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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Me and Jodie, Success and Failure

There was an interesting article in the newspaper about the latest movie directed by Jodie Foster, “Money Monster.” According to Frank Bruni, who wrote this piece, the movie is, “a meditation on failure: how keenly people fear it, what they do when confronted with it.” 

Is it refreshing to know that Jodie Foster feels like a failure? Or is it depressing? Is it liberating to know she grapples with inadequacy? Or does it make you want to lie down and pull a newpaper over your face and take a real long snooze? She’s had a few awards, and directed and acted in a couple of things you might want to forget. (“Tay-ay in the wiy-yind,” anyone?*) But I think we can all agree that she is a big fat success. She's a success not just because of her achievements, though, Readers. She's a success because she keeps on working, even when the outcome is "The Beaver." Or "Nell." 

“Does she often think of herself as a failure?” Bruni writes. “Failure is a big one for me,” she says. “‘Oh yeah,’ she said. ‘Oh my god, yeah. if Mother Teresa is propelled to do good works because she believes in God, I am propelled to do good works because of how bad I feel about myself. It’s the first place I go. “Oh, what did I do wrong?’”

Wow. I have something in common with Jodie Foster after all. Along with having no face work done. And highlighted hair. And being, as they said when I tried on wedding dresses, "low to the ground." I can relate to the failure thing. 

But where Jodie and I differ is how failure operates on us. Apparently it propels her towards outstanding acting and awards; me, well, I go to therapy. And I blog. And write books, apparently.

So. Yeah. The lesson is clear. She says she funnels her sense of failure into proving herself worthy through good work. I think that’s an excellent idea. I pass it on to you for your contemplation, Readers. 

What are you funneling your existential despair, fear of failure, and sense of inadequacy into? Binge-eating? Depression? Or action? 

The other day I came across something I typed up while killing time during my first job out of college. I was a receptionist in a law firm. Oh, my God, was that boring. When the phone wasn’t ringing, I performed calisthenics behind the desk. I also, apparently, read quotes from Marianne Williamson and typed them up for my amusement.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"
I found that inspiring, as I recall. It was a nice one-eighty from what I usually considered my deepest fear. I read that passage and wondered was my deepest fear really that I was powerful? Because it really did feel like it was that I was inadequate. 

Basically, my inner child really needed to hear she was special. And people just were not lining up to tell her. So I was trying to amass proof. 

The problem with the constant seeking of proof of specialness is that it runs right up against this idea of the growth mindset. Thanks to Carol Dweck, we are no longer allowed to believe in the limits of our intelligence. Nothing is fixed. All is potential. How lovely to be annointed a special one, with a special intelligence or a special something or other that makes success inevitable. 

But, really, is that possible? Isn’t seeking that type of assurance the same as having a fixed mindset? It’s the same kind of mindset that believes that you have to have a particular makeup in order to succeed, so you spend your time trying to prove to yourself that you do have It. Instead of pursing your goals. 

Yes, you are special. So am I. We are all special. And yes, therefore, nobody is actually special. Not even Jodie Foster. She's not special-special.** You’re not special-special. Isn’t that ok? 

What might be special, however, is the work you produce when you try to transcend yourself. Or just to express yourself - which is what I hope for, nothing more, really. 

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who would have been a blogger, battling Montaigne for followers, if the Internet had existed back when he did - and if he and Montaigne had lived at the same time - had this to say about success and despondency: "From torpid despondency, can come no advantage; it is the frost of the soul, which binds up all its powers, and congeals life in perpetual sterility. He that has no hopes of success, will make no attempts; and where nothing is attempted, nothing can be done."
Johnson: Adventurer #81 (August 14, 1753)

So I guess another thing I have in common with Jodie is that fear of failure, which is really just the hope for success dressed up in drapey black clothes and goth eyeliner. 

*That’s from “Nell,” which, interesting to me, Jodie’s mother told her not to do. Just mentioning that because my authority as a mom is about zilch these days, what with two teenagers. Jodie might have listened to her mom. But, no. Anyway, it was a learning experience, I’m sure. 
** I'm sorry, Readers, but I just can't do it. I actually think Jodie Foster is pretty special. Call me a hypocrite. I can take it. Well, I can't - but I'll discuss it with my therapist.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Law of Attraction, or Abundance Mindset

Let’s talk about abundance and the Law of Attraction. But first, observe the photo. 

This was one of our finds at Le Marche aux Puces-St. Ouen in Paris. Le Marche aux Puces-St. Ouen was just below the Louvre on my list of must-sees for our trip. This is the famous Paris Flea Market. Or one of them. They’re featured in every home design magazine. Clever interior designers are always touting their finds from this warren of stalls and alleys. Antique bargains, clever repurposed chairs. Even though we live with situations like this, 

I think of myself as a decorator-manqué. So, I thought maybe, just maybe, I would find a console for our mudroom. 

Well, this was our first find. A catuck? A ducat? Who can say? I’m sure that nutty fan of stuffed and mounted wildlife The Bloggess would enjoy this. 

It wasn't a bargain-priced but indisputably elegant console for the mudroom. No, it was more a reflection of my mindset as we arrived at the eerie and half-deserted warren of alleys and stalls. This was how I'd been feeling of late. It’s chic. It’s wearing a scarf. But, really, it’s kinda poorly put together. And also discarded.

Oh, alright, I’m being melodramatic. But I was feeling a bit blah. Due to waiting - apparently endlessly - for an editor to accept my book proposal. I was in limbo, and enough time there and I start to feel blah. I’m trying to come up with a better way of using this taxidermy catuck as an analogy for my state of mind, but Readers, it’s just not flowing. Suffice it to say, this item was odd and so was my mood. 

As I mentioned, the flea market was semi-deserted when we arrived. It was midday on a Monday, and many of the stalls were shut. I wondered if we’d made a mistake in coming to this vast place. In the moment, I lacked courage to scavenge for furniture, so I trailed along after the family, past bins of this and that.

After stumbling around purposeless for a while, the 8th grader said, “Here’s what I want: I want to find an old key that I can turn into a necklace.”

Lo and behold, a few yards along, we came across a large bin full of rusty, old-timey keys. I haggled with the seller, who wanted 5 Euros for this rusty, old, worthless key. (Bargained him to 3 - still robbery). 

But despite the obvious rip-off price of that key, it was a great find. It unlocked something in me that I had forgotten. My first thought was a memory of one of the friends I made at the law firm where I had my first job out of college. She was a few years older than me, a divorced mom. One night, at her house, she told me that she was going to ask the universe for the right man. 

“You have to be really specific,” she told me. “But you have to ask the universe for what you want.” Shortly thereafter, she did meet a great guy, to whom she is still married, several (ahem) decades later. I, by the way, apparently forgot to ask until much later. 

Anyway, there by the keys, I realized that I had once again lost all sense of abundance and possibility. I was dragging around with a feeling of scarcity. A poverty mindset. This is easy to fall into when things are in limbo. This is easy to fall into when something bad happens. For example, one of my dearest friends is having a heart problem. But when the 14 year old found her key, I found that idea of abundance again. 

Finding the key turned out to be symbolic, too. 

After remembering Debra and her invocation of the universe, and remembering that I have at times felt connected to a sense of abundance, I wished (to myself, because of all people, the husband is definitely not a believer in that kind of hokum) that my book proposal would get picked up by a publisher soon. Two days later, my agent emailed that I had another new reader.  Coincidence?

Probably. Some people openly embrace this whole idea of abundance versus scarcity. Donna, my hair stylist, for example, was not at all surprised to hear about the 14 year old and the key.  “It’s the Law of Attraction,” she said, nodding and smiling. 

So is the secret to success invoking the Law of Attraction? There’s a whole major strand of success literature that says it is. The mystic success people that started back in the late 1880s, flowered in the 1920s, and keep repeating on us every decade, like a bunch of bad burps. Deepak Chopra being the one with most credibility. That lady who wrote The Secret being one of the least. I wrote about it here

It’s always there, this idea of asking the universe for what you want and then by your positive thoughts manifesting it. But the flip side of this is ugly. There’s a potential for self-blame that goes along with it. If what you want doesn’t manifest, did you fail to think positively enough? And if something negative happens, is that then the fault of your negativity? If you are depressed, can you never expect anything good to happen?

The grain of truth in this idea of the Law of Attraction, however, is that priming your brain really is effective in influencing your performance. Daniel Kahneman, who is not at all into hokum and who has a Nobel Prize, talks about how easily influenced the brain is. For example, in one famous study he takes two groups of college students and puts them in two rooms. To one group, he shows a bunch of slides of elderly people doing slow things. To the other, he shows slides of people enjoying vigorous activity. Then he asks everyone to move to a third room, and - this is the actual metric he’s seeking - he times them as they move from one task to the next. The ones who saw the elderly, slow people moved slower than the other group. 

Or, there’s this. When I was in high school, I had a crush on a guy who drove a lime green car. Suddenly, I saw those cars everywhere. Were there suddenly more of them? Nope. I was just primed to notice them. The 14 year old wanted an old key. She was thus primed to pick out a bucket of them from amongst all the related and unrelated bric-a-brac at the flea markets. 

So did asking the universe for a new reader bring me one? 
Isn’t it much more fun to think so? 
The result of this key find was that I reinstated my morning practise of thinking of three things for which I am grateful, and then making one wish. And just this week, after wishing that my agent would call and tell me a publisher likes my proposal - and also that the dermatologist would find no new skin cancers at my appointment - she did! And he didn’t! 

Focusing on what I’m grateful for and looking for positive outcomes hasn’t erased negatives, but it has set them into the background. 

I no longer feel like the catuck/ducat. 

I have to revise my sample chapters in my book proposal. Wish me luck! And I will keep you posted. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A One Xanax Trip

Readers, it’s been a month since I last posted. I apologize. I like to post weekly. I meant to. I even took my laptop to Paris. But things got so busy.

The way things were busy:

  • Visiting 3 colleges so the senior could choose her favorite. She chose my alma mater, Wellesley, which I’m trying to be cool about.  

  • Packing for our family trip to Paris. 

  • Our family trip to Paris. 

Now that's what I call success. We went to Paris, and I only needed one Xanax. It was at Versailles. Because it looked like this:

And I didn't know where the bathroom was. 

But the rest of the time, oy, it was wonderful. Well. Drizzly and chilly and cloudy. But wonderful.