F. All of the above.

G. None of the above.

I’ll let you know the answer at the bottom of the post.

Peggy Orenstein’s research comes to a few scary conclusions: today’s princess culture teaches young girls that being “the fairest of them all” is the most important trait, encourages young teens to be “hot” and “sexy” too early, and has led to the large increase in eating disorders of all stripes. Some pretty serious accusations. Apparently, most young girls naturally need to define themselves as female, and the Disney princess gear allows them the chance to do this, but the gear is really bad for them.

She doesn’t really provide any solutions or alternatives to counter this culture, other than “say no” to your daughter when she asks for the Sleeping Beauty Manicure/Pedicure Station. Which I already do. And also, to tell her she’s beautiful when she’s doing hard work or pursuing an athletic activity, not when she’s wearing a pretty dress or has her hair done.

I had mentioned that one thing I liked about the pioneer, stoic culture of the mid 1800s was that they valued in appearance stoutness and the ability of the physical body to do hard work. If you were thin, you were to be avoided as a spouse because you were probably sickly.

So I guess I should encourage my daughter to appreciate what her body can DO and not what it looks like.

Does anyone have any other ideas about girly girls? Because I’m afraid the answer to my quiz is F. I am a girly girl myself. I hated sports, and dance was the only activity I was good at. I planned my wedding when I was 5. My mom, a tap-dancer and high-school cheerleader herself, discouraged the ultra-feminine. Barbie was not allowed, and sports were encouraged. It didn’t work. Is my daughter destined to be a girly-girl? How do I help her avoid the traps associated with such things, if so?

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Day 33: The Ingalls, American Stoics?

A Little Pregnant wrote an absolutely brilliant post about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic children’s book The Long Winter. She debates whether the book is too grisly and scary for her five-year-old son and comes to the conclusion that Ma Ingalls is a pill. Graphic language about “dropseat lovin’ ” is involved, so consider yourself forewarned.

First of all, I believe it’s time for me to re-read the Little House series, which I adored as a child, because it seems there is a lot of crazy crap in there that I don’t remember. Racism, minstrel shows, pig bladders, Scarlet Fever and an inappropriate purchase of an organ (the musical kind, not the animal kind) in the midst of family destitution? REALLY? There are also some who believe that Pa Ingalls was bi-polar, always gambling on ill-advised financial schemes and moving his family around when debt was threatened. And finally, this fascinating New Yorker article about Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, posited that ROSE might have been the main writer of the books, not her mother. Rose was an accomplished journalist and a best-selling author BEFORE the Little House books came out. Also, apparently, she and her mother would be Tea Party enthusiasts today.

What I mainly remember about the Little House books was the palpable sense of deprivation, hardship, hunger and danger the Ingalls family faced, day-in, day-out. Yet, there was also a sense of hope and adventure the family was able to maintain, even after the eldest daughter went blind and even with the daily threat of starving to death. I believe I need to read The Long Winter again to ascertain if the Ingalls had a magical formula for surviving scary situations. Stoicism is, according to Tom Morris, “about managing your deepest inner resources and learning to find your way through any circumstances, no matter how challenging they may be.” Or were the Ingalls just insane optimists?

What do you think? Is Julie right: was Ma a pill? Was Pa bi-polar? Were the pioneers stoics, or insane?

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Day 32: Daddy’s Girl Turned Stoic?

Do you have your barf bag ready? Excellent. This is the post where I admit I am a huge, unrepentant Daddy’s Girl.

For most of my early adult life, my dad had a pretty easy time being my dad. (Although he did have to pay for my college tuition.) I was on a ladder of achievement, which I climbed with no real difficulty. Not the super achievement ladder, mind you. But I graduated from an acceptable college, didn’t get in trouble, pursued a career track, received some promotions, met my husband, lived abroad, traveled and got married. It was an average American story, I suppose. Dad understood the narrative and I stayed with the plot.

Then the narrative stalled and moved into unfamiliar territory. I got pretty sick and went on disability for a few months. After recovering from that, Darcy and I tried to build a family. That storyline, complete with many sobbing phone calls to dad, visits from him to try to teach me how to adapt to this new adversity, fertility treatments, a miscarriage, 3 IVF attempts and a very high-risk scary pregnancy, did end happily. But I don’t think I would have maintained my sanity through it without the consistent, wise, unwavering advice of my father.

Through his job, my dad met presidents, royalty, famous authors, billionaires, heroes, villains and even Barbra Streisand. (She kept him waiting for 14 hours. He’s still pissed.) He narrowly escaped death or injury a few times. He won awards. He was there when the occupation of Alcatraz was planned. My dad is COOL.

But he’s also down-to-earth and not easily impressed. His focus has always been his family, so much so that he turned down a job at one of the most prestigious employers in the world. Why? Because we would have had to move to NYC and it would have interrupted my school mid-term. He always wanted stability for me, because stability was not something he knew as a child.

He still wishes me stability, so he has been urging me to follow the Stoics. I am about as far away from a Stoic as is possible. I somewhat resemble Chicken Little. Once there was a tsunami warning for lower coastal areas and I packed up the car and headed for the hills, only to realize that I lived on the BAY, not the ocean and the tsunami wasn’t coming for me. Now that I am a mother, those Chicken Little urges are even stronger. What’s that mark, what’s that cough, etc. I am FEARFUL.

The Stoics want me to embrace fear. Seneca, the key Stoic, actually said: “There is no reason to believe that anything should be feared.” Come again? That is impossible for me to believe. But something else he wrote makes sense:

“There are more things in this world…likely to frighten us than to crush us. We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

Or, as my dad puts it, “Don’t borrow trouble.”

More to come…all quotes come from The Stoic Art of Living, Inner Resilience and Outer Results, by Tom Morris.

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