Monday, May 26, 2008

Going Home after 25 years

I just got back from my 25th college reunion, and I am so glad I went. The timing couldn't have been better for me. 25 years later I am in a much better position to appreciate being one of 30,000 living alumnae of the oldest women's college in the world. 25 years later I finally, surprisingly, feel like I belong.

My college friends and I have always had a complicated relationship with our alma mater, our other nourishing mother. With some life experiences behind me now, I am more understanding of the truth that complicated relationships are the only ones worth having.

So, I am very thankful to have gone home again for a day. I am thankful to have walked familiar paths and to have been in an environment so fully appreciative, and so completely supportive (if only for a day) of all her daughters. I loved seeing the single alumna from '33, and remembering how, at our graduation and their 50th reunion, so many of them gathered to wish us well. I look forward to my 50th, and sending off a new class of '33; and when I do, I will remember the laurel chain that connects us across the centuries.

I did not expect to be so moved; I did not expect to feel so welcomed. I did not expect to exhale so deeply, or to experience the relaxation and calm that only comes from being home. I did not expect to be so proud to be part of a tradition. And so, on this my 25th reunion, I am newly resolved to live expansively and mindfully, and to make my other mother proud too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

my iphone and i

I love my iphone and feel very fortunate to have one. They are still too expensive for my taste, but the user experience is so good, so much better than anything else I've ever used, that I think everyone should have one.

This is not an iphone homage. The web has no need of another one of those. It's a reflection on why it has become so important to me. It's a device I literally always have with me.

I've had "devices" for many years. A bevy of cell phones, palms, pocket pcs, blackberries and the like have lived in my purse. I always ended up carrying two, though. I always needed one for voice and one for email, calendar, organization, etc. Not because one device couldn't theoretically do it all, it just wasn't easy or convenient. That meant I had 2-3 contact lists, at least 2 phone numbers, 2 chargers, and 2 devices to keep track of.

No more. I carry only one, and it happened quickly. When I first got the iphone, I immediately left on a trip from the US to Russia and Moldova. I carried two devices, as I always did before. The non-iphone began to give me trouble right away. It wouldn't roam, or sync, or be helpful in any way. The iphone was a dream. I didn't need to remember country codes when trying to call home. My iphone knew where I was and adjusted. It also turned into a "local" phone for other people. When I'm in Moscow, people in Moscow call me with a local call--how cool is that?

I turned the other device off, and I've never looked back. I am officially a one-device woman. Device monogamy is new to me, so I'm still working through it.

I like the weather button. I like knowing what the weather is in Chisinau, and thinking about what the village children are encountering as they walk to the after-school program. Do they still have the coats and socks we bought the last time I was there? I like knowing the weather in Moscow, and in Johannesburg. I think about the day-care workers making morning rounds to help get children who live alone ready for school. Are they hot? Cold? I like knowing the weather in Rome and wondering if I'll ever see it. This may be as close as I'll ever get.

I like the camera--it's pretty good! I like the navigation, and once used it when a friend and I were hopelessly lost and jet-lagged in Vienna at midnight in November. Brr! I don't have a GPS system in my car, so I've used my phone as a substitute at times.

I like the SMS texting--I can communicate with people under the age of 25, and with my boss, (who is older than 25.) I know it could be more full-featured, but it's still really good. I like watching my stocks---will this be the day, please god, that I can quit working? Maybe tomorrow. . . .

I like the clock, I like the ringtones, and I like the notes. I like it all except the ipod feature.


Thursday, May 15, 2008


Today my son, as captain of his school lacrosse team, will deliver a speech at the annual sports banquet.  Strictly speaking, from a "do the math" perspective, it wasn't the successful season the team was hoping for.  1-11.

The team started out with some challenges; barely enough players to field a team and a new coach for the third year in  a row.  On the plus side, they had some seasoned players who were anxious to make their mark, spirits were high, and the team was planning for a season to be proud of.   They knew they could do it.  Parents, looking on from our more jaded vantage point, were less hopeful, but we encouraged and cheered.

The season began to  go off-script right away.  The experienced, seasoned goalie, ready to be a team leader, suffered a fracture in his hand during the second practice.  Out for the season before the season officially began.  An experienced dynamic player in midfield moved to another State.  A veteran player, in his haste to get to practice, closed the car door on his hand. The team, short on players to begin with, began to look a little ragged.

 Against all odds, they never lost hope of winning.   Players who had never held a stick before were, without warning, starters playing the whole game.  Not because they suddenly displayed a heretofore unrecognized talent for lacrosse, but because there weren't enough team members to allow for substitutions.  Parents held their collective breath lest there be another injury.

Losses piled up.  The odds of a completely winless season increased as the days went by.  And these were not close games they were losing.  They lost badly, and often the winning team did not display the sportsmanship one would like to see.  It can't have been easy being on this lacrosse team.

And yet, their coach never stopped coaching them to win.  Not one player quit, or decided to stop showing up at practice.  They showed up at every game, badly outnumbered, and held their heads up.  They played hard, if not always well, until the final buzzer.  The team goalie, in her first season playing the game, was a fearless competitor--never flinching in the face of the seemingly endless barrage of shots on goal.  Hijab flying from beneath her helmet, she stood her ground and sometimes left me breathless with her courage and poise.  (or maybe it was the pollen that was keeping me from breathing, but that's less poetic.)

At the end of the season the team finally won a game, and was able to celebrate a hard-earned victory.  One victory, and the season is now over.    One victory, eleven losses later I couldn't be more proud.  They can "do the math."  They could have quit halfway through when it was obvious that they couldn't have a winning season. 

They know that it's not about the math, and it rarely ever is.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day of Thanks?

In my work life,  have about 25 people reporting up through the departments that I run.  They range from highly experienced seasoned professionals to entry level.  They work in multiple States, and collectively do an absolutely amazing job of supporting this nonprofit in its important work.  They see a lot.  

The work we do is behind the scenes.  We do the work that allows other people to do the work more obviously related to the organization's mission.  We are often invisible to the larger organization.  We are also not on the receiving end of humanitarian awards or heartfelt displays of thanks from families.  When there is thanking to do, we have to do it for ourselves.

So, last week I held a day of personal thanks from me to the 25 people who work very long hours, doing very hard work, under less than ideal conditions, and who do it for less pay than they would get if they walked across the street and did it for another company.  I thanked them collectively and individually for managing the anger and frustration of their internal customers, who are often not at their professional best when they approach us for help or support.  I thanked them for broadly and correctly understanding that our mission encompasses their work, too.  I thanked them for inspiring me to keep coming to work every day, even when it's really hard.

Specifically, I thanked them with food, with soothing music, and with ten minute appointments with a massage therapist we installed in a vacant office.  It was lovely, and we all felt more relaxed and able to take on the challenges of the coming days.  At least I did.

Interestingly, only about half of them thanked me.  I'll have to spend more time thinking about that.  Am I not supporting them enough, or communicating my support enough?  Was it too little too late?  Can one day of thanks offset a year of intense pressure?  Do they just feel entitled?  Do we simply not do enough thanking to make it part of our culture?  I'm not sure.

One clue is that two days later I got the news that one team member is leaving.

OK.  That's a pretty big clue.

It's not just me; this really is a difficult work environment and I need to do a better job. Thanking people and then throwing them back into the maelstrom isn't the right strategy. Thanking them and working to change the culture they are in, might be.  So, today I promise to begin to try.  I will try to be the change I want to see in my work world.  And, hey, looking back over the last week, I can see that I've already begun.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Run Hillary, Run

I dreamed last night that Hillary Clinton conceded and dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.  It made me terribly terribly sad.  I know it will likely happen soon, but I, for one, want her to press on.

I am a lifelong Democrat.  A Democrat taken for granted by my party, and I never even knew it.  I am a 40-something professional woman, who started this campaign season as a John Edwards supporter.  I did not become a Clinton supporter until New Hampshire, when I suddenly recognized quite clearly what I was seeing.  I was seeing my own experiences as a working woman playing out on the national stage.

I am seeing the endless barrage of negativity, the intentionally unflattering photos, the thinly veiled (if veiled at all) glee of the political pundits at every less-than-perfect step.  As every working woman knows, an actual misstep is not required--simply short of perfect will do fine as an opportunity to be insulted and diminished.  I am seeing the delight of the press in knocking her down to size.  

I am seeing the painful double standard that I live every day in my work life, and ironically, it hurts more to see clearly that it has nothing to do with me, or with her, and has everything to do with our gender.

So here is my message for her, for the party, and for the Republican nominee.  Run, Hillary, and please don't stop.  For every woman who has been asked to leave the room and leave the real decisions to the men, for every woman who has suffered the humiliation of the disdainful glances, the condescending words, or the sharp sting of resentment of her accomplishments, please keep running.  Show up every day, Hillary, and show that we won't be ignored, we won't be belittled, and we won't be marginalized any more.

Run for me, Hillary.  Run hard and don't back down.  Run for far more than the mere hope of winning, and make us proud.

And for those who worry that I might not vote for the eventual Democratic nominee, and worry that Hillary is polarizing the party, I say, look in the mirror.  By not honoring her and her candidacy, you are telling me that you don't honor me.  I have voted for this party my entire life, and have done so proudly, but if the party joins in the effort to diminish Hillary Clinton and cut her effort short, then the party sends me a signal that I will not ignore in November.  If she is not the Democratic standardbearer, then I will vote for the candidate that most honors my experience in this country, and more and more, I am seeing that candidate is of another party.