Life in America

The Zen of Mad Men

on May 23, 2015 in Creative Life, Latest News, Life in America with no comments by

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The finale of Mad Men was not what I expected. The day before the finale aired I was hoping Don Draper would change his name to Dick Whitman and turn his back on the advertising world. I hoped he would buy a ranch in Wyoming and fall in love with the perfect woman (a woman he would never even consider being unfaithful to). Then Don would become the perfect father and teach his children how to ride horses and appreciate life. Most of all, I hoped that Don Draper would find inner peace and happiness. But wait a minute, maybe he did. And maybe he did it in typical Don Draper fashion.

 

In the final scene, while meditating on retreat, Don seems to have an epiphany. What I love most about his enigmatic smile is that it leaves so much up to the imagination. What is Don thinking? Is he experiencing true inner peace and happiness for the first time in his life? Or did he just have the idea for the iconic Coke ad, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke?” Does he rush back to Manhattan, and take the advertising world by storm? Or does he phone the idea to Peggy, letting her take the credit for it? Or is it possible for him to have it all? Somehow I think that is exactly what Don Draper would do.

 

In 1971, I was just a little girl. Every night while we ate dinner, we listened to the news. My father kept the television around a corner so that he was the only one who could see the screen. We could still hear the newscast and somehow this made it worse. Our nightly dinner was filled with the sounds of machine gun fire from the Vietnam War, reports of race riots, assassinations and the mass murders of Charles Mansion.

 

Then the Coke, hilltop ad came out. Every time it was on television, I ran to the screen and watched that ad intently. I wanted to forget about the machine gun fire and the mass murders. Instead I wanted the world to be just like that ad. I wanted to live in a multicultural place where diverse people were accepted and everyone got along. I wanted there to be peace and cooperation and happiness. I wanted the world to be a loving home where everyone belonged.

 

It might sound corny to some, but it didn’t sound corny in 1971 when the civil rights movement still had much to accomplish and the Vietnam War was not yet over. It had been only three years since Dianne Carroll stared in the first TV series to feature a non-stereotypical, African American woman, a role for which she received death threats. In contrast, the Coke, hilltop ad had so much hope in it and it may have featured the first authentic, multicultural group every to be broadcast on national television.

 

But what about Don Draper? If he created that iconic ad, then no doubt he became even richer, but since when has Don Draper really cared about that?

 

So what does Don Draper really care about? In his confession to Peggy, he’s ashamed that he “Took another man’s name and made nothing of it.” If Don Draper were to make something of his name, what would it be?

 

No doubt Don Draper is a cheat, a liar, a philanderer and a deserter, yet he’s also generous, kind and caring. He sometimes forgets to help his wives and children. Yet somehow he always manages to help perfect strangers.   He’s painfully aware of his faults but what makes him easy to root for is that Don Draper wants desperately to be a better person.

 

 

He seemed to identify most with Leonard, the man whom nobody notices. Leonard says, “I’ve never been interesting. I work in an office. People walk right by me. I know they don’t see me. And nobody chooses me.” Then this man named Leonard sobs and Don hugs him and sobs too.

 

Handsome, successful Don Draper is the man whom nobody sees, just like Leonard. And at that moment he is the man whom nobody chooses. But Don wants to be better. And we want the same things that Don wants.

 

 

We want Don to be a better person.

We want the world to be a better place.

We want to be better people too.

 

Advertisers know this and they convince us to buy products by promising that the products will make us richer, prettier, more popular, smarter, thinner, and happier. Advertising works because it convinces us that we will become better people, if we buy their products. They promise the transformation that everyone longs for. The products they sell by and large don’t provide any transformation, but just the mere promise of transformation will make us happy to spend our money.

 

So in the finale of Mad Men, I see the potential for Don Draper to finally become a better person, to finally make something meaningful of the name he stole.

 

Maybe Don continued to practice meditation. In 1971 some of the first meditation centers opened in Manhattan. Maybe Don didn’t just create the iconic ad that gave people hope for a better world. Maybe he continued to help people like Leonard. Maybe he encouraged other businessmen to practice meditation or to find some other way to achieve transformation.

 

With the inevitable death of Betty Draper, I hope Don found a way to be a better father to his children.   I can even imagine him as a faithful husband with a happy home. Whatever we imagine happening for Don Draper, we should remember that advertising is just the promise of a better life. Actual transformation is the real thing, and I like to think that Don Draper found the real thing after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Inexpensive Meals for a Healthier America

on August 21, 2014 in Life in America with no comments by

 

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For many Americans missing even one day of work can mean financial disaster. It can mean not being able to pay the phone bill or buy enough groceries. With so many financial worries, it can be easy to forget about maintaining health. All of us need to stay as healthy and as strong as possible on the least amount of money.

Families, Children, Food Ideas

I hear many families talk about eating nothing but rice and beans, but there are many other choices for healthy, inexpensive meals. When you do eat rice and beans, add a few vegetables, tomatoes, cooked potato or egg. In fact, eggs and potatoes can be used inexpensively in many dishes. An omelet filled with sautéed potatoes, onions and fragrant herbs is delicious.

Grow your own vegetables and herbs such as spinach, chard, kale, arugula, lettuces, sweet basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley and cilantro. Then add vegetables and herbs to everything you cook.

One of our favorite salads is a baby green salad with chopped papaya, salmon and avocado. Top with a few walnuts. Another favorite is a tuna salad made with mayonnaise, salt and lots of chopped sweet basil. Place the tuna salad on a bed of greens and top with chopped tomatoes, red peppers, salt and pepper.

Several dinners can be made from one roast chicken. First have chicken and potatoes with vegetables. On the second day, strip the bones to make chicken curry with rice. Lastly boil the bones for broth. Add chopped ginger root, red pepper flakes and any vegetables you like for a spicy, healthy chicken soup.

For a Mexican style dish, cook chicken tenders with olive oil, salt and Tabasco sauce. Serve the chicken with simple quesadillas, sliced avocado or guacamole and beans.

For an easy and inexpensive dish, bake sliced potatoes in a casserole layered with a little chopped, soft-cooked bacon and sliced leeks or onions. Top with black pepper.

For a Japanese-style meal, try baked salmon cooked with chunks of ginger root and teriyaki sauce thinned with a little water. Yoshida’s Sauce is best. Simple fried rice with egg, onion and vegetables is an inexpensive meal. Add a little chopped ham, if you have it. You can flavor the fried rice with just salt and pepper or add soy sauce and a little sesame oil to taste at the end of cooking.

Make a simple marinara sauce by sautéing onions, garlic and herbs from your garden. Add chopped, canned tomatoes, tomato paste and a pinch of brown sugar. Serve with pasta and vegetables or use the sauce for Parmesan chicken. Freeze what you don’t need for another time.

Avoid throwing any food away. Have a leftover eighth of an onion or a little grated cheese? Wrap it well and save it for the next dish you prepare.

I always serve fruit for dessert because it is sweet and far healthier than desserts baked with sugar. There’s only one downside to this. That became clear to me when my five-year-old daughter had dinner at a friend’s house only to return home and yell at me, “They had cake for dessert! I always thought dessert was fruit!” I can attest to the fact that there is no fury like a child who feels they have been deprived of cake for five years.

But the story has a happy ending. My daughter is grown up now and grateful for our fruit-filled desserts. This combined with a moratorium on soda, most breakfast cereals and all high-fructose corn syrup and my daughter has never had a cavity. One of our favorite desserts is sliced apples, bananas and pineapple sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Papaya with a little lime juice or a bowl of mixed berries decorated with orange slices are also favorites. Luckily, where we live avocados, bananas and papayas are often free for the picking.

At every meal, make sure your children have plenty of healthy food to eat. If you are trying to control your weight, eat only half as much as you want. If not, eat as much as you need to stay healthy, but no more. Save what’s left over for another meal or for tomorrow’s lunch.

Old Habits

Cut back on junk food, sugar and anything that provides little nutrition. Give up on purchases that are nonessential so that you can buy the healthiest food you can afford. Eliminate old habits like smoking, drinking and drugs, as well as over-eating. It’s much more important to stay healthy. Many of us can’t afford unhealthy habits. Give up fast food. You can make cheaper, healthy meals at home. What you gain in health, you will also save in money!

Exercise, Entertainment, Socializing and Voting

Exercise when you have time, even if it is only stretches and a walk. Go on walks with your kids. Enjoy nature. It’s free!

Find free entertainment and free socializing. Join a book club at the library or make crafts you can sell with a craft group. Invite friends over to pool DVDs. Enjoy the hobbies you love and if you can, turn them into a money making venture.

Mental health is paramount for those of us who are overworked and overstressed. If you need help, get it. Help each other. There is strength in community. Stay healthy so you don’t need to spend money on over the counter medicine and supplements. The money you save can be used to buy nutrient-rich foods for you and your family. Congratulate yourself on how well you are doing. Your family needs you and they need you to stay healthy.

Lastly don’t forget to vote. Politicians who actually pass legislation will give us a stronger economy and that in turn, will help us all.

All Americans deserve to be healthy, strong and happy. Eat as well as you possibly can. Stay as healthy as you can. Above all, live to fight another day towards a better life for you and your children.

Endless Days of Summer: The Importance of Doing Nothing

on June 17, 2014 in Creative Life, Life in America with no comments by

 

 

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Summer vacation when I was a child meant three months with nothing to do. My family always retreated to our old home in the mountains where there were no TVs, no computers, no cell phones and few people. At first it was boring and the slower pace of life was as difficult to adjust to as jet lag. But it was also a relief to have no looming deadlines, no to-do lists and no expectations other than the ones I placed on myself.

Soon I filled my time with hiking, swimming, reading, writing, art, music and the most inspiring thing of all, just doing nothing. When older relatives visited, we sat around the campfire. They told stories while I asked questions. We played scrabble and cards and so many simple games that I can’t even remember. Sometimes we tried to outdo each other by making up off-the-cuff stories and poems. There was only one downside to my leisurely summers. When I returned to school in the fall, I hadn’t spent my days watching movies and drinking soda, so I was seriously behind on my movie watching and sugar intake.

Sometimes when my daughter and I are overwhelmed with commitments, endless to-do lists, the internet, phones and gadgets, I find myself wishing that the electricity would go out. Then we would have an excuse to do nothing but tell stories, play games and shape animals out of softened candle wax.

I do try to create times when we have nothing to do, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes we go camping or hiking or we just sit in the backyard and look at the stars. Sometimes we talk. Other times we are silent. At least for a little while, we have nothing to do and in that moment, we have everything.

The Potential of Heroes

on April 16, 2014 in Latest News, Life in America with no comments by

 

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I can’t help noticing the incredible potential that children have.   When I talk with my daughter and her friends, I find no limits to what they can achieve.  Among them are talented actors, dancers and artists.  They are compassionate, intelligent girls and they amaze me.   Seeing potential in the young is not such an unusual experience but a strange thing happened the other day.  I began to see potential for greatness in everyone.  I’m not just talking about potential for financial success.  I’m talking about the potential to inspire others, the potential to rise above difficulties in a miraculous way and to be the hero of our own life story.

The first person I saw this in was a homeless man living on the beach. His intelligence was still intact despite years of drug use and he spoke to me about his experiences and how he wanted to write a book.   “Not many people can write about what I’ve seen,” he said soberly.  I agreed and offered him all the encouragement I could.

The next person I met was an elderly woman in the grocery store who leaned on her shopping cart for support and smiled up at me from her permanently stooped posture. She seemed surprised at my offer for help, and laughingly explained, “I’m nearly ninety but I can still do everything myself.”   Her enthusiasm for accomplishing small tasks had me smiling all day.

Last was the happy child from a neighborhood welfare family who wandered through my front door without knocking to ask for rice crackers. (She does this all the time and is always smiling despite her bad teeth.)  She stayed to eat her crackers and talk to me about school before skipping off to find a friend to play with.  As far as she is concerned, she has as much potential as anyone and I think she is right.

Seeing such potential in everyone I meet is like finding an unlimited treasure trove.   And not only this, the potential seems close to the surface, unstoppable.   We all have the potential to be great in our own way, to become the fully realized heroes of our own lives.  Find your greatness.   Embrace it.  Your greatness is closer to the surface than you think.