For the Throne! (Aka: International Women’s Day)

Winter is here, people.

Those of you who know what I’m talking about are glancing at your calendars, counting how many days remain before the series finale of Game of Thrones — one of the most exciting TV shows of this decade. Who will be brutally murdered next? Who will sleep with who? Most importantly, who will take the throne and become king (or queen) of the seven kingdoms?

But that’s not really what I want to discuss. Today is International Women’s Day. All around the world, people are taking a moment to acknowledge women and the contributions we have made and continue to make to society. So it only made sense to take a look at the women of Game of Thrones. Why? Because their timeless archetypes are common among many women, young and old, throughout the globe.

Arya Stark

The tomboy, who eschews femininity in favor of wearing pants and wielding a sword. Later, we see in the character Brienne of Tarth, a glimpse of the great knight Arya could become in the future.

Sansa Stark

The feminine “good girl” princess, who dreams of marrying her fairy tale prince, Joffrey. When her prince turns out to be a sadistic monster, and the world turns harsh and cold, Sansa quickly grows up and develops an exterior of steel.

Catelyn Stark

Catelyn is deeply devoted to her husband and children, which is apparent in everything she says and does. Far from perfect, Catelyn struggles with her role as a stepmother to her husband’s bastard son, Jon Snow.

Cersei Lannister

The opportunist (some might say bitch), who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, for herself or for her children. Seduction, betrayal, and murder are only a means to an end for her.

Daenerys Targaryan

“Miss Independent.” Plays her role as the dutiful, obedient sister and wife until she figures out who she really is. Once she embraces her true self, her power is unstoppable. She gathers an army and pursues her goals relentlessly, all without having to rely on a man to rule at her side.

My personal favorite? The Khaleesi, Daenerys Targaryan. Not only is the badass Mother of Dragons born to be a queen and rule the seven kingdoms, but she is true to herself and always tries to be kind and just (though sometimes she fails). I identify strongly with her sense of independence.

Other women may read this and find that they identify more with the disillusioned princess, the tomboy, or the devoted wife and mother. But most of us may agree that we are multi-faceted. That many of us are sometimes the princess, and sometimes the tomboy, and sometimes the devoted wife and mother, and sometimes the bitch. Kind of the Game of Thrones version of the Breakfast Club archetypes.

But whatever type of woman you define yourself to be, and no matter who you are rooting for to take the throne at the end of the final season, I hope that today you will celebrate being a woman, or celebrate the women in your lives.

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Pluck! Pluck! (aka: Swimming Against the Current)

While shopping at the mall, I came across a gorgeous bracelet, strung with polished stones in varying hues of grays, blue-grays, and green-grays.

“That is so you,” my daughter said. “You have to buy it.”

Ten minutes later, the bracelet was paid for and dangling from my wrist. It really was a perfect piece of jewelry for me, because more than half of my wardrobe is gray. Gray sweaters. Gray dresses. Gray flats and tights and t-shirts. I even own a gray overcoat and a gray faux-leather jacket. Such a smooth, sophisticated color. Neutral enough to be a blank palette, but far cooler than beige, and softer than black. Ambiguous. A mystery.

My love of all things gray doesn’t end there. I find comfort in gray, cloudy skies. Our living room furniture is mostly gray. My car is gray. In fact, I even identify as a heteromantic graysexual, or gray-asexual.

Which is what makes this little problem so ironic.

Sometime during the past several years, a tiny sprig of gray appeared among my off-black locks of hair. When I first discovered it, my heart sank. Oh my god. Here it is. The first official sign that summer has come to an end.

But then, I plucked it out, and all was right with the world again.

A year later, the sprig had multiplied. I had two — count them — two strands of gray hair. Pluck and pluck.

Now, at the age of 43, I have counted as many as six tiny sprigs of gray among my curls. Possibly more, hidden in the back. This has officially become an invasion. A takeover. I can still pluck the little suckers, but they come back with friends. And they’re so unruly! Not at all as well-behaved as my other soft, springy curls. The little gray punks like to poke out from my head in unpredictable directions, making their appearance super obvious.

It’s silly and vain of me to care so much, I know.

I’m middle-aged. The appearance of crepey skin and gray hair is perfectly normal. Although I’ve often been told that I look quite young for my age, I couldn’t expect that to last forever. The other silly thing is that gray hair on other people doesn’t bother me in the least. Never do I look at another person’s salt and pepper tresses and feel the temptation to start plucking. So why does the appearance of gray in my own hair freak me out so much?

Maybe because it is a reminder of my own mortality. Youth is not eternal. Life does not last forever. Like a tree, we blossom, then bear fruit, and then the leaves, like our hair, begins to change color. And we all know what that means.

Winter is coming.

Unlike a tree, we don’t lose our leaves and vibrancy only to have them return again, green and new, in the spring. For us, once the lively browns and blacks and reds and yellows that graced our heads throughout our lifetimes have faded, that’s it. They’re gone. Nature’s not going to give us brand-new hair.

Something about knowing that something good is only going to be in my life for a limited time makes me want to savor it. Capture it. Hold onto it for as long as possible. Change is inevitable, of course. Nothing lasts forever (except maybe the diamonds in my old wedding ring, which still sits around, useless, in a box somewhere). But if that means I have to always go with the flow, to accept it as it comes, to age gracefully, then I have one thing to say.

Screw that.

I think that Dylan Thomas said it best:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I will not accept that beauty is chained to youthful age. I refuse to lie back and float along with the current that will eventually dump us each into the sea. I will not go gentle into that good night. Instead, I plan to keep struggling, keep swimming hard against the current until my body is too old and too sick and too tired to take another stroke.

Last week, my cousin died of breast cancer. She and I were around the same age. Both single moms, though her children are mostly younger than mine. Since our teen years, she was the cousin I went to get my “hair did.” Thanks to her skill and deft fingers, I went through hair phases of long, braided extensions and sleek, straight, flat-ironed styles. When I wanted to try a new color, I sat in her salon chair, and we gabbed about family members, raising children, and TV shows as she worked her magic, transforming my ordinary black hair into a honey-streaked marvel. She snipped and shampooed and braided and styled so many women, and made so many of us feel beautiful.

Cancer robbed my cousin of her own hair, her beauty, her youth, her life. Far too soon. If not for cancer, I’m sure that she would have continued to help women in our struggle to look and feel our loveliest, no matter our age. Gray hair? Why settle for bland, unruly gray hair? Why not dye it auburn, raven, or gold? Why not curl it or straighten it or try something new? Why not try new makeups that decrease our wrinkles or bring out the shade of our eyes, or wear clothes that make us feel sexy, or cute, or strong, or alive? Why should we settle for frumpy, dumpy, and bland, just because we’ve arrived in middle age?

I love the color gray. But I do not love the gray hairs reminding me of the end we must each face. So I reject the idea that fighting them is vain or silly. Instead, I choose to make myself look as young and alive on the outside as I feel on the inside. If my cousin were still here, I would ask her to highlight my hair to hide the gray intruders. Hair dye — such a fun and simple way of raging against the dying of the light. I wonder how I’d look as a blonde?

Don’t Panic! (Aka: That Famous Band You’ve Never Heard of)

I almost left early.

There were just too many tics. Too many little warning signs that I was not in for the fun evening I had planned.

The day went fine. I had a productive day at work, where I shared with a few coworkers what my plans were for the evening. “I’m taking myself to a concert at the downtown arena,” I said.

“Oh yeah?” My coworkers said. “What band?”

“Panic! At the Disco,” I said.

The reaction was almost universal. “Who’s that?”

“Oh, just a famous alternative rock band no one’s ever heard of.”

To be fair, I did run into exactly two adults who had some inkling of who the band was. And several teens, one of whom only knew the band from a reference by Phoebe, on an old episode of Friends. But I’m pretty used to being excited about things that people around me couldn’t care less about. So off I went, ready for fun.

I managed to snag a $5 parking spot around 4 blocks away from the arena. Sweet! So far, so good. Then I took myself out to dinner at a trendy new burger restaurant, where I ate a bland, overpriced quinoa veggie burger, a side of garlic fries, and a Blue Moon — always a safe choice for decent beer. Then I slung my backpack over one shoulder and headed downstairs to the concert security zone.

“NO BACKPACKS MAY BE BROUGHT INTO THE ARENA,” an official voice blared over the loudspeakers. Great. Tic one. But no worries. I had thirty minutes before showtime, and I could just hop on a Jump Bike to get to my car quickly.

So I tried. Three different bikes, in fact. But apparently, they were all having connection issues last night and wouldn’t accept my account number. Thanks for nothing, Jump Bikes. Tic two.

By then, it was growing cold and dark, and I only had fifteen minutes remaining before the concert began. But hey, I’m not a runner for nothing. So I began to sprint toward the parking lot.

Bad idea.

Because I was not wearing a sports bra. And maybe certain women can get away with running in a dainty, lacy thing. But we um…well-endowed women really cannot. Thanks to that little race against time, I will now have to replace that bra, which couldn’t handle the jiggle. Tic three.

I put away the backpack, speed-walked back, and made it into the arena. A ticket-taker looked at my phone, then directed me toward the tallest, steepest escalator I have ever seen. Ever. It was like a mechanical stairway to heaven. And that wasn’t all. Once I got to the top and went through the doorway, I had to climb a lot more stairs. At last I found my seat, then sat down and looked around.

Worst. Seat. Ever. Tic four.

I was up so high, I felt dizzy and nauseous. Altitude sickness, I’m sure. Or maybe it was due to the beer. When the concert began, and the singer stepped out on the stage, he looked like a teeny, tiny doll I could pick up with my fingertips. So did the lucky duck viewers seated down on the floor. A sea of itsy-bitsy miniature people. And then, there was the screen. You know those big screens that display the band so that the people in the back of the arena can see their faces?

Yeah. Those don’t work for people with a side view. I had a nice view of — the side of the screen. Tic five.

But as the music began, I began to relax. Even though I couldn’t see the stage well, I could see the lights. Dozens of pretty colored lights, swirling and flashing in time with the music. Like a fireworks show without the fire. Because fire would be really bad during a concert. But hey, I was so high up, and so far off to the side, that I’d only have to climb over like, four people to get to the nearest exit.

A view from my terrible seat.

Besides gaining a new appreciation for the lights display, I also realized that the music sounded really, really good. The teeny-tiny, miniature lead singer of Panic! At the Disco had an amazing voice, and the instrumentals were awesome. So I couldn’t actually see them performing. but I could hear them. And I did kinda go to enjoy live music, so that was important. And eventually, I got swept up in singing along and dancing in my seat, along with all the other fans.

By the end of the show, I was too busy feeling jazzed to care about the tic marks that threatened to ruin my good time. True, it wasn’t as fabulous as standing in front of the stage at the Imagine Dragons concert, waving my homemade sign and getting showered in confetti. But I still enjoyed myself. And the way I see it, getting out there, doing fun stuff, and having adventures is way better than not having a life at all. Even if you have to be stuck with one of the cheap seats.

I’d been debating buying myself a last-minute nosebleed side view ticket to see Pink in concert soon, too. But know what? I think I’ll save my money until I can party on the floor, close to the band. And next time, I’ll leave my backpack at home.

Apples to Apples (aka: Dealing with Unpleasant People)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you have to get along with an unpleasant person?

Believe it or not, in real life, I usually get along pretty well with most people. Whether or not we share the same background, or socioeconomic class, or culture, I can usually find common ground and hold a decent conversation with them. The trick, I think, is understanding. When I make it a point to try to understand the person I’m speaking with, it paves the way for positive interaction.

Usually.

Today, I had an unfortunate encounter with an unpleasant person.

No wait. Let me reword that. Today, I had an unpleasant encounter with a person. Because we are all people, and our bad moments do not necessarily make us bad people.

I went to a Meetup event, which I do from time to time, or else I would have zero social life (other than kids and water cooler chats with coworkers). This particular meetup event was for the purpose of speaking Spanish with other Spanish-language learners and native speakers. These events are often low-key — a couple of hours of exchanging polite, informal conversation with people of all ages, walks of life, and levels of Spanish.

For most of that time, I chatted with a group of three other people. We sipped coffee and tea and talked about all sorts of topics — pets, travel, work, music, even politics. We didn’t always agree, or share much in common, but we were able to enjoy one another’s company while helping each other to fill in that occasional Spanish word or phrase that eluded us.

That was the pleasant part.

However, after the others left, I turned toward the two remaining speakers, who had been engaged in their own conversation. It didn’t take long, however, before I noticed how one of the speakers was quite opinionated. Which only bothers me a little. The part that bothered me a lot, however, was that he gave of this air that his opinions were the only ones that counted. To top it off, he also had a tendency to not only correct other people’s Spanish, but to do so in a rather superior way, often cutting them off mid-sentence, and adding how he can’t stand it when people say things a different way, because it’s so wrong.

Still, due to my desire to get along with people, I continued to smile and ask questions, and encourage the flow of conversation. Perhaps, I thought, he was on the autistic spectrum, which could account for his hard-to-stomach interpersonal skills.

The last straw, however, came when the other speaker and I were discussing the importance of being familiar with the various ways Spanish speakers talk. I suggested that the most important thing about language is not to always speak with the best grammar possible, but to know how to best speak and be understood within a group of people. Well, he not only shot down my idea, but attempted to invalidate it completely. This happened more than once in the conversation. While I am perfectly at ease with differences of opinion, or with considering new facts that I may not have known, I cannot tolerate blatant disrespect.

“You know,” I finally said, when tactful hints failed, “you’d be easier to get along with if you were willing to admit that you don’t know everything.”

Now here, many intelligent people would say, “Well, of course I don’t know everything! There are many things I don’t know.”

But this guy says, “I know a LOT of things. I’ve taken some doctorate level classes.”

Seriously?

Just like that, I was done. Conversation over. The moment people demonstrate that they are not willing to learn, or to consider that they may not always be right, is the moment an exchange of ideas between intellectuals becomes a pointless waste of words. And honestly, life is too short for that.

My parting words? “I find your arrogance unpalatable.” To which, of course, he responded that he found me unpalatable. I laughed. It was like saying goodbye to an egotistical child. Too bad. His Spanish was actually pretty good. I could have learned something from him.

I guess I’m pretty lucky. I don’t often have to deal with unpleasant people. At least, not on a regular basis. Most people I encounter are generally pleasant. Or at least, polite. Coming across one who behaves to the contrary is like finding an apple with a worm inside. That person may actually be pretty decent once they cut away the bruised, wormy spot. Who knows? It’s not up to us to cut it away. Perhaps it’s not even up to us to point out the worm (though I did, in no unclear terms).

The part that is up to us is how we choose to react. When we encounter arrogance, or rudeness, or lack of respect, are we able to find the strength to respond with politeness and positivity? Or do we respond in kind, and expose our own wormy parts? (We all have wormy parts, buried deep inside).

Honestly, I’m not sure how I did today. Was it wormy of me to call him out on his arrogance and rudeness? Or did he need to hear it? Later, we exchanged messages on the Meetup app, both apologizing for our part in the conversation that went sour. Which was cool. We could have just as easily have never spoken again, in any language. But part of being a good person is being forgiving, and offering people a second chance to prove that they’re willing to cut the worms away.

The Many Flavors of Love (a Valentines Day Love List)

I love the sound of rain drumming against the roof, splashing against the pavement, trickling down the windowpane while I watch, warm and cozy indoors.

I love the way a good book transports me far away from the world I know, inserting me, like a fly on the wall, into the lives of other characters, in other places and times.

I love my three teens, who are now 14, 17, and 19. I love spending time with them, sharing laughter, traveling to new places, enjoying meals. My middle daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school soon, and head off to university. Then I’ll have three years left before my nest is empty.

I love trying new foods, and incorporating recipes from around the globe into my daily repertoire. In our house, vegetarian curries and Asian soups are just as common as spaghetti.

I love my sister and her kids. We talk surprisingly little for sisters who actually get along (She doesn’t respond to texts or phone calls often). But on rare occasions we do manage to connect, it’s pretty positive. She began her family much later than I did, so she and her husband have three very young daughters. Two of them have finally reached an age of comfort with being away from their mom and dad, so now we are beginning to have Auntie outings. Since my own kids are nearly grown, it’s really nice to be able to hang out with my young nieces. The next best thing to being a Grandma.

Fun outing with my daughter (right) and two of my young nieces (center)

I love my ex-boyfriend, who I refer to as “Z.” (The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever date or fall in love with). Yes, it’s been more than a year and a half since we were together. But that means nothing to my heart. I hate that he is gone from my life. I love remembering the wonderful, though brief, relationship we had, how kind he was, and how happy we both were together.

Z and me perfect date San Francisco Japanese tea garden
“Z” and me on a couple of unforgettable dates during a weekend together in my favorite city.

I love my career. I love what I get to wake up and do every day. I work in IT, designing and building software systems that revolutionize business for many people. It’s very fulfilling (and pays well, too).

I love that feeling of euphoria I get at the end of a really intense workout or a long weekend run. Runner’s high is not a myth! Now if only we could experience that in the middle of the run, instead of the burning lungs and aching muscles…

I love writing. I especially love to write stories for other people to enjoy. If you read my stories and find yourself transported into another time and place, like a fly on the wall in some character’s life, then my job was well done.

I love a perfect cup of coffee (Decaf dark roast with cream and Splenda), or a perfect cup of tea (earl gray or chai, splash of milk, plus Splenda). Especially with a good book. Long ago, when I had friends, then sharing a perfect cup of tea or coffee while spending time with a good friend was pretty much nirvana.

Hot cup of tea

I love that this list is actually far longer, filled with music, and flowers, and candles, and soccer, and great movies, like Amelie, or Pride & Prejudice (2005), or Shakespeare in Love. I also love how this list continues to grow throughout my life, as I travel more, try new activities, and grow. Ideally, much of this list would be people-based, since really, things and experiences, while worthy of loving and enjoying, can’t love you back. (But then, I have grown quite used to not being loved back. That has never before stopped me from loving).

Whoever, or whatever you love, may you love them fully today, and every day. What’s more, I wish for you what I have always lacked most in life — that you feel fully, completely, and unquestionably loved in return.

Night Owls in Apollo’s World (aka: Morning People Get it Done)

The prettiest sunrise I’ve ever seen was during the spring of 1994, in Cocoa Beach, Florida. There was something magical about the way the deep sapphire sky suddenly began to blush brilliant streaks of coral and rose, while I stood in the glistening waves of the Atlantic, watching nature’s show.

Maybe that was the moment I became a morning person.

After that first and best of all sunrises, I began to appreciate more about the peaceful moments of early morning. The way mist skimmed along the surface of mountain lakes. The quiet stillness, like a blank canvas to organize my thoughts for the day. The sweet trill of the early bird, greeting me outside my window. Morning is here! A fresh day! New opportunities! Ahh, mornings, embracing me as I throw my arms wide, spinning beneath the beautiful, pale coin of sunrise. The world is new again, and mornings and I are one.

Until…THWACK!!

The muddy combat boot of some bleary-eyed night owl whacks me in the head. “Will you keep it down, for crying out loud?” they screech. “Some of us sane people are still trying to sleep!”

Night owl with coffee saying No

Oh, night people. Worshippers of the fading, red-gold rays of sunset. Lovers of darkness, and the moon, and midnight snacks while the rest of the world slumbers. I see and hear you.

No, like I literally see and hear you. I see the annoying bright headlights flash through my window at night. I hear your noisy, raucous parties and televisions blaring long after I’ve set my own head against the pillows. If you want to be a night owl, fine. But can you at least try to make yourselves as silent and stealthy as actual owls, so as not to disturb the sleep of us early birds?

Alarm clock nighttime

I sometimes feel such pity for night owls. This world is run by and for the early risers. The go-getters. The ones who have learned to defy mediocrity and complacency, who rise before the sun to meditate, who get in their daily workouts before the others have opened their eyes, who sweep into work each day like Apollo’s chariots, ready to shine.

Morning people get sh*t done.

The night folks eventually stumble in, groggy, still shaking off the effects of last night’s greasy pizza and beer. They are not yet in the moment, still full of nostalgia for their toasty warm beds. They stare like zombies at their computer screens, re-reading the same email three times before anything makes sense, and throwing eye daggers at any chipper morning person who dares to greet them with a sunny smile.

Morning birds vs. night owls

But thank goodness for you, followers of Artemis. Because when 3pm rolls around, and we lovers of sunrise begin to lose steam, you are there. You are there to take the mantle, to keep the flame burning as the flock of morning birds packs up our briefcases and heads home to relax. We thank you for making this possible, so that we can go and drive on freeways empty of traffic, and enjoy time with our families while there is still light outside, and have early dinners at uncrowded restaurants, because we can be assured that the night owls will continue to work. We sleep better (at 8pm) because of your efforts.

We are so appreciative, dear night people, that we will continue to offer you the magic elixir that helps to bring you to life each morning when you finally drag your feet into work. Coffee. Prepared by morning birds, and sold by morning birds, who happily pocket the fistfuls of dollars you shell out for the hot, bitter brew that helps you to function each morning. Isn’t that a hoot?

Drink up, sleepy ones. Then together, let’s go and get sh*t done.

Shower Karaoke (aka: Feel-Good Tunes)

When I was in the car yesterday, an old song came on the radio. The Greatest Love of All, by Whitney Houston. Naturally, I turned up the volume and belted it out along with Whitney.

THE GREAAAATEST LOOOOVE OF AAAAALLLLL IS EASY TO ACHIIIIIIIIEEEEVE!!!

It’s such a feel-good song. One of those songs that you can’t help but sing at the top of your lungs, even though you know perfectly well that your voice is nothing like Whitney Houston’s, and you’ll probably hit more sour notes than an American Idol reject. But still, the music starts, and your heart starts racing, and next thing you know, you’ve transformed into Whitney.

LEARNING TO LOOOVVVVE YOURSELF, IT IS THE GREAT-EST LOVE OF ALL!!

Easy A Pocket Full of Sunshine shower scene

Of course, it’s not always Whitney’s music that grabs you by the throat and compels you to break out singing even louder than your shower spray. It might be We are the Champions, by Queen. Or The Wind Beneath My Wings, by Bette Midler. Or Hero, by Mariah Carey. For the longest time, my instant karaoke favorite (when no one was listening) was Hold On, by Wilson Phillips.

I wonder whatever happened to those songs? The songs so rich with encouragement and self-appreciation that we all loved to sing them in the car (or in the shower, or at karaoke night after one drink too many). I guess Katy Perry’s Firework comes kind of close. Or Rachel Platten’s Fight Song. I’m even kind of fond of Meghan Trainor’s Me Too, despite the snottiness of the repeated verse (“If I was you, I’d wanna be me too…”).

Regardless of the song, or the singer, we have all experienced what it’s like to get a boost of positivity from music, whether we sing along or keep it in our own heads. Whoever you are, I dedicate to you the lyrics of the song you find the most uplifting. I hope that sometime this week, you get a chance to belt it out, and let the message fill you.

Wayne and Garth Bohemian Rhapsody

If you care to comment, please share one of your favorite solo karaoke songs.