Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cleanin' out my closet

Trends come and go but one thing is usually a constant someone is trying to sell you some method or accessories in the name of making your life less cluttered.  

About 15 years ago it was the container store - I mean you did not really need to get rid of your stuff when you could put it in lovely decorative containers.  They were lovely and some were quite useful but let's face it buying more things to store the too many things you have is really pretty counterintuitive.  

Then there was the feng-shui trend - we were all dodging cross winds and setting our beds according to the Eastern, or was it Western, flow of ... ah whatever.   I did not do it.  I am one of the least superstitious people I know and the idea that my chi or my chai (oh wait that's a drink) can go out the window just doesn't do it for me.  I like the idea of Asian aesthetic but not necessarily to the extent of my ancestors needing to live in a corner with incense. 

I grew up in apartments and it is a wonderful thing for me.   I actually miss apartment living a lot of times.  I also moved a lot - I mean a lot and the fact that I have been in one place for soon to be 12 years makes me really antsy.  I actually like new places even though moving not so much, I mean who likes to pack and unpack and if you answered yes well then you may want to look at your control issues.   I like apartments, and with frequent moves even more so, because you are forced to not have so much stuff and get rid of things when they no longer are needed.   

Not so in a house - actually in a house you have spaces that tempt you to not throw stuff out.  There is the garage which often turns into a storage bin.  Then there is the basement or attic, or both for some. I was talking to a friend about this and he summed it up so well; your coffee maker isn't working as well, you buy a new one.  In an apartment you get rid of the old one but in a house you put it in basement "just in case".  Just in case what you suddenly decide to rival Starbucks and need equipment.  No just in case turns into just junk you keep.  

My husband is one box away, and me, from hoarding.   He likes to keep everything.  I will not go into the reasons but it also results in rather high volume discussions, aka fights, about how I throw everything out.  I don't but because he keeps so much it is hard to find things that get lost in the stuff he keeps.   This year I decided that I have had 11 years of way to much crap accumulation.   

I picked up the latest trend book - and put it down in about 10 min after the lovely Japanese author announced that as a child while other children played she liked to go home and clean, ok then that is just odd.  Onward I found a blog that said you should start with a floor, if you have multiple, and divide rooms into sections and do not clean beyond one section at a time.  

This works, well for me, because decluttering is easily turned into memory lane procrastination and slightly overwhelming.  I was slightly aghast at the multiple large black bags I filled with .. wait for it .. bags.  Yes - bags, plastic bags, nice store bags, gift bags, bags within bags.  It was slightly obscene.   I have been at it sine January and I finished most of the basement.  It is amazing how easily could have say thrown out their marriage certificate because it was squashed between two magazines in a box.   It is also slightly amazing how much I never gave away though I meant to and how much I have given to charity.  I am still working on it but it is coming along.  

The one take away from the Japanese book that I love is the rolling method - you roll things instead of folding,  easy to see, likely to use and hey if you need levels of rows let's face it you have too much stuff.   

Why do we do it ?  We hold on to things because they remind of us moments but those moments are part of us regardless of whether we hold on to the t-shirt you wore for your first overnight with a special person.  You will never actually refer to these things except when you are decluttering because you do not need them yet they provide us with a bit of a safety net, to tell us we were crazy once in the see through dress, we were not the responsible people we are today when we see the thigh high boots and we were dreamers in the pictures of our travels.  We were all those things and we are some things now that we have morphed into but cluttering our spaces actually stifles those memories not preserves them.  

I am all Ikea clean lines lately - with yes holding on to some things, this is my first round and my husband eyes the many, many black bags that make their way to the curb or to donations bins with trepidation.  It used to be that often you just threw away to make room to get more stuff but I am now at a point where I realize I need the peace of less more than the fulfillment of buying things.  I still love a good shoe but I do not need a third pair of black pumps.   If you are filling your life with things maybe it is time to declutter your brain and see what it is that you really need - maybe it is just a pair of new shoes or maybe not.   I am feeling lighter and more focused with less to distract me.  Such a good feeling. 

I am not a minimalist - I am a New York woman with an Eastern European background nothing small about either of those, of minimal.  I am, however, realizing that if I get rid of what I do not really need or do not use I can live larger and love bigger whatever is left behind.   In my last year of my 40s I am doing this not only to my house but realizing who is clutter in my life that I have not let go of even though they no longer bring me joy or do more than remind me of a time in the past.  Those people, like that I shirt I loved forever but no longer really need or wear, will always have a place in my memories just no longer a place in my life.   Like Eminem says "I'm cleaning out my closet"...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

As my guitar gently weeps

There is no usual blog that could be written today because it is only the 3rd month of the year and my heart is just full of sadness  - people choose to use religion as to get and give comfort, as a goal to make us better people but there are many who choose it as a the weapon to kill and destroy -- they choose.  I am not a believer in organized religion but I do believe in humanity -- we can do better - whatever your doctrine today is the day to tell those people who use any religion that they can no longer hijack whatever you believe in to ostracize and kill.  Enough is enough -- may those families who lost people in these attacks, those who were injured and the rest of us who are scarred not be scared -- people are good they really are and it is time for the good people to make that the faith that runs the world. 

In honor of all those who were victims in 2016 ;


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Regrets I've had a few

My musical taste is pretty vast - I like it all from bad pop to sing along to (Yes I have Blamed it on the Rain, Been a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World and have seen The Sign and it did not open up my mind but it may have been looking to Tell me the Reason for Being Lonely).  Yes I know shudder inducing to my musical friends but come on what is better than bad pop to sing along to, easily to memorized and just as easily forgotten until it comes on again.

Among these silly yet highly entertaining songs I like artists and songs that actually push musical boundaries and are still amazing 50 - 60 years after they came out.  Music often sings my soul and can be as silly as I mentioned above or it can be an anthem of our souls, our direction and our collective pain.  One of my favorite artists is someone that I actually liked to listen along with my Dad but not as much as I liked his Rat Pack buddy Dean, when I was younger.  A man who I personally liked both vocals and looks more as he aged.  An artist who I never tire of and who I have discovered and rediscovered because of the vast number of recordings he did.

I am talking about Frank Sinatra.   A few years ago a close friend of mine, who I share both a love of music (sometimes we agree and sometimes we just don't get how the other can tolerate a song/artist), and of books told me to read a book called "Why Sinatra Matters".   First of all it is written by a man whose writing I love - Pete Hamill - and who I would love to have dinner with, Frank as background music, while he regales me with awesome tales of the city that he lives in and writes about (NY, Pete, a writer and Frank - swoon, sigh post cigarette worthy moment).

It turns out the book is not a Star worthy juicy sex bits type of book, not that I expected it to be but just in case you were looking for that it ain't it.  It is the story of a man who represents so much of what America means and what America is.

It is a land of hard working immigrants, it is a place that takes people in but then makes them work hard and harder because the person who came right before is hesitant to give up what they worked hard and harder for.  The novel traces a man whose roots are those of the East coast, of labor unions who reminded us that workers should have basic rights, fair pay, vacations, protection from the people who may have forgotten that they are entitled to their profit but not at the expense of our humanity.  Things many of us now enjoy even when we are non-union.  Frank and his family were a long line of union supporters.  They understood that being Italian came with prejudices as well as with all they would contribute here as they had for centuries as a people across the ocean.

The novel reminds us that good people do bad things - that marriages are sometimes held together by one of the people in the name of keeping up appearances and bitterness at having been done wrong.  We see Frank with a love so intense that it burns you up to read about, what he and Ava had well it was what most can only read about but boy regardless of how it turned out how lucky were they to have shared it.  Intense, passionate, unlikely to succeed because hell they may have been in the movies but they lived off script in real life.  Happy endings not guaranteed.

The story is relevant for his fight to get a fair contract, a story of a man who stood up for his principles and for his friends.  A man who in an age where it was ok to treat a man differently because of the color of skin chose to stand up to racism and remind us that with power comes great responsibility.  Some times his friends were poor choices, the mob ties almost badly stereotypical but maybe that's why I liked him even more.  He wasn't always a nice guy, he didn't always choose well but he always lived by a code of equality that many could learn from.  I read and felt for him when a friendship with the Kennedy's, one that he saw for the potential it brought the country but also for the pure enjoyment he gave to things he was involved with, reminded him that those with certain ties would take your money, maybe even invited you to a party or two but will not hesitate to leave you at the back door if it didn't meet their needs.

So why this blog about Frank and this book now ??  Because as I watch the election process in the States Sinatra matters so much.   We are the immigrants, the people who are discriminated against for the way we look, the judged by those who find righteous indignation while practicing cruelty under the guise of morality and we are the little guy.   I do not want the government to replace the corporation but rather I want a measure in between - somewhere between having the ability to live the Rat Pack life and not just being part of the rat race.  

Sinatra matters - because he sang a song that really says so much about who we are and who we should strive to be as Americans.  As people who choose to live here.  As people who were dragged here or kicked here and who no matter where we start think we can be the stars of our lives.

In the end the Chairman of the Board did it his way - regrets he had a few but then again too few to mention.  We need to do it our way and our way is not the way to let those who point out that a media moment represents what we can do and what we can be.  The viciousness during this election has not exposed our underbelly it has diagnosed a cancer - let's treat it and get on the road to recovery.  

"I did what I had to do and did it my way"....that's the song I want at my eulogy -- that's the song we need to remind ourselves we are.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce - and politics

I am an unapologetic about it optimist by nature - I do not fight it or apologize for it.  It is not the personality many would assume about a woman who totally thinks of herself as a NYC girl yet to me to live in NY you have to be an optimist.  You have to be a complain about the weather, regardless of season, subway, traffic, crime, too many people resident who a) never allows non New Yorkers to think they in any way can put down the same things about the city that we do b) cannot really see themselves not part of the city c) are the eternal fucking optimists to get through this crazy metropolis that we live in.  If we didn't we would look like Gotham - dark, grey, dingy - but instead we always see the bat light.

As an optimist there are so many things that in the current climate are truly challenging me.  I guess if I was a believer in some faith this would be the time my faith was tested.  I actually do believe in nature and it's wonder, I believe that we have a responsibility to the planet to get serious about climate change and salvage what we can while understanding what we cannot, I believe in people and their potential and most of all I believe in kindness.

I know sounds crazy right ?? I mean not a single politician running for US President is doing anything other than beating on someone - making it seem like we are as a country in some tornado sized vacuum,  Being an optimist doesn't make me not a realist - I see the problems but I refuse to not see that we so often are working toward solutions.  The only place not doing so - because basically they stopped working for a long time - is DC.  This holds true for the rest of the world.   Governments love to tell us how we need them to fix the messes - you know the ones most of them created. They stopped actually trying to reconcile and now have found that power is pretty addictive and what is more powerful than playing ultimate deity, savior, identifier of evil in "other".

They basically stopped being optimistic -- even in America where that is a driving force.  So all of this got me thinking of a show I watch - because my mind works in mysterious ways - called Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce.  Total fluff, entertainment, helps you escape basically perfect TV show.  The premise is about when marriages go wrong, we blame the other person so much more than looking at ourselves, we try and salvage a relationship believing whatever was broken will somehow not be so if we just try one more time, we swear it is for the children that we stay together, we know we long ago stopped loving the person and if lucky just don't like them but most likely despise them.  Divorce is the ultimate pessimist - what started out as love has turned to something so ugly.  These women are amazing, beautiful, well off, living what many of us see as the dream in LA but they are not happy because all of those things are like a good gift wrap - what's inside could be a total let down.  Yet it is not all bad - they find strength in each other, in laughing at times at misery and acknowledging what each of them could have done better.  Should we not ask the same of the people in politics around the world that represent us ?? 

I like the show because it has a lot of reality in it - divorce is not easy nor is it an easy fix.  It is the necessary outcome when things just stopped working and become toxic.  The world is in a state of divorce right now - a caustic relationship between people and between humans and the planet.  We only see the ugly fights, the way to "win" by hurting one another and what we can get in the settlement.  We no longer remember that we once loved each other, that we were giddy to see one another and that in some way we promised to honor one another.  This is the ugly part of a relationship and nothing makes one meaner than hurt.  We are hurting.  Staying in a negative relationship like that will break you eventually, wear you down where you forget what you could do because you just focus on the anger of what the other is doing to you.  

The optimist in me though knows that if you do not want divorce to be the ugly winning over who you want to be, we have to let some shit go and move on.  I know real life people who have ex-spouses who dedicated their lives to trying to make them miserable.  Move on - you did not just make your ex miserable you forgot how to make yourself happy.   This is true of policies and politics.  This is true among people who are different and the same.  We need to get some serious therapy - because our world is suffering.  Much like in divorce if the couple is lashing out and making the situation a battle the people who will suffer are the children.  We owe it to our children to learn to understand that we may no longer be giddy at seeing one another we can learn to co-parent for their growth.

We need to be optimists again - to believe in each other, in science as a means to improve our lives, in nature and in the fact that we are lucky to not all be the same because our differences are what drive our evolution.  We need to divorce ourselves from negativity fueled by anger and not by a path forward.  We need to get past the divorce rancor and move on to the next phase which all about looking for how to be happy and find someone to share that with us.  All those politicians or spokespeople who look to just divide us - they are the divorce attorneys benefiting mostly from driving us to divide as they gain.  We need to ostracize the abusive people in our system and not give them a voice.  Divorce is not anything we strive for but it can be the break that frees us to be the best we can be, we just need to divorce ourselves from thinking of all the things we cannot do, or it can be the where we stop and never get beyond it, the choice is always with us.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

'Riting, 'Rithmatic and Rhythm

I have always valued intelligent people.  People who love learning as much as they love the knowledge they acquire.   I have a some friends who really are impressive in how much they know and more importantly on the variety and diversity of subjects they can discuss.   I can listen and talk to them endlessly. I am always thrilled to have the time with them if a little humbled by their breadth of knowledge. 

In this spirit I have always liked school, there were subjects that I did not love (math - needed but not my passion, ok I barely tolerated it even though somehow I was always in some sort of honors classes, maybe that was fear of bad grades being brought home).  I love science, English and history are probably among my top two favorite things to learn about.  I could do without homework and the tests - ok who likes the tests?  One of the things I like more about the US college system is also that when you get to college you do not have to go to a specialized school, many of the EU colleges are designated by the degree you want to get, which forces people to take a number of core courses across a spectrum.  This is awesome because very few of us actually have a clue what we want to do at 18 - and we shouldn't  - college is very much about expanding your brain, and yes I know expanding your ability to make choices that will seem questionable or stupid later in the after hours.

In that spirit, while I applaud the idea of a single curriculum across states, I just do not want to become this test score driven nation.   Let's face it our kids do as well as and sometimes better than other nations on tests, in the same economic level.  That is the factor, economics,  poor areas with failing schools need to be fixed.  This is not a nice to have this a must to have.   However, focusing on rote testing, hours of it no less, and kids who learn less and spout out more for a test but retain less of it after the test are not the generation that will grow the future. That works well if you want assembly line workers, the kind that do not get a say but push a button.   We need to have more curriculum too available for those kids who want to be assembly line workers, fixers of the assembly line, builders and other jobs that are not necessarily best served with college degrees.

I am dismayed at how many schools have cut arts and music programs for the most ridiculous of excuses - they need more time to prep for the test.  You are not educating a whole person if you do not expand their horizons.  Music and art have been proven to increase learning skills and they expose our creative side.  They help us appreciate those things that do not actually translate to anything other than the pure joy of being seen or heard.   They connect us across our differences. Music and art must pose some threat to any institution that that wants to be autocratic, think religions and dictators, for they usually ban them.  They scare those types of people because they are too hard to contain once people are exposed to them, and once exposed it might free up the brain to question as much as it does to the wonder of the creative.   Music and art are not contrary to math or language or science they complement it.  They enhance our brains to do more .. want more .. need more.

In my school district we are very fortunate to not have given up on the arts.  In fact we have a nationally recognized and renowned music program, theater programs and a 4th grade program in combination with an independent movie theater from a neighboring town.   This grant sponsored program teaches kids to write, animate, voice and produce a short animated film.  These films are then shown, red carpet and all, at the theater.  Today my youngest's class did theirs.  I listened to the woman who leads this endeavor talk about how this teaches the kids how to compromise, how to work in teams, how to not dismiss each other's ideas, how to learn to speak for their own and when to let someone else "win".  She spoke about how these young kids had to learn patience and set goals. Mostly it was the kids speeches which were the most impressive.  They were full of gratitude for the program, for how awed they were and for the pride they took in their mini movies and for their accomplishment.  Imagine if grown ups learned to work this well together.  The movies were all very interesting and I left impressed with what these kids accomplished. 

It is not too late for any school district to demand, yes demand, that arts and music not be cut.  We all pay taxes in some form and those taxes should go to helping the next generation learn the basics, writing/reading/arithmetic/science/history along side sports, music, arts and technology.   I never want to stop learning from books, sites and most of all people.  I am always little kid awed when I see something that defies the imagination.   My boys are learning that from me and I encourage them constantly to never underestimate how amazing knowledge is.   

I don't want to live in a world defined by extremes - the extreme left who wants a grey world where only your basic needs are met and none of us have anything more (I am not a goldfish ), the extreme right who sees beauty only in terms of money and what it buys you (I am not the Wolf of Wall Street), the religious extremes that ban art or the human body or music (I am not sensory deprived) and only want us to look up - I want to look you in the eye or at eye level and sideways and all around.  Art and music and people who don't conform are the balance needed to all those rule makers. There is enough ugliness in this world shouldn't we encourage schools to teach appreciation and creation of beauty?!