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.

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.

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.

 

An Ode to 2017

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Remember at the end of 2016, when the combination of Trump’s election and a seemingly unending series of celebrity deaths had us declaring that 2016 was “the worst” and we couldn’t wait for it to be over?

Then 2017 came along and said “hold my beer”.

It has been a historically difficult time for America. And around February, it seemed like our family’s personal journey might mirror the difficulties facing the country. But when I look back on 2017 now, I see that there were many wonderful moments to embrace and be thankful for and lots of great memories to cherish. Since one of my resolutions for 2018 is to start focusing on the positives, I took a look back at some of the wonderful things that took place in 2017 and realized that there were plenty of moments to appreciate and that, if anything, the tide has turned as we approach 2018 and hope (and change) is close by.

  • 2017 started with the Women’s March and we flocked to downtown L.A. with friends and strangers, alike, to show that we wouldn’t be silent and wouldn’t give up. It was an inspiring beginning to this challenging political year. On January 20, 2018, we will do it all over again.
  • We had visits from our family in Nor Cal and San Diego, Birmingham, Alabama, and even some of the Hultin clan from Sweden. I loved time spent with a college friend visiting all the way from South Africa, work friends during trips to San Jose, CA and Nashville, TN, reconnecting with a friend just “down the road” in Pasadena, and attending book signings for two great friends and authors – one local and one from Vancouver – to feed my literary longings.
  • We enjoyed celebrating one niece’s wedding and with the engagement of her sister, have yet another happy occasion to look forward to in 2018.
  • One daughter completed her first year on the job, while the other completed her freshman year of college. They are both healthy, happy and generally thriving and as a parent, you can’t ask for much more (although, I know I do – READ A BOOK, GIRLS!).
  • Per and I celebrated our – GULP – 31st wedding anniversary. The time flies. Clearly, I was a child bride, because I cannot be old enough to have been married this long, right? We are fortunate that we still love hanging out together, still laugh together and of course, I credit myself with taking our relationship to the next level by finally deciding a few years ago to become a crazed hockey fan.
  • In 2017, I was fortunate enough to watch the UCLA Bruins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Kings in action, see U2, Lady Gaga and the late, great, Tom Petty, live, at some of my favorite venues (Rose Bowl, Forum, Hollywood Bowl, respectively), experience some new L.A. restaurants (Yamashiro, Alta Kitchen) and some old favorites (Saddle Peak Lodge, Otium), watch outdoor movies on the rooftops of Los Angeles and even in a famous Hollywood Cemetery, tour the Norton-Simon, Japanese American and Broad Museums (the latter including the fabulous and freaky Infinity Mirrors) as well as the Museum of Ice Cream, attend a free concert in beautiful DTLA’s Pershing Square and drink coffee at Grand Central Market (G&B is a MUST try if you like coffee).
  • I read a lot of great books. Among my favorites: Bear Town by Fredrik Backman; Gangster Nation by Tod Goldberg; Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang,; Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty; Moonglow by Michael Chabon. Also, sorry to say that I actually liked the movie version of Hidden Figures much better than the book (which almost never happens!).
  • Most every day of 2017, I got to walk by the beautiful lake and neighborhoods of Westlake Village. Most times, I was accompanied by the sweetest yellow lab on the planet.
  • A Dem won an election in Alabama for the first time in 25 years and he defeated a crazy pedophile. If that sounds like something that shouldn’t be remarkable or shouldn’t need to be celebrated, you’re right, but we’re living in a new age, so celebrate we will (‘cause life is short, but sweet for certain). Other year-end election results looked promising and Mueller is still employed, so I remain hopeful and optimistic as the new year dawns.

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I hope this day finds you all looking back on some cherished memories and good times. Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2018 bring you all health, happiness and joy!

 

 

 

Empowering Women: Four Steps We Can All Take

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Even if you’re not a self-proclaimed feminist, it’s pretty difficult these days not to notice there’s a new and rejuvenated focus on empowering women and ensuring they have a voice in our society. From the Women’s March that protested the election of a man who admitted to grabbing women by their private parts, to the heartbreaking rise of #MeToo that began an avalanche of allegations against powerful men who have abused their positions to sexually harass and assault women, attention has turned to what we as a society – and individually – should do to better empower those who form nearly half of the world’s – and more than half of our country’s – population.

While I’m actively rooting for anyone who even acknowledges there’s a problem, I’ve seen far too many giving lip service to the issues and not presenting real solutions – and not just men. Women are sometimes their own greatest enemy (I’m speaking directly to you, Roy Moore supporters) and often, without realizing what they’re doing.

I recently sat through a sales pitch for a multi-level marketing company that is aimed almost exclusively at women (though they talk about expanding both their product reach and employee makeup to encompass men). It’s no secret that these companies make their bread and butter more from recruiting salespeople to join their ranks than the actual products they sell, and that they have become very popular amongst women with young children looking for a way to have a business and earn money without sacrificing full-time, stay-at-home motherhood.

This particular sales pitch leaned heavily on the idea that this sort of home-based business empowers women to “have it all”. The products sold by the organization are also primarily geared towards women: makeup, skin care including the all-important anti-aging line, and of course for “internal beauty”, a wide variety of diet and nutritional products. The entire organization and its products were pitched, in a nutshell, as another form of female empowerment.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who is trying to have a home-based business and I’m not against the idea of beauty and nutrition and taking care of oneself. Most of us want to feel good and look attractive. But I do have a few issues with this organization’s philosophy and product portfolio being sold to me as female empowerment.  This leads me to some steps I think we could all agree to take that could actually give women the power they seek and so richly deserve in our society.

 

  • Work on male-female equality in the workplace AND in the home. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for women-owned businesses and enabling the flexibility to work from home and take care of your children. My career choices changed dramatically when my older daughter was born and I started my own PR and marketing consulting practice, working from home, because I couldn’t bear the two hours of commute time and 10+ hours per day my corporate job demanded. But what we really need are corporations to step up and make it easier for women to climb the ladder: equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare and flexible working hours. Studies show that children – both girls and boys – benefit from having a positive, working mother role model in the household, so policies that allow women to work benefit everyone.

 

But perhaps, most importantly, let’s make it easy – and socially acceptable – for men to have the same workplace flexibility so they can share in the household and parenting responsibilities. My husband was an odd-man-out when he took paternity leave to stay home with our older daughter for a month in the early 1990s. For him, it was an expected step, having been born and raised in Sweden where both working parents are given generous leave to care for their newborns. Here in the U.S., while we’ve made some progress, I know far too many women who shoulder the entire burden of childcare, parenting and household activities – whether they are working full-time or not. We must make it easier – and more acceptable – for men and women to share these duties. I don’t know about you, but I never want to hear another man say that he is “babysitting” his own child. That’s not babysitting. It’s your job as a parent.

 

  • Stop talking about “anti-aging”. No one enjoys the process of growing old. From creaking joints to sagging skin to a forgetful mind, none of us enjoy watching these things happen to those we love or ourselves. But we can’t be anti-aging unless we want to be anti-life. Aging is part of life. We are all aging – every day – and there is absolutely no known scientific way to stop that. If you’re not aging, you’re dead. So why are products that cater to “anti-aging’ so popular in our society?  I’m not immune to vanity – I complain about the wrinkles that have sprouted on my face and certainly, I’m in daily denial about what my body can and can’t do any more – but I am becoming increasingly irritated with all of the focus on stopping a process that can’t possibly be contained. Sure, we all want to feel and look as good as we possibly can as we age, but by constantly focusing on the aspects of aging we don’t like as women, we’re missing out on the opportunity to embrace the positive aspects of aging. Gaining wisdom, having adult relationships with our children, or just being able to say “I don’t give a rat’s ass about that” because we’ve earned the right to – these are all aspects of aging that we should revel in. And the constant focus on anti-aging as it relates to beauty is probably the least empowering thing we can do as women for each other as it puts the focus squarely on our appearance and diminishes the value of our minds and our accomplishments.

 

  • Compliment your daughters – and the other women in your life – on more than just their appearance. “What a pretty, little girl!” “You’re so beautiful!” “You look so thin!” I’m not saying that these kinds of compliments are never appropriate. But the amount of times we comment on young girls’ appearances dwarfs the number of times we tell them how smart, capable and independent they are. Boys, on the other hand, are rarely complimented on their looks, but more for their athletic prowess, their accomplishments in the classroom and their ability to complete tasks on their own. Perhaps the worst of these three statements above is the “you look so thin!” remark. Take it from someone who battled disordered eating early on in life – women become so used to the societal emphasis on “thin is beautiful” that they begin to crave those kinds of remarks to the point of self-destruction. Emphasize “healthy” and “fit” all you want, but an overemphasis on being thin does the exact opposite of empowerment.

 

  • Quit putting yourself down. If you’re like me, this may be one of the most difficult steps to take. It’s not humble or self-deprecating to constantly look in the mirror and put yourself down. As women, we are sometimes taught early on to not be vain, to brush aside compliments and praise, to be grateful, humble and “nice”. And combine this with the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, where every picture can be altered, filtered and airbrushed, and that “anti-aging” message we hear over and over in advertisements, in magazines, in TV and movies, and amongst our own friends, and you can see why young girls grow up to be women who are constantly analyzing their every fault in the mirror. But if you look in the mirror when your daughters are standing beside you and complain about your newly-formed eye wrinkles, or stand sideways and grab at a slightly-protruding belly and call yourself “fat”, remember that your daughters are watching you and modeling your behavior. And let’s not forget the boys: what message does it send to young boys if they continually hear their mother complaining about her own appearance? That appearance matters above all else and the women in his life need to conform to some unachievable beauty standards?

If current events are any indication, we have a long way to go as a society when it comes to female empowerment. And while the recent spotlight has been squarely on men and their attitudes and behaviors – and rightly so – women also need to take a long look at their own, often unwitting, complicity (Side note: is it any wonder that both “feminism” and “complicit” are Merriam-Webster words of the year?).

We’ve got a long way to go, baby.

You Don’t Know How it Feels…Or Maybe You Do.

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I had last seen Tom Petty in 1981. I wasn’t about to miss what was billed as his 40th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers and what he, himself, said might be his last tour. And turns out, sadly, he was right about that “last” bit.

Well, it was nearly Summer as we sat on your roof
Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon
And I showed you stars you never could see
It couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me

It seemed an eternity between the time I bought the tickets – as soon as they went on sale – and the night we finally walked up the familiar path to the Hollywood Bowl. Side note: you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced the magic of the Bowl in the waning days of summer. Or in Los Angeles, well into September, during what other parts of the country might call Indian summer. Magic lives at the Bowl, the way it lived in Tom Petty’s lyrics.

My husband and I went to the concert with my niece and her fiancé. Turns out Tom Petty appealed to generations much younger than ours – something I’d never really realized. Our own daughters were certainly exposed to his music because we played it, and while there are many artists for whom we share a passion, I never suspected Tom was one of them until my older daughter complained that we didn’t buy her tickets, too. I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised that songs full of yearning, love and loss like Tom’s could cross that generational divide.

Oh, baby don’t it feel like heaven right now
Don’t it feel like something from a dream
Yeah I’ve never known nothing quite like this
Don’t it feel like tonight might never be again

After food and wine, we sat on the wooden benches of the Bowl, snuggled in close because, the couple next to me had revealed, we had “one extra” – someone who didn’t have a ticket in that row and section, but had squeezed in between us. He was a young guy, at the show by himself, and somehow, rather than calling security over to have him removed, we just decided to make it work. He was enjoying some very fragrant weed during most of the concert and asked me more than once if the smoke was bothering me. No, I told him. It was just fine.

 So let’s get to the point
Let’s roll another joint
Let’s head on down the road
There’s somewhere I gotta go

Tom told the audience that they’d just “throw a bunch of records out” and play what they wanted to.  And they did. With joy. There was the crowd-pleasing sing-a-long of “Free Fallin’”, the soaring “Learning to Fly”, and classic encore of “American Girl”, but there were also lesser known tunes like “Forgotten Man”, “Crawling Back to You” and “It’s Good to be King”.  Truth be told, I had hoped for a bit more “Damn the Torpedoes” and never really imagined I wouldn’t have another shot at hearing those songs live.

And for one desperate moment there
He crept back in her memory
God it’s so painful
Something that’s so close
Is still so far out of reach

My niece nudged me towards the merchandise on the way out of the Bowl because the lines were short and I was not opposed to adding a shirt to my collection, wishing I’d bought one the first time around in 1981. Yeah, guys were selling them for just $10 all the way down Highland Avenue, right next to the street dogs and the scent of peppers and onions in the air, as we walked back to our cars, but paying for the official merchandise seemed like the right way to go at the time and doesn’t seem like a bad choice now either.

That night, my husband and I drove down the 101, past Reseda and all those vampires walking through the valley. I was playing some of Tom’s songs, of course. Mostly the ones I didn’t get to hear live that night. My favorite of Tom’s songs, “Straight Into Darkness”, came on.

I don’t believe the good times are over
I don’t believe the thrill is all gone
Real love is a man’s salvation
The weak ones fall, the strong carry on

As his songs played, I recalled the many times I’d heard them in the past, and the people and places that were forever linked to them. I was overcome with sadness. Tears streamed down my face and I felt at once, foolish and distraught. Why was I crying? What was so overwhelmingly sad?

It could have been that I drank a little too much wine. Or inhaled a few too many times as my bench neighbor at the Bowl exhaled.  It could have been a nostalgia for times past, for times when Tom Petty’s voice played in the background of my youth – ever-present through first loves, first heartaches, first jobs, first moves.

After all, his voice had accompanied me through my first love in high school:
But then something I saw in your eyes
Told me right away
That you were gonna have to be mine

He had been my companion for a period through heartache in college:
Even the losers
Get lucky sometimes.
Even the losers
Have a little bit of pride
Yeah, they get lucky some times

When my husband and I found ourselves far away from our beloved California and tried (rather unsuccessfully) to convince ourselves that we could make a new home with our shiny new jobs in Dallas, Texas, it was Tom’s brilliant ode to Los Angeles that filled me with a homesickness I couldn’t shake (and spoiler alert – we didn’t stay in Texas):
I’m gonna glide down over Mulholland
I’m gonna write her name in the sky
I’m gonna free fall
Out into nothing
I’m gonna leave this world for awhile

His voice was a constant companion and thankfully, it still can be. I had no way of knowing that night would be my last opportunity to see Tom play. I guess none of us did. But maybe it’s why, driving home that night, realizing how much time had passed since I’d first heard “Breakdown”, I sensed the beginning of an ending, as we all do when pieces of our lives come rushing back into our heads and we long for certain moments and cling to remnants of who we were the first time we heard those notes.

Yeah and it’s over before you know it
It all goes by so fast
Yeah the bad nights take forever
And the good nights don’t ever seem to last

The day after Tom – and so many innocent people in Las Vegas – died, I wore my concert t-shirt to run errands. People everywhere I went – the grocery store, the CVS, the Starbucks – stopped me to comment on my shirt, to ask me if I’d gone to the concert, to remark on the sadness of his passing and of that day, in general. One girl told me that she’d had a chance to go to one of the last Bowl shows, but didn’t, and was now regretting her decision.

In the wake of both his passing and the horrific massacre in Las Vegas, it seemed to me the time was ripe for some communal grief and Tom had given us a soundtrack to express it. What is a great song, after all, if not a vehicle for sharing joy, sorrow, yearning, frustration – all of the things that make up the complicated lives we humans lead?

Clearly, Tom Petty knew this.

You wreck me, baby
You break me in two
But you move me, honey
Yes, you do.

It’s Not Just Politics

The past few days have been tough. Following what will likely go down as one of the most bitter elections in U.S. history, America has elected Donald Trump – a morally (and literally, six times over) bankrupt man with no experience in governing or world affairs who ran a hateful and divisive campaign.

I’ve been posting to social media. A lot. At first it was the only way I could process and make sense of the situation. And then it actually became somewhat comforting to share thoughts and feelings with all of the other people I know who are equally dismayed about the future of our country.

Many people misunderstand the sadness and anger. No, it isn’t because “my team lost”. This is not a football game. This is real life, the future of a country and its people, what electing this kind of person means not just in terms of policies he might set and enforce, but the kind of climate we live in – what is acceptable and what is not.

I’ve battled with the fight or flight syndrome. Stay and put up the best fight I can? Or move to a place like Canada or Sweden that better suits my values? I realized that while flight could be a long-term prospect (and I’m awfully thankful my daughters are dual citizens), at least I’m fortunate enough to live in a state that overwhelmingly voted against Trump and is filled with people who believe in equality for all and many other values I hold dear.

So what do writers do in these times? Write. Write to make sense of it all. Write for purposes of release and catharsis. Write to share with others and perhaps, gain understanding.

The first point I’ve had to battle with friends or acquaintances who either voted for Trump, voted third party or simply – and worse – didn’t vote at all, is that it’s just politics, it’s only four years, move on and come together. That he’s just one man.

  1. Point One: It isn’t just politics this time, folks. It’s the future our children and grandchildren and it’s the kind of country we want to live in. When you elect someone to the highest office of your land,  you’re saying that this person – and all they say, do and embody – represents your country to its children and to the rest of the world. You hold the person to a higher standard and you hold him or her accountable for his or her behavior. To elect a man who ran the most hatred-filled and divisive campaign in history, someone who demeaned and assaulted women, who threatened to ban all Muslims, who referred to immigrants as rapists and criminals, who has offended African-Americans, Jews, the disabled and LGBT people, says something about your country and who you want to lead it. It isn’t just politics. The electing of this man to our highest office is not just politics as usual. It is unprecedented.
  2. Point Two: It isn’t just four years, but let’s talk about those four years. In those four years, so much progress could be rolled back and so much damage could be done. Trump will likely appoint several Supreme Court justices. These Court appointments are for life and those justices could make decisions that affect the present – and future – of every American. If you’re a white male living in America, you may not see much at stake. But already we’re seeing the effects of electing someone who has spewed racist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric, seemingly making it “normal” and “ok” when it is anything but that. We’re seeing a rise in hate crimes, bullying and excitement among groups like the KKK, who suddenly feel their positions have been legitimized and they can operate as if they are normal – rather than unwanted and despised elements of society. I hear people claim that Trump is not responsible for that, nor are the good people who voted for him, voted third party or didn’t vote. I beg to differ. Trump spewed the rhetoric, incited the violence, called his comments about grabbing women’s genitals just “locker room talk” and because we as a country did not reject any of this, we have given the signal that all of it is ok – more than ok , he somehow deserves to hold the highest office in our land. This is beyond despicable. Yes, I’m having trouble coming to terms with the fact that not only did people in this country vote for him, but many people did not do all they could to stop him.  I have gay, immigrant and Muslim friends, and at least half of my family are Jewish and women, and you’d better believe that we are all worried and fearful of what the next four years hold. Only four years? For a white male, perhaps. For the rest of us, it isn’t just about the policies a Trump administration could put in place, it’s about the climate of our country where it is suddenly ok to hate and discriminate against all of these groups of people.
  3. Point three: Move on and come together. I see the wisdom in not spending my days posting on social media. I can’t be angry forever. I can’t cry many more tears. But I will not “move on” and “come together” under someone whose message was the exact opposite. Trump and his supporters drove a hard line of division into this country and his election lit a fire under all those who would hate and discriminate against people of color, immigrants, women, Jews and Muslims and LGBT -and I will NEVER come together under anyone who holds those views. Instead, I will do everything in my power to fight against the views and policies of Trump and those who support him, I will do everything I can to protect innocent people from falling victim to anyone who hates, bullies or tries to discriminate against them. Many think we are overreacting. Open your eyes, turn off Fox News and look at a variety of news sources both in and outside the United States right now. You will see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s ugly and I, for one, will not accept it.
  4. He’s just one man. Certainly. And we have a congress – now fully in control of the Republican party. Again, this isn’t about politics. While I am a registered Democrat, I have voted for Republicans in the past and I have many moderate Republican friends (most of whom wisely voted for Hilary Clinton) with whom I share both differences and similarities. I never felt the world was imploding when Ronald Reagan or George Bush the first were elected. Indeed, I was upset by the second election of George W. Bush and was horrified by the Iraq war quagmire, but I never thought our basic humanity, decency and all of the tenets our country was founded on were at stake. With this one man, they are. It’s possible that even without the checks and balances of Democrats leading the House or Senate, sane Republicans will curb Trump’s desire to radically change policy. But regardless of the policies – again – this isn’t just politics. It’s about human decency, equality, the way we behave with our fellow man and woman. I buy the argument that many good people voted for him because they wanted change or hated Clinton, but they still knew the full package they were getting and those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for anyone or at least not for Clinton, knew what Trump brought to the table. They knew he was endorsed by the KKK. They knew David Duke rallied for his election. They knew Putin and the Russians were hacking the DNC and rooting for Donald Trump. They knew that Trump was guilty of saying and doing horrific things against women and people of color because they HEARD and SAW it with their own ears and eyes. And yet – they still elected or allowed him to be elected. He’s just one man, but he has changed the climate of our country for everyone – especially those who are not white males.

To quote Dylan Thomas “do not go gentle into that dark night”. Or to quote my favorite NHL coach, “We will not go quietly.” I will not go gently or quietly. I will speak up. I will use my voice. I will use my actions. I will watch where each dime I spend goes. I will fight against Trump and everything his election says about this country and everything he stands for. Most of all, I will fight for those people who are endangered not just by potential policy changes but by the horrifying change of climate in this country where it’s suddenly ok to bully, hate, exclude and discriminate. In short, Trump’s vision of America? This will never, ever be my America.