Switch to mobile version

October 2011

Post image for Ordinary things every mother has seen

Look in almost anyone’s shoebox of family photos and you’ll find mostly smiles. Some real, some given on command. Kids standing like sticks in front of the cabin or Epcot Center. Days at the pool, days at the beach, birthday parties and Halloweens.

In the mid 1980s Sally Mann set out to photograph her children growing up. But she did something unusual. She consciously decided to include the ugly and awkward parts that many people want to exclude from their image of childhood. Bleeding noses, wet beds, black eyes, bad moods. Hints of vulnerability and danger.

Her collection, called Immediate Family, didn’t obsess with the disturbing parts of childhood. There are shots of goofing off, dressing up, and playing board games. But it’s obvious she made a point of including shots that suggest that childhood isn’t squeaky clean, that it’s also riddled with moments of awkwardness, shame, fear and confusion.

I couldn’t figure exactly what it was about these images that I loved so much, until I read what filmmaker Steven Cantor had said about them:

“I was so moved by Sally’s expression of childhood the way I remembered it — as a complex and enigmatic time — and not the innocent and naive period adults often project it to be.”

Yes! Bingo. Childhood isn’t simple at all, except to adults. It’s confusing and awesome, sometimes traumatic, sometimes dark, sometimes absurd.

Those typical shoebox photos cherrypick the sanitary moments and ignore the rest, as if only the light and easy parts have value. They suggest that kids spend their days playing because they don’t have to take anything seriously yet. But in reality kids explore and play because they need to learn about the world, fast. They need those black eyes and awful moments, and they need to have curiosity and low inhibitions to get them.

So if we’re going to take the value of childhood seriously, we can’t pretend it consists only of birthdays and school plays and trips to Grandma’s. Sally Mann saw that childhood play isn’t actually frivolous, it’s a vital learning process, and the unsettling parts of it are absolutely necessary. And because they are so vital, they’re beautiful too.  Read More

Post image for 7 High-leverage life skills they should teach in grade school

They don’t need to take up too much math or science time, maybe just a single two-hour class for each, covering two a year. Plant a few seeds and leave them alone. They’ll grow, in in the minds of certain kids where the conditions are right, and their progress will be gradual but unstoppable.

These skills aren’t easy. I suck at most of them, but I know they’re all I really need to know how to do. Simply introduce them and they’ll lead a person to anything else he needs to know. In me, the seeds have germinated, no question about that. I am gradually getting better at them. They take years, so I wish I’d started in grade school.

1) Letting people misunderstand and dislike you

I used to really believe that somebody getting the wrong idea about me was some kind of problem that had to be fixed. This is the kind of fear that would prevent me from, say, renting “Heavenly Creatures” because everyone knows it has Kate Winslet’s boobs in it and the Blockbuster girl would think I’m renting it only because I’m a huge perv and not because it’s a good movie. It’s a tiny example, but that’s a genuine wall I built there. One of thousands.

It takes an enormous amount of energy to try and manipulate people’s knee-jerk impressions of you, and it makes you into a fearful, pandering creature. It’s completely impossible anyway, and there’s so little to gain even when you pull it off. Instead of someone getting a baseless negative impression of you, they get a baseless positive one.

The amount of pain suffered in vain by people trying to be liked by everyone is unimaginable. It drives people crazy. It makes people kill themselves.

Make no apologies or explanations for what you want, and let the unknown faces dislike or distrust you. Study your fear of leaving bad impressions, and practice doing what you want anyway. I bet you’ll become not just more comfortable, but more likable.

Elaine Benes: Who cares if she doesn’t like you? Does everyone have to like you?
George Costanza: Yes! Everyone has to like me!

2) Talking to strangers

School taught me strangers were at worst bad people, and at best irrelevant people. It took me a while to recognize that they were indeed people at all — that they have family members and friends to whom they are not strangers. It took even longer to realize that I am a stranger.

They had an explicit rule about it: Don’t talk to strangers! Stranger is clearly a pejorative word, and they told us to use that word to describe anyone we didn’t know. And don’t let them talk to you!

I am still getting over the idea that people I don’t know are “strange.” Some of the most rewarding moments of my life have happened while breaking this rule.

Kids can still be taught to keep themselves safe without instilling such a damaging view of the casual passer-by.

Imagine if nobody regarded anybody as a stranger, but rather a person they didn’t know. You can’t have wars without strangers. For that and other atrocities, we need a group of people so alien and blank to us that we don’t care what happens to them.  Read More

Post image for Mold and The Law

My house is moldy and Parkinson’s Law is mostly responsible. If you’re not familiar, the Law is usually spelled out like this: “The time required for a task expands to fill the time available for its completion.” It works for money too.

So when you’ve settled into a schedule filled with recurring tasks, they each have a tendency to expand until they press up against the next one, and then they don’t move around very easily. Without much variation (a day job does this quickly) the parts get dusty, then mold grows between them, and you begin to forget that they can move at all. Instead of a series of independent tasks, a routine can come to look to the mind like it’s one solid, familiar ring, seven days in circumference, studded with the odd unexpected task or birthday party.

I’m doing some house cleaning and I still have some mold problems, so I’m giving a large part of a routine a quarter-turn by dialing my regular article forward to Mondays for a while. I’ll see where the other bits reassemble around that. It’s like defragging my schedule, for you computer geeks. Call it a mini-experiment.

Certain important things (namely reading books and meditating — probably the two most wholesome things I do) have been flung out of the ring due to substantial G-forces, and there are no obvious gaps for them to jump back in safely.

I’m aware it’s more of an internal adjustment that isn’t really meant to interest you, but I thought I’d say something today because I don’t like to be a mysterious no-show. You might also want to try this kind of defrag in your own routine and see how it settles out.

And while I have you here for a moment, there are a few interviews I’ve done with other bloggers that I never had a good chance to share.

Sui from Cynosure asked me about self-love and hard times.

Nicki from The Veggie Tales talked to me about food.

And (quite a while ago) my friend Srinivas from BlogcastFM interviewed me about blogging in this podcast.

Anyway, see you Monday.



 Photo by Monster Pete



Post image for How to avoid terrible curses

In April I told you people that an established publisher had contacted me wanting to know if I’d considered writing a book. I was naturally very flattered but unsure of what angle to take on it, so I appealed to you for feedback and you delivered. Thank you.

What I didn’t mention is that I had been contacted almost six months earlier, and I’d been stuck on it since then. I didn’t really know what kind of book I wanted to write. My post was intended to get me moving by creating public accountability and stirring up some ideas.

It didn’t, really. I pecked at it over the months, and a clearer outline began to emerge. I wasn’t in love with it, but it was something that could be built on. Yeah, I could pull this off, I thought sometimes.

Two weeks ago a literary agent contacted me, unaware that a publisher had already expressed interest, and it looked like it was a sign that now is the time. After avoiding it a bit more, I dug out my notes and got to work again. I ignored my doubts and kept putting words down.

What quickly happened surprised me. Saturday morning, on my 31st birthday, I had my first moment of clarity about what I should do. It hit me like a truck:

I have no desire at all to write a book right now. None.

And just like that, a yearlong spell of uncertainty dissolved. In hindsight it had been that way from the beginning, but I felt like that shouldn’t matter — the opportunity was so great. But there is no opportunity if the author isn’t interested.  Read More

Post image for Let’s use the C-word more often, and really mean it

Someone wrote in with a comment that almost made me clap:

“You use the word compassion sometimes. I like the *idea* of compassion, but I don’t know, it irritates me. I’m not saying I’m not compassionate, I think I am. I just hear it used by a lot of people I don’t like. Not you, other people. Fluffy people who have all the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I hate that word but I still think it’s a good thing, whatever it is exactly…”

I added capital letters and removed an LOL or two, but he captured my thoughts exactly.

I avoid it too because it has undeserved connotations about sissiness and self-importance. But I guess I have let the C-word slip a few times, sorry.

Compassion, as a word, hasn’t really found a widely-accepted role in our culture. Not everyone is comfortable with it. I think part of its problem is that it contains the dubious word “passion.” Part of the ick-quality of this word comes from its shameless overuse in marketing this last decade (along with fellow bad words “dreams” and “excellence”) of everything from DeBeers diamonds to mortgage brokers.

I think it might help to clarify that the “passion” part of compassion actually refers to suffering, not to enthusiasm for watercolors or for the Allman Brothers Band. Think The Passion of the Christ, not “I have a passion for 1960s girl groups.” The “com” part refers to “with another.”

Politicians conspicuously avoid it, because it sounds like they support a welfare state. Too risky to bust out the C-word in a forum where you’re pandering for the widest and shallowest approval possible. Too many people don’t know what it means. The C-word is a bad word outside the Green Party.

Compassion is associated with bleeding heart socialists, self-help junkies, hippies who sob over dead trees, pasty-faced emos and any other people who suffer from throes of uncontrollable sympathy — even the misguided commies who want to give away health care! (Can you imagine?! Helping people without demanding their money! Some people are sick.)

The C-word has been relegated to these weak and senseless groups, when really it’s something that everyone would be in favor of it if they knew what it was and understood what its implications are.  Read More

Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.