Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Will Not Let His Win Defeat Me

Eight years ago I was inspired by hope and shed tears of joyous astonishment.

Today I woke up with the headache that I fear will not go away for the next four years.

I join the many people who are looking for what to say to their children. How to explain the unexplainable. How to make sense of the how. How could someone of such questionable character be elected, someone who is the opposite of everything I am trying to raise them to value? The only answer I can find as the dust settles is that I will not let his win defeat me.

Though I am terrified, I will not act out of fear.
Though I am baffled, I will not resort to blame.
Though I feel shame, I will fight to find forgiveness.
Though I am offended, I will not succumb to bitterness.
Though I am disgusted, I will not forget my humanity.
Though I am heartbroken, I will still lead with my heart.
Though I am angry, I will not give in to cynicism.
Though I feel defeated, I will not submit to resignation.

I will disagree.
I will show up.
I will lean into the difficult.
I will be human and humane.
I will get off of the couch and down from my high horse.
I will focus on what I can do, dream and dare.

And I will do it with my friends by my side, optimism at full blast and some extra chocolate in my pocket.

And in the words of the great Lin Manuel Miranda:

Let's go.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Olive Garden vs. Ego

I'm not sure if I am too exhausted to live up to my potential or if, in fact, I am deluded about the scope of my potential and have, in fact, reached it. In which case, that should be a relief. Right? Job well done, time to head off to Happy Hour. But what if my potential is far less impressive than I originally assumed? What if my potential is the necessary adequate by which extraordinary is measured? What if I am Olive Garden?

Olive Garden's not bad. It's right there between Sbarro and Bertuccis. It's affordable. It can be found in Times Square. It's portions are generous, it's breadsticks addictive, its soup bottomless. There's usually a waiting list to get in. The first time people try it, they usually become instant fans. Olive Garden is a decent, serviceable, reliable choice.

But it's no Trattoria Eccellente Della Giornata with its tin ceiling, farmhouse tables, locally sourced food and made fresh daily crusty bread served with rosemary infused olive oil accented by a single drop of squid ink.

I find myself constantly at odds with two passionately peddled lifestyle theories:
  1. Follow your bliss
  2. Be happy where you are
To strive or to settle. Should I be happy to be Olive Garden or should I strive to have squid ink in my olive oil?

Let's begin this earth shattering query with an anecdote.

Occasionally my dad would show up at my bus stop and drive my sister and I to school, an unanticipated perk of divorce. As we got out of the car for another day of high school he would send us on our way by saying "Brilliance will be adequate." It was his charming wordsmithy way of telling us to work hard and that he believed in us. It planted the seed that perhaps brilliance was within our grasp. And I would finally like to take the time to say to him: thank you and no thank you.

At what point must I accept the truth that my reach exceeds my grasp? That my brilliance is not as brilliant as I thought? That my breadsticks are actually pretty generic. And how do I assuage the shame of not being brilliant?

By getting the fuck over myself.

Who cares if my breadsticks are critically acclaimed? Nobody but my inner Narcissus. My god, the time I've wasted pondering my own worth is an abomination. The reality is, that at which I've truly excelled has been that which has engaged my curiosity, and has driven me not to achievement and mastery but to simply know more about this particular wondrous breadstick of the moment. The comparative paradox the nature of labels of excellence presents is not so much incentive or validation nor is it a helpful way to order the universe into palatable and unpalatable breadsticks; it is an unwieldy motivator which clouds intention and sours achievement until there is no breadstick good enough, no olive oil inky enough, and no trattoria hip enough.

And let us not forget that even having the opportunity to follow one's bliss is an absurd privilege enjoyed by a lucky few. It is not a given that your bliss will pay your bills or help your kid with homework or a crappy 7th grade social hazing, or ease the pain of an ailing loved one, or cover the cost of your insurance deductible. Bliss must occasionally take a back seat to life.

If you are lucky enough in the wee small minutes of reflection afforded to you before you drift off to sleep, the question remains, which lifestyle theory to adopt? Both. Follow your bliss in the present moment fully and dimensionally until it leads you to the next moment with fascination rather than agenda. And if your bliss is more Olive Garden than Trattoria, more Sbarro than Olive Garden, more DiGiorno than Sbarro, than so be it and bravo. Your unique engagement with the world is not only good enough, it is vital because it has left its inky mark to engage the next diner which could lead to a result more brilliant than a single ego could possibly envision.

So if you'll excuse me now, I have an inexplicable craving for breadsticks.

Olive Garden out.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Dropping Him Off at College; or What New Torture Hath Hell Wrought For Me Now

I didn't even ask Teenager #1 if I could take a picture of him in his new dorm room, or in front of a significant University signpost to herald his new era. To use one of his most recent delightful turn of phrases-he doesn't fuck with that. Dropping my son off at college was alternately fine and horrid. He was excited and terrified, curious and wary, grateful and accusatory. Just like every other college freshman; united in their fear of the unknown, unique in their particular brand and practice of "what the fuck happens now."

So I spent a good deal of the day engaging my mother child translator, furiously interpreting such gems as:

"Why would you put that there?"
"Why do I have all these papers?"
"You didn't throw away any of my papers did you?"
"Why didn't you pack any hats?"
"I don't know where my schedule is."
"I can do that myself."
"Can you help me please, I don't know why you're just standing there."

I don't do yoga, but you'd never guess that from my constant employment of deep breathing that day. And with each new gem of an overreaction Teenage #1 was making it easier and easier for me to leave.

As I returned from making a last run to Walmart for a shower caddy before I hit the road, I got the text "I'm starving, can we get some food." At that point I had recorded over 15,000 steps, I had sweat through every article of clothing twice, I was exhausted beyond reason and I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do less than sit at a table with he who must not be named as he ate a tuna club and burped without remorse. So I yoga-breathed again, and read what the text really said. "Don't go."

As the moment for me to leave drew nearer, his panic became clearer. "I don't know what I'm even doing here. What am I supposed to do when you leave? I don't know how to get anywhere?"(insert expletives of your choosing for a more realistic reenactment). It didn't matter what I said. No words existed to comfort him, none that he could hear. There was no hug. No chance to share last nuggets of advice or reassurances of love and support. He simply turned to his dorm and said "Okay, Bye, I'm gonna go sit alone in my room now."

I love many things about Teenager #1. One of the things I admire most is his inability to be inauthentic. There was no picture perfect moment of proud mother and potential filled offspring embracing on the brink of the next step, because he couldn't put that mask on. In that moment he was scared and he was pissed; and in that final turning away, and in the angry calls and texts of the following 30 minutes, he was not saying "fuck you for doing this to me," he was asking "is everything going to be alright?"

And my answer is this: I don't know.

Ultimately, yes, you have always had and will always have a baseline of alright because you have us and others who get you and love you. But you are going to travel every axis of that baseline from brilliant aha's to slimy-sucky-couldn't-possibly-get-any-worse-and-then-it-does days. Your resolve will be tested again and again. I am not worried about you getting back up when you are down. I've seen you do that with more courage than I could muster at your age. I'm worried you won't let yourself enjoy the ups for fear of the downs. 

You want to know if everything will be alright, and the best answer I can give you is: not always; but it will be a lot alright-er if you can enjoy the achievement of the ups. You are capable of alright, and each time you figure out how to use the washing machine, and find the registrar's office and remember the hours the dining hall is open, you will begin to realize that you are worth alright.

There was no way I could say that in that moment of goodbye because he wouldn't be able to hear it. There's no way I could say it now, because he is 18 and already knows everything. But I knew he was beginning to live it when I woke up the next morning to this text:

"My xbox controller is getting greasy."


"I'm ok...for now."

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dishwasher Slo-Mo

Husband and I took our dog to the beach for the first time this past weekend. We, of course, documented the event excessively, creating archival footage that will, most likely, forever remain un-downloaded and unprinted. Since I left my glasses in the car, yet another sign that I am following the middle aged cliche trajectory, I assumed I was scrolling to the correct format of video as my dog enjoyed the beach. Once I got reacquainted with said glasses and reviewed the prolific documentation of a precious trip to the beach, I laughed heartily at my mistake of hitting the slo-mo option for an empirically mundane moment. The transformation was irrefutable, however, as the mundane became the magnificently significant because of the heightening reality of slo-mo.

I believe it was The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman that first taught me that slowing down means something important is happening, that super powers are being unleashed and that attention must be paid. It is an unspoken pavlovian contract that we are powerless in front of. Go ahead and watch the opening scene of Chariots of Fire, or the moment when Patrick Swayze jumps off the stage at the end of Dirty Dancing, or almost any boxing movie. Slo-mo magnifies a moment, suspends it in time and we feel awe in one of its many facets.

Which leads me to the only next logical thought, how do I get more slo-mo in my life. I want the involuntary nervous system to evolve an automatic response to recognize significance and flip me into slo-mo at appropriate times during the day. This would, of course come with a fitting soundtrack to underline the moment. And, not to be too picky, but I don't need it to highlight obvious significance like weddings, births, graduations and taking cinnamon rolls out of the oven; I need it to mark the unrecognized significance of the everyday. For example

  • Doing the dishes before you go to bed instead of leaving them until the morning.
  • Seeing the dishes as you walk up stairs to bed, pausing, and deciding to continue walking upstairs.
  • Getting out of the car for your third trip to the grocery store in the same day because you keep forgetting the milk.
  • Changing that diaper and getting it into the diaper genie on the first throw.
  • As it starts to rain, reaching in your bag, pulling out and engaging your umbrella with the seamless grace of a ninja.
  • Cleaning up the last of your five year old's vomit on the threshold of the bathroom while holding back your own sympathy vomit.
  • Doing the math, by long hand, to work out the when and how much of the month's bills so the statement at the end of the month is more than zero.
  • Cracking the door of your teenager's door at night, after ignoring the dishes, to check on them still to make sure they are breathing, because, yesssss, they are always your babies.
  • Finally caving and changing the toilet paper roll because everyone refuses to learn the unspoken lesson you have laid before them.
You get the picture.

Why magnify these moments? Because it is all the small moments that make the grand ones possible. It is because most of us lead small un-cinematic lives that could lead to George Bailey on the bridge doubt of impact. Magnify these moments because the courage of another day beating down cynicism by loading the dishwasher, and picking up Teenager #2 from rehearsal, and texting Teenager #1 to tell us what his plans are for the night, and rewarding yourself with an episode of "Life in Pieces" on CBS (that's right, not some trendy anti-hero binge-worthy Netflix series); the courage to take on the small moments that make a life work are significant and perpetually unheralded by the very us that all too often resent and mock them.

So here's to slo-mo-ing the significance of everyday efforts and to recognizing the cumulative impact each lego of a moment has on constructing a life.

And now, for your viewing pleasure:

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Bathing Suit Dilemma

I can't avoid it any longer. It's time to talk about bathing suits. I've always loved bathing suits; and I have rocked them. I could be falsely modest, but there was a time when I looked cute in a bathing suit. And then I had kids. They really do ruin everything, right? Except they don't because they are life changing and the best thing to ever happen to you and I love them, but they do make the bathing suit aesthetic complicated.

So, I love the beach; and I would love to tell you that the first thing I see on the beach is the magnificent ocean and splendor of the dunes. Alas, those linger in my periphery as I involuntarily focus on the suits of the women in front of me, beside me, diagonally of me; you get the picture. I would love to confess that my gaze is drawn to these suits as one would gauge a museum of fine art; admiring the cut and color, the creative use of materials and space, the artful marriage of form and function. That would be a lofty mischaracterization of my intent. No, I succumb to my base Judgy McJudgerson self in an attempt to feel justified to be wearing a bathing suit at all. Horrible thoughts that set the women's movement back years, stream through my head:

"Well if she's wearing that suit, than I'm fine."

"Her legs are worse than mine."

"She has a belly and she's wearing a bikini."

"There's no way that woman had three kids. Bitch."

"That's got to be the nanny."

Yes, I am hateful. I am. I hate myself. And therein lies the root of my judging. Not a shocking revelation. In order to feel better about myself I rate others to make sure I am still on the upper end of the arbitrary scale of "Who's the Best." I am Darwinian in my judging, just really trying to survive.

"Is that cellulite? Does she have cellulite too?"

"I bet that suit is expensive. They must have a lot of money. She probably has her dream job and owns that fancy house over there with the Lilly Pulitzer towels hanging on the deck to dry."

"Her kids' sand castle is perfect. I bet they also play the violin beautifully and speak fluent Mandarin."

"Her kids look like they're actually enjoying those Quinoa Pomegranate Kale popsicles, and they have repurposed the sticks to fashion a biodegradable raft to use in the ocean."

As hideous as my judging sounds, it is simply a coward's diversion from embracing my flaws. I'm not talking about the puckered legs, wobbly arms and disappearing chin. I'm not even talking about bathing suits or body image. I'm talking about the involuntary human tendency to judge in order to withstand the pervasive personal internal judges' table holding up their "You Suck" placards. So I desperately search the beaches for someone who sucks more. I choose immediate gratification over compassion; existence over evolution.

And then it hits me. Knowing that I am far from original, if I am judging them, there is at least one or 87 of them judging me. And how dare they! They do not know the burdens I carry. They don't have any idea about the diagnosis that leads to Teenager #1's behavior or the desperate need for some kind of control that leads to Teenager #2's eating habits. They don't know.

Oh, I get it. That means I don't know either. I don't know about the tantrum their youngest had when they couldn't find their sandal this morning. I don't know about the school conference they just had addressing their first grader's reading challenges, I don't know that those Lily Pulitzer towels are a hand me down from a judgmental sister-in-law who is convinced she's doing a good deed. I don't know. So, how dare I choose to simply exist rather than evolve?

I have not been to the beach yet this year, but I Pledge to see courage, fortitude, vulnerability, flaws and resiliency in every, tankini, ruched halter, speedo and swim dress. I will see the majesty of individual experience.

I will still fixate on my own cellulite though. I'm not that evolved.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Surviving the Shit Show

It's been awhile since I've written as I have been under the spell of PTSS: Parenting Teen Survival Shitshow. So instead of writing I've been eating, knitting, worrying, eating some more, watching lots of TV, freaking out, upping the daily wine intake, crying, buying too many cute tops, and spending a little too much quality time in the fetal position. To sum up, my soul hurts and I've gained four pounds.

Don't feel sorry for me, and don't secretly blame Teenagers 1 & 2. I've done enough of that for all of us. No, the cause of my PTSS rests entirely on my shoulders. It stems from two life long chinks in my armor
  1. Caring what other people think
  2. Wanting a Happily Ever After
1. It starts with sizing up each others strollers and birthday party favors, grows into how early our spawn could read chapter books and speak fluent Mandarin, evolves into SAT scores, college acceptances and class ranks and continues through gainful employment, marriages, who gets grandkids first and what kind of strollers we will buy them. Why the fuck would I base the success of my parenting on a comparison some other parent might make about the bounty of my kid's party goody bag that is ultimately destined to become a choking hazard for the dog. It's not because I'm as shallow as I sound, it is because every day of parenting is like waking up and not knowing the rules of the game, and the only way to learn the rules is to watch how others play. The trap is charting your success based on how well they are playing the game; when really, the best way to pass GO and collect $200 is to watch your own kid. Because they are their own hybrid Parker Brothers rendition of LIFE, Stratego, Trivial Pursuit, Yahtzee, and (in my house) Hungry Hungry Hippos.

2. Everything is not going to be ok...ever...after. It's just not. Sometimes it will be for a moment or a series of moments, or maybe even twenty-four hours of moments. But then the sink will get clogged the night before Thanksgiving, or your dog will get fleas or your child will fail a class or you'll get a cold sore the morning you are scheduled to get your driver's license picture taken. And there are so many more not okay moments that can engulf you in a stress eating, wine indulgent one too many cute tops haze of misery, which triggers flaw # 1 causing you to bitterly wonder why everyone else is so happy. And then you miss the small moments like teenager #1 saying "thank you for making me breakfast" or teenager # 2 feeding the dog without being reminded, or when you realize Abreva really is a fast acting cold sore remedy. Then within one of those moments you realize that "it's going to be okay" is not an empty hope, it is the baseline from which we all operate, stray and return to. Because "children will listen," (thank you Stephen Sondheim); they do get it, even if they don't get that they get it, and you realize Happily Ever After is not a destination it is an operating system, it is a foundation. Just don't be fooled by the word 'Happily;" it does not have to mean birds singing, champagne flowing, and kissing in the rain, it can simply mean that everything is ok for this moment.

Back to this current "ok" moment. It still exists in the eye of a shit storm, and an hour from now I will most likely be taking deep cleansing breaths as I await the exam returns to see if he really, will graduate (yes folks, it's that much of a nail biter). I started this post wanting to talk about the PTSD of parenting, but that felt self-indulgent and disrespectful to the actual sufferers of that difficult disorder. The reality is that parenting my teens has taken a toll. Not a novel eureka moment. Acknowledging this toll, however reminds me of the complexity of love. Love is a miraculous gift of pitfalls, vulnerability and breathtaking wows. It is a shit storm that tests, reveals and stretches your humanity. It is a faceted privilege that takes its toll; and by doing so it exposes and strengthens your core by tattooing your soul with the impact of another. And I am thankful to my flawed and fabulous teenagers for that.

I am also thankful for Zoloft.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Wishing You Perfect 7's This Mother's Day

Dear Moms,

I am blown away by the lot of you. And, full disclosure, I am also deeply jealous and intimidated by the lot of you; because when I see what you are doing, I am instantly convinced that I am wrong and you are right. For, there is no confidence or certainty in mothering or fathering. It is an endless crapshoot that often yields more snake eyes than perfect sevens; and it is your fierce perseverance to stay at the table and trust the dice that are both your children and you that sustains me in awe and propels me to place another bet. So many thanks to you all who:

  • Manage to keep your house clean
  • And for those who don't
  • Yell too much
  • Who move heaven, earth and rush hour to see a 15 second race because even though your kid won't let you cheer, they still want you there
  • Make a vegetable at dinner every night
  • Have no qualms about passing off french fries as a vegetable
  • Successfully limit video games
  • Use electronics as a babysitter because it has been that kind of a day
  • Sew, buy, or recycle last year's Halloween costumes
  • Bake masterpieces for the bake sale
  • Buy masterpieces at the Giant for the bake sale
  • Are up at 3:45am because you finally figured out how to get your child to achieve all A's, get into an Ivy League school and enjoy un-ending prosperity and happiness
  • Are up at 3:45am because you are desperately figuring out how to get your kid to just do at least one of the algebra problems
  • Use cloth diapers
  • Breast feed 
  • Use formula and Pampers
  • Spend the majority of your day in the car on the way to dance class, violin lessons, fencing academies, swim practice, tutoring, and beyond
  • Let your kids eat McDonalds in the car on the way to dance class, violin lessons, fencing...
  • Let your kids live with you while they look for that first job
  • Let your kids reimagine what lies beyond High School
  • Find a financial way to make it all happen
  • Pull double duty as Tooth Fairies, Easter Bunnies, Santa Clauses, Leprechauns, etc.
  • Sob messily in the car, bathroom, or hastily conceived private sanctuary of your choice
  • Video concerts you will never watch again
  • Post perfection on Facebook
  • Post flaws on Facebook
  • Post pictures of Tom Hiddleston and Ryan Gosling on Facebook
  • Worry too much
  • Work jobs you hate so they can do what they love
  • Take care of the pet they vowed to take care of
  • Enforce chores
  • Volunteer for anything
  • Turn underwear inside out because there just was no time
  • Love completely, parent imperfectly and celebrate that perfect seven when it happens
Happy Mother's day to you all. Forgive yourselves, applaud each other and let us all remind one another that we've never actually done this before. We are not supposed to be experts, just courageous, kick ass pioneers venturing into the unknown armed with a heart full of love and some unpredictable dice.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

And I thought the C-Section Was Hard

61 days.

1464 hours.

87,840 minutes.

5,270,400 seconds.

Until Teenager # 1 graduates High School.

And, in true form, he continues to make it, to put it diplomatically, interesting.

To put it undiplomatically, he makes it more painful than the c-section that started all this.

But this is just another hurdle in the absurdly long track event of parenting. It all began with the seemingly impossible wait to actually get pregnant. A wait that, in fact, was only six months; but to parents who finally decided it was time, each passing month that yielded a minus on the pee-stick began the coining of what would become an ongoing fill in the blank phrase "if we could only get... "


And pregnant we got. Then hideously nauseous we got. "If we could only get past the first trimester."

Then a week past due date we got; then induced, then two hours of pushing, then the aforementioned c-section we got. "If we could only get recovered from the c-section."

Then a beautiful baby we got as well as several years of what constitutes as almost normal. Until probably the second year of Pre-school when we heard the first mention of "he's very active" in a teacher conference. "If we could only get past this feeling that the use of the word active is a euphemism."

And then each year it was "If we could only get through this teacher conference."

"If we could only get through this play therapy"

"If we could only get through this school year."

"If we could only get through this trip to the grocery store."

"If we could only get through this game."

"If we could only get through this school year."

"If we could only get through this holiday dinner."

"If we could only get through exams."

"If we could only get through this school year"

"If he could only get into college."

"If he could only decide on a college."

"If he could only graduate high school."

It didn't take long to realize that this hurdle race is perversely infinite.

Hurdles have always amazed and terrified me. Not the metaphorical kind mentioned above, but actual hurdles.  The beauty of the race is absolute, the skill of the runners akin to gorgeous gazelles, and it all begins with a literal leap of faith. I can only imagine what it feels like to stare down that hurdle the first time you try to scale it, even with all the technique that has been passed on, in that moment it comes down to trust and guts.

The good thing is, my husband ran hurdles in high school so I consulted him. (He also holds the record for the worst hurdling accident in his school's history, an unexamined irony perhaps best left untouched). So, I asked him what is involved, and found it is all about technique, knowing how many steps you need to take and finding your own rhythm. The amount of steps varies from runner to runner depending on the length of their stride. So, though the technique is uniform, the execution is individual. He also informed me that the biggest obstacle is not the hurdle, but hesitation and doubt. In effect it is all about rhythm, knowing yourself, reps and commitment.

Since I am programmed to find metaphor even in a trip to the bathroom, the leap here is not obtuse. Each hurdle is preceded by steps; if you take those steps, the hurdle is scaleable. If you approach the hurdle with fear and doubt, your race will be rife with panic and dread. If you approach each hurdle with preparation, trust and a sense of adventure--well then gazelles, watch out.

And now, after 18+ years, it is time to stop saying "if we could only..." From now on, when I look down this indeterminate track, I will not see hurdles, I will see texture, surprise and possibility. When I trip, I will cry, and then laugh at myself, sip from my water bottle filled with Pinot, fortify with my trail mix made from Goldfish crackers and peanut butter Twix bars, and reset.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Conditions of Unconditional Love

Even a dog's love has conditions. No matter how excited they are when you come home, if you leave them alone for too long they're going to poop on something you love. And so it is with all purported unconditional love; whether it be romantic, familial or friendly, everyone's undying love has some rules and regulations.

1. If you're being a dick, your access is denied.

2. Saying you're sorry is great, but it will be met with an implied and undefined penance which you are expected to decipher.

3. If I'm being a dick, assume it is justifiable.

4. Emotional rent must be paid to earn certain privileges. For example:

  • If either spouse wants a night out with friends, dinner must be made and/or the dishwasher must be emptied.
  • If teenager # 1 wants to use the car, politeness is required and the living room must be free of dirty socks.
  • If you don't want poop in your new boots, take the dog for a walk.
5a. You must alternate holiday dinners between in-laws and gratefully accept all guilt from the one left behind.


5b. You must eat two thanksgiving dinners and hungrily ask for seconds at each.

6. Attend a 2/3 majority of all your kids' games, recitals, performances and unspecified special events.

7. Pose and smile for any and all photos of major life events to give your parents something to look at when you piss them off or they find themselves missing you so soon after they expressed gratitude at your departure.

8. Gush over all new haircuts.

9. You must eventually forgive.

10. Let them help...even if it's not the way you would do it. 

11. Read minds while assuming nothing.

The fact stands that those who really love you will always love you, and they rarely poop on the things you love on purpose.  But poop they will, and so will we all. And despite our vows of unconditional love, we all have checks and balances, punishments and rewards we use to remind the ones we love with all our heart not to take that love lightly, that to hold someone's heart is a treasured responsibility. And part of that responsibility is that, occasionally, you have to pick up some poop. 

Which brings us to rule 12:

12. If you find your access denied, accept responsibility for dickishness and return with inappropriately expensive cheese, a decadent cupcake and authentic sheepishness.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Slap Me Before I Volunteer Again

I'm one of The Seven.

That sounds appealing, doesn't it? You don't even know what it is, but since there's a select number it must be special or elite or chosen. You want to be one of the seven too, don't you?

No you don't. Trust me. I desperately want out of The Seven. The Seven is not a super cool secret organization with jackets and a butlered clubhouse with a full bar and secret wall of gadgets. The Seven is the same group of fools in any organization who volunteer to organize or participate in things.

The impetus to join the seven seems pure enough, like most initial impetuses. It springs from two fonts: curiosity and empathy.

Curiosity, that ever-vigilant cat-killer, grabs hold when that charismatic authority figure lays out the plan for that cool-new-partially-conceived-project which needs a few good folks to kick in just a little bit of extra time to help it along its way. Your hand is up before you know it and suddenly you find yourself on the most dreaded ill conceived and inefficient of social constructs, the committee. Next thing you know you are in charge of bringing breakfast pastries, both glutenous and non, to 7:30 am meetings so committee members can hear themselves talk and don the cape of Devil's Advocate in order to delay any fruitful action, which would, inevitably put a halt to the self-perpetuating, self-validating meetings and rob all of the glory of the procrastinator's panic of having to do everything at the last minute.

Empathy is a most admirable troublemaker. A genuine desire to help is a beautiful thing, in moderation. It can build bridges, move mountains and turn tides. And it can, if unchecked, cause unbridled burn out and rampant bringing to the brink. Once your kind nature is revealed well-intentioned Do-gooders, like ravenous philanthropic eagles, will swoop down on you, clutch you in their talons and carry you away to their time-sucking aerie. And you will fall under their spell as they speak of your natural leadership skills and how they just need you to send a few emails, pick up a few hoagie trays, and organize the bi-monthly bake-sale complete with separate nut-free, wheat-free, dairy free and taste-free tables. Then the unthinkable happens; time passes, seniority is achieved and you have become what you have beheld as you find yourself swooping down on unsuspecting empathetic prairie dogs below.

And let's be honest, the reason behind the impetus to "help" is not without its ulterior motives. For when we volunteer there is always a selfish purpose lingering in the shadows. We want to be noticed by that boss, elevated in the eyes of those parents, stay involved so it improves our children's chances, or simply improve our odds of getting into heaven. So, we members of The Seven volunteer again and again until our addiction spirals into resentment and righteousness and we find ourselves volunteering for the corrupt pleasure of holding it over everyone else's heads. And then one day we look in the mirror only to discover we have become withered Gollums clutching to the precious ring of our perceived altruism.

And no, the answer is not to stop volunteering altogether. The world is a better place because of the collective generosity of people willing to lend a hand. I propose you simply adopt the Airline Oxygen Mask rule of thumb: put your own oxygen mask on first then assist your child. Take care of yourself first so that you are capable of caring for those around you. It is not a selfish approach, it is practical. My theory is, if you take care of yourself you might actually get to know yourself; and if you know yourself you might actually realize what you care about which will channel your volunteering. Occasionally saying "no" creates space for you to say yes and have time to make that yes count on a more comprehensive level. Allow your cupcakes to have impact

This has "physician heal thyself" written all over it by the way as I am low on this particular evolutionary scale. With a little backbone, however,  I will soon be turning in my membership card to The Seven and graduate to the Panel of Naggy Know-it-Alls. A girl's gotta dream.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The 12 Best Ways to Get People to Read Your Blog

Here it is! You're welcome! The best ways to get people to read your blog! Ready? Cause this may be your ticket to success & glory.

  1. Title your Post "The 12 Best ways to get People to Read your Blog.
  2. Put your Post in the form of a list, but keep it to a palatable number of options. Most people will only read up until 15, though they prefer 10 and under.
  3. Put a swear word in the title. "Fuck" is your best bet, especially if you're a woman since it still seems charmingly shocking for a woman to use the word.
  4. Claim to have "The Best Ways to...." something, because we all want shortcuts and guarantees.
  5. Mention wine, cheese and chocolate as viable coping techniques.
  6. If you're a man talk about your adorable incompetence with your children, which isn't really incompetence since it still seems charmingly shocking for a man to take care of his children.
  7. Get on the Huffington Post. And if you figure out how, let me know.
  8. Use a charming stick figure pictorial, because it takes less time to read, and who really has time to read. (Plus there is the potential for t-shirts)
  9. Be genuinely talented and original. And if you figure out how, let me know.
  10. Spend 95% of your time promoting your blog, by reading and commenting on other people's sites, posting and reposting on any and all social media, trying to get published on other sites, promoting your submissions on other people's sites, finding free and cheap ways to advertise your blog; and spend the other 5% of your time writing.
  11. Be lucky.
I've never been good at the business side of being creative. I've always accredited it to the firm belief that I am lazy. And while that is still a viable contender, after many years I realize it stems more from the firm belief that I do not believe in myself. I lack the conviction of my confidence. Ironically, though I still hang on to enough confidence to continue pursuing creativity as a profession. There is a part of me that knows I am good but does not believe I am good.

I blame my family. That's convenient and also ragingly adolescent. Let me explain. I come from a large family with a huge range in ages. We rarely occupy the same space for much longer than it takes to talk about the traffic or which route we took from the airport; holidays or weddings for a couple of days at a time. Our parents, to their credit, raised us to be independent; mostly by example as they were both competent and independent to a fault. So, these intermittent gatherings never lasted long because people had to get back to their jobs and lives in San Francisco and Michigan and Chicago and Iowa and Boston and everywhere else. But whenever we parted whether in person or at the end of a phone call, we would always exchange I love you's. And we meant it. But, my theory is that it all happened so fast and so routinely that I found myself somewhere in my thirties realizing that I knew I was loved, but I never felt loved. That, of course is not their fault, so let me amend my thesis statement, I blame myself.

So, my armchair therapeutic conclusion is that if I never felt fully loved, how on earth would I believe that anything I created was fully worthy? And there lies the self-sabatoge. To feel fully loved, I would have to make myself fully vulnerable, I would have to take a closer look at all the not-so-glib and not-so-pretty nooks and crannies of me and wonder if after the fantastic voyage I would emerge and still like myself. Or, more dangerously, let other people like me and be ok with it.

 I guess it is now time to loop this back around to my professional stasis. I know I am good, or that  I can be good enough. I fear I am no more than that, and so I rely on good enough. I need to climb into my submarine and take a fantastic voyage and search all the nooks and crannies and not so pretty parts that lie in the pool of potential, and not fear what I emerge with. It might be new and undiscovered and great, or it might be that the waters did not run deep, and good is good.

After I convince myself, perhaps it will be easier for me to convince others with the conviction of the new found confidence that "warts and all" is not just a punch line, it is a gateway to rediscovering the root of why creativity is vital. It is a true examination of how we are human, how we connect and stand apart and how our warts are worthy. And now we have reached reason #12

       12. Go all in. And know that fucking chocolate, cheese and wine is the best list to get you through anything.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What If I Fucked It All Up?

It is quite possible that I have fucked it all up.

Parenting, marriage, career; there’s pretty strong odds that all I’ve touched has gone horribly awry. I know you think I’m overreacting, or this theory is a ploy to get you to continue to read because I have a poignant and resonant message as a return on your investment. 

Nope. No Ploy. Not yet. As a matter of fact, here is some data:

·       I am unhappy in my job
·       My marriage is surviving but not thriving
·       My sons are not taking Honors classes
·       One of them has smoked pot
·       We just found two ticks on my dog
·       My house is a mess
·       We are in uncomfortable debt
·       I have achieved very few of my childhood dreams
·       My second manicure that I have ever received started chipping on the second day

These facts are hard to argue with. I’m pretty sure a jury of my peers would judge me for fucking it all up and then gossip about my failures to make themselves feel better on the way to their clean cars that have no stray french fries under the mats.

It feels like an indelible-Sharpie-esque mark of conclusion from which there is no reform. And the sheer volume of my failures (the above list is but a short list summary) is as paralyzing, pervasive and persistent as poison ivy. I just keep scratching in search of immediate relief, which is quickly replaced by a deeper more complex understanding of the web of my fuck ups. So, I stop all together and wallow in an oozy puss-filled mass of resignation and pity.

I do not deserve pity or reassurance at this time. I would, however, welcome any and all disgust and disdain. Admitting I fucked it all up is not brave or edgy or revolutionary. It does, however, imply two truths.

1. Accepting failure can be a convenient cop-out
2. I think I have actual control over the universe

The indelible seeming permanence of failure and its siren song of “Just Give Up,” is such a tempting dish of denial. It is so easy to give up; to leave that job instead of doing it better, to shove the mess in the closet rather than actually sort it into those helpful “to keep” “to store” and “to give away” piles, to buy that $10 cardigan because you only have brick red and not tomato red yet. Plus, giving up implies starting over again; the opportunity to erase all that went before and start from scratch, and get it right this time.

What’s harder is collaborating with failure. To really listen to your failures and let them tell you a little something about yourself; the general gist of which is “You’re not perfect, but your life is not impossible.” And then, hopefully, you breathe and find the bravery in doing the small tasks that chip away at the bigger ones that are far too hard to swallow in one bite.

And now onto the arrogance of control. Donning the mantle of “I fucked it all up” assumes control; because if I fucked it up, well than I can obviously fix it, and if I fix it, everything will be okay and perfect and happily ever after is a lock. Right?


The thing about “fixing it” is that every time something is fixed, it is not “like new.” (We all know that from purchasing anything on Ebay.) It is, however, more interesting and unique than when it was new. Flaws are never erased, they are incorporated. They can be apologized for or embraced. They are gifts of discovery and growth. They are the freckles, scars and stains that make a memorable story and, if we let them, reveal a deeper truth of who we are.

Failure and Flaws; words to live by, or Taylor Swift’s next hit?

It is still quite possible that I have fucked much up, and that there is more hard than easy in my horoscope. But hard is not impossible. So, I’m going to breathe, get my ass off the couch, change out of my pajamas and try something different at work, sort through at least one closet and buy that tomato red cardigan; because if I am going to fuck up, I’m at least going to wear the right shade of red.