Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Be you busy?

There are two kinds of people in the world: busy people and crazy busy people.

I don't know about you, but I've been crazy busy lately, mostly for the good:
  • The Animal Store sale coming up on November 14 & 15
  • challenging and exciting client work
  • checking out colleges with my girl
  • preparing for my son's bar mitzvah
  • writing and submitting (the best work)
  • cleaning and organizing (the worst work)
Busy, busy, busy.

According to Henry David Thoreau, "Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it." Let's hope old Hank D. is right.

As I was trying to title this post, all I could think of were a couple of trite similes. Turns out that moldy oldy "busy as a bee" comes to us all the way from the late 14th century straight from Geoffrey Chaucer's pen in the Canterbury Tales:

"Ey! Goddes mercy!" sad our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche slieghtes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees
Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from soth ever a lie thay weyve.
And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel."

Say what? OK, for those of you who need to brush up on your Middle English, here's a translation:

"Eh! By God's mercy! cried our host.
Said he:
Now such a wife I pray God keep from me!
Behold what tricks, and lo, what subtleties
In women are. For always busy as bees
Are they, us simple men thus to deceive,
And from the truth they turn aside and leave;
By this same merchant's tale it's prove, I feel …"

That Chaucer — always blaming the woman.

How about busy as a beaver, then? The origins of this idiom are a bit murkier, but dates it back to the late 1700s.

No offense to Chaucer, but busy bee has been done and done, and so for that matter, has busy beaver (not to be confused with plucky, Bucky Badger). 

Apparently, both Newfoundlanders and the Irish say "busy as a nailer" — no one knows why. (OK, someone knows why, but the explanation I found — that "those to whom the proverb applied did not use a treadle in heading the nails"  — was, well, yawn.)

In my search, however, I did unearth a couple of smile-inducing similes that I thought I'd share with you:
  • busy as a one-armed paper hanger
  • busy as popcorn on a skillet
  • busy as a cat burying shit
  • busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest
  • busy as a stumped-tailed cow in fly time
  • busy as a funeral home fan in July
Several great lyricists have also created stunning "busy" images, like Stan Getz in in It Might as Well Be Spring where he was as "busy as a spider spinning daydreams" ? Or how about when Henry Miller (not the Henry Miller) is called "just as busy as a fizzy sasparilla" in The Deadwood Stage.

And then there's, my current favorite — busy as a banjo player's digits. 

Of course, being busy with work is completely different than busywork, but that's a whole other post.

How busy are you? Not too busy to leave a comment, I hope. Here, I'll make it easy for you. Just fill in the blank: "I'm as busy as _______" and leave it in a comment by clicking here. And if you're not too busy, check out my latest Chicago Moms Blog post on the Premature Peace Prize.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Premature Peace Prize — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Let me be clear, I'm a liberal. I lean so far left that there are days when I'm in danger of toppling over. I voted for Obama and think he's the best thing that has happened to this country in a long time. He makes me proud to be an American.

BUT, does he deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? I don't know. My immediate response is probably not.

Obama has only been in office for nine months and inherited an outhouse overflowing with messy situations. I believe he's trying hard to address these issues, but that it has been more difficult than he may have initially thought. This is probably true for every president who has ever taken the oath of office; I know it's true of every parent. It's always harder to change things than you think.

I heard one pundit say that Obama was awarded the Peace Prize because he has put a new face on America's place in the world. Well, OK, I'll buy that. I wasn't too crazy about the last face we showed the world.

According to the Nobel Prize Foundation, Alfred Nobel established the Peace Prize more than 100 years ago to honor "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

In that light, it's hard for me to see that Obama is a deserving recipient. I did a little more research, however, and discovered a broader interpretation of how the prize is awarded in an article by Francis Sejersted, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, 1991-1999. He explains:

"The Prize, in other words, is not only for past achievement, although that is the most important criterion. The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account. Among the reasons for adding this as a criterion is the obvious point that Nobel wanted the Prize to have political effects. Awarding a Peace Prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act — which is also the reason why the choices so often stir up controversy."

I get that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize is a political act, intended to encourage actions that promote peace, not just to recognize achievements.

But as a parent, I worry about this particular choice. Upon hearing the news this morning, my 12-year-old son asked me what Obama had done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, and I was honestly at a loss. I tried to explain the reasonings as I understood them, but he put his finger right on the nose by responding that "those are things he's going to do, but he hasn't done them yet."

There is a great deal of controversy in the world of parenting about the dangers of overpraising our children and giving them trophies just for showing up. While we certainly want to promote healthy self esteem, research has shown that overpraising can actually have the opposite effect. So instead of telling my son that he's the greatest soccer player in the world (which he is not), I try to say things like: "That was a really good effort. Keep up the hard work."

My middle son is studying for his bar mitzvah in November. He went through a balky stage and I found that we were fighting about it all the time. I decided to try a different tack and offered to help him by establishing an incentive plan, where he could earn money toward a prize if he did the work every day with only a gentle reminder and no complaining. He thought that was a great idea, but wanted to know why he couldn't have the prize up front if he promised to work hard every day toward his goal. I explained that that would not be an incentive, it would be a bribe. As Chicagoans, we know that bribes are usually not very effective motivators. Once you have the prize, why should you do the work?

I'm not disparaging our president or his good intentions and efforts toward making this a more peaceful world. I did not expect him to be able to solve the complicated problems we face over night. But, we are still waging two wars in the Middle East. Guantanamo is still open.

So, what about this Nobel Peace Bribe? Right now, it feels a little like Obama got the trophy just for showing up. Then again, according to Woody Allen, "eighty percent of success is showing up." Let's hope that's the case and that being honored with the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize motivates President Obama to evaluate every policy he pursues through the lens of peace, and that he uses it to help us all keep our eyes on the prize. And to President Obama, "Really good effort. Keep up the hard work."

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't encouraging presidents and future presidents with reasonable amounts of praise, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chicago, Let's Clean Up Our Act — CMB Post

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Chicago's image has been severely tarnished over the last week or so. We lost our Olympic bid in the first round of voting, a defeat that happened so quickly, the crowds who had gathered for the announcement in Daley Plaza were left dazed and confused, while echoing strains of Peggy Lee's "Is that all there is?" seemed to float on the breeze.

Prior to the vote and the other recent events that have placed Chicago squarely on the world's front page, I had been feeling a great deal of civic pride. On my brother's last trip, he remarked again how clean Chicago is compared to other large cities. When good friends visited last month, we took the El from Evanston and spent the entire day on foot, starting in beautiful Millennium Park, where they ooohed and aahhed over the "bean" and Priztker Pavilion, then wandering north up the Magnificent Mile all the way to Oak Street Beach, where they marveled over our perfectly preserved lake front.

But then came the tragic beating death of young honor student, Derrion Albert, followed less than a week later by another teen beating that resulted in a cracked skull. The nation and the world are shocked by these horrific acts of violence, but are we, here in the Chicago area, equally shocked? Most of us would like to pretend that Derrion Albert's horrendous death was an isolated incident, but the fact is that more than 30 school-aged students were killed in Chicago last year. Chicago's Olympic plan promised "uncompromising safety for the games through a fully integrated security operation … without compromising the protection of the city and its residents."

Our city cannot even deliver uncompromising security to it's most precious commodity — its children.

A few weeks after school started this year, I was waiting around the corner from our high school to pick up my teenaged twins, who are now seniors. Across the street, a group of 10 to 12 students started a shoving match that quickly escalated when one young man picked up a brick. My younger son, who was in the car with me, was terrified. "Let's just go, Mom," he begged. Instead, I called the high school security department and waited for police to arrive, which took only a few minutes, since Evanston police routinely patrol the blocks around the high school campus at the beginning and end of the day. I remember my heart pounding as I anxiously watched the dustup brew into a potentially very dangerous situation.

My daughter is infuriated every time she hears of another act of school-related violence. "Everyone thinks Chicago and Evanston students are a bunch of gang-banging thugs. Most of us aren't like that." When I asked if she is ever afraid at or around school, she said "No, I feel perfectly safe." I wish I had that same sense of security.

It's a running joke in our family that the only time the house gets completely cleaned is when we're expecting company. While I won't totally cop to that, there is something highly motivating about an impending visit. One of the reasons that cleaning up for guests seems almost fun is that you can concentrate on the surface and feel fairly confident that, with the exception of a few nosy in-laws, no one will look under the bed for dust bunnies or check out your underwear drawer to see what you shoved in it.

In many ways, I feel Chicago's Olympic bid was just that — four years of cleaning up for company. We polished our lake front and swept up the streets of the proposed venues, but we didn't look under the beds or in the drawers. Dirty laundry, however, begins to stink after a while and it gets pretty hard to hide. Instead of welcoming the world's elite athletes, Chicago will be visited by Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who are both being sent by President Obama to address youth violence in Chicago. Let's hope we take this opportunity to clean up our act and protect our real future — the children of this city.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't busy airing dirty laundry, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.