Day in the Life: Narrative One

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate stoicism (see One…One…One…) more into my day-to-day life since the funeral. Yesterday was a particularly challenging day, so I decided to take notes first on my initial reaction to the day, then how I chose to respond to my initial reactions from a stoic perspective. Today I am going to share Narrative One, which was my initial inner monologue.

Day in the Life: Narrative One

3:30 AM: I can’t sleep, and I’m not relaxed from my “weekend.” What weekend? I cleaned and cooked like a mad woman to prepare for a dinner we hosted for friends and their daughter on Saturday night, then cleaned again when they left. Darcy has been sick for a week and my son is now also sick so they were both in bed (although Darcy rallied when the guests arrived to attend the dinner). I pushed through to marinate and bake chicken, make a salad and cauliflower rice, prepare hors d’oeuvres and get ice cream. A massive sinus headache descended that luckily lifted when dinner began. Sunday morning I worked for five hours straight to get ahead of three work deadlines. There’s something wrong with my Google drive – it overwrote a file my colleague created!! She was so mad, and I felt terrible. Then after I dragged myself to the gym, I came home to do as much prep ahead of time for the family Passover dinner Darcy signed us up to host tonight. We’re hosting 15 people, including three children under five (my nieces, and yes to answer your question, my sister-in-law is very fertile). I wanted to host Break the Fast, the fun one where everyone eats and runs, but no. After more cleaning (Darcy did some cooking for the meal, and left a huge mess because he had to go back to bed), setting up temporary tables, getting out all the dishes, silverware, bowls, etc (why so many dishes for this holiday – two sets of glasses for each person, really!!) and the haggadahs, it was close to midnight. I’m worried just thinking about all the things I need to do both for work and for the dinner.

6:00 AM: I dropped in and out of sleep since 3:30, but now I have to wake up. I forgot to mention that the twins are off for spring break this week. I quickly look at the news and feel depressed. I’m working from home, and have three big conference calls. I also owe two presentations and another important document by 2 PM. They have to be perfect because they are going to the top of the food chain. Stressful! I get my coffee and settle down to business until I have to make the twins’ breakfast. I’m working in the master closet so I can close the door for quiet.

7:00 AM – 2 PM: Crunch time. With the back-to-back meetings and the deadlines, I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom or eat. My babysitter comes at 11:00 AM to pick up the twins and take them to lunch and a movie. It’s embarrassing but I let them use screens until then as I don’t know what else to do. I feel guilty about this. I scramble to triple check the multiple presentations and documents that need to be shipped are perfect, and represent exactly what we need to represent.

2:00 PM: I log off, and begin final meal preparations. I clean the downstairs again (how does it get so messy so fast??), roast the shank bone and eggs, set up drinks and appetizer stations, start preparing the salt water, parsley, and nag the twins to take baths and dress nicely. Then we have to run to the store to pick up more matzoh, grape juice, horseradish root, and sparkling water, because those weren’t on my list and they should have been. I spend too much because I go to the local expensive store, something I rarely do since we’re on a strict budget. I’m starting to feel resentful that I am doing so much while Darcy is at work. Why did he want us to host this holiday?

4:00 PM: My in-laws arrive. They bring some of the food in various states of completion which we begin to unpack. We then start to heat up and prepare: salad, matzoh ball soup, noodle kugal, appetizers, dessert. I run up to take a quick shower. Darcy finally arrives.

5:00 PM: Guests arrive. I serve wine, appetizers and chat. My sister-in-law brings another dessert and the charosset. I begin dishing out all the passover plates, while clearing the drinks and appetizer plates. The little ones run around the house in a loop screaming while the twins try to herd them like cats to activities they might enjoy. My headache from Saturday has returned.

5:45 PM: We sit down to the dinner. Darcy has prepared a thoughtful but short service, which the three little ones under five scream over. The twins perform the Four Questions which we had all been agonizing over and preparing for (it’s long, and it’s in Hebrew). There is an argument resulting in the recommendation that Darcy end the service early, and there are some hurt feelings.

6:15 PM: The service is over, my mother-in-law and I clear the passover plates and set up the buffet. People start dishing out their meals.

6:45 PM: I haven’t even sat down yet to eat my meal. I’m starving. I shovel in some food as fast as I can.

7:00 PM: My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter and I begin to clear the plates for dinner and I begin washing them. This will be a two dishwasher load evening, something I actively avoid because I don’t want to waste water. I put the dessert out and the dessert plates and forks. People dig in. The men in the family play basketball. It’s feeling a bit patriarchal to me, and I’m not a fan of that.

7:30 PM: Most people are done with dessert and I start to bus those dishes. I offer coffee and tea, and luckily no one accepts. I think everyone can tell I don’t feel like making any. The twins get in some stupid fight about nothing. I send them to their rooms.

7:45 PM: People start to clear out and say their goodbyes. One of the little ones makes a break for the gate and we all chase her before she reaches the street. Age 3 is such a challenge. I let the twins out of their rooms after they apologize to each other.

8:00 PM: All the guests are gone, and I begin to pick up the house. It looks like a bomb went off, and there are literally over 60 dishes and pieces of silverware that need to be washed, much of it needs to be done by hand. Matzoh is in pieces all over the floor. One of the little ones had an accident and the bathroom is a mess. Darcy feels tired and sick (he likely has a sinus infection) and heads to bed. I feel irked that I’m left to deal with all of this.

10:00 PM: Cleanup completed. The house does not look remotely perfect, but my back feels like crap and I’m worried it might go out. I retreat upstairs and put on a heating pad. I’m so fried I don’t feel like reading my book, so instead I just zone out on my phone, something I’m trying to avoid doing. I feel guilty for using my phone at bedtime, because I know it’s bad for my sleep. The twins are impossible to get to bed. They keep talking, and they are wound up from the dessert. I keep yelling at them to whisper because my back hurts and I don’t want to walk over to their rooms.

11:30 PM: I finally fall asleep.

PART TWO: Narrative Two, to be continued….

 

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One…One…One…

On Saturday, I went to the funeral of someone who died too young. He had to travel a harder road than most of us. From the time he was little, his body began attacking itself. As a young adult he went through organ failure, donation, and failure again. The church was packed with the many people whose lives he affected: there were hundreds in the pews. As the many speakers told us, here was a man who suffered great pain, yet somehow was always there for others. He was a counselor for at-risk youth, he was a great friend. He was always reaching out to others in need. And his friends (of whom there were many), in turn were deeply loyal and supportive.

One officiant wanted to try to explain this man’s life to the mourners. How could anyone going through such pain and disappointment find the will to not only keep going, but help others in the process?

So he told a story.

There once was a mystic who was well known for his philosophical writings. He lived at the top of a tower. As the mystic got older, he became more frail yet he was often sought out by those who admired his philosophy. One of these admirers accompanied him to his tower and noticed he was having tremendous difficulty climbing the steps to the top. How, he was asked, was he able to reach the top every day?

I have two different ways of counting things, he said. For the stairs, I count them this way. “One…One…One…One…One…One…”

But I count my blessings differently. I count them like this: “One…Two…Three…Four…Five…”

The stairs represent life’s challenges. The mystic advises us to take them only one at a time. Don’t look up and become overwhelmed by the many stairs. Don’t worry about how to get to the top. Don’t dwell on the third stair, which you dread might be the worst of all. Each challenge is One. The next step is One. The last step is One.

Where we should do traditional counting, the mystic said, is for the positive things in our life. Family is One. Loved ones is Two. Friends is Three. A roof over our heads is Four. And so on. So often we focus on what we don’t have. What we’re missing. What we’re entitled to. What others have. What we imagine we NEED. We should count each blessing, the mystic said, and remind ourselves of our riches.

I’d never heard such a clear encapsulation of stoicism before. My husband and I were introduced to the philosophy by my dad a while back, and it has become incredibly helpful to us both. I think stoicism has a bad reputation, because many assume being stoic means never being emotional.

Stoicism never pretends life isn’t horrible. It never assumes that challenges won’t rear up and the philosophy won’t promise a perfect life. Instead, the stoics teach us that challenges will happen, terrible events will occur. They advise that the only way to prepare for such things is to count the good things we have, over and over again. Connect with people we love and like, again and again. Be thankful for a warm afternoon with a sultry breeze, for a beautiful vista filled with unseasonal wildflowers. Feel grateful all of your organs are operating properly. Enjoy a chai tea latte, and the smile from a cranky child. Be thankful you can help a friend who is now struggling with their own One. Then, face your challenges. One…One…One…

It takes a lot of practice to just say One. It takes a lot of patience to count the wonderful things in our lives, and not the problems or dissatisfactions.

Aside: The stoics, oddly for a philosophy which knows bad things will happen (fate is big in the ethos) also promotes agency. I am greatly simplifying, but the idea is that if you can control something, and it promotes virtue, you should. In other words:  yes, you should save for retirement.

Is it worth the struggle? Is it worth the journey? Saturday reminded me that at the end of the stairs, at the top of the tower, when we take our last step (One), it’s our impact on those we know and love that is at the top. We can’t control everything that will happen on the stairs of life. Many things that happen on the climb will be terribly unfair. But we can control how we handle ourselves on those stairs.

(No, I’m not being paid by the stoics, but if you want to read about stoicism, this is a good start.)

Stoics: yay or nay? Or is Marie Kondo your guru? Let me know in the comments…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Busy*

ballet

Sometimes I feel compelled to come back here. Hard to say why, but it’s most likely linked to some nebulous desire to be creative. I can read, star and save links to posts all I like, and I can (and do) craft content for work, but sometimes nothing quite does the job like writing down my own story.

The summer has gone by in a flash. Since I’m still lacking the time to craft a lovely fully baked post, here’s the lazy version. Bullet time!

  • After we decided not to go to Europe (for budgetary reasons) flight prices plummeted. Once we rented our house out on Airbnb, we were able to afford a trip after all. Pro tip – hustling. It pays off.
  • We spent two amazing weeks in the UK and France (mostly in Paris and London). I’ll never forget the twins playing with the children of good friends, who are now also parents, in a crowded museum room.
  • This will go down in family lore as the Summer of Harry Potter. The twins are absolutely obsessed and rarely speak of anything else.
    • We fueled the beast by taking them to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Experience, where we drank Butterbeer, dueled and saw the sets and movie costumes with a sold-out crew of mostly adults, interestingly.
    • We also visited sites connected to the books and movies (the wobbly bridge, Oxford campus spots which stood in for Hogswarts).
    • Finally, when The Cursed Child came out, I took them to the midnight party at our local bookstore, where again, the crowd mostly consisted of adults.
  • Which brings me to a serious question. Are kids no longer reading Harry Potter? Is it mostly adults who are fans? I mean, I know MY kids are. And they make sure all their friends are reading Harry Potter. But what about other kids?
  • I still maintain the Harry Potter series will be read in 150 years, like Dickens.
  • My daughter decided of her own volition to audition for one of the world’s most exclusive ballet programs. It was a terrifying time as she danced in front of renowned ballet masters with dozens of others. Then we worried she would be crushed by disappointment (the majority of applicants aren’t accepted). Then, she was accepted. Which was also scary. So, now we begin.
  • Work is continually challenging and pushes me to new places. I’m growing and learning.
  • My brother got married in my backyard. And he and his wife created a magical event. It was like being in a fairy garden, with twinkly lights and beautiful flowers.

So, overall a good summer. This post is filled with good times and happiness, but that’s OK. When things are going well, it’s in our power to acknowledge it.

*Yes, I know “busy” isn’t the best word. But it can be an apt description, on occasion.

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14 Thoughts I Had While Rereading the 5th Harry Potter Book

DSC_0026The twins and I just finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In order for me to read them the next one (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) they will both need to read the first five books on their own. Too much? We’ll see, but I’ve never seen my son lock himself in a room for hours to read like he did after the challenge was accepted. Minecraft, schminecraft.

SPOILERS AHOY!!!

I bought Order of the Phoenix when it came out, at midnight in a bookstore in Dublin, and read the whole thing cover-to-cover on the shortest transatlantic flight ever. I remember that Harry annoyed me, which was new as he never had before. I hated the way he lost his temper at Hermione and Ron, when they were just trying to help. I didn’t understand his righteous anger at those who doubted his account of the events in the fourth book. He was right, so who cared?

Well, 10 years or so have passed and I felt a lot more empathetic to Phoenix Harry this time around. This, and other observations:

  1. My God, Umbridge is the absolute worst. Torturing children for telling the truth? CHILLING.
  2. I loved Luna Lovegood just as much the second time, yet I finally appreciated why she got sorted into Ravenclaw. As spacey as she might seem, she’s actually coolly rational. She’s the one who gets the gang to the Ministry of Magic via the thestrals, after all.
  3. Ginny, never my favorite, starts to gain prominence in Phoenix. I think it’s her Bat Boogey Hex that grates the most. The constant mentioning of her mastery of this charm seems a cheap ploy to make her the heiress to Fred and George at Hogwarts. She’s an amalgam of attributes we’re supposed to like, but she never feels authentic to me. She bugs.
  4. Poor Cho! Yes, her friend was a snitch (and boy does she pay for it). Cho cries a lot, but who wouldn’t be sad if their boyfriend died? However, I get Harry’s feelings too. It’s hard out there for a teenager in love with the girlfriend of his competitor in the Triwizard Tournament who gets smoked by the most evil wizard in a century. I mean, I think we can all relate.
  5. Neville! Phoenix marks a turning point in the evolution of Neville, and he battles HARD at the Department of Mysteries even though he’s sorely overmatched in almost every way. Neville arguably has the least amount of talent in his year, but he works harder than anyone at the Dumbledore Army meetings. We should all try to be like Neville Longbottom.
  6. James Potter IS a tosser, or at least he is in Snape’s Worst Memory. He’s like one of those talented jocks in high school who thinks they are REAL FUNNY but they are actually bullies and everyone secretly dislikes them. We have to take it on the word of others that James changed, but this impression of him really sticks.
  7. Hermione continues to rock steady. Hermione is the real superhero in this book in many ways, and I too am troubled by the classification of her as a sidekick (hat tip, Grumpy Rumblings). She was the only one who knew Voldemort was using Harry.
  8. The Daily Prophet’s attack on Harry’s character is maddening. I know what it is like to go into Gryffindor’s dormitory and have a friend shun you because they believe the Daily Prophet. It sucks, and I get why Harry is so pissed off about it. When the story is being told by someone else, he’s powerless. Not coincidently, things turn around for him when he tells his story to the Quibbler.
  9. Speaking of maddening: Hagrid, ugh. Everyone has had That Friend – the one with the best intentions but who does the dumbest things that are frankly dangerous. Somehow, everything always works out OK in the end. Then you go into a corner and have a quiet breakdown.
  10. Harry’s temper in Phoenix is mostly related to grief, shock and guilt. And well, I think the ALI community can relate to that.
  11. Does Ron have Imposter Syndrome? His terrible goal-keeping improves after his brothers leave, and he has nothing left to prove.
  12. Movie Filch is unspeakably sinister now that I’ve seen the Red Wedding.
  13. The Sirius storyline is so sad. Because I’m shallow, I wonder just how “very good-looking” he was before Azkaban. Like, did he look like Jon Snow?
  14. Phoenix has my favorite Fred and George moment, when they fly into the sunset after unleashing all manner of chaos upon Umbridge.

‘Give her hell from us, Peeves.’

And Peeves, whom Harry has never seen take an order from a student before, swept his belled hat from his head and sprang to a salute as Fred and George wheeled about to tumultuous applause from the students below and sped out of the open front doors into the glorious sunset.

Love Ginny? Hate Neville? Ron = Imposter? Would love to hear your thoughts, even (especiallly?) if you disagree.

 

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Why Bother?

Lately I feel like a real contrarian on this blog. I don’t think anything I have to say will resonate with anyone. Remember when I wrote fashion posts? Me neither. I don’t feel like advising anyone on fashion when I work with millennials who in many cases look and dress better than Gal Meets Glam. I can’t relate much to the constant stream of articles and blog posts about continual self-improvement trends that change every other week.

But here’s something I’ve been thinking, and it is indeed a contrarian position: Most people have within them their own answers on how to improve themselves. These answers are based on an individual calculus of meeting necessary responsibilities, but also enjoying life. And so, I spend my time working on my career, staying on budget, helping my kids do homework, read and learn, entertaining my family (my brother lives here now – woo-hoo!), doing fun stuff occasionally with my husband and participating in sports I actually enjoy. And sleep! I need sleep on the weekend, and I don’t care any more if people make snide comments about it. I need that sleep for optimal performance.

I feel this way because I have embraced the stoics after initially resisting them. The stoics were early to the personal growth canon, but ultimately what they wanted to do was not let life get them down. A lot of exercises they did were to inure themselves to life’s slings and arrows BEFORE they actually happened. Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher, would imagine all the terrible things people would say to him during the course of one day when he first woke up. Then, when people DID say terrible things (I guess Rome was a golden age of insults, and he heard lots of crap in the course of a day like, “Hey Marco, your son is kind of a weasel”), because of the early morning practice, he would be like, “Eh, that wasn’t not so bad.”

That’s one example, but others are quite profound. The stoics would say: counting on the best things happening to you is a recipe for unhappiness. Let go of that. By imagining the worst things happening, you can address how you feel about it, then let go of the panic – then truly appreciate what you have WHILE you have it.

Maggie and Nicole had a really interesting post about complaining. I think complaining is what we do when we think we need – and deserve to have the best things happen to us. We want: partners who are perfect, this house, this body, kids who never give us a moment of trouble. I definitely have my moments of wanting this stuff. But all of these things are NEVER going to happen. So why continually be surprised that they continue to not arrive?

So I no longer complain much. Like Marie Kondo’s method, I think complaining is (mostly) a waste of my time. When I thought more about Maggie and Nicole’s post I realized something interesting. My blog posts with sturm and drang DO get more attention. The highest number of comments I ever got was for some rant about a bad travel day. If I am not going to complain, will anyone care what I have to say? Or comment?

I’m guessing no, so bring on the crickets! But like I told a blogging friend recently, sometimes it’s just nice to know that this platform is here, where we can still write. Even if no one cares – our voices are still here. I might not be talking about what anyone cares about, and so I should expect nothing in return. The stoics would demand no less.

Stoics – yay or nay? Marie Kondo – yay or nay?

 

 

 

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