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Thursday, August 20, 2015

#TBT Getting In the Flow

Hi, Readers, 
I know you’re all dying to know about my foot. Well, It’s kind of embarrassing. I’m pretty much a cliche - a limping cliche - of the aging non-athlete trying to stay in shape, lose a little midsection fat, and thus thereby injuring herself. A couple of weeks ago, I put on a pair of ancient running shoes and took a very lame run/walk along the dirt path near my house. When I came back, my foot hurt a little. I basically ignored it - but I did buy new shoes - and it remained the same, just a little hurt area on the outside middle bottom of my foot, if you want the deets (that’s the details, FYI) Then, at the beach, after a couple of days of running, beach walking, wave jumping, and dune climbing, it really hurt, throbbed, ached and was generally un-ignorable. I had gone from a lame little run/walk to being actually lame.

Now, if I were the protagonist of a murder mystery, say, then I’d have this painful foot that I’d refuse bullheadedly to admit was really painful. I’d keep using it and making it worse, limping and throbbing my way through my adventures until the end, when I could finally relax and get it looked at, after the murderer was caught, thanks to me and my stoic, chaotic self. However, I’m not such a protagonist. Instead, I hunkered down on the pool deck of our vacation rental and iced my foot and read a murder mystery containing one. That was The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling. 

I have since consulted a doctor, who advised me that my foot was not broken, that I had a strained tendon, and that I should refrain from running or other pounding exercise for another two weeks. Thus, my attempt to ramp up my exercise has turned into a disaster. However, the foot is mostly all better. 

All this leads me to this. This is one of those weeks when I'm not feeling so successful. It seems like a good day to take a look back at one of the earlier lessons I learned about success. I need the reminder. Maybe you do, too. 

Getting In the Flow 8/18/2011

There's a difference between appearing successful and feeling successful, and it's the feeling part I'm
after. Of course the appearing part matters -- I do have various material goals. The main characteristic I'm seeking, however, is a feeling. Maybe it could also be called self-worth, or self-esteem, or self-confidence. I call it success.

Appearing successful, after all, is relative. Indeed, one of my friends described my life as "the classic success story," i.e., a lovely house in the suburbs; good marriage; good kids. What more could anyone need to feel successful? That's what I'm trying to find out. I could point out that what I paid for my house in upstate NY, wouldn't buy even a studio apartment in Manhattan. I might consider my friend H, who has a lawyer husband, doesn't need to work outside the home, and has a gorgeous apartment that is the entire eleventh floor of a prewar building on the Upper West Side, plus a home in the Hamptons, to be successful.

We all know plenty of stories, though, of people who have all the trappings of material, worldly success on the outside, but who are secretly tens of thousands of dollars in debt, secretly paralyzed by terrible marriages, secretly suffering with difficult children, etc, etc.

A corollary is the person, like my friend R, who has excelled on the worldly success level, but announces that she never feels totally satisfied with herself. She stands on her tiptoes, raises her hand way above her head, and says, "I always expect this of myself," then lowers her hand to chin level, "and I always feel I end up like this."  Or the Pulitzer Prize winning writer I know, who can't help feeling bothered when a book of his doesn't get reviewed in the New York Times.

So it's the feeling of success I'm searching for. My sister, a psychoanalyst, describes feeling successful as being in a state of flow. I've come across the term, defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (No, I can't pronounce it -- but my sister can.) In brief, flow is a state of immersed, energetic focus on a task. The work must be intrinsically rewarding, and balance between being challenging, but not too challenging.  In flow, a person is emotionally and intellectually engaged, working hard, but not aware of time passing. In short, we like to exert effort, but rewarded effort, and when the exertion produces results, we feel successful.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Rotating Drill Bit - Or, How to Successfully Deal with Drama

“So who brings the drama?” My friend E asked before I left for vacation - excuse me, I mean, our trip. There’s an article making the rounds titled something like, “Trip or Vacation,” whose bottom line is that if you are driving, going with family, taking kids, or staying someplace with a kitchen, then you are not on vacation, you are on a trip. Which means that I have been on only 1 (one) vacation since I got married, and it was last year, for my 50th birthday, our trip - I mean vacation - to Italy.* 

But that distinction doesn’t really matter. While it’s all very amusing, what makes a vacation a trip is probably drama. Can I talk about drama? What do I mean by drama? I don’t mean obvious drama, at least not usually obvious. I’m not talking door-slamming, yelling, face-slapping surface drama. Not in my nuclear family of origin. With the stepmother out of the picture lately, at least, there’s only the quiet ripples of the drowning man who slips away without an obvious struggle. 

In other words, there’s a lot going on under the surface. Although, let me be clear, I’m more like the other branch of my family, the one that never met an emotion unworthy of expression. Immediate expression. Unfortunate, tactless, immediate expression. That’s me. And then there is the rest of the family. Introverts to a one. 

So while the obvious answer to my friend E’s question might be, “I do. I bring the drama.” I’d like to argue, before the court, that I am only one part of a system, a system in which there is a designated OBVIOUS drama-bringer, and then there are the subtle dramas that others bring. 

Readers,  most of my drama is about resenting that we schlepp through traffic jams and mid-Atlantic highways for 7 or more hours to get to the beach, while the rest of the family drives 2.5 or more with traffic but still not nearly as much as we drive with traffic and their route is much more pleasant with back roads and two lane highways for most of it while we have to take the Thruway and the NJ Turnpike or I95 or whatever clogged miserable artery. It is so UNFAIR.

However, we have been making this journey for most of the children’s lives. And we all love to be at the beach. At one time, we lived a lot closer to the beach - although still not as close as the rest of my original family lives. And because we are all creatures of habit and comfort, we like to go to the beach we know, and eat at the places we know are okay not great because nothing is great at the beach but it’s our beach. Even the husband, who is not a big fan of the beach, likes to go there because that is what we do. That Is What We Do. So you would think that I would have made my peace with that. And really, I had. This year, I was really quite calm about the whole thing. Before we left to pick up the 16-year-old. Before my sciatic nerve was ululating down my ham after hours of sitting in the car. Before all that. 

But I was not going to bring drama this year. I was not. Even if that obvious resentment about travel distances is only the tip of the story, I’d been feeling positively zen before we took our three day journey down the eastern seaboard, stopping to pick up the 16 year-old from her summer dance intensive, then stopping in Philadelphia at the Barnes Collection - I highly recommend it. We had to spend two nights on the road because the 16 year-old’s performance was on Friday night, but our beach rental didn’t start until Sunday. That meant two nights sharing a room with the kids in cruddy hotels. My sangfroid began to erode when it took at look at the polyester berber carpeting I had to do my morning sun salutations on at the “Comfort” Inn in Philly. And the pulsing sciatic nerve in my buttock further eroded it. 

Okay, I'm lying. It wasn't just the sciatic nerve. Frankly, the very reason that my friend E asked me about the drama was that BEFORE we left on our long journey down the seaboard, I had been talking about feeling some of the old resentment surfacing. I alluded to potential drama once we got to the beach, and this caused her to ask her interesting question. A question I hadn't really faced square on until she asked it.

Well, to answer E’s question, let me just state right out that I arrived at our beach rental in a state. How to describe that state? Well, let’s say I ripped into that vacation home like a rotating drill bit in an electric drill rips into a piece of soft wood. 

The rotating drill bit is what we call the 13-year-old when she tries to sleep in our bed. This happens infrequently, and has done so for the last 13 years; but it does happen. And usually by the morning, three of us haven’t slept all that well, and two of us feel like we were sharing a bed with a rotating drill bit, not a child. Right down the center. 

So I brought that kind of internal energy to our summer vacation slash trip. By day two, the husband actually said in despair, “I thought you weren’t going to do this this time.” And I saw how my before-trip sangfroid, my equanimity, had been simply tacked on, not really integral.

Fortunately, or inevitably - propelled by the power drill in my brain -  by day two, I injured my foot badly enough that I had to stay off it for the rest of the vacation. At the time, I was walking briskly on the boardwalk and listening to Gil Fronsdal’s Audio Dharma podcasts on doing one thing at time. I was, therefore, doing two things at a time, but I at least I was aware of that. Also, thanks to Audio Dharma, I was reminded of how helpful it can be to simply stop, notice what is happening, and relax about it. This is also known as accepting what is. I soon discovered, by the end of the day, that what was was that my foot hurt like hell and I couldn’t walk on the sand. I had to sit in a deck chair and ice it. 

This led to me reading various things on my Twitter feed - and got me to the idea of intention setting for the day . Or got back around to it again, because I’ve heard it before. This is one of the secrets of successful people. They set intentions. 

The next morning, when I woke up, I set an intention. My intention was to be open-hearted and observe. This is a strategy often recommended by therapists who are sending their clients (patients?) off on family, uh, trips. Instead of reacting like a rotating drill bit, just observe. Observe what others are doing. 

And one thing I observed right away was that I was bristly. I had the energy. I was the rotating drill bit of our week-long vacation bed, internally. We were all in it together, and if I didn’t stop rotating crazily, then no one was going to get any relaxation. 

So I just stopped. I tried to just can it. I practiced my yoga and my 5 Tibetans on the pool deck overlooking the lake, and played in the pool with my kids and my niece and nephew. I relaxed into the house, which was actually quite fine in a very outdated way. “Key West meets Rehoboth” was how my beloved Cousin Ell and Aunt and Uncle Wisdom described it. Yes, they were also at the beach, staying at my beloved Cousin Ell’s new and fabulous beach house, but I insisted they had to see our rental because it really was something. There was the amazing green rattan furniture with plastic covered cushions. There was the teal and pink color scheme. The huge kitchen had two fridges, three sinks, two dishwashers, and an enormous cooktop. The place was set up for entertaining. It had a gorgeous deck, yard, and pool, all full of wonderful plantings and landscaping. There was a caretaker who came by every day and told us a little about the owner - relative of the DuPonts, former owner of a baseball team. It was olde school relaxed luxury. And I observed how very, very easily I accepted the lifestyle of the cared-for by a caretaker.

So, did I answer E’s question? Who brings the drama? Sadly, it might be me. At least I bring sufficient internal drama that it doesn’t even matter what drama anyone else might bring. All I can feel is my own. But when I turned it off - I unplugged the drill - things were a lot simpler. It’s true that the only person you can change is yourself. The only drama I can affect is my own. 


I guess it’s fitting that E sent this quote to me, now that I’m returned from the trip. It’s one of those refrigerator magnet type quotations; but it’s a good one. A really good one. 

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social connection; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded. 
 --Bessie Stanley , 1904.  Often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

*Here’s the link, in case you’re bored with me already, Readers:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Few More Tips Regarding Success

Once again I've produced one of those catch-all posts that really have nothing to do with success, but are illustrative of what is distracting me from actual, measurable, success. I probably shouldn't say that, especially not in the first sentence. I probably should let you read on a bit, trying to figure out what the hell plastic surgery, mono, and potting sheds have to do with success.

Answer? Well, if you're creative, then you can probably find some kind of connection. After all, aren't we all interconnected and breathing molecules of Einstein and all that jazz? Yes, yes, we are.

So. Now that I've gotten that out, here are a few thoughts on the week, or success, or whatever.

I finally understand about potting sheds. Given: They are quaint, and desirable in an Anglophiliac way. Well, apparently, they are also pertinent and useful. To plants, for sure, and also to me. Apparently, plants need to be repotted regularly. I did not know this because until recently, I hadn't successfully raised plants. Probably because I did not ever repot them. Then I acquired an excellent kitchen windowsill, and subsequently, several plants. And now I understand. I went to the adorable plant store in Troy to find a nice pot for my wandering jew, and the pots were so expensive that I paused to wonder to the nice guy behind the counter if there was a way to keep a plant from outgrowing its expensive pot. The nice guy told me that there was no way to stop a plant from growing - except a bonsai - so you have to repot them. The alternative is letting them starve in their nutrient-poor old soil and eventually keel over. And now I wish I had a potting shed, because I can see how one acquires a collection of pots and needs a place to store them and the soil and the spades and whatnot, someplace more picturesque and intentional than the edge of the patio next to a shrubbery. I left the store with no pot, by the way. I wondered, not for the first time, how such darling stores as this botanical store stay in business. Maybe it's because plants keep growing and you can always snip off a little bit and root it and sell it in a cute, teeny-tiny pot that is so irresistible that a guilt-ridden plant momma like me will start down a path from windowsill to potting shed and keep you going.

Clarification: I have no shed, no potting shed, and no plans for a potting shed. Just dreams....

In other news, here's a tip. Don't - I mean do not - ask a plastic surgeon what he thinks of your face. I really shouldn't have to tell you this. You really ought to know better. However, I did, but I did anyway, and now I pay the consequences. Because I cant' pay for the  treatments he suggested. So I'm performing a public service here by reminding you of what you already know, because I already knew it, but did it anyway, and saving you money. And face. Saving you face, too.

Just remind yourself that people like you, and some even love you and find you attractive, even with your sunken, aging eyes.

If you want to run a successful feminist Instagram account, you must make sure to find an administrator for it when you go away for three plus weeks to attend camp. That is what the 13-year-old did. First she started this account (@a.b.c.d.e.f.eminist) and it developed a lot of followers. Then she found an administrator. Curious as to how she managed this, and why she even knew how to do it -or knew TO do it, we asked. Most of our questions are unanswerable; rather, they are answerable by understanding that the youth internalize the social media rules by osmosis. But she could tell us how she found her administrator. She announced to her followers that she had to take a break and asked for people interested in being "the admin" to DM (that's direct-message) her their name, age, and why they want to be the admin.

The husband and I looked at each other. This is a child who doesn't put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder unless instructed.

So how old was your admin, we asked?
20, she said.
I cast a glance at the husband that said, "Who is this strangely self-assured child and can we take any credit for her. He cast a glance back at me that said, "My, my, my."
Do your followers know you are 13? we asked.
No, I keep that to myself, she said, and added, Being 13 and a feminist on the Internet you're not going to get that much respect.



Finally, because my self-esteem is reasonable these days, and I feel more like a successful person than a failure, I have withstood the following recent blows with only minor catastrophizing:

  • The 16-year-old's roommates at her dance program developing mono and going home.
  • The air conditioner in the car dying and needing $1,000.00 of repairs.
  • The dog showing evidence of exposure to Lyme Disease at his annual exam.
  • The mysterious appearance of water in one part of the garage at the same time as a leaking pipe in the basement AND a leaking shower head. 
Come to think of it, I don't think "catastrophizing" and "minor" belong in the same sentence. It is more accurate to say that I only briefly indulged in anxious catastrophizing. Then I righted myself. That is a sign of mental health. These things have all happened in the passage of a week - in the passage of three days for the majority of them. The week before our summer vacation, I might add. Which means I will spend the vacation observing the 16-year-old for symptoms of mono and waiting for the kennel to call to tell me the dog is sick. Ah, life.

On the plus side, I was shocked in a good way to learn that a friend of mine has pierced a part of her anatomy that I would never have expected ANYone to pierce. Any woman. A man couldn't. Ah, life. So what if the eyes are sunken and aging? We are lucky to grow old. I will remember that.

I leave you with that, Readers. I hope to entertain, if not edify.

Monday, July 27, 2015

What Matters: Success is Not a Zero-Sum Proposition

Hello, Readers, I am your typical white liberal, outraged by the latest news about police brutality. I’m also aware that all this media attention is revealing a longstanding problem, not a recent phenomenon. As upsetting as it is to face, I am grateful for the attention I’ve been forced to pay to structural racism. As a white woman, I don’t expect to be profiled by the police, except, perhaps, if there is a profile for white, suburban moms jacked up on anti-anxiolytics. This profile would be totally unfair, because I am not, at this time, jacked up on anything, although half a Xanax helped me through a dental ordeal just this morning. 

However, I do have plenty of concern that were I to be unfairly profiled and pulled over, I can expect condescending, one-upping treatment by the police. Uncivil treatment by civil servants who are probably underpaid and demoralized by their underpayment and cuts in benefits, and who are pretty tightly wound is the standard expectation. It happened to me the last time I encountered the police with my automobile. I was a teenager then, and when I said I wanted to speak to my parents, the cop in DC raised his voice and intimidated me. Still, I don’t drive around with that worry that I’ll be handcuffed and thrown on the ground and tased. Or killed. I can’t really wrap my mind around the horror of feeling that way all the time. It’s unforgivable that our culture accepts this. 

For this reason, the 13-year-old and I put a Black Lives Matter sign in our front yard. We live in a very white suburb, and it’s not entirely liberal, so I’m watching with interest to see what, if anything happens. I’m reporting this because I think it’s something I can do to register that I’m seeing the injustice that’s happening, and you can do it, too, Readers. I’m reporting it because I believe that lifting up the downtrodden helps all of us. Success is not a zero-sum proposition. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Mensch Theory of Success, College, Camp, and Death

So between last week and this week I have traversed a hilly winding road of ups and downs. There was the winding road North to Maine to pick up the 13-year-old from camp. This involved a fun dinner with the husband’s college friend and his wife and children, highlights of which included a brief explanation of Herodotus in relation to success and happiness. Then there was the reunion with the 13-year-old, who was happy to see us, but wanted to stay at camp. This was as I had hoped. I had prepared for utter dejection, because that was how I left camp every year, wallowing in misery over leaving my dear friends behind, tears streaming down my face as the Dodge Dart bumped along the camp’s dirt road and my father eyed me in the rear view mirror. The 13-year-old was much more self-contained (naturally). She reported a sob-fest had happened the night before, so what we witnessed was exhausted depression. She found her people at camp, and they are theater people. And now, according to her, she has nothing to look forward to at all this year, until camp next year. 

There was the decided down of visiting our accountant. This was an appointment I had dreaded for months, and the husband and I had to really get our budget on paper beforehand. The upshot is that we, like most people we know, are among the privileged group of folk who will be expected to pay the full tuition, room, and board at any private college our children wish to attend. And, like most of them, we can’t do that out of pocket. While our parents could swing it for us, we can’t do it for our children, and that feels like failure. If it is, however, then it is failure for the majority of Americans. So I think it’s something else. All that talk about stagnant wages and real income remaining about the same since the 1970s has come home to roost. The percentage of total income that a private college cost when I went to college was much smaller than it is now. Because I have spent most of my life not talking about money nor wanting to think about it, I don’t really understand why this is, but my suspicion is that public and economic policy has a lot to do with it. I’m hopeful that things will change by the time our children’s children want to go to college, but it won’t happen for my children. 

I have to admit I feel really embarrassed writing that last paragraph. Talking about money is something I was brought up to avoid. But this has been on my mind, and it’s on so many people’s minds, that I thought I’d dip a toe in the topic. 

Well, Readers, this post hasn’t been funny at all. I apologize. I’m off my meds. Or something. Maybe.

So let’s return up the winding road to that conversation over dinner in Maine. The husband’s friend is a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) with an interest in the Classics, married to a doctor, so he is in some ways my male counterpart. When I asked him how he defined success a few years ago, he referred to the following passage in Herodotus, which led me to derive my “mensch theory of success,” the basis of which is that if, when you die, people think you were a good person, then you are successful. On this visit we returned to the topic and I asked him where to find the story, since there are several volumes of Herodotus, and as much as I am interested in the classics, and as thankful as I am for the translations readily available through the Internet Archives, I had been a bit overwhelmed trying to find it by myself. 

So this is about King Croesus, who was very rich. You may have heard that phrase “rich as Croesus.” This is that guy. And he thought he had it pretty good. He was successful and happy. Until he met a wandering sage from Athens called Solon. After showing Solon all his store rooms of gold, which he could have used to help send many deserving children to the private colleges of their hearts’ desires, if such places existed in Ancient Greece, Croesus asks Solon, according to Herodotus, the following:

Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through many lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore to inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy?" This he asked because he thought himself the happiest of mortals: but Solon answered him without flattery, according to his true sentiments, "Tellus of Athens, sire." Full of astonishment at what he heard, Croesus demanded sharply, "And wherefore dost thou deem Tellus happiest?" To which the other replied, "First, because his country was flourishing in his days, and he himself had sons both beautiful and good, and he lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up; and further because, after a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbours near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours." 

Thus did Solon admonish Croesus by the example of Tellus, enumerating the manifold particulars of his happiness. When he had ended, Croesus inquired a second time, who after Tellus seemed to him the happiest, expecting that at any rate, he would be given the second place. "Cleobis and Bito," Solon answered; "they were of Argive race; their fortune was enough for their wants, and they were besides endowed with so much bodily strength that they had both gained prizes at the Games. Also this tale is told of them:- There was a great festival in honour of the goddess Juno at Argos, to which their mother must needs be taken in a car. Now the oxen did not come home from the field in time: so the youths, fearful of being too late, put the yoke on their own necks, and themselves drew the car in which their mother rode. Five and forty furlongs did they draw her, and stopped before the temple. This deed of theirs was witnessed by the whole assembly of worshippers, and then their life closed in the best possible way. Herein, too, God showed forth most evidently, how much better a thing for man death is than life. For the Argive men, who stood around the car, extolled the vast strength of the youths; and the Argive women extolled the mother who was blessed with such a pair of sons; and the mother herself, overjoyed at the deed and at the praises it had won, standing straight before the image, besought the goddess to bestow on Cleobis and Bito, the sons who had so mightily honoured her, the highest blessing to which mortals can attain. Her prayer ended, they offered sacrifice and partook of the holy banquet, after which the two youths fell asleep in the temple. They never woke more, but so passed from the earth. The Argives, looking on them as among the best of men, caused statues of them to be made, which they gave to the shrine at Delphi."  

So it looks to me like my Mensch Theory of Success needs some refining. From this passage we deduce that the happy person 
  • lives a good life, 
  • is a valiant warrior, 
  • has enough money to meet his or her needs, 
  • and dies a noble death. 

To these characteristics, I have to add one more. Since this passage is about happiness, but the husband's friend, the SAHD classicist, brought it up when I asked how he defined success, happiness is success.  

But you won't ever really know you've attained it because you won't attain it until you're dead. 

Have a nice weekend. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

#TBT - Times Flies and All That

Yesterday I stopped at the local health food store, but it had moved. It was only on the other side of the building it had been in, so I found it just fine. I walked in and there was the clear-skinned, gray-haired health food lady who is usually there. (Age indeterminate; skin fabulous. Lots of kale, presumably.) I greeted her and commented that I hadn’t been in the new location. “You must’ve just moved,” I said.  

“Actually, we’ve been in this location for a year.” She gave me the littlest of quizzical looks. A quizicallette look. 

A year? Jeezus.  I know that times flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana and here today gone tomorrow and all that jazz, but that is ridiculous. At that rate, my life will be over tomorrow. 

A year. It seems like just the other month I went in that store looking for eggs but they were out of them.  Well, it was another month, twelve months or so ago. 

Twelve months ago, where were you? Apparently, I was here. What was I doing? Well, here’s little window into my life exactly a year ago. 

The Lingerie of Success (July 16, 2014)

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, July 10, 2015

Get Over Yourself

I love to listen to podcasts, especially when I’m walking the dog, and the other day, I was walking along, listening, enjoying myself somewhat (more on that later), when someone on the podcast said, “mindful.” As in, “I have to be mindful of that tendency.” 

Mindful this, mindful that. Mindfulness is freakin’ everywhere and it’s so annoying. The word is overused and - here's the root of the problem - I blame it for my failure to meditate. I do. The more I hear about it, the less I want to do it. Even though I know, as I have said, many times, that meditation helps me, and that when I am practicing mindfulness, I am happier and more content than when I am not. (Here's one of the places where I talk about my history with meditation.)

This is because I am a contrarian. This means I want everyone to know I’m doing something because it’s my idea, and not because everyone else does it. I’m the person who, as a toddler, responded super well to reverse psychology. As my Aunt and Uncle Wisdom have told me, to get me to do anything when I was a tot, they had to tell me NOT to do it. 
“Don’t you come over here. Don’t you give me a kiss. Do not sit yourself down at the table. No. Don’t you dare eat any of your dinner.”  

That kind of thing. Apparently, I’m still operating on the contrarian principle. This is sad, because it’s no longer cute, if it ever was.
I was cute, even if my behavior wasn't (I think that's Aunt Wisdom in the foreground)

This is why I’m pleading for people to stop talking about mindfulness every other second. Stop saying “mindful” this and “mindful” that. If you could, the world would be a better place, because I would be a better version of myself, because I would be able to practice mindfulness again.

How about some other words or phrases that mean the same thing? Synonyms such as 
  • aware 
  • notice
  • paying attention
  • cognizant 
  • sensible
  • witting

“Witting” is my favorite. Try that one. “I need to be witting of that tendency in myself.” That sounds good, doesn't it? It certainly draws attention to one’s words, don’t you think? 

My father and stepmother, by the way, disapproved of reverse psychology. My stepmother’s attitude I think I can sum up as, “Break the will, don’t appeal to it.” Yeah. So at home, I came. I sat. I ate. No one asked for a kiss. And then I went to therapy. 

Anyhoo, I digress. 

The podcast I was sort of enjoying was “Happier” with Gretchen Rubin (GR) and her sister, Elizabeth. I have a GR problem, I may have mentioned.  

I have a problem with GR. I have resistance towards all things GR. As I mentioned before, I think, although maybe not on the blog, and not in awhile. I find myself resisting her and being annoyed by her, but the bottom line is, I envy her. Here’s the thing. I envy her job: writing, podcasting, appearing as a talking head. I envy her lifestyle: living with plenty of moolah in NYC, having reasons to dress for public appearances. I envy her confidence: she’s never afraid to state even the most banal factoids with total confidence in their importance. 

In fact, this is her genius, I think. Taking the bits and pieces of information about happiness floating around in the atmosphere and pinning them down. That means taking on other people’s discoveries and turning them into little aphorisms and other types of brain worms. I can’t resist them, either. Am I an upholder, an obliger, a rebel, or a questioner? Oh, fuck, I’m a questioner. I hate that she is shaping the terms of my self-examination. 

Do I want to be doing that for others? Maybe?

Or maybe I’m just afraid there’s no room for me, if she’s there one step ahead. She’s the Martha Stewart of happiness. Do I want to be the Martha Stewart of success? I know I want to make people laugh and think a little.  

Despite my GR problem which is really just envy, I follow her on Twitter. One of her tweets got my attention and even though I’ve been really annoyed that she has a podcast, because isn’t it enough that she has thousands of followers on her blog and thousands of readers of her books and lives in Manhattan? Does she have to have a podcast, too? Well, apparently, yes. And I was curious about it. So I just gave in to my curiosity and envy. I listened to one while walking the dog. And then, while driving to and from visiting a high school friend of mind, I gorged on "Happier" podcasts. I decided to give in all the way.

I decided I had to get over myself.

And here it is, Readers, your advice tidbit for the week: GET OVER YOURSELF. That’s right. Getting over yourself is key. You need to get over yourself so many times in life. I’m not just talking glibly about getting over any deep self-defeating or self-destructive behaviors. As if I, habituĂ© of many a therapist’s office, would suggest that is easy. It is not. However, there are plenty of things you can get over yourself about without professional help. It just requires a little acceptance, a little giving in. 

For example, this ridiculous contrarian attitude I have about meditation. I need to just get over myself about that. Blaming the overuse of the word mindfulness and the ubiquity of recommendations for meditation as panaceas for life’s stresses is, well, lame. It’s time for me to say, Get Over Yourself, Hope, and just meditate if I want to. Or don’t, if I don’t want to. It’s not worth the energy thinking about it any longer. 

Also in the department of Get Over Yourself, I feel I have to report that I did not lose my temper today in the grocery store when I normally would have. I got over myself. Here’s what happened. As I approached the express lane, I noticed an unmanned cart in the general area of the line, but kind of off to the side. The person was either off getting one more thing, or had abandoned it with a few items inside. I slowed down and looked around, but when I got to the checkout, the cart was still unmanned, so I got in line. Naturlich, just a few seconds later, the cart’s person appeared. She pushed her cart up alongside mine and said, “I was here,” and pushed herself ahead of me. Very snarly voice. Very uncalled for. 

Well. This normally would make my blood boil and then I’d say something very harsh. But today, I just kind of simmered, and then I said, in a very calm voice, “I would have appreciated a more polite way of expressing that thought.” 

Without making eye contact, she said, “Well, YOU pushed my cart out of the way.” 

I had done no such thing. And I felt as if I saw the woman in front of the woman who had pushed in front of me straighten her back just a little. Maybe the cart pusher was she. 

Again in the calm voice, I said to the irate dowdy woman who was trying to ignore me and pretending to look at her newspaper now, “Your cart was off to the side where you found it when I arrived. I didn’t push it aside and I don’t appreciate that assumption.” She made a little grimace that I think was meant to convey amusement at my dogged lying stupidity. But I was just calm, and yes, a little dogged. I wasn’t going to let her off the hook internally, even if I was going to let her go ahead of me. 

Just then, the checkout lane next to ours opened up, so I was able to swing my cart over and check out ahead of her. 

The lesson here is that if you get over yourself, you will keep your blood pressure down and possibly avoid triggering a hot flash. Certainly, you’ll avoid saying something you cringe about in the parking lot. And today, karma repaid me kindly for forbearance. 

There, now, I gave in to GR, and came up with a very banal little aphorism that is really just a cliche in aphorism’s clothing. Did I manage to create a brain worm for you? 

Apparently, I really hope so. 

See, I got over myself again. That makes 3 times in one blog post.