Category Archives: History Lessons

The “Who Am I?” Litany

Does anyone really know the answer to the question “Who am I?”.

It annoys me. I’m supposed to define myself by the roles I play, I guess, and by my interests. All the while I’m reciting this litany (it’s the first question you ask yourself when practicing meditation), I have the feeling that this isn’t all there is to it.

However, I am bound by earthly things owing to the fact that I’ve got this here physical body, so without further ado – The “Who Am I?” Litany commences

I suppose a daughter is the very first role I took. Mere seconds on the heels of “daughter” closely followed sister, grand-daughter, niece, cousin, great grand-daughter, great niece, and I think that takes care of the familial roles. Almost immediately, I became a Christian; quite without my knowledge (I was probably sleeping) or consent, I might add. As time progressed, I became a BIG sister, twice. And I was also a reader and a singer very early on, long before I ever went to school.

Ah, school. That’s where I learned to love being a writer and an entertainer. I was also an easy mark, as in one who is bullied because it’s incredibly easy to make her cry. Well, that used to be true. Now, not so much. At some point, I became a friend. Post-bullying, I had many, many friends. And I was also a girlfriend. After we moved away from all those friends, I became a loner, then a friend again.

For many years, I was an actor and an opera singer. I was a wife for a while, which also meant I was a sister-in-law and a daughter-in-law. Then I became a divorcee. My brothers also made me a sister-in-law, and they each made me an aunt, 5 times over in total.

For money, I was an office worker, eventually becoming a vice president. I was a techno-geek and a business manager. I was, and I still am, a breast cancer survivor. I was an organic gardener and a compost maker extraordinaire! I became a beach-comber, a shell collector. I became a Disney lover and a writer, a blogger, a photographer, a chronicler of my adventures. Oh and I was a smoker, but I quit (thank you God!).

More recently, I’ve become a a collector of unemployment, a consultant, a runner, a conservationist, a healthy living enthusiast and a practitioner of meditation.

I am ALWAYS a student, whether formally or informally.

This all actually sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Yet I’m quite sure this is NOT all there is. There has to be more to it than simply litanizing one’s roles and interests.

Right?

Hosed!

IMG_1971The need for a workspace at home started when I went back to school in 1999. I was working on Wall Street and attending Dowling College on Long Island. Some classes started at 5:20 PM. This was not compatible with a minimum 2 hour mass transit commute (each way), so on school days I got permission to work from home. Along about 2005 I became a full time telecommuter, visiting the office once or twice a month. I was very efficient and got lots of things done. I really pioneered telecommuting for the company and was a prime example of how the work-from-home arrangement could benefit both the employee and the organization.

The fact that I was a successful telecommuter is what enabled me to relocate from Long Island to Southwest Florida. When I moved to Florida, I continued to visit the most local office at least once a month, if not more – two hours away by car (each way), up in Tampa. But I had a lovely dedicated office at home that was quite useful, functional and practical in addition to being very comfortable. The closet in the home office was crammed with Rubbermaid bins of stuff that I needed to go through “someday” but the rest of the room was furnished and outfitted as a study/library/workspace rivaling many of the SVP offices I’d seen on Wall Street and Park Avenue.

After being laid off in September 2010, the first thing I did was go on a shredding spree. I had to properly dispose of any company information. In fact, I burned out my shredder and had to get a new one. My work diaries – notebook after notebook ennumerating what I did each day, who I talked to, what was decided and why, meeting notes, To Do items and daily accomplishments – all went into a Rubbermaid bin. Although I no longer work for Too Big To Fail, I no longer trust them, either. Therefore, I think it’s wise, for the time being, to retain proof of my at-home productivity.

011720113122Fast forward to January 2011. My friend and fellow militant sheller “steinbecke” persuaded me to perform a “cleanse” of the office and re-purpose it for studying for certification exams. The office had lain fallow lo those many months and had become somewhat of a repository for “whatever” kind of stuff that was lying around and didn’t have a home. I re-homed the homeless, and then I purged the desk and the bookshelves of anything having to do with my old professional life – old Excel manuals, professional books that everyone “should” read, awards I’d won, miscellaneous cubicle fodder. I trashed a lot of it and made a Goodwill run with the rest. I dusted, I vacuumed and I set up my netbook in there with my school books on the desk and a new monitor I’d found on sale at BJs. Great, now I have a dedicated space for studying, writing papers, etc. Yay!

March 1st, 2011: my online “sistas”, a group of women who congregate in a particular forum for daily support and camaraderie, were comparing photos of their wedding dresses. Well, I was married at one time, and I wore a dress that had been hand-made for me by my best friend and maid of honor. So into the office closet I went, to try and find a decent photo of me (I hate most photos of me) that didn’t include the ex-husband but showed off the dress nicely. The closet contained eight huge Rubbermaid bins full of “stuff”, stacked in two side-by-side towers of four, plus a wooden bookcase hand-made by my grandfather. Upon these shelves I’ve stored all my opera scores and vocal music. Miscellaneous office supplies were crammed in there too, on whatever surface was available. The top shelves of the closet bear the burden of original packing materials for things like Disney collectible figurines and computer equipment. Since the ceilings are 10 feet high in this house, this is a good use of space that would otherwise go wasted.

After I’d had a good rummage, pulling nearly everything out of the closet, I finally found the wedding photos in the very LAST bin in the corner. As I surveyed the carnage of the closet having spilled it’s considerable guts all over the room, it became apparent to me that I was not done with the “cleanse”. I had too much STUFF and I needed to seriously go through it all and purge it. So I did that over the course of the next few days. Again, there was a Goodwill run, this time with office and school supplies plus some CDs that I’d already ripped to my hard drive and imported into iTunes. Eight bins became four and the bookcase shelves were cleared of anything that didn’t have to do with vocal music.

011720113125This actually worked out pretty well, because I was expecting my niece and her roommate for spring break. Dusting, vacuuming, cleaning of bathroom and linens and such ensued. I pulled out the twin bed from my comfy overstuffed office chair and made it up. By the time I was done, the room looked like a very neat and well-appointed dorm. It came in handy, while she was here – she let her roommate have the guest room and she took the “study” so she could finish some papers and continue working on her thesis. The girls spent some hours lounging and studying in there during their “break” from school, and I was glad I had purged the closet, for there was space on the closet floor for suitcases to be put out of the way.

A couple of weeks have gone by since the spring breakers were here. I have been sort of lazy and not on my game – unmotivated, not following my food and exercise plan consistently, even skipping “RPM” (rise, pee, meditate”) several times. Saturday evening I decided to spend some quality time with my iPod and the Tibetan singing bowls before turning in. Once I’d finished meditating and disengaged the iPod, I thought I heard something dripping. Thinking it had started to rain, I peeked into the night from the guest room window. There was no sign of rain. I walked down the narrow hallway to the office and looked out that window – no rain. I continued to hear dripping, and walked into the guest bathroom where my socks began to slake their thirst on a puddle on the floor.

022820102382I quickly remembered that last year, during the Olympic hockey final, I’d discovered a puddle in the garage and thought the water heater was leaking. I called a plumber, and he discovered it wasn’t the water heater – the master bath was on the other side of the garage wall, and the hose that fed the toilet had sprung a leak. That was a very expensive lesson, one I will not soon forget – not only because it cost me so much to replace a dumb hose, but because I missed most of the gold medal game. Now I knew what to do. I shut off the valve to the toilet, flushed a couple of times to empty the tank, and the dripping stopped. Ah, same shitty hose, same problem!

And then I remembered – seepage! What’s on the other side of the guest bath wall? Why, it’s the closet in the office!

I raced to the closet, F-bombing the entire time in every combination and permutation of every phrase in which I’d ever heard the word – and a few that I made up on the spot, special for this occasion. The carpet was SOAKED in there. The creative F-bomb droppage increased as I hauled everything from the closet into the room. I rummaged a bunch of towels from the laundry, flung them to the closet floor and made like Lucille Ball stomping grapes. Each soaked towel was then flung into the washer before stomping another, and I didn’t stop until they started to come away merely damp. In between the cussin’ and the stompin’ and the haulin’ of shit away from the seepage, I was sending f-bomb-laden texts full of frustration and fury to my friend Lisa, and she was doing her best to make me laugh. But I can’t help it – I get a little existential during crises such as these. WHY had I carpeted the bedrooms? WHY didn’t I have someone heavier than me around, with bigger feet, to perform more efficient stomping? WHY do I not own a shop vac? WHY were all the hoses in the house failing (we’d done this at Christmas with the refrigerator, too)?

010220113071I retrieved my AC/DC powered fan from the hurricane closet, found the plug and propped it up on one of the bins. Aiming it at the closet floor, I jacked it up to “HIGH”. I also set the air conditioning on “frigid” and changed into dry, warm socks to help protect myself from the encroaching chill.

And I surveyed the carnage of the closet having spilled it’s still considerable guts all over the room… am I not done in here? Did I not “cleanse” enough? I considered what had been left in the closet after the last purge – four bins and a book case. The bins are labeled thusly:
[pullquote]I am beginning to understand that the closet no longer wishes to serve as a repository for the past. The closet keeps finding reasons to regurgitate into my workspace, its contents standing in mute accusation of pack-rattery. The closet, I have come to realize (in a very “come to Jesus” kind of way) wishes to be purged of the past entirely.[/pullquote]

  • Bin No. 1: “PERSONAL DOCUMENTS” – 7 years of financial records, plus probably my marriage license and divorce papers.
  • Bin No. 2: “ALBUMS PHOTOS NEGATIVES” – candidates to be scanned and eliminated
  • Bin No. 3: “SCAN ME” – more photos and also programs, posters and reviews/news clippings and such from my former life as a performer
  • Bin No. 4: “SCHOOL BOOKS AND LECTURE NOTES” – these are from my BA in psychology.

Everything from the closet represents an era from the past. I am beginning to understand that the closet no longer wishes to serve as a repository for the past. The closet keeps finding reasons to regurgitate into my workspace, its contents standing in mute accusation of pack-rattery. The closet, I have come to realize (in a very “come to Jesus” kind of way) wishes to be purged of the past entirely.

If I examine my heart really closely, I have to confess that the study of human behavior still fascinates me but not enough to endure a couple of years of grad school and the low pay that would ensue from doing clinic. So I’m probably NOT going to become a pshrink and I should shred the lecture notes and sell the text books. Bin No. 4, gone.

The other bins are a bit harder, because it’s going to be REALLY time-consuming and – let’s face it – BORING to scan all those photos and negatives, sort them, label them, store them and back them up. Maybe I should look into how much it would cost to have someone do that for me. This would eliminate Bin No. 3 and Bin No. 2

The closet is just going to have to bite me – HARD – about Bin No. 1. Talk to the US Government about why it’s a great idea to keep 7 years worth of financial records.

The book case was hand-made by my grandfather, and it’s not up for discussion. Bite me again.

The opera scores and other vocal music… ugh, I DON’T want to think about this. It’s freakin’ USELESS to go there. I don’t see how this is going to make me a living. Really, I just can’t see it. Plus, I owned all of this vocal music while I was still smoking, in the house in Oakdale – it all REEKS of old cigarette smoke.

PersonalizedSo if I’m not going to use them and they smell bad anyway, I guess I should just get rid of all the old scores.

Why does that feel wrong? Is it just sentiment? I think that’s part of it. I also think donating them is not going to be of benefit to anyone, really. Scores become so personalized while you’re studying them – all of MY notes about what works for ME in this or that role have been carefully preserved on those pages. They represent tutelage and advice from MY teacher, fine-tuned for MY voice. Sometimes, as the voice matures, revisiting a score years after learning the role will cause the crossing-out of notes and the recording of fresh advice and/or new insights. Using someone else’s score can be disconcerting – yeah, all the musical notes are there, but the breath marks are not YOUR breath marks, and the phrasing, dramatic pauses, not to mention blocking notes for moving about the stage, would be of little use to someone else. So if donating the scores would not be the right thing to do, what’s left – burning them?

I’m not sure the ENTIRE past needs to be purged. Even if I never look at any of those scores again, there is something stopping me from getting rid of them. I don’t know what it is, this “something”, and I don’t know if it’s the same as that other “something” I’ve written about prior to this… but I think I probably need to find out. Because really, I don’t care to do this again, this hauling of shit in and out of that closet ONE MORE TIME, this stomping of the grapes, this living in chilly disarray while it dries out. I don’t want to keep looking back at what I’ve done but have put aside, and I don’t want to carry it around with me anymore, either. It’s inconvenient and topsy-turvy and not at all how I want to live.

I need to get this sorted before yet another hose fail strikes.

O youthful enthusiasm, where art thou?

You know what pisses me off? I did this already. I wanted to sing well and perform. I got some training, fought tooth and nail for it. I wanted a better job, one that paid more and had great benefits. I wanted an unencumbered life. I wanted a degree. I wanted to live in paradise.

I made all that happen. I am freakin’ TIRED of making shit happen. I’m old now! I am not 20 or 33 or 40 and I am not Madonna. I don’t have endless financing with which to execute the next personal reinvention.

I was settled. I was content. I hate being derailed yet again. I worked to get here. Why is it an endless fight? I want to stop moving. I am tired.

Sent from my Nokia N97

The difference between 1986 and now

Back in 1986, I wore what a friend jokingly referred to as "the stick pants". In fact, we both wore them. It was one of the few things we had in common, that we could both wear the stick pants – size four on a 5’7" frame makes a girl look like a stick figure. I look at photos of me from that era and I want to rush right out and buy myself a cookie.

Had I received this Dove "fortune" – "Live like you are wearing your skinny jeans" – back in the 80s, I would have thought it meant that I should strut around feeling all confidently sexy and smug.

But I look at this today and I don’t think sexy ’80s, pointy-toed stilettos. I think, "Shit, I’m not going to be able to eat two bites in those jeans!" And I take them off and put on something else. Probably, it’s got an elastic waist. At my age, comfort is what counts!

Sent from my Nokia N97

Not enough rocks

09022010594-North-I275-Tampa-BayWritten on Thursday September 2nd 2010

Worst. Day. EVAH.

* Drove 2 hours to Tampa. The scenery is nice, so this is not terrible, once in a while. All the way up, I kept noting to myself that this was the last time that I’d pass this way on my way to the office. There will be plenty of times that I will pass at least some of that way to get to Orlando, but I’ll never go to the office again.

08222010448-Ziplocked-Career* Surrendered laptop and 19-year career, the latter of which fit neatly into a 2 quart Ziploc bag. No, I don’t still look like that. You know when that picture was taken? Back in the early 90s, I went through chemo and my hair all fell out. I flat out refused to have my photo taken for a badge because I knew I would not always be bald. So after about a year and a half, that’s how far my hair had grown out, and I consented to having the badge photo taken. I’m guessing this was early 1995!
09022010601-Guadalajara-Cantina* Went to lunch with friends at favorite local hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant
* Thought often of Lisa, whose memorial service was held today. Only I could not go, on account of having to surrender today.
* Left office and no sooner did I get on the highway then I noticed – too late – a bazillion Florida state troopers lying in wait. Speed trap!
Traffic violation
* Cop let me off with a minuscule fine compared to what he could have – I suppose because I’ve never in my 50 year life EVER been pulled over for a moving violation before. That was really nice of him. I burst into tears when he told me and confessed that I’d been laid off today. He could not have been nicer. I think I actually said to him, “I mean, could this day get any fucking worse?”. Um, yeah…
09022010604-Sunshine-Skyway* Got home, raised garage door, was prepared to drive car in, noticed the snake was back. Yes, AGAIN – the BIG-ASS snake, not one of those little pencil snakes. This is what I get for going organic – frogs fling themselves at my lighted windows each night, anoles squeeze under the screen doors and poop all over the lanai, and snakes decide to like my house best. He wasn’t moving out of the way, either. What to do – run him down with the RAV? I did that last time. I don’t want any more bad Karma. Played with lowering and raising garage door, and he got scared and slithered off into the bushes. I bet he’ll be back.
* Got online and found that a beloved member of my cyber-parrish has died after 10+ years being acutely ill. Christi is finally free of all this earth put her through. But I can’t believe we will never pray and banter and commune together ever again. Well we will, just not here.

“Sometimes, there just aren’t enough rocks.” 🙁

I shall practice what I preach. I told a friend today that loss happens to make space for new stuff to move in. Lost my job, lost my manager and mentor and friend Lisa, lost my perfect driving record, lost Christi… that’s an awful lot to lose. Whatever it is that’s coming, it must be huge 😯

Oh and I forgot to buy milk. 🙄

When all is crumbling

New York State Route 231 by dougtone via Flickr
New York State Route 231 by dougtone via Flickr
Autumn, 1977

There’s a parade coming down the main drag that connects the hamlet where I live to the village by the bay. Down here in the village, the main drag has long since dwindled to one lane in each direction. This morning, it’s brisk with traffic, each vehicle racing to avoid getting caught behind the barricade that’s going up at any moment.

We need to be on the other side. My practiced eye looks briefly in either direction, assessing the traffic for relative distance and speed. This is going to be cake. Taking off at a sprint, I easily cover the two lanes well before the oncoming traffic arrives. I look around. I see my two friends still huddled where I’d left them on the curb at the other side, faces drawn taught with thinly-disguised anxiety. Finally, they feel it’s safe, and they hurry across.

[pullquote]If you aren’t bold, then you’re destined to stand a good, long time waiting to cross at that uncontrolled intersection. Waiting, wating… who has time for that?[/pullquote]

“OMG, I thought you’d be killed!” one of them exclaims.

“What?” comes my bewildered response. “There was plenty of time. Don’t you people know how to cross a street?”

I’d grown up in the city, where you take your crossing opportunities as they come, even on wide boulevards of four and six lanes of heavy, New York driver traffic. If you aren’t bold, then you’re destined to stand a good, long time waiting to cross at that uncontrolled intersection. Waiting, wating… who has time for that?

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

NYC Street by T. Ruette via Flickr
NYC Street by T. Ruette via Flickr

It’s a few years later, and I am on my way to see a friend perform in concert with his quartet. I am traveling from Long Island with the only other person I’m aware of who also has a ticket, but I don’t know him terribly well. He’s funny and nice company for the mass transit journey into the city. His eyes are fringed with those impossibly long guy-lashes that make every woman sigh and wonder, “Why can’t *I* have lashes like that?”

(A few years into the future, I would focus on those lashes while standing under the chupah, having random thoughts about anything and everything, just to keep myself from thinking about the reason we were standing there…)

Sweet by Maureen Lunn via Flickr
Sweet by Maureen Lunn via Flickr

He pulls the cord overhead to signal the driver. We de-bus near Lincoln Center and prepare to cross Broadway. My practiced eye looks briefly in either direction… my muscles are tensing in preparation for the sprint. Although we are not physically touching, I feel him hesitate beside me, drawn taught… Before he has a chance to balk, I grab his hand and give it an encouraging tug. We have ignition, we have liftoff, running hand in hand until we reach the opposite curb. His hand immediately releases mine, but for a while after, I can still feel the shape and the weight of it in mine. How odd…

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Otters holding hands by mindluge via Flickr
Otters holding hands by mindluge via Flickr

This had happened to me only one other time, the very first time I’d ever held hands with a boy. He was funny and his eyes were an impossible shade of blue; not even a color found in nature, I don’t think, and certainly not one I’d ever seen before or since. The first time our hands touched (accidentally-on-purpose), I’d gone directly for the interlaced fingers position, but he was having none of that and quickly shifted us instead to the palm-to-palm position. I was satisfied, pleased that he hadn’t rejected the idea of hand-holding altogether, but at random times for days after, I would suddenly experience the pleasantly terrifying sensation of his fingers filling the spaces between mine.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

A moment of many by sarahpetherbridge via Flickr
A moment of many by sarahpetherbridge via Flickr

I wanted to be pleasantly terrified. I wanted to be gifted with the experience of someone filling in all the places where I am blank. I’m not sure how, but somewhere along the way “pleasantly” and “terrified” became uncoupled; unchecked, terror fills the blank spaces with something that’s drawn taught, something that drives me to flinch from the sprint, to wait at the corner until the signal changes.

Oh, for my days of the practiced eye, the ability to assess, the exhilarated sprint, fully confident that I would reach the curb unscathed. Oh, for the days!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Now playing – The Fray: Never Say Never

Renaissance juggling and the survival-based career

ImFeelingInspiredI have come to the conclusion that I am a Renaissance juggler.

“Renaissance man” is a phrase coined to describe someone who has a depth of knowledge spanning a diverse range of interests. A juggler is someone who has many balls in the air at the same time. I am someone with a diverse set of passions who can and does indulge in several of them simultaneously. I’ve never felt an overwhelming, life-long pull toward any one of these interests for very long. Interests come and go only to return again years later, borne back to me on some unseen tide. At intervals during my life, I’ve had keen, intense interest in writing, performing, photography, organic gardening, Disney, sea shells, psychology and all manner of IT geekery. That last interest currently manifests itself via a fascination with consumer electronics and social media.

Photo by Helico on Flickr
Photo by Helico
I don’t believe I’ve ever been focused on only one or even two of these things at a time. I can remember a time when I was working long hours in IT and using the train commute to either memorize an operatic role in another language or else to study with the goal of acing my next psychology exam, all the while also attending classes and rehearsals at night, roto-tilling, pulling weeds, perfecting the art of the smoldering compost pile and performing on the weekends. Simply looking back at that time is exhausting and causes me to question my own sanity. Yet I was productive and active and happy.

[pullquote] because I’ve never felt committed to just ONE thing that impassioned me the most, I ended up in a survival-based career.[/pullquote]I think it takes a lot of diverse intellectual activity to keep me from becoming bored. Here’s the problem with that; because I’ve never felt committed to just ONE thing that impassioned me the most, I ended up in a survival-based career. That’s where you do what you do because you don’t hate the work and you like the money. It’s the exact opposite of the passion-based career – doing what you do because you want to, because it’s your life’s work.

I have no idea what my life’s work is, or was supposed to be.

Mary Poppins and Mirror Poppins in harmonyIt has never surprised me to find out how many of my colleagues at The Firm are coulda-shoulda-woulda-been musicians, actors and other assorted artistic types who “fell into” careers in IT during the 90s dot com boom. Like me, they were all just looking for their cushy little day job with medical benefits whilst running about auditioning, until someone figured out they had brains and promoted them. You get to an age where being a starving artist doesn’t hold as much romatic appeal as it once did, and the money you’re making doing something else is certainly seductive.

Mary Poppins thinks Mirror Poppins is showing offIt’s nice to not have to limit dinner to popcorn every night – with butter on it as an extra treat on Sundays. It’s nice being able to pay down your credit card debt, purchase a car that was made in THIS decade and go away for vacations. Thus, when faced with the realization that making a living as an artist is going to be a life-long uphill struggle, the survival-based career not only looks attractive, it seems more logical, more sensible, more likely to get your family off your back. I think a surprising lot of people are doing survival-based careers with their lives and that’s why work seems like… well, work. That is why “everybody’s working for the weekend…”. It’s because people don’t wanna work; they just wanna “bang the drum all day”.

Mary Poppins and Mirror PoppinsEarly last month, I was in Downtown Disney at the big World Of Disney store. The jumbo TV in the center of the store began to show a scene from Mary Poppins“A Spoonful Of Sugar”. I was half-listening and humming along while pawing through a rack of t-shirts when the scene suddenly grabbed my attention. Mary was singing. In harmony. With herself. The words, “in harmony with HERSELF” swam to the forefront of my consciousness, and I watched transfixed as she went from joyous to annoyed with… well again, it was with herself. Mirror Mary kept singing a mile a minute even after Real Mary had stopped. What’s more, Real Mary was peeved that Mirror Mary was grabbing all the attention for herself. “Cheeky!” is Real Mary’s tart retort. Off she goes in a stern huff to tend to the children. Mirror Mary only smiles.

(I could go off on a tangent here about Disney and the relationship between work and play, but I’ll spare you!)

[pullquote]Wouldn’t it be really cool if we could always be in harmony with ourselves, and still be able to pay the mortgage, buy some toys and have a little fun? Some people live like that, I hear…[/pullquote] And so it can happen. If any of the fun aspects of a Renaissance juggler’s life start to race exuberantly ahead, consuming more than the permitted allocation of personal bandwidth, then the part that works for a living to support your fun habits can become peevishly resentful. It’s always the survival-based career, the thing you are sort of “meh!” about, that sternly proclaims you’re “cheeky” for studying something fascinating, for tripping the light fantastic upon the wicked stage, for devoting time and brain power to figuring out how to grow tomatoes without using pesticides (hint: “companion planting”. With a heavy dose of self-discipline, that dreaded of all activities known as “taking care of business” commences, and the fun stuff takes a back seat.

Wouldn’t it be really cool if we could always be in harmony with ourselves, and still be able to pay the mortgage, buy some toys and have a little fun? Some people live like that, I hear. I haven’t figured out yet how to make that happen, but there’s one thing I’m doing consciously now to try and find the answer.

I’m listening.

The thought of abandoning the survival-based path, the good ol’ reliable method of obtaining a steady paycheck, instead trying to make a living doing what gives me joy is both intoxicating and frightening. It would be so much easier if I didn’t have so many interests from which to choose. It would be so much easier had I done this earlier on, so much easier if it wasn’t just me bringing a paycheck into this house. This is the downside of single ridership. I find myself with a serious case of SAHM-envy. OK, you’re right, not the “M” part… But I don’t have the luxury of travel back in time or of a mighty breadwinner to see me through this. Therefore, the draw toward the most pragmatic choice is strong. And yet, I cannot help but see that guillotine looming in the near future as my liberator, permission to veer off in a different direction

.
Believe in the beaty of your dreamsI do realize that I have not been in harmony with myself, and that a lack of active unhappiness does not equate to living with active  joy.  I do realize that living a little more deliberately, a little more consciously, would make me more actively joyful. The more I send this understanding and acknowledgment into the Universe, the more the Universe has reflected it back at me.

I’ve been having more and more of these moments of synchronous epiphany leap into focus, like the one in the World of Disney store. These moments started last summer, slowly at first. In the beginning, small synchronicities presented themselves, things that, considered singly and out of context, could be passed off as mere coincidence. But as I began to suspect and then fully recognize that they weren’t a coincidence, and even began to look for them, they began happening with more regularity. Some days, they happen so rapidly I barely have time to record them. It could happen online, in text or an image. It could happen while having a conversation with your best friend or with the grocery store clerk. It could happen when you walk into a restaurant and see a piece of artwork on the wall, or while browsing a rack in a shop – something will practically leap off the display and jump up and down crying, “Me, me, me! Look at ME!”. Something that gives me pause, makes me think, connects a few of the sea of dots before me.

Maybe it’s happened to you, too; maybe you know what I’m talking about. Each time it happens, it’s as though the world shifts a little, the movement barely discernible but nevertheless a bit of a shock. There’s a focus, a click of vision and soul, and then you know – you’ve been receiving Memos from the Universe.

I’ll be sharing more about this, very soon. Promise!

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When it comes to cynicism, “I’m with Coco”

I'm With CoCo“Here’s what all of you have done. You’ve made a sad situation joyous and inspirational. So, to all the people watching, I can never, ever thank you enough for the kindness to me. I’ll think about it for the rest of my life.

And all I ask is one thing. And this is… I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch. Please, do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere.

Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you – amazing things will happen.”

Conan O’Brien
The Tonight Show
22 January 2010

This is the way “Coco” departed from The Tonight Show – choked up, humble, vulnerable and a class act all the way. I very much appreciated his final farewell, but I must admit that at the same time, I was baffled and slightly annoyed at the admonishment to “don’t be cynical”. Baffled, because I wasn’t quite sure where that came from, and annoyed because I’d had my run-ins with the word before.

There were a few years during my tenure at the firm when the IT organization (barely) survived a failed outsourcing agreement. More than half of the IT professionals in the firm were outsourced but continued in their positions, while the rest of us “managed” to the terms of the agreement. Almost immediately, 20% of those outsourced were cut by their new employer, but in typical fashion, no one bothered to cut 20% of the work. The agreement was supposed to span Y years for $X billion dollars. It soon became obvious that this was a clash of the titans and a failure of epic proportions. Their marching orders were to do as little as possible for $X billion dollars over Y years and bill us for the balance. Our marching orders were to “manage” them into doing as MUCH as possible for $X billion dollars over Y years and never let them bill us a penny extra. Battle lines were drawn. Long-standing workplace relationships strained and sometimes fell apart. Some good talent left us simply because they felt neglected, cast out and betrayed.

Competition for the internal positions was fierce, and a forced ranking methodology was introduced, accompanied by “360 degree reviews”. This meant you could review each other according to a prescribed format. One of the questions in the 360 review was, “On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being Not At All and 5 being All The Time – how cynical is SoAndSo?”. I ask you – what the HELL does cynicism have to do with my ability to execute? If I’m hitting all my targets and delivering what I said I’d deliver and then some, why should anyone care if I’m intelligent enough to see the way things are and call them as I see them?

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I refused to participate in the process. Among my colleagues, I am famous for a few pithy little sayings, but one of the most famous is, “Don’t ever give me a free form text box. Ever.” The 360 review format had free-form text boxes, and I wrote in them – yes all of them – that 360 degree reviews amounted to permission to assassinate one another and I refused to participate. I also told them what I thought of their little outsourcing agreement. I must not have been alone. A few other little insurrections were about to occur. I’ll only tell you about the most famous one.

At the end of two years, a committee from both sides got together to develop a presentation for executive management, all about issues and outcomes and accomplishments and all that stuff. By unanimous consensus, they had the balls to leave the “Accomplishments” slide completely and utterly blank. Management got the message. 360 degree reviews were discontinued, and the outsourcing agreement was dissolved. Everyone was brought back into the firm and given their old titles back without interruption in years of service.

Although executive management eventually acknowledged and corrected their mistakes, there was some serious damage done. We did lose talent, and we did lose cohesiveness. Many fell prey to burnout. Some folks had actually been thriving at the outsourced company. Loyalties had been completely transferred, and these people were really pissed off to be brought back over to the place that had robbed them of their control over their own careers, dumping them unceremoniously. And the final point of impact? The definition of “cynical” had been warped and twisted and used as a weapon, an aversive stimulus. Recognizing and telling an unpleasant truth was bad, it was wrong, it was “cynical”.

It’s difficult to refrain from sinking into the cynical abyss when life gives you so much good material for it. Wretched realities often overshadow their counterparts in this world. The current state of the world economy serves as a prime example. Bad choices made by greedy, bottom line-driven entities for whom the word “enough” has no meaning have resulted in crisis, recession, off-shoring and layoffs, joblessness, homelessness, and financial ruin. Catastrophic “acts of God” cause destruction, devastation, disease and death. How can we prevent these harsh life conditions from eroding our spirits, when our livelihoods, our homes, the very earth we stand on threatens to crumble away? How do we resist the call of the cynic, who says, “See, I told you so!” when it’s so patently obvious that he’s right?

How could it be bad? Cynicism is a by-product of intelligent discernment. It’s a refusal to drink the kool aid. Cynicism has fueled revolutions and helped to overturn oppressive empires. Cynicism has prevented many a snake oil salesman from making off with the family fortune. Cynicism may very well be a Darwinian response, necessary for the survival of the species.

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The original Cynics were Greek philosophers. The basis of cynicism at that time was a belief in virtue and nature, and in the rejection of money and power as sources of happiness. Over time, cynicism became known much more for what it rejected than what it embraced. Modern definitions of the word tell us that today’s cynics have very little belief in the existence of virtue, and almost always focus instead on their conviction that all human motivation is selfish. It is tempting to conclude that cynics don’t believe in anyone or anything, but that is not true. Modern cynicism is not the absence of belief; it is a belief in failure, the failure of humans to rise above and reject their baser instincts in favor of virtue.

I wish to point out to Executive Management that there is a vast difference between believing in failure and simply recognizing it.

Clearly, the heartfelt speech delivered by “Coco” at the end of his Tonight Show run indicates that he still strongly believes in the good of man, despite the horrible way he’d just been treated by a bunch of them. You gotta hand it to a man who has been in television this long and still rejects cynicism. Although I’ve read an interview where he claimed to be purely as Irish Catholic as his ancestors who stepped off the boat in pre-Civil War Boston, I have the feeling that “Coco” is actually Greek for “I’m a believer!”.

I think the key to successful cynicism must be balance – go ahead and call ’em as you see ’em, but see BOTH the good and the bad. Extremism is never a good thing. See too much good, they’ll call you a Pollyanna. See too much bad, and you’re a misanthrope. See both and you’re… Conan O’Brien 😉

Image: A poster created by Mike Mitchell during the Tonight Show controversy of 2010 displaying his “Coco” nickname.

A chemo dream

I’m listening to answering machine messages. Mother says, “Take care of your cousins”.  Cousin A says, “so sad”. Cousin P says, “Crying, crying”.  They are talking about the death of my grandmother, which was ‘way back in the early 90s.  I’m thinking, That was years and years ago, how could you still be crying, why would you want to?

Now I’m in the car with my brothers; it’s the next day. At first, I think it’s Orlando, yet it’s not because my grandmother’s house in Queens (NY) is nearby. It is morning, and the sun is coming up to our left, which means we are headed south. It is reflecting, glaringly so, off these fancy buildings – one of them seems to be the Dolphin hotel, but no, it is shaped quite differently and the infrastructure of it (holding all this freakin’ glass together) is like white PVC pipes.  The glare has slowed down traffic immensely, and I’m thinking it should not be allowed, to make buildings like that so close to a major thoroughfare that it would cause danger to drivers.

Now I am in the clinic, and Dr. Karen S. comes out to get me.  I am surprised because 17 years ago, she was my radiation doctor, but I’m here to get chemo.  I don’t know why a radiation doctor would be administering chemo. She brings me in and I start asking questions about side effects.  There is a nurse there assisting her in discussing this with me.  It is Christa, one of my internet Disney geek friends! I ask if I will be too tired to drive myself home after – I can always drive to my grandparents house and crash there, I say, but Karen says I won’t be all that tired until later that night.  I get to the most important, most burning question – will I lose my hair? Karen looks away and says, “That’s what it looks like” and I’m like, “muthafucka…” under my breath, but out loud I say how I finally have a haircut I really like….  As she hangs the bag and prepares the needle, Christa kids that they will top off my cocktail with some fancy hair conditioner.

The alarm goes off.

ANALYSIS / REACTION

I was diagnosed on 10/12/1992, which is my older brother’s birthday.  The anniversary of the death of my grandmother, which was several years prior, I believe is around the same time, maybe 10/10 or 10/11.

For the casting decisions in this dream, I’m applying the technique that everyone in the dream is me, or some aspect of me. We can clearly see that even after all these years, I am still somewhat concerned about cancer, and I still miss my grandmother.  I do tend to become impatient with myself when I behave in ways that reveal what I perceive as weakness.  Actually, that’s my mother talking.  I know that, yet I still feel impatient and scornful of myself for my own vulnerabilities.  Other people are allowed to have them, sometimes, but me, NEVER.  Here, I feel like my cousins are either wusses, or else they are liars, being overly-dramatic, mourning my grandmother’s death like it was yesterday instead of 20-ish years ago.  That’s DEFINITELY my mother talking.  I am so intolerant of myself.

I also have other fish to fry.  Why “Mother” thinks I should take care of **them** when **I** am the one headed off for chemo, is beyond me.  I have tended to do this through life – distract myself from my own shit by taking care of other people’s shit.  Notice that I don’t do that here.  I just listen and then go about my business.  I also cast my brothers as my posse, my “backup” – I did watch “About A Boy” last night, which is about building your support system, your tribe, so you’ll have “backup”.  The person who wrote the “Wear Sunscreen” speech had it right -“Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.”  I know I can count on my brothers.  And there they are, my personal entourage, “I’m feeling alright, I’m with my boys, I’m with my troops, yeah”.  That’s Paul Simon’s “Late In The Evening” and yes, damned near everything reminds me of a song.

On the way from our house on Long Island to my grandmother’s house in Queens, we had to pass the World’s Fair grounds in Flushing Meadow Park.  The World’s Fair was in 1964-1965 and Walt Disney had a hand in designing it.  He also had a few attractions there, such as Carousel of Progress and It’s a Small World.  I loved going to the World’s Fair and remember quite a bit of it, even though I was quite small at the time.  I guess this is why I think it’s Orlando while we are on our way to the clinic and passing my grandparents’ house.

Christa cracks a joke, even while she prepares the implements of destruction and unhappiness. Isn’t that so like me? I will find something either ironic or ridiculous about every situation. Sometimes, it’s to make me feel better, but much of the time, it’s to make others feel better. Taking care of others does seem to be a theme here….

As to the dangerous situation that impedes traffic – I got nuttin’, except maybe that’s cancer itself.  It did throw me off the track of what I’d been striving towards at the time (singing career). But there’s a distracting, blinding aspect to it, and the blindness is what creates the danger. What has blinded me, and what is it that I cannot see? Is it that I cannot see, or is it that I *will* not see? And why is not seeing it so dangerous?

Anyone? Buehler? (that’s an invitation to comment, please!)

Why is Dr. S. doing chemo now?  There’s something not right about that…. if she is me in this dream, well she’s doing something really important, yet radically different from what she did before.  Either she was doing the wrong thing before, or else she’s doing the wrong thing now.  There are people in this world that would say the same of me – they’d say, “I don’t know why a poet-star would be playing Madam Vice President at a bank”.  I cast her in the wrong role in this dream, I did.  Poor “Karen”! 

“Poet-Star” just popped into my head – it’s the name of a poem I wrote, ‘way back in 1979.  The pertinent verses:

One girl lives with music and another lives with death.
One girl’s counting money while another holds her breath.
One girl is a poet, is a singer, is a star.
She searches for a galaxy that seems so very far.
She wants to be the center of a universe somewhere.
She wants to be with sunshine, but it’s raining over there….

The poet, singer, star was always me. The other girls were all friends of mine, people who aspired to be a musician, a nurse, a banker and someone who was in sort of a holding pattern at the time. But how prophetic – today, you could say they are ALL me, pieces of me at points in time. I studied voice and performed for 20-something years. I had cancer, a brush with death. I am, indeed, Madam Vice President at a bank. Waiting, waiting, waiting…. for what? For “something”…

Don’t get me wrong. I have a good life, one that is largely of my own making, a fact that is personally pretty satisfying. But clearly (and on several different fronts), I’m not where I’d intended to be, all those years ago, and the urge to fix that, to embark upon a terrifying course-correction, is going to come to a point of critical “mass”, probably soon.

I do believe cancer is only a metaphor this time. Actually, it was a metaphor last time, too, only it manifested into reality, somehow.

“Something’s coming…..”. I will need to remember the entire verse this time, so it manifests into what will make me happy.

Something’s coming!
I don’t know
what it is
but it is gonna be great!

You know what, I do too know what it is. But it’s terrifying. I have that awful/exhilarating adrenaline rush that you get AFTER you just narrowly avoided a car accident. I’m shaking while typing this. I never shake. Shit.