Monthly Archives: December 2010

Have a Dip Dip Kind of Day

Man have I been grumpy lately!

Here’s a light-hearted moment to prove that not all is doom and gloom in my part of life. O has learned to dip (food that is, not tobacco). It was a big moment for him, and he is very proud of his dipping ability. So proud that he actually learned the word. O is very stingy with his words and only very very important things like mama, dada, dog and blueberries make the list. Most things he uses sign language or makes up hand signals for. So naturally, now he is obsessed with dipping. All day he comes up to whomever happens to be standing nearby, reaches his little (surprisingly strong) hand up, takes hold of your fingers and pulls you over to the fridge. Where he stands and manically repeats “dip-dip, dip-dip, dip-dip”, until you either give him what he wants (big smile, angels sing) or you don’t (melting, screaming pool of screeching and hissing). When he does that, what he wants is hummus. It’s become an evening ritual, I get home from work, we dip dip hummus together.

So this morning, O did his dip-dip routine. Except it was 8:30 am, he hadn’t had breakfast and frankly, I just couldn’t smell hummus that early in the morning. So I compromised and gave him applesauce in a dipping ramekin. I tried getting him to dip pieces of fruit into it, but no go. He didn’t need stinking fruit. He had an empty Buzz Lightyear Pez dispenser. The round head of Buzz Lightyear was a perfect size to dip into the applesauce. He carefully dipped Buzz’s head into the mushy applesauce, while saying “dip-dip-dip-dip-dip”, then triumphantly licked it off.  So O sat on our kitchen counter, in his green Christmas pajamas, wiggling his feet and slurping applesauce off Buzz Lightyear’s head. He couldn’t have been happier.

It was a perfect start to my day. Sometimes, it’s that simple.

Wishing you a simple and dip-tastic New Year’s Eve!

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Stop and Smell The Christmas

I missed Christmas this year.

It’s December 31st, after this weekend the holidays are officially over, the daily grind of January starts and life resumes its normal rhythms. Last night, the husband and I unplugged the glowing lights, took down our tree, and packed away Christmas. Our living room looks a little bare this morning, a little lonely. I’m sitting in Starbucks (finally!), with my cheery red Christmas cup, knowing it’s about to be gone too, and I’ll be left drinking coffee out of a plain white cup.

I didn’t physically miss Christmas. The husband and O and Rider dog and I packed up and drove up to my parents’ house as usual.  We kept a few traditions, and let a few others go, started new ones. There was the last minute run to the mall, the late night desperate wrapping, our traditional Christmas Eve lunch with my dad and sister. Cookies were baked, presents were unwrapped, too much was eaten.

But still. I feel like I missed it. I know it’s normal to feel like Christmas was too hectic, too fast, like we focus on the wrong things (things) and miss out on the important things (family, quietness, generosity). And that is certainly true. But it was more than that this year, for me. You see, I love Christmas. Love love love it. I love the lead up and the happening and the aftermath. I love the mall on Christmas Eve. I love the warmth and the twinkling lights and the cocktails and the festivity and the busyness and the sparkly wrapping paper. Even the things that bother most people about Christmas, I kinda like. And every year, it feels a bit surreal around Christmastime. Every year, I let it swirl past me, enjoying it, but waiting for that one moment, where everything stands still and Christmas shows itself to me. And then it feels like Christmas. I never know where it will come from, but when it happens, I know it, and I exhale.

This year, I was excited to write this blog post about Christmas. I was aware that I was “waiting” for Christmas, aware that I hadn’t had my moment yet, but I just knew that I would. I hummed in anticipation, watched carefully for my moment. It was going to be a great blog post, about that moment. Maybe it would be at lunch with my dad and sister, when the world would slow and the lights would become brighter, and I would see us as from afar, our little family within a family, and would glow with contentment. Maybe it would be a moment with O, sitting under the tree, watching him become mesmerized by the lights, the way it did for me when I was little. Maybe it would be at the mall, when I would meet someone less fortunate than me and provide some big grand gesture of generousity, that would make Christmas more meaningful this year. At one point, I couldn’t get O to settle down for his nap, so I actually climbed into his pack-n-play with him, cuddled him against me, and started singing Christmas carols to him. I could just feel it, THIS would be the moment, O would settle into me and the world would stop, just me and my little man, humming Silent Night. Nope. O kept screaming like a banshee.

You know where this is going. There was no moment this year. Of course, there is the possibility that there never is any moment, that I am romanticizing it, and that it’s only in retrospect, in the looking back, that you see your moment. Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think it was me. Life is always hectic, even more so now that I’m trying to balance working and motherhood and writing and marriage. But still, I’ve been even more hectic than usual, more hectic than I can remember being at this time of year. Part of it is work, I’ve been so busy at work, working every day for the past two months, sometimes nights and weekends. Not only am I physically busy, with barely a minute at work to check my email, but I am emotionally frantic, dealing with personalities and situations that are less than ideal. I worked right up until we left, the night before foregoing a lovely dinner party at the neighbors, in order to finish work and pack. I worked during the entire drive up to my parents’ house, on the phone or blackberry. So when I got to my parents’ house, that is when I started Christmas. And it was too late.

It was a perfect setting for me to find my Christmas. Walking into my parents’ house should have been my moment. It was so beautifully decorated, every touch perfect. The house glowed and smelled of baking. My mother bakes these famous sugar cookies and cherry pies. But I couldn’t savor it, because I had to return some emails and review some documents. And finally after that, I did turn work off, but by then I had to catch up and shop and wrap presents. The first moment I think that I relaxed and just let Christmas find me, it was Christmas Day night. Everything was done. The husband and I got home early from the family Christmas party and put O to bed. He lit a fire and we snuggled on the couch, beneath the sparkly tree and watched Christmas movies. Finally. We watched Elf and How The Grinch Stole Christmas and A Christmas Story. We had leftovers and cherry pie and coffee. And while I enjoyed every minute of it, and thought, finally, I was also a little sad. Because I had let myself miss Christmas, because I was working too much and was too stressed and too busy to just enjoy.

Every night when I pull into my driveway after work, I see the pots full of flowers on my front porch. I planted them and I have neglected them. They are sad and dying and don’t get enough water. I don’t have time to water them every day, much less to stop and smell them. And no, they are pansies, so they don’t actually smell, but you get the point. It makes me sad, every day. There should be enough time in everyone’s day to water your plants. Or take an hour to cuddle with your husband on the couch. Or daydream, or watch your baby discover something new. Time to take a walk or read the paper. Time to slow down, enjoy the world, smell the flowers.

So I missed Christmas. I have dead flowers. I haven’t been writing. It’s almost a New Year. Times, they are a-changing, and in my case, they need to be changing.

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Master of My Fate

It’s an ordinary Wednesday, lunchtime, on an escalator. I head up and down this escalator countless times a week, and don’t really pay much attention to where I’m going. Up and down. Down and up. In between the jumble of multi-tasking that goes on in my brain, on this particular day, a Talking Heads song burst forth and quieted the noise.

“And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
wife
And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here?”

On this day, I had a sudden freeze-frame moment. I saw myself, a girl wearing non-descript black pants and sensible heels. Green sweater, ponytail.  A girl, on an escalator, thinking about a job that she used to like a little bit, that she now hates and feels trapped by. A lawyer, on an escaltor, a banking and finance lawyer that doesn’t understand banking and finance. A girl, on an escalator, that lives on a lovely, tree-lined street and has a baby, a black lab and an SUV. A girl on an escalator in a big city, but not an important one. A girl with a good life, an enviable life. An ordinary life. An ordinary girl, with an ordinary job, in an ordinary city.

And some days, I am grateful for ordinary. I am lucky, and blessed to have an extraordinary baby and husband. We both have good jobs, and live in a great neighborhood, with neighbors we actually know. We are healthy and don’t want for much. I watch the news at night, and look over at my husband and think, Thank God. Thank God for him, and for O, and for our life together.

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?

But. There’s always a but, isn’t there? I didn’t want an ordinary life growing up. I wanted a super-sized, extra-ordinary life. I wanted magic. I found a journal recently, one that I kept in my early 20’s, when I was living in California and was perpetually searching. Searching for the perfect job, the perfect boy, the perfect life, searching for who I was or was going to be. I had no idea what that meant, or what I wanted, but I had some pretty definite ideas about what that did NOT mean.

And this particular entry said “I don’t know what I want, but I do know that I DON’T want to be a lawyer or doctor, and I don’t want a big house with a white picket fence. I want more.” As I read these words, words sent across time from young me to not as young me, I was 8 months pregnant, a lawyer, and I had just moved into our big white house. It doesn’t have a white picket fence, but it might as well. How things change.

I chose this ordinary life. I got to a point, in my search for the un-ordinary, when I craved ordinary. I was anchor-less, adrift, going nowhere. There was no captain of my ship. I was 28, living pay check to pay check, with no real career to speak of. I wanted a house. I wanted someone to grow up with, grow old with. I though I might want the options of kids someday. I didn’t see any of that on the horizon, at least not from where I was sitting.

I decided to make the ordinary life happen. I moved back to Texas, went to law school. I met an amazing guy, was smart enough to marry him. I got a job working at a big national law firm, making craploads of money. Living in LA since I was 18, ordinary was refreshing to me. I felt like a girl in a movie who was mistaken for someone else and liked it, and let people assume she belonged. Though knowing all along that one day the jig would be up, that her real self would show up one day.

On that escalator, I had a Sliding Doors moment, my two futures passing each other. I saw the young girl I was, dreaming of extraordinary, saw the life that she didn’t give up on, passing the girl who gave it up for ordinary, for safe, for love. The two futures passed, and collided in the one present that exists.

So would I be here anyways? Did fate bring me here, or did my choices lead me here?

I think about this a lot. I tend to believe in fate. I tend to believe that things unfold in certain ways, ways that we can’t always understand and ways that we can’t see. If you get out of fate’s way, sometimes you get exactly what you need. There are certain things in my life, that I’m not willing to share about and that you probably don’t care about anyways, that I believe will happen. And for the most part, they’ve happened.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that you have to take control of your life, that you have to make choices and choose paths and not wait for someone to do it for you. I used to get paralyzed by making decisions, committing things, because of this tension between fate vs. choice.

Do I choose or do I let fate take its course?

When I moved back to Texas and went to law school, the plan was to move to NYC or back to LA and do entertainment law. Which would make sense, as that was my background, and it was a language that I spoke fluently. But I didn’t do that. I let myself float. I didn’t actively try to move to NYC or back to California. I let life happen. I dropped my resume at big Texas firms, because it was easier to stay there for the summer. I got a few offers, clerked, enjoyed it well enough. I clerked in real estate and was surprised when I wasn’t totally bored. For the first time, I actually understood what my father and his friends were talking about. I got a thrill out of doing something so practical and smart and well, ordinary. It felt good. So I went with it. Got a job offer that was too much money to turn down. The boyfriend (not yet the husband) got a job in Texas too.

As I let myself fall into this life, I can’t say I didn’t have doubts that this would happen one day, that I would wake up and say “How did I get here?” I’ve always known that my real self would perk up and say “Remember me?” I hoped that being a real estate lawyer would be enough. I’m not surprised that it’s not.

So I’m left wondering. Fate? Or an ordinary prison of my own making? I certainly chose this life, by NOT going after what I really wanted to do. Inaction is as much of a choice as action. But isn’t that where fate swoops in? If it’s fate, then it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, this is where I would end up anyways, right? Asking myself “how did I get here?”

I don’t think there is an answer, or at least one that matters much. I can play the fate vs. free will game all night, going round and round. It won’t change where I am. And I’m not so sure I would change any of it. I wouldn’t change my husband or my son. I wouldn’t change a single decision that led me to them. Even if I knew that I was choosing between an extraordinary life and an ordinary one. I will choose an ordinary life with them, over an extraordinary one without them, everytime.

I like to think of it this way. In the best circumstances, fate and free will synch up perfectly. If you are true to yourself, and make decisions based on what you really want, fate does lead you to where you are supposed to be. But if you just sit around, refusing to be bold and take action, refusing to choose because you believe fate will lead you, well, fate is going to deliver you one hell of a lesson.

For me, I let myself be carried by something that was not authentic to me. I let myself play a part that was not meant for me and I knew all along it wasn’t right. And the gig is up.

On the other hand, who is to say that this isn’t exactly where I need to be in order to make this writing thing happen? That had I not chosen ordinary, perhaps I would have been satisfied with my career and not needed something more? That had I stayed in LA or moved to NYC, I would be living an exciting life filled with wondrous restaurants and sparkling happy hours and sophisticated dinner parties and not have time or the desire to write?

Clearly I won’t be settling this debate anytime soon. So what do you think? Fate? Free will? Do we choose our own destiny, or are some things just meant to be?

The end of the song goes something like this, which I think is a pretty good answer…

time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us
time isn’t holding us, time doesn’t hold you back
time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us…”

Songtrack to this post: Once In A Lifetime, The Talking Heads.

Poem: Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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Someday

“Someday, I’ll be a real writer.”

“I’m a lawyer/teacher/rocket scientist by day, but what I really want to do is write.”

“If only I didn’t have to go to this soul-numbing day job and could just write all day, then I’d be happy/fulfilled/write that great novel.”

Sound familiar? For those of us that scribble on the side, who have “real” jobs that take up most of our time, the idea of writing full time sounds magical. That’s the goal, right? To turn this mad dash writing into a more permanent, structured, daily routine. Does that mean to turn it into, gasp, work?

I suspect every aspiring writer has some vision of that perfect writing life that will someday be theirs. I envision a cozy office, that bears little to no resemblance to any room that currently exists in my house. It will be perfectly organized, with just the right amount of artistic clutter- stacks of books, framed photographs, a wall of inspiration, with quotes and scribbles and torn pages, arranged just so. I am the one sitting behind the desk, curled up in the cream (comfy but stylish) chair, my hair pulled up in a knot, a coffee in one hand, as I stare at the ocean out of the window in between measured bursts of typing. I take a last sip of coffee, save my draft, glance at my watch, and zip out of my office to be on time to pick up my son from school. Where I will not be late, and my car will be clean, and he will hop happily into the car and chatter about his day. We will go home and have a snack together, after which I will return to my office and finish my word count for the day before dinner.

I know this is ridiculous. For one, there is a cream chair in my future vision. CREAM? I have a toddler who just yesterday poured syrup all over my couch. I also have a black lab that sheds. There will be no cream in any future office I might have. Please. I may be a dreamer, but I am not stupid. Also, I no longer live anywhere near an ocean. And I am not a stylishly cluttered person. In fact, “cluttered” would be a welcome change from my usual disorganized mess.

It’s ridiculous the way that it was ridiculous that I thought maternity leave was going to be this peaceful break from reality, one in which the new baby and I would drift merrily along, nap together and take long walks and live in a cocoon of bliss that I would never want to leave. My visions did not include tears and frustration and a red-faced screaming baby who most certainly did NOT simply snuggle up on my chest when he wanted to go to sleep. It did not include a husband who had a 3 month trial for the duration of my maternity leave, leaving me alone, scared and bored, to be honest. My vision did not take into account that having a baby, being a mom, was WORK. Hard work. That I was secretly glad to return to work just so I could get out of the house.

I follow a few blogs of lawyer turned moms/writers. They are doing what I hope to do someday. And occasionally they will post about missing the lawyer life, the meetings and the lunches and the sense of purpose. Of wondering if they perhaps made a mistake? I read these posts and I can’t relate. Maybe because I’m still there? I don’t think I will miss the work, or the sense of purpose or accomplishment. Mostly because I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment now. I do think I would miss the routine, the feeling of belonging to a world outside of home, the label that identifies me as a contributing member of society.

I signed up for NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year but of course didn’t end up participating, for various reasons. But I did get the “pep” talks in my email account. One was from Dave Eggers who had this to say about procrastination:

It’s a very strange thing, because we all think writing should be fun. That is, when I was temping through most of my twenties, wondering what it would be like to write for a living, hoping for such a life, I thought it might be pretty sweet. I thought if I ever got to write for a living, I would feel pretty lucky, and that I would be so appreciative that I would bound out of bed every day and, like a goddamned adult, I would write as much as I could every day, and get work done in a reasonable amount of time. Again, like an adult.

Instead, I need, on average, 8 hours sitting on my writing couch to get one hour of work done. It’s a pathetic ratio. I stall, avoid, put off and generally act like someone’s making me do some terrible job I never wanted to do. I blow pretty much every deadline I’m given.”

I admit, I often wonder about what the reality of being a stay at home writer will actually bring. Despite my silly vision of my “perfect writing life” above, I pretty much think it will be like my Mondays and Fridays. In which I run around trying to be a mom, and do errands, and get my writing done. I will most likely not have an office, not at first. I most likely will still be at Starbucks, or at the library. I will procrastinate, I will be frustrated, I will not want to write, I will stare at a blank page, I will have a flash of inspiration, I will write something terrible, I will decide to quit writing, I will re-read that something terrible and find something decent, I will re-write and find something good. I will live for one good comment, and it will be enough to sustain me for awhile. I will begin again the next day. Pretty much what I do now, except that in between that I have to go to a job that I’m not good at.

My goal is to find a way to leave behind my lawyer suit and instead write everyday. Yes, like a job. Whenever my husband and I talk about the possibility of maybe, someday, me being able to quit my job, I never envision quitting to stay home. It’s only quitting to write. Which I would treat as a full time job, a 9-5 or thereabouts endeavor. But do I also have an unrealistic vision of what being a full-time writer will actually be like?

I suspect yes. When I think back to every big new adventure in my life (going to college, moving to Paris, getting married, having a baby, going to law school, re-organizing my closet), it’s never what I think it will be like. It’s always harder and always always infinitely more rewarding than I imagined. So I’m pretty sure I will look back on this post one day and think, oh, how much I didn’t know. But I hope I can always remember the way I feel about writing now, how much I love it and how much I am willing to sacrifice and how hard I am willing to work to get there. I hope I don’t lose the passion in the grind of the everyday.

Any “real” writers out there? What’s it really like? What do I not know? And any aspiring writers, come on, tell me what your dream writing life is like.

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