Monday, April 11, 2016

Surviving College?

The college student's story at the below link is a brave statement about how difficult it can sometimes be to survive college.

Perfectionism runs rampant among college--and high school--students today. Pressure from oneself and others can be poisonous. 

I applaud this student for sharing his story. It's healing for others and for him.

Parents--discuss these kinds of pressures and how to handle those that come from within!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

College Essay Time? Start Journaling

Yes, it's already time for high school juniors to start planning their summers and their college essays.

You can't write a good essay unless you have something to write about. And you can't figure out who you are without journaling about important experiences.

Trust me. I've helped students do it. The first phase is experience. The second is journaling. The third is your first draft.

Here are some great tips to get started:

But the best thing of all? Get together with a specialist who will help you plan an authentic experience, coach you through your journaling on it, and take you through the entire dreadful experience until you can hit "SUBMIT" and feel just like you do after a great workout. DONE!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why I Haven't Washed My Hair

It's been four days since I've shampooed. Yesterday I slipped my dental floss in my sweatshirt pocket and forgot all about it.

Sure, I've stuck my head under the kitchen faucet and crazily turned the hairdryer on it. I've doused myself with dry shampoo and sneezed. I've leaned forward and shaken like a dog. I've brushed my teeth, I promise.

But my personal hygiene is going to shit.

Here's one of the reasons: I've been looking for America. Knocking on doors, making calls, and ranting ad nauseum all over social media. Massachusetts didn't go the way I'd hoped, but it ain't over yet. Yesterday's blatant flouting of election law by President Bill Clinton is only one small reason hope for the better candidate stays alive. A woman who wages war in Libya and then trots about the destabilized nation after the fact for publicity's sake shouldn't be our next president. Of course, the rest of the field is not encouraging, which is why I hold onto my hope for a Sanders presidency. That has challenged my patience and made me re-examine my feminism--but I'm sure of my choice. Feminism is not about anyone's anatomy. And war-mongering is war-mongering. It is NOT my feminism.

Here's another reason: I'm getting busier professionally with students and college prep families. I'm starting to teach enrichment, which is one of the things our high school students really need, starting in 9th grade, to be able to think critically. Civics, current events and issues, contemporary feminist teen lit, just for starters. With a few old chestnuts in there to help get them ready for the tough language on the New SAT and the even tougher reading they're going to have to do in college and sure as hell aren't doing in public high school, which sadly these days is consumed with getting them ready for standardized tests.

Finally, my greasy hair and furry teeth are also the result of my current editing work: 

  • A bio by an audiologist who has helped others rediscover sound
  • A blog by an ex student of mine who is in the throes of recovery from domestic emotional, verbal, and physical abuse.
I feel fortunate to be able to help these women's voices reach an audience, no matter how small, no matter how great.

IMHO, my giving them a voice, my campaigning for Bernie, my fiction writing, my daily ritual counting my many blessings--these things are feminism.

There is so need for progress, and I'm earnestly trying to do my small part. Every day, my efforts and output seem woefully inadequate.

But the point is to show up and do what you can, a mantra I remind myself of every morning as I pray (and yes, I pray) that I do the will of my Higher Power (God, the Goddess, the Universe, the Great Spirit, the Spirit of Life, my dog Chuck--all of these monikers work for me). The will of my Higher Power, not mine. Then the even harder work is to accept the results.

The Serenity Prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr, sums it up and applies to everyone, not just those in 12-Step programs (sticklers for tradition, please grant me forgiveness for feminizing the deity in this prayer--it works for me):

Goddess, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

This philosopher, theologian, and political thinker who was the son of German immigrants wrote in his diary:

[I] went through one of the big automobile factories to-day [sic] ... The heat was terrific. The men seemed weary. Here manual labor is a drudgery and toil is slavery. The men cannot possibly find any satisfaction in their work. They simply work to make a living. Their ... dull pain are part of the price paid for the fine cars we ... run ... And most of us run the cars without knowing what price is being paid for them ... We are all responsible. 
--Leaves from the Notebook of a Friend

Finally, my unkempt "do" and furry teeth are also the result of some of my current editing work: (1) A bio by a career audiologist whose holistic approach helped many who never thought they would hear again rediscover sound. (2) A blog by a 30-something ex-student of mine who is in the midst, still, of recovering from domestic emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. This blog will first appear on my professional site's blog -- watch for more news on its premier.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hillary the Hawk: Global Rape

When Did We Start Out-Guying the Guys?

When I was little, I was not a "girly girl," but I was in awe of my older sister, a teen in high heels, stockings, and dresses--well, she wasn't allowed to wear pants to school. She was a cheerleader for the junior high basketball team, but also outsmarted the boys in her classes. She was amaaaaazing.

The youngest of three daughters, I peered around doorways as the eldest teased her hair and squealed while spinning Beatles 45s at her all-girl sweet sixteen party. She looked like one of my Barbies, in gloves and a gown on her way to a dilettante ball with Ken in a white dinner jacket.

In her senior year, she won the Betty Crocker homemaker's award and was valedictorian of her class. That didn't seem paradoxical then.

When I was only eight years old, she was off to M.I.T. on a full scholarship to double major in Math and Music as one of the only 17 percent of her class who had vaginas. She graduated early and married at 21. She went on to become a lawyer and a mother. To me, it looked like she did everything right. She had it all. She was so successful. I wanted to be just like her.

But born in 1958, I found myself in a different landscape. Times, they were a'changing. Title IX happened. In Junior High, I got to play softball instead of cheering for boys. 

My other older sister's long hair swept over her face as she strummed her acoustic guitar and sang Simon and Garfunkel and James Taylor songs. I mimicked her, too, borrowing her guitar to participate in folk Mass at my Roman Catholic Church and praying for peace as we sang Kumbaya.

Before long, my guitar-playing sister was admitted to graduate school. She would become one of the very few in her dental school class with a vagina.

I scrambled to grab Valedictorian honors like my sisters had done with such seeming ease. I chose Harvard over Smith because I wanted to do what they had done ... prove that I too could break into bastions of masculine power and, if not seizing some small part of it for myself, at least learn how to associate with it.

In my first month at Harvard, I pleased my dad by joining the Harvard Republican Club and volunteering for the Gerald Ford Campaign. But as in many other places I'd found myself (like Harvard itself), I didn't feel comfortable. 

My roommate, the daughter of liberal, highly educated parents, enlightened me as to why the Republicans didn't have the answers we then thought the Democrats did. I modeled myself after her. Maybe that would help.

I muddled through college, abandoning my plan to major in government (the department was intimidatingly large and male) and instead concentrating in German Studies. By junior year I was devoting my intellectual curiosity to investigating 20th Century power gone very awry, and wrote my junior "thesis" about Nazi resisters. But there were no jobs in talking about Sophie Scholl and Die Weisse Rosa--what a surprise--and anyway, I found out senior year that there was another citadel I could storm. I was recruited by Goldman Sachs--I fully believe, to this day, because when asked by the recruiter, "Why German Studies," I answered, "I'm fascinated with Hitler." I didn't mean that the way I fully believe they took it.

From my office on Wall St., I watched the ticker tape parade welcoming the Iran hostages home--something Ronald Reagan took credit for achieving, but which I knew had been accomplished by Jimmy Carter. The Republicans had it wrong, and the Democrats had it right.


My politics contributed to my acute discomfort on Wall Street, but so did the sexual harassment imposed on me there. My citadel storming had gone even less well there than it did at Harvard, despite my having drunk some of the men I met under the table and even, once, smoked a cigar. Truth was, I didn't want to be a guy, especially not based on the men I was observing.

I retreated into the "softer" business world of publishing, where women were more successfully breaking glass ceilings, and then escaped the patriarchal world of New York City business altogether for my own early marriage.

From afar, I watched with keen interest as the women before me, the women like my sisters who had been so brave, stumbled in their careers, either hitting glass ceilings and retreating to the home front or twisting themselves into bow-tied and suited forms of the men they were trying to best and stressing themselves to the max trying not to have it all but to do it all.

I was still political, and became a big supporter of Bill Clinton. But when Bill "misbehaved" in office, I was confused when Hillary Clinton "stood by her man." Why didn't she call him out for perpetrating the same sexual harassment I had experienced at Goldman Sachs? 

Now, I have the term for what Hillary did: Slut-shaming. Denigrating and maligning the women he dallied with, failing to come to their support, she inflated a misogynist lifeboat to keep her husband afloat. And unlike Monica Lewinsky, she kept her head above water, too.

Round about that time, living to support my husband in his career started to feel uncomfortable to me, too. I wanted to give doing it all at least one more try.

I went to Bryn Mawr for grad school. There, I learned a lot about feminism that I didn't know. I learned there had been waves in the "Women's Movement," as we called it then--First Wave Feminism and Second Wave Feminism--one getting women the vote and other equal rights and the second breaking barriers in the workplace. The Third Wave was just emerging, including fascinating French feminisms that dovetailed with overturning the patriarchal system of language. Okay, I know your eyes just glazed, but somehow, it made sense to me: Overturning an entire ideological system and reinventing it in a more equitable way.

Third Wave Feminism is akin to replacing top-down management with collaboration, in that it empowers everyone at every level of an organization. It's certainly not about some of the people breaking glass ceilings, and it's sure as hell not about breaking one because you have a vagina. It's about all genders using their brains creatively to change the system to the benefit of all, even those of us who are doubly or even triply marginalized due to race, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and/or socioeconomics. 

Can subversion happen after you've bought into the system? Women like Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton are examples suggesting it cannot. If I am kind, I imagine they cannot see what they have become. After all, they were courageous heroines of the "Women's Movement," even if we now understand that their "battle call" of "there's a special place in hell for women who don't support women" is no longer relevant. They had to play a different game to become leaders--or at least, they thought they had to. They chose to get ahead by out-guying the guys.

Interesting that we've had female Secretaries of State, but not Presidents. It's arguable that male Presidents recognize that the women like Albright who fought tooth and nail to get to the top of their fields would be perfect foils to do the United States' dirty work abroad. Indeed, these women were more aggressive than many of the male "diplomats" who came before them (Henry Kissinger aside), causing worldwide havoc by, as Diana Johnstone argues in Queen of Chaos, advocating "regime change" in once independent countries we now routinely leave war-torn, with countless civilians either fleeing or dying. These tough broads--toughened by necessity, remember--apparently have no issue acting out their aggression on a global stage.

Take where we are right now. Hillary Clinton's out-guying the guys has destabilized the Middle East even more than it was already shaky--most recently causing violence in Libya and mass murder in and flight from Syria, where oh-by-the-way we're also now looking at a major standoff with Russia.

These are real people dying. Men, women, and children--entire families--suffering because of women pushing up against American glass ceilings by becoming more traditionally masculine than the men who surround them. As The New York Times reports today, Obama would not have moved to support the Libyan rebels if Clinton hadn't pushed him--on poor intelligence, no less--to do so.

How, along the way, did they lose sight of the real meaning of their outdated battle cry? If I still believed in hell beyond death, on one of my angrier days (like today) I would argue that yes, a special place is waiting there for both Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton. But I've long ago abandoned that construct.

The incontrovertible truth is that real hell is being lived right now by American and foreign families: Innocent men, women and children who are trying to keep roofs over their heads, not shatter any kind of ceiling.

With Bernie Sanders's nomination looking ever less likely, the Military Industrial and Finance Complexes are poised to keep American imperialism thriving, even with a woman's anatomy presiding in the White House, as opposed to being violated in it. And that's if she can beat the even more dangerous Republicans back. I can barely even go there.

I'm certainly no longer a Republican, and if Sanders loses the nomination, I'm no longer a Democrat, either. I've never been good at working for or from within a corrupt system, and I'm not going to start now. Look what it has done to those who do ... But for now, I'm keeping my hope alive, still volunteering for the Sanders campaign, still #FeelingTheBern.

Like my lifelong heroine Sophie Scholl, who boldly spoke out against Nazi violence and repression, Bernie Sanders speaks the truth. Isn't it time we do, too?

Massachusetts friends: Please vote on Tuesday, March 1st! 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Prepping for College Starts Early

If you could help your son or daughter avoid senior year stress, wouldn't you do anything you can? Senior stress, burnout, addiction to relieve anxiety--these are serious conditions and currently widespread. In fact, according to The Atlanticin Silicon Valley, the desperate pressure to be perfect, get into a top school, and please your parents, is causing teen suicide.

As much as I'm divided about prep schools--especially how they condition young people to be elitist--they do a lot right in helping a kid plan for his or her college choice and career. But if your son or daughter goes to public high school, he or she is probably left to procrastinate in a world where that no longer works. It's not the way it was when we were kids.

I'm a writer, and as a writer, I'm penning a YA novel to help young women understand how difficult the transition to college is no matter what your race, gender, or socioeconomic status. But lately, I've realized that writing the novel is not enough, and I've started a new College Prep and Counseling Practice to help students find their way holistically. 

How does this work?

First, I care about my student clients. That's huge. I care about their health. I know firsthand what striving to over-achieve can do to a young person, and what comparing oneself to others who achieve more than you do can destroy self-esteem and lead to some pretty abysmal choices.

As a Test Prep Tutor and a College Counselor, I've seen it all. The kids who are pressured by their parents to do well, the kids who are scared by their so-called "mediocre" testing skills, the kids who are so perfectionist nothing less than 700s in every subject will satisfy them, the kids who are pushing for 800s and won't rest until they're there. Kids who have no idea what to write on personal essays because they've never been encouraged to think about who they want to be when they grow up--aka, themselves. Kids who put in hundreds of community service hours without thinking about where this kind of useful commitment can be enriching and dovetail with their interests. Kids who arrive as first-years unable to think critically or write a decent essay.

So what are the answers?

First, parents, please remember how vulnerable kids are at high school age. Please?

Second, help your son or daughter start a cross-curriculum reading and writing habit early--preferably in ninth grade. Students who do this will reach SAT and ACT time with strong reading skills and vocabularies. They will just know more. 

Third, help your son or daughter find his or her passion. Not a lifelong one--they don't know that yet. But something that inspires them now. By finding their passions and following them, they won't waste time participating in every sport, club, or extracurricular "guaranteed" to pad a resume and impress college admissions officers.

Fourth, help your son or daughter develop healthy life habits--healthy eating, exercise that's not necessarily competitive or achievement oriented, down time, zen. By practicing healthy habits, they'll avoid pitfalls that can derail them when crunch time comes.

Fifth, and it's an important fifth, model the above.

I wasn't the healthiest teen, twenty-something, or mom, but because I held on tightly to some ideals and tough lessons I learned, I was able to help my kids make it through those hideously difficult years called adolescence.  All three are now graduates of (I say with a brag) prestigious colleges that were the right fits for them. All three are doing swimmingly. But most of all, all three knew that I'd be there for them no matter what their scores, grades, successes, failures, and admissions/rejections. We're super close today, even though they're geographically scattered.

One huge reason we continue to grow together? They share with me a love of learning. That's what you want your kids to have. That's the best thing I've helped them find.

This blog is not an ad, even if it does read as shamelessly proud of myself.* It's a kickoff to a series of columns I want out there so I can share what I've learned with other parents of teens--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Get started on preparing your son or daughter from transitioning from high school kid to college first year. But don't freak out. I repeat: It's learning you want them to love, not academic success. It's a lifelong love of learning that, once inspired, once fostered, once achieved, will give you and your kids amazing, long lasting rewards.

A great reading list for parents who are wondering how to get their kids reading quality materials on their own or with a tutor in ninth grade appears in the Ivy Global New SAT Test Prep Book. Check it out. The book will be helpful later, too! And if you don't have time to read or re-read the books on the list, find someone who will. There are plenty of tutors and starving English teachers out there (and I'm one, see footnote, wink wink, but I can't travel to Kansas).

*If you want to talk to me about helping your high school age son or daughter, and you live in the Greater Boston area, I'm here. I mean, a blogger and a writer isn't exactly swimming in cash, and I do offer something valuable ... Here's my website.

Everything, Everything You Want in a YA Novel

Thanks to Grub Street, my email chat with Nicola Yoon, bestselling author of Everything, Everything, can be read here! Thanks also to Joelle Hobeika for hooking me up with Nicola. She is inspirational! If she can write a novel while caring for an infant, you can, too!

And here's a great column that will help you beat winter writer's block. The Write Practice helps me a lot ... it's a great way to start the daily procrastination. It helped me ... I'm cruising again. Hope you are, too. Hugs to the #amwriting folks everywhere. OMMMM.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Syrian Children

My son at two
knew nothing of war.
Darth Vader
and Emperor Palpatine
all he knew of evil.

My son at twenty-two
has marched 
for #BlackLivesMattter
picketed before the offices 
of hard-hearted corporate-college 
capitalists denying janitors
jobs and a fair wage.

My son is safe
-- for now.
But with all he knows
he writes songs
that make hearts
ache like his often does
for the sons and daughters
of others.

We all
love our sons
love our daughters
beyond words.
But our photographs?
They're as different
as our tongues.

Copyright 2015