Dreaming of My College Comeback

Download-1Like many, many people, I have the classic it's-the-day-of-the-final-exam-and-I've-never-been-to-class anxiety dream. There are variations - can't find the classroom, don't know my schedule, did none of the reading, etc. 

But lately I have a new version. In this dream, I'm back on campus for another four years. But at my current age. I'm thrilled - I can't believe I was accepted and I am really excited to go through college again. Sometimes in the dream, I debate joining the school newspaper, and wonder if it's fair, given my 30+ year career in journalism.

In real life, i.e. my waking hours, I volunteer to write our class alumni notes. Recently I asked my classmates if they have this dream. A surprising amount do. And it's a happy dream - everyone is delighted to be back and marvels at the beauty of campus.

That's not to say that the anxiety dream isn't still prevalent. I heard from doctors who dream they forgot to take biology, a former basketball star who dreams he missed every practice, and one guy who reports dreams of wandering aimlessly around New England, trying to find the college.

I'm wondering if at this stage of life, many of us want a do-over. Not of our whole lives, but of some of those earlier times.

How about we have two years of college when we are 18 and the final two when we are 60? Don't you think we'd get a lot more out of it? 

How To Hold A Non-profit Gala

ImagesOctober seems to be fundraiser season - one event after another, all of them competing for time, money and attendance, and most of them for great causes.

Last night, I was at a particularly compelling event. Yes, there was the usual "rubber chicken" meal and the usual crush of people around the bar. But here's what made it special:

-The advisory board for the benefit included people who are actually served by the organization.

-The event was attended by people who had benefited from the organization as well as by donors.  Some who have benefited in the past are now donors themselves. 

-The table seating mixed everyone together - those who had been helped, those who give money, those who volunteer, those who are on staff.  It was one of the most diverse events I've ever been to - and I mean diversity in many senses - racially, economically, socially, age-wise, etc. Which of course made it super fun and interesting. 

Why is this important? Because a gala like this celebrates community. It's not "donors" feting themselves; it's everyone coming together as family. Because a great nonprofit realizes that there is not much difference among the people who serve and the people who are served, and that the tables could turn at any time.




DownloadI came across the term "bibliotherapy" for the first time this week. Not surprisingly, it refers to the use of literature for mental healing. Therapy through reading. 

The concept is not new - Psychology Today reports that Egyptian King Rames II had a special chamber for books, with the words "House of Healing for the Soul" over the door. Evidently Sigmund Freud also used literature in psychoanalysis, and other doctors have "prescribed" books for their patients. Apparently now it's a thing, and some psychologists train in it.

To me, bibliotherapy seems like another one of those intuitive and obvious things that has now been turned into an industry. It reminds me of Forest Bathing, an entire science devoted to the shocking notion that spending time outside is good for you. Download-1

To be clear, bibliotherapy does not refer to self-help books. We're talking about novels which portray the human condition.

As soon as I learned to read, I stayed up late at night, under the covers with a flashlight, spending hours on adventures with Doctor Doolittle, devouring stories about families and orphans  - The Little Princess was big for me - and on and on. As my reading abilities and sophistication increased, so did the depth of my book choices. Books have always served as both an escape and a way of understanding the world. 

It makes sense that being a good reader helps develop empathy in a person, but apparently it can help with depression, anxiety and other human conditions. Who knew? Most readers. 


The "Medicine Cabinet"

Download-3Until three years ago, I took no prescription medication. But now all medical hell has broken loose, and the pill boxes are piling up. (Don't ask - it's a mess of issues.) 

As in many homes, my bathroom has medicine cabinets. The mirrors over the sink open to lovely glass shelves, many of which are now jammed with prescription bottles. On top of that, I have resorted to those little plastic Monday-Sunday pill organizers, which also live with the bottles.

That all seemed fine, though humiliating, until I realized that every medicine I take says "do not store in bathroom."  According to pharmacists, medicines degrade in light, humidity and moisture. Well sheez. Why are they called "medicine cabinets" and where am I supposed to put all these bottles instead?

I don't want them in the kitchen, which I might add also has moisture and heat. Besides, medications are private - you don't want people coming upon them. I guess I have to stick them somewhere in a drawer in the bedroom, but that begs another question. How will I remember they are there and that I need to take them? 

Getting older sucks.


The Reality Gap Widens

Every day the news is more horrifying. Locking up immigrant kids indefinitely? Denying green cards to people who seek health care or food?  Every day the president degrades humanity, the environment (roll back emissions rules, drill in the Arctic, deny climate change, and on and on) - not to mention the overall dignity of our country. 

For me, the only antidote to all this despair (other than political action which I think is critical) is to spend time outdoors. Lots of time. Not just to get away from the media, but also to gain perspective. Being in the Adirondacks this week is a special balm. The photo is yesterday's picnic lunch spot.Grateful to be here.


Immersed in the Past

ImagesRecently I bought a Groupon to have our old family videos converted to digital. Our VCR has long since broken down and I hadn't seen any of these films in years.

Back in the 1980s, we rented a video camera - a heavy, complicated behemoth of a thing - so we could document our new baby girl. By the 1990s we actually invested in one ourselves. It was very expensive. 

All this, of course, was long before cell phones or the Internet for that matter. 

Anyway the first batch of conversions has arrived and I am absolutely riveted. Who is this young family? Those beautiful children? My husband, with a huge mop of jet-black hair? And was I ever that young myself?! I was in my twenties when my daughter was born. And there I am pregnant with my son, clutching the hand of my three-year-old girl. She is in a pink bathing suit with a little skirt, mine is a navy blue maternity suit that I borrowed from my friend Missy. 

In one way, it's reassuring to watch these old movies. Sure, we were on our best behavior when the camera rolled, but I can see I was a calm and loving mother. (Somehow I'd remembered myself as an emotional wreck, but in the films I look competent and relaxed.) 

But these images also fill me with longing and sadness. That newborn blinking up at that mobile in his crib? He's moving across the country with his wife at the end of the month. That little toddler with the mass of blonde hair singing to herself? She already lives thousands of miles away.

How did this all happen so soon? 



Two New Ways To Worry

Download-1Anxiety Girl wants to have it both ways with antibiotics. I've been sick quite a lot this summer, with everything from acute bronchitis to an infection of .... well, let's skip the details. The point is, I've been on a lot of different antibiotics.

On the one hand, I'm so grateful that these medications exist. To finally stop coughing, burning, whatever - and know you are on the mend.  I promise I never take these meds for colds or any other viral ailment - only confirmed bacterial infections.

Anxiety Girl thinks of all the times she would have been dead, but for the existence of antibiotics. I'd certainly never had made it to this summer. Before the discovery of penicillin, average life expectancy from birth was 47 years. 

But I worry about antibiotic resistance. Already I've had a few infections that did not respond to the first antibiotic tried. Meanwhile, I faithfully pop a pro-biotic in my mouth every morning, to try to keep my stomach from complete rebellion. 

So I worry if I do, and I worry if I don't. Fortunately, (or is it unfortunately?) anxiety can NOT be treated by antibiotics.





A Seamlessly Integrated Post

ImagesWhen I was writing for the New York Times, one of my editors would occasionally scribble "MEGO" next to a paragraph. MEGO was not a complement. It was short  for "My Eyes Glaze Over." The passage was too long, or too technical, or overly complicated or just plain boring.

MEGO came to mind this week as I was reviewing some documents for a long-term group project. God help me, I've been assigned to the "Marketing Committee."  I already want to shoot myself. Why can't people in this field use language normally?

Phrases that make me insane: -"Seamlessly integrated," "The view from 30,000 feet," "Baking assumptions into the numbers," "Slicing the data," "Value add," "Optimizing," "Influencer," "Brand Awareness," "Synergy"  and - worst of all - "Crystallizing our vision." 


Kids, Camp and the Moon

Download-4In July of 1969, I was at summer camp in Maine. It was an all-girls "sleep-away" camp and the season was a full eight weeks. 

I loved, loved, loved camp. It was a world away and to me it felt  like a world unto itself. We lived in wooden cabins with no electricity. We used outhouses, and bathed and shampooed in the lake. (This was before people realized that the suds from Breck and Prell shampoos weren't great for the water.) We all wore the same green shorts and white shirts, and we all swam in the freezing cold lake, climbed local mountains, and paddled canoes to go on camping trips.

We girls navigated at night with flashlights, mindful of the tree roots buried in pine needles. Our favorite past time was playing jacks. I wrote home on pieces of birch bark, even though my mom had equipped me with stationery.

One night, after taps had been played and we were all asleep in our cabins, our counselor woke us up. We were all to go to the campfire area. Sleepy and confused, we stumbled our way in the cool, dark Maine night. The whole camp had gathered.

Incredibly, we found a small black and white television set perched on a tree trunk. Multiple extension cords led from the back of the set into the dining area, the only camp building with electricity. Download-2We'd been brought to watch a man walk on the moon. 

We strained at the grainy image.  You could barely make out what was on the screen, a fuzzy grey figure moving in almost slow motion. One of the counselors kept adjusting the antenna.

I don't know what was more shocking - a television at camp - or a man walking on the moon. 

Afterwards, we all headed back to our cabins. The batteries in my flashlight were weak - shedding only the palest light ahead.  I stopped and pointed my flashlight up at the moon, as if that could make what I'd witnessed more comprehensible.

I know that kids at camp now own cell phones with more computing power than Apollo 11 had that day. Yet I feel lucky beyond words that I got to be a child back then.