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The Deeper Business of Being Beautiful Inside

4 Mar

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.11.10 PMIn a moving speech given prior to her Oscar win for supporting actress, Lupita Nyong’o encouraged women to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

It’s a simple but difficult proposition.

In the same Oscar ceremony where Nyong’o won her award, 81-year-old actress Kim Novak also appeared–noticeably and disturbingly altered by plastic surgery.

What a contrast. I was named after Kim Novak, so I’ve always paid attention to her over the years. It’s sad that she felt she had to go to such lengths.

Why can’t an 81-year-old woman look 81? Grandmas rock. I always thought my grandmothers and older aunties were cool, even if they wore funny teased-up hairdos and cat-eye glasses with rhinestones. They made excellent peanut butter cookies, smoked Salem cigarettes, and ate Chinese food. Their skin was soft and pale–protected from the sun because it was a sign of poverty to have so much color on your face. By night, they wore Pond’s cold cream, and by day they wore little to no makeup. Well, maybe a little bit of lipstick.

It was a shock to see Novak’s face, but why? There’s an expectation that women will look young for as long as we can. With many women my age, it starts off with Botox or collagen injections. Mouths go from normal-looking to Joker-esque. Courteney Cox, Demi Moore, Cameron Diaz, et al. And it just gets stranger-looking from there. Joan Rivers and Madonna–why? Looking one’s age is better than looking like someone else–or like a puffed-up doll.

I read today that Kim Novak was criticized from a young age and began altering her look long before preparing for last night’s Oscars. Even during the era of Bell, Book, and Candle and Vertigo? What a shame.

I remember when I was a teenager looking at myself in the mirror and not liking what I saw. At the time, I pretty much felt like an ugly duckling and looked nothing like Kim Novak in the movies. I don’t think I started liking what I saw until I was in my late 30s. I regret not appreciating even little things about myself, inside and out, much earlier.

Now, it’s fine. I am content with what I see and who I am. There are scars, lines, and wrinkles on my face. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them. I have light skin, freckles, a noticeable nose, larger than I would like pores, and a stripe of silver hair in my center part. I procrastinate and indulge my children more than I should. So what?

If I saw something different, it would be a lesser version of me. Why go to all the trouble of changing what it took so long to earn? I don’t want to go back to my 20s or look like I could be 20. Why not go forward?

A natural face at any age is more beautiful than plastic. And Nyong’o is right: it’s inner beauty that makes for happiness. We need more Betty White than Kim Novak.

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The Squeeze

24 Mar

Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t get me wrong: Being 44 (or “fo-fo” as I have been saying, just to make it sound better) has been great so far. I really can’t complain. My brain and body appear to still be functioning per specs.

But there are medical precautions that enter the picture upon “middle age” that make it oh-so-more interesting. My husband told me that once you hit 50 (he is much closer to it than me-HA!), you have to get an annual colonoscopy. Yes, every year. Ick.

And recently I had a little freak-out over the stupid mammogram process, which I am now supposed to be doing on a regular basis. I really despise this stuff…mainly because it forces me to think about mortality, which I really don’t want to consider.

So after having the reminder “get boobs smashed” on my to-do list for about a year, and dodging repeated questions from both my primary physician and my gynecologist about when I am going to get it done, I finally did it. Hadn’t had one done in about 10 years, which is not good, I know, but as I said I prefer to ignore these types of things.

My rationalization process goes something like this: If it’s on my to-do list I’m paying lip service to it, even if I haven’t actually done it yet. Right.

I was so proud of myself. It was really not a big deal. Except for the technician, who seemed to be about 12 years old and a bit unsure of herself.

Until my doctor’s assistant called me after a few days. “Sweetie, the doctor needs you to go back and get the mammogram re-done because they couldn’t get a good reading,” said Maxine. “They need to use a special machine on you. The doc says not to worry–it’s normal for small ladies like you.”

I always knew I was special, but this is too much. A “special machine?” What the heck. And I am now a “small lady?????”

Take heed, young women who don’t know about this:

If you fall into the category of “B wannabe,” this too will be your fate. You must cash in on your “special” status by paying a visit to the machine built for “small ladies.”

Great. I am so looking forward to this.

P.S. Because I tend to obsess about things more than necessary, of course I worried about all of this after I set up the “special machine” appointment. Sent an anxious email to my doc delivered this reassuring result: “I would tell you if something was wrong, and there isn’t anything to worry about. It’s the curse of the small woman. Now, go get smashed!” Gosh, I love my doc.

My Moriarty

13 Mar

Another in the category of: My blog, so I write what I want.

I particularly enjoy the Moriarty character in Sherlock Holmes stories (as well as the movies…Jared Harris plays it perfectly). This is a bit of reflection on Moriarty’s role, for each of us. It is also influenced by some recent reading, of Brené Brown‘s work on authenticity–I recommend it.

________________________

Everyone has their Moriarty, but not everyone knows who he is.

Dr. Moriarty is the archenemy of Sherlock Holmes, a mathematical genius who sets traps, builds bombs, and makes the world a more dangerous place for Holmes.

Moriarty would not exist without Holmes. Their struggle makes Moriarty stronger. Moriarty’s mathematical masterminding improves only because Holmes pushes him into a corner.

And in their final battle, they play a game of chess, which devolves into punching and shoving, followed by both Moriarty and Holmes falling hundreds of feet off a ledge into an enormous waterfall in the Alps–into the Reichenbach Falls. Pretty dramatic stuff.

A mind game, capped off with a sloppy boxing match and an incredible risk. What better metaphor for fighting off old (and often inaccurate) memories, shame, regrets, and remorse?

There’s a reason that villains such as Moriarty ring true: These people do exist–for all of us–in real life, as the actual cast in our own day-to-day existence, be they people, feelings, or thoughts. My Moriarty has been a distraction, a lessening of joy in my life. I am ready to get back the time I’ve wasted on this nasty character.

Sometimes I have been locked in mortal combat with something for so long, it becomes a habit–until I can find the strength in myself to no longer give it life. Trying to think my way out of it usually doesn’t work. In my case, the cerebral solution can (and has) resulted in years of making things more complex and angst-ridden than they really are. Obsession brings zero improvement. The process of letting go isn’t pretty, but it’s better than hanging on to an old arch-nemesis.

Pushing my Moriarty off the ledge requires that I go over with him–at least a part of me. Scary to let go of an old part of myself, even if I know that I no longer need or want it. It’s the ultimate renunciation of attachment. This is the rebirth process for Holmes, who survives the fall, a baptism of sorts for him.

When I make the decision to kill off my Moriarty, I am going to celebrate. As a matter of fact, there are two very specific Moriarty characters that I am pushing into the waterfall very soon. I will relish their drop into oblivion, because they have held me back from being as true to myself as I can be–from consistently being the person that I am supposed to be (insert God reference if you’d prefer).

Your Opinion Matters

31 Dec

This week I experimented with crowdsourcing opinion on some new eyeglass frames.

It was a painful process and decidedly a situation where the warning, “Be careful what you ask for,” hit me in the gut.

Here’s the photo post that launched a host of comments:

Twenty people told me no, and the votes are still coming in. (This is not counting all of my family members, who also gave a unanimous and repeatedly emphasized thumbs-down.)

I should have known it was going to be bad from the start, when cousin David commented almost instantly:

Cousin David always compliments me. He’s a southern gentleman. While tactfully leaving room for another option that could be positive, this was decidedly NOT a compliment.

Meanwhile, people I haven’t heard from in years gave the glasses the thumbs-down. I haven’t made a post that has garnered this much extreme opinion EVER.

Very good friends were delightfully candid. This type of brevity was telling:

Many friends echoed with similar “to-the-point” reactions, along with additional guidance and welcome honest feedback:

This comment from a former Bexley neighbor sealed the deal:

Even after I reported back that I had decided not to get the frames, the comments continued to roll in.

I appreciate everyone’s efforts to save me from myself. Your opinion matters.

Clearly, I am not qualified to select glasses without supervision. In a fit of wanting to try something different, I went with the cool clear frames, a little bit bigger, with the benefit of being 100% recycled. Alas, I am not cool enough for these frames. They are different, but in a bad way.

And, as my husband wisely observed:

Who wants clear frames? It’s like people who try to hide their a$$es. What’s the point?

You need glasses, and you wear bifocals, so why not go big?

Correction, dahling: I wear PROGRESSIVE LENSES, not bifocals.

I made the trip to the optician’s again today and selected cat-eye frames that are much smaller, blonde tortoise-shell with blue on the flip side. I like them, my husband likes them, and everybody else had better like them.

I am not posting a picture until after they arrive and I’ve been wearing them for a while.

 

 

Forgotten Love Letters

27 Dec

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Back in the 90s Ben and I lived in a small brick apartment building in Grandview, right behind the St. Christopher Church and Trinity School playground. It was our first off-campus home as newlyweds. We moved there after I graduated from OSU in 1991.

The building was the smallish variety, with just four units, so that we knew everyone around us–mostly because we could all hear each other through the walls. Below us was an older gentleman from Bulgaria who made exotic dishes requiring mysterious herbs in small baggies, which my cat would retrieve from his apartment and bring back to us on occasion. And next to us was an older couple in their 60s or 70s, named Agnes and Steve.

All of us shared a basement. Around the time we moved in, we were putting a bunch of our boxes down in the basement and were cleaning out the area that was “our” storage space, just beyond the laundry chutes. We found a dusty old box of letters that we’d been told were the remnants of previous tenants. I opened the box and took a look.

These were intense love letters, from WWII, written by a soldier to his girlfriend. The guy was a prolific writer and the passion of a 20-year-old who’s away from the one he loves. He missed her terribly and went through a lot of paper saying so.

There wasn’t anything sublime in the letters–mostly what you’d expect. In one letter, he mentioned resisting the temptation of a solders’ night out in the city, all for her. (The guy was earnest but not a good liar, by the way.) In another letter, he clearly described which parts of her he most missed, in graphic detail. I couldn’t help noticing that he signed his name “Steve,” and the letters were addressed to “Agnes.”

Well, this could not be a coincidence. Feeling a bit embarrassed to have rifled through my neighbors’ love letters, I closed the box back up and went upstairs to tell my husband. Sheepishly, we took the box to our neighbors, not mentioning that it “had been opened.” Interestingly, they said that the letters did not belong to them and told us to put the box in the trash.

We lived in the apartment for about two years, and since the love letter incident, we discovered more about Agnes and Steve, thanks to our thin walls. They argued a lot–loudly. Steve snored–loudly. And every few nights Steve wanted to do things that Agnes didn’t. They argued, things got quiet, and then Steve snored.

The repetition of their argument–the same one every time–was both sad and comical. It was sad because they were oblivious to how ridiculous it had become. I wondered how long they had been caught in this loop.

As a naive and newly married 23-year-old, the state of Steve and Agnes’ relationship baffled me. How could they write letters so full of life and love, then deny ever writing the letters and sink into the opposite of domestic bliss? Maybe the letters were a bittersweet reminder of things past–a life so long ago that it didn’t really belong to them anymore.

I could never find any resolution to this mystery, and after a few years we moved into another Grandview apartment where we could no longer hear Steve and Agnes. That was 20 years ago, and I’m sure that they have moved on as well–perhaps even passed on.

Steve and Agnes taught me a lesson about love. When the spark and joy of relationship fade so far into the past that you don’t care about throwing memories away, when you repeat yourself over and over again and fall deeper into the rut of the same argument, when the status quo becomes good enough, having past tense love doesn’t make a difference. I’m thankful to have learned that lesson.

How Being Right Can Be So Wrong

27 Sep

Sometimes, you can be so right that you actually become wrong.

How is this so?

In business, time is money. Drucker’s The Effective Executive offers up some good advice on prioritizing time. In business and in life, time matters. Spending time doing things that don’t matter wastes time.

Drucker’s words ring so true:

Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.

Take for example:

  1. Belaboring the point when the point has already been made.
  2. Having the last word.
  3. Saying more than you need to and/or repeating yourself.
  4. Proving yourself right.

All of these things can at times be related, but it’s the last that’s my focus today. Spending time on proving myself right is so often both an exercise in futility as well as lost on deaf ears. Most people think they’re right anyway no matter how much energy you waste trying to convince them.

Really, what does it matter? I am saying this from personal experience, as an individual who HATES being wrong. But over the years I have either become:

A. Too old/lazy to care,

B. So full of my own Zen that it makes no difference to me, and/or

C. So right that I no longer need to make a point to people who will never get it anyway.

You decide which it is!

A, B, and/or C….my new middle-aged approach of no longer proving my “rightness” has freed up a lot of time for doing other things, like getting real work accomplished (while at work).

Another added benefit is not obsessing on work stuff while I’m away from work (i.e., compulsively checking email all of the time and being on alert so that I can be ever-responsive…I only do that some of the time these days—progress). And this gives me time to hang out with my family, play with the dog and learn righteous guitar solos.

Peter Drucker would be proud.

The Freshman

6 Sep

Today is my firstborn’s first day of her first year of high school.

I am too overwhelmed to write much about it, but in her honor I am posting the link to a well-written new online mag for teenage girls called Rookie, where a friend’s daughter is now a columnist.

Remembering my own first day of high school, all I can say is that I hope my daughter enjoys hers more than I did mine. I was too nervous to truly appreciate it.

What a special milestone, for both The Freshman and her parents!