Archive for the ‘self-knowledge’ Category

Penelope Says

September 12, 2012

Are you married or single, asks Penelope Trunk at the start of our career coaching call.  I have already told her over email that I feel split between the idea of having a child and birthing the baby of a new career.  She has already suggested that I put myself in a position to pursue a family if I wanted to have one.

Long term boyfriend, I answer.  I am crouched over a phone in a conference room at the office I go to every day from 9-5.  The service is spotty and so my face is pressed up against the window as if that would allow me to hear her message any better.

What’s wrong with your current job, she asks.  You’re a project manager so you have to execute other people’s plans rather than make a strategy of your own, she summarizes before I answer. That fine, she says, keep doing that.

My heart falls. What worked for me in my twenties – sitting enveloped in a second hand executive chair glued to a computer screen night and day –  no longer worked in my thirties.  And yet my current life – taking the subway into Manhattan just in time to sling my bag over a non-executive chair and head to a 10am meeting  – wasn’t working either.  I wanted a new plan.

I hear myself giving examples of how my tenacious attitude had benefited me in the past and how I would rely on what had worked before to get me where I wanted to go next. I sound like I always sound, smart, persistent, with a tinge of crazy.  I was tired of this voice and yet I could not bring myself to accept that there was a reasonable solution in sight.

To Be Continued…


I had a stand off with a man who came to the library and not for the books

September 7, 2012

First I found out how easy it is to reserve a book. Just enter the name of the book you’re looking into a form field on the internet and click to hold the book at the library closest to you. The all you have to do is go to that library and head on down to the hold section and the book is waiting there for you. With your name on it. This is a regularly scheduled public service announcement.

Then I was reminded that there are not just books at the library, oh no.  You’ve also got access to you lastest magazines  wrapped up in plastic covers and red bindings out on display, like in the subway station, only you can look inside. I picked up whatever latest dish there was on Suri and Kate and trekked it along with me into the philosophy room just for a little peak before I started writing. Did she sign a contract to keep quiet about scientology in exchange for a quick and easy divorce?  We may never know.

Finally, it was nice to learn that the library is up date, technology wise.  Can I plug in somewhere, asks a woman standing at the info desk with a laptop and an ETHERNET cable coming from the side. No, you have to use the air, says the man behind the desk, giving a little wave with his hand around his head to demonstrate.  Ok, it’s a little spotty, but who needs the internet when you’re surrounded by knowledge already!

But just as I was getting comfortable downstairs in the fiction section, sitting on some cozy cushioned chairs I found over by the circulation desk, a guy sat down across from me. Or not across from me, rather, but across from the girl that was sitting next to me, also in one of the six cozy living room like chairs. And when he did, he started to moan like there was something down his pants and he liked it.

My neighbor seemed to disagree. Did you hear what was going on, I asked him, after the man got up and left. The man shifted in his seat and seemed like he wished I would go away. Because I wasn’t sure what to think about what was going on, I said. So I was wondering what you heard.

He was talking to himself, my neighbor said, and he shrugged.

Like, no big deal. The moaning didn’t really distract him like it distracted me. For me, I started feeling gross at the bottom of my stomach like I needed to find a new room. When I got up to leave, the moaner got up too, and gave a little laugh like he had won.

Listen. I went back! Because when you need inspiration, and not the kind that involves a sinking feeling in your gut, they’ve got shelves and shelves of the stuff. On one break I picked up Eckhart Tolle’s, A New Earth, from the shelves and found the perfect quote to start a post on my addiction to knowing the future before it’s arrived:

But also because the library is a place I can go to hear myself think.  And for someone who likes to listen more to what people say about me than what I think about myself this is a gem of a situation.  So much so that I’m not going to let a little moaning get in my way.

Here’s the quote for those of you who can’t wait for after the weekend.  The gist of the story will be something like how I started reading Susan Miller one day and ended up as one of the people who would justify your crazy stories by telling you that’s just what someone with your rising sign would do.  That’s right naughty Scorpios, I’m talking to you.

Gnothi Seauton—Know Thyself.

These words were inscribed above the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, site of the sacred Oracle. In ancient Greece, people would visit the Oracle hoping to find out what destiny had in store for them or what course of action to take in a particular situation. It is likely that most visitors read those words as they entered the building without realizing that they pointed to a deeper truth than anything the Oracle could possibly tell them. They may not have realized either that, no matter how great a revelation or how accurate the information they received, it would ultimately prove to be of no avail, would not save them from further unhappiness and self-created suffering, if they failed to find the truth that is concealed in that injunction—Know Thyself.

Did you make it to the end of these five paragraphs or more?  I’m dying to know.  Leave me a note to say hi, or tell me the NYPL you like to visit best.

What is Real

August 1, 2012

Pam Houston, Lidia YuknavitchMarion Winik.  These writers all new to me.  But since I came back from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir writing workshop, I can not help but want to know them intimately.

All three of these books are punch you in the gut good.  Like someone making you tea and sitting you down to tell you a big truth.  And when you understand that something you knew to be true actually is you drink the whole cup of tea in one gulp and then ask for another.  And then another.

In these five paragraphs from Contents May Have Shifted, Pam Houston tells a story of woman who was led to her new husband by the ghost of the man’s son from a first marriage.  The two later have a son together who also can communicate with the dead.  When a widowed man comes to visit, the woman asks her son to check in on the man’s wife from the other side.

Because I remember that Pam Houston’s says her books are 82% true, I think of this book as a memoir.  I imagine that this episode, with the couple and the bereft husband, might very well be true.  Even though the book is categorized as FIC on the New York Public Library tag.

It’s no accident that the protagonist is named Pam, just like the author.  I’m pretty sure both Pams are telling us something about the difference between fact and fiction.  Or about how important it is to tell your story especially if there are parts that others might find beyond belief.

Line and the Light

July 30, 2012

It is the summer of 1988 and Joanne and Gerard Darkly’s son is doing what most kids do before they apply for college.  Fuck around.  Only Jake’s fucking around is gets worse as his parents become trapped in their own small lives and struggles.

So where things on the outside appear to be functional, they are actually reaching a boiling point. The accident is when things are forced to change.  The night that Phil and Jake have snuck out to cruise around for girls and whatever else they find to do outside their homes late at night.

The story is about when things seem ok and they are not but also when things that are not ok are actually ok compared when real trauma occurs.  So it’s about the difference between worrying about things and attending to things when they need to be attended to. Like pieces of garbage collected together to equal the thrown away feelings of our lives.

Yes there is a story.  It’s at summer of 1988.  The family is getting ready to sent their son away to school.  Only the son has other ideas.  He has been skipping class and not finishing his work and otherwise making it harder for him to to flee the coop.

The family is centered around a young boy.  When the boy is getting ready to leave for college some of the family unit kinds of falls apart.  Although it has been falling apart for years.

When you became who you are today

October 5, 2011

Mattie’s house was better than mine for one simple reason; she had a pool.  As adopted summertime family kids, we had our own towels from the house that we’d pin up to dry between the two trees. We’d get beat at Marco polo by the three girls of the house who were on the swim team.  When we’d plug our noses and crouch down to see who could stay under the water longest, I’d win.

My house, in comparison, was much quieter.  I spent time at my desk looking through prom magazines, evaluating dresses, while on the phone with girlfriends with their own line.  My first boyfriend, in the third grade, told me that I should be a psychologist because I was so good at listening.

As a younger girl, I was serious about dress up. Every morning I’d wake up with a story in my head that I wanted to tell.  My mom dedicated a small room to props and costumes I’d use to make myself a part of the action.

There’s still a small kid in me that wants to be the star without too much competition.  In the world of personality tests, I think I’m an ENFP.  But there are skills involved in taking on extroversion that I’m not sure I’ve completely developed.

When I took the Myers Briggs the first time though, after I left my last start-up job, my result was different: INFP.  Now I wonder, was the “E” just suppressed and the “I” overemphasized in the years that I became a good kid?  Or am I just looking for more E because I want to learn to synchronize swim.

Cool Down, Let Go

October 4, 2011

In college some friends and I got pulled over for driving around with a busted tail light.  “Here, hold this,” said a girl sitting next to me in the back seat of the car, as she handed me a small bunched up bundle wrapped in plastic.  Then I let go of her as my friend.

Picture me standing in front of you now, squeezing two hot rocks in the palm of my hands.  Ouch, I tell you, I’m in pain.  Of course you’re in pain, you say: those rocks you’re holding onto are burning your skin.

I could just put the rocks down, right? Just open up my hands and let them fall to the ground.  But how will I know I’m there unless I’m holding onto something that hurts?

If my hands are open and free I’ll think – now I’m not enough.  Oh, what’s this here, I’ll say, as I pick up another round black smooth object from the ground?   Nice,  I’ll think.  Heavy.   Perfect for holding onto.

I want to be someone who knows a hot rock when I see one.  I want to learn to take a look at that hot rock and say – oh you’re hot!  And then I want to keep walking.

Grantland – For Guys with Half a Brain

September 22, 2011

But just because you’re guys doesn’t mean you don’t also find yourselves curious, to the point of obsession, about Ryan Gosling’s white satin Scorpion jacket in Drive.  It’s not like you have anything to hide just because you stay up late at night wondering about the inspiration for the design, the number of jackets used throughout film and whether or not you’ll be able to buy a version for yourself soon.  So, if there’s nowhere else that will print smart sports and entertainment commentary for you, you just have to go do it yourselves.

But let’s get one thing as clear as the shape of Elvis Presley’s pompadour – you’re making a guys site.  So you’re not going to spend precious dude-filled hours considering whether there should be more than two women on your staff of twenty-six columnists.  There’s room for more women writers but why go on an internet bender trying to find them when you already know enough guys that write well.  Besides, women write about women things, and it’s not your job to put men in the kitchen wearing aprons and high heels.

You know you’ve lucked out big time by getting Molly Lambert, former editor of and author of the widely passed along piece on How To Be A Woman In A Boys Club, to play on your team.   Who cares if her current stories finger Cindy Crawford as the model of vanity or sends us off to “go home and make love to your man” after watching Sade’s performance at the Staples Center?  She’s just Molly being Molly, writing about whatever it is Molly wants to write about, just like any of you on staff do over at Grantland.

Because really.  Do guys actually care about what it’s like to be a woman? And you’re not just talking about menstruation, child care or buying the right sized bra – but the extra work we do to confront people’s messed up ideas about what it means to be a women, each and every day?  You don’t even need to answer that.  You’re just guys, being guys.  Hangin’ out.  Writing.

Another time though, when your current New Yorker look starts to feel limiting, you’ll hire a female designer.  You’ll all go out to lunch and she’ll start talking about her homeschooling hairdresser who left her gambling husband to take her kids on a year long trip to walk across America.  You’ll all have a good laugh and a short convo about your own family dysfunctions and your back to the farm dreams.  Then you’ll go back to the office and you’ll recruit like mad.

The Working Life

September 20, 2011

I’ve spent five years managing web projects for other people and another six managing work for myself.  Both are difficult paths: The self-employed route requires so much DIY chutzpa that it becomes difficult to focus on what it is that you do best.  But having someone else direct your work often means putting aside your priorities and doing your best to understand someone else’s motivations.

It’s hard to feel like you’re getting anywhere when you’re the boss of yourself.  There can be so many accomplishments but there’s not much moving up.  There are few people other people to direct (unless you get funding) and there are a limited amount of projects you can take on and be involved with at any one time.  There’s lots of doing without concrete results and a constant nagging feeling that you may just not be good enough.

There’s nobody else there to tell you to come home after school when all of your other friends are out playing with other friends.  Nobody’s going to remind you that the extra coffee break means fifteen last minutes spent researching or editing except you.  And there’s no job title to reaffirm your role.

Making time to think about what you’re doing before you start doing becomes more important.  Keeping yourself accountable to your long term plans becomes essential.  You become a living breathing work in progress and your life and work fuse together in an almost unrecognizable way.

Yet there are countless blogs and books about creating your own path because making your own mistakes can be so rewarding.  When you’re on your own and you mess up, you can just pick yourself back up and try again.  Because even when things get bad, you’re probably not going to fire yourself.

Have Guts, Show Yourself

September 19, 2011

If you’ve ever taken a writing workshop you’ll know it’s like having strangers tear your ego apart.  And by ego I mean that thing that you carry around with you like a heavy cloak on your arm – ready to duck behind at any moment.  Or maybe it’s over your shoulders, like mine is – hiding most of what I think of as unbearable for others to see.

The first fifteen pages I submitted was what I thought of as writing.  There were complicated phrases and long passages – all of which added up to a few moody characters that I had become attached to over time.  Once I showed them to my fellow workshop participants, I thought differently.

Getting ripped up by a bunch of strangers is as difficult as it sounds.  Still, after the first critique I felt exhilarated.  I had shown some people I didn’t know more than I had shown some people I had known my whole life. I owed them a revision, one that made the best use of their comments – or I’d be stuck with some shredded up pieces of wool standing in for a shawl covering well into the winter

So I spent a week or two replacing most of what I thought was good about my writing with new writing. Instead of being writerly I tried being readerly – talking more to myself and the people in my workshop – then some wide audience I hoped would someday read a book that wasn’t even written.  The results were much better.

I am starting to see that writing is a constant practice of removing everything you thought was worthwhile and revealing everything you’re sure is not.  People liked the writing better because my desire to show myself came through.   But now that I have this new outer layer that’s silky and flowery, with a nice neckline and a modest waist, can’t I just stay covered?

Emily Vs. The Internet

September 13, 2011

The internet is to blame for my inability to trust myself.  I’m sure of it. If there was a webpage that someone else made dedicated to my life I’d probably change myself to fit the page.

Why can’t you get off the computer already, I ask my boyfriend? Meanwhile I’m curled up around my iphone watching videos on home remedies for acne in the T-zone area.  How many different options does one need to find the best way to apply olive oil as moisturizer?

Are Aries and Aquarius a good match, a co-worker asked me? I don’t know, I’ll do some research, I answer.  Do some research?  What kind of purple tight wearing internet addicted kind of crazy have I become?  Why don’t I just ask the Aries and the Aquarius at the table what they think?

Part of my Myer’s Briggs profile is introverted thinking, aka know it all.  Surfing the W creates new thoughts in my head that are not raging with to-do lists.  But only yoga and meditation have encouraged me to feel on my own in a quiet self reflective manner.

So I decided, no more internet after 8pm.  It’s like Mark Bittman’s vegetarian before dinner only flipped around:  I can binge on as much internet as I want all day long. The evening is for home, friends and events – not fusing my brain to the screen.

Stay tuned for posts about clipping my toe nails, making collages and torturing the cat.