Saturday, December 29, 2012

In the Aftermath of Newtown

This school shooting, just as those before it, was horrific — but this one especially horrific because it involved innocent, joyous first-graders who had not yet lived long enough to become sassy tweens, back-talking teens, or know-it-all college students.  It is particularly painful to think of all the already wrapped presents still hidden in closets; painful that what was once a happy holiday will forever be marred.  A bleak anniversary of unimaginable horribly real loss — in a family, at a school, on a playground, and everywhere in their community.

It's startling to realize this is the fourth such tragedy during the President's tenure — what is it in our society that sparks such rage and ignites such devastation?  Since Columbine there is always talk of safer schools or greater gun control or, in the most superficial way, the need for character education.

There is no one solution.  If someone is compelled or chooses to manifest their emotional outrage as an assault on others, this cannot be stopped.  Despite the current rhetoric, we cannot arm our teachers nor surround our schools with a bullet-proof web.  But we can try more consistently and uniformly to create a culture of character in the places where our children spend most of their days (if we are lucky).

Character and citizenship were the purview of families, schools, and faith-based communities.  But this triumvirate of support systems which taught, practiced and reinforced the moral upbringing of children has been under siege from all fronts — most especially from the bombardment of violence and violence-themed messages permeating television, movies, music, and video games.  We no longer have a society that filters and protects its young — what was always deemed inappropriate, now is the norm.

Though there will always be families, faith-based organizations, and classrooms committed to developing kind and caring young people, often these forces are fighting an uphill (at best) or losing battle (at worst).

We have allowed violence to become a staple of everyday living.  We celebrate cell-phone-throwing-DWI divas and promote "reality" TV that glorifies back-stabbing, road rage, and vengeance.  

WHY do we watch this?  What is so appealing about this side of our humanity? I don't understand it, but I know we as a society implicitly condone it and consumerize it.

I know that to address these acts of horror — that seem to occur with uncomfortable regularity — means to look at all facets of the issue.  This includes rethinking access to weapons and the kind of weapons we allow — and more focus on identifying and treating mental health without stigmatization.  But I also know that we need to commit to character development — not just the trait of the month in elementary school or the occasional week-long  middle school activity to get involved in local elections or high-school admonitions not to cheat.  With some school exceptions, most of our present efforts are all too fragmented, too little, too late.

Here are a few findings I want to share from a 2002 study the Secret Service conducted on school shootings after Columbine:

  • There is no accurate or useful "profile" of students who engaged in targeted school violence — they varied considerably in age, demographic, background and other characteristics.
  • All were male; three-quarters of the attackers were white 
  • Almost two-thirds of the attackers came from two-parent families 
  • Very few of the attackers were known to be failing in school; most were doing well in school at the time of the attack, generally receiving As and Bs in their courses
  • Over half of the attackers demonstrated some interest in violence, through movies, video games, books, and other media 
  • Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack
  • Almost three-quarters of the attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident
  • In several cases, individual attackers had experienced bullying and harassment that was long-standing and severe.  In some of these cases the experience of being bullied seemed to have a significant impact on the attacker and appeared to have been a factor in his decision to mount an attack at the school.
The shooters came from intact families and broken ones; they belonged to religious communities and they didn't; they had good grades for the most part.  Two factors were prevalent: access to weapons and being bullied.

We need to face up to the fact that placing paramount emphasis on grades and test scores is falling far short of what the best educational system in the world should have as its outcome — educating honest and compassionate students who value civic engagement and service.  If we build a curriculum that has at its core a regular and routine focus on building character, than we stand a chance of creating a culture of caring for students and perhaps having more children make it to the second grade and beyond.

Don't we owe our kids that much?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

That Inner Voice

Life as I knew it is changing rapidly.  Nine to five, I'm backing out of one day-to-day reality and six to one, I'm plunging into another. It's just been over a week since I went public and already I am immersed in what starting a business involves — tax ID#s and LLC or LLP? and a name and letterhead and following up on networking leads and (oh no) possibly yet another email address and creating an invoice and...see what I mean?

Tonight was the big neighborhood holiday potluck which is always great fun with a huge array of food and people laughing and catching up with one another and feeling festive.  Really the perfect place to reconnect, share my news and NETWORK.  And while I had every intention of going, Chris wasn't feeling well and I was so tired that at 7pm when I thought I'd be headed to the party, I was still in my pajamas. I simply couldn't face the barrage of humanity and the questions my news was bound to provoke.  So while I was sorry to miss seeing everyone I was glad I'd stayed in my pajamas and kept chipping away at my list, but still, I felt guilty passing up the opportunity to network.

My friend Susan (the artist, see her magnificent painting in this post) and I were talking about the negative voice that keeps whispering doubt or criticism in our heads.  Do you have one?  Well, she said something really helpful to me — 

"You don't have to attach to a thought."

Hmmm.  While you can't get rid of that voice, you can hear it, but not allow it to dominate and dictate your mood. You don't have to attach yourself to that which doesn't uplift you. 

So while I still missed going, I didn't make myself crazy and I stayed in my pjs.  

What a relief.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Leap and the net will appear

Leap...and the net will appear 

As I get ready to plunge into the work-unknown, I am encouraged by the cheers and good wishes of those I reach out to. 

We don't always get what we want or need from those around us — those we love, those we wish knew us from the inside out.  Still, I am learning to accept that though I might not always get what I (desperately) want for — at this moment in time I am gratefully accepting what is being given.  And I am being given a lot.

Michelle has known me for over twenty years.  For much of that time she has lived far away in Central and South America, we see each other at best, once a year, Sometimes she comes with her family, some times alone. Once I went to Caracas to visit and work.  Our lives go on, our children grow, we grow. When I came home the other day there was this sweet Edible Arrangement waiting for me with the chocolate-covered strawberries and these white chocolate-covered doves cut from slabs of juicy and sweet pineapple — with a card cheering me on.

My husband and kids have been great.  My bosses at work have been understanding. The decision to leave has lifted me — and kept me up til 3 am and wakened me again at 6.  I am going to be on a roller coaster but I have to say, it feels good.

The title of this post came from Teri who has been faithfully sending waves of good karma my way; she said she'd heard or read this phrase and that it might be helpful hear.  It struck me as so positive, so comforting, so reassuring that I said, "WAIT. Say that again so I can write it down. What was that?"    Most of my life — since second grade on — I've been waiting for the roof to cave in, the walls to crumble, and the proverbial shoe to drop.  It is not in my nature to have such faith.  

I Googled it to see the attribution and found this on another blog:

"Although "Leap and the net will appear" is sometimes attributed to an unknown Zen source, it is, in fact, a quote by American naturalist John Burroughs. "

I also found a refrigerator magnet, mouse pad, and coffee mug.

I have my first client.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Fiscal Cliff

You know that phrase "S%*t or get off the pot" ? Well, this week I did.  I took that leap of faith and decided it was time for me to bet on myself instead of everyone else I've ever worked for.  Time for me to take a chance and see if everything I've learned, everything I've accomplished, and everything I really, really love doing and want to do is possible to do — as an independent contractor.

Beginning in February, I am walking away from the safety net of a job with benefits, direct deposit, the guarantee of a paycheck — and a whole lot else.  It's a scary thing. Terrifying.  But at this point in my life, it's a necessity.  And along with the urgency — having just turned 60 — in another way, it's a birthday present to me.

I know that it seems risky and impractical. 

                 Especially at my age, 
                                especially in this economy, 
                                               especially because when someone asks me what I want to do, I answer: 
                 strategic planning, 
                               organizational development, facilitation, 
                                                                writing and communications, 
                                                                                    program creation and problem-solving, and 
they look worried.   

They shouldn't worry.  I love doing each of those things. I have a wealth of experience doing them — for lots of different people and places.  I want variety.  I crave creativity.

For my tagline I thought of something I thought was really clever:

Have Brain, Will Travel

And what did I find?  Three other consulting entities with that name AND that it was on the business card of Wile E. Coyote — a show I virtually never watched.  Hmmm.  

Remember that key ring "carpe diem"  I got as a birthday present from my friend Thelma?  Before I even announced my move — that gift, that key ring was for a key — to a door, in a building, with a conference room that I can use — as a place to begin this new career.  The universe is speaking.  I'm listening — and I'm receiving — tremendous support.  To all you out there?  melanie mitchell thanks you and hopes you'll hang in there for this ride.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Time To Stop Running
Running running running — seems I've always been running.  From the yelling and the hollering of my childhood.  From the embarrassment and shame during high school.  From the uncertainty and inappropriate relationships of my twenties.  From the transitions in my thirties.  From the demands of my forties and my fifties.  Running running running.  Not apparent on the outside but racing on the inside. Always trying to make myself valuable, make an impression, impress even the complete stranger.  Provide for everyone.   Running running running.  Always running.  

Certainly good came out of it.  For my jobs, for my family, for my friends, for others.  But it wan't always what was best (for everyone I was trying to ingratiate myself with) and it came at a great cost to me.  Took me decades to figure that out (and lots of therapy) but finally, I'm facing what I've been and deciding to do things differently, to be different.   

But change is hard.

My children are always admonishing me that I CAN change — they're always saying it's never too late to change — this in response to my reminding them that I am who I am. And they need to stop trying to reform me and reshape my thinking. But they have a point. Not the point they think they do, but a point nonetheless.

SO I am changing and one of those changes is "opening myself to the universe" as my friend Babs says.  It started this weekend at the beach.  I was hoping, hoping, hoping to find a piece of beach glass because it  makes me feel that my sister is near.  There are times I walk searching the sands for hours and nothing — but the first time out there it was — a piece of brown glass that this photo doesn't do justice.

And then, after that piece was at my feet, the pieces just kept appearing and everyone gave me all the beach glass they found and I felt as if it were a trove...all from Donna.

Next, I started to get presents — a beautiful upcycled computer-parts copper necklace from Nancy.  I don't have or wear a lot of copper but my boss gave me an early-Christmas present a pair of earrings — copper. and then a former boss and friend Thelma surprised me with a key ring — copper. The key ring said...

Carpe diem...seize the day.

The universe is speaking.  

I think I will.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Import of Ai Weiwei

If you can get to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC before February 24, you owe it to yourself to see the exhibit Ai Weiwei: According To What?  I don't know much about conceptual art but I know what I like and I am in awe of his creative genius.  For those of you who don't know about Ai, you can Google to find out about his life, his work, his experiences in the US, and his troubles in China.  But this exhibit (I believe his first in North America), and the accompanying installations at the Hirshorn and the Sackler, will give you a firsthand look at what this one artist is attempting to do with both his work and his words.  

His massive Zodiac Heads installation makes you ponder the meaning of the twelve animals symbolizing the Chinese astrological signs and makes those animals more than human due to their intricacy, expression, and sheer size (and that eleven are actual animals and one — mine — is the mythical and mighty dragon).  Walking around this Circle of Heads made me wonder what if, what if these animals towered over us and we didn't have what my friend and animal-advocate Kris calls "the right of capture"? Our human sense of entitlement that just because we can, we kill?

There is a majestic magnificence to these bronzes and they present these creatures in a way that heralds their the superiority over we humans.  I wish I could fully explain the significance of the images I've taken or bring you there and walk you through the thoughtful philosophical approach that Ai Weiwei brings to his art — but I can't.  I can only share bits and pieces of what spoke to me.  And he must've spoken to Elton John as well because this past week he told his Beijing audience that he was dedicating his concert to the spirit of Ai Weiwei, which must have upset the concert's organizers as Ai has been under house arrest and is banned from leaving China.

The images should give you something to ponder, but Ai's words can do a far better job explaining his perspective than can I.

This may have been my favorite piece and may best portray the simplicity and sharpness of his if you can, make your way to the Hirshorn Museum and soak in the importance of his point of view — before  some government somewhere decides you shouldn't.

The field and the houses are all made of tea. The scent was glorious.