Monday, March 17, 2014

On Wings of Worry

I find myself thinking almost constantly about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. How is it that, in this age when every email can be read, we cannot find a plane with some 250 people aboard?
How is it that there are parts of the world with almost no people, not to mention no radar?
I think of the Chinese artists who were aboard, particularly those six who in the last hours got their flight switched so they could travel to Shanghai rather than Beijing. Why did they get to survive? Do they have survivor's guilt?
And what has happened to their colleagues? 
What of the woman, interviewed by the Wall St. Journal, who called her partner to-be in Malaysia and reminded him that his flight was that night and he should rush to catch it. He was flying to Beijing to help her move to Kuala Lumpur to be with him. Her grief and worry and self-questioning is unimaginable. And the belated honeymooners, just getting over the wife's miscarriage and so looking forward to a break?
Was there a struggle aboard, akin to the 2001 United Airlines flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania?
Or was everyone sleeping as the plane kept flying, flying. Did someone notice that the sunrise wasn't in the right direction? Or that the plane was taking longer than it should have?
Such questions have tormented those who speculate on the fate of  Amelia Earhart. But she was a solo flyer, responsible for just herself
If a pilot, in this case, was responsible, how could he take so many others with him? What was he thinking?
Most of us have the luxury of time to plan for our departures from this planet and our loved ones -- the time to write wills, label our possessions for this child or grandchild, write the "provenance" so they can be smart when they go on Antiques Roadshow, write our stories, say goodbye,
My mother even Xeroxed all her jewelry, circling each item and noting who should get what. There were no fights. And we appreciated her prescience.
But do most of us do so? Or are we perpetually convinced that the time is not now.
I pray that some crazed email will emerge, announcing a ransom for survivors on a remote island.  
So that I don't have to worry about those close to me. Or about myself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

'Pleasers' vs 'Doormats': Getting to 'No.'

Recently, I said “no.”
That might sound like a simple thing. Something any two-year-old can do. Indeed, loves to do.
But when asked to take on a project I had done before – and enjoyed doing – I said “no.”
I had rehearsed it. I tried to ease the aggravation, if not pain, I thought I was delivering by offering to find someone else to do the job. And I apologized. Several times.
I am determined to set priorities -- something that is hard to do at this seemingly open-opportunity stage of life.
Even if it lets others down.
This morning I got some insight into why saying 'no' was so difficult  – and some coaching for the future.
A story in the Wall St. Journal looks at research around the issue of saying no. It turns out I’m either a “pleaser” or a “doormat.” Or maybe both.
Pleasers “hate to let others down.” While doormats “are conflict averse.” Two reasons why people end up saying “yes” to things they really don’t want to do.
It’s a social animal thing. “One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong,” says Vanessa Bohns, who teaches management sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Bohns, in a study, showed that people will agree to deface books –a request requiring them to cross an ethical boundary – rather than violate their social ties. 
Why say no? To protect your priorities; to protect your ethical standards and not cave to peer pressure; and simply because you just don’t want to do it.
One woman asks herself, “Will this bring me joy?...I am aware that I have only so much energy and time, so I treat them like money and invest them wisely.”
How to say no? First, realize that the recipient of the “no” won’t take it as badly as you imagine.
If the request comes as a surprise, have in your arsenal a phrase like, “Let me think it over. I’ll get back to you.” Then contemplate the request when the sense of guilt has stopped washing over you.
If the request is something you’re expecting, rehearse it. Over and over. Then when the request comes, say no politely. And if you must, repeat it again. And again. (Ever hear this? “Some people just won’t take no for an answer.”)
And don’t give them an opening for hope, as I did when I said no.
As in, “Ask me again next year. I might be able to do it.”

Monday, March 3, 2014

Writer Roger Angell: Telling it Like it Is

Roger Angell last month. --Brigitte Lacombe
At age 93, Roger Angell offers a portrait of himself in a recent New Yorker that rivals the poignancy of a Rembrandt but in words.
It is not a destination that many of us, just leaving careers or contemplating doing so, want to think about. With all this longevity we’ve come to expect, the world of Angell would seem decades away. Not anything we want to contemplate as we spin at the gym, travel the world or plunge into new challenges.
Yet Angell remains an extraordinary writer and he charms us into his world, even as we struggle not to know what it will be like.
He’s had heart surgeries, suffers knee and back problems and uses a cane; he forgets names, misses pets and people he has loved; and there’s more he’s lost.  Yet he remains resolutely optimistic and grateful. And he plows ahead with an unremitting sense of humor, even a dark humor. Maybe that’s what we really need to work on more than weight lifting and Lumosity.
“I’m ninety-three, and I’m feeling great. Well, pretty great, unless I’ve forgotten to take a couple Tylenols in the past four or five hours, in which case I’ve begun to feel some jagged little pains…”
“I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse. I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds.”
“I am a world-class complainer but find palpable joy arriving with my evening Dewar’s.”
On the other hand, as he plies us with quips and smiles, he spoon feeds us the unwanted tastes of our future. For one: How to keep on going on when our loved ones depart this world?
“A few notes about age is my aim here, but a little more about loss is inevitable,” Angell writes.
“We geezers carry about a bulging directory of dead husbands or wives, children parents, lovers, brothers and sisters, dentists and shrinks, office sidekicks, summer neighbors, classmates, and bosses, all once entirely familiar to us and seen as part of the safe landscape of the day. It’s no wonder we’re a bit bent. The surprise, for me, is that the accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us, and that even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way quite quickly to something more distant but still stubbornly gleaming. The dead have departed, but gestures and glances and tones of voice of theirs, even scraps of clothing… reappear unexpectedly…”
And then there’s the part about a yearning for intimacy.
You owe it to yourself to read his entire essay.
Then pray that you have a few ounces of Angell’s wit and wisdom – and sense of humor – if you get to where he is.
Meanwhile, (if you’re a guy, anyway), Angell reminds us of Walter Cronkite’s “rules for old men which he did not deliver over the air:
 Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.”