The One in Which My Son Attempts Origami Jujitsu and I Learn a Lesson

I spend a lot of time reminding my children to do things. Shut doors. Flush toilets. Turn socks the right way out before they go in the laundry. Brush teeth. Make good choices. Be kind.

Kindness costs nothing, I say.
To treat others with kindness, I say.
Be kind, I say.

And on an on.

The other day I was sitting with the ten year-old, he of the high anxiety and high self-expectation. He was attempting some ridiculously complicated advanced origami witchcraft. And, as usual, he was being incredibly hard on himself. There he was, frustrated to the point of near tears over this ridiculously stupidly complicated origami voodoo contraption that he couldn’t master on the first go–because you know, it wasn’t good enough to start with the origami equivalent of “is this your card?”.  No, it had to be some jujitsu paper engineering feat with moving parts. Whatever.

It suddenly became painfully clear I’d neglected something crucial in my kindness reminders.

I’ve forgotten to remind my son to be kind to himself.

Be kind. We teach it. We preach it. We speech it. We cross-stitch it on sweet needlepoint circle things. We put it on posters with cute otters. We repeat it, endlessly. Be kind.

But how often do we remember to teach the necessity of including yourself in the group you’re being kind to?

Be kind to the new kid, the awkward kid, the one who sits alone at lunch.
Be kind to the asshat who is not so kind to you, to the teacher, to old people crossing the street, to dogs, to frogs, to the environment.
Be kind, be kind, be kind.

We keep forgetting be kind to yourself.

Would you be so hard on someone else who couldn’t do this folding wizardry on the first go, I asked him? If a friend was trying to do something, even something easy, let alone an origami self-perpetuating motion machine, would you make fun of them? Would you tell them they were crap? Would you make them feel bad about themselves?

So why would you do that to yourself? I asked him. You need to be kind, not just to others, I told him, but to yourself too.

Cut yourself some slack, boy. Give yourself a break, son. Understand you’re not going to be a Jedi origami master when you’re still a paper padawan.

Did Luke give up and go home to Tattooine when Yoda was riding his ass? No.
Did Rey leave the rock in the middle of nowhere when she didn’t master the force right away? No.
Was there any real reason to bring Star Wars into this?
Correct answer: there is always room for Star Wars references.

I’ve spent so much time teaching and preaching kindness, but I forgot to teach him to be kind to himself.

There was no ice cream this time. But together we mastered the origami force. Or really he did while I sat next to him and reminded him to go easy on himself. And the ridiculously complicated paper engineering feat with moving parts worked. And he celebrated by making sixteen more and now my house is filled with them.

Be kind. Absolutely.

But don’t forget to be kind to you while you’re bending over backward to be nice to everyone else.

I may not be an origami Jedi, or even a paper padawan. But I’m getting pretty dang good at learning what this ten year old is teaching me.

 

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At Home on the Death Star

I think I might be a wee bit broken. A life spent increasingly online has done something to me, something that no stream of Distractify quizzes or compilation of cute kittens is able to fix right now.

It’s like I got sucked up by a tractor beam into the wake of the Death Star.

I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist. But I think I was fooling myself. Sure, there were spirals into depression and Woody Allen style NYC neurosis, but underneath it all, under the goth makeup and bad poetry of my youth, the self-deprecating gallows humor of my twenties, even now, amid the swirling eddy of my forty-something rage, was a belief in the goodness of the human raceThe belief that despite a never-ending string of Vaders parading across the world’s stage, the Jedis always win. Sometimes it takes a few prequels to get the schematics and come up with a plan, but the good guys prevail.

I’m beginning to think I was wrong.

Or at least that’s what a life spent online is causing me to think. And this cycle of uncertainty and questioning has a force choke on my sense of self.

In my quest to put my voice out there–as a flare, a guidepost, a way of joining with others to increase the volume, I may have gone too far, gotten lost in too many comment threads, traveled down too many rabbit holes.

It’s pretty dank and dismal down there. If the internet has become my own personal Death Star, right now I’m stuck in the trash compactor, walls closing in, stinking of shit.

Light and dark, good and evil, right and wrong. Which way do we fall on the scales? Sometimes after half a bottle of wine my husband humors me and we have a buzzy debate about the nature of man. Are we inherently bad, kept in check by some complicated contraption of rules and law held together with duct tape and a prayer? Or are we inherently good, mostly Yoda with a few Emperor Palpatines popping up along the way?

I keep insisting we are good. And besides, the nature of man is just that, I argue. Man. Everything’s been tried, my husband says, and it always devolves along the same pattern. No, no, I insist, not everything. And we pour more wine and debate some more until he tells me my allotted time for serious topics is up and there is a football match on television.

But lately my time online has made me doubt my faith in the Rebel Alliances of the world. That, in and of itself is a sad thing. And it is only made sadder because it’s something I brought upon myself.

In my own desire to be part of something, to be seen, heard, in the vain hope that a lone voice could add something to the conversation, my online life has become a pyramid–both an outsize monument and a scheme. I got invited onto the Death Star and I went. And now, after much wandering around, I’m feeling pretty comfy.

I don’t want to live my life with the bitter aftertaste I’m left with after any time spent online these days. I don’t want feel dirty, spent, laying awake at night trying to figure out if my online activities are an exercise in support or if it’s merely feeding my own ego. In reality, it’s probably a mixture of both, but the feeling of accomplishment–a reader reaching out, a civilized debate, conversing with like-minded people– is competing with darker forces.

I am living my own Empire/Rebel Alliance in my life online. The escape pod is in my line of sight: Log off, delete my accounts, go on my merry way.

Yet I don’t. That’s where the ego comes in, I guess. Building the pyramid. I mean, the Death Star was really nothing more than a galactic pyramid if you think about it.

How long can you roam around the halls of the Death Star without starting to feel like one of the troops, before a little bit of the darkness rubs off on you? What happens when the idea of blowing it up becomes hard to imagine because, hey, you’re just getting to know your way around.

I’m not sure what my role is here, or even if there is a role to fill. Life online has brought me joy, and it has connected me with amazing people I wouldn’t otherwise know. It has expanded my tribe and brought me success. It’s brought me laughter and it keeps me informed. But it has also brought me into contact with a dark side of human nature I wasn’t prepared for. Am I better for knowing it exists? Philosophically, yes. In reality? It’s like eating cotton candy and going to bed without brushing your teeth. You feel kind of gross and when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you taste is the very thing that made you feel sick.

Leia would keep looking for new ways to figure it all out. Old man Luke chucked it all in to go live on a craggy rock and do some soul-searching.

Do or do not, there is no try, right?

I’ll let you know. Unless I’m on an uninhabited rock somewhere, you know, without WiFi.

 

A Disturbance in the Force

leiaBack in October, when glass ceilings seemed shatter-able and not steeled, I was a judge for a Halloween costume contest. There was the expected assortment of ghouls and zombies, mummies and small, adorable witches in black, pointed hats. What was lacking were multitudes of frilly princesses in confectionary gowns all a-sparkle. I admit, I was surprised.

Way back in the 1970s, as a girl gearing up for the glory of a New England Halloween, there weren’t a lot of female icons to choose from. Come October 31, your choices fell somewhere between gypsy and witch. If you were lucky, Wonder Woman in a bullet-proof brassiere and sweaty, plastic mask.

Where were all the heroes a girl could see her reflection within?

It’s naive to assume that along the arc of history girls and women have been sitting silent and still on the sidelines. It is incorrect to assume that women have not been steadily contributing to art and science and exploration, mathematics, innovation. Women—explorers and inventors, leaders and heroes—have always been there, it is just that more often than not, we’ve been left–or forced–out of the narrative.

As an elementary school girl I read about Vasco de Gama and Magellan, Isaac Newton and Galileo; the artists, the authors, the musicians, the doers and inventors, the sports figures—they were all male, almost all white. There were a handful of women thrown in, but not many.

As a girl, you were often left with…princesses.

And then, in 1977, along came Carrie Fisher in a belted toga and cinnamon bun hair and in one epic reel of film, girls of my generation suddenly had a hero of their very own. A badass princess who could shoot a gun, was mouthy, and was organizing a resistance against a tyrannical regime.

For many girls, pig-tailed and searching for something they couldn’t name, she was a first.

The only people who underestimate the importance of representation—in books, or films, or even in everyday life, are those who don’t need to look far to see themselves reflected in the eyes of society; the first television show you turn on, the first history book you open, the first book from the canon of literature. But when nothing you see in the world matches the you that stares back from the mirror, it makes you question your own validity. It can feel as if you exist in a vacuum.

It’s not surprising one of the first real female heroes of my generation was from a science fiction film, set in a time and place where it was safe for females to rule, to fight, to command. It seems, in 2016, in real life, we are still not ready for a female to do that. Yet, at the end of the day, Leia was still a Princess, still a damsel in need of rescuing, but she was the first princess I remember who transcended passiveness. Leia didn’t sit around waiting, braiding her hair and biding her time until a prince came to shoot the truest arrow for her hand. She spearheaded a guerrilla movement.

Dig just a little and you will see how large a part women played in the French resistance movement, how crucial women were working at Bletchley Park to crack the Enigma, how women contributed to space exploration at NASA and computer engineering. How women have been there, all along.

When I was a young girl, heroes were men. No one ever did the digging to show us the heroes who were women.

Oh, but Leia! Leia was a girl.

I suppose it’s fitting that of all that the post-mortems I’ve written this year, Carrie Fisher’s would be the last. In a year which was filled with ups and downs for many women, a year in which many women  saw their own reflection in a potential leader for the first time, that the last post-mortem should be for actress who brought us Princess Leia. Leia was the first princess many Toughskin wearing girls saw and wanted to emulate–not because she was blonde and beautiful, but because she wasn’t. She could hold her own, on her own.

As I watched my social media feed explode with remembrances of Fisher, but mostly of Leia, I wasn’t surprised. The effect Leia had on an entire generation of girls who saw, on screens, the bits of themselves they had no room to express before is profound. Leia came and blew life into the vacuum.

Back in October, watching the parade of costumes, my heart sang. I have no problem with girls who like to dress as princesses, but to see how the spectrum of choice has grown exponentially between their generation and my own was a beautiful thing. There was a Jillian Holtzman, the scientist from the Ghostbusters reboot, a baseball player from A League of Their Own and a kick-ass Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. How many more heroes to choose from these days. When given the option, most of these young girls chose strength and smarts over sparkle and sequins.

It’s no accident that most of those girls have mothers who watched Carrie Fisher blast her way across movie screens a few decades ago.

Carrie Fisher was much more than Princess Leia Organa of Alderon, of course. She was a noted author, an advocate for mental health and addiction recovery. She was a sharp-tongued wit and a feminist. A mother, a daughter. She was complex and imperfect, a warrior scarred from battles both personal and public. Carrie Fisher, like Leia, was the reflection of so many of us, unafraid to put her scars on display.

But for many, she will be remembered, primarily, as that Princess.

Thank you, Carrie, for giving a generation of girls a Princess who could shoot straight and smart. There is still a long way to go until the force is in balance. We’ll take your lessons forward as we try to find it.

Nine Expats You’ll Meet in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

vintage_victoria_star_wars_portrait_art_prints_3When I heard the news that a scion of our school, the original impetus for Greta the Guru, was packing up and moving at the end of term, I was at a momentary loss. It felt like our community was losing it’s wise, information-rich Yoda. Then I got to thinking (always a dangerous prospect): when it comes down to it, the Star Wars universe is basically just a world full of intergalactic expats. Sure, they move between planets rather than countries, but substitute a heaven for an ocean, the Millennium Falcon for a Maersk Shipping container, and the same principles apply.

Here are nine expats you’re likely to meet in a galaxy far, far away.

Yoda, the all-knowledgable. The grande dame, Dowager Countess of your international galaxy. Yoda has been around so long no one remembers when she got there, she’s just always been there, sitting in a corner. Sometimes she talks in cryptic Yoda-talk, referencing a time long gone populated with strange names you don’t recognize, i.e., before your time. But she’s the one who’s got all the dirt on expats past, present, and possibly future.

Han Solo, the too-cool-for-school rebel. Han’s been around the galaxy a few times. No stranger to long-haul moves, Han’s used to moving at warp speed on short notice, or in the dead of night. A bit cock-sure, a bit swag-a-licious, Han comes across as a little aloof, but the teflon attitude is usually just a by-product of a life hopping from one place to the next. Han doesn’t get too close to others, because at the end of the day, leaving folks behind is tougher than you think.

Darth Vader, the evil head of HR.  You know Darth, the one who wants you to move to Burundi. Tomorrow, in the middle of your kid’s senior year of high school. The one who needs your spouse on the ground in East Timor next week, which is Christmas. The one who seems to be lacking in any humanity in regard to moving small children, pets, and teenagers across borders and seas. Soulless, bleak, and an easy villain to hate.

vintage_victoria_star_wars_portrait_art_prints_1

R2D2, the fun expat from the country you can never remember the name of. You introduce them as Russian when they’re really Ukrainian, or Czech when they are really Slovakian. Azerbaijan? Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan? Tajikistan or was it Turkmenistan? Often their name is a confusing strings of letters you are not used to seeing together and so in your head, you develop a coded nickname. It’s not lack of caring as much as the fact R2 holds a passport from a country that didn’t exist when you were studying 8th grade World Geography.

Obi-Wan, the do-gooder. Obi-Wan is the expat who travels to places most of us have never heard or of have no desire to visit, all in the name of good. Usually attached to an NGO or other international organization, Obi-Wan packs up and heads her family to the deepest jungles and barren plains of places you vaguely hear about on the news–usually related to pandemic outbreaks and civil wars. A slight aura of virtue hangs above Obi-Wan’s head, but most of us happily allow it—because we’re glad it is her and not us.

Princess Leia, the spoiled expat. Chef, gardener, maid? Check. Check. Check. Leia has usually  done at least one stint in Southeast Asia where household help is part of the contract. Sometimes Leia finds herself at a bit of loss when she’s posted someplace where the gardener doesn’t come with the lease. She also looks pretty damn good in a gold, lamé bikini. This is usually due to devoting her days to looking her best.

C3P0, the know it all. Whether c3 has been in six countries or one, this opinionated expat will insist there’s one right way to do things, from moving to assimilating, what to eat or dealing with local custom. Armed with books and articles and surveys and lists, C has processed all of this information and filtered it down to black and white, right and wrong. C is just waiting for someone to slip up to offer an “I told you so.” There’s little room for nuance in C’s bubble, but if you can stomach the sometimes righteous attitude, there’s a whole lot of info in there too.

Rey, the rookie. Rey vacillates between bug-eyed amazement and practiced nonchalance. Her first time out, Rey is desperate to experience everything but doesn’t want to seem too eager. She’s heard the stories, and only half-believes what life as an expat is like. But just because she’s young and green don’t sell her short. Dismiss the new girl and it’s likely you’re missing out on something special.

il_570xN.740908068_ien1Boba Fett, the mercenary. Boba is the expat who takes postings based primarily on the money. Ruthlessly planning their global journey based on the exponential growth of their stock and retirement portfolio, the Fett family bounces from post to post chasing the cash. Hardship duty stations, war-zones, the far-flung corners of the globe. There aren’t many places Boba won’t go if the price is right.

I’m guessing whether your expat time has been somewhere cushy or in a country far, far from home, you’ll recognize a few of these folks from your own journeys, whether they are intergalactic or just plain intercontinental.