Friday, September 28, 2012

Ann Curry and the Body Snatchers

I was thinking about Ann Curry the other day when I Googled “ageism.”  Came up with this link:  “Use ageism in a sentence!” offered at  It turned up a list of headlines reflecting news articles about people over 55 (FIFTY-FIVE!) who fall victims to cold hearted, bloodthirsty predatory ratings seekers.   

Oh.  Did that sound angry?  Too bad. 

Where is Ann Curry anyway?  One day it’s Ann.  Gracious, insightful, lovely Ann.  

Punching Matt.  Hugging Al.  Touching the knee of the Dalai Lama. 

Next day…Where is Ann?  What have they done with our Ann?   

I watched the Investigation Discovery channel expecting to hear her fate intoned by Bill Kurtis, that latter day Jack Friday on “Disappeared,” or even “Ghost Hunters.”  But no Ann. 

Then I remembered:  Ann’s on “special assignment!”  Right. 

“Special assignment.”  That’s network newspeak for their own particular corporate purgatory.  Ann’s no longer on the couch with Matt and Al.  Instead, after 16 years with NBC and barely one year as co-anchor of the Today Show, she’s circling the seventh rung of hell hoping to catch her breath after a sucker punch from NBC exec Jim Bell.  Rumor has it that Matt Lauer voted her off the fickle island of youthful ratings. 

 What’s wrong with Ann?  I love her in spite of her goofy wardrobe.  When I’m an old woman, I too shall wear big orange and fuchsia felt flowers appliqued on my tent dress.  That, and purple.  With a red hat.   

But I’m outside the 25 to 54 demographic so who really cares?  Certainly not the Today Show advertisers! 

Ann’s smart and beautiful.  And she’s a Duck.  A Fighting Duck!  You know, the University of Oregon.  The powerhouse Ducks!  (My husband’s also a Duck…that one’s for you, Honey.)  You’ve gotta love a Duck!  

Ann asserted her idiosyncratic self and resisted network pressure to conform to prescribed appearances.  Well, except for those torturous stilettos.   

In addition to her quirky clothing, she says she’s proud of her wrinkles.  They give her dignity and speak to the status she’s earned in her family.  Ok, the 14-year-old ratings analysts must have said.  She has the cheekbones to carry it off.   

But then, in a fateful act of martyrdom, she wouldn’t dye her hair either.  God love her, she may have gone too far beyond the shallow veneer of media mandates; the trapdoor opened. 

I know.  There’s nothing wrong with Savannah Guthrie.  

She’s cute and smart and socially adept.  She’s fine.  She’s more than fine, but I can’t trust her.  After all, she slipped onto Ann Curry’s warm spot on the Today Show sofa as smooth as a lounge lizard on Saturday night.  

And that’s just it.  The transition barely caused a ripple.  Oh sure.  There was a flutter of outrage right before the exit door bumped Ann’s butt.  Since then it’s just like nothing ever happened.  We’re chatting and laughing and punching each other’s shoulders all over again.  It’s eerily the same as it ever was.  Cue the Talking Heads.  Oh, the irony! 

Somehow, some way, I think the Stepford co-anchors are at work.  Face it; Savannah’s just a newer model year.  She’ll grow up to be Ann Curry herself one day, if she’s lucky.  And Matt will still be there to nudge her off the furniture. 

It’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” meets “Simone.”  (That’s the 2002 Al Pacino movie wherein he plays a producer whose film is endangered when his star walks off the set.  So he creates a digital actress to substitute for the star.  But then SHE becomes an overnight sensation that everyone thinks is a real person!)   

OMG.  I drifted. 

You can see it’s an emotional issue for me - Ann and ageism and Savannah and ducks.  Where’s a person in the 55-to-64-year-old dematerializing demographic to turn?  MacNeil Lehrer?! 

Sure, some readers get my rapidly-becoming-obscure references to rock and roll music and “senior” stars seeking roles for the mature.  But what about the new kids on the block?  (Sorry.) 

No really.  I’ve got broad appeal.  I’m still relevant.  I have something to say!  I will not go quietly into that superficial swamp of commercial polling! 

Where are you Ann?  Hold my hand!  I’m on your side.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Stupid Confidence and Brilliant Doubt

I’m smart.  And here’s how I know it:  I hardly ever feel like I know what I’m doing. 

Yep.  Self-doubt is a sure sign of brilliance according to Bertrand Russell, Father of Analytic Philosophy.  He said, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”   

Applying a Socratic syllogism, as I frequently do, I concluded that my feeling unsure of just about everything I’m sure of signifies a high level of intelligence.  

Wow.  I feel brighter already.  I think I do anyway. 

That is to say, I’ll feel fine until an alternate view presents itself, again bringing uncertainty to the forefront.   

So it’s all good.  Right?  Right!?? 

Even Charles Darwin said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”  He seemed pretty sure of it. 

Admittedly, he was on rant against the peons who disagreed with his theories of evolution, but what did they know?  They were too sure of themselves to be believed. 

I just read an article about Adam Bryant, “the CEO Whisperer,” who writes a column for the New York Times called “The Corner Office.”  He’s now written a book by the same name in which he synthesizes what he’s learned from his interviews with top performing CEO’s on how they got to be so smug.  Excuse me, I meant to say how they got to be so good at being good. 

He says his own success as an interviewer springs from his understanding of the value of what he calls “good, dumb questions.”   

Well.  There you are.  I can ask dumb questions!  I do it all the time.  Sheesh.  If that’s all it takes to be brainy, I sewed up my position in the annals of acumen in fourth grade when I waited in line to ask my homeroom teacher if she would please take the staple out of my thumb.   

What worries me is another angle on aptitude stated by a couple of brainiac researchers out of Cornell, Dunning and Kruger, who also wrote an article.  Theirs is called Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments.” 

Are you still with me?  Good - it takes a lot of smarts to power through a title like that!  

But there it is:  The dumber you are, the less likely you are to recognize your own dumbness.  Not only that, the duller you are, the more likely you are to rate yourself as sharp.   

It all started when Dunning read a news item about an incompetent bank robber named Wheeler who believed — mistakenly, it turned out — that coating his face with lemon juice would make him invisible to security cameras.  Duh!  Everyone knows that to be invisible you have to live with a teenager.  

But Dunning thought deeper and came up with a dumb question.  Er, a good, dumb question:  If the would-be bank robber was too stupid to be a bank robber, maybe he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber — that is, did his stupidity protect him from awareness of his own stupidity?  Profound, huh? 

And there’s a certain beauty to it, too, isn’t there?  Ah, to be oblivious in a world of know-it-alls.  It’s a strategy for living ulcer free.  Calculated cluelessness.  No worries. 

One can move about with freedom and even joy, knowing in her own unconscious way that all is well in her world.  People respect her opinions.  Her clothes flatter.  Her jokes amuse.  Associates hang on her words and await her insights.  Her stores of knowledge calm those less fortunate and those more accurate in their own self-assessments.

It’s a conundrum, though.  A pickle.  A mystery wrapped in an enigma floating in a sea of who really cares except the Republicans, the Democrats and the Tea Party:  When you finally secure some wisdom, irony comes around to foil those visions of perfection.  

Life is so much easier when you’re right all the time!  Then bam!  That sneaking suspicion that you understand nothing spoils it all.   

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.”   

I can only wish I’d listened.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The vicissitudes of humility

I suffer from anticipatory funk.

It’s a disorder whereby I accept an invitation to an event – nothing threatening or weird.  Maybe even something I’ve always wanted to do. 

I mark my calendar and begin to make preparations.  I tell my friends and family who coo over me and tell me how they want to be just like me someday.  My self-esteem puffs up and my posture gets better. 

Then, behind the scenes, in a wadded up cranny of my perverse little brain, like the spore of a shitake mushroom, a contrary idea finds footing.  Really?  It says.  Really…you’re planning to do that?  Oh.  Well.  Good luck with that.  No, really.  Good luck. 

Oh sinister little fungi!  How you wheedle and wend you way into a person’s consciousness!  

It’s not long at all before my personal portabella field has proliferated.  It has grown from a niggling sense of nostalgia into full-blown trepidation.  From oh!  I’ll miss my husband and my kitties to I just don’t want to go!  I wish I didn’t have to go!  Why oh why did I ever say I’d go!? 

I can’t say where this affliction originated.  Maybe it’s an offshoot of what I call the “Avatar” syndrome.  (I used to call it the “Sound of Music” syndrome, but I’ve lived long enough now that I’ve had to update the reference.  The dynamics are the same.) 

A new movie is released with enormous fanfare.  It’s the best movie ever!  Oh, the drama!  Oh, the laughter!  Oh, the special effects!  Movie making will never be the same!  OMG you MUST see “Avatar.”  

“Avatar” was good.  I’m not saying it wasn’t good.  But honestly, admit it; it wasn’t THAT good.  Was it? 

Maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t listened to the hoopla.  No movie could measure up to the level of mental hype I generated.  Man I wanted to see that show! 

But I came out of the theatre humming that old Peggy Lee song, “Is that all there is?”  (Please let me know right away if you know of a cooler, more current musical expression of disappointment.) 

I know it’s on me now.  I have to gear down and adjust my expectations.  I don’t like cultivating cynicism, but a tiny thread of doubt makes for pleasant surprises instead of colossal letdowns. 

On occasion I’ve let the funk take charge.  When an event swells in my field of vision I’ll make an excuse and duck out.  It’s almost physical, my reaction.  Fight or flight.  Something seizes me and I just turn and run!  It feels so good to escape.  Freedom!  No pressure.  No expectations.  Only a little guilt and that can be managed.  

Once I signed up for one of those “ropes” courses.  You know, the ones where you’re strapped into a harness and walk the high wire with your friends “on bole,” protecting you from falling and building a bond that surpasses all human bonds.  I freaked out.  Feigned a cold sore or something.  Didn’t go. 

And then, just like John Lennon warned, instant karma.  I regretted my cowardice.  I saw that that opportunity would not present itself again.  I had a chance to revel in a unique experience, but I stayed home in my pj’s.  What a wimp!  

No matter how good your excuse is, everybody knows you flaked out.  They’re nice to your face, but they know.  And of course, now they have the bond. 

So OK.  By the time you read this, I will have powered through my disability.  Like an agoraphobic in behavioral therapy I’ll have sucked it up and stepped into the open.  I can only hope I don’t look like Elvis squinting into the sun he seemed not to recognize after so much time in the basement of Graceland. 

I’ll be midway through the trip I’d begun to dread.  I’ll be having a great time, smiling, making new friends, learning things a person simply cannot learn by staying home, safe, at her keyboard.   

Of course the downside of success is the disorder that accompanies an adventurous spirit who sallies forth conquering the petty fears of the weaklings around her:  Insufferable competence.  Its symptoms – infuriating graciousness, knowing looks and strutting.   

I certainly hope I don’t succumb.   

Friday, September 7, 2012

Live Rich or Die Broke?

Breaking news:  Rich people are different from the rest of us. 

They’ve got a lot more money, for one thing.  

(Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.  That’s one of my favorite lines from “A Perfect Murder,” the 1998 remake of Hitchcock’s thriller, “Dial M for Murder.”) 

On the occasions when I ponder the subject of wealth versus reality, that piece of dialogue pretty well sums it up for me.   

Such musings typically surface when I’m in line to buy a Lotto ticket.  So you can imagine my chagrin when I read in an excerpt from Steve Siebold’s book, “How Rich People Think,” his list of 21 Ways Rich People Think Differently.  Item #3 – Average people have a “lottery mentality.” 

I beg your pardon!  Average!  Average!?  Why I’ve just been told this very morning that I’m wild, courageous and brilliant!  OK, it was in a shared post sent to about a bazillion people.  But average!?  I don’t think so.  Not where I live, here in Lake Woebegone. 

Yet there I was going and stopping, pausing and stepping among the run-of-the-mill.  My people.  All of us living out the distinction so coldly laid out by someone who wrote a book and therefore must be smart.  Smarter than we are, the ordinary folk with dollars in our hands. 

The really stupid thing I do is get in line to buy a Lotto ticket when the jackpot gets huge.  You know, when the media starts talking about the biggest payout in Lotto history and shark bites and lightning strikes and weight loss after 60. 

If the odds against hitting a Lotto jackpot aren’t already gargantuan, which they are, the odds against hitting the biggest jackpot in Lotto history are comparable to the odds of Republicans and Democrats shutting up and listening to each other.  You know nano-odds.  Microscopic.  Grain of sand on the beaches of the earth.  Slight. 

Then I saw a related piece of research on the Science Channel.  Lab geeks demonstrated that humans remain optimistic in the face of facts to the contrary.  In their experiment subjects were first asked to rate the likelihood that they would succumb to each of 80 negative life events.  For example, what are the odds you’ll have a broken leg in your lifetime?  The schmo at the keyboard enters 3%.  The computer comes back and tells her the odds are actually three times greater - 11%.  Next, she’s asked to estimate how likely it is she’ll develop high blood pressure.  She guesses 34% and the computer says no, it’s actually only 24%. 

Here’s the kick.  When she goes back through the list with her newly acquired information, she adjusts her thinking to match any scenario that’s rosier.   

But, if she started with a brighter outlook than the actuarial tables foretold, she kept it!  She didn’t change her expectations!  In spite of the facts, she held onto her more optimistic / less realistic view of her future.   

That’s my homies and me in the Lotto line.   

Siebold also says that the average person thinks money is the root of all evil, while rich people think poverty is said root.  Those of us who fight the battle of correcting long-standing and intractable misquotes know that it’s the love of money we’ve gotta eschew.   

Nevertheless your humble servant, moi, will stand with the fat cats on this one.

Ironically, that’s another thing separating me from the treasures I deserve – it’s the built-in guilt that rides sidecar with the money, and the belief that I’m supposed to make the world a better place.  Oh!  Poor, poor, middling me.  If only I’d been raised with that wealthy, airline-safety mentality:  take care of yourself first.  

That’s not greed, or selfishness.  That’s rich.  But all I want to do is share.  Oh well.  Too bad for me (and my husband) and for those who would be our beneficiaries.  They’re just not gonna get that much. 

So there it is – I’m not rich, and much as I’d like to maintain my rose-tinted view, I’m not like rich people. 

Still there are smart people who write books for common folks like me. 

Watch this space for an upcoming review of Pollan and Levine’s radical four-part approach to financial planning, “Die Broke.”