Turn Down For What


When the Dude was a baby, he refused to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. He’d fall asleep in my arms, looking all angelic and harmless, and I’d set him in his crib and shuffle back to bed. As soon as I was about to drift off, however, I’d hear his whimpers through the monitor and trudge back in to pick him up.

For six weeks, my husband and I traded shifts. One of us would sleep and the other would hold the child.

I mentioned our problem to the pediatrician, and she asked how I knew I had to go pick up the Dude.

“He cries.” Duh. What kind of pediatrician was she?

“Does he cry?” she asked. “Or does he ooch.”  My blank stare was a mix of confusion and exhaustion, so she continued to explain.

“An ooch isn’t a real cry, it’s sort of a whimper of discomfort, like when you complain about dinner taking too long to arrive after you order, or your husband leaving his dirty socks on the floor.”

When I thought about it, I picked the Dude up the minute I heard any sound at all. It was ooching, not crying, but when my husband can’t sleep, his stare is enough to keep me awake, let alone an ooching baby.

That’s when the pediatrician gave me the greatest advice of all time. “Turn the monitor down. Better yet, turn it off. if your baby needs you, he’ll let you know.”

Funny, once we turned the monitor off, the child slept through the night. Now he can sleep through just about anything, including his econ class.

When I was working as a consultant, I’d get calls at all hours of the day and night. Once, I even got a call at 3 a.m. from a manager who was looking not for me, but for a woman who worked for me. In Canada. I said, “I looked around my bedroom and she’s not here.”

When I asked him why the hell he was calling me to find a woman in a completely different country, he answered, “Because she doesn’t answer her phone, but you do.”

Most of the work calls I received after reasonable business hours weren’t urgent. In fact, most of them were complaints about events I couldn’t alter or correct because they were already over. Some were only half-thought out–a knee-jerk response to an event without any real call to action.  I’d trained my coworkers, however, to expect that I would answer any call that came in, no matter how trivial. It was ooching. I needed to turn off the monitor.

From that point on, when I left my office, I left my office. No phone. No checking email. If something urgent needed my attention, folks could find me. They were creative that way. Funny, once I stopped responding immediately to every call and email, the ones I did receive were less reactive and more thoughtful.

The Dude is grown and I’ve left consulting, but I still find quietude in rare supply.

Sometimes I feel like the world is screaming at me. So much media, so much noise, so much anger. Devices ping and ring and play snippets of music to let me know they’re tired of being ignored. I get email notifications from blogs that I follow, websites that purchase from and groups I belong to. My landline rings with surveys and sweepstakes and political robocalls.

Even now, the Dude ooches, only now he does it via text. I used to respond right away, glad to provide assistance, even for problems he could have solved himself with nothing more than a google search. I spent an entire afternoon at a museum listening to him complain about how much his life sucked at college–a problem I couldn’t solve, at a time when I should have been enjoying where I was and the people I was with. When I realized I was hurting him more than I was helping him, I stopped answering his texts right away. It’s only fair. He takes his own sweet time in answering mine.

This constant connection to the ooching universe leaves me with little time and space to think. So much crowds my brain, the words and stories get all tangled up with the competition.

So every day, I turn off the proverbial monitors once a day. No email, no phone, no Facebook, no texts. I allow the house to be totally silent. It’s sort of creepy at first. We aren’t good at being still, or being around stillness. Most of what tugs at our skirts all day, however, isn’t urgent. It’s just stuff.

And you know what? While I’m enjoying silence, the world spins along all the same. Just because the universe runs on the idea of “I ooch therefore I am”, I am not required to listen, and sometimes the universe is better off for not having been heard.

I suggest this to others, and I get a lot of pushback. We all want to feel important, and turning off the monitor requires us to accept that maybe we aren’t as invaluable as we think we are. It also requires us to deal with the unhappy people we’ve trained to expect our ubiquitous availability.

What makes it all worth it? When I’ve had enough of the silence, I’m ready to really listen.

So I thank you for taking a moment to read this blog. Now turn off your computer and take in some quiet. I’ll all be here when you get back.

I wrote these haiku and you won’t believe what they say!

Trending Facebook News!
Famous couple gets divorced
Oh— and Greenland sank

___________________________

Jen’s diet secret!
She only eats on Tuesday
You heard it here first

___________________________

My note to the Mom
Who judged my cart at Target
Back the **** off, bitch

___________________________

Disney Princesses
Drawn as feminist icons
Click. Damn. Page Not Found

___________________________

Hamster burritos
Versus peekaboo kittens
YouTube cute smackdown

___________________________

Kim Kardashian’s
Booty as a snowblower
*That* was worth my time

___________________________

Don’t eat these five foods
One – Anything that tastes good
Two through five – Ditto

___________________________

A dude trained his cat
To clean its own litterbox
Could you help my son?

___________________________

Instagram picture
Taken while their food turned cold
So they sent it back

___________________________

On Buzzfeed I learned
Cool new ways to cut up fruit
That I never eat

___________________________

These thirty photos
Prove beyond a single doubt
I’m avoiding work

___________________________

Back to work again
But first I’ll take a sec to
Check out Ruelala

You can have what you choose

moutainpathIndra Nooyi caused quite the ruckus with her comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival. I was glad to hear her finally say the words out loud–You can’t have it all.

I joined the same consulting firm where Ms. Nooyi worked shortly after she left. I have to wonder if she heard the same mantra I did, over and over again–You can have it all, just not at the same time.

At the firm, once a woman ascended into the ranks of management, she was invited to a luncheon where the female partners discussed how they negotiated the demands of career and motherhood. It was meant to be helpful.

It was total bullshit. That was my reaction to it, anyway.

What I heard at the time was, you can have it all, but not at the same time, so give us what we want from you right now, and you can have what you want later, if there’s still time left over. What they were really saying, however, was if this is what you want, this is what is required to make it happen in a real world.

The woman shared what worked for them, what gave them the life they wanted, and if I wanted what they had, it came at a price. The firm would own my now if I wanted to achieve the an equivalent later.

What wasn’t made explicit was the larger question–Was this what I really wanted? My reaction to the presentation should have been a wake up call. The answer was no.

You can’t have it all. You can have what you choose. They’d each found ways to navigate the challenges while encountering the inevitable obstacles, but they couldn’t change reality.

Ms. Nooyi’s remarks have been characterized as negative and pessimistic. I think she’s a realist. When I tried to have it all, I constantly juggled elements of my life, responding to the demands of the universe.  It was tantamount to letting my circumstances make my choices for me. I chafed against my constraints until I decided couldn’t fight anymore.

I chose, knowing that by choosing one outcome, I had to forgo the other.

There is no one right way to live. You can scale a mountain a multitude of ways. Some are harder, some are easier. Some are more treacherous, some are torturous and some take forever. Each has their challenges and their rewards. In the end, however, they all lead to the same place.  The path between is everything.

Making my peace with leaving some paths unexplored is not always easy. I feel regret and envy. I second-guess my decisions, wonder about what might have been, or what I could have avoided. I worry how my path effected those who traveled with me. The best remedy for me is to fully appreciate the path that I’ve chosen in all it’s messy, chaotic beauty.

That is a choice as well, and it is enough.

Photograph : Mountain Path, by Jessie Owen © 2011 Creative Commons/Flickr

Throw Out 50 Thoughts #24 – That was a waste of time

hourglassTime is a gift. Time is fleeting. That’s a half hour of my life I won’t get back. The tape loop cycles in my head.

Tape loop, will you please, please, shut the hell up?

When I was a management consultant, I kept track of my time in 15 minute increments. Time without a code was overhead, and overhead brought on the managerial grouchy-face, so was best avoided.  I never really lost the mindset. The habit of packing time like Tetris blocks is reinforced by our outcome-oriented society, and face it, a to-do list with lots of to-done items is satisfying.

I’m neck-deep in editing a novel in hopes of finding an agent. It’s painstaking, exhausting work. I want to finish, not just because it’s a painful process, but because it represents a milestone in my journey as a writer. Last weekend my husband was out of town. My son was supposed to be out for the evening. I was going to edit like no one has ever edited before.

It didn’t go well. I’d spent the better part of the day buried in words, and I was mentally exhausted. I was writing stuff just to write stuff.

My son came home early. Way early. And then he didn’t go back out. He camped on the sofa and watched the ballgame. I wandered out for some soda water, and never came back. I sat down next to the Dude, got a beer and popped some corn. After the game was over we watched a couple of hours of Modern Family. Like Law and Order, Modern Family is always on, all one has to do is find the right station. Soon it will have it’s own variants, Modern Family – the Minivan Chronicles, Modern Family – Live Poetry Readers.

The next day I was kicking myself. I was behind. Did I not care about my book?  I was a sloth, and a slacker, and way too old to be a Gen Xer (Most Gen Xers are way too old to be GenXers these days). I would never finish. Never.

I’ll admit. I don’t always align my choices with my values. But am I really honest with myself about what I value?

I treasured every moment of my evening with the Dude. I was happy, and before long, he’ll be in college and I won’t have the opportunity at all. Is there more virtue in sitting brain-dead in front of my computer, convincing myself that I’m actually getting something done when I’m not?

The time is only wasted if I’m not embracing what I’m doing, and the only person who can assess the value of my activity is me. If I spend an evening playing 2048, that’s okay, as long as I’m present and happy playing 2048, and my score is higher than everyone else in my family. I totally rule at 2048.

So, I can stop with the self-directed managerial grouchy face. I can’t see it anyway, and it gives me wrinkles. I will save it for the Dude, who should be studying, but is throwing a tennis ball against the wall outside my office. What a waste of time.

Photograph – “Time” by Alexander Boden © 2007 Creative Commons/Flick

 

 

Throw out 50 Thoughts #23 – It’ll never sell

1070845410_28ee7a7f69_zA few years ago, I wrote a novel. It resides on my hard drive. It’s drivel.

I took classes, learned a lot, but not enough. My second novel also resides on my hard drive.

I took more classes, read more books and wrote a third novel. I even let people read this one. They liked it. I thought maybe I’d try to publish this one. So, I trolled agent websites to understand what the market was looking for.

Everywhere I went, I heard the same thing. You’ve got to have a hook. You need your elevator speech, your concept, your logline. You need to explain your novel in one pithy sentence or an agent won’t take it. I realized that my book would never sell. It wasn’t unique enough. So I rewrote it…and rewrote it again…and again.

This is how I’m wired. I throw myself at challenges until I’m drinking Jack Daniels while crying in the bathtub. My husband first encountered the phenomenon when I was in business school. The phrase “net present value of electric cranberry dryers” still raises my blood pressure. Luckily I don’t hear it much.

The phrase “You gotta have a hook” elicits much the same reaction. I worked my novel until I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore, yet was still contemplating clean-sheeting the whole thing once again. I’d do it in a month, just like NaNoWriMo. To prepare, I went back to the original version–the one I let people read.

I got to a passage that gave me pause.

 

“I thought I knew what I wanted, but now, I’m not so sure.”

Leslie shrugged. “It’s not so hard, you know.”

Jess sighed. Even breathing seemed difficult at the moment. “What isn’t?”

“Knowing what you want.”

“Please, Leslie, tell me how, Because I can’t hear the sound of my own voice anymore.”

“Well that’s easy enough—stop listening to everyone else.”

 

This was the novel that I wrote for myself, not the market, and it’s a better book.

We all have endeavors that the market doesn’t value. Does it really matter? If I focused on what people wanted, I’d write a Medieval political thriller about meth-dealing Zombies who are into BDSM. (Maybe my next book – steal my idea and I’ll sue)  I wrote the story that I needed to tell, not because I wanted to be published, but because doing so made me happy.

This book may also live on my hard drive. It will have good company. Maybe I’ll find the hook, or maybe it will find me. There are some things in life we do for money, like cash flow analysis or determining the ROI on an electric cranberry dryer. There are some things we do for ourselves.

Off to work on that new novel. I’m thinking it needs a sociopath detective vampire artiste.

 

Photograph, “Shad Lures” by Carl Vizzone © 2007 Creative Commons/Flikr

 

 

Text to me baby, or maybe not.

textingThe Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy (yes, there is such a thing) recently published a study on the impact of texting on relationships. They studied 300 married/engaged/serious couples aged 18-25 who frequently text their mate. The upshot? Unless you’re conveying neutral info, talk to the hand, then keep it away from the phone.

The study says women tend to be happy overcommunicators, as long as they’re in it alone. The more men text, the more unhappy both parties are with the relationship. In simple terms, more men text, the more likely they are to say something that pisses their partners off. I could have told you that years ago.

I used to call my husband at work to say hi. Our conversations went something like this.

Hello?

Hi! What’s up?

Working

So you’re busy?

What do you want?

Nothing. Just saying hi.

Hi. Are we done now?

This conversation would be even less engaging in text-ese

RU There?

RU There?

RU There?

Yes.

Hi! 🙂

Hi. Are we done now?

RU There?

If I long for human connection, I log into Twitter.

I do recognize that compared to the study subjects, I am one step into my grave. My son texts constantly and tells me that not having grown up with the technology, I can’t appreciate its power. I’ve gotten texts from my son, however. Let’s just say I’m not convinced his generation is so different.

This sux! I’m so screwed!

What?

Dude?

Just tell me that you’re okay?

If you don’t text me in the next five minutes, I’m coming over there. Do you hear me?

Sorry. Talking to Nick. NVM.

How would this play out if he had a girlfriend?

Did U get my txt?

??

Which one?

All of them.

Yes.

RU There? (Interpretation : So you have nothing to say? I pour my heart out to you, and you don’t even respond? It’s the exact reflection of our relationship. I pursue, and you maintain a safe emotional distance. You never share with me. I feel so alone.)

Sorry; Talking to Nick. (Interpretation : Sorry, I had to tell my Mom not to come over.  I can share my emotions. I ran out of donuts this morning. I was bummed. Are we done now?)

I know I exaggerate. I used too many vowels along with case and punctuation. All that aside, I know that texting is just one more channel through which to be misunderstood. Sexting is even more fraught with danger. Sex is a big enough source of anxiety in a relationship. Combining it with complex communication and the ability for widespread dissemination is a recipe for disaster.

My advice to my son is to use face to face communication whenever possible. That way he can get to the apology quicker.

As for me. I still don’t call my husband at work unless it’s something important, which generally involves large sums of money or a hospital visit. We reserve texting for specific purposes. Chatting via text is permitted when one of us is stuck on a plane post-boarding , at a school/sports event, or when we’re in our respective offices at opposite ends of the house and don’t feel like getting up to discuss what to order for dinner. We used to email each other. Texting is much faster.  Who says technology can’t bring people together?

Photograph – “Texting” by Ed Brownson © 2010 Creative Commons/Flickr