Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making Waves

My sister Deborah and I spent the day in Ocean City, NJ on Saturday. We love the beach. We really love the beach in winter. Nature tends to challenge our resolve by turning ugly when we plan a seaside get-together. But it was sunny and close to 40 degrees. Perfect for walking and talking.

We talked incessantly. We always do when it's just the two of us, cramming months of thoughts and feelings into a few hours. The experience is often dizzying. Sometimes gut-wrenching. Always exhilarating. We are only a year apart in age and grew up in each other’s pockets. It’s tempting to say that I know her better than I know anyone except myself. But it’s less cerebral than that. I sense what’s going on inside her. Standing next to her, I feel our energies blend together, effortlessly, like two flavors of soft ice cream swirling out of the machine. When we were kids, our mom used to dress us alike and people often asked if we were twins. I always thought it was a dumb question, since we didn't look at all alike. But sometimes, looking directly into her eyes, the connection is so powerful that I wonder if they were onto something.

Ocean City is where we connect most often. We spent countless summers there. Spreading our wings in the sun while the song of the sea taught us about love. These days our ritual involves meeting at Who's on First? for superb coffee and fresh-baked scones, followed by an excursion to buy jewels at The Flying Carp. When we have time and expendable income we'll stay for the weekend. And sometimes our guys join in. But mostly we just spend a day together and make the most of it. Which means walking the beach—no matter what.

The pull of the ocean was strong for me on Saturday. Deborah and I had talked at length about her desire to "live big". She spoke of endless skies and open spaces, of living unconfined, of being paid to travel and teach what she loves. I kept thinking about Georgia O'Keeffe. How she'd simply take off in a desperate search for breathing room. For her, the ocean and the desert offered one and the same thing: expansiveness. I realized that was what I craved on Saturday: space to breathe. Winter is always a time when my life contracts, shrinking against the cold and the dark. Lately an insane work load and limited finances have heightened the effect.

But there, on the shore, the gilded thread of horizon stretched unbroken. Waves gave in willingly to gravity's irresistible pull, breaking once, twice, three times before reaching their destination. The winter sun glanced off random shells that puckered the sand like dark buttons on a suede pillow. Over and over, the ocean drew itself up and released its energy with absolute abandon. Again and again, without apology. Faithful to its calling. Unwavering in its purpose. As we stood watching, I felt my breath deepen. The tightness in my chest ease. My soul open.

Deborah said she loves the ocean because it's ever-changing. What I love most is its unwillingness to compromise. The ocean makes waves because that's what oceans do. And regardless of what we call it—living expansively or refusing to be "small"—that's what she and I are after. Knowing our reason for being and pursuing it passionately. Without apology.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Need a New Drug?

Jim and I met on Match.com seven years ago—back when it was still a somewhat novel (and effective) approach to finding love. The other day I came across the profile I posted and was surprised by how much of what I’d said about myself (and the guy I was looking for) still holds true. In fact, there was only one line that rang false—and it happened to be my opening salvo!

“My guilty pleasures are chocolate chip cookies, pedicures, cheeseburgers, Access Hollywood…” I began. Hmmnnnnn…what a difference seven years makes! Cheeseburgers have taken a back seat to tofu and broccoli as my cholesterol has crept steadily higher. A toenail fungus turned me off to professional pedicures. And then—there’s trashy TV.

I’ve been a media junkie my entire adult life. I’m in marketing, for Pete’s sake, so it’s my job to know what’s going on out there, right? Okay, maybe that doesn’t explain my lifelong obsession with celebrity gossip—but the point is that lately I’ve been finding myself bored, and more often, annoyed, by the very thing that used to be a pleasant diversion from life’s harsh realities.

I don’t watch much TV to begin with, and when I do I want escapist entertainment. Soapy dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy”, old-fashioned sitcoms like “Old Christine”, offbeat stuff like “No Reservations”. I simply can’t comprehend the popularity of reality shows. When Jim recently sent me a link to Mitch Albom’s list of new rules for 2010, my favorite was “Jon + Kate = gone.”

For as long as I can remember, watching “Access Hollywood” has been my guiltiest of all pleasures. 30 minutes of mindless, often cheeky, commentary on the latest celebrity shenanigans was all it took to make me forget about difficult bosses, demanding friends, and disappointing men. Now it appears to be taking its cue from the mainstream news media, spewing a relentless stream of negativity. Lying, cheating, violence, weight issues, financial problems, illness, death—jeez, it’s like escaping right back to real life! So what’s a girl to do? Bury my head in a 500-page biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Whip through my Netflix queue. Follow Martha Stewart’s instructions for making mice out of pinecones.

Wait. Who is this woman who’s traded Brangelina for a glue gun and glitter? Who needs more than Billy Bush's ironic grin to distract her from her troubles? Who agrees with Mr. Albom’s rule that “Tiger Woods cannot do ‘Oprah’”? All I can say is it’s a damn good thing I’m still addicted to chocolate chip cookies.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Resolve THIS

It’s January 10th and I still haven’t made a single New Year’s resolution. No, this isn’t necessarily earth-shattering news. My pattern with resolutions is much like my M.O. with holiday traditions: some years I’m into it, some years I’m not.

But this year I’ve definitely been thinking about it more than usual. I’ve been working with a coach (Becky) for a few months and—no coincidence—we reached the goal-setting part of our process just as the end of the year began looming large. I’m a goal-setter by nature so this is not something I dread: it actually falls under my “delight” umbrella. And in the past it’s often been something I could do blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back. You know: make a little list in my journal and call it a day. Not this year. I’m finding it to be quite a challenge, even with Becky’s handy-dandy guide and a deadline to meet.

Why do I bother, you ask? Why do I feel a need to resolve to do anything? Maybe because it gives me a false sense of control. Or because I have a significant other who keeps hammering home the point that without focus we’re doomed to wander aimlessly through our lives, bemoaning the fact that things aren’t turning out the way we’d like them to. Truth be told, it could be because the process actually worked when I was looking for a new relationship and a new job.

So why am I stalling? I certainly know how to do it. I know that being specific is key. That making too long a list is the surest road to failure. And that making no list at all is more a sign of being lazy than being wise. (When I heard the actress Amy Adams say that instead of making resolutions she’s going to just “roll with it”, my first thought was, “Wimp!”) I also know that telling someone else about my plans—even going so far as to ask someone to hold me accountable—is added insurance. (Guess that means I’ll be posting them here?)

Many goal-setting gurus claim that using the word “intentions” instead of “goals” is equivalent to attaching booster rockets. Gail Sher goes so far as to say “Only ‘intention’ is essential.” Why? Because it says to the universe, “Hey, I’m ready to receive. Time to open the floodgates!” Much as I’d love to believe this is how things work, Sher’s view that “The value of a vow…is in perfecting its methodology” is more my speed. In other words, setting a goal and asking the gods for an assist is all well and good. But someone’s got to do the heavy lifting. A Russian proverb on my refrigerator says, “Pray to God but keep rowing towards shore.” Yep—that about sums it up.

So today my intention is to go back to my goal list and cross off anything that smacks of an obligation. I resolve to keep only the things that I feel passionate about. That I can commit to with a real sense of purpose. Because as much as making resolutions is about daring to think we can influence what happens in our lives, it’s also about creating more work for ourselves. And having good intentions only gets us halfway there.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

What Do Cats See in The Mirror?

I have a cat. Her name is Mariah (after the song, not the singer), and the vet’s best guess puts her at just over six years old.

The reality behind the words “I have a cat” remains bizarre for me, even after six years. I’m a “dog person”. A “dog person” who has been deathly afraid of cats since being attacked by one at age 15 while babysitting at a neighbor's. Mariah hasn’t done much to allay my fears: she’s moody, pushy, independent, and at times downright nasty, lashing out with claws bared when things don’t go her way. In short, she’s everything people tend to hate about cats. And of course I adore her.

How she’s managed to steal my heart—or, for that matter, how on earth she ever came to be in my life—is fuel for another post, another day. Today my mind is on the mirror. While I was brushing my teeth this morning, Mariah assumed her usual perch atop the vanity (she loves drinking water from the faucet.) Watching her fascination with the specs of dust floating in the air, I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with some feline-owning co-workers. They said that cats can’t see themselves in the mirror, and silently I’d breathed a sigh of relief. My cat’s penchant for completely ignoring her reflection did not mean she was mentally deficient after all!

A little research was required to put my mind totally at ease (Jim firmly believes she’s a special needs kitty). Turns out there’s something called the mirror test, which was developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. It attempts to gauge self-awareness by determining whether an animal can recognize its own reflection in a mirror. Numerous animals failed the test (including dogs), and human babies don’t usually pass it until they’re several months old. Apparently this cemented the notion that self-awareness is an advanced intellectual skill that is only possible with developed frontal lobes.

Well ain’t we the lucky ones! Don’t get me wrong: I’m big on self-awareness as a tool for creating a more satisfying and fulfilling life. But these days I’d be thrilled to gaze into a mirror and not give a damn about what I see. Imagine all the time, money and disappointment saved. Shampoo and skin care products! Eye shadow and contact lenses! Round brushes and flat irons! All of those credit card charges to jcrew.com! And best of all—an end to the anguish over cosmetic procedures!

I’m at an age where every woman I know is worrying about what her mirror reveals. We’ve heard and read the same blahblahblah about our faces not being a true reflection of who we are. But there is no ignoring the wrinkling and sagging and fading. Even the most self-confident women can’t pretend they don’t see the changes. They’re just better at not giving a hoot.

Jim tells me I'm way too critical of my appearance, and I'm sure he's right. It's not easy watching my face and body slide over the hill and down the other side, especially when it took so long to actually like them. But I can't stop time; I can only work harder at accepting the visual effects. To that end, I've taken a small step towards practicing Mariah's disinterest. I printed out a quote from Hal Rubenstein, longtime Fashion Director with InStyle, who spoke at this year’s Women’s Conference in California. It reads: “When you look in the mirror, stop looking at what you don't like. (You know you do.)”

It's taped to my mirror.