Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cougar or Crone?

Is it just me, or is the term "cougar"--an "older" woman who prefers the company of younger men--irritating?

Yes, I know many of my gender would argue that it's an empowering label, declaring a defiant, unapologetic attitude and choice. Still, I can't get past the cringe factor, and hope that it will eventually fade in popularity. Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for consenting adults of either sex exercising free will in their "private lives." If that is the case, it troubles me that a word implying predatory behavior is used, especially toward women.

Of course, men have long been called "pig" or "tiger," depending upon how welcome (or not) their advances are toward the objects of their attention. Again, I'm talking about adult sexuality, not child molestation.

Perhaps it's trivialization and sensationalism to which I object. How evolved it would be if one's sexual preferences could be calmly viewed as simply a part of the whole human experience, and not pandering to our inner giggling adolescent. The crone (a dignified archetype) typifies this acceptance. But then, such maturity does not sell popular magazines.

Evidence that we haven't evolved all that much -- the recent tabloid fodder involving Ashton Kutcher's split from Demi Moore. Not only is Moore portrayed as a spurned older woman, she was depicted as tragic, a victim, crashing down in heartbreak. She's been dumped, what do you expect? If the two parties in this scenario were the same age, would it be less gossip-worthy?

By now, our dirty-laundry-lust seems to have mercifully waned. Leave the woman alone, please, and grant her privacy to heal.

From my bookshelves, for your consideration:

Older Women, Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance, by Felicia Brings and Susan Winter.

For the academics, from UMI Dissertation Services:

The New Dyad: Older Women and Younger Men (Egalitarian, Age Differences, Sex Roles, by Sally H. Peterson

Older Women and Younger Men: The Initiation Narrative of the French Eighteenth Century, by Veronica J. Massey. This treatise demonstrates that so-called "cougar" roles are not the exclusive property of modern times.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Back again....and trying to catch my breath

I love to write and share my life with you, dear reader friends. It has been a very trying couple of weeks, and now I wish to do what I'm always admonishing my clients to do...reach out.

This desk is covered with things waiting for me, each with its own silent reproach...Valarie, what about your writing? Valarie, finish that professional development course you started, already...

Borrowing from one of Marion Woodman's titles, it's time to "come home to myself."

Or, I could also use Kurt Andersen's title, "Reset." I recently finished this slim (72 pages) commentary on how our generation got where we are now, and it might as well as been written with "Valarie" inserted into the text. Like the book on which I previously posted, Andersen's work is both encouragement and admonition. Among other messages, Andersen says that we've had our fun, and now our growing-up is long overdue.

I like what Andersen proposes, including the rethinking of the concept of "community" (see page 58). Beyond the literal interpretation of zoning and building single-family structures and public works, is the sense of warmth and personal contact we've lost since the 1960's. Okay, maybe not lost, but certainly treated as somewhat quaint and irrelevant. The occasional "block parties" are a kind of superficial nod, where a lot of folks will mill around, saying "Yeah, we should do more of this," and then go back to craziness-as-usual. With(sub)urban sprawl and our compulsive wearing of the "crazy-busy" badges of honor, we no longer see the people we say we serve with our professions and businesses. How ironic, since community- and business-building is supposed to be about relationships. When was the last time any of us said hello and smiled to a "stranger" in the produce aisle? Or acknowledged someone strolling past our house? "Reaching out" isn't just a recipe for warm-fuzziness; done on a large scale, it can help push us out of this ditch we're in, which is emotional as well as economic.

This "reset" concept runs the spectrum from the personal to the collective. When each of us (yes, including me) consciously decides to stop for a moment, we can let go of the panic and truly be creative with our lives. When I read Andersen's proposal to "retrofit" existing neighborhoods, it made sense to me. I live in a 1923 stucco house. Someday, when finances permit, I plan to restore its vintage glory. Recently, I overheard a neighbor's nephew say, "That place next to you is just a remodel or a tear-down." I fiercely wanted to go over and smack him! This is my family home of nearly fifty years, dammit. Yes, it does need some work, but it is neat and well-maintained, and I'm proud of it.

So, with our current "housing crisis," why not safeguard our local history by investing in preserving the gorgeous reflections of our architectural past? Each "old house" has its history, a soul if you will, like a museum. What a shame to lay any of that to waste just to serve some current design trends. Pride in one's older house, times x-number of thousands, is a return a sense of stability and continuity.

Also, what about cash-strapped homeowners opening up unused space to trusted tenants? Our generation briefly flirted with the communal living concept in the 1960's. Perhaps it's time to reconsider it. If baby-boomers become impoverished with future entitlement cuts, we might see a terrible spike in the homeless elderly. The silver linings in taking in boarders would be: (1) helping those in need of affordable housing, (2) holding onto one's home, and (3) building an old-fashioned sense of community.

One thing I'm going to do--today--is renew my membership in the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

So, enough of this rambling, if it made any sense to anyone. Time to hit my own "reset" button. The last few days have been irritating and scary for me, but bravely going forward in my work, and noticing my fellow humans will be the best antidote I can think of.

I promise to not be away so long.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

More Books and More Thoughts

I finished That Used to be Us last evening. Again, I think it's a book for all of us Americans, of every age bracket, to read and take to heart--and mind.

Blessings upon the public libraries! Even in this age of much bemoaned cuts in funds and services, and of many people thinking that electronics are wiping out the printed word, every time I step into a library in any part of the city, I'm heart-warmed by the site of how many patrons are there.

While reading That Used to be Us, I did my usual practice of scribbling down in a nearby notepad any concepts or references that I might want to use, or pass along to readers. If you were to peruse any of the books I've kept from my student years, you would see virtually all of them full of highlighted passages, and also copious comments of my own in the margins. This practice has carried on to this day in my professional reference books. Books shouldn't be just skimmed, or just read; they should be consumed like nourishing brain-food.

So, from my recent reading, here's what I put on my library hold queue:

Reset: How this Crisis can Restore Our Values and Renew America, by Kurt Anderson.

The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity by Richard Florida.

See a new interest trend here? That's the marvelous thing about good writing. It can spark new thoughts, or feed those already germinating in one's psyche. Along with being a conduit of ideas, it can open a floodgate, start movements, and get people encouraged and motivated. I'm optimistic about our country's future, amid all the challenges, and I want to know others' proposals of change and growth.

Oh, and for lighter interests -- I put an audiobook about classical music appreciation on hold as well, along with one about critical thinking. As much as I'm an avid listener of KUSC and KDB, I think knowing more from a "non-musician's" standpoint sure couldn't hurt. The critical thinking book is the same as one I've seen in a "Great Courses" catalog I get from time to time. Free at the library beats a $199.00 purchase, you think? I took a critical reasoning course at CSUN back in about 1986, but the academic in me feels the need for a refresher course.

Going back to That Used to be Us for a moment, the authors directed readers to a website for "food for thought" -- I've bookmarked it, and hope that it will be one of the "reality checks" I can use to be a more informed citizen and voter in 2012.

At the risk of getting too partisan here (for I embrace all my readers and their points of view), the book has also inspired me to examine my views of the party system. Some of my family are Independents, and, as I get older, I find myself more inclined to be, as the late comedian Steve Allen put it, "a die-hard middle-of-the-roader." I haven't come to any conclusions yet, but I hope that, at least, open-mindedness is something I can continue to carry with me as I age.

One more thing about authors Friedman and Mandelbaum that inspired me was their concept of "creative creators and creative servers". The main thesis of the book was the desperate need in the new American economy for people who can really innovate and/or provide uncommon service. As a baby-boomer, and a professional, I'm now mulling over just how many ways I might reinvent myself, and my work, to do my bit for the country. I think we older folks still have lots to contribute in terms of our life experiences, and I want to get as much mileage out of mine as I can.

Yes, some ideas on some local and national issues have already come to me. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

BOOK REPORT -- Should be required reading for ALL Americans

I'm about halfway through what I believe is one of the most important books in the last several years: That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Created and How We Can Come Back, by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum.

When I saw a review of this work in an issue of the New Yorker magazine late last year, I immediately put it on my library hold queue. Even though I had to wait nearly three months to finally secure a copy, I can now see why it was so long in coming to me. And it's worth the wait.

This book is both alarming and encouraging at the same time. It goes beyond dry recital of data, hand-wringing, or blame. Friedman and Mandelbaum, do, however, call for us, individually and collectively, to take responsibility for our parts in the current debacle. "Our problem," they say, "isn't China; it is us."

My last blog was about themes of complacency and entitlement. The authors of That Used to be Us echo these issues. They site complacency as one of the main reasons we Americans are not galvanized for change. Based on our comfortable history, many believe "average" and "good enough" standards are still going to sustain us in an increasingly competitive world, "flattened" by the "hyper-connectivity" of the internet.

Friedman and Mandelbaum bring up many good points about how to resuscitate our gasping economy. It really comes down to a harnessing of digital technology, reordering of our budget, wise environmental stewardship, responsible political initiatives, and a restoration of old-fashioned educational rigor.

Drawing upon the roles in my life as student, parent, and educator, I'm especially interested in the latter. Like the "It takes a village to raise a child" sentiment, the authors maintain that several sectors should have a stake in the rebuilding of American education. It's been a typical tendency to point solely to the parents, or the teachers, for the responsibility, when also involving political leaders, business owners, and local communities gives more strength to the effort.

Creativity is a major route to economic revitalization, per the authors. They break creativity (the ability to innovate) into three major components -- critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. The authors explore these in great detail, especially their influence when combined in the classroom with the traditional "3 R's." The chapters on education also discuss the role of hiring, retaining, and rewarding teachers and principals who truly inspire creativity. Part of the students' experience should be not just encouraging successful project outcomes, but also the building of confidence through failed attempts, as well. Future workers who have been able to learn that "failure" is not an end, but a step in the overall creative process, will have courage to persevere in complex problem-solving.

What could this mean for us "older folks?" Friedman and Mandelbaum spend a lot of the book discussing the importance of our nation sharpening its skills in math and science. For one thing, those of us who are waiting for a cure, or at least effective treatment, of Alzheimer's, could hope that a near-future generation of researchers in one of our American hospitals would find it. We seniors will also continue to need adequate housing, transportation, and also all manner of social and political initiatives that will not just extend the length of our lives, but enhance its quality, as well. Remember, it's not everyone's dream to sit in a lounge chair, but that many want to continue to live, love, and work--going full speed ahead, continuing to make our own contributions to society. It's up to a new generation--and ours, too--to have the resources of brilliance to solve these problems. Let's all come together in one strong, well-orchestrated chorus.

So, again, I encourage everyone to give That Used to be Us a look. Perhaps our presidential candidates, from whatever parties, also need their own copies.