Let’s Make it Official!

The end of the year was an interesting and different one for me. You know how life often goes in waves? A wave of graduations, a wave of weddings, a wave of baby showers, and so on. Well, my wave of weddings is well behind me at this point. I’m invited to one perhaps every five years or so.

So imagine my surprise when two friends scheduled weddings for the last week of the year. Both of these women have been good friends of mine for many years, and as forty-somethings these are first marriages for each. I was beyond excited at ending 2015 on such a high. How often does that happen?

Things got even more interesting when, at the end of October, one of the couples asked if I was willing to get ordained so that I could perform their ceremony. I admit to a bit of confusion at first. I’m not a particularly religious person. I’ve never expressed interest in entering the ministry. And most importantly, I don’t look good in robes. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of couples finding one another and choosing to build a life together. We do it so frequently that perhaps we’ve forgotten how much bravery is involved in coupling.

I agreed to officiate the ceremony for my friends and promptly got ordained online the following day. It is shockingly easy. There’s no fee. The form has fewer than ten fields, and apparently you only have to be over 13 years old to hit submit. All too easy.

It was only a few weeks later, after hearing that I was newly-ordained, that the other couple approached me and asked if I would be willing to perform their ceremony too. What an unexpected turn of events. It truly is nice to know that people have entrusted me with such an important moment in their lives. I don’t know if I’ll ever perform another ceremony, but it was sure great to be involved in these two. And no robes were required!

 

 

 

Parenting Tips from the Childless

There’s nothing that hard-working, well-intentioned parents love more than listening to unsolicited parenting advice from the childless. Am I right, or am I right?

And yet, sometimes, certain things must be said.

While it’s true that I don’t have children, I was one for many years. Some might argue I still am, but that wrinkle aside, you learn a few things by walking around the block once or twice. I also had the great fortune (although I would’ve been reluctant to admit it at the time) of being raised by a pair of darn good parents. Come to find out, they were making it up as they went along much of the time – as most of us do throughout life – but they sure got it right far more often than they got it wrong.

Here are three quick tips. Do with them what you will.

  1. Exercise Boredom

    As a parent, you are neither court jester nor circus entertainer. Boredom isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your child. Not by a long shot. Boredom’s often the pathway to creativity, a pathway that gets cut off all too soon with the digital distractions and strange expectation that our entertainment and edification needs to be pushed to us these days, rather than growing organically from our own brains. Do you remember as a child staring at clouds and imagining what they were, or being stuck in a car with a sibling and making up silly games to play? I remember those moments and more quite fondly. They were energizing and fun. I’m pretty sure we can all use more of that.

  2. Exercise Responsibility

    Teaching a child responsibility seems like a no-brainer, and yet, we live in a time where the line between parent and friend is freakishly blurred. Sometimes we seem so focused on reducing any stress or hurt our child might feel, that we don’t give them a chance to grow. If we’re too quick to bail them out every time, we subtly send the message that they’re incapable of being resourceful or responsible – incapable of figuring things out on their own. Be the backup plan, not the first responder.

  3. Just Exercise!

    Please, please, please, show your child what it means to be outside, to play, to appreciate nature, appreciate movement and all the life-long benefits of being active. Your children don’t have to be athletes or adrenaline junkies to enjoy being outside. Put down all those electronic devices you think you can’t live without, and just get out there! And, no, you cannot take the selfie stick with you to document every move. Your memory will do just fine.

And, on that note, I’m going to take my own advice, finalize this post and get outside for a bit. Happy Parenting!

Coming Apart at the Seams

I wrote this in the first hour of hearing about the events in San Bernardino, before we know what we know now, not that it would have changed what I wrote. Whether it’s San Bernardino, or Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or gang violence in your own hometown, here are my thoughts.

____________________________

one-eyed-ted-aka-aloysius-55

When we were little my sister had a small teddy bear she cuddled with when she took naps. She held on to that stuffed animal for years. His fur was worn in several places, he’d long since lost one of his plastic ebony eyes, one ear had fallen off only to be reattached with a safety pin. Seams were splitting, stuffing came loose.

That’s us right now. We’re coming apart at the seams. Our stuffing is escaping, our fur is patchy, and we’re holding on to parts with safety pins. It happened slowly, over many years of wear and tear, and then all at once. We pick up guns against one another. Against those we don’t know, sometimes those we do, often those we only think we know. Those who represent something that hurts us or offends us or angers us. Or maybe we’re just having a bad day.

We have so much pent up energy manifesting as anger that somehow we convince ourselves the best course of action, perhaps the only course, lies at the end of an assault rifle, that we acquired legally or otherwise, for a purpose I can’t possibly imagine. Except that perhaps this was the purpose all along. To annihilate some strangers in such a manner that would surely lead to our own annihilation.

I’m not sure what the answer is. In fact, I’m still struggling to come up with what the real question is. When something like this happens – which, I hope we can agree, is too damn often – our dialog becomes hyper-polarized.

  • Get rid of all the guns.
  • If someone had been carrying a gun, this wouldn’t have happened.
  • It’s mental illness.
  • It’s the media.

To and fro, back and forth, like children on a seesaw in an abandoned playground. It doesn’t go anywhere. We pray, hold vigils, pour our hearts out to the victims and their families, update our profile pictures on Facebook. And once we’ve expressed enough good will, as though somehow these kind, heartfelt gestures will return the world’s sense of goodness back to balance, we resume our lives, including our old conversations that are safe and comfortable.

We lack the attention span to focus on difficult problems like this one. We can only hold one idea in tension at a time. We can only have one problem, and that one problem can only have one solution.

It seems we’ve lost the ability to have reasonable, effective discourse anymore. Conversations are fraught with attacks and accusations that all but ensure no action, compromise, fundamental change or progress will take place. The more important the issue is, the less capable we seem.

We cling to old ideas and old ways, just like my sister did with her bear. She hung on for so long, perhaps imagining him in better times when his eyes were shiny, fur full and fluffy. But no amount of imagining was to make it so.

Gray Days and Heavy Hearts

IMG_0070 For the last few weeks in Milan, the days have been filled with perfect autumn weather. Perhaps seasonably warm a few days, but generally crisp, bright blue skies, no rain in sight. But the gray, foggy, dreariness of this photo from my apartment window is what we were met with this morning, which seemed apropos given the attacks last night in Paris.

The weather matches the mood. The streets were quiet today, everyone walking a little slower, talking a little lower. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it certainly matched my mood.

I first learned of the attacks last night on Twitter. I have to say, for breaking news, Twitter is second to none. The details were sparse, and it’s hard to convey much in 140 characters, but it was clear there was something tragic and deadly underway. It was hard to sleep knowing what was happening, the story still emerging, the edges soft and unformed.

I woke a few times throughout the night – higher numbers, lower numbers, revised information, things still solidifying. And then morning came, and things were over, and yet just beginning in so many ways.

It’s hard to make sense of what’s happening, in Paris, in the world at large. I’m still in my head about it, trying to access language that can explain the incomprehensible.

For now, my thoughts, my energy, all drive in a single direction; and while I hope tomorrow that I’ll be greeted with a morning sun, I’ll completely understand if I’m not. Sadly.

Friggatriskaidekaphobia – It’s That Time of Year Again

friday13bWith Friday the 13th upon us, it seemed like an appropriate time to chat about superstitions. I consider myself to be a largely reasonable person, but for some inexplicable reason, I’m wildly superstitious. So is my sister. Black cats, walking under ladders, cracks in sidewalks – we’ll have none of it.

And don’t even get me started on Friday the 13th. We avoid air travel, long-distance driving. We don’t start anything new or change routines on a Friday the 13th. According to us, the risk associated with Friday the 13th is on par with base jumping or heli-skiing. This year there are three occurrences of Friday the 13th – February, March, and November. Three is the most that there can be in any one year, and there’s always at least one. It’s been a rough few years since we also had three in 2012. For those of us keeping track, the good news is that there’s only one next year and not another set of three for almost a decade!

Apparently my sister and I suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia. Of all the things one can receive rehab for, this, sadly, doesn’t seem to be one of them. What’s a girl to do?

The origin of this affliction in my sister and me is unknown. Under normal circumstances, I take every available opportunity to blame my quirks and flaws on one parent or the other; but I’m afraid I can’t toss this one over to them. My parents are frustratingly rational people. The best I can tell, they bear no responsibility in this matter. Unless of course, it was this same rationality that drove us to seek something more magical and mystical in our lives.

When I started working in Italy a few years ago, I didn’t know that the significance of Friday the 13th wasn’t universal. In Italy, 13 is generally considered a lucky number. It’s Friday the 17th that causes them to go running from the room. It’s been difficult for me to determine if I need to adopt this new superstition as something of an homage to my second home, or if I can keep it just to the 13th. Given that there were two instances of Friday the 17th this year, I really didn’t see the sense in taking on two more days of angst. I thought this was an incredibly rational response for me, proving my parents’ influence was indeed present.

But the 13th is still a concern, so tomorrow I’ll be keeping things low-key. It’s no time to try blow fish or learn how to fence or enter an eating contest. That can all wait till the 14th. Until then, it’s safety first, people!

UPDATE:  I was so wrong!! There IS treatment for friggatriskaidekaphobia. An entire treatment center, so it seems. You know where to find me…

Change: It Does a Body Good

changeblog

It’s been a big autumn for me. Changes that have been steeping for a while have finally come to fruition. Oh, let’s face it – they aren’t really that big of a deal, but when the changes are yours, they often feel bigger than they really are, don’t they?

So here’s what changed…

1. I got five inches cut off my hair. I’ve had the same hair guy for almost twenty years. He’s my buddy, my pal. He won’t steer me wrong, but he also knows that once I’ve made up my mind, there’s no turning back. It’s only hair after all. I get that.

But sometimes these seemingly simple changes are indicative of something more – indicative of a readiness to tackle bigger changes. Symbolic things like hair cuts are an invitation to the universe to bring it on.

2. I got a new laptop. Yeah, yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like a big deal either. But what’s important is that I’ve had the same laptop for about eight years. It was still on Windows XP, an operating system I truly adored. I get attached like that – yes, even to operating systems.

I waited until the last gasp before finally making the change. The day I couldn’t do a basic task like copy and paste, I knew the time had come. I got a teeny, tiny Dell laptop with a touchscreen and Windows 10. This is likely the most cutting edge that I’ll be. Trust me, I’ll never be accused of being an early adopter; but all things considered, the transition hasn’t been as painful as I worried it might. More importantly, I can copy and paste again.

3. I got a new phone. Similar to the laptop, I’d held on to my cell phone for much longer than made sense. I was perhaps the last person in the civilized universe talking on a Blackberry. I loved my Blackberry, and if the battery hadn’t gone to seed, I’d still be using it. I made the leap to the dark side, which is to say I’m now a member of the Apple family.

Here’s the thing about change, at least as it relates to me. The contemplation of it is far more anxiety-ridden than the actual change. Perhaps it doesn’t always work out that way, but all the energy and time I spent resisting it was so draining by comparison.

Will I be any quicker next time? Perhaps not. I imagine I’ll be on Windows 10 long after it can be purchased or supported. I’ll be draining the battery from my iPhone until the new versions are in double digits. But hopefully I’ll remember how easy it ultimately was when I’m faced with other transitions that are sure to come.

A Frenetic Case of Wanderlust

Important Things
My life of late has been a series of leavings. Partly by design, partly by desire, I find myself unpacking and repacking on a regular basis. I have the logistics of it down to a science – leave the house two hours before any flight, pack anything critical in carry on, set the thermostat to fifty-five, put the mail on hold, and so on.

But the emotions of it, I’m still working on. As much as I look forward to most trips, I also don’t want to leave home. I never feel like I have enough time at home – except when I’m there, of course.

This frenetic case of wanderlust has been with me for a lifetime. At this juncture, it wouldn’t seem that it’s some phase I’ll grow out of in due course, like when I thought I wanted to join the Peace Corps or be a long-haul truck driver (true story for another time!).

My father was a career Navy man working on diesel submarines. For the first several years of my life, we moved every couple of years, sometimes less. We exited the roller coaster the year I turned ten, which on paper sure doesn’t seem all that long, and yet, living that first decade of my life in such a nomadic style has shaped everything that came after.

When you’re born in to something, you can go a long time not realizing there’s another way. A whole lot of other ways, as it turns out. I remember during sixth or seventh grade when I realized that I had friends who had never been on a plane, had always lived in the same town, and even more strikingly, lived within reasonable driving distance from the bulk of their relatives. My relatives, on the other hand, lived on the opposite coast from me. We’d never shared a Thanksgiving or Christmas with any of them.

As children, you don’t spend a lot of time missing what you don’t have. Indeed, we had no need to. I have the great privilege of having incredible parents, and a sister who isn’t so bad either. (That’s a joke – she’s a gem, my mirror, my forever friend.) I never felt that we were missing out by spending each holiday just the four of us, or maybe with some family friends.

In any case, it was most assuredly those early years that fed my desire for exploration, independence. Perhaps it would have been there anyway, but I’m not so sure about that. Exposure to different geographies, people, and cultures only made me want more. I sought it out in my education. I sought it out in my leisure time. I sought it out in my professional life.

And so we’ve come full circle – back to the trip that I’m on right now. The trip that allows me to explore and experience while at the same time maintaining a home in a town that I love.

What was I complaining about again?   

When it Comes to Equal Pay…

Listen up, ladies, because I’m only going to say this once. If you don’t ASK for what you want, don’t blame others when you don’t get it. And don’t be so quick to pat yourself on the back if you get it without asking, because that’s just called luck.

For me, this idea can apply to a lot of different things, but the topic at the forefront of my mind is equal pay. I get it – on the whole, women are making 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Of course, the issue is much deeper than a single statistic, and certainly much deeper than a single platitude about asking for what you want. But for my money, it’s a damn good place to start.

Shortly after Jennifer Lawrence’s essay concerning wage inequity was published, I listened to a radio program where two women were discussing the topic. They mentioned a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Meredith was offered a chief position (by her female boss) but thought the salary was too low. One of the radio show hosts commented that female bosses should be looking out for female employees.

What a lovely idea; but it’s this kind of dependence on fairness and correctness being inherent in the hierarchy that has us sitting sweetly, waiting for our worth and value to be recognized. It’s like an aspiring model hoofing it around the mall hoping to be discovered – possible, but not likely.

We have legislation to protect us from these inequities – the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, to name a few. There’s no amount of legislation, however, that’s going to fundamentally change behavior. Behavior changes when attitudes change. Those are often long, slow rides; but work within your sphere of influence if nothing else. Educate yourself about the type of pay that’s typical for those in your industry, with your educational background, experience, and geography. For the most part this information is readily available on the internet, but start a conversation with your friends and colleagues in same or similar positions too. We need to demystify salaries and remove the taboos of talking about them. I’m not advocating for radical advertisement, by the way – no need to add your salary to your Facebook profile or get t-shirts printed, but we need to take it out of that growing bucket of things we’re too shy to talk about.

Know this – not all women are for you and not all men are against you. The most important thing is that you’re for you – and that starts by educating yourself about your own value and then voicing those expectations when the need arises.

Busy is the New Black

BusinessofBusy

Do you remember the days when a casual greeting to a friend or colleague went something like this?

You: Hi. How are you doing?

Friend: Oh, fine, fine. And you?

That was it. Short, sweet, drama free.

But things change and evolve and just get downright weird. The idea of the ‘simple greeting’ is mere nostalgia at this point. Nowadays, no conversation is complete without one or both parties lamenting the depth and breadth of their busy-ness.

Mind you, it’s often the same people claiming busy-ness who, in the next breath, tell you how they just finished binge-watching the last two seasons of “House of Cards” in preparation for the upcoming season premiere. Is it just possible that we’ve lost track, not only of the real meaning of busy, but also of our own role in the constant perception and sensation of feeling that way?

Many people seem to wear busy-ness like some badge of honor, a competition to see how much can be packed in to a day, a week, or more. A competition that – if you believe the time-crunched masses – measures worth and importance.

Early in my career, I worked with a guy who, almost on a weekly basis, would let me know how many hours he’d worked the previous week. It was often in the triple digits. He didn’t seem to know how to turn the tide and get out of the cycle. In the beginning, I listened attentively. It seemed like something he was genuinely trying to resolve. I tried to understand what was requiring so much of his time and attention. It certainly didn’t seem like a sustainable situation, so surely changes must be made.

He rebuffed any suggestion I made. He and I had similar roles, and while I routinely worked more than 40 hours a week, I couldn’t imagine how one could possibly approach triple digits. Was I not carrying my weight? Was I the reason he was having to put in so many hours?

Perhaps in a parallel universe, everything’s about me, but in this case, it certainly wasn’t. He was just “that guy”. The guy who wants to complain about his load, effort, and loyalty being greater than everyone else’s. The guy who says he doesn’t want things to be that way, but seems incapable of setting and following boundaries. The guy who, in the time he takes to detail all the ways in which he’s in over his head, could have knocked out at least three things on his burgeoning list.

The problem is that now every third person seems to be “that guy”. Whether it’s work, or kids, or even “House of Cards”, too many people are complaining about being busy. Through rigorous statistical analysis (well, perhaps not – I’m much too busy for that!), my guess is that at least half of these people choose to act busy, choose to fill their days and time with laundry lists of tasks, never stopping to let the dust settle.

Of course, sometimes we really are busy, and that’s just the way things are for a bit. Maybe you’re moving house, starting a new job, preparing for a baby, or planning a wedding. Those life changes will push the most balanced of us a bit off-kilter. But it’s temporary. We plan for it, suck it up, and move on.

When busy becomes a lifestyle, one that we complain about at the same time we’re perpetuating it, we’re heading toward dangerous territory. It’s almost hard to imagine what busy would have looked like in Socrates’ time. I mean, they didn’t have the power of flight or 24-hour fitness centers, much less the Internet. But he wasn’t wrong when he described a continually busy life as barren. It’s an uncontemplated life. Perhaps, it’s an impressive list of completed tasks, but all the meaning, importance, and value is sitting on our surfaces, waiting to be brushed off as we flit to the next thing on the list.

Breathe deep. Just sit for a minute and let your mind wander. “House of Cards” will wait.

The Arc of Memory

MemoryArcThis started out as a post about horseback riding and ended up being about the nature of memory. I was out of town with my sister at a ranch in the Arizonan desert. For four days, we rode horses once in the morning, once in the evening to avoid the midday heat. It made me think about the first time I rode a horse. This is how I tell that story…

I was about eight years old and I was at a friend’s birthday party where the activity was to go horseback riding at a local park. We were a small group, maybe five or six kids. I was in jeans and a t-shirt, hair in ponytails, ready to go. I don’t recall receiving much instruction, or perhaps I just didn’t pay much attention to it, what with me being eight and all. My horse’s name was Blue.

The ride started just fine, everyone in single file walking orderly along the trail. At some point though, without warning or provocation (at least that I saw), Blue reared his head and charged forward away from the group. I’d never experienced such fear and lack of control. I managed to hold on to the reins, but not much else. This was Blue’s ride, not mine. I was a mere passenger. I’m sure there was screaming involved (horses always respond well to that!), and eventually the guide caught up to me, and along with me finally pulling back on the reins, he got the situation under control.

That’s the end of the memory for me – short, quick, scary as hell. Did we have cake and open presents afterwards? Were there tears? No clue.

I’ve carried this memory with me in one shape or another for about four decades.

Here’s how my sister remembers it…

She says we lived in Charleston at the time. She was eleven and I was eight. In fact, she was just turning eleven because the birthday party we were at was hers. We were there with Tina and Cheryl Watkins, two of our friends who were also sisters. There may have been one or two other girls with us. 

My sister says she wore jeans and a t-shirt, hair in ponytails, ready to go. Her horse’s name was Blue.

The ride started out fine, but at some point, without warning or provocation, Blue reared his head and charged away from the group. My sister had never experienced such fear. She recalls Blue racing off in to the woods. (My memory barely has a tree in it.)

This is her memory. She’s carried it with her for almost four decades.

I don’t recall ever having talked to her about this until recently. I was asking her more details about the day to round out my memory since I wanted to write about it. That’s how I fell upon the fact (I now use that term loosely) that we have this shared but skewed memory. I’m almost afraid to quiz her on other life events.

But the kicker was when we asked our mother, thinking she could break the tie. How did she remember it? Did she remember it at all?

This was all via text message.

ME: Do you remember when we went horseback riding in Charleston? And do you remember the horse that ran off?

MOTHER: Yes, I remember.

ME: Who do you think was riding the horse?

MOTHER: Cheryl Watkins

What???? So much for the tie breaker. I don’t quite know what to make of this. I was young at the time. I have no reason to trust my memory more than my sister’s or my mother’s, but even they don’t recall it the same way. It seems I’ve co-opted something that isn’t mine. How many of my other memories aren’t mine?

Perhaps, in the end, it’s all just fiction.