My Parents’ Parenting

Line drawing of a mother embracing her young daughter

A friend who has two young children asked me to write about some positive things my parents did when I was a child that have shaped who I am today.  So many things contribute to why we are the way we are, from genetics to early friendships to traumatic experiences in our youth, but there’s no denying that our parents’ choices, behaviors, and attitudes have a significant impact on the people we become.  Reflecting on our childhoods is valuable for all of us, and it holds particular value for me at this moment, as I prepare to become a parent. Read more

Making Apologies

Pencil sketch of two people standing a few feet apart

The Grammar Girl podcast did a great show this week on how to write an apology.  For a while now, I’ve been meaning to write a post about making tough apologies, so I thought I’d piggyback on Grammar Girl’s discussion.  The show advised listeners to avoid four kinds of non-apologies (the “if” apology, the passive voice apology, the reverse apology, and the florid fauxpology) and to follow a formula for apologizing effectively:

  • Acknowledge the offense clearly
  • Explain it effectively
  • Restore the offended parties’ dignity
  • Assure them they’re safe from a repeat offense
  • Express shame and humility
  • Make appropriate reparation

(Credit to Dr. Aaron Lazare and his book On Apology.)

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In Praise of Old-Fashioned Letter Writing

Embellished stationary, matching envelope, and a pen, perfect for writing a letter

In the wake of my father’s death, I received a number of cards from friends and family members expressing their condolences.  I truly appreciated these tangible expressions, which came in a slow stream over the course of several weeks.  I could read the cards and display them in my home to remind myself of the sentiments they shared, and I didn’t have to immediately come up with words to reassure the sender that I would be ok.  Unlike when I received a call or text message, I didn’t feel the need to say anything.

Receiving these cards led me to think about letter-writing, something I used to do fairly often.  When I was in college, before texting had reached its current level of ubiquity but well after emailing had taken hold as a common means of communication, I regularly exchanged letters with long-distance friends.  Reading and writing them took time, but that time was enjoyable.  Rather than dashing off quick texts in the middle of everyday activities, I would set aside half an hour or so to think about what my friend had written to me, respond thoughtfully, and share what was most important in my life at that moment.  I had no real expectations with respect to these letters.  Sometimes a friend would respond fairly quickly, and other times I would not hear back for weeks, or longer.  I didn’t take the delay personally.  I understood that my friends were busy people who were living their lives and would respond when they had the time to do so.  Receiving a letter in the mail was always a pleasant surprise that brightened my day; it was never something I expected.

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Guest Post: I Miss My Brother

 

Drawing of a woman sitting on a bench

I believe in the therapeutic and transformative value of writing, and I’m a big proponent of telling your story.  Today, I’m happy to share an essay that was submitted by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.  I hope you enjoy it.  If you have a story you’d like to share, feel free to send it to me using the “Contact” link in the menu bar.  

When my twin brother got married, I made him a big scrapbook. Full of pictures of us growing up together, it took me a lot of time and money to make. I put in pictures of him playing sports, us playing soccer and wiffle ball in the backyard, us opening presents on Christmas morning. I put in pictures of our childhood dog, pictures of us graduating high school together, and pictures of us holding hands as babies.

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Ask Alexis: How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

Charcoal portrait sketch of a young woman
Erika, 2004.

Caroline wrote to me with the following question:

I struggle with my self-confidence. Do you have any suggestions for building self-esteem? I love your confidence. Do you remember any lessons your parents taught you that helped your self-esteem/confidence?

Thanks for the question, Caroline!  First, let me say this:  You have just as much right to be on this planet as everyone else.  You are a unique, worthy person who has many gifts to give: gifts of perspective, kindness, creativity, and more.  We are all works in process, learning and growing as we move through life.  Though it may at times seem like others have everything figured out while you’re still struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, rest assured that everyone has moments of self-doubt.

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Resisting Polarization and Encouraging Compassion

Double rainbow and seagulls over Niagara Falls, with onlookers

We humans like to place people into buckets: good and bad, left and right, us and them. This seems to be an age-old tendency, and it isn’t all that surprising that the rise of social media and the proliferation of news and opinion platforms have allowed our divisions to become more entrenched and more apparent. We can choose to read and listen to only those sources that affirm what we already feel and believe, and we can respond to those who disagree while protected by a screen that keeps us from seeing and experiencing their humanity, their emotional reactions.  Our quickly typed words can be amplified through shares and retweets, carried far beyond the small circles that might once have heard them.

Many, many people have written about the heightened state of polarization in which we live these days, lamenting how destructive it is and postulating about what led to this environment.  It is distressing and disheartening.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

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Rethinking Gift-Giving

Oil painting of a cluster of tomatoes at different stages of ripeness and a small ceramic pitcher on a rumpled blue tablecloth
Still Life with Tomatoes, 2009. For details or to purchase, please contact Alexis (contact form in menu bar).

I recently came across this post on gift-giving from Mr. Money Mustache and thought it was worth sharing.  The post is several years old and references Mother’s Day, but it applies to all the occasions on which our culture tells us we are supposed to give gifts.

Ideally, gift-giving should be a way of expressing our appreciation for the people we love, making their day a little brighter, and perhaps easing their burden.  At its worst, gift-giving can become another obligation, and the gifts we give can sometimes add to the burdens of the receiver as well as the giver.  I’ve gone to holiday gatherings without gifts to give and have been embarrassed when others brought gifts for everyone, including me.  The gifts were not personally selected for each individual, but were, I suspect, bought en masse out of either a sense of requirement or a desire for the gift-giver to feel good about herself.  These gifts were not meaningful, but they provoked feelings of guilt and obligation in me.  That is not what gift-giving should do.

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Bridge the Gap: Start a Conversation, Change Your Perception

A brightly colored abstract painting
Inner Space/Outer Space, 2014. For details or to purchase, please contact Alexis.

The public radio program On Being, as part of its Civil Conversations Project, recently aired an interview called “Repairing the Breach” (transcript). The show featured a white male Libertarian leader of the Tea Party movement, Matt Kibbe, and a black female millennial progressive leader, Heather McGhee, discussing how we can engage difference and better understand each other.

Near the end of the show (at 44:30), Heather brought up a conversation she had with Gary from North Carolina on a C-SPAN call-in show last year.  Gary called into the show, admitted to being prejudiced, and explained why he thought he held certain attitudes.  Then he asked Ms. McGhee how he could change, “to become a better American.”  McGhee thanked him for his honesty and offered suggestions such as getting to know black families, reading books about the history of African-Americans in the U.S., or attending a black church.  The video clip went viral.

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The Weekend Listen

A pair of wireless headphones for podcast listening

I listen to a lot of podcasts while driving, working out, and doing chores around the house. In this weekly feature, I’ll tell you about one episode I particularly enjoyed that week.

My pick for this week is Dear Sugar Radio’s episode Location, Location, Location.  Dear Sugar is hosted by Cheryl Strayed (of Wild fame) and Steve Almond, who answer letters from listeners asking questions about love and life.  It’s kind of a modern-day advice column, in audio format.  This week, they tackle the topics of home (as in, what makes a place feel like home?), relocation, and travel, in the context of relationships.

Want more podcasts?  Here are my runners-up for the week:

Need a tutorial on how to listen to podcasts?  Here you go.

Are you listening to a podcast that I haven’t mentioned yet?  Let us know about it in the comments!

Friend Love: In Appreciation of My Tribe

Close-up painting of daffodils
Daffodils, 2015.

On Tuesday, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I wrote about my husband. While he’s amazing and I’m so grateful for the relationship we have, he isn’t the only source of love in my life. I firmly believe that we shouldn’t expect one person to satisfy all of our needs. Today, I want to show my gratitude for my friends.

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