My niece and nephew ask for things all day long; it’s part of being a kid. They can’t just hop in the car and drive to where they want to go. They need adults. Which is why they ask, “Can I have ice cream?” “Can I go to the arcade?” “Can I have this new toy?” While they don’t get everything they ask for, occasionally (especially when visited by a doting aunt) they do. Whatever they get is better than the nothing they would get if they didn’t ask.
Take it a step further.
One evening last year I was waiting for a friend in the lobby of the Time Warner building when a well-dressed man approached me. “You’re beautiful,” he said. “Can I take you to dinner?” Sure I was flattered, but as I kindly thanked him for the compliment and said no to his offer, I realized this guy probably approached several women with the same line. Maybe he asks 10, 20, even 100 women. His odds are such that one woman is probably going to say yes. Even if he asks 1,000 women, his odds are better than the zero percent he’d get if he sat at home watching another episode of House of Cards.
One more scenario.
As an author, one unpleasant part of the publishing process is sending out your manuscript. Self-publishing has eliminated this most dreaded task, but for those wanting to go the traditional route, it’s the only option. An author may send their work to 10, 20, even 100 publishers hoping that one will love it and agree to publish their masterpiece. But soon enough, responses begin to come in. One rejection. Another rejection. A third. And so on. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and even Anne Frank’s diary were rejected many, many times. The one thing each of these authors didn’t do after each “No” they received, was give up. How different is that from a little kid asking for a candy bar every time they’re in the supermarket check out line?
So sure, while it may get a tad annoying when little kids ask repeatedly for something they want, occasionally getting it may just teach them the value of never giving up.
When people send a text, it’s usually with the intent to share information. “On my way. Be there in ten.” Or “What’s Natalie’s email?” Regardless of the message, most texts solicit a response and very often, need to be timely. If I’m meeting someone and they text me, “Running late! Can’t get a taxi!” Of course I’m going to respond, if for no other reason then to let them know I received their message.
At the beginning of the summer I received a message from an old friend asking for information about a store on Cape Cod. Within two minutes I wrote back. Did I hear from her again? No. Not even a “thx.” If someone takes the time to do you a favor, how do you not respond? Are you conserving your data plan? Who today, unless you’re my friend Susan, doesn’t have an unlimited text message data plan?
Emails I can understand a delay, but a text? On your cell phone? Cell phones are like adult binkies; they go with us everywhere. What other excuse could you possibly use for not responding to a text? Dropped my phone onto the subway tracks! I’ll buy that. Lost my phone! It happens. Phone got eaten by a shark! I’ll even concede that one too. There are – I’m sure – a list of legitimate excuses for not replying, but for the most part, with many of us taking our cell phones with us into the bathroom, that list is pretty short.
When instant messaging first began back in the 90s, the first person I ever IM’ed with was my Aunt Ida. She was 98 at the time and was taking a computer course at her local community college. Our conversations didn’t last long, as Aunt Ida tired quickly, but she was so enamored by technology and the ability to reach out to family and friends, that no matter what I was doing, I would stop and chat. As always, Aunt Ida signed off by writing, “Thank you for taking the time. I know you young people today are so busy. It means a lot.”
I wonder how Aunt Ida would feel about the way instant communication happens today. Or rather, how often it doesn’t.
“Let me ask you this,” said the head counselor running the interview. “If your summer campers don’t want to swim because they don’t want to wear a bathing suit in front of their peers, what would you do?”
The interviewee, in her mid-20s, nodded, as if thinking, then said, “I would probably Google it.”
She didn’t get the job.
Google, since its inception, has been amazing. I live on Google. It has the answer to everything. Can’t think of an actor’s name from that movie? Google it. Want to know when the fireworks start? Google it. Need to know how to insert page numbers in the middle of your book? Google it.
Google, Google, Google.
Google is a resourceful tool when the answer is not readily found in your own head. And while it can be used for almost anything, there are times when the solution should come from the knowledge already in your head. Say on a final exam or, you know, like on a job interview.
What did we do B.G., Before Google? We were, believe it or not, ourselves Google. We found the answers by asking questions (yes, by interacting with real people), looking back at our own experiences or figuring it out by trial and error.
When I was 32 I was hired to be the Chief of Staff to a College President because I knew how to organize and run an office, and had experience in how to manage a crisis. I didn’t use Google. I used my noodle. Instead of typing in, “How do I handle students occupying the President’s office?” I figured it out based on the fact it happened to me when I was a student and an employee at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Maybe this interviewee would have, eventually, on her own, come up with a solution, say give T-shirts to wear over bathing suits. But to her credit, maybe it’s not her fault. As a member of the Google Generation, perhaps she thinks it’s acceptable to find the answer by Googling it. And often it is. The real issue is not that this young woman must depend on Google, it’s that she didn’t realize admitting her dependence on it was a problem. As for find the solution to that problem? Well, maybe she can Google it.
There’s nothing like going to the movies in the summer. Everyone rushing to clear the dinner table, filling pockets with snacks and piling into the family station wagon (for those born five minutes ago, that’s an SUV, only elongated.)
This was the scene Saturday night. My folks, boyfriend and I were excited to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (well, my dad was excited. Having seen Chef the week before, it was his turn to choose). Sitting three rows from the back of the large theater, we spent the first half of the movie enthralled by the apes and their abilities. Then a new dialogue was added. At first I thought it was coming from the film, but soon realized it was people in the back. Heads nearby turned repeatedly hoping to send a signal. Eventually a male voice with a distinct Boston accent shouted, “Would you please stahp tahkin! I’m tryin’ to wahtch the movie!” Of course this was what everyone wanted to shout, but because of recent events, you don’t know who might be packing heat. There was some yelling back and forth, which was fitting really, as they were in a sense aping the apes on screen.
When the credits rolled and the lights came on, all eyes fell on the talkers now walking up the aisle. I went directly to the manager, channeling my Nana Banana who never met a customer service hotline she didn’t like. I explained how disruptive the talkers were and he apologized, saying that typically there would have been a security officer, but that night they were short.
Walking out to my car, four free movie passes in my pocket, I realized how selfish some people can be thinking it’s all about them: cellphone talkers on buses, walkers taking up entire sidewalks with strollers, and those who never hold open doors for others. From where has this sense of entitlement sprung? What happened to common courtesy? We may never know why people do what they do, but the real puzzler in all this is who would spend $13.50 on a movie ticket only to talk through the whole thing?
Remember the story by Watty Piper of the little engine that didn’t think he could make it up the hill? And he couldn’t. But after some coaching, a bit of confidence and a mantra “I-think-I-can. I-think-I-can,” he did it.
How many times has the thought “I think I can’t” kept you from trying something? Kept you from having fun? From living the life you want? A negative mantra ultimately keeps you from trying. Where’s the benefit in that? When you think: “I can’t keep myself organized.” “I can’t lose all that weight.” “I can’t paint.” Well, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you can’t.
But what if you just thought you could? What if you told yourself, “I can bike 60 miles.” “I can write a short story.” “I can get through occupational therapy school.” Then you’d also be right. If you think you can, you can. You may not be the next Picasso or Tour de France winner, but sometimes it’s not about doing the best, it’s just about doing.
For my birthday yesterday I wanted a painting party. My sisters and I were excited, but my mom was hesitant. “I can’t paint,” she said.
“Did you have years of art lessons?” I asked her.
“No,” she said.
“Then how can you say you can’t paint? Just think you can and you’ll be great.”
Many of us are quick to judge ourselves. One reason yoga is so helpful is that it teaches us to leave our ego at the door. By cutting ourselves some slack, it allows us to fail, and in taking that chance, we just might discover hidden talents or, at the very least, enjoy life more.
My sisters, mom and I arrived at the Cape Cod Art Bar in Mashpee excited to begin “painting.” We tied aprons around our waists and followed Colleen, a talented artist who walked us through the process of painting…a tiger lily. Chatting away, some sipping wine, soft music in the background, we began our masterpieces. Outside the weather threatened rain, and we all got a lovely breeze on a relaxed summer evening.
Two hours later, my mother sat stunned, looking at what she had created. “I did it!” she said.
“Of course you did,” my sisters and I told her. She thought she could.
Recently I asked some younger kids if they wore watches. “No need,” they said. “We’ve got cell phones.” And they’re not alone. Most folks simply glance at their phone, computer screen or cable box to find the time. But there are still those who get the time from wearing a watch.
I used to be one of them. But somewhere along the way I stopped wearing watches. Except when I’m on vacation. It may seem strange to wear a timepiece during a time that is, more or less, “no-time,” but I’m not counting down the minutes. I’m just conscious of utilizing every moment. Whether the time is spent cycling, buying “lahbstah” (that’s lobster for those non-Cape Codders) or seeing matinees on a rainy day, for me wearing a watch is a throwback to a time when life was simpler. A time when there were only a few TV channels, when kids played in the backyard all summer long and a time when I wore a clunky watch – almost as wide as my wrist – trying to emulate my dad.
A week into my annual Cape Cod “season” and there’s a tan line on my wrist. This tan-line reminds me I’m not on a time clock. I am my own time clock.
Last week, returning from a day trip to Woods Hole with my niece Paige, 10, and nephew Andrew, 7, I played for them my favorite songs, aiming to influence their musical tastes. When the Broadway song “A Way Back to Then” from the musical Title of Show came on, I turned up the volume. It’s a song about remembering being nine years old and fearless and trying to get that feeling back, something I know all too well. After the line, “Dancing in the backyard, Kool Aid mustache and butterfly wings, hearing Andrea McArdle sing from the hi fi in the den,” my niece Paige, without missing a beat, said, “Doesn’t she mean wifi?”
I laughed. With time passing quickly, a ticking watch may not bring you back to another time, but it just may bring you up to date in the present. And what a gift that can be.
Before heading out for vacation, there are checklists I follow. First, there is “How To Prepare Your Home,” which may include unplugging appliances, locking windows and emptying food trash. Next is the “What to Pack” list such as bathing suit, sunblock, sweatshirt. But what about a checklist telling you “How To Enjoy Your Vacation”? I hadn’t heard of that either. But they exist.
During my annual beginning-of-summer drive from Manhattan to Cape Cod, where I spend July with my family, I decided to create a “Sand pail” list of fun things I want to do. This summer that includes: biking from Sandwich to Provincetown, painting an American flag with my niece and nephew’s hands (as stars) and feet (as stripes), and a barbeque campfire on the beach.
I wasn’t over the Bourne Bridge ten minutes when my sister invited me to a barbeque at Sandy Neck Beach. On arrival, the campfire was burning, friends were eating, and kids were digging holes in the sand. I collapsed into a beach chair and stared off at the sun slowly making its way to the water’s edge.
But I didn’t sit for long.
“Come, eat!” said Iris, the hostess of this large gathering. As with most beach barbeques, easy is usually the goal – burgers, chips, cookies. But not for Iris. It was her husband’s 50th and she’d pulled out all the stops. Mexican by birth, Iris made tacos, the soft shells wrapped in tinfoil and warmed on the fire, along with swordfish, chicken, grilled pineapple, avocado and various salsas, each labeled (labeled!) on a nicely set table right on the sand. Look out Martha Stewart!
After dinner, enormous lanterns were lit and sent sailing up over the ocean and large skewers appeared with even larger marshmallows. I was right there with the kids, huddled around the fire, thinking about waking that morning in the middle of the city surrounded by concrete, and now there I was at sunset surrounded by sand, water and friends.
We left after dark, using the light of our cell phones to locate shoes, bags and the path back to the parking lot. Sitting in my car, skylight open under the stars, I reached for my list and happily anticipated tackling the balance of it.
One 1,000-piece puzzle: $5.99
Snacks and drinks: $45.00
Hosting 6 friends for a Puzzle Party? Priceless
Is it any surprise that a professional organizer (a.k.a. someone who loves order) would enjoy assembling jigsaw puzzles? Not really. What is surprising is when folks who are not so concerned about order in their lives love puzzles as much as I do.
So was the case Friday night when friends gathered at my apartment for a Puzzle Party. Standing around my kitchen island we attacked the puzzle like wild animals, confiscating colors and assembling them together before joining forces to put the entire carcass back together. When the clock crept close to midnight we called it a night, with only about 100 pieces left (which I finished the next morning). Everyone emailed the next day thanking me for the reminder of how much they enjoy puzzles. There’s a quiet peace that fills you up as you concentrate on nothing else but turning that mess under your nose into order. Maybe some of us love puzzles because life doesn’t always fit together as neatly.
I am one of those puzzlers who used to glue puzzles together. At one point I had a stack of 50 in my old bedroom closet. When it became apparent I wasn’t going to frame and hang them, I tossed them. And as I stuffed each puzzle into the garbage, I could almost remember the hours I spent studying their colors and shapes, kind of like how an attorney must feel shredding old files, each case sparking a memory.
At my puzzle party, as arms reached over arms connecting pieces, someone asked me, “What’s the largest puzzle you’ve ever done?”
“Four thousand, nine-hundred, ninety-eight,” I said.
“Not 5,000?” she replied.
“I hid them months ago,” my dad said, as he trotted off to retrieve them from a high shelf in another room. But they weren’t there. Eventually I got over the missing pieces. In the last few years I’ve stopped gluing them altogether, and just break them apart and give them to friends. My enjoyment was never the end result anyway. Whether its puzzles or closets, connecting pieces has always brought me peace.
“Looks like a rat’s Christmas morning,” I said, snapping a picture of the clump of raw meat on the ground adjacent to the barrel.
“Do you think we should tell them?” she said. Being the good Samaritans we are, we walked inside. After a few minutes of standing there being seen, but ignored by the staff prepping for the lunch crowd, we left, making note never to eat in that establishment.
A messy kitchen area is one thing. An unsanitary one is a whole other ballgame.
In the two years I’ve been in my new apartment, one of the best improvements over my old place is having a real kitchen. Living without one for almost five years, I can appreciate having space to cook. And the one thing I’ve discovered in learning to cook is that it’s not so unlike organizing. The key is preparation.
First I set out all the ingredients on my large island: food, cutting board, knife, measuring cups, etc. Then I pretend I’m Rachel Ray, putting each chopped, diced or peeled ingredient in its own bowl before beginning the process. If a stray piece of celery, onion or one tiny grain of couscous hits the floor, I’m on it like white on rice. Knock on wood I’ve yet to see anything in my apartment with more legs than I have. We know the city has rats, but what helps New Yorkers sleep at night is that, for the most part, the (not so) little critters stay hidden underground.
I’d like to keep it that way.
In order to do that, if would be great if we all did our part. Lazily tossing food into the trash – only to miss – is like sending out invitations to unwanted guests. I’m not saying we need to keep our city spit shine, but raw meat on the ground? Not kosher.
People, as much as I’d like them to, don’t always fit perfectly into boxes. Nor does their stuff. Yes, at one time I did manage to fit most of my stuff into a 90 square foot box; it’s the other “boxes,” the smaller (or if you’re a philosopher, perhaps infinitely larger) boxes that I’m talking about. It’s the ones we’re supposed to fit into, the ones that describe us.
June is the month for my annual medical checkups. Every doctor’s office seems to want an update of my information. The forms are loaded with boxes. Boxes for name, address, birthdate, etc. I fill them out without a second thought. But there are some boxes that require a second thought.
Which do I check? In this case I’m “none of the above.” Not technically. Why are there no boxes for “In a committed relationship”?
I worked for years in undergraduate and graduate admissions offices. When applications come in, boxes are filled out: male/female, in-state/out-of-state, traditional/non-traditional, etc. Boxes are helpful in sorting information, but they aren’t always black and white. (And why is the phrase “black and white” in the first place? Why not beige or navy?) And what about folks who are of mixed races? Transgendered?
At a recent college awards ceremony, the emcee said, “This next award goes to Jackie, a non-traditional age…” At 39 (double the age of a traditional student), it’s obvious Jackie is not 18 (though she does look fabulous). But why focus on age in the first place? Jackie is married with two kids and is earning her nursing degree. Many students at the awards ceremony were also receiving second degrees, having lived in the real world in between age 18 and whatever. It’s obvious they’re not traditional age students, but since they fit in that box, somebody at the college must have thought it needed to be said. Why not point out other things, such as, “Jackie has an MBA with a 3.9 GPA”?
Another award recipient that evening was announced as, “Mary, a single mother of four…” As Mary went up to collect her award, Mary’s mother yelled from the audience, “She’s not single!” as any self-respecting mother would. As an organizer, I like the structure of things fitting into place, like puzzle pieces. But when pieces don’t fit together, you can’t force them. When it comes to people, I think it’s time we start thinking outside the box.