The Best Xmas Gift of All:

A book that my eight year old daughter wrote, illustrated and published for me, called “Somewhere in the World”:

SITW_ISABEL_2013_1Somewhere in the world there is a place you like,
and in the place you like, there is a tall mountain to hike.

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SITW_ISABEL_2013_4In the world there is a place that you can see, but never touch!

SITW_ISABEL_2013_5Happy x Fun = FUNtastic
Fun + Boring = Good

SITW_ISABEL_2013_6Home is in your heart, wherever you are!

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What Would Diana Vreeland Do?

Doyenne of fashion and style Diana Vreeland was first brought to my attention by a good friend early one evening in the early 1990s at the Time Café in New York City. We were six, let’s say eight, at the table, and Jeff said he didn’t think my allure was in beauty but in style; I looked like Diana Vreeland. I had just started a post-grad at the nearby Tisch School of the Arts on Broadway, never heard about Diana Vreeland and had no clue about the vastness of compliment that I’d just been paid. Like a psychotic penguin from Madagascar, I kept smiling yet seething with humiliation within, having just been publicly labelled as not-beautiful, and  retaliated later the same evening with a mean remark that hurt and puzzled my friend.

Nowadays I know that resembling Diana Vreeland is worth far more than being called beautiful. [Thanks Jeff.]  She had an uncanny feel for the next big thing, and kept saying marvelously accurate one liners such as,

“Pink is the navy blue of India.”   “Never fear being vulgar, just boring.”

“You don’t have to be born beautiful to be wildly attractive.”

So when new friends ask me what to wear for the Swedish pre-Christmas party that we host every year on the third Advent Sunday, I think of Ms. Vreeland’s advice:

“Too much good taste can be boring. A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika.”

Don’t fear pairing granny’s hand knitted Christmas sweater with a vintage Herve Leger bandage dress. Just remember wearing the sweater back to front: “It is so much more flattering that way”, as Diana said.

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Swedish Christmas cocktail party, a.k.a. Glöggfest, at my home, December 2008

Had Ms. Vreeland lived, she would have come up with a simultaneously wise and chic commentary on these day’s  “smart is the new green“. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d have said: “Darling, you got it the wrong way around. Like women’s sweaters: wearing them back to front looks does so much more for women than wearing them the way they were designed to.”

“Give ideas away. Under every idea there is a new idea waiting to be born.”
— Diana Vreeland (Paris 1903-NYC 1989)

Information on the 2011 “The Eye Has To Travel” documentary on Diana Vreeland, style advisor to Jackie Kennedy Onassis and style guru of the 20th century whom Vogue dared to fire, is hereYouTube clip miraculously uncensored by GEMA in Germany can be found here.

Happy Holidays!

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Another year, another Christmas approaching at the speed of Gary Larson‘s Far Side Eye cartoon,  “Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear”. Nostalgia peppers the soul seconds in between To Do Lists running from A, as in Advent Calendar Gifts to Buy and Stuff in 24 Pockets, to Z, as in, when can I get some Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz-leep. On that nostalgic note, here are some fun toys that you can no longer find on today’s stores – Merry Christmas Everyone!

Who’s Got a Filofax Full of Men?

Admittedly, two days post US election, I am a little late on the “binders full of women” slip off Mitt Romney’s tongue that reportedly alienated US women voters, spawned its own Facebook group, and ensured a veritable torrent of viral meme joy [my favorites: Psy Gangnam’s energy, Bill Clinton’s priorities, the candidates’ digital divideAll the Mitt’s Wives, Binders by Qualification Criteria,  Dorothy in Oz, and the 007 mission.]

But I couldn’t help share the fun with all as late as I on the less subtle – and all the more powerful for that –  ironies of the US election.

And wonder: in a televised debate between Heidi Klum, German-born supermodel turned business mogul and mother of four, and Angela Merkel, German-born physics chemist turned Chancellor of Germany and stepmother of two, which would be most likely to tell a German TV audience I’ve Got a Filofax Full of Men? Which would have needed some serious sleuthing to find qualified men to work for them?

Green Blood and a Slumdog beat Elections and the Superstorm

[From this morning’s top 10 most read BBC News on my iPad, sometime between 08:45-09:45 a.m. CET, including their upward or downward mobility on that list while I typed this post:]

THE BEST:
1. Patient Bleeds Dark Green Blood [-]4
2. Obama set to resume campaigning [-]3
3. What the real Slumdog Millionaire did next [+]2
4. Hedgehog trapped in crisp packet [-]6
5. Have India´s poor become human  guinea pigs? [–]8

THE REST:
6. Pre-historic town found in Europe [–]9
7. 10 US Election Oddities explained [/]7
8. Greek officials “lied” about list [++]5
9. Shooting at US Halloween Party [++]1 ***
10. China fund buys stake in Heathrow [/]10

[…while the Editorial choices remained, in order of scroll down appearance in the News homepage:]
– US Campaign restarts after Sandy
– Nigerian Army accused of abuses
– Shooting at US Halloween Party [marked NEW]
– Greek Bank list Editor on trial
– Russia Blacklist law takes effect
– China fund buys stake in Heathrow

Note that the Editor can rub Nigeria in front of your eyes, but nobody gives a flying hoot about it , unlike the Halloween shooting event, which shot from 9th to 1st Most Read. A taste for Halloween blood, or that sad schadenfreude syndrome making blood bath news more edible than life saving blood transfusion news? (As mentioned in another post: we the Human species are not here for the long haul, and we can’t help it…)

*** There is too much tragic madness in the world for me to offer a direct link to more detail on this news. If you really must know, go to the BBC News site and look it up.

On Parenting: From Baby Boomer Quality Time to Z-Drones

Some time ago I wrote an article for my daughter’s school magazine on today’s kids outlook on what would make their lives Happy and Successful. This after interviewing the subjects on what they mean by Happy and Successful, as parents and teachers are always clueless about what that will mean for them, since we didn’t grow up as them. We grew up with our parents dancing to a different beliefs tune based on the imperatives and struggles in the world they grew up in, and passing those beliefs on to us. We, in turn, growing up and shaped by a world that moved on from our parents’ childhood themes, form core values and beliefs that we pass to our children. And our children now grow in a different world still, and this world shapes core values and beliefs that are uniquely theirs.

Children of the 1960s, the Generation X,  grew up in the superpower tensions of the Cold Wars – the East-West escalation and détente, rise of the conflicts in the Middle East – leading to an idea of individualistic success in life meaning personal status, achieved through power, money, Ivy League education, work and good connections.

Our children’s grandparents, growing up before, during and just after the WWII, plus the reconstruction after the devastation, believed and taught their children that the more you work, the worthier you are, the better for the family; and that education is a springboard must.

Somewhere in between, we got the Millennials, a bunch also referred to as “Generation Y”, “slackers”, “the boomerang generation,  and “Peter Pans”.  Growing up with the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, Solidarity, East and West embracing each other, Millennials are more liberal, less individualistic, more social and civic-minded than Generation X.

Generational Drives and Styles. Click to display a larger image on a separate window.

For kids my daughter’s age, the post-Millennial generation called Generation Z and born between 1995 and 2010, education is a way, not the way, to get there. Teaching means enabling, and learning is for life. Billionaire has replaced millionaire, and war correspondents have given way to unpaid iReporters. TV home has become social media, and TV Natives have given birth to Digital Natives. Being social is being me, a torrent of messages is normal, not an assault, and instant, real-time message merit discrimination is a basic communications skill. Z-ers are growing up with edited televised war narratives, unedited you-tubed war clips, ubiquitous social media, the pros and cons of globalization, a diluted sense of discrimination (as gender, age, skin and style don’t thrive online, where self-portraits are avatars of the moment), political superpower shifts (East has moved eastward, the Middle East has expanded south), and crazy weather with nightmarish geological shifts on top.

When measured up against the East-West escalation, the oil crisis of the 70s, the flower power movement, the dirty wars of South America and  terrorism and kidnappings in Europe, the fear of superpowers going nuclear and the anti-war movements – climate changes aside, is what happens in the world today any tougher than it ever was? Isn’t it just – different?

Parents today have no more clue about the soul of Generation Z than our Veteran and Baby Booming moms and dads had about our generation’s. We say our parents were sooooo [eye rolling moment 1.0] hopelessly old fashioned. Our kids say that we are sooooo [eye rolling moment 3.0] on top of them all the time. And soooo hopelessly juvenile [eye rolling moment 3.0 version 3.1], tech-wise, fashion-wise and any other wise too sad to consider, as parents who fail to grow old never offer that chunky, meat-loafy safety of old fashioned parenthood.

Wait till they become parents. If we are helicopters, they’ll be drones – savvy and comfortable to constantly stream their love-rules mesh and hover all over their kids via uber-hi-tech proxies in the evolved version of today´s primitive Cloud, without needing to be near them in person except in cases where Cloud proxies don’t work well, like hugging and kissing and changing the bandage of a bad wound.

And why would they do that? Because they can. Call it the dream of Quality Time Parenting come true in Digital Native Z-ers, unable to feel guilty about not spending enough physical time with their kids, as in-person contact with someone is just one part of the whole relationship experience with anyone, including the near and dear. Our little Z-ers will be drone parents driven by the same motives of all parents in all times: keep the kids safe, and hopefully do a good enough job raising them to be happy, competent adults navigating a future that, as American singer and animal rights activist Doris Day famously put it, “is not ours to see“.

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The Human Kamikaze Bomb from the Point of View of a Long Lived Crocodile

When I read or watch the news headlines, there are moments when I imagine a sleepy croc eyeballing a nearby human and bothering about as much as you would noticing a small cabbage white butterfly doing its antics in a spot of predictable garden. The croc would consider making a big effort to move and go gulp that guy, but he is not that hungry, so it doesn’t make sense to go lust after this morsel of lesser evolutionary bite. Better conserve energy and snooze.

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I watch the news, and get this visceral sense that mankind can come up with all sorts of advances to optimize longevity and good health, or make up for the unfortunate lack of an exoskeleton that appears to be an extremely important factor in the longer haul of evolutionary history. But none of it will matter, because the bomb within tic-tacking its countdown to the 00:00:00 hour of human extinction is as intimate as our physicality, but completely different:

It’s our quest for a valuable identity in a meaningful life.

This noble human quest is our ticking self-destruction mechanism – as in, I don’t know your book of scripture, but mine tells me that I can kill you if you threaten what is meaningful to me and my own, so I will. Your book of scripture or bill of rights or whatchamacallit in your part of the world doesn’t o.k. that? Not my problem. You don’t offend me, I won’t shoot you. You offend me, I can shoot you. I offend you and you can’t shoot me?… That’s your book, not mine.  

So, come a shooting impasse, of which a digitized and globalized world has ample opportunity for, heads will roll, and news headlines daily tell us they do, all the time, anywhere. Some feel they’re rallying for purposeful justice, and thou may kill. Others  feel their hands tied by thou shall not kill.  I grew up in a small Western country where freedom of expression was out of the question during my childhood and preteen years. My parents, however, held freedom of expression sacred, first secretly, and then openly after the regime exhaled its last breadth.  By now, they’ve come full circle and reverted back to the good old safe times when you got arrested in PJs in the middle of the night for ventilating non-sanctioned opinions  – but the people who lorded over your country came from your country and spoke your language. They could be evil, but it was our evil, not a foreigner holding us in handcuffs. And righteously so, I may add! Consequently, I believe in tolerance, freedom of expression, and integrity, and hear my aging parents gloss over Salazar and Angela Merkel in the same sentence,  at the expense of the higher ethos of their prime adulthood.

So when I encounter a demonstration fueled by that movie The Innocence of Muslims downtown the European city where I currently live,  I recoil in something hard to digest whole: a mix of fear of the mob, loathing of xenophobia, and that mother of all greater evil, deep-rooted anger. Anger at seeing the streets occupied by savvy terrorists: opportunists presenting violence as just retaliation for such poor cinematic quality that only those eager to pick low hanging forbidden fruits would bother watching. Anger watching the disproportionate quantity of police in place for a crowd too small to make the local news.  Clearly, terrorizing the common passer-by population with the magnitude of police muscle is worth a tactical “cease and desist” intent.

The Execution of Christ, a piece of world quality art  (not amateur motion picture garbage), comes to mind: a life size sculpture installation of Jesus in front of a firing squad of Chairman Maos. Unsurprisingly, in China this piece is art-non-gratta. But more to the point, Catholics aren’t raging against the Chinese because two Chinese artists produced this. No Catholic is murdering any Chinese ambassador because of it. The Pope and Her Majesty are not encouraging holy wars. What’s this fundamentalist pseudo-Muslim rage all about? Who’s feeding the fire?

"The Execution of Christ" by The Gao Brothers, 2009. The pose mimics the painting "The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico" by Edouard Manet, 1867.

“The Execution of Christ” by The Gao Brothers, 2009. The pose mimics the painting “The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico” by Edouard Manet, 1867. Maximilian, a member of the Austrian Hapsburgs, had been installed in power in Mexico by Napoleon III of France to recover unpaid debts. The mission failed.

Reading about the Taliban who shot in the head up close a 14 year old girl who’d been writing a blog since 11 – really, Malala Yousafzai is right up there with Anne Frank – makes me wish being a sniper who happened in the neighborhood and shot the hooligans dead on the spot. And doing it again, and again – oh, the satisfaction of the rumor beginning to make the rounds of the encrypted terrorist underground! The glee imagining the insidious fear infiltrating the ranks, I dunno how it happens man, but it does, you shoot or rape a female, you die. The sweet balm of revenge envisaging partisans mobilizing and educating women to take it upon themselves to rid society of people who shoot girls in the face. Once upon a time it was up to women to claim the right to vote. In our time, it’s up to women to rid themselves – and their daughters, and their good husbands and fathers forced to choose between dead literate daughters or a living illiterate ones – of men who maim and kill women.

And then I get that croc-eyeing-butterfly-human moment.

It’s a world of many kinds of people. Some believe that tolerance is good. Others don’t. Some think freedom of expression is good. Others don’t. Some believe integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy.  Others don’t. Some believe that to kill someone because of a badly produced demeaning video is a just purpose. Others don’t. Some believe they must kill a young girl who writes what she observes and feels. Others don’t. Some feel they must shoot the shooters, but don’t. Others do.

We are not here for the long haul, and we can’t help it.

It’s who we are.