June 19th, 2013
The 2010 Workplace Bullying Survey, courtesy Workplace Bullying Institute
“I think adults need to know they’re doing the same thing. It’s not just kids. There are adults that are out there bullying, and they need to be kind.” Ellen DeGeneres
As a supporter of school bullying prevention programs for almost 15 years, I am encouraged. More and more states have passed anti bullying laws, more school systems have begun implementing programs, the reception of the documentary “Bully” has been overwhelming, and we’ve finally collectively decided that the “kids will be kids” excuse isn’t working anymore. As thirty percent of students in the United States are involved in bullying on a regular basis either as a victim, bully or both and over 13 million kids are suffering from bullying, the movement needed to happen, and it needs to continue. Thankfully, as the “Bully” team went through the process of making the documentary, we found fierce advocates. They came from everywhere. Kids, parents, teachers, the media, celebrities, and Congress on both sides of the aisle stepped up and spoke out.
But, where are we when the mirror turns to us big kids? I’ve found less support there, and it doesn’t surprise me. It’s harder to turn the spotlight on ourselves. A Huffington Post piece I did in October, 2012, called “Who Did You Bully today?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cindy-waitt/who-did-you-bully-today_b_2006802.html, made the point that until we stopped bullying each other, we won’t see the results we want to see from our kids. I named multiple sectors of adults (including me) who bully, from the home (the first role models kids have, and the most important place to stem violence), to the workplace, to Congress, to cyberspace, and yes, the constant, mind numbing barrage of reality shows. A lot of these big boys and big girls in all of these places continue to not only not be kind, but to be brutal to each other on so many of our adult “playgrounds and school yards”. I’ve written about the link between violence in the home and violence in school, and the data backs it up. But, as the workplace, for us, is similar to our schoolyard, where we interact, socialize, work, play, learn, grow, and spend much of our waking hours, I decided to check into that again and see just how we are doing.
It’s not good. As you can see above, 35% report being bullied at some time in their work life, and another 15% witnessed it. Putting the numbers together, WBI says, with a well place exclamation point, “An astonishing 54 million Americans directly experience it!”. I get the exclamation. That’s abysmal news. The Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention actually co-sponsored the first national survey with WBI and Zogby in 2007, and those results were similar, and disheartening.
“Bully” explores the mental, physical, and emotional toll on the victims and their families. It’s hard to watch Alex being brutalized, and the despair of the Longs and the Smalleys, who suffered the cruelest loss-the suicide of their children. We don’t have a film like that to show damage from the workplace, but it’s there. The late Tim Field, an early advocate of workplace bullying prevention, said, “ Nothing can prepare you for living or working with a sociopathic serial bully. It is the most devastating, draining, misunderstood, and ultimately futile experience imaginable.”.
Here’s a slice of what it looks like, according to WBI. Is this happening to you, or someone in your workplace?
- Verbal abuse
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
- Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done
- Is driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual(s).
- Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods.
- Requires consequences for the targeted individual
- Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion.
- Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself.
- Is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll
- Constant criticism
- Mobbing or targeting by a group
It’s classic bullying, and looking at the list, eerily similar to what can happen to children. The outcome looks similar to what children experience as well. Here are the consequences to our bodies and our minds according to a WBI online survey in 2012. ”The top 15 health problems from bullying, ranked from most to least frequent, were:Anticipation of next negative event; Overwhelming anxiety; Sleep disruption (hard to begin/too little); Loss of concentration or memory; Uncontrollable mood swings; States of agitation or anger; Pervasive sadness; Heart palpitations; Insomnia; High blood pressure (hypertension); Obsession over personal circumstances; Intrusive thoughts (flashbacks, nightmares); Loss of affect (flat emotional responses); Depression (diagnosed); Migraine headaches”
It’s real, it’s pervasive, and all of it needs attention, just as we’ve started attending to our kids. I have hopes that the current school age generation may learn early what we adults haven’t. I also have hopes that because of the anti school bullying and violence prevention movement, we can give today’s children the social and emotional tools to recognize bullying in themselves and in others. But, if we continue to treat each other this way, wherever we interact as grown ups, can we continue then to expect more from our kids? Let’s learn to model respect, kindness, and decency. Kids watch us, they listen to us, and we can make a difference. But, let’s look in the mirror first, and go from there .
For more information, visit these sites….
June 16th, 2013
Alan and his daughter Rachael on her wedding day, June 2013
For Pat and for Alan
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” Marcus Aurelius
I was looking for a good Father’s Day story, a story about not only a good father, but a good man. He didn’t know it, but he sent me the story in pictures. His oldest daughter had just been married the week before and his message for the pictures was, “She captured my heart the day she was born”.
I met my friend and colleague Dr. Alan Heisterkamp almost 25 years ago. I was a social worker, he was a high school guidance counselor. We had mutual friends, all social workers or educators who played occasionally in a band. He had a quiet way about him that didn’t always advertise his brilliant mind. But if you got to know him well enough, that mind, his wit, and his humor came through loud and clear. He took his work seriously, but didn’t seem to take himself too seriously, and I liked that about him. He was and is both a gentleman, and a gentle man.
We reconnected in 2000. By then, I was at the Waitt Foundation and he was an assistant principal at West High School in Sioux City. My colleague and I asked him to do something quite experimental for that time. We asked if he would be interested in testing Jackson Katz’s violence prevention program, “Mentors in Violence Prevention”. There were only a few high schools in America who had done that. Violence and bullying prevention wasn’t the hot button issue it is today, and he could have told us no. He didn’t. He not only started the program, he spread it to all high schools here and kept it going over time, to bring the largest and most sustained concentration of MVP in the country. He also did the first preliminary research on Futures without Violence’s “Coaching Boys into Men”, guided Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen in the filming of the documentary “Bully”, and has trained hundreds, if not thousands, of kids and adults.
He also didn’t have to come with us at Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention when we asked, but he did, leaving a solid 20 year career in education. That was a risk for him, and for his family, but he did it. He was passionate about education and still is, but he’s passionate about making this a world free from violence as well.
Like Jackson Katz, Byron Hurt, Don McPherson, Jeff O’Brien and many other men I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years, he was a pioneer. “Engaging Men and Boys” was a quiet strategy then. Not many men were talking about violence against women, and the social norms that allow that violence. Alan threw himself into the work, finding kindred souls and fellow pioneers along the way. Alan could tie his work into his feelings for his mother, his sisters, his amazing wife Pat, and his three daughters, as well as his son. I used to tease him about how physically beautiful his family was, and is, and how smart they all are. I called the daughters “PhD supermodels”. Keeping the old joke in mind, he sent me pictures of his daughter Rachael’s wedding, saying, “Thought you’d want to see how the PhD supermodels are doing”. That’s when I found my story.
The story was in a series of pictures taken of Alan and his daughter before the wedding. They capture that moment when a father first realizes that his daughter is all grown up, and wonders where the last 26 years went, as he said in another message. Seeing the beauty and radiance of the bride for the first time, Alan was clearly welling up with tears and letting that feeling happen, and letting it happen for the camera. Like many things he does as a parent, educator, and advocate, it’s a teachable moment. It says to me, “It’s alright for men to feel, it’s okay to cry, you can be vulnerable, and it’s more than okay to be open about it.” He knows that teaching boys to be able to feel is part of a path to healthy manhood. It’s a simple lesson, but a powerful one.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Alan as a man, a father and husband, an activist, and a friend. He’s just one of the gentle men, who are also fierce in their passion to change things for the better. There are so many good men, who’ve joined with women to work to end violence, and I meet new ones who are joining all the time. But Alan holds a special place for me as a man who not only talks the talk, but lives it.
On this Father’s Day, as a colleague and friend, and on behalf of daughters everywhere, I thank you, Alan, and all the men like you, who have the courage, the heart, and the strength to be a gentle man. Happy Fathers Day.
June 12th, 2013
Eric and me...2011
In 2009, at 52, I found myself suddenly single. It felt right, and I was starting to get more used to being alone, and I’d done a lot of work on myself. And yet, I got to thinking that now that I’d grown up a bit, I wouldn’t mind having someone else to share the ride of life with me.
So, I did what some other intuitive people I’d heard about do, when they were ready, and the time was right. I made a list. The list of qualities you’d like in a partner looks different in your 50′s, and happily so. I’d had enough time to know what I DIDN’T want. That went on the list. And then I really thought about what I DID want. I thought I’d lost it, but I came across it recently. I’d typed it up on parchment paper, added a personal touch or two, and put it in my kitchen window. Then I waited on the universe to bring it. The universe did bring it, about two months later.
Notice the add- on at the end, which should have been a no brainer. And taller than me?, that's different, and it's not that I don't like kids, I just don't want to raise any more. And I don't really call them kiddie winkies, my friend does. She's English and they talk funny.
After playing Wendy to a whole crew of Peter Pans, complete with the Lost Boys, I wanted someone who had earned his big boy pants and felt comfortable wearing them. One of the first things I said to him early on in the courtship was “you’re a grown up”. And he replied, “That’s one of the nicest things anyone ever said to me.” I liked that, and I liked him. A lot.
Today is our 2nd wedding anniversary, and as much as I sometimes wish he’d shown up in our twenties, I don’t think he was supposed to. So, I went to my computer this morning and got this little document from him.
This paean goes out to the one who has made my life complete. Never before has a man felt as fortunate as I. You have made me a whole man because you are a whole woman. Your tenderness and understanding far exceeds my inherent worth, yet there you are with arms outstretched, always will to embrace me despite my faults and shortcomings. For me, I couldn’t have scripted a better way to complete my life than spending the rest of it with you.
Now, that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to ME. He IS a grown up, he’s the love of my life, and…see number 19, he can write too.
June 9th, 2013
Painting of my father by Mick McGinty
“Inside a barn is a whole universe, with its own time zone and climate and ecosystem, a shadowy world of swirling dust illuminated in tiger stripes by light shining through the cracks in the boards.” Carolyn Jourdan
My brothers’ company, “Gateway 2000″, later to become just “Gateway” didn’t start in a barn, as they loved to say in those days… a lot. It started in September of 1985 in a small farmhouse on the land where that barn stood. Regardless, those young men saw it every day. A early, famous ad “Computers from Iowa?” showed that barn and my brothers, and I’d guess that’s why the phone started ringing. It was real, it was unique in those days of the early Silicon Valley companies, and it was my father’s land, and my father’s barn. With that and the cattle that land once had, a brand was built. It was a big barn, and what it stood for became a big brand, at least for a time.
Ted and his talking cow
The barn meant a lot to my father who purchased the land in the 70′s, as did the land. My father’s relationship with the land was interesting, for a white man of his time. He told me that it wasn’t something he just owned, it was simply his job to take care of it while he was here. Strangely, my brother, Ted, said something like that just two weeks ago. It was Native American land once, taken from them by someone, as it sadly happened when the white men showed up here in this corner of Northwest Iowa. The land had had a few owners by the time my father had it, I don’t know all of the history and I don’t know what year the barn was built. But it was an impressive barn, big and dark red and always beautifully maintained by my father. It almost took your breath away when you went up over the hill and saw it for the first time.
My son Ben and niece Stephanie, early 90's.
My father’s family had a long history in the Loess Hills of Iowa. The first ancestors, William Palmer Holman and his wife Lois Grant Holman, father of Ella Waitt, arrived here in 1856. She died 3 months after they arrived. Her letter written home to family in Connecticut speaks of the beauty of the hills and the river, although it was a strange land for her, and she missed the comforts of the east. She was the first white woman buried in this county. http://cindywaitt.com/pilgrims-presidentsand-pioneers-looking-for-lois/ Four generations of Waitt brothers followed WP Holman in the cattle business, until my father realized that the business he once knew really didn’t exist in the same way anymore. He advised my brothers to do something else, and they did, but not without a nod to their roots. That nod to Iowa and all those barns and those cow spots as homage to those generations built a brand that one could see in many parts of the world in the 1990′s. I used to love seeing it in downtown New York and London. It said Iowa to me.
So, this past few weeks, as I’m re doing the front page of my website, I had to choose a picture, just one to keep it simple,that might speak for what I do, and what I am. I looked for something that told my story, about me, my family, my work, and how I see things. After looking at probably hundreds of pictures of my life, my work, and my family, here’s what I landed on, and that’s why I’m writing this piece.
The barn and land, over 20 years ago. The land's a golf course now, but the barn is still there.
It’s a bit blurry, as is my memory of it in those days. I’ve asked my friend Thomas, who does my changes, to make it that way. It seemed right. The barn does stand for what I’m about, I think. A peaceful setting, nature, family, and roots. Barns like that barn and the fertile land they stood on were and still are the lifeblood of Iowa, though it’s changing these days. That way of life fed a lot of families, including mine. The company that started right next to that barn made the money that we can all give back to others today. Both the land and the company are owned by others now. But the barn still stands, and to me the picture said, in 1,000 ways, this is home.
June 7th, 2013
Cindy, trying to escape from mom since 1957. I'm just kidding mom, really...
“I am he (she) as you are he (she) as you are me, and we are all together” Lyrics, “I am the Walrus” Lennon/McCartney tweaked by me
A couple of days ago, Facebook friend Abby Disney sent this one out. http://jezebel.com/oh-crap-we-start-turning-into-our-mothers-when-were-3-511426415. The headline on the piece was ‘OH, CRAP, WE START TURNING INTO OUR MOTHERS WHEN WE ARE 31.”
Enough said. If you’ve ever been accused of being like your mother (I have), or if you’ve ever heard yourself say things your mother said, (no one has not said things their mother said), or if you just suspect you’re becoming more like her, the news is in. YOU ARE. The Jezebel piece says that the firm who commissioned the poll, online gambling firm Dotty Bingo, polled 1,000 women, who essentially said, according to msn.com, “ women begin to act like their mothers following the birth of their first child, most commonly at the age of 31. The poll, which surveyed 1,000 women, used indicators such as enjoying the same TV shows (“Days of Our Lives”), taking up the same hobbies (wine), using the same sayings (“Oh, for the love of God”) and being attracted to the same type of men.”
What do you mean, I was 31 before I turned into her? Here's poodle skirt proof of the "mini me" in about 1960.
Oh, for the love of God, indeed. Just that sentence alone above woke me up. My mother and I actually both watched “Days of Our Lives”, (I stopped, she is still hooked), and I just looked at a picture of my husband who is looking suspiciously like my father. It’s happened and there’s no going back. But it didn’t just happen according to the dodgy sounding Dotty Bingo (what the hell is that, anyway?), it’s been going on now for 25 years.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother. She’s smart and pretty and organized and funny, but our relationship has sometimes looked like Shirley Maclaine’s Aurora and Debra Winger’s Emma in “Terms of Endearment”. If you don’t remember that movie because you’re too young to remember that movie, rent it and see if that mom/daughter thing strikes a chord or two. Their relationship is as loving as it’s completely dysfunctional and kind of crazy. Like a lot of moms and kids.
Oh shit, my mom and I look kind of like those two....
Mom can also have a mouth on her that rivals Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess, but without the cool accent. Here’s a top ten list of stuff she says and gets away with, http://cindywaitt.com/move-over-dowager-countess-we-have-big-joan/. Actually, before I read this new research I told her that I was becoming the Dowager in training, as when she’s gone, someone is going to have to keep this family in line.
Here’s more enlightening material on the dodgy Dotty study, “More than half of the 1,000 women surveyed by online gambling firm Dotty Bingo said they stopped rebelling against their mothers in their early 30s and started mimicking them instead. Only 5 per cent of women said they turned into their mothers in their 20s. By far the most popular age for the change was 31.” Here’s also even more enlightening data about the poll from the U.K.’s “Daily Mail”,
WHAT AGE DO WOMEN MORPH INTO THEIR MOTHERS?
30-35 – 52%
35-40 – 26%
40-50 – 10%
Over 50 – 7%
20-30 – 5%
So, if you are 40 or over, according to this, 83% of us most likely have turned into mom. But, why shouldn’t we? For all the moaning and groaning we do when we repeat a “mother’s bible” statement, the poll makes me feel better for a lot of women. MSN also says this, “Fifty-one percent of the women named their mom as the most inspirational woman in their lives. Meaning they’ve turned into their mothers already, because that’s exactly what their mothers would have wanted them to say.” I feel for the other 49% that didn’t want to, but this is essentially good news, for mothers and for daughters everywhere.
Actually, as the poll still seems questionable, I’ll challenge it. I can think of plenty of daughters who are nothing like their mothers, or very little like them. And some of us never had daughters, or any children. Would love to see the research on those people. I’m like my mother in about a hundred ways, and different in about a hundred other ways. That’s just me. But for those who are, let’s have a rousing and twisted around chorus of what’s been called the 1911 eternal ode to the Oedipus complex:
“I want (AM) a girl, just like the girl, that married dear old dad;
She was a pearl and the only girl that daddy ever had;
A sweet old-fashioned girl with eyes so blue;
One who loved nobody else but you;
I want (AM) a girl, just like the girl, that married dear old dad….”
Would love to hear your thoughts on all of this…leave me a comment.
June 6th, 2013
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel
I met domestic violence advocate, speaker, trainer, and survivor Kit Gruelle in 2005 in Del Mar, California. The meeting was almost random, and might not have happened if I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. But I was, and I’m glad I was, because I had the great fortune of meeting the woman above.
Kit had a dream. She wanted to gather footage of the leaders of the anti battering movement in America, and tell their story, along with the stories of victims and survivors of domestic violence. She called the project “Private Violence”. http://www.privateviolence.com/. No one had done it quite like that before, and as I like to be first to jump in when I feel it’s right, I jumped in. I knew this one wasn’t going to be easy. Documentaries are a beast to fund, even with the best teams. Domestic violence, while one of the most damaging forms of violence in our country, and our world, isn’t at the moment a “hot button” issue. It should be.
We both knew it would take a long time. We didn’t know how long. Just putting the pieces together, finding the funding, landing on the best team to film and craft it, and gathering champions has been an eight year process for me, longer for her, but she’s never given up. It’s nearing the finish line as I write this. We’ve both agreed that, as the mothers of four children between us, it’s the longest pregnancy either one of us has ever had. The second documentary supported by Waitt Institute, “Bully” on the other hand, was funded, filmed, signed, sealed, and delivered within three years. Kit’s been at this one for over 10 years. It takes a special kind of soul to wait that long and work so hard, with sometimes no end in sight. Kit’s that kind of special soul. Alfred Hitchcock once said, ”In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.” If God is directing this one, He or She might be sending angels to stand at Kit’s side, but those angels are taking their own sweet time.
Like some other earth angels I know who devote every day to fighting violence, Kit has a pretty simple stated goal. ”I want to end domestic violence in America”. She hopes this film will help move some needles towards that. I think it will. I’ve seen it happen. When I spoke with “Bully” director Lee Hirsch today, I told him that one of the many reasons “Bully” succeeded, or so I thought, was his absolute pure passion for the issue. Lee had been where some of his characters were. Kit has too. I’d never heard her complete story of surviving an abusive marriage until a couple of years ago. She doesn’t talk about it a lot. It was horrific. We don’t call her a victim, she’s a survivor and she wears a lot of purple, in homage, to survivors like her, and the tens of thousands (just in the last decade), who didn’t survive.
Her advocacy for victims and for survivors began over 25 years ago, when she found the work she loved and the women who needed her unflinching support. She overdoes a lot, lending her heart, her ear, her voice and her hands to countless women. While she’s doing that, she finds the time to be a mother of three grown children, a grandmother, a speaker, a fund raiser, and, with our smart, serious, and savvy director Cynthia Hill, a co- producer of the film.
Cynthia Hill, left, Gloria, and Kit filming "Private Violence" this year in New York. I never support a film without a Cynthia.
Kit’s back story is as varied as the jobs she does. She’s lived elsewhere, a lot of elsewheres, but her heart is in the mountains of North Carolina. She went back to school and graduated from Appalachian State last year, in her late 50′s. Her grandfather, Johnny Gruelle, was the creator of the Raggedy Andy and Anne dolls. Her great grandfather, the Reverend Robert James Bateman, went down 100 years ago on the Titanic at 51, reportedly after holding a worship service on deck, asking the band to play “Nearer thy God to Thee”, and giving up his seat in the lifeboat to his sister in law. That sounds like someone Kit would be related to.
Kit and author and activist Gloria Steinem this year.
Along with our co-executive producer Gloria Steinem, Kit is one of those women who just drops bombshell statements I can’t believe I’m hearing without even knowing it. I could sit in a room with the two of them for hours just to listen to what comes out of their mouths. We were talking about about emotional abuse several months ago, and a woman who’d “only been hit once”. Kit knew that that was all it took to establish power and control, and sometimes it didn’t take that. ”Cindy, violence is just a punctuation mark”, she said. She thinks the system should be turned on its ear, with offenders leaving the home, not victims, calling shelters “refugee camps”. That one came from her colleague, advocate, speaker, and former law enforcement officer Mark Wynn, who agrees with her and coined that phrase. Listening to a radio show last month, Kit explained to the host that the pile of pink files she carries around with her are all restraining orders taken out by women who were, in spite of leaving, killed by their former partner. Pointing to the stack of over 30 files, she said, “I sometimes call these last wills and testaments”.
The film has morphed into something a bit different, as documentaries can do. It now tells the stories of several women, who had left an abusive relationship, some with tragic consequences. But, she does have the footage of movement leaders and enough of it to train multiple sectors. It also, and importantly, answers the age old question, “why doesn’t she just leave?”. And, yet another thing that’s changed about the film is that during the filming, Cynthia discovered that one of the most fascinating characters was Kit herself. She was reluctant, but she’s in there now, speaking for victims, survivors, and advocates like her.
If I were navigating the terrifying waters of leaving an abusive situation, fearing for my life and my children’s lives, and facing an often hard to manage judicial system, I would want Kit at my side. When the film we’ve worked on does come out, she will be at my side, and I’ll be at hers. Kit, for all you’ve done, all you do, and all you will do, thank you.
June 3rd, 2013
Sunset, my back yard, May 31, 2013.
Whenever someone talks about the afterlife, I tend to look up. I always have. Perhaps that’s from my early training in Christian lore and the thought many of us have that “heaven” is UP. I don’t mind that. When I walk at night and look up, I see some extraordinary things of strangeness and beauty in the sky. Like our experiences here on planet Earth, it can be a mixed bag of dark and light, at times with colors you can’t possibly paint, like the sunset I saw the other night.
Our ideas as humans about what happens after we die are as varied as the colors the night sky can bring. Most religions have a form of afterlife and the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life research tells us that ”most Americans (74%) believe in life after death, with an equal number saying they believe in the existence of heaven.” Others think that this is most likely it, and nothing follows. Some religions think we may come back again. Shakespeare just called the “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns”. For me, and just for me, I hope that there is something after, and we live on in some way. Perhaps that hope is strongest when we think of those we love, who have traveled before us to that undiscovered place.
When someone I know and love passes, I always look for signs. Perhaps that’s just my way of comforting myself, but I’m not completely alone in thinking those signs might be something real. CBS 2009 poll said that nearly half of Americans say they believe in ghosts, or that the dead can return in certain places and situations.
The year my father died, as my father and I had seen an enormous double rainbow together shortly before he died, the sign became rainbows. A couple of weeks before he passed suddenly, he told me of a dream he’d had. He’d been on a train to the east coast, and when he reached the Atlantic coast, he got on a boat. The train and the boat in his dream were filled with people and although he said, “I didn’t know a soul”, he told me he felt perfectly happy and comfortable on that trip. So I took that trip in his car in homage to him a month after he died. Along the way, I saw a rainbow every day, and when I reached the coast at Newport, Rhode Island, there was a stunning double rainbow. I wrote about that, but there was another story after he died, from my brother Norm, that was even more compelling.
It was 10 years ago, the hot August night of the 25th, 2003 that my father had a stroke. He passed in the early morning hours of the 27th. My mother, sister, and I were all here in our hometown, as was my father, but my brothers were elsewhere. Norm was at a concert in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The band was Ringo and the All Starrs. He told me that Paul Carrack sang ”The Living Years”, the Mike Rutherford song that was a huge hit in the late eighties originally recorded by Rutherford’s Mike and the Mechanics. It was about a father and son relationship, and Norm remembers not only being very moved by the song, but thought to himself that he needed to call our father. About that time the song played, my father was in his final evening, though we had no way of knowing that then. After the concert, sometime in the middle of the night, Norm received the call, as we all did.
Here are the lyrics, but that isn’t the end of the story:
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door
I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got
You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defense
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye
So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts
So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be O.K.
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye
I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye
Some time after dad died, Norm was traveling when the song came on his car radio. After it started, the sound went blank, except for a white noise. There was nothing but that white noise for several minutes. Then the sound resumed after the song had been played.
Perhaps my father was speaking to him in whatever way, to comfort him or tell him something. Perhaps he was just saying, “I’m still with you”. I’ll never know, but sometimes, when I’m missing my father, as I am today, I like to think so.
May 30th, 2013
July 2, 2011,one gloriously happy day among many
My husband came out before I did, and he did it publicly. It was 2005. He was living in Austin, Texas then and was approached by the Austin American Statesman to be a part of stories of Austin celebrities who’d struggled with mental illness. He was by joined singer Shawn Colvin, former NFL player Hollywood Henderson, and a former Lieutenant Governor. Eric was well known at that time for his years as an award winning radio talk show host there, and he was used to speaking his mind. He’d never spoken about it on the radio. He’d left the business and was working in the mental health field himself by then. In the story, he spoke about being diagnosed with depression in his early 20′s and then bipolar disorder in his early 30′s, and he was glad he did. He’d been well for many years. He’s well now.
Eric tends to be gutsier about things like that. I worry too much about what everyone might think. I always have. It took me years to discuss my early bout with post partum depression and my later battle with a perfect anxiety storm several years ago. My rounds with illness are few and far between, but when they come, they’re pretty harsh. http://cindywaitt.com/the-mean-reds/ . Happily, I’m well now too.
I call it “coming out” because it is. There’s a great big mental health closet in this country, and it’s bursting at the seams. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That’s over 50 million of us. We either need a bigger closet or more people to step out of it. I get why they don’t. It’s not because they aren’t brave. They are. It takes guts to live with mental health issues. They don’t because it’s rare to find someone who gets what they have.
When I heard about the plot of the much lauded Silver Linings Playbook , based on the novel by Matthew Quick, that looks at the relationship of a young man struggling with bipolar disorder and a young woman who is recovering from tragedy, struggles with relationships, and has a big dose of anxiety on top of it, I had to see it. It was, in a strange way, our story. And, as good issue films can often do, it started a conversation.
One friend told me it hit too close to home. Another friend stated pretty clearly that although the film had a happy ending, she was frankly worried about the young couple dealing with not only one mental illness, but two. She had a point. Relationships are hard and relationships where one partner struggles with mental illness are most likely harder. But what if they both have one, like the characters played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence do, and like my husband and I do? I wasn’t as worried for them. When I see happy Hollywood endings, I know there’s more to come, (someone once said that the next scene after the credits roll is usually about the fight over who’s taking out the garbage…) but I felt that this couple would make it, maybe because… we did.
I’ve known my husband for 12 years, and have been with him for four years. We reconnected when I was fairly newly home from treatment for anxiety in 2009. Our first conversation was about that, and that’s when he told me about his own battles with what Winston Churchill called “The Black Dog”. I knew vaguely that he’d had depression, but I didn’t know the extent of what he’d gone through. I heard the whole frightening story in that first conversation. Here’s what he’s said about it, not only to me, but publicly. He first became ill in the early college years at Beloit. Then it hit. After a horrifying stay in the hospital, and multiple types of treatments, he says, “I was then able to recoup my sanity, work six years in a neighborhood butcher shop in Manhattan and resume my college career, which included graduating Summa Cum Laude at Hunter College and acceptance into the graduate school of journalism at the University of Texas.” A home run there, I’d say.
He goes on to talk about when it came back in his early thirties. “It was during those years in Austin that my true diagnosis became apparent when I was stricken with a ferocious onset of mania after which I was hospitalized and given my true cross to bear, bipolar disorder. It was a cross I did indeed bear well as I was able to become a successful journalist, radio talk show host and ultimately a certified peer specialist whose charge it was to assist others living with a mental illness in coming to grips with their own so-called demons.“ Knocked it out of the park again.
For a guy with that harsh an illness, he’d hit a whole bunch of home runs and it seemed he was most likely home free. But still, it gave me pause. The Eric I knew was a calm and centered guy, seemingly a perfect foil for my buzzy anxiety driven moods. And he was. But what if HE got sick again’? It hadn’t happened for close to 30 years so there was no indication that it would, but still, I worried. Not excessively as people with anxiety disorders like me do, if they’re not managing it right, but I did worry sometimes. I’d gotten so much stronger, and I was proud of my recovery, and I knew I couldn’t let anything put that or me at risk.
We moved on to courtship and romance, and all that fun stuff. We were married in 2011. I was in the best, healthiest, and most important, the happiest relationship of my life. We could play like kids, but we were both grown ups. Then he got sick.
It was Valentine’s Day 2012. We were still newlyweds. I knew he’d been feeling off, and had had a slight medication change, but he just hadn’t been 100% Eric. But… he was functional. I was looking forward to a planned night out to dinner and his usual roses and card and all the little wonders he’d do on special occasions. What I got was a call from his department head at the community college where he taught. She wanted to know if he’d gotten home all right, as she thought he might be having symptoms of a heart attack. It wasn’t his heart, we made sure of that. It was his brain. It had stopped functioning the way you need to function when you want to go through life and go through it well. If you’ve ever seen someone you love like that, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s quite simply…terrifying. A ”brain illness” (that’s what we call it) is particularly excruciating, not only for the person suffering through it, but for those who love them. You don’t know when it will end, and as psychiatry is still somewhat “trial and error”, you don’t really know IF it will end.
It ended and it ended well. We got through it. Strangely, as Eric got worse, though, I got stronger. Someone had to be. He’d done it for me as I was recovering and had been there, as my family had. My turn, then. Gradually, after a few one step forward, two steps back dance, he pulled out of it. The meds that had stopped working for him were changed and they landed on the right “cocktail”. He went back to therapy. And one spring day, he was almost suddenly after several months, my Eric again.
I’m not sure if we have an actual “playbook” to manage what we manage. ”My Eric” is now the calm, centered, funny, thoughtful, and brilliant man I fell in love with. But the struggling Eric was “My Eric” too. The ”In sickness and in health” clause we’d agreed to in June of 2011 was tested earlier than I’d thought it would be. But we got through it. We are actually better than ever right now. We were tested. We passed. And, if it comes back again, to either of us, we’ll pass that time too.
I’ve heard this line before. I don’t know when, but I always liked it. ”The world breaks everyone, and some are strong in the broken places”. We didn’t break and I hope this story, as hard as it was for me to tell, can help just one of the millions who has or has ever had a dark time, or loves someone who has a dark time. It IS dark, it is scary, and it is cloudy, but sometimes, at the end of that, there is a silver lining.
May 27th, 2013
My brothers, 2004, London
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. ” F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Rich Boy”, 1926
Spending most of an afternoon one day this week with the much debated and newest version of “The Great Gatsby”, and feeling very sad for the ridiculously well heeled, self made, and horribly lonely Jay Gatsby, I started thinking about money and its relation to happiness, and just… rich people in general. Are they different than you and me?
There are a ton of moving parts to consider when we think about money-how to get it, how to save it, how to keep it, how to spend it. We follow it, we worry about it, and we protest against it. It’s a tool for good, it’s a device used badly, it can connect us and can divide us. It saves lives, it breaks hearts, it can start wars, and it can create beauty. It’s mind boggling. I couldn’t begin to take it all on in one piece or twenty, but I had to at least attempt to figure out how money changes things, or doesn’t, and what people who have it say about how it fits with happiness in their lives.
I started with the studies and the commentary. The studies….most of them I found disagree, particularly two that I landed on. Economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers seem to have concluded that richer families tend to be happier. http://www.brookings.edu/research/interactives/2013/income-well-being. But, the 75 year Harvard Study that’s being freshly discussed says not so much. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/thanks-mom/309287/. Those are just two, and I got kind of exhausted after that. Next..
The comments. From Woody Allen to Dorothy Parker to Douglas Adams, there are some real keepers, particularly if you dig into Fitzgerald. If you want a quote on rich people, he might be your man, but he’s conflicted too. He seems both fascinated and repelled by it all, as I suppose many of us are. Fitzgerald, though separates inherited wealth and self made money, and recognized that they can be two different beasts.
My two brothers’ money was self made, starting almost 30 years ago with a computer company called Gateway. So, I decided to make this piece more personal, as I generally do, and just ask them how they feel about life, wealth, and happiness. I know a bit about how money has changed their lives, for good, and yes, for not so good. But I wanted their words. I asked. They answered. Here’s some of what they said…
I’m going to start with my older brother, Norm, who had a holistic view on much of it. The Harvard study, interestingly, validated his mind/body/spirit piece of what he’s saying here first.
Norm and friends in the music business, December 2012
One needs to be healthy in mind and body to begin with, or all the money in the world won’t matter or bring happiness….. and perhaps the opposite. If some wealthy person is not healthy such as a drug addict, practicing alcoholic or has other destructive behaviors, then money will allow them to either destroy themselves (and people around them too perhaps) sooner, or stay unhealthy much longer if not forever. So for them, having money I think is likely a real problem and even a curse.
Money is only a tool and never buys happiness by itself …and people can be happy on not much as well as it happens all the time. ..Having nice places to live and having a plane to fly around in to nice places etc is a good thing. In balance, I’d rather have enough money than be short of it.
To me, the only significant down side for a wealthy and healthy person (living in a place where wealth is not a foreign thing as then this problem is greatly amplified) is they have to beware of becoming a target for people with dishonest and or self serving intentions and agendas. I believe a wealthy person must use more and perhaps much more caution than the average person as to who can come into their lives or who is or will be trusted.
Often people get so caught up in making money that they forget what is important and how to do anything else (and often they don’t know how to really enjoy their money either) which is sad.
If someone has too much money, it can always be given away to great charitable causes. I know both Ted and I have enjoyed giving money to worthy causes as it’s very satisfying
Like Ted pointed out, happiness is ultimately an inside job……AMEN! Norm, that’s a book title, can I use that?
“I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-haul trailer”
As to what brother Ted pointed out, it’s kind of a Zen list of one liners. That’s how Ted thinks and that’s how he speaks.
Ted and flying friend
Having plenty of money is one less thing to worry about, and a million more.
I know a lot of miserable rich people and a lot of happy poor people.
Money can buy you flexibility and freedom, but having too many options is highly overrated.
Having too much money puts as much, if not more, strain on your relationships than not having enough money. Not having enough can bring people together to strive, having too much can be divisive.
Happiness comes from the inside, not the outside.
I’ve been broke many times, but I’ve never been. poor. Being broke is a temporary financial condition. Being poor is a social and psychological condition.
Being rich can be a lot of work. Wealth creates issues with all your relationships, and complicates things significantly. But as Arthur said, it doesn’t suck.
People who don’t have a lot strive for more stuff that will make their life more complicated, rich people crave simplicity but rarely find it.
Money and taste are usually inversely correlated.
ADD and too much money is a bad combination.
The most expensive is never the best.
Fear of boredom causes most rich people to keep working long after they need to. They just don’t know what else to do.
Building a fortune and building a life are two totally different things. Some people are good at one, very few people are good at both.
If they say standing on top of a tall building looking down creates fear, and looking up at a building and thinking of falling off creates anxiety. Then rich people have anxiety, and poor people have fear.
“It really isn’t your money, you’re just the temporary custodian of it. ” Read that one again. I’m still thinking about it.
Are they different from you and me? I can only answer that for me. They are very different from each other in persona, I’ll definitely say that. Lumping ‘the rich” together in one fell swoop doesn’t work for me. They have different passions, opinions, skills, different goals, and sometimes different outlooks, and yet, the two of them have something that most of the world doesn’t have and won’t ever have. That may set them apart, even from me, who knew and loved them when and know and love them now. I only really live in their world now and then, and even then, it’s still their world, in all its beauty, it’s strangeness, and it’s complexity, not mine.
Their lists were so varied, so conflicting, and yet full of little gems that I keep going back to them. Some are clear, some are puzzling, some demand a second reading. I guess I would say that their conclusions are both complicated and compelling, not always easily figured out. Like them, like happiness, and like life.
May 20th, 2013
From Leslie Morgan Steiner's book"Crazy Love"
“Kit, it might be good if you’d provide a statistic. I’m no expert, but it’s my understanding that domestic violence only affects poor, uneducated people. Lawyers, doctors, and professors do not beat their wives and children.” From a sociology professor to Kit Gruelle, in a note commenting on her paper on domestic violence and her assertion that it affects those of all socioeconomic status.
I grew up in a family of privilege in the 1950′s, 60′s, and early 70′s in a small city in Iowa. We had a lovely home with a swimming pool, in a pretty neighborhood. My father owned his family cattle business, my mother was a community volunteer and a member of the Junior League. My parents’ friends were CEO’s, doctors, lawyers, and “pillars of the community”. We had great vacations, summer camp, and college educations provided. We spent much of our time at the Country Club, playing with the children of those pillars of the community.
I don’t think I’d ever heard much about family violence. I’d never seen it in my home, because there wasn’t any. I don’t remember any friends who ever spoke of it. It just wasn’t discussed. As Gloria Steinem says frequently, “there was no word for domestic violence, it was just called “life”. It wasn’t a life I knew.
The first time I heard from a victim of this secret subject was when I was in my first year of college. The story was from an older woman, I’ll just call her “Emma” here. It was HER story. She was a woman of wealth and position, a college graduate with a lovely home, a grand mother. She was knocked down by her husband in the hallway in that lovely home in the 60′s, and hospitalized with a broken back. The man wasn’t her first husband, they had no children together, and she was fortunate as she had means, owned the home, and was able to get him out of the home with the help of family. So many women aren’t that fortunate. He was never charged with anything. Few men like him were in those days.
I was stunned by her story, and was certain that this was a rare case, particularly among people like that… like us. My social work education and career opened my eyes to the scourge of family violence, the victims, the perpetrators and the kids permanently scarred who witnessed it. Perhaps this fueled my later support of violence prevention. Or perhaps it was for Emma, who had her back broken.
One of the myths of domestic violence is that there is what my friend, colleague, and long time domestic violence victim’s advocate Kit Gruelle , receiver of the rather stunning note above, calls “the typical victim”. She scoffs at that phrase. To her the “typical victim” isn’t typical, and whatever the unenlightened think it is, as she says musically, “it ain’t that”. And, it isn’t.
We still too often see “that” victim as poor, struggling, and uneducated, as did her professor, when she was completing a degree in social work. The note wasn’t written in the 1960′s. It was a couple of years ago. And though Kit says today that many of her teachers were absolutely amazing and well versed in domestic violence, this one, a PhD in Sociology, wasn’t. When we began collaborating on the upcoming documentary “Private Violence”, and gathering stories of just a few of the millions of victims of domestic abuse, Kit wanted to make sure we had footage of women who’ve experienced abuse who didn’t fit “the profile”. She knew of many. She can leave the names off and tell you their stories. She found one during the filming, who not only told us her story, but told readers of story in her book “Crazy Love”, told countless interviewers, and recently told close to a million people via a TED talk. Her name is Leslie Morgan Steiner and her talk, viewed over 800,000 times is here. http://www.ted.com/talks/leslie_morgan_steiner_why_domestic_violence_victims_don_t_leave.html. It’s powerful, it’s honest, and it’s worth watching.
Leslie, in 2009 to CNN, summarized the attitudes some of us still have of families with power, stature, wealth, or celebrity. It was shortly after after the highly publicized story of the assault of Rihanna by Chris Brown, “ Like Rihanna, I had a bright future in my early 20s. I met my abusive lover at 22. I’d just graduated from Harvard and had a job at Seventeen Magazine in New York. My husband worked on Wall Street and was an Ivy League graduate as well. In our world, we were the last couple you’d imagine enmeshed in domestic violence.”
She’s right. We wrap a bubble around those of status, fortune, fame and privilege. We have footage from years ago of Senator Patrick Leahy, a longtime sponsor and supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, talking about that bubble. He speaks of people who don’t want to think it happens in the house next door and says, “It DOES happen in your town, it DOES happen in your neighborhood..” And it does.
Dr. Susan Weitzman, who spent years researching what she calls “upscale violence”, and authored the 2000 book ”Not to People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages” http://drsusanweitzman.com/ has profiles of both victim and perpetrator on her site. She echoes much of what Kit Gruelle has to say about what Dr. Jeanne King calls “Domestic Violence, Tiffany’s Style”. There are specific challenges to this type of case, including societal disbelief, peer pressure to remain silent, and the difficulty of taking on someone with wealth, position, and power. Gruelle says, “Because their husbands are men of position and this guy has a very public persona, it adds another complex layer for the victims. Everyone in the community has their mind made up about this guy.”
As the lid is finally coming off the open secret of sexual assault in the military, and more high profile cases of abuse “Tiffanys style” keep coming to light, it’s worth remembering that the “typical victim” isn’t so typical any more and perhaps never was. I still go to the Country Club with my mother, and I sometimes look around the jovial and gentile crowd and think about the stories that might always be hidden, that may never be talked about, but stories and experiences surely, for the victims and the families, that won’t be forgotten.
May 15th, 2013
To dearest Norm, with love.
Norm all dressed up for something…
“One man practicing kindness in the wilderness is worth all the temples this world pulls.”
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
“Every family needs a Norm” Eric Blumberg
Norm is my older brother, but I’m fiercely protective of him. That’s just the way it is. As very small children, he was, according to my mother, very protective of me, so perhaps I’m just paying it back. So, there you have it. If you mess with Norm, you’ll answer to me.
1956. Norm is guarding me here, I would guess
His kindness is almost pristine. His humor is legendary. His generosity is enormous, and much of the time, it’s quiet. His humble ways sometimes fool people, but underestimate him at your own peril, because his mind and his memory are razor sharp. He can be trusting, sometimes to a fault, like I am. He loves music, he loves art, he loves to fly from place to place, (unlike me), he’s way more physically fit than most people, he gathers beautiful things, and he gives beautiful things back. He’s a stellar friend, a great dad, a loving brother, and an irreplaceable human being.
My husband Eric, who as a former journalist, is a pretty decent judge of character, said an interesting thing to me one night after I’d hung up from a conversation with Norm and said something like “Oh, Norm…he’s just so sweet”. He said, “Every family needs a Norm”. They do, and every world needs a Norm too. We’re glad he’s here.
For his birthday, I’m gathering good thoughts from friends, acquaintances, and colleagues to give to him at his birthday dinner this week. Please leave a wish for Norm in the comments and tell him that you’re glad he’s here too. :)
May 13th, 2013
Me with my "only child", Ben.
“When they’re little they sit on your lap; when they’re big they sit on your heart.” Cora Stephens
”Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.” Oprah Winfrey
I was 24 when I found out I was expecting what turned out to be my “only child”. He was born in 1981, a beautiful, healthy, blond baby boy…all nine pounds of him. He had a sweet nature, he was always able to amuse himself, he was smart, he was creative, and he was an old soul. He was also the answer to every mother’s prayer- a good sleeper. He still is. He also wasn’t trouble free. None of them are. Mothering doesn’t end when they graduate from high school, when they get married, or when they move far away. It never ends at all. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. Ask any mother, and they’ll agree.
I sometimes get asked that strange question, “Why did you only have one child?” I always used to tell them that it was because he was perfect and I was afraid the next one would be a nightmare. Women do get asked strange questions about motherhood. ”Why didn’t you ever have any?….why did you adopt?….why did you have so many?…”. There are a lot of expectations about being a “mother” still even in this enlightened day, even when nearly one in five women are choosing not to be biological mothers. But…being what they now call “child free” that doesn’t mean they won’t “mother”. They will. Being women, most of us do “mother”. Some of us are stepmothers, adoptive mothers, or foster mothers. We mother each other, our sisters and brothers, our friends, and our own parents as they age. Many of us work directly with children and some of us work on causes that help children. If mothering is about nurturing, about care taking, and most importantly, about loving, we’ve all been mothers at some point, haven’t we?
I think expanding the conversation about what makes one a mother is important, especially on a day like today. Shouldn’t we pause and honor not only our own mothers, but women who were there for us when we needed them, women who’d take a bullet for us, and women who’ve wrapped us in their arms and hearts in those times we’ve needed them the most?
I think of some of my closest friends. Some have never been biological mothers, but they are among the most caring and nurturing of women. One is a nurse, who has mothered countless patients in her 30 years. The other teaches older adults, and plays den mother to 1,500 students. Another is simply a kind and thoughtful woman, who always has a positive word, and has devoted her life to creating beauty, which she does brilliantly.
I think of my colleagues. These are women who have devoted their lives to advocacy for women and for children. There are men now too, who like the women before them, devote themselves to creating a less violence world. They are “mothering” too. I know a woman they call “the mother of the modern women’s movement”, who has never had a biological child, but mentors and teaches thousands of young girls. I know a domestic violence advocate who as a survivor nurtures women during the hardest hours, days, months and year of their lives. I know another woman who is also called “the mother of the violence against women act”. She’ll tell you she was just one of the parents of that act, but I know her and I know how hard she worked to help create that landmark legislation that has saved and continues to save lives every day in this country.
I think of my sister, who has two children, two stepchildren, and grand children. She’s a teacher who has “mothered” thousands of kids. My own mother, who is a mother, grandmother, and now great grandmother, always enlarged the definition of motherhood when she supported so many causes that help kids over the past 60 years of her work in volunteering and in philanthropy.
Like these women, I’ve always felt I had many children. I was born under the sign of Cancer, and they say we Cancerian girls just can’t help the “mothering”. I wasn’t a typical soccer mom, I was a flawed parent, I was too permissive, and I didn’t always make the right decisions. I was an imperfect mother (just ask him), but I hope, in spite of that, a good one overall, or as good as I could be. But like many women, I found myself expanding my brood beyond the one I’d given birth to. I was a social worker, and my first jobs were always with teenagers. I still remember most of those kids, and occasionally I’ll hear from the grown up version of one or two of them. I have a beautiful step daughter, nieces and nephews, and the tendency to occasionally “adopt” certain young women and young men. I think of a few of my son’s friends, who I’ve watched grow up, as kind of..my own kids.
So, I’ve changed my answer about “just having one child”. Like so many other women I know, and women I love, I’ve had many “children” at different times in my life. I hope I never stop mothering.
So, for all of you who have had one child or many “children”, my wish for you is a day of peace, of harmony, and most of all, a day filled with the joy and love you’ve given others. Happy Mother’s Day.
May 10th, 2013
April 2012, San Francisco...I look kind of frazzled here and this is one of the better pictures from that day, trust me.....
“Ever notice that even the busiest people are never too busy to tell you just how busy they are?”
I’ve been noticing a really annoying word that keeps coming up in daily conversations. I say it a lot. Other people say it a lot. Not only do people, including me, say it a lot, they wear it like a badge of honor. They brag about it, they whine about it a lot, as do I, but I’m not sure how many of us are doing much about that annoying word. It’s “busy”. Are you as sick of hearing that word as I am? And are you sick of being “too busy’? Or are you sick of just saying that you’re “too busy?”.
I’ve decided that between busy, crazy busy, and just crazy, sometimes I’ve been all of them. But, I’m working on it. Kind of. It’s hard, though, when we are admired, rewarded, and yes, even revered for our chronic “busyness”. Is that a word? I think “Crazy Busy” is not only the norm, but for many of us here in the U.S. of A., it’s a status symbol.
Take my family of origin. (please, somebody take them:)) These people give new meaning to the word “Puritan Work Ethic”. It’s not our fault, it’s in our DNA. Our ancestors were Puritans. After that, they were pioneers and always hopping onto some kind of covered wagon or something. Now they hop onto their jets, but still… We grew up with “don’t just stand there, do something”. So, we did. Many of us are perfectionists, we’re always planning something, working on something new, scheming something new, or going somewhere else. But I don’t think we’re that different from all those millions. Hard work IS a virtue isn’t it? But, where’s the line, where does it start messing with us and our lives, our health, and even our sanity?
I looked up something like “Americans are too busy” and I ran across this guy (Dr. Edward Hallowell) who wrote this book called “Crazy Busy:Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast Paced Life.”. Just the title of that wore me out. I may check that one out. In the meantime, though, because I’ve had issues with this in the past (and sometimes now), I looked up “workaholic”. Here’s a test from a website called Elements Behavior Health: It’s one of those “if you answered yes to 3 or more…”
• Work is exciting – Do you find that work gets you more excited than family, friends, hobbies, entertainment, sports or anything else?
• Pace may overwhelm you – Have you found that there are times when you can easily breeze through your workload and other times when you just can’t seem to make it through?
• Taking work home – Do you often take your work home with you, or to bed, work on weekends or on vacation?
• Like work best – Do you like to talk about work the best and enjoy work more than any other activity?
• Hours per week – Do you work more than 40 hours per week?
• Work and hobbies – Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures?
• Responsibility – Do you take complete responsibility for all of your work output?
• Never home on time – Are you often late coming home due to your workload? Has your family given up on expecting you home on time because of it?
• Take on extra work – Do you take on extra assignments or projects because you’re afraid they won’t get done – or won’t get done the right way?
• Underestimate timing – Do you underestimate the total amount of time your work projects or assignments – and then rush to complete it under deadline?
• Justify long hours – Do you believe it is okay to work as long as you do because you love your work?
• Impatience with others – Do you find yourself impatient with others who have other priorities beside work?
• Fear of losing job – Do you fear that you will lose your job or be considered a failure if you don’t work at your current hard pace?
• Worry about the future – Even though things may be going well for you right now, are you constantly worried about the future?
• Competitiveness – Do you do everything with the same energy, intensity and competitiveness – including play?
• Irritation – Do you become irritated when others – like the family, friends or others – ask you to stop working in order to do something else?
• Relationships suffer – Have your close relationships – with family, friends and others – suffered as a result of your long hours at work?
• Constantly thinking about work – Do you find yourself thinking about work while you are driving, when others are talking, and even when you are falling asleep?
• Work during meals – Do you read or do work while you are eating?
• Money solves problems – Do you believe that if you had more money, it could solve all your other problems – or that money solves just about any problems?
Uh, oh. I had more than three, how about you? The next line after that is this Don’t panic. There are millions of Americans out there who are in the same situation. I like any sentence that begins with “don’t panic”. don’t you?
So, seriously, don’t panic, I’m here to help. I’ve learned a few things over the years from my therapists, my friends who used to think I was too busy, some things I’ve read, and by watching people who I used to call “slackers”, but might be more healthy than I used to be and sometimes still am, when I’m crazy busy. Here’s a short list and I’ll tell you how I’m doing on some of them.
1) Don’t multi- task ALL the time. My therapist actually helped me set boundaries on work time, home time, play time, relationship time, etc. I’m getting better at this, but last night, I found myself writing a check to our handyman, having a semi-business call, talking to my son, and getting ready to go out to dinner. I didn’t do any of those tasks very well. Everyone got short changed, including me. I also cleaned my kitchen while on a conference call last week as well. I’m not saying which conference call, so if you were on one with me, and I was at home, just figure I was probably cleaning something. I need to quit working from home.
2) Listen to your body-Your body will tell you, trust me. Every body has its own way of saying that you are currently sucking at taking care of yourself. Here’s mine. Kidney stones. Never fails. Slow down and you’ll avoid those pesky same day surgeries I end up getting every few years.
3) Walk. I’ve gotten better at not having business calls and/or personal calls while doing my walks. No, I’m not kidding, I’ve done that plenty, in the past. So, if you must, at least put the damn thing on mute, so they won’t hear the traffic or lawnmowers or dogs barking, ok?
4) Ask yourself how much money, title, and /or success you actually need? Do you need the extra job, the extra hours, the corner office, the kudos? This is a hard one. We get rewarded in this society for how much we do. Is there a happy medium that you can land on? If you come from a competitive hard driving family like I come from, you may struggle with this. I’m generally harder on myself than any one else is. Think about it. Most people don’t really care that you succeed ALL the time, because they are too busy succeeding all the time too.
5) Just say no. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, learn to say no occasionally. Nancy Reagan’s slogan didn’t exactly work for the drug thing, but what she said, when applied to some things in life we don’t have time for, was right. Did I just say Nancy Reagan was right?
6) Don’t keep telling everyone how busy you are. They don’t care, because they’re busy too, and they haven’t read my list yet, so they aren’t handling their “busyness” too well.
7) Observe some “slackers”. First, find one. They exist. Then observe them. They seem a bit happier than most people don’t they? If you can’t find one, come to my house on a Sunday. I have two of them here. :)
8) Put down the smart phone. NOW. My brother and I were talking about our phones one day. He and I decided we completely panic if we can’t find our phones. But he’s really rich, so he probably has a hundred of them. I don’t and I freak out if I can’t find it. But why? I still get annoyed at my husband, who frequently turns his off and my son, who frequently doesn’t care where his phone is. I also guilt them like this, “But what if I get hit by a bus, and I’m at the hospital and I have to have emergency surgery, and they can’t find you, so I end up dead?”. I’ve actually said stuff like this. I need more work on this one.
9) Ok, if you can’t put it down, you don’t have to answer every call right now, do you?
10) I can’t remember this one because my phone just rang and I answered it.
May 6th, 2013
Courtesy G.R. Lindblade
“Sioux City is the home town I never had” Henry Corra
Here was the story in CNN’s site today. ”SIOUX CITY SUX AND THAT’S OK” By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor , Sun May 5, 2013
Actually, it was a rather affectionate piece about a city with such an unfortunate airport moniker that the citizens had the gumption, the heart, and the humor to start a cottage industry out of the name. That’s the Sioux City I know and the Sioux City I love. As much as the town sometimes frustrates me, I’m an eternal cheerleader of where I grew up. Those of us who love the place can pick on it anytime. But, I get fiercely protective when it gets dismissed as a dismal little berg in the middle of flyover country (those of you who think that know who you are and I know who some of you are too:)) . In my own little “Sioux City native” world, there are two types of people. Those who get my hometown, and those who don’t. Period, the end.
Let’s start with a couple of examples of ”those who don’t” and let’s start with you, Harrison Ford, who supposedly famously commented that the city stinks. Ok, so he had a point at that time, but damn, that was harsh. All right then, next are the legions of people who don’t always see any of its perks and none of its charm and continue to call it “Sewer City”. I’m not sure why they don’t move, I’ve never been able to figure that out. It gets worse. A Huffington Post review of the documentary “Bully”, partially filmed here (because we said they could:)), by Jordan Zakarin starts , “As a blizzard batters nowhere Iowa…”. Excuse me? Oh, dear. Jordan, do fly over anytime, we’ll wave at you, we’re nice. I would imagine though, that Jordan did get that impression of nowhere partially from the film. As much as I love Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen and “Bully”, and as much as Cynthia and Lee actually like Sioux City, the main highlight of the Sioux City landscape we see in the film seemed to be one train crossing.
But still, I’m including them in my gang of outsiders who are fond of the little tri-state river shire we called “Siouxland”. They practically lived here for a year or so, so they get a key…
They particularly liked finding strange little restaurants here.
These are a few more of my friends who not only “get” Sioux City, but are actually serious Sioux City fans…
Henry loved filming here, and liked to hang out here too....
Speaking of film makers, my brother in all but name, New York film maker Henry Corra, fell in love with the place in the 1990′s, when he landed here to take over the advertising campaigns at my brother’s company, Gateway. Henry, a cinema verite master trained by the legendary Maysles Brothers (Grey Gardens), is the director of the highly acclaimed films “Umbrellas” HBO’s “George” , Showtime’s ”Same Sex America” and the Emmy nominated “NYC77″, among many others. Henry was once described as the man “big agencies hate” because he stole away the multi- million dollar ad business of Gateway from the likes of McCann Erickson back in the day. In my mind there were three reasons. He got Ted Waitt, he got Gateway, and he totally gets Sioux City.
Peter said he always felt at home here.
My friend Peter Bayless, a London advertising man who changed careers and became BBC’s Masterchef in 2006, stumbled into our rolling fields with the rest of the Gateway crew in the 1990′s as well. Peter told me that when he first landed here, he felt completely at home. Well, why shouldn’t he? Sioux City’s green and rolling hills are a lot like the mother country, without the castles. (Ok fine, with more billboards and strip malls and stuff…). When he last visited for my birthday, he and his wife actually briefly considered staying here. His good friend at the time, another one of the “Mad Men” we had here, didn’t get it. He’d say things like “what do you DO there dahling?”. I told him I did enough to keep me there for fifty some years, thank you very much. But Peter..an absolute Iowa fan, so there.
I reminded Harry Lennix the other night here that he once called Sioux City "the oasis".
Harry Lennix, a Chicago born Los Angeles based actor who’s been featured in films like “The Matrix”, “The Human Stain” and the upcoming “Superman, Man of Steel”, met our own English Sioux City transplant Fiona Valentine at Northwestern University in Chicago years ago. He’s visited here a number of times to teach master classes and speak to students and generally mingle with all of us. He loves to visit his dear friend, but he also told me of the charms of Sioux City in 2007, when on a cross country drive, he decided to stop here again. He said it was like an “oasis” for him. He must like it, because he keeps coming back and this time his lovely wife Djena Graves Lennix came with him. We liked her, too. Fiona, who has lived all over the place, landed here almost 20 years ago and never left. I’ve never seen a bigger cheerleader for the cause than Fiona. I think we’ll keep her.
Biggest Sioux City cheerleader ever, Fiona with Harry just last week.
Londoner David Prais, with his wife, a local, Elizabeth Haar Prais at their own "royal wedding" party at Pembridge
David Prais was one of my favorites of the “rogues gallery” of Englishmen who landed here with the rest of the Gateway crew almost 20 years ago. Gateway spawned a lot of romance in those days, and like many employees who connected that way, he married one of my favorite people, Eli Haar, a local girl. Here’s a blurb about David I found, ” In 2000 the title to its ancient Lordship was purchased by entrepreneur David Prais. This meant that he was able to style himself David Prais, The Lord of Pembridge. He and eight friends celebrated their affection for the place by naming the new business they started together in 2002 The Pembridge Partnership.” And I thought that was an urban legend. In any case, David and Eli visit family and friends here often and “His Lordship” has admitted his soft spot for the place.
Last but not least, there’s a native of Manhattan, from a show business family, who landed here after an award winning radio career in Austin, Texas. He not only gets Sioux City, he loves Sioux City. He’s not a fan of everything here, but he loves the size and pace and loves the people, particularly me. I think we’ll keep him, too.
My husband, Eric Blumberg. He's staying here.
So to Mr. Jordan Zakarin, (who wrote a nice review for Bully, by the way, and I thank you), I sometimes write pieces for your site, so I’ve decided I should connect with you and invite you here for some of that “hometown feeling” that Henry Corra appreciates. You’ll like it, you’ll really like it. I promise. If you can’t come, we’ll understand, but seriously, where else can you get a hat like this?
May 2nd, 2013
Must be the 1960's here...
Back up Maggie Smith, stand aside Shirley MacLaine, watch out Lucille Bluth, we’ve got…Big Joan.
She’s beautiful, she’s brilliant, she loves her children and grand children, and she has a collection of one, two, and three liners that rival the best of them. She’s Joan Gaston Waitt, she’ll be 82 this week, and she’s my mother. In honor of this milestone, I thought I’d share just SOME of the zingers that have escaped from her lovely mouth over the years. To catalog all of them would take years. We’ve thought of saving her e-mails (those are particularly outstanding), but again…would take just too much time. There are so many….
A short bio here- She was born in St. Louis in 1931 to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald…(oh, I got that wrong), Mildred Emma Armstead and William Matthew Gaston, who were college sweethearts from good old Kansas families. She landed in Sioux City, Iowa after her parents divorce and her mother’s remarriage to a wealthy businessman who owned American PopCorn Company. It was during the the Second World War, shortly after their move, when she proceeded to attract the attention of my father. They were both about thirteen and he never stood a chance. He describes her walking in to their junior high school, in 1944 as having “her nose up in the air.” She says that she was actually shy, as she’d moved many times in her childhood. My parents kept in touch for many years, despite her boarding schools and her years at Northwestern School of Speech and Drama in Evanston, Illinois, and his service in the Air Force, and when he heard that she was engaged to someone else, he made his move. She always said she had three choices at that point. Trying out for the Pasadena Playhouse, teaching English at her private school, or marrying Norm Waitt.
They were married in 1953. Norm Jr. was born in 1954, I came along in 1956, my sister Marcia in 1959, and little Teddy in 1963. She was always a whirlwind of activity, ran our house like a domestic drill sergeant, with the help of a nanny or two, and made sure everything was just right. One of her strengths is organization. It had to be in dealing with four children and probably hundreds of our friends over the years, who liked to hang out at our house and observe the general chaos. My father was a cattleman and traveled a lot. I think in response, she developed a sharp eye for our nonsense, and an even sharper tongue. As she’s gotten older, she has perhaps unknowingly honed that skill to practically an artless kind of art. She doesn’t practice her barbs. That’s the fun part. They are actually unplanned and just roll off the tongue. Sometimes it’s cringe worthy, but most other times, it’s just plain hilarious.
This is a work in progress, as I expect my readers, my family members, and friends who know her, will add some more. Here’s a few…
1) T0 me in 2006 at my 50th birthday party, a lovely formal affair given by my brother. I had friends and colleagues come in from across the country. I had warned them that my mother would insult an article of my clothing within 15 seconds of seeing me. They didn’t believe me, I should have put money up. So, I walk in with a dress I’d had made. I liked it. She wasn’t fond of it. “Well, you look lovely dear, but that’s the ugliest dress I’ve ever seen on you next to your first wedding dress.” Score. Didn’t I tell you people?
2) To my sister Marcia, I have no idea when, must have been at cocktail hour… ”The trouble with you is that you don’t drink enough”. Huh?
3) Here’s one of my favorites- mid 1990′s. A group of my friends and my son were assembled at my house, ready to go to our yearly big music festival we call “Saturday in The Park”. You have to know that my mother generally does the white glove test when she arrives at your house, not only with the decor, and the general condition of the home, but to who ever happens to be in that home at that time. So, being Joan, here’s what she said, “Ben, sit up straight, you’re slouching, Reba, get rid of that dog, Robbie, you’re too dressed up for the park, you should look more grubby today, like my daughter looks…. My son Ben said then, “Grandma you forgot Jeremy”. She calmly told him “I’ll get to Jeremy later”. A year or so passed, and she ran into Jeremy. The first thing out of her mouth was “Jeremy, you look awful, get rid of that beard, for God’s sake.” Mind like a steel trap. Never forgets anything. I’m not making this up, ask him (Jeremy Pigg/Facebook)…go on, ask him..
UPDATE: Jeremy just weighed in, here’s his slight correction of the run in….
It's Spring in Sioux City circa 1999. Joan and Norm have arrived back in Sioux after wintering in a warmer locale. She bursts into the Bell, Book,and Candle with a purse,a travel bag and a small dog (maybe two small dogs - memory fails me here). She drops the luggage, releases the hound(s)? and I know in my heart that she nailed Cindy or Robbie with a classic comment. I come downstairs from the loft office that overlooked the bookstore and greeted Joan. She "clasped" with a sharp smack both of my cheeks and says, "Jeremy, it's so nice to see you again... You need to shave. Only ugly people wear beards." About an hour later Cindy says to me... "So my mother must think you're good-looking." Me: "What? She said I was ugly." Cindy: "NO- she said UGLY people WEAR beards and YOU should SHAVE."
4) I was married in 2011 to Eric Blumberg. Eric is a former radio talk show host and teaches community college, neither of which made him a wealthy man. She actually likes Eric, because being a New Yorker, he occasionally tells her to “pipe down”. Yes, he says that. So, when I let her know we’d be getting married, she said, “Leave it to you to marry the only Jewish man I know with no money”. Bam. He thought that one was pretty good.
5) We’ll start on my brother Ted here, a frequent target. She didn’t care that her two sons achieved considerable fortune and a little bit of fame. They were just Normie and Teddy to her. We were sitting in the waiting room of one of her doctors, absolutely full of people, who knew who we were. There was a rumor in our local newspaper that Ted might purchase some big sports franchise, I think it was the Minnesota Vikings. She looked at it in disgust and said, quite clearly, “If your brother doesn’t quit spending his money, he won’t be able to buy the Sioux City Bandits”. Heads turn, I shrink down in my seat.
6) It gets better. Ted again. I think it was 2003, and he was about to travel to South Africa with the Clintons. She looked at him sternly and said, “You tell that Bill Clinton you have four children and a company to run, and you don’t have time to run around the damn world with him”. I then said to her, “Mom, maybe if we see President Clinton, you can tell him that”. ”Oh, I will” she added. We are still waiting breathlessly for that meeting. I will keep you posted.
7) My siblings and I have had a few weddings between us. 11, actually. There were three that have taken place since my father passed in 2003. A woman who was married 50 years to the same man, she has flatly stated that she will attend no more weddings. ”Your father is rolling over in his grave at all these weddings. I’m rolling over in my grave and I’m not even dead yet”
This one was fun. Do remember this. Her lines are generally a bit public, sometimes said in a stage whisper. I can’t even remember the incident, but Ted had done something that annoyed her. Most likely to keep his head from getting too darned big, she has to keep him in line and she said (stage whisper here), more than once, “I must have dropped him on his head”.
9) One more Ted line. My brother was well known for his somewhat dodgy adventures in his youth. He’d done something a bit more “adventurous” than usual when he was about 19 and she said, “Your brother will either end up the president of General Motors or in prison”. Whew….glad that didn’t happen.
10) But wait there’s more…..I just can’t think of all of them right now. When I just asked my son to remember some of grandma’s best, he said to me, “oh, mom, there’s too many”….
We always remind ourselves that in truth, that woman would take a bullet for any one of us, and any one of our children. Mercifully, my mother not rolling over in her grave and is still gloriously with us, and hopefully will be entertaining our ever expanding troops for years to come. This is just a starter list. If you know her, feel free to add some more. But don’t tell her or she will get you…and your little dog too. :)
Love you, mom, and happy birthday!