When There Is No Closure.

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Hello, all.  In the wake of recent events, KP has decided to take a break from social media (for my Facebook friends and followers, I will be back), and focus on her writing and offline life. Very recently, a relationship/friendship ended very abruptly; and in its aftermath I am trying to put some of the pieces back together.  It’s almost like an arm or a leg was cut off, and I’m feeling the effects of phantom-limb-syndrome.  For those who know the feeling all too well (and for those who don’t), it runs along the lines of: They were just there!  We were talking and communicating and suddenly they decided they didn’t want me in their life anymore!  What did I do?  What wasn’t “enough” about me for them?  Was I not kind/considerate/attractive/Christian/insert-adjective-of-choice-here-enough for them?  How are they just gone?  What happened? I have done things in my life I am not proud of; and I can remember just about every major incident where I was a really shitty person.  However, when it has come to really cultivating friendships and relationships were I believed there was potential, I don’t believe I have ever done an emotional 180 on someone, and so I can’t identify with that modus operandi.  

***

Back in 2011, I began Kinpatsu Oneesan as a travel blog, but over time it has evolved to include satire, humor, opinions, and personal experiences and observations.  Even if writing only remains a lifelong hobby, I believe that in order to become a better writer, we have to share what we know to be true so we can connect with others.  Part of this is sharing our failures…and part is sharing the journey to healing.  And sometimes, you know, I’ll hear the right voice in my heart, the voice toward the path of healing and growth, but the voices of self-doubt just as readily creep in (especially in the early stages of grief), and I think getting these words down is part of the path.  Kind of like, “Fake it ’til you make it.”  Even if I don’t 100% believe it just yet, I know it’s the truth and the right way and if I just go over it again and again and constantly re-affirm it, I will eventually believe it fully.  And maybe there are some people who are hurting in the same way in this world, and maybe they can identify and/or find solace in these words.

  ***

For my readers who have been left hurt, confused, and damaged by people who were too self-absorbed/thought they were entitled to behave in thoughtless and careless behavior, although maybe now these words can not alleviate the heartache they have dealt, know this: YOU ARE ENOUGH.

I know what it feels like to wait for a phone call that never comes, an apology that is never given.  To desire closure when there is none.

I know what it is like to be ignored; like an annoying itch or some minor nuisance.  To be degraded down to that by another human is awful and perhaps one of the greatest blows to the Ego.  “If I just ignore them, maybe they’ll just get the hint and go away.”  Or, “If I can nitpick them and continue to find as many flaws as I can, I can convince myself they’re all wrong and get the hell out of this.  I can shirk the responsibility of dealing with the realities of this relationship in a healthy, adult manner and just project my own emotional issues and self-loathing onto this person.”  This is cruel and belittling, especially by one who has professed to be a friend and has gained our trust and confidence in that they supposedly care about us and our lives and feelings.  For some people, this can turn into emotional abuse.

None of this is about us, which is so hard to accept, right?  When you hear people say, “Don’t take it personally!” it’s like, “Are you kidding me?  This is a relationship/friendship/family tie–how much more f*%king personal does it get?!”

But it’s still not about us.  How other people treat us is a reflection of who they are.  Ignoring, not communicating, the vanishing act, etc., are actions indicative of people who have respect issues.  Remember, you are a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being.  Not a novelty toy.  Not something hat gets discarded when its initial shine has worn off. And so, for all of those who have had a friend/significant other/family member just disengage, here is your closure: Selfish people take selfish actions.

*** images Oftentimes, there is no ill-will or malice involved with these flip-floppers, but there’s also no ownership of actions either.  They most likely have issues they are dealing with, but that’s NOT AN EXCUSE to make others emotional collateral.  All actions have consequences.  We must not be afraid to stand behind that truth. -With kindness and healing, KP

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I’m Sorry, My Friend.

Like, most people, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.  Social media can consume us with the desire to portray perfect, flawless lives.  It’s like a never ending high-school reunion where we are constantly worried about making sure we have somehow stacked up in the years after leaving (For all my high school classmates reading, rest assured, my life is still all over the place and I’m still neurotic.  I’d like to think, if anything, I’ve just gotten better about not trying to be a self-aggrandizing asshole.  Feel free to commence throwing cabbages.).  But, despite that, it allows for some great inspiration for writing.  I’ll see things posted on different news-feeds; articles, songs, images.  It’s like a never-ending inspiration spread.

A friend of mine posted a picture of the Third Eye Blind album cover, and after not having listened to them for years, I went and downloaded a few songs off iTunes.  Jumper still remains a great song, and in some ways I feel like it’s appropriate for some recent events.

I offer this piece up in apology to a friend:

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***

Dear friend,

I am so, so sorry.  I am sorry that I was not more caring of your condition earlier on, and although I thought I did my best to help you keep your head above water, I recognize in doing so, I was robbing you of the ability to learn how to swim.  Because what sort of friend would I be, if any time you had entered the water, I was there pulling you along?  You would never learn the sensation of keeping yourself afloat, never train your muscles to adapt to the strain, and in the event that you entered alone, or I let you go, you would falter and drown.  So, in that, I take full responsibility.  

My friend, you were callous and unkind to me; I know some of your unkindness comes from a place of pain and unhappiness within yourself.  I could hear it in your words as you found ways to belittle me, and while the words stung at the time, I know that it was your way of screaming that you were beginning to drown.  I forgive you.  I forgive you because I understand what it is like to be there, but I do not absolve you of the responsibility in knowing the truth that your actions–all of our actions–have consequences. 

Maybe we will talk and meet again someday.  Maybe we will have grown in different ways.  Maybe we will never speak again.  I just hope that you can put the past away. 

Always,

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***

– With kindness for all, KP

Forgiveness is Freedom

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I was raised Catholic; on a scale of 1-to-Natural-Family-Planning, I’d say we fell somewhere roughly in between always eating fish on Fridays and reenacting crucifixion scenes in school for fun.  Catholicism didn’t turn out to be the right match for me, but it did introduce a subject that has followed me and evolved in my life as I’ve gotten older–forgiveness.

The problem with the Catholic idea of forgiveness for me was that it seemed to be about forgiving other people because the creator had forgiven you (basically for just existing), and I didn’t quite understand this logic.  It was as if forgiveness was owed as some sort of karmic debt to a mystical Don Vito Corleone I had never met and didn’t understand what I had done to piss him off.  Hadn’t he adequately punished me enough when he decided that I would be born with the hair of the lovechild between Gene Wilder and Harpo Marx!?  unnamed

(For the record, I was really unattractive between ages 1-25.)

Seriously, what had embryonic-me done that was so bad that I was in this constant state of reprimand?  “You embryonic glutton!!  Your glucose consumption has reached heights of the likes never seen–repent now!!”

(I actually googled “embryonic gluttony” to see what would come up; I can’t believe I had the nerve to do that knowing what the internet usually yields.  Here is a picture I found:)

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In all seriousness, I have never felt that forgiveness is something you owe to anyone, actually.  What I have found to be true in my life, is that forgiveness is ultimately about myself, and not anyone else.  Being able to honestly and fully forgive has come down to allowing myself to finally be freed from negative influences in my life, and also being able to forgive myself for whatever negative beliefs I held about myself or my actions.  It has nothing to do with being noble, or “choosing the high road.”  It just came down to getting to a point where I could let go of the things that were weighing me down.  I think maybe for some of us, that point comes quickly, for some it takes much longer, and for others, it never comes.  It doesn’t make us better or worse for however long we take, or don’t take, we are the ones who ultimately have the key to lessening our suffering.  Everyone experiences life in their own way and in their own time, and I can only speak from my experiences, but I offer these words up to anyone dealing with similar issues, or anyone just looking for another viewpoint.  Or anyone who really just wanted to see a side-by-side comparison of me, Gene Wilder, and Harpo Marx.

Even though my days of crucifying my friends for fun are long gone, I think there are important takeaways from many world beliefs, regardless of whether we identify as religious/spiritual/Pastafarian/whatever.  Suffering and learning to grow from it is a universal component of being human, and ultimately, part of building our ethical character is that we have to learn what works best for us in order to do so.  In the Bible, one of my favorite passages remains Ecclesiastes 3:

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

We forgive in our own time, and we accept the freedom it yields in our own time.

Weirdmaste, my friends.

-KP

Revisiting the “F” Word.

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***WARNING: WHAT IS ABOUT TO FOLLOW IS SOME OPINIONS AND SHIT.*** I have been meaning to write for weeks, but because of my work schedule, it’s been nearly impossible. For those that don’t know, I have a job where I am taken to different “on-site” locations and these projects can last anywhere from three to six months, and it can be very physical at times. Anyhow, a few weeks ago, I was in one of the offices here, and I overheard a conversation between two of my coworkers:

Man A: “Yeah she was one of those crazy feminists, super bull-dyke-man-hater.”
Man B: “Ugh, that’s the worst.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s STILL REALLY 2015 and conversations like these are STILL taking place. At this point, I promptly turned around and said, “Hi Offensive!  By the way, that’s not feminism. A feminist is someone who believes in equality for men and women.” Blank faces stared back at me, with a hint of sheepish embarrassment that a woman had actually overheard their remarks (despite the fact that they were sitting 10 feet away and it was an open room), and had felt the need to comment on their erudite conversation.

Man A: “So….we’re feminists?”
Me: “Do you believe in human rights?”
Man A: “….Yes….”
Me: “Then there’s your answer.  Human rights, these are good things.”

***

When I was a little girl, I didn’t really understand gender roles or stereotypes. I liked playing with plastic dinosaurs, thinking I was going to be a veterinarian/taxidermist when I grew up (that way I could memorialize the pets I couldn’t save), and playing time-machine on my swing set in order to re-enact some of history’s greatest moments; a personal favorite was Nero playing the violin while Rome was burning. I’m not even kidding. I stood on top of the slide and pretended to be Nero playing the violin while my best friend and brother pretended to be Roman citizens burning in the flames (For the record, none of us were abused as children).

It had not occurred to me that girls and boys had different opportunities in the world until one day, my friend (the same Roman-citizen-burning-in-the-flames-friend), sat me down and started telling me about what she had learned in a social studies class about girls having greater difficulty in life advancing. I was about ten or eleven–I remember because she was two years older and had gotten picked to attend a young women in leadership-esque conference and I thought that was “super cool” and wished I had been old enough to also attend (and this was the mid-late 90s, where the Spice Girls’ GIRL POWER! was all the rage).

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Flash forward almost twenty years later, I went to a university which had a ratio of roughly 80% men to 20% women, and I have a job that often makes me one of the only women in the room. Luckily, the pay policy in my job is very strict; a woman and a man entering at the same time will never have disparity in pay; “Equal Pay for Equal Work,” is surprisingly one of the few gender-blind policies we have.  Apart from that, conservative patriarchal values reign supreme in this career field, although it is slowly changing.

The conversation between my coworkers that day in the office just really made me think about how there continues to be this dirty connotation with the word “feminism” (and, for the record, their language regarding the woman was disgusting. That in itself is another issue). I have never not been able to do something in my life because I was born female; that doesn’t mean I haven’t received criticism and haven’t seen the pervasive negative attitudes against women in my career-field (and let’s be honest, the freaking world). I also realize that the things I can do today (receive formal education, vote, own property), were not things women could always do (and STILL CAN’T DO in parts of the world).  My university didn’t start accepting women until the late 1970s, and when it did, they were not welcomed with open arms.  I am NOT a victim; however, I have no problem calling bullshit when I see it.

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A few months ago, the “I don’t Need Feminism Because,” trend on the internet popped up.  Obviously, I preferred the “Cats Don’t Need Feminism Because,” version, but I couldn’t help thinking–are these people actually f*%^ing serious?  So, I took the time to come up with a few “I don’t need X because,” of my own:

1. “I Don’t Need Civil Rights Because,”

2. “I Don’t Need to Access to Medical Health Services Because,”

3. “I Don’t Need Food and Water Because,”

4. “I Don’t Need Protection from Convicted Felons Because,”

5. “I Don’t Need Tuna Because,”

(Just kidding, I need Tuna.  Where is the Tuna?)

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Sexism, like other forms of bigotry, is deeply interwoven into our society to the point where it can become “sneaky” and part of the, “Well-that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been,” mindset.  A simple but perfect example: “You throw like a girl!”  This is a seemingly “innocent” phrase that implies that the thrower is weak.  Think about insults thrown around: Sissy, pussy, little bitch.  It takes anywhere from roughly a month to a year to form a habit, and these are sayings children learn early on.  What is this saying about our culture that we continue to associate being female with negative circumstances?  In much the same way that none of my family or friends ever said, “You are white, therefore you are better than anyone who isn’t white,” I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I couldn’t see how my life has been shaped by certain racial prejudices prevalent in society (like how white privilege isn’t a real thing, right?!), and how as an adult I’ve had to reexamine my beliefs and throw down the bullshit card because of certain things ingrained from childhood (Because just like it’s easy to spot the “bad racists,” it’s easy to spot the “bad sexists,” right? <–for the record, that’s sarcasm).

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Feminism is not man-bashing.  Feminism is about protecting the rights of BOTH MEN AND WOMEN.  If we don’t need feminism, what should we tell those 1,000,000+ trafficked persons?  If we don’t need feminism, why are so many men still afraid to come forward about being raped?  If we don’t need Feminism, why am I still seeing articles on my Facebook newsfeed that go along the lines of, “In Defense of being Child-Free” (It’s 20-freaking-15–who the eff cares who makes humans with their genitals and who doesn’t??), why are we still so worried about the gender identity of children?  We’re reaching a point where we have the ability to move past these centuries-old prejudiced ideas about humans, because they’re just that–prejudices.  Stripped of everything, humans are the same at the core.  We are born the same way and we die the same way: man, woman, gay, straight, black, white, brown, whatever–made up roughly of 55-60% water and organic materials, we are, in the words of Chuck Pahluniak “the same decaying organic matter as everything else.  We’re all part of the same compost heap.  We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”  Maybe that’s a little bit of a messed up way of looking at things, but in a way, the dark humor is grounding.  Take away the lofty ideals of one group being better than the other, for whatever imaginary and arbitrary reasons, and realize that life can be pretty shitty for the lot of us, so the best thing to do is buckle down and do your part to not make it as shitty for the next person.  THAT’s why we still need feminism.

Oh, and I take back the part about us all dying the same way–that goes for everyone except 50 Cent, because let’s be real, that guy has been shot like, 9 times.  That’s some crazy bionic-CIA shit going on right there.

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Happy Women’s History Month!

-KP out!

Balancing Aesthetic Goals and Well-Being

Happy Sunday!  I hope this weekend has been able to provide some rest for those reading; I know mine has for today, at least.  Being that today is an off day, I wanted to start on my series of body image entries.

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Growing up, I was always on the heavier side.  I, like many others, began experiencing insecurities about my body very early on, probably even younger than 10 years old.  I don’t have children of my own, but after growing up and observing not only how I felt, but how others felt at a young age as well, I think it is important to start dialogues with kids about body image early on.  Topics such as body acceptance, how the media affects us, healthy eating habits, how to manage anxiety and insecurities, etc, are good to discuss with children.  I think at the very least, it helps kids know that they aren’t alone in how they are feeling.

When I was 13, I lost about 20 pounds.  I remember my teachers asking me if I was ok, and I constantly ensured them that, yes, I was ok.  I was just getting rid of some excess weight caused by eating too many sweets.  I felt that I was much heavier than the other girls my age, and after losing the weight, I felt much more “normal.”  The problem was, I was too young to understand the concept of “healthy lifestyle,” and therefore, viewed intense caloric restriction for a period of time as perfectly normal.  The perfect recipe for an eating disorder, right?  I don’t think it’s a problem for children to diet if they are overweight, but it must be supervised by parents very closely because kids don’t understand the numerous implications of drastically changing their lifestyle; to change habits just to see “numbers on a scale” decrease can be disastrous.

Weight management is such a complicated topic.  Because we are modern-day humans living mostly sedentary lifestyles, our genetic tendencies to hold fat do us much worse than our ancestors who were constantly on the move and never sure of where their next supply of calories and nutrients was going to come from.  Therefore, many of us must be cognizant of how much we are eating and what we are eating.  However, we must also be able to balance this with our own mental well-being.  Last May, I began a 12 week program to lose body-fat and build muscle to change my body composition.  It was designed for those potentially interested in entering bodybuilding competitions (at the time, I was interested in entering the bikini category).  I lost about 7 pounds of body-fat, but because of the intense restriction, I began to associate certain foods as “good” and certain foods as “bad,” and it started wreaking havoc on my mental state.  I would feel immense pangs of guilt if I ate something not explicitly outlined on my food plan.  I had to cut the program short, and I gained back the weight quickly.  I told a few friends and some family members that I was struggling, and they came to my aid.  Not everyone who suffers from disordered eating needs to be thrown in rehab or told to sit down and not get up from the table until they eat a plateful of super-sized enchiladas and down three margaritas, but they may very well need the support of friends and to talk with someone with a background in nutrition.

tumblr_lj1rg0ha2n1qgeygdWe’re going to get you back to being healthy!

I won’t say that my program was entirely a failure; actually, it taught me the importance of adding strength training and high intensity interval training to improve cardiovascular endurance and muscle density.  It also allowed me to begin my own research on food and how different macronutrients affect us (protein, fats, carbohydrates).  Genetics have the biggest say in how these are going to be processed by our bodies, but arming ourselves with knowledge about how can help us maintain healthy body compositions and choose exercise programs that will benefit us the most.  We don’t have to look like professional athletes to be healthy (it’s hard when Pinterest bombards us with pictures of bikini/figure competitors doing professional photoshoots and the captions read something like, “This is what health looks like.”), but if we want to bring our fitness to higher level, we must be aware of the overall implications.  I sometimes still consider doing a competition, but I now know that I would go into it with a totally different mindset.  While I was doing my program, I was going through some major life changes (moving, recovering from a painful breakup, and a few other things), and that did not help.  I think if you are going to compete you MUST be at a stable place in your life.  It’s also good to talk it over with friends and family so they understand what you are doing and don’t jump to the wrong conclusions (you lose a lot of body fat for a competition, and to most people, it looks unnatural).

Right now, I’d like to lose a little of the body fat that I gained back, but I’m doing it at a pace much more comfortable for me.  I have also accepted that just because I gained a few pounds, I’m still at a perfectly healthy body composition, and it hasn’t made me any less of a person.  We are ultimately in charge of how we look, but we must be aware of just how interconnected our actual physical bodies and mental state are.

Healthy mind=Healthy body.

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Current body composition.  Verdict=healthy.  Also, please forgive the fact that I am on travel for work at the moment.

-KP

Leadership Challenges for Introverts

The other night I was going to the gym with a friend of mine and she said, “A piece of constructive criticism: talk to your people like they are people.”  I felt somewhat slighted and confused; I always make it a point to be respectful and considerate of others, whether superior, peer, or subordinate.  Worried I had been discourteous or rude, I voiced these concerns and her response was, “No, you’ve never been rude, but it has been noticed that you can be aloof.  Your subordinates are concerned that you think they’re not performing up to your standard and you think they’re continuously f**king up.”

Needless to say, this came as a pretty big shock to me, and it brings me to the topic for today’s entry: Leadership Challenges for Introverts.

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A little background info: In the early 1960s the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment was first introduced as a means of finding out good “fits” for individuals entering the workforce.  It was based on four principal psychological functions proposed by Carl Jung in his 1921 book, Psychological Types.  Once the assessment is finished, the test-taker will be provided with a result of “extraversion” or “introversion.”  Now, just to be clear–I don’t take any concept/assessment/judgement put forth by another person as the gospel truth because they are basing their findings off THEIR OWN view of reality, but I think that everyone provides a piece of the pie to deeper understanding of the human condition.  The MBTI has 16 possible outcomes, and although 16 is far too few to showcase EVERYTHING in the human spectrum of behavior, it is a step in the right direction for showcasing the variety of differences among people.  We shouldn’t look at human behavior in a binary fashion; people are not 1s and 0s.  No one is just an introvert, and no one is just an extravert.  It’s different for everyone.  This post is for anyone who experiences more introverted tendencies in the workplace, especially anyone in a leadership position.

***

I have continuously managed anywhere from 20-30 people in my career so far, and sometimes it can be difficult due to my tendency to turn inward.  When my friend mentioned that my new employees thought I might be displeased with their performance, I realized there were misunderstandings on both my part and theirs; they thought I was being aloof due to something negative they had done, and I was harboring an insecurity due to feeling uncomfortable in a completely new job.  If anything, I thought I was not of the same caliber of their former managers due to how new the job was for me.  My insecurities caused me to draw in and not engage with them as much as I should have been.  Now, these concerns were voiced in the beginning of my time managing this particular office, and as I have become more comfortable with the job and the employees, I have since come out of my shell.  Things have been getting better, but this experience really drove home a few concepts.

1. Not letting our insecurities rule our behavior.  Although certain aspects of this new job are very different from my last, certain parts are very similar.  Managers all perform certain basic administrative functions that translate in a fairly consistent manner from job to job.  We can’t let our insecurities in the new position derail our ability to pull from what we know and have been trained in.

2. Being proactive in engaging our employees.  Because of our tendency to turn inward, it gives the appearance of “being aloof.”  I have never wanted anyone to think that I have ever thought they were “beneath me,” or weren’t living up to some ridiculous standard (although if someone is f**king up repeatedly, like common sense should dictate, they should know they aren’t meeting the baseline standard).  We can get lost in our own thoughts and heads so easily, it can cause us to forget to talk to our employees about what’s going on in THEIR lives.  I think people who have introverted tendencies have a fairly large amount of data constantly moving around in their heads, so sometimes we just get stuck in there.  Make it a point to get out of the whirlpool of your own thoughts.  Other people really might think you don’t give a sh*t and therefore may start developing negative attitudes toward working for you.

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-image from Hyperbole and a Half

Just replace “house” with office.  Sorry, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to you, but I have to think about if wormholes are possible with quantum mechanics, what amazingly healthy quinoa recipe on Pinterest I’m going to try and convince myself I’m going to make tonight except then just end up making mac-and-cheese instead, solving every major world problem, and if I have an adequate pair of shoes from the transition from fall to winter.  

3. Being cognizant of the link between trust and motivation.  Building off #2, in being proactive with our employees, we can start to build trust over time, and this will ultimately pave the way for motivation in the workplace.  People want to work for people who give a sh*t about them.  Plain and simple.

4. Being approachable.  I have RBF (Resting Bitch Face) like none other.  Especially in the mornings.

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Therefore, I know I have to make the effort to smile, even if it ends up looking like this most of the time:

Uhh…hey guys…

Smiling and saying something as simple as “Good morning, how are you?” while basic, can open up the potential for a conversation, as opposed to simply nodding and quickly dodging into your office.

I’ll discuss this topic more as time goes on, but wanted to touch on it a little tonight.  We should always be focused on progress and flexibility in the workplace, but it needs to begin with us as leaders.

Any thoughts?

-KP

Why Into the Woods Matters

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Last night I went to the movies to see Into the Woods, which is based off Stephen Sondheim’s play of the same name.  For those who are unfamiliar with the title, it is a Broadway musical combining the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a few other fairytale favorites with a serious twist.  Unlike the fairytales we all know through the Brothers Grimm or Disney, Sondheim’s characters experience major challenges and are forced to face the consequences of their actions and choices.  Essentially, it is a fairytale about the reality of human nature and the ambiguity of life.  Fast forwarding to the end: there is no “happily ever after.”  Much like in real life, there is just, “After.”

My first exposure to Into the Woods was my sophomore year in college when I was cast as “The Witch,” the seeimingly stereotypical ugly, old spinster of fairytales who seems to enjoy making life difficult for all around her so everyone else can experience her misery.  In the fairytales of my youth, the witch, much like other stock characters, is not explained or humanized.  She is flat and two-dimensional.  The stories of our youth never asked: what made her the way she is?  What more is there to this character?  Into the Woods changes that, and as the play progresses we begin to see the character take shape as a three-dimensional woman: someone who was wrongly robbed of her youth and who desperately wanted to love someone and be loved fully in return.

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She keeps her daughter, Rapunzel, locked in a tower with no doors or stairs, but when a Prince happens upon Rapunzel by chance, things begin to change.  Rapunzel is drawn to the Prince and wants to leave her mother’s safety.  When the witch finds out, she scolds Rapunzel angrily, saying, “Children should listen!”  And we really begin to see the character become human as she sings:

Don’t you know what’s out there in the world?
Someone has to shield you from the world.
Stay with me.

Princes wait there in the world, it’s true.
Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too.
Stay at home.
I am home.

Stay with me,
The world is dark and wild.
Stay a child while you can be a child.

Although all of the songs in the show are of importance, a few really stand out as carriers of the central message: the world is dark and wild and full of humans and princes and wolves and wolves dressed in princes’ clothing. 

Often, Cinderella’a Prince (Prince Charming) is played by the same actor who plays the Big Bad Wolf, which really hammers the theme of the multiple ways evil masquerades as good; and even more than that, the ambiguity behind it.  Unfortunately, this was lost in the movie version.  Chris Pine played Cinderella’s Prince and Johnny Depp played the Wolf, and while I enjoyed Depp in the role, it watered down the true meaning of why the actor is supposed to be double-cast.  Cinderella’s Prince is charming and handsome, but he is also a lothario, unsatisfied by one woman and continuously searching for the next thrill.  However, as mentioned above, when Cinderella confronts him about his unfaithfulness, he does not lie to her–he tells her he thought he could be happy with her alone.  With this admission the character proves his own complexity because he willingly admits his wrong, and both part on their separate ways.  While the Prince is definitely not a character who displays positive traits like courage or integrity, he isn’t exactly a villain either, as he has no outright malicious designs.  He is simply a human motivated by his own selfish desires.

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Happily ever after?

The story of Cinderella and the Prince is important to Into the Woods because it takes the story and asks the real questions: exactly what WAS that fabled, “Happily Ever After”?  What did Cinderella and the Prince actually have in common?  What were their common interests?  Assuming Cinderella only received an education up to thirteen or so, what was her actual level of knowledge/cultural awareness?  Was she, as a simpleton, able to adapt to the Royal Family?  How did she and the Prince keep ‘the spark’ after those butterflies began to wear off?  Were they always faithful to one another?  What kind of a person was Cinderella and what kind of a person was the Prince?  What would have happened if one of them got sick or they had a child with a serious illness?  Would their marriage make it?  Although I, like many other little girls, enjoyed watching the Disney cartoon full of pretty gowns and singing mice, as an adult I recognize the poor message behind the story.  It basically tells children that someone will someday come along to rescue them (as long as they are pretty) and everything in life will then just magically go swimmingly.  They will be rescued from poverty, or from an abusive family, or from the boring hum-drum of their life.  This is a poor message to send to children; because the reality is that we are the only ones who can rescue ourselves, and more often than not, there is no “Happily ever after,” there is just  “After,” and it contains both happiness and sadness, good and bad times.

There is no prince; there are just humans.

***

The First Act ends with what we would normally call a “Happy Ending,” but even so it is left with some outstanding ambiguities.  The Second Act IS the play.  In the First Act, there is a narrator, who leaves clues to help guide the characters along, but he is killed at its end.  In the Second Act, the characters are left to fend for themselves, with no one to guide them.  People die, a major conflict arises, and we realize that there is neither a true protagonist nor a true antagonist.  Each character has experienced a shortfall in their moral foundation at some point: a little white lie, a lack of good judgement, deception, theft, unfaithfulness, selfishness.  The characters play the blame game for awhile until they realize in order to save themselves, they must forego the issue of “blame” and recognize they must do what is necessary to survive, and even that in itself will have consequences. Red Riding Hood tells Cinderella she is ashamed of her actions because she is about to kill a giant–who is a person, too–and Cinderella begins to sing another song central to the meaning of the play, “No One is Alone.”

The characters sing:

Witches can be right, giants can be good,

you decide what’s right, you decide what’s good.

Just remember someone is on your side,

Someone else is not.

Into the Woods is a poignant portrayal of human nature.  It takes the fairytales of our youth and transforms them into cautionary tales about the complexities of life.  It takes the two-dimensional characters of traditional stories and turns them into people.  Witches, wolves, and princes all become the same thing: HUMAN.  Although I enjoyed Into the Woods when I was younger, as I have gotten older and experienced more in my own life, the messages and emotions behind everything in the play become much more clear and apparent.  It is a dark story, but it is not one completely without hope.  All characters go through major transformations and grow from the hardships they endure.  Most importantly, they learn compassion toward others from their own personal challenges, and indeed they do learn that in life, no one is alone.

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Wishes come true, not free.

***

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KP circa 2010 (in the center)

-KP out