Sunday, February 28, 2010


Yes, I'm writing about hockey.

No, I didn't watch the big Olympic final. I don't get TV stations and my husband couldn't find it on the Internet live streaming. But I know CANADA WON. I know it happened in overtime. It must have been an exciting game.

But the truth of it is...

I don't like hockey.

There, I said it. I feel much better now.

I know I'm SUPPOSED to like hockey because I'm CANADIAN.

But I just DON'T.

It takes a combination of skills I don't have, and I'm sure it's exciting but it's so damn violent. I can't stand the fighting. I'm not a Quaker, but I play one on TV. I'm just not into violence.

I'm really glad Canada won, though. Can you imagine the shit Canadians would take for the next four years? What would have happened if the Americans had beaten the Canadians?

The whole universe might have imploded onto itself or some such physics nightmare.

It does make me proud to be Canadian, but that's kind of ridiculous, given that I really don't care for hockey. But it also makes me quintessentially Canadian. Because I'm ambivalent about the whole thing. And if you look up ambivalence in the dictionary, the maple leaf will be there.

Go Canada! Please stop beating the crap out of each other. Thanks.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The School Rant, Part One

Okay, so the question is, at what age does school go from being fun and exciting to being a necessary evil?

At what age, on average, is the joy of learning successfully squashed by grown-ups?

Let's face it: most schools suck. Kids would rather play. And they SHOULD be playing AS THEY ARE LEARNING. That's the ideal environment.

Worksheets suck. They're stupid and boring and made by people who haven't set foot in a classroom in the past fifty years.

The hours and hours of testing public school kids are put through is cruel and unusual punishment for them, as well as their teachers.

It gets pretty uncreative teaching to the damn test.

This is why I'm veering towards private schools. There's more room for creativity and less wasted test time. Still, though, even in fabulous private schools where teachers are happy at their jobs, there is still a lot of busy work for the kids.

They learn by doing, not by copying things down.

I've been implementing lesson plans by some gifted and dedicated teachers. But still? Most of it is b to the oring.

School should be a place where children are allowed to think, not where they learn to do what they're told without questioning. Detentions and time-outs don't really help. And rewards, as Alfie Kohn and others have proven, don't really work.

So why do have to metaphorically beat students into submission in order to maintain our tenuous and mostly illusory sense of control?

When are we going to get it right?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rant, Interrupted

I wanted to write a massive treatise on why the education system is sucky and failing our kids, etc., etc., but I think I may have a little bug of some sort, so am going to bed. I'll try to summon up my vitriol again in a day or two.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Your Life in Two Minutes

There's something surreal about going to see a mental health professional, relating your life story (in brief) and then hearing it parroted back at you, in even briefer form.

It's really weird to hear someone else telling you stuff you either don't remember mentioning last session, or, more likely, that most people don't know about you.

We trust our shrinks with so much.

And it's so much work to start a new shrink relationship. I had an incredible therapist before we moved who saw me (and my family, by extension) through thick and thin. He was awesome. But not, Swimfan-awesome, or I'm-in-love-with-my-therapist awesome. He was (is) just a great mental health practitioner.

And those are few and far between, I'm sorry to say.

There are a lot of people out there who want to make money solving your problems, so you'd best choose wisely. And EVERYONE is biased.

I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, as I heard a Cliff's Notes version of my life read back to me in two minutes today, I thought, wow, ALL THAT happened to me?

And here's where I think it's time to pay attention. Did all that HAPPEN to me, or is it more the result of my choices? The whole nature/nurture thing, you know? I mean, you can't control your birth or childhood situation, nor your genetic makeup. But once you are old enough to have free will, aren't you, at least to a certain extent, in charge of your life? You're in charge of how you perceive things, and what you do as a result.

So do my sloppy, drunken college years mean I chose to just check out for a few years? Apparently so. I didn't honestly know I had any other options. But there are plenty of people who go to college and don't disappear into drunken debauchery (okay, there are two, but you get my point.)

Why do we do what we do? Am I more in charge of my life now that I have years of knowledge? If I'd had some kinds of advice or insights back when I was on the brink of making major (or minor) life decisions, would I have chosen differently, knowing what I know now?

Am I choosing how I react to life, or am I just conditioned to my habitual responses? And if so, can these be changed? Happily, I would say, yes. But not easily. Not quickly. Plate-tectonically slow.

But at least there is movement.

Wow, am I channeling Cary Tennis or something? Very "Since You Asked." Send some good vibes his way. He had major surgery last December. Check his work out at He's awesome. And I mean that healthily.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Get the Balance Right

You know it's not all smiles and giggles when a Depeche Mode song is invoked.

But there it is.

We're really struggling in our household with the whole work/life balance.

The father works a LOT. He is the primary breadwinner monkey.

I am the Primary Caregiver Monkey (thank you for this term, Ayun Halliday). But I also need to work. And I mean that on multiple levels.

So where does that leave things like household chores, grocery shopping, doctor's appointments, etc.?

Square in the hands of Caregiver Monkey (Ayun, you rock).

If science fiction movies have taught me anything, it's that cloning, although reducing the amount of chores and entries on my to-d list, would end in fiery havoc where machines take over and we become their slaves.

So cloning's out.

The only thing I can come up with so far is this: lower your standards.

The house? Won't be so neat.

The laundry? Will be wrinkled from sitting in the dryer for three days.

The groceries? Will have to wait, as for most people, until the weekend.

But when does Caregiver Monkey get to see the Paycheck Monkey?

Because when he's home, he spends his time with the Junior Monkeys.

This is indeed a conundrum.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Meal

It's amazing to me how so something seemingly small and insignificant can make a person so happy.

Case in point: We were out eating at a Taiwanese restaurant with the kids and their Aunt, and we were trying to figure out what to eat.

At first, it was all anxiety. Where was the grilled cheese? What fried rice, not fried FRIES? It was not looking promising.

But then we ordered some food that didn't look like the generic food I serve at home, and guess what? They liked it.

This may not seem like much to those super parents (damn you, people!) whose children eat every form of cuisine known to humankind without blinking. But to us? A big deal. Happytime, USA.

The meal that began with whining and accompanying low blood sugar was transformed by an egg and leek pancake. Hearing my kids say, "I love it!" really was satisfying.

And tonight, I made myself happy by not stuffing myself stupid, as I am wont to do at restaurants with multiple entrees to share.

Did I mention I'm reading Mindless Eating? It's not directly about happiness, but it does address the myriad ways we eat too much, gain weight, and get depressed about it. I will go over what I've learned from it so far in a future post.

For now, it's off to watch this week's Lost and see what other Harry Potter parallels I can find. You KNOW they're gonna be there.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Goin' Old School with a Complaint

Thanks to MTV's Schadenfreudefest of stereotypes, "The Jersey Shore", I now think of a buff guy with an attitude whenever I use the word "situation".

(Oh come on, it had to happen. I can't be all smiles and rainbows all the freakin' time.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Going With...

In all the happiness literature I've been digging into, every one so far has talked about "flow." Flow, for the uninitiated, is when you're enjoying or are so into what you're doing that you lose track of time. It's when you are "in the zone".

Well, the inventor of the concept of flow, or the guy who first really identified and studied it and made a name for himself,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

So Many Books...

I just got A Life of One's Own today. It's a book Ariel Gore references frequently in Bluebird.

I like the title. And I like the idea behind it, which is that this woman, Marion Milner, (writing as Joanna Field) decides to write down things that make her happy, in an effort to determine what happiness is. It sounds wicked meta and very interesting.

In related news, I was listening to an old podcast from The Economist today, where my favorite angry social commentator, Barbara Ehrenreich, was interviewed about her new book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. She basically says the American mentality of "Always think positively and good things will happen, but be mentally negative and it's your fault if things go to hell" is complete bunk.

For example, she talked about getting breast cancer, and how she was really pissed off about it. When she aired this opinion on some of the breast cancer chat boards, she was taken to task big time for being so negative. Why, she asks, is there no room for outrage or anger? Excessive optimism is what took us into the whole mortgage meltdown. And the implication that people who get cancer are responsible for it because they're angry or irritable is cruel and insulting, she says. And I agree.

I mean, yes, if you smoke a pack a day, you'll get cancer at some point. Most of us will get cancer at some point, if we live long enough. That's cheery.

But to say that a bad attitude causes cancer is absurd. Equally so, to claim that victims of tragedies like the tsunami in 2004, or Hurricane Katrina, were asking for it becasue they were too negative, as some American positive gurus claim, is utter bullshit.

So now I really want to read HER book. Dammit.

Ah yes, constant craving. That's not only a Buddhist concept, but an excellent song by Canadian songbird kd lang.

And now, to read.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cheerios and Martika

So I was at one of my favorite happy places today, (Target) (duh) and as I walked past Food Alley what did I see before mine eyes but a new kind of Cheerios....


Chocolate. Cheerios. OMG.

Of course I bought them. Of course I haven't decided yet whether or not to share them with anyone else in the house (oh, I'll cave eventually). They're made with real cocoa, for frack's sake! REAL COCOA!

Anyway, they make me happy. And if you try them, they might make you happy, too. I'm just sayin'.

Also, as I ran in the snowy woods today (difficult but rewarding), I listened first to a new artist find that I heard about on NPR. (Yes, I'm a geek.) There's this Minnesotan hip-hop/performance arty/singer (betcha never head that word combo before) called Dessa.

And she is really cool. She reminds me of Ani diFranco if she decided to do hip hop. She's like Rap Ani, or Ani 2.0. I'd love to see them mash up some of their stuff. It would kick ASS.

So I listen to the intelligent, deep, complex and angst-filled songs of Dessa. And I run. Well, stagger, more like it. But I'm making the effort. Even though I look like I'm color blind because not one article of winter clothing matches another on my entire body. I look like a goof. I run like a goof. But I'm a happy goof.

Then, when I've had enough of the heavy, because the snow is so white and the sky is so gray and Dessa is so intense, I change my musical menu and go back (where else?) to the 80s.

Do you remember Martika? If you're my age and liked non-threatening, essentially vacuous pop music in the 80s, you might. Her big hit was "Toy Soldiers" which most recently, I believe, was sampled by Eminem. Putting those two together is so wrong.

Anyway, Martika's songs are not deep. Not well written. The rhymes are 300% predictable and the arrangements were all done on one synthesizer over a long weekend or something. But Martika is perky, and she loves her boyfriend, and she wants to be Jane to his Tarzan.

Somehow after brilliant angsty music, Martika is the perfect after dinner liqueur.

This is why people watch stupid sit-coms.

This was a happy day.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Concept of Loafing

I'm quoting from Ariel Gore, who is quoting from someone, possibly Adrienne Rich, but "it takes a lot of loafing to fill in verb here."

She was talking about writing, Gore was talking about raising kids.

And today, I'm talking about happiness and mental health. Brought to you by the good folks at Eli-Lilly. Just kidding.

Today, I just couldn't hack much. I didn't have a bug or ache to hang my hat on, unless you count exhaustion and ennui of a general sense. Winter blahs, perhaps.

But today, when I went to drag my sorry ass out for a run, I just...couldn' it.

I mean, I turned around and went home. And crawled into bed.

Now as someone who has depressive tendencies, this is not always the prudent choice.

However, today, I really was tired. I ran eight miles yesterday, went to the grocery along with everyone in the tri-state area, apparently, and cleaned my house. (Then wasted part of my life watching a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.)

So for today, I loafed.

I read, watched What the Buck on YouTube (an instant happiness booster, FYI) and just lay around.

Because I'd hit that level of exhaustion where I was just basically going to be a full on pain in the ass all day to everyone around me if I didn't get some rest.

So I rested.

In Hip Mama Survival Guide, Ariel Gore says, "If it's all you can do some days to get up in the morning, just get up."

So that's what I did. That's ALL I did.

So maybe we should be scheduling loafing days into our lives. Days when you don't have to do anything UNLESS YOU WANT TO.

It wasn't a laugh riot, or super fun, but I rested. And now I feel better, and ready for the week to come.

Let's hear it for The Loaf!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Defining the Parameters

Last night, I finished Bluebird by Ariel Gore, and am very very close on The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

Gore's book finishes in an optimistic, lovely way. She basically says, do your own thing, don't let others define happiness for you, and don't try to stick yourself in too small a box. It was very satisfying to read, and her last paragraphs are a particularly passionate call to action.

Rubin continues to emphasize that by doing little things, happiness increases. And if you say you're not happy, then you aren't.

She's really into this, and I think she's on to something. I believe this gets mentioned in Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar as well. All three authors seem to say, if you walk around thinking you're unhappy, then you will be. And if you decide to notice when you're happy, you'll be happier.

Of course I am blending these three books in a massive happiness mash-up in my brain, so I may be attributing things inaccurately.

But I'm happy, so screw it!

Actually, I was very happy today when I ran about eight miles. I hadn't gone running for a week, and it was arduous at first, and then fabulous. In one of the books there is mention that one should stop doing something enjoyable for awhile in order for it to be that much more satisfying when you do take it up again. Makes sense.

I have to say, though, that I'm not sure talking strictly about happiness is going to make me, or you, that happy. It's fun to rant and rave and blogs are custom-made for ranting.

I'm not sure I want to do my gratitude journal online. It may induce nausea or vomiting to those reading it.

Can you be happy and still keep your edge? That's the big question in all of this.

Does happiness imply a smooth surface, or can you be happy and still have jagged edges?


Thursday, February 11, 2010

And...We're Back

I'm trying something different here. It was pointed out to be by a wise older woman that I would probably be happier if I didn't complain so much.

And since I am currently reading three different books about happiness, I think I've moved into a new obsession from the QCC format.

I don't know exactly what form this blog is going to take. But I'm sick of complaining, so it's time to move on to something else.

For example, how does one achieve happiness in day to day life? Who defines what it is? How do we live a happy life, bearing in mind that shit happens and life is suffering? (Cheery Buddhist thought for you.)

I've spent a lot of time in what Dr. Seuss calls "The Waiting Place." This is the zone you get into when you're waiting for your life to begin, forgetting, of course, that it's already well underway, and possibly into the second act already, or at least intermission.

So on to happiness. What the hell am I waiting for, an invitation?

The three happiness books I'm devouring at the moment are: Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and Bluebird by Ariel Gore. They couldn't be more different from each other.

Gore's book is the most awake to reality, in my opinion. It's certainly the most sobering. Gore eloquently talks about how as women we have been expected to be happy with the status quo, even when it hasn't been a very fabulous one much of the time. I haven't finished reading it, so I'm not sure what the take-home is yet. She does a lot with quotes from other women, which is always nice. It's pleasant to recognize yourself in print, or to be reminded that not everybody thinks the same way, and that our needs are varied (and challenging). Gore reminds us that most happiness studies are done by men on women, and that medicating unhappiness away is not the best choice in many instances.

Rubin's book is a cheerful "stunt journalism" (her words) year-in-the-life-of chronicle of her quest for happiness. It's fun, and, at times, quite inspiring. It goes month by month, so I am now in December. She has a whole blog and user-friendly website which gives you a toolbox, among other things, as well as help making resolutions (which are big) and a place to talk to others doing "happiness projects." (Why the quotes? I dunno. I guess in some ways what I'm doing is a happiness project, but I have to call it something else because I hate copying people.)

Ben-Shahar's book so far has been good, and the only one written by a man on my bookshelf. Apparently he teaches an enormously popular class at Harvard about how to be happy. Just goes to show you that all that status and prestige doesn't make most people feel all that jolly. It seems a miserable place to me to begin with. I don't get the Harvard appeal. Is it just me? Or is it over-rated? There are so many good schools. Bit I digress.

Ben-Shahar, Gore and Rubin all talk about doing a gratitude journal. This, apparently, is a great way to boost happiness. So I am going to try it, possibly here, possibly in notebook form.

So for today, the

Five Things I am Thankful For:
(in no particular order)

1. I got to teach today.
2. My kids are happy.
3. It's Friday.
4. The roads are getting cleared enough that I can probably go running tomorrow.
5. I'm getting jazzed about job prospects and opportunities.

Okay. There.

So do stay tuned. Who knows what can come of this?