Can Feminists Still Like Romantic Comedies?

These days, it’s not very fashionable to be a feminist and I had to think for a minute whether I even wanted to associate myself with that particular term. However, I have been reading Caitlin Moran’s, How to be a Woman, and I must say I agree with her sentiments on reclaiming it:

“We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”

I suppose the challenge is that the term has been re-framed over the years to be synonymous with hating men and all things feminine. I can’t speak for the rest of the ladies out there, but I can say for myself that I want both the right to vote, to be treated as an equal, and to be able to claim out loud that I love watching Dancing with the Stars. If calling myself a feminist means I can’t like watching movies starring the likes of Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Drew Barrymore, and Sandra Bullock, then I’m not so sure I like that label.

Then again, if you look at my life, I am doing a pretty fair imitation of being a feminist. I chose to keep my name when I got married, I chose not to have children, I have a good career and have had a higher income than my husband since we met. We share the household chores. (Okay, ‘share’ is perhaps a bit strong – he does most of them…) And no one made me give up my “girl” card in order to do any of those things. I do love watching Dancing with the Stars (when are they going to give Tristan MacManus a real partner, anyway?) and I own more chick-flicks than I care to admit, not to mention all the rom-coms I watch on Netflix.

Although noted feminist Gloria Steinem told us, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” I don’t think anything in that comment says that women can’t choose to enjoy the company of men. Steinem herself chose to get married at the age of 66. I think she just meant we get to decide for ourselves if we want to share our lives with someone else, and that our worth is not tied up in the worth of whomever we choose to share it with.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, too. If I were forced to choose between having the right to vote and watching silly romantic comedies, there is no contest. I hardly want to go backwards in terms of the rights women in this country now enjoy. And in some respects I think it may be a sign of just how far we’ve come that many of us take them so much for granted.  I just don’t want my intellect and my capabilities to be confused with my emotional sensibilities.

When I was little, my mother used to read me a bedtime story every night. She tried to provide me with a mix of gender-varied toys (I had both dolls and matchbox cars), but every night I asked for the same story to be read, Cinderella. She worried about how this might affect my sense of self-worth (would I think I needed Prince Charming to come save me in order to be happy?), but she indulged my requests night after night.  In spite of that early fantasy-based influence, I think I turned out okay. I have always thought of myself as pretty independent and self-driven. What I remember from the story, and the Disney movie, was not some anti-feminist sub-plot, but rather that Cinderella made friends with all the animals, that she had a fairy godmother who granted her wishes, and that she got to wear a beautiful dress and those crazy glass slippers. The prince was really just a bonus in the grand scheme of things.

Yeah, I like a good romantic story. I also like heated theological debates that challenge my Christian beliefs. And I like a strong martini at the end of a hard week of work. I like to run half-marathons. I like using my brain on a daily basis at my job. I like holding hands with my husband when we go for walks. I am a complex person, just like everyone else, and none of us has to be all one thing in order to be another. So, yes, we feminists can still like romantic comedies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just put a Julia Roberts movie in my instant queue…

Dancing with Disappointment

One of my Team in Training teammates, Emmie Vance, wrote a wonderful post on her blog, Pain Comes in Many Forms, about the hit your pride takes when you don’t live up to your own commitments.

I wasn’t putting in the hard work of consistent training that a marathon requires, the very core lesson and triumph of my previous races.  So at some point, I had to admit the inevitable: I will not be running a full marathon in San Diego. This hurts my pride.  I should be better at this, should have done things differently with my priorities when it came to making time to run.

This got me to thinking about my own dance with personal disappointment. I strive to find that balance between self-confidence and humility, but truth be told I am often far more comfortable beating myself up over failed expectations. I have counseled many others to “take the frying pan out of their hand,” but, of course, that advice is far easier to dispense than to follow. I think most of us know intellectually that punishing ourselves for not being our best selves does not actually serve any productive purpose. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be the kind of person who is emotionally divorced from the outcome of their efforts either. I do a good job because I care about doing well – so, conversely, it hurts when I don’t do so well. (Brian commented to me this morning that he is always surprised how much I turn on myself in these situations instead of considering maybe it’s not actually all about me and my shortcomings. Not blame myself for things outside my control?  Novel concept…)

Why do I keep hitting myself in the head with a hammer? 

Because it feels so good when I stop.

I guess it all comes back to finding balance. Holding yourself accountable, with compassion. I also find that I often get myself into situations doomed for failure because I have lost my focus. I am so busy flailing around that I’m not actually doing anything meaningful. I have learned that when I start dropping balls left and right, it’s time to start setting some of those balls down. It’s time to exercise that all important word, “no.” Usually, I can get myself back to center when I start eliminating the excess noise in my life.

It reminds me of a situation Brian and I had kayaking a few years ago. We were on our sit-on-top kayaks, paddling around near his parents home. It was February, but the weather was typical Pacific Northwest – cool and overcast, and the water was calm. For no particular reason, my center of balance got off kilter and suddenly I was in the drink.  The Puget Sound runs about 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round and it’s not a place you want to spend any significant amount of time or you risk hypothermia. I was wearing a wet suit, but that bought me time more than protection. I had practiced getting back in the kayak from the water, so I knew I could do it. First attempt, I got my torso up on the kayak and propelled myself right over the other side. Second attempt, I pulled the kayak over my head. Third attempt was no more successful. At this point I realized that I was doing more flailing than making any real progress. I forced myself to stay in the water, take a couple of breaths and think for a moment about what I needed to do. Brian advised that I get my torso on top of the kayak in one motion, stop, and then get into a seated position in a second motion. Because I had taken that moment to pause, I was able to take in his advice and successfully got back onto my kayak in my next attempt.

I think we forget that sometimes we need more than a few attempts to get back on course, and that it’s okay to “stop and drop” before we start rolling. It may take twenty tries to get it right and maybe it is the trying that it is important. Or perhaps no amount of attempts will work. (What do they say in business? If you haven’t failed, you must not be trying hard enough.) In any case, taking a moment to take stock, clear your mind, and make thoughtful choices is never going to be bad advice. The trick, I guess, is figuring out how to give yourself permission to take that moment. It occurs to me that, ironically, maybe even that takes a few tries, so I should probably give myself a break for not being perfect at that either.

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin

A Memory of Curt for Memorial Day

I met Curt Mason through my first husband, Steve, in college.  Curt was his best friend and even though he was not in school with us, we spent considerable time hanging out and getting up to no good with Curt. Curt was the master of no good, but nonetheless he was ‘quality people’ in all the ways that really mattered. He was probably the most loyal person I have ever met and once he decided you were in his circle, he never, ever, judged you. It’s a testament to his character that during the days that Steve and I were ending our marriage and breaking each others hearts, Curt maintained his relationships with both of us. (Fortunately, with time, Steve and I have been able to put the past in the past – maybe Curt knew us better than we knew ourselves.)   It’s been just two years since he died and I think of him often and fondly.

Curt was a master storyteller and most of my memories involve Curt holding court and spinning the craziest of stories. And, generally speaking, the craziest parts were all true and the rest embellished beyond all recognition. Curt never let facts get in the way of a good story (for some reason he always referred to himself as “Curtis E” Mason and I did not learn until years later than his middle name did not actually start with the letter E…), but he also knew ultimately that the truth made the best story of all. His greatest love was rock music, and that love was felt most passionately for Thin Lizzy, but fundamentally he had a deep respect for the craft of making music itself and he would give props to any musician who laid it all on the line and had the musical chops to back it up. I happened to be reading Billy Bob Thornton’s “The Billy Bob Tapes” and encountered this passage that just screamed Curt to me:

I think…country music actually came from old men who’d sit on coke crates out in front of the store or on the screened-in porches or in the yard under the hickory nut tree, spinning yarns and just talking about people who lived there. Country music, real country music, is just different from other types of music. The songs are usually driven by stories.

When I replace ‘country’ with ‘rock’ and change the location to out by the pool at his apartment after dark with beer in hand, I am transported back in time. I’d like to think Curt would agree with me and if he were still here, would have a story or ten to tell about his experience with some country music artist or other.

Curt lived hard and it is almost certain that the years of smoking, drugs, and alcohol caught up to him when he died unexpectedly at the age of 46. At the time we met I was a wide-eyed innocent college co-ed and there was literally nothing we had in common except for our connection via Steve. He was rough around the edges and his hard life showed. I was clean cut to the core and my easy life showed. From outward appearances, he was hardly anyone I would have picked as a friend. But yet he was a friend, and a dear one to me. I think Curt’s biggest gift was that since he did not actually pick his friends based on their appearance, he was open to what anyone had to say. Whatever goofy naive observation I had to share around the poolside was accepted without question and he always had his own observations to add.

In his later years, when he was a late-night DJ (The Rocker for KKFI 90.1 FM in Kansas City), he would occasionally send me Instant-Message notes if I happened to be online when he was on the air. I don’t recall that we discussed anything deep or profound (although he did tell me he quit smoking by waking up one morning, deciding to stop and then simply never smoking again – another of the unbelievably true stories of Curt’s life). We mostly just chatted about the day-to-day stuff, and now that he’s gone I cherish those chats. I can only imagine how many other people were the recipients of these late night reach outs, and I am certain I was not the only one.

He was not in the military and did not fight for our country, but he did tell her stories. Here on Memorial Day he is the one who has come first to my own memory, so in honor of a great storyteller, I chose to share just a small piece of his story.

It All Started with Sunscreen

Gaby is my crazy Brazilian friend. (If you do not have one of these in your life, it is second only to having a gay best friend.) We met in Fiji and it is somewhat of a miracle that we are such good friends as our encounter started with her lecturing me about not wearing sunscreen. Because of my extremely pale complexion I am often asked if I am from Canada, Alaska, Seattle, or any other convenient place where there is little sunshine. Anytime we go somewhere that even has a hint of sunshine, people become extremely concerned about my super-whiteness and over the years countless well-meaning people have advised me about the importance of sunscreen. I know all you melanin-enhanced folks out there are just trying to help, but please trust me that I wear copious amounts of the stuff. How do you think I stay this pale? Truthfully, I only come in two skin tones – burnt and pale. I have suffered the consequence of going out without sunscreen enough times to now be deeply committed to my sunscreen regimen. I use obscene amounts of sunscreen, and can go through an entire can in a single poolside outing. Given my own obsessiveness in this matter, it gets to be tiresome when the umpteenth person in a row says something like, “Oh my God, I hope you are wearing sunscreen.” And adding a charming Brazilian accent does not actually make it any more charming.

So, poolside in Fiji, Gaby says to me in a charming Brazilian accent, “Oh my God, I hope you are wearing sunscreen.” I sigh and reply that indeed I am wearing sunscreen. Fast forward to the next day and I remain my pasty self and Gaby has suffered such severe sunburn that they have to call the resort medicine man in to treat her. She was not actually wearing sunscreen. I did not realize it then, but this was the start of a beautiful friendship. Aside from that encounter we did not interact much in Fiji, but our two traveling groups somehow merged into one and we left the trip exchanging everyone’s email addresses.

Gaby sent out a few messages and I believe even sent me a Christmas card that first year. She sent out a broadcast invite for people to come to her home in Carmel for a gourmet dinner she was preparing. I knew she was a chef, but little did she know that I needed little to no excuse to jump on a plane and fly to CA for a weekend full of fine dining. We replied with an enthusiastic yes to the invite and we were even welcomed to stay with her and her husband, Carlos, although somehow we did not have any more contact until we showed up at their doorstep the day of the dinner. I would come to learn that this is often how things work with Gaby. The details sort themselves out and it’s often best just to plunge ahead into whatever is in front of you.

From there, we became the kind of friends who spend long hours in deep and meaningful conversation when we are together, and often otherwise go months without talking. When we see each other, the conversation picks right back up where it left off, and here we are still talking and laughing together 10 years later.

We flew down for a visit this weekend with no agenda other than to see a little sunshine and enjoy their company. Most of the weekend was very relaxing with a bike ride along Monterey Bay, watching movies, and generally catching up. We did decide to go to a local restaurant, 1833, for drinks and appetizers.

On the way home, we drove past an Asian massage parlor that was advertised as open until 11pm. This was not in a shady section of town, in fact it was just a few blocks from where we stopped to get some frozen yogurt… Gaby thought this was fascinating and decided that we needed to determine whether this was one of those establishments that offers more ‘gentleman’s services’ than it does massage. So, we drive around the block and pulled up in front of the place in their black Mercedes. (If you are going to go to a massage parlor of dubious reputation, you might as well arrive in style.) Gaby orders Brian to go inside, check it out, and report back. He hesitates and decides he is not so sure of this mission, so Carlos agrees to go with him and off they go. A few minutes later they re-appear, hop back in the car and we make a speedy exit. “So..?” Gaby asks. Brian and Carlos confirm that indeed they could have gotten far more than the standard issue massage and in fact the lady behind the door (no reception desk in the waiting area, just a door with a little window that the ‘receptionist’ looks out through) told them to come back in an hour, well after closing, and they would be ‘taken care of.’ Gaby wants to know how much it costs for these extra services, but in their haste the boys forgot to ask. Gaby is indignant that they went all they way into this place and failed to find out the most important piece of information that people were sure to ask when she shared this news – the price.

I would love to say this is an unusual event for a trip to see Gaby, but really, it is pretty much par for the course. Things go along quietly and suddenly at 11pm on a Saturday night, it is imperative that we learn whether and how much the nefarious local massage parlor charges. (Once, I made the mistake of telling Gaby that it’s bad luck to give a knife as a gift without getting a penny in exchange so we had to venture out to a friend’s house at midnight to get said penny before they were on a flight early the next day.)

Sunscreen comments aside, how can you not love a person who drags you to massage parlors in the middle of the night just to find out if they are actually the other kind of parlor?  The answer is you can’t, and really, why would you want to..?

You can turn off the radio, but you can’t shut out the music

I have a terrible affliction. Anyone who has been married to, or worked for me, has experienced it first-hand.  I get songs stuck in my head. Doesn’t matter what kind of music: Lady Gaga, Disney, church hymns, TV commercial jingles (think I’m kidding – ask my former team about the time I got the Xfinity theme stuck in my head…). Anything and everything can get stuck in there and it does not particularly seem to matter if I even like that song, or know all the words to it. I find the only solace I get is to share the ‘song of the day’ with those around me and see if I can find a kindred spirit. On those days when some tune is bouncing around in my head, I come into work and announce it out loud to see who is going to go on the musical journey with me. Generally speaking, I can find an innocent bystander who now has it stuck in their heads as well (and my personal favorite is when I announce that day’s song and the person has never heard of it, so they feel compelled to Google it and then they get it stuck in their heads).

After giving up the radio and MP3 player for Lent, I thought I might be freed from this scourge for 40 days. Ha!  I am going to church on Sundays, so the ratio of church hymns in my repertoire has gone up exponentially. But that’s not all, I find I can just read some reference to a song and, blammo, it’s now on the list. Or, let’s say it’s a particular day of the week, like, oh, Friday. And, yep, Rebecca Black’s, “Friday” starts playing on my mental mp3 player. (And, just for the record, I cannot stand that song!)

Plus the sickness has expanded and I have caught myself several times singing the song of the day out loud to the cat (with the words adjusted, of course, to either work her name into the lyrics, or to tailor the meaning of the song to be more relevant for cats). I am wandering around my stone cold silent house humming and singing to the cat, the husband, or even just to myself.

What is going on here??

I think if you are a musical person, if music touches your heart and soul, turning off the radio for 40 days is not going to change that. I’m not sure I actually realized I was a “musical person,” par se, but the truth is that I have always sung funny versions of songs to the cat, and getting songs stuck in my head is hardly anything new. Although you could not pay me good money to sing in front of people (seriously, there is not enough money or booze in the world to make me sing in public, so don’t even waste your time thinking you can figure out a way to make me), I do love to sing in the car along with the radio. One day years ago I was driving to work and belting my guts out to some song I don’t even remember now (but I do remember singing it very impressively…). I got into the kitchen at the office and a fellow employee commented that I must have enjoyed my commute that morning. He had driven up next to me on his motorcycle and said that I was giving the performance of a lifetime without even seeing him there next to me on the highway.

So, you can turn off the radio, pack up the MP3 player, but if you got the music in you, it’s there to stay.

Homeless and Mentally Ill

The infamous ‘they’ say the pendulum swings from conservative to liberal and back again over time; from social services to private services, from big government to little government. I have no interest in sparking a political debate on this matter, but I think it’s fair to say that humankind struggles to maintain balance in any given snap-shot in time.  In the 1960’s people were institutionalized in mental institutions for reasons such as being a rebellious teenager. And the conditions in those institutions were less than pleasant (think Nurse Ratched and electro-shock therapy from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest).  In the 80’s the pendulum swung the other way and any number of patients (in-mates?) were “de-institutionalized.” This is an extremely gross over-simplification, but it seems like the institutions were deplorable and wretched so the solution became to let everyone go, mentally ill and mentally sane alike. It has created a state of Koyaanisqatsi, the Hopi word for “life out of balance” (and, yes, an amazing film commentary on just how out of balance we are). Which brings me to what I witnessed today.

I was standing at my bus stop this morning and a clearly disturbed man was pacing back and forth and talking out loud to himself. There are a fair number of homeless living around Seattle Center, near where I live, so sadly this is not that uncommon of an occurrence. However, this young man was clearly very agitated, which was cause enough for those of us at the bus stop to take notice. For whatever reason he chose to speak directly to another, older, homeless man, who was quietly smoking a cigarette.

I should pause here to say I don’t really know if either of these men were homeless and I don’t know that one can tell “just by looking.” I am quite certain the younger man was not in his right mind, whether from drugs or mental illness I can’t say. The older man was a bit ‘bedraggled’ in appearance, but otherwise minding his own business.

Out of nowhere the younger man jumped on the older man and threw him to the ground and started choking him and demanding to know what he had done to some innocent young woman this younger man knew. The older man started screaming at him to get up, but otherwise did not honestly put up much of a struggle other than to try and get away. I had my smart phone in my hand and a bystander pointed at my phone and I suddenly realized I needed to call 911. As I was dialing, the young man finally started to run off in the other direction and by the time the dispatch came on, I told her two men had been fighting but it had broken up (the older man yelled out “I wasn’t fighting no one,” which was quite plainly true and he repeatedly said he didn’t know that young man or the mysterious woman he kept mentioning). She asked if there were any weapons (thank god, no) and if they had left the scene (crazy guy, yes) so she thanked me and hung up. The scene was so startling and disturbing that the bus driver at the stop got out of the bus to ask if the older man was okay and needed any medical help (seriously, I love the King County Metro bus drivers). No one was hurt, my bus came, and I went on my merry way.

Of course this left me with plenty to ponder on my bus ride in to work. Was there a reason this mentally challenged young man chose to pick on another homeless man?  Somewhere in his subconscious did he know it would be less objectionable to attack one of society’s undesirables, or could his hands just as easily been around my neck? These are questions that have no answers, but I was struck nonetheless about the plight of two men who clearly needed help. Maybe the older man was an alcoholic and had ruined his own life. Does that mean he gets to be the victim of physical violence? Perhaps the younger man was an addict in a drug-fueled haze, although I suspect mental illness was more likely the cause of his behavior. Does that mean it’s okay to leave him wandering freely around the streets assaulting people (whether they are homeless or not)? It’s possible both these men brought their fates upon themselves, but in that moment, watching it all unfold before me, I could only think society at large should have done more.

I don’t have answers, only sadness and more questions, but this experience taught me that sometimes we need to be reminded of the humanity of others (and ourselves) and I will carry that with me as I figure out how best I can do more to strive for Lomakatsi – life IN balance.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others? ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

If You Write Something on the Internet, People May Read It (But that doesn’t mean they’ll like it)

I will confess when I started blogging I had plenty of moments where I dreamed of reaching the level of fame of bloggers such as Jenny Lawson of, where actors would climb all over each other to send me pictures of themselves with kitchen utensils (keep scrolling to see the pics). Or maybe I would be like Julie Powell, who blogged about Julia Child and then they made a movie out of it starring Meryl Streep. And, in my dreams, my zillions of followers would hang on my every word and shower me with accolades (hey, I said it was a dream).

I am hardly a prolific blogger. I wrote my first post in July 2010 and did not write another one until January 2011, but maintained a respectable 2-3 posts per month on average throughout that year. Prior to February 27 of this year, I was lucky if I had 30 people viewing any of my posts. I usually had no comments and those I did get were usually from my parents (thanks, Dad!). I wrote what I thought was an innocuous post that day about visiting churches. So, you can imagine my surprise when I checked my stats on March 8 and found over 7,000 people had viewed the post!  And comments started rolling in. The next day over 16,000 peopled had viewed the post and by the end of this weekend over 36,000 people had viewed the post and it had 112 comments.

While hardly an internet explosion (I was never “trending” anywhere and I’m still waiting for those ‘theoretical internet dollars’ to show up…); for my small-time blog, it was pretty mind blowing. I think I was particularly surprised because it was the last thing I expected to go viral. It was not my most personal post, not the most controversial, and it wasn’t even a particularly spiritual post even though the subject was on church membership. It was in an easy to share, bulleted list, and clearly it did touch on a nerve of mainline churches grappling with bringing new members into their communities. My best guess is that it became one of those “someone told 2 people, who told 2 other people, who each told more people” which ultimately spread to 36,000 people. But, honestly, I have no idea how this thing took off like it did. I think that is one of the mysteries of social media – you just never know when you are going to hit one out of the park.

It was watching the comments roll in where I became less certain of how wonderful it was to write something even modestly popular. By and large, the majority of the comments were very positive and I am incredibly humbled and grateful that what I shared was of use to others. Of course there were some naysayers, one who said I was “extremely self centered” and another who said my tone was “obnoxious.” I have tried to keep all the comments in perspective, but it has honestly been hard to have my motives challenged so vocally. I know intellectually that these people don’t know me, but still that stings a little on the inside. What I wrote was a very practical view, in my opinion, on visiting a church. I did not say anything about the spiritual journey of discerning which faith community to join. It’s possible I have been self centered, but how could anyone know that from what I wrote?  In fact, those 36,000 readers do not know anything about me at all. Out of that number, barely any of them looked at anything else on my blog. Only 374 even stopped to look at my “About” page, and an even smaller number read the posts I have written since then.

And I should point out that any number of the commenters came to my defense and argued with the naysayers, but at this point I noticed that the conversation was about me, not with me. It’s as if the comments took on a life of their own. My CEO, Kevin O’Keefe (a respected blogger in the legal community, and the person who got me into blogging in the first place) told me that I had created a community on that post and they now drove the dialog. Well, I gotta say, that’s a weird experience.  I contemplated jumping into the fray and offering my own opinions, but I didn’t really see the point of trying to defend myself to people who don’t even know me. The people I do know and care about have been very supportive of my writing and they know the deeper meaning behind my words. As I told a couple of friends, the sincere compliments I have received from the people I know and respect have been the most meaningful for me.

So, what do I do with all this?  I actually got some clarity in a post on a lawyer’s blog I read today (I read a lot of legal blogs for my job). Not really where I expected to find solace, but God does indeed work in mysterious ways…  From the wisdom of Scott Greenfield who writes Simple Justice: A New York Criminal Defense blog in his post, Credit Where Due:

Just because you have a keyboard and an internet connection doesn’t mean your opinions are worthy of anyone else’s time and attention. Just because you breath doesn’t mean you exist. At least not to anyone else. No law, no call for civility, no heart-felt plea, is going to make you suddenly fascinating to the rest of the internet, so much so that you will be loved, admired and win every argument you decide to start.

On the internet, we’re all bullies. None of us, truth be told, loves humanity that much that we become best friends with everyone who twits at us, comments on our blawg, Facebook friends us or plusses our Google. We need to grow up and get over this.

We all pick and choose. Sometimes, we don’t choose you. And no one makes you choose me etiher. It’s not a crime.

His post is about anonymity and freedom of speech in the digital medium (and for lawyers specifically), but his comments resonated for me nonetheless. Writing this post did not make me any more or less fascinating than I already was and when I put my words out into the ether that is the internet, people have the right to feel, think, and say whatever they feel and think. Ironically, it’s actually not really any of my business to second guess their comments, bad or good, any more than I wanted anyone to second guess my motives. Or, as my old boss and mentor, Elaine, used to say to me, “what anyone else thinks of you is none of your business.” The experience was not what I expected, but those expectations were based on my wishful thinking, not on the reality of the situation and it’s time for me to put on my big girl pants and move on.

Party’s over, now the work begins

Now that the glow of the Team in Training kick-off party is over, and I’ve gotten my first practice out of the way, it’s down to simply doing the work. Probably because I am such a social creature, I look forward to the group practices and I pretty faithfully attend every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning practice session. It’s all the runs I have to do on my own that are trickier. I am actually the queen of procrastination and come up with any number of reasons that it makes more sense to delay my practice to lunchtime, then after work, and oh, maybe let’s just skip today (I only have to run 5 days a week and I take every loophole I can in regards to making that math work out).  Before TNT, when I was training for half-marathons on my own, I told myself every weekend that I would do my long runs on Saturdays. Near as I can tell, that never happened. I always, 100% of the time, delayed until Sunday. And here was my typical Sunday thought process – I can’t run in the morning because I just had breakfast; oh now I’m hungry and I can’t do a long run on an empty stomach, so now I have to have lunch.  I’ll just watch this movie first then I’ll go… I would delay and dilly-dally until it was literally as late as I could get away with leaving and still finish my run before dark (and I pushed that so far that I often returned to the trail-head in deep dusk). It’s almost a miracle that I was actually able to complete my training and run in two half-marathons. I suppose it’s a testament to my stubborn nature.

The structure TNT provides is a huge help, but my procrastinating ways are still in full force on those days I am left to my own devices.  I had coffee with a friend at a nearby coffee shop this morning and as I was walking home the inner dialogue started. It was almost lunchtime, so maybe I should have lunch first (never mind the huge, late breakfast I had that morning). I stopped myself and decided to go home and simply change into my running gear, then I could weigh my options. Of course, once I put on my running shoes and leggings, I just sucked it up and got out on the trail. Now lest you think I have turned over a whole new leaf, while on my run I started debating with myself about whether or not I should do a run on Monday (here’s where that 5 day math comes into play).

No one held a gun to my head and forced me to keep signing up for these races. And I love the races – the excitement of the day, the sense of accomplishment. But that’s five months down the road. There really isn’t anything all that exciting about doing a 30 min easy recovery run on a cold and dreary Sunday afternoon. On the other hand, there really isn’t anything all that painful about it either. So why do I procrastinate almost to the point of absurdity?

I went to the source of all wisdom and knowledge…the internet. A search of “why do people procrastinate” turns up a bunch of pscyhology-based content that describes people who are afraid of success, unable to make decisions, or are uninspired by their goals. Well, I was pretty clear on my decision to sign up for the race in the first place, and running a half-marathon is in fact a very inspiring goal for me. I supposed I could buy fear of success if this weren’t my 4th half-marathon. I am already quite confident in my ability to succeed. I found another series of links for ‘Temporal discounting.’ This is a concept where our brains are warped by believing short-term rewards are more valuable than medium-term rewards. (In other words, I’m going to be happier by watching a movie now than I will by running 13.1 miles in 5 months  – which requires I run 3 miles today). That may be closer to my situation, but considering I always feel so much better when I do go for that run (i.e., it provides a short-term reward), the internet may just be a bunch of bunk.

I think the truth is that the time in between the kick-off and the finish line is work. It’s not painful or unbearable work and it’s a choice I’ve made for myself, but these weekly training runs are just something that needs to be done. Fundamentally, I know if I don’t do the work I won’t make it to the finish line and that is not an acceptable outcome for me. I ran today. I may or may not run tomorrow, but rest assured I will run five times between now and next Sunday.

Great Customer Service Only a Bus Ride Away

Throughout my career, my work has always involved customer service in one way or another. The opportunity to help someone is the most rewarding aspect of every job I’ve held. In fact, I am sometimes stymied by how often customer service is so lacking when the real solution to most any company with service issues is to simply focus on helping people. I guess that is easier said than done, but I have found good service in some places where you might otherwise not expect it. Because I am so focused on the subject, and because it is my essentially my job to be a student of good service, I try to pay attention when I myself am the customer to learn what exactly “good” looks like.

Most days I ride the bus to work in Pioneer Square, south of downtown Seattle. The bus may be the last place to expect great customer service, but over and over again I blown away by the level of service I see there on a daily basis.

On one occasion I jumped off the bus and realized I had left my soda at home in the freezer. Not only did this leave me without my vital supply of morning caffeine, it also represented a huge mess in the freezer if left there for the rest of the day. As I crossed the street, a bus was pulling up to the stop going the other direction. I thought I could very easily hop on, go home, grab my soda and make it back to work in time. However, the bus I picked unfortunately made a right turn where I expected it to go straight and was obviously the wrong route. I walked up to the driver and asked where the next stop was and it was even more unfortunately WAY farther away than I expected to go. I asked if he would let me off on the street. This was a busy street and he said there was no way he was letting me off in the middle of traffic. Fair enough. I resigned myself to figuring out how to find my way back home, but he made another turn onto a slower street, pulled up to the curb (no bus stop in sight) and asked me if letting me off there would help and I was able to walk the rest of the way home. I was impressed that he said “no” when it wasn’t safe, but also took the initiative to offer me an alternate solution when he could. In fact, since being the recipient of that kindness, I have seen many a passenger be let on or off the bus outside of the regular stops when it is clear they have gotten themselves in a jam. I have also seen countless drivers tell a confused patron to jump on the bus and ride a few stops and have the driver give them detailed instructions about how to get where they are going, which includes not only which bus route to ride but also how to get there once they get off the bus.

Although Seattle has a high number of professional workers riding the bus, the buses going through downtown are all ride-free, so it has a fair number of homeless passengers as well. This last week I was on the way to work and a homeless gentleman in a wheel chair, along with several milk crates containing valued possessions got on the bus. This meant the driver had to lower the ramp to the curb, fold up the wheelchair accessible portion of the seats, and secure the passenger’s chair with two seat belts designed for this purpose. Not only does this take a considerable amount of time, but this particular passenger was in desperate need of a shower if not at the very least a toothbrush and some deodorant. The driver was extremely patient and before she took off the emergency brake and started the bus confirmed the rider was in fact secure.

You might think with all these lost and confused customers getting on the wrong bus or off at the wrong stop, combined with what most of us would consider less than savory clientele would put the drivers in a perpetually bad mood, but here again the opposite seems to be true. The drivers themselves get from stop to stop to switch drivers by riding the bus and they always seem extremely glad to see each other. In the few moments between transitioning between drivers I often seem them swapping stories and quickly catching up on the latest tidbits of gossip for the day. They also clearly get to know some of their regular customers and exchange friendly greetings when they see them entering the bus. I don’t know how it is in other cities, but the custom in Seattle is for riders to greet the driver with a “good morning” or “good afternoon” as they enter, and to leave them with a “thank you” as they depart, and I am always greeted with equal if not more enthusiastic responses in reply.

What can the rest of us learn from the King County Metro system?

  • Happy Employees provide better service
  • Empowered Employees will make better choices about how to best help your clients
  • Compassionate Employees not only help people but make your organization look good
  • Foster a culture of saying “thank you” which leads to more compassionate, empowered, and happier employees

Grandma speaks the truth

Brian’s grandmother passed away on October 16 after 98 very full years in this world. I won’t recount her history as there is already a very good description in her obituary, and I’m in awe of all she accomplished. We only shared about 14 of those 98 years together, after Brian and his extended family entered my life, but they were certainly memorable years nonetheless. Probably the traits that stood out most for me were her extravagant welcome and acceptance of people, and her natural ability to exaggerate the facts to fit how she felt about us.

From the moment Brian introduced me to Grandma (and I always called her Grandma), she immediately accepted me as part of the family. I recall some family function that Brian took me to in those early days of our dating. We had been together long enough to meet the family, but it can’t have been more than 3 or 4 months into our relationship. I had met Grandma and Grandpa, as well as his parents and brother and sister-in-law, but I had yet to meet many of the cousins and other extended family. As was the case in most those family functions, there was a cacophony of kids squealing, parents hollering, people talking, sports on the TV and a density of bodies in the family room that would most certainly have blown the fire code by a substantial margin. Amongst all this noise, Grandma silenced the room by yelling out, “Everyone, everyone, Brian has an ANNOUNCEMENT to make.”  I could see Brian’s mother’s eyes widen and the room went dead silent and I think there was a collective inhale as folks started to suspect an engagement was about to be announced. This was equally surprising to Brian and I as there was no such announcement coming and these things were not even in our consciousness at this point. Brian rallied and said, “Everyone, this is Lyda. Lyda, this is everyone.”  Folks quickly went back to their conversations at hand and perhaps more used to Grandma’s typical pronouncements were less thrown by this outburst than I was. Of course, in retrospect, perhaps Grandma indeed saw something in the cards that Brian and I just hadn’t figured out yet, as we were engaged before the end of the following year.

Another time, I was training to run a 10K and my training came up in conversation while we were out having dinner out with Grandma and the rest of the clan. Brian’s cousin Lyndsey showed up after us and Grandma pulled her aside and said, “Oh Lyndsey, did you know Lyda is running a marathon?!” Not sure how we got from 6 miles to 26 miles in the course of a single conversation, but by this time I had come to realize if Grandma liked you all stories got enhanced in the retelling. And again, in the end, she may have just been ahead of her time as I did indeed complete a marathon many years later.

She also told Brian and I how Brian’s cousin Brent had just taken a new job after college. According to her, he was so good with computers that after less than a week at the job, they asked him to run all the computer systems for the company. According to Brent, he was just doing inside sales and didn’t have any better computer skills than anyone else there. At this point knowing Grandma’s track record, I would say Brent’s got a bright career coming somewhere in his future.

Even when she got to the point when her memory struggled to hang onto the details of day to day life, she was always extremely glad to see Brian and me. She would tell us what a wonderful couple we were (to which Brian still maintains, “Hey, Grandma speaks the truth.”) and to come visit anytime. One more poignant episode took place when we were starting to first see signs of her impending dementia. Brian and I were staying over at their house for the weekend and I was chatting with Grandma after dinner. She looked at me and said, “Listen, you can’t stay in the guest room because Lyda and Brian are staying over tonight, but we’ve got plenty of room so please make yourself welcome.” Even in that diminished state, her sense of welcome and hospitality kept going strong.

At the time I met Grandma, I had already lost all of my own grandparents, and she took me in as if I had always been a member of the family. Brian and I chose early on not to have any children of our own and I have always been extremely grateful we never got any pressure or guilt from family about that choice. One mother’s day weekend, Grandma decided to buy geraniums for all of the mothers in the family. She just could not bring herself not to get one for me as she felt like that would have left me out, so in the blink of an eye she handed over the flowers and told me they were a gift in honor of my mother and that was that.

Grandma’s presence in my life was the true gift and I hope I can extend even a fraction of the welcome and hospitality to others that she showed to me.