Archive for July, 2010

Summer stack of books

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Three books I placed on reserve a while ago showed up all at once at the library today and I nearly cried. My stack of books is pretty big now and I’m reading through them in ADD fashion.

I had to spend a lot of time today updating one of my websites, which used far too much left brain power, so sitting here a making a list of my current reads is about all I have the mental energy for at the moment.

1. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education is one of those books that is must-reading if you’re interested in higher education or have kids on the verge of going to college. I forgot to include it in the photo. Oops.

2. Small Is the New Big: and 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas. Dipping into Seth Godin’s books always gives me a lot of ideas.

3. KJV Giant Print Gospels and Psalms Green Hardcover. The story of how I recently acquired this Bible, and why I put drops of nag champa incense sent to me from the North Carolina mountains on one of the pages, would require a blog post of its own.

Suffice to say I’m happy to own a Bible that only has the Gospels and Psalms. I like the simplicity.

4. Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (Terry Lectures). I LOVE Marilynne Robinson’s novels Gilead and Home. I’ve always had the fear that her non-fiction would be too minds-on for me (and prove my own “absence of mind”). But when I saw this video of her interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show I put the book on reserve:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Marilynne Robinson
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

5. How Doctors Think. My daughters’ pediatric endocinologist told me this book, along with Kitchen Table Wisdom, are the two books she thinks every doctor should read.

6. Apartment Therapy’s Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces. Fabulous eye candy in this book.

7. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. I touched on the major theme in this book here.

8. The Cloud of Unknowing. The copy in my photo is the wrong Cloud of Unknowing book. Oops. I’ll have to get the correct copy of this 14th century book about prayer and English mysticism, which was recommended by a friend.

9. Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. No, I’m not breaking up with anybody. This book caught my eye at the library because I’ve not seen one like it before and because I’ve written some blog posts about friendship lately.

10. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. I mentioned Jacqueline Novogratz in this post. This book is about how she came to start the Acumen fund, which provides microloans to entrepreneurs in third world countries.

I’m glad my youngest girls begged me to take them to Bernie’s Beach tomorrow so they can go swimming and I can sit and read.


Oh, you look so beautiful tonight (part 4 of a U2 Primer on Marriage)

The last post in this series talked about the cruelty that can occur within marriage.

The song Window in the Skies acknowledges that but then points us to the eternal love that transcends it.

In the first part of the song the chorus is “Oh can’t you see what *our* love has done.”

Part of what “our love” has done is this:

“I know I hurt you and I made you cry
I’ve done everything but murder you and I”

Then for the remainder of the song the chorus shifts to “Oh can’t you see what love has done.”

This, I think, speaks of the eternal love that is there to ease any broken heart:

But love left a window in the skies
And to love I rhapsodize

Oh can’t you see what love has done
to every broken heart
Oh can’t you see what love has done
for every heart that cries
Love left a window in the skies
And to love I rhapsodize

This song also has a reference to Easter near the beginning:

The shackles are undone
The bullet’s quit the gun
The heat that’s in the sun
Will keep us when it’s done
The rule has been disproved
The stone, it has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed

The song City of Blinding Lights has a similar upbeat theme.

Although it’s about the city of New York when U2 performed live there shortly after 9/11, it’s also a love song about his wife Ali and a nod to the longevity of their relationship:

I’ve seen you walk unafraid
I’ve seen you in the clothes you made
Can you see the beauty inside of me
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me

And I miss you when you’re not around
I’m getting ready to leave the ground
Oh, you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights

Time, time, time, time
Time won’t leave me as I am
But time won’t take the boy out of this man

I don’t think there’s any female U2 fan out there who doesn’t feel uplifted when hearing “Oh, you look so beautiful tonight.” :-)

Part 5 will be about girls and how they can emerge from the adolescent years in a way that prepares them better for adulthood, marriage and relationships. Stay tuned.


The power of negative thinking in friendship

One of the surest routes to friendship is disliking the same things about other people.

That’s the conclusion of the snappily titled study “Interpersonal Chemistry Through Negativity: Bonding by Sharing Negative Attitudes About Others.”

Jennifer Bosson, one of the social scientists who conducted the study, says:

“We found a very robust tendency for people to mention more negative than positive attitudes about other people.. and the closer the friends were, the more negative attitudes toward others that they shared.

They tested this among total strangers too and the sharing of negative attitudes also formed closer bonds.

Here’s an excerpt from the abstract of the study:

Presumably, sharing negative attitudes is alluring because it establishes in-group/out-group boundaries, boosts self-esteem, and conveys highly diagnostic information about attitude holders. Despite the apparent ubiquity of this effect, participants seemed unaware of it. Instead, they asserted that sharing positive attitudes about others would be particularly effective in promoting closeness.

I suppose I might have assumed that the positive attitudes would’ve been more effective too. Oops.

But as I think about it, I have to admit that relationships where both of us are pleasant ladies all the time never develop any traction.


So says Ashe while proposing to Joan in the closing scene of the delightful P G. Wodehouse novel Something Fresh.

Or as Leo Tolstoy said, “We do not love people so much for the good they have done us, as for the good we do them.”

Or as Bono sings in the U2 song The Fly, “It’s no secret that a friend is someone who lets you help.”


The perils of “active listening”

Are you familiar with the “active listening” concept?

It’s where you listen to what your spouse says, repeat back what your spouse said in your own words, and then try to show you understand why your spouse feels angry at you or whatever.


In the book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, which is a “myth-busting response to the self-help movement, with tips and tricks to improve your life that come straight from the scientific community,” author Richard Wiseman pretty much dismisses active listening as hooey.

In the 1990s John Gottman (a world renowned expert on marital stability) did an elaborate study on active listening at the University of Washington.

He took 100 newlywed couples and videotaped them as they chatted for 15 minutes about a topic of ongoing disagreement. He followed these couples for six years.

It turns out hardly anyone engaged in active listening and it’s too difficult for most people to perform the “emotional gynmastics” required for active listening. They were shocked to discover that active listening was unrelated to marital bliss.

They went on to study tapes from another study that tracked married couples for 13 years and reached the same conclusions about active listening.

So if active listening doesn’t work, what does?

The Gottman study reveals that people in long term, happy heterosexual relationships exhibit a very particular pattern in times of conflict:

The female usually raises a difficult issue, presents an analysis of the problem, and suggests some possible solutions.

Males who are able to accept some of these ideas, and therefore show a sense of power sharing with their partner, are far more likely to maintain a successful relationship.

In contrast, couples in which the males react by stonewalling, or even showing contempt, are especially likely to break up.

So the Vicki the Biker approach to conflict really is the right one! Woo hoo! :)


The other day I came across this popular video of an actress doing 21 different accents.

I came across it while doing a search for “New Zealand accents” because I was telling one of my daughters how a vendor at a local farmer’s market has on more than one occasion asked me if I’m from New Zealand.

Of course I’m always all, “Dude, I’m from Wisconsin. Can’t you hear me talk? Wiss KAHN sen.”

But I dunno. There have been other times people have thought I was from a foreign country. Maybe the combination of having a 5th grade teacher that was from New Zealand (I adored her – she was the only elementary school teacher I had who was laid back and didn’t freak out over my reluctance to raise my hand in class), living in Massachusetts for four years (although I hated the way they always called me “Aniter” so surely I would have stubbornly resisted letting that accent into my speech?), living in Illinois the first 6 years of my life and taking way too many French classes in college has messed up my Wisconsin accent.

Or maybe it’s just because what I’m saying is too unintelligible to them so they assume I have a foreign accent. :-)

Anyway, here’s Amy Walker doing her 21 accents:

To round out the fun, below is a theory about how language started. I think it’s a highly plausible one. :-)


Hope you have (or had) a fun Friday!


Even toons need conflict

Voice actors and writers have a lot of common.

This is because writing in a voice that’s not your own is similar to speaking in a voice not your own.

Fiction writers, speechwriters and writers like me who write copy for clients have to hear voices in their head every day.

In my case, on any given day those voices can range from an African American preacher type voice to an effervescent female fitness model voice, to a staid attorney’s voice. Most people have a hard enough time writing in their own voice so people like me swoop in and write in their own voice better than they could.

So when I found out the other day that voice actor Billy West is considered the “new Mel Blanc,” I made a point to read more about him.

West did the voices of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in Space Jam and says he’s not happy with how Warner Brothers has changed the Looney Tunes characters in recent years.

When you start stripping away those things that made it a full dimension character, you’re going to have Xeroxes of it in every way including creativity.

The worst mistake Warner Brothers ever did was make all these characters friends, because then you took away the dynamic. Elmer wanted to kill Bugs Bunny. There was no question in anybody’s mind. Sylvester wanted to kill Tweetie.

There was danger involved, and some life truths involved. When you’re telling the truth, you’re really dealing with comedy. If you don’t have the truth on your side, then comedy can’t spring from it.

It reminds me of what I said in a previous post about how screenwriter Robert Mckee said that conflict is what changes you, not joy –  joy is only possible after the conflict is over. And in cartoons, no conflict means no comedy.

I’ve always loved the classic Looney Tunes cartoons, so I’ll close with my favorite, the conflict-laden Rabbit of Seville:


Have I ever mentioned how I hate conflict?

Because of that I’ve dragged my feet on writing this post. But no primer on marriage – and no discussion of U2’s music – can avoid that dreaded topic for very long.

I think most married people probably go through a divorce valley at some point in their marriage.

The valley being where the shadow of divorce looms and you dare to let yourself wonder if you made a fatal mistake in getting married to your spouse.

Maybe that valley only lasts for an afternoon or a week. For others it might last for several months or even years.

It’s a wonder anyone emerges from a divorce valley with an intact marriage.

Bono says:

People are desperately trying to hold onto each other in a time when that’s very difficult. Looking around, you see how unprepared for it all people are, and the deals they make. I think there’s very few people writing about this, really.

There are a number of U2 songs about conflict (With Or Without You, Love Is Blindness, Until the End of the World), but if I had to chose one, it would be So Cruel from the Achtung Baby album. It’s written from the perspective of a man who has been rejected by his lover but remains in love with, and tormented by, her.

The song is very dark and bitter and is about infidelity. U2’s guitarist The Edge was going through a divorce during this making of this album and some of that is in this song.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from divorce valleys, it’s that you have to, at some point, show your raw pain. This song does just that and makes for a perfect soundtrack for a divorce valley. Here are the lyrics:

We crossed the line
Who pushed who over?
It doesn’t matter to you
It matters to me
We’re cut adrift
We’re still floating
I’m only hanging on
To watch you go down
My love

I disappeared in you
You disappeared from me
I gave you everything you ever wanted
It wasn’t what you wanted

The men who love you, you hate the most
They pass right through you like a ghost
They look for you, but your spirit is in the air
Baby, you’re nowhere

You say in love there are no rules
You’re so cruel

Desperation is a tender trap
It gets you every time
You put your lips to her lips
To stop the lie

Her skin is pale like God’s only dove
Screams like an angel for your love
Then she makes you watch her from above
And you need her like a drug

You say in love there are no rules
You’re so cruel

She wears my love like a see-through dress
Her lips say one thing
Her movements something else
Oh love, like a screaming flower
Love…dying every hour…love

You don’t know if it’s fear or desire
Danger the drug that takes you higher
Head in heaven, fingers in the mire

Her heart is racing, you can’t keep up
The night is bleeding like a cut
Between the horses of love and lust
We are trampled underfoot

Oh…love… You say in love there are no rules
You’re so cruel

To stay with you I’d be a fool
You’re so cruel

To hear what this pain sounds like in the form of a guitar solo, go to the 3:15 mark in the song Love Is Blindness and listen until the end of the song. It’s as if The Edge is pouring out all his sadness about his divorce into that solo. Bono describes it as “a more eloquent prayer than anything I could say.”

It would be too depressing if this was always the final word, however. Sometimes love does leave “a window in the skies.” My next post will be about that.


A story I told that drew blood

Recently I had to take all four of my daughters in for blood draws at the clinic’s lab.

As you might imagine, they weren’t excited about this, and neither was I. The youngest two (ages 6 and 8 ) had never had a blood draw before so they were even more anxious.

At first I tried to use hype to lower their resistance.

“We’ll make it a blood draw party! Treats afterwards!”

Of course they didn’t fall for that. As a copywriter I, of all people, should have known better than to try a used car salesman approach.

Next I decided to tell them a story about how their six-year-old cousin had several vials of blood taken from him last summer and he handled it like a champ, no tears.

That didn’t lower their resistance either. I guess hearing a story secondhand about someone else’s success isn’t all that inspiring.

Finally I realized I needed to dig deeper and tell a personal story and show them I know what the fear of blood draws is like.

So I told them about when I was six weeks pregnant with their 14-year-old sister. I had unexpected bleeding and marinated in anxiety in the examination room chair, afraid I was having a miscarriage.

The doctor patted me on the knee and told me he wasn’t going to do an ultrasound because he thought it would be too emotional for me if we couldn’t hear a heartbeat.  His tone and mannerisms suggested I might well be having a miscarriage so he sent me to the lab instead to get a blood draw that would determine whether or not I was still pregnant.

“How do you think I felt while I was getting a blood draw that would tell me whether or not your sister was still alive?” I asked the girls.

Their eyes got big as saucers and they hung on every word.

Then I told them how powerful blood is and how it can tell us so many things about what’s going on inside our bodies. Information like this would’ve bored them if I was just lecturing them, but my story made them eager to hear all about the power of blood.

They literally started tugging on my arm and begged me to take them to the lab immediately for their blood draws.

They did this even though I also told them a story about how I once had a blood draw that ultimately gave me bad news.

I felt it was important that they know the full score in the event this blood draw, or one in the future, gives them news they’d rather not hear. Not every blood draw has a happy ending.

Ten years ago I found myself bleeding once again and I knew that this time there could be no doubt I was having a miscarriage. The midwife sent me off to get a blood draw to confirm what I already knew.

I told the girls how the cello and piano version of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise (the version I listened to was by local cellist Parry Karp on a CD called Postcard From Madison) was my soundtrack during the week after that blood draw, as my hormones came crashing back down and my emotions were all out of whack.

Even though the girls now knew blood draws don’t always result in happy news, they went willingly to the lab. There were no tears except for when my youngest cried with empathy during her 8-year-old sister’s blood draw and turned to her big sister for a hug. Scenes like that don’t make it into scrapbooks but fortunately remain in a mother’s long term memory.

The blood work came back normal. Whew. But that didn’t stop my 8-year-old from asking, “When can I go get another blood draw?”


Even a prostitute in a slum in Kenya can become a healer

I confess that sometimes I get cynical about hope even though I know we all feast on hope to varying degrees.

As a marketing copywriter, I’m all too aware of how the purchase of most products isn’t so much about the product but an investment in hope.

Hope that the food will improve your health… hope that the dress will flatter you… hope that the gym membership will take away a few inches from your waistline… hope that the new house/car/garden/whatever will make you feel better about yourself.

It’s all about hope. So I feel like a hope dealer sometimes and wonder if it would be better if we all lived on a low-hope diet.

Fortunately videos like the one below help refresh my perspective on hope.

Jacqueline Novogratz is the CEO of the Acumen Fund, which provides micro loans to entrepreneurs in third world countries.

In this video she talks about Jane, who lived in a slum in Kenya. This slum is a mile long and 2/10 of a mile wide and has a population of a half million people crammed into shacks.

Even though she grew up in this slum Jane had two dreams: to become a doctor and have a family.

But then her mom died and her husband left her, so she turned to prostitution to support her children.

The humiliation and shame were worse than the poverty.

She got a micro loan to buy a sewing machine. She re-purposes old ball gowns by adding frills and ribbons to them and sells them as dresses

If you hit the pause button at the 4:10 mark in the video you can see her showing some of her dresses and jewelry to potential customers.

Look how nicely dressed these women are. Then look at the poverty in the background. These women have dignity even in these dire surroundings and it’s inspiring.

At the 5:23 mark hit the pause button again and see the new “development” she’ll be able to move into, so she can live and work in her business in conditions that would seem paltry by our standards but are sheer luxury for her.

At 6:12 you hear how her dream to be a doctor wasn’t totally dashed after all.

She realized that what she really wanted to be was someone who served, healed and cured.

Jane is HIV positive and two days a week she counsels other HIV patients: “I’m not a doctor who gives out pills but maybe I give out something better; I give out hope.”

Watch the whole thing: