Tag Archives: media

Distraction Dilemma: Breaking, Breaking News

 

 

As I drove out of the supermarket parking lot yesterday, I congratulated myself. Proud that I remembered to bring my groceries with me!

Years ago on a nice spring evening, a Thursday, I exited the same supermarket parking lot minus the eight bags of food and drink items I had just purchased.

Back in the days when my daughter was on the crew team at her high school. Moms (always the moms, let’s be honest here) took turns hosting the team on the Friday nights before Saturday morning regattas. We put on big spreads which, if memory serves, mostly featured some kind of pasta casserole, bowls of salad and buckets of garlic bread. I’m sure there must have been a vegetable side dish and dessert too.

On that Thursday before my turn at hosting the team dinner, I drove after work to the supermarket nearest my house with the “Crew Dinner To Buy” list in my purse. It was dinner time – I was hungry, I was tired, so was everyone else. My body may have been at the store – but my mind was still downtown – at the law firm  – too many client matters remained on that “To Do” list.  I walked up and down the aisles, pulling the items for the anticipated bunch of carb-craving teen athletes in a semi-automated fashion.

The check out lady smiled as she scanned my purchases – having a big party? Yes, I probably said. I paid, left the store and steered the overflowing cart outside the store and left it in the “pick up” area against the silver bars en route to the parking lot.  My intent must have been to get into my car and drive around to the pick up lane to retrieve the eight bags from the cart.

But instead I drove home. Two miles away.  I pulled into my driveway. Still thinking about work, I am sure. Knowing I had emails to check and a project to complete. Parked. Then opened the trunk to find it empty. Because I had left all of the bags in the cart in front of the supermarket. A swear word was likely emitted at that point.

That is the last time I recall being as distracted as I have been in recent weeks.

I did drive right back to the store. Luckily, the cart was where I had left it 10 minutes earlier, I put the bags in the trunk, drove home, took the groceries out, unpacked them, made dinner for my family, caught up on work  – and then hosted the crew dinner the next night. You know the busy/working/mom drill.

I no longer work downtown (still a mom though, and now a grandmother too, just for the record so you can tell that maybe through increased age alone, I’ve earned the right to have distracted moments.)

But now I am distracted much of the time. No longer by lawyering. Or by my kids. Or by my husband. Not by events on my calendar. And I do not have a sudden onset of ADD nor any neurological problem (I get checked.) No, my distraction comes from my own inability to focus for more than 10 minutes without having an insistent craving to turn on the news.

So I do. I check my twitter feed. I look up news alerts. I listen to the radio. I have the TV on in the background. All for fear of missing some new crisis that might have happened while I was doing the laundry or taking a shower.

The crises keep erupting, one piling on top of another, breaking news breaking into new breaking news, breathless reporters and chatty commentators. And yes, I could turn it off. Yes, I should turn it off. But I keep checking for updates.

Last night at book club we talked about this. A few of my friends are not as dominated by the need-to-know-now as I am. Lucky them! Others seem to be able to stay in control of their news needs. I’m jealous.

Part of my problem is I am less busy in the summer. I’m not taking a writing class this summer. With the end of the school year, my college-advising volunteer projects have slowed. Fewer meetings, a lighter schedule, more unstructured time.

Anticipating this summer lull, I created my own structure. A big project.  My Work-In-Progress. I am writing a novel. Writing at least four days a week.  The plan is to complete the draft by the end of August before fall semester begins and I am back in the classroom (with homework.)

What’s my “WIP” about, you ask?

A working mom, a lawyer, with two kids (how creative to use my own life as inspiration!?) dealing with friendships that go awry, possibly unscrupulous clients and unexpectedly competitive colleagues.  I even wrote an outline. And I’ve already written 50 pages – 15, 556 words, to be exact. Only 64,444 more words to go!

If only I could be more disciplined. More disciplined and not as susceptible to distractions. Like I once was as a law firm partner. Busy, busy, busy. Far too occupied to fret about possible news of ultra-scary national and world events.

Or maybe that was a less complicated time when breaking news didn’t break every ten minutes. Focus, I keep telling myself. Look away from the media. But it is difficult. Distraction is my biggest dilemma this summer.

I am certain I am not alone in feeling this way.

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Filed under Book Club, Communications, daughters, Law firm life, Lawyers, Social Media, Women, Working Moms, Working Moms, Working Women, Writing

Reflections on the Horrific: Thinking of the Parents

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 A quote of which I am quite fond tells us that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

(Thank you, Soren Kierkegaard for this bit of philosophical wisdom.)

Perhaps that was the thinking behind Facebook’s latest gimmick – to offer up “Memories” of posts you have shared from years prior. Mostly you laugh at your old photos or think about how young you once looked (sigh.) But sometimes you think, wow, I was pretty profound.

Last week a “Memory” popped up on FB of a post I wrote four summers ago.

I was deeply upset by the July 20, 2012  mass shooting in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by a young man named James Holmes. My understanding (looking backwards for understanding as Kierkegaard suggests) is that he acted without cognitive understanding while in a psychotic state due to his untreated severe mental illness.

Here is what I wrote on July 22, 2012:

“The silence of the parents of James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, touches my heart. How stunned, how shocked they must be. Even if they knew that their son’s mind was slipping into delusions and derangement, probably they could not help him or convince others to do so. They join the parents of the young man known as the mass shooter at Virginia Tech as members of a club they never thought they would belong to. They are grieving, too.”

Four years later, and my sympathy is also with parents of adults who take incomprehensible actions.

So many mass shootings have taken place in recent months – with different underlying causes.

  • Some shootings caused by terrorists who did not, as best as I know, have any kind of mental illness, but sought to kill civilians for their own misguided political purposes.
  • Some shootings caused by criminals who did not, as best as I know, act under the influence of mental illness, but instead were propelled by some toxic combination of their overwhelming hatred of others, racism and/or anger.
  • Only a very few of mass shootings are caused by people, often – and sadly – young men – like James Holmes in the summer of 2012, with long untreated extremely severe mental illness whose emotions and thoughts are so impaired by the illness that they have lost all contact with external reality.

(For the record,  people with severe mental illness, especially when it is untreated, are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime, than to be the perpetrators of it.)

Through the media we read tributes to the victims, those who died and learn about their relatives who are left behind.

Rarely, though, do we read about the families of the shooters. Who are grieving too.

They, too, will have an empty chair at the next holiday table. All future family gatherings will be missing the one relative who has become famous for his notoriety, not for his good deeds. I always remember that he was someone’s son, too.  He was once well-loved. He had baby photos taken and admiring grandparents as he toddled around the house.

Then he grew up – and whatever the reason, ended up being one of those young men that we read about only when he does something tragic and terrible.

Try, if you can, when you hear about the latest mass shooting – and no doubt there will be more of them – to consider the parents of those who end up in the news for horrific reasons.

Can these parents ever, looking through a backwards lens, come to understand how their son changed from an adorable child to a very troubled adult?

Soren Kierkegaard had it right –  but perhaps only up to a point. We live forward, yes, but we can not always understand life looking backwards. Sometimes life is just too inexplicable to understand the reasons why our children take the actions they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Mental Illness, Parenting, Social Media, Sons

Offensive Speech: Politicians and “Shock Jocks”

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“Offensive speech” was once one of my specialties. I was paid to listen to it.

In my lawyering days I represented radio companies who employed what we called “shock jocks” – male DJ’s who hosted programs known for (and popular with certain audiences because of ) their provocative, borderline-if-not-racist, ugly language.

If a radio personality made a particularly egregious statement on air, station management might receive complaints from community groups and/or advertisers. Corporate would then involve lawyers (like me and my colleagues).  The DJ’s would be disciplined – usually a reprimand or a suspension  – and told to immediately stop using such despicable language.

Some of them resisted the corporate dictate – in the name of freedom of speech.

I came up with the bright idea that radio on-air talent and their programming staff would benefit from training – surely, I thought naively, the DJ’s who said such awful stuff simply didn’t understand why their on-air remarks were so offensive.

After all, when I was first dating my (then non-Jewish) husband-to-be, one of his relatives used the word “Jew” as a verb in a family conversation. I was shocked; I’d never heard the phrase he uttered. I rationalized that this relative didn’t intend it in an offensive way towards me, who he hardly knew; he just didn’t understand why it was so offensive.

I optimistically hoped that the radio “shock jocks” might change their ways if they understood why the terms and phrases they sometimes used to describe people of different ethnicities, genders, religions or race were so offensive.

After doing some fascinating (what can I say? I love language.) research on the history of how ethnic, gender, racial and religious slurs and stereotypes develop, I drafted a how-and-why-you-should-avoid-saying-them-on-air manual called “Words Hurt and Harm.” The radio company approved this manual – it was actually more of a booklet – and distributed it for training purposes.

“Words Hurt and Harm” was received, as I recall, with nice praise from corporate – – and with great merriment by some of the DJ’s on the receiving end.

Some of the most clever talent made fun – on air, of course – of our (“the lawyers’) attempt to get them to clean up their on-air acts. They described the booklet – and us – as:

“infuriating”

“political correctness run amok”

“drivel”

“lawyering the hell out of radio”

And my favorite –  “When is the last time a lawyer handed you something to help you be funny?”

 

The other day I unearthed a decade-old podcast of a radio talk show where two popular DJ’s  had a great time picking apart the “Words Hurt and Harm” booklet. (Feel free to google it and take a listen.) You can hear them explaining why we, “the lawyers”, had it all wrong.

The talk show hosts defended their comments by explaining that they were intended to be entertainment. To make listeners laugh, which they did. And the offensive comments made by the DJ’s were, they claimed, based on real life experiences –  not rooted in prejudice or racism. They maintained they were only saying on-air what their listeners really thought, but didn’t say out loud.

How quaint this discussion from 2006 sounded to my nearly 2016 ears.

Look where we are now. It has become acceptable, part of the anticipated norm, even, for some politicians and commentators (no names here!) to make the most outrageous of public comments – coming very close, if not head on, to ethnic, gender, religious and racial stereotyping and slurs – yet their audiences do not protest, they cheer. They are not disciplined for their offensive speech, hardly; they are applauded!

Maybe the radio “shock jocks” had it right. They were simply saying out loud what their listeners were really thinking.

And perhaps these politicians and commentators have become today’s “shock jocks”.

They make provocative comments designed to offend and get them attention. And attention they get. The media publicize their remarks. People then bemoan the comments on social media, how awful, can you believe he or she really said that. But talk moves on.

Fortified by current horrific national and world events that play right into inner biases and beliefs, we seem to be tolerating language we wouldn’t have thought acceptable only a decade ago.

Which is the most terrifying part. Because these politicians and commentators are not entertainers. They do not report to corporate management who will issue them diversity and sensitivity training manuals and tell them to change their language or risk being fired.

Words may still “hurt and harm.” But to some speakers and their listeners, what we once thought of “offensive” speech no longer is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Communications, Law firm life, Lawyers, Social Media, Talking

Anxious Teens and College Kids? – Don’t Put All The Blame on Parents

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When our son was five or six years old we signed him up, as we did with his older sister, for a recreational league soccer team. Soccer is the Big Saturday Thing to do around here and while he was more of a Lego kid than a ball sports kid, we thought he should at least give soccer a try.

After all my husband was (is) quite the athlete, a nine-letter-man in high school. He hoped his stronger genes would outweigh my total lack of eye-hand coordination.

Hope springs eternal in parenting expectations.

On the first day of soccer practice our son wandered out onto the field and studied the trees and the landscape on the sidelines while the other kids ran around chasing the ball.

At next Saturday’s game, our son’s primary interest was again in the natural world around him. He didn’t seem to notice where the ball was – or indeed that there was a ball on the field.

Before the next Saturday rolled around, I asked him if he was enjoying learning the game of soccer. He admitted that he was not.

Is there anything about soccer that you like? anything at all?”

He replied –  “Yes, I like the orange sections at half-time.”

And that was the end of our son’s brief soccer career. (and the early confirmation of his life-long interest in biology, chemistry and cooking.)

This little life lesson from two decades ago taught me as nothing else has that our kids are not bendable, pre-cooked pretzels who we can shape according to our parental expectations.

So when I read the recent out-pouring of articles on overly-involved parents pushing their teens and college students into directions that their parents think are best for them, no matter what their kids think, I have to ask.

Has parenting changed that much since our son moved off the soccer field?

The cover of a recent New York Times book review featured no less than three books placing blame on parental shoulders:

  • “How to Raise an Adult – Break Free of the Over-Parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”
  • “The Prime of Life – A History of Modern Adulthood”
  • “Why Grow Up? – Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age”

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to agree that “over-parenting” (short-hand for extreme parental interference/guidance a/k/a helicoptering) –  that done by a (I believe, very) small number of parents with “elite only” college admission as a laser-like focus end goal, can and does cause psychological harm to their teens.

But I doubt that parents bear as much blame for college student emotional distress as these authors and the media would have us believe.

“Expectational Anxiety” Has Many Sources.

Teens and young adults breathe in an air of “expectational anxiety” created by multiple sources.

This aura of great expectations can burden all kids; even those with the most independence-encouraging of parents feel its’ weight.

Kids as young as middle school age breathe in the “college is critical” message  – whispered by their eager-beaver classmates, from their high school teachers and counselors who remind them that college is just around the corner so grades really, really matter, they see ads for “get the highest score here” test prep companies, they hear the stories about how hard it is to get into the “right” college and how important it is to go to the best one you can – that college choice will make or break you for the rest of your life!! – from older siblings and friends.

Add in kid savvy about the economy, their awareness that the highest paying jobs are the most coveted, that tuition skyrockets unreasonably each year, and their status at the recipient end of the anxiety-producing mountains of  marketing and promotional materials that colleges and universities distribute with alarming frequency.

Top this all off with the explicit ridiculously high expectations set by college admission offices, the frequent lists and rankings of “top” colleges and purportedly “helpful” college advising websites that frequently use the word “Ivy” in their brand names.

Yes, teens and college students feel the weight of anxiety-producing expectations on their own shoulders, no matter what their parents may say or do – or not say or do.

Therefore a request: Mr. or Ms. Media, can you stop putting the blame so much on parents as a large, undifferentiated group?  Sure, a few parents qualify as micro-managers, helicoptering and over-controlling; these parents must be out there since you write about them so much – – but most parents of teens and college students are not like that – instead they try as hard as they can NOT to pressure their kids, to support them on their way to independent adulthood, to let them make informed choices of their own.

So would you just back off and aim your pointed pen at the many other culprits (see list above) that release this expectational anxiety into the air our kids and college students breathe. Parents do not deserve the blame being heaped on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under College, College, Communications, Education, Parenting, Raising Kids, Social Media, Young Adult Mental Health

That Young Man Wearing Nail Polish? He’s My Son.

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I picked up my 20-something son, David, at the metro a few weeks ago.  After he got into the car, he put out his hands towards me, and asked:

“Do you like this color? Kind of a deep purple. I get a lot of compliments on it.”

Yes, David wears nail polish;  bright, glossy, frequently changing colors, nail polish. And it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I like the deep purple shade.

When David first told us he was gay in his junior year in high school, my husband and I were somewhat surprised but when we thought about it, it began to make sense. At first I worried about the increased chances that he would develop AIDS and I was concerned about problems he would likely face being accepted as a gay man in the less tolerant world we lived in a decade ago. But the gay part? We had an inkling. O.K., more than an inkling. (and what parent doesn’t?).

As an avid reader and news-watcher, I did have some knowledge of the evolving gay community. I was aware of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s,  I remember when Barney Frank became the first U.S. congressman to come out as gay in 1987 and when in 1989 a New York Court ruled that it was legally possible for a same-sex couple to constitute a family.

But when our teenage son told us he was gay, my  personal knowledge of what it meant to be a gay man was, unfortunately, tainted by popular media stereotypes which told us that most gay men:

  • dressed impeccably
  • were extremely neat and well organized
  • often chose interior design or hair styling as their professions
  • had high pitched, effeminate voices
  • liked to gossip
  • had many women friends

From time to time, in my son’s late teen years, I honestly wondered if maybe he had been mistaken as to his sexual identity. After all, he was incredibly sloppy, his bed room was knee-deep in dirty clothing and he was completely disorganized. He planned to major in chemistry and disliked idle chatter.

But the years passed, as he grew into his 20’s, he stayed just as disorganized and messy, with a fervent dislike for doing laundry  – and he remained gay.

He is comfortable with his own identity. And because he is so comfortable, we are too. He has patiently explained that what I first thought I knew about gay men was all wrong. And finally the media has caught up a bit.  We hear about gay football players and (sometimes) see gay men who don’t wear stylish clothing.

Unfortunately, it still makes the news when a gay man is the first in his field or profession.

Earlier this year, when our synagogue, Temple Sinai in Washington, DC, hired a new rabbi who happened to be gay, it became a news story in the Washington Post.

“Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser recently became the first rabbi hired to fill a major pulpit in Washington who is married to someone of his own gender. But he doesn’t like to focus on that. ‘I’m gay, but I also like to scuba dive and play guitar.’ “(August 8, 2014)

So now we all know that some men who are football players, some who are messy and some who are rabbis, can all be gay. And that the fact that they have sexual partners of the same gender is not what defines them.

And there are some men who wear nail polish. And change colors frequently, and with great pleasure.

But I draw the line at mint green. A days ago David showed me his latest color, his nails were mint green. Reminded me of medical scrubs, bad memories. Better to go back to the purple or maybe try a new shade, I suggested, how about deep pink?

David looked up at me as if I was crazy, “Mom, I am not that gay”.

O.K., so I don’t totally get the gay male thing yet. But I accept it, and I accept him, purple nail polish yes, mint green no, his color choices don’t define him either.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Family, Gay Sons, LGBT, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids