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Friday, January 27, 2017

Letting Go

Readers, I have been unhealthily glued to the news and social media. I have been clinging to the news and suffering mightily. As have many of you, I am sure. Probably all of you. I have awakened at a different hour each night, and every time I do, the new POTUS is on my mind. This is really unpleasant, as he is so unpleasant.  And the news is so unpleasant, and yet I search it for new disasters or hints of hope. And as Buddha said, clinging is the source of suffering. 

So I am pivoting, like Kellyanne Conway, i.e. changing the subject to something I want to talk about it. However, unlike Kellyanne Conway, I am not providing #AlternativeFacts for you. 

Our family went to the Women’s March in NYC this weekend. The Women’s March, although a misnomer because it wasn’t only women - not by a long-shot - nor was it only about reproductive rights - was truly amazing. It was a highlight of my life. The MIL joined us, as did a friend of hers. It was so much more crowded than expected that soon the police had to open up the route to allow more people to flow. Well, “flow” is the wrong word. There was almost no movement. It took hours to go a few blocks. We all had to climb over a barricade at one point. I was so impressed that the MIL wanted to go, seeing as she is a grandmother, and there weren't that many grandparents there. And I was impressed with myself and all the other people I know who conquered their fear of crowds and of being stuck without access to bathrooms and of potentially being in a melée.  Well, my bladder held up and there was no brawl. 

Instead, it was peaceful, it was communal, it was a mixed crowd of genders and colors and issues all being compassionate and polite - except perhaps for the person who was smoking what was probably the largest doobie I have ever laid eyes upon. Perhaps some of my bliss came from inhaling that….
but, no, I felt it before I smelled it. The thing was, it felt so good to be around other people who care about the same things I do. And to realize that the crowd was much bigger than had been expected. And then to check social media and see the reports of the marches all around the country and the world. 

And yes, I know, the biggest crowds were on the coasts, which makes some people think this didn’t count. But I don’t believe it. I think the coasts are awake now, and some of the cities around the country had smaller marches, but still had marches, and those liberals are awake now, too. 

Look, I’m not going to have my inspiration sucked away by nay-sayers. It’s true that demonstrations aren’t policy; but they are important. I’ll just speak for myself. I found it fortifying to know I’m not alone in my concerns and in my views. And this knowledge has made me willing to be politically active, something I have not been in the past. I trust others will take away that energy, too. 

There is no way but forward. Forward through the mess. But still forward. 

I read an interesting article about how California is always a harbinger of the future. It has transformed from Republican destruction - with great damage to its public education system, mind you - to a progressive agenda now. I’m not hopeful we will escape the damage part, but I am hopeful that we will move forward with environmental awareness, clean energy, civil rights, and all that good stuff. 

But most of the time, I am roiling with anxiety. I'm anywhere but present and centered, as I'm reading up on what just happened and perseverating on what might be barreling down upon us in future. This is the opposite of being centered and present. 

Bartenders and hair stylists are often amateur psychologists. Mine is no exception. My hair stylist, that is. I don’t have a regular bartender, at least not yet. Anyway, my stylist - let’s call her Dawn - I saw today. In the nick of time, since, as I mentioned above, I am suffering from clinging to the latest news and updates regarding the current political situation on my social media feeds. Well, of course, we did broach the topic, because how could we not? Yet Dawn was smiling and calm. How was this possible? She said she limits herself to fifteen minutes of NPR on the way to work and fifteen minutes on the way home, and that is it. She did, she said, watch the Sunday morning news show this weekend with a friend and got a gander at the Portrait of Dorian Gray that is Kellyanne Conway, spokesperson for POTUS. And was shocked. 

Since she hasn’t been watching or listening to much news, she was actually pretty darn cheerful. Imagine that! We chatted about her recent eye surgery, the results of which are thrilling to her. 

“So tell me what it’s like to have eye surgery,” I said. And she did. When she mentioned with nonchalance that the laser malfunctioned the first time, I was traumatized by proxy. Then, when I asked her how they keep you from blinking, she said, “They use what they use in gynecological exams - a kind of speculum” - and proceeded to describe how it works. Scenes of horror flashed for me. 

“Were you anxious?” I asked, anxiously. “Were you sedated?”

“I don’t get anxious,” she said. “And they did use Twilight on me.” Twilight I think is that delightful stuff that killed Michael Jackson. It really is good. I’ve had it for procedures and you feel so rested afterwards. Unless, of course, you fail to awaken. 

But I digress. The important bit is the bit about Dawn not getting anxious. 

“How can you not get anxious?” I asked. 

“I have bad knees.” This sounded like a nonsequitur, but Dawn is a storyteller, so I waited. “This therapist I see told me that all the trauma I've suffered in my life" - and she has indeed, I know. I waited for her to say this trauma has caused her to dissociate in times of stress, because otherwise, why was she so calm? 

- "all the trauma has left my soul intact, but it all manifests in my body.” 

“Your knees?” I said.

“My knees.”

She continued working in silence for a while and then I told her about my recent experience meditating. This was yesterday. I figured I had better try to center myself (scaffolding of success, key to functioning in life) by meditating while the ninth grader studied and the husband commuted home. And how during the thirty minutes I set aside to relax and detach from the world and cultivate peace, the doorbell rang - the doorbell, I tell you - and then my phone, which had been pretty quiet all day, started receiving text and after text. I heard them all come in, but the phone was downstairs and I was up, so I couldn’t turn it off. So much for peace. 

"Well," Dawn said, “I have the book for you.” She glanced at me in the mirror. Maybe it isn’t the right moment for you, she said, butI read it at the right moment for me. The book is called The End of Your World, by Adyashanti.* “I’ll give you a synopsis. It’s very short.”

“Okay,” I said. 

“Okay, here it is. He says, ‘That thing you think is true? It is not true.’” Which is another way of saying it’s all in your head. So don’t worry about it. 

This sounds facile, I realize, Readers, but it reminded me of a truism I picked up in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that is similar: Just because you think a thing is true doesn’t mean it is. Your fear is just fear. It doesn't mean the thing you fear is true. It might come true - true - but then again, it might not. 

So, I leave you with that. 

*An American West Coast guru, according to the interwebs.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Few Scattered Thoughts on Inauguration Day

Jan 20, 2017

Hello, Readers. If you’ve come to me for some insight into our country’s future, I got nuthin’. Ok, not entirely true. Maybe because it’s my name, I do have hope. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s hope, right? One step forward, two steps back? Cannot go there. This election may be one step back, but, as ass-backward a way to move forward as that little dance may be, it is still moving forward.  As I said to the college student over lunch at Psychedelicatessen in Troy, I can’t say there’s a time in the past I would like to return to. Unless it would be 2015, so we could redo the primaries. But era-wise, no thank you. I mean, c’mon, surely the existence of a bagel, sandwich, and coffee shop called Psychedelicatessen represents progress. Peace, love, acid, and bagels all mixed together and mainstream? 

If you’ve come to me for some solid tips for success, I got none of those either. But I do have a story. A little one. Last week I spoke to a woman I know whose granddaughter was going to participate in Miss Teen New York. Her granddaughter has been going on the pageant circuit. She’s been Miss Altamont several times and won many local and small, regional awards. Anyway, it’s a whole scene, the pageant scene, full of hairstylists and wardrobe people and make-up and photography and entry fees and accomations, all of it very expensive. This girl, who’s about to turn 18 made it to the state level. She earned all the money herself through hard work and GoFundMe and you name it. This week, I asked how the pageant went. Well, she didn’t make it to the finals. She was devastated. All that money and time she had spent came to nothing. 

But at least she learned something, said grandma.

Yes, she learned a lot. She learned how to set a goal, how to go about achieving it, how to take on a challenge. She also learned a lot about performance, dress, and self-presentation, as well as a bit about a particular industry. The outcome was not in her control, but she took control of the process and propelled herself as far as she could. Last, she learned how to handle disappointment. 

Which means, of course, going into a depression and getting therapy. 

No? Not always? Of course not, people! It means you put on that Chumbawumba song, pull out the inspirational quotations and get back up again. 

Maybe you follow my example and pull out the little foil package your sister-in-law gave you for Christmas, the little foil package containing a Korean face mask. You do this because you’re curious, and because you don’t want to wait for a special occasion to spruce up the ‘ole face. You figure any day’s a good enough day to try out this special face mask. 

Definitely didn't expect an actual mask!

If you’ve come to me for frivolity, then you are in luck. Because aside from working on my memoir, I’ve been busy with other things. Like watching “Auntie Mame” with the college student. Her suggestion, which was surprising in a way, since the whole family quotes from the movie quite often, and her father (the husband) and I do so almost daily. “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death,” is Mame’s motto. She’s clearly referring to Epictetus, mentioned in this post. For Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher living in the Roman Empire said, “Remember that in life you ought to behave as at a banquet. Suppose that something is carried round and is opposite to you. Stretch out your hand and take a portion with decency.” 

Thought. Auntie Mame, by the way, also abhored bigotry, racism, and anti-semitism. Even if she was a member of the East Coast Liberal Elite. Or especially because she was a member of it. Auntie Mame, in fact, is a fiction based on a man - Patrick Dennis - as anyone who has read Uncle Mame knows. 

Okay. Thought. 
Hate the system, not the person. 
Remember Rump is a product of our system. We have to change the system if we want to prevent Rump and future Rumps. 

The husband is reading a three volume biography of Winston Churchill. At some point early in Churchill’s career, he met with Bourke Cockran, an Irish American lawyer and congressman in the “Tammany Wigwam.” I am in no position to tell you anything about the Tammany Wigwam. I will have to ask the husband at a later date. At the writing of this post, he was dictating the following terrific and inspiring quotation to me:

In a society where there is democratic tolerance and freedom under the law, many kinds of evils will crop up, but give them a little time and they usually breed their own cure. 

Thought. I don’t know if Bourke Cockran, being part of Tammany Hall, might have been speaking about himself - I’m guessing the Wigwam was an anti-corruption unit of that corrupt institution, but that is just a guess - but Winston Churchill made note of it. He found it wise, and if Winston Churchill found it wise, I will hang my hope upon it. I encourage you to do so, too. 

Got my game face on. Let's march!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

This Week's News

I have been massaging kale. That's my first piece of news. 

I know, kale is over. The kale bandwagon rounded the corner months ago, with its cargo of green smoothies and super food Caesar salads trundling out of sight. Kale is over, but I don’t care. I’m not a trend-setter. I’ve only just begun massaging it. I don’t really like massaging things, but kale takes some massaging to make it good. Or goodish. Honestly, why the fuss over kale? It’s kind of bland. Stiff and bland when fresh, slightly broken down and still bland, but a little salty, after massage. Kind of like me, actually.

[Every day in every way, gosh darn it....I like myself, gosh darn it. I’m as good as kale, gosh darn it.] 

So, yes, gosh darn it, I have been massaging kale, and then dressing it in a pomegranate-based dressing. How dated. How 2016. How like a different era.

Perhaps that’s why I like massaging kale, Readers. Kale takes me back to a different era. Afterwords, I relax by re-watching a movie set in a different era. Like “Sense and Sensibility,” with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant and Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton. It’s so nice to lounge on the couch and watch people observe social norms and have things work out so very, very well in the end. As I told the husband, all that is required is for one of the characters to come down with a very bad cold, also known as a “putrid throat,” and then things have a way of working themselves out.

Never mind that Emma and Hugh were far too old for their parts - they played them beautifully. And perhaps it was better they were older, because watching mere children fall in love and have putrid throats might come across as a wee bit implausible, given our current views on the marrying age. I mean the marrying age among my set. Or bubble. The marrying age in my bubble is higher than it is in other parts of the country. In other bubbles. And higher than it was back in Jane Austen’s bubble. Oh, that gorgeous wedding scene with the magnificent, decorated cake on a beribboned stick makes for just the sort of inaugural celebration I like. Never mind that what comes after the wedding is never Jane Austen’s concern. I don’t need to bother with it, either. 

Did you know that inhabitants of Las Vegas consume 60,000 thousand pounds of shrimp per day? I do, thanks to Calvin Trillin’s amusing musing on the topic in The New Yorker.* I love Calvin Trillin. I’d like to be as clever as he - and published in The New Yorker

The husband read Trillin’s piece out loud. This is news because I don’t like to be read aloud to. I like to do the reading aloud. But he did it really well. All that shrimp. My, my. It made me feel better, that article. Not because of the shrimp. I’m not a big fan of shrimp. But that Calvin Trillin had to devote so much insomnia to those shrimp. Yes, it made me feel better to know I have not been alone, awake at four a.m., trying to think of my shrimp equivalent. 

In other news, I watched, “Singin’ In the Rain” with the college student. Her idea, not mine, I swear. It did fit my agenda, however, to disappear into another era. I spent a lot of time thinking about how bad I would look in all those flapper clothes. But I do like a sparkle, a silk, a faux fur.  And, lo and behold, things worked out for Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden, and the bad gal gets her comeuppance. She’s not a classy dame, and she gets hers. 

Yeah, that’s a feel-good film.  

A last update: I read Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo. I won’t spoil it for you by saying that there are a lot of underachievers in the book. If you know Russo, you know he specializes in the second rate denizens of second rate towns. In this book, a sequel to Nobody’s Fool, which came out in the 1990s, both of the main characters spend a lot of time thinking about how their 8th grade English teacher nagged at them. Since they’re from a small town, they interact with her throughout their lives.  Or throughout hers. She's dead when Everybody's Fool opens. She, Miss Beryl, nagged Raymer by asking him who he really was. She nagged Sully by asking if he didn’t ever feel bad that he hadn’t done more with his life. Despite the double negative, the message is clear. She saw potential in him and felt frustrated that he didn’t seem to want to fulfill it. And he, now 70, thinks about that. He realizes that yes, sometimes, he does feel bad about it. But most of the time he doesn’t. That may not be all right with Miss Beryl, but ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Sully accepts himself. Unlike Raymer, he has some idea of who he is. He may not think much of himself, or ask much of himself, but he’s all right. I’m not like Sully, but perhaps I’d be better off if I were. 

Well, Readers, that’s all the news for now. I wish you a happy week. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Spanx, Stoicism, and Success

Today, Readers, I would like to discuss Spanx. Spanx, in case you don’t know it, are modern girdles. Sure, they call them something different, something a little more euphemistic than “girdles.” Girdles got a bad rap and “went out” with Women’s Lib. Feminists don’t wear girdles. They wear Spanx, a.k.a. body shapers and smoothers. Although, come to think of it, “girdle” originally was something Athena might have worn around her hips to hold her tools or her keys. Girdle didn’t imply constriction originally; eventually, however, by the mid Twentieth Century, the term meant gut holding thing made of elastic. Today’s girdles, called Spanx, lack the erotic allure of the girdle and stockings, but they do suggest sadomasochism. Which is a fitting implication. Whatever they imply, they sure are efficacious. If by efficacious you mean they work well. And if by work well you mean push your loose flesh up and into various positions of smoothness. And if by “you” I mean “I” or “me.” Which I do. 

Now Spanx have been around for a good decade or longer by now. I think perhaps they date back to Girl Power. Or is that Grrrrl Power? Ironic tone intended. In any case, I have purchased the Spanx brief or two over the years, mostly when I was at a time of life - or let’s be honest, of body shape - that didn’t really require them. They worked well. But, Readers, I recently purchased a new pair of Spanx pantyhose, and I think they have “improved” them even more. Now, there is a bewildering array available to encase every body part and even to enhance some. And they come in different strengths, too. 

Well, I was going to an event - a wedding - to which I was planning on wearing a clingy jersey dress. Artfully ruched, of course, since I am probably now “a woman of a certain age” - although I’m not certain, since no one has actually defined that age for me. Which would, of course, defeat the point of the phrase, no doubt. But still. So, when I asked at one of my favorite boutiques for advice about the best color of pantyhose I should wear and learned I didn’t possess it, I headed for the Spanx hose and bought myself a pair. 

People, have you recently tried to put on a pair of Spanx pantyhose? It seemed like a good idea. After all, if I bought pantyhose, I would still need a pair of Spanx briefs, so I figured I’d get all in one. Let me just say, I could barely get both feet in them at once they were so strong. I couldn’t easily separate my ankles once I did get both feet in. Then it was like rolling copper pipes up my body. By the time I got them unbunched and over my hips, I was dismayed to discover they kept going up my torso. I realized that I would never be able to get them off to pee. That’s when I discovered that they were made so I wouldn’t have to. Ahem. Unfortunately, I had unwisely worn a pair of underpants under them, so I had to take them off again (sweating profusely) and then go through the whole pipe thing again. Exhausting. 

Why am I telling you this? I don’t know. It has nothing to do with success. But then again, my life lately hasn’t. The editor passed on my book proposal. This got me down, way, way down. But I am up again, thanks to my scaffolding of success. And that does have to do with success. After the devastating news, I spoke to my loving mirrors and my agent. I’m back at the writing. I’m going to write the book now, instead of waiting until we sell the proposal. I’m going to stop waiting for instructions from others and write what I want to write. I still have an agent who believes in my book. I still have my like-minded others urging me on. So I will go on. I’m taking a page from Epictetus, thanks to the MIL, who pointed me to a short piece on the Stoic philosopher in The New Yorker*
Milo is definitely a Stoic
Epictetus said, “Of things some are in our power, and others are not.” You should only focus on the things you can control, namely your “opinions” and “acts”. This is sage advice for our times. Did I mention Epictetus lived during the first century C.E? He was a Greek speaking Turkish man who was for a time a Roman slave. Yes, I did pause to consider that this philosophy of self-knowledge and self-restraint was developed by a slave, who definitely, as a slave, had pretty much no control over anything except what was in his head and heart. Yet, Epictetus was eventually freed and still (or finally, after being freed, when he had the time) he developed this philosophy. It made sense in his time and no doubt his advice makes sense now. It’s really, for any time. Timeless advice. Indeed, it sounds like the advice my father, who has been studying Greek for thirty years, has been dispensing of late. It’s root advice. Kind of Buddhist. Kind of Christian. Kind of modern psychological, too. It put me in mind of a psychotherapist I know from NIA class who said, in relation to current events, “We have to start by looking inward and changing ourselves.”

It also put me in mind of Stephen Covey’s Habit # 1: Be Proactive and his discussion of the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. I've written about this here. The circle of concern is larger and contains the circle of influence. However, the only area an individual has any control over is the circle of influence. As you focus on that circle, the circle under your control, you affect the outer circle, too. But you have to return to what you yourself can control. This applies not only to the political situation, but also to so many situations. I can’t control an editor’s response to my book proposal, but I can control my book. 

So, in the New Year, I will try to be more Stoic. I started with Spanx. But I’m moving on to my writing. I will write the best book I can. And I am going back to my teaching and am planning to tutor disadvantaged kids in hands on mathematics to help them in school and to develop critical thinking skills. These things are within my control. They are in my circle of influence. The effects will, I trust, spread my circle of influence out towards the boundaries of my circle of concern. The only thing that will not be spreading out is my midsection, which will be girdled by self-knowledge, and (only when necessary) Spanx.