Self-Care Now More Than Ever!

Here's a reminder that self-care becomes even more important during stressful times. The need for self-care would seem obvious, except that some on the right deride people who ask for it as weak, and a culture that supports it as dysfunctional. That attitude diffuses into the general culture and causes people to feel guilty about wanting or needing self-care. Some good people also feel guilty for "taking time off" to care for themselves when there's important social justice work to be done or others in need of serious help. But your disempowering yourself through self-neglect isn't going to help anyone. (To paraphrase the airlines, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.) Many successful activists (and others, of course) devote hours each day to exercise and other forms of self-care, which helps them maintain not just their health and energy, but motivation and focus. As the poet and activist Audre Lorde famously wrote: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is … [Read more...]

Why You Don’t Want to be Donald Trump

One thing I teach, in my writing and business classes, is how to effectively promote yourself. I have a handout (see below) summarizing the three “Promotional Personalities”: Arrogant Idiot Properly Proud Shy And Self-Effacing I came up with these because so many students were reluctant to promote their work because they were afraid of being (or being perceived as) arrogant, obnoxious, and/or pushy. And so they would err on the side of caution and become too shy and self-effacing. I wanted to show them the productive "middle way." The first time I ever taught all this in class, I asked who would be a good example of an Arrogant Idiot. Several students immediately shouted out, “Donald Trump!” And so, ever since then, I've used the adjective “Trumpish” to describe the Arrogant Idiot. And, in fifteen+ years of teaching, no one has ever pushed back. Of course, arrogant idiocy* isn't the worst thing about Trump—his racism, misogyny, and fundamental dishonesty and lack of integrity are. So … [Read more...]

“If You’ve Made Them Cry, You’ve Succeeded In Getting Your Point Across.”

A Success Academy charter school teacher was caught on film harshly criticizing and publicly humiliating a first grader. She literally tore the girl's classwork into pieces and flung them aside! The school is claiming that the incident was an exception, both for this teacher and the system in general. However, there's plenty of testimony that it isn't. The title of this newsletter is a quote from a former assistant principal who says it sums up the system's overall culture. She also notes that, "embarrassing or belittling children for work seen as slipshod was a regular occurrence, and in some cases encouraged by network leaders." You don't have to be an expert on perfectionism to understand that this kind of degrading treatment is totally inappropriate to inflict on anyone, much less a child. What most people don't realize, however, is that even a single incident like this can catalyze a lifetime of underproductivity. I know this because I hear it all the time in workshops. I'll be discussing a … [Read more...]

Marriage Equality and How to Cope with Success-Related Losses

Last week was amazing, here in the U.S. We started with despair (at the murder of the nine black parishioners by a Confederate-flag-wearing white supremacist in Charleston), followed by hope (a newfound widespread rejection of said flag), relief (the Supreme Court ruling preserving the Obamacare subsidies), and, finally, jubilation (the ruling establishing marriage equality as a fundamental right). Whew! The marriage equality ruling was amazing not just because it represented a vast amount of liberation, but because it happened decades ahead of schedule. "I didn't expect to see it in my lifetime," is a common refrain among middle-aged and older activists. Although some gay and lesbian couples have been attempting to marry for more than forty years—in some heartbreaking cases, legally-recognized gay marriages were invalidated by courts—up until a scant eleven years ago, there hadn't been a legally-protected gay marriage in the U.S. That there's some lightspeed progress. Young activists, in … [Read more...]

Exclusive! John Scalzi’s Time Management and Career Tips

Last week, the publishing world was abuzz with the news that bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi signed a movie-star-like $3.4 million publishing deal for 10 books. Scalzi is someone I admire enormously, not just for his writing and career success, but because he's a genuinely nice guy, both offline (I've seen him at science fiction conventions) and online. Along with his time management and career strategies, Scalzi is a social media powerhouse, so I also interviewed him on his social media strategies. And he's an out, proud, and smart feminist, antiracist, and LGBT ally who regularly speaks out in support of social justice; and who, in consequence, has been a target of some of the Internet's obnoxious regressive elements. (Whom he handles with impressive good humor.) So another thing I asked him was about how he balanced his politics with his public professional persona. Along with novels such as Redshirts, Old Man's War, and the new Lock In, two must-read Scalzi pieces are his poignant … [Read more...]

How to Deal With Your Family Over the Holidays

For many people, holidays are incredibly stressful. Even leaving aside issues related to family history and dynamics, when people who happen to be related but don't have much in common get together there can be multiple points of contention, including food, politics, and religion. Here are some tips for coping. 1) Educate Yourself (or Refresh Your Education) in Effective Communication. My favorite communications primer is actually a classic parenting book, “How to Talk so Kids Listen and Listen so Kids Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It’s a quick read with fun cartoons, and I recommend it to everyone regardless of whether they have kids. You can use its tips and techniques for getting along with, and resolving conflicts with, everyone, including adult family members, friends, and coworkers. This New York Times article on resolving family conflict is also excellent. It turns out that there’s a whole host of simple things you can do to defuse conflict, like sitting down or stepping … [Read more...]

Homage to Rosie and Cinnamon

One of the events that most moved me over the past year was the tragic and joyful life and death of Rosie the Chihuahua. Rosie was the victim of a backyard breeder/hoarder who made money selling puppies, including from fashionable “designer” breeds. In their quest to create “teacups,” “merles,” and other designer dogs, many such breeders wind up with deformed and chronically ill dogs in their litters, and Rose was one of those. Along with her shockingly deformed muzzle, she also suffered from mange-induced fur loss, immune suppression, scoliosis, and fused leg bones. (Some of these conditions were from lack of care rather than genetics.) Looking at her picture, you can't even recognize her as a chihuahua. Rosie grew up in a crowded, chaotic house with more than 40 dogs, where, despite her serious health problems, she never once saw a veterinarian. Who knows what successes of intelligence, insight, perseverance, resourcefulness, and plain old toughness she had to accrue just to survive? Eventually, Rosie … [Read more...]

When Adversity Strikes Be Sure You’re Framing It Properly

New York Times health columnist Jane Brody writes about a new book, The Gift of Adversity: The book’s titular message — that adversity can be a gift — is especially relevant now, as millions of Americans who have lost jobs struggle to reinvent themselves. After 20 productive years as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Rosenthal felt he was essentially forced out by new leadership. “This kind of thing happens to many people in all fields,” Dr. Rosenthal wrote. “Sometimes you need to accept that it’s time to move on — and to do so.” And so he did, becoming an independent clinical researcher, private clinician and, perhaps most important of all, an author of science-based nonfiction written in an entertaining and accessible style. In an interview, he offered this message to people in midlife who have lost jobs: “Accept the situation and view it as part of a national trend, not a reflection of your personal worth. Reach within yourself to see what else you can do, what you value, then … [Read more...]

Why You Shouldn’t Mock Beauty Pageant Contestants

[Note: I'm pretty sure none of my readers would mock a contestant, so please don't think I'm speaking to you personally, so much as the entire Internet. - Hillary] It seems to be evolving into a seasonal pastime to mock beauty pageant contestants who garble their speeches, but here's why you shouldn't do it: 1) It's not nice. (Didn't your parents teach you any better?) 2) It's not sporting. They can't answer back, after all. And leaving genetic advantages and presumed plastic surgeries aside, they've probably worked hard and strategically to succeed. Also, the whole, "Give me a quick, meaningful answer to a profound question, only be sure not to alienate any of our millions of viewers" situation is a trap. (How well would you do, especially on national television and while wearing a girdle and high heels?) Besides, many contestants come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. (This study--admittedly from 1998; couldn't find anything more recent--found that 21.5% come from families with … [Read more...]

My Dad’s Finest Hour

My dad was an intelligent, creative, and incredibly thwarted man who was unhappy much of his life. I suggested a couple of times that he get therapy, and his answer was, "What do you think I am--nuts?" And so he never got happier. So I'm really happy to read that more elderly people are using therapy: “For people in their 80s and 90s now, depression was considered almost a moral weakness,” said Dr. Gallagher-Thompson. “Fifty years ago, when they were in their 20s and 30s, people were locked up and someone threw away the key....So they learned to look good and cover their problems as best they could. "But those attitudes have shifted over time, along with the medical community’s understanding of mental illness among seniors." My Dad would have been 87 this year. He was capable of much more than he achieved, personally and professionally; however, factors including the Great Depression, the traumatic loss of his teenaged brother to cancer, and a chronic obesity problem blocked him. He's been gone … [Read more...]

Inger Mewburn on Racism in Academia

A very good and honest piece from Inger Mewburn, a.k.a., The Thesis Whisperer, about waking up to racism in academia, and her own white privilege: At the time Joe and I were both looking for more permanent work in academia. It has to be said that neither of us were having much luck. I barely waited to put in my lunch order before debriefing him on my latest unsuccessful job interview. Once again, I had been passed over for a man who, I felt, was less qualified to do the teaching than I was. It was my 5th knock back and I was beginning to seriously question my sanity. At the time I didn’t understand that people don’t get jobs in academia just because they are good at stuff like teaching. Connections, histories, reputations – they all matter. Now it’s perfectly obvious why a professor, who had run out of soft money, would make sure his best research assistant got hired, but at the time I blamed it all on the gender thing (I still don’t think I was entirely wrong to do so). So I got my rant on to Joe, who ate … [Read more...]

Father’s Day Post: Betty Ming Liu on Making Peace with an Authoritarian Father

Betty Ming Liu on making peace with her deceased dad: The war is over. Even though my father was a tyrant who made me miserable, I’ve fought hard to reclaim my life and get to happiness. So after all the years of weeping and blowing my nose at the shrink’s office, letting go is possible. This Sunday, I will celebrate. Finally. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you, Dad. To be honest, part of me can’t believe I just typed those words. But what a relief! This moment has been a long time coming. My father died 37 years ago when I was 19 and he was 70. It was 1976 and we had reached a tense truce in our constant arguing. To cope, I was a few weeks into a new tactic: Instead of talking back, I shut up and silently obeyed his orders. After all, I lived under his roof and had no money or means to survive on my own. (Or at least, that’s how I viewed the situation.) More here. … [Read more...]

A Failed Bird Rescue Attempt

Saturday morning, I idly looked out my window and saw, as usual, my elderly neighbor Vinnie sitting on his folding chair on the sidewalk doing his sudoku. And then something extraordinary happened--a stunning, yellow cockatiel flew down and landed on the sidewalk not ten feet from him. I watched for a few moments while Vinnie stared at it in disbelief, then got up and approached it in obvious perplexity. "Okay, so this is really happening," I said to myself. I was still in my bathrobe, but wanted to help. Although I have no experience with birds, I must have once heard that, "to catch a bird, use a towel," so I grabbed one and headed out. The bird, who was clearly someone's escaped companion, was very tame and let us get close to him (or her). I stuck out a finger, hoping he would perch; he only gave me a (friendly? boundary-establishing?) nip and backed off. Vinnie then proffered his sudoku book, which the bird disdained to stand on. I remember thinking to myself something along the lines of, … [Read more...]

In Defense of Self-Help Books

I'm totally loving this Psychology Today post by Deborah Hill Cone on how it's snobbish to put down self-help literature: I will come clean. At my grimmest moments I would turn again and again to books which helped change my perspective and get “another way of thinking about life” although they might not be the ones I put on my bookshelves alongside high-brow economic texts or prize-winning novels. But hidden under my bed, as though too risqué, are the books I find most medicinal during the long dark tea time of the soul. They include The Grief Recovery Handbook by John. W. James and Russell Friedman, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. Lately I have also found The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels very helpful. "The motivation book that everyone in Hollywood is obsessed with,” as Vanity Fair described it, niftily avoiding the S and the H words. I’m not the only one who has a secret self-help book stash. You don’t get anyone more intellectual than … [Read more...]

The Eroticization of Equality and Social Justice

Note from Hillary: this is a reprint of an article I published elsewhere a few years back that I wanted to archive on this blog. The topic remains timely; thanks for reading!     To begin with, check out the romantic presidential couple at the bottom of the right-hand group of pictures (near the date) in the above image. Isn't it wonderful that we elected someone who, among his many other virtues, is so loving? That's not a trivial thing, as psychologists Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks write in their article, The Obama Relationship: a Major Benefit Nobody's Talking About.Okay, back to that first link. It's to the Love as the Practice of Freedom conference, the first national meeting devoted to romance fiction and American culture. I attended it a couple of weeks ago at Princeton University, and had a blast being surrounded by academics, authors, editors, and readers who were not only passionate about their emerging field and its importance in the larger culture, but passionate about … [Read more...]