Figured Out Foolishness

I was talking with an old friend, who is also arguably the most miserably unhappy person I’ve ever known, but in that 40 year-old frat boy sort of way … of all the people who should be seeking self actualization! He took me aback when he commented with pride that he had life “all figured out.”

When he said this, my snarky cynical side wanted to laugh then reply, “Wow, wise Buddah, amazing that you have accomplished what PhD scholars, physicists, psychologists, theologians, and philosophers have not been able to do! Upon what misogynistic men-only bitterness forum did you read such brilliance?

Of course I didn’t because it is generally considered rude to debate with someone who is ill equipped to participate in the conversation. Suddenly, it dawned on me, until that moment I’d never realized this man was so … naive? ignorant? delusional? Instantly my impression of him changed. He went from a sort of tragic and self-indulgent, but smart, drifter, to a rather small thinker.

I can’t quite put my finger on the exact word I am looking for, but it just feels so silly. For a person who meets the world with such a lonely, angry, bitter face to think that his sad existence is as good as life gets, and an accurate vantage point from which to achieve understanding is rather sad. He honestly thinks we’re all miserable. But, the majority of people I know seem to actually get joy out of their lives, and continue to seek more. To each his own I guess if someone wants to choose to live a sad and vapid life.

But, it made me want more for him, and it also made me want to laugh out loud … an unhappy philosopher is kind of like Chris Farley teaching aerobics and nutrition classes. He may have theories, but if they aren’t even working for him, what’s the point?

But instead, I swallowed my snarky rejoinder (sort of), attempted to keep a straight face, and bit my tongue. During this all, I couldn’t help but think of the Cosby Show where Theo Huckstable makes the same claim. Of course Theo was fourteen so his naivety was sweet, and predictable, and resolved in a feel-good 22 minutes.

But, what would allow an adult man to continue to think like young Theo, in it’s perfect pessimistic opposite? I was baffled, until I “figured it out” myself.

If we approach the world lonely, angry, and bitter, drinking ourselves from one Friday to the next, completely lacking in self-awareness, the universe will continue to mirror that in what it gives us. And, those repeated experiences over time will trick us into thinking we are victims of some lackluster fate, rather than Captains of our own course.

It’s those of us who expect more, of ourselves, our friends, and the universe who recognize how little we really know of the world around us. The more we are challenged and surround ourselves with people and experiences that challenge us, the more our world grows. And, the more our world grows, the less we can really know of it.

So, if I ever start foolishly thinking I’ve “figured it out”, that’s a guarenteed sign that my evolution has stalled … and it’s time to seek out greener pastures and start again.

Why I Don’t Lie About My Age

Today I turned 36, and I don’t mind saying that one bit.  To my closest friends I’ve joked that my thirtieth birthday improves with every year I celebrate it, but the truth is, I don’t feel compelled to hide my age. If pressed, I’d say I look pretty damn good for 36, and there’s nobody in my life rude enough to tell me otherwise. Lately, I’ve felt so confident in how I look at 36 that half the time I find myself lying up (’cause if I look good for 36 I look AMAZING for 40).

The biggest reason I don’t worry about my age is that I have earned every single day.

I have been alive to witness 13,140 sunsets. I have seen the sun set on four different continents, during prayer call, after siesta, from the front seat of an ambulance whisking my baby to the trauma center, from the 6th Arrondissement while walking toward the Jardin des Tuileries, and in the most basic of moments while having my heart-broken, and while breaking a heart.

Jardin des Tuileries

Coco Chanel is quoted as saying, that as a woman ages, “youth must be replaced by mystery, prettiness by beauty” and to me, nothing is more beautiful, or more mysterious, than an accomplished woman who has been able to survive the constant request from the world that she dumb herself down for the love of some man. But, I’ve managed thus far to resist that pull, and now I can’t imagine a single man who’d dare ask that of me.

In younger, more naive, times I dated men who needed to be made to feel “like a man” by being with a woman less accomplished than he … stupid, silly men who thought they could explain wine, or geopolitics, or Nietzsche.  Now I nod gently, and smile to myself that some man would have such a limited imagination as to think that I’d need his instruction. Thirty six years, and as many, if not more, boys, boyfriends, lovers, and a husband have taught me the art of nodding gently and smiling. But, of all those silly men, the only one invited to stay was the one who reacts with surprise when I request his explanation, so confident is he in my accomplishments and intellect, and to me that shows he sees my true and ageless beauty.

I have watched the sky beneath a five hundred foot sandstone wall, stood on a stage to receive a national award, experienced laughter that made me snot Chinese food, meditated through a silent natural childbirth, clung to the bathroom floor while absorbing the agony of the death of a loved one, known heartbreak so raw I lost thirty pounds in a month, then loved so deep it took my breath, and I’ve seen rehabilitation from it all.

If my face and body carry marks of age then each line, and scar, and memory was earned. Why would I limit my story to claim fewer moments than I have been given? Which of my years would I ignore?

I’ve plucked gray hairs, sighed at the losing battle that is gravity, gained weight, lost weight, botoxed, detoxed, and unboxed thousands of dollars worth of “beauty” but I have never felt as confident in the skin sold to me by Madison Avenue as I do wearing the sun-kissed glow of an afternoon spent with my sons. With each year of my life that passes, those boys grow too, into toddlers, then boys, and now nascent young men of honor and intelligence; how could I possibly enjoy denying even a day of their lives?

If my face shows age, then it also shows my story, of life, and love, and loss, and that story is mine. I would not trade a moment for the collagen-rich dewy glow of my 22 year-old, untraveled cheeks. And, when my face is sixty, I hope the lines have doubled, and strengthened, and broadcast a richer story than I can even imagine today.

A life well spent, is far more intriguing than even the most perfect face, which offers nothing once it opens its mouth; and accomplishment and adventure can never be taken, or hidden by three-quarter moisturizing cream and a nylon-Spandex blend.

The Spring Collection

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American designers launch their collections twice per year: the Fall collection is introduced at fashion markets in the spring and the spring collection in the fall (a calendar disconnect which makes it nearly impossible for me to speak about a collection without pausing to correct myself first).

The spring launch is out of sync with European markets, which launch once per year, beginning in April in Paris then sweeping through Europe until finishing in Moscow. (Unless, of course, you’re talking couture labels, and then the schedule begins in October, in New York, with Fashion Week, or Asia starting in February).

Basically, fashion is all over the map, and that means so am I. But, when people ask me “What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited?” I draw a blank.

Truth is, I don’t visit interesting places. I hit all the destinations any Octogenarian would hit on their Viking Cruise. Then I rinse and repeat.

Least you think I am complaining, I am not! I love my job, but now that I am on the “repeat” phase of the rinse cycle I’m developing a hunger for the unmannecured, unwashed, underdeveloped corners of the planet – corners that don’t buy couture.

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I’m craving the steamy pulse of Southeast Asia, or the rhythmic sway of South America, or the bustling grime of India.

I want to be covered in bug bites, glistening with sweat, and sipping a cold beer in a warm breeze while laughing with locals.

To me, that means Columbia – the Santa Marta islands, Cartagena, or my friend’s coastal farm a harrowing day’s drive outside of Bogota.

When you travel for a living,”getting away” takes on a whole new meaning.

Nationalism with a Slice of Lemon

Here in the UK, sitting at the Pub, having a very proper American tea time. I prefer mine over ice, with a bendy straw, and a slice of lime, but when in Rome … I suppose a lemon will have to do. We’re forecast to have sun today, but I’ll be sporting my red ‘brolly just to be sure.

My Gear List

Prepping for my next big voyage: Toronto, Amsterdam, and London. Is it in bad taste if I thank the tragic Ebola outbreak for saving my Labor Day weekend and cancelling my leg in Pretoria?

Figured I’d share my packing lists:

Travel Items

After a luggage-check mishap in the UK earlier this year I am now firmly committed to the carry on only approach. So, I use my smaller carry-on for toiletries and make-up kit, and put my hair items inside my larger rolling bag (which I also carry on). I then tuck my purse inside its protective bag inside the smaller carry-on, and keep my baggage light and easy, and out of the cargo hold.

Travel Makeup

The trick to ensure I can go carry on only?  Editing my wardrobe down to basic, easy, mix and match items that can make a variety of looks without a lot of weight.

Packing List

The Autumn Metronome

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Summer begins its slow fade into autumn, and our harvest reminds me of my abundance.

My apple trees are heavy, peaches overwhelm every inch of counter space, and every meal I make.
Fat heirloom tomatoes can be eaten at the peak of ripeness with only salt and pepper.
And, my well-earned tan lines will begin to blend into the freckled skin of my shoulders.
And, my life is full of health and laughter – more bounty than I could ever dare to ask for.

Autumn nostalgia sweeps over every corner of my home …
Boys going back to school
Jackets coming off their storage hooks
Down comforters aired-out off linen closet shelves.
And, one more mark against the stairwell door,
Six inches! No wonder I can’t keep you in shoes.

This morning was chilly; that soft bite of September that still warms up by noon.
This evening will be busy: homework, football practice, back-to-school night.

Autumn becomes the metronome by which the rhythm of family life moves.
Until Christmas break, and Easter’s flirtatious Spring, and lazy summer comes again.

Making Plans

Hypothetically speaking,
If our last exchange was unfriendly
Followed by nearly a year of radio silence
When you asked me if I wanted to get together, I was hesitant.

I don’t want to get sucked back into the drama that we create.

But, I agreed, and friendly chatter ensued, until it came time to make plans.
You are unentangled, no demanding family obligations, complete career flexibility, not a single place you need to be.
My life is complicated, arrangements have to be made for everything I do, calendars blocked off,
schedule, juggle, compromise
You know that.

So, when you say you can’t make specific plans yet but that you want to get together,
knowing what seeing you costs me, you’re really saying “I’ll be in town for a few days, if it’s convenient for me I’d like to catch up but you’re not important enough for me to commit to a time” my same frustration with you as a friend all along.

Yeah, hypothetically speaking, that makes you an asshole.

Purple Haze and Lackadaisical Labor Days

Once upon a time, labor day weekend, a full tank of gas, and a topless baby blue CJ7 were all it took to make me smile in that way that made my cheekbones hurt. I know I was that girl, but I don’t remember her much anymore.

I remember tucking my hair under a grimy knit ski cap, we’d crank up Rage Against the Machine, and three hours later a car full of young adult hormones and Natty Light would tumble out onto the desert floor of Utah’s Goblin Valley to spend a weekend playing the world’s best game of capture the flag.

We’d build a little tent city at the campground just outside the park and break off into couples and singles, set up a fire, drink, smoke, shoot, swear, and inevitably some girl would get drunk and puke, or cry, or both – and it was wonderful.

Those weekends seem a lifetime ago now, though I can still remember the perfume I was wearing: Realm, a musky amber scent laced with vanilla, sugar, and pheromones – a perfume that boy from once upon a time liked so much he couldn’t hug me without breathing in deeply and pulling me against him for another note. 

I can still create a fire with one match and a ziplock baggie full of dryer lint pulled from my mom’s laundry room on the way out of town. I can still make “magic cobbler” in a dirty dutch oven, and, I still have that road-worn CD he gave me for my seventeenth birthday … and memories, of Labor Day, once upon a time.

Lunch with King Ding and Snotting Cat-Beef on a Shanghai Lazy Susan

When Kingful Ding of Shanghai, China (no, I am not making that name up) asked me to be the guest of honor at a lunch in his villa I accepted the invitation with enthusiasm. It’s not everyday I get asked to lunch at a villa in Shanghai, and there wasn’t really a polite way for me to get out of it anyway. So off I went, head full of optimism, suppressing that inner voice that nagged about this being CHINA, and my palate being about as refined as a four-year-old’s.

Throughout the meetings preceding this invitation I was suppressing a giggle every time I called him “Mr. Ding” with his bulbous face and puffy hair he looked a bit like a fat penis head, so I thought “Ding” was particularly fitting.

Yeah, about that palate … now would be a great time to mention that I don’t eat anything that lives in the water, and really prefer not to even look at the ugly little critters, especially shrimp, the cockroaches of the ocean.  I’ll make an exception for steamed crab legs on occasion, only as legs, but that’s really just a vehicle for melted butter.

I walked into the King’s “villa,” which was really just a private upstairs dining room at the clubhouse for his gated housing complex, and discovered a room full of dark heads – none of which were ever introduced to me.  I was the only woman in the place except for the lovely serving girls in their skin-tight cheongsam, but that comes up often enough as a woman doing business in Asia, so I was amused but not intimidated.

The table was pre-set in typical Chinese style with small plates on a Lazy Susan in the center and water goblets and wine glasses at every seat.  I was ushered to a seat next to my generous host Mr. Ding.

Now, I am traveled enough to know there are a lot of customs and expectations when dining in China (there are social mores for everything) but I am NOT traveled enough to know what those customs and expectations are … but I do know one thing: when the host is drinking, one is expected to drink as well.

But does this apply to women, at 11:30 in the afternoon?

Unsure of what would be required of me, I took my seat, set my napkin on my lap, and smiled and nodded through the first round of toasts, taking small sips between each speech that were translated for me to basically mean, “We’re excited to work together. Mr. Ding is basically awesome, and we like your yellow hair.”

All was going well until my host began the dining portion of the meal. The sheer number of plates sitting before us was a bit staggering, and the fish eye that was winking at me from across the table kept creeping precariously closer than I’d like him to be.

“Kindly” Ding picked a few morsels on the plates closest to us and placed them before me: vegetables, pickled cabbage of some sort, and a beef-ish looking thing, all fairly innocuous even for my childish finickiness. I somehow got the first bite to my mouth just as another toast started, took a sip of the worst red wine I’d ever tried, and looked down in horror just in time to see Ding place the fish head on my plate.

The King of Ding seemed a fairly traveled fellow, or at least his translator had told me that the big Ding had visited Hawaii a few times, so I had to wonder, “Is he having a laugh at my expense, surely he knows Americans don’t eat fish heads!”

The rest of the food on my plate was fairly inoffensive, so, undeterred by my American girl in the foreign city (pretending that everyone in the room wasn’t watching me) I dug in, “accidentally” moving my food around the plate to cover up my gill-breathing dining companion and contemplated spilling my wine on my plate.

Lunch continued for a few moments, and then another batch of serving plates came out, another round of toasts, and the small rice bowl beside me was filled with a gelatinous stew of hairy crab.

I resisted the urge to Snapchat a quick “Help!”  when I looked down at the ugly little fellas and was relieved that it was time for another toast, which by this point the translator had stopped explaining to me, having decided to fill his mouth with every manner of imperial cuisine presented.

I discovered a great benefit to chopsticks … dropping.  Anything I didn’t want to put in my mouth accidentally got “dropped” a little at a time, and my serving girl swept it away before Ding noticed I had disposed of it.

But, the wine was trickier.  The toasts and resulting gulps that followed them were getting more frequent, and lasted longer. We toasted the crab, we toasted the lunch, another toast to my yellow hair, if all this celebratory drinking didn’t stop soon I was at serious risk of falling off my chair – or taking off my top.

Then my sister’s wise counsel from a night of too many margaritas came to mind, “If you start feeling drunk, just go boot and then you’ll be ready to rally.” Sweet, solution found! But, I was not going to waste a trip to the ladies just to rid myself of too much wine, this was too great an opportunity.

I began taking lusty bites of the items on my plate then palming them into my napkin.  By the time I excused myself to the bathroom I’d nearly emptied my plate into my emerald-green cloth serviette, and I surreptitiously dropped it into my handbag.

In the bathroom (which thankfully was NOT a squat toilet) I purged like a sorority girl, then unloaded the contents of my napkin into the toilet, cleaned up, and sashayed back into the dining room, feeling rather proud of my quick thinking.

The Horror!

In my absence an entirely new round of toasting liquids had been brought forth, beer. Chinese beer. Served luke warm. Shit! And, another round of who-knows-what had been placed on the Lazy Susan – more food than thirty people could eat, and we were only ten.

More toasts, more helpful servings from Mr. Ding, and the greasiest soup known to man slithered down my throat: sautéed eel was swallowed without a bite, abalone was accidentally dropped onto the ground, followed by more beer, white fish, stewed spinach, more beer, until I looked over at the Big Dinger and saw that he was even more phallic now. His face had turned a bright red, and a glossy sheen of sweat was dribbling from his temples down his face, reminding me a bit of … sorry, I won’t go there, we’re eating here (though the gelatinous salty consistency of our lunch also reminded me of that a bit).

The lyrics to hotel California started to play on repeat in my head, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

Here I was, surrounded by men who were not really speaking to me, all of them starting to look a little intoxicated, pretending to eat/drop ridiculous amounts of food I didn’t even want to look at, and there was no end in sight.  And then, the laughter could no longer be suppressed.  I put my napkin to my mouth and pretended to cough as I regained my composure, and focused my eyes completely on the Lazy Susan in front of me, did that fish eye just wink?

I reached out toward a plate of what in the U.S. I would call Beef with Broccoli and set it on my plate.  I took a bite and it was good!  Really! Tender, really, rich, deliciously good, what joy!

Then, from three seats down I heard it, “Meow.” quiet at first, so quietly I thought I must have mis-heard, so I took another bite, and now it was louder, “Meow!”

WTF!

I looked around and caught the eye of one of the nameless young men who had not been introduced to me and saw a twinkle in his eye, at which point the laughter could no longer be contained. I tried so hard to hold it back I snotted cat/beef up through my sinuses and a tiny little piece flew out, onto the Ding’s plate. Before I could say anything (what would I say?) he lifted the piece, along with the gelatinous detritus surrounding it, to his mouth and swallowed, impervious to what had transpired.

My second trip to the ladies for a boot and rally went down (or should I say “came up” much more smoothly having watched Ding swallow my eruption). Three hours later I made my way out of the villa and the young man who’d meowed at me rode back to the hotel with me, where he apologized in perfect English for teasing me, and explained that what I had eaten was “probably” not cat, but definitely not pork or beef.

Business travel is just so glamorous!

Watching a Train Wreck Play with Fire

“Burrito plates are hot!”

Once upon a time, after about the billionth time burning my fingers on the scalding porcelain plate in my over-enthusiasm to get to a microwave burrito, I decided to commit this important lesson to my soul by repeating it fifteen times in a row.  Every once in a while I still forget, and burn my thumb, but more often than not the mantra jumps into my head and I grab a hot pad, or the edge of my sweater.

But, how many of these stupid mistakes do we repeat again and again, without ever truly absorbing the lesson? 

  • Cutting your hair on a whim
  • Lunch with THAT ex who crushed your heart
  • Buying a Faith Hill album
  • Calling your bossy older sister when you make a huge mistake a work
  • Turning left without a green arrow at 5:45
  • New heels on a slippery floor
  • Ordering a Chalupa

All of these are lessons that, in theory, one should only need to learn once.  We KNOW that the ex is going to be just as big an ass clown today as he was long long ago, and that a Dorthy Hamill bob barely even looked good on Dorthy Hamill, oh and Faith Hill had one good song, in 1998, and hasn’t made another album worth buying since.  

All that said, I’d rather continue to be the optimist who believes that maybe, just this time, I’ll find the ceramic sweet spot and move my bean and green chili delight from microwave, to counter, to belly, unscathed… so I’m going to continue to repeat the same old mistakes and consider them nostalgia.

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