IS IT GOOD TO BE NICE?

It's nice to be nice.

NICE NICE NICE!

It’s nice to be nice–at least that’s what I was raised to believe. I think it’s a good approach to life but sometimes the reflex to be nice is inappropriate.  I am in agony every time I return an item to a store. Last week I put off returning a $100 item I ordered online because it involved calling Customer Service for a return label and I hated to let those people down.

There are other situations where it doesn’t make sense to be “nice,” if that’s the right word. Years ago I took my company car to be repaired and the owner of the shop wondered aloud “which boss I slept with to get the job.” I should have taken my business elsewhere but instead I was so shocked that I couldn’t think of what to say.

Here is a recent example. A few days ago I had a consult with a doctor regarding back pain. In the room was also a female medical resident, listening and learning. In the course of the interview he asked if I felt pain “during the day when sweeping, doing the laundry or gardening.” That really griped me. What century was this dude born in? But I let it pass because he was a kind man, meant well and I wanted to be nice. The urge to please, not to be thought of as a bitch, is very strong.

Luckily, I did get a second chance. As I swung my legs off the exam table, the doctor observed that I am “quite limber” and asked if I “did a lot of gardening.” I took the opening to tell him that I do a lot of carrying heavy camera equipment up mountains and assured him that I had recently acquired a lighter camera and no longer haul a tripod around. I wish I could describe the look on his face. I hope the medical resident learned something about not stereotyping patients during interviews.  They may not react nicely.

 

Note:  Angel illustration courtesy of ZWANI.com via Photobucket.

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IS TIME WITH FRIENDS WASTED?

Wasting Time

Is this wasting time?

Time is precious. For a long time, I didn’t believe time passed quickly.  An hour of elementary school seemed like 24 hours of my life today. The late poet, Richard Brautigan described it best:

I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.

Now time has picked up speed. After my mother died and I became next up at bat, so to speak, I began to take life more seriously. I started thinking about not wasting whatever time I have left. There are so many things we do that don’t help anyone, don’t enrich our lives, just fritter the hours away. I vowed to make nearly every moment count.

So why, oh why am I spending precious hours every day playing Words With Friends? I could be learning Spanish, working on my novel-in-not-much-progress, reorganizing closets—practically anything but trying to beat my friends with Words. The majority of my playmates aren’t even friends in the usual sense. They’re people I have never met and never will. We exchange an occasional sentence remarking on strategy or vocabulary. There’s nothing personal or creepy about it. Oddly, though, they feel like friends because we spend so much time online together.

The real question is, am I wasting my time? What’s wrong with a game that requires a reasonably good vocabulary, a little strategic knowhow and the opportunity for an hour (or two, seldom three) of relaxation every day? As Robert Reich would ask, “What do you think?” If it’s relaxing, enjoyable and not harming anyone, is it a waste of precious time to play computer games? I’d love to hear from you.

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APRIL FOOL’S DAY

Icy scene

Spring, Connecticut Style

Will Spring Ever Come?
I am writing this on April Fool’s Day and it is not a joke. Outside our window, it is sleeting. Our deck and lawn are thick with ice. It has been 13 days since the first day of Spring.

How sick of winter  is everyone in Connecticut? So sick that last week in the midst my dreaded annual GYN exam, my handsome gynecologist and I talked about how we couldn’t stand…[no, not the yucky procedure we were sharing]….the weather. That’s how bad it is around here.

And because I can’t seem to settle on one topic for this week’s blog…..

ADHD
It is well known that our current president has an attention problem. At his first White House photo op with the outgoing president, Trump sat nodding at Obama’s gracious words while looking around the room, nodding at the photographers, appearing not to be listening to a word Obama was saying.

I find that these days I am having a difficult time paying attention, too. I blame it on cable television. Just now I tuned in to CNN and here’s what I found on the screen:

The central image is of four “talking heads.” Across the bottom of the screen runs a headlines crawler. A box in the lower right says “Live CNN Newsroom” and the time. Above that is an ad for a show tonight including its title, a photo, time and countdown clock. Viewers can watch, listen, know the time and make evening TV plans all at once.

No wonder we can’t concentrate.

The Joy of Writing
Every so often I find that two seemingly unrelated topics are instead two aspects of the same idea. Rereading what I wrote (above) yesterday, I find that unconsciously, the April Fool’s Day paragraphs are about a singular, obsessive focus and the ADHD section concerns the inability to focus. I have been taught that ideally “the end should kiss the beginning.” This week it appears that the end has kicked the beginning.

Have a good, focused week.

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FIVE CURES FOR TRUMP FATIGUE

Get me outta here!

Please, no more Trump!

 

I’m tired of Trump. Despite the urge to follow the news entirely too closely, I am taking a timeout to focus on what makes me happy. You may find some of it useful, too.

  1. Pay Attention
    This seems obvious but in our hurry-up, multi-tasking society, focusing on one thing at a time is hard to do. I came across this quote from Ruth Reichl, the food writer, that expresses the concept well: “We tend to waste our lives waiting for big moments, and there is a lot of joy to be found in small moments.”

2.  Appreciate Your Family
Never underestimate the power of genetics. My siblings make fun of me for being over-organized, so this week I was gratified to see that Kamiko, our granddaughter, is a planner like I am. Below are her notes for her upcoming 8th birthday party. I particularly like that she has a “theme” and that “reading” is included as one of the activities.

Plans for Activities

Activity Plans

Chart #2

Theme and Guest List

3.  Get Rid of Stuff You Don’t Need or Like
It’s impossible to “throw the bums out” of Congress for now but entirely possible to throw out or give away stuff you’ve been living with for no reason. It feels SO good to lighten up.

4.  Read a Novel
Too often I spend my time reading news at the expense of what I really love to read: fiction. I have this crazy idea that in the daylight hours reading should be devoted to non-fiction and it’s a sin to sit down to read fiction until it’s dark outside. There are obvious flaws here. First, ditch the “sin” aspect. Second, fiction invites readers into different worlds with different problems and other perspectives—a good way to put daily life aside for a while.  [Ed. note: This would be a good time to read my novel, Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, if you haven’t already.]

5.  Check Out Some Good Blogs
There are a few blogs I read regularly. I believe I have previously mentioned Cup of Jo by Joanna Goddard. It features links to architecture, fashion, food and other topics that interest me. I always take away something from it. Mind or Mirror, a blog by Jan Allinder Anestis is for those of us who are surprised that we’re aging and usually define old age as “one that exceeds your own by at least two decades.”  Vanity Fair has a daily Hive that is just gossipy enough and very well written.

Have a Happier Week!

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THE WINTER BLAHS

Shoveling Show–What Fun!

The Winter Blahs hit hard this time of year. Christmas is long past, Valentine’s Day only a memory, and St. Patrick’s Day not that much fun. The first day of Spring is next week but you’d never guess that by looking out the window, where deep snow stubbornly refuses to melt. There’s no cheer around here.

There are various names for the Winter Blahs, for example: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD (“a form of clinical depression that occurs during the winter”) or Winter Blues (“a feeling of…deep unhappiness associated with experiencing the cold and darkness of winter “). The internet is chock full of articles about the Winter Blahs, many of them ridiculous and/or annoying.

Consider this excerpt from (and this is a real website) The Glamorous Housewife.com:

What about painting your nails a cherry color? You should also get a pedicure even if nobody sees your feet. Taking a moment to make yourself pretty is time well spent.

Warm up a bowl of nuts, pour yourself a glass of champagne and pretend you are on first class flying to somewhere fabulous and tropical.

Now is the perfect time to learn a new craft. I am working on my needlepoint skills.

And my personal favorite: Pop some popcorn and snuggle with your kids while watching a movie. [NOTE: I used to watch movies with our boys on snow days—not snuggling—teenage boys don’t snuggle with their moms—but how many times can you watch The Big Lebowski?]

And then there are the helpful suggestions from readers of a website I will not name. The responders who lived in long, snowy winter locales had reasonable advice:

“I start planning my spring plantings, going through seed catalogs, etc., “(Ohio)

“I load my camera with black-and-white film and head for the woods or a park.” (Montana)

Fine. However, several West Coasters wrote in as if they knew what a true winter, a long’ frigid, overcast half a year is like.

“I head to the grocery store, buy about six loaves of bread, and then find a pond full of ducks and geese.” (Oregon)

“I take ballroom-dancing lessons.” (Washington state)

Well, all this snark has cheered me up. As if to support that, a beautiful red male cardinal just landed on a barren, leafless tree outside my window. It helps. I’ll conclude with a photo of CatmanDeux, who knows how to get by no matter what the weather.

CatmanDeux stretching

Kitty Stretching in the Winter Sum

 

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A MEME AND TRUMP’S RUMP

Drawing of word "meme"

Meme

I have never gotten a clear definition of “meme,” though the word gets used a lot. Everyone has a slightly different take on it when I ask, usually involving incoherence and a lot of “you knows.” If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.

Here’s the clearest definition I could find (from Wikipedia):  “A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture….Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. There is much more written about memes but most of it is incomprehensible. One could waste a lot of time surfing meme websites such as Know Your Meme, which calls itself a website dedicated to documenting Internet phenomena.

I wasn’t surprised to learn from Know Your Meme that I am completely ignorant of current memes, except one: the widely viewed photo of Donald Trump’s rump. I heard about the pic from my sister Chris, searched “Donald Trump big ass,” and there it was! You can see it here or you can take my word that it is a truly unflattering photo, taken from below in a high wind, showing our president’s weird hair flying and flapping suit coat revealing what is usually, mercifully, concealed. This photo mutated via Reddit photoshopping into Trump riding a broomstick and other inappropriate versions that in turn led to photos of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s backside, which prompted a separate meme and “Twitterstorm.” (Spoiler alert: it’s no contest.) Just like the definition said: the photo was replicated, mutated and went viral.

Not everyone will think that the Trump rump meme is funny. It almost makes me feel a little sorry for our president, a man who is so vain. It’s not easy to come to terms with aging, hair loss and weight gain no matter how much money you have. At least most of us aren’t public figures and thus not targets for embarrassing photos. But, come to think of it, there are family-generated memes that my kids post on Facebook (think dreadful 1980’s big hair, big shoulders, big sneakers). Excuse me while I un-tag myself. And have a good week.

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YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!

Don’t boss me around!

I have never liked being bossed around. Extreme bossiness is one of the irritations of the TSA lines at airports: “Take off your shoes!” “Belts and keys in the bin!” And on and on. Likewise, Facebook encourages a certain amount of bossiness in postings that my friends “share” on my page. They are good friends, which makes it all the more difficult not to comply with their commands. In the past 24 hours, I have been exhorted to:

“Share this to say, ‘Your sacrifice is not forgotten.’” (regarding dead Vietnam vets)
Of course I haven’t forgotten the people killed in Vietnam but do I have to declare it?

“Watch and share their precious moments together with your friends and family!” (video about love between a dog and a baby)
I am a sucker for babies, dogs and just about any animal doing something cute but if I shared all these adorable videos with my friends and family they’d “unfriend” me immediately.

“Type ‘Yes’ if you agree.” (about treating a janitor and a CEO with the same respect)
Who would disagree with this? And what difference would it make if I type “Yes”?

“If you love horses, type ‘Yes’ and share this video.” (Video of running horses.)
Oh, for god’s sake!

And the ever-popular:
“Pass it on if you agree.”
“LIKE if you agree!”
“TYPE ‘YES’ if you are with me.”
“Type ‘Yes’ if you agree.” (4 of these)

There was a canned post making the rounds a year or so ago about separating the posting person’s “true friends” from, well, I don’t quite know what—false friends? Despite the threat that only the “true friends” who responded as such would be retained, I stuck to my convictions and didn’t respond. And some people actually dropped me! So much for Facebook friendships.

If you are my friend and want to remain so, please don’t boss me around.

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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BIGLY

Good or Bad? Not a useful distinction.

Last week I heard the President of the United States vow to “get rid of the really bad dudes in this country.” While it’s true that Donald Trump has a small vocabulary weighted towards extreme adjectives (“big league—or bigly,” “disaster,” “dangerous,” “huge,” “tremendous”), the use of “bad dudes” hit a new low.

Yes, “bad dudes” is a ridiculous description.  But rather than focussing on how Trump said it, let’s consider the real problem:  the assertion that our country is divided between “good” and “bad” people. It isn’t useful to look at each other Trump’s way.  I did not vote for Donald Trump but I know many reasonable people who did. I don’t agree with them but I understand why they voted for him and I can empathize with their concerns.  More important is while we may have been divide regarding voting, let’s not let Trump divide us as a country.

I like to think of myself as an empathetic person, but now I’ve learned that it isn’t that simple. This week I came upon an article in The Atlantic by Paul Bloom, author of “Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.” How could anyone be against empathy? “Empathy is biased,” Bloom writes, “pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism.” And there’s more (and this I DO understand): “Our empathy for those close to us is a powerful force for war and atrocity toward others.” The tendency when something terrible happens  (Muslims with visas turned away at airports) is to be relieved that it didn’t happen to us. That’s how we become divided.

How about looking at our society a different way? In his 1961 inaugural address, John F. Kennedy requested that we “Ask not what our country can do for you. Ask what you can do for our country.”  Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, why not do something to make our country better?  And I don’t mean just by voting; I mean by action—even small actions. There are lots of useful steps we can take from calling our legislators daily, weekly or monthly to give them our opinions (People magazine online has a current list of all 535 members of Congress and their phone numbers here) or by joining a #Resist Meetup group in your area (there are 1,000+ around the country). Don’t just be disgruntled. Do something for our country.  Good, Bad, or Bigly, we are all in this together, friends.

 

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UNBELIZABLE!

I regret to inform you that on Saturday we went from here:

On the beach at San Pedro,
Ambergris Caye, Belize

To here:

Connecticut snowstorm (photo by Pam Verney)

Ambergris Caye, Belize or Hartford, Connecticut after a snowstorm? Hmmm. Well, we’re back and trying to prepare for another six weeks or so of cold weather—or at least what feels like cold after ten heavenly days in Central America. In keeping with the pleasant effects of sun, sand, rum punch and the company of Ben and Joanna Popik and brother Mark and wife Pam, I am going to continue relaxing and post only photos this week. (At least there are no selfies or photos of Mar-a-Lago.)

Speed bump, Belize-style. It’s a rope, not a snake.

Beautiful Mayan Temple–one of many on the mainland.

Ben fending off one of the Ambergris Caye’s vicious dogs.

Trivia Night at Ben and Jo’s Truck Stop.  Our team lost.

I stole the title of this blog, “Unbelizable!” from Daton Ramos, our very knowledgeable guide on the Belize mainland.

Have a warm week.

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COMFORTING WORDS

There are many ways to give comfort.

The most comforting words I’ve heard in a long time are, “I will be right there with you for all my remaining days.” That was what President Obama promised in his farewell speech. Politics aside (and how I’d like to put them aside!), the promise that someone will be beside us brings such comfort and sense of peace because it fills a basic human need: not to be alone in times of trouble.

My husband Bill is a doctor. One day I was waiting for him to finish up with his patients so we could go to lunch, wishing he would hurry, I had things to do, etc., etc.   His private study was next to one of the exam rooms and I could overhear him telling a male patient that he needed a rather serious operation, one performed by a surgeon specialist. I could hear the man crying and then Bill told him, “I’ll be there with you and see you through this.” This was true. Bill would assist in the surgery and afterwards continue to be his doctor. The man calmed down and they began to discuss the details. My first thought  was “Wow!” All I needed was to hurry up and get some lunch. The guy on the other side of the door had an uncertain future but he felt better because he wasn’t going to be alone.

As I write this, Bill and I are on our sixth Jazz Cruise (hang in—there’s a point coming soon) and like most cruises, many of the passengers are elderly. We’ve watched them for six years and there are more canes, walkers and wheelchairs every time. This is sad, but the comforting aspect is that everyone has someone with them to help—a spouse, a friend or even strangers like us.  As we bump along in these uncertain times, remember that we are all in this together, right beside each other for all our days.

 

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