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.

Well, this was just the most fantastic thing in the world to read.

I said to someone a few months ago: “I want my daughter to see me enjoying my work.” I don’t want her to grow up thinking working is a slog or something you do because you have to and your real life starts outside of business hours. I want her to think that the time spent not with her was worth spending where I did. I want her to know that, yes, you have to work, but also, that’s a GOOD thing.

That’s how I was raised, and I consider it be a very nice thing my parents did for me. Both my parents have great careers, careers they approached differently and based on what the family needed at the time; my mom stayed home when we were young, and doubled down on her career once I (the youngest) was in college, capitalizing on the volunteer work she did while we were in school – and she’s now one of the leading experts in her field. I’m glad that’s the environment I was raised in.

In that spirit, I want to share with you the graduation speech Shonda Rhimes gave at Dartmouth graduation this spring.  It’s so good, all of it, I just want to cut and paste the whole thing for you, but here are the parts I really, truly, loved. And please note, by sharing this, I am not suggesting for even a second that my daughter will think less of me if I didn’t work. Of course I don’t think that is true. But having a career is the person I am right now, and I want her to know me for how I am.

On Doing It All:

And this is the thing that I really want to say. To all of you. Not just to the women out there. Although this will matter to you women a great deal as you enter the work force and try to figure out how to juggle work and family. But it will also matter to the men. Who I think increasingly are also trying to figure out how to juggle work and family. And frankly, if you are not trying to figure it out, men of Dartmouth? You should be. Fatherhood is being redefined at a lightning fast rate….

If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the trade off. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel one hundred percent okay, you never get your sea legs, you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost.

Something is always missing.

And yet.

I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices

Ditch the Dream:

You know what I wanted to be? I wanted to be Nobel Prize Winning Author Toni Morrison. That was my dream. I blue sky-ed it like crazy. I dreamed and dreamed. And while I was dreaming, I was living in my sister’s basement. Dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives, fyi. Anyway, there I was in that basement, I was dreaming of being Nobel Prize Winning Author Toni Morrison. Guess what? I couldn’t be Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison. Because Toni Morrison already had that job and she wasn’t interested in giving it up. One day I was sitting in that basement and I read an article in the NY Times that said it was harder to get into USC Film School than it was to get into Harvard Law School. I could dream about being Toni Morrison. Or I could do. At film school, I discovered an entirely new way of telling stories. A way that suited me. A way that brought me joy. A way that flipped this switch in my brain and changed the way I saw the world. Years later, I had dinner with Toni Morrison. All she wanted to talk about was Grey’s Anatomy. That never would have happened if I hadn’t stopped dreaming of becoming her and gotten busy becoming myself.


And also, mostly because I wish more people had told me to not be such an ass when I was in my 20s:

Here’s the thing. Yes, it is hard out there. But hard? Is relative. I come from a middle class family, my parents are academics, I was born after the Civil Rights movement, I was a toddler during the Women’s Movement, I live in the United States of America all of which means I’m allowed to own my freedom, my rights, my voice and my uterus and I went to Dartmouth and earned an Ivy League degree.

The lint in my navel that accumulated while I gazed at it as I suffered from feeling lost about how hard it was to not feel special after graduation…that navel lint was embarrassed for me.


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