Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Friday May 24th, 2013

"Sometimes I go out to lunch with my girlfriends--
I got that far into the sentence and caught myself.
I suppose I mean my women friends.
We are no longer girls..."
--Nora Ephron

I'm not sure when that happened.
But it did.

It is sadder and happier 
than I thought it would be
getting grown up.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Brosie and a Wrap-Up on how to deal with offensive comments

To anyone who's been following the blog, a big thanks for supporting my post about dealing with offensive comments.  Because of your enthusiasm I was the most popular blogger in the Grandmother Power campaign.  Thank you!  It seems this topic has struck a cord with people, so I wanted to do a quick update and wrap up.

If you are just checking in now and haven't read the Grandmother Power post, you might want to start here.  

Since posting last, I've come across two more sources of wisdom on this topic.  

I recently connected with Anabel Jensen, a local EQ expert, who founded an EQ training organization called and a local elementary school called Synapse School, which teaches a curriculum rich in EQ training.  

Here's some of what she had to say in response to  dealing with an offensive comment, or negativity in general:

"I truly put on my invisible raincoat--with which to repel any and all data to which I do not want to respond or absorb.  I constantly remind myself that 'emotions are as contagious as the common cold."  Therefore, I arm myself with this emotional metaphor.  I recognize that I can repel anything aimed in my direction.  I also recognize that I am responsible for what ever emotional vibes I am generating."

And specifically about the kind of sexist comment I encountered:

"If you had asked him to define "hot," he might have replied, "Very attractive." He might not have meant "sexy."  I work to make people good.  I work to frame their words in a positive way.  If you had responded--"I agree with you.  She is extremely attractive, beautiful, gorgeous, etc."--he then might choose to use that word in the future."

I like her approach to be curious about what the person meant by the comment.  In essence, it gives the conversation a second chance.  This style of a response feels light and precise.

And second, as if on cue, out there in the world, another woman, was coming up with her own clever response to an offensive situation.  If you have not read about Brosie at the Hawkeye Initiative, you have to check it out.  An employee, going by the pseudonym K2, reports the story of a prank she pulled to make a point about a poster her CEO had in his office.  

In an interview for Wired last week, K2 spoke at length about her own strategy for dealing with sexism at work.  Two words that stand out to me from her explanations were "camaraderie" and "playfulness."  She was also very supportive of her male co-workers, who she characterized as occasionally clueless, but wanting to do the right thing.  Here's a little excerpt from her interview.  Prepare yourselves, this woman is super funny!

"Meteor Entertainment is my first gaming company. I’d talked to a lot of geek chicks before I decided to join the industry, and I knew there was a lot of baggage. I was intimidated for sure. Then, on one lunch break trip to a thrift store, I found this giant stuffed rooster. I bought it and stuck it on my desk. Whenever someone asked “what’s up with that?” I’d say “I heard it was much easier to be successful in the gaming industry if you had one of these! So I bought one! Big, huh?” The reactions were hilarious. I could brandish it at people who annoyed me and they’d literally run away. We, and mostly I, laughed some of that tension away. We could joke about the elephant in the room.

That, if anything, is what I hope people are taking from the Brosie story. Playfulness. Because whether or not women are broadly infiltrating STEM and gaming, the men who are coming in are from a very different generation than the last. They’ve grown up around strong female figures. They are listening and they are ready to have this conversation. But we cannot start this or any conversation with yelling. Yelling puts people on the defensive. People on the defensive are scared. Scared people can’t think. I think Jon Stewart said: 'it is physically impossible to be scared while laughing.' So let’s laugh. It’s awkward. But let’s laugh about that, among friends. Even when the male co-workers we love do the stuff that reminds us of those Bad Old Days."

And to wrap up, here's what I've learned about responding to offensive comments:

1.  Dealing with offensive comments and scenarios is challenging.  Most people don't respond in these situations, and for someone like me, who gets a little stunned, responding will be a skill that needs to be learned.  So I'm working on a plan to learn how to do this; it will definitely include practicing with "playfulness."

2.  Wise people approach with a sense of camaraderie, love, and goodness.  I think the most important concept Miller, Jensen, and K2 offer, is that they all talk about response strategies that pave the way for connection, and a more positive continuation of the conversation.  No one got bogged down in over thinking or spinning stories about the person or sexism in general.

3.  A response should always be directed at the comment itself, not at the person.  Each wise woman crafted a response that was about the comment.  No one suggested, for example, to respond with something like, "Are you as sexist your comment makes you sound?"  The response was about the comment, and assumed nothing directly about the person.  But indirectly, each of the wise responses assumed the that the best was possible for the person who made the comment.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday May 17, 2012


Our first day
and our last day
and all the days 
in between.

May it be 
all we remember
and all we forget.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Friday May 10, 2013

Longing.  You know the feeling.  
It's that ache of sensing
 that something vital is missing from your life; 
a deep thirst for more.  
More meaning, more connection,
 more energy--more something...
What you long for is love."

--Barbara Fredrickson, Love 2.0

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's your job, Grandmothers teaching us to speak up

Recently, I had an experience that literally stunned me.  I was at a meeting with a new group of people.  It was the beginning of the get together and small groups of us were talking casually.  I ended up in conversation with a man, about fifteen years older than me, who I later found out, was running the meeting.  We ended up chatting about a friend we had in common, and he asked if I knew the man’s wife.  I said I did, and he responded with a short soliloquy about how “hot” the man’s wife was.  How she had been hot in college and was still “totally hot.”  

For a second I was disoriented.  It was like I had cotton in my ear and the room was frozen.  It was as if my eyes had been replaced by fisheye lenses and all I could see was what was right in front of me.  I was the proverbial deer in headlights, wide eyed and stunned.  The feeling was not exactly surprised, it was more primitive, as if the turn in conversation kicked me into an alternative mental state.  The thought that accompanied the feeling was, “Wow, was that weird or was it just me?”  I felt uneasy and excused myself from the conversation by explaining that I was thirsty and needed to go get something to drink.

Two hours later I was jolted by a stab of anger, but I couldn’t figure out what to do with it.  On the one hand, I was upset that a man in a position of power would be talking about how “hot” someone else’s wife was,  a string of comments that made it seem like he wasn’t even aware that sexism existed.  On the other hand, I was mad at myself for just walking away.  I wished I had said something, but I was doubly agitated because all that came to mind were sharp one liners that A) I was unlikely to say in public and B) were likely to add fire to a conflict, not improve the overall outcome.

A couple of days afterward I relayed my experience to my neighbor.  She’s the grandmother figure in this grandmother power blog post.  She’s older than me.  She keeps herself simply, wears her hair very short, and her children are grown.  Often, when I cross paths with her in the neighborhood she is quiet and self contained.  She listens and doesn’t talk much.  But every once in awhile she will tell me something important like, “I wish when my children were young I spent less time being angry with my husband.  I had no idea he would be such an incredible father of teenagers.”  Or, “That post partum time is intense.  I remember.  I had post-partum psychosis.  It was bad.”  

When she says these things to me on the corner, she is usually with her dog, a Newfoundland.  He is large and black and I sometimes think it is like having a bear living next door.  Having the two of them as my neighbors makes me feel safe.  

After I told her about the wierdly sexist remarks the man at the meeting made she asked me, “Well what did you do?”  I told her how I didn’t know what to do and walked away.  At that moment, she looked at me directly.  Right into my eyes.  And I tell you, when someone does that, you realize that people don’t do that very often, maybe not ever, because that look goes right through your eyes into the core of you, and not everyone is bold enough to make that contact.  

But grandmothers are.  

And she said to me, “Cristina that is YOUR job, YOUR job to tell that guy he is wrong.  YOU have to protect women.”  

In that very instant, her words shot right into me, a pure injection of Grandmother Power.  And I realized that it is within my power to speak up.  That, when the moment calls for it, I think I could respond.  But somehow, until my neighbor looked right in my eyes, shining light way down into my interior, the parts of me that I would need to call on in order to respond in the moment, were buried, covered up by years of being “nice”, of craving other people’s approval, and of genuine naivete about how people impact each other.

To me, shining light into dark corners, using power to empower others, this is Grandmother Power.  Paola Gianturco, in her book Grandmother Power, says grandmothers, “love their grandchildren in many ways.  Their wisdom is expressed through vision, energy, creativity and passion.  Determined to improve the present and the future, their lives have purpose and meaning.”  Grandmothers, because they are physically connected, not only to the generation adjacent to them, but to a generation that is one leap away, feel the present and the future in a way that the rest of us don’t.  Every time a grandmother hugs her grandchild, she touches a distant future, knowing that the impact of that one hug will in all likelihood outlive her.  

In this way, the lived experience of Grandmothers puts them face to face with awareness of their own impact beyond their physical presence.  Their love is a kind of time travel that forges steadily ahead at the pace of baby steps, then teenage steps, then adult steps, then grandmother steps, over the span of multiple generations.  Their power to change the future, in many cases, will be through they way the influence others who live beyond them.   Awareness of the vastness of the scope of their own influence and and understanding of how that influence will be carried forward are important differences between grandmothers and the rest of us.  

And this is why I decided to go in search of Grandmother Power, to help me come up with a plan for practicing how I could respond to an offensive comment in the future.  My hope has been to lean into wisdom that would see beyond a piquant one liner and that was aligned with creating a better future for all of us, not just evening out a tit for tat in the moment.  I called upon and researched the work of wise women, not all of them grandmothers,  but all of whom use their own power to empower others.

One of the most important things I’ve learned so far (and you’ll be hearing more from me on this--I’m not sure why, but this topic seems to be calling to me) is that handling these kinds of comments is very, very hard.  According to reporting done by Heidi Halvorston, we are very likely to think that we are able to respond to those offensive humdingers that get dropped on occasion at meetings and parties, but usually we don’t.  In her summary of one study Halvorston explains, “68% of women said that they would refuse to answer sexually harassing questions in a job interview, and 28% said they would openly confront the interviewer.  But when the interview actually happened, all of the women answered the offensive questions, and not one confronted the interviewer.”  

Even Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of The Global Fund for Women validates that these situations are challenging, even for her.  When I asked her what she does when confronted with a sexually harassing remark, she responded, Although I often speak out, there are times when I miss an opportunity and regret it afterwards. In my opinion there is no hard rule. One has to constantly make choices when to pass some things and when to intervene. If you err once I promise you there will be other opportunities because the end to bad behavior on women is far from an achievement.”  

So, just as a starting point, there is a need to acknowledge how difficult and complicated it will be to actually speak up.  That it will require both awareness (one of my personal challenges is that I tend to get stunned in the moment when these things happen), as well as courage.  And as Kanyoro relates, there will also be the need to practice good judgement, to develop an inner compass for understanding when to choose to intervene and when to observe.  

For advice on developing wise judgement, I turned to Karen Maezen Miller, Zen priest, blogger and author.  She started out by unpacking the context in which these comments tend to be made, “We have to understand the world in which we live.  We live in an ignorant world, a world that is ignorant of the truth of our interconnectedness and interdependence. This world sees everything and everyone as separate from the other: me against you, us versus them. Ignorance gives rise to greed and anger. It creates enemies and perpetuates war. It produces arrogance and self-righteousness. Our society is ignorant, our organizations are ignorant, and most people are ignorant: totally blind to the truth. Ignorance sees ignorance as truth, but truth sees ignorance as pain.

Ignorant people make ignorant remarks, while being totally ignorant of their ignorance. Their point of view may be so inculcated, reinforced and institutionalized that they, literally, have no idea what they are saying. When pressed, they might profess to having no malice or intent to harm.

To me, setting the context this way is a balm of grandmother love.  Being willing to see others in very broadly, in the context of the conditions in which they have lived and learned, points in the way toward an effective, productive response.  

Miller went on to explain:

“Likewise, we have to see what underlies our own anger and righteousness; we have to recognize the genuine feeling that occurs before the impulse to fight back. Isn't it pain? Aren't we hurt by insensitive remarks? Why can't we respond honestly and immediately from the place of hurt rather than fashion it into something more clever, witty, or biting? Why can't we be real? Human? Unelaborated? Undefended?

‘Ouch!’ This is the response that opens eyes, minds and hearts, delivering the most truth, and enabling kindness to awaken. Children know instinctually when to say it, and grandmothers know how to respond.”

Human, I am that.  Unelaborated, sometimes that’s all I’ve got.  Undefended, now that is hard.  That one will take practice.  But I do believe, this is the most practical advice I’ve received so far.  

That the best way to respond, in the moment to an offensive comment, is simply by relating my honest experience as I am living it.  

The good news is, for those of us out there who aren’t able to come up with those witty one liners, those in the moment jabs are not nearly as powerful as honesty.  Grandmother Power tells us that the truth, delivered with the hope that each of us can outgrow our patterns and assumptions, is the light that that will enable us, even in a very tricky moment, to use our power to empower others.  The goal is not to demean someone who offended us, but to make way for their natural kindness to come alive.

If you like this post, read others like it, and if you feel moved, "like" me at the Grandmother Power Blog Circle

Celebrate :: Courage

Hello May!  

If you've been following along, you may know that I'm taking a class by Ali Edwards called One Little Word.  The idea is to pick a word for the year and experience how that word influences your days--in the myriad big and small ways that one focused idea can. This year my word is Celebrate.  And as part of the class, I've chosen an accompanying word for each month of the year.

This month my combination is Celebrate :: Courage.  

What that means to me is that I'll be observing moments of courage and I'll be trying to practice courage for myself.  To kick it off, I'm going to post in a blogging collaboration with Paola Gianturco and Tara Mohr in their Grandmother Power blog campaign.  

I would love to hear from you about courageous moments you've observed, how you struggle to be courageous, or any questions you might have about courage.  We all have questions, we all wonder about how to get from here to there in ways that bring out the best in ourselves and others.  And I'd love to see if I can hunt down good advice and research that would help all of us!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday May 10, 2013


--Jack Prelutsky, Bleezer's Ice Cream