we built this city on inside jokes

I was chatting on Google Hangouts a few  weeks ago with my two best friends and revisiting last month’s BBQ birthday party.  It’s not often I have people in the same space from all my  social worlds.  I have my “non-parent” friends, the friends that I made a decade and a half ago when I moved to L.A., and then I have my “parent friends”, the friends I’ve made since moving to Brooklyn.  Of those two sources, the latter are overwhelmingly “Scout people”: the community built through what was original “5th Brooklyn Scouts” and is now the “718 Rovers”.  My two besties, who pre-date all my parent status, therefore find some amusement in watching me interact with the other Rovers, because they knew me before this round of Scout nerdiness entered my life.

It was in recanting this Hangouts anecdote that I quoted the use of inside jokes as part of this new village we’ve built in Brooklyn.  There are a lot of inside jokes with the rest of the Rovers; you don’t work together for five years without building up a lot of shared references.  At my birthday event, I was describing my experience volunteering at the Bed-Stuy YMCA and how the most popular skit I taught was Invisible Bench, and everyone yelled “INVISIBLE BENCH!” and immediately attempted to call their kids over to demonstrate it even though we were laughing too hard to call effectively.  “Invisible Bench” is a running gag in our group, along with a couple other popular skits, just for being the skit that our kids irrationally love to perform every single camp.  It’s one of many inside jokes, but it was one of the strongest moments of nerdy hilarity I remember from the party.

Realizing that we have these kind of shared references, inside jokes and a common language of anecdote though made me suddenly see my Scout people community in a way I hadn’t before.  In college, I was part of the Arts Undergrad Society, the council of students that volunteered to run the Faculty of Arts.  It was where I made my friends.  It was where I spent my time.  It was how I identified myself, I am part of the AUS.  We ran not only the Faculty but also spent the year building up to Arts County Fair, the end of year charity one-day music festival, which, by the time I graduated, was a 16,000 attendee event with two stages, rock and dance.  Because we spent so much time working together on ACF, we all shared a set of inside jokes and references in addition to our common working goals and status as students at UBC.  (In fact, as I recall, we documented those inside jokes in a running list of quotes throughout the school year.)

It was the phrase “inside jokes” that made me suddenly see the parallels between my college community and my Brooklyn one.  In both cases, it is a community of overachievers who have wholeheartedly committed to a goal in a way that is very pure of heart.  In both cases, these are communities of people who simply wish to do good, while also prioritizing the building of friendships and a social experience in the process.  In both cases, there are a lot of liberal arts nerds involved.

Basically, I identify strongly with anything where a montage set to “We Built This City (On Rock And Roll)” can be created, whether that’s an ACF setup or the 2018 Moot.  If there’s several hours of literally building something with actual labour to be done, then it needs a montage like the Muppets:

I feel it’s important for me to realize this.  I gravitate to communities of nerdy overachievers!  These are my people!  This is also who I am!  I am an over-committed do-gooder at heart, but I am happiest to do so if I can throw in a certain amount of goofiness with my earnestness.  It is a very Muppet approach, but it also means I approach my work and my effort in Scouting with a certain amount of open-heartedness that keeps it joyful.

a meditation on meditation

A few years ago, I somehow “picked up” (read: “it was $0.99 on Kindle Store) 10% Happier, Dan Harris’ tale of “How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.”  That is a lengthy title, but obviously one I can relate to.  (His follow up, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is an even better title.  This man can sell).  I did not take 10% particularly seriously on the first read, as it comes across at the beginning of his story as another dudebro memoir.  I realized later on this was intentional to convey the sense of arrogance the author had at the beginning of his journey, and I’ve attended meditation sessions led by Harris twice now at MoMA Quiet Mornings, so I know he’s not actually coming from a place of arrogance now, it just took a while for me to take the book seriously.

While I struggled initially with 10%, I did, however, like the idea of being 10% happier.  10% is a needle mover, as we say in pitches.  It’s a significant bump in results.  If any client got a 10% lift in conversion rates, they’d be thrilled.  So I read the memoir all the way through, and realized Harris had some  valuable experience to share, on how he conquered his own doubts and engaged on his own path to gain value from his practice.  I downloaded the Headspace app, and started trying to follow my own version of that path.  After all, what did I have to lose?

It took me about a week to start feeling some effects of meditation.  The way it felt when I started, I compare to applying a soothing substance to my inflamed brain.  You know how it feels when you eat too hot a pepper and then drink milk or eat yogurt to try and reduce inflammation caused by the capsaicin?  That’s what it feels like in my brain: like aloe on a sunburn.  Meditation seems to soothe the constant irritation of thoughts on my brain.

WHEN YOU'RE TRYING TO BE ZEN BUT YOU'RE METAL AF | image tagged in death meditation | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

There is also a certain amount of self-image to get past in starting a meditation practice.

This was enough to motivate me to look into other meditation practice channels.  I started going to M N D F L, NYC’s super-bougie meditation studio.  I bought my own meditation cushions so I could practice at home using the Insight Timer app (which is $2.99 a month vs. the $15/class at M N D F L or the $10/month for Headspace).  I have kept this non-academic and agnostic and have not sought to go down the meditation study path into Buddhism, as some practitioners do.  I have kept this simply to the minimal level where I get benefits from the practice.

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Meditation cushions on our new matching living room rug.

For a while, I actually had a fairly good habit going.  Then problem is, like all habits, a habit has to be maintained.  It’s too easy to fall off the bandwagon and then allow the “days off” to pile up.    I have a bad mindset around broken habits as well, and I will tell myself those habits don’t matter, that they do not make a difference. The problem is that those habits do matter, they do help my poor brain, and a positive habit like meditation is what helps break that cycle of lassitude and apathy in which I find myself unable to take action on the right priorities.

However, today, I sat myself right back down and meditated for ten minutes.  That was it.  I got out my cushions, sat cross-legged for the first time since I tore my ATFL, and put on the Insight Timer with the chirpy birds in the background.  Done.  And, as expected, I feel so much better now.

This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a struggle to return to the habit today.  My brain was ping ponging all over the place.  My internal monologue does not cease just because I have applied the triggers (sound effects, seated pose) to cue up a positive habit.  And regaining a state of quiet in my mind will be a muscle I have to rebuild, just like how I have to re-build all my physical muscles after not going to the gym for months.  I do have a mental trick for this: I visualize an icon for the thought inside a red balloon and let that drift up to the ceiling of my brain.  However, that only works for thoughts that are small and containable.  When I am really out of practice, my mind focuses on thoughts and goes off on tangents, without the discipline to push those thoughts up and out of the way for ten minutes.  So I emerged with a small sense of calm, but also fully thought out plans for multiple Things I Need To Do.

The bright side of all this, is that I came up with this entire blog post, which my brain wrote when it was supposed to be silent and drifting in a state of rest.  I also planned out a picnic for Saturday when my brother and sister in law are here, and remembered to schedule time for piano practice into my daily calendar again.  Unfortunately, none of the development of these thoughts belonged in my meditation practice.  I realize it is fine to have thoughts, that even the most experienced of practitioners will not be able to keep their minds still for meditation sessions.  The challenge and the discipline of the practice is being able to resist following those thoughts and instead putting them up into those imaginary balloons to be collected later.

It is very likely time to revisit some of my original materials: Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness series (including Real Happiness at Work, which I have on loan from BPL right now), the guided meditations in Insight Timer, maybe go back to a class or two at M N D F L just to get back in the habit (I have a free birthday class!  It just requires me to actually go to the studio).  There is no reason to not take 20 minutes a day to soothe my poor beleaguered brain, after all.  It is just a matter of, well, mind over matter sometimes, which is hard.

40 snuck up on me

Well, that went fast.

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Life moves pretty fast: on the Q train last Tuesday evening looking out at New York Harbow

When I recant the story of my thirties, the sheer amount of memories made, of events that took place, makes it feel like I had more than a decade’s worth of experiences.  I started my fourth decade with a new baby and new husband, in Los Angeles.  I ended the decade with a tween in Brooklyn.  In between, I made new friends, built a new community, said goodbye to my homeland, changed jobs a couple times, and tried to figure out who I am, how my brain works, and what really matters to me.

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Obviously, the answer to the last question is THIS GUY.

In all the fast movement of my thirties though, I didn’t adjust what 40 would mean to me.  In my mind, it meant that I would have to look like a Respectable Adult.  I think, in my subconscious, I expected some switch would click over yesterday, and I would no longer want to wear such things as my gold metallic 80s sneakers or my morning rave style gold fanny pack

Never gonna give you up, gold sneakers!

Beyond the occasional fashion item however, 40 seemed to be a cultural line in the sand, the difference between a decade that, in coastal cities, is treated as an extension of one’s early adulthood, and the entrance to a decade that means actual classic adulthood.  40 seems to be the age at which one wears classics and moves to the suburbs; it is an age at which one should be well on track with a career.  It always struck me as an age at which one should be established.  40 smacks of a sedate livelihood, of no longer being so much on a path as being at one’s destination in life.

The idea of being sedate, of being sedentary in my experiences and development, of being held within lines and within societal expectations, is horrifying to me.  Of course to do so would be a choice, but I don’t want to have to make such choices.  40 always seemed so far-off that it seemed respectable.  I appreciate being respected, but respectable sounds like the sort of thing that happens to other people.

It has taken a few months to re-frame the expectation of 40.  It was another Rover who said something to me back in April in Seattle that kicked it off.  She told me she had done so much in her 40s, and that it had been a meaningful decade to her.  That was when I realized that I had a false impression of my 40s as a static or even stagnant time of  one’s life.  One’s 40s can be a time of development, of change, of growth.  It is just another section of the journey.  Life has no destination point, so the idea that I had to be at that point by 40 is not logical.

So here I am at 40.  And I had a lovely birthday yesterday to celebrate it, with many of my dear friends and family spending their afternoons schlepping out to Governors Island with us for a BBQ.  My husband worked tirelessly all weekend to make it a special day with an organized party.  My best friend spent the first hour of the party making sure it looked festive with balloons and streamers and a sparkly crown for me.  I spent the first day of my fifth decade in a beautiful setting, in the heart of my adopted and ancestral hometown, with a mix of the people that I am lucky to have built a village with in Brooklyn, the friends I’ve been blessed to have had since L.A., and the family I am fortunate to have in the area.

It’s time to re-focus, as I always do at my birthday, on the journey I’m on, and the paths that matter, and where they lead.  40 does not mean slowing down because I’m reaching a mythical life goal.  It is just another number, and one I can choose to use as an impetus to re-evaluate, or one I can discard as meaningless.  That’s my choice, and that choice is still what matters at every age.

the complete lack of glamour in business travel

I’m in Cincinnati!  Again.  This is what it looked like last time I was here in April.

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I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but I used to think business travel would be glamorous.  This is probably because I grew up in the 80s and 90s when being a Business Woman was glamorous. The truth is, there isn’t much glamorous or sophisticated about actual work, which is what business travel is for.  It’s an extra long day, extended with flights or drives or trains, during which time I can’t work, yet still need to get the work actually done.  I do not get to swan around exotic locations wearing oversize sunglasses and a designer scarf, showing up only to deign meetings with my presence, like I thought I would get to when I was much, much younger.  Most business travel, in reality, requires days of prep beforehand, follow-up actions afterwards, and no end of sifting through all the emails that came in as soon as the wi-fi cut out on my flight.

And yet, aside from missing my men, I don’t mind business travel.  Like advertising and business in general, it isn’t a glamorous activity, but it does enable include the part of my job I like the most: talking.  Not just talking myself, but having everyone talk, brainstorming, discussing, planning, reviewing.  The kind of meetings I travel for, are when we take a step back and look at the forest, instead of being lost in trees.  Being in a room of people all working towards the same goal, even a corporate, commercial goal, is exciting, albeit in a nerdy way, and that is what I travel for.  Despite all those promises made in the 1990s about “virtual meetings”, there is still no substitute for just sitting around a conference table.  It’s likely a descendant of storytelling, sharing ideas and concepts, which is a very human element to keep in business.

Still, I’m trying to figure out where I got the idea that business travel would be exciting.  Perhaps it was because I assumed if I was important enough to travel, I would be an Important Businesswoman in general.  And even without watching mainstream movies my entire childhood, I still managed to pick up, by osmosis, the idea that being in business would be exciting and sophisticated.

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Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl”: an awful boss BUT a sophisticated terrible boss with an amazing harbour view from her office.  It should be noted that when “Younger” did a Working Girl riff this week, I died.

Where did the women of my generation get this idea?  Is it descended from the archetype Helen Gurley Brown created in 1962, the idea of the sophisticated girl about town?  Given that the woman used mineral oil as a salad dressing to discourage eating, I have my doubts about her mental stability in general.

Image result for helen gurley brown sex and the single girl

Small steps forward, ladies!  SMALL STEPS IN YOUR HEELS.

It may be more likely to stem from the increase of women in white collar jobs in the late 70s and early 80s, the daughters of the first feminist revolution, who grew up with wider horizons than their mothers – including the idea of having their own careers

Line graph shows the percentages of men and women working from 1948 to 2013.

Source: “Women in Top Management“, Sage Business Research.  Actually, it is a really fascinating article in general about the under representation of women in top management

Wherever this idea came from, it is nicely encapsulated in this Hark! A Vagrant comic strip.  This is the perception of the business woman in the 80s: all goals all the time.

What is it about being goal oriented, about being tough, that says “sophisticated” though?  It may be the association of businesswomen as being urban creatures, who would have to have the sophistication required to live in an engaging way in a big city.  It may be the idea of the intelligence required to succeed in an environment in which the odds are stacked against women.  It may even be the perceived lack of typical female insecurities, which is a whole other post.  I am still unsure what it was about this image that appealed to me so much when I was younger, much less how this image permeated pop culture enough to trickle down to me.

Regardless, here I am in Cincinnati, on a business trip, waiting for the end of the reggae fest at Fountain Square across the street so I can go to sleep, poking at a deck I’m presenting tomorrow, missing my men and eating a decidedly unsophisticated take-out salad from Panera Bread.

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Corporate reggae brought to you by Proctor and Gamble!

No one actually said business travel would be glamorous, I just assumed it.  And I suppose we all know what they say about “assume”…

the only acceptable wall is the London Wall

I am not sure what it says about the times we live in that even my ten year old associates the idea of a wall built to keep people out with our current presidential regime.  However, I doubt anything built by the government contractors salivating to get their modern-day Boss Tweed style contracts for the Mexican wall will last the two thousand years that the Roman built London wall has.

THAT is a WALL.  We visited the Museum of London today to explore the history of the people who built it, along with the other fifteen centuries of people who have lived and changed London.  It amazed me, the people who have come and gone and lived their lives here, each adding to and altering the city in their own ways.  This has been a process that seems to have accelerated in the last century, with mass communications and the amalgamation of the megalopolis, but the consistent ebb and flow of people in London, the shifts in trends and in the city government that alters how those people move and live in the city, it has changed and yet been consistent for all those millenia.  Roman London was likely a polyglot city, on a similar grid to modern London.  How many parallels do we have with our own history in these oldest of cities?

I’ve been here before, of course, in this city that reminds me so much of my own home.  Like all colonials coming back to the heart of Empire, it is culturally familiar to be here.  London is easy for me to exist in.  I could easily live here, even as an expat marked by my West Coast accent, because I understand the English culture, thanks to growing up in the British quadrant of a former colony.  I also now understand what it means to live in a massive global city, everything from moving in a crowded space to mastering a complicated subway system.  London feels like it could well be a home for me.

This is, however the first time I have brought my son, who is both very intrigued by London, and yet slightly dismissive of it in a way that only a citizen of another equally great city can be.

Ben has the extreme privilege of being able to compare London to New York, being able to compare the borough of Camden to his own of Brooklyn, our neighborhood of Hampstead and Belsize Park to Park Slope and Prospect Heights.  He can see the parallels between the great multicultural mosaics that both cities are, now, in the twenty-first century.  He can ride the Tube and admire that it is cleaner and more reliable than the NYC subway, but also note that New York has more people out and about on the streets at any given time.  Ben is a city child – all he knows is New York City – and so he is able to adapt to a city like London quickly and figure out how it works using parallels with his own home.  It’s a knowledge base and context I lacked when I first visited Europe, and a mental process that is interesting to watch.  Ben doesn’t have to adapt to being in a city in the first place; he just has to adapt to the specific place and culture of the city he’s in.

I had meant to write more about what we are actually doing while here, and even went so far as to take my Chromebook to the local laundrette to write while washing our filthy and stinky camp clothing, but got sidetracked into discussions on Brexit and Trump while there.  I blame the one glass of wine I had with dinner, as normally I wouldn’t decide polite arguing (it was quite respectful!) is more important than my own personal priority of writing.  I do not feel I gained from getting into a debate in a laundrette in London, because I do not need to learn more about opposing viewpoints: I know the opposing viewpoints and why the Left is still losing the critical thought arguments.  In this case though, I didn’t want to be rude and just shut down the conversation, which I feel is a uniquely female social obligation to be nice.  Which is a whole other blog post.  But due to that lost time, there will be no lengthy travelogue detailing our movements around London.  Yet.  It’s inevitable, of course, to post about our adventures here, but not tonight.

Instead, I leave you with the photo of my son on Hampstead Heath tonight, after he remarked “Mom, this looks so much like Prospect Park!  It looks like the Long Meadow,” and then went back to playing whatever stupid game he had on the Kindle and ignoring the scenery:

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You can take the city kid to another city, but you can’t make him give up Smashy Road.

i has a tween!

I find it exceptionally hard to believe two things:

  1. ten years have already gone by
  2. the 4’8″ 67lb creature that just tornadoed through the house in search of pants is the same entity who used to be this little angry meatloaf here:

Granted, we do actually have a photo record of him getting larger.

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Also, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t swapped out anywhere along the line because at this point, he literally looks like my face on Paul’s body.

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It is, however, slightly disturbing to think that I HAVE A TWEEN.  This creature is literally a tween.  He is ten.  He is his own person, although that person seems to be a class clown.

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Thankfully, these two awards (received yesterday, 6/18/18) balance each other out.

It’s a weird thing being a parent.  The best description I ever read of it was that it feels like your heart is walking around outside your body. This is my son.  This is the being who is the most important thing in the world to me, whom I would literally do anything I could to protect.  And here he is becoming his own person who is able to walk around in the world without any oversight or protection from me.  Worse, he’s becoming a totally different person all the time as he grows up and becomes whoever he truly is in there.

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Still.  I have a tween now, a boy who is halfway to being a man, a creature who will spend the second decade of his life building the foundation of the person he is meant to be.  My job is to support him as he becomes that person, and then boot him out into the world, because he is a terrible roomate (underwear everywhere, eats all the cereal, leaves dishes out).  It is strange to think that I have been doing that job without any formal training, because helping to create and then raise another human seems almost meta in its vast responsibility.  And yet, we have been doing that job, and we have, so far, produced a fairly decent human being.

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We have a tween.  Ten years ago, when they handed me my son in a bundle at Cedars-Sinai, I could not have imagined getting to this point.  I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when I look back at Mister Class Clown here from his junior year of college.

the post online argument shameover

shameover (n):

1. a feeling of regret and self-shaming that remains even after the cause of the event is forgotten by everyone but you
2. a feeling of regret and self-shaming that continues after a particularly shameful action

I am in the throes of #2 of a shameover from arguing on the Internet.  It isn’t the argument itself I’m ashamed of, but the sheer waste of time it represents.  It’s time I could be spending with my family, or time I could be practicing the piano, or time I could be doing my writing class homework.  It’s time I could use to clear out my work inbox or finish up some Scouting responsibilities (as District Commissioner and acting GSM for one group, the Scouting never stops) or just return personal emails.  There’s a dozen ways I could productively use time.  Arguing on the Internet is not one of them.

Duty Calls

Therefore, after two hours of generally wasted time arguing over the child migrant separation crisis, I have a shameover.  And it feels awful.  I feel like I do when I over-indulge in other ways.  I feel like I do when I carb binge, when my blood sugar spikes and I know it will eventually crash as well.  I feel like I do when I watch waste of time TV.  I feel like I do when I spend too much money, on impulse, on an item I do not particularly need and cannot return.  I feel like I do when I drink two glasses of wine too fast and know it will mess up my sleep.  I feel like I did last week when I trolled Trump supporters on the street. I feel like have cost myself something I cannot get back: in this case, time, energy, and a whole lot of adrenaline.

I consider it a waste of time to argue online, because  no argument online can be won anymore.  No one’s mind can be changed anymore.  No one wants to acknowledge logical points or even facts in an age when everything can be dismissed as “fake news”.  There was once a day when people would engage in civil, well thought out discourse on bulletin boards; now we all wallow in fallacies of online arguing.  There is no winning an argument or changing anyone’s mind online anymore; there is only being better at arguing and feeling better about being right.

The only saving grace of arguing online is that there are some cases where I learn something new.   Which I did, actually, tonight, from the original post that sparked the entire argument, which was moderately educational!   This Medium post similarly argues that arguing is a positive in that it helps one “bulletproof” one’s arguments.  Unfortunately, it’s almost always at a disproportionate amount of time and energy investment to argue for that knowledge.  Often, the knowledge I get from arguing online is information could have acquired elsewhere without paying such a high price in time, energy and effort, without arguing, without getting my blood pressure and my adrenaline up.  If I go poke around outside my own liberal bubble, I am pretty sure I can hear others’ points of view without having to waste time being polite and logical to random people I don’t even know who jump in the middle of an argument and decide to engage via deflecting and whataboutism.

Idiot

TRUE.  Because one person’s “FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE” is totally representative of thousands of other experiences and makes them an expert in the subject!

Why then, do I continue to waste time arguing online?  It inevitably results in me losing sleep, not over the argument itself, but over the guilt of the waste of time and energy from it (not to mention the adrenaline coursing through my veins from any argument).  I think it’s because there are two factors of appeal to online arguing for me: the need to hold people accountable for the social injustices they are supporting or failing to fight, and the need to be right.  On the one hand, I have always wanted to crusade for justice and against what I see as wrong, so having the entire Internet in which to do so is great for arguing for what I see as morally correct.  On the other hand, I just really like being smarter than everyone else and I will totally admit that.

Arguing online may hold a thin veneer of justification in that it allows one to try to use rhetoric to convince someone to do good.  Perhaps one will have the opportunity to impart knowledge and understanding to someone else.  Perhaps one will learn some critical piece of information or insight into the logic of the argument.  Perhaps one will learn a new way of looking at something, a new perspective that helps one understand the initial discussion topic better.  In some cases, when people share their perspectives with me, I’m actually grateful for the insight and knowledge.

However, ultimately, the knowledge that one cannot win an argument on the Internet means that if one is arguing, one is very likely arguing wholly due to ego.  It then requires a degree of mindfulness to recognize one’s ego as a primary motivator so one can pledge that one will not argue on the goddamn Internet and then have to write an entire blog post on why doing so is a bad idea before one can peacefully fall asleep.  Now, 900 words later, I feel like I’ve acquired some of that mindfulness – and I can go to bed.  Goodnight world!  Tomorrow is another day of being nicer on the Internet.