Saturday, November 23, 2013

On job hunting in 2013

Dear person-with-whom-I-had-a-recent-telephone-interview,

I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me on the phone, since now-a-days, it seems that being invited for an actual in-person interview is as rare as an albino squirrel.

You mentioned that you've been interviewing for this position for quite a while but haven't found the right person yet. I have a few suggestions for you:
  1. One of the first things you said to me is that you'd been at work since 7 a.m. and that you would be in the office on the weekend. This is supposed to impress me? Instead it scares me. I don't want a job that requires me to be "on" 24/7. Ever heard of work-life balance?

  2. You mentioned that it's been hard to find a writer who wants a full-time, in-the-office, 40+ hour per week job. You said that the writer needs to be in the office all the time because there is lots of interaction, collaboration with other folks, yadda yadda yadda. Hello, is this 1990? Here in the 21st century, we know about flexible workplaces and flexible hours. If you want a creative person, you might need to be a little more creative yourself with your requirements.

  3. You proudly said that you have a small staff that does a big job, or a small staff that does the work of a big staff, or that you do a lot with a little, or something like that. This makes me wonder if you really have enough staff to do all the work (see work-life balance). Definitely gives me pause.

  4. Now that I am (ahem) older, I trust my gut. My gut says this job isn't going to work for me.  I have a kid I'm still raising, and a husband that I hope to see every now and then. I get the feeling that if I take this job, I might never see either of them again. Thank you for helping me clarify this.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Thinking about JFK

(Photo from Wikipedia)
Today is the 50th anniversary of the day that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. I was just a toddler on that day, so I don't remember it first-hand, but I’ve been thinking about that time a lot lately.


I recently read the fascinating Stephen King novel “11/22/63” which is a fictional account of the JFK assassination, and an attempt on King’s part to understand Lee Harvey Oswald’s motivations. King also has us think about the possibility of what the future might have looked like had JFK not died (note: not what you might expect). This was a very long book, over 800 pages, but I found it riveting. I grew to feel connected to the characters, and I was sad when the book ended. Now when I hear someone ask “why did Oswald do it?” I feel like I have a better understanding, at least from King’s research and perspective, of why.

The Zapruder Film

Others may have heard of "the Zapruder film" but I hadn’t until recently. I just learned that the reason we have footage of Kennedy being shot is because a man named Abraham Zapruder happened to be filming in Dallas just as Kennedy’s car rounded the corner, and Zapruder captured on film the moment that Kennedy was shot. It’s quite horrifying to watch. I never realized that you could see exactly what happened in such detail. You can see JFK react as the first shot is fired, and then you can see the effects of the second shot. You can also see the reaction of Jackie Kennedy. You can see the actual footage here. This video also tells an interesting story of how Life Magazine acquired this footage.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Here is another incredible piece of history from that day. The Boston Symphony Orchestra was about to start it's performance at 2:00 pm on 11/22/63, and then this happened:
First, we hear the gasps and shushes after BSO music director Erich Leinsdorf utters the words: "The president of the United States has been the victim of an assassination." Second, a wave of groans and sighs after Leinsdorf continues, "We will play the funeral march from 's Third Symphony" — as if the crowd's shared response is that they couldn't possibly have heard the first part right, but that then the orchestra's change in repertoire confirms the awful, unimaginable truth. And then, for the next 14 minutes ... utter silence, save for the incomparably somber music.
You can read more about this moment, and  hear the audio here. It's astonishing.You can experience what the audience was feeling as this terrible news sunk in.

It's through these moments -- the book, the video, the audio -- that I can experience, in part, which it must have been like on that day. Having lived through 9/11 and the Boston Marathon Bombings, I have a sense of what those surreal, "life before and life after" events are like, but these pieces help me experience and understand even more how JFK's death impacted those who lived through that moment in time, and the days following. May his memory be for a blessing.

Friday, November 15, 2013

So sad

Every now and then, something unfortunate happens to someone I know only through the internet. An illness. An accident. Everyone reading about the incident sends along support, prayers, hugs. And then we move on.

But not always.

I've been following the story of a woman rabbi (and her husband) with four kids, one of whom -- an 8-year-old boy -- has leukemia. She calls him "Superman Sam," and has been blogging about his treatment and recovery from his cancer. It seemed like things were going pretty well, until last night.

Last night, right before bed, I was reading through my Twitter feed and this is what I read:
We are so desperately heartbroken and filled with sadness.
Sam has relapsed.

His ninja leukemia is so very strong.
It has reared its head in his bone marrow and in some extramedullary spots on his jaw and head.

There is no cure.
There is no treatment.
Even reading it over now, I am at a loss.

This story starts in June of 2012, when Sam started experiencing severe pain in his legs and arms. After tests and trials of medications and scans, this was the result:
My whole universe collapsed in on me at 4:30pm on a Tuesday.
My sweet little Sammy.

We asked questions. They made plans. A port to be inserted. A spinal tap to be taken. Chemotherapy to be arranged. We sent texts. We made calls. We wrote emails.

And we cried.

Sam was in a lot of pain. He complained. He begged to go home.

Now it is almost Thursday.
Less than 48 hours later, chemo has begun.
Less than 48 hours later, everything has changed.
Less than 48 hours later, "we won't be here long" has become "a month."

Sam has cancer.
Acute myeloid leukemia.
And our lives will never be the same.
Because all I know how to do at times like this is try to learn, I looked up acute myeloid leukemia. Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of the blood. The white blood cells in the bone marrow are abnormal and block the normal white blood cells.  According to the National Cancer Institute, "among the 12 major types of childhood cancers, leukemias (blood cell cancers) and cancers of the brain and central nervous system account for more than half of the new cases. About one-third of childhood cancers are leukemias." The NCI assures us that these cancers in children are relatively rare.

But not if it's your child.

Also according to the NCI, "the causes of childhood cancers are largely unknown." So we don't understand how to prevent them.

I am certain, however, that environmental exposures play a role. And the NCI admits that "the overall incidence of childhood cancer has been slowly increasing since 1975." So something in our world is causing this increase.

However, that is not so useful right now.  My heart goes out to this family. I can't imagine how it must be, trying to parent an 8-year-old boy with a life-limiting illness, while continuing to parent three other children. It says on their blog that they are going to make the most of the time that Sam has left, and that sounds like a good thing to do. It seems that they have a strong, supportive, loving community.

But mostly, this whole thing just leaves me with a dull pain in the pit of my stomach.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Too heavy

"A community is too heavy to carry alone."
Around the perimeter of the track at the JCC, there is a series of colorful posters designed to give the walkers and runners something to think about (or talk about, if they are walking with someone else).  This particular poster keeps catching my eye. The image is vivid and a bit disconcerting, but the words touch me even more.  "A community is too heavy to carry alone."

This quote is from a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy (the last book of the Torah) called Deuteronomy Rabbah. Deuteronomy is mainly a summary of the first four books of the Torah, and in this part, Moses is discussing (actually, complaining) how difficult it was to manage the Children of Israel by himself.

In fact, it reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the Torah:  how Moses' father-in-law Jethro (who wasn't even Jewish) recommended that Moses get some help because doing everything for the Children of Israel by himself was too much even for Moses. I wrote about this in a blog post here.

Not only is a community too heavy to carry alone, a family is also too heavy to carry alone. A child is too heavy to carry alone. Even a single person living without a child needs other people to enrich his or her life. 

One big problem in the U.S. is the value of rugged individualism, the ideal of "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps." Not only are people "supposed" to take care of themselves and their families with no outside help, a corollary to that supposition is that "self as the most important thing." The idea "if it doesn't affect me or my family, I just don't care." These values (if you can call them values) have led to a huge divide between rich and poor, as well as huge divide between our two political parties. The idea that we, as a nation, need to take care of each other, and if we have a lot, we need to give a bit more, and if we have little, we can receive help. Somehow the communal values have been lost.

One of my favorite sayings is "it takes a village to raise a child," and I am constantly amazed at how it really does!  When J was small, I gratefully turned him over to his daycare provider several days a week so I could get some things done, and so he could have wonderful experiences that I was unable to provide. During his elementary school years, while I was working part-time, the after-school care program allowed me to work as he was happily playing, learning to play an instrument, practicing his cooking skills, singing and dancing in a play, or doing sports. During middle school, when I was working almost full-time, I often had to call on other parents to pick him up from school when I was running late, or when school closed early. And now that I'm the one at home, other parents call on me to help pick up kids who missed the bus, or to let in the washing machine repair man. It really does take a village of people to make it all work.

Motherhood, especially when kids are little, can be so isolating. Sometimes it's hard to ask for help. Sometimes you feel like you are supposed to do it all by yourself - and what's wrong with you if you can't?  Now-a-days, moms are supposed to work, take care of the kids and the house, get great meals on the table, stay slim and fit and sexy, and do lots of crafts (a la Pinterest)! It's impossible. And it's really impossible without a village, a community, to put the pieces together.

I took another look at this poster, and I realized there is something fundamentally wrong with it. It talks about community, but there are no images representing people (except for the hands): community is represented by buildings.  I think this is a mistake.  Community may take place within buildings, but community fundamentally consists of people.

I found the source of these posters online, and there is some commentary that goes along with this one that I really connect with:
 Jewish tradition says that it is in the muddy, complex, fraught world of human relations and shared responsibility that God’s presence can be brought into our lives.
We need to share the heaviness with others. We need to recognize our own limitations, and the places where we need help. Asking for and accepting help -- not doing it all alone -- leads to holiness.

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Dancing before surgery

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I don't think women should make the decision to have a double-mastectomy lightly. So seeing this crop up on the interwebs today is making me a little crazy.

Before a Double Mastectomy, a Dance Party 
and also this
This Woman Was About To Go In For Surgery. What She Did Moments Before Was Awesome.

Yes, you read that right. A woman -- not just any woman, an ob/gyn and mom -- is about to go into surgery to have her breasts removed, and she is dancing with her surgical team.

You can watch it here

So I don't know her whole story. I am hoping that she's having this procedure for a good, evidence-based reason, i.e. she has one of the breast cancer genes and is at extremely high risk for breast cancer, and this is her best option. I'm hoping she's not just doing it out of fear; thinking that just "taking them off" will remove all risk of future cancer; or because she doesn't want to worry anymore.

But I don't have that information yet.

So why are folks so enamored with this woman (who arguably seems like a pretty cool person, and a good dancer, to boot)?

Because she's being brave in the face of something terrifying? Because she's thumbing her nose at cancer?

But what about folks who can't dance before their surgery? How about folks that are just too worried or scared or just plain sick to dance? Shouldn't they live in our hearts as well?

I guess the point I'm trying to make is: it's pretty neat that she seems so joyous before her surgery, but this isn't a typical response to surgery. Most of us would be terrified. I feel putting this video out there is making us feel like we have to be braver than is actually expected or needed. Her good attitude isn't going to change the fact that she has weeks if not months of painful recovery ahead. This is no joke. She's not going to be able to dance again for a good while.

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The dreaded hyphen

To be perfectly honest, I can't stand when someone asks for my full name on the telephone. Not only do I have an unusual first name (with an atypical spelling), I also have an unusual and hyphenated last name, and I end up saying something like this: "Okay, my first name is Adena, A-D-E-N-A, and my last name is Cohen-Bearak, C-O-H-E-N, hyphen, then B as in boy, E-A-R-A-K. Got it?"

Typically, they don't. And I have to spell everything out again.

When I decided to hyphenate my name in 1996, I thought I was making a feminist statement. I didn't realize that I was creating a monster.

I grew up in the '60s and '70s: women's lib, burning bras, and all that. A few friends got married in the '80s, and most of them kept their maiden names, which made a lot of sense to me. In the '90s, when more of us finally found our life partners, we all had some decisions to make.

Some of my friends had professional careers associated with their names, and it made sense to keep their maiden names. Some of my friends felt strongly that they wanted a family name for their newly-formed family, and often they went with their husband's last name from convention. I do know a few couples in which both parties (husband and wife) took on a new, hyphenated name, but this was very rare.

In my case, I met my husband when I was in my early 30s, and we got married when I was 36.  At that point, I had been Adena Cohen for quite a while (well, for 36 years) and I felt like it represented a part of me that I didn't want to give up. But I also wanted to honor the fact that I was entering a new relationship and creating a new family. So I decided that I would hyphenate my name to Cohen-Bearak, Cohen which is my maiden name and Bearak which is my husband Arnie's last name. I like the order: I used to be just a Cohen, and Cohen is the name I say first, and my new name is Bearak, and that's the name I say second.

We have been married for 17 years now, and at this point, I'm used to Cohen-Bearak, and I feel funny using just Cohen.  Occasionally, an old friend will still refer to me as Adena Cohen, and it feels kind of naked to me. Where's the Bearak?

On the other hand, when my son was born, I didn't want to burden him with the hyphenated name. It just felt too long, too much. It is confusing sometimes when I have a different last name from my husband and son, but people just have to deal with it.

In the end, I think I made the right choice for me, but it has been more trouble than I expected (the hyphen and all). I wish there was an easier way to honor both partners' last names without hyphenating, but aside from creating a brand new name (which some folks do), I can't think of a good solution.

So the hyphen stays.

Note: I got the idea for this post from the Jewesses With Attitude blog which is doing a series on how people make decisions about their last name when they marry. The JWA blog decided to re-post my post! You can see it here.

Also, BlogHer decided to feature this post! You can see it here.

Featured on
NaBloPoMo November 2013

Monday, November 04, 2013

Bad mood

Things aren't so great in the U.S. right now.

There is a shooting by some crazed person in a public place at least once per week. Unemployment is still high even though the economy is supposedly doing better. Politicians and news commentators are still unable to speak in a civilized way to those who disagree with them. The new health care system roll-out, which should have been a good thing, is turning into a bad thing because of computer problems. Food stamps are being cut.  Mitt Romney is trying to find his way back onto the political scene (which to me, might be the worst thing of all).

The whole country seems to be in a bad mood.

I was talking about this yesterday with a group of friends, and one friend said that it all boils down to community. You can't just focus on yourself and your family, and not care about everyone else. We are all part of a whole. If things are going badly for some folks, we can't just ignore them.  We have an obligation to help.

She is so right.

Obama's health care program was intended to ensure that everyone in the country has a good, basic level of health care. This is not a crazy thing. Most first world countries have this. But politicians and commentators are acting like this is absolutely the worst idea ever. I just can't see why.

Some say that if you don't have health insurance, you just go to the emergency room for care. But don't they realize that taxpayers pay for those who come to the ER without insurance? And that the care given in the ER is more expensive than if those folks just went to a regular doctor? It's so short-sighted.

Programs like unemployment and food stamps are designed to help folks who are in a bind, who need a helping hand. But commentators and politicians can only focus on those who abuse the system, as if these outliers prove that the programs are bad. They aren't bad programs, and they are helping people. But somehow that kind of help is looked down upon in our "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" country.

It's frustrating that the new health care website isn't working correctly, but a lot of websites aren't working correctly these days (including the MA unemployment system website, the SNAP program computers that weren't working a few weeks ago, and others) . That doesn't mean that the whole healthcare program won't work. It's a temporary thing. But folks can't see the big picture.

What we need are less guns, more jobs, less vitriol, more healthcare, more food stamps, less hate, more help for those who need it.

If only it were that easy.

NaBloPoMo November 2013