Midlife Madness? Musings from the Cusp

What happens when, at mid-life, you wake up feeling that there must be something more? this is Anne’s story. She’s now 54, long-divorced with one adult daughter.

Here’s a short career short synopsis:
From jet mechanic in the military to legal secretary to sales professional to sales management back to sales professional. And there’s a huge difference between managing and being part of a team.

In her last career, she was doing recycling – “which is pretty much, you know, what kind of trash can I buy? And now I’m doing technology sales.”

I got fed up with technology sales. And all of this occurred during my menopause. I’m very serious. All started out at about age 50 – the rollercoaster ride. From a good management position to buying trash to what I’m doing now, which is technology sales.

In technology, recycling is sort of reverse logistics – it’s where I would meet with government – federal and state and I would procure obsolete electronic equipment because there’s a lot of money in electronic equipment. There’s a lot of gold and platinum – they have a value on the market – they’re a commodity. You can’t resell government equipment. You have to break it down into the raw commodities and put it back on the market. Smelt – you know, melt it down so it can be reused. Now on the business-to-business side, which I was not involved in, yes – that’s exactly right – we would broker it out. And whatever was not able to broker out they would strip down.

I moved into technology sales because I was ready for a change, but I don’t like it. I find that these kids – and they are – just kids – they’re half my age and they just don’t get it I was taught that when you’re at a job you run it for profit and you follow business ethics and you don’t cut corners. You don’t cut throats, you respect one another. There’s two type of people – there’s the kind – you know, when you walk into a furniture store and they’re all can I help you, can I help you and then there’s the kind of sales person who wants to build a relationship and develop that relationship. These kids don’t get relationship sales. They have this what’s in it for me mentality and I just got fed up with the whole environment. I was just fed up with these whiny, backstabbing kids. And that’s exactly what – they create drama. But it wasn’t just one company. It’s that – I mean, I’ve had other positions. I’ve some 40, 42, 43 – within this 7 or 8 year stretch – companies that I’ve worked with – these kids – and they are kids – they don’t have what we had. They aren’t taught that businesses are run for profit – that you run it as if it’s your own business – they don’t have that mentality. They have a drama queen mentality.
Well, there’s been a lot written that that generation does things very differently from us.
They do, and I don’t get it. I really and truly don’t get it. It’s a frustration. There is no book out there for our generation to understand their mentality.

I did the recycling thing for a little over a year. And I will share with you that it’s a little like a being a bottom-feeder in the food chain because you’re buying trash. I mean, so it’s like from silk dresses to jeans. I mean, literally skirts and the mentality changed too. I mean, it was like going from queen to the ugly one instead of ugly one to queen.
Humbling. Very humbling.

It was a real journey. Yeah – I really started to look at me as me. I mean, me as a bottom-feeder. You know, I guess I really allowed myself to feel kicked down. It lasted until I decided to get back into technology sales. Which was 13 months. And I don’t know if it was brought on by menopause – I mean, I really and truly don’t what brought that on – or post-menopause.I took the job because I was frustrated with dealing with all these kids and the company was – I mean, it wasn’t – it’s like corporate America is just loaded with these kids, and by corporate America, I wasn’t talking about the Cingulars, the Verizons, the AT&Ts, I’m talking about corporate America. I’m talking about the companies that are going after these young kids so that they can hire them for half of what you or I would get.
Sure – and I get that – but why recycling?

So I didn’t realize that was my next journey – my next transition, if you will. And it was a transition, because I did feel completely kicked down. I read a lot of therapy books. And start seeing a psychologist – a psychiatrist . I mean, literally, to pick myself back up. I’ve spent this whole year reading all kinds of books. I read The Art and Science of Communication: Tools for the Effective Communication in the Workplace by P.F. Perkins – she really did do a good job writing about interracial – or different groups – she writes about working with these young kids, The Last Lecture- everybody knows that was a good book, by Randy Pausch, The Secret – and then I found a really good tape called The Secret Things to God – every Sunday now I’m pretty darned religious. I don’t know that that had popped out, but now it’s back in. Keeping the Love You Find, 7 Habits of Effective People, The Power of Positive Thinking, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Giving the Love that Heals. I mean, I was really kicked down. I really, um – Your Perfect Right, which was an excellent book by Albert Nevins.

When I was growing up – and I’m a 60’s child – late 60’s , early 70’s is when I graduated, and coming from California, Haight-Ashbury – and I know that growing up I’d always heard about a generation gap. Well that’s what I feel I’m caught up in right now. It is a generation gap. And that’s what prompted me to start seeing Dr. B – was that there was such a communication gap between myself and my peers and these younger kids.

Let’s just say when you’re kicked down, it’s a a journey to pick yourself back up. It really is. And it’s a lot of self-assessment. And its not so much of looking backwards. Its living in the now and what can I do to adjust to the now.

I read a book called Parent, Adult, Child – and that’s what – what prompted all this. And I must have been just on my 50th birthday or thereabouts. And I picked it up at a garage sale. And I thought, what a good book. And I guess at that point it was just a turning point for me. And I guess I allowed myself to get kicked down. And you know, the job was not bad – it’s not like I was crawling in trash or anything, but I guess I felt kicked down, because I was feeling – I knew it was trash. It was all about association, if that makes any sense to you. And I mean seriously, if you saw my wardrobe – all silk dresses, and some Cappeli’s – I mean, I’ve got some very nice attire here – to go down to buying trash. And I don’t know if it was the hot flashes, the lack of sleep, I mean, I don’t know if it was the whole pre-menopausal that led me to be fed up with corporate America. I don’t know if it was the body changing that led to this escalation. And I do sometimes think about that. And I wonder if there are any studies on that, because I do know that there are hormonal changes. And I opted to not take any hormones. I refuse. Including that Black Cohash. 100 years ago, women didn’t do anything, so why now? I will not – knowing that my grandmother dies of cancer, my grandfather died of cancer. Nope – I will not subject myself to that.

I think I came to terms with me. I’m finally at peace in my journey of life. I’m finally at the level now that I realize that everything is OK. There’s only so much – you know, you and take on jobs and go to work and come home so unfulfilled or you can just say the hell with it. And I did. When I got out of the recycling I didn’t work for three months. I spent a good month and a half not looking for work – just looking at who am I? And journaling who am I? Where do I want to be in life? What are my goals? And it wasn’t work related goals. You know – do I want to have my house paid? Do I want to take trips? Do I want to take life a little easier now? Now that my child is grown and out of the house. Do I even want to own a house any more? And those are the things I’ve evaluating right now and assessing as far as do I want to sell my home.

And do I just want to – and I’m seriously considering – do I want to just get myself a Winnebago and travel the country. I’m seriously considering it. You know, I’ve got a good 20 years left to work, according to Social Security, if we have it last. And I can pick up little odd-and-end jobs – Walmart greeter, waitress, here and there. And just not have any responsibility. I’ve had responsibility for so many years. I’m to the point in my walk of life where I wonder do I want responsibility any more, other than to myself. And owning a home is a responsibility. Or do I want to be free like I was before I got into the working world? So I don’t know why people ever contemplate whether there would be a journey, cause I’m living it right now.

But I am – because that’s where I am – at that cusp – and I think that’s what it is – a cusp of what direction do I want to go now. I’ve worked almost half my life and do I want to work hard the rest of my life to maintain the lifestyle that I have or do I just want to become free? Because I’m not married, and I have that choice.
How does that effect your going back to sales again?

My heart is not in my job. It truly is not. My heart is really weighing towards selling my home and – and getting a Winnebago and just journeying – just travelling and meeting people. You know – living in these HOA parks and just going from park site to park .site. But what keeps me from doing it are these sexual nuts that are out there these days. We didn’t hear about that growing up. We didn’t have that magnitude. And that’s what preventing me from going forward with this particular goal or journey. I’m not sure that the number of sexual predators has increased, its just in the news more.

And I agree, but what’s the volume? You know, we didn’t have the internet, so we couldn’t see how many sex offenders and my past industry was that I was hooking up ex-offenders on the release program. I was setting offenders free. And they were being GPS tracked. So it really made me aware that we’re not talking, you know, that one in every hundred thousand are criminals. So I think that being exposed to that environment was very surreal to me. And maybe that’s what prompted me to getting kicked down. Being that I was around what I was around. I don’t know – I haven’t dug that deep, I guess. All I know is when I got out of the criminal justice system I got into the trash business. That’s the bottom line. Regardless of whether I was selling or buying or whatever, those were the industries. I got out of the criminal justice business into the trash business industry. And now I’m in the school district industry.

I’m selling software to school districts. I’ve always worked selling to state and federal agencies. I’ve always been in sales. But I’m really weighing this HOA camping business. Winnebago – that’s the deal. And I wish I could find another 50+ year old who would like to take that journey with me and just shrug responsibility other than to ourselves.
I’ll bet you can.

I know I’m at a turning point. And I truly believe I’m at a turning point in my life.
If I could, I would go back to school. I mean, to get a Winnebago with the price of gas being so low and sleeping in the Winnebago you know, and buying food and cooking food on gas or a charcoal grill is very cheap to live. You know, you can live on $15 a day. So it can extend out for a long, long time. To go to school, you have to have thousands of dollars or take out thousands of dollars of loans. And at my age the thought of having $20,000 or $30,000 in notes in front of me – it’s just, no, I don’t want that burden. Ten more years and I can go to college free. Ten more years, but I think they should change that rule and make it in the 50’s. You know how they talk about men having that mid-years crisis and men have it in their late 30’s, early 40’s? Well I really believe that women go through it in their 50’s.

I truly believe it and my friends who are in their 50’s are going through the same kind of change that I am and its an unexplainable change. And its not a physical change. Its more of a whole new mental playing field. Its seeing life from a whole different perspective, a whole different vision.

Can’t Get Out? Don’t Want to Shop? Last-Minute Gift Ideas

I recently got an email saying that my Christmas gift would probably be kind of lame this year because the author was having mobility issues. Well, I’m not having a lot of holiday spirit this year, and it’s supposed to be the thought that counts, so the quality of the gift is really of no concern. The message, though, is worth looking at.

This year, my closest friends and I, having long ago concluded that we have too much stuff, decided to make contributions instead. Although I still harbor a not-so-secret desire to have a bunch of people chip in to send a llama in my name through Heifer International, there are plenty of less expensive options. I asked for donations to Occupy Sandy. One friend wants to put desks in classrooms in Malawi. Another will be receiving a thank you note from the Food Bank.

Habitat for Humanity can always use help. So can Meals on Wheels. The list is endless. One of my favorites is Africa Volunteer Corps. Do a quick search on anything that excites you. Another is Frogs Are Green.

Prefer sending a gift? Amazon is a no-brainer. You can send almost anything – or send a gift card with a suggestion. I’ll take all the Kindle gift certificates I can get, thank you. Or pods for my Keurig. Speaking of beverages, Starbucks is a great one-size-fits-all option. Practically every store has an online option – William Sonoma for the foodie, J Crew for clothing, and thousands more. Look for smaller, local merchants in your area. Shop museum stores. I like MoMa a lot.

Surprise someone with a membership or a sponsorship.

Make something. Bake something. I’ll be making chocolate truffles tomorrow for a select few friends and as a hostess gift.

Create a voucher. For my cousins who have everything they want (and who hopefully don’t follow my blog), I’m creating a voucher for lunch with (and hosted by) me.

Be creative. Get excited. What can you add to the list?

WoW – Dina Wilcox Lets Your Brain Explain Itself

Dina Wilcox, is publishing her first book: “Why Do I Feel This Way? What Your Feelings Are Trying To Tell You.” It’s what our brains would tell us about how our feelings work, if they could talk.  She’s a story teller with great stories to tell of how she learned the truth of what goes on with our feelings, emotions, memories, fear, love, joy—even dancing and embarrassment. It’s a nonscience book that has unscientific experiments and a lot to tell, and we don’t have to be scientists to understand any of it.  Ann Fry says:

I’ve read this book and in my opinion is is a trail-blazer — helping us understand “why” and to make sense of it.

Dina, creator of Raising Healthy Voices, explains her mission this way:

At Raising Healthy Voices, we’re out to get people all over the world talking about our brains and our responses to life, the things we have most in common with each other. Why? Because our brains build connections between us. There are the obvious ways–when we see and talk with each other–and there are the not-so-obvious: we dance, feel empathy, and we get embarrassed—yes, did you know that embarrassment, the very moment when your heart races and your face gets hot and red, when you might wish you would just disappear—you are transformed into a great teacher of empathy for the people around you. These connections happen automatically, without our having to decide to do anything. We send each other silent messages all the time. We connect automatically for the survival of the human race.

At Raising Healthy Voices and RHVGlobal, we’re taking connection to the level of consciousness. We’re inviting people all over the world to come together to talk about our feelings, fears, love, memories, thoughts, actions, even consciousness and reality. The more we talk, the more we tap into each other—and the more powerful we become, individually and collectively.

Let the dialogue expand!

Friends (of) … With Benefits

No, not that kind of friends with benefits. This is about the many wonderful organizations that give you wonderful free things in return for your support. On Saturday, I attended a percussion concert at Alice Tully Hall, courtesy of a friend’s contribution to the Julliard Association. Here’s what the membership includes:

Two complimentary tickets by mail for six performances per semester (12 per year). Selection can be made from orchestra, chamber music, and dance performances based on availability.
Access to the Juilliard dining hall in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building adjacent to the School
Advance ticket purchase by mail to Juilliard Opera productions, the Alice Tully Vocal Arts Debut Recital, and the William Petschek Piano Debut Recital
Advance ticket purchase by mail for special Juilliard performances, including Juilliard galas and Carnegie Hall concerts
A subscription to the Members’ Calendar of Events and The Juilliard Journal, published eight times per year

If you prefer art, the Whitney Museum allows you to curate your own membership. This can include

tickets to their summer opening cocktail reception to preview and celebrate our newest exhibitions with other members, curators, and artists
Invitation for two to the annual champagne reception in the Trustee Boardroom for informal mixing and networking
Ongoing invitations to cultural events throughout NYC, including receptions, gallery openings, and art fairs
Two guest passes so you can invite your friends or entertain colleagues
Invitation for two to a Behind-the-Scenes tour of the Museum, including access to normally restricted areas
Exclusive presentations by our curatorial staff with insights on the curatorial process and Q&A
Quarterly recommendations from curators and art insiders about cultural activities not to be missed in NYC

and more.

Interested in dance? Here’s what Alvin Ailey has to offer:

Priority notification of American Ballet Theatre’s Spring Season at the Met
Two (2) passes to a special ABT Working Dress Rehearsal at the Met
Two (2) passes to a Working Dress Rehearsal in selected tour cities
Subscription to ABT’s publication On Point and ABT’s member e-news

The list goes on – and it’s all one search away. There’s community theater; there are local music groups for every taste.

What can you find?

The 55 Days of Christmas? Twelve Survival Tips! (my annual tradition)

And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Did you notice the Christmas decorations going up on Halloween? Did a chill run down your spine? The holiday season seems to be getting longer and longer and shorter. Yes, shorter. Look at the expectations this season puts on you.

Yes, this post is now an annual tradition.

Fifty five days are nowhere near enough to achieve Countess MarthaRachelNigelaPaula FoodNetwork perfection. I’m not sure I’m even up to Real Simple standards. So much to do! Are your cards out? Did you shop ’til you dropped on Black Friday? Did you make wonderful decorations out of recycled materials? Have you picked the absolutely perfect gift for everyone on your list? Do you have color-coordinated wrapping paper, tags, and ribbon? Can you tie a perfect bow?

When will you be having your holiday party? What will you serve? What will you wear to everyone else’s event? Do you know what to tip your hairdresser? What’s the politically correct holiday greeting? So many questions, so little time!

Holiday madness really set in when I visited a friend for Thanksgiving a few years back. She had decided that she didn’t feel up to cooking, so she ordered from her local supermarket. And then began to obsess. It wouldn’t taste good. There wouldn’t be enough. Turkey, cranberry sauce, whole wheat rolls, roasted butternut squash, mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie clearly was not enough for five people.

We added extra side dishes – home made cranberry sauce, candied chestnuts, fruit stuffing, baked onions, candied sweets, baked sweets, peas with fresh mushrooms and three more pies. Oh – and at the last minute she ran back for a turkey breast – just in case.

Everything tasted great, and we all had a good time, but it really made me think about how easy it is to get caught up in holiday excess. So – how will you have a peaceful holiday season? Here are a few simple suggestions.

1. Just like Santa, make a list and check it twice. While you’re checking, do a little reality check. Are you buying gifts for too many people? Are you planning on spending an unrealistic amount on each? Have you burdened yourself with impossible-to-find items? (No, my cousin will probably NOT get that antique fruit bowl this year.)

2. Only accept invitations that make you happy. If that means none, go for it! An unbreakable prior engagement is always a valid excuse. No one needs to know that the engagement may be with your couch.

3. Wear comfortable clothes. Always. Don’t let tight shoes or a dubious neckline spoil your fun.

4. Shop in comfortable shoes. Carry your wallet someplace easy for you to reach but hard for anyone else to get at. Don’t burden yourself down with too many packages.

5. Buy on line. Presents, dinner, cards, reservations – all just a click away.

6. If you must send packages, remember that the Postal Service will now pick up packages at your home.

7. Don’t bake unless you would go into a serious depression if deprived of the experience. If you do bake, set limits. I will never again have more containers of cookies than can fit on a fully extended kitchen table.

8. This one is for next year. Pick up interesting gifts throughout the year. If you travel, this is a great way to have truly unique gifts. Just don’t forget where you put them. Last year I gave several lovely objects I’d bought in Sicily three years ago. I’d put them in a safe place. At least they eventually surfaced.

9. Simplicity is very classy. Repeat that twenty times, then start cutting back on your plans.

10. Gift cards are a wonderful thing. Want to give the perfect gift? Not only are gift cards perfect, but you can fit them in your carry-on luggage.

11. Travel light. Carry your pills, jewelry and one-ounce containers or the liquids you need. Wear something comfortable and a bit classy so that if your luggage is lost you’re reasonably prepared.

12. Block out time on your calendar to do absolutely nothing but take care of yourself – whether that means go to a movie, meditate, get a massage, or just take a nap. Pace yourself.

Turning a Bad Habit Good

Have you ever left home to do one simple thing and return exhausted five or six hours later? For a long time, this was my story. I had a close friend living down the hall and we regularly went grocery shopping and did other errands together. As we headed out to drop off the laundry, one of us would mention that we were near the Italian grocery store, so maybe we could just squeeze that in … and the bakery … and that great discount store … and … and … and. The simplest trip became an excursion. On the way to the Greenmarket, why don’t we stop at the coffee store – and maybe sit down for a cup of something while we’re there. And maybe we can look at that sound system. And the dress I need for the wedding. And stop at the Strand to see what great books are on sale, etc. etc.

It finally occurred to me that this might be a bad habit. It wasn’t serving either one of us well to hold the fantasy that we were doing only one thing. Or that we’d be home in an hour. We left a wake of undone chores and cranky people and usually came home to tired to do anything else.

We learned to set limits. And to stick to them. We set time limits that allowed for some flexibility in terms of the number of activities we might add to the schedule. We set a limit on the number of things we would do and committed to holding ourselves to it. It worked. We had enough flexibility to enjoy ourselves and allow for surprises and reasonable boundaries to keep the rest of our lives on schedule.

Well, recently, I’ve been thinking about an issue that needs resolving. I really enjoy a clean, neat apartment. I hate carving out huge chunks of time for cleaning. And I’m not ready to hire someone to clean for me. Inconvenient. Involves a lot of pre-cleaning. (Yes, you know what I mean.)

I’m recycling my “bad” habit of adding things on to a simple journey. Since coaching and writing are both sedentary occupations, I’m working hard at getting up out of the chair at least every two hours so I don’t turn into a pillar of stone. Why not make that a productive time? Why not add a little housekeeping to each walk through the apartment? So, I’m back to adopting the add on routine. Now, whenever I get up, I find one thing that needs to be returned to it’s proper home or one thing that can be dusted or cleaned or recycled. Instead of spending half a day cleaning, I’m spending a manageable 30 minutes to an hour a day without even noticing it.

Hey, it’s working! I don’t notice the time invested in this way and the place is looking good. It’s almost better than magic elves coming in the middle of the night. I’m going to apply it to work projects I dislike as well.

Living In a Disposable World

Somehow, it seems that fewer and fewer things are built to last. Phones change from month to month. Computers need constant updating – and, after a while, they don’t support yet another update so you need a new one. It’s often less expensive to replace things than to repair them.

Lately, clothing has taken this trend towards disposability further than ever. Chains like Zara and H & M trade on the need for whatever is new and trendy. Zara’s strategy is to have a smaller inventory with a shorter shelf-life. They change their entire stock every few months, so the old strategy of waiting for sales doesn’t work here. Like it? Better buy it today, because it will probably be gone tomorrow, replaced by an even newer trend.

These new stores keep prices down, too. It’s easy to buy too many things at Zara or H & M or Joe Fresh or Uniqlo – after all, it’s only $19 … or $29 … or, at the most, $69. Sticker shock doesn’t hit until you check out and see how all these “it’s only” prices add up.

For those who grew up on hand-me-downs or learned how to stretch a limited budget by carefully selecting new items that would integrate well into an existing wardrobe, this age of disposability is a very different world. We still look for durability, and many of these items will last a season or two. Some are even classic enough to not become obsolete.

Still, what’s the larger impact of living in a disposable world? A recent New York Times article points out that it’s sometimes easier to replace a stained garment than to clean it. Why pass along your baby clothes when new ones are so inexpensive? Why take good care of garments that will be out of fashion in weeks? How much of this is recyclable? Where will all the garbage go? Are antiques going to disappear too? Will all our cherished mementos be digital?

I wonder if this will seep into how we think as well. If everything is impermanent, there’s always room for change and new beginnings. On the other hand, if everything is impermanent, are there still consequences?

Just wondering.

Autumn Comfort Food and Ancestors

It’s autumn and the thermometer has dropped, so, as I sit bundled in a sweater, my thoughts go to comfort food. Specifically, to soup. Memories of my mother making escarole soup rise to the surface like steam off the soup pot. She made her own beef stock, so escarole soup also meant marrow bones. I can still taste that marrow, spread thick on a piece of bakery rye bread, then heavily peppered. And then the soup! Thick with escarole, scented with garlic and heavily ladened with Parmesan.

I will make my own soup today. It is a distant relative of my mother’s recipe, adapted to my expanded waistline and desire to minimize cholesterol, and it will be delicious in its own way. My grandmother’s spirit is at my side as I saute cabbage with onions to create a base. Next come tomatoes, bok choy, carrots and butternut squash. Pepper, perhaps a touch of dill, a few red pepper flakes. Green beans and cauliflower, if the spirit moves me. These are my own additions to replace the heartiness of the beef marrow.

Finally, I will add lots and lots of escarole. My mother’s spirit nods in approval. The soup will simmer on until all the flavors have blended. I may thicken it with some turnip puree (thinking of the old children’s book Rutabaga Tales). Later, I will feast on my soup, trying to avoid dipping in too many huge chunks of sourdough bread.

It’s a good day to bake some apples, too. I think of Auntie Adelaide, who made the best apple pie in the world, and honor her as I core apples. As they bake, I smell Auntie’s pie.

Autumn days are perfect for comfort and memories. Family members long absent visit in my kitchen on days like this and I am content.

Shame Prom Revisited

Even as this post appeared, Super Storm Sandy captured our full attention. As we continue to recover, these personal stories of recovery are even more relevant.

Twenty seven courageous women write about their dance in the moving compilation of personal stories that is Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small. Some of the stories made me laugh; some made me cry. All of them moved me.

How, I wondered, could some of these women have survived such abuse? Could I move on from seal abuse passed off as “God’s will?” What would me life have become if my alcoholic grandfather had escheated from verbal abuse to physical? If he had poured a jar of sauerkraut over my head? These were powerful tales of survival. Some shocked me; some made me cringe.

Other stories were much lighter. I laughed at one woman’s revelation of what happened in the sandbox. I smiled in understanding as I read about the beautiful but dumb boyfriend. Some seemed beyond my understanding. I will never truly understand what it is to be biracial, but the story reminded me of what it was like to be excluded for not being Jewish enough or Italian enough or Waspy enough. There are so many ways to not quite fit and you too are likely to find emotional connections to stories that are outside your life experience.

Sometimes, it was hard to not be a little judgmental – is that really a shameful experience, I asked myself a few times. It is in these stories, though, that I found the greatest learning. I had no problem relating to the body dysmorphia shame stories, but I had a hard time seeing frizzy/curly hair as a cause for shame. Of course, I must admit I have plenty of body issues of my own but happen to really love my hair, so that has something to do with it.

So, it was a surprise to find that the hair story was one that had a strong impact on me. Every time I have recommended this wonderful book to friends, I’ve mentioned that story. I love the author’s act of courage – jumping into a pool because she promised her daughters she would and emerging with no further though about how her hair looked. Don’t go with my oversimplification – read the whole story. Read the whole book. Share it. Buy it for your friends.

Finally, think about your own participation at the shame prom. Are you a wallflower? Are you pretending you weren’t there at all? Or are you ready to speak up, own your shame and move on? I want to be as brave as these women. What about you?

Now What? Feeling Stuck After the Storm

It’s a couple of weeks since the storm; less since the snow. And it’s a gloomy, drizzly day. Many neighborhoods are cleaned up. Some have a long way to go. I’m finding a lot of gloom in the people I speak to as well. Cab drivers, strangers on the bus, friends are all sharing disaster stories. Most of these are not personal. They’re about people we’ve seen on television or read about. Some are about friends and family. Few are about personal loss.

What all these story-tellers have in common is a feeling of frustration and loss without any feeling of being entitled to feel this way. It’s an odd sort of depression – and maybe a degree of PTSD. It’s hard to not think of earlier catastrophes – all those people trying to recover in Breezy Point are also living in the shadow of the plane crash ten years ago. Homes that survived that have now been leveled. Many who lost their homes and belongings are the bedroom communities that sent loved ones off to work in the World Trade Center. And now this.

We think we’ve moved on, but maybe not. After our earthquake experience last year, I noticed something interesting in people’s reactions. In midtown Manhattan, people were making jokes about the experience. One woman on the bus was telling a friend on the phone that yeah, she was buried under a heap of rubble, but she had water, so she was fine. In lower Manhattan, though, people boarding the bus were silent and ashen-faced. Too many memories, even ten years later.

As we try to help those who suffered the direct impact of the storm, we might also take a little time for those on the periphery – including, perhaps, ourselves. We’ve contributed to the funds. Packed up supplies. Donated online. Volunteered. And it doesn’t feel like enough. We can help, but we can’t bring back the little, most important things – the keepsakes, the photos, and in some cases, the loved ones. We’re helpless and many of us are sad.

Sad. And feeling like that’s wrong. What, some of us are asking, do I have to complain about? My problems are so small. There’s something flawed in that logic, though. It’s a little like cleaning your plate as a kid because children in China were starving. How did your finishing the vegetables help those kids? Acknowledge that you are feeling lost and stuck if that’s how you feel.

This is a good time to reach out and help everyone you can. And a good time to be happy about doing that. And to know that you can’t do everything, yet every little bit contributes to the overall rebuilding.

It’s also a good time to take care of yourself. Reach out to your friends who are feeling the way you feel. Be kind to each other. Celebrating the love around you puts more love out into the world. Being happy doesn’t steal happiness away from someone else – it expands the pool of happiness.