Thursday, September 19, 2019

SHE SAID by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey

In reading this book, there were moments when I found myself saying: "Go to print already! What are you waiting for?"

As I read the entire book, I found myself grateful that Kantor and Twohey (and their team at NYT) had the journalistic discipline to wait. To check and double-check their facts and sources in order to ultimately present a bulletproof account of Harvey Weinstein and his mistreatment of women. This story also opened my eyes to the structures of the judicial system (with its ability to buy silence through settlements) and the culture of Hollywood that allowed the horrors to play out.

The authors make an important point about the "Believe Women" hashtag that has become popular in this post-Weinstein age. Regardless of good intent, there's a difference between helping stories be told, and a blanketed believing of every woman and a blanketed not believing of every man. The truth is in the details. And waiting for those details to surface can be an arduous journey.

The details outlining the monstrous ways in which self-proclaimed feminist lawyer Lisa Bloom used her knowledge to aid Weinstein in further destroying women for financial gain is an example of why blind faith in all women is misguided.

There's a current collective backlash happening where people are pushing back against "cancel culture." I get it. Touching a shoulder isn't the same as an attempted rape. Aside from such distinctions, what's most important I think is our ability as humans to evolve and mature. Do I have the capacity to look back and truly feel sorry and embarrassed for stupid past behavior? Do I have the strength to acknowledge that today, make reparations, and behave better?

I suppose that is what is at the core of evolution and justice—our ability to expose it and own it, versus our instincts to hide it and deny it. And even worse, to perpetuate and profit from it.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

There are a total of nine essays contained in this book titled Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. There are details that make each essay unique and in the end, they weave a reading/thinking experience that makes me ponder the following questions:

  • Who am I?
  • On social media, who do I strive to appear to be?
  • In life and on social media, can I ever be who I am without regard for who I appear to be?
I think the best essay is her sixth one, where Tolentino reviews modern day scams. Scams led by icons like Billy McFarland, and Elizabeth Holmes and others led by more abstract entities like Wall Street (and the 2008 housing market crash), and Amazon (as in lickity split we will get that order to you by tomorrow even if we destroy small businesses and force workers to pee in a bottle in the process, dot com). The essay points to none other than the 45th President of the United States as the ultimate scammer. A narcissist who wants to exist only at the top because he sees no value in being anywhere else. A grifter (not unlike McFarland and Holmes) who is so consumed by how he APPEARS TO BE rather than WHO HE IS that he is willing to let everyone and everything unravel, as long as he remains where he wants to be.

Tolentino precisely connects what happens to humans, especially young humans, who exist in a world of uncertainty, straddling debt and temporary side hustles: "Into this realm of uncertainty has come a new idea—that the path to stability might be a personal brand."

"Branding" never sleeps. And neither do people who talk about it and call themselves "THE REAL (insert name)" and address their audience with "You guys!" with periodic teasers like "I have BIG news to announce tomorrow!" And without sleep, you could start doing weird shit. Like selling tickets to a festival without having a clue how to coordinate it. Or claiming to have created a new invention that can (with just a drop of blood) test for all sorts of diseases, without having invented it. Or promising to build a wall financed by Mexico knowing full well that Mexico will do no such thing.

It feels like the whole world is sleep-deprived. Why else do thousands of people actually buy tickets (that they can't afford) to a scam festival? Why else does a circle of educated elite invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a fake blood testing machine? Why else do millions of folk vote for a grifter who previously led a string of scams including the defunct Trump University, where a victim of the scam (cited by Tolentino) says "I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money"?

Perhaps it's sleep. Or something else. But our depravation of it is destroying us.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

It's when I've felt that I have a purpose in life that I've been able to quiet doubts about why I exist in the first place. Even when daily routines of taking care of my daughter and son when they were babies frequently felt like drudgery, there was an undeniable purpose dialed into motherhood. To dutifully protect and raise vulnerable babies, no matter how I felt about the process at any given moment.

Now that my kids are adults, I am surrounded by oceans of freedom, to get up and pursue anything I want. All day, every day. Ironically, the freedom to do anything without a dialed-in purpose sometimes has me flailing. Drowning in freedom, longing for the confines and drudgery of duty.

I don't think freedom is incompatible with purpose. But freedom WITHOUT purpose is hell. So is purpose without freedom.

Logotherapy is the therapeutic approach that the late Viktor Frankl explains in the second section of his book: Man's Search for Meaning (1959). It is an approach that beckons me to pursue meaning instead of byproducts of meaning (e.g., happiness, joy, comfort, etc.)

He points to laughter as an example. When someone commands me to laugh, it's almost impossible to will myself to do so. Same thing with commands to love, to choose happy, to orgasm, to have fun, to be authentic, to have faith. Even scripture says strong-armed faith is no faith at all.

The first section of his book is a memoir of his time as a prisoner of Aushwitz. Conceptually, it's hard to imagine a moment in a concentration camp where happiness or laughter could be experienced. Surely the context couldn't allow room for anything besides despair.

Frankl explains that no matter the context of suffering, be it the drudgeries of parenting, existence in a concentration camp, illness, accidents, betrayal, etc., it is possible to live with meaning and therefore possible to experience the byproducts of meaning in ALL circumstances of life.

I search daily to answer the question: What is my purpose?

Sometimes I feel clarity. Other times, ambiguity. Frequently, I find that as long as this search is conducted with a quieted ego, I am able to refrain from editing out neither bursts of tears nor roars of laughter that arrive not through commands, but as byproducts of a life with meaning.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Dignity of the Dress

There are certain garments, like this little white slip, that makes me feel tingly and beautiful and powerful whenever I put it on. 

In her book titled Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino cites researcher Moira Weigel who describes a phenomenon called "enclothed cognition." Says Tolentino:

"In one experiment, test subjects were given white coats to wear. If they were told it was a lab coat, they became more attentive. If they were told it was a painter's coat, they became less attentive. They felt like the person their clothes said they were."

In other words, the participating subjects not only FELT but BEHAVED like people that the jackets told them they were. 

I would further argue that how a person dresses affects the way OTHERS behave toward them. In the movie Brittany Runs a Marathon, Brittany transforms her life by losing weight through diet and exercise. She points out in one scene that in her new body, men literally start to open doors for her. 

In my experience, not only do men open doors, they also bring you water that you want but don't ask for, and volunteer to walk you to the aisle that has the thing you're looking for at Home Depot. Of course that's the bright side of behavior influenced by external factors. There's a dark side where behavior crosses the line to include groping and assault.

In another book titled The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, we learn that at the age of 16, Eger and her sisters were sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis. Ever since they were little, Eger's sister Magda had loved dressing beautifully. Eger describes that in the winter, the soldiers issued old coats to the prisoners, just tossing them out without attention to size and fit. Says Eger:

"Magda was lucky. They threw her a thick warm coat, long and heavy, with buttons all the way up to the neck. It was so warm, so coveted. But she traded it instantly. The coat she chose in its place was a flimsy little thing, barely to the knees, showing off plenty of chest. For Magda, wearing something sexy was a better survival tool than staying warm. Feeling attractive gave her something inside, a sense of dignity, more valuable to her than physical comfort."

It's difficult to be honest about our desire for beautiful clothes and body. On the one hand it sounds like a no-brainer. On the other hand, it sounds potentially shallow and exclusionary. Roxane Gay points out in her book titled Hunger how ridiculous it was for her well-meaning friend to say to her "You're not fat" when she was weighing about 500 pounds. Gay's point challenges the popular body inclusivity movement to accept that it's ok for a fat person to try to become unfat. That that pursuit isn't in and of itself exclusionary or shallow.

Brittnay finishes the NYC marathon and ultimately realizes that the key to unlocking true happiness isn't about the weight and the clothes but it isn't NOT about the weight and clothes either. I think they are all inextricably tied. Self worth is tied to what we wear is tied to the body we keep is tied to the amount of debt we carry is tied to how we manage our time. 

In the scene where Brittnay starts the NYC marathon, we hear the emcee who welcomes all the runners, reminding everyone that the marathon is an experience that has no borders, only start lines.