What Is Your Definition of Good?

Today it’s the question of what to do with refugees.

In the past it’s been guns, race, homosexuality, religion, welfare… the list it seems is endless – the list of topics and questions that divide us sharply as a society, the ones that surprise me because the answers always feel obvious to me.

Let’s stick with the refugees for a moment.

The question on everyone’s minds and tongues and status updates: how do we respond to the millions of people fleeing Syria in search of refuge?

There are concerns about resources: is there enough to go around?

There are concerns about safety: how do we know “bad guys” aren’t sneaking in who will someday harm us?

I understand having these concerns. I understand a primal instinct to hoard and protect; it’s the same instinct that makes toddlers bad sharers.

But whenever these instincts rise up in myself, I inevitably am struck by a desire to be a better version of myself for my kids. Who do I want my kids to be? How do I want my kids to remember me?

be brave

I want them to be brave. I want them to be compassionate. I want them to be leaders and role models and beacons of goodness. The only way I know to teach them that is to show them that I at least try to be that person in real life, especially when the choice is hard.

I assume this is what every parent strives for.

I said as much on Twitter recently, and two friends almost simultaneously pointed out the fatal flaw in my reasoning: different definitions and metrics of goodness.

And I mean, DUH. Right? Obviously that’s where the differences occur; not everyone defines good the same. Obviously.

But holy crap do I have a hard time removing my own perspective blinders on this one. I mean, did everyone not grow up watching the same Disney movies and reading the same Little Golden books as I did? The lessons were pretty universal.

Don’t be an asshole.

Take care of people (or animals) in their time of need – especially if they are weaker or smaller than you.


Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Take care of people’s most basic needs no matter the personal cost or inconvenience.

That’s basically the message behind every viral news story, isn’t it?

Apparently it isn’t. It must not be. There must be very different definitions of goodness out there that I cannot comprehend.

And I’d like to understand. I really and truly would. Because I believe that every single one of us is trying to do the best we can within our own worldview, and so I’d like to more clearly see the worldviews of those who share on Facebook the stories of the heroism of Holocaust survivors but have no desire to welcome Syrian refugees.

What are these other definitions of good that I’m missing?


End of an Era

IMG_2242.JPG“You have to mourn the person you used to be.”

She was talking about the women we were before becoming mothers, but when Janelle Hanchett of Renegade Mothering said that sentence out loud at the MomCon last weekend, they resonated with me for reasons that had nothing to do with parenting.

I’ve been swimming in murky waters for a long time now, struggling to make sense of my surroundings in the swampy in between, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t pull myself onto a new bank. Even patience and time failed to clear the mist.

This was not to be a passive passing. Of course not.

A huge, meaningful, defining chapter of my life has drawn to a close, and that calls for an intentional acknowledgment.

I’m not even sure what to call the chapter. Blogger? Writer? No, those are things I did before and will continue to do long after this page has turned.

It’s the chapter in which I went to conferences and attended press trips for work. A lot. The line from travel to check wasn’t always clear, but it was strong enough to justify trips all over the country – and even out of it a few times.

It’s the chapter in which my front door was a constant depository for free stuff, sometimes from friends but more often from ginormous companies hoping to coax a little influence their way.

It’s the chapter in which I appeared on lists and on stages and was recognized regularly by strangers at certain events.

It’s the chapter in which I joked about being famous on the Internet and paid many of my bills because it was at least a little bit true.

My kids tell people I’m a blogger when they’re asked what I do. My husband says he doesn’t know but I get free stuff. Neither of those things are really true anymore.

I finally corrected Jared the other night when he said it while we were watching Master of None. Dev was trying to explain his girlfriend’s PR job in music and finally admitted, “I don’t really know what she does, but she gets free tickets to concerts.”

“That’s what I tell people about you!” Jared laughed.

And I remembered Janelle’s words about mourning. This was a moment to do exactly that, or at least to start. This was a chance to say out loud what I’d been feeling for over a year.

“That’s not true anymore,” I told him. “It hasn’t been for a while.”

“True,” he shrugged, taking no notice of the significance of the moment.

But the relief I felt was instant. The fog dispersed and in it’s place the present shone clear. Finally I felt a comfortable distance settle between where I had been and where I am.

I’ve been so resistant to let go, because man were those good times. I found my soul in those times, and my voice and my backbone and what I was absolutely certain was My Purpose.

I found a tribe for the very first time. I finally knew what it felt like to be accepted and even loved for who I was, to walk into a room and not be the weird one. That love made it easier to go back to places where I’ll always be the freak. Would admitting that tribe was no longer bring a return of the loneliness I’d endured before?

I got to be part of something special, to be in on a secret the world would eventually discover but that would in part always belong to those of us who knew it first. I was part of the primordial goop from which fame, fortune, innovation, and major cultural shifts emerged. Granted, my name isn’t tied to any of those things (except in the acknowledgements of a few best-selling books), but I’ll never forget what it was like to be there when it all started. Does easing my grip on those good old days make me irrelevant again?

I don’t want to give up my membership card in the cool kids club, even if I haven’t been to the clubhouse in ages. What will make me special now? Where will I belong? What will I be a part of?

Who’s going to pay for my vacations?

Seriously. My family and I went on our first ever non-subsidized, just-for-fun vacation this summer. I had to ask a friend how much I should expect to spend because I had no idea. I’m super disappointed to give up that particular ignorance.

The absence of all these hard-to-quantify benefits have left me with an easier to read balance sheet. That’s scary as fuck. I can’t say that I’m pleased with what my personal worth amounts to when it’s boiled down to dollars and cents or number of meals cooked. I’ve been questioning lately what my contributions are now, and the answers are less than inspiring. I do a much better job justifying the ambiguous.

Maybe I’ll be able to take a closer look at that now, to fully commit to creating a present tense that fits as well as the past once did. Maybe now that I’ve been able to let go of the old comforts I’ll have a better idea of how to start filling the new holes. Maybe, as they say, the best is yet to come. At least now I’m ready to find out.

Day 3: sketching

I haven’t been overwhelmed with a desire to write, and this NanoBlowMe challenge hasn’t changed that yet. Instead I have for a long while now been drawn to making pictures. Paints, pastels, pencils, watercolors. I am constantly taking mental pictures (and sometimes phone ones, too) of the world through the filter of some new medium. 

Emma is applying to CAPA, the public art school here in Pittsburgh, and she has spent months preparing her portfolio. That has often meant me sitting beside her for emotional support, sketching away in my own notebook while she works. 

I love it. I’ve been getting way more satisfaction from these visual arts than from writing.

I feel like I’m betraying some sacred oath, that I have to give back the name tag that’s read “I’m a writer” for the last few years. I fought hard for that label. 

But screw labels. Who cares what I’m called. The names change by the minute anyway. Mom. Wife. Colleague. Director. Writer. Cook. Friend. Neighbor. Voter. Couch occupier. 

When I forgot about the what it’s easier to see clearly the do. 

Today what I wanted to do was draw, so I did. And what my daughter needed me to do was sit beside her in front of a mirror and talk her through seeing her own face as a series of shapes and shadows – and so I did that, too. 

What did you do today?

Day 2: Brief Reflections on Parenting

I remember when my kids were born and I thought they were lumps of clay for me to mold. Now I realize that they are and always have been whole people and that in exchange for serving as their transport into this world I get a backstage pass for their growth and development. I’m witnessing more than I’m whittling. They’re revealing themselves to me more than I am turning them into anything.

Recognizing this has allowed me to appreciate the immense honor that has been bestowed upon me by life: I get an intimate glimpse at these extraordinary people, a privilege granted me by chance rather than merit.

How crazy is that? How absolutely incredible and awesome and humbling.

I admit that with this gratitude comes a sense of relief, too. Abdicating my role as craftsman let’s me off the hook a bit when it comes to how these kids “turn out”. Except of course I still worry, and I still feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for how well equipped they’ll be to face their individual paths. But creating their personhood? That’s a job that’s already been filled.




Or rather NaNoWriMo – or was it NoBloPoMo?

I don’t know. It’s write everyday in November. It’s an excuse to try again. 

And I need it. 

I’m on my way home from Fairfax, Virginia where I’ve spent the weekend chaperoning my teenager and fifty more at a crew regatta. And I’m reminded at how impressionable young people are but also how already very much people who want to be understood. 

Teenagers are cooler than I ever knew. I can say that because my teenager is no longer a jerk. (Hang in there, mamas, it does get better!)

So my plan was to start Nanoing tomorrow, but my friend Pam said even if I don’t do it well I have to at least do it right. 

Maybe tomorrow will be well. :)