The Big Fail

February 3rd. It’s been three days, Father, and I have sinned…every. single. day.

I knew it would be hard, especially being in New York City with friends.

Our first day there, it wasn’t “No Sugar February” yet, but I behaved nonetheless. Then Saturday happened: the changing of the guard. 

February 1st was an important date on my calendar this year. It didn’t have the illustrious status of it’s palindrome sibling, 02/02/2020, but it marked the beginning of my month with no sugar, and even more fun, it also marked my reunion with coffee, since December.

I got dressed Saturday morning, and with a bottle of water tucked under my arm, I walked the mile through the city with a friend to find the yoga studio we booked for class. We sweated our asses off for the next ninety minutes and walked back.

An awesome start to the day.

After yoga, we dressed up and went to a show. I had snacked on a handful of cashews beforehand, but by the time the show let out, I was hungry. We stopped at the bar on the way into the restaurant, before heading to our table. I ordered my standard dirty martini.

Our drinks weren’t yet finished, but they called us to our table, ushering us over to the winding staircase to the downstairs. Gingerly removing the glasses from our fingertips at the bar, they informed us our cocktail glasses would meet us at our table.

I don’t think this was a happy accident.

Intuition suggested this habit was the result of acquired experience. 

As I stood up from my bar stool, I felt like a woman who had been active all day, failed to eat, and started her calorie-intake with a martini. I latched on to the handrail and slowly traversed down the steps. Looking back at my friends coming behind me, still gripping the banister, I covered the side of my mouth with my other hand and whispered, “Don’t forget, Ladies. What goes down, must also come up.” One of my friends laughed, because that’s what she does. Doesn’t matter if you’re funny or not, she will always hand you a complimentary giggle. She’s so damn great for my thin ego. My other friend’s quizzical look suggested I had just botched an abridged version of Einstein’s theory of relativity instead of making a poor joke.

I pressed on. “Well…I’m just saying…normally, going down can be trickier, but I think coming back up this bad boy…tonight…could be even worse, if you know what I’m saying, wink wink.” We all had a collective chuckle, but beneath the joviality, we hoped these words would not come to pass before the night was over.

I ordered a burger, my favorite, but also because I needed something to stick to my ribs that didn’t cost me a month’s wages. The restaurant offered a vegetarian pasta for almost $50, so my options for cheap and cheerful were minimal. The burger I ordered cost the same as the ninety minutes of yoga I did that morning.

An eye for an eye, or when in NYC, a burger for a Bikram.

I knew another cocktail would not be wise at this juncture. I ordered a glass of red wine instead. I thought, “It’s just one glass, and then I’ll be done.”

I considered this a compromise. In reality, this thought process, and the subsequent behavior that supports it, is called “rationalizing.” Rationalization is a tricky bastard, that comes with many disguises, and the ability to talk out of both sides of its face, and out of its asshole as well.

Rationalization can never be trusted.

Like Pandora’s box, lifting the lid on Rationalization unleashes the monster it is.

We were about done with our dinner when the waitress said the three magic words: Sticky. Toffee. Pudding.

She might as well have said, “Beetle Juice, Beetle Juice, Beetle Juice!”

The demon trickster stepped out of its shackles.

I said, “We’ll have an order of each.”

Rationalization nodded its approval with a hearty fist bump. It said, “Go big or go home! You’ve already fucked up…umm TWICE now…so just keep on going! You’re in New York! With friends! Having fun! Don’t be a party-pooper now! Too late for that, sister! Worry about that tomorrow!”

No longer did I care about my No Sugar February, or how much all of this was going to cost me. With sugar pulsing through my veins, and rationalization’s gentle breeze behind my back, we grabbed our coats at the end of dinner, and negotiated the stairs back up uneventfully (but still terrified).

We were on to our next adventure.

We didn’t walk far, before riding the elevator up to the rooftop at a neighboring hotel. The bar was enclosed by a clear igloo-tent and furnished like a sleek lodge you might find somewhere in the Adirondacks. With its ceramic fire pit, the spot was warm and cozy.

I didn’t really want another cocktail, of any kind, but there we were, on top of the world. Rationalization cupped my ear with its warm fingers and whispered, “Be in the moment. Enjoy it. You’re…in…New…York…”

“I’ll have a pear martini, please.”

I thought to myself, “Rationalization is right. I’ll start over tomorrow.”

I smiled at my good fortune, at finding myself in this place, at this time, with these good friends, and took a sip. My martini was sweet and delicious. We finished our round and walked back to the hotel, just as the rain started to sprinkle into the night.

Our evening was wrapped up by 10 p.m. We had a good giggle at that novelty. My, how things have changed. Three drinks in the past would have meant one “pre-game” drink before leaving for the evening, possibly one on the way (I am ashamed to admit it now, but it’s true), and the third one would have been ordered before we even looked at a menu. Our evening would only be starting, and I’d be three deep already with a long way to go.

Luckily, things do change, and sometimes it’s for the better, too. With Rationalization tucked under the covers by my side, we closed our eyes after a full day of brilliant adventures. I was confident the next day I would do better. A fresh start, on February 2nd….

I woke up at midnight, sick to my stomach. Rationalization was nowhere to be found. It had vacated the room, leaving not a trace.

It’s a bastard alright.

In its place was the twin sibling, Reality, the serious twin. With its head hung low under the dark hood of its robe, like the Grim Reaper, it pointed its bony finger at the bathroom door.

(Reality…Death: they both travel on, and are tethered to, the same space-time continuum.)

Now would be a good time,” Reality said.

I thought to myself, “You are not the fun one, that’s for sure. And you look like you need to eat a sandwich.”

The thought made my stomach turn more.

I pleaded for Rationalization to step in.

 “Can’t this wait? Do we really have to do this?”

Reality loomed over my curled-up body under the covers.

Now would be a good time.”

Reality, the righteous bastard of the two, was right.

Off to the bathroom I stumbled. I did escape the messy repercussions that sometimes accompanies a big night out, but the discomfort and impending threat of more, I did not.

I got cozy on the tile of the bathroom floor.

This was Rationalization’s leftover party favor, its calling card for a job well done.

As I lay on the bathroom floor, Reality shook its crooked finger at me. “Remember this. It started when you ordered a glass of wine. It seemed an act laced with innocence, but this was my naughty twin talking. You went from counting pennies at the table, to ordering every dessert on the menu. That set the stage for ordering a $30 pear martini at the end of the evening. $30!! You might as well have ordered another burger at the bougie joint instead. Now, you are rolled into a ball on the cold, tile floor of your hotel bathroom.”  

Ok, ok, ok, enough already!

I woke up in the morning, back in my bed, with a renewed sense of purpose.

Today will be better.

I will do better.

Our last morning in NYC, we decided to get up and walk all over town, down 5th Avenue, to Central Park, and back again. It was cold outside, but the hot coffee kept the chill at bay. We stayed out for a couple of hours before packing our things and taking off to catch our respective rides back to home.

Standing at the bus stop waiting to board, Rationalization whispered in my ear, “It’s Super Bowl Sunday…It’s one day a year, Jenn…and Russ cooked all this food for the both of you. Don’t let him down.”

Damn, Rationalization!

I admit I enjoyed every bite of cheese and chips.

Monday rolled around, and once again, I greeted the day newly-inspired.

Today will be the day.

I walked into my office this morning to find a healthy wedge of red velvet cake sitting in its open white box in the break room. Leftovers from someone’s weekend celebration…and my breakfast today.

February has been a complete fail.

All three days of it.

Rationalization, you’re a bastard.

Time to warm-up to the cold embrace of Reality.

Starting tomorrow. 

 

The New Normal

**Winter lanterns at the Kennedy Center’s REACH Center, celebrating the Lunar New Year.

The Happy Accident

Only two more days.

Russ asked me if I knew where I was going to purchase my first cup of coffee on Saturday, after a month of abstaining.

Absolutely!” I said. “Dean and DeLuca, of course!”

He just shook his head.

Russ has enjoyed his appropriation of the coffeemaker for the last month. He told me as much last week.

Well don’t get used to it, Buddy!” I snapped. “Those days are numbered.”

This weekend I will be in New York City. We planned all of our events well in advance. We made the necessary reservations and bought all the pertinent tickets a couple of months ago. The last detail for consideration was my impending reunion with coffee. I didn’t have to think for very long to pinpoint a location. Dean and DeLuca is one of my favorite places to grab a cup to go in the city.

For the past week, when I’ve really craved a cup of coffee, I’ve chosen hot chocolate as an alternatve. I met an old friend at Starbucks yesterday morning. I rarely go there, but it was a halfway point for the both of us. Taking my hot chocolate back to our table, I tried to sip from the little slit in the lid. Tilting my head back, nothing came out.

I knew this had the potential to turn out badly. It reminded me of all the times as a kid (who am I kidding, as an adult too), sucking on the straw of my milkshake with palpable determination, something lodged tight in the middle. This usually ended with the gooey obstruction finally slingshotting to the back of my throat, leaving me coughing and sputtering milkshake everywhere, gasping for air.

Showing newfound discretion, I removed the lid. To my delight, I realized the hold-up was none other than a thick blanket of whipped cream across the top. I didn’t realize it came with my order. Turning the lid belly up, I carefully licked the shallow peaks off the slick surface before siphoning off as much as I could across the top of my cup. It was a happy accident to start my day.

It’s enough until Saturday. 

Nonboarding

 A new advertisement showed up on my Facebook account: “The Girlfriend: a free weekly newsletter just for the forty-something.” The kicker? It’s from AARP. In the ad, two women are sitting across from each other with their glasses of white wine, smiling upon their good fortune. Hey, American Association of Retired Persons, what are you saying? Is this how you groom women for retirement in 20 years?? Are you suggesting we are all single, in our forties, looking for other girlfriends to dish with over wine?

Wait a second…are you targeting…your biggest demographic??

Single women in their forties?

…and I didn’t see anything about a newsletter calledThe Boyfriend?”

This is premature onboarding for membership into an organization most of us will be obligated to join.

AARP makes it look like a sorority, not the “grave” rite of passage it is.

Ahhh, maybe that’s the real advertisement. AARP portraying the brittle process of aging as a fun, exclusive “club” instead.

Talk about putting a little jingle on it.

This girlfriend still isn’t buying. 

 The New Normal

I went to see “Next to Normal” at The Kennedy Center last night. The show is here for a week before heading back to Broadway. It’s been ten years since its first, and only, run. Yesterday evening was its opening night, and the packed house rewarded the performers with a rowdy standing ovation. The entire production was well done–the singing and music, the script, the set, etc etc.

I won’t give the plot away, but the content was very dark. Seeing “Dear Evan Hansen” this past summer, I considered it dark and painful, but “Next to Normal” went even further. Without saying too much, both deal with mental health and suicide. This is all too relevant. A good friend of mine lost two close acquaintances to suicide this past week alone.

Two.

 I just finished David Foster Wallace’s excellent interview in “Quack This Way,” he another one to perish in this manner. Is it just me, or does it seem more prevalent nowadays? Even more so than in the last decade, or even the last five years? I’ve lost several close acquaintances over the years, people I’ve dined with, partied with. So far, it’s never been a close friend.

Does that make it better? More acceptable? Does the demarcation unwittingly quantify it? Does suicide exist on a spectrum?

 Of course it does, even if we don’t want to admit it. It’s just like cancer. The closer to home it hits, the worse it hurts. We all hope it stays far enough removed, it won’t infect the safe little bubble in which we each live. That’s what happens to “other” people. But this statement is not true anymore. No longer does “six-degrees of separation” exist.

It’s more like one or two degrees.  Because we all know someone.

It begs the question.

 Is suicide our new normal??

Lockdown

My dad called me a 5 p.m. tonight.  This is a little unusual. I was walking home from work, but pulled my gloves off to answer my phone.

Hey Dad.” I said. “Everything alright? You okay?”

Well, you’re mother is locked out of her building at work.”

I could hear the intensity in his voice, coated with determination.

What?

There’s an active shooter at the college and they’ve evacuated the buildings. But she can’t get to her car because all the roads are closed.”

My mom is a tutor at the local community college. She helps students who speak english as a second language with their written assignments and papers.

My dad said, “I’m on my way to pick her up, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there with the roads closed. And she doesn’t really know where she is on campus either, so I don’t know how we’re going to find each other.”

There on the sidewalk, I pictured my parents 2,000 miles away, my 78-year old mom locked outside, far from her building, unsure of her whereabouts, and my 84-year old father, understandably panicked, driving into a chaotic situation and trying to talk on his phone at the same time, as daylight receded.

It’s terrible feeling helpless so far away. 

It turned out to be a false alarm. There was no shooter. The only casualties were two students–one treated for an anxiety attack and another for a panic attack.

I thought those were the same thing. 

Soon everyone will forget about yhe stressful situation tonight, that turned out to be nothing more than a major inconvenience.

But no one will forget the feelings of being scared, vulnerable and helpless.

Everyone’s new normal.

 

 

Candy for the Soul

I started reading “Quack This Way,” by Bryan A. Garner (BAG). He interviewed David Foster Wallace (DFW) in 2006 and published their conversation, in this book, in 2013. I picked it up off my bookshelf because on the cover it says, “BAG and DFW Talk Language and Writing.”

And I really need some inspiration and direction in my writing right now….

I don’t recall buying the book, which leads me to believe someone gave it to me. I can’t remember who, but thank you to whomever did. It’s a great read.

I’ve often heard the magic of a book hits you when you are fortunate enough to pick-up the right book at just the right time in your life. I have felt this many times myself. The Poisonwood Bible, West with the Night, Travels with Charley are just a few of my favorites. They spoke straight to my heart and opened my mind.

Sometimes reading a certain book feels like serendipity. Maybe it is. As DFW said in his interview, “You find certain writers who when they write, it makes your own brain like a tuning fork, and you just resonate with them…It’s like eating candy for the soul” (p. 61).

He is so right.

David Foster Wallace needs no introduction. He is one of the best writers of our time. It was after his unfortunate suicide in 2008, his achievements came even more to the forefront of public awareness.  I started reading his Consider the Lobster quite a while ago, but still haven’t managed to finish it yet. I also started Infinite Jest, but thus far, I’ve been even more unsuccessful with it. (Infinite Jest is infinitely longer…Sorry, couldn’t resist). Maybe it’s just the wrong books at the wrong time. More than likely, the limits of my mental dexterity have prevented me from persevering. The prose is beautiful, yet I found it equally thick and heavy to read at the same time.

So now they sit on my shelves, waiting to be rediscovered…when the time is right.

My sister introduced me to DFW. She is always “in the know” when it comes to art and literature. Early on, she shared his commencement speech with me, “This is Water.” That’s how I got hooked on DFW.

Reading the interview in Quack This Way, I learned DFW and I shared something. (It’s silly how excited I became over this little nugget of information, but it’s true). We both loved the same book and author. I have always revered Cormac McCarthy as my favorite author, and specifically, his novel “Blood Meridian.” It is a complex work with its own unique style. For me, reading “Blood Meridian” was like walking through “The Manifesto” installation at the Hirshhorn Museum this past autumn. Both are stunning, thought provoking works of art, bordering on overwhelming at times, yet, I couldn’t pry my eyes away from either when confronting them.

Picking up Quack This Way the other day, felt serendipitous, which hasn’t happened in a while. It’s chock full of good information, writing and otherwise. Then DFW said, “I think the hard thing to distinguish among my friends is who…who’s the 45-year old who doesn’t know what she likes or what she wants to do? Is she immature? Or is she somebody getting reborn over and over and over again? In a way that’s rather cool” (p. 64).

I put the book down.

I thought to myself, well shit. This hits a little close to home.

Which is it?

I’m straddling the fence. I kind of know, but I kind of don’t know; I’m mature, but I can be a little immature too. (I like to refer to this as being playful, by the way. It sounds a lot better.) Or am I just being reborn over and over? A temporary, superficial replica of something else, someone else, changing all of the time? This offends something at my very core, which I don’t necessarily want to acknowledge either.

That’s never a good sign.

But I’m not the only one. I know several others standing on this precipice, facing the abyss into the unknown. They’re not yet watching “Food Over 50” on PBS, but they are suddenly looking up, wondering, “What the fuck happened? How did I end up here?”

An old riding student of mine, who teaches at the high school level, tells her students every year on the first day of class: “Don’t wait for someone to do something for you. It is easier to ask forgiveness rather than permission.” This was her way of putting the onus on them, to give them permission to take charge, take chances, and have an instrumental part in creating their future, even if they make mistakes in the process.

Age is irrelevant. We all have to go about creating our life, every single day. When you’re young, having permission feels like the first door of opportunity opened. In midlife, when you’re changing direction, or directions, the doors of opportunity look more foreboding.

You have so much more to lose.

But believe it or not, this moment in your midlife is the consolation prize to an otherwise uncomfortable position. The alternative, of keeping your head buried and continuing to bobble along, has all the trappings that come with a tiny, football-shaped pill.

In This is Water, speaking to the budding graduates, DFW said, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life….there is no such thing as not worshipping. The only choice we get is what to worship….If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

What do you worship? What takes up too much time and space in your head?

I have many things. It’s why I exercise relentlessly, write relentlessly, ruminate relentlessly. I’m devoted alright. Missing a day of exercise or writing sends me into a tailspin. I only wish I could take a day off from ruminating, but she is the queen of the castle, wielding her royal scepter, without pause.

To use a colloquial, trade acronym—I’m a WIP (work in progress). 

That’s fine by me. I accept my “as is” condition, even as I struggle to sometimes put a leash on it, or at other times, push it kicking and screaming out the door.

“Like any kind of infinitely rich art, or any infinitely rich medium, like language, the possibilities for improvement are infinite and so are the possibilities for screwing up and ceasing to be good in the ways you want to be good” (David Foster Wallace, p. 59).

Regardless of whether you’re immature or you’re reborn, a fuck-up or a raging success, it’s all possible.

Get started.

 

 

 

 

It’s What We’ve Got

I take notes all of the time now. So much so, I’m now like everyone else: I carry my phone with me everywhere—into the yoga studio, to bed, walking to work. These seem to be the places where inspiration breaches the surface. That and driving, but I know better than to mix those two. The ‘Notes’ feature on my phone makes it easy to jot down ideas when I’m walking down the street, or preparing for yoga, or when I wake up in the middle of the night. As much as I berate the people who walk into the middle of traffic while looking down at their phones, it seems I operate daily as distracted as anyone else.

I’m such a hypocrite.

Two nights ago I woke up in the wee hours to record a few things that popped into my head. The light from my phone screen, or the clinking of my rings, must have woken Russ up. He slowly swatted at me.

Put your phone down….”

He sounded like a drunk man fighting off the break of day, but I suppose it’s how anyone would sound woken up in the middle of the night.

I held my phone up with both hands, like an offering to the Gods,  managing to avoid Russ’ aimless swipes while typing profusely with my thumbs.

Annoyed, his back still to me, he hissed, “What…are…you…doing?”

“I’m writing.”

“Now???”

“Yes, now… I’ve got to write it down when it happens.”

With a sigh, Russ flopped his arm back over and curled into his pillow.

The next morning, I took all of the notes on my phone from last year and copied and pasted them into a single PDF-document.  It was fun, and funny, to revisit a few of them.

Before Russ left for work, I said, “Oh looky here. January 18th, 2019. My note says, ‘My new husband won’t share his bottle of water on our ‘honeymoon.’ You have your own, he says. But I said, Yet we share bodily fluids. WTH? We can’t share water?! Where’s the love? Yep. End of story.”

Russ asked, “Wait? I said that?”

“Yep.”

He snickered at the memory, but I could see his wheels turning.

Shit. She records e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

NEXT…

On the way back from the Poconos, Russ turned on his favorite podcast, “The Art of Manliness.” The episode we listened to was called “How to Find Your Calling” (October 30, 2019 and January 5, 2020). Gregg Levoy, the guest who was speaking about his latest book, suggests the “nudges” we sometimes feel are intuitive hints, or callings, which we need to listen to more closely.  He quoted his father who said (this is paraphrased), “Informed intuition is gathering a ton of data, as much as you can, and making a decision based on that.”

The author asserts we need to do the same, using all of the subtle signals we tend to ignore, as our gathered data. Acknowledging the nudges as part of our collection of information, Levoy says, is a huge step in making the best decisions for our lives.

After we listened, Russ asked me if I liked the podcast. I thought about it, but eventually said no.

I’m just going to say it.

I’m really sick of all the self-help, do good, how-to-live-your-best-life-podcasts, books and articles. The ones that tell you how to be happy; how to get what you want in life; how to accomplish more in less time; how to look younger in five days; how to be a millionaire in two-weeks; and all the other content just like it. I have a friend who calls this reflective/self-help craze “The Kumbaya Movement.”

It makes me laugh. Every. Time.

I feel like I should be standing on a pedestal with my cape blowing in the wind as I proclaim: I am finally over my relentless quest to improve myself, do better, be more, etc. It has all become pedantic. I am either jaded, or I’ve come to accept myself, as is.

I sound like I’m on consignment, “as is,” and I DEFINITELY don’t sound like someone who does a hell of a lot of yoga, where everyday we start our practice by setting an “intention.” But, there’s no buyer’s remorse here. It’s just a matter of working with what is, and that’s what I’m doing.

There are a lot of people peddling their version of “the secret sauce” for a good life. The magnitude of content is almost surreal. Or maybe it’s just the speed at which it is delivered, over and over. The constant onslaught can be overwhelming.

The closest I am lately to “do better” programming is Seth Godin’s and Scott Galloway’s blogs.  I f ind their remarks succinct, pragmatic, yet still poignant.

Here are a few recent ones:

Seth Godin—

There’s a difference between hearing about it and experiencing it….Our awareness has been stretched wider than ever in history, but often at the cost of taking away a lifetime of experiences.” January 25th, 2020.

THIS. Always, always, always, show up, when you can. For the little things, as well as the big things. It matters to the people you love, and it will matter to you, even if it’s not apparent at the time. 

Real progress comes not from measuring ourselves against everyone else’s pace, but in building habits. Habits lead to commitments and commitments create learning.” January 11, 2020

Once is a mistake. Twice is a habit. Choose your habits well.

Interaction is a privilege, but it doesn’t often scale.”  January 15, 2020

This is another dimension, with business in mind, of “experiencing” life, versus hearing about it, and “showing up,” versus not. The irony is, interaction is priceless, but also hard to monetize.

Sometimes, the investments we put in place to avoid mediocrity are the very things that cause it.” January 18, 2020

Sometimes a person’s due diligence is what impedes their way forward. 

Scott Galloway, The Algebra of Happiness

There is a freedom and cathartic release, as you get older, to tolerating cracks in the filters, making them more porous, your actions and words more genuine.”

Tolerance, with myself and with others. I’m working on it. 

“In the end, relationships are all that matter.”

 WORD.

This is what it is all about. 

Scott Galloway’s blog, No Mercy/No Malice

 “HQ2 [Amazon Headquarters #2] is an apt metaphor for a sickness plaguing our society — the false narrative of meritocracy. It’s the notion that everyone has a shot, and if you don’t win, it’s your fault. The reality is, we don’t have a meritocracy….Our attainment of the American Dream is now largely a function of where we go to school, which is mostly a function of our parents’ wealth.

We’d like to think we all have a shot. It’s not only less and less true (income mobility has been cut in half in the last several decades), but it’s also damaging to our collective well-being. We’ve bought into the mental trap of believing our inability to offer our kids what our parents gave us is our own fault, because we live in a meritocracy. But the reality is, Bezos was never going to roll in Columbus. HQ2 was not a contest but a con, and America is barreling toward the society our forefathers wanted to escape — a caste system.”

This is a hard slap. I feel our greatest fear as Americans is coming true. We are moving towards a caste system, here in the greatest country on earth. 

WTF>#L

Waking up super early this past Sunday morning, I caught a program on public television called “Food Over 50” or “FO50” for short.

A cooking show for old people.

WTF?

By the looks of it, quinquagenarian nutrition requirements aren’t that much different than, say, those of thirty-five years olds, yet they devote a television program just for that age group. Following it were two programs on geriatric yoga. This is yoga which uses a chair as a prop. To round out the early morning programming for seniors was a segment on sewing. (SEWING!?!?!)

So, now I know who watches television in the wee hours of a Sunday morning–older people, and insomniacs like me, who are getting older. Even the commercials between segments catered to seniors. The one for cellular phone service showcased stylishly kitted geriatric golfers, smiling and laughing, swinging their clubs in between phone calls.

I don’t know anyone who smiles and laughs playing golf, over 50 or not….

 ….and if they were, they’d be holding a beer in their hand, and not a phone.

This is starting to hit a little close to home. I have a lot of friends in their fifties, one who just turned 50, and I’m not that far behind. Just last week I ordered a pair of progressive eyeglasses. Unfortunately, when I tried them on I. Hated. Them. In case no one tells you, you lose all of your peripheral vision with progressive lenses. Well, no one told me, so putting them on, it came as a total shock.

You lose half of your vision in order to improve the other half??

Apparently it’s a thing, and people adjust, but I did, in fact, have buyer’s remorse. I got a refund and will now go elsewhere. It didn’t help things either when the sales associate put her fingers all over the lenses trying to adjust them. Looking at someone else’s sticky fingerprints all over your expensive glasses, while you are wearing them, is an experience I hope no one else will have to endure, especially when you asked for a cloth to clean them.

Wrapping the Rap

#nomorekumbaya. After many years, it’s finally dried up. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s wisdom, maybe it’s weariness. Russ said I’m a curmudgeon. Maybe he’s right.  There is no secret sauce to life that I can see.  All we can do is love ourselves, wherever we are at right now, and love others, wherever they are at, too. #compassion. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

And it’s what we’ve got.

 

 

SISTERS

This morning I had a new yoga instructor. I’m going to call her “Chloe.” She introduced herself and let us know she would be the new instructor for this class from now on. She decided to share a personal story as an icebreaker and to tell us a little bit about herself.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself, “I think I like this girl already.”

Yesterday was her sister’s birthday. “Lauren” lives a few hours away, so Chloe called to wish her a good one. The two sisters got to laughing and reminiscing about their childhood.

Chloe said, “Remember that time Dad wanted us to go to Grandma’s and work in her garden together?”

Their grandmother lived a mile and a half away. Chloe explained her father was, and is, a huge exercise buff. He was always encouraging them to move, and play sports, and be active as kids.

Her father chirped to his girls, “Hey, I’ll drive over to Grandma’s and meet the two of you over there. That way you girls can get in a little running time today. Then we can help Grandma together with her garden.”

The sisters rolled their eyes, but they knew this wasn’t a question. Despite being a yoga instructor now, at the time, when Chloe and her sister were teenagers, they were a lot less enthused than he was about all of that.

They decided to come up with an alternative plan.

In unison they chimed back, “Ok, Dad! See you there!”

With their mother’s help, the two girls hid in the trunk of their father’s car. Undetected, they caught a ride over to Grandma’s anyway.

Chloe said, “We knew we had to wait twelve minutes or so, or whatever it would take to run over there. We couldn’t show up too early, so we stayed hidden for a while.”

The girls quietly climbed out of the trunk. Looking at each other, they decided they’d better run up and down the block once so they appeared a little sweaty, like they would if they had actually run there. When that didn’t yield enough results, they crept into Grandma’s neighbor’s yard and spritzed themselves with the hose.

Assessing themselves and each other, Lauren said to Chloe, “You know, you still don’t look right.”

Confused, Chloe asked, “What do you mean?”

“When you exercise, your face gets really red…and it’s not red.”

Chloe knew this was true. Before she had time to respond, her sister slapped her.

Then she slapped her other cheek.

Exasperated, Chloe barked, “What the fuck are you doing?”

Looking at her sister with a straight face, she said, “I’m making your cheeks red.”

At this point, the girls fell about laughing and slapping each other until they were sure their appearance didn’t belie the facts. When they were done, they crossed the neighbor’s lawn to Grandma’s house to help their Dad.

Chloe was laughing as she shared this story. She said, “To this day, my Dad does not know we did that.”

Ahhh, sisters.

They’re priceless.

After class I told Chloe how much I enjoyed her story. I also told her I had a friend who had been incredibly athletic her entire life, and yet, her kids wanted nothing to do with any of it growing up. Still don’t.

Maybe it skips a generation…like baldness…

It still puzzles my friend to this day. Sometimes I wonder if your parents are very “into” something, it’s the adolescent’s single most goal to reject it completely. The first silent protest in their young life: a bigfuck you” to their parents.

Chloe went on to tell me another story. She said when she and her sister were much younger, maybe five and seven, their parents had a dinner party. The difference was this time their parents set-up a kid’s table in addition to the adult’s table.

Their father said, “You girls are going to eat here [with the neighbor’s kids who are your age].”

Well Chloe and Lauren wanted no part of this. They didn’t know these kids, like these kids, and they did not want to sit at the kid’s table.

Chloe said, “We just need to go upstairs for a second, Dad.”

He said, “No you don’t. You’re not leaving. You’re sitting at this table and you’re going to have dinner with these other kids.”

The two sisters put their little heads together and decided to come up with a new plan.

“Dad…Dad! We need to go to the bathroom!” Lauren implored.

No you don’t. You two sit right down and eat your dinner.”

At this point, Chloe is holding onto the desk at the yoga studio and she starts to double over with laughter telling the story.

She looked at me and said, “So you know what we did?”

I shook my head waiting.

She said, “We peed ourselves!!”

She must have registered the look of shock on my face. You did what??

“Yup. That’s right. We peed ourselves, just to prove my dad wrong!!”

At this point she is howling with laughter and it’s infectious.

I start laughing picturing these two precocious little devils in pigtails outsmarting their do-good father.

“Oh my God. What did your father do??”

She said, “He turned white as a ghost. He was completely mortified! Bahaha!”

I was laughing pretty good by now, shaking my head in quiet disbelief.

You’re poor dad,” I said. “What was he supposed to do with that? How did he ever save face with the two of you after that show down??”

She just laughed.

I thought to myself, “I knew I liked you. You’re a firecracker!”

Chloe and her sister are only a couple of years apart. My sister and I are five years apart. When you’re a child growing up, it’s enough of a difference. You’re either “the kid” or you’re “the baby.”

And no one ever wants to play with “the baby.”

Guess which one I was??

My sister didn’t mess with “the baby” so much growing up, but we became a lot closer when she went to college. She took me to my first concert, U2’s “The Joshua Tree,” and not long after, to see INXS. I smelled marijuana for the first time there. Scrunching up my nose, I said, “Oh my God, it really stinks! Seriously. What is that smell?”

My sister snickered, shaking her head. “It’s pot, Jenn! That’s what it smells like.”

I was sure, even then, the police were going to show up and arrest them. (Them being everyone??). I sat on the edge of my seat for an hour before I realized that was never going to happen. I then visited my sister while she was away at college. As a high school student, this was a really big deal. For the first time, I had no parental supervision, and my sister was in charge…of everything.

I finally had a seat at the big kid’s table.

My sister and I have been close since that time. By now, there’s a lot of water under the bridge, both good and bad, that has happened in both our lives. Despite it all, and through it all, I am so grateful I had my sister to help me navigate life’s challenges and beautiful moments too. She has helped me a lot, and I have helped her too. How lucky we are indeed.

My sister also has one other little known secret about her. Sometimes when my family is all together, someone will say something funny, and everyone will start to giggle. Except my sister and I will start to giggle louder. We giggle until we start rocking back and forth, laughing followed by howling, with tears rolling down our faces.

We can’t stop.

This can go on for fifteen minutes or so. Everyone else has stopped laughing, and by now they are completely annoyed at this seemingly private joke, but it’s not that at all. Sometimes we can just make each other laugh for a good while, over just about nothing. Usually there’s a glass of wine involved, but that’s it. It’s the kindling that helps start the fire.

Having a person like that in your life is priceless.

Just like my sister.

 

 

 

 

Consumption Resumption

Twenty-one days, and it’s getting harder.

Is it because the end is drawing near, so I can almost taste it?

I’ve begun the countdown to February 1st—day one of coffee consumption resumption. Someone asked me yesterday how it was going. I have to say, this experience yielded some surprising results. First, I’ve actually done the challenge, with no cheating whatsoever. Like I mentioned before, the last time I attempted this, I barely held off for an hour.

Second, I thought the beginning of the month would be the hardest. This did not prove to be true. The first two weeks I thought about coffee briefly every morning, before giving myself a congratulatory pat on the back and moving on.

“Look at you….Don’t even care…Who’s your daddy now, Rock Star?”

That might seem completely gratuitous and cheap on my part, but you have to understand, I really love coffee. So much so, I either travel with a percolator and all the accoutrements, or if that’s not possible, I do reconnaissance on the location, before traveling there, to isolate the best options available.

It is the one thing I don’t drive by the seat of my pants and leave to chance. I need to know the options.

After a couple of weeks and a bit this month, going without coffee started to get… harder. Walking past my favorite coffee shops while out on a crisp, weekend morning in the bright sun, yoga mat tucked under my arm like a total walking cliché, the coffee beckoned me, calling my name, begging me to come inside and just smell the fresh grounds….

This weekend was a huge challenge. It was very cold, and snowing, and we were waking up early to get a head start on our day of snowboarding. It begged for a hot cup of joe. I really wanted to be that smiling face in the commercial: “The best part of waking up, fa la la la…”

I settled for hot chocolate.

February 1st will be here before we know it and I can’t wait to take my first sip. However, it’s also the same day “No Sugar February” begins. As you can see, I didn’t dive into the Whole 30 like some of my brave (insane) friends. Not an early adopter of just about anything, I prefer…baby steps.

One thing at a time…

If it goes anything like January, I know the end of the month will be a lot harder than the beginning. Even more challenging, I already have dinner plans to celebrate a friend’s birthday the evening of the first. Developing a plan ahead of time, instead of celebrating with birthday cake, I will be toasting her with a vodka…and sparkling water.

There’s a reason I picked the shortest month for this challenge. I think it will be near impossible to go completely sugar-free, but I’m going to be as earnest as possible in my quest. So much so, I am also going to avoid any alternative sweeteners, natural or otherwise. This is a huge contingency to undertake voluntarily. I love maple syrup, specifically, almost as much as I love my coffee. (As of yet, these two have never met…but I’ve thought about it.) When I fix hot oatmeal for breakfast, it’s a coin toss to see what takes precedence in the bowl: the oatmeal or the syrup.

Russ wrinkles his nose in disgust every time he sees an atrocity such as this taking place in his kitchen. Like this weekend, when I repurposed his leftover broccoli cheese soup into a “spaghetti sauce” over noodles. These culinary makeovers happen a lot in Russ’ kitchen. He cooks, and I repurpose the meals when they start to show some signs of aging. It’s this moment, when deciding what to do with the puny ingredients, which becomes the bone of contention between us and incites a lengthy debate. In general, it ends with me eating the newly-revised (and obviously improved and resurrected) concoction, as Russ cooks something else from scratch or resorts to snacking as his meal.

Last night, as I heated up my broccoli-cheese-noodles for dinner, Russ just shook his head.

That’s New Hampshire 2.0 waiting to happen right there,” he said.

He was referencing last year when I became violently ill on our trip to New Hampshire. We had eaten at a very nice restaurant with friends that evening, but I think the true culprit might have been the hot dog and the beer I had in the afternoon at the ski lodge, which was the one place no one else had patronized that day besides me. Anyway, it was damn ugly. I wasn’t sure I was going to get to fly home the next day.

Twirling my fork around the creamy, green concoction, I replied, “Well as long as I don’t get the Coronavirus, it’s all good.”

I shoved a forkful into my mouth.

And it was simply delicious.

 

The Sport of Chairlifting

**Photo of the Sierra Blanca peak, located in Ruidoso, New Mexico, where Russ and I first snowboarded together. 

 

“Are you regular or goofy?”

Silence.

“I’m sorry, what??”

“Are you regular or goofy?”

I was just trying to pick up my snowboard rental at the lodge.

“Umm…well I lead with my right foot??”

“Ok, you’re goofy then.”

I had to smile.

If that didn’t just sum me up in a nutshell, I don’t know what ever will.

I chuckled at the irony.

I’m goofy, and I snowboard goofy, too.

Russ and I drove to the Pocono Mountains to celebrate our first anniversary. Russ introduced me to snowboarding three years ago and it is something we love to do together. This was my fourth time. We chose Jack Frost Big Boulder over Camelback, hoping the smaller venue would be less crowded, and maybe a little more relaxed, but even they had 5,000 skiers on Saturday (compared to Camelback’s 10,000).

We picked up our boards and walked over to the top of a green run to sit down and strap them on. I instantly got nervous. It had been a year, just like it had been a year before that, and a year before that, and so on. I thought to myself, “You must be getting soft…or too old…or maybe it’s both. Or maybe you’re finally just getting smart. Maybe you are too old and shouldn’t be doing this at all.”

It’s amazing all the nonsense you tell yourself when you’re nervous.

Taking a deep breath, I stood up.

Too late now, Sucker. You’re here. So you better make the most of it.

Down I went. Slowly, but that is my default setting, after all. In fairness, I always believed when training horses, they learn to do things slowly before they can do them quickly. Whether that’s going cross-country, jumping through a combination, or navigating a tricky, technical question, it is key to introduce these problems in such a way the horse will have the ability to answer them successfully—either by approaching at a quieter pace to give them more time to think their way through it, or setting the question up easier, perhaps by lowering it a bit, so even if they slow down significantly on their own, they will still come out of it successful and having learned something. Snowboarding is a bit like that for me at the moment. I have to slow it down in order to actually keep up with what’s happening underneath me.

That said, it went like clockwork. I pulled up at the bottom after having a good first run. I almost felt like….I knew what I was doing. It’s a great feeling. Russ and I caught the chairlift up together.

And just like that, my euphoric bubble burst.

The…fucking…chairlift.

It’s never the mount, but always the dismount…

(In this way snowboarding and horses are different. Sometimes getting on a horse can be the most difficult part of the ride. At least when this happens though, you are more prepared for this also happening when dismounting. The chairlift, on the other hand, cordially invites you aboard, gingerly scoops you up, only to unceremoniously dump you like a bad date at the end of the evening.)

The chairlift slid smoothly to the top and I got ready to go. I was going to be ready for this two-faced asshole when the moment came.  I stepped off, stood up, and immediately spun out of control, before falling on my ass sideways, still sliding down the hill.

Bruise #1, check.

I thought, “Ok. That’s done. I got it over with. I’m good now.”

After my second run, I busted my ass so bad getting off the lift, I almost tore my knee apart. I felt the immediate sting of body parts being pulled in anatomically impossible, and opposing, directions with my knee at the center of the party. My upper body flipped up like a fish in a frying pan (I still don’t know how) in order to save my knee from twisting completely (and tearing).

“Oh my God,” I thought. “You almost just did yourself in. On your second run. NICE…Well that sure as shit would ruin the weekend…and in your first five seconds out here.“

I got up quick. I was going to ride that adrenaline gravy-train, good or bad, for as long as I could…until the next chairlift, anyway.

Chairlifting, it seems, is an Olympic sport.

It’s not unlike trying to stand-up on a SUP (stand-up paddleboard) in the middle of the ocean. (Ask me how I know this. Also a huge fail…over and over.). Chairlifting is not for amateurs, and not for the faint of heart. It spit me out over and over like I was a piece of dried-up, spent chewing gum and it was a speeding car with the windows rolled down.

For those few moments, when dismounting, I was like my very own one-man WrestleMania, all…by… myself…in the snow. Every time I landed, with a thud, on a different body part, sliding to the bottom, I kept thinking, “You really need more padding.” I made a mental checklist: tape for the knees, elbow pads, wrist guards…a masseuse. At least I managed to fall going down the hill, and not under the lift. In other words, they never had to stop the lift in order for me to extract myself.

That in itself was a damn good consolation prize.

One time when I landed in a pile at the bottom, I managed to sit on the heel cup of the binding that was released from my foot. (In snowboarding parlance, this is the non-dominant foot you release after every run, in order to shuffle over to the chairlift and ride it up. For me, my “regular” foot is released, as my “goofey” foot is my lead foot, and therefore stays secured in its bindings until finished for the day.).

I fell backwards, and landed on the heel cup…with the back of my thigh. With 100% certainty, I can tell you this is the one time landing on my ass would have been so much better. Landing on a binding would be similar to falling and landing on a boot jack planted upright in the ground. I have a nice bruise across the back of my thigh that looks eerily like a charcoal pencil.

I would like to be able to say this was the first time this happened…or even the second time…but no. This has happened a lot. It has occurred often enough that every time it does, I think, “Well that can only happen once,” but I’m never right. (I know, I know!! This is almost the definition of insanity…).  It has to happen at least once more before I finally acknowledge the odds are not what I think they are, and I should really fold the heel-cup down before getting on the lift.

(Why can’t I just do this from the very beginning???)

Only this time, my fourth time snowboarding, I thought I was good enough. “You know better now. That won’t happen this time. You’re fine.”

Fucking hubris.

The learning curve is painful. “Once and done” is a phrase that belongs no where in snowboarding lingo.  When I finally “mastered” the chairlift this weekend (after being a snow dart ten times in a row), patience was the critical factor. It is true one can “over-prepare” for a big moment, only to miss it completely.

Once again, just like jumping horses, the chairlift does the work for you, if you’re patient and you let it. In short, I realized I was ahead of the motion, in anticipation for what was coming up. As soon as I waited for the chairlift to push me down the hill, it was smooth sailing from there.

A miniature mogul, a baby show jump… it’s all the same.

Despite the chairlift shenanigans the first day, I was simply amazed how much I remembered and could do after a year’s hiatus. I didn’t miss a beat. In fact, I started out ahead of where I ended last year. All of my nerves evaporated as soon as I stood up the first time and immediately found the middle of the board. This seamlessness and seeming progress was a huge surprise.

The cynic in me kept waiting for all the cobwebs and shadows to show up, but they never did. Not only that, but I never got tired. I’ve heard many times the hardest part of snowboarding is standing up on the board and this isn’t completely untrue. Sitting down to fasten your bindings before every run means you are pushing yourself up to standing many times in a day. It takes a lot of core and quad strength to stand up with your feet attached to a single board. I can only attribute my improved strength and flexibility (when saving my knee), and my endurance, to one big thing:

My yoga studio. 

Besides never getting fatigued, I also didn’t get sore (besides the bruises from the chairlift!), which is saying A LOT. Yoga improves all of these things–your strength, flexibility, as well as your endurance. Not only that, yoginis spend half of their time upside down in yoga, just like you do when snowboarding.

(Umm, literary liberty…)

It’s excellent preparation for the unexpected.

Brimming over with a great weekend, I decided to use my day off today to try out the Bikram studio here in DC. I went to my regular studio this morning, then headed to the new one to try a class.

It was severely disappointing.

As much as I chide Corporate Yoga, it’s secret sauce is CONSISTENCY. This Bikram studio was an independent studio. It did things it’s own way, which I’m sure works just fine for them, as the class was packed. However, I walked in and the building smelled incredibly sour, like a petri dish of sweat and…well…let’s just leave it at that.

Strike one. 

Entering the studio, it wasn’t that hot. Bikram is known for its 105-degree temperature and substantial humidity. When you first open the door to a Bikram studio, the elements should slap you across the face, hard, and momentarily take your breath away. It had none of that.

Strike two.

It was no studio like the one I visited in Houston over the holidays, that’s for sure. 

It’s okay though. My studio is great and I get a lot out of it, especially if my snowboarding is any indication. My new plan is to start wearing long sleeves to create even more heat, the heat I am craving from a “proper” Bikram studio.

After two great days of snowboarding in the falling snow, and celebrating our first anniversary, Russ and I headed back south towards home. We stopped on the way to visit his parents, since we were driving right past. It happened to be his dad’s birthday as well–January 19th. It made our visit all the more special and wrapped up a great weekend.

Indiantown

**Photo of Indiantown Gap National Cemetary, where Russ’ parents, Wayne and Joan, are buried. They were both Navy veterans. Indiantown Gap is a beautiful place to visit.