Friday, July 30, 2010

The 50/50 of Love

Lately I have been engaged in several dialogs with friends about love, and find myself thinking about it as one of the ultimate examples of the 50/50 nature of life: equal parts joy and pain, fun and work, sureness and precariousness, love and hate. I could go on forever with metaphors like a double-edged sword, a two-way street, and a black and white cookie, but will stop before this gets too tedious. Instead, I give you the yin and yang of love as portrayed by two men whose work I admire, Eric Clapton (the video) and Neil Gaiman (the quote below).

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life...You give them a piece of you. They didn't ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn't your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like 'maybe we should be just friends' turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It's a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.”

With the end of a long marriage, the continued blossoming of deep friendships, the beginning and end of an affair, and the exploration of self-love all swirling around my emotional core, I remain wondering about it all, but firmly aligned with Alfred Lord Tennyson,

"Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Coming Full Circle

"You take your heart in your hands and try."
Lillian Elliott, quoted in American Craft, June/July 1994

When recently asked by a young woman if I would be willing to be her mentor, I found myself wondering if I could live up to the responsibilities. The bar for mentorship is set high in my mind, as one of the most influential people in my life was my mentor, the artist, Lillian Elliott.

Shortly after I arrived in Berkeley at the age of 19, I met Lillian when she taught a class at the UC Berkeley Extension. This class meant the world to me, as I had no money to pay for it and had convinced the kind souls at UC Extension to give me a scholarship so I could take this one class. I was attempting to find myself, having already dropped out of college and moved across the country on my own, away from everything I knew, and this class was one of the steps toward starting over again. Little did I know that with this class not only would I begin my explorations as a textile artist, but even more importantly expand my world view through the eyes and mind of Lillian.

Lillian was a mensch – a strong, impossible, gentle but demanding mensch who took me under her wing, introducing me to everything from Uzbekhistan textiles to the art of making sourdough bread. I was dazzled by the chaotic creative mess that was her home and studio, and challenged by her to think independently and as an individual. Ultimately, I was impressed to my very soul by her utmost belief in listening to your own heart and voice. “You take your heart in your hands and you try”, was Lillian’s explanation of the creative process – as simple as that. While she was always learning and teaching new techniques, technique was not what mattered to her at all. Soul was what mattered. Listening to your voice was what mattered. Seeing what came from your hands as a result of listening to your heart was the essence of the creative process. OK, and to be fair, there was always her exuberant love of materials!

I don’t practice art these days, and have even imposed a moratorium on my practice as a serial knitter, so mentorship for me is in the realm of business. Nonetheless, I find Lillian’s words running through my head in many situations, both personal and professional. The soul and driving force to create is as necessary to greatness in the workplace as it is in the studio. I’ll never know if Lillian was consciously passing on her worldview, but I took it in. And I hope I can pass on my beliefs to this young woman who is seeking guidance as well as to those with whom I work on a daily basis. It's about how you treat people in business, how you stand up for what you believe, and how you deliver your best self in your work. How? You take your heart in your hands and you try. Thank you, Lillian.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why Can't We Be Friends?

Many months ago I began to write about the subject of being friends with men. The topic intrigued me, as I have many close friends, people who I love and care about, people who know they can count on me for anything and on whom I know I can depend for the same. Most of these friends are women, gay men, or the husbands of women friends.

Over the course of my adult married life I had developed professional friendships with many men, but realize that I never developed close friendships with heterosexual men in spite of the many I know.

Now I am attempting to consider friendship with a former lover and attempting to develop friendship with another man whom I dated, liked, but with whom the romance never ignited. Aside from the obvious discomfort that comes from disentangling and disappointment, one of the greater questions is what these friendships might look like. I know what friendships with women look like and feel like; the same goes with gay men. I am aware of the risks, the boundaries, and the rewards.

But in a non-romantic friendship with a straight man I think I am clueless. Spending time with several new men over the past year has reminded me of both the delights and agonies that happen because of fundamental differences in wiring between the sexes. Raising a son was and continues to be a constant reminder of the joy of male-ness, and male energy.

I was reminded of all this after reading an article in today's NY Times Magazine about the "Platonic" category on Craigslist. Reading it confirmed that I am not the only woman looking to form friendships with the opposite sex which have nothing to do with sex. But putting this into practice is another thing entirely, and I suspect it warrants a "Caution" sign!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Own Private Classic

I love it when events come together to make a punctuation point in life as happened earlier this week.

Years ago, 11 years to be precise, I saw a photo in Vogue of this outfit, a photo pretty similar to this runway shot, and immediately identified with the look. Head to toe, jacket to boots, this look by Ann Demeulemeester seemed to be absolutely me. It was as if Cupid had touched me with his arrow, and I rapidly went on a hunt to see about purchasing the leather jacket. Since the magazine indicated Barneys would carry the jacket, I called, only to learn that the buyer had actually purchased a different item, and my perfect jacket was not to be had.

Having moved on from this quest, a few months later on a business trip in Europe , what should appear before my eyes in London but none other than "my" jacket, waiting for me in the most expensive foreign currency possible. After hesitating for about a half second, I bought the jacket on the spot, my first ever 4-figure apparel purchase. I've worn the jacket ever since, retiring it briefly for a few seasons and then resurrecting it and loving it just as much today as 11 years ago.

When my 21 year old uber fashion-forward daughter came to town this week, she hit a week of San Francisco summer, otherwise known as 50 degree foggy weather. Her response? My Ann D jacket, of course, wearing it her own way, making it her own as much as I continue to do.

This all occurred the same week as the New York Times published an article about putting yourself on a shopping diet, limiting your wardrobe to just 6 pieces for one month. While I find 6 pieces to be extreme, I can pare mine to an indispensable core of 10 which can pretty much take me anywhere, anytime for a month or two. Clearly, Ann D is among those 10, my version of a classic, marrying function and self-expression in one. That this jacket speaks equally well to a 21 year old woman as to a 57 year old one makes me smile and strengthens its case as a classic. A case of 50/50, as a matter of fact.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kalmanize My World

There's a show at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum of the work of Maira Kalman. As a huge fan of Kalman's, particularly after her amazing blog in the New York Times in 2009 called "And The Pursuit of Happiness", I knew that seeing this show was one of the first things on my list of things to do once I arrived in SF this past weekend. Kalman has never had a museum show before, and I was eager to see her paintings, mostly created for the purposes of book or magazine illustrations (notably for The New Yorker), en masse and in person.

The appeal of Kalman's work has a lot to do with her joie de vivre, her free associations, and her childlike observations and wonder. She is an observer of life's details and ironies, taking what she sees and putting a unique spin on her documentation of it. You get the sense that you can watch her mind at work, as she spins an idea, weaves together linked thoughts and images, and comes out on the other side with a unique world perspective. Seeing a large body of her work all together gave me a sense of a "Kalmanized" world, a world I would most definitely like to live in, and in fact do live in, if only I observe more carefully.

When asked about her work, Maira Kalman says it is what it is, that the viewer should not look for hidden meaning. An eggbeater is an eggbeater; a rubber band is a rubber band. She saw it, it caught her eye, she painted it. That's all. It's a refreshing approach, especially for people like me who tend to want to find subtexts and hidden messages where perhaps there are none. With her book, "What Pete Ate A-Z", Kalman takes a most ordinary subject, the alphabet, and turns it into a charming tale full of giggles and smiles, a story that any adult will delight in reading over and over again to an equally delighted child. I had to buy copies of this book, one for me and one for a friend who is delighting in being a grandfather, so that we could enjoy a taste of a Kalmanized world whenever necessary.

Monday, July 19, 2010

That Mother-Daughter Connection

My daughter and I met together for the first time in too many months yesterday for a 5-day visit at our hometown of San Francisco. She no longer lives here, and I am here only part-time, so it is interesting to meet up, call this home, and yet establish a new version of home at this exciting and changing time in both of our lives.

I am fortunate to have a very close relationship with Susannah (Zana to most, Sus to me) and this has been the case for all of her life. Now that we are both independent adults, the nuances to this close relationship continue to evolve, built on the strength we have established over the past 21 years. A wise friend once advised that I develop a relationship of trust with my kids long before they hit the teenage years, as that foundation needed to be in place before the rockiness of adolescence shook things up. That was one of the most valuable pieces of childrearing advice I ever received, and I believe it is such an important component of the relationship that Susannah and I have today.

I never had the chance to know my own mother once I reached adulthood, and I doubt that even if I had we would have ever achieved a relationship like Susannah and I have. At the core is honesty and truth, belief in each other and allowing each other to be our true selves with one another, and trust in our bond and our independence. Over the last year when I have leaned on Susannah for support and friendship at a time when she has been establishing her life in NYC, she's been there, wise beyond her years. And over this same year when she has leaned on me for different types of advice and support, I've been able to be there for her, too.

At dinner last night, Susannah's best friend told me that I was her role model, that if she ever had kids she would want to take lessons from me in hope of ending up with a child like mine. I say, take lessons from both of us. It goes both ways!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Off The Grid

A day before I am to get my new iPhone 4, a close friend has challenged me to spend a day with her off the grid. No phones. No Blackberries. No iPhone. No pretense or distraction from just what we are experiencing in the moment. No dressing up for something or someone. Just being.

This was not very hard for me to do just a short while ago. I used to have a clearer delineation between work time and personal time. I used to walk the dog without talking on the phone at the same time. I used to attend meetings without checking for emails throughout the meeting. I used to turn my Blackberry off. What has happened, and what have I become as a result?

One of the things that happened was that I became the CEO of a company, and felt that it was always my responsibility to be on. I never wanted to be able to be accused of being Ronald Reagan-like and asleep while something critical happened in the business. In a way, the obsessive attachment to my “crackberry” served as a deception of self-importance, replacing some of my fears about my ability to do my job well with an always-on distraction.

This behavior really ramped up with the advent of dating, both online dating and real-time. Once I hit that “send” button on an online dating site, or sent an email to someone I was seeing, I set in motion an anxiety much like that of a 7th-grade girl waiting to be called. The possibility of hearing from a potential date was like crack, and the flashing red light on my Blackberry indicating a message was waiting was yet another hit of the drug, pulling me back again and again.

I regret to say that I have become a rude person who has difficulty living in the moment. I interrupt conversations with my obsessive checking for messages. I interrupt my own thinking with the same. I am always on, but never fully present. I love the thrill of the constant communication, yet hate the anxiety of expectation I allow it to produce in me.

I’m interested to see if I can strike a balance, a 50/50 relationship as it were, with my new phone. Of course, it has nothing at all to do with the phone and everything to do with me. Steve Jobs can’t provide me with a solution for my phone problems – if only it was as easy as applying a bumper. In all the discussions about young people no longer experiencing each other but rather texting each other, I imagine that they, too, are never fully “there”, and fear they don’t even know what fully being there actually is.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In My Next Life, Perhaps I'll be French

I was immediately attracted to this article in the Times this morning "Aging Gracefully, The French Way" as it speaks to a subject dear to my heart - women's attitudes toward aging, cultural norms, self-care and self-image.

On a business trip to France, I was introduced to a particular line of French skin-care products. They seemed prohibitively expensive and self-indulgent, but I had recently turned 30, had just survived melanoma, and knew that my skin could be my enemy both in terms of my health and my image. So I took the plunge, and have never looked back. Those products couldn't prevent the cancer from returning, and I have no idea if their early introduction in my life contributed to my relative lack of wrinkles, but what they did do is introduce a ritual which became a part of me, not self-indulgence but rather, self CARE.

On a lighter note and even earlier in my career, my ex-husband and I took a trip to St. Tropez to observe fashion. Prior to the trip, my worldly husband declared that the expected display of topless women in France was no big deal, after all, he had seen many breasts already in his life. Then we got to St.Tropez, and he encountered all these beautiful French women and re-thought his earlier position! Viva la France!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lost and Found

Did you ever look through the lost and found at a kids' private school? The wealth and variety of objects, mostly clothes, that are discarded and forgotten can be staggering. Every item left behind was once purchased, was once meant to clothe, protect, embellish or otherwise support a child, yet the child was easily able to forget about that item, attach little meaning to it, and move on. That same wealth of discarded items often moves on to new owners, to kids who need them more in some other environment.

I can't help but be reminded of this as I am clearing out my closet, discarding items I once thought I couldn't live without, discarding items purchased in order to try out some aspect of my personality which no longer fits or never did, discarding the memories often associated with the purchases. I can see in this discard pile my use of the practice of retail therapy, and the short-lived effect of that practice. I can see, too, in what's not in this pile that in general I know myself pretty well, that while I make some fashion mistakes, in general I make choices which ring true to who I am. Forgiving those mistakes, letting go of them like a kid who leaves behind an unwanted sweatshirt, feels pretty liberating. Next on the list? That personal baggage!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The piece in Sunday’s New York Times, “Turn 70. Act Your Grandchild’s Age” caught my eye and got me thinking. A lot.

Here we are, a generation that grew up with rock and roll, watching our celebrity idols of Ringo Starr (OK, not so much of my idol) and Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney age with us and keep on rocking, wearing jeans as a symbol and uniform, staying forever young. Sort of. The point of the article is that with society highlighting these 70 year-old celebrity outliers of ageing, these unusual and enviable individuals who have been able to defy the aches, illnesses and appearances of superficial decline, there is accompanying societal ignorance of many of the difficulties as well as the inherent blessings of ageing.

Deep within the article was a quote with particular meaning for me from Dr. Anne Basting , the director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. “It wouldn’t do us a whole boatload of harm to reinstate some values to contemplation,” said Dr. Basting. “Part of the pressure on older people to be successful and give back and volunteer and be active and play tennis is that we are a culture of doing. We don’t really know how to be. That’s something that late life gives us, is time to be. But that’s stigmatized.”

Being instead of performing. Being instead of proving something. Putting a break on the culture of doing. Having the time just to be. The pressure that we put on ourselves – and our children – to do more, see more, document more, perform more is overwhelming and growing. That it is lasting into older age is sad, sad that we continue the same pressure which does not allow us to stop and be, stop and notice what is going on in our worlds.

As a self-described “do-er”, I know that as much as I love to quench my endless curiosity, I also often use doing/going/experiencing as a way to avoid feeling a particular loss or emptiness in my life. That this same behavior may be causing millions of senior citizens from enjoying a more contemplative time in their lives, that there may be a growing pressure to keep on pushing and doing is a downright shame, and should act as a warning to those of us who live by the credo that more is more. Doing and being. Acknowledging the aches and living as fully as possible. It’s not a matter of either or, but rather fifty/ fifty.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Coloring In the Picture

My one and only college roommate was an artist, a remarkably creative young woman. Besides exposing me to her beautifully decorated world, she also introduced me to the concept of the danger of coloring in the picture in terms of relationships. I've learned over time it's a concept with applications to people, to business, to clothes.

Basically, the concept means coloring in a picture - or a person - the way you wish to see it or him or her, rather than seeing what -or whom - is presented to you. This is a classic issue for those of us who can't always express what we want, so instead we see what we want where it does not exist.

When I was a clothing designer, I worked with a buyer who was a classic "colorer". I would show her a design, she would approve it, then often be disappointed when the real garment arrived because it wasn't what she had expected. She had colored in my designs with pictures in her mind of what she had really wanted, whether that was a different color or length or shape, and then be sorely disappointed when what she imagined was not what showed up.

Learning to observe rather than color, and being willing to believe our observations is probably the key to making relationships work in business, romance and friendship. All that glorious color that crayons and paint provide is beautiful - when it's really there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Now What Do I Do?

When my father was suffering from Alzheimer's, one of the most heartbreaking phrases he would repeat was "Now what do I do?". He would ask this after completing the first part of a task with no idea at all about what to do next, whether the task was eating, getting dressed or getting into bed. Knowing that the part of his brain was gone that had connected activities, thoughts and tasks was at first inconceivable to me,and then just unbearably sad, and of course so confusing to him.

Yesterday I re-met with a woman who I had first met just after her forced retirement one year ago. This is a woman who stops traffic whenever she walks into a room, due to her vibrant personality and even more vibrant clothing style. (Think orange hair, lime-green leather jacket, yellow shoes, in other words, fabulous!) When I met her, she was lost, had absolutely no idea what she would be doing post career, as her work had been fulfilling, challenging and stimulating and she had expected to continue that career for many years to come. Unfortunately, one year later, she is still drifting, feeling she has lost all her spark, and still wondering "Now what do I do?", fearing she is stuck and lost in a fog.

At the end of a great creative effort, or the end of a love affair, or the end of a job, it's not uncommon for me to feel the same way. During all I am so wrapped up in the excitement of the process, the anticipation and wonder about where it's going, that I pour myself into these experiences and feel a bit empty at the end. But unlike someone with Alzheimer's or any other permanent brain injury, this empty feeling is just that - a feeling, an opportunity to reconsider, a chance to refill differently. My wonderful therapist has told me that the phrase "Get over it" is ridiculous. We don't get over losses, but rather mourn them and re-weave the fabric of our lives differently. Or knit the fabric, if you are me!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Clogs? Really?

Think 1970, West Village, NYC. Think scent of weed everywhere, the Summer of Love a not-too-distant memory, the Vietnam War a stark raving disaster, Fred Braun hand-made sandals, Crimpers haircutters and Olaf Daughters clogs. All those memories swirl together for me to define a particular time in my life, as in many baby-boomer's lives, a time of wonder and discovery.

So, about those Olaf Daughter's clogs. That clog shop in the Village was mecca for many of us, and I will always remember purchasing those yellow suede clogs - the same clogs that ultimately climbed small mountains in the Adirondacks and hitch-hiked to Berkeley the next year. Somewhere I have a photo of me in the clogs on a Pacific beach shortly after my arrival from New York. Yet once I wore through the toe of those beloved clogs, I never again found a pair of clogs so perfect, and moved on to other footwear, traversing the long road from Earth Shoes to Roots, on to Kelian, Clergerie and Prada. I thought I was a long way from those clogs.

And then. There in Portland I had one of those serendipitous moments, spotting a pair of yellow clogs in a shop window, a shop which carried nothing but clogs. The shape of these clogs looked incredibly familiar, so in I went. What an absolutely Proustian moment, as I discovered that this shop carried the same Swedish clogs as Olaf Daughters had carried, and that few others in this country have ever carried. As my best friend and I tried on pair after pair, being poked and prodded and cajoled by the serious clogmistress Cecelia, I kept thinking, "Really? Clogs again? Me? How do these fit with the cowboy boots? And the 4-inch heels? And do I really need to be traveling with 7 pairs of shoes now?"

As you might have guessed, the clogs came home with me, and I have been wearing them ever since, feeling comfortable, cute, and expressing my inner-Berkeley girl. I have to laugh when I look at the shoe line-up I am traveling with, but as I embark on this next round of my post-married life, I can think of no better shoes to walk in than the same ones in which I embarked on my first adventure of my adult life.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Return of "Great Boots"

Once upon a time (that would be 4 days ago) I was packing for a vacation with three destinations, three different companions, three very different moods. I knew it was going to be a packing challenge, as I never pack lightly anyway, but the combination of Portland, San Diego, Santa Fe, and Madison along with hiking, partying, galas, music festivals, and ultimately working made this one particularly challenging. I confess - six pairs of shoes came along on the trip.

Included in my choices were my "great boots" for two reasons: 1) I was going to be in Portland where the weather was going to be crummy and cold, so none of my strappy shoes made sense and 2)I feel naked in Santa Fe without some cowgirl boots. When the Santa Fe part of my trip was ditched at the very last second due to my break-up, I decided to keep the boots in my luggage anyway, knowing they were the make or break of whether my bag hit the airlines' 50 lb limit.

I was sad in Portland, licking my wounds and trying to make sense of an ended relationship, not feeling my most confident. Yet, I wore these sassy boots around Portland in the rain, and they elicited their normal share of "Great Boots!" comments. I smiled, thanked people for their comments, and realized that these boots - and this woman wearing them, me! - were around and fabulous before The Man, and were still around and fabulous after The Man. Great boots, indeed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Friends, Lovers, or Nothing

Well, I've done it. I have now had my first post-marriage relationship end. For 7 months I have been involved with someone I have sometimes referred to as the "anti-Steve". It was a relationship both exciting from the beginning as well as doomed from the beginning. I am told that statistically, the vast majority of relationships which are started right after the end of a marriage ultimately fail, and I am sure at some point I'll find that comforting. Not today, though. I'm too raw. I've always liked bucking the statistics, even though I never saw myself in a LTR with this man.

Do I regret the relationship? Not really, in spite of the intense pain I'm feeling today. I have learned so much - about myself, about interactions, about what I do and do not want. I met a powerful, engaging, charismatic, successful man - and found that I felt like his equal, not his subordinate. I met someone who called me on some of my bullshit, and found that I dished out more of it than I had realized. I met someone who would not give himself up to me, and learned that throwing myself at an un-doable job is a lifelong pattern I want no more part of. I re-learned I was sexy and desirable. I had fun, something which had not been part of my romantic life for a long time. I went to more restaurants, had more trysts and more adventure and more drama in these 7 months than in the prior 10 years - really! But that was not enough to sustain it, and last night I was dumped. This man who had refused to be in an exclusive relationship has decided to change his ways - but not with me!

I found this surprisingly similar to the one time I was fired from a job - a job and company I knew I needed to leave for a long time but just couldn't do on my own. In this case, I had broken up with this man twice already, but twice gone back, hoping that the reality might change, missing the good parts of the relationship and being willing to turn my back on the bad parts, trying to stuff them under the rug.

I'll miss him - his attention and affection, his advice and his knowledge, the shared people and experiences, and oh, those great wines and times in bed. But I won't miss many of his ways or his enormous deficiencies, and I know he's not the only one out there for me to meet. I wish him well in his trying to find love and happiness, but I really don't want to know what he's up to. Our relationship was way too intense to morph into friendship. To quote John Mayer, "friends, lovers or nothing". I choose nothing.

People have told me for months that I deserve better. As far as I'm concerned, that's not the salient point right now. This man was and is good in so many ways - but not for me. I know he thinks the same about me. I think that part of our issue was that in so many ways we appeared to be "just right" for each other. I was a willing participant/accomplice in this lopsided relationship and hope I'll listen to myself better next time.