Follow Me on Twitter

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Do I Do This?

I'm in limbo at the moment. I sent draft #14 of my proposal, including two sample chapters, off to my agent, and now I’m waiting to hear from her. Which leaves me in limbo. O, there are things I ought to do – get camp medical forms to the pediatrician, buy a new lock for the 7th grader’s locker, and set a regular schedule for blogging outlets, for example – but I am not doing them. I did manage to send off the baby gift to my friend's granddaughter.

So, here are highlights of my thoughts and activities this week. 

Overall, I have spent way too much time 'pon Pinterest, looking at casual fashion.

I spent my birthday, which wasWednesday, in good company. I’m talking ‘bout Sir Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Gloria Steinem. Speaking for all of us, I can say that we are all glad to be here, and we didn’t need any extra medication to get through it. The family and I went out to dinner and I had a mini-bottle of champagne to myself to celebrate. There was a small contretemps regarding the celebratory cake – as in, someone didn’t order one - but in the end, there was something for me to blow out. A Price Chopper cake with a star candle I saved from the husband’s birthday the other week.

In re: fashion. I have now belted my sweaters twice. That doesn’t mean I put on two belts. I mean that on two different occasions I added a belt OVER my sweater. I accessorized. This is something I never thought I would do in this way. The belted sweater has always seemed too-too. But never say never. Except to culottes, also known as gauchos. Say never to those.  And to jumpsuits. Say never to  any garment you have to remove entirely in order to use the facilities.  

In re: fashion. Due to Pinterest, I have gleaned the following: flared jeans, also known as bell-bottoms are big. Very big. As corroboration, I offer this information. The 13 year old’s school had a career day this week, and she reported on the various careers represented by parent volunteers. Air Force pilot, scrap metal dealer, emergency room doctor, among others. Then, on the way home from my birthday dinner,  she told me that there was a lady at career day wearing flared pants who looked really fashionable. So fashionable, in fact, that she at first thought it might be (from behind) her social studies teacher. But this lady turned out to be a “real estate something” (I quote my child here), and that doesn’t even matter, because the point was that the 13 year old said the flared pants were very flattering and made her legs look really long.

To which the 16 year old said that no one young would "ever ever ever wear flares". To which I said, “never say never” and she said that maybe flares would be popular among the mom crowd, but never in her generation, because HER generation grew up knowing the truth about flared jeans: they are atrocious.

This is a truth I also grew up knowing. Flares, aka bell-bottoms, were feh. As were sweaters with belts. So I remain mum on the flares, aka bell-bottoms question. But not about the gauchos/culottes, or the jumpsuits.

I wish I could tell you that we discussed Kant, or something even more deep. But I cahnt.

In re: success. I had my monthly conference call with my mutual support group, my mini-master minds group a la Napolean Hill, my tiny Junta (Juntita?) a la Benjamin Franklin. An idea and support-sharing group to encourage ourselves to move forward in our lives. Many, many clichés come to mind here. But my point, Readers, was that one of my group members, who is very Type A, told me that after reading my blog about the Pomodoro Method, as well as another article about the same approach, she used it to get through a work deadline. Instead of a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, she used her iPhone’s timer. She set it for fifteen minutes, and every time it sounded, she just hit reset again, until she was done.

Now, I would like to point out that part of the Pomodoro Method is taking short breaks inbetween segments of intense work. Even if you don’t feel like stopping when the timer dings, you are supposed to stop. STOP and recharge. Look at Pinterest, even. I cling to that little break to get me going in the first place. But that is what makes us all so different and interesting, isn’t it? Instead of taking a break, my Type A friend just reboots herself. Pressing the timer seems to be all the break she needs. Gotta love that. I am so not that way.

Other topics: one piece of information I have come up against repeatedly in my success research is this idea that to be really successful, one must engage in meaningful work that benefits others. If you recall, all the way back to Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Effective (euphemism) People, he talked about building upon strong values and specified that a goal of making money, say, was really not the right approach. One must approach money sideways- like it’s a skittish horse, perhaps. (That's not what S. Covey says, it's just my interpretation.) Because going after money is going to prove ultimately a false value. Money, after a certain amount, doesn’t increase your happiness. But things that make you happy include blah blah and blah and helping people.

So I have asked myself, Readers, how is my research on success going to help anyone? How does my blog help? Will my book help? Well, in conversation with my support group, as one of us talked about a workshop she had attended about newfangled brand building and self-empowerment and stuff, I suddenly saw how I might help others. Because, it has become apparent, I’m not coming up with a definitive definition of success .

I wrote in my journal, my intention is to “go there” in myself – to be open and honest and (one hopes, funny and entertaining) about things that other people might feel a bit uncomfortable exploring. Because my working hypothesis about me and my thoughts and feelings is that if I think it or feel it, then most people do. I'm not so special. So why not get it out there under the light and take a look at it? Reminds me of one night, when I was a kid, and I checked under my bed for monsters, and I saw a grey spot, and I was terrified that it was a big spider. Eventually, I worked up courage to get my father to come in and take it away. And the spot turned out to be a dust bunny. Kinda like that.

Also reminds me of years ago, when the younger daughter was in preschool. I made a less than Pollyanna-like comment about motherhood, possibly something about wanting to flick my children in the backs of their heads from time to time because they were so irritating; the teacher said it was really refreshing to hear someone talk about the frustrations of parenting. And I thought, really, this is unusual? Doesn’t everyone feel this way?

I think that it’s all that therapy I’ve had. I’ve become quite comfortable with layers of ambivalence underlying the most intimate relationships.

Just yesterday, I caught a snippet of a radio interview with some singer-songwriter, talking about how writing about the regular, daily personal stuff is boring; but writing about the deeply personal stuff is not. The deeply personal taps into the universal, and that’s what makes it resonate. Which is what my painter friend Karen Kaapcke said to me once. We were at the Armory Exhibition at the NYState Historical Society. Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 was truly spellbinding. That I should just go deep, because that’s where people would meet me.

Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, M. Duchamp. 1913?

So that’s what I do here. I hope. ON a good day. Which I don’t think today is. But.

And with that in mind, I will tell you that I spent part of my birthday in the office of a physical therapist for my pelvic floor. But I will not bother you with details about that. I simply write it for you so you know that such a type of physical therapy exists, and that if something is funky with your pelvic floor, there is someone out there who can help you. Me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mastering Self-Control. Or Not.

Scene: kitchen table. Remains of dinner present. Children absent. Just the husband and I and the dog, despairing of collecting any treats at all. The husband reaches into the snack cabinet and takes two cookies. He offers one to me.

Me: (After a pause.) No, thanks. IF I don’t have one now, THEN I can have a bigger one later.
Husband: Ah! The Marshmallow Test in action. I get it.
Me: That’s right. Self-control in action.
             *                                    *                                    *
The husband was referring to my latest bedtime reading, Walter Mischel’s, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control. I wrote about the Marshmallow Test in a previous post. For those not as interested in psychology as I am, I’ll summarize. It’s a test, devised by Mischel in the 1960s, that involves bringing a young child into a room, and offering her the option of one fabulous, limbic-system triggering treat right now, or two fabulous, limbic-system triggering treats if she waits. The tester then tells the child she will be leaving and will return later. There is a hotel bell on the table in the room, and the tester tells the child she may ring it at any point and the tester will return. If she doesn’t ring it at all, and she doesn’t eat the treat (a marshmallow left on the table by the bell) then she can have the double fancy treat when the tester returns. Then the tester leaves the room and watches through a one-way glass window while the child either gives in, or applies amusing and creative methods of distracting herself (nose-picking; turning her back on the marshmallow; talking to the bell; even falling asleep) until the tester returns.  IF the child waits, THEN she will have a greater reward. The If-Then implementation strategy in action.

Mischel went on to study these participants many years later, and discovered that the ones who were able to delay gratification at four and five were doing, on the whole, much better in school, and were less obese, and generally more successful than those who went for that one marshmallow.  His results have been somewhat misunderstood by the general public in ways that do a disservice to people who come from poor neighborhoods, broken homes, abusive situations, or any other kind of high-stress environment. People have assumed that his results were definitive, reflecting some kind of innate amount of self-control. There have been runs on marshmallows as anxious parents rush to test their preschoolers, under the misapprehension that unless the children can delay their urge to eat the treats, they are doomed to failure. 

I’m joking about the runs on marshmallows, Readers. I am not joking about the misunderstanding of Mischel’s test.

Mischel learned, early on, that the ability to delay gratification depends on many variables. The ability is not innate; it’s circumstantial. According to Mischel, the temptation triggers the “hot” neural system – the limbic system, which is our more primitive system of arousal. The “cool” system – the prefrontal cortex – takes time to kick in. A child who lives under stress of poverty, disorder, or some other miserable situation will have a sensitive limbic system trigger. It makes sense, in that situation, to take what you can get when you can see it in front of you because you might not get anything if you wait for something you can’t see. A child who has had positive, trusting relationships with adults will be able to wait longer than a child who has been let down by adults. A child who knows how long he will have to wait for the adult to return does better than a child who doesn't know when the tester will return. A child who is primed with strategies for resisting temptation will do better than a child who hasn’t been. The upshot is that self-control is teachable. So if you prime the cool system ahead of time, it will override the hot and stop you from eating that single marshmallow. If you help the highly stressed child to change his reaction to those circumstances, he can have as much ability as the child from the stable environment to delay gratification.

Which brings us back to me and my If-Then implementation plans, which have helped me wrench myself away from the hot triggers of Pinterest, etc., with the promise of a reward after I do some work.

It also brings us back to me and the husband at dinner the other night. Remember that pause, before I refused a cookie at that moment, with a plan to have a bigger, better cookie later? Well, right after that admirable marshalling of my prefrontal cortex, I admitted to the husband that my first thought, during the pause, was that since no children were there, I could have a cookie now AND have a bigger one later, without them knowing I violated the dessert rule. Such as it is. The rule I mean. If I had to summarize it, I would say the rule is, have dessert, but never quite as much of it as you would like, and only have it once per night.

But, Readers, you see how it works, the self-control, IF-Then, small reward now or hold out for a bigger, better reward later.

Then I went upstairs and took a piece of chocolate from my secret stash.

As ever, I am a work in progress.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


I have a bit of trouble with follow-through, especially when it involves logistics. For example, just last week, I mailed our New Year's cards. Last week also contained the husband's birthday as well as my late mother's and my nephew's, which are the same day. 

I managed to select and send a gift for my nephew, and have it arrive on time. He's six, FYI, and per his mother's suggestion, I purchased something noisy: the DVD of "Big Hero 6." The husband, I'm afraid, fared less well. In short, I ignored the approach of his day until it was upon me. That’s the sad truth. And Google gave away my late gift–getting. When he logged onto the computer to update the crossword blog, banner ads for bacon of the month and warm hats with earflaps proliferated. Surprise! (Not so much.)

I’m a bad wife.
Heck, I’m a bad person.
At the very least, I’m a bad gift-giver.
See, I forget about birthdays.

But that’s not my only failing, gift-wise. There’s a gift for my father (Hi, Dad!) on the windowsill of the study. It’s been there since well before Xmas. It’s been there since before my last trip to Washington, in fact, where I bought him another gift, intending to send the windowsill gift later – but in time for Xmas.

And there’s the baby gift for my friend’s granddaughter. It’s all wrapped up with a curly ribbon. Make that a limp, crumpled curly ribbon, since the package has been moving from the dining room table to the kitchen counter to the dining room table to the kitchen counter for umpteen months. Why, you ask? Maybe it’s me balking at having a friend with a granddaughter. That would be a handy excuse. But really, the reason is much more banal. See, I lost the daughter’s address AND forgot the daughter’s husband’s name and I’m too embarrassed to ask my friend for these pieces of information a second time. So this gift is waiting, wrapped. Probably until another friend has another grandchild, because this one has developed past the appropriate age for this gift that I got her six months ago.

However, that is not what I set out to write about. I set out to write about meditation. Specifically, how I can persist in not doing it while simultaneously longing to. As if choosing to sit myself down and breathe is beyond my ability. As if it were as difficult as, say, my daughters’ math homework.

But I digress. Meditation is something I want to do. It is also something against which, now that it has become so popular that the term “mindfulness” is bandied about by everyone except my father and my mother-in-law, I have some kind of knee-jerk reaction. Even though I’ve been meditating – off and on – for a very long time. I can't bring myself to do it now. I can't get back to the cushion. Even the thought of Goldie Hawn blissing out since circa 1972, and Jerry Seinfeld with his TM since circa 1972, and Oprah and Arianna and on and on. I can't.
Gotta love Goldie. And she's helping kids with mindfulness. 

I tried meditation for the first time my senior year of college, for krike’s sake. In my dorm room one afternoon, I sat criss-cross-apple-sauce on one of those large, ubiquitous student dorm cushions. Before I knew it, Readers, I was hovering just below the ceiling, looking down upon myself. Like in that scene in Mary Poppins where they laugh their way up to the ceiling. It was the strangest feeling, detached and peaceful. After a few minutes, I thought, “Uh, maybe I’m not ready for this.” And down I came, gently.  I put aside meditation for a decade or so, until I had a child and was well into yoga.

Well, I didn't mean to catalogue my history with meditation. My point, and I think I may have one, was to show that I have a history with meditation, and that therefore, my current resistance to it is strange. Now that more and more studies come out showing that meditation does work, to some degree, to make people happier, more centered, more positive, more equanamous. Or at least less stressed. I know it works. It has worked for me before. You’d think I’d be all over it. But something about the ubiquity turns me off. It’s little of that fear of people thinking I’ve jumped on the bandwagon now that it’s hit the main strip. And so what? Why does that bother me? You know, as I think about it, I practically hear my mother(step) ridiculing me for wanting to dress like other kids back in high school. Shades of, “If everyone jumped off the Empire State building, would you do it, too?” Is that it? My mother's (step) voice is holding me back? Pul-ease.

Ridiculous, I know. Hard to shake, too.

On a more practical level, I guess there’s another reason. It has to do with the limits of meditation. It’s not in fact a cure-all. As I discovered last year, when I was so terribly, terribly anxious. Meditation hadn’t staved that off. I needed a pill. So then what was the point? I was mad at myself for not being able to overcome my own anxiety with the power of my will to meditate.

And the pills made me feel better. So then I didn’t need to meditate.

But there is a little voice inside me reminding me that now is the time to build up the habit. Now, when I feel good, when I don’t need it, is the time to practice. So that next time, if there is a next time, that the "mean reds" overcome me, I will have enough mileage behind the meditation practice that it just might be all I need. I need to speak to that internal admonitory voice. I need to tell it this. “Just because everyone is into it, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.” I’m talking about meditation. I don’t need to prove I did it before it went mainstream. I just need to do it again.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why Is Success A Jalopy?

Hello, Readers.
You may have noticed that I refer to success as a jalopy and wondered why. Well, please check out my explanation over here at the Huffington Post. I'll have a new post up here very soon.