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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pleasure Seeking

Pleasure. In my world it's not exactly a dirty word, but it's also not something I indulge in nearly enough.

I was brought up with directives to "simmer down" if I got too excited, and "shift into low," was another favorite of my mom.

My mom was a lovely person, but as far as being a role model for seeking pleasure? Yeah, not so much. So consequently I am someone who is driven and doesn't put much energy into seeking pleasure.

I put a photo of Christian Louboutin shoes here because I dream of a day when I can have the pleasure of purchasing a pair of completely dreamy, impractical shoes. That to me would be incredibly pleasurable.

I am aware that I am bad at taking time to feel pleasure. I'm not a Luddite, but I do tend to spend a lot of time working towards my goals and not taking time to seek pleasurable things.

It's easy to get caught up in achieving. our culture celebrates that. And, if you also have a personality that tells you it's never enough - that each goal met just moves the finish line, you're probably not going to be a pleasure seeking missile.

Someone I know was recently talking about flying kites. I thought, that sounds so fun, when was the last time you flew a kite? Or did anything that was just goofy and had no point?

It's all well and good to want to be the best, to accomplish great things, but I am realizing that if there isn't some pleasure thrown in for good measure, what does it all mean? Being a super-practical Yankee can be useful, but it's also limiting.

Pleasure is not a four letter word, and it's something I want to learn to embrace - without guilt. I know it won't be easy, but what good is success if there's no pleasure to reward it?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eat, Pray And Just Keep Going

I will admit I'm a little late to the "Eat Pray Love" party. I pretty much missed it all together.

When it was published a few years ago it didn't really resonate with me. I wasn't taken with Elizabeth Gilbert's writing voice, and found it... a little self-indulgent. It seemed she had way too many first-world problems and I was not sympathetic. When I was dealing with two dying parents and a son in the throes of drug addiction, somehow empathy for her divorce and angst was hard to evoke.

Fast forward three or so years and a film of the book later, and I recently found myself drawn to it.

Now that my life is in a saner (?) calmer (?) place, I found that what she had to say resonated with me.

I put the book in iTunes and listened as I walked, drove and did things around the house, Gilbert's soothing voice reassuring me that I could in fact make it through yet more change. Change is the one constant I have discovered, and I am trying desperately to make friends with it, sometimes doing better than others.

I question my calmness and sanity because I live inside this head and know more often than not my thoughts are hardly sane or calm. But I do a good job of showing up and presenting well enough when I need to. We're all alike I believe - all of us wracked with self-doubt, insecurity and questions. Some folks just do a better job of not showing it, and have various coping strategies for dealing with it.

As I listened to Gilbert's thoughtful journey I came up with some thoughts of my own. Lessons the hard and not-so-hard times have taught me.

You can make all the plans you want, but sometimes life has something else in mind for you.

Be open, don't judge and be kind. Not just with others, but yourself as well.

If you don't take risks you'll never grow and see what's possible.

Dare to be a fool for love. It's always better to throw yourself out there, heart-on-sleeve than not.

Be passionate about something. To me there is nothing sadder than going through life unexcited and disengaged.

Don't worry about what's not happening. Be here now, not a week or year from now. Worrying is my biggest challenge, but I'm working on it.

Everything changes. Good times don't last forever, but neither do the bad ones.

Do something for someone else every day.

Don't carry anger and resentment. Forgiveness is vital to happiness.

I certainly do not claim to have anything other than my own life to draw from, but it's been a pretty interesting life full of more challenges than some, and less than many others. The biggest lessons I've learned have been having to walk through the fire and come out on the other side. Now when something happens that is difficult I ask myself - "What am I learning from this?"

Knowing there's something to be gleaned from everything I go through somehow makes it a bit easier to take. I'm still really far from having it all figured out, but at least I'm asking the questions.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Brother, Myself

I was thinking this morning that it had been so long since I'd spoken to my brother. Actually we spoke two days ago.

It was then that it occurred to me that our relationship is unusual.

Truth be told this isn't the first time I thought this. For a brother and sister to speak to each other almost every day is not the norm. But neither was our childhood. The closeness we share is one usually reserved for sisters, not siblings of the opposite sex, but often we were all each other had to emotionally cling to.

We were children of divorce, often left to our own devices. He was my lifeboat in a sea of insecurity and loneliness.

When it was time for me to go look at colleges, he took me. Four and a half years my senior, he knew the ropes, and the way to get to Vermont and New Hampshire evidently.

When I went to college he took me, cursing my broken down Saab with broken wipers as we drove through downpours around New York City on our way to the college our educator dad had wanted me to go to in Southern Maryland. When he left me there I felt like I couldn't make it. I stood there watching him drive off wondering what I would do without him.

At the end of that year he came to retrieve me and once again cursed as we took a train to Boston now that my car had officially died and gone to Swedish car heaven. This was after he'd come to help me get it fixed, and while I hurried down 95 in our dad's car he was broken down miles behind me. When packing to return to Cape Cod I'd insisted on bringing all my plants. He had every right to curse me.

At 18 I needed some surgery and once again he was the one to take me. Being a 22-year-old guy he didn't know what to do so he dropped me at the door and told me to call him when I was ready to go home and he'd come get me. And he did.

When our parents died within a year of each other a few years ago, we were faced with the fact that we're it. We are now the family elders. A family that is made up of my three children and us for all intents and purposes. We clung to each other as our mother was dying, once again holding each other up as we faced the inevitability of losing ones' parents.

He is my biggest cheerleader and frankly the most consistent relationship I've ever had with a male - save my two sons. We're very different in some ways - I dealt with the constant moves and lack of terra firma I felt as a child by putting down roots, probably too intractable at times. He has chosen a life that has been much less so - traveling the world and living in places like Tehran and Paris at times.

But in so many ways we are so much alike, We can call each other and know exactly what the other one is going through, like twins born years apart.

My brother sat with me in a car on a rainy night as I cried that my marriage was ending. He gave me so much wisdom reminding me that sometimes the worst thing that ever happens to you is the best thing. He was right. And when months later I was whining once again about my lot he told me if I wanted to see who the boss of my life was to go look in the mirror.

He sees my strength when I cannot, and vice versa.

I know not everyone is lucky enough to be this close to a sibling, I am blessed, But the thing is, you may have a great brother or sister in your life but they go by the name of friend instead.

Life can be tough, and it beats us up at times. How lovely it is when we know we don't have to fight the good fight alone. I for one am truly lucky that my best supporter is one I've had my whole life. And it does not go unappreciated.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse - Gone Way Too Soon

When I read on a Friend's Facebook page that Amy Winehouse had died I audibly gasped. I know I shouldn't have been surprised given the singer/songwriter's history, but still, I was stunned.

Winehouse had a talent rarely seen in this world of Rebecca Black and Auto-Tune. Her bluesy, rich voice was completely recognizable. Her talent unsurpassed - evidenced by the five Grammy's she won for her album, "Back to Black." An album so full of great songs it catapulted her to a level of fame few ever reach.

Sadly, there was a very dark side to her life. That of addiction. In and out of treatment countless times her life became a caricature of the drugged and drunken rock star. Arrests, bizarre behavior and bad relationships with equally unhealthy men took her on a downward spiral she was never able to pull herself out of.

As the mother of a recovering heroin addict I know this hellish merry-go-round all too well. I am one of the lucky ones with a son who has almost four years clean and sober. Sadly many, like Winehouse don't make it. It's with news like this that I have a huge, there but for the grace of God go I moment.

My first thought went to her parents. Unless you've been through the meat grinder of having a child who's an addict you can never truly know that pain. Loving someone so much who seems hell bent on destroying their life is virtually indescribable The cycle of getting clean, relapsing, rehab, jail, hospitals, overdoses and homelessness is not anything any parent signs up for willingly. And Winehouse's parents had to do all this under the eagle-eyed paparazzi's unending glare. I was lucky, only those closest to our family knew what we were going through. Now, on this side of it I feel it's my responsibility to pay it forward and tell our story to help others. As they say in AA, "You're only as sick as your secrets." The more we talk about addiction and bring it out from the shadows the more who can be helped.

Every night when I go to sleep I say a prayer in gratitude that during that day I didn't have to face the news Amy Winehouse's parents got today. Every. Single. Night. I know just like that it can all change and I could be standing right where her parents are, grieving their baby, and I never take it for granted.

No matter how messed up she was, or for that matter, how many Grammy's she had, at the end of the day she was Mitch and Janis Winehouse's baby. And now she's gone. The world lost a huge talent today, but they lost their daughter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How To Be a Writer

All right, from the get go I can tell you chances are you will learn nothing from this post about being a writer. Writing this is but another way I am not writing. Even this photos is a lie. I am not a man, and I am left handed, so it's a complete and total fraud.

But, I do write for many publications, and have written two (as of yet unpublished novels) so perhaps I have a certain amount of street cred since I do make a living as a writer.

One of my favorite things to do is go to book events and listen to writers talk about writing. I love hearing about their process, even though odds are they too are lying as well.

So here are my all-time top five things I do in the process of writing. (see, I even stole that. I love Nick Hornby and I am stealing his top five bit. I am shameless. Do not trust me).

1. Don't start in right away writing. Make sure to waste an inordinate amount of time checking email and on Facebook. Respond to as many of your friends' posts as possible, and make sure to write clever, witty status updates. It's expected, you are a writer after all.

2. You can't possibly start to write if you're hungry or thirsty so make sure after checking email and Facebook to make yourself something to eat and perhaps brew some coffee. If you're not an unhardy wimp like me this will mean caffeine which will surely help. Dilettante that I am I can only drink decaf which I feel gives me an extremely unfair disadvantage.

3. Bathroom break! After all that coffee (decaf or not) you will have to frequently stop to pee.

4. Take any phone call, even if it's from folks needing to do long, involved surveys about political causes you have no interest in. It's your duty as a citizen.

5. Open up your Word file and look at what you wrote yesterday (if you wrote anything yesterday) and begin there. By now it is probably well into the evening, all those other pursuits like brushing cats (or dogs) making more food, running errands and otherwise avoiding writing at all costs have eaten most of your day. But now is when the magic truly happens. The words come and flow effortlessly, finally. It's what I've worked towards all day.

What I've come to realize is that this scattered, seemingly unfocused routine IS my writing process. As wacky as it may appear to the outside world it works for me. I am not going to sit at my computer from 9-5 every day and produce great prose. Well, some may argue I never do, but this works for me. All that time spent not writing I am still working, I'm thinking and creating which is all part of it.

Being a writer is hard, but for me it is my passion. I live for the opportunity to string words together in a way that amuses and perhaps even inspires. I cannot imagine doing anything else, even when it appears I'm doing everything else. I am a writer. It's not just what I do, it is who I am.