I ran a ten-mile race last weekend. I didn’t win the race, but I did win.
I’m reasonably new to running, I started running at the age of 48, just four years ago. I’ve run a few half-marathons and one full marathon, so far. I didn’t win any of them. I’m registered for a couple of half-marathons and four full marathons over the next year. I won’t win any of them. But I still win.
Why run in races if you’re never going to win?
Running, for me, fulfills a couple of very primal needs I discovered I have rather late in life; it makes me feel free and it fulfills my competitive spirit. If I’m not in it to win it, how does it fulfill my competitive spirit? I compete with myself, I strive for continual improvement.
Fitness is a lifestyle I believe in, it is a lifestyle I foster, it is a lifestyle I create for myself. Let me clarify fitness and what it means to me:
Fitness is a lifestyle that facilitates good health, well-being, continual self-improvement, self-confidence, and self-worth. Joy.
Fitness is not getting skinny enough to wear that dress to the high school reunion. Fitness is not losing weight to look good, to catch that guy, to attract that girl, to get the engagement ring, to fit into the wedding dress. Fitness is not bulking up enough to win a body-building competition. Fitness is not racing once to prove it can be done. Fitness is not about doing it for someone else.
Fitness, your health, your well-being, are only ever about you. It is a choice and one you choose because it brings you joy.
I run as part of my fitness-focused lifestyle. It is hard, but it brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. I race because it’s fun, I enjoy the fanfare, I enjoy the people, I enjoy having a measure of my personal improvement.
In this past weekend’s race, there were 540 finishers. I came in 309th. Clearly, I didn’t win the race. I wasn’t even in the top 50%, but I’m still a winner. I finished. I ran ten miles. I did, however, run at a faster pace than any of my previous races, though this was the shortest race I ever ran.
I poured over the results, the results of others, knowing everyone runs, and races, for different reasons, for very personal and individual reasons. Some folks do run to compete, to win, to be the fastest. Others run for the sheer pleasure. Other folks run because they can. Sadly, some folks run to please someone else.
The fastest finishers, the winners of the race, the folks who took home the purse and the prizes, ran a full five minutes faster per mile than I. One such man was 72 years old. Winning. I reviewed the field of finishers near my finish time, I came in a couple of seconds behind a woman who was 74 years old.
I looked at the people who came in last, and these folks were, in my perception, the true winners of the race and should be awarded the highest purse, the biggest medal, and the most recognition. In the last ten finishers was a woman, 99 years old. Winning. Finisher 540 of 540; a woman of 83. Winning. How blessed to be of such good health at that age to complete a ten mile running race, and, judging from their pace, they were moving along fairly well. They eclipsed my rather ridiculous hiking pace. My rather ridiculous hiking pace elevates my heart rate to an aerobic level, it causes me to sweat profusely, it makes my muscles all wonderfully sore for the next couple of days. A 99 year old woman and an 83 year old woman and a smattering of other octogenarians maintained that pace for ten full miles. Think about it; many folks that age aren’t able to drive ten miles, or walk ten feet. When I grow up I want to be 99 years old and finish a ten mile running race! Run because you can.
I am speculating, but I’m pretty sure those elderly runners aren’t running that race for anyone but themselves. To live to be 99, or 83, is accomplishment in itself. To be able to run ten miles at that age obviates a commitment to fitness, a personal desire for a fit lifestyle. They aren’t running to get in shape to fit into that dress, to get the proposal, to find a date, to please someone else. They run because they can and because it is their choice, their lifestyle, and, I’m guessing it brings them an incredible amount of joy, confidence, self-respect, and self-worth.
And that, my friends, is truly winning.
I do it for me. Do it if you want, but do it for you.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s talk about love! A very common topic for the day! Let’s talk about love affairs! Let’s talk about the ULTIMATE love affair!
What do we all want out of our love relationships, whether we have a love interest now, or are searching for one, or even if we’ve sort of given up? The ultimate love affair; what would it be like? Deep, lasting, secure, passionate, compassionate, considerate, kind, beautiful, romantic, thoughtful, nurturing, appreciative, loving, honest, and faithful. I could go on and on. I know, I know, it sounds like a Hallmark card, which is why I usually buy Papyrus cards, instead. Back to the question at hand, though; is a love affair like this possible? Can something like this be real? And forever? Yes. It can. Yes. It should be. Yes, it must be.
Next question; how?
First, let’s talk about your lover, the target of your cupid’s arrow. I’m not actually speaking of your significant other, your spouse, your lover, your life partner, though having a relationship with that person as described above is certainly our universal intent. The lover I am speaking of today, the party to your ultimate love affair is – you. I dedicate this day of love and lovers to you.
Most of us have been raised to believe that self-love is conceit, to put oneself before any other is selfish. This could not be further from the truth. It is sad that we are raised in this fashion, that society reinforces this standard. I can’t help but think that this philosophy contributes partially, if not primarily, to the number of unhappy people, to the annuls of the depressed, the clinically depressed and the millions of people on prescription drugs to “treat”, more like mask, something rooted in our misconception of self-worth.
If we are incapable of loving ourselves, how can we effectively love others? If we are incapable of loving ourselves, how can we expect others to find us lovable?
We must first learn to love ourselves, then we are in a position to love others and to receive the love of others. Loving ourselves is the foundation for all love we are to experience in our lives, both in giving and in receiving.
Most of us find ourselves in a position of caregiver at some point in our lives. We have a spouse or life partner whom we are to care for. We have a family to raise. We have friendships. We have parents who inevitably age. We must first care for ourselves in order to be able to most effectively care for others. If we don’t care for ourselves, we may not be able to provide appropriate or adequate care for those we love. Do we know people, who, as parents, aren’t able, physically, to ride bikes with their kids because they’ve never cared for themselves, physically? Do we know people who are unable to show affection to their spouse because of unhealed wounds from childhood or from previous relationships that have been left unresolved, open and festering? There are millions of examples, I’m sure, and all cause unnecessary pain and suffering. Often they cause betrayal and the end of love.
As a party to a loving relationship with others, again with the list describing the ultimate love affair in mind, if we are not loving of ourselves, we are setting the example, the expectation, of how we are to be treated by those around us. If we are self-loathing in what we say and do, and in what we fail to say and fail to do, we are demonstrating our expectation of love from others. We’ve set the example, through the power of suggestion, actually, beyond mere suggestion, we’ve actually trained and conditioned the people around us to believe our self-loathing beliefs, words and actions. And we act surprised when people treat us poorly, when, in fact, we treat ourselves worse, habitually.
Changing our thoughts, our values, our ingrained belief system about self-love is not a huge undertaking. We do not need to re-engineer ourselves from the ground up. We just need to shift our focus a little, we just need to understand the hierarchy or love a little more. Then, with a little mindfulness and a little conditioning and a little fun, we can experience the ultimate love affair. Then the rest of the world will follow.
So, again; how?
Step one; listen to how you talk to yourself. Most of us spend a great deal of time in conversation with ourselves in the ultimate echo chamber, our heads. We ridicule, criticize and berate ourselves constantly in our thoughts. The remedy is simple. Stop. The methods for stopping self-destructive thoughts and chatter are numerous. I, personally, thrive on mindfulness through meditation, affirmations, gratitude, and “prayer”. There are books by the hundreds, explore a few and find one or two you find provide practical methods to relieve yourself of the constant barrage of self-criticism. One of my favorite books is Jillian Michaels “Unlimited“.
Step two; get physical. There is nothing better for the soul, for the self, than improving one’s general health and well being. If we care enough for ourselves, physically, we are better able to provide care to those around us; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Seeing your body change as you gain fitness, seeing your skin radiate and your smile appear more easily as a result of regular exercise is one of the best self-esteem boosts imaginable. Exercise, regular exercise, is fantastic not only for the body, but for the mind and the soul. You deserve that kind of attention. Again, the vehicles to fitness are more in number than the models of cars you’ll find at the auto mall. Test drive a few and find something that fits. The best book I’ve devoured this year, both in print and in audio, “Younger Next Year for Women“.
Step three; get a good ad campaign. Why do you buy the brands you buy? Cars, phones, shampoo, cereal, beer? Branding and strategic advertising and marketing, whether you like it or not, that’s the answer. Now, you need to sell yourself on, well, yourself. This is where you get to have some fun and maybe even get a little creative. Take some time each and every day to market to yourself what it is about yourself you find so amazing. Try to find something new every day. Find some way to collect all these “ads” together so you can review them periodically. This is where you can get creative. I’ve seen a few ideas, recently, being the beginning of a new year, that I thought were terrific. One was the “gratitude jar“. I like that. How about an “attitude jar”, too? Where you write down something you love about yourself on a slip of paper every day and put it in the jar. Read through them every month or so. Take a look at the “365 Grateful” and adapt that. Take a picture of yourself every day, throughout the year, and create an album of them. Another idea I stumbled across the other day was a video project by Brooks Wheelan, a one second video clip every day for a year, again, adapt this so you have a second (or two, or three, or five) long selfie everyday and compile them into a video monthly. Maybe even film yourself saying one of your affirmations out loud everyday! Or reading your “attitude jar” slip of paper out loud and dropping it into the jar! See? Creativity! Fun!
Step four; give it away. Volunteer. The more you donate the good things you have to offer, the more you receive in return. No one is exempt, here. We all have gifts, talents, time and other “free” stuff that others, less fortunate than we are, will appreciate and benefit from. Volunteering is nurturing for our souls and reinforces good feelings we have of ourselves. Making a difference, no matter how small, makes a big difference in how we value ourselves.
Step five; give it all away. De-clutter. We are not our stuff. We are prisoners to our stuff. Liberating ourselves from unnecessary clutter actually lifts our spirits measurably. We are literally and figuratively weighed down by the stuff we allow to accumulate around us at home, at work, in our cars, even when confined to garages, spare bedrooms, expensive storage units, or the trunk of the car. We should respect ourselves enough to live and work and drive in a clean, uncluttered space. Minimalism is maximizing joy and self-esteem. Check out some books on the topic, my favorite is “The Joy of Less – Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life“.
Step six; sex sells. If nothing I’ve said so far hasn’t made you fidget a bit, this one probably will. Let’s talk about building sexual confidence. Let’s talk about unleashing our inner Samantha Jones, or Don Draper. There is power in sexuality, in sensuality. There is confidence in power. Men and women, alike, appreciate a sexually confident partner. Confidence under the covers, or on the kitchen counter, or wherever, brings more enjoyment and excitement to sex, which usually increases the frequency of the act and, well, everyone is glowing happily, way more often. Gaining sexual confidence is the trick. Again, books? Maybe a class? Yes, there are classes. A sexologist? A few concepts; Know thyself, really. You need to know how it all works. Get comfortable. If you aren’t comfortable with the way you look you aren’t going to be confident. You don’t have to be a super model to be sexy. Sexy comes in all shapes and sizes. Again, it’s confidence and know-how. One way to gain more comfort with how you look, in “that” way is to, well, take it all in. Spend some “me time” in front of the mirror, regularly. Not once a year, more like once a day. Or, get out your camera and Include pictures of “yourself” in your pictures of yourself. This is all about you, all about all of you. If you can’t talk about sex with yourself, who can you talk about sex to? My favorite author on the topic is Veronica Monet who authors “Veronica Monet’s Sex Secrets of Escorts: Tips from a Pro“.
Step seven; social network. Be with people, they are like mirrors of yourself along your journey. We are social creatures, we are meant to be with others, to socialize and interact. People who are withdrawn from social interaction suffer far more physical, psychological and emotional maladies than those of us who are socially active. And in our social contact, again, be mindful of those thoughts. Judgmental thoughts of others, like judgmental thoughts of self, are poison and have a virtual life of their own. In mastering good thoughts of self, practice good thoughts of others and notice how many more smiles you are greeted by. The golden rule really is golden, even in our thoughts. Think of others as you’d like to be thought of. The golden rule works in reverse, too. When you think of yourself in a positive light, people will respond in kind, and when you treat yourself as well as you treat others, you’ll see a shift in your self-esteem and in how people react to you and treat you. As your self-love develops and your self-confidence grows, you’ll notice that people react to you differently.
Step eight; spoiled rotten. When you’re in love you take great pleasure in spoiling your sweetheart. So, if you love yourself you should be spoiling yourself a little, too. We can all afford to be a little self-indulgent. Don’t go overboard, of course, but do make an effort to treat yourself on occasion. I have a membership with a national chain of massage spas. I pay a reduced, monthly fee and am entitled to a massage worth about twice the price I pay each and every month. There is evidence that massage and therapeutic touch are very beneficial in enhancing our well being. Consider an occasional facial or manicure and pedicure to boost your self-esteem, or perhaps a cute shirt to replace some less than attractive wardrobe piece you find yourself wearing a little too often. Shoes. Never underestimate the power of a cute, new pair of shoes. If you love desserts but are cutting back for health purposes, consider having one divine dessert a week as a treat, your just desserts! Think of positive ways to spoil yourself, and then do.
Step nine; don’t let yourself down. My kids used to tell me they absolutely hated letting me down in some way, it bothered them to no end if they thought I might be disappointed in them. I didn’t beat them or punish them or yell at them (much), but I had a way of looking when I was disappointed, sort of a sad look, and they sought to avoid it. The same is true when we let ourselves down in some way. Sure, life is filled with good intentions, but I find there is nothing so deflating as letting yourself down. Those days when I plan to work out, then wimp out instead, I’m disappointed in myself. I have a hard time feeling super good about myself if I’ve disappointed myself. For many of us, this is an every day occurrence on several levels. The first step is to get real. If we set goals and guidelines that are practical and manageable, we are more likely to succeed, and, feel good about ourselves. Our goals can build on earlier goals. It might be impractical to say “I’m not going to overeat ever again and I’m going to work out an hour every single day.” Day one comes and goes and we’ve failed at both and our self-esteem spirals further. And for each successive day that we overeat and don’t work out for a whole hour we become even more disappointed and self-critical. If we take baby steps, achieve some success and then plan a slightly bigger step a bit later on, we’ll bolster our self-esteem and make steady, measurable progress towards our ultimate desire. Get real. Make goals reasonable and achievable. Follow through. Hold yourself accountable. Live up to your own expectations. Make yourself proud. And if you do blow it, now and then, don’t beat yourself up. Pat yourself on your back, give yourself a little kind encouragement, and try, try again.
Step ten; go out on a limb. Insert adventure into your life, it builds confidence, it builds experiences, it enhances life. For some of us, adventure may be shopping at a new boutique instead of Wal Mart. For others, it may be walking in a park we haven’t visited before, or going to a coffee shop alone with a book and a tablet instead of drinking our coffee in front of the morning show at home. And, for some of us, adventure means travel or daring feats, traveling to India or skydiving, Germany or scuba lessons. The point is, we become more confident every time we do something that scares us a little. Eleanor once said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”
Step eleven; detox. Don’t hang around negative people. If there are people in your life that affirm your self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, they need to be made to disappear. Don’t hire a hit man, just clean house. Pull up the welcome mat when they’re in the neighborhood. We have the liberty of choosing who we spend time with, choose people who nurture your attempts to be happier. Occasionally, people who drag us down, or worse, pull us down, are inescapable; family members or spouses. Reason with them, if you can, distance yourself as much as possible if they can’t be reasoned with. You deserve to be treated with respect and love, by yourself and by every one you spend time with. You deserve to be around people who support and affirm your efforts and anyone else is just undermining your progress. Be harsh.
Step twelve; vigilance. Do this daily for the rest of your life and you will have a love affair that is deep, lasting, secure, passionate, compassionate, considerate, kind, beautiful, romantic, thoughtful, nurturing, appreciative, loving, honest, faithful. Forever. And when you love you, everyone else loves you, too. What’s not to love? Lovability begins with our ability to love ourselves. Show them the way.
Isn’t that what we all want? Our “happily ever after”?
I had a wonderful, fun, over-indulgent, sunshiny, friend-filled, food and wine overdose week this past week while my Sweetie visited from far, far away. His plane just landed back home, seconds ago, three thousand miles away. As I lay in my lonely little bed earlier this morning, a little thought crept into my mind as I tried to meditate, it proclaimed, “all I want is my happily ever after.” Then, for emphasis, the pathetic little voice added, “now.”
Like all little thoughts that creep into my mind while I’m attempting to meditate, I dismissed it, but not without acknowledging it, so I could address it later. I am here to address that stray little thought. Now.
Just the other night at dinner with my friends and my Sweetie, we reminisced about afternoon syndicated television shows we all adored during our childhood. We all talked about TV after school, with Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space, I Dream of Jeannie, I Love Lucy, and Bewitched. The Friday night line up, of course, Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, and, then, Sunday, having to endure Lawrence Welk with the older family members in order to enjoy Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and, finally, the Disney movie. The Disney movie was like the whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top of the ice cream sundae, making ordinary vanilla ice cream that “once a week” treat.
My kids were “raised on Disney”, too. We had a pile a mile high of all the Disney classics, and added to the pile every time the newest movie came to video. We watched them all, over and over and over and over again. What is it with Disney movies? Simple, it’s the “happily ever after.”
In every story, there is some sort of sadness or strife or discord and then, there is the “happily ever after” and the credits roll. Most of these stories are based on tales of yore, books and stories generations, if not centuries old, though the newer ones follow the same pattern, promising them success in the box office with the kids, and the adults, alike. We want to see that “happily ever after”, ever after. And even in our favorite childhood TV shows, the usually happy characters had some sort of chaos that made us laugh, and in the last moments of the episode, order was restored and things were just the way they were supposed to be, “happily ever after.”
“The happily ever after” is usually a kiss from a prince, a castle, a sunset in the Disney version. In our favorite weekly series, the characters were all together, right where they belonged, with a laugh, smiles, and hugs. The sadness and strife ended and there was bliss, the “happily ever after,” we all assume, begins. And that’s what we all want. And that’s what we all chase. And we are all missing the point.
There are no guarantees in life, except one; no one and no thing can ever bring you your “happily ever after.”
The real sadness and strife in life is that so many of us spend so much thought, time and energy trying to produce this “happily ever after”, others of us just sit and wait for it to arrive at the doorstep without putting any effort into it. We treat “happily ever after” like it’s going to be some cataclysmic event, like rounding a corner or clicking on a light switch, and BAM! From that point on, happy, ever after. We are under the sad impression that “happily ever after” happens to us and is external; a person, a thing, and worse, we think that person or thing will make us happy, ever after.
I have to think of my hero, here; Gilligan. In all those years, Gilligan and his pals never actually got their problem solved, their “strife and sadness” being the fact that they were stranded on some uncharted island in the middle of the ocean. The television show only existed as long as their “strife and sadness” continued. Their rescue, their “happily ever after”, would mean the series would end and the kids of the seventies would have to watch something else after school. Or invent video games to fill that time instead.
In spite of the fact that Gilligan and Skipper, the Howells, Ginger, the Professor, may he rest in peace, and Mary Ann, didn’t find their “happily ever after” at the end of each episode was okay. They were happy. They were happy for what they had, they were grateful. They used the resources they had and made a pretty sweet looking existence. I wanted to live in a grass hut, sleep in a hammock, cook over a fire, have daily adventures, go to the beach, fish and always have my friends around. That looked frickin’ awesome to me, on the other side of the TV screen. And just like Gilligan, our “happily ever after” is right where we are. We need only look around and be grateful for what we have.
Our “happily ever after” will never come as a result of meeting a terrific person, falling in love, getting the job, gaining career success, making millions of dollars, traveling around the world, driving a sports car, or buying the big house, it isn’t a pill the doctor prescribes or an intoxicating beverage from a bottle. Our “happily ever after” isn’t as a result of a thing, or a person. It can’t be bought or visited, it isn’t even tangible. Our “happily ever after” is something we are in possession of and is something we have power over. It is in our midst and in our grasp at all times, immediately and forever.
Our “happily ever after” comes from within, and, only we can make it happen. Disney movies follow the same storyline movie after movie, show after show, there are certain components and factors that make their success measurable at the box office and those same components and factors are applied to each story to thrill the audiences and give them a glimpse at a “happily ever after”. Our own, personal, real life, living color “happily ever after” also follows a familiar storyline and has consistent components and factors. And, just as with a full-featured, animated blockbuster success, producing our own, personal, “happily ever after” isn’t quite as easy as rounding a corner or flicking on a light switch. There’s a reason why Disney is more successful with their productions than others, they know the formula and the repeat it consistently.
So, what’s the formula? What’s the prescription for our own, personal, “happily ever after”?
Gratitude. Take time every day to remind yourself, in some way, of all you have and of what you are grateful for.
Now. Live in the present. The past and the future steal the only thing we really have in life, the present moment.
Self-esteem. Like yourself. You have to like yourself enough to make positive changes. You have to truly believe you deserve better before anything positive from within can happen.
Meditation. Quiet that noisy, whiny, needful voice in your head, separate yourself from it, and, in the process, discover your true self inside.
Cleansing. Get rid of all the clutter, the things that hold you back, drag you down and imprison you. Too many possessions, too many commitments and too many toxic people. Clean house.
Purpose. Do something meaningful, every day. We have to have a reason to arise in the morning and something to feel satisfied about as we slip into sleep.
Passion. Do only what you love, for work and for play. There simply isn’t enough time for all the rest.
No, “happily ever after” isn’t easy, I never said it was, that’s why we all look to something external like the prince on the majestic steed to just whisk us away. Our “happily ever after” is more subtle, a little elusive and it takes practice, a lifetime of practice, in fact, we must practice forever after. But, every moment can be happier than the last with effort and practice, diligence and discernment.
And we can begin immediately. We don’t have to wait until the prince on the horse gallops up, we don’t have to wait until we find our way back to Earth again, we don’t have to wait until we figure out how to get rescued from the uncharted island. Like Gilligan, our daily happiness is all around us, we just need to identify the resources, like building a hut from grass and a hammock from old fishing nets and making cups from coconut halves. We have what it takes.
So, though I’m sad that Gilligan’s Island isn’t still on TV, I’m okay, I have the series on DVD. And, though my Sweetie isn’t here, now, I’m okay, because while I’m happy and oh, so grateful that he is part of my life, he isn’t what creates my “happily ever after”. I do.
The first, at the airport. I am now part of the TSA Pre-Check program. I received an unsolicited email from United, my airline of choice, stating that I was enrolled in the program. I suppose, as often as I fly, and since I have not made an effort to blow up any airplanes, it is assumed I’ll have no desire to do so any time in the future. A safe assumption. So, I don’t have to remove my shoes, my 3-1-1 baggie, my scarf, my sweater or light jacket. I do not have to remove any of my computers from my bag. I just toss my bag on the belt and dash through the scanner. This reminds me of simpler times. Another loosening of the leash; upon boarding the plane, we were all told we no longer have to turn any of our small personal electronics off for take off and landing; my phones, my Kindle, my iPad, all can stay on, in non-transmitting mode. It’s like someone granted me a block of free time. I was unsure as to how I should busy myself as the plane door was closing. This time has always been devoted to frantically ensuring every device was completely off. This newfound liberation, this freedom, seems so foreign in a world that has been so up tight for so long. The TSA agents and flight attendants were near jubilant in their efforts to wave us through security, all smiles as they assured us we could leave our phones on during the entire flight. I haven’t seen such glee at the airport, on behalf of employees and travelers, alike, in a very long time.
While the plane door was closing, with my newfound block of free time, I opened up a black, hard covered book with gold letters on the cover. This, the other trip back in time, was a little less pleasant. This book I read today, moved me to tears. In public. On a fucking airplane. My dear, near lifelong friend, Clarissa, showed me the book when I visited her home last week. Clarissa Lynn Coupon. It was a book written, from the copyright, just a couple of years ago, but told of a time I recall well from nearly three decades ago. It was a self-published book, written for a group of long-time friends and distributed amongst some number of people. As books will, they have been circulating from family to family and from acquaintance to acquaintance. It is hard to say just how far and wide this story has travelled. I dare not hazard a guess.
The story is told from the perspective of a young man and spans a decade or so of his life, weaving the tales of his evolution from boy to adolescent to man, a story of drunkenness, debauchery, deceit, drugs, dishonesty, infidelity and God. The story revolves around friendships that developed and endured this period of time, and beyond. The story, I assume, was solely for the enjoyment of this misfit group of friends, sort of a 1980’s version of “Bro’s before Ho’s”. But, I am reminded, as I am currently in custody of this black, hard-bound book with gold lettering on the cover, that stories do travel, and sometimes their arrival in a particular reader’s hands is miscalculated and most definitely unanticipated.
The “hero” of our story is Stanly. Stanly had a healthy fear of God and an uncertainty about religion that he seemed to struggle with for most of the ample book. He suffered a certain amount of turmoil as his parents divorced and as he tried to find his way, painfully and pitifully, through the loss of his virginity, and any semblance of sobriety.
After high school, I’m sure to everyone’s relief, Stanly finally managed to lose his virginity, to a girl he used specifically and solely for that fait accomplit. Magically, and only with the assistance of his good friend Dan, Stanly hooked up with Wendy and for the next couple of pages, really liked her. Loved her even. But, pages later, Stanly was avoiding her and wishing for the company of other female companions and, in fact, cheating on her at every opportunity, which, he admitted, wasn’t often. For the next, oh, two years or so, Stanly continued to see Wendy, to use her, pretty much, as needed. I read on, which was painful. I got within thirty pages of the final page, page 547, and skipped toward the end to a chapter titled “Forsaken”. In this chapter Stanly finally did the honorable thing and broke up with Wendy.
I know, this does not seem like the type of book I would generally read. It isn’t. In fact, reading this book was, by far, one of the worst experiences of my life, because the story, you see, is a true story, I knew Stanly, well, I thought, because, I am Wendy. And of much of this, I had no idea. For four years. For the better part of four years, I was being used. A booty call, piece of ass, I guess, when nothing better panned out.
You know that feeling you get when you receive really horrible news? The edges of your vision turn fuzzy and white? Like all the blood just drained from your body and dumped, suddenly, and sickeningly, into your stomach? Yah. That happened pretty much, repeatedly, throughout the entire volume. Every time I flipped a page and saw the word “Wendy” on it, I gripped the arm of the chair and braced myself. Do you have any idea what it feels like to read about yourself in a story like that, where the entire cast of characters are real and they all know you’re just someone’s booty call, piece of ass? I still see these people, in real life. Nice, right?
I find myself in the weirdest position and one that has robbed me of some sleep, some self-respect, some self-confidence and a bit of my usual glee, for a few minutes, anyway. It is hard to describe a brand new, open and bleeding, thirty-year-old wound. How is it even possible to have a brand new, thirty-year-old wound? I am shaken, to the core, and reeling, and beating myself up for being shaken, to the core, and reeling. How asinine. Of me.
These questions floated through my mind as I feigned sleep, for a spell, last night:
Every man in my past, ever, has betrayed me, in some way, or in many ways, how will I ever trust anyone again?
I saw a quote the other day, by Ernest Hemingway, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” So, I shall. I do. I must.
Why do I care, thirty years later?
Because it hurt. I don’t really care, it just hurt. I’ll lick my wounds and I’ll be over it, or not. I only found myself Googling a list of therapists, once. The lessons I have gleaned from this and the ability to share those lessons is therapy enough. It’s all about the lessons we learn from our life experiences, whether ugly or utopian. And sharing those lessons in hopes they may help others in pain, guarantees bliss.
Is my self-respect in tact? To find out one has been so degraded, for such a long time, certainly must erode one’s self-respect.
Nope. Remember, we are solely responsible for our own self-respect, it is a reflection of us from within and has nothing to do with what other, lesser life forms, posing as people, inflict on us, for their own reward and benefit. Had Stanly been the least bit honest, or any more sloppy, had I known at any moment in time how I was truly regarded, I would have walked away, head held high. That this is a new, thirty-year-old wound diminishes my ability to walk away, head held high, none, whatsoever.
How, in the world, should I react?
Oh, I lost a wee bit of sleep fantasizing about public humiliation, via a Facebook wall post on Stanly’s wall, but what would that gain? Really, only further publicity and humiliation for me. And while it was mildly satisfying to talk of the tale here, I do so in fair anonymity, in a much less public venue, and with the careful passage of enough time to choose words carefully.
What have I learned?
Lots. That Ernest Hemingway is to be trusted on the topic of trust.
I am reminded, though I know, from the core, that self-respect, self-confidence and self-esteem come from within and are not the property of anyone but the bearer. No one can take our self-respect, our self-confidence or our self-esteem from us, no matter what. No one can diminish them in the least, we are solely in care, charge and custody of them and if they erode, even in the slightest, it is at our very own hands, solely, and only we can repair them. That alone is empowering beyond anything else.
I also learned that when someone you once respected, honored, trusted and admired, whether for three minutes, or three decades, shows their true colors, when honesty, integrity and even chivalry are replaced with selfishness, infidelity, dishonesty, deceit and disrespect, the only thing to do is to observe, acknowledge, accept and forgive.
In observing the true nature of the person, we realize they are completely separate from us, their actions are separate from us and lessen us in no way. In acknowledging that they are completely separate from us and that their actions are not for us to react to, we rise above them in honor and integrity and common, human decency. In accepting what has happened as something in the past, that can never be changed, we release it and relish, again, the only time in which we truly live, the present. And, the hardest part; in forgiving those who trespass against us, we are freed from the hurt, the pain, and any power our trespasser may feel they hold over us is diffused, forever.
It may seem odd to say, but I am grateful for having had the opportunity to read the black, hardbound book, with the gold lettering on the cover, dreadful as it was. The pain and the horror of the tale subside with each breath I draw and release, and I have had another rare opportunity to take a horrific situation and use it as a catapult to further evolve into the person I am destined to be; great today, greater, even, tomorrow. Thank you, Stanly.
Perhaps it’s because while I was walking to dinner last night, a man approached me and spoke to me in French. I’m trying to rationalize why, exactly, I allowed myself to cave, to enjoy one of my true weaknesses this morning. Two, actually. A café au lait, rather than my plain bold, black brew, and, a big, flaky, buttery croissant, probably my daily allotment of calories in one item and my monthly allowance of plain, white, enriched flour.
So, this nice looking man approached me, on the street last night, as I was scurrying off to dinner, and he addressed me in French. I’ve had years of French in junior high, high school and in college. I don’t speak a word of French. It’s one of those things you have to practice daily and put to use in order to retain. Use it or lose it. Flustered, I responded, “Je ne parle pas, francais, un petit peu seulment”, which I think means, “I don’t speak French, only a little bit”. Only a little bit, as in, you’ve just heard everything I know with the possible exception of “my name is Scarlett.” I could probably dredge that phrase up if I had to. He didn’t ask. He continued, in French, “Parlez vous anglais?” I replied, simply, in English, in my boldest California accent, “yes”. And he continued his charity organization donation schpeel in perfect, English, in a bold, California accent. I kid. There is no California accent, we have the blandest, least identifiable dialect in the world, which, I suppose, distinguishes us from everyone else in the world.
I am of French descent, but I don’t think I look any different than any other Cali girl walking briskly down the streets of San Francisco. I was even wearing “the uniform”; tailored gray slacks, black blouse, black cardigan, black shoes, black coat. The only flair, or personal style I added to the bay area working girl uniform was a scarlet red scarf with small white polka dots and a scarlet red cross body purse. I like to add a splash of color, usually red, sometimes pink or magenta. As a matter of fact, I wear something scarlet daily, whether visible or not. And, I generally wear polka dots on Fridays. Why not, I ask, why not? Most ladies in the city wear scarves with their coats, rarely scarlet, though. I’m just wondering if my splashy flashy flair is what set me apart as, possibly, foreign, and, specifically, French. I don’t know, but it totally made my night, and, as evidenced by my breakfast selection at the café downstairs, my morning, this morning, too.
I had a banana with my croissant. I know, having a banana and a croissant with my café au lait is really not all that interesting, until, until you try to throw your shit away. In San Francisco. Have you ever tried to dispose of rubbish of any sort in San Francisco? It is not so easy. There are no less than three garbage receptacles, sometimes more; compost, recyclables and trash. True, there are almost always pictures posted nearby to provide some guidance, but, truthfully, they don’t. As a matter of fact, I think the pictures only complicate things as I don’t think any two pictures are the same. After eating my banana, I stood in front of the three garbage receptacles and looked for a picture of a banana peel. I would assume the banana peel would go into the compost can, but, there is no picture of a banana peel, only what appears to be a picture representing the sticky pork bun I ate yesterday at lunch at the dim sum place. I fished my cheaters (glasses) out of my purse and squinted at the pictures again. Nope, no banana peel. I quickly glanced over my right shoulder, then my left, to make sure no one was monitoring my trash disposal activities, and I quickly slipped the banana peel into the compost bin. Now for the paper wrapper the croissant came in; recyclable or compost? I’m pretty sure the croissant wrapper appeared on the picture attached to the compost bin, so, in it went. I left quickly, just in case I’d guessed incorrectly and the garbage police were nearby.
Thankfully, I still had coffee and was not yet ready to dispose of that troublesome item. I made my way upstairs to the training center I’m working in this week. There is a coffee service and a few pastries set out for us, but, I’ve already nourished and caffeinated myself adequately. Next to the coffee service area, though, are more garbage cans. Three. Compost, recycle and trash. There are pictures, again, to assist in your endeavor. The pictures are different than the ones downstairs, and, to my joy and delight, a banana peel is pictured on the compost bin example. I did a little happy dance. People were looking at me a little odd. Have you ever seen someone do a little soft shoe in front of the green compost bin? Right.
I proceed into our classroom and practically tripped over a trash can. A single, unlabeled trash can. I glance inside, there are apple cores, Styrofoam food containers, half full (always the optimist) coffee cups, candy wrappers, plastic wrappers, napkins. All in one bin. Is it weird that I’m excited? I now know exactly where I’m throwing away everything I need to discard while in this amazing city; in the single, unmarked trash can in my classroom. I’ll just take the laundry bag from my hotel room, collect my rubbish for the day and discard it here, in this single and very un-confusing trash bin. Apparently, with the purchase of this trash can must come a service of sorting the contents, or, perhaps, when one purchases this trash can you must agree, under some unmentionable penalty, to properly sort the contents into the appropriate receptacle before it is removed from the office suite. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’ve found my solution!
So, what lessons can I take away from my experiences, today? First, if I don’t speak French on a daily basis, I lose the ability to speak French. At all. There are so many things in life that the “use it or lose it” rule applies to; fitness, health, strength, flexibility, mental acumen, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, self-motivation, progress towards our goals and our life purpose. Everything in life worth having requires constant use and practice. Think about it.
My second lesson today; sometimes we have to find a way to apply life’s rules in a manner that best suits our individual needs. Not to cheat, but to find a way to make it all work. What works for one person is not necessarily going to work well for others. When we are looking at boosting our self-esteem, our self-confidence, our self-motivation and our self-discipline, we can read twelve different “self-help” books with twelve different sets of rules and find that no one of them really suits our individual needs. Perhaps we have to combine some ideas from one with ideas from another. The whole point is to find something that, ultimately, works for us, and, to just throw the rest away! Whether we’re going to discard the unwanted items in the compost bin, the recycle bin or the trash bin is up to our interpretation, too!
Today marked a day that I really, truly, didn’t think would play out the way it did, which caused some self-reflection, but only after a few moments of self-pity.
I shall explain.
I’ve spoken of my cousin, the one I am so very grateful for, having looked out after my parents during my dad’s final months, and now, looks out for my mom when I am “twirling through the universe”, as her voicemail greeting goes. She is eccentric, an artist. I think the whole family, with the possible exception of my father, is eccentric. That’s where I get it. I’m eccentric. I will gladly admit it. I like to refer to it in a slightly more socially acceptable manner as “creative.” The women in this family tend to be outspoken and yet mysterious, passionate and yet reserved, intelligent, without a “yet” attached to it, creative, and prone to wear either dark colors, animal prints, unusual styles or, all of the above simultaneously. We rarely go unnoticed.
There is another cousin, older than the one I’ve spoken fondly of, by a few years. I do not know her as well, for a few reasons. One, she has no children my age, in fact, she has no children at all. Second, she twirled about the universe with her wealthy (from oil, I think), British husband for most of my childhood. Third, she usually was not present at family gatherings because she was at odds with someone for something or other. I failed to mention that we are all extremely sensitive. If there is a sensitivity gene, it is double dominant in this family.
While I have been out twirling about the universe, cousin one and cousin two, have, on occasion, been taking my mother out to lunch, with some unrelated party named Barbara, at Chez Panisse, you know, Chez Panisse of the Alice Waters, world famous chef, Chez Panisse. Chez Panisse as in in Berkeley Chez Panisse, and I was born in Berkeley, so have some God-given birthright to dine at Chez Panisse, Chez Panisse! I have never eaten at Chez Panisse and I am dying to go, as in, I would donate all my worldly possession for a meal at Chez Panisse. Okay, so all my worldly possessions would barely cover my lunch tab at Chez Panisse. But, still. I. Want. To. Go.
Today, my mom was to go to lunch with my cousins, and Barbara, to Chez Panisse. And I wasn’t traveling! I was here! I thought I could go. It seems I wasn’t invited. How could I not be invited? I’m a cousin! My mother even said, “You weren’t invited.” I was perplexed. I figured it was just an oversight. And Mom is way too awkward, socially, to navigate this kind of territory with any tact or acumen, so she was of little help and actually managed to make me feel worse. More than once. I got my social awkwardness gene from her. She tries, as do I, but we are just wired in a way that makes us come off as cute, but awkward, she, a bit more than me. At least in my opinion. She didn’t want to go, for all the same, lame excuse/reasons she offers for everything; my cane, getting in and out of the car, the stairs, walking, etc. She even said she didn’t want to go because her table manners have deteriorated with her age. As long as she doesn’t do that hiccup-burp thing she did at breakfast this morning, in pubic, she’ll be fine. I almost lost my granola. Anyway, she didn’t want to go. She even wanted me to call my older cousin, over the weekend, to tell her she wouldn’t go, because she was momentarily deaf. I procrastinated, didn’t call, and she kind of had to go. I’d gladly go to Chez Panisse, deaf, dumb, blind, and limbless. I can’t think of a good excuse to not go, other than not being invited.
I should have gone anyway, by myself. Damn! Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
My cousin, the one cousin, picked Mom up on her way to Chez Panisse, from Sonoma, where she lives. I’d actually planned on being somewhere else; out running, or at a coffee shop, working. Because I stayed up too late, I was still at home, only minutes from being ready to go. My ulterior motive was to be here, and ready, and to be invited lunch, because of the obvious oversight. So, yes, I was here, and ready, but was not invited. Damn. I really wasn’t invited. And this was the catalyst for a whole bunch of thought and self-reflection today.
I got left home like Cinderella on the night of the ball. And I don’t even have any fairy godmothers to make me a fab dress. Nor pet mice, for which I am grateful.
So, after Mom left, unwillingly, for her lunch at Chez Panisse, after I tied her scarlet red scarf, and all, I went to a different coffee shop, Ritual Coffee Roasters, at Oxbow Public Market in Napa, to work, to read, to people watch, to drink another decaf coffee concoction for four dollars of my hard earned money, plus tip, to write, and to reflect and try to pull myself out of my funk. Maybe, like Cinderella, a sparkly new pair of shoes were the ticket to better tidings. Or not.
Whatever. I may say it, I don’t’ live it. Sometimes I really wish I didn’t care. I do. I may act like it doesn’t matter. It does. I’ve got that sensitivity gene, remember?
Upon much thought, contemplation and discernment, I think I figured it out; older cousin is angry with me because I won’t find joy. I mean, Joy. Not joy as in elation, happiness, a desirable emotion or state, as in a half-sister I’ve never met.
This will also explain why it is my first cousins are that much older than me. My parents found each other later in life, after both being divorced from previous marriages. As a result of, or perhaps reason for, my dad’s first union, there was a daughter. Joy. And, for a time, my older cousin lived across the street from her, as a child, and was close with her.
Growing up as an only child, I wanted nothing more than to have siblings. I’d even ask Santa Claus for siblings for Christmas. At some point, I became aware of Joy and always assumed, naively, at some point, she’d be a part of my life. When my grandmother died, the cousins were allowed to walk through her apartment and take things we were most fond of. I acquired a picture of Joy, probably about age four or five years old. I was amazed by her long, blonde hair, which, in the picture, was worn in loose ringlet curls. My mystery sister.
After Joy’s birth, my dad enlisted and went to England during World War II, where he served, working on the instruments of B-24 Liberator aircraft. During his absence, so I’ve been told, his wife took up with another man, there was a divorce, and it was believed that Joy never knew my father was, in fact, her father. For my dad’s entire life, he thought, he hoped, that Joy would find out about him, search for him, find him and make contact. He didn’t want to initiate the contact, he wanted it to come from her.
A few years before Dad passed away, a letter arrived, from Joy. She said that her father, the man she believed to be her father, had passed away, and, that out of respect for him, she had waited to confirm what she always suspected, that my dad was her biological father. She had some questions and offered her phone number for a conversation. Dad called her. I wasn’t present, so I only know what I’ve been told, but it seems her only questions centered around whether he had heart disease, as her son had developed some issues that were thought to be hereditary. He, in fact, did. She asked if he’d had any other children, and so she learned of me, and the fact that I don’t have heart disease. When she found out I was about the same age as her son, she scoffed. Or so I was told. Whatever. As the conversation concluded, my dad asked, hopeful, whether she would like to meet sometime. She said “no”, and his heart was broken, again, or still.
When my father passed away, we held a small family service. My aunt and uncle and a couple of cousins from my mom’s side of the family were there, as were the cousins from my dad’s side of the family. All in one place, which was a first and had always seemed highly unlikely no matter the course of events that led to it. My dad’s side of the family I always thought of in one respect, truthfully, a rather dark respect, my mom’s side of the family, in another, more enlightened respect. My dad’s side of the family being of French descent, we are dark in color. But that is not the darkness of which I speak, there was often quarrelling and hurt feelings. As mentioned above. All of the family gatherings were held at my aunt and uncle’s house, which, itself was very dark and crowded and was situated in a crime-ridden and undesirable East Bay town. The family room had red and black shag carpet, heavy dark, red drapes and black faux leather furnishings, lending, I’m sure, more to the dark perception of the family and my memories more than the people and events, I’m certain. Gatherings consisted of some kind of meal and lots of alcohol, I’m sure, fueling a lot of the sensitivity and discord, and all consumed in the dungeon-like setting.
My mom’s side of the family, mostly fair-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed, always gathered at churches, parks, and brightly lit homes, usually in sunny and beautiful Colorado, or here, at my parents’ home. The perception of that family, therefore was always one of lightness and brightness, picnics and potlucks.
For these two families to meet was sort of a trip. I really didn’t quite know what to expect. It was, actually, all lovely, and as the aunt and uncle from the “dark side”, with the dark family room, have long since passed, some of the darkness, I hate to say, has subsided. But, as we rose to leave the restaurant, my older of the two first cousins came up to me and said, “I hope you’ll find joy.” I smiled and said, “Thank you, you, too.” I thought she wanted me to be happy, which I was, even in light of Dad’s passing. Her sentiment, I thought, was kind, a little strange, but kind. She departed, and, looking back on it, she had an odd expression on her face as she walked out. It was shortly thereafter that it occurred to me, she wanted me to find Joy, my half-sister, not a feeling of happiness. Oh. I think I’ll stick with the first joy and forgo the second Joy. For now, for many reasons, but mostly out of respect for my dad.
So, I wasn’t invited to lunch by my older first cousin, and I was really pretty bummed. Sad, actually. I didn’t really piece the likely cause together until after Mom left with the younger of my older cousins, the one that likes me. Whatever. So, I’m on the shit list and I’m not likely to remove myself from said list. So, I pouted for a while. I was being sensitive. When Mom returned home she began to regale me with every detail of every bite she took, every word that was said, which, honestly, I really didn’t want to hear. I wasn’t invited. I pouted some more. Then I drank some fantastic wine, finished up a couple of projects and talked to my Sweetie on the phone, all of which kind of cheered me up. Kind of. But I miss my Sweetie, and being a little down to begin with, it struck me more markedly today, so I got kind of sad again. But he made me laugh, my Prince Charming, and I had a second glass of wine, and headed off to bed for, hopefully, a decent night’s sleep. Before turning off the light, I spent some time reflecting on the reasons for my sadness and, as I routinely do, I jotted down all the things I am grateful for in my journal.
So, the thought for the day; is it okay to be sad? Certainly. Sadness is a real, human emotion. It is fine to be sad, on occasion, for a brief period, and really, probably isn’t something we can completely avoid or prevent from ever occurring, no matter how positive a mindset we have. But, chronic, long-term, and overwhelming sadness is not something we should be feeling and not something we should have to endure. If sadness is more than fleeting, as a co-worker of mine often says, “it’s a ‘you’ problem”. I know, it sounds harsh, but it is the truth. If sadness is chronic and is more than just fleeting, if sadness is a fairly common feeling, or is ever overwhelming, then the reasons for the negative emotion need to be uncovered and rectified.
Many people are prone to chronic and overwhelming sadness out of a lack of self-respect, because of low self-esteem, we think poorly of ourselves; that we are incapable, unlovable, unattractive, unintelligent, we are mean to ourselves in thought, action and deed, and we suffer as a result, at our own hands. Those who lack self-respect and self-esteem are often disrespected by those in their lives; spouses, parents, children, bosses, coworkers, and friends, adding to the burden. When we respect ourselves, others are more likely to follow suit. Think about it, if we can’t even respect ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to respect us? It begins with us. Respect begins within and self-respect and self-esteem are the foundation for happiness. Self-respect and self-esteem are the destroyers of chronic sadness.
So, tonight, I will sleep, having taken a few moments to recollect all that I am grateful for. Sleep, with the aid of gratitude, and two fantastic glasses of wine, will begin to blur my conscious and I will rest my mind, my body and my soul. Tomorrow, I am certain, I will arise with a smile on my face and a smile in my heart. Gratitude is the champion over any fleeting and trivial sadness.
It’s that time of year, my favorite time of year. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. I agree. Presently, on a cool October morning, overcast, damp and chilly, I sit in a coffee shop in Downtown Napa, writing, sipping and getting things organized for the rest of the day and for the upcoming weekend. It is warm and cozy and smells divine in here. There is enough activity to be interesting, but not so noisy to be overwhelming.
On my list of things to do today is to dig up the pumpkin soup recipe I made, traditionally, for many years, before the kids went out trick or treating on Halloween. I always believed in family dinners and pulled them off on a regular basis, until both kids were in high school and we had multiple activities in multiple directions, every night of the week. So, even on Halloween, for many, many years, there was a family meal. We’d have my pumpkin soup and the kids would be off to trick or treat. I usually stayed home, dressed as Morticia from the Addams Family, answered the door and doled out candy. It was our tradition. My soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook. I have many, many cookbooks. I love cookbooks, really good, quality cookbooks by esteemed chefs. I like to browse through them, given the time, especially when preparing to entertain. I read them like novels and sometimes I will find myself amidst a pile of cookbooks and half an afternoon has vanished.
My pumpkin soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook, the one cookbook I always reach for first, my “go to” guide to all things kitchen. Fannie Farmer, revised by Marion Cunningham. There may be a newer version out there, mine is pretty faded, splotched and tattered from many years of use, but it is this book I love, no matter its antiquity.
My mom has her favorite cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens one. She gave me a copy, too, when I went off to college, I think, but I no longer have it. My man has his favorite cookbook, always on the windowsill, at the ready, “The Joy of Cooking”, his “go-to “guide, that, and anything that Jacques Pepin said, ever. No complaints, no complaints, he is a master in the kitchen and never have I been disappointed.
There is a “neighborhood” wine tasting party in his neighborhood in a couple of weeks. Sadly, I won’t be there to attend, but he’d mentioned maybe making pumpkin soup, so, I thought I’d send him my recipe, I mean Fannie’s recipe, or Marion’s. The recipe I’ve used many, many times. We’ll leave it at that. The recipe I use calls for canned pumpkin puree, which is fine and, even by my standards, can be obtained in a suitably organic, sustainable variety. Otherwise, I’m not much of one for canned food. I buy organic canned tomato sauce and fire roasted tomatoes from Whole Foods for a fast, weeknight spaghetti sauce, but, generally, I prefer fresh. I thought I’d look up pumpkin soup recipes on my favorite “go-to” online recipe resource, AllRecipes.com, and I found pages and pages and pages of pumpkin soup recipe. I only wanted one, one that used fresh pumpkin, as an alternative to my recipe and the canned pumpkin puree. Pages and pages and pages, and many of them with many reviews and many stars, which would be my obvious selection criteria. I mean, really, who would choose to use a recipe that had only a few stars, or none, and only a few reviews, or none? My point, exactly.
So, today, at some point, I am going to gather up two recipes for pumpkin soup, the one I’ve used with fantastic results for many, many years and another that I decide on from AllRecipes.com, I’m going to tuck them into a sweet, romantic card I’ll find, no doubt, at Target, fill it with mushy musings, and address it to my Sweetie, far, far away.
Recipes. It occurs to me that recipes are much like life. Think about it.
We are all trying to piece together a life for ourselves that ends up like a beautiful cake, the perfect crumb, texture, moistness, flavor, the loveliest icing, decoration, and garnish. There are as many lovely cake recipes as there are people on the planet, I’m nearly certain, if, ever, you could gather together every known cake recipe of all time. I mean, I have “The Cake Bible” and in my entire life I don’t think I could ever bake every recipe in that one book alone, though the idea intrigues me in a “Julie and Julia” kind of way. Food for thought, no pun intended, and you know, I am the Queen of Puns.
If I were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of my dreams and you were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of your dreams, I’m 99.9% certain we’d have different recipes and that our idea of the cake of our dreams would differ considerably as well. So it is with finding the recipe for our perfect life. We all have unique, individual ideas of what “our perfect life” would be, and even over time, our ideas are certain to change. Just like I may decide carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is my favorite, I may change my mind, at some point, and declare red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting my favorite. That’s okay, our goals, purpose and passions in life change like our preference for dessert, but, generally speaking, we have a few favorites we are always happy to see on the dessert menu!
If I were to make a carrot cake or a red velvet cake, again, there’d be countless recipes from which to choose, and each would be a different combination of different quantities of ingredients. Almost certainly, for carrot cake and for red velvet cake, there’d be common ingredients across a majority of the recipes; flour and sugar, for example. Again, so it is with building our perfect life, there are likely to be key ingredients we are going to want to include for best results.
So, if I wanted to piece together a perfect life, what would my recipe look like? That’s the first question, always, what kind of cake do I want? There are several ways to approach selecting a recipe, one is to consider the ingredients you already have on hand, the number of people you intend to feed, the cost, the nutritional value, another is to see a picture or read a recipe, and no matter the contents or cost, that’s what you want to bake!
With choosing the recipe for our perfect life, then, do we consider the ingredients we already have on hand? Or do we start from scratch using the pretty picture and yummy sounding recipe as inspiration? That, you must decide. Do the ingredients in your life, now, include things you want in your final recipe? Your home, your family, your career? Likely so. Or, are you in a place where you are gathering those ingredients up and don’t have them on hand, just yet? You see what I say?
There are going to be those secret ingredients, too, that all good cooks have, that ensure their success. A dear friend of mine, one I’ve known since kindergarten, is a well-known, successful pastry chef. She has always loved to cook and to bake, even as kids, she’d come over to my house after school, now and then, and we’d get out my Betty Crocker Cook Book for children and we’d whip up a batch of cookie dough. We’d practice our fractions and halve the recipe, or quarter it, and, once in a while, we’d even bake the cookie dough. Usually not. Anyway, she went on to enter the Napa Town and Country Fair cake decorating category every year beginning in high school, and she’d win. She decorated cakes for all us girls for birthdays and other occasions. She graduated to baking cakes, having attended a culinary program at a nearby community college, and, year after year, her cakes won at the local fair. She’d be asked to produce a recipe, which she had, in her mind and would have to transcribe it in written form to be published in The Napa Register. Every year she won, and every year, it was, essentially, the same cake recipe. Chocolate with a rich, chocolate filling and frosting. Her success was in the quality of her recipe, and she applied it consistently, and won. Consistently. She has since gone on to accomplish great things, I’ve seen her name listed in Gourmet Magazine a time or two, which considering the number of pastry chefs in Napa alone, is quite an accomplishment.
So, what’s your recipe? Mine includes the following ingredients:
I decorate my cake with carefully selected ingredients, including:
Every now and then, I have to adjust the ingredients a little, add a little more self-confidence and a little less action, or I may re-evaluate my roles and goals, but, in the end, the same key ingredients are always in my recipe. And that is my recipe for personal success, that’s how I piece together my perfect cake.
When you look at the ingredients list, though, each and every one of those ingredients are rare and somewhat elusive. Like making an exquisite cake, some of the ingredients may be very hard to find, very hard to come by. We often struggle with identifying our passion, but we must in order to find our purpose. We have to know our roles in order to be able to identify our goals. All of this takes time, a lot of discernment, constant consideration and occasional adjustment. Other ingredients will need to be continually replaced, refreshed. You’d never use old eggs or outdated cream in your cake recipe, would you? Likewise, my self-esteem, self-confidence, inspiration and enthusiasm need to be refreshed daily, for best results.
And your recipe may differ from mine in the source of your ingredients, though, in all likelihood, the same key ingredients will be there. You must have passion and purpose, you absolutely require values and guiding principles, and I can’t imagine a recipe not including roles and goals. None of these key ingredients are going to mix well and rise properly without self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, and inspiration. And it all requires action, like baking the ingredients, otherwise, you’ve just got batter!
As we become comfortable in the kitchen, the recipes we use regularly are rarely written down. I’m fairly certain that most of the meals we cook, nightly, week in and week out are not carefully measured and read out of a cook book. We know how much salt, pepper, and smoked paprika we like on our pork chops, we aren’t measuring an eighth of a teaspoon of each, precisely, based on the written recipe. And I’m sure we all use slightly different amounts of slightly different ingredients. The results are all good, I bet I’d like your pork chops nearly as much as mine. My point here, is that our daily recipes, our most successful and relied upon recipes, are from memory, are so familiar and reliable that they are comfortable to us, and we don’t have to labor over specific instruction to prepare them. And, our daily recipes that we are so comfortable with, that we rely on for sustenance, regularly, are completely individual and unique, as each of us are as humans. We are all masters in our own kitchens, we all have our unique masterpieces. My Sweetie and I both love to cook, when he cooks he does things his way and the result is fantastic. When I cook, I do things as I’ve always done, and the results are wonderful, if I do say so myself. We do things differently for different reasons, based on different resources and preferences, neither of us is more or less right, just unique, just individual preference, just habit.
So, whatever you come up with, ultimately, as your recipe for your perfect life may contain many of the same ingredients as mine, but as master of your own kitchen, you may use a whisk where I’d use a wooden spoon, you may use Canola oil where I’d use EVOO. The results of both will be extraordinary, guaranteed, but unique, I promise. Put your apron on, read a few cookbooks for inspiration, and get cooking. Life was never meant to be just batter, but better. You can have your cake and eat it, too!
You hear a lot these days about having a “healthy body image”. I need clarification. Does that mean we should be healthy about our body image as is, or should we have an image of ourselves healthy? Having struggled with this in the past a bit myself, I really think the latter should be the goal. I think it is important to love your body enough to want to make it healthy. I think in making an effort to evolve into more healthy ways, for the sake of our bodies, it is important to nurture and care for, appreciate and savor, in every positive nuance, every positive change.
We were all given a body to carry us through our lives. I, personally, choose to do everything in my power to make it and keep it has healthy as possible. That I think healthy bodies are more attractive is my opinion. That someone else prefers a more voluptuous physique is their opinion. To me, it does not come down to just shape or size, it comes down to health. It is absolutely and irrefutably proven that excess body weight, or voluptuousness, if you prefer, is less healthy and is linked to an increased risk of long-term health conditions, disease and even early mortality. Like my car, I do all the suggested maintenance so that it will last me as long as possible. And not cost me a ton of money to fix. Or suffer an early, untimely demise. But that is my opinion, again. Your opinion matters as much and may differ from mine. Ultimately, the point I want to impress upon you is that one of the biggest factors in self-confidence, a healthy self-esteem, happiness and fulfillment is going to be a healthy body image.
Stick thin, muscular or voluptuous aside, whatever you are, whatever you prefer for yourself, be proud of it and be proud of where you’re at in the process of becoming healthier, if that is your goal. Revel in the glory that is you and your journey if you choose to embark on one. If you are making an effort to evolve, no doubt, whether visible or not, your body is better today than it was yesterday. If you are happy with where you’re at, then rejoice and celebrate. The important thing is to love your body for what it is and what it does. If it looks like you want it to, fantastic. If it doesn’t, and you have realistic goals for how you want it to look, then worship your body by committing to those goals. In other words, no matter what your body looks like right now, love it. It is your home, a house for your soul. The one you get. The only one you get. And, like a house, if you don’t like the one you have, the best you can do is move. If you don’t like the body you see right now, then move. Get it?
What matters most, is that you are happy, comfortable, healthy and confident in the body you have. And if you aren’t, you need to find a way to get there.
I have a friend, I’ve known her for over twenty years, which is about how old she was when we first met. She has the healthiest body image of anyone I have ever met. She is absolutely confident and happy with every, single part of her body. She dresses to accentuate the good and to reveal the best. That she dresses flamboyantly may be an understatement, but she illuminates every room she walks into with her confidence first, and the vibrant hue of her attire second. I have never seen her tug uncomfortably at any article of clothing to hide or camouflage any part of her figure, though it is good, great even, it is certainly not perfect. I have never seen her strike a strategic posture to mask something about her figure she was uncomfortable with. In the twenty some years I’ve know her, she has matured from barely past teenage to a woman, a mother and now a forty-something. And through that all, yes, there have been some additional pounds here and there, but still, she is fit, she is healthy, she is very physically active and, most important, she is as confident with her body image as ever. We should all want to be like that!
Really, we should, and I do. It is something I am making an effort to evolve towards, a healthier body image. I’m doing pretty well. At the very least, I have a clean and healthy lifestyle, with the possible exception of punishing my body with a little more wine than I should, here and there. With a great deal of commitment, and effort, I have a lifestyle that allows me to enjoy wearing the same size jeans I did in high school. This has not always been the case, I sort of lost my healthy body and healthy body image there for a decade. A decade and a half, if we’re being totally accurate. But, overall, I am pleased. I do my best to focus on the positive I see in myself; the way my jeans fit, my waistline, the tone in my arms and the shapeliness of my calves. I try not to focus on the things I can’t change or that will take longer to change; a scar, a stretch mark or two, the lack of tone in certain stubborn areas. I am, we are all, a work in progress, and just like any work of art, from the first brush stroke, from the first pinch of the clay, the first twist of wire, the first form of the glass, it is absolute beauty and only bound to improve with more work. Remember that.
Strategies for improving your body image:
Find a dream body double, someone, a celebrity or an athlete, whose body you admire, whose general physique is similar to your own. I admire Jennifer Aniston, Sophia Vergara, Eva Mendez, Jillian Michaels and Cameron Diaz. I know I will never have a body like Sophia Vergara. Never. I’d like a body like Jennifer, Eva, Jillian or Cameron, and while I may never achieve exactly that, it is not a totally unreasonable goal for me. Once you’ve selected some dream body doubles of your own, and, yes, I will share mine, if you like, go to Google Images and look at pictures of your body double, consider that your dream body image “goal”, if not your actual body composition goal. Notice how confident they look, so comfortable with who they are and how they look. Practice that. Learn to become so comfortable with who you are, in your body, that you can confidently look into the mirror, the camera, or just walk down the street, as you. So, when I look in the mirror, when I get dressed in the morning and undressed at night, I look in the mirror and see me, as Eva Mendez. Splendid!
For the ladies; I read a sensational book, and highly recommend it, “Veronica Monet’s Sex Secrets of Escorts: What Men Really Want”. It is a little racy, a little graphic, but, it is also full of fabulous suggestions and solid advice for acquiring a healthier body image, among other things. From looking at yourself in the mirror, to dressing yourself up, to taking pictures of yourself, all of which I have done, and do, and find incredibly empowering and rewarding. Once you get used to it. I have mirrors in every room, more than one. I make sure I can see a reflection of myself in almost every room I enter. It is against all things Feng Shui, but in this case, I will exercise my veto. The mirrors are a way to become more accustomed to you, your expressions, how you look. It is amazing how we are sometimes taken by surprise at our appearance if we aren’t accustomed to really seeing it frequently. Pictures provide a great benefit, as well. I try to take at least on “selfie” a day, either with my phone, my video camera or my computer camera. I have a whole gallery. And in that gallery of self, I can see the progression of self-confidence, the comfort I have gained with the camera and angles and lighting, make up, my hairstyles. I am okay with looking at me. I know this may come across as vanity, but it is really only an exercise in self-confidence. It isn’t vain to be comfortable with how you look, and to be accustomed to how you look in a mirror, on video, or in a picture. I cringe worse when I am around someone who gasps in horror when they see a picture of themselves, “I didn’t know I look like that!” than when I’m around people who are, perhaps, a little over-confident.
Know thyself. Another lesson from Veronica, but works for both genders. Learn about your individual body, its nuances, needs, preferences. Do whatever it takes, if you know what I mean. She recommends, “exploring” yourself, and, even, if you’re comfortable with it, watching some, yes, I’m going to say it, porn. The idea is to become more comfortable with our own sexuality, our sensuality, our power as a “goddess” (or god). Building our sexual confidence enhances our body image much more than we realize. There is a great deal of power, confidence and self-esteem derived from the fact that we are comfortable with ourselves in our sexual experiences. Men and women both prefer sexually confident partners in study after study after study. And knowing what you like, how you work, individually, and how to draw from your own power as “goddess” (or god) will enhance your enjoyment, as well, further inflating your body image. When we are more comfortable with our sexuality, which is something, sadly, that our society almost frowns upon, we become more empowered, more fulfilled, more attractive, have more enjoyable experiences and enhanced relationships by being more sensual, more knowledgeable and more confident.
On a tamer note; dress up, not down. No matter your size, your shape, your weight or your muscle tone, dress it up. Disguising your low self-esteem and poor body image in shapeless clothing only makes you feel worse. Clothing, fashion and all the wonders that go along with it are one of the biggest, simplest boosts to self-esteem we can garner. This is the one “immediate” fix, it may be the first step in the process to becoming the confident, diva, goddess (manly, god) you have locked inside of you. There are so many folks out there who hide behind a wall of fabric, cower in unshapely clothes and only dream of some far off day where they can wear “clothes like that”. Wear the damn clothes! Now! There are very fashionable, attractive clothes in every size and shape, made specifically to enhance and conquer! We’re talking swimsuits, pretty lingerie, jeans, dresses, blouses, shirts, suits, camisoles, whatever. Many fashion magazines have entire sections devoted to fashion for every body type. No one is discriminated against in the world of fashion anymore. Truly. A little wardrobe makeover and I guarantee, your body image will instantly improve enough you’ll want to take the next step.
Whether you are happy with the general shape of things, or if you plan to downsize or remain a plus size, matters not. We are all powerful, diva goddesses (or powerful, manly, deities, guys) and deserve to live a life with a healthy body image. Take some steps, read some books, some fashion magazines, search out other resources for positive advice for improving your body image. It is likely the single most important step in gaining the confidence we need to rule the world and to evolve into the happy, confident, fulfilled person we deserve to be.
I read a story about Marilyn Monroe the other day. In the height of her fame, she was in New York City and rode the subway without anyone recognizing her. She was not disguised in any way, but was able to stand at Grand Central Station waiting for the train, then ride for several stops without being noticed. She had a photographer and a magazine editor with her and her point was, she could be glamorous and famous or ordinary and unnoticed, at will. She had charisma, which is derived from self-esteem and self-awareness. And she was in control of how she projected that charisma. When she exited the train, with the flick of a switch, like a light bulb, Marilyn became Marilyn again, deliberately, and was instantly mobbed by fans.
Today is a day I’d like to ride the train unnoticed. Not that I have any number of fans who may otherwise mob me. But I feel like lying low. I, truthfully, just want to spend some quality time with my favorite person. Me. I need some me time. Is there something wrong with what I said? Should we not consider ourselves one of our favorite people? Certainly, when trying to improve our self-esteem, our self-confidence and our self-awareness we must acknowledge that we are pretty cool people, right? Isn’t that part of the point, to develop self-respect, self-acceptance and a healthy self-image?
During the course of any one day, we are frequently picked away at by little, petty nigglings and naggings by the people in our lives, the people we love and who love us in return, our mob of fans. It is common, natural and normal, for people to try to influence our behavior to a manner that suits their liking a bit more. It is common, natural and normal for people close to us to offer constructive criticism, well meaning, of course. It is common, natural and normal to become the sounding board for every ache, pain, indiscretion, injustice or fleeting thought for those close to us. And it is common, natural and normal to want, need and to seek respite from all of that, on occasion. Today is that day.
In respite, I want to nurture myself with quiet thought and reflection on all the input from the past days, weeks, months. In respite, I want to consider, or reconsider, the path I am on, the goals I’ve committed to, the actions I’ve taken and those I’ve planned, to assure myself that I am still on track, that my goals are still true. In respite I want to remind myself that I don’t require anyone or anything external to “make me” happy, fulfilled, or complete. I don’t need wealth, I don’t need material possessions, expensive cars, big houses, vacation homes, extravagant gifts, presents, jewelry, greeting cards, frequent text messages, birthday parties, phone calls, flowers, plans on my calendar, the DVD box set of Friends, or even shoes, to make me feel better or better about myself. Everything I need, everything I require, for genuine happiness and fulfillment exists within me and at this precise moment in time. Now. I only need to acknowledge that fact to unleash it and let it be true.
I know this, I have known this for a very long time. I have practiced this, but in the din of daily life, I occasionally fall out of practice and look outward, from inside, in search of something to satiate me. And nothing does. Nothing can. Everything, if that were even possible, couldn’t. Not that I will turn away from family, friends, loved ones, my career, or my desires, no, but I need only remind myself that my true, genuine happiness does not come from those people or those things, they are just the gravy on the potatoes. The potatoes being, simply, myself. And in acknowledgement of these facts, and with practice of that acknowledgement, on a regular basis, all those other things will likely manifest. It is true.
It is my belief that much of the pain, unhappiness and discontent in the world around us is from lacking. From lacking of the importance of self. From lacking self-esteem. This being the same pain, unhappiness and discontent, the same feeling of lacking, that sends millions upon millions of people to the doctor with the name of that new pharmaceutical miracle pill they saw on television last night. The pill that leads one to believe that life is a sunshiny, slow motion, graceful run through fields of wild flowers once said pill has been ingested. Like diet pills and miracle cures, happy pills won’t provide what only oneself can. The sooner we all just stop, look and listen, the sooner we will find what it is we long for. It is all inside and the only intervention required is the time and reflection necessary to acknowledge this and practice it. Are you on the inside, looking out for what you think you need to fill you up? Or are you looking inward to find exactly everything you’ll ever need, want or require?
Sadly, even Marilyn Monroe did not understand this fact. And though she had charisma, which comes from self-esteem, and a strong self-awareness, as evidenced by her subway ride, throughout her life, she was looking outward for fulfillment and satiation, which despite having fame and fortune and seemingly “everything”, she failed to ever find. And it destroyed her.
And so my day of going unnoticed on the train was fruitful. I feel revived and rejuvenated, relaxed and in charge, happier and more fulfilled, returning home long after dark, a long day with my favorite person. Me.
This day was so extremely ordinary I really don’t have much to say.
Yah, right, like that’s ever going to happen!
So my day went like this; I got up. I worked. I ate dinner. I watched Modern Family re-runs on Netflix and totally justified not working out. I was a little sore. And tired because I didn’t sleep well last night, and I had to get up so early this morning. So, I chatted on the phone. I read for a while. I am headed off to bed.
And I was a little disappointed with my day because of its complete and total lack of luster and sparkle. So what’s missing here? One can’t go wine tasting and skydiving and canoeing every day. Okay, so yes, one could, but not most of us and certainly not all the time. There is a time and a place for ordinary days. I guess, really, ordinary days make magical days all that much more magical. If magical were the ordinary then we wouldn’t know or appreciate what was magical. Do I make any sense here? Perhaps I’m having magical withdrawals. Am I addicted to magical? Is there a twelve-step program for that?
So, if an ordinary day is so ordinary as to make one feel disappointed, then what’s missing?
Two things I can think of right away; gratitude and self-discipline.
I have had ordinary days where I only worked and ate and read and slept and have felt accomplished and amazing. The difference between those hundreds or even thousands of ordinary days and today could only come down to the fact that I didn’t set aside that twenty minutes this morning, or for quite a few mornings now, to write down, yes, with a pen and paper, the things I am grateful for. This single, simple mechanical exercise really, truly helps put things in focus and brings more clarity to my purpose for the day, no matter how mundane.
As to self-discipline; carrying through with one’s intentions, based on roles, goals and guiding principles, on a daily basis, reinforces one’s self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. I know it is impossible to accomplish big or ongoing goals in the course of one, ordinary day. But few days should pass without some forward motion. Today passed with very little forward motion and the justification that my intentions for self-improvement today were not all that vital. Had I followed through with my intent of doing some sort of vigorous physical activity, I am quite sure I would have felt a genuine sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.
Self-discipline also comes into play with setting aside that special, quiet time each and every morning to write those important thoughts down; things we are grateful for, our “ONE thing” for the day, and thoughts and intentions towards our effort to evolve. Falling out of this practice, much like not going to the gym, undermines my self-esteem. I thrive on the quiet, contemplative exercise of focusing my thoughts, my cares and my intentions. I also thrive on a good, hard work out. That I haven’t really been doing either, regularly, has to be one of the reasons for this funk.
Tomorrow is a new day and one that, no matter how ordinary, I intend to sprinkle some magic into with gratitude and a little self-discipline.