Archive for the ‘Re-booting’ Category

2016: Brand New Year, Brand New Blog

January 5, 2016

So, here we are kicking off 2016! This will be the start of so many new and exciting adventures for all of us re-booters, including the fact that, as of today, I am renaming (and relocating) my blog. Dignitary’s Retreat is being officially retired and I’m switching over to “Rebooting a Life” as my new handle. (When you get to the blog page, click on the title and you’ll get the entire post, otherwise, you just read a squib.) I’m getting my act organized and have created a personal website as well as decided on a name for this blog that accurately reflects what it’s about! I hope you’ll come along for this revamped ride and follow me there…

Finding Our Way Back Home

December 17, 2015

With Christmas just around the corner, a lot of us will be traveling hither and yon to join family or friends for the holidays—I among them. This retracing of steps is fraught with bittersweet memories and a certain amount of anticipation, whether or not we imagine it to be the “holiday of our dreams.” (Ha ha, as if…) But the concept of finding our way back home expands much, much further than simply a fixed geographical or genealogical destination. In fact, if truth be told for many of us, we find ourselves at “home” in the oddest or least likely of circumstances, completely upending our expectations of where or who or what might bring us closer to who we are deep within.


Of course, it’s also fully possible that we respond to a variety of different settings or types of people as “home.” We each have more than one side to our personalities and different contexts evoke different, equally legitimate parts of ourselves. For example, there is a definite part of me that will always be someone from Washington—the city imprinted on my brain from the start and will never fade. But, then, there’s another aspect who seeks refuge in a totally relaxed and non-competitive setting, which I often find in the hills of Tennessee or the beaches of Santa Barbara. It’s not that those snarky elements don’t exist there, it’s more that I am somehow far more immune to them than when I’m back in DC.


What places speak to you? What settings resonate with the different parts of who you are? Can you explain it?


But beyond physical locations, what fascinates me the most about this topic of feeling at home is the unexpected people we meet who make us feel that way. This is what I love most about life, crossing paths with others we’ve never imagined were “out there” or who, on paper, don’t seem like the sort that would float our boat—but then they do, big time! Isn’t it exciting when that happens? When was the last time this happened to you? What puzzles me is when people I know say that there isn’t “anyone new to meet” or that they have enough friends. What? I’ve never understood either of those attitudes because, to me, one can never have enough friends and interesting people are everywhere, simply waiting to be discovered.


This concept of finding our way home is the crux of re-booting. Finding that place, occupation, or person who mirrors who we feel we are is a powerful experience and critically important to leading a fully realized life. As I type these words, I think of a man I’ve known forever who has always seemed discomfited by his own skin. While we used to play together as kids, I hardly know him as an adult; but the last time we crossed paths, he seemed as displaced as ever. I don’t know why that is, but it has been a consistent theme in his life ever since he was a little boy. It makes me sad for him.


Where do you feel displaced? Who have you met in your life who has developed into a kindred spirit? Does it come as a bit of a surprise that this particular individual would play such a role? Have you welcomed them into your life or do you hold them at arm’s length because somehow they don’t fit with your image of what your “home” team crowd should look like?


The regrettable truth is that sometimes we fight what feels right to us because it conflicts with our rigid ideas of who we are, the crowd we keep, or the places and activities we’re supposed to enjoy. I bet you know what I’m talking about… “If I like X, what will Y think? What will that say about me?” we wonder to ourselves. Crossing that Rubicon of who we have always thought ourselves to be, or wanted to be, in order to relax sufficiently to go with the (unexpected) flow requires courage and flexibility. Are those qualities you possess? If you’re bothering to read this blog, my guess is you do!


So, back to that highland, cross country jaunt so many of us are gearing up to take. In one form or another—particularly during the holiday season–we each must confront what “coming home” means to us. Perhaps the first step is to be more accepting that where we are now doesn’t have to be perfect, that it’s ok if we feel slightly out of place. Why do I say that? Because these are data points, important clues to what is going on internally… So, your final homework assignment for the year is to check in with yourself as you proceed through these next two weeks and see what feels right and true and honest as well as what feels forced or somehow out of kilter. They’re data points—that’s all they are.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!

I’ll be back with more re-booting twists and turns come 2016…

Xmas tree



Appreciating Ourselves

December 10, 2015

As we hurtle towards the end of the year, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There’s a lot of bad, bad news out there these days, a lot of things we need to do, and what feels like fewer and fewer resources with which to handle it all. But an effective counterbalance to this is to appreciate all the things we do well. Maintaining a cheerful outlook about ourself and our opportunities is a key factor in our actual experience of life.


To get started, I want you to spend two minutes to write down the things you are doing well, living your life exactly as it is today. Come on, pen to paper—chop chop. You can start with brushing your teeth and build from there…Inventories such as these can prove enormously useful because they remind us of all those “little things” we gloss over or minimize. “So, I got a semi-decent meal pulled together, so what?” “Yeah, I pay my bills on time, but so does everyone else.” Uh, not actually, so each of these count. You did this, please give yourself credit…


Stemming, perhaps, from our Puritan heritage we are more reluctant to brag, but in the circles in which I run (even here in DC), I find that the vast majority of people are likely to dismiss their contributions rather than give them the real and necessary recognition they are due. I’m as guilty as anyone and am grateful when friends call me on it, reminding me that the “little things” I do actually make a difference. So, let me turn this thinking back onto you. It may be hard to trust, but you just being you is a contribution in and of itself!


Do you believe me?


Part of maintaining our store of hope and confidence requires that we have things to look forward to each day—be that taking a hot, steamy shower or planning for that special overnight getaway you’ve been dreaming about. Finding a strategy to inhabit our lives with gratitude and joy makes the rest of what we have to deal with bearable. There is always more good than bad in this world—always. Yes, I’m being relentlessly cheery but I’m also speaking the truth. And you know it. Besides, what is the point of slipping over to the doom and gloom side of the equation? Honestly. What good does that accomplish?


Whether or not you believe in a Higher Power (and I most certainly do), in order to live effectively, each of us needs to find faith in something. Having faith in ourselves is an excellent place to start; in fact, it’s the foundation of everything we do. We build from our strengths. So what are yours? What is it that you do well (whether or not those around you even notice)? Think about this as you’re driving about today—take my request seriously.


One of the things we’re prone to forget when caught up in the rigors of our lives is that it takes time, dedication, and an open mind to see new connections, to gain new insights, and to imagine another way around the problem. Good ideas don’t present themselves right away. Sometimes, we have to push ourselves to think beyond the first right answer. What I’m getting at is this: having inventoried what you are doing particularly well right now, ask yourself what other ways you might utilize these strengths and skills? Could they be useful to tackle an entirely different kind of project? For instance, might your organizational abilities or your superior party planning skills have application to some other sort of job or project? Could your expertise in military history or knack for fixing leaky toilets translate into some other effort? Does the fact that people respond to the sound of your voice suggest a different vocation than the one you’ve already thought of? What else is out there waiting for you to discover it?


Now, if you’ve stuck with me this long and actually done as I asked, making an list of the things you are do well, I’ll bet you’re feeling more energized and your responsibilities may feel a bit lighter. What you choose to do with all those excellent skillsets doesn’t have to set the world on fire—that may come later, but now you are approaching life from a position of strength, a position of confidence in yourself and your abilities. And don’t we all benefit from that?


So, to wind this post up, I want you to be specific about all the things you are doing well because having this knowledge provides a greater sense of pride and confidence which will then enable you to move through life more positively. And, what could be better as we march forward into the darkest days of winter? If it would motivate you, send me your list, let me know you’ve done your homework.


Dipping Our Toes in the Proverbial Waters

December 8, 2015

Re-booting means different things to different people, but the common denominator for all of us is that it involves significant change in how we both live and think about our lives. Transformations such as these are likely to strike fear in anyone’s heart, no matter how excited we are by the possibilities. “Free at last!” we whisper to ourselves, followed by an enormous sigh of relief. But such actions require significant expenditures of energy and dedication—they don’t occur in one fell swoop, which is why most of us need to get used to the idea.


Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article about a defensive player for the Carolina Panthers, Josh Norman. Apparently, Norman is one of the hottest, most unpredictable players in the NFL these days and a good part of his success is due to the fact that each week he assumes the persona of a different action hero. When it comes to re-booting, we can learn a lot from Josh Norman.


Internal change comes slowly; our realization that something about our life doesn’t quite fit any longer float to the surface of our awareness a little bit at a time, but then it lodges there like a splinter, making it difficult to ignore. That’s the first thing that happens at the precipice of change. Next, we allow ourselves to speculate. “What would my life be like if X? What would I be like?” Such temptations beckon us forward; often, it is at this moment when we pull back at the thought of the trade offs, sacrifices, and unknowns that would be involved. Trading the known for the unknown? Yag. Which is why taking a cue from Josh Norman’s lead is so useful. We can try things out. We can experiment. We can say dodge left instead of right and see what happens, see how we feel and then reassess…


Think of it as if you are pushing against the boundaries of your selected character, not your own. That makes it safer, right? Because you’re pretending, it feels less dangerous. You can drop this act anytime you want…How empowering would it be for someone who is shy to temporarily inhabit the character of someone who was alpha? Or if you have always been “in charge” of everything and suddenly, you give up those burdens and leave it to somebody else to worry about. What must that be like?


In the depths of my despair several years ago, I used the adage “fake it ‘til you make it” to get me up in the morning and cobble together some purpose for doing so. I pretended to be happy when I was not. I acted as if I believed in myself and my future when I couldn’t see the point of moving through the next hour. I wasn’t trying to fool anybody when I did this, but because I knew and I trusted that life had to get better however impossible feeling that seemed, I acted in the manner of someone who was already there. Who already knew how good life can be. And eventually, a little bit at a time, her enthusiasm and confidence had an impact on mine. I took my cue from her.


This is what I want for you.


We all have aspects of ourselves about which we are curious. These untapped talents or interests lay dormant; sometimes they frighten us, sometimes they seem too wonderful to be trusted, and sometimes they simply provide a refuge from the headaches of our ordinary lives. They way I envision it, it’s as if I am staring at myself from across a river, trying to figure out who this person is and how I get more of her into my life, even if I’m not sure she’s everything I want to be. I’ve lived this long without her, so I can keep going status quo is what I tell myself. But the truth of the matter is, we’re changing all the time! We grow from one stage of life to another: from child to young adult to mature adult to elderly. But independent of chronology, there are also elements of our own unique personalities that whisper to us, offering up a chance to be someone other than who we are today.


What whispers to you?


Inhabiting different film characters enables Josh Norman to summon various parts of himself that he doesn’t ordinarily call upon. This practice provides him with different energy and a different way of approaching his opponent. Studying the characters makes him rethink things from the character’s perspective and not his own–resulting in him being a highly unpredictable and effective player. And on top of this, he winds up having a whole lot more fun.


Wouldn’t you like to have more fun?


I write this because we need different strategies for cajoling ourselves out of our little workaday ruts. Who is it you want to be? Try it out for a day and see what happens. For instance, let’s say you’re a slob who wishes to live a clutter free life. What if you spent one day, just one day, inhabiting the character of a organized, OCD neat freak, sorting and discarding your mail the very hour you receive it? Or perhaps you’re the shy one in the office, maybe you try to be outgoing at next week’s holiday party—even if for only twenty minutes. You’re not you, you’re Super Social Clark Kent! Somebody else entirely. Or maybe you try one Sunday night to be the “relaxed mom” who doesn’t worry whether or not her kids clothes are laundered. If they’re dirty, oh well. You don’t have to do it forever, you just have to try it on for size.


The Conundrum of Silence

December 3, 2015

Silence can mean so many things, can’t it? It can mean acquiescence or dissent. It can speak volumes or remain mysterious. And, as all re-booters have had to learn, often times it’s smarter or more generous to keep our traps shut. But finding a way to communicate effectively and honestly while not overloading our audience with verbal diarrhea requires us to master that sweet spot of silence—of sensing when we are better off not filling in the gaps, but without setting up a situation for massive miscommunication.


So, the question for today’s post is when do you know to speak up?


I suppose the answer lays somewhere in the realization that we can’t ever fully know. In my experience, people fill in silences with what they want, not with what we intend. I remember years ago, a certain fellow kept asking me out and I never said anything, believing my silence was a kind way to discourage him. But he saw it simply as a signal to continue his quest. I had made the mistake of assuming that how I’d interpret his silence if positions were reversed would be what he’d do, too. Wrong. Eventually, he wore me down and we ended up going out. It turned out to be quite fun…


My point in sharing this story with you is not to highlight some small slice of my dating history, but to demonstrate how silence can be interpreted in a manner radically different from what we expect. A recent review of the revival of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge stated, “Much of the play’s power comes from the aching gap between simple words and vast and complex feelings….The silence between words keeps widening into uncrossable chasms.”


I think we’ve all had relationships where uncrossable chasms developed, where there was either nothing left to say because the parties had given up and grown resentful of one another, or there was so much left unsaid that the silence took on a weight of its own, crushing the relationship into pieces. But, for most of us (hopefully), our important relationships aren’t in tatters but could probably use a little help. Is it better to suffer in silence as they go on and on about whatever, reminding ourselves that eventually they’ll shut up or is there more integrity in, after a certain point, drawing it to a close?


If your parent whines a lot or your kid never quite manages to get their act together, when they are perfectly capable of doing so, should we say something or not? Is our silence complicit or courteous? And does our remaining silent serve the greater good…or not? What do you think?


What is a situation in your life where you wish you’d spoken up sooner or more often? Did things get out of hand because you decided to hold your tongue and let it ride? And, in the converse, what relationship was injured by your saying too much, expressing opinions that only resulted in hurt feelings?


We’re all guilty.


In my life, I have made both mistakes, repeatedly. There have been times where I was terrified to speak up because I knew doing so would result in additional unpleasantness, so I cowered in silence, hoping things would improve. Then, on the other side, one of the insights I discovered that when I uttered that stridently held opinions or bitingly sharp retorts, I assumed nobody would take me seriously. I felt so weak when I said them that I expected my words wouldn’t hurt the other person—yet they did. But by then, it was too late.


Sometimes, it’s hard for us to believe in our own power; we can’t imagine that what we say or do will make that much difference to anyone. It’s a sobering realization to make when you see just how powerful you really are and how much of a direct impact you can have on those around you. However, once we accept this fact, it becomes far easier for us to gauge whether or not silence is constructive. Returning to the Arthur Miller play, it boiled down to a terrible choice, neither of which would result in hearts and flowers. We, too, are confronted by difficult decisions where articulating our thoughts or remaining mute each have certain impacts.


I have no answer for any of this, but believe it can be helpful to consider the various ramifications when it comes to your particular situation. Sometimes, silence is the least worst option, but then again, remaining mute rarely solves the problem. (There are plenty of faltering or toxic relationships in this world that serve as testament.)


Always Ask the Question

December 1, 2015

Awhile back, I was talking with someone about entrepreneurship and building a business and they shared with me a story about someone who managed to get her product into a big catalogue simply by asking the owner if they might consider offering it amongst their other merchandise. The takeaway from this interview was, “Don’t hold back, always ask the question.” There are so many questions we don’t ask, either of ourselves or of others.


Questions are dangerous things because once asked, they hang there waiting for an answer. And sometimes answers, if given honestly, may present us with clarity we’d just as soon not have. As re-booters, it is these inconvenient answers that are so important to our reinvention process. “Am I ready for this? Can I take it on? Am I brave enough to try?” If we can’t see ourselves or our situation clearly and honestly, we’re just spinning our wheels. The enlightenment, the ah-ha moment, that can follow from a surprise, scary answer can change the course of our lives (or at least our thinking).


Recently, I was talking to a fellow about a serious decision he is preparing to make in his relationship. “I don’t want to be the bad guy,” he confessed, agonizing over when to pull the relationship rip cord. We went round and round about this for awhile and then I finally asked him, “Well, what if you are the ‘bad guy’*? Is that something you can’t live with? What would it mean if you were (or at least that is how others might perceive you)?” As the reader of this post, you may substitute any condition/status/interest/opinion. Perhaps, deep down, you are (gasp!): gay, fascinated by serial killers, talk too much, drawn to some weird religion, into D/s, Democrat, Republican, still play Dungeons and Dragons, hate being a caretaker, love reality tv. Or maybe we need to be willing to ask ourself whether the person we’re dealing with is who they present themselves to be? What if my confident, opinionated husband actually has no direction or ambition at all? What if my boss isn’t the loyal stalwart they claim to be? Am I willing to acknowledge this as a possibility? It’s not that you have to tell anyone else, but at least tell yourself. The point is to explore whatever it is we shudder to admit about ourselves and be honest about the answer. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, can it really be that bad?


For me, admitting that I wanted to be a writer was a really big deal. Even saying it out loud, today, feels scary–especially in a place like Washington where everyone has ambitions and where there are “real” writers who publish real books and make real money. Saying that I am a writer may not be as scary as admitting I might be a Republican or like to watch reality tv (and I’m not admitting to either, fyi), but so what if I were? Absent a few roles where you’re harming other people, surely our ego can withstand the possibility that yeah, in this particular instance, we are selfish or indecisive or have engaged in some behavior that would put us in a less than an ideal and flattering light. This is true of us all!


Is it the end of the world? No!


What the act of articulating such answers does is free us up to live our lives from a more authentic place. Heck, we may even summon the courage to stop fighting this part of ourselves. Maybe you have no ambition and are ok with living your life in a drift-less state. Articulating and admitting such an answer to yourself may help answer why you feel so stressed all the time when your spouse asks you what have you accomplished. (Whether or not your achievement oriented spouse can continue to live with you is a different matter.)


I know so many people who haven’t been willing to ask themselves the important questions: what do I want? What sort of person am I really? How does this support or conflict with my image of who I am? Is what I’m doing, is the direction I’m currently heading the one that truly suits me? And we have to be brave enough to listen to the (sometimes terrifying) answers that burble up. But then, we have to summon another dose of courage and ask ourselves—if we are displeased or unsettled by the answers we receive—if I am this way, is that really so bad? Why do I fear this?


Whoa, Nelly, these are some big ass questions. The answers may throw you…but they also might open new worlds of possibility.


So, circling back to the top of the post, there’s our successful entrepreneur encouraging us to always ask the question. Here I am encouraging you to truly listen to the answer. Whatever it is, it can’t be so bad. It just can’t. You’re you, you’re fine as you are. You can handle it…


* Note: for purposes of this post, I am not saying that this person’s characterization of themselves as being the “bad guy” is even correct. Maybe they’re not the bad guy at all, but they’re doing something hard but necessary. What’s important for purposes of this example is how they perceive it.

The Allure of Magical Thinking

November 24, 2015

We’re all guilty; the trick is how much time we spend immersed in our fantasies rather than getting up off our duffs and doing something to make it happen. Alas, initiative and follow through are not always playmates of magical thinking, so sometimes we fall short of our goal. Plus, the possibility of being scared to death if we got what we wanted shouldn’t be discounted.


What do you want so badly thinking about it scares you?


As aspirational re-booters, finding ourselves on the precipice—not of misery, but of opportunity—is an especially tricky place to be. Most of us are not refugees, fleeing from the excruciating miseries of our current lives, but more like novice adventurers tempted to risk at least some of our comfort in order to follow the glistening path that beckons…While of course everyone has responsibilities to fulfill that they’d just as soon not, life isn’t meant to be an endless trial of patience and quiet sacrifice. Some days (or years even), yes, but not overall. Sorry, I just don’t believe we can’t achieve much of what we want.


Of course, as adults, attending to our responsibilities fills our days, but I have come to the conclusion that going through the motions indefinitely when our heart isn’t in it doesn’t serve anyone. Not you, not them. And underneath it all, they’ll sense you’re not into it—often with devastating, long term consequences for you both. You can’t pretend something’s true when it’s not. That doesn’t make your particular decision any easier, but please keep in mind as you paste that smile on your face that doesn’t reach your eyes that you’re not fooling anyone. I’m sure we all have seen people who have dedicated themselves to their set path, but internally, they fade away a bit more each year. It breaks my heart…


And then, there are the others who spend all their time engaged in magical thinking, with no real pretense of trying. What is it they get from such exercises in futility, I wonder? As a Taurus, I’m quick on the follow through, but I have grown to recognize that my action-oriented temperament is not what everyone has. Some are far more deliberate and slow to act, but for me hearing them talk without doing is like Chinese water torture. Ugh, get ON with it already!


But my impatience aside, this concept of magical thinking is an interesting one because it provides the seed thought for doing something new with our lives, making us breathless with anticipation. “Oh,” we marvel, “could I possibly do this? Could this happen?” The danger, however, is when we get so unrealistic that we wind up dithering, pretending we’re working towards our goal, when actually we have no intention of ever achieving it. Our dreams become pleasant companions, distracting us from our regular lives.


So, where do you fall on the spectrum of action/inaction? What is it that’s holding you back from saying yes to something you want?


Trust me, I know how petrifying it feels to step into the unknown—I wrestle with it on a daily basis, second guess my decisions, fret over my courage, and wonder if I’m seriously deluded or wildly careless. I ask myself if taking this risk and changing direction in my life is magical thinking, but when I consider the alternative of returning to how I lived before, I feel suffocated. Change is scary.


What it comes down to is this: are you going to spend your life spinning a fantasy in your head about the life you’re living or the persona you present to the world or are you going to take actual, measureable steps to fulfill the promise of your life, recognizing the tradeoffs and risks involved? The bounty is yours for the harvesting…Something to chew on during Thanksgiving. Have a good one.




Hope Springs Eternal (or the Plight of Charlie Brown and the Football)

November 19, 2015

So, out of desperation and frustration from yet another dead end beginning, I acquiesced and joined one of those online dating services. As regular readers of this blog have read, from coast to coast, friends have been trying to cajole me out of my writerly cave, urging me to dip my toe back into the dating waters. I have resisted mightily for a variety of reasons–previous lackluster performance amongst them. Nonetheless, life is short and I was bored, so I signed up (with a pretty good user name, fyi, which you do not get to know).


About a week into it, what entertains me the most is the men who send me messages saying we have so much in common, despite the fact that I’ve yet to compose my profile! Can they just “tell” from my photo that I’m the dynamic and alluring woman of their dreams? Has this strategy worked in the past? Do women believe such piffle? My guess would be yes to all three… And then, I laugh at myself because of the three profiles that have caught my attention thus far, it would be hard to select candidates more inaccessible. Two of the three apparently consider themselves so desirable that they needn’t bother posting photos at all, yet have requested more than one from me as they consider my appeal without asking anything about me. WTF? And then, there’s one (I swiped left) who was upfront about the fact that he and his wife have, uh, greatly varying libidos, so they decided to have an open marriage with no plans to divorce for now. “It isn’t too terrible yet,” he writes, hoping to recruit some interest. Yowza! While I give him credit for being upfront, I wonder how the wife would feel if she were to read his equanimous prose?


See all the fun you’re missing? Aren’t you jealous of my life?


But the fun isn’t limited just to me, I have a friend in Cali who was sitting at a nice hotel bar when this fellow told her he really wanted to know her better and began peppering her with questions such as what did she buy at CostCo? What sort of cheese did she like? And, when she refused to answer his question of who was more her type—Justin Timberlake or Ryan Gosling—insisted that she tell him what her ultimate “seduction music” would be to lure in the man of her dreams? (I hadn’t ever thought about seduction music, maybe that’s my problem.)


I can feel your jealousy radiating through the laptop.


The way I see it, if we don’t laugh, we’d cry. Nevertheless, this little laugh fest does have many elements that remind me of poor old Charlie Brown and that football the miserable Lucy holds out for him. (While I identify with Charlie, my brother insists I’m far closer to Lucy. Thanks, bro, really super nice.) But, whether it’s dating or something else, we all have our moments of feeling like poor, beleaguered Charlie.


What is something Charlie-esque in your life that you can laugh about?


Cultivating humor about ourselves, our struggles, and life’s inanities is key to any successful re-booting. Just the other day I stared, mouth agape, as my dad went about the front yard doing “yard work.” His approach is perplexing to say the least. There he was, standing in his wingtips and a pair of khakis so disgusting they should be condemned, using a leaf blower that could easily be confused for a hair dryer and aiming it at one leaf at a time, which he then blew into the street! He did this for hours (and on a windy day, to boot). Now, had this been a professional yard service, I’d complain, but because it’s my dad, I have to hope someone else will


BTW, I’m certain you do something equally ridiculous, but it’s between us. Ferme la bouche. My lips are zipped.


Ok, so this will be a shorter post because my point is made. Gotta laugh at yourself while relentlessly giving life the old college try. It feels pointless and confounding and embarrassing, but what else do we have left? So, here’s to hope, be that finding Mr. Magic or blowing a single leaf into the street. May the force be with us all…

Lucy football


Finding a Path Through the Chaos

November 17, 2015

I don’t often write about current events because it can get political which distracts from the universal quality of the re-booting experience, but today I am. One of the most salient characteristics of a re-booter is the effort we make to maintain perspective and continue to feel hopeful about life. Some days that’s easier to do than others. So much has happened in the last week that my thoughts are muddled—none of it to me, personally, but all of it impacting how I feel, making me wonder whether the world is spinning out of control. The struggle to maintain a common sense balance when part of us teeters on the brink of overwhelm is something we all understand. What is the point of fretting over developments about which we have no control, and yet, their import weighs on us, clouding our days.


What should do we do?


Ranging from personal to global matters, over the past week, I feel as though I’ve withstood a series of body blows. I’ve watched as my dad struggles with his sadness over friends who have died or are hospitalized for long durations. The cold wind of aging frightens him and I stand by as his capabilities to manage life become less robust. Then, there’s the quagmire of conflicting beliefs, allegations, and knee jerk responses that has hijacked higher education as illustrated by events unfolding at the University of Missouri and Yale. The debates swirling around about freedom of speech versus creating a “safe space” arise from the litany of grievance and identity politics is strangling so much of this nation, creating a distraction from the business of governance, learning, and the exercise of critical thinking. People in Syria and Afghanistan have reason to worry about finding a safe space, not kids on university campuses. I know, first hand, how these bouts of righteous indignation devolve into scream fests of hyperbole, hate, and overreaction. And then, of course, there’s the murder of all those poor people in Paris who were simply enjoying a Friday night, living their lives. My heart breaks at this tragedy.


The pace at which life can move leaves us gasping for air, hoping we misheard.


In an effort to regain proportion, I remind myself that it does nobody any good to sit around feeling despondent and helpless. Our kids take their cues from us, watching what we do, how we behave during troubled and confusing times. What are you modeling for them?


In my quest to retain perspective, I remind myself that we live in a world where news travels in a flash makes everything feel that much more immediate, but the truth remains that most people in Paris are alive and well. It’s also true that for as much as college students appear to be pampered, politically correct, whiny babies, not all of them are. Eventually, they will step into the world and, at some point, grow to realize that reality isn’t much interested in whether or not their very particular sensitivities are attended to and that they can rise above the onslaught of disappointment or insults which all of us experience at one time or another. Perhaps they may even get to a point as to see these struggles as a proving ground of sorts, preparing them to withstand the rigors of the real world. And thirdly, I remind myself that as sobering and lonely as it must be to watch friends and peers succumb to the mortal coil, it is the guaranteed end of all our journeys. Besides, my dad is not alone. I am by his side to help, to cheer, and to distract. Re-booters recognize the irony of the fact that each previous generation feared the world was going to hell in a hand basket, and yet, here we are—making discoveries, babies, and laughter where we can…


I think that’s the best we can do. That and pray.



Dude Ranch Masculinity

July 10, 2014

When it comes to our children, parents cultivate a remarkable ability to delude themselves. This is probably a very good quality from an evolutionary standpoint because, otherwise, it might be impossible for individuals to continue to shoulder their parental duties for offspring who are ungrateful, bratty, annoying, weird, or just plain unsatisfactory. Finding a way to make peace with the fact that these people are our children—we created them, we reared them, we set the stage for the individuals they’ve become—when whoever it is that stands before us looks or sounds or believes nothing we recognize, makes it tricky for parents to delight in the decades’ long process of parenting while retaining our very sanity. Oh sure, there are those kids whose differences delight and inspire us, but let’s not gloss over those troubling situations where we’re not too thrilled with the what’s looking like the final product of our efforts and more than a little perplexed what to do about it.


The lengths some parents will go to in order to help their offspring prepare for life is legendary. Tiger mother. Helicopter parent. Mini-me narcissism. Our fierce desire to protect our children from the unkindnesses the world can inflict impels many parents to pursue outlandish strategies—all well intentioned, but at times spectacularly ill conceived. An example that takes the cake for me is one mother’s determination to send her reclusive and very babied, nearly-grown son to a dude ranch for a week, where he can, “learn to be a man.” (These are her words, not those of a promotional brochure.) This poor kid couldn’t complete his school’s phys ed requirement rationalizing that badminton was too taxing for him—so how’s he gonna rope a steer? Everything about this idea horrifies me. I mean, the possibility that seven days at a dude ranch for a young fellow who has happily spent every single night of his life playing video games while one or both parents slept nearby, well, I predict trauma not transformation, mixed in with a whole lot of head scratching from the cowboys who are charged with his initiation into manhood. We need not trouble ourselves with further speculation.


Still, what this Dude Ranch Hail Mary demonstrates to me is the absolute anguish his mother must feel. Convincing herself that this wild grasping at straws (the passive father just nods—nice job, hon) is the ticket to reversing seventeen years of unfortunate parenting. What part of this is reasonable? And is this approach truly designed to help him or to make his mom feel better? It’s true that this young man is noticeably odd and has been poorly socialized, so it makes sense that his parents would feel concerned, but the fact that they’re placing their bets that a week at a dude ranch will remedy these matters astounds me. It’s not about whether or not the boy is “sufficiently masculine” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but for those who don’t come by it naturally, independence of thought or action must be cultivated over a long, long period of time.


His example is dramatic, yes, but the same challenge exists for more “normal seeming” people who do exactly what they’re told. Just because they have better social skills and can pass through the day without drawing stares doesn’t mean that critical thinking skills exist. How many people can you think of who have never strayed from the path set out before them, either because they’re too scared, find themselves “too deep” into it, or (more likely) it never occurs to them to dare to live a different life? People get confused when trying their best to conduct themselves “as a family man should” or as “a loyal daughter,” “diligent student,” or “responsible member of society/family/group.” They ascribe to a code that’s been imposed upon them. Whether it’s the dad who automatically agrees to whatever his wife declares, the child who enters the profession his parents have mandated, or the senior citizen who refuses to consider a different way of aging than exactly what her parents modeled. How is this any different from a gang code? Now that you think about it this way, they’re in a pickle not too dissimilar from that of our young friend.


The reason I chose this tragic and glaring example of unwarranted feebleness is to sensitize you to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there’s an aspect of your life that presents parallels. We do it, too. A re-booter strives to remember this before it’s too late; no Dude Ranch in the world can save us from ourselves.


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