Monthly Archives: September 2012

Communication & Filters

Communication & Filters

I always thought I was an excellent communicator.

Today I went out with my husband in the rowing double. He sits in front of me so I can stabilize the boat. So this means I see his back as his blades hit and move the water. That’s it; but it’s not nothing: I see his posture and his slide technique and so I can tell him (or whomever is in that seat) what’s up with the strokes, how to improve form and the rest. It’s not so much that I’m a genius, it’s that I’ve got experience and when you’re dealing with novice rowers in a double (the theories are different in larger boats) the more experienced rower sits in the bow seat, behind the stern seat.

This was our second outing and per the rules of the boat club, I can’t take him out any more; he’ll have to join. I’m allowed to take a person as a guest twice; I can take you if you’d like, but only twice. It’s fair.

It’s also a good thing that I can’t go any more to teach my husband.

I don’t know if our marriage would survive it.

The thing is, no man wants his wife telling him how to do anything; least of all anything athletic and as exquisite and responsive as a sport as rowing. Even though he rationally defers to my expertise, I suspect that deep inside he’s thinking, “It can’t really be this hard… I mean, she does it…” and this is not to paint a broad brush of antiman-ness: my husband is extremely open-minded about this stuff. It’s just that it’s an adjustment.

But in the boat, I’m not his wife: I’m a rower and a member of the club. The equipment is signed out on my name with my person being the responsible party.

What all this means in the boat and on the water is that I’m a coach to him. So I’m more technical, detached, professional and … intense. It’s not my $7,000 boat to screw around in. But as much as he benefitted from my teaching, he wanted me to be softer, more patient, more “here’s a sandwich I made for you”: more wifely.

No frigging way. Our chances of tipping were low because I was holding the balance with my blades flat on the water while he gained experience. Today we rowed four miles and were out for about 90 minutes. He liked it and when I was rowing us around turns, he got a few moments to watch the sunlight dance on the water as it just crested the trees while being rocked to the rhythm of my rowing.

My husband is smart, mellow and athletic, so his catching on to the work, technique and gaining confidence is simply a matter of time and he’s well on his way.

RICK! gave this print to me for my birthday last year. She is a very thoughtful gift giver. I can learn a lot from her. “Rushing the slide” is what happens when someone slides up to the catch (the beginning of the stroke, which is where they are all positioned) apart from the rhythm of the rest of the rowers. Superman, sitting in “stroke” seat, feels it most. It’s frustrating to Green Lantern in “bow” seat because Flash’s back might come in contact with the handle of Green Lantern’s oar if the timing is off. After a while, if you were to row in front of me and consistently mess up the timing, you’d probably end up in dialysis because I’d get tired of you being in my space when I’m prepping to take a stroke. While the sketch is cute, it’s Batman who would be most disturbed by Flash’s rushing although the entire boat would feel it. I wonder if that’s why they made me stroke last year because I was such a jerk to anyone who slacked in front of me by the fourth month of rowing together.

What I learned from our second outing is something I’ve always known, but it was made phantasmagorically obvious (despite our 22 years as a couple) in the shell: he’s nice and tender and I’m a bull in a china shop. I know the lingo, I know the sport, I know the effects of lifting one hand over the other and what that does to the boat’s balance. The first time we went out, we had only an hour when we planned on having two hours. We lost all that time due to technical difficulties with the equipment which resulted in our having to take the entire first shell out of the water and bringing it back to the boathouse and trading it in for another one. I was glad he was undeterred about getting the second boat because he was sort of playing hooky from work for that extra hour. That first outing made us both slightly more efficient and clippy in our chatter and the resulting intensity was not entirely welcome.

When we docked after that first outing, the head coach of a local university crew quipped, “Are you still married? How’d it go?” He knows how this can go.

Because I know the jargon, I take a lot for granted. My husband wanted me to not use the jargon or to use the jargon and then its street equivalent; he wanted me to tenderize it all for him a bit.

No frigging way. I learned with coaches saying “weigh nuf,” followed by the street “stop rowing” about three times and then I was on my own and people in the boat would yell at me with both versions if I didn’t figure it out. Same thing with “square and bury your blades. That means to put them in the water perpendicularly.” It was the same with “sit ready at the catch” (which means to sit all the way up the slide with your shins perpendicular to the water and you’re ready to press / slide back for the boat to move beneath you, as in the picture above) – I told him what it meant, but I wasn’t going to add, “honey” or “sweets” to it.

It can be overwhelming on the water: it’s wet, deep and murky and the air is cool now. You don’t want to fall in. You want to succeed and so much of what you’re learning is multi-sensory. But the number one thing that’s gonna blow it for you on the water is thinking, so just be.  I stated commands (he’ll probably tell you I barked them) and was clear about them. I could have been gentler, but he’s not a child and part of sitting behind the person is that I can’t see what he’s actually doing so my comments are based on evidence and results of his actions rather than the actions themselves.

At about miles two and three, things began to significantly improve. We did a couple stationary drills and some balance work and I was very enthusiastic about his progress: he really started to get it! And then…

At the end of the fourth mile, he was getting tired, his posture was fading, he was making old mistakes and becoming easily frustrated. It was time for a naaaap. We’d been out for more than an hour and we were both ready to head in (he’s heavy!). We had a successful outing and all of it –from my china shop bull to his love me tender– started to gel and sink in. For him, the action is a part of his muscle memory now and just needs more experience and time. And another partner. He can go with RICK next time and I’ll take her husband in my shell.

All this got me thinking: despite my best intentions, our communication is not as strong as I thought it was and this was slightly dismaying to me because we talk a lot.

And then there’s the filter, or the perspective or the perception of both parties: I had an unfair expectation that he was able to deal with the massive amounts of information on a physically unstable surface and he had the expectation that I was going to be wifely and kind and patient.

The same sort of disconnect happened last month for his birthday. He wanted these super-awesome TRX bands for his workouts and I ordered them for him. I’d never used them and he used them in his bootcamp last year. The thing is: they take a while to set up and then you’re supposedly good to go. He was so excited to show them to me that he opened the box and tried to demonstrate them. I am TRX-neutral: I don’t care and I probably won’t really use them as I have my own routines. The thing is: he wanted me to see how easy and awesome they are and he couldn’t because it took a while to set up and I stood and watched. In a lather of frustration, he ended up throwing up his arms and not being able to show me. I said, “I’m glad you’re excited and I’m sure they’re great…” and he took that as a dismissal. The thing is: there was no winning or losing for either of us. He was thrilled but he wasn’t prepared to show me and I waited in neutral for him to show me while he couldn’t get it to work. If I said nothing, I’dve been a jerk. If I said “yay!” I’dve been insincere.

.  .  .  .  .  .

These expectations and filters bring lots of thoughts and memories and personal experiences to my mind and I’d like to share a couple with you.

I’m reminded me of a demonstration I saw on a middle-school children’s TV show, “Zoom!” a few years back when my team still watched public television. The challenge was simple enough: instruct a partner to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They had four pairs of the kids and each pair built its success / communication formula off the previous pair’s demonstration with not much time between sets. In each pair one person was the director and the other person was ops. The director was blindfolded and the ops person was not allowed to speak back or ask questions, the ops person simply had to do what it was told.

mmm. send me to the hospital. stat.

The first pair’s basically ended up with a loaf of still-bagged sliced bread crushed under the weight of a closed jar of peanut butter and a closed jar of jelly and then both ends of the bagged bread were pressed together. That was funny and it showed me how much we all take for granted when we communicate — these kids on Zoom! are supposed to be the creme de la creme of their peer group. The second pair improved but only slightly: two slices of bread were taken out of the bag and the jars were still closed, but the jelly jar was on top of the peanut butter jar and both jars nested between the slices of bread. The third pair took out the slices, spread the peanut butter on a slice of bread and then spread the jelly on a slice of bread and then stacked the slices, condiment side up so it looked like this from the top: jelly on bread, peanut butter on bread. The fourth pair got it figured out and enjoyed the sandwich. Their cups of milk were already poured for them and everyone learned a valuable lesson: slow down, use details, listen and watch.

Another example is holidays — personal, national, dubious (Hallmark) or imaginary: If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I look askance at New Year’s Day as a time for personal renewal: every day is a chance to change our lives. Valentine’s Day is a gimmick (to me) and I don’t get stupid drunk on St. Patrick’s Day.

In my home on birthdays, we make a cake and frost it and sing and give nice gifts. It’s not a full-bore blowout experience. In my family of origin, birthdays were special, but not considered reasons to have explosives and helium tanks and gunships. I used to know someone whose family of origin dwarfed coronations with their birthday celebrations: balloons at breakfast, the table festooned with used car lot flags, party hats, noise makers, the works. So when this person’s birthday came around and I was in the picture, I presented a card and a thoughtful gift. Sometimes I was late, but I never forgot the person’s special day and I’d call or send a note if I didn’t present the gift on time. The reception was frosty and any recognition was doomed to fail. This was based on both our filters: she was used to people taking out second mortgages to celebrate and I was used to people giving a hug, singing a song and life resuming to its normally scheduled programming. Even after we talked about our historical differences and expectations and filters, the experiences were never fulfilling for either of us. On my birthdays, she’d come over with a cake and balloons and her kids and they’d all sing to me and I’d be all like “WOAH” and “GetthefuckoutIjustwokeup!” and whatnot.

As I ponder all these experiences and examples of communication and filters and expectations, it makes me think of how to best survive on this big blue rock: have an open mind and have an open heart. I can do myself a favor by not expecting people to be able to read my mind and I can try not to anticipate what other people might have in their minds. I was at a wedding a few years ago and the celebrant said this, “My mother often reminded me as I grew up that I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. As our beloved couple embarks on their lifelong journey together as husband and wife and as we all bear witness to their union, I propose to all of us here tonight that we remember to use our ears more than our mouths.”

And I’ll add this: when we use our mouths, we do so with kindness and efficiency.

Sometimes easier said than done.

Thank you.

Feady for Fautumn – Fingera’s Fall Foto Fhoot


today we have a special guest who will reveal the inner workings of my mind due to the glorious fall weather we’ve been having (and also due to the fact that i’m avoiding editing my book like the plague).

this morning – i saw my breath on the walk to school!

yes, i’m in a very good mood. i spent only 8 minutes at DMV, from start to finish today to update my driver’s license and i’m not even mad from having learned that i could have avoided going there in the first place… i could have done everything online.

but today is the last day of summer and the first day of fall is just hours away…. to prepare us all for the latest fall fashions, a top secret and very high-priced supermodel, “Fingera” is here to share a few moments of her foto, er, photo shoot.

“Fingera feaks fonly fith Fs. Fif fere fis fa ph-found, fit’s fan ‘f’ fand fat’s fhow fit’s felled,” she said.

she’s pretty demanding, but she’s so talented … she has that special je ne sais quoi that keeps us coming back (at least that’s what the French say; and they’d be saying it all in German if it weren’t for us liberating them in Vietnam).

(and yes, so far, this is the strangest thing i’ve ever posted … fall makes me happy crazy… so get used to it.) it’s highly likely that only a few of my close friends and definitely my cousins will ‘get’ (read: not run away looking over their shoulders) this post. for the rest of you, i’ll be back to normal eventually.

this is Fingera just before we head out to the “park” for the shoot. she’s all ready to go in the finest silk taffeta wrap and authentic acorn beret. “Fhy, fi fust fove facorn ferets,” she cooed.

Isn’t she captivating? “FAPTIVATING!” she screamed.

the natural dappled sunlight was perfect for our shoot; we couldn’t have had better weather.

in a rare candid moment, Fingera allowed our photographers to capture this moment of her deep in thought as she considered the health of our planet amid a fantastic hydrangea.

“Fantastic fis fight!” she proclaimed. “Fhat’s fhe fate fof fhe forld? Fuch funderful flowers… >figh<…”

soon it was back to business. Fingera’s finger was on the clock and the clock means money; Fingera knows that the money shots are the ones of her in close up. so we did our best to show the weave of her wrap .

“Fou fastards! Fou fhowed fy frinkles!! Fi fant fhem fotoshopped fout!” she demanded.

our shoot manager said it was time for a break. we told Fingera that she would be fine if she wanted to take a moment in the garden to collect herself…

she didn’t know we were shooting; when we showed her this one, she was thrilled! “Foh fy Fod! Fit’s fike Fannie Fiebowitz fook fhis fhot!” we couldn’t have been prouder.

the flower definitely calmed her down and in a rare moment of repose, she asked told us to keep shooting. she wanted to talk to the dog at the “park,” a lone golden retriever named Murphy, who didn’t know what on earth to do with Fingera in his face.

“Fit ftill! Fi fant feveryone fo fnow fof fy fove for fanimals,” she said.

“that’s a wrap!” we said, exhausted from Fingera and hungry for some chips; Murphy got up immediately knocking her beret off her head and sending it off the deck at the “park.”

fhank fou. photo credits: Thing 3.

Quickie: Value of Art / Price of an eBook


I am captivated by a post a friend wrote this week about her consideration of the intrinsic value of art:

Should Writers Sell Their Books for 99 Cents?

And I commented that I thought that art has value and that original thoughts, concepts, ideas, art, etc., do have value and I compared an 99 cent eBook to the cost of a Slurpee or a pack of gum or a bag of chips because sometimes that’s how I compare the value of things. (I think that offended her.) Would I pay more for a book or a movie than I would for a quick trip to 7-Eleven?

Hell yes. And at what point does something that has no intrinsic value have intrinsic value? When does “gilding the lily” equate into greater worth and value? For example (you’re now entering my mind, buckle up): food. Tomato sauce. Basic: tomatoes, water, heat it, and eat. It’s OK, but it’s not great. So we add salt. Better. Then maybe a dash of olive oil. And some fresh basil. Now we’re on to something… what about a dash of garlic? And some oregano… Do you see where I’m going with this? (GAWD I hope so, I don’t.) I’m going here: that a basic thing:  story, painting, shirt, sauce has value even if it’s undeveloped. Add some texture or ‘love’ to it and suddenly, it’s better. That’s why we value it. That’s why we will pay more for it.

And for me, this isn’t just because of the fact that this is what the market will bear and that this is because people are used to paying for books and movies. It’s because as a writer, I know that I work hard (even on a blog post: looking / creating pictures, going after links and doing a little research from time to time takes effort and I’m cool with that because it helps round out the experience) and if I created the concept, the throughput and the end product –and it’s original and entertaining — and if people have historically paid for this kind of thing before, that people should pay for it. I argued that because art has an intangible value: it speaks to us, moves us and entertains us and that its value is in the heart of the beholder (I hate Hallmark’s “Precious Moments” line, but other people love it and I’m sure they’d look at my obsession with Matisse’s “Jazz” and cut outs period with What the What faces).

Another friend of mine and I once used to equate the value of things with the price of Gap t-shirts, which were $10 at the time. “Is it worth a Gap t-shirt?” or “You know, you could get three Gap Ts for that…” or my favorite, “That’s a non-consumable, so it’s worth it…” and we would act accordingly.

Is this wrong?

Am I alone in comparing supposedly intrinsically worthless things to their consumable / non-consumable status and / or value? Maybe it’s generational, as I suggested to my friend on her blog.

In the case of the .99 eBook, sometimes you get what you pay for. I have bought some bombs for 2.99 and I have to say that I’ve been impressed by some free books. But I always love a bargain. The perfect recipe is providing something that people will enjoy at a cost that doesn’t make them feel like they’ve been suckered.

So here are my questions and I’d really love some feedback (in fact I’d always love some feedback!):

1) Do you feel art has value?

2) As a person, regardless of your art, would you equate the value of your output with the value of something unartistic?

Please let me know. The very existence of the universe depends on it.

Thank you.

UPDATE (9/19 3pm) here’s what I said on my fan page: “if we (as a collective) don’t value art, then … what? the entire creative process, literally, is art. i think it’s nuts to even have this discussion, but when i thought about the cost of a book vs. a bag of chips — that cigarettes cost more than a book, that gum could cost more than a book (chocolate, that’s an entirely different discussion, please…) then it got my head spinning. it’s important.” I know I made a joke about the universe depending on it, but it’s sorta not a joke. If we don’t value our craft, then why bother…?

Did Cleopatra Have Bangs?


I cut my bangs yesterday without wearing my reading glasses. I turn 45 in a week. I have a lot on my mind; so these posts just sometimes flow out of me.

My friend over at DeBie Hive called me prolific. Bless her heart – she’s very smart and I love her, but she doesn’t realize that this is just my brain blathering and blathering. If it happens to make sense or appeal to people then we’ve got ourselves a deal.

So many of these blog posts just come to me without warning. It’s like I’m all ladiedah la walkin’ the dog… lala laaalalaa ladiedah “you’re getting old…” blammo.

Hair coloring dates back to like prehistoric times. Pteradactyls, perhaps the most vain of all the “dinosaurs” were known for their amazing kaleiscopic plumage and coiffures. They used to grind stones and herbs in their naturally occurring salt lead acetate ear wax. Here is a picture of a pteradactyl I just found on the National Geographic archive site with a ‘do (whose roots clearly need touch-ups):

The FashionDactyl. she’s busy, she loves her life and she flies with a soccer ball. She has it all.

The thing is, I have been coloring my hair since prehistoric times. I started to go gray, thanks to my Greco-Roman noble Irish heritage in my teens. I remember plucking out the buggers in my bathroom when I was 18.

“Don’t do THAAAAAAT! They’ll come back and avenge their kin!!” I heard Cleopatra whisper.

“Shaadap, Cleo. I’ve got problems. If I’m going gray now, imagine — IMAGINE what I’ll look like a week before I’m 45,” I hissed.

“Oh, you’ll do what I did: you’ll cut your bangs. You’ll want to think you look like Zooey Daschenel, whoever the hell that is, but you’re really just gonna look like you, hiding your Elevens and denying your age. I did the bangs when I hit 43; I don’t know what’s taken you so long… look at all the art they drew of me – the birdmen and catgoats… and me… with my perfect hair.” she said.

Then she was vapor. Or was it me, did I have the vapors?

Anyway, she was right. I cut my bangs and I look nothing like Zooey Daschenelung. My Elevens are hidden, for now, until my bangs grow too long and start to grab on to my eyebrows or each other and then part thus exposing my Elevens or what I am now coining as “Forehead cleavage.”® – I just made that up, “forehead cleavage.” It’s good… it’s what ALL ANCIENT MIDDLE-AGED WOMEN WANT THE SPACE BETWIXT THEIR EYEBROWS CALLED FROM NOW ON. 

Forget the image of me. notice the Laundry Basket in the background. I included that all special like for you.

Thank you.