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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Don't Pickle It: Success Lesson

Hi, Readers, now that graduation is past, and I’m still standing - just about - I have some advice for you. 

Don’t Pickle It.

This is something my Aunt Wisdom says to me when she gives me something nice, like a bracelet my great grandmother gave to my grandmother and she gave to my mother when she graduated from high school. It means use your nice things, don’t just save them. I immediately put the bracelet into my jewelry box for a special occasion, contrary to Aunt Wisdom’s advice. 

It’s hard not to pickle things, I find. When I buy a new item, I resist wearing it right away. I’m waiting for the perfect occasion. Although I get Aunt Wisdom’s drift: use it, enjoy it, don’t save it for some perfect moment. We don’t have that many moments as it is, so we might as well enjoy them while wearing the platinum filigree bracelet studded with sapphires. 
One valid reason for pickling: bracelets are difficult to fasten without help

Use or lose, after all, right? Although that phrase reminds me of an erstwhile friend, who had a fierce attachment to various items which were once impeccable but were now used to the point of almost unusable, like a chipped china teapot and a J. Morgan Puitt linen dress now ragged, which she kept nevertheless. “They’re on preservation,” she said. Which I understand. Because if you don’t use, then you lose by not using. But if you do use, well then you also lose because you use up and wear out. But at least you used. Thus, the paradox of the special material item, ours for now, which we want to last forever, but we know it never will, to paraphrase Cat Stevens.*

Anyway, “Don’t pickle it” is something my Aunt Wisdom says. She says her mother said it to her, which means that, technically, the saying comes from my grandmother, Baba, although Baba never said it to me. Precision, precision in all things. It’s because I’m a lawyer’s daughter and a former potential librarian. I’m a stickler for giving proper credit. That’s because I never felt like I got credit for anything. Or maybe because my parents would interrogate me when I came up with a declarative opinion. 

“Where’d you get that information?” one or another of them would say. As if to suggest I couldn’t have come up with that information on my own. 

But did I want to go dark just now? No, I wanted to talk about Don’t Pickle It as a rule for successful living. The word “successful” here means “pleasant” or “comfortable”, which I think is fair, if a stretch. What else is this blog about if not about stretching the definition of success so that it encompasses just about everything? 

So, yes, I’m thinking of Don’t Pickle It and success, because just the other week, I went to an Event for the husband. For this Event, I pulled out some evening sandals that I’ve had for a long time. Eighteen years, precisely. Precision, precision. I bought them when I was pregnant with the 17-year-old to wear to a wedding in which I was a bridesmaid. An eight months’ pregnant bridesmaid, if you must know. Indeed, the last time I wore them was when I was pregnant with the 17-year-old and a bridesmaid. The sandals have traveled from Boston to Albany to New York City and back to Albany in the meantime. They have definitely been pickled. Now they have come back into fashion, sandals with a blocky heel. So I pulled ‘em out and put them on. Finally, the moment was right. This Event was that moment. And when I returned home and pulled the sandals off, much of the lining of the sandals’ straps and inner soles remained attached to my feet in a tarry substance, sort of like painted on sandals, if the paint were tar, and requiring much scrubbing to remove. And the shoes had to go buh-bye. Lesson learned.

With that experience still fresh, I permitted myself to wear my very nice slingback shoes to the 8th grader’s moving up ceremony, instead of saving them for just the right occasion. And I was glad I did. Even though I was sitting on an uncomfortable bleacher in a high school gym while four hundred 8th graders processed and received diplomas, I was glad I was wearing the nice Ferragamos I bought for my sister the psychoanalyst’s wedding 13 years ago. My feet, at least, were as nicely dressed as some of the boys, who were in blazers and bowties, and I felt festive.

So, Don’t Pickle It.

Expensive upfront, but cost per wear over time makes up for it.
*Cat Stevens's song "Oh Very Young." It's about love, not things. But whatever. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nora Ephron and Me, Exhaling

I feel vindicated. Judith Shulevtiz’s article in the Sunday Review* pretty much lays out all the conflicts I have felt about choosing to put mothering as my top priority, all the while watching my “viability” as a worker erode and the lost financial rewards pile up. It’s a lot of pressure either way, trying to maintain a career while being a parent, or trying to parent without feeling like you f***d up by not having a career. Or trying to parent while cobbling together gigs and part time work - forget that lofty ideal of a career. I realize that’s a privilege when so many people just have to make ends meet. 

She says, “What if the world was set up in such a way that we could really believe - not just pretend to - that having spent a period of time concentrating on raising children at the expense of future earnings would bring us respect? And what if that could be as true for men as it is for women?”  

But I don’t wanna talk about that. I wanna talk about Nora Ephron. I picked up a tome at the Wellesley bookstore, The Most of Nora Ephron. She was a Wellesley grad. And now I want a round dining room table again. I say again because several years ago I read Nora’s piece, “About Having People to Dinner,” on not getting wazzed out over the food (my paraphrase, not her terminology), on giving people a seating plan - “they get very nervous when there isn’t one” - and on the absolutely “essential”  round dining table. So you’re not “trapped talking to the people on either side of you.” I wanted a round dining table after reading that piece then; and I want one again, after reading it again last night. 

Shall I ask the universe for it? 
Or perhaps our accountant?  She will gently remind me that we have college tuition to pay - for the next eight years - and that the FAFSA believes that our household could actually contribute $94,500 of tuition per annum. Seriously. I kid you not. So, instead of purchasing a round dining table, we might consider selling every bit of furniture we do own, and moving into a refrigerator box. Then she will tell me she’s leaving for a two week cruise. 

Why am I not an accountant? 
But I digress.
And anyway, the idea of a cruise is not so appealing. All that potential for gastrointestinal illness. 

But the round dining table? That is appealing. The husband and I argued about the feasibility of such an item in our dining room after I made him listen to me read aloud Nora’s essay on knowing all along who Deep Throat was. Perhaps it made him grumpy - we have a detente on reading aloud to one another, since, as charming as it sounds to share tidbits in turn, and indeed, whole marriages have kept romance alive by doing so and then trumpeting this strategy to readers like me, the truth is that neither of us likes to listen to the other read. We only want to read aloud:

Deep Throat and Me: Now It Can Be Told, and Not for the First Time Either
For many years, I have lived with the secret of Deep Throat’s identity. It has been hell, and I have dealt with the situation by telling pretty much anyone who asked, including total strangers, who Deep Throat was. Not for nothing is indiscretion my middle name.

Come on, that’s really funny. (It’s from 2005, around when Deep Throat came out in Vanity Fair.)
Anyway, as I said, that might be why the husband insisted that a round table would not work in our dining room because the room is rectangular. I countered with my in-depth knowledge of geometry that a circle can fit inside a rectangle. I power-beamed a diagram at him telepathically

It was a more basic diagram, but I couldn't make it work today. 

but he would have none of it. He continued with his St.Aubyn and I with my Ephron. We chuckled to ourselves in our little pods.

The table talk, so to speak, was purely an academic discussion, because what we do have, and what we will continue to have as a dining table, is a plank of plywood 8’ by 5’ atop a smaller IKEA table. This serves us well at Xmas time, when we have a sizable number of guests for a couple of days. However, it’s a bit large for the usual evening party, when we have only a couple of extra people .

Anyway, this is all  a distraction from alligators eating two year olds and the NRA allowing unstable people to massacre innocent people at a gay club and Doonuld Drumpf revoking the privileges of the press at his campaign events and insinuating that President Obama is secretly conspiring with terrorists against the US. 

This is a distraction from the Senior’s impending graduation and the planning of the party for this event, and from the inevitable end of summer, when we drop her off at college and have to return home. What shall we do then?

Immediately buy a dog?

Readers, I do not know. I do not know many things. But I am glad Nora Ephron wrote so much to amuse us, and continued to work and live and be vibrant and upbeat even when she knew she was dying.   

So I will leave you with this quotation from Nora Ephron, on blogging, which she did, by the way. 

" of the most delicious things about the profoundly parasitical world of blogs is that you don't have to have anything much to say. Or you just have to have a little tiny thing to say. You just might want to say hello. I'm here. And by the way. On the other hand. Nevertheless. Did you see this? Whatever. A blog is sort of like an exhale. What you hope is that whatever you're saying is true for about as long as you're saying it. Even if it's not much." 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Update Sans Success - Perhaps

Readers, here's an update from New Netherland. 

1) It was an emotional week. So many final thisses and thats. We attended the last 8th Grade band concert and a middle school awards ceremony, events signifying endings of middle school and, of course, while I don’t want to downplay the transition of the 8th grader into high school, the transition most prominent for me is the transition of the Senior into the College First Year. Freshman? Freshwoman? Fresher? First Year, I think will do. No bowing to the patriarchy around here. 

Anyway, after the ceremonies, I headed east for my college reunion. Beforehand, I stopped for lunch with a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in twenty years. Ah, those childhood friends. The ones you see or don’t see, but whose voices on the phone are as familiar as family. I was gobsmacked by how the time had gone by since I had seen P.  Conversation was so easy. How was it possible I had not even met her second child, or she my first or second child? What is going on in my life that I can look back over decades like rolling fields of wheat that stretch forever but seem just a quick traverse? 

Yeah. So take that melancholy elegiac tone and head over to your reunion. Your 30th reunion. Notice how I adopted the second person, here? That's me dissociating from that traumatic reality. Thirty years? Oy. 

Anyway, back into the cradle of adulthood for the weekend. A reunion is a strange thing. I think I may become a regular reunion-goer. It’s relaxing to slip into your peer group where everyone is sharing a bunch of experiences. When everyone is your age you do have a lot in common, even if life has pulled you in different ways. People all seemed happy to see one another, even people who weren’t really their friends in college. I think the reunion-goers may turn into another set of friends. 

But all that reaquainting and recapping is exhausting. 

2) After the reunion, I returned home (I still want to put that in quotation marks - “home” - because it doesn’t really feel like home exactly) to attend the Senior’s final ballet recital. Talk about draining. It was open faucets time. And not just for me, for all of us. And the other moms. I am very proud to say that this time we did remember the flowers for the dancer. This has not always been the case. We are not that family that always shows up with a bouquet. We are that family that sometimes remembers to buy the flowers and then leaves them at home. That sometimes forgets to buy them at all and then scrambles out at intermission to find a sad bunch. That sometimes just throws up its hands and says, “Oh well.” For this last show, however, I brought her roses for her middle name. 

After that, several families went out for dinner, and had a marvellous time. Until it was time to pay and the restaurant seemed unable to manage our requests for separate amounts on separate bank cards and it took SO long for them to figure this out that we were all thoroughly sick of the sight of one another and were happy to say goodbye, go home, and have restless dreams about aging and dying. (I’m confident I speak for everyone there.)

Of course we will see one another again this weekend for a different dance performance at Jacobs Pillow, but that’s another story. 

3) It’s been a long time since I reported on the garden. I spent a lot of time obsessing over it in 2010.   Eventually, the moss won and the roses died and things were looking really bad. But I am happy to report that now my garden is looking great. Thanks to somebody else. I did a little of the work, but mostly it was done by our trusty crew of landscaping professionals. I provided coffee and appropriate laughs, since one of the crew is also an improv comedy performer. Are they friends? Employees? Somewhere in the middle. 

Of course when I think of all the money we spent on the yard, I think of the stove with only 3 working burners that still has only 3 working burners, and of the broken microwave that’s part of a microwave and oven combo and would require a lot of money to replace. And I think, perhaps, rather than dribbling money into the ground, we could have replaced our oven and stovetop. 

But that would invoke a whole Brady Bunch redecoration scenario. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? I'm talking about the episode when Carol replaced the carpet (deep, shag, I presume) in the master bedroom; the new carpet made the bedspread and the curtains look dingy, and next thing they knew, the whole house needed a redo. That’s all well and good, if you don’t have to pay for other things, like college and food. But we do have to pay for those things. So the broken stovetop will remain that way until we can afford to replace the counters and the stovetop and the oven. Which might in fact be never. How about never? Is never good for you? 

That’s a quote from the best New Yorker cartoon ever:

But I digress. The point is, we have dribbled money into our yard, and now that it’s summertime in Upstate New York, we are reaping the reward. 

This has nothing to do with success, any of it, unless success is related to endurance, growth (of people and plantings) and change. Let's say it does, okay? 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Cognitive Distortion and a Myth About Success

Let’s blame the dog. Let’s blame the dog for everything, shall we, Readers? 

Not fair?

I’ll tell you what’s not fair. What’s not fair is that the husband is on call 50% of the time. This means he gets awakened at night 50% of nights. Which means I, too, get my sleep interrupted. And then, on top of that, whenever the dog - dang him - gets some kind of stomach illness, it is always on one of the nights that the husband (and therefore, theoretically, I, despite being perimenopausal) am expecting uninterrupted sleep. 

That’s what’s not fair. 

Or maybe that’s life. Life is also not fair. My father often told me this as I was growing up. I was suffering from a cognitive distortion, apparently. Cognitive distortions are ways in which our minds make us think things are true that aren't. 

“Life is not fair,” he would say. 
“That’s no fun,” I would say.  
“We are not here for fun,” he would say. 
“Then what are we here for?” I would say. 
“Duty, honor, and our country,” he would say. 

Yeah, that’s what was going on when I was growing up. Perhaps that is why I am somewhat pessimistic when I’d rather be optimistic.  So maybe let’s blame my father. But really, he was disabusing me of one of the above-mentioned cognitive distortions to which we are all susceptible, the fallacy of fairness.

So, let’s blame the dog, this week. That's also a cognitive distortion, blaming. But actually, this time it really is the dog's fault. Because that’s what’s been going on around here. Last night, after a round of medicine, the dog slept through the night. This means - you guessed it - the husband was on call, and therefore neither of us slept through. But the dog, the dog was comfortable.

He knows he's cute and will be forgiven

But that wasn’t what I was going to write about. That just came out. I’m blaming the dog for missing my post yesterday and writing it today. I was just too tired. 

What I was going to write about was a myth about success. Here’s the myth. The idea that successful people are somehow different from other people. That they have special DNA that gives them a deep down, elementary sense of the inevitablity of whatever it is they set out to achieve. I used to think that there was an invisible wall between me and successful people. The successful people were tantalizingly close but still unaccessible. 

This is a myth. Successful people do not, in fact, have an invisible mark on their foreheads that shows up under black light and lets them into the club of success. 

Plenty of successful people had no idea they would succeed. Plenty of successful people just plugged away at some project or another, full of doubt and anxiety, full of pessimism, even, before succeeding. 

Furthermore, anyone who has succeeded has also failed. It’s just that we tend to forget the negative things when the positive ones stand out so well. When looking at our own experiences, perhaps we are more critical and remember the failures more than their flip sides. This is called filtering

There is another cognitive distortion colloquially known as the grass is always greener. Well, that's what I call it. If it isn't on the official list of cognitive distortions, it should be. So I found this article refreshing. (See link below, after you have finished my post.) It is about a trend of posting resumes of failure. In other words, instead of just promoting their successes, these nice people put out a list of all the things they've tried and failed to do. It’s a nice thing to know that Princeton professors, among others, have a long list of failures on their resumes. It’s one thing to hear that Edison had hundreds of failed inventions before hitting on his big success; it’s another to hear that someone a little more contemporary has some failures, too. 

Why is this nice? No, it's not my schadenfreude acting up again. (Take two Tequilas and call me in the morning.) It's nice because it reminds we who are striving that missteps and downward plunges are inevitable and they do not preclude success.