Every day, I encounter a new challenge to the idea that things can and should be open and real.

Be it social, political, or personal, serious or trivial -- every time, I ponder the implications.

I hope you'll join me in the conversation!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes

This is a tough topic, but here goes nothing. I’m really struggling with what is going on with product marketing and very young children, especially marketing to girls.

I realize this is not a new topic, but it struck me in a new and disturbing way on a trip to Target with my daughter this week. I despise what they are doing with Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell and her fairy girlfriends (http://disney.go.com/fairies/fairies/fairies.html), but mostly it has been my frustration that the come-hither poses, cleavage, and general body language seemed inappropriate as role models for young children. This week changed all that.

For the first time – and perhaps it was because my daughter was with me – I looked at one particular product that seemed insanely sexed up, and got a cold chill down my spine that still hasn’t gone away. It’s no longer for me what these images say to children about how they should behave. It’s what these images convey to adults about children.

I’ve spent a good portion of my professional life focused on children’s well-being. As part of that work, I made it my business to know as much as I could tolerate about specific threats to kids. There are a lot of things I wish I didn’t know about what our children face out there in the world. Without going into the weeds, I want to state a clearly as possible that little girls being seen attracted to and interacting with the kinds of images Disney is churning out with this fairy money machine is not increasing their safety.

What makes me most angry is that it is Disney. As in Walt Disney -- the alleged magic kingdom where we are all safe and respected and can explore our dreams as kids to our hearts’ content. They are sucking these kids and parents in on a reputation that they simultaneously are sending up in flames to anyone who is paying attention.

Sure, little girls are suckers for pretty. And for cute. And the more you ply them with pretty and cute, the more money you make. Probably no one will notice much if you show more of Tink’s leg, or give her bigger breasts. Probably no one will make a fuss if you add a few more girls to the mix. More girls, more money. It’s basic math. I mean, any adult who complains about this has issues, right? It’s just for fun. It’s for the kids.

Here’s the deal: I know when my spine goes cold with fear. I know when my mind’s eye races at 90 miles an hour down to the image of an innocent kid being perceived as a sex object and where that is headed and who’s to blame. And I know all about how big companies like Disney try to cover up what they are selling for their own profit.

I wish I didn’t but I do.

I’ll try to chill this weekend, and see you next week in a better place.

The Envelope, Please.......

I recently received the Bella Blog Award for “One Lovely Blog” from Connie at http://www.wvfurandroot.wordpress.com/. Simply put, it made my day! The rules say I must pay it forward to other blogs, I presume so they can feel as good as I did when Fur and Root passed it on to me, so here goes:
A Better West Virginia http://www.abetterwestvirginia.com/

I really like what tends to happen on this blog. Serious issues are brought up and commented upon intelligently but not hatefully or in a destructive way. Readers of this blog tend to express themselves coherently and with respect toward other people, even in disagreement. This can be a rare dynamic as people strive to improve WV, and I credit this blogger’s careful tone and approach with turning out positive e-conversation.

Eclectic Glob of Tangential Verbosity http://www.eronel.blogspot.com/

I’ve been following this blogger since I found her on Twitter, also following @Hillsborough, a beautiful town where I spent an unforgettable decade of my life. Her profile says, “I'm a scatterbrained, mischievous, incorrigible, silly, cynical, optimistic pessimist, with a flair for worrying and obfuscation. My writing is rarely negative. Reading between the lines is an exercise left for the reader.” I love her combination of an academic mind with art, food, and nature. I regret I did not know her when we were in the same part of the world.

Little Stomaks http://www.littlestomaks.com/ “Science Driven Real Life Toddler Nutrition”

Written by a dad of toddler twins. This man loves his children, and clearly loves children period. Addresses range of issues, from childhood obesity to how to safely introduce your little one to sushi. The global toddler profiles of kids around the world and what they eat are great.

Moving Momentarily http://www.movingmomentarily.com/ “Why We Love Hate the Metro”

All about the real relationship DC has with the metro, if you have ever travelled by metro in our nation’s capital, you will be entertained! From metro surfing to tourist angst to crazy drunks, this is a lot of fun.

I’m the Chez http://www.imthechez.blogspot.com/ “I Am the Chez, and You Are the Macaroni”

A 30-something blogger opens up about friendship, family, co-workers, and crazy blind dates. Don’t miss her tribute to her grandfather, one of the most lovely expressions of love and pain over the loss of a loved one I’ve ever read. If that makes you cry, just read the blind date story and you will be cracking up in no time.

Kitchen Geeking http://www.kitchengeeking.com/ “The Act of Feeding Your Belly by Way of the Awesome Fury of My Cooking”

I fell in love with this blog when he wrote about Amazon.com selling a whole cooked chicken in a can for $50. I also loved it when he had readers put together his grocery list after not having shopped for months. An absolute riot, balanced by reflections on family meals and lust for specific food.

Hillbilly Homo http://www.hillbillyhomo.blogspot.com/ “The life and times of a Small Town Boy turned Big City Boy turned Small Town Homo again. Politics, life, a diary, and maybe some outright whining.”

Observations and analysis of the finer points in gay image, portrayal, and interpretation in today’s media. I really like his willingness to say, “I saw this, I read this, this is how it made me feel and why. Are you paying attention?” He draws connections between overlooked oppressions in everyday culture that are invaluable.

Eat Cookies. Be Quiet. http://www.ecbq.blogspot.com/

Blossoming fantasy writer and middle school teacher extraordinaire reviews books, makes summer reading recommendations…….and oh yes, is a dear friend of The EDG.

Create WV http://www.createwv.com/ “Building Creative Communities for the New Economy”

No one, but no one, has ever grabbed the bull by the horns when it comes to driving change on a grand scale like this initiative. That’s right, this is about completely revising the state’s economy away from dependence on extractive industry and towards productivity from the power of ideas. If you love WV, or if you are concerned about a state struggling to break free from old constructs, this is for you.

Now, dear winners, it’s your turn! Share the glory, and let us know who you think deserves The Bella.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


There are a lot of us out there blogging these days, and I’ve been learning to appreciate other people’s styles. I think a lot about how it is incredible anyone does this at all. It’s rather, as they say, “out there.”

I notice especially the difference in tone between women in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond. There are even digital bumper stickers for blogs saying “I’m a 20-something Blogger” or “I’m a 30-something Blogger.” I didn’t really get it at first, but now I think it’s a road sign, a fair warning of where this woman is on her journey, so buckle that seatbelt gentle reader. You may be in for a wild ride.

It is not a matter of policy, but so far I don’t read 20-something blogs on a regular basis. I suppose I’m just so well past that phase that I don’t connect in real time. I do connect retroactively, and frankly it’s rather painful. Thus the non-read……. I respect what they are going through, but heavens, once is enough. My twenties felt a lot like being blindfolded and asked to drive a familiar car down an unfamiliar street. Exciting, dangerous, and clueless. From what I can tell, not much has changed. There is a hard edge to much of this writing, and I know why. They are earning it every day. It’s all a challenge, opening up in any way. I don’t think the vulnerability required by revelatory writing is appealing to most very young women; their writing is a protective shell, a striking back.

The 30-something bloggers are still relevant and lovely to me. They have that life-is-funny edge, but the life is FUN piece is getting smaller in the rearview mirror. They have this beautiful analysis in real time that is heartbreaking and touching and educational all at once.

Beyond the 30s, I read less real time analysis and more soulful reflection. There is less anger, more acceptance, and a coming to peace with self and the world that balances out the chaos of other decades. I don’t know when wisdom kicks in, but maybe the 40s are the foundation for getting there. It certainly seems like it when I read this group’s work.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, keep going.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Being There

I won’t be posting for a few days, while I reconnect with some good friends and with a good place, Asheville, North Carolina.

All the email, phone calls, tweets and letters in the world can’t replace the warm blooded glory of being there. When all the children are totaled, we’ll have five girls under five; 3 incredible husbands (one each, mind you); and 48 hours of time together, precious time……………

I look forward to bringing back some good authenticity observations from this trip. Oh yes, and some stories about the pleasures of a weekend in America’s Number 1 craft beer city should round it out nicely as well. Sometimes craft beer connects with good story telling. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sex on the Beach: Finding the Sneetches Today

Theodor Seuss Geisel holds an honored place in my pantheon of writer/illustrator gods who got into my heart in childhood, took up a place in my head, and never left. Thank goodness for Dr. Seuss! (My other deities are Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and Charles Schultz).

Geisel had a special technique, a way of communicating with children about critical adult issues long before they had to wrangle those issues in the real world. As many of us know, he explained the follies of racism gently and masterfully to a generation of both children and adults in the powder keg dawn of the 1960s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sneetches_and_Other_Stories).

You know the story: Some have stars, some don’t, a social struggle ensues to define which is superior and worthy, and a capitalist extraordinaire rolls into town to make a profit off the – pointless – argument. He does; the sneetches are physically, morally, psychologically and financially spent; and in their mutual exhaustion and confusion, find they can’t remember who was better and why, and decide they really don’t care. They have a shared perspective on what they all have lost to their fight for status.

An earlier post, “An Unexpected Place,” examines the Adam Lambert phenomenon. Lambert became more interesting to me as an illumination of the ongoing -- and in my humble opinion, ridiculous – cultural obsession with each others’ sexuality. (See this truly fun piece in the Baltimore Sun, Ricky Nelson vs. Elvis, http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/tv/bal-zontv-column-0517,0,2532025.column) The rumor is thousands of folks spend hours in the American Idol voting process trying to defeat Lambert because he is gay. The best part is he has made no such claim.

He’s got a lot of drama, he wears eyeliner, and he’s been seen kissing boys. Good for him. I hope he keeps it up and makes people’s heads explode, in true spent-sneetch fashion. I hope he makes all those crazed anti-voters so confused about who he is and what he’s doing that they forget to remember who they are and what they are doing and why, and decide the whole thing is a complete waste of time and energy.

"I'm quite happy to say

That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,

The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches

And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.

That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars

And whether they had one, or not, upon thars."

Whether he’s the next American Idol or not, I don’t think I’ll forget him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

And the Procession Continues

An emperor hires two swindlers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they tell him, is invisible to anyone who is either stupid or unfit for his or her position. The Emperor cannot see the (non-existent) cloth, but pretends that he can out of fear; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime. The Emperor then goes on a procession through the capitol showing off his new "clothes". During the course of the procession, a small child cries out, "But he has nothing on!" The crowd realizes the child is telling the truth. The Emperor, however, holds his head high and continues the procession. (adapted fromWikipedia)

Fortunately there is no quota on how many lessons and stories I can pass along to my child; but if there were, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” would shoot straight to the top of the short list.

I loved this story as a child, mostly because a grown up was prancing around naked and didn’t know it (hilarious), and because a kid schooled the grown ups (naturally). But good God, I had no idea back then how real this story was.

I’m still reeling from the Bayer explosion denouement. The New York Times editorial this weekend further pricked my feelings of WTH. (See “Chemical Plant Safety,” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/opinion/17sun2.html?_r=1) I think it’s that bizarre phenomenon of thinking there is no way this many people are just going along with this, that would be insane, it must be me so I’ll try to keep my freak out to a dull roar. Then this editorial comes along, and I’m reminded all over again that YES, this very situation killed thousands of people; that YES, chemical plants are well known terrorist targets; that YES, the chemical industry is focused on profits above all else; and YES, the procession continues.

What good are jobs is we’re all dead, or in such bad shape that we wish we were dead?

Like the Andersen story, try this litmus test. It’s never let me down. Explain any given situation to a four year old and ask their opinion. They’ll tell you the truth.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

An Unexpected Place

I have a couple of friends who are obsessed with American Idol this season, especially the charisma and talent of one Adam Lambert.

I don’t “do” Idol. I’ve become so creeped out by celebrity culture I just can’t go there. But I have taken a look at Mr. Lambert’s performances on YouTube, and he does seem to have a certain something that breaks through even the manufactured drama of Simon Cowell. (I thought this interpretation of Tears 4 Fears’ “Mad World” was hypnotic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djn3ItxukbE Give a listen…..)

In their ongoing conversion efforts, my friends sent me a post from an Idol fan board. I think this excerpt speaks for itself. Sometimes a life changing contact can come from the most unexpected place.

"For me, it’s almost like in addition to adoring his musical abilities and the 'person' (however limited our view of that is) he portrays, he kind of took me to a place I hadn't been in a long time - one where I was in touch with my real feelings for the first time in ages. Music hasn't moved me in a long time, but his has taken me out of numbness and for this I owe him a debt of gratitude. It’s like he somehow busted through a dam in my heart, and now the floodwaters of good feeling are coming out. This sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. And how, exactly, would one NOT become a wee bit obsessed with someone, real or in Adam's case fairly 'imaginary' that did something so important? Not important to anyone else, but massive in my little life!

But more than that, he is a kind of symbol for me, he inspires me to great depths and I know not why. There is something so singularly unique about him that makes ME feel brave to be MY OWN singular, unique person. There is no greater gift that someone can give than that.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog for a reality check.

What makes you want to bother to comment on a blog? I’ve been a bit perplexed at the limited comments thus far, and wondered if you are reading this if you would help me out.

When I thought about what makes me comment on someone else’s blog, it’s usually because I’m upset or concerned about the outcome of a pending issue. I don’t really write that way, so upon reflection it should not be a surprise that my posts don’t create dialogue.

I started this project to create an opportunity to write on a weekly basis, and I can certainly do that whether or not anyone is interacting with the blog via comments. But I admit I also hoped it would become a vehicle to exchange ideas with other people. I have benefitted from the comments I have received, but would really like to see more. Someone today told me “People like soap operas, not integrity.” Hmmmmm.

Is this true? Is it realistic to think anyone will comment on the kinds of thoughts I’ve put forth thus far? Do I need to just write for myself, or change my entire approach if interaction is the goal? Maybe a balance of the two. Let me know!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's All About Believin'

About fifteen years ago I lived in a great little house in Hillsborough, North Carolina. I was the second owner of a “spec” house in a new neighborhood. I’m not sure if it was the builder or the first owners, but that place was literally covered in, well, horrible wallpaper.

As with any wallpaper take-down project, the worst part involved rooms where no one had bothered to prime the walls before gluing the paper. That’s right, just glued down on drywall. I will admit, one room was too much for me, and I just painted over the wallpaper; but I made this decision after what happened in my bedroom. Let me explain.

My sister was there helping me. We used something called a Paper Tiger to score the paper, then used special glue dissolver to soak through the holes. It was a fairly big room, and when the paper came off, it came off in thin strips that snapped after about 2 inches. AND – total nightmare – we realized that only one layer of the paper was coming off. So after all the effort in any area, there was the same amount of work left to be done to get the second layer off. Chunks of the wall were starting to come off as well.

This is a lot of detail, but I really want you to “be there” with us. It was a total disaster. The glue stuff smelled bad, and we opened the upstairs windows, only to bake ourselves in the summer swelter. I was in despair. I felt like I had destroyed the most important room in the house, and I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back. I was starting to freak out.

That’s when my sister said, “Look. We can do this. We just have to believe we can do this. There is no way wallpaper is going to defeat us, that is ridiculous. No one can make us stop working on this. This is your house, and if we have to scrape in here for a hundred years, we will because we will not be defeated! It’s all about believin’.”

“It’s all about believin’” became our rallying cry, and damn if it didn’t work wonders. Fingers bleeding? IAAB. Arms ache? IAAB. Light headed from the chemicals and thinking about passing out? IAAB. Somehow this hilarious phrase, whether screamed, whispered, sung or chanted pulled us through that craziness.

Now I’ll admit, it helped that I was 15 years younger on that particular project. But I have pulled this concept out a few times since to get through my most challenging efforts, and it still has a way of working magic. I use it sparingly so as not to diminish its power, and also because believing is harder now than it used to be.

It helps to have no massive failures on record when you chant, “It’s all about believin’”; but I can say from experience, even if you do, it still works.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Purposeful Honesty

Nietzche once said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

Amen, brother!

Often we are so focused on the fact-based realities of whether or not we have “lied,” as if that is itself the arbiter of right and wrong, of positive or negative consequences. Isn’t the real issue whether or not we have nurtured trust with other people?

There is a lot going around about the technical aspects of truth in some local community dealings. And it really seems to miss the point by a wide, wide margin. The point is that in order to continue to function as organizations, as government, as friends and neighbors and lovers and the rest, we have to have a bedrock belief that the information we exchange with one another is not only technically correct but that it comes from a place of purposeful honesty, not evasion.

Sadly, it is so easy to take for granted the good will and belief in us that most people offer up front; you only internalize what you have lost when you realize that gift is gone once you’ve treated it too casually. Getting it back can be a long road.

What holds you back from purposeful honesty, in personal as well as public life?

Friday, May 8, 2009

"We Demand a Shrubbery!"

“…….One that looks nice and is not too expensive.” If you don’t know this reference, I probably can’t do much to help! Monty Python’s Holy Grail features these enormous knights who confront King Arthur on his quest and demand a sacrifice of “shrubbery.” Makes total sense, right?

As funny as it was to me the first time I heard this sketch a million years ago, it somehow has just gotten funnier as I’ve gotten more involved with gardening over time. Ah, the shrubbery…..azaleas, boxwoods, junipers and the like; pretty much any round mound you can pick up for $9 at Lowe’s Home Improvement Center. There are some major crimes against landscaping happening in my neck of the woods, and misuse and abuse of shrubs is the number one offense.

It got out that you are supposed to plant “foundation shrubs” around your house. Occasionally this morphs into foundation trees, though I’m not sure why. Rarely is it taken into account what size these plants will become over time. It appears they are expected to stay the size they were when they were put in the ground. Too close to the house, too close to each other, lined up like soldiers with no variety behind another line of identical plants. Ack!

The whole look screams, “Whoever did this had no idea what they were really doing!” and the continued presence of these overgrown monotonous linear eyesores whispers, “And whoever lives here now has no idea what to do with it!”

Life can be this way. We do things out of ignorance, thinking we are doing something good, or at least expected. One day, the results just are……well……overgrown and out of place and kind of not what we were going for.

The beauty of the lessons of the garden for me is that, yes, it can be a ton of work to go back and undo some bad decisions. But it can be done. And better yet, undoing the wrong with a new plan in hand based on the lessons of the old effort can be incredibly satisfying.

For both you and your neighbors.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Over 20 years ago, someone gave me a Mary Engelbreit card with the phrase, “Bloom Where You are Planted.” At the time, I found it really encouraging. It seemed to be saying that I could be my best self no matter where I ended up, and that I had the power to “bloom” regardless of the world around me.

Since I became serious about gardening, however, I’ve come to interpret this saying differently. It’s a lovely metaphor, and it has an important message; but I’m not sure it’s a complete metaphor, and if you know anything about the natural world it’s hard to make this the simple Hallmark card that people so often want it to be.

As represented in this photo, botanical life can have an admirable tenacity. Those seeds and roots are driven to flourish and reproduce, and they will do everything in their power to make it happen, even in less than ideal conditions. (I believe it was Jurassic Park that coined the phrase, “Life finds a way.”) So we are impressed with this tiny plant, and yet isn’t there also a feeling of wishing it more soil, more sun, more room? There is something about this image that while it engenders admiration, also makes my heart hurt.

As a gardener, I like to determine the best place for things I put in the ground. I don’t expect things to bloom wherever I put them, and frankly they don’t. Over the years I’ve had many failures due to overenthusiastic planting, or due to the belief that things just ought to grow and thrive wherever I put them or want them to be. It ain’t necessarily so, and nature will school you pretty fast on what will work and why, regardless of your will. Accepting this is one of many life lessons I honor from my gardening pursuits.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Can "Quitting" Be Courageous?

I saw via Twitter that the keynote speaker at the Generation WV conference last night used the phrase, “You’re not a failure until you quit.” It definitely brought up the concept of courage for me, but in unexpectedly conflicting ways.

Some of the most courageous things I’ve done involved deciding to stop doing something. And I don’t mean bad habits, like smoking or biting my nails. I mean sometimes there are things you have worked on over and over again, and when you look down the continuum of the continued effort, you really have to self-evaluate.

Is it possible that “quitting” can be courageous?

I use quotation marks because this term really bothers me. It reminds me of those beefy football coaches on the sidelines, screaming at exhausted players, “Winners never quit! And quitters never win!” It can be a form of manipulation, a way of suggesting that that only losers (whatever that means) ever stop trying.

Perhaps that is where the key lies. In the effort, in the trying. I agree that sometimes the effort is the main thing, and it is beautiful and wonderful and important. But let’s be honest, sometimes all the effort in the world towards the wrong objective is a lost cause. It’s then that “quitting” may be courageous, despite all the pressure and all the names you get called. And in this vein, I can clearly see why some people want to make other feels bad about quitting; it may mean you have to acknowledge the objective was never that good. Then it’s about more than the one who stops trying, and the coaches have to be accountable.

Just a Friday afternoon thought for you to chew on, and maybe comment on if I’m lucky! Happy weekend.