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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Sad Clown

The news, official and social, is full of Robin Williams’s death. Consequently, I just don’t feel right posting the rather trivial blog post I had (almost) ready. I mean, I’m not personally touched by his death, nor do I know anyone who has been. Nevertheless, I do feel sad about it, and even a tiny bit shaken.

I’ve known my share of suicides. A childhood friend. The grown up sister of another childhood friend. My mother. Sometimes I have felt contaminated by these suicides, as if knowing them made me more likely to be one myself. I suppose it is true of my mother. I’ve read that suicide can run in families. After all, if someone you know has done it, it seems less impossible. My mother’s suicide I’ve always attributed to her terminal cancer. Even considered it a courageous choice, to end her life on her own time and terms, rather than let cancer do it. But there’s the other aspect of any suicide that can’t be rationalized away. To do it, to kill yourself, you have to be damn miserable. Because there’s nothing else afterwards. Most of us would rather live than not. It seems, thank goodness, inconceivable to prefer not. That’s what shakes me up about Robin Williams, I guess. His death reminds me of how different things can look from the inside, and how sometimes you just can’t escape yourself.

Of the many pieces I’ve read about Robin Williams, these two are my favorites:

This is a link to a very honest response to RW’s death, written by a local writer, Amy Biancolli, whose husband succumbed to suicide recently. http://figuringshitout.net/2014/08/11/on-robin-williams-with-love-to-his-family/

If you made it through that post, and came back, thank you. If you skipped that link, that’s just fine. Here’s a different bit about Robin Williams. Thank you, Karen, for letting me rip this off your Facebook page. Karen is a wonderful painter and friend I met when we lived in NYC. Her work ethic is astonishing. And her paintings are for sale. Her website is http://karenkaapcke.weebly.comwww.karenkaapcke.weebly.com. She shared this lovely memory:


You do have a lot of famous people sightings in NYC but very honestly the only one that ever fazed me was when, walking with my very young daughter who was in her stroller we walked through a movie set by our apartment building. We approached a group and suddenly someone said: hey, everyone - move aside, there's a baby coming through. The people peeled back and Robin Williams emerged, way shorter than I would've thought, and with that amazing smile came up to us, asked her name, and after asking: may I? leaned over to kiss her forehead, saying: what a beautiful child. She just started up at him and smiled back. As we left I told her that she was humanely blessed by a truly profound artist and sensitive soul, one of the best. We now lean over and kiss your forehead back Mr Williams. You are a beautiful child.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tips from Baba Wawa


A quick note before I retrieve the 15 year old from her summer dance intensive. We’re getting ever closer to 11th grade over here, and I’m experiencing trepidation. You’re shocked, aren’t you, Readers? After all, I usually face challenges with total equanimity. A veritable Dalai Lama of calma. That’s me.

For the journey, I’ve fortified myself with Barbara Walters’ first book, How to Talk to Practically Anyone About Practically Anything. I’ve decided I need a better approach to small talk – better than turning myself into a dog-and-pony show of self-deprecating neurosis. I’m thinking there might be more to conversation than that. Perhaps enquiring about the other person ostensibly listening to me? I’m not sure. I’ll have to see what Barbara says. Or said. She wrote this in 1970. Her intention was to help women – men, too, but women – because women had just recently begun moving out into more visible roles in the world. Interesting, at least to me.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Baba Wawa’s book, attributed to “Mrs. Eugene McCarthy, during a television interview I conducted with her at the time her husband was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.”

I am the way I am; I look the way I look; I am my age.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Lingerie of Success


I’m having such a block about writing a blog post, Readers. I don’t know why. That’s not entirely true. I do know why, in part. Because of me. Me and my tendency to lock myself up in internal conflict. Which is why I began this success blog – to unlock myself. That I’m still prone to locked internal conflict these many months – okay, let’s be honest, years – later, is discouraging. To put it mildly.

I’ve just come home from our local coffee house, the one with dozens of Dave Matthews Band posters framed along the walls, the one with the sunny back room and the darker, cooler front room, and the patio, with the music and the wifi and the mellow vibe. I had coffee there with a new acquaintance, let's call her Kay. Kay graduated a few years ahead of me from my alma mater. We met a few weeks ago at a local alumnae gathering. I was discussing whether I wanted to continue writing or go in a new direction, maybe back to school for a Ph.D in Positive Psychology, or an MSW, to become a therapist. And she invited me out for a coffee to talk about changing tracks, which she had done. She completed her Ph.D about four years ago.

Her take on the Ph.D: don't do it unless you really need it. 

Do I really need it? No.

Of course, eventually, I asked her how she defines success. “To be happy where you are in your life,” she said. After a second, she added, “But I don’t think many people define it that way.”  She told me one of her classmates wouldn’t contribute to class notes for the alumnae magazine until she worked for the State Department, because she didn’t feel like her life had been worthy of note. When she got that State Department job, however, she began contributing. She wrote things like,“My husband and I travelled to Far Off Place with the State Department. Our daughter is in private school in New England.” While these things were technically true, they finessed a couple of important details. Such as, that this woman was a secretary at the State Department, not Under-Secretary of State. Such as, that the daughter did attend private school in New England, but it wasn’t a fancy prep school, it was a school for disturbed students. Minor details adjusted to make her life sound golden.

We mused on why our education did this to us – created this need to come across as successful in a particular way. We came to no conclusions. However, I did recently listen to a Philosophy Bites podcast about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social philosophy. Apparently Rousseau, writing back in the  mid 1700s, believed that to feel good about one’s self, one needed to have self-love (self-esteem) and the approval and admiration of others. Amour de soi and amour propre, to use Rousseau’s terminology. It’s French, after all, and you know how I’m into French Chic. So here’s an example of success chic, dating all the way back to before the Revolution. An eternal and classic definition of the underpinnings of success. The lingerie of success, one might even say. Amour de soi and amour propre. The French chic definition of success. Times and fashions may change, but this is eternal, apparently. Just like French style. 




Friday, June 27, 2014

Trusting that You Care About My Thoughts (Excuses)


Can Miracle Gro fix this?

Hi, Readers. Things have gone on. I’d like to offer you insights, but really, I don’t have any. I haven’t been meditating. I’ve been doing Kegels. If you know what those are, well, you know. If you don’t – well, there’s always Google. I haven’t been reading the paper. I’ve been reading my Twitter feed. I haven’t been reading about success. I’ve been reading Flowers for Algernon for one book club, and A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, for another book club, and The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud, for a third book club. And Gunn’s Golden Rules, by Tim Gunn of Project Runway for fun. (Lots of meow in that one.) I haven’t been writing my blog or my book proposal, I’ve been writing for pay. Meagre pay, I hasten to add. Very meager. Embarrassingly so, in fact. But it’s pay. 


Then, just when I thought I was getting myself together, the husband fell apart. Appendicitis. Appendectomy. Hospital stay. Thank goodness for friends, who took the kids and fed them and offered them shelter for the night, and who walked the dog, and mowed the lawn. And thank goodness for morphine. For the husband. And Xanax. For me. Because, in case you hadn’t heard, hanging around the emergency room is a real blast. The sounds and sights of psychotic breaks, the hacking and barfing, the suicidal teenagers. I’m not cut out for that crap. Although I was prepared for the shackled prisoners and correctional officers because I watch “Orange is the New Black.” And the husband on post-op meds was kind of amusing.

I might as well come clean. The other thing I’ve been doing is ordering a lot of clothes online, trying them on, finding they don’t fit, and collecting the boxes to send back to the store. Who has time to write a blog when there’s a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress half price at Nordstrom, and it fits - but the 15-year-old objects to the eye-popping graphic design? This eye-popping graphic design might be the reason the DVF classic wrap dress is half price. It just might be too much for my 5’1.25” self. But I can’t decide. Not deciding takes time. And I have to wear Spanx to try on the dress – and Spanx take time. And in short, I haven’t shown the dress to the husband or the 12-year-old yet, because there has to be a moment when the lighting is good, I feel like rolling on the Spanx and wrapping the dress, and the moon is in the seventh house - and moments like those are few, especially when one or the other of us insists on falling apart periodically. It’s hard to fit it all in.

Also, the 15-year-old left for her summer dance intensive earlier in the week, and preparing for that took a lot of time. The preparations also encroached on my workspace – the dining room table. There were a lot of leotards. A lot. I was thankful that she could travel with a friend and the friend’s parents. Since I have that meager paying work, it was not a good time to fly south myself. However, I spent a lot of time and energy feeling guilty that I wasn’t going and guilty that I was relieved not to go. These emotions required naps to alleviate. You know how it is.

Since I’m clearly not one of those single-minded, monomaniacs driven to pursue one goal nonstop, I didn’t squeeze efficient writing work into all spare moments. I used those for surfing the interwebs. And for watching “Orange is the New Black” with the husband.

Now is the time of year when I usually post something complain-y about my garden. Well, this year I’ve had the perfect excuse to let everything go to hell. The husband’s appendectomy. However, that was two weeks ago, and now the weekend approaches and there are so many weeds. Just so many. I might as well report that I haven’t been totally negligent about the garden. However, I seem to have killed a hanging basket of something lovely purchased at the farmer’s market. Also purchased at that market: four baby kale plants, which I planted. Yes, I did. I planted them among the surviving rose bushes that once lushly flanked our patio. The next day I noticed that the little plants were leafless nubbins. And the day after that, I saw a cute little bunny loping past.
 
Kale nubbins, rose nubbins, tomatos
Tularemia, I thought. (Google it.) I used to love bunnies, but not now. Tularemia. I think I’ve mentioned before that I ought not to read the Diagnosis column in the NYTimes. Yet, I seem unable to resist it.

To plant those kale plants for the bunnies, I had to weed part of the rose bed. Even though I wore gloves, I developed some kind of itchy rash on my arm from something nasty. So, forgive me if I’m just not that enthusiastic.

I have to say that I do love a garden. I even love planning a garden. It's the gardening part of gardens that I find troublesome. So the husband’s surgery has been a handy excuse in that arena. Silver lining and all that. However, now he’s better, and the weeds are bigger, and the weekend’s approaching, and there are no more good excuses. Except –hey, I have one: I’ve gotta work on my book!

Ahhhh!




Sunday, June 8, 2014

Update on Bunny


Well, I've been dragging my feet about publishing a new blog post. Maybe it’s just time for a quick update on what I’ve been doing instead of working on my success book.

  • Avoiding my freelance writing assignment until almost too late and telling myself I was working on it internally - letting it percolate. A better analogy would be to ferment, since fermented foods are enjoying prominence these days as super-nutritious, promoting digestive health, being pre-biotic, stuff like that. Improving by sitting around in their own juices. Just like writing. Just like it, I tell you.


  • Skipping appointments for my mammogram because of mixed feelings about whether the benefits of annual screening outweigh the risk of extra annual radiation exposure. This reminds me that when we went through security at Newark Airport to fly to Italy, the TSA personage handed a special magic paper to the 10th grader that excused her from the full body scanner. I don’t know if she was chosen at random, but I suspect that magic paper had something to do with the recent scandal that TSA personnel were looking at those full body scans of young women for non-official purposes. Thanks to that paper, and because we were clearly a harmless, typical vacationing family with a mom carrying a bottle of Xanax in her purse, we were all allowed through the good old-fashioned metal detector, instead of going through the somewhat humiliating hands-up-like-a-criminal machine.


  • Marveling at how much some of my readers loved my two blog posts on beauty and style. One of my earth mother friends was inspired to have her eyebrows waxed! Another one wants to go shopping. So, okay! I feel like less of a schmuck for thinking about maintenance.


  • Skipping my morning exercise to take a nap and then going to my first appointment for accupuncture for my hive-prone skin - and for anything else that would benefit, really. I chose Dr. X off the Internet because she studied at Beijing University and was chief of her department there for a long time before coming to the US. Or so her website says. Stab in the dark, so to speak. But I wanted a Chinese trained acupuncturist. She took my history, felt my pulse and commented that I have very low energy. That morning nap was on my mind. Dr. X had me lie on my back, and then she put needles in between my big toe and next toe, ankles, calves, one wrist and arm, a bunch on my stomach, on top of my head, and at my third eye. She directed a heat lamp to my belly, turned off the light, and left me. I anxiously asked how I could alert her if I needed her and she said, “Just call.” She said she would check on me, which she did about every ten minutes, I guess. After thinking about my strange willingness to expose myself to a total stranger, I eventually relaxed and left with flushed cheeks and feeling very good. And since then, I’ve had exceptionally good energy and haven’t needed a nap.


  • Bidding on Mad Men style dresses on Ebay for a friend's upcoming birthday party. 


  • Shopping with the 10th grader for an outfit she can wear to a work function of her father's. We found one - dress AND shoes. And both mother and daughter love both. This led to the following comment from her over soup at the food court: "We had a goal, and we met it. We were successful. If we hadn't had a goal and had bought these things, maybe we would be sitting here saying, 'I don't know if we should have spent money on this - will it ever get worn?' So you need to have a goal to be successful."


Look at that - I worked in something about success. Something that came unbidden from my own child

Speaking of things that came, look what arrived this weekend, via my MIL. As is fitting, Grandma is the heroine of the story!

That's Italian packaging


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Style and Beauty Tips for the Challenged - and Who Isn't, in Some Way?


It has come to my attention that some of my readers would like to know what I’ve learned in my travels among French and other style writers. Yes, indeed, certain conversations I’ve had lately with women of about my age, some older, some younger, have clued me in. I tend to roll with a very natural group - Earth mothers and such - so I’ve been rather circumspect about my dabblings in the land of fashion and beauty. Ok, maybe not so circumspect. I’m blogging about it, after all. My point is, there’s been interest. Eager interest, even. So. There you go. I aim to please.

 So. What have I learned? Well, everyone has his or her angle on style and beauty, and the whole French style thing has some amusing little published arguments going on. French women don’t get fat – well, they do. They don’t exercise at gyms – well, they do. They don’t get facelifts – well, they actually get a lot of work, maybe not classic facelifts, but then again, with all the available alternatives to surgery, lots of women don’t get facelifts and still end up looking, well, you know.

What do they agree on? 

Style

·      Posture. Style, the consensus seems to be, depends on posture. Stand up straight. Dancers  and Pilates folk know the drill. Pretend there’s a string running through your spine up through the top of your head. You’re a marionette. Create space. Tilt your pelvis & tailbone forward slightly. And draw your shoulders down and away from your ears.

·      But if you need more than posture – and anyone who doesn’t live in the nudist colony I saw signs for on our trip to Quebec last year does - if you need clothes, then go for well-fitting garments of the best quality you can afford, in neutral colors for the main pieces. 

My first exposure to this theory of wardrobe came via the French teacher at my high school. I didn’t take French, but my friend did, and she reported on lessons on style as taught by Mme. She also reported rumors that Mme wore no underwear, but they were unverified. Images of Mme later blended with images of Sharon Stone in that infamous scene in that infamous movie she made. Forgot what it’s called.

·      Scarves and other accessories for color and pizzazz. Scarves are very popular among the French. And the Italians. Italian men wear scarves, too.
Our tour guide in Pompeii, Mario

Good old Tim Gunn in his tres drรดll book, A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style, told me to go through my clothes and get rid of stuff I don’t like, that doesn’t fit, that I don’t wear, and to identify the “soul-stirring” pieces I own. And then to wear them. Well, I don’t know about soul-stirring, but I do know about saving my favorite items for “someday.” I’m the queen of saving things for someday. Especially anything new. Only someday never comes, does it? And now I’m That Age. Fewer tomorrows ahead of me. So I’ve started wearing those saved things more often now.

Emboldened by the closet purge, I approached the owner of a boutique I really like and asked if she ever does style consultations. She said she does them all the time –for free. She said I can bring in a few of my things and show them to her and she can use them to make suggestions and so on. It turns out she’s just turned the golden age herself. And she looks fab – pixie cut, cute outfits, and best of all, a similar body shape to mine. I haven’t taken her up on her suggestion yet, because the boutique is a bit cher, as we French say. But I’m thinking about it.

·      Good haircut, good shoes.

Which morphs us into beauty.

Beauty

·      Good haircut being an essential here. My style writers devote much amusing print to creating “French” hair, which is, apparently, slightly scraggly, kind of dirty, and slept on. Thank God I’ve got that down. If I washed my hair every day, it would be so puffy you’d never see my face.

My good haircut is, however, in danger. My stylist, you see, has fallen out with his business partner, who happens to be his sister, and he has left his salon in a huff. I’ve followed him to a temporary place until he starts another one; but I’m worried.

·      Make-up of an enhancing rather than en-masking nature. This is apparently only possible once you’ve passed the teen years. Dramatic eyeliner is the style around these parts for the under 16 set. For those older than 30, it’s the unnaturally natural look, all the way.

Take it from me, a lot more women are wearing the unnaturally natural look than you think. I didn’t realize it, until I discovered Trish McEvoy. When we lived in NYC, I used to get my hair cut at Frederic Fekkai, which was upstairs at Bendel’s. One day, I strayed too close to one of the make-up counters, and before I knew it, a charming young fellow was working me over.
             “Listen,” I told him. “I’m from Boston. In Boston, women don’t wear make-up.”
             “Yes they do,” he said. “Half of them are wearing Trish.”
I left with a lovely kit of practically invisible stuff. I only needed about ten items for the natural look.

·      Facials and more. Here’s the sticking point for me. Apparently every female in France has an intimate relationship with a dermatologist-aesthetician and also, peut etre, with a pharmacist.  
Pharmacies in Italy, by the way, were nearly as fascinating as pharmacies in France apparently are. The 10th grader and I experienced one when one of us, no need to mention which one, because she might be embarrassed, ran out of deodorant. The whole store was full of interesting bottles and tubes, and all the names and ingredients were in European, so we could barely understand half of them. I figured this meant they were automatically at least one standard deviation above the norm, quality-wise, compared to what we can find at home in CVS. We bought a deodorant, after resorting (on my part) to some ape-like gestures. Guess what? We love it. It smells great. And so, when we used it up, we went online, and were able to order some through that Hachette-murdering website (Amazon, for you unliterary types), for at least three times the price of drugstore deodorant.



·      Argan oil. I bought some at the local food co-op, so I know it’s pure, not laced with corn oil or little bits of titanium dioxide (see upsetting Mother Jones article). I’ve used it on my face, my neck, my, uh, sternum, and my scalp.


·      Retin-A. Really, this should go without saying. It’s one thing that actually works. And, oddly, insurance paid for it the last time I got a prescription!

Oh, the hours I’ve spent reading up on beauty treatments, cleansers, lotions, and other potions. It’s. Well, let’s just say I wish I could be paid for them all.


Other lessons I’ve absorbed for your edification, as well as mine, include the following.

·      Water. Drink it. A lot. First thing in the morning. I already do this. Check. I’m a thirsty gal. Half the time, I’m worried I have sudden onset diabetes. So far, no. BTW, years ago I read that Donna Karan does this, too. Drinks a glass of water first thing, that is. I don’t know about the hypochondria. I felt validated, for absolutely no reason, by this information. But I never forgot it.

This reminds me of the saddest thing I’ve learned. French women don’t drink much wine. They sip a little. But they’re not teetering around sozzled.  And they don’t do cocktails. Too many calories. Too drying to the skin. Which brings us to….

·      Moisturize. Again, I’m already on it. I have dry skin and a history of eczema, so I’ve been moisturizing for years.

I feel I must end this post with one of my favorite jokes. It pretty much sums up this whole style thing. Ready?

Q: Why are you sophisticated when you’re going to the bathroom?
A: ‘Cuz European.

Get it? Say it slowly. Break it down. “Eur-o-pe-an.” Get it?

Okay. Good. Have a good weekend!

Bibliography

Giuliano, Mereille. French Women Don't Get Facelifts & French Women Don't Get Fat.
Gunn, Tim. A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style.
Jett, Tish. Forever Chic.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Annals of Successful Acceptance of Aging



 
For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn? 
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


It’s been an interesting week. First off, put a little hatch mark under There is a Higher Order in the Universe. I know, what? What am I saying? Me the atheist/agnostic? I’m saying that you can just put one notch in the belt of those who buy all that abundance theory and stuff. Wha? Wha? Hardened East Coast cynic – moi – getting all woo-hoo now?

My point is, Readers, that no sooner did I write that I wanted paying work than I got some. Yes. I sent my message out There, into the Universe, and something came back to me. Okay, sure, it involved networking, a very earthly pursuit, not at all woo-woo. But whatever. That’s the fine print, and let’s just not read it. I’m lilting upwards. I have a short writing project, and if I do it well, I might get more from this company. Meanwhile, I also got a tip from a friend about a great networking contact and I’ve sent out a message to him. So.

Okay, second of all, in pursuit of French style – and, let’s be frank, eternal youth – I’ve gone part way down a strange rabbit hole. The rabbit hole of cosmetic enhancement. Actually, I’m not after eternal youth. Truly. I’m more interested in eternal 40. You know, just basically looking about 40 for the next, oh, thirty years.

Don’t worry, I’m not planning any surgery. All I was thinking of was getting a facial. However, I wanted to find out about getting a couple of little dark spots removed. So I went to a new dermatologist, one who does cosmetic stuff as well as medical, one who has an esthetician on staff. I had my moles checked. You should do that every year, especially if, like I did, you grew up when sunscreen was suntan lotion, and the numbers on the bottle indicated how much more the lotion intensified the effects of the sun. Moles all fine, so far. So I was free to go for the main draw, a free consultation with this esthetician. She pulled the old trick of pausing just long enough that you start talking. You know, I started by asking about facials, but then she asked, “Anything else you’re concerned about?” Pause. Pause, pause, pause. And before I knew it we were talking lasers and she was recommending chemical peels for “premature aging.”

Premature aging. Premature aging? I stared at this esthetician with unblemished skin, part of me crushed. I hadn’t thought I had premature aging, just regular old run-of-the-mill aging. Maybe even a little behind schedule, if I’m honest about how I felt before I went in there. I went in thinking about maintaining what I have now – thus, facials, and maybe a cream or two – and now I’m wondering how I’ve managed to hold my head up with any pride at all, due to my PREMATURE AGING.

So part of me was crushed, but part of me realized that, of course, this free consultation is a sales pitch. Therefore, triggering my insecurities was a necessary part of the deal.

I did not succumb. I made an appointment for a facial. She was booked into early June, which is good. I have time to reconsider. I left with several samples of lovely French cleansers and creams and eye gels. The French may not get facelifts, but let me tell you, they use a lot of creams, and they get a lot of injections. I know. I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject.

I’ll admit to feeling a bit wooly and dilapidated for a couple of hours after that consultation. And to searching the interwebs for other local medical spa type facilities. (There are a surprising number of them around here, considering the population density.) And to weighing the costs of college for the children against facial maintenance for myself and considering the benefits of a full time job. And to applying argan oil to my cuticles. And to ordering a rather expensive serum and doing a bunch of Pilates mini-workouts.* And then to going to lunch with an elegant friend who is a bit older than I, who told me I have good skin and that you can’t see much grey in my hair. And that she found the little brown spots I mentioned “cute.”  

And to spending too much time staring at my face.

Third of all - and may this prove that I pay attention to things outside of my own psyche, at least on
occasion - the eggs hatched in the nest on our little side porch, and the bird babies flew away. The tenth grader took some pictures, because she has a few inches on me and could get a better angle. I feel inordinately proud of this natural unfolding, although it had nothing to do with me. I was all too happy to forgo using the broom. I guess I’ll get to that this weekend. I don’t have any procedures planned.


*By the way, the Pilates workouts are available on The Balanced Life.