Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday #4: Friendly Giant?

Each week, I post a photo and ask you to comment on what Two Kinds of People ideas it inspires. ("There are two kinds of people in the world: … .")

Or, use the photo as a writing prompt. If you write something and post it, be sure to leave a link in the comments so we can find it. You may repost the photo (please include ©2012 Susan Bearman @Two Kinds of People). If you want to know more about the picture, ask.

(And for more Wordless Wednesday fun, check out our weekly posts on The Animal Store blog.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday #3: Caffeine?

Each week, I post a photo and ask you to comment on what Two Kinds of People ideas it inspires. ("There are two kinds of people in the world: … .")

Or, use the photo as a writing prompt. Write something creative and leave a link in the comments so we can find it. You may repost the photo (please include ©2012 Susan Bearman @Two Kinds of People). If you want to know more about the picture, ask.

(See my latest post on Write It Sideways: How to Read to Improve Your Writing.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We Didn't Start the Fire

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence. — Robert Frost

There are two kinds of people in the world: firefighters and arsonists. I won't bother to point out the inciting incident that fueled this essay. Regular readers will know what it was, and the flamers who ignited it won't be back to read this post.

Let me acknowledge from the outset that this post could land me firmly in the old fuddy-duddy category, someone longing for the "good old days" when people were kind and respectful to one another. I won't cop to full-fledged curmudgeon, but I will admit that I'm tired—tired of the endless shouting, impatience, and boorish behavior that I see almost everywhere I look.

Civil discourse is neither civil (polite or courteous) nor discourse (verbal communication; conversation). We're  too busy shouting and calling each other names that we can't even hear each other, let alone take the time to imagine what it might be like to walk in another's shoes. Does anyone else remember learning "Robert's Rules of Debate" in school, like rule #43, Decorum in Debate:

"In debate a member must confine himself to the question before the assembly, and avoid personalities."

Can't say the I've seen much evidence of this rule in the recent GOP primary-related conflagrations.

And extreme expression isn't limited to public debate. Yesterday, I was waiting at an intersection as an elderly woman crossed the street, slowly, using a walker. The woman in the car behind me found this to be an intolerable delay and proceeded to lean on her horn until I was finally able to move. I wish I could say that I held my tongue (and middle finger) in check, that I had smiled at the lady in the crosswalk and ignored the woman in the other car. But I knew I was right, and that the car lady was wrong.

James Thurber said: "It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers."

So, here a couple of questions I have about yesterday's incident.
  • What could possibly have been so important that the woman in the car behind me needed to honk such a tantrum? 
  • And did my futile tantrum of epithets and hand gestures do anyone any good?
I looked to psychology to help me understand the nature of temper tantrums only to discover a raging controversy about whether tantrums should be medicalized into something called "disruptive mood dysregulation disorder" or DMDD (I'm not making this up).

Instead of blowing my top over another abandonment of common sense in favor of excusing bad behavior, I decided to do what writers should be able to do best. I decided to tell you a story (and a half).

I may have mentioned here how fond I am of words. I'm afraid I have become overfond of a few particular words that don't belong in civil discourse. But there are two "swears" that we forbid in our home (if you have delicate sensibilities, avert your eyes, as I am about to print them here): "shut up" and "stupid".

When my youngest son was little, he threw excellent temper tantrums—full-blown, rolling-on-the-floor, fist-flaying, ear-piercing tantrums. Even better, he had the uncanny ability to read my mood and throw his tantrums at precisely the most inconvenient moment, usually in public when I was running late for picking up one of his siblings. 

One day, I committed some unspeakable sin (probably suggesting that it was bedtime or that he should pick up his Legos). His face turned fire-engine red and, spit flying, he screamed at me: "Shut up, stupid, stupid, stupid."

His brothers and sister froze in horror, absolutely sure he would be struck by lightning at any moment. In a rare moment of self control, I did not lose my own temper (or crack up, which was what I really wanted to do). I simply walked out of the silent room, locked myself into my bathroom and laughed myself silly.

Around 2:00 a.m., he woke me. "I'm sorry I called you those very bad words," he sobbed.

I resisted the urge to comfort him and said calmly: "Those were very bad things you said, and I'm sure next time you feel that angry, you'll do better."

I wish I could say that was the last tantrum. It wasn't.

A few days later, he made the mistake of throwing his fit at home when I had the luxury of time to wait him out. I was making the beds up in his room when he let loose. I made few feeble attempts to disarm the explosive device, but it was futile. When I finished the beds, I stepped over him and moved on to another room. After a few minutes, the shrieking and banging stopped suddenly and I heard the patter of his little, angry feet as he tramped through the house looking for me.

He ricocheted from room to room, finally finding me folding clothes in my bedroom. After glaring at me for a full 10 seconds, he threw himself on the floor and picked up his tantrum where it had left off. This time, I couldn't control myself, and burst out laughing. I laughed till tears rolled down my face. His tantrum finally lost its steam and he rushed to me, throwing his arms around my neck: "Don't cry, Mama," he said.

As he has matured, he has learned that the surest way to diffuse my anger is to make me laugh. And I have learned that the best way to extinguish a temper tantrum is to ignore it.

So, has the youthful fire in my belly petered down to a mere smoldering heap of curmudgeonly ashes? And if so, can I at least request that we raise the level of our insults from tedious "F yous" to something more interesting, say along the lines of Shakespeare? At a loss? Try this handy-dandy Shakespearian insult generator. Feel free to hurl them in the comments.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday #2: Stubborn?

Each week, I post a photo and ask you to comment on what Two Kinds of People ideas it inspires. ("There are two kinds of people in the world: … .")

Or, use the photo as a writing prompt. Write something creative and leave a link in the comments so we can find it. You may repost the photo (just add my copyright ©Susan Bearman @Two Kinds of People). If you want to know more about the picture, ask.

I swore to myself the I'd have another 2KoP post up before Wordless Wednesday #2. Note to self: don't swear. If you want good ideas for your own blogs, though, I recommend to posts on Write It Sideways:

Not Just Another Writer's Writing Blog by Susan Bearman (c'est moi)
Is A “Niche” Or “Non-Niche” Blog Right For You? by Sarah Braughman

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wordless Wednesday #1: Magic?

Magician at Pike Place Market in Seattle, 2010. ©Susan Bearman @Two Kinds of People
Welcome to the first edition of Wordless Wednesday, Two-Kinds-of-People-style. Each week, I'll post a photo and ask you to comment on what Two Kinds of People ideas it inspires. (Start with "There are two kinds of people in the world: …", then finish that thought based on the photo.)

I also invite you to use the photo as a writing prompt. Take it and run with it. Write something creative and link back to this post. Feel free to repost the photo (just add my copyright ©Susan Bearman @Two Kinds of People). If you want to know more about the picture, ask.

Full disclosure: the idea came from two of my favorite inspiration blogs:

Strangling My Muse by Sandy Ackers
Leaving the Zip Code by Amy Zimmerman

If you want more visual inspiration and haven't yet visited Pinterest, check it out (but only if you have lots of free time). Have fun.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Winning! Guest Post by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel

Please, read this piece on SFGate, home of the San Francisco Chronicle, before you read this post. Then, do everything you can to employ Option 3. Thank you to columnist Mark Morford.

Taking a Risk 
Essay contestant Tanya Grove's husband and daughter go skydiving. Photo credit: Tanya Grove

It was such a thrill to read the submissions to the 2012 Third Annual Two Kinds of People Essay Contest. I discovered a host of 2KoP aficionados out there.

First, thank you to everyone who submitted. Your work was fun to read and inspires me more than I can say. It takes a leap of faith to put your writing out there to be judged (thanks to participant Tanya Grove for providing the perfect graphic.) The winning essay is posted below. As other entrants publish their essays online, I will add links to their posts, as well.

I would also like to thank my fabulous panel of judges. In addition to me, I was so lucky to have the time and attention of four outstanding guest judges, all with impeccable credentials and exceptional taste. In alphabetical order, thank you to:

Angela Allyn — arts maven, writer and multimedia performance artist; her grasp of the origin of story and literary archetypes is unparalled.

April Eberhardt — literary agent for change, champion of outstanding writers and writing everywhere, and closet 2KoP journal writer.

Ed Padala — marketing expert with an impressive ability to get right to the heart of what works and what doesn't in any piece of writing; the most well-read person I know.

Judi Silverman — master high school English teacher and life-long nitpicker, who can smell a grammatical error a mile away; trusted sounding board for all students of life.

Our Winner

This year's top honors go to Norine Dworkin-McDaniel for her fearless, funny essay called Circumcision Decision. Fair warning, this piece is a bit riskier than those usually found on 2KoP—and that's exactly what won my vote. As my own writing journey progresses, I find myself more and more drawn to writers who are willing to explore the dark corners of life, who don't feel the need to be "good" (except in the execution of their craft). It's a brave thing to commit an act of truth in writing, and I tip my hat to Norine.

Norine wins: this guest post with a link back to her own fabulous blog, Don't Put Lizards in Your Ears; an exclusive 2KoP embroidered logo tote bag; copy of the original version of William Strunk, Jr.'s Elements of Style, and a gift card to The Animal Store. Since Norine lives more than 1,000 miles from the store, she generously donated her $25 gift card to a shelter near The Animal Store called The Red Door.

Enough backstory. Here's the winning essay. Enjoy.

[Ed. note—There are two kinds of people: those who engage in civil discussion and those who hide behind anonymity or feel the need to lob personal attacks, rather than present cogent arguments or respectful expressions of a differing opinion. This essay won our contest because of the quality of the writing; it was not selected to advocate a particular position. The decision whether or not to circumcise a baby boy is a very personal one for parents, and I respect the decision of all parents in this matter. In many parts of the world circumcision is virtually unheard of. While there is evidence that the percentage of American baby boys being circumcised is dropping, upwards of three-quarters of US-born males have been circumcised. You may want to read more on the topic in this NY Times article.
    This essay takes a humorous look at one family's "circumcision decision". Some readers may disagree with the position taken by the author, and you are free to express your opinion. I must insist, however, that all comments be respectful. While it is never my intention to stifle debate or freedom of speech, I have decided to delete anonymous comments. Our author was brave enough to put her name on her words; I respectfully request that commenters do the same.]

Circumcision Decision
by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel

You know how you take certain things for granted and just assume that your world view on a particular subject is universally shared by all … or at least by the man you married and who supplied the other half of your kidlet’s DNA? And then you find out that that’s totally not the case … that in fact, said DNA contributor has a completely different take on something, one that’s so diametrically opposed to yours that you can’t even believe anyone would think that way.

That pretty much sums up my pre-baby discussion about circumcision with Stewart. I had taken it as a given, in the way that I take it as given that the sky is blue, the grass (when we remember to water it) is green, and that Paris Hilton will eventually do something even more crass and unbecoming than flash her hoo-ha at the paparazzi. In other words, we’re having a boy, so, duh, he’ll be circumcised.

Stewart apparently, was of a different mind altogether.

Here’s me: So after the baby’s born, we’ll get him circumcised in the hospital.

Here’s Stewart: Um … I don’t think we should.


Now that was a head-spinning conversation stopper. I haven’t been stunned so speechless since The Usual Suspects when you find out at the end that KEVIN SPACEY IS KEYSER SOZE! I mean, I just didn’t see that coming! Same here. You have a boy, you circumcise him. Just like you have a bag of double-fudge-chocolate-chip cookies, you eat them. You have a 10 and a face card, you sit tight at the blackjack table. There’s no discussion. You just do it. And frankly, it never occurred to me that we wouldn’t do it. But Stewart was weighing the anti-circumcision point of view. His rationale went something along the lines of: “Foreskin comes standard equipment; why should we make after-market changes?”

He pointed out that foreskin retention was gaining traction. Who knows. For guys, maybe it’s the new black. Actually, it’s thought that 90 percent of guys around the world are unshorn. Even in the U.S., it’s guesstimated that there’s about a 50-50 split between cut and uncut. Of course, I understand man’s natural desire—even pre-Lorena Bobbitt—to avoid sharp objects in that region at all costs. I don’t even have a penis (if you don’t count the one I keep in my nightstand), and I wince and squeeze my legs together when even imagining this. But damn! Squeamish or no, I was going to do right by our son.

But clipping was clearly going to be a tough sell. You’d think this would be a no brainer since I’m Jewish. But you can hardly play the whole “Covenant between God and Abraham” card when you’ve been a confirmed atheist since … oh, about age 9. And it certainly wasn’t like I was campaigning for a bris. (For those not In The Tribe, that’s when you throw a fabulous party where the baby gets trimmed as the guests eat canapés.) As if. Now I love, love, love to throw parties. You can ask my sister; I’ve been campaigning for Groundhog Day to be a black tie-worthy event for years! But it had to have been a guy who came up with the brilliantly sadistic idea to throw a major catered affair at your house, a scant eight days after you’ve squeezed a basketball out of your vagina … or been sliced stem to stern and had it removed. Either way, you hardly feel like putting on your party shoes.

Still, it’s not like you can skimp, right? On Junior’s first public outing? Hell no! You’re going to pull out all the stops. And that’s hardly trays of crudités from Costco. So no, I was looking for any way out of the bris. If we were going to do a whole shindig for Junior, we’d wait till his first birthday when I’d be back in my skinny jeans.

But if not religious tradition, I was hard-pressed to figure out what else I could possibly stand on. The standard argument—So That He’ll Look Like His Daddy Down There—held no truck with Stewart. Neither did my point that he wouldn’t look like his peers when he stripped down in the locker room after gym class either. Or that guys also have major body image issues and carry plenty of self-doubt that their peckers are “up to par.” I’m sure even Ron Jeremy had days when he wondered if his alter ego was “sponge worthy.” In the face of all that, did we really need to give our son one more reason to worry that his penis wasn’t good enough?

I even tried to appeal to my husband’s inner rational scientist and broke out the medical research. Studies do show that circumcised boys and men have fewer urinary tract infections, a lower risk for penile cancer and for STDs, including HIV compared to intact guys. Okay, so the risk for UTIs and penile cancer is minuscule to begin with, and you can probably do more to protect against HIV and other STDs with good, consistent condom use. But shouldn’t we set our boy up to have every single advantage possible?

Then Stewart placed his ace. There must be a reason the package came wrapped, he argued. He’d heard that uncut guys reported much greater sensitivity and pleasure during sex. Actually I don’t know how you measure that. Ask uncut guys to have lots of sex, then clip them and have them rate the difference? Frankly, I don’t see a lot of volunteers lining up for that study. But Stewart admitted he sort of wished he’d had more of a say in his own circumcision. “I might,” he argued, working himself into a Clarence Darrow lather, “enjoy sex even more if I had it au naturel.” He floated this idea: By clipping Fletcher at this tender age, maybe we would be shortchanging his sex life … forever. Dangling a little Jewish guilt in front of me — proof positive that he’d been taking notes from my mother — he deftly pulled this one out: “You don’t want to be responsible for ruining our son’s sex life, do you?”

Ruin our son’s sex life? YES! That was it!

And that’s when the most persuasive argument I could possibly muster came to me … the sure-fire way to finally persuade Stewart that in the “snip or not to snip” debate, circumcising would be the kindest cut of all.

“My love,” I said to my husband, sweetly, pragmatically. “If you ever want your son to get a blow job — circumcise him.”

Four weeks after our son came into the world, we did just that. In the pediatrician’s office, with little fanfare, no mini quiches and a whole lotta wincing.

To Fletcher’s future girlfriends: You’re welcome.

Links to other essays submitted to this contest:

Finding the Pony — by Mary Sigmond Ryan
Can a Safenik Become a Risk Taker — by Tanya Grove
Do You, Would You, Could You Pee in the Shower? — by Cindy Brown