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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The night Che Guevara kept me from sleeping: Sometimes a T-shirt is more than just a T-shirt

I am tired. I worked hard today and I wanted to go to bed early and get a good night's sleep, but now Che Guevara won’t let me. The last thing I want to do right now is write a blog post, but sometimes  “the muse” isn’t a beautiful young woman or man who inspires your creativity, it is a damned T-shirt sold at an overpriced and over-rated clothing chain, which targets empty-headed 20 somethings.

Here’s what the “all-knowing one”, Wikipedia has to say about it-
Urban Outfitters has been described as selling hip, kitschy, and ironic merchandise, for example, T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Jive Turkey" or "Atari". They are known for catering to "hipster" culture and fashion, which incorporates an influence from past decades.

According to their website, Urban Outfitters' "established ability to understand our customers and connect with them on an emotional level is the reason for our success."

 The site says that "the reason for this success is that our brands... are both compelling and distinct. Each brand chooses a particular customer segment, and once chosen, sets out to create sustainable points of distinction with that segment" and that "the emphasis is on creativity. Our goal is to offer a product assortment and an environment so compelling and distinctive that the customer feels an empathetic connection to the brand and is persuaded to buy."

And it goes on to have an entire section titled: “Urban Outfitters' products have been the subject of multiple controversies, particularly concerning religious and ethnic issues.” – See the page for more examples of their “clever and hip” clothing items. Excuse me if I don’t find the humor or creativity in hate.
Well, “kitschy and ironic” is no excuse for outright offensive and obnoxious. And if their goal is to offer something “compelling and distinctive”, they have failed epically this time with their new Che Guevara T-shirt.

This isn’t their first controversy, and I loathe giving them attention, as it seems that is part of their marketing “edgy-ness” and makes them feel like they are making some profound political statements or SHOVING free speech down people’s throats. Whatever. It is manipulative and ugly. It isn’t cute and the REAL irony is that people with too much expendable income are spending WAAAAAAAAY too much money on an icon of the Communist “revolution”.

I am not going to go on a political rant about Communism or how it has destroyed the lives of millions and millions of people. I think that has borne out and most of us who live in a free society understand that it is a system which denies people rights and destroys every conceivable remnant of freedom. I have very personal insights into Che Guevara, as my father is a Cuban émigré and that chapter of Cuba’s sad history is part and parcel of my life history. (For another time, when I am not about to drop from exhaustion).

Needless to say, I was heartened to see that a piece was run in the Huffington Post (so much for the liberal media) which was an actual letter, which was written by Thor Halvorssen-  Founder, Human Rights Foundation. In his letter, Mr. Halvorssen states:

We urge you to consider that the image of Guevara represents tyranny and repression for the millions of people who have suffered under communism. Fifty-three years after Guevara's rise to power, Cuba is still ruled by the Communist party, while all alternative political parties and dissenting civil society groups are outlawed. Any expression of dissent is considered a subversive act, a free press does not exist, and the government regularly imprisons those who speak out. Mr. Marlow, the Cuban government of today, a legacy of Guevara, is the most repressive regime in the Western hemisphere.” 

He goes on to say- “For the sake of the 1.47 billion people still living under the yoke of communist rule, for the sake of the thousands who perished in the Cuban revolution, and for the sake of the 11 million Cubans who still endure a totalitarian system, we hope Urban Outfitters will reconsider its marketing strategy and set a moral example for the apparel industry.”
Bravo, and THANK YOU, for saying it so eloquently and well. NOW I can go to sleep!
Even though they butchered his name, how appropriate, this is damned funny!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I have some good news and I have some bad news: Isn’t that always the case?

Today as I was making my way to the open maw known as metro, I overheard someone utter a sentence that rose above all the other background noise. He spoke into his cell phone and proclaimed, “I have some good news, and I have some bad news.”  At that point I was passing by and I would have had to very obviously stop dead in my tracks to have heard what the good and bad news was.

I tried to read my book for the three stops I have to get to Gallery Place-Chinatown stop, but my mind kept wandering back to my earlier encounter, and it made me think. Now for those who are unaware of my ongoing saga and trials and tribulations with the D.C. public transportation system- metro is a great challenge in my life.

This morning, right after I heard the immortal phrase in question, I was walking down to get to the train platform and I saw people actually jarring the doors to the train open, super hero-style, attempting to SQUEEEZE in.  Not only is this incredibly stupid and ill advised, it is infuriating because IF some imbecile breaks the doors and they can’t close, EVERYONE has to off board the train and wait for the next one. So, if a person is stupid enough to risk life and limb- literally, in order to get on a train, which is probably taking them to their crappy job downtown anyway, by all means- be my guest. Except for the fact that it is going to screw up the commute of about a thousand other people, including me.

But I digress.

Back to the original point of this post, the question of good and bad news. Mind you, I arrive at the Pentagon Metro station via the Bus of the Damned, around 7:15 a.m., and that is not my best hour of the day to be fully awake and aware, but that sentence struck me like an electrical charge and woke me from my sleepy apathy.

Isn’t it funny (not “ha ha” funny) how good and bad things are usually intermingled? If you really open your mind and think about it, almost everything or event has a good and bad component.

For example:

Getting married:  The good news- Yay for the happy couple! Marriages are a joyous event and it makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy about love and commitment and happy moments.

The bad news- The expense, the family and friend drama, the stress and pressure on everyone involved can be a serious drain and emotional thermo nuclear catastrophe.

A great new job:  The good news- CONGRATULATIONS! Thrilled you are out of that old and unsatisfying job where you weren’t appreciated, the pay was lousy, and your co-workers made you want to run screaming from the building.  That’s all behind you now!

The bad news- Wait six months.

A brand new home: The good news- You’ve finally gotten your brand new dream home! You’ve been waiting for this your whole life. It has everything you’ve always wanted and now you can enjoy the beautiful surroundings and reeeee-lax!

The bad news- Now you have to really worry about what will happen if you lose that fabulous new job and pay for it all.

And you see where I am going with this. The secret of happiness, serenity, peace of mind, whatever is balancing out the good and bad news. The sad fact is that too many people only see the good, or the bad, to their own detriment.
Balance is one of those maligned and distained concepts. My husband gives me endless grief about my endless preaching the Gospel of Balance, but in reality it is the best one can hope for in a world full of extremes. (More of the Gospel of Balance later.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The ridiculous and maddening world of the arrogant asshat: Learning to deal with difficult people

                                                                   " It's all about me!"

Lately I have the distinct feeling that there has been an arrogant asshat population explosion! They are all around us- in real life, on television, in cyberspace, and our own families. One thing is sure, if you have to deal with an arrogant asshat, your quality of life can be greatly altered. BUT the good news is, it doesn’t have to be.
“The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind.” -  Albert Camus
Arrogance goes beyond being assertive, pushy, or even cocky. Arrogance is that over the top expectation a person has which causes them to act as if the world must bend to their opinion, will, and belief about everything, without question or hesitation. Whether the arrogant asshat in your life is male or female, young or old makes no difference. Dealing with that type of individual is truly one of the most unpleasant and frustrating situations in life.
Definition of ARROGANCE
: an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions
The older I get, the less patience I have for arrogant asshats. Where do they get off thinking the world is going to bow to them? What causes a person to become so self-absorbed and full of themselves? Is it nature, nurture, or a combination of both? Is there an “asshat gene”?  Science was never my forte, but I suppose there could be arguments for both theories. All I know is that I have the ANTI-asshat gene.
“Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
I am currently struggling with some WORLD CLASS ARROGANT ASSHATS in my life. I am not about to allow my precious peace of mind and happiness be polluted by the toxic miasma they give off.
Life is too short to waste a minute of it fretting and obsessing over the attitudes and actions of others. Heaven knows I, and most everyone, have far better uses for my time and energy. My suggestion, and advice, for dealing with arrogant asshats is as follows:
1. IGNORE as best you can.
2. If ignoring fails, minimize contact, reactions, attention- because they do LOVE the attention.
3. Realize that most arrogant asshats are truly bitter, sad, miserable, lost souls. I am not saying you have to feel sorry for them, just know that is what usually fuels their arrogance.
4. NEVER let them see you sweat.
5. Living well is always the best revenge. Your happiness is the antidote to their power. If you let their arrogance and superior attitude beat you down- THEY WIN.
6. NEVER let an arrogant asshat win. EVER!
7. Pick your battles with arrogant asshats. They love to fight, don’t engage.
8. If you have to “fight”, don’t give up the moral high ground. Arrogant asshats love to drag others into their cesspool. It makes them feel righteous.
9. If you happen to be related to an arrogant asshat, do the best you can. We can’t pick our families, so it is important to develop great powers of detachment and a sense of humor.
10. LAUGH at them. Laughter can really help deflect their ridiculous pomposity and sense of entitlement. After all, it is truly absurd to be a spoiled three year old in the body of an adult.

A very good article on the topic was featured in the Washington Post in 2011, called The fine line between confidence and arrogance”.  Written by someone far smarter and more eloquent that I, I have highlighted the best advice from the piece:

If you find that you are guilty of some the behaviors above, rethink your approach and keep your ego in check:

Instead of bragging about your personal achievements, find a way to spotlight someone else’s work. Consider talking up team triumphs.
• During interviews or when interacting with a recruiter, be careful not to interrupt and listen carefully to the questions asked before responding.
• Transform your arrogance into self-confidence by showing vulnerability — be willing to share past mistakes, limitations and fears.
• Be humble.

• Have the courage to discuss opposing ideas without being judgmental.
• Seek out learning partners and trusted colleagues and ask them for honest feedback. Where do they perceive you along the confidence-arrogance continuum? If they say that you come across as haughty at times, learn which behaviors give this impression.

• Finally, understand how confidence is expressed in the culture in which you’re working (modesty is valued in many Asian cultures, so you’ll want to tone it down a bit when interacting with Japanese employers and colleagues).

Sunday, September 9, 2012

When life is unfair, unbalanced, unfazed, unfriended, and unappreciated: Trying to manage the “UNs”


“I think its liquid aggravation that circulates through his veins, not regular blood. “ – Charles Dickens

The past few months flew by and I was inundated with the “UNs”.  I have been acutely aware of how life can be especially UN-fair, and I’ve been dealing with some issues which have left me UN-balanced, and yet I have remained UN-fazed.

I have recently been UN-friended, both in “real life” and in the social media universe, due to a petty and immature situations and suspect agendas. But I have also been UN-derstood and experienced UN-wavering support by more than my share of wonderful, loving, kind, and generous people. As always, my life is filled with more good than bad, but the bad has taken a toll on my writing, or lack thereof, and my ability to focus.

One thing I noticed were some particularly telling facebook statuses, which I will share, as they truly capture what has been happening recently:

 §  There just aren't enough hours in a day, and I don't possess the energy, to write everything I would love to be writing right now. Trying to find balance, and manage my time and energy level, is my greatest challenge at the moment.

 §  I am going to jump on the bandwagon and just say that if you don't understand anything else about the horrific events that happened in that Colorado movie theater, understand this- Don't take a minute of life for granted. Love your loved ones as if each day was your last. No matter where you are, or who you are, there is no certainty in the future. I know the first thought that came into my head was my loved ones and how precious they are to me. HUG your loved ones a little harder today and be mindful of how blessed you are to still have them with you.
§  An emotional day. Thinking about Lance and then about the passing of Neil, and having a very great lunch with some awesome ladies, and missing my girls who are in Maine, and spending some great quality time with my mister. Life is really a series of emotions and events that can truly move you. I am grateful for all the blessings in my life, and for all the amazing people who touch us, near and far. ((tears)) Hug your loved ones. I am hugging you all.

 §  I have come to realize that most people create their own personal Hell. Unless you, or someone you love, have an illness or similar uncontrollable condition/accident/injury, YOU HAVE choices, options, and opportunities to have a better life. There are reasons many people are unhappy, and most of the time it has to do with their own actions and choices. Most people hold themselves back because they are too stubborn, foolish, fearful, or lazy to make things better for themselves. It may take HARD WORK, effort, and a little pain- but the most of the time, the ONLY person holding anyone back from a better life is THAT PERSON! STOP the blame game and get over it. That is all.
§  PEOPLE of the world, please keep in mind that if you can't walk the walk, and can't talk the talk, DON'T call yourself something you aren't. Earn your f*cking stripes like the rest of us normal people had to do. If you do otherwise, you are a fraud and an imposter. I am red-hot right now. My fury may cause another earthquake.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. “- William Pollard
So as you can see, I have been having some challenging and frustrating feelings whirling around and I am trying to manage the “UNs” in my life and keep a positive perspective. Some days I succeed, others- not so much.

  I am trying to keep up with my writing, but there are some impediments and blocks to my creativity right now. I am working through these issues and attempting to channel the angst and anger, but UN-fortunately, I am not winning that battle at this moment. The war is not over and I am not defeated, just a bit UN-dermined. I am determined to conquer this UN-pleasantness and rise above the fray.
“When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.” – Mark Twain
As I work through the issues, situations, and UN-pleasant things I am dealing with, I am learning more lessons, gaining more insights, and realizing more and more how fortunate I am to have a strong spirit, a supportive and loving family, a treasure trove of loyal and constant friends, and that life is not always sparkling and joyful in every aspect. I am seeking to find solutions and balance to deal with the areas which, in this moment, are UN-settling, UN-fulfilling, UN-inspiring, and UN-nerving.
I remain UN-fazed, UN-deterred, UN-broken, and UN-relenting. Hopefully the cloud will lift soon and fall will bring some new adventures and challenges. Wish me luck, say some prayers, and let’s hope this difficult time will soon be a distant UN-pleasant memory.
“Experience is the best teacher, but a fool will learn from no other.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, September 1, 2012

“I’m not wearing any underpants”: Stories my mother told me

Talk about an attention-getting title for a blog post! As I have mentioned in a few previous posts, I have been having a hard time keeping up my blog recently. Stress, pressures, lack of energy, and some other issues have turned my creativity upside down. I am doing my best to get back into the groove, and the stubborn part of me doesn’t want to completely cave into it!
This evening, as I was taking a hot shower, a very funny story came into my mind. I thought it would be terrible for a great story like this to go untold. After all, the best articles, books, novels, and poems all have one thing in common- a terrific story.

My mother is German. She was born in Germany in the late 1930s, and her early childhood memories involve war. She has hundreds of amazing stories from that time, and I hope at some point to be able to capture them. This story I am about to tell, however, tells a story of when she first moved to the United States in the late 1950s. It is a family classic.

Here is the background- Washington, D.C., in 1958, my mother has recently arrived from her hometown of Köln, Germany, and has been staying with one of her great aunts- a wealthy woman who has been living in the U.S. for a few decades. My mother had THREE such great aunts, who were all her paternal grandmother’s sisters. They are always referred to by my mother by the streets they lived on in D.C. 

There was Aunt Mintwood Place, Aunt Holly Street, and Aunt Columbia Road. Aunt Mintwood Place was the wealthiest, snobbiest, and meanest. She treated my mother very shabbily, and after my mother married my Cuban father, was never heard from again.  But I digress.

This particular story takes place in D.C. at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart on corner of 16th and Park Road. My mother and Aunt Mintwood Place were going to Mass one Sunday morning. Aunt Mintwood Place always dressed to the nines to go to Mass, and she had on a very beautiful dress, her mink coat, and her veil. In those days, Catholic women had to wear some sort of head covering when they entered a church. Unfortunately for my poor mother, that was NOT the custom in Köln, and she had not remembered to bring her head covering.
Jackie Kennedy wearing a head covering to Mass
As the story goes, once inside the church, Aunt Mintwood Place kept touching the top of her head and looking at my mother with dagger eyes. My mother couldn’t figure it out, and afterward, her aunt gave her a serious lecture about how she was now in the U.S. and that she needed to ALWAYS have her head covering for Mass in the future. So, my poor immigrant mother took her lecture like a woman and started walking out the door of the church.

There is a long, stone, stairway down to the street and my mother had walked quickly ahead of Aunt Mintwood Place when she called after her. “Oh, the wind is blowing very hard! I am afraid my dress is going to blow upward in the wind. “
 My mother looked at her with a perplexed face, but then saw that the pleated skirt she had on was indeed blowing upward. So, my mother leaned in toward her and said, “What are you so worried about?” to which Aunt Mintwood Place, who had been so very worried about my mother’s bare head in church, uttered the now infamous sentence- “I’m not wearing any underpants.”     PRICELESS.
My mother stands there looking at her, completely overwhelmed by the irony of the situation. She told us, years later,  that all she could think about was the old biddy standing in front of her, decked out in her diamonds, mink, expensive dress, head covering and NO PANTIES!  How incredibly hypocritical of her!

The obvious “moral” of this story- Get your priorities straight. Cover your ass before worrying about covering your head.

I hope you enjoyed this story as much as we have enjoyed it these 50 plus years. It reads like a joke, but it’s 100% true.   MORE stories to come.

Transitioning from a Military to a Civilian Job: Dress for Success

Transitioning from a long career, or even just a few years, in the military to a civilian job can be a culture shock for many people. One area which may present some challenges is workplace attire. There may be questions and concerns for veterans, especially those who have spent a career of 20 years in a uniform every day.

Depending on the work environment, especially in the defense industry, guidelines are available on many contracting firm websites. Standards will vary depending on the type of work environment, access to senior staff, and job description. Generally, a helpdesk or IT employee will dress far more casually than a program manager or analyst.
See more here:
Transitioning from a Military to a Civilian Job: Dress for Success