Friday, April 30, 2010

Chaos theory

The key to success is organization - you can hear that from seminars on self-employment, articles on working freelance, even cooking shows and parental advice columns. But many of us are left-brain pegs trying to function in right-brain holes (or is that right brain vs. left brain? I'm not organized enough to remember which is which). So as a result I am looking at a highly cluttered desk which I thought I cleaned off a few days ago but which has returned to its natural chaotic state, I am trying to figure out how I have nothing in the house for dinner tonight even though I swore I did meal plans for the week, and I can't find anything to wear in my closet.

Scientists define momentum as the fact that an object in motion will stay in motion unless another force acts on it (or it runs into one of the piles on my desk). Diet experts describe the body's set-point, a weight to which it constantly returns, unless you change your metabolism through major exercise. I think creative chaos is analogous - no matter how many times I clean my desk, sort my files, draw up meal plans or re-organize my closet, my life wants to return to its natural state. (Sometimes I envision the papers on my desk coming to life when I'm not here, like the toys in Toy Story or the cows in a Gary Larson cartoon - "Whoops, she's coming, everyone back to lying around, but this time in messier piles!")

So no matter what we do, organization is destined to return to chaos - as a matter of fact, I think I have an article proving that scientifically, only I'm not sure where it is. I will continue to be an optimist, making to-do lists, sorting piles, doing that semi-annual, very satisfying, closet clean-out (THAT's where I put those cute capris that make me look skinny!). But it's nice to know that when my best-laid plans eventually fall apart, it isn't totally my fault.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Power Of Vintage Women

20 floors above downtown San Francisco, a group of brilliant, articulate, professional women sipped Pinot Noir, sampled delectable gourmet appetizers, sighed over the spectacular view, and swapped stories. The members of VIP (Vintage Industry Professionals) had all, by definition, been in the meetings & events industry for at least 20 years, and the group had been started as an alternative to other networking associations where we'd been drowned out by men, or turned off by chipper young things who talked and texted too enthusiastically (while teetering in stilettos and tossing back tequila shooters). While the reception was ostensibly a networking event, and we all mentioned what we did, created, or sold, the evening was more a combination of sorority meeting, group therapy, and menopausal support session.

We shared about jobs we'd lost and jobs we'd just found, businesses that had flopped and new ventures we'd started, marriages, health crises, kids, friendships, the importance of taking time off, and discovering new passions for everything from standup comedy to growing heirloom lettuce. We laughed, commiserated about the economy, traded business cards, and reveled in knowing everyone could relate when someone began fanning herself, asking, "Is it hot in here or is it me?" - and no one was offended when my middle-aged bladder necessitated a quick bathroom break during someone's introduction. (Take that, Bohemian Club or all those other male-only secret societies - our group may not be as plugged in as the old-boy networks, but we're way more honest and much more fun!)

Something about the combination of humor, inspiration and estrogen made us all giddily intoxicated - I was so bubbly when I got home that my husband asked how much I'd had to drink (for the record, one glass of extremely good sparkling wine!) Of course, it was Cinderella-after-the-ball time, since I arrived to find a broken garbage disposal, a sink full of dirty dishes, a 16-year-old son with girl troubles, a 13-year-old with a dying pet rat, and a husband distraught over the San Jose Sharks' lousy defense. But as I consoled my boys (all 3 of them), washed dishes, and looked up plumbers, I was still glowing from the evening.

Networking with kindred souls, particularly women my age, is magic - I was even smiling while I wrote out the check to the plumber the next morning!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Guys Who Cheat on Gorgeous Celebs

The internet is buzzing with news of the latest celebrity marriage to be rocked by infidelity (prompting a ton of misspelled, grammatically challenged comments). The scandal is aising the usual questions: How could Jesse do that to Sandra? Didn't she see the red flags before she married him? And what's with the highly visible celebrities, celebrity husbands and politicians all thinking no one will notice (or give an exclusive interview to the Nat'l Enquirer) when they have affairs?

So then you start to wonder - If Sandra Bullock gets cheated on (or Christie Brinkley, or Halle Berry, etc., etc., etc.), how can the rest of us hope to escape? And incidentally, where are the female celebrities cheating on their significantly less attractive partners?) Why can't men in the public eye keep it in their pants? And why do they all tend to blame the media and public attention for blowing everything out of proportion?

For the answers, you can turn to the wisdom of two powerful, influential men who represent everything that is wrong about their gender. First, John Gray, who made a fortune stating the obvious (that men are different from women on a basic, biological level), but who got his start leading marriage counseling seminars while his own multiple marriages were falling apart. (I once met him when I performed at a party he threw for his 4th or 5th wife, and he told us, with a straight face, that when he saw her across the room, he walked up to her and told her, "God wanted us to be together." When I cracked, "That's one hell of a good pick up line", he wasn't amused . . . . )

Then there's John Edwards, who hit some new lows in cheating male behavior (at least Jesse James cheated while his wife's career was taking off, not while she was suffering a cancer recurrence). But Edwards did get more honest in his requisite press conference apology, and basically admitted that when a man is famous and powerful, he gets a sense of entitlement and feels like he's above mere mortal morality. (And it was a refreshing change from listening to other men tear up when they talk about hiking the Appalachian trail with their soulmates.)

Of course there are women who cheat, too - but publicly visible women tend to be too smart (and too busy with their careers) to fool around. You can see this basic behavioral difference all the way back in adolescence, when girls are daydreaming of having a boyfriend (or mooning over Taylor Lautner, Zac Efron, or, back in our day, David Cassidy). The boys are ogling posters of Farrah Fawcett and trading tips on how to unhook bras, not pining for romance. Our biology doesn't change as adults - men still want sex, women still want romance, only we're all too busy and too tired for much of either.

Which explains why stories about infidelity get such wide exposure - we're not prurient moralists delighting in the troubles of celebrities, we're just sex- and romance-starved busy people who get a little vicarious thrill reading about the sexual exploits of others. But we can learn a bit from these stories, too - mostly, A-list actresses should make sure their husbands are as busy as they are (so they won't have time to cheat), and the rest of us can console ourselves that we may not look like Halle Berry or Christie Brinkley, but we have somewhat better luck with men!

Friday, April 16, 2010

More 'Helpful Hints'? Oh, please!

Even at my advanced age, I still believe I have a lot to learn, so I'm always open to suggestions and advice on coping with my life/marriage/kids/etc.; which is why I subscribe to a wide variety of magazines and read informative web articles as often as possible. However, after awhile you realize that most of these articles can be boiled down to: “There is no problem with your kids’ behavior/time management/housekeeping/sex life/waistline/serenity that can’t be solved with a few helpful hints", implying that if you aren't blissfully organized, happy, and successful, it's your own darn fault.

Here's a sample of what you can read, if you want to feel thoroughly lousy about yourself . . .

Working Mother uses 'real moms' on its cover, which I find refreshing, except the accompanying profile, 'How She Does It', fawns about some annoying paragon who works long hours at an exciting job, yet still manages to pursue her painting hobby, work out regularly to keep her size 2 figure, and spend quality time with her 4 kids, serving them homemade pancakes and organic dinners, meanwhile looking fabulously pulled together. (She offers her own tips like "Don't be afraid to serve the same meal twice in one month" or "Even toddlers love helping prepare meals!", but she forgets to mention the fact that apparently she only needs two hours of sleep a night.)

This month's Redbook profiles Jennifer Lopez, who is 'just a regular mom like anyone else' who cherishes quiet time at home with her twin toddlers (since when have you heard of 'twin toddlers' and 'quiet' in the same sentence?), when she doesn't take them with her on photo shoots or concert tours, where they love amusing themselves quietly while she works. Somehow I suspect that there's a nanny (or major medication) helping them stay quiet - and I'd be willing to bet she has a bit more household/styling/working-out help, not to mention extra money, than the rest of us 'regular moms'.

Martha Stewart Kids has helpful hints like how to wean your kids off junk food by making 'Yummy Ice Pops' (just clean out an assortment of attractive small containers, purchase fruit at the produce market, cook & puree it with a little homemade simple syrup, and check every 5 minutes in the freezer until you attain the perfect consistency), or how to raise literate kids by installing an educational frieze of alphabet flash cards (it's as easy as nailing up two perfectly parallel strips of panel molding spaced 1/4 inch closer together than the height of a set of cards you make from posterboard). So now you can feel bad about your child-rearing as well as your homemaking skills - I for one still feel guilty that I've never served heirloom tomatoes on vintage etched-glass plates.

And of course, you now have the ultimate oxymoron, a whole magazine called Real Simple, where you can complicate your life even further by trying to organize their supposed time-saving tips ("Re-invigorate your blowout by teasing small sections on the crown", or "Create new accessories - make a necklace out of mismatched earrings!").

Where's the Imperfect Mom magazine?, with tips like why kitchens really don't need to be cleaned, how to disguise 'chicken again?' as something more exotic, and what to do when your kids bickering is driving you up the wall. (I recommend an iPod and a bedroom door that locks.) And I don't ever need to see another profile of a so-called normal celebrity mom until I read about one who either admits her life is ridiculously blessed, or one who really does it without a nanny, housecleaner, or any extra money, and whose house is as messy as mine. The thing is, if I weren't constantly reminded of impossibly perfect moms and size 2 women who do it all, I'd feel pretty good about my life - so until a more realistic women's magazine comes out, I'm going to stick to reading about international disasters in the New York Times - it's much less depressing!

Monday, April 12, 2010

To Do Lists

Like a lot of working moms, I rely on lists, everything from what I need at the store to phone messages to client requests, to what really bugs me about the unkempt family room that I can afford to take care of. And sometimes they can be a wonderful, helpful tool, not just in boosting my memory (which, I continue to claim, isn't fading, it's just that my 'hard drive' is too full), but in stress relief. (When I feel too agitated to go to sleep, I make a list of everything that I'm afraid I'll forget the next day, and it works!)
List-making is in my genes. My mother always had lists on the refrigerator, planning meals for the week and detailing what needed to be defrosted when. (It still amazes me that she worked full-time in the days before microwaves, and we always had a wholesome, Donna Reed-worthy dinner on the table by 6:30.) So I took to the habit as a child, itemizing my homework and even future goals. (I was way ahead of 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid', starting an autobiographical list in my diary at age 8 for the sake of future fans.)
But sometimes lists can create more problems than they solve, like overly ambitious New Year's resolutions (#1 - work at a soup kitchen, #2 - lose 25 lbs. this week, #3 - redecorate kitchen, organize closet and learn to weave). I thought I'd stopped, given that my only New Year's resolution for 2010 was to give myself permission to procrastinate. However, we just spent another a spring break at home, I was determined to make the most of it, and old habits die hard.
For whatever reason, many of our family friends were out of town on great trips - we're at the point where a trip to Fresno would seem exotic, so it was hard not to envy people going off to Florida or San Diego. So I made a list of all the ways in which I could take advantage of the free time - I was going to re-organize every room in the house, cook really nutritious meals and bake bread, record vocals for a children's musical, exercise for 2 hours a day, and have lots of meaningful bonding time with my kids.
Instead, the boys spent most of the vacation sleeping late, watching TV and being bored, and I didn't do much more - and it was lovely! I felt bad for a moment when I remembered the list, but on the other hand, the idle idyll must have done me good, because this morning was the first day back, which could have been really ugly (picture crabby, sleepy, slow-moving teenagers, crabby, sleepy, irritated parents, and a dog who kept barking because she wanted to play). But I made everyone breakfast, feeling very much like Donna Reed, and they both got out the door on time, without one fight all morning.
I still need occasional lists, for groceries and clients and such, but as far as 'what I hope to accomplish', I think those lists should be retroactive. So this past spring break, I caught up on sleep, loafed, watched a few old movies, played computer solitaire, spent some time with my kids, and ignored most of what I'd planned. That's a list I can be proud of!

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Jewish perspective on the Pope, pedophilia and Passover

This time of year always brings up a number of intersections between Judaism and Catholicism. For starters, there's the obvious Passover/Easter connection (despite all those Last Supper portraits with leavened bread - come on, Leonardo, you couldn't get the hang of painting matzoh?). And both holidays incorporate pagan fertility symbols, from roasted eggs to baby chicks made out of marshmallow.
But this past week we were treated to a less charming Jewish/Catholic link, when the pope's pastor gave a homily likening the media furor over molesting priests (and the Pope's involvement in transferring one) to anti-Semitism. It was a slap in the face to real victims of religious discrimination all over the world. Granted, my experience in that area is limited to crying when I read the Diary of Anne Frank, realizing that my dad's family could have been in danger if Hitler had invaded Baltimore, and, as the only Jewish kid in 4th grade, explaining to clueless classmates that Hanukah was not a holiday celebrating potato chips. But it was still uncomfortable - and ironic - to hear those kinds of defensive, offensive, remarks made during Holy Week.
Plus I have my own personal interfaith intersection, since as a freelance musician, I play wherever they hire me. This year, I booked a series of Easter masses, so I ended up reading about the papal homily on Good Friday, and then sitting at the piano while I listened to the traditional 'Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews'. (I felt somewhat like a musical prostitute - outraged and disgusted, but not too outraged to accept the check.)
And on a different level, the connection between children and sex is also prominent in my household because I have 3 boys (2 teenagers and a husband) whose sense of humor makes South Park look like Erma Bombeck. Needless to say, the whole subject brought up a barrage of 'that's what she said' jokes and pretty good imitations of the pedophile character from Family Guy. Normally, I try to keep from laughing at their inapproriate humor (and usually fail, if only because their laughter is so contagious), but under the circumstances, it just wasn't as amusing. The thought of some trusted religious adviser molesting my child makes me as irate as a Republican congressman the day they passed health care reform.
Fortunately, the media conspiracy has brought so much to light that even the Vatican apologized for the remarks (in that 'I'm sorry if you were offended' way that politicians use to excuse off-color racial slurs and trips to the Appalachian Trail, but for the Vatican it was progress). And it was a great 'teaching moment' to talk to my kids about anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, child molestation, and unloading the dishwasher properly. (Hey, as long as I was in lecture mode!)
I have 8-1/2 months to recover some of my own equilibrium before I play Christmas masses during Chanukah. (So far the only awkward moment I've had during that holiday combination was explaining to my kids, when they were younger, that Christmas actually wasn't a celebration of the birthday of Santa Claus . . . )

Friday, April 2, 2010

Ricky Martin Is Still Sexy To Me!

The blogosphere is all a-twitter, so to speak, because pop star Ricky Martin finally came out (after 10 years of speculation, evasion, and 'hello, of course he's gay' commentary). Many praise him, deservedly so, for being open and proud of his homosexuality, some homophobic writers are condemning him, and tons of female fans are still supportive but dreadfully disappointed.

Here's the thing about celebrities who come out - I mean, honestly, how many of us would ever get a chance to sleep with Ricky, or Clay Aiken, or Adam Lambert, or Neil Patrick Harris, or any of the other sex symbols who disappointed their fans? (Okay, you may not think of Neil Patrick Harris as a sex symbol, but sexiness is in the eye of the beholder, and while I do think Ricky Martin is incredibly sexy, I've also always had a soft spot for funny guys who can sing - my first celebrity crush was Dick Van Dyke, and I think Nathan Lane is pretty adorable too!)

Anyhow - Ricky isn't going to sleep with me whether he's straight or gay, so I really don't care who he chooses to sleep with. His choice of bed partners doesn't change the fact that he's got a fabulous voice, a great body, and a seductive rapport with audiences. Plus he has that sensitive dad thing going on, with his cute twin toddler boys. See, here's the great thing about celebrity crushes - since it's all fantasy, you can imagine anything you want, and it doesn't matter whether the object of your affection is straight, gay, bi, or an alcoholic sex addict. In a fantasy, Clay Aiken can date his fans, Tiger Woods can be a devoted husband, and Adam Lambert can be punkish womanizer. Or in my case, Neil Patrick Harris can be a passionate lover who sings and tells me jokes while he begs me to costar in his next show.

So disappointed fans, don't despair - you can still fantasize about Ricky Martin all you like, and now you don't even have to compare yourself to any real life women he might date!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What I Learned From "What I Learned From Shamu"

I'm reading a fascinating book by Amy Sutherland, who started out studying exotic animal training but then discovered she could apply those techniques to people in her life, specifically her husband. Her basic principles include learning what a species can or cannot do, judicious use of rewards instead of punishment, and not responding at all to behaviors you don't like. She writes glowingly about the miraculous changes in her marriage, as she stopped nagging her messy husband, praised him when he did something she liked, and ignored his fuming tantrums when he couldn't find his keys. She understood he, like most men, simply wasn't capable of certain things, rewarded him for the tasks she wanted him to repeat, and created nearly instant harmony and serenity in her newly peaceful home. Plus it made her calmer in dealing with honking drivers, rude bank clerks, and a hard-of-hearing mother.
Which sounds great in theory - but Ms. Sutherland is not a mother, and she also had the advantage of novelty, because her husband didn't see her reading her own book. For starters, my husband noticed the title of the book and asked me about it - so now whenever I praise him ("Wow, you figured out the circuit breakers!"), he rolls his eyes and says, "Great, you're Shamu-ing me." And I'm trying to stop nagging, but when I'm exhausted, crabby, and perimenopausal, it's almost impossible to bite my tongue before I lash out.
Plus kids are a whole other proposition. My teenage boys love to bicker - they can get along beautifully while they're home alone, but the minute I pull into the garage, Ben starts humming, David gets annoyed, Ben complains that David was supposed to feed the dog, David claims Ben said he'd switch if David set the table, and in 2 minutes they're calling each other names and telling me that if I were doing my job as a mom I'd make the other one stop because it's all HIS fault. I try to ignore them, of course, but as I'm rewashing the dishes they were supposed to do, folding the laundry, and trying to remember what I have to remember for the next morning, it would take the patience of a saint not to yell that they're both grounded for a month and forget about that movie I promised to take them to. And I'm jewish - we don't have saints!
Still, the basic idea sounds really good, and I have noticed occasional positive results when I can stick to it - recognizing, for example, that teenage boys are not capable of moving quickly in the morning has helped me be more patient when it takes them 20 minutes to put on one shoe, and praising my husband for the circuit breaker thing motivated him to take on a few other home repairs (okay, he called his buddy who's a handyman, but still, he made the call and held the tools while Ritchie fixed the stuck pocket door and replaced the broken shower head).
Ms. Sutherland, I suggest you write your next book for moms who need to train themselves - how do we encourage ourselves to stop nagging? Where's our treat for understanding these alien species with whom we live? Oh, sure, I know the long term results will be worth it, but Shamu got little rewards as he developed his impressive tricks, and we need that gradual training too! So until Sutherland comes out with the sequel (How To 'Shamu' Yourself?), I think I'll reward myself, for not yelling this morning, and browse the Old sale page!