Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What 2010 Taught Me

My year is ending up on a great note: a new opportunity at work has made the sky in my little world a very happy color.  My children are happy and healthy, which I vow to never take for granted.  My romantic life shows promise, though no fairy tales exist at mid-life.  Friends, kids, home and work (a place to go every day is very good for me) have let me see it's just a piece of who I am.

It's always strange to try and remember where I was a year ago, but upon thinking it through this evening on my walk--it's an unusually balmy (even for North Texas) 70 degrees, which has no doubt also affected my mood--this is my very limited wisdom, based on my own year and a few nuggets from those close to me:

  • If an opportunity keeps presenting itself, take it.  Even if you think you can't do it.
  • We all get chances we don't deserve. You're as worthy as anyone. Say thank you, and make the most of what life hands you.
  • Opportunities can be chased.  Relationships can't.
  • Really bad things happen to people who don't deserve them at all.  It's not contagious, so do what you can to help. 
  • Saying you're sick of something isn't the same as saying what it is you want.
  • Figuring out what you really want is the hardest part of getting it.
  • Every single person has one major issue they struggle with their entire life.  Maybe you only have to manage it, not fix it.
  • Make an assumption about a person's character, positive or otherwise, and you will almost always be wrong.
  • Everything doesn't need to be done right now.  On thorny issues, wait, or call someone you trust.
  • Re-read everything before you send it. Three times.
  • Life is full of surprises.  Some of them are nice.
  • Overprepare, and go with the flow. (I need to learn this one every year.)
Happy 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Fridge Magnets

After a full week of houseguests--okay, they were family, but I'm used to more time to think, cook, write and read alone--I am finally sitting in my kitchen in a delicious in a moment of solitude, letting a rich and pungent French fish stew simmer.  I look up to see the outside of my refrigerator, normally spare, punctuated now with holiday greetings from friends, and as I survey those I've posted, I wonder about what may be Freudian slips all over the place.

My pretty blond friend from South Texas (she lives in Dallas now but works with me and is a valued colleague, too, so I let the Big D aspect of her life slide) and her daughter, who is seven, are pasted up by a magnet of my son in his baseball uniform.  Maybe I have a secret desire for him to one day marry this adorable little girl so her mother and I can organize a wedding and consume libations at the same time.  Her mom and I, for the record, have been requested in our work to perform the emotional equivalent of digging ditches together and have done so happily and with some success, such is our rapport. 

For my dear and equally pretty Houstonian friend, pictured with her grown daughter, I have used the magnet that reads: "Leap and the net shall appear."  Appropriate, since my friend from Houston and I met at our last place of work--where there were certainly shades of a workplace dysfunctional family-- and got divorced at the same time, and thus have been one another's net more than once.  Take the High Road is our motto, though we both need to call one another when we fall short of it.  Mercifully, or by dint of effort, this is not the case nearly so often as it once was. 

My son's recent and second passport photo is suspended by a tiny US greenback magnet--is this a worry about how much he will cost, or a desire for his success as the entrepreneur he so often expresses a wish to be?

Then there are my same-sex couple with twins friends.  They made an adorable family photo this year, and they all look, to my delight, very happy, backing up the sense I've had during my visits that there is a lot of love in their house. The children, toddlers now, have the angelic faces that also foreshadow their looks as adults. And yet, the fridge magnet I have holding them up is an iconic black and white photo of Andy Warhol, in which he holds a hand over his face as though to express shame. Why this one? Maybe I wonder if there are others who might walk into my kitchen and not feel the love.  But I know I shouldn't feel shame. I need a new magnet expressly suited to tolerance, because I sure don't have one now. 

And then there is the one I bought shortly before my divorce became final.  This one says, "It's All About Me." Behind it is a picture of a family on the beach.  They, too are a happy family, among the happiest I know.  They are all generous and enormously likeable, but at times--okay, especially Christmas--those of us who haven't got that intact, secure unit feel a tad inadequate and more than a little jealous of the long and unblemished history their little tribe of four has built together.  But still, good for them.

None of these posting choices was conscious at all, yet each tells me something about myself.  I go through this season each year with a sense of dread and sadness, each time reinforced by old patterns repeated.  I always wish that I could impose a happier time for myself by having what yogis call intention.  But every year of my adulthood brings the familiar sense of being carried along by inexorable annual tide of  the same sad stories and their accompanying angry and tearful arguments. 

Maybe my fridge, at least, shows some authenticity.  Today I really do want it to be all about me, with my quiet and orderly house around me, a good meal on the way, and a hot bath and a good book in the evening that lies ahead. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Better to be Lucky Than Good

I have never purchased a lottery ticket.  Nor have I set foot in a casino.  It's not a moral case against these things, nor a belief that being in the right place at the right time doesn't often change the direction of one life or even that of many, but rather a belief in slow, steady progress over taking a flyer and making it big. 

Friends have suggested I go to Vegas or head to Oklahoma to try my luck.  These friends, kindly, are unaware of just how much of a snob I am---I'd go to a grimy pub to hear a novelist do a reading, but have no interest in hitting a modern day Sin City. Rat Pack Vegas I'd do, although even if I could travel across space and time, I am likely not the right sort of dame for that.  But they insist I would finally understand the thrill of a gamble. My response is that getting married to an entrepreneur was quite enough experience for me in that department. 

But more than that, it's the only child in me.  Although in performance reviews at work I am often called a team player, which thrills me because surely it means I am socialized at least enough to play well in the sandbox, I don't like playing games, especially when other people are watching me.  I'm social, but a lack of Monopoly nights at my house and more than enough sound trouncings by my father at checkers put me off these distractions.  And they're not, the Protestant Work Ethic reminds me, very productive. 

A young man I once worked with at an advertising agency was the son of a Baptist minister.  When others would head out on pitches, he would quote his mother, who didn't believe in luck but was a sweet woman: "Happy Providence!" the young hipster would say with as much irony as he could muster.  His mom believed we all walked a path set out by God.  Timing and bullshit couldn't beat that.  This definitely appealed to my PWE, although it countered that getting to meetings on time and taking good notes surely must count for something.  

I do believe in luck, but it's more along the lines of Woody Allen's notion that we get points for showing up.  When I moved to Cowtown and knew no one, I realized I had the opportunity to reinvent myself through a different career. So while my babies napped I wrote a parenting column for free, a bad column and a few features in a local business rag for almost free, and cold-called every communications director I could look up.  Most turned me down, but one asked me to serve on a volunteer committee at her non-profit.  During my service, I met an up and coming PR director from the city's leading agency.  She gave me a few projects and then a bigger break when a good account exec left.  I worked late at night and early in the mornings and did my best to nail every project.  One day she invited me to meet her boss who said, to my eternal delight, "I love your writing."  This boss was doing work for a local legend and political kingmaker who also had founded the biggest law firm in town, and he was looking for a marketing person. 

So after writing $100 columns for a few years and building up a portfolio, I got a chance to work for the biggest game in town, and I did my best to rise the occasion. Now I work for a world-wide entity, which when I consider it seems like a great leap indeed.  On regular days, it's just work, but probably I've forgotten how much I've learned.  We all, no matter how each of us works to cultivate gratitude, take our happy providence for granted. 

How did I get here?  I'm reasonably bright, but nowhere close to many friends and colleagues.  I work hard, but again, scores of colleagues help me, through their 24/7 drive, recall the Gen-X slacker who lives within me. 

Luck cannot be discounted.  There are lots of people, the PR director and her boss only two among many, who have given me chances.  The same young man at the ad agency, when Anika Sorenson was competing in our local PGA tournament, said of the controversy around a woman being allowed to compete in a man's sport, she's being given an opportunity she didn't earn.  Yes, I said, we all do, if we recognize them, and know what to do with them.  So I guess I'd rather be lucky than good. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"I was thirty-five before I discovered a B-plus was a really good grade."

--Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Life Really is Too Short to Live in Dallas

My occupation is an odd combination of intellectual dexterity, emotional intelligence, and reasonable taste. It was in the latter vein that I was dispatched to find gifts for an internal meeting next year of senior management from all over the United States and Latin America. 

I don't really mind doing these things, as it's a break from my desk and the hundreds of emails that flood towards me all day and night, an aspect of working for a global organization that it took me a long while to manage.  ("Just turn it off when you go to sleep," offered a partner in my early days.  So much for that.  When I wake at three-thirty for my regular worry session, I can't help but scan the Blackberry for urgent messages.  And even if I slumber through the night, an increasingly rare thing, I look at the damn thing before I even get out of bed.)  

At any rate, when I got marching orders to look at Texas-themed gifts, I went to what I consider the real thing:  Fort Worth. When I moved here over a decade ago, I heard again and again that the FW of DFW was a completely different animal than the Big D.  At Railhead, a Fort Worth barbeque place owned by a local who is also a state congressman, the shirts read, "Life is too short to live in Dallas."  The lore I learned early on included the story, perhaps apocryphal though it feels true, that Amon Carter, the millionaire who started Fort Worth's Star-Telegram newspaper and who founded the first television station in the area, is said to have packed a lunch before visiting Dallas rather than spending his money there. 

I didn't know or care a thing about Dallas until three years ago, when I started commuting in that direction.  I've tried to be open-minded, as an aspiring urban soul who lived in Toronto for seven years. To be sure, there are some great places to shop and a few tightly-wound restaurants.  I've worked with people who live there and gotten to even like a few, but I always feel like a tourist. Additionally, I've experienced quite sincere pity from my Cowtown friends.  They don't understand my protests about "world class" and "global."  Why can't I just stay home and make a ten-minute commute?  Surely there is something I can do. Well, I have two kids and my opportunities lie outside the Gateway to the West. 

Nevertheless, my loyalty in tact, I went to a fabulous store in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth, and managed to find myself some pretty hot premium denim, and I coveted a pair of six hundred dollar boots.  For the work task, I found some beautiful cufflinks, a silver money clip, a proper buckle for a leather strap, and some coffee table books.  These, the Dallas partner (okay, he's actually from the Midwest, but he's been here as long as I have, so no excuses) pronounced "cowboy" and "hick."  I agreed with the first characterization, because I've met more than a few cowboys who are worth a lot more than a Dallas lawyer--they might have manure on their boots, but money spews forth from their granddaddies' acreage, and they are Real Texas Men, which as my readers know is irresistable to me--but took exception to the second. 

Several years ago, another Dallas lawyer explained his city to me: "Dallas is not like Fort Worth.  We are aspirational.  We want to be L.A."  He seemed, inexplicably, to believe this was a good thing.  As those in West Texas would say, Big hat, no cattle.

So I'll work in Dallas--because I don't have a granddaddy with an acreage and this is my gig and the deal that goes with it--but every weekday evening when I drive back across the Tarrant County line, I exhale.  I love my town and its contradictions: rich yet unpretentious, conservative but live and let live, sleepy yet full of a fair number of scandalous open secrets, a big city that acts like a small town. Fort Worth grows and has ever more to offer, but it never forgets where it came from.