9.27.2007

Hot Air

I'm sick. I'm sick and it's balmy. Everyone at work says the two things are related. I stand there, unable to breathe through my nose, and my co-workers have all the reasons. "Is it allergies?" asks my COO. "It's the weather," says our IT director. I don't know. I lay in bed yesterday, laptop and cat held close, listening to kids play outside. Something about this change of seasons, or maybe being sick in breezy warm air, is very evocative for me. Memories trickle in that have been hidden for a long time. I'm in high school, walking up to Cobbs Hill after school, lighting a cigarette. Watching "I Love Lucy" in the summer on the 14-inch black and white set. Now I'm in college, sitting in someone's kitchen, pulling food out of the CSA box. Working with my advisor. Biking into Amherst. In the car with my boyfriend. Now it's springtime. I'm a kid, and I'm petting my dog. I walk down the street where I grew up.

I think there are special times of the year when time disappears. Or I disappear into time.

I have to pull myself out of dreamland, though. I'm giving big presentations every day for the next five business days, and teaching class both days this weekend, so being "off" isn't an option.

9.25.2007

I think Frank O'Hara was a 7 too

MY HEART

I'm not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don't prefer one "strain" to another.
I'd have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says "That's
not like Frank!", all to the good! I
don't wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart---
you can't plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.

9.21.2007

Things That Don't Happen That Often

In the 'Year's Best Debut,' according to the Wall Street Journal, my company went public yesterday. The day was filled with everything they say it is: elation, disappointment, pride, angst, envy, speculation. I wanted to be open to every feeling and experience imaginable, and I woke up excited, ready to pay attention and be present. I feel proud of my company, and so curious and fortunate to learn from the people running it, now all multi-multi-millionaires who are, nonetheless, about my age. But as we stood around with drinks at the end of the day, and families arrived, I found myself greeting first one toddler, then another, looking into her eyes and wondering what it would be like to have a dad who was now so incredibly wealthy.

In the end, the day was mostly streaked with a feeling of being left out. I felt left out of the fancy Manhattan soirees the night before, the clubby parties and legendary stories and elbow-rubbing of the upper league, and I also felt left out of the camaraderie of the vast working body of the company, to whom I used to belong and who brushed by me as I took a seat alone in the company meeting. I felt left out of the people who got so many more options given to them, and I even felt left out of the people who knew to buy enough options when they had the chance; I didn't even manage to do that. I felt left out at the very end of the night, when my closest friend there, and former boss, said goodbye to me to go out to dinner with the high ranking, closed-shoulder crowd of women leaders. They respect me, but they don't exactly include me. That's when I called my husband to come pick me up, and felt vast relief as I climbed into the car.

I feel left out on regular days too, but I also feel lucky most of the time. It's hard to remember how lucky you are when wealth and status markers are so strikingly all around you. That memory of luck started to come back as I hung out with my husband last night. I told him about the highlights. My boss, the CEO, got a standing ovation when he said he didn't want to run the company by the split-screen "BID/SELL" command. He told all 580 of us that at one point in the trading someone told him he was worth $xx million and he put his hands over his ears and said, "Fuck! Don't tell me that!" He said that our worth was right there, in what we do everyday. He gave us a talk on Life with the Man that made me laugh and laugh. He opened with a clip from the School of Rock, with Jack Black teaching a classroom of kids about The Man, telling kids they need to watch out for The Man. "Why do we choose to live with The Man?" our leader asked us.

There were a few reasons, including the incredible boost of social validity that The Man's approval gives you. Credibility seemed to bring the greatest value. "It makes us stronger to be so accountable to the public, and that's really good," he said. He also praised the ability to make Wall Street think about the fractured health care system. "They don't usually care about claims," he said, "but today they were all thinking about how to make sure doctors get paid." As a company, we can spread the mission of doing well (financially, professionally) by doing good (socially, morally). "It's nice if you do good things," he told us, "but it's much nicer if you can get other people to do them too." I thought about my own life and wondered if I was spreading enough motivation to do good. I can probably do a better job.

The mechanics of going public felt bittersweet, too, in the sense that for the founders it was cloaked in a numbing process. The bankers do it all the time, and they've built a well-oiled machine to antiseptically handle the process, even for your 10-year old company, for whom you have slaved and argued and lost many a precious thing. But the well-oiled machine abruptly stopped churning as soon as our stock started trading. "We had been so well taken care of up to that point," one executive told me over beer, "getting anything you needed right that minute. But then once our stock was live, everything fell apart. No one cared about us anymore. We couldn't even leave, the limos were 30 minutes late."

Ringing the opening bell on Wall St. was discordant, too. Telling us about it, my boss said, "I felt really numb, actually. It was like acting. They don't even have a real bell anymore, you have to click a mouse standing in this cold digital room, and they applaud you like a child, and I'm thinking, I'm supposed to feel good about you fake-applauding me? But the thing is, I remember when they did it on September 11." And then he suddenly cried. Shocking both us and himself, I think. But he took a minute, looking across a sea of compassionate faces, and shook his head and wiped his eyes, and told us to stay and drink champagne (and beer, and wine, and scotch, as it turned out...oh, and a gin and tonic), and promised he wouldn't weep. We clapped and clapped.

9.19.2007

Classtime

Last night I scored some antibiotics after a lot of phone tag with my doctor's assistants, and spent the next hour exhaustedly trying to prep myself to teach my rebounding class. This entails an hour of yelling into a headset while bouncing on a trampoline. Not the easiest activity in the world, especially not while sick. "Maybe it will be a small class," I thought. But I got there, and a long line of women snaked around the gym, all waiting to take my class.

I got in line with them and we flooded into the studio together. Within a minute, every rebounder was set up and they were standing on their mats, completely ready to go. I started to set up while talking to them, thinking, can I take a break in the middle of class? I wasn't even sure how it would feel to jump up and down once, let alone about 4,000 times. (Literally.) But we got started. And halfway through class, the psychic energy of the room filled me, and I stopped noticing my symptoms. I taught one of my best classes ever, demanding lots of engagement from them and getting fantastic feedback at the end. I know from their expressions and enthusiasm and thank yous that I had a positive emotional impact on some of their evenings. And at the least, they definitely got a great workout.

It makes me think of the concept of "Flow" --
The mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what
he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full
involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
Some of my best classes have happened while sick, hungover, or wiped out from teaching too much. Somehow teaching fitness is an experience that lets me be effective..while also losing myself in the moment.

To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge
of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too
difficult, flow cannot occur.


I'd like to bring this feeling to more parts of my life.


The Crankiest Blog in the World

10:15 pm. Lying in bed. The barking of dogs from upstairs has ceased. The nagging worries of the day have subsided. The HBO sitcom that is my worklife has begun to turn off. My husband is quietly reading. All is calm. Eyes begin to close. And then: a sound. A really loud sound. We lie there and just listen for a minute. Maybe it will go away.

It does not. In fact, it becomes the opening chords to "Chestnuts roasting on a open fire." "Is that a trumpet next door?" I ask. And it is.

Jack Frost nipping at your nose...

10:30 pm. The trumpet next door is going loud and strong. I ring the doorbell in my pajamas and coat. It's kind of nice to hear Christmas carols, except that it's SEPTEMBER. Also, I'd like to sleep. Door is answered by guy on phone. "Hi!" We smile. He's so friendly. "Any chance that's your roommate playing the trumpet?" I ask cheerfully. He listens. Unbelievably, he hadn't noticed. "I actually have no idea," he says. "Well...Can you tell him ixnay on the trumpet until tomorrow?" I try to be charming. He smiles back and nods.

10:35 pm. In bed. I hear the carol begin to wrap up. Finally, it stops. No more trumpet. Lights out.

9.11.2007

The Ugly Side

Last weekend we got to hang at this lavish wedding. Silk-wrapped chairs, lobster bisque, 6 hours of open bar, that kind of thing. All that beauty couldn't hide (or did it expose?) rumors about the relationship we were there to celebrate, though. Apparently the bride felt threatened by the bachelor party and said as much to her fiance, and not pleasantly. My husband and I reserved judgment. Relationships are tricky; sometimes things get said that are just ideas meant to live in the moment; and weddings can bring out the most scared feelings in people. We figure you can't ever really know what works for two people.

But the weekend was buffered on either end by seeing the ugly sides of acquaintances of mine. A distant co-worker lashed out at me for reasons that remain mysterious, and suggested unnamed others felt badly, too. This technique has worked exquisitely on me for more than two decades now. In fact, it always haunts me a little, making me worry that I am unknowingly offending people I really care about. But then that rarely turns out to be true. I'm left wondering why my goat is so easy to get.

As soon as I returned home from the wedding, a new neighbor harshly disputed an assertion of mine and I saw her ugly side. I also got the sense I might see a lot more ugly where that came from if I tried to be too close or too honest. Be cool, I told myself. But because it had to do with my home life, it made things seem "off" and I wished home felt seamless and whole and safe again.

It's unseating, I think, the effect of the irrational anger of others--when it happens a few times, things everywhere look less stable. I guess because it's a surprise, and occurs where there's not obvious intimacy. But why should I be surprised? Doesn't everyone have an ugly side? I'm not sure. Maybe one we reserve for those we're about to marry.

Of course, I have plenty of my own opinions, which I never consider ugly, although I do get that I'm a tad cranky sometimes. You want an example? Just scroll down. I wrote that last post, and later asked my husband, a great adviser, if I should take it down. "Just post that your husband says you were being a little too cranky when you wrote about parenting," he said. Thank god for the people in my life who gently corral the cranky, the messy, and sometimes, the ugly.