Lessons from a (Career) Lifetime Ago: Take Every Opportunity

Back in the 90s, when I was still working at my corporate job, I had a colleague, Steve, who never seemed to travel to or from business events with the rest of our company. On a rare occasion when he ended up on my flight to a conference in Washington, D.C., I asked him why.

Steve told me that he always took the opportunity of a business trip to arrive a day or two early or stay a day or two longer so he could explore and experience the place he was visiting. Since the company was footing the bill for the flight, he figured he only had to cover a couple of extra nights in a hotel and any additional food and entertainment costs, to transform the trip into a mini-vacation.

Steve’s point of view was: You never know if you’ll have a chance to come back to this place. Why not explore it?

Steve’s viewpoint seemed like a luxury to me. If there wasn’t a specific reason to extend my trip, I always headed directly home. I was tired and inevitably, had a pile of work to catch up on that couldn’t be done during my travels – especially in those days before smartphones and Wi-Fi on planes. I had laundry and chores waiting at home. I missed my husband and kids. And besides, it seemed daunting to venture out and explore a strange city on my own.

A few years later, after I’d left my corporate job and started my own technology PR and marketing practice, I took a relatively new client of mine on a press tour. Back in the “old days”, product launches were accomplished by visiting all of the top research firms and technology and business publications, conducting a series of face-to-face meetings crammed into as few days as possible. That typically meant visiting New York, Boston, and Silicon Valley, with occasional stops in Washington, D.C. and Chicago thrown in. These whirlwind tours were usually completed in four or five days, with as many back-to-back meetings squeezed into each day as possible. 

This particular client was a start-up and I traveled with Paul, the CEO. We had a rigorous schedule planned with two full days in New York. On the first day, we had a last-minute cancellation in the middle of our day, leaving us with a couple of hours to kill before our next meeting. The driver of our town car pulled over so we could decide what to do with the extra time. I assumed we’d return phone calls from the back of the town car, or find a coffee shop where we could work and pass the time until the next meeting. The spot where we pulled over happened to be just a block or so from the Empire State Building.

“You know,” Paul said, gazing up the block. “I’ve been to New York on business hundreds of times. And I’ve never been to the Empire State Building.”

“Neither have I,” I said. I had a vague memory of visiting New York as a child, but the half dozen times I’d traveled there for business, I’d never ventured much beyond the airport and the hotel, viewing the city from windows only.

“Do you want to go?” Paul asked. 

I didn’t know Paul very well at that point, but he had always struck me as being all work and no play, so I was more than a little surprised at the suggestion. But we had time, and I couldn’t deny that visiting the Empire State Building sounded much more fun than returning phone calls. Our schedule was exhausting and it would be nice to take a break from the work.

“Why not?” I said.

We made our way down the block and spent a good hour exploring the Empire State Building, making our way to the top, and taking in the exquisite views of Manhattan.  

This short diversion seemed to invigorate and spark something within Paul. He declared that after our business day was done, and we got back to the hotel, he would look into tickets for a Broadway show because, again, he had been to New York so many times but had never actually taken in a show. 

We accomplished quite a bit on that trip – successful meetings that generated significant press coverage – but what I’ve always remembered is the trip to the top of the Empire State Building, some delicious dinners, and getting the opportunity to see CATS and Miss Saigon on Broadway. On the plane ride home, Paul seemed strangely peaceful and relaxed. I didn’t reflect much on this at the time. For my part, I was grateful for the opportunity, and once home and settled in, I sent Paul an email to that effect.

Just a few months later, at a seemingly healthy and fit 51 years of age, Paul suffered a heart attack while walking his dogs in his neighborhood and died. Beyond the shock and sadness, I found myself thinking back to our New York visit, as I’ve done many times since, thankful that Paul took the time to put aside work and enjoy the city, and that I was there to share the experience.

In January of this year, I found myself in New York again. My client was exhibiting at a large, international conference and when my manager was unable to attend at the last minute, I volunteered to go in his place. I participated in meetings, attended conference sessions, and walked the tradeshow floor. But I also rose early one morning to make the five-mile walk from my hotel to the conference center, enjoying the view of the harbor and Statue of Liberty, taking in the artwork along the High Line, and stopping for coffee and people-watching along the way. When I found myself alone without a business dinner commitment one night, I walked to a seafood place down the street and enjoyed a glass of wine and lobster rolls at the bar. I found myself thinking about Paul and feeling thankful for the lessons we both learned on that long-ago press tour.

January 2020 now seems like a lifetime ago, given all that has happened in this crazy, tumultuous, and difficult year, and it seems unbelievable that just 11 months ago, I could have been sitting in the Jacob Javits Convention Center surrounded by thousands of people from all over the world, all of us breathing the same indoor air in close quarters. But in a year where we’ve all been forced to stay close to home, many of us living, learning, and working within the same four walls, I’m more thankful than ever for that January trip – and even more so, for the lessons learned from my former colleague, Steve, and my late client, Paul. With 2020 finally — thankfully — moving into our rearview mirror, I’ll never regret the extra time spent exploring and experiencing a new place or revisiting a familiar one. As we head into 2021, hoping for better times, let’s never take for granted a single moment we have or an opportunity presented to us. 

Here’s to a better 2021 for the entire world. Happy New Year, everyone.

Is it too late to ask what I want to do when I grow up?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

I was speaking with some friends recently – all of us of a certain age with children who are now adults and forging their own paths in life. We were talking about how normal it is for kids not to know exactly what they want to do when they graduate from high school or college – and even during their first years of adulthood.

“I mean, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” I said jokingly. Everyone laughed like I was the best stand-up comedian they’d ever heard.

But it wasn’t entirely a joke. Is it strange to be in your fifth decade on the planet and still not know what you want to do with your life? Is it presumptuous to believe you still have important decisions to make, places to go, people to meet, impact to make, when most of your peers are edging towards retirement?

I’ve had a good career – and it’s still going. And I made a significant change last December from being self-employed for the past 25+ years to moving back to full-time employment with one company. But I don’t feel like this is the end of the road. I keep wondering when I’ll figure out exactly what I want to be, what I’m somehow meant to do. And while I certainly sense the ticking of the clock, I don’t believe it’s too late to change course or try something completely different.

Sure some of the things I mull about in my head when I can’t sleep at night are probably unrealistic. I mean, I’m not going be a professional athlete at this stage of my life. But people get in shape and run marathons in their 70s, so dipping my toes back into the fitness realm is certainly not out of the question. I taught aerobics classes off and on for twenty years and I still miss it. So maybe no one does traditional aerobics or step anymore, but there’s always Pilates, Yoga, Water Aerobics (cringe!). I always thought these were “old lady” activities but hey – I’m creeping up on that status and now I see nothing wrong with having fitness be at least part of the “what I want to do” equation.

Sports, especially hockey. Talk about passion for your subject matter! I explored blogging for a couple of sites in past years. So I’m not going to be a sports broadcaster at this age, nor am I going to take away the careers of lifelong sports journalists, or publicists who have spent their careers in sports rather than tech like me. But it’s a big wide world, especially online, and there’s plenty of room for writing, opining, podcasting, and general opinion-sharing.

Teaching. One of my favorite jobs in college was tutoring English for UCLA’s Academic Advancement Program. We helped low income and minority students, and occasionally, we were loaned out to the Athletic department to help student-athletes. I always felt such a profound sense of accomplishment when one of my students came to me after a test with a smile on their face, knowing they did well. And teaching satisfies a sense of giving back, doing something important for the world, that I have missed in my career to date.

What else? Well, I had several short stories published at one point and I wrote a novel. I always thought I’d be a writer, but the cold, hard reality of the publishing world – querying hundreds of agents, getting just far enough to taste it and then being rejected – caused me to push it aside at some point. But I still love it. Self-publishing? It has become more common, I know many people who have done it (and some lucratively), and hey – some of my favorite authors are in their later years, so it’s definitely never too late to write.

We are fortunate enough to be around during a time when we can live longer and healthier lives. Studies continually show that people are working longer and retiring at later ages. So why limit yourself to one, two, or three careers? Why push aside the thought that you might still not know what you want to be when you grow up, regardless of your chronological age?

I’m going to keep plugging away at my current job. But I’m also going to keep dreaming about what I really want to be when I grow up and maybe, just maybe, I’ll figure it out.

At Face Value

I lift my bangs and study the creases in my forehead. I don’t care much about them because I still have bangs and so long as the bangs are there, hiding the deepening lines, I don’t need to worry about them. But the drooping eyelids. Those are troublesome. I lift one, then the other, to see how I might look with artificially lifted lids. Sigh. I never wanted this.

Photo by Meruyert Gonullu on Pexels.com

I don’t mean aging. Aging is inevitable whether we want it or not, and I don’t feel old. What I mean is this sudden, gripping fear that despite all of my deep-seated values about aging gracefully, giving my daughters the proper role model – women who care more about what’s on the inside than the outside, defying the superficial, materialistic, upper middle-class suburb of Los Angeles I live in – despite all of this, I’m beginning to think that I have to do something.

Surgery is out. Right? I’ve seen the face lifts around me and I have no doubt that these women looked better before they had their faces pulled tight like Batman’s Joker. Collagen lips – I’m thankful I don’t need those and I hate that I see 20-somethings and 30-somethings filling and refilling lips that were just fine to begin with. Don’t they know that what is filled today is bound to droop and sag tomorrow? Filler. It would make sense for those laugh lines I inherited from my mother but everyone I’ve seen who took this step looks weirdly puffy-cheeked. And botox? I refuse to inject poison into my face and I had one friend whose face drooped to one side for weeks on end. She said it was a “rare” side effect.

So I’m living with it, aren’t I? I ask myself this in the mirror and then think of all the things I can still do that won’t betray my values. Color and blowout for my hair. Gotta cover that grey. Nails (I never cared about them when I was younger). Sophisticated yet still youngish, modern outfits. That temporary skin-tightening moisturizer I saw in a TikTok video.

The thing is, I’m approaching a big number age-wise and I’m still working in the corporate world. In the tech industry. And I am surrounded by youth. I study myself on Zoom calls. Can they see the lines in my neck that I can’t quit staring at? Do I need better lighting? How far to the right can I tweak the “improve my appearance” option without it looking purposely altered?

These are first-world problems to be sure. To have the luxury of even thinking about them is something most of the world wouldn’t understand. There is a war raging in Ukraine and people fighting just to stay in their homes with a roof over their heads and enough to eat. People hiding in bomb shelters just to stay alive. It seems ridiculous to be thinking these silly thoughts, to be wasting time and energy on them.

This aging complex is not uniquely American or Californian or relegated to Hollywood but it surely is more of a focus here and I swore in my younger years I would never fall for it. But now I wonder. Will my words become less valuable because my colleagues are focused on the crow’s feet around my eyes? Will they think my ideas are outdated because, after all, I’ve been around a long time in this industry and “fresh ideas” are what Silicon Valley is built on? After watching “The Dropout”, it’s clear that women were already set back at least a decade by the lies and incompetence of Elizabeth Holmes, so when you’re already fighting for equality do you really want to fight ageism at the same time?

I decide to leave this for another day. I’ll stock up on the skin-tightening lotion. I’ll book an appointment to cover the grey. I’ll try not to look too long in the mirror too often and ponder how long I’ll be comfortable staring at this image on the myriad Zoom calls I participate in every day. I’ll try not to think about what it means to be a woman, trying to age gracefully in a world that wants only to take you at face value.

Things are Disappearing

Disclaimer: I wrote this in post in March of 2020 but never posted it. Time to get back on the blogging train…

Things are disappearing, I tell my husband. He looks at me with the arched eyebrow that says, “you’re losing it”. But there was an iPhone power cord that was always by my bedside that has disappeared and I can’t seem to locate it. 

“Maybe the dog took it,” he says.

“Funny,” I respond. He may not see it, but I know that things are disappearing.

The collagen that used to make my cheeks plump and the skin above my kneecaps firm is slowly departing, leaving lines in its wake. The bounce in my step as I exit the bed in the morning has disappeared, replaced by careful planting of one foot, then the other, making sure my hip won’t pop as I stand. 

My youngest left for college nearly four years ago and was scheduled to graduate this Spring. I hear parents bemoaning the fact that their graduates may have to move home if they can’t find a job that allows them to “get off the payroll”, and avoid dwelling in basements and those extra spaces that were already being turned into offices and craft rooms and libraries. It’s true: I want my daughter to find a good job and move on but that requires admitting that this time in her life – and mine – is over. The period of time between childhood and adulthood has completed for her and things will never be the same. 

I’ve been through this disappearing act once before, so I know. It should be easy by now. My older daughter has been properly employed and on her career path since graduating college, and after living at home for about a year post-commencement, now lives with her boyfriend, just a few miles from us. I am used to her new life away from home and know that it will continue to contain less and less of me as she gets further involved in her career, her relationship, and perhaps, someday, her own family. The proverbial clock is ticking and all I can do is watch as things disappear.

Of course, given the current global crisis, we don’t know if there will be a graduation ceremony now this Spring. But graduate my little one will, bringing to a close all of the graduations of the past. Two elementary school, two middle school, two high school and now two college graduations…I still can’t catch my breath. Surely, there will still be visits and holidays and maybe like her sister, my youngest will need to come home to us for awhile – so very difficult for these college grads to make a decent living these days. But I’m not fooled by these fleeting thoughts. This life, too, is disappearing.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some things in life that are better left to the past and my memories, some things that I am not so sad to say goodbye to, from both my own childhood, teenage and young adult years, as well as those of my daughters. Middle school. Math classes. Dating. Finals week in college. Commuting two hours every day back and forth to work. Changing diapers. Lugging car seats and strollers and bags full of toys on airplanes. Teenage tantrums. Wet towels and suits everywhere. Waiting up at night for the sound of a car pulling into the garage. These things have already disappeared and I don’t miss them. Not much anyway.

But I do miss that feeling when you’re little and the summer seems to go on forever. The excitement as you get dressed before a special night out. Late night, shared conversations with best friends. The moment you know “he’s the one”. The feeling of the first rumbling kick in your belly. The sound of little voices laughing and calling “Mommy!”. Holding hands to cross the street. Reading time before bed, snuggled under the blankets. Watching soccer/basketball/plays/choral performances/volleyball and in our case, swim meet after swim meet after swim meet. Wiping tears. Hugs good night. These things are disappearing.

I am always one to look ahead, see the light, keep moving, keep living. But ever so slowly, that thought creeps in when you hit yet another milestone, that there are so few of those milestones left to hit and time is running out. You want to savor each moment just a little more, knowing that like all of these things, these moments are disappearing.

He thinks I’m crazy. I give the dog a belly rub. I write “new power cord” on my to-do list.

DO SOMETHING

According to Social Progress Index, a global report card, out of 163 countries evaluated, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than they were in 2011. You can read the details in this opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, but one of the factoids that stood out to me: “The United States, despite its immense wealth, military power and cultural influence, ranks 28th — having slipped from 19th in 2011. The index now puts the United States behind significantly poorer countries, including Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Greece.”

My guess is that no one living through 2020 would argue this point. And although today marks the 19th anniversary of a terrible day in our history, with great loss and human suffering, it’s sobering to realize that 9-11 took approximately 3,000 lives (though the toll continues to rise – particularly amongst first responders who have subsequently contracted all manner of illness and disease including cancer), while nearly 200,000 have died of Covid-19 in our country since March…and counting.

It goes without saying that these are tough times. Many people are suffering whether it’s from job loss and financial strain, concern for elderly parents who are isolated, the struggle to help children learn from home while trying to work, or even worse, the illness or loss of a loved one.

My family is not immune and we have experienced several of the above. But we are among the lucky ones. We have the kind of jobs that have allowed us to work from home. We’re fortunate to have a house with a big backyard and a neighborhood where we can walk. We have the means to order groceries online and our children are grown and no longer in school, so the plight of today’s working parents is no longer one we share.

I know there are many in my neighborhood and in neighborhoods around the country that are the same. And I know that many who live in these neighborhoods are also grateful for what they have and for their comfortable situation, despite the circumstances.

But that’s why those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy, have jobs or the financial means to sustain us during this time, and to be in positions of relative comfort need to DO SOMETHING. And I’m not simply talking about opening our pocketbooks, though that’s certainly one way to help.

During these unprecedented times, we have an equally unprecedented void in leadership that has exacerbated, rather than helped our country. Not only did the federal government play down and ignore, then mismanage the pandemic response, they’ve added fuel to the fire by failing to continue providing financial and economic relief to those who need it most, by ignoring the threat of interference in our election by foreign adversaries, while at the same time, sowing the seeds of doubt when it comes to mail-in voting and tampering with our US Postal Service – not only hurting our ability to safely vote by mail, but interrupting the delivery of important medications, necessary checks, and other important documents to our citizens. They’ve egged on violence in the largely peaceful protests for racial justice that have taken place – going so far as to actually defend a cold-blooded murderer who stormed into a town in which he didn’t belong with an AR-15 and the purpose of gunning down those exercising their constitutional right to protest. They’ve ignored intelligence that shows Russia placed bounties on our soliders’ heads –failing to even raise the issue with Vladimir Putin, and Trump himself, has said terrible things about our military (anyone who heard with their own ears and saw with their own eyes how he treated the late Senator John McCain knows this to be true). And there’s so much more that I could fill a notebook with the criminality, the cruelty, and the rollbacks of important legislation, like EPA and climate-related laws…just ask anyone inhaling the smoke in California, Oregon or Washington, or towns recovering from flooding and hurricanes how that’s working out for them, especially during this pandemic.

Yes, there are those who still support this President and his administration. I will never, if I live to be a million years old, understand it. But most of you, my fellow Americans, are sane and compassionate and want change as much as I do. So my question for you is this, and I mean it with respect and with the knowledge that I, too, can do more:

What have you done and what are you doing to help?

It’s not dramatic to say that saving our country is what’s at stake. Trump’s proclivity for dictators, his questioning of mail-in ballots, and his belief that he and his administration are above the law and not responsible, for the mess in which the country finds itself, are all huge, blinking red flags. “It is what it is,” he famously said about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of our citizens.

So what will you DO?

You may say you’ve given money – and that’s great. But typing in your credit card information on a website takes five minutes and while it’s generous and needed, this is not going to be enough to defeat Trump and save our democracy. I know you will vote. And that’s important. But we have to DO MORE.

I belong to my local Democratic Club and am involved with an organization called Swing Left that is trying hard to both flip the Senate and the Presidency so we can hold this administration accountable for the unprecedented damage done to our country. And through these organizations, I’ve seen many dedicated folks who are working hard for change. But equally, I’ve been rather stunned to see apathy in many corners of my world. “I’m not an activist”, some say. “I don’t have time.” Maybe those of us who live in comfort think it won’t affect us, but even if you’re fortunate enough to have a job or financial security, to have a roof over your head, a well-stocked fridge and a nice backyard, you have already been affected by this pandemic, the economic and social fallout. Maybe you already feel defeated as I sometimes have, watching the Republican party destroy any principles it once claimed, forgoing a party platform and declaring its allegiance only to Trump. Maybe you’re just worried about the sanctity of the election and that your vote won’t count.

But we can’t give up. Each of us has to do more. Now. Today. We can’t resign ourselves to live with this for four more years. We can’t allow this country’s values to be cast aside in favor of allegiance to a narcissist who cares only about enriching himself and his family, who is destroying our democratic way of life right in plain view, in front of us, no matter how many times he tries to say the news is fake and you shouldn’t trust your own eyes, ears and ability to think critically.

So here is my plea to all of you. DO SOMETHING. And then do something more. Write letters and postcards. Make phone calls and send texts. Join a local or national organization that is getting out the vote or ensuring that voters in poor communities can’t be disenfranchised. Write an op-ed and send it to your local paper. Call your family and friends to make sure they have a solid plan to vote – especially if they feel compelled to go to a polling station. Volunteer to be a poll worker, or if you’re older or higher risk, get your kids to volunteer (it’s a PAID volunteer position). Protest (peacefully and safely). And if you’re not a Democrat, that’s ok – you just need to be an American and a patriot who believes that no one is above the law and the constitution means something. You can join Republicans for Biden. Or support The Lincoln Project.

We can all DO SOMETHING. We can all do more. We have less than 8 weeks until the most important election of our lives and our children’s lives. 8 weeks until we know if we’ve done enough to save our country. 8 weeks for you to step up and feel like you tried, you made an effort, you recognized that living your comfortable life isn’t enough anymore and that we all have to be activists if we want change. As Ghandi, said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

DO SOMETHING.

There Was Supposed to be a Celebration…

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There was supposed to be a celebration.

Hotel rooms were booked for family flying in. Restaurants were reviewed. Announcements were examined, a cap and gown were on the to-do list.

There was supposed to be a proud walk, across a large stage, students marching up to hear their names called, to hoist a diploma in the air representing four years of hard work. Maybe some caps tossed after the tassels were turned.

There were supposed to be friends, joining in mutual recognition of what has been achieved, of relationships cemented by living and studying together during these past four years.

This strange time in our history has robbed us all of many special events that were on the calendar, but most of all, I am so sorry that it has robbed you, my sweet graduate, of your opportunity to walk across that stage, hoist that diploma, and celebrate your significant accomplishments with family and friends.

I know it may seem of little comfort to you in this moment, but allow me to celebrate you anyway, in this small way, and tell you how very proud I am of you.

Four years ago, you told me and your Dad that you wanted to follow in your sister’s footsteps and swim in college. But of course one that had the right academics and the right “fit” for you, and had football and basketball and all of the other perks of college life. We took some trips and visited some places with and without swim programs, and I’ll confess that I had my doubts about you finding your way onto a Division 1 swim team, as you insisted you could. But like so many times throughout your life, you persisted and proved me wrong, and began your college experience as a D1 student-athlete and journalism major at San Jose State University.

Two years in, it turned out swimming was no longer the right path for you. It was hard transitioning from the routine of a student-athlete. But you didn’t dwell on what could have been. You took your college life into your own hands. You joined a sorority. You worked three different jobs. You wrote for the school paper. And you determined that while you liked to write, journalism might not be your calling after all. You changed your major to Public Relations – a surprise to this day that you’d want to do what Mom does for a living.

During this time, you were named a Dean’s Scholar multiple times. You studied abroad in Italy and applied the wonderful lessons of global travel to your resume. This past semester, you landed an internship at a technology company, while continuing to keep your grades high and work a part-time job. And then COVID-19 decided to interfere with all of your best-laid plans.

The way you’ve navigated through this time might make me prouder than almost anything else you’ve accomplished.  After living on your own as an adult these past four years, it was no small feat moving home temporarily to life with Mom and Dad again (although the cooking must have been an improvement!) and you continued your studies and your internship, working from home. You consoled yourself by FaceTiming with friends and doing workouts online and to be completely honest, most of the time you were the one who helped keep our spirits high. And during this difficult economy, you managed to turn your internship into a full-time job.

This time has been tough and continues to be so. You – and all of your fellow graduates – deserve so much better. But I’m so proud of the way you’ve persevered through your entire college career, from start to finish, and through this difficult time, in particular. I’m so proud of how you tackle life itself.

You are a college graduate. And the world will soon take notice, whether we celebrate now or later, of what an exceptional and talented young woman you are.

Congratulations, Clairebear, and Happy Graduation. I am so very proud to call you my daughter.

 

Daily (ok, Weekly?) Thoughts: April 23, 2020

3c98e7e9ef88baebbe655d8e7f3acdafOk, so I’ve skipped a few days. Or weeks. But does anyone really know what day it is anyway? We’re in our SIXTH week of staying at home and social distancing and I don’t know about you, but even though I’m used to working from home, one day just seems like the next.  So, let’s try to stay grateful, engaged and entertained…

Gratitude: I started working from home in 1993 and have never looked back. All those years ago, there was no Zoom or Skype and I was actually glad for that, given one of the huge benefits of working from home is cutting down the commute time to that thirty-second stroll from coffee maker to desk in PJs, sweatpants, workout clothes – whatever – and not having to do the hair, make-up and dress routine.

So I’m grateful that I have a job that can be done from home and that I’m already accustomed to that routine. All that said, I’ve turned on my camera regularly since this pandemic began because there is so much comfort every day in seeing the faces of my team members and all those with whom I work. I guess that means I’m also grateful that technology has progressed and allowed me to do all of these things. But all those folks who are telling you that you have to get up and shower and get dressed for the office in the morning and only work from your designated workspace and so forth…I mean, if that works for you, go for it. For me, I’ll be in my yoga pants and moving around from my desk to the kitchen to the table in the backyard and happy that I can do so.

Related Quarantine Thankfulness:

Thank you to my hairdresser, Randall Koff, for saving my hair. Given I’ve been on camera more during these Zoom calls, it’s inevitable that first-world vanity would return. Specifically, I had to wonder, how did that grey overtake my entire head of hair?! Thanks to the ingenuity of my hairdresser, I solved that problem last weekend. I made a Venmo payment and she dropped off a home color kit on my doorstep, customized with my hair color and containing all of the things I needed – gloves, clips and most of all – instructions – so that I could apply my own color. With a bit of help from my daughter (the back is very tricky), I successfully applied the color and while we missed a few spots, overall, I’d have to say we did a pretty good job. I feel like myself again and I’m so happy to support Randall until she can get back into the salon and begin seeing clients again.

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Thank you, Sara Goldin, one of the excellent Pilates instructors at Club Pilates for saving my broken body. I found out from a couple of friends that Sara, one of my favorite instructors from my Pilates studio, was conducting daily classes via Zoom. I jumped on twice this week and couldn’t believe what an excellent workout she packed into a little less than an hour. I’ll definitely be returning to the mat with Sara many more times so I can get back into my pre-quarantine shape (or at least as close as possible to it).

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Thank you, Staples, Target, Wayfair and a little help from my family members for my reimagined office space. Despite the fact that I’ve been working from home for 20+ years, I never paid much attention to my office space.  It has a desk, it has a window, it has a chair. I guess I didn’t think there was a point to making it pleasant or interesting and once my laptop and mobile phone became my primary tools, I could make the living room, the kitchen or the backyard my office, too. But given I’m connecting much more often via Zoom these days – both for work and for more recreational meetings like virtual book club – it occurred to me that having a more functional and pleasant office might be worthwhile. With a little help from my older daughter’s eye for design and my hubby’s handyman skills, I redesigned my office space. Not only has this given both me and my other Zoom participants nicer digs to view on calls, it has been a fun quarantine project. I ordered a new chair and desk lamp from Staples, some floating shelves and plants from Target, some new pillows and pillow covers from Wayfair, and dug out some of the artwork, photos and certificates that had been sitting in a pile in my closet, just waiting to be hung on the walls – including my cherished collection of framed album covers. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m pretty pleased with the results to date.

 

And now, for your shelter-in-place pleasure, some entertainment recommendations.

Today’s Tune: It was a  little more than a year ago that Kurt Cobain decided this world was too much for him. What would he have thought today? What kind of music would he be making? Would Dave Grohl still be his band’s drummer or would he and Kurt have battled for the spotlight and would there be a Foo Fighters? We’ll never know, but we can still enjoy their signature song and to be honest, I’m not sure they could have made anything better.

 

Today’s Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThis book was published back in 2010 and to be honest, I took no notice of it at the time. Left to my own devices, I’m a novel reader. I will always walk past the non-fiction aisle of the bookstore and head straight for fiction. That’s the great thing about being in a book club the past few years – I’m forced to step outside my comfort zone and read things I’d likely never pick up otherwise. Thankfully, someone in my book club pitched this amazing story. It became a made-for-TV-movie because Oprah took a shine to it, but the book is SO much better than that movie. It’s a fascinating look at the ethical and moral issues behind science and research, the suffering of a woman who unwittingly became critical to the future of medicine, and the human tragedy of a family searching for answers long after their loved one was gone. Author Rebecca Skloot won a ton of awards for this compelling story and deservedly so.

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Today’s bingewatch: Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu. Hulu eeked out this series one episode at a time (like the old days!) and that’s how we watched it in my house, but if you’re not on board yet, the full season just completed this week and you can now binge it. And it’s worth it, because it seems like whatever novels Reese Witherspoon touches these days turns to gold (aka, her previous hit, Big Little Lies). I personally think Kerry Washington is guilty of over-acting in this one, but the rest of the cast  – including Reese, who you will alternately love and hate – do a fine job. Hulu has free trials going on right now and apparently, if you’re a Spotify user, you get Hulu (with a few ads here and there) for free (thanks to my younger daughter for the access!).

 

Daily Thoughts: April 4, 2020

Welcome to Daily Thoughts post number two.  I don’t know if it’s helping any of you, but it’s helping me, so I’m going to keep it going.

Daily Gratitude: Clifford, our five-year old yellow lab, continues to be our comfort dog. He loves us unconditionally and comes and cuddles when he sees we’re sad. He did this during our kitchen renovation, our evacuation during the wildfires and now, again, as we stay at home. Of course, he’s no doubt loving the extra person in the house, the fact that we never leave him and all the extra walks and playtime. But he’s also putting up with us when we get bored and do things like this…

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Today’s Tune: Younger daughter told us she was watching the Hulu series “High Fidelity” and come to find out, she had no clue it was based on both an excellent movie with John Cusack and before that, an excellent book by Nick Hornby. So today’s tune, book and entertainment suggestions are all related.  The closing song of this movie is a great Stevie Wonder tune that will make you remember just how good Stevie Wonder could be (and will hopefully make you forget some of the lesser stuff he pumped out in the 80s like “I Just Called to Say I Love You” – ugh.). This one is a keeper.

 

Today’s Book: So, yeah, today’s book is High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. And then, if you like that, do yourself a favor and read some of Nick’s other excellent books like About a Boy and Juliet, Naked. Movie version of the latter two not quite as good as the first, though.

Today’s Watch: This movie. This movie. I have seen it maybe ten times, and I’d watch it ten more.  Yes, John Cusack and Joan Cusack do a ton of movies together, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, Jack Black plays the same character in every movie. But in this movie you’re gonna love that character. Also Tim Robbins…I can’t even. For anyone who has ever made a mix tape…just watch it. Let me know what you think (unless you don’t like it and then I don’t want to hear it).

Today’s Quote: It may be one that I just stumbled upon and not one that I’ve had in my back pocket all along, but I think this fits the times we’re living in to a tee. Let’s just not make the same mistake in November, folks, ok?

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Daily Thoughts: April 3, 2020

One thing is for certain during this global crisis and our shelter-in-place orders: we have all been given the gift of time – even if this is not how we’d prefer to spend it!

Most of my extra time is on the weekends when I’d normally be going out to dinner with friends, seeing family, attending concerts and sporting events, and running errands. I’m fortunate that my weekday routines haven’t changed much: I’ve been working from home for 20+ years and can still take daily walks with the dog, so the primary change – beyond missing my Pilates studio classes and interactions – is really the mental part of all this, the knowledge that I CAN’T do whatever I want.

So, I’ve decided to jot down some thoughts and recommendations each day, both to chronicle and help pass the time, and maybe provide some outlet for fun and enjoyment during the long days we’re all spending at home. Each day, I’ll post a “gratitude” – something I’m thankful for, a song I love and am listening to, a poem or quote, some recommendations for books and movies/shows to watch, etc… Maybe some cute puppy pics, along the way. If you have some ideas to add, please share and let’s try to make this time a bit more enjoyable.

Daily Gratitude: It’s no longer March! I’m thankful we’ve turned the page on the calendar. I could swear that March had more than 31 days this year…

Today’s tune: In honor of the recently-departed Bill Withers…it’s physically impossible to hear this song and feel sad.

 

Today’s poem:  The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats. I mean it’s good enough for Joan Didion, so it’s good enough for me.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

Today’s Book: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – it’s captivating and beautifully written and lets you disappear into a multitude of interconnected characters’ lives. This NPR review will tell you more. I highly recommend it.

Today’s Binge-watch: Season 3 of Ozark is amazing. And, of course, if you haven’t already watched Seasons 1 and 2, do that STAT! Season 3 has the twists and turns of previous seasons, and all of the excellent writing and acting that this show has displayed from the start. And if you think staying home is boring, you can live vicariously through Marty Byrd and family since their situation is never boring.

Writing, I’ve Missed You

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I know that I abandoned you for a time.

I’m not sure why. I could use the usual excuses. I was busy with work. I was busy with family. I was busy with household chores. Someone once told me those were good excuses, but excuses nevertheless.

It’s funny to look back now and realize that one of my most productive periods with you was during the busiest time of my life. How did I find the time? If you want something done, they say, ask a busy person.

Now, it seems I have time to spare, time that drags on, hours and days and weeks, counting the time until I can be busy and fill my calendar again. So I’ve returned to you. Because you’ve always been there in good times and bad, in difficult moments, and in cherished ones, to bring me solace, to help me understand, to express what I cannot otherwise articulate.

When I was a child, I found my voice through you. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I needed you as much as I needed food and water. Uprooted and moved from Birmingham to Dallas to Kansas City to Atlanta to San Rafael, back to Birmingham, to La Jolla to Houston, to Palos Verdes and back to San Diego (and I have lost track even now of some of the stops), I found solace in my Dear Diary, my steadfast companion. I wanted normalcy and stability and you heard me, loud and clear, in words I screamed out to the pages within.

While separated by some of these moves, my best friend and I kept our friendship intact by creating magazines for each other. I looked forward to receiving hers in the mail, and even more so, to writing and creating one for her. They extended a necessary lifeline in a chaotic storm.

Through junior high heartbreaks and mean girls and friendships and crushes, I confided in you.  Teachers along the way encouraged and praised, so I began to write stories, but just for me. In high school, I joined the newspaper and for the first time tested the experience of writing for my peers’ eyes to read. It was the most frightening chasm to cross – allowing others to view my words, letting them stand bare on a page for all to judge and critique, but, perhaps, also to enjoy and empathize. Either way, I couldn’t quit you. To write was as natural as breathing by then.

Though there were essays upon essays about English literature in college, I still found time for you, logging pages about the highs and lows, the adventures, the sadness, the heady moments of joy. I still wrote stories, though for no one’s eyes but my own.

Then, a long period of time went by without you. I don’t know how it happened. I married. I had children. I had a thriving business. I was happy. You seemed unnecessary or at least, for a time, unimportant. Days were filled with children’s laughter and crying, work deadlines, and so many activities, and most nights consisted of falling into bed, exhausted, barely able to read a few pages in a book, much less put my own words onto a page.

And then I suddenly needed you – desperately – but I didn’t know it.

Traveling often for work, I suddenly became terrified of flying. Anxiety rocked me weeks before a trip. Terror filled me the night before, so I could not sleep. I would sit on a flight, head leaning against the window on take-off, hiding my face so no one could see my discomfort and tears. Even while on land or in a car, the sight of a plane overhead could elicit panic. It was exhausting and painful both physically and mentally and I didn’t know what to do. The lack of control over my phobia – especially for an admitted control freak – was overwhelming at times.

A family member convinced me to see a hypnotherapist. I was skeptical, of course. But I went. It was entirely different from what I’d expected. The first half hour was an ordinary therapy discussion, followed by a half hour of actual hypnosis. During the first half hour, the therapist asked about my life, my job, and more importantly this:

What have you not done in your life that you’ve always wanted to do?

I had to think long and hard. I acknowledged that I’d always thought I’d be a writer. And that I’d write novels. And clearly, I hadn’t done that.

Why haven’t you done that? 

I don’t know.

Are you writing now? 

No, not really. (Truth was, not at all, except for work)

And why not? 

Because, I explained, I have two young kids, and I’m juggling my family with my business, and my kids’ activities, and I write for work and that takes so much out of me, and oh, I teach aerobics three times a week on top of that, and I just can’t fit anything else into my schedule.

Those are all good excuses. But excuses nevertheless.

After he allowed me to ponder this, he told me that when he put me under hypnosis, he wanted to give me a suggestion to begin writing again. To come back to you. I didn’t understand, but I said that was fine. I didn’t believe him. Even after he successfully hypnotized me, even after I came out of his office feeling as though I’d had the best sleep of my life, I didn’t understand how this could have anything to do with overcoming my fear of flying.

I never went back to hypnotherapy, but over the next three months, something startling happened. I returned to you. I signed up for creative writing extension classes at my alma mater. I wrote short stories – one of which was published. I wrote a novel (still unpublished, but completed, nevertheless). I journaled. I blogged. And something even more amazing happened over the next year – my fear of flying dissipated.

It may be dramatic to say that, at times, you saved my life, but you’ve certainly helped in times of crisis, in times of despair and confusion. And so, I have returned to you.

The words may not be perfect. They may be awkwardly strung together and not form the most cohesive and beautiful sentences. But they are here on the page. Those writing muscles are rusty and soft and altogether underutilized, but they are still here.

Thank you for coming back to me now, in this scary and anxious time, when it’s so hard to make sense of what’s happening in this world. Thank you for, once again, being my companion in fear, anger, sadness, joy, and belief. It’s true, I abandoned you. Yet you have never once abandoned me.