Month: February 2008

And now what will you be?

old mirror

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately.

Part of it is closing in on the halfway mark to my birthday. (It’s September the 13th, in case you want to mark your calendar now).

But a lot of it is all these metaphoric Post-It Notes that have been popping up on the metaphoric mirrors of my life lately.

Delightful reminders like the sponge cake around my middle (which, on the bright side, has qualified me as a blood donor for the first time ever, free OJ & cookies!!).

Or the ten minutes I spent in my Toastmasters meeting a couple of weeks back trying desperately to pull the word “malapropism” from my ganky-ass RAM after hearing “exacerbate” get swapped out for “exasperate” for the third time.

Or the fact that my college roommate has a son who is going to be a third-generation legacy when he enters college…next year.

And a lot of clothes that I swear to you were perfectly fine even six months ago?


There’s a window of about 20 years where you look like a total tool if you wear ironic tees, and I seem to have been defenestrated in my sleep. Which concerns me, because I will not be 70 for another 23 years, and SXSW is next week. What am I supposed to do, go to the UX panels naked? My sponge cake will show!

It is weird, having this age thing happen seemingly overnight. I realize that everyone has this moment in front of the mirror (except the lucky few who have a portrait stashed in the closet, let me know how that plays out for you). I just got to put mine off for an unreasonably long time.

I never had kids, for one. I live in the land of No Seasons with Which to Mark One’s Death March to Invisibility. Hell, I live in L.A. and I’m not hot or rich, I’ve been invisible since I got here, 16 years ago.

And mostly, I don’t mind being old any more than I mind being invisible (although I’d quite like to be rich, as I’ve heard it affords one a great deal of freedom.) Like my pal, precocious codger Jim Garner, I kind of enjoy being an elder, or, in codger-speak, an old coot. I have always rounded up, claiming the next birthday’s age shortly after the new calendar year begins. It makes things incredibly confusing on my actual birthday, as I am bad at math and my parents, bad at planning. I mean, would it have been that hard to meet a year earlier and have me in 1960?

No, I don’t exactly mind the idea of being old, I am just not crazy about the getting there.

I would like to skip ahead to the part where I have a full head of snowy white hair like Mom. To the part where I’ve already done 20 years of yoga and am this lithe, inspiring, elder-model type who takes a lover 15 years her junior. And maybe female. You know, just because.

Basically, to the part where the young part of me is long gone rather than slipping away by degrees, and the old me is this fabulous, rock-’em-sock-’em me unimaginable to me now, much less actualizable.

I am not young anymore, except to old people. I am not old yet, except to young people. Just like being born into this crazy non-Boomer, not-quite-Gen-X cohort, I cannot quite parse myself yet, and I gotta tell you, it’s a little irksome. Like that deep, phantom itch I get in the library that won’t disappear no matter how hard I rub my shoulderblades across a corner of the stacks.

On the other hand, this is a perfect frame of mind in which to sail into the aforementioned SXSW: not quite sure, a little on the wobbly side, with lots of cracks for old stuff to leak out of and new stuff to sneak into. Last time I went, I was wobbly because it was new to me and I was new to the internets and on top of everything else, as it turned out, I was sliding into a Crohn’s flare. This time, it will just be wacky, wobbly me, seeing a few familiar faces, meeting a few People Behind the Handles, sucking down some of that SCD-legal Tito’s, having my head cracked open.

As long as I remember my vitamins, I think it should be fine.

Provided I can get my hands on a few plain t-shirts…


Image by master of felix via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Happiness Project

happiness is helping

Alex Shalman has a lovely and ambitious project going on over at his eponymous personal development site this month. He got an impressive cross-section of people to answer a simple, five-question interview on their own feelings re: happiness, and aggregated the answers, along with some other various & sundry information.

There are some big names on the list, 800 lb self-dev gorilla, Steve Pavlina; 800 lb biz/self-dev gorilla, Tim Ferris (the 4-Hour Workweek guy); and 800 lb social media/self-dev gorilla (and my pal!) Chris Brogan.

What’s neat, though, is that not all the entries are from what would explicitly call the self-dev blogging pool. And their interviews are at just as fascinating and illuminating, BoingBoing co-founder, Mark Frauenfelder and Brian “Copyblogger” Clark turned in wonderful takes that owed as much to tight writing as right perspective.

Not that there’s a wrong perspective when it comes to happiness. The proof is in the pudding, and while the new, positive psychology has gone a long way towards illuminating certain consistent traits found in the happy person, ultimately, it’s a pretty personal pursuit. Another internet friend of mine, Gretchen Rubin, studied happiness for a year, turning herself into a lab for the experiment, much in the way I try to do with communicatrix; it was no surprise to me that her interview was one of the best of the bunch.

Of course, I’ve dwelved into and on happiness here, as well as created my one-and-only Squidoo lens on the subject. But Alex is welcoming submissions, and I think it’s good exercise to wrap my head around other people’s questions now and again. So here are the five questions, along with my answers. If you’d like to do a little thinking and sharing, too, you can either grab the list and post to your site (don’t forget to link back to Alex!) or write out your thoughts in the comments section of his post.

Either way, to borrow from one entrant, so much more happiness-inducing, to focus on the positive than its musty, sad sack cousin, Mr. Boo-hoo-hoo.

The Questions

1. How do you define happiness?

First off, to differentiate Happiness with a Capital “H” from the fleeting kind of woo-hoo! happiness, I like the phrase “deep contentment” or “private joy.” I mean, I don’t actually like these more, I’d have to be an utter asshole, as “happiness” is way pithier, but the word been been co-opted by too many hair care products to be truly useful anymore.

And to me, Happiness with a Capital “H” is either or both of those things: an abiding inner peace that’s matched by a sort of “thrum” in the heart area. Making me the world’s biggest cornball, I know.

2. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your happiness now, versus when you were a child?

Until age 10, 8 or 9. From 10 – 40, around 4 or 5.

Today, praise jeebus, I’m back up to around 8 or 9. And plan on keeping it that way!

3. What do you do on a daily basis that brings you happiness? (and how consistent is the feeling of happiness throughout your day)

It’s not anything in particular, but an aggregate of right thoughts and right actions. To put it in Stephen Covey terms (I’m heavily into the 7 Habits right now), when I spend most of my time in quadrant 2 with a wee sprinkling of time in quadrant 4, I’m good. I need my quadrant 4; I’ve just got to be diligent about not spending too much time hiding there. (Here’s the time management matrix for those of you who have yet to drink the Kool-Aid; I know, I know, I’m on the tail end of this curve.)

Oh, and a little one-on-one time with Arnie will snap me back into shape if I veer too far off course. It’s good to have a short list of non-prescription mood enhancers for when Monkey Brain takes over.

4. What things take away from your happiness? What can be done to lessen their impact or remove them from your life?

As soon as I move off of what I have and onto what I don’t, I’m tobogganing down the icy slopes of Mt. Misery. You can pick up serious speed on that sucker.

Fortunately, a quick adjustment, looking at the myriad riches of my life, usually gets me back pretty quickly. That, or remembering the days of my colon being a greased and bloody chute.

5. What do you plan on doing in the future that will bring you even more happiness?

Committing to a life of greater service. Sharing more of what I know. Letting go of things that hold me back, and ceaselessly working to identify new outliers.

And treating myself to lots more walks with Arnie, of course…


Image by carf via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

What is the why? vs. Fake it till you make it

happy meal

I was recently introduced to my favorite new word of easily the past five years: unpack.

Since then, I’ve learned that it’s been a term long in employ by the code geeks, but the context in which I first heard of it was a cultural-anthropological one (or sociological, I get them confused.) Either way, the essence of meaning is pretty much the same: an not-quite-impossibly dense situation is dropped in your lap; how do you begin to untangle it so that it makes sense to you and/or others?

I no longer get down on myself for my minor obsessions. Instead, I generally indulge them, well, the ones that don’t involve meth or whoring, anyway, until I’ve sussed out, or unpacked, why they hold me in their thrall.

For example, I’ve watched Play Misty for Me, an excellent but hardly earth-shattering 1970s film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, roughly 50 – 75 times, by conservative estimation. I wrote about it a bit here, but if you’re feeling lazy, the gist of the why was wrapped up in eight flavors of comfort: my love for the Central Coast of California (see also here, here and here); my love for an emotionally distant dad who loved Clint Eastwood; my (probably misplaced and idealized) love for a long-lost decade; etc.

Via years and years of talk therapy, I’ve also unpacked the bulk of the why about…

  • my ridiculous fear of asking for help (overly high parental expectations for first-born baby genius girl)
  • my predilection for Judge Judy, Dr. Laura, Tom Leykis and other dogmatic arbiters of fairness (lack of control over chaotic events in my childhood)
  • my desire for ridiculously soft toilet tissue in bulk, excessively long and hot showers, and a narrow range of acceptable inside temperature (draconian year-and-a-half incarceration at Gloomy Manor)

The thing is, as I’ve intimated above, in most cases this knowledge was not immediately and readily accessible. So I didn’t exactly live the unexamined life, but I did a whole lot of crap (the meth! the whoring!) while I was busy doing the unpacking.

It’s maddening, sometimes, because it’s hard not to think that if only I had the key, I could unlock these chains and shrug them off. I could stop eating or stop drinking or stop being mean or stop self-sabotaging in any of a million-billion ways, if I just knew what the fuck this was about.

This, of course, is how people end up morbidly obese, alcoholic, friendless and dead in alleys before their time. This is the Big Lie. Ultimately, it may not matter, or at least, right now it may not matter. If your boyfriend punches you in the face, you could spend a lot of time mulling over how you got there, or you could get your ass to a safe house and maybe live to find out later. (Oh, and for the record, while I’ve grappled with all kinds of darknesses, one thing I’m relieved I never had to was domestic abuse. And I say “relieved” mainly because I’m not at all sure I’d have had the wisdom to see the early signs and the ladyballs to get myself the hell out.)

Right now, I’m in the throes of unpacking some really overstuffed, super-compacted situations. They’re old, these things, even if the lead thread is new. I’ve noticed alcohol creep, for one, never a great thing, mainly because I really enjoy it and don’t want my consumption to escalate to the point where I’ve got to give my beloved vino the heave-ho entirely. I’m hating the phone more than usual and still fighting my way through every invoice (to send, not to pay) and check (to deposit, not to write).

It is good to know the why, and I can’t imagine abandoning the search. My ex-mother-in-law, whose problem set did not align with my own (one reason, I’m sure, why she was exceptionally easy for me to love), had a little framed Engelbreit-esque illustration opposite the can that used to drive me insane, a sullen Ye Olde Girle, with a hand-lettered exhortation: “Snap Out of It”.

Hated. It.

Especially when I was sullen because my delicate bowels refused to function in a home with one toilet per four people. (Even Gloomy Manor had an excessive amount of plumbing, rickety as it was.)

But I get it. There are times for reflection, and times for soldiering on: when kids are involved, or survival is threatened, or even when things really Need to Get Done. In these times, I use carrot, stick or what-have-you to get there. So much is at stake, and honestly? You can be contemplative when you’re dead.

At least, I think you can…


Image by bulldog1 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Notes to a Young Lady upon reaching her majority

big shoes

I had a ladies’ lunch with an old friend today. I know it was a ladies’ lunch and not a girly lunch because:

  • a goodly amount of time was spent discussing Things of a Lady Nature, like our shameful confessions about listening to talk radio and our surprise over the arrival of a new kind of belly fat that laughs at our attempts to dislodge it
  • an equally healthy amount of time was spent marveling that we are the exact same age as the Possible Next President of the United States
  • the above morbid topics unfolded with a level of enjoyment and detachment that simply didn’t exist in my 20s or 30s

Here’s the thing, whippersnappers: I like being a lady of a certain age, 46 1/2, to be precise. I don’t mind being called “ma’am.” And the only reason I’m at all upset that I’ll be turning 50 in less than four years is because I’ve finally realized that time is not, in fact, infinite, and I have way more shit to do than I probably have years left in which to do it. Less still, should that Mayan calendar business prove true.

More and more things have been happening lately to remind me of these days of my life slipping away like sands in the hourglass of time. A dear friend whom I’ve known for 25 years turns 50 this year and asks for some reminiscences, a few stories and observations picked up along the way, which is something old people ask for and other old people accommodate. Another old friend has taken to insisting I call her “my friend I’ve had the longest.” I turn things down and accept other things not because they are or are not “happening,” but because they are things I do or do not want to do with the time I have left.

I got another request lately from another old friend: she has a stepdaughter who is leaving girlhood and entering her official womanhood. Which, in this country, anyway, means she is too old to pose for Playboy and old enough to buy her own Marlboros and Tickle Pink at the White Hen. (Do they still sell Tickle Pink? Are there, for that matter, still White Hens?) My friend asked her circle of friends if they could gather some thoughts to honor this auspicious transition, since apparently, the vision quest had to be bumped on account of exurban sprawl.

So here, my young lassie, are my words to you. You won’t mind if these other lovely people read them, will you?

The List of Things I Hope Missy Will Take to Heart as She Leaves Girl-dom Behind

  1. Live within your means.
  2. Always wear shoes in which you can flee an assailant.
  3. Do something creative every single day. If nothing else, it will help you expand your notion of creativity.
  4. Do not listen to anyone or anything that tells you when you should have sex except for that small voice inside you.
  5. And that small voice? It’s always right.
  6. About everything.
  7. Be yourself, but be gracious.
  8. Screw resolutions, but always have goals.
  9. Everything in moderation, moderation inclusive.
  10. You are beautiful.
  11. No, seriously, you are beautiful.
  12. Anyone who thinks you’re not is not someone you need to concern yourself with overly.
  13. Develop your “I believe” speech. Revisit it every year or so.
  14. Never stop asking questions.
  15. Realize, however, that there are such things as stupid questions, as well as people who will make your life unpleasant for asking them. Spare yourself unnecessary cruelty and cultivate a circle of trusted advisers to consult with as needed.
  16. Speaking of which, sparing yourself unnecessary cruelty is a great idea, in general.
  17. As is asking for help.
  18. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
  19. Have friends who are older and younger, as well as friends of your own age.
  20. And it should go without saying, but make sure fully 75% are women.
  21. Take stock, but try not to beat yourself up over perceived shortcomings.
  22. Take care of your teeth. When the world blows up, dental care will be hard to come by.
  23. Read M.F.K. Fisher, Virginia Woolf and my newsletter.
  24. Don’t read women’s magazines.
  25. Oprah excepted.
  26. Don’t dis your sisters.
  27. Even the ones whose heads seem so far up their asses they couldn’t see you flipping them the bird in broad (no pun intended) daylight.
  28. Build bridges, not walls.
  29. Be very careful who and what you give up work for.
  30. Keep your tools sharp.
  31. That goes double for the toolkit.
  32. Try to spend time in nature and with animals.
  33. The only person who should be the boss of you is the person cutting your paycheck.
  34. And even then, be very clear about your limits.
  35. Remember that mental health is a necessity, not a luxury.
  36. Know the difference between meat and treats, but don’t deny yourself either.
  37. Give more than you get.
  38. But don’t keep a scorecard.
  39. If at all possible, live in another major metro area before settling down.
  40. And no suburbs until absolutely necessary.
  41. Avoid TV unless you’re being paid to watch it.
  42. Acquire private health insurance and keep it, even if your employer has a plan.
  43. Never skip a pap smear, mammogram, or, down the road, colonoscopy.
  44. Explore.
  45. Have a lot of (safe) sex.
  46. Develop a list of go-to books, films, and songs for difficult times.
  47. Find something to do that gives you joy outside of your work, even if your work gives you joy.
  48. Avoid PowerPoint.
  49. Travel light.
  50. Make peace with the living while they’re alive; it’s much harder to do once they’re gone.

Congratulations, young lady. We’re glad to have you in the club…


Image by Big Swede Guy via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Live by the cha-cha, die by the cha-cha

keeping it real

The BF and I went to dinner tonight with the Happy Couple, an impromptu sort of a thing, as we all worked up a mighty hunger looking at yet another example of moderately-priced Los Angeles real estate. So many abound!

Anyway, we went to a neighborhood joint, The BF’s neighborhood, which ain’t the ‘hood, but ain’t fancy, neither. And it’s Sunday, right? A day of (putative, anyway) rest. Low-key is the operative word. And the place is hummin’, albeit in a decidedly non-partying, non-alcoholic, school-night-y way, because (remember?) it’s Sunday! We’re eating our beet salad and high-end ribs in our jeans, the people next to us are eating their pistachio-crusted salmon in their jeans, the people next to them are eating their high-end meatloaf & mash in their jeans.

And as we’re mopping up the last of the delicious broth from the grilled calamari, in walks Sister Satiddy Night, rocking the cha-cha like she’s there four days early for a big Valentine’s Day out. Tight, shoulderless dress with boobage. Four-inch heels. Hair. Makeup. The whole, uncomfortable works, including her slightly homely fella in slightly less fancy fella-garb, whom I’m guessing, and I know, I know…I’m totally guessing, was picking up the check.

Now, of course they could have been coming from a wedding. Lots of people have them on Sunday because it’s cheaper and hey, if you’re being frugal, maybe you’re saving by not having a meal, either. Maybe they work regular nights out and this is their big, do-it-up night. Maybe a million things. But on top of it all, that dress is not comfortable. No, I’ve never worn it, but I’ve worn plenty of uncomfortable dresses and heels and I know. I know.

The last time I wore a serious cha-cha outfit without getting paid for it was on a particularly pathetic birthday, my 26th, maybe, or my 27th. Between when I dated the Republican and married the Chief Atheist. I had no date, not a lot of friends, and one good, fun, funny, kind male friend agreed to go out with me on my birthday. I’m not certain, but I’m fairly sure we split it down the middle. Outside of a regular relationship, that’s how I roll, as my feminist mother drilled into me that to do otherwise was tantamount to selling cooch for steak. Plus he was a kind friend, but a cheap one.

So I was in the cab, which again, I’m fairly sure we split, and I got attacked. Full-on mauled by my good, fun, funny, kind male friend: the whole gimme-baby, Radio Tokyo thing. My umbrage, shock and dismay were at least equalled by his. Why, if I didn’t want to act like a ho, was I dressing like one?

A very good question.

Because my boyfriend had dumped me.

Because I was turning 26 or 27 and I honestly thought my stock was falling.

Because that cursed Robert Palmer video came out with the impossibly hot chicks in the impossibly tight black spandex dresses.

Because I was sad. Because I was angry.

Because I hated myself.

Because I wanted people to love me.

Because I could. Because they sold them in stores so regular ladies (okay, girls) could buy them and turn themselves from good-looking people to good-looking objects.

Because I wanted to be pretty. Because I wasn’t pretty enough.

Because I wasn’t enough.

That’s really it, isn’t it? Because there are ways to look good without the cha-cha, just as there are ways to be in relationships without compromising your integral self. Good luck finding them in this world, though, without a lot of trial and error and a lot of looking. It is almost impossible to raise a girl in this world with enough self-esteem to say no to the cha-cha, to believe in herself enough to not compromise herself, to know that she can look great without putting the goods on display. I know; my mom tried. “Don’t get too attached to your looks,” this breathtaking natural beauty would say. “One run-in with a bus, and it’s all over.”

And then she would put on a little lipstick, because that made anyone feel better.

I’m not advocating the burkha any more than I’m advocating dumping on sisters who, for whatever reason, choose the cha-cha. I know a few for whom it really seems to be an outgrowth of their personality. But I see a lot more of us putting it on, trying to be someone else, someone else who’s really, really slutty-looking, because of some bullshit notion we picked up from a million signals around us suggesting that it’s a logical, desirable way for all of us to be. That to not choose it is to choose invisibility or un-sexiness or some other undesirable state. And I’m calling bullshit.

If it’s in your stars, go ahead, go for the cha-cha. But for god’s sake, have a Plan B. Your tits and ass are not a retirement plan. Your pretty face is not job security. Do not get wrapped up in some crazy notion that by putting on the cha-cha, you are investing in yourself.

If nothing else, have a sense of humor about it. Know that it’s drag, and own it. Know who you are underneath and own that. I had a dentist once whom I called Dr. Cha-Cha. She was a good dentist and hey, if she felt like pouring herself into a porn-a-licious dentist outfit and fuck-me pumps to scrape my teeth, more power to her. But that is the natural order of things, ladies: work first, cha-cha second. Not cha-cha for cash. Not cha-cha so a dude will buy you dinner and maybe later, a ring and a car and a house.

And for the love of all that is holy, if you do opt for the cha-cha, do it on your own damned terms. To squeeze or push or starve yourself to become someone else’s idea of fabulous, for love or money, is a fool’s game.

Of course, all this from someone who’s not even sure what color her hair is under all that dye. But hey, I never said I was consistent.

Just comfortably dressed on a Sunday night…

Image by edward olive via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Barack at the bottom of the ninth

obama in santa barbara

I usually post something a little earlier of a Monday.

(I usually post something of a Friday, too, but last week, I was out there honing my speaking skills, and had no time.)

But today, my internet was down from 10:30 am until recently, about 10:30 pm, or 12 hours. An eternity for a nerd like me.

That’s what these past 8 years have been like: an eternity for a nerd like me. A nerd who still dreams of change so momentous, the whole world sits up and takes notice. And changes. A nerd who, despite loving many peoples of this great, wonderful world, still holds a quaint, nerdly belief that there is goodness in the original concept of this, our America. A nerd who believes in sharing her toys, sitting at the communal table, reaching out to the less fortunate, and feeling to the edges of every cell the great fortune she already has.

The years of great health care, though now they seem numbered.

The freedom to express myself freely, without fear of reprisal.

The ability to determine how I want to live, and where, and with whom.

I am also honored to be living in a time where the top two contenders for the Democratic nomination for the highest elected seat in this country are a man of color and a woman. I am terrified that people still fear these two things too much to see clearly, and also that perhaps some people who hold out hope for change will try to outguess the fearful, voting for the candidate who can win instead of the candidate they believe in. I am afraid, yes, afraid, that many will vote with their heads and not their hearts tomorrow.

I get it; I do. Just like I get how huge huge huge it is that a woman, a WOMAN, for GOD’S SAKE, has made it this far. It doesn’t matter that sometime around the time I was 10 or 11, they amended it to “a land where any boy or girl can grow up to be president.” It still feels impossible and wonderful and huge.

No matter who makes it on Super-Dee-Duper Tuesday, I’ll put my weight behind him/her in November. But tomorrow, I will be casting my vote for Obama. Because he was never for this war that I have, from before the beginning, been horrified by. Because he is an outsider, but an outsider who has stumbled and fallen and picked himself up and learned from the fall. Because should he make it to the White House, we will send an unmistakable message to the rest of the world: we’re sorry. We’re done. It’s over, and we’re setting a new course.

Because goddammit, I’d like to be able to visit the rest of the world without having to apologize for my fellow countrypersons.

I hope you will vote for Barack Obama. But mostly, I hope you will vote. A strong showing, period, will mean almost as much as a strong showing for him.

You. Me. This America.

For the love of all that don’t have what you have yet, freedom…health care…the right to marry a loved one…to pursue happiness…to say what happens within their own bodies, vote.




Image by montauk beach via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.