Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tell me what YOU think

Inspiration always helps when a writer is trying to hit one out of the park. When I sit down to write something, I want it to count. And although writing is very yin, the need to hit the mark is yang energy.

I have written my entire life. I have letters and notes I wrote at 6, 7, 8 years of age. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to go about it. My 10th birthday present from my two maiden aunts was a suitcase and a dictionary. There should have been a copy of the Jack Kerouac classic On the Road inside, along with a big, black, Underwood typewriter.

In high school, I spent every spare moment on one after-school job using the electric typewriter [what fun!] to write satiric commentary, letters to myself on what my 16-year-old eyes perceived as the insanity of the adult world. No-one saw any of this; my high school papers were labored and did not reflect my real thinking; just poorly constructed, desperate attempts to fit in and not be noticed. Give a teacher what s/he wants, stay under the radar, live your real life somewhere else. Not unlike many not-yet-fully-developed adolescents.

But not until I conceived of the idea for the book I am working on, did my yang energy, my meet-the-world-and-take-my-place-energy, literally arise out of a need to reach people with my words, have them actually read what I write, and think about what I was saying. My strong belief is that understanding male-female interactions from a yin/yang point of view can actually make a difference. I want people to get it, use it, teach me what they think is important.

I would like to ask you, the reader, to tell me what you want to understand about people of the other gender. You may remain anonymous, if you wish, but all answers will appear in this blog.

I have a funny story for you:

I got a blowout the other day. I was driving a Jeep, the big version. I happened to be near a gas station, and I pulled in. The guy at the pump immediately said “There’s no one here to change the tire.” Great, I thought. I had a ton of food in the car, a lot of it needing a refrigerator. So I called my friendly tow-truck driver. It would be an hour or more. That meant two. I noticed a man in mechanics’ dark blue coveralls with the name of the garage over the pocket. He was moving cars to the back of the garage. Twice I had to move the Jeep so he could get by. He wasn’t really nice or polite about it. Who is he, I thought, if not a mechanic? But maybe he was invisible to the attendant. Maybe I was imagining him. He was certainly ignoring me as if I was invisible, except when he showed irritation when I was in his way. Maybe red lipstick woulda helped.

Frustrated, tired, and irritable, and, okay, maybe a little ready to cry [I had a whole lot of pressure that day] I thought, let me get the process started, so he could do the tire quickly. So, wearing a skirt and pretty shoes, I opened the back and unscrewed the spare and proceeded to lug it out of its well and roll it around the car. Getting black gunk all over me in the process. I moved the groceries off the back seat where I’d just dumped them five minutes ago to get all of them off the spare tire - including four 24-packs of water - so I could get the jack stored under the seat. [I’m not familiar with this particular vehicle.] I then proceeded to squat down, looking under the car, to find the place where the jack fit in.

But when I actually picked up the lug wrench and approached the flat tire, another man magically appeared and stopped me. “You no change the tire.” He was kind, but very firm. “I will have the man do it. This is not for a woman to do. Why you do it.” It was not a question.

“The guy pumping gas said there was no one here.” I was innocent.

“Ah, no-one here. There are two men here. You do not have to change the tire. I am the owner. Jose will change the tire.”

I said, “Are you Italian?”

“Sicilian,” he answered.

“Me, too,” I say. Immediately he opens his arms. I am amazed as I hug him. From an invisible person with a shredded tire, I have become a lady, welcomed with open arms. And I wasn’t even wearing foundation or blush. I silently thank my departed Sicilian father.

I am instructed to stand aside while the previously indisposed mechanic comes and drives my car around back, pulls out his magic air gun, and – I timed it – changed the tire in three and a half minutes. About as long as it took me to move the groceries a second time to unearth the greasy jack thingie I never ended up using. As he tightened the last lug nut, he said “You a lady, I the man. Lady no change the tire.” Yeah, uh, and who was that guy inhabiting your coveralls 20 minutes ago when I was ready to cry?

Apparently it was okay for me to sit and look miserable, but when I attempted to do a ‘man’s work,’ that just tore it. Guys materialized of nowhere lest an act against nature be committed. The truth is, I could have changed that tire, I have done, but I hate doing it. It hurts my hands; if the last person tightening the lugs was a sadist you have to sort of jump on the wrench to loosen them; and the tire is dirty. Then you have to lift it up into the place where it fits in the back and there’s no way the black crap doesn’t get on your clothes. And as you drive away, you always worry that you didn’t tighten everything enough and your tire will fall off. Your dirty hands stick to the steering wheel. Not to mention the utter cruelty of looking like an idiot if the tire gets away from you and rolls into the road.

Now, I know what happened. I could use yin and yang, and explain the different dynamics, but you know what? I’m not gonna do that. Some things are best left unanalyzed.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Provoking Yang

There is a current news story about the young woman who walked into an airport with a provocative piece of art on her chest, allegedly reminiscent of a bomb, and clay in her hand – supposed to resemble C-4? – What’s interesting is the commentary.

People either despise her for her stupidity or think the police overreacted. But this incident shows the complexity of protection vs freedom. Some comments indicate that anyone who knows about bombs and computer would know the circuit board she was wearing was innocuous. Some people loved calling an MIT student dumb. Other people see the police statement that she is lucky they didn’t shoot her as indicative of a police-state mentality. Innocent people should be able to walk through airports freely without oppressive policing. These reactions do not get to the basic problem, however.

So let’s look at this another way:

Yang energy is a protective energy. Yang does not think: it acts upon perceived threats. And thank goodness for that. We don’t want the people assigned to protect us to think about it too much. No waiting around while the threat gets carried out; no long decision-making process while various responses are weighed and evaluated. Strike, hard. Eliminate the threat. Go back to the cave and watch TV, take a nap, eat. That’s yang energy. Essential to survival. Necessary to protect yin energy.

On the other hand. Yin energy is also essential. Balance. Yin is ease, the spaciousness of freedom of thought and expression, home and hearth, playfulness, sweetness, lightness of being. Yin also nurtures yang. Without these things, we would literally perish.

So here you have two sides to what happened in Boston. Sort of.

OK. But yang also does not like to lose. And the yang energy of the US took an enormous blow on 9/11/2001. There are tons of people out there who literally would rather die than let anything terrible like that happen again. And we need these people. We need that edge, that state of alertness, because there are still people who would take any opportunity to do it again. And our 'protectors' are essential to our survival, not only form terrorist attacks, but from the erosion of society that happens when you feel in danger all of the time.

Yet, we also cherish the ideals of the supposedly free society we live in. How to balance them?

Well, would you walk up to a sentry on duty in Baghdad and pretend to draw a gun just to provoke his defensive stance? Uh, not a good idea. Yet that is what this young woman did. The fact that she was not a threat is after the fact. Had she been truly armed with something, people would have died. Is there anyone on sentry duty at our airports who would take a chance on that happening? Are there people out there who believe the stuff of futuristic films and think that somehow, the people charged with protecting our airports, should have divined that she was not really threatening by knowing the difference between what she was wearing and a real bomb? Obviously there are. Reality is messier and not so clear. Of course, TSA pulling my 80 year old mother out of line [more than once] for a more careful search may have more to do with poor training and bureaucratic idiocy than we’d be comfortable knowing. And I have a feeling that this kind of thing is what many people are more pissed off about.

Truly, provoking a reaction from art critics is a better – and more appropriate method of getting attention. The guys with guns [and some of those guys are girls – no slouches in the shoot-first department] are there to prevent mayhem. If they seem trigger-happy, remember what we lost. Yang protects yin, and will do so even if it means s/he who puts his ass on the line dies. To mock that is a perversion of the natural order. Had she been shot, I would have felt two contradictory things: Thank GOD they are on TOP on any possible bombs – and I would have cried at the death of a yet another kid who did something careless and stupid that got her killed.

And for those critics who think that she got off with too light a punishment, take it easy. She’s a nineteen-year-old who did a really dumb thing. The fact that she was not hustled off and made to disappear– or shot dead instantly – is a good indication that yin is alive and well and nurturing the yang of our system, at least in Boston.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Wedding Dress

I’ve always been an unconventional person. Not by choice, out of some need to reject the status quo, but because I was just born with a different sensibility. Certain things that matter to most people simply don’t matter to me. I can’t force it and gave up trying years ago.

I am a warm hostess, but don’t care if I use paper napkins, although I have the other kind. I want people to be comfortable, enjoy the hell out of what I serve and eat heartily, have fun, and really good conversation. I want them to feel like being at my house was a gentle and relaxing and happy, timeless stretch. And I don’t feel badly if they have to ask me for something I neglected to put out. In fact I am happy when they do. It means they are seeing to it that they enjoy themselves. Life is too short and I’m not embarrassed by details like remembering the artificial sweetener. Go into my cabinets in search of it. Mi casa es su casa.

For a few years, my daughter has been reminding me occasionally that she would probably, at some point, get married. My response was, fine, but I’m not paying for one of these elaborate disgusting affairs. 5 years ago I sat in the living room of an older couple and suffered greatly through the cutesy video of their daughter’s wedding. I was sickened by the excess, by the artifice, by the utter waste. Three years later, after an expenditure well on it’s way to six figures, the kids broke up, boy and girl twins notwithstanding.

So when EJ announced that the engagement ring she’d been wearing for months actually meant she’d be getting married, I panicked. Oh GOD, I thought, what am I going to do?

My daughter can be vulnerable and sweet and open to suggestion like any other young woman about to get married. However, her real state is closer to hell-bent; in a quiet way. Anything that deviates from her vision becomes annoying and ceases to exist. She doesn’t yell and scream, throw tantrums, withdraw, or anything unpleasant like that. She just goes around the obstacle and does not look back. Which is why when I suddenly got a text message on my cell that read: “Can you look at wedding dresses with me tomorrow?” I knew there was nothing else to do, even though I almost said NO! Wait!

We arranged to meet at a corner in the city in an area known as the garment district. Tall buildings are honeycombed with one clothing manufacturer after another, floor after floor after floor. Mostly showrooms, although some real sewing goes on here and there. The designer she had in mind was having a half-price sale on floor samples. In a wedding dress, this can represent a gigantic savings. So at the appointed time, we met, hugged and took a slow, cranky elevator to the showroom of one Paula Varselona.

I was innocent as a new-born lamb.

Across the hallway from the elevator was a long curving glass wall. We were obviously in the right place. Immediately we entered a room with a bit of smooth, gray carpet, an odd-looking round, raised platform, and white, off-white, ivory and ecru froth and fluff as far as the eye could see. Wedding dresses hung everywhere, stuffed into every space. Where there weren’t wedding dresses there were other things that glittered from small chunks of rhinestones and gold with ribbons to eight-foot veils jammed on a giant rack. Sequined bags of all sizes, tiaras, earrings, things I couldn’t even identify, everything flashing and sparkling and calling attention to itself. For someone who likes that kind of thing – I do – it was fun. But the dress part was daunting. How do you choose a wedding dress. I was totally out of my league.

All of the samples were not yet back, we were told. EJ was nevertheless wading in. I looked at another rack. I wasn’t impressed. Wedding dresses are boring, I was thinking. I desultorily pulled one hanger after another, wondering when we could go to lunch, until a big puffy rose caught my eye. It wasn’t a showy rose, but a flattened saucer of delicately-colored blush rose, with the merest wisp of sage green leaves; there were several more of them here and there along the way in a poufy-skirted, ivory-colored strapless confection.

I pulled it out of the rack and called EJ over. “That’s the dress on the website!” She was excited. Hmm, I thought, can it be this easy? Then: Website?

She grabbed the dress and charged into the back room, shedding layers of clothing, until she was down to just . . . her . . . thong.

“You wore a THONG to look at wedding dresses?” I was wrong to say this of course, because obviously it came out in Chinese instead of English, judging by the Huh? What? Look I got from her.

A salesperson came in followed by a woman whom I immediately liked. All business, yet allowing EJ to enjoy the moment, the two women escorted her to the platform [mommy having a quiet AHA moment in their wake]. The second woman turned out to be Paula, herself.

There, my daughter transformed instantly into a princess and I became the mother of the bride. Just. Like. That.

Because the dress was utterly, completely, over-the-top, perfect.

It was so perfect, so magical, that a woman who had been shopping for a mother-of-the-groom dress, came over and in a round of that old, time-honored New York game called “one-upping” instantly made her prospective daughter-in-law the topic of the conversation. How thin she was; how small. While she was talking, people passing by the glass walls of the showroom tapped and gave thumbs-up signs. EJ couldn’t take her eyes off herself in the mirror. The woman shopper, annoyed at being ignored, finally uttered the coup-de-grace: “Well, it’s not like you’re thin.” The skinny saleswoman immediately bristled. Eventually mother-of-the-groom left.

Never mind that my daughter was standing inside a size eight that had to be taken in all over. Never mind that she has a spectacular body that causes male jaws to drop. Our saleswoman was incensed. Not EJ. She never had a body-image issue or an eating disorder. She just laughed and said to me “I’m starved – let’s go to lunch and think about this.”

All through lunch she kept asking, “Should I get it? Should I get it? I love it!” After we ate, I said, “Let’s go back and get it: It’s perfect.”

But because this isn’t a fairy tale, and we are two women, shopping, of course we didn’t get that dress. But the one we got had a smaller skirt, a better strapless top, and several, large blush-pink roses on ivory silk. Paula Varselona earned my complete admiration when she stated gently that one does not wear a thong under this dress and, yes, does wear a bra.

Her fiancĂ© called and was so excited. He wanted to know everything. I took the phone out of big-mouth’s hands and said: “You only need to know one thing. When she walks down the aisle to you in that dress, you are going to drop to your knees.”

That was the first wedding thing we did.

After that came the search for the perfect wedding ‘venue’ – a new word in my vocabulary. The Venue had to have the possibility of making the event become magical. And be worthy of The Dress. Then The Invitations. Now we are working on The Cake. After that will be The Flowers. The Music. The Photographer. EJ has expressly stated that she does not want a video. All is well in the world: we are in harmony. Even the guest-list has been completed with no bloodshed.

Somehow, in the same way women forget the pain of childbirth, my unconventional side is silent, and I have ‘joined the process’ of helping my daughter have the perfect wedding. I am unapologetic about my enthusiasm, and have engaged the side of me well-suited to planning, say, an invasion of a smaller country. No detail is too small, and nothing can be done too early to assure success.

After the wedding, however, I will probably revert to using paper napkins again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Some History According to Train

I've been thinking about the greatest generation for a few months now.

I've come to the conclusion that they weren't so great. And I wonder if some of those veterans never left the 1940's behind.

Jesse Kornbluth's review of 'My Father's Secret War," in HeadButler.com, leads me to wonder if war wasn't always traumatizing and we just never [pre-Freud] recognized or allowed for the scope of what it did to those who had to live with their memories. Because aside from the glory of winning, what is left, except the terrible deep fear of having to be 'on' 24/7 in order not to be killed, and the necessity of having to keep going, maintaining an impervious front as you watch people you serve with get killed and maimed, interspersed with brief moments of a deep and enduring camaraderie that afterwards only will have its comfort mitigated as it reminds you of what you and others lost.

And then what we do is glorify veterans' experiences without allowing them to cry about the damage done to them. Because that 'weakness' would denigrate the victory or some crap. Male indoctrination at its worst.

So, the greatest generation is a group of people who were innocent in good ways and also in bad ways. And the 50's? An extension of the innocence as they elected a president who was a general and a genial paternalistic icon. That this was a huge group response to the utter trauma of WW II was not even on the screen. They stopped growing, on some level, lulled by their accomplishment.

The 60s were a rude awakening for the greatest, because their children saw the hypocrisy in government and social institutions, spurred on by the civil rights movement which was also a rude surprise to the "G." Throughout it all, the greatest stuck together, seeking solace, even refuge in DoubleyaDoubleya Two as a real war and their 'winning it' as justification for their existence. OK. But what this all engendered is a group of people who mass-produced children in response to this trauma, tried to stay teenagers in response to their lost adolescence, and rigidly rejected change as a threat to the status quo.

Too many of them had children in order to fit into this rigid society [remember how strange childless couples were when you were growing up?] and too many of those children suffered damage as a result. While I absolutely abhor the rampant entitlement many of today's children exhibit, I see the opposite as just as dangerous.

I have met one person after another who, although now in his/her 80's, is still childlike in ways that are not complimentary, and which has made the aging process less graceful than it could be. And I'm being kind.

I will read the Franks book, if only to find if she also saw this and overcame it to have compassion for someone who was a victim of both war and what followed after and who could not in his lifetime mourn what had happened to him but was destined to act it out.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Oooh Baby! Gimme some good hot . . . chicken wings

The March 2007 issue of The Atlantic magazine carries a review of a book by Joan Sewell entitled I'd Rather Eat Chocolate. The review's author, Sandra Tsing Loh is funny. VERY funny as she raises questions about why women more and more are seeming to lack the desire to have sex with their loving, sexy partners.

I could answer that with one hand tied behind my back and duct tape over my mouth.

We are tired, guys.

We are tired of having to be perfect. We are tired of having to be sexy when in fact we are sexy, all by ourselves, and without thongs, any of Vicky's secrets, and Cosmo et al telling us how we can please our men even better than we ever have before. [Hey buddy, if that last bj wasn't good enough, how'd you like to have a heart attack next time? Yeah. I thought so.]

And we are tired for a bigger reason: We give at the office. And we give at home. I have a friend who has three boys. The youngest is about to get his driver's license. THANK GOD. You know what it's like for a woman who has three boys who are all into sports? Especially since sports events can occur any day of the week or weekend. When I was in high school, they had an 'activity bus.' You stayed after, you took a later bus home. Period. Now, mom has to pick up and wait and bring home. And lessons, and clubs and other student-resume-building activities. Yikes!

And how many women work and come home to kids who have to be fed, have their homework supervised, computer and TV viewing overseen and be cajoled and yelled at to get them to bed before midnight? And put away that damn cellphone at the table! And do NOT text while I'm talking to you! Did you have a good day, honey? Could you please get Josh to turn the music down?

Picture one of these women coming home from work, kicking off the work shoes, peeling down and stepping out of the pantyhose, slipping on sweats, and sitting down to a delicious and healthy meal prepared by someone else -- then retiring to the living room and falling asleep watching TV. Can't picture it?

That's one piece of modern life -- our kids have more complicated lives, their world requires more supervision [it's more dangerous], and the stakes for their success [with more competition for college] are higher. You can't ease off and coast.

But a bigger piece for younger people who don't even have kids yet? There is a tremendous pressure to work harder than ever before -- and there is a lot more drinking and recreational drug use [and prescription drugs for stress and depression]. And with a larger percentage of women in the work world than ever before, more women are having the same stress as men traditionally have had -- with no-one to come home to who will share the burden.

Two things have not changed: Men still feel responsible for paying for the family they eventually want to have -- and women feel the utter necessity of looking as young and beautiful as they possibly can -- no matter how hard they have to work to meet their other goals and dreams. It is nice to want to have it all -- to have the option of having it all -- family, career, secure financial future. But something has to give. There isn't always energy for it all.

Contrast all this with what a women needs to have good sex regularly: You need time. You need not to be interrupted, you need to slow down and enjoy the process. And you need energy. The kind of energy that comes from the inside of a woman; that slow, easy, relaxed, seductive energy. The kind of energy very few of us have these days because we are so utterly preoccupied with moving and doing faster and faster. And frankly, there is some resentment: You want me to be successful in my career, look really hot, be sexy and fit, nurture you -- and you just get to focus on your career and earning money and drop in for a little nookie when you need to? Uh Uh. Nope. I'd rather have a box of mallomars.

And with women feeling more pressure, the guy better produce when they do hook up. No more slam-bam-thank-you-sweetheart-uh-what's your-name. Why bother? His performance better include her. Add the threat of STD's, and you wonder how the next generation is going to produce any kids.

Food is sensual. It's a reward. It does not require conversation and it does not judge. And people are so damned hungry. And tired. The pace of life these days, combined with the complexity is utterly depleting sometimes. When you feel really depleted and tired, what feels the best, what feels like it will feed you deeply -- and so you crave it -- is food. Add a good movie to that and you are in heaven. A heaven that envelopes you, lulls you, relaxes you and is yours alone.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I’m a Woman; I can change my mind

Ok, yeah, I know I wrote almost, uh, lovingly, about snow the other day. At best, I was using it as a device to show how we all need to stop once in a while. But this morning, staring out at the relentlessly white hard-pack coating the ground, watching small birds desperately try to find food, the thrill is gone, the dream is over, and I want this frozen sludge to melt.

The problem is one of color: There isn’t any. Miami isn’t intoxicating because of the weather. [Who needs to sweat all the time?] It’s the color. Blue sky [Ok, we have that here] white sand [a creamy, soft white] 27 kinds of Pink houses, orange roofs, green in every shade and shape imaginable, turquoise water! Turquoise! Flowers!

Frankly, it could be 30 degrees, but with all that color, I’d be warm.

Here we have brown, black, white and grey.
Rocks. Big ones: grey.
Trees: brown, grey.
Snow: white, grey
Dead garden: brown, some ochre
Evergreens: Green – DARK
Moss on dead trees: radioactive supporating green

I’m trying to see it as, well, serene, restful, calming, but all I’m coming up with is dull, depressing, and monotonous. And I’m reminded that the bare bones of my landscaping leaves a lot to be desired. I did try to grow cornus one year. They are those bushes that lose their leaves, but the stems are red. Unfortunately, the deer read them as lettuce. Now I have a fence, but am traumatized.

Here’s one other thing about icy snow: Those stolid maniacs who operate the giant plows: They love to plow the driveway shut. Of course, their faces don’t change expression, but I know deep down, this is why they come to work when it snows.

My neighbor’s house is yellow. Big deal. It’s not a yellow I like and it’s surrounded by those other colors. One year, in preparation for painting our house barn red, we mixed some of the red into the white primer. We did not get a nice pink, however. What we got was a cross between dark mauve and darker flamingo pink.

Although we tried, we could not get the house painted, only primed, before the weather turned cold. So, all winter our house remained that color. I can’t tell you. People stopped their cars. Some joggers/walkers/sightseers tried to be nice: “It’s an interesting color.” I hastily answered: “It’s just the primer.” People in general are not good actors. Or maybe they thought the relief they showed was supposed to make us feel good. There was a small part of me that wanted to leave the house that color just to try their patience, but nausea won out.

I’m not enough of a Calvinist to take much comfort in the idea that all this stuff makes the Spring that much more enjoyable. I could live in a more colorful climate and never take it for granted. Really.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Let it SNOW, hold the ice, please

People around here were really tired last week. Me, too. Oddly tired. I began to think it was the cold. It's hard to fight that bitter cold, day in day out, no respite. And we certainly weren't used to it. January 6th is my partner's birthday. One year, in order to have a party, we had to have tons of gravel delivered to coat the driveway, just so people could get to the house without doing headers. The ice was so pernicious. Thick and frozen and ugly. Other years, we postponed: snow.

This year, he and his best friend took a long walk in shorts and T's.

But even though most of us indulged in a little spring fever, confusing though it was, if you grew up in the northeast, or at least have lived here long enough, you become accustomed to the concept of a winter break of a day or two, forced to slow down and stay home, during a work week. Because Mother Nature gave us all a snow day.

And snow days are yin to their cold little toes. There is nothing any of us can do to override snow, SUV's and Subaru's to the contrary. At some point we have to say "The hell with it, I'm not even going to try to get out." And we settle in, enjoying the quiet that a nice snowfall brings, muting the sounds, culling the traffic herd down to a few cautious individuals. If we do manage to get out, we stay local, and don't try to do too much. We can't: no-one is around, and some places are just closed.

I, personally, was very disappointed this morning when I saw pachysandra the minute I opened my eyes. The stuff is a great ground cover, thick as kudzu, and it takes some snow to cover it. It’s outside my bedroom window and the person who sleeps next to me will sweat bullets if the window isn’t open at least fifteen inches. Seeing that green was like waking on Christmas morning and finding no presents under the tree.

The entire programming of one whole channel on TV is devoted to the weather. There is DOPPLER RADAR which can find aliens billions of light years out. These meteorologist types actually have advanced degrees. And then there’s the Farmer’s Almanac. But it’s empty promises, all of it. I am dreadfully disappointed in the lot of them. Because I needed a snow day. A lot of us did.

Instead, we got ICE. Ice is danger without the bulk. It's insidious. It hides its real menace. You can actually see the road sometimes, black and shiny. Oh, it's just wet, you think; until your brand new, aggressively treaded, expensive all-weather radials on your all-wheel drive vehicle fail to hold a curve at 11 miles an hour and you end up somewhere else than you intended. And ice isn't an actual physical obstruction like snow.

Snow has to be moved. That takes time. You get to have biscuits for breakfast, and a second cup of coffee. You get to feel like a child, bundled up, venturing out into the exciting world of a snowfall. You get to wave to other people, similarly occupied. You get to fall and laugh instead of wondering if you can reach your cell phone. "I'm snowed in," you say regretfully on the phone. You hang up and smile. "I'm SNOWED IN!" you say to yourself.

We need the respite of a snow day now and again. Life at this moment in time is just too damned fast, too pressured. Every one of us has a 'list.' These are the things we [think] we have to do. When they make a post-it as long as a roll of toilet paper, I'll have enough space for my list. Most of us make mental lists in addition to the stuff we write down. The "I'll eventually get to . . . " list. Just the existence of these lists puts pressure on us. We can't not be doing something all the time. But if you can't do anything, and it's out of your hands? You get a guilt-free mini-vacation for as long as it takes to get the streets cleared and the car dug out. And of course, you have to wait for it to stop snowing to do that.

So that's why, when it starts snowing, and the forecast is for more snow than can be removed immediately, many of us take a deep breath and sigh, enjoy the delicate crinkly sound it makes when it falls, smile at the utter beauty, let the car get buried and just plain relax.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Real Beauty and the Beast of Advertising

I get my nails done every week. On the table where we all sit to have them dry are a half-dozen magazines. Every magazine has a beautiful, young, glamorous woman on the cover. Inside are dozens of such women, selling anything you can imagine, body parts displayed, long legs, perfect skin and hair and nails, looking like they are enjoying a really fun life. Even the ‘serious’ articles invariably feature a very attractive celebrity whose problems are dramatically highlighted, as are the solutions and the outcome.

Go to any supermarket to pick up paper towels and there are very young, glamorous women wearing low cut somethings or other with perfect, bulging breasts on every magazine, and all kinds of packaging. You see this nearly every day. And you can get this message: A person like me doesn’t matter. Because my breasts aren’t perfect and I’m not 23 anymore.

When I was young, I was more than attractive. I had a great body. Even a sexy body. But the images of these perfect woman mocked me even then. Know what they were saying?

“No matter what you do, you will never look like us. You will never be perfect. Men want perfection. We represent the pinnacle of femininity which you will never reach.”

And they looked so smug, so pleased with themselves. So utterly proud and happy and disdainful. Imagine being perfect. Doors would open. You had only to ask and you would receive. You could have any man you wanted. Right?

Never mind that almost to a person, they starved. They worried about every blemish, every minuscule line, any sign of aging. Ignore the real fact that their photographs were doctored to remove any sign they were human, and, GASP! Imperfect. (Could it be possible that they, too, struggled to live up to their own photos?)

And, do not pay attention to the fact that they are used to sell things. Cosmetics and clothing to be sure, but, oh, so much more: Magazines, cars, appliances, adult toys of all kinds, ideas, services, to name a few. The fact is, if you want to sell something, anything, put a couple of breasts on the front of it and make sure their owner is young and wearing glossy lipstick.

Now we have TV shows which are invading the home in a sneaky, nasty little way: Housewives now must be sexy and beautiful, and – wait for it – PERFECT.

Gotta clean the bathroom.

But first: lipgloss and some blush. Hair swept back and smoothly styled. Clothes sexy and revealing [note to self: underwire/pushup] a dab of perfume, maybe some concealer [up late doing laundry . . .sshhhh, do NOT advertise that fact]. Thick rubber gloves to protect my jewelry, carefully covering the bracelet – those stones, you know . . . WAIT! Do not go into that bathroom without checking the eyebrows! Quick! 5X mirror and some tweezers please! Whew! 7 hairs later and I’m ready!

In real life, no-one is perfect. When we think or speak, our faces reflect what is going on inside. Our eyes light up, our muscles move, we communicate with our bodies. We attract people based on how and what we communicate in a complex and mesmerizing multi-level dynamic. And each of us is unique, and so is what we each have to offer.

Yes: Highlighting our best features intensifies the communication. But less is more. Colors that look good on us. Clean, neat clothing. A hairstyle that flatters. And a deep, certain knowledge that who we are only begins with the face and body. Real beauty in a human being is always going to be on the inside: What we think, and feel and what we do. Cosmetic changes may make us feel good, but what makes the other people in our lives feel good is when we let them see who we are. And when they love us for who we are, that’s the best thing in the world.


Writing: journals, letters, working on my books, fiction, funny stuff
Reading in a quiet clean house with fresh flowers all around, soft spacey music in the background
Dancing (old R&B, funky-sexy hip hop, ass-shaking rock’n’roll, Buddha Bar)
Watercolor painting with a zillion colors and pretty designs
Landscaping and planning gardens (not weeding)
Watching the birds and animals and my cats
Hanging out with my kid, my partner, my sisters and brothers and laughing a lot
Road trips and exploring with my partner
Really good, deep conversation that has few boundaries and lets me ask questions
Having a couple of drinks with close women friends and getting raunchy and laughing a lot
Occasionally planning and making an entire really incredible meal from scratch and then sharing it with those who are close to me
Anything involving a beauty salon and hair, skin or nails
Interviewing interesting people and finding out where they came from and what they’re about
Having dreams that tell me things I didn’t know
High-heeled, open-toed, soft leather shoes with bows and straps in pretty colors

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tiny green shoots of femininity . . .

It was a rainy summer night. I was in my boyfriend's living room with my then eleven-year-old daughter. He lived in an apartment in a place where you could walk to things, like a bagel store and Carvel.

"Let's go get ice cream," I suggested. EJ immediately thought that was a good idea. She loves ice cream. At age four she had gotten so excited at the promise of an ice cream sandwich from the freezer that in her jumping up and down she had slipped and smacked her chin squarely on the floor. I can still feel the impact 20 something years later. She had eaten the ice cream sandwich cuddled in my arms, big bruise on her chin.

She ran to get her yellow rubber boots which she loved. J and I inspected his closet for umbrellas and found a couple. We were prepared to walk out when EJ did a completely uncharacteristic thing and pulled a hair brush out of her bag. Then, while we waited, [and as I tried to close my mouth] she spent several minutes carefully brushing her long hair into a neat, smooth fall. Wow, I thought, was this the kid I'd had to throw into the shower a couple of years ago after a solid week of refusing to take a bath?

I didn't say anything. I figured this was something new and age-appropriate. She was becoming a young lady and I was pleased that she cared about her hair. We left the building and started the three block walk.

Midway to our destination, we ran into a series of big puddles on the sidewalk. Without hesitating, EJ ran ahead and leaped into the middle of the biggest, making a lovely, satisfying splash. I burst out laughing. The contrast between the necessary hair brushing and this kid who jumped into puddles was so beautifully drawn.

It was also comforting that my daughter could be girly, but remain a kid in some ways, and not feel embarrassed to be exuberantly joyful about splashing in the rain. I found this to be a healthy sign that maybe she could manage to be feminine without the self-consciousness and exaggerated ‘female’ behavior that afflicts so many young girls.

The years that have passed have revealed this to be so. A slender-but-never-skinny, beautiful young woman with a healthy appetite who is highly skilled with make-up and hair, she does not use her femininity, ever, to manipulate. People tell me she is beautiful. I always counter with "She is a really, really good person."

She considers herself 'one of the guys,' and has always had male pals. One year, while working for a sports radio station, she befriended several pro football players. Always careful about how she did her laundry, she called me one Saturday night from the luxury digs of one particular friend -- a huge, scary-looking guy with a warm smile and compete respect for both EJ and her mama -- to wash her clothes in a spotless laundry room [heavenly] and watch videos of games. Only my kid, I thought.

The tiny green shoots of girlhood have grown into a breathtaking yin blossom of a woman, but with enough yang strength and toughness to assure the flower of a long, healthy bloom.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Short Diatribe on Certain Doctors

My brother is sick. What he has most people do not recover from. My sisters and my other brother intend that he will survive. He has one doctor who is a real mensch. When we leave his office we feel really good. He doesn't surgarcoat. But he doesn't stand aloof and 'pronounce' either.

Recently he advised my brother to see a surgeon. The surgeon he recommended did not take the right insurance so we went with a colleague. Esteemed, the right letters after his name, big deal at a very well-known teaching hospital -- it was hellish. He kept us waiting, didn't apologize, then proceeded, coldly, to insist surgery would not happen: would never happen. It was too late. He kept stressing that anything he would do would NOT be curative. He mentioned the phrase "quality of life" maybe 35 times. He said that PET scans were not perfect and there was much still present they couldn't pick up. Then, when tiring of our questions, he got up and went to the door.

Talking with my sister later, she blurted out "They don't want to look bad if the patient dies, so they purposely talk as if he will. If he dies, they didn't do anything wrong. If he lives, they're heroes. They can't stand not being able to fix it so they protect themselves from failure."

Yeah, I can understand that. Nobody wants to fail someone who is so sick. But we're not stupid. We've looked at statistics. We know what could happen.

But when the yang impulse to protect is thwarted by a situation that cannot be helped, it's the wrong move to put it on the person who is sick, by saying, in essence: you're gonna die, and I can't really help you, and anything I do will be to make you comfortable, but it's not going to cure you. What a message: You make me feel inadequate by being sick, by having something I can't cure. I don't like feeling inadequate. I am powerful. I AM A SURGEON.

And they act it out, by being cold and peremptory. Instead of putting the patient's feelings first, they protect their own feelings of importance. No-one can ever say they didn't tell the truth. There were no false promises made. No hope was allowed to interfere with their prognostications. It's almost childish. Strutting, self-important people with truly fragile inner selves, this is how they protect their power.

Want to have real power? BE HUMBLE and BE COMPASSIONATE. That's real strength.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Attraction: Part I

Dear A:

Sorry for the long hiatus . . . let's get right to it: You have to be absolutely sure, in your heart, that you know there isn't much chance this man is going to surprise you one day and sweep you off your feet. And let's say that happened: Would you want, no, do you really need, you, yourself need, a man who, when under duress, would not seek out your support and lovingkindness, but choose to isolate himself?

There are lots of people around, men and women, who live in little emotional hidey-holes. There are also lots of the other kind of people: The ones who are adept at coaxing those other people out, proving to them it's safe, and thinking that this constitutes a relationship instead of an act of charity; after all, it is a kind thing to do -- offering friendship to someone who isn't able to do it on his/her own.

I have been there. [Oh. Have I. I am a post-doc in coaxing.] Many of us have: There is some evidence a person likes you and may want to have a relationship with you. And boy oh boy, attraction is like walking into the light, isn't it? Almost nothing feels better. [Want a couple of all-expense-paid days at a spa, then a free trip to Paris and a brand new wardrobe? . Ummm, Oh, No . . . I think I’ll stay around during this ice storm in case he calls . . .]

Add that irresistible attraction to loneliness and you have a potent combination and a nice, powerful tug-of-war between the coulds and shoulds. But, Damn! That light is a sneaky thing. It blinds you to all of the reality. It lets you see some of it. And you get really good at manufacturing the rest of it. You ever read a mystery book or see a movie in which the plot skillfully leads you in one direction? And then BOOM! It shows you how wrong you were and just how good you are at building scenarios. [Nice quality in a fiction writer, terrible in a vulnerable, lonely person.]

If, after you have read this, you still want to offer this guy 'friendship,' do it with this in mind: You can make the offer, but you better step back and protect yourself and respect your own need for a full-time, really-there man who will give freely because he loves you and wants to make you happy.

Friday, January 12, 2007

It isn't about you

My note to anonymous brought a further clarification of her situation. It's a place more of us have been than we care to remember.

Most people want connection. We want to be seen and appreciated and, at best, loved and even cherished for ourselves. But getting to that person, finding the right connection can seem like an exercise in futility. Yet it is one of the most primary aspects of being human. We forge long-term relationships with people who share our lives, dreams, homes; people we lie next to in that most intimate and vulnerable of states -- sleep. Finding the right, 'safe' person to be with can take a long time and lead us down dead-end roads, cul-de-sacs, and cause us to question ourselves endlessly as we try to figure out what we want and does he/she have it.

I have studied people in relationships for years. When I understood the principles of yin and yang and started applying them to real life situations, I was amazed, humbled by the simple, elegant and beautiful dance of energy between people. So for "A" I have some simple advice: Go where the energy is.

Yin is a receptive and nurturing energy. A woman, delicate yin creature that she is [and even the toughest, ball-busting, aggressive/assertive woman has a place of female yin] will bend over backwards [luckily women are, generally speaking, more flexible than men] to accommodate the needs of the people she cares about. This is a wonderful, life-affirming quality. But, yin must be protected by yang energy. This is a rule of the Tao; it is part of the dynamic of the flow of yin and yang. And it means that within each of us, from the most yin female to the most yang male, and everything in between, our yang must protect our yin.

Now, without going on and on [and believe me, I could . . . ] boundaries are yang; and one important way a woman uses her yang is to set boundaries - emotional ones - to protect herself from being hurt. A yang boundary which will stop her from over-accommodating and over-rationalizing behavior that is hurting her.

When a person makes his goals the most important thing he has to accomplish, and a relationship is not part of those goals; when his focus is so intent he cannot allow even the smallest softness for a few hours, he is not open to the possibility of connection. But a gigantic mistake people make at this juncture is "If I was . . . he would."

Nope. Nope. Nope. Because it isn't about you. It has nothing to do with you. It has to do with him: His goals, his life, what he feels he has to do. And this is SO HARD for a lot of women to understand. Because, generally speaking, we are more balanced. And we think, well, they ARE human, how different can they be?

Here's how different: Yang is a Samurai-class boundary-setting machine. In a guy who has a lot of yang, it can be damned near impenetrable. Waterproof, fireproof, tears-proof, shut off from emotions, narrowly focused -- a guy who is in that state is not open to the other parts of life that are outside his quest.

You, A, are a smart and perceptive woman. You mean to have a relationship. And so you will. Be patient, give yourself time. You learned more about yourself and you sure learned more about what you want. You did not 'blow' anything. But don't wait around. There is not only one true person for each of us; the odds are really a whole lot better.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Note To Anonymous . . .

There are a lot of decent men out there. About as many as there are decent women. My guy's spirit shone through all the trappings of his life. He didn't care about certain unessential things. Why should I? When you really think about what you do with the person you live with, the real ups and downs of life, the daily struggle each of us goes through to make our lives better and deal with mundane crap; the person you want at your side is someone who agrees with you on the big stuff, thinks you are cool and smart, and is compassionate about your faults. Of course you want to be attracted to him, and of course you want to be able to have fun with him.

If you are like many women, you will be willing to give a lot in your relationship. You need a guy who will respect your generosity, and understand it comes from love and strength -- that wonderful, enduring, quietly powerful, female [yin] strength -- and be willing to give of himself, in return.

Now, down to practical matters: You must do what you love, fill your life with your passions and enthusiasms, nurture your relationships with those close to you, and very importantly: take good care of yourself; your health, your emotional life [especially setting healthy boundaries]. This makes you a full person, happy to be with yourself, joyous and vital.

Maybe write in a journal about who you are and what you really want. Ask everyone you know whom you trust if they know any good guys. My guy wrote a long and very specific personal ad. Something of his spirit came through. So obviously I believe in ads. But they only work if you know yourself AND know what you want.

And Good Luck. You sound like a lovely, gentle, thoughtful soul. I wish you the best.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nature vs Nurture

Two readers who commented on The Games Men Play post seem to think that gender behavior is learned. But that's not exactly what 'games' is about. It's about a quality of YANG energy. And women who are very yang will have some of that behavior, too. Just not to the degree a very yang male will.

And inherent in yang energy is the need to challenge oneself. That is a part of the natural order. What is not a part of the natural order is
when we try to reinforce what we mistakenly believe are male or female traits. That is perverse. It is perverse to push a boy to be more aggressive, to stifle his emotions, swallow his pain. Just like it is perverse to hold an energetic little girl back because she is noisy and give her dolls and tiny ovens with fake food.

The REASON it is perverse? Because you don't have to teach people gender behavior. It is what they are born with and each of them will find their way to what it means to be male or female.

I think there are a bunch of reasons people get upset at the notion that certain gender behaviors are innate.

One reason is that women think it means they will be prevented from doing, or seen as not capable of doing, whatever men do. But short of standing up to pee and being able to aim it, women have proved they can do anything men can do. The fact that they can accomplish what men can does not mean, however, that they must always do it the same way that men do. We are different, but we are damn sure equal.

Another reason is that what most people think of as 'gender' behavior is really an overblown caricature of what it means to be male or female. The stuff people are socialized to think of as gender-related. The brainwashing of society, supported by all forms of media, to keep people in roles that don't rock the boat.

The kinds of things I am writing about are more subtle. And have to do more with male and female energy as expressed, in different ways, by men and women. Understanding and accepting our differences will allow us to understand and accept our own strengths.

Each of us has our own combination of yin and yang. There are very yin men and very yang women. But men, by nature, are more yang; and women, by nature, are more yin. That's NATURE not NURTURE. And it's a good thing. Because we need every permutation of energetic balance in order to survive.

And p.s. --
It might be helpful to read the post entitled "Understanding Yin and Yang."

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Games Men Play

Now, before any women reading this lick your chops, prepared to witness a roast of certain male traits, take a breath and open your minds. What I am about to reveal about men may come as a surprise to most women: It will not be surprising to most men, who are born with the urge to challenge themselves on a daily basis.

A really strong characteristic of male energy [yang], is the desire to win, the need to win. This is not pathological, merely an attribute of yang energy. In order to be ready to respond with speed and power, there must be practice drills. Just like the various tests of emergency response teams. "Can I do it?" "Will I meet the challenge?" "Am I worthy?" "Will I be ready?"

I happened to mention this phenomenon to my car mechanic, a tough-minded guy who likes to keep his life simple. He nodded and didn't say much. But a few days later, when I went to pick up my car, he said, "Hey, you know that thing you were talking about -- you know, the games guys play?"

It seems he was in the habit of driving his car until for 400 miles on each tank of gas, sometimes pushing it to 425, before he would submit to pulling into a gas station. [Apparently, gassing up before then would be 'losing.'] "Well, I was driving home that night and I was passing a gas station, and I thought, why don't I just get gas now, instead of taking the chance I'd run out. Because then I'd have to walk. But I never thought about the consequence before. I just was in the habit of making a game out of trying to make it to 400."

When I asked him if he thought most men did not consider the consequences of the games they play 'against' themselves, he said, "Nope, we just want the challenge and we want to win." Then he made a joke about women in the military -- why they wouldn't work in combat, because they'd be saying "Wait a minute -- that's dumb."

I'm not 100 percent sure, but this may be the operating principle behind why a lot of men shop for Christmas on the 24th, and let certain chores go until the last minute. They may be increasing the tension, stacking the odds,
getting themselves 'up' for it, making a 'real game' out of an otherwise boring, unexciting task. One they can then 'win.' How else can they be sure they are 'OK;' all systems intact, and operating at full and potent speed.

Talk to a guy in your life about this. You might find the answer very interesting. Oh, and yes, since women have yang energy, we do things like this, too. Just not to the extent a guy does.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Male Energy Burnout

Chinese Medicine has loads of information on how to improve virility, increase life expectancy, become more potent, etc. Some of it is ancient hoo-doo, [sleeping with a slew of virgins, as, say, opposed to your wife does not increase anything in your own body.] Some of it is based on really sound principles, tested and proven over several thousand years, like supplementing kidney jing and chi through acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle modifications.

Jing is the life force we are all born with. Some of us have more than others. Want to see it in action? Look at pictures of any president at the beginning of his term and four or eight years later. Big difference. He’s burned out/used up his jing at an accelerated rate. Or check out speed freaks. What meth does to them is, in effect, extremely accelerated aging. Are you saying to yourself, WELL I don't do anything terrible like that? You may not be using illegal drugs to do it, but every time you override feedback from your body that you are tired and pushing past your limitations, you are going into debt with your kidney jing.

Can it be replaced? Not entirely. Jing is like our own personal candle wick. All you can really do is slow down the rate you are using it up. Way down, if you are smart and listen to your body. For each of us, there is an end, of course. We are not immortal.

Chi is the essential energy of the kidney. It is burned out by overuse of adrenals [fight or flight] and lifestyle imbalances. People who become exhausted have weak kidney chi. So do most people who are ill with chronic diseases. Depleting kidney chi weakens the immune system.

The profligate use of Yang [male] energy is responsible for a major part of misuse and abuse of an individual's life force. Here's a rule of nature: Yang energy must protect yin energy, which in return nurtures yang. If you are too busy, don’t get enough rest, do not stop when you reach a breaking point, do not listen to your body, regularly use stimulants to be ‘up,’ when you consistently seek the adrenalin rush because it makes you feel ‘alive,’ you are not protecting your yin and you are using up life force that you may not be able to replace.

From within our bodies, to our relationships, to every corner of the world, the biggest and most obvious imbalance of yin and yang is: Privileging male energy, in any form, over yin – female energy. The most aggressive, fastest person does not always accomplish a task more effectively than a slower, more thoughtful, more yin individual. [It may feel great to have to wind rush past your face, but is that real speed or just a breeze from a fan?]

is great when it ‘absolutely has to be there the next day’ but for most situations, three day mail delivery works just as well. Lots of us feel really good when we are speedy and accomplish a huge amount of work. But there is a big price for the overuse of yang energy. Much better to balance our yin and yang, and enjoy the ride, instead of rushing to each destination as fast as we can. And, above all, it enables us to meet each day, refreshed and energized by a balanced lifestyle, for years to come.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

About me and my book

I am a grown-up. My sense of humor and irreverence hides a hard-won compassion. I know I can write, have done it as easily as I breathe for most of my life, yet never felt the impetus to be noticed for it. I have started books, sometimes writing 50 or 60 pages, before I lost interest and went on to something else.

What changed is the moment I write about in the intro to The Tao of Gender: I saw something amazing and wonderful and huge: a way to translate an ancient paradigm for modern use and excite men and women by explaining their respective behaviors in a way that would be utterly true, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and completely exciting. I love doing crosswords, and this is the crossword puzzle of a lifetime.

Once I started writing this book, it all came flooding in. I have had the eerie feeling I have been chosen to receive this knowledge. This flies against all of my beliefs, yet it manages to humble me. It is unthinkable that I not do it justice. It has elevated my writing several notches. At the risk of causing a strong gagging reflex in the reader: It sanctifies me.

I love to take a situation – any situation – and explain the interplay of yin and yang in the situation and how it not only applies to real life, but how understanding it can change people’s understanding and appreciation of each other. It’s kind of like a nature-based couples’ therapy.

We live in the greatest, most amazing place in the history of the world. We have a diversity of cultures and knowledge that is unprecedented. I believe it is incumbent upon us to integrate anything useful we learn from other cultures. But since we are living in this culture, we can also use language that is our own, as long as it is true to the principles of what we have learned.

As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I can say to a patient: you have excess liver yang. I can then explain that I will sedate the liver and balance the chi and tonify the spleen, in order to encourage the liver chi to move downward.

I can use language that is technically correct, but obstructs understanding. I can be the expert and seem slightly mysterious, the glamor of using another language elevating me as a practitioner of ancient healing arts. Some people like this. The distance gives them confidence in my knowledge. One patient even suggested I wear a white coat to further legitimatize my advice and increase the appearance of authority.

There is another approach, one that I am more comfortable with because it is direct and speaks the language of my patients.

I can say: You have excess liver yang. What that means is that your lifestyle is too intense for your health, your digestion is suffering, you aren’t sleeping enough, and because of these things, you are out of balance and this manic energy is running your life, giving you headaches and making you really irritable. I love a good cup of coffee like a lot of people, but having 5 cups a day just to stay juiced is over the top. To a greater or lesser degree, you are like one of the 70 - 80% of people living in the greater NY metropolitan area. Big cities breed this intensity, which is fun and feels good – until it affects your health. Then you wanna slow down and smell the roses – before it makes you really sick.

I reframe the principles of yin and yang in new modern frames which fit in with contemporary 21st century culture. Taoism can be applied anywhere, and understanding the balance of yin and yang especially as they relate to gender roles and behavior can have you saying Oh! Of Course! about stuff you found hard to fathom in the opposite gender.

I'm really loving all that's involved in writing the book, even the [oh God] editing, which is painful, but ultimately exciting; cutting away the excess stone reveals a cleaner sculpture underneath. But I gotta wear goggles and I sweat a lot.