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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WHY IT'S MY PARTY! (crying optional)

Guess who just had a birthday????  Woop-woop!  Now say it with me:  “YAY!!!  I’m OLD!!!”  Ha.  Actually I can’t believe how freaking old I am these days…I feel like I just got here in so many ways, how is it possible that it is more than halfway over?  I really had a wonderful, if slightly sinister childhood (see:  WHY MY LIFE IS HORRIFYING for more on this) that seemed to last forever, but once puberty hit, it all became somewhat of a blur, at least time wise.  I graduated from college 25 years ago???  I’ve been married 16 years???  My son is how old???  Where did it all go and why is it all in such a damned hurry?  In the years before I turned 11, the month of July stretched out endlessly in anticipation of my birthday…it felt INFINITE.  Then time started passing without me having a minute to catch my breath and quite suddenly, it seems, I am deep in middle aged territory.   And now that I am here I feel like I have finally arrived in life.  Welcome to planet earth, Kara!  You are present and accounted for!

I guess the best way I can explain my arrival is to invite you to a kind of birthday party.  But this is a party that is always going on, 24/7, 365.  My eternal party is by invitation only for you, but inescapable for me, because it is going on inside my head.  Truly, it is ALWAYS a party in here.  I have ALL of my favorite people with me, all of my favorite songs, movies, books, places, foods ALL the time!  This is why I am generally a happy person; also a person you might suspect is perpetually inebriated (see:  WHY YOU THINK I MIGHT BE DRUNK).  I am so madly in love with all of the goodness I have encountered that not only do I replay the highlights on a continual loop (sort of like my own Sports Center, with happily very little sports) but I also imagine future encounters with all of my favorite people, places and things and conjure up pleasing and amusing little scenarios involving them.   Who needs technology when you have an amazing computer full of such delights right inside your skull?  How could I ever be bored with this marvelous tool at my disposal?
I have said to my son a time or two (or three), “There is no such thing as being bored, only being boring”.  I believe this wholeheartedly to be true.  If you have a functioning brain, boredom is literally impossible.  Even in a droning lecture, even when confronted with humorless companions, even in a darkened, sound proofed room, BOREDOM is an impossible state.  Because you have that brain loaded with ALL OF YOUR FAVORITE THINGS!   How could I ever get sick of contemplating them, especially when I add something new EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Researchers at Stanford University have determined that most people’s brains can’t distinguish between real and virtual experience; so in other words, the party I am in constant attendance at is in many ways as good as an actual party…without the calories!  It may look like I am driving the car, or weeding, or vacuuming or doing any number of other tedious chores, but I am actually conversing with a good friend, or reliving a favorite moment from a beloved book, or travelling to a place I have only read about…for FREE! 

My capacity to enjoy this party does have a downside, however…it is such a pleasant place to retreat to, that sometimes I spend more time IN THERE than OUT HERE, especially when I am going through a rough patch in my life.  When that happens, I risk the possibility of missing out on something OUT HERE that would enrich my life and add flavor to the already endlessly delicious IN THERE.    The trick to balance is to make “matches”…that is, fully identify the people, places and things OUT HERE that best complement the IN THERE.  And this is something we all do to some degree or another—we “recognize” ourselves in the world and attach.  When you love something, whether it is another person, an animal, a movie, a vacation spot or just a good book, it is because it “matches” the world you would best like to live in, your own personal party, as it were.  Joseph Campbell expounds on this brilliantly in The Power of the Myth: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality...”

So when I say I have finally “arrived”, I mean two things…1) my life experiences and my “innermost being” are more in sync now than at any time in my life, and 2) I am more able than ever before to share my “innermost being” with not only the people I love but the world in general.  To put it plainly, the party IN THERE is coming out to mingle with the party OUT HERE and they are getting along famously.  It’s my party, and I am more and more able to invite the positive and exclude (or just recover quickly from) the “bad”.  So it’s a damned good time.  This is middle age!!!  Not too shabby, as my dad used to say.  When they asked Michelangelo how he made his statue of David he is reported to have answered, "It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn't look like David." That is also how it is with us…as the years pass, we learn to chip away the things that don’t resonate with our true self, and the “David” in us emerges.  My outer edges might still be a bit rough, but inside I am that masterpiece, waiting to be fully revealed.  And looking forward to remaining a party animal for as many years as I have left. 


Monday, July 7, 2014

WHY LIFE'S A BEACH: The Family (Vacation) Revisited

Raise your hand if you are lucky enough to belong to a family!  Ha.  That was a trick, because I can’t see you and also because I know that most of us a) belong to some kind of family and b) aren’t always convinced that luck had anything to do with it.  Ha again!  I am one of four kids, the quintessential “middle child”; my older sister is the oldest, my older brother is the only boy and my younger sister is the baby.  Making me Jan Brady and then some.  My siblings are also the ruddy cheeked, robustly built, fun-loving athletic types, while I am the gangly, bookish, artsy geek.  You see where this is going.  Every family needs an ugly duckling to keep things in perspective and I was born to the job, as it were.   If I had a childhood theme song, it would have been “One of these things is not like the others (one of these things just doesn’t belong)” from Sesame Street.  And believe me, I know there are millions of people out there who could say the same thing.  I know my experience as an outsider in my own clan is hardly unique.
So now we are all grown up, and while some things never change (in both good and bad ways), I have to say that as each of us has become more of “ourselves” with age, this has actually caused us to grow closer.  There are blessed few indisputable facts in this lifetime (outside of death and taxes), but your family, for better or for worse is one of them.  And as you mature, the differences in interests, political views and priorities melt into the background as your shared sense of humor, experiences and common enemies (usually within the extended family, but sometimes it might just be Scottie Pippen) become predominant.  There is no friend like an old friend the saying goes, but even an old friend can’t hold a candle to the people who have born witness to the entirety of your life.

Which leads me to the topic…the family vacation.  Is there any experience more dreaded/highly anticipated/lovingly remembered than this?  Dreaded for too many reasons to count:  logistics (can we coordinate schedules, nap times, napkins?), location (location, location), length (how long will it be before the laughs stop and the glares begin?) and lottery (What will the weather be?  Will anyone get sick?  Will any flights get cancelled?  Etc., etc.!)  Highly anticipated because of aforementioned laughs, food, fun and, if you are lucky, multiple generations frolicking in one general area.  Lovingly remembered because let’s face it, today’s bad experience is by and large tomorrow’s funny story, so we all enjoy reminiscing about our trip to the Cape and the potato chip that somehow became affixed to my older sister’s face due to my brother’s stellar efforts with dip-n-jab.  Good times!!!!!  In retrospect, nearly always.
For the past several years, the location (location, location) of our family trip has become static due to the unbelievable hospitality and generosity of my sister-in-law’s mother and step-father; we all travel to Wilmington, North Carolina and spend a few to several days enjoying the surf and sand at beautiful Wrightsville Beach.  To say this experience is highly anticipated would be an understatement; I would assert it is without a doubt the highlight of my son’s year and most certainly has created the kind of golden childhood memories that only the best of writers can ever hope to recreate with words.  There is not a single aspect of this trip that, to a child most definitely, is not 100% satisfying.  I could describe for you the two beautiful homes we spend time in, the flawless beach, the fabulous meals, the ping pong, the custard stand, the fish market, the water balloon fights and even the awesomely creepy “serpantarium” we are driven to on rainy days, but you still would not know how it feels to be there.  With your children.  And your witnesses.  It borders on, and often crosses into, the sublime.

But guess what?  For the adults, there is a lot of work.  Meals to plan and prepare, bags to pack and unpack, children to bathe and feed and tend to in a myriad of ways.  And if you are a family, there may be a Frederick in your midst (who is “gathering colors” as the rest of you hump it), or there may be an expected guest or two, or an unexpected obligation or three, and your greatest woe will never be that the custard stand didn’t have the flavor you were dreaming of today.  Vacations are a ton of work if you have kids, and unless you are at an all-inclusive resort, some work anyhow even if you don’t.  And so nerves fray (nothing like laundering vomit out of bedding at 1 AM for this), and tempers flare (she asked nicely, but my sister-in-law had to reprimand ALL of the siblings for our love of profanity in close quarters), and feelings are hurt because we are all so human and so very enmeshed that if there is anyone in the world who knows just the exact thing to say that will set you off, or send you into a tailspin of insecurity, it is someone in your family.  Danger UXB, as they said in post-war years.  There are so very many unexploded bombs waiting to be set off.
But the family vacation, while fraught with mines, is also ripe with opportunities.  My parents were fond of telling us when we were children, “There is a whole world out there waiting to be unkind to you, so don’t be unkind to each other.”  Of course we waited until they left the room, gave them the finger, and then went back to torturing each other.  But now we are grown up, and while I will not claim we have achieved some sort of utopian nirvana, I will say that the kindness is at an all-time high.  The enjoyment of the “luck” involved in belonging to a family as well.  I am lucky enough to belong to a family.  For better or for worse, for richer and for poorer, we are a team and on our best days, a winning one.  On our worst days, we can still remember the glories of years gone by and bask in the knowledge that we have time ahead of us to build more of those precious memories.  Some of which start with a potato chip affixed to a face with dip. Ha.