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Oh man, lots going on, lots to talk about, but an absence of prioritization to talk about it. So let’s just jump in:

I recently read somewhere an anecdote about a Google interview:

“I’m going to give you five minutes,” he told me. “When I come back, I want you to explain to me something complicated that I don’t already know.” He then rolled out of the room toward the snack area. I looked at Cindy. “He’s very curious about everything,” she told me. “You can talk about a hobby, something technical, whatever you want. Just make sure it’s something you really understand well.”

I thought about that story for days. I told it to my husband, and said “I swear, I’ve been thinking about this for 72 hours, and I have no idea what I would explain if I were in that situation.”

Now, my husband loves the inner workings of things. He’s a thing finder outer type person (that is a play on a Colbert Report bit where he called white Americans “Thing stuff havers” vs “Thing stuff wanters”; after that segment Mike looked pointedly at my shoe collection and goes “honey. You are a thing stuff haver” and I swear, we’re still laughing about it. And since the Colbert Report fills me with joy on any given day, the clip is below, even though it has almost exactly nothing to do with what I’m talking about.

(Embed fail! Click here to watch.) (My complicated thing is not, apparently, how to embed video clips)

Anyway! My husband: a thing finder outer type person. He doesn’t, as a completely hypothetical example in no way reflective of our actual lives, observe that the headlight in the car is out and make motions towards getting it replaced, he wants to know WHY the headlight is out (burned out bulb? Quirky electrical?) and then fix THAT, unlike, say, his wife, who more or less registers that the car is showing less light than previously but then files that away for action at a future time.

Hypothetically, I mean.

Anyway! Mike, without even really thinking, began listing off complicated things that I could explain in that interview scenario:

  • Ballistic coefficients and the variables needed to test for long range accuracy at altitude
  • Down force and its effect on helicopter lift
  • The relationship between cost, weight, and aerodynamics and its impact on F1 regulation and innovation

to which I could only reply “Ok, so that’s… things YOU could explain” and he goes “… oh. Right.” But I’ve got to have something, right? I’m a smart gal, there has to be SOMETHING I would be able to offer, yes?

We got there, eventually. Because of course, I can talk at length about any number of things; the problem is they feel simple to me, not worth filing under “explain something complicated.” That is one of my strengths, this is how I could teach statistics to english majors well and take reams of data and summarize what that data is saying in 5 powerpoint slides: I simplify complicated things.

So what would YOU explain? What’s the thing you know like the back of your hand, but would feel complicated to others?

Man, Robin Williams. It’s just so sad.

I’ve been thinking this morning of a scene from the West Wing – not a Robin Williams, clip, obviously (my brain just went on a delightful tangent imagining how much Aaron Sorkin and Robin Williams would have probably hated each other), but because it’s one of my favorite depictions of the exact thing to say to help a friend who is hurting.

I’ve never suffered from depression, but it’s touched so many that I care about. I’m glad they feel empowered to seek treatment for it, to seek understanding, to take care of themselves.

Last year the CEO of my company got on an all employee call and, on a call reserved for earnings and stock and corporate strategy, she instead spoke bluntly about the recent suicide of her nephew, her own history with mental depression in her family, and how it has impacted and continues to impact her life. She then reminded her employees – all 3,500 of them – that they have access to health insurance, which includes tools for managing mental health, and they should use them as readily as they would use the insurance to treat high blood pressure or diabetes, that there is no stigma in treating your health conditions like a health condition just because it is mental health. And then she encouraged us to be kind to one another, because you never know what people are dealing with outside the walls of the office.

She was, in a very powerful way, telling an entire company that she’d been down there before, and she knew the way out.

There’s no good wrap up to a story like this – her leadership and message were extraordinary, and I hope it becomes common, and not prompted by personal experience with suicide.

It’s just all so sad.

Being Here

I have a second cousin that I see these days mostly via Facebook. That’s not a slam on our relationship; prior to Facebook it’s fair to say I did not see her much at all, so in the scheme of things the current set up is quite an improvement.

I like the way she uses Facebook quite a lot; her status updates are mostly snippets and stories about her day and her job, and as a high school English teacher she has some great reflections on teaching teenagers today and I find her perspective on her work interesting. I always feel very calm reading her thoughts, and I’ve come to like her even more than I did before I knew her “Facebook version” self. Probably this is because her Facebook-version self is much like her actual version-self, but one that I have more access to.

I think maybe one of the secrets to my large extended family remaining somewhat close throughout the generations is that we seem to like each other more, not less, the more we get to know each other. And while Facebook can be a huge font for annoyance and highly depressing political yelling, I also think it’s been a nice treat for keeping close the ones that may be otherwise too far.

Anyway, recently it was her birthday, and she posted that she had heard a quote for Psalm 16.6: “My lines have fallen in pleasant places.” What a wonderful sentiment. I feel, recently, that the lines of my life have fallen in pleasant places. This type of feeling is certainly subject to ebb and flow, but it’s a nice place to be.

Along those lines, if you have the time to read something longer, I encourage you to check out my friend Arwen’s piece, “It’s Good Here”. Sometimes, it’s nice to be reminded that it’s important and right for us to be where we are.

 “It is good that you are here: I am the right wife for this husband, the right mother for these children, the right person to catechize fifth graders (a daunting job I’ve recently signed on for) and to support a person I love through a crisis and to live in this little house with this rowdy family. I belong here, this is my life, I’m right for it.

It is good that you are here: there are a hundred little joys in this life, and I am blessed to be the one who holds these little people and comforts them through their trials and witnesses their joys, blessed in my marriage and my friends and my family and in so many ways. This is a good life.

It is good that you are here: as tedious and tiny as it feels sometimes, this life is my vocation, exactly as it is. And things that make me feel sometimes like an outsider: not being a homeschooler, not having a baby or being pregnant; or (in alternate circumstances) having four (so many!) children and being one of those crazy religious people… well, those are the things that make me me and my life mine. I get to love those things, love being here, without apology or self-doubt.”

This past week there has been a lot of discussion regarding the recent Hobby Lobby ruling, which allows the owners of closely held corporations to not comply with the mandate to provide contraception as it conflicts with their sincerely held beliefs.

This is a hard one, because if you do not have the same sincerely held beliefs, this feels like judgement against a woman’s use of contraception. I’ve read status after status of women explaining how it’s not “wrong” that they use birth control, that this is another example of the patriarchy giving a big ole middle finger to women, of individuals rejoicing that they are not now being forced to pay for women’s recreational activities. 

It’s been fairly disgusting, all of it. And here’s the thing: this case? This ruling? This isn’t about birth control. Contraception and women’s rights are such a hair trigger for Feelings on both sides that the actual issue has gotten lost in yelling. 

The Supreme Court held that Hobby Lobby and other corporations have the same rights as individuals under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that is “aimed at preventing laws that substantially burden a person’s free exercise of their religion””

The healthcare mandate is a law that requires contraception be covered. The owners of the Hobby Lobby corporation feel they are being forced to comply with a law that is in direct conflict with their religion. 

I get this. I really do. I have friends who are deeply religious and I understand, even if I do not identify with, their views on contraception. Regardless of my personal beliefs on the matter, I understand their viewpoint and would never think that my blog, my twitter status, my pithy meme on Facebook is going to have them go “OH RIGHT, so what you’re saying is contraception IS OK. I get it now.” It won’t, and that’s not the point. I don’t need the owners of Hobby Lobby to agree with me; I agree with me, and I make my decisions and they make theirs and we all sleep fine at night. 

Here’s the problem with the SCOTUS ruling: the Court did not rule that the individual owners of Hobby Lobby are being asked to do something that is in conflict with their beliefs. The ruled the CORPORATION that is Hobby Lobby is. 

This is weird to me. Back in 2001, the Court itself stated

linguistically speaking, the employee and the corporation are different “persons,” even where the employee is the corporation’s sole owner. After all, incorporation’s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs.

Corporations are designed specifically to remove an individual from personal liability with regards to the company’s actions. The entire point of having a corporation is to separate oneself from the company. So how can a corporation assume the religious freedom protection of the individuals behind the corporation if in it’s very nature it is legally shielded from those individuals? 

The Supreme Court did not rule this week in favor of the Green family, it ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, an entity that is legally separate from the Green Family. I would never in a million years think it is appropriate to legally require the Greene family to act in conflict with their religious beliefs. That not how we do here, in ‘Merica. But the company? The entity that is in place specifically to guard the Green family from personal liability? I don’t understand how religious rights can be applied toward a corporation if liabilities can’t be applied backwards toward the people behind the corporation. 

This is the real question that cropped up this week, and it’s a worthwhile debate. But instead we’re debating if contraception is ok, if women should be allowed it, if Catholics are crazy, if women are slutty. And while I do love a good round of slut shaming, religion bashing, and mansplaining, that’s not what this discussion is about.

Edited to add: My point – and I do have one – is that it doesn’t matter if you agree Plan B and other contraceptives are not abortificants. The Green Family does. They’re allowed, and they legally cannot be required to pay for those drugs in this country. And that is the way it should be, regardless of whether you or I or Mother Jones disagree. That’s the whole deal with religious freedom. But the Green Family is not Hobby Lobby – just look at their articles of incorporation.

A few related things have been bouncing around my subconscious lately:

1. Joann Wilson, writer of the blog Gotham Gal, when speaking of her the push/pull of working while being a mom:

“I reached out to a friend of mine who definitely has the internal push-pull of staying in leaving or figuring out how to stay in under her own terms. As she noted to me it is so complicated. It is so damn complicated is right.

I have had that internal conflict for the past 23 years. I am quite sure that Fred has not had that conflict. “

And that right there is it: Her husband Fred didn’t struggle with whether to work or stay home; it was expected he’d work. So he did. The struggle – and the guilt – was left to his wife. To a lot of wives. 

2. A conversation with my brother regarding the Shonda Rhimes graduation speech, in which he mentions how hard it is – he wants to stay late at work, but he wants to go home and see his kid. 

I recently heard Shonda Rhimes’ Dartmouth commencement address where she talks about how she’s both a working woman and a mother and how she juggles it all.  Her answer: she doesn’t.  I know how she feels.  Prior to Hunter, I would work pretty late almost every night.  Now I like to see Hunter before he goes to sleep.  There’s a struggle between being doing well at work and seeing my family, and I don’t think there’s a good answer.  Ultimately, I’ll always be failing at one of them.  I’m having to get used to that fact.  It’s quite a change.

 

So at least things are getting better, if by “getting better” you mean “more of us feel like we’re constantly failing instead of just some of us.”

 

3. And to top my list of depressing yet still important readings, the CEO of PepsiCo on reality: 

My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years… What do you do? And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they’re aging. So we’re screwed. We have no … we cannot have it all. Do you know what? Coping mechanisms. Train people at work. Train your family to be your extended family.

 

In conclusion: it’s becoming clear that we’re all screwed. This is moderately comforting. 

Ability vs. Attitude

From my daily Runner’s World Quote of the Day: 

Ability is what you are capable of. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. – Lou Holtz

 

We talk a lot at work about employee attitude, and why it matters, even for our smartiest of smarty pants. I like this quote; it reminds me of why attitude is as important to me as ability.

More Capable Voices

This past week, a friend’s child was diagnosed with cancer. A baby, just a few weeks out from his 12 month birthday.

I’ve been in a stupor, completely out of sorts. And then I’ve felt badly, like I’m co-opting someone else’s tragedy as my own.

My cousin is a powerful writer and a heavy thinker, and he thoughtfully reached out with the following words:

Just because it is not your child doesn’t mean you are not unsettled, despondent, and worried.  You might find yourself unknowingly, perhaps even in your sleep, reaching outward, driven by the full force of the love inside you, fingers flexing again and again around weightless air, trying to shield a sick child from his sickness that is everywhere and nowhere. It is not your child. You are not the parent but the connective tissue exists. The diagnoses of cancer in a young person resonates out beyond the specificity of one family unit.  Expressing that impact, especially when you are not directly involved, can be discombobulating.  You might feel apart of the story but simultaneously far away

 …

My favorite poet suggested in a poem that we should all slow down, throw out explanations that give contained, manageable meanings and instead just tell stories. I also know when telling a story falls outside my capacities as the narrator, it is important to not give up but rather turn to a more capable voice

He then provided to me a short story by Lorrie Moore, “People Like That Are the Only People Here” It’s hard to read, but this week was a hard week to live, and I found catharsis in reading it. If you’ve been following Marianne and Hugo’s story, it may be cathartic for you, too. I hope, anyway.

I personally have no comfort to give, but I can give you a story, and a more capable voice than my own.

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