Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Power of….Wallowing in Self-Pity

It seems like the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” has been around my whole life…and I guess it pretty much has, since positivity (I think I made that word up—yay me!) guru Norman Vincent Peale first inflicted it on the world in 1980. I was 11 then, a wee wisp o’ a lass, but I remember the book’s place of honor on my parents’ bookshelf.

The book’s admonishments to “Believe in Yourself,” its reminders that “A Peaceful Mind Generates Power,” and of course, the wisdom of “How to Get People to Like You” have grasped the imaginations of millions of people around the world. The book has been printed in 30 languages. I didn’t even know there were 30 different languages on the planet! (okay, well I did—heard that somewhere.) Apparently, whether you reside in Billerica, Massachusetts, Anaheim Hills, California, Londonderry, England or Tianjin, China, the desire to be happy, wealthy and well-liked are pretty much universal desires.

So in an effort to buck myself up during some less than stellar months, I decided to pull that book off the shelf, blow the dust of it, and take a cruise through it. Yes, I do own a copy—a high school graduation gift from “Auntie Ellen,” my mom’s best friend at the time (apparently they didn’t apply enough “positive thinking” to their relationship because they parted ways not long after I entered college).

I settled into the crook of the love seat, glass of pinot in hand, and began to leaf through it. As I did, I’d hit a particular subject (“How to Have Constant Energy”) and think, yeah, sure, makes sense. Turn another page (“I Don’t Believe in Defeat”)—oookkkaaaayyyyy, you may not BELIEVE in defeat, but it’s bound to happen at some point. One more page (“Relax for Easy Power”)—tried that, it didn’t work.

As I leafed through it, I found myself in the unusual position of being annoyed by its positive outlook. Which is quite hilarious, since “positive” is in the title of the darn thing! I mean, duh!! Wasn’t “positive power” what I was looking for? At one point, my feelings about the book changed from polite interest to outright annoyance. I actually questioned whether Dr. Peale wasn’t just having a huge one over on all of us. I know, of course, that was just my bad mood talking. But I after reading the chapter entitled “Prescription for Heartache” I couldn’t help but help wonder if the author has ever felt that singularly unpleasant feeling that if even one more thing goes wrong, you’re just going to jump off the nearest tall building and be done with it?

So this train of negative thought lead me down a path I usually try to avoid, lest the little beasties who hide along that dark road reach out and grab me and keep me there permanently. But for once, I allowed myself to actually consider this thought: “Why not be bitter?”

Gasp! Me, thinking in such terms. Me, who has made such an art of looking at the bright side. Who sees a silver-lining in a pitch-black cloud-drenched sky? I admit it; I succumbed. At least for a little while. I wallowed in self-pity. Not only did I wallow, I completely immersed myself in the muck of “my life completely sucks.” I rolled around in it. I submerged myself. Covered myself in it from the little grey hairs that sprout out of the top of my head when it’s time for to see my stylist to the end of my overly-large and somewhat Fred Flintstone-like big toes. And it felt good.

Because, I must admit, there is a dark attraction to wallowing in self-pity. Self-pity is the one emotion you that conversely makes you feel worse, while making you feel better at the exact same time. No one understands me. No one has ever felt as bad as I do at this very moment. It’s different for me because I’m more sensitive than most people. Things are easier for everyone else than for me. Self-pity is, perhaps, the epitome of self-indulgence. And as anyone knows who has ever eaten an entire stick of pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough (as I have been known to do after spectacularly bad break ups), can attest self-indulgence feels good.

At least for a while. But truth be told, my brief sojourn down the dark path of complete self-indulgence bored me after a little while—and left me feeling guilty and slightly sick. Just like I feel after eating that cookie dough!

So after about 10 minutes in the “my-life-completely-sucks” mud puddle, I emerged….dirty, tired, sick at heart, but ready to clean myself up. Because (and here’s my positive nature coming out) despite what is undeniably a difficult time in my life, there are sooooooo many things I have in my life that makes every minute—even the bad ones—worth it.

The chief among these are my friends. Over and over again, I think how incredibly blessed and lucky I am to have people in my life I can call, if needed, at 2:00am. And they WILL be there.

So I guess I learned a lesson about the power of wallowing in self-pity. Oh, she goes! A “life lesson!” I imagine you rolling your eyes right now. But wait! It’s a good one—or a fairly decent one, anyway. Self-pity IS a powerful emotion, to be sure. But it’s the wrong kind of power. Rather than give you what you need to move forward, self-pity is so strong it holds you back. Believe me, getting out of the self-pity wallow was easier said than done…because once you’ve jumped in it, little bits of that nasty muck cling to you. It takes a while to scrub them away.

So I retrieved Dr. Peal’s well-intentioned book from the floor where I’d tossed it. I didn’t open it up (I still find its perkiness a bit annoying) but I did brush the dog hair off it (my dog Daisy sheds copiously—at any given time, big puffs of her fur are floating around the house and cling to whatever happens to be around, i.e.: socks, table legs, and the occasional thrown book) and put it back on the shelf. Perhaps sometime I’ll open it up again and try to find answers. Or maybe I’ll find a different book.

Or maybe, I’ll write a book: The Power of ….who knows. I guess a title will come to me when I finally figure it out myself. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Notes from the Real O.C.: Cleaning Out My (Mental) Closet, a.k.a.: Holy crap! I didn't know I still had this thing!

Notes from the Real O.C.: Cleaning Out My (Mental) Closet, a.k.a.: Holy crap! I didn't know I still had this thing!

Cleaning Out My (Mental) Closet, a.k.a.: Holy crap! I didn't know I still had this thing!

Anyone who knows me (and even some who don't, thanks to my propensity for telling my troubles to random people in elevators) knows that since about January I've been going through a sort of mid-life breakdown. Well, breakdown is too harsh a word. Crisis? Predicament? Calamity? Whatever. Basically, I realized that I needed to make some very important (read: life-altering) decisions and I just didn't wanna. (insert pic of me sticking out my tongue here.)

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

Take the Leap...But Do Try to Avoid the Scorpions Under the Rosebush

"The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I long to be. Because of all I may become, I will close my eyes and leap." --Mary Anne Radmacher

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places. The above bit of wisdom I read, of all things, on a greeting card in a drugstore in Omaha, Nebraska. I remember that I gasped when I saw it. It spoke—no, shouted out—to me almost as if it had been written specifically for me alone and me alone. I snatched it up from the card rack (sending a dozen other cards cascading to the floor in my excitement) and bought it immediately. I brought it home and propped it on my desk. Ever since, it’s resided in my office, a daily reminder of the change I so desperately want to make.

But in the year that has passed—particularly the last six months—though I’ve made some positive steps towards moving forward, I’ve frequently found myself bogged down by a weird sort of torpor that threatens any forward progress at all. Usually, that inertia centers on thoughts that include (but aren’t limited to) “Well, its not that bad.” Or, “Why do I deserve better?” Or even, “What if I’m wrong? What if it’s a mistake??”

But all those thoughts (and their related meaner-spirited siblings like: “I can’t do it”, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why can’t I just be okay with this?”) are really rooted in one thing: Fear. And I suspect that fear is what holds most people back from making the decisions they truly need to make to live full and fulfilled lives.

The inspirational quote above addresses that quite nicely—shame on me for taking so long to recognize it. “The jump is so frightening…” she begins. Well, yeah! You’re standing on the edge of a precipice—it’s not a really wide gap in the earth. Maybe 6 or 8 feet. You’re on fairly solid ground. Both feet are planted. You’re safe. But you look around and where you’re standing is barren, a few dried husks of tumbleweeds, lots of rocks and some dust. Or maybe you’re side of the precipice isn’t even that bad—there’s grass (albeit sort of dry and unwelcoming), maybe there’s a few thin trees. There might even be a bench to sit on (but watch out for those splinters!)

So you stand on your side of the precipice, shade your eyes with your hand, and look across longingly. After all, it’s not that far of a leap. You could do it…6 or 8 feet. Just take a running start…

But… while you can see that the other side is lush and green, with full trees dotting the landscape and—wait, is that silver reflection a stream?—you don’t really know if it will be any better over there than it is over here. You think it probably will be. You want to believe that it is. But the fact is, you don’t really know.

What you do know is that you are safe on your own side of the precipice, the side you’re already familiar with, the side where you know what areas to avoid because there are snakes curled up under rocks. You know that if you wait long enough eventually it will rain and you’ll get the water you need then. You know that while it may not be the best side, it is your side—and do you really want to give that up for the other side of the precipice that has no guarantees? The side that looks good but might be hiding a nest of scorpions under a rose bush? But underneath it all, you’re really just scared. What if you take that leap, but miss your footing on the other side? You slip down the side of the cliff, struggling to find purchase, hands bleeding, nails peeling back as you grab desperately for a root or rock or something to hold onto. But you fall anyway…

So you stand, undecided, scared, worried about the drop. The longer you stand there, the more you tell yourself that it’s not that bad on your side. Eventually you shrug your shoulders, stop looking at the other side of the precipice and decide to make your life where you already are. But you still glance over to the other side from time to time over the years and imagine what might have been, had you only had the courage to make the leap.

No great reward ever came without great change—and great risk. We’ve all heard the stories of people who’ve put everything on the line and five years later are happier and more fulfilled than ever. The corporate exec who leaves a solid six-figure income (and grueling, exhausting job) behind to pursue a dream of starting her own firm—and somehow, against the odds, succeeds. Or the work-a-day Joe who recognizes an amazing opportunity and borrows against his 401K to invest…and it works out beyond his wildest dreams. Or the man or woman who longs desperately to start over, get a fresh start in another place and decides to just do it—and makes an unimaginably happy life in a new location. We probably all have friends who’ve been through such a transition.

And I could come up with an equal number of examples of where taking a risk turned out to be the worst possible decision that person could have made….but I won’t go there, because that’s exactly the kind of thinking that paralyzes me—much like the person standing on the edge of the precipice and pictures themselves falling into the bottomless gap between the two places. If you dwell on the negative, you psych yourself out and can’t move forward. And that’s true in everything—the big meeting, the big game, the big speech, the big performance.

So knowing that the potential reward is so great, why am I so freaking scared? Why is anyone scared when they are making a life-altering decision? It’s because as human beings, most of us seek safety and reassurance. Very few of us are risk-takers. And that’s okay. I’m not criticizing those who prefer the safe side of the precipice to the unknown landing on the other side. There’s a lot to be said for security and familiarity. And the comfort of knowing which rocks to avoid, lest a snake chomps down on your ankle.

But there is also a lot to be said for stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a chance. One way or the other, it will work out. Things always do—even if they’re not in the way you hoped or even imagined. And that’s where I am now. Because when I picture staying on this side of the precipice for another year or five years or a lifetime, my heart sinks. And really, when it comes down to it, I want my heart to soar.

So because of all I may become, I will close my eyes and leap—and hope that wherever I land, I will find what I’m looking for there. 

**Mary Anne Radmacher, I discovered via Google search (gotta love google) is a writer/artist in Oregon. I love her attitude about life/love/finding your passion. She articulates how I feel, but have trouble discerning. Check out her page at

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Want to Believe

In the never-to-be-forgotten TV show “The X-Files” there is a poster on the office wall of the character of Fox Mulder. The poster features a shadowy, grayish image of a flying saucer accompanied by the words “I want to believe.” Of course Mulder, played with broody and damn-sexy intensity by David Duchovny, was desperate to believe in the little green men from outer space. Because, if you were a fan of the show, you’ll recall that Mulder’s little sister was kidnapped by aliens when they were both children. So there had to be aliens…otherwise, our man Fox had to be, well, crazy. 

However the show solved the “are aliens-are-real-or-aren’t-they-dilemma” I don’t exactly recall, but I do vividly remember that poster on Mulder’s office wall. But for me, it wasn’t aliens I wanted desperately to believe in. It was God.

Wha--??? Me, having doubts? Me, the avid church go-er? Me, devoted fundraiser for the church’s capital campaign, the former Sunday school teacher, et al? Yup. Me. But then, I’ve never been one to take anything on face value—as much as I may have wanted to. The idea of God—or the concept of an omnipotent being who controls every single aspect of life in this world, from whether the Patriots win their big game to how many seconds the light stays red when I’m running late for work—is extremely difficult for me to get my head/heart around.

The last decade has seen my most concerted effort to truly believe. Because I do want to—after all, who wouldn’t want to believe in a God who takes care of everything, who has it all handled, who can help and guide and love unconditionally? Sounds good to me—life is freakin’ hard most of the time, and there is great appeal in the idea that someone bigger than me has it all under control. That there is a plan.  That all the crazy, painful, maddening, confusing stuff that happens in the world has a purpose. We just don’t know what it is yet. (*sigh*)

But the more I attended church the last 10 years, the farther away from God I seemed to get. I did all the right things—went to church every single Sunday, volunteered like a mad-dog on every church committee I could get on, donated hours of time on the capital campaign committee to raise money to build a church-affiliated school, joined a Bible study, and committed to raise my daughters in the church. I figured eventually I’d find my faith, or faith would find me.

But listening to sermons left me cold—every week we were told again and again how horrible we all are and how only Jesus’ love will save us. What I wanted to hear—what I needed to hear—was how you take a 2,000-year-old story and apply it to modern life. The volunteer committees were good—I’ve always been passionate about helping others—but the things I would suggest were politely rejected. And to be fair, they had been doing things a certain way for a very long time and I was doing my best to shake things up. My Bible study was a flop—the first one I went to I brought a bottle of wine and the women looked at me so askance you would have thought I’d come in with horns sprouting out of my head. I laughed out loud when the Bible study leader asserted with calm confidence that the earth was only 6,000 years old—I thought she was joking. But she looked at me with such pity and sighed a deep, heaving sigh that basically communicated to me that I was a hopeless case.

Coming around to faith has been easier desired than accomplished. I have too many questions, ones that I can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer to. “You just have to have faith” isn’t working for me. Some would argue it’s not my place to demand answers of God, but I would answer back that it’s not fair to demand belief but not provide proof.

I’ve been admonished to read the Bible, that I will find all the answers there. I’ve read it. Several times. Perhaps I need to read it again, but if there are answers then either I am inept at finding them or they’re so deeply hidden only another reading—or another 10 readings—will reveal them to me. But I lose patience with the Bible. Or, I should say, I lose patience with people who tell me that every single word in the Bible is true and inspired directly from the mouth of God. The idea of Jonah surviving three days in the acid-laced belly of a whale unscathed is just….not possible. Or that Lot’s wife turned into an actual pillar of salt. Or that Noah managed to put two of every single animal and creature that walks, crawls or slithers across the Earth into a big boat to save them from an world-destroying flood. When I offer up that perhaps the stories in the Bible are just, well, stories, I’m told I’m not only misguided but willfully choosing not to believe.

But perhaps the most perplexing to me of the Christian tenants is the idea of being saved. I love the idea. It is an extremely comforting idea, that simply by believing I will live a life of everlasting peace and joy in a place so incredible that my pea-sized brain cannot even begin to fathom it. I have a choice to either “accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” or not. And herein lies my problem. They say it’s a “choice” but it’s a false choice. “Either you love Me or you go to a lake of fire and fry. But hey, it’s your choice.” That’s the spiritual equivalent of a mother saying to her child, “You can chose to eat this dinner or I’ll feed you to the alligators. But hey, it’s your choice.” I mean, really? What kind of “choice” is that? That’s not a choice, that’s extortion. Either I believe or I spend eternity in a lake of fire. Huh? I want to believe because my heart has accepted and my head agrees, not because I’m threatened with endless torture.

Which brings me to my final thought on religion and Christianity. According to the teachings of my church, if you don’t believe no matter how good a person you were on Earth, you die and you’re in eternal torment. It doesn’t matter if you were honest, forthright, kind, considerate, et al. Yet if you were the worst kind of serial killer in the world, if you “accept” Christ even one second before you die, you’re living it up in Heaven at the right hand of God. It just doesn’t make sense to me. My beloved dad, for example, not being a “believer” (he believed in a higher power, certainly, but generally felt as tepid about religion as I do) is roasting on a slow spit down below. He was a wonderful man, a man who would give you his last beer or the shirt off his back. I asked about this once in Bible study. And was told (kindly, I suppose) that, well, yeah. My dad was in Hell. Not really what I wanted to hear. And if the person saying it thought I would feel closer to God after she said that, well, her words had the exact opposite effect.

Why did I choose to share all this? This is the longest post I’ve ever written. I did so because I cannot be the only person out there who has these thoughts, feelings and fears. It seems like it sometimes. My husband has no patience for my musings—he has had the not inconsiderable advantage of being raised to believe unwaveringly. (Plus he’s fairly convinced that I’m going to hell anyway because I’m a Democrat.).

I have several friends who are big believers—one in particular who awes and inspires me with the depth of her faith. But I worry about offending them by telling them my doubts. My girls are being raised strong Christians—I can give them that. I think it’s extremely important to give kids that foundation of faith so that later on, they aren’t tormented by questions like I am. Or, if they have questions, they have the security of knowing there is a path home to faith.

And I guess the final reason I’ve chosen to share this is that it’s a way for me to reach out to others who might be able to help guide me on my journey. But I don’t want to be pushed or pitied or punished. I’ll resist. But I do wish there was someone who could patiently walk me through it all without judging. One thing for sure, I didn’t write this to disparage religion or God or believers. I have nothing but the deepest admiration for people—of any faith, of all faiths—that have a true and heart-felt commitment. Christianity is a marvelous thing, and I’d really like to be a part of it. But right now, I feel like there’s a locked door keeping me out…but there is a small window in that door, and when I peer inside I see that true faith can fills those holes in people’s hearts and lives, and especially, in their souls.

Maybe this post will help me find someone who has the keys to open that door—or, if not the keys, at least knows another way in. And then I’ll have my own poster—much to Fox Mulder’s chagrin—that will simply say, “I believe.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Finding the Passion...No, Not That Kind of Passion, Silly!!

I spent a great deal of last Saturday night discussing “passion” with strangers. No, not “passion with strangers.” And no, I don’t mean on a blue website, deep in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep. So if your mind made a little foray into the gutter, you’d best take it out right now and put it on the right path! (wink, wink)

No, the topic of “passion” came up in the course of dinner conversation. I was at a surprise birthday-dinner party, given in honor of my husband’s boss. We sat at a round table with several of his co-workers. Nice people, all. Educated. I doubt there was one among us who didn’t have his or her MBA (except, of course, for me…I barely squeaked out of college. When they handed me my diploma I ran from the stage with it in my hot little hand, afraid they’d say, “Wait! We made a mistake! Get back here!”)  In any event, the conversation was smooth and non-controversial, and a little dull. But such is the stuff of office parties. You are still, really, at “the office.”

But since it was not my office—or my co-workers—I had a little less to lose than my husband, who was intent on “polishing relationships” and “developing cohesion.”  Yes, because that is a fine goal at any social occasion. In any event, I was a bit bored. But I was good. I nodded and smiled, I made small talk. I chipped in a bit of conversation here and there. And only once did I try to steer the discussion away from the “future of the semi-conductor market,” which is quite possibly the most boring conversational topic EVER (in my never to be humble opinion—and, conversely, I am sure there are those out there who think my passion for music is a dry-as-dust conversational topic too).

The conversation at last got interesting when one of the gentlemen at the table—a very nice man with a kind face and earnest way of speaking—talked about his son, a college student with plans to be a composer. The guy was incredibly proud of the boy, who apparently is some sort of genius musician. But he was worried that his son would never have a “real” job, or make any “money.” But, he added, with a wry shrug of his shoulders, the kid has passion, and hopefully it will all work out.

I was immediately at attention. I love the idea of someone having a true passion for something in his or her life, be it a career, a hobby or another person. I firmly believe that without passion, life—your home life, your work life, your romantic life— becomes a dull and rather sad place to be. To me, passion is more important than money, than recognition, than even a long life. Because who wants to live ‘till 99 if they’ve never experienced that particular thrill of true zeal, of true belief?

So I guess I said all this or something very like it to the man who was worried about his musically inclined son. And because I am me, I am sure I said it with, well, passion. And everyone seemed to have an opinion on the topic, ranging from passion being “overrated” (a rather bitter comment from one young man who looked like he had spent most of his life reading about adventures rather than actually having them) to passion being “essential” (in the words of the young wife of an account exec, who looked at her husband with such admiration that there was no question what kind of “passion” she was talking about.)

We all agreed on, however, that as you get older, finding and maintaining your passion is harder than ever. The conversation changed direction (to the passion of semiconductor sales, I think), but the essence of what we talked about stuck with me. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it all week.

I talk a good game about passion, but sadly the last couple years have taken their toll on my ability to actually feel it. I’m not talking physical/sexual passion—in the right mood, that’s a no brainer. I’m talking about the passion that keeps you going on a new project long after everyone else goes home for the night. The passion to rekindle a dream; take it out of the little box you’ve put it in, blow off the dust, and hold it up to the light.

So if the passion is lost, how do you find it again? That’s where I am right now. I think I may have an answer, and it’s pretty simple.

Go outside.

Huh? Yeah, that’s an answer. No, really. When you’re cooped up—in a house, an office, a mall—your attention is narrowly focused on your immediate surroundings. And your surroundings don’t change that much from day to day when you’re inside—the desk is in the same spot week after week, the couch is always in the living room (it may change angles every year, but it’s still essentially the same). And when you’re limited by your surroundings, uninspired by them, your passion begins to ebb away little by little. Such little ebbs that you hardly notice it’s gone until one say you go to draw upon your passion to help get you through something, and the passion account is empty.

Outside, though, is limitless. Just look up at the sky. Notice the color, the shape of any clouds drifting their way across. Look long enough and you’ll realize you can actually see the curve of the sky as it makes its way across the horizon. When you take a moment to look up, you may feel something surging back into your soul—passion.

Do something physical. The other day I went on a long bike ride with a girlfriend. At the end I felt incredibly regenerated—almost a new person. We talked endlessly as we rode along, and somehow talking while riding bikes was more productive than just sitting in the local Starbucks and chatting over coffee. The repetitive motion of the turning tires cleared my mind. I found myself talking about things I never expected to say out loud. It really helped me.

The years are gonna happen whether we want them to or not. It’s up to us if we live them fully—with passion—or just float along. I've become quite the little paper boat bobbing along in a stream the last few years. I don't want to be that little boat anymore. I want to be a captain! Okay, lame analogy. Whadda ya want? It's 2 am.

But passion doesn’t just magically appear. It’s something we have to work at, cultivate and maintain. And once you find it (or rediscover it) its essential to encourage it, to make it grow. Sounds like a plant, huh? I guess in a way it sort of is—a plant will obviously shrivel up and die without care; passion will do the same thing. And imagine—if we’ve got another 30 or 40 years of life in us (and statistical averages bear that out), wouldn’t it be great to live those years with meaning? With passion? I plan to. 

To paraphrase a line from “Steel Magnola’s” (a movie I love despite its over-the-top corn factor): “I’d rather have five years of amazing than a life time of nothing special.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Belly Dancing, Botox, Tattoos...Mid-Life Crisis, Mid-Life Reinvention or Mid-Life Rebellion?

A couple weeks ago I was enjoying a rather pricey and extremely delicious bottle of wine with a few girlfriends. The conversation turned, as it is wont to do, on a number of topics. We skipped along, one subject leading to another, talking and laughing in that excited way people have when they really enjoy each other's company. One of the topics we skipped lightly over was that of the storied "MidLife Crisis." Not our assorted husband's mid-life crises--only one actually went out and bought a convertible Jag (and he has to share it with his wife.) No, the subject we danced over was our own mid-life crises.

But as these conversations often go, we spent maybe a minute on this and then flitted off to something else--I believe we started talking about sex, which, as everyone knows, is a far more interesting subject than whether or not we're going through early 40s angst. 

But over the next two weeks, my mind kept returning to the subject of a woman's mid-life crisis like a bee to a particularly tasty flower.  The idea intrigued me, because until someone brought it up, I figured mid-life crises were pretty much limited to the male side of the coin. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that not only are women as susceptible to those bouts of mid-life doubts as men, but perhaps even more so. Women, after all, (and here I am really, really generalizing, so if you are not one of these women, please don't take offense) are the ones who are more likely to adapt to accommodate the needs of others, rather than the rather than the other way around. In motherhood, in marriage, most women are likely to set their own desires aside for their families. Heck, Dr. Laura has made a whole industry of telling women they aren't accommodating enough and that is sole reason their marriages are rocky.*

So by the time a woman hits her 40s, it's very likely there is a definite feeling that she's just done putting everyone else's needs before her own. And she may very well be getting ready to put her own needs to the forefront for a while. 

So all this stuff was swirling around in my mind when I came to the sudden and somewhat obvious realization that I am going through my own version of a mid-life crisis. Now, I'm not gonna go out and buy a jag (not that I could afford it) or take up with that young, too-hot-for-his-own-good blond guy who works out at the gym (I'm certain he knows I have the "flames-down-below" for him--it's the drool on my chin that gives it away). But I have started doing things that four or five years ago I never would have even considered doing. One of those is taking a belly dancing class. Another is the Botox I got a while back (if you read this blog you know all about that), or finally getting that "Gallagher" (my maiden name) family crest tattooed on my hip. 

But it's more than these superficial changes. Beyond just the surface stuff, I've renewed my interest in spirituality. For years I've just gone along as the "good wife" attending the church simply because I thought it was what would make my family (read: hubby) happy. But after 10 years, I realized (well, I really knew all along) that I wasn't fulfilled. So now at 41 I finally have the confidence(or, at a minimum, am working on creating the confidence) to stop going to church for a while until I can figure out exactly what I'm looking for. It's been tough--you know my hubby is a deacon and he's been disapproving of my deviance from the expect path. Not tons of support there. But my friends are supportive, one in particular who made a spiritual journey of his own a decade ago. I seriously doubt that were I not going through this "midlife crisis" I would be on this spiritual journey now. 

The other thing that I've rediscovered is my identity as a woman. Beyond the whole "mommy" thing, I mean. I love being a mom, don't get me wrong. But I've let that role define me far too long. I sort of let the "woman" part of me be overtaken by the "mommy" part. I never was the "sweats-and-tshirt" mom or the "Lee Riders mom-jeans" mom--not even the "i can't drink because my kids will think bad of me" mom (both my girls learned to pour wine through the Vinturi by the time they were five) But whenever I thought of myself, I always thought along these lines, "I'm going to the store to buy healthy food because I'm a mom," Or, "I really need to vacuum the house because I'm a mom," even, "I have to get a facial today because I'm a mom." Then one day--a fairly recent day--it hit me: I'm a mom, duh, but I'm me first, and I deserve to do things for that reason and that reason alone. 

And lastly, all this mid-life introspection has helped me crystalize my goals. With all the falderall of raising two active girls (I spend far too much of my life in my car, ferrying them from one practice to another) it was all too easy to put things off because I'm a mom. But my "mid-life crisis" (for lack of a better term) has helped me realize that putting off my goals and claiming it was because of the kids is just an excuse--a bad excuse at that. Lots of women accomplish amazing goals as moms with young kids (uh, JP Rowling anyone?). I sort of let my goals slide 'cause I was lazy...honestly. Well, not lazy, in the strict definition of lazy. But lazy in that it was easier to make excuses than progress. So now I guess I'm using this point in my life to sort of re-invent myself--or, better put, re-discover myself. 

And to be completely, dead-honest with both myself and you, there is absolutely an aspect of mid-life rebellion. There are things I want to do. Period. So I'm going to do them. I really don't give a fart in a windstorm (thanks for the phrase, my Irish dad) whether other people think these things are okay or not. Like the Botox. Or the belly dancing. Or the tattoo. Or the sky-diving my friend Sue and I will do this summer. Or learning to ride a motorcycle at long last. I didn't do them before because they weren't the "right" or "safe" thing to do (in my somewhat narrow perspective of what is/was "right") Now, thanks to my "mid-life rebellion" I want to have these adventures. They're mine to relish....or regret. Hopefully relish!!!! And there is a real sense of freedom knowing that I'm making choices based on what I want, instead of what I think others want. 

The next time I am sitting around with my girlfriends drinking wine (which should happen fairly soon--we're pretty regular with our wine consumption) I am going to steer the conversation back to what we so lightly touched on those weeks ago. The subject of a woman's mid-life crisis. I am really, really interested in whether other people feel the same as me...or if I'm hanging out here in the wind all by my lonesome. Somehow, I suspect, I'm not the only one going through this. In fact, I'd lay money on it. As with all things, it's better to go through it with friends at your side. Then it's no longer a crisis, it's a party!

For a really interesting read on the whole woman-and-mid-life-crisis thing, check out this article from More:

*On a personal note, I bought into that idea for a long time, even going so far as to buy Dr. Laura's "The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands." After all, I thought, it must be MY fault my marriage was blah--not long work hours, distractions, bills, or over-familiarity. But the book's advice was a no-duh--I'd already been doing everything listed in the books as "sure fire" ways to make your man crazy for you again. After months of trying to give him even more attention, even more sex, and even more endless compliments ("Thank you soooo much for putting your underwear in the hamper! I know it's a huge inconvenience."), I gave up on "The Care & Feeding of Husbands" and went back to plain ol' me. In all fairness, though, one of my very best friends says the "Care & Feeding of Husbands" book saved her marriage. Rock on to her. But for me...not a super success. So not everything works for everyone.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beauty and the Botox

For the last couple of years, anyone who knows me knows I’ve been debating whether or not to succumb to the oh-so-Orange County trend of getting Botox. After all, I’m 40+. Botox seems like the next step in a natural progression that includes coloring the (gray) hair, buying more expensive anti-wrinkle creams, and making a trip to the gym a thrice (or quadruple) a week event.

So what was my hesitation? After all, most of my friends have had it, and they are gorgeous testaments to the power of cosmecuticals. It wasn’t the money, either—‘cause, let’s face it, I already spend $120 plus on my hair every five weeks to cover my family legacy of prematurely grey hair (I got my first one at 27—now at 41 I’m likely 50% grey, if I allowed myself to let it grow). At $10 a unit of Botox every 3/4 months, surely it was worth the investment to keep myself looking young (or, youngish, at any rate). And it wasn’t “judgment” from friends or family—I am one of those incredibly lucky people who are surrounded by friends who love me even when I make foolish decisions. I knew that even if having Botox made me look like a female version of Lon Chaney, my friends would simply smile, shrug and hand me a glass of wine. And it wasn’t the glowering disapproval of my hubby, who considers all cosmetic surgery—even the inject-able kind—the “height of vanity.” After all, he can SAY that, but I met him AFTER I started hiding my grays and using the expensive face cream. (lucky for me he never reads my'll see why in a few sentences...)

I think it was simply the fact that having Botox would be admitting to myself that aging is an undeniable fact and that I’m a bit afraid of it. Not too many women—or men, for that matter—will admit that aging scares the crispy crap out of them. Most of my friends say—sincerely, I know—that they are looking forward to being the “spunky old lady” who plays poker and goes to Santa Barbara wineries and Indian Gaming Casinos. I, personally, am not looking forward to that…the idea of being a “spunky old lady” fills me with dread. Perhaps that’s because at 41, I still have not accomplished nearly all the things I set out to when I was 20…and now that I’m well into "beginning middle age", I fear I will never accomplish them.

But I am COMPLETELY digressing….anyway, the long and short of it is that I DID it! I finally had the Botox. Yup. The baby-version, anyway.  Two weeks ago. My friends who have been doing it since they were 35 think I’m ridiculous for letting the fact that I succumbed take over such a large part of my mental energy. And perhaps they’re right. But this wasn’t like going to the gym or getting highlights/lowlights in my hair. This, to me, anyway, was a tacit acknowledgement that I’ve officially entered the battle against aging. And I’m going to go down fighting (because I’m fated to go down, why not do it with a little spirit?)

Please don’t think I’m superficial! I’m not, really. Well, a little. But aren’t we all? Otherwise, who would ever go to the gym or wear decent clothes or even bother to put on deodorant in the morning? Or whiten their teeth? Or get a haircut? Or pluck their nose-hairs (men...)?

Again, I’m digressing (again—can we say ADD anyone?). So…baby-version Botox. The “minimum” for my age/skin condition/wrinkles. The aestheticians that “shot me up” was named Nancy and she was just about the nicest woman you could ever hope to meet. She was extremely easy to talk to—no doubt she found my hesitation a little silly (being in Newport Beach and all) but she patiently answered all my questions. Together we decided to do the minimum, and see how I liked it. She warned me not to “expect miracles” with such a low dose, but promised me that I would see improvement. I ended up having 5 units in my forehead, 5 units between my brows, two under each eyebrow, and 8 in each crowsfeet area. And damn!! The ones in my forehead stung like a M-Fer!!!!! I felt like there were bees stinging my face. Who knew the forehead had so many nerves?

I left the aesthetician’s office that day feeling absurdly pleased with myself. I had finally done something. After spending a year hemming and hawing about getting Botox, I finally had made a decision—for good or for ill. And I was fairly bouncing on my feet as I went back to my car. I wondered if people “knew” I’d taken such a step in the fight against the inevitability of age?? And if they knew, would they admire me or look at me in dirision…or simply not give two farts in a windstorm? (have to thank my dad for that particular idiom).

So after the requisite 3 – 7 days, I definitely DID see changes--especially in my upper eyelids. Pre-Botox they had begun to sag a little—not hugely noticeable, but enough that I saw it when putting on my eye-make up. Now easily 5 years were erased from my upper lids. My forehead, too, looks terrific. Not stiff and immobile—she gave me such a small dose, for which I’m eternally thankful. I can still give my kids “the look.” The crow’s feet area is relatively unchanged—in the right light, it looks like there are fewer lines, but it’s hard to tell. I call the crow’s feet a “wash.” And I guess I did expect miracles—I admit to being a bit disappointed that I don’t look 25 again. But I definitely look better rested. I guess that says something, huh?

So when July rolls around and it is time for me to do it again, will I? The short answer is, yes. I will. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about—I look at Botox as maintenance, like dying my hair or my trips to the gym or even my membership in Weight Watchers (at 41 I’m still able to look decent in a bikini, thanks in large part to the “points system” of Weight Watchers.). The long answer is still somewhat fraught with ambivalence. I sometimes wish I didn’t care so much about what I looked like that Botox even came into the equation. I wish, at times, that I really were one of those women who embraced aging as an old (pun intended) and welcome friend. But I’m not. I’m who I am, and amongst my many quirks and qualities is the desire to maintain a pleasant aspect to my appearance. Not for others—but for myself. At least as long as I can.

Your thoughts?? 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This Is How I Want My Life To Go

Very rarely are you afforded the opportunity to truly revisit your past. I was blessed (or cursed; after you read this post, you can decide) to have had just such an opportunity this morning. I was trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to organize my upstairs office. I kept coming across "mementos" from my past...a letter here, a photo there. Shows you how long it's been since I've really cleaned out my files, huh? Tucked deep inside a manilla folder with various other notes, poems, and short stories was the following missive...written by me, on May 26, 1998. The title of the piece I wrote myself is "This is How I Want My Life To Go." Here it is:

This is how I want my life to go


I want to be a known and well-respected writer of fiction in the novel form
I want to be twenty-nine years old when my first breakthrough occurs; and thirty when my first book is published
I want to make 100,000+ per year, within the first three years after my book is published
I want to publish a second book at thirty-two and an additional book every three to five years after that
I want the words to flow from me as easily and effortlessly as my thoughts do
I want to tap into the emotions of the reader through character-driven stories.
I want people to feel I’ve reached them on a level only their most intimate friends and family do
I want to connect with the reader so they will know my characters as they know themselves
I want at least one of my stories, at some point, to be made into a movie, or have a movie based on it
I want to be focused, committed, and driven to finish my stories


I want an improved relationship with my mom
I want to be closer to my sister and help her through the problems she is dealing with
I want to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, not just as a peaceful teacher
I want the connection of spiritual belief
I want to maintain a healthy, loving relationship of mutual respect with Dave.
I want to marry Dave within the next year and a half
I want to have my first baby when I am thirty-two years old and my second when I am thirty-four
I want to stay at home with the children and raise them to be productive, happy people           
I want to find a unique balance with my writing and my family life
I want to keep Dave inspired and in love with me through the duration of our relationship so he continues to provide the emotional support and affection I need
I want to wake up with a positive frame of mind every day


I want to find a group or organization in which I believe so I can volunteer my time and money
I want to have a circle of close friends with whom both Dave and I blend perfectly
I want those friends to be in approximately similar situation to us; with children close in age, live in the same community, share similar values and believe, and still be different enough as t provide stimulating friendships
I want to be physically fit so I can do the things Dave and I enjoy; bike riding, rollerblading, hiking, etc.
I want to enjoy exercise more so I won’t be bored by some physical activities
I want to read one new book each month, of any type, whether fiction, biographies, or histories
I want to nurture and maintain a close friendship with Maureen, despite the long distance between us
I want to go to cocktail parties and holiday events several times a year, so I can dress up in lovely clothes and see Dave in a tux

Living Conditions

I want to live in a spacious, attractive home with a view of the ocean
I want to live in a community of upwardly mobile young professionals who take a great deal of ride in their homes and families
I want to get to know my neighbors
I want to live in this home by the time I am thirty-one years old
I want to have beautiful furnishing; yet usable and practical
I want to have two fireplaces in my home and a very large yard
I want to entertain in my home, so that friends and family come to thing of my home as the gathering place so special events
I want to be close to a lively, fun restaurant/shopping area


I want to be able to buy virtually anything I want if I need it, so can think of a compelling reason as to why I want it, without worrying about the cost or its effect on the family budget
I want to be able to treat people to dinner and lunch, just because
I want to be able to buy a gift for someone without worrying about having to have a reason
I want to wear better quality clothes and not worry about the price
I want to be able to take the family on vacation every year


I want to buy a newish (two years or newer) car every three years
I want buy Dave the convertible Porsche for his 40th birthday
I want to have my wedding outside in a garden, with just 60 or so guests
I want to honey moon in Europe
I want to go to sleep every night with Dave’s arms around me
I want to be happy

I wrote this essay when I was 29 years old, and all things still seemed possible. I am turning 41 on Saturday; more than a decade has passed since I typed this up. Reading it now, from the distance of 13 years, stirs up  feelings of nostalgia and unease. I'm peering back at myself through time..and seeing myself as I was then. Would the person I was then, if she happened through some magic to meet me now,  be surprised and a bit disapointed that the dreams did not come true...or would she be excited by the things on the list that were checked off...I just don't know. I would like to think she'd like me...and appreciate my efforts, my sincerity.

One thing reading this essay has showed me, though, is that despite the fall of years I'm still fundamentally the same person I was then...a bit of a dreamer, but not unfoundedly so. I'm going to study this missive from my former self. Finding this has been like finding a gift to myself from my past. I've been in dire need of an infusion of passion in my life the last few months. Of hope. This short essay, written by a girl with dreams in her eyes and hope in her heart, may be just what I've been looking for. Happy birthday to me...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You Can't Make Spaghetti in a Crockpot...and 9 Other Important Life Lessons

When I was younger and didn't know much, I always figured that eventually all my questions about life would be answered. Imagine my shock now that I'm nearing 41 and have realized that not only have my questions not been answered, but that every day brings new questions. So I'm trying to take my life lessons where I can, and hopefully put them to good use. The last week has been an especially good one for learning things I probably should have known already. So I thought I'd share a few of the should-have-been-obvious ones that nevertheless took me real life experience to learn:
  • 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

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's All Chemistry to Me

A couple months ago I wrote a blog post titled "Why It's Important to Cheat on Your Spouse." It was a tongue-in-cheek perspective on how to put the "spice" back in your marriage. I suggested remembering your spouse as the person they were when you first met. Seemed to make sense to me: after all, who doesn't remember that amazing spark you felt when you first met the person you were destined to share a roll of toilet paper with? I figured that a little mental "time travel" back to when you first met your DH or wifey could, perhaps & with a little luck, bring back that spark.

And so lo! As I was reading this morning's paper (yes, I am one of the few who still subscribes to a daily paper) and came across an article that completely solidifies my rather nebulous assertion that it's all about the spark. "Why I Get a Kick Out of You" (above-the-fold, Health Section, LA Times) details how scientists have found a cocaine-like reaction in the brain when love "works its magic." So that heart-pounding-head-thumping-hands-sweating-inability-to-think-clearly condition that overwhelms when you meet "the one" is actually on par with illegal drugs! (well, that explains alot...)

Study participants (whom had been in romantic relationships at least one month but no more than 17 months) were put into MRI machines to scan their brain while they were shown pictures of their romantic partner. In case after case, the part of their brain which houses the reward and motivation systems was flooded with dopamine--with the attendant side effects of excessive energy, losing sleep, euphoric feelings and separation anxiety.

All of this was sort of "no duh" to me. After all, most of us have experience that obsessive passion that comes with the beginning of a new relationship. But what struck me about the scientific study, however, was that when they studied the brains of people who had been married for 20 or more years, 30% of those in long-term relationships had similar output of dopamine.

So you can look at it in a couple of ways: 30% of people are just as passionate about each other as the day they met (or at least one of the partners is; the study didn't specify if both felt that way about each other), 70% of people have fallen somewhat "out of love" with their husband or wife, or their love has changed through the years from passionate to companionable.

Those 30% are really lucky. I wonder if they realize how lucky? I'm a romantic by nature, but after a decade+ of marriage, I wondered if it was possible for anyone to even remember what it was like to be "in love"--much less feel it every single day. When I read that it is still possible after years of marriage and its attendant ups-and-downs to be just as in love with the person as the day you said "I do," well, I decided I want me some of that!

So how do you take a so-so marriage out of the doldrums? Is there even a way to regain the passion? I wish the study had said whether or not those 30% who are still madly in love with their spouses had ever gone through a patch when the thought of being single again held particular appeal. Since it didn't, I'll have to go on my gut instinct that those people really just chose well--and figured out a way to work through conflicts without jeopardizing their relationship.

So back to taking the marriage out of the doldrums (I've always loved that word, no idea why). According to the article, the people who were still passionately in love were still dong those "little things" you hear so much about. Yeah, blah-blah-blah. We've all heard it. But it is surprisingly difficult to keep those "little things" going after you've been committed to someone for a while.

So here's your cheat sheet, as it were:
  • 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.
Personally, I'd add another: spend time with couples you know who are in the 30%. Of all my friends, I can think of three right off the bat who have the sort of marriage I've always envied. So with luck, by spending more time with these friends, both my hubby and I will see how they interact with each other and perhaps learn a bit about how to keep the passion in a relationship, through years and kids and finances and illness and all the other things that turn red-hot chemistry into lukewarm mush.

So while I am putting my own advice to work ( i.e.: remembering what it was like with my husband when we first met) I'm going to also put into practice some of the suggestions from this morning's article. Like most couples I know, my husband and I are committed for the long haul--but wouldn't it be nicer if that long haul was filled with passion, excitement and joy, rather than just that shared roll of toilet paper?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The World's Most Annoying--and True--Saying

"Hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard."

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 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.

Because I'm no expert on child-rearing, I'm going to dispense with the "here's how to raise your super-talented-kid-so-they-don't-turn-into-an-insufferable-brat" advice. Instead, I'm going to spend a little bit of time with the later scenario--the one where you were the one who got bypassed by the less-talented but harder-working masses. And at the risk of sounding uber-arrogant, I know of what I speak, because I was one of those talented kids who let it get away from me, in part because I figured that I was good enough (better than most).

I was a very talented writer as a kid. My mom has kept some of my old stories from kidhood, and I read at them and am astonished that I could write so stinkin' well. But as I grew up I didn't pursue "writing" as a career--I ended up in public relations, which I thought would be much more glamourous than sloggin' it out as a lowly staffer or intern on a magazine. I did use my writing skills in public relations--mostly to write puff pieces on how "Product A" would not only change your life, but it would make you smarter, sexier, and better endowed to boot. But the ha-ha was on me--I burned out on the hard-core PR after 10 years or so. That natural gift for descriptive passages and visual writing was stupefied by years of "state-of-the-art," "ground-breaking," and "target demographic." Ughhh!!

(Side note:I still do write marketing pieces, website text, and news releases for a variety of small clients, so if one of my wonderful clients is reading this, the aforementioned "puff" pieces don't pertain to you. I also write articles for on-line publications and the once-in-a-while article for a small print magazine that "pays" me in copies. Lucky me--my mom always asks for one)

Like many out there who hit the "40s" (eeee gads!), I find myself re-evaluating what I want to do with my life. And I'd like to finally pick up what I neglected/rejected so long ago. I can't be the only one out there who wishes they'd pursued a particular talent with more vigor when they were younger. There is no reason that at 40 or 42 or whatever age you can't find a way to resurrect that talent and do something with it--something worthwhile that makes you want to get out of bed each morning. (Now, granted, if you were the top football player on the 1980 Pop-Warner team or a Rockette circa 1988, your options may be a little limited in the post-40 world.)

So after much thought, research, and intuition here are the steps I'm pursuing to finally turn "hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard" into my own personal motto. They're writing-specific, but I figure they can be adapted into whatever you're trying to "re-capture."

1. Brush up on my writing skills. I've been writing PR & marketing pieces on and off for nearly 20 years, and I've gotten into some habits that may be making my writing a bit...tedious. I'm taking a writing for magazine class online this spring.

2. Find someone--or "someones"--to be accountable to. My goal is to transition into magazine writing; however, unless I am forced, it is easy for me to fall back into old habits and simply stick with what I know. Taking a class will--if nothing else--make me accountable to someone outside myself (because I'm far too easy on myself)

3. Detail my goals. I'm in this stage right now. I know I want to write for magazines, but I need to narrow it down. What kinds of magazines? What sort of topics? What knowledge do I have that I can share--and who wants to buy it? These and countless other details (yuck--details, not my fave subject) need to be thought through in order to create realistic goals for myself.

4. Work at it every day. And by "it," I mean spending a set amount of time every single day--every day--following through. (Working hard...ha! There is is again...) I'm going to work on "my" writing every day for 2 hours a day. So from the magic hours of 8:30 - 10:30pm every day, I am going to focus on my writing career.

5. Begin to think of myself as a "writer," rather than "someone who writes." It sounds like a non-existent distinction, but truth is, until you begin to see yourself in a certain way, it is easier to put off your dream. It's like saying, "I'm going to get fit" or "I'm going to stop smoking." As long as you have that "going to" qualifier in front of it, you'll find it easy to put off or set aside what you know you really need to do. "Someone who writes" writes when they feel like it or has the time. A "writer" writes. Pure and simple. Under any conditions. Under all circumstances. They write because it is who they are. When I begin thinking of myself as a writer, I think I finding the time to actually write will be easier--or if not easier, more important. Make sense?

So the phrase "Hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard" is a bit annoyingly obvious, but also completely and totally true. As someone who thought for years that talent on its own was enough to get by, I'm now changing my way of thinking. Whatever happens over the next few years will be determined in large part by how much hard work I'm willing to do--not just whether I had the ability to do it.

And next I'll get on that other annoyed sigh-inducing phrase "penny wise, pound foolish." (wink, wink).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Professional Illustrator Teaches Anaheim Hills Students How to Turn Imagination into Art

Professional Illustrator Teaches Anaheim Hills Students How to Turn Imagination into Art

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Time Together: Better than SuperGlue to Strengthen Your Bond

I'm a stranger-talker (unlike, say, the famous "Seinfeld "close-talker). If I'm in line somewhere, say a Panera's or a Starbucks, chances are I'll talk to you. I'll make some comment about one thing or the other. The vast majority of people are friendly enough to chat back (once in a while I get one of those fake "ho-ho" laughs that really means, "Willya leave me the heck alone already?")

Part of my urge to talk to others in line is that I really do like people--I've had some very interesting conversations in line at the DMV. You really can learn alot from the little old lady in the flowered hat. The other part is that I hate the silence that typically accompanies standing in line. It's a weird silence, half-humiliating, half uncomfortable. So I make an innocuous comment or a little joke to break the oppressive air. It's the same reason I start conversations in elevators.

Once in a while, these casual, killing-the-time-in-line conversations detour into all-out confessionals--not by me, but by the person I'm talking to. I've been told about shaky marriages, disappointing career moves, lost savings, and medical conditions. Once, while in line at a coffee shop with my sister, the woman I'd been chatting with behind me actually removed her shoe to show me a disturbing growth on her foot. (All I could do was nod politely--I wanted to say, eeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwwwww gross! but that really would have been rude. Of course, one could then question how rude it is for her to have removed her shoe in the first place, but I digress.)

These occasional confessionals got me to thinking, though--how many people out there are missing those important connections in their lives that help them get through the day (and night). I suspect that there are many of us out there--with friends, family, even husbands and wives--who feel like that fundamental link to others is frayed or missing. Once you've lost it, it can seem next to impossible to re-establish that vital bond that makes you feel valued. So when someone--even a stranger--shows a bit of interest in you, the need to have someone for Pete's sake listen to you overwhelms you and you end up sharing far more about yourself than anyone needs or wants to know.

(Besides, that's what blogs are for. Wink, wink)

So how to re-establish connections? It might help to really think about why the connections were lost in the first place. In my own life, there have been relationships that have fallen apart for a very simple reason: one or the other person did not put in the effort to keep the relationship going. Seems fairly obvious, right? Think about it though: when you first meet someone and there is that *spark*--and I'm talking platonic sparks, too, like between two people who just know they're destined to be best friends--you do what it takes to keep tht spark going. You call the person, you spend time with them, you have conversations with them about, well, anything. A conversation doesn't have to be "deep" or "emotional" to be revealing--or bonding.

What to do? Uh--duh...seems fairly obvious. Yet interesting how we all need to be reminded of it (including me): put in a little effort! If you feel something is slipping away from you--be it a best friendship, a marriage, a collaboration with a co-worker, what have you--invite that person out and talk. Not about the fraying (or frayed) connection, but just about, well, stuff. Get back to spending time together. It doesn't have to be hours upon hours upon hours of "quality time." Even a 1/2 hour at a local coffee spot can go a long way towards strengthening a relationship.

I know people are busy, but come on! Making time for the people in your life you value most should be a priority. "But I keep connected through Facebook!" Uh-uh. Facebook--and I'm a frequent user and likely it's biggest fan--is a pale substitute for real communication. FB is great for keeping up with the basics of friends' lives (especially if they live a distance away), but if you really want that bond, that connection, that unassailable link, you need to spend time together. Would you conduct your marriage only through Facebook? See....

I remember chatting with my seat-mate on a business flight about 10 years ago. He was talking dispiritedly about how his grown children never called him any more or came to see him. I asked him if he ever called or invited them over. I will never forget the look on his face--total shock. As if the idea of him calling his kids had never crossed his mind. He immediately said, "Nah, they don't want to hear from me." How on earth did he know that? I had recently lost my own dad (a young man, only 49). I told my seat-mate I would have given anything to talk to my dad again, and that he needed to give his kids a call--give them the chance to have him in their lives. I have no idea if he ever did it--we changed subjects, the plane landed, we headed off into our different lives. But I think about that man from time to time. I hope he did call his kids. It's hard work to re-establish a bond, but it will be incredibly rewarding.

So next time you're in line somewhere and the person next to you starts an idle conversation, you may look around and see me standing there. Or you might find someone who may be a little lonely, a little lost. Friendly conversation can go a long way towards making someone else's day better. Then take a moment to call up somebody you care about where the bond that brought you together may be fraying around the edges a bit. And make that all-important plan to spend some time together.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Meip Gies: What We Can Learn

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.”

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