Years ago, before Sandy Hook, Columbine, Orlando, Virginia and all the others, I would have been devastated by the events of this past week, but truth be told I am becoming inured to acts of extreme violence, and loss. Each time CNN ratings spike, which is either the result of an internationally embarrassing tweet or paper towel toss, a natural disaster or a mass shooting, I feel just a little less pain for the people who are affected.
I am an empath who is beginning to lose her mojo and that can’t be good.
When there is another mass shooting I become sort of paralyzed, unable to look away but equally unable to stay tuned. I find myself in a no man’s land between worlds where bad things happen to good people and bad people have more rights than anyone else. Dozens of innocent people are dead—cut down for no reason at all—and folks on Facebook are calling each other names because they disagree on the sanctity of the Second Amendment as though a glittery unicorn in the sky had written it himself, never mind the 59 people who are dead forever and quite possibly not flying up to the clouds where free beer and potato chips are served 24/7 in a place called heaven.
From where I sit it feels as though we have spun out of control with no hope of restoring order to our lives so we tune in to cable news and shake our heads and maybe watch a video on how to survive a mass shooting. I do not understand how the slightest threat to any type of gun ownership whatsoever foments a nationwide gnashing of teeth and heeling of elected politicians while yet another horrific mass shooting generates nothing but ratings and Facebook wars. No one is taking to the streets. No one is knocking down the doors to their representative’s offices. Millions of women are not marching on State capitals in a show of force that tells elected officials “we will not stand for this a second longer.” What, we’re too busy knitting pink pussy hats?
The saddest thing I’ve seen in the recent past is the massive chasm among women. This “us against them” political bullshit is a divide and conquer tactic as old as the hills and as effective in undermining our collective authority as a nuclear bomb. The men who rule have employed a doctrinal military tactic that allows them to defeat an enemy (female voters) by destroying small portions of our armies rather than engaging our entire military (women in aggregate) at once. So simple. So diabolical.
We’re gonna have a hella time getting along when you’ve been convinced that wearing a “Trump can grab my pussy any time” t-shirt is a good idea, but I am willing to work with you because we really are stronger together and our children are being gunned down in cold blood.
I’m not all rah rah women are better than men, but I recognize certain facts about who we are, namely the people who get pregnant, endure nine months of gestation, give birth to another human being, feed it from our own bodies and would rather die than see harm come to it. How on earth were we bamboozled into acting against our very nature by supporting politicians and laws that allow grave harm—and death and suffering—to come to our offspring? Are we really okay with 59 of our children (or 49 or 33 or 28 or 15 or 14 or or or) being slaughtered for any reason whatsoever?
When I was a very little girl I was obsessed by a book my parents kept hidden high on a bookcase that could only be reached by first clattering on a chair then scaling the shelving like a mountain goat. There were illustrations of naked women in the book—contraband. Y’all know I’m drawn to the forbidden like Anthony Weiner to an iPhone so I quickly taught myself to read. (I am also drawn to exaggeration like a Ferderbar to…an exaggeration.)
The book was Lysistrata, written in 411BC by the Greek author Aristophanes. It is a somewhat comic account of a woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by denying men sex. Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace—a strategy, however, that enflamed the battle between the sexes and paved the way for American politicians to divide and conquer women voters.
Even then, men realized that women were way too strong a force to take on with conventional warfare. We withheld sex. They caved. Something had to change! So they figured out the divide and conquer thing and we have been subjugated ever since. There is no other possible explanation for pro-Trump pussy apparel.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving became a political behemoth, a more powerful lobby, in fact, than the NRA, through the simple simple simple strategy of unifying women against a common enemy—the death of their offspring. MADD became stronger than Republicans and more powerful than Democrats—combined.
(Before I continue I need to address a false equivalency that often silences people in favor of stronger gun control laws: gun violence in Chicago. People are dying by handguns, yes, but using that as an excuse not to curtail the availability of assault weapons that make it possible to mow down hundreds of people in a few minutes is like saying ice cream is high in calories and fat so we may as well eat deep fried butter served with a side of hollandaise for breakfast every morning. This is another tactic in the ongoing campaign by the gun manufacturer’s PR firm of NRA to shut us the hell up, or at the very least confuse the issue.)
I believe we must think like Lysistrata and the geniuses at MADD, putting the sanctity of our children’s lives before all else. That means not tearing each other apart over any other issues. It means focusing on that which we all believe in with all our hearts. We have to stop letting “them” divide and conquer us as though we are simpletons incapable of thinking for ourselves. Rather than “never Hillary” we ought to focus on “never my child should die in a hail of bullets.”
Next time I see a woman with a pro-Trump pussy grabbing t-shirt I am going to engage her in a respectful, warm and loving way. I’ll ask whether she has children, their ages and how well they do in school. There will be common ground, no doubt. When I meet a woman who believes abortion is murder, I will sit with her and try to find that sweet spot where we naturally both agree that abortion is not a good thing, but that maybe it isn’t as heinous as some other things that we can work together on, like mass shootings.
Women are strong. Even those with whom we adamantly disagree have a formidable backbone specific to the female sex. What might we accomplish if we joined forces?
Fare thee well, beautiful Tom. You will be dearly missed.
The other day I got into a debate with someone who believes that rich people are smarter than poor people, which is a myth rich people would like to propagate much as I would like to spread the news that writers are all frickin’ geniuses. Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, the argument goes something like…”you don’t get to be a billionaire if you’re an idiot.”
My boyfriend explained that rich people have to believe they deserve their wealth or poor people wouldn’t deserve poverty. In order to deserve something we need to earn it, so they convince themselves they earned it—even if their wealth was handed to them or stolen from the poor.
Mind boggling, right? I have a boyfriend, which brings me to my point; it’s all about luck. Say you’re in the .0001% wealthwise. Chances are you were born in the United States or a palace. You can’t really argue there was any shrewd business calculus on your part. Likewise, five decades in I found my bookend, the one who makes me happy, my soul mate. Believe me, I have tried everything known to humankind to ferret out Mr. Right including dating (and occasionally marrying) every Mr. Wrong I could get my hands on including a man in California whom a mutual friend dubbed “the most inappropriate man in L.A.” (I can only assume Mary Knox-Sitley meant L.A. proper with its population of 4,000,000 and not Los Angeles County, which would have made the odds 1 in 13,000,000 that I’d snared the most unsuitable mate in the world’s fifth largest economy. I mean, come on!)
After years of dates with Satan, men with eating disorders, mother issues, addictions, predilections, poor taste in music and hairy wens, the man who takes my breath away landed right in my lap. I hadn’t set out to find him. I wasn’t smart about it and I am not the most deserving by a long shot. I did pretty well on my own, truth be told. I liked the quiet. So what gives? Luck, my friends. Pure luck.
In fairness there were some really cool guys along the way, but for whatever reason either the timing was bad: “Will you wait for me until, a) I get out of the joint, b) my divorce is final, c) the drugs kick in?” or there was no chemistry. I wouldn’t say I gave up as much as I deferred the love search for some future time when I’d be even more aged and there’d be even fewer men from which to choose. And then it happened.
Two people in the same place at the same time—literally and figuratively. It was July 4, so the fireworks were more than a cheesy metaphor. He was funny, engaging, and really smart and I noticed him watching me when he didn’t think I was looking. Maybe these sound like normal things to you, but for me…I’m kind of a bull in a china shop when it comes to dating so trust me when I say it was pure luck that I was paying attention on this occasion. The chemistry was palpable; right beneath it, like a strong current in black water, luck was pulling me under.
There is a question I ponder every day: are there things we can do to increase luck?—the basic premise of Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale. I’m still in research mode so I do not have a definitive answer, but I have discovered a few strategies along the way.
1. Eyes open.
My grandma used to say you won’t find a penny on the floor if a bird poops on your face. I’m sure it was more lyrical in her native Czech, but what I think she was trying to tell me was that you need to be on the lookout for real treasure, not pie-in-the-sky dreams. What if luck was right there under your nose, for example, but you were too busy obsessing about having eaten a 2lb. Toblerone bar for lunch? (I’m sure in Czech that would also sound prettier, less gluttonesque.)
Put down your phone, book or chocolate bar and look around. Listen. Watch. Worst case scenario you will see some beautiful stuff and you might just find a lucky penny on the floor. On any given day it is also possible that sitting right next to you, inches away, is someone who could take your breath away (in a good way, not as in strangulation as a form of sex play, which leads me to #2).
2. Be specific.
If there is anything I’ve learned it is to be specific. My friend Ashami pointed this out in the wee hours after a big party at my house. As “Barry” skulked down the driveway with a lumpy pillowcase that looked like it might contain candlesticks and a Blu-Ray player, Ashami sipped her wine and said, “You really need to be more specific when you say you want a man.”
It’s not like I recently said ‘please bring me an incredibly sexy artist with a big brain, beautiful hands and a tender heart,” but when I did put it out there that I was open to at least chatting with Mr. Right, I asked the universe and goddesses to stop lobbing Barrys at me. That sort of specificity is the key to the whole operation.
3. Raise your standards.
In the search for a mate, whether we have been accused of being too picky or we have single girlfriends who’ve been labeled such, the reality is that we are not nearly picky enough. Traits and vices that we would never tolerate in a million years from a friend or even a family member somehow become “quirky” or “eccentric” in the host body of a man with a job and a perfunctory knowledge of the English language.
Conventional dating wisdom tells us that we will broaden our horizons if we lower our standards. It may be a mathematical equation, but it’s horseshit. There is nothing lonelier than being with the wrong person even if it is for the right reasons. Seriously. We have one life.
4. Be yourself.
I wasted a lot of time trying to be a version of myself that I thought men would find alluring. The mishaps were legion. I ended up attracting men who were so uninteresting to me that I’d have to sabotage things just to make a clean getaway, and what the hell kind of crap is that when I could have just stayed home and read?
I am not easy. I’m not a bargain. But at this point in my life what you see is what you get. Jeez, I wish I’d have been her years ago, because luck—that indefinable thing that carries to us treasure on a silver platter—only happens when we are our authentic selves, otherwise the universe and goddesses get confused and they send George Clooney to that Amal woman, who judging from everything I have seen has had her share, and more, of all the luck on earth.
Mates of any description do not complete us. Perhaps the thing about luck—really good luck—is that we are the prize, and they are the lucky ones.
It’s probably safe to say that most of us aspire to be loving creatures. We spend a lot of time figuring out how to love others, but everything we understand and know about love pretty much begins with how well we love…us. Wow. That’s a tough one for a lot of people, but what can we possibly know about loving someone else if we aren’t intimately familiar with the concept of loving ourselves?
We have stigmatized “loving thyself” with the fear that we will be labeled egomaniacal or narcissistic, but those are traits that describe humans who don’t so much love themselves as hold themselves to a lesser standard than they hold the rest of humanity.
A politician who espouses family values literally gets caught with his pants down in a public toilet in the company of a meth addict transsexual prostitute and he begs our forgiveness. (I’d find it comical if it weren’t so, so ironic that he asks to be pardoned for having sex with a drug dealer/hooker rather than for signing legislation that limits other people’s rights to have sex with whomever they please, marry whomever they love and use whichever bathroom matches their sexual identity.) But I digress.
We end up forgiving the scumbag because…why? He cried on television. We eat an extra piece of cake and can’t forgive ourselves. Sheesh.
As a nation we are on a mission to end bullying in schools and yet we bully ourselves every single day. I was loading groceries into my trunk earlier this week when a woman pulled into the spot beside me, got out of her car, dug around in her bag and then smacked herself, hard, across the forehead. You know me. I had to ask.
“I forgot my grocery list,” she explained, a red welt forming above her nose. “My kids will kill me if I get the wrong cereal.” I automatically despised her children and wanted to take the woman home with me—to pamper her and drink wine with her, but instead I suggested she not be so hard on herself and she tell her brats to get their own damn cereal. “They’re three and five,” she said, retreating into her car as I tried to hug her. I’m not sure how toddlers could kill an adult, but I still disliked them for making a perfectly lovely woman hit herself in the face. “Love yourself!” I shouted as she peeled out of the parking lot. (To self-soothe I gave myself a hug.)
I’ve consulted the pros about self love, you know, Oprah and Deepak, and they say identifying the sources of our inner pain—fear, anxiety, jealousy, stress, abuse, etc. and then learning how to let those things go is the key to truly loving ourselves. Bah. There, I said it. Bah! How about we identify the things that bring us joy and peace and we focus on those?
Do I love myself more when I’m zoomed in on my political anger or when I hug it out with an old friend? I can tell you that stress, anger and anxiety do not make me exactly lovable. In fact, I’ve been told in some circumstances that I actually have an evil face. There’s definitely a time and a place for dealing with our inner issues and learning how to get past them, but in terms of learning to love ourselves to the extent that we can better love others…nothing beats lightness, and joy.
Walking my dogs this morning I stumbled upon a small patch of wildflowers just off the road. When I got closer I saw they were abuzz with great big bumblebees. A little rabbit hopped out of the thicket and into the woods. The clouds were those big, dense white cotton balls that seem to explode off the blueness of the sky. My dogs were smiling. I was overcome with such joy that I wanted to cry.
I stood there, grateful for this moment on this day. I looked inward. I had nothing but love in my heart—love for other people, sure. But I felt good about myself because gratitude does that.
In that moment, had anyone seen me, I promise you they would have found me lovable, and for the rest of today I feel like I could wrap my arms around the whole world.
Maybe it’s too simple. I’m not a psychiatrist or self help guru. Hell, half the time I can’t find my ass with both hands. I am an astute observer however, which is the basis for building fictional characters who seem real. I look at people whom I consider extremely loving and they are always without exception very lovable. They hold their heads high. They take care of themselves. They love themselves. Then they go out into the world…and they love everybody else.
I wanna be that.
Please donate to the ASPCA Hurricane Response fund today. The animules need us!
The most epic love story I know—first hand, eye witness, felt it—was that of Simone and Martin. They met, they mated for life. Tragically, only 18 years later, Martin passed away, but not before forever changing the landscape of love…for me.
Unless they devolve into tragedies, love stories in retrospect have the tendency to feel and sound corny like a 1980s movie with a scratchy soundtrack, but the real thing has a decidedly genuine quality that lacks sentimentality and yet explodes with emotion.
Cue the scratchy soundtrack for just a moment…Simone and Martin never had a cross word between them. They never slept apart from the very day they met. They positively radiated, and if you were having the worst day of your life and you spent five minutes in their company, possibility replaced woe and you’d find clarity exactly when you needed it most.
Yesterday I got slammed on Facebook for saying that counter protestors at white supremacy rallies are decent, moral people. I was called a troll, naïve, un-American, communist and a whore—in one fell swoop. To be honest, none of these appellations seems particularly offensive to me except the troll part and that’s only because my posts are not off topic. If they’re inflammatory, so be it. I think Nazis and the KKK and racists and anti Semites and people who are filled with hate for people who are not like them are the lowest, most vile waste of opposable thumbs in the universe.
I’m not sure you can love the hate out of someone anymore than you can beat the naughty out of a recalcitrant child. In my personal experience it certainly seems that violence begets violence and hatred begets hatred, so how do we change the world? How do we remain loving in the face of so much abject, unsolicited hatred? Simone and Martin’s love story provides the key.
After the initial wow of observing the most loving people on the globe I started paying attention to the how of them. Every single thing they did, whether together or apart (which was rare as they were almost always found in pairdom), was predicated on a really basic principal; love is the motivation for the action.
Naiveté is not something with which I am generally credited, so I don’t expect I can change or influence haters by virtue of my loving thoughts, but I can disengage from exchanges that don’t move the dial for either side. I can choose to fill the vacuum with positivity because, according to what I have learned from my dear friends Simone and Martin, that should generate more goodness—more love.
Simone and Martin made a choice every minute of every day to base every single thing they did…on love, and what that begat was simply more love until eventually it was like breathing—it required no forethought. It poured from them and floated out into the world where, if you were observant, you’d see it wash over everyone around them; we smiled more, hugged it out, were kind to one another.
Martin left us way too soon. Simone continues to electrify the space around her with her light and her love. And now, so many years after meeting them, I think I finally understand how to do it. The trick is gonna be in the practice.
To love will be different for everyone, which in and of itself will require coming from a place of love in order to accept. We needn’t suspend reality or common sense. We don’t have to tolerate haters, bigots or assholes. All that’s necessary for being a light instead of the opposite of light is the genuine desire to root all our decisions in love. When we do that suspicion and fear evaporate, and what is the basis for hatred but wariness of people who are different from us, and the uneasiness we feel when we don’t understand those differences?
When a person acts from love the world truly becomes a better place. How frickin’ simple is that.
This week I truly say it like I mean it, I loves ya.
We have been recently admonished by our president that memorials to figures of the Confederacy are merely part of our “cultural history,” and why on earth would anyone wish to erase that? Oh, I don’t know. You won’t find a single statue of Hitler or Mengele anywhere in Germany and there’s a place whose cultural history goes back centuries farther than the American experience. The holocaust still looms large in the universal hippocampus, and yet the Germans don’t salute the losing side of history and decency with likenesses of the biggest assholes the world has ever known. I think we can honor history, pay heed to it and possibly even learn a few things without casting the villains in bronze. After all, it’s Jesus we see wherever Christianity is sold—not the Romans who crucified him.
Perhaps, as with most things, what we need to do is bring the discussion home—down to a personal level that makes it easier to digest. I will start with myself.
I have lost battles and I have lost wars and like the proud sons and daughters of the Confederacy, I am still standing. Of course I was humbled, educated, embarrassed, horrified, cowed and spanked by my losses so the last thing I would want to do is erect any sort of monument to my greatest blunder/s.
My first divorce lawyer lead me into battle like we were gonna land a few solid body blows up front, which would guaranty in the long run I’d own D Day. Although my lawyer was, on paper, a far better qualified human to practice jurisprudence (and spell it) than my husband’s drinking buddy, it is never wise to underestimate functionally illiterate degenerate alcoholics.
We strode into battle suited up with motions, depositions, statements and affidavits. They staggered in with the dumb luck of zombie barflies and waltzed out with the good china that was a wedding gift from my friends, which was soon thereafter sold to purchase lap dances at a strip club on Milwaukee’s south side.
Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, whose own relatives want his bronzes taken down across the South, once famously said, “I am more afraid of alcohol than of all the bullets of the enemy.” He may have been an asshole, but it turns out he was a smarter asshole than my attorney. Neither deserves a place outside (or inside) a courthouse.
So rather than “erasing history,” which is what our president says is the result of removing the statues, let’s take the statues down and commemorate the cultural history they represent by, oh, I don’t know, putting shit in a history book perhaps. What, it’s already there? Get out!
I guess you’d need to read books, or have read them, in order to appreciate that they contain slightly more depth than television news and whatever malarkey you find on the internet. When someone has taken the time to write a book, a history book in particular, a tremendous amount of research has been done so that the book contains something known as facts.
Many people question facts because they do not want to believe, for example, that the world is round or that Adam and Eve did not saddle up and ride a T Rex to their wedding.
Doubting that something is real does not change the realness of that thing no matter how badly you want it to be something else, like the truth. We laughed when Dubya said “truthiness.” Today, he reads like a freakin’ genius.
In the case of history, where the facts are verifiable because of documents, relics, ruins, carbon dating and such, books are a super great place to acquire the knowledge you need in order to sound intelligent when you speak. Statues clearly do not give you that edge. Sure, there’s something big, cold and cunning in our version of monoliths—we’ve taken short, often chubby, usually pompous looking men and made them bigger than life, but a statue misleads just by virtue of its being a statue.
Who’d be stupid enough, the reasoning goes, to erect a monument to a loser?
Ask the living descendants of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis who are begging authorities to remove the statues of their respective relatives in every place they exist under the sun. No decent people want to be associated with slavery. It is a stain on their very own family history. What does that say about the people who think the statues stand for American culture?
I write this on my birthday—a day that usually passes with special wishes and bedazzled cards from close friends and family, but that goes otherwise quietly into the good night. I am not complaining. Like most recognized days (yes, I consider my birthday a national holiday if only in my own mind) I think the celebration and silliness is mostly for children, but something strange happened this year that has changed the way I look at celebration, family, friends and love.
When I see a Facebook post telling me it is someone’s birthday, and that someone is someone I don’t really know—part of the extended “Facebook family’ comprised in part of complete strangers—I feel compelled to send a personalized birthday wish, but I always wonder if the recipient will think I’m a stalker. Am I being presumptuous, too friendly when I send my wishes for joy, happiness, hugs, kisses, loving, dancing, sexiness and glee? Then I throw caution to the wind and send it anyway. If anyone thinks I’m weird they can chalk it up to me being a writer, which lets me off the hook on lots of behaviors other people consider inappropriate.
Today I am on the receiving end of a truckload of good will, generosity, silliness, joy, intimacy and friendship and it makes me feel…like I’m suspended in an enveloping sea of warm Velveeta—floating in gooey, convivial bliss. I am deeply charmed.
It’s an amazing feeling to know that people with much better things to do spent the time to write a birthday greeting. Ok, it takes a few seconds, but that isn’t the point. Each person who wrote me had to overcome the same trepidation that I do when I send a note to a “stranger.” Then they sent it anyway. To be a warm, generous, giving human was more important than whatever opinion or reaction it might elicit from me. They went balls out in the brotherly/sisterly love department. If only the whole world could catch that cold.
The past couple of years people have taken the unusual step of insulting one another in an openly hostile and reprehensible manner—total strangers calling others every version of “’tard,” an offensive term no matter how you decorate it, telling one another they’re stupid, not worthy to live, deserve to be shot and the ever popular, “then move to Canada.” (I will never understand this as invective since with said move one would be that much closer to a calendar-worthy world leader.)
Amid all that nastiness and vitriol, the birthday wishes for happiness, fun and love stand out like Bjork. The gleeful emojis, exclamation points, hearts, flowers, dancing monkeys and balloons erase the nastiness spattered across my daily feed, and remind me there is infinitely more love in the world than not.
So here’s my thought: if we can take the time to put aside our differences for the moment it takes to write a birthday wish on FB, then doesn’t that show we have the capacity to tone down the ugly in favor of the beautiful? All it takes is NOT writing something horrid no matter how sincerely we believe we are right and the other person is a drooling Neanderthal.
Each time my phone dings with the news that there’s another post, my heart sings like a whistling cockatiel—all those people spreading a little message of love today. Happy birthday to me! And thank you.
Every day I receive several emails trying to sell me books, webinars, seminars and workshops promising to teach me how I can change my life, my appearance, the way I eat, sleep and love, which begs the question of why I am being targeted by these ads. I feel like hitting reply and asking, ‘What have you heard?’
Admittedly, some of these “programs” pique my interest because frankly who wouldn’t want the giblets and jowls of a 20 year old without invasive surgery? But like the Nigerian nationals who have asked for my help in getting their $millions into the U.S., I much fear all these efforts to make me younger, smarter, thinner, taller and with super sexed up cavewoman blood coursing through my veins are a sham.
The most recent solicitation promised to show me the ways in which I could ferret out, stalk and bag any man I wanted. (It was phrased differently.) The protocol was simple enough. I’d have to change every single thing about myself. Then it occurred to me that even if I did all that I still wasn’t going to “share an intimate relationship” with Justin Trudeau, George Clooney or Kevin Hart (let’s face it, funny is every bit as sexy as sexy) unless by intimate what they meant to say was imaginary, in which case, sure, it could happen.
My curiosity got the best of me and I bought a book on how to repel a man just enough to make him want me. According to the author, men only want what they can’t have, so if you become just the right amount of repellant you should theoretically be able to snare a live one. The trick is walking the fine line between acceptably loathsome and outright disgusting. I’ve never been good with the fine points, so I don’t expect great results when I “lovingly insult him into submission.” I would expect to be shown the door and told to go fuck myself.
Why are we so desperate to change? I can’t think of a soul who doesn’t have days where she’d rather be…different, but does that mean she really wants to change the most basic things about the way she operates? I’ve made my share of blunders and if I could have even one do-over I’d really make it count (I’d halve the number of times I’ve been married, for example), but we don’t get leprechaun second chances and turbo time machines in real life. What we get are life lessons, which hopefully provide some sort of counter balance for future endeavors so that the next time a man says “I’m an asshole” we take him at his word and cheetah ourselves right out of his apartment.
I talk a lot about developing habits to make us nicer, kinder, more compassionate beings and yet when it comes to intimate relationships many of us are all thumbs and Groundhog Day. In any other scenario, like touching a molten cast iron skillet, we learn from being burned pretty much the first time it happens. Not so with love. Lust. Sex. Flourless chocolate cake. No matter the cost in calories or heartache, we go back for more seemingly unbothered by our own historical context. What is that?
My theory is that deep down we do love ourselves, and the thought of trying to shoe horn all that we are into a size smaller Loubie is repugnant. There is a special indignation I feel when someone tells me if I were only to refrain from cussing, get a job that doesn’t intimidate a man and stop dressing like I still live in L.A. then I would attract a decent guy. What I would attract is a guy who should be going after a woman who vaguely resembles me, but who doesn’t swear like a sailor, write like a motherfucker or enjoy surfing.
I think there’s nothing wrong with self-improvement, but the key here is the word self. If we lose that which is uniquely us—be it cockeyed optimism, hopeless romantic notions, a propensity for infatuation or simply being a lovable dufus, then we’re not self improving; we’re pretending to be someone else.
How many times have we met someone who seems like a good match—sincere, forthright, funny and kind only to discover he is rude to waiters, cheats at golf and loves his car more than his mom? We wonder how we got suckered in, why we didn’t see it from the start, how we could have been so blind. I’ll tell ya – dude pretended to be another version of himself in order to bag some lady goodness.
Absent from my inbox are tutorials on how to love myself more, better. Imagine if we all walked out the door tomorrow morning feeling invincible—not reminding ourselves to walk taller, eat less, smile more and for godssake don’t intimidate. The female self-improvement industrial complex is nefarious and for purely monetary reasons encourages us to view one another critically so that eventually we turn the prism on ourselves and then feed the kitty by buying into all the crap that has been manufactured to make us feel insecure in the first place.
I hate to burst any bubbles, but it is possible that there isn’t a lid for every pot, and maybe personal satisfaction, growth, achievement and happiness aren’t really predicated on cookware at all. Maybe you get all that stuff by simply loving and believing in your own unique quirky weird little self. Wouldn’t that be something? Vive liberte!
I don’t have children. There are two beautiful souls in California that I like to think I helped to form when I had the privilege of step-mothering them for 12 years, but as for biologic offspring I chose a different path.
I am an only child. Growing up I was very close to my mom’s sister Marta and her children; my four hilarious, generous, loving, quirky and exceptional cousins. They are each so different from the other, yet there is a sameness—a baseline of caring and goodness that is unmistakably “them.” So it comes as no surprise that their children sprouted into the world with joyful abandon and hearts as big as the universe.
Three of the ten are about to leave for college. That’s 30% of the kids in the family. So what does my tribe do when faced with the annihilation of its ranks? We honor them, we spend every minute with them that they will give us and, we the elders, gather to talk about the old times and we cry and hug and laugh and say little prayers for their safety and happiness. We plot care packages, visits, holidays and how we can make things even more special for the returning warrior cubs when they deign to visit us.
Going away to college is a rite of passage. It’s exciting, liberating, scary, stressful, anticipatory and such a major huge step in becoming independent. That’s all from the perspective of the ones leaving. For those of us who watch them go it is devastating…and good. It is life.
What can we tell them that we haven’t already said a thousand times? They know to be safe. They know to choose their friends wisely. They know a healthy diet is essential to regular digestive operations. And yet they are bound to take risks that would turn our blood to ice water if we knew what they were doing. They will befriend both sinners and saints, they will gamble and there will be high fructose corn syrup and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it and they will live and thrive and laugh and learn in spite of it. Or maybe because of it.
What do we say to them now that we haven’t said over and over for the past 18 years? I do not have children, so perhaps my advice is less words of wisdom and more “oh, Pammy, please shut up” based on my experiences at their age. However interpreted, it is all from my heart.
You truly do not know how your kindness and compassion impact the people and the world around you until one day, perhaps a year from now, perhaps when you are very old—you will find someone has held you in their heart because you showed kindness at a time when he or she was on the brink of losing all hope. You weren’t aware of it—that time you offered a stranger a helping hand with a heavy burden, or you dropped everything to drive a friend of a friend of a friend to an appointment. Unwittingly, on that day at that moment you changed the script. You saved a life. You made a difference and you never even knew it.
So always go on the assumption that the way in which you treat people will be remembered forever, by them. It is an awesome burden, this. It will define you.
Laugh at disaster.
Tell the worst day of your life to fuck off. Shy of death, there is nothing that will happen to you or around you at this time of your life that you will likely even remember when you’re 30. You will endure a broken heart, a grade you didn’t deserve, to be lonely, scared, anxious and homesick. In the big scheme of things, which means by the time you’re 22, these will have been fleeting emotions—blips on the radar from which you will learn, and those will be the things you use to feather your emotional nests as you continue to grow and mature, which is a life long occupation btw. It doesn’t end after university or grad school, marriage or retirement. It doesn’t end until your heart stops beating.
We learn through repetition. Make observation a habit. Whether you go on to become physicians, actors, artists, philosophers, philanthropists, global financiers or soccer moms or dads, every day of your future will be informed by the events of today and tomorrow, so take mental stock often and in great detail.
I promise you, the feeling of warm sand between your toes on a summer’s day with the voices of children in the background, a breeze ruffling the edge of your beach towel and the sun so bright on the water you have to look away for a second—these are the moments that will help you take flight when you least expect it.
It’s equally important that you etch instances of great sorrow and elation into your consciousness—the look on your lover’s face the first time you say I love you, and when you say I do not love you anymore. The moments that take your breath away whether you are overjoyed or seizing with heartbreak are the same moments that will one day give you strength, inspiration, comfort and the principles upon which you will make wise choices.
Be aware of how people make you feel.
Anyone who makes you feel less than, insecure, not respected or valued or treasured or beautiful is not someone you should have in your life. There are all kinds of psyche terms we could bandy here, but suffice it to say that people who can thrive only by making others miserable are rat bastards who may be pitied, but in whom zero time should be invested.
Break bread with the sinners and see if you can’t corrupt a few saints, but walk away from anyone who doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. And with that admonishment you will surely recognize the absolute need to build others up.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou
Go forth and change the world, and know that your tribe—those who went before and we who remain—are one footstep behind you should you stumble or fall. And when you run we will be cheering.
An article entitled Ten Toxic People to Avoid Like the Plague appeared in my inbox this morning. I clicked it fast as I could, fully expecting a list of people’s names, which could have been handy. Instead I got a list of toxic types: the gossip, the temperamental, the victim, the self-absorbed, the envious, the manipulator, the dementor, the twisted, the judgmental and the arrogant.
While I appreciate that someone compiled a list of poisonous personalities to run away from, I find it lacking (although I am enamored of the word “dementor” and plan to use it often and with abandon). Here’s what was overlooked:
1. The kid bragger.
Pretty much all parents think highly of their children so it’s a safe bet to assume when you start banging on about your elfin overachievers you’re setting other parent’s teeth on edge like a piece of aluminum foil hidden in a hamburger. I don’t care if Bimmer was accepted to Harvard before he was potty trained. My Alfie knows how to spell p-a-r-k and t-r-e-a-t, and he’s a dog.
When it comes to our children genius is totally in the eye of the beholder, which is where it should stay. After you get home from dinner you can gaze lovingly onto junior’s pudgy visage and tell him he is waaaay smarter than a dog. It will be a lie, but you’ll only be annoying the living crap out of Fido and not everyone at a dinner party.
2. The disingenuous.
The classic “disingenuous” is Charles Dickens’ sycophant Uriah Heep, notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness and insincerity. “Oh, Master Copperfield, I am but an ‘umble’ man and you are so handsome and intelligent.” In today’s world Heep would open with, “Did you have a little work done? You look great!”
The character of Uriah Heep was based on a real life thief and forger who ingratiated himself to the Dickens’ family only to rob them blind once his bald flattery gained him access to the household. Apparently Thomas Powell told Mr. Dickens that he was a tremendous writer—that all other writers were losers—that Mr. Dickens had married the hottest Victorian supermodel in the world that no one had ever heard of before and that the Dickens children were classy and high quality people. Next thing he knew, Dickens was out $150K, all the silver candlesticks went missing and Tiny Tim had to do without the surgery that would have enabled him to walk sans crutches.
3. The megalomaniac.
Megalomania is a mental disorder in which the mind of the person is seriously broken as the possible result of a traumatic brain injury such as caused by falling off one’s gilded toilet onto one’s head. Megalomaniacs have an unrealistic sense of their own importance, popularity, wealth, power and significance, which is sweet soul music to the disingenuous.
Opposite the sycophant on the teeter-totter of dysfunction, the megalomaniac is easy to both manipulate and provoke. To bend one to your will you must only flatter and pledge undying loyalty, but their frontal lobe explodes when they are called on their shit. These are not philosophers or thinkers of meaningful thoughts, but they are oxygen to the flame of ass kissing and we better hope the two never converge in the White House. That would be #sad and #bad.
4. The willfully ignorant.
While my co-worker claims not to have known that the sandwich in the lunchroom fridge—in a bag with my name on it—wasn’t “up for grabs,” the law itself makes no allowances for ignorance (ignorantia juris non excusat), or in other words, I catch even a whiff of tomato, mozzarella, basil and roasted focaccia on your breath ever again, you are going down.
Sandwich skullduggery notwithstanding, I’m freaked out on a daily basis by the willfully ignorant’s ability to dismiss facts as something…disposable, like wedding rings or green cheese. Try as I might I cannot fathom a mental process by which, you know, evidence simply doesn’t effect decision-making, like the special kind of stupid it takes to touch a fajita plate even though you can literally hear it cauterizing the chicken. Just like the sizzling cast iron pan of death, willful ignorance will burn you in the end.
5. Internet trolls.
It is easier to discuss Kant with a cat than to argue with a troll although in both cases you will want to hack up a fur ball. I was recently blindsided by an exchange on Facebook that began civilly enough, but quickly devolved into what can only be described as visiting a Port-o-Potty next to a beer tent on the last day of a 10-day music festival during a heat wave when the curry guy at the international food tent has accidentally served tainted goat. In other words it was disgusting.
It’s one thing to voice opposition to a particular point of view or opinion, but to expend energy contriving vulgar non sequiturs in order to “get a rise” out of someone is like telling a rock it has a big ass and you don’t like its socks. The rock ain’t gonna change and the person talking to it remains an idiot talking to a rock.
Provocateurs used to be people who said and did thought provoking things usually associated with the arts and the loftier side of humanity. Much as the word “elite” used to be a positive adjective, we are suddenly swimming in a cesspool of co-opted verbiage. Elite is a dirty word while crass, vulgar and stupid stand in for “of the people.” Internet trolls know they don’t have to put any thought into their invective—as long as it’s base, ugly and vile it serves its purpose, which as best I can tell is to further strip humans of their distinction from rocks.
6. People who say irregardless.
Compared to the pulchritudinous people in items one through five, this one, #6, will get you killed.
1. Develop the empathy muscle.
This is first because it’s the easiest. You think the woman going nuts on the barista at Colectivo is out of line? Put yourself in her shoes and try to imagine what it’s like being an asshole. I’ve been an asshole and a nice person and I can tell you it’s way more work to be the former. Where I once would have rolled my eyes and possibly even stepped up to say, “pipe down, woman” I have now learned to flex my empathy muscle instead. “Oh, honey,” I like to begin, concern dripping from each syllable like maple syrup. “What happened to you when you were young?”
Most people stop their nonsense on the spot, suddenly aware that there just might be someone bat shit crazier than them on premises. Others will break down and tell you about Catholic grade school or the time they were frightened by a clown. Regardless, your little moment of kindness has defused the situation, and the barista will be grateful. (He will still get your name wrong on your cup.)
2. Take a moment to breathe.
Also an easy one. Next time someone is being inappropriate beyond the pale, pull your collar away from your throat and gasp for air. Fling yourself to the ground, flailing just slightly, until the other person asks, “Are you okay?!”
They will have pretty much forgotten the track they were on a moment earlier, and you have extended them the great kindness of shutting them up. The ploy expires the moment they start up again, but you have succeeded in altering their bad behavior for a full moment or two—or however long you can tolerate lying on the floor at Costco, flopping about like a suicidal goldfish.
When they repeat the question “are you all right?” you get to say, “Depends. Are you gonna stop talking?” As with almost all my suggestions for being kind, you will want to quickly walk away at this point.
3. Assume the other person is a good person, just confused.
This is a deceptively simple antidote to people who say and do stupid stuff. No matter what it is—talking smack about a mutual friend, espousing a political view in sharp opposition to your own moral code, or snatching the last firm kohlrabi from right under your nose—assuming the other person is basically decent but confused is a life saver for all involved.
It’s classic when someone slams a mutual friend to say, “Yet she always speaks so highly of you.” But consider the head-scratching response you’ll get when the next time Uncle Jurgen rants and raves about your bleeding heart and the starving widows and orphans who’ve taken all the good jobs away from regular Americans, you drape your arm over his shoulder and say, “Dear heart, the blue frog is always shinier at midnight.” Then walk quickly away. Crisis averted. Thanksgiving saved. Uncle Jurgen is, for once, quiet, which is a kindness upon everyone.
4. Pretend the other person is someone you like.
A recent study showed that we are less likely to rip the head off someone if the someone is someone we like. Full disclosure, it is my study and it was conducted as an experiment in my brain. I thought about the time the woman in front of me at the movies was texting. I know I’ve hit an 8.4 on the antagonization Richter scale when I can hear my own blood pressure roaring in my ears. I came this close to hurling a stubby 4oz bottle of $12 movie water at the woman’s head. Then I pretended she was Betty White.
Suddenly my blood pressure returned to pre-audible and I wondered if Betty was checking on her dogs, answering a grandchild who was worried when she didn’t answer her door (because she was at the movies) or maybe she was communicating with her agent, negotiating a contract for a film role in which case my blood pressure shot back up and I wanted to smack the white off Betty’s little old face. Really? You couldn’t do that in the lobby, I thought.
Then I pretended she was Mother Theresa and I barely noticed the texting for the next five or ten seconds. After that I sought out the pimply-faced manager and tattled my ass off. He, of course, did nothing and to this day I do not know how Titanic ends, but the bigger point is that I did not clobber the lady with my water bottle, and I consider that kind.
5. Deliver an Oscar-worthy performance as someone who is kind.
When we were little and given to making faces that my Grandma Rose found creepy, annoying, sassy or simian, she’d warn us that one day our faces would freeze like that. She said it so often and with such conviction that against all the scientific hypotheses ten-year-olds could conjure, we started to believe her. It did not stop us from making the ugly faces, but at least I was wondering what kind of future job I’d be good for if my permanent expression was that of a petulant Bonobo. #ImaWriter. The point is, repetition is retention, and if we can just act like kind people, the theory goes, we will become kind people.
Next time I encounter a person who moderately annoys me, I will become Meryl Streep playing me, but nicer and with a Czech accent because that’s a sexy one to have. If I Streep out often enough when I’m only just slightly perturbed, the next time someone pushes all my buttons I should be able—by the Grandma Rose repetition is retention school of medieval superstitions—to say in my most pleasant made-up Czech voice, “Daaaaah-link, your jokes are adorable.”
After blinking a few times as though he or she feels a stye coming on, the other person will likely proclaim, “I wasn’t being funny” to which I will say with a disarming smile, “You were, trust me.” And then I shall quickly walk away. This is a much kinder response to someone who is being an idiot than my patented knee jerk proclamation, “You’re a fucking idiot.”
6. Just…be kind.
As long as I knew her, which was my whole life, my mom did this thing when an ambulance passed by or we heard a siren in the distance. She’d make us say a prayer for whomever was injured or sick. As I got a little older it annoyed me to no end. We’d be in the middle of a conversation or a really good song on the radio and everything would stop so we could say some dumb prayer for someone we didn’t even know. I had a million reasons why it was a waste of time. After that, whenever an ambulance zoomed by, my mom would move her lips in silent prayer.
I was weeding the garden yesterday when I heard an ambulance in the distance and I stopped what I was doing for a moment, wondering whether the emergency vehicle was on its way to pick up an elderly woman who had fallen, or maybe a man who’d had a heart attack. I realized my mom’s prayers weren’t silly at all. She was being kind.