Saturday, February 13, 2016

Interesting, cool, funny

Have you noticed that underneath each post there's a field labeled "Reactions?" You can indicate whether you found the post interesting, cool or funny. Hardly anyone uses those on my blog, but I'd love it if you would!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Second blog!

As of today, I'm the proud owner of two blogs. Some say blogs are over, but I think people have just changed the way they consume them. It used to be that people subscribed to a blog and read everything posted on it. Now apps or newsletters deliver links to various articles from various places, so people still read blogs, but they read them article by individual article, not as a whole.

So take a look at my brand new blog that's on the website of my business, Welcome Dialogue. That blog will focus on life in the U.S. and the challenges of adjusting to American language and culture. It will include the challenges foreign-born employees face in the workplace when they lack confidence in English and the frustrations of American-born staff who can't understand the accents of their colleagues. My business, Welcome Dialogue, works with those on all sides of any given cultural divide because as important as it is for people to learn English, it's just as important for Americans to cultivate patience and compassion for those who are struggling to adapt to this country. We Americans greatly need more patience and compassion for people who aren't exactly like us! (The degree to which Americans need more patience and compassion makes me want to hit people.)

So I hope you pop over to the Welcome Dialogue blog every once in a while. It won't be easy to maintain two blogs, but I think I've got the brainpower. My head is full of words, words, words...

Feeling the Bern


REUTERS/Rick Wilking TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Yes, I'm glad Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary. I plan to vote for him in the Illinois primary on March 15th because I'm a leftist hot-head and I tend to back the candidate who is the farthest left. What Bernie has said about universal health care coverage, regulating Wall Street, making the minimum wage a true living wage and providing free higher education all make him farther left than Clinton, so he has my vote.

I admit that I don't expect him to win the Democratic nomination. That will almost certainly be Clinton. And when Clinton gives her acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, I'll willingly change my support to her against whatever nutjob the Republican party throws up as its candidate. I'm a Democrat by birth and a far-left-radical from experience. When the election comes down to Hillary Clinton against a Republican, she'll be the candidate who's farthest left and I'll happily go with her.

But it would be fascinating to see a national election with Sanders and Trump. They definitely have their similarities: outsiders with little or no decision-making experience, playing the angry old man trope and appealing to people's frustration with D.C. and big-business-as-usual. They also pronounce the word "huge" the same way. In fact, some Trump supporters say their second choice is Sanders and some Sanders supporters say Trump is theirs. Ideologically, that seems completely crazy, but if you evaluate the two candidates using only your heart and your gut (and turn your brain off), they can feel similar.

Or maybe it's spite voting. Maybe those Sanders supporters oppose Clinton so strongly that they'd rather support Trump than her. And maybe some Trump supporters would simply rather back another angry man outsider than one of the conventional Republican candidates. There was a lot of spite in the 2008 election when disappointed Clinton volunteers changed to John McCain's campaign rather than work for Barack Obama's. When Americans vote against someone they dislike instead of for someone they like, things get weird. And stupid.

I know many people are voting for Clinton in the primaries strategically: they want to support someone who has a good chance of winning a national election and they don't think Sanders does. That's a valid strategy. But I've never voted in a primary in that strategic way. In primaries, I vote for the person I want as president, regardless of their chances. That's why I voted for Dennis Kucinich in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. And it's why I'll vote for Bernie Sanders on March 15th. I'd just prefer him to be president more than anyone else running. That's how I vote.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

I'm 49 1/2

Next July 24th will be my 50th birthday. It falls on a Sunday, which is actually the day I was born back in 1966. I considerately arrived in the daytime, so my birth didn't wake anyone up or keep anyone awake into the night. I admit that I made my parents miss church that day, but that now seems appropriate (I'm an atheist).

Every year I throw myself a big birthday party in my home. I invite everyone I can think of and we have lots of food, drink, conversation and hilarity. People are starting to ask me what special thing I'm going to do for my 50th birthday. My favorite thing in the world is having people come over to my place for a big party. Why would I do anything different this year?

I'm not an outdoor person or someone who likes staying up past 11:00 p.m. I have no desire to jump out of a plane or get a tattoo. Yesterday someone told me I should push past my comfort zone. So far my life has been a process of trying to find my comfort zone and establish it to the world. The age of 50 feels premature for me to try to push past it. Three years ago I was married, walking a dog, living in a different place and working a job I'd outgrown. Today none of that is true, so what other comfort zones do I need to challenge on my 50th birthday?

The big difference for this year's celebration might be that this time I don't threaten people with banishment if they bring me a birthday present. I'm usually a "no gifts" person, but maybe for the 50th I'll start practicing the art of receiving with grace. I think that will take me enough out of my comfort zone, eh?

Friday, February 05, 2016

Welcome Dialogue Dinner

Welcome Dialogue had a very nice dinner event on Wednesday night. We had a guest who had recently come to the U.S. from Bulgaria and a guest who had come to the U.S. fifteen years ago from Lithuania. They got along very well. One supported the other and reassured her that things will get easier, including speaking English. The evening was all about connection and friendship.

My next Welcome Dialogue dinner will be Wednesday, March 2nd from 7:00 to 9:00 in Rogers Park, Chicago. Would you like to come? Anyone who speaks another language besides English as their first language and who came to the U.S. at the age of 18 or older is welcome! To RSVP email me at regina@welcomedialogue.com.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Eating dinner on Wednesday?



Did you speak a language other than English as your first language and did you come to the U.S. at the age of 16 or older? Are you planning to eat dinner on Wednesday? Do it at my place! Please come and meet new people while we enjoy a home cooked meal (yes, I'm a good cook) at the Welcome Dialogue Dinner. RSVP to regina@welcomedialogue.com. This is in Chicago.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Gray Rhinos

Now that I'm an entrepreneur, I do a lot of networking and meet brand new people every single week. It's great. I've always liked meeting new people and made sure to keep doing it even when I worked at the same place every day and had the same routine every week.

Last week I met a woman whose book is about to come out called The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore. Michele Wucker and I will soon get together to chat about her book and our respective businesses, but in the meantime, I'm intrigued by the term "gray rhino." On her website, Michele explains that she coined the term after witnessing how clear it was that Greece's economic crisis would bring down the European Union, yet the EU took no action to head off that catastrophe until the very last minute. A gray rhino is a problem that is clear and heading straight towards us, but we do our damnedest to ignore it and deny it until it's right on top of us.

Of course, the easiest gray rhinos to see are those of other people. You can probably remember times when you wanted to shake someone and say, "Stop pretending everything's going to be okay! If you don't do something, this is only going to get worse!" What's much harder is to acknowledge the gray rhinos in our own lives.

Michele Wucker's book won't be out until April 5th, so I don't know any more about it than this: 

A "gray rhino" is a highly probable, high impact yet neglected threat: kin to both the elephant in the room and the improbable and unforeseeable black swan. Gray rhinos are not random surprises, but occur after a series of warnings and visible evidence. The bursting of the housing bubble in 2008, the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, the new digital technologies that upended the media world, the fall of the Soviet Union...all were evident well in advance.
Why do leaders and decision makers keep failing to address obvious dangers before they spiral out of control? Drawing on her extensive background in policy formation and crisis management, as well as in-depth interviews with leaders from around the world, Michele Wucker shows in The Gray Rhino how to recognize and strategically counter looming high impact threats. Filled with persuasive stories, real-world examples, and practical advice, The Gray Rhino is essential reading for managers, investors, planners, policy makers, and anyone who wants to understand how to profit by avoiding getting trampled.

Her book seems to take a macro-view of how gray rhinos affect us, with a focus on public policy and major world events, but it's a good metaphor and I can think of how it has applied to my life. The ending of my marriage was probably a gray rhino. I didn't see it coming, but once my ex-husband made it clear that we were done, I was able to look back and see the evidence that led to it. One of my most painful moments during that period was when a friend suggested that none of my friends were surprised by Bob's action. I felt wounded, humiliated and stupid as I considered that my close friends had known my marriage was on the way down the tubes while I hadn't. It's possible that this individual was wrong; maybe she was the only one who had seen my divorce coming, but I was rocked by the idea that everyone had expected it but me.

Any divorced person who wasn't the one to initiate the split probably knows what a gray rhino feels like when it hits. Even though Wucker's book focuses on leadership decisions, business climates and political changes, gray rhino is a term that works for life on the personal level, too. Someone once told me about the end of her mother's life, during which her father had insisted that her mother's illness was about to be cured and she was going to be just fine. He was absolutely certain of this no matter how many things pointed in the opposite direction. The only thing he couldn't ignore was when her mother actually stopped breathing and was declared dead. As the family began grieving and making arrangements, my friend said her father looked shell-shocked and became incapable of making any decisions and couldn't even really respond when others offered him condolences.

The term gray rhino sounds like an effective one for business management and global policy discussions, but it's also ideal for talking about our personal lives. We sometimes refer to the elephant in the room, but that elephant just sits there, waiting to be acknowledged or ignored as we choose. A gray rhino is charging and demands action, whether it's outward action or grappling with inner pain, like my friend's father. At what point does the elephant in the room become a gray rhino? It's a sobering question. Even though I haven't read Wucker's book yet, it already has me thinking about what elephants in my life could be come gray rhinos if I don't pay attention to them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Young lady??"

I was waiting for the bus and struck up a conversation with one of those men who stands with a kiosk of brochures about God, life and whatever religion he is. He was an African-American gentleman who looked like he was in his late 50s or so, and he addressed me as "young lady." Maybe he was trying to be polite or meant it as a compliment since my 49-and-a-half-year-old gray hair is quite visible. But when the bus came and he said, "Have a nice day, young lady!" I couldn't let it go. 

I turned to him and said, "My name is Regina."

He said, "Nice to meet you, Regina."

I said, "I don't like being called 'young lady.'"

He smiled and said, "Well, when you get to be around my age, you'll appreciate it."

He was being so nice that I summoned all the niceness I could and said, "Does 50 count?"

He said, "Yes!" and then started laughing as if I'd made a joke. It was a solid belly laugh that lasted until I actually got on the bus and couldn't hear him anymore. I often say things in earnest that others find funny, so I'm used to it, but this surprised me. I was claiming my status as his peer, rejecting what felt like a patronizing expression. Why was that funny?

Well, anyway, I don't understand why middle-aged men address middle-aged women as "young lady." Do other middle-aged women feel respected when men do that? Does it make them feel young and pretty? Do men do that to express admiration or to help women feel like we're not over-the-hill? It feels to me like they're tossing us a bone because society sees us as ugly old bags. It feels patronizing to the point of being insulting.

But I'm afraid if I say what I really want to say, which is "Please don't call me 'young lady.' I'm not young and I'm not a lady," they'll think I'm making a joke and laugh. So what's the best way to handle it? Probably just by saying, "Please don't call me 'young lady,'" and leaving it at that. And maybe a withering look would drive the point home.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Discouraged


In the fall I began a business that provides services to non-native English speakers who came to the U.S. as adults. I help with communication skills, American social skills and American business culture. It's going well, but any new business takes considerable investment of time and money before it becomes financially solvent and successful. One of my challenges in getting Welcome Dialogue off the ground is that I fill needs people don't realize they have. I offer to help people speak clearer English when they think their English is fine. I offer to help them make friends when they don't realize they're lonely. I offer help getting along with co-workers when they have no idea their colleagues have problems communicating with them. Et cetera. It's frustrating to have to convince people they need me before I can even start to impress them with what I offer, all of which, of course, happens before they consider hiring me. It's slow work.

In my discouragement, I emailed a new acquaintance who also has a one-woman business and is also a coach. Sally Eames of Corage Coaching helps people who feel stuck in their jobs or overwhelmed by their lives or discouraged about career goals. She has a similar challenge of getting people to even see that they need her. People think, "Sure, I hate my job (or don't know what to do next, etc), but I'll figure it out. I'm fine." And then two or three years later they're still at that job or stuck in that same place. Sally is helping me through my period of discouragement and in return I'm telling friends about her. Maybe you can use her services or know someone who can. 

In the meantime, here's what you can do to support me, if you want. Please like my Welcome Dialogue Facebook page. I'm trying to get to 100 likes and am currently in the 60s. Also, if anyone knows of stories of individuals who successfully started a one-person business in an area that didn't exist yet as an industry, I'd love to hear them. I need a pep talk right now because I seem to have added challenge to challenge: I'm starting a business from scratch and it's not even the kind of work anyone has ever heard of. I often hear, "What a great business! I love that. I've never heard of anyone doing that." If only I could get paid for coolness.

Now I'll email more of my self-employed friends for moral support. It's an uphill climb and I benefit from the input of entrepreneurs who are also in this struggle.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Post-holiday peace

After my year of austerity (drastically reduced sugar, dairy and grains), I totally indulged last week when I visited familia in Houston, Texas. I ate cookies and cupcakes and pie. I also had grain-y foods like pancakes and tamales because I wanted to take a break from being the person who's SO careful about her diet and who has all these damn things she "can't eat." In fact, I didn't say a word about food (except to compliment it) the whole time I was there!

But, oh, my body felt it this week. My knees and elbow joints started hurting while I was still in Houston, but the digestive discomfort didn't kick in until I got back. This is strange because if I ate that many cookies and wheat-based foods in my daily life, my stomach would be in constant pain, which it used to be before I cleaned up my diet. But oddly, those wheat-bellyaches didn't start until I got back to Chicago. On my first night in my own bed, I woke up with that familiar pain that robs me of sleep in the middle of the night. I got up to walk it off, wondering if my body had simply delayed all the stomach aches it should have had on Christmas Eve, Day and the day after.

Here's what I think it must be, using what I've learned from Dr. Joe Dispenza's books on the mind-body connection. I think that similarly to how family visits can cause us to revert emotionally to the person we used to be, our biology can revert, too. When I was growing up, I could eat any amount of cookies, cakes, pancakes, etc, with no digestive discomfort whatsoever. And that's how my stomach behaved during those four days when I was with familia, eating through the holiday. But as soon as I reached my apartment on Monday night, the digestive pain returned. It's damned weird, but that's the theory I'm going with. It was both good and bad: it allowed me to eat all the holiday goodies without the usual digestive consequences (although the joint pain still kicked in), but it also got me back on the sugar roller coaster and if I'd kept that up, my joints would have gotten even worse.
Christmas Day w/ familia

As of Tuesday, I've gone back to my wheat-free life and I'm relieved to notice that my joints feel better. Even though the health crisis of 2015 that made me cut out sugar, dairy and grains is over, I'm still limiting those foods because I just feel better this way. That means I still have sugar, dairy and grains (besides wheat), but they're reduced from what I used to consume. The sad part is that wheat is now on my permanent list of things to simply avoid. As much as I still love baked goods, wheat flour just causes me too much trouble.

So I guess this is actually good news: maybe once a year when I join my familia for the holidays, I'll get a window of time during which I can treat myself to my sister's and cousin's baked desserts and my dad's pancakes. Maybe that could work, as long as the period of time isn't more than a few days.  This gives me yet another reason to look forward to Christmas: parties, familia, lights, decorations and a digestive reprieve from the wheat bellyaches! For those few days, maybe my stomach will simply act the way it used to when I was a child. Thus December will remain my favorite month of all.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Houston International Airport, 27 Dec 2015


I think what I like about being at an airport is that it's a kind of limbo. Right now I'm at IAH, where I was booked on a 7:28p flight back to Chicago O'Hare Airport. Instead, I'm now waiting for a 10:45p flight because my other one was canceled.

So I sit, pace, eat a late dinner, read, people-watch and wait. Do I mind how late it's getting for a 2 1/2 hour flight? No. Am I worried about having to stay another night in Houston instead of sleeping in my own bed? Nope. I trust I'll be fine no matter how little sleep I get or where I end up at 3:00a. It'll be fine. 

I don't mind delays that cause me to sit in airports or on the runway for the same reasons others hate it: I enjoy time spent doing nothing, I like someone else being in control of the vehicle I'm riding and I'm rarely life-or-death eager to get where I'm going. Arguably being at home is better than sitting in an airport, but my apartment isn't going anywhere. I'll enjoy it when I get there. 

What it comes down to is that I like being in airport limbo. In this state, I'm neither on vacation nor at home. While I'm in transit -- or waiting like this -- my life is on hold, there are no decisions I can make or actions I can take. Everything has to stop because I'm effectively untethered and unplugged from my life. It's a respite from the tasks, habits and relationships that usually occupy my mind every hour of every day. While in airport limbo, I don't have a life and that feels good to me. I'm always ready for a break from life. 

So, sure: delayed flight, airport dinner, book to read.  No problem. Can I go so far as to call being peacefully stuck in an airport meditative? Maybe, but I doubt anyone would buy it.

UPDATE 12/29/15: I ended up leaving Houston on a Chicago-bound flight 22 hours later than originally scheduled. I spent the night in Houston International Airport, which wasn't as much fun as a dinner party with my friends, but I don't mind things that pull me out of my usual habits. It was an interesting experience, and I knew all along that I'd eventually get back to my Rogers Park apartment; it wasn't like being a refugee with no home to go to. Sure enough, after two canceled flights and one flight that boarded three times before it took off, I spent last night in my own bed. Contentment.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Review of The Lyric Opera's Bel Canto

The set of the Chicago Lyric Opera's Bel Canto.
In 2012, work began on the impressive challenge of turning Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto into a staged, modern opera. Now Bel Canto is playing at the Lyric Opera through January 17, 2016. I heard about it at the beginning of December and, even though I'd never been to the opera, I had to buy a ticket. Patchett's Bel Canto is one of my favorite books and I've now read it four times. It reads as richly as one long poem with the focus on relationships and character development rather than shoot-em-up action. So, at the age of 49, I attended an opera for the first time, hoping to see the lyricism and humor of the novel, which shows the unpredictable alliances that form when you give people a chance to bond. The following review of the opera will make more sense to those who have read Bel Canto, but I offer it to anyone who is considering going to the Lyric's production.

I saw the performance on Thursday, December 10th. I didn't like it. I guess because opera is so visual, the libretto focuses on the action, which includes gun violence, fighting and yelling. I longed to witness the characterizations of Gen, Carmen, Rubén, Thibault and Ismael. Instead, we saw the rebels and hostages as two groups in conflict with each other rather than as individuals. In the novel, General Alfredo is one of an ensemble of characters. In the opera, his bellowings and proclamations elevated him to a major character, and not an interesting one. At one point, the women hostages who have been released begin to protest loudly outside the mansion, demanding the freedom of their men. What was the point of this? It doesn't happen in the novel and kept the focus on the kidnapping instead of the fascinating details of the dynamics within the house.

Also disappointing was the opera singer Roxane's characterization as a spoiled, entitled prima donna. I don't know why they did that to her opera character when in the novel Roxane shows admirable consideration of others from the beginning. The literary Roxane has an unusually strong ego and sense of self, but she doesn't come across with the shrillness of the Lyric's production.

Speaking of shrillness, I wasn't impressed with the voice of Danielle de Niese, the woman who played Roxane. I liked J'Nai Bridges/Carmen's voice much better. I also didn't hear much melody that appealed to me and that I'd want to carry around in my head. The only times when I felt I was hearing a true song was when the Russian sang, when Cesar sang and the first time Gen, Carmen, Hosokawa and Roxane sang together. Besides that, I found the music rambling and tedious. Is modern opera always like that?

One of the main themes of the novel is language and communication. The characters have come together from all over the world, but manage to communicate even though they speak Spanish, English, Russian, Japanese, Italian, German, etc. I was looking forward to hearing each character sing in the language in which he or she speaks in the book. Much of the singing in the opera is in different languages, but there was also an almost random amount of singing in English. In the novel, the rebels only speak Spanish, so why do they often sing in English in the opera? One of Hosokawa's most salient characteristics in the book is that he never learned to speak anything but Japanese, yet his opera character sometimes sings in English. Why? Opera doesn't need translation like movies do because the libretto is displayed for the audience. 

Mainly I was disappointed by the opera's emphasis on tension and conflict instead the relationships the rebels and hostages build, which are the beauty and heart of the novel. How could Patchett let the focus of her novel disappear into shooting and yelling? The opera had none of the novel's humor or the slow melt of its characters' animosities into affection. The novel is a brilliant study of the human character in all its pain and helpless evolution, but those themes didn't translate to the opera stage.

Then again, this could all indicate that I'm just not an opera lover. I suspect that I need not spend another $100 on a ticket to the opera because it's just not my medium. I'd rather stay home with a good book.