Archive for December, 2009

Instead of a resolution… set a New Year’s Intention

December 31, 2009

Whether or not we make New Year’s resolutions, we tend to think about either making some or not.  We tend to tell ourselves that after the holidays are over we are going to get into better shape, eat better, commit to this or that course of action—we make resolutions, or we think about what we would resolve to do but for our doubt that resolutions are effective.

On the other hand, we could leave the self-defeating resolution thing aside and instead consider crafting a New Year’s intention.  For example, we could set the intention of dedicating our efforts this coming year to the benefit of our children.  By consciously setting such an intention, we raise every other action to a higher level and infuse them with spirit.

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Miss Havisham on the couch

December 30, 2009

Ever since I saw David Lean’s film version of Great Expectations on TV as a kid, I have been fascinated by the character of Miss Havisham who, having been jilted on the morning of her wedding, has stopped all the clocks and lives on for years in her wedding dress, one shoe on, cake rotting on the table amidst the cobwebs of her rotting mansion.

Inspiration for Norma Desmond in one of my favorite American films, Sunset Boulevard, Miss Havisham embodies not just heartbreak but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  When we think about PTSD we tend to think about violent events, particularly war experiences, but the mechanics of PTSD are that overwhelming emotional experience causes a person to mentally leave the building of their body for a time (think of that slow motion, floaty feeling just before the impact of a car accident).

As a result, the surreal self cannot fully process the trauma, and it is left to float like so many cobwebs throughout the body, never making it to be properly filed in the brain’s true memory storage area.  Since the trauma is loose in the body, it can be triggered by sounds, smells or sights and suddenly loom up as if it were happening in real time, rather like a pop-up window unexpectedly opening on a computer screen.

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Love you Guys

December 29, 2009
My kid was at a sleepover recently, hanging out and catching up with a good pal who went to the same elementary school, but who goes to a different middle school.  Seventh grade can be tough in all sorts of way and the kids worked hard to step up to it.  I was particularly delighted to wake up and read the following email (subject line, “can I tell you how cute they are?”) over my wife’s shoulder from our friend, the mom of my son’s friend:

“So, they’re watching The Hangover…(I hope you don’t mind.  Will told me he already saw it).  I hear all this clattering in the kitchen so I get up and see pure delight on their faces. They are making their own ice cream sundaes with all the trimmings, movie paused.  Such a sweet time.  Life doesn’t get better than winter break, a night with a good, good friend, watching a good, good movie and having the sundae of your dreams!

Love you guys!”

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Titanic Avatars: movies, myth and the collective SELF

December 28, 2009

If the self is like a bowl (see, it is also like a ship.  Thus it seems fitting that in a culture gripped by collective narcissism (i.e. lack of cohesive selves) Titanic, a movie about a grandiose ship that gets a gapping hole and sinks back into the ocean of the unconscious would be a perfect metaphor for the close of the last century.

Likewise, Avatar, a movie about the awakening of consciousness, is a hopeful harbinger of a century that is just getting its footing and forming its nascent millennial identity.  The fact that these impossibly giant and expensive movies were made by the same man behind the curtain offers a curious window into both the collective consciousness and also child development—writ XX Large. 

“Kids” who are developmentally forming an identity inflate around ages three and four into super heroes and fantastic princesses; if all goes well and they are fully seen, they calm back down and end up with a cohesive bowl of a self.  In a culture where this process has gone off the rails, we have had legions of collectively mal-mommied so-called grown-ups behaving like entitled enfants terribles.

While people sometimes speak disparagingly about artists “selling out,” I’ll be the first to admit that I tried to sell out and no one would buy.  Hollywood is an enigma, and when someone succeeds they are as much beneficiaries of luck as they are of talent and hard work.  When luck happens (because many movies that fail, even if they are bad, still took a lot of work and often represent the misfiring of authentic talent) this kismet may offer a glimpse about what the zeitgeist truly has to say at any given moment be it Hitler’s Germany, W’s America or James Cameron’s “King of the world” bravado; king of which world?

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Diversity and Unity

December 27, 2009

Happy Kwanza!  For those not clear about it, Kwanza was created in 1966 by a professor of African Studies, Dr. Maulana Karenga, who stressed the need to preserve, revitalize and promote African American culture.  It is not a religious holiday but a cultural one and thus available to Africans of all religious faiths who are brought together through the rich, ancient and varied common ground of Africa.

While I admit that the blood that pulses in my veins, at least in this current life, would at first appear to be “Caucasian,” before Russia and Czechoslovakia, there was probably Spain and Provence, and before that Israel, but before that… undoubtedly it was Africa.  We all come from Africa if we take a wide enough and long-term-enough perspective.  As a human family we are tasked with respecting and celebrating differences and at the same time also finding unity.

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Boxing Day

December 26, 2009

Boxing Day, a holiday in many countries (but not in the U.S.), is traditionally celebrated on December 26th.  The name derives from the tradition of giving gifts to those less wealthy than one’s self, gifts that were stored in a “Christmas Box” and distributed the day after Christmas.

I have also, probably incorrectly, been told by a Brit or two that Boxing Day was the day you boxed up the presents you got, but didn’t want to keep—or was it a day for boxing up ornaments?

For me, the notion of Boxing Day brings to mind one of my father’s more memorable, albeit unfortunate, parenting strategies.  Admittedly, my brother and I, a scant and rivalrous eighteen months apart, fought an awful lot when we were children.  As a parent I can certainly understand how annoying sibling quarreling can be (although I guess I’m somewhat fortunate that my kids limit their strife to sarcasm and verbal snipes and haven’t fallen to blows in recent memory).  My dad seemed to have his own dark view of sibling relationships (he professed to hate his sister and went for years without speaking to her despite the fact that she lived precisely one block away, on the same street).

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Time to put in “kitty brain”

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

My wife once had a dream; I seem to recall that it was in the midst of much stress, in which she was told to take out her brain and put in kitty brain.  For years that has been code to remind ourselves to chelax, often in the midst of parents falling ill, falling down stairs and even falling into death.

So, whether this Christmas finds you naughty or nice; whether everyone got what he or she wanted or did not; whether family is making you cozy, crazy or sad; please don’t forget to put in kitty brain if it helps.

But before I put in kitty brain, I also want to wish my mom a very happy birthday.

Although my mom shares a birthday with another extreme V.I.P., when I was growing up my mom’s birth was an even a greater mystery than Jesus’ because while we new the date of my mom’s birth, no one ever knew the actual year of birth. 

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December 24, 2009


Twis the day before Christmas and so I thought I would honor one of my favorite parenting heroes—Thomas Coram.  One hundred years before Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, Thomas Coram created the London Foundling Hospital in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury.

Coram had no children.  He was a ship’s captain and after he retired he was horrified at the way impoverished children fared, often dying, on the streets of London.  The notion of an orphanage was unprecedented at this time.  In order to even try to start a charity, the world’s first incorporated one at that, Coram needed permission of the crown.  The aristocrats he approached initially refused to take an interest in poor children—it was beyond the realm of their thinking to value such kids, despite the epidemic of “foundlings” left to die on doorsteps as destitute mothers lacked means to care for them.

It took years, but Coram finally got one aristocrat on board and then a few more and they eventually appealed to the Queen.  He kicked in his own money, but to raise enough, his artist friends donated works and this marked the first art auction as well as the first time that common folk were able to see paintings by such notables as Hogarth (who famously painted Coram).  At this time there were no art museums and besides church, the only people who were privy to fine art were the wealthy.

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Ashes and Diamonds—Santa, Cinderella & Bert

December 23, 2009

 Around this time of year, at least for children of a certain age, there is a lot of thought about Santa:  is Santa real, how does he get everywhere in the world in one night, how does he get down the chimney, etc.?  While I have no idea about those things (although I suspect that Santa is “real” in the sense that the myth endures), I did want to talk a little bit about the chimney.

Of all the ways that presents and good things might come into one’s life, the chimney would, at first glance, be a bad plan—dirty, likely to be filled with fire, narrow and uninviting.  A chimney is where we turn wood into smoke, and what exits by way of the chimney is of the least value to humans—soot, ash and greenhouse gas.  Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, the burned down remains of the hearth’s fire would seem to be the end of the road, and yet they mark the scene of a new beginning.

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Out of the White: the Red and the Green

December 22, 2009

It was just around now—a few days before Christmas, only back in the 1960’s, when my father’s holiday office party turned out to be a total bust.  He had planned for everything… except a blizzard.  And so, out of the blinding night snow came my father’s black Lincoln Continental with the rear, backward-opening, “suicide doors,” loaded with the trappings and trimmings of the party that never was.

My brother and I watched, frozen in the force-field of our mom’s trepidation, as Dad, snow clinging to his overcoat, angrily carted in, one after the next, foil-wrapped roast beefs, boxes of cookies and treats, office gift-boxes of cufflinks and tie-clips and, lastly, a charming little dwarf of a Christmas tree, a Charlie Brown number, bedecked with tinsel and some ornaments—I even think it had plug-in lights.

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