Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
So, being the queen of distraction (I'd like to blame adult A.D.D. but that's just shorthand for an uber-short attention span combined with a heightened ability to procrastinate beyond all reason) I found ways to divert myself from the hard decisions at hand. Most of those ways included ingesting copious amounts of alcohol and not less than five skull-busting hangovers ( I promise you, a hangover at the advanced age of 41 isn't a pretty site). I dropped 20 pounds, but I can't say I worked hard at it--I lost complete interest in food for about four months. It's easy to get back to your high school weight (less than, actually) when just the idea of putting food in your mouth makes you want to vomit. The ultimate diet plan, eh? Move over Weight Watchers! I killed myself with volunteering, applied for a hundred jobs I didn't want (no interviews though--the laugh's on me), and sweated my way through re-planting my entire backyard by myself. All so I wouldn't have to think. Brilliant plan, right? Especially since while I was doing all these things, all I really was doing was thinking about the things I didn't want to think about. In other words, try your hardest NOT to think of a blue-eyed polar bear for the next two minutes....ha ha.
Thus, seven months of angst. But things are better now, mostly because I've finally made the hard decisions. Plus, (and here I get really corny, so either break out the tissues or be prepared to roll your eyes) I have been amazingly fortunate to have friends who have literally pulled me--kicking, screaming and scratching--through this period in my life. If it weren't for them....well, all I can say is that I love them more than life itself, and have come to realize what that phrase "family isn't what you were born into--it's what you make it" really means. My friends ARE my family. Okay, now you can roll your eyes.
So, in a symbolic nod to my new frame of mind, I decided last week to tackle my closet. Which, as disconnected as it sounds from my seven-month long dilemma, actually made a ton of sense. My closet isn't big--my house, built in '71, sadly lacks closet space AND storage (male architect, obviously--wink) --but it was positively crammed to bursting with over a decade of stuff that I couldn't seem to part with. Which in a weird way is what I realized has been going on with my brain the last half-year plus. Too much STUFF in it.
I'm talking about the stuff that we all accumulate over time. The expectations, the aging-thing, the guilts, the desires, the petty jealousies, the regrets, the bitterness, the resentment, the holy-hell-how-did-time-get-away-from-me-so-fast??s. The excuses--always a fave of mine. If I hadn't been doing (fill in the blank) then I could be (fill in the blank) by now. And so on.
So I started pulling stuff out of my closet, and with every removal (and some stuff was pretty hard to get out, given how packed in it all was--I mean, really, does anyone, anywhere, need 67 pairs of shoes???) I felt my spirit lighten a little. Away went the dress I wore to my 10-year high school reunion--a tight, panty-grazing, electric blue number with mesh cut-outs on the side. Not because it doesn't fit (depression as diet-aid, don't forget) but because it's from a time in my life where partying was about all I did, and that is definitely a "party girl" kinda dress. I'll admit: letting go of that was hard--I'd always envisioned a day I would put it on and hit the town. But putting it in the "donate" pile felt good--and that feeling that I still need to be 27 went with it.
Next went about 35 pairs of shoes (hey, I know I kept 32 pairs, but a girl's gotta have choices!). That was tough too, because every pair seemed to have a special association with it. I wore these on my date with that super cute "actor" who'd been an extra on Titanic. That pair was from my first big meeting as a freelancer in San Diego. The other pair--the stiletto black sandals with silver accents--was my first $100 splurge. Those ratty Avias--complete with blood-stain from a popped blister--are my "first marathon" shoes. But into the "donate" pile they all went (well, except the blood-stained Avias--nobody in their right mind would want those stinky, gross things). As did my need to obsessively revisit past events. I'd spent most of the last seven months going over and over and over past decisions, ad nauseum, as if by constantly picking at them I could somehow change the consequences that resulted. I realized as carefully laid those sandals down in the pile for some other woman to wear that I can't changed what I've already done any more than I can change the orbit of the Earth around the sun.
So on it went--for three solid hours, I culled, cleaned, evaluated, and ultimately dumped more than half my closet. And looking at the space (wow! I can actually see my clothes now, rather than guess at what they are based on their color and position) I felt an indescribable sense of lightness. Like I'd actually accomplished something worthwhile. But it was more than finding freedom among the shirts, dresses and belts. It was also realizing that letting go of "stuff" isn't going to kill me--material stuff or mental stuff.
For me, at least, holding on to "stuff" from my past truly prevented me from moving forward. Especially my expectations of what "should have been." I was so entwined with the idea of what I should have accomplished/achieved by this point in my life that I had almost become resentful. A resentment I covered with a quick and ready smile, true, but it was there nonetheless, like a bitter cherry inside a really yummy looking chocolate.
Letting go of the guilt--which was accompanied by several bridesmaids dresses I'd been holding onto out of a weird superstition that by getting rid of them, I would somehow adversely affect the marriages of the friends I'd worn them for--was probably the hardest for me to do. I love guilt. I wallow in it. It's probably the reason I'm such a gun-ho volunteer. Guilt for things both large and small. Guilt for breaking someone's heart (in the ironic justice of the universe, I realize now that he was my soul mate and I would give anything to go back in time and respond differently when he said, "I love you."). Guilt for making selfish choices that haunt me to this day. Guilt for thoughtlessly spewed words that I can never take back--even though the people (one person in particular) I said them to have probably forgotten them by now. Guilt that I didn't try harder. Guilt that I made decisions out of fear and uncertainty, rather than be brave and do what was right for me.
So what now? I have a relatively clean closet and a relatively clean mind (there's still a smidgeon of that guilt left, like that cobweb in the topmost corner of my closet that I can't reach). And I'm feeling better than I have in months. The funny thing is, I hardly even realized that I had so much crowding my pea-sized brain, but obviously it has been there for quite a while--like that electric blue dress. I don't need it anymore. Either the dress or the angst. It's freeing, really. More room in my closet--both closest--to fill up with the things that I actually want to own. Like my future.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
- You can't make spaghetti in a Crockpot
- If you put a vase of tulips on the kitchen table, your cats will believe it is their own personal salad bowl
- You can't get rid of cobwebs on a 20ft cathedral ceiling by throwing barbie dolls wrapped in hand towels at them
- Plants don't water themselves
- In FaceBook world, time passes at approximately double what it does in the real world (as in, "Oh crap! I've been on FaceBook for an hour??!")
- Every mother has, at one time or another, eaten the cold, greasy, leftover crusts of her child's grilled cheese sandwich
- It you expect a kid to be a pain in the butt, he will be
- There is no magic to make the heartache go away
- Sometimes the best thing to do is just sit with your friend while she cries her heart out
- The more I know, the less I understand
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Monday, February 8, 2010
- Call or text during the day to say hi.
- Pick up a thoughtful gift "just because."
- Listen and be supportive.
- Use a kind voice when speaking to each other.
- Do things together--even taking a walk in the evening strengthens the bonds between couples.
- Take a class together, just for fun. The excitement you'll feel about learning something new may transfer to your spouse, helping you recapture what brought you together in the first place.
- Know and respect what your spouse values: their careers, their spiritual beliefs, their political leanings, their hobbies and interests.
- Be a friend to your spouse
- And sex! Sex! So important to a relationship--perhaps the most important thing. The hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are released during sex. And these two hormones are what causes humans to bond with each other.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Man, oh man! Was there ever a more eye-rollingly obvious phrase? It's right up there with "penny wise, pound foolish," another phrase brilliant in its banality. Both phrases sum up common-sense in a way that people simply don't like to hear: that success takes hard work.
The heck you say! No, really. We've all known people with an innate talent--perhaps they're astonishingly good with numbers. Or a brilliant writer. Or a phenom on the field. An artist who's talent--even at a young age--simply awes. Over time, we see them reach a certain level of success and then--bam! It's like they hit a block wall. With the passage of time, the potential they had sort of leaks away. And then... they're gone. On to whatever life they're going to lead--without the success their early talent hinted at (and in some cases, even promised).
Because talent only takes you so far. There's a certain arrogance that comes with true talent--a sort of "How could they not want me?" that is implied with the oohhs and ahhhs gifted people grow up with their whole lives. Hearing how "terrific" you are for being able to do something can actually be limiting. There comes with those compliments a sense that you're already so "good" you don't need to work on it any more...and in the meantime, the people with less talent--in some cases, much less talent--surpass you because, well, they're taking what bit of talent they do have and working harder than you.
And for those who have the true talent AND put every ounce of themselves into working hard to not only maintain but grow that talent...well, for them, the sky truly is the limit.
So what to do? If you've got one of those preternaturally gifted kids, how do you encourage talent without, well, ham-stringing them into thinking they're "so" good they don't have to keep working at it? Or, how 'bout this scenario...you were one of those lucky enough to be born with a gift, and then you squandered it? Truth is, I'm no genius (what??? You thought I was, didn't you? wink wink). But it seems to me that it's never too late (another trite phrase, I'm fulla 'em today) to rediscover that talent, that gift, and do something with it.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Meip Gies died yesterday.
If the name is unfamiliar to you, don’t worry: it was to me as well. Yet the woman played perhaps the largest role in preserving the life experience of someone who, 35 years later, played a huge role in my life: Anne Frank. And I am talking, of course, about the one of the widest read non-fiction books of all time: "Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl.”
A Real Girl's Diary
I was 10 when I read the book for the first time, and it changed me at a fundamental level. Until then, I’d been pretty much unaware of the sheer brutality with which people can treat each other (minus, of course, certain experiences with schoolyard bullies). At first, I didn’t believe my mom when she said it was a real girl’s real diary. How could that be? I wondered. How could people kidnap and kill other just because they were a certain religion? It just seemed so wrong. I’d been fortunate to be raised in a mixed neighborhood with parents who taught that we judge people on who they are, rather than what we fear about them. I literally couldn’t get my mind around the concept that other people didn’t believe the same thing—and were willing to kill because of it.
I strongly identified with Anne. Like me, she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. I tried to put myself in the position of this girl, just a few years older than me, who was forced to hide out for two years in the attic of the very business her dad had worked in. Never leaving, rarely even moving around. Relying on others for food, protection, and simple human kindness.
An Ordinary Woman Faced an Extraordinary Test
And that’s where Meip Gies came in. For the two years the Frank family secluded themselves in the attic, she brought them food, blankets, books to read, and news of the outside world. A young woman herself, only in her 30s, and a Christian (so apparently “safe” from the German’s hunt for “undesirables”) she quite literally risked her life to protect the family. And we know how the story ends: the Frank family was eventually betrayed and rounded up by the German SS. Meip was nearly killed when they were discovered; it was only through the pity of a German soldier that she was allowed to escape punishment.
The death of Meip Gies saddened me, even though I was unfamiliar with her (I vaguely remember reading about her years ago and I know she is hailed as a hero in throughout the Netherlands and in Jewish community). I pictured myself in her position: what would I have done, if faced with the same choice she was: either help this family, let them try to manage on their own, or turn them in. One article I read about her quotes her as saying it was a simple choice. Had she not helped them, she would have faced a lifetime of regret and sleepless nights. And that, to her, was worse than the risk of death she faced.
Helping Others is Simple in a Civilized Society
We all like to think of ourselves as “good people.” I know I certainly feel good when I donate to charity, go to church, organize a fundraiser or help out a friend. I think (not exactly in words, but you know what I mean) “I’m a good person; I’ve made a change in the world today.” And then I can live with other things I do that are perhaps not so “good” (like arguing with my husband, yelling at the kids, or deliberately not letting in the car in front of me because I’m in a bad mood.)
But I propose that, even under the economic strain our society has been in since December 2007, it is relatively easy for us to be “good.” The majority of us have the necessities we need to get by—and often, more than the necessities. America is, by and large, a civil society. Not always, but much of the time. We don’t bludgeon our neighbor over the head because we want the steak he’s grilling on the BBQ. We don’t punch the server who is taking forever to take our order. Generally, we help each other out. We like to think that, even in extreme situations, we would stand up for others. Fight for them. And some do—certainly the members of the military do. Police officers and firefighters regularly take risks to help others that the rest of us find unimaginable.
A Uncivilized Scenario: Helping Others at the Cost of Your Own Life
But there is nothing civil about the scenario faced by Meip Gies in the spring of 1942: An invading army has captured your country. The officers of the law you relied on for protection have been murdered or have surrendered. All around you people are being rounded up—because of their religion or some other aspect that makes them “undesirable”—and taken away, never to be seen again. There are enemy soldiers everywhere. People all around you are turning in their Jewish neighbors for fear of being considered a sympathizer and having their own families kidnapped. You are literally at risk of imprisonment and death for even protesting against the treatment of your fellow human beings. And your boss—a man you admire and respect—comes to you for help.
You are put in the position of literally laying your life—and the lives of your family—on the line for others. This is not like donating a hundred dollars to the Fred Jordan Mission so the hungry can be fed. This isn’t delivering groceries to homebound seniors. Those are wonderful things, good things, and not to be discounted, but they’re not the same as actually risking death for another.
What Would I Have Done?
So when I put myself in the scenario Meip faced, it becomes more difficult to “be good.” Some people will instantly and righteously claim: “Oh, no doubt, I’d help them out.” And some of them likely really would say “yes” immediately. But others might not—they’d fear for their lives, the lives of their children, they’d fear for their livelihoods. They’d need time to think it over and access the risks. As I walked the dog this morning I thought about what I would do, if the situation in the Netherlands in 1942 suddenly became the situation of Orange County in 2010. If someone I knew came to me for protection from being hauled off God-knows-where, would I help him or her? I like to think—and I do believe—that the answer is yes.
But what if it was someone I didn’t know who desperately needed my help, in that situation? Again, after some thought, my answer is yes. What if it was someone I deeply disliked? Again, yes (perhaps with some reservations...). But of course, in real life we often act differently than we do in our heads.
She Couldn't Save Anne, But She Saved Anne's Experience for Us
Meip Gies was an ordinary woman, a secretary. She acted in real life the way most of us hope we would act if faced with that situation. In the end, two years of effort couldn’t save the family—Anne and her sister died of typhoid, their mother of starvation (she intentionally stopped eating after her beloved daughters died) in the camps. But what Meip did manage to save was Anne Frank’s life experience. A terrible experience, to be sure, but one millions of people all over the world have learned from and made changes because of. After the SS soldiers took Anne and her family (and two others who had taken refuge in the attic) away, Meip went upstairs and gathered what was not torn apart by the Germans. Among the papers strewn about was Anne's diary. When Otto Frank returned years later after being liberated from the concentration camp, Meip presented the diary to him as a memento of his little girl. Evenutally, Otto had it published, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Meip herself put it in a Washington Post interview many years later, she was “glad that (I) could help fulfill Anne’s lifelong ambition of being immortalized through her writing.”