Something is Missing

Last night I woke at 2:30am convinced that I’d left something at the dry cleaner weeks ago and forgotten to pick it up. What was it? Where was the little green paper slip I would need to pick it up?In the dark, I tried to scrawl a note to myself to deal with it in the morning, but I couldn’t let go of the feeling. A few minutes later, I stood in my closet with the light on pushing through articles of clothing. The last two items I remember taking to the dry cleaner were there, still encased in the plastic film not meant to be used as a crib liner. Was it a shirt? a dress? Nothing was missing. Returning to my bed, I was still bothered by the feeling.

In the morning light, the episode feels like a metaphor, perhaps to help me sympathize with my uncle who is rapidly losing his memory. Maybe it is a window into my own future memory loss, but if I really listen, I hear the whispers from something in the past. Something I once had is now missing, and what is unclear is whether to continue to search for it, or embrace the loss knowing that having less makes room for more in the future.

Advertisements

Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

I attending a wedding a few weeks ago, and ended up cloistered at a table with other singles: all divorced or widowed and at least 25 years older than me. I was able to make polite conversation, but often glanced around at the other tables full of my contemporaries, all coupled up.

My friend, the groom was beaming. After searching for a wife (including two engagements that never made it to the altar), he finally achieved his goal at age 44. The newlyweds story helps to legitimize online dating. They seemed like a perfect match. Not the same, and not without flaws, but their hearts compliment each other very well.

As the band played and I watched all the couples dance, I reflected on my uncoupled conundrum.

My most major mistake is obvious-I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Anytime a cute guy smiles at me, I swoon, and he could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d pay top dollar, too because somehow his good looks translate into a man who is also smart, trustworthy, and caring-at least in my mind. It doesn’t matter how many times this illusion has been proved to be completely, and utterly untrue by a statistically significant margin, I dismiss the data and proceed naively believing THIS one is different.

Not surprisingly, they all end up all being the same narcissist

On the drive home, I stopped to fuel up both the car and myself. The cashier tried to help me select something to eat, but I was distracted by the black, blue, and purple balloon where her left eye should have been. Whomever’s fist broke her face, it happened not too many hours beforehand, but she was hard at work, and though she looked to be in pain, she did not complain, likely a veteran of physical abuse.

I drove off wondering how someone could stay with a man who speaks with his fists, but I quickly realized, who am I to point a finger? The emotional abuse I’ve suffered at the hands of my narcissist companions doesn’t show outwardly, but still leaves a mark. Yet, I walked away only half of the time, and only after a long time trying to rationalize staying. The other times, I was left behind with my heart ripped to shreds.

Why do we tell ourselves we are not worthy? I’d argue that I do believe in myself, but my reality tells a very different story. I’d like to blame the guy. I’d like to believe he doesn’t understand me, or he just wasn’t the right one, but the truth is I seem to lack a clear understanding of my value in this world.

Since Ann Landers says I can’t accept my dog’s admiration of me as conclusive evidence that I’m wonderful, I’d better set my sights on looking within.

“He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu

Mother’s Day Perspective

It’s Mother’s Day, but Hallmark doesn’t make a card for the many children who don’t have June Cleaver for a mother. I am one of them.

I remember growing up both confused and awed by the close relationship some of my friends held with their moms. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how my mom endured sickness, injury, tantrums, and the selfish, ungrateful energy from her four offspring. She packed picnics, wiped snot, threw parties, swabbed skinned knees, offered encouragement, and restricted empty calories often without a thank you from anyone. I took without giving back. I pushed, tested, and undermined, as mom struggled.

It’s never too late to say thank you. My mother was far from perfect, but she gave me a gift of immeasurable value, the blueprint on life’s pitfalls:

Do not let alcohol take over your life.

Do not use others as an excuse.

Do not say one thing and do another.

Do not double down and dig in when you know you are in the wrong.

Do not focus on the negative.

I spent my early years being afraid of/angry with my alcoholic mother while simultaneously mirroring her. Like a crystal ball, her mistakes showed me my future life.  Eventually, I paid attention. I quit drinking. I learned to take responsibility, tell the truth, and sincerely apologize. Most importantly, I learned to be grateful. I learned to focus on the good, and find the silver lining in hard times, and now I practice daily to embrace love rather than be swallowed by fear.

I witness the children of my friends and siblings challenge their parents, and I can understand how my mother’s insecurities plagued her, how her children and husband undermined her, and how her negative mindset fed the depression that led her further into darkness, away from the perfect person she so longed to be.

My mother died seven years ago, and I am grateful that in death she found peace.

 

Being Human

I recently watched, “The Social Network,” and concluded that Mark Zuckerberg may be a billionaire programmer extraordinaire, but his social skills certainly needed some work during those college years, but who am I to judge? I made a lot of missteps at that age, and though none of them ended in a lawsuit, I still have regrets. My biggest social blunder didn’t even come to light for nearly two decades.

After graduating college in the mid 1990’s, I laid low in the early part of this millennium after a string of disappointments left me feeling less than human. When I finally began to reconnect with college friends, the catalyst was (ironically) Facebook. I joined in 2008 to keep track of my sister who was working overseas, but by 2009, a friend from college stumbled across my name on a Facebook friend suggestion list, and I was inundated with connections. Some long lost friends took the opportunity to reach out over messenger to learn more about my decade off the grid. Frank, who I dated briefly junior year, asked a lot of questions, and I responded with inquiries of my own. Once we had covered our personal lives, we began sharing updates on other members of our college clique.

We had a mutual friend, Mike, who was not on Facebook. Mike and I met in the early weeks of freshman year when I briefly dated his roommate, Andy (who left school before the end of first semester). Mike and I were best friends from the start. We even visited each other over summer vacations to attend music festivals, or just chill at the beach together for a few days. He was a great guy and a lot of fun.

Mike and I never dated. Our friendship was a simple “be yourself” relationship without the usual sexual attraction stumbling block that trips up most male-female friendships. I remember he dated an underclassman briefly, and some girl from another school during his semester at sea program, but he remained solo for most of our four years. Honestly, I didn’t think much about his dating habits (or lack of them) at the time because I was too wrapped up in my own drama, dating a new guy every term. Mike was always there to listen, and give me advice.

Mike and Frank had been quite close, and when I asked Frank about Mike, he was unusually slow to reply. Eventually, he told me that Mike had recently married and was expecting his first child. Then, I asked Frank if he would give me the contact information for Mike since he was not on Facebook. This time the reply was swift, “Don’t try to find him.” Only adding that it was not a good idea. “Had Mike entered witness protection?” I joked. Again, the reply was slow, and when it came, I was confused.

“It took him a long time to get over it, but he is finally happy. Just leave him alone.”

What did Mike have to get over? I received no reply, but there was only one possible answer. The platonic friendship I assumed we shared was one-sided. Mike had been in love with me.

At first I was mad. How could Mike not tell me? But the thought barely formed when the answer washed over me. He knew I wasn’t in love with him, and sharing his feelings would have ended our friendship. He kept his secret to keep me close. I wondered how long Frank had known. I seriously doubt Frank would have dated me during fall term of junior year if Mike had told him prior to that. Frank had a lot of flaws, but he was a loyal friend. The truth must have come out sometime after graduation. Who else knew? It didn’t matter, I felt terrible, and the only person I wanted to talk to was the one person I couldn’t because Frank insisted I leave Mike alone, but I couldn’t let it go. I Googled the company Mike worked for and emailed him, but received no reply.

Anxious and impatient, I attempted to assuage my jumbled feelings by looking back through my college photo albums and was surprised to discover that among hundreds of images of me and the girls, or my ever rotating boy of the term, were few pictures of Mike, and no good ones-more evidence of how much I took him for granted. I resorted to flipping through our actual freshmen facebook to find an image of his full smiling face.

My Linked In connection was eventually accepted, but I still don’t know if it was Mike or an assistant in his office that cleared my request. His profile image is a cartoon drawing. He will not reply to any personal correspondence. I considered showing up at his office the next time I’m in New York, but I know that isn’t fair. He is happy. I need to quell my own ego, and respect the life he has built for himself.

And because karma is a bitch, the same situation has occurred again, this time with Sam, but now I’m the lovelorn best friend being taken for granted as Sam moves from one drama filled relationship to the next. We hang out in between his liaisons, and I listen to him lament his latest loss, but just as Mike knew better than to confess his feelings to me, I know Sam doesn’t love me. So, instead of seeing my current situation as punishment, I’m trying to be thankful. I’ve been granted perspective on Mike’s experience that allows me to excuse his secret. From my knowledge, I generate the courage it takes to leave Mike alone, to allow Sam to be himself, and to forgive myself for being human.

Find the Fun

Sometime in the past year, I crossed an invisible line. I left behind the carefree days of weddings and babies and entered a world of complaints and burdens. I kind of figured that stuff was still a long way off. My 50th birthday is still far enough in the distance that I can’t quite wrap my head around its implications yet, but chronological age aside, I learned today that a long time friend has a wife, 2 young girls, and an expiration date. He is not the first. My friends are getting sick and they are dying. Instead of talking about our great adventures and big dreams, we discuss surgeries and plans for a financially secure future. Are the best years behind us already? How can I face the second half of my life watching things fall apart around me?

One of my goals for 2016 is to “find the fun”. I want to stop worrying about filling out tax forms and whether I have the right car insurance, and who I’m going to hire to replace the leaking window. I want to figure out how to make the most of every moment. I want to laugh more. A tweet earlier today declared a man arrested repeatedly for breaking and entering to steal a cat had been found mentally incompetent. I laughed until, I cried. I  used to laugh like that all the time. I want to laugh like that again, everyday. I want to find the fun, but sometime in the past year it went into hiding (probably should have taken that cat with it!)

Have you seen or experienced “the fun” recently? Would you recognize it? Could you describe it to me? Maybe point me in the right direction???

The Twitter Thing

Too Late?

I’m often a latecomer. I took my junior year abroad during senior year. I backpacked in Europe a few weeks after my 31st birthday, and I just signed up for Twitter last month. After launching in 2006 and a celebrating a successful IPO in 2013, Twitter has reportedly reached its peak and is now on the kind of slide that in Chutes and Ladders means better luck next time. Gee, my timing is off, but I’m onboard now and enjoying the benefits, so I’d like to see a Twitter revival.

In the early years, many people attempted to explain Twitter to me, but it just sounded unnecessary. Facebook already stole my heart with daily updates on family and friends. What could Twitter do for me? I understood the benefit for a business promoting itself, but for the over 40 crowd being pulled in multiple directions (demanding kids, aging parents, stressful job), it was just another time suck.

I see now that my attitude reflected the “I’ve never tried it, but I know I won’t like it” paradox often applied to vegetables.

How I Use Twitter

Most people have multiple email addresses, right? Because at some point you figured out that you wanted a private email account to send and receive messages among friends/family, and a separate email to receive order confirmations, bank statements, sign up for promotions, and receive renewal notices. Well, think of Facebook and Twitter like your two email accounts. Facebook handles all the personal traffic, and Twitter handles the commercial payload. Having both social media accounts makes each one work better. Twitter allows you to remove from your Facebook newsfeed all those pages you liked, and things you “follow” that cause you to miss the photos of your nephew’s 5th birthday party. Move it all over to your new account on Twitter, and stay on top of pop culture when the mood strikes you. From your favorite Hollywood stars, musicians, senators, foods, lifestyle guru, sports teams and athletes, to news media, Twitter provides more up to date and diverse information than any other single source.

So, if you have a Twitter account and don’t use it, or like me, you never gave it a shot, try reframing your perspective. Think about the fact that Twitter doesn’t have to be about what you give. It can be all about what you get back.

Smoking Gun

Until the 1990’s in America, smoking was an accepted social vice. My grandparents smoked. My parents smoked. Their friends smoked. My siblings and most of my friends smoked. Despite the habit being smelly, unattractive, and unhealthy, no amount of federally mandated warning labels discouraged people from lighting up.

Change came suddenly in the form of a social movement ignited by the media’s unveiling of ways tobacco companies lured in and poisoned the population for their own financial gain. As Americans, we might fight for the right to poison ourselves, but conspiring to make us look the fool? Turning us into patsies for profit? That blow to the ego demands retribution. Like a tidal wave, the momentum of popular opinion crashed effortlessly through previously insurmountable obstacles.

Almost overnight smoking was out. The backlash was so complete that venues in all 50 states banned smoking. Anyone unable to overcome the addiction has been ushered to a “designated smoking area” as the rest of us walk by and shake our heads. There is a big difference between being told what to do (government regulation) and finding out someone has been secretly screwing you over for years. Both scenarios invoke a “put up your dukes” mentality. We won’t stand for it, and true gun reform in America will need to come to light in the same way.

I don’t consider the right “to bear arms” in the constitution as intended for individual ownership. It is manipulative marketing, not unlike Joe Cool of Camel cigarettes convincing people to smoke. At the time the constitution was written, guns were kept in local armories and used only against large scale enemy attacks. Individuals riddling fellow citizens with bullets was unheard of and would certainly confound our forefathers. The article by Jill Lepore appearing in the New Yorker on April 19, 2012 entitled, “The Birth of the Modern Gun Debate” explained how the NRA evolved from a group of hunting and sport enthusiasts to the behemoth political lobbying effort that insists members would rather die than give up their guns.

Still, nations such as Britain and Australia have overcome their dependence on personal firearms. I have faith that America can, too. No one wants the government to infringe upon their freedom. The threat of legislation to control arms is a gift to the pro-gun lobby. With the media as their accomplice, gun enthusiasts push the button on the primordial fear response to bolster gun sales. But what if the issue of gun rights was reframed? What if it turns out the NRA is perpetuating a conspiracy? What if their real motivation is to encourage undesirable in the population to kill themselves off with all those guns? Far fetched, perhaps, but surely there is a conceivable angle to turn gun ownership into a stigma. Ideas once in fashion eventually fall away like the ash from a burning cigarette. We just need a perspective shift on guns.