I was hit hard by the death of Sheryl Sandburg’s husband, David Goldberg- which may seem strange, given that I don’t know either of them, but I have admired Sheryl as a woman, mother, and business person, and I have followed her writings and talks with interest ever since reading Lean In. When the details emerged about the incredibly tragic and freakish nature of the accident that killed her husband, my sense of empathy and grief deepened.
David Goldberg’s death hit doubly close to home because I have a sense of kinship with those who have been dealt a cruel blow by chance. I have been a hair’s breadth away from chance tragedy too.
When our twins were 13 months old, my husband suffered a sudden cardiac arrest (you can read about that here) and incredibly he, against the odds, lived. Without a doubt, during that crisis I was seconds away from being a widow. From losing the love of my life. Sheryl, with incredible elegance and grace, summed up what it is like to love and lose the person dearest to you in the world in, appropriately enough, a Facebook post on May 4th. We can all learn from her resilience, gratitude, and though I am only guessing here- her compassion for herself, in the face of this terrible tragedy.
After my husband, Tony, recovered from his cardiac arrest and was released from the hospital, he came home with a BMW in his chest. Okay, not really. But, he did come home with what’s essentially an incredibly expensive battery & jumper cables- known in fancy terms as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) that will immediately deliver a heart-starting and life-saving shock, should he ever have another cardiac arrest. Thankfully, he never has.
I’ll tell you- having that device in his chest was the thing that gave me the confidence to close my eyes and go to sleep on his first night home from the hospital. Not to mention, every night since then. I had to force myself to close my eyes and relax, though I recall laying a protective hand across his back- hoping that should something happen, it would telegraph to me, through my sleep, that there was an emergency. Sure, I woke up once and saved him- but could I really count on being that lucky a second time?
Which brings us to David Goldberg and what role technology could have played in saving his life. I think it’s likely that existing technology, some vital combination of software and the hardware- along the lines of an Apple Watch or a Microsoft Band could have sent an alert that something had gone awry- whether with his pulse, blood pressure, or body temperature- something. Anything. Someone could have gotten an alert and taken action.
As with Tony’s cardiac arrest, the most critical factor with David’s death appears to have been time. I was fortunate enough that I immediately recognized that something was horribly wrong and sprang into action- if I hadn’t? If I had slept through his cardiac arrest- Tony’s chance of survival would have been precisely zero. If David Goldberg’s accident had been witnessed- whether by a person or via a monitoring device, the outcome could have been radically different.
Side note: If you haven’t been trained in CPR- Do. It. Now. And if you have, it’s probably time to get re-certified.
My husband also wears a RoadID, which is just a small metal & rubber bracelet that has some basic personal information and states that he has an ICD. Enough to save a first responder or emergency personnel a few vital seconds. When straddling the line between life and death, minutes and even seconds can make all the difference. All that information could, again, be easily passed and contained within an alert or notification. A number of apps and devices already store and offer this information in emergencies.
So, could the <insert your favorite wearable device technology here> have saved David Goldberg? From a tech perspective? No doubt. So what’s next? Let’s make this happen, people!
As heart-breaking and tragic as David Goldberg’s death is, I think it will be an inflection point for the industry and look forward to what the tech community does in response. This event has revealed the mortality of Silicon Valley to its inhabitants- a group that seemed blissfully or arrogantly unaware of this fact until now.
It is a part of human nature to want to find or to create meaning from tragic circumstances and this event could prove to be a life-saving catalyst for the tech community.
Sheryl has already shown incredible personal courage and grace in devastating circumstances, and has further solidified her position as an individual to be admired. I hope the tech community will follow suit and apply its collective brainpower to the challenge of emergency identification and response.
Earlier this week, I made a discovery that caused the bibliophile inside me to lose her ever-loving mind. While killing 5 minutes (seriously, I was in and out in under 5 minutes) in Half Price Books, I made a magical find- a complete set of The Book of Knowledge from 1919. I know, right?! You are pumping your fist in the air right now. It’s. THAT. exciting. Try not to hyperventilate.
20 volumes. Embossed leather covers. Silky smooth pages. Beautiful illustrations. Stories. History. Poems. Practical advice. Wikipedia, hell- the entire internet, has nothing on these beauties.
Finding these gems is the best $100 I have ever spent, hand’s down. These books are amazing. They are magical. They transport you back in time.
If you aren’t familiar with them (and I was only slightly)- The Book of Knowledge was a children’s encyclopedia that was published between 1908 – 1964, that sold 800,000 before the mid 1920’s. They were sold, as were many things then, door to door.
I can scarcely imagine the excitement and wonder of a child whose parents decided to purchase a set, or even a volume from this series in 1919. In fact, I image it would be akin to Charlie finding the Golden Ticket. Sure, Veruca Salt could demand them, only to have them sit forlorn and ignored on fancy shelves. But I bet there were far more Charlie Buckets’, with parents that carefully pulled money from a savings account or a tin box kept in the pantry and decided to invest in, perhaps even on a payment plan, these portals to a wider world.
And a portal they are- now for us, into history. A look at the world as it stood 100 years ago. The sections in each volume reflect the inherent optimism of the editors and attempt to address every question from the philosophical to the practical.
These are just some of the sections within each volume:
- The Book of the Earth
- The Book of Familiar Things
- The Book of Wonder
- The Book of Nature
- The Book of Our Own Life
- The Book of Golden Deeds
There are other, less enlightened, things that we can learn from these books too. They remind us of darker periods in world history- when colonization was an accepted practice, and you’ll find no enlightened views on sexuality or gender roles in them. But that’s important for us to remember too. The good advice expressed in the poem, “Speak Gently” remains as true today as it was then.
I have always dreamed of having a cabin lined with book shelves. No spot for a TV, just shelves upon shelves lined with books, games, puzzles, and found objects. But really, it’s all about the books. I imagine the kind of floor to ceiling shelves, where you would stand in front of them and be able to just select something at random- maybe a mystery, or an old Stephen King novel, maybe a book of Audubon prints of wild birds, or a gigantic old dictionary- a little bit for every taste. Something to enchant anyone- old, young, cynical or worldy. Books that will delight all the senses- touch, smell, sight (okay- let me amend that, don’t lick the books.) The Book of Knowledge, this 20-volumne set is exactly what I have dreamed would fill those future shelves. Sure, we don’t have the cabin yet- but that’s just a minor detail. Someday, we will. And these books will inhabit a place of honor.
Someday, friends will stand in front of those shelves, grab one of these classic volumes and get lost in the wonder of the world as it was seen through the eyes of a person living in 1919. I recommend you get in good with us now, so you can be on the guest list.
Seriously, though- you don’t have to wait. These books are out there! You can find them now. You too can save them and cherish them as our family will. Or, if you don’t want them- send them to me! I’ll give them the loving home they deserve.
Not kidding- if you find a book or books that you think would add to this dream, please, please tell me! I recently came across an article about a couple of kindred spirits who are making a similar, though far grander dream come true in Colorado.
These books reveal so much more about our past than any Ken Burns documentary ever could (and I LOVE Ken Burns). One of my favorite sections is called Things to Make and Things to Do and the suggestions are as various and ingenious as the children they were intended for.
From making a “handy writing board, to playing “favorite garden games,” to “a cheap way to make an electric battery”- you’ll want to spend the rest of the day relishing in the delight of childlike discovery.
I can’t overstate my excitement at finding these books and bringing them into our home as the treasure that they are. I feel lucky to see the magic contained within them and hope that you’ll be inspired to do the same, the next time you see a set of worn covers and yellowed pages.
And feel free to reserve a spot at the cabin. Your payment will be your good company but a nice bottle of wine or vintage book wouldn’t hurt!
The other day, I received an email for a women’s event that prominently featured a high heel shoe in its design. The mailing was for an event organized by The Center for Women & Democracy (a great organization) honoring top women in business. The ad featured an exaggerated high heel- a really sky high ankle-breaker. It struck me as an odd symbol for an organization and event meant to promote women being taken seriously, having power, and being treated equally.
So, that got me thinking about high heels as symbols, in general, and the shorthand they represent for women. I quickly realized that I am part of a “high-heel” women’s running group, and that logo is a cross between a high heel and a treed mountain side. I also follow an organization called the Red Shoe Movement that is focused on women empowering women in business, and they too use a high heel as their symbol. In short, high heels are everywhere. There is even a woman in the UK getting ready to run a marathon in high heels (she is a plain fool, in my view- even if she is raising money for charity).
Women’s feet and what they symbolize have been on my mind, in part, because I recently finished reading a wonderful historical fiction novel called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, that centers on a woman in China in the mid 1800’s, when foot-binding was still common practice. Like most, I’d seen the pictures of grossly deformed feet and heard the stories of the erotic appeal of these tiny “golden lilies”, but had never read a vivid description of the incredible bone-breaking torture that went into making that peculiar fetish an irreversible reality for women. I can’t imagine the suffering involved, much less having the will to inflict it upon your own daughter. And yet, it was a significant symbol of status and refinement for the women who were lucky enough to survive it (some estimates suggest 20% of girls died as a result of the gruesome process), despite being crippled for life.
Although high heels are not agonizing torture (at least not beyond the stretch of an evening out), they do share some characteristics with foot binding. High heels make your feet look smaller, sexier, and they limit your mobility. Yes, I have danced the night away in them, run after a taxi, and probably even carried groceries- but in real, measurable terms, they limit your mobility – and the higher they are, the sexier they are, but the more physically limiting too.
High heels also represent a right of passage into womanhood. High heels are inextricably linked to sex. Certainly when I was growing up, young girls and what we’d now call tweens weren’t allowed to wear them because they were perceived as “too mature” (which is just parent-speak for sexy), though the unfortunate trend to sexualize girls at ever younger ages is also breaking down this once clear delineation.
So, it’s fascinating to me that this conveyance of sex appeal & physical limitation is one that many women have chosen to embrace as central to their professional identity. Why have we done this? I have an amazing friend who leads both professional & women’s events and she always wears the most spectacular high heels- the kind that make my palms sweat just watching her walk around balanced on about 2 1/2 square inches of leather. I know women who would feel naked without their heels- it would be strange to them NOT to wear them.
This leads us with an interesting paradox. While it is true that high heels makes you physically less mobile and more vulnerable, wearing them makes you feel strong and empowered. Put heels on and you feel a surge of confidence and desirability. A good pair of heels, and you could walk- no, strut, into a room with serious swagger. A special outfit just isn’t complete without killer shoes to complete it- and killer always means heels. You need to rock an interview or presentation? Wear your most kick-ass heels and it’s like a power-up in a video game. You. Are. Invulnerable. No mousy ballet flat is going to cut it.
Despite my own love of a swagger-inducing pair of heels, something in me balks at it being such a prominent symbol of womanhood- particularly in a professional context. Yes- they are beautiful and sexy, but they are also confining, narrow, superficial. The desire to wear heels sets an often literally crippling standard that many women pay for with surgery later in life.
I have cast about for other symbols that are uniquely female. Bras, makeup, underwear, feminine hygiene products- oh lord, lets not go down any of those roads! It’s tricky, because ultimately, it’s our biology and physical attributes that unite us (or differentiate us from men, if you like). We definitely are different on the outside, and we can debate all day about what differences go deeper than that.
I am not arguing against the high heel or the feeling of empowerment that comes from wearing them, per se. But I do wish women had something else that symbolically united us. Something that speaks more to our hearts and minds. Something that does not have an explicit or implicit tie to our sexuality.
Maybe the take-away from this is two-fold. First, an awareness and recognition that the high heel holds a unique and complex position in a woman’s life and in our culture. Just ask Cinderella. Whether you eschew or adopt them, there is a choice to be made about high heels. As a woman, you cannot be ambivalent in your relationship to them.
Second, let’s strive for something more meaningful to represent us. What image can replace the high heel on the next mailer for a women’s event? What shorthand can we use to represent women, particularly in the professional world- that doesn’t also have an undertone of sex appeal? That includes women who don’t wear heels? I think we can do better.
I’d love your feedback! Share how wearing heels (or not) has affected your personal or professional life?
If you’d like to read the happy side of approaching 40, read my earlier blog, or read this currently popular NYT piece. But this post isn’t like those. Let’s get all the hard truth out of the way: I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful life I’ve had so far- wonderful husband and truly my best friend, amazing kids, great job, great career, great standard of living, great dog, I’m in great health (if not great shape… but we’ll get to that). I have nothing, literally nothing to complain about. And yet, I’m going to.
Turning 40 (on the 28th of Feb, if you must know) is making me schizophrenic. So, read all of the above and then realize that I was crying into my coffee this morning because I feel like an abject failure. Okay, maybe not abject- but sizable, like clog the toilet sizable. There are some ugly realizations that hit at 40. I’m never going to be Tina Fey, or Nicholas Kristof, or even that guy that writes/draws The Oatmeal. Fame & fortune probably aren’t in the cards.
I remember being six years old, sitting in front of the TV and watching Princess Diana marry Prince Charles and thinking- that fairy tale could be mine. There was a chance, however remote, that I could be swept up in a fantasy like that. I had some English blood in there somewhere, right? I believed it with the fiery purity of a six year old.
Fast forward, thirty-four years.
Obviously, those dreams are long, long gone and good riddance to them. I mean- look how that marriage turned out! I’m confident Tony & I have had more happiness in one day than they had cumulatively in their 15 years. But I also believed, as a child, that I was exceptional. And that feeling didn’t dissipate with the years. I have held on to that belief. As I climbed through the ranks at school, at various companies, measuring milestones based on goals around tangible things like job titles, fitness level, kids, possessions, etc.,- I felt secure, like I had settled into a good position. Not crazy leader-of-the-pack, but with a couple of accomplishments that I could cuddle at night, the way I used to snuggle my beloved stuffed rabbit.
Now, with the big 4-0 just days away, my subconscious image of who I am and what I should have accomplished is crumbling beneath my fingers like sawdust. I thought I’d always be on the fast track at work, I thought I’d always be able to knock out a half-marathon at a moment’s notice, I thought I’d have parenting down seven years into it (oh, how wrong I was on that one!). In short, I thought I’d have it figured out. I believed I’d go riding into my forties triumphant, on the back of chariot like Marc Antony coming into Rome. I might have even practiced my wave and sincere-yet-knowing smile.
Pbbhhhbt. Instead, 40 feels like shit. I am just overwhelmed by impostor syndrome. Not only do I feel like my career hasn’t reached the heights I’d hoped for, but I have this horrible suspicion that ALL my jobs and all my work has been a fraud. I also spend a fair amount of time thinking I’m a horrible mother. And don’t get me started on my fitness or weight. Pull up the goddamn bridge, ’cause I’m going for it.
These realizations have been hitting in waves. At the end of December, I was struck by the fact that I would never make a “40 under 40 list” and, if I can be honest- I had really thought I would. Maybe it would have been in the community newsletter- but as I said, I have felt, for my entire life, like I had something exceptional, something special to contribute. Yeah, not so much, I guess. So, being a “pull myself up by my bootstraps” type, I thought, I may not make the PSBJ list… but you know what?! I’ll just write my own list of 40 accomplishments that I have made before 40. Then I’ll feel great! And worthy! Hooray!
Mentally, I began to compose my list. Happily married. Ta-da! Master’s degree. I am smart! Fancy jobs at Microsoft and PATH. I am accomplished! Peace Corps in Kenya. I am altruistic! Incredible kids. I am a parent! Just 34 more little feathers to put in my cap. I should feel GREAT by the end of this.
Then, abruptly, I stopped, a cool horror dawning. I realized something profound. I was still fucking competing. Comparing. Measuring myself. Cuddling up with my little stuffed rabbit of self-worth. Against whom was I competing? Against what yardstick? I’m flipping 40- it’s time to let that whole ridiculous business go. Measuring your worth through accomplishments is a young person’s game. Yes, I know.
But it’s hard to let go. It’s super hard to change your perspective from “what you have done makes you worthy” to “who you are makes you worthy”. As people who know me personally will attest… I can be a bit of a control freak. I like things to go my way. I like to be in charge. I like having a list of “dones” to refer to. Long time security blanket, first time confessor. This has been my yardstick my entire life!
The truth is, I may have let go of my “swept off my feet Princess Diana dream” (though, if I have hit the jackpot anywhere in my life, it’s on the marriage front), but I swapped one set of unrealistic aspirations for another. I suppose we all do to some degree. Now, I know that 40 is the gate-keeper that makes you put all that crap down or at least take a long hard look at it.
Here’s the thing I am really struggling with- I’m disappointed in myself. Not in my life- because again, there is not one actual thing I should be disappointed in about it, but I guess I had hoped for more from me. It’s that exceptional thing again. I know- I can hear all of you (or some of you, anyway) saying “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” Yes, I know. And some of you are saying, “Life isn’t over at forty, it’s just beginning!” Yes, I know that too. When not mercilessly flagellating myself, I feel so excited and optimistic about the future. I feel great about everything I can shed now that I have crossed this magical, mystical threshold. But that gate-keeper is extracting a painful toll. And I can see that this is not a one-and-done exercise.
So, 40. It’s coming on like a freight train and as my sister so wisely said, it’s a lot better than the alternative. I just have to stand at the platform and get on board.
That’s what I’ve got going on right now. It’s not a super pretty time to be in my head but I wanted to give you a peek at the journey. It’s a little bit of the sausage-making, but I wanted to share the darker side, the harder side of turning 40. In case you have felt it, are feeling it (I know Wilson High School Class of ’93- you feel me), or wanted to be forewarned about feeling it (if you are under forty- don’t even talk to me right now). I did not know that a ding-dang birthday- some arbitrary date on the calendar could inflict such angst and agony in the midst of so much to be grateful for. My rational self is violently shaking my emotional self by the collar and yelling, “Get yourself together, Locati!” Did I mention that it’s a little ugly in my head at the moment? Maybe call before you come over….
Over the years, I have come to see myself like a cork floater on a fishing line. I get pulled down occasionally, but I always pop back up to the surface. Turns out that 40 is more of a whopper than I anticipated but I’ll bob back up and have a heck of a story to tell in the process.
Thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me!
Let me begin by saying that I ADORE the Humans of New York (aka HONY) blog and Facebook page. You should definitely check them out. I love the recent story about the young boy at the Brooklyn school who praised his principal, which set up a snowball effect of raising gobs of money for the school and a meeting with the president. Love the whole damn thing.
I also love the story of the man from Detroit, James Robertson, who was profiled for his ridiculously difficult commute, and then received several hundred thousand dollars in donations and a new car. Totally awesome.
Except that these stories won’t end like a Disney movies and that’s the tricky part. I recently finished reading the terrific book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, about an extraordinarily gifted young man from a tough Newark, NJ neighborhood, who makes it to Yale on a combination of his gifts, determination, and the kind of no-strings-attached generosity that is demonstrated by the two stories above. And as you may have surmised from the title, Robert’s story ends tragically when he is killed in a confrontation with some other drug dealers. Yes, I said other drug dealers- Robert, despite all of his gifts and education, was unable to break free of the complex bonds and relationships that tied him to his neighborhood and family- in a word, he was a dealer too.
And that’s the problem I have with these two recent stories. Money is not enough. Even education, as much as it is the great equalizer, is not enough. Helping to lift an individual out of poverty is not about that individual alone. It must be about the entire community. Humans are like marionettes, they have strings attached- to children, parents, extended family, girlfriends, boyfriends, classmates, bosses, neighbors, creditors- the list goes on. The bonds across all of these relationships are incredibly interdependent, complex, and have many of the same properties that we use to describe bonds in chemistry. They may be flexible but strong, rigid but weak, fragile but critical- and no one knows the properties and complexity of these relationships except for that person at the center of all of them.
What I fear for Mr. Robertson, and Vidal and his classmates, is that we are fickle benefactors. There is a sense that, having donated or even just commented on their struggles, somehow gives us entrée into their lives, and when they make a mistake- and they will, many will tsk knowingly or shake their heads disapprovingly, with an “I told you so” air. These individuals, the students, the teachers, and staff from Vidal’s school- they will make mistakes, they will fight over money- in short, they will not live up to the standard that has been set by these snapshots of their lives.
None of us would live up to the expectations set by these two-dimensional portraits. Because we are human. Because we are fallible. Because making mistakes is how we all learn. Because sometimes the marionette strings that entangle us are too much for even the most gifted among us to break free from.
As good as it feels to be generous when we want to, when we feel someone “deserves” it- it is vital that we do not feel that this is enough. The education system that allows kids from low-income neighborhoods in New York City to be so incredibly disadvantaged relative to wealthier peers in better neighborhoods is broken. The infrastructure in Detroit that is so crippled that people can spend half their days commuting to low-wage jobs is broken. All of the individuals affected by these failings deserve help. Not just the ones that through luck or fate make it to the top of your Facebook feed.
In the charity world, it’s well known that making an appeal on behalf of a specific individual is far more effective than an appeal on behalf of a group of individuals. Show the world one starving kid and you’ll have a far greater return than if you show them an entire community. This is a not a criticism of this practice, just the reality. People make empathic connections on a 1:1 ratio. It’s hard to feel a personal connection to 10,000 kids or a million kids. Your mind starts to stack-rank them and without realizing it, you want to connect with the worst-off kid, even if the next 50 or 50,000 have negligibly better circumstances.
I fervently hope that the money raised for Mott Hall Bridges Academy, and for Mr. Robertson, and for the next person judged tragic-yet-worthy!, helps them surmount the challenges that surround them. I hope that the notoriety affords them sufficient freedom to chart their own course. But I am a realist. I know stories and endings like Robert Peace’s are heart-achingly commonplace. I know that breaking free from the burdens that poverty places upon you is a herculean struggle that few are able to do.
My ask is this- if, or when, James Robertson dents his car, or sells it, or quits his job and runs off with an old girlfriend- or whatever; don’t judge him harshly. The same goes for Vidal and Ms. Lopez, for that matter. None of us know what is written in the book of their lives, even if you have read the outline of it. Do not harden your heart against generosity because you feel it was wasted effort. Do not let the narrative of “charity breeds dependence” take root in your mind.
Rather, push yourself to think more broadly about the causes and effects of long-term poverty. The systemic challenges and barriers that we must work to eliminate. Whether it’s city infrastructure, failing schools, lack of childcare, lack of health care, adult education, violence, addiction, unemployment- you know the list. You are probably zoning out already, based on the magnitude of the challenge. Look, I donated $100 bucks to that guy- don’t kill my buzz. I get it. I feel the same way. I get overwhelmed and discouraged all the time, thinking about it. And yet we cannot give up.
When we help an individual, it is not like we pluck them from the wild and put them in a controlled environment like a zoo. That person still lives in their very real world, with all its attendant risks and dangers. Ironically perhaps, the zoo metaphor may be especially apt for the affluent. The more advantages you are born with, the more your environment is already controlled, adapted, and regulated for you. Do animals born in the zoo long for the wilds? Do they even see the bars of their enclosures? Do they thank the gods that put them there? Do we? It starts to feel a little uncomfortable when we examine our own lives through this lens.
So what’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with the snapshot we are seeing of Vidal or James Robertson? Are we looking out at them or are they looking in at us? Our great challenge is eliminating the barriers between us and recognizing our shared humanity and journey.
Thanks so much for reading and sharing!