Stuck

How many times have I suggested we all face our fears? How many times have I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt on fear? You’d probably think I’m some completely fearless, super brave, incredibly courageous soul. I’m not. I’m quite ordinary, in most respects, and fears are no different. I have a healthy amount of fear, and I do strive to face them head on. I used to be afraid to fly. Some time between childhood and motherhood, I became afraid to fly. I didn’t like being out of control, unable to take over, if necessary. I fly all the time now, without a fearful thought, or nary a concern or worry. I’m a bit afraid of heights, yet I rock climb, I cross streams, backpacking, on narrow log bridges, I’ve been skydiving, and love it.

I used to be afraid of flying. I have evolved. I understand the Bernoulli principle, but still marvel that we are aloft.
I used to be afraid of flying. I have evolved. I understand the Bernoulli principle, but still marvel that we are aloft.

I’m afraid of elevators. I mean, I ride them. All the time. I have to. Well, I don’t HAVE to, but I often work in very tall buildings in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. When I go to the gym and work out on the step mill, I briskly walk up 72 flights of stairs, at a steady cadence, without stopping. It takes me fifteen minutes. Then I proceed with forty-five more minutes of cardio, followed by weights or an hour and a half of yoga. But I’m really, really sweaty, after just the step mill. So, yes, I could walk to the top of the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center, but I’d be too gross and sweaty to make a good impression on my clients! So, I opt for the elevator.

I am normal. I have fears. I fear elevators. I fear elevators that stop elevating.
I am normal. I have fears. I fear elevators. I fear elevators that stop elevating.

Why do I fear elevators? Well, actually, I think they’re fun. I like the roller coaster dropping tummy feeling on a high-speed elevator, and, yes, if alone, I will jump when the elevator first moves. It’s not the elevator moving, it’s the potential for the elevator to stop moving. With me in it. Between floors. I’m afraid of being stuck in an elevator.

An Effort to Evolve

Upon entering an elevator, whether I’m at a hotel and only have three floors to travel and opted for the elevator only because I have two full suitcases, or because I’m all dressed up for work and have thirty floors to go in an office building, I always look at the inspection tag to see if the elevator has had its regular, required inspection. If it hasn’t, I fret. Just a little.

This past week, I stayed in a hotel with a lurchy, creaky, elevator, minus the required posted inspection tags altogether. I used it only twice; suitcases up day one and suitcases down for check out. I took the stairs the rest of the time. Three floors, no big. The office building I worked in this week had five floors, there are four elevators, complete with inspection tags, all in good order. I have worked in this office building a dozen times, weeks at a time, year after year. Up, down, up, down, up, down. The elevators lurch and creak and moan and smell kind of like hot lubricant of some sort, but the tags are up to date and everyone seems to rely on them. Except for Chuck. He takes the stairs. But that’s kind of just Chuck.

The other day, my last day with this client, this month, we were on our way to lunch. We had a very full afternoon ahead of us and were intent on getting back to work within an hour. A group of us waited for the elevator. I was headed to lunch with a manager and several of my students were headed to lunch together. So, there were probably six or seven of us in the elevator, in all. We lurched down a few floors, from the fifth to the second. Who takes an elevator DOWN one flight? The biggest, fattest, hairiest, sweatiest, most loud, obnoxious, boorish, attorney I’ve ever witnessed, that’s who. At the second floor, the doors part and here stands this rotund man in a suit, with a briefcase. The elevator was full. Full with just us, six or seven accountants. Well, auditors, actually. The good kind, not I.R.S. auditors. I scoot back and welcome the portly man in, saying something about “the more the merrier”. I’d just been teaching my class about risk assessment, so I cracked a joke, an “audit” joke, something about “what’s the risk?” At about that time, the doors clenched shut and the elevator did nothing. It didn’t lurch or groan or moan or smell, it just sat there. I could feel my eyes grow about six times their usual size. I’d jinxed the elevator. My mind was racing, so I’m not sure if the voice I heard was the voice of terror in my mind, or if one of my students said, “you jinxed it!”

The fat dude in the suit was way in my personal space, not that anyone had much personal space, but he was definitely way too close to me, with his back turned to me. All I could do was stare at the stubbly, gray hair growing down the nape of his neck and into the collar of his shirt. You know, the hair that most suit wearing men with short hair have shaved neatly? And I marveled, too, at the sheer amount of fabric that made up his suit. I was closest to the buttons, me and Goliath. We both took turns pressing all of them. We finally thought to use the phone in the little compartment of the elevator, beneath the button panel. I could open the little door, but I couldn’t reach the phone without bending over, which I couldn’t do because there was a man wall in my way, so the man wall clutched at the phone with his pudgy fist. Whoever answered that phone got an earful of belligerence and threats and cuss words. The building superintendent and a technician would be sent immediately, we were told.

An Effort to Evolve

Since the elevator hadn’t moved, we were still right at the second floor. We, the auditors, stood passively, quietly, shifting from foot to foot. The massive attorney fumed and shifted and swore. When we could hear voices on the other side of the door, the super and the tech, we assumed, the lawyer yelled obscenities at them and threatened them. I’m thinking; a) great, piss them off and we’ll never get out of here b) there is no fan running and no fresh air source, how much oxygen is this gas bag wasting being an ass hat? c) oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I’m a bit claustrophobic and I was starting to feel pretty panicky. I could just see me totally losing it. No, actually, I couldn’t envision that at all. I’m very stoic, I’d freak out on the inside, but look totally normal on the outside. I guess. I don’t know. I’ve never been stuck in an elevator before. I decide to practice my deep breathing, like when I meditate, to calm myself, to focus. I focus on my breath, quietly. It wasn’t like I was in the corner doing an ujjayi breath, or Lamaze panting, or anything like that. I just breathed real slow, real quiet and real deep and focused on that for a bit.

Minutes passed. Everyone was fixated on their respective phones, scrolling, texting, playing “Words with Friends”. I’d taken a picture and posted it to several social media sites. Just feet, I took a picture of a whole bunch of dress shoes atop a worn elevator carpet and captioned it “stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors”. I got no comments, ever. One of my students endeavored to find “elevator music” on his phone and settled for Miles Davis, which I was quite enjoying. But, with each passing minute, the zombie apocalypse version of Rush Limbaugh that stood in front of me would launch into another tirade of curse words, empty threats and large clouds of carbon dioxide.

Stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors. And rabid Shrek.
Stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors. And rabid Shrek.

More time passed. I was still focusing on my breathing and had begun to prioritize the afternoon agenda, deciding which topics could be omitted and not cause any of these up and coming auditors to neglect detecting fraud in some high profile audit. I began to panic again. So much responsibility, teaching auditors to audit. The future of the stock market, of capitalism itself, in my hands. One undetected fraudulent act, one missed material misstatement, because of a glossed over agenda item in an auditing CPE class and western civilization and the barely recovering economy, lost. Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm. Sanity restored. Perspective regained.

The Incredible Hulk started yelling again. The building super and the tech hadn’t made any progress. They’ve called the “repair guy”, who is “on his way”. We know not from where. Hulk roars; more obscenities, more threats, less oxygen for us all. I’ve taken my winter coat off. I managed to slide my very heavy handbag down to the floor, careful that the gold tassel I so covet doesn’t get trod on by the Clydesdale man beast.

More minutes pass. It’s getting uncomfortably stuffy and hot. I began to worry about a) enough fresh air to sustain us all b) long term, if we are to be stuck in the elevator for weeks, let’s say, who’s going Donner party on whom? c) my hair is going to start frizzing out of control. We heard another voice join the chorus “on the other side”. The repairman. King Kong goes ape shit and actually says, first thing, without any information or indication, without any provocation, “are you fucking Union?” Great. We’re in here for life. One of my mild mannered students, a sweet Kosher kid, finally snaps and says, politely, articulately, “I really don’t think that’s helping.” I’m waiting for punches to be thrown, when, suddenly, the elevator doors begin to part. A hand from outside appears between them, then another, and then the doors are pulled apart. And we walked out, filed down the stairs one floor, out into the cool, fresh Long Island air, and over to Bobby’s Burger Palace for a quick lunch. We left rabid Shrek behind, yelling and cursing and threatening our saviors.

Bobby Flay's L.A. Burger at Bobby's Burger Palace (Garden City, Long Island)
Bobby Flay’s L.A. Burger at Bobby’s Burger Palace (Garden City, Long Island)

Have you ever been overwhelmingly, hopelessly stuck in the elevator of life? Have you ever felt like your life isn’t moving in the direction you thought it would, isn’t moving at all? Do you ever panic or worry or fret, curse, yell or threaten, when things just aren’t progressing? Have you ever felt angry or stressed or sad, depressed, bitter, discouraged, at being stuck where you are? Just like being stuck in the elevator, being stuck in life is temporary, everything, after all, is temporary. Everything will pass, guaranteed. Just breathe deeply, be calm, regain your focus, get some clarity, persevere, and things will work out. If your goal is to go up, or down, in an elevator and the elevator breaks, you still, eventually, get where you intend to go. Or you die. Either way, the being stuck part ends. So, too, in life.

In that elevator, stuck at the second floor, when I felt my irrational panic begin to rise, I recalled lessons in meditation I’ve been practicing. I learned, again, in practicality, that I can control how I react, even if I can’t control the situation. This is something I knew, already, and practice, and preach. But to have it presented to me in a situation I have always feared, always dreaded, reinforced the lesson in such a tangible, tactile fashion, I shall never forget it.

After lunch, when we returned to the classroom, our tale was shared with those who took another elevator, or the stairs. One of the managers told a tale, of her husband, who’d been stuck in an elevator, in Rockefeller Center, when there was a power outage in New York City. They were between floors, in that elevator car, for over five hours. The rescue crew had to break through the wall to the elevator car to then pry the doors open. I listened, in awe, in horror, and my immediate thought was “I’d never survive!” Of course I would survive. Of course I would. I’d come out of it wiser and better able to cope. Or in a straight jacket. Nah.

When I think of the “unsurvivable” things I’ve not only lived through, but from which I’ve ended up growing, evolving, and drawing a great deal of strength from; the death of friends, of family members, the parting of ways of once best friends, divorce, foreclosure, losing the dream ranch, re-homing pets, re-homing rescued horses, low self-esteem, an unhealthy lifestyle. And no regrets, ever, without those “tragedies” and experiences, I wouldn’t be half the person I am now. I was stuck in those situations, in those patterns, in that lifestyle. And now I’m not. They were temporary. I breathed my way through, got clarity and focus and persevered. I’m sure you’ve been stuck in your own elevators in life, and you’ve made it through. What have you learned? That you’ll make it through, at the least. But, did you learn from it, too? Do you carry those lessons with you, to draw from in whatever temporary situation you’re in now, that you’ll face later?

Perhaps you’re stuck right now! Whether you’re stuck in an elevator, in line at Target, in traffic, or in a dead end job, a damaging relationship, an unfulfilling career, an unhealthy lifestyle, in indecision, in a state of depression, or in a world of self loathing and poor self esteem, know that all things are temporary, and with meditation, focus, clarity, time and perseverance, we will get unstuck. Keeping rational, and breathing through it, though, will allow us not just to triumph, but to also glean a life lesson we can remember and draw from, again, if, or more accurately, when, we get stuck next. Going up?

 

 

 

 

Set Yourself Free

Downsizing and a Digital Diet

If you haven’t tried it, there is something near euphoric about purging one’s life, home, surroundings of the unnecessary, of the accumulations of time. What do those collections represent? Scraps of papers, old magazines saved in their entirety for a single article, books read and reread, books never read, clothing long out of style that no longer fits, dusty, faded knick-knacks whose origin you only vaguely remember, or that you feel obligated to keep because they were a gift, worn out, yellowed and long obsolete electronics, empty flower vases for every florist delivery ever, cheerleading outfits and prom dresses from high school. I actually found snippets of my hair and my first tooth in my baby book which my mom purged from her collection into mine. How grotesque is that? Teeth and hair. What do these things do for us? I am very doubtful that at any point in the thirty years before the collection of those artifacts and the point in time when they were gifted to me that anyone ever had the insatiable urge to view my tiny tooth and locket of hair. Are they reminders of our past? Anchoring us to a time now gone, a time that, though remembered, and from which lessons still live within us, a time that does not serve us. Remember, the only time in which we can act, live, do, is the present. So, perhaps, in keeping tidbits of the past we are clinging to that past, fearful of letting go. Clinging to the past inhibits us, certainly, in our ability to move forward with ease, with efficiency, with grace, and with confidence.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve embraced the idea of minimalism, for several reasons. The first being necessity. I’ve moved five times in five years. Second, storage is expensive. Third, I find clutter maddening and suffocating. Fourth, I hate dusting. I will happily swipe a dust rag over a barren surface once a week or so, but when faced with moving and dusting objects to reveal the underlying surface so it can be made dust free, I quit. Fifth, I read a good book, which, yes, I am keeping and rereading. In Kindle form. Sixth, I just really want to lighten my load, for my own sanity, but also, living more minimally is more affordable, more enlightening, more inspiring, more efficient, more liberating, and better for the planet (I read that in the book).

I do still have bits of memorabilia here and there, and, likely some I can easily part with; the Eiffel Tower statue my parents brought me from their brief and singular trip to Paris thirty-five years ago, the boxes and boxes of grade school play programs and birthday party favors I haven’t looked at once since, and my kids are in college, marathon completion medals hanging awkwardly from my bulletin board, the beloved and beyond worn out, frayed, smelly, faded, torn tennies from Urban Outfitters, the hand held Sirius radio sitting on the floor of my office, nestled between the couch and a bookcase, made obsolete with Pandora and Spotify. The bookcase full of books on training horses and becoming a better rider. I no longer have horses, why do I have this library of books? Or the saddles in storage?

Other useless, and even detrimental, things we cling to; bad feelings from former relationships, guilt over actions or inactions from long, long ago, remorse for underachieving in youth, embarrassment for irresponsible behavior in the past. Spending too much money, not volunteering enough, neglecting healthy habits. How does clinging to any of this help us now? In the future? These feelings and behaviors were bad for us in the past, well, they’re worse for us now. Let’s forgive ourselves and others, the lessons have been learned. Move on, uncluttered and liberated. Don’t let the past poison the present. Don’t let the past foul up the future.

My particular clutter problem of late? Downsizing digitally. I fully embraced going digital; books, music, movies, photos. The result? Clogged computers and an array of external storage devices I never fully trust and that, well, require space, storage, and occasional dusting. I need my 40,000 songs on iTunes and my 40,000 digitized/digital photos. Or do I? Why do I need all those songs, stored, digitally, with Pandora, Spotify, or even the ability to store 25,000 of my songs in the iTunes cloud? Well, to update my iPod Classic 120 GB, of course, it isn’t wireless. But, wait some more? Why do I need the iPod Classic 120 GB iPod when my iPhone can store and play music and is connected to the cloud? Why are we so resistant to letting go of stuff?

Movies; once upon a time, we could not enter Target, or even the grocery store, without exiting a couple of DVDs richer. The result, a six foot tall armoire full of movies, and numerous, precariously stacked, auxiliary piles of movies on either side of it. In my various moves, I purged myself of all of the DVDs I didn’t absolutely love and that I had little or no desire to see again. I am left with, still, quite a number of DVDs and have, admittedly, even added a couple to the pile, just to round out my holdings, for example, the Nora Ephron collection, the Jane Austen collection. But, why? Why do I have a DVD of “Thirteen Going on Thirty?” I love the movie, it is therapy for me when I am feeling a little low, sort of like “Legally Blonde”, for whatever, tawdry reason, those movies just lift my spirits. And, they are available to stream from Netflix or iTunes, so why do I have them crammed in a drawer with dozens and dozens of other flicks that are surely available over the internet? Let’s take it a bit further, shall we? When was the last time I actually turned my television on and watched a movie? I am certain I have dusted my television three times since I last turned it on. I dust quarterly. And that’s an optimistic estimate. The question then arises; do I need those DVDs, do I need that television, do I need the large black coffee table with drawers on which the television rests? Probably no, no, and no. Yet, I cling to them. I have moved them several times and may move them again, unless I let go of the clutter and liberate myself.

An Effort to Evolve

Books, books, books. I am a voracious reader, often reading six or seven volumes simultaneously. There is much to know, much to learn, and much of it can be found in the thoughts gifted authors have taken the time and care to record, pen to page, so to speak, for the benefit of humanity. The knowledge of all time, recorded for us to read, absorb and apply. Once, my home was full of print and binding books. We’d build floor to ceiling shelves in every room to accommodate our vast collection. Those days are gone. I have three bookcases in my office, two with books, the third with journals, supplies and my teaching materials. The journals and teaching materials I am transitioning to digital format, I have been busy trying out different options; software and mobile apps, to replace binders and journals with pages of paper. The two bookcases of books, one of horse books, the other of reference books for hiking, camping and kayaking, business books, and what I call “coffee table books”, large, pretty books you think guests might enjoying thumbing through while you uncork and pour the wine. It’s kind of a silly notion, I guess, especially in my home, as I’ve always been a “kitchen” person; I entertain in my kitchen, guests visit with me there while I uncork and pour the wine, serve the cheese and fruit. The kitchen has always been the center of my home. Of course, I grew up in a house with a “formal living room”, which is only entered when guests arrive, but only after the wine and cheese and fruit is served and enjoyed in the kitchen, lest we spill or make crumbs in the large, sterile and unfriendly territory known as “the living room”. And of cooking; a secret obsession of mine is cookbooks. Here, though, I have purged and now have only the best of the best, the most legendary cooks, the most beautiful volumes, the classics of cookbooks, in one small bookcase in my bedroom. I read them for entertainment, and rarely for recipes. I shoot from the hip when I cook, though influences, I’m certain, are drawn from my many and frequent visits between the covers of those cookbooks I chose to keep.

An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve

I have gone digital with books, and often ponder what my collection of Kindle books would look like if they were made tangible and piled up on the floor, along a wall. I’d likely have to line the walls of most of the rooms of my house with shelves, again, to hold them and organize them and make them accessible. Ah, yes, I love my Kindle, and entire library that fits in my purse and can even be accessed, now, during take off and landing in flight. Gone are the days of the smug looking traveler with their print and binding book as the flight attendant reminds me to shut off my “e-reader”. Take that! Now I only need be in “airplane mode”, which, means, simply, I can’t buy a book during take off or landing, but as soon as we reach 10,000 feet, I can buy another book. Smug tangible book toting person, you have to wait until you get to a bookstore!

Photos, good lord, photos. I take so many pictures, for so many reasons; for aesthetic viewing pleasure, to record events, to communicate, for reference, to express myself on social media, for material for articles and videos. I just, finally, successfully, uploaded 48,000 photos to “Shoebox”, the new cloud photo app, and the only one that I’ve found that really, really, works! I have struggled with ALL of the others and have even resorted to buying my own cloud, and in every instance, my own cloud included, it has been a interminable and woefully unsuccessful chore to upload my entire and ever growing library of photos. I have a large external drive with a “manual” backup of my photo (and music) library, too. Just in case. And I’d still like to find a way to swiftly and painlessly back them all up to my personal cloud, too. But, for now, I am happy. The result of finally getting my entire photo library in the cloud? I was able to purge the photos from my MacBook, which, as evidenced by this writing, has freed up enough space and memory to perform tasks. MacBook had been rendered completely unusable by the burgeoning amounts of data crammed onto its hard drive. My MacBook, my PC, after their digital cleanse, are lean and mean, powerful and fast. Both were so clogged, programs struggled to open, the cooling fans whirred nonstop, even before I tapped a key, touched the touchpad or moved a mouse. It was like a logjam of data, blocking the flow of data and preventing me from putting my thoughts and ideas into expressions and words. My MacBook is a device on which I can, again, think, create, collaborate, and not just a sleek, $1,500 external hard drive. Now, it has been liberated, and, so, too, have I!

So am I really purging if I am just sending stuff off to the cloud? Burdening some remote storage unit in the sky with my digital excess? Perhaps not. There are, I’m sure, many songs, books, and photos that are repetitious, duplicated, or, more likely, will never be accessed again, like a locket of hair and a baby tooth. But, for now, they are out of my immediate space, allowing me to organize what’s left, liberating my thoughts and ideas, creating flow. There will, no doubt, come a time when I endeavor to purge some of my cloud data, too, because there are costs, already. Accessing large amounts of data, no matter where it is stored, is time consuming and cumbersome. Refining the collections will increase the efficiency of organizing and accessing it all. There are monetary costs of storing stuff in the cloud, too, of course, not too unlike the monthly fee the storage facility charges me to store those saddles and snowboards, bicycles and backpacking gear, though, so far, far less.

An Effort to Evolve

We must each contemplate the economics individually. While some folks close to me grapple with my “need” for all those photos, books, movies and songs, I don’t understand why they keep tools, nails, fittings, fasteners and screws by the thousands. We each assign value to what we feel we need and incur the cost of keeping it. I suppose the effort I’m trying to encourage, the evolution I’m trying to foster, is to take a step back and look at the clutter, both within and about. Let go of all that is truly unnecessary, liberate yourself from the burden, lighten your load and let the carefree feeling of lightness, of agility, of freedom inspire you in ways you may have never imagined! Whether limiting thoughts, guilt or regret, whether piles of unread magazines, obligatory trinkets, tattered remnants of paper kept in hopes of clinging to precious, past moments; let them go, free them, send them away, banish them from your environment, set yourself free!

 

My favorite resources for a less cluttered life:

 

Evernote

Shoebox

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life

Penultimate

Office 365

Adobe Creative Cloud