Archive by Author

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Sibling Relationships Affect Your Development

SiblingsI was watching a high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last month when I was suddenly overcome by a desire to leap out of my seat, jump on stage and start belting out “Any Dream Will Do” with the title character. 

And I suddenly thought: Who on this planet can possibly relate to this impulse to shed my middle aged composure and burst out in song?

And the answer was: my sister. She and I were raised on musical theater, have been to countless Broadway shows, and often communicate with one another via lyrics from our favorite show tunes. 

Sure enough, the next day – as soon as I told her (via email) where I’d been the night before – she responded with a choice lyric from Joseph…to which I replied in kind. 

We all know that sibling relationships are vitally important in shaping who we are and how we behave. Still, I find that I can’t read enough about the precise ways in which sibling dynamics (or the lack thereof) affect our development into adulthood.

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50:

Image: Siblings via Wikimedia Commons

How Mindfulness Apps Energized My Morning Routine

mindfulness

mindfulnessThere are few things I feel strongly enough about in life to champion their virtues to others: The New Yorker. My favorite films about politics. Pop Tarts for grown-ups. But of late, I’ve found that I’ve become an evangelist for something I would never have thought likely: mindfulness apps.

For those not in the know, “mindfulness” is one of the oldest forms of meditation and is rooted in the idea of being consciously aware of being “present” — both in yourself and in the world around you. It isn’t about ignoring your thoughts, but about acknowledging and accepting them (non-judgmentally), while focusing on what you are doing in that moment.

That can all sound very groovy and post-modern, but it’s actually a fairly profound change to how most of us approach our average emotional state, which (I’ll speak personally here) often veers from rampant introspection to frenzied existential flight. While the idea of being more present in our daily lives sounds like something Megan Draper might have given a spin on the verge of the 1970s, a mindfulness practice is very 2015, and I’m glad it is.

Read the rest of this post over at Thrive Global

Image: JohnHain via Pixabay

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

White_House_DCOn occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere

a. Tired of hearing about everyone else’s New Year’s Resolutions? Me too. But I really liked this list of five ways to make positive change in 2017 from Next Avenue, especially #5: slow down.

b. And speaking of positive thinking, I’m thrilled to be a contributor to Thrive Global. Over the holidays, they featured two of my posts: one on five self-help books that changed my life and one on swimming (and adulthood!).

c. As we wind down the Obama presidency, check out this fascinating account of what it’s really like to work in the White House, by those who did it.

d. Whatever your politics, you will also want to watch a final address from Obama’s anger translator.

e. Wordsmiths will love this tool, the wordmapper, which tells you who says what (i.e., “supper” vs “dinner”) in which regions of the U.S.

f. And, finally, those of us who would not so secretly love to move to Scandanavia should all learn these Swedish words. My personal favorite? Ghosta.

Have a great weekend!

Image: The White House via Wikimedia Commons

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

On occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

a. As an ex-political scientist, I thought that this piece in Slate on what political scientists got wrong about the 2016 election was spot on.

b. I was thrilled to learn about Arianna Huffington’s latest business endeavor, Thrive Global, a new website chock full of motivational essays, apps, training tools and more, whose tagline – “More Than Living: Thriving” – sounds just right to me. I will be contributing to Thrive as a writer but today I’m sharing a post I absolutely loved about deep reading.

c. As someone who blogs about adulthood, I’ve long been a fan of the website Full Grown People, that rare beast which dares to tackle long form personal essays online. Here’s a fantastic essay about what online dating is really like and how it doesn’t always have to be a trainwreck.

d. And for lighter fare, The Conversation UK had a great write up of the 2016 Bad Sex in Fiction Awards.

e. Finally, borrowing from my day job, this year’s winners of the World Bank’s CGAP Photography awards, depicting financial inclusion across the globe are absolutely breathtaking. Do check out the one labelled “Always with a Mother.”

Have a lovely weekend and a fantastic holiday season! See you in 2017!

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Improve A Long Term Relationship

two gannetsOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.

So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50….

Image: Northern Gannets by Al Wilson via Nature’s Pics Online 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Billy Joel Songs That Speak To Middle Age

billy joel

billy joelI’ve been listening to Billy Joel again. Yes, I say that loudly, proudly and unabashedly. If you grew up in the 1980s as I did, it’s pretty impossible *not* to be in love with Billy Joel. When “The Stranger” was released in 1977, it was all anyone listened to for several years.

My husband gets this. He’s the one who got me started on my new Billy Joel kick when, upon surfing the internet one day, he came across a series of videos where Billy not only performed a set of songs before a live audience, but also explained the meaning of the songs as he went through them. Side note to Billy Joel fans – (in case anyone who is *not* a Billy Joel fan has gotten this far into this blog post) – he doesn’t like Piano Man all that much…Sniff.

Particularly as I get older, I find that Billy Joel’s music speaks to me even more than it did back in junior high.To wit, five Billy Joel songs with particular resonance for middle age:

1. James – This song comes from one of Billy’s earlier albums, Turnstiles. It’s mostly a song about those early, intense friendships we have in childhood and adolescence that often dissipate as we grow up and choose different paths in life: “I went on the road. And you pursued an education…” I always feel incredibly sad when I hear the lyrics to this song, because it reminds me of the bittersweet, awkward feelings such relationships inspire, especially if you ever find yourself reunited with said friend and realize that you have very little in common anymore. But it’s also a song about regret, which is, for me anyway, one of the central emotions that we must learn to navigate in midlife. As Billy asks his erstwhile friend: “Do you like your life? Can you find release? Did you ever write your masterpiece?” Ouch. Most of us didn’t end up writing our masterpieces. But the song ends with some sage adulthood advice, encouraging James – and all of us – to follow our own dreams, not those set by others: “Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody.” So true.

2. New York State of Mind – Closely linked to regret is nostalgia, another inescapable feature of adulthood. I grew up in the tri-state New York area and while I’ve subsequently lived in many cities across many continents, there are a handful of Billy Joel songs that bring me right back to the place which, for me, will always be home: “I don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside…” For me, this song readily calls up the summer in college I spent living on Riverside Drive in an impossibly posh apartment one of my father’s friend managed to obtain for me and trying every bar in town…the numerous times my mother hauled all four of my siblings into the city to see previews of the original cast performances of shows like Evita, Annie and Sweeney Todd…the smell of pretzels mixed in with the city’s gritty streets. (Note to the super fans: if you want to see a truly miraculous Billy Joel moment, watch this video where he allows a very talented piano player from Vanderbilt University to spontaneously accompany him while he sings this song.)

3. Vienna -“Slow Down, you crazy child…you’re so ambitious for a juvenile...” Dear Lord, do I feel that this song was written for me. As someone who has lived much of her life at a gallop, I’ve had a very hard time learning that life is not a crew race, it’s more of a marathon. As Billy enjoins us: “Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.” So when I hear Billy sing this song, I always feel like it’s a sort of musical version of mindfulness practice.

4. I’ve Loved These Days. Another gem. This is ostensibly a song about people who’ve been overdoing it – living it to the hilt with drugs, sex and God knows what else – but knowing that very soon they’re going to need to stop their outrageous lifestyle and get real. (Sort of the Brideshead Revisited of pop music, if you will). But for me, it’s always been a song about break ups. About those terribly clear moments when you suddenly know that a relationship is over but you still want to squeeze whatever joy that you can out of the final hours/days/weeks together: “So, before we end, and then begin, we’ll drink a toast to how it’s been. A few more hours to be complete, a few more nights on satin sheets…” It’s a song about the inevitability of loss and recognizing that all good things must come to an end – another bittersweet reality of growing up. (n.b.: This was my high school’s senior prom theme, which makes it all the more touching.)

5. Allentown. An ode to all those middle-aged folks who once had a job and a company and a place in society where it all made sense. And now, their entire their lives have been upended (by globalization/by modernity/by the internet/by time/fill in the blank…) and they don’t know how to be anymore: “Well we’re waiting here in Allentown for the Pennsylvania we never found. For the promise our teachers gave, if we worked hard, if we behaved…” In the year of the angry white voter, this song could be ripped straight outta 2016.

How about you? Do you dare to own your secret passion for Billy Joel and, if so, which are your favourite tunes?

Image: Billy Joel by David Shankbone via Flickr

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

On occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

a. I’m big on regret as a central theme of adulthood. Here’s a handy list of 15 things you’ll regret when you’re older. Learning a second language is a biggie for many of my friends.

b. And as a big believer in mindfulness, I really enjoyed this detailed, step-by-step instruction on how to prepare a cup of tea…mindfully.

c. If you’re into data visualizations – and sewers – I thought this historical trip through London’s sewers by The Guardian was amazing.

d. I’m a huge Leonard Cohen fan and loved this posthumous tribute to Leonard Cohen in The New York Times. Even better is Cohen’s acceptance speech upon finally winning a Grammy.

e. Finally, whatever your political preferences, you’ll enjoy this BBC’s round up of Biden and Obama memes about the Trump Presidency.

Have a fantastic weekend everybody!

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

On occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

a. Regardless of how you feel about the outcome of this week’s U.S. Presidential election, Thomas Mallon’s fictional take on 2016 in The New Yorker is, hand’s down, the best thing I’ve read about this electoral season.

b. Also on the election, The Financial Times had a superb piece on how to re-visualize the U.S. electoral map, while the New York Times had a fantastic rendering of what swing states look like from space.

c. For all my expat friends out there, here’s a great piece from Global Geneva on what it’s like to be a trailing spouse.

d. And while we’re on the subject of marriage, Bloomberg explores the economics of dining as a couple. Personally? I favor autarky.

e. Finally, I thought I’d end with 15 brutally honest illustrations that sum up adulthood. This week, #9 about how long it really takes to get to Friday, has particular resonance.

 

And on that note, Happy Friday! Have a great weekend…

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

On occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

a. If you’ve ever worried that you’re spending too much time on screens…you are. Read Andrew Sullivan’s confessions of an internet addict over on New York Magazine.

b. If you’re into podcasts, I can’t recommend Nicholas Quah’s newsletter, Hotpod – about trends in the industry -highly enough. Hugely informative but funny and thoughtful at the same time. A model for all of us.

c. For those of us (cough) who have firmly entered midlife, I was delighted to discover the online magazine, Next Avenue. Some great material there.

d. Another great resource for bloggers is Bad Redhead Media’s #Mondayblogs. I plan to participate this coming Monday on twitter.

e. Finally, if, like me, you like to swear, here are five fascinating facts about swearing on The Conversation.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Advice for Writers Struggling with Genre: Ask This Question

bookshelf

bookshelfIf you’ve ever thought about writing a book, the very first thing anyone will tell you is to figure out which “shelf” it will sit on in a bookstore. It’s not enough to simply have a topic, or even an angle into a topic. You need to know who’s going to buy this book. Because book publishing, like anything else, is a business and the key to a successful business is knowing your market.

I knew all of this, of course. Over the years, I’ve been in enough writing groups and consumed enough resources devoted to the art and science of getting published that I knew that were I someday to approach an agent with an idea for a book, I’d need to be able to provide a cogent answer to this question.

And then someday arrived and I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to answer it.

Let me back up. I’ve been working for several months on a book about…drumroll please…swimming and adulthood. After more than 25 years as a “casual runner” – someone who ran three times a week to stay fit – my body was telling me that that I could no longer run. The reasons why I needed to stop running aren’t all that interesting. (Well, OK, something called Piriformis Syndrome, if you must know…) But the upshot was that, on the advice of my doctor, I began – somewhat reluctantly – to swim.

This obviously not an entirely new topic for me. This blog’s strapline – “Finding Yourself In Adulthood” – is all about conceptualizing adulthood as a journey, not a destination. But whereas the blog tackles topics ranging from work and parenting to therapy and the arts in a much more general way, the daily act of swimming enabled me to analyse these subjects through a single prism. In essence, swimming serves as a metaphor through which to explore what it means to be a grown up in the contemporary age.

But even after I started writing this book, I still struggled with where it fit on the proverbial bookshelf. Was it an extended meditation on swimming itself, Like Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies?  Was it a sports memoir a la Gerald Marzaroti’s Late to the Ball about picking up a new skill (tennis) in midlife? Was it a humorous, loosely themed take on daily life, modelled on David Sedaris or Sandra Tsing Loh?  Or a was it a collection of more serious essays like Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable?

On alternate days it felt a bit like all of these.

It didn’t help that when I showed my précis (2 page overview) of the book to a few friends I got very different advice. One friend thought that it needed to be funnier, more like my daily status updates which I post on Facebook recounting the cast of characters I run into at my local swimming pool. Another friend thought that it should be a novel. Someone else advised me to convert it into an inspirational journey, the sort of Eat, Pray, Love of swimming.

Instead of writing the book, I began to obsess about genre.

And then, one day, at the tail end of a dinner party while chatting about this problem with a friend, I had my Eureka moment. My friend is a novelist who has written several novels in the Lad Lit genre and is on the cusp of becoming a sensation with his latest work-in-progress, which has already been snatched up by a major New York imprint. (He’s also sold the film rights. As he put it so beautifully, “Who knew that becoming an overnight success took so long?”)

After I regaled him with all of my anxieties about what the book could and should be, he looked at me and simply said: “Write the book that only you could write.”

It wasn’t rocket science. Nor was some dark, heretofore unknown secret of the publishing world. But for me, it was sort of like that age-old adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” And just like that, I immediately felt better.

Because I realised in that moment that I actually *had* been writing the book that only I could write all along. While it had elements of several different styles, at the end of the day the book I was writing was essentially a self-help book, albeit one very much rooted in my own experience. (I’ve since learned that there is a name for this sub-genre – self-help memoir or prescriptive memoir. Thank you, Jane Friedman.)

For me, my friend’s throwaway line (heartfelt, to be sure, even if infused with a few glasses of red wine), was clarifying: I need to stop obsessing over what other people think my book is meant to be. That comes later. For now, the book is already what I need it to be: a place to bring my voice and my insights to a topic I’ve long been passionate about with a fresh angle.

In a year where my new year’s resolution was to embrace authenticity, that feels pretty good.

Image: Bookshelves by Hernán Poo-Camaño via Flickr