Being An Us, Inc.

Blumenkorso auf der Saale! Sonntag, den 7.Juli fand unter reger Beteiligung ein Blumenkorso in Halle an der Saale statt. Das Paddler-Brautpaar im blumengeschmückten Paddelboot während des Festzuges.

This month, my company celebrates it’s 10th anniversary. Being an entrepreneur has its pitfalls, and I don’t love every single thing about it, but this is easily the coolest gig I’ve ever had. And against the odds, we’ve been successful as a company. Impressed? Well thank you, but I haven’t yet told you the most amazing part of it all.

I work with my husband. I don’t just mean that both of our names are on the incorporation documents, or that we both have signing privileges at the bank. We make decisions together. We hold meetings together. We share an office, and our desks are a whopping 10 feet apart. We go on business trips together and attend conferences together. And then at the end of the day, we go home and live together too. Even more impressive than our 10th anniversary at work is the fact that after all this time, we still like each other, that we’re still happy together. We get asked a lot about how we manage to stay on task and off of each other’s nerves. I don’t profess to be an expert, but for whatever it’s worth, here’s how it’s worked in our case:

  • We were an us a long time before we were an Inc. There wasn’t any new dirty laundry that got aired when we decided to go into business together. If only all business partners could start out with that kind of full disclosure.
  • We’ve also always had very different strengths, talents, and skills, and for the most part, we make a conscious effort not to intrude in each other’s space. That doesn’t mean we don’t share opinions or provide guidance. It just means that I recognize that I sometimes suck at the things he’s good at, and vice versa.
  • We don’t argue at the office. Ugh. Can you imagine the supreme, squirm-inducing awkwardness? The airing of the grievances takes place where it ought to, in the car, on the way home, preferably with the windows rolled up and death metal blasting.
  • We don’t ever talk business after hours. Okay, I can’t say this one with a straight face. Of course, we talk business after hours. Of course, we try not to, and of course, every so often, we swear we’ll stop doing it altogether. Then we cut ourselves some slack and remember that if we were both working at other jobs, we’d tell each other about our days when we got home.
  • We don’t feel guilty when we’re successful and we reward ourselves. Being Mom and Pop, we don’t take a whole lot of vacation time, and there really isn’t any such thing as a day off. We’re elbow deep in this beautiful mess we’ve co-created, both professionally and personally. We’re allowed to reap the benefits once in a while.
  • We accept that the business is an extension of our family. I’ve gone to networking events with a small person clinging to my leg. He’s changed diapers in the midst of conference calls. We’ve had two different dogs sleep under our desks. One day, we’ll likely have a sullen teenager waiting in the car as we run in to meet with new clients. In truth, part of the reason we started this whole gig was so that we could have that option.
  • When things get turbulent, as they are wont to do in businesses, you can choose to turn on one another, or you can choose to hold onto one another for dear life. We choose the latter, even when we’re exhausted, cranky, and wondering why we don’t make our living putting dollops of whipped cream on hot beverages at Starbucks. We joke about how our bosses are demanding creeps, and that the hours suck. In the end, we know that no one else will have our backs like we do. That’s about as stable as anything gets for a couple of starry-eyed entrepreneurs, right?

On Toys and the Disappearing Human Boy

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I really hate pink toys, I mean really hate them.  I’d rather scrub the floor of a movie theatre than take a trip down a store aisle that’s painted a cheerful Pepto Bismol hue.  I avoid a lot of children’s television programs because they’re shoehorned in between commercials featuring whiny, prissy little girls pushing all manner of frilly plastic nonsense.  Seeing the words “lil” or “precious” on packaging makes my lunch crawl part way up the back of my throat.

I really hate toys on the other end of the gender spectrum too, the ones painted shiny black, festooned with tiny weapons and dinosaur teeth. In another aisle of the toy store, tiny consumers are presented with things that fight and snarl and blow things up. Equally troubling. A little boy doesn’t need a pair of fake nunchucks any more than a little girl needs fake lipstick or plastic high heels, right?

Despite my perpetual hate-on for the the sloppy pink crap, lately I’ve noticed that there’s one aspect of “girl” toys that is still preferable to boys’ stuff. The pink crap, whatever else it may do, at least encourages our female proteges to play with things that look like humans. Think about it- there are baby dolls, paper dolls, fashion dolls and armies of miscellaneous little plastic humans coated in all manner of glitter. Even when they’re dressed up to look like fairies or mermaids, girl toys still look, for the most part, anthropomorphic.

On the boys’ side of the toy store, however, there are vehicles and weapons. There are monsters and robots and, on occasion, talking animals. When we buy them building sets, little dudes are tasked with creating more vehicles, monsters, and robots. Action figures look a little more like humans, but they’re humans who’ve been inflated with bicycle pumps and stuffed into metallic costumes. When sets of licensed character toys are released, it’s often the case that any female characters are conspicuously absent, so that little boys won’t feel awkward playing with them (no names mentioned here, but you know who you are, and you deserve the tongue-lashing you’re getting in the media).

Yes, I’m aware that little boys and little girls are different (I’ve changed diapers). I’m willing to accept that they may have different inclinations at play time, whether it’s due to nature or nurture. Maybe little girls are a little more likely to be verbal and interested in human relationships. Perhaps little boys lean a bit more towards the spatial and the physical. Regardless, what are we telling little boys about themselves when we remove or limit the humans in their playtime, when the only toys that talk are inanimate objects or animals?  If it’s no longer (thank goodness) socially acceptable to tell girls they can’t do math or sports, why do we still assume that little boys should have a free pass when it comes to relating to others of their species? Is it really such as coup to think that a little boy can manage playing with a toy that looks female?

It’s easy to get caught up in the cool flashiness of the toy industry, but we have to remember that we give kids things to play with so they can practice being human, whether it’s through the mundane details of everyday life, or in the imaginative realm of an ideal existence. The toys we have as children don’t ultimately determine our future adult selves, but they do, along with all kinds of other media, send subtle messages that worm their way into our brains, messages that are very difficult to remove later on. It’s one thing to spray paint everything pink for girls (gag), but it’s another thing to make it so that little boys can’t see themselves represented as people in the toys they play with.

Are you thinking about the fun stuff that littered your bedroom floor as a kid? Wondering what part it played in who you are now? Well, good. Teaching people to relate to one another isn’t exactly child’s play.

 

Do All of Humankind a Favour and Read!

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Many moons ago, I took a class on existential philosophy. Like most philosophers, our professor was a great watcher (notice I didn’t say admirer) of human behaviour. It’s kind of what we do. Being an existentialist, he was also a great lover of fiction. Philosophers of this persuasion tend to at least dabble in it, for better or for worse. It was the opinion of this instructor that it was pretty darn hard to be a sociopath and a fiction lover at the same time. To read stories, he explained, was to get a glimpse into other minds and other lives, to gain some understanding of what it was like to be another being. That’s not to say that sociopaths are illiterate, or that a trip to the library is a guaranteed cure for this kind of disconnect. However, if a person had any inclination at all towards being empathetic, a good book would at least give him or her the opportunity to try.

The idea stuck with me and I find myself talking about it often. I admit, being a writer and a literary geek, I’m a little biased. Yes, I want people to read as much as possible, both because I think it’s cool and because I’d like people to support my industry. However, personal interests aside, I still think there’s merit to the notion that reading and cultivating a love of stories makes us better people in some way.

Before you call me a snob or an elitist, I need to tell you that I get that reading is a luxury of time that others can’t always afford. A lot of my adventures into novels happen in five to ten minute bursts, often scrounged together before I fall asleep. I drop books on my face all the time as I doze off. I also get that reading is difficult and frustrating for some. To this, I say that reading anything counts, whether it be a comic book, a graphic novel, a tabloid at the supermarket, or quick few pages in a magazine. Fiction happens in a lot of different forms, especially now that we’re nostril-deep in the digital age. If you hate Shakespeare, don’t read Shakespeare (but please don’t dis him with me in earshot or you’ll break my heart a little).

The wise words of my prof come to mind a lot these days, as there’s constant chatter about this public figure or that celebrity being disconnected from the rest of humanity. We hear things like “How could they possibly think that was okay?” Maybe we’re feeling generally adrift from one another, and a little scared at what that might encourage. Perhaps we’re no longer afraid to call it as we see it, to tell someone they’re a little bit of a psycho when they act like one. I’m not going to name names here, but there are times (a lot of times) when I want to leave a bag of paperbacks on someone’s doorstep and test the theory.  I need to know if big meanies didn’t get enough bedtime stories as children. I want to see if getting into the right novel can actually be life-changing. I’d like to hear if other people finish a book and then suddenly see the characters mirrored in people they see on the street. What gaping personal and cultural caverns can we bridge by reading each other’s stories?

If we could demonstrate that all of these things actually happen, that there is some sort of documented cause and effect relationship between reading fiction and reading fellow human beings, what would we do with this information? Would we stop seeing stories as a luxury and start seeing them as a necessity? Would we see storytelling in all its form as a career, instead of a hobby? Would we take advantage of the new media and new technology available to us to start telling stories in new and amazing ways, so that we could reach as many readers as possible? Could metaphor be officially recognized as medicine, the way it was thousands of years ago?

Food for thought.

 

I Made A Cartoon!

Once a week, I sit down and empty out my head, and somewhere out in the universe, a handful of nice people indulge my ranting and read my stuff. Some of you even send me nice comments.

Today, I am a producer who has just release her first movie. Along with some very smart, very creative people, I’ve spent the past year and half building an idea into something concrete, and now it’s out there. So I’m going to brag a little and do a shameless plug. I hope you’ll indulge me again.

Here is “Sophia Gets Wise”, an interactive animated series for children! It’s based on ThinkAboutIt: Philosophy for Kids, a series of books and apps that I wrote about five years ago. I’m on a mission to make room for big questions in the everyday lives of kids, and on top of all that, I want the experience to be fun and entertaining. If all goes well, and the populace of social media gives it a little love, there will be many more like it.

 

The Fear of Being Froggy

megaphone

Last week, I lost my voice. The cold that was in my sinuses took a sudden trip south, and I went from Tom Waits, to Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”, to Marcel Marceau. My family listened to me honk and squeak my way through rudimentary sentences with a mixture of amusement and discomfort. I couldn’t sing in the car and I couldn’t answer the phone. I became a human whisper.

When I could manage a little more sound, I went back out into the world, and immediately had three different people smile knowingly and ask what I was afraid to say, or what I’d been prevented from saying. Never one to ignore a serendipitous mind-body connection, I started thinking about the whole idea of losing one’s voice, literally and metaphorically. If you haven’t already gathered from my choice of career, I have a hard time with silence, especially my own. Being mute sucked, but it wasn’t just about the failure of my pipes, but rather a larger fear of going unheard.

Someone in the medical profession once told me that they saw an inordinate number of people with throat-related ailments who are employed in writing or communications. They also told me that these malfunctions seem to happen during times of professional stress, like when a manuscript gets rejected, or writer’s block strikes. In eighth grade, when I landed a major part in our school musical, I spent opening night squeezing my lines through a gravel-lined throat. In truth, I’ve always been a bit on the squeaky side, even when in good health. I’ve also always been a writer.

Writing through social media probably adds sandpaper to an already-sensitive condition. It’s the most horrible, fickle source of validation, but I admit I’m tickled when something I’ve posted gets retweeted, liked or shared. Those little alerts on my phone are like candy to me. Even an irrational, screwball comment means someone out there is listening, right (look at me, trying to pretend that I don’t get irritated by these)? I also confess to feeling a little horse just thinking about the millions of other little voices in the great mix, and of the very slim chance that anything I send out into the interweb will fall upon the right pair of willing ears.

The source of my swollen larynx and subsequent hush was most likely microbial (pesky rational explanation). It does, however, seem strange that it happened when I’m right on the verge of hitting “publish” on one of the biggest projects I’ve ever worked on (stay tuned). More than ever before, I need my voice to be heard, and it scares me that it might be perceived as a whimper, as opposed to the grand aria that I planned. Fear or not, I’m taking deep breaths and having hot tea with lemon, because the only thing worse than not being heard is not saying anything in the first place.

Wish me luck….or just volume.