Tag: society

They Say It’s Your Birthday

Yep, I do. I’m forty-eight years new today and consider that, on balance, I now spend only about twenty-five percent of my time being naive and neurotic as my second greatest accomplishment after my son. If you read this blog (and if you don’t, well, you’re already here so you’d may as well) you know that I’ve parted with my expensive things, moved to a village in Wales and have generally rediscovered what it’s like to simply not give a damn, and it’s lovely. It’s so lovely, in fact, that I have a difficult time getting fired up enough to find topics about which I am passionate enough to write. Maybe this is what Eminem meant when he said that once his struggles were over, his creativity deserted him. Now that I’m not part of the stress-hewn populace of the never-ending marathon to who can be most frayed in the good ole U S of A, I’m just not that pissed off anymore. About anything. So yes, Em, bro – I got you. We’re just alike, you and I. Well, except for the upbringing, addictions, crazy mom and misogynist lyrics. But the loss of good material and the pale skin thing I can totally relate to. We must at least both share an almost constant need for SPF 50. But I digress.

As I sneak up on fifty from behind and hope that it does not notice that I have somehow managed to go so far untouched by things most others suffer from age, I have chosen to do so in a way so as not to anger the gods that have allowed me to remain largely preserved, and I have also become more reflective. I’ve thought a lot lately about how I ended up this way; here, metaphorically and practically, in this space metaphysically and in Wales geographically and how it is that I managed to survive given how many people I’ve pissed off along the way. You see, if it weren’t my birthday this entry would instead be entitled, “Parents, Teach Your Children Well,” except that it would be a caveat emptor to doing so too well, as my parents did. My parents = two of the most decent, honest, hard-working people who ever lived. Period. But they were also, I’m afraid, incredibly naive, and in bringing my sis and me up with certain beliefs or standards, also set us up to be almost constantly at odds with something or someone or the universe at large. So as I scrape the bottom of nearing fifty, it occurs to me that an alternative parenting guide might have just made my life a bit easier, made me a bit more patient and calm, and would have kept me from being able to anger people who otherwise have the temporal constitution of the Dalai Lama himself.


Revised Parenting Lesson 1:

My parents, for example, when it came to honesty and hard work repeated such trite phrases as “it doesn’t matter what you do, do it better than anyone else.” Or, “as long as you work hard and do your best at whatever you choose, life will take care of you and we will be proud.” And then there was “take pride in your work and be sure you know your job better than anyone else.” Or the most often conflated and abused, “hard work pays.”

This is why I am good at what I do; I do work hard and I do try to ensure that I know more about my given field than anyone else, or at least better than the clients who pay me their hard-earned money to instill upon them skills they do not themselves possess. It is also why I, almost daily, want to reach through a phone line or across a sales counter and strangle customer service representatives at almost any number of companies. Because I know an increasingly astonishing amount more their goods or services than they do, and I also seem to care more despite being their customer rather than someone who is – I don’t know – paid to work for and ‘service’ the needs of said company’s clients. So no, mom and dad, other children were not taught the same standards we had instilled in us by you and if you really wanted to help us, you would’ve said, “hard work pays, but there are also lots of idiots out there and the real world is a minefield of laziness and willful ignorance wherein yes, you will excel, but only because your competition is so entirely unprepared, uninformed and stoned on sugary treats their parents let them have but of which we deprived you in place of spinach which made your neurons super-connected and has made you this hyper-efficient nerd ball of excellence. But you also be occasionally tripped up, blown off course or even blown to bits by one of these idiot-mines, so never go anywhere without your bullshit repelling flack-jacket. And a really good and loyal attorney.” But they didn’t, so here I am. Warning you to do so for yours.

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The Shedding

Do you have a $12,000 dollar sofa? I did. I don’t know why, but I did. I also used to have two Cartier watches, two Bulgaris and an extra little Hermes that I threw on for more casual occasions.

Actually, I do know why I had those things; because I hated my life. More specifically, I hated my job which consumed my life and made me into someone I never wanted to be. I have heard numerous times over the years people whom I would deem as hippies say things about how we are slaves to our possessions and that the only true freedom is owning nothing. Of course in their version, there was also usually some added on mini-diatribe about being watched by, and slaves to “the man.” Discount or derive whatever you wish from any part of that, but it took me until the age of forty-seven to figure out that what they really mean is that ridding yourself of possessions allows you to be owned by nothing; and no one.

It took me to forty-seven to figure out that the reason I worked so hard to make ever-increasing amounts of money is because I craved the freedom that can be bought with large sums of money, except that along the way, I would become so unhappy with the daily toil of my life that I would buy myself treats. Mini-motivators, congratulatory concessions, feel good pick me ups, to get me through the hellish day/week/month/meeting and back to my apartment/hotel room/flight. All the while, my expensive tastes in mood-elevating materialism consumed ever larger portions of the money I made driving the need to earn even more, acquire larger clients, take on new roles and do even more things that I despised, resented or which made me feel like a soul for rent. I could tell myself whatever I wanted to, but I wasn’t working to buy my ultimate freedom; I was working to pay off the monthly limitless Amex. I had been captured by capitalism in the most gilded of cages and extricating myself from its grasps would become a dance of mutually abusive agony.

I suppose I should be thankful that I figured it out at all, let alone while still at an age where I could stop, take stock and make the serious changes required to keep me from dying in regret of never having truly lived.

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Everyone’s Weird and So Am I

Once right after we first moved back to the US from Hong Kong, we were sitting in a bar in Nashville on a warm Summer day with my sister who already lived there and some of her more Bohemian – yet connected – local friends when out of the blue one particular friend looked at us both and blurted out, “You’re both princesses. You’re, like, from another planet or something. Like if someday you call me and say you’re marrying an actual prince, I won’t be remotely surprised.” It was typical of her, to be sure, but not typical based on what I thought or think of myself by any means. Yet if I were capable of being removed, objective and entirely honest about myself, I would say that there probably are times people have looked at me or my sis or my son or some combination of us and thought, “I want what they have,” in the way I’ve looked at others and thought the same. Except that no. No you don’t.

I have thick, curly, shiny naturally strawberry blonde hair that makes hairdressers drool. I also have every other genetic quirk that comes from having been born a true ginger aka I can’t be outside in sunlight in any months other than December and January without turning purple. I am prone to skin cancer, my sister and I both have that scary womany cancer gene which we inherited from our mom, I was down one ovary by the age of 35 because of a predisposition for ovarian cancer based on the pumpkin patch of cysts it had grown over the years + that whole gene thing, and my IQ is so high and my memory so exact that I understand everything and forget nothing which means I torture myself 22 hours a day and sleep maybe – if I’m lucky – the other 2. No one can lie to me because of my memory – it’s impossible – and because I’m also an INTP, I trust no one and think that marriage is a legalized form of indentured slavery (it totally is). I make disgusting amounts of money and though I am exceptional with numbers, I spend massively because I’m bored and also because – I suspect – I subconsciously push the envelope of earning in order to ensure I have some sort of ever-present challenge in my life. And lastly – given the choice – I’d happily live alone in our little house in Wales, speak to no one, write, have sheep as pets and never shave any part of my body again.

But if you saw me – trust me – not one of those things would occur to you as even the most remote of possibilities.

One of my bosses was a CEO named Drew. Not really, but I think he’d either sue or kill himself if I used his real name, so we’ll stick with Drew. He’s a good-looking man, he really is, and he dresses impeccably. He’s exceptionally bright but also has one of the best personalities of anyone I have ever met in my life. And he’s neurotic. Not just sort of neurotic, but diagnosed paranoid bipolar who should be on a cocktail of drugs but does not “like the way they make [him] feel,” so he is off them far more often than on him which leads him to have worse judgement than a virginal, pubescent boy in a whore house. He is so paranoid about his various and sundry transgressions that he’s just sure it will all be taken from him at any moment. Without warning and as punishment for all that he has done. As such he does really strange things like leave airports if he “senses” something wrong and instead rents a car to drive as much as 16 hours to reach his destination. He’ll skip meetings if he thinks there’s someone in them who knows something about him no one else does because he’s convinced that they are actually only there to get even with him and that they will blurt out everything they know about him in front of a room full of C-level executives. He’s been married three times going on six because he humps everything with a vagina but plays the doting, perfect dad. Oh, sorry. Did I not mention that he is also a malignant narcissist? Yes, that, too.

But if you met him in first class on a plane, you’d be giving him a lap dance before wheels up, even if you’re a straight dude or a nun. But he, my friends, is the world’s greatest mask covering perhaps the world’s biggest natural disaster.

Then there is another boss I had who only works where he does because they did not – at the time he was hired – do background checks. If they had – or if they had taken a peek inside of his car – they would have discovered that he was convicted of felony reckless endangerment for his sixth DUI in which he did gross bodily harm to the person in the car he hit. He also has two outstanding bench warrants in two different states for reasons not entirely clear to me, and for the first three years of his employment still had a sobriety-check blow ignition on his car. But he was hired as an SVP and eventually made partner because he’s a dude, he’s non-threatening, he plays the game and – I suspect – knows that the married CEO and married Creative Director of the agency in question are actually in a long term, extra-marital gay relationship.

One of my roommates in college was a runway model. She worked in Milan, Paris and New York and was signed with the Ford Agency. She was and is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known, but also by far the most insecure. She thought she was alternately ugly, fat, had bad skin, wasn’t terribly interesting and had nothing to offer, none of which was true. Her nose, though, is the work of a good surgeon, as are her perfect boobs.

Another guy who used to work on one of my teams should be getting royalties from The 40 Year Old Virgin franchise. He comes across as macho, rugged and distant but is actually very quiet, bright and has a massive collection of action figures and lunch boxes still in their original packaging. But that would be the very last thought you’d have about him if you were to come across him in a bar.

One of my closest friends is also a former beauty queen who is now married to someone who has a Grammy casually sitting on the piano in their family home. I’ve held her hair while she puked and we have lengthy conversations about our respective relationships with our aging moms and our own issues that arrived along with our late forties, and pretty much everything else on earth.

My very best friend’s brother is now her sister and my military boarding school, VMI attending ex-husband is camp as Christmas. But really bad at it to the extent that I’m pretty sure their team would like nothing more than to trade him back, but he chose and you’re keeping him. So tough twinkies.

One of the wealthiest men I know – five homes across four countries, yacht, countless cars – hates his life, cannot stand his wife and is disappointed in his sons. He’s also increasingly vulnerable about his age, his virility, his desirability and every other personal attribute one can imagine. And he is constantly, 100% of the time, miserable.

No one is perfect. There is no such thing as “baggage;” it’s called life and the richness of it – the ups and downs – are what make us who we are. Striving to be something we are not or pretending to be someone we never could be leads only to disillusion, unhappiness and ultimately, a potentially wasted existence. Be who you are. Fly your freak flag, wear your nerd badge, flaunt your flaws. Life is short and that isn’t just something people say. It’s the truth.

Hug a Writer Today

Months ago, when I first broke my foot and subsequently started my blog, my first entry was entitled “I Quit My Job,” but no on read it. Seriously – not a soul. My most read post to date was on feminism and my frustration over the spoiled, subjective American view of it versus what our female counterparts in other parts of the world suffer, followed by a few snarkier entries about liberals and left coast luvvies. Though I love to hate to write, and hate to love to write — a sentence which will possibly only be understood by those who have been told their entire lives that they are “supposed to be a writer”—  I have never been able to make money writing, which I’m pretty sure has only intensified the hate portion of the overall sentiment equation. In the post that none of you read, what I actually said was this:

“You see, I was ‘supposed to be a writer.’ That’s my mother’s voice saying that. All the time, constantly, and interspersed with that of every English teacher I ever had. I won my first national writing award at 7 (poetry), wrote my first novella at 9 (I thought it was sh**ty, but in hindsight perhaps not a bad effort for a child), and my first novel — f**k – I don’t know. A while back. But I’ve never published anything and I go months at a time without writing a word. I’ve spent at least a week trying to figure out why I do that — why I just suddenly stop writing. The best I can figure, it’s because I get busy with work and travel to the extent that there is too much going on and the activity in my head becomes an indistinguishable cacophony of noise. But even as I write that, I know it’s a lie. The truth is that writing is not, as the non-writing amongst you may imagine, for the lazy. It is detailed, all-consuming, greedy, exclusionary, isolating, occasionally excruciating and in my case, poverty-inducing. So in the most simplistic of analysis, when things go badly, I write in order to save my sanity; when things go well, I neglect it in the same way one neglects the long-suffering friend or family who is always there for them when they need them most, but who are then abandoned when sunlight inevitably reappears. I abandon my words for the siren song of a fat paycheck, all the while carrying an inexplicable guilt that I am not, as the great AA Gill remonstrated, flexing my writing muscle and thereby risking the reality that I may lose it. And it was re-reading Gill’s quote on this matter that drove me back – I hope permanently — to the page.“

And actually, it did. Today I finished proofing the 371 pages I’ve written thus far of my novel and all things being equal, I hope to publish by May 5. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Except that it isn’t; not to anyone in my life other than me.

In our nation, we do not value the arts; we do not encourage writing any more than we celebrate reading the great books or teach proper grammar. If I said to someone in this country that I’m a writer, they would likely reply, “So at which Starbucks do you work? I’ll drop by.” Whereas when I say this to a friend in London, their retort is, “Can I read something you’ve done? Anything I would have seen? That’s truly amazing. You should quit and devote yourself to it full time.” Here it seems to be the refuge for the recently graduated, un- or under-employed who wish to convince themselves, their parents and the world at large that their interests are in only cerebral pursuits. And coffee beans. In other parts of the world, it is the pursuit of those who have lived life observing, silently cataloging, and secretly wishing they did not hold so much in their heads and when they can take no more, pour it all onto the page. It is, in some cases, even seen as elite. But not amongst common folk in America or — as it turns out — my family and friends.

So why is this bothering me now? If you’ve read anything else I’ve written it will be abundantly clear that I have been, since childhood, an outsider. I have also been — for twenty years — a single mom; a very blessed, devoted and overly giving single mom. My son attends undergrad at my pricey alma mater and will graduate in four weeks with my same two degrees, albeit with far more stellar grades and recommendations. As he heads into the next phase of his life, I thought now — still convalescing from having screws driven into my bones to mend my broken foot — would be a good time to finish the book, get it to market, and publicize it myself, since that’s actually the career for which I have been so well paid. And I know that I can do it, which is the major characteristic of my life to which I referred in the post that no one read (and which I am now considering re-titling as such):

“I suppose I could have summed all of this up by saying ‘life is short,’ and be done with it, but that would miss the point. I need to write, I need to travel, and I need to punctuate it all with things to which I can truly look forward. Will I make it? I have no idea, but that’s the other part of me that was crystalized today in a quote by George Michael: ‘I finally realized that one reason why my life has felt so self-destructive is that I never had any feeling that my talent would let me down.’ And nor have I.

“I love nice things, nice places, nice men — things that do not naturally occur in a poor person’s nature. But I’ve always been willing to gamble on my talent — to tell people to fuck off just when I am at my zenith because I believe that I can still yet do it better, elsewhere, or in this case, on my own and on my terms. I’ve said quite clearly that I want no more apologies, but I likewise want no more regrets. There’s only one way to find out, so let me do it for you, for us all; no need quitting your job and pursuing your dream just because I make a convincing argument for it. If I win, you can live vicariously in those victories; if I crash and burn, you can stand at a distance with a knowing ‘I told you so,’ both risk and consequence-free.”

And though other people — person, actually, that being my sister — recognize my skill and acknowledge my passion for it, she and my Southern, pragmatic family as a whole call me “the eccentric one.” Yet I know that I only acquired the benefit of “eccentric” because I make lots of money, as — make no mistake — without it, I’d simply be “the crazy one.” It is pondering this distinction which has led me to ask myself time and again as of late: are people who so singularly pursue one goal, one skill, one dream crazy, or are they the only ones who have truly achieved clarity? How many other people out there know that they are exceptional at one thing, but it is not the one thing that can earn them a living without serious sacrifice, or that makes people comfortable, or that is widely accepted or understood, so they suffer in silence, discouraged from trying, and dismayed at their existence? Being dogged and determined will get you so far, and perhaps all the way if you are — ironically — completely alone. But if you are part of social strata, a larger family or a domestic financial infrastructure, your dreams can wait, stay on hold, live in that pan on the back burner of life until they are charred permanently to the bottom.

Today at 1:30 I stopped writing to take a call to discuss a job in Chicago that will pay me even more than my last. Do I want it? No. Do I recognize that’s a selfish reaction and that plenty of other people would? Yes. Will I have to take it? Probably so. Will I have any time at all to write? No. My son was accepted to one of the more prestigious programs in the world for grad school and the price tag is about $70K a year, so my dreams will again be on hold so that he can give life to his. And on it goes. But wouldn’t it be nice — for once — to hear a word of encouragement, a syllable of reinforcement, and perhaps especially from those who do not understand, but who love you enough to want you to succeed by your definition rather than by theirs.