Monthly Archives: January 2013

compete


compete v. strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.

Rocky and Drago

There really isn’t such a thing as a fair fight these days.  A competition that isn’t secretly stacked somehow – where the opponents are only using their raw, nature born, gifts to win. I sincerely doubt it, anyway. As humans we all engage in competition of some sort during our lifetimes, more often than you realize when you really come to think about it – sometimes when we don’t even know it. It’s hard to know what the rules are or who sets them. For example, every time I send out my resume, I am competing with someone who might be best friends with the HR manager. That simple fact makes the rules of the competition much more than what I submitted in black and white. My unknown opponent has a leg up and I will most likely be the loser and won’t even be called back. If I had known, I might have made some phone calls or connections on Linked In – but the rules are pretty few and the ultimate end is to win – to be hired – and it’s not about fairness or following the rules. It’s about who gets the job.

There has been much discussion lately about Lance Armstrong and his admission of doping during the length of his cycling career. I don’t usually go for this sort of topic, but I made the time to actually watch the Oprah interview out of curiosity. I fully expected to be disgusted with him, but to my surprise I really wasn’t. In fact, the more I pondered his situation and admission, I simply felt the best reaction was to shrug my shoulders in disappointment and pity. Sure, he’s cocky and arrogant even now after he’s been humiliated – but I don’t hate him. In my mind, he’s simply human like the rest of us. He set out to win at all costs, and succeeded.

When you think about it, the Lance Armstrong we all knew was a type of fictional super hero. Competing in a sport that sat behind so many other more popular international sports, it was inspiring to see someone with such super human ability take on a literal, harrowing road to victory. When he over came cancer and still won, he became an inspiration, a role model – almost an underdog who fell from glory and made his way back to the top through sheer will and raw athletic ability. Now Lance is just another exceptional person who won, not by natural methods or talent alone – but who stacked the odds in his favor by doping and enhancing his abilities in order to win. He’s not a role model or hero, but he’s still won.

The nature of competition is to win at all costs, doing whatever it takes. Theoretically, whether a person cheated or not doesn’t really seem to matter all that much. They still experience “the winning moment” and no one can really ever take that intoxicatingly wonderful moment away. In those moment, all of the races that Lance Armstrong won are still just as sweet. His sham organization, Oprah interview and sullied name cannot change those winning moments in the history of his life. Moments that you or I may never experience. And that’s the main point of competition – to win. Not to be a good or charitable person or even a role model. It’s just not what the word means.

This is why we love “the underdog” and “the cinderella story.” They embody the idea of winning all on one’s own merit and by following the rules. By doing this, they become something more than just the winner. That is when heroes, icons, and role models are born. The perfect example being the training montage from Rocky 4 where Rocky is in the frozen siberian tundra jogging on the edge of a mountain to train. In contrast the next scene cutting to Ivan Drago being injected with steroids and training on a treadmill in warmth and comfort.

In the end Rocky wins (and ends communism, but that’s another story). But in reality, could he really have won? I mean, Ivan Drago was 3 times his size AND was on HGH most likely. The man killed Apollo in the ring for God’s sake.

We show our growing progeny movies like Rocky when they are young to instill the value of following the rules and working against the odds. We hope when they are old enough that they will choose the high road like the examples we tried to give them- but it’s not an easy path. As much as we love them and admire them, the underdog rarely wins and, yes, of course, it’s better to strive to be a role model or hero and not just win all of the time. But just like those cyclists who weren’t doping in those Tour D’France races, we won’t know their names. They are undoubtedly better people than Lance Armstrong; probably living very full and gratified lives. But they didn’t win – and that was the whole point.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The loser may be the better person, but if feels damn good to win. We fight wars, play sports and buy lottery tickets all on a quest to get that elusive feeling. Competing to win is in our blood. As a parent, I do my best to raise a Rocky, hoping that when the time comes for him to compete, he’ll choose the mountain and not the treadmill.

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gratuity


gratuity n. a tip given to a waiter, taxi cab driver, etc.

Image

I have known a life tipping and being tipped. It started back when I was 16 and was working at my first job and spanned all the way through college. I was a waitress at a locally famous ice cream shop when I was in high school. I still marvel at the fact that I was even able to hold down a job with high school classes, track practice and homework – and no car. I used to report for work at about 5 or 5:30pm, tie on an apron and not sit down until close – which was around 11 pm. I scooped ice cream and made sundaes, egg creams, and cream cheese walnut sandwiches (for the seniors that frequented the place.) I received an actual paycheck every two weeks, but the tips were the entire reason why I thought the job was worth it. Now, I understand that I was no waitress tour d’force. I was 16 and barely getting any sleep, but I was always courteous and made really good sandwiches and sundaes. However, the managers that employed me had a system of pooling all of the tips earned for the night into one big bowl and then splitting it up amongst the soda jerks, waitresses and managers. This was pure bullshit. If I worked my ass off and earned a big tip, it should have been mine outright…and let’s face it, the guys behind the counter had it way easier – far fewer customers and they didn’t have the job of scraping down the grille at night. So, needless to say, I was dishonest…and of course I kept those really big tips.  I was morally against giving them up. I had earned it! After working there for about 6 months or so, I was let go. Not because they found me out, but because I was calling in sick too much…I think. I always wonder if they were on to me.

Now that I am a stay at home mom, I tip people all day. At the Dunkin Donuts drive through in Newark, there is a little cup with a quote from Gandhi attached with masking tape waiting for me as I reach for my coffee: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I wonder if the girls that I see in the morning get the double entendre. Unfortunately, I don’t always tip them. I have a system…they get a dollar every few days because they aren’t really serving people like a waitress would. However, I have my favorite Dunkin girl who calls me honey and sweetheart and asks me how I am doing. She always gets $1, no matter what. I suppose somehow I think this is okay even though I am applying rules to my gratuity giving…and as I mentioned above, I have big issues with that.

It seems I have developed a system over time of how much to tip and to whom. If the service was good at a restaurant, I always tip well – over the required amount. Bartenders always do well by me too. The guys at the car wash also get a nice tip as long as they don’t dog the vacuuming too much and it gets at least 80% clean (I have a dog and baby.) Tips are a random sign of gratitude and kindness. When you give a tip, you don’t usually write it down or record it so you can claim it as charity later. Of course, when traveling for work you do, but in daily life tipping is an act of gratitude…unsullied by trying to take credit for something. I like to think that when someone is asking me for a tip, it’s their silent way of asking for kindness; a token of gratitude for a small good deed done. It’s an invisible exchange of well wishing between 2 people who don’t know each other and may never meet again. If you think about it in this respect, tipping is a pretty amazing act of random unblemished kindness. There are those who would say that we should always be nice to each other and serve each other well without having to be rewarded. I wish we lived in a perfect world too, but we don’t. Gratuity is a way of inserting civility into the daily chaotic, sometimes mean, place we live.

All of this thinking about tipping brings back a favorite memory of mine involving gratuity. My husband and I used to frequent the best bar (in my opinion) that ever existed in Providence, Rhode Island. It was called the Custom House Tavern and was tucked in the basement under an old historical limestone building on Weybosset street. The sign still hangs there if you walk by, but the bar has since been boarded up and the upper floors turned to condos. It had a wonderful hammered copper bar and huge glass antique windows that looked out onto a cobblestone street. It was dirty. The furniture was old and rickety, only there to serve the purpose of seating its occupant, not to look nice. This was before smoking was outlawed in bars and I can remember many a night that I had to step outside to get a breath. As much as I didn’t like breathing in the smoke, it created an ambience that doesn’t exist in bars anymore. There was a small bathroom right next to the bar whose window glowed green when someone occupied it and you had to squeeze around people sitting to get to it. Above the bar were old antique tavern puzzles hanging. I always wanted to play with them, but never did. It was a place where you could find psychotic poets scribbling in tiny notebooks or even homeless people wondering in for a cold Newcastle. But every Saturday night it sparked to life with the “Lullaby of Birdland” being played by a small, lovely, jazz band. There was a saxophone and a bass – sometimes a trumpet or drums depending on who could make it. The leader and vocalist was named Buzz and if you sat close to the bassist you could hear him singing out the chords quietly to himself to keep time. The could play the hell out of Ellington’s Caravan.

During the intermission and at the end of the evening, Buzz would pass around one of those clear plastic barrels that usually housed Utz pretzels, but whose chief employment now was to collect tips. “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank your bartender, thank your servers and the band. And always remember to spey and neuter your pets,” Buzz would say as the barrel made it’s way around the small room and bar.

The largest tips I ever gave were on those Saturday nights – and it was money well spent. A tip seems such a very small amount to pay for such music and company…and the sweet memory of those nights.

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reverence


reverence n. a gesture indicative of respect

Reverence

At the end of a ballet class, the dancers pay respect to the pianist and teacher by performing a series of curtsies, bows and ports de bras known as reverence. It is a physical manifestation of deep respect and honor. Several weeks ago I came upon reverence when searching for a word that could capture my feelings and thoughts regarding a recent tragic event. I have been struggling back and forth about whether to write and what to write about it because I don’t have confidence that my writing here will create an appropriate reverence for those who have suffered and lost.  There are writers and artists far more eloquent and talented than I who have and will create tributes of much more profundity that I can express with my dictionary words. I’ve decided that instead of writing about how sad I feel about the whole thing, I would attempt something more reverent.

The world would be a better place if we were all ballet dancers and could perform reverence when needed. Imagine at the end of a business meeting everyone standing up and performing a 3 minute reverence as a gesture of respect for what was just discussed or planned – or just for the whiteboard on the wall, comfy chairs and overhead projector. Having attended quite a few meetings in my life, reverence would add some much needed civility.

As a reference, here is what reverence looks like:

Obviously this is not a realistic practice to propose, and unfortunately in our current world, the beauty and constraint of reverence would most likely be perverted into some sort of vulgar flash mob in Grand Central station – which would make it most irreverent.

In the here and now, the word reverence seems quite archaic. So few things in life are truly respected and honored these days. As a society we seem to want to flock to the center of attention and when the spotlight has moved we flee to another center elsewhere. In the perpetual chase to the “next big event” we become more and more numb, never taking the time to pay respect or to really absorb the gravitas of the thing that has just occurred; always searching for the next thing that will restore feeling or emotion. Perhaps it is because we don’t really understand “reverence” any longer or we feel the appropriate reaction would be to mimic what Hollywood tells us is sorrow or grief so that others will be sure to know we are suffering – like actors on a stage. In the case of Newtown, I feel this type of behavior is truly saddening and disrespectful.

The other day I was watching MSNBC and a talking head named Ashley Banfield was speaking about the tragedy. With a flip of her perfectly coiffed, shoulder length hair, mascara coated lashes clearly fluttering with feigned emotion, she said that “Newtown would probably never recover.” Her comment saddened and angered me and I wondered to myself if she ever listens to the words that come out of her mouth while she is on television. If she had any idea that her words were feeding a media fire, painting a picture of a town that deserves so much more respect. Or if she merely needs to boost the ratings for her paycheck.If Ms. Banfield had ever visited Newtown she surely would never have questioned whether it would “recover.”

26 people, some children, died in Newtown, Ct – undoubtedly one of the most horrific event that has occurred in in this country. But if we choose to dramatize the events and squeeze out all of the emotion and cinema, we are truly doing a dis service to those who were lost. The people that died in Newtown also lived in Newtown. There are far more happy memories shared at Sandy Hook Elementary than the one horrific event that occurred. For the parents that lost their children that day, it is in those memories that their children live. It is a place where teachers loved their students so much they ran in front of bullets to try and shield them as if they were their own children. Where neighbors took in children that fled the scene and people gathered to support each other in the aftermath.

It is a place where babies will be born, children will ride bikes in the streets, lovers will be married and families will celebrate memories. Newtown is a rare example of family and community, far too beautiful and strong to be destroyed by this terrible event. It is the type of town that Newtown is that makes what happened all the more tragic. A community strong enough to endure and pay reverence to the memories of the heroes and children that died that day.

A Psalm of Life

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, – act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solenm main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

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