Friday, May 20, 2016

For the Love of a Semicolon

My favorite punctuation mark is the misunderstood semicolon. And I use it even when I text, much to my daughter's exasperation. "You are a punctuation Nazi," she declares. I know. But I'm allowed, I am in my Second Half. Not a period offering a concrete end, not a comma eliciting pause, the semicolon is a beautiful instrument connecting two complete thoughts; each stands alone yet relates to the other. Isn't that lovely?

 Few people know how to use a semicolon correctly, and I would venture to say that's because it cannot really be taught -- and few care to learn. Something about using a semicolon is intuitive, beyond grammatical rules. The semicolon connotes a certain rhythm, almost like a syncopation. It has a personality, a place in literature, and looks like Japanese calligraphy.

But I'll stop there; few share my love for the semicolon and have probably not read this far. Still, I will continue to employ the semicolon to express what a period, comma and colon cannot. I will continue to revere its unique place in punctuation. I will use it in texts, emails and letters (I still write letters), and I will defend its character in a written world that has become largely insensitive to the beauty of language for beautiful language's sake.

Respect the semicolon; it is a fading symbol of how we connect.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Truth About Untruths

I don't know how we get this far believing these untruths, really. I mean, there are lots of them. We heard them all throughout our First Half and it shaped what we believed for ourselves, but they are not true. Not true!

One of my favorites: you can't have it all. Why the fuck not? Who said? Why are we made to believe we should want anything less, that we should settle for half the pie? One thing's for sure -- if you believe you can't have it all, don't deserve it all, shouldn't want it all, you sure as hell won't get it all. I am not saying that life is kumbaya-happy or even that we can have it all. But it takes authors of self-help 'key to success' type of books titled You Can Have It All to make us dare wonder: what if I can? I am starting to dare.

Another one is: things happen for a reason. No they don't! There is no reason babies get leukemia, innocent men go to jail, animals are abandoned and our AC shuts down in July. It's random. It is totally random that I get to live in a prosperous free country while another woman born on the same day in the same year as I is getting gang-raped in the Sudan. And even if there is a force like karma, reincarnation or The Law of Attraction at work, it doesn't matter. It only matters what you do with the things that happen. And, they don't happen to us; they happen around us. We are not that important.

Your soul mate is out there. Uh-uh. Not true. Lots and lots of us like to think so, because truly bonding with another is what every one of us secretly wants, even the fiercely independent. But there is no soul mate 'out there', and thinking there is is like waiting for Godot. There are many, many soul mates and they are all around us. We only know this when we really want to, dare to, and choose to invest in another soul who also chooses to invest in us. Kind of like Namaste. When we choose, for some reason, to honor the divine in another specifically, we create a soul mate. Sure, you could argue for compatibility and its role in defining soul mates - I don't dismiss it - but we create them, not 'find' them. They don't suddenly show up for a reason (see above).

Now, one other untruth is a personal peeve that might be shared by other women who have breast fed a baby. Breastfeeding is a beautiful bonding experience between mother and infant. Why didn't anyone tell me that breastfeeding can feel like someone is pulling your nipple off with pliers? Sorry, but with my skin and sensitivity, breastfeeding my baby girl was a unique form of torture. Not every mother's experience, I know, and it did become, with practice and patience, a beautiful experience. That is why I stuck it out. But for god's sake, when you see these lovely, gauzy photos of a mother peacefully and adoringly holding a baby to her breast, you can easily feel grossly inadequate for wanting to howl in pain when your cherub latches on and you think you are going to pass out. I am just saying, it is a gorgeous way for a mother and child to come together, but someone just needs to say it can hurt. A lot.

The moral of this story? Question the things you hold as truths. And tell other people.

Friday, March 29, 2013

At What Price?

That's the question no one is asking. It's the second amendment, my right to defend, fix the crazies, a spoon can also be an assault weapon, the statistics prove it's not the guns. In the end though, gun deaths happen, a lot, and they are guns! So, even if those arguments for the right to bear semi-automatic weapons for self-defense hold water, I have to ask. At what price?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Which Way to Happy?

A good friend stated: happiness is a luxury. She was responding to a question about what possible happiness people could expect if they lived centuries ago, barely scraping by, fighting disease and selling their children to eat or, if more affluent, competing only for power and social inclusion with all they had. But happy? No one seemed to strive for happiness in, say, 16th century Rotterdam or even in rural Bolivia today. Maybe it's just about a hierarchy of needs.  First, survival, then other stuff. Happiness is the ultimate luxury. Or is it?

Today, where we have the basics under control in most developed nations, we ask: what about happiness? Even in the face of terminal illness, we believe happiness is, not so much a luxury but a right. "I deserve to be happy."  And so the happiness gurus have come out in force with blogs, self-improvement videos, inspirational talks, how-to books and guiding principles for finding happiness. And most tell you one fundamental thing: it's in you and not out there. It was in poor 16th century Rotterdamers, too, I guess, but they just weren't looking inside, what with hunger and sickness diverting their attention.

But supposedly we all have a choice, and can make happiness an unattainable luxury or make it a staple of everyday life. And it is relative. A rural Bolivian's happiness may not be my idea of happiness but that is irrelevant, really, since happiness is highly personal and, if the happiness gurus are right, all about how we choose to perceive things. Comparing is truly pointless.

Now, whether how we choose to perceive things is delusional and artificial or not, the happiness it produces, or not, is real. So delude away! If it's 'in here' and not 'out there' then we might as well shape it and allow ourselves the luxury of feeling happy. The Forrest Gumps of the world do this exceptionally well.  And maybe it took us (humans) a while to figure this out - we ARE rather slow, I mean, we still think war is necessary for god's sake -- and we need all these gurus to point the way but look at the alternative.  Happiness as an unattainable or sometime luxury doesn't feel that good. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Braver Now

It's 9 pm on the Friday before Labor Day in Boston, a city I love but where I know no one. My date fell through so I find myself at the Woman-Traveling-Alone critical crossroad: go to a bar by myself or order Chinese in.

The bar around the corner from my guest house (I always opt for a cozy guest house over the standard corporate hotel of business travel) looks manageable enough - airy, not desperately trendy, populated by at least some people born before 'text' became a verb. Never one to wonder what might have been, I dismiss the Szechuan chicken, walk in and strategically place myself between a couple playing Scrabble and a midlife threesome enjoying some beers. So far so good.

I order a Pinot Grigio and reach for my Blackberry. On the other end my friend mercifully answers my instant message and encourages me to enjoy myself. So I do. I chat with the bartender. I exchange small talk with the threesome. I order food and relax. No one looks at me strangely. I remember that I am in my Second Half and can do whatever I want. The trick is knowing what you want. And it's not eating Chinese take-out alone on a Friday night.

The bar has filled up and I am content doing some serious New England people watching. I am enjoying the moment. And I was just invited to join in a game of Scrabble by some brainy MIT students. Cool. So glad I walked into the bar alone. Whatever else happens, bring it....

Friday, May 27, 2011

Death and Living

I am surrounded by death and dying, and have never understood more about life and living. Where has all this been hiding, or where have I been hiding? Dying happens every day, all over the planet, so how come I am only brushing up against it now? No, I am not brushing, I am smack at the heart of that world, and it is a whole world. It has its own light and smells, it has death experts and sounds, a language and a face, it measures time differently and dismisses even the most fundamental non-essentials. Death redefines life.

And so, one of life's amazing revelations takes form in the midst of death; perhaps this is the ultimate gift of the dying. It is a heavy task, this dying business. As always, we the living try to help, control, change it. We interfere with a natural law, and so, as always, we fail. But if we listen, the dying tell us: leave it alone.

Then there is this whole new notion of strength - what it is, where to find it, how to use it. No one like the dying to help you realize that frailty, vulnerability and gentleness have nothing to do with weakness, but all the opposite. The will power of the dying is just that -- power. Power to hold on as needed, power to let go when ready, power to change relationships and make manifest the beauty of the living. Colors are more vibrant; love, forgiveness, acceptance more at hand. Those who work among the dying know this. And if ever you think they are the givers, look again.

Perhaps one of the toughest jobs of the dying is to make peace with how they have been living. Creatures of habit, we will die as we have lived, I think, with struggle and conflict and anger, or with yielding, acceptance and forgiveness. Most likely, there will be a mix of it all, for is that not what shapes the living? Still, one path is clearly easier than the other. The gift: here's our chance to resolve that now or when we are dying. We choose. I don't know how, but I do know we choose.

Just one thing I have not yet figured out from the dying: how to fill the bottomless hole of their absence from the living.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Those Who Teach Us

It's hard realiziing you aren't the one who knows best anymore. And that, honestly, you're not in control of anything.

There are a few things you absolutely cannot make happen no matter how hard you try. You cannot make a baby eat. Or pee or poo on command, for that matter. And pretty early on, babies realize that's one play of power they have over you. (And they quickly discover others.)

You cannot make someone love you. Or, if you do, you will end up hating them for it, so what's the point? Love is just that quirky, elusive thing we want on our terms, but that happens to have a plan and timeframe all its own.

You cannot beat aging. Nope. No facelift, exercise regime, diet or wardrobe can efface the passage of time across your soul, which translates into EXPERIENCE. And that, my friend, is indelibly written in your eyes.

And -- this one really hurts -- you cannot always do what's best for your kids because sometimes, suddenly, they just know better. I don't just mean about new technology or music. I mean they know something you don't No matter what values you instilled in them as they grew, they sometimes know a better way to relate to money, or support a friend, or get over heartache, or make the best of a lousy situation, or forgive someone, or do what you're sure they can't do without you. My daughter has amazed me on all of these fronts.

They teach us. They teach us to accept, to let go, to trust and to listen to a different beat. They kind of leave us no choice, because as they become 'human' as my daughter calls it, we really don't control them or anything that happens to them anymore. Beyond choosing what they wear when they're very young and deciding whether they'll have that ice cream before or after dinner, we pretty much don't control a thing. They grow. They learn. And they teach us that Life will happen of its own accord, and we had better live by its terms.