One Quick Take

January 17, 2014 By: Jenna Category: Personal

Sometimes he likes to blow dry his hair after his bath. He gets a comb and a mirror and goes about drying in a very careful and meticulous way. After he’s done his hair is dry and the back sticks straight up in the air. He looks adorable.

My Arena (redux)

January 13, 2014 By: Jenna Category: blog, Personal

Every so often a post fails so spectacularly that it makes more sense to address it in a separate post than try to wade into the comments section. The My Arena post was one of those. I frequently have issues with tone, and I read that one out loud to myself several times in an attempt to target that, but it’s a blind spot that I need to keep working on.

Let me try to clarify: I found a strategy for coping with the large volume of feedback that is communicated to me through various channels. This involves relying on people I have formed relationships with. Previously I was attempting to take in everything and I was overwhelmed, and sometimes sad. I wanted to share that strategy with others who might be struggling to handle harsh comments or process feedback as well. Ironically, I wrote a post about relying on the feedback of those close to me to help me make better decisions, but I didn’t run the post past that very circle. Following my own strategy more closely would have helped prevent this mess in the first place.

Learning about the viewpoints and experiences of other people is one of my favorite things. I listen to a lot of podcasts because the format allows a variety of opinions to be shared. Trying to understand other people has changed me into a different person, and I couldn’t be happier about that change. But I need a method to help me process the opinions offered about  choices in life (remember how I used to have a centralized source for this sort of thing?) and My Arena is the best I’ve come up with so far.

Your comments made me realize that we are viewing the situation through a very different lens, because I’ve been screening the information submitted that doesn’t deserve a platform. All comments with new usernames or email addresses get put into moderation automatically, and I have a filter set up to automatically moderate any comment with foul language. The comments I’m moderating look like this:

(click to enlarge, the worst language has been partially censored)

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These are the people jeering in the stands, and it is them I am attempting to ignore. When I said “Those people, and their feedback, do not matter to me. The only power I have over them is to deny them any power over me,” that is who I was referring to. How could you know that though, since I make sure they are never visible in my comment section? Something gave me the idea that I’m never supposed to let all of you know this is happening behind the scenes, and this post is the first time that I’m challenging that idea.

My Arena brought up something that I have obviously forgotten over my blogging lull – I need to focus on responding to comments made by people who have shown a commitment to sharing their thoughts with me in a respectful manner. That’s my target audience.  It’s a fair approach and leads to a stronger relationship over time. I should not respond to comments that irritate me when I’m feeling snippy, even though it makes me feel better in the moment. I also need to stop responding to comments in the same period that I moderate comments. When I delete a disgusting comment and then immediately respond to another my tone often reflects the way I feel about the deleted one, which comes across as hostile. Adding in a time buffer will help me address that.

As I work through this experience I’m working hard to remember that I’m human and will make mistakes, and worse than making a mistake is denying the lesson they can teach. I’m not going to let shame prevent me from admitting my faults and working to address them. I wanted to address some misconceptions that I admit I caused or exacerbated with my last post:

  • I do care that you are here and that you read.
  • I appreciate and value 95% of those who read and especially people who take the time to converse with me.
  • I don’t mind when people don’t agree with me, and I know you have seen the changes some of opposing viewpoints have had in my life. It may not always seem like I consider them, but I do, sometimes over multiple discussions or a period of time.
  • I struggle to know how to handle people who have preconceived ideas about me and use my writing to find evidence that prove their assumptions. I know we all do this as humans, but I have a hard time dealing with people who are mean or snarky. I am working on this.

In fact, I am working with a mentor to have some difficult conversations and develop a plan to address these issues so I can present well-written posts that invite fascinating discussion (that is my overarching goal, after all). I’m not ready to share details yet, but I wanted you to know that I’m glad you’re here and ask for your patience as I work through the things I’m hearing from you.

While proofreading and editing this post I realized that there are probably going to be a lot of comments asking why I continue to write if I’m getting such virulent blowback. I write here because I enjoy the process. I stay in the game because it makes me a better person. I blog because I like meeting new people. I don’t give up because I want to believe that I can push through this and become better.

Interesting side note: I thought bolding a sentence added emphasis, but TH said it is likely interpreted  as “Jenna yelling at her audience.” Noted.

My Arena

January 08, 2014 By: Jenna Category: Personal

Presenting my ideas and work to the online world is wonderful in many ways. My best friendships today were formed through social media, I have relationships with a range of intelligent and talented people, my ideas and beliefs have been challenged and shaped in positive ways, and certainly the validation is appreciated (sometimes far too much by me, but that’s another post).

But anyone who has read the comments on YouTube or The Huffington Post has seen the dark side of the internet. Lobbing molotov cocktails of snark and hatred is all-to-easy when done via a computer screen. It became crucial for my mental health to find a way to wade through the sea of criticism and develop a new metric for measuring my self-worth.

daringgreatlysource

“Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.” Brene Brown

Brene Brown is the second great woman I know of who has shared this approach (the first was Liene Stevens, of Think Splendid) but it wasn’t until I started reading Daring Greatly that I was able to fully integrate this concept into my life.

I suspect most successful and notable people utilize this mindset at some point. Which is not to say that I think I am successful or notable, but I know I won’t get there if I’m busy worrying about whether everyone likes me. But how to fully embrace this idea when confronting faceless/useless/meaningless criticism? I was spending far too much time stewing and giving credit where it wasn’t due. Dr. Brown’s book has helped me develop a mental process that I can enact each time the self-doubt rises to the surface again. Anyone who has encountered her work has probably become familiar with the Theodore Roosevelt quote that she loves.

daringgreatlyarena

source

 It is her addition, that last part at the bottom, that changed everything for me. I am the gladiator in my own arena. If I want to share parts of my fight with the public, I am going to have unwanted observers jeering at me. Those people, and their feedback, do not matter to me. The only power I have over them is to deny them any power over me. 

The feedback that does matter comes from a very select group of people. If I shared something with these individuals, something vulnerable and painful and raw, they would first pull me in for a hug. After they felt my shoulders relax they would pull away, look at me (really look at me), and tell me the honest truth that I need to hear, no matter how hard it is for them to say it and for me to hear it. Those are the people I want in my corner, and those are the people who are going to help set the guideposts that I live my life by. I don’t need the public to like the way I spend my time, or to think I am a good mother, or to agree with my beliefs and opinions.

And now, when the clouds gather and the mental stewing begins, I picture My Arena. Is the feedback I’m considering coming from the hug+honesty group? No? Then I’ll be moving right along thankyouverymuch. I’ve got a battle to fight and a life to live. There is greatness to be had.

Christmas Card 2013

December 25, 2013 By: Jenna Category: family, Holiday

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We made it! With the birth of T2, yet another move, demanding work schedules, and the Thunderous Threes all happening in the same year we are breathing a big sigh of relief as we think about 2014. We are still in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I’m drafting this letter from a different home address yet again. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that 2014 will be the year with no moving.) We loved our East Palo Alto house, but made the decision back in June to move to a new rental in Fremont. A big thank you to my parents for hosting us for 6 weeks while we waited for our new place to become available (and watching our kids so we could have an adults-only weekend getaway in Portland!).

We like our new neighborhood much more and are using all sorts of methods to meet our neighbors (the most out-there attempt involved nailing an introduction letter to the tree outside our front door). The population in this area is very diverse and it’s been fun to explore the multitude of Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, and Mexican restaurants in the area. Turns out T1 is not a fan of the bubbles in bubble tea but he loves Chinese donuts.

TH and I are busier than ever, juggling two young children along with work. It’s a lot harder than we thought it would be. Thank goodness for babysitters and preschool! TH travels for work Monday-Thursday. While he’s gone I care for the kids and work on a growing number of projects – www.jennacole.com, www.pinterestfail.com, and www.thatwifeblog.com.

T1 is thriving in his fantastic preschool, attending full days every weekday. He loves making friends, starting every sentence with “Ma”, and exploring his ability to exercise his independence. Between the passionate outbursts his tender side shines through – when we caught a bug and looked at it under a microscope he begged me to set it free so it could go back to its mommy.

T2 has started digging through my kitchen cabinets and walking along the furniture. She’s a resilient little girl who survives being sat on and dragged around (literally) by her brother on a daily basis. When I say “It’s time to go get brother from preschool” she flaps her arms and waves excitedly. He is her very best friend and I love to listen to them babble and interact on the drive home from school every day.

This year we are particularly grateful for technology and the ways it keeps us connected. Social media that fosters connections with friends who live far away from us, video chats with family as we’re making dinner, Skype with family in Poland (who we, sadly, didn’t get to visit this year), screen time that gets us through the littles witching hour in the evenings, and phone calls between husband and wife as we live apart each week.

Thanks to all of you who make our life better in some way being being in it.

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Christmas cards past: 2008, 20092011, 2012

Solo Parenting

November 20, 2013 By: Jenna Category: Parenting

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It is ironic that I use this picture for this post – as it was taken by my husband. We really enjoy the time we do get to spend with him. 

I’m not really sure what I should call this thing that I’m doing, existing with a husband who travels for work M-Th every week, and is often working away from home 6-7 days/week. I’ve read enough posts written by actual single mothers to understand why it is hurtful and inaccurate for me to co-opt the phrase single motherhood. My partner provides monetary resources that afford me the luxury to work from home as a photographer and blogger while deciding when and how much to outsource childcare. He might not be physically present, but at the end of a hard day I am able to talk through the highs and lows of my day with him. When our children present challenges I have someone to brainstorm solutions with. We debate together, vacation together, make goals together. It’s been hard for me, but nowhere near as difficult as it would be if I were an actual single mother.

Taking on so much of the parenting load has been really difficult for me though, especially since parenting isn’t really my forte. We have no family in the area, and that means no breaks from the kids unless we pay someone. On weeknights I’m trapped in my bedroom (literally, since my oldest thinks that if I am awake and moving about that gives him license to stay up and move about his room), while my girlfriends in the area meet-up for movie nights and book clubs as their spouses watch the kids. We’re slowly building up friendships in the area, but haven’t made it to that perfect point where you don’t even bother knocking as you walk in the front door.

In short, it’s been challenging for me, with lots and lots of tears.*

The point of this post is to say that I needed something to describe my situation. Adopting consistent verbiage would help me accept where I’m at and give me a way to talk about it with others. I didn’t know of anyone else who had blazed that trail already, so I went with solo parenting. Single is the word our culture uses to describe someone who is not in a relationship, but solo is a word we use to talk about people who are alone. My husband is frequently absent, and so I am alone, though I am not single. Most of the time, I am a solo parent.

It’s important for me to talk about this, because the more I do so the more I realize how common it is. It’s very helpful for me to hear the stories and coping strategies employed by women in similar situations. The idealized 9-to-5 working schedule just isn’t an option for everyone, and I don’t think it is productive to be reductive in our discussions about work-life balance and career strategies.

I am growing daily, getting better at it with time. And I love living here! There is no other location in the world where I would rather live than Silicon Valley. I love the opportunities I have, and the way I’m living my life right now. If I want to have all of those things, traveling husband and solo parenting are also part of the equation.

What do you think, is there a better phrase to describe what I’m doing?

ETA: Lots of comments already about how we should get more help – babysitters, a nanny, maybe even an au pair. I would love that, specifically for one or two evenings each week, but our spending in other areas means we can’t afford it. Maybe you can tell all of your friends to hire me to photograph their weddings or lifestyle sessions, and then I’ll be able to pay to have some girl’s nights? :)


*I’m in weekly therapy now. No more breakdowns!

      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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