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Monday, February 3, 2020

Success in the time of Rump

Readers, since everything old is new again, always and forever, perhaps it’s time for a review of one key strategy for success. I am talking about Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I have my college students read this book. I have them do an exercise from it. The exercise is to visualize your funeral. I know that I immediately think of the made for TV movie, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” whenever the idea of attending my own funeral comes up. How often is that, you might ask? Well, at least once a year, when I tell my students to do Covey’s visualization. It’s in the chapter about Habit 2, “Starting With the End in Mind.” This habit focuses on living according to deep values, rather than shallow ones like power, money, and prestige. This exercise is about getting your priorities straight by imagining how you would want to be remembered. You’re supposed to visualize four speakers’ eulogies, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, and a person who knows you from the service work you do. The idea, obviously, is to look at all realms of your life, not just professional, where we tend to focus our evaluations of whether we are successful. The other idea, obviously, is to get you to distill your life to what’s really important. Ideally, you will discover that what matters is not how much money you made, or what rank you achieved, but how well-rounded you were, that you were of service to others, that you worked hard, and that you had a web of friends and family love supporting you. And that you should incorporate service into your life. Service for others. A worthy ideal.

Do you think our leaders in the  U.S. Senate should do this exercise? I do. I mean, there are several whose funerals I would happily visualize, but my eulogies for them would probably not jibe with what they’d like to be remembered as being. It’s probably too late for course-correction, but perhaps not. Hope springs eternal, as Alexander Pope wrote approximately three hundred years ago. The rest of that couplet is not often quoted, as it’s less optimistic than those words suggest. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blessed.” I believe Adam Schiff will be happy with his eulogies. Sadly, I imagine Mitch McConnell would also be satisfied with what he would imagine his eulogies to be. Ain’t it just the truth that people don’t think they’re the bad guy, even when everyone else knows they are?

Moving on. This is not a political blog.

Now the thing I forgot when I gave this assignment to my students this year, was that Stephen Covey tells readers to visualize their funerals three years from now. Try reading eighteen essays by eighteen-year-olds about their funerals three years from now. It’s jarring. They would be seniors in college. Nobody wants to think about seniors in college dying. It’s bad enough thinking about senior citizens dying. Once you get past that, though, what they write is really touching. They come across as nice people. Like, they want to do good, whether for strangers or by being supportive of friends and family. How can the future be bleak when so many young people want to be good?

A couple of weeks ago, I read an opinion piece in the New York Times. In case you didn’t know it, this year is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Apparently in schools, Holocaust education has been lumped together with anti-bullying education, and students are told that they should stand up to bullies. “Don’t be a bystander,” they are told. “Be an Upstander.” The high school senior confirmed that she has received this message. So did many of my college students. This article, though, titled, “The Road to Auschwitz Wasn’t Paved With Indifference,”** takes a contrarian stance. The gist: most people are not capable of acting heroically and that’s okay. The Holocaust wouldn’t have happened if more people were simply not doing bad stuff. You don’t have to be an “upstander” to badness to save the badness from taking over. You just have to not engage in the badness. In fact, says this author, promoting the idea that everyone has to be an upstander—standing up to the badness at risk to life and limb or livelihood or mere convenience—is counterproductive. It creates a sense of helplessness, since most of us know we’re not heroic. She writes, “It’s hard to be a hero, to risk your safety and personal commitments in order to help a stranger. That’s a big ask. And by asking people too much, we make being moral too hard — which, paradoxically, can make immorality too easy. “Clearly, being moral is too hard, I’m no hero! Forget it!” we can imagine people thinking.

The author continues, “The truth about how massive moral crimes occur is both unsettling and comforting. It’s unsettling to accept how many people participated in appalling moral crimes but comforting to realize that we don’t have to be heroes to avoid genocides. We just have to make sure not to help them along.” In other words, don’t join in. If everyone doesn’t join in with the bad seeds, then the bad seeds won’t take over. Now, if only the Senate Republicans were listening to their inner voices clamoring for them to do the long-term right thing, the thing that would make them proud at their funerals.

Oops, veering into the political again. It is honestly hard to avoid, although avoid politics I do try.

In my attempt to avoid politics, I came across this font of wisdom, “8 More Habits of People Who Always Have a Clean Home.” I figured—no, more correct to say I hoped— to learn something to help me have a neater home. My home, you see, is rather untidy. I defy you to tell me it’s dirty. But I cop to mess. Particularly to mess created by books and magazines and newspapers. On every single horizontal surface. Dirty, though? Not so much, thanks to the wonderful woman who cleans the house. Still, every so often I hope to become more magazine-spread friendly. Thus, I read the article. But what did I learn? I’ll tell you, to save you the trouble of clicking on this article that got published even though so many of mine have not. Guess what those habits are? Of people who have a clean home? Guess what they do to have a clean home? They put away their dishes. They wipe their counters. They have places to put things. They vacuum. They tidy. Plus three more ways people who have clean homes manage to have clean homes.

Oh my Gawd. They clean.
I'd be lying if I said this was atypical. 

Look, if you want real advice, do that funeral visualization. Think of what you want people to say about you at your funeral. Do you want them to say, “She always had clean counters and an amazing centerpiece?” I know I do. So, I shall have to act accordingly. That is my lesson to you. It is clear, I have my priorities in order, just like those Senators. Now all I have to do is clean up my act.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Annals of Adulthood: All Things Are Delicately Interconnected

T-shirt from Mass MoCA. Saying by Jenny Holzer. Message from universal wisdom.

Perhaps you are wondering why I am writing again so soon. Perhaps you think I have something to suggest about current events. I do not. Perhaps, however, I can offer a diversion from the news, and from videos of burnt koalas and the dauntless people rescuing them.

Readers, here’s a thing that happened. I went to the gym of a Saturday morning, to participate in a much-ballyhooed cardiokick class. I was a little nervous about taking this class. Rumor reports it is the hardest cardio class at the Y. I had “missed it” by accident multiple times, but that day, I had no reason not to go. The husband was riding his new exercise bike. What was I supposed to do, nothing? Allow him to throw my personal motto—“It’s almost always better to exercise”—back at me? So I decided this was the morning I was going to make it to this class. In other words, it was a relief when I arrived to discover that the class had been cancelled.


I decided to use the empty studio to do some yoga and stretching. Mid-sun salutation, the door flang open and a woman strode in. She had the purposeful stride of a mom with limited time away from her kids. She was wearing thingys for music in her ears and did not acknowledge me.

Now, I had set up in a corner of the room. It was a back corner, away from the mirror and from the door. Unobtrusive, and out of sight of people who might press their faces to the door to see what was going on in the studio. It was also near the rack with dumbbells. Please note there are two racks of dumbbells in the studio, the one near where I was developing my positive prana energy, and the other across the vast empty space where no cardiokick was underway.

You can guess where this is going. After she flang open the door, this woman strode in to the nearest rack for some dumbbells. I would’ve gone there, too, the rack being nearest the door. What I would not have done, however, is proceed through my barbell routine, including lots of squats, right beside the rack. Why not? Because there would have been another person in the giant room who had been there already and who was nearby. So nearby that if I squatted I would have my derriere practically hanging over her mat.

I kid you not.

This harshed on my mellow. I tried in best yogic fashion to let it go, but really, when her a** began to cantilever over my head, I felt the ole blood boil.

What did I do, Readers? Did I give her an old New York talking-to? Of course not. I am now much more enlightened (see previous post). I considered how her a** in my face was possibly more my problem then hers. I considered whether I wanted to ruin both our workouts by having a direct conflict. I decided yes to one and no to the other. So I got up and moved my mat about ten feet away. In a pointed manner, I must admit. You know, in a vigorous way. As if to say, You probably should have moved your cantilevered a** about ten feet away from me, Lady. In case you did not notice I was there.

But I did not say it. And, to be honest, I think she did not notice. She finished her workout and left.

What can I say about this?

I took from this interaction an intention to try not to be as oblivious as Cantilevered A** Lady. I realize I may be misinterpreting her actions. It is possible she was not oblivious. She might have been a hundred percent 'blivious, as far as I know. She might have been an intentionally rude person. But I chose then and choose now to believe that she was not intentionally rude. She was distracted. Or concentrated. Or both.

And I have been that way at times myself. Times when I am upset. Maybe to the outside observer I have seemed normal while inside my thoughts were circling, swooping, screeching and creating an almost unbearable cacophony that kept me from seeing much beyond my immediate space. Maybe I have symbolically cantilevered my a** into someone else’s space and never even known I did it. Maybe because the person I annoyed was kind enough to let it go.

Am I kind enough to let it go? (See previous post about enlightenment.)

Yes. I did. I said nothing to her.

No. Here I am, days later, telling everyone about it.


Sometimes the important thing is what you say or don’t say, or do or don’t do in the moment.

So maybe this is just an apology, too late, of course, to anyone I’ve cantilevered my a** over without awareness. I am going to try, going forward, to do my literal and figurative exercise out of the way.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Annals of a Type B Guru

Jan 1, 2020

Happy New Year, Readers! Happy 2020.

It may not be hard to remember to write 2020. It flies off the fingers easily. Twenty-twenty. 20-20. Let’s hope the whole year is easy. Let’s hope, as my friend A said, that when it comes time to vote, everyone has 20/20 vision this year. Let’s hope that we can all apply a little clear-eyed hindsight to our future visions.

This blog post is not going to lay out any resolutions. Nor is it going to contain a recap of the highs and lows of last year. I am annoyed at myself for posting less often than I want to, and there are many reasons for this. Father in hospital being a big one over the last month. The high school student performing in the All-State Symphony and filling out college applications being another. Grading the end of semester papers a third. Those are excuses, however. I realize part of why I haven’t been blogging as often as I used to is that I am suffering from perfectionism. Or at least my Type B personality version of perfection. In short, I want everything I put out there for you, Readers, to be pithy, or at least witty. Maybe I am letting perfect be the enemy of good, as the saying goes.

Or perhaps perfection is too lofty a term. As I mentioned, I am a Type B personality, and we Type Bs are not known for perfectionism (and certainly not for perfection). That’s the stuff of the Type As. Type Bs are likely to make a quilt, for example, that ends up with one strip that is an inch longer than all the others. This would never happen to a Type A. So then Type B has to rejigger the strip, maybe rip out a quilt block and trim it or turn it or something. You know, adapt it and make it work better. By the way, this quilt is another reason I haven’t been blogging as often as I like. But, still it’s another excuse.

Even if perfection isn’t my aim, better is the enemy of good, as writer Amy Halloran (  put it at our holiday gathering of local writers. Better can be the enemy of good, too. Because even if you’re wise enough to know perfection is impossible, better is always possible. I truly believe in better. My life has been all about being better. Sometimes, however, good is best. Sometimes good is better than better. Apportioning effort is also necessary for survival, even for success.

While walking the dog the other year, I was listening to a Gil Fronsdal podcast called “Caring for Yourself and Caring for Others.” The other year. Yesterday, to be exact. Yesteryear, one might even say. He was discussing a Buddhist sutra that talks about how to be happy. One way to care for yourself is to live ethically—abide by the precepts like Do No Harm, (is that the Buddhist precept, or is that a medical precept? Who knows, I am tired. Last night was New Years Eve and it was a late night.)  Another aspect of happiness is that caring for others develops your own happiness. The idea is that by developing kindness towards others, you make yourself happy. This taps the philosophical question whether altruism is really altruistic if it makes the do-gooder feel good. According to Buddhist philosophy, the overlap between altruism and happiness is natural and inevitable. There doesn’t have to be a separation between the two. Just because altruism makes you feel better doesn’t mean it’s not altruism.

Gil Fronsdal mentioned during this talk that at some point in the Buddha's life, he had about 60 enlightened followers. It struck me that I would never imagine that I could be capital-E Enlightened. Yet the Buddha had 60 guys who were enlightened during his life. Perhaps he was just that good at teaching. But that is not the point. The point is, I had a thought. I thought, what if I am enlightened? I mean, think about it. I’ve been meditating off and on for twenty years. I’ve had lots of therapy. I’m introspective and I’m planning to become a therapist (I.e., to help people deal with their emotions and life challenges). What if I am enlightened? How would that make things different? Consider that enlightenment is often described as coming in a flash, an epiphany. Which means enlightenment might not be a permanent state, existing off on an astral plane, unbothered by anything human, being just a floating protoplasm of wisdom, tantalizing mere mortals who want to to tap that.

What would it mean if I were enlightened? Maybe enlightenment just means something simpler and more down-to-earth. Maybe this is it, that’s all there is, that’s all she wrote. Maybe enlightenment means that I know I have ups and downs and arounds of emotions, that I don’t like some of those emotions and wished they would go away and that I could be this amazing, placid, font of light and whatnot. Wisdom. Love. Positive energy. Peace. Meanwhile, at the same time that I wish to be that avatar of goodness, I’m embarrassed to say so, and that’s just the way it is to be me.  Maybe enlightenment is going about the daily rounds understanding that sometimes you’re up, sometimes down, and that it’s always changing. That love is sometimes encrusted under resentment, or tucked away from harsh feelings, or even hidden from your own view.

And that it’s exactly the same way for everyone. So, cut them some slack. Or at least have empathy, even if you cannot excuse their behavior (not right action) or their nasty words (not right speech).

Isn’t all this just a way to say maybe it’s okay to say I’m okay as I am. I don’t have to be other than what I am, my imperfect self, my wabi-sabi self, my kintsugi self. Maybe there is no better than that. Maybe good is better.

Maybe enlightenment is that moment you understand something important —an epiphany, possibly an ineffable one—and then it slips away. Maybe the slipping away part is part of the enlightenment, too. You know it’s coming at moments, in flashes, or phases. And other times you’re just a bitch driving a car and flipping off an old lady who’s driving too slowly in the left hand lane.

Here's a final thought for the new year. since I am supposed to dispense advice and tips on how to live successfully.  As Jon Kabat Zinn writes in Full Catastrophe Living, “As long as you’re breathing, more is going right for you than wrong.” Or something like that.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Kindness as a Key to Success

The other day, I invited a guest speaker into my classroom. I wanted to teach my students about meditation and mindfulness. Now, I have practiced meditation, mindfulness meditation, off and on for nearly twenty years. I have read books, listened to countless talks, and even attended a couple of short, half-day meditation retreats on the topic, yet I wanted someone else to teach my students. So in came our guest, who was great, and she talked about how she came to her practice, and types of practicing, and she led a short meditation. I really enjoyed listening to her, and I really admired how she owned it. That’s why I wanted someone else to teach my students. It’s the owning it thing. I don’t. At least not easily. It's not easy to write about it here, as a matter of fact.

When I took an online survey that ranked my top twenty character traits that reflect my values, spirituality was number twenty, bottom of the list. I was not surprised, and yet I was. I know the quiz ranked the qualities we most value as well as those we most often lead with and use to interpret the world. I lead with humor, honesty, love of learning, judgment, and kindness, not with spirituality. And yet, I have two decades of practice at something many people connect to spirituality.

Maybe I am a really bad meditator. Or maybe I am just a closet spiritualist.

Spiritualist is the wrong word. I am definitely not a spiritualist.

But I was a little disappointed to find spirituality down at the bottom of that list. Almost as disappointed to find that there as I was surprised to find kindness in the top five. Judgment, sure. I reckon I’m pretty dang judgmental. Humor? Absolutely. As Jane Austen said in P & P, "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?" Honesty. Check. Love of learning--may I present this blog, a record of my foray into positive psychology and lord knows what else? Kind, though? Hmmm.

And yet. And yet. Perhaps there is a connection to the meditation practice and kindness. They say meditating helps you, but often you don’t know that it’s helping you. You just notice life is a little easier to handle. They also say that if you meditate, you develop compassion, aka kindness. Why is that so? Because once you take time to be mindful of what is going on inside you in the present moment, you realize that others are going through the same set of vicissitudes, also known as emotions, that you are. They’re not going through them at the same time you are, but they are going through the same ones. Thus, as you learn to be a little patient with yourself, you also learn a little patience with others, and a little compassion for everyone’s struggles, including your own. So maybe, just maybe, my stealth spirituality is reflected in my top five after all, via kindness.

And, if I am going to be kind to others, perhaps I can be kind to myself by reminding myself that judgment is not necessarily a pejorative characteristic. It’s an ability to see sides and facets and form an opinion based on discernment, rather than on pure reactivity.

I had my students take a quiz called the VIA Character Inventory. You can take it, too, for free.*  Quite a few of them had kindness in their top five. I found this surprising. Sure, they’re a nice bunch. Most of them are too quiet. Rendered speechless by the request to offer an opinion to the group, as a matter of fact and of deep annoyance to me. I feel quite judgmental about that reticence, and not in a kind way, if I’m honest, which according to the VIA character survey I usually am.

The relative preponderance of kindness in my classroom made me think that these kids might be reflecting a need they feel in our culture. Our popular culture, our news, our political leaders of late seem so far from kind that maybe our students, our kids, are presenting a collective need for it. I know that I have developed a real thirst for books about etiquette, and television shows that feature people behaving kindly and politely. The seventeen year old and I have been re-watching “Call the Midwife,” and one thing that show portrays is people in the poorest of circumstances behaving with politeness and dignity, even in the most undignified situations. I may start wearing a girdle soon I am so taken with the whole dignity of self-restraint thing. Give me a young, single gal dressed in a skirt, cardigan, and sensible shoes collapsing at a bus stop from an attempt at self-aborting a fetus over road rage and blatant insults on the nightly news any day.

Okay, not really. I don’t at all want to turn back the clock to illegal abortion and lack of contraception. I don’t want to turn back the clock at all. I want to move forward and beyond our current situation. But I recognize, and apparently so do many of my students, the need for kindness as we try to get there. I feel kind of hopeful about things, if kindness is a deep value for many of us. Kindness is not the sole property of the religious and spiritual. It’s available to all of us.

My students, or at least the two or three who do volunteer to speak, brought up the idea that kindness and politeness were two different things. That politeness is fake, or it can be. But I think they are related. Politeness might be fake—it certainly is fake, sometimes—but the adherence to it, particularly when you might not feel it, is truly kind. And when someone truly doesn’t deserve kindness, and no names will be named here, it’s a kindness to yourself to maintain dignity. Politeness, etiquette, allows that.

My children's elementary school principal taught us all this little self-reflection about kindness. I think it originated in the teachings of Buddha, but I am not sure. It's not a verse, it's more of a rubric for self-reflection, self-restraint, judgment in a positive sense, and kindness:

Before you speak, ask yourself, Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? 

I know that when I do this, I have to stifle some of my natural urges, which would answer those questions thus: Is it kind? Absolutely not, but it's clever. Is it necessary? Again, it is the opposite of necessary, it is superfluous, but possibly funny, at least to me. Is it helpful? Only if you want to add to the inanity around us all. Sometimes, Readers, that is what I want to do. Sometimes that is actually kind, helpful, and necessary. Sometimes we just need to take off the mental girdle. Sometimes a bit of unnecessary folderol is actually necessary. That's what keeps me going. That and, apparently, kindness.


*Here’s the link to the quiz. It takes about 15 minutes. You have to give an email address and after you take the quiz, scroll to the bottom of your screen and you’ll see the list of characteristics.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Annals of Successful Parenting: News and Confessions

Summer ended before I was ready. I know, officially it's still summer for a little while. But this summer ended too soon. It was full of fun things. One of the funnest was this, seen as we inched through traffic to the beach in August:

Look closely. This Harley-riding dog wears goggles. 

With stuff like that in my life, you can see why I wasn't fully prepared for the start of school. In fact, confession, I wore pajamas to school carpool drop off that day. That means I am fully a suburban mom. Better late than never. Readers, I have arrived.


Is this truly a wonderful thing? I don’t know. It’s not as if I have been up and dressed every morning at seven twenty-three for the mad dash to the high school. In fact, the only reason I haven’t done drop off more often in my pajamas is that the husband is the morning carpool driver. So while I may lord it over y’all that I haven’t dipped and lowered myself to driving to the high school in my pajams, it’s simply because I haven’t had to leave the house most mornings to do that drop off.

Until last Thursday. And I felt something slide into place. The last piece of the puzzle that is suburban motherhood.

A pause to contemplate all that means.

Car culture. Complacency. A measure of comfort. Also, rushed multitasking frenzy and a soupçon of guilt — the environment, consumption. The contradictions of modern life.

So the high school student is in her last year of high school, and the college student is in her last year of college. I have been a suburban mom for ten years. Mind. Blown. 🤯Before that, I was an urban mom. In many ways, I liked that better. My stroller was my wheels. This had downsides. There was no walking to school drop off in my pajamas. There was no driving to school in snow and rain. And when I needed an X-ray for what turned out to be pneumonia, I had to walk to the hospital.

Anyway, it took me ten years to do drop off in my pajamas. I take pride in that. And in my defense, drop off was at six forty-five that morning, because the high school senior plays trumpet in the pep band, and the pep band was to welcome the students to the new school year.

Speaking of new school year and students, I am into my second year of teaching first year students at a small college nearby. I have joined the ranks of adjuncts, which I feel is analogous to being a scab during a strike. I am working for an insultingly small amount of money. And I feel bad that I am called by the honorific, "Professor". What does this do to all those Ph.Ds looking for work in academia? How are they to succeed at their careers? This adjunct thing seems like yet another way our culture has succumbed to an economic, short-term, profit-based mindset, rather than a people-based one. Seems like key to failure as a society.

What am I teaching my students, you may wonder? I am teaching their required first year seminar on how to write at the college level. Or how to write at all, apparently. There are many sections of first year seminar, since every student is required to take the course. So each section has a theme and mine is Defining Success. It turns out that I have a lot to say on the subject. But of course, as a teacher, I aim not to do all the talking, but to lead my students to their own conclusions.

Anyway, in other news, I have been enjoying the sidewalk in our neighborhood. The Australian Labradoodle doesn’t. Well, he does sometimes, and sometimes he doesn’t. The times he doesn’t are those times I attempt to walk him on the sidewalk when he is expecting to walk on the other side of the street as we used to do, when we had to walk facing oncoming traffic. He only wants to walk towards oncoming traffic in other words. He is a rule-abiding dog. Now it's all gone to hell, from his perspective. We might be walking one direction. We might be walking another. Either way, it's the same side of the street. This is not how we do things, in dog brain. So many unsniffed scents and uneaten blobs of grass cuttings on the other side of the street that he can’t process in his own special ways.

It's tragic.

Sometimes I cross the street just to let him have his way.

I have a another confession. I put away my snow shovel yesterday. Are you temporarily dizzied trying to calibrate the season and the shovel? No, you are not crazy. Yes, my shovel has been on my porchlet (or is that porchette? porchini? covered entry?) since last winter. So sue me. My neighbors have had a Halloween skeleton hanging from their front door light for about eight years. At least I got my snow shovel stored before I need it again.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print right now.

Is any of this about success? You decide.

In case you missed my podcast interview, which is indeed all about success, here is the link:


And now, I am off to the Global Climate March, Albany site. 🌎

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Success About Failure Being Part of Success

I have written a lot about success and failure over the years, as I have learned and grown in my search to redefine success beyond power, prestige, and money. One of the most important things I've learned is that success is inseparable from failure, because success is about rising to challenges, and challenges require effort and practice to meet successfully. And what is practice, if it is not failing over and over again until you get it?

Another lesson learned is that success is about living life with meaningful work that is aligned with your deep values. Call them principles if you prefer. They are the deeper things that call to us when we are open to listening for them: the desire to help others, to create something, to grow and develop.

Underlying everything I have learned is this lesson: The framework from which you view your life is the most essential element of success. Call it frame of reference, or mindset, the message is that feeling successful depends in large part on having the the attitude that you can and will grow better and better with effort. Failing that, you are doomed to feel like a failure even when all external signs indicate otherwise.

I am proud to present to you a podcast interview featuring me. Me, me, me! Yes, I was contacted by the enterprising Paul Padmore, who read this blog post in Psychology Today and wanted to talk to me about failure and success. We talk about what I mention above, and more, so please listen. And subscribe to his podcast. Every one of his episodes is about the way people overcome what seems like failure and go on to find success.

Here's the podcast, when Paul Padmore interviews yours truly about failure and success:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Bag and Baggage

I had reason to weigh my handbag the other day. Well, someone else weighed it, after she took it from my arm, gasped at the weight, and strode over to a handy nearby scale. My bag weighed in at six pounds eight ounces, about the size of a small newborn human. This was a bit of a shock, but really more so was the gasp of the person who weighed my handbag, my purse, my satchel. Because I have been lugging this bag around — or a similar one—for quite a long time. My pelvic floor physical therapist (PT), who weighed it, suggested that carrying a heavy bag might contribute to pelvic misalignment, which might contribute to pelvic floor problems.

This is likely too much information for many of you readers, and not enough for some. Please feel free to contact me if you are among the latter. The rest of you, just compartmentalize or stuff all reactions, please. Thank you very much.

This isn’t really about handbags, or my pelvic floor. Sure, I could do a comic routine about the contents of the bag. (At weighing, there was an unopened lightening adapter cord for the cell phone to car connection and a book about day hikes around our area—very slim—among the usual four types of lipstick, two lip balms, and a chapstick. Those are still there, a week later, let me assure you. As well as reading glasses, non prescription sunglasses, and clip on sunglasses for my regular glasses in case I am wearing them instead of my contact lenses when a ray of sun hits my iris and I need instant protection.)

My PT suggested I just stow the bag in the car’s trunk and carry only what I need with me.

It was as if a vista suddenly appeared before me where there had only been fog. I saw from a distance the me I once was, who tripped about Boston and San Francisco with a bank card, an ID, and a bit of cash in a small zipper pouch. No extra underwear—again, probably too much information for some readers—no spare lightening cords or Caudalie lip balm.

The me I once was and the me I am—are we the same?

I took my PT’s suggestion, came home and put only the most essential items in a small(er) bag --credit card holder, a bit of cash, phone, keys, and sunglasses, and left the house. I immediately regretted this decision when I realized there was no hand sanitizer in case I touched something germy, and no lip balm for my now parched lips. And how would I read the menu at dinner? From arm’s length and tilted, it turned out.

Then I remembered my PT’s suggestion of putting the big bag in the trunk and only carrying what I needed with me from the car. Thus, creating the illusion of Holly Golightly fancy-free-ness whilst still having everything at the ready. And quite a bit more. Old receipts? Library cards from the New York Public Library and the 92nd Street Y? It’s been ten years since I left the city.
Italian leather bag, pleather baggie, and flip flop for scale. Intentionally blurred for artistic purposes. (I lie.) 

I am going to blame the children for my large bag. For decades I have been the repository of all the little objects they left the house carrying, plus extra snacks and books and pens and pads of paper for whiling away various units of time. Extra sweaters and plastic bags in case of who knows what? Purell and hand sanitizing wipes in little packets because why not duplicate and never worry? Latex gloves.

That’s right. Latex gloves. I would carry Latex-free gloves, too, in case someone has a Latex allergy, but that would be overkill.

I said I blame the children, but it’s disingenuous of me to do so. The large bag predates them. It predates the husband, too. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how often I tripped around town with only a small zipper pouch. It is possible that was only when I was heading out to a club to go dancing. Otherwise, bag. Schlep. Bag. Come to think of it, Holly Golightly was not exactly fancy-free. As I recall, she had her baggage, too. She was, if memory serves, married off to a much older man when she was about fourteen and trying to escape poverty. But, you know that party scene in the movie is the best.

I think, having had children, that we humans have a genetic desire to carry things. I say this because my children always left the house carrying something. Once they could grasp an object, they carried one with them. A small plush giraffe, or a board book, a plastic dragon, or a Polly Pocket doll. Something clutched in a little hand as they reclined in the stroller. Something to pitch over the edge, of course. A thing I would then pick up and stuff into my bag.

So, yes, we like to hold things. We like to be burdened. We like to be prepared. The bag is a hedge against the unexpected. We have a baggie for that, or a snack to stave off hunger. An after dinner mint to freshen the breath. The bag, by the way, allows for hands free movement. We may be laden with luggage, but our hands are still free.

Are we ever free of our burdens? Are we ever burdened by our freedom?

The answer to both questions is yes, at moments. At least according to Dr. Edith Egar, who wrote an amazing memoir called The Choice, which I recommend to everyone. I don’t know if I want to write about this book, because reading it was kind of traumatic. It’s a Holocaust survival story, but it’s more than that. It’s about living afterward, having survived, and how the trauma affected Egar’s life—and continues to. She’s in her nineties now, and healing from the trauma has taken all this time. It’s hard to think about the trauma experienced by young immigrant children separated from their parents, and how they may or may not fare as they go forward with living. Without professional help, how will they heal? Even with professional help, trauma is hard to heal. And we don’t have to have experienced a concentration camp to be traumatized. There are less extraordinary traumas of loss and assault on the self. And what does it mean to heal? Is it to be free of suffering? Not at all. It’s to experience moments of insight that bring relief, and to have scars. Scars, no matter how cleverly repaired, are permanent disfigurations you carry with you.

What am I saying? Who knows. Does it relate to success? Oh, absolutely. Edith Egar’s point is that people can be victimized by other people. However, victimhood is a choice. Meaning, learned helplessness, feeling defeated and overwhelmed are effects of victimization that we have to try to overcome, by choosing over and over, and over and over, to try.

Is that awfully put? It feels kind of judgy of those who have terrible after effects such as PTSD or depression. I guess the thing is that you can be knocked down, sometimes for quite a while, but you have to remember that in your own head you have the choice to protect yourself from forgetting who you were before the trauma. Sometimes that’s enough to carry you to the next day. Edith Egar lost her mother to Auschwitz’s gas chamber, but she carried her mother’s advice with her: no one can take away what you have in your head, and she used her memories of feeling her most empowered and vibrant to help her get through those moments when she was most debased, trapped, and near death.

Anyway, someone’s got to carry the purse, bag, tote, messenger bag, Birkin, backpack. Those rare few who manage without lean on the rest of us from time to time. I’m about to take a trip, which gives me a good reason to rummage through my big bag and remove some excess stuff. I’ll keep the undies in there, since I probably put them there the last time I traveled by aeroplane. Always good to have extra, in case of disaster, or really in case of delays. In case of disaster, none of it matters.