Friday, March 30, 2012

A Positive Rant

Heading to our nation's capital for the weekend, where Chris will participate in the Epilepsy Walk and I will take in the National Gallery and the cherry blossoms.

With that on my mind, and given that D.C. is the home to our fearless leaders and representatives -- and that it seems the news is crappier than usual these days-- I thought I'd share some good news, or at least a different view of The Big Picture than you're likely to get on the nightly/cable/24-hour news.

It's from quite a long article by investment guru and economist Alexander Green, in Spiritual Wealth, an e-newsletter I receive on a regular basis. It repeats a litany of information you've likely heard before about how different things are now than they were earlier in the 20th century, or before. But there's a wealth of stuff to think about, too, and I thought I'd pass some of it on. As the title of the article asks, "How often do you hear a positive rant?"

     "Consider that in the first half of the twentieth century, most people earned a subsistence living through long hours of backbreaking work on farms or in factories. In 1850, the average workweek was 64 hours. In 1900, it was 53. Today it is 42 hours. On the whole, Americans work less, have more purchasing power, enjoy goods and services in almost unlimited supply, and have much more leisure. 
     "Or take computing. In 1987, a megabyte of memory cost $5,000. The Mac II sitting on my desk - with one megabyte of memory and a running speed of 16 megahertz (which Apple described as "blindingly fast") - cost $5,500. Today an exponentially smaller, faster and better machine costs less than a tenth as much. As for memory, you can buy a terabyte drive today for less than 60 bucks. 
     "In Africa today a Masai warrior on a cellphone has better mobile communications than the President of the United States did 25 years ago; if he's on a smartphone with Google, he has access to more information than the President did just 15 years ago, with a feast of standard features: watch, stereo, camera, video camera, voice recorder, GPS tracker, video teleconferencing equipment, a vast library of books, films, games, music. Just 20 years ago these same goods and services would have cost over $1 million... 
     "Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution - all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.
     "Thank your lucky stars that you won the lottery simply by being born in the modern era." 

Copyright © 2012 by The Oxford Club, L.L.C

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Special Delivery

Fred's office, en fleurs

So last Thursday afternoon there's a soft knock on my office door and when I look up, there's Chris -- in his white shirt and black pants, just coming from his job -- holding an enormous bunch of the most beautiful, fragrant daffodils! Total surprise. The function he'd been working had apparently been decorated with masses of the flowers and he managed to make off with what appeared to be about two dozen.

They went immediately on my desk. I even shared half a dozen with my boss.

It made my day and is easily the most romantic thing that's happened to me in a long time.

Lucky me!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

L'Odyssee de Cartier

This is so beautiful... no comment necessary. Just sit back and enjoy it!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Who Is "Good People"?

In today's issue of "Spiritual Wealth" (a newsletter I have delivered to my inbox on a regular basis) there was an article titled "Are You 'Good People?'" It was about Confucius who, despite his name having become something of a punch line over the years, was a real person (55-479 BC) with a real philosophy.

"The central concept of Confucius' philosophy is ren or benevolence. (It also means 'gentleman' in the sense of someone who behaves with authentic respect and consideration for others.) It was Confucius' view that the cultivation of benevolence leads to self-mastery and...right action."

Everyone's familiar with the fortune cookie jokes that start "Confucius say...", but there really is a collection of sayings, compiled from what his students remembered -- collectively known as the Analects -- through which he inspires us to express our better natures, reminding us that "we define ourselves by what we do in our daily routines and relationships".

In the last few years (maybe longer) there's been much focus on fostering "self-esteem" in children (indeed, in everyone) to the point that now kids get praise for just showing up at the game or doing their best on a math test. (Never mind if they actually studied or did their homework.) But as I drive to the train in the morning to go to work I see kids going to school in baggy shorts (even in the coldest weather) and unlaced sneakers; tight-tight pants and cropped T-shirts; any number of odd combinations. And one day it occurred to me that what these kids need (in the view of this old fart) isn't self-esteem as much as self-respect. Self-esteem comes from doing estimable things, behaving estimably -- you can't just hand it to someone in a package of gold stars or a pat on the head.

I think if you truly respect yourself you foster the behavior that leads to respecting others; behaving in a civil, decent manner; speaking appropriately and respectfully; treating others, in other words, as you would have them treat you.

Unfortunately these days, in popular culture (especially with the advent of "reality TV"), in politics, wherever you look, the role models for estimable behavior are fewer and farther between. The "stars" of "Jerseylicious", for example, or "Jersey Shore" (oh, poor New Jersey!), or "Dance Moms"* promote a way of presenting yourself to the world and behaving in a manner that's the polar opposite of the way many of us were raised: screaming, yelling, insults, doing whatever it takes to get yourself ahead and screw everyone else... This is what passes for "self-esteem" these days, but in my humble opinion, these people suffer from a severe self-respect deficiency.

So will it change things overnight if we make the children wear long pants, shirts with collars, hard-soled shoes to school? Will the national discourse become more civil by Monday afternoon? Doubtful. It's not just what kids wear to school. It's the way they treat their parents, teachers -- even each other -- that reflects what they think of themselves, to a greater or lesser degree. I guess it's a variation on the old idea that you need to love yourself before you can love another. (Thank you, RuPaul, can I get an 'Amen' up in here?) If you respect yourself, you'll respect other people, you'll be kind, you'll have boundaries...all that good stuff. Much the way the rules of etiquette were established to make you comfortable in any situation, you and those around you.

It doesn't come cheap or easy. Like anything worth having, you need to work at self-respect. It's not swagger and bragging and mouthing off, it's intangible. But you know it when you see it, or when you're in its presence.

Know what I mean?

*I'm starting a list of "Things I Could Happily Live Without Seeing Ever Again", and the first item on the list is white women doing the "sassy black woman head-bob", as exemplified by Abby Lee, the hefty choreographer/star of "Dance Moms", in the promos for the show. I don't know what it's supposed to mean...or say... but enough!

Finally, please check out the two new favorite links to the right of this post: Rona Fisher Jewelry: Rona designs and hand-crafts beautiful, truly unique jewelry pieces; and Gilt Groupe, a site you can sign up for and receive regular updates in your email about terrific deals on (mainly) clothes, for men and women: really good prices for really unique items. I regularly get compliments on the clothes I've bought from Gilt Groupe sales.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Well, It's One Way to Get a Day Off

So tomorrow I return to the hospital to have yet another tumor removed, which I'm confident will  prove as benign as the others. I've been through this particular drill many times before. The constant interviews by a seemingly endless parade of techs, nurses, anesthetists -- allergic to latex? When did you eat last? What's your name? What are you having done today? ("My hair... a trim and a hot oil treatment.") Oh, I know it's all a matter of patient safety (working as I do with actual nurses) and being sure they're cutting into the right person to remove the right thing. But after a while cracks begin to appear in my usual Zen calm and I have to work a little to remain pleasant and not cop an attitude with someone who is, after all, only doing her job, a job she probably has to do a dozen times before lunch: one sick, nervous, cranky person after another.

In the main, I don't mind it all that much. I'm out while they do what they have to do, and if I'm lucky they calm me down with a little pre-op Valium drip. It's the post-op period that sucks. There's the pain and discomfort, but I get to lounge around on the sofa, recovering, watching trash TV and eating. My boss was kind enough to tell me to take an extra day to recuperate, which means a five-day weekend.

But this time around they're going to add a little something to the procedure: after the actual resection, they're going to administer some medicine which will hopefully slow down, if not prevent, the cancer from making another appearance. It's not chemo in the usual sense -- although strictly speaking since there are chemicals going into my system to treat the cancer, it is chemotherapy. Just not the really aggressive, nasty kind that would make me sick and make my hair start to fall out, so I'd wind up shaving my head and wearing those little pillbox-style, embroidered silk hats they sell in Tibetan gift shops. (Of course, any reason to shop for accessories...)

Also this time around, I'm more acutely aware that what they're going after is cancer. I mean, the "C" word. Up to this point it hasn't had much of an impact, I guess because it's always been benign and very treatable.  A small "c" problem. But this time it's the capital "C", the version of the word that usually freaks people out.

Not that I'm freaked out, really. It's still very treatable, I'm getting the best treatment from one of Philadelphia's Top Docs, I will live to see another day and, in the end, que sera sera. As a friend of mine says. I guess this is just one of those moments when something suddenly strikes you as absolutely...real, and there's nothing you can do about it. No telling what will happen. This is to be taken seriously.

And yes -- (warning: cliche alert) -- it's important to stop and:
  • Count your blessings
  • Make the most of every day
  • Stay focused on the present
  • Get a grip on what's really important.
  • Remember that life's too short to be worried all the time.
But first, a few days on the couch, in my jammies, the cat nestled next to me. Maybe a pizza, an On-Demand Movie and --please God -- a "Dance Moms" marathon. That's what I call alternative medicine.

Wish me luck!