We’re All Done With Pandemic Shaming!

Happy to report that there's been a swift and strong pushback on the whole "use your pandemic time productively" push. From the meme world...                 From the New York Times...   ...and from J.K. Rowling herself! No quote tweeting, but if you're a 'life coach' who's on here implying people are losers if they aren't learning a new skill/building a brand while on lockdown, maybe stop. People have challenges you know nothing about. Sometimes getting through something is more than enough. — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) April 3, 2020 Love to see the culture getting smarter and more compassionate! Stay well, and stay nonperfectionist! … [Read more...]

The “Tiger Mom” Revisited

I've written before about Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua and her odious 2011 book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the thesis of which is that you should punish, humiliate, and otherwise coerce your kids into being high achievers. As I wrote at the time it was published: A few weeks ago [Chua] had a firestorm of publicity around her book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she boasts of her authoritarian and coercive parenting methods, which include not only insisting that her daughters follow a narrow course of “success-oriented” classes and activities, but punishing them harshly – via withholding, threats and insults – when they don’t toe the line or achieve top-level success. (For instance, she deprives them of bathroom breaks, threatens to burn their toys, and calls them “garbage.”) She got a major boost when The Wall Street Journal featured her in an admiring article. What Chua considered her branded form of tough-love parenting, however, many considered nothing more than child abuse. There … [Read more...]

Some Thoughts on “Genius” – a Not-Very-Useful Concept

There's been a spate of writing about "genius" lately. Here, in Tweet form, are some of my thoughts on that concept. Hope you like them, and I welcome your comments, on Twitter, Facebook, or below. - Hillary For millennia #genius has been gendered male, and used to justify everything from boorishness to rape and murder. Women were relegated to the role of muse and we were all expected to celebrate and exalt the female suffering that enabled some guy to do his thing. — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, 2018 So in bios of #DavidFosterWallace, his ongoing abuse (including assault, death threats, and stalking) of #MaryCarr were relegated to interesting, "illuminating" anecdotes. https://t.co/x4msfpSUMk — Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, 2018 So what is "genius?" What a boring-ass question - albeit one that obsessed me when I was younger. Now I know that you just do your work with as much integrity and spirit as you can, and hope for the best.— Hillary Rettig (@hillaryrettig) May 10, … [Read more...]

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's finest hour may have been during the famous U.S. Postal Workers Strike of 1970. Per Wikipedia: "At the time, postal workers were not permitted by law to engage in collective bargaining. Striking postal workers felt wages were very low, benefits poor and working conditions unhealthy and unsafe. APWU president Moe Biller described Manhattan post offices as like "dungeons," dirty, stifling, too hot in summer, and too cold in winter....An immediate trigger for the strike was a Congressional decision to raise the wages of postal workers by only 4%, at the same time as Congress raised its own wages by 41%." And from the Website of the New York Letter Carriers Union Branch 36: "Every revolution has its triggering events, and for the 1970 postal strike it was the courageous actions of a small group of Bronx letter carriers....The actions of the Bronx carriers had instilled a sense of euphoria among many New York carriers...for it became clear that if thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of postal … [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...]