Archive | Wisdom of the Ages

Why Garry Shandling’s Death Made Me Cry

garry shandling

Garry_Shandling_(2076448529)From time to time, I’ve indulged in an exercise where I pretend that I’m famous and am being interviewed for one of those glossy magazine profiles where they ask you to list things like your favourite meal or your favourite film. When they get to the question where they ask about my favorite comedian, I’ve always known that I wouldn’t hesitate before answering “Garry Shandling.

Shandling – who died at his home on Thursday at the age of 66 from causes as yet unknown – was never a household name in the way of Robin Williams or Chris Rock. Still, Shandling had an almost cult-like following among people like me, for whom his brilliant 1990’s sitcom – The Larry Sanders Show – changed our understanding of what television was and could be. He was also clearly both a visionary and a mentor for an entire generation of comedians, as the outpouring of heartfelt tributes to him last week from the likes of Bob Odenkirk and Ellen De Generes demonstrate, not to mention Conan O’Brian’s very moving, personal tribute on his show.

The Larry Sanders Show was a behind-the-scenes send up of what it was like to work at a late night television show. It ran on HBO for six seasons was universally recognised as the harbinger for subsequent pathbreaking television shows like The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock and others. (If you’ve never seen The Larry Sanders Show I’ve got good news for you – HBO is about to re-release it.)

But Shandling – a practicing Buddhist – stayed largely out of the limelight after The Larry Sanders Show ended, save the odd cameo here and there in film, TV and as a host on assorted award shows. I myself had nearly forgotten about him until I saw him on The Jon Stewart show a few years back (Stewart being yet another comedic superstar – like Judd Apatow and Sarah Silverman – who made his name on The Larry Sanders Show).

Read the rest of this post at The Broad Side

Image: Garry Shandling via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Make New Year’s Resolutions (And Keep Them!)

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, it’s that time of year again. The New Year rolls around and my inbox/RSS Feed/Facebook page is inundated with the resolutions of friends and strangers far and near: Lose five pounds! Run a marathon! Write that #$%@ novel!

I’m a big fan of making resolutions. (As those of us blessed with an overly health super-ego tend to be.) Not just because they impose self-discipline for things like leading a healthier lifestyle. But also because – if you choose your goals wisely – they can genuinely make you happier.

And apparently, I’m not alone. Research shows that 40-45% of adults make one or more resolutions each year.

The trick, of course, is following through. One study in the U.K. showed that as many as 78% of those who set resolutions for themselves in the New Year failed to stick with them.

Bummer.

I personally think that one way that you keep your resolutions alive is by saying them out loud. Because I firmly believe that if you tell other people what you’re shooting for, you’re more likely to commit to a goal.

(I’ve tested this strategy out. After announcing on this blog couple of years back that I was going to take Saturdays off for “me time,” people still chide me if they discover me lurking on Facebook or Twitter when I’m supposed to be resting. I love that they do this!)

In that spirit, I’m going to share my own resolutions for this year:

1. Get a job. Yup, that’s still top of the list. While my She The People gig at the Washington Post is fantastic, it’s just that: a gig. So I am still out there pounding the pavement: networking, sending in applications and combing job listings. I do, however, have a brand new (top secret!) strategy for my job hunt, which I’ll reveal when (God willing) the time comes. So that, at least, feels like a new wrinkle on an old-ish goal.

2. Be more romantic. While we were in Argentina, I couldn’t help but notice how affectionate, physically, Latins are with one another. It’s been so long since I lived in Latin America that I’d completely forgotten that aspect of life down there. The importance of things like hugging for marital success has long been documented. Seeing this on action in Argentina reminded me that even when you’ve been with your partner for awhile, you really need to fight the instinct to take him or her for granted. Which is why I’ve resolved to do more things one-on-one with my husband in the New Year, including the odd romantic getaway, when/as/if we can afford one. (See #1). I don’t know about you, but I want to die like this couple.

3. Ease up on my kids. Yeah, I know. I’ve said that one before too. I tend to be a bit of a control freak where my kids are concerned. Part of this is situational: I work at home so I have ample opportunity to “hover.” And part of it is just my make-up. But one of my close friends took me aside during our trip to Argentina and suggested – in the friendliest, I’ve-been-there sort of way – that I ease up a bit, particularly with my son. If I loosen the reins just a bit where he’s concerned, she convinced me – based on her own experience – that I’ll not only be doing him a favor (vis independence, less need to act out later on, etc. etc.) but myself as well. (It’s hard work trying to control other people’s lives!) She wasn’t the first person to suggest this; but somehow, coming from a close friend who herself has a tendency to helicopter parent, I actually listened. So far, so good on that one. (More to follow on this, rest assured.)

4. Eat less meat. You may wonder, after I waxed rhapsodic about the joys of eating Barbeque last week, how I could possibly now suggest that I would renounce eating meat? I’m not actually resolved to stop eating meat altogether. (Although part of me wishes that I could.) But yes, I’d like to move in the direction of becoming a Flexitarian – i.e. eating less meat without becoming a vegetarian – a new trend that’s gaining currency in the U.S. (Hey man, we all need a group!) I just think that I’d be happier and healthier consuming less flesh. (And perhaps if I substitute the word “flesh” for “meat” on a regular basis, I will become a vegetarian!)

5. Discover the United Kingdom. We’ve traveled a fair bit since moving to London five and a half years ago. But the vast majority of that travel has been outside the country. I’d like to change that. I feel like I really don’t know my adopted country nearly as well as I should and that there’s no time like the present to alter that. First stop? Wales. Because once you hear someone pronounce the name of the world’s longest railroad station, you, too, will think: I gotta meet those Welsh folks.

What are you resolved to do in 2012?

 Image: hugging by lanier67 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: FiveThings I Learned From Being Sick

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

For the last four days, I’ve been down for the count.  A horrible stomach virus swept through our household, claiming first my daughter, then my husband and myself (simultaneously) and then, finally, pulling my son down with us.

Unlike my daughter and my husband, who suffered a shorter, more violent episode of said bug – (and yes, I’ll spare you the gory details) – mine was of a more protracted nature. No vomiting. No extended stays in the bathroom. Instead, intense stomach cramps, chills and a low-grade fever. And an overwhelming sense of fatigue every time I stood up or tried to do anything other than drink Seven Up.

It doesn’t help that I saw Contagion last weekend – which is enough to make you think that every time you cough, you’re about to turn blue and start frothing at the mouth. (Other than that, I’d love to look like Gwyneth Paltrow, thank you very much.)

But I’m slowly emerging from the death throes of this thing. And as I do so, I realize that I learned a few things from this most recent brush with mortality:

1. Your kids are more independent than you realize. I wrote a post not long ago in which I vowed that in this new school year, I would do less for my kids. That resolution was partly driven by my own desire to be less of a control freak (hey, good luck with that!) and partly by the feeling that as they rounded the corner to eight and eleven respectively, my children ought to be taking more responsibility for themselves. And boy, lemme tell ya, there’ s nothing like having not one, but two (!) parents incapacitated to demonstrate what your kids are truly capable of. One day, my daughter (8) made lunch for my son (soon-to-be 11) and volunteered – without being asked – to sew a badge onto his football jersey. Meanwhile, my son, who’s favorite catch-phrase of the moment is “CBB” (which stands for “Can’t be bothered“) was suddenly jumping up to toast his own bread, take his own asthma medicine, get himself to football practice and back and – miraculously! – put himself to bed without listening to the iPod or reading a book. (I really *must* do this more often…)

2. Old movies really do rock. I wrote a post around this time last year when I was similarly afflicted by some hideous bug entitled Five Comfort Activities When You’re Sick. Right up there on that list was watching old movies. And you know what? It’s still there. This year, we cracked open some Sherlock Holmes. As we’d already made our way through all of the early versions of the series starring Basil Rathbone, we began to plumb the depths of the 1980s series starring Jeremy Brett and David Burke. Bliss!

3. Cars seem less of a luxury when you’re ill. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that I am fairly fervently anti-car, for health, environmental and aesthetic reasons. Nonetheless, I would by lying if I didn’t tell you that I miss driving when I’m ill. Because when you’re sick, there’s something really nice about being able to jump in the car in your PJ’s and zip down to the local corner store to pick up some Saltines (or rich tea biscuits, depending on the continent) and be back at your perch on the couch in five minutes flat. Because, seriously. Having to walk to the corner store when you’re under the weather? CBB, man. CBB.

4.  The homeless are deserving of our sympathies. There was a point, early on in this illness, when I was required to spend about six hours outside when I really wasn’t up to it. My daughter had a dress rehearsal for a play, followed immediately by a dance recital, and there was simply no way that I couldn’t accompany her. So during the two-hour rehearsal, I took myself down into the basement of a local theatre, lay down on a sofa in my gigantic ski parka, clutched my smart phone to my chest, and took a two-hour nap. Throughout the ensuing two hours, workers would periodically shuffle through the room and ask me to switch sofas or gently prod me in one direction or the other so that they could clean up or rearrange chairs. And I realized – in my half-awake, feverish state – that this is what it feels like to be homeless. And I felt – quite sincerely – a newfound sympathy for their plight.

5. I do too much. Period. Remember last week’s Yuletide post about my not-so-relaxed-downhill-slalom-course-into-the-holidays? Nothing like a stomach virus to force you to drop everything and sleep. Overnight, I began missing deadlines, canceling meetings, and turning off the answering machine to avoid the sound of the telephone. And you know what? It felt great. There’s a lesson in here, folks. For me, definitely. And for some of you as well, I suspect.

Happy Holidays. Be Happy. Be Healthy. Be Relaxed.

 

Sick as a Dog…by Chewy Hooey via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Lemons

And we’re back…..

Well, sort of.

With luck, this blog is now – after 12 days or so – reaching anyone who subscribes to it, whether by RSS feed or by email.

If, however, you try to access it via Google, Chrome or any of the other splendid search engines out there, you are still likely to encounter some sort of warning telling you that if you click on this site your body will burst into flames, your bank account will depleted and a plague of locusts will infest the entire planet. (But hey, go ahead and click. It’s your funeral!)

I once wrote a post entitled Crisis Management: Lessons From France about staying calm during a crisis. (Note: You probably won’t be able to read that post right now. See above). It concerns a trip my family made to France during a train strike a couple of years back. While we basically flipped out as we a. missed our scheduled train b. caught one four hours later and then c. had to sit on our bums in the aisle for the entire two-hour journey, I noticed that all around us, the French were just drinking wine, laughing and completely chilling out.

Granted, French people have way more experience with strike activity than we Americans do. But they just took it all in stride. Fast forward to last week. Sure, I was incredibly frustrated that some alien virus had snuck into my blog and basically destroyed it – over Thanksgiving, no less – which meant that my wonderful web guru was (quite understandably) not on hand for most of the week to help me out. But there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Radical acceptance, to borrow another phrase from myself.

But I learned something else from that excursion to France which I forced myself to remember several times over the past week. It comes from that old adage: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Because it wasn’t only my blog that went pear-shaped last week, as we say over here. I had a job interview that didn’t quite work out. And – oh yes – there was the power outage that nearly prompted a divorce. (Of course, it could have been worse. At least I’m not Herman Cain.) So here’s the lemonade, in reverse order:

a. Exhibit A: Power Outage. Sunday morning. Furiously trying to throw together an apple pie for belated, Expat Thanksgiving Day celebration here in London. Clock is ticking because I meant to do this the night before forgot to defrost butter. Also rushing because of new-found zeal for Zumba and I wanted to squeeze in class at 11 while pie was in oven. Then entire endeavor grounds to a halt as computers, lights, stove, heating and hot water all shut off abruptly. Takes approximately 90 minutes to diagnose problem, at least half of which is consumed by furious bickering with husband over assorted switches, circuits and general mayhem that ensues.

Silver lining?: He eventually diagnoses problem, which appears to reside with short circuit in washer/dryer, and rest of house resumes activity. Realize that I could never have done this on my own and feel instantly grateful for the division of labor within our marriage, and all resentment lifts.

b. Exhibit B: Job interview with fabulous organisation in London that appears to be a great fit with both my interests and skill set. Go in to do an eight-hour trial “work day” to see if it’s a good fit. It isn’t, but mostly because the position that’s open isn’t what I’m after at this point in my career. Feel really dejected afterwards as for a brief moment, I thought I had this whole job thing all sewn up. And now I’m back to the drawing board.

Silver lining?  I have a much stronger sense of what I want – and don’t want – from my professional life right now. I’d never have known that with as much certainty if I hadn’t have gone in and tried this on.

c. Exhibit C: The Blog. Was absolutely devastated not to be blogging as there were – as always – so many things I wanted to share with this community.

Silver lining? I really missed blogging. And that was perhaps the best lemonade of all.

 

Image: Lemon by Chugy via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Why We All Should Be Teachers

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

There’s an old saying that there are a handful of jobs everyone should have because they teach you essential life skills. I’ve heard different variations on this theme but they essentially boil down to:

*serving food (empathy)

*retail clerk (patience and respect)

*customer service (kindness)

*manual labor (diligence and a work ethic)

I’ve done all four of these along the way and agree with the analysis, although  my first job as a waitress also taught me why it’s important to have a good boss.

But today I’d like to add a fifth to the mix: teaching a class.

As you know, I returned to the class room last week after a ten-year hiatus, to teach a journalism seminar to some secondary school students in London. I’m pleased to report that it went very well:  the students seemed really keen to learn what I had to teach, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

But this intensive, two-hour session with a bunch of 17 year-olds also reminded me of some crucial life lessons which I thought I’d share. Here are five things you learn from teaching:

1. Giving back is meaningful. OK, cue the violins. I know this sounds cheesy: tis’ better to give than to receive and all that good stuff.  But sometimes cliches are true. And it turns out, all those things that people say about teaching really are right on the money: It’s rewarding. It’s meaningful. It’s inspiring. When you see a kid not just completing the assignment you gave – but doing it with spark and enthusiasm and panache – you say to yourself, “Wow. I just made a difference in someone’s life.” The bottom line?  Helping others will actually make you happier too.

2. You learn by doing. I think one of the most valuable life lessons you get from teaching is that it forces you to roll with things. You can have the best lesson plan in the world. (And it will surprise exactly no one to learn that I was quite possibly the most 0ver-prepared person ever to grace that particular school’s doorstep.) But when you’re actually in the trenches, you often need to throw out the outline. A writer friend of mine who’s been teaching secondary school boys for the last couple of years here in London put it this way: “Sure, have a lesson plan when you walk in. But be sure you’ve got plan B,C,D in your briefcase. Because more often than not, you need to improvise.” How true it is.

3. The best part of life is surprises. Further to (2), teaching also surprises you. You find yourself telling anecdotes about your own life that you hadn’t anticipated. The part of the lesson plan you thought was weakest turns out to be the most useful. The kid in the back who’s writing with his headphones on (gasp!) produces a beautiful piece of work. Another kid who impressed you with how bright he was during the discussion turns out to have real difficulties when it comes to writing. Particularly if you approach each class with a beginner’s mindset, you’ll start noticing things about your teaching – and your students – that you hadn’t realized were there.

4. You laugh at yourself. This is key. When you’re a teacher you can’t take yourself too seriously. That’s true with any age group, but it’s particularly true when you’re teaching teens because they are inherently skeptical of authority. About two minutes into my presentation last week, I announced that in addition to being American, I also talked very fast, so they should feel free to interrupt me if they didn’t understand something. Suddenly, a boy’s arm shot up in the back. “Yes?” I asked. “Give us an example,” he said. “Of?” I responded. “Of you talking fast.” So right then and there, before I’d even begun the official lesson, I imitated for the class the way that I motivate my kids to get ready in the morning in the frenzy of the school run. (Hint: I sound like a swim coach and it isn’t very pretty.) We all laughed and that instantly broke the ice.

5. They call you ‘Miss.’ Or Sir. At least here in London. I don’t usually fuss too much over titles. But as someone who’s perpetually trying to achieve that elusive element of gravitas,I loved that the kids addressed me as “Miss.”It reminded me of Zoe Heller’s fabulous novel Notes On A Scandal (without the corresponding affair with the 16 year-old boy, that is.) And I instantly felt like I belonged there.

How about you? Have you ever taught a class and what did you learn?

 

Image: Teacher by ben110 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Towards A Definition Of Adulthood (With A Nod To Judaism)

Over on The Happiness Project today, Gretchen Rubin is grappling with how we use vocabulary to define our goals.

Some people, she notes, prefer to talk about intentions rather than Gretche’s preferred “resolutions.” Others would like to discard the term “Happiness Project” altogether; while embracing the same goals, they want to dissect “life’s journey.” Still others don’t want to talk about happiness at all; they’d rather achieve a state of joy.

It’s an interesting discussion because it gets at the power of words to convey something essential, as well as how personal that vocabulary needs to be to have meaning for each and every one of us.

The post really struck a chord with me because – like Gretchen with happiness – I feel like I ought to have a working definition of “adulthood” on this blog. On my “about” page, I talk about adulthood as a journey, not a destination. And that’s very much how I think about it.

But last week, I was actually handed a definition of adulthood that really resonated and so I wanted to share it.

I came across this definition while viewing a rough cut of the fabulous film, Neverbloomers, by the Canadian filmmaker Sharon Hyman.  Some of you may remember Sharon as my E-BFF whom I met a year or so ago when I happened upon her website and realized that she was a comrade in arms. Sharon is in the process of finalizing her documentary, which is all about what she calls “GrownUphood” (love it!) and what that term means to different people (including herself).

There were lots of things that struck me about this film (which I can’t wait to promote up, down and sideways when it comes out later this year). But for now, I don’t think I spoil anything by revealing that in one scene, Sharon interviews a Rabbi about his views on adulthood. And here’s what he says:

“Being grown up,” he says, “is the ability to fully integrate that which we know, practically.” He then goes on to reference the Kabbalah, which has a Hebrew word for this: daas. According to the Rabbi,”daas”  is usually translated as “to know,” but it also means “to connect.”

So for this rabbi anyway, adulthood is a state in which all the knowledge that we possess connects or “clicks” and becomes an integrated feeling which, in turn, influences our behavior. And the intellectual faculty that allows for such integration is a uniquely adult talent which one only develops later in life.

Not to go all Fiddler On The Roof on you (“The Rabbi has spoken!“) but I love the concept of daas. I feel like it goes to the heart of what we are – all of us – going through as we age: a process of integrating and connecting our knowledge in a way that permeates our feelings and our behavior. At a minimum, I feel that this idea very much encapsulates what this blog is all about.

So that, my friends, is my profound thought for the day, courtesy of Rabbi Moshe New in Montreal whom I’ve never even met.

You see, I told you. I was meant to be Jewish after all.

*****

Here is my very last post for Politics Daily, which, quite sadly, shut down earlier this week. (More on that another time.) It’s a post on Social Networking and Local Government. I enjoyed writing it every bit as much as I’ve enjoyed writing all of my posts there. Vaya con Dios, PD.

Image: Fiddler On The Roof: Tevye and the Fiddler by Thwaites Theatre Photos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Life Lessons From My Yoga Teacher

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been awhile since I posted about yoga. And I think the reason is that just when I thought I’d found the right teacher – the one I *really* clicked with – she got pregnant and went away to have a baby. (How dare she!)

Like most things, yoga is all about the teacher. You can be doing the most amazing sun salutations on earth, but if you aren’t with a teacher who really speaks to you, it just isn’t going to work.

Fortunately for me, I’ve developed a new yoga teacher-crush. In fact, I’m so in love with this new person’s teaching method that I’ve completely upended my schedule so that I can take her class every Thursday morning from 9:45-11:15, which is normally when I’m sitting at my desk.

But it’s totally worth it. I come out of there feeling like I’ve taken a drug. In addition to the stretching, here are five things I’ve learned about yoga – and life! –  from working with her:

1. Be prepared. One of the reasons I knew that this lady was the one for me was when I noticed her note cards. Some yoga teachers come in with a few things scribbled on the back of a napkin. Others come in with absolutely nothing and wing it. But my yoga teacher comes in with about 5-7 incredibly detailed note cards upon which she’s written down precise instructions for exactly what she’ll teach that morning. And you know what? It shows. Her classes have a logic and – dare I say it? – a flow that is the product of strict preparation and hard work. I’m not exactly a slacker. But it’s nice to be reminded – outside of a work context – that there’s a pay off for working hard.

2. Push Yourself. In addition to her preparedness, what I really love about this new teacher is how she structures the class. She starts out really mellow and gets you thinking that it’s going to be a gentle class. But as you go on, you start repeating the poses over and over, each time with a bit more difficulty. And you realize that she’s actually extending you quite a bit from where you started. I think the reason she does this is to show us all that we can and should do more with our bodies (and ourselves). And sometimes, it’s that extra little push that really matters. Not just to really get the most out of a given stretch, but to have the confidence to know that you are capable of doing more.

3. Be Encouraging. At the same time, she’s hardly a drill sergeant. She’s incredibly supportive of the class and really goes out of her way to praise the students, as long as she sees that they are trying. As someone who’s currently struggling with how to motivate and encourage my kids to do their best without turning them into pressure cookers, this teaching method is highly instructive.

4. Be Self-Aware. Normally, I hate it when yoga teachers talk too much during class. If it’s not about the poses, I really don’t want to hear all the poetry and other gobbledy-gook about self-development, etc. It’s too distracting. But this lady won me over the time during Savasana (corpse pose) when she told a story about how she’d lost her temper with one of her kids. She narrated how she’d lashed out at her child for doing something silly with an art project because of the teacher’s issues with her own parents. It was the way that she told it – and the way your heart ached for both her and her child – that reminded me, once again, that the very first step towards fixing attitudes and behaviors in yourself that you don’t like is – per Alcoholics Anonymous – to recognize them. Which is so very, very key to parenting, among other things.

5. Breathe. I think it takes awhile when you’re doing yoga regularly to understand why the breathing is so important. At first blush, it would seem that doing the stretches correctly is way more important than remembering to breathe. I’ve been doing yoga for nearly four years and it was only a week ago that the breathing thing really sunk in. As my teacher noted, “Your breath is what centers you. It is what makes you present and anchors the entire pose.” And just like that, a light bulb went off. Focusing on the breathing helps you to really zoom in on the here and now, something which some of us (cough) struggle with at times.

Image: Hatha Yoga Video Lunge Pose – Hanurasana by myyogaonline via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Five Reasons Standing In Line Can Be Fun

Well, I’m back from my staycation. I wasn’t sure how I’d get on running around London with both kids for seven days straight while my husband was out-of-town on a business trip. But we had a great time.

We visited Buckingham Palace (or as my daughter calls it “Bucklingham Palace.”) We took a tour of the Houses of Parliament.  We made a special trip up to the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire to see the place where this great author did his magic. And we spent a day at the seaside out in East Anglia.

Each of those trips was a lot of fun. But in some ways, the most fun of all was the day we spent…standing in line. Yes, you heard that correctly. We spent the better part of one day just waiting in a long queue with nothing to do but wait.

The occasion was the opening of a new art store in my neighborhood. As a promotional offer, the store was giving out 50 pounds worth of free art supplies to the first 1,000 people who visited last Saturday. And all you had to do was spend 10 pounds at the store to collect the prize.

The doors opened at 10 am and we arrived at 9:50, fresh on the heels of a full English breakfast at our favorite cafe. By that time, the line to get into the store was already snaking around two full city blocks but I figured – meh – the kids don’t have a haircut until 11:00 a.m…what have we got to lose by just hanging out here for an hour and killing some time?

Four hours later, I had good reason to rethink that logic. But the truth is, we *did* have a good time. Here’s what I learned about why standing in lines – even long ones – can be fun:

1. You feel part of a community. One of the nicest parts of standing in a queue all day long in the middle of Hampstead Village was realizing just how many people I know in my neighborhood. I saw friends…neighbors…teachers…merchants. Those of us who formed part of the line saluted one another in solidarity. Those who were just passing by came up to say “hi.” It was such a lovely – an unexpected – reminder of the many different ways we all connect to our respective communities and how broad and diverse those communities are. (Hidden bonus? I have now confirmed my long-held suspicion that should I ever decide to run for mayor of this village, I’ve got it in the bag…)

2. You meet new people. Even more fun than running into old friends and acquaintances was the chance to meet new people. I stood next to a mother from an adjoining neighborhood and an administrator from her daughter’s school and chatted to them for the better part of four hours. By the end, we were already fast friends and had moved on from chit-chat about schools to lengthy discussions about our respective blogs (confirming my suspicion that everyone’s a blogger) and the perils of cell phones for your brain. When I had to say good-bye to them, I actually felt sad!

3. You rethink your surroundings. I’ve long been of the opinion that Brits just don’t get customer service. You have to chase down your waiter when you want your bill. Phone calls to customer service teams go unanswered. Brits also don’t get the whole concept of promotions – a sale here means something like 10% off on a rack of last year’s clothing. So to witness a store actually doing a proper giveaway – where you get something valuable (and four hours or not, the art supplies in that bag were truly something!) – is unheard of. And I’d never seen a line that long anywhere in London – even on the day the iPhone 4 was released! Friends tell me that there were still people there after 6 pm when the store closed. All of which made me realize that things really are changing around here.

4. You grasp group psychology. By the time we were well into the third hour of our wait, I’d forgotten what we were even waiting for. I’m sure I’m not alone. If you stand in front of a door long enough, after a while all you focus on is getting through that door. They could have handed me a toothpick by the time I made it to the front of the queue and I would have been delighted. I’m sure there’s some handy theorem in behavioral economics that can explain the psychology behind this. But there’s no question that the longer I waited, the less I cared about the loot that awaited us. I just wanted to get in.

5. You let go of schedules. This was perhaps the most valuable lesson of all. As a parent, I often have an irrational fear of down-time. I think that I need to schedule in every moment of the day lest…well, I don’t know what “lest.” I’m just driven to fill up their days, especially when my husband is out of town. But my stint standing in line that day taught me that sometimes just hanging out and doing nothing is just as much fun as tackling some major cultural outing. Which is another way of saying that sometimes you just need to throw away the outline.

Everyone who saw me in line that day keeps asking me: Was it worth it?

To which I’d have to say: yes.

Image: The line went around the block! by scary cow via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Adulthood Quiz: Do You Think Like A Man Or A Woman?

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this gem from the BBC. It’s a quiz called Sex ID that generates a brain sex profile to help you figure out if you think more like a man or a woman.(Yeah, I know, I know. All that Left brain/Right brain stuff is soooooo yesterday’s news, but still…)

This thing’s been kicking around my inbox for ages under the category “Look At This” (which – as we all know – is a recipe for endless procrastination.)

But tonight – at the urging of my nine year-old son – I finally sat down and took the quiz. Actually, he took the quiz but I’m going to take it now.

And as I sat down to do this, I thought – this is so cool! So I’m sharing it with all of you as well.

Enjoy. And by all means, please do share the results!

Click here to take this quiz.

Image: Brain vs. Brawn by TangYauHoong via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Coping With Exes In Adulthood

Breaking up is hard to do. So said Neil Sedaka in that 1962 Billboard classic.

It was as true then as it is now, whether you’re in your teens or in your forties. So how do you actually move on after a broken heart?

Sometimes, time really does heal all wounds, and you’re capable – over time – of becoming friends with a former lover. I’m still close with one of my exes. So is my husband with one of his. These are people we exchange holiday cards with, make a point of visiting when we’re back in the States and even count their spouses as friends. In both cases, these exes form part of a larger social circle that helped to reinforce the transition to “friend.”

In another case, an old boyfriend contacted me out of the blue last year to give him some marital advice. Miraculously, it worked. He now credits me with playing a key role in keeping his marriage together. Somehow the act of helping him out in an impartial way enabled us – many years after the fact – to reunite as friends.

Of course, it’s not always that easy to make the jump to being friends. One friend of mine has solved this problem by continuing to sleep with his ex-girlfriend of 20 years ago well into his forties. In keeping with that old college adage that “It doesn’t count if it’s an ex” (Oh, to be 21 again!), he simply hasn’t moved on. For what it’s worth, this is also the strategy employed by business partners/sometime lovers Mikhael Blomkvist and Erika Berger of Dragon Tattoo fame. In the Stieg Larsson trilogy, Berger’s husband knows all about it and doesn’t mind either. (It is Sweden, after all.)

Alternatively, you can go the route of writing a letter to your ex. By expressing – longhand – all the things you still feel towards him or her, you can sometimes expunge any last traces of desire or remorse still swirling around inside your belly. This was the tactic adopted by my Politics Daily colleague Andrew Cohen, in a much-trafficked love letter to his ex earlier this week entitled “On Her Wedding Day: Saying Things Left Unsaid.” Whether you should go public with such a letter – or, as my colleague Suzi Parker suggests, “put it in a box and set it afire in the bathtub” – is ultimately your call. (If you want a quick primer on why you might want to think twice before publishing said missive, click here, here and here in that order, and then run for cover.)

You can also cyber-stalk your ex by “friending” them on Facebook to keep tabs on them from a safe distance.  My colleague Sarah Wildman has a terrific piece on why that’s quite possibly not the best idea either, despite the appeal on some emotional level. It’s not just because casual On-line relationships can easily lead to the real thing. Rather, it’s because, as Sarah concludes, “some doors, however easily unlocked, are meant to remain closed.”

So where does that leave us?

I’ve often found that music works well if you want to “go there” without really “going there,” if you get my drift. At different points in my life, I’ve listened to Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me, The Grateful Dead’s Looks Like Rain and Silvio Rodriguez’ Mi Unicornio Azul when I wanted to cry into my beer.

At the end of the day, as I’ve written before, acknowledging the road not taken is just one of those bitter truths of adulthood. Sometimes you end up loving the wrong person. Or maybe – to quote that curl-up-in-a-fetal-position Dire Straits classic, Romeo and Juliet –  “it was just that the time was wrong.”

Either way, life goes on.

How have you coped with a love that wasn’t meant to be?

Image: Love Letter by Wolfsoul via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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