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Saturday, December 20, 2014

WHY I AM EMBRACING MEDIOCRITY

I am a recovering perfectionist.  When I was in kindergarten, I had the stunning realization that I was the only kid in the class who couldn’t tie my own shoes (no fault of my parents, who had tutored me with endless patience).  I immediately went into self-imposed exile every day during recess, staying alone in the classroom to practice tying and retying the wooden boot that was provided for such a purpose.  Needless to say, this OCD-like behavior concerned my teacher, who contacted my folks.  She admonished them for pressuring me, and they assured her they had not (and they had not).  “That’s just Kara”, my Mom told her, and that was the truth.  Even at 5, I was unusually driven to “do things right.” If practice actually did make perfect, I would’ve been the gold medal winner in the shoe tying Olympics.  But ultimately (it would take me another 20 years or so to accept this), it turns out I just don’t have very nimble fingers and activities that require fine motor skills are never going to be my strong suit.  I am just not wired that way.

My best friend is another recovering perfectionist, and for many years I have teased her that she would be a lot happier if she could just learn to embrace her mediocrity, as I have.  Ha.  I am so mediocre at so many things, it is downright dazzling!  You should see my half-assed bed making skills (yawn), my remarkably lame baking abilities, my powerfully lazy form in nearly all-things-sports.  I’m like the Private Benjamin of life, trudging around in circles wondering how other people motivate themselves to do so many tedious things when I just “want to go out to lunch”.  I once had a part time job in a candy store, where I literally wrapped hundreds and hundreds of boxes of chocolate, and guess what?  I STILL suck at wrapping presents.  Fine motor again.  I have many friends who are impossibly talented artists, or world-class musicians, or over-achieving academics…nope, nope and nope.  None of that is me.  I am telling you, there is a dazzling mediocrity here!
Now don’t think I am getting down on myself, because I promise you I am not.  I am just one of those people who believe that the Divine is an all-inclusive resort; in other words, either everything is divine, or nothing is.  I think there are plenty of things I am good at, without a doubt, and I enjoy my mastery of them to a fault almost.   But I also revel in my incompetence very nearly as much.  Let that sink in.  I find joy in sucking at things and calling myself out on it.  For example, as I mentioned, I am a ridiculously unskilled baker.  Lopsided cakes?  Check.  Formless cut-out cookies?  Check.  Dry breads?  Checkmate!  But you are not going to see some kind of “Chariots of Fire” slow-mo montage of me training to get better at this…you will instead see me waiting in line at the bakery.  And having a good laugh about it, too.  Because two of the things I excel at are prioritizing and having a sense of humor about most things, even my own shortcomings.  So here’s something else I am bad at:  banging my head against a wall.  Don’t see the point.

In the same way that I have learned to trust personal rejection—some people just aren’t my people—I have come to trust my mediocrity.  We don’t all need to be good at everything; that would just be silly!  Plain old sucking at some things is not only generally amusing, it also gives me the opportunity to ask for help.  And knowing how much I enjoy being helpful to people I care about, I figure I am doing my friends and family a solid when I raise the white flag of surrender.  Please help me can in truth be very empowering words, when used judiciously.  I’m pretty sure that this is why there is more than one of us, actually.  I love it when a friend acknowledges a strength of mine by asking for my help.  It qualifies as a top-ten life experience for me.  Having a skill that is both recognized and utilized by a grateful receiver is a radically badass event, at least as far as I am concerned.  And how could I return the favor if I wasn’t so damned mediocre at so many things?
Hey, I am not advocating an abdication of effort, don’t get me wrong.  But I am pulling for all of us to accept ourselves AS IS.  To embrace our weaknesses as well as our strengths can be a very powerful stance.  I saw an awesome sign in front of a church on my way home today…it said “Faith is simply a refusal to panic”.  How great is that?  Having true faith in ourselves is not a pie in the sky whitewash job.  It’s about a deep resonance with who we are and what we are capable of…and also about NOT PANICKING when we fall.  Instead of considering it a failure, it might even be possible to have a laugh in a “WOW!-Did-I-screw-that-up-or-what?” kind of way.  Because we all suck at something.  And that is totally okay.  Whenever I get excited about anything—a person, a book, a place—I take it as a sign that says “Walk this way”.  So I do, with good results.  On the other hand, when my disinterest is such that I cannot be bothered to really even focus long enough to gain competence?  I see a “Don’t Walk” sign.  And for me, it’s all good!  I have exuberance for both walking and not walking, if you get me.  I am righteous in my incompetence and you can be too!  Just be yourself, and enjoy every moment of it, okay?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

WHY I AM IN(TO) THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT(S)


So lately my book club has been taking a bit of a walk on the wild side; no, we did not read “50 Shades of Grey”!!!  At least I didn’t.  But we have taken to, instead of hanging out at my house and drinking and barely discussing the book, going out to drink and really not discussing the book at all. 

We are wild women, I’ll tell you what!

So our misadventures have taken us to not one but TWO local roadhouses in the past few months.  Yeah, you read that right.  Keeping in mind we live in New England and what passes here as a roadhouse would be beaten up and left at the side of the road for dead in Texas.


Anyhoo, we did our distant neighbors in the Lone Star state proud this past weekend, because a FIGHT broke out directly behind our table, where we were swilling drinks and like I mentioned, really not discussing our book at all.  I don’t know the gory details, but I can tell you it started with a man and a woman, but then she huffed off and another man stepped in and before I knew it, the two fellows were scuffling on the floor, with butt-crack aplenty in view.  Ah, Christmastime!!! 

Is there anything quite like the holiday spirit(s)???

I am a woman who enjoys her wine.  In fact, in addition to my book club, I actually formed a small but formidable organization called “The Wine Club” where we don’t feel the need to go through the hollow gesture of reading a book before we get together to drink. 

As there is really a barely perceptible difference between me sober and me drunk (If you are not holding up your end of the conversation, I will always bulldoze right in and hold up both sides, just like a drunk person. I will ask highly personal questions and kind of put you on the spot about answering them, just like a drunk person. I will overshare, just like a...well you get it.) this may lead you to believe that drinking is really an unnecessary part of life for me.   However, I would beg to differ. 


Having been blessed, undoubtedly due to my German/Irish/English heritage, with what I believe is called a hollow leg, a glass of wine (or three) makes a fun occasion downright festive.  My natural exuberance for life in general and profanity specifically is heightened and honed to an art under the influence, and needless to say this makes me the life of any party!  At least as far as I am concerned.  Wine is fun!
You know the stereotype, so popular in literature and film, of the sage barfly?  I have worked in enough “gin joints” in my day to know this character is not a myth.  You would be amazed at the wisdom that sometimes comes out of the mouths of the types of people who spend every happy-hour-to-close drinking themselves into a stupor. 

To be fair, the wise stuff usually happens relatively early in the evening.  But not always!  There is something about having a drink (or 5) that allows us to let down our guard in a very profound way, and access our intuition most deeply.  Now, ideally, we could all do this sober!  And before anyone gets outraged, I realize that true alcoholism is a disease and not something to take lightly. 

But hey, Jesus wept and he also drank.  And he did not exactly discourage others from imbibing either, with his whole water-into-wine trick.  So let’s not get hysterical about it. 
You know dark chocolate increases serotonin levels in our brains, which is a very good, healthy, excellent thing.  But no one is advocating overindulgence in it.  So let’s leave it at that.
The holidays are a time when we feel pressure, often for lovely and important reasons, but pressure nevertheless.  We circulate, we reach out, we expose our generosity in a myriad of ways.  This can be invigorating and tiring in the same breath.  And speaking of breathing, with all the hustle and bustle and deadlines and gosh-darned sociability the holidays force upon us, it can be hard to slow down, even to take a breath.  This is where a glass of wine comes in (or your adult beverage of choice). 

It is a moment where we slow down, we take stock, we let down our crazy-ass guard for just a little while and appreciate.  And btw, some people can do this with a cup of tea, God bless them!!!  Someday that will be me, because tea is quite delicious.  But for now, I am in(to) the holiday spirit(s).  Without judgment, without rushing on to the next part of my life, I am enjoying the call to relax and breathe. 

Now, back to the bar fight…watching those men roll around on the floor reminded me that it is possible to find joy in absolutely EVERYTHING, even a drunken brawl (no one was injured; it was over before it began, practically.  No worries).  It can be hard to remember, as Charles Dickens so brilliantly wrote in "A Christmas Carol", that we are all just “fellow passengers to the grave” and we should always try to open our “shut-up hearts freely” to one another. 


Dickens (and I) believe that Christmas is the time of year when this becomes just a little easier for us all.  But some days, the only thing standing between us and a “Bah, humbug” attitude is a glass of wine (or cup of tea, or piece of chocolate). 

So let’s enjoy this holiday season.  Let us heed the advice of Dickens’ ghosts and remember, “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”  Go on; let your holiday spirit(s) roam!  We will all be so grateful if you do…

In a please drink responsibly kind of way, of course.




 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

WHY WOMEN ARE SELFISH

Recently I had a conversation with my stepdaughter, who is enlisted military.  Something she told me I just can’t get out of my head:  that she has been told she was “selfish” to join the armed forces.  SELFISH to enlist.  The main rationale for this criticism, as far as I can tell, is that she is a MOTHER.  And enlisted military are sometimes required to LEAVE TOWN.  Did you know that?  That our soldiers can’t just sit around hometown USA and collect a paycheck?  This gave me a big old brain hole where I am trying to comprehend the reasoning.  She is divorced, with a 50/50 custody arrangement.  Which according to some people is also SELFISH.  So let’s try to figure out why a woman who wants to serve her country and doesn’t provide 24/7, 365 childcare is somehow “selfish”, shall we???

I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but are our Y chromosome military facing the same kind of pushback she is?  Do fathers who are “out of town” serving the country face the same kind of criticism?  Are soldiers who choose to be parents SELFISH?  Or have we decided, as a society, that a mother’s care is so far superior to a father’s that his at home “service” is negligible, while her abdication of at home service is “neglect”?  The double standard applied here is like the regular double standard on steroids because how many times have you heard tell of a man who thinks “stay-at-home” moms need to get a “real job”?  But if that “real job” is defending our country?  Or somehow “interferes” with providing childcare?  Then she is being “selfish”.  Can a woman win? 
I think just being a plain old wife includes many jobs.  Decorating, food shopping, meal prep, holiday prep, gift buying, schedule and budget maintenance, gardening, cleaning, laundry…I won’t go on, but many of these “jobs” are individual, well paid professions.  Now add childcare into the picture and this explodes exponentially.  Yet “stay-at-home” moms are often admonished to get “real jobs” while career women who are also mothers are branded “selfish”.  We all know there are double standards when it comes to pay—women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar—and there are major double standards when it comes to female versus male sexuality.  But what I am starting to sense is that a dynamic I and so many women I know experience in our marriages and relationships is just a microcosm of our societal dynamic:  no matter what the circumstances, somehow, as Jimmy Buffet famously sang, “there is a woman to blame”.

You know the term “gaslighting”?  It is defined as a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented in order to make the victim doubt their own perceptions, memories, SANITY.  I have experienced this personally in nearly all of my relationships with men—being told that I am “crazy” to feel the way I feel, that I am misremembering what happened, that I am OVER REACTING to what happened.  I have conversely experienced this about zero times in my relationships with women.  Have you ever noticed the percentage of men who blame their divorce on their ex-wife being “crazy”?  I would guess anecdotally that it hovers around 95%.  Whenever I hear a man say this, I always think to myself, “Well, pal, either you are a piss-poor judge of character or a liar”.  Because at what point did you realize she was “mentally ill”?  Before or after you fathered offspring with her? 
You know what is really offensive?  A woman who has “wants” and “needs” of her own, especially if she is a MOTHER.  Once you have birthed a child you are expected to serve your offspring first, your husband second (unless he leaves you for his secretary, you boring old twat) and in your spare time, you can maybe exercise a little (you fat sow).  A good mother should be attractive, but not too attractive because, what?  Is she on the prowl???  She should be thin, but not too thin (don’t want to raise a kid with an eating disorder!); well-kept but not well-groomed (what good mother has the time and resources to GROOM?) and well-read, in a book-club-meets-once-a-month kind of way (a good mother doesn’t have much time to read).  A good mother does not drink, except on special occasions and if she can hold her liquor than she is obviously a lush and an unfit parent.  A good mother can cook meals from scratch and keep up with the laundry and keep a tidy house but NOT a pristine house because what kid wants to live in a museum?  A good mother only goes out with her husband (once a week max) and her book club (again—once a month is the limit), otherwise she is leaving those kids to raise themselves in the wild, she is just so all about her own pleasure.  The only thing worse than this?  A woman who has the SELFISH AUDACITY to NOT WANT CHILDREN.

A woman needs to keep her husband cared for, interested and happy, but not be a financial burden so should find a job only during school hours so the kids are always the priority.  Women need to remember birthdays, entertain guests, celebrate holidays, volunteer at the school or the church, stay on a budget and not complain because if you do not have a full-time job you are obviously living on easy street and don’t know the meaning of a hard day’s work.  Women better not enlist or become police officers or do any kind of dangerous job once they have given birth because that is SELFISH.  And how many women do you know that are actually meeting all of this criteria, lazy slobs?  Women really are SELFISH, CRAZY  b*tches, don’t you think?  Now re-read this and reverse all genders and see if it makes any sense.  Society has been gaslighting women for centuries, telling us that how we feel and what we want is just not right, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS.  So let’s go ahead and be just a little selfish.  What have we got to lose?
 
 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

WHY IT IS GRINCH SEASON!

So a few years ago, my Mom confessed that she hates the Grinch.  I was completely taken aback by this; I thought love-of-the-Grinch was a universal constant, not unlike dislike-of-the-way-bowling-alleys-smell.  Just the title sequence, with the Whos singing “Welcome Christmas” gets me a little misty….LONG LIVE THE GRINCH!!!! 

I will tell you why so many people (my Mother being in obvious and flagrant violation of this) connect with Dr. Seuss’s hairy green confection:  WE ARE THE GRINCH.  Every last one of us.  We are strapping the sawed off horn to Max’s head and cracking the whip because the holidays are GRINCH SEASON and we all experience the pain of having a heart that is two sizes too small.

When does it hit you?  For me, it happened just this morning as I woke up with that panicked, tight chested feeling that CHRISTMAS IS COMING and I am SO WAY FAR BEHIND where I need to be at this point.  Sure, I have my Christmas cards bought and even those cute Christmas stamps.  Yes, I have actually sent my very first Christmas package.  Wow, I am so lucky to have a Ho-ho-ho COSTCO membership so I can send an awesome The Fruit Company Tower of treats for $29.99 shipping included, because that checks a whole lotta people off my list, stat. 

But CHRISTMAS IS COMING and every Christmas of my adult life I have played host to someone and I live far, far, away from my nearest and dearest so the post office becomes my second home except THANK YOU AMAZON PRIME for EXISTING and how-in-the-hell-did-people-do-this-before-the-internet-was-created-thank-you-Al-Gore?  I should hashtag that one, right???

Christmas is magic.  Christmas is about believing in wishes come true and a mystical spirit that actually NOTICES when we are good and rewards us for it; how awesome would that be??? 
How satisfying would it be to see the bad punished and the good rewarded?  How uplifting is it when the Grinch (or Scrooge, take your pick) realizes that he is a complete and total DIRTBAG and man(s) up and stops being the selfish-brat-abstinent-hoarder-that-he-is??? I should probably hashtag that one, too.  Christmas is about NOT being a DIRTBAG in a BIG way and recognizing that most other people aren’t dirtbags either.  Christmas is magic.

For most of us, though, the holidays are pressure.  Pressure to go, be, and do things that are completely beyond our capacity.  Pressure to be MAGIC ourselves.  A few years back, I had a Christmas epiphany—or miracle, as you prefer it.  I was losing my mind over all the Christmas cards I still write a personal note in, having a nervous breakdown over the dozens of pounds of fudge I make for teachers, neighbors, mail personnel and friends, freaking out over the myriad of packages that “needed” to be mailed and suddenly I said to myself:  THIS IS YOUR CHOICE.  If you don’t like your choice, just stop.  If you do like your choice, GO AHEAD, but STOP being such a giant baby about it.  I chose the latter.  Business as usual, without the big baby attitude.  And now?  I enjoy the holidays SO MUCH MORE.

The truth is, it is so much easier to be a Grinch than to be a Christmas Angel.  People will support your curmudgeonly ways, too, because we all feel so overwhelmed we are invigorated to see anyone break from the pack.  “Run, Forrest, run!” is what we think as we watch you willfully abstain from participating in the three-ring-circus-that-has-become-the-holidays (#)? 

But guess what?  Christmas is our annual invitation to let our hearts grow THREE sizes that day.  We can shrink away from it, go on strike, do whatever we feel is necessary to remove ourselves from the chaos, but at the end of the day Christmas is an open invitation.  To do more, open ourselves to new and exciting possibilities, experience joy as we never have before.  It waits for us, calls to us, returns for us.  So how many Christmases do YOU need before you have your Grinch/Scrooge epiphany?

THANK YOU for every card you send, every greeting you share.  THANK YOU for every gift you choose, whether thoughtfully or out of obligation.  THANK YOU for understanding that even though going-through-the-motions is all we can achieve sometimes, often it is enough.  THANK YOU for not being the Grinch, even though every green fiber of your being says that this is the way to go.  We all experience conversion at some point in our lives.  We all know that the “right thing” to do and the easy thing to do are almost always polar opposites. 

We all know that CHRISTMAS IS COMING, whether we like it or not, and our participation, while voluntary, is measured in a He-sees-you-when-you-are-sleeping (#) kind of way.  THANK YOU for being awesome.  We see you.  When you are sleeping, and when you are awake.  Isn’t it amazing how often you choose to be good rather than bad, even without an audience?  HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you.  The world is a better place because your heart is officially three sizes too big.

 

 
 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

WHY I AM STARTING A RELIGION CALLED WTF

After much serious contemplation, I have decided to go ahead and start a religion called “WTF”.  No dues necessary; no screening process either—if you want in, you’re IN!  The religion of WTF is not meant to replace or undermine any current religion that is working for you.  We are not a missionary congregation.  But if you are laboring under structures, whether they be relationships, jobs or yes, even religions that are causing you pain, WTF might be for you.  Because we fervently believe that life is too short for bullshit.  In fact, I considered calling the religion “Life Is Too Short for Bullshit”, but I think WTF is catchier, don’t you?  Okay, so let’s establish some ground rules…er, I mean “Commandments”, isn’t that the proper word for a religion?  Our first commandment is this:  THOU SHALT NOT LET ANYONE COMMAND YOU TO DO BULLSHIT THAT MAKES YOU MISERABLE.   Unless it’s your parents, we'll keep that one—go ahead and honor your parents because you will just feel better if you do.  You'll be all, “Look at this bullshit I put up with from my parents, aren’t I a great kid?” and your friends will totally agree and then you will be happy.

We should probably have more than one commandment, so how about:  THOU SHALT NOT LET ANYONE MAKE YOU MISERABLE FOR ANY REASON.  Because WTF?  Why should anyone have that kind of power over you?  And, at the risk of being stoned to death in my church parking lot, I will go so far as to blaspheme:  DO NOT LET YOUR IDEA OF GOD MAKE YOU MISERABLE.  Because there are a million religions (including a new one called WTF that is FABULOUS, I hear) and if your religion is making you unhappy, then it is NOT DOING ITS JOB and should be kicked to the curb.  For example, if you are gay but belong to a church that says being gay is bad?  Kick that God to the curb!  Why invest in a God that supposedly creates “defective” equipment and then condemns it for being so?  Life is too short for bullshit, my friends, and that stinks of bullshit to the high heavens, as it were.   My BFF used to say we need to choose our own brainwashing, and if “Choose Your Brainwashing” is not already on a T-Shirt or bumper sticker somewhere, she totally has dibs on that.  Which brings us to our third commandment:  THOU SHALT NOT LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT HOW OR WHO YOU ARE IS WRONG OR BAD.    Unless you are one of those guys who lights your farts on fire.  Because seriously, dude, we need to draw a line somewhere.
Darn it, this starting a religion thing is definitely harder than I thought it would be, because now I have to somehow figure a way to screen out those dudes who light their farts on fire…I guess the internet will be a useful tool in this, because the kind of guy who lights his farts on fire is also the kind of guy who is likely to film himself doing it, so we can have a one question screening process:  is there a video of you lighting your farts on fire on the internet?  I think this will adequately discourage any applicants from doing so in the future too, don’t you?  Okay, now that we’ve settled that, let’s get to our fourth commandment (the original plan was to have one, but like I said, this is harder than I thought it would be)…THOU SHALT NOT YUCK SOMEONE ELSE’S YUM.  In other words, don’t be the jerk who tries to make someone else feel bad about who they are or what they like.  I will give you an example of how I did this recently:  an exceedingly nice young man was telling me of his vacation plans, which included camping out at a Christian folk rock festival, going to a world famous shooting range and drinking at a Monty Python inspired pub.  My response:  “Are you telling me your holiday plans or just making a list of stuff I never want to do?”  See, you shouldn’t do that.

I guess I am not an ideal leader for my own religion because I am frequently guilty of yucking someone’s yum, especially if I can be HI-larious when doing so.   Then again, a religion with a first commandment of thou shalt not let anyone else command you to do bullshit that makes you miserable probably shouldn’t have a “leader” per se.  You know how power mad people get when they think they are in charge, they start thinking other people are ”beneath” them and that maybe those people aren’t worthy of things like, say, “living wages”.  So let’s scratch the leader thing entirely.  In fact, let’s go ahead and “borrow” a little tidbit from our old pal the Buddha:  be a lamp unto yourself.  You are your leader.  Who better to make decisions for and about you than YOU?  You are the world’s foremost expert on you and we defer to your greater wisdom about yourself, how’s that?  Great, I really think WTF is coming together, don’t you?  I feel good about it so far!   And if nothing else, WTF is all about feeling good about yourself and what you do.  So I am definitely already getting in a groove with our mission on earth.
In synopsis, I have started a new religion called WTF and we have a VERY simple screening process if you are interested in joining and it is entirely FOC (free of charge).  You are the leader as far as your practice is concerned, and therefore in charge of all important decisions regarding your life.  However, we do ask that you try to avoid people and situations that make you feel miserable and also make a concerted effort not to make others miserable as well.  So who’s in?

Friday, November 7, 2014

WHY IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER

How can you not love Bill Murray?  The man is transcendent, lyrical; the ultimate true-to-himself and therefore a rock solid example of life leadership.  However, I get that he may be somewhat generational, so I will only say that if you are a boomer or a Gen-Xer who doesn’t love Bill Murray, then frankly, I think you might be a little off.  Or have a “banana in your tailpipe”, in Eddie Murphy-speak. 

Anyhoo, one of my personal favorite all-time Bill Murray movies is (drum-roll, please!):  the epic summer camp classic, Meatballs!!!  This opinion you need not share; there are so many good ones to choose from.  But between my sister and my best friend from high school, I have quoted this particular movie more often than maybe any other—because, as you know, there are children starving in India and you are walking around with a whole sombrero full of peanuts.  I hope you sleep well.  But the quote that defines “Meatballs”, as it were, is more straightforward and somewhat less (?) comical…“IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER”.  Here is the link to watch Bill Murray at his finest delivering this classic motivational speech:  (I’ll wait).

Okay, when you are done laughing, let’s discuss…does it matter? 

Why?  Can you build a reasonable case for it?  Do you want to?  Or do you want to say, as the entirely less entertaining Tom Cruise said in Risky Business, “WTF?” 

Hmmm, this is turning into a movie quote trivia game, huh?  But guess what…it just doesn’t matter.  No, it doesn’t.  There are very few things in life that need to be taken so seriously that we cannot take this advice to heart.  Boyfriend breaks up with you?  Fantastic!  That ass obviously didn’t appreciate you anyway.  Lose your job?  Did you love it?  Did they love you?  One of these things obviously isn’t true, so good riddance to bad trash. 

The great and powerful Louis C.K. even goes so far as to say divorce is always good news.  Because what great marriage ever ended in divorce?  Ah, King Louis, you steal my heart away.
Victorian era author Samuel Butler once famously said, “The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken too seriously”.  Word up, Sam.  How many times in your life, if you are exceedingly and extra honest about it, have you worked yourself up into a tizzy over NOTHING.  NOTHING. 

I will go ahead and call myself out by saying my number is legion.  Perhaps you have more self-control than I do.  But more often than not, as my “drama” played out, I discovered that I had been harboring the infamous “tempest in a teapot” and that a lot of my suffering could have been pre-empted by the wisdom of Bill Murray…it just doesn’t matter. 

My husband used to irritate me when I was in a frenzy by quoting the Blues Travelers song, “It won’t mean a thing in 100 years”; I’d be all—“well, yeah, if you are here in 100 years, you can let me know how that all worked out because I’LL BE DEAD”.   

Of course he (and Blues Travelers and Tom Cruise) are right.  For most things, WTF is the most appropriate response.  WTF is the key to freedom, as long as you don’t use it to turn your parent’s house into a bordello.

Now surely you have heard the expression “Leap and the net will appear”.  This sounds like empirically bad advice, am I right?  But it really is a more graphic and less foolproof sounding version of WTF…it is a credo against playing it safe. 

You think you’re not pretty enough or rich enough or successful enough?  HA!  WTF???

Seriously, DO YOU THINK IT REALLY MATTERS???  Elizabeth Taylor, arguably the most beautiful woman in the history of the planet was MARRIED to Larry Fortensky!!!  The thought of having to kiss that guy makes me want to throw up in my mouth, and I am no Elizabeth Taylor! 

Rupert Murdoch, author of three failed marriages (all good news, says Louis) and creator of FOX News (all bad news, say I) is a super rich guy who is less than admirable in almost every way, IMHO.  So you got looks and/or money?  IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER.  The only thing in the whole wide world that matters is this:  are you happy?  Are you? 

If not, LEAP!  And the net will appear.  If you are happy enough, BRAVO!   YOU ARE MY HERO.
Honestly, at the risk of sounding like some sort of hedonist, MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY.  In a “please drink responsibly” kind of way but SERIOUSLY.  What if we were each responsible for our own happiness and nothing else?  Do you think this would be chaos?  Do you think you are the only person on the planet who cares about how your actions impact others?  Do you think your unhappiness is serving any single human on the planet in a constructive way??? 

WTF, dude?????  WTF, I say!  Nora Ephron, who could be riotous or condescending in fits (See:  Why Sleepless in Seattle Bugs Me”) once said—“If children had to choose between their mother being happy and fulfilled in Hawaii or crying in the next room, they’d choose crying in the next room every time.”  Ha.  Funny stuff. 

But who in their right mind lets an 8 year old dictate their choices?  NO ONE WANTS AN 8 YEAR OLD IN CHARGE BECAUSE THEY KNOW NOT OF WHAT THEY SPEAK.  But you do.  At least as far as you are concerned.  And you don’t need to be prettier or smarter or richer, you just need to be BRAVER. 

Because apart from this, it just doesn’t matter.  Leap.  You are so worth it.



Friday, October 31, 2014

WHY IT'S BETTER TO RECEIVE THAN GIVE

Happy Halloween!  Here’s a “trick” question for you:  is it better to receive a free treat or give one?  Actually, no trick…receiving free candy is empirically better than giving it.  Right?  If you are experiencing any discomfort with this statement, then I feel you.  We are supposed to want to give, it’s greedy to want something for nothing, free “treats” are for children; adults are supposed to earn everything that we get.  You didn’t earn it, you don’t “deserve” it!  Are you more comfortable with that statement?  I’ll bet the majority of you are, and for very good reason…it’s what all people born into Generation X and before were raised to believe.  We disdain the “everybody gets a trophy” culture, the frankly horrifying ability to retake a test when a score is subpar and the younger generation’s infamous “sense of entitlement”.  Well, I’ve got some news for you…although those beliefs are as deeply ingrained in me as anyone, I am starting to have a sneaking suspicion we are wrong.  And we are paying for this misconception dearly.

Have you ever done something really nice, really generous for someone and received no thanks for it?  Of course you have, we all have, millions of times.  Does it stop us from giving of ourselves in the future?  Occasionally it may give us pause to repeat our generosity to the ungrateful receiver specifically, but in general the answer is no, I am sure.  We are hardwired to give of ourselves; there is literally nothing else to do.  We give our time, our love, our compassion, our wisdom and our humor freely, and on a regular basis.  We lend a hand, an ear, a buck whenever we can.  We donate canned goods, “gently used” items, blood, a kidney, for God’s sake.  People give and give and give and give because that is our mission on earth—to express ourselves to others, generously and often.  But have you ever asked yourself what kind of receiver you are?  Because frequently this is where the flow dries up…this is where we stop the expression of love dead-in-its-tracks.
How good are you at accepting a favor?  How comfortable are you with a compliment?  How open are you to support, both emotional and physical?  How uncomfortable did you feel when I pointed out that getting free candy is WAY BETTER than giving it?  We have become, many of us, in our striving for self-reliance, independence and in general bad-assness, ungracious receivers.  Hear that!  Even if you think you are refusing someone’s generosity for “righteous” reasons, you are still being entirely ungracious by robbing them of the satisfaction of giving.  Think about how you feel when someone does not acknowledge a kindness you have extended…now imagine that person pre-emptively refusing your kindness.  That is what you are doing when you say no to someone who is extending themselves to you.  My Grandfather had a stock joke he made whenever anyone did something nice for him; he’d always say “You shouldn’a done it”.  He was kidding, but too many of us are not.  Too many of us are uncomfortable receiving what others have to give.  Too many of us are uncomfortable with the “treat” part of life.

The brilliant and entirely bad-ass late British author Iris Murdoch once posited, “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats”.   Holla, Iris!  My best friend’s grandmother believed this as well, and at the end each of day treated herself to one piece of chocolate…there is something to be said for knowing the reward is coming that keeps the pep in our step.  Knowing we can have a piece of chocolate every day may even prevent us from having a hundred pieces of chocolate in one sitting when we are stressed out.  But I think most people would consider this protocol overindulgent nowadays.  When I was a kid we had dessert every night, as did most kids I knew; it was part of the dinner meal.  And childhood obesity was not anywhere near the problem then that it is now.  This stinginess we feel towards ourselves is ironically pushing us towards MORE unhealthy behaviors, because we are not allowing the flow of “continuous small treats”.  We deny our need to be treated and blood pressure, addictive behaviors and reliance on medication to get through the day all go through the roof.  So say I.
Of course Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive”, but who knows where that guy was coming from?  Ha.  Kidding.  But when you think about it, how can you give if there is no one willing to receive?  The two way street of giving and receiving must remain wide open for life to flow, for us to experience that elusive “happy life”.  Think of how good you feel when you get authentic recognition for your efforts, whether it be your work, your altruism or just your sense of humor.  It lights you up inside, makes you want to give more and more and more of yourself.  So how about returning the favor?  Give other people the opportunity to express their generosity to you, and you have opened an important gate to giving—giving thanks.  Thanking someone from the bottom of your heart for the wonderful way they have just expressed themselves to you.  If you are not open to receive, you are not open to expressing gratitude and gratitude is, IMHO, the real key to a happy life.  So open the door to receiving.  And have a very happy thanks giving.  Get it?  Word play kills me.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

WHY THE EMPEROR'S CLOTHES DON'T MATTER (UNLESS YOU THINK SO)

A few years ago, while in the middle of a conversation with my Mom featuring a lot of my trademark stating-the-obvious-in-a-big-mouthed-way she said, “You know, you always were my child who had to let everybody know the emperor has no clothes”.  Whew.  What you need to know, as far as backstory goes, is that this is a radical reframing of what I heard from her over and over again growing up…what I was told as a girl was that I always had to “add a little piss to the situation”.  So somehow I have morphed from piss-adder to truth teller over the last 40+ years.   At least in my mother’s perception.  It got me thinking a lot about the ideas of truth vs. perception and why stating the obvious can seem to be kind of pissy.  I have been called pathologically honest, and while it was meant as a compliment, I think we all know that pathology refers to illness and that the Greek root “pathos” means suffering.  So I “suffer” from an overwhelming compulsion to get on a chair and start shouting about the elephant in the room.  That’s me, in a nutshell.

And my Mom was right both times; I am a person who says what needs to be said to clear the air, and I am a person who can be incredibly impatient and pissy about it.  Case and point:  years ago I was asked by someone very nice if her outfit made her look fat and I answered, “It’s not the outfit.”  That was the truth, btw.  It was also a pretty wretched thing to say.  And not an isolated incident by any stretch.  A friend was recently relating a story of an older woman she knows who has taken to walking out of meetings when she feels they have become vitriolic or unconstructive.  She just gets up, gets her things and leaves without a word.  My response to this was that kind of behavior is a luxury of the very old and the very young.  When I was young, I was the sort who would huffily leave a room, a conversation, even a church sermon for self-righteous reasons.  In retrospect, my causes were just, my behavior was not.  Because when you get to the middle of your life, you realize that living your truth is the most important thing on earth you can do.  You also realize imposing your truth on others is one of the most destructive.
I, like you, have a point of view and a voice that yearns to be heard…I, like you, am offended by injustice and imbecilism, if that is a word.  I have very specific thoughts and opinions and feelings on virtually every topic under the sun, and there is nothing I love more than to share all of these in conversation, debate and even lecture form.  I want you to know that the emperor is, in fact, butt-naked and that yes, there is an elephant in the room.  What has changed as I have aged is that I no longer need you to feel the same way about any of it as I do.  I understand that context matters, as does personal perspective…maybe you live in a nudist colony, and the emperor looks alright to you; maybe you work for the circus and it is a perfectly reasonable thing to expect there to be an elephant in the room.  I understand that the only subjects in the entire world that I am the definitive authority on are me, myself and I.  Even those three things can tangle me up a bit occasionally.

When we are young, we think that our opinion is the most important thing in the whole wide world; when we grow up, we know our opinion is the most important thing in the world, but only as far as our world is concerned.  We shout our thoughts to others less, and listen to them more.  We begin to trust ourselves without the need for outside validation…we begin to understand that as we communicate our truth with more compassion for ourselves and others, we can be heard more clearly than if we use a bullhorn.  We also know that when our communication “falls on deaf ears”, that is okay.  We are all here as messengers, so where one of us fails, another will succeed.  We learn to choose our battles so much more wisely, realizing that sometimes “the truth” is the key to our freedom, and sometimes “the truth” is just beating a horse that is already dead.  We learn to walk away from situations where our truth is not productive or welcomed.
So here is my truth:  nobody is ever going to call me demure.  I am a big-mouth, and strong-willed.  I am full to the brim of opinions, both informed and intuitive, that I would love to overshare with you in a very loud way.  I am such an advocate for the elephant in the room that I might as well be the elephant myself…and I will make 100% certain that there is NO WAY you could ever overlook me.  But what I dislike more than anything is anyone who tries to make me feel uncomfortable in my own skin, with my own voice.  So I will try always, to the best of my ability, to honor you in your skin, with your voice.  You may look and sound different than I do, but inside we are the same.  Inside we are seekers who want to live in peace with ourselves and others.  My “truth” and your “truth” are not going to be exactly the same, any more than my idea of perfect happiness will be yours.  So whether or not the emperor has any clothes on is actually irrelevant.  What is relevant is whether or not you can live peacefully with an elephant in the room.  I know I can’t.  But it’s okay if that’s just me.

Friday, October 17, 2014

WHY YOU ARE READY!

Great news!  You are finally ready!!!  I am so happy for you and know everything is going to work out wonderfully!  You are being very brave and I totally applaud that, while at the same time knowing you have all the tools you need to succeed.  Go for it, and I will be cheering you on every second of the way!

So here’s the thing:  if you read those words and kind of got that sick pit of excitement in your stomach and started thinking specifically about something you’ve wanted to do but have been putting off for whatever various reasons?  Then I am 100% correct!  YOU ARE READY.  If on the other hand you were like, “WTF is she talking about?”, then my apologies.  As you were.  But it’s time for all of us to stop procrastinating in general, don’t you think?  No time like the present and there will always be reasons “why not” for you to fall back on.  But what I want you to know right now is this:  if there is a situation, job, relationship you want to get out of but feel you can’t?  YOU CAN and you are fully capable of not only doing so, but thriving elsewhere.  If there is a dream, invention, or business that you want to pursue but feel incapable of bringing to fruition?  You are MORE THAN CAPABLE, just put one foot in front of the other and off you will go.  Stop thinking so much about what you wish you were doing and start doing it.  Is that a clear enough instruction for you?
So now maybe a small number of you are thinking—“You know what?  She’s right!  The time is now and I am going to go for it!”—while most of you are thinking, “Yeah, right, Ms. Nike.  I’ll just do it and screw over everybody involved, including myself with my lack of planning and forethought”.   HA!  Love the “Ms. Nike” bit, you guys are very funny.  And of course to a degree you are correct…there is planning and forethought that need to happen before you make any kind of major move in your life.  So start planning already.  My point is that the obstacles you perceive outside of yourself are NOTHING when compared to the obstacles you face inside of yourself.  The problem isn’t that you’re too old or too poor or too dumb or too unorganized or too whatever-the-hell-you-think-you-are to achieve your objective.  The problem is that you THINK any of these things and let that thought decide the course of your future.  The biggest obstacle is, as I have said before, that you are more adept at building a case against yourself than for yourself.

When I was growing up, my Dad had a number of excellent lines that he applied, sometimes indiscriminately, to life situations both great and small.  One of his absolute favorites, something he said to all of us over and over was “This is it!  This is what you’ve been trained for!”  It was his general rallying cry, and he may have been talking about getting ready for church, a big test, or just as likely going on a lark.  My Dad preached readiness, no matter what the situation.  There was never a moment, big or trivial, that he felt we weren’t “trained for”, fully capable of achieving.  In fact, he said it so often that it became a kind of background noise, a given.  And as far as subconscious programming went, I think he did a pretty good job, because if I could think of one word that describes all of my siblings, it would have to be capable.  Nobody is throwing hands up in despair during tough times.  We are all right there being…well, tough.  Difficult to dismount.  Determined.  All in all, not too shabby.  That’s another one of Dad’s gems, btw.
“The Little Engine That Could” is not an enduring tale because we all love to be annoyed.  And that engine is very annoying.  It endures because we need to be reminded to believe in ourselves, not give up so easily on what we want.  I will now take that premise a step further:  not only are you READY, you were BORN to DO whatever it is you are thinking about doing.    I’m paraphrasing Joan of Arc here, just so you know…people thought she was crazy, too.  Fortunately, whatever YOUR “crazy” dream, plan or idea, we no longer burn people at the stake, so what is stopping you?  If Joan was not afraid, why are you?  That’s not a hypothetical question, so here’s the answer:  Joan was not afraid because she had faith.  That’s all you need to take the first step.  Faith.  In YOURSELF.  If you have that, everything else is just icing.  Don’t believe me?  Ask anyone who has accomplished a big dream.  Yes, there will be setbacks, yes there will be disappointments but you are READY for this, perhaps most of all.  Like Dad always said, “This is what you’ve been trained for”…to endure setbacks and disappointments and keep going anyway.  You’ve done it a million times before, why not do it for something that really matters to you, really counts?

Great news!  You are finally ready!!!  I am so happy for you and know everything is going to work out wonderfully!  You are being very brave and I totally applaud that, while at the same time knowing you have all the tools you need to succeed.  Go for it, and I will be cheering you on every second of the way!   I hope you can hear these words and know they are the truth.  You were born to do this, and I am really so very excited for you.  You are ready to be happy.

Friday, October 10, 2014

WHY YOU HAVEN'T RUINED ANYTHING

So the other day a friend of mine joked that he was going to call his autobiography, “The Lives I’ve Ruined”.  HA!  At least, I hope that was a joke.  But as a recovering perfectionist, it got me thinking a lot about that idea that things get “ruined” because of our actions…a cake, an event, a relationship…we say we “ruined” it by adding too much sugar or scheduling it on a day it rained or enabling bad behavior or behaving badly ourselves. 

I think the reality is that most things are pretty tough to ruin.  I guarantee you will find someone who thinks your ruined cake is delicious (or at the very least hilarious), your rainy wedding poetic and your “failed” relationship good riddance to bad trash.  Most good things are very hard to ruin, and to ruin a life is damned near impossible.  There goes the premise of my friend’s autobiography.  See, I ruined it for him.  Ha again.

I used to be the kind of person who never left the house without make-up.  Never let anyone see my house messy.  Never let anyone know they had hurt me, exposed my fear of not being lovable, not being good enough.  Perfectionism was recently redefined by Elizabeth “Eat, Pray, Love” Gilbert as “Fear, in really good shoes”.   I used to be afraid that if I was unkempt or messy or vulnerable, these obvious markers of my imperfection would declare me unlovable, worthless. 

I lived in a constant state of anxiety about “ruining” things and this anxiety caused me not only to screw up more, but also rendered me incapable of enjoying anything until it was completed and deemed by the royal me as a “success”.  Naturally I set the bar so high for what was “successful” or “clean” or “attractive”, I could rarely accomplish my objective, which would leave me with massive case of “aftershame”.    Eventually I realized it was my expectation that things go “perfectly” that was the real enemy.  Not the rain, the zit or the dust on my mantle.  It was the idea that anything less than perfect was “ruined”.

For example, as an achievement driven society, we tend to view marriage as a “goal” in a relationship; a long term marriage is a “success”, a marriage that ends in divorce is a “failure”.  Divorce means we “ruined” our marriage.  But not all relationships are meant to last forever. 

This message brought to you by a Cancer, stage three clinger if there ever was one.  Just ask any of the people who have been engaged in 20, 30 and in a few cases 40+ years of friendship with me:  I hang on for dear life.  Like the crab that is the symbol of my sun sign, once I attach I am very, very difficult to shake off.  

I am passionate in my friendships; in fact, I am passionate about all things I love, from people to places to movies to books and in a few rare cases even things.  But I have had to accept, fortunately again in a few rare cases, that some relationships are not built to last.  There is almost always some pain in this, but endings are actually new paths that open for us, paths that the relationship prepared us for and pushed us towards.  This is the gift of a “failed” relationship:  it sends you in a new direction that you never would have conceived of if you hadn’t come through it exactly the way you did.  It was a gateway to a new part of your life, a new part of you.

There is humor and wisdom in the expression, “There’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk”, because it reminds us to laugh at the hypocrisy of judgments.  Have you ever known a slob who becomes a self-righteous neatnik after living with a worse slob?  We see ourselves mirrored in our exchanges with other people and when we don’t like the reflection, it is our invitation to grow and change. ..“When the student is ready, a teacher appears”.   I think this applies to every single relationship you have in your life. 

But here’s the rub:  in each of those relationships you are BOTH teacher AND student.  We learn from each other, sometimes through joyful communion and sometimes…not so joyful.  The Buddhists believe it is the people who irritate us and push our buttons that we have the most to learn from.  There is an old legend about a man who was relocating to a new village and insisted on taking his worst and most insubordinate servant along.  When the head houseman questioned this decision his master told him he had heard the inhabitants of the new village were so pleasant he was afraid he would not have any opportunity for personal growth without him.  Love it!

So here is my conclusion:  you haven’t ruined anything.  If you are still breathing, you still have an opportunity to bring your best self to the table and live a life you feel good about.  That will mean a million different things to a million different people and that is how it is supposed to be.  We travel many roads with our various companions while we are here on earth, some of them more enjoyable than others, all of them crucial to the development of our true selves.  

 Like an irritant forms a pearl, we are honed into our best selves by the people who challenge us as much as those who love us.  We learn from each other and while we definitely will have preferences about the lessons we get, all of them are ultimately useful if we remember to see them that way.  Not a single thing you have done in your life has been in vain, because you (and/or someone else!) have learned from it.  You haven’t ruined anything.  You are on a journey and even if you sometimes feel lost, the destination is never in doubt.