To my 15-year-old self...

Last Thursday, October 11th, the UN and the global community celebrated, for the first time, the International Day of the Girl. This was a much needed acknowledgment of the all too common suffering, inequality and abuse imposed on girls worldwide and a tribute to their collective strength and determination. Sadly, this first celebration was marked by the shooting two days prior of Malala Yousufzai, a courageous 14 year-old girl and activist for girl's education and women's rights under the Taliban regime. She remains in intensive care and in our collective thoughts and prayers.

To support this brave girl and others like her, several of inspiring women were asked by CNN to share their response to this question: "Looking back, what one piece of advice would you give to your 15-year-old-self?" Though I was a little disappointed not to have a response from Michelle Obama or Alice Walker, I found that the most insightful advice came from the lesser-known figures. Forget my 15-year-old self, these words have their place in my life today:
"Believe in your dreams and ideals and pursue them with determination and motivation. Always find the time to do something for other people. Indeed, there is nothing more rewarding than making someone else happy." - Fabiola Gionotti, Physicist
"I have bad news for you: You're not clairvoyant. Not even a little. You have no idea how the future will unfold. But it will unfold, slowly and quickly and slowly again, in ways that you cannot now begin to imagine. So stop trying to guess what's coming next. All the effort you put into figuring out what will happen, all the scenarios you play out in your mind - they're useless. And that's a good thing. Relax and let the future arrive on its own time and in its own way. Allow yourself to be astonished." - Robin Bernstein, Historian.
If asked the same question, my advice would be simple: love yourself beyond limits, unconditionally. Looking back, I think that might have solved a few problems, eased a few passages, and assuaged many anxieties. I'm still working on it. Of course my girlhood and those of the CNN interviewees are certainly much different from that of Malala Yousafzai. However don't we all, as girls, women, human beings, need the same fundamental advice, care, support, and encouragement? What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

Just a little brain and heart food to munch on in honor of the first International Day of the Girl....


Is America Dumb?

The first presidential debate was indeed disappointing. I think we have all been so blown away by President Obama's masterful orations in the past and we've shaken our heads smugly during so many Romney foot-in-mouth moments that we were expecting a complete massacre (a lion in the ring with a kitten) but what we got was a much more even-tempered debate.

We were bored. And that is what is so disheartening.

Because we are a nation of immediate gratification, constant entertainment, and sensationalized everything it seems that we have lost the ability to look beyond the showmanship and actually process real content. So according to the media and word on Main street, Romney won the debate. But clearly, if you take the time to read the fact-checks it is evident that in his quest to impress, entertain, wow and otherwise captivate America with his confidence and banter, Romney was very liberal in his representation of the truth.

Today, back in VA for another round of canvassing, one of the other volunteers piped up during training to ask how we should respond to conversation about the debate. The trainer immediately launched into his rehearsed defense, "It was disappointing  the President was clearly tired, but he stuck to the facts and Romney changed the platform he had been running on for the previous five months..." Another volunteer, an older gentleman seated in a corner, interrupted briskly: "Don't defend him! We don't need to defend the President. Romney is nothing but a salesman, a clever, sleazy salesman who would sell his own mother to win votes." We agreed that this would be the message in our post-debate talking points.

In another conversation about the debate later this evening I expressed my frustration with the fact that Romney, based purely on style and bravado, has been said to have 'won' the debate. A friend of a friend at the restaurant table leaned in and stated frankly, "that's because 40% of America is retarded." Excuse the derogatory and politically incorrect use of this term - I cite verbatim  But is it true? Are we, as a nation, dumb? Do we need to have political discourse processed and then regurgitated to us in bite-sized palettes by the media like vulnerable little wolf cubs to be digestible?

It's a sad thought indeed and one that I hate to even entertain, being an optimist who likes giving people the benefit of the doubt. Also, I think making this claim is not much better than Romney's notorious comments on the 47% of us who don't count to him and feel entitled to life. But, what then is at the root of this senseless mob-like mentality of 'whoever talks over the moderator most and takes the most cheap shots wins.'

What do you think? Is this primeval blood lust reminiscent of the age of gladiators? Is it subliminal media manipulation? Or is America just plain dumb? Do you think that Romney really won the debate? And what should and does 'winning' entail?


A Year in Full

So I failed to post on Sunday night (again), but this time I had a good reason. Sunday, September 30th marked my one year wedding anniversary to my wonderful friend, husband, lover, and partner. We pretty much spent the whole day at home lounging after a ridiculously heavy home-cooked breakfast (thank you SmittenKitchen!), the power of which we vastly underestimated. This anniversary, the first of many, proved a good time to pause and reflect on the challenges and accomplishments of the past year as well as the lessons learned. I am no expert on relationships and being married hasn't changed that. But here are a few insights I think are worth sharing:

There will be things that drive you crazy - I know this is not news but I can honestly bear witness to the fact that there will inevitably be things that your partner does that will annoy you and you him or her. If your 'list' of ideal qualities and deal-breakers includes things like 'organized and neat' or 'has the same idea of romance/communication/social activity as me' you might want to rethink how important these are. Admittedly my husband and I were really lucky to have recognized our love and compatibility rather quickly, so we skipped over a lot of the 'learning about the quirks' process until after we were engaged and then married. We've since discovered that we both have unique ways to annoy one another - he embraces disorderliness and seems to think I can predict the weather and I frustrate him by making plans and revealing them to him as an after-thought. Being married takes getting used to. But we love each other and we acknowledge this in words and actions every day. So be sure to discern the subtle distinction between simply having high standards and being picky and uncompromising. No one is perfect and you will be surprised how flexible love can make you!

It's all part of the game - Remember that awesome Micheal Douglass movie, The Game, where he plays a wealthy but bored-to-death bachelor who signs up for a mysterious game with a company that then begins to terrorize him? The entire movie you ask yourself whether or not the whole thing is a giant con or really a game. Well I can't tell you how many times this year we have referred to that movie in order to put tense situations into a larger, life-size perspective. Believe me, dealing with U.S. immigration and living on literally $20 for a couple of weeks until the next student loan disbursement comes through is no fun. But having a perspective-shifting mechanism as an individual or a couple works wonders.

Empathy and Evolution are key - One of the most important lessons my husband has taught me is the importance of empathy in any relationship. He constantly challenges me to think and feel and consider beyond boundaries I have set between myself and others, including him. I am learning how to be more considerate, selfless, and thoughtful. Mind you, I wasn't a horrible person to begin with, but I feel like I've evolved in this past year. My younger sister has already attested to this - to my chagrin. Even admitting this takes a level of humility and the realization that we all have room for growth along various dimensions. Allowing people to impact you positively in these areas is part of what relationships are about. It is a constant give and take.

Ladybugs, lots of Ladybugs - If you know me, you know that one of my all-time favorite movies is Under the Tuscan Sun. Though it fits squarely under the dreaded 'chick flick' category it is actually full of profound insights about life and love and happiness...no gagging please. One of the stories told to the main character played by Diane Lane by a friend is that when said friend was young she used to search in the grass for ladybugs for hours in vain. Finally, frustrated and tired, she would just give up and nap. When she would wake up she would have ladybugs crawling on her. The message is simple: sometimes the best way to find what you are looking for is to just relax and be and let it come to you. Whether what you want is your partner, your next professional opportunity, or some standard of 'happiness.' While I know this to be true, I am still coaching my over-stimulated brain to sometimes slow its pace. I am still learning to appreciate the pauses, the in between times, the lazy moments without plans, and empty spaces. I find this an even greater and perhaps more important effort in a couple. Not only am I constantly thinking and wanting and planning for myself, but my stress level, anxieties and lengthy to-do lists are obviously impacted by the thoughts, actions, wants and needs of my husband. Relationships of any kind, especially a marriage, do hold the possibility of double the stress. Celebrating the present moment, however unfinished or incomplete, rather than the constant search for future fulfillment is so necessary.

All in all, we've had an awesome first year. It went by in the blink of an eye, as if I had walked down the aisle a month ago. We are blessed and never fail to acknowledge this to ourselves and each other and try to live in a way as individuals and a couple that is deserving of this blessing. It helps that we have a loving community of family and friends to keep us in check. May the adventure continue!