Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon

A "blue moon" is going to usher us out of 2009 and into the new year. And I can't think of a lovelier or more fitting symbol for this transition.

I think we'd all agree that this has been a pretty dismal year in oh-so-many ways. We've been bombarded with awful news from every possible angle. From day-to-day stuff like paying the mortgage and job security to escapist pleasures like politics, sports or celebrity gossip, the accumulation of crap has been relentless.

An editorial in yesterday's Record claimed that despite this constant barrage, a recent AP-GfK Roper poll showed that 78% of Americans claimed they were "very...or somewhat happy." And it (more or less) defined happiness as "the end toward which all other ends lead." If everything we do or desire is just a means toward this one end, one would think that 2009's continuous assault on our psyche's would have driven that percentage far lower. Many of those I love have grappled with the kind of debilitating hardships--from loss of income to chronic health issues--that drown happiness in their wakes. During the summer I often felt guilty about publicly admitting to having a good day--even around my most upbeat friends! I started this blog to develop a practice of celebrating the positive; on any given day, it's been a daunting task.

That said, we don't need a poll to tell us that happiness is something we choose. And tonight is our chance to breathe a sigh of relief as we sip (or gulp!) our champagne and watch the ball drop in Times Square. Not because we'll wake up tomorrow and find our world drastically changed. And not because there's any guarantee that the coming year will be an improvement over the one we're kicking to the curb. But because that ball will be dropping under a big, bright, blue moon. A natural phenomenon so special that it won't happen again (on New Year's Eve, anyway) until 2028.

It's snowing outside my studio window as I write this, so it's possible we won't actually see this moon. But we'll all know it's there. Beaming it's light into the darkest corners of our world. A glorious reminder that miracles do happen.

My New Year's wish is that we all remember to appreciate the miracles that happen-- not just "once in a blue moon"--but every single day of our lives. We may have to look hard to see them. And some days we may not find them at all. But faith is knowing they're always there. And hope is the moon that illuminates them.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Haiku

In her insightful and inspiring book One Continuous Mistake, writer and Zen Buddist Gail Sher suggests that writing a haiku a day will dramatically improve one's writing practice.

Given my issues with the "C" word (see entry dated 12/4), I can't promise to follow her lead. But this morning, the day before Christmas, lying in bed, I made my first attempt:

crimson cardinal
snow-caked pine bough bends—

I like it enough to let it serve as my holiday "card", as well as the introduction of this blog to my friends.

Merry, merry!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Heart of Giving

Some years, when the holidays roll around, I decide I can't handle sending cards. Some years decorating is a chore to avoid. Some years I can't bear going to parties. This year it seems I am totally not into the whole gift-giving thing.

I'm not entirely OK with this. After all, I'm one of those people for whom giving a gift is like buying a new home. It requires thought, research, and plenty of shopping around. It has to be uniquely suited to it's recipient. If it's something they haven't asked for and aren't expecting, all the better. Even the wrapping is chosen and executed with care.

I also love to get gifts. That said, it's impossible for me not to hold others to my standards. And I'm often disappointed, especially when it comes to men. My first real boyfriend, who went on to become my husband, was a thoughtful gift-giver but didn't have great taste. So his ideas were A+ but his execution rarely rose above a C-. My divorce was followed by two long-distance relationships separated by a few short-term (and completely misguided) flings. To a man, they worked tirelessly to make up for their lack of commitment by showering me with ridiculously fabulous presents. Some of them still give me pleasure: the Lisa Jenks bracelet from Peter, the scent Richard turned me on to, memories of the trip to Spain with Luis. But the men are long gone, and their piles of perfect presents paled in comparison to their parting gifts: loneliness, disappointment, heartbreak.

One sure way to avoid any possible let-down is to ban gift-giving so there can be no receiving. But as I write that I know that fear of getting a crappy gift or two is not the reason for my lack of enthusiasm. I think it's more about being out of sync with the emphasis on material things at a time of year that is meant to be about celebrating hope, faith, joy, and peace. I'm in the process of reconnecting with my core values and clarifying what's important to me now. Living a genuine life. Connecting with people in an honest and soulful way. Being a source of light and positive energy. These things matter. So does steering clear of those who use gifts as stand-ins for love.

I'm in a relationship now that is the most satisfying and fulfilling I've ever known, and gifts seem so superfluous. The experiences and values Jim and I share--these are gifts with weight and meaning. So far we've celebrated the holidays by hiking in Ramapo; driving through snow-covered farmland in New York; strolling the quaintly decorated streets of a small town in Pennsylvania (followed by impromptu wine and cheese in a cozy inn); and enjoying a great burger and fries at Burger Joint, then checking out the Christmas tree in Manhattan. And it's only December 16!

Jim and I have agreed to enjoy these "experiential" gifts in lieu of wrapped presents this year. My friend Maryanne and I also came to a consensus on a gift moratorium. As for everyone else, I will be giving in to the giving. Engaging in my family's Secret Santa tradition. Exchanging small tokens with friends as expressions of mutual gratitude for our presence in each other's lives. Using the holidays as an excuse to "treat" my son. But my heart's not really in it. My heart is somewhere else entirely. And I'm very OK with that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The "C" Word

Commitment. It's a word that can amaze, surprise and delight. Sometimes all at once. Sometimes not in a good way.

I've always felt that a promise is meant to be kept. That being true to one's word is the definition of honor. I've lived my life trying to hold up my end of the bargain. I keep secrets. Return calls. Show up. Follow up. Try to keep pace with emails (not always successfully). But when it comes to delivering on the deals I make with myself? My track record is nothing to brag about.

Case in point: this blog. I started it with the intention of telling people about it. The first month was supposed to be practice, just to see how it felt and decide whether or not it was something I'd enjoy. As you can see, it's now almost four months later. I've told probably a dozen or so people, "I started a blog", but I've only told two people the actual name of it. And one of them is my boyfriend.

What am I waiting for? I'm waiting for the "C" word to kick in. To grab the Pisces in me by the tail and push me upstream. I'm no fool: I know that if I tell people I'm here they'll come visit. And comment. And then I'll have to keep writing. Because that's the promise I'm making by telling them. That's the commitment I'm making to myself. To show up here. Every week. And give myself the gift of writing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ode to a Good Hair Day

Nothing cures a bad day like a trip to the hair salon.

It’s not that I’m shallow. And I’m no more obsessed about my appearance than the average woman. I don’t stress over a killer pimple or wear dark glasses indoors to hide under-eye circles. I don’t cry when I break a nail or feel naked if I leave the house without mascara. I do admit to being bummed when I wreck a fresh manicure (all that time & money down the drain!) and resorting to the occasional pep talk on those days when fastening my jeans is a struggle. But nothing sends a day spiraling into the gutter faster than the effects of wind and rain on my hair.

I’ve felt this way since high school. One of the biggest rows my mother and I ever had was when she told me it was too close to bedtime to wash my hair and I’d just have to go to school the next day with it dirty (yes, this was in the days before blow dryers). I was up at the crack of dawn to jump the line for the shower (five of us vied for bathroom time) and allow for ample drying time.

I’m not alone in this obsession. Sure, I have friends with bullet-proof hair. Julie doesn’t have a clue what frizz is. Alysse and Maryanne have truly wash-and-wear locks. And Shelley—well, this is a woman whose artful use of hair accessories (i.e. reading glasses doubling as a headband) has disguised many a messy up-do. But for most women I know, achieving hair nirvana is an uphill battle. Humidity is Public Enemy #1, closely followed by excessive use of hair product (who knew there was such a fine line between too little and too much dry wax?) Split ends run a close third. And let’s not even discuss what a bad haircut or not-quite-what-you-expected color job can do to the psyche.

“Hell” is calling the salon, desperate for a morale boost, and discovering that your stylist has skipped town—without bothering to email, text, or tweet. Think that’s absurd? Two months in the hospital and a lengthy course of heavy-duty antibiotics caused my mom’s hair to fall out. Despite the array of debilitating physical ailments that continue to plague her, she has given nothing as much airtime as the pain and embarrassment of this loss. On Thanksgiving we all shared her joy at the visible return of her own hair. But seriously: this woman almost died. Is it possible that the worst thing that happened to her was bad hair? Apparently.

So yesterday I let a new stylist color my hair. During the consultation, she slipped into that foreign language of highlights, lowlights, and ash versus golden. But she sounded confident and in a leap of faith (or moment of true desperation) I concurred, relaxing until the moment she walked away, timer in hand, saying she’d be back soon. After what seemed like an hour I broke into a sweat, imagining the frightful effects of over-processing. But panic subsided when, during the final rinse, the assistant pronounced the color “pretty”. In my excitement I said yes to the overpriced blowout. Soon the mirror reflected a shiny, swingy, bob in a just-right shade of gold. And—poof!—the week’s woes bit the dust.

If only I could afford to go every day...