Things I’ve learned: Summer/Fall Edition

“And the yellow sunflower by the brook, in autumn beauty stood.”
― William Cullen Bryant

I always go into summer with three basic goals:

1.)  to write a lot;

2.)  to read a lot – preferably while lounging by the pool under a hot Texas sun, sipping a frosty margarita; and

3.)  to spend some quality time in nature – just me, my camera, and a blank Moleskine.

I always go into fall wondering what the hell happened to my summer.

It’s an eternal struggle.  The “best-laid plans” and all that jazz.  The truth is: summer is never as free-flowing and easy-going as I like to believe.  It is hectic and frenzied, a precarious balancing act dictated by obligation and commitment – life, love, band camp. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is a fruitless endeavor.  Quite the opposite. My summer was filled with moments of unscripted relevance, and it is within these fragments where true clarity is discovered. Here are a few things I learned over the summer…and into the fall:

1.  Sometimes the hype is right.  I’m not one to blindly follow the crowd.  I think it’s fair to say I spend a majority of my time in perpetual lag  – always trailing a few steps behind the cool kids. I attribute this to two things:  a.) an abundance of ignorance, and b.) an unwillingness to trust in the judgment of others.  One doesn’t have to look much further than E.L. James, comic book hero movie reboots, and selfies to understand the latter.  I hold firm in my belief that popularity rarely equates to anything worth a damn.

While this line of reasoning is beneficial in sidestepping steaming piles of mindless nonsense, it also tends to isolate me from the more noteworthy components of popular culture.  The Showtime series Homeland is one such element.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I make a concerted effort to avoid original programming distributed by pay-cable networks – HBO, Showtime, et al.  This has less to do with the quality of the works produced and more to do with my prudish nature.  I find the nudity and explicit sex depicted in these shows gratuitous and unnecessary.  There is an adage:  just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  I mean, really, explain to me how opening a scene with a main character receiving sloppy fellatio from a handful of naked courtesans contributes to the art of storytelling.  It is beyond my capacity for comprehension.

But…I digress.

homelandHomeland is the American version of an Israeli series called Hatufim.  It’s a spy drama – well-written, well-acted, and character driven.  All things that put it right up my alley. The only problem – it’s put out by Showtime, i.e. lots of gratuitous sex with little to no intrinsic value to the overall plot.  And so, despite the critical buzz, the media hype, the constant nagging from my inner circle, I ignored Homeland – for four seasons.

What changed?

Boredom (and maybe a little wine) on a soggy weekend in early June.  I binged for two days straight.  On the show, not the wine.

Turns out, all that hype was right.  Homeland is fantastic.  Claire Danes is wonderful (a total nut, but great).  Mandy Patinkin is brilliant.  Mr. Wickham plays an assassin.  An assassin!  How awesome is that?

rupert friendThe lesson here:  Mr. Wickham makes a great assassin…oh wait…it is really easy to fast forward through all that icky parts to get to the good stuff.  Who knew?

Everyone, but me.

2.  Nothing beats a birthday at the beach.  Birthdays depress me.  I know, so cliché, but it’s the truth.  I spend half the day contemplating the reality of my own morality, and the rest stuffing my face with cake to mask the pain.  Of course, then I feel guilty and spend the next two weeks at the gym trying to undo the damage.

This year, I took a different approach.  I went to the beach.

IMG_7716We spent the week in one our favorite places, just exploring.  There were sunset cruises and wildlife eco tours; a bit of shopping, a little sunbathing, a lot of food and wine.  On the morning of my 43rd birthday, I took a solitary walk along an empty beach as the sun came up, had a photo shoot with a cooperative Great Blue Heron, and ate my weight in mussels.

It was the best birthday ever.

From now on, all my birthdays will be celebrated at the beach.

3.  Starbucks has desecrated the sanctity of Christmas.  If I can’t have snowflakes and sledding dogs with my overpriced, calorie-laden latte then it is all for naught.  We might as well just cancel Christmas.

4.  Letting go and moving on.  I once wrote a blog about the ten things I learned in my thirties.  One of the most important lessons:  nurturing healthy relationship, and eliminating the bad.  Easy advice to give, tough advice to follow.  This is especially true when you fail to recognize the signs of a shifting landscape.  No partnership is perfect, of course – be it familial, marriage, or friendship.  We are only human, and thus inherently flawed.  Yet, if we take care and are vigilant, we are able to forge meaningful and beneficial bonds.

In every relationship, there is a certain degree of compromise and acceptance – the old give and take.  My husband snores like a freight train, but he takes out the trash.  It’s a trade-off.  We make it work.  It is along a similar vein that I measure all the relationships in my life – give and take.  Is it mutual?  Is it proportional?  Is it fulfilling?  Often these are easy questions to answer.  But sometimes I am blindsided by the realization that what was once mutually satisfying, is no longer viable.

For the last year, I’ve struggled with such a revelation.  In hindsight, the writing has been on the wall for a long time.  I blame complacency.  I am a creature of habit, and will sometimes go out of my way to avoid confrontation in order to sidestep the unpleasantness of change.

My epiphany came with an incident last Christmas that to most may seem trivial – a homemade gift given in love without so much as a thank you.  Yes, I know.  Trivial.  In the spirit of the season, gifts should be given without the expectation of reciprocation.  But the lack of acknowledgment hurt my feelings – deeply.  I’m not sure why it affected me in this manner.  I’m not prone to such sensitivity.  Yet, it did.  I suppose it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  One more thing added to a growing list of irritating and hurtful trespasses.  It changed my whole view and shined a light on something that I had long denied.  The friendship was dead.

And so, I have spent the better part of the year coming to terms with that reality.  It’s been difficult.  There is a certain amount of grief that comes with it.  And resentment.  But I have come to accept the fact that the friendship, in its original state, is gone. It is through this acceptance that I have found peace.  I suppose that is all we can hope for in life – peace.

5.  Awww moment of the week:  This is the part of my blog that I reserve for a picture of something adorable.  In light of recent events, I’d like to take a moment to pay my respects to the victims of the Paris terror attacks.

paris peace

10 things I learned in my 30s

Yesterday, when I sat down at the computer, my intent was to write a new blog entry updating my outline revisions and finish last week’s “Things I learned.”

That didn’t happen.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was having one of those days when every neuron in my brain was misfiring.  Ideas banged around inside my head like jumping beans, but I was powerless to capture and harness them.

Eh, it happens sometimes.  So, I checked my email, trolled Facebook, hit a few entertainment sites, and wondered if Catholic school is really the best choice for Suri Cruise.

That’s when I noticed the date.

July 16.

Hmmm…it appears that I have survived the month since my 40th birthday without suffering any adverse side effects.  A stark contrast to a decade ago.  Turning 30 nearly did me in and I spent four years recovering.    However, the years that followed were a time of great personal growth for me.  I discovered a lot about myself, the world around me, and my place in that world.  Here are 10 things I learned in my 30s:

10.  Eating junk food makes you fat.  In my twenties, this was a foreign concept.  I ate what I wanted, drank what I wanted, and suffered very little in the way of consequences.  In my thirties, my body rebelled.  All of those excess calories translated into excess pounds and my jeans size suddenly expanded – from size 4 to size 14.

9.  Losing weight requires effort – and sweat.  With excess weight gain comes the desire to shed those pounds.  Of course, laziness and gluttony made me fat and my first instinct was to find a method to lose without exerting too much energy.  A quick fix.  I tried the Cookie diet, the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the starvation diet, the “screw it I’ll just stay fat” diet.  I bought pills and potions and patches.  Nothing worked, and why would it?  The fact of the matter, and something I had to learn the hard way, is that if you want to lose weight, you have to change your lifestyle.  And by change your lifestyle, I mean you must put down the potato chips, get your ass up off the couch, and sweat – a lot.  Every single day for the rest of your life.

8.    Love the skin you’re in.  Cleanse, hydrate, and moisturize.  Do it twice a day, everyday and your skin will reward you with a healthy, youthful glow.  Trust me on this.

7.    Change is painful; change is good.  I’ve never been one to embrace change.   Early on in my thirties, I shied away from it, built a nice safe bubble around my life, and stared out as the world passed me by.  Then suddenly, that world shifted.  In the span of just a few months, I lost my home to fire, my father to cancer, and learned my mother had breast cancer.  In the blink of an eye, everything changed.  It was devastating, yet empowering.  I discovered through it all, that I am strong, capable, and resilient.

6.    Take heart in lessons learned.    Contrary to what I like to tell myself, I don’t know everything.   I have found that life is more than happy to fill in the blanks.  I just have to pay attention and take heed.

5.   A happy life begins with happiness within.   In Henry V, Shakespeare wrote, “Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.”  I’ll admit, I’ve never completely comprehended the true meaning behind Shakespeare’s words, but I like the quote just the same.  To me, it embodies the struggle of self-acceptance I endured throughout my 30s.  I am a personality fraught with flaws and quirks and insecurities, and I have learned to like me just as I am.   After that, the rest came easy.

4.   Being a joiner is not a bad thing.  I am, by nature, an introvert.  I prefer to stand on the periphery – watching, assessing, judging.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that – most of the time.  However, to fully engage with life, I found that sometimes I have to step off of the sidelines and into the fray.   It’s scary, but the rewards are endless.

3.   The only way to conquer fear is to face it head on.  Anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, knows that I have a laundry list of phobias.  I am scared of flying, boating, drowning, camping, bears, sharks, brain-eating amoeba, and math.  If there is one thing that I learned in my 30s, it is that one can’t live their life defined by fear.  It stunts personal growth and makes for a boring existence.  So, in the last few years, I’ve gone whale watching in an inflatable raft (yikes), taken a sunset cruise into the shark infested waters off the Keys, flown a dozen or more times, and taken four semesters of math – back to back.  I’m still working up to camping with bears and swimming in a lake full of brain-eating amoeba.  I don’t feel the need to rush.

2.   Nurture healthy relationships, eliminate the bad.   Relationships are hard.  They are even harder when they don’t work.  It took a long time for me to accept that sometimes it is best to cut my losses and walk away.  Once I did, I was free to devote my energy to the relationships in my life that do work.

1.   Youth is relative.  If you perceive yourself as old, you are.