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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Why Life's a (Walk on the) Beach

I just got back from vacation.  Damn, I HATE getting back from vacation, especially when it’s raw, cold, windy, rainy March and vacation was Naples, FL, resorts and Disney World.  Aside from the obvious flaws of March in the Northeast, being back home also means doing laundry, paying bills and “getting back in the routine”.  I think re-entry to “the routine” may be the toughest part to take.

That’s really the nicest thing about vacations, right?  The lack of any real agenda, apart from the beach, hitting any favorite local spots and securing a “fast pass” for the Haunted Mansion.  I have a six mile walk I take on the shore every day I am in Naples that is to me the equivalent of 10 years of therapy.  It’s my favorite place to relax, reminisce and observe.  This year I decided I would write down some of my favorite things so that I could share on the blog:
DAY ONE:  or, as it’s known in the vernacular, “Blister Day”.  That first 6 mile trek is hard on feet that have been padding around in LL Bean wicked good slippers for the past several months, and I inevitably develop blisters.  This year was no exception and two beauties arose; one encompassed the entire pad of my right big toe, the other wrapping around the side of my left toe and promptly filling with blood.  If you think this stopped me from walking 6 + miles on each subsequent day…well, let me introduce myself:  HELL NO!  A couple of monster blisters won’t even slow me down.

Apart from that, day 1 was jam-packed with excitement!  A celebrity sighting!  A mermaid washed up on the beach!  A sea turtle!  A dolphin!  A guy wearing a t-shirt that said “Gross Training”!  Because being gross isn’t as easy as it looks!!!
The celebrity in question was none other than Kato Kaelin*!  Looking just as you’d suspect Kato Kaelin* would be looking after all these years and doing just what you suspected he’d be doing:  living the glamorous life of a beach bum in a luxe tropical locale.  Kato still has the mop of blond hair and vacant expression that made him famous.  He did not seem to notice/mind me staring at him, but I’m sure he’s used to gawkers by now.

The mermaid was even more intriguing…a pretty young lady who appeared to be 20ish sitting at the edge of the surf with her mermaid tail and flowers woven in her hair…she seemed to be alone, although the beach was crowded so she may have had a “handler” out there.  What was she doing?  Waiting for people to ask for photo ops? Looking for her prince?  Trying to escape the sea witch?  I enjoyed the illusion she was creating, so I stifled my natural curiosity and walked on.  I never saw her again, so whatever her motive--apparently it was fulfilled that day.
The sea turtle was sadly quite dead; but little children gathered flowers and shells and created a makeshift memorial, as little children are wont to do.  The dolphin, on the other hand, was boisterously alive and jumped the waves for me as I walked the shore.

As for the guy in the “Gross Training” t-shirt…as I got closer, I was disappointed to discover that the shirt actually said “Cross Training”, but an unfortunate graphic gave the impression of a “G” instead of a “C”.  As the days went on, however, I became firmly convinced that “Gross Training” is actually a thing.  Perhaps even a rage, as it were.
DAY 2:  Kato Kaelin* was back!  I don’t know why I was surprised; isn’t hanging out at the beach all day, every day the beach bum thang?  Today he noticed me staring and stared back, which was awkward and meant I couldn’t observe him as closely as I wished.  He had a helluva tan, I’ll tell you that.  After I had walked a safe distance beyond him, I did crane my neck around for a final glance to no avail…he was STILL watching me.  Perhaps suspecting I was paparazzi?  No restraining order was issued, however, so all’s well that ends well.

I also saw an elegant older lady in a spiffy suit with a cute eyelet ruffle strolling with her daughter.  At one juncture the eyelet seemed to have frayed and split apart from the skirt; given her very put-together appearance, this detail was surprising.  I scrutinized and determined it was actually a ratty Kleenex she had secured in the elastic of her leg hole.
What is the deal with old ladies and Kleenex?  I have to buy the Costco pack whenever my Mom comes to visit; otherwise, one box lasts us a year.  Old ladies don’t go ANY where without Kleenex and the snot rag jammed up the leg of that lady’s suit truly epitomized this.  Of course as I ruminated on the topic the VERY NEXT old lady I happened upon had a tissue clutched in her hand like she was Linus with his security blanket.  Truth.

Other than that, I was treated to a POD of dolphins so near the shore that when one of them chased a sand shark through the shallows, it literally washed up at my feet! (Don’t worry, the tide took it back out a moment later).  I got caught in a flock of seagulls as they lifted off en masse, bringing to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.  And critically:  first MAN BUN sighting.  I mean, pretty sure it was a man.  S/he also boasted impressive MAN BOOBS.

DAY THREE:  Kato Kaelin* was suspiciously absent, leading me to fear I had chased him off.  But today there was a lot of LOVE on the beach.  Cute families and couples stopping me to take a picture for them, a very pretty girl and her boyfriend (who looked as if he might have been involved in the Gross Training movement) frolicking and macking in the surf, older couples walking along the beach holding hands.

FYI: “Walking along the beach holding hands” should qualify as an Olympic Sport, IMHO.  Older couples do it best because they are generally moving slowly enough to accommodate all the bumps and irregularities of sand trekking.  I’m always a bit in awe of people whose arms are the correct, compatible length for extended hand-holding anyhow.  My arms are very long and my husband’s are disproportionately short, which means I have to kind of hitch my shoulder up and awkwardly bend my arm when we are standing next to each other holding hands.  Then add bobbing along on an uneven terrain for any period of time…let’s just say my hand-holding days are behind me.

DAY FOUR:  The beach must have sensed I was loathe to leave, because it made my final walk a tough and blustery one…heading to the pier, the wind was so strong in my face that I had to keep my head down the whole way to avoid getting sand in my eyes; this made it nearly impossible to observe anything.  I did get to see a fisherman catch a small shark (he hollered, which made me look up), but other than that I was watching my blistering toes make tracks.

On the way home, however, I had the wind at my back, urging me along.  Kato Kaelin* had returned, quieting any fears I may have had about scaring him.  I looked at all the different shapes and sizes and colors of the bodies on the beach and wondered:  how in the world did we ever agree on an “ideal” that represents virtually NO ONE?  And while the “Gross Training” is definitely a trend we might want to dial back, I could see also SO MUCH BEAUTY in all those different shapes and sizes and colors. 

On that last windy day, I overheard a blurb of a conversation as I trudged along; just one sentence, but it was the sentence I needed to hear:  “You can always find a reason for NOT doing something.”  How true that is; although there is really only one reason…FEAR.  I had been feeling afraid about a lot of things, but a stranger on the beach reminded me that making excuses is chump work.  As Joseph Campbell posited, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”  I didn’t see any caves on the beach, but I did find a lot of treasures.

Life is like a walk on the beach…some days the wind is in your face and you keep your head down; other days the sky is so blue you feel like your heart could burst with joy.  You have to keep things loose to get the most out of it; you never know what might happen or who you might meet.  Nearly all of it is interesting and even when it’s sad, like the sea turtle, compassion can transform it into something holy.  You will suffer blisters and injuries, but the key is to keep going in spite of them.   "Arrival" is never the goal--having the experience is.  If you keep your eyes and ears and heart open,  you will see and hear and find exactly what you need to learn.




*not actually Kato Kailin.  Just a man who very strongly resembled Kato Kailin.  If you would like me to assign you a celebrity look-a-like, just let me know!!!
 

 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Why a 10 Year Old Understands the Election Better Than You


My son is ten years old and in the fifth grade.  As with many boys his age, science is a particular favorite subject.  He often regales me with his latest lessons on the car ride home at the end of his school day; like many other parents, I react appropriately even when I am not necessarily listening.  I encourage his enthusiasm while not always sharing it.

I believe in childhood as a sacred, whimsical time of developing character and imagination; for this reason my son is not allowed electronics or internet access (unless he is researching a school project).  We do permit him television under supervision.  Even so, it has been difficult to shield him from all the input I would prefer to shield him from.  In this election cycle especially, it has been impossible for him to remain unexposed to the likes of Donald Trump…much to my dismay.

I do not believe in the indoctrination of children into a political party; I believe in teaching the morals and values from which their eventual political beliefs will evolve.  I was raised by moderate Republicans, but the principals and ethics they shared with my siblings and I were very much an influence in me developing more liberal ideals.  It is very important to me that my child know his own mind and not simply parrot my views.

“With age comes wisdom” is one of those truisms that the more I age, the less true it seems; so we will file this one under “out of the mouths of babes”.   In his beloved science class, my son has recently been studying astronomy.  The other night at dinner, he quite suddenly declared that this year’s Republican race brought this subject to mind.  When we asked him to elaborate, this is what he said:

“Well, first of all Ted Cruz is like the sun.  Everybody thinks the sun is great until they get burned.  And you can’t look directly at it without being blinded.”  I found this wonderfully apropos, as Cruz is a climate change denier and therefore quite obviously blind.   He has stated that “climate change is not science, it’s religion”.  Fortunately for us, most people will accept the authority of actual scientists over priests on this subject, especially 10 year old boys.

Ted Cruz has been called “one of the most extreme individuals ever to run for office”.  He uses a lot of hell and brimstone terminology to explain his positions, recently stating “the whole world is on fire” due to Obama’s foreign policies.  Ironically, it seems he prefers it that way…his own intended foreign policy for dealing with the Middle East is this:  “We will carpet bomb them into oblivion.  I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”  Yes, he did say that out loud.  Presumably he understood people could hear him.

Aside from the fact that murdering innocent people is morally reprehensible, carpet bombing is also a war crime.   Ted Cruz is a dangerous blowhard full of hot air; like the sun he is a just giant ball of gas.  And I do believe that Cruz supporters are distracted by his big shiny surface and often missing his more alarming proclivities.  The closer you get to the reality of this candidate, the more and more likely it becomes that you will be scorched.

My son then continued, “Donald Trump is like the moon.  He can’t support any life, but he is affecting the tides of change on our planet and bringing out all the crazies.”  Of course this bit of insight is quite profound.  The moon has no significant atmosphere and the temperatures are always extreme—either boiling hot or freezing cold—and is therefore uninhabitable.  The word “lunatic” (aka “Trump supporter”) literally means “moon sick”—its victims are affected with a temporary insanity dependent on the changes of the moon.

A 10 year old can clearly see the unworthiness of such a candidate because he has been educated that things like bullying, sexism, racism and exclusion are empirically wrong.  He was taught the acronym C.A.R.E.S. in elementary school as a code of conduct:  Cooperation, Assertion (to speak up against bullying), Respect, Empathy and Self-Control.  Donald Trump exhibits exactly NONE of these qualities; we can only hope that his “moon sick” supporters will soon recover from their (hopefully) temporary insanity.

Finally, the boy explained John Kasich…”John Kasich represents the earth.  Because our planet is an example of the Goldilocks Effect; not too hot, not too cold, it’s just right for everyone to be able to live.”  This may be his greatest piece of wisdom.  The Goldilocks Principal (its name is derived from the tale of the three bears) states that in any given sample (in this case the Republican candidates) there will be entities belonging to extremes (Trump and Cruz) but there will always be an entity representing the average (Kasich).

John Kasich has said “I’m a believer in bipartisanship”, explaining that his “elections are not really about campaigns” but are instead a “movement”.  What is John Kasich’s intended movement?  To restore common sense”.  This is the voice the Republican Party so desperately needs and has foolishly chosen to ignore.  Common sense may not be “sexy”, but it is surely the most sane and effective tool any of us has at our disposal at any given time.

So my 10 year old has a better bead on this election than most adults I know.  His recognition of Kasich as the reasonable choice made me curious…if he were old enough, is this the candidate that would get his vote?  Nope.  Turns out, my son has been feeling the Bern all along.  And even though I personally would love to see a woman in the White House in my lifetime, I couldn’t be any prouder of him for knowing his own mind.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Goonies Never Say Die!

Remember the line in The Goonies, when Mikey yells “Goonies never say die!”?  If this mission statement holds true, then I AM A GOONIE.  There is a certain personality type, which I happen to have, that can be described (as an ex-boyfriend of mine so indelicately put it) as RELENTLESS.  Now, I am sure he meant to say something like “persistent” or “dedicated” or “indefatigable”; but in the heat of the moment, what came out was relentless. 

I realize that does not sound very good; but believe me when I say it sure comes in handy most of the time.  In parenting, in relationships, in a natural disaster…seriously, these are all situations that call for a little relentlessness.  If you really think about it, I am sure you will see things my way.  No, really.  I am right about this.  Really, I am.  No, really...AND I WILL KEEP AT YOU UNTIL YOU COMPLETELY AGREE WITH ME!!!  Ha.
I am descended, on my Mother’s side of the family, from the actual people who came over on the actual Mayflower; pilgrim stock.  Right away you know that I am genetically disinclined to allowing people to tell me what to do (not even kings!)  In fact, tell me I can’t do something and I am likely to embark on a harrowing journey to a new continent and face disease, famine, even death to get away from you...YOU and your CRAZY RULES. 

I am admittedly a watered down version of my Mom, who has always taken her relentlessness to a superhuman level--she makes me seem lazy by comparison.  But still, I hate to procrastinate; if it needs to be done, better yesterday than tomorrow!  Forget about making lists, let’s just bang this thing out RIGHT NOW!  To quote another great line:  plenty of time for sleeping when you’re dead...right???
I have never entirely given up on anyone or anything in my life.  I cling to relationships like a barnacle; just TRY to shake me!  I will listen to your problems and give you good advice.   If you ignore my advice, I will still listen to your problems in the future…just not that same one I already gave you good advice about that you ignored because that ship has sailed, baby!!!   I always do my best to never miss an opportunity to be with you, even if it means driving hundreds of miles with a kid round trip in one day…I am really just that dedicated. 

I also refuse to give up on my dreams, no matter how many times or how hard I am slapped down.  What is life without our dreams?  What is the point if we are not striving joyfully for a cherished goal?  Plus, how awesome would it be to tell the very people who slapped me down in the past, “Check me out now!” It would be seriously awesome, that is how awesome!
And here’s another thing:  have you ever been having an argument with a desperately obtuse sparring partner, and having made your point brilliantly time and time again to no avail, been told to “drop it”?  If you are anything like me, although you may walk away in the moment, “dropping it” is NOT an option.  Because there are some people, and I won’t affix a label here, but let’s say people who refuse to accept even irrefutable evidence of the FACTS…people who deny the overwhelming scientific and easily observable confirmation of global climate change, just for one example. 

The older I get, the more I am able to accept that it is a fool’s game to even engage with such people, because they live in a delusional bubble where things like “the truth” and “definitive proof” are meaningless.  But that does not mean I have “dropped it”; part of me is fantasizing about a day where I get to say “I told you so”, even if it means witnessing the destruction of our home planet.  THAT, my friends, is relentless.  And if you can relate to anything I’m saying here, then you just might be a Goonie too!
Now, it is important to add at this point that Goonies are not IDIOTS.  We trust rejection, knowing that one closed door is meaningless in a world that is literally FULL of doors!  We also know that “quitting” does not make you are “quitter” because people who have “quit” things—jobs, marriages, social obligations, self-destructive behaviors, limiting belief systems—are more often than not incredibly brave folks who took a stand for themselves, their health, their well-being and their futures, often in the face of judgment, often with the consequence of losing a support system, always with the chaos that major life changes bring. 

But here is why we Goonies never say die:  we are loyal, driven and (mostly) unafraid of looking foolish.  We have confidence in our work and we work really hard.  We have conviction in our opinions because they are all elaborately researched and considered.  We have hope in our dreams because we are relentlessly optimistic. 
And we are astoundingly brave, because it is the relentless optimism that gets our hearts broken constantly and catastrophically.  But we keep on going because we realize life is an adventure, and even if all we get out of it is a lousy “participation ribbon”, just sitting in the audience is not an option.  We have too much energy, too much strength, too many thoughts and too much love not to participate as wholly as we can in as many ways as we can manage.  We are Pilgrims and we realize that every day is a new world, if only you are brave enough to discover it.  Might you be a Goonie too?

Goonies never say die.



 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

WHY I'M NOT LOOKING FOR SOMETHING

Before Jake Kasdan became a big hot shot TV producer, he wrote and directed a great little film called Zero Effect starring Ben Stiller, Ryan O’Neal and (Holla!) Bill Pullman.  Pullman plays “the world’s greatest detective”; think modern day Sherlock Holmes with a chameleon-like ability to adopt different personas and blend in.  I don’t want to spoil the clever script for anyone who has not had the pleasure, but I would like to share one of Daryl Zero’s world-class investigative tips:  “When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you're only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them.” 

Not only is this great advice for all you private detectives out there, it is actually a pretty solid life philosophy.  Which is why, unless you are talking the car keys I accidentally left in my coat pocket, I am rarely looking for anything specific.  I’m almost always just looking for anything at all.

A fun example of this is gift buying;  I have been told on many occasions that I have a knack for finding the “perfect” gift and recently had someone say, “You always know what I want; but more so, what I need”.  I think my success in this area is for two reasons 1) I genuinely enjoy gift-giving.  It lights me up to express myself in this way to people I care about and 2) when I am looking for a gift, unless I have been asked for something specific (boring) I never have a set idea in my head of what I am going to find.  I’m “open to the infinite”, as it were, so the possibilities are unending. 
I cannot tell you the number of times I have found “the perfect thing” in a clearance bin; or even more frequently, as the LAST one in the store.  When the latter happens it makes me feel like it was waiting just for me and reassures me that it is the right choice.  I always keep my eyes peeled because often “the perfect gift” appears out of season…if I find a gift in January for a July birthday, I snap it up.  My office closet begins to accumulate Christmas gifts during the summer months.  But even if I wait until the last moment, usually some kind of serendipity in the form of a conversation or sudden recall of a long-forgotten wish will emerge.  I always find what I’m looking for because I’m just looking for anything.

Another way just looking for anything benefits me is in relationships.  A wonderful friend of mine once described me as “the archaeologist of personalities” because, in her words, “no matter how deeply buried the treasure, only you have the patience and tools to uncover it.”  HA!  She’s a smarty, that one.  I loved this compliment (or was it an “insulpliment”?)  because it is true that I believe most people are good, even if they keep that goodness pretty well camouflaged.  The trick is not to need something specific from them to make you happy; if anything good will do, you are sure to find it. 
We are all “flawed” characters with some difficult behaviors; the problem that most people encounter in their relationships is the need for the other to conform to a particular standard they have in their minds.  This is all well and good in relationships where we have the choice of contact, but how about those co-workers, neighbors, FAMILY MEMBERS who don’t meet your requirements?  I say you can still maintain bonds of respect (and YES, even often affection!) if you are willing to forgo your need for “something”.  Unless you are dealing with a racist, lying, xenophobic, bullying tyrant (for example), if you are looking for anything to like, you are almost certain of success.

Speaking of success, the last area I want to apply this is work.  Because I know a lot of super bright, wonderfully talented people and with very few exceptions, they seem to experience a lot of discomfort and discontent with how the world at large has responded to them and their work.  In other words, they have not achieved the standard of “success” they were looking for; in most cases, because they were looking for something specific.  In fact, I would say that I have more people that I care about who beat themselves up mercilessly on this particular topic than any other.  And MOST of them would be considered “successful” by any objective standard. 
I think we have been culturally brainwashed to believe that our success has to be “YUGE” to matter.  That only wealth (even if it was inherited) represents true “achievement” (?) and that fame (even if you are famous for being a racist, lying, bullying, xenophobic tyrant) is the gold standard.  But I think parents raising happy kids are the real success stories.  I think people who are expressing themselves through painting, art, music, performance and poetry enrich every life they touch.  People who minister to the sick or troubled, whether professionally or not; those who don’t look away when they see someone who is disabled or “different” in some way, but smile and say hello instead…Folks who volunteer their time at a soup kitchen, or build houses for Habitat for Humanity…all of these people tear down the walls that separate us and make the world better for all.

“When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you're only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them.”  Have you been too specific about what you think you need in order to feel okay with yourself?  I’d bet you are missing the forest because you are so focused on finding that one tree.  When you think of yourself and your life, try looking for anything good at all.  Because of all the wonderful things about you, you are sure to find some of them.
Even Bono Can't Always Find What He's Looking for...
Maybe he's being too specific.
Might be the blindfold.