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Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

For those of you who are not Mad Men fanatics, this will take a bit of ‘splainin’.  Pete Campbell is an Account Executive/Partner at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price – a fictional 1960’s ad agency.  If you’ve watched all of the seasons of Mad Men, Pete’s slimy ways have probably made you feel uncomfortable or dirty at least once – possibly twice – an episode for the past four seasons.

Here’s the thing about Pete: Pete knows what he wants and he goes after it.  He doesn’t always take a path that you or I would prefer – he sometimes turns to manipulation or blackmail – but everything he does is because he wants to be The Ad Man.  The other thing to know about Pete is that he is an account executive (basically a client schmoozer) who fancies himself as a creative.  He is NOT a creative.

That all being said, here are my thoughts on Pete:

On Trying Too Hard: Pete wants to be an Ad Man. Desperately.  He “acquires” all of the things that he thinks he needs to portray the image (wife, apartment downtown, etc), he reads all of the “right” books, he does all of the networking.  But at the end of the day, he often just comes across as trying too hard.  It’s awkward to watch and difficult to like.  It conjures up at least a half dozen memories of stupid things I’ve done or witnessed other people doing.  I think about my first presentations when I worked in advertising or remember terrible sales pitches someone delivered to me.  I shudder at the memories. And I watch Pete and think, “Am I trying too hard? Am I making myself into a person I wish I could be or am I becoming a person that I am meant to be?”

On Taking Shortcuts: Pete regularly tries to find shortcuts, but his shortcuts always come at a much-too-high cost.  Sometimes it’s his own integrity that takes a hit, and sometimes he even jeopardizes family relationships for the sake of authenticating his place in the ad world.  I’m all for taking risks, but the things he’s willing to risk sometimes seem too great considering what he is hoping to accomplish.  How often do I sacrifice a long-term item for a short-term goal?  What are my trade-offs?

On Being Authentic: Pete says a lot of crap to get what he wants and hides a lot of things he does.  There are a lot of things Pete sweeps under the rug, including affairs and a baby with another woman.  Watching his character operate, the amount of baggage he’s carrying around is almost palpable.  It’s like he’s teetering, on the verge of falling over under the baggage’s oppressive weight.  And yet, if you asked him, he’d probably ask, “Baggage?  What baggage?”

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I have a new obsession.  A new love.  I think about it all the time.

No, it’s not Bejeweled Blitz (a terribly addicting game on Facebook).  It’s this:

Whole Foods.

I love it there.

The produce is beautiful and delicious.  The meat counter – Heavens to Betsy! – is unrivaled by our local grocery chain.  The cheese stand – oh, if only cheese did not wreck havoc on my digestive system – I would’ve eaten the whole stand. The. Whole. Stand. The gelato isn’t just gelato – it’s sexy gelato.  This gelato romances me from across the bakery, glowing all hot and sultry-like.  This gelato says, “Emily, please, just take a look.  Just a little look.

And then there’s the nut butter.  Fresh ground nut butter.  Nut butter the way that God intended.  Pure, unadulturated nut butter.

Heaven help me.

And let me tell you – this is true love.  I know a few of Whole Food’s faults already.  I know it is pricey.  I know the take-and-bake pizza is terrible.  I know that Annie’s Rice Pasta and Cheddar Mac & Cheese is nothing like Kraft’s.  Nothing.  Not even in the same ballpark.  It is sacrilege that they put this Mac & Cheese in a blue box as if to suggest that they are comparable to Kraft’s neon orange bliss.  Consider yourselves warned.

But these few faults are like finding out your husband is leaves the seat up.  You still love him, you just know to check before you sit in the middle of the night.

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I read a book called Lamb over the weekend.  The author, Christopher Moore, put together a hilarious take on Christ’s life as told by Christ’s best friend, Biff.  It was gritty and colorful (both in its telling and in its language – read: lots of swearing and sexual situations).

I loved that the story was gritty because I believe that life is gritty and raw.  I believe that more often than not, life is messy.  Life is change and evolution and growth and development and loss and loosely controlled chaos.

We are all on the verge of being tagged out of this great game of life – and yet we mostly live our lives with a somewhat misguided belief that we are immortal.  That’s why we’re shocked when something bad happens.

Sure, there are some of us who are better at faking the control.  There are some who might say, “aw, Em, cute – but I have this all wrapped up!”

But I believe for the rest of us, despite our best efforts, we often find ourselves putting out more fires during the day than checking things off of our “to do” lists – and that’s ok.  My dad liked to quote a Beetle (or someone) who said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

So I loved the grittiness of Lamb.

And I loved that Jesus had a sense of humor in the story.  Yes, the book still portrayed him as innocent, but I loved that his best friend taught him sarcasm (which he used very moderately in the book).  The Bible is great at telling us a lot about Jesus – what he did, his virtues and character – but I kind of wonder about his sense of humor.  Was he playful?  Did he ever play pranks on the disciples?  I wonder if he ever short sheeted Peter’s bedroll or teepeed John’s tent.  Did Jesus spend time on the banks of the Jordan, hanging out with his friends and pondering some of the great mysteries, like: if Elijah and Moses were in a cage match – who would win?

Why does it matter if Jesus had a sense of humor?  I dunno.  I guess I just like the idea of knowing the person of Jesus – I like to imagine what it would be like if Jesus walked in the door and said hello.  Would he have a booming voice or a quiet disposition?  Would he shake my hand or give me a big hug?

I loved that Lamb painted a picture of Jesus that was so much richer than what I am able to glean from the Bible because so much of the Bible gets lost in cultural translation.  Perhaps there ARE elements of Jesus’ sense of humor embedded in the stories about Him – but humor in each culture is so subtle, it’s hard to pick up just by reading without studying the culture further.  And we all know that when you have to explain the joke, it really becomes less funny anway.  I am sure “That’s what she said” would be completely lost on ancient Jews.  And I can only imagine how future generations will interpret our jokes.

But I also felt convicted while reading Lamb.

Not because I was reading a story that was an irreverent and somewhat scandalous telling of Jesus’ life, but because as I read this story,  I was struck by Biff’s unbelief.  I don’t want to ruin the story in the case that you decide to read it, but generally speaking, I was surprised that this character Biff could literally WALK with Jesus for practically of his life and so miss the point on so many occasions.  It reminded me that I often miss the point.  It reminded me that I so frequently forget who Jesus is and get distracted by my own selfish desires.

I don’t know if the author intended for this result – I think the author wrote this book to provide a humorous explanation for what happened to Jesus between the ages of 6 and 32.  And perhaps the author knew enough Christians to know how many of us often spend all of this time learning about Jesus and God and MISSING THE POINT; there are so many of us who KNOW much, but BELIEVE little.

The disciples didn’t always understand what Jesus meant, but they believed in Him.  They were willing to stake it all on Him.  They believed He was who He said He was.

So yeah – I liked Lamb. It’s not for everyone, but it’s great satire.

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towns

When we drive up to Frank’s family’s house near the Wisconsin border, we pass through a lot of small towns.  Lately, because of Frank’s schedules, we have been traveling up north separately, which means that I spend more time watching the road than taking in the surrounding landscape.

Our ride up north is actually pretty scenic.  Many of the towns feel like vacation towns because they are so close to the Chain of Lakes.  Some of the buildings on the road feel very temporary – like the people who built them 30 or 40 years ago just weren’t sure how long they’d be around.  But with continual sprawl of Chicago, the towns stay full almost year-round and the temporary-feeling “strip malls” with bait shops and bakeries serve a mostly permanent population.

I was thinking that as I am someone who perpetually “passes through” these towns on my way to somewhere else, I often miss the charm of these buildings and streets.  I feel almost annoyed at the stop lights and stop signs along the way, forgetting that my highway north is someone else’s main street.

Today I imagined what it must be like to wake up in a quiet little town along some of the busiest lakes in the area.  I wondered what it is like to go to school in one of these towns, imagining that some of the students were itching to leave while others envisioned a future where they raised children that would one day attend the same schools and churches.  And I thought that perhaps some of the kids riding their bikes up to the local convenience store/gas station probably looked at our cars weaving through their familiar streets and thought to themselves, “I wonder where they are going in such a hurry?”

In some ways, we are all like our own towns.  Some of us are very metropolitan, with lots of people coming and going, fluid and dynamic.  Some of us are suburban with more family-oriented interests.  And some of us are like these sweet sleepy towns, enjoying where we are and our tight circle of close friends and family. And I don’t think there is a right kind of town to be – sometimes in my life I’ve been more urban and other times I’ve been more small town.  Today’s reflection reminded me to take time and enjoy where I am, even if I’m just passing through.

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I’m not a very disciplined person in a lot of respects.  I try very hard, but because it is not ingrained in my character, I often FORGET to be disciplined.

And last week was a week of discipline.

Something I’ve had drilled into me in my professional life is to nip things in the bud.  The minute something goes down a wrong path, and before it becomes a habit, you have to nip it in the bud.  Because I don’t like conflict, this was a hard one for me to learn both as a manager and as coworker.  But I have found that people respect you more for speaking up early rather than letting something carry on.  Not saying anything is often viewed as permission-granting.

I’m not perfect at this skill, but I work on it.  And because it runs counter to how I would prefer to live, it takes a certain amount of emotional energy.

The other thing I’ve had to get better at is disciplining my thoughts.  This has been on-going since I was little.  When I first started working on this, I was struggling with anxiety in school.  I would get the syllabus on the first day of school, and see that on the last day of the class there would be a… gasp… FINAL EXAM and I would start wondering how I was going to pass that test.  Seriously?  I hadn’t even been through the course yet.

As I’ve gotten older, and hormones have gotten crazier, I’ve had to work on disciplining where I let my thoughts go.  For example, my dear husband has a horrid schedule for the next 3 weeks.  I’m not going to get into the details for safety issues, but it is TERRIBLE.  Plus, he is supposed to get awarded a base closer to home, but the guy who posts the final awards WENT HOME EARLY on Friday, even though the company stated that it would post the results on Friday at 4 p.m. CST.

My natural bent is to go down the, “We will never have another holiday together.  We will never have another lazy Saturday together.  We will never …” And I definitely start down that road, but then I make myself remember that in a few years I will have mostly forgotten this time that we are going through and that it WILL get better.  Sometimes it takes a huge amount of emotional effort to turn this attitude around.

But it is always worth the effort.

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time with my brother

So, my brother Andy and I often explore some of the finer points of life when we spend time together.

Tonight, we discussed the virtues of colon cleanses.  And we wondered if that would give us the appropriate “reset” on our digestive lives.

We also discussed the disaster that is Jamba Juice.  Seriously?  Is there a Jamba Juice that is efficiently run?  I can be the only person there and I could still be in line behind 3 people.  How can that be?

I wonder if Jamba Juice has ever thought about doing a colon cleanse boost in their drinks.

Just a thought.

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weather

It’s raining and overcast and cool here in Chicagoland today.  It’s about 50 degrees, which is below average for this time of year, although, that is to be expected since we hit 80 last week, well above the average.

Isn’t that what an average is?  Some days are higher, some days are lower… but it all averages out.

Brilliant.

So what does the Chicagoland weather have to do with anything?

“The Weather as a Terrorist”

If you listen to any meteorologist or Chicago native discuss the weather, you’d think that the weather was a terrorist organization.  In the winter we have vicious cold snaps and brutal winter storms.  Truth be told, the winter of 2010 was pretty mild, but you wouldn’t know that listening to the news promos and conversation around the water cooler.  I’ve totally fallen prey to the “Weather as a Terrorist” mentality, often heaving reluctant sighs as I bundled up to go out into the cold.  And in the summer, we have blistering heat and suffocating humidity.  In the spring and fall, we have floods of epic proportions and hail the size of off-road dump trucks.  But an even worse offense than “violent” weather patterns is when the weather is just about 5-10 degrees too cool or too warm.  Oh, the hand wringing and sobbing that happens on the radio and in offices around the city – how could the weather be so cruel as to be BELOW average!

I actually had a conversation with an older woman that helped put me in a more accurate perspective.  I was lamenting about how rainy it has been and she said, “Well, we need it!” And then I remembered that the weather was not just about me and my immediate comfort, but about a whole world that needs seasons, rain, snow storms, and heat.  There are sweet little daisies that are ecstatic to get watered and happy little ducks paddling in the full ponds.

I look at God like the weather sometimes.  In the winter, I forget about the lovely warm sunny summer days and I wonder, angrily gripping my steering wheel, if it will EVER get warm again.  I think that’s how I sometimes go through the trials of this life: wondering if things will EVER get better.

And I can’t help but wonder at myself. Life is full of seasons and cycles and weather.  Sometimes I get into a particularly bad pattern of weather (like now), but unless I lived in Antarctica (and I clearly do not), it’s bound to hit 70 again in the next 365 days.  It is this attitude that I have (and many others have) that explains why God gave us the desire to write down stories.  And not just Pollyanna/sunshine stories, but the stories about times where life SUCKED.  Nearly every single life situation, featuring both suffering and joy, is documented in the Bible.  And guess what?  Sometimes the forecast calls for more “suckage” before it gets better.

The Small Rudder on the Big Ship

So even if you probably wouldn’t have thought much about the weather (unless it was particularly good or particularly bad), we TALK about the weather so much, it’s unavoidable.  “Crappy day outside, hey?” “Yah, bummer, hey?” “Yah.” (I miss Wisconsin!)

What I say about the weather impacts how I feel about the weather, in the same way that what I say about my situation often impacts how I feel about it.  I know, for those of you who THINK before you SPEAK, this probably doesn’t apply to you.  Since I often think out loud, this is totally appropriate.   Just a simple change of my attitude, changes my perspective.

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