Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Anne Lamott on Brian Williams and scapegoats

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, recently posted some thoughts (originally posted here) about Brian Williams (NBC Nightly News anchor) and our common humanity. This is worth reading, even if you don’t have a clue what’s happening with Mr. Williams. My favorite line encompasses something most of us are afraid of doing: “Let’s be human together.”

 

Brian Williams is our new Old Testament goat. It’s like being the new It Girl, although of course, not quite as festive. And I’m caught up in it, too. It’s hard to turn away, and a part of me, the dark part of me with bad self esteem, is cheered. The handsomest, richest, most perfect guy turned out to have truthiness issues; and it was good.

He’s our sin offering. Wow, how often do I get to type those words? Not nearly often enough! It’s exhilarating. It’s Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery.” Each worsening detail is like a self-esteem ATM.

I’m watching talking heads on the biggest news stations come down on him, and I know some of these most famous men to have been unfaithful, and worse–way worse, with children. They’re in the delicious throes of schadenfreude, which part of me is, too. The sweeter part of me, the child, the girl in her little blue kilt, the mom, the nana, the black-belt co-dependent, wants to shake her fist at the bullies. Who here doesn’t lie, emebellish, exaggerate? (I’m reminded of the old joke about Jesus telling the crowd who is stoning the adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Suddenly a woman throws a rock at the adulturess. Jesus looks up, and says, “Oh for Pete’s sake, Mother.”)

No one, not one single person, has stood up for him. I would, but I’m a lying liar, too–well, maybe not as egregious as Brian Williams. I don’t tell people “I looked down the tube of an RPG”. Well, maybe that one time I did. But that was just so people would like me more.

I would stand with Mr. Williams, because he’s family. There’s a scene in Small Victories where I was giving a writing workshop to the prisoners in San Quentin, with my friend Neshama, and she told them. “I’m human. You’re human. Let’s be in our humanness together for a little while.” So yes, I stand with him.

But my solidarity wouldn’t mean all that much. My son rolls his eyes sometimes at family gatherings, because the story I’ve just told has changed from its last telling. But then again, so has his.

The sober people I know began sobriety by minimizing how bad their drinking and drug use was; by the end of the first year, they’re copping to the most graphic, disgusting behavior you can imagine. This was definitely my case; I started out mentioning that maybe I had a few too many a couple times a week, to the truth, which was that I was insane, trying to buy opiates, guys, the random RPG.

(Of course, Brian Williams did not do nearly as socially repellant things as my addict brothers and sisters did. In our defense, though, we rarely said we had been struck by RPG’s. So it’s sort of a wash.)

The truth eventually set me free. It’s the “eventually” that gets ya. But it did. I hurt a lot of people, mostly other women, but with a lot of help and solidarity, I told my truth, and there was great healing, for them and me; and what I did still sucked. Sometimes, they still do.

Take, for instance, the words for which I am probably most semi-famous, besides “shitty first drafts” and that my bad thoughts make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish. The words were not even mine: it was my wild Jesuit friend Tom Weston’s word who actually said that you can tell you’ve created God in your own image when He hates the same people you do. Father Tom said it in a lecture 23 years ago, at a small gathering. The first few times I quoted it–probably at Salon, and possibly in Bird by Bird–I attributed it to him. Then the next few times, I didn’t. I just shoe-horned it into conversation, as if I’d just thought of it that minute; brilliant daring me

And not exactly “conversation.” More like, “While being interviewed.”

Then, it got picked up, and it was everywhere, and I started trying to correct the lie–at a big public level. In print, and on Kurt Andersen’s gigantic show, Studio 360 on WNYC, New York City’s NPR. It was the childhood dream of going to school naked. But I did it.

The line is frequently quoted, as mine. It’s a great line; it says it all. But I’m sick of cringing and saying I borrowed it. Okay–stole it. Fine.

Me, and one of our greatest historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin, right? Do we say, as people are saying now about Mr Williams, “Well, we wouldn’t be able to trust Goodwin after she plagarized.” No. We absolutely trust her. We decided to. She earned our trust back.

The point is, we are gigantically flawed. Oh, my God, such screw-ups. We can be such total asshats. And if you’re in the public eye, like Brian Williams, or in the public baby toe, like me, it goes viral.

We do the best we can. Sigh. Some days go better than others. We get to start our new 24 hours every time we remember. I’m also remembering the old wisdom story about the elder who tells a young girl that inside him, inside all humans, are two dogs, a good dog and an aggressive dog. They’re always at war. The girl asks him which dog usually wins. He thinks about it, and says, “The one I feed the most.” So I am going to feed my kinder side, forgive and trust Brian Williams, me, and, sight unseen, you. His story will to play out however it does, almost entirely based on NBC’s financial considerations. In the meantime, we can wish him and his family well.

 

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Show Me the Money

Sex get’s most of the hype as the big conversation topic prior to getting married. This is probably because, in general, sex is a lot more enjoyable to practice than any of the other issues a couple might face. With that said, the issue of money will usually be a more divisive topic than sex throughout a couples’ marriage.

Money will usually come up more than sex because we deal with it every day. The limitations placed on us in life are generally most evident when we look at our checking register.

So, what needs to be discussed about money prior to getting married? I’m glad you asked, because there’s plenty to cover. Before this conversation is had with your significant other, agree to be curious and graceful with one another. This is not a light-hearted topic. The below list is not an exhaustive list of questions and topics, but is meant to set the table for which to have an ongoing conversation about money.

Family history of money

What were the financial aspects of growing up? Everyone comes from someone, and everyone is shaped by the way that their family of origin handled their money. Some questions to consider here: What was important for your family? What or Where did they spend their money? What was their philosophy on saving, giving, and debt? Did you ever feel pressured to spend or not spend mom/dad’s money? Did money get talked about, and was this appropriate?

Purpose of money

Believe it or not, we all have very different ideas about what money is to be used for. Some view money as a security blanket, shielding them from the harsh realities of life. Some might view it as a fleeting object, to be spent when you have it. Can money buy happiness? What is the purpose and meaning of money?

Personal stories with money

What are the three to five most influential acts you’ve done that have had to do with money.? This could be a poor decision that resulted in a hardship (like the time I bought a pager when I was 16 so that my work, a shoe store, could get a hold of me — I spent hundreds of dollars on that pager and maybe received a total of 10 pages). On the other side, this could be a gift made to someone in need. Regardless, we all have stories about how and what we have done with money that reflect some of who we are.

Financial truths today

What are the financial details of your current situation? What is your salary, bonuses, commissions, etc? How much money do you have in savings, retirement, checking accounts, etc? What about debts, student loans, car notes, etc? What’s your credit story (if I pulled your credit report, what story would it tell)? Is there anything that you would change about the way you deal with money today?

Financial hopes tomorrow

One of the great aspects of getting married is that we get a chance to start fresh with some areas that we might not have handled well in the past. Money is one of those opportunities.

Do you anticipate both husband and wife working outside of the home indefinitely? How do the prospect of kids influence this decision? How do you want to handle saving, spending, retirement, college, etc?

If both husband and wife are working at the beginning of marriage, how do you want to harness the power of two incomes? A lot of times couples increase their standard of living once two incomes are put into the pot. I always suggest keeping the same standard of lifestyle for the first year, and then adjust as you see fit. Having more money in the bank will generally provide a safer place from which to have discussions about money together.

Beyond these topics that help you to address the past, present, and future, I suggest putting some boundaries in place that help couples succeed in their financial marriage. Firstly, once married do not have separate checking accounts. Open a joint account as soon as possible, and begin paying everything together from that account. Secondly, have bi-weekly and monthly budget meetings. Lastly, dream big. Talk about vacations, cars, trips, and home decor. Do some fun things together with money, and make your money work for you.

Money can be an incredible force in marriage. If you begin having these conversations today, you can set the table for your marriage to have healthy views and interactions about money. Be intentional with each other in talking about money, it will pay off.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Marriage & Separation

Oil and water, separate

It may be that the only way to truly identify and understand the depths to which one goes to get their way in marriage is to separate. Marriages are too codependent to allow for the truth of control and manipulation to be seen. Consistently doing life together and the closeness of this life doesn’t lend itself to self-correcting behaviors. It’s not that every marriage requires separation, but those that are separated have a unique ability to view and judge their own efforts in marriage apart from the obvious and usually clearer failures of their spouse.

Separation is the exercise of putting distance between two selfish people so that they can each address the log in their own eye without be able to see the speck in the others’ eye. In short, if allowed, separation is one giant mirror.

Unfortunately, most separations happen as a bridge, rather than a stop-gap, to divorce. Divorce is the easy, and by  no means is it easy, way to step outside of the inevitable and difficult pain that exists in marriage. The biggest issue  is divorce is an exit that rarely solves the problem. Sure, the pain will lessen and cease to be as it was, but it doesn’t circumvent selfishness or the reality that life doesn’t look like fantasy.

 So, if you’re separated or considering separation, get someone to walk through the process with you. Invite someone who will guide and help you to understand your own control issues, how your woundedness is influencing your relationship, or where you need help grieving the loss of your idea of marriage. Divorce may be inevitable, but don’t let it dictate personal growth.

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What to do with criticism

 

If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it. ~ Epictetus

No one likes criticism. But often times, criticism contains truth.

Could you get upset at the delivery of the critical comment? Sure. But you’d be missing the point. Unless you’re relating to someone incapable of relationships, which would need criticism in and of itself, then their offering of critical feedback presents a learning opportunity.

Will you judge the deliverer, or listen to the content? Don’t miss the opportunity for growth because something stings. Because usually if something stings, healing is needed.

 

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Making Black and White, Grey

 

Over the past few months, I’ve heard and read a lot about the bestselling book series “50 Shades of Grey.” This series is permeating so many different levels of cultural conversations: From sports talk radio, to morning talk shows, to social conversations, to “Shades of Grey” themed parties. One point is salient with all this: America are depressed. Due to our depression, we are not easily aroused from this numbed state of being. It’s taking more and more to wake us up, and 50 Shades of Grey is doing just that to a lot of people.

I have not read the book(s), but I get why they are popular. Twenty years ago, Fabio graced the covers of many romantic novels, which presented the fantasy of a man so tender, soft, and loving, yet beautiful, strong, and safe. He was the symbol of comfort, safety, and the lush fantasy of how to please a woman. Today, Fabio is dead and in his place is the hard, chiseled, and dominant fantasy of Christian Grey (the male character in the trilogy). In discussing this book with those that have read it, I get the sense that what’s so erotic about the series is the BDSM nature of the books sexual encounters (for those unfamiliar, BDSM stands for Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism).

Gone is the day that Fabio rules the bedroom with his long flowing hair, and emotionally charged conversations and walks with the maiden. The prevailing notion behind these books is that women ultimately want to be dominated and controlled. Taken into the bedroom, a world of overt sexual fantasies is constructed and exploited to the nth degree. The author has taken the nature and need of safety in relationships and turned it into sexual dominance.

The problem with this book (which represents an entire genre of literature) is that it’s mentally and emotionally pornographic. The main audience is women, which is normally the case for erotic/romantic based literature. And as is the case with so many other books/stories like this (The Twilight series being another example, though less erotically driven), the heroine is a shell of a person. She typically has little to no personality, an absence of curiosity or uniqueness, and is represented as the ‘flatlined’ character. All of these traits allow the reader to project themselves into the character as though they are the main character. This is not a new insight, or original thought, but the reader gets to feel what the character feels. The reader imprints their unique story into a story that’s written, and let the fantasy take them away.

It’s a brilliant way to write because it hooks the reader in so quickly, and immerses them so deeply into the story.Porn and fantasy are both hollow and shallow in nature and require more and more exposure to satisfy. One book isn’t enough, there must be three. After experiencing so many highs (emotionally and physically) in the reading of a book like this, the reader wants more. The next logical step is to take the fantasy into real life.

The main consumer of pornography is men, and the main consumer of emotionally driven romance novels (emotional porn) is women. The convergence of these two realities are happening in our neighborhoods, and are having a devastating effect on marriages and families. There is no risk, no fear, and no rejection in pornographic material.

My advice to anyone considering reading these novels: Don’t. It might provide a brief respite from the doldrums of life, but eventually the fantasy will wear off and will result in a deeper pain that will now include one’s sexuality. You can’t unlearn fantasy scenes. Research has shown that sexual experiences produce oxytocin, a naturally produced chemical in your body which works to emotionally bond two people together. When these experiences are had in the context of visual or emotional porn, your bonding chemicals get released to fictitious people and characters. It’s difficult to detach from those images and ideals when facing real-life issues.

If you’re feeling depressed about life, sexual issues, or your marriage or relationship, a fantasy novel won’t help.  Americans are quite adept at numbing our feelings through substances, entertainment, or relationships. These novels provide a secret way to escape the trappings of reality, but ultimately will end up leading the reader into a deeper and more desperate way of life.

 

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Kids, Language, and Wisdom

A few weeks ago I was cooking dinner and noticed that my oldest was reading the dictionary. Curious, I asked him what he was learning. He told me that he’d gotten the dictionary at school and he was just “looking around” and continued to flip pages. I noticed that he had stopped in the “S” section. I had a hunch what he was looking for.

“What words are you looking up,” I asked. “Oh nothing really,” he said with a sheepish and somewhat embarrassed look on his face.

We bantered back and forth a bit until he told me that one of the kids at school had spelled “shit” during lunch and everyone giggled. I asked him what that word meant, and he shrugged saying that’s the word he was looking up in the dictionary.

As we continued talking, it was clear to me that he and his friends were learning new words that had already, at age 8, been deemed “bad” words. Bad and Good aren’t very helpful categories in life, especially when dealing with the immaterial, and thus I wanted to help him understand that words are neither good or bad. I explained that words are like trees — they just are what they are. How we choose to use these words determines if it’s helpful or not. We can use trees to make houses, paper, furniture and a host of other things that can have helpful uses. In the same light, some people could use wood for harmful uses such as arrows, a battering ram, or as a bat/club to hurt someone.

As parents, its our responsibility to help our kids learn how to engage with the world that they live in: Not necessarily to protect them from it. It might have been a lot easier to take the dictionary away from my son, or to tell him not to look up those words for fear of how he might misuse them. But this reaction would only reinforce his curiosity about these words as taboo topics.

Parents need to help their kids deconstruct cultural meanings ascribed to certain words and help them fashion a wisdom-oriented approach to using language. Not everyone who knows the definition of “shit” can be wise enough to know when and how to use it. Sometimes, there are appropriate uses of words that have otherwise been labeled as “bad”, just as there are times where the use of that word can be damaging and harmful to others: It takes wisdom to know the difference.