Progress and Momentum: Broken Windows Theory - Applied to Ourselves

The Broken Windows Theory is, in summary, the notion that small visible "broken" things, like windows, may lead to other/additional broken things (say, peeling paint), and can create downward momentum (the neighborhood in decline). Also, that replacing or fixing small visible features can create positive momentum. Basically, it's the Butterfly Effect as applied to how our environment looks and makes us feel. Cluttered desk, cluttered mind, and all that jazz.

What if this applies to us - our individual physical selves?

  • Broken windows could be - stopped wearing makeup, unkept hair, wearing unflattering clothing, not using a moisturizer/wrinkle cream, an untrimmed mustache/beard, cracked nails.
  • Fixed windows could be - the opposite of the above

I think it does, and I'm experimenting with reversing the downward momentum with the positive. To be clear, this is not intended to be a commentary about how to define beauty - like that everyone OUGHT to _______ (wear makeup, have neat appearance). It's more about bringing out your best - whatever that is.

  • The quirky artist
  • The elegant book lover
  • The sporty sportsperson
  • The anti-trend good neighbor
  • The natural looking best friend

Whatever is uniquely and authentically YOU is the unbroken version.

Speaking personally, since the stay-at-home pandemic started, I've stopped: getting my hair cut and colored (rightly so!), wearing any makeup (I never wore much), using moisturizer (why????), wearing earrings, using the "good stuff" face cleaner (makes no sense), and I haven't updated my eyeglass prescription in 3 years (perhaps understandable during the pandemic). In total, this adds up to a lot of broken windows and a general malaise about myself.

For the last week I've been using my good face cleaner and wrinkle cream again. Didn't have to purchase anything because I already had it. And I've made an appointment to get a fresh haircut and color (in 5 weeks), and will be getting an eye exam next week. This momentum feels good and I think will lead to other small and positive changes that might also reverberate.

It's OK and understandable that a yearlong pandemic has had an impact. And I'm happy to be reclaiming a bit of myself in spite of it still being a challenging time. Fewer broken windows seems like a good thing!


"Kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick" - Life in slow-sucking quicksand

As I watched a story on the CBS Sunday Morning show about Suleika Jaouad's challenge to move forward from leukemia, a Susan Sontag quote she shared stuck with me. Here's the quote:

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Susan Sontag

While I've felt challenged for several years, the last two have been particularly difficult and this quote gives me a bit of insight about why.

I have serious chronic health issues - medullary thyroid cancer (stage 4b), non-symptomatic multiple sclerosis, obesity, and osteoarthritis. Solidly in the kingdom of the sick.

And I have, in spite of this, interests, abilities, and what looks like a relatively normal day-to-day life that resides in the kingdom of the well.

It's hard to stay in a place of sickness. And it's hard to live like you're in both kingdoms at the same time.

  • We rise to the occasion, determined to fight, but when the fight is slow and constant, it's easy to let our commitment slip. I think this is one reason the covid-19 crisis has been so difficult for many - it has endured longer than our emergency coping strategies were designed to perform. This rings true regarding several of my chronic challenges.
  • I'm not built for this brand of steadiness. Chronic anything goes against my nature and strengths. I'm a starter. I'm an adventurer. I'm an innovator. I'm not an ultra-marathoner. I'm not a patient person.
  • Although my day-today life looks fairly normal and well, I struggle to improve my situation or heal my chronic maladies. I want to believe that many things are possible if I think and act in alignment but have discovered that this is often not the case. 

What can I learn from this observation? How might I help myself live solidly in both kingdoms and thrive?

My nature tells me I need to try something different. To attempt to generate a breakthrough. It is tiresome, however, to do this repeatedly with no meaningful results to show for my efforts. But this is my skillset and I don't know how else to be. 

What can I learn from this observation?


Unconventional Ideas for Valentine's Day

We've been swirling in the covid pandemic neutral zone for a year. It's draining, right? And here comes another holiday dreamt up by marketers (my money is on jewelry stores or florists). Why not try something different? Here are a few fun and covid-compliant ways to celebrate with your bestie (aside from the obvious bedroom antics and I'm not going there).

Adopt a Three-toed Sloth. Nothing says I love you like a sloth photo and plushie. 

Do a lip-synch performance of poetry read by celebrities. Like The Raven read by Vincent Price. Sure, you could just read the poem using your own voice, but let's face it, you're no Vincent Price.

Play opposites day. For one day, wear each other's close and attend each other's zoom meetings. Drink each other's drinks and sit in each other's favorite chairs in front of the telly. Use makeup and wigs if you've got them. This is an idea that will build empathy, and we all need more empathy.

Bake and eat cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A different type of cookie for each meal. Cookies are a synonym for happiness.

Speak like Shakespeare or don't speak at all. Just for one day, of course, it would be taxing to keep up. After a full day being the bard, lay your head down on your pillow and whisper alls well that ends well into your sweetie's ear. Hopefully they won't reply good riddance, wench.

I hope you give one of these ideas a try and report back to me. All the best to you and your bestie!

 


Wonder Woman Pose Works Wonders - Art Imitates Life

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I had to laugh. In my editor's comments about my latest novel, STIFF LIZARD, he mentioned that my protagonist seems to put her hands on her hips a lot. Which was not the case in the last three novels that featured the same leading lady.

Why the difference? Why the reliance on the Wonder Woman Pose?

Perhaps it is me, not my character, that needed to invoke the powerful nonverbal stance. Perhaps a year of staying at home and avoiding dangerous misadventures has me needy for the confidence that a well-articulate Wonder Woman Pose can facilitate. 

It's true. The pose works. Watch Amy Cuddy's TED talk below if you want to know the science. But give it a try twice a day for the next week and see if you feel ready to solve mysteries (yours, of course).

 

 


Wish List #135 - Bring Back Big Shoulder Pads!

Today's vibe. "Jane's Getting Serious" by Jon Astley circa 1987. I remember standing with a couple of pals at the crowded bar at Malarkey's in Bethesda, MD, when I first heard this song.

As soon as I heard it, I blurted, "It's the ketchup song!" A Heinz commercial featuring Matt LeBlanc played used the song and its distinct synth and guitar notes.

I love the 80s alternative mojo it evokes. I gotta go gel my hair so it's standing straight up now (the hair had to compete with the shoulder pads, which I sincerely miss even today because shoulder pads make everyone look like they mean business).

 


One is more than one: Reverberate in the Affirmative

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I believe in the power of the butterfly effect (from chaos theory, small changes can make a big difference) and that everything we do reverberates. Kind and helpful acts reverberate and so do mean and unhelpful ones. Everything we do is more than the sum of its parts. Nothing is just for this moment. 

It's an interesting idea to ponder as we plan our days and weeks and make choices about who we'll be in any given moment and how we'll act.

A kind thought is more than just that thought.

A mean thought is more than just that thought. 

Walking 20 minutes is more than 20 minutes of walking.

Eating that delicious donut is more than the five minutes and 500 calories. 

This is heavy. This opens up new possibilities. 

How about a weekly mantra.

One good act is more than one good act.

One is more than one.


ALWAYS Learn from Others - Adventures and Misadventures in Writing

I'm taking a class from Lit Reactor called, Short Story Mechanics, which is taught by Richard Thomas. Today's homework was to write five hooks (four first lines and one first paragraph) for five different potential stories. I just posted the hooks into the online classroom portal (also below). Richard will review them and select ONE that I will use to write a story throughout the rest of the two-week class. The recovering control freak in me is a bit tense about allowing Richard to choose the story I'll write, but I think it's good for me to surrender to learning. Heh, heh, heh.

I'd ask your opinion about which hooks seem most promising, but I'm already giving away too much power! Kidding... I'd love to know if any of these hooks make you want to learn more!

Lilith peered over the back of her sofa and through the window blind slats to take notes about everything she saw—the lovers, cheaters, crooks, tweakers, dealers, and deliveries—like she’d done day and night for the last week.

Lennox Turtleman felt desperate but hopeful as he lowered his skinny naked body into the sensory augmentation tank, pulled the lid closed, floated with arms and legs spread wide, and began hummed Somewhere Over the Rainbow, just as Madam Naranja had instructed.

Cross-eyed Tommy was not cross-eyed, just a terrible shot, and so much so he now used snakes to guarantee weekly collections were never late.

Fern practiced every night after her waitress shift at the Route 66 Diner for the open mic night at the High Noon Poetry Saloon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sebastian pulled the wrecked Chrysler 300 rental car into the Key West Marriott at 7:55 a.m., five minutes before he was expected to deliver the opening keynote speech to a room full of professional gamblers. Right on time, he whispered to himself and then shouted a celebratory shit yeah while pumping both arms in front of his chest. He looked at his shredded jacket, bloody white shirt, and stained pants. He’d have no time to change clothes. He grimaced at his cut up face in the rear-view mirror and then shrugged. A bellhop opened the driver’s side door. Sebastian got out and stood tall and proud. The end of the necktie he’d knotted around his head hung down in front of his eyes. The bellhop looked horrified. Sebastian stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a flattened Banana MoonPie. He handed it to the young man and smiled as he marched into the hotel and headed toward the grand ballroom.


Ignite possibility by owning flaws - A life lesson from Eminem's 8 Mile

This is a post about organizing for possibility. I watched the movie 8 Mile, which stars rapper Eminem and is loosely based on his early life.

The movie features rap competitions where rappers battle each other with words. There are several rounds, and during each challenge the loser is eliminated until the final two face off for the championship. These raps are spontaneously generated because they don't know who they'll battle until it's announced. Each performer tries to one-up the other and show how clever and poetic they are (hurling personal insults an such). It takes a lot of talent to compete - a mastery with words, phrases, rhyme, and rhythm.

The winner earns street credibility.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm about to discuss the final scene in the movie.

The dramatic ending of the movie is one of these competitions. This is Eminem's shot to show what he's got. He blasts through the early rounds, destroying his opponents with words. And then he has to battle the champion.

The mood in the room is tense and the crowd is clearly rooting for the champion. There's a coin toss to determine who will go first - most prefer to go last. The champion wins the toss. Eminem will go first.

He has 90 seconds to give his best rap. How does he approach it? A bit shaky at first but then he does something fascinating. He disses himself. He admits his flaws, he acknowledges all the bad names people call him, he fesses up to all the trash talking that could be hurled his way. He gives it to the champion, too, by revealing that he'd attended a private school and came from a finer background than most people knew (which is embarrassing). He ends his rap by inviting the champion to "tell the crowd something they don't about me."

Whoa - he takes the wind right out of the champion's sail! The champion has nothing to say and he caves. Eminem is victorious.

While I was listening to Eminem's final rap, I couldn't help but think that Dale Carnegie would be proud. You might think that sounds crazy. In How to Win Friends and Influence People (still the best book on human relations IMHO) Carnegie recommends that we be the first to be open about our failings. That we own our flaws. That we beat everyone to the punch.

This is not the same thing as being down on ourselves. I'm not suggesting this. We are all highly talented and highly flawed. And when we can be open about those flaws, we are better able to use our talents fully because because we carry mental garbage about it. Being open also allows us to better address our flaws.

And to be clear, even though Eminem dissed himself, he knew he was talented. He had dreams he knew he could fulfill if he did his best.

We can be confident and open about our flaws.

As Eminem walks out of the building after becoming the new champion, the theme song to the movie, a song by Eminem called Lose Yourself, comes on and takes us through the credits. This song was featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler (and also in 2020 for Biden/Harris). The lyrics are quite well written and motivating. And the last line of the song says it all.

"You can do anything you put your mind to."

This is not a post about being down on ourselves. It's a post about being cool with you, warts and all, such that you can keep growing and improving.

Even though I ruined the ending for you, check out the movie if you haven't seen it. It has a lot of curse words and deals with mature themes, as we might expect from a gritty movie about struggling rappers from Detroit. You've been warned!

I include Lose Yourself on my exercise playlist because it's motivating!