Thrill Junkies

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What do you need to feel alive?

The question came up for me this week because Hurricane Dorian just gave Charleston a light smack compared to what could have been. And even after that one night of worry as the winds howled, I was bouncing with joy when the day after was sunny and cool and just amazingly beautiful. It was like the day after you’ve been sick when food that turned your stomach yesterday tastes amazing today.

I’m not sure if the day was actually any more beautiful than the day before Hurricane Dorian, but facing down the nasty storm made the next day’s weather seem more precious.

That contrast – danger and then exhilaration – was on my mind I was reading an article about three climbers – and not just climbers, Alpiners. Alpine climbing is crazy stuff. Why would anyone do this? I have to admit, I’m an indoor house cat. The closest I get to outdoor sports is the occasional trail ride and, even then, the horse is doing all the work. I’m not even sure why I was reading an article about outdoor sports.

Except, spoiler alert. The three climbers don’t make it. And the article was really about why people challenge themselves to this kind of sport.

And that was why the article fascinated me. How close do we need to get to mortality to feel alive?

I have done sky-diving and been on a trapeze and even taken one airplane piloting lesson. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I did each of these activities after some kind of trauma. Sky diving came after a really bad patch in my marriage. The trapeze lesson and the airplane lesson came at different points in the illness that would ultimately kill my mother.

They jolted me out of the numb despair. They gave me the illusion that I could conquer the world, even if I couldn’t conquer death or sadness. But all of those things were safe risks. I had an experienced skydiver strapped to my back when I jumped out of the plane – well, okay, when he jumped because I was about to change my mind but the weight of his body just pulled me out of the plane. I had a harness on the trapeze and a net below me. The pilot who taught me had a license and I didn’t take off or land the plane, just took over the flying while we were in the air and tried to keep the plane level. The odds of actual death were pretty small.

Not like my one friend who fought in Vietnam. The hyper-vigilance, the knowledge that your next step could be your last…he hated it. It messed with his head. But I remember him telling me somewhat wistfully, “Helen, I’ve never felt so alive and I’ve never found anything since I got back that made me feel that alive.”

And that made me wonder. How do we feel alive without facing down death? Is being alive boring unless we risk losing our lives?

Some would say that the fear of death focuses your gaze on your surroundings with an intensity you can’t duplicate.

I know that I have read that mindfulness —  being really present in your life – is the key to enjoying every one of life’s moments. But is being a thrill junkie a shortcut to being present?

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Listen to the companion podcast, Keep it Juicy! 

 

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Hacked

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One day, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I wasn’t getting any emails to the account I use for my professional writing. I usually get so many emails, I have to put them in different folders just so I can find them again when I need them. But, I didn’t think too much about it. Maybe it was a slow day.

And then I tried to send out a newsletter for this professional association I work with. Not happening.

So I called the great people who host my website and email and asked them what the heck was happening. What was happening…wasn’t good.

I had been hacked.

Someone had gotten into my professional email and they’d sent emails to everyone in my address book. Everyone got something that looked like it came from me and it contained a link to a proposal I supposedly had written. I do write a lot of proposals, so that’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I would have sent that kind of email.

But, click on the link for the proposal? And, boom, you’re infected!

I decided I had to bite the bullet and send an email to all these important folks to tell them to NOT open the horrible email. You know, Dear person-I-want-to-impress: That email wasn’t from me. Sorry.

And that’s when it got worse. My email kept saying I couldn’t send the email.

Back on the phone with the tech folks.

Seems the merry hacker had left me a gift. First, he had written a rule that sent all of my incoming emails to the trash so I never got a chance to see them. That explained why nobody was emailing me.

That was a fairly simple fix.

And then Microsoft saw all those horrible emails from me and decided I was a hacker, so they suspended me. I couldn’t send emails because they thought I was a bad guy.

I imagined all those people in my address book getting infected because they had trusted me, trusted that when they got something from me it was clean. Because that’s the thing. I see now why they call it a virus. Getting hacked makes you feel unclean. Like you are Patient Zero in some kind of epidemic that stems from not washing your hands. You have the double shame of starting the epidemic and of having bad hygiene in the first place.

When you get hacked, you feel stupid, embarrassed and angry. And vulnerable. It’s like getting mugged.

Listen to the companion podcast. 

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Love Ya, Mean It

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I was on the phone the other day with a friend of mine, someone a few years older than my mother would be. As we finished up the conversation, she said, “Love you!”

“Love you, too,” I responded, but there was a little pause there that I hope she didn’t hear.

When I grew up, my mom always said that words mattered. You didn’t use words lightly, even the “L” word. Words had power and you didn’t want someone to think you were IN love with them when you just loved them like a friend. So, she taught me to use the L word sparingly.

Love came with obligations, kind of like saving someone’s life means you’re responsible for them in some cultures. If you loved someone, you were willing to do anything for them. Die for them. Or, at least go all the way with them. Nothing you’d do lightly.

My parents aren’t around anymore to tell them I love them. But I tell my husband. And my daughter. And my friends-who-are-like-family.

But I have stayed away from being someone who tosses the word around like it’s loose change. Love has currency. It is currency.

And yet.

The older I get, the more I find that love has shades. From light affection to dark passion, there is no one love.

And the older I get, the more I realize that the currency that is love…is scarce. I see so many giving away hate as though it is no big thing. We hate broccoli, this movie, that person’s politics, that person.

And the only thing in this world that seems to pop up every time it gets knocked down, like some kind of round-bottomed doll? Love.

There are times when only love will do. When it is the only appropriate thing, whether the timing or the person is appropriate. After the shooting at a gay club in Orlando in 2016, what mattered was not whether people loved someone of the same gender. As Lin Manuel Miranda said in his Tony acceptance speech after that shooting,  “We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer. And love is love is love is love is love is love is love, and love cannot be killed or swept aside.”

So, when my friend tells me she loves me? Next time, no hesitation. I love you too.

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Smart? Better Rich!

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A lot of times you hear that the wealth divide is growing. In other words, the gap between the people with money and the people without…is getting bigger than the Grand Canyon. It’s huge.

We like to think that this is the country of dreams. If you can dream it, you can do it. All you have to do is pull yourself up by your bootstraps. All you have to be is smart, or at least clever.

Well, unfortunately, a new study shows that’s just not true.

Let me tell you what the study reveals.

The study is by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

And what it shows is that fortune favors the kids …well, with fortunes.

Specifically, the rich kindergarteners with test scores in the bottom half, has a 7 in 10 chance of reaching high socio-economic status among peers as a young adult. A poor kindergartener with scores in the top half, because he or she is smart? That kid has only a 3 in 10 chance.

So the kid who starts out poor…even the bright kids who start out poor…are more likely to stay poor.

And the disparities continue. The kids with little money do worse in high school. And the report shows that disadvantaged kids with low math scores don’t immediately enroll in college. The rich kids with low math scores? They are more likely to enroll in a four-year college despite those scores, and they’re more likely to complete college degrees than even the high scoring poor kids.

You might wonder why.

The report says that the kids with money often have safety nets to catch them when they fall. The disadvantaged kids are less likely to have that kind of support.

I think it’s a lot more than whether mom and dad have milk and cookies for you at home.

Multiple studies have been done on bias, explicit and implicit. Even if someone thinks they are not biased, it is only natural to feel more comfortable, more relaxed and more able to identify with a job candidate who is similar to you. Since the well-off have all the well-paying jobs, it is no surprise that someone with a different background is going to start off disadvantaged in a job interview, and that falling back that started in school, just keeps going on.

The report recommends some policy changes that it says will help. But like all policy recommendations, I find these vague and hard to implement. There are four.

The report recommends:

  • interventions in early childhood education
  • continued interventions from kindergarten through 12th grade
  • Improved and expanded counseling in high school so that more students have the information and social supports they need to transition from high school to post-secondary education and training
  • And ensure that talented low-socioeconomic students get the most for their education by integrating career exploration and providing access to high-quality work experience at the high school and college levels.

I’m not convinced that these policy changes will fix what’s broken. Everyone says they want the best and the brightest, but at least on paper, what they’re often getting is the richest.

And I don’t have answers, but I’m going to keep on trying to be smart whether or not I get rich.

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Wedding Traditions

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I hate weddings.

Love marriage, at least the kind of marriage I have. But weddings?

Too much money, too much drama and for what? One day?

Still, one must follow traditions if one’s daughter asks.

A few weeks ago, my daughter had brought her bridesmaids to Charleston from Richmond, VA, for her bridesmaid trip. I thought the whole idea was ridiculous. Another wedding tradition that costs a lot of money and means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Side note – we never had bridesmaids’ trips. We had showers, thrown by a favorite aunt or the maid of honor. We may have had a gift registry, but we often got things that made no sense for the life we were living, and they made us worry – is this what married life will be? I’ll be using gravy boats every night? Will I ever be adult enough – or married enough – to USE a gravy boat every month?

But kids these days – and doesn’t THAT sound old?! – usually have a household full of stuff they’ve bought themselves, thank you very much. Stuff that suits their taste. And they’ve been living with their intended for months or years, so those coy shower games we used to play hinting at losing one’s virginity are just strange to them.

If they want anything, it’s cash and they ask for it on their own specially-designed wedding website.

So, they go on trips. Not like the old bachelor parties where the trip is the last gasp of freedom, so let’s go crazy. More like, “You’re getting married, what a great excuse to go crazy!”

I know about the crazy part, so I was pretty clear with my daughter: I love you, but you and your friends are NOT staying at my house. Find a hotel where you can loudly stumble in at 2 am and not wake me up.

I was honored that the girls asked me to come along for dinner on the first night of their long weekend.

I’d like to think they didn’t invite me just hoping to get a free meal. Of course, I paid for dinner – I AM the mom, after all.

But as I looked at these young women – some I’ve known since they were in high school, some college and some from my daughter’s adult ventures – I realized that I love them all. Because they all love my daughter.

I’m not saying they didn’t go a little crazy – my daughter still has a dildo on a wand in her car from the trip – but they were really here for love. This was my daughter’s tribe, her women, her ride-or-die group who, whether they were having trouble paying bills or not, paid to have a weekend away to tell my daughter how much they loved and supported her.

So, when my daughter does get married in October? The tears I shed won’t be because I hate weddings. They’re going to be because I don’t know what else to do with so much love.

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Censorship vs Banning

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I feel a little sorry for Mark Zuckerberg these days.

Wait, what? Mark Zuckerberg, the emotionless guy whose Facebook has a creepy knowledge of what I’ve just shopped for? Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook was one of the tools the Russians used to post fake news and interfere with our election?

Yep, that Mark Zuckerberg.

Whatever you may think of Facebook, I do think they’re trying. I’m just not sure they’re going about it the right way. I saw an article recently in which Facebook had banned certain individuals considered dangerous: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, InfoWars publisher Alex Jones, and right-wing agitator and human worm Milo Yiannopoulos. They say these people promote violence and hate.

Some people would applaud this move.

I’m not sure I do. And that makes me feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg, because, despite his efforts, I still am not happy with what Facebook is doing about this issue.

Please understand, I hate everything that these men stand for and I have no desire to ever read another thing that they have written. And the thought of them whipping their supporters up into some kind of violent frenzy makes me sick.

I feel the same way when I see marchers waving a Confederate flag here in Charleston, South Carolina, where the flag means hate and slavery and ugliness to many, if not most, of us here. Or when I see footage of neo-Nazis. It all makes me sick; I don’t want these horrible people (and no, there are NOT nice people on both sides!) to have a platform. I just want them to go crawl back beneath whatever slime-covered rock released them in the first place.

But.

As I was reading about the whole Facebook thing, I saw a quote from Milo Yiannopoulos. Now, this is the guy who supports white supremacy, who was named grand marshal of Boston’s stupid Straight Pride Parade, and who has written in support of pedophilia. So, I’m not likely to listen to anything this guy has to say.

But this was his quote:

“Censorship doesn’t stop at the fringes. You’re next.”

And, shockingly, I found myself nodding in agreement with Milo Yiannopoulos, of all people.

Because, as much as I hate everything he stands for, I love the First Amendment. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press.

Since so many probably have not read the Constitution since civics class, let me refresh your memory. The First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Nothing in there about whether the speech or the peaceable assembly is worthy, or disturbing, or even disgusting.

There’s been a whole lot of press lately about colleges and universities dis-inviting controversial figures from speeches. Believe it or not, there’s a database of the people who have been disinvited. There have been 13 so far this year. And, according to the database, the dis-invites have come predominantly from the Left – seven to two, with five of the other disinvites being apolitical because of criminal conduct or some other reason.

But a recent think piece did an analysis of where the most suppression is coming from and college students are still big advocates of free speech. It’s the older people who are more likely to want intervention to stop speech that offends.

I am one of those older people.

And that made me wonder if the very best reaction to the next offensive demonstration is to just ignore it. Old-fashioned shunning. They want attention? Don’t give it to them. Don’t cover it in the media, don’t counter-demonstrate, just ignore.

And maybe that’s the approach Facebook and other social media should take. If we ignore the hate speech, if we refuse to be provoked by the provocations, if we treat these people the same way we would treat a toddler about to melt down into tantrum – by de-escalation – do we strip them of their power?

Getting back to that quote that caught my attention.

If society shifts to the authoritarian more than it has, and my views that everyone should have rights, regardless of sexuality, gender, race or whatever – what if that view becomes the controversial one? Do I really want them to shut me up?

 

Listen to the companion podcast, Keep it Juicy! 

 

The Math of Life

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“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

–Annie Dillard, author

Let’s talk about the math of life.

If you could mash all the similar stuff together, how long would you have spent driving or sleeping?

I used to live in northern Virginia, not far from the capital. I worked in DC. It was only 19 miles, but the commute used to take me an hour, easily. Sometimes an hour and a half. I moved away and I moved there, so that commute was only a small part of my career. But what if it wasn’t? If I started working at 21 – and that’s late for a lot of us – and I worked all the way until retirement at 65, that means two hours of commuting a day for 44 years, or 32,032 hours spent in my car, fuming at idiot drivers, mentally rehearsing excuses for being late to a meeting, and just being angry.

Say you sleep for 8 hours a night. Eight hours a night for seven days means 56 hours a week. That means 2912 hours a year. Now, let’s pretend you live until you’re 80. That means you will have slept 232,960 hours before the…well, the final sleep. That’s a lot of time not living.

How much time are you spending on pleasure?

Most of us schedule a vacation.

We block time out to go away, to goof off, to travel. But if we go away for a week or two, what happens the other 50 weeks of the year?

There are two things I love to do: dance and ride horses.

For years, I did neither.

Recently, I started going to a dance studio for weekly drop-in lessons. Sort of Bob Fosse style dancing. I am terrible. I know this when I glance in the mirror and see my own performance, just a beat behind the other dancers in the class. But I am exhilarated. I can not tell you how happy I feel when class is done, how present in my own body, how sexy.

And horseback riding?

It’s expensive. There aren’t any good stables closer than an hour away.

Can you hear the excuses?

Maybe I can’t afford the time or the money to ride every week. But every quarter? I can do that. That’s four hours of bliss I’m putting back on my calendar.

And you know what else I’m adding back onto my calendar?

Unscheduled play time. Remember that? Time to think, time to create, time to be. I don’t have an agenda for this time, I’m just going to include some unplanned time every week and the only rule is I can’t work.

Math has never been my strong point, but I’m going to try to make the math of life work for me instead of working for some mathematical equation that never adds up…you know the one…the one where you work 60 hours instead of 40 and still expect to have a full life with the rest of the hours.

Take out the almost 233,000 hours you need to sleep. And then add hours of pleasure.

Because, if “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” – I don’t want to spend my life miserable. Do you?

Listen to the companion podcast. 

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