Kool-aid or Red Pills? (Aka: The Fountain of Youth, Revisited)

“If you could live forever, would you want to?”

Taken by surprise at the stranger’s question, I didn’t stop to think. I blurted out the usual socially-acceptable response. “No, I don’t think so. It’s difficult to imagine surviving beyond the deaths of my children and future grandchildren.” (Well, to be honest, this conversation took place during a Spanish language meetup. So what I responded was more like, “No lo pienso. Es difícil imaginar sobreviviendo mas allá que los muertos de mis hijos y nietos y todos.”)

But later, I pondered over the question. I also discussed it with my two younger kids, who, like me, love deep discussions about theoretical topics. And here is what I concluded:

Yes. I would like to live forever. As an extremely curious individual, I would love to be able to observe as the world changes over time. How will people dress in two hundred years? What sort of transportation will there be in half a century? Where will we live? What medical breakthroughs will there be? Will everyone eventually go vegan, or supplement their diets with insects instead of red meat? Will we finally colonize Mars or find intelligent life on other planets? Will Yellowstone ever erupt, filling the air with ash and plunging the planet into an instant ice age?

Inquiring minds want to know.

But if I am to drink of the fountain of youth, I have a few limits and prerequisites:

1. If I have to pull a Voldemort and create horcruxes in order to live forever, then I’m out. Huh-uh. A big, fat No-Way-José. I don’t want the snake eyes or the evil attitude.

2. Ditto for selling my soul to the devil. Renting it for awhle may be acceptable, depending on the terms of contract.

3. If the elixir of life contains the blood of young children, then I will also have to pass. Because ew. I’d prefer Kool-aid. Or like, a red pill.

4. I want to remain at my current age. If my body will continue to age and decay for the next couple hundred years, well, then that could get old. Even if I don’t. 

It’s interesting that this topic came up, since I just celebrated my 42nd birthday a few days ago. I don’t mind being middle aged. At least, not so far. I still feel like I did when I was 20. I still dance like I did when I was 20. I’m still just as flexible, can run just as fast, turn cartwheels just as well, and can still show off on roller skates. I even wear the same clothing size as I did back then. (Yes, I still own exactly one article of clothing — an expensive silk peignoir that I bought just before my 21st birthday, and it still fits well). Yes, my metabolism has slowed down a little. I have more softness around the middle. And I have (gasp!) exactly one gray hair on my head. But other than that, little has changed.

Who knows? Maybe I already stopped aging, just like Adeline, and Tuck, and Peter Pan. Maybe I already hold the key to eternal youth.


Or maybe I am just as human as everyone else, and will eventually have to come to terms with my own mortality. 

In that case, the best I can hope for, in terms of living forever beyond the misty veil of time, is to write. Perhaps I will someday pen stories that will be passed from generation to generation. Then my name and my work may continue long after I’m gone. As for those I love, well, many of you I have already written. Your faces, your quirks, the way you laugh, the way your eyes crinkle when you laugh, the way you chew the corner of your lip without realizing it, the way you walk, the lilt in your voice, the way your mouth curls when you speak, the words you say — I will capture those with my stalker writer skills of observation and memory. I will breath you to life with my fingers, and in this way, you will live forever, too.

Yes, I know. I’d rather drink from the fountain of eternal youth, too. But this is the best I can offer.


MUSIC ON MY MIND:

PoetBastille

Forever YoungAlphaville

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Everything is Temporary (aka: Non-Attachment)

I know it’s ironic, but I’m rather attached to the Buddhist principle of non-attachment. The basic idea is that our attachments – to people, to things, to ambitions – lead to inevitable suffering. How to avoid suffering? Remain detached.


I don’t think this means that we should not bond with others, as bonding is necessary for healthy relationships with other human beings. Non-attachment is more like living in acceptance of the constant flux of life. People change. Children grow. Relationships change. Nothing stays exactly the same no matter how much we fight it. Instead of allowing ourselves to become too attached to how we think people should be, or how we want things to be, we can choose to remain open to the possibility that nothing is permanent.

Everything is temporary.

A few months ago, I made a foray into the strange and scary world of online dating. (Yes, I know. About time!) I bought a subscription to a well-known paid dating site, which presented me with a lot of nothing, a little meh, one maybe that turned quickly into a maybe-not, and then…POW! Just when I was ready to give up, I met my dream guy. Not kidding. This man was my ideal match in every possible way. So much so, that My coworkers, kids, and I jokingly referred to him as Mr. TGTBT (To Good to Be True). And as our online and cell phone encounters advanced to real-life get-togethers, I became more and more enamored with him. Aside from our incredibly long list of similarities, Mr. TGTBT was also kind, funny, attractive, and intelligent. And he was into me, too – wow! Needless to say, we both had a wonderful time whenever we were together.

Until we broke up this week.

So what happened? He was also dating another women he’d met on the same dating site, and chose her instead of me. Yeah. Ouch.

I cried, of course. It was painful to be rejected (again). But more than that, it was painful to realize that I will never get to spend time with him again. Painful to lose someone after finally letting down my walls and sharing so much of myself. Painful to say goodbye to someone who had quickly become a very important person to me.

But then, the tears subsided. Because I remembered. Remembered all I’ve been through, and all I’ve learned from past years of suffering. Remembered that the pain does not have to equal suffering. Remembered that I now know the secret to letting go is to never hold on in the first place.

And there it was – acceptance. It was not like I had ended a very real and meaningful, if short, relationship. It felt more like I had awoken from a very pleasant dream. One which I would be happy to return to, with him. But still, no more than a dream. Mr. TGTBT was just that. No person in real life can be that perfect for you. No real-life romance could be that sweet. And maybe in that dream world I had to let go of, he will go on to find happiness with the other woman, and the idea of him being happy makes me feel happy, even if he is not with me.

Well, mostly happy. I do have this constant knot in my stomach that makes it hard to eat. But like dreams, like friendships, like romance, like everything in life, that, too, is temporary.

So now, the Best Dream Ever has ended, and I return to real life, here in the Cave. Real life of challenging myself in my career, and raising teens, and discovering great new books to read, and eating healthy (once my appetite returns), and exercising, and writing stories, and learning, and growing. It is a peaceful kind of life, and content. None of the drama, insecurity, or angst that seem to go hand-in-hand with relationships. I’ve canceled my dating site membership and have no plans to ever date again. No, not due to bitterness, or the hurt of rejection. That’s not it at all. It’s this: after Mr. TGTBT, I know that it’s all downhill. No real life man will ever be able to measure up. And I have no desire to challenge that theory. Period.

Maybe I have managed to figure out the art of non-attachment, but I have not managed to figure out people. How is it that so many people can allow themselves to be vulnerable, to share so much with another human being, knowing that it will all be temporary? To know that an important person will fade away, still clutching the treasures you gave them, and then to go out and do it all over again with another person? And another? Doesn’t it seem pointless? Doesn’t it seem as fruitless as a wonderful dream, which too, will fade away like it never happened? Isn’t the pain unbearable, especially for those of you who choose to love deeply, to hold on tightly? What is the prize you win for suffering?

Connection! (aka: Unexpected Encounter on Aisle 4)

 

human connection contact

Connection.

After food and water (and, some would say, sex), connection may be the greatest thing we crave.

It’s why we become slaves to our cell phones, eyes glued to the tiny glowing screens, anxiously awaiting word from our contacts. It’s why we flock to social media. Our comments and Tweets, likes and shared memes are like drops of water, filling our empty cups. We need to reach out, to have meaningful conversations, to belong.

Connection used to be a simple thing. People rose in the morning and connected with family around the breakfast table. Or exchanged greetings at the local market, met with customers face-to-face, shared personal struggles and successes with neighbors, with coworkers, with fellow churchgoers. You were a member of the community – not a virtual one artificially contrived to group together the like-minded, but a real life community of people with real names (not user names) and real faces (not avatars).

Remember those days? Neither do I.

Imagine! Working side-by-side in a community garden while chatting with a human being instead of chiming in on a gardening forum online. Going for a jog or walk with a regular group instead of running alone, then posting your milestones on social media. Arguing with your local book club discussion group about the finer points of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World instead of tossing your personal review into the virtual soup.

Connection – real connection, is intimate. It has eye contact, and touch, and awkward pauses. It is the surprise of saying the same words at the same time (jinx!). It is the smell of someone else’s cologne, the sounds of sighs and tongue clicks, the inflection of voices.

It is ironic that I write of these things, since I am a writer and deeply introverted, and enjoy my time alone more often than time interacting with people. But once in a while, I actually crawl out of my cave to explore the human world. As I happened to be doing just the other day, during a somewhat routine 10-minute stop at the supermarket.

supermarket aisle shopping cartAs I pushed my cart down Aisle 4, an elderly woman leaned forward on her walker and complimented my dress. “It is so pretty, and it goes so nicely with your skin. You have lovely skin,” she added. “You are so lucky that it doesn’t burn easily.”

I flashed the woman a grateful smile, and nearly continued on my way, but stopped. What if this woman was not just offering a compliment? What if she was reaching out, seeking connection? “That’s true,” I told her. “But the trade-off is that it is harder for me to absorb Vitamin D from the sun.”

“It is?” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. “I never knew that.”

The conversation continued, revolving around the challenges and benefits of my toasty brown skin and her pale, Irish complexion. We spoke of race relations throughout the generations, and of travel, and of the ups and downs of relating to siblings. My 10-minute shopping trip stretched out an additional 30 minutes. But that didn’t matter at all. What mattered was the mini-miracle of two complete strangers having an actual, meaningful dialogue about life right there in the aisle of the supermarket. Connecting. Just as everyone used to do, I imagine, in the days before cell phones and the internet.

At last, we said our goodbyes, and thanked each other for the unexpected and strangely satisfying experience. Who knows if we will come across one another again? Maybe that is the sort of thing that only happens in small communities. But still, my cup was filled, and I imagine hers was, too. Now, of course, I ironically must relay the experience here in the virtual world. But perhaps in reading these words, you, too, may decide to pause when the opportunity arises, put your cell phone away, and connect with a real, live human being.

community

 

Onward! (aka: Your Amazing Journey)

lifes journey

Life is not just a journey.

It can be like a journey though. It starts when at last we leave the nest, empty-handed, fluttering our barely-tested wings. Life is not so new anymore, and yet, everything is fresh. Like babies, we toddle into the vast unknown, swiveling our heads to take in everything around us. Our hearts are open to love. We blaze with light, high on new ideas.

Onward!

journey toward sun

It doesn’t take long, though. Somewhere in those ten years, we forget the steps. Our wings droop, weary. Our lights burn lower now, a candle’s flicker, shocked by the splash of sudden responsibilities. In our hands, we carry sacks, heavy with disappointment. Sometimes, we stop in our tracks, compass spinning wildly. Maybe we retrace our steps, searching for the safety of the nest we left behind.

But there is no nest. Not anymore.

So on we continue. When we are lucky, we find others journeying in our direction. We take turns carrying the load for one another, emptying sacks with laughter, with words. Candles together, we shine, lighting the path ahead. We remember our wings. We soar.

candlelight people lights

But luck does not always last. Those moments will come. Our paths may split, companions scattered. What was once you is no longer you, but an empty hole that fills with salty rain and empties again. The light is snuffed, the darkness overwhelms. We want to stop, to curl into the darkness, wrap our wings around us and forget.

But there is this wonderful thing called time. You will hate that word, but you must trust it. Time will gently unfurl your wings, lift you from the darkness. Time will open your eyes to the good ways to be you once again. Time will reveal a great truth to you: life is not just a journey.

Life can be your very own novel. You are the protagonist, fresh ink on each new page. You can begin the dialogue, write the verse, and when you aren’t happy, you can change the plot.

Life can be your canvas. Sketch your plan. Add your own splashes of color where you can. Or better, make yourself the canvas. Trade your jeans for polka-dot skirts and wild, artsy jewelry. Grow the longest beard you’ve ever seen. Sculpt your form like clay, love your softness.

Some say that life is a spiral. You move onward and upward, but the climb brings you around to where you began. But now, you have grown, learned, hovering above the steps you once climbed.

No matter how you see it, there is one thing that remains unchanged. This is your one and only life. No matter where you are in the journey, no matter which page you’ve reached in your book, you have the power to choose what happens next. Who will you be when the sun rises next? Where will your next steps take you?
remember your wings and fly

I hope that your baggage will grow lighter as you travel. I hope that you remember your wings and fly.

I hope that time and love will seep into your cracks and heal your hurts. I hope that when you wander from your path, you will find your way back. I will be here, waiting for you, my fellow traveler. My candle is lit, ready to share my light when you need it.

May your journey be long and filled with great love.

The Clothes Make the Man (aka: Dress the Part)

Women's clothes what to wearThe clothes make the man. Or rather, the person.

It’s true. Not just because Polonius said so to his son, Laertes, in a rather ironic speech about being true to oneself and not being a phony. And not just because the idea has transformed into a cliché, handed down throughout the years. But in fact, science indicates that the clothes we wear, and our symbolic associations with them, can indeed affect our psychological processes. (Adam & Galinsky, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology).

In other words, dressing smarter may make you smarter. Dressing sloppily may make you – well, sloppy.

This totally makes sense. When I go to work each day, I take great care to wear outfits that are neat, well put-together, and professional. And also cute. Because dressing this way sets my attitude for the day – I have it all together. I am a well-organized, focused, and confident professional, ready to excel in the workplace. And also cute. However, when I’m home during the weekends, I pull on comfortable sweats, or jeans and an old t-shirt. My I-don’t-care uniform for lazy hours of reading, video gaming, or Netflix marathons.

In addition to the way our clothing can affect how we think and feel, the way we dress can also influence the perceptions of the people around us. Wrinkled shirts, ripped nylons, scuffed or worn-out shoes may give off an impression of laziness, apathy, or untidiness. By contrast, a well-fitting suit, a trendy yet conservative dress, and voilà! The people around us may perceive us as successful, full of confidence, even more trustworthy.

superman movie dress the part

Are these perceptions as important as my own self-perception? Maybe, maybe not. I am inclined to think that the two are dependent on one another. Perhaps, if I were to pull on a superhero suit, it would make me feel and act like a superhero – not only because I appear to myself like a superhero, but because I am aware that the people around me will also see me as such. If a sexy red dress makes me feel sexy, then perhaps it is because I know that other people will also see me as sexy. And if a well-fitting, conservative (and cute) business suit makes me feel successful and confident (and cute), then perhaps it is due to the perception of success and confidence that my suit gives to others. The clothes do indeed make the man (or woman) – both to his or herself, as well as to the people in his or her life.

This is not to suggest that our clothing choices must always take into account the reactions of other people. No matter how snappy a dresser you may be, there will always be someone who sizes up your appearance and makes an unfavorable judgment about your character. Too provocative. Too conservative. Too frumpy. Too matchy-matchy. Too juvenile. Oh, the faux-pas! We can’t please everyone.

Now plenty of people are perfectly content to live their lives in one standard go-to outfit, be it jeans and t-shirts, khakis and polos, or something more Walmartian, as my daughter likes to put it. And that’s totally their prerogative. But for those of us who enjoy the process of “dressing the part,” it is important to strike a comfortable balance between making a good external impression and feeling positive about our own sense of self-expression through the clothes we wear.  Although the clothes make the man, we must also remember, above all, “to thine ownself be true.”

Barbie fashionistas

 

 

 

 

 

Offensive Coffee Cups (aka: #BoycottStupidity)

 

Red Starbucks Coffee CupsA sad fact: it does not snow in California. Okay fine – I guess it snows up in the High Sierra, where people still pan for gold and grow beards that would make Dumbledore envious. But throughout most of Cali, it doesn’t snow. No snow days. No adorable little snowmen in our front yards. No white Christmases.

I know what you’re thinking.

No snow at Christmas? I should boycott Starbucks. After all, for years, they have insisted on printing tiny snowflakes and snowmen on their red holiday coffee cups. So offensive! They totally left out the snow-less citizens of California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Florida. How dare a coffee company not represent our group. From now on, if Starbucks does not start printing little golden sun symbols on their red cups, then we should no longer buy their delicious, overpriced coffee drinks.

Oh wait – looks like I can’t jump on the #BoycottStarbucks bandwagon. It’s already full. A bunch of Christians have recently joined forces with the Anti-Political Correctness Club to raise their voices in outcry against Starbucks. Because of unfair labor practices? Because some company executive verbally insulted the Christian faith? Because of some blatant unethical behavior?

No. The #BoycottStarbucks / #WarOnChristmas Christians are outraged, because Starbucks chose not to print any little white snowflakes on their signature red coffee cups this year.

Snowflakes.

Snowflakes.

I wish I were joking. I wish I could find some redeeming value in this religion-fueled coffee-cup protest, which apparently now has Donald Trump as an unofficial spokesperson. But I can’t. In fact, the whole controversy is so ridiculous, that I feel like starting a #BoycottStupidity hashtag on Twitter. I also have a sudden urge to go to Starbucks and buy a half-dozen Grande Double-shot Peppermint Mochas to hand out to my coworkers. But I won’t. Not because I am offended by the company’s decision not to put snowflakes or snowmen or even sun symbols on their red holiday cups. But because just outside my neighborhood Starbucks, there are people shivering in the cold, who have had nothing to eat today. And the money that I could spend to treat myself to a sweet, syrupy drink could instead help a struggling fellow human being.

Some things are more important than coffee cups.

Businesses never exist purely to promote and defend specific religious ideologies. They exist, first and foremost, to make money, and though some owners may have and express certain values, looking to businesses to enforce the cultural symbolism of your faith is a bad bet. (Emma Green, The Atlantic, 11/10/2015)

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Everybody Wants to Be Superman (aka: Useless Goals)

Supergirl TV ShowLook! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…it’s…Supergirl? A collective groan runs through the crowd. Oh come on! What a gyp! Everyone knows that Supergirl is a total wannabe. No matter how supercool she tries to be, she will never live up to the badass standard set by her cousin, Kal-El.

Really, no one can.

Here’s the thing – I am totally not a superhero person. I get the Green Hornet mixed up with the Green Lantern, and the Hulk mixed up with the Jolly Green Giant. I think that Batman lives in a cave and likes bats, and drives a weird car, but I could be wrong about some of those.

Super SomethingBut here’s what I do know: every superhero and supervillain wants the same thing. They all want to be Superman. But no one – not even Clark Kent himself, can be that awesome. Want superspeed? Fine – but that’s the only superpower you get, Flash. So you wish you could fly? Here – have some stretchy spider-webs so you can fake fly around the city. Have an invisible jet (seriously, Wonder Woman creators? Was that the best you could do?). Want to be strong enough to push a ginourmous meteor deeper into space so it doesn’t destroy Earth? Yeah, good luck with that one. Good luck with freezing a lake with your icy breath, cutting through rock with your laser vision, and super-self-healing, too.

SuperheroesJelly yet, Justice League losers?

It’s hard not to love someone who is the ultimate superhero. I mean, his only weakness is kryptonite. And unless you live in Smallville, kryptonite is pretty rare stuff.

Okay, okay, maybe I’m judging too harshly. I should acknowledge that the other superheroes all have their special, unique gifts, too. Where would we all be if not for Wonder Woman’s incredible ability to lasso people and force them to tell the truth? And the Wonder Twins’ ability to turn into animals and…um…water? So much better than the ability to keep an entire jet plane full of people from crashing into a crowded stadium.

There’s simply no way to compare. Nor should we try. Superman is just…super. But as super as he is, he is not my most admired superhero. Who comes to mind when you hear the words, Go Go Gadget car!? A truly impressive superhero, right? One who can use technology to fight crime, chase super-villains, and do amazing things. No, not Inspector Gadget! Don’t be ridiculous! The true superhero was his niece, Penny, who kept saving the world while sitting in front of her computer screen. Now that’s the kind of superhero act I can get behind.

Penny and her computer book