Do you ever wish that the writer of the book you just read or the movie you saw would have consulted you before she decided on that particular ending?
Sometimes it is simply historical reality that makes people or characters act the way they act. But I see so many occasions where there could be a much more interesting outcome.
Take Jane Eyre, for example.(my favorite book since I was twelve… and still 55 years later.) In 1847, Jane could hardly embrace immorality, but when you think about it, she does anyway – despite the mores of the times. She returns to Edward Rochester not knowing that Rochester’s crazy wife is dead. She returns to him willingly, aware that he already has a wife. So Jane was plenty subversive – for 1847.
But how I would love it if, when Jane Eyre returned to Thorncrest, she had found everything pretty much as she left it. Mad Bertha still alive, still living in the attic. And Jane stays anyway – her own decision. Married (by love and commitment only, not by the church) to Edward, she has a family of her own, including Adele. And Jane takes good and compassionate care of Bertha, too, for the rest of their lives.
I love the movie Baby Boom. I am willing to suspend all logic and reality to accept that Diane Keaton can inherit a baby from a long-lost cousin, and that Diane had never so much as held a baby in her life. And I even accept that she can be her ditzy self and still hold a high-level management position. I can accept that she gives it all up for a falling-down farmhouse. I accept it all because Diane is adorable and the baby Elizabeth even more adorable. And because she gets to say “screw you” to her big, important job.
But. Oh, how I wish Diane Keaton went to Vermont to that ramshackle farmhouse and fixed it up and didn’t meet a handsome veterinarian. And liked her life anyway.
I loved Friends. I never missed an episode. I planned my Thursday evenings so I could be friends with all those friends. I loved every quirky one of them.
Phoebe was my favorite. I just wish she had pointed out a lot more often to Monica and Rachel how fantastic it is to be completely independent. Not needy. And honest without a trace of meanness. You do not have to lie to get out of an unpleasant situation.
I was on vacation at Cape Cod (in a tent, as I was one of many penniless students) when every other song on the radio was Rod Stewart’s Maggie May. No matter where we were and what we doing, when we heard that mandolin, we would all stop – and sing.
But I wish Maggie May had said, “YOU feel YOU’RE being used??? Get your freeloading ass out of my house, and go back to school. Learn something!”
Years ago I went to a party and there was a guy there I had not seen in years.
He was surprised to see me.
Because six months earlier there had been a murder in my town, and the poor young murder victim bore the same last name as mine.
And this distant friend exclaimed, “Oh my God! I was sure that murdered girl was you!”
As in, “Although we have seen each other hundreds of times, I had forgotten your first name” sure?
Or as in, “I wasn’t surprised that you would be murdered, since we’ve all wanted to kill you at one time or another” sure?
Either way, I was pretty insulted.
But now, more than 40 years later, I don’t think so.
Not that it has taken me 40 years to get over it… no way…
Just that if that happened today, I would see it in a totally different light.
Because I don’t get insulted much anymore.
Because I am the arbiter of what is insulting.
And hardly anything is.
Like when someone told me they hated a certain movie, but that it was the “kind of thing I would like.” Well, now I just think they must mean sweet, simple and touching. Yes, I am like that.
Like when someone commented that I wore an awful lot of makeup. Well, now I just think, they mean that my makeup looks so perfect I look like I had it done by an expert. Yes, I am that good at it.
Like when someone said my dog runs around like a maniac. Well, now I just think that they think my dog is so energetic and fun-loving. Yes, I have raised a happy dog.
Like when someone told me I needed to work on my management skills. Well, now I just think that it’s not in my nature to criticize another person’s work. Yes, I am kind like that.
Like when someone came to dinner and brought her own food because my cooking is not up to her standards. Well, now I just think how much money I just saved because she was generous enough to bring the main course. Yes, I am grateful like that.
Like when someone said that I had a stupid laugh. Well, now I just think that I laugh like a nut all the time because so much in life is so nutty. Yes, I am happy like that.
Like when someone wrote a review on Amazon and said my first book was predictable, unreadable and a complete waste of time. Well, now I just think…
Yes, because I am sensitive like that.
Theo’s pup tips have made my Twitter very popular indeed.
In fact, he is WAY more popular than I am.
That is because he is so much wiser than I am.
Here is some of his latest advice.
Theo would also like you to know that he may have a book coming out soon. His fans are demanding it.
There is a road I take on the way to my mother’s house that has one medium-size hill.
Not a huge omg-will-the-car-even-make-it kind of hill, just a rise that is short but pretty steep. By the way, those runaway truck lanes on hilly highways give me the creeps. Did you wonder how many trucks must have terrible brakes that engineers thought they should make a separate road just for failed-brake trucks?
But anyway, as I climb this little hill on the way to Mom’s house, I reached a point just before the top where all I can see is the nose of my own car. And for that split second, I feel helpless. A sudden queasy flash of panic. I don’t have any idea of what I may encounter on the other side. What if a car has broken down just over the rise? What if there is a child or an animal in the road? Ice? A crater?
I am driving into a complete slightly terrifying mystery. For three long seconds.
And then I hit the top.
And everything is clear. In fact, there is a lovely view and I can see for miles.
Life is like that.
Oh, not the rising of the crest and seeing that everything is beautiful and safe.
It’s the three seconds of complete and blind ignorance.
Only not three seconds. It lasts your whole life.
Each time you think you’ve crested and that you are about to get the view… you realize that the hill is just a little steeper and you still can’t see.
That panic sets in – that you don’t know if there is an obstacle in your path on the other side. There are companion-panics too. Will you even have enough power to make it another foot? Will you have the brakes you need if there is a treacherous downhill section on the other side?
How in the world do we live our whole lives not knowing where we are even going?
All we can see if the hood of our own car. Our own reflection.
Life is terrifying and we never quite get a glimpse of safety.
But we do know that under the hood, we probably do have enough power to get there. We may not be able to accelerate but we can keep going.
And despite our worries that our brakes will fail, we also know that we can pull over to the side – turn on our flashers for safety – and get a breath. Let our engine cool down a bit.
On the side of the road.
There’s where a lot of nice stuff happens anyway. On the side of the road. There are sometimes wildflowers. And an apple tree. A cool brook. There might be a spot for a picnic. Maybe a little dog to pet.
The birds are singing.
Did you know that the birds are singing even when all you can hear is the sound of your own motor straining from your effort?
So when you are ready to resume the endless uphill climb, turn off your flashers and open the windows.
You still won’t be able to see what’s on the road ahead of you, but you may be able to hear the birds.
Summertime – which also means time for a summer re-run.
Here’s a post from three years ago – something I originally wrote for the Huffington Post.
FIVE THINGS YOU DESERVE NOW
Years ago, when I was single – I’d say young and carefree, except I wasn’t quite that young, and I’m not sure I was ever carefree – I went out to dinner with a girlfriend. It was a fairly skimpy meal as I recall, and we were deep in a conversation (probably about work…we hardly ever discussed men; just our crummy jobs), so I suggested we go back to my place where we could continue to bitch and at the same time have ice cream to supplement our small but pricey dinner.
When I took out the carton of gelato, my friend was rather astonished.
“Were you expecting company?” she asked when she saw the container of very premium ice cream.
“No,” I answered. “It’s just a little pint of my favorite flavor.”
“I can’t believe you would buy something like that for just yourself,” she said.
And I smiled.
Because I had learned that lesson long before.
When I was a kid, I knew a lovely old woman who was part of our extended family. Rachel had been widowed for many years. And when I was a teenager, I remember a conversation with her that made a lasting impression. It was one of those small moments that changes your life and you recognize immediately that it is changing your life. I can’t recall what sparked this serious discussion between a young girl and an 80-year-old woman, but we were talking about happiness and loneliness.
Rachel said that the secret to happiness was being nice to yourself. “I’ve lived alone a very long time,” she said. “So I take extra care to be kind to myself. Who else is responsible for making sure I have a good life?” she said. “I often have no company for days on end. So I treat myself like company every day.”
In that moment, I understood.
I see too many people who don’t treat themselves well.
Who don’t think they are worth the good ice cream.
Here are five things you can do right now to treat yourself like company.
1. You deserve to live in a clean house. When company is coming over you always pick up, right? Well, clean the house for yourself. You deserve a nice environment. You deserve a shiny bathroom. You deserve clean sheets when you go to bed at night. A fresh-smelling refrigerator. A clean house is a gift you give yourself.
2. You deserve to dress well. Remember the last time you got all dressed up and felt wonderful about yourself? You can do that every day. I don’t necessarily mean a fancy outfit or an expensive necklace. Just this: When you do shop, buy only what you love. Even if it is a sweatshirt – which I hope it isn’t – but if it is, at least buy one that you LOVE. Too many times I see people shopping whose attitude seems to be ‘good enough.’ As if they don’t believe they are worth the time or energy needed to find something that fits well, compliments them – and most important – makes them happy. Hold out for something that thrills you. Soon you’ll have a wardrobe (even if it is a small one) composed entirely of clothes you love. And so you’ll be wearing something you love every day. Think about how good that would make you feel.
3. You deserve to use your good stuff. Do you have your Grandma’s silver? Some beautiful wine glasses that were a wedding present? Some candles with a heavenly aroma that you never use? USE THEM. Drive that vintage Mustang to the post office. Take out your good china tonight. Light those candles. Treat yourself like company.
4. You deserve to love what you do. Hardly any of us are lucky enough to make a living doing what we love. If you are one of those few – wow. But most of us have to buy groceries and pay the rent by keeping our boring or maybe even awful jobs. That’s just a fact of life. As my mother used to say, “Welcome to adulthood.” But on the other hand, that lousy job is eight hours a day, and you probably need to sleep eight hours too. But that still leaves another eight hours. Every day. Could you fill ONE of them with something you love? Reading, swimming, baking muffins, playing with the dog. You deserve to spend some time with a smile on your face. And what if it turned out that you could do that for TWO hours a day? Double wow.
And while I am on the subject of doing what you love:
5. You deserve to be unashamed of what you love. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I recently overheard someone ridicule a friend for reading a romance novel. And the romance-lover was embarrassed and actually apologized for her poor taste in reading material. How I wish she had said, “I LOVE this book!” What do you love? Star Trek conventions? Dolly Parton music? Making paper airplanes? Knitting little sweaters for your hamster? You are lucky to have found something that gives you such pleasure. Be proud of it.
You deserve it.
You are worth the good ice cream.
About five years ago, when I was in one of my rare poetic moods, I wrote a poem about Reincarnation.
Here it as, and it’s short, so if you are one of the millions of poetry-averse souls, be assured that you can get it through it very quickly and go on without much long-lasting trauma.
Okay, all done. You will be able to breathe normally again in just a second.
Lately I have been rethinking my position.
Not that I have any background whatsoever on Reincarnation. But knowing nothing about a subject has never stopped me from expounding upon it at length anyway.
So that’s my beginning disclaimer. I am not referring to the concept of Reincarnation within Hinduism or within any established belief. I am talking about Reincarnation as I have imagined it – as a wrinkle in my own little curlicued brain.
I have always pictured Reincarnation as your just desserts. You live a good life and you get a really nice next life. You live a bad life and you are punished in your next one. A straightforward Karma.
I am now at the age where my next life is looming closer – perhaps closer than I know. But let’s face it, if Reincarnation is real, our current lives are just the roller coaster ride that leads to the next roller coaster ride. Or perhaps bumper car to the next bumper car, or perhaps even more accurately – laugh-in-the-dark to the next laugh-in-the-dark.
And I see a fallacy in my conception.
What is the point of reward or retribution if you don’t know that it is? What have you learned if you don’t see the continuum of the lesson?
I mean, if you get a horrible life because you were bad in a previous life, but you don’t remember the previous life, how in the world can you understand that your current hell is punishment for being awful, when you don’t remember the awfulness of your earlier self? Wouldn’t you just think, “Holy shit, my life sucks!”? You wouldn’t necessarily know the reason why it does.
And on the other hand, if you are having a great life because you were a gem of a guy before, why wouldn’t you be thinking, “Holy shit, I can do no wrong!”? And perhaps you would end up being quite a prick, and you’d be bouncing back to Bad Life the next time. You’d be a ping-pong ball in tabletop Karma.
So you’d HAVE to remember your previous lives to make my notion work.
And we don’t. Or at least – I don’t. I do wonder sometimes if other people know about all their previous lives and just aren’t telling me, because this is my first go-round.
Perhaps most people are saddle-sore veterans and this is my first rodeo, and they don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Okay. That’s my share today of crazy, inane metaphors.
But it is my best hope for Karma – that I am new to the game but I will remember my past in the future. As everyone else does, but is too polite to tell me.
And the best Karma I can think of – for everyone – is this:
That we get to be the opposite of what we are. That if we are rich, we will be poor in our next life. If we are illiterate, we get to be knowledgeable. If we are lonely, we get friends. If we are hateful, we become the object of hate.
And we SEE.
We see what it like on the other side.
And maybe understand each other.
I’ve had a lot of great jobs in my life. I’ve also had a couple of miserable jobs. But even when the job is miserable there are great moments in there. And even when the job is great, there are bound to be some miserable moments.
I don’t have to tell you that you should concentrate on the little great moments. Well, that is, I don’t have to, but I seem to tell you that a lot anyway.
My long work history has now become history, since I am finally retired from outside employment. I am doing what I love – writing.
Even in pursuing my joy in writing, there are still moments that suck.
But not as many as in working at ‘official’ jobs. And that’s why my writing is a joy – the dramatic decrease in suckfilled moments.
Over the years, though, I learned a lot about getting through the lousy bits.
Here are a few of my acquired coping strategies.
– 1 –
Unskilled work is not so bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. If you have a complicated or stressful home life, or an outside passion that takes loads of energy, work that is repetitive and simple may be just what you need. You get a paycheck and you can devote your energy elsewhere. And even if you have a stressful job, there are often pieces of that job that are easier than others. I had a job early in my career where I did very intricate calculations (or at least they were to me, at that time). But I had one simple task – sorting and listing payments. I saved that piece for the last hour of the day. It was a great way to unwind. Even as I moved up the ladder in that organization, I didn’t delegate that part of the job. I needed that easy piece.
There are often good things to eat. The bigger the organization, the more often it is someone’s birthday, shower, retirement, promotion. Oh, the cake! And in small organizations with fewer birthdays, you can make this happen yourself. Years ago I had a coworker who loved coffee cake. She didn’t want all those calories tempting her at home, so she brought a coffee cake to the office for breakfast almost every morning, and left it (except for her one piece) in the break room for us all to enjoy. When she would go on vacation, the rest of us took turns bringing in the cake.
This one can almost be considered 2(a)… because it also entails food. I once had a job where a good portion of my work required me to file various status reports to corporate headquarters. I soon learned that most of the other employees called me “The Spy.” People tended to avoid me, which not only made me feel pretty bad, but also it made doing my job almost impossible. However, my office was right on the way to the restrooms, so lots of folks tiptoed past. I started putting out a dish of candies – good ones – in an obvious spot on my desk. And little by little, folks started stopping by for a minute as they returned from their bathroom trips. And they started to talk to me. And tell me stuff. And I did my job, and they liked me anyway.
I’ve had mostly decent bosses, but a couple of miserable ones. I coped in two different ways. First, my main strategy was to be determined to outlast the bastard. If a boss is a bad boss, he/she is usually a bad boss to more than just you. So for me, I kept my head down and waited for the boss’s lousy temper or horrible management style to catch up with him. It usually did. And if it didn’t, and everyone else loved him, he usually got promoted – and so, voila! – he wasn’t my boss anymore anyway. Second, I hung up on the idiot. Not in real time of course. On voicemail When I had a voicemail from the boss, I’d slam the phone down in the middle of her message. Sometimes a lot. It would often take multiple tries to get through a whole message. Slamming the phone down on that awful voice felt pretty damn good. Then, of course, I would remind myself that this idiot was paying my rent. And I’d do my job.
If someone had told me how much of a manager’s time was spent in meetings, I would never have gotten my MBA – and would have turned down every promotion (if I had been offered any). OMG, meetings are so boring. But I made them sort of tolerable with a few little practices. For one thing, I gave myself the gift of beautiful notebooks, calendars, and pens. Not just okay. Stunning. So taking notes was a pleasure. And I changed the way I took notes. I perused some calligraphy books and tried out different handwriting styles. I added some flourishes. And most important, I changed what I wrote. I made my notes personal. I listened to what people were saying, and wrote down what I thought was the best thing they said. Each person in the meeting – I recorded their best thoughts. And I began to think that I worked with some very brilliant people. I liked listening to them.
What these strategies have in common is Control.
I concentrated on the stuff I could control. The stuff I could do to make everything just a little better.
I couldn’t control my boss, or my job duties, or my coworkers – or even my commute. But I could have a pretty notebook. I could make it easier for people to talk to me. I could listen more carefully when they talked.
And I could have a piece of cake once in a while.
The other day, I saw this little weed growing up through the patio stones.
I posted this photo on Facebook with the caption:
This little weed dreams of growing up to be a palm tree.
But the more I thought about it – and the more I looked at the perfect shadow that was cast by this weed – I changed my mind.
This weed is not dreaming of growing up to be a palm tree. This little weed is ALREADY a palm tree. His reflection shows me what he is. He is the palm tree of our patio.
What do you dream of becoming?
Maybe you are already there.
You are already beautiful. Just look at those eyes. That smile. When you put your bright eyes and pure smile together, there is nothing quite as lovely. See your gorgeous hands – so capable of both strength and tenderness. And that beautiful skin. And your shoulders. I love shoulders – especially men’s shoulders. Whether they are like marble or like ebony. They are perfect.
You are already intelligent. Why, you got out of diapers and learned to use a fork. You went to school. You can count. You learned to read. You are reading this right now. You even FOUND this page – amongst the millions of pages on the internet, you got here. When a song comes on the radio, a song from when you were thirteen – all these years later you still remember every single word. You remember all the words from dozens, maybe hundreds of songs. Your brain is amazing.
You are already athletic. You go up and down the stairs. Sometimes you run up and down them several times in a row, as perhaps you forgot for a second (only a second, because of your wondrous brain) what you went up for. You climb a ladder and hang the curtains. Oh yes, you have great muscles – look how many grocery bags you can carry in at one time. Some of you may roll around in a wheelchair or use a cane – that takes a ton of strength too, as you use parts of your body to shore up the lesser parts. Maybe you ride a bicycle. How old were you when you learned to ride? Seven? What a fantastic accomplishment.
You are already lovable. And not just because someone cared enough to give birth to you. But because of who you are. You are honest. Remember the time you gave the dollar back to the cashier because she gave you too much change? You are not a cheat. You get your work done at your job. You even do the tasks you don’t like. Because you should. You are conscientious. You smile at old people and hold the door. You even smile at your great-aunt when she is telling you the story she has already told you eight times. Because you are kind. You have slammed on your brakes for a squirrel.
Maybe you want to be even better. And maybe you can be.
But know that right now –
right as you are –
you are magnificent.
Like a magnificent palm tree growing up through the patio stones.
It’s Theo’s Birthday!
He’s three years old. All grown up. I cannot believe how fast the time went. And I can’t imagine my life without him.
Truly, he is my best friend.
Theo has taught me so much in the last three years.
In comparison, I’ve taught him so little. He pees and poops outside. He sits (for a reward). Sometimes he comes when I call. Sometimes.
That’s about it.
But what he has taught me is immeasurable.
Patience. Joy. Forgiveness. Love.
I’ve learned so much.
And for the last month or so, I have been sharing all Theo’s wonderful advice on Twitter.
He is becoming way more popular than I am. And he deserves his growing fame.
Here for your edification are some of Theo’s best tips:
Happy birthday, sweet Theo!
You are the light of my life!