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Monday, January 26, 2015

WHY EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD

Who does not love a good coming-of-age story?  That indescribable, indefinable moment when a child becomes an “adult” (whatever that means); or more accurately, the moment when a decision is made that sets the course for adulthood.  We all have these moments, starting about the same time as the dreaded puberty, where the road forked and we made a choice to go this way or that.  The decision to stand with classmates getting stoned but not get stoned ourselves.  The decision to kiss the nice, “appropriate” boy (or girl), or the one who makes your heart race.  The decision to break a curfew, skip a class, defy a rule.  The decision to be yourself, even if that means facing rejection, punishment or “failure”.  The decision to grow up.

The problem with my coming-of-age is that it happened in the 80’s.  I literally turned 13, officially a teenager, in the summer of 1980 and spent 1981-1989 in high school and college and so THOSE are the most formative years I had when it came time to “discover myself”.  The 1980’s, for those of you who just crawled out from under a rock or were born later (???!!!???), were known as the decade of “greed” and “excess”.  Look it up, if you don’t believe me.  Or watch Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”, that explains it pretty well.  My generation, known by the less-than-loving moniker “Generation X”, has developed something of a reputation for a particular brand of selfishness, supposedly born out of the unfortunate timing of our coming-of-age years.  I’d like to explain our refusal to conform to societal standards to music.
The music of your youth (especially your coming-of-age) is a powerful, powerful thing, and there have been studies to prove it.   Lock a bunch of geezers up for the weekend and make them listen to the music of their younger years and guess what happens?  Stamina returns, medical tests improve.  Like a magic trick, immersing them in the music of yesteryear makes their bodies respond as though it were yesteryear, and if that isn’t an amazing thing, I don’t know what is.  So let’s talk about the music of the 80’s, and the powerful, regenerative force it holds for my generation.  Actually, first let’s talk about the universal agreement we now all have that the music of the 80’s sort of sucked.  Ahhhh, it feels good to admit that, doesn’t it?  At the same time, I am the very first person in the world to crank Hall and Oates “You Make My Dreams (Come True)” when I hear it on the radio.  No shame in it, either.

The thing you have to appreciate here is that teenagers are CRAZY.  Right?  Even the ones who seem okay, we know all about their poorly developed brains and how they respond to a zit like a five alarm fire, so let’s just accept that point.  Being crazy, not only do they attach incredible significance to things that are utterly unimportant, but they also feel a bizarre level of passion for some really lame things (shout out to Taylor Swift!!!)  Take me, for example.  I wore pink and green when preppy was in, wore designer jeans so everyone knew my ass had good taste and LOVED the groups A-ha and Naked Eyes.  I’m not saying any of it was right, I’m just telling you how it was.  And if you think I don’t belt out “Take on Me” EVERY-SINGLE-TIME I happen upon it, you are very naïve indeed.

So now, my point:  remember Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”?  Hahaha, of course you do, who could forget a song that still gets an otherworldly amount of air play?  That song, in addition to being pretty craptastic, is also obviously dictatorial, but without a real point.  That song, bossy in a universal way, seems to promote stalking and controlling but not planning or even making sense.  “Stop Making Sense” was a hit in the 80’s, in fact.  This music, this credo, became sort of emblematic for my generation.  We desire to rule the world in a theoretical way, not in the way of planned mergers or hostile takeovers.  We want to rule the world by being ourselves and not letting anything interfere with that.  The 80’s, that much maligned era of “greed” and “excess”, seems to have spawned an army of people who would rather not play by the rules.  Who would rather not conform to the standard.  Who would rather not “play nicely with others”, if the others feel there is a “right” way to do things.  We want to rule our world, and we don’t really care if anyone else plays along.
It seems ungenerous to pin this whole thing on Tears for Fears, so let’s spread the wealth of blame:  how about The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”?  Holy cow, stalker, what an unconvincing case you make for yourself!  You better start loving me again or we will both be sorry?  I am going to force my will upon you, even though I really can’t tell you why (does he even once say it’s because he loves her?  Brrrr, CREEPY).  Or take Animotion’s “Obsession”…please.  On the one hand, I am a possession, unopened at your feet.  But on the other hand—I will not accept defeat, I will find a way and I will have you.  Hmmm.  Sounds like SOMEONE needs a restraining order.  And don’t forget “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (self-explanatory),  “I Want You to Want Me” (let me tell you how to feel about me), “Every Breath You Take” ( let me tell you how I feel about you even if you don’t care one bit.  Oh, and btw I’m stalking you), and “One Way or Another” (Jesus Wept). 

The list goes on, my friends.  People talk a lot about Gen X being “anti-establishment” and I think you can look no further than the music we grew up with to see why we are such a my-way-or-the-highway generation.  I was brainwashed into being a bossy, megalomaniacal, stalker-like, vaguely-informed madwoman!!!  If only I had been a teenager in the 60’s, THEN I could accept that you can’t always get what you want!  Or in the 70’s—I’m easy, I love the one I’m with, we’re all be free to be you and me!  80’s, you screwed me!!!  And now I am going to hunt you down and force you to be the way I want you to be, just like you taught me to do.  Wa-hahahahaha-Ha!!!!  But then again…my fellow Gen-X-ers, my peers, are the most unique, interesting group of people I have ever encountered.  There is no “greed” in the traditional sense, only a driving desire to be authentic and whole.  And yes, we seek out like minded souls and attempt to create together by thinking outside the box and understanding that our authority is the ONLY authority as far as we are concerned.  Is that wrong?  If you think it is, then you don’t understand that everybody does actually WANT to rule the world.  But only a few of us have the guts to try.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

WHY "NO" IS YOUR REAL NEW BEST FRIEND

Have you ever eaten at a restaurant with really bad food?  Did you ever eat there again?  The answer is probably “no”, if I know most people, and I think I do.  But for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s “yes”.  Maybe some smokin' hot prospect asked you to go there and the chance to spend time with a hottie trumped your taste buds.  Or maybe you had a friend who worked there and slipped you free drinks, which made the badness of the food go down easier.  Point being that there are some scenarios in which you would return to a restaurant with really bad food, but not many.  Even if the service is good, even if the place is clean, no one wants to spend cash on a night out eating Alpo.  Because life is short and whenever circumstances are in our control, we like to make choices that are pleasing to us.  This sounds simple, right?  Like why-in-the-hell-am-I-bothering-to-write-about-it?simple.  Well, not so fast, friends…you may be eating really bad food without realizing it.

Growing up, my parents were big fans of the expression “waste not, want not”.  This played itself out in many arenas, some comical and some not so much.  On the topic of bad food, my Mom went through a prolonged phase when I was in elementary school where she prepared many dishes traditionally made out of ground beef with ground lamb instead.  Knowing my mom, and again, I think I do, this had to be a bottom line issue, because ground lamb is dry, chewy and tastes like metal.  So she was not “wasting money” on delicious beef.  And even though the ground lamb was disgusting, we were not allowed to “waste food” by not eating it.  And yes, we had to clean our plates, this was the 70’s.  Now you can cut to, in your mind, a montage of the many ways I devised NOT to eat ground lamb, including feeding it to the dog, excusing myself halfway through the meal to flush the lamb I had hidden in my napkin down the toilet and sneaking my portion onto my sister’s plate (sorry, sis!).  When you are a little kid, you are not allowed to say “no”.  At least we weren’t in the 70’s.
So then you go to middle school and high school, where “no” is like a dirty word—you sure as hell don’t say it to your teachers (at least not in the 80’s) and saying it to your peers can have devastating social consequences.  I have a vivid memory of standing behind the Grand Union grocery store in a homemade dress (thanks, Mom!) while a group of kids passed around a bowl of pot…I was supposed to be at a school dance with my friend, but when she asked me to go meet up with some guy so she didn’t have to go alone, I couldn’t say “no”.    I did say “no” to the pot, however.  There I stood, feeling like a fool and a geek, in a weedy backlot wearing my ribbony, flowery party dress watching a bunch of classmates getting stoned.  But I never regretted that “no”.  And it taught me that saying “no”, while often difficult in the moment, is very empowering in the big picture.  “No”, when used judiciously, can be your very best friend.

How often do you ignore the bad restaurant rule and say “yes” when every fiber of your being is screaming “no”?  Once a month?  Once a week?  Or one-a-day, like a vitamin-in-reverse; your unwanted “yeses” sapping you of energy, strength and frankly, just putting you into a bad mood.   I have a couple of girlfriends who don’t seem to have the word “no” in their vocabulary…if there is a situation they can volunteer for, they will.  I like to joke that God put me on the planet to teach them to say the words “No, thank you” and be at peace with it.  We are all of us, to some degree or another, eating at that restaurant we don’t like.  There are relationships and situations in our life that “serve bad food” but we stay, or we return because for some reason or another we don’t think saying “no” is an option.  But “no” is your ONLY option if you don’t want to live a life of continuous discontent.  “No” is your only option if you want to make a decent meal of it.
When we are little, we are not allowed to say “no” to grown-ups because grown-ups have gone ahead in life and made discernments—about what foods and activities and input are good and appropriate and healthful for a growing child.  Children need to be exposed to many different things in order to learn discernment, so that as they grow, the power of choice becomes an earned privilege.  As adults, we have, through our experiences and learned preferences, earned the right to say “no”.  Saying “no” does not devalue us; neither does it devalue the person or situation we are saying no to…”no” is often the most respectful thing we can possibly say.  Rather than dragging ourselves through the unwanted motions and resenting the whole time, give the opportunity to someone who genuinely wants to say “yes”.  Respect and trust yourself enough to know what is right for you.   Once more, that bad restaurant —how would it feel to ONLY eat good food, for the rest of your life?  Does that seem like an outrageous ideal?  It’s not…it’s actually the bare minimum you can do to take care of yourself.  So take better care of yourself…by saying “no” to toxic foods, people and situations.  And this can be the best year of your life.

Friday, January 9, 2015

WHY LOVE STINKS

God bless the J. Geils Band for pointing out the obvious in such an amusing way, am I right?  You know what—people are always talking about love as the thing that “makes the world go round” or “all there is”—and technically, these sorts of assertions are correct.  Love is the whole point of being alive.  Everything we do is for love, in some way…even if it is a love-of-not-being-hauled-off-to-prison-for-delinquent-taxes.  Ha. 

But seriously, when you boil down the motivating factor behind every single behavior you have, it always comes back to love, love, love.  We want to be loved, we want to love, we want perhaps most of all to be HAPPY, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that happiness is an impossibility in a loveless environment.  So why do I feel the need to remind you that LOVE STINKS?  Because that’s the rub:  you can’t be happy without love, but avoiding love is the ONLY way to avoid pain.  The ironic duality.  The stinking mess.

Anyone who has ever truly fallen in love can tell you this:  love is an involuntary reaction.  Forget all the ideas you had in your head of what Prince (or Princess) Charming would be like…love is a tsunami that destroys all reason and rationality in its path.  “Love is blind” is absolutely NO JOKE.  This is another of love’s delicious ironies.  We all believe that to find “true love” we need to perfect our look, our personality, our life…we need to lose weight or dress better or smell better or have a tan…what a joke! 

My Father, who was demonstrably in love with my Mother for over 50 years, once launched into a rhapsodic monologue about the cute little “dimples” on my Mom’s butt…much to the horror of my sister and I.  When he finished I felt the need to inform him that the “dimples” he found so charming were actually an undesirable condition called “cellulite”; his response to this was a shrug, a smile and “Is that what they’re called?  They’re so cute!”  AHEM.

When you have fallen head-over-heels, there is NOTHING that cannot be construed as beautiful, charming, alluring. Your beloved becomes your personal true north, with every molecule of your being keening to be closer to that body, that soul, that mind. You want to read all of their favorite books, watch all of their favorite movies, know all of their favorite songs...you will leave no stone unturned in your efforts to merge closer to this being. 

 The things we do for love know no limits...raise your hand if you've ever cleaned up a loved one's puke (kids don't count)!!! Testify if you have ever melted over someone's crybaby tantrum (again, no kids)!!! Fall to your knees if you have ever forgiven frankly unforgivable behavior in the name of love!!! Can I get an AMEN, somebody???

LOVE STINKS.  It melts your brain, makes you see through rose colored glasses, carries you off in a (tsunami caliber) wave of hopes and dreams that may have no bearing on reality…love can fill your stomach with butterflies, your head with fireworks, your heart with lead.  Love can lead you so far down a path you had no intention of travelling that by the time the smoke clears, you are quite too far gone, quite hopelessly lost. 

Love can rattle you to your core, make you foolishly brave, turn you into sentimental fool.  Love can leave you high and dry when you least expect it; it can also sneak up on you in the most unexpected places.  Love is unpredictable, undeniable and terrifyingly vulnerable.  Love can bring you to the highest heights and the lowest lows, love can crack you so wide open there is no place left to hide; love can leave you for dead at the side of the road…love stinks. 
I had a friend in college who used to say “You can’t pick who you fall in love with” and quite frankly, at the time, I interpreted this as an excuse for her piss-poor taste in men.  But now I understand the wisdom in this…love is not a choice.  There are a lot of self-help gurus out there who will disagree with me, but I am going to side with lady-boss Bonnie Raitt, who sang “I can’t make you love me if you don’t”.  You can’t make yourself love somebody and you CANNOT MAKE SOMEBODY ELSE LOVE YOU.  So put down the credit card and take off your Spanx…if somebody doesn’t love you, fitting into those skinny jeans will not be persuasive. 

And conversely, if somebody does love you?  Go ahead and puke in their car.  Ha.  Seriously, though, this is the secret of love that nobody talks about.  You can’t help who you love and who you don’t.  The only “choice” in love in whether or not you demonstrate it and how.  Sometimes you love someone who doesn’t love you back, or vice versa.  No one “chooses” this experience, at least not consciously.  But we do choose how we deal with it, and whether or not we let it take us down.

“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is one of those brutal truisms that well-meaning people spout to the broken hearted, the bastards.  When you have “lost” a love, this hardly feels true…instead it feels like death would be preferable to the pain.  But when we are still in love?  We know this to be the truthiest truth of all the great truths.  Being in love is da’bomb, the top, the pinnacle, the reason for living.  Being in love is beautiful, magical, wondrous, amazing. 

Sometimes love can last forever; more often the shelf life is a bit shorter, because the world and people are ever changing commodities.  We grow, we explore, we move, we work, we evolve and it is very difficult to keep doing all of these things in reasonable tandem with another person for an indefinite period.  So there are endings, transitions, changes and sadness.  But what is life without it?  To paraphrase M. Scott Peck—Love stinks.  Once we see this truth, we transcend it.  Once accepted, the fact that love stinks no longer matters.  Because love is all there is.

PLEASE "like" this for me on the Huffington Post!  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kara-postkennedy/why-love-stinks_b_7956738.html

 

 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

WHY IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (Another Old Lang Syne)

So we made it, my friends.  Another year under our belts, another “old lang syne” as the songs go.  A time to look back and reflect on all that has been and look forward to all we hope for.  In this spirit of honoring the past, over holiday break I decided to take my Mom, who turns 80 in this year, on a trip down memory lane…literally.  Between the years of 1978 and 1992, my family called western CT home, in both the now much misunderstood Newtown and also the very tony Ridgefield.  As I live approximately a 2 hour drive from these places, I determined a road trip was in order, complete with hotel reservations at the very spot my younger sister learned to swim and of course dinner at our favorite family restaurant, the aptly named Rosy Tomorrows.  We set off, a kind of New Yorker magazine cartoon version of Thelma and Louise, and revisited the happy haunts of our past.  It turned out to be a deeply satisfying journey on so many levels, as we rudely snapped pictures of homes we used to call our own and other landmarks pertinent to the years we spent taking them for granted.  We made a wrong turn (or two), laughed A LOT and mocked the rest of the family by texting them pictures of the fun they were missing. 

But old lang syne reminds us, as with any visit to the ghosts of the past, there is always a profound resonance of the bittersweet.  Wrapped in a deep, thick, cozy blanket of nostalgia, we felt grateful for all that had been as well as all that has come to us since; yet we were ever mindful of loss, both our own and the losses of others.  We mourned our next door neighbor from Newtown, a brilliant, funny woman who was taken from her family too soon.   We mourned for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School, this unrecoverable and bizarre aberration of violence in a peaceful and beautiful town.  We mourned for the way “things used to be”, while knowing that in truth the world only expands and becomes more inclusive with each New Year…we prayed for the day when no child is ever truly left behind, a day when we can all feel safe in our communities.  We mourned my father, now sorely missed for 9 new years, who would have totally been up for such a journey if he was still with us…

My Dad was a fearless optimist, a man a clever writer would have referred to as “consciously naïve”.  He believed in the intrinsic goodness of mankind and always viewed life through a prism of hope, no matter how dire the circumstances.  His sense of humor was always fully intact and my Mother used to jokingly refer to him as “Harry the pusher”, because if there was anyone who wanted the people around him to enjoy life more, I have yet to meet him.  Like Dickens’ Fezziwig, my Dad thought every day could be a party, and his enthusiasm was both infectious and healing.  My Dad always made me feel safe, no matter what.  Even when we battled through differences of opinion (and we did this often enough), he always made me feel accepted.  With my Dad I felt known, I felt seen, I felt highly regarded.  And I would be surprised if there is any person who knew him who feels any differently.  My father was a gentleman and a philosopher, and his spirit is a guiding light in my life to this day.

M. Scott Peck, one of Dad’s favorite authors, famously wrote:  “Life is difficult. This is a great truth…because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it…Once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters”.    We say hindsight is 20/20 because it gifts us with perspective, the gift only time and experience can give.  In retrospect we realize that great challenges give us our greatest rewards.  Looking back, who do I appreciate more than the kid who brought a flashlight and a Reader’s Digest magazine to a performance of a play I wrote and directed?  In hindsight, who is wiser than the alcoholic I dated who told me I would be “insufferable” if I “had boobs too”.  I have often said today’s bad experience is tomorrow’s funny story and thank God for that.  But while real tragedy infrequently lends itself to humor, it does always inevitably inspire everything that is beautiful about mankind—heroism, compassion, generosity, and the understanding that we are all in this together.

When my Dad was dying, I used to lie next to him watching him sleep.  Each breath struck me as a precious gift; I cherished every rise and fall of his chest.  One day he awoke and caught me in my vigil.  I looked at him with all the seriousness of a young person contemplating death for the first time and asked “Do you know how much I love you?”  Without batting an eyelash, my father smiled his impish grin and said “Yes”, his tone conveying the “of course, silly”.  He knew then what I had not yet figured out—we are all dying.  At difference paces and in different ways, but it is happening to each and every one of us.  And that is not a bad thing.  Every day we die to yesterday’s self, and are reborn with more wisdom, more depth, and more truth.  We die to who we used to be and are reborn to who we are now.  We have the gift of looking backward to understand it really is a wonderful life, when you take it as a whole.  When you wake up in the morning, remember this:  every day you have a clean slate.  Not just New Year’s Day, EVERY day. Life is difficult and wonderful and new with every breath you take.  So celebrate your wonderful life, and be happy in it.