Who’s that girl?

11908585_10206959825821690_7943426081004690238_oJane added 12 photos of you. To add these to your timeline, go to Timeline Review.

Uhm. What?

I’d visited Jane recently, but I couldn’t remember posing for any photos while I was there. It was also my 50-somethingth birthday. My guess was that the photos had to be old. Just how old? Anything stretching back to very was possible.

Jane is a golden friend. She’s been in my heart for a long time, so she has access to the really good stuff. By good, I mean stuff the Dude would find amusing payback for my writing about him for the last ten years.

My high school experience was one of duality. I don’t remember I time when I felt so loved and so unloved at the same time. It all depends on the frame of reference. Thinking about those years can bring forth a cringe and a smile at the same time, sort of like watching The Office, only I’m a smarter Michael Scott.

Jane is firmly planted on the side of the angels, so I poured a glass of wine and plunged into Facebook. There they were, a parade of smiling faces ranging from the age of six to  twenty-six.

Damn, I had a lot of hair. It was the 80’s after all. It was still dark back then. Like my father, I went gray quite young. I’ve been dyeing it so long I’d forgotten the original color. I’m smaller than I remember, too–almost compact. At the time, I felt so inescapably large, like I couldn’t get out of my own way, let alone anyone else’s.

What struck me most, however, is that the Jeannine in the pictures is so happy, so at ease. Nothing like the girl that narrates my flashbacks. I couldn’t look away.What made the difference?

I was seeing myself through someone else’s lens.

Memory theory says that we don’t actually remember events. Our brains rewrite the memory each time it’s accessed, so it’s layered with whatever new information we’ve painted over it, like looking into a mirror of a mirror of a mirror. What we remember is the last time we remembered the event. The truest memory is one that we’ve never retrieved before. I didn’t take these photos, so they had no prior imprint.

We tend to fixate on all of the negative baggage–the idiotic stuff we did–rather than the millions of moments that truly make up the bulk of our very good lives. We play them over and over again, adding more footnotes each time. The versions of ourselves that we remember can often get trapped in a box made by those who knew and loved us least.

Those pictures were the greatest gift. Who knows what those rewritten memories may bring?

So I posted the photos to my own Facebook timeline, even if it screams to the world that I am not a natural blonde. My posture is better, and I will never, ever part my hair down the middle again, but I will try to remember what I tell the Dude all of the time–we are neither as awful or awesome as we remember we are. If you want the truth, ask a friend for an old picture. It might surprise you. It surprised me. Who’s that girl. She’s me.

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Wherever you go, there you are

493343628_98052395a0_zBeing a mother has occupied the last eighteen years of my life. While parenting is an exercise in entropy, it still provides a certain infrastructure. The daily schedule of getting the Dude to school, discussing his fantasy teams, and fighting over his crappy eating habits creates a living clock. It’s easy to find meaning and purpose. I am a parent. I take care of my child. If that’s all I do in a day, I can consider it a success.

The Dude leaves for college next month, and we both will have the world spread out in front of us with no real plan. While I’m excited, there’s a not-so-small element of “oh shit” mixed in. I have no roadmap to guide me. I can’t plug a destination into my GPS, because I’m not sure where I’m headed.

When I think about it too intently, I feel lost. I worry about where life will lead, and anxiety rushes to the surface. Will I ever finish my book? Where will the next story come from? Is this a career or a toe-dip in the land of wish fulfillment? How long can I justify calling myself a writer without some tangible sign of success?

I don’t know. Not a comfortable situation for someone who likes to have all of the answers. While hurtling into the future, I can’t catch the words or the notes. The best I can do is make a mad grab and hope I come up with something profound. Usually it’s a really bad limerick.

If I can manage to stand still, however, even for a minute, I can place a big red star on the map and write “You Are Here.” Sometimes, “here” is the best I can manage. Maybe, “here” is all that really matters. After all, “there” is merely a collection of interconnected “here’s”, right?

When I was twenty, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I was thirty. When I was thirty, I knew what I wanted to be at forty. Each decision led me one step closer to that end. Ironically, when I got where I intended to be, I didn’t want it anymore. Somewhere along the way I had changed, but I was so focused on the destination, I hadn’t noticed. If I’d seen a map of my life, a big red star telling me where I was, where I truly was, I might have been saved a lot of trouble and pain.

So as I walk into unmapped territory, my goal is to be dedicated to here. To now. Because this is where the words grow, and the music unfurls. I will stand still long enough for them to find me, and stay quiet enough to listen.

So if you need to find me, you know where to look.

Photograph : Mt. St. Helen’s park entrance by Stephan Adrej Shambora © 2007 via Creative Commons/Flickr

Taylor Swift is my imaginary BFF

handsheartI just turned 50, at least that’s what my driver’s license says. I don’t feel particularly mature, and whatever wisdom grace bestows by virtue of age alone seems to have passed me by (I was probably playing Bejeweled at the time).  Denial, however, doesn’t appear to be a legitimate excuse for ignoring doctor’s orders, so I had a colonoscopy.

I won’t go into details, but the morning before my procedure, I had to find a way to occupy my time in five to seven minute snippets. This clearly is what BuzzFeed was invented for. That’s where I ran into Taylor Swift.

One would have to work hard to avoid Ms. Swift these days. I would guess that even survivalists hunkered in a bomb shelter in Nevada whistle “Shake it Off” while cataloging their supply of freeze-dried rations–and not in an ironic way. I had no idea, however, that in just one morning, she’d wormed her way into my psyche.

I arrived at the outpatient center and nurse walked me through what they’d do to me. The risks were minimal, she assured me, and my husband was there to take me home afterwards, since the anesthesia might make me a little woozy. That was her term for it. Woozy.

Apparently I talked under sedation, and it went something like this.

Nurse : You’re fine, but we want you to take it easy today.

Worried Me : But what about tonight?

Confused Husband : What about tonight?

“Do I have to remind you of everything” Me : We have plans, remember? We have that  party to go to–at Taylor Swift’s.

My husband lives in a cultural shoebox, and even he knows who Taylor Swift is. Ever hopeful, he attempted to reason with a woman under the influence of some pretty powerful drugs.

Rational Husband : Honey, you don’t know Taylor Swift.

Undeterred Me : That doesn’t matter. Taylor Swift is friends with everyone. Haven’t you seen that thing she does with her hands?

I put my hands together in the shape of a heart.

Wondering if this is normal Husband : No, I can’t say that I have.

Not to trusted with a credit card Me : I have to wear something purple. I don’t own anything purple. After we leave, take me to the mall, okay?

He took me home. I slept for four hours.

I had no recollection of this conversation, yet when my husband told me about it, I felt a sense of loss. Somewhere in the universe, Taylor Swift was having a party, baking cookies with Lorde and Lena Dunham, and I wasn’t invited. In the days that followed, Taylor stalked me, staring back from the cover of Time Magazine, dancing through a Long Island mansion in an interactive video/ad for American Express, and in countless HuffPo videos of children singing in the backseat of the minivan.

My 50 year old reality was still very real. My son got his first college acceptance, then his second, and his third, and I realized that he truly was leaving the nest in the fall. I was rejected for yet another job. My gray roots were showing, and I pulled my hamstring tripping over my son’s size 12 sneakers. I could make a heart with my fingers all I wanted, but was still 50.

While putting the laundry in the closet, however, I realized that I owned not one, but two purple garments. So I invited my friends over for lunch. We didn’t bake cookies, but I told them about my post-op ramblings, and they reminded me that I’ve said much more ridiculous things without any sedation required. They also reminded me how lucky I am to have my very real friends, and if this is 50, 50 rocks.

Except in six months I have to have another colonoscopy. This time I’m going to tape my mouth shut, just in case. Mark the date Taylor, I’ll  be waiting for that invitation.

Photograph : Hands, Heart by mafleen © 2013 Creative Commons/Flickr

Advice to my 50 year-old self

winecoolerSo it happened. I turned 50. And I’m totally okay with it.

I remember when 50 seemed so old. When my brother turned 50, I sent him a batch of his favorite cookies–Christmas wreaths made from Corn Flakes and melted marshmallows–but I dyed them black. He didn’t get it. Humor is subjective.

What does the future hold? As the Magic 8 ball says, “Reply is hazy, try again.” Despite my accomplishments, the marketplace views me as unseasoned and untested, yet assumes I hold unreasonable expectations of advancement and compensation. There you have it. 50 really is the new 20.

I have HuffPo in my Facebook feed, so I’ve read countless women’s letters to their 20 year-old selves,. I hate to be repetitive. I wonder if my 20 year-old self might have some words of wisdom for my older self. Hear that, 20 year-old Jeannine? What do you say?

Thanks for asking. So much wisdom is lost to the ages. Listen up, b*^#$.

1. Wine coolers are totally sophisticated and cool. Have another one. If you keep one foot on the floor the room will eventually stop spinning.

2. Clothes look better with a little shoulder pad action. Very authoritative.

3. Aqua Net, Extra Hold.

4. You can save money by highlighting your own hair. Get a friend to help! No one will know you skipped the salon. Use the money you save to buy more wine coolers.

How on earth did I make it to 30, let alone 50?

I should have known you’d turn out all judgy and condescending.

Hard to believe, given the depth of your wisdom.

*Sigh* Fine, I’ll bust out the deep stuff.

5. You don’t know everything, and neither does everyone else. But they don’t know you don’t. You aren’t required to warn them.

6. There is no harm, however, in admitting that you’re wrong. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

7. Professor Apple is right, you should be a writer.

This is a little more useful, young self.

But wait, there’s more!

8.  If you have something to say, just say it. Even if class participation isn’t part of your grade. Being wrong is better than being invisible, and it takes infinitely greater courage. Besides, when’s the last time you were wrong?

You don’t want the answer to the last part.

Can I finish, please? You need to learn not to interrupt.

I’m afraid I’m still working on that one.

9. Don’t stop learning just because you have to graduate.

10. Don’t be so afraid. Woman up. If you’re going to fail, go big. It will make for a better story. After all, you’re 50. You’re old. Get a move on.

Easy for you to say.

That’s because I’m not afraid of screwing up. I do it all of the time. Perhaps you’ve forgotten.

No. It’s just that when you’re younger, the universe expects it.

Nah. It’s that when you’re older, you forget that the only person tallying your mistakes is you.

Younger self–you aren’t as clueless as I thought.

I take back the judgy comment. Sort of. Go be a badass.

Thanks.

And Happy Birthday. The wine cooler is on me.

Photograph “Pretty Coolers” by Natalie Litz © 2008 Creative Commons/Flikr

You can have what you choose

moutainpathIndra Nooyi caused quite the ruckus with her comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival. I was glad to hear her finally say the words out loud–You can’t have it all.

I joined the same consulting firm where Ms. Nooyi worked shortly after she left. I have to wonder if she heard the same mantra I did, over and over again–You can have it all, just not at the same time.

At the firm, once a woman ascended into the ranks of management, she was invited to a luncheon where the female partners discussed how they negotiated the demands of career and motherhood. It was meant to be helpful.

It was total bullshit. That was my reaction to it, anyway.

What I heard at the time was, you can have it all, but not at the same time, so give us what we want from you right now, and you can have what you want later, if there’s still time left over. What they were really saying, however, was if this is what you want, this is what is required to make it happen in a real world.

The woman shared what worked for them, what gave them the life they wanted, and if I wanted what they had, it came at a price. The firm would own my now if I wanted to achieve the an equivalent later.

What wasn’t made explicit was the larger question–Was this what I really wanted? My reaction to the presentation should have been a wake up call. The answer was no.

You can’t have it all. You can have what you choose. They’d each found ways to navigate the challenges while encountering the inevitable obstacles, but they couldn’t change reality.

Ms. Nooyi’s remarks have been characterized as negative and pessimistic. I think she’s a realist. When I tried to have it all, I constantly juggled elements of my life, responding to the demands of the universe.  It was tantamount to letting my circumstances make my choices for me. I chafed against my constraints until I decided couldn’t fight anymore.

I chose, knowing that by choosing one outcome, I had to forgo the other.

There is no one right way to live. You can scale a mountain a multitude of ways. Some are harder, some are easier. Some are more treacherous, some are torturous and some take forever. Each has their challenges and their rewards. In the end, however, they all lead to the same place.  The path between is everything.

Making my peace with leaving some paths unexplored is not always easy. I feel regret and envy. I second-guess my decisions, wonder about what might have been, or what I could have avoided. I worry how my path effected those who traveled with me. The best remedy for me is to fully appreciate the path that I’ve chosen in all it’s messy, chaotic beauty.

That is a choice as well, and it is enough.

Photograph : Mountain Path, by Jessie Owen © 2011 Creative Commons/Flickr

Text to me baby, or maybe not.

textingThe Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy (yes, there is such a thing) recently published a study on the impact of texting on relationships. They studied 300 married/engaged/serious couples aged 18-25 who frequently text their mate. The upshot? Unless you’re conveying neutral info, talk to the hand, then keep it away from the phone.

The study says women tend to be happy overcommunicators, as long as they’re in it alone. The more men text, the more unhappy both parties are with the relationship. In simple terms, more men text, the more likely they are to say something that pisses their partners off. I could have told you that years ago.

I used to call my husband at work to say hi. Our conversations went something like this.

Hello?

Hi! What’s up?

Working

So you’re busy?

What do you want?

Nothing. Just saying hi.

Hi. Are we done now?

This conversation would be even less engaging in text-ese

RU There?

RU There?

RU There?

Yes.

Hi! 🙂

Hi. Are we done now?

RU There?

If I long for human connection, I log into Twitter.

I do recognize that compared to the study subjects, I am one step into my grave. My son texts constantly and tells me that not having grown up with the technology, I can’t appreciate its power. I’ve gotten texts from my son, however. Let’s just say I’m not convinced his generation is so different.

This sux! I’m so screwed!

What?

Dude?

Just tell me that you’re okay?

If you don’t text me in the next five minutes, I’m coming over there. Do you hear me?

Sorry. Talking to Nick. NVM.

How would this play out if he had a girlfriend?

Did U get my txt?

??

Which one?

All of them.

Yes.

RU There? (Interpretation : So you have nothing to say? I pour my heart out to you, and you don’t even respond? It’s the exact reflection of our relationship. I pursue, and you maintain a safe emotional distance. You never share with me. I feel so alone.)

Sorry; Talking to Nick. (Interpretation : Sorry, I had to tell my Mom not to come over.  I can share my emotions. I ran out of donuts this morning. I was bummed. Are we done now?)

I know I exaggerate. I used too many vowels along with case and punctuation. All that aside, I know that texting is just one more channel through which to be misunderstood. Sexting is even more fraught with danger. Sex is a big enough source of anxiety in a relationship. Combining it with complex communication and the ability for widespread dissemination is a recipe for disaster.

My advice to my son is to use face to face communication whenever possible. That way he can get to the apology quicker.

As for me. I still don’t call my husband at work unless it’s something important, which generally involves large sums of money or a hospital visit. We reserve texting for specific purposes. Chatting via text is permitted when one of us is stuck on a plane post-boarding , at a school/sports event, or when we’re in our respective offices at opposite ends of the house and don’t feel like getting up to discuss what to order for dinner. We used to email each other. Texting is much faster.  Who says technology can’t bring people together?

Photograph – “Texting” by Ed Brownson © 2010 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

Throw out 50 Thoughts #14 – I don’t want to be a bitch about this, but…

angry dollI may like to think of myself as a bad-ass, but I know the sad truth. I’m a nice person. Even when I think I’m not being nice, I usually am. I’ll apologize to my husband for being a bitch, and he’ll scour the last few hours of conversation to figure out exactly what I’m talking about. What I’m thinking, and what I’m saying don’t often match. If I actually said half of what I’d like to say, I’d be living alone in a van down by the river.

That is not to say I can’t be a real bitch. Often, it comes out when I don’t mean for it to–a joke that falls flat, or a sarcastic quip that seems innocuous to me, but hits too close to home for someone else. I kick myself for days after those muck ups. I want to be liked. Who doesn’t? My bitchiness is generally inadvertent and falls on the undeserving, and for that, I am sorry.

A friend of mine lectured me last week about being a pushover. She suggested that I was an enabler, allowing my family to take advantage of me because I collapse like a fold-up chair whenever they need something. “You have a life,” she said. “You don’t have to do something just because someone asked you to. You need to say no.” Point well taken.

Then she suggested that I do something she wanted me to and I told her that I had to consider it.  I came back to her and said that, no, I didn’t have the time that the task required. We were with a group of others, and she brought it up again–that we all should do this (the “we” being “me”). Again, I said that I didn’t have the time to commit to it, but I’d be happy to come up with an alternative. When she brought it up a third time, I said a straight and simple “no.”

And she said I didn’t have to be a bitch about it.

The good girl voice kicked in, and got ready to apologize, and I remembered her lecture. I decided not to cave, and pointed out the first two times she asked, I was really nice about it, but she didn’t seem to hear me, so the third time I had to say it in a way that cut through the noise. I thought about the original conversation and it occurred to me that I wasn’t really behaving badly, it just wasn’t how she expected me to behave. I thought about all of the qualifiers and hedges and maybes I put on my statement and decided that it really does come back to me.

So today, I embrace the bitch. If I’m less afraid of her, perhaps she’ll learn a more tempered approach. She may not be my better self, but she is a part of who I am. She exists for a reason, sort of like anti-lock brakes. You don’t want to have to use them, but when you do, they’re really handy. Only instead of stopping me, they stop someone else. And that’s nothing to bitch about.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Angry Director” by jbrowneuk © 2013 Creative Commons