A Lesson About Obstacles

This is a story about a friend of mine. Let’s call her, um, “Zara.” She learned a very valuable lesson about going for your dreams the other day.

See, this friend of hers had a printer she wanted to give away, and Zara wanted the printer, and they talked about the best time for Zara to come over and pick up the printer, and it turned out that the only time Zara could do that was when her friend was out.

“No problem!” said Zara. “Just leave it on the porch, and I’ll come by and get it.”

So Zara drove over to her friend’s house to pick up the printer. Except when she got there, she saw that her friend had one of those electronically-controlled fences all around the house. You know, the kind that you have a remote control for? And as you drive up to your house you push a button and the fence slides open, allowing your car to pass through. Although the fence was fairly low – maybe about two and half feet – it had a threatening row of spikes on top. This was a little fence you did not want to fool around with. Zara called her friend. Who, of course, was not home.

“Hi! I’m here at your house, picking up the printer, but the fence is closed. I guess I’m going to have to come back and get it when you’re home. Okay, bye!”

Darn. Zara could see the printer on the porch, waiting for her. It was so close. Looking at the fence, she suddenly realized that it would actually be fairly easy for her to leap over the fence. Well, not leap. She wasn’t as limber as those people on “So You Think You Can Dance.” But she certainly could do a sort of sprightly “hop.” I mean, honestly, it really was not a very high fence. Totally hopable. Zara started to wonder why anyone would have a fence that was locked, yet hop-able. The fence did not seem like much of a deterrent to anyone except perhaps small children. Was there a roaming band of house-robbing small children in the neighborhood?

Zara thought about hopping over the fence. Would the neighbors be alarmed to see a strange woman hopping over the fence? Would the neighbors call the police? Would Zara look silly? And then, in a blinding moment of truth, she realized she had spent too much of her life worrying about looking silly, and caring about what other people thought. She had given up too often, and not pursued her dreams, and if she continued to never take any chances in life, she would end up a bitter, angry person who felt empty inside. No more! It was time to throw all of that off! Who cared what the neighbors thought? It was time to say to the universe, “I will not be denied!”

Besides, Zara really didn’t want to have to drive all the way back there another time for the printer. She looked at the fence again. Honestly, it was really not even that high. She didn’t even have to hop. She could simply left one leg over, steady herself, then lift the other leg over.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned. Once she got her right leg up high enough to clear the fence, her back said “Hell to the no!” and sort of seized up a little bit, forcing her to quickly lower that leg on the other side of the fence. Which left her straddling the fence on tippie-toe, since the height had turned out to be a little more than less, and if she didn’t stand on tippie-toe, well, let’s just say the fence would have owed her flowers and a very nice dinner.

But failure was not an option. Not this time. Not ever again. This was about more than a fence and a printer. This was about going for your dreams. Zara summoned all her might, and managed to lift her left leg over the fence. She’d done it! She was over the fence! Elated, she walked to the porch, picked up the box with the printer, and returned to the fence, where she realized she would have to do the same damn thing one more time. Geez. This “going for your dreams” thing was kind of annoying. She leaned over the fence, deposited the box with the printer on the ground on the other side, took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and imagined she was a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance.” She threw her leg over the fence, did her tippie-toe straddle, and as quickly as she could, lifted her other leg up and over the fence.

HA! She’d done it! Twice! As she drove home, she reflected that sometimes you just have to think creatively when you encounter obstacles. Nothing is insurmountable if you put your mind to it, and you should not be deterred from trying to achieve your goals. Something had changed, and she knew she would carry this triumph with her for the rest of her life.

And when she got home she found a message from her friend. “Hey – I see you got the printer. I’m glad you figured that that it’s not locked or anything and you just have to push it to the side. Listen – I have to go. My neighbor is at my door. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Well, anyway. It’s probably still a good idea to go for your dreams and not be stopped by locked fences and all. Zara just might want to look a little closer at the fence the next time, is all I’m saying.


Are We All Living On Shell Beach?

There’s a great movie called “Dark City,” and I don’t want to give away a plot point, but basically the idea is there’s this place called “Shell Beach” that some people are trying to find, and ultimately this place they’ve been searching for and dreaming about, this place that they think will solve all their problems – well, it isn’t exactly what they think it is.

I feel that pretty much describes everything around me these days. In today’s newspaper there was a story about the new film, “Surrogates.” Bruce Willis plays a cop in a futuristic society where everyone lives through surrogates – who of course, are younger and more beautiful than their “real” selves. In order to make Willis’ surrogate character look younger, the filmmakers used a combination of makeup and digital manipulation of the images. This was done to make the film plausible, but when the reporter asked if this technology might be used on other actors – not for a particular plot line but to enhance their beauty – the person being interviewed basically said something to the effect of (and I’m totally paraphrasing here), “Duh!”

It’s no news that almost every image we see these days is doctored in some way. A while ago there was a story about a Redbook cover photo of singer Faith Hill that was extensively retouched. (Scroll down slightly to see the “before” and “after.”) Sometimes it’s a combination of Photoshop, a ton of products, and an entire team of experts, as demonstrated in “The Evolution of Beauty” video from Dove.

It’s everywhere, this kind of manipulation. My husband is a sound editor/engineer, and a friend of his recently worked with a group known for their amazing vocals. The friend spent the last week “Auto-Tuning” their latest recording. “Auto-tune” is a program that digitally corrects pitch, making the performance “more precise.” More “perfect.”

But I wonder – what’s so great about “perfect?” My husband and I saw a commercial recently on TV, and for the life of us we could not figure out if the woman on the screen was an actual human being, or if she was a computer-created image. She was beautiful. Her skin was absolutely flawless – she was perfect. Too perfect. It was disconcerting.

When I see all this perfection around me, it makes me feel I’ve failed somehow. When I read about other people with their seemingly “perfect” lives – their many accomplishments, their many possessions, their achievements and successes – I feel somehow less. I know I have a rich life – I have friends, I have love, I’ve done things in my life. But I don’t have a perfect body, I don’t have an amazing career, incredible talent, or a stellar record of accomplishment. I’m just … normal. And it seems that’s not good enough these days, because all around me people are getting Photoshopped and Auto-Tuned and manipulated into some kind of perfection that to me, isn’t really perfection – it’s robotic and scary.

Why are we so obsessed with being perfect? Do we think that looking perfect on the outside means that we’ll feel perfect on the inside? Bad things happen to us. Sometimes we do bad things. We make mistakes. We don’t always win. Even celebrities, with their money and fame and beauty experience loss and disappointment and sadness in life. Their album isn’t number one. They don’t get a part. They get sick. They get old. They die. Does being “perfect” make any of that easier for them?

I don’t like being manipulated, and I don’t like being mislead. I’m tired of trying to achieve someone else’s definition of perfect. I’m tried of thinking how I look, how I sound, how I live is not good enough. I’m tired of trying to find Shell Beach.

A New Old Friend

I had the pleasure recently of reconnecting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a very, very long time. Our mothers were best friends when we were kids, and we spent many vacations together. The last time I last saw her was over fifteen years ago, very briefly. When we met this time, we had an immediate connection, as if no time at all had passed.

We both grew up in Greenwich Village, in New York, with similar artsy bohemian parents. There are very few people in my life who grew up the way I did, and it was amazing to reconnect with my friend, after all these years. She understands things about who I am now – even though we haven’t spent time together in a long time – and we fell into easy conversation. She lives very far away now – across an ocean – and I was so sad when she had to leave. Part of it was nostalgia, probably, but I think part of it was realizing how alone I feel so much of the time. My husband is wonderful, and he’s my best friend, but there’s something very special about having a close female friend as well.

I find it gets harder to make new friends the older I get, particular a female “best friend.” Part of it is lifestyle – we’re all so busy living our lives – just getting through the day, dealing with the economy, homes, responsibilities. When you meet someone new at this age, there’s so much past to explain. At this age we’ve all experienced so much – different job paths, different love paths, different dreams and expectations. I love talking with people who are different than me, because I love learning about their lives and their choices, but often, at this age, I find people are either too busy to sit and have those sort of profound conversations, or they’re too guarded. They just don’t have the time or the energy to open up to someone new. I understand why and how that happens.

There’s something incredible about connecting with someone who understands you a very core way. My old friend understands what formed me – I don’t have to try to explain my family and my upbringing, because she lived it too. Even though our lives are different now, we both could see how we’ve made certain choices based on what we experienced as kids. It was so amazing to have someone say, “I know! I get it!” And even more wonderful was that we didn’t only talk about the past – we also talked about the present, how we feel today, as women of a certain age, and what we expected, and what we have, and what we anticipate. I realized how important that is, and how it’s been missing from my life.

I feel I’ve been given a wonderful gift. A new, old friend. Even if it’s another twenty years before we see each other again (and I hope it won’t be), I know that the next time we meet, we’ll be able to pick up again, as if it had been only days.

Do you have someone in your life who gets you? Do you find it easy to make new friends as you get older? Do you feel you have a “best friend,” or do you ever feel alone?

White, With Patches of Red

I have noticed there is an unwritten law of the universe that says whenever I am wearing white pants, I must eat something tomato-based.

While there is no absolute directive that I spill on myself, that seems to be an unavoidable next step.

I am looking forward to the day it stops being 100 degrees in LA and I can go back to wearing dark clothes that hide the stains.

Crochety Old Lady: Report From BlackBerry Lane

So, for a long time I had this perfectly fine free e-mail account. And then I started to do some freelance writing for my husband’s company, so there was another account for work-related stuff, and there would be all these e-mails to check and read and file and delete on both accounts.

And then we got “smart phones,” and one of the e-mail accounts was put onto my BlackBerry, which meant now I could get e-mails in the produce aisle at Vons. It also meant now I had to check and read and file and delete the same e-mails in two places, because apparently the BlackBerry does not talk to the Mac. It’s like those two women you work with whose cubicles are side by side, but they don’t speak and never go to lunch together. Whatever. It’s fine, and everyone works around it.

But then I started to do some more freelance writing, and I began to get IMPORTANT e-mails about work-related stuff in the work-related account. Except that account was not on the BlackBerry, which was stupid, because those e-mails were the ones I really needed to know about in the the produce aisle at Von’s. So I added the work e-mail account to the BlackBerry, which then meant I was standing in the produce aisle at Von’s for hours deleting unnecessary e-mails. And then I still had to go home and read and file and delete all the same e-mails all over again on the laptop.

So then I had an idea. I assigned different sounds to the different accounts on my BlackBerry. The first account, the one that is mostly sales alerts from Zappos, has a sprightly tinkling sound, as if to say “Hello, friend! Here’s something fun for you!” Except of course, there were also some work-related people who had that e-mail address, so I still had to check that account anyway, even though it was usually just about some pants on sale at Nordstrom’s. The sound I assigned to the work account has a slightly urgent yet not overly-insistent sound, suggesting “IMPORTANT e-mail coming through, lady! You might want to take a look at this one ASAP. Especially if you want to earn some money to buy those pants.”

It sill doesn’t solve the problem of too many accounts, and basically the BlackBerry is a very expensive alarm clock. I’m told you can also make phone calls with it, but honestly, who has time to talk on the phone? I’m too busy reading and filing and deleting e-mails.

Job Search – Job of the Day

I was perusing the job boards today, as I am wont to do, and I noticed a posting for “Physician – General Surgery.” Right there on Jobs.com.

Frankly, I was shocked. You’d think that physicians would have their own special site for job hunting. Jobs.com is sort of the equivalent of the cork board at the local community center, where you might find ads like “Rooomate wanted! Must love cats!” or “Seek driver to share expenses on cross-country trip. Must love cats!” or “Tutor needed for dyslexic. Must love cast!”

But there it was – a job posting for “Physician – General Surgery.” Upon closer examination, I saw that the job requirements specified someone who could do “colonoscopies, endoscopies and other GI related procedures.” Perhaps that explains it? Not a huge rush on those gastrointestinal positions?

I suppose it’s just another sign of the times. Everyone is looking for ways to cut back. Until they figure out a way to conduct a physical exam over Skype with a doctor in India, we still have to actually appear in person at the doctor’s office (in my case, a vaguely Kafkaesque HMO, with a disinterested front-desk clerk and hostile nurses.)

Perhaps instead of recruiting from Harvard or John Hopkins University, the decision to go with Jobs.com is an attempt at belt-tightening. I know we all have to make adjustments in this economy, but the whole thing makes me a little uneasy. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with an employment service that caters to both the guy searching for computer engineering jobs and the guy searching my large intestine for polyps.

Oh well. That’s the world we live in now. In a way, it gives me hope. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find a listing for the job I’m really looking for, “Observational humor writer. Seeking self-starter with ability to stare at blank wall for hours. Must love cats!”

In Memoriam

Eight years ago today my friend Mitch lost his stepfather, John Talignani. John was aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in a field in Pennsylvania. A group of ordinary citizens on an airplane made an unthinkable sacrifice to save the lives of others they didn’t even know.

As Mitchell says, “John was an ordinary extraordinary man.”

Today I think about John, and Mitch, and all my friends in New York who were unwilling participants in a horrible day in history.

I was not there, and could only watch with horror and sadness from far away. Today I will remember, in honor of those who were lost that day.