Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seeing Green

Once upon a time, Microsoft Spell Check told me I spelled my name wrong.

Except it wasn’t once, but many times.

No matter how often I ignored that wavy red line, it came right back, whenever I typed my name in WORD.

Spell Check was firm but insistent. My name was not “Varda” but “Verda.”

I, on the other hand, thought this silent mechanical voice to be brazen in the extreme. How dare a mere computer program tell me how to spell my name? And what the heck is “Verda” anyhow?

After many bouts of bruxism, I at last cajoled my software into recognizing my ultimate authority. This is a good thing and a step in the right direction.

However, Spell Check is still going around telling lies behind my back, announcing to all and sundry that my name is, yes, Verda.

I know this to be true because I regularly receive emails addressed to this Verda person who continues to be me, Varda. In fact, it was after receiving just such a note, another in a long line of them, that I became motivated to blow off some steam at you, Dear Reader. The sender of this note, this miscreant misspeller of names was (get this) writing to ask me a favor.

Random Request

She was just this random woman who sent me a LinkedIn request a day earlier. I checked out her profile and saw that her professional focus dovetailed nicely with my own—she’s the founder of a company that brings together experts on child education and parenting to offer content on a variety of subjects. I, on the other hand, write about child education on behalf of Kars for Kids, a nonprofit car donation program. I noted that we also had a mutual professional acquaintance, one with whom I’ve done some good work. It made sense for me then to accept her contact request and I did so.

The very next day, however, she spammed me by requesting I give her a rating on her professional performance. I could but only respond:

 Hello. I don’t KNOW you. How can I RATE you??

She wrote back,

Hello Verda,
It was sent to all my connection, please just ignore it
Have a good day.

Um, yuh. You spam me. Ask me for a favor. Apologize by MISSPELLING MY NAME and then tell me to have a good day?

You’re lucky I don’t bite your head off your neck, chew it up, and spit it out. (Virtually speaking, of course).

You liked that one? I’ll tell you another.

HR over at Kars for Kids asked me if I could post on some email lists advertising for web designers to join our team. I did so and received an avalanche of responses. Instead of just sending them on, I decided to weed through them to save HR some time. One that didn’t make the cut wrote (yup, you guessed it):
Hello Verda,
My name is xxxx xxx.
I have been designing website and doing internet marketing for over 7 years.
I have extensive experience as a Project Manager - including a Web Project Manager, which basically means that I am very organized.
Hope to hear from you soon.

Basically very organized, eh? Uh huh. That’s how you managed to make sure to refer to my original note to

I subdued my homicidal tendencies long enough to respond as follows:

Word of advice? I'm not HR, just helping out, but you spelled my name wrong. If you're applying for a job, you may want to take care on that score in future

Like, DU-UH.

But what’s in a name, anyway? Well, for one thing, there are the actual meanings of names. They’re important. They speak to the soul of a person. When someone calls you by your name, you feel good, perhaps without being fully conscious of that fact.

Verda means “green” in Esperanto.

Varda means “rose” in Hebrew (see: My First Blog).

Varda is the imprint of the memory of my Great Grandmother Raizel on my soul and heritage: the woman who put the red in my hair. It’s my mother’s friend who on seeing me through a hospital nursery window said, “She’s all pink and white!”

My name translates to my love of flowers, especially creamy white roses with a hint of pink.

For a long time I didn’t like my name. The sound of it is odd as it falls on Western ears. But you know it’s kind of grown on me. It’s different. Distinctive.

Meantime, I’m trying to get a grip on this gripe about people spelling my name wrong. I’ve said to myself, “Self: maybe it’s just jealousy. When they think of you, they are seeing green.”

This little self-administered pep talk is supposed to help me lose my anger. But in reality, it feels like a kick in the kidneys every. time. I. see. that. misspelled. name. The person who types that, the one who taps out Verda on her keyboard, doesn’t care enough about the person behind the name to bother to get it right. 

There’s no malice or intent, but all the same, it’s a kind of disrespect.

Because a person’s name is her essence, her honor.

I can make light of it and imagine that when she types out my name, she’s seeing green.

But more probably, she’s not seeing much at all.

As for me? I’ll just have to keep seeing the world through—um—rose-colored glasses.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Ring Theory of Kvetching

I dread condolence calls. I dread them because I’m just not good at that sort of thing, which begs the question: Who is?

But I think some people just have the knack.

I don’t.

And the thing about not having the knack for that sort of thing is that it makes no sense, since I suffered my first bereavement at the age of 13. I, of all people, should know how to act and what to say in the presence of grief.


A Cretin

But no. Invariably, I stick my foot in my mouth and then give an inward cringe when I realize what a cretin I’ve been. Which tends to reinforce in my mind the idea that I should never. Ever. Visit anyone bereaved. I’m just bad at it.

Today, all that changed forever. Not because I suddenly got really good at paying condolence calls but because I read an article that outlined a logical way to stay on track and avoid offending people. The premise of the article was concise and once the concept of dealing with grief was outlined, it was clear that it would also be an easy method to remember.

Now this is good, because we not only need this method for ourselves, but for our children and for instance, the kids that are mentored in the programs run by Kars for Kids, the nonprofit organization in which I serve as communications writer. We don’t learn this stuff in school. We need a quick and dirty method for getting down the niceties of this and more important, for transmitting it to others.


Ring Theory

Judy Levy of Ricochet writes up an article from the LA Times, How Not to Say the Wrong Thing, by clinical psychologist Susan Silk and arbitrator/mediator Barry Goldman. The article speaks about addressing emotions related to grief or distress according to the “Ring Theory of kvetching.” Basically, it all boils down to this: “Comfort in, dump out.”

Silk and Goldman illustrate the klutziness of some people in dealing with difficulties to show how the theory works. They offer the example of Susan who is in the hospital after having surgery for breast cancer. Susan lets it be known she doesn’t want visitors, but her colleague insists on visiting her, telling Susan, “This isn’t just about you.”

Oh SMH!* That’s the kind of stupid thing I’m afraid I’ll say to a friend in distress. I mean, not just about you?? Really? 

From the article:
 "It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"

The article then goes on to describe Katie, who is recovering from a brain aneurysm. Her friend comes to visit and then quickly leaves the room, telling Katie’s husband Pat, who is waiting in the hall:
 "I wasn't prepared for this. I don't know if I can handle it."

Really??? SHE can’t handle this? What about Pat, Katie’s HUSBAND? He has an easier time dealing with the sight of his wife in such a frighteningly dangerous state of ill health?

So back to the theory, comfort in, dump out: Picture a ring. In the center is the person in the most pain, for instance, Susan or Katie. Then draw a slightly larger circle around the center and in there put the name of the person closest to the one suffering the trauma, for instance, Pat, Katie’s husband. In each subsequently larger circle, you can put the names of people in descending importance or relationship to the sufferer.

Here’s how it goes, you can extend comfort from your circle inward, for instance from you to Susan. But you have to dump out, meaning you can’t vent inward to Susan. You have to vent to someone in the circle that’s larger than your own.


Can I Help?

So you could say to Susan or Katie, “I’m so sorry you’re suffering. How can I help? Can I bring you a pot of soup?”

That is comfort in, extending comfort toward the center of the circle.

But let’s say what really comes to mind is how awful Susan looks and you’re her close friend, you’re SHOCKED. You would never say that to Susan or to her husband, because they are in rings that are relatively smaller than yours, they are IN and you are OUT.

Instead you can tell someone in a larger ring, such as a colleague, for instance, “Wow, Susan looks really awful. It freaks me out to see her like that.”


Dumping Out

That is dumping out, toward the outer ring.

The beauty of this is you can say whatever you need or want to say, as long as you say it to someone in a larger ring than yours!

Now isn’t that simple? You can even map it out before you go. Print out this handy-dandy diagram I made for you, based on the one that appeared in Ricochet and in the LA Times, and stick it to your fridge with a magnet.
(photo credit: Varda Epstein)

The main thing, as Judy Levin of Ricochet says, is not to worry. “You'll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.”

*Smacking my head.